My talks

Co2 graph

Atmospheric Co2 over the last 800,000 years. Ice Ages have come and gone but the use of fossil fuels has pushed us into a new and dangerous place. My response is to write these blogs and to give talks about what humanity could and should do to bring us back toward a safer climatic future.

A couple of weeks ago, on the night before the election, I was giving a talk in Bridgnorth. The title was ‘Trump, the Carbon Bubble & the possibilities of a better future.’ I was putting forward a strongly political message and one man got up and left, saying he’d come to hear about climate change and not about politics. As I tried to point out to him, and to the hall full of people, effective action to reduce the dangers of climate change is essentially a set of political decisions. Humanity has the technologies to massively reduce all forms of pollution, and also the technologies to make the situation very much worse. What infrastructure we build, what taxes we implement, how we allocate resources and how we cooperate internationally are all fundamentally political decisions.

The first part of my talk was focused on the global political struggle as Trump, Putin, Saudi Arabia and the global oil, gas and coal corporations who fund them seek to keep the fossil fuel economy going as long as possible. On the other hand the vast majority of countries see the dangers of climate change and the positive opportunities in developing cleantech based economies. Some governments, such as that of the UK, are in a state of confusion, thinking they can do both. Most of the EU, China and many smaller countries are increasingly seeing the necessity and the benefits of ditching fossil fuels.

The second part of my talk focused on the emerging range of technologies that are making it possible to provide a good standard of living and a good quality of life to all 7.5 billion of us, and to do this in ways that reduce the dangers of climate change, reduce pollution and regenerate biodiversity. These positive possibilities get better by the day, yet our time window in which we need to take action gets narrower by the day.

I’ve a few more talks coming up, and I’d absolutely love to do more. One that I’m developing is titled ‘How to create a better world: fundamental principles.’ Another I’m working on is ‘Can we feed 9 billion people sustainably?’ I often do talks about what a 100% renewably powered global economy might look like and how we might get there. If you’d like me to come and speak, show slides, take questions and lead discussions with whatever group of people you’re involved with, please do get in touch.

After the Bridgnorth talk I got some really positive feedback, including that the man who left early complaining that the talk was too political had e-mailed the organiser later that evening to say it was probably his loss to have left early. Very encouraging!

Theresa May’s Coalition of Chaos

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn, moral victor of the General Election, and possibly soon to be Prime Minister?

In last week’s blog I wrote about the emerging chasm between scientifically and socially responsible governments and reality denying nationalistic despots. Britain now has a weak and unstable minority Tory government dependent on the backing of the DUP. The DUP are a very weird bunch who dismiss climate change and evolution, are virulently homophobic, anti abortion and socially regressive, and deeply connected to protestant paramilitary terrorism. Those Tories who have more scientifically and socially responsible attitudes must be deeply unhappy with Theresa May’s leadership. I do not expect this government to last very long.

Climate change and other macro ecological symptoms of contemporary consumerist culture were hardly mentioned throughout the campaign, with the predictable and honourable exception of the Green Party. Caroline Lucas did increase her majority, but tragically no other Green MP’s were elected.

The case for Proportional Representation is overwhelming. The DUP got ten MP’s from just 292,316 votes, whereas the Greens got just one MP from 525,371 votes. All six of Cornwall’s MP’s are Tories, yet they got less than 50% of the county’s votes. With PR the UK would now probably have a progressive, scientifically and socially literate coalition government, offering far greater strength and stability than the hapless Theresa May can hope to achieve.

The result is a personal victory for Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the most blatant mudslinging from the Tory press he has led Labour to greater success than most people thought possible just a couple of weeks ago. Out canvassing in Herefordshire and Bristol I found a strong degree of enthusiasm for him that I’ve never seen for any leader of one of the main parties. Many people who had never voted before did so because of him and the sense of hope that he embodies.

The emerging progressive alliance has notched up some successes: sadly not nearly enough. I had hoped Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party would beat Jeremy Hunt in South West Surrey, and it would have been good to have seen a few more Tories lose their seats to LibDems and Greens. With Theresa May leading a weak and unstable government another election seems very probable in the not too distant future and a better government may yet emerge.

Carole Cadwalladr and a number of other excellent investigative journalists have been doing great work uncovering the web of dark money that is so corrupting the democratic process in countless countries. The DUP seems to have been the recipient of rather a lot of this dubious funding. (See Ramsay & Geoghegan, also Monbiot). Now that they are pivotal in government no doubt more information will emerge. Negotiating a Brexit deal now seems impossible given the corrupt and illegitimate nature of this Tory-DUP coalition of chaos.

Global Political Divisions

Andrew Weaver

Andrew Weaver joins Caroline Lucas, Jesse Klaver and Isabella Lovin as one of my political heroes.

On this blog and in numerous talks I’ve put forward the case that the prime political divisions can no longer be seen as left/right, but rather socially and ecologically literate on the one hand and oil addicted nationalistic despots on the other.

It looks like Trump is on the verge of pulling the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The US House Intelligence committee has issued subpoenas to Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen in the latest instalment in the Trump-Russia saga. There is certainly a huge overlap between Putin and Trump as they struggle to keep the global carbon bubble economy going. Both Trump and Putin are irrelevant. When it comes to finding solutions to the biggest issues facing humanity, from climate change to poverty, they either are in denial of the problem or simply don’t care. Other, more intelligent, socially and ecologically responsible politicians are taking leadership roles.

A few days ago there were elections in British Columbia. Andrew Weaver, inspirational leader of the BC Greens and a professor of climate science will now be an influential figure in John Horgan’s New Democratic Party government. Expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline was one of the defining issues of the election and the result is a great victory for those of us standing up to big oil and their puppet politicians.

The EU and China look set to rebuff Trump and to increase political commitment to the Paris agreement and to intensify cleantech collaboration. They will want partners in North America. Canada, with Justin Trudeau, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver involved will have much to contribute. As the Federal government in Washington collapses into irrelevance individual states and cities are increasingly stepping up to take leadership roles. In April Isabella Lovin and the Swedish government delegation signed a climate cooperation agreement with California Governor Jerry Brown, simply bypassing the idiocy of what passes for politics in Washington these days.

Britain’s role in the world is rapidly diminishing as the Brexit buffoons lead the country into increasing inequality, isolation and irrelevance. Globally constructive solution focused thinking is being led by pioneering left leaning Greens and right of centre pragmatists like Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Xi Jinping, who do certainly have their differences but are united in seeing the need to tackle climate change and to bring the post fossil fuel economy into being, and to doing it collaboratively.

Terrorism, Hate & Love

Terrorist attacks

In the aftermath of the Manchester bombing it is heartening to see the vast majority of the population drawing together in support of the victims, their families and the emergency services, strengthening the very sense of social solidarity that all terrorists seek to undermine.

During my lifetime I’ve seen successive waves of terrorism come and go. In the 1970’s ETA, IRA, RAF and others committed many bombings and now thankfully they’ve all given up: now Islamic Jihadists and Neo Nazis predominate. Many years ago I was studying Social Anthropology at LSE and I read a paper called ‘Intercommunal Killing in Cyprus’ by my tutor, the late Peter Loizos. The paper explored the interface between the psychology of the individual perpetrator and the surrounding community that fosters and encourages ideologies of hatred. Individual terrorists may operate alone but they are always encouraged and inspired by some community of people expressing hatred toward some other rival community or social group.

It seems to me the only long term and effective solution is to foster ideologies of love, of social inclusion, social solidarity, pluralism, diversity and egalitarianism. After the Paris bombings in November 2015 I wrote a blog expressing something along these lines. It’s been said before and it’ll be said again. The only way to defeat terrorism is to make it unacceptable to stoke the fires of hatred. I think it was Jimi Hendrix who said ‘when the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.’

Political Realities, Political Dreams

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

While the Trump presidency teeters towards impeachment and Britain blunders into Brexit and a dreadfully divisive general election, one might ask, ‘where is there hope?’ Had France elected Marine Le Pen they too would have followed UK and USA down the path of chaos and division. Instead they voted overwhelmingly for Emmanuel Macron. Macron has blown apart the entrenched tribal party-political divisions of French history. He has selected a gender balanced cabinet of 11 men and 11 women. What is significant is that he has brought in people from many different backgrounds and political parties, and importantly from non political backgrounds in civil society. He will have many challenges ahead.

Macron seems to want to follow a Nordic model, creating a system that is good for business, focused on modern cleantech innovation, with strong environmental and social policies and deeper integration at the European level. Bringing in Nicolas Hulot, the former Green presidential contender, to head the Ecology ministry seems a good move. The wide spectrum of talents he has brought into his cabinet looks very encouraging.

Unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, is high in the old rustbelt of north-east France, and along parts of the Mediterranean coast, and it was these ‘left behind’ people who voted for Le Pen. Macron has said he wants to renovate one million poorly insulated homes. This seems a very sensible move as it creates more jobs relative to the money invested than just about anything else, while cutting fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of the economy as a whole.

Here in UK More United have Crowdfunded to support candidates who support their pro-European values of openness, tolerance, social inclusion and cleantech innovation. Let us imagine what would happen if they grew exponentially over the next couple of weeks and had a decisive impact on the general election. Who might be in a cabinet of all the talents, inspired by what Macron is doing in France? Caroline Lucas of the Green Party keeps winning polls and accolades that say she’d make a great prime minister. I’d like to see Molly Scott Cato as chancellor, Vix Lowthion at education, Andrew Cooper at energy…but these are all Greens: we’d want others. Dr Louise Irvine at health perhaps shared with LibDem Norman Lamb. Vince Cable could be good back at business. Labour’s Chuka Umunna would be good on electoral reform, and Jeremy Corbyn clearly has a talent for community engagement and social inclusion. The old one nation, pro-European Tories like Ken Clarke and John Major might have a role to play in reversing Article 50 and working with the EU. Bringing in people from outside politics might be crucial, like Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of ‘The Spirit Level’ to look at how to make Britain a more socially just society. Jeremy Leggett and Hugo Spowers would be brilliant showing how cleantech innovation could be used to transform the British economy. I might even find a role for myself in my own dream team!

Heroes of British Democracy

Dr Louise Irvine and support

Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party, with Labour, LibDem & Green supporters

We live in very worrying times. In little over three weeks the UK will have a general election. The democratic process is vital to improve the human condition, yet globally it is under threat like never before. A free press is also fundamental. Today I want to highlight a few of the people I see as heroes in the struggle to protect British democracy.

Carole Cadwalladr has written some of the best investigative journalism since the days of Woodwood and Bernstein and the Watergate investigation. In this important article she shows the corrosive effects big data, big money and some very unpleasant people seeking to influence, and to undermine, the democratic process on a global scale, including the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump.

The Brexit referendum was dominated by big lies. For me the one person to emerge as a hero from the whole process was Gina Miller. She is now busy organising a tactical voting campaign. More United, Compass, Make Votes Matter are three of the many organisations working to try and get greater cross party cooperation to improve the functioning of British democracy, and all very much worth supporting.

What is unfolding in the constituency of South West Surrey is particularly interesting. It is the seat of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who is being challenged by the excellent Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party. I blogged before about what is happening to the NHS and this constituency contest encapsulates that bigger struggle. Locally Greens, LibDems and Labour all wanted to stand their candidates down and unite to support Dr Irvine. The Labour leadership has stupidly expelled the Godalming three and imposed a candidate on the constituency. Looks like the LibDems are also putting up a candidate. As far as I can see the only way of defeating the right wing BluKip hegemony with their big money backers is by very much greater cooperation in some kind of progressive alliance.

The Progressive Alliance is having a launch event in London tomorrow, Monday 15th May. Many Labour and LibDems members are supportive, but the leadership seem reluctant to stand their own candidates down and support rival candidates. The Green Party is much more wholeheartedly in favour. The situation is still fast moving and it may yet be the case that the spirit of cooperation will prevail.

In many constituencies the number of people who do not vote exceeds the numbers who vote for the winning candidates. If we can get these non-voters, and especially the young non-voters, to register to vote, and to vote, then maybe a miracle can be achieved and we can get rid of this ghastly government. In the meantime I’ll be busy helping in Herefordshire, where we have two great Green candidates, Diana Toynbee and Ellie Chowns, and with a couple more miracles they might win on 8th June!

Australian Solar (Again)

Baldivis

Baldivis: of 5,765 houses 3951 now have solar panels

In 2012 I wrote a blog entitled ‘Re-powering Port Augusta’, advocating large scale concentrating solar thermal power stations be built to replace Northern and Playford B ageing dirty brown coal fired power stations, which were due to close. Since I wrote that blog a number of coal fired power stations have closed and many parts of Australia have experienced power cuts. For many decades Australia has had excellent pioneer academic solar thermal researchers but still has no large scale solar thermal power stations with thermal storage. India, South Africa and Chile have all overtaken Australia on that front. Now, rather belatedly, there is a flurry of interest in building various types of solar power and energy storage systems in Australia, and especially in the Port Augusta region. Port Augusta in South Australia is ideally located for such projects with good grid connections, a very sunny climate and a workforce with relevant skills.

Sundrop Farms, with Aalborg CSP, have built the excellent system that I blogged about a few months ago (here and here). This however was relatively small scale and just for the tomato farm, not for feeding electricity into the grid, but does provide an excellent example of what can be done.

Australia’s adoption of solar power has been very unusual. The vast majority of its solar power, about 80%, is domestic rooftop arrays. (Solar farms only account for about 8%) Rising gas and electricity prices, recent power cuts, government policies that favoured small scale arrays, large numbers of detached owner occupied houses and falling prices of solar panels and batteries are all factors contributing to the rise in rooftop solar systems in Australia. Thirteen months ago Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg stated that 15% of Australian households had photovoltaic solar panels on their roofs. Renate Egan of the Australian Photovoltaic Institute claims this figure is now 26% (higher than any other country, except perhaps a few tiny island nations). In Baldivis, a suburb of nearly 6,000 houses to the south of Perth, the figure is 69% and rapidly increasing. Within a year or two it is likely that some such places will have solar panels on 90% or more of households.

Rooftop solar looks set to increase. So far this is mainly by adding solar panels to existing buildings, which are often not ideally suited due to their orientation and many having hipped roofs. If new houses were designed and orientated to maximize solar generation very much more power could be produced at very competitive prices. The next steps will be to increase energy storage and for people to switch to electric transportation systems. As I’ve said before, Australia could become a 100% solar powered economy. It is happening piecemeal, but could be very beneficially aided by clearer government goal setting and forward planning.

Time for Change!

Caroline Lucas & Jonathan Bartley to head UK government???

Caroline Lucas & Jonathan Bartley to head UK government!?*

This week atmospheric Co2 passed 410ppm, the highest level for three million years. We are heading for a climate totally unfit for human civilization, a climate unseen for 50 million years, and we could get to this ghastly outcome within the lifetime of children alive today. Climate change is just one aspect of a wider Ecological Crisis that includes habitat loss, species extinction, ocean acidification, desertification and myriad forms of pollution. In the UK we also face a Social Crisis that has at its heart rising inequality and chronic underfunding of health, education, housing and other public services.

Since my adolescence in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I’ve been an environmentalist, and like most environmentalists then and now, also committed to social justice based on much greater equality. In those early days the only way of causing less polluting lives was to live simpler lives. We drew inspiration from Gandhi, Ivan Illich, Fritz Schumacher and then young Jonathon Porritt. An ecologically sustainable lifestyle inevitably meant using less energy. There were some futuristic writers, like Buckminster Fuller, who had visions of the future based on higher tech, but any truly sustainable source of energy supply was off in some distant future.

Over the last half a century there has been a cleantech revolution. Now we have the technology to provide a Swedish standard of living to all 7.5 billion of us humans. As I keep saying on this blog, technologically so much is possible. If we applied the principles of ecological sustainability and social justice systematically humanity could very quickly banish much of both the Ecological Crisis and the Social Crisis to history. We could create a carbon negative global economy with zero hunger and poverty. To achieve this we need different politicians. Why Sweden is rich and Somalia is poor has more to do with politics, history and culture than due to resources or possibilities. Why we in UK are living through a protracted period of austerity and Sweden is not is due to the different political decisions that have been made. While Sweden systematically applies goals of ecological sustainability and social justice the UK does not. We in this country currently have a government focused on further enriching a tiny clique of billionaires, and are prepared to trash the climate and the lives of our own people in order achieve this insane goal.

We have a UK general election on 8th June, and local elections on 4th May. Please register to vote, and please vote, ideally for the Green Party, but failing that for any politician you feel can contribute to getting rid of Theresa May and this awful government. The UK desperately needs a government that understands the Ecological Crisis and the Social Crisis and is prepared to radically redistribute resources to achieve the twin goals of Ecological Sustainability and Social Justice.

Tidal Energy

Scotrenewables

Scotrenewables: Floating tidal energy device with retractable turbines being launched in Kirkwall

This week Scotrenewables announced the successful operation of their SR2000 floating tidal energy device, operating at full 2MW capacity. The SR2000 weighs 500 tonnes, has a floating main body with two 1MW turbines that fold up while in transit and fold down while in use. Because they can be easily built and deployed without expensive specialist support vessels the overall costs should be kept down. This is the largest tidal stream energy device currently operating anywhere in the World. The initial site is in Lashy Sound between Eday and Sanday in the Orkneys where there are very strong tidal currents, but Scotrenewables claim the same technology can be easily adapted to areas with slower tidal currents or used in rivers, so opening up many diverse potential markets. Scotrenewables are based in Kirkwall and have worked closely with the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Stromness. I’ve blogged before about tidal energy and EMEC in 2010 and 2013.

MeyGen with their seabed mounted tidal stream turbines still seem to be progressing with their project in the Pentland Firth. The Hendry Review into tidal lagoon technology came out strongly in favour a few months back, and work on the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project is due to start in 2018. Perhaps at long last the tide is turning in favour of tidal energy.

These three pioneering tidal energy companies offer great possibilities for helping meet UK energy needs and also represent a huge potential for exporting the technology globally. At least two of the three companies have been helped by EMEC, and EMEC continue to work with other pioneering and innovative wave and tidal start-up companies. It is tragic to think that if Brexit does indeed go ahead the UK may lose many global centres of excellence such as EMEC that have come to the UK only because our membership of the EU and depend on EU funding and collaboration.

Cities and cars

Urban space is at a premium, and cars waste that precious space

Urban space is at a premium, and cars waste that precious space

The move away from petrol, and more especially diesel cars, buses and trucks is gathering pace. Greenpeace and the Guardian have shown how hundreds of thousands of children are routinely exposed to illegal levels of air pollution. Sadiq Khan is bringing in the Ultra Low Emission Zone. Courts in Munich and Stuttgart have instructed city authorities to prepare to ban diesel cars and plan the transition to electric. Many cities around the world are now striving to clean up their air quality, and since the dieselgate scandal the image of the diesel car has been in freefall. The petrol engine too is on its way out.

Stock markets sense the direction of travel. Last week the stock market valuation of Tesla overtook both Ford and General Motors, despite Tesla still having never made a profit and only producing a tiny fraction of the number of vehicles than their more established rivals.

As the population of many big cities is growing and space is very much at a premium there is a very strong argument to limit private car use within cities, even for zero emission vehicles: there simply is not the space for them. By improving public transport, walking and cycling facilities it is possible to move very much larger numbers of people more quickly around the limited available space, as the above table shows.

A few weeks ago the giant Chinese company Geely opened a new car factory in Coventry. It is now making the new TX5 London taxi, a plug-in hybrid with a 70 mile battery range and a petrol back-up motor. The TX5 is a six seater with space for a wheelchair. This looks to be a considerable improvement on the old dirty diesel taxis currently in use. In the longer term the TX5 hybrid is likely to be superceded by an all electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

The best cities around the world are continually improving walking, cycling and zero emissions public transport systems. More streets are being pedestrianized. The next logical steps are to roll-out zero emission taxis, ban diesel and petrol cars and allow some, but probably quite restricted, use of zero emission private cars. Such cities should be a joy to live in: safer, quieter and cleaner, and with air fit to breathe.