Monthly Archives: October 2015

Pollution & Disruptive Innovation


Chai Jing is an excellent investigative journalist who made the internet documentary ‘Under the Dome’ which has been watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world, including 150 million just on the Tencent channel in China in the three days before the Chinese authorities panicked and stopped Chinese viewers seeing it. However it can still be seen in the rest of the World. The version I watched was one hour 43 minutes long. Chai Jing investigates Chinese air pollution, the damage this does to human health and how tightening environmental standards can lead to economic growth. She does not cover Climate Change and the possibilities renewables offer.

Clearly the polluters should be made to pay. A recent IMF study shows that if the externalities of production (health and climate) were included subsidies to the global fossil fuel industry could be worked out to be $5.3 trillion per annum. These figures will be challenged, but of course they could be an underestimate, and anyway they include factors that are simply beyond monetary value. On a dead planet there is no economy to worry about.

Our car sharing club bought Volkswagen cars on the understanding that they had the lowest emissions of any car that we could afford. We feel cheated. Volkswagen’s emission cheating software has cost them dearly. They’ve already lost their place as the World’s largest car maker and have lost $30b from their share price. Meanwhile Shell have pulled out of the Alaskan Arctic at a cost of $7b and abandoned the Carmon Creek tar sands project in Alberta, loosing another $2 billion. Mass bankruptcies are causing chaos in the fracking industry. The global disinvestment movement is gaining traction, just as the falling price of energy is creating vast stranded assets in the fossil fuel industries and the cost of renewables continues to decline.

A couple of days ago there was a very interesting article in the Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The old energy incumbency and the politicians and agencies they have influenced have got things wrong. The disruptive impact of renewables and efficiency has been massively under estimated. The graph above shows how the International Energy Agency failed to see how dramatically solar pv would expand. As the Global Cleantec industry gains influence its interests coincide with those of everyone who cares about pollution in all its forms. More and more people are beginning to understand that we can tackle climate change and pollution generally while providing all humanity with a good standard of living. Given the nature of Global capitalism this will be a chaotic process as disruptive innovation sweeps away old polluting industries. Hundreds of millions of jobs will go, just as hundreds of millions of jobs will be created. The inevitable social damage could easily be mitigated if we all had Scandinavian style governments, but that’s for another blog. The important points to note are that the tide of history is swinging towards a Cleantec revolution, a strong agreement in Paris to reduce emissions is a necessary part of the process to prevent Climatic catastrophe and that the economic benefits should be greater than the costs, especially if the transition is well managed.

Chai Jing’s ‘Under the Dome’



An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau


Congratulations on winning the Canadian election, and doing it in such style. Taking the Liberal Party from 34 to 184 seats was very impressive. Ousting the dreadful Harper administration is something many of us around the World would like to thank-you for. Well done!

The Paris Climate talks will be upon us in five weeks time. Justin, you and Canada have a choice. You could follow the dreadfully polluting path of the Harper administration with its reckless exploitation of the Alberta tar sands and its plans for Keystone XL. Alternatively Canada could be a Cleantec pioneer. Currently Canada’s per capita carbon emissions are 14.1 tonnes, a pretty dreadful statistic. However Canada is a country with many and varied resources and opportunities. Carbon emissions could be slashed while creating many social, economic and ecological advantages.

Canada has huge opportunities to develop its renewable power sector. Hydro is already important, but could be improved and expanded, particularly by developing pumped storage facilities. Wind, wave and tidal power all could be locally important. Solar power in its various forms could be surprisingly useful. Wood chip gasification, as pioneered in the Austrian town of Gussing, has vast potential. Promoting local renewable energy coops might be the best way to maximise local social, economic and ecological benefits. Perhaps the biggest single contribution could be made by adopting very strong energy efficiency standards across all parts of the economy. Improving the grid infrastructure generally and interconnections with your American neighbour would be useful: you could sell them more zero carbon electricity instead of oil from the tar sands of Alberta. A statement to that effect would really enhance Canada’s standing in the global community. I’d love to act as a consultant to help you bring this alternative vision into reality!

Best wishes


Paris & the ‘Carbon War’

Co2 scenarios

Co2 scenarios

The United Nations Climate Change Conference will take place in Paris from 30th November to 11th December. The task before the politicians is immense. Humanity must reduce CO2 emissions very rapidly if it is to survive. The only known safe future lies in getting atmospheric CO2 back below 350 ppm (parts per million) as quickly as possible and then to return to the long term historical norm of 285ppm, the level which provided humanity a climate in which it has flourished. Levels are now at 397.64 and still rising at about 2ppm per year.

The graph shows various scenarios of possible future emissions. Essentially the red scenarios are game over for humanity. The grey and yellow scenarios would still entail billions of climate refugees as rising seas flood low lying land, deserts replace arable farmland and climatic patterns become dangerously unpredictable. Only the green and blue scenarios are somewhat more hopeful. However what would be best is for humanity to be able to reach net-negative emissions by 2040 or 2050, which is a more radical scenario than any of those represented here.

Such radical and rapid reductions in emissions are theoretically, technologically and philosophically possible. Political will is overwhelmingly the greatest stumbling block. The fossil-fuel incumbency is still fighting tooth and nail to keep polluting. We see this in Volkswagen cheating emissions laws, Australia allowing the Carmichael coal mine or George Osborne’s attacks on renewables and energy efficiency: such bad actions cumulatively threaten humanity’s future.

However the arc of history is firmly bending towards a better future. Those of us arguing that a low carbon renewables based economy is necessary, possible and desirable were once a tiny minority: now we are the huge majority. A tidal wave of opinion is flowing our way: the Papal encyclical, the statements of Mark Carney (governor of the Bank of England) and Jeremy Leggett’s ‘Winning the Carbon Wars’ are a few of the millions of examples of this tide.

The Paris talks will be a major battle in the Carbon Wars. At which point the scales tip irrevocably toward climatic catastrophe or toward something better will only become evident in retrospect. We have much to do to get emissions to stop rising, to decline and to enter the net negative zone and then eventually to stabilize the atmosphere, probably back at the pre-industrial norm of 285ppm.

See Jeremy Leggett

National Infrastructure Commission

Lord Adonis

Lord Adonis, head of the new National Infrastructure Commission

What’s going on with British energy and climate policy? Amber Rudd remains a minister at Department for Energy and Climate Change, but since the last election George Osborne has been micro-managing her department and now he has handed the energy side of things over to the new National Infrastructure Commission led by the ex-Labour peer Lord Adonis. Adonis appears not to have responsibility for Climate Change policy, yet deciding the infrastructure investment priorities is an absolutely critical aspect any meaningful action on Climate Change. The idea of a National Infrastructure Commission has been around for a while and in a previous version included major housing developments, which has not been included in Adonis’s brief: he is to focus on energy and transport. This may have the short term objective of the government being able to drop expensive and unpopular decisions, like Hinkley C or HS2, without losing face politically.

Meanwhile Lisa Nandy, the Labour shadow minister for energy and climate has come out in favour of decentralised and democratic energy policies, exactly as I advocated in a blog posting on 3rd September. Does she read this blog!?

Many European countries have long term and consistent energy and infrastructure policies. The National Infrastructure Commission may help Britain achieve this very useful objective. Here is my advice to Lord Adonis, just in case he happens to read this blog!!!

Britain needs an energy demand reduction strategy to promote efficiency across all sectors; house design and construction, energy generation and distribution, domestic appliances and goods of all sorts. Full end of life re-use and recycling needs to be established to create a circular economy, requiring less primary inputs of energy and resources.

100% renewable energy for electricity, heating and transport as a policy objective: promote renewables at all scales, include a much more gradual reduction in feed-in tariffs, a special focus on promoting municipal and cooperative forms of ownership, open up the market so that local generators of energy can sell it locally rather than only to the national grid, support the rapid innovation and entrepreneurial activity that already exists.

Energy storage and interconnection will need much greater investment. This includes a wide range of different energy storage technologies including pumped hydro, batteries, renewable gases etc. European grid integration is important and the planned cable linking the Norwegian grid to ours is a very useful first step, links to Iceland and to Germany would be the next logical steps.

The transport priorities should be to reduce pollution and congestion in our cities. Cycling, walking and public transport should be prioritised, and that public transport should increasingly be electric or hydrogen powered.

Ecologist article

Lisa Nandy