Monthly Archives: November 2015

Carnage, Compassion & Community

Not in My Name, Rome.

Not in My Name, Rome.

Our hearts are with the people of Paris, Mali and countless other places, in the aftermath of the recent and ongoing carnage. ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram are currently the very embodiment of intolerance, yet Islam, for much of its history has been a force for tolerance and pluralism. It still is in many ways and the huge grassroots outcry against terrorism from the global Muslim community is a very hopeful sign, best seen in the ‘Not in My Name’ images and videos currently going viral on the internet.

Any religion or ideology can be usurped by the forces of violence and intolerance. Robespierre and the Terror had its origins in ‘Liberty, equality and fraternity’, Stalin’s terror in Marx’s ideas about social justice, the 30 Years War in rival interpretations of Christianity, current violence against the Burmese Rohingya is fuelled by hate speeches of Buddhist monks!

Love, compassion, tolerance and community are where hope lies. In a globalised World a global community is emerging which is ethnically, religiously, culturally and politically pluralistic, which seeks to embody the politics of hope, of tolerance and of love. No one organisation can represent such a huge and diverse process of historical change, but if I was to try and name one organisation that represented this mega-movement it would probably be the online and global community of Avaaz, tirelessly campaigning for a better future. In communities all over the World millions of grassroots organisations are seeking to improve things locally by applying these values of peace and pluralism, democracy and sustainability. The huge global rise and acceptance of inter-racial and same sex marriage is another manifestation of growing trend toward tolerance and pluralism.

The terrorists of ISIS have managed to unite the widest possible number of people against themselves. The UN Security Council unanimously condemned them, as did the Muslim Council of Britain and just about every other organisation one can think of. The hacker collective Anonymous has declared war on them, as has everyone from the USA to Iran, the Kurdish Pershmerga to Bashar al-Assad and Russia, the EU and USA are all dropping bombs on their strongholds in Iraq and Syria. I doubt if bombs will be very effective. This is a battle of hearts and minds. However if we all, the vast majority of humanity, can grasp the moment and recognise our collective solidarity, then and only then, will we build a better future. Let us all stand up together, for peace, for pluralism and for an inclusive and sustainable prosperity for everyone.

Not in my name and—the-solution-will-come-from-us-165741864.html

Indonesia Burning

Indonesia Burning

Indonesia Burning

Indonesia is burning. This is a tragedy. The health consequences for human beings, the devastation of recently pristine and complex ecosystems, rare species of plants and animals pushed ever closer to extinction, the massive carbon emissions as forest and peat go up in smoke. What could be done?

First, we, humanity, need to recognise that protecting rainforests is of critical importance, to preserve climate stability, biodiversity, and human cultures. As George Monbiot makes clear in an excellent article, the role of the media has been, as one might expect, pretty hopeless. The media and politicians need to see this as the important issue that it is.

This year, being an extreme El Nino year, means Indonesia’s dry season is drier than usual. However most years forest fires ravage Indonesia. Both traditional slash and burn agriculture and modern palm oil plantations burn the forest to clear land. Both systems of land use are unsustainable, especially given rising populations and increasing demands for economic development.

Environmentalists have long argued we need to protect the rainforests. There have been some noted successes, for example Costa Rica saw much of its forests destroyed from the 1940’s to the 1980’s, and then has achieved considerable forest regeneration over the last 30 years. One recent local initiative is the Size of Herefordshire project where people in Herefordshire work with the Forest Peoples Programme and an organisation called Cool Earth to protect an area of rainforest in Peru, which is the size of Herefordshire.

I would like to see an area of devastated land regenerated in such a way as to achieve several objectives. As populations grow and the World shrinks almost everyone now wants more than traditional subsistence farming could provide. People want access to good health services, schools and universities, clean water, electricity and a broad range of new opportunities, encompassed by the recently agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals. All this could in theory be provided in these devastated lands, but would require considerable investment, but this would in the long term be a very good use of resources with potentially excellent ecological and economic returns. Ecologically sustainable settled farming systems as pioneered by the Inga Foundation and others, perhaps with the recreation of Terra Preta soils and some of the lessons from the Permaculture movement could be the basis for agriculture more sustainable than either slash and burn or oil palm monocultures. Renewable energy and solar water purification would be at the heart of new urban developments, providing accessible health, education and employment opportunities.

So, please politicians and the media: stop ignoring the devastation, help halt it and support initiatives that seek restoration, economic and ecological renaissance.

SE Asia haze


Costa Rica

Size of Herefordshire


Terra Preta soils

Christiana Figueres & Paris

Christiana Figueres

Christiana Figueres

I’ve been blogging for nearly six years and have posted 177 blogs, all of which I’ve written myself, with the longest quote being only a sentence or so. I’ve never just cut and pasted other peoples work. Today that is about to change. For one blog only I’ve cut and pasted a whole article from the Guardian. It was written by Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat tasked with leading the UN Climate Talks due to take place in Paris from 30th November to 11th December. This article cuts to the core of what I’ve been blogging about all these years: that Climate Change represents a huge challenge, that technologically a low carbon economy is possible, that the people of the world want change and that many politicians around the World are waking up and getting on board. (Sadly UK politics is lagging a long way behind on this!) Over to you, Christiana.

Change is created by turning points. Whether through evolution or revolution, turning points in history have changed the way we think, move, communicate, live.

We are at a turning point now. A decisive hour when a historical event occurs, when a decision must be made, when we have understood that the consequences of the past need us to intentionally and decisively redefine the future.

The latest session of the climate change negotiations took place last week, and while I work in this process to support the governments of the world to adopt a legally-binding climate agreement, we should remember that international negotiations don’t cause change, they mark it. The change has already been happening in the “real economy” through a series of mutually reinforcing and increasingly powerful drivers:

Science has warned that fossil fuels cannot all be burnt if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is changing how investors and shareholders think about risk and whether they are exposed to values that will become stranded. The divestment movement has grown to$2.6tn as capital shifts towards lower risk opportunities.

  • The insurance industry is waking up to the uninsurability of uncontrolled climate change, leading to stark warnings,notably by Mark Carney, chair of the Financial Stability Board, that disclosure of risk and risk management has to increase quickly.
  • Demandfor fossil fuels may be waning. Health impacts from coal are of increasing concern, especially in China but increasingly in India. Glencore, one of the world’s largest coal producers, has lost 87% of market valuation since flotation in 2011. Arctic drilling contracts are being cancelled.
  • The destabilising impact of climate change is complicating and worsening national and international security problems, as unpredictable weather events and reduced access to water and energy lead to unrest and even conflict. With indications thatclimate change is igniting conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, the catalytic effect of unaddressed climate change is becoming ever more clear.

The moral imperative to act is growing. Major faith groups are openly and strongly supporting holistic, equitable, but above all, ambitious climate action. Pope Francis’ Encyclical and the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change are just two of the many calls for stewardship of the global common good.

  • Technology is opening new horizons. Costs of installed solar in the US have dropped from $77/watt (£50/watt) in 1977 to $0.60/watt today. On the back of this, renewable energy has boomed. In 2013, for the first time, more renewable energy capacity was installed than fossil fuel power plants (143 gigawatts (GW) to 141GW). The estimates made by the International Energy Agency in 2000 for the amount of solar that would be deployed in 2015 was underestimatedby more than 18 times, and the renewables industry is just getting started.

The net result is a world ready for change.

Political will has arrived: the 196 countries in the UN negotiations are committed to achieving an ambitious global climate agreement. There is remarkable leadership from many countries, best seen through the 146 national climate plans put forward by nations covering more than 86% of emissions. This is the beginning of a blueprint for our future.

Over the next eight weeks, until the conclusion of the Paris climate summit, I will be writing a series of blogposts in which I will explore the ways in which the world has reached the critical turning points that are finally enabling us to come together to manage the systemic threat of climate change and create a future that is made brighter by the economic, moral and political choices we are collectively now deciding to take.

We will look back at this moment as a moment of remarkable transformation, as the indisputable turning point of this century. Let us open our eyes now and see it as it happens.

Air Conditioning & Refrigeration

air conditioning in China

air conditioning units in China

Cooling is one of the fastest growing uses of energy. Domestic refrigerators and air conditioning systems are selling very quickly as incomes rise in China, India and other parts of the world. Heavy industry, data centres and food storage, processing, distribution and retailing all use a growing amount of energy intensive cooling. Many of the chemicals used as refrigerant coolants are themselves powerful greenhouse gases. All this represents a very serious problem from a climate change point of view. What could be done?

Well designed and insulated buildings can reduce demand for cooling just as they can for heating. Passive house style housing is beginning to take off in countries like Germany and Austria where the main requirement is for heating. High thermal mass, good insulation, breeze capturing windows and towers and well situated shading have all been used in the past to provide comfortable buildings in hot climates and could all be developed and incorporated into more modern urban contexts. Where this kind of design is applied the need for air conditioning will be very much less.

Solid Solar are a pioneering Austrian company designing and installing large scale solar thermal heating and cooling systems. A few weeks ago they installed a 5,000 square metre solar thermal roof to provide air conditioning at the Desert Mountain High School in Arizona. Where air conditioning is necessary this seems to me to be the best way to do it.

In many tropical countries huge amounts of food are wasted due to lack of cold storage and transport, and so naturally more refrigerated trucks are being used in, for example, India. Refrigerated trucks are doubly polluting, using diesel both for movement and cooling. Again, what could be done?

Peter Dearman is the British inventor of the Dearman engine, which uses liquid nitrogen as a fuel for power and cooling. The Croydon based company is expanding with a particular focus on refrigerated trucks especially in rapidly expanding markets such as India. The basic technology could have many other uses where both power and coolness are required at the same location, for example in data centres or supermarkets. This is very exciting and might well be my technology of the year!