Monthly Archives: October 2016

Heathrow expansion

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

Heathrow Expansion: Another stupid infrastructure investment decision

The government has announced expansion plans for Heathrow, despite Teresa May, David Cameron and the Conservative manifesto all being against it back in the day when it was a Labour policy. Jeremy Williams covers the tortured history of the issue very well in his blog and Greenpeace have published ten good reasons why it is a bad idea. There will be huge opposition, Judicial Review, Zac Goldsmith has resigned and forced a by-election. Naturally I think it is a terrible idea. Put simply airport expansion should be opposed anywhere until such time as we can fly in ways that do not have such awful consequences for climate change, noise pollution, air quality and therefore human health.

Caroline Lucas has tabled an Early Day Motion calling for a frequent flyer levy, which sounds a sensible idea, designed to dampen demand. I’d also like to see aircraft fuel taxed and increased investment in rail. Perhaps most importantly, and certainly least debated in Parliament or the media is putting very much greater resources into developing alternative, very much less polluting and quieter aircraft. I’ve blogged about Solar Impulse, the solar powered plane, and the helium filled airship Airlander. Within the next decade or so, given the right support, I’m pretty sure something like the Airlander could have a large photovoltaic array and batteries built into its design. It might incorporate hydrogen fuel cells. It would then have zero emissions, be quiet and not need a huge runway. An airport designed specifically for such aircraft would not need runways anything like Heathrow and would generate very much less opposition and could therefore be built very much more quickly.

Post Brexit this government wants to portray itself as a modern can-do government, open for business. However the policies it backs are all rather old fashioned, polluting technologies reflecting last century thinking: Trident, Hinkley, Fracking and Heathrow. All decisions we’ll come to regret. If humanity is to have a better future it will be socially inclusive, economically egalitarian, pollution minimizing and fuelled by renewable energy. Innovative Cleantec infrastructure investment decisions will need to be made. Tragically this government seem incapable of understanding any of this.

Progressive Politics

Liz Leffman: with a progressive alliance might she now be MP for Witney?

Liz Leffman: with a progressive alliance might she now be MP for Witney?

Since the terrible murder of Jo Cox and the bonkers Brexit vote some interesting and positive developments are happening in British politics. A new progressive alliance may be emerging. In the week after the Brexit vote I posted a blog pondering how progressives might regroup and referring to a letter from the Green Party to the leaders of other potentially progressive parties. Since then Caroline Lucas, the Green MP (one of the authors of that letter), Lisa Nandy a Labour MP and Chris Bowers from the Lib Dems have written a book speculating about a progressive alliance. The title is ‘The Alternative: Towards a New Progressive Politics’. I’ve not read it yet.

Jonathon Porritt recently wrote a very good blog titled The Rudiments of a Progressive Alliance. He is supportive of the position put forward by Lucas, Nandy and Bowers. He is also a member of More United, which is a new bottom up attempt at building a progressive alliance that focuses on building a mass membership crowdfunding platform seeking to support candidates from any party that sign-up to their open, tolerant, sustainability focused principles. More United seems to me a very positive development in British politics. I’ve just signed-up as a supporter: why don’t you?

Another good blog on politics that I read this week was from George Monbiot, reviewing a book called ‘Democracy for Realists’ by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels. It shows how people vote is very much more determined by a sense of social and cultural identity than by a rational analysis of policies.

More United seems to me to be the best hope of us getting beyond the adversarial tribal politics that has undermined good governance. It hopes to build a mass movement of people from many political parties, and from none, who want to see the emergence of a modern dynamic progressive alliance that can unite around particular candidates in particular constituencies, use Crowdfunding to support them to win elections and so to improve participatory and inclusive democracy. Their key principles seem to fit with a broadly held sense of inclusive, tolerant, pluralistic social identity that will be attractive to many people, and as Monbiot’s blog shows, this may be much more effective than huge tracts of detailed policy that most people don’t engage with anyway.

This week we’ve had two by-elections. In Batley and Spen, after Jo Cox’s tragic murder the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP all decided not to stand. Quite rightly Tracey Brabin won the seat for Labour and a field of nine fringe, extremist and racist parties thankfully all lost their deposits. In effect a progressive alliance was working to make the best of the horrific circumstances following the murder of Jo Cox. The Witney by-election was a very different story. Robert Courts won it for the Tories. I was of course rooting for Larry Sanders, the Green candidate; however it was the Lib Dems candidate who did remarkably well, increasing the Lib Dems share of the total vote from 6.8% to 30.2%, an increase of 23.4%. Had there been an alliance where both Labour and Greens had withdrawn their candidates and backed the Lib Dems Liz Leffman might now be the MP for Witney. The combined votes of these three parties were greater than the Tory vote. Might such alliances happen in future? It is hard to tell, but a discourse, and grassroots organisations, exploring such possibilities can only be a good thing.

Sundrop & Solar Desalination


Sundrop, with heliostat field to right, power tower and heat storage tanks centre, 20 hectares of greenhouses to left, saltwater storage ponds in left foreground

I’ve long been a fan of solar powered desalination, and have written about it several times on this blog. It offers the best hope of expanding and intensifying food production to feed a growing global population, and so simultaneously to leave more space for biodiversity to regenerate. So far all the solar desalination projects had been relatively small scale pilot facilities, designed to prove that the technology worked. It did. The challenge then was to build full-scale food production systems in the hot dry deserts of the world. The first such project has just opened.

Last week Sundrop Farms officially opened their newly enlarged facility at Port Augusta in South Australia. They have expanded 100 fold, from 2,000 square metre pilot to 20 hectare commercial scale greenhouses, which now are in full production, growing 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes per year in what was unproductive desert. Mirrors focus the solar energy onto a power tower which can generate up to 35MWt steam, 50% of which is used to heat the greenhouses, 30 – 35% is used to desalinate seawater and the remaining 15 – 20% is used to generate electricity. They get about 320 sunshine days per year, and have on-site heat and water storage to cover for days when the sun doesn’t shine, and also have grid connection for added security. There is a 16 minute video which really gives a good feel of the place and what they’ve achieved.

Sundrop developed from an original idea developed by Charlie Paton, which he called a Seawater Greenhouse. He developed many of the pilot projects. Now he is developing a new lower cost pilot project in Somaliland, utilizing cheap shade netting instead of expensive greenhouses, but still using his original solar and wind powered desalination techniques. He is working with Gollis University in Somaliland and Aston University and DFID in UK.

The Sahara Forest Project is another thing that Charlie Paton originated which has now spun out into a Norwegian based company seeking to develop a number of related ideas and technologies. In 2012 they built a pilot in Qatar. Now they are researching doing a project in Tunisia.

Together all these developments suggest possibilities of more sustainable, and more intensive, food production in the worlds hot dry deserts.

Time to Quit Fossil-Fuels

Time to Quit Fossil-Fuels

Time to Quit Fossil-Fuels

On Friday 30th September, at a meeting of ministers in Brussels, agreement was reached on all 28 members of the EU ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement. Also this week India and Canada are likely to ratify. Sixty-one countries, including USA and China, have already ratified. For the Paris agreement to become effective it was agreed that at least 55 countries, representing at least 55% of emissions, would need to ratify. It looks like that threshold will be passed this week, meaning that the agreement comes into effect 30 days later. This is cause for some slight celebration.

The Paris agreement aimed to keep global temperature rise to below 2.0C, and aspires to keep it below 1.5C. In a new report by Oil Change International, using the oil industry’s own figures, the implications of this are spelt out loud and clear. Already operating mines and wells will push us past even the higher of these limits. This means that all planned new coal mines, oil fields and gas wells must be cancelled. Humanity as a species simply has to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. To carry on with business as usual will mean a climate utterly unsuitable for human civilization, and in a shorter time frame than any of our politicians seem to understand. This disjunction between the scientific reality and political policy is well developed in articles by George Monbiot and Bill McKibben.

Humanity needs to take concerted action on an unprecedented scale. The nearest comparison would be to war time mobilization, except in this case all countries in the world have to understand that climate change and a number of inter-related macro ecological challenges is the enemy, and only swift and concerted action will give humanity a hope. There is much that can be done, as I keep stressing in these blogs. Here is a short list. Humanity needs to:-

Stop developing all new coal mines, oil and gas wells and fracking, immediately and globally.

Stop investment in all new fossil fuel dependent infrastructure, be it new roads or car factories, airport expansion or shipping. Start planning the managed contraction of these industries, and the redeployment of millions of people into the new Cleantec sector.

As Amory Lovins and others have long argued we could and should use all forms of energy very much more efficiently than we do. Improvements are of course already occurring, but need to be ramped up. It is high time for a revolution in energy efficiency.

There is already a revolution in renewable energy technologies underway. Solar will eventually replace oil as the main form of energy, but this needs to be hastened by all means at humanity’s disposal.

As well as all of the above it would be wise to develop carbon capture and utilization. This will involve a multitude of actions from planting billions of trees to changing agricultural practices to maximise soil based carbon storage. It will also involve things like carbon negative cements and major changes to plastics industry.

It is my belief that theoretically and technologically humanity could provide a secure and comfortable lifestyle for everyone on Earth, and we could do this in ways that did not jeopardize the climate. Very few politicians seem to have much understanding of the scale and speed of change required. My local MP is Jesse Norman who recently became a junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. A few days ago I e-mailed him to ask if he would be prepared to debate these issues with me in public, in any forum he chooses, here in Hereford, in London, on TV or radio. I’ve not heard back yet.