Category Archives: Climate Change

Climate: Action Required

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has said that capital markets are financing projects likely to fuel a catastrophic rise in global heating. This of course is exactly why Extinction Rebellion activists have been rebelling in the city of London this week. Carney also pointed out that companies with assets concentrated in the fossil fuel sector are likely to go bankrupt, just as others in the cleantech sector flourish.

The scale and speed of the energy transition required to avert catastrophe is way beyond what any politicians are advocating. Let’s take the energy debate in Australia where they currently generate about 20% of their electricity from renewables, and which the governing party energy minister thinks is too much, and is advocating for huge investments in coal. The opposition parties are advocating increasing renewables by 2030, the Labor party to 50% and the Green Party to 100%. Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, is calling for a goal of 700%, which to me seems a sensible way forward. Cheap wind and solar could easily meet all Australia’s electricity needs, and facilitate the energy transition in the transport and built environment sectors, and open up a huge new market in the form of clean energy exports. Already plans are afoot to lay an undersea cable to Singapore to directly export renewable electricity and for a huge growth in green hydrogen for export to Japan, Korea and China, helping them rapidly decarbonise. These are the sort of economic changes to which Mark Carney was referring. The question is where are the politicians needed to implement such profound and rapid changes?

Meanwhile Prince William is in Pakistan and has called for climate action after seeing for himself glacial retreat and consequent flooding and drought problems. He has called for greater cooperation between the UK and Pakistan on the issue. Pakistan, like Australia, has enormous solar potential. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis has published a detailed paper on ‘Pakistan’s Power Future’, where they point out that solar and wind are already the cheapest forms of new energy and are projected to only get cheaper. Currently solar provides only 0.5% and wind 1.5% of Pakistan’s electricity. Pakistan currently generates 61% of its electricity from largely imported and expensive oil and gas. It would be good for Pakistan’s balance of payments, for local communities currently struggling without electricity, and for the global climate if their politicians worked with the many people who could help them rapidly develop their renewable energy potential.

Here in UK Boris Johnson has just announced that he will chair a new government committee on climate change. It is right that the Prime Minister chairs such a committee, but hard to imagine anyone less qualified to do the job. If I was to chair the committee I’d want to invite Professor Peter Strachan from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Jeremy Leggett from Solarcentury as my key advisors. Sadly Boris is unlikely to listen to such voices and unlikely to take any sensible action to avert climatic, ecological and financial collapse, which is why Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, Greenpeace and others will keep up their protests for urgent and radical change.

Muddle… or Decisive Action?

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Students lobbying Councilors to declare a Climate Emergency

Last Friday Herefordshire Council unanimously declared a Climate Emergency. It was an inspiring day. About a hundred of us old environmental activists were outside the Shirehall when along came about one hundred and seventy young students who had marched chanting from the collages, down Aylestone Hill and through High Town. Our councillors had seldom, if ever, seen so much support for a motion to be passed. Yesterday the same council approved their own Transport Package, which essentially commits them to spending vast sums of money on road building and peanuts for walking, cycling and public transport. This, of course, is exactly the kind of policy that shows they are not serious about the Climate Emergency that they themselves had declared just a few days earlier. It reflects the muddled thinking of governments around the World, who continue to give billions in subsidies to keep the old fossil fuel industries going, while at the same time professing to be concerned about climate change, ecological breakdown and appalling air quality. It is why more and more people are taking to the streets globally, with groups like Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate Action, demanding immediate and decisive action.

This coming Friday, 15th March, there will be a global school strike for climate action. As of this morning 1209 actions in 92 countries have been announced, and many more are being added each day. I follow many of the organisers on Twitter, and these young people, some only ten years old, are so powerful and eloquent speakers. They put most of our elected politicians to shame.

We need to make policy and investment decisions fit to the physical realities of the ecological crisis. Take road building. While our local council’s top priority seems to be to build ever more roads George Monbiot suggests a target of reducing car use by 90% over the next decade. Halting the manufacture, sale and use of fossil fuel cars, lorries and buses is a political decision. As I have repeatedly argued on this blog battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell alternatives already exist, and having most of the cars in car sharing clubs rather than private ownership we can further decrease the damage they do and the space they take up. If we are serious about action on climate change, or children’s health, or the liveability of our cities, then we have to make planning policy decisions in the understanding that the era of the privately owned motor car is over.

System Change not Climate Change

The World is getting warmer. This graph depicts the global temperature changes from 1880 to 2018. The data on which it is based is from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the graph is courtesy of Levke Caesar.

This week in the UK we’ve been enjoying unseasonably warm weather. Lots of us have been outdoors actively making the best of it. However there is also the worrying knowledge that this lovely weather is not how February in UK should be. Weather records are being broken all over the world. Some of these events are pleasantly enjoyed by millions, such as this warm spell in the UK. The other side of the coin is that many people are experiencing life threatening weather events: floods, droughts, hurricanes.

What is of course most worrying is that the warmer global temperatures are increasingly triggering a number of feedback loops. Ice is melting from the Arctic to the Antarctic causing sea levels to rise. As the oceans warm the water expands, further adding to sea level rise. Less ice means more of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the ocean, further contributing to warming, and to sea level rise. As the sea warms methane is released from the ocean floor. Permafrost is melting releasing more methane and carbon dioxide, further intensifying climate breakdown. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide, turning some of this into carbonic acid and thus making the oceans more acidic, with potentially catastrophic results for humanity.

The science is clear. We need to get to a zero carbon economy as quickly as possible. As I’ve repeatedly said on this blog, we have technological and political choices. Our politicians consistently hold on to outdated concepts, like economic growth and national self interest. The young people involved with school strike for climate, and so many of us in ecological activist groups like Extinction Rebellion, understand we need system change, not climate change. If our species is to have a future we all must start acting in the interests of our own species, as a unified collective entity. We all need a stable climate and a fully functioning biosphere. That will entail reallocating resources on an epic scale. It will involve the closing down of many industries, and the expansion of others. Our decisions will need to be guided by the ecological imperative, and that will need to trump all concepts of profit and power. A big ask, but absolutely necessary.

Greta Thunberg: My Person of the Year

Greta

Greta Thunberg, who started the School Strike for Climate movement, and is my Person of the Year 2018

For the last few years on this blog I’ve chosen a person and/or a technology to celebrate as the Person of the Year or Technology of the Year. I try and highlight ideas, people and technologies that might help humanity move to a better future, where climate breakdown is averted, mass species extinction halted and where people can live in a peaceful and prosperous manner, without wrecking the planet in the process.

The hydrogen fuel cell is my technology of the year. Lots of companies and research programmes have made important progress over the last twelve months, and many of them I’ve written about. In September I posted two blogs on the subject, here and here, and one in March.

We have the science that informs us we must combat climate change and the technologies to do so. Our planet is dominated by politicians who don’t want to understand the dangers or learn about better ways of doing things. Carbon emissions rose last year, when the science tells us they need to be falling fast.

The biggest and most positive thing to happen over this last year has been the emergence of a new generation of climate activists. In August the 15 year old Swede Greta Thunberg started her school climate strikes, taking every Friday off school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament. Her tweets and videos have gone viral and young people in hundreds of cities around the World have joined her in going on school climate strikes. In October Extinction Rebellion launched its programme of non violent direct action in London, and it too has rapidly become a global phenomena. Linked with these street based activist movements has been the growth of political movements advocating radical action on climate breakdown. In October I blogged about Green Parties gaining ground in elections in Luxembourg, Belgium and Bavaria, and during most of November and December most of my blogs have been about the growth of this climate activism, especially with the emergence of the Sunrise movement, the Justice Democrats and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez since the American Midterm elections in November. In Britain, where our politics in general seems so totally dysfunctional Caroline Lucas seems to be the most popular politician, and the only member of Parliament backed up by policies that might yet avert the worst. If I have to pick one person to represent this global wave of climate activism it would undoubtedly be Greta Thunberg. Do please watch this two minute video of her addressing COP 24 in Katowice, and check-out her Twitter for more news and videos.

The Decline of the BBC

MEPs on Question Time

MEPs on Question Time, over a 5 year period, 35 MEPs appeared, all anti EU fanatics (33 UKIP 2 Tory). Where were the knowledgeable pro EU MEPs? 

The UK is in a political mess. It is more deeply divided, more confused and more misinformed than at any time in my life. I lay the blame for this in large part at the poor quality of our media. The decline in how the BBC covers news and current affairs is of particular concern. I’ve given up with their TV and radio reporting of serious issues, and only scan their website to see what issues they are prioritizing, rather than with the expectation of really learning anything.

How our relations with the rest of Europe have been covered has been dreadful for decades. The above graphic shows the number of MEP’s on the BBC’s flagship Question Time programme over a five year period. All thirty-five times MEP’s appeared on the programme they were anti EU fanatics, thirty-three from UKIP and two anti EU Tories. Most of these anti EU MEPs don’t even turn up to debates and are staggeringly ill-informed and prejudiced. For decades the voices of people who have a deep understanding of the complexities, strengths and weaknesses of the institutions of the EU have been systematically silenced. I’d love to see Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party MEP for the SW England, given as much TV exposure as Farage, then the public would have much better understanding of the real issues. It’s not just the Greens who have some good MEPs who actually have a lot of knowledge of and respect for the EU. All parties, bar UKIP, have such people; it’s just that the BBC and much of the rest of our media ignore them.

George Monbiot wrote an interesting article in the Guardian about how the media like to portray politics as an individual psychodrama. This focus on a ‘cult of personality’ prism through which to view politics obscures the real issues and the impact they will have on ordinary people. In terms of the Brexit debate all the media focus is on will Theresa May survive, will Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg or Jeremy Corbyn be the next prime minister. If Brexit does indeed go ahead it will affect the lives of all of us in the UK in deep and profound ways, which quite frankly are more important than who happens to be in number 10 Downing Street.

One error that the BBC has made is to think that having two opposing views represented is necessary to reflect balance. Over the years every time climate change was discussed they would invite a so called climate sceptic to counter the position of a climate scientist. This distorts reality. Equating someone from an oil industry spin machine dressed up as a ‘think-tank’ and giving it equal weight to someone expressing a factually well informed view of scientific reality is ludicrous. Again, with Brexit, the BBC seems to think it is OK to have someone spout things that are simply factually wrong, as long as at some other point in their programme they have someone else putting a different point of view, even if that too is factually wrong. The job of journalism is to speak truth to power, and this is something the BBC and much of the rest of our media seem to have lost sight of. Whether it is the breaking down of the biosphere, the self inflicted calamity of Brexit or any other serious issue, public understanding of the issues if often woefully poor, and for that the BBC and the media must take some of the blame.

Climate Emergency

Sunrise Movement lobby Congress

Sunrise Movement Lobby Congress for Action on Climate Change

There is an utter disjunction between what science informs us is the predicament humanity finds itself in and what politicians are prepared to do. The science is clear: we need to get to net zero carbon emissions as fast as humanly possible. In the 1970’s we had the opportunity to reduce emissions in a gradual and orderly manner. That window of opportunity is now closed. Now our only hope for continued existence of our species is an almost unimaginably fast reduction in emissions, yet this year emissions increased. If they continue to increase for just a few more years it is simply ‘game-over’ for our species, and countless others. National governments everywhere are failing us. They range from the actively destructive, like USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil to the well intentioned but hopelessly under ambitious such as most of Europe.

As Greta Thunberg has said, our leaders are behaving like children. The thing that gives me most hope is the extraordinary explosion of citizen activism for climate action. The school strikes for Climate that Greta started in August has now spread globally and a whole new generation of activists are taking on leadership roles, many of whom are only children. Linked to this is the growth of the Extinction Rebellion movement, the Sunrise Movement and the Justice Democrats in USA, Green Parties across Europe and many other grassroots movements.

One of the key things these groups are doing is trying to get politicians to declare a Climate Emergency. Many councils in the UK and elsewhere have now done this, and this public acknowledgment of the problem is an important first step. Some of the declarations call for net zero emissions by 2025 or 2030, which is a scientifically necessary goal. Given the best organised and most dedicated local council in the world would probably struggle to achieve this the question then arises, how do we achieve it for the entire global economy, including in those places where governments are most actively hostile to such action. That bigger goal can seem hopeless, but hope is only born through action. Once people see dramatic and positive action in one place it can spread globally at lightning speed.

On Twitter I retweeted someone called Sydney Azari’s Tweet ‘We are on the event horizon of revolutionary change.’ This is an interesting concept. For humanity to survive in any kind of civilized state we need change on a scale and speed never envisaged before, the outcome of which is not knowable in advance, and for which there is no manifesto or political theory. It has to be powerful enough to sweep away dozens of governments, technologies, industries and the whole of global consumer society. What will replace our current systems has to fit within the biological and physical laws of nature.

The COP climate talks in Katowice, Poland, are drawing to a close. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said failing to agree climate action would ‘not only be immoral’ but ‘suicidal’. The path governments are committed to is suicidal. Hope lies out on the streets, with the youth, and with the millions of people trying to build that radically more sustainable future.

Extinction Rebellion in Hereford

Extinction Symbol

Extinction Rebellion is coming to Hereford. This Saturday, 1st December, we will hold our inaugural action, starting on Castle Green at 11.00 am. I have the honour of being one of the speakers. Each of us has just a few minutes. I doubt if I’ll have time to talk about many aspects, so let me expand a bit here. This is both deeply personal and of planetary importance.

Many of my generation have been active campaigning for ecological sustainability and social justice since the late 1960’s, and before that there was a long tradition of concern and action. Over all these decades humanity made some steps in the right direction, but larger ones in totally the wrong direction. We cleaned up rivers and created national parks and wildlife reserves, eradicated smallpox, lifted millions out of poverty, spread literacy and achieved much else. However over these same decades carbon emissions grew, ever more habitats were lost and species made extinct. As some forms of pollution were clamped down on others expanded rapidly.

The prospect of the extinction of our own species is very real. This is personal. By the time my grandchildren are reaching old age the planet may simply be uninhabitable. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at over 405 parts per million. This is destabilizing the climate and it is also causing the acidification of the oceans. Humanity is utterly dependent on a well functioning biosphere. As oceans become more acidic phytoplankton die, and without phytoplankton the oxygen cycle breaks down, threatening the ability of large mammals, such as human beings, to breathe. Phytoplankton die-off due to ocean acidification is just one of numerous tipping points beyond which we must not pass. To safeguard our existence as a species we need to change our global political and economic systems. The latest science suggests we need to reduce global carbon emissions to zero within twelve years. To do this will require extraordinary levels of commitment. It will require unprecedented action from governments, who currently seem totally unprepared and unaware of the situation humanity is in.

As I’ve said numerous times on this blog, technologically and philosophically there is so much we could do: the obstacles are largely political. Extinction Rebellion has been formed to force governments to take action by engaging in non-violent protest, which will often involve some, but not all participants taking action for which they may be arrested. In London this has largely been blocking roads, occupying government buildings and similar things. Extinction Rebellion groups are now springing up all around the world.

Extinction Rebellion fits into a crowded field of people hungry for change. The school strikes for climate action started a few weeks ago in Sweden with 15 year old Greta Thunberg, and are now spreading fast, with kids from 100 towns in Sweden and over 260 places worldwide on strike today.

We need many diverse voices calling for rapid and bold action on climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and the rest, and we need politicians capable of listening to them and taking the required action. We don’t have long.

 

Hooray! Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: rising star and climate radical

The American midterm elections are over and what they reveal is something very similar to what is happening in Europe; the rather flabby, corporate centre ground is collapsing and voters are moving out to the extremes. In Europe, where most countries have at least half a dozen parties in their national parliaments these trends are reflected as the emergence of some parties and the contraction of others, whereas in USA the trends take place within the Republican and Democrat parties. In a blog a couple of weeks ago I looked at the growth of Green parties in elections in Belgium, Luxembourg and the German state of Bavaria. Since then the German state of Hesse has had elections that reinforced this message, as again the traditional mainstream parties lost ground to both the far right AfD and to the Green party.

The best analysis of the midterms that I have read has been Paul Mason, and he is very good at identifying the demographic groupings that are driving the Trump phenomenon and its antidote, a much more socially caring and ecologically literate movement of more urban, educated, cosmopolitan and racially diverse people. Within the Democratic Party they form a democratic socialist grouping. For years Bernie Sanders was just about the only person representing this more radical perspective. Paul Mason identifies many of the emerging people and ideas within this movement. I want to focus on just one person. If Trump embodies all that is bad, then, for me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez embodies all that is good.

In a Tweet the meteorologist and commentator Eric Holthaus described Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “the only American politician I’ve ever seen with a climate change plan that is in line with intergenerational justice.” She also has some refreshingly radical ideas on inequality, gun crime and much else that is so dysfunctional about American society.

Action on climate change in America has been lead from academia by people like Mark Z Jacobson, through the courts by Our Children’s Trust and though grassroots campaigns by the likes of 350.org. Now at last these people have someone within the House of Representatives who really is focused on the same kind of actions that they are demanding. Millions of us around the World are delighted to see someone like Alexander Ocasio-Cortez emerging as a true leader, and I for one would love to see her become President of USA. As she is only twenty-nine years old she has time ahead of her, but why not as the presidential candidate in 2020? Who better?

Extinction Rebellion

Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg at today’s Extinction Rebellion rally in Parliament Square

Humanity faces a challenge of existential proportions. Our destructive global civilization is causing myriad forms of pollution. Everywhere the air, water and soils are becoming degraded; the climate is breaking down, the oceans acidifying, habitats are being obliterated and countless species are in terminal decline. Countless reports over many decades have only added to the scientific evidence. Small steps to combat the destruction have always been offset by greater damage elsewhere in the system.

From childhood this has been the bedrock of my motivation in life. I gave my first talk on all this in 1972 to my school sixth form. I’ve spent decades struggling to understand what to do to ‘save the world’. (Of course, the world will carry on, it is humanity which needs saving) I’ve been a very small voice, like millions of others, generally ignored and marginalized by the mainstream.

The mainstream political culture that dominated the planet for the entire post war era did at least pay lip service to sustainability, human rights and the welfare of the poor. That mainstream seems now to be crumbling. Voters in many countries are moving to the extremes.

Trump in USA, Putin in Russia, Durente in the Philippines and now Bolsonaro in Brazil, these four men seem to embody the emergent far right. They seem to delight in the destruction of our living world and care not a jot about the welfare of the poor. In the UK the conservatives seem to be moving from the old mainstream centre into the territory of the far right, as evidenced by this week’s budget, the whole Brexit process and their move from the EPP to the ECR groupings within the European Parliament.

Recent elections in the German states of Hesse and Bavaria typified the global situation, with votes for the mainstream conservatives and labour parties collapsing and a worrying rise in votes for the far right Alternative for Deutschland. On the positive side the Green vote also rose dramatically.

Generally, in most counties, Greens are the only political party who seem to understand the true magnitude of the impending ecological crisis and the scale of changes needed to avert the worst. The window of time humanity has is narrow: recent reports from the IPPC suggest we only have about twelve years to transform the entire global economy.

Today the Extinction Rebellion was launched in Parliament Square. This is a new movement promoting taking non-violent direct action on climate change and all the other aspects of the global ecological crisis. Many of the politicians and writers whom I most admire are there today, including Molly Scott Cato, Caroline Lucas and George Monbiot. Also speaking was the inspirational fifteen year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. (On her Twitter account she has a two minute video clip pinned at the top… do please watch it)

Various accounts of today’s launch of Extinction Rebellion are worth reading: try Rupert Read, Molly Scott Cato, Chloe Farand and Jeremy Williams, and see the Extinction Rebellion website. I couldn’t be there in person today. I wish them well and hope millions join their global call to action.

Humanity’s future lies in the balance. The choice is stark: the inaction and muddle of the old political mainstream, the doubling down on destruction of the far right or the hopeful idealism and radical practical action demanded by Green parties, myriad environmental groups, and now, Extinction Rebellion.

ps … The full text of Greta Thunberg’s speech is available here

California opts for Renewables

Kevin de Leon

Kevin de Leon, California Senate Leader and proposer of the 100% RE legislation

Yesterday California passed legislation to achieve 100% low carbon electricity by 2045, with 60% by 2030. This is a policy academics such as Mark Z Jacobson and many environmentalists have long advocated. The legislation was introduced by the Democratic Senate Leader Kevin de Leon and was passed with the support of climate conscious republicans such as Chad Mayes and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Meanwhile a few weeks ago Donald Trump scrapped Obama’s clean power plan and is attempting to promote greater use of coal. If successful this would of course be a disaster for public health and for the climate. However industry analysts think his legislation will have only marginal effects on keeping a few coal plants operating a bit longer, in a few States.

A huge division is opening up in America as a growing number of States, led by California, Hawaii and Vermont are pursuing 100% renewable electricity. Environmental considerations rightly play a part in their thinking, but so too does the falling costs of wind and solar power. Also renewables create many more jobs than coal, gas or nuclear. Trump makes much of trying to protect jobs in the coal industry, but his real motivation seems to be more about protecting the share price of his backers in the coal industry, and I think also his personal hatred of anything that smacks of care for the planet.

California has abundant renewable resources. By developing these resources intelligently it could create many social, economic and environmental benefits. It might well find it has got to 100% renewable electricity well before the 2045 deadline it has set itself.