Category Archives: Climate Change

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.

India: Coal or Solar?

India has built a lot of coal power stations, but will they become stranded assets, displaced by cheaper, cleaner solar?

India has built a lot of coal power stations, but will they become stranded assets, displaced by cheaper, cleaner solar?

Last month atmospheric Co2 levels passed 410 parts per million. To avert climatic catastrophe humanity needs to shift away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. India presents us with both the scale of the challenge and the scope of possibility. The government of India wants to bring electricity to all its 1.3 billion people, the population is still rising and the country is rapidly industrializing. Energy demand is increasing, and so too carbon emissions. Many new coal fired power stations were built in the decade 2007 to 2017, more than doubling coal capacity. This all bodes ill for local air quality, and for the global climate. At the Paris climate summit a couple of years back the Indian government was rather dragging its feet, only promising to decrease the carbon intensity of its economy, while planning for rapid economic growth and emissions still rising for years to come.

However things could change for the better very rapidly. The price of solar, both photovoltaic and concentrating solar thermal, is falling fast, and India has a very good solar resource. In 2017 for the first time India added more new renewable capacity than new coal. Many coal plants are proving economically unviable: they simply cannot match solar on price and are shutting down. As solar prices are predicted to keep falling this should only accelerate this process. Currently the government are still trying to protect coal from these market forces. They are also beginning to grasp the new opportunities that solar can bring. For isolated rural communities across India local solar plus storage will be key to their development. At the other extreme are new solar based megacities.

The Dholera Special Investment Region, located near the head of the Gulf of Khambhat in the Indian state of Gujarat, is a huge area earmarked for a new city and cleantech industrial hub. A 5 GW solar pv plant is planned, with local manufacture of solar cells and panels and other ancillary industries. This will further decrease the price of solar electricity, hastening the demise of coal. A project like Dholera opens up many new opportunities to create new forms of prosperity not based on ever more pollution but on new and ecologically sustainable technologies. It would be a perfect place to invest heavily in solar desalination and new forms of super productive hydroponic agriculture, on many forms of energy storage and on electric and hydrogen fuel cell transportation systems. India could lead the world with the speed to its energy transition. Technologically India has lagged behind Europe, USA or China, but it has probably the best solar resource of these four. It could leapfrog them, and be the first solar powered superpower. Essentially it is a political choice, which path India will follow, coal based or solar based development? The economics of going all out for solar are looking increasingly good, which is good news for India, and for the rest of us.

Towards an Ecological Civilization

Paris

Can we make our cities, and World, less polluted and better to live in? This picture is of Paris, one of the places leading the way.

Humanity wants a better future. Increasingly we are united in our demands for a cleaner, less polluted environment, and we see this as a fundamental human right. We want to protect the oceans, the forests and the air we breathe from the multiple onslaughts of industrial civilization. Achieving a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable lifestyle for all humanity is a goal worth striving for.  Increasingly we have the technological tools to help us do this, and there is a global groundswell providing the pressure politicians need to enact positive change.

Slowly the United Nations is moving towards recognising the human right to a healthy environment. Over the last eight and a quarter years I’ve posted three hundred blogs highlighting some of the positive steps that are being taken on this path to a better future. My focus has been on the shift from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewables. This change in energy use is one part of a bigger shift, what David Korten and Joanna Macy refer to as ‘The Great Turning’, from Imperial Civilization to Ecological Civilization.

In a great video Jeremy Leggett argues that the transition away from fossil fuels and to a 100% renewables based global economy is happening faster than most people understand. He identifies three meta-narratives in this process. First, the global groundswell of people, governments and increasingly also from corporations who see the need for change. Second, the falling costs and increasing efficiency of the renewable energy technologies, and thirdly, a whole set of problems within the old energy incumbency, from the ponzi like debt structure of the fracking industry to the inability of everything from coal and oil to nuclear to compete with renewables on either cost or environmental legislation. Together all these trends conspire towards an exponentially fast energy transition. We will see a lot of stranded assets.

There are many victories to celebrate. Over the last few years UK carbon emissions have fallen, so that in 2017 they dropped to levels last seen in 1890. This rapid improvement was mainly due to the decline in coal and rise of renewable sources of electricity.

As I’ve stressed in a number of recent blogs, the next big change needs to be in transport. At last many cities are starting to ban cars and make city centre areas radically more pedestrian focused. Cycle paths and public transport infrastructure are being improved. Several German cities are about to introduce free public transport in order to help get people to quit their car addiction. Many cities are banning the most polluting vehicles, and as I’ve shown in recent blogs very much cleaner alternatives are rapidly developing. Over the next decade I would predict air quality to improve and carbon emissions from transport to fall. Putin, Trump and few ghastly politicians will do all they can to stop this transition, but the overwhelming tide of global opinion combined with the pace of technological innovation is stacked against them.

Renewables Rampant

UK elec

Coal Collapses and Renewables Rise. This graph of UK electricity; part of a global trend.

At this time each year on this blog I like to highlight something that has helped in the process to make a more ecologically sustainable, socially just and peaceful future possible. Sometimes I focus on a political leader who has made an outstanding contribution, sometimes on a particular innovative clean energy technology. This year I want to celebrate a whole global trend, the switch from fossil fuels to renewables, and especially the growth of North Sea wind.

Ever since I started blogging I’ve been saying humanity should switch to 100% renewables, for electricity, heating, cooling and transport. We can then simultaneously ditch fossil fuels and nuclear. The speed with which renewable technologies are progressing is staggering. Performance is improving while costs keep tumbling. The ecological case for moving from ‘The Fossil Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’ always was strong, now it is the most economically sensible thing to do.

In 2017 the first contract has been signed which will see an offshore wind farm built without subsidies. The German electrical utility EnBW submitted a bid of Euro 0.00 in a competitive tendering process to build the 900 MW He Dreiht windfarm in the North Sea. As solar and wind energy get cheaper the case for greater international grid integration gets stronger. The Dutch grid operator TenneT has proposed building an artificial island on the Dogger Bank and linking all the electrical grids of the countries surrounding the North Sea together in a hub and spoke arrangement. Electricity could then be sent to wherever in Europe it was needed. I’ve blogged before about this, but now support seems to growing and it is projected to be in operation by about 2027. TenneT estimates that 30GW of windfarms might connect to the first hub, and that other hubs might also be built. This would be a huge step forward in reducing carbon emissions and pollution in general across much of Europe.

All over the world innumerable renewable energy projects are demonstrating that we can provide electricity, heating, cooling and transport to all 7.6 billion of us while tackling climate change and achieving all the other global goals. Over the coming year I’ll highlight more of the technologies and politicians that are showing the path to a better future.

Bonn and Climate Leadership

Bonn conference

The Bonn Climate talks: where will the required leadership come from?

The Bonn Climate Change Conference has ended. Plenty of fine ambitious rhetoric but a failure to grasp the nettle and do what is necessary. Bill McKibben, writing in the New Yorker, is clear about the dilemma. Most politicians are caught in a bind, realising the need for action but constrained by a desire to protect old polluting industries. Angela Merkel has said “Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind – it will determine the wellbeing of us”, yet she remains protective of the German coal and car industries. Canada’s Justin Trudeau and California’s Jerry Brown are similarly conflicted.

Although 500 NGO’s have signed The Lofoten Declaration no leading politicians have done so. Many politicians want to be seen to be leading in the world of cleantech and renewables, but are unable to grasp the concept of managed decline. Most of the known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground, and the industries that depend on them need to be wound down. This needs to done in ways that are socially just. Green politicians like Caroline Lucas, Jesse Klaver, Isabella Lovin and Andrew Weaver understand this, but none of them are leading their nations. Many small and vulnerable countries such as Fiji are trying to offer leadership, so too the UN. People are looking for political leadership from the elected leaders of major economies who have the power and money to create the top down political momentum. Technologically and philosophically the opportunities are amazing, but political leadership has long been lacking. Where might it come from?

It is absolutely not coming from USA or UK. Trump is utterly isolated as the only leader to quit the Paris Agreement. Britain is caught up with the parochial fantasy of Brexit. Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Jerry Brown would like to be seen to be leading but are too constrained and too timid. Manish Bapna and Lailai Li, writing on the World Resources Institute website sound a positive note about Xi Jinping and China. Frances Beinecke writing on the Natural Resources Defence Council website has encouraging things to say about India. Probably leadership will be a collaborative venture, and I think the person most likely to draw the key players together may be France’s Emmanuel Macron. He has vision and ambition, seems to be able to break with old patterns of doing things and to work with others to make progress. He may not want to move as radically as the science suggests or greens advocate, but he is in a position of power and does clearly have leadership skills. The test will be whether he can lead France’s managed decline in fossil fuels while ramping up the cleantech sector, and do it in ways that are socially just. If he can collaborate with the rest of the EU, and with India and China to make this the new global norm, then he will have achieved the kind of leadership the planet and it’s people so desperately need.