Category Archives: Global

Mauritania & the Megaton Moon

GreenGo’s Megaton Moon proposed project: a vast wind and solar farm in Mauritainia, using the Mauritanian flag as inspiration for the layout.

At COP28 in Dubai 118 countries have signed up to a voluntary pledge to triple renewable energy generation and double energy efficiency by 2030. These pledges are a very variable thing: some countries will take them seriously and implement policies aimed at achieving these goals. For other countries it is, no doubt, just a meaningless public relations exercise. However there are other countries which will massively surpass the goal of tripling renewable energy production. It is this last group that interest me most. Let us look at just one.

In Mauritania only about half the population have access to electricity, and the country only used 1.88TWh in 2021. Mauritania has huge expanses of flat, windswept, sunny deserts, ideal for building large scale wind and solar projects. GreenGo Energy is a Danish based clean energy company that was founded in 2011, and has partnered with several cleantech funding organizations, such as Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, who have an impressive track record.

GreenGo and the Mauritanian government are proposing to build a massive wind and solar project in Mauritania with a capacity to generate 190TWh per year, which would be a hundred-fold increase in Mauritania’s electricity supply. Some of the energy would be used to desalinate seawater and increase agricultural production, some would be used to help supply more of the Mauritanian people with electricity and to help the country build hospitals, schools and housing, but all of this would use only a small part of the wind and solar generated electricity. Much would be used to make green hydrogen, which could then be used locally or exported, either as hydrogen or as ammonia or e-methanol. Making this green hydrogen at such scale in such a favourable location for sun and wind deployment should mean very cheap energy, perhaps half the cost it could be produced for in Europe. People and industry have always moved to where energy is most abundant and cheap. It is where new economic opportunities emerge. I wrote about this in my book ‘System Change Now!’ where I speculated about such massive projects and mentioned Mauritania as one of a number of countries well suited to host such megaprojects.

BP, the oil giant, announced a year ago that they had signed-up a memorandum of understanding with the government of Mauritania to explore the feasibility of producing green hydrogen in Mauritania. I have not heard if they have made any progress.

It seems likely that someone will get a big project of this nature built in Mauritania. There are always many stages involved in these kinds of projects and raising the vast sums of money involved is not easy. To my mind the GreenGo project looks more likely to happen than the BP one, but only time will tell. Chris Goodall, in his excellent Carbon Commentary Newsletter, points out that transporting hydrogen by pipeline is very much cheaper than sending electricity via cable, or presumably transporting hydrogen in specialized ships, and he speculates about the possibility of a hydrogen pipe connecting Mauritania to Europe. Demand for green hydrogen is very strong in Europe and a cheap and abundant supply will be necessary to help decarbonize Europe, and the World, and in the process bring a better and more prosperous future for Mauritania and for Africa generally.

The Mauritanian economy is currently dominated by mining, and they have ambitious plans to double iron ore production by 2026. With the cheap wind and solar generated electricity and green hydrogen that the GreenGo project promises, Mauritania would then be able to convert their ore directly into steel at the mine site, which would reduce the need to transport bulky iron ore for export. They could of course also electrify the railway linking the mine to the port. I speculated about all this in my book, long before I heard of the plans of BP or GreenGo Energy. Mauritania has the ideal resource base from which to build an inclusive and sustainable form of prosperity, for Mauritania, and also to help the rest of the world. To do all of this requires a lot of good decision making by politicians, companies and investors. It is a country I shall continue to watch.

‘System Change Now!’ … What?

Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, announces lawsuit against 5 big oil companies, 17th Sept 2023

The book I wrote over the last couple of years was called ‘System Change Now!’ and I’m currently running a monthly discussion group with the title ‘Exploring System Change’. What exactly do I, and the millions of others seeking system change, mean?

As is all too apparent the climate is changing and extreme weather events are becoming ever more extreme, and ever more common. Countless species of plants and animals are becoming extinct or are in worrying decline. Many aspects of human health and wellbeing are deteriorating due to increasing pollution, poverty and stress. None of it has to be this way. Everything could be turned around, but that implies a scale of change inconceivable under present political and economic systems. So, those political and economic systems can and must be changed.

Changing global political and economic systems will not happen through a single manifesto or violent revolution, but it is already happening in myriad ways that interconnect into a complex ecosystem of change making.

For decades big oil has known about the likely climate impacts of burning oil, and has systematically lied to us all about it. Their objective was to keep profits rolling in, whatever the terrible consequences might be. They funded, and continue to fund, think tanks that have dominated our media and our politics, and therefore our investments and our infrastructure. They have deliberately attacked climate scientists and delayed action to reduce emissions and have prevented any meaningful debate about leaving the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. At long last this is being challenged as Californian governor Gavin Newsom has filed a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP. Much more climate litigation will follow.

Simultaneously the whole cleantech and renewable energy sector is making massive strides forwards. Now quitting all fossil fuels and moving the entire global economy over to 100% renewables for everything, (electricity, heating, cooling, transport and industry) looks both economically and ecologically the most sensible thing to do, and do as fast as humanly possible.

In last week’s discussion group Nick Sherwood cited the old adage ‘Think Global: Act Local’. I find it endlessly fascinating to read and to think about these changing global possibilities, but our ability to act is severely limited on this global stage. Haydn, connecting into the group via livestreamed social media, wanted to know about the very local issue of why Hereford is so car-centric, and provision of walking and cycling infrastructure, and of public transport, is so poor. Of course decades of politicians and planners influenced by the lobbying power of big oil has not helped. But this can be turned around. We have countless examples of cities around the world that have massively reduced car use and promoted active travel, better public transport and localized services. Dutch and Danish cities have long since led on this, but Paris is now rapidly moving in this direction. Hand in hand with this often goes to desire to improve air quality and clean-up rivers and waterways, all resulting in major gains in terms of human health and wellbeing.

The interconnection between the local and the global is well demonstrated by this example. To help improve life in Hereford we need to learn from the cities that have made this transition away from cars and pollution and toward more human-friendly urban spaces. We need to debate the possibilities, and Professor John Whitelegg with be leading such a discussion, focused on the adoption of a 20mph speed limit, at De Koffie Pot, Left Bank, Hereford, 7.00pm tomorrow evening (Weds 20th Sept). We also need better politicians, and helping Ellie Chowns of the Green Party beat the Tory Bill Wiggin at the upcoming General Election would greatly help matters, as would Diana Toynbee unseating Jesse Norman. These are all small steps in a vast and global movement seeking to change our systems; our systems of transport planning, of politics, and of pretty much everything else.

USA: A Failed State?

Armed men, spurred on by their President, seek to ‘liberate’ the capitol building in Michigan. This is not how civilized countries operate: more like a failed state.

The USA is increasingly looking like a failed state. It could be on the verge of civil war. I sincerely hope not. Their mad, narcissistic President seems actively to be encouraging civil war, with his tweeting to armed white supremacists to ‘liberate’ state capitol buildings, and with tweets such as ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’.

Since the murder of George Floyd protests have erupted across America. Yet another black man murdered by a white police officer. Slavery and colonialism are what America was founded upon. Racial injustice has a long and tortured history. Current police brutality opens old wounds. Healing will require more than just an end to police violence. Deep structural change is urgently needed.

The Covid pandemic reveals interesting contrasts between different systems of social and economic organisation. Covid has resulted in over 40 million job losses in America, and only a few hundred thousand in most European countries, and losing ones job in USA often means losing health insurance and possible destitution. Americans live under extraordinary levels of stress and worry. Inequality levels are extreme. In Europe workers often sit of company boards and have helped mitigate the negative impact of Covid on the labour market. When people are made redundant the welfare system in Europe is generally vastly better than in USA.

While millions of Americans are facing real economic hardship others are sucking countless billions out of the system for their own insane vanity. Any system that allows billionaires to exist is clearly failing to collect the taxes that are required to create social justice. There was something deeply symbolic as Elon Musk’s private SpaceX rocket orbited above the heads of impoverished, angry and brutalised Americans.

Under Trump America has quit the Paris Climate Agreement and the World Health Organisation. These are the actions of a country imploding in upon itself, unable to fulfil its international obligations. America is heavily indebted and increasingly likely to default. Less a superpower: more a basket case.

Even the American Constitution, which for decades was held up as a beacon of democratic values looks hopelessly flawed. The right to free speech has resulted in a tidal wave of hate speech. The right to bear arms has resulted in far right militias who make USA look increasingly like war torn Somalia or Syria.

And yet for all its many failures America still has some hope. It has many great people. They deserve better. There is currently a struggle going on for the soul of America. Will it follow Trump down the road of ever greater inequality and division, or will it find a path to a better place?