Since I wrote the last blog on Obama’s announcement for a 32% reduction in power station emissions by 2030 I’ve come across a video of his speech in full. It is one the best speeches by any incumbent political leader I’ve ever heard. Well worth watching the full 26 minutes of it!
Colette and I started walking the South West Coast Path nine years ago, from Poole in Dorset, and hope to reach Minehead in Somerset in about six years time. We just got back from Cornwall, having walked the 61 miles between Falmouth and Penzance. Such a lovely coast, full of amazing contrasts, from the quiet sheltered tidal creeks of the Helford River and Gillan Creek to the wild and windswept headlands of the Lizard. The abundance of wildflowers was such a joy!
Our impressions were of a well cared for landscape, where a lot of human effort, much of it voluntary, has been put into protecting the biodiversity and improving access. Of course damage can still occur in many ways, from the minor acts of individual stupidity like dropping litter or the illegal digging of bait on the tidal mudflats to more major threats like the proposal to re-open and enlarge the Dean Quarry near St Keverne. This quarrying expansion could bring economic benefits to the area, and the stone is destined for the planned Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which is an excellent renewable energy project. However enlarging the quarry could destroy the wonderful corals of the newly established Manacles Marine Conservation Zone. The question is whether the quarry can be developed in such a way that it brings maximum benefits while minimizing damage. Other threats include the macro threats of climate change and ocean acidification, which are both largely driven by carbon emissions, and where it is of no consequence whether the carbon in emitted in Cornwall, Australia or China. Continuing to protect and develop this magnificent coast requires a huge range of action at all levels, from reducing the litter dropped by individuals, to the careful consultation on the quarry plans and the global transition to a low carbon economy.
There are some complex trade-offs in this process of environmental protection. If saving the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone jeopardizes the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and then subsequent other tidal lagoons this might well slow the UK’s carbon reductions, with all the related damage this will do to ocean ecosystems and much else besides. I’ll write again soon about balancing the needs of the economy and ecology: potentially we can get the best of both worlds!
So many ghastly things are happening in the world, from ongoing civil wars and the emergence of genocidal fundamentalism to the climate disrupting consequences of business as usual politics. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Yet at the same time very many amazing and positive things are happening.
Evidence is beginning to mount that several countries may have passed peak energy demand, and renewable energy is rapidly gaining ground in most parts of the world. The possibilities of a 100% renewably powered global economy look better and better as each year goes by. The pace of innovation is breathtaking, especially in relation to many forms of solar power. I can’t choose a single technology of the year, so here are five of my solar favourites.
- In January I blogged about Naked Energy: Combining solar water heating and photovoltaics into a single panel with improved efficiency.
- In March I blogged about solar powered desalination. In Australia Sundrop Farms are planning a huge expansion of their Port Augusta project, which I’ll blog about as it happens.
- In July I blogged about Airlight Energy using solar heated air to help bake limestone into cement at Ait Baha in Morocco
- Also in July I blogged about Solar Roadways: re-imagining road surfaces as photovoltaic electric generating infrastructure.
- In September I blogged about Clique Solar using Fresnel Dish technology to heat water and steam for a multitude of uses in India.
Last year I chose the then Uruguayan President Jose Mujica as my Person of the Year. Again this year Pope Francis is a contender, as are many others, but I’ve chosen Molly Scott Cato as this blog’s Person of the Year 2014. Last May she was elected for the Green Party to the European Parliament representing Southwest England. She is proving a powerful voice for social justice and ecological sustainability. With more such voices in the world perhaps some of the ghastly things we read about in the news can be overcome.
Last week I looked at the way disruptive change is happening in the electricity supply industry. Today it’s time to look at supermarkets. Here in Herefordshire the new Cattle Market development has just opened. I had been very much against it. The last thing Hereford needs is yet more shops, especially when there are so many empty ones already. We need to wean ourselves off identifying ourselves as consumers and off our debt fuelled excessive and wasteful consumption patterns. That said one of the new stores is a branch of Waitrose, which operates under a different business model from the big four; Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons.
Waitrose doesn’t have shareholders. It is part of the John Lewis Partnership and all its staff are partners in the business, sharing in the profits via an annual bonus paid as an equal percentage of salary. This means that the 91,000 people who work for the group should in theory be much more motivated, engaged and enjoy their work more than staff in other supermarkets. Looking at carbon emissions and other sustainability criteria, Waitrose out-performs the big four, but not Marks & Spencer or the Coop. Next time I go shopping I’ll pop into Waitrose and see if I can have a chat to one or two of the staff in our new store and see what they think about all of this.
It seems important to me that we need alternatives to the shareholder-driven profit-maximization principle behind our big companies, be they supermarkets or electricity suppliers. We want organisations that are more ethical, more concerned to help reduce their environmental footprint, more concerned to help put funds into charitable causes and into treating their staff well and not into the endless greed of shareholders. I and many others are switching our purchasing power to reflect these preferences. I see Waitrose’s market share has risen pretty steadily over the last 20 years, and is now just under 5% of the UK grocery spend: plenty of scope for them to grow, and for more ethical and innovative new entrants to the market.
Displacing the big incumbents in the supermarket sector may prove a slower process than in the electricity supply sector…but disruptive change is coming. Let’s work to make it as positive as possible!
The words ‘transition’ and ‘sustainability’ are very much words of the moment. At last week’s Hereford in Transition Alliance (HiTA) meeting Martin Kibblewhite asked the question ‘Transition from what, to what’. Most of those at the meeting have spent decades campaigning for myriad causes, projects and policies intended to secure a more ecologically sustainable and socially just future for humanity. Of course there are differences of opinion about what that future world might look like, and what kinds of calamities and collapses will precede the necessary changes… the necessary ‘transition’, if indeed we are ever to have a future that is better for humanity and the rest of the biosphere… a sustainable future…
My work over several years has been to try and articulate my own vision of what this potential future might look like, and how we might overcome some of the immense challenges facing humanity. For about seven years, on a very on and off basis, I’ve tried to write a book, out of which developed this blog and a lot of one off talks and evening classes, and several other projects. I’ll next be speaking about this vision at the Hay Spring Fair on Saturday 12th April. I look forward to meeting some of you there: do come up and say hello and give me some face to face feedback on what you think about this blog.
Annie Leonard has a new video and in just 9 minutes manages to convey the kinds of changes we all want to see in the world. Do watch it. It’s inspirational. She hardly mentions the actual words ‘transition’ or ‘sustainability’, yet it is the best simple, quick and upbeat synopsis of the transition to a sustainable future that so many millions of us are working our socks off to help achieve!
Annie Leonard’s story of solutions video http://storyofstuff.org/movies/the-story-of-solutions/
On Tuesday I was speaking at the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford. I had a 15 minute slot and my brief was to talk about the exciting possibilities of what could be achieved if we in Herefordshire rise to the energy challenge. I wanted to pack-in many of the ideas and technologies I write about on this blog, and to present them in my usual enthusiastic manner. To do this I always speak without notes and use slide pictures of different technologies and minimal text. I romped through an awful lot of ideas in the allotted 15 minutes. Afterwards I got lots of positive feedback about how people liked my presentation. The downside of such rapid and unscripted speaking is that factual errors are more likely to creep in than when one goes more slowly, and to really be sure never to make silly errors clearly it is best to speak from, and stick closely to, written notes. However this can be very dull for an audience to listen to. It’s a difficult balance to strike.
I did make one error that I’m aware of on Tuesday, and that was to say that UK uses gas to generate about 80% of its electricity. Soon after I said it I realized my error, but too late to correct it. The figures should have been that we use gas for 80% of our domestic space heating and for about 40% of our electricity generation. My basic point was to stress how vulnerable we are, given the growing predominance of imports from Russia and the Persian Gulf. I also wanted to stress the ridiculousness of Ed Miliband’s promise to freeze energy prices, as if he had any control over what price the global market sets for gas. Despite the error I think the message came over loud and clear that I think we need to reduce our dependency on gas imports, as well as rapidly reducing coal and nuclear useage, and the way to go is a major investment in energy efficiency and a whole basket of renewable energy technologies that ideally should be led by local renewable energy coops. Apologies for the error: I hope my message was still clear, and that it was also factually creditable apart from this one error.
Caplor Farm , Fownhope, Herefordshire : a family-run business – details about recent carbon footprinting placement, and info about the Prince’s Mayday Network of businesses committed to a low carbon community