Who’s having a good time during the shutdown so far? Unfortunately I’m tempted to say the virus, which is far from under control almost anywhere. Even in China and other parts of Asia we need to be cautious as controls are relaxed. Maintain your distance from other people and wash your hands.
Winners and losers include.
Winners – experts. Largely banished during the recent surge in populism and nationalism, they are now in high demand and for the most part of it having a good shutdown. Just maybe they’ll be listened to over climate change after all this is over.
Winners – health services. Under funded and under prepared in so many places, it’ll be a brave government that underfunds them in the medium term future.
Winner – the environment. From a lack of traffic to hearing birdsong, millions of people have turned to nature. Supposedly dolphins have been swimming in Venice’s canals. What is certainly true is that the water in them is clear. People who live under flight paths of airports will have a sense of peace. Air pollution in cities has plunged. In fact whilst its terrible to say so covid has saved thousands of lives in China over all as the shutdown there cut pollution drastically. Here’s hoping this leads to change.
Loser – the economy. The shutdown will lead to a huge worldwide slump. We’ve only just about got over the 2008 crash and this looks like being worse. How governments behave afterwards will be critical to peoples health and well being, but its almost certain that future generations will be paying for our mistakes.
Loser – mental health and general well being. There is a danger that people will die from other conditions as health services naturally concentrate on covid.
Loser – the fossil fuel industry. The oil price has collapsed to such an extent its actually cheaper to lead it in the ground. Lets hope it stays this way. It also shows though how dependent we are on oil. Keep healthy.
This is a very difficult post to write. The COVID-19 situation is extremely serious. Globally COVID-19 is shutting society down. I’m going to write a post about the implications of all that in future – although that to be honest will be guess work. We are in completely unknown territory. However in the meanwhile I thought I’d write a post on how to keep sane over the next 6 months?! written from the perspective of this site with a bit of eco stuff and other advice thrown in.
1) Don’t panic buy. Nuff said.
2) Volunteer. A lot of people are going to need food and other stuff delivered to them. As long as you don’t have the symptoms the risk is very low to both parties. You may know people – we do. There are various groups being set up to do this.
3) This is allied to point 2). Get some exercise. If you have a garden, get out there (see 4 below). Going cycling is a good way of exercising and it is hard to conceive that you could catch the COVID-19 virus this way. Look at it like this – soon there won’t be any people on the road. Walking is also low risk as long as you keep a reasonable distance 2-10 metres from other people. (Sneezes can carry 10 metres but to be honest outside, you’d be unlucky.)
4) Have a garden? Grow your own. You should still be able to get seeds on line. Growing your own food has never been so important.
5) Take up a hobby. I’m still trying to get better at playing several musical instruments. I’m learning Italian. We were hoping to go there by train later this year. This is not going to happen now, but I’m still going to carry on. Write a book, read books…. etc. etc.
6) Watch your energy use. If lots of people in the power system are ill then we could have problems. Catching up on those boxsets? Make sure you leave nothing on standby and get those LED’s plugged in. Fortunately in the northern hemisphere its hitting us just as we are starting to use less gas and electricity as weather warms up and it gets lighter. For anyone reading this in the southern hemisphere you’ll need to be even more careful. Don’t hog the internet too much so we all can get a go.
7) A little advice on sterilising stuff, which I believe to be correct. There are five ways of destroying the virus. Dehydration – dry it out. Disrupting its lipid envelope (essentially dissolving it away using alcohol, which also dehydrates it). Soap and water (the best way), disrupts its internal molecular interactions between its components. No one is sure how long the COVID-19 virus survives on stuff it could be up to 72 hours (it will almost certainly vary on what its on). Obviously shopping is a weak point. One possibility for non-perishable goods is to dump them somewhere for 72 hours when home (to be honest I’m working on the 48 hour principle) and not touch them. I’m putting my newspapers on the radiators which are still on some of the time.
There are still two destruction methods to go. One I had forgotten about until it was mentioned by an expert on the radio last week. That is UV light. This has been known about at least since Tudor times. Stick something in bright sunlight and not only will it dehydrate the virus (and bacteria) but also damage its RNA. Remember the viruses are minute so will absorb the UV really easily. The only thing I would say is I don’t know long this would take. But it will be hours. Another chemical I have learnt inactivates the virus is hydrogen peroxide. This also would work by damaging its internal nucleic acid and proteins. Again not sure how long this would take. Vinegar should work as well. Its a great organic solvent (envelope disruption) and is also acidic. Some surface cleaners which have inorganic surfactants will inactivate COVID-19 but are far from instantaneous.
The bible reading I did today along with COVID-19 got me thinking about cities. It was the familiar story about Sodam and Gomorrah. The bible notes commentator pointed out the main reason God wanted to destroy the cities was not gay sex (which in any case was going to be non-consensual), but as is pointed out in Ezekiel that the people oppressed the poor and needy.
I live in a city and in general they are great places to live. There are problems though with exploitation, crime immorality and pollution – as well as disease. When cities work they work well and are surprisingly sustainable. For example when you think about it food and other services can be delivered to a large population in a small area. Along with gas and electricity.
But so can disease, violence and pollution and much of what a city consumes come from outside its boundaries maybe from thousands of miles away. Some cities, particularly in the US are so spread out that they require the use of private cars and make public transport difficult to introduce.
In the age of peak oil and climate change we need to redesign our living and cities to make them more sustainable. Most of the energy cities use should come from within them. Buildings need to be made much more energy efficient. We should consider more homeworking and make walking and cycling much more dominant (you’re a lot less likely to pick up COVID-19 from these activities). We should try and grow as much food in or near the cities as possible (this was clearly the case in Genesis).
Hopefully the virus will lead to some more sustainable changes as people hopefully learn lessons from it. In the meanwhile wash your hands and stay safe.
Could the Heathrow decision stop a lot more? There is an article in today’s Guardian by George Monbiot suggesting the legal decision taken last week could be far more significant than we first thought. The decision last week was presaged on the fact that the go ahead for a third runway took no account of the Paris climate change agreement now signed into law as a UK commitment. The problem for government is nothing else does either. Governments of all parties have cynically talked about 2050 in the hope that the problem is someone else’s. This politically and environmentally will no longer do.
The legal decision now gives campaigners the tools to stop all sorts of other stuff from going ahead. In campaigners sights are new road building projects, HS2 and new fossil fuel projects. George Monbiot is part of a group aiming for the last one. But you could think of myriad other targets. The subject of a post two weeks ago. New schools being built without any taking any account of climate change… Hinkley C massive piles of concrete and the uranium mining as we argued in our book is both energy intensive and getting more so. How about your councils transport policy?
Could the Heathrow decision stop a lot more? The only limit is money and organisations to take this stuff on. You can contribute money via a link from that above.
We’ve heard a lot about Australia recently. First the fires, then dust storms and finally floods. Now we hear power prices fall. The reason they are falling is due to renewables costs falling. The Energy Security Board reckon they will fall be nearly 8% over the next two years. A total of 16% of Australia’s electricity was generated by renewables (mainly hydro, wind and solar with some biomass) in 2018-19, this is set to increase to a total of 27% by 2022 and then 40% by 2030. This is an astounding increase over 2 years the total is going to nearly double with the costs of the generating equipment falling in this time – hence power prices fall.
Tassie obtains 100% of its electricity from renewables, mostly from hydro schemes (building dams in the state has proved controversial and has stopped). South Australia get just over 50% form renewables (lots of wind) whilst Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland get 10-20%. Northern territories got just 4% of its electricity from renewables in 2017 but has 2030 target of 50%. I haven’t managed to find Western Australia’s total but judging by renewable capacity it cannot be very different to the Northern territories.
Roof top solar accounts for a total output of 5% of Australia’s total electricity, which is a very impressive figure. The good news continues with plunging carbon emissions. The main threat to all this? Managing the grid and grid capacity for small-scale generation. But so far so good and its nice to find renewables do actually reduce costs which is another nail in the coffin for their critics arguments.
You may have heard about Passivhaus but what about a Passivschool? Britian has its first (I’m sure there are plenty in Germany). The Passivhaus is a German standard of house that requires no heating and nowadays little if any energy input at all. The Passivschool is a the same thing – only a school (Hackbridge primary) in Sutton Surrey (not far from BedZED).
The school has aimed for materials used in its construction to have a low embodied energy has very high levels of insulation and low levels of air movement and cold bridges. However the classroom windows can be opened to allow them to deal with future heatwaves. The school has a lot of on-site renewables including PV’s and a heat pump. The heat pump can be used to cool in summer and will have elements of heat storage to allow for inter-seasonal heat transfer.
If only all new schools were built this way right? In fact almost none are. With only a handful even having on-site renewables. Unfortunately local authorities have almost no say over schools in their area in England and even if the school ask their rebuild plans to take climate change into account they have a battle on their hands. A school in Taunton is in this situation. The parents, pupils and staff have rejected the plans saying they don’t do enough to protect the planet. I wish them the best of luck.
I’ve just read an article in the paper on London’s gridlock. Apparently traffic in central London is moving slower (8mph) than in late Victorian times (12mph). Famously in 2015/16 the number 11 bus moved so slowly (4mph on average) it was quicker to walk! I don’t know the stats for Edinburgh but its probably not much better. It certainly took me an hour to go about 3 miles one Friday evening. Back to London. Why is this when the congestion charge has pretty much go rid of all private cars? Private cars – yes. But Uber drivers who use cars – no. Taxis – no. Vans and some lorries – no and of course buses. Amazon deliveries – no. Maybe nature does abhor a vacuum.
The upshot is everyone blames one another and lots of people blame the cyclists who have new super high ways which have taken up road space The cyclists obviously blame one everyone else. London is a big place and one reason is that the government is shared between the assembly and local boroughs. There is lack of coordination between Transport for London and the boroughs according to many commentators, which sounds reasonable. Edinburgh and other big UK cities don’t have that excuse.
Another possible reason is population growth, 1 million in the last 10 years. Edinburgh has also grown. Even if those people rarely leave their house their needs must be serviced (deliveries). Again this sounds plausible. After all how often are new highways built in cities?
What is the solution to the increasing gridlock? The answer is no one seems to have one. There is no doubt that getting people to walk and cycle is at least part of the way around the gridlock issue. Both are much more space efficient than any vehicle. Edinburgh has reintroduced trams but while they are now well used the limited nature of the city centre route has not noticeably reduced traffic congestion. The problem is that vans in particular seem vital to city life providing goods and services to businesses and private individuals in the city centre. There doesn’t seem to be a ready solution – but one needs to be found.
The electric car ban has been brought forward to 2035 from 2040 (including hybrids). The question is – is this possible? The next question is does the UK government have a plan. There’s no sign of one. It looks like greenwash ahead of COP26 to me. Lets consider the size of the challenge. There were 32.5 million cars on Britain’s roads in 2018 (plus at least 3 million vans and a number of trucks that will be in the millions). Looking at cars only. In 15 years to get all the petrol and diesel vehicles off the roads you’d have to sell about 2 million a year. Sales whist they doubled last month are nothing like that. So what might need to be done to achieve this? There are many lessons we can draw from Norway where electric cars now account for over 50% of all new sales.
- First you have to go for it. The Norwegians have a generous grant scheme (ironically ours is about to be scrapped), this maybe why sales last month were so high with people trying to beat the deadline. In addition electric cars pay no tax and no congestion charges and are allowed to park for free.
- Second you need to think out of the box. The Norwegians have integrated charging points and parking with public transport. So people do not drive all the way.
- The charging points are I believe free.
- There are plenty of them.
A couple of additional points need to be made. The grid needs to be reinforced so that all the electric cars can be charged. The Norwegians have had problems with this I’ve heard, with localised power outages. To support 30 odd million cars on the road takes a lot of electricity so capacity will need to be increased massively. You can imagine how many charging points we will need as well. Where on earth are we going to put them?
There are of course differences between Norway and the UK. The Norwegians have massive amounts of mature hydropower so electric cars make very good sense. Also its a small market so skewing it is far easier.
One last point has to be made as the electric car ban has been brought forward, electric cars don’t solve the problem of congestion or entirely of particulates. To do that we need to fill of urban areas with cyclists and pedestrians which is far better.
Back in 2013 the Church of England came up with a strategy called “Shrinking the Footprint” it has now decided it needs to shrink the footprint to zero. The original strategy said this;
The free, easy to use toolkit from Shrinking the Footprint, the CofE’s national environmental campaign, enables all church buildings – historic and modern – to understand and reduce energy use and costs along with cutting their carbon footprint”
and that the strategy would,
“identify buildings that require additional support“.
This in my experience is probably almost all of them. My record of visiting or attending different churches suggests almost all them are cavernous places, built with no regard to energy use or even making the congregation feel warm (or comfortable although that’s another issue). Now the Church has decided it needs to shrink the footprint to zero by 2045. It does seem to realise this is going to be a challenge. Particularly as regards cathedrals. To my my mind why bother trying to heat these anyway?
Having said that, in 2015 when we went to Paris for the climate change talks we went to meetings at St Merries, near the Beauborg Centre and St Denis Cathedral. Both were huge. I don’t feel the cold easily but I’ve rarely been so cold in my life. I’ve never been able to decide whether the buildings were unheated all the time or whether they had just switched the heating off so as not to be embarrassed. Its difficult to worship when you’re freezing. I went to Canterbury more recently and I think they had heated it to an extent although it was not exactly baking.
I don’t really know what the solution to all this is. We’ve had a think about it in our church. We put insulation in the roof (we can – many cannot even do this). but then it will escape through the walls and stained glass windows (we have underfloor heating). We looked at getting more secondary glazing an tried to get a grant for it. We failed and it wasn’t economic to do without one, although gas prices have at least doubled since. Our energy use is enormous, partly due to the size of the building – which although not a cathedral is well on the way to the footprint of some of the smaller ones. Also because the building is in almost constant use.
The first thing is identify your current energy use. Then model its current patterns (of course these may change), then start to develop a long term strategy. This will probably involve solar panels and heat pumps since these seem to me the technologies that are most suited to onsite generation. One of our current interns is doing the first bit of the above as we speak. I expect though in winter we are going to have to wrap up well in future to shrink the footprint to zero.