One thing we have learnt this week-wilderness

Wonder_Lake,_DenaliTheologically wilderness has always had a strong role in the bible.  From Exodus to Jesus’s 40 days in the desert its there.  As my Bible dictionary says of the Exodus period;

Theologically, the wilderness period became the dual symbol of God’s leading and providing and man’s rebellious nature typified by the Israelites.

Jesus’s time in the wilderness was the same he was tempted by the devil and had to rely on God and scripture.

All this came to mind when I was reading about the threat to the Alaskan wilderness from oil drilling yesterday.  Despite the oil drilling that went on the 1970’s (whose fields are in decline) most of Alaska is pristine wilderness inhabited by moose bears, polar bears and of course mosquitoes.  President Obama has just allowed exploration drilling of the north coast for oil and there have been protests as Shell sends a rig to the Arctic.  But the real prize is the onshore drilling, in aeras given some protection as a refuge but not having full national park status.  Its this that big oil and its political supporters want to get their hands on.

There is little in the way of true wilderness left.  I would say I have been to some in Scotland and in Cradle Mountain Tasmania.  Both of these examples however cannot not be said to be unaffected by man.  Although in both I have seen the wonder of God’s creation.  This leads me to think that some places such as Alaska should be off limits to drilling.  After all we cannot afford to extract every last drop due to climate change.  Some places should be left as wild as possible. Maybe we should trust on God’s provision without extracting all the oil.


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The oil price falls yet again

oil and gas price projectionsThe oil price falls yet again.  This time the latest drop is due to what is happening in China.  This site has put various theories for the oil price falls over the last year.  A price fall that took almost everyone by surprise, including us.  Yes the US Shale oil production rise has been huge.  However, in the past the Saudis have cut production to raise prices.  This time they have not something which is beginning to look difficult for them.

Currently with a possible economic crash in the offing the oil price falls look set to continue for some years.  This is both good news and bad news.  Its bad for frackers and bad for the future oil supply since investment will be low.  Bad for renewables potentially, although prices are still falling fast.  Certainly bad for nuclear power. Probably good overall for the climate since a slow down will mean less energy use (although getting an agreement in Paris maybe harder).  Good for food and energy prices, which is good news for the world’s poorest. Etc etc….

Its looking like, although peak oil is not dead (obviously), the oil price will be low for some years yet.


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One thing we have learnt this week- 20 minute neighbourhoods

Custom made bike for carrying children Amsterdam

Custom made bike for carrying children Amsterdam

I’ve never heard of 20 minute neighbourhoods until now but saw a link on a friend of our books facebook page.  20 minute neighbourhoods are something that Portland in the US, if not pioneered, is obviously intent on introducing.  What are 20 minute neighbourhoods?  The concept is that you can walk and reach everywhere “important” in 20 minutes.

This raises the important question of what is important to a neighbourhood?  This of course will vary from person to person and also with age.  Its a useful question to ask.  For me access to shops, green space, church, leisure centre (swimming pool and gym) and occasionally health centres is important.  Older people might want easy access to clubs and day centres and children safe access to playparks and schools.   Disabled people would have other questions about access.  This should affect planning particularly for commercial usage and what developers provide.  Does there need to be replication of services between 20 minute neighbourhoods?

20 minute neighbourhoods will also require linking to other neighbourhoods with easy access via cycle and public transport.  This of course raise another slew of questions. Are the buses and trains clean running, do they have access for disabled, do they run at anti-social hours, are they affordable?  Are the cycle routes off road, if so what does this mean for pavements and parking?

20 minute neighbourhoods is interesting concept and sounds very much in keeping with peak oil.   Good for Portland who we mentioned in our book due to its strong cycling* record.


* somewhere on our book FB page there is a picture of a woman in Portland cycling with 7 children on her bike and trailer.

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“treeconomics” -trees are good for you

apple tree_optUrban trees are good for your health and wellbeing but could have unrecognised monetary value called “treeconomics” as well.  There are a number of factors which could contribute to treeconomics in urban areas.  The first is the effect on pollution.  Some trees such as Plain trees are good at absorbing air pollution.  The second is to do with energy conservation.  Trees absorb heat in summer and act as heat sinks in winter.  In principle they save on air con use in summer and heating costs in winter.  These effects are small but add up taken over a city wide basis.   Trees mop up carbon helping to mitigate climate change and help absorb rainwater, potentially coping with the more extreme weather we will see.  These effects have been known about for years but now health and wellbeing effects are being recognised as well.  Trees help people to live longer, have less miscarriages and cope with Asthma.

Urban trees are however under more threat today than ever before.  There are two main ones.  People chopping them down and disease.  There are a whole heap of diseases which are spreading and extending their range in part due to climate change.  Plain trees, Scots pines and Ash trees are all under threat from untreatable diseases.

There has never been a better time to value trees, your health may depend on it.  How about suggesting your council plants fruit trees so people can forage for free?  Or in the UK did you its easy to put a tree protection order on a tree and you don’t even have to own it.


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One thing we have learnt this week – male female heating conflict

800px-Intertherm_Mechanical_ThermostatAt a stroke scientists may have solved one of mankind’s greatest mysteries – the male female heating conflict.  Male female heating conflict?  Anyone who lives with someone of the opposite sex knows exactly what I mean.  Men want the heating off and women want the opposite.  It happens in our house (I’m heavily outnumbered), male female heating conflict always happened in my parents house and now this week there seems to be an answer at last.

The research published in the journal  “Nature Climate Change” after following men and women in an climate simulator doing light office work suggests that differences in metabolism are responsible.  Women’s metabolisms run at a slower rate than men’s.  Men are comfortable at 22 degrees C women aren’t.  There is a general issue here in that the nature of work has changed from heavy manual labour to light office work and over the same time period the levels that homes and work are maintained at have soared.  I’ve always assumed the reason was men generally have more fat/hair than women and this was the explanation for the male female heating conflict.  I was wrong.   There is also psychology involved as if I switch the heating off the female  members of the household don’t moan since they think the heat is still on…  I also know exceptions to the rule men who find the house colder than women.

This blog is a slightly light hearted look at the issue, but it raises a vital issue.  Not only for climate change but also peak oil.  One of the biggest problems we will have to face in the future is renewable heat, as we have outlined in our book. i.e how we heat our houses.  It unlikely we will be able to heat hem to as hot as we currently do.



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One thing we have learnt this week – the Moya

wind turbine in France from below bladesIn my last post we looked at the South African energy crisis -in this post we look at one innovation to come out of this, the Moya.  From wind in Xhosa the Moya is a wind harvesting sheet. Looking more fashion statement than a renewable energy device Moya is made of a type of material that when its stressed generates electricity.  The material is encased in plastic as tiny filaments.  The electrical energy is then passed to a capacitor before use.  The Moya collects small amounts of energy in the same way that rain falls on a surface and is currently about 10% as efficient as a solar panel.  Where it scores is that it can be put where solar PV or normal wind turbines cannot go such as inside tunnels or very shaded roofs.  Its easy to see it being fixed to the sides of tall buildings such as skyscrapers or on underground railways.  The Moya is an interesting idea and whilst its never going to solve any energy crisis on its own its undoubtedly a small part of the solution.  Further development is required and its about 5-10 years from commercial deployment.


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South African energy crisis and a strange new solution?

Klipheuwel_wind_farm_2008Last weeks “Crossing Continents” on BBC radio 4 was all about the South African energy crisis.  South African energy crisis?  I know- I’d not heard of it either.  The UK is very outward facing as far as its news, but I’d not heard of this at all.  There is however a serious problem with the South African electricity supply.  Up unto the end of apartheid in 1994 electricity was largely for white people.  The new government rightly promised the black majority development such as electricity and clean water and to a very large degree has delivered on these promises.  This has meant millions more people having access to electricity.  Another cause of the current problem is that South African energy built largely on coal, was very cheap.  This attracted in energy intensive industries.  So there was a huge increase in demand, but no or little increase in supply.  South Africa messed around with the idea of building a 4th generation “pebble bed” reactor but this was abandoned before construction started after protests and enormous cost increases.  The ANC government is building two huge coal fired power stations and more pumped storage hydro but all are years behind schedule.  There has been a huge increase in PV and wind on the South African grid in 2014, but these are from very low levels.  South African electricity is no longer so cheap with very large increases in prices every year.  This year a 25% increase was mooted.  In the meanwhile there is no spare capacity and so all plant is run without any planned maintenance, making a bad situation worse.

The current South African energy crisis is not good, there are hours of blackouts most days, a lot of social unrest and many people stealing power.  Whilst to most people blackouts are inconvenient to some people they are lethal.  They make crime worse and prevent development.

The South African energy crisis is not going to be solved in the short term by coal (or possibly even in the medium term given the speed of construction).  In any case we need to stop using coal due to climate change.  It will only be solved by stopping people stealing power, increasing energy efficiency, a switch to renewables which as we have seen in so many places can be very fast and more energy storage.  Lithium batteries could soon be a viable proposition and faster than building more dams.  Has one South African come up with what is not a total solution to the South African energy crisis but an interesting idea?  This is something for the next post.


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One thing we have learnt this week – renewables costs

walney 1 and 2Like buses not one but two reports on renewables costs come out in one week.  Both are very encouraging on future renewables costs and broadly say the same thing about two different technologies.  The first report to come out was on offshore wind.  At the moment other than tidal/wave this is the most expensive renewable by far.  DECC and the increasing UK supply chain have been working hard to get the costs down on this technology (the UK has more capacity than any other country).  The DECC target has been 10p/unit generation cost.  Judging by this weeks report this target will easily be exceeded.  By 2020 offshore wind will be competitive with gas.  By 2025 it should be cheaper.

The second report on renewables costs is on PV.  Essentially its saying the same thing.  By 2020 PV will be at grid parity for ground mounted PV and soon after for rooftop solar in the UK.  In fact some systems might be at grid parity now.

This has all happened at the same time that the government has cut the energy efficiency targets for new homes, the green deal, ROC support for ground mounted PV up to 5MWp and onshore wind.  This at the times when renewables costs are almost but not quite at the point where they should be -subsidy free.  Short sighted or what.


The picture shows Walney 1 & 2 in the Irish sea I took from a ferry the other week, at 370MWp capacity it was the largest offshore wind farm in the world at one point.

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A Community benefit society and fuel poverty

00018I read in yesterday’s Observer newspaper that a community benefit society is being set up in Scotland to provide cheap energy to households in fuel poverty.  Unlike a COOP a community benefit society is set up to benefit the wider community rather than just its members.  The community benefit society idea was created by the last labour government to encourage social enterprises, that is enterprises run on private sectors lines but that reinvest all their profit in their company for the benefit of the community.

This community benefit society has been launched by a whole heap of housing associations (some of which people at church work for) and one council.  The idea has been covered before on this blog.  But this is a very ambitious scheme hoping to reach 200,000 people.  The idea is simple they hope to initially buy power more cheaply on mass and then generate some using renewables.  Such companies already exist, I am signed up to the only Christian energy company, which is a social enterprise.  I signed up with them for social reasons.  Everyone pays the same rate and in effect I am helping to subsidise their lower income customers.  There are also many community benefit societies based around local renewable energy schemes.   This new community benefit society is a great idea and hopefully will help a real need.


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One thing we have learnt this week – foraging

blackberries in our garden after rainIs it going to be a good year for foraging?  Last week I went on the train to a family funeral shortly after going on holiday. What’s interesting is going to different parts of the country to see how agriculture or at least plants are faring.  As I went further south I expected the plants in the fields and gardens I saw to be ahead of mine. What is interesting is its less clear cut than that. Even in my locality I see plants that I have in my garden are behind my near neighbours. On holiday on the Isle of Man I saw plants that I grow were generally behind my garden in Scotland, although there were exceptions.

What is surprising is that after such a cold May is what a good year we going to have for fruit and foraging.  On the train the embankments were covered in brambles, these were coated with in flowers or developing fruit.  Looking at Apple trees these were the same, from one end of the country to the other the harvest is also going to be very good.  My apple tree much to my surprise after coming into flower too early compared with its pollination partners and then suffering a period of cold weather is going to have a great crop (as long as we do not have gales).  There are exceptions though.  My gooseberry bushes have not cropped as well this year and my vegetables are at least a month behind (in the case of some root vegetables such as parsnips this may mean no crop).  At the hotel I was staying at before the funeral there was a cherry tree in the grounds. It was covered in ripe cherries of which I sampled a few after foraging.  Delicious they were too -its going to be a great year for foraging.




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