One thing we have learnt this week – cycle to cut air pollution

2016-09-14-17-16-48Cycle to cut air pollution that’s the message this week from Sustrans.  Air pollution has been in the news a lot recently and is both a developed/developing problem although far worse in the developing world where there is a lot more industrial pollution and cooking on open fires.

The idea to cycle to cut air pollution is one that would cut 8300 deaths in England and 4000 in Scotland.  The savings to the public purse would be almost £10 billion over the next decade UK wide.  How much cycling does this require?  If 10% of all journeys were made by bike this would meet the targets above.

There is a lot of talk of electric cars but as we outlined in our book these have their own problems.  Apart from not sorting out the issues of congestion almost half of air pollution generated from cars is not from the engine but from brakes and tyres.  Clearly the general population have to be convinced that its safe and worthwhile to cycle.  But it seems that to solve this problem they will have to be.  On the plus side cities with cycling majorities are more pleasant to live in (the actions of some cyclists being left aside) and building cycling lanes is far cheaper than building roads.


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Getting to grips with insulation

insulationI’ve been adding more roof insulation.  We recently threw away a pile of junk in the lofty space.  This has lowered the temperature in our bedroom in particular.  I know this from years of monitoring the temperature with a thermometer most recently on a alarm clock.  It hasn’t been as warm.  I’ve also tried to put some in the roof space in the kitchen which has helped although I’m too claustrophobic to get in far enough to do everything that needs doing.  Although I have not given up.

I’ve put a lot of loft insulation in the past in multiple goes, although not for a number of years.  Part of the problem in doing it this way is I’m not sure how much is present.  The UK building regulations suggest 270mm and any added on top of that is going to be less and less effective (and cost effective).  Nevertheless laying stuff down and rearranging the loft space has led to me seeing places which need more.

I have used rockwool (glass fibre) in the past but its thoroughly unpleasant stuff to work with.  Its very itchy on bare skin and gets in your lungs.  One of my MSc lecturers in Biomedical science was a world renowned lung expert and reckoned it did no long term damage.

The more recent alternative is made from recycled plastic.  This not only reduces the plastic waste problem (search this blog for other posts on that) but is very very nice to work with.  No need to wear gloves and its easy to tear with the hands.  The R-Value is almost identical to that of rockwool.  For an explanation of R-values and U values see here.

What I have done over the last years with the floored bit of the loft is rescued “cloud nine” floor underlay from skips and laid it as a base layer of insulation (up to 5 layers).  This should be reasonably effective and allows moving around.  I’ve also rescued polyisocyanurate boards from skips and put as much as possible of our stored stuff on top of them.  I’ve just discovered these my leach CFC’s becoming less effective over time.   Now I’m filling in with 100mm recycled plastic shown above and I’m considering a rack shelving system so I can lay insulation under stuff.


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One thing we have learnt this week – problems with hydropower

2500Who would have thought that there could be any environmental problems with hydropower?  This form of energy is clean, does base load and can be relatively unobtrusive.  Dams behind reservoirs can be beautiful as I have seen myself many times.

There are some problems though.  In the tropics as this blog has outlined before the dams can be net greenhouse gas emitters.  Amongst the other problems with hydropower are flooding of beautiful wilderness and displacement of indigenous tribal groups.  The way around this I thought was to build not vast dams producing multiple gigawatts of peak output but many small “run of river schemes”.  In these there is no dam and water travels down a pipe and is then returned to the river.  These are generally regarded as friendly and benign to wild life.  It seems I and other like me might have to think again.

In the Balkans nearly 3000 hydrpower plants are planned with 187 under construction.  Most of these are very small with no dams.  This should tick OK boxes but obviously there are concerns.  Many of the plants are in national parks or protected areas.  The problems with hydropower here have arisen since the run of river plants are taking too much water out of the rivers leaving the stretches between the extraction and return pipes dry.  In addition very multiple small plants are being put in on the same bit of river which individually do not require permission but cumulatively have a big effect.  There have between conflicts and even murders committed in the conflicts between the small farmers and large energy companies in Albania.  In the UK permission has to granted, the rules are strict and it takes a long time to get the go ahead.  It looks like this may be a good thing.


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Big data energy bill

Dual_processorBig data energy bill.  The amount of energy the internet is responsible for is increasing.  This is a hidden amount of energy that we do not think about.  In 2009 someone claimed that each google search produced 7g of CO2.  This figure was denied by google who stated it was far lower at 0.2g CO2.  This is still quite a lot of energy.  It worth thinking about where this energy use and hence the big data energy bill comes from.  Some of it comes from electricity use of masses of computers in server farms being left on and some comes form the cooling of these server farms.

The big internet companies have responded to this criticism in a number of ways.  They have made their server farms more efficient by reusing the heat or even siting their farms in cold parts of the world, like Finland.  They have also been helped by the continuing efficiency of technological change with machines using less power.  They have also bought or installed lots of renewables and it should be said lobbied or ignored Trump on climate change.

Despite this the energy use of the internet continues to grow.  Currently its 7% of worldwide electricity use.  By 2020 it will be 12%.  Its an astonishing figure.  What amazes me is that humanity keeps coming up with new ways of using energy.  Another digital villain producing a big data energy bill is the online currency bitcoin.   This next bit is a bit difficult for those of us not involved with it to understand.  You can buy coins or earn them by verifying them digitally (bitcoin mining).  This last thing requires a small server farm…  It reckoned that bitcoin uses more electricity than 159 countries or 0.31% of world electricity and by 2020 bitcoin mining will need as much electricity as Denmark.  Solutions?  Not many- stay off the internet and use bookmarks.


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One thing we have learnt this week- why are cyclists an oppressed minority

church on suussex downs with my bikeAre cyclists an oppressed minority ?  Perhaps oppressed is not quite the right word which I do not like to trivialise, but it does feel that way.  Let me just say cyclists are not always right.  I think the way that the group rallied together over the case of the cyclist who ran over a woman without having any front brake was disturbing.  He should have been punished and ignorance is no defence.  Its common sense you should have working brakes at both the front and back.  Nevertheless I can see why cyclists banded together in that case and others.  (I don’t think the law needs changing to stop more cases like this in the future).  Are cyclists an oppressed minority?  Well we do get it in the neck all to often.  Having nearly been squashed by a van on my way back from work one week and then last Friday told off for cycling in a a prohibited area.  It wasn’t that I was right.  I thought I could cycle there but was wrong about that.  It was the way I was told off.  The shear pleasure the person took in doing so was what made it so difficult.  I really had to turn the other cheek.  For every person like this though there is a lorry driver that gives you a cheery wave as you let them past or the car driver who lets you out of a side road.   It feels we are got at though.  As an ex colleague said (who didn’t cycle).  Those who have a go at cyclists should have a go at cycling in this city.


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How to communicate climate change

23754983_988626947955800_796602943577271558_nHow do you communicate climate change?  This is a question that I have talked about with concerned friends for many years.  Last night I went to a joint eco-congregation/TEARFUND event where Katherine Hayhoe and Alistair Macintosh were the main speakers.  Katherine Hayhoe gave a presentation which was certainly not about what I was expecting.  Instead of it being about the current science she looked at peoples objections to climate change and how to get round them.

She believed that most peoples objections are not really political or religious and if they claim to be than we are fully equipped to take them on since we have so much in common in terms of values.  She used a number of examples of this to communicate climate change.  These included fishing, skiing and parenthood.  But the best example was over speaking to a local rotary club.  They had a set of values shown below in the image.  She saw these believed that climate change fitted with everyone and rewrote her talk accordingly (quickly).  Afterwards one person asked what he could do since what she had said fitted with the clubs values.  She also gave examples of how to interact with evangelicals in the same way.

23722681_988626951289133_6280722287186801564_nThere are two problems with all this.  Firstly as she did not specifically say most peoples problems are economic not political or religious.  These objections are a smokescreen.  The second problem is that no one talks about climate change in the US (literally true according to polling) or elsewhere.  These are problems she did not suggest a solution to as such.  A final thought she though using the polar bear as a symbol of climate change was a mistake.  If you think about she’s right.


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One thing we have learnt this week- energy company obligation problems

0008Problems that is with the energy company obligation (ECO) have come to light this week.  One way to enable the poorest to cope with high energy prices is give them cheaper energy but also make their homes more energy efficient.  We all do this in the UK through our fuel bills.    The energy company obligation is administered by the big energy companies (below 100,000 customers you are exempt*).  They run it and decide who applies for help gets what. They put insulation in etc. but also put in new boilers.  The problem is one I had thought about until this week.  New boilers go wrong and those with them cannot afford to have them repaired.   This is leading to vulnerable people being put at risk.  The energy company obligation maybe administered by energy companies but the pot is controlled by the government.  Due to sensitivity over bills this pot of money has been cut, hence the problem.  Bizarrely the installation of smart meters is making it the issue even worse.   Engineers who turn up to fit them and find a problem with the boilers have to turn them off.  Either the fund needs increasing or priorities need changing otherwise people could die this winter.  Writing as someone whose boiler is on the way out I understand the importance of this issue.


*One problem is that this a disincentive for companies to grow beyond this limit.  This limits competition.

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global climate emissions set to increase

DSC_2911Global climate emissions are set to increase this year by 2%.  This is an unexpected, unwelcome surprise and is thought to be due to China.  EU and other developed country emissions have dropped, but by less than was expected.  The reason Chinese emissions have increased is due to a drought.  This hit hydropower output and thus the Chinese used coal fired power stations to make up the difference.  There are warnings here in what has been generally encouraging figures on global climate emissions over the last 3/4 years.  First the very problems of climate change could hit power output from renewables.  The weather is much more variable (some would say crazy).  This means that there maybe less wind/water/sun.  The second warning to take from this despite the success of renewables and now electric cars and batteries is that we have not got the problem licked.  We can take encouragement though.  The days when we were told that there was no point in doing anything since the Chinese were opening a new coal powered power station every week are over.  In fact they have been mothballing them and making huge investments in electric vehicles, solar and wind.  This is in part not just because of global climate emissions but due to old fashioned particulate emissions.  I am optimistic that if we keep on this road emissions will peak in time.


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One thing we have learnt this week – Bonn climate talks

2015-11-26 12.35.23It was two years ago I went with a group of Christians by bike to Paris.  This year the follow-up COP23 talks are being held in Bonn.  After the failure of Copenhagen I personally didn’t set off with high hopes.  The agreement reached at the climate talks was much stronger than any of us hoped for.  However it left a few things out.  The first of these how governments reach their pledged targets or any process for checking that they are meeting this pledge.  Another thing is about deforestation and in particular the input and land rights of indigenous peoples.   One of the biggest emitters of carbon is agriculture and forestry.  One of the easiest ways to stop climate change is to protect forests.  The COP is edging towards towards the input of native peoples.  2015-11-27 18.02.01

It is also important to hold countries to come forward with increased pledges since at the moment the current ones will not meet a 2°C target.  On the good news front the renewables/battery/electric cars situation has changed massively for the better since 2015 climate talks.  The price of all these is plunging and making them increasingly the logical economic choice and an unstoppable force.  We cannot however be complacent so pray for these talks.


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New national forest charter

beech treesYou’ve heard of the Magna Carta probably but have you heard of the forest charter?  The Magna Carta was forced on King John of England in 1215 and is thought of as one the foundations of democratic rights.  A couple of years later Henry III signed another act, a forest charter.  This guaranteed the peasants a right to use the royal forests.  In those days tree cover was increasing, or certainly the area of the country which was royal forest was.  By 1217 the Royal Forest cover alone was a third of England’s’ land area.  An astounding figure.  The point was the royal forest was reserved for the King to hunt in.  Any incursions on were punishable by extreme measures up to and including death.  This charter guaranteed the ordinary people the use of the forests for firewood and grazing.  It was read out in churches every week for the next 100 years,  The irony is by doing this forest charter they probably helped to reduce the cover to the level of 10% today.

2017 being a year of lots of significant anniversaries the Woodland trust has come up with a new forest charter.   This one which can be seen here is all about both appreciating trees and increasing the tree cover. England, Scotland and Wales have all pledged tree cover but things are going slowly.

One thing we thought as impossible when we wrote our book was the idea of there being sufficient indigenous wood for heating/power.  This is why we were cautious about the use of biomass.  However the sustainable use of wood particularly for building is to be welcomed.  This ties up carbon for a very long time.   Apart from all this there are health and landscape benefits of adding more forest.  All this has led to me signing and supporting this new forest charter.


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