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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One thing we have learnt this week – Germany gets free wind power

wind turbine in France from below bladesGermany got free wind power last weekend as windpower broke new European records.  Last weekend windpower generated over 60% of German electricity demand.  So much electricity was generated from the wind that the wholesale price of electricity turned negative.  This has happened before of course but usually happens in summer mainly due to Germany’s vast PV capacity.  This time prices were negative for a whole day rather than just hours.

Other records are continuing to be broken.  The same day almost 25% of all electricity in the EU came from the wind.  Most of this came from onshore turbines with only about 2.8% coming from off shore sources.  However the problem of free wind power looks set to grow with the really big growth in offshore wind.  This problem of free wind power or or free solar power is a real problem being very disruptive to the economics of the grid.  However the solutions do seem to be at hand with battery storage technology prices falling fast.  There are a number of grid scale battery systems under construction in the UK and other countries.   Last Saturdays wind power records may have been due to wave of polar air travelling south over Europe but it looks like many more records are set to broken.


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Is there any such thing as a sustainable holiday?

tweedbankIs there any such thing as a sustainable holiday?  The answer is of course no.  Every human activity has some environmental effect and the great majority of these are negative.   Tourism has been in  the news a lot recently with protests in various places over the effects that tourists are having on the local environment and economy.  Most of these places it has to be said correlate with high usage of airBnB but nevertheless the most sustainable holiday is to stay at home.  Of course most of us don’t want to do this.  We need a change of scene to get away and forget about the stresses in life.

I will describe some aspects of our recent holiday from an environmental point of view both good and bad.  I’m not by any means holding it up as a perfect sustainable holiday by any means, but it does have some positive points.

In September we walked the St Cuthbert’s way to celebrate a wedding anniversary.  This approximately 65 mile walk starts at Melrose in the Scottish Borders and ends up in Lindisfarne.  We were not walking it as a pilgrimage per se and I think its fair to say few do.

The owners allowed us to take some fallers from this restored orchard.First the positives.

As a positive point we were getting to and from the walks’ beginning and end via public transport.  We took the newly reopened borders railway to Tweedsbank and then caught a bus to Melrose.  Trains have a low carbon footprint but buses are an order of magnitude lower.  Another positive was that were walking the route of course.

We needed to eat.  Everywhere you go now offers local produce on their menu but actually how local this is a moot point.  We did manage to forage a lot of fruit along the way including with permission about four days supply of faller apples for our lunch.  At one place we stayed a lot of our meal came from the walled garden.

blackberrieswalled garden

More mixed stuff

We needed places to stay.  We stayed in hotels and BandB’s.  These had a mixed record as far as the environment was concerned.  In the first place the room we stayed in was cold and we could have done with heating on.  Other parts of the house were very warm.  The second place the house was very new with underfloor heating.  We needed no heat switched the underfloor heating right down (which seemed to make little difference, possibly in part since its uninsulated feeder tank was next door).  We had to open the window since the room was almost 25°C.  We think the lady who owned the BandB never switched the oil fired heating off all summer.  The next night in a hotel (old building) we needed the heating on but we could turn it off when we went to bed.  The next night in huge old pile the room was cool but OK and in the last but one night also a BandB the room was in the eaves and we needed some heat.  In our last night on Lindisfarne the first thing we did was turn the small radiator that heated the room off.  Plainly no heating was really needed here.  One of the biggest carbon emitters is CH.  The fact that the temperatures varied so much I think depended on the levels of insulation, the directions the rooms faced and whether the windows had been opened during the day.

solar powered houseThere is still plenty of scope to reduce the nations’ energy use by the means of low energy bulbs- its amazing how many incandescent bulbs are still out there.

Other.  We used a taxi one night (tried hitching first) since we had to go some miles to get something to eat.  We hitched off Lindisfarne to catch the bus to Berwick upon Tweed.

across the sandsOur footprint was low, few people walk this route compared to other routes I’ve walked.  Probably about 20/day, so the impact on the local environment was low.  Of course if you find the perfect place don’t go there you will ruin it…  As a sustainable holiday it was not too bad but part of the problem is you are dependent on other people and their environmental attitudes.


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One thing we have learnt this week – cost of energy review

DSC_2159The energy economist Dieter Helm was asked to lead a “cost of energy review” for the government.  This has just been published.  His terms of reference were to work out ways of decarbonising the energy system whilst having cheap energy.   This a few years ago looked like a contradiction in terms and indeed still maybe as I will come to later.

He says that the cost of energy has fallen markedly over the last few years and we are not seeing the benefits of this.  The reasons are;

because of legacy costs, policies and regulation, and the continued exercise of market power.

Legacy costs means things like the FIT and the renewable obligation.

His solutions?

The most efficient way to meet the CCA target and the carbon budget is to set a universal carbon price on  a  common  basis  across  the whole  economy,  harmonising  the  multiple  carbon  taxes  and  prices currently  in  place.  This  price  should  vary  so  as  to  meet  the  carbon  targets.  It  would  be  significantly lower than the cost of the current multiple interventions.

There would be a border carbon price to cope with the fact that we had introduced such a thing unilaterally.

The cost of energy review goes onto say that there should not be a price cap but standard variable tariffs should be done away with.  The FIT should be phased out (I assume going forward rather than retrospectively).

What was encouraging was the Professor Helm who used to be sniffy about renewables was very positive about them when interviewed on the radio about the cost of energy review report tonight.  He thought electricity was going to be very cheap and was worried the current energy costs would put people off renewables.  This is only true if we can meet the demand for electrifying the economy.


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One thing we have learnt this week – food waste

2015-11-25 14.09.04There is good news on food waste this week.  The supermarkets are going to use green satsumas.  Or at least the skins are green.  The insides are a normal orange colour but the skins have not gone orange due recent warm weather in Spain.

Is this the start of realism from the supermarkets on food waste?  I  hope so.  Worldwide about a third of all food produced is wasted.  In the developing world this at the production end.  In the developed world at the consumer/supermarket end.

I have recently been to a TEARFUND event on this issue at my church.  In our book we suggested that 25% of the UK’s gas could come from biogas.  The problem is much of this relies on food waste to produce it and there are very good reasons to cut down on food waste not least to do with tackling climate change.  So whilst I’m slightly split on the issue I’m more convinced we need to tackle the problem.  We will see whether the supermarkets simply felt they had no choice here (it was green or nothing) or whether this is the start of a move towards selling wonky looking vegetables.  The farmers report that vast numbers of perfectly good to eat but slightly less than perfect fruit and veg is chucked. We will see.


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