Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Energy Solution That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Oooooh! I first thought, another perhaps daring to suggest we sort of try to limit the human population growth somewhat? But no, in a cogent and logical comment article Raymond J. Learsy argues that the US could dig its way out of the thrall of the oil barons by ......... rationing.

"it became clear to me at least, that those with a vested interest in oil, oil production, oil and energy distribution, oil governance, are all for conservation, protecting the environment, as long as it does not negatively impact the price of oil and energy."

"lets consider ethanol and alternative fuels, but we don't really have a viable infrastructure in place, and can it really displace meaningful amounts of oil. What is the environmental impact of all bio based fuels among such as cellulosic, corn, sugar based ethanol? Of course we support biofuels if they are sustainable."

His translation:-

"lets stay with oil as long as we can, or as long as we can ask questions that cause programmed doubt to derail the urgent development of alternative fuels and alternative solutions."

"the consumer is playing against loaded dice."

Well, no one will argue against that last point. What he says may, at least in part, be true, but I think he's a brave chappie who just may have stuck his head over the parapet a little too far. Those Big Oil boys have some very big guns!
And starving the planet's largest consumers of petrol is going to be an immense ask!

Are we aware yet?

I risk being ticked off as a grump, but I was just wondering how much more awareness this planet can afford: Man swims at north pole

I'm assuming he didn't swim there, and I seem to recall on the news more than few around who went with to 'share the moment'. And broadcast it to boost those ratings.

I'm thinking of starting a travel agency called Awareness Offsets, whereby you go pretty much where you fancy, but when you get back you can upload your home movies and claim it was to 'raise awareness' of the area of outstanding natural beauty you just screwed up by trampling all over it or simply by getting there.

You may even get a media outlet - especially a green one - to fund you! But only if you move in their circles, Ok, yah?

'Dere was 'dese tree fellas...

It is a sorry comment on even sorrier times that I have to preface my comments on last night's Ch4 'Great Green Smokescreen' with the caution that it is a) a supposed 'news' item b) on TV and c) on Ch 4.

These are the guys who brought us another 'Great..' not so long ago. So who knows what is true?

For what it's worth, a lot did ring pretty close to what I have stumbled across and/or feel and/or has been shared by me and others on this blog.

You only have to go back a few posts to find a few eyebrows being cocked at the PR and ad onslaughts by such as HSBC, SKY and BP, who rather crudely seem to have managed to make 3/4 of a million out of 2,500 (cars, that is), and all from a few acres of pig poo under a very dodgy looking tarp. Editing for effect? Well, if the 'disclaimers' were anything to go by - 'Oops! Got us in one. We'll take that claim off right away. Byeeee!". Plus almost BBCesque fudges on how tricky the facts are to get right. Are they scientists or what? I bet if it was finding a barrel of oil at 30,000 feet they'd have the numbers down to a decimal place.

Then we get straight into the meat of the piece: the guys who sit in deckchairs flogging trendies (individual and company variety) tracts of 'land' with 'trees' (no mention of the deforestation of mature areas being a much better option) to assuage liberal guilt that does not quite extend to cutting back. £10 gets you off a flight, as in off on the next one so long as you are rich... and either very dumb or very blinkered. Along with some authority figures I'd say, as from what I saw the Forestry Commission (hold that word in mind each time you hear of guys who sell you stuff to pollute some more) was using whose money to subsidise these guys to flog whose trees?

Cut to commercial. Vauxhall ecoflex, since you didn't ask. It's a car, by the way. I think. One of those with a leaf in the exhaust. But I'm sure it's so green you can go an extra few miles on the same amount. And hence you probably will. Ok, a better than nothing, but I have a drawer bulging with car ads which really are pushing my greenwash tolerance to the limit.

Thing is, it seems no one can agree on these footprints anyway (er, why?) so they are all pretty much making it up. What next? A two for one deal? The explanations and/or mitigations offered by the offwithhisheadsetters were all less than convincing. Especially the one who offered two prices; one direct and one via their client BA. Guess which one was lower? It's all about multipliers, apparently. And so, because 'we' don't know, yet, what they are, we don't allow for them. Works for me. Well, actually, when it comes to the future of my kids' planet, it really, really doesn't guys.

It was at this point the reporter admitted to being confused and unsure who to trust. Well, there's a surprise.

Speaking of trusting the media (Neat link, huh?), there was a good case of actual facts being used, assuming, of course they were true. Some Bulgarian project or other. Claim and counter claim of whether it made any darn difference bounced around until we ended up at the bank. And when it comes to money, they don't lie. And the bank says 'no'. So yet another pot into which a load of green got consummately p*ssed away. After commission.

SKY (a CH 4 competitor, mind) didn't come out too well, if only in making big claims that didn't seem to add up. I recall them being major speakers at the Guardian Climate Change Summit, and while the vast commitments made were mentioned all right, what was not was how the regular reviews of their 12.5% investment wasn't looking too solid on enviROI. I wonder what these guys with CSR Director or Eco Advisor as titles actually do all day?

Cue next ad... for a racing car!

Then we get back to the ways to make a big difference, in London at least, with... wait for it... a Carbon Neutral (the term has been shown to be less than helpful by now - in fact DEFRA was quoted as saying companies really shouldn't call themselves that) variety show!

That'll do it!

Or... food miles on a pack of crisps. Sorted!

There was, apparently, no real comment from the Carbon Trust. There are those two words again. Only this time together.

The conclusion was that there was no real harm to it all, but the question was asked if it was a dangerous diversion. I'd rather say that if it is a dangerous diversion there is a lot of potential harm.

Seeing some London luvvie called Fanny, who rejoices in the title 'Head of Policy' for an outfit called Global Cool, lob up in a Chauffeured Prius, to share such dazzling insights as not flushing the loo hardly inspired me.

And to those of more modest means it simply made the whole thing look like a silly little fad.

Do all these things for heavens sake, but get the info for free. Why do you need to pay money to rich folk to show you care about your kids and their futures?

ADDENDUM _ just came across a note I jotted in the lounge as I watched the Ch4 news preceding this. Joan Ruddock, Minister for Climate Change (didn't even, until now, know we had one), was being challenged by Jon Snow on what the government was doing to clear all this up. Apparently they are 'working towards' a solution. Well that's it all sorted then. Now I see why they get the big bucks. Meantime, for the poor consumer's sake, let's be hoping that major multinationals have no more 'website malfunctions' to... misle.. er... 'confuse' us.

Guardian - Last night's TV: Dispatches: The Great Green Smoke Screen - I like my review better. And I didn't even snipe about the 4x4, as the Ch4 guy wasn't really preaching. As some do.

Indy - Raft of flaws found in popular carbon offsetting schemes - It's like they watched the same programme! Oh, they did. Interesting that no one (else) is at least pointing out the provenance of the story, which tends to suggest these carbon offset schemes have a lot of explaining to do. As have any sloppy corporates who saw/see green as a quick way to look green with no real thought going into the substance.

Old King Coal's comeback?

Is ol' Golden Brown's first major decision going to revive Old King Coal? A decision that could "lock Britain into the same centralised, inefficient power system that wastes two-thirds of the energy going into it as heat up the cooling towers." Not to mention a decision that would mean that the UK would entirely miss it's emission targets by a mile.

I somehow missed the original article in Sunday's Observer, but this from The Guardian CIF is a fascinating, albeit sobering, read. Should the UK break with tradition and radically transform energy production or should we re-awaken and revive Old King Coal?

"Gordon Brown has been handed a historic opportunity to break from Blair's confused and fragmented approach to energy generation. He could revolutionise our energy system by implementing renewables, energy efficiency and combined-heat-and-power (CHP) on an unprecedented scale."

So which way will he go? I hope it is not the case, but my guess is that short termism and what is perceived as the 'cheap' option will win the day yet again, almost certainly to the detriment of future generations.

If we start building new coal fired power stations, especially without utilising clean burn and carbon sequestration technologies, the UK will be taking an enormous retrograde step. Milliband would never have concurred with this - I'm beginning to wonder whether he was he moved (we all thought he was promoted but maybe it was just sideways?) to pave the way for an unpalatable decision?

I hope not. And as the first comment posted says - "fingers crossed"!


If Ol' Golden DOES opt for the radical approach and includes for a major expansion of renewables, I hope he's aware that some renewable technology is getting quite difficult to get hold of! According to this from The Guardian, there is now a worldwide shortage of wind turbines.


Can't believe I've never used that acronym before. For those few who may not know it, it stands for garage in:garbage out. And it sums up my views having seen this Newsnight piece: Why are we so rubbish about rubbish?

Yes, 'we' should be ashamed. Even the two year old spoke better English than most I hear these days, even on the... yoof... BBC. So the popping of a newspaper in the bin with a shrug and the words 'I don't speak German' made the point about British practices (bought and wasted) eloquently, especially the ones we have to 'foreign' languages.

This was a very interesting piece, but to me didn't answer a key question: to what extent were we seeing the results of differences in official policy?

While the Austrians said they were 'happy to pay', even though they generate just as much rubbish (not looking quite so smart at the pack design/legislative end then) not once in the piece did I hear the mention of fines, chips and bins. Well, Ok, bins were mentioned a lot.

Now, I am looking at our RE:box right now besides my home office desk, which gets collected weekly with its paper haul, along with the basket that we fill with glass and metal. No TetraPacks or plastic, but that's because they are not accepted. Yet. Despite the efforts of some (such as Innocent - heard of their campaign?), I believe we still only have only one process plant for the former, which makes the enviROI (cost to environment) of logistics alone very poor. As to the latter, I combine (dedicated trips in the XC90 or Range Rover for two bottles of pop not perhaps the best) my trips to the supermarket with the equivalent of a yellow bag of plastics, where a lot of others seem to be doing the same. Mind you, the enviROI of a dirty great diesel truck lugging 98% fresh air around seems less than optimal.

So, sorry, I don't think the problem here is at consumer end. I think it is upstream, in terms of what is put into the system, and what 'we' are provided to deal with it all. Because, looking around, I see an awful lot of will, with too much no 'way'. And that.. is down to policy. Who in the UK can say that they are always within 500m of a recycling point... and that they know where it is all going?

I even have some sympathy with retailers. So the Austrian supermarket ships back a lot of stuff in its trucks at night. I'm pretty sure most of ours do too. I'm also aware of a few who are set to take back batteries, and even if they don't our local council site certainly does. If it's not national it should be, and that gets us back to...policy.

I don't know if ours are too timid, but they certainly don't seem very joined up, and that can, and does lead to a lot of waste with competing schemes, not to mention the vast amounts blown on different, often overlapping, 'initiatives' left, right and centre, which seem more dedicated to showing 'something' is looking like being done without actually knuckling down and coordinating anything actually (cost) effective.

Which brings me back to enviROI. Whatever we do let's make sure we do it with the actual intent of saving the planet, and not just meeting a few targets to get a quick bonus. I look at the Red Bull cup and think 'good idea!'. But is it? I don't know. It has to be collected, separated and steam cleaned, I presume, for reuse. You see, often one eco-measure (landfill) can conflict with another (energy carbon emissions). All must be (forgive the box-ticking pun) weighed up.

It's a pity the energy from waste issue is not being handled more maturely here. We are happy to live and work next to vehicles belching lord knows what out, or have a bonfire, but stick a metal chimney up and all hell breaks loose. Maybe if it looked like Willy Wonka's hookah more would be cool on the things. It's not like the quality of air can't be guaranteed... assuming you trust the contractor, operator and commissioning authority. Oh... well... moving on.

One thing that was not mentioned was the even more environmentally-friendly option of reuse.

I found it rather telling (unless it was a BBC 'edit for effect') to see a perfectly good pram go in a skip. Rather than recycling, there are some rather nifty measures for avoiding what is still an energy intensive process. Such as Freecycle or Junkk.com's (which also has hundreds of 2nd use ideas from thousands of people to spare almost anything from the bin if it can enjoy a new life) JunkkYard

You see 'we', the people, may not be any more rubbish at rubbish than our Euro cousins after all.

All 'we' need are the right tools and some effective guidance from 'our' leadership. But, speaking of which, if you put garbage in at the front, that's pretty much all you can expect at the end.