It is more heroic to live responsibly than to die bravely

It is not always easy to foresee the health consequences of pollution. It stands to reason that pollution is not good for human life. And instinctively we move away from polluted things and polluted places. When I comes to the air that we breathe it it impossible for most people to move away from where they live and live where the air is purer and better. Continue reading

Birds – why we are losing more species and what it means for us

As far as we know since 1500 over 134 species of birds have become extinct. Birds are an important part of the biodiversity of the planet. Losing birds species is not just a matter of concern to bird watchers, zoologists and sentimental folk, it is important to all of us because if we lose species of plants and animals we never know what effect it will have on the rest of our food chain, upon which we depend, except that we know the effect will rarely be beneficial. Continue reading

Why we do need solar systems

One of the arguments that people deploy against solar system is the cost. Because they claim “you don’t need a solar system” the cost of a solar system should be treated as the cost as an additional appliance, a bit like the Energy Savings’ Trust curious concept that solar systems are lifestyle choices.

Some people think that you might need a roof, a boiler and electricity and central heating but you don’t need a solar system. Therefore, the argument goes, because you don’t need a solar system you judge it in a different way, financially, from things that you need to have.

Of course if you do not need a solar system and you treat it as any luxury item the financial consequences are irrelevant. However, there are various ways in which you can define need.


  • You may need a car but you don’t need a Rolls Royce.
  • You may need a home but you don’t need a palace.
  • You may need a bowl of rice or a loaf of bread but you don’t need a feast.
  • You may need a water heating system but you don’t need a carbon dioxide emission device that pollutes particulates into the atmosphere as it burns fuel that will soon run out.

Apart from the 90,000 or so families who have thermal solar heating systems (almost all are water heating systems but  some are space and pool heating systems) in this country, everyone else creates huge amounts of carbon dioxide when they heat water. This may range from 2 tonnes of emissions a year if they use heating oil as their source of fuel, to around two thirds of a tonne a year if they use the most efficient state of the art super condensing gas boiler.

We don’t need all these millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, sulphur and other particulates, nor do we need the nitrous oxide emissions and acid rain that fossil fuel burning creates. We certainly don’t need the waste radioactive material from nuclear power plants.

In other words around 22 million homes are using a malignant, unsustainable means of heating water when there is a choice of using a virtually carbon free benign means of water heating.

At the moment strange at it may seem to a casual observer the ability to emit copious unnecessary and harmful quantities of carbon dioxide and pollutants is still considered to be a matter of choice. It was, however, also considered a matter of choice several hundred years ago that people could profit from the misery of others.

Slavers could choose to enslave people for profit and slave owners to use them for profit. Employers could choose to employ children for long hours in dangerous occupations instead of society paying for their education. Employers could choose to create dangerous employment conditions for their staff with no prospect of compensation of the staff suffered injury as a result.

At one time surgeons operated on people without washing their hands and without cleaning their instruments and without taking precautions and as a result half the patients died of sepsis. Joseph Lister, a Scottish surgeon in the face of much opposition in London, showed that by using carbolic acid to clean the rate of deaths from sepsis fell tremendously; his work was “proved” by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian war and eventually adopted by the London medical profession.


So, you don’t need a solar system any more than

  • You don’t need to make slavery illegal
  • You don’t need to educate children
  • You don’t need to create safe working conditions.
  • You don’t need clean hands and instruments to carry out operations.

For most people the most important thing is their family. People work hard, long hours in order to provide a better life for their families. Mostly each successive generation has managed to provide a better life for their children, sometimes only marginally so, sometimes tremendously so, but the motivation to improve the life of your descendants seems to be written into our genetic codes.

Most people have sacrificed their own quality of life – the Energy Savings’ Trust “lifestyle choice” and often their own health and their lives – for their children. Every soldier who has fought for his country knows this; the country for whom the soldier has fought knows this.

The future generations now face a real life threatening danger. Virtually everyone agrees on this. I do not want to overstate the danger – we can simply use the words of our political leaders, religious leaders, learned scientists and most of whom agree that climate change is the greatest long term threat that humanity faces.

Solar systems will not by themselves save future generations from the threat of climate change, nor will they by themselves prevent global warming. However, they are a critical tool which as part of an overall deployment of critical tools will make the world in future a better place for the generations to come and not a worse place for them.

So we do need to have solar systems and as many of them as possible.


Biomass or biomess?

I wrote the article below for the Building Services Journal, who have kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.

Biomass is on everyone’s list of an environmentally friendly and sustainable energy sources, even though it involves burning fuel.  Many developers these days have to comply with the Merton Rule, whether they are environmentalists or not. This requires a percentage of the energy used by a new development to be generated on site.

In developments everywhere, developers and local authorities working together believe that the way to comply with the sustainable on site generation required by the Merton Rule happens also to be the cheapest way – installing a biomass boiler. The theory goes that when you burn biomass to create heat all you are doing is accelerating the release of carbon that would happen if the biomass were left to decay. I am not so sure. Continue reading