Professor Robert Watson and Cassandra

Targets are a hit and miss affair and governmental and international targets more than most. The problem is that once a target is set the underlying reason for the target is forgotten and the target becomes a means in itself. Continue reading

The Aqua Lung Olympics

Three years ago the British news media reported, almost gleefully, the smog levels inBeijingbefore the Olympic Games were being hosted.  We were treated to pictures of the air pollution and it was not a pretty sight. The Chinese managed to clean up the air, temporarily, before the Olympics were actually held, by a variety of what could only be short term fixed. If you breathe in Beijing today you will find air quality is worse than ever. Continue reading

Planning for Climate Change

Apparently nearly a third of the United Kingdom’s businesses claim to have been affected by an extreme weather conditions in the past three years, according to the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs.  Less than a quarter of UK businesses have factored climate change into their business plans. DEFRA sees a contradiction in being affected by extreme weather and factoring climate change into a business plan. There is none. DEFRA is muddying the climate change waters. Continue reading

Household carbon dioxide emissions and why government policy to reduce them is odd

Households are responsible for over a quarter of the United Kingdoms’ carbon dioxide emissions, without including transport and cars. It should be fairly easy to get the emissions figures from households down significantly but there appears to have been only tiny reductions.

The emissions come from energy use, usually gas and electricity consumption, but in some cases heating oil and liquid petroleum gas consumption. These are the figures for domestic carbon dioxide emissions from DEFRA – the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Continue reading

Green milk and greener homes

I have already written about the effect of industrial farming on the environment. There are non-industrial ways of farming, when the farmers do not farm intensively – for example when they farm “organically” to Soil Association standards, but these ways still affect our environment. Continue reading

Labelling supermarket items with carbon details

Knowledge is critical, for without knowledge we cannot make meaningful choices. Unfortunately when it comes to carbon emissions knowledge is fairly meaningless unless it is comprehensive. That is why when it comes to moderating our own carbon emissions behaviour we should accumulate our knowledge which should then help us in actions which concentrate on the easy carbon savings first.


I have just returned from Portugal where everyone I met who heard that I was in the solar thermal business proudly told me that Portugal had new laws which degrees that solar panels must be fitted to every building in the course of construction or the course of refurbishment. Continue reading

Oil prices rise as the economy falls

The price of oil still rising but the economy of the world is slowing down. This at first sight seems like a paradox. If the world’s economy slows down you would expect less energy to be used and therefore the price of oil should fall. Today oil stands at around $120 a barrel – it has never been higher, but businesses face fewer sales, lower profits or greater losses and people’s employment will be threatened as businesses reduce staffing levels.


We are told that this is the result of the sub prime lending foolishness which the world’s banks embraced to the extent of buying worthless securities; having done so they became afraid to lend each other money and are still so afraid. The rate at which UK banks lend to each other is known as LIBOR – the London Interbank Offered Rate, and banks in turn fixed loans they made by reference to LIBOR, giving themselves a small margin over it when lending to commerce.


It is worth noting that none of the recent three Bank of England interest cuts has had the normal knock on effect of reducing the LIBOR. The margin is now historically very high, reflecting the risks that banks feel they take if they lend to each other.


Also it is by no means clear to me that the banks actually have the money to lend. The Royal Bank of Scotland is short £12 billion and will seek to raise this money from a rights issue to their shareholders who must pay up or have the value of their shares diluted. In addition the banks are benefiting from a £50 billion loan being made by all of the taxpaying citizens in the UK.


So the economy is not healthy and at the same time oil price rises inexorably. It has always been thus. In his excellent book, “the Last Oil Shock” David Strahan points out that some analysts have found that movements in oil prices since 1954 have been closely mimicked by US unemployment figures after a time lag of around eighteen months.


Mr Strahan suggests that while oil consumption as a proportion of gross domestic product is falling, because we are increasing our population and driving more, flying more and living more comfortable lives oil consumption per person is increasing. We find more things to “spend” our energy on.


There is a relationship between the availability of energy and economic growth but somehow governments overlook this basic fact. Our present Energy Minister, Mr Malcolm Wicks, is a junior minister and he does not have cabinet rank. He also does not have complete jurisdiction over energy; his boss gets in on the act from time to time as do the people at DEFRA; the Treasury set the policies for energy taxation which further limits Mr Wicks’ brief. No-one it seems to me, is bothering to look at the whole picture and this is worsened by the fact that Energy Ministers in the past ten years have tended to come and go like the newspapers.


This means that we get a muddled energy policy; one day photovoltaics are in vogue, the next day wind turbines. Biomass then becomes fashionable and now nuclear is proffered as a solution. The Government is not joining the various energy dots together and even worse is not linking the energy picture to the economic picture.


The government’s main energy policy is to cause us to invest in insulation – first for lofts and then for cavity walls. This makes energy use more efficient but efficiency is often outweighed, as I explained in another post, by those with good insulation turning the thermostat up to enjoy a more comfortable home wearing lighter clothes. The efficiency gains end up with more economic growth in the sense that we spend the efficiency gains and more on other energy consuming practices.


Now an economic downturn may be caused by a high oil price, as businesses dependent on oil collapse. The oil price would then fall, reviving the economy but in the nature of the beast as the economy grows so the oil price would rise all over again. I am not an economist but it seems to me that a rising and falling and re-rising oil price (and coal prices and gas prices) would lead us through a series of sharp boom and bust cycles, with the bust cycle lasting longer each time until the energy finally runs out.


That, I think, is the fundamental problem that Governments have to solve. The solution must be to use whatever resources we can muster to produce benign energy ourselves. The Government needs to require us to invest in microgeneration and pay attention to the details– not throw money at grandiose schemes dependent upon depleting resources.


That means higher building standards, solar water and space heating for virtually everyone, more offshore turbines, taxation on fossil fuel energy to reduce demand and make people more careful about the energy they use, penal taxation on large-engined inefficient vehicles, as well as what they are doing now.


There will come a time when energy will be at the very top of the political agenda; the fuel duty strikes almost brought down the new labour government in 2000. The future position could be far worse than political inconvenience and far harder to solve.

An hour for the earth

I visit schools from time to time when they organise environmental events, and I am always impressed with how simply and accurately children see things. It is important, as one of my responders on this weblog writes, we must not to scare the children with fears of global warming, but in my experience the children are not at all scared, just determined.

At these events the children come up with simple but important practical rules about alleviating climate change and reducing the rate of carbon emissions in the atmosphere; dry your washing on the line if you can, not in a tumble dryer, walk if you can instead of driving and turn off the lights.

On Sunday several hundred cities in 35 countries turned off lights for an hour, as part of an initiative called “Earth Hour”. Continue reading

Climate Change and what we do – Truth and Lies

I wrote this for H&V News, and lots of people wrote to me saying that they agreed with my sentiments. It will be an interesting start to my weblog.

Some truths are virtually self evident; one is that climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today which we can only really mitigate by emitting less carbon dioxide.

Lies are not self evident. The late and unlamented Josef Goebbels said that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it people will eventually come to believe it.  When you couple a big lie with a self evident truth, you cause the greatest harm.

The truth about climate change is being coupled with the big lie that the government is doing something about it and leading the world in the fight against climate change. DEFRA on its climate change web page claims “The UK is acting now to adapt to climate change and to reduce the risk by reducing our contribution to the causes”. I do not believe that. It is a lie. 

The truth is that the United Kingdom government does less about climate change than any virtually of its EU partners, and less than most countries in the world. For example, due entirely to lack of government encouragement the solar thermal industry in the UK is around 5% of that of Germany and we see a very modest growth rate in its take up here.

Countries, like France, Portugal, Italy and Spain which traditionally had only slight more solar thermal than the UK are now experiencing double digit growth as a result of the policies of their own government. Our government it seems need to be convinced that this is a viable technology, or do they? 

We see articles in the Guardian in August that government officials from DBERR have secretly briefed that the UK has no hope of meeting its climate change targets and have suggested ways of fiddling the figures or wriggling out of its commitments.

The Guardian also reported that the Department of Communities and Local Government will now abolish the Merton Rule, requiring all new buildings to generate 10% of their energy needs on site, less than a year after the housing minister urged all Councils to adopt it. 

Whenever I have met officials involved in climate change work, I have been usually surprised at their lack of ability to understand the benefits of renewable technologies; I always put this down to lack of intellectual quality. I thought that they were genuinely attempting to achieve a greater uptake of renewables but were simply incompetent in understanding how to do this. 

Now, with the latest revelations and coupled with the government intention to regulate the solar thermal industry in a way that even a massive market, like Germany would baulk at, I need to change my mind. I think that the government is simply repeating the big lie in the hope that people will believe it while actually by their policies making no real effort to mitigate climate change.

The truth is that the Government is indifferent to climate change.  They are talking a lot but doing very little.

If they had spent the £2 million that the Stern report cost on microgeneration measures I believe it would have boosted the renewable industry tremendously and in the long run saved far more carbon than a report which no one now reads and whose recommendations are parked on a shelf gathering dust. 

I cannot understand the need to regulate closely the heating and plumbing industry in relation to solar thermal. Genersys is the largest supplier in the UK of solar thermal panels and last year we have had no complaints about installers and none so far this year.

Every time I get my electricity bill, and see that they have again taken out too much money or find that they have failed to earth the supply properly, I know who really needs regulation. 

In November last year the Government introduced Phase 2 of the Low Carbon Building Programme, after a virtually secret bidding process which led to the vast majority of solar thermal manufacturers (many of whom have far better products than those chosen by the process) and virtually all of the selling and installation companies being excluded from this significant market for no possible reason; fossil fuel energy companies, are for the government, the best way to deliver renewable micro-generated energy, notwithstanding the lack of experience, expertise and the conflict of interests inherent in the big suppliers of gas and electricity. 

Of course, a big lie can only be maintained if the government can shield its people from the consequences of that lie. You might be able to repress dissent in some cases but the big lie that the government tells about its climate change policy will ultimately be exposed because you cannot shield people from the laws of physics and from nature. I take no pleasure in that thought, because by the time the lie is commonly understood to be a lie, it will be too late.