...and catching up on good news and bad from the past few days.
Roll up! Roll up! Get your bad news here! I'm concerned that there is bad news. There's always bad news. The climate crisis has certainly not gone away. We need to do something about it and we need to encourage people to do something about it but I'm increasingly concerned about warning them of the risks and privations that are likely to occur some years in the future. It's not going to work where people are increasingly concerned about the cost of living, the cost of mortgages, the cost of petrol, and whether there will be food on the table tonight.
…and Good News
Yes, there is bad news and I'll bring you up-to-date on some of the stories, but there is also good news and I'm going to look at that as well. The fundamental issue though, is getting the message across and enthusing people to work together towards a solution to the climate crisis. The perennial question is always, “But what can I do?” And the true and honest answer is, on your own, not a lot. Of course individuals should save energy, recycle wherever possible, always think carbon, plant trees and avoid long haul flights, and many do all these things, but it takes the power of governments to really make a difference. And governments are there to do what people want. Arguably they sometimes listen to far too few people and everybody else ignores them and lets them get on with it, but if enough people believe things can be better then they must urge governments to make things better. If they don’t believe things can be better then nothing will change. And if nothing changes it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s time to ditch dystopia and give people a vision of a better, safer and sustainable world as the first step.
Well, that’s better.
Oh, I’ve just recorded an interview on a podcast called Wake the Fuck Up with Lori Hoover. Well, she chose the title. Don’t miss it! She tells me that it’s scheduled for release on Sunday 25th September. I shall look forward to hearing what I said.
In the news recently, greenwash, floods in South Africa, wildfires in New Mexico and heatwaves in India.
Somewhere in the middle we have green bonds, plans from the Ineos corporation to start fracking, doubts about the need for a new Cumbrian coalmine, paper wine bottles, extended life for Hinkley B and expected approval for Small Modular Reactors from Rolls-Royce.
On the positive side researchers believe that fulfilling the Paris agreement could keep us below 2°, the Labour Party promises to insulate 2 million homes in its first year, there is progress on sustainable fashion and the UK government reveals plans to lead the world in climate and sustainability education. And if you’re heading for the beach there are centres around the coast where you can now borrow a wooden (sustainable) belly board free of charge. Ride the waves without the waste!
Rare Metals from Below
We’ve mentioned rare metals on the Sustainable Futures Report before. They’re called rare metals because they’re rare, but they are vital to the electronic revolution. We need them for electric motors in electric cars, for magnets in wind turbines, for making solar panels and for all sorts of electronic control systems, as well as mobile phones, screens and medical equipment. Much of the supply is controlled by China, which adds a geopolitical dimension to the whole issue.
For years we have been aware of manganese nodules containing other minerals to be found on the abyssal plains at the very depths of the ocean. Now deep sea mining techniques are available to allow these resources to be harvested, but a conference on the subject in London last week caused an outcry.
I think it was Jaques Cousteau who said that 2/3 of the Earth is covered by water. 2/3 of the Earth is unexplored. A lot has changed since he said that, certainly as far as the very deep oceans are concerned, but there is still a lot we don’t know. These depths are extremely deep. The guide to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, where many of these nodules are found, explains that there are seamounts up to 2,000m tall down there under the sea. The nodules themselves are used as anchor points or homes for some of the species that live there, and they are surrounded by a rich biodiversity in the sediment. The plan is to vacuum them up to the surface, harvest the nodules and wash off the sediment back into the sea. The potential damage to an ecosystem that we hardly understand has drawn criticism from Greenpeace, WWF and many others. As Manda Scott explained in last Wednesday’s Interview, if we destroy the oceans we destroy ourselves. Even the World Economic Forum has gone so far as to admit that there are significant knowledge gaps, and Credit Suisse has recently become the sixth major global bank to introduce a policy that rules out funding deep-sea exploration and extraction. Asian banks have yet to form a policy on deep-sea mining, which is estimated to be worth US$150 trillion in gold deposits alone. How much is the safety of the planet worth? And anyway, surely if they extracted that much gold the price would collapse.
Natural Disasters are again in the news
The last few weeks have seen floods in South Africa. Hundreds of people have been killed, but it barely makes a headline. Homes and roads have been washed away in what has been described as the worst floods ever.
Meanwhile the wildfire season has started in New Mexico and President Biden has declared a federal disaster as fires, which started a month ago, continue to burn.
In India temperatures are reaching 45℃ in many cities, the highest since records began, causing fires in landfill dumps and shrivelling crops. The country is also facing energy shortages leading to power cuts due to coal shortages. Coal generates 70% of India’s electricity, so maybe there’s an upside of cleaner air.
Elsewhere there’s greenwash. It never goes away, does it? As part of the UN’s climate action efforts, the Secretary-General’s Net-Zero Expert Group met for the first time on Wednesday, on a mission to develop stronger and clearer standards for net-zero emissions pledges by non-State entities — such as businesses, investors, cities and regions—and speed up their implementation. “The world is in a race against time. We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers or any form of greenwashing”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.
From greenwash to green bonds. This week the Social Market Foundation called on the financial industry to seize the opportunity of decarbonising the UK economy. In a wide-ranging paper it suggested that bonds could be issued with a return linked to the UK’s performance towards its net-zero targets. It suggested that net zero finance could become one of the UK’s most successful green exports.
“Financial services will be key in unlocking the capital needed to support green investments,” they said. “This includes maximising the potential of pension funds to support green investments. At present, most pension schemes (70%), worth £2 trillion, are yet to make net zero commitments.”
In Other News
Ineos, the chemicals company owned by the UK’s richest man and Monaco resident Sir Jim Ratcliffe, announced this week that it was seeking permission to build a fracking test site to show the process can be performed safely. They claimed that shale gas could make the UK self-sufficient in 10 years. Aren’t they missing the point? The worry is not that fracking might cause earth tremors. It’s about the fact that gas is a fossil fuel and every extra bit that we extract and use makes it that much more difficult to reach our net-zero targets.
Interesting comments this week on the proposed new deep coal mine in Cumbria in northwest England. The promoters have said that the mine will make the UK self-sufficient in metallurgical coal so that steelmakers will no longer have to rely on Russian imports. “Not true”, said Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute, which serves as the UK’s national centre for steel research. He explained that British Steel would not use the Cumbrian coal because the sulphur content was too high and Tata Steel, the only other UK steelmaker, might possibly use a small amount.
A decision on whether to permit the mine is still awaited.
And in positive news..
Paper Wine Bottles
You can now get your wine in paper bottles. It’s a good idea not to get them damp, of course, but if they do get wet by mistake there’s a plastic (recyclable) liner which keeps the contents safe. The bottles are made by Frugalpac and I’m sure I covered this story back in 2020. I haven’t seen any on the shelves yet.
There are suggestions that the Hinkley B nuclear power station will not shut down as planned this summer but could have a further 18 months of life. As long as it’s safe this seems like a good idea, and since we have some of the most stringent nuclear safety standards in the world it makes sense to keep using the station. It will make up, to an extent, for the delay in completing Hinkley C and the closures of nuclear stations at Heysham and Torness. Keeping Hinkley B operational reduces the need for gas and avoids the emissions that would be generated by burning that gas.
Small Modular Reactors
In other nuclear news Rolls-Royce says it expects to get regulatory approval from the British government by 2024 for its small modular reactors and that these could be operational by 2029. That is very fast for a nuclear power station. We urgently need clean energy and solar and wind can be installed far more rapidly, subject to approval processes. We need to advance our energy supply on all fronts. At the same time we must not overlook energy demand. I’m chairing a home insulation forum later today. Insulate once, save energy indefinitely.
Labour Party promises to insulate 2 million homes
This week the UK’s shadow energy secretary, Ed Miliband, said that, if elected, Labour would aim for 2m household upgrades in the first year of a decade-long £60bn scheme that could save households £400 on bills annually. Let’s hope that goes better than the present government’s failed green schemes.
Paris agreement below 2°
The best news of the week must be an article in Nature which suggests that if the Paris Agreement targets are met, the rise in global temperatures will be held just below 2°C. Over the last five years more than 150 countries have created or updated their nationally determined contributions, their commitment to emissions reduction by 2030. In addition, 76 longer-term pledges have been made.
At the time of COP 26 it was concluded that there was only a 50% chance that global warming would be kept below 2°C. Now the authors of this paper show that warming can be kept just below 2 degrees Celsius if all conditional and unconditional pledges are implemented in full and on time. We need to keep our governments and our industries focussed on these targets.
There’s a Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), at the University of the Arts in London. They say,
“We provoke, challenge, and question the status quo in fashion; contributing to a system that recognises its ecological context and honours equity. We shape and contribute to Fashion Design for Sustainability as a field of study, industry, and education practices. We engage in transformation design, cross-referencing fashion’s ecological, social, economic, and cultural agendas.
“We take a pluralistic, systemic approach, collaborating with universities, businesses, and other organisations around the world. All our work is underpinned by Our Declaration, applied through our Strategic Plan."
There’s certainly a lot of controversy about the impact of fashion on the environment. Shein, for example, is a fashion retailer with a business model based on speeding up the fashion cycle and urging consumers to buy more and more and discard their new clothes just as quickly. Garments are designed for obsolescence, almost within hours, and destined for landfill. The waste of resources must be immense, but in financial terms the business is a winner, valued as much as H&M and Zara combined. It’s a classic case of ignoring externalities. The waste and the carbon footprint of production can be ignored by Shein. The consequences have to be borne by everybody else.
News just in. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi announces that the UK education sector is to become a world leader in climate change by 2030, as part of the launch of the government’s flagship Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy. A new GCSE in natural history will be introduced by September 2025 which will enable young people to explore the world by learning about organisms and environments, environmental and sustainability issues, and gaining a deeper knowledge of the natural world around them.
The government will also confirm its plans to accelerate the rollout of carbon literacy training to support at least one sustainability lead in every locally maintained nursery, school, college and university.
Can’t come soon enough. And will there be training on the subject for MPs too?
The BBC reports how Rachel Hurst, a student at the University of East Anglia, is helping other students to address their climate anxieties. Climate anxiety is becoming more widespread. You’ll remember that when Fernando Garcia Ferreiro spoke to the Sustainable Futures Report about Deep Adaptation he offered counselling to anyone overwhelmed by the implications of the climate crisis. The Mindfulness Initiative last week published a report entitled Reconnection: Meeting the Climate Crisis Inside Out. It’s reported this week that EU officials working on the EU Green Deal Climate Policy are following Mindfulness courses and learning to meditate, to help them overcome despair at the belief that little can be done.
If you go down to the beach today you’re sure of a big surprise. Well, of course it depends on which beach you actually go to, but if you choose the right one you can hire a belly board to ride the surf and hire it completely free of charge. This is an initiative from Jamie Johnstone, chief workhorse at board makers Dick Pearce. The Ocean Recovery Project estimates there are more than 16,000 polystyrene bodyboards discarded on UK beaches every year. They are imported, they may not even survive first use and once discarded they are pollution.
Full marks to Jamie and his colleagues for giving you a sustainable alternative.
Come on. Last one in the water is a wuss!
And that's it for this week.
Thanks for listening, and if you are, thank you very much for being a patron. I'm still looking for a mining expert so if that's you, please pop across to patreon.com/sfr for details.
Next Wednesday I shall be Taking Stock with patron Ian Jarvis. I have interviews coming up on blockchain, agriculture, sustainable events, green investment, sustainable oceans and several others. In between I’ll continue to keep you up to date on sustainability stories on Fridays.
For this week
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next time.
Deep Sea Minerals
South Africa Floods
New Mexico Fires
Small Modular Reactors
Surf Wood for Good