As I write this on the day after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II there's little I can bring you in the way of sustainability news from the United Kingdom. The only news across all channels yesterday was about the Queen, the event, the pageantry and the history.
The world didn’t stop, of course, and we are in the middle of a series of extreme weather events.
Pakistan is still recovering from devastating floods, and will be for months to come. Waterborne diseases are complicating the situation and Radio Pakistan reports that there is growing pressure within the US Foreign Relations Committee to increase US aid.
On Sunday more than 7 million people in Japan were urged to take refuge as Typhoon Nanmadol hit the south-west of country with 150mph winds. By Monday this had risen to 9 million, two people had died and almost 90 injured. The typhoon, one of the biggest storms in decades to hit the country and described as a superstorm, left 350,000 people without power and left floods and mudslides across its path. Up to 400mm of rain were expected to fall on Tuesday.
This comes only a week after Typhoon Muifa crossed the country and went on to Eastern China where local media called it the strongest tropical cyclone to hit the populous Yangtze River Delta in a decade.
Across the world floods have raced through the centre of Italy killing 11 and making hundreds homeless. This summer Italy experienced Europe’s record temperature of 48.8℃ and in July part of a glacier broke away in the Dolomites causing a landslide killing seven. France has seen heatwaves this year, and still now, in the second week of September, it recorded a temperature of 40.7℃ in Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
UN General Assembly
It's appropriate then, that after the funeral world leaders have headed back to the United Nations General Assembly in New York which started last week, to discuss such things - among many others. The Guardian informs us that leaked reports reveal that the world’s most vulnerable countries are preparing to take on the richest economies with a demand for urgent finance – potentially including new taxes on fossil fuels or flying – for the irrecoverable losses they are suffering from the climate crisis. Maybe the rich countries will respond, or maybe they will leave it until COP27 in Egypt in November. Already there are doubts about the success of COP27, given that nations are back-tracking on their commitments to cut emissions in the face of the energy crisis. The constant reaction appears to be, “Of course we’re committed to saving the climate. Just let us sort this problem with the economy/energy prices/world peace/winning the next election, first.”
Leaving the real world for the moment…
There is no doubt that Britain does pageantry better than any other country on Earth. Heads of state from almost every country in the world attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. Nothing like it has ever before been seen by the world, and I'm inclined to believe that nothing like it will ever be seen again. Queen Elizabeth died two days after appointing Liz Truss as her new prime minister so the 10 days of mourning were an immediate block on government business.
Business, Energy, Net Zero
Major announcements and more ministerial appointments are promised later this week, but so far Jacob Rees-Mogg has been appointed as minister for business and his responsibilities include energy, climate change and net zero. Although he has said that we must build more offshore wind farms he's known as a climate sceptic.
Liz Truss has announced an immediate end to the ban on fracking, breaking yet another manifesto promise. There has been a lot of discussion about fracking locally – we are after all in a potential fracking area here. I've been asked to write an article about it for the local paper. I've included it at the end of this episode.
The Role of the King
As Prince of Wales, King Charles was known for strong views on issues including the environment and climate change and for writing letters about them to government ministers. As King he must be above politics and he has already indicated that he will no longer express his views. It may be very hard for him to keep to that, given his sincere beliefs in the dangers of the climate crisis while our new prime minister seems recklessly unconcerned.
In other UK news the new Health Secretary has instructed her civil servants to avoid the use of that punctuation device the Oxford comma, (yes I didn’t know what it was either,) but she’s clearly showing a rare grasp of priorities. Meanwhile the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has announced that the limit on bankers’ bonuses will be removed, something which would not have been permissible had we still been in the EU. It’s going to unleash economic growth. Thank goodness for Brexit! No doubt there will be rejoicing amongst those queueing at food banks and recharging their prepayment energy meters as bankers line up for their millions.
Some good news. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and equipment company, has long had a reputation for environmental responsibility. Now founder Yvon Chouinard has announced that he has donated his $3 billion company to a charitable trust fund which will use future profits to fight climate change.
He writes, “If we have any hope of a thriving planet—much less a business—it is going to take all of us doing what we can with the resources we have. This is what we can do.
“Here’s how it works: 100% of the company’s voting stock transfers to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, created to protect the company’s values; and 100% of the nonvoting stock had been given to the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature. The funding will come from Patagonia: Each year, the money we make after reinvesting in the business will be distributed as a dividend to help fight the crisis.”
It’s a remarkable gesture, but I can’t help agreeing with some commentators who say that our future should rely on governments, not billionaires.
Before I go, here’s that article I wrote.
Why fracking is not the answer.
We have an energy crisis and we urgently need solutions. Why not drill into the vast reserves of gas in the rocks beneath our feet and release it using fracking? Fracking is a process where high-pressure water is injected into gas-bearing shale deep underground. This separates the layers of rock to release the gas, and sand and a thickener mixed with the water keep the cracks open so the gas continues to flow. Cuadrilla, which opened an exploratory site in Lancashire amidst continuous protests, has estimated that a production well could deliver 6.5 billion cubic feet (184 million cubic metres) of gas over a 30-year lifetime. And according to UK Onshore Oil and Gas, (UKOOG) the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry, a fracking well could be up and running in just 3-5 months, giving us British energy unaffected by foreign countries or foreign currencies.
Unfortunately it’s not quite so simple. Although there are deposits of shale beneath most of the north of England the British Geological Survey points out that there is little data to reveal exactly how much gas they may contain and estimates vary widely. They are based on experience in North America but there is no guarantee that conditions will be the same or that gas will be as easy to extract. The estimates of as little as 3 to 5 months to commission a new well must be seen through very rose-tinted glasses. That might be possible once permissions are granted, but the approval process typically takes months, if not years, so fracking cannot provide a swift answer to our energy crisis. One of the things that planning authorities and local residents need to be certain of is that the process will not cause earth tremors, which have occurred on exploratory sites. There is also the question of traffic to and from the site to collect the gas, unless the well is connected directly to the national gas grid, which is unlikely to be feasible for most sites. There’s concern about the considerable quantities of water that are needed for fracking, and where it will end up after it’s been injected into the ground. And some say there’s a risk that the water table could be contaminated with gas or fracking fluid.
Assuming all these objections are overcome, how much gas are we going to get once a site starts operating? As we saw, Cuadrilla expects some 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas over a well’s 30-year lifetime. On average that’s just over 6 million cubic metres of gas per year, or enough to supply 4,600 average households out of the UK’s 28 million. To put it another way, in order to meet the nation’s annual requirement of 77 billion cubic metres of gas we would have to drill more than 12,500 fracking wells. That might be possible in the gas-lands of America, but over here we just don’t have the room!
The fundamental objection to fracking is that it is producing fossil fuels, which in turn produce carbon emissions which are driving the climate crisis. Apart from the carbon dioxide created when natural gas is burnt, fugitive emissions add to the problem. This is gas which escapes into the atmosphere from the well. Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. American experience reveals that up to 10% of extracted gas is lost in this way.
While we may be able to produce some gas from fracking it won’t be any cheaper. It will be sold at world market prices. The government has suggested that people living close to fracking sites could be rewarded with discounts, but it will be interesting to see whether that actually motivates consumers. There’s shale not only in the north, but under some of the Home Counties. Will the government encourage exploitation down there, or will they leave it to the “desolate north-east” as one politician described it?
Yes, we have an energy crisis and yes, we need urgent solutions. Fracking is not that solution. We can solve the problem more quickly and cheaply with existing technologies for renewables and storage as long as we manage demand, but that’s for another article.
I'll be interested to see what reaction that article gets, both from the readers of our local paper and indeed from you. I hope that by next week the picture will be a bit clearer as to what's happening in the UK but of course what's happening in the UK is only a very small part of the global picture so I'll try and keep up on trends and sustainability news across the world. I have interviews coming up for future episodes as well, including with the founder of the Sustainable Oceans Alliance, another talking about meat-free sausages and very soon I hope to have a comment on Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's first 100 days.
It's time to thank my loyal patrons for their support and to urge you to join their number if you aren’t one already. Your small monthly contribution helps me keep the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. Find the details at patreon.com/sfr or via the Sustainable Futures Report website.
That's it for this week. Sources as usual on the Sustainable Futures Report website.
Thank you for listening.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Until next time.
Typhoons in Japan and China
Europe Floods, heatwave and landslide
British Geological Survey
North Sea Transition Authority (formerly the Oil and Gas Authority)
Preston New Road exploratory site
BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2022
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/12019-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1990202">David Mark</a> from <a href=“https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1990202">Pixabay</a>