I've called this one Good News for two reasons, one is that I want to attract your attention, and secondly because I don't want the Sustainable Futures Report to be seen as a litany of bad news.
And I put this picture of kittens on the website because I believe your hit rate just goes phenomenal if you do that.
Yes, I think it is responsible to report on things which are putting the resolution of the climate crisis at risk, but I'm also going to continue to cover the positive aspects of sustainability news – technological developments, research initiatives, popular movements and leads from enlightened businesses.
First, then, issues of concern. The hurricane in Florida, planned pipelines that can only lead to increased global emissions, sabotaged pipelines and why King Charles will not be at COP 27.
On the positive side I have had extensive press coverage this week, at least in my local paper, the Brazilian election is not yet over but Bolsonaro is in second place, and speech training for sustainability professionals. I’m delivering a keynote.
Hurricane in Florida
Hurricane Ian has hit Florida with fatalities and extensive damage. Another example of extreme weather. Meanwhile in Pakistan the consequences of the recent floods have left the headlines but are still catastrophic. Waterborne diseases are becoming an increasing problem in addition to all the crops, livestock, homes and public buildings which have all been washed away and destroyed. The United Nations estimates that the country needs at least $700 million in aid. Will the international community pay up?
At least the Disasters Emergency Committee has an appeals page.
Two Pipeline Stories
First, Global Energy Monitor reports that the oil industry is pursuing a massive build-out of new pipelines, led by projects in U.S., India, China, Russia. We’re talking about 24,166 km of new oil pipelines, nearly half of it already under construction. It is difficult to assess the exact capacity of these new lines but it is estimated that once operational they could deliver enough oil and gas to generate 4.61 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. That's about a 13% increase on current levels and makes a nonsense of any commitment to achieving net zero at any time in the future. On the other hand, if governments ever really come together and impose a total embargo which means these pipelines cannot be used they will end up as stranded assets, a wasted investment estimated at some $76 billion. What do you think will happen?
This week unexplained explosions have damaged both the original Nord stream gas pipeline under the Baltic and the parallel Nord stream two. Pipeline number one which brings gas from Russia to Europe has recently been closed for repairs. Pipeline number two has been completed but never commissioned because of the situation in Ukraine. Both pipelines contained gas which was initially gushing out near the Danish island of Bornholm, creating a turbulent area with a diameter of around a kilometre. This in itself was highly dangerous to shipping, because the reduced density of the water would be insufficient to float ships, so any vessels straying into the area risked sinking without trace. Since then there are reports that the flow from Nord Stream 1 has stopped and the flow from NS 2 is much reduced.
The natural gas released, mainly methane which is a far stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, will have had a significant effect on annual emissions.
There is debate about how the lines became damaged although the consensus is that it is the result of sabotage.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, claims that it was dirty tricks by the United States, but the general, if unofficial, opinion appears to be that the culprit was Russia. This not only disrupts gas supplies to Europe, but also contains a veiled threat to all the other pipelines and undersea communications lines which all countries in the world rely on. Could Russia be opening a new front to the Ukraine conflict? The United Kingdom has sent a Royal Navy frigate to protect its interests. Difficult to see how exactly this will work as the pipelines are 70 to 100 m below the surface. I suppose it can look out for hostile submarines, although it’s not clear exactly how the sabotage was carried out or whether in fact it did involve a submarine. Sweden has sent a diving vessel to the area.
King Charles not at COP 27
As Prince of Wales, Charles attended COP 26, the United Nations climate conference, last November and made a speech. This year it has been announced that following advice from the prime minister, King Charles will not attend COP 27 in Egypt next month. Prince William, the new Prince of Wales will not attend either, although there is a suggestion that he will send a pre-recorded speech. Some are keen to portray this as evidence of the climate scepticism of Liz Truss, the new PM. For example, here’s a comment from the Twittersphere: “So, Liz Truss seems to have stopped King Charles going to the next COP global climate summit and giving a speech. Equally the king appears to have authorised the leaking of this. It ain't going to be like it was with mummy.”
But the king, who as Prince of Wales was noted for strong views on the climate and other controversial issues, made it clear from his accession that he would be stepping back from his charities and interest groups.
Certainly there are concerns about Truss’s attitude to Net Zero. She promised to remove green levies from energy bills and to fund them instead from general taxation. Given that the Chancellor has now announced extensive unfunded tax cuts, even after the U-turn on abolition of the 45% income tax rate, there are now talks about cutting public spending to balance the books. The green levies may be a casualty of that. Another issue is the nature of the Egyptian regime. A British activist, Alaa Abd El Fattah, has been on a hunger strike in an Egyptian prison for 186 days and counting. There are allegations that the Egyptian authorities have blocked attempts by the British consulate to visit him and assess his state of health. He is by far not the only dissenter in Egyptian prisons.
The Egyptian Government meanwhile, has re-issued its invitation to King Charles and urged the government not to backtrack from the global climate agenda, seen by some as a criticism of the views of Liz Truss. The king represents not just the UK on the world stage, but countries like New Zealand, Australia and Canada. They may prefer him to be there. Britain, as last year’s COP26 host, retains responsibility for the outcome of that event until COP27 starts in November.
Every COP since the very first one has been criticised as a talking shop and not a source of action. Let's hope this time the whole thing will not be overwhelmed by other political issues.
Good news and bad news from Brazil. The good news is that the current President Bolsonaro did not achieve 50% of last Sunday's vote which would have allowed him to continue in office. The bad news is that Lula, his opponent, did not achieve 50% either, although came out ahead. There will therefore be a run-off on Sunday, 30th October. The outcome of this election is crucial to the future and preservation of the Amazon.
This week I've been in the press, the local press admittedly, but on the same day I had a letter about the folly of wasting embedded energy and a two-page spread on why fracking is not the answer. I'll add the text of my fracking article to the end of this episode on the Sustainable Futures Report website because it's quite long, but here's what I wrote about embedded energy.
“Your feature on the Mecca bingo hall, now demolished after only 20 years, (1st October) made me think of another aspect of the energy crisis which concerns us all. It's taken some of the largest machines I've ever seen about eight weeks to destroy that building. The energy needed for demolition, though significant, is tiny in comparison to the energy needed for the furnaces for making the original structural steel and for the kilns which made the bricks. All now goes for scrap or to landfill and all that embedded energy is wasted. Surely that building could have been remodelled and repurposed but no, developers will come to a cleared site with new steel, new bricks, new panelling, roofing and windows. Across the road the former Plumbase showroom, a much older and rundown building is now a heap of rubble. In Picadilly, Swinson House, a solidly built 1930s tax office, is next on the list for destruction.
All this might make economic sense, but if that’s true then economics is broken.”
I've been a member of Toastmasters International for 20 years. In case you've not heard of it, it's an international self-help organisation which aims to help people improve their public speaking, listening and leadership skills. It's got nothing to do with the loud voiced people in red coats who encourage others to drink. In addition to regular club meetings from time to time we run speech craft courses, which are designed to help nonmembers build their skills. This week I am keynote speaker at the start of a new speech craft for sustainability professionals. My topic is preparing to present to a difficult audience, on the basis that many people are in denial. Some a few are totally opposed to any idea of climate change, many are uncertain and many more are concerned about short-term issues like the cost of living. I believe that our task is to persuade people to take out action, or if they are unable to do so, to understand and grant permission to those of us who are able to act. It's an ongoing task but as I shall tell the audience, it's vital, it's urgent and it's going to be difficult. But we’ll achieve it. I don’t deny it.
The United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority takes a step forward. That’s STEP, which stands for Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production. It’s a nuclear fusion reactor, designed to produce almost unlimited energy without harmful nuclear waste. This week Jacob Rees-Mogg, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, announced that it would be built on the site of a former coal fired power station in Nottinghamshire. There is unlikely to be any ground broken for a while as the project has three distinct stages. The first is concept design which will take until 2024. This is followed by detailed design and obtaining permissions before the construction phase starts with completion hoped for by 2040. That will produce a prototype capable of generating 100 MW or approximately 1% of total UK electricity demand. The whole project will cost billions and of course will pump a lot of investment into an area outside London.
The search for nuclear fusion has been going on for decades and the UK is already a partner in ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. JET, the Joint European Torus, is another fusion research facility at Culham in Oxfordshire. It was last fired up in 2020, the first time for 23 years, which gives an indication of how long this sort of research takes.The new design will be smaller and more compact, but there’s no certainty that the experiment will succeed where others have repeatedly failed. The investment must not take funds away from proven renewable technologies.
Like fracking, fusion is not going to solve the energy crisis any time soon, if at all.
Before I go,
Here’s one to watch, one to hear.
On BBC Sounds, The Scramble for Rare Earths with Misha Glenny shows how these minerals are vital to the clean energy revolution and explains the considerable problems along the way.
On BBCiPlayer, Panorama - The Green Energy Scandal Exposed - takes aim at Drax, the UK’s biggest power station, which has claimed £6bn in public subsidies so far, on the basis that burning biomass instead of coal makes it carbon neutral. Some disagree.
And that's it.
For this week. Thank you for listening to another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report.
There will be an interview next week with the Founder of the Sustainable Oceans Alliance.
If you like the Sustainable Futures Report please consider becoming a patron from as little as £1 per month, which these days is more or less the same as $1 per month. For that I get your support in helping to keep the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad-free. I'm particularly grateful to our long-standing and loyal patrons. Join them as one of our supporters by going to patreon.com/SFR.
Thanks once again for listening.
I’m Anthony Day
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Charles - COP27
BBC Panorama - Drax
BBC Sounds - Rare Earths