Tag Archives: energy

Europe will declare climate goal tomorrow

Tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd January 2014, the EU will be announcing the carbon cutting target for 2030 and the renewables target for the same period.

Europe seems fairly united in the need to tackle climate change, and they’ve already decided a fifth of the budget will be allocated to climate related policies. But dangerously, corporate lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry are using this final window before the announcement to clamour for attention and weaken the deal. If you want the EU to seal an ambitious deal and seriously tackle climate change, please take a moment to send a message to EU Commision President Jose Barroso, through Avaaz.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/save_eu_climate_legacy_d/?aUKFedb  Continue reading

Not my image.

Soaring Energy Prices

Have you noticed the rise in energy prices?

I topped up my electricity key just a few days ago, but I’m already in the emergency.

Not my image.

Not my image.

If it hasn’t hit you on a practical level yet, you’ve probably at least heard about it on the news. Four of the Big Six energy companies have already raised their prices, by an average of 9.1%, and the other two are going to do it soon as well. Continue reading

Mass protests for the crew's immediate release..

Greenpeace Activists Seized & Imprisoned

On the 18th September 2013, the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace campaign ship, carried 28 activists and two freelance journalists to Gazprom’s Arctic oil rig, where they tried to climb onto the infrastructure and form a peaceful protest against the drilling. Instantly, armed coast guards boarded the Greenpeace vessel and threatened the protesters at gun and knife point, before towing the ship to the Russian port city Murmansk. Three weeks later, all 30 of the ship’s crew are still detained in Russian prisons, despite mass appeals for their release.

The Greenpeace activists were working on the Save the Arctic campaign which aims to prevent oil drilling, industrial fishing and resource based conflicts in the Arctic, instead making it a global sanctuary like the Antarctic. Climate change is causing the ice to melt, which has made the submarine oil deposits accessible for the first time.  However drilling in this fragile environment would seriously harm the populations of endangered animals such as polar bears, walruses and seals. Even if oil slicks could be avoided (which is unlikely), burning these oil resources would be a major step backwards on the climate change front. Globally, we’re already heading towards the dangerous 2°C of warming and we desperately need to move our energy investments from fossil fuels to renewables. For more background see my earlier post on the issue.

Not my image.

After the Russian coast guards seized the Greenpeace ship and brought it to Murmansk, the activists and journalists were all charged with piracy, for which the prison sentence is up to 15 years!

Just so we’re clear, the Oxford Dictionary defines pirate as: “noun: a person who attacks and robs ships at sea”. The charge is completely absurd;  the protesters were not attacking or robbing anyone. Even though the Russian president has defended the violent actions of the coast guards, even he has admitted: “I don’t know the details of what went on, but it’s completely obvious they aren’t pirates“. (Quoted in The Guardian, 7th October 2013, my bold).

All 30 people who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise are still being detained in various Russian prisons, even though they haven’t had their trial yet. There have been demonstrations outside Russian embassies in 48 countries, with people around the world being outraged at the treatment of these activists and freelancers. Appeals for their release have been rejected, and Greenpeace International are filing a criminal complaint with the police, as they’re adamant that seizure of their ship was illegal.

Mass protests for the crew's immediate release..

Mass protests for the crew’s immediate release..

Personally, I’m disgusted by all this. I think Greenpeace have been doing really honorable and brave work, and the Russian government and justice system are clearly being completely biased because the energy giant Gazprom is state owned, and they simply don’t want any interference with its corporate actions.

If you’re of a similar mind, why not send an email to London’s Russian ambassador.
Also you can keep up to date with what’s going on with Greenpeace’s handy timeline.

I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed for these guys.
They don’t deserve to be punished just for caring about the planet.
And for god’s sake, they’re not pirates!

 

Samso landscape with wind turbines. Not my image.

Renewable Island

Samso landscape with wind turbines. Not my image.

Samso landscape with wind turbines. Not my image.

Samso is a small Danish island with about 4,300 residents.
What’s remarkable about this place? It’s 100% powered by renewable energy.

That’s one hundred percent! What a fantastic achievement!

With a combination of off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal pumps and locally grown biofuels, they’ve managed to secure full energy sufficiency from sustainable sources. They do use some fossil-fuel powered cars, but the whole island’s still carbon neutral because they sell excess wind energy to mainland Denmark, effectively offsetting their remaining emissions. They’re actually implementing electric cars as we speak, and they plan to be completely independent from fossil fuels by 2030. If that includes the carbon involved in agriculture and consumer goods, then it’s an ambitious goal – but definitely achievable.

Samso Energy Academy is a visitor attraction, education centre and conference suite where politicians, scientists and businesspeople can meet to discuss renewable energy.  I’m sure anyone that has the pleasure of visiting this centre would be bowled over by the success of the energy projects undertaken on the island.

They have a smart grid, connected to the mainland. Denmark itself is light years ahead of my country when it comes to renewables. Roughly 28% of their current energy is from renewable sources and they’re at the forefront of intelligent grid technologies. These smart grids have an interactive digitised system which allows the fluctuating supply characteristic of renewables to be balanced with the rising demand of our times. Denmark’s grid is connected to nearby countries so they can export when there is a surplus and import when production dips.

I’ve always thought localised energy systems are much more robust than centralised ones. I think this is especially true with renewables because wind, sun and wave energy production is most efficient with many small generation plants rather than a few massive ones. Also diversity between the many different forms of renewables energy is paramount to avoid shortages. But having localised energy generation does not have to mean you can’t also have a smart inter-regional and even international grid – think of it as a vast web with thousands of nodes, all connected but not relying on any centralised system.

I’m incredibly impressed by Samso. The projects were actually instigated by the residents, which makes it even more impressive than if it was the Danish government forcing clean energy on unsuspecting islanders! Here are people that are truly forward thinking, proactive and inspirational. Although the island only has a 4,300 residents, I see no reason why their successes couldn’t be scaled up for larger communities. We’ve all got a lot to learn here.

Here’s some more information about the island. This lovely image is created by www.infographs.org. I’m sorry it’s kind of too small, but I can’t figure out how to enlarge it any further.

For more information about how Denmark’s getting ahead of the energy game, check out State of Green.

I wish this was my image.

Why Fracking’s a Bad Idea

I wish this was my image.

I wish this was my image.

Hydraulic Fracturing – or ‘fracking’ is an intensive method of fossil fuel extraction which involves blasting tonnes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract gas or oil. It happened in America (see the shocking documentary film Gasland and this post) and now my government want it to happen here. My prime minister is ridiculously keen, as are many cabinet ministers including the minister for the department of Energy and Climate Change. My MP on the other hand, was recently arrested while taking part in an anti-fracking protest. Respect, Lucas.

From the title of this post and my general attitude I think you can easily guess which side of the fence I’m on.
That’s right, fracking can fuck off as far as I’m concerned. And I’m here to tell you why.

  • It totally contradicts our climate change obligations. More gas equals more carbon emissions, we’re meant to be weaning ourselves off this toxic stuff, not squeezing still more out of the ground. The dash for gas also diverts investment and public spending away from renewables, which is the direction we should be going in.
  • The chemicals and gas can easily leak into the groundwater. This in turn can get into people’s drinking water if it leaks into aquifers. In my county, 75% of the tap water comes from underground aquifers. The Environmental Agency has actually said fracking near aquifers shouldn’t be allowed as it poses too much of a health hazard.
  • The process is incredibly water intensive, and could cause water shortages just due to the sheer volume required. From an environmental perspective, this is a terrible use for a precious resource. In hot or arid  countries this issue would obviously be much worse.
  • Fracking can also cause earth tremors, which are basically small earthquakes. One has already happened in Blackpool and my local council is opposed to local fracking because they’re worried tremors could affect the London to Brighton railway line, which is an economic lifeline to my city as it’s full of professional commuters to the Big Smoke.
  • David Cameron, my prime minister, has claimed fracking will lower gas prices. This is clearly just a ploy to get struggling families on board, as there is little evidence to suggest this. Even Caudrilla, a major drilling company, admitted it won’t lower domestic prices. This is because the UK shares an integrated energy network with the whole EU, so the drilling companies will sell the gas (or oil) to the highest bidder in Europe. From an environmental perspective, this means even more pollution from long distance transport.
  • The economic effects of fracking aren’t even 100% rosy, as drilling sites will lower nearby house prices and residents may even struggle to get house insurance, due to the high risk levels.
  • Industrialisation of the British countryside will have huge detrimental effects for wildlife, the tourism industry and also national heritage. Increased traffic from lorries and trucks will contribute to congestion and air pollution.

Since lower prices and increased security aren’t guaranteed (because of the export to EU system), the only real benefits from fracking are job creation and a boost to economic growth. But as my recent posts about post-growth economics have shown, economic growth isn’t actually beneficial when you look at the big picture. That just leaves job creation, which is a significant benefit – I can’t argue with that. I can only say that a revolution in renewable energy would create just as many jobs, if not more.

So there we go.

Wind power. Not my image.

The Environmentalist/Energy Tycoon Alliance?

Not my image.

Beautiful wind turbines. Not my image.

I personally really don’t like the big energy companies. I’d quite like to see them crash and burn. Individual satisfaction aside, it turns out that’s not particularly likely nor as good as it sounds. This is because:

  • They will fight tooth and claw against carbon regulations, and are in fact already doing this. And they have a lot of political sway. 
  • If they did collapse, due to not being able to burn their reserves, this would trigger a huge economic crash, plunging us into an international depression. The recession that began in 2008 will look like a hiccup in comparison.

So as much as I’d love to see ExxonMobil, BP and the rest go bust, the consequences would be awful.
This fact has caused me to think of an idea that could arguably be described as environmental treason.

Teaming up with the bad guys.

Yes, I did just say that. I think we need to persuade the CEOs of the big energy companies that they can make as much, f*ck it, more – money from investing in clean renewable energy. An energy revolution is already brewing and bubbling, but if they got involved it’d be done and dusted in like half a decade.

The down side is loads of ethically-void, selfish, undeserving millionaires would carry on being rich.

The up side is these guys have the funds to roll out renewable energy systems throughout the whole world really quickly. This would sort out our unsustainable energy insecurity, mitigate climate change massively, create millions of green jobs and prevent an unfathomable amount of pollution. And avert an economic crash. In fact, it’d be great for the economy.

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Unfortunately though, another issue is this could quash small ethical companies like Ecotricity and Good Energy. That’d be rubbish. I mean, they’re vision would be realised but the wrong people would be profiting from it. I wonder if there’s any way around that?

And what do you think, am I crazy to suggest such an alliance?

Sun farm. Not my image.

Sun farm. Not my image.

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Solar Aeroplane!

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

Not my photo. Belongs to © Solar Impulse / Jean Revillard.

I have good news today!

Yesterday I read about Solar Impulse, the American-owned solar aeroplane that can fly all the way through day and night powered purely by the sun’s rays. It flew from one side of the USA to the other yesterday, and the next big challenge is to fly all around the world in 2015. It converts 20% of the sun’s incoming rays into clean electricity, from the solar cells which cover it’s entire wingspan. The Solar Impulse website says it’s not the first aeroplane to employ solar technology, but it’s certainly the most ambitious to date, and the first to be able to fly through the night. This is possible because the energy generated in the day is able to be stored, a technology which wasn’t available not so long ago.

I’ve often thought we need to sort out a new aviation fuel, as the standard one is hugely carbon-heavy and won’t help us meet our carbon-reduction targets any time soon. I wondered about biofuel, but I generally don’t think biofuel’s a great idea. It just seems counter-productive to use loads of land growing crops to turn into ethanol when the space could be used to feed the millions of malnourished people in the world. I also considered electric planes that could be charged up with renewable energy generated on land… But I for some reason I never thought of a plane that generated it’s power as it flies.

I have no idea why I didn’t think solar-powered aeroplanes were a realistic possibility. But it makes perfect sense doesn’t it? Planes usually fly above the clouds so you’re pretty much guaranteed sunlight, and at a higher intensity than the ground receives even on a clear day. It’s perfect!

This has made me really really happy because it basically solves a dilemma I’ve been having. On the one hand, I’m desperate to travel the world, learn about loads of crazy different places and cultures and even travel for work; carving out a career in green media. On the other hand, I don’t want to fly because I can’t justify the huge amounts of pollution caused by aviation. How could I fly around the world writing about environmental issues? What a stupid hypocritical paradox?

Well, thanks to Solar Impulse it looks like I might be able to have my cake and eat it after all.

Bring on the renewable revolution! Bring on the post-carbon future!

~

More information:

Treehugger: http://www.treehugger.com/aviation/solar-impulse-flying-san-francisco-new-york-city-solar-plane.html
Solar Impulse: http://www.solarimpulse.com/en/
The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/video/2013/may/04/solar-powered-aeroplane-lands-phoenix-video

Greedy Lying Bastards Trailer

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EW0NMjD-wtA]
This is the trailer for the provocatively named Greedy Lying Bastards - a documentary film about climate change and skeptics.  I haven’t been able to watch the full movie yet but basically it sets out to explain how climate skepticism has been engineered by energy companies. I’ve heard rumors before that huge companies that rely on  fossil fuel use (like Exxon Mobil for example) have funded false ”scientific” studies in order to portray climate change as a ”hoax”. And then you get people who think they’re being all ”independent” because they’re not jumping on the ”climate bandwagon”. Euuugh it makes me sick.

When I hear people being all like ”it’s not happening” I just want to shake them. I mean, it’s great to question everything. But to think you know better than hundreds of respected scientists (the IPCC) when you’re not even one scientist, is frankly arrogant. Not to mention most skeptics don’t even have dodgy evidence, let alone decent evidence. And to the small portion of lunatics that think climate change is a conspiracy by the government, let me just say this. The governments of most Western countries are trying quite hard to ignore climate change, because it’s very costly and annoying for them. They aren’t getting anything out of it! Skeptics are highly deluded and in a serious case of denial.

Anyway I’m looking forward to having more light shed on this, and I’m happy this documentary is going to be shown in mainstream cinemas.

Sorry for the impromptu rant, I hope you have a lovely day. ~

For Frack’s Sake!

Last night my and my boyfriend went round to a neighbor’s house to watch Gasland – a  well made and shocking documentary about the fracking crisis in America. You can watch the film, read a blog and get more information here. Basically the gist of the film is that a few years ago officials in the States decided they were going to make use of the huge reserves of natural gas in their country and set about an enormous domestic gas drilling operation.

This map isn’t mine and belongs to Josh Fox who made Gasland – this came from the website linked to above. The reddish parts are gas drilling areas and the blue are waterways. Horizontal Fracking, or horizontal hydraulic fracturing to use it’s proper name, is a gas drilling process where a deep 8,000 foot well is dug and then a kind of tunnel is made horizontally. Bare in mind most of the drinking water aquifers are only 1,000 foot deep. Millions of gallons of water are then sent down along with sand and 596 chemicals at incredibly high pressure. This creates miniature earthquakes and fractures the gas shale – allowing liquid gas to be harvested. The gas comes up mixed with water and the two have to be separated. The waste water is called ‘produced water’ by the gas companies and is incredibly toxic.

This is when the film started to get really shocking. When I said the waste water is toxic, I meant very toxic. In the film Josh interviewed loads – like maybe twenty – of families that had had their drinking water contaminated by nearby gas wells. Their water would go yellowish brown and sometimes it’d even become flammable. Like they would turn on the tap and if they put a light to it it’d go up in flames. They got sick from drinking the water. The people interviewed reported headaches, sickness, loss of smell and taste, and joint pain. A scientist confirmed all of this was common and long term effects might include brain damage. The distressed victims obviously called up the gas companies and complained about their water, but they were told if they couldn’t prove the problem was caused by the gas they’d get no compensation. They now have to buy bottled water from a shop.

If you’re wondering how this could possibly be legal, it’s because of the ‘Halliburton Loophole’. Basically in 2005 Bush and Cheney passed the Energy Bill, which – can you believe it – exempts natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. I know. Talk about corruption. The gas companies doing this drilling can pollute citizen’s drinking water to a point where it’s dangerous to drink and their wells could explode, and it’s completely legal. They don’t even have to disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluid because it’s propriety – like how some brands have a secret recipe. There is something called the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness to Chemicals Act (the FRAC Act) which would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use and would make them adhere to the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was introduced in 2009 and again in 2011 but as far as I can tell it hasn’t yet been passed.
American readers: You can follow this link to tell your local representative to support the FRAC Act. Get on it! 

It wasn’t even just a few newsworthy homes that had got problems. The drilling was and still is going on in many states, and the health problems are showing up wherever the drilling occurs. It’s ridiculously widespread. I still can’t believe the American government would let this happen to its own people. I thought they were meant to be civilized. I now feel incredibly naive – I thought dangerous drinking water and pollution with this level of acute health effects  was something that only happened in poor and developing nations. Not that that isn’t just as bad, but I have to admit this is unsettling. I knew big gas companies were fine with doing this kind of stuff in other countries… I didn’t think they’d do it in their own. How wrong I was.

Gasland was made in 2009 so after watching the film, I did some research into whether this has been cleaned up by now. Apparently not! This article about fracking was released on the Guardian website on 31st December 2012. Another thing: the madness is not contained to the United States. Oh no, it’s coming to my country as well! Frack Off is an action group against fracking in the UK. I was horrified to learn that hundreds of sites are already proposed and they have open testing sites already. My city has a Frack Free campaign group which I’m going to look into.

Bare in mind all this is just the short term effects. This is just what’s going wrong due to the gas being extracted. All the pollution and climate effects that’ll happen when the gas is burnt for energy haven’t even been mentioned here. It’s just such a bad set up. Why can’t they invest in renewable energy at this scale?

Anyway so:

  • To all Americans: A, I’m very worried for you. B, Please lose any remaining notions that your government is looking out for you or cares in any way whatsoever. C, Don’t take this sh*t! Stand up and shout and scream about this! 
  • To all Britons: Oh my god! I’m worried what shall we do?
  • To everyone else: Watch out for your country! Spread the word! Invest in renewables! Do something!

Oh my god.