More rainforest protected, followed up with Gauke and injured my hand

I’m typing this one-handed after injuring my hand yesterday – should all be OK, but I have now seen my own knuckle bone and tendons.  Looked like a bit of chicken thigh until the blood arrived.  Was scoping out a potential solar farm, then learned an important lesson – don’t help out re-cradling a cattle fence when you’re a bit tired.  I’ll leave it there!

I’ve just has a message from World Land Trust – please use my code to swap to Ecotricity to increase the pot:

“I am writing to let you know that we have received a further £300 donation from Ecotricity and they have confirmed that this is due to your recommendations to friends.

This donation will be placed in the WLT Action Fund to be used where most urgently needed to support the Trust’s land purchase and protection projects.

Since the WLT was established in 1989 we have been able to help purchase and protection of over 500,000 acres of tropical forest and other threatened habitats which would otherwise have been lost. 

Thank you again for your support which is greatly appreciated.”

Karen Gothard (Lowe), Donations Manager, World Land Trust

And I sent the following email to David Gauke from Stoke Mandeville hospital while waiting to be seen by the plastics team – will follow up with an in-person meeting.  The Climate Coalition are thinking about the idea – I have to be honest and don’t think it will go anywhere, other than to make the point:

Dear Mr David Gauke MP

Thank you for your letter regarding community energy and the government position on climate change.

I’m writing to follow up the other action you took when we met on 26 June: to speak to Amber Rudd about taking leadership alongside BP, Shell, health organisations, Church of England and scientists to persuade the UK public of the need to tackle climate change.  The letter does not refer to this action.

I read today of the moves to push local councils to expedite planning decisions on fracking applications.  Given your government is willing to move against public opinion on this controversial technology to increase fossil fuel extraction, surely you can do similar or more on climate change, and other sources of cleaner energy such as solar farms?

Please can you let me know of progress on the action described above, plus the lapsed action on Positive Money, with the additional context above.


John Bell


No help here, oh dear

So, we met with the UK Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Tax), MP David Gauke.  As promised, we talked to him about shale gas and how its exploitation is incompatible with keeping global warming to less than 2º Celsius.  My conclusion after the meeting is that the current UK government will not back up its rhetoric with equivalent action – climate change will not be addressed.

The surgery was running late, so Danny Bonnett and I had a chance to practise our arguments beforehand, while sitting outside the Berkhamsted Town Council offices.  We would also mention the risk to our pensions that continued investment in fossil fuel exploration and extraction brings, as raised by the UK Environment Audit Committee recently.  We’d also discuss how the UK renewable energy sector is stagnating due to government planning policy.

We then went in, got through the formalities and the conversation stated.  I read the recent quotes from David Cameron and George Osbourne that climate change is serious, man-made and something we should do what we can to address.  I stated the evidence that current targets gave us a less than 50% chance of avoiding the 2 º Celsius rise in temperatures.

David started by saying how the US has reduced its carbon emissions by more than anywhere else by moving over to shale gas.  He backed down from that argument after I pointed out that the US had a coal-based electricity generation network before they switched to gas, whereas we already have a gas-based system, so we won’t get the same benefits.  Plus we are starting 10-20 years later than the US – the remaining carbon budget is much lower now than it was then.

He did seem very interested in Danny’s first-hand accounts of how the UK renewable energy sector is on its knees at present due to uncertainty.

But his main argument for continuing with government policy was the need to keep energy bills down, particularly for businesses, and to do so in a way that was politically acceptable.  I.e in a way that would help them get re-elected.  Whereas shale gas is controversial, they think it is low-carbon (it’s not) and they think it is less controversial than onshore wind-farms.

They are evidently not going to take a strong stance to persuade the population that it is worth paying to replace our dirty power stations with renewable energy.

So, where does that leave us?  For meaningful action on climate change, at least a couple of Business, Government, Media and the Public need to make seismic changes to change our attitudes and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  I know some think that they are within their moral rights to live as they please, and there should be incentives in place to make sure that our actions are acceptable to society.  Or that there is no point in making changes in their lives if the majority do not do similar.

Well, the Government is not going to bring in those incentives.  The media continues to serve all opinions on climate change, whether scientifically valid or not, so the public will be able to find a way to justify denying the problem or that they can be part of the solution.  Business will aim for profit, and the Government will not be incentivising sustainable practices to a large enough extent.

So, the only way through is a revolution.  Society as it stands cannot cope with climate change.

Or get those kids trained in survival skills.

Or maybe we all need to take responsibility for our actions, and reduce our own emissions.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

So, climate change is real – what next?

Danny Bonnett and I are meeting David Gauke, the UK minister for tax, on Friday.  In the context of recent affirmations on the reality of climate change from the leadership of the Conservative party, we will discuss with him the policy implications, particularly for shale gas or fracking.  The following is what we intend to say:

David Cameron and George Osbourne have recently stated that climate change is man-made and that we should do what we can to prevent it.  We are faced with a choice between either leaving shale gas in the ground or with missing international pledges to limit temperature increases to 2° Celsius.  What will the government choose?

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister “I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces”.

“I’m someone who believes climate change is happening, that it’s caused by human beings. We should do what we can to prevent it” George Osbourne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer.

According to the science, current climate change targets in the EU would lead to a 30-50% chance of keeping temperature rises below 2° Celsius.

To me, “doing what we can to prevent it” does not equate to aiming for a 40% chance of success.

Put simply, if we are to back up these words and commitments with action, shale gas production cannot happen in the UK, even with carbon capture and storage.  At the point when shale gas production in the UK would be becoming large scale, we would have to stop, leaving wells only partly tapped.  Investment in shale gas would also delay investment in very low or zero carbon sources, leaving a huge legacy for future generations.

Achim Steiner, head of UN Environmental Programme “We sometimes have to take a step back and ask ourselves: for the sake of having another 20 years of dirt cheap energy are we really going to put millions of years of evolution, of ecosystems, of ecosystem services at risk?”.

I agree with George Osbourne when he states “Let’s try and do this in as cheap a possible way as we can”.  The cheapest way to tackle climate change is to invest now in zero or very low carbon energy.  The sooner we make this move, the lower the overall costs, as Lord Stern described in his report in 2007.  If we want to continue to revitalise the economy, let’s do it in a way that creates skills and jobs that are relevant for the future.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Balls Pond Balls Up

Oh dear, does that sound like too much of a tabloid headline? This one is about local government. Who are they serving?

You may remember me mentioning a project I was at one point on the fringes of, to buy a local farm. Well, I decided to stay on the fringes to preserve my sanity and to focus on projects closer to home.Balls Pond Farm

The team in Kings Langley went ahead and have tried to buy it. It is currently owned by Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). So effectively its owned by the public. Already.

So, what should local government do if the public want it as a community farm, low cost housing and a training / conference centre? What should local government do if the public are willing to stump up £1.9 million from their own collective pockets to buy it? Effectively to buy it, I remind you, from themselves.

Turns out they decided to sell it to the highest bidder. It will be interesting to see who that is. Farm land round here is at a premium because of rich folks from London buying the land to keep horses. Is that who has bought the farm? Will the new owner allow the community to use the land?

I’m not going to sit hear on my sofa and say that the decision from HCC was bad, or short-sighted. I don’t know what services they will be able to now provide that would have otherwise been unfunded. I don’t know anything about the new owner elect. I will be very interested to find out.

Depending on the answer to those questions, the finger of guilt may point towards the reasons behind local government being strapped for cash. Is it the policy of reducing the size of government? Is it the policies that lead to are high national debt in the first place? Is it the excesses of the banking sector that lead to the financial collapse? Is the new owner a banker?

There is a parallel with another aspect of local government decision making. Fracking. The blame rests with the Tories for that. Big cuts to budgets leads to impoverished councils. So to then to offer the councils a wodge of cash to allow fracking is a lot like racketeering in my view. Blackmail.

In the meantime, those wonderful people who formed Kings Langley Community Benefit Society have brought the people of their town and its surrounds together. I’ll be very excited to see where their energies take them next. Well done Vicky and Jean-Paul in particular.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

OK, I’m sold. Fracking = bad idea

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post comparing fracking, wind and nuclear as potential sources of domestic energy for the next few decades.  This video of Kevin Anderson has me pretty convinced now, that fracking is a bad idea.

At the time of writing the comparison post, I was not convinced – I thought a combination of all would probably be the way to go.  With the revelation that fracking would only really take off after 2020, when we need to be well on the way down the emissions lowering trajectory, I realise that fracking cannot form part of the energy mix if we are serious about keeping to a 2 degree or lower temperature rise.

Watch the video yourself, let me know what you think.

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

Wind or frack? Or will this post send you nuclear?

We want electricity.  What is the best way to get it?  This post is an attempt to summarise objectively three of the most controversial options – nuclear, fracking and wind power.  It will be controversial.  It is not intended to be the last word on the matter, rather to start the conversation.

This is a slightly unusual post.  I’ll update the content if new evidence arrives.  Let me know if you have any.

Nuclear Fracking Wind Power
Cost (source: US energy information administration) $0.108/kWh $0.065/kWh($0.075-$0.113/kWh inc. costs of climate change, after discounting the value of the future & ignoring e.g. tipping points & human impact)

Forecast to ~triple by 2030, to about $0.19/kWh excl. costs of climate change.

$0.086/kWh (onshore); $0.222/kWh (offshore)(forecast to reduce by 20-30% by 2030, to $0.06-0.07/kWh for onshore and $0.15-0.17/kWh for offshore)
Time 42-60 months, excluding planning; lasts 30-40 years. Drilling time plus 2 months to frack; Produces gas for about 10 years. 2 months, excluding planning; lasts about 20-25 years
Space Relatively small, but needs to be sited near the sea. 2580-3000 wells would be required to produce 9bcm (billion cubic metres) per year of gas from shale, which would require 830-970 square km…but production drops rapidly after the first couple of years.  That’s about 93 GWh per square KM per annum, excluding the power plant and roads / transport.(the feature image above is Texas fracked) If I’ve done my maths correctly, taking the numbers from David Mackey’s Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air, we’re looking at 26.3 GWh per square KM per annum
Legacy Nuclear waste needs to be stored somewhere safe for hundreds of years, creating a life no-go area – although that could be a long way underground.  Doesn’t make sense to shoot it into space, in case the rocket explodes. CO2 equivalent emissions about 40-50% less than coal, a few percentage points above natural gas (i.e. about 410-480 gCO2eq/kWh), because of the methane released during construction.  It’s still contributing to climate change.There will be a big hole and a load of chemicals underground when you’re done. None – when they’re done with, you take them down and you wouldn’t know they’d been there.(see pictures below)
Other Downsides The waste products are deadly and could be turned into a terrorist bomb.They cannot be quickly started up or slowed down, so the power they produce needs to be first on the grid. Water use – fracking requires 9,000 to 29,000 m3 per well fresh water, just when water is becoming scarce.The gas needs to be transported to a power station to be turned into electricity. Some find the turbines to be unsightly.  This is subjective.The power they produce is not predictable, so needs to be the first on the grid.
Myths It’s not particularly unsafe – when it goes wrong, it really goes wrong, and this skews people’s view on nuclear safety.  It does go wrong, though. Water contamination – this isn’t a big deal with good construction.Earthquakes – they’re mostly tiny.  But if fracking goes on near existing faults then larger earthquakes are possible – and we don’t know where all the faults are.  So lots of care needed plus detailed surveys. Birds – I heard a story about a community scattering dead birds around turbines so they could check that the person employed to clear up the carcasses was doing his job.They don’t generate much electricity / use more than required to power them – of course not, otherwise why would companies be investing in putting them up?

So, how do you want your electricity generated?  To me, it really comes down to whether you think the short-lived appearance of windmills on the landscape is worse than the longer-term impacts of climate change from burning gas, and whether or not you value the future in your decision.

Of course, there is another option.  You could use less electricity.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Wind Turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire – unsightly?
Wind turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire

And after they were removed – hardly a trace
Wind turbines nr Addingham, Yorkshire - and then after removal