Sunday 24 February 2008


It really irritates me when "environmentalists" speak out against technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It seems like some people think we should just all stay in bed all day, instead of workout ways of doing what we do in better ways.

Today, for example, Virgin Airlines proved that it's possible to fly an airliner using 20% biofuels. Now, the flight itself didn't do that, as only one engine was using the biofuel mix. It's also true that biofuels don't have zero emissions, so the real saving on this flight was quite small. But, it's important to demonstrate the possibilities.

Biofuels are getting bad press from some quarters right now, because (a) they use a lot of land, and (b) farming biofuels uses a lot of fossil fuels. Of course, all those fossil fuels could be replaced with biofuels - at the price of using more land of course.

But, there's good news in PNAS, and in Scientific American this month. Switchgrass, which is a native North American perennial, can produce five times as much energy per hectare than maize, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 94% compared with fossil fuels. Perennials are also much better for soil condition, And, the root systems become extensive thereby locking CO2 into the soil. Switchgrass requires less fertilizer (remember, organic fertilizer production requires lots of land) and less irrigation than maize.

Now, that 94% figure is from a full lifecycle analysis, and hammers any claim that biofuels don't really save CO2 emissions. It doesn't, though, address the land use problem. However, my view is that this just means that we really need to work out how we're going to use land in the future. Most agricultural land, for example, is used to grown meat and dairy products for the developed world. There is some spare agricultural land, that's currently not in use. However, all the remaining productive land is forest, and it would be insane to cut that down in an attempt to save CO2 emissions.

Maybe we should only let vegetarians fly!

Wednesday 13 February 2008

Hard to get

The European Space Agency is reporting findings of gas fields that are Titanic in size. Forget Alasaka, though - these new gas fields add new meaning to the term "hard to get"!

Hard to get

The European Space Agency is reporting findings of hydrocarbons that hugely exceed all known reserves. Forget Alasaka, though - these new gas fields add new meaning to the term "hard to get"!

Friday 8 February 2008

US Elections - environmental outlook

With Super Tuesday over, and candidates dropping out, I thought I'd take a look at what the US presidential elections promise for climate change.

Mitt Romney has dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, leaving three candidates for each party: Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama and Mike Gravel for the Democrats, and John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul for the Republicans.

CNN have a good election web site, and summarise the candidates environmental policies. I've not had time to look a lot deeper than that, but these are my conclusions:

Romney was second in the Republican race, so I was surprised that he dropped out. In fact, John McCain has a good record on the environment - so my worry was that Huckabee and Paul would drop out and put their weight behind Romney, who doesn't look very promising. It seems unlikely to me that either of them could mount a serious challenge to McCain now, but hey, I'm no expert on this.

Anyway, suppose I'm right. What does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with three contenders for the presidency, and every single one of them appears to be committed to developing a nationwide cap and trade system which has the potential to make serious cuts in US CO2 emissions. How committed? So committed that John McCain introduced the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, and Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton are co-sponsors of the Act.

It looks like a serious proposal, and if implemented effectively it could really make a huge difference to US emissions. It also looks at technology transfer barriers, so it could make a difference in the rest of the world, too. There's a short summary you can read. I'm impressed with the imagination that goes into this - for example, there's a requirement to examine barriers in the patent system. One word of warning: if you're anti nuclear power, then you won't like items 10 and 11 of the 20 or so measures proposed.

The other candidates? Well, Mike Gravel is even stronger on the environment, but has picked up no delegates so far. Ron Paul seems pathetically apologist on the environment, but has 16 delegates to John McCain's 714.

Mike Huckabee doesn't seem as bad as Ron Paul, but his web site doesn't even list the environment as an issue. He does talk about energy independence and "oil addiction" in a positive way: "...we have to conserve, and we have to pursue all avenues of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydrogen, clean coal, biodiesel, and biomass", but unfortunately the statement opens with "We have to explore, ..." - and that means fossil fuels. So, my hope is that one of the Democrats gets elected, but if the world has to live with another Republican US administration, lets hope they stick with John McCain.

Monday 4 February 2008

Fame at last!

I'm chair of Lewes District Council's Traveller's Working Group. As chair, I attend meetings of the East Sussex Gypsy and Traveller Forum, which last met last Thursday afternoon in Hastings. The start of the meeting was filmed for the Politics Show, South East. My colleague Councillor Carla Butler and I are shown briefly at about 4:48 into the piece -that's us in the centre of this picture. We're on camera for about a second. No speaking. So, a modicum of fame at last!

More importantly, the piece is quite sympathetic to the problems that Gypsies and Travellers face, and the problems that councils face in trying to find land for them. You can read an article about the search for land, or watch the show - at least until Sunday 10th Feb.

Councillor Tom Jones, who represents Ditchling ward on Lewes District Council, does a good interview alongside Emma Nuttall (also very good) of Friends, Families and Travellers. Between them, they describe why it's essential for local authorities to find enough sites for Gypsies and Travellers to rent or buy - currently about 25% of travellers are homeless.

I should clarify a couple of points. There's a suggestion at one point that we're to find 47 pitches. The context implies this is 46 pitches in Lewes District, but in fact that's the figure for East Sussex (including 14 in Brighton and Hove). There's also a suggestion that problems are caused by a "small minority of the Gypsy community". In fact, travelling groups in England fall into at least three quite distinct categories: Romany Gypsies who arrived in the fifteenth century probably originating from India; Irish Travellers who date back to the Cromwellian era; and "new" or "new age" travellers who are a more modern group making a life-style choice which is partly political and partly driven by soaring house prices. Each of these groups contains minorities that cause problems, but all three communities suffer prejudice and opposition to almost every attempt to find somewhere to live - even when it's on their own land.

The most shocking example in the film is that of Linda Smith, who was told to get back the the concentration camps! What's her crime? She bought a plot of land to live on with her daughter and grand-children!