Food for thought

Food For Thought: Renewable energy can never be sufficient to power the planet, can it?


”   Renewable energy can never be sufficient to power the planet, can it?.


The solar energy falling on our planet in one hour is greater than the energy from all the fossil fuels used by all of humankind in a whole year. Add in the energy of the tides, driven by the relative motion of the Earth and the Moon, and geothermal heat from deep underground, and it is clear that there is no shortage of renewable energy available to us.

The nature of renewable sources of energy is very different to the fossil fuels we currently depend on. Oil, gas and coal reserves are stored energy. Provided we can find them and extract them as fast as we want to use them, we can use as much energy as we like, when we like. We don’t, however, control when the wind blows. Weather forecasting gives us some idea, but if we don’t use the power of the wind when it is available, then we’ve missed it.

We need to change the way we think about energy to take account of these differences. We need ways of storing renewable energy in times of plenty for use in times of shortage, and more clever ways of using it so that demand is better matched to supply. Biomass fuel crops can store summer sunshine for use as winter heating fuel, but this brings with it many disadvantages. The electricity grid can work together with intelligent appliances to move demand for power away from peak times. But there remain some difficult areas, notably transport. There is no obvious successor to the vast quantities of easy-to-use liquid fuels that power our cars, buses and planes.

The important first step in this transition is to use less energy and to use energy more efficiently, in order to buy time to allow the supremely inventive species that is humankind to devise a safe route to our very different energy future. 

Alastair Sawday (2008: 47) What About China?

Categories: conservation, Food for thought, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: There is no alternative to flying, especially for cross-continental travel. You can’t expect people to go back to boats.


”   There is no alternative to flying, especially for cross-continental travel. You can’t expect people to go back to boats.


 Two journalists raced from central London to central Paris. The one who went by train (using Eurostar) got there before the one who flew, and the cost was roughly the same.

Until the 1990s most people who went to France and onwards to other continental countries went by ferry. The ferry companies operated from lots of southern ports and competed vigorously with each other. Then came the Channel Tunnel and the competition got hotter. The ferry companies slashed their prices and became even cheaper and more comfortable. People would even pop across to France for the weekend. Though generally we took longer foreign holidays. Once in France, of course, it was considered easy to drive long distances. Or you could pop the car on the train – or travel by train without it, anywhere and easily.

Then along came the low-cost airlines. Within a few years we have got used to nipping across the Channel by air, at a frequency unthinkable a few years ago – so much so that airports are now becoming crowded and unpleasant. If you have ever been badly delayed, or diverted, or held up by security checks, you will know what I mean. In fact, given the need to get to airports earlier and earlier before a flight, the total travel time for a lot of continental journeys can be greater by air than by rail and even by ferry in some cases. (Try flying to Normandy.)

It is true that to travel right across Europe to, say, Hungary is bound to be quicker by air than by train and ferry. But speed isn’t everything, is it? There is a now growing movement towards ‘slow travel’, getting from place to place at a pace that creates no stress and is actually enjoyable. Many people are taking the train to Italy, say, rather than the plane; and counting their blessings. The process of travelling can be half the enjoyment. A comfortable ferry journey followed by a train ride is something to look forward to. There is no reason why we should be frightened of switching from flying will cost a great deal more than it does now. Oil is now over $100 a barrel, unthinkable a while ago. Some predict that it will double in price within a year or so.

Alastair Sawday (2008: 65-66) What About China?

Categories: Environmental Pollution, Food for thought, Green Tips, Sustainable Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: It’s the responsibility of politicians and world leaders, not me. What difference can I make?


  It’s the responsibility of politicians and world leaders, not me. What difference can I make ?  


 Let’s imagine: a parent and child are watering their garden. Father controls the tap while daughter holds the hose. When they’ve finished the job he says, “That’s enough now, stop all the holes in the spray head with matchsticks”. “Dad”, she replies, “are you mad? Turn the tap off !”

The father’s stupid approach is rather like present policies where we are urged to use low-energy light bulbs and travel less while politicians and world leaders allow, even encourage, the extraction of as much fossil fuel as possible. Can’t they understand that, once out of the ground, these fuels will be burned and the carbon dioxide they release will reach the atmosphere? If politicians are serious about greenhouse gas emissions they must find a way to reduce, not increase, the amount of coal, gas and oil that is extracted within, or imported into, a country. Unless they control the tap all our attempts to reduce emissions in a hundred little ways will be useless.

But how will politicians be persuaded? Unless the public puts pressure on them corporate interests will rule. Corporate lobbyists will twist any complicated legislation to their own advantage. Politicians pretend to the electorate that they are concerned when they introduce targets, taxes and incentives, but these blunt instruments cannot guarantee that their commitments will be met.

A new wave of thinking suggests that the solution must involve individuals. The atmosphere does not belong to corporations – not even to countries or governments. We all, as individuals, have an equal right to its life-maintaining properties. This new thinking led to the suggestion that everyone should have personal carbon allocation managed with the help of a smart-card. Points would be deducted every time you filled your car or paid your heating bill. And you could sell any surplus points so that the gas-guzzler would subsidise those with a low carbon footprint. This approach would have a huge psychological impact since it would make us all aware of our responsibility for carbon emissions. But it would be very difficult to administer even in an industrialised country.

For a policy to be adopted it must be simple, and for it to be politically  sustainable it must be popular with the electorate. So the approach has been modified as CAP-and-Share – in America a very similar policy is called the Sky Trust – which would be easy to introduce. Under Cap-and-Share much of the astronomical income enjoyed at present by fuel producers would go to individuals. The Irish government may be the first to adopt it. This is how it could work for Ireland’s transport sector:

  • A cap, which reduces each year, sets the maximum emissions allowed from all road transport.
  • All adults receive equal emission-permits that, together, add up to the amount of this cap.
  • People can then sell their emission-permits through brokers to whichever fuel-importing company offers the best price.
  • Importers would not be allowed to sell fuel unless they had enough permits to cover its emissions.

With less fossil fuel coming into the economy, its price would rise and push up the cost of living but, instead of the oil companies making ever-larger profits, people would receive an income from the sale of their permits to compensate for the higher prices, and local economies would flourish because of this injection of money at grass-roots level. The government would use its normal powers to ensure that essential users, like ambulances, received their necessary share, and that biofuels were not allowed to compete with food production.

The Irish application of Cap-and-Share to an individual sector of the economy demonstrates that it could run alongside the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) – until the ETS collapses. IF CAP-and-Share were introduced on a global scale, or even within a large country like China or India that is struggling with discontent as world food prices rise, much of the money that at present pours into oil-rich countries would stay and automatically relieve their rural poverty.

What difference can you make? Urge your politicians to put a cap on the use of fossil fuels and share the right to benefits from the use of those fuels equally among all citizens. And join the transition movement where communities work together to find a post-carbon way of living. ”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 14-16) What About China?

Categories: Food for thought, Sustainable Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: I am prepared to take risks – whenever I board an aeroplane for example. Are risks from the climate more immediate?



  I am prepared to take risks – whenever I board an aeroplane for example. Are risks from the climate more immediate ?  


 Professor Rajendra Pachauri puts it starkly: “If there is no action before 2012, that’s too late.What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” First let’s look at what might happen if temperatures exceed 2 degrees Celsius, the broadly accepted danger zone.

The UK Meteorological Office warns that a rise above 2 degrees Celsius will cause  havoc, with up to two-thirds of the world affected by water scarcity, major losses in agricultural productivity (grain reserves are already at a record low) and the loss of many ecosystems. With a 3 degrees celsius rise the Amazon rainforest would collapse and most coral reefs would almost certainly die, the oceans would become more acidic and less able to absorb carbon dioxide. The knock-on effects from these changes are unimaginable. And if runaway warming kicks in after a tipping point is reached we can kiss goodbye to civilisation. It’s that serious.

Stern said that concentrations were 430pm CO2e by extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Stern’s diagram shows there is a five per cent chance that temperatures would increase by almost 3 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. In the light of the awful effects outlined above it is appropriate to ask: would you board an aeroplane if you knew it had a five per cent chance of crashing?

At 450ppmCo2e the Stern Review gives a 50 per cent chance that temperatures will reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and a five per cent chance that they will climb to 3.8 degrees Celsius. At 550pmCO2e, the target adopted by the Review, the diagram shows a 50 per cent chance that temperatures will reach 3 degrees celsius and a five per cent chance that they could soar to 4.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Sir Nicholas Stern is an environmental economist. his discipline requires him to assume that our economy is sacrosanct and to explore what it can afford to spend on environmental issues.

Ecological economists invert the question. They see the human economy as just one component within the planet’s ecology and ask what limits are imposed on economic activity by the environment. They say that you cannot extrapolate from past events because natural systems frequently tip from one stable state into another. We already over-exploit the world’s resources, and all our efforts should now go into repairing the damage and learning to live within the Earth’s systems before it is too late. ”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 12-14) What About China?

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Food For Thought: Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?


  Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?  


” Global temperatures have varied in step with carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and these concentrations have suddenly shot up way above anything experienced over the past half million years. Human activity is the only explanation for this sudden surge.

Climate scientists talk about temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions. To understand what they are saying you must be prepared to study figures, think bout probability and allow for scientific complexity being reduced to media simplicities.

First: temperature. There is broad consensus that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, although Professor Rajendra Pauchauri, head of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its 2500 climate scientists, now says that 1.5 C would be more appropriate. Land-based temperatures have already risen 0.8 C, and current levels of emissions in the atmosphere commit us to a rise of 1.3 C due to the time lag between cause and effect. The biggest danger is runaway global warming. For example, if the area of arctic ice reduces there is more dark water to absorb heat from the Sun. This, in turn, causes more ice to melt – exposing more dark water – causing more melt – more dark water – more melt. This is a chain reaction that could cause temperature to rise without any further help from us.

Second: greenhouse gas concentrations. The Stern Review (2006) stated that greenhouse gas concentrations at the time it was written were at 430ppm CO2e (parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent). A figure of 382ppm is sometimes mentioned but this does not include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Before the industrial revolution the figure was 280ppm. According to the Stern Review, “stabilisation at 450ppmCO2e is almost out of reach, given that we are likely to reach this level in ten years”. It therefore set a target for stabilising at 550ppmCO2e.

Third: Emissions. Despite the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997), emissions have been rising at an ever-increasing rate. In 2006 James Hansen, who heads the US NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “A global tipping point will be reached in ten years if levels of greenhouse gases are not reduced. Global warming at this point becomes unstoppable.” The prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, in a 2006 report ‘Living Within a Carbon budget’, said that a 90 percent cut in UK greenhouse gas emissions, including those from shipping and airlines, is needed by 2050, adding that emissions must reduce by “an unprecedented nine per cent a year from 2010 for up to 20 years”. With this sort of reduction oil refineries would no longer be viable, so we would be moving to a carbon-free economy.

What about sea levels? Greenland is the size of France and Spain combined and mostly covered with ice two kilometres (km) deep. Melt-water is dropping down crevasses and lubricating the base so that glaciers are sliding into the sea faster than anticipated. It was predicted that Greenland would lose 80km3 of ice in 2006. NASA’s Grace satellite showed that it actually oat 287km3 that year.If greenhouse gas emissions are not stabilised within a decade, sea levels could rise several metres before the end of this century.”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 11-12) What About China?

Categories: Food for thought, Global Warming | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: What is the point of doing anything, when China opens a new power station every week?


 What is the point of doing anything, when China opens a new power station every week?  


“The defining challenge of our age”, is how Ban Ki-moon, the united Nations General Secretary, describes climate change. It will affect all our lives, whether we take an interest or not. The biggest need is for society’s climate of opinion to change.

China is making a huge effort to raise the living standards of its people. With limited oil reserves, it is turning to coal for its energy. Clean coal technologies, where the carbon is sealed underground, are expensive, but China says it will pursue this option if wealthy western nations take the lead. So far none has done so. This attitude shows the importance of leading by example: China won’t do it unless our governments do it, and our governments won’t do it because “it will make our industry uncompetitive”. We, the electorate, must show by example that we consider the fight against global warming to be more important than commerce. Each of us is at the beginning of a chain that could influence first our own reluctant governments and then global agreements.

Three-quarters of global warming is due to the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) when fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – are burned. On average each person in the world is responsible for 4.6 tonnes a year. In Britain each person is responsible for 12 tonnes. A Chinese is below average at 4.2 tonnes (actually less, because many of the goods they make are exported so emissions should be counted as the responsibility of the country of destination) and an Indian is well below average at only 1.4 tonnes. An American is responsible for a whopping 20.2 tonnes (26 tonnes if you take into account the goods made abroad and imported). It would be reasonable for China to claim that its emissions per person should be allowed to rise in order to lift its struggling population out of poverty – particularly since the west has benefited historically from huge emissions over many years and is responsible for 80 per cent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A change in attitude is just beginning. In the USA, due to pressure from the public, over 30 states and 600 cities have adopted policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions. WE are all in this together. China is taking global warming seriously. It is phasing out incandescent light bulbs, it is building the world’s most carbon-neutral city with more to follow, it has banned plastic bags in major cities, it is putting immense research into photovoltaic (PV) cells (see page 48) and other renewable technologies that convert the Sun’s energy into electricity, and it is turning out thousands of graduates with expertise in these fields. Its State Council is struggling to restrain provinces and municipalities from pursuing development regardless of the effects. China’s efforts to combat global warming put western governments to shame. C S Kiang, who advises the Chinese government says, “Humanity made a mistake 200 years ago and now east and west does not matter – everyone is involved. China’s problems are the problems of the world. If we do not solve them together the world is going to be in a bad shape.”

Human society, with its politics, world conferences, competition, economic imperatives and broken promises, could be seen as a super-tanker speeding towards the rocks and unable to stop.

But then think of those flocks of starlings you see in the evening sky:  suddenly, without warming, they change direction. Our own society may suddenly change direction when strange events, or even the media, move us to a tipping point where we become alarmed that we are at the mercy of the most finely balanced and infinitely fragile of all components of this plenty – the atmosphere.  

Alastair Sawday (2008: 9-10) What About China?

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Food for thought.

Hello there readers,

I had bought a very interesting and fruitful book on climate change a couple of months ago. The book is one of its kind, it discusses everything we need to know about climate change and global warming in a very unique and appealing manner which I believe can attract all kinds of readers who are interested to learn about the most crucial aspects of climate change in a few paragraphs. The book is like a compressed version of all the books on climate change which makes it easy to read and understand.

Unfortunately due to busy life, and also because I was busy reading other books so I didn’t really get the time to go through it. As the title implies, I will be dedicating Food For Thought posts on Climate change, where the information included in each post will be taken directly from the same book, word by word. I thought that this would be the best way for me to share the information published in this amazing book with the world.

I advice all of you visiting  my blog to take your time and read as many Food for thought posts as possible, I guarantee that by the time I’m done sharing all that the book has to offer, you will be equipped with all there is to know about climate change and global warming.


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