Posted by: graemelaidlaw | February 22, 2010

energy

our lectures this week were all about energy use, fuel shortages and possible solutions.  Although an energy crisis is looming, because of the difficulty in obtaining a secure supply of oil and gas, but also because of the unstable  but continually rising price of oil and gas, and the fact that these finite resources are on the wane.  This isn’t the first fuel crisis however as there was a crisis in a medieval europe which relied almost completely on wood for fuel, but which had been almost completely deforested.  Coal does not seem to have been a popular alternative at the time, there were complaints about the smoke from coal and the smell, the it’s use on industrial scales was not allowed within certain parts of cities, but before long it almost completely replaced wood as the fuel of the masses.  Our modern change to a renewable future will not be without compromises, and our class discussion about the Spirit of Ireland project highlighted the social problems that large scale electrical generators will have whether they are renewable of not.  Perhaps we should look more towards Scandinavia for ideas on how to implement such large scale projects.  The Danish island of Samso is now run completely on renewable sources of energy, but not because of heavy handed state impositions, but instead because it was implemented on a local community level.  The island has a population of 4000 and the majority of the island have bought shares in the 10 windmills that have been raised on the island, this means that everyone will benefit directly from them.  Not just because there energy is green, but also financially because surplus is sold back into the grid.  It seem a very popular initiative on the island.  www.newyorker.com/reporting/200/07/07/080707fa_fact_kolbert  The one drawback mentioned in the article is that although the island are producing their own energy they are not cutting back on their consumption.  This is a point which was also raised in the lectures, energy saving programmes often seem to end up with more energy use, the example of the inneficient fire heating one room as opposed to the efficient central heating which heats an entire house.  I’ve read about a Swiss group called the 2000 watt society.  www.worldchanging.com/archives/002829.html The basic premise is that a globally shared personal limit of 2000 watts would reduce energy use globally, but would ensure that this would be equitably shared throughout the world.  With the average european using 6000 watts, north americans using about 12000 and the chinese using 1500 watts. 

This is the breakdown of average energy consumption of 5.1 kW by a Swiss person as of July 2008:

I don’t think Ireland would be hugely different, although we probably drive more and have worse insulation in our houses.  Cutting our energy uses by 60% would be a huge undertaking, and would probably mean less long haul flights to the sun.  I also think there would be a lot of complaints about the lifestyle changes, the last time the Swiss were living a 2000 watt lifestyle was in the 1960’s – now that sounded like a decent enough decade to me

Posted by: graemelaidlaw | February 14, 2010

global warming

We had three lectures this week about global warming and i have to admit that it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.  The first lecture was on natural forms of global warming which have been constantly occuring over time.  These are caused by the tilt of the earth, solar output variations as well as many other variables that are outwith our control.  The next lecture was on the cultural greenhouse effect, or climate forcing as it is also known.  I have to admit this was a bit depressing but to be honest not that surprising.  The whole idea of a tipping point looming just over the horizon,  is terrifying.  We seem to be hidding under the duvet rather than accepting the issue at hand.  The lectures also touched on climate change denial.  I understand why people don’t want to accept cultural climate change, and don’t want to change their lifestyle, but so much of the ‘debate’ seems very purile and consists of personal attacks rather than scientific debate.  It’s a bit worrying considering what an important debate it is. The Guardian newspaper has a good, albeit very long piece, about  the East Anglia University hacked e-mails and shows how much of the argument is about undermining individuals in the hope that the science will also be undermined. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/09/climate-change-data-request-war  I suppose people don’t want to appear gullible and taken in by climate change, and this probably relates to a deep mistrust of those in charge.  The third lectuer was about the politics of climate change and how despite almost universal acceptance of the problem by governments around the globe no real positive action has been undertaken.  Well i say almost universal acceptance although it seems Utah may not be too sure any more!http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/12/utah-climate-alarmists 

I found this lecture particularly depressing as particularly after Copenhagen the whole issue appears to have been completely fudged, climate change has become such a political issue rather than a central problem for humanity.  Most of the time it seems that governments agree that something really needs to be done, although not now but soon!  I can see why developing countries are unwilling to set emissions targets when they feel that they were not responsible for climate change, but it seems that the poor countries will probably suffer most anyway.  It seems that someone, either the EU or the US really has to get the ball rolling and make hard decisions.  The priority seems to be elsewhere though.  Have a look at http://www.nationalpriorities.org/tradeoffs to see how American tax dollars could have been spent instead of financing the wars  in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Just shows how little political desire there is to tackle the problem.  China

Posted by: graemelaidlaw | February 13, 2010

the green economy

Now that i’ve got the first blog rant out of my system it may be time to talk about what is going on in the module.  The highlight of our first proper week of lectures was the friday debate.  We had to try and work out where we stood in the spectrum of positions regarding climate change.  The positions ranged from ‘free market’ on the far right through technology and market pricing, with sustainable development in the centre, with green economics centre left and deep ecology on the far left.  No-one opted for the extreme positions.  Each group then had to make a speech about their own position and persuade people to change their viewpoint.  I opted for green econimics, although i think most people agreed that the five positions were not mutually exclusive.  I would have been leaning towards deep ecology but i’ve yet to be convinced how this could practically work. 

The green economics stance believes essentially that humans are having a negative impact on the environment and climate, and that people, especially those in wealthy developed countries, have to drastically change their ways.  Unfortunately i think this has to involve getting people out of their comfort zones as i really don’t believe there will be a huge technological breakthrough that will save the world and let us continue living exactly as we are.  There is always a downside to everything.  Even if the government decided tommorrow to enact a programme so that we would get all our energy from Irish renewable sources, we would probably not be able to meet the demands of the country.  I’ve read on several blogs and comments in newspapers that this is why we should consider the nuclear route, but i suppose the green economic position would say, ‘we can produce 70% of our energy needs using renewable resources (bit optimistic perhaps) so we then need to reduce our energy consumption by 30%.  Simple.  I reckon the government should decide that in the next five years there should be a serious programme of insulating houses and providing energy saving products (the green light bulbs is a start but seriously…),this would be the carrot aspect, then the stick would be to say ‘we have enabled you to save energy, and we will provide a reasonable amount of energy to everyone at a reasonable rate, but then energy used above this amount will be charged at a stupidly high and incremental rate.  Sorted.

The green economy position seems in many regards quite old fashioned, we need live within our means.  There move towards organic food and people growing their own food would fit well into the green economic position, again this is hardly revolutionary as most people would have grow their own food to some extent not too long ago.  We may still have to import food so we don’t all get scurvy but we would not need to be importing spuds or carrots from abroad.  The green economic position will require people to make changes, but it really requires governments to enable and facilitate changes, the carrot and stick route, but at the moment the ‘greening’ of the economy seems to be all stick will very little facilitation.

The green economy position still needs technology, still needs energy, and still needs an economy.  It just requires the driving force to be the environmental rather than profit.

Posted by: graemelaidlaw | February 8, 2010

first blog

This is my fourth or fifth attempt at starting this blog, hopefully this is the worst bit over and it will get easier with time. At this stage in the module we’ve had a brief introduction to the concept of sustainable development, a short histroy of the environmental movement and of the history of human civilisation. It was all a bit depressing really. The environmental movement seems like a few tiny victories punctuating a mass of disappointments. I remember only two real successes, and they were the wholesale adoption of unleaded petrol as opposed and the removal of cfc’s from aerosols. Even some of the victories from the last twenty years, such as the banning of commercial whaling, seems to have been partially reversed with Japan and Norway whaling again, albeit for ‘scientific’ reasons. Big business has jumped on the environmental bandwagon but as usual has taken only the language of the environmental movement without the ethics, and turned it into banal catchphrases. The automobile industry is surely one of the worst offenders as they try to green their products. An environmentally friendly car is surely a contradiction in terms! Even if a car was made out of paper-mache and designed to run of spiders webs and unicorn’s tears it would still have a carbon footprint, and so for that matter does a 4×4 even if it does boast improved emmissions. I’ve never really understood why certain parts of society are so determined to undermine the environmental movement and muddy the waters in relation to climate change. People seem to think that climate change may be a big hoax and don’t want to be taken in by it and look like fools. I think the media have a tendency to report such complex issues in such a simplistic way that the when there is a cold spell, such as there was recently, it seems to contradict what people have been told about global warming. It’s seems easy to contradict the simplistic message of climate change by highlighting the varying temperatures over the last few hundred years. People used to regularly be able to skate on the Thames and the Romans were able to grow grapes in southern England because the temperature was warmer than at present. We are after all in a warm cycle in the midst of an ice age. It’s the collapsing of eco-systems that worries me, the soil is being depleted all over the world, drinking water is scarce in several countries, fish stocks have plummeted and bee numbers are in free-fall all over the world – we only have 4 years left once the bees die apparently. What’s the answer? Revolution! Install Duncan Stewart as a benevolent green-dictator and we’ll all be sorted.

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