Thursday, 29 April 2010

Chickening out of the climate challenge

Hi folks,

I've got a new post up on my "serious" blog - Chickening out of the Climate Challenge.

It was originally written for the Guardian website, but then they never posted it in the end. I might bug them about it and see if they'll let me do an updated version after tonight's "leadership" "debate".

Should be something by Monbiot up in Guardiansville tomorrow about our national carbon calculator though. Hopefully that'll give us a wave of new users, nicely timed coz we're just ironing out a few bugs. Wheeeeeee.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

An alternative election message...

Help me to shove a video spanner into the General Election!

As the election hype builds to a frenzy, it's important to remind ourselves that we're each far more than just a vote:

I would love your help in getting this out there before the General Election - please plaster it all over your blogs and facebooks and twitters and whatnots, and don't forget good old-fashioned email too.

Huge thanks to Jamie at and Cameron Hills for all their help with this one.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Yanking the levers of power

Right. It's here at last. The project I've spent nearly two years working on - a carbon calculator for the entire UK economy.

The idea was to create an interactive tool to show where all the UK's emissions were really coming from, and how different policies or behaviour changes would affect them. After slogging away at this on my own for a year, I decided to approach the Guardian to see if I could get it on their website - you'll be shocked to learn that, huge as my readership is, more people would be likely to see it over there than on this blog. I managed to catch their interest, they got their web team on the case, and we've been working to pull it together for the last six months or so.

And now, finally, it's arrived. Go and have a play, take control of the UK economy, and try to reduce our emissions to a safe level. Some particularly interesting things that stand out for me:

* Consumption is absolutely key. It's not possible to get down to a safe level without a reduction in the amount of stuff we consume as a nation.
* Ten new nuclear plants would make a pifflingly small difference to overall emissions, in relation to the massive cost and risk they would involve.
* None of the major political parties are offering policies that come near what the model tells us we need - the Guardian has got the energy/environment spokespeople for each party to have a go on the tool, and post their results online. The Conservative Greg Clark's response is particularly hilarious - he manages to totally evade the issue and talks about watermelons instead. Brilliant.

I'd love to know what you think...the model isn't perfect, and I'm hoping to be able to work on improving it as we go along. Your suggestions would be very welcome.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Being serious for a moment...

I've just "launched" (i.e. hastily hammered together and shoved online) a new blog, focusing more on my professional work. That'll be the place for info about my carbon footprinting, schools workshops, and climate change speaker stuff. I won't post on it very often - it's more of an info hub for plugging the various bits of paid work I do in order to pay the bills - but if anything interesting happens over there, I'll let you know. In the meantime, you can expect the sporadic, eccentric updates on this blog that you've grown to know and vaguely register.

The reason for setting up my pro blog now is that there's an exciting project I've been working on for a while that's about to go this space.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Beyond Petulant

On Thursday, I went along with some other folk to BP's Annual General Meeting, to help remind them that launching into a filthy, destructive, and poisonous Canadian tar sands project might not be their best idea ever.

I didn't go into the meeting itself, but a number of critical shareholders did, along with two representatives from the Indigenous communities on the front line of tar sands extraction. Jess Worth describes what happened on her blog:

...most people in the room were listening hard when Niall O’Shea from Co-operative Asset Management got up to make his case.

He talked about how extremely carbon-intensive tar sands extraction is, with significant impacts on water, the local environment and indigenous communities. He argued that BP’s business case didn’t stand up to scrutiny, that the figures presented were way too optimistic, in part because they are based on the assumption that we will continue to pay ever higher prices for oil, whereas in reality high oil prices tend to put the brakes on economies and bring the price back down. Furthermore, as and when they drift higher, this is likely to create demand for alternative sources of energy.

But most importantly, he concluded, there is an ethical question here about the large-scale exploitation of carbon-intensive resources when we as a society need to be going in the opposite direction.

He was swiftly followed by a powerful speech from George Poitras, the former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation which is 240 km downstream from the tar sands region where BP's planned project will be situated. ‘Many characterise tar sands as ‘dirty oil’. But to me, it’s ‘bloody oil’,’ he began, as the row of board members sitting up on the platform feverishly scribbled notes, ‘because we are observing many rare types of cancer in my community. The governments are not coming to our assistance, the Canadian government even charged my physician when he was just doing his job.'
BP's response to all this criticism? They essentially stuck their fingers in their ears and went "la la la", by reading out a prepared statement that didn't address any of the questions they'd been asked.

But my "favourite" fact about BP's tar sands project is that the company's chosen projections for oil demand - the numbers that make the project look economically viable - are based on the "business as usual" energy use scenario in a recent International Energy Agency report - a scenario where no significant climate policies are put into place and global fossil fuel use continues to climb. The selfsame report points out that such a scenario would almost inevitably lead to "the global average temperature rising by up to 6 degrees C" and "massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet".

In other words, BP's proposed tar sands project only makes financial sense in a doomsday scenario. They're planning for the end of the world. This was pointed out to them in the AGM by Louise Rouse of FairPensions - and, sure enough, they completely ignored the question.

This is denial on a whole new level - the wilful ignoring of certain undesirable facts from the very report that they're relying on for their whole business strategy. The best comparison I can make is a 5-year-old child responding to facts they don't like:

"Come on now Tommy, we need to head home - it's 5 o'clock."
"No it isn't"
"We need to go - your Grandma's coming round for tea tonight."
"She's not she's not she's not."

This week, BP proudly told its shareholders that it was leading them boldly into the apocalypse - and 85% of them cheerfully voted for it. But hey, when we're all scrabbling together for tasty rats amidst the ruins of civilisation, at least those BP shares will be generating a nice return.