We recognise the inequity of our current consumption patterns in which we are using up a greater share of the planet’s resources and that the poor are most vulnerable to climatic change.
by Paul Rainger
05 December 2013
In December’s Sustainable Bristol column in The Bristol Post we hail the humble winter grit bin as a harbinger of the city’s future resilience.
It may seem a long way from the news of 100 extra Grit Bins in Bristol, to the on-going Typhoon Haiyan relief effort in the Philippines, but there is a lot the World can learn from the humble grit bin.
It’s all about ‘resilience’. That’s helping people to help themselves recover from difficult situations. And resilient communities are what we are going to need in spades in the coming years, from Bristol to the Philippines, to help people cope with climate change.
It’s a depressing time for environmental scientists at the moment. The cost of climate change is becoming ever clearer. From the cost to taxpayers like you and me for the Council to still be cutting the grass in our parks in December, to international relief efforts, like that in the Philippines, as more and more extreme weather disasters hit us. Yet as these dangers become clearer, our politicians seem perversely less and less able to act. No wonder the Russell Brand generation has given up on politics.
So we are going to need to help ourselves more. To be more resilient. To be prepared as we used to say in the Scouts.
I used to work with a charity that helps countries like the Philippines to be better prepared for disasters. In earlier emergencies, like the Pakistan earthquake or Bangladeshi floods, more people are often at risk from disease and starvation after the disaster has struck, than from the original disaster itself. One solution is a sort of yellow emergency bin, not full of grit, but full of animal feed and veterinary supplies in secure locations above flood zones. Then people can help themselves, not just wait around for outside aid to arrive.
If Bristol was to flood again, should we sit around waiting for help, or would it be better to have community wardens with access to some basic equipment stored in their community, so that neighbours could get together and help each other?
It’s an approach that could even help our cash starved Councils do things differently with less. And Bristol is already leading in a small way on this with its plans to cope with any winter snow and ice.
The City has 100 extra grit bins being installed, and has recruited nearly 100 volunteer community snow wardens equipped with snow shovels to help clear paths.
I was amazed in the past few winters of prolonged cold spells by how few people bothered to clear their own path when the snow first fell, leaving it to turn to crushed ice making it deadly for everyone. In many American cities where snow is common it is illegal not to clear the path outside your house.
So if we have a white Christmas, get out there and help clear your pavement. That big yellow grit bin might just be a glimpse of our more resilient future.
Paul Rainger is director of Bristol’s BIG Green Week Festival in June.
by Paul Rainger
09 November 2013
Definitely time then to start work on my green Christmas list for Santa. I’ve got three things so far…
First up I would actually like to return an unwanted recent gift from HM Government. Namely the billion-pound-a-year taxpayers’ subsidy just agreed to build a new Hinkley Point nuclear power station.
Of course in Orwellian Government speak it isn’t a subsidy. No, the nuclear reactor will be built by French (EDF) and Chinese investors, bizarrely all in the name of UK ‘energy security’ you understand. But we guarantee these investors will make a profit thanks to the taxpayer agreeing to buy the electricity generated for the next 35 years at a fixed price, about double that of the actual price today. That’s a massive billion-pound-a-year subsidy rip-off. Imagine what the British economy could do instead if that £35 billion went into making the UK the manufacturing centre for renewable energy for the world.
Personally I don’t want to create a society that has to live with the disproportionate risks associated with nuclear accidents and the storage of deadly nuclear waste for some centuries to come. Perhaps Father Christmas can deliver us some UK politicians with the courage and vision to copy the German Government’s investment in a 100% clean renewable energy future.
According to the media hype, these 3D Printers will become a bit like replicators in Star Trek, producing objects out of thin air. But if you’ve seen one actually printing a small plastic widget, you’ve probably wondered like me, what all the fuss is about.
But I thought back to 1983 when my friend Paul got one of the first ever paper printers for his Sinclair Spectrum ZX80. It produced a practically useless shopping till like silver strip of paper. It was state of the art!
If these first 3D Printers improve as fast as paper printers did over the next twenty years then perhaps we are in for a revolution after all. And what excites me is the potential this technology has to spark a revival in repairing things and ending our current throw away culture. Imagine your washing machine door catch breaks, or a knob on your car comes away. No more rip-off by the manufacture, just print your own new bit and repair it yourself.
Finally Santa, a pint in my Christmas stocking from the Hofmuhl Brewery in Germany would go down nicely. Thanks to a combination of solar power and bioenergy, this German beer manufacturer is the first to become 100% self-sufficient. Just part of Germany’s investment in a 100% non-nuclear renewable energy future of course. Now I’ll raise a Christmas pint to that.
by Helen Burley
15 October 2013
How should Britain power its energy future? Our ageing power infrastructure means expensive decisions need to be taken soon – decisions which will not only determine our energy mix for the next 30+ years and how much we pay, but which will also impact our ability to tackle climate change, specifically in terms of meeting the carbon targets, set by the UK Committee on Climate Change.
To help explore the complexities, the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change is currently roadshowing the British Energy Challenge, complete with interactive computer model, allowing you to pick and choose your energy variables. Last week they came to Bristol and put the challenge to a packed Passenger Shed.
Bristol, has already embraced this challenge, as the city’s mayor, George Ferguson, pointed out at the start of the session. The city has already committed to reducing energy demand through energy efficiency measures in homes, and will invest one third of its energy budget in clean energy supplies.
What is more, Bristol will be ideally placed as European Green Capital in 2015 to act as a test-bed for trying out new ideas, he said. The opportunity to become “a laboratory for change”… But he added that cities needed to be given far greater control of their energy supplies so that they could play a bigger role in the providing solutions.
Giving cities more powers to make decisions was one of the few options that DECC’s Energy Challenge did not seem to have considered. The model provides a bewildering array of options from turning down the nation’s thermostats, to putting the brakes on economic growth – with everything from less livestock, zero emission transport and more community-owned power generation between.
Sitting on the panel, Grand Designs presenter and building guru Kevin McCloud divided the audience with a call to make greater use of Britain’s tidal energy by building a Severn Barrage; and Beatrice Orchard from the Federation of Master Builders caused a similar split with her proposal to boost growth by building more nuclear power.
There was more overwhelming support for reducing livestock levels by 25% (and eating less meat), increasing solar power fivefold by 2030, building more offshore and onshore wind, And the audience suggested we could go far further than the options given in reducing emissions from aviation (the model assumes passenger numbers will grow), and travelling less, with far less by car (again the model didn’t seem to think we could possibly cut domestic travel to less than the current average 14,000 km a year, or that we could reduce journeys by car to less than 62%).
Yet despite some radical choices from the Bristol audience, our 2050 carbon emissions were still above target, and with opinion divided on nuclear generation and opposed to cutting energy use by industry, there was also the possibility that the lights might go off.
Sometimes choices proved counter-intuitive – building a barrage across the Severn seemed to need more gas-fired power to cover low points in supply; lowering the temperature of our homes had more of an impact on emissions than investing in extensive domestic energy efficiency measures. Although of course, these choices are not either / or.
The model is open source – and people are invited not only to play with it and explore the options, but also to improve the background data if they can. There is also a simplified version to play with as well. Changing the level of ambition within the government might not be so easy… but if Bristol’s mayor gets his way, and cities are given more power, maybe Bristol can show them how it’s done.
by Paul Rainger
17 September 2013
This Thursday is the first birthday of Bristol’s local money. It already feels like the Bristol Pound has been in our wallets forever. But no, it was only 12 months ago the city’s local currency launched in a blizzard of international media coverage around the globe.
Today there may be claims the UK is coming out of recession, but the economic case for local currencies remains crystal clear. Every £1 you spend normally supports about 20p of additional local economic activity. Every B£1 you spend in a local currency generates about £4 of additional economic activity as the local money stays in the local supply chain.
So one year later, with over 600 local business across the city trading in Bristol Pounds, and over £200,000 of the local currency in circulation, Bristol’s regional economy has much to celebrate.
Bristol, which will be European Green Capital in 2015, is not only the first city scale local currency in the UK, it also incorporates a cutting edge technology TXT to Pay on your mobile phone.
Now to celebrate its first birthday, from this week, city residents can also use Bristol Pounds on city buses in a world first for a national company supporting a local currency.
So happy birthday Bristol Pound, and here is to many more to come!
by Helen Burley
30 August 2013
Recent research into public attitudes to energy in the UK has found that contrary to assumptions commonly made by policy makers and the media, the UK public is keen to see change in energy use. According to the study authors, most people want to see “a reduction in fossil fuels – seen as archaic, polluting and finite – and an increase in renewables”.
The homes taking part in this year’s Bristol Green Doors open homes weekend on the 28-29th September seem to back up this finding. This year, following on from successful events in 2010, 2011 and 2012, there will be 33 homes across Bristol opening their doors to the public to show how they have made their homes more energy efficient. Twenty one of these are new to Bristol Green Doors this year – including a number of extensive low energy retrofits. It seems that more and mo
re people in Bristol are keen to tackle energy use in their homes – and they’re also keen for others to learn from what they’ve done.
Visitors will be able to talk to householders about the changes they have made – and get practical advice – from how well their solar thermal heats the shower, to what kind of insulation they’ve put under the floor.
Where possible, there’ll be information on hand about the energy savings realised, the costs, and the savings to bills. A number of the homes taking part have sucessfully cut their carbon footprint through a combination of insulation, use of alternative energy sources, and changes to lifestyle.
The properties taking part range from lovingly restored Georgian period homes and Victorian terraces, to timber-frame new build properties and modern conversions – providing a chance to check out what works and what doesn’t in a property similar to your own.
Kate Watson, Bristol Green Doors director said: “Bristol Green Doors is all about sharing experiences and with more and more people looking for ways to improve the comfort of their homes – and crucially cut their energy bills. The homes show a complete range of the different measures people can take to do this – from low-cost everyday changes to complete energy makeovers.”
Which just goes to show that while the politicians might think that shale gas can provide us with a way to keep the lights on as usual, change is happening on the home front – as more and more people are switching on to low energy.
Homes are open from 12 – 6pm on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 September. Maps showing locations are avialable across the city – or check out www.bristolgreendoors.org for the new visitors app.
by Paul Rainger
22 February 2013
Infographics seem all the rage right now, and rightly so a great visual communication tool.
And what better time to share this infographic with you than as today’s Friday food for thought?
With the Kyoto’s expiration last year, they have taken emissions data from the UN and PBL to assess its impact so far. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the data shows that while there have been more successes than failures amongst nations with Kyoto targets, global emissions as a whole have continued to soar.
Check out the InfoProductReview.org website for more. From DIY sheds to homemade solar panels, InfoProductReview specialises in finding information products that will help you lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
by Paul Rainger
06 December 2012
Nor is he popular with his fellow climate scientists, as he meticulously takes apart current climate models, and entertainingly examines the physiological reasons why most climate scientists are not speaking out.
The real climate change scandal it would seem is an almost conspiratorial underplaying of the data to maintain the political consensus that holding at a two degree global temperature increase is still possible.
Listening to Kevin speak recently at Bristol University’s annual Cabot Institute lecture, it seemed to this lay person that Professor Anderson’s analysis includes three big problems with the carbon descent models we currently base policy on:
- Ignore the data; nearly all the modelling today continues to use the 1% figure adopted by Stern as the ‘current rate of emissions growth’. But since Stern we have nearly 10 years of real measured data showing actual growth of 3% to 6% which is just ignored.
- Invent a Tardis; most models then go on to use a peak emission date of around 2014-16. That is not very far away now and nobody actually believes China or India will peak before 2025 at the earliest. Hilariously, some of the past influential US reports even predicted peak emissions a couple of years before the report itself was even published. Again just ignoring the real data, or perhaps they really do have a Tardis!
- Throw in some magic; finally there is the question of the rate of decent from that peak. Most models give ourselves ‘a bit of room’ on the way down by including a chunk of negative emissions at the end. Of course people other than Harry Potter are working on this ‘sucking carbon out of the air’ technology, but today it is still firmly in the realms of science fiction along with that working Tardis.
So if we do use today’s real data where does that leave us? Probably on course for a 4 to 6 degree increase seems likely. Indeed a PwC (Pricewaterhouse Coopers) review this month warned that we are on a disastrous four degrees trajectory.
And that’s the physiological problem. It is easy to understand the reluctance to say this when so much political capital has been invested in holding the line at two degrees, which scientists agree give us a 50/50 chance of avoiding disastrous outcomes.
Admitting we have already failed to act over the last 10 years in time for two degrees risks creating a political form of ‘learned helplessness’ or worse, given that the scientific consensus is four degrees plus is beyond our ability to cope with adaptation.
Remarkably, Kevin Anderson is still upbeat. His analysis shows how we could still fix this in the next ten years with radical change. Interestingly these ‘last chance’ next ten years renders power supply issues, like new nuclear, irrelevant because they will not be delivered in time. The battle is purely on the demand side, and it could be done.
But this correspondent cannot help reflecting on our abject failure to do anything meaningful over the last ten year as emissions have got worse. Will we really take the radical demand side action required in the next ten?
I am reminded of the infamous quote from my Forum for the Future colleague, Sara Parkin, that “we could end up the only species to have minutely monitored our own extinction”.
You can probably add this article to that archaeological time capsule.
by Helen Burley
24 August 2012
At a first glance, it has to be said that the latest per capita carbon emissions for Bristol released this month do not look good. The data, compiled by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, shows that Bristol’s total per capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increased by 0.1 kilotons from 2009 – 2010.
That means that the average emissions per person in Bristol totalled 5 kt of CO2, compared to 4.9kt the previous year. These figures come from the national dataset compiled for international reporting – which is apparently why they are already so out of date.
DECC breaks the figure down into emissions from industry and commerce (1.9kt/capita), domestic (1.9 kt/capita) and road transport (1.1kt/capita) – the figures are rounded, which is presumably why they don’t add up.
The perhaps surprising good news is that out of these three categories, per capita road transport emissions for Bristol actually fell, from 1.2 kt/capita in 2009. Less traffic? More walking and cycling? Domestic and industry emissions were both up.
The other good news is that compared to the national average, we’re not doing so badly as the Guardian’s map of per capita change shows. Emissions increased by 0.2 kt per capita for the UK as a whole, and some areas saw big jumps, mainly as a result of increased industrial activity.
Rising levels of domestic energy use are bad news – domestic energy use accounts for 32% of our national per capita emissions and while cold weather will always cause fluctuations, it is an area where there are huge potential opportunities for savings.
It is also an area that is very much affected by our behaviour – whether we’re turning down the thermostat, insulating our lofts or running a plethora of electrical devices.
DECC’s comparable data goes back to 2005, and looking at the longer trend, Bristol is at least going in the right direction, down from overall per capita emissions of 6.2 in 2005. That’s a fall of almost 20%.
And there’s also good news for Bristol City Council – DECC publishes a separate set of data looking at emissions which are considered to be within the scope of influence of local authorities. This excludes data from big industrial sites and from motorways. These figures show that Bristol’s overall per capita emissions stayed the same for 2010 – although per capita domestic emissions still rose.
(Thanks to http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/1510/cycling/cycling-in-bristol-photos/)
by Helen Burley
11 June 2012
Bristol’s BIG Green Week started on Saturday with a colourful market stretching from St Nick’s to the Harbourside. Chef, Arthur Potts Dawson gave an inspiring low energy cookery display, celebrating local ingredients and summer. It all kind of left you feeling pretty good about this whole green thing.
To simplify horribly, the gist was that given that we are now living in the Anthropocene – an age where man has determined conditions on Earth – we need to acknowledge our managerial role. The question is not how we live with nature, but how we manage the Earth’s systems – and there are big questions about how this done.
Hamilton picked a few geoengineering projects to illustrate his point. Faced with rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists have come up with a number of creative ways in which we might try to manage (or geoengineer) the climate.
A number of these schemes have attracted the attention and the cash backing of some pretty big investors – including Bill Gates. They have also been seized on by former climate sceptics, who suggest that by engineering the climate, we can obviate the need to tackle climate change.
One advocate, the US astrophysicist, Lowell Wood, is quoted by Hamilton as saying:
“We’ve engineered every other environment we live in – why not the planet?”
Tar sands developer Murray Edwards is, perhaps for obvious reasons, another geoengineering fan.
Hamilton describes the geoengineering advocates as “Promethians” – after the character from Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals. Promethians like technology, they like speed, they like to get things done.
In opposition to this, Hamilton puts the Soterians, named after the Greek goddess of caution, Soteria.
And as Hamilton pointed out, we live in a world where speed, not caution, tends to win.
This is perhaps particularly true in the financial markets, where deals are done in nano-seconds – and markets do not wait while politicians – or indeed ordinary mortals – hesitate.
Just as we have allowed our markets to race ahead, unregulated, regardless of the costs, will we, as a global society, let the Promethians seize the opportunities offered by new technologies, spurred on by the chance to profit from these new planet management opportunities? And will the Soterians sit on the sidelines, warning of the environmental damage being done?
Or maybe we will recognise that we are ill-qualified as planetary managers – that our track record so far is pretty poor and that caution is perhaps wise. That while we may be poor masters, we have learnt a lot about the complex world we live in, including the fact that our actions trigger consequences we cannot control. And that just as at city level, different interests have to be balanced to create sustainability…
by Helen Burley
17 February 2012
Bristol could be fast-becoming the retrofitting capital of the UK. Already home to Bristol Green Doors and Refit West’s whole-house refurbishment scheme, retrofitting in the city has just received another boost with projects in the city securing cash from the government’s Local Energy Assessment Fund (LEAF).
One of the recipients is Future Fit Bristol, a project being run by the Knowle West Media Centre, re:work and Tree of Life offering the local community the opportunity to have up to half a day with a qualified local builder installing energy saving measures in the house.
The Bedminster Energy Group also received funding form LEAF, and Easton Energy Group and Transition Montpelier will be working with their local communities to find ways to make their homes more energy efficient.
Bristol Green Doors has teamed up with a group of residents in St Andrews to pilot external wall insulation on a Victorian terrace of four homes. According to the Government, some 7 million homes require some form of solid wall insulation, with the Committee on Climate Change recommending that 2.3 million homes with solid wall need insulating by 2022 if the UK is to meet its carbon reduction targets. Needless to say, we’re not quite there yet.
What makes the St Andrews project unusual is that all four of the properties are privately owned (three owner-occupied, one let as flats) with the four property owners co-operating to ensure the work is more effective. Tackling the four houses together avoids breaks in the insulation, which could lead to heat loss, and retains the terrace’s visual character. Fitting external insulation on terraced housing is not in itself new, but most projects to date have been carried out by social landlords.
The St Andrews householders are being asked to monitor their energy use before and after the insulation has been fitted to see how much money and how much carbon is saved. The project will also monitor temperature to see how much difference the external cladding makes to the comfort of the home.
Bristol’s Georgian and Victorian terraces are one of the distinctive features of the city – but while this architectural heritage might add to Bristol’s character, it also means many of us have chilly homes. So learning a few lessons about how to insulate these buildings could be good news.
The St Andrews terrace will be on show as part of Bristol Green Doors open homes weekend on 17-18th March when forty homes across the city will be open to the public, showcasing a range of energy efficiency measures, from low-cost draught-proofing to complete retrofits.
And there’s also the chance to find out more about making your home warmer by dropping in at the Create centre’s WARM exhibtion, including a large scale model of a Victorian house on show until 8 March.