Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Earth hour

It's all about a day of mass action. Organised by the WWF, the aim of Earth Day is to get everyone to switch off all their lights for at least on hour in the evening at 8.30pm local time. The slogan is:

On March 28 you can VOTE EARTH by switching off your lights for one hour...Or you can vote global warming by leaving your lights on.

Cynics may claim this is a bit of a gimmick, but I think this has a powerful message - that action en masse can have a major impact. It started in Sydney 2 years ago, where 2.2 million buildings switched off. You can't say that doesn't have a big impact on energy demand and must have been massively noticeable on the grid.

So get involved - sign up, spread the word and switch off for an hour (or more!) on March 28th.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Age of Stupid

There's really only one main topic of conversation to be had this week, the launch of the much anticipated film, The Age of Stupid.

The basic premise is a man, played by the famous actor Pete Postlethwaite, looking back in the year 2055 on a world devestated by human stupidity- he's living alone. He asks the question "why didn't we do something whilst we had the chance, before Climate Change ran out of control?"

Director Franny Armstrong and her crew inject a sense of realism, urgency, quality and amateur-professionalism in to the debate with this quality production. It's clear this project was driven by ethics rather than money and is everything that a Hollywood blockbuster isn't.

Have a look at the trailer here:

The system of 65 simultaneous screenings across the UK made this the biggest ever movie launch on Sunday night. Rob Hopkins spoke after the screening at the Eden Project and you can read his thoughts and a review here.

Needless to say this is a must see film. See the Age of Stupid website for full details of screenings and releases.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Tipping points

For a long time, the forward-thinking and very authoritative James Hansen of NASA has argued that we are dangerously close to climatic tipping points, as he explains in a Guardian article last year. This is the point at which "runaway global warming" starts - natural systems can't control the upward spiral of temperature rises.

This situation worsens as positive feedback comes in to play - for example as ice melts, the permafrost melts below it, which releases huge amounts of methane...which increases global warming. Staying below temperature thresholds to prevent tipping points is crucial.

David Attenborough is pushing the climate change message more so than ever now, vividly illustrated in the beautiful footage shown in Nature's great events. See the episode on the iPlayer here. It's a stark reminder that the seemingly huge and impenetrable mass of ice in the poles is a lot more fragile than we like to think.

Copenhagen 2010, scheduled for December, is where all the world's leaders come together to agree a strategy to tackle climate change. The importance of Barack Obama's position cannot be underestimated; quite literally one man could make or break the agreements. His language so far is encouraging, but actions speak louder than words.

In Copenhagen at this very moment scientists are trying to gauge a more accurate position of the effect of current, and future predictions of, temperatures on the world's ice caps and glaciers. There is enough freshwater stored as ice to cause sea level rises of scores of metres world wide; the extent to which it really does melt is critical for our mitigation strategies.

On Scilly we are incredibly vulnerable to rising seas, storms and changing weather patterns. Obtaining precise information of the potential effects on these small islands is really important and at last some work is about to start on this very issue (although it should've been started 10 years ago...).

Although this is a difficult topic, it's not one that I will apologise for tackling. Sea level rise is the biggest threat to Scilly and to millions of people around the world. Burying our heads in the sand is not a viable option.

Jonathan Smith

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Renewable energy opportunities

The third in my series of blog write-ups from mine and Clare's short trip to Devon and Cornwall is about renewable energy. We went over to North Cornwall, to the small fishing village of Port Isaac for a meeting of St Endellion Climate Friendly Parish (which is a parish adjoining Port Isaac). They're a very well organised group with a lot of energy; indeed they've been so pro-active they've been shortlisted to the last five of a national competition called "Future Friendly".

The village hall was very busy, in excess of 75 people there, a magnificent array of food and drink on offer and a good line up of speakers. The local MP Dan Rogerson gave an introduction to the issues, correctly stating that "tackling climate change issues must come hand in hand with tackling economic issues" - i.e. create so called 'green-collar jobs'. He also pointed out that renewable energy gives communities and nations energy independence from economic and political pressures and fluctuations.

And if anyone doubted that individuals don't have influence on the political process, Dan Rogerson MP confirmed that "a letter writing campaign has a huge impact"!

Four speakers gave their personal views on the costs, efficiency and effectiveness of four renewable technologies: solar hot water, solar photovoltaics, wind and ground source heat pumps. They key points to pick up were:
  • Get the roof aspect right for solar projects - i.e. as close to due south as possible
  • The economic situation still isn't overly helpful to allowing people to install their own renewable technologies
  • Technology is improving all the time with all the different technologies
  • There is some fantastic software available now to monitor outputs and monetary savings from various renewable sources - all to use with home computers
  • Whilst payback times should not be the whole consideration, they are coming down over time as costs of installation reduce whilst energy costs are rising
  • Ground Source heat pumps have noise issues, but can be very effective
  • Tenants need educating on how to get the most out of renewable technologies fitted in or on their house
A couple of wider points were raised: (1) ensuring insulation is maximised is critical in reducing energy demand and (2) maximising passive solar gain is very important in buildings - and there's no excuse on new builds.

Neil Farrington from Cornwall Energy Plus outlined a very interesting scheme called Community Power in Cornwall. This is a model more akin to some continental countries where there's a stronger culture of co-operation. The idea is simple - a number of people pool their investments in to larger scale renewable energy installations - in this case wind power.

These larger scale installations are more efficient, more cost effective and enjoy better support from the community, because they're owned by members of the community. It's an excellent principle that should be explored for Scilly.

Finally, the summary was made that whilst there are many realistic renewable energy options, there is no perfect technology and every situation is different. As communities and as a nation we need to explore the right mix for each location, with an aim to maximising our energy independence and minimising our carbon emissions.

Jonathan Smith