Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Ice Man cometh?

It seems that just as fast as researchers and modellers update and upgrade their predictions for climate change models, something happens that sends you back to the drawing board to start all over!

This last week has seen just such an example, where evidence from NASA satellites has uncovered an unusual phenomenon of ice melt in Greenland. Rather than go through and regurgitate all of this, I have linked to some articles from the Guardian that explain well the facts and potential issues, including the graphic ice melt flooding.

I think that this also  links well with news this week, that scientists and meteorologists are closer to identifying some causative effects from global warming to more localised extreme weather events.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Political and economic black hole.

We are trapped on an island sized space vessel, manned only by 4 mutant cloning accidents employed by a well known (lack of) security firm!
We are hurtling at enormous speed towards a black hole of Spanish banking proportions and almost certain oblivion!!!

Our auto pilot was set, not by a navigator with experience of our galaxy, but instead by an amateur economist who found a redundant (a word we will all become familiar with) sat nav, hastily left by previous incumbents. It had originally been set for a steady course towards a more progressive tax system, however it had been programmed with too many comfort stops for debt enlargement.

The new settings however, were set for the Democratic Republic of Utopia, which everyone knows is a non existent test setting!!! It only goes to show the total lack of knowledge, of anything, that the operator has.

Why are we on this doomed trip, well it wasn't of our choice, the travel operators merged and we all found ourselves here, trapped of our own unwitting and uncomplaining volition. No one feels that this is going to end well the intergalactic AA service has been cruelly reduced and call out times are now in decades!!! We would complain now, but there is only a box for written complaints, not much use in deep space!

What about the politicians and the bankers? Oh well, as it turns out, they are on a Branson luxury liner all headed to a tax haven in the Virgin Nebular, brilliant, they didn't think to tell us!!!

Short story based on a more pragmatic blog in the Guardian:

Friday, 20 July 2012

recyclate market volatility, infrastructure and regulation.

Its been a busy week here in the UK for recycling, with the new regulations being laid (before a recessed Parliament) and a bit of a slump in the paper market. Of course all of these things are interconnected and looking at these complex relationships, raises some interesting questions.

China is the major global market for recycled paper and takes around 70% of UK exports, hence any downturn in China will have significant impacts for UK operations. The recent slow down in the global economy and Chinese output has already seen prices fall back for recycled paper and card. Chinese port authorities are now making more checks on incoming materials, which highlights an interesting paradox in the UK waste and recycling industry.

There has been an ongoing debate over the supply of quality recyclate for many years (i.e. should we just go for bulk rather than quality or strive for the highest grade). In the past bulk was satisfactory because it was cheaper to treat/sort to a lowish quality and the price, although not high, was relatively stable. If the market did dip, paper and card would be diverted to EfW or landfill.

With the advent of the revised Waste Framework Directive, this became much more difficult, as waste has to be treated as high up the Waste Hierarchy as possible, meaning that it is not really acceptable to send recyclate to EfW or Landfill. The rWFD also requires that at least 50% of the major recyclate categories are collected separately (to maintain quality) and End of Waste standards are being developed for many materials to provide certainty of the point at which something ceases to be waste.

Reprocessors have already challenged the UK transposition of the directive, which allows for co-mingled collection and separation at an MRF or MBT plant. Issues over quality have persisted, including export of unsuitable and unsorted materials, leading to expensive repatriation of waste. In the light of this challenge Defra amended the regulations and the EU issued guidance on meeting this section of the directive.

In effect the EU guidance will permit co-collection, where it is not practical to collect separately, it does however, reiterate the need for the quality to be the same as if it were collected separately, It should also be borne in mind that End of Waste criteria are being set for the major recyclate streams, which will have to be met and which, are likely to be quite stringent (in accordance with maximising value through quality and the overall life cycle of the materials).

Given our historic preference for quantity over quality, there is more than just a behavioural and perceptual barrier to overcome, there is an urgent need for investment in capacity if we are to continue sorting recyclate that will meet the stringent standards that will be required (and enforced also through importing states and reprocessors). It will also probably be seen that a greater price differential will emerge between the best quality and those of a lower standard. It is unlikely however, that we will see that investment if there continues to be a flat market and uncertainty over meeting quality standards.

For my money, I still think it is better to invest in separate collection and simplify the treatment and storage, however because many services are tied into long term contracts, some of which will be PFI's for MBT plant, that could be difficult. I would also bet on the JR still being heard, as the amended regulation may not be specific enough on how the quality standards will implemented and monitored, watch this space as they say.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Well being and wealth.

It is all too easy in this day and age to take well being and wealth as being one and the same, however this is demonstrably not the case!

An index of well being needs to include measures of health, environment and social justice as well as wealth creation. These facets of sustainable  (and hopefully more contented) ways of living should not be mutually exclusive, in fact they should be quite inclusive.

There are numerous indexes and a plethora of criteria by which a numeric or quantifiable determination can be arrived, however the basic principles remain the same for each. A recent Happy Planet Index  (HPI), placed Costa Rica at the top of the list, which may surprise many of you. The HPI is based on three main headings: experienced well being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. The index scores highest where (using global data) long life expectancy is achieved with higher experienced well being for the most efficient use of resource.

Other indexes, based more upon a sustainability approach, use Life Cycle Assessment to derive benchmarks for comparison, whilst others use more direct surveying techniques. Either way we can draw some general conclusions from information that has already been published.

Firstly, it is not always the wealthiest and most developed economies that score the highest. This may well be as a result of quality vs quantity of GDP, as witnessed by a study conducted on quality of life in the Chinese provinces.

Secondly, it appears evident that countries with progressive taxation models (this includes many Nordic states) perform better in terms of contentment and show fewer social stresses (i.e. crime). A study by the Association for Psychological Science found that flattening the tax system risked flattening social well being. This has been said to be because it squeezes the middle class and polarises the population between the haves and have nots. This is avoided through more progressive taxation as it creates a wider middle class, reducing disparity in earnings and affording greater access to good s and services.

Lastly, it seems apparent that vibrant and efficient democracies also perform better, probably because it affords a better sense of belonging, control over important issues and protects human rights.

See link to HPI tables (Wiki):

Other indexes will produce different results and may be skewed slightly by the criteria used, however this may be with good reason to reflect slightly different aspects according to stage of development, objectives or administration.

From the scores, it is all too obvious that our current model is not delivering and that we are living beyond our means, in ecological terms, however there are good models and  improvements to be gleaned from the scores, hopefully we can all learn from these.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Global resource perspectives.

Debate has been taking place this week at Oxford, much brain power has been applied to the problems of resource scarcity and how we can be more efficient in an attempt to sustainably support a growing population and growing economies.

All of this has been taking place in the face of a creaking economic system and geographically uneven distribution of raw materials. Resource security is fast becoming a much more critical consideration for large manufacturers and pressure is mounting on geo-political stability.

Pressures exist over rare earth metals, water and land, with land grabs in Africa and E. Europe making the headlines. In some ways however,  this exemplifies the problems that exist within the current model, it might even be seen as clutching at straws.

Democracy is playing second fiddle to corporate colonialism in a number of countries, the consequences of this are difficult to predict, especially where the current political status quo is challenged, as has been the case with the Arab Spring.

Alternative models have been suggested, this week saw quite a strong case put forward for an end to the current capitalist system and a move to some form of global governance, it will be quite a strange exercise removing all those lines from the map of the globe!

The serious point though, is that this might be the only way to support an ever growing population and even out the distribution of resources without enduring constant conflict, something that has always taken place but which, is only likely to get worse.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Transparency for better democracy.

I'm going to start with a bit of common sense, well more like a statement of the obvious!
You can't have an informed debate without the information! Sound unbiased evidence should be the foundation of debate. policy formulation and the cornerstone of a stable democratic society. It is not always as easy however, to find and maintain credible data, as has been the case with some climate change research.

Recently there have been some encouraging signs in respect of CSR reporting and some governments are starting to require better reporting (CO2 in the UK for instance), however there is still a long way to go and verification and auditing procedures need to be properly monitored and enforced. to a common standard

But without this we are vulnerable to corruption and the hijacking of democracy by secretive lobby groups who thrive in the grey area's created, where good information and sound data are thin on the ground.

It's good to see that this issue is getting a better and more organised profile, it will help shareholders to ask better questions of their board and enable NGO's and pro-democracy groups to focus on organisations with the poorest record.

A report has just been published that measures the transparency of the top corporations , I hope that you find this interesting and that it makes your life just that little more democratic.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Adaptation, sustainability and cost.

With floods in the UK, Southern Russia and elsewhere, heatwaves in the USA and drought in several other countries, its probably fair to say that extremes of weather seem to be getting more common!

Firstly, our thoughts are with those who have been affected, either through loss of life or other impacts.

This exemplifies why adaptation and resilience are so important and also why they are diverse topics ranging from public health through civil engineering to emergency management. If, as data seem to suggest, these are a consequence of anthropogenic CO2, then climate change dictates that these events are probably going to become more frequent and more extreme.

This being the case, adaptation is going to become an issue across a broad range of range of daily activities, I have highlighted a couple of issues below, where the sustainable solution needs to be considered:
  • Take the example of a heatwave, it is becoming much more common for people to have air conditioning in the home, more so in places where this hasn't been the norm. This uses considerable power, so you may wish to consider if the provision of community centres (large buildings/complexes or malls for instance), as asecond home for these periods, in the absence of a largely renewable energy supply. Office buildings should also seek to either generate their own energy for heating/cooling or again develop new complexes that use low carbon design and technology.
  • You might also wish to consider the resilience issue, the case at present being that many of our services and utilities are located in vulnerable areas (low lying, socially deprived), mostly because of proximity to water (i.e. power stations) or due to land prices. The cost of retroactive resilience measures is not insignificant, but may become unavoidable.
What all this is leading up to, is at which point is it most effective to intervene? Because different states deploy their resources via many different models of administration, it is only possible to deal with this as a generality.

I would suggest that planning is everything here, it is the critical point in the process for development and assessment of facts and data. A transparent and evidence based planning system should ensure that sustainability is a key element of any development. The system has to have rules, respect and sanction strong enough to go against the market, as this will be a key element of adaptation and adopting a longer term approach. This in turn will drive change in the market and provide a degree of certainty for investment, thus planning can be a driver for disruptive innovation.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Failing nuclear.

Here in the UK our government still appears to favour nuclear to fill the looming gap in energy production, however I would hope that they are reading this report:,30

Here you have it from the horses mouth!

Just reading through the key results summary highlights the litany of problems facing the ailing industry. It is difficult to see how, with spiralling costs and reticence over investment (as well as increased safety requirements from stress testing), anything will happen in time for our looming energy crisis, if at all. That will push us even further into a corner on gas and inevitably costs will increase for that.

The IEA has forecast a rapid increase in renewable energy production over the next 5 years, lets hope a significant chunk of that is here in the UK!