"To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing." - Raymond Williams

Why do they do it?

by Shaun Chamberlin on July 27th, 2008

Mum's the word

Since my earlier review of Burn Up I have discovered a comment on the film posted yesterday by Jeremy Leggett, one of the few with any media profile to openly discuss the interplay of peak oil and climate change.

In his piece Leggett asks: “Why do the carbon-club lobbyists and contrarians do what they do? What is in their heads as they go about their work? Surely they must see the power of the emerging evidence that the threat is real, and massive? … I don’t have an explanation.”

This is a question I have devoted a lot of thought to, and I will venture an answer. Read more »

Burn up

by Shaun Chamberlin on July 27th, 2008

Neve Campbell in Burn Up

I have just watched the BBC’s outstanding thriller Burn Up, starring Rupert Penry-Jones, Marc Warren, Bradley Whitford and Neve Campbell (trailer available here).

It is a dramatic account of the intrigue, betrayal, sex and violence surrounding characters in the oil industry, international diplomacy and the environmental movement in the build up to the international conference that will decide on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. For those who haven’t yet seen it, be aware that the discussion below the cut contains spoilers. Read more »

From the Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group

by Shaun Chamberlin on July 2nd, 2008

In your opinion

My mother pointed out to me that on Saturday Colin Challen MP, Chair of the UK Government’s All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, had a letter published in the Guardian.

After numerous other eminently sensible suggestions about how the Government should be stepping up its response to climate change he concluded with the following:

“And most urgently we need to recognise that early carbon reductions are the most important step, and that will only happen with rapid behavioural change, which means some form of carbon rationing.

In this last respect, for any minister or potential minister to say the time for personal carbon allowances has not yet come illustrates either deep cynicism, defeatism or complacency, or perhaps a combination of all three.” Read more »

Lazy politics?

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 22nd, 2008

Blair lazing

I find myself wondering if our current political system (like so much else in our modern culture) might be partially a product of the bonanza of abundant cheap energy we have been enjoying for the last century or two. Have we been so comfortable that the pressure has been off for our decision makers?

Now I am certainly no student of politics, and my musings should be taken with that proviso, but it has always seemed a little strange that there is such a widespread perception of our politicians as incompetent and immoral, and yet they continue to be entrusted with the ultimate decision-making role for our society. There is widespread disinterest among the young people I know, and perhaps part of the reason is that people have ‘learnt’ that it really doesn’t matter how ineffective politicians may be – there still always seems to be water in the tap and food on the table, so surely they must be doing something right? Read more »

TEQs (downstream) or Cap and Dividend (upstream)?

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 8th, 2008

Stream

In the climate policy community there is a growing debate between advocates of ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ carbon caps (dams?). The terms draw an analogy between the flow of water in a stream and the flow of energy through an economy. ‘Upstream’ advocates want to regulate the few dozen fuel and energy companies that bring carbon into the economy, arguing that this is cheaper and simpler than addressing the behaviour of tens of millions of ‘downstream’ consumers.

At first glance this seems a convincing argument, but there is one important regard in which an upstream scheme fails – it does not engage the general populace in the changes required. Read more »

Why Mark Lynas is wrong to say he’s wrong!

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 7th, 2008

Mark Lynas
Last week Mark Lynas wrote an article for the New Statesman in which he surprisingly argued against carbon rationing. As he acknowledges, this is a complete reversal from his earlier article in which he argued for it in the strongest of terms. Unfortunately, I believe his thinking on this is moving in the wrong direction.

His argument is essentially that we need the cheapest, simplest way of implementing a firm global carbon cap. I absolutely agree that such a cap is crucial and necessary, but it is a mistake to imagine that this alone is sufficient to realistically address climate change. The setting of a cap is a fairly abstract process – the real challenge is to develop a society that can exist within that cap. Read more »

BBC – “MPs back personal carbon credits”

by Shaun Chamberlin on May 26th, 2008

BBC news

Today the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), tasked with evaluating the Government’s environmental progress, published their report into Personal Carbon Trading, finding that “personal carbon trading could be essential in helping to reduce our national carbon footprint”.

They also state, in keeping with the conclusions of our own response to DEFRA’s pre-feasibility study: “We regret that…the Government is indicating that it will wind down its work on personal carbon trading…Although we commend the Government for its intention to maintain engagement in the academic debate, we urge it to do more…We would like to see the Government leading and shaping debate and co-ordinating activity and research.”

This report has led to a flurry of media interest. Read more »

Concentrating Solar thermal Power (CSP) – a step in the right direction, but no panacea

by Shaun Chamberlin on May 19th, 2008

CSP parabolic trough

As I mentioned in my earlier post, last week I met Polly Higgins, The Lazy Environmentalist. She specialises in CSP, and informed me that we may now be seeing serious political movement towards an EU-MENA supergrid bringing CSP-generated electricity to Europe from the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East.

For those not familiar with the concept, CSP is not about photovoltaic solar panels, but rather the simple use of mirrors to focus solar heat on pipes filled with water. This generates steam which turns turbines to generate electricity. It is a simple low-tech concept that has been operating a 165 MW power plant in California for over 20 years.

It has been calculated that, if it was covered with CSP plants, an area of hot desert of about 254 km x 254 km — less than 1% of the total area of such deserts — would produce as much electricity as is currently consumed by the whole world.

An area measuring 110 km x 110 km, a small fraction of the area of desert in North Africa and the Middle East, would produce the same amount of electricity as the European Union consumed in 2004. This is illustrated graphically below the cut.

So this political movement towards a CSP supergrid is a very significant development, and, I think, a positive one. Read more »

DEFRA’s pre-feasibility study into TEQs

by Shaun Chamberlin on May 19th, 2008

Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This is just a quick post to point people towards the DEFRA pre-feasibility study into TEQs that came out earlier this month, and in particular the critical responses to it posted by the Centre for Sustainable Energy and The Lean Economy Connection (pdf) (this one written by David Fleming and myself), in which we argue that a number of important misunderstandings are contained in the study, and that DEFRA’s consequent decision to delay a full feasibility study into the TEQs concept is ill-advised.

TEQs is the only realistic and effective way I see of enabling the necessary national emissions reductions at the same time as addressing the challenges of Peak Oil, so this could hardly be more important.

Parliamentary TEQs talk, and an interesting conversation…

by Shaun Chamberlin on May 16th, 2008

House of Commons

On Tuesday I spoke on TEQs at the House of Commons to a joint meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas (APPGOPO) and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change.

An audio recording of my presentation, and those of my co-speakers – Rob Hopkins of Transition Towns and Simon Snowden of Liverpool University’s Oil Depletion Impact Group – can be found on the APPGOPO website, along with our slides.

My personal highlight was Simon Snowden’s comment on so-called ‘silver bullet’ solutions to peak oil and climate change:

“Those familiar with their mythology will recall that silver bullets are used for killing werewolves. Werewolves do not exist. So silver bullets are both expensive and bloody useless!” Read more »