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

The secret truth behind environmentalists’ favourite argument

by Shaun Chamberlin on January 20th, 2013

Argument

When environmentalists argue amongst themselves, whether at some formal debate or late at night over a few drinks, I confidently predict that the argument will go like this.

One will say (in one form or another):
“There’s no time to wait for radical change or revolution; the crisis is overwhelmingly urgent, we simply have to act within the frameworks we have now”.

The other will argue (in one form or another):
“But there’s no point in acting without radical change or revolution; without that we are only addressing symptoms and not the real problems”.

We’ve all participated in those kinds of arguments, and we’ve all heard them a hundred times.  They become a little tiresome.  But I believe that they point towards a truth that remains unspoken.
Read more »

All Party Parliamentary TEQs report – rationing, not carbon trading

by Shaun Chamberlin on August 14th, 2009

Market invisible hand

As the evidence for the utter inapplicability of free market carbon trading to our climate emergency continues to pile up, interest continues to grow in the less PR-friendly alternative – the rationing of carbon-rated energy.

Yesterday, the UK Government’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas previewed a draft report commissioned from The Lean Economy Connection. The report, which I co-authored with Dr. David Fleming, emphasises the necessity of considering our pressing energy challenges alongside climate change, and argues that national energy rationing systems on the model of TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas) will be essential to the fair distribution of fuel as shortages unfold, with implementation now an urgent priority for the UK.

John Hemming MP, Chairman of the All Party group, stated that the UK government remains unprepared for peak oil: “The evidence is now strong that peak oil is either upon us or just over the horizon. Even the International Energy Agency accepts that an oil supply crunch seems to be on its way. The UK government should urgently consider the TEQs system, as I believe it’s the only comprehensive and fair way to tackle climate change and the coming oil crisis.” Read more »

Why our cultural stories matter

by Shaun Chamberlin on December 13th, 2008

Next Generation

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have often written on the topic of cultural stories, but I am told I have never explicitly addressed on this blog why I feel they are so critically important in our struggle for a future.

I am on record as stating that climate change and peak oil represent perhaps the most urgent and significant forces shaping our age, yet in an important sense even these trends are only symptoms of an underlying issue. They are consequences of the choices we have collectively made and continue to make, and these choices are formed by our understanding of the world – by our stories. Read more »

Transition Towns – get involved where you live

by Shaun Chamberlin on December 7th, 2008

Transition Towns

Last month I discussed some of the national and international developments that are shaping our future, but in spite of the ongoing climate talks in Poznan, today I’d like to focus on the importance of local-level action.

Amidst all the focus on global climate agreements it’s easy to forget that agreeing a tightening global cap on emissions is not a solution in itself – such a cap would be meaningless without on-the-ground solutions and lifestyle changes at the local and individual levels. This is why I see the tremendously rapid spread of the Transition movement as such a hopeful sign. Read more »

The climate science translation guide

by Shaun Chamberlin on September 3rd, 2008

Age Of Stupid Climate-o-meter

We are all familiar with the concept of climate change, and the need for reduced carbon emissions, but really getting a handle on the scale of the problem can be difficult, thanks to all the confusing terminology.

I looked all over the web for a straightforward comprehensive explanation of terms like Global Warming Potential (GWP) and the different meanings of CO2equivalent but I couldn’t find it, so eventually I decided to spend some of my time (and the time of many helpful friends and colleagues) on creating one.

I didn’t count on quite how intricate the underlying science is (it became ever clearer to me why there is so much confusion in this area), so the process took some considerable time, but I believe that this post is now something that many will find useful. It has been checked for accuracy by qualified experts. Read more »

Reinventing collapse

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 29th, 2008

Reinventing Collapse

As George Carlin once said, “they call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it”.

At the risk of this blog becoming ‘review corner’, that seems the perfect introduction to the book I just finished reading – Dmitry Orlov’s brilliantly enjoyable Reinventing Collapse. This is a true work of dark optimism, with a fair dash of dark humour to boot.

In it, Orlov draws on his experiences of the collapse of the Soviet Union to explore the future American residents like him are likely to face as the effects of the USA’s disastrous economic, energy and foreign policies take hold. 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 »

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 »