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

Of music, movement and the meaning of life

by Shaun Chamberlin on July 11th, 2008

Fencing

Those of you who know me personally will be aware that the indescribable exhilaration of physical movement to music (more commonly termed ‘dancing’) is my greatest release and joy.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been much enjoying the latest issue of Resurgence magazine, which focuses on the theme ‘Music for transformation‘.

I have learnt, to my delight, that one of the founders of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg, told his students that they should see the world as made of music, not of matter (by which, as far as I understand it, he meant to emphasise that reality is process, not form).

But in particular, a section of Mark Kidel’s article Conversation & Crossroads set me tingling, and ultimately led me to consider how climate change challenges the very basis of Western thought. He writes: 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 »