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

Focus on Climate Change and ignore Peak Oil? Not good enough

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 14th, 2008

Oil Platform - Day

Lately I seem to be encountering many climate change activists who have a blind spot when it comes to peak oil. At present, Friends of the Earth appear to be particularly prone to this.

They assert that climate change is overwhelmingly urgent (no arguments from me there) and so that the depletion of fossil fuels is largely irrelevant. In fact they argue that it can only be good news, limiting the availability of these dangerous substances which have the potential to destabilise our climate.

But this ignores the reason why humanity is so loathe to wean itself off these fuels in the first place. They are exceptionally potent energy sources which greatly increase our ability to change our human infrastructure and shape the world around us. Energy is perhaps best defined as the ability to do work, and there is much work to be done in the transition to a low-carbon way of life. Read more »

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

by Shaun Chamberlin on June 8th, 2008


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 »