Nialloflynn's Blog

2010

Cloughjordan – ‘The Village’

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 9:19 pm

Today, some number of our class visited Cloughjordan, a self-styled eco-village. Theirs is a project instigated by a group of motivated individuals. Their goal being the construction of a living space which is driven by sustainability and communal spirit.

I have to admit, I knew very little about what we were getting ourselves in for when we headed out from UL this morning. I’ve heard of eco-villages before – read articles in Sunday newspapers, but to be honest, most of the concepts seemed… a bit silly. I vaguely remember reading about lunatics who wear potato sack clothes and wash but once a year, perhaps on their birthday. Colonies of the kinds of people who talk enthusiastically about total nonsense with a wild look in their eyes, the kind of look where you’re not sure if they’re looking at you or a little bit behind you. Nutters, in short, whose idealistic notions consistently exceed the constraints of reality by quite a long way. Dreamers. I was a little apprehensive that we may be setting ourselves up for an afternoon of polite nodding to the rantings of cave dwellers while graciously declining the offerings of homemade, organic, peace-tofu. No thanks.

However, what I saw instead was probably the most inspiring, exciting and motivating thing I’ve come across in this course to date.

At this stage, I could go on about the various, interesting, new construction solutions and materials. I could explain the energy sources and their focus on resilience, self-reliance and efficiency. I could go into detail about the community-supported agriculture system and its benefits to all…

But to be honest, most of us have heard all about the various energy systems and funny mud bricks. We’d like to think we know a bit on the theory of how to live sustainably. What you cannot get from reading, writing and talking, is a sense of how do-able this is. Throughout the year, there has been a sense when we’re discussing issues that, ‘Yeah, we could do this that and the other, but at the end of the day, general ignorance will hamstring any real progress’. In other words, that potential solutions will be blocked by those fearing the unknown. Because until people see these systems in practice, they will be mistrusted and opposed. But really, when you’re walking around, the building sites look like just that – building sites. The wood-chip-composite blocks may as well be concrete blocks. The ‘cob’ houses will look like… granted, they will look like mud houses, but giant, really impressive mud houses! I mean, the childish side of me would love to live in a mud house, I could go down to the pub and say, ‘Yeah, I live in a mud house’ and people would think, ‘That lad’s hard-core’.

What this experience did for me was to spin every aspect of these sort of communities in an entirely new and extremely positive light. To those nay-sayers out there who are lining up to point out the flaws in some of the designs, to highlight how some elements of sustainability may have been compromised in exchange for comfort, well that’s missing the point. It’s a new direction, of course it’s not perfect, but it’s getting the ball rolling, it’s a display of comfortable future-proof living. It’s taking the ‘unknown’ factor out of the equation and it’s a hell of a lot more than most are doing.

It’s great to see action, it’s great to see people having a real stab at this thing, and I haven’t even mentioned the best aspect of the project – the community spirit. Walking around the grounds of the village it is inherently obvious that this is no ordinary housing development. We have become used those uniform estates, billed as ‘luxury housing’ and arranged in grids. Cold, sterile places to view from outside. You would not be inclined to take a leisurely evening stroll by houses 26 through 89. However, ‘The Village’ has been grafted with community spirit as an equal partner to sustainability. There are many plans for community centres, all pedestrian paths are separate from the roads and from the artist’s impressions will meander about over footbridges and will be lined by trees – possibly apple trees… The whole thing simply adds up to an atmosphere which I cannot really describe, but somehow just feels genuine. Now, I bring this up not because I have romantic notions of a future where we all exist in a great harmonious symphony of eco-this and sustainable-that… No, the reason I mention it is because this is the kind of thing you cannot normally put a price on, and if you were to find the right, savvy salesperson who was able to identify the market, I reckon they’d be sold in double quick time. More important is how it could be held up as an example to Joe Public who might aspire to such a lifestyle and really begin a shift towards what we would all hope to see.

There is a proverb from somewhere – probably China or somewhere steeped in ancient wisdom. It goes like this, ‘The best time to plant a tree is several years ago, the second best time is today’.

Really that sums up all that I have taken from this module, we may not be set perfectly on track, we may not see the rewards any time soon, but we’d better get cracking with whatever we’ve got!

2010

Poster

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 4:13 pm

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 4:11 pm

17. What sustainability issues will arise from the large scale adoption of electric cars?

Introduction: Electric Cars – The Future?

Electric cars, seen by the vast majority of people as one of, if not the most important solution to the current plethora of challenges facing humankind. Climate change nuts, peak-oil protagonists, environ-mentalists, they’ve all thrown their lot in with the electric vehicle, or EV’s as they are known in the ‘states. President Obama is even using the transition to EV’s as a platform from which to launch the great ship ‘economic recovery’. As of March 19 2009, the US announced a $2.4 billion stimulus package to make EV’s a reality, and Obama has claimed they ‘will put one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on America’s roads by 2015.’ [CBSNews.com, 2009].

To the ordinary, passively concerned and informed citizen (which is unfortunately most people), it is easy to jump on the bandwagon, or at the least to believe that EV’s are the future of transport. But is this really the right way to approach the issue? I would contend that we are in fact guilty of throwing ourselves behind this ‘silver bullet’ approach, without really considering the how sustainable EV’s are. Moreover, as I shall explain later on, I believe that to plough ahead into a future filled with electric cars would be to leave the very core of the problem completely unaddressed.

Lithium Ion Batteries – Miracle Battery?

I had been expected the hazardous waste and raw material mining to be a key area for my discussion. I think most people would probably have put it at the top of their list of environmentally damaging aspects of EV’s. My thinking heading into this project was fairly straightforward and one would think, intuitive. I reasoned thus; electric cars need batteries. Lots of batteries. Batteries contain hazardous chemicals which require much mining and processing, what happens when these huge numbers of batteries reach the end of their life? We’ll be left with a major problem of what to do with all this chemical waste. But no, it seems that those at the forefront of EV technology have come up with a miracle battery. The batteries which power the Tesla Roadster (Lithium Ion) contain no heavy metals or toxic materials, and could by law, be disposed of in a landfill [Tesla Motors 2008]. Further to this, Tesla also claim their batteries to be completely recyclable and a report by the US Department of Energy vindicates this process by way of the value and purity of the materials recovered [United States Department of Energy 2000]. Incredibly, the main substance does not even need to be mined as such, it can be extracted by quite a green evaporation method. These batteries are commonly touted as key to the future of the EV, with their green credentials, high efficiency, long life span and no ‘memory’ effects. Toyota, GM, Mitsubishi and Mercedes have all thrown their lot behind this technology, each committed to powering their next generation of hybrid’s/Electric cars with Li-Ion batteries.

However, the story changes when you delve a little deeper. First, some background. It is estimated that there is about 150 million tons of lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) in the world, the main raw material required for the Lithium Ion battery. Over half of that is in Bolivia, touted as the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’; also rich in Lithium are Chile, China, Brazil and Argentina [The Oil Drum 2010].

Currently, the largest supplier of Lithium carbonate is Chile, with reserves roughly half the size of Bolivia. Developments since the 1990’s have brought Lithium carbonate production up to 27,000 tonnes per year. Bolivia has not even begun to produce Li2CO3. The only progress to date is a pilot plant intended to produce 40 tonnes by the end of last year. Now for the hard facts:

”]
[Meridian International Research 2006
  • Mitsubishi estimates that the world will need 500,000 tonnes per year at full ramp up, taking global productionas circa 70,000 tonnes p/a, and discounting use of Li2CO3 for other applications, this is a production increase by a factor of 7 [The Oil Drum 2010].
  • Today, there are around 900 million cars in the world. To power that number with Li-Ion batteries using current technology would require 42 million tonnes of Li2CO3. [Meridian International Research 2006]

What are we to make of those numbers? Well I’ll begin by stating the obvious. In order to implement large scale use of electric vehicles, a whole new mega-industry has to be created. And it would have to be done almost overnight to make a difference with regard to meeting the emissions targets set out for 2020 by the International Energy Organisation. Now, if one of the major driving factors for a future of EV’s is the threat of climate change due to CO2 emissions, then surely the carbon cost of actually constructing this industry would certainly negate if not wipe out the advantages altogether. Especially when you consider that the vast majority of it would be located in remote, mountainous regions situated 3000m above sea level, where temperatures fluctuate daily between 25oC and -25oC. Where there is no infrastructure – roads, railways telephones or electric power [Meridian International Research 2006]. Then once the production is in place you have to ship/haul the batteries all over the world, presumably not powered by pixie dust.

However, the real irony of Li-Ion batteries lies in the second statistic. I mentioned already how there is an estimated 150 million tonnes of Li2CO3 in the world, but the amount of this which would be economically viable is obviously less due to difficulty of access or the level of impurities in the raw material. So from the second bullet point we can see that to power the current number of cars would deplete almost one third of Li2CO3 resources… This is obviously completely unsustainable, and without some sort of real breakthrough in the technology, the notion that Li-Ion batteries are going to power our cars of tomorrow is redundant, it isn’t even feasible to power the cars of today.

Of course, you might argue that Li-Ion is not the only type of battery with the potential to power EV’s, that there are numerous other useable materials with reserves to last much longer. But that is missing the point. Firstly those materials have to be mined (energy intensive & carbon emitting) where Li2CO3 had the advantage of being extracted by evaporation. Secondly many of those batteries contain substances classed as hazardous or ‘strategic’, i.e. of military importance –therefore expensive and controlled. Crucially though, none of these batteries can address the fundamental issue highlighted by the second bullet point above, these materials are finite. We would simply be exchanging one finite resource for another and merely postponing the day when the well runs dry.

‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’ – Albert Einstein

Ideals vs. Real world Implementation

My next main concern with regards the widespread use of EV’s is a simple one, and is often pointed out as the main Achilles’ heel for the electric car. For years, EV enthusiasts have been exalting the green credentials of their cars; they often glory in the lack of an exhaust pipe spewing out harmful emissions into the atmosphere. But that’s just a plain lazy attitude towards environmentalism. The fact of the matter is, you have to ask the fundamental question; where exactly is the electricity coming from and what is the cost to produce a whole new vehicle, when compared with maintaining an old one? At the moment, just 7% of the worlds energy comes from renewable sources and in a recent study conducted in Germany in collaboration between the WWF and IZES (a German institute for future energy systems) the following surprising results were obtained:

  • Best-case scenario – assumed that 1 million electric cars would be running on renewable electricity and used at maximum mileage. Carbon emissions reduction for transport sector – 1%. Overall reduction of Germany’s carbon footprint – 0.1%.
  • Worst-case scenario – electric cars would run on electricity from coal instead of from renewable sources. An electric car with a lithium ion battery powered by electricity from an old coal power plant could emit more than 200g of carbon dioxide per km, compared with current average gasoline car of 160g of carbon dioxide per km in Europe. The European Union goal for 2020 is 95g of carbon dioxide per km. [Cnet news 2009]

It is important to interpret these findings correctly, and to point out that if a greater percentage of Germany’s 41 million vehicles were electric, the carbon savings would probably be greater. But that is the target that Germany has set itself, and by all accounts they are ambitious in their aims. If this is the reality of how difficult it would be to begin a large scale transition to EV’s, and of how marginal the benefits would be while we strive towards green energy sources, then we simply can not hit the targets in time to make it count towards the CO2 targets laid out by the IEA. It was mentioned that these statistics may be specific to Germany, but still it is a clear challenge to the perception that widespread adoption of EV technology could solve the transport emissions challenge.

Fundamentally, the green effect of electric cars is determined by the source of the energy that drives them. There may not be an exhaust visible on the car, but more than likely, burning away somewhere at an efficiency of 30% (on a good day) is a coal burning station, undermining the very ethics of the electric vehicle. This aspect of EV’s is utterly inescapable. You can sort out all the outstanding issues of range, high prices, hazardous waste etc, but it’s all for nothing unless it’s paired with a renewable power source.

There is another point which alarms me quite a bit, and it is quite an instinctive one. Consider the various costs to produce a new vehicle. Materials – whether they be raw or recycled, energy is required to provide them. Manufacture – today’s mega factories consume huge masses of energy  and generate much waste. Transport – shipping millions of vehicles each year to all corners of the world. All of that energy and waste only to make redundant the embodied physical energy which went into building the last generation of vehicles. The whole operation flies in the face of the principles of sustainable development. It is a symptom of the throw-away society we have become, and a perfect example of the kind of thinking (or lack thereof) which has landed us in this position.

Comparison of typical electric and petrol cars [sustainability-ed]
Electric Petrol
Acceleration 25% slower
Range 100 miles 300 miles
Time to ‘re-fuel’ 5 hours 5 minutes
Top speed 60mph 100+mph

Now we come to the issue of economic sustainability. Firstly, let’s present the product to the typical consumer. For the price of a new luxury sedan (BMW 5 series) you can have a vehicle which can only travel circa 100 miles – perhaps less if it’s hot, takes a minimum of 5 hours to return to full charge, cannot run at motorway speeds, lacks in comfort due to electrical appliances draining the battery, lacks in power… It’s not a difficult choice to make, more to the point it’s not a choice many can make. These shortcomings in the technology coupled with prohibitively high prices quite simply cannot meet the needs of the market. Not by a long shot.  In fact, the only reason Auto companies are beginning to build such vehicles is due to the recent influx of government grants and tax subsidies, and I wonder how much of that our decimated national treasuries can handle! Also, it’s worth noting that prices may not even fall by much for quite a while. For as production ramps up and the manufacturing processes are streamlined, so too will demand for the battery materials – by far and away the most expensive component. On top of that, the cost to recycle the batteries is likely to be passed on to the consumer. So realistically it is difficult to imagine how Auto makers could sell a high volume of EV’s while cheaper alternatives exist. Remember also that for EV’s to make the desired impact in reducing carbon emissions, all this would have to be done in a very short time.

“]

I shall move on to what may be one of the biggest challenges to the sustainability of large scale electric car use; the question of whether large scale car use – of any type, is sustainable in our future. Think about it, traffic congestion is a major challenge in cities the world over – and it is a problem which only gets worse as populations expand and economies grow. Huge amounts of resources are absorbed, building endlessly larger road infrastructure to cope with the traffic. Free-market practice means Auto companies are constantly driving people to upgrade their cars, which means that most vehicles are retired long before they justify the energies and carbon footprint required to build them. Cuba does not have a car younger than 45 years! Think of how many cars your average Irish household has gone through in that time. The whole industry is unsustainable at this pace. Car production for 2009 stands at 51,971,328. This number has increased by 20% in ten years. China’s figures went up by 40% in 2006 and is set to become the second-largest car market this year. Furthermore, vehicle penetration in China stands at only 24 vehicles per 1,000 people, compared with 749 vehicles per 1,000 people in the mature markets of the G7. We can expect similar growth from India and Brazil as their economy matures and the wealth of the population increases [Worldometers 2010]. In an age where efficient use of energy and the reduction of CO2 emissions are huge factors in building a future of responsible consumption I really don’t think the continued abundant use of cars – however they are powered, can be maintained. It pains me to say it, because it’s my future we’re talking about and I personally am a keen motor enthusiast. But they would cause too many problems. An unnecessary drain on resources when public transport could actually provide a much faster and cheaper service. We have become used to the comfort of personal mobility, but as the world swells in size and energy cost and demand skyrockets, we will be left with no choice but to shirk off the romantic notion of freedom which goes with cars and shoulder the burden of a conscientious society.

Summary

So, the electric car – a dead end technology? Perhaps not, EV’s will still be needed by many who do not have access to public transport, and will play an important role in keeping the world moving when peak oil really hits home. But to envision a world where the internal combustion engine is swapped for battery power and the status quo maintained would be to learn nothing from the current transport crisis, and would in fact be totally amoral. There can no longer be any excuses made for failing to plan for future generations. That mistake has been made and we are now faced with an enormous array of challenges to turn our society into something more supportable. In order to solve the transport issues we must increase the efficiency of the system, not a tool in the system. And the best way to do that is to increase the number of people carried by each vehicle. Take a Boeing 737 vs. a Toyota Prius as a case in point.

First run the numbers on the latest model of the Boeing 737-900. The plane burns about 2.4 gallons per nautical mile, and a trip from New York to Los Angeles, California, is about 2,100 nautical miles. So that means it would take about 5,000 gallons of Jet-A fuel to fly coast to coast. Now let’s assume it is configured to hold about 175 people — and the plane is full — aren’t they all these days? That comes out to 28.5 gallons per passenger. Even if the passengers were all Toyota Prius owners (which get 50 mpg), 28.5 gallons would only get them 1,400 miles down the road. So if the choice is flying — or driving solo, the airliner wins by a huge margin. [CNN.com 2008]

Such a complicated example is not even really needed. If you’ve ever been on a road trip whereby the occupants share the fuel bill, consider how much more it would have cost to do the same journey alone?

If we are serious about running this show right we’ll have to take a broader view of the issue. EV’s will have a part to play, but it should only be a supporting role.

References

CBSNews (2009) ‘Obama Announces $2.4 Billion To Encourage Electric Vehicle Production’ [online], available: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-4877169-503544.html [accessed 20/04/10]

Tesla Motors (2008) ‘Mythbusters Part 3: Recycling our Non-Toxic Battery Packs’ [online], available: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog4/?p=66 [accessed 20/04/10]

United States Department of Energy (2000) ‘Costs of Lithium-Ion Batteries for Vehicles’ [online], available: http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/TA/149.pdf

The Oil Drum (2010) ‘An Updated Look at Lithium Production’ [online], available: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6228?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+theoildrum+%28The+Oil+Drum%29&utm_content=Twitter

Meridian International Research (2006) ‘The Trouble with Lithium’ [online], available: http://www.evworld.com/library/lithium_shortage.pdf

Cnet News (2009) ‘Study: Electric cars not as green as you think’ [online], available: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10231102-54.html

J. Thijssen (2002) ‘Viable and Sustainable Energy Strategies Grounded in Source-to-Service Analyses’ [online], available: http://www.ev-sae-china.org/index.files/E19.pdf

CNN.com (2008) ‘Behind the Scenes: ‘Hypermilers’ test limits of fuel conservation’ [online], available: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TECH/06/03/btsc.hypermiling/index.html?section=cnn_topstories&eref=yahoo#cnnSTCText

2010

Energy v Hapiness SHOWDOWN!

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 5:56 pm

Energy Happiness

In this week of study we looked at a particularly interesting concept with regard to happiness levels vs. energy consumption. The various statistics we examined show that the happiness levels of a population increased dramatically as the energy is used to meets the needs of the people. But after a certain point, there was almost no gain in happiness. As illustrated below, where we can see that the Philippians has the same happiness rating as the US

Of course, to many people this is no surprise, certainly not to myself. The story of the divorced C.O. sitting on his millions with false friends vs that of the lowly lifelong labourer with a simple yet wholesome existance is one we are all familliar with.

If you are still not convinced however, perhalps an example of a country which actually exists and grows on these principles will persuade you. The Kingdom of Bhutan, bordered by India and China, has a per capita income of just US$ 1,321, ranked 124th in the world, they are also ranked 132nd in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI). So not exactly an economic powerhouse.

In fact, Bhutan has been living in a virtual time warp. Television and the internet only came to the country in 1999; even more incredible is that the first daily newspaper has only arrived in 2008! Yet despite this medieval existence, an incredible 1% of Bhutanese reported being unhappy! With 45% proclaiming themselves ‘Very Happy Indeed’

In a response to accusations in 1987 by a journalist from UK’s Financial Times that the pace of development in Bhutan was slow, the King said that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”

Not happy enough

Watching these videos, you can’t help but feel envious of the Bhutanese. They have a government that not only seems to truly care for the real wellbeing of its people; they also seem to have the wisdom and deft handling to make it work. It makes you wonder why no our country, with all its wealth and fat-cats, has no such policies on public happiness. Especially considering what a high suicide rate we have. On top of that again is the simple fact that if your government made you happy, would you not give them your vote?? Instead, we pound the path of economic this and financially-viable that, until your face melts off with boredom and we all end up looking like Brian Cowen.

The lessons we can learn from Bhutan seem so blaringly obvious. I am honestly baffled as to why their society is so unique. It’s enough to drive a man mad. I mean, at what point do we turn around to ourselves and say, ‘Actually, we’re in a pretty good place right now, maybe we should start thinking about what really matters’. It’s easy to see what went wrong; we all got caught up in rapidly getting bigger, better, richer, fatter… We lost sight of the basic things so consumed were we with development. Maybe this lull is what we need to chill out and take stock. But I don’t think it can just simultaneously happen to us individually. What we need, is a dedicated Minister for Happiness. Brain Cowen need not apply.

2010

Sad sad situation..

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 1:05 am

In preparation for writing this blog, I watched the International Energy Agency’s press conference for the 2009 World Energy Outlook. They are a hugely reputable organisation, acting as energy advisors to 28 member countries and the results of this annual report are highly regarded by experts (experts mind you) in all relevant fields. I found it to be hugely informative and insightful, but more than that for the first time I started to hear some real, attainable method to restoring our global energy security, at the same time keeping our co2 emissions below the agreed apocalypse threshold for runaway climate change.

However, not all have seen it this way. One of the means the IEA have for assessing our situation is a reference state in 2050 in which there is no policy change, and the world continues at current energy requirements. It says that based on the current trends (and I’m not one to question their homework), our reliance on fossil fuels will cause a temperature rise of 6 degrees. Which if you haven’t heard by now, would be catastrophic for the planet (well humanity really, the earth can sort itself out once we’re gone). But it also tells us that global energy demand is set to rise, and that 40% of this demand alone will come from China.

Now you might think – we’re screwed, the Commie’s ain’t going to hold back on their development for the sake of us capitalist pig-dogs, not after we caused this situation in the first place. But surprisingly Fatih Birol, the IEA Chief Economist, went on to say that China, has in fact set its own targets for energy security and pollution minimalisation. Which, if reached, would equate to 25% of the total reduction in carbon emissions needed? He then added weight to this by stating that China has a much better proven track record of reaching its targets than most other of the big players. Indeed, he names the US as the greatest challenger to the Energy revolution

This brings me along to the next point I noticed from the video. The WEO report was issued in anticipation of Copenhagen, and much of what Mr Birol said was compounded by an urging for this summit to make some real decisions. To set some serious targets and to send out a strong united signal to industries and the general population that this thing is serious and that change is a-comin’. Well obviously, as you all know, Copenhagen was a flop, and it may well cost us big in terms of the time we have to scale this mountain. I see the recent financial downturn as a fantastic opportunity. Firstly there has been a drop in energy demand for the first time since the 1980’s, which affords us a little extra breathing space in terms of getting our act together. And secondly, there are skilled people, out of work, who with the right governmental backing and enterprising spirit, could set about developing ways to rectify our current crisis.

However, getting back to what I said in the introductory paragraph, the IEA did give a reasonable plan for getting ourselves out of this mess. It’s mechanism for effective transition to a stable climate and energy state classes countries according to 3 tiers; developed countries such as EU states, the USA etc.; countries whose development is about to take off such as China, India, Brazil; and finally third world countries such as those found  south of the Sahara in Africa etc. In the case of the first tier, we must set ourselves tough co2 targets to be reached by 2020. The second tier can continue to develop until they reach 2020 when they too must set strict emission limits. Finally, the third tier must be allowed to develop without and international restrictions. This progressive development they say, should see peak demand for fossil fuels at around 2025, after which the world can strive towards a state of stable energy supply, all while keeping co2 targets and temperature increases below the magic numbers. They also mention what they have identified as key to meeting these targets. But what were really stressed were investments and policies. Investment in future and transition energy technologies (i.e., nuclear power plants & location/extraction of additional oil/gas reserves). The adoption of domestic and industrial sector policies (e.g. automotive & aircraft). Finally the introduction in tier 1 countries of trade caps, although I was unsure if he was referring to energy trading or general commodities. I assumed he was speaking about regulating the supply of energy resources to ensure consistent and fair pricing. It is something I shall look into.

Now, this stuff sounded great, it’s what governments and people want; figures, deadlines and targets. No pie in the sky histrionics, just numbers to work towards and to display on election posters. Whatever you views on climate change, the issue of energy stability is not one to be debated.  You would think therefore, that the leaders of the world would have made it a priority to broker a deal, to wrangle some sort of agreement out of such an important conference…

But alas the governments have so far failed to act, and the enormity of the challenge is such that it needs global co-ordination and collaboration. Watching that press release brought home how large a failure Copenhagen was for humanity, the IEA made all their recommendations to be adopted then, there, now. More and more I am getting the feeling that we are running short of time, and worse, I am not seeing all that much in the way of sensible action or words.

link to the IEA press release of the World Energy Outlook 2009

2010

Climate Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 1:02 am

Climate change. I won’t blame you if you grimaced. It’s a topic which has people on both sides of the argument foaming at the mouth and spewing out all sorts of weighted evidence and dodgy scaremongering. But really, to spend any more time arguing over whether we are causing it or not is a bit like shouting at a bouncer to let you back into the pub. It’s not going to help you mate. The fact of the matter is, by the time we know if we are causing climate instability; it will be too late to take action. In the past, perhaps people could be forgiven for waving off the minority of those who were concerned about global warming, they were seen as somewhat eccentric, and no-one likes to be hear predictions of disaster unless these BiiiiiG changes are made. But at this point, there are too many majorly nerdy organisations, too many people with reputations and many letters after their names, who are urging change to simply wave away with a ‘crazy hippies’ style remark. Granted, there are genuine arguments which say that we have had very little effect, that in all the earth’s history there has rarely been a time when the climate was not changing… but can anyone seriously keep a straight face and say that it is a risk we should take?

At this point some hillbilly, redneck, bible-toting, numbskull begins to get all jumpy and starts to shout about how it is written in the book, about how Jesus will provide. I think this shows a bit of inconsistency, I mean, I wonder how many such people were in favour of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, when all the evidence for a pre-emptive strike turned out to be totally bogus, the ruse of a disturbingly naive presidency. But the threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was such that for a time at least, the nation rallied to the cause. If only the US government would put there propaganda machine to work for the cause of humanity.

Really it boils down to this; continue along current course with the economy and creature comforts intact (until the oil runs out at least) and we take our chance that the climate will remain stable and unaffected by our input. Or; make massive changes to secure our species’ future, but risk damaging the economy somewhat.

Why are we even debating this anymore? Where are the protests? The marches? The riots? If a government took a comparable risk with the state treasury I guarantee you’d hear more about it. Perhaps the problem is we are afraid to accept the possibility of runaway climate change, because of the hugeness of its predictions. Or perhaps we fool ourselves. We shimmy around the subject because all the solutions and measures which are talked about seem to implicate a massive drop off in our freedoms. Restrictions on this, limits to that, cutbacks, shortages… No-one likes to dwell on such a dark future when the present is so bright. But come on people, stop being selfish; stop burying your head in the sand.

We. Must. Make. Sacrifices. And maybe not as much as is feared, for the one real ray of hope is the ingenuity resilience and versatility of our kind. We have accomplished much and we have the potential to go far. But we may have set fire to our own house, and we are doing the equivalent of hiding in the wardrobe.

2010

Swan Song Already Sung?

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 10:51 pm

‘Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ – The Brundtland Report 1987.

By now, most people are familiar with the above quote. It has been used in so many reports, articles, discussions and by politicians the world over. But what does it really mean? What does it really say about where we are and where we should be going? In fact, I would contest that this description of sustainable development is in fact somewhat disingenuous. It’s a sort of an idealistic sentiment, which does not address the seriousness of what we are facing, or the enormity of change required for us to actually exist in a state of sustainability. It implies that we can almost continue as we are, but with more windmills and solar panels. With life, it’s luxuries and our rampant consumerism remaining pretty much intact.

I do not believe this is possible any more. At the heart of our current crisis is the mentality of the western world. The cornerstone on which our society is built – Capitalism. The drive of each individual to rise to the top financially – i.e. to sell. Whatever business you are in, the goal is to maximise profit. This is why we have so much of our goods imported from all around the world. At some point along the way, someone realised they could undercut all the local manufactures and outsell his rivals by outsourcing the product to a place where labour or tax or whatever was much cheaper. An enterprising person, whomsoever it was. But the result of this now is that so much of our everyday items have to be shipped or flown from all over the globe creating huge amounts of carbon emissions and the crazy situation whereby some of the apples we eat in Ireland come from New Zealand (!).

Capitalism has raged unchecked for too long. We buy new cars every other year, new mobile phones every six months, the latest must-have i-whatever, DVD upgrades to blu-ray, TV’s… I could go on. It suits all these companies to constantly bring out the new models, and for you, the consumer to discard your old model, even if it is functioning perfectly. We have become a THROWAWAY SOCIETY. There is no longer a trade for the repair man, and none of us seem to notice how much money and resources we are wasting.

At the core of any solution must be a change in social values. We must learn to appreciate the real value of our resources. Cost must mean more than an amount of money; it must include the price paid by the environment in its build and disposal. Development must be controlled by a green authority – people are incredibly resourceful and adaptable, money will be made and a profit turned in almost any case. But the reverse cannot be trusted; companies will simply find the cheapest route to exploit any corporate tax incentives etc. Take hybrid cars as a case in point. They are no better than your average diesel for fuel economy/CO2 emissions and in its lifetime will actually cause more environmental damage than say, a Range Rover which can be produced and recycled locally. But more and more car manufacturers are announcing new hybrid models, and we are seeing more and more of them on the road. Because it’s easy for them to build something when the technology already exists and people are often ignorant of the figures outside of ‘mpg’ & carbon tax and feel good that they are buying a ‘green’ vehicle.

So how do you enforce this sort of tough love? What sort of government has the drive and future-vision to haul us back from our wicked ways, impose restrictions which would change our world and take us out of our comfort zone? The way things are at the moment, they would be voted out almost immediately. Look at what is happening when people are asked to take pay cuts? No one wants to live a life of any less luxury than that which we have become used to.

Perhaps it is time for another social upheaval as experienced in the 60’s and 70’s. When revolution was in the air and musicians sang songs of change. There was a real belief that music could bring peace to the world, and while the goals may not have been achieved, there can be no argument against the effort.  I daresay what’s coming in the coming 20 years will make those decades look like a rehearsal. At least I certainly hope that is the case, otherwise, humanity may have already sung its swan song.

2010

Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — nialloflynn @ 9:40 pm

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