Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Climate Wars

If you missed "The Age of Stupid" -- or if you did see it and still have some appetite remaining for thinking about the future -- then try having a listen to the radio documentary podcast "Climate Wars". It's an interesting and thoughtful look at the future of the planet, focusing on the geopolitical consequences of climate change. I'll give you fair warning though; while there are some notes of optimism, they are few and far between.

The presenter of the series is Canadian journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer, an expert in international relations and military history. A few years ago, he started to notice that military strategists in several countries were getting increasingly concerned about climate change as a security threat. With the grim humour that is his stock in trade, he notes that the military's scanning for threats is partly a function of the need to justify their existence, so their advice should be taken with a grain of salt: "never ask the barber if you need a haircut." He decided to critically examine whether people might actually go to war over global warming -- and he concludes that we very well might.

Through interviews with experts around the world, he explores how a rise in global average temperature of two or three degrees is likely to result in dramatic shifts in food production and availability of fresh water. These in turn would trigger conflicts over resources and mass migrations of climate refugees. (Indeed, he argues, we are already seeing climate refugees on the move, but we're not calling them that yet.) In the course of writing his book and making this documentary, he says he learned four things:

1. "... a lot of the scientists who study climate change are in a state of suppressed panic these days. Things seem to be moving much faster than their models predicted."

2. "... military strategists are right. Global warming is going to cause wars, because some countries will suffer a lot more than others. That will make dealing with the global problem of climate change a lot harder."

3. "... we are probably not going to meet the deadlines. The world's countries will probably not cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough, in time, to keep the warming from going past 2 degrees celsius. That is very serious."

4. "... it may be possible to cheat on the deadlines. I think we will need a way to cheat, at least for a while, in order to avoid a global disaster."

If we do nothing, Dyer warns, we face a bleak future of famine, war, and fortified borders separating the fortunate few from the desperate many. But he is optimistic that we can avoid the doomsday scenario. The technological parts of the solution are readily available. The real challenge will be forging a global consensus before tensions rise to the point where consensus is no longer possible. "The only really hard of this", he says, "is the politics." He pauses. "The politics. Always the politics."

Listen online here or you can download the podcast in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

- By Brian Lucas

Thursday, 12 March 2009

For Better and For Worse

Our transport system needs to be bought into the 21st century, where prices are kept at an affordable level for all.
Trains should be running on time with fewer cancellations and maintenance to tracks done at a faster pace, which wouldn't add any strain on our already failing train network.
There is a new proposal to have a national rail link which would link all major cities on a faster route, which should reduce journey times.
As tracks on the West Coast Main Line into London via Birmingham are being upgraded/repaired which has taken a few years to finish, this has caused major disruptions to our train services with cancellations, delays and even no trains in either direction being able to operate at all.
If all our tracks are to be upgraded to fit into this new faster train system, would this not cause even more huge disruptions to even more train services?
Poorly managed transport puts more and more people off using public transport, which means more people are taking to the roads each day, as they no longer feel that they can rely on a failing over crowded transport system with expensive not value for money ticket prices.
If we are to reduce our carbon emissions it is vitally important that all our public transport modes especially trains are running efficiently and effectively and prices kept at a fair rate as to not to tempt people to want to jump into a car as an alternative to using public transport.
Widening of motorways is not an answer to any of our transport solutions, neither is the building of bypasses, as all we would do is carry on widening motorway's, building more bypasses and our countryside would be reduced to a shrunken landscape of mass junctions for cars, therefore we would still be left with never ending problems with public transport, more carbon being put into our atmosphere rather than being dramatically reduced.

Friday, 6 March 2009

I'm With Stupid

In a one-off special event, The Age of Stupid is coming to Birmingham!

This phenominal film is set 50 years in the future in a world ravaged by climate change. Pete Postlethwaite plays a man looking back at archive footage from 2007 asking the question "why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?" The Age of Stupid has received rave reviews and Mark Lynas has described it as "the most powerful piece of cultural discourse on climate change ever produced."

On 15th March the film is having its "People's Premiere" at 70 cinemas accross the UK and Birmingham's Vue at Star City is one of them. As well as a screening of the film there'll be guest speakers, live link-ups to the solar-powered premiere in Leicester Square and more.

We want to make sure this event is so popular that other cinemas show the film when it goes on general release on 20th March, so please book your tickets now.

“We could have saved ourselves, but we didn’t. It’s amazing. What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?” - The Archivist, The Age of Stupid

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

How to make your “white wedding” green?

To many suppliers, weddings are a commercial dream but a rocky road for the environmentalist to travel. So this weekend there is a great show going on at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the

For me, I married a few years ago and found that trying to get ethical suppliers and ideas for your wedding was a challenge with many temptations out there. So for all you "green" brides and all those looking for ideas for the home and parties, make it down to the Botanical Gardens this Sunday, 8th March from 11 am to 4 pm.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Renewable Gas ?

We have tended to bracket gas, along with coal and oil, as the problem – “non renewable fossil fuels”. But natural gas is methane, a product of the decomposition of organic matter. It is a pollutant and a greenhouse gas when it leaks out of sewerage works and council landfill sites, but potentially it is a fuel. Can we turn this problem methane – which is currently an argument for incinerating waste - into a low carbon energy source?

National Grid has recently produced a study, which says that a substantial part of North Sea gas production could be replaced by controlled bio-digestion of wastes; domestic, commercial and agricultural. Dry gasification by heating in the absence of air may be useful for solids like timber. The gas could be injected into the existing gas grid. Half our domestic heating needs could be met in this way, says the report. It would all be recent solar energy, fixed by plants, potentially both low carbon and renewable. Anything that was once alive can be gasified, potentially. The only drawback is that all this carbon would go straight to the air and have no chance to be locked in the soil (as with composting).

Gas can be piped, stored, even compressed. All the systems to distribute and use it are already in our buildings. Most of the housing of the future is already built and what we see around us. We must insulate and use solar hot water, but will still need a store of winter heat. Renewable gas is well suited to this role. We can even make electricity with it, using combined heat and power boilers or fuel cells, which are starting to be available at domestic scale.

We usually think of renewable energy in terms of sun, wave and wind generated electricity, but most of our energy requirement is actually for space heating. Perhaps environmentalists need to talk more to the gas industry.
John Newson
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