Monday 1 November 2021

Environment Monday - Why the COP26 conference is doomed to fail

 I suppose that I should be pleased that world leaders are gathering in Glasgow to 'Save The Planet'. I couldn't be less cynical about the process. Why? There are many reasons, but the primary one is because we've had the technology and the means to address this for decades and as a species we've done nothing to address these issues, even though the scale of the problems have been known for decades. 

Let's just have a quick trawl through a few things that could have made a difference that we, the UK, simply ignored or even disregarded

1. Green milk delivery. We used to have milkmen. The milk was delivered using electric vehicles, the bottle were returned and reused hundreds of times. You could also get eggs, bread, etc. 

2. Electric public transport. The worlds first electric railway was built in Germany in 1881. London has had an electric public transport system for well over 100 years. Sadly in the 1950's we ditched the tram network in favour of diesel buses. The latest in the UK's sorry history of willfully embracing pollution was the recent decision by Railfreight to switch it's operations from electric to diesel power. Boris's budget also incentivised short haul air travel, whilst giving no incentives to rail, which is far less polluting.

To put it simply, if we'd carried on doing what London Transport was doing in the 20's and 30's, we'd have better air quality and be in a far stronger position.

3. Insulation. If every home in the country was properly insulated, the UK would see a significant drop in carbon emissions. It would also help address energy poverty for many less well off people in cold homes. Insulation solutions have been with us for decades, but we are still woefully behind the curve. We should make proper insulation mandatory for all building works and house sales. For the record, I don't think sitting on the M25 is the way to make the argument. 

4. Tidal power. Again the concept of generation of power using tidal barrage's is not new. The UK is an island surrounded by water, unlike wind and solar power, tidal power is 100% predictable and reliable. There are issues where there are established rivers, but there are plenty of inlets that could be dammed and produce huge amounts of power with zero environmental impact.  

5. Food waste. When food rots, it gives off methane that is what we use as natural gas. If the UK collected all of the food waste and had plants to produce methane, we'd make a sizeable dent in the amount of  energy we need to import. This process would less global warming as methane is a greehouse gas and when food rots in your bin, it contributes to global warming. This 2016 report from Bloomberg describes how an entire town in the UK is being powered by energy derived from waste food. It has been estimated that if the UK properly embraced energy efficiency, this could account for 5-10% of the nations energy requirements. Here's a few facts

 The UK throws away 9.52 million tonnes of food per year

 This emits 25 million tonnes of CO2e – more than Kenya’s total annual emissions

 One-third of food produced globally goes to waste

In the London Borough of Barnet, the Conservative Council abandoned a successful recycling scheme for food waste. Not a success story.

6. Heat recycling. When Battersea Power station was operational, the heat generated a a by product of electricity generation was used to heat water for a nearby council estate. This was an excellent example of joined up thinking in town planning. Sadly such examples are few and far between. I'd like to see ground source heat pumps to be mandatory for all new builds.

7. Solar energy management. One of the biggest problems for the UK when using solar energy is that it is unpredictable. Energy storage is seen as a 'holy grail' but there are other simple and practical measures that could be taken to use this more efficiently. If we got a discount for charging our electric cars when the sun was shining, this would make a big difference. The technology exists to make cars have the intelligence to charge when the sun is shining. Of course if your battery is low, you'd need to charge ASAP if you needed it, but if you had the option to charge it when it was cheaper, if it was outside the house or office all day, many people would take advantage of it. 

8. Walking. Perhaps the most boring solution of all would be to get more of us to walk when making small journeys. Anyone who has had to drive during the 'school run' will know just how much traffic is generated by short journeys. We really should be encouraging parents to use local schools and to ensure that their children walk there. Traffic would flow more smoothly so there would be the added bonus that there are less cars idling. When I was a child, almost everyone either walked or got the bus to school. We've got lazy and we wonder why our children are overweight. But does this ever get mentioned?

If I was doing Boris Johnson's job, I'd have said  "What quick wins can we get?" If we just looked at what we've stopped doing and could do, we'd be in a far better place to lecture everyone else.

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