Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How do we turn the Climate Emergency into useful Government action?

Schoolkids are striking for the climate. Extinction Rebellion stopped the flow of traffic in London for a week. Greens made huge gains in the recent Euro Elections. We have had success in getting many councils and cities to declare a Climate Emergency.

So what next? What action do we actually have to take in response to the Climate Emergency?

We can always do more as individuals to green our lifestyle, but if we stop there, we are letting Government off the hook. They hold the keys, they set the framework in which the economy operates, and Government needs to act.

Unfortunately Government thinking is dominated by neo-liberals who are instinctively averse to intervening in the market, but let's be positive, and assume that the pendulm has finished its rightward swing, and the time of the neo-liberals is nearly over.

So what should Government do?

First, let us look at where greenhouse gases are coming from.


Although the figure above is highly simplified, it gives a good idea of which sectors need to be tackled to bring greenhouse gases (GHGs) down. It deserves study. The three pie charts below expand the components of each of the slices in the main chart.

So these are the actions Government has to take in each sector:

Electrical power is the largest producer of GHGs. So:
  1. Stop wasting electricity. 1% is wasted in overheating the National Grid when it is in oversupply. This can be solved simply by switching on storage heaters and putting electric Vehicles on charge when the grid is in oversupply. This is easy to do, because frequency goes up when in oversupply, so a simple frequency detector can operate the charge switch
  2. Install more Renewable Energy (RE). The Tory Government has been hostile to RE in many ways. They need to end this hostility and stimulate RE.
  3. Stop subsidising fossil fuels. The Government gives about £3.6 Billion to fossil fuels per year. 
  4. Stop allowing fossil fuels to donate to political parties. The Tory Party received about £400,000 from fossil fuels before a recent election.
  5. Impose a Carbon Tax, and use some of the proceeds to boost the income of the poorest,  who suffer disproportionately from carbon taxes. It is true that there are better measures than carbon taxes such as Tradeable Energy Quotas, but the carbon tax can operate until people are familiar with the concept.
  6. Roll out the Green New Deal to save energy (see below).
  7. Other things that I have left out. I'm not a specialist, I am just setting out a few blindingly obvious basics from the top of my head in a way that people can understand.
Industry. Second largest:
  1. Energy conservation throughout industry.
  2. Stop wasting materials. Get a copy of Bills of Health and look up refrigerators in the chapter on waste - basically a refrigerator company was ordering door seals that were 10" too long. When they ordered the right length they saved thousands of pounds a year.
  3. Stop making and marketing trash (which is a waste of energy and materials) and start making durable and repairable goods.
  1. Re-nationalise the train and bus services
  2. Facilitate coach travel, which is very fuel efficient
  3. Make public transport cheaper than the petrol costs of private motor cars
  4. Survey usage, and send minibuses instead of buses at the end of the day when there are only a few people using the buses
  5. Facilitate cycling and walking. We get a healthier population as a result
  6. Slow down the speed of ocean going vessels. A typical ship doing 20 knots will consume 60 tonnes of fuel a day.   At 17.5 knots its consumption will drop to 50 tonnes a day.
  7. Kite or sail assistance can make ships more energy efficient.
  8. Air travel costs must reflect the true environmental costs - not just on the effects of the fossil fuels, but also the effects on the NHS of illnesses caused by air travel.
  9. Let homes be built nearer to places of work
Land use and biomass burning
  1. Stop burning biomass as waste, and instead use it as a source of fuel. 
  2. Land use needs to change so that wildlife habitats can be replaced and restored. This is labour intensive work, and Green Wage Subsidy (see below) will help
  1. Stop subsidising cattle farming, and instead subsidise growers to make vegetables cheaper
  2. Educate people about the health benefits of eating less meat
  3. Separate toxic industrial waste from domestic sewage, so that organic farmers can use sterilised human waste in place of the animal waste that they use to fertilise the soil
Fossil fuel extraction, refining and distribution
  1. Stop fracking immediately because it is, expensive, industrialises the countryside, pollutes water and air and causes health problems
  2. Invest in biogas (Fracking gas may only last 10-20 years, but biogas will last as long as we eat food)
  3. Since it is impossible to stop our fossil fuel addiction tomorrow, we must manage it better 
  4. Stop subsidies to fossil fuels (see above)
  5. Stop flaring from oil wells and refineries. This is a ridiculously macho practice which wastes about 2% of the energy of a drill. Instead of being flared, the gas can be compressed and used
  6. Disinvest in fossil fuels 
  7. Prepare plans to re-employ people in the fossil fuel industry in other industries
  8. Green New Deal (see below)
Waste Disposal

  1. Waste recycling as opposed to disposal in landfill is intrinsically less energy demanding, since it is easier to re-melt aluminium (for example) utensil than to extract it from its ore
  2. Proper disposal of organic waste in digesters produces biogas
  3. Wood waste can produce wood gas. Both these gases can be fed into the  existing  gas grid
  4. Other organic materials, e.g. reeds can be turned into biogas

Residential use
  1. This is where the Green New Deal comes in. This scheme will create thousands of new jobs in energy conservation businesses that will reduce energy wastage and reduce fuel bills for all, especially those in fuel poverty. GND also has sensible plans on how to finance this service.
  2. GND only lasts as long as there are  buildings and plant that need insulation. It can be complemented by the Green Wage Subsidy. GWS is a simple scheme that makes benefits like JSA, Universal credit and ESA able to be carried in to energy conservation and other green work. It is a step towards the introduction of Basic Income in a gradual, cost effective and non-threatening way. It goes further than GND, as it can be applied to all other forms of work that benefit society or environment, namely:
    1 energy conservation
    2 renewable energy technologies
    3 energy efficient goods manufacture
    4 pollution control technology
    5 waste minimisation
    6 repair 
    7 recycling
    8 water management
    9 sustainable agriculture
    10 forestry and timber use
    11 countryside management
    12 housing - new building and refurbishment
    13 improvements to visual environment
    14 public transport
    15 education and training
    16 counselling, caring and healing
    17 community work
    18 leisure and tourism
    19 innovation, research and development in these fields
Forestry and Trees
Trees are a significant store of carbon, and one mature tree takes 20Kg of CO2 out of the air per annum. A 40 year old tree will have absorbed one tonne of Carbon, which means it will have extracted 3.67 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
UK forest cover is about 13% of the total land area, which is low in comparison to Europe. We could reasonably bring it up to about 30%, and this would store a significant amount of carbon. In planting more trees, we would be both creating more work and creating a more pleasant environment and helping more wildlife to exist.

These are just some of the many economic changes that are needed to address the Climate Emergency and the Extinction Crisis. Note that many of the measures are labour-intensive, so that there will be no place for forced unemployment in the coming green changes that will help us to make the transition from the present dysfunctional economy to a sustainable economy.

[note: this post was updated on 13/6/19]

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