Thursday, 31 March 2011

FT says energy sector "ripe" for smart changes that monitor use of natural resources

The Financial Times has published a digest on IT and sustainability, which includes reports on mapping water leaks, intelligent resource management, greater accuracy ahead of building construction, and systems that allow businesses to track their environmental performance.

Laura Ipsen of Cisco Systems says:

"The only way we can make smart changes to our planet is by using technology to manage, monitor and control ... natural resources."

The FT says:

"The energy sector is ripe for this kind of transformation."

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

St Columb's Gill Harper reports on her learning-exchange week in California

Gill Harper, School Business Manager at our award-winning St Columb Minor School, is spending the week in California on the West Coast Green Alliance's learning exchange, organised by the IPPR.

Gill writes:

All of us in the group clearly come from very different backgrounds and organisations but all have a common thread which is that we all want to provide opportunities for youngsters, but particularly people living in the more socially deprived areas, to access the skills and training opportunities that will lead to decent green jobs with a decent salary and a career path.

On Monday we met with the leaders of the Apollo Alliance and the WeCan coalition who have clearly driven policies to stimulate the transition to a clean energy economy whilst providing green skills and job opportunities for the most disadvantaged Americans in San Francisco and other cities in California.

Today, Tuesday, we travelled out of the city to meet with Tara Marchant, the Director of Oakland Emerald Cities Collaborative . She explained how their consortium has successfully worked collaboratively to drive energy efficiency strategies with a focus on retrofitting urban buildings. Their vision is to create jobs that have life-time outcomes for youngsters in California.

This was followed by a fascinating visit to RichmondBUILD where we witnessed a lesson during a 15 week job-training programme for local residents from 18 upwards, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, in green careers. This programme is primarily funded by the federal and state government but also has the benefit of supportive partners. The success of the programme was very evident from talking to the people enrolled on the training programme and hearing some of the success stories over the last 3 years – it is being driven by the Director who has a clear vision that makes it happen.

Our final visit today has been to Sun Power, a very successful renewable energy company who manufacture Solar PV panels. Their California Offices and one of their smaller assembling plants is housed in a fascinating old warehouse which was originally where Ford motor cars were assembled!

(image: RichmondBUILD students on the job training programme)

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Rahimafrooz installs more than 200,000 solar systems in Bangladesh

Since Rahimafrooz won an Ashden Award in 2006 it has continued to design and install new solar systems at an impressive rate. We recently got an update from them detailing their latest milestones. It was jam-packed with firsts.

Rahimafrooz has now installed over 200,000 solar home systems. It has also installed Bangladesh’s first ever specially-designed flood irrigation system, its first water purification system, and its largest centralised off-grid solar system. The flood irrigation system will allow 42 farmers to irrigate 40 acres of land and enable them to grow crops three times during the year instead of once. The 8kWp solar panels use technology that tracks the sun to make best use of the eight hours of sunlight and will provide 800,000 litres of water per day.

The cyclonic storms of Sidr and Aila, accompanied by furious tidal surges in 2007 and 2009 left people in Morelganj facing a crisis – safe drinking water. Rahimafrooz has now installed a solar-powered water purification system to provide drinking water for more than 8,000 people. The system integrates solar panels, a solar water pump and a water purification unit. Rahimafrooz is keen to replicate the success of solar-powered water purification system in other areas of the country where arsenic and salinity contaminate supplies.

Rahimafrooz has also installed the largest off-grid solar centralised system in Barkal, Rangamati. The 10 kWp system provides lighting for the entire community living in Barkal.

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Monday, 28 March 2011

Last year South Farnborough Infants followed our LESS CO2 programme. This year they're going even further

South Farnborough Infant School took part in last year’s South East LESS CO2 programme, which was designed to kick-start schools on a journey to reduce their CO2 emissions.

The school has just written to us, now that the LESS CO2 programme is over, with their to-do list for the coming year.

We thought it was well worth sharing:

  • Keep embedding sustainability into the curriculum – so far we've had great feedback from Year 1’s. Next we want to make a shared year group Green Board, and Green Summit to celebrate work by each year group.
  • Keep loaning energy monitors to parents. This has been a success - one winning family made a massive 32% energy saving in the second week of the loan and were rewarded with a top-of-the-range brand new monitor.
  • Install sun tubes in corridors by Easter 2011. We’ve already spent £7,000 this year so far on eco improvements to the building, including eco lighting in the main corridors.
  • Get together with our feeder schools to bring sustainability into the forefront of the South Farnborough schools staff, children and parents' minds, and look at sustainable procurement possibilities.
  • Make the most out of our monitoring by installing an Energy Display Meter and using the data in our curriculum.
This year we are heading down to the South West to roll out the LESS CO2 programme with 15 schools in Devon and Cornwall.

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Friday, 25 March 2011

Okehampton College achieves another 25% drop in gas across year

Okehampton College - 2010 Ashden Awards
Okehampton College had already achieved impressive energy reductions when it received an Ashden Award in 2010. But the College's steps to reduce their energy consumption and CO2 did not stop there. Over the last year the College has reduced its gas consumption by 25%.

Keith Webber, Community Technology Coordinator at Okehampton, says:

"Our energy budget was set at £100,000 for the financial year - which is typically what we had previously been spending. But our net energy expenditure for this financial year will be around £55,500. This includes sports pitch floodlights and all electrical meters on site and takes into account the clean energy cash back of around £7,000 from feed-in tariffs. I believe there is still a further £10,000 of savings we can make."

Okehampton College's total energy consumption has gone down from 649,286 kWh in 2005 to 252,000 kWh in 2010. This represents a huge cost saving.

"If we were consuming at our 2005 rates, our bill would now be 2.5 times as much. We now have well-developed plans to use further renewable energy installations to realistically reach zero bills by this time next year. Importantly, this will also dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions as well."

Keith says there are strong financial incentives to continue looking for more energy savings:

"We currently are still only paying 9p a unit for electricity but can expect a sharp rise when the contract expires, this could increase by over 30% to maybe 12 or 13p a unit."

(Pic: Keith Webber, the Community Technology Coordinator at Okehampton College)

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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Budget blow to zero carbon homes

Plans set out in the Budget renege on promises to be 'the greenest government ever'. The government missed a real opportunity to create new green jobs, meet our carbon reduction targets and pave the way for our low-carbon revolution in the UK.

What our winners need is confidence. It is the one thing that will allow communities, individuals, businesses, social enterprises, entrepreneurs and local governments to work in partnership to affect change and reduce our carbon emissions. This confidence comes from long-term policy, long-term reassurance and long-term targets.

Take for example the watering down of 2016 zero carbon homes policy in yesterday’s Budget. This was a policy that was working. It was stimulating innovation and creativity. Other countries looked to us as a shining example because low-carbon industry in the UK was starting to flourish. You could say just the same about the solar industry.

But yesterday’s announcements added further gloom to the uncertainty created by the early review of feed-in tariffs.

Essentially, there is no longer a zero carbon homes policy and we now have an un-ambitious green investment bank that can’t borrow. From flourish to flounder. What a shame.

(pic: 2003 Ashden award-winners BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) is the UK's largest 'carbon-neutral' eco-village)

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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

This is the big one in today's budget

Update: Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne announces £2bn extra funding for Green Investment Bank - to launch in 2012

Green measures at a glance

Reactions on Twitter:

Dan Roberts, Guardian news editor: "Money for green investment bank but extra incentives for flying and driving. is that what they call joined up government?"

Kamal Ahmed, Sunday Telegraph Business Editor: "Delay to Green Investment Bank funding; Ingrid Holmes E3G: "It's like buying a powerful car and driving it around with the hand brake on"

New Economics Foundation: "Green Investment Bank resources trebled. So three peanuts rather than just one then?"

Institute of Mechanical Engineers: "Green Investment Bank needs £20bn to update infrastructure. Gets £3bn - a drop in the ocean..."

From earlier: What to look out for in today's budget: the Green Investment Bank:

This is the big one and the coalition has nowhere to hide. The GIB is intended to play a central role in driving the huge investment - £370bn by 2025, say some – needed in low carbon infrastructure in order to make the UK's economy green and sustainable.

The GIB was a Conservative and LibDem manifesto pledge, and a coalition pledge.

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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

In the US, suburban shopping malls can become green community spaces

At the recent Ecobuild conference, architect Ellen Dunham-Jones spoke about how some suburban shopping malls in the United States are changing into green community spaces. Juliet Heller reports

With much of the suburban landscape in the United State now aging, architect Ellen Dunham-Jones, author of Retrofitting Suburbia, says there is an opportunity to re-develop and re-invent malls and business parks into green and “walk-able” spaces.

The carbon footprint in suburbs is three times bigger than in cities. People in the suburbs depend on fossil fuels, particularly oil, and there are public health issues also emerging. For instance, obesity from the sedentary lifestyle is leading to heart disease and diabetes.

There has also been a surprising demographic shift: it looks as if around two-thirds of suburban households will no longer have children. Increasingly the suburbs is populated by retirees and young professionals, so the needs and demands of these spaces are changing accordingly.

By greening the landscape with trees, greening the transport system to reduce car use, and redesigning the buildings to be more comfortable and efficient, the areas are being transformed, and others are following their example.

You can watch Ellen Dunham-Jones's TED talk on retrofitting suburbia

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Monday, 21 March 2011

As Climate Week shines light on "real practical examples", there are wider lessons to learn

Climate Week, which starts today, aims to showcase examples of successful sustainable energy projects, or, in their own words:

"To shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain. The power of these real, practical examples - the small improvements and the big innovations - will then inspire millions more people."

Our UK award-winners are already doing exactly that. They are at the forefront of building and embedding changes that reduce carbon emissions; from schools that have achieved more than a 50% reduction in their energy consumption, to enterprises that are installing microgeneration technologies and supporting behaviour change in homes and businesses.

Scaling up these initiatives, though, is the crux of having a real impact on the UK's emissions, and our winners, as an example of 'what success looks like', provide a valuable learning tool. Our most recent report, 'Power to our neighbourhoods' highlights some of the learning from our winners' work as they overcome the barriers to success. It concludes that approaches that are integrated and coordinated at a neighbourhood level are the most effective. Most importantly, it identifies the 'enabling factors' to making this happen: local authority involvement, partnership working, developing local supply chains, developing 'green entrepreneurs', building on existing communities and ensuring communities have real agency are at the top.

You can read more about our winners and download the full report on our website.

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Sonia Gandhi says most of climate debate has been "gender blind"

On Thursday last week, Sonia Gandhi, chair of the Indian National Congress, delivered the Commonwealth Lecture 2011 on "Women as Agents of Change" and called for women's voices to be heard in the climate change debate. After all, as Mrs Gandhi said, "Climate change and environmental degradation exact a greater price from women."

“Among all the challenges facing humankind in the twenty-first century, few are more pressing than climate change and global warming. Unfortunately ... most of the climate debate so far has been gender-blind."

“Today, women in India are becoming agents of change through their own initiative, their energy and enterprise. Through individual and collective action, they are transforming their own situations and indeed transforming the broader social context itself ... India is at the cusp of a ‘demographic dividend’, due to its young and increasingly educated and skilled population. Imagine what might happen when this demographic dividend is multiplied by a ‘gender dividend’. It will, I believe, yield enormous economic gain and lead to profound social transformation."

Full lecture here.

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Red noses support Wangari's Green Belt (among other things)

This morning's Radio 4 programme The Reunion told the story of Comic Relief: how it was launched in 1985; how the idea first emerged as a response to the crippling famine in Ethiopia in 1984; how the idea of Red Nose developed; and the "chaos, panic and tears" surrounding the first TV extravaganza. (Tonight's extravaganza starts at 7pm.)

In the intervening years, other issues have risen in prominence, including climate change. In 2006, Comic Relief commissioned research to understand better the impact of climate change on the world's poorest. The research made clear that the world's poorest were facing a climate change "triple whammy":

"they didn't cause it, they are most affected by it, and are least able to afford even simple measures that could protect them from the damaging impacts that are already unavoidable."

One of the eight pilot programmes that have followed from this, we are delighted to see, has been the support of Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement in Kenya.

Professor Maathai was the keynote speaker at the Ashden Awards in 2008.

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Ashden Awards and GVEP International publish carbon finance guide

In partnership with GVEP international, the Ashden Awards have published a guide on carbon finance for clean energy projects. For small-scale energy projects in developing countries accessing finance is one of the major constraints to expansion. Not all entrepreneurs are aware of basic criteria that will allow their projects to qualify for carbon finance, the time it will take, and who they should contact for help.

This guide tackles this information gap. It is one of a series on finance for sustainable energy enterprises produced by the Ashden Awards and GVEP International. The others, ‘Investment Finance’ and ‘End-User Finance’, are freely available online.

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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Arup director Peter Head outlines his vision for the "ecological age"

Juliet Heller hears Peter Head, director of Arup and chair of The Institute for Sustainability, outline his vision for the "ecological age".

Peter Head has recently undertaken a three-year global tour to explore policies and investments to achieve what he calls the “ecological age”, reducing CO2 by 80 percent by 2050.

His main findings are that sustainable green growth needs community involvement, and cities have to be transformed.

He summarised the approaches needed:
-linking up renewable energy in communities and enabling them to make money from it;
-expanding the use of electric vehicles;
-taking cars out of inner cities (eg Seoul, S Korea where a motorway has been converted to a river, replacing cars with boats for transport and China where 5 percent of GDP is invested in high speed rail);
-growing more food in cities – using any space available such as rooftops
-using large scale biogas digesters as in Stockholm
-learning from examples such as the eco-city in Wangzhung, China designed by Arup.

Peter’s main case study is one that is still in the development stage (perhaps this illustrates the problem we face in the UK – not enough large scale examples). The planned ‘Total Community Retrofit’ project is being developed by the Institute of Sustainability and Arup.

This will help accelerate the transition to a low carbon way of life, creating new jobs and boosting the economy. They will connect urban and rural areas, and retrofit 20,000 homes using a street-by-street approach, financed by pension funds. It aims to share learning by building a knowledge hub, encouraging the idea to be replicated at the regional level.

(Peter Head was speaking at the Ecobuild conference in London.)

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Five new reports show efficiency measures bring jobs, savings and CO2 reductions for businesses across the Northwest

ENWORKS won an Ashden Award in 2007 for outstanding energy efficiency advice to businesses. Five new local reports demonstrate the impact its resource efficiency programme has had in areas across the Northwest.

In Cheshire and Warrington over 1,200 businesses have been helped through the programme, saving them 18.7m per year. For example, through the support of an ENWORKS advisor from Groundwork Cheshire, the Ellesmere Port headquarters of Protocol Skills, a national vocational training provider, has saved £7,100 a year by reducing boiler settings, setting up a weekend switch-off regime, installing water saving devices and low energy lighting and establishing a switch off campaign.

Property coordinator, Nick Biglowe, said:

“Other companies are missing out. A lot of people don’t realise how some really simple changes can make a huge difference. There’s no catch with Groundworks Cheshire – everyone benefits."

The reports also reveal that companies in Cumbria have saved 70,000 tonnes of CO2 through efficiency measures, whilst over 6,000 jobs have been saved across Lancashire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester.

(pic: CHK in Crewe, a steel components manufacturer, has saved £17,300 to date through efficiencies)

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Monday, 14 March 2011

100 delegates meet in Cornwall to discuss sustainable schools

St Columb Minor School - 2010 Ashden Awards
Simon Brammer and Carla Jones travelled to Cornwall last Thursday for a conference on sustainable schools,
organised by Ashden award-winner Gill Harper from St Columb Minor School and partly funded using Ashden Awards prize money. Carla Jones reports:

There were over 100 delegates representing schools throughout Cornwall for the conference Developing Sustainable Schools in Cornwall’. It was also good to see representatives from past Ashden winners - Community Energy Plus and Solarcentury - among the exhibitors.

Rachel Delourme from Cornwall Learning introduced the opening speeches from Simon Brammer and Sharon Longden, Head of Cornwall Learning, which laid out the challenges and opportunities for schools (see the Ashden's learning resource for schools).

The explorer Anthony Jinman told us how achieved his dream of reaching the North Pole by the age of 29. Now, as founder of Education Through Expeditions, he reports on the dramatic climatic changes he sees in the polar regions through an interactive learning website.

Ben Margolis, acting director at 10:10, emphasised that real change won’t be driven by delegates at Copenhagen and Cancun, but will instead come from sustained engagement with local communities, starting with schools. It is at this grassroots level that people get a sense of agency and push for change.

The conference shared best practice in schools. We heard about the new pupil-led teaching approach at Ashley Primary School, the wide-ranging sustainability measures that have been introduced at St Columb Minor, and the fresh adventurous attitude to cooking at Penair School, where last week octopus risotto was on the menu.

Finally, we had a lot of interest in the next LESS CO2 programme that will support schools across the Southwest to reduce their carbon emissions.

(pic: Pupils taking wind speed readings at St Columb Minor School)

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Heinberg on ‘the end of growth’

The week before last I attended the Ecobuild conference at the ExCel centre in London. One of the most engaging lectures was Richard Heinberg's on 'the end of growth’ and the importance of sustainable energy alternatives to underpin a new economic system.

The community-based website Sustainable Guernsey has now transcribed this lecture and Mike, our UK Awards Manager just emailed a link to a presentation Heinberg gave along very similar lines at Totnes.

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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Government announces policy "to revolutionise how heat is generated and used in buildings"

The Government has announced details of the £860m Renewable Heat Incentive policy to revolutionise the way heat is generated and used in buildings and homes. It's remarkable for a number of reasons:

- Like the Feed-In Tariff, the RHI takes a long-term approach to incentivising installation of renewable heat (from biomass, solar thermal, ground and water source heat-pumps, on-site biogas, deep geothermal, energy from waste and biomethane)

- It’s the first of its kind in the world (i.e. there has never been a separate guideline for renewable heat): it’s a significant move, as around half of the UK’s current carbon emissions come from the energy used to produce heat – more than from generating electricity. In fact over 95% of heat in the UK is currently produced by burning fossil fuel.

- There is one scheme for industry/commercial/public sector and one for the domestic sector: Targets include the expansion of renewable heat in the industrial/commercial 7-fold by 2020. This scheme also gives the opportunities for schools, libraries, community centres and communities of households to install renewable heat.

- A full system of RHI payments will be available to households from October 2012; and the Government says that in the interim, more than a quarter of the first year’s budget will be guaranteed for up to 25,000 household installations through a “RHI Premium Payment” to encourage take-up. Those who sign up to a premium payment must prove

- It will be particularly useful for rural areas because these technologies are often particularly appropriate for areas where there is low density of housing which is not necessarily near mains electricity or gas.

- The initial investment by government is £860m, which is expected to increase green capital investment by £4.5 billion up to 2020. The Government says this will create a large and thriving market in renewable heat

The Department for Energy and Climate Change will seek Parliamentary approval of the regulations in July 2011 and will introduce the tariff scheme after that.


We will track further reactions over the coming days, but the main initial criticism is that the scheme excludes air source heat pumps, one technology which is used to produce renewable heat.

YouGen’s Cathy Debenham blogs about the domestic side here:

For first reactions on Twitter follow #rhi

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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

US criticises Bangladesh over removal of Yunus from Grameen Bank

The US Government has criticised Bangladesh over the removal of Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and micro-finance pioneer (and an Ashden Advocate), from his position as managing director of Grameen Bank.

The Financial Times reports Robert Blake, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, saying

"This is a country that is a doing a lot of things right ... And some of their actions with respect to Grameen Bank are out of step with that."

"We thought it was important as a friend to point that out."

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has known Yunus for decades and, in Blake's words, has a "long and personal relationship" with him.

The Wall Street Journal points to the source of the current problems as the moment in 2007 when Yunus, after winning the Nobel Prize in 2006, made a public bid to clean up corruption in Bangladesh politics which, it is said, angered the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Grameen Bank has more than eight million rural borrowers, who own 96.5% of the bank's share capital.

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Gender equality involves communities having access to clean energy

Grameen Shakti - 2008 Ashden Award winner
Gender inequalities mean that women face a greater burden from inefficient or unavailable energy sources, spending far more time on subsistence activities to collect, process and use energy resources. For instance, women spend between two and nine hours a day collecting firewood according to the World Bank.

This ‘energy burden’ affects women in terms of time and physical energy. Elizabeth Cecelski, Director for Research and Advocacy, ENERGIA puts the issue starkly:

"Poverty influences and determines [the] energy choices of poor households. There is a gender bias in rural energy poverty... the main source of energy in poor rural households is not biomass - it is women's labour. The real energy crisis in rural areas is women's time."

Issues of poverty and respiratory health are also significant for global gender inequality: household smoke is strongly linked to chronic lung disease among women, whilst 70% of the 1.5 billion people living on less than a dollar a day are women (UNDP, 1995 Human Development Report).

Women, then, have the biggest potential to benefit from efficient and renewable technologies in terms of time saved, health and income.

Our award-winners are pioneering these projects in this area.

We award projects producing efficient cookstoves being sold for as little as $3 across the developing world. And we recognise enterprises that are designing cookstoves suited to local cooking practices. For instance the ‘New Lao’ stove was designed for use in Cambodia as more efficient and durable than the conventional bucket-type stoves. We have found that improved cookstoves projects can have significant health benefits through the reduction of noxious gases as well as having wider social and economic impacts.

We, also, reward organisations that are boosting women’s income and enterprise. Grameen Shakti, for instance, trains women solar technicians to install its solar home systems (SHSs) in India, whilst Prokaushali Sangsad in Bangladesh set up a cooperative, the Coastal Electrification and Women's Development Co-operative (CEWDC), of local women who chose to improve their situation through the assembly and sale of SHSs.

The development sector has been slow to recognise that the lack of access to modern energy affects women and men differently. The distinction is, in fact, staggering. Today, on International Women’s Day it is important to remind ourselves of this fact and to acknowledge that gender equality will involve, in part, bringing communities access to clean, modern energy systems.

(Image: Women technician learning to install a solar home system for Grameen Shakti in India)

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Spain moves quickly to reduce oil imports by 5%

The Times reports that Spain is reacting swiftly to events in Libya: Spain imports 75% of its energy (15% more than the European Union average) and 13% of its crude oil comes from Libya.

To reduce the country's dependence on oil imports, Spain's Government has reduced the speed limit from 120km/h to 110km/h, fares on local and middle-distance trains have been cut by 5% and the bulbs in street lamps will be replaced by energy-saving ones.

The Government says these measures will cut foreign oil imports by 5%.

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Monday, 7 March 2011

We need a new economic model, says Heinberg, oil can no longer sustain the current one

Richard Heinberg, author and Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute, presented at Ecobuild last week. He argued we mustn’t simply be weaned off of oil but that our entire growth-based economic model, based on abundant sources of fossil fuels, must change. Alternative energy sources, he contends, must be found to provide the basis of a very different economy.

Richard Heinberg explained that humanity had moved from muscle power to fossil fuel-based power over the past few centuries. This shift had triggered significant changes in our way of life and had given rise to an economic model based on growth.

Heinberg explains:

“Energy is not a factor of the economy, energy is the economy. Oil is the basis of our economy take it away and global trade ceases to exist”

There are no credible scenarios, he argues, where an alternative source can replace fossil fuels in terms of factors such as the return on investment, scale and convenience. Instead, what we need is a different money system to reflect a move towards a sustainable energy system.

As oil runs out and prices rise, the shift in our economy, he posits, is inevitable, the true work is to create the alternative tools to surpass the wall that our current systems face.

His riveting hour-long lecture did leave us feeling, in the words of the chair, the Today's Sarah Montague, that “We are doomed!” But Heinberg nonetheless manages to maintain a positive and uplifting tone.

I asked him afterwards, “How do you manage to give a lecture like that and still be smiling?” “I play the violin”, he said, “I take things slow, I try to enjoy the beauty in life.” If that doesn’t contain the seeds of an alternative approach to ever-increasing consumption and growth, I don’t know what does.

(Pic courtesy of Richard Lord of who attended Ecobuild and blogs for Sustainable Guernsey)

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Huhne says the government will speed up efforts to move away from oil

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne told the Observer that the UK had no option but to speed up efforts to move away from oil.

"Getting off the oil hook is made all the more urgent by the crisis in the Middle East. We cannot afford to go on relying on such a volatile source of energy when we can have clean, green and secure energy from low-carbon sources. The carbon plan is about ensuring that the whole of government is engaged in a joined-up effort to lead us into a low-carbon world."

The Observer says Huhne will join David Cameron and Nick Clegg later this week to launch "The Carbon Plan".

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Thursday, 3 March 2011

To communicate 'climate change' you need to think about 'mind change'

How do we engage with a new generation on the important issue of climate change? Baroness Susan Greenfield, in her lecture “The age of unreason: the psychology of climate change” highlights that we must realise humanity is facing another major challenge which she terms ‘mind change’.

Greenfield expands:

“Our brains are responding to and physically adapting to our environment. The dominance of a 2-D cyber culture is altering our minds; we have shorter attention spans, higher IQs, less of a sense of identity, less empathy and an ‘in the moment’ sensory engagement with the world. Communicating critical messages around climate change must reflect this”.

Her suggestion for an approach to reflect this changed psychological terrain? Short messages with clear sensory images (she cites the visceral poster of a skinned animal against the fur trade) and which give people a regained sense of identity.

(pic: Baroness Susan Greenfield)

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How will we retrofit 26 million UK homes?

The three-day Ecobuild conference in London kicked off yesterday with Transforming the existing stock.

BBC journalist Stephen Sackur chaired the panel, which featured Gregory Barker MP, Paul King, CEO of UK-Green Building Council, Robert Peto, President of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs.

Carla Jones reports.

The basic issues were clear: our homes account for 27% of our carbon emissions. So we need a big shift if we are going to meet our 2020 carbon reduction target. But what will drive the retrofitting of UK households over the next 10 years? The Government says it has the ambition to achieve this aim. But what exactly are the practical changes that will get us there? And will the changes be driven by "carrots" or "sticks"?

Kevin McCloud said: "Regulation is a critical 'stick' for sending a clear message to the market. It is fundamental to boost change and instill confidence" But Greg Barker was reluctant to use coercion, which he argued would simply annoy people.

The discussion centred around how change would be funded. The various suggestions emphasised that the money should clearly come from a set of taxes for a direct subsidy of retrofitting changes, including VAT reductions for retrofitting and reclaiming the potential for the Green Investment Bank to reduce the risk from of private finance. Greg Barker emphasised the Green Deal pay-as-you-save scheme, but was hazy about any details, prior to the Budget announcement on 23 March, as to which tax measures would incentivise change.

The panellists all agreed that changes must be stimulated at the community-level. People will be more likely to act if their neighbours were getting similar work done and the resources could be collectively leveraged.

The overall motivating force for change? People act because they want a "nicer" home, above and beyond financial or environmental reasons.

McCloud summed up the need for clarity to drive this action:

"For people to make decisions to retrofit their homes we need to be offering clear 'no brainer' solutions - it needs to be clear what they will save and how it will operate".

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Ban Ki-moon calls on Hollywood to help get across the idea of "sustainability"

The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked Hollywood for help in the fight against global climate change. He told senior Hollywood figures at a forum on global climate change that "Together we can have a blockbuster impact on the world."

The LA Times reports:

About 400 writers, directors, producers, agents and network executives attended the outreach events: a series of panels at the Hammer Museum, moderated by Larry King; a lunch for selected bigwigs; tete-a-tete meetings between high-powered industry players and top U.N. officials; and a star-studded dinner where Ban was introduced by Charlize Theron, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took a turn playing the drums.

Ban Ki-moon told his audience:

"You have power and influence to send to millions and billions of people around world. To make planet Earth environmentally sustainable is a political and moral imperative."

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