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Showing posts from 2008

Fixing carbon

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As with all great stories it began with a potato. Longer than I care to admit, there was a time when I was a young and foolish teenager.  Left at home on one of the rare occasions my parents went out, I got it into my thick skull to microwave a potato.  Having no idea what to do, the timer was set to a shockingly high 40 minutes. The inevitable result was a dead microwave and a glowing black lump where the potato had once been.  It was one of those painful experiences in life that one tries to forget but years later it opened up a line of thought.  We need to get the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere down, and fast.  Could microwaving plant material help?   Using patented technology, I’ve been working with a team to set up a new company called Carbonscape which is doing just that.
As many readers will know, technology now exists to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) direct from any major source that emits the offending gas.  The crucial point is that the carbon dioxide can be capt…

Sandbag: Stemming the tide of rising greenhouse gases

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It’s not often you hear good news when it comes to climate change. More often than not, reports in the media verge on the catastrophic, rarely giving little hope to the public.  As a result, it can be hard to convince people to take positive action when all the headlines scream doom and gloom. Recently, however, I learnt of a fantastic new initiative in the UK that allows people to make a real difference. Here I chat to Bryony Worthington at www.sandbag.org.uk about a new campaign to be launched in the Autumn that promises to deliver real action on climate change.  This could be a model for the rest of the world.
Chris: So what is Sandbag?
Bryony: It’s a web-based campaign to try to educate people about carbon emissions trading and also empower people so they can get involved and make a difference so we can tighten up the rules. Basically the aim is to try to reduce the amount of emissions going into the atmosphere by enabling people to take part in carbon trading.
Chris: Traditionally, …

Can we seize the day?

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To shamelessly pinch a Mikado song title from Gilbert and Sullivan, there’s a bit of a how-de-do going on in Britain at the moment.  The UK Government has been saying for some time that the nation must significantly reduce its carbon footprint. In 2003, it pledged to reduce the country’s 2050 emissions of carbon dioxide by 60% and has hinted this target might be increased further. As part of the country’s long-term aim to achieve major reductions, the Government recently announced that it would increase the tax on fuel by 2 pence a litre (the first since 1999) and raise the excise duty on high-emission vehicles by £200. From these new initiatives on fuel and vehicles, the UK Government is estimated to raise somewhere on the order of £2 billion. Wouldn’t it be great if this was actually used to make a greener Britain? Unfortunately, with oil hitting $135 a barrel and the fear that production has peaked, the country is feeling the high costs of UK living on the back of a credit crunch a…

A possible lifeline

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I’ve just finished reading a fascinating research paper in this weeks issue of NatureResearchers in Germany, headed up by Noel Keenlyside of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, have looked at the importance of circulating water in the North Atlantic on global temperatures.  By running a climate model that included the natural rhythm of the ocean they’ve investigated what might happen to future temperatures. What they found demonstrates once again just how important natural climate variability is in the debate about global warming. 
Before we look at the new results we need to understand how ocean circulation has an influence on the world’s temperature.
When travelling around Britain you’ll often read tourist brochures waxing lyrically about the virtues of the Gulf Stream and why it makes the western coastal resorts so unusually warm for their latitude. Usually there’s a picture of something that’s mistakenly described as palm tree with a happy couple in various stages of disrob…

An hour for planet Earth

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At 8pm yesterday, my family and I joined the world for an hour as we turned off the lights as part of Earth Hour, an initiative launched last year by World Wildlife Fund Australia in Sydney. A relatively small event in 2007, it has kick started a global phenomenon that has become far larger than anyone seems to have anticipated. It’s estimated that some 30 million people took part last night, representing some 26 cities and 300 other locations from across 35 nations.
Starting at 8pm local time in Suva (Fiji), the lights went out across the west Pacific. Two hours later they were turned off on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After another eighteen hours had passed, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was plunged into darkness. It was an inspiring evening. At 8pm across 14 different time zones, people turned off their lights and other appliances. It seems to have captured the imagination of people and groups around the world: Parliament in Canberra turned off their lights; farmers in the bush …

Economics for the future

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The great American mechanical engineer Frederick W. Taylor once said “It’s easier to make a reporter into an economist than an economist into a reporter.” I must confess I’ve often sympathised with this view; I’ve often found it rather hard on the grey matter to follow the reasoning of some economists. I can see they have a series of logical arguments but getting my head round all of it in one go is often a challenge. On the 12 March I was fortunate to find a seat in a packed lecture at the University of Exeter where economist Professor Lord Stern of Brentford spoke on getting a global deal on climate change. This was not a dry, hard-to-follow monologue on the minutiae of economic theory. Instead, Lord Stern gave a lucid and convincing talk on the challenges we face in minimising the the risks of significant climate change. The economics were there but it was refreshingly understandable.
Lord Stern is arguably best known for heading up what is known as the Stern Review; published by th…

Transition towns - towards a sustainable future

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Grass root strategies for minimising our impact on the environment are developing around the world. One of the most inspirational initiatives being developed in the UK are Transition Towns, with the southwest England town of Totnes being the first of what are now many. Here, Chris Turney talks to Naresh Giangrande about the pioneering work involved in making Totnes a Transition Town (often shortened to TTT).
Chris Turney: So what is a Transition Town and how did the initiative begin?
Naresh Giangrande: Totnes is the UK’s first town exploring how to prepare for a carbon constrained, energy lean world. TTT is a community-led initiative which is working towards the
creation of an Energy Descent Action Plan for the town. The thinking behind TTT is simply that a town using much less energy and resources than we presently consume could, if properly planned for and designed, be more resilient, more abundant and more pleasurable than the present.
The project started officially with Rob Hopkins an…