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My Climate Story

This story started with a girl called Katrina. It was a long-distance relationship to begin with. One morning she came to me and woke me out of a deep blissful sleep.

Her first words were, “Everything you ever knew up to this point is wrong. Well, maybe not wrong but certainly useless”.

Our office was on the third floor of the Michinoku Bank Building in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. The Sakhalin Wells Project team was monitoring an exploration well off the north coast of the island. We were chasing Peak Oil, out in the back of beyond. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, referred to as “Yoozh-No”, is the capital of Sakhalin Island, Russian Federation and definitely a city at the back of beyond. The island is off the east coast of Russia and a stone’s throw from Japan. The joke amongst the team was that Yuzhno was the one place on the planet that took the longest time to get to, no matter where you started from. We had team members from the UK, Europe, US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, elsewhere in Asia and so on. We all took at least two days to get to Yuzhno. And two days to get home again, depending on flights and time zones. The place that had the title of ‘back of beyond and then some” was Okha, the city at the north end of the island. It’s entry in ‘Lonely Planet’ had the remark, ‘possibly the ugliest place in Russia’. It definitely was ugly. But I digress.

Katrina came to all of us that morning in August 2005. She had the same message for everyone. She was crystal clear: prepare to abandon everything you know. Like some Mafia hit-man, her calling card was to devastate much of the Louisiana coast and put 80% of New Orleans under water. Over a thousand people died.

While our team absorbed this message, some of us asked dumb questions like, “How?” or “Why?”

Others asked, “Is this Climate Change?”. I was quick to say something like, “I know Climate Change is real, but it won’t be a problem until the end of the century”.

Now drilling engineers are not known for being well-educated, but one guy knew his stuff. He said, “Why are we surprised? We’re burning eighty million barrels of oil every day. The CO2 has to go somewhere.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I refer to that day as My Awakening to Climate Change.

Later in the project, former Vice President Al Gore came calling. He wasn’t a Mafia hit-man so his card was more polite but just as forceful. His message came in a documentary film on DVD: ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. The message read, “You think you’re doing something useful and important. Not a chance. It’s time to really make a difference”.

Active Travel

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”Arthur Conan Doyle

Last week was Climate Week Scotland. Blink and you missed it. What with the covid-19 crisis and the looming Brexit crisis, the national media have little room for a Climate Crisis. But all is not lost; I will review the important aspects of this little-known campaign.

First up was Active Travel. Under the banner of Walk, Wheel or Cycle the Scottish Government is encouraging us to get out more and exercise, take trips or even commute to work using just our leg power. Have you noticed how people have been doing just that during lockdown? Out in the Shire we see many more people strolling about and lots of cyclists touring the countryside.

I would add Run to the trio of Walk, Wheel and Cycle. Running is up there with cycling as a great aerobic exercise; good for the heart, the spirit and the waistline. And, if you leave the car at home, carbon emissions are reduced too. What’s not to like?

“A bear, however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise.”A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I’m just going to harangue you, dear reader. It’s time to get out in the fresh air and enjoy some exercise in nature’s gymnasium. But, I hear you say, there’s nowhere around me to safely walk/run/wheel/cycle. This is the usual excuse for putting off outdoor exercise. During the early days of covid-19, cyclists took advantage of traffic-free roads and country lanes. Now that people are able to travel more freely, traffic has built up again and drivers are getting frustrated with cyclists and vice-versa. There are many more letters to the Press and Journal complaining about “pesky cyclists”, as it were. What to do about this? You could add to the P&J Letters page, but better to complain to your elected representatives. After all, it’s their job to represent you!

Start with www.writetothem.com

Use the app/website to contact your councillors and respectfully demand that the City or Shire make better provision for active exercise. And where a council announces proposals like Aberdeen’s ‘Active Travel Action Plan’ this week, write to them and let them know you support them. Cycle lanes, dedicated traffic free routes and green open spaces are all great opportunities for exercise.

Demand these things from your Council. This is democracy at work.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

Print Cartridges

The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany is a fascinating place and well worth a visit.

https://www.mainz-tourismus.com/en/explore-enjoy/living-culture/museums/gutenberg-museum/

It is a testament to our devotion to books and the printed word. As well as housing many of the city library’s rare and historic volumes, including two Gutenberg Bibles from the 15th century, the museum displays a wide collection of printing presses from the earliest times to the modern day.

When Johanes Gutenberg worked to build the first printing press, could he have foreseen the impact his invention would have on society, culture and democracy? Some 600 years on, we take for granted the fact that printers can churn out newspapers, cookery books, novels and, of course, Bibles at the touch of a button.

Perhaps more surprising to Gutenberg would be the fact that nowadays many households have a computer printer for when people working from home need a ‘hard copy’ of some document or other. They are, in comparison to earlier models, ridiculously cheap to buy. The real cost is in the printer cartridges. 

Am I the only one to eke out the printer ink for as long as possible, printing documents that get paler and more ghostly with every sheet of paper? That’s because a new set of printer cartridges can cost almost as much at the printer itself. But I’m not here to complain about the price of printer inks and cartridges. I’m here to highlight the fact that printer cartridges are part of the circular economy, assuming that people do their bit to complete this virtuous circle.

All you need to replace your printer cartridges and send the old ones back for recycling.

With every new printer cartridge, you receive a special envelope in which to return your empty cartridge to the manufacturer for recycling. This only works, however, if you actually put the old cartridge in the envelope, seal it and put it in a post box. On this occasion, I did recycle the cartridges but my photo of putting the white envelope into the post box on a sunny day was a washout, sorry.

Recycling cartridges will reduce their cost in the long term and stop such valuable items going to landfill. Our lives are full of opportunities to complete the circle in the circular economy. Be alert to them and do your bit.

The Colours of Hydrogen

Grey, Blue or Green; what’s your favourite colour?

Hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant atom in the universe, accounting for about 88% of all atoms. It is a vital atom; hydrogen is burnt in the core of our Sun, providing us with ample light and warmth for life on Earth.

Despite its abundance, hydrogen is very difficult to produce in its pure form; all those pesky hydrogen atoms keep wanting to combine with other atoms and molecules. For example, in combination with oxygen it forms water, another vital part of life on our planet.

You might have heard that Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland is getting serious about a new hydrogen economy. The idea certainly has a lot of potential. Hydrogen can be used as a very clean and climate-friendly alternative for fossil fuels including transport, domestic and commercial heating, batteries for long-term storage of mains power, energy intensive industries such as steel making, turbines for electrical power, even as a substitute fuel for jet engines. So, hydrogen has a lot going for it.

 The controversy comes when you consider how best to produce the hydrogen. There are three methods of making hydrogen, corresponding to the three colours: grey, blue and green.

Grey Hydrogen

The most popular, and the cheapest, method of producing pure hydrogen is through a process called steam reforming. This is usually done at a chemical plant, applying vast amounts of steam to natural gas (methane) or some other hydrocarbon fuel. The result is, more or less, pure hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Rather than try to explain all the whys and wherefores of the process, I’m going to refer you to the excellent team at Real Engineering on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7MzFfuNOtY

Blue Hydrogen

This method of producing hydrogen is, put simply, the Grey Hydrogen method but the carbon dioxide is captured as part of the process and put back (sequestered) into the ground. This process is an example of Carbon Capture, Use and Storage (CCUS). Note that this method has not yet been demonstrated anywhere at a scale sufficient to make a difference. You may have heard of the Acorn project here in NE Scotland; this is an attempt to demonstrate the method by returning small quantities of carbon dioxide into exhausted offshore reservoirs under the North Sea. Again, the demonstration will not capture sufficient carbon dioxide to make a significant impact. The earliest demonstration of Acorn will be in 2024. As you can imagine, the cost of Blue Hydrogen is still unknown since it relies on unproven technology.

Green Hydrogen

This method relies on the process of electrolysis. It involves passing an electric current through water which separates the two atoms, hydrogen and oxygen. Each can be captured separately and used in other industrial processes. Note that no carbon dioxide is released in the process so carbon capture is not needed. At this time, Green Hydrogen is a very simple and proven process but relatively expensive compared to Grey Hydrogen. The main expense comes from the cost of electricity. The power industry is exploring ways of routing ‘surplus’ renewable electricity (wind, solar, hydro) to electrolysis plants; such electricity would be very cheap. The economics of this are uncertain and would require careful consideration.

As a Climate Action group, ACA supports the development of Green Hydrogen as the most sustainable option in the long term. I’ve no doubt we will return to this topic again.

Vans

My old man said: “Foller the van,
And don’t dilly-dally on the way”.
Off went the van wiv me ‘ome packed in it.
I walked be’ind wiv me owd cock linnet.

(This song about a couple moving home to escape paying the rent should be sung with a genuine cockney accent)

The job of a carrier has been with us for generations and is likely to be around for a good while yet. From flitting families to online shopping deliveries, vans are essential to our way of life. And they are a perfect market for electric vehicles.

Delivery companies and other carriers know the typical daily mileage of their vehicles and what ‘range’ they can reasonably cover before refuelling. One such company is UPS. It has recently announced a strategic decision to move its local delivery vans to 100% electric. Furthermore, it has placed an order with a start-up UK manufacturer, ARRIVAL, for 10,000 electric delivery vans. Yes, that’s right: ten thousand electric delivery vans.

The best way to explain what’s going on is to view this video clip from the ‘Fully Charged’ show:

Who would not appreciate delivery of their parcels on a clean, quiet and zero-emission van?

UPS is not the only parcels company moving into this space. The Royal Mail already has almost 300 electric vans in operation, mainly in English cities. And another big parcels carrier, DPD, is beginning trials of electric vehicles. The Volta Zero is the world’s first purpose-built full-electric 16-tonne vehicle designed for inner-city freight deliveries, reducing the environmental impact of freight deliveries in city centres and eliminating an estimated 180,000 tonnes of CO2 by 2025.

The vehicle will be tested by DPD within London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone at the beginning of 2021, supporting their micro-depot strategy. See the link below:

DPD Volta Trucks

Momentum is with electric vehicles. At the moment the economics of EVs are a stretch for many people but they already make sense to hard-nosed company financial directors. The lifetime cost of ownership for EVs is better than for combustion engines, and you get the kudos of being ‘clean, green and sustainable’ for free. What’s not to like?

By the end of the decade, petrol vehicles will have gone the way of another cockney favourite, Del Boy’s Reliant Regal from ‘Only Fools and Horses’:

Gravity

“I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.”

Which would you rather believe; a book about anti-gravity or ‘Roadmap 2035 (A Blueprint for Net Zero)’ from Oil and Gas UK? Both ask the reader to suspend disbelief.

The North Sea industry is in the grip of a deadly vice. It has driven down costs to what would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago and yet they are still the highest in the world. The oil price has recently collapsed, as it does every few years, but this time it looks different.

At around $42 per barrel the price of oil and gas is down in the doldrums but the more the price tries to return to a level of profitability, the less competitive North Sea oil and gas are.

Over a series of blogs we will examine a lot of products from the North Sea starting with electricity from gas-fired power stations.

Oil and gas producers have spent so long competing with each other (usually on cost) that they have missed the serious competition; renewable wind, solar and hydro-electric. Together with industrial battery systems, these technologies are making oil and gas increasingly expensive for power production.

Power can now be bought from a renewables market that has a twenty-year record of reducing costs. And this trend appears to show no signs of stopping. Being no longer economic, all coal-fired power stations in the UK will have shut down by the middle of this decade. Recent UK government annual statistics have highlighted the performance of renewables that provided a record 37.1% of the UK’s electricity in 2019, up from 33.1% in 2018, with wind power playing a major role.

Let’s be clear about this. The National Grid does not prefer renewable energy because it’s ‘green’; it prefers it because it’s the cheapest in the market.

Yes, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine but industrial-strength batteries are already being deployed and are transforming the electricity sector. These batteries capture surplus electricity from the grid and hold it until demand exceeds supply. Then their speed of switching back online is within seconds, ensuring continuity of supply.

To add to the problems for the North Sea, the old reservoirs are depleting rapidly and any new ones being discovered tend to be uneconomically small, highly-fractured or otherwise awkward to exploit. And when a company eventually decides to shut down a reservoir and its platform, there is a large cost to decommissioning, typically in tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds.

No wonder that the oil and gas industry is disappointing the investment community. Over the past 10 years, returns for oil and gas stocks have been feeble in comparison to the overall stock market. Discerning investors are avoiding fossil fuel stocks not because it’s ethical but because it’s a smarter thing to do.

How can you take advantage of cheap renewable energy? Buy your electricity from a 100% renewable supplier, of course. Check out the ‘Energy’ section of this website to see the choices for your renewable electricity provider.

Finally, do you know where your pension and savings are invested? Do you read the literature from your financial provider? Are you exposed to fossil fuel stocks? If divestment from fossil fuels seems a little too radical for you, have you considered ESG investment? I know, that was too many questions. ESG investment is the management of funds according to Ethical, Social and Governance principles. A competent financial adviser would be able to offer you this choice (after thoroughly advising you on all aspects first).

Now, where’s that book I couldn’t put down?

 

 

Beans

This is a guest post by Jeffrey Rogers.

A teacher asked her class to make up a sentence using the word “beans”. “Our local farmer grows beans,” said one girl. “My favourite food is beans on toast,” said a boy. A third student spoke up, “Please Miss, we are all human beans.”

Indeed we are all human beings (or human beans if you prefer). And it takes an awful lot of food to feed these humans, all 7.8 billion of us. When I was growing up, every schoolboy was taught that you could fit the world’s population onto the Isle of Wight, though it would be like standing up at a crowded cocktail party. I suspect that today, fifty years later, quite a lot of people would be standing on the Isle of Wight’s beaches with their feet wet. That would be a damp party for any latecomers.

Let’s keep going with this imaginary cocktail party. Who would supply the food and drink?

Based on the total amount of food eaten on Earth today, the party planner would have to supply about 14 billion kilograms of food for every day of the party. That’s almost 2 kilos of food each, but that would be ample. There is enough food being produced today to feed everyone. But it’s not being distributed evenly. I’m sure that few people reading this article will know what real, desperate, chronic hunger feels like. According to bread.org, though, about 10% of the world’s population live in a state of hunger. That’s 780 million people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s more than 140 times the population of Scotland.

But hold on a moment, I hear you say; how many people go hungry in Scotland? According to endhungeruk.org, 1 in 10 Scots are in a state of ‘food insecurity’. That’s not quite perpetual hunger, but it’s a perilous state to be in when “because of a lack of money, a person or a household has to eat a less healthy diet, go without food, or worries about doing so”.

Here in Scotland, we need a more effective safety net for vulnerable people, those without regular employment and those living in deprived areas. The growth of Food Banks and similar volunteer schemes is a symptom of this state of neglect. It’s tempting to think of such schemes as hand-outs to the undeserving. But some people work really long hours in low-paid employment and it still doesn’t cover all the household bills. We should honour our fellow “human beans” and help them out in times of need.

Elsewhere in the world, environmental degradation, especially due to climate change, is turning many millions of acres of productive land into deserts through drought, heat stress and salt inundation.

It’s time to rethink our food system. Before we start blaming governments, let’s look to our own households first. Are you food waste savvy? Do you shop carefully so that you don’t have to throw perfectly good food away? And do you recycle any food scraps into the Council food caddy service? This is an excellent way of turning food waste into top-quality soil conditioner for farmers and landscape gardeners here in the North-East.

And I continue to repeat my mantra: the Climate Crisis is real, is urgent and is caused by human activity. To avoid the worst effects of climate change we must stop burning fossil fuels.

Enjoy your beans on toast.