McManners 2008

Peter McManners Peter McManners Peter McManners Peter McManners Peter McManners

Happy Christmas from Bush to Obama Week 52 (22 December 2008)

From Poznań to Detriot Week 51 (15 December 2008)

Bold Decisions Required Week 50 (8 December 2008)

Listen, Read and Act Week 49 (1 December 2008)

Heathrow Third Runway ‘No’ Week 48 (24 November 2008)

Retire Drax Week 46 (10 November 2008)

Cut out Waste Miles Week 44 (27 October 2008)

Sorting Out the Financial System (2 of 2) Week 43 (20 October 2008)

Sorting Out the Financial System (1 of 2) Week 42 (13 October 2008)

After the Crash... Week 40 (29 September 2008)

Welcome the Crash of 2008 Week 39 (22 September 2008)

Paranoid about future energy supplies Week 37 (9 September 2008)

Which way to swim? Week 36 (1 September 2008)

Automation and Olympic Success Week 35 (27 August 2008)

The ‘green-wash’ trap Week 34 (19 August 2008)

Sustainability and the needs of poorer people Week 33 (11 August 2008)

Green Economics and shopping Week 32 (4 August 2008)

Zero-carbon car race Week 30 (22 July 2008)

Throw-away society Week 29 (15 July 2008)

21st Century ship building Week 28 (8 July 2008)

What size ecological boots? Week 27 (30 June 2008)

Rhenium to the rescue? Week 26 (25 June 2008)

Farming Fish Week 25 (17 June 2008)

More Conventional Nuclear Power – A Big Mistake Week 24 (10 June)

Hiking and more efficient flying Week 23 (3 June 2008)

Oil Sands – The Wrong Business Week 22 (27 May 2008)

Second guess the Sustainable Revolution – and profit Week 21 (20 May)

Self transportation is good for us Week 20 (13 May 2008)

Signs of Spring Week 19 (6 May 2008)

Boeing and Airbus compete – and cooperate Week 18 (29 April 2008)

Ethanol from Waste Week 17 (22 April 2008)

Taxing cars and unfair anomalies Week 16 (15th April 2008)

Reducing volatility on world stock markets Week 15 (8th April 2008)

Rabbits, fishermen and retirement Week 14 (1st April 2008)

Biodegradable Batteries Week 13 (24th March 2008)

Human’s world and nature in the frozen north Week 11 (14th March)

Profiting from the melting Arctic Week 10 (4th March 2008)

Sustainable agriculture - Milk Week 9 (26th February 2008)

Climate change is here, now. Week 8 (19th February 2008)

The Sustainable Revolution Week 7 (12th February 2008)

The Coming Revolution Week 6 (5th February 2008)

Good Governance and Environmental Performance Week 5 (29th Jan 08)

City Living Within a Tight Energy Budget Week 4 (22nd January 2008)

Green light to nuclear power - Week 3 (15 January 2008)

It’s a Mad Mad World Week 2 (8th January 2008)

The Conflict between Fuel and Food Week 1 (1st January 2008)

Happy Christmas from Bush to Obama Week 52 (22 December 2008)

In last week’s blog I wondered whether President Bush:

 ‘might find a way to divert government cash into propping up Detroit for another few months - and pass the poisoned chalice onto Barack Obama.’

This is indeed what President Bush has decided to do. This is an appropriate Christmas present to give his successor to round off eight years of denial and avoidance. The United States is the most capable country in the world to rise to the challenges of climate change; but the Bush presidency has left the country poorly placed and ill prepared. It will take a superhuman effort to recover lost ground. The same sort of extraordinary drive and commitment is required that answered President JK Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon.

It took eight years from Kennedy’s speech to Congress in 1961 until Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. This is same period that the Bush administration has been denying the science, obstructing attempts to agree binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions. Barack Obama can hope that he has eight years to deflect the course of history onto a different trajectory.

The world is waiting in anticipation. The omens are good. On Saturday Barack Obama appointed one of the world's leading climate change experts as his administration's chief scientist. Harvard physicist John Holdren will be the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He has also appointed respected climatologist Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Carol Browner as his climate tsar. In Sunday’s Observer, Carol Browner was quoted as saying: "Time and time again, when the nation has set a new environmental standard, the naysayers have warned it will cost too much. But, once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower cost than predicted."

We all wish Barack Obama a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. As he departs on holiday he has already made appointments that will shift the debate over what to do about climate change onto solid ground, based on good science. Making the changes will not be any easier but we can expect an engaged and well informed America to win back the respect and standing that it used to have in the world.
©peter McManners 2008

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From Poznań to Detriot Week 51 (15 December 2008)

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań closed on Saturday 13 December with a commitment from governments to shift into full negotiating mode next year in order to shape an international response to climate change, to be agreed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Parties agreed that the first draft of a concrete negotiating text would be available at a UNFCCC gathering in Bonn in June of 2009.

The key issue in these discussions over climate change, as Barack Obama takes over in the Whitehouse, is what the US decides to do. The hope is that the US will become an enthusiastic supporter for measures to reduce carbon emissions. However the US has a number of economic challenges that will require attention from the new president. His ideas about supporting the creation of green jobs are entirely compatible with tackling climate change. But what is to be done about the car monolith corporations of Detroit?

In his last weeks in office, President Bush is searching for ways to use government cash to rescue the likes of General Motors from bankruptcy. It is hard to see how such an injection of cash could be justified.

The US car industry has been closeted and protected from reality for years. Whilst other countries were pushing for fuel economy standards and increasing taxation on fuel, the Bush administration was in denial. This has been a grave disservice to the employees and shareholders of the US auto industry. The current US fleet are unsalable. All car sales are down, but the old American gas guzzling SUVs are particularly hard hit.

The degree of change required in the US auto industry requires that the dinosaurs are allowed to fail and support directed towards growing a new auto industry based on new parameters. The political fallout will be huge. All those people reliant on GM for their retirement pensions will struggle.

 If George Bush wants to help his successor, he should pull the plug on further funding for the sick auto industry and let the new administration take credit for whatever rises out of the ashes. If George Bush seeks short-term positive press coverage for his last few weeks he might find a way to divert government cash into propping up Detroit for another few months - and pass the poisoned chalice onto Barack Obama. I wonder which course he will choose.

©peter McManners 2008

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Bold Decisions Required Week 50 (8 December 2008)

Over the weekend there were attacks in the press over Lord Turner and the report from the organisation that he chairs, UK government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC). There were accusations that the ideas were impractical and did not take into account the negative impacts on the economy of such bold action to build a low-carbon economy.

These knee jerk reactions opposing the proposals are understandable. There will be huge challenges to overcome if the recommendations are to become reality. The report also is far from perfect, making it an easy target for those who choose to look for reasons to oppose.

I came across such attitudes in my time working with civil servants. There was a widespread culture of resistance to change. When a new idea was floated the instinctive reaction was to look for why it would not work or could not be done. For civil servants, this has a purpose. It is good that the machinery of government continues to navigate a steady course despite a deluge of ideas from our fickle politicians. There are very bright and talented civil servants of course. When a genuinely good idea arises it should, and often does, gain their support.

Lord Turner is saying what he believes must be done in order for the UK to make a real positive impact on the problems of climate change. This does not deserve the instinctive – ‘Oh but we can’t do that’. Followed by looking for the holes in what he says. We should be asking ourselves, how can we do that? How can we take such action and keep the economy purring along? This is the dialogue we need.

As I sitting tapping at my key board, I hear on the radio that a group of young people have cut the fence into Stanstead airport and chained themselves together blocking the runway and closing the airport. The young person interviewed spoke very well about the need to reduce the environmental impact of aviation. The young want change. We should support them. Let us stopping resisting the calls for action to prevent climate change and take the bold decisions required. Many of us can see how this can be done – it will not be easy, it will not be simple but it is vital that we do.

©peter McManners 2008

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Listen, Read and Act Week 49 (1 December 2008)

The UK government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will launch today their first report titled, ‘Building a Low Carbon Economy – the UK’s Contribution to Tackling Climate Change’. This is an important report that should be taken seriously.

The CCC’s Chair Lord Adair Turner said back in October when presenting interim advice to the government:

“Climate change poses a huge potential threat to human welfare. If we do not act soon, in developed and developing countries, it will become too late to avoid serious and potentially catastrophic consequences. That is why it is so vital that a global deal is reached on climate change and that the UK contributes significantly towards this... we have the potential to reduce our emissions by 80% [by 2050] or more by using energy far more efficiently, by investing in developing new energy sources and by making relatively minor lifestyle changes.”

At the same time that one part of government (Secretary of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change) is receiving the advice from the CCC, the chancellor, Alistair Darling was working on his pre-budget report. One of the chancellor’s measures was to increased passenger duty for long-haul (particularly business-class) passengers from November next year. This is compatible with the CCC recommendations and a nice source of tax revenue from a small group of people who can afford to pay. However, Mr Darling also watered down plans to increase taxes on more polluting large cars, presumably fearing the political consequences of increasing tax on a significant proportion of the electorate.

In the years ahead politicians will be balancing the advice from the CCC with political expediency. We need to support our politicians to face up to their responsibilities. They should listen to the CCC; read the CCC reports carefully; and then face down resistance to implementation. Anything less will be a cop out.

©peter McManners 2008

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Heathrow Third Runway ‘No’ Week 48 (24 November 2008)

Lord Smith, head of the UK Environment Agency gave a speech today urging ministers not to approve plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport. Amongst all the hot air that has been generated during the discussions about expanding Heathrow it is good to hear some words of reason.

Those people arguing for a third runway point out that Heathrow is an important hub connecting the UK and London to Europe and the world. It is also seen as vital for the economy that Heathrow continues to provide high capacity efficiently and affordably. In 2008 it is running so close to maximum capacity that the slightest operational glitch or snap of bad weather can lead to expensive delays. A third runway would allow more flights and improve flexibility thus reinforcing Heathrow as a major European hub.

Lord Smith points out that a third runway is not compatible with UK plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. He also points out that with a third runway, the UK will find it very hard to meet European air quality targets due to come into force in 2010. Other opponents of the third runway argue for increased capacity at London’s other airports and for a new airport east of London.

Most of the pro and anti lobbies skirt around the central point of the discussion. Rapid growth in aviation has been built on very low taxation of aviation fuel, in effect a subsidy with respect to other transport choices. This huge growth is unsustainable. It is no longer good enough to allow aviation exemption. Those who fly should be charged the full cost of the environmental impact. 

The aviation industry is due a severe down-turn. The recession is already hitting hard, but as we take real measures to reduce CO2, the contraction could be rapid. There will still be a core of passengers who have to, and can afford to fly. What Heathrow needs more than increased capacity is improved ground transport links to move passengers fast and quickly to their final destinations.

The government is under enormous pressure to give the green light to a third runway for Heathrow. Those people doing the pushing are looking at the immediate short-term problems of Heathrow in 2008. The government should stop the wrangling now, before more time and resources are wasted, and give an unambiguous ‘no’ response. Efforts can then shift to real efforts to deliver a sustainable transport infrastructure worthy of the 21st century.
 

© Peter McManners 2008

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Retire Drax Week 46 (10 November 2008)

Drax power station in Selby, north Yorkshire is the largest coal-fired power station in western Europe. It supplies a colossal 8% of the UK’s electricity from one site. Everything about Drax is big: 4 giga-watts of power, 6 boilers, 30 steam turbines, 12 cooling towers. It is also the UK’s single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Drax group is in the FTSE top 100 but will struggle to stay there if the price of carbon increases dramatically. Per Lekander of UBS is reported in the Sunday Times as estimating that Drax profits will reduce by 70% - 80% if the price or carbon reaches €40 (£32). The price of carbon should go much higher than this in the next few years, if politicians are serious about forcing real reductions.

Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax has announced a plan to build three new power stations fuelled by biomass. This could include waste from the forestry industry and straw. Thompson is trying to rescue the Drax Group from terminal decline. We should admire her efforts; but Drax itself is a dinosaur. The main facility cannot survive as a viable operation.

Coal is a dirty fuel and should be banned; but this is not the only problem Drax has. The model of large-scale central generation of power is obsolescent. If Drax was to be kept running by replacing coal with biomass, it would be stupidity. The 12 cooling towers are wasting colossal amounts of low-grade heat that could be put to better use.

Biomass power stations of the future will be small and embedded into communities. All the ‘waste’ heat will be used to heat buildings in the locality. If the buildings are much better insulated than now, the need for energy and power will also be less. I hope that Dorothy Thompson has this in mind as part of a plan to close down the Drax site. If not, her actions will simply delay the day when Drax Group falls out of the FTSE 100.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Cut out Waste Miles Week 44 (27 October 2008)

I am reminded each Monday morning of the EU’s efforts to increase the levels of recycling. Three different trucks arrive at different times during the day. One collects only collects garden waste from the green wheelie bin. Another collects glass bottles, plastic bottles and cans, which have been gathered and sorted into two green boxes and a green bag that we have been delivered to households for the purpose. The third truck collects general rubbish contained in the black wheelie bin.

This huge waste ‘recycling’ infrastructure is generating a lot of waste miles. In the narrow context of meeting EU targets it may work. Calling it ‘recycling’ makes a mockery of the concept.

We should be thinking deeply about changing society so that true recycling is automatic and second nature. A package of policies are needed that reach across manufacturing, food packaging, drink containers, product design and even energy systems. There are many opportunities to reuse, recycle (in the true sense) or burn/compost for the energy content. Get the policy right (as explained in my book Adapt and Thrive) and rubbish becomes obsolete.

Europe has made a start in making the required transition with the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) that has just been agreed after lengthy argument. It sets a five-stage waste hierarchy: 

1.waste prevention (preferred option);
2.re-use;
3.recycling;
4.recovery (including energy recovery); and
5.safe disposal, as a last resort.
 
The huge resistance from EU governments as the WFD was hammered out shows how hard it will be to learn the new way of thinking and implement real change. The WFD is progress, but we need to go much further than EU politicians and EU governments have discussed so far.

Changing from the system we have now will be hard. Implementation requires foresight to look beyond the throw-away society we now have towards a better way of living. The changes will affect trade policy and business operations just as much as the lifestyle and behaviour of individual households.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Sorting Out the Financial System (2 of 2) Week 43 (20 October 2008)

Recognising that the world financial system had become a house of cards has been valuable in setting the scene for discussions to reform it.

It is a simple fact of banking that any bank will collapse if it loses the confidence of its depositors. If they all try to take their cash out at once, it is impossible, and the bank will fold. Banks lend out the money paid in by depositors. Only a small part is available as cash at any point in time. In an interconnected global financial system there can be stability and security for each individual bank. Provided the loans on its book are sound then a run on the bank can be prevented by borrowing against the loan book. Well run banks should not fear the risk of collapse.

However where an interconnected banking system brings resilience and protection to individual banks, it also brings a shared destiny. When confidence in world finance evaporates then the whole system is in risk of collapse.

The way the financial system has evolved, it is beginning to look like a casino. There are hedge funds looking to leverage maximum returns from anomalies in the system. Managers rewarded with huge bonuses for short-term performance. Companies managed with a focus on financial engineering to massage the share prices higher, rather than delivery of a service or product.

The time for change is long overdue. The circumstances are now right to discuss what the changes should be. The chapter in my book Adapt and Thrive, titled: ‘Capital markets and the Power of Ownership’ explain my ideas to start the process of change. My specific proposal, to reduce the role of speculators in equity markets, is a small beginning. Whilst the crisis is giving a sense of urgency, we must move from talk to action.

As governments take big stakes in the banks around the world (following the UK lead), they will have the power to implement change. The opportunity should not be wasted.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Sorting Out the Financial System (1 of 2) Week 42 (13 October 2008)

The UK announced this week a major nationalisation of British banking. How the world has changed. This would have been impossible just a few months back. Now the banks are weak and vulnerable. I would like to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting over the weekend when the details were hammered out. The banks had seemed all powerful but now were having to go cap-in-hand to the government.

I wrote in my book published earlier in the year:

‘Such global economic interdependence has not been seen before. Is this a strength or a weakness? Is the world financial system a robust self-regulating system or a house of cards waiting to collapse? The amorphous nature of the system makes it hard to judge. It is certainly looking like a system in which we all either stand or fall together. It may be that more connections bring greater resilience and reduce the chances of collapse, but if collapse does come, there will be no hiding from the consequences.’


Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution, published by Susta Press (2008). Page 172.
 (This quotation can be used in articles or commentaries provided the source is acknowledged.)
© Peter McManners 2008

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After the Crash... Week 40 (29 September 2008)

Yesterday, after the financial markets in London had closed, the news came through that the US House of Representatives had rejected a plan to inject $700 billion into the financial system. What followed was the largest one-day fall on Wall Street since the crash of 1987.

The original plan put forward by Henry Paulson, the Head of the US Treasury, was in affect a $700 billion hand-out to purchase some of the toxic debt at the heart of the banking system. Over the week that followed much cross party wrangling hammered out a deal. This would have released the money in stages with a number of strings attached including oversight of how the funds were spent. This was clearly a much better plan the one first proposed.

The decision to reject the plan was political. Members of the House of Representatives face a re-election in just a few weeks time. Those who feared losing their seats, voted against. The American voting public have little appetite for a plan that uses tax payer’s money to rescue the ‘fat cats’ on Wall Street.

The rejection of the rescue plan is a worry and has spooked Wall Street and other markets around the world. The world financial system is at risk of collapse. However an agreement to bail out the banks, drafted quickly and agreed in haste would have carried with it huge long-term risk. The fact that world finances were badly skewed has been know for a number of years. It is the denial of the need to act that is behind the crisis. There are a number of lessons that must be learnt before this crisis has served its purpose.

The financial system needs a number of reforms ranging from controlling the access to credit to lancing the destructive power of some types of speculation. There are other less well known problems such as the indirect role of the markets in undermining efforts to improve society and protect the environment. I explain in my book, Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution, the way the markets are acting as a brake on building a sustainable world, and the need for reform.

For now, there is a crisis. There needs to be some sort of systematic plan to prevent global meltdown. A deal will be agreed. The danger is that once the cracks have been papered over the markets and market participants will return to business as usual. This will not do. It is better that the crash falls faster and further to ensure we take the route of reform rather than the quick fix.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Welcome the Crash of 2008 Week 39 (22 September 2008)

It took a long time coming, but the financial crash is what the world needed. Over the last few years huge imbalances have been building up in the financial system. It had to unwind somehow, sometime. It is better that it happens now, than that we paper over the cracks and risk total meltdown in the future. Some people argue that we have already waited too long and that there will now be a repeat of the 1930s with a long-drawn-out and deep depression.

For my part, I am hugely optimistic. Not that I believe that the crisis is over, because it isn’t, but because our eyes have been opened. We have watched – without seeing the danger – whilst a huge pyramid selling scheme of ‘complex financial instruments’ has taken a grip of global finances. These have now been exposed as little more than a complex scam.

Private equity firms have bought companies using bank debt secured against the company. If the company executives can squeeze the company to keep up the repayment schedule then the new owners will be very wealthy. If the company folds under the weight of debt then the bank is left nursing the losses.

Mortgage brokers have arranged loans for people with no assets and no income. Some loans have gone beyond 100% mortgages to 110%. This means a cash-back payment to buy furniture and pay the first few loan repayments. This has then been packaged up as safe debt secured against property, and sold on. When the house ‘owner’ cannot afford to keep up repayments, ownership reverts to the holder of the debt. In a rising market (driven by lax lending) the house can be sold and the debt paid off. When the market crashes (as it eventually must) the banks holding the dept carry the loss. The original mortgage broker has long since pocketed the fee and moved on.

The ‘toxic debt’ polluting the balance sheets of the big banks is the result of such examples of unsustainable lending. As we pick through the wreckage of the crisis governments will be looking for ways to run the economy based on true fundamentals. The cancer of get-rich-quick without delivering true value has to be removed from the system.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Paranoid about future energy supplies Week 37 (9 September 2008)

Last night we had a power cut that affected the whole street due to an equipment failure. We escaped to our local Indian restaurant instead of trying to munch cold sandwiches in the dark. I was reminded of our reliance on the electricity grid, the reliability of which we take for granted.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I believe we must move to renewable energy supplies. We also need security of supply. I do not like the prospect, in the decades ahead, of living in a house connected to a national grid fed by power stations running on gas supplies coming across Europe by pipeline from Russia. The danger that supplies are cut off as a result of some political spat is too high.

Politicians have tough decisions to make about energy supply. Gordon Brown has resisted calls to make cash hand-outs this winter in response to high fuel prices. Instead he has highlighted the provision of government grants for improved insulation. He is right, but making the correct decision may not have helped his political career.

The government have other pressing decisions to make over nuclear power and approvals for new coal-fired power stations. Refusing to allow new coal-burning capacity is I believe the correct decision. However without measures to reduce demand, this risks energy black-outs in the future.

Energy prices are not yet high enough to support the business case for energy neutral buildings (but prices are heading in that direction). I am willing to pay a premium for energy security for my family, through investing in reducing my energy consumption. I would like to have a house where the lights stay on when all around is dark. If we need to spend over the odds on very low energy equipment, outstanding insulation and solar power, so be it.

If more people became paranoid about the future and were willing to pay for energy security and peace of mind then we can begin to make real inroads into reducing the consumption of fossil fuel.
© Peter McManners 2008

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Which way to swim? Week 36 (1 September 2008)

The credit crunch is pushing down house prices, squeezing investment and threatening jobs. Which way should investors turn to protect the value of their investments? How can we ensure that we increase long-term value within our pension pot?

The dilemma we face is not so different to the nine polar bears spotted swimming in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea (reported by Reuters). The polar bears had been on ice flows that had broken free and now needed to swim for safety. The animal’s instinct was to swim north in search of ice. The observing scientists know that the bears are badly mistaken. From satellite images it can be seen that land and safety is only 60 miles away, but heading north is a 400-mile swim to reach the shrinking polar ice-cap.

Polar bears are strong swimmers; 60 miles is well within their capabilities but 400 miles is a huge challenge. Human activity is changing the climate and the arctic is melting. The thawing of the Arctic Ocean will destroy this once feared hunter.

Investors’ behaviour in response to the credit crunch is much the same as the ill-fated polar bear. As oil prices ease and the frozen banking system starts to free itself, investors are returning to look for value. Which shares have been hammered and can be expected to bounce back? The polar bear looks north in expectation of ice; investors look at cheap valuations compared with historic figures. They are both wrong.

The world is changing. Those of us who observe the world as a whole can see this. The economy and the environment are not separate issues that can be considered in isolation from each other. The businesses that do not see and understand the coming changes this will suffer badly. Investors chasing uplift in value should be careful. Aviation is an example. The environmental impact is high and efforts to contain emissions have so far achieved little. Eventually the world will act. I describe a likely scenario in Chapter 10 of my book Adapt and Thrive. This looks highly prescient reading it now.

I believe that aviation is due a prolonged and severe downturn. The recent failure of Zoom Airlines may have helped other airlines in the short-term taking away some of the excess capacity. Other failures will follow. The trickle of bankruptcies will become a flood. Investors who have bought back into British Airways have done well (up 25% compared with its 52-week low point reached on 22 May). These bottom-fishing investors are following their instincts, and will profit whilst there are other investors who share their outlook. But British Airways will have to work very hard to remain profitable during the coming shake-out.

Looking for long-term value in the coming new world order will be different. We can follow our instincts and invest in the companies that have made strong returns in the past (in the same way that the polar bears swim north) or we can swim against established logic and invest in the companies building a sustainable world.
© Peter McManners 2008

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Automation and Olympic Success Week 35 (27 August 2008)

The march of technology is automating more and more activities from robots that replace workers to machines that make life easier for everyday chores. Taken to its logical extreme we might be able to live like Wallace in the wonderful film animation titled ‘The Wrong trousers’. Instead of needing to get up in the morning machines will be able to dress us and move us from bed to breakfast table. Except for some amazing technology to improve the lives of the severely disabled this is not something we would really want.

As our athletes return from Beijing where they delivered Britain’s best ever performance - my thoughts turn to an idea of reverse automation. Examples are: banning the use of motorised golf buggies on golf courses, keeping cars out of communities, removing escalators from buildings. In this way we can improve the health of the nations and reduce the wasteful use of resources.

At the Press Conference after landing at Heathrow, our gold-medal winning Olympic athletes looked fit, healthy and the image of the perfect human form. Their bodies have been pushed hard, not just over the Olympics but through the preceding four-year build up. They have trained every day to reach their peak of fitness. We do not all aspire to be Olympic athletes but there is no reason we cannot train each day to keep our bodies fit, well and attractive. Such activity could be a session in the gym or a run in the park or simply a lifestyle in which physical activity is a normal component.

Our bodies like to be used and respond positively to exercise. The opposite effect comes from lying on the sofa all day with the only exercise reaching for the remote control. This is how we become flabby, weak and unhealthy.

The time has come to remove unnecessary automation from our lives. Where we continue to invest in technology to improve our lives we can also design in exercise opportunities. A mobile phone with a small hand-cranked generator perhaps or a television connected to an exercise bike. The bike would act as a generator to charge up batteries to power the television. We could only watch as much television as effort invested on the exercise bike. If this was too much to stomach, we could start at small-scale and make TVs without remote controls. We would then have to get out of our chairs to change channel – a small contribution to the health of the nation.

Success in London in 2012 requires that our athletes are already training hard. I wish them well. They provide an example to us all.
© Peter McManners 2008

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The ‘green-wash’ trap Week 34 (19 August 2008)

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled against Shell for an advertisement published in the Financial Times earlier this year. The ASA ruled that the use of the word ‘sustainable’ in connection with Shell’s oil sands project in Canada was ‘misleading’.

My mind went back more than a decade to 1995 when Shell was deciding the fate of the redundant Brent Spar oil storage platform. On this occasion it was Green Peace who was firing the shots. We know now in hindsight that Shell had acted responsibly in carrying out a careful assessment of the environmental risks and health and safety issues. Shell’s proposal to sink it in the deep North Sea had the support of many experts.

Even so, Green Peace mobilised a campaign of action that was a real threat to Shell’s business. In the face of concerted resistance, Shell changed plans and disposed of the rig on land. In fact this worked out rather well with parts of Brent Spa finding a second life extending the facility in Stavanger harbour in Norway. As the dust settled on the dispute, Green Peace apologised to Shell for exaggerating its claims of the quantity of oil that would be trapped in the sunken rig. Shell came of the Brent Spar battle ruffled but undamaged.

On this occasion in 2008 the WWF led the campaign against Shell submitting its complaint to the ASA. David Norman, Director of Campaigns at WWF-UK said that “Oil sands are one of the world's dirtiest sources of fuel and have a major impact on the environment”.

Trying to use misleading advertising to suggest that oil sands can be exploited sustainably is blatant ‘green wash’. This time Shell deserves the dressing down handed out by the ASA. The only solid defence against campaigning NGOs is to become truly sustainable. Consideration of what is (and is not) sustainability has to be made at the core of the business -and then followed through. The media lie in wait to pounce when they smell the fishy odour of ‘green wash’. This is trap well worth avoiding.
© Peter McManners 2008

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Sustainability and the needs of poorer people Week 33 (11 August 2008)

A couple of days back, listening to the UK’s Radio 4 the subject was the effects of higher energy prices. One lady called in and managed to bring out a whole range of issues. It is seldom that one conversation can cover so many unsustainable behaviours. The fact that I was listening whilst driving (an activity that we should do much less of) gave the programme even more impact. I dedicate this blog entry to her.

She explained that where she lives a car is not a luxury but a necessity. This is an argument I have often heard, which is almost always false on closer examination; so I listened carefully. She said she lives in a small rural community without shops or a post office, and although there is a bus it only runs once a day, or once a week – she was not sure. The fact that she did not know, showed that she had not bothered to find out. When we own a car we tend to use it without investigating the alternatives. No wonder the bus service is so infrequent.

She went on to explain that the weather had been so cold this year that she had needed the heating on throughout the summer except for 4 or 5 of days. In Britain’s mild climate, heating is seldom required in a reasonable well-insulated house. Either her house is extremely badly insulated and/or she likes to live in a toasty 23 degrees. Before central heating, 18 degrees was regarded as a normal room temperature but now many of us delight in turning up the thermostat. There is no need to raise our expectation of a comfortable room temperature. Cooler is healthier, sustainable and of course cheaper.

I was beginning to take a negative view of this lady and her unsustainable lifestyle, until she explained that she was living on benefits and living in a council house. This is not the sort of person with the spare resources or capability to make sound green lifestyle choices. We need to design society around the needs of such poorer people (and the people who do not care to be green or too lazy to bother).

The local authority should not build or own public housing in communities without basic facilities and a public transport node. The houses should be compact and well insulated. Cars cannot then be described as necessity. Cars should cost way more to run that someone living on benefits can afford. Unaffordable heating bills should not be offset by increased benefits. The way to keep heating costs down is by turning down the thermostat (or, as in our house, turning it off completely for the summer months).

Life style changes are required from us all. The poorer elements of society are not exempt.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Green Economics and shopping Week 32 (4 August 2008)

This past week we were on holiday in France enjoying the food, wine and laid-back lifestyle. This was a welcome wind-down from a busy few weeks.

Our planned holiday was delayed so that I could present my paper titled ‘Putting a Value to Natural Assets’ at the annual conference of the Green Economics Institute, held at Oxford University 18-19 July 2008. In it I argued for changes in land taxation to ensure that natural habitats have a value within our economic system. It generated considerable discussion. It will take time to win people over to the need for such a system and effort to work out the detailed procedures, but if we don’t try, the world will all end up as either concrete or industrial agriculture.

Where we stayed in Brittany there is still a wonderful mix of people and nature, towns and countryside. Critics complain that France should modernise. If this means losing this heritage then I disagree. We should note what is good about France, defend it and copy its best attributes. On Saturday it was market day in our local town, Pleubian. People were strolling through the market stalls, sampling local cheese, and selecting local vegetables. There were tourists like us but most of the people were local. This was how they shopped. It may not have the industrial efficiency of the large E. Leclerc shopping centre in the nearest larger town but this was fun. It was a social occasion. People queuing for bread at the Boulangerie talked to each other. The stall holders were greeting customers as friends. Other people were sitting in the cafes around the edge talking, reading or just watching.

There is no reason that we cannot all live in tight communities with shops a walk away. Even cities can be a patchwork of urban villages. These can be some of the most pleasant living environments available to us. It should not take a trip on holiday to enjoy such a way of life.

Consider what we now allow. Large out-of-town stores get planning permission. We then choose to go there by car attracted by their low headline prices without an easy comparison to check whether they really offer good value. Village and town centre shops then struggle to survive. We soon end up with no choice but to use the car to go to the shops. As transport costs climb we pay more for each journey.

We have become stuck in a cycle of unpleasant shopping experiences in which we are expected to behave like machines. We need forward thinking city planners and retailers who can see the changes required by sustainable living. Rebuilding communities where we walk or cycle in safety to local shops will not be easy. The goal is worth achieving. Communities should be for people not cars – and people should be able to enjoy the social experience of shopping, not forced to behave as robots filling trolleys in huge warehouses.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Zero-carbon car race Week 30 (22 July 2008)

It is a great time to be entering the engineering profession. The world needs solutions to a whole range of challenges if human society is to learn to be sustainable into the long future. Part of the solution will be new technologies, or existing technologies applied in novel ways. Engineers will have an interesting time developing these.

I have been following a group of young engineers from Durham University competing in the North American Solar Challenge. This 2,400 mile race starts in Plano, Texas; and finishes in Calgary in Canada. The Durham team are running on a shoestring but their car, DUSC08 (Durham University Solar Car) is still in the running and due to finish later today.

Whilst DUSC08 has been racing I have been attending the annual conference of the Green Economics Institute at Mansfield College, Oxford. The institute is four years old and I have been a member from the first year. There were a wide range people at the conference from academics and long-standing ‘greens’ to business people and government officials (some making it clear that their attendance was in a personal capacity). My paper covered my proposal to alter the tax regime to be able to put a value to natural assets. This will be vital if we are to prevent the whole of our land area being converted to concrete or industrial agriculture.

The recurring theme was the inadequacy of conventional economics. World society badly needs economic models that encompass more than narrow measures such as consumption and GDP. We can all see that economics has failed us, but trying to find a new economic paradigm for society will not be easy.

Whilst we struggle with obsolete economic parameters we are failing to give our engineers the brief to solve the technical challenges. In my book, Adapt and Thrive, I outline a series of five design challenges to give our engineers. When I watch the progress of the Durham solar car race team it gives me huge encouragement that our engineers can deliver. It is now up to the rest of us to alter the short-term economic horizon that afflicts most businesses to be able to pass these design challenges onto the engineers for them to solve.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Throw-away society Week 29 (15 July 2008)

We have just returned to our home in Berkshire after a number of years away. Our tenants were busy professional people and it shows. The garden has been allowed to become a complete jungle. I am tempted to leave it as a nature sanctuary and never mow the lawn again. One change I will have to get used to is the new recycling arrangements brought in by West Berkshire Council.

Recycling has become a complex business as councils struggle to reach the targets imposed by government to meet EU targets. Special collection arrangements and processing facilities are required. Not least, councils have the challenge of persuading householders to sort their rubbish into specially provided containers.

Living in a throw-away society, we have become used to chucking anything and everything into the bin. This is natural human behaviour. Stone-age people had piles of rubbish away from their immediate living environment. Their rubbish was bio degradable. All we have left are a few well shaped flints. Recycling was automatic.

True recycling is almost automatic from a consumer perspective. Take the effort to redesign the whole system of production, supply and consumption and the issue of waste handling becomes much easier to tackle. This redesign cuts across many areas and is not easy. Far easier is to give the illusion of progress by setting targets. Imposing such targets – without changing the throw-away society – is almost irrelevant. This was brought home to me as I spoke with a member of staff at the council.

The old recycling system was two strong black plastic baskets, one for paper and the other for bottles and cans. We now have two smart new green plastic boxes, one for paper, one for bottles and a green bag for cans and plastic bottles. As we talked I asked about the old black plastic baskets. These are strong durable and plenty more life left in them. The reply was that the council had no use for them; if I asked they would take them away. “So what happens to the baskets”, I asked.
“We have no use for them.” was the reply.
I continued, “So what do you do with the baskets that are no longer needed?”
The council employee replied, “We chuck them away.”

I was astounded that right at the core of our efforts to improve recycling we find the throw-away society is still thriving. The chasm between where we are now and where we need to reach is huge.

© Peter McManners 2008

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21st Century ship building Week 28 (8 July 2008)

Who will dominate ship building in the 21st Century? I reflected on this as I travelled on SuperFast VII on the route from Helsinki to Rostock in northern Germany. We joined the ship early evening and arrived just over 24 hours later.

SuperFast VII is a typical example of a 20th century ship. Built in Germany, it is well engineered and maintained to a high standard. From a passenger perspective, the bars, restaurants and lounges are well designed and the whole ship is air conditioned. I could feel the thud of the powerful engine and see the black smoke rising out of the funnels. Ships use heavy fuel oil. It is cheap, and no one cares too much about the pollution. Ships are largely out of sight and out of mind as they ply their way on the oceans and seas of the world.

During a leisurely day spent on board I had time to look over Super Fast VII. It was a good ship, but compared with the 21st century ships we will be building decades from now, Super Fast VII will look like an old tramp. It will become an old tramp of course over time.

When we build a ship it sticks around for a long time, being passed from the operator who commissioned it to second third and fourth owners. Finally it operates on a poorly regulated route in some far flung corner of the world. It may end its days at the bottom of the sea, sunk in a storm that it cannot handle due to a combination of overloading and lax maintenance. If it survives, the rusty hulk will end up being towed to a breakers yard. Or, it might be beached on a coast where officials can be easily bribed and then dismantled well away from the strong environmental regulations of the rich developed countries. This is the lifecycle of international shipping.

The ships entering service now will be impacting the environment many decades into the future. Standing on deck I feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face – neither of which is being used to power the ship. Give our engineers the brief and they will build ships that will sail under the power of nature. This need not be a return to the sailing ships of the past but based on advanced designs that turn ‘modern’ naval architecture on its head.

It is time we started to build ships fit for the 21st century.

© Peter McManners 2008

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What size ecological boots? Week 27 (30 June 2008)

For the last four years I have lived in Finland. This beautiful and special country has made a lasting impression on me. It has a population of only five million people (about the same as London) but has a 40% larger land area compared with the UK. The stress that the Finnish population places on its natural resource base is far less than the UK.

The term that describes the load we are placing on the environment is ‘ecological footprint’. This is a more general term than the familiar ‘carbon footprint’. The ecological footprint encompasses every aspect of human consumption from food and fuel to water and materials. This is compared with the ecological capacity, ranging from forestry and fisheries to agriculture and the ability of natural systems to absorb waste. At world level, humanity’s consumption exceeded planet Earth’s capacity in the mid 1980s. Demand is now running at over 120% of the world’s bio capacity. We are driving the Earth’s natural ecosystem to destruction. We must reduce demand.

The aggregated world footprint indicates that the Earth can handle a consumption figure of 1.8 hectares per person. This is calculated by taking the Earth’s capacity and dividing it by the population. Although this figure is widely quoted, it has no practical use, for two reasons. First, where you live makes a difference in the consumption required. Up here in Finland, close to the Arctic Circle, surviving the long cold winter requires the wearing of rather larger ecological boots than say someone living in the tropics. Second, as the world population increases the figure for a personal sustainable ecological footprint reduces. Where a society makes the effort to become sustainable (and live within its ecological capacity) it would be absurd to force it to consume less to counter balance a rising population on the other side of the planet.

Finland is one of the most sustainable developed societies. Compared with the UK there are many things we could copy. These range from well insulated buildings and district heating systems to compact urban design that supports the cyclist. Recycling is another area of excellence. Although still well short of the system the world needs, it makes the UK look Stone Age in comparison.

There is a problem – or is there a problem? Finnish people wear rather big ecological boots, consuming 7.6 ha per person. The interesting figure is the surplus of 4.4 ha per person (capacity minus demand). Finland lives within its carrying capacity. Perhaps more countries should be planning to live within their ecological capacity – wearing ecological boots appropriate to their circumstances.

Looking at the ecological deficit/surplus around the world is interesting. It is not surprising that the US is running 4.8 ha per person over capacity when every American wears massive ecological boots of size 9.6 ha. However if Americans shifted to shoes size 4.8 ha (feasible) they would be running within capacity. The UK deficit of 4.0 ha is more deeply entrenched. People living in Britain consume 5.6 ha so would need to reduce this to 1.6 ha. Bangladesh is also in deficit by 0.2 ha per person. Bangladeshi’s consumption is already very low (0.5 ha per person). Reducing this to 0.3 seem to be impossible – the only feasible solution for Bangladesh (and perhaps the UK) is to control population.

Finland is a sparsely populated country that makes becoming sustainable easier. The UK is a small and crowded country reliant on trading with other countries to survive. For this to continue we need a world trade system that supports sustainability. Globalisation needs a different face. It is in the UK’s self interest to push hard for such a deal. Fail, and the UK will struggle to maintain its society as each country closes in to conserve its ecological capacity for its own use.

Wearing large ecological boots is OK if you have the capacity. If not, you need robust arrangements to borrow from others. The world has a tough challenge to find a way forward. My book Adapt and Thrive – written whilst living in Finland – shows the way.

www.footprintnetwork.org

© Peter McManners 2008

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Rhenium to the rescue? Week 26 (25 June 2008)

Rhenium was one of the last naturally occurring elements to be found, discovered in 1925. It is a rare silvery heavy metal that occurs in some molybdenum ores at low concentrations (0.002% to 0.2%). In 1928, 1 g of Rhenium was produced from processing 660 kg of molybdenite. The extraction was so difficult and expensive that production was discontinued until 1950s when it found an important use is in tungsten-rhenium and molybdenum-rhenium alloys.

One important application of rhenium alloys is making parts for jet engines. These allow the engines to run at much higher temperatures. The military has liked this for many decades because of the improved performance available to fast jets. Higher temperatures also allow greater efficiency. As oil prices climb, and aircraft operators search for fuel savings, the demand for rhenium is on the rise.

The aircraft industry will need every saving it can find, if it is to continue the spectacular growth of recent years, as we enter the era of peak oil. Rhenium might help, but we should not expect rhenium to ride to the rescue.

Rhenium has not been classified as a precious metal, but this is changing. The price of rhenium now exceeds $11,000 a kilogram. This is more expensive than silver ($536) but cheaper than gold ($28,500). The world annual production of gold is over 2,000 tons and the price has continued to climb. World annual production of the metal rhenium is only 40-50 tons.

I wonder how high the price of rhenium will be pushed as we seek more fuel efficiency. I would not be surprised if traders corner this small specialist market. It is already cheaper to silver-plate jet engines than to use the metal in alloys to make them run hotter and therefore more efficiently.

Aviation is due for dramatic change as aviation fuel prices rise from the previous very cheap levels. A scramble for rhenium is not going to make much difference - except to make profits for the traders who spot the link between our concern for the environment (and high oil prices) with demand for specialist alloys.


© Peter McManners 2008

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Farming Fish Week 25 (17 June 2008)

European fishermen are protesting. Diesel fuel prices are at record highs but fish prices have remained static. “We are working 80 hour weeks without making any money,” said one of the protesters. The fishermen are demanding fuel subsidies to offset their increased costs.

The European Commission believes that Europe has too many boats and wants to see their numbers contract. There will be a long negotiation, with much political manoeuvring, before a compromise is reached.

This might not be an issue that matters beyond the next decade or two, if we continue to pollute the oceans. Already many fish in the Baltic Sea have levels of pollutants that exceed EU guidelines. Eventually all the world’s oceans will suffer a similar fate. We continue to dump chemicals in the oceans. We also have the problem of the waste in land-fill sites. As rain slowly wash these sites clean, the residue flows under the ground and in the rivers until it reaches the oceans. These are so vast that at first we hardly notice but bit by bit we are converting our oceans from a bio diverse reservoir to a cess pit.

It is estimated that 90% or edible marine fish will disappear by 2048. The few that remain will have dangerous levels of toxins. Unless we drop our food safety standards there will be no point in continuing to fish on the open ocean.

At the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's Center for Marine Biotechnology they are experimenting with raising ocean fish in tanks on land. The experiment uses city-supplied water and a complex microbial filtration system to raise fish completely indoors. Yonathan Zohar, the center's director said, "I'm a strong believer that in 20 years from now, most seafood will be grown on land."

It is a sad thought that the world’s fishermen should plan to sell their boats and set up business on land.

I recommend fishermen look beyond the short-term issue of the cost of diesel fuel and campaign for both sustainable fisheries and vastly improved waste management in our society. If we do not act, we will squander a wonderful natural resource and ocean-going fishermen will cease to exist within our lifetimes.

© Peter McManners 2008

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More Conventional Nuclear Power – A Big Mistake Week 24 (10 June)

Our politicians are grappling with carbon reduction measures as they prepare the policy options leading up to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009. It is hard; on one hand we are demanding more power. On the other, we need to emit less carbon from fossil fuels.

These discussions lead, logically, to giving a green light to the expansion of conventional nuclear power. Operating a nuclear power station emits no carbon. We ignore the inconvenient fact that we will use all the benefit of the power and leave future generations with nothing but the legacy of nuclear waste. It does not seem like a fair trade.

I met yesterday morning with an official from the Finnish Environment Ministry. Finland has chosen to expand its nuclear power program. It is hard to think of a safer country for a nuclear reactor. The society is stable and secure. Finnish engineers are some of the best in the world. I do not expect a Finnish reactor to be the site of the next nuclear accident. However Finland is wrong to back conventional nuclear power – and I said so.

The more nuclear power that the world has, the more people will have access to nuclear technology and the greater the likelihood of a malicious nuclear ‘accident’. I trust the nuclear superpowers not to initiate nuclear Armageddon, but here are many other countries that I would not trust. A nuclear disaster does not need an explicit order from a government. All that is needed is lax security and poor procedures for a terrorist to get hold of bomb making material. The bomb does not need to be high tech to be devastating.

If nuclear power is adopted in safe countries like Finland how can we argue that other countries should be denied the same? Where do we draw the line between a country that is competent and can be trusted with nuclear power and one that is not? This is a recipe for divisive discussion at international level.

EU politicians are in a bind. They need to find ways to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear power is a convenient political escape route.

It is wrong that our selfish demand to maintain energy-hungry lifestyles is forcing our politicians into making a big mistake. The politicians are doing their job and reflecting the demands of the electorate. We must all say, “no” to nuclear power, and accept the pain of adjusting rather sooner to a low-carbon economy.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Hiking and more efficient flying Week 23 (3 June 2008)

I awoke this morning at 4am to a deafening dawn chorus of bird song. The cuckoo’s song I recognised; many others were new to me. My rude awakening was fair enough. This was their world I was sleeping in. As I listened, I heard the sound of an animal padding around the tent. The noise stopped, and then starting again, before moving off out of earshot. I didn’t find out what had caused it. By the time I got out of my sleeping bag and unzipped the tent it was gone.

The location was Nuuksio National Park only 30 minutes outside Helsinki. It is marvellous to have the natural world living cheek by jowl with civilisation. It matters little that I can venture out to recharge my batteries in peaceful seclusion. But it matters an awful lot that we allow the natural world to retain possession of enough real estate to maintain the integrity of the ecosystem.

Whilst hiking in this beautiful wilderness I came across other people. It is not the Finnish way to pass the time of day with strangers but I tend to break the tradition. I am glad I did. I met a chap who flies 747s for a living. Hiking is how he unwinds from the pressure of the job. Readers of my writing will know that I believe that aviation is due for a major down turn (The Chapter ‘Icarus Air’ in my book Adapt and Thrive). I was expecting this 747 pilot to disagree. Not so. Janne saw the same future as I.

In fact he had taken a strong personal interest in fuel efficiency. He was surprised that the airlines were not making more effort. Whilst aviation fuel was cheap there was little point in bothering. Now that fuel prices had started to climb, management were starting to listen. Janne estimated that by careful flying and changes in operational procedures, up to 20% savings could be made on fuel.

I am pleased that support for the Sustainable Revolution is growing. Fuel prices must rise to force (and support) adaptation by industry. Aviation fuel should be brought into the same tax trap as fuel for other transportation options, such as cars. We will then have the circumstances to build an aviation industry fit for the 21st century. The protection that governments are providing to keep flying affordable is not serving us, the planet or the industry well. Wake up to real action – tax aviation fuel.
 
© Peter McManners 2008

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Oil Sands – The Wrong Business Week 22 (27 May 2008)

Some people claim that unconventional oil is the future, both for the world’s fuel supplies and for western oil companies. Alberta’s oil sands in Canada have reserves second only to Saudi Arabia. These take money, time and effort to exploit. This is not all. Separating the oil from the sand requires energy. The carbon footprint of this oil is bigger than the free-flowing oil of conventional fields.

If the world moves into full-scale production of oil from oil sands then the life of the oil industry could be extended by decades. Last Monday, Eni, the Italian oil and gas group, announced that it had found a deposit of oil sands in the Republic of Congo that could contain many billions of barrels. We will probably find much more unconventional oil if we start looking in earnest.

Those businesses investing in oil sand production should be very wary. There should be little need to worry about the price of oil staying high enough to cover costs. But the carbon emitted in the production process will incur additional costs. Oil companies should expect to either have to buy carbon credits or pay carbon tax. Oil from oil sands will be more expensive than the oil companies are so far predicting.

It is also feasible that the world wakes up to the danger of ramping up the production from low-grade fossil fuels. If we accept this situation we accept a massive increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Mankind is slow to take real action but when the issue of climate change hits us hard, we finally will.

I would not want to make a large investment in oil sand production in the hope that humans remain blind to the consequences. The better industries in which to channel investment are the renewable sources such as solar, wind and second generation bio fuels. These will do well in all future scenarios.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Second guess the Sustainable Revolution – and profit Week 21 (20 May)

On Thursday I attended a seminar on the security implications of climate change at the British Embassy here in Helsinki. The figures for the predicted climate changes were reviewed to set the scene, many of which are now familiar to most of us.

We were reminded of one often quoted figure. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, global sea levels would rise by about 7 metres. This is fact. The size and extent of the ice sheet has been measured and the total area of the world’s oceans is known. The calculation is simple. We can be in no doubt of the result.

The implications of a 7 metre rise in seal levels are colossal. There would be relatively simple outcomes like the need to relocate the cities of New Orleans and London – a wonderful opportunity for the construction industry. The UK may even end up with a better capital city as a result. Finding countries to accept the 300,000 inhabitants of the Maldives Islands will also be feasible. It might not be what they desire but it will be a new beginning for them. Far more difficult would be finding a new home for the residents of Bangladesh. This would be crippling refugee crisis and it is hard to see how the world would cope.

The best solution would of course be not to face such a situation. We need to arrest climate change before it goes this far.

Dr Vicky Pope, Head of Climate Change for Government at the Hadley Centre, gave an interesting review of the science from the world’s leading experts. There was one remark that really made me wake up. She explained that the rise in world temperatures that would commit us to melting Greenland may not be far off. It would then take a century or so for the thaw to complete but there would be no doubt that it would. So in the next few decades we may sign up for an irreversible rise in global sea levels of 7 metres.

Melting the Greenland ice cap is not just an unlikely scenario peddled by scaremongers.

The seminar made me even more convinced that I am right in predicting a Sustainable Revolution as the attitudes of society are finally turned. My article in the May edition of Sustainable Business Magazine sums up my hard-edged approach to taking real action:

‘Those that second guess what’s to come will protect themselves – and will profit.’

This is also the message in my book, Adapt and thrive: The Sustainable Revolution.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Self transportation is good for us Week 20 (13 May 2008)

This week I have been enjoying the pleasures of self transportation. On Sunday it was Helsinki City Run. This week is also national cycling week here in Finland.

The Helsinki City Run is a half marathon that wends its way around the city. It would be hard to think of a more pointless activity. We started at the Olympic stadium – built for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and a marvellous piece of architecture of its era. We then ran for 21 km back to where we started. Why do we do such things? What has it achieved? My legs were sore and I ended up extremely tired by the end. The answer is I enjoyed it. Lying on the soft green grass of the Olympic stadium, in the sunshine eating an ice-cream, was wonderfully relaxing. I had a sense of achievement. That evening I ate a huge bowl of spaghetti Bolognese and slept like a log.

Our bodies are designed to be used. It is a measured fact that astronauts lose body mass without the knock and exertions of life under gravity. People who have a leg immobilised after breaking it find that the leg is as thin as a chicken’s leg when the plaster comes off. Exercise and exertion is good for us.

We might not all choose active and competitive sport as a past-time but our daily lives require walking, climbing stairs and occasionally running to catch a bus. This is a vital part of healthy living. Without the need to bother to plan to do exercise, we get enough to keep us healthy.

I find it odd when observing people on escalators or moving walk ways. The habit is to stand still. For those with heavy bags or shopping trolleys, I understand. For other people, it is pointless; they are wasting time that could be better spent. I always keep walking provided the way is not blocked by people standing. I save time and get a little exercise without needing to make any special effort.

Cycling is another choice we have available to us. Helsingin Sanomat (Helsinki’s newspaper and the de facto national paper) has carried out a study. It compared travel times between car, public transport and bicycle for three different journeys. On average the car journey was 18 minutes. Public transport was slowest at 22 minutes. Four minutes is a small penalty to pay (and the whole journey could be spent reading a magazine or newspaper). The fastest method was by bicycle at 17 minutes. In Helsinki it is possible, without risking life and limb, with excellent cycle track provision throughout the city.

 Not all cities have such good provision for bicycles, or such good public transport, as Helsinki so the results elsewhere will be different. Our response to that should be to change our cities and match or exceed the cycling provision provided by the Finns. Getting around by self transportation is cheap, environmentally friendly and healthy

© Peter McManners 2008

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Signs of Spring Week 19 (6 May 2008)

In the far north the cross-country skiing is still good but down in the south the daffodils are out. Spring has come early by Finnish standards. It still seems strange to me, as an Englishman, that May is the month of spring. Back in England the daffodils have long since died down and been replaced by blossom. Finland might be slow to come out of the gloom of winter but when it does there is an explosion of green shoots. Within just a few weeks it will seem like full summer.

Finland as a country has been a slow developer. It was slow to adopt the industrial ways of Germany and the UK. This has allowed the country to be selective about the policies it adopts watching the experience of other countries. Finland has then implemented policies in a peculiarly Finnish way. Like a Finnish spring, the country then quickly erupted into a successful and dynamic economy. It comes top of world league tables of competitiveness - and of environmental stewardship. This is just the combination we need to build a vibrant and sustainable society.

My children’s school runs an activity to spot the signs of spring. My young son listed ‘bottle tops in the forest’ much to my amusement. The spring is a time when many young people do make their way into the forest armed with beer bottle to celebrate the coming of spring.

The 1st May is a particular excuse to drink heavily. The day is called ‘vapuu’ and a party for everyone in the streets and in the parks. An odd behaviour that can be spotted amongst the revelry is the work of the bottle collectors. These people slide amongst the crowds collecting bottles: beer bottles, wine bottles and Champagne bottles. People place the bottles on steps and kerbs, being careful not to break them. The bottle collectors then gather up the crop earning 10c a time for each bottle returned.

This is a recycling system that works. The bottle collectors are not organised or controlled in any way. Bottles have a reclaimable deposit and this leads to raising this spontaneous army. These people are the young and the old and assume the poor, but many looks well dressed. There is little stigma to being a bottle collector. This is a normal part of a sustainable society.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Boeing and Airbus compete – and cooperate Week 18 (29 April 2008)

This last week, Scott Carson, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president and CEO, and Tom Enders, Airbus president and CEO got together. The venue was the third Aviation and Environmental Summit in Geneva. They signed an agreement to work together to ensure global interoperability in air traffic management. This is one of the efforts being made to reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. The companies will seek the acceleration of improvements to the world's air transportation management system in order to increase efficiency and eliminate traffic congestion.

Aircraft flying around in circles, burning fuel whilst waiting for their turn to land is a huge waste. Better management of the skis is clearly a benefit to the environment and to the aviation business. However the industry had better watch out. If the world gets serious about combating climate change there is a more direct approach available. Aviation fuel is subject to surprisingly low taxation. There is no reason why it should not rise to match its environmental impact, and to match other sectors like road transport fuels. There is a structural stalemate, within the international market for aviation fuel that would have to be broken before this could happen. For example, no country will want to lead with increasing tax as it would hit hardest the airlines operating out of its airports. These are surmountable. If our politicians respond to the growing demand for action on climate change, then aviation fuel becomes a target. I outline a possible scenario of how this could play out in my book, Adapt and Thrive.

I agree with Enders when he says: ‘'I am convinced technology and innovation hold the key to reducing aviation's environmental impact and increasing eco-efficiency’.

Where I disagree is that the changes being discussed within the industry do not go anywhere near far enough. We need to apply technology into radically different designs. Meanwhile we should not be surprised in couple of years that our politicians finally bow down to the pasting they will get for their lack of progress in reducing carbon emissions. They will then push up the tax on aviation fuel. As fuel taxes climb, on the back of the already high cost of oil, the aircraft industry will suffer a bloodbath.

I believe forward looking CEOs in airlines and plane makers should be planning to adopt radically new business models to exploit the coming down turn.


© Peter McManners 2008

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Ethanol from Waste Week 17 (22 April 2008)

The truth has finally dawned on the world that that there will be an end to fossil fuel. The knee jerk reaction has been to look for a replacement. ‘Bio fuel’ is the conclusion we have jumped to. Both the US and the EU have set targets for bio fuel to replace a proportion of fossil fuel in the transport sector.

It is odd that we did not look at the policy first. It is not the magic solution we seek, or not as we have started out. Crops, such as corn and rapeseed are being processed into ethanol or biodiesel respectively. There is the little matter being ignored that in many cases a similar amount of fossil fuel is consumed in production. The net result is farm land taken out of food production and lower tax receipts to the government without making any impact on overall fossil fuel consumption. This is not just ridiculous; it is irresponsible. World food prices are being driven to record highs by a policy that does no more than allow politicians to say they are doing something.

Bio fuel itself is not a dead duck. It has lots of potential. Where it is made from waste, we use a feedstock that has no other use. Of course we still have to remain vigilant to the fossil fuel used in production. That leads us to also consider the transport fuel used to transport the waste to a processing site. A Finnish company St1 Biofuels Oy has taken this into account in setting up their ethanol from waste business.

St1 is setting up a network of small dispersed waste processes facilities. The first of these is in Lappeenranta. The plant accepts waste from three bakeries and one sweets factory. Similar miniature factories are going up in Närpiö and in Hamina. In addition to ethanol the plants also produce animal feed and fertilizer.

Bio fuel production planned in this way is real progress. The companies thinking like this will have a secure future. Companies building plants to process food crops into bio fuel may be milking a short-term market opportunity but it cannot last. Our politicians may have reacted too fast but they will see the problem and close the loop hole.


© Peter McManners 2008

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Taxing cars and unfair anomalies Week 16 (15th April 2008)

I enjoy looking around motor museums see the ingenuity that has gone into the last hundred years of car development. The best models are examples of engineering excellence. Even so, the time has come to review the stranglehold that the car now has on modern society. One car standing alone is to be admired, polished and driven with pride. A million cars together becomes a terrible beast, dominating our public spaces, choking our transport system, filling our lungs with fumes and a major cause of climate change.

Choosing not to drive is a choice we all have. It is not an easy choice. The infrastructure of the developed world and the attitudes of its residents is a barrier. We need to make it possible not to need a car and feasible to make most journeys in other ways. This is one of the challenges of building a sustainable society (Chapter 12 of my book Adapt and Thrive).

One way to reduce the negative impact of the car is carefully targeted taxation. Here in Finland, the government has recently brought in differential taxation to encourage the adoption of greener models. The taxes on thirsty models have risen. To avoid accusations that the measure is simply to raise tax, the models with lower emissions have had their tax rates reduced. 

If you are looking to buy a new car there is an incentive to select one with lower emissions. This is as intended. For second-hand cars there is a worrying anomaly. Drivers, who cared about the environment and bought a low emission car before the tax change, have seen the second-hand value plummet. Conversely, anyone buying a thirsty SUV before the tax changes can now sell it on at a profit. This seems to be most unfair. I think that the government should have faced down the critics and increased tax on thirsty models without any corresponding reduction on cleaner models. At least then the people who had chosen to act early would not be penalised.

Those people who saved money by buying a big SUV before the deadline should beware. There are self-styled ‘urban cowboys’ who go around letting down the tyres of SUVs (interestingly, it is not clear whether letting down the tyres causing inconvenience without causing other damage is a criminal offence or not). The expense as fuel prices climb will be another hit, but there are people who will take pride in parading their ability to pay. The tipping point will be when fashion shifts. In the same way that the cigarette went from fashion accessory to nasty habit, the SUV will become naff. That is when the market for SUVs will collapse. Those left owning one when the fashion changes will suffer the financial loss.

For now it is the people who bought a low emission car early who have lost out. This is unfair. They can take solace in the thought that the day is not far off when the market for SUVs will collapse. SUV owners should sell now, take their capital gain and leave the losses to be taken by those who fail to spot the coming shift in attitude within society.


© Peter McManners 2008

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Reducing volatility on world stock markets Week 15 (8th April 2008)

The G7 finance ministers are due to meet in Washington this coming week. After the recent turmoil in the markets, no doubt they will have a very full agenda. I have a proposal for them to consider. Stock markets should support society rather better and a share transfer tax can be part of that improvement.

I have argued strongly over a number of years for a sustainable world society. In terms of building such a society I urge business to become the primary agent for change. Recently I have found that many business people are being won over to my way of thinking but are finding it hard to act. Their hands are tied by institutionalised barriers, which have to be dismantled if we are to exploit this changing attitude.

One of these constraints is the short-term horizon of equity markets. The costs of switching ownership are low, and reducing, as equity markets compete to attract the world’s corporations to list on their market. Capital shifts around the market looking for short-term uplift in value as fund managers seek to maximise returns for their investors.

The case for sustainable business planning is strong but requires thinking for the long-term. Forcing our business managers and leaders to concentrate on the next year, or the next quarter, undermines such planning. A share transfer tax will reduce volatility and make investors look for long-term prospects. Business leaders will then have the support they need to make the tough choices to deliver long-term sustainable shareholder value as we build a sustainable society.

New York, Frankfurt or London is not going to risk the standing of their financial markets by taking unilateral action. I propose that the share transfer tax is implemented across all the main markets at an agreed common floor rate. The G7 finance ministers have the power and influence to make this proposal reality.

My proposal is explained in Adapt and Thrive: the Sustainable Revolution (pages 178/179). I have taken the liberty of sending a copy to the G7 finance ministers and their central bankers. I hope that they find time in their busy schedule this week to give it consideration.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Rabbits, fishermen and retirement Week 14 (1st April 2008)

Helsinki has a limited variety of trees and shrubs. Natural selection weeds out any plant not able to cope with the extreme winter temperatures. We made a mistake when planting a rhododendron at the front of our house two years ago. The label attached to the shrub at the garden centre said that it was safe to -20 degrees C. This was not resilient enough. It shrivelled up and died as we went through a normal cold winter of 2005/6. The replacement shrub has not yet been tested in such cold conditions as we have had two exceptionally mild years back-to-back.

The rabbits too have had an easy time this winter. Rabbits are not native to Finland but Helsinki has a small, and growing, population. Their origins are assumed to be pet rabbits that have escaped or been released. Without freezing condition to cool their ardour, they are breeding apace. Already a line of trees along one of the coastal boulevards has been so badly nibbled that they have had to be felled.

Whilst the rabbit population expands in the warm weather, the human population decreases. A record number of Finnish men have perished by falling through weak ice. Ice hole fishing is a popular past-time and Finnish men are not to be put off by thin ice. This is despite some very clever public-interest advertising highlighting the dangers which shows fishermen leaving their brains hanging on a hook on the shore as they set off across the ice.

The rabbits are merely a pest and the loss of human life confined to a small group, who choose to take the risk. As global warming gathers pace, and the melting of ice in the polar regions speeds up, these Finnish concerns will seem very small indeed. The West Antarctic ice shelf could add 5 metres to global sea levels. The melting of the ice on Greenland could raise sea levels by a similar amount. There will be no escaping these changes. All our oceans interconnect. Sea levels will rise slowly and uniformly for everyone. If you live in a low-lying coastal area, it would be better to sell up and move now before insurance premiums become unaffordable.

For the baby boomers now moving into retirement they should watch the property market closely. Insurance companies will drive up premiums based on their commercial judgment over the risks. As beach-side property prices start to tumble they could find that they can then afford their ideal retirement home. It may be uninsurable, but rising sea levels is a slow process. Provided they do not care to pass their inheritance onto the children, they could enjoy their old age sipping cocktails at sunset looking out over the sea with waves getting closer with each high tide.

This might be a fitting end for the generation who did so well from the economic boom fuelled by fossil fuel - and then turned a blind eye as the evidence of problems became overwhelming. I do not want to destroy my children’s inheritance; I am pushing for change and expect to pay for it now. We are the generation in power over the next decade and we bear a heavy responsibility. It must not be shirked.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Biodegradable Batteries Week 13 (24th March 2008)

The modern world is full of portable electronic devices running on batteries. The market for these batteries is huge, and expanding. Not only do we need batteries for handheld devices such as mobile phones, music players, cameras and torches; but we are also starting to shift our vehicle fleet to run on batteries. Most manufacturers have plans for a hybrid drive power option. There is also the all-electric Tesla car with a range of 220 miles and stunning sports car performance.

The lead acid battery has been the work horse battery for hundreds of years. The decommissioning problem has been with us just as long. We accept without question that batteries contain heavy metals (or not so heavy metals such as Lithium used in some newer batteries). Recycling is much better than that they end up in the garbage; but what if we had biodegradable batteries?

Nature can store energy in bio-degradable sources to use when required. I believe that our engineers and scientists can mimic nature and produce biodegradable batteries. There will be huge problems to overcome to get an affordable solution with enough power density to suit our applications. This should be a challenge we give our engineers, not a barrier that holds us back.

In our household, any dead batteries have been collected for recycling for some years. Last year we went a stage further and purchased a supply of rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. This was a large investment at the time, but we now do not buy new batteries keeping the ones we have in a closed loop of true recycling. I wait to see how long they will survive before they no longer hold charge. Biodegradable batteries would be even better if only they were for sale.

As we become much cleverer with using solar power we will need yet more battery power to hold the power for use when the sun does not shine, at night. One product that caught my attention is a bag that captures light during the day and releases it when it gets dark. The developer (Global Solar Energy) uses cheap flexible solar panels in their design to capture the energy and light-emitting diodes to shine at night. Sewn into the fabric of the bag are small batteries to store the energy. This is a great idea for remote communities with no power. My mind thinks beyond this immediate benefit to what happens when it reaches the end of its useful life and no longer works at storing sunshine. In such remote communities there will be no sophisticated recycling. The bag will be chucked away and the contents of the batteries become another source of long-term pollution. Now, if the bag was fitted with biodegradable batteries then it really would be useful.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Human’s world and nature in the frozen north Week 11 (14th March)

I have just completed skiing across the frozen north of Finland close to the Arctic Circle from Russia to Sweden. The Rajalta Rajalle (border-to-border) ski event included participants from 14 nations, with me as the sole representative from Britain.

The route crossed some of the most extensive wilderness areas in northern Europe, as well as areas of human habitation. The starting point was on high ground overlooking the Russian border with cold-war watch towers still in evidence. With a temperature of -25°C we were keen to get going. The first stretch was a fast swoop down through the trees to either side. The cold air felt like fire against the exposed skin on my face. As the route started to flatten out a moose ambled across the track with no apparent concern for my imminent arrival. Many people are killed each year when their cars hit a moose. I was glad not to find out what the effect might be of hitting a moose whilst on skis!

In those first kilometers I felt that I was a visitor to a world that belonged to the moose. Later that same day we skirted past the ski resort of Rukka. We could see the ski lifts and other trappings of humans on holiday. No sign of moose here. We past day skiers out at a leisurely pace on the well groomed tracks and a couple of cafés. I wondered whether to stop for a cappuccino, but carried on to the quieter trail beyond Ruka to Kuusamo. 

These long days of skiing across Lapland reminded me how much I want to have the trappings of the developed world and the natural wilderness. We must find a way to reconcile our continual drive for development with the pressing need to care for the environment.

Each night we would stop to rest, sometimes in comfort, other times in very basic accommodation. We talked about many things. The environment and the need to protect it was one of the issues. There seemed to be agreement on the need to act. The vision I explained was perhaps too radical for some people but the conversations left me with an optimistic view that humankind is willing to make the changes required. I only hope that my fellow outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers are not a minority who will be ignored.
 

© Peter McManners 2008

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Profiting from the melting Arctic Week 10 (4th March 2008)

It is now official; according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, this winter has been the warmest on record. The icebreakers that normally keep the shipping routes open have not been needed. This has been an easy winter for us all, and saved us money, with lower fuel bills. Finnish farmers will also welcome the longer growing season that a warmer climate brings, making their operations easier and more profitable.

There are other commercial opportunities that that open up as the world warms and the Arctic ice retreats. Russia, the United States, Canada and Denmark are all eyeing up the continental shelf that lies under the Arctic Ocean. This could hold a bonanza of new oil and gas fields. As the ice clears, we will be able to use proven technology from the oil and gas fields of the North Sea to explore the potential.

We should welcome the fact that Finnish farmers will find it a little easier to make a living. Opening up the Arctic to exploration for fossil fuel is a different matter. In doing their job, the engineers and designers will be banking on global warming to make their projects viable. Earlier in my career I was an engineer and I admire the ability of such people to design equipment able to operate in incredibly harsh environments. Later I became a map maker and sensitive to the environmental damage humankind is causing, such as this slow destruction of the Arctic eco-system. I can see clearly from both sides, that we have to reconcile our economic aspirations with the growing imperative to conserve the environment. I believe that it can be done, and must be done.

The changes required reach right across society. It will be a revolution, the Sustainable Revolution. The opportunities to profit from the coming disruption are immense. Rather than profiting from the melting Arctic, I urge business to exploit the growing desire to stop climate change. These opportunities will remain profitable into the long future, long after the last oil rig has been closed down.

For my part, I depart tonight on the overnight train to the north of Finland where it is still in the grip of snow and ice. I will be skiing close to the Arctic Circle from Russia to Sweden. I want to see at first-hand the frozen wilderness whilst we still have it. I worry that our short-term economic priorities will ever so slowly destroy it.

© Peter McManners 2008
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Sustainable agriculture - Milk Week 9 (26th February 2008)

The Dairy industry used to be local in nature. I remember well that my uncle, not too many decades back, kept one of the cows on his farm to supply the family. Milking the cow was one of the daily chores. There was no machinery involved, just a bucket and a three-legged stool. This is not what many of us would choose. The modern milk industry has progressed by leaps and bounds.

Our milk products come in plastic containers from the supermarket. The milk they contain could be from anywhere. Yoghurt, in particular, has a long shelf life and come from huge factories across the country and across Europe. There are German brands that come to mind that can be found throughout the EU. This German yoghurt is good and supported by extensive pan-European advertising campaigns. It is product with which we are familiar and we trust.

This pan-European milk market is controlled by quotas. Rather than all production shifting to those parts of Europe that suit dairy production, the quota system holds prices up so that farmers in the far north such as Finland and French mountain farmers in the Alps can also make a living. The system has become quite absurd with the quotas that an EU farmers owns worth up to € 1 million (if they were to sell). Scrapping quotas would cost many people dear. So the EU muddles on. EU politicians do not want to see dairy farming concentrated in the countries best placed geographically such as Denmark, The Netherlands and Poland. I agree but my reasons are not political.

Sometimes, when I eat my morning yogurt I leave a little in the container and refill it with milk. I then cover it and leave in the warm kitchen. By bed time, the milk has become yoghurt. I can then pop it in the fridge and eat it for breakfast the next day. If making milk products is this easy, why do we need centralised production in large factories and then shipped across Europe?

The 20 seconds it takes to make my morning yoghurt is replaced by a complex industrial process powered by fossil fuel and leading to a regular stream of plastic pots into land fill. It does not take much thought to see that local yogurt supply through refilling containers is possible and feasible. If you take the time to pause and think, we should be laughing at how society has industrialised and centralised such a basic food product.

Quotas are not the solution. We should do what we know in our hearts to be right and localise much of our agriculture, taking care that the solution is truly sustainable. As well as saving unnecessary carbon emissions and waste, local agriculture also reconnects the producer and customer. The transparency that comes with the farmer and consumer living in the same locality is naturally compatible with quality safe food. 

Huge increases in the cost of transportation as fuel prices climb will force the market to localise in any case. We can speed up the process with carefully targeted taxation. Once we define localising much of our food production as our aim, it becomes much clearer which policies to use, and how. Arguing over quotas to counter the dynamics of the free market is deflecting effort, attention and investment from building a truly sustainable agriculture for Europe.

© Peter McManners 2008

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Climate change is here, now. Week 8 (19th February 2008)

This week is ski holiday week here in southern Finland. The start and end of the skiing season varies from year to year but we can always be sure that in mid February all the tracks will be open. Not only that, but the Baltic Sea around the coast will be covered with ice strong enough to allow ski tracks across the sea and of course we can ski almost at will across the lakes. This year, it is not to be. The sea is free of ice, and the grass in our garden is green. Even the daffodils (perhaps unwisely) have poked shoots above the ground. The only ski track is a man-made loop, 1.3 km long, built of artificial snow. Skiers go around it in procession. If all 235,000 residents of Espoo want to ski this holiday it will get very crowded! Of course, this year may just be an extreme deviation from the norm. And besides, whether we can ski close to home, or not, does not seem important on the scale of problems we could face.

China is suffering far more, with an acutely cold and severe winter. Australia is experiencing unusually extreme heavy rainfall. Across the world storms are becoming more frequent and increasingly violent. Within the global average statistics, these patches of extreme weather may not be significant. The warm weather in Finland and the severe cold of China may, taken together, cancel each other out.

The sober predictions of the IPCC predict a gradual warming of the Earth. This is an average taken across the globe. It is far harder to predict localized weather disruption. Long before the global averages rise to the level we regard as dangerous, we are likely to experience severe localized changes. It may be coincidence that Finland, China and Australia all feature in the news for extreme weather at the same time. Or, it may be that we are experiencing the consequences of climate change far sooner than we thought possible.

We are being brought face-to-face with the reality. But it is worse than this. There are credible scenarios, outlined by our scientists, that the climate could flip to a massively different climate. These scientists have no proof that this will happen. Before we relegate their ideas to the back of the line, consider this. There is one aspect of such studies that I find deeply troubling. If we are pushing against such a tipping point in the Earth’s systems, and we find it, there will be no stopping the runaway climate change that would follow. I am not qualified to enter the debate about how likely this is to occur. It is clear to me that this is not a risk we should be running.

We should therefore take very seriously our actions to counter climate change. But it is worse than this. Climate change is only a symptom of deeper problems. We are failing to understand that our abuse of the planet’s eco-system is a grave danger to us all. Each person, family, business or single community striving to increase their consumption and material wealth is not enough to destroy our world. But taken together, the sum total of all our efforts is certainly capable of inflicting severe damage.

We will finally accept that our behaviour must change. This will be either because we choose to change, or because the change is forced upon us as the eco-system fails to provide the support we have come to expect. Cities submerged by rising sea levels, farm land becoming desert and the oceans strangled by long-life pollutants.

Humankind is selfish and prone to procrastination but we are not stupid. Finally we will accept the need for massive change right across society. This will then set off the Sustainable Revolution.

I hope we do not have to wait too long.

© Peter McManners 2008

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The Sustainable Revolution Week 7 (12th February 2008)

In my book, Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution I explain:

The forces that we are failing to address adequately – and which will lead to revolutionary change – arise from the conflict between globalization and sustainability. The policy of globalization is sucking resources from the Earth at an increasing rate, driving activities to places with the lowest environmental and social standards. On the other hand, the policy of sustainability is seeking to persuade people, organizations and corporations to behave responsibly towards social issues and the environment. I am not alone in recognizing that global capitalism is in need of reform. But I go further than many other commentators in my belief that our existing mechanisms of capitalism, as currently implemented, cannot handle these diverging forces.

The established order of how we run society and its institutions is set to be overthrown and the landscape reconfigured. Although we cannot know the results, we can try to predict how the revolution will develop and identify parameters that are likely to nudge its progress towards desirable outcomes. We should aim to hang on to the best of globalization whilst incorporating the principles of sustainability.’


© Peter McManners 2008

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The Coming Revolution Week 6 (5th February 2008)

In my book, Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution I explain:

Embracing the opportunities of globalization has led to strong growth in many economies, with China as the largest and most recent beneficiary. Joining the club of globalized economies also means accepting that the world market is tough, highly competitive and unforgiving. Multinational companies close facilities in countries with a high cost base and shift production to where they find the least restrictions and cheapest labour. There is nothing improper or underhand about this; it is the correct financial decision to maximize returns for shareholders.’

Recent news backs this up. Nokia has been in the media over its decision to close its factory in Bochum, Germany with the loss of 2,300 jobs and move production to Romania. On 25th January, just two weeks after the announcement, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo announced stunning results for the quarter. In addition to high profitability, sales of mobile handsets had exceeded 40-per cent of market share. Sensitive to the bad press he might receive in Germany, he apologised to the people of Bochum for the problems the closure will cause. Nokia is not at fault. It is a very well run business operating in a climate of intense global competition.

The conclusion I draw:

‘As globalization matures and the immediate benefits work through the system, the downsides will become more apparent: the competition will become ever tougher, the fight over resources ever fiercer and the risks to the world environment ever greater. On the one hand, governments will urge on their local industry to be more competitive; on the other, they will attempt to maintain social cohesion and counter threats to the environment.
When governments find that reconciling these conflicting demands is becoming increasingly difficult, many countries will lose their enthusiasm for globalization and find that joining a Sustainable Revolution suits them rather better.’


Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution is published 21/2/2008 to order

© Peter McManners 2008

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Good Governance and Environmental Performance Week 5 (29th Jan 08)

At last week’s Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland the 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), was released. The EPI ranks 149 countries on 25 indicators across six policy categories: Environmental Health, Air Pollution, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources, and Climate Change. Each indicator in the EPI measures how close each country comes to broadly-accepted targets, on a 0–100 scale.

Switzerland is at the top position in front of Sweden, Norway and Finland. Here in Finland there is some disappointment to be back in 4th place. Finland has been top on many occasions and seldom out of the top three places. The disappointment is of course unfounded, the spread of scores was 95.5 for Switzerland with Finland on 91.4; hardly a huge gap. Like Switzerland these are affluent developed countries, but at 5th on the list is Costa Rica (90.5). This would seem to indicate that affluence is not a prerequisite for safeguarding the environment. There must be other reasons.

The more interesting observation is the cluster of Nordic countries at the top. There must be a common factor to explain this. Could it be good governance? Finland took the top spot in the recent world corruption index as the least corrupt country (along with Denmark and New Zealand). Sweden was close behind in 4th place, Switzerland in 7th and Norway 9th. Could it be that that honesty and good government is the key?

It is clear that no population would vote for environmental degradation. So where governance is strong the environment will be protected. That seems like a simple logical deduction. But of course populations also want wealth and material advancement. Perhaps it is the priorities we choose. What do we want more, wealth or a safe environment? We want both of course.

The problem is that there will always be less scrupulous people willing to deliver the wealth we seek and sacrifice the environment to do so. If governance is weak, they will get their way. Even worse is if the country is totally corrupt. In this case it may be impossible to run a business profitably whilst also protecting the environment because so many others flout the regulations. The only way to stay in business might be to turn a blind eye to environmental impacts.

The strong correlation between sound governance and good environmental stewardship indicates that eliminating corruption is a good way to protect the environment. Without effective enforcement, no matter how much a country says it wants to protect natural systems this will not be translated into action.

There is one inconvenient fact in all this. The 5th best country for environmental performance is Costa Rica, but it does not match this result in honest government. Costa Rica came 46th in the corruption index. There is clearly more complexity than my simple observation. Improved governance is just one aspect of our drive for better environmental protection. But it seems to me to be a good place to start.

© Peter McManners 2008

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City Living Within a Tight Energy Budget Week 4 (22nd January 2008)

Helsinki is a jewel of a city on the Baltic coast. It is small relative to other capital cities, has a wonderful heritage and excellent public transport. But like all cities it is hungry for energy – most of which derives from fossil fuel.

Yesterday I attended a public meeting in Sanomatalo, the headquarters building of the national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat. The subject under discussion was Helsinki energy policy. Matti Vanhanen, the Prime Minister, was there, fresh from his trip to the US where he had been seeking to persuade the Americans to take climate change more seriously. Out of Europe’s leaders, he is one of the best qualified to argue the case. At the meeting in Helsinki, there were representatives from all the main political parties. There was also unanimous agreement that addressing climate change required substantial carbon reductions. The discussion was over how.

Scandinavia is already more advanced in progress towards green energy solutions than most other developed regions, with Sweden now taking the lead. The politicians explained that Finland’s target was to triple the energy derived from renewable sources to 20% by 2020. Helsinki is already well advanced compared with many other Western cities, utilising energy generated from the bio waste from its forestry industry. It has many combined heat and power stations, which use heat that would otherwise be wasted to heat houses and buildings. The buildings themselves are well insulated, and fitted with triple glazing. If such a building were transported to the UK, the heating would not be needed for all but the coldest days of the mild British winter.

Finland is not the UK. The high standards of insulation are required to stop the residents from freezing when the temperature drops to below -25 degrees centigrade for weeks at a time. However modern Finns have become used to these well insulated buildings. They have adopted behaviours learnt during the recent era of cheap fossil fuel. Almost all buildings are kept between 23 and 25 degrees centigrade. To someone used to draughty and poorly insulted British buildings, Finnish buildings seem almost tropical.

This was brought home to me as I stood and listened at the public meeting. The venue was Mediatori, a large glass atrium, 8 floors high built on one side of the office building. Inside there were 4 fully grown tress and a plaza coffee bar that would not be out of place in a Paris boulevard. Acres of glass were keeping out the wet winter weather. I admired both the architecture and the engineering. If this was kept as a cool area, at a temperature midway between the offices and the cold outside, this would be sensible. But the temperature was balmy warm.

Each of the entry doors to the outside has double automatic doors. In this way they can provide an airlock to stop cold winds blowing through the building. An old traditional Finnish farmhouse would have a similar system of two doors to let people enter of leave whilst losing as little heat as possible. That is not how the Helsingin Sanomat building has been designed. Inside the airlock there are large heaters blowing warm air to ensure not a breath of cold air could intrude. This ridiculous waste of energy is universal across the developed world. Half the heat escapes immediately to the outside. We have forgotten how to live in buildings as if energy is a valuable resource.

If Finland is to make real progress in developing a sustainable energy policy for Helsinki, one place to start would be to tackle its resident’s addiction to toasty warm buildings in the winter. We should allow the seasons to enter our buildings, to be a little cooler in the winter (and in the summer be rather slower to switch on the air conditioning).

Finland can show the UK how to build well insulated buildings; meanwhile the British can teach the Finns how to live in them. Living on the edge of the Arctic, Finland will always have a sizeable need for energy, but it is also a sparsely populated country with large areas of forests. If the demand were to be scaled back then perhaps the Finns can live within the renewable energy budget available to them. Turning down the thermostat would be a good start.

© Peter McManners 2008
 

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Green light to nuclear power - Week 3 (15 January 2008)

Have we forgotten Chernobyl?

On Thursday last week, the UK government gave the green light to nuclear power in the UK’s energy policy document. In the policy, nuclear power stations are described as a ‘safe and affordable’ way to secure future energy supplies. From the blinkered perspective of officials trying to balance Kyoto targets with satisfying growing energy demand, this is a logical deduction. The operation of nuclear power stations emits no carbon dioxide and the fail-safe systems that will be installed will no doubt be the best available. If we take off the blinkers, and look at the real underlying issues, we see that the thinking is flawed.

Leaving aside the risks of another Chernobyl, nuclear power generates radioactive waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years. We might not mind storing this safely and carefully whilst our nuclear stations churn out a steady stream of electrical power. But even the strongest supporters of conventional nuclear power accept that uranium will run out sometime this century. Our descendants will then have to care for the stock piles of waste long after the benefits have been expended. They will look back on 2008 as the year when the UK could have drawn a line under further nuclear power, but the politicians were too timid to rise to the challenge.

Continuing to run existing nuclear plants (for as long as it is safe to do so) is clearly the right thing to do. But building new ones diverts investment capital and the efforts of our engineers which could be better applied to expanding renewable power. Some people claim that we need nuclear and renewable sources to satisfy our energy needs. But there is another way: we can address the demand and reduce our craving for energy. This is a huge challenge, but possible, and does not need to reduce the quality of our lives as I explain in my book, Adapt and Thrive: The Sustainable Revolution.

In all this discussion, there is one issue we conveniently ignore: getting rid of the reactors sometime in the future. Building them is expensive and time consuming. We do this is in expectation of the energy that will soon be flowing. When we switch them off, we find that the cost of decommissioning is an expense without a payback. But there is another way: future generations may save the costs of dismantling them by retaining them as grand follies to remind them not to repeat the idiocy of early 21st century humankind.

The real challenge is not designing safe conventional nuclear reactors, but designing a future for society beyond fossil fuels. We will need to do this anyway, whether we build more nuclear power now, or not. Nuclear power simply buys a breathing space, allowing us not to have to try too hard in our efforts to live within the energy budget that renewable power can provide. Courageous politicians should be refusing to authorise more nuclear power, knowing that this will make the energy crunch come sooner and bite harder. This will bring forward the massive changes required. It is true that the transition will be hard (extremely hard) but the outcome will be a much improved society. This is the prize we should be aiming for, not clutching for the easiest policy choice coming out of the number crunching by government officials.

© Peter McManners 2008
 

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It’s a Mad Mad World Week 2 (8th January 2008)

It is estimated by the Finnish Association of Travel Agencies (SMAL) that last year 80,000 Finns went on holiday to Thailand. This was 40% more than in 2006, which was in turn nearly 40% more than 2005. If this rate of increase continues then by 2010, 5% of Finland’s population will be flying long haul to Thailand each year.

It is understandable that people want to escape the dark of the Finnish winter. It can cause deep psychological problems and even lead to suicide. I have not visited Thailand but I am told that resorts such as Phuket are beautiful with lots of sun, sea and sand to raise the spirits. If a week in the sun can reduce the suicide rate then that must be a good thing.

But is flying the equivalent of 160 jumbo jets and 370,000 tons of carbon dioxide worth the price? We know we have to kick the fossil fuel habit. We also have to keep our buildings warm to survive, living so close to the Arctic Circle; and we need transport to get around in our daily lives. Flying half-way around the world on holiday is not a necessity. This should be one of the first things we eliminate as we drive fossil carbon out of society. Long haul flights should be taxed almost to extinction.

It is true that the super rich and the most powerful of our political and business leaders will continue to use intercontinental flights when they need to travel but for most of us it will be unaffordable. This is how it should be.

Once the price has been driven into the stratosphere, we ordinary folk will only be able to dream of a once-in-a-lifetime expedition by train across Europe into Asia. But there will also then be a commercial incentive for our engineers and aircraft makers to design and build a ‘green’ plane. I believe that it would be possible to make a plane with massive wings covered in solar cells that could soar like a condor using the air currents. It may take decades to solve the technical challenges and the journey may need to take a more leisurely pace. However I will wait to take my holiday in Phuket until I can travel in such a magnificent machine.

I do not want my personal choice undermined by others who don’t care a damn for the damage. Even worse are those people who purchase carbon offsets and claim that their journey is carbon neutral. No matter how well intentioned, a closer analysis shows this to be hypocrisy. I want measures that apply to everyone without exception. High taxation on aviation fuel and long haul flights is long overdue. I will vote for the politicians willing to bring in such measures; I hope many more people will join with me.

© Peter McManners 2008
 

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The Conflict between Fuel and Food Week 1 (1st January 2008)

At this time of year there are always plenty of predictions for the coming year as newspapers struggle to find news to fill their pages during the holiday season. I will join in with one prediction: the conflict between fuel and food will show the world that biofuels are not an easy salvation from the problems we face in weaning the world off fossil fuels. At the moment we are setting biofuel targets, introducing regulations to require cars to run on such fuel and our scientists are developing more efficient production processes. This allows us to continue car driving in the confidence that alternative fuels are just around the corner. This is an attractive prospect, but during 2008 the fallacy that underpins our complacency will be brought home to us.

One problem is the fossil fuel we expend to produce biofuel. In some cases we expend a similar amount of energy in production as the resulting biofuel contains. If this energy comes from fossil fuel the result is clearly ridiculous. It may be possible that business exploit the favourable tax advantages of biofuels without delivering any reduction in fossil carbon release. We need to be vigilant that we do not get caught in this trap.

However, there a more fundamental problem. The world’s agricultural land, which we use to feed the world, is finite. The more of our crops, such as corn and rapeseed, that we divert to biofuel production the less there is for food. In our open world economy this translates to higher prices.

It was reported in The Economist that farmers in America’s Pacific north-west have been shifting from growing hops to more profitable crops such as corn that can be made into ethanol. The resulting shortage of hops is driving up the price of beer with some brewers unable to obtain the supplies they need. Perhaps we have to choose between driving and drinking beer (Certainly the combination is not a good one for the obvious reason of road safety). If we look beyond the trivial issue of pushing up beer prices we can see that a huge underlying problem is looming.

If the world relies on biofuels, to be able to continue driving, then demand will push the price of biofuel higher, but we can afford it. Farmers, in selecting the most profitable crops, will switch to grow crops that can be used for biofuel feed stocks. Food crops will become more expensive. Market forces will adjust until the price we are prepared to pay for our fuel matches what we are willing to pay for food. If this means we are no longer self-sufficient in food then we will turn to the world markets for more. In the developed world we might take the view that our willingness to pay high prices will mean we can always outbid the poorer countries.

In a world in which people are starving can we justify transferring a major proportion of our agricultural capacity to biofuel?

We must cure our addiction to fossil fuel but so far we have underestimated the challenge. In 2008, I predict the dawn will slowly rise on our policy makers that we need to be far more radical than simply setting targets for biofuel consumption.

  © Peter McManners 2008

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McManners 2008