Thursday, 30 October 2008

World is facing a natural resources crisis worse than financial crunch

• Two planets need by 2030 at this rate, warns report • Humans using 30% more resources than sustainable

Juliette Jowit
The Guardian,
Wednesday October 29 2008

The world is heading for an "ecological credit crunch" far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today.
The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year - double the estimated losses made by the world's financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis - say the report's authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.
The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. "The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means," says James Leape, WWF International's director general. "But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch."
The report continues: "We have only one planet. Its capacity to support a thriving diversity of species, humans included, is large but fundamentally limited. When human demand on this capacity exceeds what is available - when we surpass ecological limits - we erode the health of the Earth's living systems. Ultimately this loss threatens human well-being." Speaking yesterday in London, the report's authors also called for politicians to mount a huge international response in line with the multibillion-dollar rescue plan for the economy. "They now need to turn their collective action to a far more pressing concern and that's the survival of all life on planet Earth," said Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the president of WWF International.
Sir David King, the British government's former chief scientific adviser, said: "We all need to agree that there's a crisis of understanding, that we're removing the planet's biodiverse resources at a rate which is as fast if not faster than the world's last great extinction."
At the heart of the Living Planet report is an index of the health of the world's natural systems, produced by the Zoological Society of London and based on 5,000 populations of more than 1,600 species, and on an "ecological footprint" of human demands for goods and services.
For the first time the report also contains detailed information on the "water footprint" of every country, and claims 50 countries are already experiencing "moderate to severe water stress on a year-round basis". It also shows that 27 countries are "importing" more than half the water they consume - in the form of water used to produce goods from wheat to cotton - including the UK, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and the Netherlands.
Based on figures from 2005, the index indicates global biodiversity has declined by nearly a third since 1970. Breakdowns of the overall figure show the tropical species index fell by half and the temperate index remained stable but at historically low levels. Divided up another way, indices for terrestrial, freshwater and marine species, and for tropical forests, drylands and grasslands all showed significant declines. Of the main geographic regions, only the Nearctic zone around the Arctic sea and covering much of North America showed no overall change.
Over the same period the ecological footprint of the human population has nearly doubled, says the report.
At that rate humans would need two planets to provide for their wants in the 2030s, two decades earlier than the previous Living Planet report forecast just two years ago. This figure is "conservative" as it does not include the risk of a sudden shock or "feedback loop" such as an acceleration of climate change, says the report. But it warns: "The longer that overshoot persists, the greater the pressure on ecological services, increasing the risk of ecosystem collapse, with potentially permanent losses of productivity."
In the 1960s most countries lived within their ecological resources. But the latest figures show that today three-quarters of the world's population live in countries which consume more than they can replenish.
Addressing concerns that national boundaries are an artificial way of dividing up the world's resources, Leape says: "It's another way of reminding ourselves we're living beyond our means."
The US and China account for more than two-fifths of the planet's ecological footprint, with 21% each.
A person's footprint ranges vastly across the globe, from eight or more "global hectares" (20 acres or more) for the biggest consumers in the United Arab Emirates, the US, Kuwait and Denmark, to half a hectare in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Afghanistan and Malawi. The global average consumption was 2.7 hectares a person, compared with a notional sustainable capacity of 2.1 hectares.
The UK, with an average footprint of about 5.5 hectares, ranks 15th in the world, just below Uruguay and the Czech Republic, and ahead of Finland and Belgium.

Waste not, want not

Recyling is good, but precycling - cutting out packaging in the first place and buying only what you need - is better. Tanis Taylor tried it for a month
Tanis Taylor
The Guardian,
Thursday October 30 2008

A woman shopping at Unpackaged, a shop in London. Photograph: Frank Baron/Guardian
Every Tuesday, as a house, we put out two big green boxes of recycling. I say green because a) they literally are and b) the presumption is that by using them, so are we. But wouldn't it be greener not to put out the recycling - to generate so little waste that, come Tuesday, there is nothing to put in the green box? It is an idealistic notion, but is it practical? I decided to try it for a month to find out. And in doing so, I inadvertently discovered that I'd joined a movement.
Precycling is the practice of reducing waste by attempting to avoid accumulating it in the first place. Precyclers try to cut out as much packaging as possible and, to this end, they think ahead, shop locally, buy things loose and bring their own containers. The benefits are various; from saving money and creating less landfill to reducing food miles and conserving natural resources.
The term was coined in 1988 for a waste awareness campaign in Berkeley, California. Residents were encouraged to avoid single-use items and to buy in bulk. Affectionately known as "wombles", they refused junk mail, carried precycling "kits" (such as cloth sandwich bags and cutlery) and when the internet came, they did their reading online to cut down on pulp. Today, however, precycling is generating interest among the eco-aware. In its report in May, the US market research firm Intelligence Group found that half of all consumers thought about an item's reuse or resale cost before purchase, that 45% of US trendsetters and 14% of mainstream consumers have cut down on bottled water purchases and 49% and 16% respectively have cut down on the use of plastic bags. In the UK, financially concerned and environmentally aware consumers are turning to tap over bottled water and carrying canvas shopping bags; Sainsbury's is even reporting a 36% rise in its sales of lunchboxes.
UK households throw away 5.9m tonnes of packaging every year, 4.7m tonnes of which is food related. Recyling is a greener option - saving between 25% and 90% of the energy it would take to create new products - but there is still an environmental cost. Recycling a plastic bottle takes a lot of time and energy; washing it under the tap does not.
The key to being a good precycler is being prepared. This I learn on day one of my trial when I forget to bring my lunch to work and am reduced to eating fruit and ice-cream (the cone being the ultimate in edible packaging). The following day, I get organised: daily sandwiches (in a washable sandwich wrap), a travel mug, cloth shopping bags and a water bottle are on hand at all times. Gone are the impulse, convenience shopping sprees of old - to be replaced by an intentional, almost military approach to what I need to buy and from where.
I patronise local markets, fishmongers, butchers and bakers and rediscover the joys of having bottles of milk delivered to my doorstep (milk and orange juice bottles can be reused 20 times before they are recycled). There is a nostalgic, parochial pleasure that comes from asking bemused staff at Costa Coffee to fill up my china mug, of carrying apples in a paper bag and using a handkerchief to blow my nose. It speaks of gentler times, a greater custody of care, and thoughtful, less harried, consumption. It saves me money and encourages experimentation. I make bread and cook strange recipes in a kitchen clear of jostling brands.
However, convenience food is aptly named. Buying unpackaged is, initially, hugely inconvenient. Finding naked staples takes real tenacity, but they do exist. Shops such as Unpackaged in north London sell dried goods in open bins, beside loose toilet rolls and a small line in refillable juices and cosmetics - and give you a discount when you bring your own container. Rural and city farms are alive and well, and great for eggs and dairy, while farmers' markets and box schemes provide your five-a-day. For pulses and staples, ethnic high street stores such as Green Valley, off the Edgware Road in London, are bulk-buy havens - with sacks and spice bins of jarish and Lebanese thyme next to tubs of cashews, apricots, figs and dried sharon fruits. At the lower-budget end of the spectrum, Weigh & Save outlets can still be found on the outskirts of some towns, where you can stroll through aisles of ginger cake-mix, pearl barley and dried dog food, buying only as much as you need by the gram. Meanwhile, shopkeepers in smaller, artisan shops, such as the Monmouth Coffee Company, have witnessed a bring-your-own revival, with more customers bringing their own jars to be filled. "People are plumping for less packaging for a variety of reasons, economic and environmental," says Cath Conway of Unpackaged.
So how did I do? During my month, the green halo slipped often. I still bought my mayonnaise in bottles and tuna in cans and I never did find a solution to the wine issue. (It is hard to find decanted wine, and I couldn't face Wetherspoon's superchilled draught wine.) But by the end of the month, my black bin was hardly being used and we were putting out one green bin, a quarter full.
Eventually, says Nimish Shah, a 35-year-old precycler from London, it will be empty. Shah hasn't been to a supermarket for years. He shops at small stores and always brings his own bags. He cuts an eccentric figure at his local market, putting fish fillets in a cloth bag that he washes and reuses. "When I look at an item," he says, "the first thing I think is whether I could just do away with the packaging or, failing that, reuse it somehow. Recycling a product should be the last option really".
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Upbeat RPS eyes strong year

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: October 29 2008 23:18

RPS Group defied the gloom in other parts of the market on Wednesday with an upbeat management statement predicting a strong year.
The environmental consultancy said trading in the first half had been “robust” and that this trend had continued, leaving the company “well positioned” to deliver results in line with expectations for the full year.
The company cut its net bank debt from £38.8m at the end of June to £36.7m by the end of September, and said it had bank facilities of £100m in place until 2013.
RPS’s turnover for the first half was £226m, up by almost a third on the same period for 2007, with a similar increase in pre-tax profits to £28.5m. Earnings per share were 9.5p.
RPS shares rose by more than 10 per cent in early trading but gave up most of their gains to end about 2 per cent higher at 142p.
Although some of the company’s planning and development clients in the UK postponed investment decisions owing to the falling property market, the company said its energy and environmental management businesses made up for the decline.
Brook Land, chairman, said: “RPS is diverse and resilient with a proven business model. Our broad range of services, combined with our expanding geographic footprint, give the board continued confidence about the outlook for [this] year.”
Several analysts reacted positively to the statement. RBS said the company’s shares “looked cheap” and rated them an “add”.
RPS, along with companies such as Environmental Resources Management, WSP Group and SLR Consulting, is one of a handful of big environmental consultancies in the UK, in a highly fragmented market. It has pursued an aggressive strategy of acquisitions, buying nine smaller companies so far this year.
Most recent acquisitions were of Paras, an energy consultancy, for about £6.4m this month, and a specialist laboratory, Mountainheath Services, for about £1.9m last month.
Numis, house broker along with Investec, said in a note: “We believe RPS has the ability to offset deteriorating trading conditions through acquisition.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Rural communities feel marginalised, MPs committe says

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Last Updated: 11:01am GMT 29/10/2008
The countryside feels neglected by the Government, according to a committee of MPs.

In a report on the rural economy, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee found a "strong perception" among the rural community that country issues have been "marginalised" by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in favour of climate change.

However now that the issue of global warming has been taken on by the new department for energy and climate change, the committee urged rural affairs be given priority once again.
The report also recommended rural affairs be taken more seriously across the different government departments.
Michael Jack, committee chairman, said: "Defra must raise its game on rural affairs if it is to unlock the billions of pounds of untapped economic potential in the countryside.
"With climate change gone from Hilary Benn's in-tray, his department must spend more time banging heads together across Whitehall to really make thorough 'rural-proofing' of Government policy a reality.
"Entrepreneurialism is 'alive' in the rural economy. But if it is to be 'well', Government must now find a lasting solution to the challenges of affordable housing, transport costs and the maintenance of a skilled labour force.
"Defra should look again at its rural departmental objectives, as few have any belief that the current ones really will build a successful and sustainable rural economy."
Tom Oliver, head of rural policy at the Campaign for Rural England, said further investment in the countryside would boost the whole economy.
He concluded: "The goose of a protected and respected countryside lays golden economic and social eggs. Government understanding of this is the key to well-being and success in the countryside for the future."

Royal Society to research potential of geo-engineering to limit global warming

Science academy to launch a feasibility study to establish which techniques might best tackle climate change
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent,
Thursday October 30 2008 00.01 GMT

The Royal Society has announced plans today to study which planetary-scale geo-engineering techniques might play a practical role in stemming the worst impacts of climate change.
Geo-engineering includes everything from placing mirrors in space that reflect sunlight from the Earth to seeding the oceans with iron to encourage the growth of algae that can soak up atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Royal Society study will look at which techniques might be feasible to carry out and what their impacts or unintended consequences might be on society.
"Some of these proposals seem fantastical, and may prove to be so. Our study aims to separate the science from the science fiction and offer recommendations on which options deserve serious consideration," said John Shepherd, an oceanographer at Southampton University, and chair of the Royal Society working group that will carry out the study. "We need to investigate if any of these schemes could help us avoid the most dangerous changes to our climate and to fully understand what other impacts they may have."
In September, the Royal Society published a special edition of its journal, Philosophical Transactions, dedicated to geo-engineering. In their introduction to the papers in that edition, Brian Launder of the University of Manchester and Michael Thompson of the University of Cambridge wrote: "While such geo-scale interventions may be risky, the time may well come when they are accepted as less risky than doing nothing. There is increasingly the sense that governments are failing to come to grips with the urgency of setting in place measures that will assuredly lead to our planet reaching a safe equilibrium."
In the papers, experts said that a reluctance "at virtually all levels" to address rising greenhouse gas emissions meant carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were on track to pass 650 parts per million (ppm), which could bring an average global temperature rise of 4C. They called for more research on geo-engineering options to cool the Earth.
But not everyone is convinced of the need for such radical techniques to halt climate change. Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said: "The wider point is not the pros and cons of particular technologies, but that the scientific community is becoming so scared of our collective inability to tackle climate emissions that such outlandish schemes are being considered for serious study. We already have the technology and know-how to make dramatic cuts in global emissions - but it's not happening, and those closest to the climate science are coming near to pressing the panic button."
Shepherd said that, whatever his study finds, the world cannot ignore the need to cut carbon emissions anyway. "Whatever solutions technology may offer us in the future, it's clear that the need to cut emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is now more urgent than ever."
The working group's report is expected to be published next year.

Turning up the heat - Climate bill

The Guardian,
Wednesday October 29 2008

A revolution in slow motion, the climate change bill has been two years in the making. In 2006 Friends of the Earth began a campaign, which was picked up first by the Conservatives and soon after by the government, for a law committing Britain to a sharp cut in greenhouse gas emissions. Yesterday evening the bill finished its Commons stages. It was a radical moment, unmatched anywhere else in the world, the drama only slightly diminished by the threadbare debate that preceeded it.
With the law comes a new reality. Parliament has set demanding targets and deserves congratulation for that. But it has barely begun the task of finding a way to meet them. All the laws in the world will not stop carbon levels soaring to dangerous levels if they do not lead to policy action. The long passage of the bill has been something of a placebo, giving the impression of progress without, so far, producing much in reality. The new climate change secretary, Ed Miliband (whose brother David originally gave the bill government backing) has been admirably ambitious, accepting that aviation and shipping emissions should, in some form, be included in overall reduction targets and raising the proposed cut in greenhouse gases by 2050 from 60% to 80%. He now has to show that these impressive goals can be something more than legislative fantasy.
The low-carbon future always seems to begin tomorrow. If the law works as it should, governments will have no option other than to get it under way today. It should be a straitjacket, binding departments into policies they would not otherwise follow: no new third runway at Heathrow, and no new coal power station at Kingsnorth. But the shame of busting five-yearly carbon budgets may turn out to be much smaller than the political pain caused by enforcing emissions reductions. The call from both main parties for lower petrol prices is just a small hint of contradictions to come.
In the meantime, the task of mitigating climate change is getting harder. Yesterday's Living Planet report from WWF International warned that human demands on the planet's resources have doubled in 45 years, and that 75% of people live in countries that demand more resources than they can provide. The new Garnaut report from Australia warns that emissions are running away, increasing by 3% a year to 2030, making a mockery of British targets. Some scientists are close to panic: a recent collection of essays from the Royal Society suggested targets will never be met, and that the world should attempt "geoscale" interventions instead, such as dimming the sun. That sounds like fantasy. The better alternative is to make the climate change law work.

China Asks Rich to Pay for Cleanup


BEIJING -- China issued a major policy on climate change Wednesday, acknowledging its own growing contribution to the problem and its increased vulnerability to a warming planet, but arguing that rich nations should pay poorer countries for the giant costs of cleaning up.
"Based on information we have at hand, our emission level is roughly the same as that of the United States," Xie Zhenhua, a deputy chief in charge of climate change policy at the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic policy-making body, said at a news conference. But "whether our emissions are higher than the United States is not what really matters," he added.

Instead, Chinese officials argue that the real issue is who will foot the bill for the costly cleanup. Mr. Xie said "developed countries should, at least, contribute 0.7% of their GDP" to help fund poorer countries fight global warming. The figure represents a possible opening for future climate-change negotiations, as China envisions some sort of global climate tax.
The 44-page report comes ahead of an international conference on climate change next month in Beijing, organized by the U.N. and the Chinese government to help promote the exchange of green technologies. It details what steps China has taken to ease pollution, and the costs to its agriculture and environment from rising temperatures.
Even more crucial will be a meeting in December in Poland to start negotiations over what to do after the U.N.-backed Kyoto Protocol on climate change expires in 2012. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developing nations, such as India and China, were exempt from limits on greenhouse-gas emissions. Some rich countries, such as the U.S., which didn't join the treaty, said excluding poor countries basically added an unfair burden to rich nations while allowing poorer countries to keep polluting.
China argues that because rich countries had contributed the bulk of greenhouse gasses during their industrialization, they should foot the bill for cleaning up. But when Kyoto was first negotiated, scientists had greatly underestimated the speed with which China's economy would grow.
Now, by some estimates, China has already matched or surpassed U.S. levels of greenhouse gasses as its economy works in overdrive, burning more coal, producing more steel and pouring more cement than any other country. Increasingly, scientists fear that failing to limit China's and India's greenhouse gasses could wipe out any gains made in the developed economies.
Though China acknowledges the drastic threats of climate change, especially because its mostly poor, predominantly rural economy is more vulnerable to drought and flooding than the richer economies of the West, it still rejects any absolute caps on emissions, arguing they limit economic growth.
Instead, China has set targets to increase the energy efficiency of its economy, squeezing more output of every ton of coal it burns. Part of that project has led to the closure of hundreds of inefficient power plants, steel mills and cement plants, the white paper said.
Write to Shai Oster at

BiFab powers ahead with renewable plan

Published Date: 30 October 2008
By Erikka askeland

THE LAST heavy fabrication yard in Scotland is planning to open a new manufacturing facility in Germany in order to make further headway producing offshore wind turbine structures.
Burntisland Fabrications (BiFab) also has plans for a "major" expansion at its fabrication yards at Burntisland and Methil.The company, which fabricates platform decks and other support structures for the offshore oil and gas industry, aims to bolster its presence in the UK and European renewables market, including offshore windfarms as well as wave and tidal energy technologies.The group recently completed a £5 million contract to provide substructures to Talisman Energy's and Scottish & Southern Energy's flagship Beatrice Wind Farm in the North Sea. John Robertson, the managing director of BiFab, is currently in negotiations with two or three potential joint venture partners in Germany. Robertson said the renewables sector was "an opportunity for continual growth over the next five to ten years."We are in final discussions regarding major expansion plans at our facilities in Scotland and now the setting up of new overseas manufacturing facilities in Germany."The company was established in 2001 following a management buyout from Aberdeen-based engineering firm Consafe.The company employs 250 people and recently resolved a large scale industrial dispute. The expansion is also rare good news for Royal Bank of Scotland, which has backed the group's plans for expansion with a new revolving line of credit. RBS has banked BiFab since 2003. Peter Hodgkinson of RBS commercial banking in Fife said: "We are pleased to support the firm."

Offshore wind farms a challenge

Published Date: 30 October 2008
IT IS difficult to imagine groups of enormous wind turbines towering out of the seas around Scotland. However, this could happen within decades if recent developments are anything to go by.
The Crown Estate has revealed that 14 developers have expressed an interest in building schemes in 23 sites.To many in the renewables sector this shows there is a bright future for the industry, which has the potential to provide a significant amount of Scotland's clean, green energy.However, sceptics cite a long list of barriers, which they say might be insurmountable.The technology required to create the enormous 5Mw turbines, which tower more than 300ft tall and must withstand the harsh ocean environment, could be one.In addition, the devices must be serviced, which is not an easy task when there are hazardous waves to contend with.There are also fears that the devices could damage the marine environment, block shipping routes, and hamper the fishing industry.The potential barriers have led one industry insider to say: "I just don't think the technology is advanced enough to make offshore wind farms feasible."It will take years and years before we are at the stage where they can be installed with confidence that they will survive the conditions – and before that stage they won't be attractive to investors."However, a source in the environment sector, disagreed."I'm very optimistic. Yes it's technologically more challenging in most Scottish locations than most English ones, primarily because of the water depth that they are likely to have to operate in."But there's a significant amount of investment going in to improve the technology," the source said.Another industry insider added: "There are definitely challenges about developing renewable energy in offshore environments."However, we can start to transfer the experience from the oil and gas industry."

Olive stones could be made into biofuel

By Richard Alleyne
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 30/10/2008

Olive stones can be turned into bioethanol, a renewable fuel that can be produced from plant matter and used as an alternative to petrol or diesel, scientists have discovered.
The development gives the olive processing industry an opportunity to make valuable use of the four million tons of waste in olive stones it generates every year and sets a precedent for the recycling of waste products as fuels.
Researchers from the Universities of Jaén and Granada in Spain developed the process which they published in the Society of Chemical Industry's (SCI) Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology.

"The low cost of transporting and transforming olives stones make them attractive for biofuels," said researcher Sebastián Sánchez.
Bioethanol is increasingly used in cars, but its production from food crops such as corn is controversial because it uses valuable land resources and threatens food security.
The olive stone, produced in processing of olive oil and table olives, makes up around a quarter of the total fruit. It is rich in polysaccharides that can be broken down into sugar and then fermented to produce ethanol.
"This research raises the possibility of using of olive stones, which would otherwise be wasted, in producing energy. In this way we can make use of the whole food crop," said Mr Sánchez.

Biofuels debate

By 2050 the world will need twice as much energy while emitting half of today's greenhouse gases. As the global population heads for 9 billion, supplies of conventional oil and gas will not keep up. Solar and wind will struggle to fill the gap and nuclear will be needed, but poses its own environmental challenges. Shell say biofuels cannot be left out of the mix and have the potential to be an affordable, genuinely low CO2 fuel in the near term.
Rob Rout, in charge of Shell's expansion of biofuels, answers your questions on the most controversial issue being debated by the energy giants.
Send your questions to

Defence groups enter green zone

By Sylvia Pfeifer
Published: October 30 2008 02:00

When a Scottish farmer applied for planning permission to build four wind turbines in a field this year, his plans were almost derailed by Aberdeen airport. The turbines were in line of sight of the airport's radar and could interfere with it, potentially hampering air traffic, the airport said.
The farmer turned to an unlikely source for help: Qinetiq, the defence and research technology group that developed radar in its formative years during the second world war.
Today, it has found a new use for its expertise, adapting its computer modelling techniques to help airports, developers and energy companies analyse the impact of a new wind farm on the performance of radars. The group is also developing the world's first "stealthy" composite wind turbine blade that will not interfere with radar systems.
The farmer's approach to Qinetiq paid off. The company proved the turbines would have only a negligible impact on the radar and Aberdeen airport withdrew its objection.
It was a small victory but a significant example of how some of the world's leading defence companies are applying their military technologies to one of the fastest-growing markets: energy and renewable energy and climate change, in particular.
"Energy and environment is emerging as a key strategic focus for Qinetiq alongside security and defence," says Mark Roberts, energy and environment director at Qinetiq.
Many defence companies already use their engineering skills to provide energy-efficient solutions to the armed forces (the US army has launched an initiative to cut down on the logistical cost of transporting fuel across large battle areas), while their satellite technology has for decades been used by the military to provide weather forecasts.
Until now, though, there has been little evidence of a "holistic approach" to the energy sector, said Nick Cook, founder of Dynamixx, a consultancy focused on opportunities in the energy and environmental market for the aerospace and defence industry.
With government defence budgets under pressure, more industry executives are waking up to the fact that their skills, including system integration expertise and the ability to model large amounts of data, can be used to help combat climate change, the ultimate system of systems.
"Action needs to be taken now and the defence industry is the best placed sector on the planet to deal with the threat," says Mr Cook.
Even Lockheed Martin is going green. The world's largest defence company, better known as the maker of fighter jets such as the F-16, is already one of the largest providers of energy efficient programmes for utilities and federal agencies in the US but is now using its engineering expertise - it employs about 70,000 engineers and scientists - to pursue other opportunities in the energy sector.
It has teamed up with Starwood Energy Group, an affiliate of private equity investment group Starwood Capital, to investigate commercial-scale concentrated solar energy generation facilities in North America.
Dr Ray Johnson, chief technical officer, believes the energy market is a "good fit" with defence. "Lockheed is a national security company and we see energy as a growing national security concern of the US and our allies," he says. Its scientists are doing cutting-edge research in areas such as renewable energy and alternative sources of power.
In January, Lockheed signed a licence agreement to integrate and market so-called Electrical Energy Storage Units from Texas-based EEStor for military and homeland security applications. EEStor is developing a ceramic battery chemistry that can provide 10 times the energy density of lead acid batteries at one tenth the weight and volume.
This month Lockheed was granted $1.2m by the Department of Energy to demonstrate that ocean thermal energy conversion is possible. Although oceans do not always feel warm, the difference in temperature between the surface and the cold depths below is great enough to be transformed into electrical energy.
Given the changes in weather that are taking place, in part due to climate change, predicting these changes accurately both for the military and business is another increasingly lucrative area.
Raytheon, for example, has for decades supplied weather-monitoring sensors on ground-based radars, on aircraft and even space craft.
The information it processes is invaluable not just for weather forecasters but also for the military, which can use it to help influence tactical decisions during a conflict. But other markets such as agriculture can increasingly profit from accurate information: farmers can use the data, for instance, to decide when to harvest.
"Detailed information on weather and climate trends can be critical to improve the effectiveness of alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar power," says Thomas Culligan, executive vice-president of business development at Raytheon.
Saab, the Swedish aerospace and defence group, also supplies weather stations to the country's transport authorities, helping them plan when to remove snow and ice from the roads.
At the end of last year the company took its first step into the waste management business, investing in a company called Usitall, which specialises in waste management and energy recovery. According to Ake Svensson, chief executive of Saab, the move will allow it to export this knowledge and offer it to customers as an "offset potential" against harmful carbon emissions.
"[Defence companies] can manage big programmes," he adds. "Some of these cases are huge integration tasks, we can also provide command and control systems that have been developed for military purposes."
As defence companies identify more opportunities in the sector, there are likely to be significant partnerships with energy companies; most already admit to holding early-stage talks. But they are unlikely to start selling wind turbines in your local supermarket. The consumer market is one area that will remain out of reach.
"It is difficult for us as the defence industry to approach the consumer market," says Mr Svensson. "We are good when you have bigger customers, like authorities or major industries that need your expertise."
Signs of Britain's nuclear renaissance
The British nuclear industry is enjoying a renaissance after the government gave the green light for a new generation of reactors - and defence contractors believe they can play an active role.
Rolls-Royce, which makes nuclear reactors to power Royal Navy submarines, announced in the summerplans to launch a nuclear power division focused on reactor components. It said concerns about global warming, energy security and the high cost of fossil fuels meant the global market for civil nuclear energy could be worth £50bn in 15 years.
BAE Systems, which builds Britain's nuclear submarines, is also eyeing opportunities in the sector, while VT Group last year spent £75m buying a division of British Nuclear Fuels.
Companies are already forming partnerships. Last month Westinghouse, the nuclear engineering company sold to Toshiba of Japan, signed agreements with BAE, Rolls-Royce and Doosan Babcock to collaborate on its AP1000TM nuclear power plant proposal.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

EU mulls loans for green cars

By Joshua Chaffin and Nikki Tait
Published: October 30 2008 02:00

European carmakers could get up to €40bn ($51bn, £31bn) in "soft loans" from the European Investment Bank to help develop more fuel-efficient technologies, a top European Union official said yesterday.
Günter Verheugen, the EU's industry commissioner, said that loan subsidies could be provided through the EIB in an effort to develop greener cars and meet EU environmental targets, although he said it was ultimately a matter for the bloc's member states and the EIB to decide. Nikki Tait and Joshua Chaffin, Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008