Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Boris Johnson sets out plans for green London

Mayor seeks to throw off image as climate change sceptic with major speech on environment
Hélène Mulholland, Tuesday November 25 2008 17.34 GMT

Boris Johnson today sought to burnish his green credentials by vowing to make London "greener, cheaper and cleaner at the same time".
The mayor of London announced plans to give all residents in the capital free up-front access to efficiency measures such as loft insulation to help drive down bills by an average of £300 a year, regardless of income.
Johnson also told the Environment Agency's annual conference that the economic downturn presented a "huge opportunity" for the capital by creating new green jobs, offering opportunities to reduce emissions as well as households and companies' energy bills.
"There is a huge opportunity for us to go greener and cleaner and cheaper at the same time," he said.
Simple changes to buildings to make them more energy efficient could save small- and medium-sized businesses £725m a year, declared the mayor.
"That is a considerably more powerful stimulus than a 2.5% cut in VAT," he quipped, referring to the government's pre-budget report statement yesterday.
The Tory mayor, famed for scorning the global warming agenda in the past, sought to throw off his image as the man who used to write caustic articles about "the religion of climate change" by saying that his mind had been changed by the incontrovertible science. "If the climate can change, I don't see why my mind can't," he said.
In an 18-minute speech, which was light on detail, Johnson said that his new environment adviser, Isobel Dedring, was looking at a scheme in Kirklees seeking to convert all households into energy efficient homes.
The council-led project will visit every home to offer free cavity-wall and loft insulation and low-energy light bulbs to everyone, and improvements to heating systems for those in fuel poverty or on benefits.
If implemented, a replication of the scheme across London would cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
Johnson is also considering low carbon zones in 10 areas within Greater London, and is keen to make better use of waste technology.
He said it was "completely crazy" that London spent roughly £12bn on energy while councils were filling landfill sites with waste that could be turned into domestic electricity with the use of the right technology.
Johnson also vowed not to replace his Toyota people carrier until he found an electric or hybrid car to replace it.
"I want to use our influence as powerfully as possible to drive forward an electrification of the motor car," he said.
"The GLA has 8,000 vehicles running around London … I want to use our bulk buying power to electrify or hybridise as much of the fleet as possible."
Johnson, who turned up by bicycle to make a speech from notes for the second of a two-day conference held in Westminster, used his address to espouse the virtues of cycling and express despair at the fact that just 1% of Londoners use two wheels to get around the capital.
This compared with 20% of people living in Copenhagen, and 30% of those in Norwich, he lamented.
Highlighting his plans for a bike hire scheme, which would see between 6,000 and 10,000 bikes available by 2010 to Londoners interested in occasional cycle use, Johnson admitted he faced the headache of dealing with 32 London boroughs who could push against his proposals.
Citing the Parisian Vélib' bike hire scheme, run by a mayor who has complete control over his city's pavements, Johnson said enviously that his own powers were limited in turns of placing cycle stations at regular intervals along London streets.
"We need to work with London boroughs, who are jealous of their parking receipts, who do not want to give valuable space up," said Johnson, adding that he was seeking to foster close collaboration with councils on all fronts.
The mayor looked floored when a member of the audience pointed out to him that he had "cut him up" on his bike by going through a red light.
Johnson seemed obviously relieved when told the incident had taken place before he was elected mayor.
"I now punctiliously obey every red light," he said.

Bluefin tuna under further threat

The Associated Press
Published: November 25, 2008

BRUSSELS, Belgium: A new quota set by an international organization for commercial fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean will threaten the fish's survival, environmental groups said Tuesday.
EU countries, the U.S., Japan and other members of the 46-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, voted in Morocco on Monday to grant a quota of 22,000 tons for 2009.
That is 7,000 tons more than what scientists from the same organization had recommended as a maximum.
Environmental groups such as WWF, Greenpeace and Oceana said Tuesday the new quota will push the once-bountiful stocks beyond commercial recovery.
Once a prime catch in the Mediterranean, the fleet, fatty fish has fallen victim to gastronomic taste. In other words, it has become far easier to spot in Tokyo sushi restaurants than in the blue waters between Europe and Africa.

Environmental groups said the latest quota means the death knell for the bluefin in the Mediterranean.
"With this decision, we can only wait for the disappearance of bluefin tuna," said Xavier Pastor, executive director for Oceana. "Instead of preserving the bluefin tuna stock from collapse, they gave in to the fishing industry's short-term economic interests."
The WWF and Greenpeace also condemned the decision.
"The game is over. ICCAT has missed its last chance to save the bluefin tuna from stock collapse," said Sebastian Losada of Greenpeace. "Bluefin tuna has become an endangered species because of ICCAT mismanagement."
Industrial fishing and tuna farming have drastically cut catches in the Mediterranean, but if the tuna were given time to replenish, it could sustain an annual catch of 45,000 tons, Oceana says.
Tuna has now declined so much that the quota reduction from 28,500 tons this year to 22,000 tons in 2009 is still seen as a victory for the fishing industry.
Enforcement of quotas has been very inefficient, and illegal catches rampant in the Mediterranean. So observers say fishing often far exceeds quotas.
To counter that, ICCAT also imposed strict limits on the fishing season and called for better surveillance of fishing for bluefin tuna.

One third of Yellow river unfit for use, study shows

One third of the Yellow river, one of the longest in the world, is unusable for any purpose because of pollution, according to research. The river supplies water to millions of people in northern China. Factory waste and sewage have diminished its quality in recent years, the Yellow River Conservancy Commission said. The commission, which analysed more than 8,384 miles of the river, found that only 16% of samples reached a standard safe for household use. Li Xiaoqiang, a commission spokesman, called for harmony "between development ... and protection of the river". Tania Branigan in Beijing

1st signs of consolidation in US ethanol industry

The Associated Press
Published: November 25, 2008

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota: The first salvo may have been fired this week in a long-awaited shakeout for the U.S. ethanol industry.
VeraSun Energy Corp., the No. 2 ethanol producer, announced it had received an unsolicited takeover bid one month after seeking bankruptcy protection, and just hours after the nation's biggest producer, Poet LLC, said it was talking with other companies about buyouts.
Neither Poet nor VeraSun will say if the two are negotiating a deal. VeraSun made the announcement just hours after Poet Chief Executive Jeff Broin told The Associated Press that his company was talking with a number of producers.
"They are one of the larger private guys that would have the necessary capital to actually do this," said Cory Garcia, a Houston-based senior research associate with Raymond James & Associates.
Todd Alexander, a New York partner in the renewable energy group of law firm Chadbourne & Parke, said a likely scenario would pair an existing producer with an outside financial partner.

"There have been rumors about the oil majors lurking in the shadows and keeping an eye on things," Alexander said. "But I have yet to see them get seriously involved."
"That doesn't mean in the future that they won't."
In recent years as crude prices soared and corn stayed cheap, money flooded into the biofuels sector. With tax breaks and a huge federal mandate to produce more ethanol, the industry appeared more ready than every to compete.
Few foresaw the steepest inflation adjusted price drop for crude in decades, however. The same forces that pushed crude and other commodities higher forced ethanol producers to hedge corn contracts and many locked in prices at or near record highs.
Corn prices, like crude, have since plunged leaving some producers paying well above market prices.
Frozen credit markets have also deprived ethanol producers of much needed capital.
Yet refineries have been built and the consensus is that if someone has the money to operate them, they will eventually pay off.
The country's renewable fuel standard, which was expanded by Congress in 2007, will require a total of 36 billion gallons (136 billion liters) of biofuels to be blended into gasoline by 2022.
Those companies that can make through what has become a very rough patch of near-zero margins stand to profit, Garcia said.
"If this difficult operating environment continues, some of these companies are going to go out of business, and it's going to be easy for these refiners to basically go in and scoop up the remains," he said.
That means the biggest and strongest ethanol companies could become much larger.
"Commodity businesses tend to drive toward economies of scale," Garcia said. "So I don't think this industry's an exception and I think there'll be several large producers."
With slim profit margins already weighing on the biofuels industry, VeraSun found itself short of cash in the third quarter after locking in at higher-than-market corn prices.
Trading of the company's shares on the New York Stock Exchange was suspended on Nov. 3.
Shares of smaller ethanol players such as Pacific Ethanol Inc., Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings Inc. and Biofuel Energy Corp. are trading at a fraction of what they once were, creating an environment in which it may be cheaper to buy an ethanol company than to build new plants.
"I think, quite honestly, some of the plants out there may be stranded capital," Broin said Monday.
Poet, which has been making ethanol from corn for more than 20 years, operates 26 plants that collectively can pump out about 1.54 billion gallons (5.83 billion liters) of the alternative fuel each year — accounting for about 14 percent of America's capacity of 11.05 billion gallons (41.83 billion liters), according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
VeraSun's 16 biorefineries, 14 of which are in operation, can produce 1.4 billion gallons (5.3 billion liters) of ethanol annually, or about 13 percent of the country's total capacity.

Wasted opportunities

Britain dumps 6.7m tonnes of food a year in landfill sites that emit CO2. But there are cleaner ways to deal with our leftovers
Virginia Matthews, Wednesday November 26 2008 00.01 GMT

Inviting people to assess their likelihood of having liver damage by noting how many booze bottles they recycle - as the Drink Aware Trust is currently doing - might make people drink less. But could encouraging the public to take a fresh look at the congealing carcasses, mouldy macaroni and rancid ratatouilles that make up 20% of the average household's rubbish help us shrink our food waste mountain?
By 2013, when EU plans to enforce stricter waste targets and penalties will be introduced, local authorities will have to show that they are taking radical action to tackle the 6.7m tonnes of food - worth £10bn annually - that currently ends up in landfill sites that emit greenhouse gases.
While local authorities are experimenting with a number of different options for diverting food from the waste stream, it's the potential for extracting usable methane energy, via anaerobic digestion, that currently dominates the debate. This is a waste disposal system that uses micro-organisms to convert organic waste into methane-rich biogas that can replace fossil fuels. The small amount of waste residue from the process can be used as fertiliser.
Then there's the lower-tech option of composting. In Brighton, the council offers heavily subsidised composting bins for home use, but does not offer a collection service. In the London boroughs of Hackney and Haringey, food waste goes first into a small kitchen caddie, which householders empty into a larger bin outdoors. This is collected weekly, mixed with garden clippings, and composted.
Ground to a pulp
In Hereford and Worcester, you get a grant for a waste disposal unit that grinds waste to a pulp, but in most areas of the UK, leftover food still goes direct to landfill, via millions of wheelie bins or bin bags.
Organisations such as Wrap, the not-for-profit Waste & Resources Action Programme, which runs the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, says it would far rather we all bought less food, or at least cooked up the leftovers and fed them to the dog. But until we do live in an ideal world, the only way to avoid EU fines will be for each of us to learn how to separate, store and handle every last eggshell, teabag and burnt roast potato generated in our kitchens.
Phillip Ward, director for local government services at Wrap, says that although it would be gratifying to think that green-minded citizens up and down the country will flock to home composting, that simply isn't going to happen. "Home composting is an excellent solution, but if you live in a tower block or are elderly, it really isn't an option for you," he says. "Even for those lucky enough to have a garden, there is the problem of rats and other scavengers to contend with, plus you have to be quite selective about what goes on the [compost] pile."
Meat, fish, dairy and anything that has been cooked can smell bad and attract vermin and pests, and should not be added to the compost heap, say gardeners.
At present, Ward says, around a quarter of local authorities are starting to tackle food waste in the run-up to 2013, even if it isn't his preferred option of anaerobic digestion. Of the 100 or so authorities - out of a total closer to 360 - already tackling our leftovers, around 42 operate weekly separated food waste collection services, followed by conversion into methane. Another 60 authorities are offering a mixed collection, though not necessarily storage of food with garden waste. Rather than turning it into methane, they compost and sell it on.
While householders permitted to chuck garden and food waste in together may find it convenient, the odour and even maggots that may result can be an issue.
"While anaerobic digestion is at present the more expensive route, it will become far cheaper once we have more digestion plants in operation and large parts of the country choose this as their preferred option," Ward says.
Wrap has recently trialled separate, weekly food waste collection and digestion via 94,000 UK households, and it believes it has public support. Ward says that initial resistance to transporting unwrapped, possibly smelly food from the kitchen caddy to outside bin has been overcome by the use of biodegradable caddy liners.
Michael Warhurst, senior resources and waste campaigner at Friends of the Earth, is a strong supporter of the anaerobic route. "While composting is fine, the most economical way forward is separate collection and anaerobic digestion, and we hope that more councils will adopt this method as time goes on."
There is another solution, but it is proving controversial. Hereford and Worcester is running a trial of waste disposal units, the electrical under-sink appliances that grind up leftovers, even bones, to a watery sludge that ends up in the sewers. Once the sludge hits the waste water system, it could be recycled into a soil conditioner or converted into methane.
The council is offering a one-off cashback incentive of £80 towards the cost of installing a disposal unit. So far, 1,800 households have taken up the offer.
So what's wrong with flushing food into sewers? A lot, says Severn Trent Water, which warns that the build-up of extra fats, oils and grease in the system will cause blockages.
Ward concedes that for flat-dwellers, the installation of waste disposal units as part of a refurbishment or new build - retrofitting is very expensive - is a possible option. But he warns there may be a cost to households.
"It is fairly possible that water companies would charge people extra for taking away their food sludge, even if they can make money out of it," he says. "When it comes to traditional domestic waste, though, local authorities have no powers to charge you extra money on top of council tax."
Well, not at present anyway.

New Zealand's carbon market cast into limbo

Reuters, Wednesday November 26 2008
By Adrian Bathgate

WELLINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - New Zealand's fledgling carbon market has been thrown into limbo only weeks before its planned start date, after the incoming government met an election pledge to review emissions trading, industry officials said.
The scheme was to be the first carbon cap-and-trade scheme outside of Europe and had been designed to help the country meet its obligations under the Kyoto climate-change protocol.
The decision to review it has unnerved market participants, afraid the new conservative government could delay or substantially weaken plans to roll out carbon-trading over the next few years, hurting the country's green image.
"What the government has said has created a lot of uncertainty," said Mark Franklin, head of carbon exchange TZ1, the would-be operator of the country's first carbon market. TZ1 is owned by New Zealand stock exchange operator NZX.
"From a global perspective, we had a pretty good scheme here and there was a fair bit of interest from overseas," he added.
The new government has frozen implementation of emissions-trading since its election on Nov. 8.
Incoming Prime Minister John Key and Climate Change Minister Nick Smith have said the government will adopt a carbon trading scheme in some form, but Key has suggested a revised version might not start trading until 2010.
That is the same year neighbouring Australia is due to launch its own scheme, meaning New Zealand could lose any first-mover advantage if it delayed its own until then.
Forestry was the first industry ready to participate under the now frozen scheme, with sectors ranging from transport to agriculture scheduled to be phased in over the next five years.
The planting of forests to generate carbon credits worth tens of millions of dollars has been cast into doubt, said New Zealand Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg.
"Some people are particularly concerned because a number of them have invested money on the basis of the existing scheme," Berg said.
New Zealand has lost any chance of having a liquid carbon-trading market for a year said Wayne King, director of consulting firm Carbon Market Solutions.
"Most of our clients are very, very reluctant to do anything until we see some sort of clarity," King said.
"There were quite a number of corporates and companies that were about to engage and now they can't," he said.
"Emissions liabilities were in the order of over NZ$100 million ($55 million) for some," he added.
King felt the scheme would be softened and that there could be exemptions, at least initially, for some of the bigger emitters, such as steel makers and power firms.
Key has also said the government might consider amending the emissions scheme to include a carbon tax, something opposed by the National Party when it was in opposition.
"The opportunity for New Zealand business is to use the review period to ensure that they are well prepared for carbon pricing, whether through a tax or trading scheme," said Sean Lucy, head of nabCapital's Carbon Solutions Group in Australia.
The National Party, which leads the centre-right government, said before the election it would keep emissions-trading but revise it to lessen the burden on businesses. But it faces pressure from one of its minor support parties to make substantial changes.
The ACT Party, founded by the country's best-known free-market politician, had originally campaigned to scrap the scheme but compromised and accepted a review.
The government has suggested the review night also examine the science behind climate change, a move that has outraged environmental groups, who say New Zealand's reputation will be damaged if the concept of global warming is questioned.
Data released by the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat last week showed New Zealand had the sixth highest growth in emissions out of 40 industrialised countries between 1990 and 2006. New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions grew 25.7 percent in the period.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, New Zealand's emissions are meant to show no increase from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, the pact's first commitment period.
Climate Change Minister Smith declined a Reuters request for an interview.
"I'm quite confident the select committee review will come up with what we always wanted, which is more balance in this whole debate," Key told the New Zealand Herald newspaper last week. ($1 = NZ$1.84) (Additional reporting by David Fogarty; Editing by Mark Bendeich and David Fogarty)

Judge Says Auto Makers Can't Block Emissions Rules

Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Auto makers cannot sue to block Rhode Island from enforcing tighter standards on tailpipe emissions first adopted by California because the industry has already lost similar lawsuits elsewhere, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres dismissed General Motors, Chrysler and two auto makers associations from the case, but his ruling permits several local car dealers to pursue the lawsuit for now. The automobile manufacturers have lost similar lawsuits in California and Vermont.
In his ruling, Mr. Torres said allowing another lawsuit could prove a waste of court resources.
"It is difficult to see what interest the public has in permitting the plaintiffs another bite of the apple in challenging regulations limiting the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,'' Judge Torres said in the ruling, which was signed Monday and made public Tuesday.
Although Judge Torres allowed the auto dealers to continue with the lawsuit, the judge said lawyers for the state could still make arguments to have the firms dismissed from the case.
Similar lawsuits are pending in New Mexico and two federal appeals courts. W. Michael Sullivan, director of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management, said the decision was a victory for the state. He said auto makers could use existing technology to meet the clean air standards.
Rhode Island and 11 other states -- Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted California's tailpipe standards. The governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they plan to adopt the regulations. The rules have been under review elsewhere.
Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

The green revolution postponed

The environmental catastrophe makes recession look insignificant, yet Darling's plans will make it worse

Mark Lynas, Tuesday November 25 2008 11.30 GMT

A "green new deal" it ain't. More motorways, cheaper fuel, more of the same. The planet's ecological crisis makes the current financial crisis look like, well, something very small and insignificant indeed. Had he aimed to shift the UK economy on to a greener track, creating jobs and reflating the economy at the same time, things might be looking more positive. But he just doesn't seem to get it.
Let's examine the specifics. Flick to page 136 and the government boasts: "The cost of petrol and diesel will fall for private motorists who should see no increase in the price they pay at the pump this year from this measure." (This is mainly due to the VAT cut, which will overwhelm the long-postponed 2p-per-litre increase in fuel duty, now due to be introduced from December 1.) Oh goody – cheaper driving, and more cars on the roads. Better widen the motorways even further. Don't worry, they've thought of that: £700bn of road-building cash is being brought forward. (Although some of it also has to provide "up to" 200 new railway carriages, hardly enough to help the train take the strain.)
There's also some capital spending on energy efficiency – but here the striking thing is just how unimaginative and anaemic the current targets are. An enormous 60,000 houses will get better insulation. We need to be talking levels of ambition two orders of magnitude greater than this – with 24m households in the UK, the government is only going to be making 0.25% of them more efficient. I doubt the penguins will notice.
The VAT cut is central to the plan in order to "get consumers spending again". I don't blame the chancellor for this especially, but it does highlight the essentially ecocidal nature of the current free-market system: unless we're all frantically rushing around buying more lipstick and fridges, the economy judders to a halt and starts to implode in on itself as the pyramid of debt on which the whole thing rests begins to collapse. This suggests to me that warm-hearted green measures like being more frugal, efficient and consuming less "stuff" are actually impossible or counter-productive in conventional economic terms – it's exactly what the chancellor is trying to stop us doing. If we all start turning off the lights and saving bits of string, the economy will continue to collapse, making millions unemployed.
Of course, investment in "green growth" could theoretically take us in a different direction – but the government has shied away from the challenge. At the moment renewables are taking a big hit from the credit crunch – with private sector cash drying up, wind, solar and other projects are being postponed or cancelled around the world. Nuclear, which needs big upfront capital investments, is also looking much less positive. Once again, the public sector needs to take a more guiding role – providing loan guarantees, making direct investments and generally helping to ease credit. Coal and other dirty fuels need not apply.
It's pretty clear now that Britain isn't going to be leading the "green revolution". Let's see if Obama can do any better. I've still got hope.

Homes and offices should take 'green MoT', says thinktank

Failure in energy efficiency tests could mean increases in council tax or buildings insurance, say government advisers
Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent, Wednesday November 26 2008 17.06 GMT

Image photo of a badly insulated house, in which the white, red and yellow colour bands highlight significant heat loss. Photographer: Home Heat Helpline/PA
Homes and offices should have regular "MoT-style" tests to rate their energy efficiency, according to experts, in a bid to meet the government's ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Those that fail to meet required standards could see their council tax or buildings insurance rise, suggests Foresight, the government's scientific thinktank.
A Foresight report published today tackles the issue of how the UK's buildings can cut their carbon emissions. The energy used to power buildings is responsible for more than half of the UK's carbon emissions. The two-year study brought together more than 150 academics and industry experts in economics, energy technologies, planning, construction, and social sciences.
Experts believe that urgent action is needed if the government is going to meet the emissions targets — 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 — outlined in the forthcoming climate change bill.
One of the Foresight group's main recommendations is to raise awareness of the use of energy in buildings. "The idea is to get people to think about energy use in the home and how well their homes and offices perform on a frequent and regular basis, like we do with a car MOT," said Yvonne Rydin, co-director of University College of London's Environment Institute and leader of the technical team that drafted the Foresight report.
"If you're going to take the car MoT analogy forward," she added. "You could say that building insurance would be dependent on reaching a certain standard. That would concentrate people's minds."
Until now, said the experts, most people are unaware of their energy use until they get their bills at the end of every month or every quarter. Foresight say smart meters — which display household energy use in real time, should be widely installed.
"They can tell you how much energy you're using, they can tell you how much it's costing and even [what devices] it's coming from," said Rydin. "It means making energy efficiency more visible so people can see how much they're getting back from this."
Though the government has set targets for all new housebuilding to be zero-carbon by 2016, it is estimated that almost 70% of the dwellings that will be standing in 2050 are already built today. "This means urgent action is needed to improve the energy performance of this existing building stock if we are to meet the emissions-reductions targets," said Rydin.
John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser and director of the Foresight programme, said that retrofitting older homes to make them energy efficient was a critical task. "Homes built in the future will be more carbon neutral, however, the vast majority of buildings pre-date our awareness of emissions and climate change — these are where quick-wins can be achieved."
The Foresight report also concluded that the UK was "locked in" to using certain types of energy, such as coal and gas, because of historical dominance rather than because they were most carbon efficient. Introducing new sources of renewable energy or efficiency measures had to work hard to fight against the established methods.
It therefore recommended that decentralising energy systems might help smaller-scale technologies to get a foothold. This includes solar hot water panels on homes, a combined heat and power system for a block of flats, or a larger renewable power plant in a city centre or a rural area.
Energy and climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, said the Foresight report was a valuable contribution to the energy debate. "We will be building on current policies supporting individuals and communities as they develop secure, low-carbon energy supplies and retrofit buildings. Already, we're introducing legislation to provide real incentives for those installing small-scale renewable electricity and heat technologies."
Margaret Beckett, minister for housing, said: "We need to be taking action now if we are to succeed in hitting our targets. Today's report provides valuable advice on the roles both government and the general public can play in tackling one of the most pressing issues facing the entire world."
The Department for Communities and Local Government will now go through the report's findings and decide which parts should be incorporated into government policy. It plans to report on progress in a year's time.

Critical need for a global system that's better, not bigger

Andrew Simms, Wednesday November 26 2008 00.01 GMT

The public face of finance once appeared set with a permanent, self-satisfied grin. Then, abruptly, it cracked. So what else that we currently take for granted could suddenly collapse?
In August 2000, farmers and truck drivers, angered by rising fuel costs, blockaded fuel depots across Britain, paralysing the critical infrastructure. Britain's biggest supermarkets told ministers that their shelves would be bare within three days.
Shock waves reverberated internationally. The Canadian government concluded that "the impact of the protest was much deeper than anticipated because it struck at a particularly vulnerable point of the UK economy - the oil distribution network, which had been organized along just-in-time delivery principles". These are the same delivery principles, we should note, that our food system is now organised around.
Increasingly, what we face is a combination of the global peak and decline of oil production, and a global food chain in crisis due to multiple stresses, including global warming. These interacting dynamics are complicated by yet another: a rich-world debt crisis.
The UK's reliance on external supplies of energy is steadily growing. In April, a strike at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Stirlingshire halted a large proportion of the UK's North Sea production. And our gas supply lines from Norway and the Netherlands are just as vulnerable.
Like the systemic weaknesses introduced by reckless credit creation, unrealistic fossil fuel use has leveraged many into unsustainable lifestyles. The sudden withdrawal of easy oil could trigger equally dramatic consequences. Today, fossil fuels, food and climate change are impossible to separate.
Our national food self-sufficiency is in long-term decline, and has fallen by over one-fifth since 1995. We are increasingly dependent on imports at precisely the time when the guarantee of the rest of the world's ability to provide for us is weakening. In April, 37 countries faced a food crisis due to a mix of climate-related, conflict and economic problems. Stocks of rice, on which half the world depends, were at their lowest level since the 1970s. Around the same time, US wheat stocks were forecast to drop to their lowest levels since 1948.
Intensive farming's big weak point is its dependence on fossil fuels. And, against the background of terrifying long-term projections for global drought from the Met Office's Hadley Centre, a single extreme weather event can overturn any season's global food cart.
Financially and ecologically, we are overextended. We have taken for granted, and abused, our underlying operating systems - the biosphere and our social fabric - by privileging finance and over-consumption. Yet, it is the core economy of society and a biosphere in equilibrium that really holds things together, not the banks. A massive transformation is needed to compress global income inequality, raising the incomes of the poor and lowering the consumption of the rich. We need an economic system that builds strong human and communal relationships and steers us towards living within our environmental means.
In practice, this means a new economics, one that environmental economist Herman Daly describes as "a subtle and complex economics of maintenance, qualitative improvements, sharing, frugality, and adaptation to natural limits. It is an economics of better, not bigger."
• Adapted from Nine Meals From Anarchy: Oil Dependence, Climate Change and the Transition to Resilience, the 2008 Schumacher Lecture delivered by Andrew Simms, policy director and head of the climate change programme at the New Economics Foundation. Full text at

Consumers rank climate concerns ahead of economy

• Consumers around the world want governments to stop haggling and start acting on climate change, survey finds• Nearly half of all 12,000 respondents in 12 countries chose climate change ahead of the economy
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Wednesday November 26 2008 00.02 GMT

Consumers around the world want governments to stop haggling and start acting on climate change, according to a survey carried out in 12 countries by a coalition of climate groups.
Despite the looming prospect of a deep global recession, 43% of the 12,000 respondents of the survey chose climate change ahead of the global economy when asked about their current concerns. Worldwide, 77% of respondents wanted to see their governments cutting carbon by their fair share or more, in order to allow developing countries to grow their economies.
The survey was carried out for the HSBC Climate Partnership, a collaboration between the international bank and climate NGOs including WWF, the Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Lord Stern, and adviser to HSBC on economic development and climate change and former adviser to the UK government, said: "This research demonstrates the need for decisive action on climate change. The urgent challenge is to build a framework for a global deal so that consensus can be reached in Copenhagen next year and the discussions in Poznan are a critical stepping stone to achieving this. Now is the time to lay the foundations of a new form of growth that can transform our economies and societies."
The results of the group's climate confidence monitor are based on an internet questionnaire presented to to 1,000 people each in 12 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Mexico, UK and the US. The survey was conducted between mid-September and early October 2008.
Even in many emerging countries, people said their governments must reduce greenhouse gases - 62% of respondents in China said they should reduce emissions and only 4% said the country's emissions should be allowed to increase. In Mexico and Brazil, more than 80% wanted emissions cuts that tallied with their fair share of global targets – as high a level as in developed countries. In the USA, 72% of people said their country should reduce emissions by at least as much as other countries.
David Nussbaum, the chief executive of WWF-UK, said: "The current global economic crisis is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means. As the world looks to restore its economies we must build in long-term environmental as well as economic sustainability."
Steve Howard, chief executive of the Climate Group, a coalition of businesses and governments aimed at moving towards a low-carbon economy, said the survey showed that "politicians have the political will of the people behind them to come to an agreement on climate change. Politicians now have the support they need to seize this historic opportunity and secure a global deal on climate change."

Climate expert urges EU to take action

By James Kanter
Published: November 25, 2008

BRUSSELS: The European Union should agree on a strong package of measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions even if that means making special concessions to satisfy reluctant countries like Poland, according to Nicholas Stern, one of the world's foremost authorities on climate change.
"It's absolutely crucial that they hold together on this," Stern said Tuesday in a interview by telephone. "Now is not the time for Europe to go flaky."
Stern gained international stature in 2006 when Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, presented Stern's report on the economics of climate change. Stern said Tuesday that he was concerned about discord among EU countries over proposed laws that would raise costs for companies like coal-burning utilities and for countries like Poland, one of the bloc's heaviest polluters.
Policy leaders like Stern say that negotiations next month aiming to lay the groundwork for a new global emissions treaty are more likely to succeed if the EU agrees to an ambitious package of measures. Such an agreement would send a strong message to the rest of the world, including developing countries like China and India, that richer countries are prepared to do their part to cut greenhouse gases.
But efforts to bring aboard Poland and other skeptical nations have failed. In particular, Poland and other coal-dependent EU members in Eastern Europe oppose plans to require power stations to buy all their emissions permits starting in 2013.

They say the requirement would raise energy prices while lowering economic growth. Most permits are given away free.
Last week, Poland rejected as too onerous a proposal to continue the free distribution half its permits for generating electricity until 2016.
"I do think Poland's needs need to be taken into account," Stern said, because it would be far less costly than taking action later.
EU nations still could reach a compromise before a European summit meeting in mid-December. But the disagreement highlights how difficult it may be to overcome the tendency of sovereign nations to protect their industries under an expanded global carbon-trading system that will be under discussion at the meeting, to be held in Poznan, Poland.
International deals aside, Stern said, "people are willing and keen for the own governments to get on with" cutting emissions through direct measures. Stern said that was borne out by a study of global attitudes on climate change to be released Wednesday by the bank HSBC, where Stern is a special adviser on economic development and climate change.
The research was based on a 20-minute Internet survey of 12,000 respondents divided equally among 12 countries - including Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Britain and the United States - from mid-September to early October.
Nearly twice as many respondents said they wanted governments to invest in ways of curbing greenhouse gas emissions than to pursue international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.
Respondents also said governments should focus more on increasing investment in renewable energy, halting deforestation and conserving water resources than on carbon markets or taxes.