Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Sewage could be used to heat half the homes in Britain

Up to half the UK's homes could be heated with gas made from waste food or sewage, according to research by the National Grid.

Last Updated: 8:04AM GMT 02 Feb 2009

The analysis suggested biodegradable waste could be used to make biomethane to be injected into the gas grid, which would help achieve targets to source 15 per cent of all energy from renewables by 2020.
The study by Ernst and Young for National Grid also said that in the longer term, biogas could be used to provide up to half the country's domestic gas heating.
Currently a small amount of biogas is produced from landfill and sewage plants but is burnt to produce electricity, and National Grid believes piping the gas to homes would be more efficient.
The study said the £10 billion costs of delivering renewable gas compares reasonably with the provision of other types of renewables, such as wind power, and the unit cost of the gas would be similar to other "green" energy sources.
It would also provide the country with greater energy security to use waste products generated in the UK to provide gas as North Sea supplies of natural gas tail off.
Biogas, which is already being produced and injected into gas grids in Europe, is made through anaerobic digestion of wet waste such as sewage or manure, or through gasification of drier waste or energy crops.
Janine Freeman, head of National Grid's sustainable gas group, said: "Biogas has tremendous potential for delivering large scale renewable heat for the UK but it will require Government commitment to a comprehensive waste policy and the right commercial incentives.
"Biogas has benefits on so many fronts," she went on.
"It is renewable and could help to meet the target of 15 per cent of all our energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.
"It provides a solution for what to do with our waste with the decline in landfill capacity and it would help the UK with a secure supply of gas as North Sea sources run down."
The report said there would be no insurmountable technical difficulties in delivering biogas, and with an extensive gas grid in the UK there would be little need for major new infrastructure development.
National Grid said the main hurdle would involve getting commercial incentives for waste to be turned into biomethane for injection into the gas grid rather than electricity.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "Government set out its policies on recovering energy from waste in its Waste Strategy 2007.
"Further work is taking place in the context of our Renewable Energy Strategy to establish what potential might exist for biogas injection to the gas grid."

Advertising regulators get tough over "greenwash"

The Times
February 3, 2009

Elizabeth Judge and Marcus Leroux

They are the buzzwords that companies are jostling to be associated with: being “carbon neutral”, “wholly sustainable” or “low emission” has become ever more important as the market for environmentally friendly products booms.
However, in their attempt to clamber on to the multibillion-pound green bandwagon, many businesses are forgetting one not-very-small point: the claims need to be true.
After upholding complaints about companies including Scottish & Southern Energy, Shell and British Gas, advertising watchdogs are preparing to clamp down on what critics call “greenwash”.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) will announce plans soon to tighten codes about green marketing. In a consultation paper to be published in the next few weeks, it is expected to suggest making codes governing “green” claims far more specific. Advertising codes are set by the CAP and are policed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The committee is also expected to update the codes to factor in the wealth of new and emerging green technologies and trends that, after having come into vogue among a wider audience, are regularly touted about by businesses in advertisements.
Companies will also be reminded that claims about specific environmental credentials should not be used without evidence to back them up. Businesses that flout the CAP codes can have advertisements withdrawn, have them pre-vetted or have advertising space withheld.
In recent years, the market for “green” goods has boomed and the organic market, including food, cosmetics and clothing, was worth about £2 billion by 2007. At the same time complaints to the ASA have soared. In 2007 alone, nearly 600 complaints about alleged unsubstantiated “eco-friendly” claims were lodged with the watchdog.
The scientific grey areas around certain technologies and a lack of official definitions of some terms have, the ASA says, made dealing with some complaints “a challenge”.
Complaints that were upheld either entirely or in part by the watchdog include one about an advertisement by Shell in which the oil company claimed that its waste carbon dioxide was used to grow flowers. The ASA said that the advertisement implied that Shell used all its waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers, when it was shown that only 0.325 per cent of its emissions were used in this way.
British Gas was criticised for an advert in which a cartoon blue flame falls and squashes a carbon dioxide symbol to denote the group's “carbon zero” credentials. The advertisement was misleading, the watchdog said, because the claim “carbon zero” implied that the fuel used was carbon-free and did not produce carbon dioxide. Although there was offsetting of emissions produced, and so the net effect on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was zero, the ASA concluded that the claim “carbon zero” implied that no carbon was produced.
Consumers are wising up to the tendency by some companies to bandy about “green” terms. Research by Gyro International found that half of British consumers do not trust companies' environmental claims.
Lawyers are also growing increasingly cautious about the wording of such claims. Lawyers for Hewlett-Packard, the computer hardware manufacturer, have drawn up a list of terms that could be disputed.
The majority of complaints to the ASA are about energy sources and carbon claims such as “carbon neutral”.

The deadliest greenhouse gas? The hot air of CSR

By Stefan Stern
Published: February 3 2009 02:00

Thank goodness, now the recession's here we can forget all that nonsense about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and get back to trying to make some money.
Admit it, the thought had occurred to you. There may have been much talk of (newly rediscovered) responsibility in Davos last week. But for most managers the biggest responsibility of all will always be to make a profit and stay in business.
The good news is that serious CSR types understand this. I went to a lunchtime meeting at the House of Lords last week where this became clear. This was no crowd of burbling do-gooders. One executive declared: "I can't stand writing CSR reports. I hate it. It's so boring." Another - in fact our co-host, Michael Littlechild, the head of the advisory business Good Corporation - conceded that, for many business people, CSR was just a case of BDF: "babies, dolphins and forests".
There is a mismatch, to put it mildly, between the politically correct rhetoric of a chastened global elite and the reality of what managers have to do every day of the week. It is easy to get confused by these mixed messages. Is it time to embrace the new morality, or to drive the business even harder in search of every last bit of revenue? What should this new era of responsibility look like?
Consider the unfeasibly cheap T-shirt. Commercially it is attractive. Ethically it is questionable. But shoppers are not stupid. They have watched (or at least heard about) the TV documentaries. They have read the stories about child labour and the unsatisfactory working conditions that can be found even in first-world countries. They know that retailers cannot sell a decent quality T-shirt for £1 without there being consequences for the people who have made it.
But shoppers are not wicked, either. They are hard-pressed people on ever-tighter budgets. They have an eye for a bargain. You can price your ethically produced T-shirt at a level that allows you to feel a lot better about yourself and, who knows, even put out a press release telling the world what you are doing. Some customers will like it. But don't be surprised if your competitors' stores seem a lot busier than yours.
Is this stale, behind-the-curve thinking? According to Richard Edelman, chief executive of the Edelman communications consultancy, it probably is. "Business leaders need to think differently about what it means to be a public company," he wrote in the Financial Times last week. "No longer can their sole objective be to maximise profits." He argues that a new strategy of "public engagement" is needed to restore the public's trust in business.
So, a PR firm thinks you need better PR. But Mr Edelman made other suggestions, including the idea that something called "mutual social responsibility" (that is, companies and customers acting together on "societal problems") and "private-sector diplomacy" (corporate activism on global concerns such as climate change) could improve business's standing in the world.
Corporate reputation is clearly important, and highly vulnerable in the age of the internet. But is there really always a straight-line connection between reputation and the bottom line? Customers may decry company X in a focus group or opinion poll. But where do they do their shopping?
The UK discount fashion store Primark has had its name dragged through the dirt in the past year, after worrying aspects of its supply chain were uncovered. Its latest sales figures? Up by 18 per cent (aided by new store openings) in the 16 weeks to January 3, when almost every other UK clothes retailer was struggling.
We need to cut through the well-meaning waffle. One business leader who usually does is Sir Terry Leahy, the chief executive of the UK's leading retailer, Tesco. In an article for the Daily Telegraph last week, Sir Terry let off steam about what he sees as the growing risk of over-reaction by governments and regulators in the current crisis. We risk losing sight of a few fundamentals: "free trade in competitive markets, enabling individuals to pursue their own interests, and all within a clear framework of law," he wrote. Do-gooders, whether they mean to or not, are likely to do bad.
Yes, he went on to say, the role of something called "green consumption" could also play a powerful role for good, in cutting the use of carbon.
But it is obvious where Sir Terry's priorities lie. In a lecture in the same week he told suppliers that they would be coming under increasing pressure to cut the prices they charge Tesco this year. How worried is Sir Terry by the thought that his suppliers may be forced into finding cheaper and potentially less environmentally friendly ways of producing their goods? Not very, would be my guess.
That's business. And, if Tesco wants to continue competing on price, it will keep up the pressure on its suppliers. Does this constitute "corporate social irresponsibility"? Hardly. The truly responsible thing to do is to run a good business competently.
As the wise CSR practitioners know, it is how you do business that counts. All the rest is just hot air.
stefan.stern@ft.com Read and post comments online at www.ft.com/stern For the latest thinking on management and strategy, go to www.ft.com/managementblog
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Google Earth fills watery gaps

By Andrew C. Revkin
Published: February 3, 2009

Two and a half years ago, the software engineers behind Google Earth, the searchable online replica of the planet, were poised to fill an enormous data gap, adding the two-thirds of the globe that is covered by water in reality and was blue, and blank, online.
But until then all of the existing features on Google Earth — mountains, valleys, cities, plains, ice sheets — were built through programming from an elevation of zero up.
"We had this arbitrary distinction that if it was below sea level it didn't count," recalled John Hanke, the Internet entrepreneur who co-created the progenitor of Google Earth, called Keyhole, and moved to Google when the company bought his company in 2004.
That oversight had to be fixed before the months and months of new programming and data collection could culminate in the creation of simulated oceans. On Monday, the ocean images will undergo the most significant of several upgrades to Google Earth, with the new version downloadable free at earth.google.com, according to the company.
Another feature, Historical Imagery, provides the ability to scroll back through decades of satellite images and watch the spread of suburbia or erosion of coasts.

Click a function called Touring and you can create narrated, illustrated tours, on land or above and below the sea surface, describing and showing things like a hike or scuba excursion, or even a research cruise on a deep-diving submarine.
The two-year push to fill in the giant blue blanks came through a chance encounter in March 2006. Hanke was poised to receive an award from the Geographical Society of Spain for his pioneering work building Web-based models of the planet.
But he was preceded at the dais by Dr. Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was there to receive her own award for deep-sea exploration and popularizing ocean science.
She turned to him and said she loved the way Google Earth allowed users to see how one thing relates to another on the planet. But Earle bluntly added: "You've done a great job with the dirt. But what about the water?"
Since that time, Earle and Hanke have been partners in the long effort, as she explained, "to make sure the mountains don't end at the beach."
She assembled an advisory panel including Jane Lubchenco, the Oregon State University marine biologist since chosen by President Barack Obama to head the oceanic and atmospheric agency.
"I've been struggling my whole life to figure out how to reach people and get them to understand they're connected to the ocean," Earle said.
"But I go to the supermarket and still see the United Nations of fish for sale," she said. "Marine sanctuaries are still not really protected. Google Earth gets all this information now and puts it in one place for the littlest kid and the stuffiest grownup to see in a way that hasn't been possible in all preceding history."
By choosing among 20 buttons holding archives of information, called "layers" by Google, a visitor can read logs of oceanographic expeditions, see old film clips from the heyday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and check daily navy maps of sea temperatures.
The replicated seas have detailed topography reflecting what is known about the abyss and continental shelves — and rougher areas where little is known.
With only 5 percent of the ocean floor mapped in detail, and 1 percent of the oceans protected, Google executives and the marine scientists who helped build the digital oceans said they hoped the result would inspire the public to support more marine exploration and conservation.
During a recent test drive of the new features at Google's San Francisco office, I swooped in over Hawaii and dived beneath the undulating wave-dappled surface of the Pacific to explore canyons, reefs and other features that are now charted precisely everywhere that government data exist.
I also revisited Greenland, the North Pole and Alaska's North Slope. And, in less than a minute using the Touring feature, I created a rough narrated travelogue retracing reporting assignments in the Arctic, dropping in YouTube videos for any visitor to view on location.
By hovering over Galveston, Texas, clicking on a pointer and sliding it forward along a bar reflecting years of data, I was able to watch seaside communities expand and then abruptly wash away after Hurricane Ike.
The feature powerfully conveys the increasing interplay of humans and the environment, for better and worse, as populations grow and spread.
The addition of the oceans posed many technical hurdles, not the least being the aligning of disparate data sets so water meets land in precisely the right places, Google engineers said.
Other snags will almost certainly pop up as millions of users scour the new terrain.
But many of the ocean scientists who quietly worked with Google over the last two years to pull together vast data sets are elated at the prospect of the seas' getting new visibility, and respect.
"It's a way of raising awareness from thousands to billions overnight," said Richard Spinrad, the NOAA assistant administrator for research, who served on an advisory panel.
Dr. Barbara Block, a Stanford University biologist whose tagging projects have helped clarify the hidden lives of bluefin tuna, great white sharks and other depleted species, said the blue side of Google Earth could also increase public support for marine conservation.
"We cannot as a community conserve what we cannot see," Block said. "We've worked with the Monterey Bay Aquarium for years to put giant bluefin and white sharks on display, and if we're lucky two million people a year come and see the animals and discover their color, beauty of motion and form. With the Google oceans feature, we potentially can reach hundreds of millions." And, said Peter Birch, product manager for Google Earth, the presumption is that wherever lots of eyeballs and mouse clicks land, there is sure to be advertising revenue. In the three years since its public unveiling in 2005, Google Earth has become a mainstay of students, travelers, businesses and researchers seeking a one-stop place for posting or finding information about the world — on topics as diverse as hotels and hiking trails, species' ranges and climate data.
In that time, the software package has been downloaded on half a billion computers. Visitors spend one million hours a day perusing Google Earth and the related Google Maps.
Some commercial Web sites, including shipwreckcentral.com and wannasurf.com, have already been actively promoting ocean activities and will now enable divers or surfers to add their own narrated, illustrated "tours" of favorite reefs or beaches to Google Earth's layers.
Organizations seeking to reconnect people directly with nature expressed guarded optimism when the new features of Google Earth were described.
"Electronic images can boost awareness and sometimes even inspire, but there's no substitute for direct experience in nature," said Cheryl Charles, the president of Children and Nature Network, which seeks to end what it calls "nature deficit disorder" in modern plugged-in society. "Hopefully those exploring Google's virtual oceans, especially children, can still find the time to get wet, as well."

US becomes top wind power producer

The Associated Press
Published: February 2, 2009

BRUSSELS: It's not just hot air: the United States now leads the world in wind power after boosting wind energy capacity by half last year, the Global Wind Energy Council said Monday.
The U.S. overtook Germany by building windmills that can generate 25 gigawatts of energy, about a fifth of all global wind power, it said.
Surging interest in renewable energy and worries about climate change propelled a 29-percent increase in wind power generation capacity across the world last year — and fueled a wind turbine industry that was worth €36.5 billion ($47.5 billion) in 2008, it said.
China doubled its wind power to 12 gigawatts — and expects that to nearly double again this year. The country is starting to build more wind turbines, rivaling European producers who have dominated the wind energy sector.
But the Brussels-based wind energy association warned that the financial crisis has slowed U.S. funding for new projects and stalled orders for turbines.

Global Wind Energy Council secretary general Steve Sawyer said the wind industry needed December talks on a U.N. climate change pact to give "a strong global signal from governments that they are serious about moving away from fossil fuel and protecting the climate."
Wind producers in the U.S. are also looking for tax incentives and subsidies to power the industry — similar to the large public funding wind energy companies get in Europe and Asia.
The American Wind Energy Association is seeking a slice of the $819 billion economy stimulus program that will be debated by the U.S. Senate this week, saying this would help meet President Barack Obama's goal of doubling renewable energy output within three years.
The European Commission last week asked EU governments to approve putting part of a €5 billion ($6.4 billion) EU stimulus program into new wind power plants.

Wal-Mart tests diesel-electric trucks

By Jonathan Birchall in New York
Published: February 2 2009 23:59

Wal-Mart is testing hybrid diesel-electric trucks in a step towards extending the energy saving technology to the workhorses of the US road transport system.
Chris Sultemeier, head of Wal-Mart’s transport, said on Monday the retailer would operate trucks in different US cities over the coming year, to “determine if these technologies will help reduce our environmental footprint, are viable for our business and provide a return on investment”.

The new-generation power systems have been developed by some of the largest US truck, engine and drive-train makers with support from the retailer, which operates one of the largest US truck fleets, with over 6,500 large trucks.
The success of Toyota’s Prius passenger car has raised the public profile of hybrid technology. But its use in larger vehicles has been focused on lighter delivery trucks and buses that make frequent stops, rather than on the big class-8 trucks designed for long-distance cruising.
Wal-Mart is carrying out off-road tests on a class-8 truck that switches between its electrical drive and its diesel engine, by using electrical power to accelerate to up to 40mph and then shifting to diesel power for cruising at higher speeds.
The retailer is also testing five Peterbilt trucks with “hybrid assist” power trains , in which electrical power is used to boost diesel power during acceleration and when climbing hills.
Mr Sultemeier said Wal-Mart was targeting fuel savings of 20-25 per cent for the full hybrid model, and 5-10 per cent for the “hybrid-assist” truck. He said he hoped to have a view on the feasibility of the full hybrid model by the summer, after extensive track testing.
“If there is a success with the . . . true hybrid vehicle that might be our strategy going forward, versus what I would call the more interim strategy which is the hybrid assist,” he said.
Wal-Mart says it has achieved more than a 25 per cent increase in efficiency in its truck fleet over the past three years. It is now seeking to double its fleet efficiency by 2015. The retailer is currently testing trucks powered by reclaimed cooking oil and natural gas.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Shell's Green Ads Take New Tack

Campaign Stresses Potential Role of Innovation in Fighting Climate Change

LONDON -- Royal Dutch Shell, censured twice by Britain's ad police for exaggerating its commitment to green issues, is hoping to avoid controversy in its latest ad campaign. It isn't clear if it has succeeded.
The Anglo-Dutch oil giant drew fire from activist groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth for past attempts to extol its environmental responsibility. It tended to boast of its investments in alternative energy with ads that spoke of the "power to create a cleaner, safer world."
Now, in a campaign designed by ad agency JWT, part of London-based WPP, Shell is stressing technology and innovation and its potential contributions to fighting global warming. Shell, its ads say, is working on ways to squeeze out "difficult" oil trapped in sand, rock and in the deepest seas. And it is trying to capture carbon-dioxide, a global-warming gas, and store it safely underground.
But alternative energy is still part of the mix. One of Shell's new print ads features a diagram of a human brain full of "unexpected" fuel sources like algae and woodchips .
With its new ad campaign, Royal Dutch Shell is focusing more on technology and innovation and its potential contribution to fighting global warming.

The ad has revived old allegations that Shell is "greenwashing" its business. Shell is trying "to hide the fact that the company is actually going backward when it comes to renewable energy," says Greenpeace climate campaigner Jim Footner. Last year, Shell spent "billions of dollars extracting dirty oil from Canada's tar sands" while pulling funding from wind- and solar-energy projects in Europe, he says.
In response to such criticism, Shell says its campaign "highlights our belief that the world will need many types of energy...to meet the energy challenge, including, for the foreseeable future, oil and gas. Accordingly, we are investing in a diverse portfolio of energy sources."
The skepticism toward Shell, however, shows the risks big oil companies take in touting their environmental awareness. Last year, BP used slogans like "The best way out of the energy fix is an energy mix." But environmental activists objected, arguing that alternative energy accounted for just 7% of the British company's spending.
BP said its ads reflected that its investments in wind, solar, biofuels and carbon capture were "real and very significant," and were "generating real growth."
In 2007, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, a self-regulatory body set up by the ad industry, censured Shell for an ad showing how it was using waste carbon dioxide to grow flowers. The ASA said the ad was misleading, because it implied all the CO2 Shell produced was being used in this way.
Bjorn Edlund, Shell's executive vice president for communications, describes the incident as embarrassing. "We were kicking ourselves," he said in an interview.
The ASA cited Shell again last year for an ad in the Financial Times that claimed its oil-sands project in Canada was "sustainable." The body said it concluded the ad was misleading because it hadn't seen any evidence Shell was managing the project to limit CO2 emissions.
Shell says its project is "sustainable," in the sense it could meet "the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own."
JWT says the problem lies in the ASA's lack of experience with energy issues. The ASA, says Stef Tiratelli, JWT's global manager for the Shell account, didn't have a particularly deep understanding of complex issues like CO2 management.
Still, its criticism sparked changes at Shell. "Until about 2006, everybody in the industry talked about what people wanted to hear, rather than what we were actually doing," says Shell's Mr. Edlund. Lately, Shell's ads have more broadly addressed climate change. "The idea is to try and get people onto the Shell Web site...and get into a dialogue," says Mr. Edlund. Many have joined Web chats on the site about climate change and carbon capture, he says.
Shell made other changes too. The company started giving the ASA a sneak preview of its ads, to make sure it wouldn't raise objections. "We regularly talk to them," says Mr. Tiratelli. "You're forever in some kind of discussion with the ASA about whether the claims you're making are allowable."
Write to Guy Chazan at guy.chazan@wsj.com

Bolivia has lithium, and the president intends to make world pay for it

By Simon Romero
Published: February 2, 2009

UYUNI, Bolivia: In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world's lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia - a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.
Japanese and European companies are busily trying to strike deals to tap the resource, but a nationalist sentiment is building quickly in the government of President Evo Morales, an ardent critic of the United States who has already nationalized Bolivia's oil and natural gas industries.
For now, the government talks of closely controlling the lithium itself and keeping foreigners at bay. Adding to the pressure, indigenous groups here in the remote salt desert where the mineral lies are pushing for a share in the eventual bounty.
"We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium," said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world. "We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants," he said. "The lithium may be Bolivia's, but it is also our property."
The new Constitution that Morales managed to pass handily last month bolsters such claims. One of its provisions could give Indians control over the natural resources in their territory, strengthening their ability to win concessions from the authorities and private companies, or even block mining projects.

None of this is dampening efforts by foreigners, including the Japanese conglomerates Mitsubishi and Sumitomo and a group led by a French industrialist, Vincent Bolloré. In recent months all three have sent representatives to La Paz, the capital, to meet with Morales's government to gain access to the lithium, a critical component for the batteries that power cars and other electronics.
"There are salt lakes in Chile and Argentina, and a promising lithium deposit in Tibet, but the prize is clearly in Bolivia," Oji Baba, an executive in Mitsubishi's Base Metals Unit, said in an interview in La Paz. "If we want to be a force in the next wave of automobiles and the batteries that power them, then we must be here."
Mitsubishi is not alone in planning to produce cars using lithium-ion batteries. Ailing carmakers in the United States are pinning their hopes on lithium, including General Motors, which next year plans to roll out its Volt, a car using a lithium-ion battery along with a gas engine. Nissan, Ford and BMW, among other carmakers, have similar projects.
Demand for lithium, long used in small amounts in mood-stabilizing drugs and thermonuclear weapons, has climbed as makers of batteries for BlackBerrys and other electronic devices use the mineral. But the automotive industry holds the biggest untapped potential for lithium, analysts say. Since it weighs less than nickel, also used in batteries, it would allow electric cars to store more energy and drive longer distances.
With governments, including the Obama administration, seeking to increase fuel efficiency and reduce their dependence on imported oil, private companies are focusing their attention on this desolate corner of the Andes, where Quechua-speaking Indians subsist on the remains of an ancient inland sea by bartering the salt they carry out on llama caravans.
The U.S. Geological Survey says 5.4 million tons of lithium could eventually be extracted in Bolivia, compared with 3 million in Chile, 1.1 million in China and just 410,000 in the United States. Independent geologists estimate that Bolivia might have even more lithium at Uyuni and its other salt deserts, though high altitudes could make producing the mineral difficult.
Amid such potential, foreigners seeking to tap Bolivia's lithium reserves must navigate the policies of Morales, 49, who has clashed repeatedly with American, European and even South American investors. Morales shocked neighboring Brazil, with whose government he is on friendly terms, by nationalizing its natural gas projects here in 2006 and seeking a sharp rise in prices. He carried out his latest nationalization before the vote on the Constitution, sending soldiers to occupy the operations of British oil giant BP.
At the La Paz headquarters of Comibol, the state agency that oversees mining projects, Morales's vision of combining socialism with advocacy for Bolivia's Indians is prominently on display. Copies of Cambio, a new state-controlled daily newspaper, are available in the lobby while posters of Che Guevara, the leftist icon killed in Bolivia in 1967, grace the entrance to Comibol's offices.
"The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia," said Saúl Villegas, head of evaporates, a division in Comibol that oversees lithium extraction. "Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners, or better yet, as our clients."
To that end, Comibol is investing about $6 million in a small plant near the village of Rio Grande on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, where it hopes to begin Bolivia's first industrial-scale effort to mine lithium from the white, moonlike landscape of the Salar and process it into carbonate for batteries. Morales wants the plant finished by the end of this year.
Workers here were in a frenzy to meet that goal during late January, laboring under the sun around half-finished walls of brick. Over a meal of llama stew and a Pepsi, Marcelo Castro, 48, the manager overseeing the project, explained that along with processing lithium the plant had another objective.
"Of course, lithium is the mineral that will lead us to the post-petroleum era," said Castro. "But in order to go down that road, we must raise the revolutionary consciousness of our people, starting on the floor of this very factory."
Beyond the tiny plant, lithium analysts say Bolivia, one of Latin America's least-developed nations, needs to be investing hundreds of millions of dollars to start producing carbonate. But with economic growth slowing and a decline in oil prices limiting the reach of its top patron, Venezuela, it remains unclear how Bolivia can achieve this on its own.
Even though Morales seized control of oil and natural gas projects, optimistic industry analysts point out that he allowed some foreign companies to remain in the country as minority partners.
Lithium mining in Bolivia has its own history. In the early 1990s, nationalist opposition reportedly led by Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, a wealthy holder of mining concessions who later became Bolivia's president, thwarted a plan by Lithco, an American company, to tap the lithium deposits here. That history, coupled with Morales's current tensions with Washington, might help explain why American companies appear to be on the sidelines as others seek lithium deals here.
Sánchez de Lozada was ultimately forced to resign as president in 2003 after Morales led protests against his efforts to export another natural resource, natural gas, with the help of foreign capital.
As Bolivia ponders how to tap its lithium, nations with smaller reserves are stepping up. China has emerged as a top lithium producer, tapping reserves found in a Tibetan salt flat. But geologists and economists are debating whether the lithium reserves outside of Bolivia are enough to meet the climbing global demand.
"We have the most magnificent lithium reserves on the planet, but if we don't step into the race now we will lose this chance," said Juan Carlos Zuleta, an economist in La Paz. "The market will find other solutions for the world's battery needs."
On the flat salt desert of Uyuni, such debate seems remote to those still laboring as their ancestors did, scraping salt off ground into the cone-shaped piles that line the horizon like some geometric mirage. The lithium found under the surface of this desert seems even more remote for these 21st-century salt gatherers.
"I've heard of the lithium, but I only hope it creates work for us," said Pedro Camata, 19, his face shielded from the unforgiving sun by a ski mask; cheap sunglasses covered his eyes. "Without work out here, one is dead."
Hi-tech plan to cut city's waste

Published Date: 03 February 2009
By Craig Brown

A £40 MILLION hi-tech recycling system is set to be brought in to tackle Glasgow's waste management problem.
The autoclave proposal will go before the city council's land and environmental services committee tomorrow. The city produces 363,367 tonnes of waste every year, only 18 per cent of which is recycled, with the majority being sent to landfill, one of the worst records in Scotland. However, Scottish Government targets for local authority recycling mean that the council could face paying £30 million to £44 million in charges and tax if it continues to rely on landfill.The autoclave would be installed at Polmadie and would be the first unit in the UK to be owned and run by a local authority. The system works by soaking the waste at high pressure and at high temperature to break it down, then using a centrifuge to spin it dry.The process separates and cleans any plastics, metal and glass, which can be sold as high-quality recyclables.One autoclave is capable of dealing with 150,000 tonnes of waste a year, and the council has said that if the system is deemed successful, it would consider adding others.

Supermarkets 'failing to tackle greenhouse gas emissions'

Supermarkets are failing to tackle the greenhouse gas emissions of their fridge and freezer systems, a report claimed today.

Last Updated: 8:04AM GMT 02 Feb 2009

The survey by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) identified Waitrose as the worst offender among the big five stores, despite a pledge to remove harmful greenhouse gases from its units.
According to the EIA, supermarkets are the UK's biggest emitter of HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), which were introduced to fridge and freezer systems to replace ozone-depleting gases such as CFCs but are 4,000 times more powerful in causing climate warming than carbon dioxide.
There are "climate-friendly" options, such as CO2 itself, ammonia and hydrocarbons, but the EIA report said most supermarkets had failed to take sufficient action to introduce alternatives.
The report's author, Fionnuala Walravens, said supermarkets' failure to do much about the powerful greenhouse gases from their refrigeration systems was "hugely disappointing".
A Waitrose spokesman said: "We are committed to playing our part in tackling climate change and we invest in business-wide initiatives to achieve this - for example our stores use only green electricity.
"Our five-year, £55m refrigeration programme has so far achieved a 19 per cent improvement in shop energy efficiency. In addition, our robust maintenance programme includes leak detection in all stores - monitored 24 hours a day for immediate response.
"Large sections of our business now use natural refrigerants and we have are further extending their use this year."
The league table of supermarkets is as follows:
1. M&S (scored 42/100): Clear leader through their supplier training and most ambitious plans for replacing HFCs. Also the most transparent about what they were doing.
Still only have three stores using climate-friendly alternatives and not yet switched behind the scenes or for transport refrigeration.
2. Tesco (32/100): Funding research into development of climate-friendly refrigerants and investing in both practical training and e-learning.
Biggest overall contributor to HFC emissions of all the supermarkets.
3. Asda (24/100): Innovative ideas in relation to climate-friendly refrigeration and have good energy efficiency targets.
Very high level of leakage - direct emissions - and not doing as much as the others on alternatives.
4. Co-op (23/100): Future use of climate-friendly refrigerants looks promising and it is already being used in some behind-the-scenes equipment. Have good energy efficiency targets.
Leakages increased between 2006 and 2007. Have not done anything about training engineers.
5. Sainsbury (20/100): Called for Government intervention to support the transition to natural refrigerants. Have good energy efficiency targets.
Lack of investment in climate-friendly refrigeration and corporate social responsibility report shows they're not meeting energy efficiency targets.
6. Morrisons (17/100): Planning more testing of climate-friendly refrigeration. Won Green End User of the Year Award at the Cooling Industry Awards 2008.
Not transparent about what they are doing - they wouldn't provide a detailed response to our survey. Appear to be lagging behind other supermarkets.
7. Waitrose (12/100): All regional distribution centres already use or will use climate-friendly refrigeration by 2010.
Very vague response to our survey.
8. Aldi (1/100): One point for work Aldi has been doing in Germany on climate-friendly refrigerants.
Refused to participate and nothing in CSR report.
9. Lidl (0/100): Nothing revealed. Refused to participate and did not send CSR report despite their website offering a copy if a request is sent in writing.
9. Somerfield (0/100): Nothing revealed. Refused to participate and CSR report does not give any information on the use of climate-friendly refrigerants.
10. Iceland (-1/100): Nothing revealed. Refused to participate and no CSR report available. Minus point for going back on 1999 commitment.

Boris Johnson to put next phase of low emission zone on hold

Mayor of London to suspend third phase of the green scheme as part of a move to aid businesses during the economic downturn
Hélène Mulholland
guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 February 2009 17.16 GMT

A lorry passes a low emission zone sign in London. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Boris Johnson today announced the suspension of a key measure designed to improve London's air quality on the grounds that it would have a "detrimental impact" on small businesses in the economic downturn.
The mayor of London suspended the third phase of the low emission zone, which was introduced last year by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, as a way to cut harmful emissions by encouraging the replacement of high polluting vans and lorries with new models that met the required emission standards.
The scheme currently targets buses, coaches, and the most polluting lorries over 3.5 tonnes. Failure to meet the required emissions standards leads to a £200 daily charge, or a £1,000 daily fine.
Phase three of the scheme was scheduled to start in October next year and would have affected 90,000 much smaller vehicles, including vans and minibuses. A daily £100 charge was due to be imposed on those that did not meet the emissions standards. Failure to pay would have incurred a £500 fine for each day that the vans entered the zone, which covers the Greater London area.
"I want to do all I can to ease the burden of the economic downturn that is affecting us all at this time," the mayor said. "Although the low emission zone has been successful in tackling the worst polluters, and will continue to play an important role, it is not the right time to press ahead with extending it to include smaller vehicles like vans and minibuses.
"Many of these will be owned by small businesses, charities, and self-employed Londoners already hard hit by the recession. Simply put, the cost of fitting pollution equipment or getting a new vehicle would have come as punch in the ribs to those who need our help at this time, would have destroyed profit margins, and endangered our businesses."
The Green party on the London assembly described the move as the height of irresponsibility and "an absolute disaster for London's environment".
Darren Johnson, a Green assembly member, said: "The mayor is talking green while condemning Londoners to more premature deaths and more pollution.
"Substandard air quality in the capital already results in around 1,000 premature deaths per year. For the past 10 ten years, the government has failed to take proper action, resulting in Britain's air quality sinking to illegal levels. The extension of the low emission zone to tens of thousands of vans next year was going to be a huge step towards cleaning London's air. Nothing else that the mayor is proposing comes close to dealing with the problem."
He said the boroughs of Bexley, Brent, Ealing and Lambeth haved all exceeded air pollution limits set down by the EU.
The mayor's office nevertheless insisted that Johnson was committed to improving air quality in the capital.
He is in talks with the government on a package of measures to help London meet EU emission targets, including a subsidy scheme for replacing the oldest, most polluting light goods vehicles.
John Biggs, the deputy leader of the London assembly's Labour group, said "wheezy children and older people" in London suffering from poor air quality would not thank the mayor for today's decision.
Biggs said: "It looks like a retrograde step for London's health, but I would have to look at the small print."
Mike Tuffrey, the leader of the Lib Dems on the assembly, branded Johnson's decision "perverse and very disturbing".
He said: "I recognise the concerns of small businesses, but instead of dropping new air quality standards we should be providing practical help to enable them to make the changes at minimum cost. Only two weeks ago David Cameron was stating that 'we can't afford not to go green' as a successful economy and clean environment ultimately go hand in hand. Clearly Boris Johnson has still not got this message."
Johnson's intention to remove the third phase of the low emission zone will be the subject of a 12-week public consultation scheduled for later this year. Transport for London will also need to consult on the necessary changes to the scheme.
The decision comes a week after the European commission launched legal proceedings against the UK for failing to meet EU air quality targets.

Biofuels more harmful to humans than petrol and diesel, warn scientists

Corn-based bioethanol has higher burden on environment and human health, says US study
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 February 2009 22.05 GMT

A jatropha nursery in the Ivory Coast. Photograph: Kambou Sia/AFP/Getty Images
Some biofuels cause more health problems than petrol and diesel, according to scientists who have calculated the health costs associated with different types of fuel.
The study shows that corn-based bioethanol, which is produced extensively in the US, has a higher combined environmental and health burden than conventional fuels. However, there are high hopes for the next generation of biofuels, which can be made from organic waste or plants grown on marginal land that is not used to grow foods. They have less than half the combined health and environmental costs of standard gasoline and a third of current biofuels.
The work adds to an increasing body of research raising concerns about the impact of modern corn-based biofuels.
Several studies last year showed that growing corn to make ethanol biofuels was pushing up the price of food. Environmentalists have highlighted other problems such deforestation to clear land for growing crops to make the fuels. The UK government's renewable fuels advisors recommended slowing down the adoption of biofuels until better controls were in place to prevent inadvertent climate impacts.
Using computer models developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the researchers found the total environmental and health costs of gasoline are about 71 cents (50p) per gallon, while an equivalent amount of corn-ethanol fuel has associated costs of 72 cents to $1.45, depending on how it is produced.
The next generation of so-called cellulosic bioethanol fuels costs 19 cents to 32 cents, depending on the technology and type of raw materials used. These are experimental fuels made from woody crops that typically do not compete with conventional agriculture. The results are published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The dialogue so far on biofuels has been pretty much focused on greenhouse gases alone," said David Tilman, a professor at the department of ecology, evolution and behaviour at the University of Minnesota. "And yet we felt there were many other impacts that were positive or negative not being included. We wanted to expand the analysis from greenhouse gases to at least one other item and we chose health impacts."
The health problems caused by conventional fuels are well studied and stem from soot particles and other pollution produced when they are burned. With biofuels, the problems are caused by particles given off during their growth and manufacture.
"Corn requires nitrogen fertilisers and some of that comes on as ammonia, which is volatilised into the air," said Tilman. "The ammonia particles are charged and they attract fine dust particles. They stick together and form particles of the size of 2.5 micron and that has significant health impacts. Some of this gets blown by prevailing winds into areas of higher population density – that's where you have the large number of people having the health impact which raises the cost."
Health problems from biofuels and gasoline include increased cases of heart disease, respiratory symptoms, asthma, chronic bronchitis or premature death. The team has calculated the economic costs associated with these. "For the economy, it's the loss of good, productive workers who might otherwise have been able to contribute," said team member Jason Hill, an economist at the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment.
"These costs are not paid for by those who produce, sell and buy gasoline or ethanol. The public pays these costs," said Dr Stephen Polasky, an economist at the University of Minnesota, also part of the team.
A report published last year by Ed Gallagher, the head of the government's Renewable Fuels Agency, suggested that the introduction of biofuels to the UK should be slowed until more effective controls were in place to prevent the inadvertent rise in greenhouse gas emissions caused by, for example, the clearance of forests to make way for their production.
His report said that if the displacements were left unchecked, current targets for biofuel production could cause a global rise in greenhouse gas emissions and an increase in poverty in the poorest countries by 2020.
Gallagher also suggested the government should introduce incentives to promote the production of next-generation biofuels of the type studied by the Minnesota researchers. So-called cellulosic ethanol can be made from plants such as switchgrass or jatropha that can grow with very little fertiliser on poor land, but the technology to convert these plants into fuels is in its early stages.
Tilman said society needed to make the transition away from corn-based ethanol as soon as possible.
"We've gone one step further than the work that only looked at greenhouse gases and found some surprisingly large effects. Before we dedicate major resources to new biofuels, we should be trying to quantify other likely impacts to society – water quality, biodiversity and so on – and put all of those into our analysis." He hopes this will encourage society to make "a long-term commitment to the right biofuel".

Personal carbon budgets possible by 2020, says head of RSA study

Juliette Jowit
The Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009

Everyone in the UK could have their own carbon budget by 2020, says the head of the most comprehensive trial of the idea.
Personal allowances set a limit on emissions produced by activities such as driving and heating homes. People could switch to greener services or do without to meet their allowances, sell credits if they did not use them all, or buy credits if they went over the budget because of more highly polluting activities such as flying.
The idea was given credibility by the support of David Miliband, the former environment and now foreign secretary, and the launch of a three-year study by the Royal Society of Arts. A report into the study concludes that trading allowances is too controversial in the short term, but important elements could work, including the principal of giving every person a carbon budget, said Matt Prescott, the RSA's project director.
Initially, budgets would be likely to cover only key areas such as buildings and transport, but as technology developed they could be extended, he said.
Last year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs effectively dismissed personal carbon trading after estimating its cost would "outweigh by many times" any benefits. But the RSA report says budgets could be managed through existing technology such as bank, loyalty and fuel cards. Also, instead of individual trading, credits could be traded by local authorities or employers. A scheme would be feasible by 2013 but was "more likely around 2020", Prescott said.
The new Department for Energy and Climate Change welcomed the RSA analysis but warned of the challenges ahead.
The RSA's CarbonLimited study began in 2006. The report publishes results from three trials, none of which offered financial incentives. On average the 140 volunteers in the groups cut emissions by almost 5%. A further trial is planned.

Clownfish lost at sea due to rising carbon dioxide levels

Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009

The tale of a clownfish that got lost at sea in the 2003 movie Finding Nemo may be a taste of things to come - as rising carbon dioxide levels could leave the fish unable to find their way around, say scientists.
Tests on clownfish larvae showed they became disoriented and were unable to find a suitable place to live if they were raised in seawater that had absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The effect is potentially devastating for a wide range of fish populations because many rely on odours in seawater to seek out the right habitats to live in, according to researchers investigating the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on marine life.
The world's oceans soak up vast quantities of carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels. By absorbing the gas, oceans become more acidic. Global ocean pH has dropped around 0.1 points since preindustrial times. But with increasing carbon emissions expected, this pH is predicted to fall a further 0.3 to 0.4 points by 2100.
Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists describe how clownfish larvae lose the ability to sense vital odours in more acidic waters, probably owing to the damage caused to their olfactory systems.
"They can't distinguish between their own parents and other fish, and they become attracted to substances they previously avoided. It means the larvae will have less opportunity to find the right habitat, which could be devastating for their populations," said Kjell Døving, a co-author from the University of Oslo.
Clownfish eggs are carried on the ocean currents. When they hatch, the larvae pick up scents leading them to reefs and anemones, where they make their homes.
In the study, scientists checked how well the larvae followed odours in normal seawater, which has a pH of 8.15, and compared it with their performance in slightly acidified seawater that mimics ocean conditions expected in 2100 and beyond.
At a pH of 7.8, the larvae stopped following odour trails released by reefs and anemones. Instead, they homed in on scents they normally avoided, including those released by plants and other organisms which thrive in the wrong kinds of habitat for the fish. The larvae also lost the ability to use smell to distinguish between their parents and other fish.
At pH of 7.6, the larvae were unable to follow any kind of odour in the water, and instead swam in random directions.

Climate change might be altering waters along US west coast

Scientists believe climate change is the cause of stronger winds that drive upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean waters
McClatchy newspapers
guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 February 2009 16.10 GMT

The spectre of an ocean floor littered with dead shellfish, rock fish, sea stars and other marine life off the Oregon coast spurred Mark Snyder, a climate change expert, to investigate whether California's coast faced a similar calamity.
It could, the University of California Santa Cruz earth scientist said, citing climate change, which some scientists believe is responsible for stronger and more persistent winds along the coast. There's no debate that windier conditions drive more upwelling of nutrient-rich deep ocean waters.
At normal levels, this upwelling sustains the abundance of marine life, but too much of these rich waters leads to a boom-and-bust cycle that ultimately creates ocean "dead zones" with little or no oxygen. Marine life that can't swim or scuttle away from these lethal zones suffocate.
To assess future wind and upwelling scenarios along the California coast, Snyder and his colleagues at UC Santa Cruz ran climate simulations for two time periods. One spanned from 1968 to 2000, verifying the accuracy of the modelling. The second simulated the region's estimated climate from 2038 to 2070, using the intergovernmental panel on climate change "high-growth" emissions projections. Snyder said he chose the high emissions scenario because today's are exceeding earlier IPCC estimates.
The results showed increases in wind speeds of as much as 2 meters per second, a 40% increase from current wind speeds, which now average 5 meters per second, Snyder said.
The change in wind speeds is already happening, Snyder said. California winds have been growing in strength in the past 30 years.
Snyder said he knows his hypothesis needs more research, so he'll know whether to continue pursuing it or to discard it. The latter is unlikely, he said, given the new cycle of dead zones on the Oregon and Washington coasts that started in 2002.
"It was just chance they found the dead zones in Oregon," Snyder said, describing how fishers reported to marine scientists an alarming number of dead or dying crabs they were pulling up in traps. "It's quite possible these areas could be off the California coast," he said.
After the Oregon fishers reported their sickly catches, and divers described seeing bottom-dwelling fish in high waters or schools of fishes massing near an invisible wall - behind which was low-oxygen water - scientists from Oregon State University, along with state and federal marine experts, began investigating.
That year, and in years since, researchers have sent down a robot equipped with a video camera to record the carnage. They've also deployed a fleet of robotic "gliders" to maintain constant vigil on oxygen levels and other conditions along the Oregon coast, as well as a sophisticated monitoring buoy.
The worst year recorded was 2006, with the dead zone near the coast spreading from southern Oregon into Washington, where dead fish and crabs washed up on beaches along the Olympic Peninsula. Less severe dead zones returned in 2007.
"We've seen areas that are carpeted with dead marine life," said Oregon State marine ecologist Francis Chan. One video image stuck in his mind: A large dead sea star that must have been decades old, rotting in the water. Marine life such as that, which adhere to rocks most of their lives, can't scurry away from suffocating waters, he said. "It was pretty striking."
In normal years, winds blowing from north to south drive upwelling in the spring and summer months off the Pacific coast. These strengthened winds drive surface waters offshore, making room for deeper, nutrient-rich waters to surface, where sunlight triggers a heavy growth of phytoplankton, the bottom rung of the marine food chain.
But when the winds don't slacken and upwelling persists, excess phytoplankton blooms. When the uneaten plankton dies and sinks to the ocean floor, bacteria consuming it deplete the oxygen in the water.
Like so many other climate change projections, the scientists know they can't definitely point to greenhouse gases as the sole culprit behind windier conditions along the coast. But no other explanation fits, given the historical patterns of winds and upwelling, according to a primer from Oregon State on hypoxia, the technical term for oxygen depletion in waters.
A phenomenon called El Niño, which cycles in and out, doesn't explain it, or what's known as decadal oscillations, Chan said. "They're not at play here," Chan said. "So something else is likely at play."

The Arctic blast that may have cost British businesses £1.2bn

• Estimated one in five workers did not go in • Up to 3,000 extra companies may fail
David Teather and Graeme Wearden
The Guardian, Tuesday 3 February 2009

London's Canary Wharf has seen 15cm of snow. Photograph: Jonathan Bainbridge/Reuters
The arctic weather that struck Britain yesterday could cost the UK economy about £1.2bn, piling further difficulty on firms already struggling in the recession.
The Federation of Small Businesses estimated that one in five commuters did not get to work, leaving many companies with a reduced staff. Some shops and bank branches were shut.
In the City many dealing rooms were half-empty, and trading on the stock market was thin. Trader David Buik of BGC Partners described it as "moribund", comparing it with the mood on Christmas Eve. In the circumstances, some City workers took the opportunity to make snowmen in Paternoster Square.
The federation calculated that the 20% of staff not at work will cost British firms £1.2bn, based on £6bn for a bank holiday.
Douglas McWilliams, chief executive of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said that, especially if the cold continues, an extra 2,000 or 3,000 firms may go bankrupt in the first quarter. "If it leads to delayed payments, the combined hit on profits and cashflow could send many businesses who might be close to the brink into premature bankruptcy. Many are in retail and construction, sectors likely to be most affected by snow and transport disruption."
One uncertainty is how much the damage is softened by the internet; many people will carry on jobs from home, or shop online. The centre suggested a 20% reduction in productivity would cost £900m, but pointed out some firms actually benefit. "Consumers spend more on heating and on warm clothes, and any accidents or structural damage leads to increased spending on repairs," said McWilliams.
According to him, the extreme cold winter of 1962-1963 cut manufacturing output in February 1963 by 75%, but higher spending on heating meant that, overall, GDP was unaffected.
Businesses across the south-east with large fleets of vans and trucks were struggling with the icy conditions on many roads. A Royal Mail spokesman said: "We are doing everything possible to keep the mail moving and our people safe. Some deliveries are still taking place and where this is not possible our people are processing the mail to help us ensure we deliver it as quickly as possible."
BT engineers were out on the roads in the freezing conditions. A spokeswoman admitted that the cold snap had stopped some of its Openreach engineers getting to their jobs. "It is particularly challenging in London and parts of the south-east in areas where the roads are impassable because of the snow."
Many of its managers and support staff were working from home, which is a regular occurrence for tens of thousands of BT's 110,000 workforce.
BP said it had experienced some problems with petrol deliveries in the south-east of England but none anywhere else in the country.
Large swaths of Britain's transport infrastructure were shut down or operating vastly reduced services yesterday and Heathrow airport suffered its worst day since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Motorists endured miles of tailbacks on motorways and thousands of rail services were delayed or cancelled. Some local authorities were forced to ask the Highways Agency for grit after their supplies ran out.
Rail journeys in and out of London, which account for more than two-thirds of all services in Britain, were badly affected by the freezing conditions and lack of staff. Bus and tube services in London also suffered mass cancellations.
Network Rail said bad road conditions had stopped train drivers, signallers and maintenance staff from getting to work. One of the worst affected franchises, the London-to-Brighton Southern service, said frozen points and tracks had been the main cause of massive disruption.
The Highways Agency, which maintains motorways and major A-roads in England, said it was satisfied with its response and had deployed gritters on roads over the weekend and yesterday morning. "It has been a busy and difficult day but we do not feel that we have been caught out," said a spokesman.
Retailers were hard hit as staff struggled to reach work and shoppers opted for snowball fights rather than bargain hunting.
Marks & Spencer closed 75 stores in London and south-east England because of staff shortages. The Marble Arch store in the West End closed early so staff could get home, while the early finish meant a branch near Victoria station could supply unsold cakes and sandwiches to nurses at nearby St Thomas' hospital when their delivery did not arrive.
Most shops at the new Westfield shopping centre in west London were closed, reflecting the picture at malls around the capital. At 3pm only six stores out of 265 were open. The centre closed at 5pm but promised a standard 10am-9pm today.
In the supermarkets, Asda reported a 40% leap in sales of Ribena and Vimto and a 10% pick-up in whisky sales. Tesco launched Operation Snowplough to ensure soup, pies, custard and brandy, as well as scrapers and thermal socks, were on the shelves. It was, a spokesman said, "easily the biggest operation we have mounted in nearly 20 years". At Sainsburys sales were up for "classic British ready-made meals such as bangers and mash," said a spokeswoman.
Local authorities in the south and Midlands yesterday insisted essential services were maintained despite the snow that left millions of workers stranded at home.
Meals on wheels services were given priority, together with the work of core social work teams, said the Local Government Association, which represents 500 councils in England and Wales.
In many cases staff struggled to work only to find health and safety considerations forced them to suspend their work. Refuse collection was abandoned by most councils along with parking enforcement once it became obvious the roads would be treacherous and staff could be in danger.
Thousands of schools and hundreds of libraries, including the British Library, closed after staff phoned in to say they were unable to travel to work.
Shunting and skidding prompted a doubling in car insurance claims yesterday, while calls to breakdown and recovery services rocketed as drivers failed to cope with the worst road conditions - in the south-east at least - for more than a decade.
The AA said it received around 16,000 calls, compared with 11,000 on a normal day. The RAC said it took 2,000 calls in one hour, but some parts of the country were "eerily quiet" as drivers heeded widely-broadcast appeals not to take to the roads.
Insurance claims for minor collisions soared as drivers slid across icy roads. The AA said claims were double normal levels. "On a normal Monday we receive around 1,600 claims but by 10am we had already received 500. We expect to have received as many as 3,000 claims by the end of the day," said an AA spokesman. Norwich Union added that it had seen a 40% surge in claims yesterday.
They may be reporting on the weather, but media companies are also caught up in the story as they battled with inclement conditions across London and the south-east. Newspapers pulled copy deadlines forward to mid-afternoon yesterday in anticipation of further bad weather, which will slow their delivery trucks to a snail's pace overnight. The Times, for instance, will have just one edition today while the Daily Mail made its deadline so early in the day that many reporters filed and went home after lunch. But at least they got lunch. Journalists at News International's Wapping headquarters went hungry after the snow left its canteen without supplies.
Sky News anchor Colin Brazier, meanwhile, walked four miles yesterday morning from his home in Twickenham to the satellite broadcaster's Isleworth centre for his mid-morning show.