Friday, 15 May 2009

Barack Obama's US climate bill seen as a step forward

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 14 May 2009 23.09 BST

The first concrete steps by Congress to fulfil Barack Obama's promise to green America's economy were seen around the world today as a significant step forward, though they remain far short of what scientists say is needed to solve ­global warming.
Democratic leaders in Congress said yesterdaytoday they had defied conventional wisdom that they would be unable to ­persuade representatives from oil and coal, rust belt and southern states to support a bill. The slightly weakened draft now calls for a 17% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. "It's a legislative Susan Boyle. Everyone underestimated it until it started to sing," said Ed Markey, who chairs the subcommittee on climate change.
Democrats hope to finish the draft in a week. Their initial compromise fell short of what some environmentalists in the US and in the international community hoped for. They said it failed to send a strong enough signal of the US commitment to action and would undermine efforts to reach a deal on emission cuts at the UN climate treaty talks at Copenhagen later this year.
But diplomats and environmental policy experts said todaytoday that the bill marked a hard-won victory for Henry Waxman, the California Democrat steering the legislation, in the face of strong opposition from oil, coal and rustbelt Democrats. "I think he has his own fight right now. I don't think we need to get involved as well," said one European official.
Elliot Diringer, of the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, said the international community would be pragmatic. "I think there is growing recognition internationally that this would [be] very ambitious for the United States," he said.
Diplomats have told America's climate change negotiators that they must see a serious move to cut US carbon emissions if the world is to agree a global deal. The US is the biggest per capita emitter.
The bill taking shape shows a lowered cut for 2020, although it would keep the US ambition to cut carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It also departs from the original intent of auctioning off pollution permits.
In the current version of the bill, 35% of pollution allowances are to be given for free to power companies. and 15% to cement, steel and other energy-intensive industries. Car makers are to get 3%.
The bill should, nevertheless, still be enough to persuade China, the world's biggest ­polluter, to come on board at Copenhagen, said William Chandler, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "I think it's close enough to the original," he said.
The PR offensive by the oil and gas industry against Obama's green agenda, revealed this week in the Guardian, is likely to intensify next week as Congress begins the formal drafting process.

Barack Obama's climate change bill is weakened, but still intact

The ambitious agenda introduced to Congress six weeks ago has been compromised by hold-outs and it now seems clear that the US will come nowhere close to European targets

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 14 May 2009 11.52 BST

Barack Obama's plans to move America towards a cleaner energy economy have survived – but not unscathed.
Democratic leaders in Congress said late yesterday they were confident of getting enough support from about a dozen Democratic hold-outs – conservatives, and members from oil and coal producing states – to move forward on a climate change bill.
But the ambitious global warming and energy agenda introduced to Congress six weeks ago, has been weakened in a number of key areas by the compromises with the Democratic hold-outs.
Further details of the draft are expected today. But it now seems clear that America will come nowhere close to European targets for cutting carbon emissions – a shortfall that could provoke a backlash in the international community looking to Obama to provide leadership on climate change. Significant US commitment to greenhouse gas cuts is seen as essential to sealing a global deal to fight global warming at a UN summit in Copenhagen in December.
The bill, which began to take shape yesterday, bears the imprint of a fierce PR offensive by the oil and gas industry against Obama's green agenda. The lobbying and advertisement campaign is set to intensify next week as Congress begins the formal drafting process.
In its current form, the bill now calls for a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020.
That falls below the original target of 20%.
However, it is still higher than the 14% reduction supported by Obama and the 6% floated by Congress last year.
The new version of the bill also lowers the bar for electricity companies to generate a portion of their power from renewable sources, such as wind or solar. The first version had set a standard of 25% by 2025.
That has now been watered down to 15% by 2020, and as low as 12% for some parts of the country that have not developed renewable energy.
Such compromises have helped Henry Waxman, the California Democrat steering the draft through compromise, rope in wavering Democrats. "This moves the ball forward significantly," said John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who had been balking at the bill.
Waxman said some environmental groups and the wind power industry had gone too far in trying to line up the Democrats behind the bill.
But Steve Cochran, who heads the climate programme at the Environmental Defence Fund, said: "What we are looking at here is a damn good start."
He added: "What they have done with these interests and these particular regions on this committee is going to be very hard to beat."
The other compromises – while less directly affecting America's efforts to reduce its global warming pollution – carry steep economic consequences.
Obama had originally envisaged auctioning off pollution permits, and his budget forecast revenues of $79 billion by 2012.
Under the deals revealed on Wednesday, 35% of all pollution permits will be given free to power companies. Another 15% will be given to heavy manufacturing - cement, pulp and paper, and steel industries – which use a lot of energy and face international competition. A further 3% will go to the auto industry to help the development of electric vehicles.
Democratic members of Congress for Texas, Utah, and Arkansas are also pressing for a 5% allowance for oil refineries. "It would be something I could at least say we got," Gene Green, from Texas, told reporters.
However, Waxman said the energy committee would begin re-writing the bill on Monday, and that he still hoped for a vote later this summer - ahead of the Copenhagen conference.

Garbage Gets Fresh Look as Source of Energy


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Times change, and yesterday's environmental problem starts to look like today's solution. That is what is happening with trash.
Over the past two decades, the U.S. has shut down hundreds of pollution-spewing waste incinerators on the belief that burning detritus was a bigger environmental sin than burying it. Today, most American garbage is sent to landfills, some spanning hundreds of acres miles from the cities that generate the refuse. New York City, which tosses about eight million tons of nonindustrial trash each year, trucks much of it to big landfills in states such as Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Covanta's Hempstead, N.Y., plant burns nearly a million tons of trash a year.
Landfills have been convenient. But they are falling out of favor as improved technology and changing environmental priorities start to upend the old thinking about garbage.
Past orthodoxy held that burning trash was bad because it spewed toxic substances into the air. In an era when the big environmental threat was localized pollution like smog and cancer-causing plumes, landfills seemed the lesser evil.
Dirty air is still a concern, but now it has been eclipsed by fears of global climate change. In that calculus of environmental harm, recent research suggests, burning trash is better than burying it.
The appeal of most modern incinerators is that they don't only torch trash. They also use the heat from the incineration to boil water, which creates steam, which in turn generates electricity. Yet trash incineration produces just 0.4% of the country's electricity. Even if all U.S. garbage were burned, it wouldn't produce anywhere near enough power to meet the country's energy needs. But as concern about climate change grows, any renewable source of energy -- even a pile of garbage -- seems appealing.
Landfills, too, produce potential fuel -- in the form of methane, which can be captured and used to generate electricity. But a recent study by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency researchers said that most landfills fail to capture all of their methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The study concluded that incinerating a ton of trash emits at least 35% less greenhouse gas and yields 10 times as much electricity as burying it.
Old incinerators were infamous polluters. They coughed out large quantities of soot, the components of acid rain and carcinogenic dioxins.
John Waffenschmidt, a 53-year-old New Yorker who is a vice president for Covanta Energy Corp., the country's biggest owner of waste-to-energy plants, recalls delivering newspapers as a boy in the city in the 1960s. "I'd go out in the morning and there would be little flakes coming down," he says, "because there were 4,000 or 5,000 apartment-building incinerators."
The energy crisis of the late 1970s prompted a push for plants that burned trash to make electricity. Today, 87 waste-to-energy plants are operating in the U.S., with the biggest clusters in Florida, New York and Minnesota.
Further Reading
The best way to deal with trash is to produce less of it. The next-best way is to recycle more of it, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But that still leaves loads of trash, and burning it to produce electricity is better than burying it in a landfill, the EPA says. Incinerating a ton of trash emits at least 35% less greenhouse gas and yields 10 times as much electricity as burying it, according to a recent study by EPA researchers.
Today, the U.S. burns 13% of its trash; it sends 54% of its trash to landfills and recycles 33% of it. Other countries, particularly countries in Europe that have less available space for landfills and fewer domestic fossil-fuel resources, burn more of their trash, according to a study by the European Environment Agency.
A bill drafted by Congressional Democrats would give incineration, known as "waste-to-energy," a boost. The bill would require utilities to produce 20% of their electricity from renewable-energy sources and energy-efficiency improvements by 2020. The bill's current version defines waste-to-energy as one form of renewable power, along with sources such as the wind and sun.
Many environmentalists worry that encouraging trash incineration will impinge on recycling efforts. A 1997 report by the Natural Resource Defense Council's Allen Hershkowitz argues that recycling rates could be dramatically improved with more effort. A 2008 study by trash consultant Eileen Brettler Berenyi concluded that trash incineration isn't restraining recycling. Her study, partly funded by the trash-incineration industry, found that U.S. communities with waste-to-energy plants tend to have higher-than-average recycling rates.
Some 13% of U.S. garbage is burned -- far less than the 54% buried in landfills and the 33% that is recycled. The modern plants turn prodigious piles of trash into ash yet often sit in the middle of heavily populated areas. New York's Long Island has four incinerators, one of the densest concentrations in the country. Its biggest, a Covanta plant in the town of Hempstead, burns 950,000 tons of garbage a year, right next door to a strip mall. Its 39-story steam tower is the tallest structure on Long Island.
Trucks carrying trash from Long Island and New York City roll into a cavernous room in the plant at a rate of about one every five minutes. The trash is pushed into another room, the "pit," where a crane operator tosses it around with a nine-ton steel claw. He is "fluffing" the rubbish -- mixing in air to help it burn.
After being fluffed, the trash moves by conveyor belt into furnaces, where it is incinerated at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating the heat that is used to generate electricity.
Today's incinerators are markedly cleaner than their predecessors, yet they still pollute. "One percent of a very toxic substance is still a very toxic substance," says Marchant Wentworth, a renewable-energy campaigner with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.
Trash disposal of any sort is problematic. Ideally, society would produce less trash. Recycling is the next-best option.
In Congress and in many state capitals, lawmakers are considering whether to endorse trash incineration as a "renewable" source of power. A green imprimatur would be a boon to the trash-burning industry, which is lobbying feverishly for the move.
Covanta's Hempstead, N.Y., incinerator is applying for permission to expand and burn more trash. Meanwhile, Long Island's main highways, like the roads leading out of New York City, are filled with trucks ferrying the rest of the area's garbage to landfills in other states.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at

Government criticised on funding of green energy

The Times
May 15, 2009

Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Government claims that it is leading a green energy revolution were condemned after it emerged that funding for five prominent environmental initiatives had been cut by 25 per cent this year.
Details of funding for the organisations, which include the Energy Savings Trust (EST), the Waste and Resources Action programme (Wrap), the Carbon Trust, the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) and Envirowise, surfaced in a parliamentary answer from Joan Ruddock, a junior minister at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
They show that the five organisations would receive £68 million less from the Government this year than they did during 2008, a drop of more than 25 per cent from £270 million to £202 million. The figures show funding for Envirowise, which offers businesses advice on reducing the waste they send to landfill, as well as on water and energy use, more than halved from £22 million to £9 million.
Funding for NISP, which helps companies to identify new uses for waste products, including as raw materials for other industries, was cut from £10 million to £5 million. Wrap, which works to increase recycling levels among UK businesses and households, had its funding trimmed from £62 million to £43 million.

Greg Clark, the Conservative energy spokesman, said: “What the market needs is long-term certainty. This sort of stop-start funding is anathema to any business trying to establish itself in these key industries.”
Martin Horwood, energy spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that such “huge budget cuts” were undermining Britain's plans to improve sustainability and cut its emissions.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees Wrap, NISP and Envirowise, claimed that a general increase in public understanding of green issues had led to the funding cuts. “The support we offer is now focused on providing the necessary evidence to encourage businesses to change their behaviour, rather than financially supporting individual business projects,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for DECC, which supports the Carbon Trust and EST, acknowledged that there had been an overall drop in government support for the groups. However, the spokesman said that EST's cut was because of a failure on its part to secure contracts that public sector bodies had put out to tender.
Cuts at the Carbon Trust were the result of an anomaly, the spokesman said. “Carbon Trust funding has increased year-on-year since the Trust was set up in 2001. We expect the upward trend to continue, particularly in light of the Budget which announced an additional £165 million for loans to SMEs and the public sector.”

'Rebound effects' of energy efficiency could halve carbon savings, says study

Research urges governments and climate policymakers to look beyond simple energy solutions and consider the indirect and economy-wide effects when forming legislation

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 14 May 2009 14.19 BST

Using energy more efficiently might not be as effective at tackling climate change as people think, according to a new study. A team of economists has shown that so-called "rebound effects", where efficiency improvements are offset by behaviour changes, such as increasing demands for cheaper energy, could potentially slash future carbon and energy savings by half.
The rebound effect was first proposed in the 19th century but, until now, there has been very little research on how significant it might be. In the latest study, Terry Barker, of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research, showed that if the International Energy Agency's (IEA) recommendations for efficiency measures are followed in full in the next few decades, the total rebound effect – the proportion of potential energy savings offset by changes in consumer and industry behaviour – could be 31% by 2020 and about 52% around the world by 2030.
He is presenting the results today at a Cambridge University seminar, where economists, business people and policymakers will gather to discuss the wider implications of the rebound effect and consider how to incorporate it into climate negotiations.
"The green stimulus packages being implemented to tackle the financial crisis in several countries all include investments in energy efficiency," said Barker. "They may be a lot less effective at reducing energy use than expected because of the rebound effect, especially in developing countries."
Policymakers and scientists, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, only consider the direct rebound effects of energy efficiency, largely ignoring the indirect and economy-wide effects that Barker also identifies in his research.
"That is potentially important because it will lead to us over-estimating what certain policies will achieve," said Steve Sorrell, a researcher at the UK Energy Research Centre and an energy policy expert at the University of Sussex, who is also speaking at today's meeting.
Rebound effects can cut right through society and the three types reflect how they could inadvertently increase energy use. The first, direct effects, include people who drive more regularly because their fuel-efficient cars are cheaper to run. More efficient industry, on the other hand, can lead to indirect effects: cheaper steel might increase the amount of steel produced and, therefore, the number of construction projects in which it can be used. Across society, cheaper electricity bills overall mean consumers have more money to spend on other activities, such as holidays or entertainment, again potentially raising their overall carbon footprint.
In the study, Barker used economic models to predict how energy use in transport, buildings and industry might change in the coming decades. The total rebound figures were calculated by comparing two scenarios of how a growing economy responds to changing energy use. One scenario included the IEA's proposed energy efficiency measures, while the second did not. This allowed researchers to calculate for the first time the indirect and economy-wide rebound effects not usually considered by scientists and policymakers.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK said the work on rebound effects showed technology on its own was not a solution to climate change. "Any policy has to be not just about getting technology deployed but also about a strategy that includes tax and regulation. You can't just deploy new technology and hope it'll get you out of trouble. I get the sense that policymakers don't understand it fully."
Sorrell agreed that rebound effect should be taken more seriously by governments when setting climate policy – in particular, making sure they focus on measures outside simple energy efficiency. "Our new understanding of the rebound effect reinforces the case for price-based measures, such as carbon taxes and emissions trading, to control emissions directly."
The rebound effect was first proposed by William Stanley Jevons in 1865 – he argued that increasing the efficiency of steam turbines would increase, rather than decrease, the overall consumption of coal. As the cost of energy goes down, he said, people would be more likely to use steam turbines more often. His prediction came true – increasingly efficient steam turbines powered the industrial revolution.

The NHS must wake up to climate change

Climate change will have a catastrophic effect on human health, but the NHS could do much to protect people from it

Richard Horton, Thursday 14 May 2009 11.00 BST

It's time for the NHS to wake up to climate change. Global warming is the biggest threat to our future health. This isn't a message that has yet seeped into the public consciousness. It isn't a message that most doctors and nurses think is relevant to health. But it's time that health professionals stood on the front lines of political debate to explain why climate change is the most serious danger to our wellbeing, even to our survival.
The threat of climate change is with us now. A two-year commission between The Lancet and University College London (pdf), published today, sets out the scale of the threat to human health posed by climate change. "Even the most conservative estimates are profoundly disturbing and demand action", the UCL team of health, climate change, and environmental scientists, together with lawyers, political scientists, and economists, conclude in Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change. This is an issue that should not only matter to us now. We should be concerned because of what is likely to happen to the health of our children and grandchildren in the future.
We know that as temperatures rise, extreme climatic events will cause heatwaves, floods, and unusually strong storms. People in Britain will die. The incidence of infections, cataracts, and skin cancers will rise. More people will be admitted to hospital.
But the greatest impacts will be on the poorest peoples in the world today. Africa will endure yet another crisis to add to its existing predicaments of poverty, disease, and economic collapse. The warming of the planet will trigger new epidemics of infectious diseases. Food yields will fall and millions of people will suffer starvation. 250 million more people in Africa will face water poverty by 2020. Poor housing and slums will be especially vulnerable to extreme climatic events. The millions of people who migrate away from places of climatic stress will create new tensions, precipitating violence and war.
Climate change seems too big, too complex, too unpredictable, too global, and too distant. It's tempting to give up when confronted by this prospect of human catastrophe. There is much that we don't know about what climate change might do. We are frightened by this terrifying uncertainty. We need new technologies to pull us back from the edge of disaster. We need new ways to solve the stubborn problem of global poverty. We need ways to get the public and politicians to take climate change more seriously. Climate change should be a major priority for our political parties in the 2010 general election.
Despite reasons for despair, our commission remains optimistic. We can do something, and the health community, in particular, can do a great deal to lead a movement to protect billions of people from the health effects of climate change. We did it once before. It took 20 years – from the 1940s to the 1960s – to assemble the science to prove that smoking damaged human health. It took another 40 years to translate that science into a ban on smoking in public places. We have reached the point where we can be confident of the cataclysmic effects of climate change on health. But we don't have the luxury of 40 years to change public policy. Every decade of delay will push up the peak temperature of the earth to increasingly unsustainable levels.
The NHS is Britain's largest employer. If those who work in it now back a radical agenda to change our lifestyle to low-carbon living we will make a big and valuable contribution to saving our fragile human species. Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. But health is possibly the best means to mobilise political action to face down that threat. Because without health there is no life for us or our children.

Smart meters are vital, but the next step must be a smart grid

The Guardian, Friday 15 May 2009

Smart meters are an essential ingredient in developing a low-carbon future - encouraging householders to cut energy waste and save on bills (Boxing clever: every UK household may get smart meter for gas and electricity, 12 May). The next critical step is an entire overhaul of the energy generation system.
The centrepiece should be a new smart grid which would use state-of-the-art technology to balance the variable energy generated from renewable sources and intelligently manage our demand for power. This would also enable more of the UK's vast renewable energy potential to be developed by making it easier to plug in to the system, and could encourage more households to turn their homes into mini power stations by fitting solar panels and water and wind turbines.
On top of this the UK must also invest in a new super grid off the British coast to tap into our vast offshore renewable resources - we have the best offshore wind potential in Europe - and stabilise supply and demand by connecting us into a bigger European low-carbon energy network.
Furthermore, Ofgem's remit must be urgently reviewed. Climate change is the biggest threat the planet faces - tackling it should be the top priority of the UK's energy regulator. Andy Atkins Executive director, Friends of the Earth
• Let us hope that the government actually has access to some new customer research on the economic benefits of installing smart meters in every household and that such research supports their proposals. When the electricity supply industry carried out trials with customers some years ago we found that the customer response was too small to justify the expense of the more complicated meters. Those earlier results are available in the library of the Institution of Engineering and Technology.Terence BoleyFormer director, Electricity Council
• It is not surprising that energy corporations that have a huge vested interest in keeping dirty coal power stations running for as long as possible will lobby the government to abandon its plan to force them to shut power stations if carbon capture technology doesn't work (Energy firms call for opt-outs over carbon capture deadline, 12 May).
Where there are loopholes, the energy companies will try to exploit them; and where loopholes are exploited, climate-wrecking carbon emissions are pumped into the atmosphere. That is why Ed Miliband must close down any wriggle room for the coal giants to get out of fitting CCS to coal power stations and shut them down if the technology doesn't work.
Miliband has made good progress on tackling climate change but he must stand firm in the face of corporate lobbying, consign dirty coal to history and press ahead with a renewable energy revolution in the UK. Beverley DuckworthWorld Development Movement

Major report warns of climate change risk to world health

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A major report on managing the health effects of climate change, launched jointly by The Lancet and UCL (University College London) today, says that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century. Furthermore, lead author Professor Anthony Costello's major report says that failure to act will result in an intergenerational injustice, with our children and grandchildren scorning our generation for ignoring the climate change threat—with similar moral outrage to how we today look back on those who brought in and did nothing to stop slavery.
Big Ideas is a series of films featuring leading academics presenting novel and often bold solutions to some of the problems facing British society today. This episode has been made specially for by Ember Regis in conjunction with UCL.

When food packaging can reduce climate change gases

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Independent has long campaigned to reduce packaging around food. While the food and drink sector has made real strides, we accept there is a lot more to do.
With landfill sites rapidly running out and the urgent need to combat climate change, there can be no let-up in the campaign to reduce or recycle packaging.
But as the Indy has also recognised, it is not just packaging waste which gets buried. In fact, our industry and consumers together throw away more food than we do packaging. And this waste is more damaging, in many ways, to the environment than plastic or paper wrapping of which 60 per cent is now recycled.
The Government's own Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that growing, producing, transporting and storing the 6.7 million tones of food we then throw away at home is equivalent to 2 per cent of the UK's CO2 emissions. Food waste in general produces three times as much carbon as packaging waste.
When dumped into landfill sites, still the final destination of the majority of food waste, it also rots and gives off methane. It's a gas which is 23 times as damaging in accelerating climate change as the equivalent amount of CO2. This all helps explain why WRAP say ending food waste would have the same impact on the UK's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as taking one in five cars off the road.
It is not just, of course, a cost to the environment. It's bad for our pockets as well as the planet. Throwing away food adds over £600 a year to the average family budget. It's also a largely avoidable cost. Most food is discarded without ever being used simply because it is stored incorrectly or for too long.
That's why the debate on packaging can't be isolated from our efforts to cut the mountains of food waste. Sensible packaging helps protect food from damage and last longer. It's no good cutting packaging if the result is more food thrown away.
This requires us to look at packaging on a product-by-product basis to see whether it is necessary or can be reduced or removed. This is what we are now doing at Morrisons through our Keep It Fresh test and packaging laboratory.
It is research which has already thrown up some fascinating insights. We have found, for example, that wrapping peppers in plastic has no impact on freshness or quality so we have stopped doing it. But wrapping cucumbers in recyclable plastic - a target for anti-packaging campaigners - means they last five times as long.
Selling cucumbers without plastic would lead to a slight reduction in packaging. It would, however, lead to a big increase in cucumbers thrown away both by stores and consumers.
We also know that keeping potatoes loose rather than bagged leads to a 3 per cent increase in waste as exposure to the light encourages green shoots and discolouring. Selling grapes in trays cuts in-store waste alone by as much as 20 per cent.
This doesn't mean we have to stop the drive to reduce packaging. It does mean we have to distinguish between the packaging which protects food and that which is unnecessary.
Reducing the size of waste food mountains, of course, requires the industry to continue to change the way we operate. But the responsibility of supermarkets like ours goes beyond what we do ourselves. We also have to help consumers understand better how to keep and store food so they can reduce waste and their household bills.
That's why we have launched a 'Great Taste Less Waste' campaign in our stores. It includes Best Kept stickers on fresh food which explains the latest advice.
We need to help the two-third of consumers who don't realise that apples stay fresh for up to 14 days longer if kept in a fridge. When WRAP estimate that 4.4 million apples are thrown away every day, getting this message across helps both consumers and the environment.
We can do more as well to help consumers plan their shopping wisely so they need to throw less food out and end confusion between 'best by' and 'use by' dates. Half of all consumers admit they throw food away when it reaches 'best by' date.
But that's unnecessary. Food past its 'use by' date shouldn't be eaten, but food which has reached its 'best by' date is safe to eat. It merely suggests a date when food might begin to lose its quality.
No matter how careful we all are, there is always going to be some waste. We have to ensure less of it is buried. In some of our European neighbours, over 20 per cent of energy comes from technology such as anaerobic digestion but just 2 per cent here in the UK. But to help consumers recycle food waste, we need a better national infrastructure for collection and ensure it is used productively.
None of this means we should let up on the drive to reduce unnecessary packaging. But we have to ensure that this worthy goal does not accidentally add to the mountains of food waste we still throw away.
* Marc Bolland is chief executive of Morrisons

Melting ice could cause gravity shift

Northern hemisphere sea levels 'will rise the most' if Antarctic sheet disintegrates
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Friday, 15 May 2009
The disintegration of the Antarctic ice sheet could cause catastrophic flooding on the east and west coasts of America

The melting of one of the world's largest ice sheets would alter the Earth's field of gravity and even its rotation in space so much that it would cause sea levels along some coasts to rise faster than the global average, scientists said yesterday.
The rise in sea levels would be highest on the west and east coasts of North America where increases of 25 per cent more than the global average would cause catastrophic flooding in cities such as New York, Washington DC and San Francisco.
A study into how the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could respond to global warming has found its disintegration would change the focus of the planet's gravitational field, so sea levels would rise disproportionately more around North America than in other parts of the world. If the ice sheet covering West Antarctica disappears, the loss of so much mass from the southern hemisphere would effectively make the pull of gravity stronger in the northern hemisphere, affecting the spin of the Earth and causing sea levels to rise higher here than in the south, where the mass of ice is currently located.
However, the scientists also estimated that the global average sea level would not rise as much as previously expected due to the ice sheet melting into the oceans.
This is because parts of the ice sheet are more stable than previously thought, and so would probably not slip into the sea even in a warmer world caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, they found.
The West Antarctic Ice Sheet – one of the three great ice sheets of the world – is often referred to as the "sleeping giant" because it is believed to be inherently unstable, given much of its base rests on rock that is below sea level. This is thought to make it vulnerable to melting and relatively rapid disintegration, said Professor Jonathan Bamber of Bristol University.
"Unlike the world's other major ice sheets – the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Greenland – the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the only one with such an unstable configuration," Professor Bamber said.
"There's a vast body of research that's looked at the likelihood of an ice sheet collapse and what implications such a catastrophic event would have for the globe. But all of these studies have assumed a five- or six-metre [16ft to 20ft] contribution to sea level rise. Our calculations show those estimates are much too large, even on a 1,000-year timescale," he said.
A better approximation, according to a study published in the journal Science, is that the ice sheet would contribute about 11 feet (3.3 metres) to the global average sea level.
However, it is not known how fast the ice sheet might disappear if global temperatures continue to rise, although many scientists believe this would take at least 500 or even 1,000 years.
"The pattern of sea level rise is independent of how fast or how much of the ice sheet collapses. Even if it contributed only a metre of sea level rise over many years, sea levels along North America's shorelines would still increase 25 per cent more than the global average," said Professor Bamber.
With less mass at the South Pole, and more water in the oceans, the Earth's gravity field would weaken in the southern hemisphere and strengthen in the northern hemisphere, causing water to pile up in the northern oceans, Professor Bamber said.
This redistribution of mass would also affect the Earth's rotation, which in turn would cause water to build up along the North American continent and in the Indian Ocean, Professor Bamber added.
Why the sea isn't as flat as you think
* Sea levels around the world vary widely on a daily basis because of tides caused by the gravitational influence of the Moon. They also vary from one region to another because of the variations in the Earth's field of gravity, and the spin of the planet of its axis of rotation.
* Global average sea levels can vary over time because of the thermal expansion of the sea caused by global warming, as well as the effect of rising sea levels caused by melting ice sheets and glaciers. Local sea levels can also be affected by land sinking or rising. Land sinking is partly responsible for causing sea levels in the south east of England to rise.

Scotland's renewable plans threatened by grid charge

Published Date: 15 May 2009
By Jenny Haworth, Environment correspondent

SCOTLAND'S future as a world leader in renewable energy and clean power is being "seriously imperilled" by plans for a new grid charging regime, experts have warned.
The proposals could mean power firms in Scotland paying an extra £100 million a year to transmit electricity through the grid, energy groups say.They say the charges will put off power companies from investing north of the Border, hampering renewables development and jeopardising Scotland's ability to meet its ambitious climate change targets.Scotland's potential to lead the way in the development of pioneering carbon capture and storage technology to clean up conventional power stations, could also be under threat if it becomes more attractive for energy firms to invest elsewhere in the UK. The controversy has arisen over charging proposals Ofgem has asked National Grid to draw up to reduce the impact of the cost of transmitting electricity on UK consumers.Under the proposals, energy firms operating in Scotland would have to pay more. Gareth Williams, policy manager at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said that the impact would be to increase Scottish generators' costs by up to £100m each year.This would "make Scotland less attractive for investment in renewable generation" and "less attractive for investment in other clean generation," he said. He added that he believed the proposals contravened a European directive that calls for charging regimes to be non-discriminatory for electricity from renewable sources.One energy industry insider said the proposals were "unjust and discriminatory"."We already pay more than our fair share for connection and transmitting power," he said. "The latest proposals from Ofgem and National Grid will make the situation much worse. One of the key principles in a competitive market is you need a level playing field. This will skew that playing field and it effectively undermines the whole operation of the market."Mike Weir, SNP energy spokesman at Westminster, said the charges could threaten Scotland's ability to lead the way in developing technology to clean up power stations."Such a change would seriously imperil the development of carbon capture and storage in Scotland which is crazy given the potential of the plant at Longannet and the use of depleted oil fields off our coast," he said.A spokeswoman for Ofgem said it had asked National Grid to address rising constraint charges costs due to the impact on the consumer."Given the economic climate we are living in, we are very keen that no extra or unnecessary charges should be added to consumer bills," she said.A spokesman for National Grid added: "We would like to emphasise that we were instructed by Ofgem to bring forward proposals to address constraint costs – because obviously Ofgem is concerned about the impact on the consumer."Analysis: Ofgem 'punishment' for green generatorsACCUSED of a "crime" they did not commit, renewable electricity generators in Scotland face a "punishment" that will hit efforts to deliver UK climate change targets.National Grid and the regulator Ofgem have a duty to promote the efficient use of electricity networks in Great Britain. Meanwhile, climate change and the threat of energy insecurity are upon us. The level of planned investment in new renewables in Scotland is more than £15 billion over the next ten years and it must connect so it can sell its power. Unfortunately, there is a big queue waiting to connect.In response National Grid has worked tirelessly to identify renewables generation able to jump the queue. The queue jumpers amount to more than 450MW of capacity in the north of Scotland and will be capable of displacing more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year earlier than anticipated.But the plot thickens. Ofgem has expressed concern about the potential cost of the 450MW. Initially estimated at £100 million, but now reduced to up to £40m,this cost reflects brief periods when there is not enough capacity to accommodate all generation, so some generators will be paid by National Grid to stop generating to ensure that there are no faults on the grid. Ofgem, while giving the go-ahead to the 450MW, has asked National Grid to consider options on how this cost is recovered. At the moment the cost is spread equally across all generators in Great Britain, but National Grid has proposed, after Ofgem prompting, to target the cost on all generation behind any "pinch-points". The grid connection between Scotland and England is one such pinch-point and all existing and new generation in Scotland face higher charges while generation in England will benefit from lower charges.The charge will be volatile from year to year, unpredictable and potentially very high, especially in the north of Scotland. This cocktail leaves investors nervous because uncertainty levels will increase and the case for investment is weakened. This means that the renewable energy industry in Scotland will be undermined when, facing energy insecurity and climate change, we cannot afford it to be.Pinch-points are relieved by reinforcing the grid, but moves to beef-up the cable between Scotland and England have been too slow. However, through no fault of their own, those that produce electricity north of the Border face higher charges. So we plead not guilty and await Ofgem's verdict.• Jason Ormiston is the chief executive of Scottish Renewables, the green energy trade association

Race is on to be crowned green power hub

Published Date: 15 May 2009
By Frank Urquhart

FORTY years ago, Aberdeen emerged victorious in the battle with Dundee for the glittering prize to be chosen as the main base for Britain's fledgling oil and gas industry.
The victory transformed Aberdeen from a provincial city, dependant on small-scale manufacturing, fishing and agriculture, into Europe's undisputed oil capital with one of the highest employment rates in the country.Now the two cities are set to go head to head in a new struggle to secure the accolade as Scotland's renewable energy hub.Yesterday, Dundee City Council joined forces with companies in the local public sector to announce ambitious plans to make the city "Scotland's renewable energy capital".Rival Aberdeen, 66 miles to the north, announced its plans to lay claim to the title seven years ago when the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group (AREG) was established with the aim of building on the city's worldwide reputation as a leading oil and gas centre to front the drive for green energy developments in Scotland.Dundee, by comparison, has barely left the starting blocks. But yesterday Craig Melville, the vice-convener of Dundee City Council's city development committee, insisted there was still all to play for as plans were unveiled for Dundee Renewables, a group of "major players" from the public and private sector set up in an attempt to lay claim to the "renewable energy capital" title."Dundee is perfectly placed to make the most of the growing renewable energy boom with existing excellent facilities such as the deep-water dock at Dundee harbour, the wave and tidal power of the River Tay, our acknowledged annual hours of sunshine and the ground-breaking research emerging from our universities," Mr Melville said."I think we can attract business here and we are staking our claim. We may be a few years behind Aberdeen, perhaps, but there is major potential here in Dundee." Shona Robison, the Dundee East MSP, backed the campaign. She said: "Dundee narrowly missed out to Aberdeen when oil was discovered in the North Sea, but the city is ideally placed to take advantage of this emerging industry. "Based on our strong record of manufacturing, our city-wide industrial capacity, our highly-skilled and highly-educated workforce and our unbeatable location, we can transform Dundee into a renewable industry powerhouse if we can move quickly enough to grasp this new opportunity."Representatives of the group plan to travel to Aberdeen next week to All Energy 09, the UK's largest renewable energy exhibition and conference, to highlight Dundee's "special features" to industry representatives from across the globe.But Morag McCorkindale, the chief operating officer of AREG, insisted yesterday that she did not regard Dundee's intervention as a threat to Aberdeen's long-standing ambitions.Asked if she was worried about the competition, she said: "No we're not. Scotland is extremely well positioned in the global industry and we think that the opportunity is so great that everyone in Scotland should play their part."The thrust of the Scottish Government's policy these days is very much co-operation rather than competition and we think they are right. Together we're stronger than if we compete with each other."Ms McCorkindale claimed: "The industrial base between Dundee and Aberdeen is completely different. We see fantastic synergies between our industrial base in oil and gas and the global energy industry."We are the international project management, development and technology centre. Their base is quite different and there could even be significant co- operation opportunities here."Accident of geographyABERDEEN'S emergence as the chosen base for Britain's North Sea oil and gas industry is probably down to geography – and fishing – more than anything else.Aberdeen was the nearest landfall with a major port for the first rigs looking for "black gold" in the North Sea and a number of trawlers from the city's then huge deep sea fleet were quickly recruited to help in the search.Aberdeen and Dundee lobbied hard to attract the first oil companies to arrive in Scotland but Aberdeen, by then, was the logical choice.Shell opened its first offices in Aberdeen in 1965 in Union Street. Other companies followed suit.Cynics might suggest that, for the American oil pioneers, Aberdeen's renowned red light district was an added attraction.