Friday, 5 June 2009

Chemical Makers Poised to Gain In New Cap-and-Trade System


With legislation pending in Congress that could put a price on greenhouse-gas emissions, the energy-gulping chemical industry is trying to position itself to emerge as an unlikely winner.
Chemical makers are one of the biggest energy users among manufacturers, expelling about 5% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to government data. They face heavy costs under a proposed system to cap emissions that would require the industry to purchase permits to pollute.
But a so-called cap-and-trade system would also boost demand for some chemical companies' products, from insulation to solar-panel components, because those products would help others cut back on the energy use.
"This is really our sweet spot," said Calvin Dooley, chief executive of the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group.
The fate of the climate-change bill is still undecided -- after approval from a key congressional panel last month, it is expected to come up for a vote by the House later this summer -- but the current version proposed by Reps. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) and Edward Markey (D., Mass.) will increase costs for many companies and potentially force some to go overseas, said Mr. Dooley.
The chemical industry provides virtually all basic materials for other manufacturers, many of which would be forced to cut emissions or buy pollution permits under cap-and-trade.

This plant in Loudon, Tenn., co-owned by DuPont Co. and Tate & Lyle PLC, produces a key ingredient in a corn-based alternative to nylon. It generates 63% fewer emissions than the traditional process.

Success for a chemical company in a cap-and-trade system could boil down to the energy-saving value of the products it sells -- not just how much energy it consumes.
To be sure, some companies may have trouble finding that balance, said Michael Arne, assistant director at SRI Consulting, a research firm that calculates CO2 emissions from chemical processes. A potential carbon tax "could significantly erode the margins," of companies that use very energy-intensive processes, he warned.
Chemical companies sell a variety of energy-saving materials, including industrial gases used as an insulator between glass panes in energy-efficient windows, foams used in the blades of electricity-generating windmills, and light-weight plastics used in car parts that help vehicles consume less energy.
Some chemical companies report that demand for their energy-saving products is strong already, even in the midst of the economic recession.
DuPont Co. expects that by 2015 its sales from renewable materials that displace fossil fuels will nearly double to $8 billion. That could include sales of ethanol made from corn cobs and switchgrass that the company is developing in a joint venture with food-ingredient company Danisco AS.
German chemical maker BASF SE sees big business opportunities in the weatherproofing of residential homes, which typically contain an average $17,000 worth of chemical products, according to the chemistry council. There's room to raise that to up to $30,000 per house, says BASF. Among its weatherizing products: tiny wax-filled capsules that can be embedded in plaster, wall board and insulation. The wax absorbs heat when it melts and releases it when it solidifies.
Other chemical companies are installing projects that will lower their own energy bill and potentially generate pollution credits to help offset their emissions. Dow Chemical Co., for example, uses methane from a landfill to power a plant in Dalton, Ga., where it makes carpet backing.
"Whether your inspiration is cap-and-trade or the prospect of $140-a-barrel oil, you need to be strategically involved in this space," said Rich Wells, vice president of energy for Dow.
Write to Ana Campoy at

Navistar takes on rivals over emissions rules

By Bernard Simon in Toronto
Published: June 5 2009 00:40

Navistar, the US truck and engine maker, is locked in a high-stakes struggle with five rivals over tightening regulations on diesel-engine emissions due to take effect next January.
The five competitors – Cummins, Volvo, Daimler, Mack and Detroit Diesel – have asked an appeals court in Washington to reject Navistar’s request for a judicial review of the new rules.

“We’re not going to just stand by and let anyone attack the investment we have made in the technology to meet the 2010 standard,” said Patrick Raher, a partner at Hogan & Hartson, who represents the five companies.
Navistar asked for the judicial review last month, alleging the US Environmental Protection Agency had abused its authority and given its rivals an unfair advantage by relaxing the 2010 standards.
The stand-off stems from differing technologies adopted by engine and truck makers in an effort to meet anti-pollution targets set by the EPA in 2001 under the Clean Air act.
Most of the industry has gravitated towards a system known as selective catalyst reduction (SCR).
But Navistar has stuck with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology, contending that it requires less maintenance, among other advantages. It has sharply criticised the SCR technology.
Navistar has said in the past that it would not be able to comply with the 2010 requirement to lower nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to a maximum of 0.2 grams per horsepower hour. It planned to delay meeting the standard by using credits received for its existing engines that exceed the EPA’s current standards.
Navistar said it would not comment on pending litigation, but added: “We’re fully ready for 2010. Our EGR complies with 2010 standards. Bring it on.” Company officials may discuss the issue further after the release of second-quarter-earnings next Tuesday.
Oliver Dixon, an industry consultant, said that Navistar could be in serious trouble if its request for a review fails. “Navistar has put itself so far out there in terms of EGR, that it would be laughed out of the marketplace if it tried to use an alternative based on SCR,” said Mr Dixon.
Navistar held a 15 per cent share of the North American market for heavy-truck engines in the first four months of this year, behind Cummins, with 41 per cent, and Detroit Diesel with 20 per cent, according to Ward’s Automotive.
Navistar said in its review request that the EPA’s ruling this year amounted to a “dramatic change” in the implementation of SCR technology, allowing rival diesel engine manufacturers “to release uncontrolled NOx emissions on the highway (and) create highway safety hazards”.
Its rivals responded that they had “an important interest in ensuring that the EPA’s 2009 guidance is not delayed”.
A Cummins spokesman added that “we’ve staked a considerable part of our reputation on our ability to meet these regulations. They’re the right thing to do for the environment.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

China bank wins sustainability award

By Peter Thal Larsen, Banking Editor
Published: June 4 2009 22:30

A Chinese bank that has pioneered lending for energy conservation, emissions reduction and other green projects was named Asia’s sustainable bank of the year on Thursday at the 2009 FT Sustainable Banking Awards in London.
Industrial Bank of China, a medium-sized lender, is the first Chinese institution to have committed itself to international sustainability standards such as the Equator Principles for project finance.

With the government in Beijing promising tough action to mitigate the environmental impact of the country’s rapid economic growth, IBC’s lead in incorporating environmental standards in its lending policies is being followed by other banks such as Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
The overall winner of the 2009 awards was Triodos Bank of the Netherlands, created in 1980 to lend to businesses, organisations and projects with a social, environmental or cultural benefit. The bank has continued to grow despite the financial crisis, investing in like-minded institutions in emerging markets and managing funds of €3.7bn ($5.2bn, £3.2bn).
“We don’t invest in sub-prime markets or in vehicles such as derivatives,” Triodos said in its entry.
Runner-up in the awards was Standard Chartered, the UK-based emerging markets bank that operates in countries facing problems created by climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and disease. Itau Unibanco of Brazil, a country whose banks have dominated the awards in their first four years, was overall Emerging Markets Bank of the Year.
“The financial crisis has necessitated a re-assessment of the way in which banks and investment houses operate,” said Lionel Barber, Financial Times editor. “The winners of these awards are radically changing the industry’s approach to risk and opportunity.”
Lars Thunell, chief executive of the International Finance Corporation that created the awards with the FT, said: “The crisis underscores that sustainability is at the core of building a healthy global economy. A growing number of financial institutions, especially those in emerging markets, are driving this change.”
Despite the crisis in the banking sector, the 2009 awards attracted 165 entries from 42 countries, including non-banking financial institutions, as well as banks. Micro-Ensure UK came top in the category for financing basic needs, for offering farmers in Malawi weather insurance that gave them security to borrow money and buy better seeds.
Kenya’s Equity Bank was named Africa’s most sustainable bank, while the Industrial Development Bank of Turkey came top among entries from the emerging markets of Eastern Europe.
Sustainable Investor of the Year was Global Environment Fund of the US, a private equity group founded in 1990. Root Capital of the US, which lends to small and growing businesses in 30 countries, came top of the category for banking at the bottom of the pyramid – the 4bn people living on less than $2 a day.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Sony Ericsson unveils 'green' handsets that cut carbon footprint by 15%

Recycled plastics and reductions in packaging and manufacturing solvents make handsets more environmentally friendly, says mobile phone maker

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 4 June 2009 16.46 BST

Mobile phone company Sony Ericsson will unveil two "green" handsets tomorrow with a carbon footprint 15% lower than current models. By cutting packaging, using recycled plastics and reducing the use of solvents in the paints, the electronics company claims to have made the handsets more environmentally friendly.
The new phones, the C901 GreenHeart and the Naite, part of what Sony Ericsson says will be a revised portfolio of environmentally friendly phones to be rolled out in the next two years. It is also part of the company's wider mission to cut 20% of its total carbon emissions by 2015.
"Sony Ericsson has worked continuously to become an industry leader in the area of removing harmful substances from the core of its phones and in creating industry leading energy efficiency chargers," said Dick Komiyama, president of Sony Ericsson. ."
Sony Ericsson sells around 100m phones a year globally and wants to have a series of green improvements in all its phones by 2011. More than 31m phones were bought in the UK in 2008.
Most of the CO2 reductions in the two new handsets come from a significant reduction in the amount of paper that comes with the phone. The packaging is smaller and the user manual has been replaced with an electronic version contained on the phone itself. "The major benefit to the environment is the reduction of paper weight in transportation," said Mats Pellback-Scharp, head of the corporate sustainability office at Sony Ericsson. "Compared to the same product from the year before, we save 90% of the paper shipped to each customer. That's 3kg of CO2, 15% of the carbon footprint of the complete phone."
For older phones from the company, the box and manual weighed in at 550g. This has been reduced now to 42g and means that, more than 1m phones, Sony Ericsson will save 350 tonnes of paper, around 13,000 trees or 7,500 cubic metres of wood.
Inside the box, there are no plastic bags to wrap the various components and 80% of the hard plastics used on the phone are recycled. The company has also halved the amount of solvents needed for the paints by using water-soluble inks.
Gerrard Fisher, programme manager for sustainable products at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) said: "This is an encouraging development and we are seeing an exciting new trend in the mobile phone market, with Nokia's Evolve phone and many Motorola phones also incorporating recycled plastics. We welcome the introduction and promotion of hi-tech products with recycled content in the marketplace. It is good news that companies are considering the development of life cycle impacts, as well as promoting innovation that reduces the environmental impact of product packaging."
He added that Wrap was about to start work assessing the life cycles of mobile phones, to help identify areas where the impacts of these products could be reduced.
The new C901 will be released later this month and the Naite will come out in September. The latter phone will also come with a new low-power charged that operates at 30 milliwatts (mW), where currently the chargers are rated at 100mW.
Overall, Sony Ericsson also announced a commitment to reduce the company's carbon footprint by 20% by 2015. By the same date, it will also reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 15% from the full life cycle of its products, including mining, production and use by consumers.
The company also wants to increase its recycling scheme which takes used phones from consumers for use in recycling. It wants to collect one million phones every year from 2011.
Iza Kruszewska, toxics campaigner at Greenpeace UK welcomed the new phones from Sony Ericsson and said that the company had a good record in reducing its use of harmful chemicals. But she said the company should increase the number of its recycling points around the world. "They do mention their ambition to increase the number of collection points and take-back schemes they have globally but they are well behind Nokia on this."

Mitsubishi to Market Electric Cars

Looking to gain an early lead in the emission-free vehicle market, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Friday launched a compact, four-door electric car that it will market in Japan to corporate customers starting in late July.

The Mitsubishi Motors Corp. i MiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) sits on display during the media preview of the 2009 New York International Auto Show in New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 9, 2009.
The lithium-ion battery powered i-MiEV, which can travel 160 kilometers (99.2 miles) on a single charge, is the first step into the eco-friendly car market by the small Tokyo-based auto maker better known for its brawny SUVs like the Pajero .
By bringing its electric car to market this year, Mitsubishi is hoping to gain a lead over Nissan Motor Co., Japan's third largest auto maker by sales volume, which plans to mass market its own electric vehicle starting in 2010.
But sales volume will be small. Mitsubishi expects to sell 1,400 vehicles in Japan in the fiscal year ending March 2010, raising sales to 5,000 vehicles next fiscal year when it starts individual sales in Japan. Worldwide, Mitsubishi plans to ship the i-MiEV in limited quantities to the U.K., New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore starting this year. It has also agreed to supply i-MiEVs to PSA Peugeot Citroen SA in late 2010 or early 2011.By 2020, Mitsubishi says its expects electric vehicles will make up 20% of its overall production volume .
For now, Mitsubishi's ambitions are constrained by its production capacity and by the high cost of electric vehicles. Mitsubishi plans to produce about 2,000 electric cars in the fiscal year ending March 2010, ramping up to 30,000 vehicles by 2013, as its lithium-ion battery production operations are expanded at Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture run by Mitsubishi, G.S Yuasa Corp. and Mitsubishi Corp. Nissan, which is putting the finishing touches on its own lithium ion battery plant outside Tokyo, plans to roll out 50,000 electric cars in the first year of production.
With a 4.59 million yen price tag, the i-MiEV may also struggle to find buyers during the worst recession to hit Japan since World War II. Mitsubishi is counting on generous government incentives to stimulate the market for the vehicles. The national government is currently offering subsidies of up to 1.39 million yen on "clean energy" vehicles like the i-MiEV. Some local governments are also offering additional subsidies that could bring the price of the i-MiEV down to as low as 2.2 million yen.
Still, many auto makers and analysts remain skeptical of the potential for large scale sales of electric cars because of their limited range and the need to build more recharging stations to support them.
Mitsubishi is selling its electric car to corporate customers in Japan first in order to allow more time for local governments and businesses to set up more recharging stations around the country to support electric car drivers.
Mitsubishi, however, is confident that the Japanese government's commitment to promoting electric vehicles through various incentives will help the market here grow substantially. By 2020, the Japanese government expects next generation eco-cars like electric vehicles, hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles, powered by both batteries and gas, will make up half of all new car sales.
Write to John Murphy at

Only a Total fool would be convinced by giraffes and solar panels

The French oil company's investment in renewables sounds large, but it's a drop in the oil barrel

Donnachadh McCarthy, Thursday 4 June 2009 11.16 BST

Wherever I look at the moment, I cannot seem to escape adverts from the oil industry proclaiming their investments in renewable energy. These have become so pervasive, that you might be persuaded that the large oil companies have seen the light on the climate crisis and are pouring a major proportion of their investments into developing renewable energy technologies. But is this the truth?
Take for example Total Oil. It is the world's fifth largest oil and gas company with operations in more than 130 countries. It has been running newspaper adverts boasting about its solar energy investments. They are festooned with pictures of giraffes and large solar-panels. Here's the blurb:
"To meet growing energy demands and to prepare for the future, Total is contributing to the boom in new energies, which complement fossil fuels. One of our priorities is the development of solar energy. Present for over 25 years in the photovoltaic field, Total is involved in a large part of the industrial chain with our subsidiaries Tenesol (manufacturer of solar panels, system development) and Photovoltech (cell manufacture)."
The advert goes on to say that Total is investing 100 million euros this year in solar energy.
The company's website also trumpets its green credentials. One of its four ambitions is: "Preparing for future energies, ie innovating and pursuing our research efforts to support the development of new energies."
To the casual reader this might sound impressive, but is it really a "priority" as the company's advert states? By Total's standards the sums involved are such small beer they would put a micro-brewery to shame. In 2009 their total investments will come to 14bn euros. Thus the 100 million euro solar investment amounts to less than 0.71%! Three quarters of their total investment is in exploration and development of oil and gas fields (so called "upstream" activities). The report from the annual shareholders' meeting and meeting of board of directors on May 15 describes this as "the priority growth sector".
Total also appears to have gone cold on other renewable energy technologies. It operates a wind farm in Mardyk near Dunkirk in France. But in the company's 2008 registration document it wrote: "Total has decided to dispose of certain of its wind farm projects."
So rather than making renewable technology investment a "priority" as their advert campaigns says, they are still investing vastly more in hydrocarbons. This lack of genuine commitment is further illustrated by the fact that buried deep within their much trumpeted environmental report, the indicator about the amount of renewable energy used by the company, is accompanied by the statement "Indicator Not Reported" (see page 98).
Scientists have recently calculated that the world can use less than half the known economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves by 2050, if we are to achieve the goal of avoiding dangerous temperature rises of over 2C this century. And last week, Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum announced a study which suggests that 300,000 people a year are already dying due to the climate crisis. The consequences of continuing the vast investments by the oil companies in finding ever more fossil fuels and all of us using them in ever growing quantities are simply homicidal.
I decided to file a formal complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about Total's campaign. This is really easy to do online, as they will even accept a scanned copy of the advert via email. I was disappointed however that they did not uphold the complaint. The judgment stated: "We don't consider that the ad implies that this is the main area or focus of their business." It sadly failed to address the consequences of companies constantly telling the public about the tiny proportion of their investments which are positive, while ignoring the vast majority which are destroying our climate.
Although I deplore the "greenwash", it would be a disaster if Total abandoned such investments. The world's population desperately needs these corporations' vast research and development resources to go into renewables.
If you or your pension fund are shareholders in such companies, ask them to support such investments at future AGMs. Alternatively, if you want to help persuade the ASA that there is public support for putting an end to this greenwash by the oil industry, file a formal complaint online to the ASA the when you see an advert with overblown green claims. It is far more fun than simply moaning about it!
• Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is the founder of

Mandelson calls for politics redrawn on green lines

The business secretary sees a necessity for the government to re-engage with the electorate over climate-change policies

Kathryn Hopkins, Friday 5 June 2009 00.05 BST

The fight against climate change is being used by the government to regain the public's confidence in politics, the business secretary Lord Mandelson will say today.
"We are at a precarious time for mainstream politics in the UK. We can get cynical about politics in this country, or we can have a serious debate about what needs to be done to get our politics back on track and our economy back to growth," he will say in a speech at the Policy Network event at the London School of Economics.
"A positive politics of climate change depends on us deciding that politics works, that it is how we focus collectively on a different future, and in focusing on it, make it happen."
He will urge that everyone has to change their attitude to climate-change politics. "Mainstream climate-change politics obviously can't be totally anti-politics, anti-business and anti-growth. We can't just throw green slime at the problem," he said, referring to an incident this year when an environmental protester threw a cup of green custard at him.
He says the government has a responsibility to ensure that UK-based companies are equipped to compete for the new demand created by climate-change policies. "Almost 900,000 people already work in the sector or its supply chain in the UK, not just in green manufacturing but in green services like consultancy or low-carbon venture capital. The sector is projected to maintain positive growth rates, even through the downturn. We are in a strong position to be a global first mover."
Mandelson argues that the government needs to develop a long-term strategic approach to help the low-carbon industry. "Up until recently there has been too much ambiguity or uncertainty in UK climate policy – in nuclear energy or renewables, for example. Clear leadership on these questions over the course of the last year has now unlocked billions of pounds of investment in UK capacity. We need to get that sense of clear strategic direction right through our action as a government."

Barack Obama seeks US-Chinese deal on global warming

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 4 June 2009 17.57 BST

The Obama administration said yesterday that it was pursuing a joint US-Chinese deal on action against global warming to help push the rest of the world towards a global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Todd Stern, the US climate change envoy, said a deal between the two countries – the world's largest polluters – would boost efforts to secure a crucial accord to avoid dangerous climate change. Those UN talks are just six months away.
"China may not be the alpha and omega of the international negotiations, but it is close," Stern said in a speech to the Centre for American Progress, a liberal thinktank. "No deal will be possible if we don't find a way forward with China."
Stern's remarks represent the clearest acknowledgement yet that the Obama administration has taken on board a blueprint for US-Chinese action to address global warming. The plan is the product of secret back-channel negotiations between US and Chinese officials that were revealed in the Guardian last month.
Stern, who leaves for China on Saturday, will be accompanied by two experts who were involved in those back-channel efforts, and are now officials in the Obama administration. Obama's science adviser, John Holdren, visited China last year and David Sandalow, now an energy department official, produced a report advocating partnership with China.
Stern said the US was also seeking deals with other major economies such as India, Indonesia and Brazil.
The envoy made no suggestion that the US would seek a commitment from China to put a firm limit on its greenhouse gas emissions. That strategy, which could prove politically unpopular at home,appears modelled on the back channel talks which sought to build goodwill with China by finding potential areas of collaboration.
Instead of negotiations about caps, Stern's comments suggest he sees that the key components of a deal with China involving technical co-operation. He said that would include collaboration in developing new technologies for industrial efficiency, expanding the use of solar power and– perhaps most importantly from the Chinese point of view – developing techniques for carbon capture and storage. That would enable China to clean up its many coal-powered energy plants.
He also said there was scope for joint effort on improving building efficiency and developing electric vehicles, where the Chinese have made a big push.
China's official position still demands from the US a 40% cut in emissions by 2020, far deeper than anything being currently considered.
Stern played down prospects of reaching a deal this week. "I do not expect to have a big agreement to wave around at the end of the trip, but this trip is one piece of what is going to be an extended interaction with the Chinese," Stern said. "The vision we have is of a clean energy and climate partnership bilaterally with the Chinese."

Laying down the law on carbon emissions

IT'S the instruction every worker wants to hear – when your boss tells you to switch off your computer.But that's exactly the order that will be sent down from on high at law firm Tods Murray today as part of World Environment Day.Staff at the practice will be switching off their computers when they are away from their desks, turning down the office heating thermostats and recycling more paper than usual in a bid to reduce the firm's carbon footprint.A seven-point plan has been issued with suggestions to make staff aware of what they can do to "cut out a kilo", reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of a kilo of carbon. Keeping a check on progress will be a team of volunteers from across the practice – so be warned, you're being watched.If everyone in the firm turned off their PC for 45 minutes – say, over lunch – the firm could cut its carbon emissions by two kilograms.Turning down the office heating thermostats by half a degree would save more than ten kilograms.David Dunsire, executive partner at Tods Murray, said: "The Cut Out a Kilo campaign is a worthwhile initiative and we are encouraging everyone in the firm to help. "I hope to see more taking advantage of car-sharing options, walking or cycling to work, or even just bringing in homemade sandwiches for lunch rather than buying the pre-packaged variety."


GREEN politics sometimes presents business as the enemy of climate policy. For as long as business resists long-term change, that will be the case. But low carbon business, and 'low carbon consumers' can also be a major positive driver of change."Lord Peter Mandelson, the Business Secretary.

Smart meters essential to energy supply

The Times
June 5, 2009

Ted Hopcroft: Opinion

UK energy is facing severe challenges. Security of supply will become precarious as our indigenous gas supplies decline and our aged nuclear and coal plants prepare for shutdown, while replacements are mired in planning and environmental obstacles. Our share of renewables is below almost all our European counterparts. Our prices have increased substantially and moved beyond our leading European neighbours. Into this battlefield rides the white knight of smart metering, with a government consultation aimed at deploying smart meters into every home by 2020. However, within a day of the announcement, it was estimated that the true cost could be at least £13.1 billion, not the suggested £7 billion to £9 billion. This would virtually wipe out the projected benefits. Is smart metering a white knight or a white elephant?
What are the white knight's credentials? Consumers will be able to reduce cost and CO2 emissions by as much as 15 per cent. The energy companies will save money by consigning meter reading to history and dramatically simplifying billing and settlement. Most radically, if smart meters are used to develop a smart grid, energy companies will be able to manage demand in real time, avoiding spikes in usage and reducing the number of power stations that we must build to stave off blackouts.
However, there are several white elephants in the smart meter room. Will this really change long-term consumer behaviour? Will people switch off every standby appliance every night to save £30 a year? Would an energy display on the fridge without the meter achieve the same savings at 5 per cent of the cost? Would the money be better spent on loft insulation and double-glazing subsidies?
The national programme will be a huge challenge. There will need to be standards to support different types of meter and a national infrastructure to ensure that the data from the meters is available in the right place at the right time. Someone will have to finance this and a future generation will have to pay for it.

Despite these risks, the scale of the challenges we face means that smart metering has to be a vital part of our national energy infrastructure. How do we make it successful? First, we must get the level of competition correct. The UK did a brilliant job of creating the world's first truly liberalised domestic energy market. However, competition was driven down to very low levels, including segregation of the metering business. This incurred a cost wholly disproportionate to the benefit. We must not make the same mistake again.
Second, we must apply the lessons from elsewhere. Work in Australia and the United States has identified that significant benefits accrue to distributors, the people who own the pipes and wires; in the US, savings of 30 per cent have been achieved. Our benefits are primarily identified at a consumer, supplier and metering level.
Smart metering is a prerequisite of a smart grid. Our energy supply has been driven top down by large power stations. In the future, it must support bottom-up demand management, local generation and consumers selling energy back to the grid. This 21st-century infrastructure will be achieved only with a solid smart meter base.
Ted Hopcroft is an energy specialist with PA Consulting Group

Could we be the generation that runs out of fish?

The process of trawlering is an oceanic weapon of mass destruction
Friday, 5 June 2009

In the babbling Babel of 24/7 news – where elections, bailouts and beheadings blur into one long shriek – the slow-motion stories that will define our age are often lost. An extraordinary documentary released next week, The End of the Line, forces us to stop, and see. Its story is stark. In my parents' lifetime, we have killed 90 per cent of the world's fish. In my lifetime, we will finish off the rest – unless we change our ways, fast. We are on course to be the people who wiped fish from the earth.

The story begins in the sleepy Canadian resort of Newfoundland. It was the global capital of cod, a fishing town where the scaly creatures of the sea were so abundant they could be caught with your hands. But in the 1980s, something strange happened. The catches started to wane. The fish grew smaller. And then, in 1991, they disappeared.
It turned out the cod had been hoovered out of the sea at such a rapid rate that they couldn't reproduce themselves. But the postscript is spookier still. The Canadian government banned any attempts at fishing there, on the assumption that the few remaining fish would slowly repopulate the waters. But 15 years on, they haven't. The population was so destroyed that it could never recover.
A growing number of scientists are warning that we could all be living in Newfoundland soon. Professor Boris Worm of Dalhousie University published a detailed study in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Nature saying that at the current rate, all global fish populations will have collapsed by 2048. He says: "This isn't some horror scenario, it's a real possibility. It's not rocket science if we're depleting species after species. It's a finite resource. We'll reach a point where we run out."
The species in the frontline is bluefin tuna, the pinnacle of the evolutionary chain for fish. This little creature can swim at 50mph, and accelerate faster than the swishest sports car. It has even developed warm blood. Yet every year, a third of the remaining population is ripped from the seas and slapped onto our plates. Soon, it will be gone.
All over the world, from the Bay of Bengal to Lake Victoria to the shores of South America, I have heard fishermen say their catches are shrinking, in size and in number. Industrial-scale fishing only began in the 1950s. By the standards of the news cycle, this is slow – but by the standards of the planet or of settled fishing communities, this is a click of the fingers. The effects of the new industrial fishing are uniform. Professor Ransom Myers found that whenever the vast industrial trawlers are sent in, it takes just 15 years to reduce the fish population to a 10% shadow of its former self.
This process of trawlering is an oceanic weapon of mass destruction, ripping up everything in its path. Charles Clover, who wrote the book on which the documentary is based, has a good analogy for it. Imagine a band of hunters stringing a mile of net between two massive all-terrain vehicles and dragging it at speed across the plains of Africa. Imagine it scooping up everything in its way: lions and cheetahs and hippos and wild dogs. The net has a massive metal roller attached to its leading edge, smashing down every tree that gets in its way. And in the end, when the hunters open up the net, they pick out the choicest creatures and dump the squashed remains in the sun as carrion for the vultures.
But we need fish. Our brains don't form properly without their fatty Omega-3 acids. So why do our governments allow this process of destruction to continue? Why do they actively encourage it, with $14bn of subsidies for fishermen to keep on trawling every year?
A small number of people are making a lot of short-term profit out of this destruction – and they are using this cash to ensure they can carry on hunting, down to the last fish. In 1992, an attempt to get the bluefin tuna listed as an endangered species was scuppered by the US and Japanese governments at the urging of the tuna lobby – who happen to give large campaign donations to all parties. A similar corruption has eaten into European politics.
Add to this the fact that fishermen are a determined and demanding constituency with an equally short-term agenda. They demand the maximum quotas today – even if that means no quotas tomorrow.
Our societies are structured to put these short-term cries for money for a few ahead of the long-term needs of us all. A small determined group with hard cash almost always beats a diffuse group with good intentions – until they get angry and fight back.
Yet today, ordinary people in rich countries are being insulated from the fish crisis. As we exhaust our own fish stocks, our corporations are sailing out across the world to steal them from the poor. Today, there are armadas of industrial European and American fishing boats across the coast of West Africa, leaving the small fishermen who live on its coasts to starve. Professor Daniel Pauly says: "It is like a hole burning through paper. As the hole expands, the edge is where the fisheries concentrate, until there is nowhere left to go."
We are not only stealing fish from Africans; we are stealing them from future generations. In the age of limits, we are hitting up against the capacity of the planet to provide for us – yet we are reacting with blank denial. This story is unfolding, in one form or another, in the rainforests, the air, and in the planet's climate itself.
It has left us at a strange crossroads. We will either be a despised generation who left behind a depleted husk-planet – or a heroic generation who, at five minutes to ecological midnight, turned back to the light.
With fish, the solution is even simpler and more straightforward than with the other ecological crises ensnaring us. The scientific experts say we need to follow two steps. First, expand the 0.6 per cent of the area of the world's oceans in which fishing is banned to 30 per cent. In these protected areas, fish can slowly recover. Second, in the remaining 70 per cent, impose strict quotas on fishermen and police it properly, as they do in Alaska, New Zealand and Iceland.
The cost of this programme? $14bn a year – precisely the sum we currently spend on subsidising fishermen. At no extra cost, we could turn them from the rapists of the oceans into their guardians.
Yet The End of the Line has one flaw – and it is one that riddles current environmental thought. It presents us with a great earth-altering crisis, and then says our primary response should be to change our own personal consumption habits. It urges people not to buy from Nobu, which shamefully still sells bluefin tuna, and to ask if the fish we buy is sustainably produced. It's like the end of An Inconvenient Truth, where the primary response Al Gore presses on us is to shop green and change our lightblubs.
Of course this is valuable – but it is only an anemic and minor first step. It is rather like, in 1937, reacting to the rise of Nazism by urging people to make sure that they personally weren't killing any Jews or gays or Jehovah's Witnesses, or buying from any Nazi-owned companies. We needed collective action that would stop other people from killing these minorities – just as today we need collective action that prevents anyone from irreparably trashing the means of life.
At the moment, many good people get anxious about environmental issues, and hear the message that The Response is to scrub their own lifestyle clean. Yet individual voluntary action by a minority of nice people will not save the bluefin tuna, never mind the ecosystem. But if all these honourable people act together – by volunteering for, and donating to, organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Plane Stupid – they can change the law, so everybody will be required to change their behaviour, not just a benevolent 10 per cent. It was just such determined minorities armed with the facts that spurred the fights against slavery, colonialism and fascism. When you respond as a consumer, you are weak; when you respond as a citizen, you are strong.
The voice of millions of people can drown out the concentrated power of the fishing industry – and all the other industries with a vested interest in trashing our planet – but not with the swipe of a credit card.
The alternative to collective action today is catastrophe tomorrow. As Charles Clover explains: "When the human population comes under pressure on land because of global warming, when we are running out of ways to feed ourselves, we [will] have just squandered one of the greatest resources on the planet – wild fish." The epitaph for the human species would turn out to have been scripted by Douglas Adams: so long, and thanks for all the fish.