Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Wind farm boom flies in face of turbine factory shutdown

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Britain’s countryside and coastline will be dotted with 2,700 new wind turbines by 2012 — more than double the existing total — according to an industry survey of approved wind farms.
The figures contradict claims by Vestas, owner of the country’s only significant wind turbine factory, that demand is too low to justify continuing production.
The Danish company will go to court today to seek a possession order allowing it to evict 18 members of staff who have spent the past ten days barricaded inside offices at the factory at Newport in the Isle of Wight.
They are protesting over the imminent closure of the factory with the loss of 625 jobs. Production ceased last week and the factory is due to close on Friday. Last night, Vestas sacked the 18 men for gross misconduct. They stand to lose up to £10,000 each in redundancy payments.
The supply of current by wind-power must be effected with a minimum of attention if the cost is to be kept below that of a gas engine
Mark Smith, one of the workers, said that the protest would continue until Vestas agreed to resume production or the Government nationalised the factory.
Vestas has repeatedly claimed that it is closing the factory because anti-windfarm groups have destroyed the market for turbines by blocking planning applications. A spokesman said yesterday: “We need a stable market to continue a manufacturing presence, but the market is not there.”
However, a survey by the British Wind Energy Association, of which Vestas is a leading member, found that more than 190 wind farms were either under construction in Britain or due to be built within three years. Work is under way on 737 turbines and another 1,989 have planning permission and will begin generating electricity by 2012. Together, the turbines will generate enough power for five million homes.
At present, there are 2,539 turbines powering two million homes. The current approval rate means that more turbines will be installed in the next three years than were in the previous seventeen.
The Newport factory made blades for the US market but last August, Vestas told workers it was considering making longer blades for British wind farms. In December, it won a contract for 100 turbines for an offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary. Yet four months later, it gave all 625 workers three months’ notice, claiming that it could no longer justify the cost of converting the factory. All 2,700 new turbines will be made overseas, mainly in Denmark and Germany.
The Government’s The UK Renewable Energy Strategy, published this month, proposes at least 10,000 new turbines by 2020 but is silent about where they would be made.
The Department of Energy offered £6 million to Vestas this week to support a new wind turbine research centre at Newport. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, awarded £150 million in grants yesterday to several high-tech manufacturers to create or safeguard up to 2,400 jobs.
Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, said: “There’s a yawning chasm between the Government’s statements on green jobs, energy and manufacturing and the brutal reality of the 625 Vestas workers who are fighting back against a company who will dump them on the scrap heap on Friday if we don’t stop them.”

Protesters at Vestas Wind Systems plant fired by food parcel

Peter Walker, Tuesday 28 July 2009 23.31 BST

They were given a slice of pizza, an apple and a can of fizzy drink; then the workers holed up inside a wind turbine plant on the Isle of Wight noticed something nasty lurking inside their food parcels.
More than a week into their wildcat occupation of the Vestas Wind Systems plant 11 workers opened letters from the management telling them they had been sacked with immediate effect and without compensation.
The Danish company said it had dismissed members of staff who had been positively identified among the 25 who have occupied the site in a protest at the planned closure, with 625 job losses.
One of the workers said: "We have been half expecting this to happen but there is no way it will stop our campaign and we will be continuing with the occupation."
The RMT union, which is calling for the government to nationalise the plant, condemned the move as "vindictive and aggressive".
Lawyers for Vestas, which plans to shift production of turbine blades to the US, are due to seek a repossession order for the factory in court .
Meanwhile, environmental activists are heading to the island to lend their support in a dispute which has become a symbol of the UK's apparent inability to push through a major expansion in wind power despite the government's recently restated support for the technology.
Numbers joining the "red-green" protests could be significantly boosted after 15,000 people who had bought tickets for the Big Green Gathering festival in Somerset this weekend – cancelled at short notice due to licensing problems – were urged by activists to go to the Isle of Wight instead.
In its letter confirming the dismissals, Vestas said it was struggling to stay competitive in the UK and other northern European markets because of the credit crunch, weak currencies and "a lack of local political action in certain markets" – meaning in the UK the recurrent tendency of many local councils to refuse planning permission for windfarms. In a significant setback to government ambitions to install 10,000 wind turbines by 2020 as part of a pledge a fortnight ago by the energy secretary, Ed Miliband, for the UK to produce a third of its electricity via renewable sources, plans for Europe's largest onshore windfarm project have also been cast into doubt.
The RSPB has lodged a formal objection to the planned 150-turbine plant on Shetland's main island, arguing it could badly affect breeding sites for endangered birds. Scottish Natural Heritage, the government's official conservation adviser, has objected to the scheme on the same grounds.
Research published this week by Greenpeace showed that Conservative-run local councils had turned down more than three times as many windfarms as they approved between December 2005 and November 2008. Labour-controlled councils approved marginally more projects than they turned down.
In yet another blow to the technology's spread in the UK, the chief executive of BP reiterated today that the energy giant would not invest in windfarms here. Tony Hayward said the company preferred to focus on the US.

Latest protest leaves climate strategy twisting in the wind

From Shetland to the Isle of Wight, feelings run high as plans to transform the UK into a low-carbon economy hit further trouble
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Tuesday 28 July 2009 21.39 BST
Europe's largest onshore windfarm project has been thrown in severe doubt after the RSPB and official government agencies lodged formal objections to the 150-turbine plan, it emerged today.
The setback adds to the problems facing the government's ambition to install 10,000 new turbines across the UK by 2020 as part of its plan to cut the carbon emissions causing climate change.
The proposed 550MW windfarm, sprawling across the centre of Shetland's main island, would add almost 20% to existing onshore wind capacity. But the objectors say the plans could seriously damage breeding sites for endangered birds, including a rare wader, the whimbrel, which was unexpectedly discovered by the windfarm developer's own environmental survey teams. Other species at risk include the red throated diver, golden plover and merlin.
The RSPB heavily criticised the proposal from Viking Energy after initially indicating it could support the scheme. The RSPB also claims now that installation of the turbines could release significant carbon dioxide from the peat bogs affected, undermining the turbines' potential to combat global warming.
The group's fears have been endorsed by the government's official conservation advisers, Scottish Natural Heritage, and SNH has also objected to the "magnitude" of the scheme, claiming it could kill many of these birds through collisions with the 145-metre-high structures.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), which oversees pollution and waste laws in Scotland, has also formally objected, making it inevitable the scheme will now go to a full public inquiry and intensifying pressure on the developers to alter the scale of the project.
In a detailed critique of the proposal, Sepa has asked Viking Energy to significantly rethink its plans to cut out and dump up to 1m cubic metres of peat during construction, and asked ministers to impose tough conditions to protect local water quality and freshwater species .
Bill Manson, a director of Viking Energy, the community-owned company which is collaborating with Scottish and Southern Energy on the scheme, said it would be prepared to negotiate. "I believe there's a dialogue to be had, which will assuage their fears, I hope," he said.
A Scottish government consultation on the £800m scheme closed yesterday, with more than 3,600 of Shetland's 21,000 islanders signing a petition calling for the project to be scrapped.
The Shetland Amenity Trust, a local heritage and archaeological charity, and one of Scotland's major countryside access organisations, the John Muir Trust, have also objected, arguing that the proposal would have a "hugely damaging detrimental impact" on the treeless, hilly landscape.
The dispute has highlighted the conflicts arising over the siting of major windfarms on land, between the need to exploit the most windy locations and the desire to preserve the rural environment.
The government wants to have an additional 6,000 onshore and 4,000 offshore wind turbines installed by 2020 to meet its legally binding target of generating 15% of all energy from renewable sources . There are currently about 2,400 turbines.
Ed Milliband, the energy and climate change secretary, has set out an ambitious plan to transform the UK to a low-carbon economy.
But the plans to change the planning system to make windfarm approvals quicker and give priority to renewable projects in granting national grid connections prompted significant criticism on the siting and cost of windfarms.
Within a week, the newly formed National Association of Wind Action Groups pledged to campaign against the harmful impact of wind turbine developments on communities and landscapes. Another blow came from the decision of Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas to close the UK's only blade manufacturing plant on the Isle of Wight. The company said the UK wind market was not growing fast enough and that projects had been slowed down by planning objections.
Existing windfarms have 3,000MW of capacity, but another 9,600MW is in the planning process. A further 6,000MW has planning permission but no funding and on Monday the government announced a £1bn loan package to try to fill that funding gap. It argues that the UK has the largest potential for wind power in Europe and already has more offshore wind installed than any other country.
Miliband has said that climate change poses a greater threat to landscapes than windfarms and that opposing them should be "socially unacceptable".
Scotland is already home to more than half the UK's onshore wind capacity and Shetland is a key location. The islands reputedly experience the highest and most consistent wind speeds of any comparable place on earth. One small turbine at Lerwick, known as Betsy, is believed to be the world's most productive, reaching 59% of its potential output.
The Viking scheme, if approved by ministers, would alone generate a fifth of Scotland's domestic electricity needs and earn up to £37m a year in profits for Shetland. Manson said yesterday that the scheme had to be large-scale for the energy regulator and National Grid to agree to lay the £300m interconnector cable that would carry the electricity to the mainland. A scheme even half its current size would not be commercially viable.
But opponents claim that the scheme is far too large and that, with a further 62 miles of access roads, it would significantly affect a fifth of the main island's desolate interior and industrialise the landscape.
"We can't simply build our way out of climate change," said John Hutchison, chairman of the John Muir Trust.
"It is both cheaper and less destructive to reduce energy need and waste, rather than cover the wild landscapes that define Scotland and its people with wind turbines."

Wind power: the silent majority must speak out, says Miliband

To tackle climate change we must end public apathy – and widen our leaders' focus beyond their pet policies
Last night I went to hear Ed Miliband, the secretary of state for energy and climate change, speak in Oxford Town Hall. About 800 people turned up, a lot of them determined to challenge him.
It started badly. His spin doctor tried to get the organisers to take down the polite banners people were holding in support of the workers at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight. I asked her why she wanted them removed. She replied that it was a public meeting, not a protest. Why couldn't it be both?
"It's just my opinion; I don't like them."
The banners stayed up.
Though I didn't agree with everything he said, and though he's no orator, Miliband was good. He never tried to duck a question. He listened, answered directly, never insulted the intelligence of the audience: he appeared, in other words, to be the opposite of a New Labour politician. If the government were composed of people like him and Hilary Benn, I would vote Labour again. But what poor company they keep!
He began by responding to one of the Vestas workers (there were several in the hall). He said that he had asked Vestas whether its decision to move its plant to the US "was about money. They said no. Would [government] money make a difference? No." It was about the credit crunch and the planning system. He was trying to address both problems: by putting £1bn into wind developments and by changing the planning laws.
"But the biggest thing we can do for people like David [the Vestas worker] and his colleagues is to change people's minds about onshore wind. … There's a big, big persuasion job we'll have to do on people: that the biggest threat to the countryside is not the wind turbines; it's climate change. … The truth is that a vocal minority has stopped them going ahead and the silent majority has not done enough to ensure they go ahead. We're doing all the government can do, I hope people will also do their bit." (Well we tried, but his spin doctor wanted us to take down the banners.)
This was his major theme. He ended his talk by saying "We don't have enough of a global campaign around Copenhagen [climate talks this December] at the moment. I hope you will take part in it." It's not the first time that Miliband has pressed people to give the government a harder time, and he's right: we can't sit on our butts and expect polticians to do more than the public is demanding.
His responses to the questions were interesting, though they betrayed the strangely narrow view that cabinet ministers - so focused on the complexities of immediate policy - now seem obliged to possess. He was asked, for example, about how the UK will implement the findings of IAASTD's report that relate to global warming. This is the vast global assessment of agricultural science which was overseen by a British civil servant and published last year. It was roughly the equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's assessment reports: it is one of the most important environmental documents ever published. But Miliband had no idea what she was talking about. Agriculture belongs to another department, so even though it's responsible for a substantial portion of our greenhouse gases, he doesn't have to know anything about it.
There was a similar gap when I asked him about the stonking contradiction at the heart of his new, low-carbon transition paper. There's plenty of good in it, and for the first time it provides a clear road map for achieving the government's inadequate targets for cutting emissions. But while it spells out the means by which we might minimise our consumption of fossil fuels, it also demands that we maximise their production. This is what it says:
"The government's approach is to maximise the economic exploitation of the UK's own oil reserves, to work with other countries to ensure a well-functioning global oil market, and to improve UK fuel infrastructure."
"[We will] maximise the economic production of oil and gas from the North Sea".
The government has the same policy for coal. The 2007 Energy White paper says that it intends to "maximise economic recovery of the oil and gas from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) and from remaining coal reserves." (page 107).
He appeared to be unaware of the coal policy, denying it while I was asking the question. Has the policy changed? If so, when was this announced? And why are opencast coal mines still being given planning permission? Or could his civil servants have shielded him so effectively from the government's dodgier energy policies that he has never been exposed to this contradiction before?
In any case, he decided to concentrate on gas.
"The less we produce from the North Sea, the more we will import. Gas is a transition technology and it's a long transition. I agree that we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, but it is a transition and gas is part of the transition."
Maximising production doesn't look like weaning ourselves off it; nor does his explanation make sense of the government's policy on coal and oil. This is one I won't drop.
I agreed with what he said about population, however.
"There's no question that population growth is part of the reason why we have growth in carbon emissions… but I'm not sure that there's an easy or necessarily desirable solution once you've stated that fact."
Here's what he said in response to a question about flying:
"Domestic flights have got to become more expensive. There are perverse incentives. We have argued strongly for aviation to be included in the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Personally I think aviation is undertaxed. We are the only country in the world to have said we will keep carbon levels from aviation to current levels by 2050. But here's a difficult thing about aviation: we have an 80% reduction target. If we cut aviation emissions by that by 2050, we'd go back to 1974 levels of flying. But the world is getting closer together, not further apartt… we will have to do a lot more in other areas if we're going to carry on flying."
What this means of course is that we'll have to make cuts of greater than 80% in emissions from heating, electricity, other forms of transport and farming in order to accommodate current levels of flying. Where's the vision here? Why can't the government announce a study, for example, on how it might best phase out business flights, replacing them with enhanced video conferencing and all the other brilliant virtual technologies we now enjoy?
The other thing that struck me about the meeting was the great enthusiasm for wind farms. The Vestas people were cheered to the rafters, and even the government's draconian new planning laws were popular. On this issue Miliband is right: the surveys show that there really is a silent majority in favour of onshore wind, but we've failed to mobilise in its defence.

Isle of Wight police prepare for activists after cancellation of green festival

Thousands of Big Green Gathering ticketholders urged to show support at Vestas wind turbine factory
Paul Lewis, Tuesday 28 July 2009 16.06 BST
Police in the Isle of Wight are bracing themselves for the possible arrival of thousands of environmental activists who are heading to the island in a show of support for workers facing the closure of the Vestas wind turbine factory.
Around 25 Vestas workers are continuing their eight-day occupation of the the plant.
Hundreds of protesters have already flocked to the island in support of the staff, camping nearby in a show of solidarity that has been described as a new "red and green" coalition.
Their numbers could surge tomorrow after 15,000 festival-goerswith tickets for the now-cancelled Big Green Gathering festival in Somerset (BGG), were urged to head to the demonstration instead.
Throughout today blogs, emails, Facebook messages and Twitter feeds have carried messages urging those who would have attended BGG, a four-day event featuring music, debates and practical green living demonstrations, to book ferry tickets to the Isle of Wight .
There was no official call from BGG's organisers for disappointed ticketholders to divert to the Vestas protest, but the idea has spread quickly via word of mouth among green activists.
Some are calling the mass gathering in the Isle of Wight "Vestival", a play on the music festival Bestival that takes place on the island in September.
The BGG gathering was cancelled on Sunday, after Mendip district council and Somerset police sought a high-court injunction to prevent the family-friendly event from going ahead, claiming that it posed a safety risk.
The festival's directors have accused the police of taking a politically motivated decision to shut down the festival, possibly because it woud have raised money for the protest group Climate Camp, which is planning a major demonstration in London next month.
A convoy of several hundred Climate Camp activists are today heading to the Isle of Wight with the food, drink and camping equipment they had intended to use at the BGG. They will be joined by activists from other environmental groups, including Campaign Against Climate Change, Climate Rush and Plane Stupid.
A group called Workers Climate Action, composed of socialist environmental campaigners, has already been on the island for almost a month, and helped to persuade staff that occupying the factory was the right course of action.
"We don't want to overburden the people already there, but the the message we're getting back is the more the merrier," said Steve Milligan, of Climate Camp.
"The idea is we'll be self-sufficient. There are various bits of grass where we can put up some tents ."
Many of the new influx of protesters are planning to arrive in time for a court hearing at Newport tomorrow, in which Vestas Windsystems will seek permission to regain possession of the plant. The company says its factory must close, with a loss of 625 staff, because the UK wind turbine market is not growing fast enough. The hearing could set in train the legal process allowing bailiffs to remove protesters from the site, which is scheduled to close on Friday.
Energy secretary Ed Miliband, who was heckled by Vestas protesters in Oxford yesterday , announced the UK government has awarded £6m to Vestas Technology, to help fund a turbine research centre at the Newport site.
However, the Danish firm said this would not prevent the closure of the Isle of Wight factory. Vestas plans to move production to Colorado in the United States.

Cashing In That Clunker Is No Easy Ride

Caveat clunker.
The government’s cash-for-clunkers program appears to be reviving the moribund car market. But even with Uncle Sam providing the trade-in allowance on junky old gas guzzlers, consumers still have to shop aggressively. And the program’s complicated rules can be an obstacle.
A case in point: The list of clunkers eligible for $3,500 or $4,500 government vouchers just got changed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA reviewed its mileage ratings for about 30,000 different models, to comply with a requirement in the cash-for-clunkers legislation that miles-per-gallon ratings be accurate up to four decimal places, the EPA said in a statement Wednesday. That review coincided with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s efforts to produce a 136-page-long rulebook for the cash-for-clunkers program. The EPA review resulted in 86 models being reclassified as eligible for the scrapping program—with combined city/highway mileage of 18 miles per gallon or less—that hadn’t appeared to be eligible when consumers searched the agency’s Web site before last weekend. But 78 models that appeared to be eligible no longer will qualify, because their new mileage ratings exceed the 18 mpg threshold, the EPA said.

Among the newly eligible vehicles: The 1989 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable wagons and the 1993 Acura Legend. Among the vehicles no longer eligible: the 1991 Toyota Camry and Camry wagon and the 1987 Lincoln Town Car.
The EPA characterized its review of the mileage calculations for more than 30,000 vehicle models as a “monthlong quality assurance and quality control effort.” Consumers who expected deals earlier this month believing that their old cars were eligible for the government’s scrapping allowances—only to discover that the new EPA figures cut them out—might not use such neutral terms.
So there’s Caveat No. 1: You must be certain that your vehicle qualifies for the program. The EPA says combined city/highway mileage of your “clunker” has to be 18 miles per gallon or less. Look it up on The car must be “drivable,” and it has to have been registered and insured by the same person for one year.
Caveat No. 2: The government clunker voucher isn’t a “rebate” from the manufacturer or the dealer. It’s a substitute for the trade-in value of your car. If your vehicle is worth more than $4,500—the maximum allowance under the federal plan—you should trade the vehicle in as usual, or sell it on your own. Check the used value of your vehicle at or one of the major consumer shopping sites.
Under the NHTSA rules, the dealer is obligated to disable any vehicles turned in for a federal scrapping voucher by putting sodium silicate in the engine. (Think sugar in the gas tank. Except nastier.) Then the vehicle goes to a junkyard.
You, meanwhile, will negotiate the purchase price of a new vehicle knowing that the dealer is getting $3,500 or $4,500 from the federal Treasury to reduce the purchase price you pay. But the dealer may also have discounts from the manufacturer in hand that can lower the price still more, and the margin between the window sticker price and the “invoice” price is still there. Chrysler LLC, for example, is trumpeting that it will discount vehicles up to $4,500 on top of the clunker allowance. Most other manufacturers have less generous discount offers or lease deals in the market. In short, bargain hard, as always.
Caveat No. 3: Financing for a new vehicle could be tricky if the individual involved has credit issues. Still, dealers say they are able to work out deals because the clunker money functions as a customer’s down payment.
“We have seen a lot of cases where people have never bought a new car. They can get a loan because there’s equity in the deal” in the form of the government voucher, says John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association and a multifranchise retailer based in Clinton, Iowa.
Caveat No. 4: If you want in on the clunker program, consider moving soon. Inventories of unsold vehicles are as low as they have been in years, following months of production cuts by the major auto makers. All signs point to a renewed effort by auto makers to raise prices—either by scaling back discounts, raising sticker prices or both.
“For once it’s true, you’ll never get a better price than right now,” says Mike Jackson , chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc., the No. 1 U.S. auto-dealership chain. It’s early days for the clunker program, Mr. Jackson says, but the strong early response suggests the government effectively has given permission for consumers to go car shopping—even those who don’t plan to trade a clunker for a tax-funded voucher. If there is a sustained sales bounce, pickings at the major brands could get thin.
The government has $1 billion worth of vouchers to hand out, good for about 250,000 vehicles. But that’s only about a week’s worth of U.S. new vehicle sales. The chances look good that the money will run out before the scheduled Nov. 1 end date for the program. You can roll the dice on whether Congress will add more to keep the party rolling. But that clapped-out 1998 Ford Explorer may not have a more eager buyer than President Barack Obama is right now.— Write to Joseph B. White at

Human activity is driving Earth's 'sixth great extinction event'

Population growth, pollution and invasive species are having a disastrous effect on species in the southern hemisphere, a major review by conservationists warns
Ian Sample, science correspondent, Tuesday 28 July 2009 19.24 BST
Earth is experiencing its "sixth great extinction event" with disease and human activity taking a devastating toll on vulnerable species, according to a major review by conservationists.
Much of the southern hemisphere is suffering particularly badly, and Australia, New Zealand and neighbouring Pacific islands may become the extinction hot spots of the world, the report warns.
Ecosystems in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia need urgent and effective conservation policies, or the region's already poor record on extinctions will worsen significantly.
Researchers trawled 24,000 published reports to compile information on the native flora and fauna of Australasia and the Pacific islands, which have six of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. Their report identifies six causes driving species to extinction, almost all linked in some way to human activity.
"Our region has the notorious distinction of having possibly the worst extinction record on Earth," said Richard Kingsford, an environmental scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney and lead author of the report. "We have an amazing natural environment, but so much of it is being destroyed before our eyes. Species are being threatened by habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, climate change, over-exploitation, pollution and wildlife disease."
The review, published in the journal Conservation Biology, highlights destruction and degradation of ecosystems as the main threat. In Australia, agriculture has altered or destroyed half of all woodland and forests. Around 70% of the remaining forest has been damaged by logging. Loss of habitats is behind 80% of threatened species, the report claims.
Invasive animals and plants have devastated native species on many Pacific islands. The Guam Micronesian kingfisher is thought to be extinct in the wild following the introduction of the brown tree snake. The impact of invasive species is often compounded by pollution and burgeoning human populations on the islands, which have outstripped their capacity to deal with waste. Plastics and fishing gear are an ongoing danger.
The impact of humans on wildlife is likely to increase in Australasia and the Pacific islands. By 2050, the population of Australia is expected to have risen by 35%, and New Zealand by 25%, while Papua New Guinea faces a 76% increase and New Caledonia 49%.
More than 2,500 invasive plant species have colonised Australia and New Zealand, competing for sunlight and nutrients. Many have been introduced by governments, horticulturists and hunters. In addition, the report says, average temperatures in Australia have increased, in line with climate change predictions, forcing some species towards Antarctica and others to higher, cooler ground.
The report highlights several studies that point to serious threats from diseases such as avian malaria and the chytrid fungus, linked to declines in frog populations. An infectious facial cancer is spreading rapidly among Tasmanian devils and populations of the world's largest marsupial predator are believed to have fallen by more than 60% as a result.
Plants have also fared badly: a root fungus deliberately introduced into Australia has destroyed several species.
The report sets out a raft of recommendations to slow the decline by introducing laws to limit land clearing, logging and mining; restricting deliberate introduction of invasive species; reducing carbon emissions and pollution; and limiting fisheries. It raises particular concerns about bottom trawling, and the use of cyanide and dynamite, and calls for early-warning systems to pick up diseases in the wild.
"The burden on the environment is going to get worse unless we are a lot smarter about reducing our footprint," said Kingsford. "Unless we get this right, future generations will surely be paying more in quality of life and the environment. And our region will continue its terrible reputation of leading the world in the extinction of plants and animals."
Dead and buried
Cretaceous-Tertiary 65m years ago, the dinosaurs were wiped out in a mass extinction that killed nearly a fifth of land vertebrate families, 16% of marine families and nearly half of all marine animals. Thought to have been caused by asteroid impact that created Chicxulub crater in the Yucatan.
End of Triassic About 200m years ago, lava floods erupting from the central Atlantic are thought to have created lethal global warming, killing off more than a fifth of all marine families and half of marine genera.
Permian-Triassic The worst mass extinction took place 250m years ago, killing 95% of all species. Experts disagree on the cause.
Late Devonian About 360m years ago, a fifth of marine families were wiped out, alongside more than half of all marine genera. Cause unknown.
Ordovician-Silurian About 440m years ago, a quarter of all marine families were wiped out by fluctuating sea levels as glaciers formed and melted. again.

China's three biggest power firms emit more carbon than Britain, says report

Greenpeace report names top three polluters and calls for tax on coal to improve efficiency and encourage switch to renewables
Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 28 July 2009 10.38 BST
China's three biggest power firms produced more greenhouse gas emissions last year than the whole of Britain, according to a Greenpeace report published today.
The group warned that inefficient plants and the country's heavy reliance on coal are hindering efforts to tackle climate change. While China's emissions per capita remain far below those of developed countries, the country as a whole has surpassed the United States to become the world's largest emitter.
Greenpeace said the top 10 companies, which provided almost 60% of China's total electricity last year, burned 20% of China's coal — 590m tonnes — and emitted the equivalent of 1.44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The efficiency of Chinese power generation compares unfavourably with other countries. In Japan, 418 grams of carbon dioxide are emitted per kilowatt hour and in the US, the equivalent figure is 625 grams. But most of the top 10 firms in China produce 752 grams of CO2.
"China is suffering the pains of extreme weather events such as droughts, heat waves, typhoons and floods, worsened by climate change. These power companies can and must help China to prevent climate disaster by rapidly increasing efficiency and the share of renewable energy such as wind and solar," said Yang Ailun, Greenpeace's climate campaign manager, at the launch in Beijing of the Greenpeace report, Polluting Power: Ranking China's Biggest Power Companies.
The report says that in 2008, Huaneng, Datang and Guodian — the top three firms — emitted more greenhouse gases than the whole of the United Kingdom.
But Yang added: "China is ideally placed to…[become] the world's superpower in terms of smart energy and renewable energy."
The group said China closed down 54.07 gigawatt of the least efficient coal-fired plants over the last three and a half years — more than the total electricity installed capacity of Australia.
It urged power firms to phase out all inefficient coal-fired plants under 100 megawatt by 2012, saving 90m tonnes of coal consumption and 220m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.
Firms are already turning to renewable energy and by the end of last year Guodian had installed 2.88 gigawatt of wind power; almost 24% of China's total and enough to make it the biggest wind energy firm in Asia.
But Greenpeace said only three of the top 10 produced 10% or more of their energy from renewable sources. The vast majority relied heavily on hydropower — with eight of the firms not even halfway to their legal obligation to produce 3% of energy from other renewable sources by 2010.
Greenpeace urged the Chinese government to impose energy and environment taxes on coal, encouraging increased efficiency and a move to renewable sources.
It also called for a doubling of the national renewable energy target to 30% by 2020 and for stricter efficiency standards for coal-fired power stations.
The State Council, China's cabinet, is currently drawing up plans for a massive "new energy" programme to cut emissions and ensure energy security. Reports in the domestic media and from foreign diplomats suggest the next decade could see between 1.4 trillion (US$200 bn) and 4.5 trillion yuan (US$600bn) investment in projects ranging from nuclear power, low carbon transport and clean coal technology to super-efficient electric grids.
This huge expansion is already causing problems. Manufacturing capacity is outstripping supply and the country's under-invested power grid networks were not ready for large-scale wind power input. Some wind farms have been unable to start operating because of a lack of grid connection or were operating at levels lower than planned.
But experts warn that de-carbonising the energy supply must happen fast, given the massive toll on China's environment. State news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that the country's largest desert lake could vanish in decades due to climate change and human activities.
"Just 10 years ago, one couldn't see the other bank of the Hongjiannao even through a telescope. Today, it's visible with the naked eye," said He Fenqi, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The Hongjiannao, sandwiched between the Muus Desert in Shaanxi Province and the Erdos Plateau in Inner Mongolia, has shrunk by at least 30% in the past two decades, Xinhua reported. It now covers 4,600 hectares and its water level is declining by 20 centimetres annually.

How to be a green school

Teachers and students want to do good things for the environment, but sometimes they can't see the wood for the trees. Zac Goldsmith sets out five things all schools can do

Zac Goldsmith
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 July 2009
It's a worrying fact that around 400,000 British children are on behavioural drugs such as Ritalin. Some, no doubt, need the treatment, but the sheer number of children taking these drugs suggests that in our society, childhood itself has come to be seen as a disease.
Children spend an average of 13.9 hours a week in front of their televisions, and six hours in front of their computers. It can't be healthy. According to Unicef, British children are the unhappiest in Europe, despite unprecedented material wealth.
There are many reasons for this, but one, surely, is the fact that children have become increasingly insulated from the natural world. We've all heard of the ­surveys revealing that teenagers think cows lay eggs, and others where children can identify more brand logos than trees, by a staggering margin.
My view is that children will form a significant part of the green fightback. They instinctively understand the value of the environment. Ask any 10-year-old if Google – at its height – was really worth more than the Amazon rainforest, and they'd laugh.
But if the current crop of children is to emerge as a generation that cherishes the environment, they need to understand it, connect with it and love it. That goal must form part of the school experience. Schools collectively are huge energy consumers, producers of waste, and consumers of resources. What can they do?
1 Good food
One thing we all do is eat and so of all the levers for change, food is the most far reaching. Even a small change in the way we eat has huge implications – in schools, that is particularly so. The government spends approximately £2bn each year on food for schools, hospitals and prisons. Imagine the impact if instead of buying the cheapest junk on the world's markets, that money was invested in local, sustainable produce?
The benefits would be huge. We'd see money flowing into our collapsing rural economy. We'd see a significant reduction in the amount of oil used to ship and fly food around the world. We'd actively reduce our dependence on a global food system that is ravaging the world's breadbaskets. And of course, we'd see the market flooded with good quality sustainable food. With levels of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease increasing, and with growing evidence linking diet with mental health, crime and antisocial behaviour, that's no bad thing.
We're failing nationally. But there are some exciting local examples, for instance, in Merton, south London, where parents set themselves key goals: to win funding for a working kitchen in every school and to improve the quality of ingredients and cooking standards. It was ambitious, and no one knew if it would work. But it did. Led by the formidable Jackie Schneider, they pressurised the council to put aside £450,000 to refurbish primary school kitchens and allow them to produce fresh food on site. They also set up a twinning scheme with a nearby farm. Inspired by their success, I helped set up a similar campaign for Richmond and Kingston, called School Food Matters. The group is already ­making huge progress.
2 Cooking and growing
It's not just the quality of the food. Children should also know about preparing it, and growing it. Growing food – as a process – has a clear value. Catherine Sneed, a counsellor in San Francisco's county jail, noticed early on in her career that the same people kept returning to prison. Inspired by The Grapes of Wrath, a novel in which connectedness to the land binds families together, she set up a small prison garden. Inmates loved it, and the project flourished. The food they grow feeds hundreds of low-income families in the area, and inmates who take part in the project are a staggering 25% less likely to return to jail than those who don't.
If growing food is therapeutic for California's prisoners, there is every reason to believe it will be good for all of us. All schools should teach children basic cooking skills. Every school should be able to buy sustainable, good quality food wherever possible from local sources. Every school should include food growing in the curriculum. For some, that will mean twinning with willing farms. For others, it will mean literally building their own small farms.
3 The school run
Anyone driving through London after the school term ends will notice immediately how much easier it is to get around. The school run contributes massively to ­congestion. There are various schemes set up to combat this, not least the walk to school movement, whose annual walk-to-school month has inspired children and parents to promote healthier living and conserve the environment. But we need more, and parents should add their own pressure to calls for a dedicated school bus scheme.
In the US, yellow school buses represent the largest mass transit system in the country. About 450,000 of them take more than 25 million children to and from school. Each school bus takes between 30 to 60 cars off of the road during rush hour times. The leading US school bus manufacturer, IC Bus, is now producing the nation's only line of hybrid school buses, which improve fuel efficiency by up to 70%. Each hybrid school bus is estimated to save $3,000 (£1,820) and 800 gallons of fuel annually. Our roads and our environment – not to mention commuters – are crying out for such a scheme to be introduced across the UK.
4 Energy savings
If schools successfully implement energy reduction measures, most can save as much as 10% on utility bills – water and heating – which, even for a small primary school, can run to £30,000 a year. With decreasing budgets and increasing costs, this is money they need: UK schools spend approximately £450m on energy each year, three times as much as they do on books, about 3.5% of their budgets.
It's a challenge that needs to be met, and it can be incorporated into the classroom. In many schools, children are already taught about the smaller measures, like turning off the lights at the end of lessons. Beyond that, children can help calculate the school's energy usage, and identify ways to cut it. They can use a school neutral carbon calculator ( to help calculate their "carbon footprint" and understand how their school can reduce its emissions.
Parents, teachers and children can also lobby their local authority to champion the purchase of renewable power through their joint buying consortia. If it refuses, they can opt out of the contract and buy their power independently.
5 Waste
In the UK we generate enough waste every hour to fill the Albert Hall. At a time when pressure on the world's resources has never been greater, we have to find a way to be more efficient. There's a lot that schools can do.
As a start, they can better understand the issue, and following that, they can incorporate waste reduction in the school, and hopefully in their own homes.
Of all the waste we generate, plastic bags are perhaps the greatest symbol of our throwaway society. They are used, then forgotten, and they leave a terrible legacy. The figures are shocking. Each year 13bn bags are used and thrown away in the UK. Each bag will be used for an average of 20 minutes, and, once discarded, will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. About 200m will litter the countryside. Others find their way into the seas, where they are mistaken for food and kill up to 100,000 marine mammals each year, as well as countless birds.
Many countries have taken the initiative to ban or phase out bags, including China, South Africa, India and Kenya. In the UK, we're miles behind, but there are some good local examples. The campaign in Richmond borough is being spearheaded by the schools themselves.
I had the huge pleasure of walking with a class of bright, 11-year-old children – unannounced – to a Tesco store in Kew. The children demanded to see the manager, and despite initial reluctance, were able to pose a series of hard-hitting and brilliant questions about packaging and plastic bags. They now fully intend to take the same questions to the chairman, Sir Terry Leahy, in Tesco headquarters.
None of these ideas is revolutionary, but all will make a difference – and together they will make a real difference. They are just a few ideas on what children and parents can do to green our schools, and help ensure that the next generation has the appetite, understanding and knowledge to deal with the environmental crisis we face.
Zac Goldsmith, former editor of the Ecologist magazine, is the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Richmond and North Kingston. His book, The Constant Economy, will be published in September by Atlantic Books

Mandelson unveils £150m plan for UK industry

David Robertson
Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, has announced that the Government will invest £151.5 million in technology-intensive industries such as aerospace and nuclear power.
The package is part of Gordon Brown's Building Britain's Future programme, which was announced last month as part of the Prime Minister's relaunch following poor results in the European elections. The business package is targeted at industries identified as important to the growth of the UK economy.
The single largest beneficiary is Rolls Royce, which has been given £45 million to help build new manufacturing sites in the UK.
Three will be dedicated to the company's aerospace work and one will develop its nuclear business. Rolls Royce said that the new facilities would make fan blades for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, advanced-alloy disks for engine turbines and single-crystal blades for high temperature aero engines.
Rolls Royce will also benefit from a £45 million investment to improve the efficiency of aircraft engines in order to reduce carbon emissions. A further £40 million will be spent on a collaborative programme to improve aerospace technologies and £12 million will go to a Printable Electronics Centre in Sedgefield that will make displays.
Lord Mandelson said: “At the heart of Britain’s knowledge economy is our manufacturing base. High-value, highly skilled and internationally successful businesses that have worked hard to secure a lead in hi-tech global supply chains. This practical package of measures will help equip British manufacturers, of all sizes and sectors, to take advantage of the advanced technologies and new market opportunities now shaping our low-carbon industrial future."

Rolls-Royce announces £300m UK factory plan

Engineering firm will open four new plants in Britain, creating or safeguarding 800 jobs, to develop aerospace technology and build parts for nuclear power stations
Graeme Wearden, Tuesday 28 July 2009 14.45 BST
Engineering firm Rolls-Royce has given Britain's industrial sector a much-needed fillip by announcing it will open four new factories in the UK, creating or saving 800 jobs.
The company is a major beneficiary of a government initiative to support cutting-edge industries such as aerospace and nuclear power.
Building the factories will cost Rolls-Royce £300m, with the government contributing £45m. Three of them will develop aerospace technologies. A fourth will assemble and test parts for new nuclear power stations. Sites for the four plants have not been disclosed, but they will all be in "assisted areas" – parts of the UK with high unemployment.
Sir John Rose, chief executive of Rolls-Royce, said the firm was making "significant investments in capability and research which reflect our commitment to continue to invest in the future of our business, even at this stage in the economic cycle."
The firm is also extending its plant in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, so that it can supply parts for the Lightning joint strike fighter – the F-35 single-engine aircraft that is meant to underpin America's future air defences.
In addition to the new factories, Rolls-Royce announced two new advanced research programmes, which will investigate ways of cutting CO2 emissions from aircraft and increasing fuel efficiency.
The £45m grant comes from the government's Building Britain's Future programme. The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, announced this morning that a total of £151.5m would be invested in British manufacturing.
"This practical package of measures will help equip British manufacturers of all sizes and sectors to take advantage of the advanced technologies and new market opportunities now shaping our low-carbon industrial future," said Mandelson.
Rose said he was "delighted" that the government was supporting the new factories.
Rolls-Royce said that the four plants would be built over the next five or six years, and would help the company fulfil its £55.5bn order book.
Rolls-Royce is also building a factory in Singapore to construct fan blades used in military and commercial aircraft engines. As with the UK factories, it will receive a government grant to help with the construction costs.
Other projects being supported by the government include a £12m expansion of the Printable Electronics Centre in Sedgefield, County Durham, which develops various display technologies. This could create 1,500 new jobs by 2014.

Labour put too much faith in City, admits Mandelson

Business secretary announces £150m of aid for manufacturing and says industrial sector crucial to UK economy
Heather Stewart and Emily Martin, Tuesday 28 July 2009 19.52 BST
Business secretary Lord Mandelson conceded that Labour put too much faith in the economic prowess of the City over the past decade, as he announced £150m-worth of government aid for manufacturing, with most going to the engineering firm Rolls Royce.
Saying that taxpayers' support would secure or create 800 jobs in aerospace and nuclear power, and bring four new Rolls Royce factories to deprived areas of Britain, Mandelson said a healthy industrial sector was crucial to building a successful British economy.
He said: "We, like other governments, had taken for granted that our wealth would continue to be generated from the size of the financial sector, and that this would be replicated in the coming decade – but it won't."
With more than a million manufacturing jobs lost since 1997, industry groups long complained that the government neglected them, in favour of the hefty tax revenues and high international profile from the success of the City.
Sir John Rose, Rolls Royce chief executive, who appeared with Mandelson as he announced the government's investment, said it marked a welcome change of approach.
"It's extremely encouraging that there's now a recognition from the opposition and from the government that we need a much more balanced economy," he said. "I hope that this will reverse several decades of aversion to industrial policy."
Asked whether opportunities had been missed over the past 12 years to support British industry, he said, "the shape of the economy that people say they want will affect the decisions that people make when they're at school or university. If people go on about the 'post industrial age,' then people will make decisions based on that."
Mandelson has helped secure a marked shift in policy since he returned to government last year, moving the emphasis towards a more activist industrial strategy, instead of the laissez-faire approach of the past decade.
"What we have in a department like this is every pool of spending and every policy lever now joined under one roof, to make coherent sense of what government does in pursuing its strategy."
The announcement included £45m to secure four new Rolls Royce factories in the UK, plus £45m from the government's Strategic Investment Fund earmarked for low carbon technologies, which Rolls will use to develop greener aeroplane engines.
Rolls Royce is also leading a research programme called SAMULET – "Strategic Affordable Manufacturing in the UK with Leading Environmental Technology," which received another £40m, much of it from the government's Technology Strategy Board. This will be used to support research centres in Sheffield, Glasgow and Ansty, near Coventry.
Rose said the injection of cash would help to fulfil his £55bn order book, much of which involves projects to be delivered beyond 2011.
Adam Marshall, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) welcomed the news. "The future of the UK economy must be built on more solid foundations, and advanced manufacturing should be at its heart," he said. "The government's investment is a welcome boost for new technologies, particularly in aerospace, where the UK has a competitive advantage."
Several other, smaller investments were also announced as part of the £150m state aid package, including £4m to expand the Manufacturing Advisory Service so that it can help small firms to go green, and £500,000 in a Centre of Excellence for Silicon Design in the South West.
However, with the emphasis firmly on aerospace and nuclear power, green groups complained that the government was backing "white elephants," instead of nurturing new industries.
Andrew Simms, director of the New Economics Foundation argued that because aviation is capital intensive, the government would get more bang for its buck by supporting green technologies.
"Rather than new jobs in new industries, this is a small number of jobs in white elephant industries," he said.
Sarah North, campaigns director at Greenpeace, said, "Mandelson's vision for Britain's clean industrial future is proving neither British nor clean." The government, she said, was supporting, "the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions – aviation."
However, Mandelson insisted that his department was, "backing winners," instead of "picking winners," the much derided industrial strategy of the 1970s and early 1980s.
Earlier, the business secretary had visited a much smaller hi-tech firm, 'Visual Planet', in Cambridge. With a staff of 20 the firm produces a range of touch-screen technology, exporting 85% of its output
Visual Planet's commercial director, Mike Cole, welcomed the new-found enthusiasm for manufacturing, saying it was, "right on the money". "Anything that can be done for small businesses is great news," he said, particularly if it, "utilises the British ability to invent".