News Update from Nikki

Sellafield from Corney Fell.jpgSellafield from Corney Fell – Photo Radiation Free Lakeland

Excellent News Update below from the South West with a Big Picture Outlook.  If you would like to subscribe to Nikki’s Updates and Analysis please email

Beyond all the heat, fires, drought, mudslides and other catastrophes of the last few weeks, perhaps the overwhelming change for us here in the UK is that climate change has suddenly become hard news – with, in most cases, no need for a ‘balancing act’ from a climate sceptic. Here’s just one sane and sober discussion, on Newsnight (24th July) between the Met Office’s Chief Scientist and an adviser to the government from Cambridge University. What they confirm is that we should expect this kind of heat to be normal by 2040, and that we are heading towards 4 – 6 degrees by the end of the century. Suggestions are made for a serious (£100/tonne) carbon tax, across all sectors and with a built-in escalator, made palatable with equal cuts in income tax, national insurance, etc. Will we do it? It feels as if we are still a long way from there….
Here’s some news I hope you find useful:
  1. Good prospects for UK off-shore wind
  2. More problems with nuclear – possible good news on Moorside
  3. Our electricity generation is less efficient in the heat – not a problem now…..
  4. We need trees to cool our cities and cut air pollutants
  5. What’s happening with our waste now that China won’t take it??
  6. How much tax will the government lose with EVs?
  7. Fracking – an update
  8. Legal cases – Plan B Earth appealing…
  9. Food riots possible as heat wave cuts crop yields
  10. Action – and some good visuals
  1. Last week the government confirmed that the Feed in Tariffs for roof-top solar will definitely end next March. This isn’t a surprise, but it was hoped there might be a reprieve. However, last week there was good news for the one renewable sector that the government has been supporting – offshore wind. Apparently we have 7 GW in operation now, another 7 GW under construction, and more than double all that under development. The government has now confirmed that it will continue its support of offshore wind through Contracts for Difference auctions for the next ten years, giving investors confidence. The industry states that this should guarantee the UK at least 30 GW of off-shore wind by 2030, an extra 1 – 2 GW each year during the 2020s. (Our current total capacity of electricity generation, from all sources, is around 103 GW, so 30 GW of off shore wind is a pretty big deal. To compare, the two nuclear plants at Hinkley will together have 3.2 GW capacity.)
  2. There are more problems in the world of nuclear… Flamanville in France (the model for Hinkley Point C) has announced further delays and another cost hike – it is now seven billion Euros over-budget and the loading of nuclear fuel will now not take place before the end of 2019, at the earliest: it was supposed to be online in 2012. Out of 148 inspected welds, 33 were found to need repair…. ! (I don’t know if an exclamation mark quite captures the gravity of this….)   At home, Hinkley is facing the challenge of a possible legal case between the National Grid and Ofgem over linking the plant to the grid, but the Austrian legal challenge to our state aid of Hinkley has been dismissed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  There is encouraging news for everyone who sees our roll-out of big nuclear plants as nonsensical and an immoral and dangerous burden to place on future generations: plans for new reactors at Moorside,  next to Sellafield, hang in the balance. Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Toshiba and the lead investor, went bankrupt last year and the secondary investor, South Korean Kepco, looked like it might take over. According to this Times article, they have now backed out: this looks like brinkmanship, putting pressure on our government to come up with more taxpayer funding as they have done with Hitachi in Angleseybut just possibly this is the end of our wider nuclear roll-out… In addition, Rolls Royce is reported to have dramatically scaled back its staff in its ‘Small Modular Reactor’ programme and says that everything hangs on government/taxpayer support, without which nuclear will never compete against wind and solar.   Meanwhile the sixty year hunt for somewhere to put our (now 750,000 cubic metres) highly radioactive nuclear waste continues: even national parks are now under consideration.
3.  Here’s a really clear, concise article explaining why all our electricity generation gets less efficient in a heat wave. Our thermal plants (coal, gas and nuclear) are at particular risk as they need cool air and cool water for their processes. (They are only 40 – 50% efficient at the best of times so further drops are bad news…)                                                                                                                                                                                                             At the moment, this is not a huge problem in the UK because summer demand for electricity is relatively low. But it is likely that we will be using air conditioning routinely by 2040 and, according to the National Grid, this could add 10 – 18 GW to summer demand by 2050. Solutions are out there for air conditioning that uses low-value night electricity and stores it in the form of ice, to be used in cooling during the day. The Ice Bear is one I have read about, but there are probably others. Its little brother, the Ice Cub, is designed for home use. World-wide we are going to need similar technologies as one recent study suggests that demand for cooling could rise five fold by 2050 and potentially use all the world’s renewable generation…
4. One way to reduce our need for cooling is to plant more trees in cities. These help limit the ‘heat island’ effect of all our roads, car parks, buildings etc absorbing heat and raising city temperatures several degrees. Trees are also extremely effective in removing air pollutants. This fascinating interactive map (you can put in your postcode) from the Office of National Statistics shows how far even leafy bits of Bristol are  below the national average in removing harmful pollutants – but, of course, all cities do badly. The Bristol Tree Forum claims that Bristol has 18.6% tree cover, and our target is 30% by 2050. There are many ways to support tree planting in and around the city but several contacts have now bought land themselves and planted. If this is of interest to you, and you would like to be put in touch with others, please let me know. In the meantime, please water any public trees in your area that are young and looking stressed…


5. Have you been wondering what we are doing with all our waste, since China stopped importing it last January? It seems that our exports to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are all up significantly, and that earlier ‘exceeded targets’ for recycling are highly suspect. Incineration of ‘residual waste’ (after recycling) or pyrolysis (heating without air to create a syngas, then burnt for electricity) is still too small to show up on Gridwatch  but there seem to be many more planning applications in around the country. (My understanding is that in Avonmouth one pyrolysis plant has closed, but a Suez incineration plant exists at Severnside and Viridor will be opening another in 2020.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The arguments in favour of such plants are that they prevent landfill and exports (which may end up dumped in the Pacific); but clearly they put out a lot of CO2, more than a tonne for every tonne burnt according to UK Without Incineration, plus air quality pollutants, and they discourage recycling. As we all know, cutting our usage is the only answer here but we have a dilemma as we make the transition to biodegradable polymers  and our economy makes it impossible to avoid waste altogether.  Just for fun – here’s a link to one man doing his bit for a plastic clear-up – on a floating bike….  And in Bristol, Zero Green is a new arrival  in Bedminster to help you cut your single-use.

6. How much tax does the government stand to lose through reduced petrol and diesel use? The government currently gets £28 billion per year in fuel tax, and another £6 billion a year in Vehicle Excise Duty (car tax). It is not clear how this revenue will be replaced as we move towards less car ownership and use, and electrification. This looks like one of the first significant challenges for our government in moving towards a zero-carbon economy.  (If you are still looking for an electric solution to get you easily around the city, here’s one I read about recently – a connected, foldable e-scooter….. Looks fun!)

7. On-shore fracking is set to begin in the UK any time now, at Preston New Road near Blackpool. Although the government claims that fracking is compatible with the UK’s carbon budgets, this is contradicted by the recent National Infrastructure Assessment, and also the National Grid’s Future Energy ScenariosHeavy water usage by the industry is another, real consideration,  as is the fact that lorries taking out waste water (and all fracking related trucks) are using the same small country roads as those taking uranium in and out of Springfields, where nuclear fuel rods are manufactured. Although locals have been told that the nuclear traffic only uses the roads at night, this is contradicted by photographic evidence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              A recent injunction against protesters has been given a two year extension, and it seems that the industry is using private companies to survey social media and using personal information to discredit activists.

8.  There is some bad news on legal cases for climate change. Plan B Earth’s case to get the UK government to put our Paris commitments into law failed – but an appeal is in progress.     New York city’s case against major oil companies has also been thrown out.  But the courts are still set to be a major battleground and a means of forcing changes of policy. Where oil companies are sued, it seems the tactic is not to deny that humans cause climate change, but to deny their specific liability. That’s progress of a sort, I suppose…. For anyone interested in the law and environmental governance, Bristol Uni is holding a Wild Law conference on Sept 21st.

9. It seems this heat wave is likely to affect what we see in the shops – and the prices. For the second year running, farmers are feeding winter fodder to livestock in summer because of insufficient grass (last year it was too wet) and milk yields are likely to be down 15 – 25%.  Farming Today reports that our abattoirs are unusually busy as farmers are making the decision to send to market rather than buy in expensive winter feed. Horticultural farmers have lost much of their crops – lettuce, broccoli, spinach, carrot crops etc. Even if farmers have access to water, irrigation is costing them hundreds of pounds per hectare per week.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The FT reports that cereal prices around the world are also likely to be up as key countries such as Russia, Ukraine, the US and Australia have had their yields cut. It seems we are likely to see much more ‘wonky’ veg in the supermarkets, higher prices and many more imports – but the bigger question is whether we see food riots around the world as in 2007-2008 which were sparked then by drought and rising oil prices. If you haven’t already, this is the time to consider not buying grain-fed meat & dairy – a really inefficient and unfair use of scarce resources. (Feeding our animals bids up world prices.) Look for pasture for life meat products. Confusingly, some organic is still grain fed, so check where you can.

10. Personally, I’m not a great one for marching and direct action. However, we live in unique, frightening times – our scientists are telling us we face absolute catastrophe. A global day of action is planned for the 8th September and I know events will be happening in Bristol, and in London. There is also a petition, gaining speed, demanding that our government recognise we have an emergency and act accordingly. Please sign and share.  If it helps to see things visually, here’s an article with some fascinating mappings of global warming since the 1880s (from NASA, terrifying) plus two, more cheering, showing the speed at which we are rolling out wind and solar in Europe and the US. And thanks to the fantastic Real World Visuals who have allowed me to send out this short video, designed for the G7 Canadian summit in June showing the rate at which we are adding carbon to the atmosphere – a 1,000 tonnes of carbon a second…

Bristol has a few interesting events coming up. Bristol Re-Use Network will be holding their next monthly meet up on the 29th August, there’s a Big Green Picnic at College Green on the 29th August (plastic free and as organic and local as possible), and for anyone in the catering/events trade, Boston Tea Party will be hosting a ‘No excuses – plastic free’ workshop on the 6th August.
As ever, if you would like to come off the mailing list, just let me know.
All good wishes

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