Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday

I have to admit that I had (probably) never heard of Black Friday until the other day, when it came up in the context of a special computer deal. According to Wikipedia, the UK has Amazon/Apple/ASDA propaganda to thank for the term.  See here. Closer inspection of the Wikipedia sources reveals that the term is not so new after all – see here – but seems to have trouble catching on in the UK. Perhaps this calls for thanksgiving?

Shortly after I had written the above, I was alerted to the fact that the situation is in fact worse than it initially seemed. Apparently Amazon Germany call it "Cyber Monday Woche". Victor Meldrew comes to mind!

There is another Wikipedia article here, which indicates that Currys, PC World, Comet and Harrods are also 'culprits'. In any case, I'm not sure one could go as far as saying it is 'observed' in the UK. Note also the reference to 'Shopping' as a "Celebrations" category. Sick-bags, anyone?

Especially in view of the fact that tomorrow is supposed to be Buy Nothing Day UK! On a related note, see interesting forthcoming RSA event under the heading Why We’ve Had Enough of Stuff. Plus the Story of Stuff.

China's dispatch of jets ratchets up tension over air defence zone

Alarming article in today's Guardian. Let's hope common sense and restraint will prevail.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Let's not forget the moral case for climate action

Excellent article by Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth, at [Update 22 November 2014: I have taken the liberty of reproducing Craig's article below (scroll past the dinosaur image), in case you can no longer access it on the BusinesGreen website]

His comments that "surely it would make sense for humanity to move, sooner or later, from dirty centralised old and fossilised energy to clean, decentralised new renewable energy, delivered by the sun, wind, waves and tides direct to point-of-use? Why remain chained to the limiting infrastructure of the past, when new technology allows extraordinary opportunities for the future?" reminded me a recent article under the heading: An electricity generation system the Victorians would be proud of.

On a related note, see also paper by Prof John Twidell entitled The political and ethical case for renewable energy, available via

All in all, surely the conclusion has to be that the time-wasting and tedious ongoing debate about man-made climate change should be over? The sooner the media, including and in particular the BBC, stop wheeling out climate dinosaurs, the better!

Let's not forget the moral case for climate action
Friends of the Earth argues that while the economic case for climate action is compelling, business leaders need to remember there is also a moral argument to be made
By Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth
20 Nov 2013, published at
Those of us in the business of advocating urgent action on climate change are well practised at using a wide set of evidence based, rational arguments in support of our cause. And, my goodness, there's a lot of them, as demonstrated in the news stories and comment pieces appearing on a daily basis through media channels such as BusinessGreen.
There's the whole Nick Stern type argument which, if boiled down to a tweet goes something like; "There's nothing cheap about runaway climate change. Tackling it will cost our economy far less than ignoring it and is the pro-growth option".
In his original seminal review on The Economics of Climate Change published in October 2006, Stern estimated that climate change threatened to knock 20 per cent off global GDP, equivalent to the two World Wars and the Great Depression combined, while a proactive strategy to mitigate climate change would cost just one per cent of global GDP. There was a bit of a debate among economists about discount rates and other stuff shortly after the publication of his report, but the vast majority of academics, companies and governments broadly accepted Stern's analysis. By this measure alone, the procrastination on climate action by politicians like George Osborne is nothing short of shameful, and hypocritical. Simply put; the longer we dither, the greater the climate deficit we build up for the next generation.
It is worth noting that Stern now estimates that he dramatically undervalued the economic costs of climate change in 2006, and believes that delays in action since have also considerably increased the "costs" of mitigation strategies. Yeah, thanks George.
Then there are the set of arguments that tackling climate change will lead to a better world. Surely it would make sense to stop shivering and properly insulate our heat-leaking homes, for example, even if scientists weren't worried about climate chaos? And surely it would make sense for humanity to move, sooner or later, from dirty centralised old and fossilised energy to clean, decentralised new renewable energy, delivered by the sun, wind, waves and tides direct to point-of-use? Why remain chained to the limiting infrastructure of the past, when new technology allows extraordinary opportunities for the future?
There are many other sets of arguments, of course, and underpinning most of them is the clear message from an ever increasing chunk of the business community that they want governments to put the long term policy frameworks in place to provide them with the confidence they need to scale up their investments in environmental technologies and infrastructure, and speed the transition from a high to low carbon economy.
Regular readers of BusinessGreen will be very familiar with this common narrative, even if some of our political elites and the well-paid minority of mad frothy-mouthed media commentators still don't get it.
But as shocking images from the Philippines continue to appear on our television screens every night, it's time to remind ourselves of the other set of arguments that should drive much faster political action on climate change; the moral arguments.
Since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked its destruction 10 days ago, there has been a good deal of controversy about whether climate change was to blame or not.
Let's be clear; we cannot attribute the occurrence of a specific weather event to climate change. That would be nonsense, particularly just a few days after the disaster. It may or may not be the case that, in time, scientists might feel able to point to evidence suggesting climate change played some sort of role in causing Typhoon Haiyan to be more devastating than it might otherwise have been. This week's New Scientist, for example, has pointed to sea level rise in recent decades having played a possible role in reinforcing the storm surge associated with the storm. And earlier this year, a report by the American Meteorological Society demonstrated that the severity of half of 12 extreme weather events recorded in 2012 could be linked to climate change in some way, with examples including US heat-waves, Superstorm Sandy, shrinking Arctic sea ice, drought in Europe's Iberian Peninsula and extreme rainfall in Australia and New Zealand.
It's an interesting scientific debate but, to be honest, a distraction for the politicians and policy makers. That comment might surprise you, but the point is that even if scientists concluded 100 per cent that this particular extreme weather event was caused by Lord Voldermort throwing a hissy fit over Harry Potter winning a game of Quidditch, Typhoon Haiyan would still serve as an stark illustration of the appalling human suffering that extreme weather events pose as a threat to hundreds of millions of people around the world in the decades ahead.
There is a clear moral responsibility on all of us to work together to lessen human suffering as a result of these weather events in the future - in the same way that previous generations took steps to reduce the human suffering associated with slavery, or cholera outbreaks in London because of poor sanitation, or children working in mines.
In the case of the Philippines, lessening the human suffering associated with extreme weather events means protecting coral reefs and mangroves (both of which represent natural buffers from storm surges); avoiding deforestation and the flash flooding associated with it; improving housing and sanitation; strengthening storm shelters; improving rescue logistics; and much more besides.
But, in the 21st century, it also means there is a moral responsibility on all of us to try and tackle climate change because scientists are increasingly confident of the link between a warmer world and extreme weather events in the future (even if the current impact is still a matter of interesting debate). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent Fifth Assessment Report, for example, gave a clear indication that climate change is likely to increase the severity (note; not frequency) of extreme weather events. It cited "enhanced summer monsoon precipitation; increased rainfall extremes of landfall typhoons on the coast" and "reduction in the midwinter suppression of extratropical cyclones" (p26 of the technical summary) amongst many other possible phenomena.
It has become unfashionable to emphasise the moral imperative for action on climate change. In my experience, the business community never discusses it, and even NGOs are guilty of mentioning it very rarely these days. And yet, surely it is the moral dimension of the debate that should and - let's be optimistic - will trump all else?
I'm not as up with my history as I should be. But I'm confident that the debates that took place over the last couple of centuries about the abolition of slavery and votes for women would have included ephemeral arguments, for and against, relating to what we would now call the "business case", the "economic imperative", and questions over "competitiveness".
But as we look back on these debates from our vantage point in the 21st century, it is only the moral case that seems relevant now. The abolition of slavery, and the adoption of universal women's suffrage, now represent seminal chapters in the story of human progress, following on from the discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel and the development of agriculture.
And so it will be for the ability of the human species to live within environmental limits too, with tackling climate change a key part of this chapter.
In centuries, hopefully decades, to come future generations will look back and mock the likes of Nigel Lawson, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot and the other naysayers that held up human progress by attempting to keep us stuck in the fossil-fuelled twentieth century.
And they will study the lives of the brave pioneers that helped humanity to move forward; the academics like Nick Stern; the campaigners who tirelessly fought for climate legislation and international climate agreements; the activists who were locked up in a Russian jail while defending the Arctic; the business leaders that broke rank; the entrepreneurs that set up the first clean tech companies; the first communities that took control of their local energy infrastructure; and many more besides.
There will be some that laugh at this suggestion, but they are a dwindling minority. More and more people believe that living within our environmental means is the right way to go, even if getting there might not be entirely straightforward. Most people now believe achieving it will be one of the next chapters in the history of humanity.
And for people in business, that should give you more confidence to scale up your investments in environmental technologies, than anything that a here today gone tomorrow politician might say, or do.
Craig Bennett is director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth

Asterix and the Picts - review by Ian Rankin

Good review of "Asterix and the Picts" by Ian Rankin in the Guardian at

Some 'classic' names, such as Unhygienix and Getafix :-)
Even proportional representation gets a mention. I can feel a purchase coming on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An electricity generation system the Victorians would be proud of

Quote of the month, or perhaps even the year/decade!

It is time that we started thinking of renewable energy technologies as our primary source, with fossil fuels and nuclear as curiosities to be put in a museum along with the other exhibits from our industrial past.


See full article by Rob Such at

Friday, November 15, 2013

Low Carbon City Lecture 2013

Very interesting event (5th November).
See follow-up message from Leicester's Deputy Mayor below, including pertinent links.

Thank you to everyone who attended Leicester’s inaugural  Low Carbon City Lecture last Tuesday evening.

Dame Julia King’s lecture was insightful and interesting and led to a lively question and answer session and discussion. We have already received lots of suggestions for speakers at future events. We are keen to continue this work to encourage a wider debate on climate change and related policy in Leicester and plans for future events will be announced soon.

The evening also enabled us to launch a revised Low Carbon City Action Plan, a copy of which can be found here (

There is also a short report of the evening and Dame Julia’s slides here (

Please continue to tweet your thoughts on Leicester’s Low Carbon plan and Dame Julia’s lecture using #lowcarbonleic

Best wishes

Rory Palmer

Deputy City Mayor

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blast from the past, Part 1 (Planning, roads, transport)

Just had a look through my Leicester Friends of the Earth scrapbook from the early/mid 1990s.
Some themes look alarmingly familiar!

Update 15 December 2014:
There is a rumour that the Evesham Road Link road madness could be back on the agenda.
I have every confidence that such nonsense would be fought tooth and nail, just like last time round.
See photos of significant Evesham Road demo on 30 October 1993 below.