Must. Not. Get. Sarcastic. Ach failed again.

Oh dear, I was writing about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, then I was writing about modern criticism of the book, then I was writing about environmental regulation vs economic freedom, then I was quoting George Osborne, and it all went downhill from there. But I enjoyed the rant 🙂

Let us hear from George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer. In October 2011, he told the Conservative Party Conference that saving the planet risked “putting our country out of business”. A few weeks later, in the Autumn Budget statement, he said: “If we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”

Hmmm. Now I don’t know what planet George Osborne is living on. Maybe it’s in an alternative universe where God created the economy ex nihilo. But my planet is the one which underpins all economic activity, the one in which economic actors live and move and have their being. You know, the planet with the environment that provides the soil that we grow food in, the fresh water that we drink, the fossil fuels that power most of our activities, the forests and minerals that provide our raw materials, and lots of natural processes that clean up the muck we throw into the air, water and ground – up to a point.

On my planet, soil is finite, water is finite, fossil fuels and minerals are finite, and nature’s tolerance margins are finite. In this round hole, infinite economic growth makes a very square peg.

So to Mr Osborne I say: “If we burden the planet with endless economic growth – however attractive in its own right – then not only will we not achieve that growth, but the energy sources we depend on and the soil we grow food in and the water we drink and the air we breath will fail, health and contentment will be lost, and we will die; oh and businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer too.”

Someone needs to put him under a restraint, for his own good. We could call it an Obstructing Social Behaviour Order, or OSBO for short.

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Nuclear – a low-carbon, low-cost energy-secure future?

In the 3 May edition of the Church Times, Bishop Anthony Priddis wrote an article extolling thorium: “Thorium: it’s green, nuclear, safe” (pdf). I have just sent a Letter to the editor in response.

Sir, – I would like to question the assumptions underlying Anthony Priddis’ article on Thorium (Comment, 3 May). The Department of Energy and Climate Change outlines four scenarios for the energy mix in 2050. The ‘Higher renewables, more energy efficiency’ scenario shows that there does not need to be a nuclear future. And this is the cheapest option; the high-nuclear scenario is the most expensive.

DECC is aiming for a low-carbon, low-cost, energy-secure future.

If thorium is a low-carbon option, I would like to see the figures for the embodied energy and energy consumption over the whole lifecycle of the R&D, plant construction and decommissioning. I would also like to see the costs for the whole lifecycle (using unbiased discount rates), and the opportunity cost of not investing in cheaper alternatives.

As for UK energy security, Priddis’ article says that thorium is found in Australia, India, the United States, and Norway, and the technology is being developed in China, India, Norway and France. The UK company Centrica has abandoned nuclear, leaving those power stations currently planned to Electricité de France. EdF is in financial trouble, and trying to lock the government in to 40 years of guaranteed prices. Moreover, an electricity grid made up of few large-scale stations is vulnerable when one of those stations fails or requires maintenance.

Then the article gives an R&D lead-time of 10-15 years. Goodness knows how many years will then be needed for decision-making, planning, and negotiating contracts; then goodness knows how many more to build and commission the plant. Nuclear has a long history of delays.

Renewable energy is from the UK. The technologies are human-scale. They are available now, and because they are small-scale, they can be continually refined as they are installed. The UK is already involved in R&D and manufacture, and there is still an opportunity to invest in further capacity, combined with R&D in electricity storage and demand-side management aiming at creating resilient and more local grids.

But the most important component of future electricity supply is ‘negawatts’, reducing consumption through energy efficiency and modifying lifestyles. DECC’s ‘Higher nuclear’ scenario also assumes ‘less energy efficiency’. Maybe DECC is implying that nuclear is part and parcel of the myopic mindset locked into unsustainable high-consumption lifestyles. Certainly, Thorium smacks of being yet another technology fix aiming to shore up business as usual.

Clare Bryden

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Should I do the ironing?

MonitorAbout a year ago, I borrowed an electricity monitor back from a friend, and have just got round to installing it again.

The monitor usefully shows how much electricity I’m using, without me having to dig out the key in order to read the outdoor meter. I also want to know how I best I can use my lovely solar electricity, but I have also lost my list of electricity consumption by gadget so need to work it all out again.

First up, I’m making some bread, so may as well check out the figure in the bread machine manual. It says it uses 505-550 W. I have very little else on, but the monitor reads anything between 1500 W and 2400 W. Maybe it’s the fridge-freezer cutting in and out. I wait until the bread is done and turn the fridge off. The monitor jumps from 750 W to over 1000 W to 2600 W!

And then I twig, the monitor doesn’t care whether the electricity is flowing one way or the other. It is simply measuring electricity. When the sun is out, I’m generating more than I’m using, so the monitor is telling me that I’m exporting – 2600 W, or 1900 W as I’m writing this. The monitor is still positive when a cloud comes over, but now I’m less sure whether I’m consuming or exporting.

So a bit of guesswork is needed to work this out, combining the instantaneous electricity monitoring with the 15-minute solar panel monitoring, and I still need to find out how much electricity my various gadgets use, but maybe the electricity monitor is even more useful than I thought. At the moment I know I have 1900 W to play with, which is probably enough to do the ironing… except that the sun has gone in, so maybe I’ll read a book instead.

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