Islands powered by sun, that is what we are...

05 Nov 2012

Nukunonu Lagoon Tokelau - photo CloudSurfer

No man is an island, John Donne intoned. One might infer the famously bawdy poet turned Bishop meant self-sustainability is no mean feat - something The Tank can agree with, considering our latest attempt ended up in the eating of the very twigs we'd spent the last six hours trying to light after the sick rabbit we'd managed to trap escaped with our keys. Mrs Tank declared it to be the worst afternoon of her life, but as she's a Sheffield Wednesday fan it's hard to give that any credence.

Anyway, all this meant we were more than impressed that an entire country has become energy self-sufficient! And which pioneering, world-leading nation would have the vision, funds, and sheer chutzpah to carry this off?

Well, the tiny south sea islands of Tokelau, most famous for not actually being a country, but a territory of New Zealand, and sporting a rather impressive record at lawn bowls.

A new 1MW solar array, thought to be one of the world's largest off-grid solar systems, has been installed across the three low-lying atolls that make up Tokelau for the princely sum of $7.5m.

The array replaces costly oil imports and, as it supplies one and a half times the 1,400 inhabitant's energy needs, it allows Tokelau to export excess power. The resulting fuel savings will be used to pay off the cost of the system and increase investment in health and education for the Tokelauns? Tokelauites? Tokelaus?

Fossil fuel imports comprise up to a third of total imports for some nations in the region, so it's no wonder Jovilisi Suveinakama, general manager of the National Public Service of the Government of Tokelau, advised other Pacific islands to follow Tokelau's example.

"Our commitment as global citizens is to make a positive contribution toward the mitigation of the impacts of climate change," he told Inter Press Service. "We are proud of this achievement."

And rightly so. Tokelau sufferers from extreme weather storm surges, droughts, coral-bleaching, inundation of land, and salination of groundwater, all of which is likely to get worse as a result of industrialised nations' carbon emissions.

Yet these very same countries are amongst the first to get on board with low carbon energy strategies, some of which have led by ambitious islands including the Maldives and our very own Isle of Wight embracing plans to become energy independent.

Other governments need to realise that while no man is an island, the planet certainly is - and there's no getting off. At least not until we get around to building that Death Star.

Arsenal land in hot water after flight to Norwich

24 Oct 2012

arsenal logo

You have to feel a bit sorry for Arsenal fans. The team hasn't picked up a trophy for over seven years now, while every summer it seems they lose another of their best players – and all for the price of the most expensive season ticket in English football.

But while supporters were clearly disgruntled with Saturday's poor 1-0 defeat at struggling Norwich, at least the team had a decent excuse for this latest capitulation: jet lag.

Yes, the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Arsenal's London Colney training centre to Norwich's Carrow Road ground was clearly deemed far too arduous for such cosseted superstars, so the decision was taken to fly from Luton – a flight that spends a grand total of 14 minutes in the air. 

"It is absolutely absurd," raged Norwich Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Jennifer Parkhouse, missing the open goal of a "given the poor performance Arsenal clearly chose flight over fight" gag.

"I cannot see any reason why they would have flown, other than it being a rather ostentatious display of the players' and the club's wealth," she added. "They must have spent more time just getting on and off the plane than in the air."

Weirdly, a quick search reveals you can fly to Norwich for as little as £20, which is a damning indictment of travel in this country right there. Although, you'd imagine that Arsenal's millionaire footballers could have quickly spent any money they saved buying enormous Toblerones at the airport.

The Arsenal press office refused to get back to the Tank yesterday, so we've nicked quotes from elsewhere –specifically a press conference given today by gaffer Arsene Wenger ahead of tonight's Champions' League tie with Schalke.

"Usually we take the train and there was no train available," he said. "So in the end we decided to fly because we had to drive up on Friday afternoon at the moment when you never know how long it lasts."

No, that made little sense to us either. Fortunately, a spokesman for the club elucidated in widely reported comments (again, comments not given to the Tank, despite the fact we specifically asked for them – it's enough to make you think Arsenal's press office doesn't want to answer questions about how flying to Norwich fits with the club's lauded sustainability strategy).

"The club considers all transport options available for the first team when travelling to an away fixture," he said. "Given the severe disruption to rail services at the weekend, the most time-efficient option was to fly, hence the first team made the journey by plane from London to Norwich."

But how this fits in with the club's stated aim of "taking steps where practicable to minimise any adverse impact that we may have on the environment" must be left to the imagination – much like Arsenal's title bid this season.

All this is a bit of a shame, because the Emirates Stadium itself has a number of green features, such as a recyclable pitch, LED lighting, and voltage optimisation equipment that reduces power consumption by up to 20 per cent, while the club says it is investigating installing solar panels or wind turbines at the training ground.

But perhaps it highlights just how far Arsenal have fallen from their 'Invincibles' team in 2003/04. After all, as some wags have pointed out, this would never have happened in Dennis Bergkamp's day.

This congregation's not for turning

16 Oct 2012

Tower bell of a small stone church against a beautiful cloudy sky

The Tank didn't get an invite to the Conservative party conference last week, so we were forced to catch the highlights on our wind-up telly.

Before our arms got too tired we saw David Cameron telling the world Britain's back on track: it's on the rise, off of its backside, poised to take on the world and win!

Still, despite this wholly admirable attitude, it seems not everyone is as impressed with the Conservatives as they are with themselves - especially on the energy front.

So having faced down revolting doctors and teachers, insulted policemen and royally ticked off the Lib Dems, the party now faces its biggest challenge: taking on God.

OK, not God himself (or herself! - equalities Ed), but the Methodist Church, Baptist Union, United Reformed Church, and Quakers of Britain, who together represent around half a million of the country's Christians.

The groups have jointly issued a statement calling on the government to target producing 60 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, adopt a commitment to decarbonise the electricity sector in the Energy Bill, rapidly phase out gas and coal, and incentivise measures to reduce energy demand - all of which will likely require divine intervention is George Osborne is to agree to it.

"Our faiths lead us to work for a fair and healthy UK economy that operates within the limits of our earth and climate," the groups say. "Creating a decarbonised power sector by 2030 is central to achieving this.

"We call on the Government for an Energy Bill that shows ambition in tackling climate change and delivering a sustainable energy economy."

Strong stuff - and you have to hope that when it comes to decision time on the content of the Energy Bill David Cameron will weigh the arguments on counter-party guarantees, flexible decarbonisation targets, contracts for difference, and capacity mechanisms, and simply ask himself, what would Jesus do?

Otterly, Otterly brilliant

28 Sep 2012

Sea Otter in Morro Bay - photo Mike Baird

Occasionally The Tank is forced to break off from repeatedly typing "Justin Bieber dreamboat" into Google and come up with some words on a novel carbon saving technology: one day it's a swish new eco-whatnot, the next a snazzy clean tech doo-dah. Sometimes, it can even be things you can't find at Ikea.

One thing you certainly cannot lay your hands on at Sweden's finest furniture boutique is a sea otter. But, if the connection hasn't become immediately apparent, it seems the cute and not so cuddly creatures (pace Terry Nutkins) are carbon-cutting machines.

This simply amazing discovery was stumbled upon by scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who determined that sea otters eat sea urchins. But that's not the clever bit – no, those rascally sea urchins feed on kelp, see, which is simply great at storing carbon.

So the more otters there are, the fewer sea urchins, which allows the kelp population to flourish and absorb 12 times more carbon dioxide than it would without the sea otters. In fact, the chaps at UC Santa Cruz reckon the amount of carbon saved by the kelp is worth between $205m and $408m, which could pay for a fair few otter sanctuaries.

"At least on this part of the Earth, animals have quite a significant impact," said lead author of the new report Chris Wilmers. "Maybe we should be thinking about that."

Frankly Chris, it's all we can think about now. Especially given the heartless decision to consign thousands of badgers to history – who knows what kind of food-chain related damage that particularly reckless policy decision could do to our carbon budgets? Has anyone even done a carbon audit?

The Tank is now planning to phone Defra and recommend that they put their shotguns away and spend the badger-massacre budget on a nationwide rollout of sea otters.

After all, Squire Nimby might object to a wind farm on aesthetic grounds, but who could complain about a mass installation of one of the world's cutest animals? Perhaps green campaigners should forget sticking a decarbonisation commitment in the Energy Bill and lobby to have otters included. There's your complicated Electricity Market reforms solved.

We'll expect that knighthood in the post, then.

The million man flush

24 Sep 2012

Toilet roll - photo Max Power

Lots of things work better when they're done in time - and we don't just mean square dancing or the proverbial stitch here.

No, once again we're talking toilet. You see the one million residents of drought-stricken Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, have been instructed to ... well, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Patience, dear reader, patience.

Anyway, it seems two of the city's five water storage dams have had to be decommissioned and the shortages mean Bulawayo's suburbs are being deprived of water for up to 72 hours.

But fortunately, the city council has a high tech solution up its sleeve, something its august members clearly haven't been pitched by a junior official whose mate's two weeks into a plumbing course.

"We're asking residents to flush their lavatories at precisely 7.30 p.m. on the day that water is re-introduced to their homes," city spokeswoman Nesisa Mpofu told news agency Bloomberg, boldly maintaining city-wide synchronised flushing would reduce blockages and burst pipes.

So, if it's yellow, let it mellow. And if it's brown, well ... best wait till 7.30. But alarmingly, even this sure fire measure may not be so, er, sure fire - another two storage dams may dry up before the rainy season in November.

"Water rationing may be extended to 92-hour periods. The situation is very serious," Mpofu added, before producing a plunger, hissing through her teeth and declaring, "this ain't gonna be cheap, guv." Well, probably.

All of which rather brings home the importance of waste-water recycling, especially as climate change produces more frequent droughts. Now if you'll excuse us, we're off to pee in the window box.


The Sceptic Tank blog provides a unique take on all the latest weird, wonderful, and downright infuriating green stories from around the world

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