We couldn’t finish this year’s awards without saying how delighted we are that our readers backed three inspirational, dedicated and visionary leaders, all of them women. Decided solely by our readers. In the end we had the founder and CEO of an award-winning renewable energy company, the CEO of an organisation campaigning for greater responsibility in investment and our ultimate winner was a campaigning Member of Parliament. Anyone who was nominated was awesome. We’re delighted we trusted the wisdom of the Blue & Green crowd. Here’s a reminder of why these three rose to the top.
Juliet Davenport OBE – Founder & CEO of Good Energy
Citation: For leading a company that makes it simple for people to switch to clean energy while providing clear leadership and commentary on developments in the renewable industry. The company she leads consistently comes top for customer service.
Juliet graduated from Merton College, Oxford in 1989, where she studied Atmospheric Physics and developed her interest in climate change.
She found it difficult to find a pure science career path related to climate change so took a Masters degree in Economics and Environmental Economics at Birkbeck, University of London, completed in 1994. Here she was able to gain business knowledge and an ability to put ideas into commercial practice.
Before entering the private sector, Juliet worked at the European Commission on European energy policy and later at the European parliament on carbon taxation. Buoyed by her experiences in Europe she came back to the UK and went to the Energy Committee to hear a debate on new energy technologies. What a disappointment. The UK was so far behind politically with no industry to speak of that was looking at a future for low carbon technology.
But while there wasn’t an industry in the UK, there were organisations here doing work abroad. In 1999 Juliet began working with environmental consultancy Energy for Sustainable Development (ESD, now Camco) as a consultant running technology models and analysing policies on renewable energy from countries around Europe. Her aim was to try and discover why they were further along the path to a low carbon economy than the UK.
The key seemed to be the politics, and little was changing. It was time to make a change of tack and see if going direct to the consumer and voter would make a difference…and so Good Energy was born.
Catherine Howarth – CEO of ShareAction
Citation: For the patient and painstaking, and often thankless, work on raising awareness and driving action for responsible ownership amongst institutional investors – the pension funds who are responsible for the vast majority of investment in the UK.
Catherine joined ShareAction in July 2008, having previously been the founder and lead organiser of West London Citizens. Earlier in her career she was Senior Researcher at the New Policy Institute. Catherine is a board member of Green Alliance and of the Scott Trust, owner of The Guardian, seving on the Scott Trust’s investment committee. She was a Member Nominated Trustee of The Pensions Trust (the multi-employer pension scheme for the UK’s not-for-profit sector) for five years until Spring 2013. She served for four years on The Pensions Trust’s Investment Committee.
Catherine holds a First Class BA in Modern History from Oxford University and an MSc in Industrial Relations from the London School of Economics. In June 2011 Catherine was named a ‘Rising Star of Corporate Governance’ by Yale University’s, Millstein Center. In 2013, Pensions Insight featured her as one of the 50 most influential people in pensions and in May 2011 Investment and Pensions Europe called her one of the ‘top ten women in pensions’. Catherine was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2014.
Our winner: Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party of England & Wales
Citation: For campaigning on fracking, environmentalism, and being an exceptional constituency MP. She may be a party of one in Parliament, but has a more positive impact than much larger parties when it comes to sustainability.
Caroline Lucas is a British politician and member of the Green Party of England and Wales who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Brighton Pavilion since 2010 general election, when she became the UK’s first Green MP. She was re-elected in 2015 with an increased majority.
Born in Malvern in Worcestershire, Lucas graduated from the University of Exeter and the University of Kansas before earning a PhD from the University of Exeter in 1989. She joined the Green Party in 1986 and held various party roles, also serving on Oxfordshire County Council from 1993 to 1997. She was elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for South East England in 1999 and re-elected in 2004 and 2009, also serving as the Party’s Female Principal Speaker from 2003 to 2006 and from 2007 to 2008.
Lucas was elected the first Leader of the Green Party in 2008 and was elected to represent the constituency of Brighton Pavilion in the 2010 general election. She stood down as Leader of the Green Party in 2012 to devote more time to her parliamentary duties and focus on an ultimately successful campaign to be re-elected.
She is known as a campaigner and writer on green economics, localisation, alternatives to globalisation, trade justice, animal welfare and food. In her time as a politician and activist, she has worked with NGOs and think-tanks, including the RSPCA, CND and Oxfam.
And finally, nominations for this year’s full Marbles will open on 1st February 2016.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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