Ex-diplomat John Ashton CBE will share his recent experiences from the front line of the intensifying struggle over fracking in England at a Scottish Parliamentary reception tonight. The UK’s former climate envoy, who is visiting Edinburgh as a guest of Friends of the Earth Scotland, will talk to cross-party MSPs just days ahead of the SNP debate on the future of fracking at their Party conference.
John Ashton CBE is an independent activist and speaker, and has been a significant voice in the campaign against fracking in Lancashire and other parts of England. He is a member of the Advisory Board of Post-Crash Economics, and a Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics, and at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His is Director for Strategic Partnerships at LEAD International, and is the founder and CEO of Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G). From 2006-12 he was the UK’s chief diplomatic envoy on climate change, in his capacity as Special Representative for Climate Change for three successive UK Foreign Secretaries.
In his address Mr Ashton will set out why, since leaving Government in 2012, he has become a vocal critic of the effort to commercialise fracking in England. He will explain why he has come to see successful resistance to unconventional hydrocarbon extraction as crucial for the UK’s response to climate change, for the rebuilding of trust and participation in its democracy, for the effort to build a prosperous, modern economy; and for the wellbeing of local communities.
In addressing these questions he will draw from his work with concerned communities in England, including the recent planning showdown in Lancashire; his high level activities as a climate diplomat; and his knowledge over decades of the government and political processes at Westminster, Brussels and elsewhere.
He will be joined on videolink by Dr Lynn R. Goldman of George Washington University, an epidemiologist and former US Environmental Protection Agency regulator who was closely involved in the public health study which led New York State to ban fracking outright in December 2014. As Dean of Milken Institute SPH, Dr. Goldman’s responsibilities are informed by her broad and deep public policy and academic experience. She joined the school in August 2010 from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she had been Professor of Environmental Health Sciences since July 2000.
Mr Ashton will also be covering these themes in a public lecture in Edinburgh on Thursday 8th October. Beforehand, he will meet representatives from the Broad Alliance, a network of community groups resisting unconventional gas developments across Scotland. He will also visit Grangemouth, the petrochemical plant owned by Ineos, that is planning to exploit shale gas through fracking in Scotland’s central belt.
Mr Ashton’s visit comes as pressure on the Scottish Government to ban all forms of unconventional fossil fuel extraction is mounting.
John Ashton said: “I am delighted to have this opportunity to learn at first hand about the debate in Scotland on fracking, underground coal gasification and coal-bed methane. The attempt to commercialise these processes raises fundamental questions about our response to climate change, and about the kind of society we want to build. Scottish people will answer these questions for Scotland. But we will all make better choices if we listen carefully to the voice of affected communities, and if we learn from each other’s experiences across the UK.”
Dr Lynn Goldman said: “Scotland joins the United States and other countries that are carefully considering the complex public health, regulatory and policy issues surrounding fracking. I am pleased to be able to share my experience in evaluating some of the scientific evidence related to fracking, climate change and public health.”
Dr Richard Dixon, Director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “There is worldwide concern about the local and global impacts of unconventional fossil fuels. We are delighted to be able to present experience from outside Scotland to help take forward the debate here. We’re convinced that the evidence of health risks and environment impact will eventually lead to a total ban unconventional fossil fuels in Scotland.”
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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