With Sustainable September drawing closer, we thought we’d open a window into the world of Blue & Green Tomorrow.
First up, founder and publisher Simon Leadbetter tells us about his background, his interest in sustainability and what the future might hold.
Tell us briefly about your background and your current role.
I spent 15 years in media and financial services before launching Blue & Green Tomorrow, and have worked full-time on B> since last year. The media is unsurpassed in telling compelling stories and good journalism is vital to create an informed population. Financial services has all the money and power to shape our future.
By merging those two fields – money and media – around my interest in sustainability, Blue & Green Tomorrow was born – and no, the name doesn’t imply we are the green wing of the Conservative party. I see our core role as simplifying sustainability into practical actions everyone can take and amplifying that message to as many as possible.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
It actually came quite late in life, when I was working as chief marketing officer for Doug Richard, one of the dragons in the first two series of Dragons’ Den. His company at the time profiled fast-growth, disruptive start-ups that had raised or were raising venture funding. Some of those companies we profiled are household names now. Most of them were tech start-ups and I was blown away by the cleantech sector.
This was 2006/07 and the Stern review had just been published. It was the the cold realisation that we faced existential threats, but there were brilliant individuals, organisations and investors addressing those problems. Having children and seeing the world we were creating for them gave me the final shove towards a career in sustainability.
What’s your favourite sustainability story at the moment?
I think it’s the work of Bill McKibben and 350.org‘s divestment movement for university endowment funds. It’s perverse and intellectually bankrupt that universities, whose principal role is creating a better future for their students, are investing in and profiting from companies that are making those futures materially worse.
What one idea do you think could change the world for the better?
There isn’t really one idea, as there are so many complex interrelationships, but ultimately it has to be about people and their power to create a better future – after all it’s in their enlightened self interest.
So if there was one idea whose time has come, it is democracy. If sustainability is about balancing profit, people and planet, then the people and planet have been sorely under-represented in our developed world democracies. Profitable vested interests have captured our democracies, but haven’t been able to displace the ‘one person, one vote’ principle that threatens their grip on the levers of power.
Essentially we have a bunch of short-term lunatics who have grabbed the global steering wheel and are determinedly driving the economy, society and environment off a cliff, while cackling all the way to the private bank.
We are not casual observers or even innocent passengers. We need that steering wheel back in the hands of sane, calmer hands. So vote and don’t let those vested interests tell you it won’t make a difference; they’re just terrified that you will find out that it actually can.
What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment?
It’s not going away and momentum is slowly building. A generation of investors, consumers and voters are finally coming of age, who have grown up environmentally-aware and digitally-connected. It’s increasingly hard for irresponsible corporations and unethical politicians to hide their recklessness and greed. To bastardise a William Gibson quote, catastrophic climate change is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
There’s only so long that politicians, the media, business leaders and individuals can ignore what is happening to our world today, which will ultimately harm all of our children and grandchildren tomorrow.
My fear, my one note of pessimism, is that the momentum behind change is building too slowly and is already too late for mitigation. Sit in the City of London or Westminster for 30 minutes and you’ll realise many of the wealthiest and most powerful simply aren’t listening or acting.
That said, I’m an optimist at heart and we will eventually fix the problems we have created, but it will be far more costly and there will be more tragically unnecessary deaths, suffering and hardship due to our inaction and apathy over the last 40 years.
Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow.
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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