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The annoying perils of climate change scepticism

Alex Blackburne writes about how we must ensure recent instances of wind power opposition and climate change scepticism are anomalies and not trends. It’s not all that easy, though.  

Part of being a scientist means to be sceptical about everything. Children would be learning in science class about how an omnipotent, omniscient deity planted a fully formed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to set the human race on its way if it wasn’t for scientific questioning.

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Alex Blackburne writes about how we must ensure recent instances of wind power opposition and climate change scepticism are anomalies and not trends. It’s not all that easy, though.

Part of being a scientist means to be sceptical about everything. Children would be learning in science class about how an omnipotent, omniscient deity planted a fully formed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to set the human race on its way if it wasn’t for scientific questioning.

Evolution and the Big Bang would certainly not be on the curriculum.

The same goes for climate change. We know global temperatures are rising, causing the polar ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise. This is known because of scientific scepticism. And it’s predicted that the future will bring water wars, devastated major cities, widespread illness and an increase in natural disasters.

And the evidence for all of this leads to us humans, because climate change is caused by human activity: Fact.

Or is it? One UK-based think-tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, chaired by Lord Lawson, irrefutably deny that global warming is human created. It seeks to question and challenge governmental climate change mitigation policies.

The think-tank receives significant scrutiny from climate scientists on a regular basis, and faces an Information Rights Tribunal later this week. This is over the rejection of a Freedom of Information request that sought to reveal the identity of its seed donor, who allegedly donated £50,000 when it launched in 2009.

“Lord Lawson’s think-tank, which has been bankrolled by shadowy funders, is lobbying government for a change in climate policy that would affect the lives of millions of people”, Brendan Montague, director of the Request Initiative told the Guardian.

“The privacy of wealth has so far been valued above public accountability, even by our own civic institutions.

“The democratic principle of transparency is breached when a former chancellor can sit in the House of Lords influencing government policy on matters as important as climate change while accepting funding for his think-tank from secret supporters.”

Another climate sceptic think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre faces an uncertain future after the government in its native Denmark cut its funding.

Bjorn Lomborg, the self-styled ‘sceptical environmentalist’ is the think-tank’s founder. He has been widely criticised by climate scientists for his outlandish views on global prioritisation, in which he continually places climate change at the bottom of the world’s agenda. He explains his theory in this video on TED.

Whilst the overall issue of climate change is a hot topic for sceptics to discuss, the technologies needed to mitigate it have also come under scrutiny of late.

A paper by the Policy Exchange called The Full Cost to Households of Renewable Energy Policies labelled offshore wind power – one of the most readily available forms of renewable energy for the UK – as “hugely expensive”.

The think-tank, though, simply claims that the Government’s targets are too high for the current market’s need.

“We aren’t arguing never ever to build offshore wind”, a spokesperson said. “We aren’t even arguing that we should be building zero offshore wind now.

“What we are arguing is that the amount of offshore wind we should be building is enough to sustain those research development and demonstration learning improvements.

“This is not the same as the huge amount above that envisaged by current government deployment targets for offshore wind and the strategy for meeting the renewable energy target.”

Adam Bell, communications manager at RenewableUK, the trade and professional body for the UK wind and marine renewables industries, brushed off Policy Exchange’s report.

“Energy policy is an area vital to Britain’s economy”, he said.

“While we welcome debate, Policy Exchange’s note relies on a range of unwarranted assumptions, as the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has demonstrated.

“As such, we do not believe it moves the debate forward.”

In addition, Nick Molho, head of energy policy at WWF-UK said, “Policy Exchange has used some pretty dubious maths and has ignored significant research by authoritative sources.

“Detailed modelling by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), Ofgem and DECC shows the impacts on energy bills will be far lower in 2020 and confirms that bills are sky-high right now because of our over-reliance on fossil fuels – specifically, gas.

“Reports like this mislead the public and erode investor confidence in the sector at precisely the time when we need to attract investment.

“If we want to revitalise the UK’s economy we need to concentrate on building a new industry based on renewable energy and encourage investment through stable policies, not repeated chopping and changing.”

The Policy Exchange’s paper comes just as Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative MP, has set up an All Party Parliamentary Group to halt the expansion of the wind power sector.

Writing on his blog, Heaton-Harris said, “My main aim was to try and get the Government to stop for a few weeks and fundamentally review its massive support (through subsidy) for a renewable technology that I believe does more harm than good.

“Whilst we are unable to store the energy turbines produce, by pressing on with this policy, we are disrupting the grid and doing precious little to stop emitting carbon.”

Heaton-Harris went on to state his belief that nuclear power was in fact the way forward, and emphasised that he was by no means against renewables. He simply objected to the way DECC had gone about aiming to meet its renewable targets.

“DECC officials seem to only have eyes for wind energy”, he said.

“Fair enough, it was the only game in town for a number of years and it has a massive and powerful lobby behind it (unlike all the newer and better renewable technologies); but policy in this area needs to be constantly evaluated, so that the taxpayers’ subsidy gets the most value.”

The DECC’s apparent over-prioritisation of wind energy, though, is entirely necessary.

The UK’s incredible natural geography makes it the perfect place to harness power from the wind, not forgetting the vast seas surrounding it – the “Saudi Arabia of wind energy” as it’s been dubbed.

Sadly, climate change will always have deniers and sceptics. And equally, there will always be a better way of doing things in some people’s eyes.

Democracy inevitably brings this kind of opposition. Not everyone can be pleased.

The most important point in all of this is that climate change is most certainly happening, and we have to do something about it. The clean-up work begins with individuals and communities.

Investment in clean technology – like wind power – is imperative if we are to do this.

Ask your financial adviser, or fill in our online form if you don’t have one, and your money can start making a real difference.

To read more about climate change scepticism, visit Skeptical Science – a brilliant blog set up by John Cook to tackle the doubters.

Energy

7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption

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Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.

Mottainai

Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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