Archives for May 2009

Thermonuclear armageddon and climate change: a fair likeness?

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Richard Cable | 20:40 UK time, Thursday, 28 May 2009


A gathering of 20 Nobel Prize winners, calling itself the St James's Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium, has released a memorandum stating that 'Global climate change represents a threat of similar proportions' to that of thermonuclear armageddon at the height of the Cold War.

nuclear_fireball226x226.jpgThe memorandum, agreed by laureates in fields as diverse as physics, economics, peace and literature, identified three 'key requirements' for the world to avoid global warming of more than 2°C and associated 'unmanageable climate risks'.

The first of these is for the United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in Copenhagen this December to agree an 'effective and just global agreement on climate change'. The second is for a 'low carbon energy infrastructure', which basically means switching energy production to much less emission-heavy systems. The third is for the protection of tropical forests.

So far, so unremarkable. These are the widely acknowledged political aims of climate-sensitive environmentalists the world over. That is until the bit about thermonuclear armageddon. It's fair to say that the facts relating to the outcome of tossing multi-megaton-yield nuclear warheads around the planet are a little more cut and dried than those relating to climate change.

The qualitative difference between the two threats is perhaps nowhere better expressed, however inadvertently, than by the convener of the symposium himself, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Where once we had 'the Cold War notion of mutually-assured destruction,' he told the Times, 'Today we have mutually-assured increases in greenhouse gases.'

OK. But while debates around climate change are still qualified by the words 'might', 'could' and 'predicted', it's probably fair to say that the average person in the street may view the comparison of carbon emissions with things that can vapourise a major city in seconds as unhelpfully alarmist and perhaps just a little bit silly.

Carbon-neutral adventurers find reason to love oil tanker

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Richard Cable | 15:46 UK time, Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Like the dénouement of an Ealing Comedy set on the high seas, eco-adventurers Raoul Surcouf and Richard Spink, and their skipper Ben Stoddart were finally rescued from their storm-battered yacht last Friday by - of all things - a massive tanker carrying 680,000 barrels of crude oil.

oiltanker226x226.jpgThe group had been attempting to reach Greenland in 'Fleur', a 40-foot vessel powered by sails, solar panels and a wind turbine. Once there, Spink and Stoddart, one a gardener and the other a physiotherapist, planned to don skis and complete the first recorded carbon-neutral crossing of the Arctic land mass. Only it wasn't to be.

Spink told the Guardian: 'We experienced some of the harshest conditions known, with winds gusting hurricane force 12 ... The decision was made that the risk to our personal safety was too great to continue.'

That's when the Overseas Yellowstone sailed to the rescue, coordinated via Falmouth and Irish coastguards. By the reckoning of the Western Daily Press, a supertanker emits about 565kg of CO2 a kilometre. This equates to roughly 2,650 tonnes of carbon dioxide before it docks in Maine, plus roughly another 450kg per adventurer for the 747 flight home.

It's a sad ending for a trip that was intending to raise money for charity, carry out research and educate the schoolkids who were tracking the journey from the UK. Maybe the road to hell truly is paved with good intentions.

Image is of an oil tanker but sadly not the Overseas Yellowstone itself.

Related blogs: The Catlin Arctic Survey: daring, yes, but is the science any good?

Exclusive: Ed Miliband talks to Bloom (and the director of 'Age of Stupid')

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Shanta Barley | 15:36 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Must try harder. That was 'Age of Stupid' director Frannie Armstrong's message for Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary, when they met at the Hay Festival this weekend.

In an exclusive interview for the Bloom blog, Armstrong and Miliband concluded that they were in furious agreement that politicians meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December need to aim higher if they hope to arrive at a meaningful intervention to prevent 'dangerous' global warming.

'At the moment the best deal on the table is the UK's position', says Armstrong, 'but even if that got accepted ... that would give us only about a fifty-fifty chance of averting dangerous climate change, and preventing the deaths of hundreds of millions of people'.

And there's even a moment worthy of The Office about 1 min 30 secs in. Enjoy.

Giant trees decline in Yosemite: climate change may, or equally may not be to blame

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Richard Cable | 11:58 UK time, Tuesday, 26 May 2009


A new study has concluded that very large, old trees in California's Yosemite National Park are declining in numbers in all types of forest by an average of 24%. This is alarming news if you consider that this is one of the most environmentally protected areas in the world, let alone the US.

Climate change is clearly in the frame: '.. it is quite a surprise that recent conditions are such that these long-term survivors have been affected ... we certainly think that climate is an important driver,' said one of the study's authors, James Lutz of the University of Washington: 'The decline in large-diameter trees could accelerate as climate in California becomes warmer by mid-century.'

yosemite226x226.jpgThat's one possible conclusion, yes, but scientifically-speaking there's nothing in the research that would lead you to stress climate over other possible causes. (Note: this link takes you to a .pdf presentation of the findings, rather than the scientific paper itself.)

Lutz, his Washington colleague Jerry Franklin and Jan van Wagtendonk of the Yosemite Field Station of the US Geological Survey drew their conclusions from a comparison of two Yosemite tree surveys; one conducted from 1932 - 1936 and the other from 1988 to 1999.

The two surveys used different methodologies. The Wieslander survey of the 1930s was seven years shorter than the 'modern' survey, but looked at nearly 10,000 more trees. The Weislander also took in many more locations across a much wider distribution, covering very large areas where the modern surveyors feared to tread. Arguably, we're not really comparing like with like.

So what other factors should we be looking at? Higher climatic temperatures can decrease the amount of water available to very large trees, but an over-abundance of smaller trees, shrubs and undergrowth does this much more effectively.

The modern practice of suppressing wildfires prevents the 'clearing out' that would naturally occur in dense forest and stops larger trees, which generally survive these infernos, from gaining a competitive advantage. The Lutz et al presentation says as much in its 'take home points'.

That isn't to say that climate isn't a factor, but we should at least look at some dead trees and conduct a study into a) whether or not there is water scarcity at Yosemite; and b) what's causing it before jumping to any conclusions.

Related blogs: Major rivers aren't drying up (or how alarmism doesn't help)

Green campaigns can hurt the planet, says Giddens

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Shanta Barley | 14:11 UK time, Monday, 25 May 2009


Has the green movement had its day? Lord Anthony Giddens, sociologist and author of 'The Politics of Climate Change', believes that the hostility that some greens show towards big business, mainstream politics, nuclear power and new-fangled technologies is an obstacle in the fight against climate change. If we are to cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and significantly, he explains, we need to 'enlist' big business leaders rather than alienate them.

Screaming into the future: The 'upbeat but scary' vision of Anthony Giddens

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Shanta Barley | 10:46 UK time, Sunday, 24 May 2009


Speaking at the Hay Festival in Wales, Lord Anthony Giddens, author of 'The Politics of Climate Change' and revered sociologist, laid out his upbeat but scary vision of the future under climate change.

Considering that Lord Giddens' book advises that 'fear is not necessarily the best motivator to get people to respond to climate change', it came as a surprise to see the lithe 71-year-old brandishing Edvard Munch's 'The Scream', a painting of a terror-stricken figure wailing against a blood red Oslofjord skyline (which is actually 'a scream echoing through the Earth', Giddens explained).

Giddens226x226.jpgA scream that the public can't hear, he went on to say. 'Because climate change isn't a tangible danger, the public is effectively sitting on its hands and doing nothing to tackle it. Yet if we wait until climate change is visible, it will be, by definition, too late'. (Adding, with an embarrassed smile, that he dubs this dilemma, the 'Giddens Paradox'.)

With the public oblivious to climate change, Giddens warns, state intervention is vital - but only in conjunction with grass roots initiatives. Indeed, he is convinced that 'the most powerful change will bubble up' (bubble is a word he likes to use) from the bottom of society.

What's for sure, he doesn't think that green campaigners will save the day. 'The greens', he said, 'have a history of being anti-political, which is at odds with today's urgent need to embed environmental awareness into our mainstream politics.' (Giddens himself refuses to use the word, 'green' in conversation unless pushed. He says he views the word as more of an albatross than a help these days.)

The answer may lie in women, however. With ever more humans on Earth, he says, emissions are spiraling out of control - and empowering women to shrink the size of their families and use contraception could be just the ticket. (Word play on the phrase 'contraction and convergence' will not only be tolerated but also commended.)

He supports nuclear power, unequivocably. Without it, 'Britain won't come anywhere near meeting its renewable energy targets in 2020. It's quite simply the only low-emissions, proven technology that's already in place.'

And the prevailing mood of the crowd attending Lord Giddens' Q&A? Here's a flavour: a question that started with, 'Wouldn't you say that carbon trading is at best a con and at worst a profit-generating...' was drowned out in uproarious applause. And it's also my duty to report that the Guardian is operating from the festival in a honest-to-goodness yurt.

Who's the daddy in the war of the hybrids? Get a diesel, says Clarkson

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Richard Cable | 12:30 UK time, Friday, 22 May 2009


Honda's new 'Insight' has been launched as a serious contender to the crown of Toyota's 'Prius', the undisputed heavyweight champion of hybrid cars, but safe to say that neither model has found a fan in arch car critic Jeremy Clarkson.

jeremy_clarkson226x226.jpgHybrids - cars that have both a petrol and an electric motor and switch between the two for maximum efficiency - are already big business. Sales of the Prius exceed one-and-a-quarter million globally, and Toyota has just launched the third generation of the model to much fanfare and bragging about record advance sales.

'We are resting the future of cars in this model,' says Toyota's president Akio Toyoda. Honda have taken the bait and launched the less expensive Insight - about £3,000 less expensive - in a bid to seize a chunk of the market.

Clarkson, however, has coloured himself unimpressed. He describes the Insight as 'Biblically terrible ... It's the first car I've ever considered crashing into a tree, on purpose, so I didn't have to drive it any more.'

Among the many defects to offend his eye (and ear) is the engine noise: 'It's worse than the sound of your parachute failing to open. Really, to get an idea of how awful it is, you'd have to sit a dog on a ham slicer.' (Please don't try this at home.)

Not that the Prius fared any better when Clarkson gave it the Top Gear (correction: not Top Gear, but a Clarkson DVD) treatment. 'Godawful ... this is one of my least favourite cars in the world because as far as I can see it appeals on no levels at all,' he said, before driving it into the desert and having a redneck called Billy Bob destroy it with a Browning .50 calibre heavy machine gun.

He then pours scorn on the Prius's claims to efficiency and suggests that buying a diesel VW Golf will give you better overall fuel economy.

But that's not to say that everyone on Top Gear is implacably opposed to a greener form of motoring. We've already blogged on James May's infatuation with the hydrogen powered Honda FCX Clarity, so maybe they are really resting their vision of the 'future of motoring' somewhere else entirely.

Name a coral reef in the Maldives at the Hay Festival

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Shanta Barley | 11:01 UK time, Friday, 22 May 2009


Like Pala, Aldous Huxley's doomed island which used science to better mankind rather than destroy it, the Maldives, which many scientists predict will be engulfed in sea within the next century, are armed with a number of upbeat, techno-savvy solutions to climate change.

fish_reef226x226.jpgThey've not only engineered a new, erosion-proof island and countless sea walls, but they're also manufacturing 'heat-tolerant' coral reefs that will withstand climate change. How? By grafting coral onto low-voltage electrical shells, which accelerate the growth of the reefs.

And now the Hay Festival is offering British children the chance to name one of the reefs the Maldives has cultivated. At the end of the competition, President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed will choose the best name. (Plankton Zoo, Mr Nasheed, was my suggestion first, by the way.)

Good, clean fun and all that, but one must ask whether the Maldives' innovative foray into 'underwater gardening' will actually make a difference to their plight. Initial responses don't bode well. 'Of limited value' was one marine biologist's comment in the New Scientist; even Robert Tomasetti, chief underwater gardener, admits, 'at the moment we're really just growing pretty reefs for the tourists'.

And anyway, recent research suggests that the outlook for the Maldives may not be all doom and gloom after all: the islands will probably simply change shape as the seas warm and levels rise rather than disappearing for good, says Paul Kench of the University of Auckland.

Cyclones not getting worse but could be heading to Britain, says study

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Shanta Barley | 16:09 UK time, Thursday, 21 May 2009


The suggestion by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that climate change might give birth to a new and fiercer breed of cyclones has been labelled 'a bit imprecise', according to new research.

polar_low226x226.jpgThe study ('Will Extratropical Storms Intensify in a Warmer Climate?') published in the latest edition of the Journal of Climate, has found that there's probably no need to panic about future megastorms.

If you compare cyclones at the end of last century with those modelled for the present century, 'maximum wind speed is practically identical and occurs at the same time and place relative to the storm centre,' say authors Lennart Bengtsson, Kevin I Hodges and Noel Keenlyside.

But if you define 'intensity' in terms of how much rain the cyclones will dump, then we might have a problem. The cyclones we'll see in the future are likely to be wetter (by 11% if you're a stickler for detail) and that's apparently worth worrying about: '... increases in extreme precipitation ... will constitute a more severe problem for society than the possible risk of higher wind speeds'.

Even more unnervingly, the report suggests that Britain could become the next cyclone stomping ground. As the world warms, the cyclones which currently prefer to buffet the coasts of Greenland and Iceland with 'exceptionally strong winds' could well take to commuting through the British Isles instead.

However, the authors admit that their predictions are based on a single computer model. It might all be a storm in a teacup, so no need to batten down the hatches just yet.

9/11 research challenged: contrails aren't turning up the heat

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Richard Cable | 12:26 UK time, Thursday, 21 May 2009


Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has been widely believed that the pretty white lines in the sky created by aircraft at altitude - otherwise known as 'contrails' - are a significant contributor to global warming.

vapourtrail226x226.jpgThe theory goes that contrails can become cirrus clouds that trap 'outbound' longwave radiation (heat) from the Earth's surface and atmosphere. They do this better than they reflect 'inbound' solar radiation (sunlight) back into space, so their net effect is warming.

In order to prove this, you might use the 'diurnal temperature range' (DTR), which is the difference between peak daytime temperatures and minimum night-time temperatures. You would compare DTR when aircraft are flying, with DTR when they are not flying. If the range increased, that is, night-time got colder and daytime warmer, it would demonstrate that contrails were indeed trapping outbound heat and reflecting inbound sunshine.

The problem here is that air traffic never actually stops. But for three days after 9/11, that's exactly what happened when all commercial flights were grounded. A team led by David J Travis of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater took the necessary measurements, crunched the data and published the findings in the journal Nature.

The result? DTR did indeed widen by a full 1°C during those three days, in distinct contrast to the three days before the grounding and the three days after flights resumed.

But now a US study by Dr Gang Hong of Texas A&M University has found that DTR variations of 1°C during September aren't all that unusual and that the change in 2001 was probably attributable to low cloud cover. Elsewhere, a team at Leeds University, working with the Met Office Hadley Centre, ran contrails through its climate models and found that you'd need about 200 times the quantity of flights over America to produce a significant effect on DTR.

So while climate warming contrails join endangered polar bears on the list of flawed factoids, it begs the question of why the idea gained so much traction. The three-day grounding was an unprecedented scientific opportunity, yes, but the sample size was arguably far too tiny to have ever produced anything but indicative findings and certainly nothing approaching definitive proof.

Wasting away: 'hyperconsumption' is contagious, apparently

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Shanta Barley | 15:12 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009


The 'outrageous and profoundly unethical' profligacy demonstrated by our MPs is but a symptom of a far more serious (and environmentally-devastating) disease Britain has caught: 'hyperconsumption'. So says Madeleine Bunting over at the Guardian.

Hyperconsumption, for all you Jane Eyre addicts out there, is not a rogue strain of tuberculosis affecting those Brits foolish enough to leave their windows open as climate change tightens its sweaty grip.

helenburns226x226.jpgNo, it's a profligacy bug, says Bunting - a rabid, natural resource-devouring, carbon-spewing lust for economic growth, and we're all infected, whether it's taxpayer's money, energy, carbon, weekend breaks abroad or sautéing your Kenyan green beans rather than eating them raw:

'The MPs and bankers are only the most egregious examples of a pattern of behaviour evident everywhere: what makes the SUV driver entitled to guzzle petrol? Or the frequent flyer? Or the householder whose fridge is stuffed with food miles? Or anyone whose lifestyle involves spewing out inordinate amounts of carbon?'

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. It is not only 'perfectly possible to imagine a way of life with less material wealth that could actually be far more sustaining of human well­being' but also critical if we are 'to have any hope of making the kinds of cuts in carbon emissions to which the UK is committed', according to Professor Tim Jackson, author of the UK Sustainable Development Commission's new report 'Prosperity Without Growth'.

Many would agree with Mrs Bunting. But others, like AA Gill, would say that this is yet another example of the green movement hijacking an innocent news story and using it to further its agenda:

'How fast, after the discovery of swine flu, [green campaigners] got into print to blame factory farming and the horrid abuse of animals', he says.

'They were still burying children in Mexico when someone in a converted barn in Wales was thinking, "Great, this is a really timely scare to help out the English organic pork market." There was the hanging fact that species-shifting influenzas must be a shamanistic curse for our abusive nature. Some greens actually believe that sort of nonsense. Others just think it's useful guilt-mongering.'

Image: That's Helen Burns from Jane Eyre, who died of consumption (rather than hyperconsumption).

US car industry right to sweat over Obama's new rules

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Richard Cable | 12:48 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009


US President Barack Obama has just announced America's first efficiency targets for new cars, and it looks like he might have played a blinder.

Under his proposals, new vehicles will have to demonstrate a 5% increase in efficiency per year between now and 2016. This means that within seven years new passenger cars in the United States will average 42 miles per gallon, compared to about 45mpg at the same stage for European cars.

chevy226x226.jpgTiming is everything. The US car industry has traditionally held plenty of sway in Washington, making this move unthinkable just a year ago, but it's much more compliant following its multi-billion dollar government bailout.

At the same time, the plan neatly defuses potentially bloody court battles between the federal government and individual states that wanted to challenge the Clean Air Act and set their own, more stringent, emissions targets.

And it's been cunningly spun as well. With the environment sliding down the agenda for US voters (the proportion of Americans viewing it as top priority has fallen from 56% to 41% since 2008), this has been played instead as a measure to reduce American reliance on dodgy foreign fuel imports (by 1.8 billion barrels to 2016) and put more money in drivers' pockets. It might make cars more expensive initially, says Obama, but the savings on gas over the lifetime of the vehicle will be bigger.

Meanwhile overseas, where debate tends to be focused on the US as a major carbon emitter, it is being described as an environmentally-friendly 'emission cap' equivalent to taking 177 million cars off American roads.

But whichever way you choose to look at it, there's no denying that all car manufacturers should be striving to make ever more efficient vehicles regardless of legislation, for the benefit of the consumer and to secure a competitive edge. Failure to do so is arguably a form of industrial complancency that deserves to be punished.

Which is why the only ones who aren't overly enamoured with Obama's proposals are US car manufacturers themselves, who have grudgingly accepted this 'regulatory certainty' but will no doubt be sweating on the fact that car manufacturers who already have more efficient models - namely the Europeans and Japanese - will be rubbing their hands with glee at the scale of the opportunity.

Sacked climate minister reveals somewhat unsurprising support for state aid

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Shanta Barley | 12:26 UK time, Wednesday, 20 May 2009


The former minister of state for the environment and climate change, Elliot Morley, has been both sacked and suspended from the Labour Party for apparently claiming £16,000 of taxpayers' money on a mortgage that no longer existed.

elliotmorley226x226.jpgAs Mr Morley closes the door on his way out, the least we can do is commemorate his accomplishments in the climate change hot seat. Speaking in January this year, he perhaps unsurprisingly declared himself in favour of state aid. He said that 'clean energy' projects like wind farms should get government backing if they couldn't get private funding because of the credit crunch.

But he went on to warn that simply putting money in people's pockets 'risked encouraging further unsustainable consumerism', according to the Guardian. How prescient.

Said Morley: 'Some [financial stimulus packages] are designed to put money into people's pockets. I'm not criticising putting money into people's pockets. It's not a bad thing in a recession.'

Although, as we've seen, it really all depends on how you do it.

US military to curb appetite for power

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Shanta Barley | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009


The United States' Defence Department, 'the nation's single largest consumer of energy', has announced plans to curb its appetite for power.

apache226x226.jpgThe US military's fighter jets, warships, and other war toys account for a whopping 0.3% of the world's daily oil consumption, and the average trooper today uses 16 times more fuel than the one-gallon-a-day GI Joe of World War Two.

So what exactly is the carbon footprint of a 'lethal personal suppression projectile'? That information is classified (d'uh). But the Pentagon is happy to chat about its more mundane plans to trim energy bills.

For example, it plans to cut the energy it uses powering the air conditioners in the tents of its Iraq-based troops by 45%, simply by spraying the tents with insulatory foam. (Scoff not - a huge amount of fuel the US military consumes in Iraq is used to keep soldiers chilled.)

What does it all mean? According to the Pentagon, the real reason behind the US military's move away from oil is energy security. With 66% of the world's dwindling oil reserves in the 'unsecure' Middle East, the United States may simply have no choice but to green up its act.

The magic CO2-eating micro-organism: too good to be true?

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Richard Cable | 12:19 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009


Following on from our post about things that absorb carbon dioxide, new research has potentially identified a micro-organism that eats carbon dioxide and could revolutionise wind and solar power.

lightning226x226.jpgThe problem with wind and solar power is load balancing: sunshine and breezes are unpredictable and unreliable sources of energy and it's the devil's own business to match them with the peaks and troughs of actual demand. Put another way, you can guarantee that at half-time in the FA Cup, the wind will drop off and the sun will go in just as everyone wants to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

What we need is an effective means of storing this power whenever it's being generated and releasing it whenever it's required, which is where Methanobacterium palustre might come in.

When stimulated with electricity under the right conditions, this 'new' micro-organism is understood to convert CO2 into methane. What this means is that as the wind and sun generate electrical energy, the Methanobacterium palustre converts it into chemical energy in the form of methane, which can then be captured and burnt to turn it back into electrical energy on demand. Plus it's carbon neutral.

But not everyone is buying the findings of Professor Bruce Logan, whose lab at Pennsylvania State University first identified Methanobacterium palustre's unique properties. It belongs to a group of micro-organisms called Archea, which some say makes it too basic to do what Logan says it does.

'It just doesn't have the cellular machinery to turn electrons directly into methane,' said Bruce Rittmann of Arizona State University, who is understood to be writing a paper challenging the discovery.

Beaming green energy down from space: crazy, or the final frontier?

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Shanta Barley | 11:17 UK time, Tuesday, 19 May 2009


A US start-up called Solaren Corp is planning on beaming the Sun's energy down to Earth from outer space using radio waves, according to the Los Angeles Times.

satellite226x226.jpgIt sounds like something out of the latest Star Trek movie, but Solaren already has a contract with California energy giant Pacific Gas & Electric and aims to start delivering by 2016. The theory goes that space-based solar panels will be bathed in constant, fierce sunshine, unaffected by the clouds, smog and storms that would normally weaken the sunlight reaching the surface by about 10 times.

In fact, covering a 1km wide band around the equator with orbiting solar panels could generate more energy in a single year than we have left in all the known oil reserves on Earth, according to the National Security Space Office report 'Space-Based Solar Power As an Opportunity for Strategic Security'.

But is it green? Very. It's 60 times less carbon-intensive than coal power and it even beats nuclear energy in terms of emissions. What's more, arable land can be used both to grow food and to generate space electricity (unlike the conventional solar plant in the Mojave desert we reported on in March) because the beam receivers let 90% of the sunlight which hits them pass straight through.

Of course, no one said launching a 3,000 megatonne batch of solar panels several kilometers in width ('expensive, flashy and unproven technology', according to critics) into a space debris-strewn orbit 42,000 km up would be easy or imminently doable.

Or popular. Presumably directing scorching beams of energy at Earth can backfire when the beams fall into the wrong hands? (As anyone who has seen Austin Powers can tell you.) Not so, says the National Security Space Office: not only will the beam's warmth be cosy 'comparable to the heating one might feel if sitting some distance from a campfire'), but 'the likelihood of the beam wandering over a city is extremely low, and even if occurring would be extremely anti-climactic.'

The internet: never mind the emissions, just look at those savings

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Richard Cable | 10:44 UK time, Monday, 18 May 2009


The recent furore over the carbon footprint of the internet, with particular focus on the impact of a Google search, has led to calls for limits.

As Subodh Bapat of Sun Microsystems told the Guardian: 'In an energy-constrained world, we cannot continue to grow the footprint of the internet ... we need to rein in the energy consumption.'

web_surf226x226.jpgAlarming statistics tell us that 'US data centres used 61bn kW [hours] of power in 2006 - enough to supply the UK for two months'. If you consider that 'scientists estimate that the energy footprint of the net is growing by more than 10% each year' and that only 1.5 billion of a potential 6.8 billion people are online, things look serious.

Apparently the internet already has a bigger footprint than the perennial benchmark of climate horror, the airline industry. The 'energy nightmare of web server farms' looks set to be the next big story.

But what we actually have here is two stories. The first is about money. Many web companies are being squeezed as the cost of power goes up and the global recession hurts profits, while at the same time usage increases. This is why you have luminaries from the likes of Google, Sun and Microsoft suggesting it might be a good idea to develop more energy efficient machines.

The second story is about climate impact. Yes, a lot of people are using the web and a lot more will in future. But the flip side of this is the carbon-intensive activity increased web usage is replacing.

For example: successful e-commerce is premised on the hyper-efficient distribution of goods, daily replacing millions of individual journeys to real-world stores with coordinated delivery networks; email communication, VOIP and video-conferencing daily replaces the need to put millions of people in the same physical space; the increasing availability of information and products in wholly digital formats replaces the need for printed materials, packing, distribution, bricks and mortar and sales staff.

So, yes, more efficient servers would be a good idea. But until someone has done the detailed research into the carbon emissions the internet is preventing, it's probably best not to turn it into green demon just yet.

Who's a sucker for carbon dioxide?

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Richard Cable | 15:42 UK time, Friday, 15 May 2009


There are two things you can do with carbon dioxide emissions: 1) reduce them; or 2) capture them and store them somewhere. Currently, most public debate seems to revolve around reducing output, but some interesting advances have been made at the capture end of the spectrum that are worth keeping an eye on.

Around 50% of carbon emissions from human activity are already absorbed by natural 'carbon sinks', like forests, oceans and soil, but the rest can hang around for as long as a hundred years.

power_station226x226.jpgThere are lots of ways of potentially 'sequestering' carbon from the atmosphere, including 'biological, chemical and physical processes', after which you have to find somewhere like an disused oil field, the ocean bed or a reservoir to store it in - a process known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS.

The technology is in its infancy and the prevailing mood is 'let's wait and see if this thing works'. This extends to the British government, which has just OK'd the building of a new generation of coal-fired power plants on the proviso that that they can make CCS happen.

Within the last 12 months, scientists at Columbia University have discovered that a rock called 'peridotite', the most common in the Earth's mantle, naturally converts CO2 into minerals like calcite. Not only that, but they believe they can 'supercharge' the process by a million times, potentially storing up to 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. (What makes it expensive is that the mantle is the layer directly below the Earth's crust, but it does occur sporadically on the surface, and mainly in Oman.)

Columbia has also given us the physicist Dr Klaus Lackner, who is working on a 'synthetic tree' that absorbs carbon dioxide but unlike a real tree doesn't expel oxygen. 'It looks like a goal post with Venetian blinds,' says Dr Lackner, helpfully.

Meanwhile over at UCLA, Omar Yaghi and team have created a 'nanoscale crystal that traps roughly 80 times its volume of carbon dioxide'. This is particularly exciting because it only has eyes for CO2 and nothing else.

And representing Britain we have Novacem, whose scientists have discovered a low carbon cement that requires half the heating of the usual stuff and actually absorbs carbon dioxide as it hardens, making it ultimately carbon negative. This is potentially a massive dose of good news for the global cement industry, which presently generates up to 5% of human carbon emissions.

Early days, but probably fair to say you can't write off the tech fix just yet.

Hitler: the green movement's German shepherd?

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Shanta Barley | 13:15 UK time, Friday, 15 May 2009


Ever wondered why it is that Germany (a country that generates more renewable energy than Britain hopes to make in ten years and is hell-bent on becoming the first country to run on 100% green energy by 2050) is so far ahead of the rest of the world in the race to be green?

According to Lord Anthony Giddens' latest book, 'The Politics of Climate Change' and a number of respected historians, Hitler may have given Germany a head-start. Not only did he pass the most stringent and comprehensive environmental protection law in the world at that time, but he also had a soft spot for vegetarianism, organic nibbles and animal welfare (up until the point when he poisoned his doting German Shepherd, Blondi, that is).

'The Nazi "ecologists" promoted conservation and organic farming, and practised vegetarianism', writes Lord Giddens on page 51 of his book. 'The Reich Nature Protection Law, passed in 1935, together with other legislation, had the aim of preventing damage to the environment in undeveloped areas, protecting forests and animals and reducing air pollution.'

If you're toying with the idea that the Nazis weren't such a rotten bunch after all (just a couple of misunderstood hippies who lost their way?) then nip that thought in the bud, says Peter Staudenmaier, co-author of the book 'Ecofascism'. They were 'not a group of innocents, confused and manipulated idealists, or reformers from within', he says, but 'conscious promoters and executors of a vile program explicitly dedicated to inhuman racist violence, massive political repression and worldwide military domination. Their "ecological" involvements, far from offsetting these fundamental commitments, deepened and radicalized them'.

Either way, the Reichstag's imminent transformation into the greenest parliament in the world, powered entirely by renewable energy, has clearly been a long time coming.

All steaks to be rare in Ghent, starting today

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Shanta Barley | 14:24 UK time, Thursday, 14 May 2009



The Guardian reports that the Belgian city of Ghent is turning vegetarian once a week to save the planet, despite the fact critics say that a diet high in fruit, veggies and dairy isn't a sure-fire solution to climate change.

In an awesome display of the power of political intervention (which some say is vital if we are to tackle climate change promptly) all menus in one of Belgium's largest cities will henceforth sport at least one veggie option on Thursdays, while some 'meateries' will become fully vegetarian for the day.

But will Ghent's strict diet of greens tackle global warming, as the Flanders' Ethical Vegetarian Association claims so unequivocally?

The hard-to-swallow truth is this: a vegetarian diet can actually have a bigger climate impact than a diet of chicken burgers and lamb chops. Greens, simply put, aren't always that green. Particularly when they are grown out-of-season in energy-hungry greenhouses or flown to market in airplanes with typically sky-high emissions.

And as for the 'organic wholegrain bread' and 'soya fritters' beatified by the Guardian article, organic farming may benefit biodiversity, but it's not necessarily less greenhouse gas-intensive. And soya fritters are no planetary panacea either: soya farming is one of the main causes of tropical deforestation, which currently produces a fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Either way, the good-natured citizens of Ghent appear to be taking the shift in dietary regime in their stride. But then, this city - which used to employ a diet of blessed donut-shaped buns called 'Saint Hubert bread' to fend off rabies - has a history of tactically deploying food.

Follow up: Treehugger: Ghent Goes Veggie on Thursdays

The Catlin Arctic Survey: daring, yes, but is the science any good?

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Richard Cable | 12:25 UK time, Thursday, 14 May 2009


The Catlin Arctic Survey, a 'gruelling 10-week expedition to measure the thickness of sea ice' has just come to a premature end after the team of Pen Hadow, Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley were plucked from the ice on Wednesday.

No one could doubt the derring-do of attempting to walk and swim sophisticated ice-measuring equipment to the North Pole at this time of year, but it will be interesting to see what the scientific value of the expedition turns out to be.

We already know that the expedition recorded an average ice thickness of 1.774m, calculated from 1,500 measurements. But crucially these measurements were taken manually by using an ice-augur to drill down to water - roughly one reading every 300m of the 432km the team travelled.

The original ambition was to take 'millions' of measurements using a radar sled called Sprite, which failed completely within the first couple of weeks. A second device called SeaCat, designed to take the temperature and salinity of the water under the ice, also gave up the ghost very early on.

This begs the question: are we learning anything from these measurements that we couldn't gain, perhaps more accurately, from satellite data? There's also the important issue of a potential 'reporting bias' due to the fact that the team's journey over the ice was dictated by what it was possible to cross, rather than by the most direct route to the North Pole.

And then there was the scathing criticism of Steve Penikett, of the Calgary-based company that rescued the survey team. He said: 'I wish it hadn't taken place at this time of the year ... No one should expect to be picked up from there later than 30 April ... Going to the Pole this time of the year is a bit stupid and you put a lot of people's lives at risk.'

If nothing else, Hadow et al's reports of hardship in minus 70°C temperatures confirm that the Arctic is still a formidable and unpredictable wilderness. And the latest data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre suggests the Catlin team really lucked in. The report states that this year the sea ice 'decline rate for the month of April was the third slowest on record'.

Between a rock and a hard place: Britain's oysters pitched to battle pollution and climate change

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Shanta Barley | 16:08 UK time, Wednesday, 13 May 2009


An oyster that was dredged up from the English Channel on Monday, affectionately known as 'Shelly', may be the biggest Britain's ever seen, says the Telegraph.

oyster.jpgBut that doesn't mean that Britain's oysters are in good shape. If anything, they could be about to take a hit from the twin threats of climate change and pollution, according to research published in the journal Aquatic Toxicology.

'Even a moderate temperature rise can lead to spawning failure' if an oyster is already battling with pollution, warns author Dr Gisela Lannig of the Alfred Wegener Institute, whose study was admittedly carried out in the much warmer waters of Virginia, US.

Why? Because both heat and pollution incapacitate the oysters' mitochondria, cellular power plants that turn oxygen into energy.

But the consequences of an oyster crash could be far more serious than a mere menu dilemma. Without oysters, coastal waters will be dirtier. A single oyster can filter about 50 litres of water a day, sifting out pollutants and impurities.

What's more, oysters keep harmful algal blooms in check and prevent the formation of fish-killing dead zones.

Britain's declining world status halted - we are now officially a 'wind power'

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Richard Cable | 11:06 UK time, Wednesday, 13 May 2009


We've already established that wind farms are a patchy source of power and many people consider them ungodly eyesores. The solution? Build them 12 miles off the coast where the wind is much better and only seagulls and cargo ships will be bothered by the aesthetics.

wind.jpgBack in 2006, the British government gave the green light to the 'London Array', the world's biggest windfarm consisting of 341 turbines spread over two sites and more than 100 square miles in the Thames estuary. It will provide power for the equivalent of 750,000 homes - a quarter of all homes in Greater London - and could start generating as early as 2012.

So why didn't they start work in 2006? Because the government isn't paying for it. The £2 billion-plus required for the London Array isn't the sort of private cash you pull together over a long lunch, especially when lots of energy companies are starting to get cold feet about renewables.

Happily, three companies - E-ON, Masdar and (no sniggering) Dong Energy - have just confirmed investment of €2.2bn in phase one, which means that onshore work starts next year, with the offshore bit commencing in 2011.

This has caused Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband so much excitement, he's started referring to Britain as a 'wind power' rather than just a generator of wind power, to whit:

'This is another green light for green energy ... The UK is already the world's leading offshore wind power and this multi-billion pound project will help keep us there, cut our carbon emissions and contribute to secure energy supplies.'

Related Bloom actions: Getting a wind turbine if you live in a windy area

Imperial jellyfish to invade UK, swimmers advised to freak out

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Shanta Barley | 15:41 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009


The four foot long Rootmouth jelly fish that washed up on the north coast of Devon this week, one of the biggest ever found in Britain, was a novelty.

But antisocial 'gangs' of jellyfish could become run-of-the-mill in these parts if climate change gets its way, according to a study published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. ('Antisocial' defined here as the tendency to sting unprotected swimmers, devastate commercial fish populations and even cripple power plants by clogging water pipes.)

The study, 'The Jellyfish Joyride', reports that warmer seas generate swarms of jellyfish because they grow much more quickly when it's hot. Jellyfish might even be one of the few organisms that will thrive if, as some scientists believe, climate change 'acidifies' the seawater.

What's more, climate change is a ticket to ride: the ocean currents that jellyfish drift upon are changing and allowing venomous species like the deadly Australian sea wasp to set up camp in new parts of the world. Colonial animals? Imperial, more like.

Just how endangered is the polar bear?

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Richard Cable | 13:20 UK time, Tuesday, 12 May 2009


US President Barack Obama has controversially opted to keep George Bush's rules on polar bear protection. In a nutshell, the Bush administration agreed to classify the bear as an endangered species, but specifically exempted protecting it from 'activities outside the bear's range, such as emission of greenhouse gases'.

If they'd gone with the letter of the Endangered Species Act, the US government could have been sued for failing to control the carbon emissions which are believed to be warming the Arctic and destroying the polar bear's natural habitat of sea ice. As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put it: 'The Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation's carbon emissions.' And he has a point.

polar_bear226x226.jpgSo far, so last week's news. The polar bear is the poster beast of climate change and as such is on the list of threatened species for nearly every country with Arctic territory. Sea ice has shown a shrinking trend and the concern is that if it disappears completely, so will the polar bear.

But actually how endangered is Ursus maritimus? The problem here is that they are fiendishly difficult to count. In a lifetime, each bear can range over tens of thousands of square kilometres of the coldest, most intensely hostile terrain on Earth. By necessity, counts are done by a number of inexact methods, including aerial survey, capture-recapture and anecdotal sightings.

Of the 19 sub-populations of polar bears known to exist, we think that five have declined, five are stable and two have increased, but tellingly seven populations have rendered insufficient data to make a call. Total numbers are pegged at around 20,000 - 25,000, which nonetheless represents a massive increase since unregulated hunting ceased in the Seventies.

As Bjorn Lomberg pointed out, if we want to protect polar bear populations, we could simply try shooting even fewer of them, at a saving of 250 or more bears a year.

Perhaps more importantly, we are forgetting that the polar bear is a tough and adaptable creature that fossil evidence shows has already survived a much warmer period than the one we're going through now. This is probably why there is little evidence to support the popular misconception that lots of polar bears are drowning.

The 'drowning' thesis was a speculative conclusion based on sightings of four carcasses 'presumably, drowned' seen floating in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea during aerial surveys in September 2004. You could just as easily speculate that they were killed by the big storm that preceded the survey, because when it comes to swimming, a predator like the polar bear knows its limits, even if we don't know ours.

Fake car noise: it's a horse's head not a shutter-click

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Richard Cable | 11:04 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009


Moves are afoot in both the US and the European Union to introduce a 'minimum level of sound' for electric cars. The problem is that they're just too quiet compared to the snarling and grumbling of the internal combustion variety.

horse226x226.jpgThe difficulties of judging the speed and direction of travel of electric vehicles makes them a potential menace to both blind and inattentive people (not that the two groups should be confused). A recent study carried out by Dr Lawrence Rosenblum at the University of California Riverside found that you could be up to 65% closer to a hybrid before working out in which direction it was travelling.

So what should electric cars sound like? Dr Rosenblum is firm: 'People want cars to sound like cars', by which we assume he means they should go 'vroom'. But manufacturers are looking at everything from amplifying the natural nasal whine of the electric car to throbbing V8 soundalikes to engine noise you can download like a ringtone.

Such 'aids to transition' from one dominant technology to another either die out pretty rapidly - think fake horses' heads mounted on early cars - or become universally and instantaneously accepted, like the nifty mechanical shutter-click inherited by the digital camera.

The problem with the ersatz car 'vroom' idea, is that it seems destined to be a horse's head rather than a shutter-click. The shutter-click is sumptuous, evocative, functional and crucially brief. Like elevator music, ersatz car 'vroom' will be just another form of irritating, ever-present noise pollution, made all the more infuriating by the knowledge that someone has put it there deliberately and could just as easily switch it off.

The wallaby: Nature's lawnmower, coming to a garden near you

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Shanta Barley | 10:40 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009


Forget the bamboo dog frisbees and the solar-powered kennels. Greening your dog is all about replacing it with a wallaby, according to the Times.

A dog generates four tonnes of carbon dioxide (calculated using Do The Green Thing's estimate that every pound spent in Britain emits at least 0.4 kg of CO2) and 1.5 tonnes of excrement over its lifespan, so it's fairly easy to see what John Sparrow was getting at when he derided man's best friend as an 'unsavoury engine of pollution'.

Enter the wallaby, Britain's new pet of choice, according to Valerie Elliot, Countryside Editor for the Times. This lawnmower on legs' predilection for locally-grown grass means that you'll never need to power up your grass trimmer again (a machine that emits a kilo of carbon dioxide per hour, according to the BBC).

Of course, one can't help but feel relieved that the jump in wallaby sales as pets comes late in man's history. 'Raining cats and wallabies' and 'hair of the wallaby' don't have quite the same ring to them, and 'a wallaby ate my homework' is unlikely to attract much sympathy from sceptical teachers.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust: theory that Atlantic Ocean is warming due to climate change laid to rest

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Shanta Barley | 16:37 UK time, Friday, 8 May 2009


The North Atlantic is hotting up fast but it's not because of climate change, say scientists in the most recent edition of the journal Science. No, it's because there's less dust around to keep the water cool.

Over the past 30 years, the North Atlantic has been warming up at a rate of a quarter of a degree Celsius per decade. (That's pretty fast for a tropical ocean basin, apparently.)

Like the left-handed man in a Sherlock Holmes novel who limps, smokes Indian cigars and carries a blunt pen-knife in his pocket, suspicion immediately fell upon climate change. But the real culprit, it now emerges, is a drop in the amount of dust and sulphate in the skies above the Atlantic.

deserts.jpgDust blown out of West Africa (the world's largest 'dust superstore') and volcano-belched sulphate, both of which cool the atmosphere by scattering sunlight, are on the decline, say the scientists, which is why the ocean is warming.

Of course, climate change could still get the last laugh, according to the study, a joint project between the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Wisconsin.

In fact, the report concludes that rising CO2 concentrations could change wind patterns and reduce sand erosion through 'fertilisation' of desert vegetation, thereby driving the temperature of the Atlantic up by another 0.4° Celsius by 2050. Not cool.

Prince Charles logs on to YouTube to save the rainforests

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Shanta Barley | 15:32 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009


The tweed-touting Prince of Wales may not look like he's in the vanguard of the Web 2.0 generation, but he's just posted a video on YouTube about the impact of deforestation on climate change, featuring himself, a computer-generated frog and a slew of celebrities.

The Prince of Wales's Rainforests Project Awareness campaign video

'Every year,' says Charles, 'destruction of the Earth's rainforests releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all of the world's cars, planes and ships put together.' (If you're wondering why, it's because burning trees releases the considerable quantities of carbon they store in their boughs, leaves and roots as CO2.)

'We must act now. Future generations are depending on us,' he tells us.

Unless you're an illegal timber trade henchman reading this in the dank, sweaty confines of a lean-to in the heart of the Vietnamese rainforest, you're probably wondering what exactly the Prince of Wales expects you to do about global deforestation.

One way the average Brit can tackle deforestation is to buy wood certified to have come from forests that have been managed within strict environmental standards. But not everyone agrees. Some say that timber certification schemes can do more harm than good. Either way, it looks like the issue is far from clear cut.

Follow up: Sign up to be Prince Charles' sidekick in a 'mash-up' of the video

Greenpeace tars and feathers energy giant BP

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Shanta Barley | 09:37 UK time, Thursday, 7 May 2009


Greenpeace launched an advertising campaign yesterday to raise awareness about the fact that BP is toying with the idea (it won't decide for sure until 2010) of making oil from Canada's tar sands.

Surprisingly - and rather disconcertingly - both campaigners and oil tycoons alike consider the practice to have adverse side effects on the environment.

Sticky as peanut butter, tar sands buried deep in the ground beneath Canada's forests need to be blasted with steam heated to 305° Celsius, pumped to the surface and refined heavily before they're ready to use.

In fact, making oil out of tar sands is so energy-intensive that a barrel produced in this way creates three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil, according to the campaign group Environmental Defence.

Greenpeace, the climate activism organisation, calls it the 'greatest climate crime' in history. And with a straight face too.

Even Shell Canada's Senior Vice President Neil Camarta admits that his tar sand project 'has a big footprint ... and we don't hide that - a big environmental and a big social imprint.' ('It doesn't just jump out of the ground,' he adds helpfully.)

On the bright side, the technology appears to be evolving rapidly. Shell, which has been extracting oil from tar sands since 2003, claims that it halved its energy use in the first four years of operation.
Related blogs: BP changes brand value from 'green' to 'responsible'

Waving or drowning - is an Anaconda the answer?

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Richard Cable | 20:10 UK time, Wednesday, 6 May 2009


In renewable energy terms - that is, non-carbon producing power generation - wave power would appear to be a much better source of potential energy than wind power. Primarily, this is because waves, while produced by the wind, tend to be much more consistent than the wind. (When was the last time you went to the beach and thought: 'There really are no waves at all?')

So why the heavy focus on legions of white Wind Martians marching across our spotless countryside? Well, because wave power is much more difficult to harness. It's slow and irregular, therefore difficult to convert into electricity, and it's ferocious. Salt water and high seas can dispense with a fancy man-made turbine quicker than a pressure group can be formed to complain about how ghastly it looks floating around off our spotless coastline.

But a prototype built by a small British company may have taken the first steps towards a truly workable solution (with apologies to existing wave energy capture projects like Portugal's Aguçadoura Wave Park.)

The 'Anaconda' explained on the New Scientist YouTube channel

Checkmate Seaenergy's 'Anaconda' is potentially game-changing because, it has 'so has very few moving parts to maintain'. Unlike other solutions, it provides a radical answer to the business of being persistently battered by waves: there's hardly anything to break.

That's right. It's basically a big rubber tube full of water that waves 'squeeze' as they travel past. The resulting bulges are forced, by the wave, along the tube, gathering energy which is ultimately converted into electricity by a turbine at the end.

The simplicity is beguiling, but at the moment the prototype is only eight feet long and has only been tested in a lab. The full-scale version will cost several million to build and will be subjected to the true fury of nature. Even if it does work in the real world, it's projected that around 50 Anacondas, each 200 metres long, would be required to power 50,000 (presumably coastal) homes.

Not great stats, but interesting and the technology could well improve. One to watch.

A little piece of this Webby belongs to each and every one of you

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Richard Cable | 17:09 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Big thanks to everyone who voted Climate Change: Bloom in the Webbys' People's Voice Award last week. It turns out ... we won! This means that a little piece of this Webby is forever yours personally.

It was one of two wins on the night for Bloom. We also took the judges' prize in the Lifestyle category, alongside BBC News, which took top honours as well as scooping the People's Voice for (you've guessed it) News.


In case you're wondering what in god's name a Webby Award is, here's what BBC News had to say about them:

'Established in 1996 during the Web's infancy, the Webbys are presented by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, a 550-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. The Academy has a diverse membership including Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Virgin boss Richard Branson and the musician Beck.'

Climate Connections 2: Swine Flu

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Richard Cable | 19:23 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009


It took a few days for it to rise up the Google rankings, but we have our first official sighting of a news story directly relating Swine Flu to global warming.

swine226x226.jpg(Climate Connections is an occasional series exploring the theory that every major news story ends up being connected in some way - no matter how tenuous - to climate change.)

Medical News Today carries the following quote from Angela Mawle, head of the UK Public Health Association:

'Swine flu and climate change are inextricably related. Both are the end results of unbridled economic growth, environmental degradation and industrial agricultural practices. When will we ever learn that prevention is better than cure?'

The story is dated Thursday 30 April. Have you seen an earlier climate connection, or do you have climate connections of your own? Drop yours in as comments on this story.

Related blogs: Climate Connections 1: Susan Boyle

Climate Connections 1: Susan Boyle

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Richard Cable | 14:20 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009


Here's the first in an occasional series. There is a theory (mine) that every major news story ends up being connected in some way - no matter how tenuous - to climate change.

I have arrived at this conclusion by the highly scientific expedient of Googling key words from major news stories with the term 'climate change' or 'global warming' and seeing what comes up.

For example, Britain's Got Talent singing sensation Susan Boyle (who presumably requires no further introduction - where have you been?) was explicitly linked with climate change by none other than Ed Miliband, the climate change secretary.

While issuing a call to arms for a 'Make Poverty History-style popular movement' to force political leaders to act on cutting carbon emissions, Miliband told the Observer newspaper:

'We live in a world where this kind of campaigning can spread across the world - Susan Boyle appears on Britain's Got Talent and a week later 50 million people have watched it on YouTube.'

The story was published on Sunday 26 April. Have you seen an earlier climate connection, or do you have climate connections of your own? I think we should be told.

May Day dew: a green way to hit the spot?

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Shanta Barley | 11:10 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009


It's May Day. The dew today, so old wives say, has magical pimple-banishing properties and anyone who bathes their face in it will have a flawless complexion for the rest of the year.

mayday.jpgOf course, the medieval maiden's only form of spot control (a damp hawthorn tree - the best place to gather your dew, apparently) probably didn't work the wonders that, say, a dab of benzoyl peroxide, might have achieved. But looking good back then was a damn sight cheaper - and greener - than it is today.

According to a Mintel report published this month, Britain now spends £7.8bn on zit creams and other grooming products every year - emitting something in the realm of 3m tonnes of CO2 in the pursuit of perfection. (Calculated using Do The Green Thing's estimate that every pound spent in Britain emits at least 0.4 kg of CO2.)

The report, 'Consumer Choices in a Fear-led Economy' (which isn't available online), also found that we are buying more and more 'natural' beauty products. So, dew might just make a comeback yet. (Let's just hope calling women 'handsome' doesn't.)

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