By 2050 the UK will have reduced its emissions to less than 20% of 1990 levels. But with an 80% cut, what will actually change about our lives? Regular travellers on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line will be familiar with an artist’s impression of future London, with giant biomes and huge algae farms (for fuel rather than food, I think) but that looks more like something off Battlestar Galactica than the real future. Don’t you love how future-looking fiction always overestimates things? I mean, according to Back to the Future we’re only 3 years away from flying skateboards…
But I digress.

The Government has created an online tool to allow the public to see what the major differences will be by 2050, and to help them understand the scale of the whole operation. You can check it out here: http://my2050.decc.gov.uk/

It’s honestly amazing and as far as I can tell, the science and the figures behind it are pretty accurate. Have a look yourself and see what you can come up with to ge to 80%

Blog entry by: Daniel Lowe

 
This was actually front page news in October. It’s rather unbelievable that after all these years there are still people that think that climate change is either

a)    Not happening
b)    Happening but it’s not our fault
c)    Happening but there’s nothing we can do about it
d)    A scam dreamed up by the government to rob us of extra taxes
e)    A scam dreamed up by radical lefties who don’t like cars.

The one thing that I did find funny, though, was the fact that the research group in question, which included Nobel laureates, was part funded by climate change deniers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_activities_of_the_Koch_family#Anthropogenic_global_warming_skepticism)

Now that is newsworthy… or at least Have I Got News For You-worthy.

The reason I’ve chosen to blog about this is not because of what the article says, but because of what its existence says. The fact that reports confirming the existence of climate change still make headline news is disturbing. Why, after all these years, do we still have to convince people? The scientific community has reached far greater a consensus on this than they have on the evolution of the human species, the origin of the universe or what causes cancer, and yet people still don’t listen. Some of my favourite comments on the article are listed below for a laugh but they still do worry me.

The brighter side of this scepticism, however, is that that this government has kept the previous’ promise to cut UK emissions by 80%. The important people have read the writing on the wall and are ignoring the cries of ‘scam’ ‘pseudo science’ and ‘eco-fascists.’ I think it’s time the media started ignoring them too. Either that or can we have an article on ‘racism terrible for communities’ ‘terrorism=bad’ and ‘Pope confirms he is Catholic.’

Blog written by Tobias Allen
 
 Probably the most annoying thing about environmental campaigning is the conflict. It seems that one wing of environmental concern is constantly pitted against another. Take renewable energy for example. Every environmentalist wants to see more energy come from wind, tidal and solar sources but as soon as you suggest putting up a wind farm someone starts advocating for the biodiversity of birds in the area. Similarly, there is a real environmental principle supporting GM: it can make crops more resistant to drought and needs less land for farming by producing stronger yields… but it isn’t natural and there are risks involved. And of course, don’t forget the land conflicts of growing biofuels instead of food, even though drilling for oil (which we still need for freight and personal transport) killed countless marine organisms in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s a sad state of affairs. There doesn’t appear to be an agreed hierarchy of importance. Personally, I think steps which prevent a more than 2oC rise should take priority over international development and biodiversity, simply because any greater a temperature rise and more people will go hungry and more species will be extinct. I’m also a pragmatist. I think the radical environmentalists who hold out for a social, economic and agricultural revolution which sees 100% of energy come from renewables and no use of oil, coal or gas (including transport) is too far off a future for us to consider: climate change is a real problem now and we need to stop it now. The amount of effort required to get people to accept much higher costs of living to make the greenest transition will create too long a moratorium and we’ll miss our chance to curb a rise at 2oC.

So that’s my view on priorities: biodiversity takes a back seat to energy issues. But that still leaves a few questions. How do we move to an energy market which is low-carbon enough to stop runaway climate change? What should that mix of sources look like? What are the obstacles?
 
Like many 20 year olds, I have drunk my fair share of coffee. With an average intake of two coffees a day and a love of coffee that reaches back to my early teens, I have a fairly ‘typical’ relationship with the beverage. And I am not alone. Students across the country are familiar with the smell, taste and effects of the drink. A friend in those late hours of essay writing, a wake-up call before a lecture or an excuse for a mid-day break, coffee impacts our day in one way or another. Coffee shops dominate the streets of Oxford and coffee bags fill the shelves of supermarkets. Countless coffees are made, sipped and discussed every day. That is, 1.6 billion cups to be precise. These include over sixty different types of coffee beverages, from the classic Espresso to the more adventurous Dirty Chai or Zebra Mocha, all coming from a number of different countries. The crop grows over a wide-range of agro-ecological zones and standardised coffee blends may be a mix of as many as twenty different coffee types. Is it surprising then that coffee ranks as the second most traded commodity after oil or that it is the third most popular global beverage after water and tea?

But the impact of coffee extends far beyond cafés, kitchen counters and student desks. Tied to the economies of countless countries and employing millions of workers, it comes as no surprise that coffee plays such an important economic, social and political role, on a global as well as local scale. Due to its economic and agricultural potential as well as its unpredictable prices and large quantities, coffee holds a critical yet tenuous place within international markets. This crop has influenced the lives, habitats and environments of many species for centuries. Human societies across North and Central America, South America, Africa and Asia have been dictated by this cash crop. The beans are often cultivated in countries which face some of the more severe development challenges in the world. As Anthony Wild wrote, ‘tropical countries produce it and rich countries drink it.  A result of colonial rule, this risky crop continues to touch the economies and livelihoods of millions well after the end of the British Empire.

As I found out this summer, India has a decisive role to play in this equation. It is the 5th biggest global producer of coffee beans, employing over 3 million workers. Though domestic consumption is surprisingly low in the country itself, it comprises 23 per cent of the national economy and there is a 100 per cent growth rate every year. Most importantly, 95 per cent of Indian coffee is shade-grown and carbon neutral. There are close to 250,000 growers in India, of which 98 per cent are small farmers, cultivating on less than 10 hectares. 400 million tonnes of coffee is produced for the government every year and a productive estate would generate an average of ½ tonne per acre. Unfortunately, however, with a rise in urbanisation, fluctuating coffee prices, inadequate government policies and widespread poverty, attitudes are changing and growers are favouring large-scale, cleared and mechanised farms. As a country with a fairly limited environmental agenda and a fairly unknown coffee producing industry, the future looks bleak for many of India’s coffee forests.

 
As someone who has flown less than 4000 miles in a lifetime I am hardly the most reliant on air transport as a method of getting where I need to be.  This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate there are some things for which it is necessary to get somewhere thousands of miles away fast, where an international conference call will not suffice.  The world needs air travel.  The world also needs a way to do it without toasting itself in the process.

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned to me at dinner something he had been pondering: ‘How do we fly when the oil runs out?  You’re a physicist and you’re into environmental stuff, what do you think?’  The slightly shameful answer is that at the time I hadn’t given that scenario much thought.  After trying to solve the problem at the dinner table using some theoretically perfect solar panels and my rather sketchy memory of Stefan’s constant we eventually had to admit defeat and consult Google.  Sadly (at least with my search terms) Google did not seem to come up with ways we can commercially fly without oil, just ways we can’t.

The problem with most of the alternative energy sources for cars and the like which are being researched at the moment is they are quite heavy.  For flight, weight is (of course) one of the most important considerations.  If a fuel hasn’t a high enough energy density you aren’t going anywhere.  This rules out hydrogen fuel cells and solar panels somewhat.

Many say that when oil runs out we will be able to produce biofuels which can do the job, but emissions from burning biofuels are hardly much of an improvement.

I don’t know the answer and (correct me if I’m wrong) it seems that few do at the current moment in time.  Until we find a solution all we can do is encourage new planes such as the Airbus A380 – the double decker bus of the aeroplane world - which are far more efficient per passenger than standard sized planes.  Most importantly though, cut out frivolous flying.

Blog written by Natalie Haley, E&E Chair
 
The Guardian reported today that Belgium will be covering one of its train
tunnels in solar panels: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/
06/tunnel-solar-belgium-rail

Whilst I question how putting trains in a tunnel protects the need to fell
trees (maybe the slipstream would make them fall down?) this is supremely
admirable, take one blight on the landscape and cover it with solar panels,
diversifying the use of the land and saving enough energy to power the Belgian
train network for a whole day (the article doesn’t say how long it takes to
generate this power).

Our government argues that such a project isn’t feasible this side of the Channel
as solar energy technology is too expensive, but what they don’t seem to realise
is that bulk buying something drives its price down. That’s the problem with
libertarian free-market economics; by putting the cost of green technologies
solely in the hands of the free market prices won’t become ‘affordable’ until
its too late. The time lag of the causes and effects of climate change is just too
long for us to wait for the private sector to consider solar technology a good
investment. The government needs to make it affordable.

I mean, come on, Belgium figured this one out and they don’t even have a
government…

Blog entry written by Anon.
 
So, for those of you that don’t know, it’s National Vegetarian Week. Don’t feel bad
if you didn’t, I didn’t until someone I barely know popped up on my
twitter feed re-tweeting someone I don’t know…

That aside, I consider myself to be a good vegetarian. I don’t have leather
shoes or a belt (I make effort to find trousers that actually fit). I steer clear of
Haribo and check that my cheese is animal rennet free. I don’t even drink non-
vegetarian cider. The sad thing is, posh restaurants make it so damn hard to eat
out as a vegetarian without wanting to throttle the chef.

Take my mother’s birthday for example. We went to a very nice restaurant in
London that had an absolutely delectable menu, provided you were no stricter
than pescatarian. Even the soup had beef stock in it. There was one starter
that I could have: mushroom bruschetta. The ‘vegetarian’ main course was
mushroom risotto, only I had to put a special request for the whole thing not to
be adulterated with pecorino.

I understand that most people in this country eat meat and wish to continue
doing so, whilst I hope for the day when this is no longer a fact, this particular
rant is more about lazy chefs. These men and women are supposed to love food,
take an interest not just in their dishes but in their menus. I worked as a kitchen
hand in my teenage years and our menus were planned so that no one had to eat
a starter and main course focussed on the same thing. It’s not difficult. I mean
seriously, when did vegetarian mean ‘mushroom lover’ or for that matter, goats’
cheese guzzler or an acolyte of the church of stuffed peppers.

Chefs that can’t be bothered to whip out anything other than mushroom risotto
do not deserve their role. There are scores of underused vegetables out there
that we never see on menus. When was the last time I saw parsnips, fennel or
runner beans anywhere other than my own kitchen.

One very eye catching dish on the menu the other week was deep fried stuffed
courgette florets. Sadly they were stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, but as
the restaurant was good enough, they were handmade and fresh so I was able to
get some fish-free (who likes anchovies anyway?). Annoyingly I was still stuck
with mushroom risotto, which I will be eating again this Friday as I head for a
society social at Pierre Victoire.

My colleague managed to sum up my current feelings towards haute cuisine in a
recent email ‘I resent paying £30 for what will inevitably be a slice of quiche’

For a list of vegetarian brands of beer, wine, cider visit: http://
www.veggiewines.co.uk/

And cheese: http://cheese.joyousliving.com/

Blog written by: Tobias Allen
 
In the Nineties, green issues were certainly apparent in the minds of the general population; logging in the Amazon was a major concern, and who can forget Captain Planet and the Planeteers? Even educational videos designed to teach good spelling were themed around pollution on planet Earth (I can't have been the only one to watch Earth Warp, surely?).

In the Noughties, however, green campaigning really took off. 'Global Warming' became 'climate change,' pollution and wastefulness became your 'carbon footprint' and the dangers of carbon dioxide were no longer limited to an overflowing soft drink. But are people now, in this new decade, getting a little tired?

I believe that now is the time to stop trying to convince the sceptics, and I began the OUSU Environment Handbook by saying that anyone who didn't believe in the existence of climate change is either misinformed or stubborn. Whilst this is wholly true, I worry about the effect this will have on green campaigning as a whole.

By relaxing our campaign efforts, people have begun to forget the message of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and especially the order in which those words should come. I was appalled when I heard of an advert condoning leaving a light on all night because it was fitted with an energy efficient bulb; such a notion is wholly misleading. By reducing the amount of energy we use in our day-to-day lives, we should not therefore start engaging in more energy-wasting activities.

The government has now finally agreed to a target for reducing the country's carbon footprint by 80% before 2050, but there's only one way to do this. We have to throw out the strategy of showing people little changes they can make to reduce their carbon footprint, and start impressing the importance of the big changes. Line drying your clothes instead of using a tumble dryer will save much more energy than switching lights off when you leave the room, and I think everyone knows what to do when it comes to air travel. A renewal within the green campaign is necessary to provide the same effervescent campaign of the mid noughties if we are to convince those that have installed the right lightbulbs that the next step is to unplug their tumble dryer.


Blog post by Tobias Allen