The duplicitous nature of the Government’s energy policy

Independent on Sunday, 30 January 2016 (text in bold not published):

Geoffrey Lean has laid bare the duplicitous nature of the Government’s energy policy in trashing renewables to achieve minimal savings for consumers, whilst saddling the UK with  massive subsidies to keep nuclear afloat (Consumers are dying for lower bills, Jan 17; “Panic” over nuclear cost, Jan 24) However the Big Six have done more than just connive in this deception. They have also played a major role in preventing progress towards a low carbon future.

 Thus they have provided up to 50 experts in Whitehall who work on energy related matters whereas the renewables sector has no representatives in Government. Greg Barker, the Minister of State at DECC who was responsible for implementing the Green Deal has accused the Big Six of sabotaging the programme. Talking on Radio 4 (You and Yours March 2 2015) he stated that the energy companies had appeared keen to become involved in energy conservation, but that they had done  nothing to implement the programme apart from fulfilling their statutory obligation in fuel-poor households. 

The only reason that HMG had reached its targets was because of input from smaller eco-friendly firms. In addition he accused British Gas of reporting misleading surveys which concluded that the public were not interested in energy conservation , whereas smaller firms had achieved 95% uptake on some schemes. 

Of course DECC are not blameless. It was extremely naive for the Coalition to have devolved responsibility for the Green Deal to companies whose main purpose is to sell as much energy as possible.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

Osborne and his pledge on malaria

Times, 26 January 2016 (text in bold not published):

It is hard to imagine a more surreal headline than “Osborne in £3bn vow to beat malaria”(Jan 25). Malaria may be on the retreat in some areas of the world, but it is also advancing into new territories as a result of climate change.

The Anopheles mosquito requires a minimum temperature to complete its breeding cycle, so in Kenya for example, cases of malaria are being recorded at higher altitude in previously unaffected, and non-immune populations. It is also spreading further North and there is no reason  to think that Europe will remain a malaria-free zone.

If he wants to refurbish his image, then the Chancellor should have picked a tropical disease that is not made worse by his hostility to renewables and his promotion of fracking.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

Stop Making diesel cars and pedestrianise town centres

The Observer, 24 January 2016 (text in bold not published):

Your headline about  air quality illustrates the abject failure of the Government to control pollution levels nationally (Shock figures to reveal deadly toll of global air pollution Jan 17)).

Last March the Supreme Court required the Government to produce an action plan, but nothing much has been forthcoming apart from extending low emission zones. Laboratory measurements of NOx pollution from cars bears so little relationship to emissions on the road that some cars emit more pollution than lorries, so it is hardly surprising that banning lorries from city centres has proven ineffective Furthermore studies on children’s lung function published in the Lancet recently has  demonstrated that the government’s low emission strategy is of no benefit to children’s health, so why does it insist on pursuing a failed policy?

The only rational response is to stop producing diesel cars and to limit access to city centres for all diesel-powered vehicles. Instead London’s mayor Boris Johnson capitulated over  emissions from old  diesel taxis under pressure from London cabbies.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

US is taking the lead again—this time in pursuit of VW

Financial Times, 21 January 2016:

 In your perceptive article on the VW scandal you state that diesel cars produce less CO2 than petrol models (Noxious omissions Jan 18) Of course this is only true if other pollution control devices are removed, which is the reason that VW created their defeat devices in the first place. So the technology used to minimise emissions of NOx is switched on during test cycles in the laboratory, but turned off under real driving conditions. This results in better mileage (and therefore less CO2), but the downside is higher levels of NOx in the urban environment.

The consequences are not trivial. Air pollution in the UK causes 1000  deaths every week, of which 45 % is attributable to NOx. Although VW has not yet come clean as to the strategic operation of its defeat devices within Europe, the concern is that its  illegal technology has resulted in extra premature  deaths amongst the UK population

When questioned on this issue by the House of Commons Environment Audit Committee in October 2015 , Ministers from the Department for  Environment, Food  and Rural Affairs and Department for Transport  could not say whether legal action against VW was being considered by any regulatory agency, nor which agency was primarily responsible. Several were mentioned including  the Serious Fraud Office, the Environment Agency and the Vehicle Type Approval Authority (VCA). Rory Stewart MP from DEFRA, stated these were matters for the individual agencies. Robert Goodwill MP from DfT stated that his agency had  insufficient equipment to carry out the necessary tests and that  his department was certainly  not in a position currently  to pursue such a case.

The contrast with the US  is striking. In America the Department of Justice is pursuing VW without fear or favour under the terms of the Clean Air Act and VW may incur fines of $30,000 per vehicle. In Europe there appears to be no appetite for a legal confrontation, whilst the UK doesn’t even think it can gather the necessary evidence. If one considers other areas of public life, such as  banking, Libor rigging and FIFA, it always seems to be the US that takes the lead, whilst Europe emerges as a cosy club for big business.

One wonders how long European consumers will tolerate this profound lack of corporate accountability. 

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire


Climate Solutions that would work

Independent, 20 January 2016:

Richard Mountford keeps proposing geo-engineering as a solution to climate change, but conspicuously fails to identify any technology that might actually work (Letters Jan 14) Carbon negative technologies offer a much greater prospect of success.

For example it is perfectly feasible to grow sea-weed in prodigious quantities which would fix atmospheric CO2.  This could be harvested and turned into biogas.  If this was burnt in combination with carbon capture, then you would have an energy source that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Obviously a large investment is required to turn such “third-way” technologies into reality. It is Britain’s tragedy that our scientifically illiterate Cabinet, in thrall to the fossil fuel industry, appears totally blind to the possibilities.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire


Better to cut CO2 than complain about Paris deal

Independent, 12 January 2016:

I applaud everything in the letter from Professor Beckwith and colleagues apart from their faith in geo-engineering as a solution to climate change.

If you succeed in promoting the growth of plankton, then the oceans may well absorb more CO2, but this will result in greater acidification. Artificial whitening of clouds may produce a local benefit, but if extended globally it may well have a devastating impact on crop growth.

There is no easy techno-fix for climate change, and pretending otherwise delays the measures that are so desperately needed to address the problem: namely renewables, energy conservation, and a carbon tax that reflects the damage that fossil fuels wreak.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire


Over-generous to Richard Branson

Independent on Sunday, 10 January 16 (text in bold not published):

I think Steve Connor is being over-generous to Richard Branson (Our space planes will help save the planet Jan 3) In 2006 Branson met with Al Gore and estimated he would spend 3 billion dollars over the next decade developing biofuels and other carbon saving technologies for the air-line business. Nine years later Branson has invested less than one fifth of that sum and there is no sign of any viable  alternative to fossil fuels. Indeed Branson seems to have added significantly to carbon emissions by expanding his airline business, putting 160 additional planes into service, and offering seats at nil cost. Furthermore a study of fuel efficiency amongst 15 US airlines placed Virgin America in ninth place.

Virgin Galactic offers trips into space, another enterprise with a massive carbon footprint and no discernible benefit  to mankind. Billionaires like Branson can furbish their green image by offering techno-fixes for climate change, but their real agenda is cheap PR for their carbon-producing businesses.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

The planet will lose every time that business calls the shots

The Observer, 10 Jan 16:

Surprisingly, your article on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) fails to mention the environment. (A deal for freer trade or corporate greed? Here’s the truth about TTIP Jan 3) The independent UK committee on climate change supports fracking in the UK, but its Chair, Lord Deben has also stated that his committee would not hesitate to ban fracking if the UK was unable to meet its climate change commitments.

So imagine a scenario in 2030 whereby several US or European-based companies are extracting shale gas and/or shale oil in the UK, and Lord Deben’s committee announced that further extraction was incompatible with the UK’s Climate Change Act which requires an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. I have no doubt that those same companies would sue the British Government under the terms of TTIP, and the result would either be massive compensation or repeal of the Climate Change Act.

It needs to be remembered that the World Trade Organisation has the power to impose punitive fines on governments  as well as other public institutions. By contrast all the climate change agreements reached post-Paris are voluntary, and there  is no equivalent body to enforce environmental standards. Disputes will be held in secret without any environmental representation, so the planet will lose out every time.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire