More renewables please


The Observer, 27 January 2019:

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must take most of the blame for our terminally confused energy policy (“The Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy now lies in ruins”, Leader). In February 2018, the government stated in its 25-year plan for the environment: “We will take all possible action to mitigate climate change while adapting to reduce its impact”, while the BEIS was promoting the use of fossil fuels through the development of a domestic shale gas industry.

The government has also scrapped its carbon capture research programme and abandoned zero-carbon homes. Since February last year, Claire Perry, the minister responsible for renewables, has ditched the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay, discontinued the feed-in tariff for solar power and reduced the subsidy for electric vehicles.

Your leader doubts the ability of renewables to power the UK, but that is precisely what is required by the Paris agreement and our 2008 Climate Change Act. Decarbonisation would happen much quicker if the government removed the obstacles it has placed in the way of onshore wind and reversed its current energy policy.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Nuclear energy is key to our future


The Guardian, 18 November 2018:

Opposition to nuclear power in the UK has largely focused on the risks of an accident and the enormous cost of waste disposal, officially running at more than £100bn. Also, high-quality uranium ore is in short supply, and can only supply the world’s existing reactors for another 50 years. After that the energy required to extract fissile material from low-quality ore will exceed the energy produced, at which point the technology becomes unsustainable.

Recently, the chancellor admitted that he had delayed crucial legislation under pressure from the gambling industry. The only way to rationalise the UK’s chaotic energy policy is to accept that the nuclear and fracking industries have better lobbyists than the renewable sector.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

India has no strategy for improving air quality


Financial Times, 15 November 2018:

Air pollution in India illustrates the consequences of unregulated growth (“ How to power India”, The Big Read, November 5). Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 14 are located in India. In Delhi the level of small particulates (PM2.5) averages 143 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (the annual World Health Organization limit is 10). At this time of year, stubble burning by farmers produces peak levels up to 1000, equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day. Such levels render Indian cities unfit for human habitation and particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Studies in Delhi have demonstrated that each 10 microgramme increase in the level of PM 2.5 decreases birth weight by 4 grams. As with smoking low birth weight results in lower IQ.

The tragedy is that no one wishes to accept responsibility. Unlike China, politicians in India have no strategy for improving air quality, and local politicians have no interest. In September the Ramphal Commonwealth Institute organised an international conference on Toxic Air and Megacities, but no delegate from the State of Delhi was willing to participate.

India seems equally oblivious to the dangers of climate change. Why would a country with up to 3000 hours of sunshine annually continue to rely on fossil fuels for 90 per cent of its energy? Prime minister Narendra Modi’s version of nationalism does not seem to include any concern for the health of the population, nor for the prospects of future generations.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Marlow, Bucks, UK, Former Chair, Campaign for Lead Free Air

Frack and ruin


The Observer, 14 October 2018:

Why is it so difficult for the Observer to make up its mind about fracking (“Fracking fissures obscure the need to embrace green technologies”, leader)? Shale gas is a climate-changing fossil fuel, yet you claim the environmental impact of fracking is “unproved”.

It is true that gas produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, but this is offset by the rapid rise in atmospheric methane largely attributable to increased gas production globally and the cavalier attitude to fracking in North America.

The second problem is timing. It has taken seven years for Cuadrilla to resume drilling and it will probably take another 10 to 15 before gas is being produced in commercial quantities and even that will depend on government support. So shale gas will come on stream at the same time as the UK is scheduled to decarbonise its electricity supply; in other words it will be displacing renewables, not replacing coal.

Fracking is being foisted on local communities by a business-friendly, environmentally illiterate government.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Climate change and the true cost of economic growth


The Guardian, 1 October 2018:

George Monbiot is right. It takes a peculiar form of obstinacy for news channels such as the BBC to consistently not mention climate change. Last week, for example, Jeremy Corbyn committed the Labour party to a huge investment in green technology coupled, to zero carbon emissions by 2050. This was ignored in favour of yet more pointless debates about Brexit.

Future generations will look back on the present era with a profound sense of disbelief that the Kardashians command 200 times more airtime than climate change does; and that the media’s obsession with Brexit resembles a pack of vultures fighting over a dead carcass from which every item of interest has long since been stripped bare.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet

Role of shale gas as a bridge fuel is overstated


Financial Times, 27 September 2018:

Your article on fracking claims that “natural gas is seen as a bridge between high polluting coal and cleaner energy sources led by renewables” (“ Cuadrilla prepares for start of commercial fracking”, September 26). First, no bridge is needed. Coal-fired plants are being phased out anyway under the terms of the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive, so by the time shale gas comes on stream it will be displacing renewables, not replacing coal.

Second, it is disingenuous to argue that shale gas is cleaner than coal in terms of climate change. Certainly it produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy when burnt, but this benefit is cancelled out by upstream releases of methane during the exploration, extraction, storage and distribution stages. The rise in atmospheric methane that has occurred over the past decade can be attributed to the significant increase in gas production worldwide and the cavalier approach to fracking in North America.

Finally, fracking in the UK is confined to England, and is only possible because the government has assumed responsibility for planning permission in defiance of local democracy.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones Chair, Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Bucks, UK

Climate change – the Brexit threat


The Observer, 9 September 2018:

There is a tacky interface between industry and government when it comes to public health or the environment, and it is abundantly clear that Brexit is fatally shifting the balance towards deregulation (“Green watchdog will lack bite after Brexit”, News).

It is no coincidence that the most prominent Brexiters are also climate change deniers because they perceive climate change legislation as a major threat to industrial profit. This is the reason that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was dissolved, the reason that climate change has been omitted from the remit of the government’s new green watchdog, and the reason that Brexiters fulminate against the Climate Change Act.

The ruinous aspect of their delusion is that climate change offers huge opportunities to UK businesses that invest in energy efficiency, clean energy or ultra-low emission transport, as these new technologies can then be exported, something that Brexiters are apparently keen to promote. Instead, the government has scrapped zero-carbon buildings, abandoned the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay and frozen the fuel escalator, thus encouraging the rapid growth of diesel vehicles.

The chancellor boasted that this had saved motorists £47bn over the past seven years. Unfortunately, air pollution has cost the NHS £140bn over the same period and 280,000 premature deaths. How tragic that Brexit generates politicians of such limited vision who can only look backwards.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

It’s not rocket science


The Observer, 5 August 2018:

Global warming is not that complex and many of the solutions are readily available (“Our scorched Earth needs voters to put more heat on their politicians”, Andrew Rawnsley, Comment). The problem is scientifically illiterate politicians who assume that decisions can be postponed indefinitely.

They are now engaged in a deadly folie à deux with car manufacturers or energy company executives who argue that they cannot make the necessary investments in green technology without the right signals from government, while politicians argue that matters can be left to the free market, a position that is formulated after intensive lobbying by those same companies.

The media are guilty of the same self-defeating logic. Little attention is devoted to air pollution or climate change on the grounds that the public appears uninterested in environmental issues.

Journalists should recall that the Greens achieved 15% of the vote in the EU elections of 1989 when ozone depletion hit the headlines. The dangers from climate change are immeasurably worse and it is time the media got their act together.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Climate change survival and energy policy


The Times, 30 July 2018:

Sir, Your leading article (July 28) proposes that technological ingenuity is the best approach to tackling climate change, so why are we not maximising the technologies that are already available?

Why is the government supporting new forms of fossil fuel extraction in the form of fracking, rather than promoting onshore wind, which is the cheapest form of energy available? Why has the government ditched plans for zero-carbon buildings and abandoned its competition to boost research into carbon capture? And why, last month, did it axe the tidal power project in Swansea and cancel the feed-in tariff review for solar power?
Dr Robin Russell-Jones

Chairman, Help Rescue the Planet