Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Reasons to be optimistic

Are there any? If you look at the newspaper most days you will see nothing but bad news stories on climate change, from record high temperatures in the Arctic to cancelled funding for US climate monitoring projects (no thanks to President Donald Trump). So when I was asked to do a short ‘Optimistic Show and Tell’ at the Science Festival, my first thought was ‘you must be joking’. But then I had some second thoughts. There is actually quite a lot of good news too, only the media tends to bury it. Plus there is a lot happening under the radar right here in Cambridge. This is what I intend to talk about on Saturday.

First some recent examples of good news in the media from around the world:

Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels
(Bloomberg, April 2016)
Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels.


Solar was the cheapest source of electricity in 2016, and it will further undercut fossil fuels in 2017
(Quartz, December 2016)
Solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuels in more than 30 countries (according to the World Economic Forum).


While governments dither, companies step up with environmental targets
(Guardian, March 2017)
This is about an initiative to set science based carbon emissions targets by sector across the world and encourage corporations to sign up. More than 200 companies have committed to join and 38 have already got approved targets including household names Sony, Mars, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nestle, Walmart Stores and many others.

Fossil fuel divestment funds double to $5tn in a year
(Guardian, December 2016)
Lou Allstadt, a former senior executive at Mobil Oil, said: “Divestment is speeding up the clock on the final accounting that will show fossil fuels are out and clean energy is in.”

U.S. Concern About Global Warming at Eight-Year High
(Gallup, March 2016)
Never mind what President Donald Trump thinks. 64% of Americans are worried about global warming, 65% think it is mainly due to human activity and 59% think we are already seeing the effects.

Here in the UK:

Analysis: UK carbon emissions fell 6% in 2016 after record drop in coal use
(Carbon Brief, March 2017)
Overall UK emissions were 36% below 1990 levels.

The UK public love wind power and they don't even know it
(Guardian, October 2016)
Despite what politicians say, 73% of people support onshore wind power. Strangely, however, most people think other people don’t. Possibly this is due to negative stories in the media – only 17% of comment pieces about onshore wind say nice things. The majority are hostile. So the media is not at all representative of what real people think!

BBC to adopt mandatory carbon tracking
(Clean Energy News, February 2017)
More and more business are starting to look at carbon accounting – for example the BBC now tracks the carbon footprint of each production as part of a strategy to identify hot spots and reduce emissions

Giving EVs an extra push forward
(Clean Energy News, January 2017)
When companies invest in electric car charging stations they can write off the whole cost against tax. By the way electric cars already have lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel cars (see Counting the benefits of Electric Cars) and this will get even better as our electricity gets cleaner.

UK electric vehicle boom drives new car sales to 12-year high
(Guardian, February 2017)
More and more people are buying electric cars – in January 4% of new cars were electric and this trend is growing. (In other countries this trend is stronger – more than a quarter of new cars in Norway are now electric).

3 in 10 Brits cut back on meat
(Natcen, February 2016)
Admittedly most people who said they had cut back on meat did so for health reasons, but it doesn’t matter why as long as we do! Meat production has very high carbon emissions. In fact cutting down on carbon emissions often brings health benefits too – like electric cars cutting air pollution in cities and better insulated homes keeping people warm in winter.

And here in Cambridge:

There isn't much in the media but I see a lot of action going on here in Cambridge too. For example there are lots of people like me doing stuff with organisations like Cambridge Sustainable Food, Cambridge Carbon Footprint and Transition Cambridge. It really is true that the choices we make matter.

More than 100 people had fun growing organic food on a local farm.
Granted I still haven’t convinced myself to get up early on a Saturday morning and go to Lode to help grow organic food on the farm – but more than 100 people did last year and by all accounts they had a great time. CropShare is one of our most popular projects.

Weeding at Cropshare

Planting seeds at Cropshare

What I have done, though is to sign up for a regular organic veg bag from the same farm – which is delivered by bicycle by Outspoken Delivery. You can’t get much more local and low carbon than that. And in my deliveries I got some veg I had never tasted before – like kohlrabi (delicious grated and dressed with vinaigrette). I’ve just signed up for the second year.

Also on the theme of food, Cambridge Sustainable Food has a load of stuff going on, not just about climate change but about sustainability in general. They do a lot with businesses. They have a pledge and award scheme for places that sell or serve food - award winners include shops like Arjuna and Radmore Farm Shop, cafes and food stalls like Curly Kale Cafe and Taste of Cambridge, and places that do catering: food4Food, several colleges and Anglia Ruskin University. There is a national scheme called Sustainable Food Cities and Cambridge has a bronze award - that's a big deal because there are no gold awards so far and only two silver.

Fixers at repair caf├ęs saved hundreds of items from the waste bin
You must have heard of the circular economy. It is about reusing stuff rather than throwing it away – not just recycling but reusing, adapting and fixing stuff so that we need less virgin materials. This means less trees cut down, less metals out of the ground and it saves energy too. So it is very good news that our repair cafes are proving so popular. People bring stuff to be repaired and if we can’t fix then we can usually recommend you to someone who can. Fixing stuff is fun, it develops our skills and it brings a lot of pleasure, especially when the article being fixed is much loved.

Fixing stuff at a repair cafe

Transition Cambridge and Cambridge Carbon Footprint ran their first repair cafe together in 2014 but since then the idea has mushroomed and the Sustainable Parish Energy Partnership run by S. Cambs. District Council has got involved too. There have been five so far already this year in Cambridge and the surrounding villages and a training session for fixers. We have terrific support from Mackays and Draper tools who have donated £1000 worth of tools.

Energy group members share personal experiences from toilet hippos to underfloor heating, downsizing your fridge to community wind projects.
The Transition Cambridge Energy group has been enormously inspirational to me. At each meeting we discuss a topic like the circular economy, or how to improve the efficiency of your heating system. We have all sorts of people coming, some with professional expertise such as architects and engineers. Between us we have personal experience of saving energy through measures from installing a hippo in your loo to insulating solid walls, or underfloor heating, draught stripping your windows, rugs, wood stoves, downsizing your fridge and freezer, buying electric cars, solar panels, and investing in community wind projects.

Also on the theme of home energy, Cambridge Carbon Footprint run Open Eco Homes each year. People that have done stuff to their homes, like insulation, heat pumps, rain water harvesting, renewable energy, give tours to the public. So if you're thinking of doing something to your home you can visit someone who has done something similar and ask them how it went. This year two of the homes were Transition Cambridge Energy group people (including mine).

So there is lots of good news; people can make a difference and are doing so – at the global level and right down at the individual and community level, here in Cambridge and all over. You may not see much in the media about it, but it is happening. You can join in too.


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