The Climate really IS changing (serendipity part 3)
OK, I have decided for the moment that daily politics will work itself out somehow and eventually its impact will become obvious on longer term issues, so I am going to pick up sort of where I left off mid blog in the last post. Except to say that in the meantime I have read another blog that picks up on Climate change with concerning additional information I had not seen before. It relates to the current set of extreme heat events of this Northern Hemisphere Summer. (Just to remind you I am in Brazil, where it is “winter-time” and really it is like a balmy English summer here at the moment, mid-20s Celsius, a pleasant light breeze through the open French doors behind me!) But I know from Facebook posts that it has been Very Hot in UK just recently, with raging fires on Saddleworth moor, for example, not far from where I lived when last in the North West more than 40 years ago.
It turns out we have been racking up record temperatures around the northern hemisphere for a while. The latest to catch my eye is in a blog post about Siberia written by Nick Humphrey who normally only writes about Ocean temperatures. The data he talks about caught his eye because of its possible impact upon the Arctic Ocean.
Just recently there have been a number of fairly static “heat domes” sitting, unmoving over various places, including one hovering over Siberia. Temperatures there are apparently reaching around 90-95 deg F. These temperatures are typically 40 deg F (20 deg C) above normal seasonal temperatures for the region. This mirrors the 60 deg F increase in winter temperatures at the North Pole this last winter, too.
As Humphrey says … “It is absolutely incredible and really one of the most intense heat events I’ve ever seen for so far north. Climate change has sent temps skyrocketing in the far north of the planet over just the past 20 years. While that’s been quite reflected in the rapid rise in wintertime temperatures, it’s increasingly being reflected in summertime temperatures as more and more sea ice disappears earlier in the season, leaving more dark blue ocean to absorb more daytime sunlight. This heating of the ocean surface by low albedo (very low reflectivity…little sunlight being reflected back off into space) causes some heat to be released back to heat the atmosphere above, speeding up warming of the Arctic region. This is known as Arctic Amplification.”
As well as feeding into this warming feedback loop, it will also be having a serious effect upon what used to be known as Permafrost – as it was permanently frozen. The trouble is it is now occasionally melting and in doing so is releasing both carbon dioxide and the more powerful greenhouse gas, methane, into the atmosphere – perhaps an even more significant feedback loop for Global Warming.
So, let me return to my original question, raised effectively in the blog post before last – “What do we Green Liberal politicians need to do to put this right?” Of course, it goes without saying that we need to continue to fight for a zero-carbon Britain by 2050 as highlighted by the picture from the GLD website.
This is already party policy, but, to point out the obvious, we are now a party of 12 MPs in a highly fragmented and fragile parliament which is bickering about Brexit or not, undifferentiated Conservative Soft Brexit or Labour Soft Brexit, with the Labour Party led by a man who has been at best a Eurosceptic all his political life.
And, even if we get a zero carbon Britain by 2050 we definitely need not to be the only country following this path, otherwise we will get roasted anyway by everyone else`s global warming. There have been encouraging signs amidst the gloom. China, really tackling the problem of air-pollution – reminiscent of the 1950s London SMOGs – has actually made remarkable progress in cutting back on carbon dioxide output and has already set out a target of ensuring its still-growing emissions peak by 2030, a target which it was suggested may even be beaten by five years according to an LSE study back in 2015, assuming their carbon trading scheme works effectively. More recently, however, declines in carbon and particulate outputs increased in both 2016 and 2017 as China increased its steel production to meet apparent demands.
Several countries have reported periods of varying lengths where they were producing ALL their electrical demands from renewable energy sources. Iceland, Albania and Paraguay lead the way with virtually 100% of their power needs provided by renewable supplies; Iceland 28% geothermal the rest Hydro; Albania and Paraguay hydro. Norway gets close with 93% hydro and even Brazil has over 75% renewable (mostly hydroelectric) power. Costa Rica aims to be completely carbon-neutral by the year 2021 and has already achieved some impressive results, running on 100% renewable energy for more than two months twice in the last two years. Germany, Portugal and even the UK have reported varying periods of days when all the electrical power needed has come from solar or wind power.
Additionally it is worth noting that Sweden is actually likely to reach one or more of its 2030 targets for renewables even before we reach 2020. “In 2012, Norway and Sweden reached a joint agreement to increase their production of electricity from renewable energy sources by 28.4 terawatt hours (TWh) by 2020. Sweden then increased its target, with the aim of adding another 18 TWh by 2030.” It is now expected to achieve this, perhaps before the end of 2018, due to the commitment to wind turbines. See here – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/sweden-to-reach-its-2030-renewable-energy-target-this-year/ – for details.
As far as Europe generally is concerned there was, in late 2016, a final proposal to change the nature of markets for the production and consumption of electricity. As of mid-2018 that proposal is now agreed. Previous market designs had been based upon older types of energy production methods – i.e. centralised power stations producing masses of electricity which then had to be distributed to households in relatively small quantities. With the rapid recent increases in renewable supplies of energy, particularly on photovoltaic (PV) solar panel production of small quantities of electricity, some of which can be fed back into the grid, there was a need to address the impacts this has had on the market place for energy.
The full details are quite extensive and can be seen here – https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=COM%3A2016%3A861%3AFIN – but, just by way of an example that has pertinence to this blog-post, article 15 shows jus how important it is to be a “member of the club” – “new Art 15 – Efficient decarbonisation of the electricity system via market integration requires systematically abolishing barriers to cross-border trade to overcome market fragmentation and to allow Union energy customers to fully benefit from the advantages of integrated electricity markets and competition.”
As far as this impacts the UK, it would mean far greater flexibility for local community based production, use and “sale” of electrical power produced renewably (eg solar panels on the tops of school roofs; or power from a wind farm created by a Housing Association, and so on) as well as the larger opportunities of cross-border sales of stored renewable electricity to top up gaps in renewable outputs in neighbouring countries.
It seems quite clear to me that we would benefit most by being part of the European Union (where this agreement relates to) as a full member with a seat at the table to (help) reform the rules as appropriate, but as already alluded to, the decision is out of our hands as Liberal Democrats. There has been quite a bit of talk recently, mostly on Facebook with occasional mentions in the press media, about the potential for a so-called Progressive Alliance with Lib Dems associated with the Green Party and the SNP, in conjunction with the Labour Party, providing an alternative option for Government to the badly split, muddles, back-biting, incompetent Tories.
Sadly there was an occasion to test out the likelihood of such an alliance working earlier this week, when one of the infrequent occasions where the Lib Dems had the right to choose a topic for debate. The Lib Dem proposal was to allow for a People`s Vote to establish whether whatever deal was reached with the EU was satisfactory, or whether we should accept “No Deal”, or whether we should say “none of this is likely to work, let`s stay inside the EU”. Most of the Conservative Party voted against this proposal – there were 9 LD votes for, One Green Party vote for and three Welsh Nat votes for. Nothing from the SNP, who all abstained and no votes, either, from the Labour Party. So, I reckon such a Progressive Alliance is dead in the water – looks as though we will have to be progressive all by ourselves! It probably did not help, however, that the full Lib Dem motion called for a “Government of National Unity” as well as a People`s Vote, so maybe it is not too surprising that labour and SNP abstained!
Also this week there has been a vote as to whether the UK should stay in the EEA (European Economic Area) which would guarantee access to the Integrated Energy Market (IEM). It is not definite that the UK would be thrown out of the IEM if we did not but `experts` think that is likely. If so, we would then also lose the capability of using the European energy `interconnectors` to top up energy at times when we do not have enough. This will not cause blackouts but it WILL probably mean more expensive energy than otherwise available. For more on this see here – https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/06/14/brexit-eu-internal-single-energy-market-interconnector/
Back to history
All of which brings me to another `dip` into my serendipity – to whit – my reading of William Wallace`s article in the Journal of Liberal History, Spring 2018, which provides a fascinating insight into “How the Liberal Party Became Committed to the European Union”. In particular I was struck by the tension between the 19th century traditions of Free Trade and the, then, new-fangled support for European reconstruction and the implied Peace Dividend of a uniting Europe – or, as Lord Wallace puts it, the tension between Libertarianism and Liberalism. Broadly speaking (and if you want more detail, you will have to read the whole article) many of the more libertarian elements of the Liberal Party, who also identified themselves with a continuing role of Great Britain as a World Power, with transatlantic links to the Anglo-Saxon USA and a preference for the white Commonwealth, eventually opted out of the Liberal Party and drifted towards independent think tanks or straight into the Conservatives.
The more “Liberalism inclined supporters” rallied around the notion of a reconstructed Europe, together with newer members coming into the Party under the influence of Jo Grimond`s radical articulacy for these ideas – and that includes me arriving into the Party in the mid-sixties as a Young Liberal. Many of my generation of Young Liberals were also influenced at the end of the 1960s by the incredible pictures of the planet on which we live as a small blue marble in the black infinity of space, as seen from the Apollo moonshots. This led to an enthusiasm for environmental measures to protect this fragile earth and these were increasingly included in the Environmental Dividend of a uniting Europe.
So, if all this is to be torn asunder by an exit from the European Union, which we may not be able to prevent, whether the exit is to be hard and cliff-like, or some degree of cushioned landing in a no-mans-land of a so-called Soft Brexit, what can we do to preserve as much progress as possible? Let us assume for a moment the hardest of Brexits – if such were to happen it would clearly be some time before sufficient damage had occurred to the economy and the environment for there to be much movement in public opinion, so we can probably rule out an early re-entry into the EU (though, from FaceBook discussions, that is where many pro-Europeans would place their energy.)
My intuition is telling me that those of us really concerned about the urgency of tackling the Climate Change problem, from such a revised UK perspective, should perhaps “jump a level” from our former concentration on the benefits of belonging to an integrating Europe, and take the people`s democratic route to a re-energised people`s United Nations. Seeing things from the perspective of citizens of the World, rather than as Citizens of Europe.
Whilst the reputation of the UN as a Peace Keeper has been severely tarnished over recent years (decades?) the UN sponsored conferences on Environmental issues and links have played out positively in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals which have gradually been discussed and agreed at Government level and World Bank level. My intention with the next Post in this brief series is to explore how that might work from a party-political viewpoint which would have meaning for member involvement, rather than seeing it as a distant dream. As a personal step in this direction I have just paid up a membership fee for the United Nations Association – perhaps something I should have done many years ago. I remember my Dad`s older brother, my Uncle Arthur Melton, was, for many years the treasurer of the Lincoln Branch of the UNA.