HOW GREEN IS GREEN?

What follows is a guest article on climate change written by a regular reader and contributor to this blog Walter Hamilton. I found it both fascinating and surprising. I feel I learned a lot. I am confident my readers will find it of educational and political benefit. Global warming is a fact of life today,Continue reading "HOW GREEN IS GREEN?"

HOW GREEN IS GREEN?

What follows is a guest article on climate change written by a regular reader and contributor to this blog Walter Hamilton. I found it both fascinating and surprising. I feel I learned a lot. I am confident my readers will find it of educational and political benefit.

Global warming is a fact of life today, and many column inches of newsprint have written how we can become carbon neutral – Sadly the new Green is in the hands of big business interests rather than the interests of the planet.

Electric cars are being promoted widely as our saviour Zero Emission; electric cars sales have now surpassed 2 million globally. There is plenty of choice for the buyer, Toyota, Chevy, Tesla, Are electric cars the answer or are we simply exchanging one problem for another, are we in fact looking down the wrong end of a telescope?

BMW, VW ……. focusing on luxury, high performance, the marketing model for cars have not changed, and at the end of it all we are still not buying cars we are buying status symbols. The words “Zero Emissions” may be a good selling point, but are electric cars any more environmentally friendly than the big American gas guzzlers, once the manufacturing process for the vehicles and their batteries is taken into account?

Electric cars rely on regular charging from the local electricity network, which in today’s world is a long way from being emission-free. The big polluters, China and America, still depend heavily on generating electricity from coal-fired power stations, where power for their electric cars come.

Most people recharge their electric cars overnight, problem, the sun does not shine at night and winds do not always blow and we have not as yet the ability to store sufficient surplus electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing strongly.

Greener power is on the way, solar hydrogen and wind power will reduce the need for coal and gas fired generation, so we will be Greener, right?

I read recently that America is spending billions of dollars updating an ageing highway network (mostly concrete) that is past its sell-by date. All to run those new zero-emission cars on, how do they square that circle with zero-emission driving?

The cheapest power is not the greenest power, the cheapest power at present is from hydro, and nuclear, although nuclear is a double-edged sword, when you factor in the cost of decommissioning and what to do with nuclear waste is still to be settled.

“Hydrogen is not a panacea or silver bullet but it could be necessary for decarbonisation of hard-to-electrify, sectors such as long-haul heavy trucking, international marine shipping and some parts of heavy industry.” said Mike Fowler, director of advanced energy technology research at the Clean Air Task Force.

“Blue” Hydrogen is not green.

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are now being hailed by The Hydrogen Council as a silver bullet, The Hydrogen Council, is a group that includes the oil companies BP, Total and Shell in their numbers, (is that an alarm bell I hear?) They predict that “Blue” Hydrogen will account for 18% of all energy demands by 2050. Now hydrogen has been with us for some time in fact, I have been onboard hydrogen-powered buses in Dundee.

At the coal-fired power station at Longanet, now closed, they ran an experiment for Carbon Capture and Storage, (CCS), the idea was to take the carbon from the flue gasses and pipe them out into the North Sea and down the old oil pipelines to the sea bed, and there the carbon dioxide would be captured by the pressure at that depth.

The experiment ran until the Westminster government pulled the plug on the funding. The biggest problem with the scheme was it used a lot of energy to run the system. So it did work, but who would pay for the clean air in a commercially-run coal fired run power station?

But what has this got to do with hydrogen power, I hear you cry? Well, bear with me. Some time ago I wrote about a system down at Leven (Fife) where they were producing hydrogen using electricity to crack water. The brilliant part, it used a wind power turbine to produce the electricity required. So successful has it been that they are now proceeding to put the system into practice, by offering it as an alternative to gas in and around Leven.

So what’s my gripe with hydrogen?

A large $1 trillion infrastructure bill will be passed by the US Senate and hailed by Joe Biden as a key tool to tackle the climate crisis. This bill includes $8 billions of dollars to support, a supposedly clean fuel, (“Blue” hydrogen) that has the potential to pollute even more than burning coal, whit?

The problem with, so-called, “Blue” hydrogen, being pushed by the fossil fuel industry, and falls under the definition of clean hydrogen in the Senate bill, begs the question, is Blue hydrogen really that Green?

Blue hydrogen involves spitting gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide and then capturing and storing the CO2, a global warming gas. However during the process, methane, a potent greenhouse gas is also produced, this method also uses a huge amount of energy to separate, then store the carbon dioxide, and some will escape anyway, (all this was understood at the CCS experiments at Longanet Fife.) The production of “Blue” hydrogen actually creates 20 per cent more greenhouse gases than coal, commonly regarded as the most polluting fossil fuel. Furthermore it is 60 per cent more polluting than burning diesel, according to a new paper published in the Energy Science and Engineering journal. Help ma boab, is that right?

Robert Howarth, a scientist at Cornell University who authored the paper alongside Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University researcher, said “Blue hydrogen is a nice marketing term that the oil and gas industry is keen to push, but it’s far from carbon-free. I don’t think we should be spending our funds this way, on these sorts of false solutions.”

Dozens of gas companies have jumped on the bandwagon in the US and started producing hydrogen, filling their boots with free dollar handouts from the US Senate – or at least testing its viability in existing gas pipelines.

This is madness, according to climate campaigners, saying it is a step towards entrenching fossil fuel infrastructure at a time when the world needs to rapidly move to net-zero emissions, outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC).

“Looking at this Biden bill, you can not fail to see a big giveaway to the fossil fuel infrastructure that is incompatible with serious climate action” according to Carroll Muffett, chief executive of the Center for International Environmental Law.

“Congress went out of its way to not specify green hydrogen (hydrogen produced by renewable electricity, such as being produced at Leven Fife), and so this funding just helps prop up the fossil fuel industry. The potential of these technologies are being routinely overstated even as the impacts are being understated.”

So why despite all the evidence does the US Senate still pass such a bill? For not only is it detrimental to the US but the rest of the world too.

“He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

Now, do you hear those alarm bells more clearly?

How Green is Green?

I asked the question: are electric cars really green at the start. To try to answer that question you have to take the manufacturing costs and costs of material exploration and extraction for their manufacture, especially the batteries into consideration.

“Greenland may have said “no” to oil and gas, but its vast mineral wealth is up for grabs as the world’s biggest billionaires invest to claim metal reserves needed to manufacture batteries.” The Guardian, August 10, 2021.

The reason given for Greenland suspending offshore oil exploration was the dangers of climate change, (although after 50 dry holes drilled you may say it was because no oil was ever found there). Now Greenland has opened itself up to mineral mining, mainly those minerals used in the manufacture of batteries and other components of electric vehicles.

Bluejay Mining and KoBold Metals have formed a joint venture backed by American billionaires (Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Bezon and Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates is the principal investor in the privately held KoBold) with an investment of $15 million to explore (and if found) exploit Greenland for nickel, copper, cobalt and platinum (Cobalt is essential in the manufacture of electric car batteries).

“Greenland’s Ministry of Mineral Resources announced on 15th July (2021) that Greenland remains committed to developing the vast mineral potential, but that it was in the process of drafting legislation to ban exploration and extraction of uranium, and that the country would also no longer issue licenses to explore for oil and gas”

In December 2020, Greenland opened three new offshore areas for applications of oil and gas exploitation licenses: Buffin Bay, Disko West and Davis Strait.

However, in April 2021, Greenland’s current government, led by the Inuit Atagatigiit party, was elected on a pledge to mitigate climate change, (now where have I heard that line before? Em, oh yes, I remember, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, who still wishes to extract oil from the seas around Scotland). 

Greenland is the world’s largest island, home to a population of 57,000 and though semiautonomous, depends on Denmark for two-thirds of its state budget. Who would condemn a country that is dependent on other countries for handouts to keep it afloat financially, wanting to exploit any natural resources it may, or may not have, in helping close its financial black hole?

But this is not about Greenland; this is about Global Warming and electric cars that are being promoted by manufacturing companies and governments as our saviour, Zero Emission cars. Is this really a step in the right direction? 

There is another way to produce electricity and heat without burning coal or oil and that is by burning wood, the St Andrews University spent millions (mostly EU money) building a biomass plant at Guardbridge to heat the University buildings here in town. 

But is burning wood green?

 A quarter of Estonia’s forestland is at imminent risk from a major logging increase, aided by “flexibilities” in EU rules that the Baltic state championed, Climate Home News.

 A decade ago you could not get a mortgage on a house that was not built employing traditional methods, bricks and mortar, anything other came under the definition, NSC (non-standard construction). There has been a big turnaround in that time, now the main form of house building around the world is timber-frame, many built within a factory system and transported to site as a complete package, fully fitted out with first and second fixings. The demand for construction timber has soared (as has the price) – where does this leave Global Warming?

The scars of clear-fell are plain to see across Estonia, the demand for wood is already changing the landscape. Logging in Estonia has tripled in the past decade. The European Commission expects Estonia’s forests to become a net carbon source by 2030, rather than a sink, as they are today.

 Before, when forests were managed, the pace of change was slow, trees were planted as trees were removed. But modern commercial forestry is different, you do not select trees to cut, or plant and cut on rotation, you send in a harvester, capable of cutting and stacking 1000 trees per day, seven days a week – 365 days a year. That is a lot of trees; this is clear-felling, on steroids.

 20 percent of Estonia’s great forests have already been clear felled, regardless of thickness. They say they do re-plant as they go, but replanting will never keep up with the large volumes cut down. And regeneration will be counted in decades, once Estonia’s country bristled with pine. Aspen, spruce and birch, all flourished under Soviet rule. Something is changing in Estonia’s hinterland today. As small forest owners, (mostly elderly) are selling off their forests to the big companies for 50 to 60 euros a tree. Clear felling in this way it will take 80 years to get the forest back.

Estonia has the EU’s second-most intensively farmed forests (after Belgium), with logging making up 91% of forest activity. It is also the most carbon-intensive country – dependent heavily on shale oil for its electricity.

To meet EU green targets, the Baltic state burns biomass for the vast majority of renewable energy – 96% in 2012 – and more will be needed by 2030. A billion-euro “biorefinery” is due to open in 2022, it will be churning wood into pulp for applications including power generation. This will cause a catastrophic spike in deforestation under the banner of Renewable Energy.

 UN climate science reports that the EU’s plans would increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

 We have been here before and still, lessons go unlearned. By 1850 the use of wood for bio-energy helped drive the deforestation of Western Europe even at a time when Europeans consumed relatively little energy. (The great forests of Scotland all disappeared around that time, the wood used as fuel, pit props, the land cleared for sheep). Coal saved the forests of Europe, but is the solution to Global Warming to go back to wood burning?

 Marku Lamp, the deputy chancellor and Estonia’s environment minister said recently,

 “Of course people have problems with clear-cutting. This is something that we must address more by (explaining) what is behind those, forests management practices and why we need them…. We also have a really clear obligation for forest owners to reforest their clear-cut areas”

 When the forest has gone, along with the present owner’s cash in their pockets from the sale of the forest, what then minister?

 We are so hypercritical, calling out the people of the Amazon Rain Forests for cutting down the world’s largest carbon sink, yet turning a blind eye to what is going on in our own backyard.

 China is trying to move away from manufacturing cheap goods that they now sell to the west. And to this end have built a completely new city – a city dedicated to modern, high technology companies, in one factory, set up 10 years ago, (when the west was still wondering if global warming was a problem) they make electric vehicles, buses, lorries, cars. 

 These cars needed batteries so they went to the largest  source of the world’s Lithium – Bolivia and built a factory for the extraction and extraction of Lithium. How green will the production of Lithium batteries be?  

 Wind turbines are now producing vast amounts of electricity from their huge blades. And solar panels are so thin now that they can be stuck to the elevations and roofs of buildings turning them into power stations.

So what’s your grip Hamilton?

 Batteries will eventually wear out, as will solar panels, and the blades of wind turbines have only a life span of a few years. Already we see blades from the first wind turbines being stockpiled because they are too expensive to recycle, many now abandoned in fields, alongside the turbine they came from. Batteries likewise have become very expensive to recycle, and so it is with solar panels. What we are seeing is something akin to nuclear waste being produced.

 I would not be so concerned if all this was publicly owned but it is not. The companies that are producing electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbine blades have no responsibility for their disposal at the end of their useful life. When it becomes a problem, who will pick up the bill? Just as we see over plastic pollution today, no one is responsible for plastic pollution, in our atmosphere, our seas, our landfill, where does the bill fall?

 How much more will Mother Nature, wildlife, and people be able to absorb before they stop producing one-use plastic? Or this new pollution, from this ever so Green Economy?

It estimated that if the people of China wished to emulate the lifestyle of people in the west then we would need a further 7 planets like earth to live on. Leaving our lives in the hands of big business – whose only interest is business and making money – will be the equivalent of making a stick to break our own back. 

We have to change the way we all live our lives, not this short term business model. I walked through the shopping centre in Dundee yesterday and there were shops after shops of goods – and I wondered just how much of these consumer goods do we really need in our lives??????

MY COMMENTS

I am no expert on Green issues but I recognise how important climate change is and how vital it is to pick the right options. Walter raises many questions in this article about exactly what the right options are and the need to ensure those offering those solutions are doing so free of the motivation to squash the best solutions in order to cash in with the most profitable. As I say I am no expert but certainly Walter raises sufficient concerns for me that I will pay much more attention to what comes out of COP26 than I might have before. Given this crucial conference takes place in our country it seems to me that we should all be doing the same. Walter clearly has expertise and knowledge about these issues and it delights me that my blog can help impart that knowledge to my readers. My sincere thanks to Walter for his extensive explanation about why we shouldn’t take everything at face value.

I am, as always

Yours for Scotland

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