Is a lower energy #climate event possible? Probably not. #MACF #Manchester

A low carbon future is going to be about a) doing things very differently. It’s going to be about b) keeping our commitments and about c) making sure that scarce resources are allocated according to plan. On tonight’s example, we’re totally screwed.

Various familiar and/or friendly faces from the Manchester climateriat joined international delegates (1)  at the University of Manchester tonight to hear from five speakers on the question “Is a low carbon energy future possible?”  They were, in order of speaking –   Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre), Gavin Elliott (BDP and new chair of the Steering Group for Manchester: A Certain Future@GavinJElliott , Geoff Maitland (Imperial College) Christopher Ballentine (Oxford University) and Jane Thomas (Friends of the Earth). [Here’s what I would have done and said, given the chance]

Colin Hughes, Associate Vice Chair for Sustainability at UofM [interviewed here] welcomed everyone (full-ish house of 250 people or so, most folks having flown in for Thermodynamics 2013).

A BBC guy then took over. He said that the less he said the more successful the evening would be. He said he would keep each speaker to a strict five minutes, and that would leave lots of time for the most important people in the auditorium, the audience.

howitcouldFive or more lost minutes later, we began.

Deprived of his standard powerpoint-of-doom, [see presentation to Economy Scrutiny Committee in May 2013] into which he plugs the latest and ever-more-wrist-slashy numbers, Kevin Anderson still managed – through sheer intelligence, honest and (let’s not be coy) chiselled cheekbones – to walk away with the evening at the outset.
He spoke for about 6 minutes.

In note form –

It’s not thousands of wind turbines for one nuclear reactor, but actually 300 to 500 wind turbines.
UK has signed up to avoid “dangerous climate change.” Motherhood and apple pie! It signed up to the “Two degrees celsius above pre-industrial global average” version of “dangerous”. That’s NOT a scientific threshold, but comes out of political/civic debates
Many people will find it deadly
Two degrees avg sounds nice, but that equals 6 degrees at Arctic
Those noted communists the International Energy Agency think we may have 6 degrees by end of century
At 4 deg you get the 2003 heatwave, only 8 to 10 degrees more, and lasting for longer. At which point the cables carrying power to your fridge are way less efficient.
Remember the Darfur pasture lands. People reach for kalashnikovs.
Greenland ice sheet melt, which will happen over centuries, will lead to 7m sea rise.
30m ppl in Bangladesh live less than 1m above sea level.
We know the carbon budget for 2 deg celsius.
By the way, the rate of emissions growth is going up. 3% in per year.
Poor parts of world should be given larger part of “remaining carbon cake” – everyone agrees.
Our (UK) carbon budget would therefore be 10 percent reduction from 2010 per year
with 70% reduction by 2020 and complete decarbonisation (not just electricity) by 2030.
Just about theoretically possible
In short-term MUST reduce energy consumption.
50 to 60 per cent of emissions from 1 to 5 percent of population.
We see these people every day.
We see them in the mirror when shave, put on make up.
We can quantify, we know the solutions.
We need courage and convictions…
On current showing, we will hand on barely liveable climate to kids.
350billion quid printed for bailing out banks (quantitative easing…). And the climate?

Next up, Gavin Elliott, Chair of MACF Mcr studio of BDP.
He spoke for about 10 minutes.
In note form-

Built fabric important.
11 Ducie St HQ of BDP is very energy efficiently.
New MACF chair, in post for 6 weeks.
What to date – established 2010. “to “advance and monitor city’s progress from 2005 baseline.”
[He mentioned the magic 41 % reduction, but not the baseline confusion, or the “low carbon culture” goal 2]
MACF is “Voluntary network, public private and third sector.”
Shared vision of livable city
What have we achieved. Quite a lot
We exist. Slightly reorganised. Governance structure. Subgroups
We have a plan, a list of actions.
Meet bimonthly [He didn’t mention that this is behind closed doors, and that actual minutes were only posted after a big fuss was made, and have now been removed again.]
Annual conference [we at MCFly wouldn’t know. Except people wrote accounts. here, here, here, here and (personal favourite) this one Businessman abt the “Stakeholder” “Conference” – “Help me tell industry this is not a giant waste of public money” #Manchester #climate.]
“Long list of stuff that is happening.”
5 themes – transport (Metrolink expansion).
Green buildings NOMA, MMU.
Energy town hall transformation, heat network
Sustainable consumption – real food wythenshawe, sust procurement. Council and buying power
Green and Blue Infrastructure.
“If you add it all together…”
Stuff only commits so much. It’s about persuasion, getting to the ppl not in this room on board.
Carbon literacy.
Is it all good? – “yes and no.”
Review process is on going
2020 is only 7 years away…
Quantification (of what carbon comes from where) is not as advanced as I thought.
Therefore we need to attach metrics, so next time he speaks to audience he can say “we have a plan that will achieve that”
[Er, Total Carbon Footprint? #inactivepromises]

Between this speaker and the next, we were treated to a largely meaningless “comparison” of Manchester with the targets of Liverpool, Birmingham and London. Without announcing baseline years, and per capita emissions, you learn nowt, do you?

Next up – Geoff Maitland, Imperial College
Expertise is in Carbon Capture and Storage.
He spoke for roughly 10 minutes

We need to act quickly
No free lunch
Until culture change… all have to pay for it…
Managing transition
Each of renewables types (wind, solar etc) provides 15% at most
Takes decades to get there…
need to think of interim.
Rising populations, developing economies growing.
We will be using ffs [That’s “Fossil Fuels, ffs] for rest of century.
How keep below 450ppm?
Time of the essence…
Stop releasing 50 gigatonnes…
40% can be met by energy efficiency
Gas as mainstay fuel of coming decades.
Shale gas and coalbed methane as options…
“Wherever we use ffs, need ccs”
Therefore need subsidies and taxes
Norwegian example
Trading schemes.
We are going to have to pay more for energy.
This is a war we are fighting. If this was military war we’d mobilise better.

[Mr Maitland’s pro-shale comments unleashed a veritable Twitter tsunami. Well, a few unhappy tweets, anyway]

Chris Ballentine “Just back from Florence…” is a Geochemist.
He spoke for about 9 minutes.

As Geochemist look at what’s gone on planet beforehand. Glacials and interglacials”
Correlation between c02 and temperature – you see them rise and fall together.
6-7 interglacials, with C02 concentrations between 160 to 280ppm
We are now 400ppm
So far above scale of recent history, uncharted territory.

Best we can do is come up with a range… (as per Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
We don’t know what gives us 2 degs
Communicating about uncertainty to policy-makers and public is itself uncertain.
450ppm gives us somewhere between 1 and 3.8 degree rise from pre-industrial level.
We have to do something to prevent c02 increase
Need range of actions.
Invest in renewables.
If we can extract from point sources, can capture 20 to 50 percent of carbon dioxide. Then have to put it somewhere safe, where it will stay put…
But UK production of c02 will quickly fill one of largest oil fields we have emptied (Brent)
So we will have a scaling-up problem.

If we put c02 in ground, why will it stay there…”
[Compare with that “we’re gonna need a bigger boat line from Jaws – “We’re gonna need a bigger planet”]
Need 1000m of rock. Poral space beneath
[disappearing into a chemistry lesson.]
We have to pay to bury this safely


Finally, we had Jane Thomas Senior Campaigner at FoE, recently back from Balcombe. []
Politics Lecturer and Electoral Reform Society

Is LC future possible?
Cities are really important. Big role to play.
Do not underestimate leadership
Stuff is happening in Bristol, York.
We as campaigners have not done enough re energy efficiency, car sharing, etc
Hull will not be there (sea level rise)
Siemens waiting for offshore wind green light
Tories offering tax breaks to shale gas…
Government is sending wrong signals…
shale gas isn’t answer. It’s a ff, keep it in the ground.
Won’t bring down prices.
The real problem is we are taking eye off offshore wind, tidal etc. renewables.
“A couple of challenges”
As she said on BBC Radio this morning, she wants it to be Manchester to be first council to declare itself frack free.
[Er, too late (to be fair, she couldn’t have known it at the time)

So, it was now 7pm, and in a room of 240 people, six had spoken. Instead of having approximately 50 minutes for questions from an audience that has heard 5 5 minutes speeches, we had 30 minutes after 1 6 minute and 4 9-ish minute speakers. “Do the Math”.

But wait, It Gets Worse!!

Because the first, relatively innocuous question about geothermal energy magically morphed into a prolonged wrangle about shale gas! Fortunately that wrangle ended with Kevin Anderson pointing out that – “if you use shale gas, you miss 2 degrees…” and that far from replacing coal, shale gas was allowing the Americans to export coal (to the UK among other places).


So, dozens of hands up, but only 20 minutes left.

A question – should the advertising of flying be banned?
This was morphed into a question about Manchester Airport. Which talks about being carbon neutral. For its ground operations. [Don’t mention the dirty big great metal birds taking people on family holidays to New York.]

A known agitator and persona-non-grata had the microphone and ranted, clearly irked he (it’s always a he) had not been invited to be a panelist; [And Twitter went oddly silent.]
“We are losing the climate fight. When James Hansen warned everyone about climate change in 1988, atmospheric concentrations were at 358ppm. We are now at 400, emissions going up at 3% per annum. So, panelists, imagine it is 2020 and we are “on the right path.”
What are we doing differently in 2020?
What are we doing more of, less of?
What are we doing that we haven’t even started doing yet?
If you’re losing the game, change the rules of the game.

Answers there came –

Chris Ballentine
Governments funding the burial of c02 would have a rapid instant effect
European and international level cooperation needed
We all must accept higher energy costs

Gavin Elliott
I have to believe in MACF
Correlate more liveable and decarbonised city.
Climate Change is slightly esoteric. But if you say “Do you want to live in super-insulated home”…
Not putting message across to population very well.

Jane Thomas
Three things
1) Change consumptive patterns (what doing, why)
2) local leadership on energy-saving
3) government investment in renewables

Geoff Maitland
Agrees with Chris re incentives for making CCS.
Could start doing it tmrw
Create right fiscal environment, not just market forces
Not particularly optimistic we will do this
What penalty if don’t obey law?!
Governmental level – fiscal measure for CCS
Some governments need to take a lead.
Norway has had this for over 20 years
Take it to personal level – personal carbon allowances (rather than social conscience)

2020? Tech and politics won’t solve it
Substantive value change in how we see world
If we had acted in 1992 after the first Earth summit, we could have done it with technology.
We have squandered that carbon budget
We have been relying on failed economic model….
We have opportunity to challenge Anglo-Saxon model of Finance Capital
Economics; word comes from oikos… meaning household. Taken over by chrematistics

It was now 7.25pm. So there had been three questions in total put to the panel. #epicfail

There was the predictable unsatisfactory “rushed comments” bit to increase numbers of “participants” –
“use of low energy techs.”
“Values shift need, finance crisis shouldn’t be dealt with separately from ecological crisis
“Have a community here. Lets keep doing it.”
“CCS itself takes energy – capturing, transporting, burying takes energy”

The last word went to a man who is used to having it, Charlie Baker @chazzoh

“Stop waiting for someone else to do it for us.
Put money in our own communities
Retrofit our OWN communities”

Well said sir!

Verdict – another poorly executed sage-on-the-stage emotathon, allowing people to feel that they are Informed.
We have been doing this forever. It meets certain institutional needs. It does not meet the needs of the species.
Why did I even go? Good question. There was a reason, but on reflection, it was an inadequate one.
“Never again.” Until the next time, of course.

Marc Hudson

P.S. Yes, my five minute speech on the topic of “Is a Low Carbon Energy Future possible” will be up soon. #Betchacan’twait.  [Update- HERE IT IS!!]


(1) Don’t ask about the carbon footprint of said conference, which was probably its own uncontrolled experiment in thermodynamics.  And given informed opinions about the “merits” of offsetting, don’t ask about offsetting)


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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4 Responses to Is a lower energy #climate event possible? Probably not. #MACF #Manchester

  1. helene57 says:

    Thank you for this accurate summary.

    I had a choice between this event and a Carbon Co op meeting at home in Bolton. I would have come away from the latter feeling I’d spent my time wisely, despite Charlie Baker’s absence!

    Best wishes

    Helen Enevoldson

  2. I think Gavin Elliot’s 5 minutes gave an insight why things are not processing as they should. He never mention local residents being included in Manchester – A Certain Future (MACF). He later went on to imply, that the local residents in Wythenshawe, did not know or care about climate change, and it was these people they had to win over. So, he is obviously the wrong person to chair MACF, and like a lot of predominantly white, so-called educated middle-class who dominate most environmental groups. Their feeling of superiority and their demeaning attitude to those who come from a different back-ground, is one of the major problems and why environmental seem to be going nowhere. Instead of imposing their will on others, they first should engage with local residents, to find out what they do know. And then, help empower them to be able to implement their own projects. Instead of giving grants and power to the same select few who have been involved with the City Council and Richard Leese, since the 1990’s.
    At the end of the day, as Kevin Anderson as pointed out in the past. It is the affluent educated middle-class, who should cut back the most on their consumption. It is they, who are holding up progress on reducing our Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

  3. Hi Patrick,
    well, I’m predominantly “white” (pink and ginger, actually), “so-called educated” (private school, two undergrad degrees) and mildly (cough cough) middle-class. I certainly dominate Manchester Climate Monthly!!!…. So where does that leave me?

    Gavin Elliott has been in post 6 weeks – I think it’s too early to say what may or may not happen. If I get the chance, I will ask him to clarify his remarks that you’ve commented on.

    On the general point that environmental groups need to listen “as much” as they lecture or “message” or whatever, oh my, YES. The environmental “movement” is a shambles everywhere, and in Manchester a tragedy. I’ve been writing about this for years, and trying, in my weak way, to experiment with formats of meetings, campaigns etc etc. I assume you’re familiar with words like smugosphere, emotathon, ego-fodder and transruptive?

    Personally, I think MCFly has not been significantly less bad at this than other groups, and I’m hoping that what replaces it (watch this space) will be less crap.

    Re: Kevin Anderson – what was fascinating is that none of the people who were tweeting the event chose to mention his “we know who these people are, we see them everyday when we look in the mirror to shave or put on make -up” observation. #tooclosetohome ?


    Marc Hudson

  4. Hi Marc, on another point, when the plans for a Geothermal project was mentioned, I was sure they said it was the first in the UK. I did point out to you Southampton has had one for some time. I spoke to the project leader at their stall afterwards, and he confirmed Southampton did have a Geothermal plant, though there is some slight differences. He also did mention that it was also being done in Germany, as well as France. You can find out more from their web-site about Manchester’s project:
    On the night, I did say it was in Ardwick/Beswick. I got the impression it was in Beswick as well, because I had been told, Bernstein and his team during secret discussions had called Operation Beswick.

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