HOW BAD ARE EMAILS?

This article looks into how bad emails are. Is it possible that this seemingly harmless activity, when repeated by billions of people every day is having an outsized impact on the environment?

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The data that I am basing this article on is largely from Mike Berners-Lee’s 2010 book How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. I really enjoyed reading this book and it is one of my all-time favourite books on sustainability.

His research revealed that the average spam email has a footprint equivalent to 0.3g of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e).

That is lower than the carbon intensity of the average email. According to Mike an average email, has a footprint of 4g of CO2e. This is created because of the power drawn for data centres and computers when sending, filtering and reading messages.

There are emails with a carbon intensity significantly higher than average. Emails with large attachments and high-resolution images have a carbon footprint of 50g CO2e. Significantly higher than average.

According to Mike Berners-Lee’s estimates, a typical year of incoming emails adds 136kg of emissions to a person’s carbon footprint. This is the equivalent of driving 200 miles in an average car. Whilst each individual email may only be responsible for a small quantity of carbon emissions, when repeated often by many people, these emissions add up.

At a global scale, the world’s data centres account for three percent of electricity consumption and about two percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. This gives data centres around the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry, when the impact of radiative forcing is not taken into account.

What you need to know

This article looked into how bad emails are for the environment.

We looked into the wide variety of carbon intensities associated with emails.

We looked into how these small releases of carbon emissions multiply over time. This is not helped by the seemingly endless proliferation of emailing in society.

We looked into how data centres are on par with the aviation industry in terms of carbon emissions. It seems strange that there is not more public focus on these emissions. I think the public struggle to make the link between their clicks online and the carbon emissions associated with that online activity.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to help make the connection between emails and carbon emissions from data centres?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

2040 Review

This article looks into the recently released docufilm 2040. If you haven’t already seen it, I encourage you to do so as it is a very good documentary on climate change. I have left a link to the trailer below.

I liked it for a number of reasons. Firstly, they packaged the documentary, which is about a complex scientific subject into a story. People have a natural affinity with stories. They make subject matter relatable and easier to remember. Those who seek to spread half truths and misinformation about climate change regularly use stories to further their agenda. It is only right that this is opposed by equally eloquent story telling by those who wish to promote action to reverse global warming.

Secondly, I liked that it was positive and optimistic. However bad the situation is, telling everyone how dreadful the situation is wont corral people into action. You have to tell people that the future will be much better than what we have now, that their lives will be far superior and that everyone will benefit when there is no longer environmental destruction taking place.

Thirdly, I Liked that they grounded most of the future scenarios in the research that Project Drawdown first released in 2017. I have been a big supporter of this initiative from the very moment I heard about it. It is important to quantify which solutions can reduce and store the most amount of greenhouse gasses in this critical 30-year period. To influence influential decision makers, these solutions need to be accompanied by financial data. Money talks, and it doesn’t matter how worthy you think your solution is, if you can’t back it up with figures, it will likely not get funded.

I think more people need to know about Project Drawdown and if they did, it’s impact could be transformational. I dedicated a whole section on my website to it and you can find a link to this below.

Project Drawdown

What you need to know

This article looked into the recently released docufilm 2040.

I thought it was a really good documentary that has the potential to have crossover appeal and pique the interests of mass audiences. This is no small feat for a documentary about climate change.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to engage mass audiences on climate change?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

P.S.

If you liked this article, please share it with your networks. Likewise, if you watch 2040 and you find it interesting, make an effort to tell your friends, family and co-workers about it. Word of mouth endorsements are incredibly powerful.

WORDS ARE POWER

Words have power, words are power, words could be your power. Those are not my words, but the words of Mohammed Qahtani, in his seminal Toastmasters International talk that made him a world champion in 2015.

He also says the following:

Words when said and articulated in the right way can change someone’s mind, they can alter someone’s belief.

If you have not watched Mohammed’s video then I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a masterclass in public speaking.

This week I was planning on writing about the Flybe rescue deal and how it is one of the greatest mis-allocations of capital this country has ever produced.

But then I came across something on Thursday that shocked me. I am not someone who is easily shocked.

It jolted me from me seat and made me think deeply about how manipulation like this could be used on an industrial scale. This is only the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t seen anything yet.

What I came across on Thursday was the Shell slogan “Drive Carbon Neutral.”

Drive carbon neutral

When I heard it for the first time, it was over the radio, and then in every advert break I heard it over and over again. Surely this couldn’t be correct, an oil company couldn’t be making such claims? But they were.

Further research uncovered that they have a product Go+. Quoting from their website, they claim:

With Shell Go+ any fuel purchase made will automatically be offset by Shell on behalf of the customer.”

This is the thin end of the wedge and if you ask me, the Advertising Standards Authority need to step in, because these claims are fantastic.

I will refer my readers back to Kevin Anderson’s Nature article: The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets.

 To quote the most memorable phrase from the article, he says the following:

Carbon offsetting is without scientific legitimacy and is dangerously misleading.

The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets

What worries me is that people will see advertising like this by Shell, see that it has obviously been sanctioned by the Advertising Standards Authority and so assume it is correct.

What Shell is implying, is that by buying this product, you will drive, with 0 carbon consequences. As their slogan dictates you will “Drive Carbon Neutral.”

Further investigation reveals that their plan is to:

Balance out the carbon emissions from the production, distribution and use of fuel.”

This is better than I would have expected, as they could have just covered the use phase. But it is nowhere near enough and driving is responsible for a whole host of carbon and non-carbon related problems. None of which are healed by this offset.

There are carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing of vehicles, the building and maintenance of roads and non-carbon impacts such as deaths from road traffic accidents and air pollution. The mere act of covering some of the carbon emissions associated with the vehicle’s fuel with an offset does nothing to address these.

In 1984 George Orwell wrote: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.

I fear that this is what is about to happen with claims from corporations with carbon offsetting and carbon neutrality. The general public is not set up to be able to verify such claims.

I believe we are only at the beginning and I expect to see a lot more of these claims coming out which promise sustainability, with no need to change your behaviour, lifestyle or technology. Anything that sounds too good to be true, almost always is.

What you need to know  

This article looked at a number of things.

We looked at Mohammed Qahtani’s talk ‘The Power of Words’ and if you have not seen this I strongly encourage you to watch it.

Then we looked at the Shell “Drive Carbon Neutral” slogan with their Go+ fuel and what the implications of this are.

We looked into Kevin Anderson’s Nature article: The inconvenient truth of carbon offsets.

 We looked into George Orwell’s quote: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words” and how this might foreshadow how language can and will be manipulated by corporations eager to conceal the true nature of their sustainability.

It is my opinion that we are only at the beginning of what will be a deluge of greenwashing and half true information from companies that will promise the same product as before, but with 0 guilt because of offsetting.

We are in a war for information and sadly, the first casualty, when war comes, is truth.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about carbon offsetting schemes?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

P.S

If you liked this article, please share it with your social media networks, it makes a really big difference.

AVIATION & CARBON EMISSIONS

This article looks into aviation and carbon emissions. It follows on the back of last week’s article, which looked into carbon offsetting. The aviation industry is expected to be a major purchaser of carbon offsets so these two issues are closely interlinked.

Jp Valery

The selection of this theme is influenced by my personal life, as I am travelling to India soon, where I will be flying from London to Mumbai.

Looking into the carbon emissions associated with this outbound flight, for 1 economy seat, where the impact of radiative forcing is accounted for, this comes to 1.08 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (greenhouse gasses).

Where the impact of radiative forcing is not taken into account, this only reports a figure of 0.57 tonnes of greenhouse gasses. This is obviously dangerously misleading and why it is so important to account for radiative forcing when reporting on greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.

The UK department for the environment defines radiative forcing as the influence of non-co2 climate change effects of aviation. This includes elements such as water vapour, contrails and NOX emissions.

I think it is important to put the impact of the emissions from that 1 flight in some context. The average carbon emissions per head of population in the UK comes to 9.1 tonnes per annum.

So just that 1 flight alone, would be responsible for 11.8% of a person’s carbon footprint. Which for something which lasts only a few hours is a sign of just how energy and carbon intensive this activity is.

This is why technological innovation that lowers the carbon emissions associated with flying is so important.

You are not going to connect London to Mumbai via high speed rail or passenger ship. The only realistic option is to fly. This makes sustainable aviation essential.

What you need to know

This article looked into carbon emissions and aviation.

We looked into the carbon emissions associated with 1 flight from London to Mumbai and the problems associated with not accounting for the impact of radiative forcing.

I don’t believe that aviation has committed some kind of original sin and I believe that technological breakthroughs will make a sustainable and connected future possible.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions from the aviation sector?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

P.S.

Please stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as I am planning on publishing lots of interesting content from my travels in India and Sri Lanka.

CARBON OFFSETS & SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into carbon offsets and sustainability. Do these various initiatives offer a pathway for high-carbon industries to rapidly decarbonise? Or are they misleading customers and corporate stakeholders as to the true sustainability of a business?

Ian Livesey

There is no doubt that this was all kicked into the mainstream with Easy Jet’s promise to become the world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its entire network, announcing that it would offset all jet fuel emissions through a variety of carbon offsetting mechanisms.

This all sounds wonderful, but if everything was as easy as paying others to reduce carbon emissions, so that high carbon industries could continue to emit high volumes of emissions and reduce their contribution towards climate change at a slower rate, then why was this not thought of earlier? The reason, is that what is sold as a bonified solution that stimulates progress is a murky world where emissions may be falling, staying the same or in some cases increasing.

Kevin Anderson, who I have written about before as he is a major authority on climate change was quick to step in with his perspective that carbon offsets do not work as they are portrayed. You can find images of his Twitter thread below.

Kevin Anderson Tweet 1

Kevin Anderson Tweet 2

Kevin makes two really good points in his Tweet. One is that the science and mechanics around carbon offsets is far from settled. The other is around total emissions, rather than efficiency. If you buy planes or other machinery that is marginally more efficient, but you buy more of them and use them more, the carbon reduction gains from improved efficiency will be cancelled out by the increased volume of carbon emitting activity.

In his Tweet, Kevin shares a link to his 2012 article in Nature The Inconvenient truth of carbon offsets. I will pick out what I consider to be the best bits from this article.

Kevin shares the following opinion:

“Offsetting is worse than doing nothing. It is without scientific legitimacy, is dangerously misleading and almost certainly contributes to a net increase in the absolute rate of global emissions growth.”

He goes on to explain that:

The science underpinning climate change makes clear that the temperature rise by around the end of this century will relate to the total emissions of long-lived greenhouse gasses between 2000 and 2100.

Kevin then moves on to make what I consider his most valuable argument:

The promise of offsetting triggers a rebound away from meaningful mitigation and towards the development of further high-carbon infrastructures… If offsetting is deemed to have equivalence with mitigation, the incentive to move to lower-carbon technologies, behaviours and practices is reduced accordingly.”

Overall, from Kevin’s analysis, it is hard to take anything positive about carbon offsetting.

Then towards the end of the week, I saw another article on carbon offsetting doing the rounds that really caught my eye. It came from the most unsuspecting of sources, CNN.

CNN article

I was really impressed with quality of this article and for taking on the challenge of explaining to the public that there are no easy solutions. Carbon offsetting is not a panacea for high-carbon, energy-intensive industries to become sustainability leaders overnight.

The only thing that I would improve about the CNN article, is that it is important to include the impact of radiative forcing when talking about the impact of carbon emissions from the aviation sector. Failure to do this portrays an unrealistically low carbon impact from this sector.

But I have to say that it is positive to see a major news outlet such as CNN take on a challenging subject such as carbon offsetting and explain to their readers that this does not offer a magic bullet to addressing climate change.

What you need to know

This article looked into carbon offsets and sustainability.

We looked into the Easy Jet carbon offset guarantee that was recently announced.

We looked into the rebuttal by Kevin Anderson and his 2012 article in Nature.

We also looked into a surprisingly good article in CNN by Julia Buckley which exposes the limitations of carbon offsets.

The key takeaway should be that the whole process of carbon offsetting is fraught with limitations. Some sides of the argument would say that it is an overall negative activity as it distracts from reducing emissions and facilitates increased investments in high-carbon industries. There are those who say it is either a harmless activity or something which is an overall positive in helping to lower emissions in high-carbon industries until such a time that technology allows them to be responsible for fewer emissions.

On this argument I am likely to side with Kevin Anderson as he is a major authority on climate science. If they are even slightly less effective than they are promoted as being and if they distract even remotely from mitigation activities and increase emissions in the short run, then they are a negative force. The onus is on the providers of the offsets and the companies wishing to be declared as carbon neutral to prove that they are leading to overall carbon emissions reductions.

As with most things in life, things that seem simple very often turn out to be a great deal more complicated than originally thought.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think about the effectiveness of carbon offsets?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

FORESTRY ≠ DEFORESTATION

This article looks into forestry and deforestation. These are often confused as being the same thing, when in fact they are very different.

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This article is based on the work of Patrick Moore and his excellent book Green Spirit: trees are the answer, which I read recently. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I respect his opinions as he backs them up with evidence. But on forestry, he is a major authority in this field, with significant experience.

In his book, Patrick explains the following:

It is not surprising that many people associate deforestation and destruction of forests with logging. After all, the first stage of deforestation is the removal of trees. But deforestation is a two-stage process and the second stage is by far the most critical in determining the fate of the forest. The second stage involves human activity directed at making sure the forest is not allowed to grow back after it has been cut.”

Patrick brings thing closer to home, with the following helpful explanation:

We tend to think of deforestation as something that happens in other countries when in truth most of us live in and are surrounded by areas where forests once thrived, but are now occupied by cities and farms.

Patrick goes on to explain that:

It is important to remember that the initial clearing of land is not sufficient in itself to cause deforestation. Left alone, land that was forested will eventually return to forest after it is cut down. It is only by determined and continuous effort that our farms, cities, and industrial areas are prevented from returning to a forest similar to the one that was removed.”

What you need to know

This article looked into forestry and deforestation.

What should be clear from everything that we have looked at, is that forestry and deforestation are not the same thing.

The deforestation occurs when the land that was once forested is converted to another permanent use.

An ideal situation is for seeds to be planted in the area where logging has taken place. But even if nothing is done, trees will once again emerge and grow to maturity.

Deforestation has far more in common with agriculture, urbanisation and primary industries such as mining and quarrying than it does with forestry. If managed sustainably, a forest can supply timber in perpetuity.

To be sure, there is some forestry that leads to deforestation. But instead of widespread and incorrect linkages between forestry and deforestation, we should be encouraging the increased use of wood and be planting more trees as it is the world’s most abundant renewable resource.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be done to promote sustainable forestry?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

KEY CONSIDERATIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE BUILDINGS

This article looks into some of the key areas that need to be considered in order to make a building as sustainable as possible.

Sawyer Bengtson

It is once again based on the analysis of Simon Sturgis and his excellent book Targeting Zero.

If you look at the chart below from ourworldindata.org sustainable buildings have the potential to influence carbon emissions in the residential buildings segment, the manufacturing industries & construction segment and the electricity & heat production segment. It is not unusual for buildings to be connected to 40% of a countries carbon emissions. Therefore, a strategy that focusses on buildings that are low carbon in their construction and operational phases is likely to prove to be a successful one to tackle carbon emissions at a global scale.

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There are a number of design choices which will affect how sustainable a building is, we will go through each of these in turn.

Existing resources

Simon explains that you should:

Establish which materials, structure and fabric already on site are suitable for reuse within the project.”

Simon goes on to explain that:

Part of the conceptual approach is to consider what the next architect/ engineer would do with your building when it comes to future refurbishment. Can your building be dismantled and recycled in its entirety? Can the components be reused at the same level, i.e. not just at a lower use level? The ideal is for nothing to be wasted, and everything to be reusable.”

This is a level of thinking that needs to become commonplace as soon as possible.

Environmental strategy

Simon begins with the following excellent explanation:

The relationship between operational and embodied emissions and their collective mitigation is key to a low carbon building.”

Simon then explains what services should be omitted to improve the sustainability of the building:

Omitting mechanical systems omits a large part of a building’s regulated operational energy use, and the embodied costs of the plant.

Primary structure

Simon begins by highlighting that:

The key to a low carbon structural system is to select the optimal system not just for the immediate requirement, and for the desired life expectancy, but also for future flexibility.”

Simon then expands on that with the following statement:

Some solutions such as steel or timber can be designed for easy dismantling and reuse. Concrete, using cement replacements, recycled content in steel, and recycled aggregate can be relatively carbon-efficient, particularly if durability and long life are required.

External walls and cladding

Simon explains the key parameters for this area:

These are the initial embodied carbon costs construction, the lifetime carbon costs through maintenance and disposal, the potential for deconstruction and reuse, and the lifetime operational performance costs consequent on the design. The relationship between these parameters depends on required life expectancy and desired lifetime performance. Inappropriate choices can have significant unnecessary carbon costs.”

Interiors

Simon begins by explaining how interiors can become a carbon hotspot over time:

While the initial carbon cost of fitout may be comparatively small in relation to structure or cladding, the aggregate carbon cost can exceed these large initial capital cost items over the life of a building.”

Simon then explains what should be done about this:

From the outset, interiors decisions need to be strategic from a future maintenance perspective as much as aesthetic and cost driven. Natural finishes such as brick, which do not need a finishing layer or regular maintenance, fit a low carbon strategy on both counts.”

What you need to know

This article looked into the key considerations that need to be addressed in order to design and build a sustainable building.

They each need to be addressed in their own way to ensure that emissions reductions in one area or not replaced by emissions increases in another area.

What should be clear is that globally, buildings are a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This will require significant change in order to make this sector less carbon intensive.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think needs to be addressed to create a low carbon building?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby