THE HIDDEN COSTS OF CARS

As cities and regions around the world begin to shape their transport systems for a socially distanced future, the hidden costs that cars impose on society should not be forgotten. Now is the time to envision car less streets, towns, villages and cities.

I am minded to share the following quotation, which is attributed to Rudiger Dornbusch:

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

After years of campaigners pointing to cycling success stories in the Netherlands and Denmark in the hope that their local area could have space for cycling, lots of people are waking up to find that their politicians have finally answered this call.

Interestingly in these areas which are often held up as having the apex of cycling infrastructure, their local politicians are calling for even higher levels of cycling, to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

In all this, we should not forget the hidden costs that cars impose on society. Car less cities and rural areas are a good idea with or without a highly infectious virus.

The figures that I will go through can be found here.

In this European Commission study, the following externalities were taken into account: accidents, air pollution, climate change, noise, congestion, well-to-tank emissions, and habitat damage.

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The total external costs of transport in the EU are estimated at €987 billion.

These are significant costs and it is important to look at the differences between transport modes.

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As we can see in the table, passenger cars is the largest contributor to external costs, making up 57% of the total costs, at €565 billion.

This is a significant burden placed upon society, so it is only right that this is called into question as to whether this is a desirable long-term solution.

What you need to know

This article looked into the hidden costs of cars.

It was based on a 2019 European Commission report that showed that transport is responsible for almost €1 Trillion of external costs on society, with passenger cars making up the vast majority of that number.

It is only fair that these hidden costs are taken into account as cities and regions look to remodel their transport systems to facilitate socially distanced mobility.

Whilst the study is purely academic, the costs imposed on society by the excessive and unnecessary use of passenger cars are real.

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 communicate the hidden costs of cars?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

DEBUNKING PLANET OF THE HUMANS

This article looks into the recently released documentary Planet of the Humans. I was interested to watch this as I saw it getting a surprisingly warm reception online.

I was initially hesitant as I am a big Christopher Hitchens fan and I was aware of how he had intellectually disassembled Michael Moore and exposed his many weaknesses. I will post a video of Christopher doing this below.

Upon watching it, it became immediately obvious how one sided the documentary was. There was no attempt to be balanced. It reminded me of some of the worst instances of corporate greenwashing, but in reverse and in documentary form. The documentary is using bad science and inaccurate information to put across a one sided point of view. It is ironic that the documentary is guilty of a crime they are accusing others of.

For those who are unaware of what greenwashing is, it consists of misleading communications, to insinuate that a product or process is more environmentally friendly than it really is.

There is a 7 step framework originally created by TerraChoice that you can find here and I have my own article on the subject that you can find here.

So what I thought would be interesting, would be to re-watch the documentary and highlight where it commits sins highlighted in the 7 sins of greenwashing.

Sin of the hidden trade-off

This is used to describe claims that suggest a product is green based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.

There are several scenes where music festivals are shown to be attempting to be powered 100% by renewable energy without success. The documentary is guilty of this sin, as there is no attempt made to investigate whether these technologies work at a grid level, which they do.

If the documentary makers would have watched this video by Amory Lovins, they would have learned that modern renewable power doesn’t need a breakthrough in energy storage in order to be highly successful.

Sin of no proof

This is used to describe environmental claims not substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.

There is a scene at 1 min 22 where it was suggested that there was a seaweed forest that was promoted as being a sustainability game changer, but that was dead 1 year later. Why was it dead, were there specific reasons, should we give up on seaweed, what about algae? The documentary merely leaves the suggestion out there that this technology is useless, but no evidence is provided as to whether this is correct.

Sin of vagueness

This is used to describe claims that are so poorly defined or broad that their real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.

This is probably the sin that is most synonymous with the documentary as whole so there are quite a few examples to get through.

There is a scene at the launch of an electric car where a question is asked about the electricity that is charging the car. Yes it was likely from non-renewable sources in the USA, but that could change, and electric vehicles are superior at turning energy into power, something that was not explained in the documentary.

There is a scene where a hydrogen salesman was asked where the hydrogen comes from. This was cute, but there was no attempt to explain that ammonia could end up being a breakthrough source for hydrogen, with the ability to reduce carbon emissions substantially.

Sin of worshipping false labels

This is used to describe claims that give the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.

I don’t want to sound too harsh, but the documentary repeatedly uses cutaways to social scientists who espouse views that humanity is doomed and there are no technological fixes that will save civilisation. I would have preferred for a diversity of views to be aired, including those from engineering, physics and sustainability backgrounds. Why was no attempt made to interview people who hold the opposite point of view?

For instance, Project Drawdown has recently catalogued the top 100 most powerful climate change solutions. Is it not strange to not have interviewed someone from their organisation, such as Paul Hawken?

Authors such as Richard Heinberg where wheeled out and promoted as having widespread respect for their viewpoints. I say this as someone who got interested in sustainability by reading books by Richard Heinberg. He has been wrong about many issues, such as his opinion on the timing of peak oil. His book titles are deliberately provocative, he is but one view among many, there are reasons to be optimistic.

Sin of irrelevance

This is used to describe claims that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.

There is a fairly odd scene with a tour of what can only be described as a group of activists who espouse views on the efficacy of wind turbines. I appreciate their sincerity, but are these really the best people to listen to, to get a balanced view on the costs and benefits and environmental trade offs of wind power? I don’t want to say that their viewpoint is irrelevant, but their elevation and promotion via Michael Moore’s platform bear no resemblance to their subject matter expertise.

There are other technologies put forward for mockery in the documentary. These include elephant dung and animal fat. I have never heard these promoted as mainstream solutions, these have been included for no other reason than to be immediately shot down. It makes for good TV, but it is not scientific.

Sin of lesser of two evils

This is used to describe claims that may be true within the product category but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.

The treatment of renewable energy in this documentary is very disappointing. The documentary would have been fine if it focussed its attention on the questionable sustainability benefits of biofuels and biomass.

Unfortunately, it became a very poorly executed hatchet job on wind power, solar power and electric vehicles. Interestingly, I do not remember there being a single mention of nuclear power, which is strange, as it is normally something that stokes a strong degree of debate.

The first time that energy return on energy invested is even touched upon, the documentary is 32 minutes in, and it barely comes up again. This is the benchmark against which all energy sources should be judged against.

Sin of fibbing

This is used to describe environmental claims that are simply false, I think we all know what that means.

I have found 1 particularly egregious example. At around 1 hour 4 mins, I saw a chart of the German electricity mix, this was used to demonstrate that they have not been performing strongly and are in fact over reliant on biomass to meet their renewable energy obligations. I will post a screen shot of this chart below.

Germany Energy Mix POTH

The source for this was said to be the German federal government, however I noticed that there was no date attributed to this data.

After an easy search online, my suspicions were proved to be correct, and biomass does not make up a preponderance of Germany’s renewable energy mix for the 2019 data. I will post a pie chart below.

fig3-share-energy-sources-gross-german-power-production-2019

What you need to know

This article looked into the recently released documentary Planet of the Humans through the lens of the 7 sins of greenwashing. As we can see, there are many examples where the documentary is guilty of these in reverse.

I haven’t even felt the need to touch upon the conspiracy theory nature of the documentary, the assertions made speak volumes about Michael Moore’s quality control filter.

I think it is important to point out that the environmental and sustainability movement is much bigger than Bill McKibben, Al Gore and Robert F Kennedy Jr. There was no mention of corporate sustainability, commitments to net zero or progress to date.

My worry is that this will find widespread appeal and those that watch it won’t follow up with any fact checking of their own.

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 effective climate solutions?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

THE SUSTAINABILITY BENEFITS OF GREEN ROOFS

This article investigates the sustainability benefits of green roofs. It was inspired by reading Green Roofs: Ecological Design and Construction. I thought this was an impressive book, and I learned a lot by reading it. It comes highly recommended from me.

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In the preface by Earth Pledge Executive Director Leslie Hoffman, she shares an excellent quotation which I will post below:

Green Roofs represent an elegant opportunity to simultaneously mitigate environmental problems and create immediate life-enhancing value. They individually offer building owners savings on energy and roof membrane replacement costs, while also greening the cityscape for owners and residents of neighbouring buildings. Flowering and native plants help cool the urban landscape and combat the pollinator crises in our region, and one doesn’t need to hear much about combined sewage overflow and the erosion and runoff issues in coastal zones to understand why pervious surface is desirable.”

In terms of the environmental benefits of green roofs, these can be broken down into a few categories.

Climate change

Green roofs help to address climate change by reducing the urban heat island effect. This is a phenomena where urban areas warm to a greater extent than rural areas.

Green roofs accomplish this by warming less in summer. Where an asphalt roof could reach 160oF, a green roof would rarely exceed 80 oF.

There is also another green roof phenomena called evaporative cooling, which reduces heat transfer through the roof into the building, making the inside cooler and reducing the air conditioning load.

Hydrology

Urban infrastructure disrupts the natural movement of water, known as the hydrologic cycle.

Green roofs can help to solve this problem. They retain and detain stormwater, reducing runoff volume and slowing the rate at which it enters the sewage system.

Delaying the runoff is as important as reducing its volume, as this helps to prevent waste water systems from becoming overloaded.

Urban ecology

Green roofs can act as an ecological beacon in urban areas and support biodiversity.

Green roofs can be designed to protect endangered plant species, or to blend in with the local habitat.

Other roofs, so called brown or rubble roofs take material that is excavated during the build and use that soil to create a green roof on the finished build. The hope is that this is naturally colonised by indigenous plants and supports local ecology.

Green roofs can also support many varieties of bird and insect that would not survive without the habitat that they provide.

What you need to know

This article investigated the sustainability benefits of green roofs.

It was based on the book Green Roofs, by Earth Pledge, it comes highly recommended from me.

Green roofs provide many benefits, but particularly in terms of climate change, hydrology and ecology.

People are always looking for breakthrough technologies that will make the built envelopment more sustainable. Green roofs could be one of those solutions.

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 the benefits of green roofs?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

WASTED TIME AND SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into wasted time and sustainability. Climate change has risen in importance in recent years, but is it possible that a lack of action on the initial warnings has left too much to do in too little time?

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This article was inspired by an excellent comment piece in Nature by Niklas Höhne, et al. that I read recently. You can find a link to this below.

Emissions: world has four times the work or one-third of the time

Reading this left me with a feeling of disappointment, as so much time has been wasted, leaving a lot of catching up to do. The 2020s will have to be a decade unlike any other.

Their paper was based on a synthesis of all ten editions of the Emissions Gap Report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This is an annual report that examines the difference between what countries have pledged to do individually to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and what they need to do collectively to meet agreed temperature goals — the ‘gap’.

Let’s begin by analysing their findings, unfortunately, they do not point towards a successful response:

Our analysis shows that the gap has widened by as much as four times since 2010.”

I will post their explanation in full below:

There are three reasons for this. First, global annual greenhouse-gas emissions increased by 14% between 2008 and 2018. This means that emissions now have to decline faster than was previously estimated, because it is cumulative emissions that determine the long-term temperature increase. Second, the international community now agrees that it must ensure a lower global temperature rise than it decided ten years ago, because climate risks are better understood. And third, countries’ new climate pledges have been insufficient.”

I liked the fact that they were highlighting the importance of cumulative emissions. In the rush of net zero by 2050 commitments, I think a lot of people are forgetting that the various pathways to net zero in 2050 matter. It is the intermediate targets and cumulative emissions that matter.

It was one of the following paragraphs that struck me most, and I will paste it in full below:

Had serious climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required to meet the emissions levels for 2°C would have been around 2% per year, on average, up to 2030. Instead, emissions increased. Consequently, the required cuts from 2020 are now more than 7% per year on average for 1.5°C (close to 3% for 2°C).”

The only thing you can take away from the above paragraph is a feeling of wasted time. The annual cuts required are now significant, requiring rapid alterations to economic and social systems as well as the uptake of new technology.

The authors close with the following ominous statement:

“The gap is so huge that governments, the private sector and communities need to switch into crisis mode, make their climate pledges more ambitious and focus on early and aggressive action. Otherwise, the Paris agreement’s long-term goals are out of reach. We do not have another ten years.”

What you need to know

This article looked into wasted time and sustainability.

It was based on a recent paper in Nature that analysed historical Emissions Gap Report data provided by UNEP.

The paper’s findings paint a bleak picture of global climate action in recent decades. Much time has been wasted, which has made the challenge between now and 2030 all the more challenging.

We have to hope that the 2020’s go down as a historic decade of climate action, unlike the preceding decades, that were largely squandered.

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 limit global temperature increases to below 1.5°C?

 Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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.