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This coming week, a few thousand people will be setting up the third annual Climate Camp, at Kingsnorth in Kent, to protest against the building of a new coal-fired power station in the near future.

The Climate Camp has already been set up in a field near Kingsnorth power station, and will be there all week, culminating in a day of direct action attempting to prevent the power station from functioning on the Saturday. The direct action will be what hits the headlines, for obvious reasons. You can expect lots of pictures of people with dreadlocks and angel-wings being dragged around by police in the papers on Sunday morning.

You can also expect to hear very little about the rest of the climate camp. Over the week around 200 workshops and talks will be taking place on all kinds of topics related to climate change. It will use energy produced using solar panels brought to the site, and all are welcome. Visitors and speakers at the camp will include Caroline Lucas MEP, George Monbiot, and Chris Davies MP, who wrote an article in The Guardian recently explaining why he is going to the camp.

So what’s it all about? The present Kingsnorth Power station needs to be replaced. A proposal by E.On to build a new coal-powered station was given the go-ahead by Medway council in January, leaving the decision of whether to build it to the Government.

Coal produces more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel, so when we should be doing everything we can to reduce our carbon emissions, and the Government is including a planned 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, it’s suicide. Especially as this is the first of seven coal-powered stations planned by the Government.

It’s at this point that spokespersons from E.On start talking about carbon capture and storage (CSS). The idea’s simple – grab the carbon before it gets into the atmosphere and put it somewhere where it won’t cause global warming. Like underground. And it’s a good idea. It could reduce the carbon emissions from the new power plant by up to 90%.

And it’s at this point that practical people respond by reminding everyone that CCS isn’t yet available. The Government would like to have a demonstration power plant up and running by 2014 (two years after Kingsnorth will be ready), but they expect that this demonstration will take 15 years. 2029 then. Too little, far too late, to avoid catastrophic climate change. (None of this matters, because as it stands the new Kingsnorth power station may not be made ‘CCS ready’ anyway .

And that is where the arguments grind to a halt. The state of knowledge about CCS technology prevents it from going any further. If we knew that every new coal power plant was going to have CCS technology, and that this would reduce the emissions by 90%, then we would have a proper debate. Assuming, of course, that this could happen immediately.

But the sad fact is that we don’t have time to mess around. Estimations of when we could pass the point of no return with climate change vary wildly. This week the one hundred month campaign was launched, based on research saying that there are 100 months ‘to save the planet’, whereas James Hansen is telling us that we are already past the dangerous level of CO2 in the atmosphere, and we need to start reducing it, instead of just reducing the rate of increase.

So which is it? Well it doesn’t really matter. What we need to do is reduce our emissions to zero, and do it as quickly as possible.

I expect a few of the people at this years climate camp to be anarchist ‘greens’, that want to bring down society, overthrow the Government, and go back to living in tents and caves. Newspapers will refer to people at the camp as ‘environmental protestors’ or something similar, and most will be just that. But the majority of people at the camp are just concerned about the future of the human race, and the millions, if not billions, which will starve or die through global warming in the future. I’m not going to the camp because I want to save polar bears or ice caps. I want to save people.

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Wind. Great stuff. It blows around here and there (especially around the British Isles) and just waits for someone to come along and make electricity out of it. Brilliant.

But in the recent past we haven’t really been that bothered. Hans-Josef Fell (a German MP who was a driving force behind Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Law) has a great little graph that he likes to show British audiences, which compares wind power in the UK and Germany from 1990-2003. Here it is………..

snapshot-2008-01-30-22-09-17.jpg

Of course, the British audience being British, usually respond by laughing loudly and exclaiming things like ‘Ha ha! – aren’t we crap! Oh we’re SO crap.’ Or ‘Well those sensible Germans would have done that wouldn’t they.’
And they’d be right. We are pretty bad at wind power. In fact, we’re pretty bad at all renewable sources of power here in Britain – only 5% of our electricity comes from renewable sources(1).

The EU has recently been telling its members what is required of them in terms of carbon emission cuts and renewable energy increases, as part of its plans to tackle climate change (2). So what does this mean for us in the UK? Well, we have to increase the percentage of total energy demand (including transport and heating) coming from renewables to 15% (we are currently at 1.3% according to The Independent (1)). It is likely that electricity generation will have to come up with a large proportion of this percentage, and therefore we will require around 40% of electricity to come from renewables. And remember, at the moment we are at 5%. We’ve got 12 years and counting.

According to the British Wind Energy Association these requirements will mean we have to build 7,350 new offshore, and 3,000 new land based wind farms(1). We’d better get going then. As a result there is going to be a huge number of arguments between planners and local environmentalists, as there have already been in several areas (3,4). A lot of very careful planning is required to ensure that the best solution is found, providing the maximum power generation with the minimum of immediate environmental cost.

However, if even this approach results in a direct decision between local ecology and turbine construction, the decision should surely be in favour of the turbine. Unfortunately some sacrifices will need to be made locally in order for the global environment to ultimately benefit. Keep this in mind if someone plans to build a turbine in your area. If it’s the local bird species you are worried about then don’t worry – climate change that is already in the pipeline will probably cause them to migrate north anyway. So either way it’s bye bye birdies.

It would logically follow that the best plan might be to build all the new turbines offshore so that these problems don’t arise – but I am sure there are corresponding problems at sea, and as always it will be a trade-off with other issues, such as cost.

But the real issue here shouldn’t be the windmills. It should be the target. Although the EU is rightly being commended internationally for discussing, and now enforcing, these targets, the world still needs to realise that a 20% reduction is too small. Much too small. And as I have said previously about the UK Government’s targeted reductions, they are easy to set, but a lot harder to meet – assuming that you want to meet them in the first place(5). These targets are a very significant step, but they are only the start of a very long and difficult process.

The UK MEP Graham Watson said as much in his response to the proposals – “….the Commission’s proposals while a welcome – and, by today’s standards, radical – departure from short term economic thinking are still only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling climate change”(2). The tip of the iceberg indeed. A slightly unfortunate choice of metaphor.

But even these little targets are already too much for some people. I find it incredibly frustrating when spokespersons and people in positions of huge responsibility start to add to the resistance instead of logically attacking the problem we face. The latest on this list is Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI (Confederation of British industry), who said this week “It can be done but it will cost a hell of a lot of money,” – “I think it is not realistic.” (6).

Cost hell of a lot of money??!?!! Of course it is Mr.Lambert! Not realistic?!? As leader of the CBI it’s partly your job to make it realistic. Now are you going to help us deal with it or are you going to continue adding to the problem?

References
1. Britain will need 12,500 wind farms to satisfy EU targets – Michael McCarthy, 24th January 2008.
2. MEPs give first reactions to climate change and energy package – 23RD Jan 2008. European Parliament Online.
3. How Whinash saw off the turbines – The Independent Online, Emily Dugan, 26th January 2008.
4. Wind farm plan is blown off course – The Independent Online, Michael McCarthy and Mark Hughes, 26th January 2008.
5. See ‘Targets’ on this site from September 2007.
6. CBI director says emissions target unrealistic and not cost-effective – Guardian Online, Ian Traynor, 30th Jan 2008.

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