Energy and emissions in the NorthWest: comparing ambitions, Jevons paradox and shale gas.

It is interesting to compare proposals for energy use and production as they apply to our region.

In the chart below I have plotted the carbon reduction proposals from the following documents:

1) Sustainable Energy Action Plan for Greater Manchester (SEAP), Commissioned by AGMA.

2) The UK Carbon Budget no. 3 from DECC.

3)  CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain, 2030 (ZCB 2030)

4) The World Wildlife Fund /ecofys Energy report (WWF / ecofys)

5)  The Welsh Assembly’s proposal, cited in the UK Carbon Budget paper.

Thee plans all propose to reduce carbon emissions but they differ greatly in the pace of change proposed.   As we will see they also differ in how they think they will get there.  The figure plotted is the proportion of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as a percentage of the 1990 baseline.

Carbon reduction according to 5 different plans

click to see larger version

Below is the table of data that sits behind the graph.  To give a common basis for comparison I have had to interpolate some date and also because SEAP uses 2005 for its baseline year I have converted their figures to a 1990 basis.

1990 2005 2020 2030 2050
Carbon reduction target (target CO2e as % of baseline)
SEAP 100 95 62.7 38 11.4
UK carbon budget no. 3 100 95 66 45 20
ZCB 2030 100 95 40 0 0
WWF / ecofys 100 95 70 30 0
Welsh Assembly 100 95 60 44 24

The important points are:-

Both WWF and ZCB2030 propose a reduction to zero net carbon emissions while the three government sources do not envisage this.

As a result ZCB and WWF both have a more rapid decline in emissions, and this is critical – you have to look at the area under the line to understand the continued build up of greenhouse gases.   The ZCB plan notes that in the developed countries we need to go faster than the average because of our per capita higher emissions.

Rather lost in this summary are the assumptions.  ZCB in particular combines an an ambitious reduction in energy consumption (Power Down) with plans to replace the use of fossil hydrocarbons.  They also take account of land use emissions.  The government’s carbon budget does not include clear targets to Power Down.  WWF also propose a reduction, but to 85% by 2050 rather than ZCB’s 50% by 2030.  David MacKay in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air makes an identical proposal to that of WWF – it is good they propose powering down, but this is likely to be too little and too late.  Perhaps someone would like to calculate the difference between WWF and ZCB in terms of CO2e put into the atmosphere?

Neither ZCB nor the WWF propose the use of Nuclear.

Here are some additional comparisons.  They are less complete due to the gaps in some of the plans (to be slightly charitable here, the government has noted that there are a number of possible pathways to its inadequate 80% 2050 target).  I have added David MacKay’s projection on reduced energy consumption and the SNP government’s impressive target for production from renewables (although it would be difficult to generalise from the Scottish case to the NW).

Increase in renewable production
SEAP 2 6
ZCB 2030 100
WWF / ecofys 100
Proportion of energy from fossil hydrocarbons
ZCB 2030 0 0
WWF / ecofys 0
Energy demand (%) of baseline)
UK carbon budget no. 3
ZCB 2030 50
WWF / ecofys 100 85
MacKay 100 85

Here the lack of ambition of the SEAP report becomes clear.  While they do leave out some areas of potential change as outside the scope of the Greater Manchester decision makers / local authorities / AGMA, nevertheless the very limited renewables projection really requires challenge.  Likewise the lack of clear and challenging power down targets.  On the positive side, there are some indicators that if applied will enable us all to track progress within the bioregion.

This point about Power Down is absolutely crucial.  We now know very well that increases in energy efficiency, if not accompanied by clear proposals for powering down will just mean that more energy overall is used.  This is called the Jevons Paradox.  Why so important in the North West now?  Because of the new threat of exploitation of the Bowden Shale for gas.  This involves natural gas,  trapped in shale rock, that has to be extracted by a process of pressurised injeuction of huge quantities of water, sand and solvents, called fracturing.  As this preliminary report from the Tyndall Centre makes clear, exploiting this resource may have some significant risks (although the methods being used in USAnia that have caused such concern will -probably- not all be used here), but most important will (despite the propaganda from the prospectors) have a negative impact on greenhouse gas production, delaying necessary action.

So far as I can see AGMA’s environment commission hasn’t commented on this burning (well not quite yet) issue on our doorstep – further argument for a bioregional approach rather than focussing on the urban conurbation as the definition of the subregion.  However, the Co-op (which funded the Tyndall research), the Green Party and the Labour Party have opposed the drilling (the latter provisionally.  Of course the risks and assessments have been ignored by our golpista prime minister.


John Bellamy Foster Interviewed by Solidair/Solidaire, “The Ecology of Socialism”

John Bellamy Foster Interviewed by Solidair/Solidaire, “The Ecology of Socialism”.

Excellent and clear piece that explains that:

” In capitalism you have an economic crisis whenever there isn’t economic growth or it slows down significantly (more specifically when the growth of profits and accumulation turns negative or stagnates).  It is a grow-or-die system.  Whenever there is an economic crisis it poses, like I said, “a disaster for working people,” since they are ultimately forced to bear the cost.  We are experiencing that right now in a very big way.  But it is also true that the ecological footprint of humanity is now too big, and we are crossing all sorts of physical boundaries of the system.  This too is a reality, and one that will only worsen with continued exponential growth.

“How do we deal with this double economic-ecological contradiction, which is built into capitalism?  I think the answer should be obvious: we need to struggle against the system itself.  People need jobs and security, as well as all the basic requirements of life.  They also need opportunities for human development.  But this cannot be accomplished any more by doing everything possible to expand the total level of production endlessly, with the promise (almost invariably not kept) that significant crumbs will fall to those below.  Instead we have to focus on essential needs, on equality, and on human development.”

Know your (environmental) limits

SDC logo

The coalition vandals have ended (from 1 April) the Sustainable Development Commission.  Here is one of their last contributions – a useful piece of work that helps us operationalise the notion of ecological limits at a local (and therefore also bioregional) level.

“‘Living within environmental limits’ is one of the five principles of sustainable development. It is easy to talk about environmental limits, and many of us accept that such limits must exist. But how do we recognise them? How do we know when we’re bumping up against them? What can we do to prevent those limits being breached? And with the re-energised focus on local decision making we ask, what do they mean for local areas?

“We have proposed a definition of environmental limits and examined seven ‘key’ environmental areas under OECD’s ‘Pressure-State-Response’ framework, highlighting existing legislative limits and where these do not exist. We have considered ‘land use’ and ‘soils’ as particular areas for government action as there is currently little or no action taken to recognise environmental limits in these areas. The report also makes suggestions for action by local governance bodies and community groups.”

Link to the full report. (so long as they pay the website subscription ….).

Stop Peat Extraction Here in Manchester

Campaigners from Save Our North West Green Belt have called for people to object to new  planning application for peat extraction on land owned by Peel Holdings …… William Sinclair Horticulture Limited have submitted a revised application to Salford City Council to continue extracting peat for another 15 years,  after having its Environment Statement rejected last August 2010.  
read more (Mule)

read more (Wildlife Trust)

This is vital – peatlands are a very important carbon store and we just can’t have them continually destroyed for the sake of profit – especially when better alternatives exist.

We did it! – but why? and what next?

Message sent to me by the people organising the campaign against the government’s sell off of our forest lands:-

WE’VE WON! The government has just confirmed they’re totally scrapping the forest sell-off. The phoney consultation has been cancelled. The sinister legal changes to pave the way for privatisation have been dropped.

We did this together. Next time someone tries to tell any of us that signing petitions or emailing our MPs doesn’t work, we’ll know exactly what to say: “People power does work. Just look at the Save Our Forests campaign”.

Now I don’t want to pour cold water on what is a good victory, but why was this campaign successful while other campaigns are having less success?  The privatisation of the NHS, the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance, the punitive and destructive 25% cuts in our council’s budget- these all go on despite campaigns and petitions.

The reason has to do with class – in an old fashioned sense.  This was not a campaign of the urban working class, or even particularly of the liberal intelligentsia.  This was a campaign with broad support that included the tories’ core constituency, Old Rural England.

It is shocking that when environmental destruction threatens us all so profoundly, that it has still not been possible to create a campaigning alliance across the lines of class, between the country and the city, and between those of us living in the Imperial Triad core countries (North America, Europe, Japan) and those in the global South,  that calls for another way of living, another way of earning, another way of using the resources of the earth.

The reason is that the campaigning focus of selling the forests is pretty easy to pinpoint, a clear demand against a policy that is not absolutely core to the Cameron-Clegg regime’s project.  The wider onslaught against public services and the environmental emergency are deeper problems to deal with, constituted as they are by a system of capital accumulation that knows no stopping and that restlessly invents new ways to overcome its setbacks – at whatever the cost to human lives and the planet’s health.

Maybe though this initial success, protecting our forests does after all show us that change can be created by the will of the people (as in the Arab world just now).  Perhaps we just have to expect more, finding other emblematic foci for further campaigns that allow invigoration of the movement for change by its successes, and allow the broadening of that movement (composed of those who didn’t vote for this regime, even if they might have voted for some of its members) to take in diverse and contradictory currents all running together into an irresistible flow.

Bioregional perspectives – handout

Readers might find this handout helpful in that it sets out on a couple of pages the bioregional perspective.  Prepared for the Climate and Capitalism conference held in Manchester, 23 October 2010.

Download the handout

Keeping going on the economy

The paper:  Getting Started on the Economy has just been updated.

Theses on debt, economy and ecology

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the interconnected themes of

  • Economic growth – and its unsustainability
  • Steady state economics
  • The financial melt down and its relationship to the crisis of capitalism
  • The relationship between economic growth and household debt
  • The relationship between debt and growth
  • The cuts in public expenditure
  • The relationship between economic growth and capital accumulation

But I’ve yet to find anyone who is putting them all together, because they certainly do interconnect.
So here is my first attempt – done in the form of a set of theses or propositions.
As ever, comments, suggestions, counter-arguments and additions would be really helpful.

Theses on debt, economy and ecology

1.  Economic growth is unsustainable since it requires absolutely increasing material throughput.  This throughput creates devastating pollution of the ecosystem, most notably through greenhouse gas emissions.  It will also be constrained by resource limits.

2.  Economic growth is a result of capitalism, a system that requires the incessant expansion of capital.

3.  Capitalism is beset with recurrent internal crises.  It resolves these through fixes of various kinds including technological and spatial.

4.  Periodically capitalism moves into a mode of expansion characterised by the creation of speculative bubbles.  Most recently this has been seen in the hyper-development of finance capital relative to industrial capital.

5.  Since the 1970s there has been a downward pressure on wages.  The impact of this on consumption has been offset by the increase in household debt via easy credit.  It is the bundling of various forms of debt in ultimately unsustainable pyramids that has precipitated the collapse of the current financialisation phase of capitalism.

6.  States (which serve the interests of capital) have attempted three strategies to keep the motor of capital accumulation, and hence economic growth, running.  The first was the bail out of failing financial institutions – the transfer of public wealth to private finance capitalist firms.  The second was fiscal stimulus via cuts in interest rates and the printing of money.  Both these were funded by borrowing money via the issuing of government securities (gilts in the UK).  The third strategy has been to cut the government debt by cutting public spending and raising receipts, including taxes (themselves reduced through the reduction of economic activity in the recession).

7. This third strategy, by reducing incomes will further increase household debt (already three times government debt in the UK).

8.  By borrowing, and paying interest, households subsidise capital accumulation by increasing the level of purchases above the level of earnings paid by the capitalist economy.  This represents a third source of capital accumulation (the first is the theft of surplus labour, the second the theft of common assets).

9.  Therefore the economic crisis involves a restructure of the relations between public assets (public services, government spending, government debt), household debt, and private profit (for capital accumulation).  The crisis allows the state to re-stimulate capital accumulation and hence economic growth using a combination of rescue of banking services (and the availability of credit), fiscal stimulus of consumption and private borrowing.  Reduction of incomes through public sector cuts and economic recession is a necessary component of that strategy whereby short run reductions in demand are traded off against the longer term reinforcement of the accumulation engine.

10.  The economic crisis creates an opportunity to renovate the motor of capitalist accumulation and thereby restore economic growth.

11.  State strategies, whether in the form of bank rescue, fiscal stimulus or reduction of government debt, all damage the environment by restoring economic growth.

Mark Burton

Version 1.1

June 27, 2010

Zero Carbon Britain 2030

This major new report from CAT presents an alternative energy strategy for the UK.
It is very well researched and proposes a practical plan for total decarbonisation of the UK energy supply by 2030. It notes that in the UK we need to move faster and sooner than most current plans – it takes account of the embodied energy in our imports and also recognises that nations like ours need to cut more than those still trying to catch up in terms of basic prosperity.
It is also an excellent resource. £40 to buy but here is a (large) download.

The Replacement Economy – new pamphlet published

We are living in an ecological emergency and an economic crisis. This pamphlet brings together three contributions to what will have to become an ambitious but alternative strategy for real change in the way we all live. The three essays printed here start from the recognition that endless economic growth is not possible. Getting Started on the Economy also points to the incoherence of competition in the global economy as a national or regional economic strategy, sets out some alternative principles for building the replacement economy and suggests priorities for activists to help bring them about.  Sustainability, Utopian and Scientific offers a constructive critique of what has become mainstream green economic thinking. Concepts for Bioregional Development is an attempt to synthesise a new integrated vocabulary for the new economics of social and ecological justice.  It should be read in conjunction with our first pamphlet:  A Green Deal for Manchester-Mersey Bioregion.

Buy a printed version of The Replacement Economy
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Buy a printed version of A Green Deal for Manchester-Mersey Bioregion
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.