Pollution from battery recycling

Recycling is often touted as the sure fix for waste management issues. But that is not always the case as this Indonesian example shows. In any case, even if perfectly managed with the best technology, recycling cannot keep an economy growing due to basic thermodynamics. Yet it is amazing how often one hears the nonsensical slogan of ‘zero waste’. Entropy will always mean that there are always irreducible losses. The rest of nature only defies entropy only thanks to solar inouts and thousands of years of co-evolution, with complex systems of breakdown, assimilation and (usually very slow) recycling.

A tradition of metalworking has left a historic village contaminated with high doses of lead. Now the threat continues from battery recyclers spewing toxic smoke.

Food -Hydroponics: growing problems?

I do not know whether this is encouraging:


At first sight, it seems to offer the prospect of greater urban food production and thus reduced ‘food miles’. Yet some foods in supermarkets sourced from places such as Thanet Earth are very watery. Tomatoes in particular seem to suffer badly in terms of both taste and texture.

No longer backyard tinkerers, Edenworks is hoping to help feed New York.

Energy – limits to tidal projects

Here is another examples of how ‘alternative’ is not necessarily the same as ‘appropriate’.:


It may be a good idea but that can only be decided when all the wider impacts of such tidal eenegy developments have been fully explored. The above article completely fails to acknowledge even the existence of such issues (cf: http://uk.whales.org/…/wdc-marine-renewable-energy-report.p…).

Perhaps we ought to hold the applause a little longer until such things are clear. Generally, it illustrates how ‘sustainable development’ and ‘renewable energy’ can be but the same old exploitation and ruination albeit in a new guise.


Nuclear power & carbon storage not the answer

Another example today from the ‘Guardian’ of how cleverness is not the same as wisdom and how ‘mindsets’ trap even very bright people into false thinking. Thus the late Professor David Mackay, former chief government scientist, claims, in a posthumously published interview, that the only way forward on the energy front is a combination of nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CSS).

His worldview was one that seeks to maintain business-as-usual by other means. Revealingly he says ” I’d advise Las Vegas to get a nuke.” But places like Las Vegas have no place in a sustainable society. He mocks the idea that renewable society can power the UK (an “appalling delusion”). But for various reasons, the UK economy could, should and will have to be shrunk. It is that downsizing that will make renewables (plus efficiency promotion and radical conservation measures) practicable.

For all his evident knowledge, Mackay blithely ignore the ‘rate and magnitude’ problem facing any innovation but especially large-scale, expensive and complex technologies. In other words, they are unlikely to make sufficient difference on the necessary scale and in the available time, even if all other problems associated with them were, by magic, to disappear.

Those other problems are not only not going away but are also getting worse and at an escalating rate. Witness the exploding costs now projected for Hinckley C nuclear power station. Then there are the little matters of the huge radioactive waste, with no disposal solution to hand, that would be produced by a nuclear industry expanded enough to power ‘Las Vegas’ style living. [In terms of total delivered energy, of all forms, in the world, nukes are still a small contributor, a fact often disguised by conflating energy and electricity consumption]

CSS is a classic false fix (http://newtechnologyandsociety.org). It has been estimated, for example, that the pipelines and other infrastructure needed for a CSS system big enough to make a sufficient difference would be greater than that required by today’s oil industry. Think of all the impacts its creation would bring.

Mackay also ignores the other impacts of fossil fuel consumption, from oil spills to mountain removal for coal, ones that CSS would not alter. Last but not least, the ecological crisis is not just a crisis of energy supply but of depleting resources of many kinds and of a declining ‘life-support’ systems. ‘High energy society’ can only be maintained temporarily by aggravating all those other crises, ones capable of wrecking civilised living just as surely as climate change.

Clever tunnel vision is still tunnel vision

A classic critique of techno-optimism and the effects of modern technology on society and the environment

Energy issues – photovoltaics: limits?

The research discussed here could be the basis for a major assault on major planks of the green energy programme, namely solar photovoltaics:
See also:
One can easily foresee the nuclear lobby, the frackers, the big dam builders seizing on it to argue that solar PV at high latitudes in countries like the UK is a total waste of time, energy and money. The truth of the matter will depend on a number of assumptions and the accuracy of associated calaculations.
However the energy return on PV does seem lower than enthusiasts have been claiming and its impacts are at the start of its cycle, ie in the present, the time when we must make the biggest strides to cut carbon emissions and otherwise reduce our ecological footprint.
The fundamental reality is that we have to abandon ‘growthism’ and start planning for de-growth, downsizing the total economy to levels safely within the carrying capacity of ecological systems. Conservation and efficiency programmes will be more important than grandiose schemes for new sources of energy.
Perhaps the Greens also need to get back down to earth and start foregrounding the real issues of our times. It may be an unpopular message but the fact of the matter, as the post below on the limits of ‘urban farming’ also underlines, is that the ‘sustainable cake’ will cater for both fewer mouths and smaller appetites. If the needs of non-human species are taken into account, it will be smaller still

False fix: water transfer plans in Iran

Here is an other false ‘fix’ which those who won’t change their ways are increasingly backing:


It is worth recalling that, several years ago, Iran reversed its progressive family planning programme, in order to increase its birthrate and the size of its population. In other words, in a world of decreasing water supply, they are trying to boost water demand.

Massive water transfer schemes are no solution to Iran’s growing problems with drought

Dutch phase out of non-electric cars

Transport, electric cars & Dutch phase out of non-electric cars:

This may be a (very modest) step forward:
It is at least indicative of the scale and speed at which we must move, even if ‘green cars’ are something of an oxymoron. This would not reduce the problem pictured below for example if it were simply a matter of swapping one kind of car from another.
More generally, electric cars will still need roads, driveways, parking lots, parking meters, traffic signals, street lighting, wardens, insurance systems, court time, and much more. Then there’s still that little problem of induced demand. Suburban sprawl will still be suburban sprawl with all its costs, even its inhabitants get around by electric cars.
If one of these wonder vehicles were to knock me down, I am not sure that I would feel that much better knowing that it was powered by giant HEP schemes or vast monocultural solar farms. Still, if one were to run over me, I suppose I wouldn’t be lying there worrying about any nickel, cobalt, lithium etc that might be in the battery and how they were mined and processed.
There could be a genuine role for new generations of electric cars but on a comparatively modest scale. Private mass motoring is doomed! Sustainability requires a different vision to reformed ‘business-as-usual’ and different policies. The problem is bigger than just a bit of dirt in an otherwise healthy engine. Revealingly, the Dutch government and most MPs there seem to assume on-going physical growth. The last time I looked, the planet was not getting any bigger.