Monday, August 25, 2008

hydrogen car emits like a hummer

Another reason to wheel out the hydrogen maths.

A Sheffield company have come up with a home electrolyser. You take electricity into your house, lose 70% of the energy converting it to hydrogen, then burn the hydrogen to make it back into electricity.

You couldn't make it up.

The real push is that it makes hydrogen vehicles seem more viable. The company have adapted a Ford Focus to run on hydrogen. I've done an emissions calculation.

For the results (and another trumpeting of the basic arguments against hydrogen as a vehicle fuel), see my new post on The Sharpener, Hydrogen Car Emits Like a Hummer.

(No Comments on this post; the place to leave them is over on The Sharpener)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

capture unready

Continuing with the idea of carbon capture from coal-fired power stations, the new coal power stations the government's considering will be 'capture ready'. Nobody, government included, seems to have a precise definition of what this means in practice.

The nearest definition seems to be the one posited by LibDem Steve Webb: having a space in the car park or a socket you could screw into while the emissions pour out of the chimney. What's clear is that 'capture ready' doesn't mean a binding obligation to install carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as soon as it exists.

The government's says its competition to build a CCS plant will 'see CCS ready for commercial deployment by 2020' and 'CCS has the potential to capture up to 90% of damaging carbon emissions from coal fired power stations'. Nice clear numbers there.

Those crazy eco-dreamers at the Royal Society came up with a simple proposal based on them. If the government and the energy companies are really so sure that CCS is viable and imminent - and not a scam to take our eye off the ball and allow them to build new high-emitting coal stations - they should put their money where their mouth is. Let new coal-fired power stations be built and if, by 2020, they haven't reduced their emissions by 90%, shut them down.

Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, balks at the idea. He thinks the energy companies simply wouldn't build with that caveat.

I think if we did that at the moment, when we do not know 100% that CCS is going to work, the engineering has not yet been tested and no one is fully aware of what the costs might be, then that would put an end to coal-fired power stations

So the government is planning to approve the building of new coal-fired power stations not only without a commitment to install CCS when it becomes available but not even being sure if it ever will become available.

That, then, is saying that the uncaptured emissions would be acceptable. If you think they're unacceptable, you have to be against new coal-fired power stations.

It's very clear. We can burn coal or we can cut carbon emissions.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Another olympics drug story, this time not the athletes, though.

Four horses involved in the Olympic show jumping have tested positive for the banned substance capsaicin.

Capsaicin isn't some shady synthetic steroid. It's the substance in chillies that makes them feel hot, and administering such things to horses is not a new idea.

There is a largely disused term - and I hereby present you with Word Of The Day - 'feague'.

It refers to the practice of putting raw ginger or formerly, it is said, a live eel up a horse's arse in order to make it lively and carry its tail well prior to auction.

Imagine it happening to you. You know it'd work, don't you?

If you have $400 to spare, there's a product from uber-hot chilli sauce specialist Blair Lazar, Blair's 16 Million Reserve. It's not a chilli sauce at all, it's pure capsaicin. What you get is a few specks of white stuff in a jar, the product of refining several tonnes of fresh chillies. The man himself tried it and says

It was like having your tongue hit with a hammer. Man, it hurt. My tongue swelled up and it hurt like hell for days.

And that was only his tongue. I daren't imagine the aftermath of a feaguing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

scargill, monbiot and what works

The campaign against coal runs the risk of being a back-door for the nuclear power lobby, and vice versa. One of the coolest things about the first climate camp at Drax coal-fired power station was its debut action blockading Hartlepool nuclear power station.

The Kingsnorth campaign has brought the coal back to the top of the climate agenda. A surprising recent development is George Monbiot's declaration that stopping coal is so important that he's shifted position on nuclear power.

I have now reached the point at which I no longer care whether or not the answer is nuclear. Let it happen, as long as its total emissions are taken into account, we know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried, how much this will cost and who will pay, and there is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be used by the military. We can no longer afford any rigid principle but one: that the harm done to people living now and in the future must be minimised by the most effective means, whatever they might be.

Genuine folk hero Arthur Scargill picked Monbiot up on his nuclear ambivalence with a pro-coal piece in the Guardian. He talks of 'carbon capture that would remove all CO2', and reiterates it in an audio interview, saying we can 'reduce the CO2 emissions, in my view, to zero'.

He's saying we should use British coal for our power needs, including making our gas and oil from coal.

Coal-to-liquid is staggeringly energy intensive, but even if all the carbon emitted in production were captured at the plant, we burn the fuel in vehicles. Cars don't have carbon capture.

Worse, the CO2 emissions from coal-liquids are more than twice the emissions from oil fuels. And even with carbon capture, emissions would be 4% more than petrol!

Much of what Scargill thinks is politically far-fetched. He has a firm belief that it can all work if we reopen Britain's deep pits, stop importing coal and bring mining and power into public ownership.

I've no problem with unlikely politics. A business-as-usual approach is a commitment to runaway climate change. Holding out against all forms of radical social change is not far short of a conspiracy to genocide.

However, the vision for that change has to be rooted within the realm of the possible. Emissions need to be declining well within the next couple of decades. We can't wait for miracle breakthroughs, we need to work with what we've got.

The technology Scargill speaks of doesn't exist, and nobody apart from him is saying it will. There will be no 100% carbon capture. There will be no carbon free coal-liquids. It's a daydream that in practical terms is indistinguishable from the idea that nuclear fission/ unlimited magnetic field energy/ shapeshifting lizards who organised 9-11 will come along and save us from climate catastrophe.

Scargill's parting shot to Monbiot is cute

I challenge George Monbiot to test out which is the most dangerous fuel - coal or nuclear power. I am prepared to go into a room full of CO2 for two minutes, if he is prepared to go into a room full of radiation for two minutes.

However, it's as off the point as his fantasy of zero-carbon coal liquid. Nobody's claiming that CO2's threat is from a direct assault on human respiration.

Concentrating on a what-works approach is, Monbiot claims, what's led him to teeter toward a pro-nuclear stance. On Newsnight he reiterated his conditions, the need to be clear 'who' will pay and 'who' will be liable. I note he doesn't offer suggestions of any answers.

The fair thing, and a clearer position, is to say that the energy company should pay and be liable. Not only for decommissioning but for the safe disposal of the waste, its management (and all liabilities in the event of accident) for as long as the materials remain hazardous. As that would be millennia, it would price nuclear out of the market at a stroke. (Incidentally, the same conditions should apply to any company intending to store CO2, including the costs of monitoring and liability for all eternity).

We don't just need deep cuts in emissions, we need them fast. Nuclear power stations would take a long time to plan and build even if they bucked the industry trend and were built on schedule (the nuclear power station under construction in Finland, less than three years into construction, is already two and a half years behind schedule and 25% over-budget).

So even ignoring the issue of radioactive waste or the way it locks us into a heavily militarised society for the next century and beyond, the real point - that one rigid principle Monbiot speaks of - is that we'd not get any real carbon benefits in the next decade or two.

Even beyond that, it's no great shakes. The Sustainable Development Commission note that replacing the nuclear stations scheduled for decommissioning and then having a huge new-build programme to double the UK's nuclear capacity would still only deliver an 8% emissions cut by 2034.

In announcing the results of the government's 2003 Energy Review, the Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said that it would have been 'foolish' to decide on a new generation of nuclear power stations 'because that would have guaranteed that we would not make the necessary investment and effort in both energy efficiency and in renewables'.

Money spent on nuclear is money not spent on other things - things that deliver quicker cuts for less money and negate the need for either new nukes or new coal.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

unchain the olympics

The Olympics makes concessions to it being brave pure amateurs when it's nothing of the sort. People can't get paid but they can get sponsored. Sponsored to the tune of bulging sacks of money that cover full-time training and a comfy life besides. That, quite clearly, is getting paid. The sponsors know it, the athletes know it, the Olympic committee know it, we know it, and everyone knows that everyone knows.

Then these people spend all day every day training and eat insane diets. The regime they live under fits most definitions of self-harm and, quite arguably, torture. Yet they're not allowed to take any of a special list of performance enhancing drugs. Why the hell not?

Surely it'd be a lot more interesting if we allowed open payment and permitted all drugs. The principle of the Games is to see what extremes of sporting achievement humanity is capable of. Let's stop restraining it then, let's see what people can really do. If they want to fuck themselves up let them be properly compensated.

And let's not have any false claims that it'd be unfair on the athletes. We watch people fucking themselves all the time. Most peoples favourite bits of motor racing are the spectacular crashes. It's no different to the way we enjoy Pete Docherty's life, except that athletes would be much more deliberate, eyes-open and voluntary about it.

Sure, some people would complain, so let's have two Games, a clean one and an anything-goes one. Then watch as all the complainers slyly watch the dirty Olympics too, because they're the most passionate about seeing great sporting prowess in action. Who wouldn't want to see someone run a hundred metres in four seconds or lob a shot putt half a mile?

The dirty Olympics would have by far the bigger audience, and therefore bring a concomitant rise in advertising revenue, prestige for the host nation and all the other reasons to do the Games. Athletes get to truly excel, we get to gape at a two minute mile. It's a total win-win.

The clean Olympics would soon wither and die off, for the same reason Manchester United sell out 76,000 tickets a week yet nobody can even name a player in their reserves team.

But just cut the fucking target shooting out of the Olympics. That is not a sport.

With other target things like archery there's a tensing of the bow, but with target shooting the tensing is done unalterably and mechanically by cocking the gun. The only skill is in pointing an object in the right direction. It's operating a simple machine with no physical exercise. I can't see any reason to include target shooting that isn't a better reason to include vacuum cleaning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

hush the many, 14 october

A while back I recommended Hush The Many's single Revolve, just writing off the top of my head, saying

Fucking hell, this band are the real deal.

As so often with early records of a band's career, the recorded stuff doesn't properly capture their live prowess. They are one of the great live bands to see, absolutely mesmerising. Sensitive yet epic, brooding, tender, mysterious, searing, captivating. Imagine if Tim Buckley was writing and playing in Placebo and you're more or less there. Now add a cello.

This new single keeps me coming back over and over, while it's on it makes the world just stop.

Gorgeous, compelling visionary stuff, it's playing live where they really take off. They're doing a one-off gig on Tuesday 14 October at the Scala in London.

Ticketless tickets are 8 quid. If you want actual paper tickets, they're a tenner each from the Scala.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

the temple of bullshit

This year's Camp for Climate Action kicks off tomorrow. In the run-up to last year's, there was an attempt to injunct the camp. I was in court for a lot of it.

Being in the High Court was such a bizarre experience. The whole place is one giant temple of bullshit.

The grand building looks like some 16th century palace even though it's barely a hundred years old.

Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London

The courtroom is edged with leather-bound volumes of law reports and solicitors journals going back a century. Does anyone ever read them? Yeah right. They're just there to impose, to glower with a feeling of importance. And, on inspection, to provide somewhere for bluebottles to die and have their remains lie undisturbed as they fossilise.

Then everyone who speaks in there talks in that accent. It defies on of the basic rules of language in that it's not from anywhere. That slow haughty prim tone, beyond BBC but not quite the Queen. Nowhere on earth can people say 'we talk like that round here'.

Interestingly, when Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden (the chief lizard seeking the injunction on behalf of British Airports Authority) gets narked his voice reverts to something a lot more Cockney barrow-boy.

Then there's the way hours of discussion comes down to definitions of words and tiny irrelevancies that have nothing to do with what either the prosecution nor the defence really came in there for.

The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 makes provision for the removal of judges' wigs and gowns so children giving evidence won't feel so intimidated. This is a clear admission that these things are intimidating, then. Of course they are. The whole place is designed to be intimidating. The way the judges sit very high up in very big chairs so we know who's the most important, the way us mere mortals can't ever speak directly unless spoken to.

But most amazing was that coat of arms. It's the usual British lion and unicorn thing. Loads of countries use top predators as their symbol - mad enough in itself - but taking a top predator that's not even from your continent and putting it next to a fucking unicorn? There was the judge, sat right in front of a life-size unicorn. If you can call something life-size that has never lived.

That was unquestionably the greatest proof of the bullshit and more importantly, the power the place has to intimidate all who come before it. The focal point of the room is a great big, 3D, carved, varnished and polished My Little Pony watching over the proceedings, and nobody's laughing.