Thursday, July 31, 2008

give me freedom or give me products

Several years ago my companero Mahalia suggested a one-size-fits-all way of subvertising billboards. In the style of the government health warnings on the bottom of tobacco adverts, run a poster saying 'WARNING: They're only after your money'. It'd work on well over 90% of billboards.

By the same token, this splendid graffiti on Top Shop in Southport could work across the town centres of the world.

Monday, July 28, 2008

london's hydrogen buses

London was one of nine European cities to take part in the Clean Urban Transport for Europe (CUTE) trial of hydrogen fuel-cell buses.

Because the buses emit nothing but water vapour, they were called ‘zero emission’. This is seriously misleading, because whilst they have no exhaust gas except steam, they are responsible for an increase in carbon emissions.

The front page of CUTE's website declares ‘This public transport system will contribute to the reduction of overall CO2 emissions’(1). It will do nothing of the sort. I am no professional on these matters, but I have endeavoured to use credible, published sources for my figures, including damning ones from CUTE themselves.

The London trial showed fuel consumption of 23.9kg per 100km(2). That’s 4.2km/kg.

There are several ways to make the hydrogen required.

Hydrogen from natural gas

The cheapest and most common way of making hydrogen is from natural gas. This hydrogen is actually as much of a fossil fuel as diesel.

Manufacturing hydrogen from natural gas emits 9.1 kg CO2 per kg of hydrogen(3).

9,100g divided by 4.2 km = 2167g/km to make hydrogen gas from natural gas.

But it's not over, because at this stage all we've got is hydrogen gas. This has about one three-thousandth of the energy density of petrol. Assuming you're not going to have a fuel tank far bigger than the bus itself, you have to shrink it. It has to be either cooled to a liquid, or else it has to be compressed.

CUTE’s fuel cell buses used hydrogen compressed to a pressure of 350 bar(4), or 5,000psi.

It takes 2.6-3.6 kilowatt-hours of electricity to compress 1kg of hydrogen to 5,000psi(5). That electricity is made from a variety of sources, predominantly fossils. The UK grid CO2 emissions are 480g/kWh(6) .

2.6-3.6kWh x 480g/kWh = 1248g-1728g CO2 emissions per kg hydrogen compressed.

1248-1728g divided by 4.2km = 297-411g/km for compression.

This gives us an emissions total of 2167 + 297-411 = 2464-2578g/km for compressed hydrogen from natural gas.

A normal diesel bus emits around 640g/km(7). According to the US government's Argonne National Laboratory, exhaust emissions are only 78% of petrol's greenhouse gas emissions - 22% are emitted in the manufacturing process.

Assuming it's a similar figure for diesel as petrol, to be fair we should bump up that bus figure accordingly so that, as with the hydrogen, we're comparing total emissions for making and using the fuel.

That would make the emissions from a diesel bus - and this is the figure to keep bearing in mind - 821g/km.

CUTE’s own report on their trial says that when the hydrogen was made from natural gas, the buses had around two and a half times the climate impact of using normal diesel buses(8), which would make it around 1650g/km. This is somewhat different to the figures I’ve arrived at, but the thing that CUTE and I are both clear on is that the buses powered from hydrogen derived from fossil sources had a far worse climate impact than if they had been driving diesel buses.

CUTE hope that future efficiencies could save 25% of the fuel or more(9). Even if this were achieved it would be, even by their own figures, almost twice the CO2 emissions of a diesel bus.

The emissions for hydrogen from natural gas can only get worse with time. As we try to reduce our reliance on Russian gas, we have begun importing natural gas from the Middle East, liquefied so that it can be shipped. To be liquefied, gas must be cooled to –162 degrees and kept at or below that temperature for its entire journey, with the colossal energy consumption that implies. This means that emissions from using gas effectively increase.

Hydrogen from water using renewable electricity

Hydrogen needn’t be derived from fossil fuels. It can be made by electrolysis of water, using an electric current to split its hydrogen and oxygen components. CUTE say there was far less climate impact from the buses that used hydrogen made by electrolysis of water, using electricity from hydroelectric sources(10).

Firstly, I’m not sure if they’ve made the common error of assuming hydroelectricity is zero-emission. Hydroelectric dams are not the clean, green zero-emission sources they are often portrayed as. Submerged vegetation decays without oxygen, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide(11). The amount released varies widely, from many times worse than burning coal to substantially less. At best it appears a dam gives one-tenth of the greenhouse effect of generating the same power thermally(12).

The World Commission on Dams – despite being paid by the largest funder of dams, the World Bank – said, ‘greenhouse gases are emitted for decades from all dam reservoirs in the boreal and tropical regions for which measurements have been made. This is in contrast to the widespread assumption that such emissions are zero. There is no justification for claiming that hydroelectricity does not contribute significantly to global warming.’(13)

But whether CUTE allowed for hydroelectricity’s climate impact or not is a side issue. The important thing is that there is still an enormous climate impact from making hydrogen from any sort of renewable electricity.

Our vehicles are currently powered by oil products. If we start making our vehicle fuel from electricity, we add to the total electricity demand. If the electricity we’re getting from renewables is taken for hydrogen production, it means the shortfall would have to be made up by more fossil electricity being generated elsewhere.

It’s rather like the way a biofuel company can proudly claim not to be cutting down forest for their plantations, yet their use of farmland displaces food production creating a knock-on effect and because of this someone somewhere is having to cut down a forest to grow food.

It could only stop having such a displacement effect if the whole grid were powered by renewables with enough spare capacity to start powering our vehicles. That would be a hell of lot of spare capacity; electrolysis is tremendously energy intensive. To replace our vehicle fuels with electrolysis hydrogen would take more than our entire present electricity consumption(14).

Do we think we can double electricity generation whilst doing away with fossil burning? Or should we stop considering hydrogen as a vehicle fuel?

Hydrogen from water using national grid electricity

As the vehicle fuel is creating additional demand for electricity and thereby displacing consumption, we should look at the emissions as if it were made from grid electricity.

A CUTE report says that it takes 5.1kWh of electricity to produce 1Nm3 of hydrogen(15), which weighs 0.09kg. This means that it takes just over 56kWh to make 1kg. (This is higher than I thought; I’ve seen 39kWh reliably quoted(16)). The UK grid CO2 emissions are 480g/kWh(17).

480g x 56kWh = 26,880g/CO2 per kg hydrogen.

26,880g divided by 4.2 km = 6400g/km to make the hydrogen gas from electrolysis.

That’s eight times the emissions from a normal bus.

(If we go with that 39kWh figure, it’s 4457g/km - still way above hydrogen from natural gas, let alone diesel, let alone any actual carbon savings).

CUTE did their own maths and calculated that grid electrolysis generates 4.71 times the emissions of a diesel bus(18), making it somewhere around 3,900g/km. There are several possible reasons for the discrepancy. Perhaps my figures aren’t reliable, perhaps theirs aren’t, perhaps the figure they have for grid emissions aren’t the same as the UK’s.

But despite there being a difference in precise figures, once again the principle is the same - the hydrogen bus is undoubtedly many times worse than the diesel models it is portrayed as being cleaner than.

The only scenario for sourcing in which CUTE don’t agree with this on is in their ‘hydrogen from renewable electricity’ example which, as I’ve already explained, ignores that fact of adding to electricity demand and so causing the same amount of electricity to be added to the grid.

If we aren’t going to use fossil-derived hydrogen but are only going to make it from electricity then the hydrogen is effectively just a way to store electricity. We take power from the grid, convert it to hydrogen, then on board the bus it’s used to make an electric charge to drive a motor. The hydrogen is effectively just a battery. That being so, surely there are more efficient and lower-carbon batteries available.

This would suggest that electric buses might well be worth looking in to. I know very little about these, although I have come across a report saying ‘fuel cell vehicles that operate on hydrogen made with electrolysis consume four times as much electricity per mile as similarly-sized battery electric vehicles’(19).

That claim comes from an avowed electric vehicle advocate, but still, it suggests that serious investigation of electric vehicles is merited. If we agree with CUTE’s figure of electrolysis hydrogen being 4.71 times worse than a diesel bus, then a system that uses a quarter of the electricity would be roughly comparable to a diesel bus.

This isn’t an immediate improvement in carbon terms, but at least it’s not significantly worse, whilst still delivering the localised air quality improvements of ‘zero-emission’ vehicles. Also, a slight increase in the amount of renewable electricity feeding into the grid would make such a bus lower carbon than diesel, whereas we’ll be waiting a long time for that to be true of electrolysis hydrogen.

Additionally, many of the problems of hydrogen as a vehicle fuel – lack of drive range, the need for specialised refuelling staff, etc – that the CUTE trial surmounted also apply to electric vehicles but would be solved by CUTE’s approach.

Impacts of making the technology

The average operating time for a bus in the CUTE trial was 2,300 hours(20). I understand that this is nearing the limits of a fuel cell’s life. The industry wants to get fuel cells up to around 4,000 hours of use, but seems to be struggling to get far beyond 2,000 hours(21). So, as well as the great expense of manufacturing the buses – both financially and environmentally (they have twice the impact of making a diesel bus(22)) – there is the cost and environmental impact of frequently replacing the fuel cells.

The London bus operated for an average of 7.952 hours a day(23). To keep the maths simple, let’s call that eight hours. Let’s say it only runs five days a week. Let’s also assume that the fuel cells meet the industry aim of 4,000 hours of life. Forty hours a week means a hundred weeks. So, even with these very generous assumptions, that’s less than two years of service.

Again, I’m ignorant of matters concerning electric buses, but I imagine they’d last longer than a year or two before needing inevitable major work doing on them.

Liquid hydrogen as a combustion fuel

The forthcoming second London hydrogen bus trial is not only to use fuel cells, but also buses run on liquid hydrogen as a combustion fuel. This is probably the least efficient and highest carbon fuel you could find.

If they're going to go down the same route as BMW - and it seems the only way to have enough drive-range with such an inefficient use of fuel - then compressed hydrogen doesn't contain enough energy and it will be liquefied. Not only do liquid combustion vehicles use more hydrogen than fuel cells, but the liquefaction process is incredibly energy intensive.

To be liquefied, hydrogen must be cooled to minus 253 degrees centigrade. It takes 12.5-15kWh of electricity to liquefy 1kg of hydrogen(24).

12.5-15 x 480g/kWh = 6-7.2kg CO2 emissions per kg hydrogen.

Let’s be generous and assume the bus will achieve the same consumption figures as its fuel cell cousin, 4.2km/kg.

6-7.2 divided by 4.2 = 1429-1714g/km for liquefaction.

So, even if the hydrogen itself were made of thin air and utterly carbon-free, a bus using liquid hydrogen is responsible for nearly three times the emissions of a diesel bus simply for the liquefaction process.

I note that, incredibly, the hydrogen used in London’s part of the CUTE trial had been liquefied and then returned to its gaseous state(25). This was a massive waste of energy and a serious contribution to climate change.

Add the liquefaction to the emissions from manufacturing hydrogen and we get this;

2167 + 1429-1714 = 3596-3881g/km for liquid hydrogen from natural gas.
6400 + 1429-1714 = 7829-8114g/km for liquid hydrogen from national grid electrolysis.

The actual amount of hydrogen consumed is even greater that that, though. Keeping hydrogen at minus 253 degrees between manufacture and dispensing is very energy intensive, and the figures above don’t include anything for that.

When it’s on a small vehicle there isn’t an energy source that can do that sort of refrigeration, so it’s in a highly insulated tank. This cannot stop it warming, only reduce the rate. As the hydrogen warms it returns to gas, increasing pressure in the tank. To avoid explosion there is a valve, rather like the one on petrol tanks to prevent explosion if you’ve left your car parked in blazing sunshine.

The problem is, liquid hydrogen regards anywhere above minus 253 degrees as blazing sunshine. It would continuously be jettisoning this high-carbon fuel. A report on BMW’s liquid hydrogen car found it ‘begins to boil after 17 hours if the car remains parked. The tank empties completely after 10 to 12 days’(26).

The EU’s encouragement

The CUTE Project is co-financed by the EU, and is so integral to the EU’s transport vision that the European Commission’s Director General for Energy and Transport, Matthias Ruente, wrote a glowing preface to one of the major reports on the outcomes of the trial.

He criticises oil-based fuels ‘that provoke climate change’ yet – at the front of a report proving the opposite - he tells us hydrogen is ‘at the heart of a zero emissions transport system that would de-couple mobility from climate change’. This, he qualifies, is once we’ve overcome the ‘challenge’ of producing hydrogen ‘with minimal or no negative environmental impact’(27).

I would reiterate that I am not a professional in researching this subject, but nonetheless from all the figures I can find, including those from CUTE, it seems to me beyond doubt that hydrogen buses lead to a massive increase in carbon emissions. To instigate a switch to hydrogen in the hope that an as yet unthought-of method of making it with minimal environmental impact will turn up soon is an act of grossly irresponsible blind faith. If what we’re proposing doesn’t improve on what we’ve got, it’s not a solution in any sense of the word.

It is surely absurd that, in the same project that grasps the nettle and legislates to reduce carbon emissions from cars, the European Commission is also pushing for an increase in vehicle emissions by promoting hydrogen(28).

The lesson is clear

A bus that is responsible for many times the carbon emissions of a diesel bus clearly has no part in any sustainable or responsible policy. This would have been clear about hydrogen before the CUTE trial, but is now proven by it. As these data show that it vastly increases carbon emissions, the forthcoming London trial of hydrogen buses should be cancelled. How can it make sense for the EU to fine car manufacturers for not decreasing emissions whilst paying bus operators to increase them?

Repeatedly portraying hydrogen buses as environmentally beneficial - the bus trials are referred to as one of Transport for London’s ‘key environmental achievements’(29) - is a fraud. Even if you were to dismiss me and my figures as a load of nonsense and judge the CUTE trial solely by its own published results, you would surely reach the same conclusion.




2- CUTE A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Project in Europe 2001-2006: Vision, Teamwork and Technology. Detailed Summary of Achievements, May 2006, figure 3.3.8, p67

3- IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p 13

4- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p55, Table 5.1.

5- Raymond Drnevich of major American hydrogen supplier Praxair, Hydrogen Delivery: Liquefaction & Compression, Strategic Initiatives for Hydrogen Delivery Workshop, US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency, May 2003, p14

6- DBERR, Fuel Mix Disclosure Data Table, 2006-07, table 3.

7- National Atmospheric Emission Inventory, Vehicle Speed Emission Factors (Version 02/3). These are the figures used by government, as cited by transport minister David Jamieson in a parliamentary answer, 8 July 2004.

8- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p60, Fig 5-17.

9- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p58.

10- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p60, Fig 5-17.

11- IPCC figure: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, p.212, Table 2.14

12- Dams And Development, p75, World Commission on Dams, November 2000

13- Raising a Stink, New Scientist issue 2241, 3 June 2000
(paywalled: reproduced in full on World Commission on Dams’ site

14- Decarbonising the UK – Energy for a Climate Conscious Future, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, 2005, p74

15- CUTE, A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Project in Europe 2001-2006: Vision, Teamwork and Technology. Detailed Summary of Achievements, May 2006, p.24

16- Wind Energy and Production of Hydrogen and Electricity — Opportunities for Renewable Hydrogen, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, March 2006, p2

17- DBERR, op cit

18- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p60, Fig 5-17.

19- Alec Brooks, CARB's Fuel Cell Detour on the Road to Zero Emission Vehicles, Electric Vehicle World, 7 May 2004

20- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p57.

21- Dr Sukhvinder Badwal, Fuel cells, Science on the way to the hydrogen economy, Australian Academy of Science, 5 May 2006

22- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p61.

23- CUTE, A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Project in Europe 2001-2006: Vision, Teamwork and Technology. Detailed Summary of Achievements, May 2006, figure 3.3.9, p67

24- Drnevich, op cit, p8

25- CUTE, Project No.NNE5-2000-00113 Deliverable No.8 Final Report, 30 May 2006, p40.

26- Bruce Gain, Road Testing BMW's Hydrogen 7, Wired, 13 Nov 2006

27- CUTE, A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Project in Europe 2001-2006: Vision, Teamwork and Technology. Detailed Summary of Achievements, May 2006, p.3-7

28- European Commission, Competitive Automotive Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century, 7 Feb 2007

29- Transport for London is helping the Capital to tackle climate change, TfL press release, 13 March 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

criminalising unemployment

Jobless people are to be forced to work for their benefits.

the unemployed will be forced to undertake voluntary work including picking up litter and cleaning graffiti… they will have to work at least 30 hours a week.

Somebody buy that journalist a dictionary - how is forced work voluntary?

Anyway, Job Seeker’s Allowance is:

Person aged 16-17: £35.65
Person aged 18-24: £46.85
Person aged 25 or over: £59.15

(I love that – the same government that outlaws age discrimination for employers has three brackets of unemployment benefits and the minimum wage based solely on age. Which shops sell groceries cheaper to under-25s then?)

Someone 25 or over working 30 hours would be paid £1.97 an hour. The minimum wage is £5.52.

Given there are already people who remove graffiti and pick up litter but who'll now be unneeded, we can sack them, put them on the dole, then re-employ them on unemployment benefits at a third of the price. Bargain.

Who thinks this will be valuable work experience? What employer would look at a CV and say, 'well, I see you were forced to pick up litter for a month, that's the sort of person we want working for us'?

This isn't even attempting any training. It's a punishment and a deterrent; it's a sentence. It is, in fact, exactly what people are sentenced to on community service. We are equating long-term unemployment with criminality.

The same shake-up attacks Incapacity Benefit claimants too.

In February government welfare adviser David Freud suggested less than a third of the 2.7 million people claiming the benefit were doing so legitimately.

Every single person on Incapacity Benefit has been signed off by their GP, a fully qualified doctor, someone who - unlike Mr Freud - actually has examined them and is trained to judge. Anyone then found to be near to the borderline is further examined by a government doctor.

There are surely some scammers, but to say the overwhelming majority are fraudulent is a huge slur on a serious proportion of GPs and all of the government doctors.

Do we really think they’re all so easily hoodwinked? Or is this just paving the way so that when we hear of the sick and unemployed being victimised and undergoing privation we feel like they've got it coming?

Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell says of the new regime

one of the revolutionary things that happen is that we will be using the benefits that we would have spent if people had stayed on the benefit... to get them back into health and back into work.

It’s not just using the benefits that would’ve been spent, it’s plainly forking out a lot more than that.

After a year of claiming unemployment benefits, people will be handed over to private firms... Firms successfully returning people to the workforce for the long-term will receive bonuses of up to £50,000.

That - just the bonus, before the firm's standard fees - is equivalent to over 16 years of Job Seekers Allowance. Do we really think that’s value for money? Or does the government just feel better giving the benefits budget to wealthy private firms instead of poverty stricken individuals?

All of this comes in the same week that unemployment rose again. There are already 1.6 million unemployed and it's rising.

Given the economic forecast, it's only going to rise further, so why the musical chairs? Why are people being penalised for not having a job when there's not the jobs to fill now, let alone in the darker times to come?

If there's more people than jobs and that's always going to be the case, what do we do with the spare people?

We can't let them starve, not only because it's more humane not to make people destitute but because it's cheaper. Penniless people would be more likely to rob the rest of us, and then there'd be the cost of court cases and incarceration.

It would be cheapest to let those content to live on the lowest benefits stay there unfettered. Job-finding help could then be focused on those actually wanting jobs. Instead we’re unshakeably committed to spending a lot of money attempting to force people to do things they don't want to.

If there were full employment there’d be a case for forcing people into work, but as it is and seemingly shall ever be, there are a lot of unemployed people. Making them demean themselves by playing musical chairs for jobs and then treating those who don’t get one same way we treat minor offenders is expensive and cruel.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

god save the queen

As the head of the Commonwealth, the Queen has her face on a lot of stamps.

I'm happy to report that she's now been relegated to - literally - a small cameo compared to the full colour glory of Kenneth Williams, a far better class of old queen.

Carry On Screaming film poster on a stamp

Royal Mail explain that

People flocked to the cinema in droves, attracted by the imagery they saw on the film posters

Indeed, who could see Kenneth Williams on that poster holding his big stiff prick all ready to squirt and not want to go into a darkened room with him for an hour and a half of giggles?

Thanks to the post office you can now take him home, turn him on his front and lick at his back side until he gets all sticky.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

stop burping, stop climate change

Last year's Guardian Climate Change Summit was sponsored by greenwash kings and carbon whores Shell.

Hard to top that, but this year they managed it, getting the people who want to build the first British coal-fired power station in a generation, E-On.

The Summit was held last Wednesday, with the uninvited presence of 40 Greenwash Guerillas.

Greenwash Guerilla

Among other things, the protesters dished out bottles of Ev-Eon, a spoof E-On product that says it's water carbonated with captured CO2 from coal-burning. Very high production values, very witty stuff.

There's the art. Time for life to imitate. News that China is to build several power plants with carbon capture and storage means they could be the first country to have a full-scale CCS plant. But hang on, where will they put the captured CO2?

The 3,000 tonnes extracted each year, starting this July, will be used to carbonate fizzy drinks, the company said.

So that's alright then. As long as the people drinking it never belch or otherwise exhale the carbon dioxide, everything'll be fine.

This isn't 'carbon capture and storage', it's carbon capture and then release.

To be fair, that's their small plant that's opening this summer. But the commercial scale plant that's hoping to be running by 2013

is located near an oilfield, so some carbon dioxide will be used to enhance recovery of crude

This means they get oil that would otherwise have stayed in the ground, which will release massive amounts of CO2. And as much of that will be vehicle fuel, we can be sure there's no chance of any carbon capture with it.

But anyway, the fizzy drink stuff set me thinking, is this normal? Where does the carbon dioxide in drinks and fire extinguishers and whatnot come from?

Given that it's only around 400 parts per million of the atmosphere and that filtering it out of the air is one of the holy grails of climate technofixes (Branson's offering 25 million dollars to anyone who can make it work), it must be coming from some more carbon-rich source. What else is that going to be than fossils?

Blogger supreme Jim Bliss is not just the guy you need when you've got a question about oil or want to know about Talking Heads. Bizarrely, he's also a former international jetsetting engineering guy who used to set up factories, including a number of soft drinks facilities, around the world.

Sounds really weird, and I can't help suspecting it was a cover for his assisting De Burgh to prepare the way for global lizard domination, but it's true. So I asked him.

Soft drinks plants almost always buy CO2 in bulk (rather than manufacture it on-site, though that is done very occasionally). However, as far as I know, all industrial CO2 production is done by capturing the CO2 generated from other processes. Nobody burns natural gas in order to *just* produce CO2.

When I was working in the US, we were sourcing our CO2 from two companies. One was a manufacturer of food additives and preservatives (CO2 is a by-product of sodium phosphate production). The other was a fertilizer company who captured some of the CO2 generated during ammonia production in order to sell it to soft-drinks companies.

In that case, natural gas would indeed have been the initial source (being the main feedstock when it comes to fertilizer production), but in fairness the CO2 produced by that fertilizer company would have been vented to atmosphere if the soft-drinks industry didn't make a certain amount of CO2 capture profitable for them.

Which raises the question, what's sodium phosphate, Jim?

Sodium phosphate is one of the more common food preservatives used in the US (and I assume elsewhere, though I've not looked into that). It's basically a slightly modified form of ordinary salt (retaining the preservative, and blood-pressure heightening, powers of normal salt but with a significant loss of taste... so you can use more of it without it making the food taste "too salty").

As I understand it, health-wise it's no worse (or better!) for you than bog-standard salt, but I've not really looked into that.

Anyone know if this is typical sourcing for CO2 production?

And then that led me to think, what about nitrous oxide? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say it has a climate impact 298 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

When you hear a balloon being filled at a festival so that someone can get a little fuzzy hit that's scarcely a rung up from poppers, they're releasing the equivalent of 298 balloons of CO2.

How bad should they feel about it? What's the raw material - is it also a negligably priced by-product that'd be vented anyway or is it specially made?

Well Jim?

Not really sure about it. I know you can make nitrous oxide by heating ammonia nitrate - a fertilizer - but I've no idea if that's how it's done on a large scale (note: attempts to heat ammonia nitrate can go very badly wrong if you don't know what you're doing... not one to try at home unless you invite an industrial chemist over).

Indeed, as I understand it the major part of nitrous oxide emissions is from fertilisers.

But for industrial and munter uses, what's the feedstock? Anyone know?


UPDATE: After some trawling and discussion with others more knowledgeable, it appears that the feedstock for modern nitrous oxide production is ammonia from natural gas and/or oil. It is also not produced as a usable by-product in any quantity, so responsibility for its climate impact lies squarely with the end user.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

drop her down a mineshaft

Ages ago I wrote about the envisioned aftermath of Thatcher's death. It saddens me to think that it will now probably happen under a Conservative government and so we'll be subjected to a higher level of emetic veneration than even Labour would've managed.

But then worse is the decision from Labour (less than two years after saying it was inappropriate to discuss it but it'd probably not happen) that the High Priestess of Mammon is to be given a State Funeral when she croaks.

The rich fucking irony that the woman who cut state spending on trivialities like schools and hospitals in her mission to 'roll back the frontiers of the welfare state' should get - and presumably want - a funeral at state expense.

The Mail on Sunday tells us of

fears that there are insufficient troops available to line the route because the Armed Forces are so overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq

Whilst soldiers would be appropriate thanks to her prolonging of the conflict in Northern Ireland, there are others who'd be just as suitable. They could make up the numbers with the thousands of penniless homeless people who'll be doing little else in London that day, thanks to Thatcher's bulldozing of the benefits system. I bet they'd settle for less money than the soldiers too.

If we want something truly befitting, bring her to Yorkshire and drop her down a disused mineshaft. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will be one of the few places large enough to accommodate the vast quantities of urine that decent people everywhere will want to bestow upon her grave.

According to the Guardian, only nine non-monarchs have had a state funeral in the last 500 years. The last was Winston Churchill. Even though his politics were hated by a great many people, there can be no doubt that he did a great job at a crucial time. Early in the war, before American entry, when invasion loomed, he had courage and vision and a gift for galvanising our response.

As Billy Bragg said, as oratory and as attitude, 'I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat' or 'their finest hour' is somewhat different to Thatcher's 'there is no such thing as society'.

Churchill was extremely dodgy in many areas (check out his part in breaking the General Strike), but after his term in office we can see that there is a rare debt of gratitude owed.

Thatcher was the same (check out the Miners Strike) but without any of the doing good bit.

Thatcher has nothing in her past that we could consider beginning to approach considering thinking about being equal with Churchill's towering achievement for the nation.

She was prime minister for an unusually long time, that's all. Big deal, so was Blair, will he get a state funeral too? (Shit, I bet they've already got the plans.)

Aside from what those of us who hate her rightly feel about her worthyness, the point is that there are so many of us. The accolade of a state funeral, if it is deserved by anyone, is for those who did unquestionable good for the country. In every election far more people voted against Thatcher than for her. Whilst she ranked number 16 in the Greatest Britons poll, she scored number three in the Worst Britons, only beaten by Tony Blair and Jordan. The number of people saying they'll celebrate her death is surely without precedent.

For a state funeral, don't you need the country in mourning? With half of us gleefully celebrating, they may well need those soldiers to defend the coffin.

Remember the plan, as has been circulating for several years: Party, Trafalgar Square, 6pm the Saturday after she dies. Bring beer, mates and fireworks.

No matter what happens it'll be great. Even a worst case and it's totally pigged, when the hell else has a celebration at a death ever taken place and had to be broken up by the police? But imagine a best case, thousands of us unified and joyous. I wouldn't be anywhere else that day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

heathrow green light

The government's making plain that, despite the consultation process still going on, it's decided the outcome and wants to build Heathrow's third runway.

I've published a post about it and its implications for carbon emissions over at The Sharpener called Heathrow: The Death Toll Will Increase.

[No Comments on this post - the place to leave them is over at The Sharpener]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

you say you want an evolution

People talk about creationist Christians as if they're the barkingest of the barking, but actually they're much more consistent in their beliefs than Christians who believe in evolution theory.

If you believe in the immortal soul of humans but also in evolution, it's inconsistent to say only humans have souls. Did God go, 'right, you apes are nearly human now so from, say, half ten tonight every newborn proto-hominid ape has a soul'? (Just imagine being the soul-having child born to your anatomically indistinguishable non-soul parents.)

Or, do they think that all living things have souls? Every fish, fruitfly, dandelion and single-cell amoeba? Every time you brush your teeth you're sending millions of plaque bacteria off to the afterlife, you genocidal maniac.

Or do the other things have a lesser grade of soul? We get the full five-star ones, while dogs have three stars and tomatoes get one-star souls. In which case, is someone who is really immoral to a lot of tomatoes worse than someone who's just quite unpleasant to one or two people?

A while back I went out for a meal with a big group of people and ended up at a table talking to someone I didn't know. He was a Christian, I was a bit drunk, so I couldn't resist. He said he believed in evolution, so I walked him through it and said that he couldn't believe in the Christian afterlife and evolution. 'I'm not sure I really believe in it anyway,' he replied.

Hang on, you don't get out that easily. 'But you just said you believe evolution to be fact!'. He clarified for me, 'no, I mean I'm not sure I believe in the afterlife and the soul and that stuff'.

Ah, only in the Church of England. Firm committed believers who aren't sure about the central tenets and fundamentals of the religion, and aren't too bothered about ever thinking it through.

And Jesus spake unto them, saying, 'He that believeth in me shall not perish but shall have eternal life. Maybe. I dunno-eth really, now I cometh to think about it. I suppose it's not the point anyway, especially if it might soundeth a bit weird compared to the non-religious societal norms thou findest thyself in'.

The C of E is, I suppose, the most accepting religion of them all, given that you can be in it as long as you believe in anything and nothing and a nice cup of tea. But I still have a feeling that if you don't even have food laws then you're not a proper religion.

There are those Eastern reincarnation beliefs that really do think there's a crossover between us and other species, the ones that reckon if you're bad you come back as a lesser being and have to work your way up again.

Firstly, who gets to decide what's a lesser being; why is human meant to be so great and flies so bad? For all we know the flies round shit are happy as, well, flies round shit. Secondly, how can you get your promotion? How the hell do you be a morally good bluebottle?

There's a need to feel order there, whereas it seems the truth is that things are far bigger, more unknowable and more random than that allows for.

Creationism seems to have its roots in an understandable and largely admirable awe at the universe. To get born now into all this complexity is overwhelming. As Richard Dawkins explains in The God Delusion

One side of the mountain is a sheer cliff, impossible to climb, but on the other side is a gentle slope to the summit. On the summit sits a complex device such as an eye or a bacterial flagellar motor. The absurd notion that such complexity could spontaneously self-assemble is symbolized by leaping from the foot of the cliff to the top in one bound. Evolution, by contrast, goes around the back of the mountain and creeps up the gentle slope to the summit.

This concept doesn't always cut it with humans, because not only does creationism stem from understandable awe, but also from the inability to comprehend the huge stretches of space and time. We literally can't imagine how long it takes to creep up the slope.

We all blithely talk of 'millions of years of evolution' and 'thousands of light years', but actually none of us can readily picture it. You have a sense of the distance from where you are to the door. You have a sense of how far it is to get to the shops, or even to Spain. But you can't really upscale that to comprehending 93 million miles to the sun (and even that is just a short bit of our small solar system). To keep things comprehensible, it's obvious that people'd go for something that makes earth the centre of things.

Similarly, when we talk of dinosaurs being wiped out 65 million years ago or Welsh slate being formed 500 million years ago, we can't truly imagine it. And as we try, just like with the spacial hugeness, we feel increasingly irrelevant. Far more comforting to grab something that says the earth is only 40 centuries old and we've got a family tree going all the way back.

Sadly, as Douglas Rushkoff's flagged up, even then the biblical creationists hit trouble. Which creation story is true? There are two. Not in an interpretation-of-metaphor way but in that straightforward creationist-style literal obvious-meaning-of-the-words sense.

In chapter 1 of Genesis God makes light, water, land, plants, animals, and then lastly in verse 27 he makes man and woman at the same time. Less than a page later, at a time before the earth has plants, he makes the first man from dust who has 15 verses of mooching about getting lonely before God pulls out a rib and builds a woman.

Even there in the Bible, in the place they derive most comfort and draw their foundational beliefs, the universe is too complicated for creationism, every destination has many paths to it and every path has several destinations.

Yet at least they try harder to have a coherent belief than the Church of Englandy ones. People who attempt to marry the concept of Christian eternal souls with evolution are like someone trying to play an LP on an iPod. In its way it's as mad a forced hybrid as the dressing up of Old Testament scriptures as pseudo-scientific 'Intelligent Design'.

If people say things that don't make sense, it doesn't do us or them any good to pretend it's as valid as something that actually does make sense. It really is time we stopped thinking their ideas should be respected.

Henry Rollins lays it out.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

simon mann: chokey time

I've written to many prisoners in my time, but today is the first time I've had the urge to send one page after page saying 'HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!'. Simon Mann just got 34 years.

Neo-colonialist mercenary leader Mann was caught with a planeload of weapons and ex-apartheid South African special forces on their way to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

Having been banged up in Zimbabwe he was then taken to Equatorial Guinea. Much is, accurately, made of the regime's repressive nature. Still, you've got to wonder if there's any country on earth that would give a lesser sentence to someone who was about to kill the head of state and overthrow the government.

Mann certainly wasn't going there on any humanitarian mission. As with his previous campaigns, it was about clearing out one group so a grateful government - irrespective of its attitude to human rights - would bestow lucrative mineral rights upon him.

Nearly four years ago I wrote an article about Mann and his friends who fight wars in order to claim natural reources.

Six months later I did a post about how the government of Guernsey was blocking investigations into Mann (yes, he's an international terrorist - but where would tax havens be without the money-laundering facilities they offer to international terrorists? Imagine if they let Mann be investigated, what would that do to business? What kind of communist are you to stand there and suggest we help stop terrorists?).

There was also the one that mentioned a fact I've not seen in the recent coverage, something gone into more detail here, that uber-twit Jeffrey Archer chucking a few grand into the coup plan.

This isn't just glee at an arrogant murderous colonialist toff getting jailed (though that in itself is all well and good); this has got to have put the wind up all Mann's ex-colleagues and other would-bes, and somewhere out there is some land and some people that will stay unattacked, the next Bougainville lives on, unplundered.