Saturday, October 27, 2007

Double good: building without cement

Cement factory in Derbyshire, UK, by Roger B.Cement is a problem
Did you know that cement manufacture creates 5% of all industrial carbon dioxide emissions? That matches the pollution output of the world's aviation industry. What's more, both are set to increase, particularly in China. Construction inevitably means cement for mortar and concrete -- or does it? Certainly for the likes of high-rise city blocks, nuclear power stations and large dams, there's no alternative. But what about ordinary housing? How much concrete needs to be used in that?

Wood: a partial solution with a big bonus
A large building in Texas, all made out of timber. By Fatty Tuna (flickr)
Building houses out of wood is nothing new in timber-rich regions like Scandinavia and North America. Wood has many advantages over bricks, mortar, steel and concrete. For one thing, it's very easy to use so buildings can be completed in just weeks rather than months. When I 'built' my first house in western Canada back in 1971, it took 3 weeks to get the entire structure completed and watertight, ready for services to be installed. When I built my house in Spain in 1989, it took more like 6 months. Why? Because there was no wood used in my Spanish house at all, that being the local style of building. Prestressed concrete beams, which are used in large numbers, are incredibly heavy to manhandle into position or cast. So are blocks, bags of cement and making and carrying endless buckets of mortar. I worked on this house throughout the construction, so I know!

The hidden bonus of wood is that it is almost pure carbon. The growing tree grabs CO2 out of the air and converts it into sugars and, ultimately, to cellulose and lignin which is what we call wood. Everyone knows that trees sequester carbon and that they are one of several natural ecosystem services -- in this case, carbon sinks -- which counter climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels. This is the rationale behing the burgeoning offsetting business. Plant a few trees and you can pollute as much as you want. That's what people seem to assume when guilt over squandering energy overcomes them a little.

The big issue: seeing the wood for the trees
Even if it were true that you can assuage your travel/consumer/heating/airconditioning energy use by offsets, there is one problem which seems not to enter general thinking. Natural forests are carbon neutral. As fast as young growing trees grab carbon, dead and decaying trees (and forest fires) release it again: the carbon cycle. To make sequestering carbon in trees really work to reduce atmospheric CO2, the mature trees need to be harvested and stored in such a way that they don't decompose and release all their carbon again. Carbon storage is what happened on a massive scale over hundreds of millions of years, as coal formed from dead but not decayed trees. The carbon has become safely locked away from oxidation into the atmosphere... until humans came along (and you know the rest). Yet when you think about it, we are storing carbon all the time -- in the form of timber-framed housing construction and, to a lesser extent, as books in the world's libraries.

So that's my point: countries which traditionally use cement in the form of concrete and mortar to build houses should change their construction practice and build from timber instead. This change of direction has several advantages:

  • timber construction locks away carbon
  • it's quicker and easier
  • self-build is much easier and in some countries, you can buy housing kits to do this
  • it is essentially non-polluting unlike cement-based constructions which cause massive CO2 releases into the air, principally from cement quarrying and manufacture
  • if real environmental costs are taken into account, wood is far cheaper
  • greater demand for timber would stimulate more forestry development with yet more sequestration of carbon as a bonus. At the same time, cement manufacture would decline as demand slackened off, so reducing carbon pollution
  • timber can be re-used
  • timber-framed buildings are intrinsically warmer than stone, brick, block and concrete. In addition, it is simple to incorporate insulation in the timber frame
  • wood is a pleasant material to work with and beautiful to look at. Concrete is messy and heavy to move around

Yes I know concrete is essential for many purposes, including the foundations (footings) of timber-framed housing. My point is simply that we could use a lot less of it -- a lot less -- if we wanted to.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Future of Nuclear Power

Sizewell nuclear power station: a large footprint (and what about rising sea-levels?) by Rob.Stoke
Today is the final day for anyone to make their views known about future nuclear power in the UK. I've done this on the British Government's Future of Nuclear Power website. Just to put you in the picture, I have argued for some time that, if we are to have new nuclear power stations, they should be built underground.

Here are my responses to the Government's consultation questions:

1. Safety and security of nuclear power

Siting all future nuclear plants underground is something that should be taken very seriously. This does not even seem to have been considered. Yet it has three major advantages:

  1. immune to military attack from the air

  2. containment unbreachable (given proper choice of ground conditions, hydrogeology and rock types) and so immune to attack from, say, a suicide bomber. Even major LOCAs would be better contained than anything above ground

  3. no need ever to remove irradiated fuel assemblies. When the reactor reaches the end of its operating lifetime, the whole facility could be sealed, complete with its spent fuel. Monitoring would be needed but because nothing is above ground, access would only be minimal. Decommissioning surface plants is turning out to be formidably expensive and all radioactive materials end up having to be sealed underground anyway in all viable scenarios

2. Transport of nuclear materials: No reprocessing is the right route, but by siting each nuclear plant underground, there would be no need for the spent fuel ever to leave the facility. It would be stored there in a facility built at the same time as the reactor containment cavern. When the reactor's life is over, both it and the spent fuel stored close by would be made safe, sealed and remotely monitored. No radioactive materials, highly active or otherwise, need ever be transported on the surface.

3. Waste and decommissioning: Locating new reactors underground would avoid many of the serious problems of waste and dceommissioning. At the end of the reactor's life, all its fuel remains in the store which would have been constructed during the initial cavern excavations and the whole underground site becomes a remotely-monitored facility with little further need for maintenance. Such an arrangement is inherently safer than a surface reactor which will need to be guarded and monitored through at least three human generations before it can be finally removed: not a good legacy for future generations.

4. Environmental impacts of nuclear power: If the nuclear facility was largely located underground, the surface footprint of a site would be markedly less than at present, quite apart from the safety aspect which I've already dealt with. There would be no need for a secondary containment structure since this would be provided by suitably geo-engineered natural rock in the excavated cavern. Surface buildings could all be part of the non-radioactive secondary circuits. So the heat exchangers containing the pipework for the primary circulating coolant would be underground but the high pressure steam circuit for the turbo-generators could be ducted to the surface which is where generators, transformers, cooling and other facilities would be located.

Regarding the space occupied by a nuclear facility versus that occupied by a windfarm, I have two comments:

  1. most future windfarms should anyway be located offshore, so space and NIMBYism is largely irrelevant

  2. any space occupied by a windfarm remains relatively pristine. If needed, turbines and supports can be completely removed within months, leaving the site uncontaminated and as it was before. The same cannot be said of surface nuclear build because of the massive largely concrete bioshielding infrastructure required and the problem of the 'hot' reactor core which cannot be removed for over 100 years, or requires prohibitively expensive and hazardous remote-controlled decommissioning and transport of large quantities of medium level radioactive waste to a repository as yet not in existence. These 'inconvenient truths' are a prime reason why nuclear build should in future be underground.

5. Reprocessing of spent fuel: I agree that reprocessing should not be carried out. Storage for spent fuel assemblies should be 'built in' in the underground location scenario I envisage. This eliminates the need for surface transport of highly active fuel rods.

Obviously these remarks apply to any new nuclear build anywhere on the planet, not just the UK! At the very least, I think the onus should be on governments and the energy industry to explain why siting nuclear plants underground is NOT a good idea (if it isn't!). But I expect it will be ignored... ho hum!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Way the Wind Blows

How it all works, from Treehugger

How could we store surplus wind power? There is a solution right under our feet.

No wind: As I was travelling on the train along the North Wales coast last Friday, I had a fine view out to the North Hoyle Offshore Wind Farm. It's a great sight all these turbines, each rated at 2 megawatts, like rows of white statues far out in Liverpool Bay. But there was a problem: it was a fine sunny day and no wind at all. The sea was like a millpond and the turbines were indeed like statues for they were motionless. Electrical output zero.

Achilles Heel: And that is wind power's big problem. It only works when the wind blows so if we relied upon wind power, on fine calm days, there'd be no power at all. This is unacceptable, of course, in our modern, energy-hungry world. But now, there's a solution and its name is CAES: compressed air energy storage. Put simply, when the wind blows during the night, wind turbines generate power which is not needed since most people are asleep. If you use that power to pump air at high pressure deep into the ground, that high pressure air can be stored and later released when power is needed, driving modified gas turbines and generators.

It works too! If you think this is unlikely to work, it already does, and much more is underway. The first CAES plant came on stream in 1978 in Huntorf, Germany and a second much larger one was commissioned in 1991 in Alabama, USA. It stores its compressed air in a mined-out salt dome 80 metres across and 300 metres tall, lying 450 metres below ground, and can use the air to supply a turbine generating 110 megawatts of electrical power continuously for some 26 hours.

Giant battery: So just like hydroelectric pumped storage, wind powered compressed air storage could act like a giant battery, evening out fluctuations in demand by topping up the grid when needed. There are plenty of geologically-suitable locations all over the world so maybe we should push politicians and utilities to get moving on CAES. To find out more, read this New Scientist article and this Treehugger piece.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The problem with infrastructure

SUV and threatening sky, By ShuckOkay, you've decided that your SUV is a bad thing. You want to reduce your carbon footprint and buy a small car instead. Great... or is it?

Problem is, what do you do with the unwanted SUV? You sell it, of course, and thereby in some cases (like buying a new car to replace it) actually make matters worse. Now there are two cars being used instead of one. The SUV that you used to own is now owned by someone else. It's just as climate-unfriendly as it was when you owned it and it will continue to pump out pollution for years to come. See what I mean?

Solutions? The ideal would be for you to forego the money from the SUV's sale and have it broken up with all its component parts recycled into something more useful. Get real, you might say, that's never going to happen. But it could happen if some special fund were to exist whereby you could get back the full second-hand value whilst the vehicle was permanently taken off-road (!) and recycled. This, done properly, could yield quite a deal of valuable materials as well.

Who would provide this fund and new infrastructure? Any ideas? I suppose some sort of consortium between governments and industry backed up by smart tax structures would do the job. And the principle could extend to other carbon-hungry infrastructure: giant motorhomes, Hummers, aircraft... anything that could be sold on and otherwise continue to pollute for years to come. How can we make it (or something like it) happen?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Future foods

Thank you to for this image. There are several more on this site.It's been a difficult year for food growers throughout Europe. You've probably seen some of the headlines about grape harvest failures, potato blight and veg rotting in the fields. Food prices will almost certainly be going up. Parts of the UK have also been seriously flooded though this pales into insignificance when compared to the weather horrors suffered by tens of millions of Indians, Bangladeshis and Chinese in recent weeks. So what does the planet have in store for us? What can we do about it?

Worst summer in years: This year has been the worst since we started growing vegetables 6 years ago for our Llangybi Organics co-op. The summer has been lousy for most of the growing period up to today (with gale and heavy rain warnings yet again from the Met Office). We have lost whole crops due to wind and rain. Potato blight (to name but one issue) struck early and quickly destroyed even the blight resistant varieties we grow. The result? We've had to work doubly hard to save enough veg for our customers by preventing slugs eating the lot, combatting moles and voles, nursing surviving veg to prevent pests and disease outbreaks (much more difficult if you're organic as we are) and re-sowing some veg while there's still time. Oh, and then there were the weeds, the worst weeds ever meaning long days of hoeing and mostly handweeding.

And the future? Summers like this are in line with climate model predictions. For us in northern Europe (and, particularly, north and west Britain and Ireland), we can expect more of this sort of thing. More rain and more wind as global temperatures climb for the simple reason that warmer air holds more water vapour. So we're going to have to get used to it. The Mediterranean may roast and shrivel but we'll be cool, wet and windy.

Food shortages: Britain is a rich country and the solution to food shortages would normally be to import more of it from somewhere else. But with a world population approaching 7 billion, there's going to be demand from everywhere which has been affected by floods, storms and droughts. Rich countries can, for a time, import what they need because they can afford to pay over the odds. Then what? The poor, as ever, will suffer and die... and we in the rich North might have to pay more for our food and have much less choice than before. Supermarkets won't be so super.

Local food; secure food: Maybe with increasing prices and more shortages, people used to loading their trolleys each week at Tesco will begin to wonder if maybe buying local isn't so bad an idea after all. As well as fresh food you get security: food security. We at Llangybi Organics don't propose to give up in the face of climatic adversity. We feel we, like many others, are setting an example which will be needed more and more everywhere as shortages begin to bite. We can't compete with supermarkets whose cheap food is based, ulitmately, on exploitation, but we can offer our customers staple vegetables and more, especially if they come and help us out by volunteering. We do, by the way, already have a couple of volunteers whose help is invaluable and who help us to feel part of a rather special community. It's a good feeling.

Thinking the unthinkable: Suppose international crises became so severe that major food importing ceased to be an option? It could be small local growers who should be there to fill the gaps. Sadly, most small growers and family farms have been destroyed by the supermarket system of grabbing the cheapest food from anywhere in the world without paying the true price (in labour costs and especially in transport 'costs' in which pollution doesn't register). But a hungry population without cheap supermarkets and cheap transport is going to need small growers again. We would be very unwise not to think in these terms so that if the going gets rough, there are still options open.

Climate changes, Digging for Victory and small farms: Spades, not ships. Nor HGVs nor aircraft, eh?
Our aim on our small farm was to provide quality veg and fruit for people within walking or cycling distance. It hasn't worked out like that as most people in the village prefer 'choice' offered by supermarkets and they have cars to fulfill their requirements. In the future, it may not be like that. People may suddenly begin to appreciate their local veg farm. Will we be around for long enough for that to happen? The speed at which the world's climate seems to be changing may mean that we could be.

City folk and their food: But what of the people in the cities? How will they get their food? Will they be able or willing to repeat the wartime 'Dig For Victory' experience when everyone grew as much food as they could in their gardens or on their allotments? Most people these days are so disconnected from food producing that they wouldn't know where to begin. The expertise is still around in the few remaining small farms, horticultural businesses and that dedicated body of allotment-holders. That could help.

Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big
Keep on pushing the spade
Don’t mind the worms
Just ignore their squirms
And when your back aches laugh with glee
And keep on diggin’
Till we give our foes a Wiggin’
Dig! Dig! Dig! to Victory

from HomeSweetHomeFront

Disclaimer and final cliche: This post is not some long-winded way of promoting ourselves and advertising for customers. We have as many customers as we can manage. The only way to increase production, if we wanted to, would be to dig up some more of our land. Out of the question for a couple whose combined ages amount to 119 years. Even so, the potential to provide food for many more people is there on our farm and others around us if only vegetables were valued as central to our health. Instead, local farmers find it simpler to grow cattle and sheep. They're right: it is simpler. But the same land could grow veg for ten times the number of people than the animals will feed if needed. Now that's food for thought.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Making climate cool

Start of the Climate Change March, 2006, by annecspear
You're on a trip away. Would you re-use your hotel-provided towels if you were asked to do so for environmental reasons (less use of resources and subsequent pollution)? Or would you re-use them because you knew most of the other hotel guests did so?

All we like sheep... That's a no-brainer, you'd think. The answer would be the former, wouldn't it? Well actually no, it isn't. A recent survey in the US showed that people were strongly influenced by what they thought other people were doing. This sheep-like desire to follow the crowd overrode any other concerns. Stupid people, you might think, but we all do it, usually unconsciously. That's the whole basis of the giant fashion industry and advertising. We follow the fashions in clothes, hairstyles, cars, holidays or whatever it may be largely because others do too. You remember the old song? ...

Ev'rybody's doin' it
Doin' it, doin' it
Ev'rybody's doin' it
Doin' it, doin' it

Is there a useful lesson to be learned? I think so. We have to somehow make caring about the planet cool. That was the ultimate purpose of Live Earth on 7/7/07 and the reason the celebrities were engaged to perform. Celebs are seen by many to be the ultimate cool; the ultimate trend-setters. So Al Gore's laudable attempt to get them onto a new climate care bandwagon made perfect sense. We need these perceived trendsetters to make climate care cool and to do that, the celebs need to set good examples, something many of them conspicuously don't do. So, celebrities and everyone else, let's do it. Let's make climate cooooool!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Holidays and gas-guzzlers

Large motorhome with small car on trailer, France 2005
Camping and motorhomes: Whilst on a car plus small tent camping holiday in the Western Isles of Scotland in June, I was struck by the sheer numbers of SUVs and luxury motor homes on the narrow roads. I know that SUV fuel economy is poor but I wondered about the massive bus-sized motorhomes. It's difficult to find information about fuel consumption of these energy-guzzling behemoths. Presumably fuel economy is not one of the considerations people who buy or rent them take into account. I did discover that smaller models appear to manage around 20mpg (similar to SUVs) whilst the larger monsters seem in some cases to clock up an abysmal 10mpg or even less. For comparison, my car achieves an average fuel consumption of 63 mpg or 4.4 l/100km. If that sounds a little 'holier than thou', it's not meant to be. I'm still using fossil fuel for my holiday and, as in the words of the Frank Sinatra song, you can't have one without the other.

Love and marriage, love and marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage
This I tell you brother
You can't have one without the other

Or can you? Maybe the 'horse and carriage' bit hints at an alternative way to have a NoFF holiday!? There are certainly a few brave cyclists who carry all their kit in paniers and manage to survive their holidays. I'm full of admiration for them.

The 'real' world: Back to the 'real' world of motorhome holidays. I have in recent years noted a new trend. Apart from all the 'necessities' like satellite TV and central heating, some motorhomes have a small car attached to the back end, either towed directly or on a trailer (as in the above photo). That can't do anything good for fuel economy either.

Rough wild camping: Words fail me. I feel guilty car camping at all but now that I've reached the age of 60, I find backpacking in places that are generally wet and windy less than pleasurable. But I still do it: I had a week in May in the Scottish Highlands (what I have styled a NoFF week in an earlier post) which was hard work, given rather rough weather and mostly no tracks in my chosen wilderness (west of Bridge of Orchy which offers several high mountains like Stob Gabhar and Stob Coir'an Albannaich, not to mention the cloudmaker, Ben Starav). And yes, I got there by bus and train. I find a week of really 'roughing it' does wonders for making me appreciate all the relative comfort and luxury I have on my small farm in Wales. A hot shower seems like heaven after a week of washing in a billy-full of cold water between rain or sleet squalls. (Yes, it really was like that some days.)

More, more! More comfort and more "boys' toys" playthings (like jet skis) are the trend, it seems, even as the looming tragedy of climate change begins to engulf us: we still deny it's happening and seem to be increasing our energy consumption rather than reducing it. I don't blame anyone for this. Who doesn't like to be warm and comfortable and having fun? But I despair of anyone changing their ways until unpleasant circumstances force a change. We do seem to be trapped. What we enviro people hope for is a voluntary change in attitudes. Meanwhile, the climate-change-is-natural 'deniers' have a lot to answer for in the battle for hearts and minds.

"It's a long way to Tipperary" (in the words of the cheery First World War song) and we really do have "a long way to go".

Monday, May 07, 2007

Condoms combat climate change

I make no apology for copying this important news release from the Optimum Population Trust in its entirety. It says - crisply and concisely - that population growth is the chief cause of climate change, more or less exactly what I had said in my Taboo topic: the population time bomb piece in March. Although the figures quoted refer to the UK, the principle is universal.


A radical form of “offsetting” carbon dioxide emissions to prevent climate change is proposed today – having fewer children.

Each new UK citizen less means a lifetime carbon dioxide saving of nearly 750 tonnes, a climate impact equivalent to 620 return flights between London and New York*, the Optimum Population Trust says in a new report.

Based on a “social cost” of carbon dioxide of $85 a tonne**, the report estimates the climate cost of each new Briton over their lifetime at roughly £30,000. The lifetime emission costs of the extra 10 million people projected for the UK by 2074 would therefore be over £300 billion. ***
A 35-pence condom, which could avert that £30,000 cost from a single use, thus represents a “spectacular” potential return on investment – around nine million per cent.

The report adds: “The most effective personal climate change strategy is limiting the number of children one has. The most effective national and global climate change strategy is limiting the size of the population.

“Population limitation should therefore be seen as the most cost-effective carbon offsetting strategy available to individuals and nations – a strategy that applies with even more force to developed nations such as the UK because of their higher consumption levels.”

A Population-Based Climate Strategy, the OPT’s latest research briefing, is published today (Monday, May 7 2007). It says human population growth is widely acknowledged as one of the main causes of climate change yet politicians and environmentalists rarely discuss it for fear of causing offence. The result is that a “de facto taboo” exists, throughout civil society and government.

One consequence is that “couples making decisions about family size do so in the belief that it is a matter for them and their personal preferences alone: the public debate and awareness that might have encouraged them to think about the implications of their choices for their fellow citizens, the climate and the wider environment have been missing.”

Other points in the briefing include:
  • Providing low-carbon electricity for the 11 million extra UK households forecast for 2050 would mean building seven more Sizewell B nuclear power stations or 10-11,000 wind turbines.
  • Global population growth between now and 2050 is equivalent in carbon dioxide emissions terms to the arrival on the planet of nearly two more United States, over two Chinas, 10 Indias or 20 UKs.
  • Even if by 2050 the world had managed to achieve a 60 per cent cut in its 1990 emission levels, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommendations and the UK Government’s target, almost all of it would be cancelled out by population growth.

It concludes: “A population-based [climate] strategy…involves fewer of the taxes, regulations and other limits on personal freedom and mobility now being canvassed in response to climate change…To sum up, it would be easier, quicker, cheaper, freer and greener.”

Valerie Stevens, co-chair of the OPT, said: “We appreciate that asking people to have fewer children is not going to make us popular in some quarters. Equally, expressing concern about the environmental impacts of mass migration, which currently accounts for the bulk of population growth in the UK and will have a major effect on Britain’s carbon emissions, is a quick route to being labelled racist. But these are hugely important issues and the unfortunate fact is that both politicians and the environmental movement are in denial about them. It’s high time we started discussing them like adults and confronting the real challenges of climate change.”
She added: “Government fiscal measures that support child-bearing however many children a couple has, send a signal that increasing numbers are good for the welfare of everyone. In a world needing to diminish its consumption of key resources, especially energy, this is sadly no longer true.”

*Based on 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per return flight (Department for Transport).
**Stern Review, October 2006.
***Fertility levels in the UK have been below replacement level (2.1 children per woman) for around 30 years. Inward migration is currently the main driver of UK population growth, accounting for over 80 per cent of projected increase to 2074. However, even without the effects of immigration, demographic momentum – the result of the large numbers of children produced in earlier age bands reaching child-bearing age – would have prevented any population decline up to the present. The total fertility rate (TFR) peaked in 1964 at 2.95 children per woman, but this was followed by a rapid fall in the number of births per woman in the 1970s. In 2005 the TFR in the UK was 1.78 children; it is expected to level off at 1.74 (Office of National Statistics).
The full briefing is available on the OPT’s Briefings and Submissions page.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Nuclear power: build plants underground

More nuclear power, like it or not: It seems likely that many of the world's states will soon begin to build many nuclear power stations; some for the first time and others - like the US - after ending a long-frozen programme. The reasons cited centre on climate change as it is true that, once operational, nuclear reactors are largely carbon-neutral. Furthermore, they have high energy density (very high power output from a very small space) and operate continuously over lengthy periods. All they do is provide a framework in which a controlled fission reaction within its uranium fuel heats up a primary coolant (circulating water or inert gas, contained under pressure). The super-hot coolant then heats water via a heat exchanger to raise steam to drive turbines to generate electric power. Renewables have low energy densities and operate intermittently regardless of the source of energy. At present, there is no viable way to store energy produced on a large enough scale to keep power available at all times; something we have come to expect. These factors, among others, make it inevitable that many new reactors will be built.

Damage limitation: It is not my purpose here to argue for or against nuclear power or discuss other issues like uranium mining and reserves. It's more of a damage-limitation exercise. Given that reactors will be built whether we like it or not, how can we ensure that they are as safe as possible? Mention the word 'nuclear' to most people, and words like Chernobyl, Hiroshima, missiles, nuclear waste, Windscale and Three Mile Island trip into the mind. Nuclear power has not, over the years, had a good press. And with good reason given its sinister association with bomb-making and several serious accidents. Yet it could easily be made much safer.

Nuclear power hazards: These are well known so I'll just briefly review them. The hazards all stem from the radiation produced by the primary heat-generating fission reaction, spent fuel rods, irradiated reactor assemblies, reprocessing (if any) and the resulting radionuclides which are created in the fissioning of uranium-235 atoms. Chernobyl reactor 4 after the disaster on April 26, 1986The reactor is typically sealed in a primary containment vessel with radiation shielding surrounding it. These assemblies, in turn, are usually contained in a secondary reinforced concrete building which is designed to contain radiation products in the event of an accident in which the primary containment breaks down. [There was no secondary containment at Chernobyl and the results of the partial meltdown that followed the doomed 'experiment' are now grim history.]

  • Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) in which the fuel rods, normally cooled by water or carbon dioxide gas, become so hot that they melt down (as at Chernobyl)
  • Containment damage or breach due to warfare (bombing, missile, suicide using hijacked civil aircraft and so on), accident (aircraft crash), earthquake or climate change events (sea level rise, for example, since many existing plants are located by the sea which is used as a coolant in the secondary circuits)
  • Hazards associated with transport of fuel assemblies to and from reactors (attacks, hijacking, accidents)
  • Storage of irradiated fuel (attacks, leaks, accidents) in cooling ponds or air-cooled stores
  • Reprocessing - the fuel route chosen by the UK and France in particular - which yields highly radioactive acid liquid wastes with potential for explosion in poorly-maintained facilities. Reprocessing notoriously is intended to yield other fissionable products such as plutonium metal, the source for atomic bomb-making and trigger for fusion (hydrogen) bombs. Plutonium, along with enriched uranium (also used for atomic bomb-making), has been repeatedly stolen from former USSR facilities and most of it not tracked down
  • Decommissioning costs high and defunct installations will require monitoring and access protection for a century or more

What happens to the long-lived radioactive wastes? The best option at present - far from perfect - is monitored deep burial as vitrified blocks which must be protected from corrosive circulating groundwaters. Unprocessed irradiated fuel rods will likewise need to be stored deep underground (e.g. Yucca Mountain). Radioactive elements such as plutonium-239 in spent fuel will remain hazardous to living things for hundreds of thousands of years.

Scary list, isn't it?

And now, the answer? Almost all of these nuclear hazards become significantly reduced when you factor in a new possibility to the construction equation. If they must be built, why not build these facilities underground? To give you some idea of the relative sizes of the excavations needed, take a look at this drawing I made many years ago for UK examples.
Size comparison between Sizewell nuclear power station and underground hydro-electric scheme in North Wales

On the left, in my drawing, is a vertical section of the Sizewell B reactor and containment building (click for full size image). On the lower right is an equivalent section through the Dinorwig pumped storage hydropower station, located deep inside a mountain in Snowdonia, beneath defunct slate quarries. For good measure, I added (top right) an as-yet-unbuilt example of another reactor design, a high temperature gas reactor. The point of all is that these engineered structures are all at the same scale: see scale bar.

What's even more important is the size of the Sizewell reactor vessel in relation to everything else. It's small without its containment building. And it wouldn't need such a building underground because being located underground is far better containment than anything that could be built on the surface.

Safety underground: the advantages

  • immune to military attack from the air
  • containment unbreachable (given proper choice of ground conditions, hydrogeology and rock types) and so immune to attack from, say, a suicide bomber. Even major LOCAs would be better contained than anything above ground
  • no need ever to remove irradiated fuel assemblies. When the reactor reaches the end of its operating lifetime, the whole facility could be sealed, complete with its spent fuel. Monitoring would be needed but because nothing is above ground, access would only be minimal
  • planning consent more likely to be straightforward since there wouldn't be much surface infrastructure to object to. Most of the usual public fears and objections wouldn't be serious issues

Disadvantages: is there a flip side?

  • Cost: I have no idea how much underground siting would add to a budget. But if you take into account minimised decommissioning costs (not historically factored in to the cost of nuclear power as we are now finding out) and spent fuel disposal possibilities, I would guess that it would be completely viable. Anyway, what price security and safety?
  • Location: Finding suitable underground conditions, especially in flatter rainy areas with fast-moving groundwater circulation, could be a problem. The ideal would be mountain areas with relatively low rainfall.
  • Cooling: Like any steam-driven turbines, cool water is needed both for raising steam and for condensing it. There's no reason for the turbine and cooling systems to be located underground since these aren't in contact with radioactive parts of the circuit

A safe way forward: I've set out what seems to me an obvious way forward for nuclear power, if we are to have much more nuclear electricity as looks certain. (France, by the way, already generates 75% of its electricity this way - but above ground). If you, the reader, agree that making it mandatory to locate future nuclear plants underground is worthy of consideration, please help begin a real debate by contacting your government representative and, perhaps, your country's nuclear generating industry. The onus is on the industry to explain why underground containment is a bad idea, not a good one. If it is a good one, let them start digging!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Taboo topic: the population time bomb

What is the Number One Global Problem? In the time it took you to read the previous seven words, the world's population increased by around 5. That's not 5 newborns cancelled out by 5 deaths. That's an overall increase of population which, as I write, is almost 6.6 billion; over three times more than when I was born 60 years ago. Every new person is a consumer of our planetary resources, just as we all are. Some will consume much more than others depending on where they are born and whether their parents are rich or poor. All will contribute in some degree to a grim trio of familiar troubles. The more people there are, the worse they will be:
  1. climate change
  2. destruction of biodiversity
  3. pollution

Yet you seldom see much about the population increase. Climate change is the subject of the moment and, in many ways, rightly so. But why do we have to tackle climate change? Because there are so many people. And of course all three issues are tightly interlinked, whilst looming behind them like the spectre at the feast is population increase and the inevitable overconsumption of resources. So biodiversity is being destroyed, partly by climate change but also by the human need for more food (farmland from forest; overfishing etc.). Pollution is caused by people and the gaseous part of it causes climate change. And climate change itself is aggravated by so many people causing fossil fuels to be burned for energy and industrial feedstocks.

Why don't we get serious about population? I suppose the answer must in part be the fear of eugenics. Who gets to have children? Who doesn't? Should they be 'rationed'? Many declare that there is no problem and that the planet can comfortably hold more. Others insist that their religion demands that women produce as many children as possible by forbidding contraception. Some countries, unbelievably, are worried about underpopulation. All these issues - and many similar - are dangerous: people have very strong feelings about what should and should not be done.

There's nothing new here. The problem of population was elucidated far better over 30 years ago [population 4.1 billion]:

The present [1976] population of Latin America [given as an example] is around 300 million [almost 550 million today], and already many of them are under-nourished. But if the population continued to increase at the present rate, it would take less than 500 years to reach the point where the people, packed in a standing position, formed a solid human carpet over the whole area of the continent. This is so, even if we assumed them to be very skinny -- a not-unrealistic assumption. In 1000 years from now, they would be standing on each other's shoulders more than a million deep.

It will not have escaped you that this is a hypothetical calculation! It will not really happen like that for some very good practical reasons. The names of these reasons are famine, plague, and war; or, if we are lucky, birth control. It is no use appealing to advances in agricultural science -- 'green revolutions' and the like [e.g. genetic engineering which has now leaped to the forefront of 'solutions']. Increases in food production may temporarily relieve the problem, but it is mathematically certain that they cannot be a long-term solution; indeed... they may well make the problem worse, by speeding up the rate of population expansion. It is a simple logical truth that, short of mass emigration into space... uncontrolled birth-rates are bound to lead to horribly increased death-rates. It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use contraceptive methods. They express a preference for 'natural methods' of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.

from The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, 1976 p.119.

Full up: The world is full. There's nowhere else to emigrate to for the first time in human history. Humans now occupy the reasonably-habitable parts of every landmass including normally-uninhabitable Antarctica. Not many decades ago, countries like Australia were encouraging immigration and not many decades before that, the USA was accepting the "tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free" from overcrowded Europe. Not any more. Today, Europe is closing its borders and the US is building a fence to keep migrants out, even though much of their respective agricultural economies depend on low-paid labourforces with no right of residence.

I speak as a former immigrant. In fact, my wife and I have emigrated twice; once to Canada (1970) and, years later, to Spain (1987). In both cases, we were privileged, being educated and not without resources. Even so, the processes were not easy.

The Big Problem: As I see it, the biggest problem we have to solve as soon as possible is not climate change but population growth. If the world's population of humans was small and stable (say a few tens of millions, just to make the point), there wouldn't be a problem with climate change, biodiversity or pollution. There would be an abundance of everything: food, fuel and all the array of natural resources people depend on for their comfort and wellbeing. Those few millions could consume what they liked and they wouldn't begin to cause the problems I mentioned, simply because there wouldn't be enough of them to affect the atmosphere and oceans which control the stability of the world's climate. A small stable population of people would be benign. And they probably wouldn't be constantly warring on one pretext or another, the pretexts we're all familiar with being, generally, land and resources.

But our numbers are not small and not stable. There are nearly 6.6 billion of us, ratcheting up and up in numbers and expectations, and consuming more and more. Because we have failed dismally to even attempt to control our numbers, the result is that we have to tackle not just population growth, but climate change, pollution and biodiversity all at once.

Solutions: The de facto 'natural' solutions are already operating in uncontrolled fashion, mostly affecting the poor:

Other more intentional methods of controlling numbers of people have achieved various levels of notoriety:

  • one-child-per-couple law in China
  • mass sterilisations
  • infanticide, apparently widespread in countries where, for various reasons, male children are preferred to female
  • abortion

The only widely-acceptable method of control has, of course, been contraception. Unfortunately, some religious groups ban it and because of this influence, the Bush administration of the USA has stopped funding programmes which delivered contraception to those who could most have benefitted from it.

The stark choices: If we do nothing and continue as we are, the planetary mega-ecosystem within which we all live will solve the problem for us -- and it won't be nice for us. Some believe there may not be an 'us' at all within just a few decades, as the planet extinguishes that life which it cannot support.

If we do something, it won't be nice either but has the potential for being rather gentler to a greater number of us than the random and dreadful effects of war, disease and starvation. In short, climate change is a deadly symptom - one of several - of an even more serious malaise. I'm not saying we shouldn't be taking radical steps to tackle the climate problem. We should, but we desperately need to come to terms with the underlying fundamental issue: overpopulation. We need, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, urgent jaw jaw. Otherwise there will be war war ... and more more...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

While the cat's away... Having a NoFF week!

The author, thoroughly well wrapped and insulated, at his desk, preparing to write this blogWhile the cat's away, this mouse ain't having much fun: My wife Val, who's not in the least cat-like, is away for a few days, assisting at my son Mark Lynas's book launch. So it seemed entirely appropriate to conduct a 'climate' experiment on myself.

A winter week without fossil fuel: Yes, it's theoretically possible (see my earlier post Have a NoFF Day: NoFF = No Fossil Fuels) and I wanted to find out just how unpleasant it was. I was going to live in a post-carbon world for just 6 days. I turned the oil-fired central heating off at the main switch before Val even walked out of the door to catch her train on Monday, so keen was I. I also vowed that I would not indulge in heat from the wood-burning stove which is nominally carbon-neutral (though I have reservations about this since the trees I have planted around my farm won't sequester what I am burning now for many years to come). We would normally have the stove lit in the evenings at this chilly time of year.

Cold but not that cold: The very first night was quite a test. The skies cleared and the temperature plummeted to 0 degrees Celsius overnight. But I didn't die. I survived quite well by dint of wearing the same night-time clothes in bed (I normally sleep naked) that I wear on my mountain sojourns in Scotland: a base layer on my upper body and Polartec 100 'long johns' on the lower part. The old stone farmhouse has solid uninsulatable walls (something we're hoping to remedy by passive solar means) which buffer the maximum and miniumum outside temperatures so that, without heat input, the inside temperature reflects the average of day and night. This can mean that it's colder in the house during the day - and this has happened several times. Day temperatures did, once, shoot up to 14 Celsius leaving the kitchen at a chilly 10. So the average temperature in the house is probably around 10-11 Celsius.

Watching the telly: Not surprisingly, the body gets coldest when it's not active physically. During the part of the day when I'm outside on the farm, working physically (which includes excavating the foundations for the passive solar conservatory), I'm often hot and the sun shines from time to time. At night, when I relax late in the evening to watch a rented DVD (murder mysteries are my thing this week), I wrap up as warm as I can with as little skin exposed as possible. And with all my layers - the more the better - including a thick fleece and a 'body mitten' blanket thing, I find that I am reasonably comfortable.

Indulgences: No, not the papal sort; the physical sort:
  • I boil water - exactly the right amount, measured, for my tea and coffee
  • I take an 'instant' hot water electric shower each evening
  • I cook my simple meals on an electric hob
  • I have lights (low energy, of course) on where I need them
  • I use my laptop for several hours (I am an editor for and watch TV (LCD screen) for 2 h each day
  • I don't drive anywhere because there's plenty of food stored and growing on the farm: vegetables, I mean, not sheep. There's some apples still keeping from last year too

So you can see that my energy demands are extremely low by today's standards. Furthermore, we have reasonably green electricity (RSPB Energy).

T'was ever thus, not long ago: You only have to step back a generation or two to realise that people have always lived like this. Central heating, now completely taken for granted, is an innovation in my lifetime. As a schoolboy aged 10 in chilly Redcar-by-the-sea, I remember ice encrusting the inside of my bedroom window and the stone hotwater bottle my granny gave me to warm the bed. I also remember the misery of the outside toilet. In winter, you would crunch through the snow to get there. Just one small room was heated - a coal fire, and that only for the evening. This is not a complaint; merely an observation. In past times, everyone lived with the cold and dressed accordingly. The notion of heating an entire building was unknown. Not any more. That toughness and reslience has been lost and even cranks like me find it unpleasant to live with almost no energy inputs.

The cat returns: Val returns on Saturday night. The fire is laid ready for her. In fairness, I should add that she, too, has learned to dress appropriately and is to be seen wearing her red hat and thick fleece jacket, body mitten wrapped round her legs, as she does the farm accounts. She, like me, accepts what the IPCC and others are telling us about climate change and about our need to change. She, like me, is doing what she can.

Results: At school, we learned to present our results after conducting experiments (remember? Aim, Method, Results, Conclusions). I'm still continuing my experiment but the results are already clear: it's not fun living without energy. It can be done and may have to be done by many. So I conclude that we need to do our best to reduce energy consumption and to increase renewable energy capacity. We at Mur Crusto farm are well on the way to providing our home with solar heat and, when that's complete, intend to invest some of our savings in a reasonable size (say 5-10 kW) wind turbine. It will be grid-connected and so will earn us money just as effectively as money locked away in investments. And unlike investments which can all come crashing down overnight, our turbine will quietly generate energy and revenue for at least 20 years. Which is the safer option in this unsafe, unstable world which we humans have created? To see what I mean by 'unsafe and unstable', see my son's book: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, launched tonight!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Swindled: undermining the fragile consensus

Damaging setback? Channel 4's documentary 'The Great Global Warming Swindle’ has inflicted damage on what looked like the beginnings of a widespread consensus on climate change and upon our taking responsibility for it. This is sad because building such a consensus has taken years and many waverers will have been convinced by this programme's false polemics which appear to give a green light to our understandable desires to continue our energy-extravagant lifestyles.

A propaganda gift: George Marshall (COIN) writes: "this programme was a propaganda gift to the various vested interests who seek to undermine the fragile political and social will to take action on this global action. And it was sometimes very convincing, as strongly worded opinions often are when they are not subject to any verification or external challenge." In The Great Channel 4 Swindle, he looks in detail at what was claimed and who was saying it. Some of the names should be well known by now. They are the professional deniers who are skilled at misrepresenting climate science but, as Marshall says, you can "make up your own minds from their track records" which he presents.

Hornswoggled! RealClimate - 'climate science from climate scientists' - offers a detailed critique of the Channel 4 programme titled Swindled! In a post written by two climate modellers, one from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the other from the British Antarctic Survey, they (tongue in cheek perhaps) say "We were hoping for important revelations and final proof that we have all been hornswoggled by the climate Illuminati, but it just repeated the usual specious claims we hear all the time. We feel swindled." As one of the many comments on this thorough analysis notes, "yet another tin of red herrings to rebut".

Red herrings and outrage: And if RealClimate isn't enough proof for you, try Campaign against Climate Change (you may need to scroll down the page to see the article). Here, the red herrings get their comeuppance with numerous links to the detailed science behind the issues. As someone asks, what is Channel 4's agenda? Finally, this useful site gives an example of letters of complaint to C4 and Ofcom if you were 'outraged that Channel 4 aired the programme with no caveats'.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I will if you will...

First, a sing-song: Did you ever sing this on the bus? (To the tune of 'She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes'):

Singing....I will if you will I
Singing....I will if you will I
Singing, I will if you will,
I will if you will
I will if you will, so will I.

That was the chorus. There were several quite rude verses which we, as schoolboys, sang with gusto on field trips. (Let me see, how did it go? 'Oh she's got a lovely bottom set of teeth.' I'll leave you to work that one out.) Oh, and there's a Scots version which goes 'Oh ye cannae shove yer grannie aff the bus'. Thought you should know that before getting down to the heavy stuff!

What can we do? No, I haven't taken leave of my senses: just trying to inject a little humour into a serious subject: climate change and what we can all do about it. I expect, like me, you're rather tired of reading endless stuff about how serious it all is and how we have to start doing something now. But no-one answers the massively begged question: What exactly do we do? One of our organic veg customers made exactly this point to Val (my wife) a couple of weeks back: We can all see there's trouble ahead but what are we supposed to do? Changing light bulbs and recycling obviously isn't enough. It's up to the politicians, isn't it?

I will if you will: Politicians usually follow where the public leads so we all should have have our say and do our fair share. All of us. That's the point of the song: I will if you will... Most of us are ready to make sacrifices if only we knew that everyone else was doing so too. At present, we see friends flying off on absurdly cheap polluting holidays, driving around in gas-guzzlers, keeping their houses nice and warm with coal and oil, buying food from far and wide so why - the reasonable argument goes - should I be the first to downsize my lifestyle? I will if you will... but you probably won't so why should I?

Practical action: Here's some ideas. Please add more in Comments if you wish.
  1. Get involved in a climate change network such as This sort of environmental social networking site stops you feeling alone and gives you an opportunity to see what others are doing and how they are doing it. It also helps you to start or join a local network or group based on where you live or at your workplace, though it can be as global as you wish. The possibilities for forming such groups of like-minded people are legion. (No doubt we'll have climate change dating agencies soon. Now there's a good idea!)
  2. Get in touch with your local political representative. Tell them what you think should be happening and what you're prepared to do. is a good start for those in the UK if you don't know who your MP is or how to get in touch. Carbon rationing is an idea whose time has come but the politicians need to know there is grassroots support. Try the Carbon Rationing Action Groups for details of how this works and see how inherently fair it is. I will if you will...
  3. Get together with your neighbours and form a group. You could start off by viewing Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' which should set things in motion. It's now available on DVD.
  4. Calculate your carbon footprint. Start by reading It's carbon judgment day by Mark Lynas.
  5. Get in touch with your local newspaper to tell them about you and your group are doing or plan to do. That could be anything from installing unexciting but essential building insulation (the single most worthwhile thing to do for which there are grants available) to making serious carbon-reduction commitments or pledges. How? Join Cred and make pledges to save carbon.
  6. If you have kids, remember they're the inheritors of this awful mess we and our forebears have unintentionally made of our planet's atmosphere, ocean and land. It doesn't have to be like this. Think 'out of the box' about your lifestyle. If you come up with any smart ideas, tell everyone in any way that suits you. Al Gore has a small army of people trained to present his 'slide show'. Could you do something like that? There's nothing to beat getting the word across by actual local contacts if you have that kind of charisma! (I don't so I blog instead.)

And me? What am I doing? If all the suggestions about sound a little prescriptive, please note that I really do practice what I preach. I'm typing this with a warm blanket wrapped around my legs, a wooly hat on my head and I'm wearing a thick fleece. It's not too cold today (about 12 degrees C both inside and outside) and I'm confortably warm with no heating. Val, who is a convert to being the change you want to see in the world (thank you Gandhi) like me, wears similar outfits. We travel very little, never fly (obviously or I wouldn't be writing this blog) and I've just asked her if she would calculate our carbon footprint. We do have a very efficient wood-burner for the evenings and use Green electricity and I'm in the process of building a passive solar structure onto the south-facing house front... more on this.

Everybody's doing it, doing it, doing it! Well that's what we'd all like. So let's all sing from the same hymnsheet, eh? Someone has to start the ball rolling so let it be you. Remember the refrain: I will if you will, so will I!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Happy Birthday! I hope...

Last night, my new granddaughter was born. I wish her many happy returns and a wonderful and secure life on our still-beautiful planet. I so earnestly hope that all goes well for her (and my other four grandchildren)... and yet I worry. What a world she's been born into! Over thirty years ago, I remember my grandfather worrying openly to my wife and me about the future for our own children and questioning the wisdom of bringing more of them into a problem-filled world. And yet, back then hardly anybody had heard of climate change and world population stood at just over half what it is now.

Fortunately, my new granddaughter has two of the most wonderful caring parents a child could wish for and she lives in a country which is less likely than many to be badly affected by climate change. So she's a lot better off than most of the kids who were born on her birthnight elsewhere on our planet.

But if she were about ten years old now, she might make this video.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Something in the air: climate change is hot

Ominous-looking clouds viewed from my farm in North Wales

Top of the Pops: It's part of my job as a freelance climate change editor for to follow breaking news stories and the latest blog opinion from around the world. So I scan through hundreds of newsfeeds every week and I'm getting a concerted message, loud and clear: climate change issues are top of the agenda just about everywhere, but particularly in North America and, increasingly, China.

The Pigs are flying: Even George W managed to use the phrase 'global climate change' (once) in his lacklustre State of the Union address. ExxonMobil has suddenly become - or has appeared to become - greener, finally pushed by the Union of Concerned Scientists' report into the oil company's covert funding of climate sceptics. Yes, the climate pigs are in the air. The deniers haven't gone away but they're becoming marginalised. It looks like the year Sir David Attenborough, courtesy of the BBCthings are going to really start to happen. Politicians are picking up the scent and realising not only that many people but also many corporations want them to do something; to legislate. Sir Nicholas Stern has proposed a world carbon tax. Carbon rationing is being talked about as if it might actually happen. On 21 January, Sir David Attenborough presented Climate Change - Britain Under Threat at peak time on BBC television. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is now available free if you haven't seen it. A couple of days ago, BBC2 screened Should I Really Give Up Flying?

"What people (must) do is to change their behaviour and their attitudes. If we do care about our grandchildren then we have to do something, and we have to demand that our governments do something." Sir David Attenborough, BBC.

Is The End Nigh? But will all this frenzy of activity and potential action be enough and in time? Who knows, but we will shortly have a much better idea as the IPCC finalizes its Fourth Assessment Report "Climate Change 2007", due for release on 2 February. Pre-publication syntheses of this report do not make cheerful reading. Just about everything previously predicted is going to be worse than expected and happen sooner. So, as is it is becoming customary to say, when someone has just written such doom-laden words, we've got to change and we have to do it now. I am doing so. How about you?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Spring or winter?

Cow parsley in full flower - but in early JanuaryWhat time of the year is it? It's 5th January, 2007. Today was mild and sunny and look what I found in full flower in one of the hedgerows: it's cow parsley (a member of the carrot family).

Where am I? Latitude 52.53 North (New York city is 40°47' N) where the days are, right now, almost as short as they get since we're only 2 weeks past the winter solstice.

What's the weather like? It's Wales so we expect gales and rain. And we've had gales and rain most of the time for a couple of months. Normally we'd expect a few frosts by this time of year but so far there have been none here (70 metres above sealevel on a peninsula surrounded by the sea though my farm is 5 kilometres inland).

What's up? My Oxford book of wild flowers tells me that the season for this cow parsley to flower is April-June. So what's going on? This 'winter' is the mildest for I don't know how many years. The Met Office says that '2007 is likely to be the warmest year on record globally, beating the current record set in 1998'. And that's after the warmest autumn on record. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what's up with the weather and the climate which hosts it.

The downside of mild winters: I grow vegetables for a living. The picture below is a view of my polytunnel crops this afternoon.
Vegetables growing in the polytunnel, but look at the way the mildew affects the lettuce leaves (inset) in this mild damp weather
It all looks quite neat and productive, don't you think? But look at the inset of the lettuce; the bottom leaves of the plant are all but consumed by downy mildew which is a serious problem in mild damp weather. If it's properly cold, the fungal spores become inactive but this hasn't happened at all this winter and the result has been serious damage to hundreds of lettuces. I've had to throw away many of them because of the mildew.

So it may be agreeable for many of us not connected to food production to experience mild winters but it certainly doesn't suit the plants, many of which think it's spring. As if to emphasise this point, I saw a really weird sight this afternoon: small potato plants growing in the ground where I'd left some tubers. Potato plants are particularly susceptible to frosts and would normally be wiped out in October or November. Not this year. A taste of things to come perhaps? Severe gales, endless heavy rain and mildness. Come to think of it, that's just what the climate models predict for a warming world, isn't it?

Finally, my Link of the Week from the Union of Concerned Scientists: ExxonMobil’s Tobacco-like Disinformation Campaign on Global Warming Science