The day the well ran dry

On Wednesday 20th July our water stopped running: after providing our farm with running water for 36 years our well was dry. For us this was serious and scary. We were already being careful with our water use as it has been dry since the New Year. But then, suddenly, the only source of water for our home, our garden, our livestock buildings and half of our fields has run out.

John Whetman, Audrey’s husband, setting up an emergency water supply.

We farm on the drier, eastern edge of Dartmoor, not far from the beautiful River Teign. We keep around 30 cattle and 20 sheep who graze our flower-rich pastures, making sure they are full of insects, spiders and birds. We have a garden full of vegetables and fruit that feed us right through the year. We farm with nature, not against it; we don’t use fossil-fuel based fertilisers or sprays and we heat our house using wood cut from our hedges when we ‘lay’ them. We are trying hard to minimise our effect on the planet – but our well is dry.

For many years we have known that our climate is changing and becoming more erratic, so six years ago we spent £2,000 on reserve water tanks, which we fill up with winter and springtime water. But we only have 10,000 litres, so we had to act fast!

The first thing we had to do was to move our cattle to the far side of the farm, where they can drink from the brook, or to our furthest fields, where there are mains water troughs. The cattle have now eaten the remaining dried-up grass in our far fields and we are feeding them our winter hay. It is going to be a long hot start to the winter! Thank goodness we have small fields and big bushy hedges that give our animals some shade throughout the day!

In the garden, anything that isn’t essential has been left to its own devices. In the house we minimise water use, but every evening we soak our tired bodies in a few inches of (shared) hot water. When we have finished, I add some eco-detergent and the dirty washing for a bit of a scrub and a good soak. In the morning we drain the laundry on a clothes horse propped across the bath before putting it out on the washing line to drip-dry. The rest of the bath water is used to flush the loo or water plants. Across the world millions of people live with very limited water, but many people in the UK turn on the tap and don’t even think about how it got there.

Why has our well dried up? We’ve only had 22cms of rain this year (less than 1 inches). In July we had less than 0.5cm. We’ve also had higher temperatures than we have ever experienced before. So climate change is definitely a big factor, but it is more complex than that. People use more water each day than they used to, and there are more people too! To satisfy the demand, water companies are extracting extra water from rivers and reservoirs. As a result, our natural underground water levels are falling, and in the summer the water is below well-level.

So, what next? It will probably be months before our well runs again, and we are fortunate that our neighbours have invited us to plumb into their supply until the situation improves. We have bought 250 metres of pipe to bring the water down to the farm and now we can start to be just a little less miserly with our water. So, we will get through, but this scorching summer has given us a lot of gruelling, extra work!

Economic growth measure fails on green front

The UK economy shrank by 9% in 2020 but bounced back in 2021, growing by 7.5%. This year, it is expected to grow by 3.6%. These numbers matter a lot to the government, but there is increasing debate about how relevant they are to setting economic policies to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies.

That’s because our national prosperity is measured purely by the rise or fall in the market value of all the goods and services we produce (known as gross domestic product, or GDP). There is no consideration of anything that can’t be measured in price terms, including environmental and social matters. And that is a problem, according to climate focused economists called on to give evidence to the government’s Environmental Audit Committee earlier this year.

For example, the value of planting trees will only be measured if and when those trees are cut down and sold as timber. They are not valued for the shade they provide, the carbon they sequester, or the habitats they offer to wildlife. Even more perversely, the likelihood of more severe storms, floods, heatwaves and wildfires due to climate change will be good for economic growth because cleaning up after such events will add to GDP. There is no accounting for the loss of life, livelihoods, housing or infrastructure.  

Similarly, GDP, which was developed as a measuring tool in the 1930s, ignores both the environmental damage caused by extracting fossil fuels and the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning them. And what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed, as the well-known saying goes.

Another critical aspect in tackling climate change is that of equity. Richer nations have caused the problem while poorer nations not only suffer most from the effects but are also less able to adapt. This is recognised in environmental treaties, with richer nations committing to help poorer ones develop and cope with adaptation. 

GDP also ignores distributional issues. This is most obvious when the government celebrates a rise in GDP whilst a majority of the population see a stagnation in their income and a drop in living standards. But it is also present when importing natural resources and value from poorer nations without properly compensating them.

Given these defects, the Environmental Audit Committee asked its five witnesses whether GDP is still up to the job of guiding economic targets. Only one declared support for GDP remaining a key metric, with perhaps some enhancement for environmental effects. The other four said it was no longer fit for purpose and we need to employ a range of measures, perhaps in the form of a dashboard, to record financial, social and environmental elements of prosperity or damage. 

Many such measures are readily available, including sustainable development goals, environmental and planetary boundaries and measures of social wellbeing, but few countries build them into their economic plans or give them any prominence.

Some witnesses also threw doubt on the goal of ever increasing economic growth in rich countries like the UK, with research quoted showing that the richer a nation becomes, the less beneficial is additional wealth. 

The ability to grow our economy whilst reducing carbon emissions, a process known as “decoupling”, was another topic of discussion. Witnesses criticised the government’s claim to have achieved significant decoupling, pointing out that the emissions embedded in our imports are not counted. We should also take account of our historic emissions and our material (non-carbon) footprint on the environment and planet, they said.

It will be hard to move away from the metric of economic growth as it is built into many of our social structures, and much work is needed to imagine how a post-growth society and economy would operate. But the consensus among the witnesses to the committee was that it needs to be done.

Cutting carbon emissions: a new district-wide climate project

Teignbridge is a beautiful district to live in – but, like the rest of the world, it is part of the climate problem, but also, part of the solution! There are so many people worrying about the crisis – so many communities that would like to help reduce climate change – what if we could work on it together?

Action on Climate in Teignbridge is planning to launch a project that will support community-based volunteers or existing groups who are looking for ways to enthuse and inspire their community to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Can you spare a few hours to help us do this? You don’t need special qualifications, just enthusiasm for spreading the message that everyone can do something to reduce carbon emissions. We’re looking for people who love communicating (maybe even public speaking), organising fun events, creating colourful posters and graphics, and achieving miracles on a tight budget! If you can do any of these things (we don’t expect you to do all of them!), please get in touch with Kate about joining our team    

We are looking for an overall project coordinator.  If we can’t find a volunteer, we are confident that we can get funding to pay someone to be a self-employed, part-time coordinator. You wouldn’t need specific academic qualifications, but you would need to have a friendly and optimistic outlook, and be able to talk, write, listen and express ideas clearly.  

The first task for the coordinator would be to find and support community-based climate volunteers, who would usually be town/parish-based. We would be particularly interested in working with anyone who is a member of a Teignbridge climate group. 

The coordinator and volunteers would be given introductory training and ongoing coaching to help them deliver small-scale projects – but it would be up to them to find projects and challenges that will enthuse people in their communities. Here are possible carbon cutting projects that your community might like:

  • Energy – cutting home energy use and costs
  • Reducing the impact of our clothes/fashion industry 
  • Listening to teenagers – and helping them to take action
  • Running a repair café
  • Running a community larder

If you are interested in any aspect of this idea and want to find out more, please contact Kate 

Beach labyrinth reflections

Around 100 people walked the labyrinth created on Teignmouth Beach last weekend for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. Plenty more watched the walkers from the promenade. 

The construction effort, directed by labyrinth artist Andrew Nicholson, was tough work as the chosen location, below the lighthouse, was particularly stony. Still, the stones added to the attraction of the finished artwork as they were used to mark the labyrinth pathways.

Passing families with children joined in enthusiastically to place the stones. “That building effort with the parents and children was my favourite part of the experience,” said John Watson of Action on Climate in Teignbridge, which organised the event. “All in all, it was quite a spiritual event which I think connected with people in a most original way.”

Labyrinths have a long history. People have been creating and walking them since the times of the ancient Greeks. In medieval times, Christian monks would walk them to reflect on the journey of their lives.

The idea of the Teignmouth Beach labyrinth was “to reflect on our concerns for the environment and be thankful for the special places in our lives”, said Andrew Nicholson (pictured above). 

Those walking the labyrinth were invited to pick up a piece of rubbish found on the beach at the entrance, reflect on their concerns as they trod the meandering path to the centre, then leave the rubbish and their concerns there. They could then take a stone from the centre and walk back thinking of places precious to them.

Scott Williams, an ACT member, said: “It was amazing and moving to see the flow of people travelling through such an ancient symbol. The solemnity and peace it created within those that walked it will stay with me.”

Of course, the sea claimed the labyrinth as the tide came in later in the day. Watching the water engulf the construction, a vicar from Dawlish remarked how appropriate the image was; a symbol of the threat of climate change to many people around the world.

“There were lots of people watching as the tide came in,” said Audrey Compton of ACT. “People of all ages. People who wanted to talk. It was obvious to me that we have suddenly reached a tipping point of understanding about the environment and desire for change. COP26 may not achieve nearly enough politically, but it has galvanised ‘people power’!”

For more on beach labyrinths visit the facebook page.

Local teenager on a mission to COP26

Newton Abbot resident Jessie Stevens is heading to Glasgow for the COP26 summit in November, and plans to pedal the whole 570 miles! She will be cycling under the banner of the People Pedal Power mission she has created. This aims to inspire people (particularly young people) to join her on her journey and deliver a message to the climate conference on the need for urgent action on green transport infrastructure, and much else.

Jessie, 16, is a climate activist determined to make the voice of youth heard at COP26. Such events have long been dominated by adults, she says, many of whom may not live to see the worst effects of the climate crisis. “The youth are rarely a part of these talks despite the impacts of climate and ecological breakdown impacting them the most.”

After looking at her travel options, Jessie found the easiest, cheapest, but most polluting way to get to Glasgow would be by car or plane. Taking the (less polluting) train looked complicated and expensive. She decided she would like to travel under her own power and resolved to cycle, and make as much noise as possible along the way.

“To me, cycling is a very community orientated mode of travel. This perfectly fitted my visions of #ride2COP26 as it gives space for many individuals to join the ride, gathering force and power,” she says.

Jessie will be supported on her trip by Adventure Syndicate, a collective of women endurance cyclists, who will accompany her on a cargo bike, carrying everything she needs.

“The cargo bike will not only provide physical support, but will also tangibly represent one of the viable solutions to developing a more sustainable transport system,” says Jessie. “After all, this journey is not just about highlighting what is wrong, but also about demonstrating solutions.”

Adventure Syndicate will also co-produce a film documenting the journey and the stories of those involved and the people Jessie meets along the way.

Jessie will set off on 20th October, covering between 50-70 miles a day, and invites people to join her for a few miles to highlight people power—both in terms of active travel and political voice.

To find out more visit:

https://httpspeoplepeddlepower.wordpress.com/

or email people.pedal.power@gmail.com

Government releases its Hydrogen Strategy

Number 2 of the Government’s 10 Point Plan:

“Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade”

On 17 August 2021 the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released its Hydrogen Strategy announcing, in the press release:

  • A ‘twin track’ approach to supporting multiple technologies including ‘green’ electrolytic and ‘blue’ carbon capture-enabled hydrogen production.
  • A UK hydrogen economy could be worth £900 million and create over 9,000 high-quality jobs by 2030, potentially rising to 100,000 jobs and worth up to £13 billion by 2050
  • Hydrogen could play an important role in decarbonising polluting, energy-intensive industries like chemicals, oil refineries, power and heavy transport like shipping, HGV lorries and trains
  • By 2050 20-35% of the UK’s energy consumption could be hydrogen-based.
  • A consultation to be launched, based on offshore wind, to look at ways to overcome the cost gap between low carbon hydrogen and fossil fuels, plus a consultation on a £240 million Net Zero Hydrogen Fund, to support the commercial deployment of new low carbon hydrogen production plants.
  • Working with industry to assess the safety, technical feasibility, and cost effectiveness of mixing 20% hydrogen into the existing gas supply.
  • £105 million in UK government funding provided to support polluting industries to significantly slash their emissions

In the original press release, and elsewhere, it was mentioned that 3 million homes would be powered by hydrogen by 2030 but BEIS have now amended the press release and confirmed that this was an equivalent illustration and that hydrogen will predominantly be used in heavy industry.

As stated in the strategy, with currently almost no low carbon production of hydrogen in the UK or globally, meeting the 2030 target will require rapid and significant scale up over coming years. It then describes where Hydrogen comes from:

“There are almost no abundant natural sources of pure hydrogen, which means that it has to be manufactured. The most common production route is steam methane reformation (SMR), where natural gas is reacted with steam to form hydrogen. This is a carbon-intensive process, but one which can be made low carbon through the addition of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) – to produce a gas often called ‘blue hydrogen’. Hydrogen can also be produced through electrolysis, where electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – gas from this process is often referred to as ‘green hydrogen’ or zero carbon hydrogen when the electricity comes from renewable sources. Today most hydrogen produced and used in the UK and globally is high carbon, coming from fossil fuels with no carbon capture; less than 1% can be called low carbon. For hydrogen to play a part in our journey to net zero, all current and future production will need to be low carbon.”

So in following its “twin track” approach the government assumes that blue hydrogen will initially start the strategy going with green hydrogen becoming more abundant (and cheap) in later decades. Without specifying proportions however, it seems that in both mix and, as shown below, use, the government is relying on the market to find the best combination.

Some key points:

Here is a graph from the report showing the estimated hydrogen demand in various sectors, in Terawatt Hours (TWh) (one Trillion Kilowatt hours), in 2030 & 2035.

Note in particular the 0-45 estimate for heating, this reflects the uncertainty about the lesser priority of hydrogen for domestic use and the availability today of alternatives, eg Heat Pumps. To put this into perspective the anticipated <1 TWh in 2030 and up to 45 TWh in 2035 represents about 0.2% and 10% respectively of the UK’s current energy demand for space and water heating.

It’s likely therefore that, as mentioned in the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC’s) balanced pathway to Net Zero, hydrogen may play a part in heating where the housing is near to the hydrogen production and electrification is not possible or where there is stored hydrogen created from surplus renewable energy.

Unless using this stored hydrogen however, it makes little sense to use green hydrogen for heating when the renewable energy used to create it would be better used to provide the heating directly and so save the wasted energy from conversion.

It’s often quoted that “the only waste from using hydrogen is water”.  This is true when hydrogen is used in “fuel cells”, where a chemical reaction takes place, or where hydrogen is burned in pure oxygen but it is not true when, as would be the case with heating, it is burned in air. Air’s main constituent is Nitrogen and burning hydrogen in it produces other pollutants, known as NOx. The strategy considers these and how industry must ensure they are kept within emission limits, opponents however consider that, along with the infrastructure changes needed, it’s unacceptable to plan for any such emissions.

As explained in an Annex, with an established battery electric vehicle industry now well established, cars and vans do not feature in transport assumptions, leaving the use of hydrogen for haulage, busses, rail, shipping and aviation however, given the rapid development in battery technology, the annex casts doubt over the likelihood of the first three. Consequently, as mentioned above, it seems the government will wait and see what the markets come up with.

In 2050 the strategy estimates somewhere between 20% to 35% of the UK’s total energy demand being provided by hydrogen.  In the CCC’s 6th Carbon Budget report last year, its balanced pathway relied upon a maximum of about 20%. Until the government releases its own energy pathway it’s not possible to reconcile the two.

As blue hydrogen relies on a supply of natural gas there’s suspicion outside government over its promotion as an energy source by the fossil fuel industry and studies, including this one in the USA, indicate that current production methods, including carbon capture and storage, result in significant CO2 and Methane (CH4) emissions, both in the extraction of the gas in the first place and then leakage in the capture and storage processes. 

This view was reinforced by reports that Chris Jackson, the chair of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association resigned in advance of the government’s strategy saying he could no longer lead an industry association that included oil companies backing blue hydrogen projects, because the schemes were “not sustainable” and “make no sense at all”.

As mentioned above, in its twin track approach, the government sees blue hydrogen as useful in creating a path to green hydrogen but, with BEIS talking about up to 15 year contracts, concern has been voiced among climate groups that over-reliance on blue could lock the UK into decades of North Sea gas production, fossil-fuel imports and millions of tonnes of carbon emissions. 

ACT’s view is that there will be a place for hydrogen in providing energy where electrification is not possible and in some industrial and chemical processes. With the uncertainties over the impacts of its production however and without scaled-up and effective capture and storage, blue hydrogen is wholly inappropriate as a solution and so efforts are better directed towards immediate reductions in the use of fossil fuels with any hydrogen pathway being primarily towards green hydrogen.

Other relevant links:

ACT’s Technologies to support Net Zero Section 3 Hydrogen

The Telegraph Billions to be funnelled into hydrogen subsidies as UK races to hit net zero

The Guardian Government reveals plans for £4bn hydrogen investment by 2030 

BBC News Hydrogen power offers jobs boost, says government

UKERC Pathway to net zero heating in the UK

The Climate Change Committee Hydrogen in a low-carbon economy

XR Protests at the G7

When you think about an Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist, you probably don’t think of someone like me, writes Amanda Cole. A 68 year old grandmother, with a 44 year history of NHS work in a responsible and respected position. But I attended the protests at the recent G7 meeting in St Ives and joined hundreds of other people rebelling against the failure of governments to act on the dual climate and ecological emergencies.

100 Penitents carry the sins of the G7 through Cornwall. Photo: Tristian Herbert

A sixth mass extinction of wildlife is already underway. Studies show a 60% decline in wildlife populations since 1980, while the world’s natural ecosystems have lost about half their area, all largely due to human action. Climate change is already affecting our weather, bringing more frequent floods and heatwaves. If we don’t allow ecosystems to recover and expand, as well as massively reduce our carbon emissions, it will all get worse. Other parts of the world with more vulnerable communities are suffering these effects more acutely than Britain is right now. 

Attending the XR events at the G7, a meeting of the Group of Seven richest nations, was a great experience in many ways. The protests were creative, inspiring, sometimes sombre, and sometimes fun. There was lots of media coverage; it was great to engage with the public and the police. The reception in my experience was pretty much 100% friendly. There was one woman muttering at a bus stop, but I didn’t catch what she said. There were no Rebel arrests. But of course we were securely separated from the official goings-on in Carbis Bay, so I’m not sure how much we were listened to. The government resolution to pledge a £500m Blue Planet Fund for marine conservation had already been announced last year. About US$2bn is to be provided to help countries worldwide to phase out coal-fired power generation. This may not even be new money. The summit failed to set us up for a successful COP26, the UN climate talks to be held in Glasgow in November, as trust is sorely lacking between rich and developing countries. Overall, these outcomes were more than disappointing. 

So yes, you are right; I am not a typical Rebel. Extinction Rebellion members do come from a particular demographic in the main. But with the richest nations in the world failing to provide leadership and finance to tackle the climate crisis, it falls to each and every one of us to make the changes we feel able to make.

People sometimes think individuals cannot make a difference, but that is wrong. Look at how the British public responded to the challenges the pandemic brought. We were far more responsive and able to change than the government, and even the scientists predicted. And there is some evidence that if you feel good about making a little change, you will go on to make another. What is vital is to choose something you want to do, and are able to do. I would never ask my beef farmer friend to give up meat or suggest my friends on benefits buy expensive eco-products. But we can all start reusing plastic, sorting our recycled waste, and picking up litter, for example. We can all do something. 

I was heartened at the end of the visit to St Ives to hear the speaker at the closing ceremony for the XR events say: “Some people say we’re preaching to the converted in XR. Well let’s make it our pledge before COP26 to talk to people outside this group. Ask what they think. Find out what makes them sceptical or hesitant. See if you can help.” 

So that’s what I’m doing. Let’s all take some climate action today and build towards a happier and healthier future.