Archive for the ‘CO2 emissions’ Category

Qu: How bad are bbqs?

Friday the 19th of September 2008

QU: What are the environmental impacts of the many BBQ’s held throughout the summer? 

Summer? What summer? Thank goodness that autumn has arrived and we no longer have to live with the disappointment of grey and drizzling days. Roll on frosty mornings and ripening orchards… Sorry, I digress, despite the highest rainfall since records began this summer many people still stoically pulled their trusty bbqs from the back of the garage to enjoy their traditional if slightly soggy, carbonized sausages. 

During the summer at the slightest hint of a dry evening people all over the country flocked to the shops to buy the necessary bbq paraphernalia; meat, salads, charcoal, fire lighters, dousing liquids, throw-away one-time-use barbeques and more. And why not – it’s a chance to invite the neighbours over to admire your garden while you fumigate theirs. As we race to sear the salmonella from the chicken before the last rays of sunshine fade the environmental impact rarely crosses our minds. Perhaps it should; when you add up all the BBQ’s taking place across the globe the effect is greater than you might think. 

Let’s start with the actual cooking device; throwaway bbqs are a total waste of material and an extra burden on already overtaxed rubbish disposal systems – you wouldn’t buy throwaway saucepans would you? 

But permanent bbqs are expensive I hear you cry. Indeed they are – or can be. Cheap bbqs made in Asia are increasingly popular but the air freight makes them an environmental no-no. Have you ever tried to buy a bbq made in the UK? I have and it’s a bit of a challenge, the closest manufacturer I could find was in Germany, which is better than China in terms of “bbq miles” but not ideal. The best thing is to make your own. 

Take the grill out of our oven and place it over a base built of bricks. The base can stay till the next use and the grill returns to it’s rightful place at the end of the feast. You can even take your grill camping with you and build an impromptu BBQ on the beach with the help of a few large stones. 

Now that’s sorted let’s consider your fuel. To get that smoky bbq taste most people opt for charcoal – this might be good for flavour but not it’s not so good for forests: 97 percent of the grilling charcoal consumed in Britain comes from non-sustainable forests. 

On top of that, briquettes, which are the most popular form of grilling charcoal, are often doused in petroleum solvents. 

“Charcoal grills and lighter fluid contribute to ground-level ozone, which is produced when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic chemicals [VOCs] combine in hot weather conditions.” says Ana Gomez, of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. (source) Not only is it bad for our respiratory system, it also irritates the eyes is generally unpleasant for anyone in the area. 

You can buy British charcoal that’s made from properly managed native woodland, it’s more expensive but well worth it. Eco-charcoal is available at Tesco, Sainsbury’s, B&Q and some Co-Op stores (source) . Or give give the forests a break and use natural gas instead, though as natural gas is tricky to extract it is more expensive to buy. 

You could avoid emissions altogether by using a solar stove, though you’d have to be really lucky with the weather! It cooks slower but as it’s flameless it also eliminates the carcinogens formed when meats are grilled or broiled at extremely high temperatures or when fat from meat, fish, or poultry drips onto hot coals and deposits back onto the food via smoke. 

Which brings me nicely onto the subject of what’s cooking on your grill. A report by Friends of the Earth highlights the deforestation of the rainforests for intensive production of palm oil and soy, which is used in the chicken, beef burgers, and veggie burgers.

So, in short, build your own bbq, choose your fuel wisely, keep processed meats off the menu and, weather permitting, you can still enjoy your annual bbq. 


Qu: Can we make our rubbish into fuel?

Friday the 29th of August 2008

Qu: Would it be possible to put waste, i.e. bio-degradable rubbish and sewage into an air-tight container, let it produce methane gas, siphon it off to cook with and power gas-fired central heating, filter off the water, and be left with compost to put on gardens?

Yes – very possible, in fact it’s already being done. It’s called Anaerobic Digestion and the process is widely used to treat wastewater sludges and organic wastes. Anaerobic digestion can reduce the emission of harmful landfill gases into the atmosphere and is a renewable energy source because the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production. Also, as the question suggests, the nutrient-rich solids left after digestion can be used as fertiliser.

So why isn’t this process used everywhere? Anaerobic digesters require a high level of technical expertise to maintain as careful control of the digestion temperature, pH, quality of input and loading rates is crucial. Because of these complexities, despite being recognised by United Nations Development Programme as one of the most useful decentralised sources of energy supply and being less expensive to run than large powerplants, anaerobic digesters are not widely used in industry. (source)

Anaerobic Bioreactors, a type of landfill, can also transform decomposing material into an energy source. By removing oxygen and pumping lechtate (water which has collected waste products from the decomposing matter) and other liquids around the bioreactor the waste produces methane, which can be collected and used instead of fossil fuels. (source)

Perhaps the most exciting and accessible use of the anaerobic production of methane from plant waste is the ‘pyrolysis unit’ – invented for domestic use in India by Ravi Kumar. A family collects waste plants, dries then and puts them into the unit’s circular casing. This casing is sealed to stop oxygen combining with CO2. A small fire is started in the central void; this heats up the plants and causes them to emit gases through small holes in the casing. The gases ignite and burn for long enough to cook dinner (about an hour). Then, brilliantly, the remaining charcoal can be raked out and used as fertiliser – what’s more the soil’s subsequent ability to lock in carbon dioxide also increases. (James Bruges – What About China?- p19)

Hope that helps, 


Question: are patio heaters evil?

Thursday the 26th of June 2008

Qu: I’ve heard that patio heaters are worse than trans-Atlantic flight for carbon emissions. Can this be true?

patio heaterHmmm… I’ve heard this one before, it’s the kind of gloomy end-of-the-world rumour that people like to pontificate as they light up outside the pub under one of the offending appliances!

Patio heaters are obviously so wasteful, in that their job is essentially to heat the open air (!), that they are often held up as an example of societies improvident tendencies. It’s true; they are a complete waste of energy, but as a nation we have many much more wasteful habits which we choose to overlook so a bit of perspective is needed to answer the question.

The average UK patio heater has a consumption of 8.9 kilowatts (kw). That’s quite a lot for a ‘non-essential appliance’. In fact a patio heater turned on for an hour uses enough power to boil a kettle from cold 80 times. And 8.9kw is the average, but most of the, the ones smokers huddle under in pub gardens, emit 12kw or more – there are plenty of 15kw patio heaters out there.

They use bottled LPG (propane) for fuel and for every hour of use a 12kw heater emits 2.6Kg of CO2. (source)

So, how does that compare to the CO2 from a transatlantic flight? Well there’s quite a lot of variance depending on the carbon calculator you choose to use as the assumptions behind them differ – which isn’t very reassuring! For the sake of this question I’ve taken a middle of the road figure provided by CO2balance. This company quotes a distance of approx. 5586 km (return from London Heathrow to New York) and CO2 emissions of 2.54 tCO2 for one passenger.

Your flight would take approximately 7 hours, during which you would produce approx. 2540 kg CO2. Running your 12kw patio heater for the same amount of time will produce 18.2kg. So if you use time as a comparison your flight is much worse.

The answer really depends on your patio heater usage and how many flights you take. The Market Transformation Programme (MTP) who supply government stats report state that use of patio heaters by individuals is relatively low. It’s pubs and restaurants that make the most impact and with the smoking ban increasing the demand for cosy outdoor things are set to get worse.

Before the introduction of the smoking ban, MTP estimated 2006 emissions from heaters at 20.3 ktCO2. They’ve predicted that in the wake of the ban emissions could be between 141 and 282 ktCO2 annually. (yes, that’s KILO TONS). (source)

However before you go vigilante and start persecuting all those pubs trying to heat the world, it’s worth looking at the wider picture. The UK’s total production of CO2 in 2006, according to DEFRA, was 556.5 million tonnes, meaning that the patio heater’s share is negligible, even at the upper end of the MTP’s estimates. Passenger cars, on the other hand, accounted for a chunky 68.7 million tonnes and air travel is increasing every year – and being actively encouraged with the opening of the new Heathrow terminal.

My advice is to boycott the pubs that use the offending appliances (put a jumper if you want to be warm while you smoke), then start finding holiday destinations you can drive to – or even better, reach by train.


Question: Oil use per capita?

Tuesday the 3rd of June 2008
Qu: How much oil do the Chinese use per capita? How does this compare with USA and Europe? What is their projected increase oil use in the next decade?
Thanks for this – very relevant to the question that gives the blog it’s name. Before jumping straight to the answer it’s important to recognise that there are two different metrics for measuring a country’s oil consumption: by population or by the total consumed. The chosen metric is important in the global debate over oil consumption and it’s worth looking at both to get a better picture. 
Per capita energy consumption (Barrel/person/year)  
United States - 68.81
United Kingdom - 30.18
European Union - 29.7
World -  12.55
China -  4.96
Total oil consumption (10/3/barrel/day)
United States –  20,588
China - 7,274
United Kingdom - 1,816                  (Statistics from the EIA
In light of these statistics it’s easy to see why nations with large populations, such as China, tend to promote the use of population-based metrics, while nations with large economies such as the United States would tend to promote the total consumption metric. Compared to the rest of the world, China’s oil use per capita is still relatively low – especially when you look at the US’s whopping 68.81 barrels per person per year. But when you look at their consumption per year it is relatively high (second in line to the US in a study of 15 nations).
What about the projected increase? To get some perspective it’s useful to look at past growth in demand before looking to the future. The increase in Chinese oil consumption is mostly seen as a recent development, supposedly driven by the industrial development of China. In reality, the growth in Chinese oil consumption has been the same in the past two decades. Between 1990 and 1999 annual oil consumption growth in China was 6% on average. Between 2000 and 2006 the average annual oil consumption growth in China was 7%. Also the 2004 anomaly of 13% growth in a single year is nothing new. In 1993 Chinese oil consumption growth reached 10%.
oil use per captia
Figure 1 – Chinese oil consumption and production, source: EIA
Between 1990 and 1999, absolute growth was around 2 million barrels per day (mb/d), from 2.3 mb/d in 1990 to 4.4 mb/d in 1999. In the past seven years, absolute growth has been 3 mb/d per day according to preliminary figures, from 4.4 mb/d in 1999 to 7.36mb/d in 2006. If this present trend continues, the demand for oil (and other liquid fuels) in China will grow to 9.2 mb/d in 2010 and 12.4 mb/d in 2015.
oil growth
Figure 2 – Growth trend in Chinese oil consumption
Worryingly China’s own oil production increasingly falls short of the country’s needs. The global production of oil has been stable for a few years and will shortly be falling. This could result in conflict between nations for what remains, rising prices and economic recession or worse. It will also increase the incentive to use coal, which could be catastrophic for the climate. Predictions about China’s projected use of oil in the next decade therefore are subject to so many unknowns that they have an air of fantasy.

Question: Highs and lows of Carbon Trading…

Friday the 30th of May 2008

Q: What exactly is the purpose of carbon trading? It seems to me it legitimates the use of carbon in the name of saving it.

factory smokeCarbon or emission trading, sometimes known as cap and trade, is the name given to an administrative scheme used to control pollution by providing financial incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. Companies and other groups are given credits that represent the right to emit a specific amount, not exceeding a limit imposed by the government or central authority. If the company wants to emit more than their allowance they can buy credits from those who pollute less. (source)

So, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. The idea is to give an economic incentive to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost to society.

Your scepticism about the scheme is shared by many experts who agree that trading emissions, as a solution to global warming is flawed with problems. Like you, some think that it is a way of allowing polluters in the developed world to shift the burden of making cuts onto factories in the developing world. As many of the companies receiving income from selling their credits then go on to spend it on expanding their factories, the emissions saving is cancelled out. Worse still, emissions trading may have set back the battle against climate change by diverting investment from long-term solutions such as renewable-energy technology.

In theory carbon trading presents real opportunities for new business approaches – an economic driver for a low carbon economy – but it’s a new field, market forces are yet to settle and there are problems with monitoring and enforcement.

As the director of Yale’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Dan Esty, says; “Carbon trading is a promising strategy for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but the current structures have serious flaws.” (source)

Given current appraisals of the scheme it is tempting to side with it’s detractors, who maintain that the only real winners in emissions trading have been polluting factory owners who can sell menial cuts for massive profits, and the brokers who pocket fees each time a company buys or sells credits.


What’s that got to do with the price of rice?

Wednesday the 28th of May 2008

With diesel topping 120p per litre and a further 2p rise in fuel tax planned for the coming months, many companies reliant on road mobility are up in arms. Lorry drivers staged a protest this week, blocking the M4 from London to Cardiff. MP’s too have been protesting, against Alastair Darling’s proposed vehicle tax on older, inefficient models.

traffic jam

It seems that owning and running a car is only going to get more expensive – an additional household cost that is predicted to hit poorer families, long-distance commuters and SUV owners hardest.

But is it really such a bad thing? The government has pledged to reduce CO2 from cars by a third by 2030 and these price increases are a strong incentive for people to rethink their long-term reliance on cars and for companies to invest in energy efficient technologies.

That said, the situation is by no means an entirely positive one. Worryingly, the increase in fuel is a major contributor to a global food shortage, which is causing food price inflation to rocket.

“The food price rises are a result of record oil prices, US farmers switching out of cereals to grow biofuel crops, extreme weather and growing demand from countries India and China, the UN said yesterday.” (source).

A combination of increased oil and fuel prices paints a grim picture for the economy; now, more than ever, it’s time to rethink your habits, if only for the sake of your bank balance. Leave the car in the garage and jump on your bike for a start Got lots of heavy bags? Change of clothes? Gym kit? A laptop? No excuse – invest in some panniers and get pedaling. As for food prices – try planting some veges in your own garden – salad leaves like rocket and spinach can be expensive in those ready to wash packets from the supermarket but are surprisingly easy to grow – especially at this time of year. Buy locally produced food and be aware of what you use every week so you can avoid wastage. Easy!


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Question: What About China?!?

Tuesday the 27th of May 2008

Q: What about China (and India and the USA?!) Why should we bother making sacrifices in the UK to cut our CO2 emissions when any reductions we make will be more than outweighed by emissions from these bigger countries?

Thanks for this…the very question which gives this blog its name! It comes up frequently which is why it’s the first question in the book ‘What About China?’ Seeing as the book isn’t out until July I can give you a sneaky preview with this abbreviated version of James Bruges answer but click here to register for a 40% discount when it’s published.

‘China is making a huge effort to raise the living standards of its people. With limited oil reserves, it is turning to coal for its energy. Clean coal technologies, where the carbon is sealed underground, are expensive, but China says it will pursue this option if wealthy western nations take the lead. So far none has done so. This attitude shows the importance of leading by example: China won’t do it unless our governments do it, and our governments won’t do it because “it will make our industry uncompetitive”.

We, the electorate, must show by example that we consider the fight against global warming to be more important than commerce. Each of us is at the beginning of a chain that could influence first our own reluctant governments and then global agreements.

On average each person in the world is responsible for 4.6 tonnes a year. In Britain each person is responsible for 12 tonnes. A Chinese citizen is below average at 4.2 tonnes and an Indian is well below average at only 1.4 tonnes. An American is responsible for a whopping 20.2 tonnes. It would be reasonable for China to claim that its emissions per person should be allowed to rise in order to lift it’s population out of poverty – particularly since the west has benefited historically from huge emissions over many years and is responsible for 80 per cent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

China’s efforts to combat global warming put western governments to shame. China is phasing out incandescent light bulbs, it has banned plastic bags in major cities, it is putting immense research into renewable technologies and it is turning out thousands of graduates with expertise in these fields. C S Kiang, who advises the Chinese government says, “Humanity made a mistake 200 years ago and now east and west does not matter – everyone is involved. China’s problems are the problems of the world. If we do not solve them together the world is going to be in a bad shape.”‘

Got any more questions? Just let me know…