Archive for the ‘renewables’ Category

Lines Written on the Occasion of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament

June 3, 2014

In the UK, the Queen’s speech is apolitical – she merely gives royal assent to Parliament’s wishes. This year, the Queen’s speech includes legislation removing the right of landowners to object to underground pipelines traversing their property. Should this right then not extend to fracking beneath Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle or across the Duchy of Cornwall?

Companies such as Cuadrilla have bullied and strong-armed our government, corrupt and spineless as it is, into allowing the spread of fracking and underground coal gasification, to the extent that local authorities are being given money to continue with these insane and inefficient practices. Large swathes of Britain, including National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest have been given over to exploration of underground reserves of shale oil.

Fracking and extreme energy present huge risks to underground aquifers. We are continuing to fuel the greenhouse effect by burning our remaining sources of fossil fuels, releasing CO2 and methane in the process. Moreover, each fracking well uses up millions of gallons of water, which requires thousands of lorry miles to transport it, in order to pump the shale oil from beneath the surface. The whole process is therefore an extremely inefficient way of obtaining energy.

The only sustainable solution is for massive investment in renewable energy and to take energy out of the hands of private companies, greedy for profit at the expense of our environment. We need a socialist solution to unfettered capitalism, and we need to move towards a sustainable economy.

Oil may bring wealth to a tiny elite, but we cannot drink the stuff!

 

The Queen’s Speech

 

Anachronistic, antagonistic. Angry activists

Bellow, “Bury beneath Balmoral, Buckingham Palace!”

Campaigners contend controversial

Decision. Delving deep,

Earthworks excavate energy.

The futile failure of fracking’s

Grip on government. Greenhouse gases given go-ahead.

Halliburton harvests heinous haul.

Idiotic, ill-conceived idea.

Judgement jettisoned, unjustified

Knackered, kaput.

Loot and lucre

Make maleficence mellifluous.

Nullify necessary, natural,

Overwhelming objections. Obeisance to oil,

Petrochemical pollutants proliferate.

Queen quells queries. Aquifers

Ruined. Removes right to refuse.

“Shovel under Sandringham. See how she suffers.

Transport tragic teratogens ‘twixt tubes

Underfoot, underground.”

Vehement, vociferous, vexatious, vengeful,

Wondrously wilful. We won’t wait to

Extinguish extreme exploitation.

Won’t yield to yellow-bellied, oily political yes-men.

Zero tolerance. Zero fracking. Zero royal assent.

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’ (£4 pbk, £2.50 pdf e-book).

All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

Energy crisis

April 19, 2014

The oil wells are running dry,

Companies are going fracking-

Water pollution, risks to health,

Earthquakes they are a-cracking.

 

Billions spent on holy grail

Of laser-powered fusion.

To recreate the Sun on Earth,

So expensive the delusion!

 

Nuclear’s the way to go,

All we need is fission.

Handy for bombs as well,

Absurd, deluded mission.

 

Our giant ball of hydrogen

Gives more energy than we need.

93 million miles away,

Solar power – at light speed.

 

All we need is lots of glass,

Heliostatic mirrors.

To concentrate the rays

From sun which always shimmers.

 

Salter had a bright idea,

He hit upon the duck.

But ‘cos of cuts to funding

It was never tried – worse luck.

 

Blades powering turbines

Can get energy from the wind.

Oil rigs will lie dormant

As off-shore windmills spin.

 

But where’s the profit  in that?

The chairman shrewdly asks

Selling wind, waves or the Sun,

It’s an impossible task.

 

So the PR operation starts;

Renewables won’t work.

Stick to oil, nuclear, coal or gas,

Much more bang for my buck.

 

Meanwhile the Earth is warming up,

CO2, it keeps the heat in.

Floods, tsunamis, tidal waves,

And hypocrites from Eton

 

All too eager to receive

Lobbyists from Cuadrilla.

They would happily do a deal

With Satan or Godzilla.

 

We need to rebuild anew,

End this corrupt, vicious farce.

Nationalise, strike, occupy

Get up off our collective arse!

 

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’. All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

 

What do we do as oil begins to run out?

March 16, 2014

When I was at school, I remember being told that the Earth only had about 30 years of oil and gas left. The question was what were we going to do when supplies began to run out. Well, now that is happening, a process dubbed “Peak Oil”, where supply can no longer meet demand.

In this post, I haven’t begun to consider the potential loss of the by-products of oil: plastics, fertilisers, drugs, etc. – that is a topic for another discussion. I am concentrating simply on where our energy will come from.

There is a question mark over peak oil, as countries and oil companies do not publish accurate figures. They argue that exploration is expensive and new fields may be found – however, it is in their interests not to panic the stock markets and investors. Strong signs are, however, that we have reached the peak of oil production, as we have had to put more and more resources into getting back the same amount of energy.

Energy companies are turning to what has been called “extreme energy” – fracking (hydraulic fracturing) or UCG (Underground Coal Gasification). In the UK, the government is also turning towards nuclear energy. There is still relatively little effort going into the development of renewable resources, and this tends to be relatively small scale and in private hands. “Extreme energy” is very inefficient, with a low energy yield. It involves tens of thousands of tanker trips, there is a risk of groundwater contamination with carcinogenic compounds, the process involves seismic shocks. It exacerbates the greenhouse effect – 1kg of methane (CH4) has the same effect as 21kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) on our climate.

Another extreme energy is Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), a process to extract energy from coal, where it cannot be conventionally mined. There is plenty of coal, enough to meet hundreds of years of the world’s energy needs – if we don’t mind the risks of catastrophic underground fires which cannot be extinguished The town of Centralia, for example, had to be deserted due to deadly carbon monoxide emissions after a fire in a rubbish heap set fire to a coal seam. This happened in 1963, and the fire is still raging.

UCG involves heating coal in a controlled manner underground, harvesting the gases produced, and the vacant space is intended to capture CO2 emissions underground. However this is inherently extremely dangerous. It is likely to cause collapse of rocks above the coal seam, there is the risk of earthquakes, and what happens if – through the natural movements of rock, the man-made reservoirs of underground carbon emissions are suddenly released? The technology required is completely untested.

So is the alternative to turn to nuclear power?

Nuclear power stations tend to be sited near the coast, due to their demand for water as a coolant. With global warming and more extremes of weather – this is inherently risky, with the potential for more Fukushimas. There is also the problem of nuclear waste. At present, there is no safe way to dispose of high-level radioactive waste with half-lives in the order of tens, hundreds or millions of thousands of years. You can bury this underground, but at some stage it will resurface, due to plate tectonics, seismic effects or vulcanism.

It is also questionable how much nuclear power would contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, once CO2 emissions from mining and processing yellowcake (Uranium ore) are taken into consideration. Thorium is more common than Uranium  and produces less waste, with no risk of a meltdown (it needs to be bombarded with neutrons to work as a nuclear fuel, and the design of a thorium reactor is inherently much safer). However, apart from a few pilot plants in India, this technology is again untried and untested.

Why? Thorium is of no use in making bombs! However, it is still energy-intensive to mine, there are technical difficulties which still need to be overcome and there remains the problem of nuclear waste.

So why don’t we change our reliance on oil or nuclear and move to renewables?

Goverments across the world are corrupt. The neo-liberal concerns of David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Barack Obama, et al are driven by demands from lobbyists of big business. There is no voice of ordinary people in Parliament. We are not properly informed of the dangers. In the US, landowners were simply bought out to release land for fracking. However, when farm animals’ fur starts falling out, they find that they can now set fire to their tap water and they begin to become ill, people soon start to think again . . .

But nuclear fusion could solve the world’s energy crisis, couldn’t it?

In theory, yes. However, there are still many technical obstacles to overcome and the technology remains decades away.

So what happens next?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (representing an international consensus of the scientific community) project a rise in temperature by 2100 of  4°C. However, this heating is worst at the North Pole – where the temperature is increasing twice as fast, partly due to the albedo effect. Already there has been a massive decline in sea ice (observed by satellites over last 40 years).

The best computer model we have is provided by the Met Office – see a video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h88WF4wOqwI

According to the IPCC, it is possible, in the best-case scenario, to limit global warming to 2°C. However, this would depend on an unprecedented, multinational effort to switch to renewable energy, very quickly. I would argue that this is impossible under capitalism. We have had 120 years to solve the problem since the principle behind global warming was discovered and 40 years of satellite data showing the effects of burning petrochemicals. International summits so far have been useless. Countries have sought to blame each other and minimise their own responsibility. US and China (the biggest greenhouse emitters) opted out of the Kyoto Treaty altogether.

So what can we do?

We urgently need to move away from an economy in which the need to make a profit over-rides all other concerns. We need democratic input from the bottom, with a real say by ordinary people in how things should be run and where resources should go. This would allow long-term, environmental consequences to be taken into account, whereas at the moment the need for short-term profit is the only consideration for companies as they seek to exploit the last of our oil.

We must urgently invest in renewable energy – tried and tested, simple technology, which is far safer than nuclear or oil. Of course, this will require the production of greenhouse gases in the meantime, as solar panels don’t build themselves – but there is the idea of a “solar breeder”, a factory powered by solar energy, which produces solar panels. There is the potential for wind power, hydrothermal, tidal power and wave power. The technology behind the latter, Salter’s duck, a pendulum driven by the waves which powers a generator was invented in the 1970s and could be highly efficient.

Why hasn’t this been done before?

Simply put, the vested interests of multinational companies in making a profit. Where legislation got in the way, governments were simply bought off – George Bush and Dick Cheney introduced the “Halliburton loophole”, for example, making fracking exempt from legislation that protected groundwater.

So we need to get rid of the government?

Yes. We need a socialist, planned economy. However, there is the potential for a mass movement of people, angry at what is being done to the environment, angry at growing inequality and falling living standards for the vast majority of the world’s population, angry at the exploitation of workers and governments’ repression of our democratic right to protest, in order to build that alternative model.

I am a member of the Socialist Party in the UK, which is building movements in 50 countries around the world to make real change happen and overthrow the rotten system of capitalism, which can no longer meet our needs. Join us here – http://www.socialistworld.net

The Protesters (after Walter De La Mare)

February 7, 2014

“Leave coal in the ground!”, said the protesters,
Surrounding the colliery door.
In their ranks, horses’ hooves stamped in anger
On the hard, asphalt floor.
And a cry rose up out of the protest,
To the pit-head, lying still.
They crashed against the police a second time
To bend them to their will.
No workers descended down into the earth
No lamps ventured into the gloom.
Maggie, in her wisdom, shut down the pits,
Starved the spirit of the NUM.
But the host of courageous miners
Who picketed, struck and fought
Stood listening to the speeches of Scargill,
To principles which could not be bought.
Stood in solidarity with each other
And although the struggle was lost,
Still inspire good trade unionists,
Regardless of personal cost.
And while the threat of global warming,
Is real, important and true.
We still remember their sacrifice,
So that we can build anew.
For hands that dug coal can shape blades,
Make turbines, solar panels, harness nature.
As we leave fossil fuels untouched,
They can propel us into the future.
But we can’t do it under this system
Capitalism has to go.
Put an end to the rule of profit
Decisions should be made from below.

————————————————————————————
You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’. All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

Water is more precious than oil

October 29, 2013

We need water for our survival. At first glance, it may appear to be hugely abundant. After all, seven- tenths of our planet is covered in the stuff! However, 97.5% of this is sea-water. Of the 2.5% of our water which is left, two-thirds of that is locked in polar ice and of the remainder, only 1% is accessible and suitable for drinking. Much of the rest is locked up in soil, or in deep, underground aquifers.

A few months ago, I went to a showing of the film Gasland. This is a shocking and highly personal account of the impact of ‘fracking’ in the US. Fracking and associated technologies such as tar sand exploitation and Underground Coal Gasification are termed “extreme energy”. As oil begins to run short of demand, energy companies are turning to less viable sources of fossil fuels in an effort to extract every last drop of the Earth’s resources. In many cases, precious water supplies are being contaminated in the process. Both fracking and underground coal gasification can pollute nearby water aquifers, with devastating effects on nearby farms, and localised increases in the risk of cancer.

Extreme energy sources are of poor quality and generally they are a grossly inefficient and dirty way of solving our energy needs. The only benefit is to large, multinational corporation. This will not deliver ‘cheap energy’ as our politicians claim. Moreover, this exacerbates emissions of greenhouse gases. It wreaks environmental devastation, involving the wholesale destruction of ecosystems.

Fracking involves the detonation of charges underground in order to release shale gas, which was previously locked away underground. As well as being a potential source of seismic activity, the process uses huge amounts of water, involves thousands of tanker trips and is an inefficient source of energy. ‘Fracking fluid’ contains many known carcinogens, which can find their way into water supplies.

Underground Coal Gasification uses heat, steam and pressure to convert coal to gas underground. The technology of Underground Coal Gasification cannot be tested in the laboratory. Therefore trials need to take place in situ, making us guinea pigs for a technology which is inherently risky. What happens if something goes wrong? Underground, fires can burn uncontrollably and they can last for centuries. In the former coal-mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania an underground coal fire has been burning since 1962; the town is now almost abandoned, due to the very real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm

One idea put forward to combat global warming is carbon sequestration. However, this is highly speculative – while it may be possible to remove impurities in the gasification stage, no-one has been able to capture and store greenhouse gases post-combustion, despite huge amounts of money being invested in Norway. Surely, it would be more sensible to put the money into developing alternative, renewable energy sources? http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/09/norway-scraps-large-scale-carbon-capture-plan.html

The counter-argument, that however distasteful these projects may be, it is still necessary to keep the lights on – we need to invest in oil, gas and nuclear power, because alternative energy is unreliable and untested on a large enough scale. However, why are we going into extreme energy sources which are inherently extremely dangerous and untested? Likewise for nuclear power, there is no safe way of storing nuclear waste in the long-term. Surely the money, the energy and the expertise going into extreme energy could be much better deployed in utilising sources of renewable energy? Taken together – tidal, wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydroelectric power – could safely and renewably meet our energy needs

However, under the present system, companies are only interested in pursuing profit. Objectors to fracking in America have simply been bought off. Politicians of all main parties have been corrupted by energy companies. Dick Cheney, President of Halliburton, signed off the “Halliburton loophole”, exempting fracking from the need to safeguard water supplies. We need to build a party run democratically, in the interests of ordinary people, to break with capitalism and to fight for socialist ideas.

We also need to realise that water is more precious than oil. We need to nationalise our utilities, so that we commonly own our natural resources – they are not there to be exploited for the benefit of a few, but should be used for the benefit of all.