global warming

White Christmas anyone?

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IMG_2281All Brits have a preoccupation with the weather – it’s either too hot, wet or cold (or any combination) – it’s fair to say that it is never right!

And Christmas is the point at which this all comes together in a big way for the residents of the UK, something that they can not only talk about but also bet on – whether or not it will be a white Christmas. It is down to the Met Office to confirm if we have a white Christmas – and the official definition may surprise you;

For many people, a White Christmas means a complete covering of snow falling between midnight and midday on 25 December.

However, the definition used most widely, notably by those placing and taking bets, is for a single snowflake (perhaps among a mixed shower of rain and snow) to be observed falling in the 24 hours of 25 December at a specified location.

White Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries, even more so before the change of calendar in 1752 which effectively brought Christmas day back by 12 days. Climate change has also brought higher average temperatures over land and sea and this generally reduces the chances of a white Christmas. However, the natural variability of the weather will not stop cold, snowy winters happening in the future.

The graphic to the right from the Met Office indicates the amount of snow over the last few years on Christmas day – and it will not surprise anyone that it has increased in recent years – the question has to be why – but that’s for another day…..

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A better approach?

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As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?

The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.

r733829_5941383Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.

Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?

Not down to us?

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I had an extremely pleasant evening last week at the Mattioli Woods charity dinner in support of Rainbows Hospice – a fabulous cause and hopefully one that benefited greatly from the night.

The guest speaker was Lord Lawson – known to the younger members of society as Nigella’s dad, but better known to the rest of us as the Chancellor during Maggie’s three periods in office. He is now in his early 80’s, so it was going to be interesting to see what his take on things as they are now was. And in many ways we were not disappointed – he is undoubtably a very bright man, and if I am half as active at this age I will be very happy!

However, there was one part of his speech that did worry me – he will always play to the ‘Daily Mail readers’ in a room, and the other night was no different. But his views on Global Warming I did find rather blinkered, especially after his comments about it being ‘a religion’ that no one was permitted to challenge anymore! He basically appears to believe that we are having no effect upon the planet and that burning fossil fuels is definitely the way forward!

I accept that it is not a clear-cut case – but the current extreme weather, the melting polar areas – not our fault?

The photo above is of my home town, Malmesbury in Wiltshire. As a family we have been there over 40 years and I cannot recall a time when the bottom of the High Street has flooded and blocked access into the town – even before all the flood alleviation work was done a good few years ago – so do we assume this is just a fluke event?

The weather – is this the norm now?

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A British Summer?

So we now have all of the hose pipe bans across the UK lifted, not a surprise in light of the recent weather! But just how bad has it really been?

Well, last month was one of the wettest, coolest and dullest Junes on record. The position of the jet stream led to persistent low pressure across the British Isles, making it the third most cyclonic June in the last 140 years. This accounts for it being the coolest June since 1991, the dullest since 1909, and the equal wettest, tied with June 1860!

Temperatures

The mean maximum temperature during June ranged from 19.3C at St James’s Park in London to 11.2C at Fair Isle in the Northern Isles. Night-time temperatures were close to average, but daytime temperatures in many areas were 1.5 to 2 degrees below normal. The Central England Temperature (CET) was 13.6C, the lowest for June since 1991 and 0.9 degrees below average. In the last 100 years only 18 Junes have been colder. The highest individual temperature was 28.6C at Swanscombe, Kent, on 28 June, while the coldest night was at Loch Glascarnoch in Wester Ross on the night of 4/5 June, when the mercury fell to -3.5C.

Rainfall

Averaged across England and Wales, there was 157mm of rain, which is 231% of the average and about the same as the previous wettest June in 1860. Scotland had 104mm, which is 171% of average. The wettest location was Capel Curig, In Wales, where 325mm fell. Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, was driest with just 34mm of rain, indicative of the southerly track of low pressure systems and frequent easterly flows across northern Scotland.

Sunshine

England and Wales had an average 123 hours of sunshine, which is only 64% of the mean, making for the cloudiest June since 1909. Scotland had 123 hours, or 74% of its average, while Northern Ireland saw 136 hours and 75% of average. Tiree, Inner Hebrides, was sunniest, as it was in May, recording 167 hours of sunshine, while Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, had the lowest sunshine total with a mere 57 hours. Durham had only 69 hours and Nottingham 73 hours, figures more akin to February than to June.

So yes – the weather has been pretty awful and it appears that Scotland might actually become the place to holiday is you are after UK sun!

Don’t underestimate your local school!

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20120704-185757.jpgWe are all used to the area we live in having its ‘favoured’ school – it may be due to a well-earned reputation – but could well be historical and irrelevant! In West Bridgford we have a number of excellent Primary schools, and some that are favoured more than others. I am a Governor at one which has perhaps been out of the limelight for too long and without doubt its day has come – Edwalton Primary school.

The school has for a long time been at the forefront of the green agenda – it has a farm, a wood and it’s pupils are fully involved in following a ‘green curriculum’. It also forms the centre of an ‘eco hub’ serving other schools who wish to learn from its years of experience in the Eco field! As a by-product it also produces very nice kids!

20120704-184128.jpgIt’s latest achievement however really needs shouting from the roof tops – it is one of 8 schools in the country to be chosen to meet Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at the first ever WWF Green Ambassador Summit at Highgrove House in Gloucestershire on Thursday 5 July. Over sixty young Ambassadors, including 8 from Edwalton Primary School will attend the two-day event (4-5 July) with teachers Hugh McCahon and Laura Paget and Head Teacher Brian Owens, along with WWF representatives and special guests.

On the second day, Ambassadors will take part in a series of creative workshops, including a food-growing session and art- and writing-led workshops, aimed at encouraging visions for a sustainable future. The schools will also be given a special tour of the gardens and experience the Prince of Wales’ own personal vision of a sustainable environment at Highgrove.

Brian Owens, Head teacher said:

“This is a marvellous moment in the history of our school. It’s a wonderful recognition of the many outstanding contributions from staff, children, parents and governors to make the school a better place. I am so proud of everyone who has help in whatever way to make our school such a special, unique place to be”

WWF has long recognised the importance of young people and the Green Ambassador scheme is specifically designed to empower, engage and enable young people to take a leadership role whilst developing skills in team work and communication. The ‘Champion Schools’ were specially chosen by WWF for their commitment to environmental action and willingness to help other schools get involved.

Amazing what your local school can achieve!

Renewables – it’s all about getting a balance

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Renewables are a great idea – once the method of extracting the energy has been built it is free – whether it is wind, sun or wave power is irrelevant, as long as there is a selection of types to provide general cover. This is the normal argument against renewables – what happens when the sun is not out or it’s not windy – hence the need for a selection of producing sources.

The Germans appear to ‘get this’ and have moved forwards in the quest for a replacement for their nuclear industry that is to be wound down following the Japanese disaster.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity over a mid day period earlier this month. This is in response to Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass (a sensible spread).

The 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs, yes it was only for a short period, but it shows what can be achieved. Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

All this at a time when our Government appear hell-bent on crippling our solar industry just as it was getting into its stride – time for a swift U-turn?

Water leaks – why aren’t they dealt with?

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At a time when we have seen some of the wettest weather for months, (but after two years of very low rainfall), we are as far as our water companies are concerned still in a drought situation. So it is perhaps worth looking at the water companies and how they manage the pipe work system they provide our water through.

Not all leaks are this obvious

Now you would imagine that it is in their interest to protect such a valuable resource? However every day, 3.4bn litres of water leaks from the system, almost a quarter of the entire supply. A drought has been declared across southern and central England, with no end in sight for the hose pipe ban imposed in many places, so one assumes this loss must be a worry to the water companies?

Since the privatisation of the water industry in 1989, Ofwat has set leakage reduction targets for the 21 water companies, which operate local monopolies across England and Wales. Analysis of the data, supplied to Ofwat by the companies themselves, reveals:

• Eleven companies have targets of zero reduction of leaks by 2015. They include Yorkshire Water, which failed to meet its 2010-11 targets and as a result was required to spend an additional £33m on leak repairs.

• Leaks have been reduced across England and Wales by only 5% over the past 13 years.

• The worst-performing company, Southern Water which supplies Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, missed its latest leak target by 16% and had to pay £5m back to customers, but will be allowed to increase its leakage by 6% by 2015.

• The 25-year management plans of the water companies envisage reducing leakage by only 10% in that time.

Ofwat and the water industry highlight a one-third reduction in leakages since privatisation, but over the past 12 years, year-on-year leakages have increased as often as they have fallen, suggesting no long-term downward trend. However, the average annual customer bill for water has risen by £64 since 2001 and is now £376, while the companies collectively made £2bn in pre-tax profits and paid £1.5bn in dividends to shareholders in 2010-11.

It costs more to repair leaks than the immediate value of the water itself, so while it makes financial sense for a water company to ignore leaks, it certainly doesn’t stack up in the long-term for us, the consumers, or for our environment. There are more than 210,000 miles of water pipes across England and Wales, a length equivalent to eight times the circumference of the Earth, which serve 23m properties. Ofwat say it would cost £100bn to replace all the pipes in England and Wales, and this would only half the leaks as new pipes start to leak quickly.

But surely some additional effort can’t be a bad idea – or is it all about profits?