29 September 2009

Beijing Traffic Improves

For those heading to Beijing, China, to witness the official celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1st, an unrivaled spectacle awaits them. The parade and show in Tiananmen Square will be truly awesome. And if the brown cloud that has shrouded much of eastern China for the last quarter century gives way to blue skies, over Tiananmen Square, at least, that will be the icing on the cake for China’s President Hu Jintao.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, automobile exhaust, coal-fired power plants, controlled agricultural burns that often get out of control, and coal and wood cooking stoves are largely responsible for the atmospheric brown clouds that now hang over more than a dozen of the world’s megacities, including Beijing. Ironically, the UN also says that were these brown clouds to be eliminated overnight, a rapid global temperature rise of as much as 2 degrees C could be triggered. The brown clouds are apparently masking the effects of climate change.

While those pressing for mandatory carbon emission cuts by China were doubtless disappointed by President’s Hu Jintao’s speech at the climate change summit at the UN last week. Others were encouraged by the voluntary measures that China announced. It would seem that President Hu Jintao and the leaders of the other emerging G20 powers are fully aware that self-interest and global-interests are not mutually exclusive.

Twenty-five years ago when I lived in Beijing, there were only a few thousand cars in the city. Most of those belonged to foreign embassies and diplomats. Today, there are an estimated 3.8 million cars in the city with the numbers increasing by 10,000 each week. But the gridlock that characterized Beijing traffic since the 90s, has given way to a much reduced and more orderly flow. Traffic regulations are now being enforced. Since July 2008, as in other megacities of the world, the number of cars allowed on the roads are being regulated by license plate numbers. Some get around the rules by owning two cars or two sets of license plates. But there is an appreciable reduction in the number of cars on the streets. Last month, in Beijing, I was actually getting to my meetings too early!

If China can cut its carbon emissions as it has the number of cars on Beijing’s streets, its population will breathe easier.

25 September 2009

Eco pic of the week

I love this image of aluminium cans labelled as renewable energy, one of Niels Poulsen collection at Ecoscene. Aluminium of course can be recycled many times over. Each time aluminium is recycled, there are environmental gains - energy is saved as it takes much less energy to melt down an existing can, than it takes to quarry and smelt the raw material. Bauxite, the aluminium-containing ore has to be quarried from the ground at great cost. Often this rock occurs in areas of tropical forest, such as in Jamaica, and this leads to more deforestation. Bauxite has to be transported around the world to the smelters where lots of electricity is needed to extract the metal. In Canada, much of that energy comes from HEP but that is not true everywhere.
So next time you drink a can of coke or the like, make sure the empty can, be it aluminium or steel, goes in the recycle bin and not in the dustbin. Such an easy thing to do with great environmental benefit. As they say, very little counts.

16 September 2009

Footprint Friends

Had a very interesting day today, attending a 'Women into Leadership' Conference at St Swithin's School in Winchester. I was invited to participate as a group leader in the workshops. The keynote speaker was Karen Ford, founder of Footprint Friends (www.footprintfriends.com). Karen set up this environmental social network site fo 10-18 year olds in August 2007 to promote the voice of young people in the climate change conversation, to raise environmental awareness, and to inform about climate change. Its a great site for young people, with visitors from around the world. Karen and her team visit schools and encourage young people to participate by painting their feet - their footprint.

One of their campaigns is a Million feet for Copenhagen.Footprint Friends is inviting all young people to either paint their feet and/or write a poem within the theme of ‘my dream for the future’, and have it included in a ‘book of dreams’, which will presented to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. In this way each ‘foot’ will be symbolically present for the conference.

Have a look at the Footprint Friends website and get your footprint uploaded!

15 September 2009

Eco pic of the week

We love this image that sums up a lot that is wrong with the world - a simple footprint superimposed with a montage of images showing environmental pollution. This image was taken by Chris Kitcher.

9 September 2009

Dilemma of flying

With the Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen just three months away, we will be focussing some of our blogs on this very important issue.

Today, we are focussing on air travel. Headlines on the BBC today warned that emissions would have to be cut by 90 per cent by 2050 to compensate for the increasing emissions of airplanes. Why? Because this means of travel is becoming increasingly cheaper and accessible to more people, especially in the less developed countries of the world, and secondly, carbon kicked out of engines at altitude is far more damaging than that at ground level. Hopefully this means that plans for the proposed new runway at Heathrow will be kicked into touch. I also heard a very sensible suggestion that we should do away with domestic short haul flights. I have never understood the desire to travel for 40 mins by plane, with all the hassle and cost of airport parking, security checks and delays, when you can jump on the much improved rail network and travel in reasonable comfort to one's destination. Doing away with the really short, unecessary flights, say between London and Birmingham, or even London to Paris would go some way to reducing emissions.

I was reading the newsletter of one of our contributing photographers, Peter Cairns, regarding air travel and the dilemma facing the environmental and wildlife photographer. I quote, "Photographers have an annoying habit of justifying their extravagant global travel by claiming that their endeavours will somehow save the planet. To be fair, a small minority are helping to do exactly that, but in the main we go where we want to, when we want to ... just like everyone else. If photographers are really going to initiate behavioural change, they (and I include myself) might care to take a look in the mirror now and then." [see http://www.northshots.com/imagemonth.asp]

I know I think long and hard before travelling. I'm off to New York next month for Picturehouse NY, and the only way to get there is by plane. For me, I justified it as it was the first and only flight I will make this year. However, I have carried out a carbon audit with the World Land Trust and will be offsetting our carbon emissions.

On a brighter note, the incoming Japanese prime minister has announced that he wants to cut Japan's emissions by 25% by 2020 - thats a good start and puts the pressure on the rest of the world. Now I'd like to see some measurable targets - for example, to see the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere come down to 350 ppm, or to replace x number of coal-fired power stations with nuclear power plants etc.

To see a selection of images on climate change from Ecoscene, click on this URL: http://www.ecoscene2.captureweb.co.uk/lbshow.php?lightboxid=8581505383044