We have been hearing about it in the news almost every day, until it was supplanted by other issues. The run-up to BREXIT, the general election, floods, and now the Coronavirus pandemic have made us all temporarily dump the issue and public attention is now fully occupied with the control of the global pandemic.
The mainstream media have highlighted the drop in climate-change gases – a direct link to a significant reduction in both travel and manufacturing following global lockdown.
From a planetary perspective, the drop is not highly significant and as soon as lockdown finishes, we will probably revert to our old ways very quickly.
Having said that, I am hopeful that state governments will use the opportunity to consolidate some of the steps that have been taken to enable the use of alternative means of transport – making that small reductions permanent.
We have seen cities around the world banning vehicular traffic from city streets, together with enhancing cycle lanes and pedestrian routes, making it easier and cleaner to travel.
This is nowhere near enough, but at least it is showing that people can get around large cities safely without using a car or public transport.
All the media focus revolves primarily around the ever-increasing levels of air pollution that are triggering climate change, rising sea levels and rising temperature.
There is, however, an interesting health issue that lurks in the sidelines.
As a species, we rely on breathing air, from which we extract oxygen, and then exhale CO2, together with other gases such as Nitrogen and Methane, and some organic compounds.
In order for our bodies to function correctly we rely on our lungs to absorb oxygen and exhale the CO2 in the correct ratios.
The composition of the air that we breathe is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, and 1% Argon. There are also traces of CO2, and rare gases such as Xenon, Neon, Helium, Methane.
As we increase the levels of CO2 in the air, our lungs will be unable to exhale the surplus and this will be absorbed into the body, which will have an effect.
According to a recent study conducted by the University of Colorado in Boulder, The Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania, evidence suggests that future levels of CO2 may severely impair our cognitive ability.
The study based its research on two scenarios; one, a world where human society reduces the amount of CO2 it releases into the atmosphere, and the other where we don’t – “business as usual.”
Alarmingly, even when we do reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the ecosystem, by the year 2100, individuals would still be exposed to elevated levels (by today’s standards) of CO2 leading to a 25% decrease in cognitive abilities.
The reduction in mental ability is caused by an increase in CO2 in the brain, a condition called Hypercapnia. which leads to a reduction in brain/blood oxygen (Hypoxemia).
The result is a reduction in brain activity, decreased levels of arousal and excitability. On top of this, it induces sleepiness, and anxiety, the result of which is an impact on our cognitive functions such as learning, memory, strategising and crisis management.
This is easily understood. Who hasn’t been in a lecture room, classroom or meeting room, where our concentration wanders, and we get tired and disengaged. The result of excess CO2 released by a lot of individuals. The solution is normally to open a window to let in some fresh air.
But what if the air outside was not really fresh at all?
A report in 2001 (Robertson) argued that even slightly elevated levels of CO2 (720 parts per million) could cause lowered pH in the blood (acidosis) leading to restlessness, mild hypertension and ultimately confusion.
The report concluded that if we continue with “business as usual”, flagrantly releasing megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, by 2100 we could see our cognitive functions reduced by as much as 50%.
Unless we build on this virally-induced reduction in CO2 and continue to decrease global pollution, we may survive this.
If not, we, as a race, are doomed to become the joint recipients of the last-ever Darwin Awards.
Today should, by rights, be a good day for me to write an article.
Maybe words to titillate the senses; maybe to educate, entertain or inform? Or maybe an opportunity for me to be self-indulgent.
Why does today augur such good omens?
Well, for a start, it just happens to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, or so the historians think. The actual date of the bard’s birth is not recorded or documented, but his baptism was, and he was christened on 26th April 1564. It was normal to have baptisms three days after the birth, so I guess its a reasonable assumption.
Weirdly, William Shakespeare died on the 23rd April 1616. This is documented, so either way you look at it, this should be a good day for a struggling penman to bash out a few words.
Now, flashback to the early 1970s.
Confounding my father’s prediction that I would be an imbecile for the rest of my life, I did pass my eleven-plus exam, and made the cut to get into Grammar School.
English lessons with Mr Dobbins were dreary and dull, but at least he taught me the fundamentals of grammar, and spelling.
Even at that age, I was a voracious reader. My bedroom bookshelves housed the complete works of Issac Asimov (all read, I add), but I recall that I also dabbled with H G Wells, Jules Verne, E E “Doc” Smith and Arthur C Clarke.
However, nothing prepared me for the sheer, unadulterated hell of classes in English Literature.
Miss Briggs, my English Mistress, was a true hippie, complete with an Alice headband, long dresses and mauve tights. I think she knitted her own shoes.
But she was a nice soul, generous with her praise, and gentle with her frustrations at dealing with a totally disengaged class.
The english literature syllabus back then required that students were able to understand the context of the books studied, and could explain the use of metaphores, and allegories.
This meant that the works of the great writers were dismantled, sentence by sentence, line by line, chapter by chapter.
And then the probing questions and tests to establish our understanding…
“Mark, what did Shakespeare mean by his obscure use of the word and in this sentence.
After two years of dissecting Macbeth and Richard the Second, I was put off Shakespeare’s works completely,. So whilst I could (and still can) recite several speeches and soliluquies, I ended up leaving school with a deep seated loathing for Shakespeare, and a not much better opinion of the mediaeval writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Maybe this was a reaction against learning The Millers Tale and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Middle English.
What the hell were our educators thinking???? My old school friends, with whom I still meet regularly, all left school with the same feelings.
It was many years before I came into contact with the Bard again; I was in my mid twenties, and had joined my local drama group. After gaining confidence and appearing on stage in a lot of very minor bit parts, I was finally being offered more principle or leading roles.
One winter evening, I went to a meeting of the players, to discover that the next play we were producing would be A Midsummer Night Dream.
My heart sank. Not Shakespeare…
However, I soon discovered that when read and performed as the great man intended it to be, it was truly joyous, and is a great piece of literature.
I have never managed to read any of his works as a book. I have watched and genuinely enjoyed some excellent performances of his work, so the cultural damage inflicted upon me as a kid have been repaired, but it has taken over four decades!
If they had required that I study Science Fiction, I would have probably passed my English Lit exam with an A+ rather than a C-.
The other thing of note about today’s date, is that it is Saint George’s Day.
For those that aren’t familiar with Saint George, let me briefly explain. St. George is the patron Saint of England. Not Britain. England.
The true history of St. George is lost in the mists of time, but he did exist. It appears from several accounts that he was a serving officer in the Roman army around 300AD. Legend has it that he killed a dragon that was slaughtering the residents of a local town. He was offered a monetary reward from the King, but refused to accept it, and donated it to the poor of the town.
This made him worthy of Sainthood.
There are accounts from 12th Century Genovese books that refer to Saint George’s colours being a red cross on a white background.
Other accounts tell of him fighting alongside the English Knights Templar during the crusades of the 12th Century.
In 1348 King Edward III of England incorporated the Cross of St. George into the English Royal Standard, and by the end of the 14th Century, St George was adopted as the Patron Saint of England, and the Protector of the Royal Family.
It has been this way for centuries.
Now, the English seem to have a reputation as a self effacing race. We don’t normally go in for self agrandisement, prefering understatement to get by. That and the much publicised “Stiff Upper Lip”.
So, it’s our Patron Saint’s day today. We are in lockdown. So none of our pubs will be open for the discounted English Ale, cheap Cider, roast beef sandwiches and pork pies . There will be no give-away straw hats, or plastic flags. No Public Holiday.
I’m sitting here in the early evening enjoying my back garden, listening to the birds as I mull over this article. My terrace is bathed in warm, golden sunlight, as Sol starts to dip majestically behind the trees lining the nature reserve.
I am so very fortunate. I have managed to make the right decisions – either by luck, intuititon, or skill, that have resulted in me living in a beautiful part of the UK. Or it could be SWMBO’s excellent judgement.
I don’t question SWMBO’s judgement – she is, after all, with me, so her decision making and judgement skills are refined.
I live in Hampshire which, like most of the UK, has a timeline of civilisation that extends 14,000 years into the past.
Roman Emperor Claudius invaded Britain in AD 43 and shortly thereafter (in the larger scale of things), Winchester became the County Town of Hampshire.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the British concept of county towns – a county town was the ancient equivalent of of a capital city, but at county level. Traditionally, a county town is the most important or significant town in a county.
Winchester is not only the county town of Hampshire, but also a city in the truest sense of the definition.
In the UK, most people use the term “city” to describe any large town, but the status of a city was traditionally only given to towns that had a Cathedral – King Henry the Eighth establishing the first ones during his reign. To this day, the UK’s monarch has to grant city status to any town.
Winchester cathedral was consecrated in 1093, and is a wonderful old building, which seems to have history seeping out of its walls and emanating from its very fabric.
Winchester is about 24 miles west of where I live. It is a beautiful old city. It is where the ancient English King, Alfred had his royal seat.
The old part of the city, in which the ancient cathedral sits, is a maze of tiny cobbled streets and lanes.
The area in which I live is also historic. There has been a human settlement here at least since the 14th Century; the Roman army crossed the River Wey at Lindford, about 1 mile away, whilst en-route to battle in the west of the county in the early part of the the last millenium. The crossing over the local stream has been here since 1350, but the current bridge was refurbished in 2008.
So, we are in Lockdown.
According to Her Majesty’s Government (HMG), we are allowed to exercise once a day. So, this last Sunday, SWMBO and I decided that we would partake of some gentle exercise in the form a walk through the Deadwater Valley Nature Reserve.
It was a beautiful afternoon, with a light zephyr tousling the crowns of the trees as we left the house. A six minute walk up the hill took us to the entrance of the nature trail.
The trail is cool, the smell of damp sphagnum moss mixed with that wonderful, rich, loamy, peaty aroma. The sunlight pierced the canopy with spears of golden light, impaling the shy bluebells and forget-me-nots hiding on the floor of the woods.
We continue wandering, sowly, drinking in the scents of the woodland. The information board informs me that this is a home to Stag Beetles, Slow Worms, Sparrowhawks, Red Admiral butterflies, Nuthatches and Goldfinches – together with the occassional Roe or Muncjac deer.
We plod on, hand in hand, humbled by the sheer abundance of plants, insects and wildlife.
We see few people on the trail; those that we do are keen to ensure that we all comply with the two metre separation. Sometimes, we yield to walkers coming towards us, standing in the undergrowth so tha they may pass. Natural selection seems to ensure that next time we meet fellow walkers, they hold back for us to pass.
However, the social niceties are maintained, with many “good afternoons”. “please”, “thank you” and “have a good one” as we contine our walk.
The trail isn’t crowded by any means; we are in solitude for most of it – just us, walking, talking, laughing. Soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying nature.
We continued on, walking generally north until we reached the exit point, where the new housing estate starts.
Not wanting to just return on the same route, we decide to wander through the small town suburbia and re-enter the reserve a little further down.
It’s a relief to leave the road once more, lined as it is, with high density housing, and populated with bus stops, garage blocks and parking bays.
We re-enter the reserve, skirting the sticky muddy morass near the stile, and test the waterproof capabilities of our footwear as we stride on through the silty puddles that surround the more glutinous mud.
Looking at the tracks in the earth, I immediately deduce that the trail is used by mountain bikers, hikers, walkers, children and dogs.
Eat your heart out Sherlock Holmes. Go back to your flat Hercule Poirot.
Whilst the nature reserve isn’t large, we have never visited before, so I was happy that I had a fully paid up account with the Ordnance Survey, and had access to excellent charts.
Using the app, we quickly planned how we would return to the end of the park nearest our home.
Our route back took us past a picturesque pond, which, according to the information board, was home to Toads, Frogs, Herons and Dragonflies.
Sadly, we didn’t see any of them, but it has given me an excuse to come back again to check it out more regularly.
I would not necessarily have discovered this wonderful place if I hadn’t been on lockdown – so something good has come about as a result of COVID19.
My day today has been filled with catching up on various tasks around the house, so maybe tomorrow I will dig my bike out, and go and explore in a bit more detail.
A great way to do an hours exercise without having to go to the gym, which I find abhorrent at the best of times.
Unless you have been living on the Cook Islands for the last few months, you will have heard of Corona Virus, now known as COVID 19.
The virus is officially a global pandemic, and is now rampaging across every continent, leaving a trail of dead.
Here in the United Kingdom, we are in a state of national emergency, and state-sanctioned lockdown is in effect, with only absolutley essential journeys authorised. All retail shops except those selling essential supplies such as food, maedicines and perhaps bizzarely, alcohol are closed.
The London Underground has shut stations across its network, and passengers figures are plummeting.
Working at home has been the norm for many workers. As a result, the economy is in freefall, with the retail and hospitality sectors being worst hit. Clubs, pubs, cinemas, churches, sports centres, museums and public buildings are now all closed for the immediate future.
The aviation and maritime sectors have been quick to feel the impact of travel restrictions, and many airports are struggling as flights have become virtually non-existent, passenger traffic stagnated, and many airlines now trying to mitigate their losses by flying freight.
Whilst the global shutdown is severely damaging both our manufacturing and financial economies, we are reaping some form of benefit; pollution levels have dropped across the planet, and air quality is improving.
It’s not just transport that contributes to atmospheric pollution – industrial and manufacturing activities have fallen across the UK and Europe as countries shutdown their economies to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
This shows that it is possible to stop climate change, but the societal costs are far too high to make this acceptable.
I do believe that when the virus is contained or burnt out, we will emerge from lockdown and social distancing as a changed society.
So, what may happen?
Many firms that up until recently were resistant to their employees working remotely will have seen that some of their “trust issues” have been proved to be unfounded and that staff have been as productive, if not more productive that when working at the office.
Bearing in mind the cost of office space, many companies may find the savings realised by using smaller premises make remote working desirable.
After a major pandemic such as this one, people may be far more cautious about personal hygeine, and become much more concerned to see that public areas are properly sanitised. This could have an effect on the practice of hot desking at work.
The travelling public will probably also need to see evidence that public transport is cleaned and sanitised far more regulalrly and effectively than currently.
The lack of public trust in the health security of public transport could trigger more car use, as people seek to protect themselves with more regularised self isolating. Even car sharing could become less popular as people choose not ot sit in close proximity with another individual on their commute.
Who can really say?
If thousands more people take up remote working, there may well be more economic pain ahead for public transport operators.
Railway and air journeys that used to be undertaken for business meetings may well now be conducted using video conferencing using internet platforms such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
Will our current level of communications network provision be sufficient to accommodate this?
Individuals that were reluctant to order shopping on-line, or use home delivery services prior to COVID 19 have now been using them out of necessity, and many of these people will now be sold on the advantages, leading to further decline of England’s high streets.
Individuals that were previously regular patrons of theatre and cinema will have become adept at streaming movies and watching “live” performances from the comfort of their own homes, using YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The question is – will they return to the cinemas and thatres with quite the same degree of regularity as they did before?
It seems that the mainstream media have been focusing on the leisure and retail industries and whilst they do report on the struggle for our manufacturing industries, they do not highlight the underlying problems.
In the UK there is evidence that our contingency planning for a “Hard Brexit” triggered our government to closely examine our logisitcal supply chains with the involvement of the retail and distirbution industries, and this has surely helped ensure that truly essential items remained on the supermarket shelves, despite the media-induced panic buying.
The other aspect to this is the lack of resilience that our manufacturers have against supply chain failures.
Whilst numerous products are proudly made here in the UK, few are totally built here. Huge numbers of manufacturers import sub-assemblies, parts and components from overseas which are used to build their product.
The world’s biggest exporter, China, is, to all intents and purposes, the birthplace of COVID19, and also its primary exporter. The subsequent lockdown of the Chinese economy led to an abundance of British manufacturers struggling to obtain the raw materials, parts, components and sub-components needed to build and sell their own products..
This may result in a baseline realignment of our logisitical networks, and maybe re-initiate inward investment.
Who knows, we may see a slow transformation back into a manufacturing economy again.
This is a bit of a mixed bag then; at more localised levels the possible resulting drop in bus and train usage could lead to more cars on the road, each contributing to climate change. On the other hand, more people at home reduces traffic of any kind on the roads.
There are so many possible futures that could result from the aftermath of CV19, which only action at government level can establish.
This could be a great opportunity for each state to re-evaluate its’s strategies for handling pandemics, and may trigger new systems to increase the robustness of manufacturing bases.
Who knows, it may even give us the required impetus to design an improved model for society that will offer progress on controlling our nemesis of irreversible climate change.
Tomorrow is the date at which the clocks go forwards by one hour, moving us instantly from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) to British Summer Time (BST).
This has been happening every year since the Summer Time Act was passed by Parliament in 1916, whilst the Great War was raging in Europe. Placing the clocks an hour ahead gave workers an extra hour of daylight in the evening, enabling greater productivity for the war machine.
After World War One the annual changes to the clocks continued ping-ponging back and forth between BST and GMT.
World War Two started in September 1939, and by 1941 the UK was on Double Summertime (DST). This was achieved by putting the clocks forward in spring 1940 and not putting them back to GMT at the end of Autumn. In spring 1941, the clocks were advanced by an hour again – giving even more daylight to aid productivity.
This went on until autumn 1947, when the clocks went back completely to GMT.
Despite a parliamentary enquiry conducted in the late 1950s, involving 180 organisations, which concluded that there was a slight preference to remain on GMT +1 throughout the year, Britain stayed with the system
Why am I telling you all this?
Well, its because I’m in two minds about this.
Research conducted by the University of Colorado (Boulder) has shown conclusively that the fatal car accident rate spikes by 6% during the working week following the clocks being moved forward into Daylight Saving Time (DST). As the research only studied fatal accidents, it may be reasonably assumed that the underlying rate for all accidents will increase.
A further study published by Vanderbilt University’s Medical Unit shows that there is a negative impact upon health during the transition from statndard time to daylight saving time.
The cumulative effects of Daylight Saving Time can lead to increasing risks of heat attacks and ischaemic strokes
It appears that its not just the biannual one hour difference interfereing with our “body clock” or Circadian Rhythm – but the cumulative effects of this misalignment which takes up about eight months of the year.
It is the actual process of changing rather than which time reference is followed.
The European Union (EU) has voted to end Daylight Saving Time in autumn 2021. States within the EU have the choice of making their last change on the final sunday of March, or the final sunday of October, depending on whether they wish to have their standard time based on summertime or wintertime. This would naturally accommodate preferences according to geographic location.
So – moving the clocks back and forward is bad for health, and bad for accident rates.
On the other hand, there is a big argument for doing something more radical.
Lets stay on GMT+1 as our standard time.
Moving the clocks forward every spring, as we did in WW2, gives us effectively two hours more sunlight in the evening during summer, and one more hour of evening light in the winter.
Looking at this from an environmental perspective; extra light means less electrical demand for lighting in the summer, and during the winter months less demand for heat as well.
Research conducted by Cambridge University showed that an extra hour of sunlight every day during winter could save up to £485M ($604M US) annually.
A further benefit is a proportionate reduction in carbon emissions as well.
Now, lets think about trade. Disregarding Brexit, we still do a lot of trade with our neighbours in the EU. However, even the most western part of the continent is always an hour ahead of the UK, and eastern states such as Finland are two hours ahead.
This is an impediment to easy trade, so staying GMT+1 in winter, and GMT+2 in summer would keep us aligned with our european trading partners.
Tourism would also receive a big boost, with longer hours available when people are not working.
The Tourism Alliance estimated that an extra £3.5M ($435.9 US) of revenue would be generated in the UK as a result iof businesses staying open for longer. This would create an estimated 80,000 jobs.
Individuals would also gain about 235 hours of post-work daylight every year,
Now that’s got to be worth having!
What would people do with all of this extra daylight? Well., they would use the opportunity to play sports, visit parks and enjoy outdoor recreational activities.
This has a health benefit, as more people out exercising (Even if they are only walking or cycling to the pub!) means less people becoming unhealthy as a result of inactivity.
Human nature is such that we tend to stop outdoor activities when it gets dark. SImply readjusting our clocks so that “dark” coincides with “later” means we achieve more each day.
The extra hours of daylight could also reduce crime levels, as most criminals do like to do their “work” in the dark.
Well, I would like to use the old WW2 system of GMT+1/GMT+2. Ilike the idsea of an extra 235 useful hours every year. I like the idea of saving power and cutting emissions.
It does seem that on balance this could be the best option for business, the planet and us living on it.
Whilst researching for my previous article covering the climate change impact of mobile communications, I came across further research which claims that mobile communications enables an overall reduction in Mega tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year (mtCO2e/yr).
My previous article presented facts that appeared to prove that the ever-increasing use of smartphones and mobile technology communications was responsible for contributing millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
It would be useful to define mobile communications at this point. It covers quite a wide range of systems including mobile telephone networks, public Wi-Fi networks, Wide Area Networks, and Satellite networks.
To be fair, most of the carbon footprint was directly related to the extraction of materials and the subsequent production of the technology itself. The remaining contribution was as a result of the use of the equipment and the supporting infrastructure, such as powering data processing centres and the associated communications networks.
The research appeared to take no account of the societal changes caused by the use of such disrupting technology, and the reduction in the carbon footprint of mobile communications.
The counter arguments presented in this article are as convincing and fact-based as the arguments that mobile communications are climate change’s bad guys.
According to a report commissioned by The Carbon Trust, the use of mobile communications actually leads to an abatement of the carbon emissions generated by the use of that technology – approximately five times as much carbon emissions are abated as the emissions generated.
That’s quite a factor.
Use of mobile communications in the EU and the USA is currently enabling a reduction of about 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalence per year – an amount greater than the annual carbon emissions generated by the Netherlands.
So how does this pay-off happen?
A significant percentage of the total reduction in COe – about 70%, is generated by what is known as Machine to Machine (M2M) systems.
Mobile communications have enabled our infrastructure to become “smart”.
“Smart” buildings are fitted with several types of systems, such as those that monitor occupancy levels and turn lighting on or off as needed, and control heating, ventilation and temperatures according to programmed levels. Sensors fitted throughout the building communicate wirelessly to the controller to enable precise control of energy use and therefore costs.
In some cases, several buildings may be communicating with a server-controller located remotely, and if this is the case, it is likely that the internet or the cellular communications system may be the data carrier.
This type of technology is not limited to just commercial premises.
Flick through some of the glossier housing magazines, and you will find references to “smart homes”
Smart homes are designed and built to encompass the latest control systems. Many household systems may be configured and controlled using nothing more than a standard smart phone using simple software.
Owners of a smart home may be able to control heating, unlock or lock doors, operate lighting, close or open curtains, respond to the doorbell, play music, or switch the TV on or off.
Some systems will have algorithms that learn the users tastes and preferences and will detect when the house has become un-occupied, and will back off the heating, and control lighting as needed.
This is often accomplished by the detection of system-recognised mobile phones. When the mobile phone(s) leaves the home for more than the programmed time period, the system decides that the house is now un-occupied.
When the homeowner leaves work and gets within a predefined distance or time from home, the phone will autonomously communicate with the house, and the system can put the heat on, close the curtains, put the lights on, and be playing music on the owners’ arrival.
So, whilst data is being exchanged (at an environmental cost) the more intelligent use of power and energy compensates for this. In the world of commerce and business the savings may be truly on an industrial scale.
Local Authorities also benefit from M2M communications and are able to control street lighting and municipal lighting based on pedestrian or vehicular activity. Street lights may be able to communicate with each other and be able to adjust to lower light levels when there is no detected activity. This not only conserves energy, but also prevents light pollution from degrading the night time landscape.
Some towns have introduced smart refuse bins, which communicate their fill state to the local authority waste processing system. This enables real-time assessment of refuse collection requirements and enables collections to be scheduled only when needed. This has the net effect of making the collection of household waste much more efficient, saves money, and reduces the number of truck journeys made.
Furthermore, intelligent use of M2M enabled traffic signals can change sequencing according to traffic levels and ease delays, in turn reducing the emissions levels from vehicle exhausts. In the future, as vehicles become internet enabled, they will be able to communicate directly with both the infrastructure and each other, leading to more efficient use of the road system, lowering fuel requirements and hopefully reducing accidents.
Mobile Communications has really come of age with faster, secure networks that have enabled a huge number of individuals to work at home.
According to the Office of National Statistics (UK) in January 2014 there were about 4.2 million people working remotely – an impressive 14% of the UK’s workforce. That’s a good few cars and their associated emissions taken off the road.
With growth in the self-employed “gig economy” the number of people working from anywhere (WFA) is bound to have expanded, which is good for the environment, and better for both the employer and the employee
Using mobile communications, it is possible to attend meetings remotely, using systems such as Skype, which are sophisticated enough to enable delegates to share their computer screens with other team members working at the office or from home.
Mobile comms also cuts down on wasted paper, saving trees. Simple smartphone-based apps enable an employee to submit their expenses remotely, simply taking photos of receipts, and submitting them electronically. This reduces postage costs, as well as saving paper and time.
The rapid acceptance of smartphones and their associated technologies, has also stimulated behavioural changes in people’s personal lives.
Today, an average person may unwittingly reduce their carbon footprint by using video calling to talk to friends and family. In many cases this saves a time consuming drive to each other’s homes. It’s not quite the same as visiting, but enables better use of time, and again, takes another polluting journey off the road network.
Mobile comms also impacts on the provision of healthcare.
Individuals with serious and chronic health problems will often require frequent visits to hospitals and clinics in order to monitor their conditions, or to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare professional.
Smart phones and wearable technologies such as smart watches and fitness trackers are already beginning to enable a far more consistent capture of healthcare data. Suitable software programme can then transmit this over the mobile networks to the individual’s doctor.
Whilst this may not have a huge impact at current levels, as this become more accepted in the medical community, it will save journeys to hospitals, for both patients and visitors. It also enables patients to be potentially cared for at home rather than in hospital, which reduces consumption further.
Even agriculture and forestry benefits from the use of mobile communications.
Arable farmers may make use of smartphone and laptop-based systems to monitor crop conditions and target which areas of fields may require dressing with fertiliser. Natural fertiliser is an animal by-product which subsequently releases methane into the atmosphere.
Applying less fertiliser and targeting it where it’s needed is far more effective and eco-friendly than just applying a regular amount onto a crop that may not need it. This also saves runoff from fields polluting the water table – so a double benefit!
Animal farmers are already using smart apps that monitor the health of pregnant cattle, and herds may be monitored by GPS trackers – all enabled by mobile communications. This allows farmers to reduce veterinary call-outs, and simplify herding journeys, saving both time, money and the environment.
Having researched the information from both sides, my personal jury is still out on this subject. It has to be borne in mind that the report produced by the Carbon Trust was supported and funded by EE, BT, Telefonica (Who own O2 in the UK, and provide mobile comms globally) and Vodafone.
I am, however, a firm supporter of reducing traffic wherever and however possible, and working remotely using mobile comms is an obvious way to do this.
 A key takeaway from our research is that if a work setting is ripe for remote work – that is, the job is fairly independent and the employee knows how to do their job well – implementing WFA (working from anywhere) can benefit both the company and the employee” The Harvard Business Review
If like me, you have embraced new technology, you will, in all probability have a smartphone. It is likely that you will also own either a tablet computer or a laptop. Some of you may also have a smartwatch as well.
The smartphone has invaded all our lives, and research suggests that there are more than 79 million active mobile phone subscriptions. A recent report shows that Smartphones have penetrated 71% of the UK market – about 57 million units, all of which are sophisticated handsets capable of streaming video, internet surfing, emailing, and even making telephone calls and humble texting.
Business has been quick to see the potential in such technology, with banks and financial institutions offering account access via self-contained mobile applications – “Apps” in common parlance.
With a smartphone and the correct apps, it is possible to buy railway tickets, check bus times, take photos or video film, and plan a route to walk, cycle or ride.
Smartphones are also able to monitor health, run a diary, shop online and remotely control domestic systems such as heating, lighting and manage solar power generation systems.
Not bad for a device that’s smaller than a reporter’s notebook!
Mobile communications are not just limited to cellular telephones, but also incorporates laptops and tablets, and as any customer of a high street coffee shop will attest to, enables work to be conducted just about anywhere where there is an internet connection.
Work isn’t just limited to processing documents. I have been unlucky enough to be seated next to a very loud woman who was conducting a Skype meeting with her team from the normal genteel environment of Costa Coffee in Haslemere. Not only is this rude and inconsiderate, but she was also revealing an awful lot about her company and its confidential details.
For the price of a coffee, it is possible to hook into a reasonably stable Wi-Fi connection and work for an hour or two, writing and responding to emails, conducting research, and creating reports and presentations.
No commuting either – so its got to be ecologically sound to either work from home, or from the local coffee shop.
So, you would think.
It’s not quite as simple as that though, but to be fair, it never is.
Have you ever thought about the invisible carbon footprint generated by mobile communications?
Let’s forget, for a moment, the environmental costs of producing a smartphone in the first place. Concentrate purely on the actual business of communicating.
In order for your simple SMS text message to be sent, the message must be digitised and transmitted over the cellular telephone network. Your phone sends these messages using microwave frequencies to the nearest cellular base station. These are easily recognisable as they normally have several antennae mounted upon a mast.
At the base of the mast, is a small building that contains all of the necessary electronics systems to enable the mobile elements of the network to interface with the Public Switched Telephone Network.
The message then has to be processed by one or more data centres and forwarded back out into the network for onward transmission over the cellular network to its intended recipient.
All of this infrastructure consumes power and has to be resilient enough to provide secure, continuous and reliable service 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
Photo Credit E S Wales – Cellular Base Station
The same system supports mobile voice calls.
So – you want to read your emails in the coffee shop? Surf the web?
Emails require multiple data servers, and more computer communications centres, all of which consume massive amounts of power.
Maybe as you glug back your vente white americano you want to order that item on Amazon, or eBay?
More data servers, more computer communications centres, but now with the addition of financial data processing centres, with yet more power-hungry servers.
Here are some sobering facts.
Data Centres and Communications networks together with other parts of the infrastructure were responsible for in the region of 215 megatonnes of CO2e/yr back in 2007. By the end of 2020, this will have risen to about 764 megatonnes of CO2e/yr, with data centres accounting for about 33% of the total contribution.
The entire carbon footprint of Canada in 2016 was about 730 MtCO2e/yr!
According to research conducted by McMaster University, the relative contribution to climate change from information and computer technologies (ICT) is predicted to grow from 3.5% (2007) to about 14% by 2040.
Relative emissions generated as a result of smartphone use has risen from 4% in 2010 to an expected 11% by this year.
Absolute emissions (which include the production footprint; manufacturing energy, mining energy for extracting rare metals and gold and end-user activities) from these much loved ‘phones will, therefore, jump from 17 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) to 125 Mt-CO2e/yr in the same period! That’s a massive 730% growth.
Take out the production emissions, and we are looking at 12.5 megatonnes of CO2 per year just to use our smartphones.
Our Mobile operators (In the UK, EE, O2, Vodafone, Three) have an unintended impact on emissions. Many of their mobile ‘phone plans encourage their customers to upgrade to a new phone every couple of years.
I resisted this in the past and kept my old iPhone 6 for almost five years before I decided to change phones. I would have kept it longer, but the 16GB memory was full, and the software was in danger of becoming unsupported by Apple.
Encouraging and incentivising customers to change phones when their previous handset was more than adequate, is a good model for enhancing a corporation’s profit, but the negative impact on our environment is unsupportable.
There is only a limited number of ways that we, as a society can stop this.
At a societal level, state intervention and corporate governance must ensure that all data centres are upgraded so they may be powered solely by renewable sources of energy.
As individuals, we must all take a bit more responsibility.
It’s all very well for climate change protestors to exhort us all to ditch our cars, and to stop using plastics.
Equally important is not buying a new product unless the old one is either worn out, damaged beyond economic repair or no longer supported by the manufacturer or network requirements.
Upgrading to a new phone every time one comes out is nothing but technological vanity.
Remember too, if you must upgrade, then recycle your old phone.
Shockingly, less than 1% of all smartphones are being recycled.
Despite this, for the time being, Life’s Good.
 iPhone XR dimensions 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm 174gm
 Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi
We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.
We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.
Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.
However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.
Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.
Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.
We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.
So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre? Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.
Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.
Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.
Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.
It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.
It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.
Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.
Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!
Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.
Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.
Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.
It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.
What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?
Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.
We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.
We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.
This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!
On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.
It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!
Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.
Maybe we should drive less distances? Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?
I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.
It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.
However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.
Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.
The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?
Answers on a postcard please…
 Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018
Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee. Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.
A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.
Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.
The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.
In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.
These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.
I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?
The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.
Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.
Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.
The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”
At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.
This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.
The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.
Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.
At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.
So, what of the Hippie dream now?
Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.
Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly. More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.
Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.
Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.
I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.
In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.
However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.
Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.
Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.
I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.
These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.
Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…
The gloomy sky overhead Haslemere made it seem darker and colder than it was. A depressing midweek afternoon, with both Christmas and the New Year landmarks disappearing over the rear horizon.
Costa Coffee was almost empty, and I shared the place with just one barista and the branch manager, both of whom were courteously ignoring me, and conducting a desultory, spasmodic conversation related to their respective family Christmases.
As always these days, Christmas was a mixed bag of news, but one item did catch my attention. A lot of media coverage was being dedicated to criticising the time-honoured Christmas jumper.
It seems that such jumpers are environmental disasters, and the bombardment of negativity made it almost feel as if the green lobby were deliberately greenwashing Christmas. In some cases, this leads to “green fatigue”, and I heard a lot of comments that bemoaned the continual media attention focused on environmental issues. I must admit, that I too “switched off”.
The net result is that, as usual, my interest was piqued, and I immediately fired up the laptop, and started researching the environmental impact of the garment industry.
What I discovered is interesting, yet shocking.
The fashion and garment industry is simply huge. It is worth US$ 1.3 trillion, and employs about 300 million people. It greedily consumes 60% of all textiles produced.
Approximately 5% of all EU household expenditure is for clothing and footwear, (80% clothing, 20% footwear) about 12.6kg per person.
EU research also revealed that more than 30% of the clothes hiding in European wardrobes had not been used for at least a year.
According to a report published by Worldbank the garment industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions! That is more than the combined annual Global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) for Aviation and International Shipping, yet the media focus is nearly always focused on the transport sector.
Consider this; annually the garment industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water – that is enough to satisfy the annual consumption needs of about five million people!
This is not just the water used for manufacturing garments, but also includes the irrigation requirements of the cotton and fibre crops.
Dyeing material and treatments during manufacturing contributes to 20% of worldwide wastewater generation.
Polyester, one of the most popular fibres for clothing, is made from fossil fuels, and is totally non-biodegradable. It does have the benefits of being tolerant of washing at lower temperatures, has a low water footprint, dries quickly, needs virtually no ironing, and it can be recycled into new fibres.
Now the downside. Recent studies have shown that just one domestic washing load of polyester clothing can discharge in the region of 700,000 microplastic fibres in the waste water, which subsequently release toxins into the marine environment, which eventually contaminate the human food chain.
This in itself is an appalling situation!
To put this into perspective, it takes about 3,800 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. This equates to CO2 emissions of about 34kg!
Garment production is resource-greedy, and materials used all have an impact on our world. For example, we are exhorted to wear natural products rather than synthetic, but perversely, natural products are the most un-eco-friendly – cotton contributes to excessive water consumption. The production of wool also adds significantly to methane emissions.
So, manufacturing clothing currently has a high environmental cost.
You may buy that pretty dress, or that cool shirt, or yet another pair of denim jeans. Do you think of the hidden environmental costs when you buy it?
Globally, clothing is massively under-utilised – and usage of clothing has slumped by about 36% compared with just fifteen years ago. Some items are discarded after just seven to ten wears. This is appalling!
An article in the Daily Mail reported that many women had adopted a throw away “wear it once” mentality related to clothing. The report suggested that much of this was due to the peer pressure exerted through social media in not wanting to be photographed or “tagged” wearing the same item more than once.
The associated costs are high and that’s not just from an ecological perspective. Globally, customers are squandering an estimated US$ 460 billion per year on waste and unneeded replacement.
Less that 1% of textile materials recovered from clothing is reused for clothing. Most of what is recovered is simply shredded and then used for lower purposes such as furniture stuffing, insulation, and cleaning cloths.
Unused clothing is often just dumped into landfill as refuse. There are high costs associated with the disposal of clothing, and to put this into perspective, the UK spends approximately £86 million per year to process and dispose of it.
This is also driven by the relatively new fast fashion culture. In the past, most clothing designers would launch their collections on a seasonal basis, but now many lower cost clothing stores offer new designs far more frequently, sometimes as often as weekly!
The fashion chain Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year, and H&M between 12 and 16.
Fast fashion is frequently made from very cheap materials – almost planned obsolescence and is likely to fail quite quickly.
The consumer is almost led to believe that items of clothing are perishable goods and outfits are seen as disposable in the same way as a cigarette lighter.
The pressure on consumers, both from social media and commercial retailers to refresh their wardrobes has led to a state where the average person buys 60% more clothing today than they did in 2000.
In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made globally. In just twenty years, this has doubled, according to research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Significant environmental impact occurs during consumer use. Throughout the lifecycle of the clothes, they will be laundered many times, using water, chemicals and energy. Each time they will shed microplastics into the water system. They will then, in many cases, be tumble dried, and then ironed and pressed, using yet more energy.
So, what can be done?
Firstly, the old linear manufacturing system has to change. Linear systems simply take raw products, and through subsequent processes, manufacture a garment. The garment is sold, used, washed, used and then discarded.
A new circular economy needs to be created, where the discarded garment is collected, processed, recycled and remanufactured.
Clothing designers need to embrace a new concept of reducing waste at every stage of production. Products should be designed to have multiple life cycles using materials that are tailored to their intended subsequent uses.
Manufacturers should be considering materials such as bio-based polyesters (which use starches and lipids sourced from corn, sugar beet and plant oils) and man-made Cellulosic (MMCs) made from dissolved wood pulp. New products such as Lyocell (Tencel) made of cellulose from Eucalyptus which grow quickly and require no irrigation or pesticides must be rapidly incorporated into the manufacturing chain.
Retailers should also introduce much more effective labelling with tags clearly stating the item’s sustainability and emissions information, and better and more intuitive washing and care instructions.
Secondly, consumers need to make a significant change in mindset.
They need to be encouraged to make small behavioural changes such as reducing the temperatures at which they wash clothing, always washing a full load wherever possible, avoiding tumble drying, and buying clothes made from ecologically friendly fibres.
Unwanted clothes should always be donated to charities rather than discarding them into landfill.
Dare I also say that clothes should be washed less frequently, airing them instead, and avoid any unnecessary ironing.
Instead of fast fashion, “Slow Fashion” should be adopted – buy fewer clothes of better quality, and keep those for longer.
New ideas such as a clothes sharing economy. Why buy clothes, when you could lease them, or rent them for a pre-determined time?
High Tech solutions may be just around the corner – with Artificial Intelligence working with advanced three-dimensional printers that would simply produce a custom item of clothing instantly and on the spot. No overproduction or distribution and warehousing costs there, eh?
So – maybe you should make a cup of coffee, and go and check your wardrobe.
I just checked mine, and I seem to have quite a lot of clothes cluttering up my life which haven’t been used for a year.
I only own 8 items of footwear – and that includes 2 pairs of hiking boots, a pair of motorcycle boots and a pair of dress cowboy boots. Two pairs of deck shoes, and two pairs of work Chelsea boots. All of them are regularly cleaned and maintained, so replacement is rare.
I now have to fill a number of bin bags to take a trip to the charity shop.
So – Buy cheap, buy twice!
Together all of us making a small difference, makes a big difference.