Nerja Philosophy Group, 19 November 2018

Climate Change: what’s in it for me?

Introduction by James Wimberley

This is a fuller version of my oral presentation. The slides are in a Powerpoint presentation you can download here I can’t figure out how to embed the images in this text.

I What’s happening?

Source Ed Hawkins’ blog.

Average temperatures have been steadily increasing for over a century. There is nothing in the natural cycles of solar radiation, volcanic eruptions and orbital wobbles to explain this. It’s caused by us (IPCC). Without humans. Temperatures would probably have dropped a little (Slide 1 – source).The black line is the observed temperature, the red the range of model projections including human emissions, the blue without human interference.

The how is simple: it’s burning of fossil fuels, plus an assist from leaks of gas and refrigerants and deforestation. This has driven up the concentration of greenhouse gases. You all know the famous Keeling curve, the concentration of carbon dioxide (the most important of these) measured on a mountain in Hawaii, thousands of miles from the nearest industrial city.

What is a greenhouse gas? If you shine a bright light through a glass jar of oxygen or nitrogen, the main components of ordinary air, nothing much happens: the radiation goes straight through. Add some carbon dioxide, and it warms up. The same goes for CFCs and water vapour. Some of the infrared radiation captured by the CO2 molecules is re-radiated out to space, as if nothing had happened. Part is radiated back to earth, heating us up a bit more. Radiative balance is eventually restored, but at a higher temperature. This warmer atmosphere in turn takes up more water vapour – which acts as an amplifier, two to three times the straight effect of CO2.

This is very simple Victorian science. John Tyndall published an experimental proof in 1859, preceded by Eunice Foote who of course got no credit. Sven Arrhenius published an estimate of global warming from a doubling of CO2 in 1896.

The difficult part is making an accurate prediction of effects on both climate and weather. Weather is complex, and you have to build a computer model of the atmosphere. You have for instance to allow for differences in albedo (reflectivity), differences in latitude, convection in the atmosphere, clouds, aerosols, the interactions with the oceans and forests, and so on and so on. There are at least 40 models out there built by competing teams of scientists. The leading ones are huge, with cells 100 km on a side horizontally (say 50,000 in all) and up to 100 vertical layers in the sea and atmosphere, giving 5 million interacting cells to be be computed simultaneously. This looks incomprehensible; but remember that each cell is running the same 19th-century equations. Imagine a huge skyscraper full of cubicles, and in each cubicle there is a Victorian scientist with a big beard calculating away on his slide rule, helped by an invisible female assistant. However, it is clearly not practicable for laypeople like us to challenge these models– we have to rely on the scientific process of competitive emulation and bitching over details.

One thing to bear in mind about climate models, and indeed the IPCC process of distilling a consensus by meta-analysis of mainstream publications, is that they do not do a good job on long-tail risks. These are things like a collapse of the East Antarctic ice sheet, or massive release of methane from melting permafrost in the Arctic. The conventional wisdom is that these are not very likely. But we all insure out houses against fire, of which the lifetime risk is only one in four. It is not sensible to ignore extreme climate risks, and the uncertainty should make us more prudent not less (Weitzman). That said, the mainstream models, synthesised by the IPCC, are our best practical guide to what is likely to happen.

Before we leave the science, let me surprise you with a reminder on air pollution. This is a quite different effect from climate change, but it has much the same cause, so the policy problems are linked. Outdoor air pollution, almost all from from burning coal and oil products like diesel fuel, is a major cause of premature death: 4.2 million a year worldwide according to the WHO. An estimated 286,000 of the dead are children. The list of illnesses attributable to air pollution is horrifying (Slide 2). This is scientifically so obvious – breathe in fumes and soot, get sick - that there isn’t a serious attempt to deny it. The causes overlap but do not coincide. Natural gas burns clean and has a negligible impact on air quality. On the other hand, indoor air pollution from cookstoves in Third World village huts is almost as big a killer as outdoor. The fuel there, wood, charcoal and dung, is largely sustainable. Still, most of the steps we take to cut global warming will cut air pollution deaths and illness too, and vice versa.

Disease from ambient air pollution

4.2 million deaths worldwide in 2016 (286,000 <15)

- Lung cancer: 29% of cases

- Acute lower respiratory infection: 17% of cases

- Stroke : 24% of deaths

- Ischaemic heart disease : 25% of cases

- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 43% of cases


- Definite link to low birth weight and pre-term births.

- Likely link to diabetes and neurological development in children.

- Possible link to Alzheimer’s. Source WHO

II What happens next?

The scientists don’t and can’t know what’s going to happen. This is mainly for a good reason. In that it depends on what we, the human species, decide to do about our greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years.

The effects of global warming are mostly bad from our point of view. There is some gain in agricultural productivity in high northern latitudes, but this is outweighed by droughts, floods, sea level rise, and bigger and wetter hurricanes – as predicted. Global warming is not a decorous uniform increase in temperature, which we could live with. Heat is energy, and global warming amounts to giving the weather daily testosterone shots. So the hotter the earth gets, the damage bill from the violent patient goes up.

Here is a spaghetti chart of climate model runs under different assumptions about emissions (Source) The models are grouped by the different scenarios of future emissions (Slide 3). RCP 2.6 is the Pangloss one, where emissions peak in 2020 and fall to zero by 2050. RCP 8.5 is the drill, baby, drill version of uncontrolled growth of fossil fuels. This would lead to about 4 degrees C of warming by 2100. Consequences in slide 4 (source):

Consequences of 4 deg C warming

- inundation of coastal cities

- increasing risks for food production

- unprecedented heat waves in many regions

- exacerbated water scarcity

- increased frequency of hurricanes

- irreversible loss of biodiversity, including coral reef systems

Potsdam for World Bank

It is striking how many of these impacts we are seeing already in reduced form, at only 1.2 dgrees of warming. It is hard to be optimistic about the chances for human civilisation and feeding a world population peaking at 10 billion. However, this doomsday scenario is unlikely. We seem to be somewhere between 2.6 and 4.5.

The latest analyses of current policies trends say that if these continue, the world is on track for about 3 degree C of warming. I personally think this is too pessimistic, for reasons I’ll outline later.. The Paris Agreement as you know set two targets, a cap at 2 degrees and an aspirational 1.5 degrees. The IPCC was asked to investigate the difference between the last two, and has just issued its report. Basically. 1.5 degrees is bad enough, andf 2 degrees will be much worse. 99% of coral reefs will go as against merely 70%; twice as many people will be exposed to severe heatwaves. We don’t have an authoritative version for 3 degrees, but it’s easy to extrapolate, and does not really seem necessary as 2 degrees is bad enough.

What the targets have in common is that they both require going to net zero emissions in the nest half-century; around 2055 for 2 degrees, 2040 for 1.5 degrees (slide 5). That means phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Completely, or very nearly so. Can this be done? The answer is surprisingly clear. It can be done.

III The energy transition

Here is a chart of recent industrial emissions (slide 6, IEA):

It looked as if we hit a plateau in 2013, but modest growth resumed last year and probably this one. We are still putting almost 9 gigatonnes a year of carbon into the air. If we could pile it as coal into pyramids like the great one at Giza, we would need 5,000 of them every year. A full energy transition to zero pyramids is a very big deal. There are two big questions:

- Does the technology exist? Is the transition technically feasible?

- Can we afford it? How much will it cost?

The answer to the first question is yes, We have the technology today to go to over 90% renewable energy without cutting our standard of living. Most of the remaining 10% requires straightforward development of innovations already working in the labor on pilot scale.

Only five technologies will do most of the job (slide 7).

Most of what you need:


- Wind turbines

- Solar PV


- Pumped hydro storage

- HVDC transmission


- Battery electric vehicles

A good number of teams of scientists have built scenarios to show the feasibility of the energy transition, The best-known one is by Mark Jacobson of Stanford, covering 139 countries. That includes all energy use, not just electricity. There is a global electricity- only one by a team at a university in northern Finland, where Santa Claus lives. There are many scenarios for single countries. A nice example is Andrew Blakers’ elegantly simple scenario for an Australian electricity supply powered entirely by wind and solar as prime sources. Their daily and weekly variation is dealt with entirely by pumped hydro storage and long-distance HVDC transmission, which on a continental scale allows you to smooth over weather cycles. The balancing adds about 50% to the production cost, giving an average wholesale electricity price (US 7c./kwh) lower than that of Australia’s current coal-dominated supply (US 8c./kwh).

Blaker’s cost analysis generalizes. Other scenarios for 100% renewable energy or electricity come to the same conclusion. In 2015, the IPCC estimated (pdf page 15) the net cost of a full energy transition to a reduction in the annual growth rate of about 3% by a mere 0.06%: basically noise. In cash terms, it’s a wash. But we have to add back the heath benefits, several trillion $ a year (see above). The energy transition is a gigantic free lunch.

From a Blakers-type baseline, you can add back in any number of other technologies (slide 8).

cost $/$$$, iffiness ✓/✓✓✓

The point is that since none of these are essential, you only bring them in if they (a) work and (b) lower overall costs. Pace Bill Gates, we do not need miracle breakthroughs. A fully renewable electricity supply is doable and affordable.

That leaves the other to0-thirds of our energy use. Let me blind you with science with this gorgeous Sankey chart of the American energy system (slide 9, source). We’ve just fixed electricity, so that leaves transport – mainly cars and trucks, buildings (heating with gas), industry, where emissions are dominated by steel and cement, and agriculture. There are a lot of detailed issues here, so I’ll just take the big-ticket items.

Buildings are straightforward: just better insulation and electric heat pumps, as in modern air-conditioners.

For cars and trucks, there are enough electric versions on the roads to be sure that going all-electric is or shortly will be technically feasible. There are 3 million electric vehicles on the roads in the world today, growing by a million a year. Tesla sell electric cars with 350-km ranges, BYD electric buses with 250-km ones (slide 10). Renault, Volkswagen and Mercedes sell electric vans for urban deliveries. 25-tonne medium trucks for regional distribution are being trialled by Mercedes. The gap is in long-distance heavy trucks, but all that needs is cheaper batteries.

Shipping and aviation lag behind. Norway is switching its many short ferries to battery propulsion, and starting on coastal transport. There is no shovel-ready solution for ocean shipping. Aviation is somewhat better, because leading players like Airbus, Boeing and Siemens are already building trial electric planes. Mass deployment and intercontinental flight needs much denser batteries, but the industry will be ready when they arrive. Plan B is to run current jet engines on bio-ethanol, which will definitely work, though it could take a lot of land away from food production.

In industry, most heating processes can be electrified straightforwardly. 25% of steel is already made with electricity in arc furnaces fed with scrap. The emissions problem is with fresh metal made from iron ore, mainly in coke-fed blast furnaces. However, 11 million tonnes of iron are already made each year (especially in India) by direct reduction with natural gas. The EU is funding two projects, led by established steelmakers, to replace natural gas with catalysed hydrogen. This will very probably work, and the question is cost.

The same pattern holds with cement. Half of the emissions here come from the fuel for heat, which can be switched to electricity. The other half comes from the chemistry of calcining limestone. Zero-carbon cement requires new chemistries, which exist, at a price. The other way of cutting emissions from cement is to switch to timber construction. This is made easier with engineered wood components glued together in factories to any size you want.

It is therefore certain that we can technically get close to a 100% renewable energy system. The last few percent may be difficult and will probably be expensive.

I don’t think we should be too worried by this niggle. The reason is that net zero carbon won’t be enough. We will need to go into negative territory in the second half of this century, sequestering gigatonnes of excess carbon from the atmosphere. The one technology that definitely works for this is reafforestation, and it won’t be enough. There are a fair number of candidates on paper, but few trials at serious scale: BECCS (carbon capture and burial from biomass reactors), mineral carbonation of olivine rock in windrows or chemical burial in deep basalt beds, spreading basalt or biochar on farmland, dumping land plant biomass or seaweed on the ocean floor. This is the area where we really need the miracle breakthroughs. If we can develop both the technology and the political will to do this, compensating for a few surviving carbon emitting activities won’t be a big issue.

IV The good news on costs

There is still a widespread perception that wind and solar energy are expensive and only kept afloat by subsidies. The truth is the opposite: they are today almost always the cheapest way to generate electricity. Here are the cost data, without subsidies, for the USA, compiled by investment bankers Lazards. (slide 11). LCOE means “levelised cost of electricity”, including capital and running costs.

Specific numbers vary by country but these are worldwide trends. Pretty much everywhere, wind and solar are cheaper than coal and gas; in some places, like Mexico for solar and wind, and the US West for wind, half the price. Of course you need backup. Grid integration costs vary widely, but most seem to come out at a markup of under a third. Remember that Blakers’ 50% markup for Australia was for 100% renewables, not integration into a current grid with a range of existing despatchable resources. Solar and wind beat out coal and gas in Brazil and India. In Colorado for instance, new wind plus backup works out cheaper than running existing, fully paid-off coal plants. Renewables are beginning to cut into gas generation, eg in California. Even the Gulf states are finding that solar pays.

Why is this happening? There is steady technical progress, but it’s not dramatic. A typical solar panel ten years ago was 15% efficient; now it is often 20%. The size of wind turbines on land has crept up, from say 1.5 MW to 3 MW; much more at sea, to 10 MW. The price drop is down to our Victorian friend economies of scale. It’s mass production using increasingly specialised labour and machinery. The respective trade circles are very confident that progress will continue and costs will continue to slide down their learning curves. No similar trends are visible for fossil fuels, with mature technologies, so the advantage of renewables can only grow.

For electric vehicles, the determinant of cost is the batteries. The other components of the drivetrain – electric motors, power electronics, a battery cooling system – are more or less fixed, but they are generally much simpler than their ICE equivalents. it’s simplified. The good news is that battery costs have been falling rapidly (slide 12), and power density improving more slowly. Cost parity is firmly expected by the industry, they just disagree on the timing. Sticking my neck out, we should get sticker price parity before 2025. Since running costs and regulatory burdens are much lower, and performance better, at that point the ICE should die rapidly in land transport. We may also get a nice shock if any of the multiple lines of research on better batteries pans out.

Estimates of the net cost of the energy transition follow these trends. Annual investment in energy is $1.8 trillion, so it’s easy to generate scare headlines with apparently impossible numbers. The question is where it should go. The 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC in 2014, page 15) came up with a net impact of a full transition on GDP growth of -0.06% a year; next to nothing and within the margin of error. Basically they said it will cost the same. They overestimated the cost of renewables, and it’s a safe bet that the next assessment will show a large net saving in cash terms, ignoring the externalities.

These aren’t very good-quality estimates, but the general conclusion is clear: the energy transition will not be a significant economic burden. If you are inclined to quibble, here is where I remind you that air pollution from burning coal and oil imposes huge health costs. The OECD guesstimated these in 2015 as at least $4.5 trillion a year (they left out Indonesia and Brazil). A full energy transition eliminates these health costs in time, since solar, wind and hydro impose none.

The energy transition is then a colossal free lunchoverall. (Veronese, Marriage at Cana) The problem is that like any really big economic change, it creates losers as well as winners: anybody working in or drawing profits from fossil fuels. Sturdy, soot-stained miners appeal to our sympathy, and behind them are less sympathetic coal barons and owners of coal generating plants, gas pipelines and oilfields. Fossil money has been behind the brilliantly successful campaign to sow doubt and confusion over the facts of climate change, and to hide those of the renewable alternative.

VI More good news on clean deployments

These improvements in technology and costs have led to he extraordinary growth in wind, solar, and electric vehicles over the last decade. You can argue how much was due to policy support, but it makes little difference. This is what a revolution looks like.

Wind, from GWEC (slide 13)

In 2008 installed wind capacity was 16 GW, in 2017 529 GW. Annual compound growth rate for the decade 17.8%, doubling every 4 years.

Solar, from the EPIA (slide 14):

In 2007 installed PV capacity was 15.8 GW, in 2017 404 GW. Annual compound growth rate over the decade 43%. doubling every 2 years.

Electric cars and light commercial vehicles (slide 15, source):

In 2012 the electric vehicle stock was 190,000, in 2017 it was 3.3 million. Annual compound growth rate over 5 years 77%, doubling every 14 months.

This is excellent news for the climate. For if these three growth rates hold up, emissions from electricity generation and land transport, the two biggest sources of CO2, must soon fall, and quite sharply. Oh, the Eeyores say, these growth rates must slow down. Why should they? These early growth rates were achieved at higher prices than we have today at tomorrow. Wind and solar subsidies have largely gone, and recent growth there is driven by market forces. These will only get stronger.

VI Slouching towards Bethlehem: global policy

The science was pretty clear by the end of the 1980s. One iconic moment was the testimony of the climate scientist James Hansen to the US Congress in 1988, but other governments wee being told he same story bu their science advisers and scientific academies. Initially, they responded quite well. At a big feelgood conference in Rio in 1992 they adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This consisted of one very general commitment (slide 16):

UNFCC (Rio Treaty 1992)


The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Crucially, they set up a bureaucracy to follow it up and prepare more concrete treaties.

Then it all went wrong. The first attempt at getting specific was the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which did set some targets for reductions. Economists talked the diplomats into basing this on an ingenious cap-and-trade system for emissions, which was subsequently gamed to death by investment bankers and consultants. Worse, it applied only to rich countries, leaving out China, India and other developing countries, on the theory that it wast now their turn to trash the playground. They naturally proceeded to do just that. Finally, the reduction targets were anaemic. This reflected the fact that the then available technologies were all expensive, and nobody was ready to commit to a phaseout of fossil fuels. The Protocol filed to overcome the free rider problem: If I spend a lot of money on cutting emissions, most of the benefits will accrue to other countries, who don’t have votes for me.

I’ll skip the wearisome two decades more of doing nothing, which allowed the fossil fuel interests to organize the agitprop campaign of climate denialism, and capture conservative parties in the USA Australia, and very nearly in the UK. But they did not win. At last, in Paris in 2015, the international community, buoyed by thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the streets and NGO lobbyists, adopted the extraordinary Paris Agreement (pdf).

This is the most important international agreement of my lifetime, and I include the founding of the EU and NATO. It is a very remarkable document in style, and broke radically from the technocratic, top-down approach of the failed Kyoto protocol. It’s a Zen treaty of stones and raked gravel, with hardly anything in it. There are few binding commitments (slide 17).

Paris Agreement obligations

Max temperature increase from pre-industrial

(Article 2)

- holding to “well below” 2 degrees C

- “pursuing efforts” to limit to 1.5 degrees C

Net zero emissions “in the second half of this century”

(Article 4.1)

Submission of public national climate and emission plans,

for peer review (Article 4)

Increasing ambition over time collectively and individually

(Articles 3, 4)

Finance for developing countries (Article 9)

Crucially, there are no constraints on the content of the national plans, other than the ratchet for increasing ambition over time. This was so confusing to Donald Trump, locked in a concept of zero-sum real estate bargaining, that he just resorted to lying about the unfair burden on the United States.

How is this Zen approach – ama et fac quod vis, said St. Augustine – supposed to work, in a world of competing and sinful states led by politicians generally even more sinful than their citizens?

There are good reasons:

One: States do not like losing face. Reputation is part of soft power. Donald Trump has damaged the credibility of the United States severely by his announced withdrawal from Paris. The states that signed on have submitted their first national plans, some more serious than others.

Two: Taking action is almost always in the national interest of each country regardless of what the others do. We saw that the fall in the price of renewables had already made the energy transition roughly a wash economically by 2015, and the health benefits are national not dispersed.

Three: The Paris prime movers hoped that the agreement would provide a benchmark and legitimation for a host of other actors to take political and personal action: federal states and regions, cities, businesses, NGOs, and ordinary people like us. This was a radical innovation in diplomacy. The vast and detailed UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 has helped a few anti-whaling organizations, but has no wider political impact. I think it’s working. There are a host of examples. I’ll just pick out three.

You could argue that these events would have happened anyway, and were part of an inexorable historical trend. This uncertainty is inherent in the Zen approach. I just don’t believe it. The sentiments of investors, the ambitions of mayors and Jerry Brown, the calculations of Vietnamese party leaders, the political debate in Germany and Spain, and campaigns by Greenpeace are all linked: and one of the links between them is the global paper commitment to an urgent energy transition, a commitment they are translating piecemeal into action. It may just be political music, but music can be powerful.

VI What about us?

This brings me to the practical question of our own responsibility. It strikes me as compelling that we should all do our bit to help move the transition along. Standard ethical systems, whether based on utility, the Golden Rule, a religious concept of stewardship, or simply wanting our own grandchildren to enjoy a habitable world, all call on us to act. If it’s affordable for society as a whole,it probably is for us as individuals.

Remember the structure of the problem. Carbon pollution results from the behaviour of billions of individuals, millions of organisations, and hundreds of political authorities. The solution must logically have the same multi-level structure. We are involved both as citizens and social beings, and privately as consumers and householders.

Most of us are not full citizens of Spain, which is not a denialist country anyway. But it is rather passive and unambitious by the best European standards. I admit I have few constructive ideas here. Our best bet is perhaps to be a nuisance. As old fogies, we can be bores, keeping on raising the subject and not letting denialists hog the mike. We can vote in local elections, and therefore have a lever to press local politicians on their plans for water management and carbon reductions in public services and buildings. This holds especially for transport. What are they doing about electric buses and electric vehicle chargers?

I have more to say on our responsibility as consumers. The first step is to get a handle on our rough carbon footprint. Different calculators will give different results, which is pity but using any one will allow a much better measure of changes you make. I urge you to concentrate on the big items. Change the light bulbs, sure, but don’t agonize over it.

I had a go a few years back at the carbon budget of my own 2-person household. This came out at about 4.2 tonnes a year, twice the Spanish average. (I use carbon rather than CO2. One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide.) The breakdown was this (slide:

Wimberley carbon footprint 2014, 2 adults

1. Embedded in purchases, taxes, etc (guesstimate): 1.4 tonnes

2. Electricity (6,560 kw/h, 30% no-carbon in Spain): 0.52 tonnes

3. Car (10,000 km x 7.5 litres/100km): 0.17 tonnes

4. Flights (8 short-haul and 4 long-haul flights): 2.1 tonnes

Gas is trivial (hob only) and we have a solar water heater.

Total 4.2 tonnes carbon. Spanish average 5.1 tonnes.

Line 1: There is hardly anything you or I can do about this. If any of the supermarket chains made a real green effort, we should reward it with our custom, and tell them so. Avoid rush delivery by Amazon Prime and group online purchases. I suggest that as this is outside our control we should ignore it, and set out personal goals for the remaining items. Assuming that total emissions must drop by 50% by 2030, That leaves me with a yatget of cutting 1.4 tonnes in 12 years.

Line 2: True retail competition between suppliers would allow the choice of a renewable source as in the UK, but Spain has a rigged version. What we can do is look at solar panels. Spain is very sunny and solar PV should be booming, but it was deliberately strangled by the PP governments. Sanchez’ energy minister Teresa Ribera is a knowledgeable climate hawk and has reversed the policy. There are no subsidies but at least the playing field is now level. At current German or British prices, if we can get them, this should be enough. The kilowatt-hours of solar power you consume at the time replace those you buy from Endesa, and are worth what you pay them, about 16 marginal cents each. The surplus will be exported to the grid and Endesa will have to pay you the wholesale rate, about 5 cents. Self-consumption at the higher value can be increased with batteries, but these don’t make financial sense just yet.

Line 3: We could all drive less, I suppose. Bikes and electric bikes are healthy and quite cheap. My problem is that I fall off wile thinking of something else. At all events, we are sure to keep our cars. The one available solution here is electric cars. These are now technically satisfactory, with battery ranges of 200-400 km, though the selection is limited. If longer range is crucial, you can stil get a plug-in hybrid with an internal combustion engine (ICE) “range extender” as well as a battery. This is a transitional technology with a short life expectancy. Ride is better from the lack of noise; acceleration much better from the instant torque of electric motors; maintenance costs much lower from simplicity. Highway fast chargers are still scarce in Spain, but Ribera has a plan. Remember than most batter y charging will be done in your garage or carport at night.

The snag is that EVs still cost twice as much as ICEVs. This will change with the rapid fall in battery prices, but we aren’t there yet. Plausible pundits think that sticker prices will converge in fiv years. To be practical: if you are rich, buy a Tesla now. If you aren’t, resolve that your next new car will be electric.

Line 4: Flying. The options for cutting this are (a) flying less and (b) offsetting with tree planting. (Electric planes are a long way off.) We may be forced into the former, but for now let’s see what can be done with offsets. Green purists despise them as cheating, but that’s wrong. There are real problems with cheating and verification. The offsets under the Kyoto Protocol were a flop, with much of the money siphoned off by consultants and bankers generating and vetting the monstrous paperwork. The end users capable of overcoming the red tape were large companies who were probably going to make the investment anyway, or simple crooks. My suggestion here is to give the money directly to an NGO doing tree-planting somewhere. This may fail, but for local reasons not systematic parasitism.

Lu and I have the unusual possibility of funding tree-planting in her home town in Brazil. Here’s an ipê tree of the kind I planted myself (slide 19): it should sequester over a tonne of carbon in 40 years, it’s very ornamental, and makes good timber. We supported a project by an activist friend, Tadeu Vargas, to replant a hillside patch of waste land. All went well till a hostile neighbour let his cows loose to wreck the plantation. That sort of thing is bound to happen. You need to plant a lot more than one tree to offset a tonne of flying.

Carbon neutrality will be an n-step programme. I suggest only the first five:

1. Go solar.
2. Make your next car electric.
3. Offset your flights.
4. Make a fuss.
5. Accept there will be more steps.

Let me anticipate the defeatist objection: we are all getting on. Yes, we have collectively screwed up, but it’s too late for us to make amends. We just have to leave the cleanup to our children and grandchildren. No, actually. It’s never too late. As an antidote, here is a hero of mine, Texan professor John Goodenough (slide 20). He co-invented the crucial lithium-ion batter in 1980 – and at 96 is still hard at work on making it better.

Page 3 Swedish hottie makes up for nixed Nobel Prize

96-year-old scientist saves world, again

Professor John Goodenough invented the lithium-ion battery in 1980. He’s still working and has just announced an even better battery