Category Archives: Environment

The Energy of Nations

Jeremy Leggett has three threads in this book [ISBN 978-0-415-85782-2]: Peak oil, global warming and unregulated capitalism.
The text swaps from giving an overview of the development of understanding of of the three threads (that will be familiar to anyone who is concerned about climate change and our casino economics) and records of meetings he has attended with government and business leaders where climate change has been marginalized and the issue of peak oil denied.

Jeremy is geologist turned solar entrepreneur, and is a big proponent of solar power. Although I agree that we should invest in solar power and passive insulation & cooling, I am a proponent of nuclear power that he is against. Although solar photovoltaic panels seem benign (though see Solar projects placed along ‘Pacific Flyway’ major migration paths are burning wings of birds) storage may have big environmental problems.

Jeremy’s view is that there will be an oil crash that will then focus thought onto renewable energy technologies. That means a lot of suffering first.


The comments on meetings are his recollection and were not transcribed from recordings, but do follow the pattern of those we experience ourselves or read about from other commentators.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

page 114. “As we file out of Number Ten, it strikes me that watching Cameron and Osborne in action has been like reviewing a certain kind of undergraduate project. I saw many of these in my days as an academic. Bright and enthusiastic students, usually from public schools, who are good at talking, but who haven’t really done much preparation work at all.” [Meeting in November 2010]

page 213. ” … a study by a team from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley demonstrates that wind, water and solar technologies could provide 100% of the world’s energy as soon as 2030. This could be done, crucially, without mobilising any one technology any faster than technologies have already been mobilised historically”

page 214. “What is the cost of re-engineering the global energy system to low- or zero-carbon?  The first point to make is that the cost is going to be viewed through different lenses after the oil crash.  … As for energy efficiency, and its ability to force-amplify renewables and renewable fuels, the guru of that discipline Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute team were arguing compellingly that it was cheaper to save a barrel of oil than to produce it as long ago as 2004 ”

It’s sad that we can’t get on with it now. We could start immediately with building regulations for passive housing and training builders and installers, which would give worthwhile jobs for people throughout the country and the payback would start immediately in terms of lower costs, more comfort and diminishing reliance of imports for energy (not forgetting a skilled and happier workforce).


If only

I am trying to get started on some techie problem I want to solve and finding it difficult to start. The result is the blog notes. Recycled Island gave me such hope, yet somehow it does not seem feasible and maybe misdirected. The plan is to collect plastic waste in the Pacific Gyre to build an island of about 10000 square kilometres. The only attempt at explanation of how does not mention how the waste will be collected from up to 15,000,000 square kilometres of plastic polluted ocean. How long will it take? How much energy will be needed for the work? Would the island be tethered or would the gyre keep it in place? What about those super storms and waves that happen from time to time? Surely the effort should first be into stopping plastics getting into the ocean.

I don’t know the estimates of proportions but I think a lot of the plastic waste is already in microscopic particles throughout a considerable depth of water that will be impossible to collect. If one is going to collect stuff from over 15,000,000 km2 it does not seem much more effort to take it for land treatment; maybe we could use huge wind-powered robot-guided barges that have most of their bulk under water to minimize storm damage that could even filter the water of plastic particles that are bigger than plankton in size.