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Carbon Nation: a climate change solutions movie January 3, 2011

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Climate change, Environment, Film screening, Global warming, renewable energy, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Carbon Nation, a documentary about climate change solutions, will premier in Cape Town at the Labia on Orange cinema on Saturday 15 January at 6:15pm, on Sunday 16 January at 6:15pm and on Monday 17 January at 8:30pm.

Carbon Nation is a brand-new, feature-length documentary about climate change solutions. Even if you doubt the severity of the impact of climate change or just don’t buy it at all, this is a compelling and relevant film that illustrates how solutions to climate change also address other social, economic and security issues.

We already have the technology to combat most of the worst-case scenarios of climate change and Carbon Nation takes us on an optimistic journey of discovery that reveals what people are already doing, what we could be doing and what the world needs to do to prevent (or slow down) the impending climate crisis.

We meet a host of entertaining and endearing characters along the way, including entrepreneurs, visionaries, scientists, business people and more, all making a difference and working towards solving climate change. Carbon Nation is an inspiring film that celebrates solutions, inspiration and action.

The screenings will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion and Q&A session with Peter Byck, the film’s director.

Tickets are R20 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. We strongly recommended that you reserve tickets to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social, political and environmental messages to South African audiences.


The Labia:
021 424 5927

Official film website:

While You Were Sleeping:
Andreas Späth
084 749 9470

The Zambezi be dammed! December 6, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, renewable energy, South Africa, Southern Africa.
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The Zambezi be dammed!

(This column was first published on 2010-11-03 at News24 here)

Eskom makes all of us energy colonialists. By buying electricity from a new hydroelectric dam in Mozambique it will continue to contribute to social and environmental degradation in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In August, the government of Mozambique officially approved the construction of the Mphanda Nkuwa Dam which is to be built in the Zambezi River about 60km downstream from the existing Cahora Bassa Dam. The project is expected to cost between $2bn and $3.5bn and deliver 1 500MW of electricity with the potential of being expanded to 2 400MW.

Construction, led by a consortium of Mozambican and Brazilian interests, is slated to start in 2011 and take five to six years to complete. As early as January the Mozambican newspaper Notícias reported that negotiations of long-term power purchase agreements with Eskom were expected to be concluded this year.

“So what’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Isn’t this sort of thing going to help Mozambique develop?”

Indeed, proponents of the new dam claim that it will attract energy-intensive industries to the country, but in reality, Eskom and power hungry South Africa are expected to consume some 90% of the electricity generated.

Devastating impacts

Only about 5% of Mozambicans currently have access to electricity and half of those live in Maputo. The impoverished rural majority, much in need of electricity, will not see any of the power produced by the new dam.

Contrary to popular belief, large hydroelectric dams frequently have devastating social and environmental impacts on rivers and the people and ecosystems that depend on them. In the case of Mphanda Nkuwa, more than 1 400 people are expected to be displaced by the dam and its associated infrastructure and social and environmental justice activists estimate that it threatens to compromise the livelihood of 100 000 to 200 000 subsistence farmers and fishers living downstream.

In order to cater for periods of peak electricity demand in South Africa, the turbines in the dam will be required to operate intermittently, resulting in mini-floods twice a day and fluctuations in river level of 0.5 to 2.8 metres the effects of which will be felt hundreds of kilometres downstream.

Rising flood waters will erode some of the most productive farmlands and riverbank gardens on which locals depend for their food security. The mini-floods will also threaten downstream sandbanks and other important habitats for various bird, invertebrate and fish species.

The electricity generated by large hydroelectric dams isn’t even carbon neutral. Accumulating rotting organic matter which would normally be flushed downriver continuously causes the emission of significant quantities of greenhouse gasses.

Neither is it renewable since the reservoirs tend to gradually fill up with sediment, depriving the river and its floodplains of nutrients while steadily reducing the dam’s capacity. What’s more, scientists predict that lower precipitation due to climate change will lead to reduced flow rates of the Zambezi, threatening the long-term viability of the project.

Old news

All of this is old news. The UN has described the 2075MW Cahora Bassa Dam, built in 1974, as one of the most destructive major projects in Africa. Running at a financial loss, Cahora Bassa has caused reduced fertility and massive erosion downstream, led to the drying up of the Zambezi Delta, one of the continent’s most important wetlands, and contributed to a 60% decline in the important local prawn industry between 1978 and 1995.

Efforts to restore the disrupted ecosystems of the lower Zambezi by changing the water release patterns from Cahora Bassa to mimic natural river flows more closely will be made difficult by the construction of Mphanda Nkuwa. Yet the Mozambican government approved the dam before the environmental impact assessment has even been completed, stating that it would have no identifiable impact of the Zambezi Delta or local fisheries.

So what’s to be done? A national campaign to stop Eskom from buying hydroelectric power from Mphanda Nkuwa would be a good start. Without that, the project is dead in the water, financially speaking. Anabela Lemos, the director of the Maputo-based NGO Justicia Ambiental sums up the real distribution of benefits with candour: “Clean, decentralized energy for all should be the top priority, not damming the Zambezi to support energy-hogging industry and cities in South Africa.”

Nukes will dwarf the arms deal December 3, 2010

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Column, Environment, Nuclear Power, Politics, renewable energy, South Africa.
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Nukes will dwarf the arms deal

(This column was first published on 2010-10-27 at News24 here)

If government gets its way and goes ahead with building six new nuclear power plants (NPPs), the potential for graft and corruption will make the arms deal fiasco look like a silly squabble over small change. Tenderpreneurs and kleptocrats throughout the land must be licking their lips at the prospect of having their palms, wallets and bank accounts royally greased.

There are many good reasons why nuclear energy is not a good option for South Africa or anywhere else: the health risk associated with NPPs, the waste which remains lethally radioactive for thousands of years and for which nobody has found an acceptable storage solution, the threat of terrorist attack and nuclear weapons proliferation, the fact that uranium fuel is neither inexhaustible nor carbon-neutral, and more. But for those of you who aren’t convinced by these bunny-hugging and touchy-feely sentiments, the clincher should be the fact that nuclear power simply makes no economic sense.

Independent studies show that nuclear energy has never been able to compete with fossil fuels and increasingly can’t compete with renewable energy technologies on a purely financial basis. Not in the First World and certainly not in a developing country like ours where elite powerbrokers have consistently found it impossible to keep their greedy hands out of the coffers of mega-budget projects

The nuclear industry cannot survive without the financial support of the state anywhere in the world. Of the $151bn in government subsidies for the US electricity industry between 1943 and 1999, more than 96% went towards nuclear power. Since the early 1980s the US government has sunk over $90bn into developing a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada without success. In the UK it is estimated that decommissioning of the previous generation of British nuclear plants and their accumulated waste will cost £72bn or more in taxpayers’ money. In February, having spent more than R8bn with absolutely nothing to show for it, our own government finally decided to cut financial support for the ill-fated Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project.

Since the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance in the early 2000s, projected costs for new NPPs have increased two- to four-fold. Their construction is notorious for being over budget and delayed. By the end of last year, the Finish NPP being built on Olkiluoto Island by French state-owned multinational AREVA – a main contender for the South African nuclear bid – was more than three years behind schedule and at least 75% over budget. The only other NPP under construction in Western Europe at Flamanville in France is at least 20% over budget and two years behind schedule.

In an independent analysis of the South African situation, Rod Gurzynski has recently estimated that the total cost of a 1600MW NPP would come to around R100bn “all-in”. Among a number of criticisms, he points out that the consultants’ report on the cost of nuclear energy which was commissioned by the Department of Energy for the government’s 20-year Integrated Resource Plan does not seem to consider decommissioning costs or long-term high-level waste management and storage costs and therefore paints an entirely unrealistic economic picture.

Last month, researchers from Duke University in the USA showed that in North Carolina, which is nowhere near as sunny as South Africa, it is now cheaper to generate electricity using photovoltaic solar panels – possibly the most expensive of all renewable energy options – than by building new NPPs. So why are we still wasting time and money on even considering nuclear power as an option for South Africa?

In 1994, Trevor Manuel, then heading the ANC’s economic desk, said: “we shall not tolerate circumstances in which policy on issues as critical as a nuclear programme be confined to experts in dark, smoke-filled rooms.” In reality, however, that’s exactly how decisions are being made. A small but powerful lobby of special interest groups, including the nuclear industry itself, has the ear of the powers that be and we’ll have to shout a lot louder or we’ll all be burdened with an entire herd of radioactive white elephants soon.

Whose electricity is it anyway? November 17, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, Global warming, Nuclear Power, Politics, rant, renewable energy, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Whose electricity is it anyway?

(This column was first published on 2010-09-22 at News24 here)

At this very moment, wide-ranging decisions about South Africa’s energy future are being made. Decisions that will have major impacts on the environment and on the ecological legacy we’ll leave to future generations. But who is making these decisions?

Government is working on an “Integrated Energy Plan”, a “Climate Change Response Policy”, the second “Integrated Resource Plan” (IRP2) and the establishment of an “Independent Systems Market Operator”. If you’ve heard about any of these, let alone understand what they involve, you belong to a privileged minority.

Take the IRP2, also known as the IRP2010, for example. This plan will establish the framework for major policy and investment choices that need to be made to ensure South Africa’s electricity supply for the next 20 years – how many and what kinds of new power plants are to built and so on. Not a trifling matter and one in which we should all have a say. Indeed, according to the Minister of Energy, Dipuo Peters “the Department [of Energy] is committed to stakeholder engagement and public participation with regard to the IRP2010 […] Public participation is crucial if we were to develop a plan that will stand up to scrutiny […] so that whatever emerges from it will represent the widest spread of views across both government and civil society.”

In reality, of course, the process has been about as consultative as the Spanish Inquisition.

Official documents and procedures are steeped in impenetrably technical and bureaucratic jargon and government has done precious little to inform ordinary people about the issues involved or the fact that they have the right to participate in the debate. Even dedicated NGOs have found it prohibitively difficult to properly engage with and respond to government’s proposals in the very limited time granted them. And when they do formally submit contributions – some 300 civil society comments have been submitted for the IRP2 – only a tiny minority is actually taken into consideration while the majority is simply ignored. Official attempts to co-opt a few hand-picked NGOs amount to little more than trying to legitimise what remains a deeply undemocratic process.

If you’re tempted to think that at least the so-called representatives of South African voters have more of a say in what will go into the IRP2 than civil society at large, you’re sadly mistaken. Parliament has only had a single meeting about the IRP2 and with the exception of a few notable rebel voices, the people’s paid deputies have remained shtum on the issue. Yet we are told that a draft plan is already in circulation within the Department of Energy.

So who is calling the shots? Would you call me a conspiracy theorist if I told you that our country’s energy future is being substantially determined by what is overwhelmingly a small group of powerful men representing the very same interests that have landed us in the mess we’re in today and made us one of the most carbon-intensive countries on the planet? The crucially important technical advisory panel for the IRP2 consists almost exclusively of Eskom technocrats, state apparatchiks and representatives of South Africa’s most wealthy, energy- and carbon-intensive industries with virtually no delegates from civil society or labour to speak of.

And they call this democracy. Looks more like oligarchy – rule by an elite – to me.

So here’s a challenge to Minister Peters: It’s not only your moral and ethical duty to comprehensively inform and consult the general public about the IRP2 process and enable them to participate in it actively, but also a precisely defined legal obligation. There is absolutely no reason why, given good information and the opportunity to engage in robust debate, ordinary citizens should not be capable of collectively making sound decisions about their own energy future.

And the rest of us? Let’s become active citizens and citizen activists. Let’s support and join the organisations that are trying to give voice to public concerns in the energy debate. If we don’t, we’ll simply get railroaded into more of the same old non-solutions: laughably insignificant commitments to renewable energy, more CO2-spewing coal power stations and more dirty nuclear energy.

A fantasy of falling towers September 1, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Column, Environment, rant, renewable energy, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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A fantasy of falling towers

(This column was first published on 2010-08-25 at News24 here)

“I remember the moment the Athlone cooling towers fell as though it happened a few days ago. The annoyingly premature detonation. The structures collapsing in on themselves. The dull thud and the puff of dust drifting across the Cape Flats.

I was nine years old at the time.

It was a winter Sunday made for a monkey’s wedding and my dad had taken us boys to Rhodes Memorial where a large crowd had gathered to witness the spectacle. Little did any of us know how dramatically this event would change South Africa, symbolically signalling the end of the age of coal.

Watching those towers collapse all those years ago made me who I am today. I’m Benjamin Späth, environmental demolition engineer, and for the past three decades I’ve made a living by blowing up coal-fired power stations.

Of course the demise of King Coal didn’t just happen overnight. The government and politicians of the day were too invested – philosophically and financially – in a carbon-intensive energy future. Since the industrialised countries had gone this route, wasn’t it our right to do the same? Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan summed up the attitude in a Washington Post op-ed piece, saying that we had no choice but to rely on coal.

Eskom, already one of the world’s champion CO2 emitters, had plans to build new coal plants in ecologically sensitive areas and declared the need to open at least 40 new coal mines. Ever willing to fund dubious mega-projects, the World Bank granted Eskom a $3.75bn loan, most of it to fund the controversial Medupi power station which was going to add 25 million tons of CO2 to our national carbon footprint annually.

But we put a stop to all that. The impetus came from the communities living in the vicinity of power stations and coal mines, whose health, environment and livelihood where threatened by the degradation of their water supplies, mercury pollution and acid mine drainage. It came from activist-driven organisations like groundWork and Earthlife Africa and it came from young people who had had enough of seeing their world and their future being trashed.

There were some hotheads who threatened to start demolishing power stations immediately, but most of us knew that there was preparatory work to be done. We started organising at our universities and school and in our townships, suburbs and villages. We took to the streets demanding that government stop its climate-changing coal madness.

Communities came up with innovative energy descent strategies to wean themselves of coal and oil. Researchers started making breakthroughs in tapping and storing South Africa’s tens of thousands of megawatts of potential wind energy and hundreds of thousands of megawatts of solar power. Soon we forced government to halt the construction and de-mothballing of coal power stations. Faltering parastatals like Armscor and Eskom were reinvented to drive the establishment of a local renewable energy research, manufacturing and service industry.

I joined the First Environmental Demolition Brigade straight out of school. Mpumalanga’s Kriel and Hendrina power stations were the first to go, on the back of a massive, nationwide energy efficiency drive. The cancellation of sweetheart deals, which had provided the world’s cheapest electricity to some of its richest multinational corporations for years, allowed us to flatten more. Some we left standing as reminders of history’s folly – like the Matimba Towers in Limpopo, now a world-famous climbing and bungee-jumping destination.

Huge numbers of coal miners were re-trained to kick-start the new green economy, building community-run micro renewable power stations and installing tens of thousands of affordable solar water heaters. Thousands of 2MW wind turbines were erected along the Cape coast in short thrift and the first of several massive off-shore wind farms opened in 2018. In 2021 Upington became the global capital of concentrated solar power. Coal shipments have long been replaced with exports of green electricity and quality South African thin-film photovoltaic panels.

Through all of this we continued to demolish dirty old coal power plants until the very last one tumbled this weekend, on the 22nd of August 2050. I remember standing at Rhodes Memorial on the same day in 2010, asking my dad what was on his mind. ‘Nothing much, Ben,’ he replied. ‘Just a silly daydream.’”

Our Cup carbon bootprint August 17, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Climate change, Environment, Global warming, rant, renewable energy, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Our Cup carbon bootprint

(This column was first published on 2010-07-14 at News24 here)

It was fun, it was loud, it was colourful and it was a huge success. But especially green it was not. In fact, by several measures, the FIFA World Cup 2010 was possibly the least eco-friendly major international sporting event ever.

Before we let the euphoria of all the excess gees generated by a job brilliantly done hurtle us towards hosting other global mega shows – the Olympics, in particular – we’d do well to honestly assess some of the environmental shortcomings of the World Cup, along with other concerns around the (mis)allocation of scarce resources, white elephant stadiums and the behaviour of bully-boy organisers like FIFA.

An authoritative study sponsored by the Norwegian government estimates that the WC2010 was responsible for producing excess greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 2.7 million tones of CO2. That may be less than a percent of our national annual emissions, but it makes for a carbon footprint twice the size of that of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and more than eight times that of the WC2006 in Germany.

The event showed up our dirty, coal-fired electricity generation industry (12.4% of emissions came from energy use in accommodation), our carbon-intensive transport infrastructure within cities and between the far-flung stadiums (19%) and, most dramatically, the fact that we are located a great distance from most of the planet’s affluent football fans (a whopping 67.4% of emissions were due to international travel).

Yes, there was talk of “green goals”, but most of these appeared to be more ad hoc afterthoughts rather than binding and substantive commitments. Planting trees, even many thousands of them, is nice, but it’s also a notoriously ineffective method for sopping up CO2. The fact that African teams wore jerseys promoting biodiversity and that those of Brazil, Portugal and the Netherlands were partially made out of recycled plastic bottles amounts to little more than greenwashed corporate PR. Our stadiums, though stunningly beautiful and wonderfully accommodating, appear to incorporate disappointingly little in the way of green design.

Golden opportunity missed

Does this mean that, from an environmental perspective, we shouldn’t host major international events again? Not at all. It just means that we missed a golden opportunity in 2010 and that there is much room for improvement in the future.

It’s been estimated that it would take in the order of R200m to offset the WC2010 carbon footprint. A big sum, sure, but not an impossible one in the context of a multi-billion rand event. Imagine if that sort of money had been invested directly in greening South Africa. In a massive energy efficiency campaign, for example. Or to kick-start a home-grown renewable energy manufacturing industry. The single wind turbine that provided some green electricity to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was a commendable initiative, but why wasn’t this sort of thing an integral part of the plan for every stadium right from the start. The environmental benefits would have been as lasting as the wonderful footballing memories.

Around the world, new and refurbished eco-friendly sports stadiums are now being built using sustainable and recycled materials, incorporating systems that optimise energy and water savings, capture, clean and reuse waste and rainwater and generate their own electricity with renewable energy technologies. The 2012 Olympic Stadium in London, for instance, will have a façade wrapped in low-impact hemp, while the large roof of the World Games Stadium in Taiwan is covered in solar panels that power the entire facility and supply surplus electricity to the city of Kaohsiung. A stadium that doubles as a gigantic rainwater storage device and renewable energy power station between the odd fantastic sporting event stands much less of a chance of becoming a money-draining white elephant than some of our brand new arenas.

How about the 2020 Olympics then? Bring it! If we make the environment as fundamental and central a priority on the agenda as running a spectacular show to wow the planet, it’ll be even better than the World Cup.

Some cancer with your nuke energy? August 13, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Environment, Nuclear Power, rant, renewable energy, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Some cancer with your nuke energy?

(This column was first published on 2010-07-07 at News24 here)

Is it healthy to live near a nuclear power plant (NPP)? Is there an increased risk of contracting cancer, particularly for babies and young children in their formative years?

These are important, controversial and highly contested questions which have been the subject of intense public and scientific debate in Europe and North America for years.

Yet in South Africa, where Eskom and the government are intent on constructing several new NPPs in the next decade or two, they hardly ever get a mention. In the ongoing environmental impact assessment process for Eskom’s proposed Nuclear1 project, for instance, considerations of the impact on human health have been specifically excluded.

If you’re a regular reader of this column you’ll know that I don’t like nuclear power, but I’ve always considered health concerns to be among the least convincing arguments in the case against nukes. We are told, after all, that barring an accident, radioactive emissions from a NPP are so minimal – practically indistinguishable from the natural background – as to be inconsequential. Well, I’ve changed my mind.

Cancer clusters

In the late 1980s and early 1990s several studies reported a statistically raised incidence of childhood leukaemia, a cancer of the bone marrow or blood, within a ten mile radius of some English and Welsh atomic facilities.

Similar cancer clusters were also identified around some nuclear sites in the USA and France, but a number of contradictory studies from France, Israel, Great Britain, Finland, the USA, Spain and elsewhere could find no evidence for a correlation between the risk of contracting cancer and one’s proximity to a NPP.

The data is inconclusive, the experts said. Besides, there are many possible causes for cancer clusters as well as many cancer clusters which are located far from any NPPs.

Then, in the early 1990s a German medical doctor raised concern over the unusually large number of small children with leukaemia he was treating in his rural practice south east of Hamburg. All of the patients in question lived near the Krümmel NPP.

Several subsequent investigations confirmed his observations and established the existence of a cancer cluster around Krümmel.

In response to the considerable public outrage that followed, the German government commissioned what was designed to be a comprehensive and definitive scientific study to settle the dispute once and for all.

Known by its German acronym, the KiKK study investigated the prevalence of cancer among children below the age of 5 living near 16 of the country’s 20 commercial NPPs from 1980 to 2003. It goes without saying that similar studies have not been conducted in SA, nor are they on the cards.

Scary findings

The German results were releases in 2007 and 2008 and can be summarised as follows:

-Children living within 5km of an NPP are statistically more than twice as likely to develop leukaemia as others residing at a distance of more than 70km.

– The cancer risk increases with decreasing distance of a child’s home from a NPP.

– The data are not skewed by any “rogue” reactors and the results are verified even if data from any individual NPP are excluded from the analysis. The main findings have also been confirmed by subsequent independent evaluations.

So cancer clusters have been found around every German NPP investigated and it’s now officially accepted there that babies and small children – the sector of the population most vulnerable to ionising radiation – develop cancer and particularly leukaemia more frequently if they live near an NPP.

But here is the kicker.

Just because a pattern has been shown to exist doesn’t mean that NPPs are to blame. Since the results are “unexpected under current radiation-epidemiological knowledge” and NPPs supposedly emit too little radioactivity by a factor of 1 000 to 10 000 to cause cancer, “there is currently no plausible explanation for the observed effect”. Occam’s razor be damned!

Personally I don’t really care if small kids living near NPPs develop cancer because of leaking radioactivity or because of toxic fairy dust from evil pixies that just happen to like living in these places. I do have a solution to the conundrum though: let’s just stop building them.

BP as you’ve never seen them before March 17, 2008

Posted by Andreas in activism, Environment, renewable energy, Sustainable Living.
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You know I love The Yes Men. Here’s them giving BP a very subtle revamp (just click on the logo):


Now compare it to the real thing – brilliant!


Nuclear power pundit Patrick Moore in SA February 20, 2008

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Environment, Nuclear Power, renewable energy, South Africa.

You may have heard that Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace and reborn supporter of atomic energy, will be visiting South Africa in March. You may even have received an invitation looking something like this:



3 MARCH – 7th MARCH 2008.

At the invitation of the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (NIASA) in association with the Universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria, North-West, Western Cape and Stellenbosch as well as the MTN Science Centre in Cape Town, Dr. Patrick Moore, world-renowned ecologist, environmentalist and co-founder of Greenpeace, will tour South Africa during the week of 3-7 March 2008 to present a series of insightful public lectures on Global Warming and the Search for Sustainable, Clean Energy.”

Dr Moore, once an ardent opponent and activist against nuclear energy will discuss the impact of global warming and present his views on the challenges and the respective roles that nuclear power, renewable sources and energy efficiency can play in producing a cleaner electricity supply and ensuring a sustainable energy future.

Dr Moore now spends much of his time with his team from Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. advising industry, environmental and social agencies and governments around the world, about sustainable and environmentally safe, alternative energy supplies – refer to the attached biography.

The schedule of public meetings is as follows:

Monday 3 March: 18:00

Great Hall, University of Witwatersrand

Tuesday 4 March: 15:00

Sanlam Auditorium, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus

Wednesday 5 March: 14:00

Aula, University of Pretoria

Thursday 6 March: 17:00

Main Auditorium, University of the Western Cape, Belville

Thursday 6 March: 19:30

Auditorium, MTN Science Centre, Century City, Cape Town

Friday 7 March: 13:00

University of Stellenbosch, Jannasch Hall, Conservatoire of Music, Victoria street, Stellenbosch

The public meetings are free and open to the public.

That all looks very interesting, doesn’t it. Unfortunately it only tells part of Patrick Moore’s story. I’ve written about him (here and here) previously. Here are the relevant bits:

I recently came across two really good articles (here and here) about how the nuclear power industry in the United States is conducting a massive public relations campaign to make atomic energy palatable.

The industry spends millions of dollars on “media outreach”, lobbying federal officials and in helping to establish and fund pro-nuclear groups such as the Vermont Energy Partnership, the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, the Massachusetts Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance and the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition.

The Clean and Safe Energy Coalition employs Patrick Moore as one of its co-chairs. As a co-founder of Greenpeace (he left the organisation in 1986), Moore is frequently quoted in the press and by pro-nuclear pundits as an environmentalist who has come to his senses and now supports nuclear energy as a green solution to global warming. The fact that his salary is paid by the atomic energy industry is less commonly mentioned.

Having been in the doldrums for decades after the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the atomic energy industry in the USA, in a now rather familiar strategy, has been spending millions of dollars on political lobbying, establishing pro-nuclear organisations and “media outreach”. In 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute, representing the US atomic energy industry, launched the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which is co-chaired by Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace.

Moore, who left Greenpeace in 1986 to start a consulting firm that has worked for the logging, mining, biotech and nuclear industries, is frequently quoted in the media as an environmentalist and former Greenpeace activist who has come to the conclusion that atomic power is our only solution. The media also very commonly forget to mention that Moore now happens to be employed by the atomic power industry.

In a pro-nuclear article in this year’s January to June [2007] issue of the South African glossy magazine Greenprint, for example, Moore is quoted as a co-founder of Greenpeace, while his financial attachment to the industry he promotes is not mentioned.

So yes, Patrick Moore was indeed a founder member of Greenpeace, but let’s not forget how he’s been making his money since leaving that organisation.

More bad news for biofuels… February 8, 2008

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Environment, Global warming, renewable energy.

Two recent studies show that growing crops for biofuel production could actually lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s obvious that producing biodiesel and ethanol by conventional energy- and carbon-intensive agricultural methods, as opposed to sustainable organic ones, greatly reduces their mitigating effects:

Extra emissions are created from the production of fertiliser needed to grow corn, for example, leading some researchers to predict that the energy released by burning ethanol is only 25% greater than that used to grow and process the fuel.

The new studies, however, highlight a more fundamental problem:

Analyzing the lifecycle emissions from biofuels, the first study found that carbon released by converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands often far outweighs the carbon savings from biofuels. Conversion of peatland rainforests for oil palm plantations for example, incurs a “carbon debt” of 423 years in Indonesia and Malaysia, while the carbon emission from clearing Amazon rainforest for soybeans takes 319 years of renewable soy biodiesel before the land can begin to lower greenhouse gas levels and mitigate global warming.

According to Joe Fargione, one of the scientists participating in the studies, “These natural areas store a lot of carbon, so converting them to croplands results in tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.”

[T]he second study suggests that producing corn for fuel rather than food could have dramatic knock-on effects elsewhere. Corn is used to feed cattle and demand for meat is high, so switching land to biofuel production is likely to prompt farmers in Brazil and elsewhere to clear forests and other lands to create new cropland to grow the missing corn. When the carbon released by those clearances is taken into account, corn ethanol produces nearly twice as much carbon as petrol.

A sobering thought, considering the SA government’s plans for large-scale ethanol production from corn (maize).

According to Alex Farrell, another scientist involved in the studies,

biofuels could still prove useful in the fight against climate change, but using different approaches – such as focusing on crops for both food and fuel, or new technology for generating biofuels from food waste.

Algae anyone?!

Find out more here, here and here.