Friday, 25 September 2009

Ecological Debt Day

Today - 25th September 2009 - is World Ecological Debt Day. It's a moveable feast, which represents the day on which the World's consumption for the year begins to exceed its available resources. That's just one day later than in 2008, despite the effects of global recession. And almost two whole weeks earlier than in 2007, when it fell on October 6th.

Ecological Debt Day is a useful way of demonstrating our failure to achieve "one planet living". However, it doesn't take a account of the massive differences in consumption levels from country to country. According to the Third UK Interdependence Day Report, published today, it took only until 7pm on January 4th to consume the same amount of resources that Tanzania would use in the entire year. The UK entered ecological debt on 12th April 2009, meaning we would need more than 3 planets if the whole World consumed in the same manner as the UK.

In 1995, World Ecological Debt Day fell on November 25, so in just under 15 years we've brought Ecological Debt Day forward by two full months. If global financial meltdown only buys us a day, then what will it take to recover those two months?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Sustainability Dictionary

Found a useful resource today - The Sustainability Dictionary is a project of Presidio Graduate School. It's just a simple alphabetical glossary of terms relevant to sustainability, but for those of us tasked with communicating on sustainability issues, it's a handy reference.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Carbon Offsetting Flights - the true cost

In general, I'm cynical about carbon offsetting but I do offset flights. I try to avoid flying if possible, but when there's no alternative I use the airline's own offsetting service. It's a token gesture, I know, but it still feels better than nothing. However, I'm astonished by the variation in the offsetting fees for similar flights from different airlines.

Booking a return flight to Amsterdam with KLM recently, I was struck by the low cost of offsetting - just 97 Euro cents. To offset the same flight with BA costs £1.80. Both airlines claim to be supporting certified carbon offsetting projects. However, KLM states categorically that only the actual cost of offsetting is claimed from the customer and KLM receives none of the revenue. I couldn't find a similar claim on BA's site.

Taking this further, I used the flight offset calculators on the carbon offset sites certified by Defra and got figures ranging from £1.22 to £2.51. The variation in price was less worrying than the variation in carbon emissions. Carbon Passport considered the emissions would be 0.08 tonnes of CO2 costing £1.22. Pure reckoned the distance was 458 miles, emitting 0.15 tonnes of CO2 costing £2.51 (without Gift Aid - Pure is a charity) and Carbon Retirement makes it 0.13 tonnes costing £2.18.

As for how much CO2 my presence on the flight actually contributes, I looked for clarifiation from Defra. The latest conversion factor is 98.3g per passenger kilometre. That works out to 0.73 tonnes, to which BA adds 9% to account for indirect routing and delays - so Carbon Passport is closest at 0.8 tonnes. So what does all this prove? Well, it certainly doesn't make me feel any more positive about carbon offsetting, that's for sure.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Chocolate-powered car - made from carrots!

A team at Warwick University has developed a Formula 3 racing car made of sustainable materials and powered by biofuel made from chocolate. The team leader, Warwick researcher Dr Kerry Kirwan, has won a British Science Association Isambard Kingdom Brunel Award Lecture.

The Award Lectures are prestigious prizes for talented communicators with an interesting story to tell about their research. Dr Kirwan was selected for his skills in communicating to non-specialist audiences about the racing car which is largely made from plants. He says "it includes a race specification steering wheel derived from carrots and other root vegetables, a flax fibre and soybean oil foam racing seat, a woven flax fibre bib, plant oil based lubricants and a biodiesel engine configured to run on fuel derived from waste chocolate and vegetable oil. It also incorporates a radiator coated in a ground-breaking emission destroying catalyst. “

It is the first Formula 3 racing car to be designed and made from sustainable and renewable materials that could meet Formula 3 racing standards. The snag is that it is configured to run on fuel derived from waste chocolate and vegetable oil. Formula 3 cars are currently not permitted to use biodiesel, but the team is hoping to make its competitive debut later this year.