Monday, 7 September 2009

Drax black and Oxford blue. Coal on the agenda

Sometimes it's not what you look at but how you look at it that's important...

Climate Feedback reports an interview with Oxford economist Dieter Helm, the salient point of which is that in tackling climate change it's not comparatively small investments in renewables that will make a difference (and certainly not improving things at home by shipping manufacturing abroad!) - it's what to do about the BIG pollution that comes from other sources - most notably coal.

Coal is cheap and often readily available (in a fairly low tech sort of way). If you need energy and have big coal reserves you are going to burn them. As Dieter puts it "It's time to realize that coal is where the core of the problem lies, and to think cleverly about solutions towards that.".

By coincidence this week the courts sentenced the protesters that in June set out to highlight the environmental issues with burning coal by hijacking a train on its way to Drax powerstation - the UK's largest coal powered power station. Sentences were fairly lenient - but it still seemed to me to be a little surreal - had the protesters parked a few dozen tractors on a motorway protesting about farm subsidies, or parked fishing boats at a dock gate, or oil tankers at a terminal gate then the economic consequences would be as great - but it would probably be seen as lawful protest, not criminal activity. Wouldn't it? And at the end of the day the message they wanted to put across matters.

The point is that they are both right. Burning coal is a BIG long term issue. Coal fired power stations continue to be built and they will be in service for decades. Investing in polluting technologies is not the answer - not at home... nor in the farthest Orient.

Factoid: Power generation in Yorkshire & Humberside (including Drax) is 58% of the regions emissions and accounts for almost 7.5% of total UK emissions (2005). This is more than four times the impact of the total road and air transport in the region.

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