Can We Improve the Health of the Planet? A Series.

“Have a bias towards action – let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A couple of weeks ago I read Christopher’s article on this blog entitled ‘We Need to Act on Climate Change For The Sake Of Others’ and it started me thinking about green technology.

Scientists are in general agreement that the Earth is warming, there is plenty of debate as to why however. A large proportion claims that this warming factor is caused (or at least worsened) by human actions such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

Members of this group therefore believe that we need to produce energy without burning fossil fuels and that we should take other steps to avoid releasing carbon into the atmosphere such as stopping deforestation (incidentally this is cause number 1, burning fossil fuels is secondary in comparison). I should say I count myself amongst them.

An unhealthy planet

Every Thursday over the next month or so I am going to post one of a series of articles that will look at different aspects of these problems. I want to propose an argument that I borrow from the sociological study of science and is directly drawn from an economic analysis. It is simple, and should be borne in mind when reading the posts.

When we think about costs we only think about money. How much for example does a litre of petrol cost? Or a flight to Boston from London? “Oh $3.50 a litre” or “$1200 dollars” we might say. But this excludes social and environmental costs that should be added on, a bit like governments add on VAT.

The real cost of my litre of petrol should include various other factors. How did the raw materials come out of the ground? Did the company leave a mess and pollute the local drinking water in the process? How was it refined, and transported? How much did the local people who live nearby suffer or benefit from its production? And finally how much pollution will it cause when I burn it?

And here we have a sliding scale, LPG is environmentally less damaging and therefore environmentally cheaper than petrol. By this logic natural gas might be cheaper than wood to heat your house too (unless produced through fracking some would argue), and taking the train might be cheaper than taking the bus. I hope this is a little clearer than a bland phrase about ‘going green’  and offers a slightly more defined point of view.

The series will be structured something like the following:

  • Environmentally cost efficient transport
  • Electricity production
  • Engineering climate change
  • Problems faced and the miracle cure
  • Conclusions and a review of comments

I hope to present you with some interesting new technologies that really offer a much ‘greener’ future, as well as looking at some of the ways that different institutions view and approach the problems that I will address.

I am certainly not pessimistic about the future but I don’t believe that ‘technology will save the day’ on its own, but a little thought and a few small actions from a lot a people can make an enormous difference (as someone once said).

I hope you will follow and comment, and don’t hold back on your criticisms, that is what I am here for.

We need to act on climate change for the sake of others

In the South Pacific ocean lies three tiny atolls that go by the name of Tokelau. These islands have a population of around 1,500 people, around the size of a big village.

The Tokelau islands

The three tiny atolls that make up Tokelau

However, bad news is on the way for the people of Tokelau, as climate change is threatening every single one of the residents lives. Droughts are a real problem in the area, as despite being surrounded by sea water, there is very little freshwater that locals can use. Climate change means that rains are decreasing in the area, and drought is increasing.

The second issue for this tiny group of islands is the sea itself. Sea levels around the world are rising for two main reasons: ice caps are melting, and thermal expansion (when water gets hotter, it expands) – these are both caused by climate change, i.e. global warming of the planet.


The final issue for these tiny atolls is that they are made out of coral. Coral is a very delicate substance, that requires very specific conditions to grow and survive.

Basically, these islands are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and it doesn’t look like their situation is getting any better.

It is rather unfair of one to say that the use of fossil fuels on these islands is what has sealed their fate, as compared with the likes of China, the USA and the EU, the islands have virtually no greenhouse gas emission – they probably are responsible for less than 0.0001% of global emissions, leaving the rest of the world responsible for the other 99.9999%.

Despite this, Tokelau has announced that by September 2012, there will be no greenhouse gasses produced there at all, they will run 100% on renewable energy! Photovoltaic solar panels will make up 97% of their energy, whilst the rest will come from local coconut oil made into biodiesel. What is really amazing is that its per-capita income is only about $1,000 per year, a fraction of that in many western countries.

Why is Tokelau bothering though? Their fate is sealed, sea levels will rise further, drought will increase and coral will decline. However, this tiny group of islands believes that if they make a stand now, maybe, just maybe the rest of the world will follow.

The people of Tokelau will most likely be taken in by nearby neighbours, however their home islands will be lost forever, along with their natural beauty and potential. But that’s not the point.

I believe that Tokelau is a warning for what is to come for the rest of the earth. Climate change is happening and it’s real. If we carry on the way we are, we will almost surely destroy the planet we call home.

I have read predictions that by 2050 most of the worlds megacities and centres of economic and political power will be underwater. That includes the likes of London, California, the Netherlands and Bangladesh. That’s a lot of people who will be affected.

We need to take a stand now, for the sake of the future of planet earth.


A Europe centred picture of the Earth

Why not install solar on your roof? It could heat your hot water or power your electricity, even creating extra which you could sell back to the national grid! Why not have a small wind turbine set up in your back garden, that could do wonders for your energy bills!

Think about it. It is our world, we need to look after it.

From the bottom of my heart I ask that you think green, save resources and our home. We really are so lucky that in the whole of space, the perfect conditions came about so that our planet were ever to exist, with it’s vital magnetism and ozone layer, which helped to create and now sustains life.

Earth suspended in spaceWhat’s your opinion on this?

Can green technology help us get out of the red?

Most people know that the world has recently emerged from an economic recession. Many people also know that we are all dangerously close to slipping back in, and are replying on governments around the world to keep us in the black.

However, has anyone thought about green technology as a way of helping steer an economy back to growth and prosper?

Well it would appear that Scotland might be doing just that, as they are trying to encourage as many as 600 companies to move into the ‘green economy’ in order to boost profitability. The green economy consists mainly of renewable energy sources, and low-carbon technologies.

Scottish flag - offshore wind farm

Scotland seem to have recognised that there could soon be big money in this industry, hence the drive towards getting more firms into the industry.


In its attempts to become the industry leader in green technology, Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney has said that he wants to increase exports 50% by 2017 and encourage inward investment in green and low-carbon technologies.

Unemployment seems to be a problem everywhere at the moment, but Mr Swinney’s new ‘green growth’ plans are likely to create around 130,000 jobs by the year 2020.

What do you think, is Scotland taking a step in the right direction by investing in green technologies, or is is a risky option to take given the current global economic climate?