Archive for March, 2020|Monthly archive page

Shareholders against the planet – knowingly or unknowingly

Stelios Haji-Ioannou (right) is founder and major shareholder (about 34 per cent) in easyJet, the budget airline. When he established the airline that challenged incumbent “full-service” airlines back in 1995, climate change was not well understood in business circles (though as we know, the science was maturing and the Earth summit had taken place 3 years’ earlier in Rio). Easyjet is now a very large airline with over 300 aircraft and a market capitalisation of £4bn.

In recent times airlines have become environmental villains responsible for almost 3 per cent of all carbon emissions (and about 12 per cent of all emissions from transport). The low-cost model of easyJet and others has encouraged travel and made it possible to commute over long distances. This has been regarded as a good thing economically. A global pandemic, however, sees airlines at the forefront of a new battle against another invisible enemy, Covid-19. That market capitalisation has collapsed, and the 300 aircraft grounded indefinitely. Easyjet – along with other airlines – may well seek state aid to support the business through the crisis.

The question of state aid for airlines – major contributors to climate emissions and hence climate change – puts the Government in a difficult position. Neo-Liberal Governments like that in the UK are generally opposed to state support. Indeed they do not even protect strategic industries and businesses from foreign buyers. So any support eventually given to scheduled airlines serving a free market (I accept that some airlines serve niche, fragile and social markets such as Logan Air) will challenge neo-liberal ideology and raise questions about ministers’ proximity to business leaders in the industry. Cash transfers to easyJet would lead to Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic receiving similar. That would be difficult to countenance.

The management at easyJet now has an added problem. Knowing full well that their industry is a problem in the carbon economy, there are two – what one calls – mitigating policies. One is more effective that the other, but neither are a solution. The first is offsetting; in the easyJet case, that involves committing to planting trees, though there are many offset schemes that involve investing in developing countries’ own mitigation policies. The second is buying a fleet of more efficient aeroplanes. Easyjet has opted for a fleet of Airbus A320 Neos and they are arriving in batches.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou is not, seemingly, very happy with this. He is now calling for the whole order to be cancelled. He believes, with some justification, seemingly, that the order threatens the solvency of the company. Moreover, as Nils Pratley in the Guardian writes, the company may need to be recapitalised: “Haji-Ioannou says he would support a rights issue – as he should given that his family has collected £620m in dividends since 2011, including £60m this month – but he is vowing to make his backing dependent on an Airbus cancellation. Given the size of his shareholding, he has some clout.”

So here is the conflict of capitalism laid bare. Without the new planes the company will see carbon emissions increase and probably be subject to some regulation or tax (or both). The company will also lose considerable customer credibility on anything it says in the future about caring for the environment. But with the planes, at best shareholders will have to recapitalise, at worst, the company goes under. Plus, very rich man determines the future of the planet. Which side are you on?

Picture: Audiopedia

Nudged into not wasting

It can take a serious nudge to get people to do things that modern living has sanctioned as not necessary, such as not wasting anything. Covid-19 and impending climate change have been nudging me. I’ve also been nudged – or prodded – by experiencing a self-inflicted reduced income. Over the years, I’ve been pretty good at not wasting, but a few things have found their way into my bins.

I am a big fan of brocolli. I do not recall it actually existing when I was growing up, but it is ubiquitous now. That stalk has always been a bit of a problem. In to the bin, out of sight, has been its normal fate. In recent weeks, I’ve been eating it. Largely in soups. This one on the left has a couple of stalks in it, plus a load of celery that was beyond crunch, put perfectly nutrious. Also in there is pepper, onion, silken tofu and, of course, water. It looks a bit anaemic, but it does the job. I think a good pot adds to it. This one from a ceramacist working out of Beverley in East Yorkshire. Her name currently escapes me. I’m a bit of a sucker for ceramics.

If you want to know more about not wasting food, this is Alex Andreou talking sense.

My new photographic project

I got out my Minolta X-300 (left) the other day. There was a film in it; about 10 frames left. Having been on strike for part of the previous month, a bit of photography, I thought, would be cathartic. I took a few pictures of fellow strikers, but pictures of marches are not really very interesting. On this blog I have managed to get quite a following around my photographs of cigarette posters over the last 8 years. One aspect of that is how ephemeral they are. A campaign poster can be up for as little as a fortnight, and then it is gone. So I have captured a record of something that is no more; though the original plan was simply to ridicule the concept of cigarette advertising, not to create a repository of advertising posters. But there you go.

It made me think about other ephemeral things in society. I wish, probably like many others, that I had captured more images of normal life throughout my time (I’m now 55) living in the UK; many of the things that we thought were permanent were not. And things are still changing. I gave some thought to the ephemerality around me. What have I taken for granted and may disappear in the not too distant future? The answer, pillar boxes! So, I began photographing pillar boxes. For those of you reading from abroad, a pillar box is a place to post letters – essentially, hand them over to the post office to deliver to whoever. A service very much in decline.

ER Pillar box, Marina, Hastings, 13 March, 2020

I discovered that many of the very solid steel ones are being replaced. There is an old grand post office building here in Hastings, UK (right) where the boxes have been replaced by much smaller versions reflecting less traffic but also the relocation of the main post- office counter. So, I think, perhaps, that it is about time that I captured the variety of pillar boxes with my camera. However, that does not seem enough. Then I came up with the idea that I should try to combine pillar boxes and another passion of mine – and something else that is ephemeral – buses. I’ve started with the shot (left). With a film camera, it is tougher than it looks. The bus passes a pace, the light has to be sufficient and in the right place. But as a first effort, I’m quite pleased with the result.

Climate Watch: the EU’s Climate Law

The new EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyan, and her deputy, Frans Timmermans (left), are championing climate change. There is a Green Deal for Europe which will facilitate the creation of a sustainable new growth model. The Deal’s critics range from activists like Greta Thunberg and climate scientists Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a former vice-chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Van Ypersele argues that the deal does not seek to keep temperatures below the 1.5 degrees agreed at Paris in 2015. Indeed, he argued, that the EU should be pushing for carbon neutrality by 2040 rather than 2050.

With that in mind, how do we explain the EU’s lack of ambition, for want of a better term? Could it be the fossil-fuel lobby? Aude Massiot, writing in the Guardian, has identified the lobbyists and their targets, and they are uncomfortably close to one another. Guido Bortoni, Croatia’s environment minister, current holder of the EU presidency, goes to his mailbox and finds a dinner invitation from MEPs part of the European Energy Forum (EEF), headed by Jerzy Buzek (right), a MEP for the European People’s party (EPP). He’s a former prime minister of Poland, a former president of the European parliament and chairs the industry research and energy committee. The forum has associate membership – with a €7,000 a year in membership fee. There are 82 of these all from the oil and gas sector. And dinner is sponsored by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). No journalists, no NGOs. The IOGP’s access is seamless. On 17 December it met Ditte Juul Jorgensen, the head of DG Energy; though seemingly other EU directorates are equally accessible.

Prior to this dinner IOGP spent €350,160 in 2018 lobbying in Brussels. The real lobby costs are much higher, perhaps as much as €250m. Thinktanks are common vehicles for influencing legislation. In this case the favoured thinktank was the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). Lobby breakfasts have been attended by key policy makers such as Timmermans who is directly responsible for the composition of the law. Moreover, the lobbyists often have accreditation to the European Parliament building. Also watch out for this year’s Eurogas conference on 19 March in Brussels; the keynote speaker will be Kadri Simson (above left), the energy commissioner. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about the industry.

Massiot calls this “revolving doors”. Former officials of the EU becoming lobbyists and vice-versa; for example, Jean-Arnold Vinois (below right) is energy policy adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute. Delors, for course, was a former EC president and so the thinktank that bears his name seems to be respectable enough. However, Vinois is also an honorary director for energy at the commission and a consultant at FleishmanHillard, another Brussels-based lobby organisation. FeeishmanHillard has an interesting customer portfolio; including, the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), Gas Naturally and Fuels Europe all rather interested in keeping things just as they are.

For readers looking for indicators of scepticism and keeping things as they are, any firm or lobbyist suggesting the carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a solution, should be a clue. CCS has potential, no doubt. But it is only potential and has insufficient capacity and scalability to make much of an impression in carbon emission totals towards 2030. Eurogas is, notes Massiot, working closely with the Global CCS Institute to promote the technology and conceivably divert resources away from reducing carbon emissions toward an unproven and unrealisable technological fix. The fix is simple: reduce carbon emissions, keep fossil fuels in the ground, consume less and stop deforestation and promote reforestation.

Pictures: Timmermans, European Parliament from EU

Jerzy Buzek, Euku – Own work

Kadri Simson – subject’s own work, Wikipedia –

Jean-Arnold Vinois – screen grab from youtube:





Onshore wind turbines again supported by the British Government

Out of the blue – at least for me – comes the news that the British Government is lifting its opposition to subsidising onshore wind turbines in support of meeting carbon emission targets. In order to meet those targets, it is estimated that onshore wind turbines will need to triple in number in the next 15 years. Wind turbines are unloved by Conservatives but are the cheapest and cleanest source of renewable energy. Whilst projects can now compete for funding against other renewable sources, it is not clear how the planning system will accommodate the change.

Picture: Erik Wilde from Berkeley, CA, USA – harvesting wind

Built-in obsolescence

Here’s my Russel Hobbs iron (left). The cable is wearing and exposing the live wires within. The fix should be to rewire it. But it is well-and-truly sealed. No way in. I know they would say it is a safety feature, but I cannot even take it to an electrician to fix it. It is, essentially, waste.


Darning socks

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to knit my socks. I did think it was very uncool to wear knitted socks. Even worse, when a hole appeared, my mother darned the hole. My feet were always warm. And as a child, sartoriality was not much of a factor.

Today I have darned my own socks. Two motivations; first, the environment. It the past, holes such as those (left) would have warranted disposal. Against the backdrop of climate change, darning them is now just another one of those Sunday tasks. Second, I am on strike. This is knocking quite a hole in my finances. Repairing saves money. And quite a bit. It is not just about buying another pair of socks. I do not think I ever go to the shop and buy only what I intended to buy. The solution is not to go to the shops at all!