Thursday, July 12, 2012


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Live blog from Oxford University: food, water and energy for all

Jo Confino blogs live from the high level Resource sustainability conference at Oxford University's Smith School, which is looking at new ways to manage resources and mitigate the risks of scarcity
ReSource 2012 conference in Oxford
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of Harvard University talks to broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby at the ReSource 2012 conference in Oxford. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/[Matthew Lloyd for ReSource 2012]
3.55pm: A little known fact: An aircraft carrier does an average of 12 inches per gallon of fuel
If you worry about the mpg of your car, spare a thought for rear admiral Neil Morisetti, the climate and energy security envoy of the UK Ministry of Defence.
When he was in charge of an aircraft carrier, he calculated that he used to get 12 inches for every gallon of fuel he used.
Morisetti uses this example to point out that the Ministry of Defence is increasingly needing to think, like other businesses, how to reduce its reliance on fossil-fuels.
Without fuel, the army cannot fight but securing supplies is increasingly difficult, and Morisetti gives the example of the problems with getting fuel to troops in Afghanistan.
More than this, it has to be protected, it ties people down, and the cost of fuel in war zones is 10 times the normal price.
"We have to have an energy plan which recognises we need to reduce costs and risks by changing our behaviour," he says. "For example big bits of kit needs generators while smaller bits of kids can use batteries."

If you read Jeremy Grantham's predictions of the future, pour yourself a stiff drink first

If you are depressed about the sustainability challenges of our age, you will be reaching for the bottle if you listen to Jeremy Grantham, the head of successful fund manager GMO.
Grantham, says he is a cheerful pessimist, seeing the glass as three-quarters empty, but there was precious little liquid to see after hearing his view of the world.
He says that it is possible to adapt to our current circumstances, but the likelihood of that happening is limited due to a lack of courageous politicians, vested interests, inertia and dedication to short-termism.
While it may be possible to stop the global population at 10 billion, the carrying capacity of the planet is likely to be less than five billion.
Added to this is the extraordinary demands for raw materials from China, which now uses 59% of the world's cement, 48% of all coal, 45% of all steel and 47% of all pigs.
Beyond that, even if we get far better at recycling, "metal is slipping through our fingers," and water scarcity will lead to wars. Water problems are self-inflicted because the problem is caused by waste and a lack of valuing it in terms of pricing.
Soil erosion is accelerating and we are at a peak of using fertilisers because prices have jumped five-fold and availability will be limited in the future. Beyond that, the increase in beef consumption is eating into the ability to produce crops such as rice and wheat.
Grantham says that climate instability will lead to more unprecedented weather changes and this will cause a ruinous drop in food production.
Beyond all this, scientists have been underestimating the threat from climate change and that the problem is far worse than most people so far recognise.
"Almost all climate scientists recognise the problem is worse that they are saying," he says.
Beyond this, food currently accounts for at least 40% of poor household incomes and with food prices likely to double over the next 20 years, "who will pay for this?"
Perhaps Grantham's greatest vitriol is aimed at incentives for the use of US maize for producing ethanol. As he points out, the maize needed to produce the fuel to fill one tank of one SUV, would feed an Indian person for a year.
Grantham finishes up by quoting Churchill: "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences."
How are you feeling now?

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