The Ecologist


Dan Box

When will Australia 'get' climate change? And will it be too late?

Dan Box

Dan Box

The upcoming Australian elections will see yet another tussle between industry-supporting climate sceptics, and politicians trying to nudge their electorate towards the real world

In a few days I will fly to Australia, where I will watch that country’s general election with more than a little concern. Concern because Australia - a country that I love - sits uncomfortably at the centre of any potential international agreement about climate change. Concern also because in Australia the potential for agreement on climate change is very uncomfortable indeed.

The reason for both is simple: coal. On one hand, the country is the world’s biggest coal producer – over a quarter of all coal burned is dug up there. So any international climate change deal must factor in Australia if it is to look sensible at all. On the other, coal is the country’s biggest seller. Almost a quarter of all Aussie exports of goods and... Read More...

Will putting a price on nature put environmentalists out of a job?

Dan Box

Dan Box

The launch of the massive economic ecosystem assessment, TEEB, will help force the natural world onto the corporate balance sheet. It's a step forward. But how will protesters react to the ground shifting under their feet?

The ExCel centre in London’s Docklands is one of the major organs of Britain’s body corporate. I’ve seen Shell hold its AGM there, where protesters screaming about the damage done to wildlife by the oil giant’s activities were first ignored, then bundled out of the room. A telling choice, then, for the first ever Global Business of Biodiversity Symposium, which takes place next week.

Make no mistake, this is a big deal. The companies involved as speakers, advisors, partners or sponsors of the event include the lawyers Linklaters, consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, miner Rio Tinto, chemicals producer BASF and cement maker Lafarge – all international giants in their respective fields. On what has traditionally been seen as the other side of the fence are WWF, Conservation International, Kew Gardens and The Wildlife Trusts, among others.

And that’s the...

With all eyes on BP, others are busy drilling deep elsewhere...

Dan Box

Dan Box

While BP is facing billion-dollar lawsuits in the US, another British company, Cairn Energy, is beginning drilling off the coast of Greenland

Few outside the oil industry have heard of Cairn Energy, but those who have keep a close eye on the Edinburgh-based explorer. Cairn has made some smart bets in the past, striking oil where other, bigger, outfits swore there was none. Next month it will start drilling off Greenland, in a stretch of sea known as Iceberg Alley.

Unusually, it will use two drilling rigs, so if there is a blowout from the first the second can immediately start on a relief well to stem the flow of oil.

BP, choking on the flow of trouble from its own blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, might wish it had done the same. The $20 billion it has already agreed to shell out for clean-up and compensation is just the start.

Thousands of lawyers are currently working hard to get the figure increased, on behalf of clients ranging from the wildlife of Louisiana state to the Mimosa Dancing Girls strip joint in New Orleans (who want compensation because those fishermen among their... Read More...

Stop the big pubcos taxing our local pubs out of existence

Dan Box

Dan Box

Pubs are closing everywhere, and in many cases there's a simple reason behind the shuttering of the local...

In the past fortnight I have almost literally crossed the country, both from Southampton to the peaks of Glen Nevis, and from North Wales to the Norfolk Broads. Everywhere I saw the same thing; pubs closing down or already boarded up. Some of these I’d never had a chance to visit, others were old favourites where I had laughed and drank with friends. Eventually, outside yet another shuttered building, I stopped the car and started talking to the people involved.

Here was a landlord who'd poured his heart into the business, then poured his money after. The pub turned over almost half a million a year but there still isn’t enough left to repay his debts. Another works 80 hours a week to pay himself £15,000 a year and has just started making lunches for local schools to make ends meet. In one village a gang of mates used to meet most nights at the pub. It closed. Now they sit at home alone drinking supermarket beer and watch TV.
Nor are...

The Government has found a backhanded way to subsidise nuclear power

Dan Box

Dan Box

21st century nuclear power needs a 21st century subsidy... no blank cheques this time - just an apparently green tweak to the emissions trading system, and voila!

What is it they say? Power corrupts? Well, certainly people change.

Take energy secretary Chris Huhne, who from opposition railed against building new nuclear power stations thus:

'No private sector investor has built a nuclear power station anywhere in the world without lashings of government subsidy since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The World Bank refuses to lend on nuclear projects because of the long history of overruns. Our message is clear: no to nuclear, as it is not a short cut, but a dead end.'

That was in 2006 (the quote is on his website). Today, in Government, he has - shall we say? - mellowed. Vincent de Rivaz, chief exec of the UK arm of energy giant EDF, which plans to build Britain’s first new nuclear reactor for over 20 years, recently described Huhne as 'a man we can do business with'.

How so, exactly? Huhne is still refusing to commit any... Read More...

We're all responsible for BP's oil spill disaster

Dan Box

Dan Box

Filled up your car recently? Bought new bike tyres? Popped any pills? Then you're in part responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill...

Enter BP’s stately headquarters at 1 St James’s Square in London and the receptionist hands you a health and safety leaflet. On it, in bold, are the words: 'No accidents, no harm to people, no damage to the environment'.

Your first reaction is a smiling disbelief. This is the company currently battling with a broken deep-water well spewing about 210,000 gallons of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

Then you realise they mean it. Deep-water drilling is a risky business and BP doesn’t take these risks for fun. The company has seen $25 billion wiped off its share price, is facing a wild range of other hits for clean-up, compensation and damage to reputation estimated at $23bn and an increasingly narked US president who has just... Read More...

Bond markets, not politicians, control our future

Dan Box

Dan Box

We've lost control of our spending and debt to international bond markets and whoever wins the election won't be able to take it back

'I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.'
- James Carville, advisor to President Clinton, quoted by Bloomberg

Next year, according to the latest budget, more than £1 in every £4 the Government spends will be borrowed. This means that, after the election, the most powerful force in UK politics will be none of the political parties - it will be the international bond markets that lend the money keeping the country afloat.

The bond markets are where governments go to borrow money, promising to pay it back plus a regular extra 'yield' payment to the lender. If the markets... Read More...

I'd rather vote Labour, but the Tory manifesto is worth a look

Dan Box

Dan Box

It goes against his better instincts, but Dan Box finds the hardback blue bible being bashed on the Tory battlebus strangely persuasive...

'Labour has always been antagonistic towards the environment'. Not my words, but my father’s, an ecologist by trade who has seen many more elections come and go than I have.

He is backed up by the heads of two conservation charities I spoke to recently, one local, one national, who both said their lives got easier - and their funding was better - under Tory administrations. Labour is more concerned with building things and making money, say both.

Which feels counter-intuitive. Instinctively, I would rather trust our natural environment to Labour than the Tories. I feel the same about hospitals, and schools (both reasons my dad will, despite the view above, probably vote Labour on May 6th). I am too used, perhaps, to thinking of the Conservatives as pro-business and therefore anti-green.

A look at the parties’ manifestos, though, shows how wrong I am. Just on the headline stuff – climate change – the Read More...

I've picked 5 good firms; 5 bad. Who will do best?

Dan Box

Dan Box

Dan launches a highly unscientific experiment to track the financial fortunes of five green companies, and five less-than-green...

Lo, the time of reckoning is at hand; this week marks the end of the financial year, when the gains and losses of the past 12 months are calculated. Some finish up, some finish down.

A good time, then, to launch the inaugural The Ecologist Stock-Picking Smack-Down™. The game is simple. Take a portfolio of Green stocks and another portfolio of anti-Green corporate nasties (the kind we all love to hate). Then follow their success, measured by the share price, over the next 12 months and see how the two compare. Good versus evil, if you like.

Why? Two reasons. One; to test out whether it really is possible to make money while doing good? Is it in fact possible to make more money doing good than otherwise? Two; the environment needs long-term answers to long-term problems. Companies may offer some of these, but only if their business is itself sustainable. Share prices are one way to measure this.

Is the Smack-Down a reliable and...

Having both emissions trading and feed-in tariffs is a waste of time

Dan Box

Dan Box

The new feed-in tariffs are nothing if not controversial, but they also run the risk of conflicting with other, international, climate change policies

Government climate change champion Ed Miliband calls it a 'local energy revolution'; the Independent 'a real green money-spinner' that will 'ease your eco-guilt'.

What are they talking about? None other than the new ‘feed-in tariffs’, which mean that, from April 1st, power companies will pay you to generate electricity from solar panels or wind turbines on your roof.

Now, I like free money as much as the next man, and my eyes lit up when I first heard of this idea. Only on closer inspection did I establish the problem; that in terms of fighting climate change, feed-in tariffs are a nonsense.

One issue very well-rehearsed is that the Government’s plans will literally throw billions... Read More...

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