A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation about energy (the type typically generated in a power station, not the personal type) that got me thinking. This person was in their 80s and had worked in engineering when younger. He was of the opinion that we (as in the UK) would always need fossil fuels because it wasn’t sunny enough. It wasn’t a long discussion, and a few years ago I would have been in agreement with him. But, it occurred to me, for once I was more optimistic than someone else about a sustainable future.
The reason for my optimism is the pace of change we are seeing. Despite the government for their own peculiar reasons doing everything in their power to stop renewables and promote fossil fuels (see the latest move where they have decided to fast-track fracking planning applications) it would seem that renewable energy in this country and around the globe is on the rise. I personally think renewables will come into their own with improved battery technology, although I admit that brings with it another set of sustainability issues.
So, in the spirit of optimism I thought I would share some recent good news stories that show that there is a momentum growing out there and that we probably do have a lot of the answers, even if we are told things aren’t possible (in no particular order).
1. Windpower generated more electricity than nuclear power in the first quarter of 2018. 18.8% of the UK’s energy was produced by wind; providing up to 43% of electricity on some days. Whilst this was helped by some of the nuclear power plants being turned off, it follows on from the last three months of 2017 where wind and solar combined produced more electricity than nuclear power. It shows what can be achieved despite government policy and a collapse in clean energy investment. Imagine what could happen if we had a government that wasn’t so obsessed with the fossil fuel industry or that believed that renewables were the way forward?
2. A new labelling system is out that allows consumers to be able to identify items in packaging that doesn’t contain plastics. The first use of it has come from Iceland, which has already shown the way by announcing, unlike any of the other supermarkets, that it will remove single use plastic packaging by 2023. This has shown the power of social media and consumer pressure.
3. The EU have voted to keep the ban on the neonicitinoid pesticides that have been linked with the decline in many species of pollinator. An appeal by the manufacturers Bayer and Syngenta has just been turned down. (Although the caveat is that the ruling states that bees must only be exposed to ‘negligible’ levels of harmful pesticides.) Again, huge amount of pressure in the media and by NGOs.
4. More than 10 million people are now employed in the renewable energy industry around the world. In the US, where there has been a recent focus on pushing the fossil fuel industry on the promise of more jobs, there are more people employed in renewables than in fossil fuels in nearly every state. Meanwhile Costa Rica has pledged to ban fossil fuels and New Zealand is banning offshore extraction of fossil fuels.
5. 85% of milk distributing businesses have seen an increase in glass milk bottle sales. MilkandMore, the largest distributor, has seen an increase of 15,000 customers since the beginning of the year – 90% are buying milk in glass bottles.
So, whilst I admit that it was a bit difficult to find positive news stories in the mainstream media, there are a lot of changes out there. From Tesla and batteries, to the Circular Economy efforts of Dame Ellen McCarthy, from smaller organisations finding a market for their more sustainable options to Unilever stating that their sustainable living brands are their fastest growing for the second year in a row, the momentum is growing and, every now and again, even I feel a small tug of optimism that perhaps we can overcome those that don’t think change is possible.