GF Blog 2022 – Week 22

3rd JUNE 2022    The 1st ever PLATINUM JUBILEE WEEKEND

QE2 – until now there has been no question. Elizabeth has been the 2nd queen of that title, with the first being the famous flame-headed monarch of the later 16th century. But now it is all change for our Elizabeth, and she comes top of the list, the first British monarch to reign for 70 years. As a result, whether you love or hate the monarchy, we surely have to acknowledge and appreciate a life of service like no other! Good on ya, yer Majesty!

Following on with that theme, I am going to write about people and things that have come 1st!

And first of firsts, a word from the Queen: –

The extract above, from Town and Country Magazine in October 2021, gives a very rare glimpse into the Queen’s own views about the climate emergency. This was caught off the record. More openly, she expresses her hopes for the planet in the Queen’s Green Canopy project.

The Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) is a unique tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 which invites people from across the United Kingdom to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”.

The culmination of her tree planting is a 70 foot high steel structure – ‘A Tree of Trees, which was lit by LED lights, when the rest of the country was lighting 2,800 beacons on Thursday evening. On the ‘branches’ 350 different small trees in light aluminium pots, showcased the best of British …

Saplings used in the display include alders, field maples, hazels, hornbeams, larches, rowans, silver birches, small leaved limes and whitebeams.

After the four days of Jubilee Weekend, the trees in their pots will be donated to selected community groups and individuals to celebrate their work and inspire the next generation of tree planters.

Young students of 2 primary schools in East London were chosen to help plant and water the saplings. Images and further information at https://www.itv.com/news/2022-05-24/70ft-tree-of-trees-erected-outside-buckingham-palace-for-jubilee

A First for the Duke of Edinburgh

We may deduce that, from very early days, the Queen was well informed about key aspects of our planetary plight, because her husband was already involved in the ecological movement.

Prince Philip was a pivotal patron of the World Wildlife Fund, serving as a passionate voice, advocate and champion for the organisation’s work from its creation and particularly as WWF International’s President from 1981 to 1996. In 1970 WWF established its highest conservation award, eponymously named the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award, to recognise and encourage significant achievement in the global environmental field. The Prince was the first president of WWF – UK from its establishment in 1961 through to 1982.

(Tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his death in April 2021, on the WWF website.)

Unfortunately, a small hunt online can expose that all has not gone so well with WWF, in recent years. A book written in 2012 exposed inappropriate funding connections: –

Wilfried Huismann wrote The Silence of the Pandas, detailing the ways in which WWF International raked in cash from major corporations in exchange for the WWF to grant them a form of “sustainability” accreditation

There were concerns too about the WWF policy in respect of hunting & poaching:-

the WWF has been selective in who is allowed to hunt. For example, Juan Carlos, the King of Spain and an honorary president of WWF, sparked outrage after he went on an elephant hunt in 2012 despite WWF’s efforts to protect elephants. 

On the other hand, African tribes have been forbidden from hunting land their people had hunted for generations because WWF declared the land an animal refuge. It seems WWF supports hunting for wealthy members of its leadership, but not for tribal hunters who have been chased from their land in the name of conservation. 

Apologies if you are a great supporter of WWF; I am not able to vouch for how reliable the comments are. But before you discount them, you might want to take a look at the entire article https://www.activistfacts.com/organizations/world-wildlife-fund/

You may also like to compare WWF with Greenpeace. Set up a decade later, the Green Peace vision is of a greener, healthier and more peaceful planet, one that can sustain life for generations to come.

‘We are independent. We don’t accept any funding from governments, corporations or political parties – our work is funded by ordinary people. That means we are free to confront governments and corporations responsible for the destruction of the natural world and push for real change.’

A film on the main website indicates how the whole ethos of Greenpeace is to call out big corporations, which they can only do by being fully independent.

The 1st environmental broadcaster (almost) – Sir David Attenborough

Of a very similar vintage to the Queen is the world’s best-known natural history broadcaster. During a career that began with the dawn of television, he has penned and presented some of the most influential documentaries on the state of the planet. His first broadcast of a wildlife documentary was a programme called Zoo Quest, which began on 21 December 1954. He went – as a producer – to Sierra Leone with zoologists Jack Lester and Alfred Woods, to film them collecting animals for London Zoo. Receiving a ‘Champion of the Earth’ lifetime achievement award from the The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) recently, Attenborough heard the Executive Director’s summary of his achievements – You spoke for the planet long before anyone else did and you continue to hold our feet to the fire. You have been an extraordinary inspiration for so many people.’

The First whistle blowers, for global warming

Hard to believe, but great to discover … the very first scientist to compare the heat retaining qualities of CO2 and oxygen was an American woman, Eunice Foote in 1856! It was another forty years until another scientist built on Foote’s work: –

In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of a doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide to be an increase in surface temperatures of 5–6 degrees Celsius. An article of 1902 attributes to Svante Arrhenius a theory that coal combustion could eventually lead to human extinction.

Few of us have heard of Foote or Arrhenius, but there is someone whose story you may have heard about – Dr. James Hansen of NASA. Hansen issued a report in 1988, which posited that the planet’s temperature increase in the period from 1988 – 2017 would be about 0.6°C … a prediction we now know to have been was almost spot-on. But the truth of his climate modelling was more than inconvenient for fossil fuel companies, who brought every power they could to the job of discrediting him. Arguably the very worst was Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil and gas company. Hansen has suffered years of challenge and criticism, particularly in the last decade or so, mostly because he has engaged not only as an objective scientist but also as a political activitist. He has called for fossil fuel company executives, including the CEOs of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal, to be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature”, on the grounds that these and other fossil-fuel companies have actively spread doubt and misinformation about global warming, in the same way that tobacco companies tried to hide the link between smoking and cancer. These are not sentiments to win him friends in high places, but I am pleased that he continues to speak his truth. (PS there is scope for someone to make a very interesting film about his life!)

Dr. James Hansen speaks his mind

The First UK green energy systems

  1. Domestic

Following installation of a solar photovoltaic array at ‘The Autonomous House’ in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, the first electricity from a private solar system was generated to the UK grid on 27th July 1994. I didn’t find much data about that solar system, but another on ‘the Oxford Ecohouse’, which was set up by a passionate university professor in 1995, cost an eye-watering £28,000 to install! The home was carefully designed on Passiv Haus principles, with high mass walls and floors to store the heat, using also a 300-litre hot water storage tank connected to solar thermal panels. But of course more recently it has also become possible to store & maximise the benefits of the PV electricity.

Oxford Ecohouse

image from website https://ecohouse.live

Celebrating the 20th birthday of Oxford Ecohouse, Doug Parr of Greenpeace summed up, “There is hope for the future that the combination of solar, storage and smart technologies, stand to catalyse the change in our energy system that we so badly need to tackle climate change. Solar is absolutely central to making this happen. And when it does, it’s worth remembering that the energy revolution that is going to happen started here, at the Oxford Ecohouse.”

2. Industrial scale

Of course wind mills and water mills generated power for us over many hundreds of years, back to the time of Domesday. But the growing demand for electricity in the 19th century and especially first half of the 20th led inventors to come up with new designs that could work on a far larger scale.

A story to tell another day is likely to be the one about James Blyth, who built the first known wind turbine used to produce electricity. This was in Scotland in 1887 at Anderson’s College, Glasgow (today’s Strathclyde University).

But to finish I would like to share with you the story of Electric Mountain at Dinorwig in North Wales, which has inspired me ever since I first came across it. I am going to copy and paste a long section, telling the whole story in the hope that you will find it as fascinating as I do. AND if you happen to live near any old disused reservoirs (such as at the back end of Fowey in Cornwall) then start thinking about how this model could once again be used to generate and store energy!

From https://www.peoplescollection.wales/story/378125

Exterior view of Dinorwig Electric Mountain

Before the 1920s there were only a few small scale hydro-electric schemes providing power to local industries and these were often in remote areas due to the conditions needed for hydro-electric schemes. North Wales with its mountain lakes and high rainfall was ideal for the generation of electricity, but far from the urban centres where the demand was. After the Electricity Supply Act of 1926 established a co-ordinated national electricity grid network (the National Grid), providing links across the country, hydro-electric development grew. The North Wales Electric Power Company subsequently built large scale hydro-electric power stations at Maentwrog and Trawsfynydd between 1926 and 1928, which provided power to the National Grid. As a result of the grid, by 1933, about half the houses in Wales had electricity and industrial processes were freed from using steam power.

In 1948 the electricity supply industry was nationalised and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) was created. In the same year the Scottish engineer James Williamson who was the foremost expert of his day on hydro-electric generation in the UK was commissioned to carry out a survey of six possible hydro-electric sites in North Wales. Bills to allow these to go ahead were put before parliament in 1952 and 1955. In the debates over the North Wales Hydro-electric Power Bill, 1952, Sir Gerald Nabarro stated that:

 “It is the intention of the British Electricity Authority to create in North Wales no fewer than eight major hydro-electricity establishments. They are the extension to the Maentwrog scheme, the extension to the Dolgarrog scheme, a new scheme at Ffestiniog; then, if those three schemes are approved, the British Electricity Authority will proceed with a new major scheme at Rheidol, followed by new schemes at Mawddach and Conway, and, finally, the schemes on Snowdon itself and at Nant Ffrancon.”

In 1957 the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) took over responsibilities from the CEA, and between 1957 and 1963 the first pumped storage hydro-electric power station in Britain was built at Ffestiniog. By this time it was hoped hydro-electric power would complement the less flexible developing nuclear power industry.

The idea of a scheme at Dinorwig was proposed by the CEGB with James Williamson (in association with Binnie & Partners) in 1969. In 1973, a further North Wales Hydro-electric Power Bill sought permission from parliament to construct the power station. The bill was opposed by the North Wales Hydro-Electric Protection Committee – a standing committee established during the 1940s which represented the YHA, conservationist, mountaineering, and ramblers’ organisations. They received the support of a number of MPs who made several attempts to block the Bill. The British Mountaineering Council also expressed their fears about the danger to the amenities of the newly created Snowdonia National Park by the proposed scheme: ‘This in our view is another instance of whittling away the essential purposes of National Parks for reasons of material expediency.’ but the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful. The arguments for the bill were too convincing:

‘You have a lake which is not less than 800 feet above the lake below and you turn on the flexible power that is yours—something which is unusual and astonishing. The flexible power involved is such that the machine can go from zero to 1,320 megawatts in ten seconds. It can build up to 1½ million kilowatts to feed into the grid’.

Moving mountains of slate

In 1975 The Alfred McAlpine / Brand / Zschokke engineering consortium were awarded the largest civil engineering works contract given by the UK government at the time and work began on the conversion of the Dinorwig slate quarry at Llanberis, North Wales; a centuries old quarry which had ceased working six years before.

A major part of the work to create the underground power station was the excavation of 16km of underground tunnels, deep below Elidir Mountain. Around 12 million of tons of slate had to be removed to create the massive tunnels and machine halls.  

Their construction required 1 million tonnes of concrete, 200,000 tonnes of cement and 4,500 tonnes of steel. Around 2000 workers were employed to build the power station and it had been written into the contracts from the start that the major part of the site labour force had to be drawn from the local area. There had been a long and proud history of quarrying and slate mining in the area  and there was a great deal of local experience in the working slate of which there are 9 different types at Dinorwig , but the recession of the early 1970s had hit hard and unemployment was high. In the event people living within about 50 miles of the site accounted for 95% of the hourly paid workforce.

Possibly because of this, the construction of the station was welcomed by local people from the outset. As the work proceeded and the project became increasingly well-known, because of the challenge it was presenting and the achievements being attained, the prestige accorded to the project, and to its work force continued to grow.

Dinorwig was fully commissioned in 1983 and opened by Prince Charles on 9th May 1984. Externally, all that is visible of the power station is a door on the side of the mountain, ensuring that the surrounding area of outstanding natural beauty in the heart of Snowdonia is not impaired.

The power station is now owned by First Hydro Ltd. For more information visit the First Hydro website: http://www.fhc.co.uk/dinorwig.htm 

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