Tag Archives: environment

Environmental: Water, super-sewers and the filth threatening the River Thames


The Great Stink of the 1800s alerted politicians to the filth in the Thames. The Victorian sewers fixed it, but trouble is brewing again. Is a clean river just a pipe dream?

After 150 years, London's sewage system needs a rejig to keep up with its growing population. Photograph: Mark LovattAfter 150 years, London’s sewage system needs a rejig to keep up with its growing population. Photograph: Mark Lovatt

“Water is the giver of life,” says the great-great-grandson of the engineer who revolutionised London’s sewerage system. “That’s why people always ask if there’s water on Mars to support life. But it is also bringer of death, as we saw in the 19th century.”

Quite so. Before Sir Peter Bazalgette’s great-great-grandfather Joseph built 1,300 miles of sewers and river embankments in London in the 1860s, raw sewage flowed into the tidal section of the Thames and got stalled in a hellishly insanitary circulation system. The stench of what politician Benjamin Disraeli in the mid-19th century called the “Stygian pool” was bad enough – referencing the River Styx of Greek mythology, which formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld – but, worse, Londoners bathed in and drank this water. “Before the great embankments were built, the Thames flowed more gently so the shit went up and down and people were drawing their own effluent,” says Bazalgette. If you’re eating your breakfast, apologies for that last sentence.

The filthy Thames of the Victorian era was a relatively new phenomenon. As late as 1800 it had been clean enough for salmon to be caught and for Lord Byron to swim by Westminster Bridge. By the early 1830s it was a very different river. In 1834, the English wit and cleric Sydney Smith told Lady Grey: “He who drinks a tumbler of London water has literally in his stomach more animated beings than there are Men, Women and Children on the face of the Globe.”

The results were deaths from water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Liverpudlians were less prone to suffer than Londoners – argues David Green, professor of geography at King’s College London – because of their fondness for tea imported through Liverpool’s docks; they were more likely to boil their water. After cholera arrived from India, there were epidemics in London in 1832, 1848, 1849, 1854 and 1866, in which thousands died.

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, top right, overlooks the Northern Outfall sewer being built below the Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty ImagesSir Joseph William Bazalgette, top right, overlooks the Northern Outfall sewer being built below the Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty Images Continue reading

Fracking Britain: without debate, the Government imposes its ‘right to rule’


Anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss - but as far as the Government is concerned, dissent is unimportant. Photo: Manchester Friends of the Earth via Flickr.Anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss – but as far as the Government is concerned, dissent is unimportant. Photo: Manchester Friends of the Earth via Flickr.

The UK Government’s policy is to frack at all costs, against public opinion and compelling evidence of environmental damage and poor returns, writes Paul Mobbs – a timely reminder that as far as the Government is concerned, it has a God-given right to rule over us, no matter what we think or want.

I’m sitting in the café at St. Mary’s Church, Putney . When travelling to London there are a few non-corporate cafés I frequent. Normally Friends House, or few places on the edge of central London.

On my recent travels through London I’ve been trying to get here as it’s a nice place to sit and ponder – with its own unique and prophetic story to tell.

For the past three days I’ve been at the Frack Free South Wales gathering. In Wales I met a lot of people who, just a few months ago, didn’t know about ‘fracking’ and the Government’s project to carve-up the country for hydrocarbons exploration.

Despite an uncooperative and often indifferent mainstream media, we’ve got the message across at the grassroots.

Many more people now know there’s a problem with unconventional energy sources; and that there will be no public debate on its implementation or its impacts upon health and the climate.

Now I’m trying to get people, especially the ‘fractivists’ carrying the movement, to focus on ‘what comes next’ – to be proactive instead of reactive.

What happens next?

The Government’s strongly anti-environmental / pro-fossil fuels agenda has been coming for some time. As I’ve been talking about for a year or so, we just have to trace the influences on policy to see where it’s come from and where it’s heading.

It started with David Cameron’s recruitment of the Australian lobbyist Lynton Crosby – the architect of Cameron’s new policy to “get rid of the green crap”. That grew into a set of policies which made the environment expendable in order to maintain, forlornly, the great mantra of ‘growth’.

To learn more, there are many parallels with the dismantling the ‘green agenda’ in Australia, and also Canada. [update - the day after writing this happened]

What I’ve tried to get people to understand is that we’ve been here before – where social movements sought to oppose a seemingly insurmountable political agenda.

If we want to understand ‘what happens next’ there are two relatively recent examples we can learn from.

The GMO lesson

Firstly, the campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops, the response of the agribusiness lobby, and how that influenced Government policy.

In 1996 I got a list of the sites across Britain where genetically modified crops were being tested from the Health and Safety Executive – and put it on my web site.

A short while later, spontaneously, people started to pull up the crops. One of the groups I subsequently became involved with was genetiX snowball, which drew many influences from the peace movement.

genetiX snowball was a great campaign… Then came the civil injunctions from the High Court. Continue reading

#UK’s new #energy and #environment #ministers opposed #green energy


Matthew Hancock called for cuts to wind power subsidies while Liz Truss claimed renewable power was damaging the economy.

Britain's new minister for energy, business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, at 10 Downing Street.Britain’s new minister for energy, business and enterprise, Matthew Hancock, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

The new set of Conservative environment and energy ministers announced on Tuesday bring a track record of opposing renewable energy, having fought against wind and solar farms, enthusiastically backed fracking and argued that green subsidies damage the economy.

New energy minister, Matthew Hancock, signed a letter to David Cameron in 2012 demanding that subsidies for onshore windfarms were slashed. “I support renewable energy but we need to do it in a way that gives the most value for money and that does not destroy our natural environment,” he said at the time.

Hancock, who takes over from Michael Fallon, also opposed new turbines in his Suffolk constituency, arguing: “The visual and other impact of the proposed turbines is completely unacceptable in this attractive rural corner of Suffolk.”

New environment secretary and former Shell employee, Liz Truss, dismissed clean renewable energy as “extremely expensive” and said it was damaging the economy during an appearance on BBC Question Time last October.

“We do need to look at the green taxes because at the moment they are incentivising particular forms of energy that are extremely expensive,” she said. “I would like to see the rolling back of green taxes because it is wrong that we are implementing green taxes faster than other countries. We may be potentially exporting jobs out of the country as our energy is so expensive.”

In 2009, as deputy director of the free-market thinktank Reform, Truss said energy infrastructure in Britain was being damaged by politicians’ obsession with green technology: “Vast amounts of taxpayers’ money are being spent subsidising uneconomic activity,” she said. Research from the London School of Economics recently concluded that green policies were not harming economic growth. Continue reading

#Japan: Doubts over ice wall to keep #Fukushima safe from damaged nuclear reactors


Frozen barrier, costing £185m, being built around Fukushima Daiichi’s four damaged reactors to contain irradiated water.

Workers work on the construction of an ice wall at the tsunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.Workers work on the construction of an ice wall at the tsunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/AFP/Getty Images

In fading light and just a stone’s throw from the most terrifying scenes during Japan’s worst nuclear accident, engineers resumed their race against time to defeat the next big threat: thousands of tonnes of irradiated water.

If all goes to plan, by next March Fukushima Daiichi’s four damaged reactors will be surrounded by an underground frozen wall that will be a barrier between highly toxic water used to cool melted fuel inside reactor basements and clean groundwater flowing in from surrounding hills.

Up to 400 tonnes of groundwater that flows into the basements each day must be pumped out, stored and treated – and on-site storage is edging closer to capacity. Decommissioning the plant will be impossible until its operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] addresses the water crisis.

Last month workers from Tepco and the construction firm Kajima Corp began inserting 1,550 pipes 33 metres vertically into the ground to form a rectangular cordon around the reactors. Coolant set at -30C will be fed into the pipes, eventually freezing the surrounding earth to create an impermeable barrier.

“We started work a month ago and have installed more than 100 pipes, so it is all going according to plan to meet our deadline,” Tadafumi Asamura, a Kajima manager who is supervising the ice wall construction, said as workers braved rain, humidity and radiation to bore holes in the ground outside reactor No 4, scene of one of three hydrogen explosions at the plant in the early days of the crisis.

But sealing off the four reactors – three of which melted down in the March 2011 disaster – is costly and not without risks. The 32bn-yen (£185m) wall will be built with technology that has never been used on such a large scale.  Continue reading

Fracking: Answers on link between injection wells and quakes


Graphic shows earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past three days; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;Graphic shows earthquakes in Oklahoma over the past three days; 2c x 3 1/2 inches; 96.3 mm x 88 mm;

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in earthquake activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method could be to blame, especially the wells where the industry disposes of its wastewater.

Fracking generates vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is pumped into injection wells, which send the waste thousands of feet underground. No one knows for certain exactly what happens to the liquids after that. Scientists wonder whether they could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.

Oklahoma has recorded nearly 250 small-to-medium earthquakes since January, according to statistics kept by the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s close to half of all the magnitude 3 or higher earthquakes recorded this year in the continental United States.

A study published earlier this month in the journal Science suggests that just four wells injecting massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably shaking up much of the state, accounting for one out of every five quakes from the eastern border of Colorado to the Atlantic coast.

Another concern is whether injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures.

Most of the quakes in areas where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve led some states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and California, to introduce new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injection wells as well as to monitor seismicity during fracking operations.

 In this June 26, 2014 file photo, Austin Holland, research seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, hangs up a chart depicting earthquake activity at their offices at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.FILE – In this June 26, 2014 file photo, Austin Holland, research seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey, hangs up a chart depicting earthquake activity at their offices at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. States where hydraulic fracturing is taking place have seen a surge in seismic activity, raising suspicions that the unconventional drilling method, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater, could be to blame. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) Continue reading