Global warming: No high buildings? | Brussels Blog

Global warming: No high buildings?

posted by Geoff on 30th Sep 2014

Ignorance of embodied carbon

Most of the examples of “green building”, I have seen have an element of greenwash that even fools the most eminent experts. The late Professor Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at UCL gave the lecture, ECO-TOWNS, Will they be Eco-?, Can they become Towns?, in the 2008 Lecture Series What is Land For?. He first example was BedZed. His summary included:

• UK’s largest eco-village
• 100 homes, community facilities and workspace for 100 people
• Heating requirements: 10% typical home
• 60% recycling aim
• Target fossil fuel car miles: 50% national average
• Food delivery and allotments

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The parable of the smoking carriages

posted by Geoff on 29th Sep 2014

Living standards and well-being

As mentioned in Greenwash from Stern? economic growth and “increased living standards” are often measured as GDP per capita but in developed countries these increases have little or no effect on well being. Richard Wilkinson’s Ted Talk shows the average well-being in developed countries is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth and societies that are more equal are healthier and happier ones.

In his talk Richard Wilkinson uses the example of Denmark as a society of happy, healthy people where the income distribution is more equal than other developed economies. He also points out that, in Denmark, it is possible to rise up the social ladder very much easier than in the USA. His advice to the people who wish to live the American Dream leave the USA and go to Denmark.

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Greenwash from Stern?

posted by Geoff on 24th Sep 2014

The Physics-Politics-Gap

Lord Deben was one of the headliners at the 2013 annual meeting of the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group. Lord Deben (“the best Environment Secretary we’ve ever had”) is now Chair of the Committee on Climate Change. He spoke about progress towards the UK’s targets on carbon emissions. In the Q&A, Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, suggested that, despite reducing carbon emissions, climate change required very much more.

As I was waiting in the lobby to buttonhole Lord Deben, I heard him say that Meyer was not being realistic – there were political limits to what could be achieved. I think Mayer’s point had been that the laws of physics were greater than the laws of politics so we had to do much more to avert climate disaster. The Zero Carbon Britain report has called this the Physics-Politics-Gap.

Lord Deben and Mayer may both be right and the Physics-Politics-Gap cannot be closed. The end-of-nearly-all-life-on-Earth scenario presented by LastHours.Org is actually looking plausible.

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The UK should be an environmental leader

posted by Geoff on 7th Sep 2014

This is evidence to the Treasury Subcommittee written in 2007 but still relevant.


Executive summary:

The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2. The best role for the UK is to show the rest of the world that pleasant environmentally friendly lifestyles are possible. Economic mechanisms such as earmarked taxes are necessary but it will be necessary to go beyond purely economic disciplines.

Large budgets for education and promotion are necessary to gain public acceptance. So are large environmental lifestyle projects such as model settlements. The finance can be found within the planning system. It should be recognised that the planning system creates very large amounts of wealth, which can be traded on an international scale. It is possible that existing development corporation legislation can be used to this effect.

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Adam Smith, Timothy Worstall and large international companies

posted by Geoff on 8th Aug 2014

A “called out” comment on an article by Timothy Worstall

Following his interesting article, Soaring Inequality And CEO Pay Are Not Caused By The Principal/Agent Problem, Timothy Worstall “called out” this comment…

What did Adam Smith believe about large international companies?


Thank you for your analysis. It may be correct but I am often (but not always) suspicious of the power and influence of large international companies. Is this a background to this issue? If there were no very large international companies, there would be much less income inequality.

I thought I might ask your view on this as a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Is the following summary of Adam Smith’s views on the topic accurate?

Adam Smith’s Critique of International Trading Companies…

Such companies, in Smith’s view, had corrupted and captured many European and non-European governments and undermined their societies’ ability to engage in peaceful transnational affairs and equitable self-rule. In contrast with Smith’s well-known concerns about the rise of commerce in modern Europe in his four-stage account of social development— which were outweighed, in his view, by the many material benefits and personal liberties brought about by the eclipse of feudalism—his narrative of globalization offers a trenchantly critical appraisal of commercial practices that ultimately undermine many of the gains that the initial rise of modern commerce once made possible…

Timothy Worstall, replied

Yes, but…..

The but being that Smith’s international companies were state supported monopolies with their own armies and often fighting their own wars. That’s a rather different kettle of fish than that of our own dear multinationals of today really.

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Teaching or discovering?

posted by Geoff on 9th Jul 2014

This was originally posted on 7th December 2014 as “Ben said never hire the graduate”. It is being reposted for technical reasons

Recently (13th November) I listened to the BBC’s program about computer technology, Click with Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson. It was about an experiment in using tablet computers to enable illiterate children to learn.

Children in two remote villages Ethiopia were given tablet computers by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The children could not read and did not go to school. The solar powered computers were delivered in boxes with no instructions. They were pre-loaded with a small range applications.

The children switched on the computers, powered up the applications and started teaching themselves English. They managed to change the system settings.

OLPC wanted to know if children could learn in the absence teachers and teach themselves how to read. The children learnt quickly and taught each other with no adult intervention.

Ed McMearney from OLPC described how they had “fixed” the setting system on the computers so the children would not make the applications unusable. The settings were also fixed to disable the cameras on the computers so that photographs would not fill up the computer memory. The children managed to work out how to change the system setting and were able to take photographs.

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The problems of software development

posted by Geoff on 4th Jul 2014

This is a note I wrote in 2002 and 2003. It is not easily accessable elsewhere. It is still relevant although the examples are old. There are, of course, more recent examples.

It identifies procurement methodology as a key element in the failure of large software projects. As such, it has implications wider than software development.

The Problems of Software Development


This study document investigates a particular aspect of the problems of software development which is one of the main causes of failure for many medium and large-scale software projects. It draws upon a combination of informal and respected formal sources. The conclusions reached are what I believe to be the best picture of the current situation and the best way forward for future software developments commissioned by medium sized companies.

Development Approaches and Financial Models

Within the IT community there is considerable debate upon the merits of different software development methodologies. This debate has recently become more intense because of the wellpublicised failure of a number of large public projects. Software development is now national news.

The problem of managing software development in a market economy has a scope that ranges from the generalities of economic theory to the specifics of computer systems. Few have a grasp of the full range of issues involved.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the financial environment is a fundamental part of that  process. This document starts with two idealised financial models: the “Cost Plus” model and the “Fixed Payment” model.

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Submission to the Lyons Review on Housing

posted by Geoff on 21st May 2014

A note for the Lyons Housing Review

Geoff Beacon, May 2014


In this note I propose radical solutions for housing based on two themes: the unfairness built into the housing market and the damage our lifestyles are causing to the world. Political aspects of these proposals may be difficult.

Today’s standard two bedroomed, bricks and mortar house is expensive. It is possible to build dwellings at a small fraction of the cost, but the planning system works to prevent this. The system supports the housing shortage which keeps house prices artificially high and benefits house owners at the expense of others, particularly the poor.

At the same time, the huge amount of embodied energy within a standard brick built house is largely ignored and conventional affordable housing often has associated social problems.

In this note I propose radical solutions for housing , political aspects of which may be difficult.
I hope that the members of the Lyons Review can use their experience of business and academia to listen to these proposals that, at first glance, may not be in interests of their organisations.

This note is divided into four sections.

1. Low cost housing.

2. Land use, landscape and food production.

3. The environmental impact of housing.

4. Discovering new ways of living.

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Geoff Beacon elsewhere

posted by Geoff on 18th Apr 2014

I have been writing elsewhere on topics that are similar to those on Brussels Blog so if you read any of these here …

I have several pieces on Thanks to guidance of the editor, Chris Titley, I think the writing is rather clearer than usual:

The list of these is updated at YorkMix Author Archives: Geoff Beacon

A Renewal City is an urban development that from the time of its foundation, and throughout its life, creates wealth to sponsor projects that are beneficial to life on Earth.

Mar 2008: A proposal for a renewal city on the Hoo Peninsular

The Green Ration Book

A panel approach to carbon footprints: The aim of the panel is to give guidance on our daily activities with regard to the damage we do to the global environment in relation to what our fair share should be.

May 2006: Green Ration Book: The cost of everyday living.

It’s simple (

A collection of websites about climate and economics

Sep 2009: Its Simple and related websites.

The Treasury Select Committee (written evidence)

Jan 2007:  Memorandum on environmental leadership

Climate Change Questions (

Sep 2009: Construction pollutes

No high buildings (

Oct 2009: Eco-towns aren’t eco

More jobs (

Nov 1995: The employment effect of subsidies – a report for the European Commission“.

Auntie Jayne solves you poem

My good friends at RenewalCities have kindly had this new web-site designed for me. It is a showcase of my work as a poetic agony aunt – I answer problems sent to me as poems.

May 2008 : We’ll fly you over burning forests

Centre for cities (my comments)

Jun 2014: The conflict at the heart of the garden city idyll (see comments)

Transition network (my comments)

Mar 2014: BBC: The wrong debate

Treehugger (my comments)

Jul 2014: No magic bullet — study challenges perception that CO2 reduction can be delayed by other actions

AECB (my comments)

Jan 2007: Topic: Operation vs Construction CO2

Feb 2007: Topic: Lower building densities – good for the environment?

Jan 2008: Topic: keeping draughty house warm

Food Climate Research Network (my comments)

Jun 2014: FCRN commentary on Sustainable Food Trust blog on red meat. My comment at the end. See also my

Sep 2014: The role of no-till agriculture in climate change mitigation may be over-stated. My comment “Where’s the budget for proper research?

Arctic Sea Ice Blog (my comments)

Jul 2014: Wildfires not in the CMIP5 Models

Arctic Sea Ice Forum (my comments)

Aug 2014: Local effects of methane emissions

Sep 2014: Comments on the work of David Wasdell

Sep 2014: Comment on “Population: Public enemy No 1″

Grist.Org (mycomments)

Sep 2014: Why coal is (still) worse than fracking and cow burps. Pierrehumbert underestimates the dangers of provoking positive climate feedbacks


Jul 2008: Questions for Lord Turner of the Climate Change Committee. I set up this website to report exchanges with the Committee on Climate Change.  Slight tinges of green ink on my part but broadly: I was right they were wrong but I’m still not sure who “they” really were. (My comments)

Jul 2014: What did Adam Smith believe about large international companies? (My comments)

Jul 2014: Question about Foster and Rahmsdorf on That ‘no warming since 1998′ bollocks meme (My comments)

Aug 2014:  Comment 84: Some of us see the bleedin’ obvious

To be continued …

Climate Change: Last Hours?

posted by Geoff on 5th Apr 2014

I don’t know how seriously to take that Last Hours video but it does feature one of the most famous climate scientists, Michael Mann, of hockey stick fame. When I re-read the response I made in 2007 to the Draft Climate Change Bill, I remembered that none of the contributors to the blogs that I follow have been willing to comment on Last Hours. I know some of the scientist associated with it have had threats made so perhaps that’s wise.

My response in 2007 is more-or-less what I believe seven years later. Sadly, I think policy politicians are mostly out of the loop. I believe that climate policy in the UK is governed by civil servants – under the pressure of lobbyists. The key departments are in HM Treasury, DECC, BIZ, DEFRA, DCLG. My interpretation of their approaches to climate change:

  • HM Treasury: Its causes are not our problem.
  • DECC: Energy security is a problem.
  • BIS: Now controls the Met Office.
  • DEFRA: Hides the carbon footprint of beef and lamb.
  • DCLG: Ignores embodied carbon in construction.

They obstruct green policies except for energy security.

They still ignore the real message which hasn’t changed.

Summary of my 2007 submission:

We must:

Aim for carbon negative lifestyles

Get power systems to take carbon from the atmosphere

Stop nearly all flying

Cut most road transport

Build to embody carbon dioxide in construction.

Change our economy

Let the public know

Publicise carbon footprinting

Change food consumption

Develop neighbourhoods using new planning strategies

Come clean on construction

Change international trade, development and aid

Take military options seriously

These policies may be beyond what is politically possible but what is politically possible can change. Tomorrow is the start of The Embodied Carbon Week organised by the UK Green Building Council and supported by serious commercial interests.

Last year the Committee on Climate Change finally conceded that the UK’s carbon footprint has increased since 1990 rather than decreased.

A change in the politics of climate change will come if the super El-Nino that some are predicting emerges over the next two years. If it comes will the Government Departments stop ignoring the truth about climate change?

July 2014: The El-Nino may be petering out but even without this raising temperatures, For May the global temerature was the highest since modern records began. Higher than the last year a super El-Nino surfaced. Californians will be disappointed. Their drought will continue. (2014 El Nino?)

The 2007 submission ….

Global Warming and The Problems of Climate Change

A Response to the Draft Climate Change Bill

by Geoff Beacon

June 2007


At its worst, climate change is recognised as a threat to human existence. Sadly its effects are probably much worse than the assessments given by the IPCC to the governments of the world. My contention is that the strategies that have been put in place by the government of the UK are simply insufficient to cope with the scale of the problem.

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