Episode 10

Electric bicycles, palm oil, deforestation, haze and climate change

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The Angry Clean Energy Guy on electric bicycles; palm oil, deforestation, haze and climate change; “natural” gas and why the re-branding of methane gas into “natural” gas can’t hide the fact that methane gas is CO2 on steroids. Hero of the week: Jerry Taylor, who spent most of his professional life arguing against climate action, then changed his mind. Villain of the week: ABC’s World News Tonight program, for spending spent more time covering the birth of a royal baby in the week after he was born than it covered climate change during the all of 2018

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Episode Transcript:

Hi, I am The Angry Clean Energy Guy, Assaad Razzouk. Welcome to episode 10 of my podcast. I am so happy you’re here. Thank you. This week I am going to rant about a magical fruit – that of the oil palm tree, about “natural” gas, the brilliantly named global health hazard, about electric bicycles and about ABC News

ELECTRIC BICYLCLES

Electric bicycles are amazing. They solve air pollution problems in cities at a stroke because 35 to 50% of E-bike trips are substituting for car trips. And given that most cars in cities today are the dirty, polluting kind, you can see the impact if we use these dirty cars 50% less. The advantages of electric bicycles don’t stop there. E-bikes cost less to buy obviously, and to maintain, than cars. E-bikes require a lot fewer resources to manufacture. E-bikes infrastructure costs enormously less than cars. We could, for example, get rid of half our parkings in cities, which is useless space that we could use so much more intelligently. When you use an electric bicycle, it also makes you healthier because you actually have to pedal it to benefit from its engine. You can’t just press a button and have it drive you. So electric bicycles are amazing.

Who’s listening? Well, there’s 150 million e-bikes that would be sold in the EU over the next 10 years and there are already 250 million e-bikes in China. I mean the noise and pollution impact that they make is amazing. There is so much less noise and so much less pollution the more you deploy electric bicycles in a dense, polluted city. And in Europe the story is not so bad. One million of them were sold in Germany. Paris has made amazing progress with bicycle lanes and electric bicycles are growing very fast there. It’s the same in London. In the Netherlands, electric bicycles beat bicycles in terms of sales in 2018 and for the first time ever, and that’s saying something, given the love that the Dutch have for bicycles. 

Now e-bikes also do something else: Not only do they transform mobility, they also lead to the creation of high quality jobs that are connected to both the digital and the electric economy. These jobs promote more high quality digital and electrical skills and develop them in the workforce. And when you have electric bikes that are spreading very fast like you do in China, you are creating these jobs on a daily basis. And that’s a great thing because you are reinforcing the role of cycling in the green economy. And most of us today live in cities – and electric bikes have an amazing impact to green our cities. 

Now what I don’t understand, what makes me really angry is that there are so many cities and countries that are not listening. Why aren’t the big polluted cities in Latin America deploying electric bicycles very aggressively? You need bicycle lanes and that’s pretty much it. Make people feel safe riding he bikes and they will ride them and they will ride their cars up to 50% less. Why aren’t the big polluting cities in India doing the same? 

Why isn’t Singapore a heaven for e-bikes? Well partly because there are no cycling lanes to speak of the there. There are great roads. They’re big and wide and the city doesn’t like cars, so you would think e-bikes are everywhere but they’re not. 

And what we need to do is we need a much stronger push by governments for electric mobility, including electric bikes because they’re easy, they’re cheap, they can be deployed fast and if I own it, I will not discard it on the side of the street. I will take care of it and I will drive my car less, or maybe even do without my polluting car. And wouldn’t that be great?

PALM OIL 

I’d like to talk about palm oil next. There is a tree called the oil palm tree and it has a magical fruit. You squeeze the fruit and it produces a very special kind of oil called palm oil. Now palm oil does an amazing number of things. It makes cookies more healthy, it makes soap more bubbly, it makes crisps more crispy, it makes lipstick smoother, it makes it keeps ice cream from melting. And what most of you probably don’t know, I certainly didn’t know it until recently, is that palm oil is in nearly everything. It’s about 50% of the packaged products that we find in a supermarket, which is just absolutely shocking. It’s in everything from pizza, donuts, chocolate, deodorant, shampoo. It’s in toothpaste, it’s in lipstick. I mean it’s just amazing. It’s also used in animal feed. Then it’s also used as biofuel. 

It’s just truly amazing and it’s got all these really strong advantages. The oil of palm oil is semisolid at room temperature, which means you can make spreads, you can keep spreads spreadable. The palm oil resists oxidation, so as a result when you use it products have a longer shelf life. The palm oil is stable at high temperatures and so it keeps chicken nuggets crispy and crunchy. It also doesn’t have any smell and it doesn’t have any color, so it doesn’t alter the look or smell of food products. And it provides the foaming agents in every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent that you can think of. And for these reasons, its footprint is amazing. It’s 10% of the cropland globally, 3 billion people in 150 countries use it and we each consume eight to 10 kilograms of palm oil a year. Mostly we have no idea that that’s what we’re doing. None. 

Now there are two countries that supply 85% of everything the world consumes in terms of palm oil and they are Indonesia and Malaysia, and there’s another 42 countries that also produce palm oil. Now there are very serious problems with palm oil not withstanding its magical properties. So first of all, a lot of palm oil companies have been burning rainforests completely. They just literally go in and burn them in order to plant oil palm trees instead. Now when you do that, first of all, you accelerate deforestation and release an enormous amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, making climate change worse. And then second, you kill wildlife. Half of the Bornean orangutan population has been wiped out in just 16 years because the palm oil industry is destroying its habitat. Elephants destroyed. 193 species classified as critically endangered or vulnerable and threatened by palm oil production. I mean, it’s just incredible. It’s the largest driver of deforestation in Indonesia for example, but not just in Indonesia. And it’s destroying our rainforest fast. Deforestation alone pushed Indonesia to be in the top tier of global emitters of greenhouse gases alongside the US and China. And that’s just because rogue palm oil companies are burning rainforest to replace them with oil palm trees because the oil palm trees produce that magic fruit, which produces that magic oil, which is amazing. And in addition, if you live nearby, all these rainforests that are no longer rainforests because they’ve burned them to replace them with all palm tree plantations, you get haze that pollutes cities like Singapore and therefore affects the health of their population as well. And that costs tens of billions of dollars to cities and to two countries. 

Now, palm oil companies, I’m sure you would not be surprised to hear are also exploiting workers, children, and local communities. But despite all these problems, we cannot just switch to alternative vegetable oils because palm oil is incredibly efficient. Basically we need four to 10 times more land to produce substitutes on, if we stopped using palm oil. And so that doesn’t really work because you shift the problem to other parts of the world and you threaten other habitats and other species and palm oil, needless to say, creates a lot of jobs in Indonesia and Malaysia and elsewhere and therefore feeds a lot of people and millions of small holder farmers depend on it. So you can’t really boycott palm oil for that reason. Even if you knew where to find it in your supermarket, which you probably cannot because it’s everywhere. 

And this is not primarily a western problem. This is actually primarily an Asia problem because 40% of all the palm oil consumed worldwide is consumed in just three countries. 40% of all palm oil is consumed in China, in India, and in Indonesia. They used to cook for example with soy and now they stopped. They use palm oil. India has seen the fastest growth and you can expect that to continue. So we will need more palm oil, not less, but what we’re doing with palm oil is not sustainable at all. It’s a scandal and it makes me enormously angry because it doesn’t have to be this way. If things continue this way, the forests and their creatures will be gone and climate change would get worse even faster than our friends at oil and gas are trying to make it. 

The solutions are obvious. Number one, we need palm oil production to be sustainable and we need big buyers, not only in the West, to buy only palm oil from sustainable sources. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in that field. And the second solution is also obvious. Some of the biggest users of palm oil are big multinationals like Colgate Palmolive, General Mills, Hershey for your chocolate, Kellogg’s for your cereals, Kraft Heinz, L’Oreal, Mars, Mondelez, Nestle, Pepsico and Unilever. These companies are trying to do something, but there’s a lot of pretend-doing going on and the reason there is a lot of pretend-doing going on is because their directors do not have personal liability for environmental destruction. What we need across the board is we need company directors to have personal liability for environmental destruction caused by their supply chains. And I promise you if that was the case and if insurance companies stopped insuring directors in their Directors and Officers Insurance Policies in the case of environmental destruction, I promise you that everything would change overnight and suddenly palm oil would truly be sustainable.

 

DIRTY NATURAL GAS’ HUGE METHANE POLLUTION 

There is an Abraham Lincoln quote which goes: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”  

 Well, you know what, it’s not true:  Big, Bad Oil & Gas has fooled all the people all the time for a very long time about “Natural” gas. There is no such thing as natural gas. Methane gas, which is what it should be called, is referred to everywhere today as natural gas in one of the most successful green washing campaigns in history. By calling it natural gas, it became the fossil fuel with the most positive image. So today natural gas is sold as clean. I mean it’s just brilliant. The oil and gas industry greenwashed this decades ago because it rebranded methane gas as natural gas and the strategy has been hugely successful and I mean you have to give it to them. It’s brilliant. Wow. Natural gas, natural, fresh, organic gas. I can just see that gas floating in green, natural surroundings helping us breathe better, making us want to plant more trees and eat more vegetables. What brilliant greenwashing, except there is a huge problem today. 

The word is out that record methane levels, which are up a huge 50% in the past five years compared to the previous past five years, are destroying the Paris climate agreement because natural gas leaks almost at every point and it makes it worse than coal for the climate. 

Add to it that today there are an insane 1.2 million US oil and gas wells which have contributed to all this methane leakage. That’s one oil and gas for every 270 Americans. Methane’s climate impact, sorry, natural gas’ climate impact is like CO2 on steroids. Methane is 87 times more potent than CO2 then it becomes CO2 itself. Gas has to be fracked to be produced. That leaks methane. Then you’ve got to pull it out into a transportation mechanism that leaks some more. Then you’ve got to process it and that leaks methane. Then you’ve got to transport it and that leaks more methane. Then you have to send it to a compressor station and a processing station and a storage site and a ship and move it around the world and all of that leaks methane. Methane escaped from all these places and it makes it absolutely horrible for the climate, but by calling it natural gas, they got away with it for decades. The global increase in methane over the last 10 years is largely driven by the US oil and gas industry and they cannot keep hiding behind their branding and fake words like “natural” that are put next to the word gas to make us all just feel better about it and think positive things about it when we should not. The public needs to know that methane is CO2 on steroids. It’s a climate catastrophe and the public needs to tell the politician that it knows that.

Thank you so much for listening to me, The Angry Clean Energy Guy this far.

My hero of the week is a gentleman by the name of Jerry Taylor. He is president and cofounder of the Niskanen Center. He spent the best part of his professional life working at a crazy think tank called the Cato institute arguing against climate action. It’s a crazy but influential think tank. He was director of natural resource studies there and maintained that even though climate change was real, we didn’t have to do anything about it. He changed his mind and that is a very courageous and frankly too rare thing these days. He changed his mind because he decided that we have to look at climate risks from a risk management perspective and we had to hedge, and the way we had to hedge was by removing fossil fuels completely from the economy as quickly as possible and he is right. 

My villain of the week is US television network program ABC World News Tonight and that’s because they spent more time covering the birth of the British royal baby Archie in the week after he was born this month then they did covering climate change during the entirety of 2018. ABC’s World News Tonight program, you are irresponsible, you are reckless and you should be ashamed of yourself. Ecological and climate catastrophe for your information means among much other suffering, the erasure of humanity’s past and future. 

Thank you so much for listening. Don’t hesitate to send my way any questions you have about clean energy, about climate change, about whatever you like. Stuff in the green space that makes you angry is also always welcome. You can write to me via my website, theangrycleanenergy guy.com and have a great week.

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About Me

There is so much to be angry about, if you are a clean energy guy.

Every day, so many things that happen around the world make me angry when I look at them with lenses colored by the climate change chaos unfolding everywhere around us. And I am especially angry because I know we can solve the climate change crisis if we were only trying.


Each week, I will share with you a few topics that struck me and that I was very angry about – and this will generally have to do with climate change, solar or wind power, plastic pollution, environmental degradation, wildlife, the oceans and other related topics.

Assaad Razzouk

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