Grenfell tower update

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grenfell_panel_rytest Cladding samples are being taken away for testing across the UK

Given recent events I think an update was needed on the Grenfell fire situation as events have moved rather quickly. As I wrote my last piece there were reports in the media which suggested that the contractors at Grenfell may have used cladding products that weren’t suitably fireproof (and illegal on a building this tall). I was inclined to ignore these rumours until such time as they was confirmed by official sources, ideally the ongoing investigation into the fire. The UK media is well known for jumping to the wrong conclusions and I didn’t think it as credible that such a huge error could have been made given how well regulated the building trade is in the UK.

Well it would appear I was wrong. Tests on panels from the buildings and on other structures across the UK have…

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Grenfell tower fire

A fire in the Grenfell tower complex in London, which has left an estimated 58 dead has shocked the UK, leading to protests, as well as exposing the deep divisions that exist between the have nots and have loads in the London property market. It has also left a lot of questions to be answered as regards how the fire spread and the degree to which recent refurbishments to the tower complex may have played a role in the tragedy.

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Figure 1: the Grenfell tower fire

The fire appears to have spread up the building via a facade, recently installed in the building to improve both the building’s look as well as its environmental performance. Now there’s a lot of he say’s she say’s in the media on this topic, which I’ll try to make some sense out of. But suffice to say we’ll need to wait for the official investigations to conclude before coming up with anything definitive. Some newspapers are already calling for council officials (which is Tory btw) and company executives to be jailed, which is jumping the gun. Ya and why don’t we form an angry lynch mob while we are at it…cos I think I think that would be heading for number 10 first!

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Figure 2: Outline of the Grenfell block and how the fire spread [Source: The Independent UK, 2017]

No doubt the anti-environmental brigade will be using this incident as “proof” that refurbishing buildings to make them more energy efficient turns them into death traps, and there’s been stories like that circulating in the media. But this simply isn’t true. There have been fires in refurbished tower blocks like this before, which have been contained to the floor on which the fire occurred, without spreading up the facade. Or where the fire has spread, it only affected a few flats, over several hours and was ultimately extinguished by the fire brigade before any serious damage occurred and the building was safely evacuated.

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Figure 3: Fires have occurred in refurbished tower block before (this in Townhead in 2007), but have generally been contained

I recall one incident for example an incident in a block in Townhead, where a flat fire occurred (word around the estate was that someone got the munches after coming home from the pub, but rather than going and getting a take away, they decided to do some midnight cooking….with predictable results!) on a recently refurbished block of flats. It result in some unsightly damage to the facade, which given that this block is visible from Glasgow’s main bus station was a bit of an eye sore. But as you can see from the photo above, it didn’t spread. So there’s no reason why such work can’t be undertaken without compromising the building’s safety. That said the devil is in the detail.

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Figure 4: Detail of the Facade on the Grenfell block

Generally insulation isn’t necessarily going to be flammable and if it is, its generally protected from fire by some fireproof layer to slow or limit the spread of any fire. E.g. mineral wool has pretty good flame retardant properties. Polythene insulation materials can be protected with a inflammable layer (e.g. Gypsum drywall). This will never stop a fire completely, but then again a large enough fire will basically burn through anything in its path, indeed the temperature will eventually get so hot that even the steel holding the building up will melt. The goal is to slow the fire down sufficiently to give residents time to get out and the fire brigade time to get in and tackle the blaze. Certainly this is the problem with the Grenfell centre, the fire spread far too quickly, going all the way to the top of the building in a bit less than an hour.

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Figure 5: The Chimney effect

Based on what’s come out on the internet (which may or may not be true of course) there are three possible causes. Firstly, the chimney effect. If there was a gap between the facade and the original building walls, then the flames could have spread up this gap. Normal practice would be to put a fire break at least every couple of floors across any gaps (or ideally every floor). Keep in mind the panels used are modular, so that’s not a difficult thing to do. So that’s one question the investigation will need to get an answer too.

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Figure 6: How fires can spread up the facade of a tower

Another possibility is that the residents claim that the newly installed panels were mounted on wood bonded to aluminium. This would also present a means for the fire to spread. As the aluminium heated up, it would conduct the heat upwards, heating the timber on other floors to the point where it ignited. Again, proper fire proofing of the facade would limit the spread of the fire by these means.

Another consideration is that 1970’s era tower block’s aren’t terribly safe to begin with. Refurbishing them mightn’t make them more dangerous, but that’s because they are dangerous enough as it is. There are chinks in their armour. Often for example fire proof barriers, notably in dry risers and service ducts aren’t complete, there’s often gaps or inappropriate material has been used. Windows and doors which should contain a fire, simply don’t work. I recall viewing a flat of this era once and noticing that the front door, which should be a fire door, wasn’t one (modern practice would be for all front doors and most of the interior doors to be fire doors). To keep smoke and fire from spreading fire doors are supposed to close and seal off the different parts of the building, but a lot of older fire doors just don’t do this very well, allowing smoke and fire to spread quicker than it should. So a third possible cause would be the fire spread internally and then spread to the facade, e.g. a fire in a gas riser.

But all things being equal, given the recent renovations to the building, which included improvements to fire safety, the fire shouldn’t have spread so fast. But clearly this didn’t happen. There is also a question as to government regulation, as the government was warned by a report on previous fires, which they ignored and even sought to remove fire regulations. The actions of the Tory run council must be questioned, perhaps awarding the contract to do the refurb via the old boys network on the condition it was done on the cheap (as the government has done with a number of recent contracts, e.g. the security at the Olympics or the assessment of disabilities).

Also the actions of residents has to be considered. I’ve found fire doors in tower blocks propped open because someone was too lazy to have to constantly open and close them. This immediately defeats the purpose of having a self closing fire door in the first place! Some residents will also do things like store flammable material (e.g. rubbish or old furniture) in corridors or on balconies. So educating residents and enforcing fire safety is important.

On which point another issue with this fire was the “stay put” advice given to residents. Many also complained about how the fire alarms on their floor didn’t go off. On the one hand, this is to be expected. Do you really want to have to evacuate and go down 16 floors in your night clothes every time a neighbour on the 30th floor burns the toast? But on the other hand there are times when you do need to evacuate the whole block.

In more modern buildings there will often be an intercom system, to allow the concierge or fire brigade to communicate with residents and advice them of what is going on. If the smoke alarms are wired into the building management computer, then it can track the spread of a fire by seeing how the smoke spreads and activate alarms on neighbouring floors as required (or if it sees a certain number triggered on more than one floor, turn on all the fire alarms and declare a full scale evacuation). If its tied into the sprinkler system, it can also selectively turn on sprinklers to help contain the fire without any human intervention. But of course integrating all of that hardware into an existing block isn’t going to be easy, nor is it cheap.

And speaking of which, there is the question of sprinklers. Why did the sprinklers not stop this fire? Well because it didn’t have any. That said, assuming the fire did spread via the facade (and that’s not yet proven), sprinklers won’t have been able to stop it spreading, so its kind of a moot point. That said, the UK also has something of a backward view of sprinklers, where they are seen as a means of protecting property rather than saving lives. Hence they are often not required by law (only buildings built after 2007 need to have them, but only if higher than 30m tall), although your insurer might insist on them. So we can have the hypocrisy of building control signing off on a building design as safe, only for the insurer to turn around and say, nope its a tinder box, include sprinklers. The end result is that more valuable property such as hotels, office blocks or high end residential blocks can have sprinklers, but less valuable buildings (where we plebs live!) don’t have them.

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Figure 7: A tower block fire in Dubai, with no fatalities, largely thanks to the sprinkler system

In other countries, where they have a longer history of high rise living and thus more experience of high rise fires, the legal situation is very different. And generally this means they are a lot stricter in terms of what’s allowed and where sprinklers need to be installed. But even so, its patchy. To make matters worse there are four separate policies on fire safety in the UK in England, Scotland, NI & Wales.

This is the sort situation where intervention from the EU is needed. This has been resisted by the building lobby and the euroskeptics who regard the EU as a bunch of Elf & Safety killjoys. Hopefully this fire might be the nudge that’s needed to convince the EU to intervene. Of course ironically, given that the UK is about to leave the EU, it will be excluded from these changes. We’ll have to wait for the Tories to do something.

And that’s the problem, as my guess is once the anger has died away they’ll likely just fudge the issue. Bottom line, which is more likely, that the Tories will undertake costly repairs of tower blocks full of pleb’s and require private landlords to spend a lot of money doing up their property. Or will they just they just bury it in a public inquiry that takes a decade, then bring in some meaningless voluntary codes and have the Daily Mail blame the whole mess on migrants and environmentalists? This is the thing that Corbyn doesn’t get about the EU, it shouldn’t matter who is in charge of the country, measures will be brought in if they are needed across the whole EU.

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Figure 8: Economic depravity in the Kensington & Chelsea council area

Also this incident does expose the chronic problems affecting the UK’s housing problems. The UK has something of a housing crisis with soaring rents and a massive waiting list for council houses, largely thanks to past and present Tory government policy. I recall one brexit voter trying to argue that he was voting leave because his daughter couldn’t get a council house and this all the fault of foreigners. As the graph below shows construction of both social housing and the available stock fell during Thatcher’s reign and the country has never recovered since. Recent Tory squeezing of council and housing association budgets as well as their right to buy scheme have all squeezed already stretched system yet further. Hence we can have the absurdity of people living in squalid tiny box room flats in one of the world’s richest cities.

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Figure 9: Changes to the UK housing stock, housing completions since 1920

By contrast in the rest of Europe, its very different. Not only do they have a larger supply of social housing, but some of their blocks are so well maintained and designed some are actually world heritage sites. I mean architecture students travel from around the world to visit these estates. About the only reason I’d take students to a UK council estate was if I wanted to show them how NOT to do social housing…or I just didn’t like them very much and hoped they’d get mugged!

And there is an element of the UK paying the price for the mistakes of the past, notably those made by labour governments of the 60’s and 70’s (i.e. the sort of labour government Corbyn wants to have). The fact is that lot of the UK’s tower blocks are cheap ugly blocks of concrete, which are just not fit for purpose, they were thrown up in a hurry on a shoe string budget, with little thought for the long term implications. Trying to refurbish them, while its better than doing nothing, it is basically an attempt to try and make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is a credible argument for simply imploding many of these buildings and starting again from scratch. Of course, that’s not cheap and it would take a significant period of time to implement.

However my worry is that with the Tories in charge their policy will be to use this as an excuse to firstly do nothing and stop all refurbishment of council blocks, leaving many people living in damp, cold, unsafe and generally unhealthy living conditions. And then gut the UK’s social housing system entirely.

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So much for strong and stable!

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Its laughable this morning. Here we have Mrs strong and stable herself (I can’t write that while keeping a straight face), who undertook an election at the worse possible time, not because the country needed one, but so the Tories could selfishly exploit labour’s low polling numbers. And, having gambled with the UK’s future for the most cynical of political reasons and then lost, she has the nerve to ask for a period of stability during the brexit negotiations. I mean seriously, how out of touch are these Torybots. Not since G. W. Bush stood in front of a banner saying “Mission Accomplished” has a politician been so wrong.

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And let us be clear, the Tories lost this election, not because Corbyn is some sort of political genius, but because Theresa May was terrible. After the awful local election results, Corbyn spent most of his…

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Election update

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As I mentioned before, its clear that labour is doing rather better than expected. However this isn’t so much because Corbyn is some sort of political genius, more because “chicken” May is screwing the campaign up. As the spectator (a Tory rag!) puts it “Theresa May has the warmth, wit and oratorical ability of a fridge-freezer”.

About the only thing she got right was the decision to the polls. Because if the Tories are struggling now, what chance do you think they stand after all the bad news from brexit hits and labour have a vaguely competent leader?

Childcare

There have been more than a few face palm moments from Corbyn, for example childcare. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a major issue, one that could easily win labour lots of votes if they could come up with a coherent policy.

UK…

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Blogging catchup

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I’m just back from a trip overseas on business, so I thought it would be a good idea to catchup.

Trump pulls out of Paris climate treaty

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It was perhaps inevitable that Trump would pull out of the Paris climate treaty. He’s rowed back on nearly all of his campaign promises, as inevitably many of these policies were just unworkable or unenforceable. The Paris treaty was one of the few things he could actually change, largely because it will take until nearly the end of his presidency to complete the withdrawal (meaning a few months later his successor might well opt to simply re-enter the agreement).

However it has to be said the main loser is going to be the US. There’s a serious case of deja vu here. When G. W. Bush dropped out of the Kyoto protocol, making the same lame arguments about “jobs”…

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Hydrogen Woo

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As a follow up to my article on scam water devices, I thought it would be useful to do one on hydrogen and water powered cars. One of the problems with being involved in renewable energy research, in particular fuel cells, is you’ll occasionally get someone who comes up to you and says, well hydrogen comes out the back of the fuel cell car yes? And hydrogen comes from water, so why not split the water again and feed the hydrogen into the fuel cell and you’ll have a car that can run on water…..hmmmm….,.Because that would be “perpetual motion”.

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Now okay, I realise most people reading this will likely say like duh! obviously that won’t work. But I’ve heard this often enough that I really do feel the need to put together a post on it. I mean a year or two ago we had one of our degree students (not exactly the brightest one I might add) come by and ask if he could borrow an electrolysis machine so he could test the idea out (he was advised to start off with a 2nd level chemistry textbook then get back to us). So there is enough of this BS out there that it deserves debunking.

A fuel cell is not 100% efficient, they are usually about 40-60% efficient, although if we capture the heat (in a CHP application) this can jump to 90%. But as regards practical electrical efficiency, you’re talking about 50%, once we account for the balance of plant. By comparison a petrol engine is only about 25% efficient. Making hydrogen from electricity means electrolysis. There are various different hydrogen production processes, some of which can yield efficiencies as high as 75%, but for practical purposes (e.g. something you could fit in a car) you are probably talking about 40-60% efficiency. Let’s assume the higher figure of 60%. You’ll need to compress the hydrogen to get it into the tank, that’s going to be about 80-90% efficient, assuming you opt for a pressure below 350 bar. If you go for a much higher pressure (and most FCEV’s store hydrogen at 700 bar), then you’ll need to expend more energy compressing it. And as the hydrogen will get rather hot, you’ll need an multi-stage compression system with an innercooler. Although its worth pointing out that this step can be skipped if we opt for a static application and run at a much lower pressure.

So adding up our efficiencies we get 0.5×0.6×0.9 = 27%. In other words even if you devoted all of the electricity the fuel cell generated purely to hydrogen production, you’d end up with less than a third the energy you started off with. There is no way such a system could work.

I would note that overall cycle efficiency of hydrogen can be higher than I’ve indicated here. A paper by Bartolozzi etal (2013) illustrates the different options in more detail. But in summary, if we opt for more energy efficient means of hydrogen production, run everything at a lower pressure, recycle the waste heat (given that much of the losses represents waste heat), you can achieve much higher efficiencies. This is the point of static applications such as Fuel cells CHP plants, or simply burning hydrogen in a conventional boiler, as a substitute fuel for natural gas. Personally, I reckon the main use for hydrogen in the future will likely be static applications, mostly for winter heating or backing up the grid, with hydrogen fuelled vehicles essentially filling a niche between electric vehicles and biofuel powered vehicles. The extend to which hydrogen vehicles will be used depends to what extend the range issue with BEV’s can be resolved and how much biofuels we can sustainably produce. Keeping in mind that when I say “vehicle” I extend that to planes and ships. But clearly as regards water powered cars, 27% cycle efficiency is the best you could get…although the term “static energy sinkhole” is perhaps a more accurate description than “water powered car”.

Ah, but at this point you’ll be told, that there’s this special “additive that you mix into the water that will solve everything (which no doubt some quack will sell you over the internet). But for that to work the additive would have to raise the efficiency of the electrolysis process to higher than 100% and ultimately impart more energy into the system per unit mass than the hydrogen….and hydrogen has the highest calorific value of any known substance in the universe!…which is kind of the whole reason for using hydrogen in an fuel cell in the first place!

Quite simply put, if this magical “additive” actually existed, you’d be better off ditching the hydrogen tank, the fuel cell and the electrolysis process and coming up with a chemical fuel cell (e.g. like a flow battery) that ran directly off this “additive”. Furthermore our “additive” will have a production cycle, which will involve the consumption of energy. And its pretty reasonable to assume this will not be 100% efficient, indeed its doubtful it could match the efficiency of hydrogen production (again that’s kind of the point of using hydrogen!).

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The Quant E car uses a salt water solution to transfer electrolytes around a redux flow battery…but still not a “water powered car

If such a device worked, nevermind powering a car, you could use it to generate electricity, solve world hunger and create a post scarcity society. And as for all the conspiracy theories, would companies hide such a technology if it existed? Of course not, they’d patent it and then make trillions. The fact is that water is basically the left over ashes of a hydrogen fire. Saying you can run a car off of water is equivalent to taking the ashes from a log fire and trying to glue them back together again. If such a simple answer to all of the world’s energy problems existed, don’t you think we’d be using it?

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Vegan Carnage

They have a Vegan movie out on the BBC Carnage, by Simon Amstell. A mockmentary, it imagines a UK in 2067 where the whole country is vegan, meat is banned, but older generations are suffering the guilt of their carnivorous past. I think I’d have to criticise it for going for the hard sell a bit too much and ignoring certain key facts, which means it will merely comes off as too preachy to be taken seriously.

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Figure 1: Carnage movie premiere 

For example, at the end of the film all the farm animals get freed from the farm so they can live a life of bliss, yes? Ah no! Most farm animals won’t survive long outside of a farm. Decades, if not centuries, of selective breeding means many breeds of chickens, pigs and cattle simply won’t be able to survive for very long outside of a farm environment. If animal products were banned, the kindest thing you could do to them is put them all down immediately.

And while certain breeds of cattle, sheep and deer can survive outside of a farming environment, there would be issues. These animals populations are often sustained by animal feed, which in turn is grown using large quantities of fossil fuel based fertilisers. Without this feed they would literally strip the countryside bare, destroying the ecosystem and then starve to dead. And given how much methane they generate, keeping them alive would negate the main argument for veganism, fighting climate change. So large numbers of them would have to be culled as well.

Suffice to say day one of a vegan world would involve the biggest mass slaughter of animals since the K-T impact. And then there would be the problem of disposing of all those billions of animal carcasses. The sky would glow red for months with funeral pyres….and barbecues!

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Figure 2: The mass slaughter and burning of animals during the Foot & Mouth crisis

And we are talking about prohibition here, anyone care to remember what happened when they tried that in the 1920’s? Within 10 minutes of bringing in such a ban they’re be spiv’s down every back alley in the country selling black market meat. And the meat would be produced under the most awful and inhumane conditions. Plus you’d have just put a price on the head of every pet, wild animal, bird and zoo animal in the country, who would start disappearing into back alley slaughter houses.

As a vet once pointed out to me, a lot of those in the animal rights movement have a very naïve view of nature (or politics) and how it works. They don’t seem to understand that life is tough and nature is cruel. Part of her job as a vet involves animal welfare on farms. And if you think things are bad on a farm, go watch a nature documentary sometime. And speaking of which in order to keep animal populations in balance in the absence of hunting, or farming, you would have to reintroduce predators. So you’d be saving lambs from the abattoir, just so they could get their throats ripped out by a wolf or fox.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s major issues with animal welfare that need to get tackled. I would note that I’m writing this while tucking into a vegetarian curry. And as I’ve discussed in prior posts, our food production system and in particular the meat industry needs major reform if it is to become sustainable. Brexit now raises the risk that current UK animal welfare and food safety standards will go backwards, as poorer American style standards are introduced. But equally there is a need for some realism here.

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Figure 3: Global carbon emissions by source [Source: EPA, 2015]

Certainly one of the main arguments for a vegan diet is climate change. Meat is a fairly energy intensive food. About a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions are as a result of farming (all farming, meat production is about 14.5%) and land use changes. And while the carbon footprint of the other main headlines, energy, transport and industry are all stabilising or falling, emissions from agriculture are still rising. So its quickly becoming a priority that needs to be tackled.

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Figure 4: Carbon footprint of different foods [Source: BBC, 2009 & Lantmannen foods]

Furthermore, at least a third of the world’s grain supply is also fed to farm animals, food that could be used to end world hunger, and the left overs could probably power more than a few biofuel powered cars too.

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Figure 5: Carbon footprint by diet

That said, we need to avoid making unfair generalisations. As I discussed in a prior post on this topic, there is a certain level of meat that can be produced worldwide with a minimum of environmental impact. Once we exceed this threshold, the resources needed increase exponentially. Needless to say this is the problem, we’re producing too much meat and having to devote large amounts of land and energy towards that task in ways that simply aren’t sustainable.

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Figure 6: A graph by Simon Fairlie from the recent BBC Horizon program showing the limits to sustainable meat production, via plant products (blue, 40MT/yr), Food wastes (orange, 110MT/yr) & Grazing land (Green, 40 MT/yr). Once we exceed these limits the resources needed increase exponentially [Source: BBC, 2014]

Different types of farming methods have very different environmental impacts. Its been suggested for example that feedlot cattle have a lower carbon footprint. However such studies tend to only consider the outgoings, they often fail to account for land use changes (which represent at least half of all agriculture related carbon emissions and they can be quite high for a feedlot). Or the environmental impact of non grass grazed animals as well as the the carbon absorption of vegetation on traditional farms, in particular the likes of hill farms, which in the UK often have a phenomenal growth rate.

Also there’s the issue of EROI’s to consider. The Tsembaga tribe of New Guinea practice a form of sustainable slash and burn agriculture along with animal husbandry (specifically pigs). They produce a yield of 16.5 times the energy back from food that they put in. By contrast a US corn farm has an EROI of just 2.4 and a US rice farm 1.37 (Aubecht, 1989). So its important to realise its not a simple case of black and white.

Not least because the door swings both ways here. A recent US study took a commonly circulated vegan diet, did the maths on it and concluded that adopting this vegan diet would actually lead to one’s carbon emissions increasing. Why? Well because while crops are generally less energy intensive as compared to meat, that’s not universally true. As noted earlier US grain production barely produces a net energy positive and requires significant amounts of fossil fuels to sustain. Certain crops, notably fruits are quite energy intensive, particularly if they are grown out of season in poly tunnels.

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Figure 7: Carbon footprint of Tomatoes under different growing conditions [Source: Carlsson, 1998]

Some fruits and vegetables also can have a relatively large environmental impact. For example, Asparagus has a notoriously high carbon footprint. Its unfortunate that the movie I mentioned earlier chose to highlight coconut milk because the water needed to produce a litre of coconut milk is double what’s needed to produce a litre of cow’s milk. A kilo of rice also requires more water to produce the same amount of chicken or pork. Maybe not a huge problem in the UK, but water shortages are a big issue in other parts of the world. And of course we can’t produce coconuts, soya or rice in the UK, so those would have to be imported (i.e. more food miles).

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Figure 8: Water use of different farming methods [Source: Chapagain, & Hoekstra, 2004]

Clearly the issue here is much as it is with meat. Much as there’s a “carrying capacity” of meat the world can sustainably produce, there’s a carrying capacity of fruit, vegetables and grains that can be produced with minimal environmental impact. Once we exceed these thresholds, the environmental impact increases rapidly, as the example in figure 7 for tomatoes illustrates. Add in long food miles for certain exotic fruit and veg and I think you get the idea.

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Figure 9: Food miles by transport method

Indeed a food mile problem with fruit and veg is its need for air transportation over meat and grains (which can often be shipped more slowly by boat in refrigerated storage) due to its short shelf life. There’s also an issue with large amounts of fruit and veg being thrown out, although this can be a problem with meat as well, as figure 10 shows.

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Figure 10: Waste and spoilage of different foods from field to plate

I would argue the solution here is changes to how supermarkets work, i.e. differential pricing, selling stuff close to its sell by date off cheaper (decreasing the chances of it having to be thrown out) and making the same item that’s going to keep for longer more expensive.

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Figure 11: Seasonal eating

But what all of this highlights is its not that simple to say “become vegan”. There is a need to try and stick to locally produced food’s, where possible, and those that are in season. Of course this restricts the dietary options yet further and feeds into one of the major complains of those who try to go vegan and give up – that they struggle to eat a balanced diet (this is one of my concerns too and why I’ve never gone fully down that route).

Admittedly some do make the rookie mistake of eating what they always did, but cutting out the meat (often because they live in a non-vegan household). That’s a one way ticket to scurvy. You need to be a bit more inventive. e.g. the veggie curry I’m having is made from a range of UK vegetables….although that said, the one I had the other week was lentils and chickpeas, which I’m guessing aren’t local…nor is the rice! My point is that its not easy and this needs to be acknowledged.

All in all, while there are good reasons to go vegan, but I worry that trying for the hard sell is just preaching to the converted and will just turn most people off. I would rather focus on messages that will get somewhere, e.g. the need to give up beef.

Indeed here’s an interesting idea from Simon Fairlie in which he proposes to put a tax on meat, in particular beef. I think this sounds like an idea that need to be explored, although I’d focus initially on just getting rid of farm subsidies for meat. Also we’d need to tackle the issues I raised earlier regarding the large uncertainty as to the exact environmental impact of meat (or fruit and vegetable production). Otherwise the meat lobby will simply point out how terrible for the environment certain vegan products are and suggest those should be taxed as well.

And making food more expensive is the sort of thing that’s seldom popular. After all, many have argued for a tax on sugary drinks or a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland. Yet its taken several years to get those laws in place. And that’s with universal cross party support. Obviously in a scenario where one side or another objects (and its a given that they will in the case of meat) then would make such legislation a very tall order.

So its important to get your facts straight, vegans need to do some fact checking before they start making claims that aren’t entirely correct, or they’ll end up with egg on their faces (if you’ll pardon the pun). And the hard sell merely makes vegans come across as the sort of fanatics who would ban a woman from bottle feeding her baby breast milk in a vegan shop (and yes this did actually happen). Or the idots who came into my Cousin’s restaurant (they claimed to be fruitarians who won’t eat anything on the menu unless it had fallen naturally off a tree, she’d have taken them a little more seriously if once wasn’t wearing a leather jacket and the other leather shoes!).

So I would focus on smaller more achievable goals (e.g. reducing beef consumption) rather than going to extremes, which will simply be ignored.

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