Algae vs Al Gore

Algae, biofuel, climate changeFormer US vice-president Al Gore, U2 singer Bono, visionary actor Keanu Reeves – the man-made climate change lobby has all the big hitters. But just who exactly is presenting the sceptics’ case to the UK government?

That’s what a man called John Simpson wanted to know, and on 5th May 2009 he submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, asking how many “non-believers” the department had given audience.

Not many was the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly. But there was one.

“There is only one organisation that we are aware of that requested a meeting or engagement with the Department that would seem to fit the … criteria,” wrote the department’s Paul Munro in his response to Mr. Simpson. “Whilst this organisation would agree that human greenhouse gas emissions will cause climate change, their view is that current government policy to reduce emissions will only postpone ‘inevitable environmental disaster’”.

That group was an organisation called the FREdome Visionary Trust. According to its website, “the aim of FREdome is to make a better world for children to inherit, by connecting the collective goodwill and best ideas of ordinary people in the community to what happens in society.” FREdome seeks to achieve that by conducting workshops with pupils at its local school, St Michael’s in Watford, and backing projects the kids vote for; commendable stuff.

The kids’ Top Idea of the moment is to support the work of Harry Hart, an ecologist who advocates cultivating algae in order to reintroduce nutrients into the soil, nutrients that have been washed away by rain and irrigation.

Bizarrely, this project involves equipment provided by a local company called Great Stuff Hydroponics, whose kit would presumably get school pupils into a lot of trouble under normal circumstances.

So why does this make FREdome so-called “non-believers”?

According to the website of C-Green Solutions, a lobbying organisation set up by FREdome chairman Greg Peachy, the government’s approach of attempting to reduce climate change by limiting carbon emissions reprents the belief that we can “proceed more slowly towards the Day of Disaster by living a costlier, more austere life in the meantime.”

“However,” the site adds, “there is an option which, astonishingly, no one seems to consider.” That option is to use algae to recycle greenhouse gases into biofuel or fertiliser.

“Harry Hart and his associates… have identified a rapid, self-sustaining process which uses a combination of solar energy concentrators, sea water and microalgae, and produces a biomass that can multiply up to an absolute maximum of 40 times in a day, or 160 billion times in a week.”

“This can very quickly re-capture vast quantities of atmospheric carbon (greenhouse gases) to be used, for example, to produce renewable fuel or nutrient-rich fertiliser for the world wastelands replanted and irrigated – with water, pumped and desalinated using energy generated by the process.”

Far be it from us to judge the scientific merit of this argument. But, unfortunately for FREdome, the government doesn’t seem to be convinced.

“FREdome Visionary Trust … sent an invitation to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Secretary of State, Mr Ed Miliband, in October last year to be a keynote speaker at an event that was to be held in Watford in March 2009,” said the response to Mr. Smith’s FoI request. “Mr Miliband declined the invitation.”

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