May 2019 in Transition


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by Marta Rossato

People and ideas need the right space to thrive. Open, inclusive,  beautiful and affordable. This was the challenge that triggered the Oxford based project MakeSpace, a community – led working space where individuals and organizations can operate and connect to ignite social or environmental change. With a focus on sustainability, both the renovation of the building and the activities taking place at MakeSpace demonstrate how powerful can community action be. How a handful of individuals can join ideas, skills and resources to address something seen as a fundamental need for the community itself.

We are featuring their story hoping to inspire other socially – driven people and organizations living and working in different places but facing the same challenges.

In this interview Emma Gordon, co-ordinator at Makespace Oxford, tells us the whole story, explaining how different groups started collaborating to make it happen and the impact it is achieving for the different local communities in Oxford.

  MS is a physical space but most of all is a hub, a “catalyst” for community – led and socially innovative projects. How did it all started and what triggered it?

Makespace came about because of the need for socially affordable work space. It started with this need and then formed into four founder organisations: Transition by Design (T/D), Community Action Group (CAG), Broken Spoke Bike Co-op (BSB.) and Aspire, coming to gather to search in earnest for affordable space. Makespace Oxford was formed as a result. An organisation that could broker and manage meanwhile spaces to offer below market rate rent to organisations trying to affect positive change. From the first meeting to acquiring 1. Aristotle Lane took four years.
  Finding an available building and refurbishing it, as well as building a strong partnership must have been quite challenging. Can you tell us a bit more about these aspects and how you addressed them?

There were many forms before we came to what is now our hub in Aristotle Lane. First there was a meanwhile space on the opposite side of Oxford. Ideal, but precarious due to a two week notice period. There was excitement and effort put into a warehouse space in Cowley that did not come to fruition and a number of small nibbles elsewhere, before finally Wadham College got wind of what Makespace was trying to achieve and gave us the possibility of our current building.  Often buildings that are standing empty are in need of some work in order to make them safe and with the expertise of Transition by Design (an Architectural firm) Makespace were well placed to assess and make good these improvements. But they do cost money, and Makespace applied for grants and loans to make the project work. Amazingly it took only two months, from signing the tenancy to 80% occupancy in the case of Aristotle House, and Makespace are working toward being able to do rapid retrofit and turnarounds, as this is imperative for buildings in which there is a limited time in which to occupy them.   MS is definitely a champion of a successful partnership project: being presented the Innovation Award by Oxfordshire Community & Voluntary Action and being shortlisted for the Working Together Award acknowledge this. Can you share the story of this partnership and the process of building it?

As mentioned above it was a group effort between numerous organizations, and a long road. There were surveys done, meetings with various interested parties, regular strategy meetings etc.. which all paved the way for the brilliant project we have today. And the collaboration still continues. Our current space is a hive of activity with lots of collaborative projects happening as a result.

  MS is a co-working space open to social enterprises, workers cooperatives, small charities and creative individuals. How did you make this project financially viable?

Initially this was grant and loan money, however as time goes by the revenue from the residents will start to make the project self sustaining.
  North Oxford building owned by Wadham College is awaiting redevelopment. What happens next?

We have three prospective buildings in our sites. We are working on the feasibility of converting these to be fit for purpose and creating a strategy for how we start to manage multiple small sites and fill them in the fairest and most inclusive way possible. It is exciting times in Oxford as there is allot of energy and enthusiasm about what is happening with Oxford’s empty shops. We are in the thick of the conversation and trying to establish ourselves as the go to safe pair of hands for landlords who have meanwhile spaces they want to put to good use and then to have the right links within the community to be able to fill them with organizations who are makings roads towards improving society for all.

Good luck!

More about MakeSpace Oxford here C O M M U N I T Y   G R O W S Do you have has some spare garden space? You could be part of the “growing team” to grow some vegetables for the Reading Town Meal (Saturday 28th September – Forbury Gardens)
All seeds provided free!

In the last few decades we became used to see urban ares as major cause of irresponsible consumption of soil, air and water, with much of the discussion rightly focusing on the distortion caused by all that. But cities and towns are also places where people meet, connect, get inspired and innovate. There is an urgent need to highlight ideas and projects creating a positive impact to help them connect and create a critical mass, globally and locally.

This is what RESOURCEFUL READING does, showcasing ideas and initiatives that people and communities in Reading are already doing to make life more sustainable.

The display, featuring pioneering projects and more recent initiatives, is in Reading Museum’s community cabinet in the welcome area of the new ‘Story of Reading’ permanent gallery. Resourceful Reading is put together by The Reading Sustainability Centre and Reading Museum. Until end of May.

More info. My toaster has a lever which no longer holds toast down. The fan in my laptop is not working so it gets overheated. My leather case needs stitching. My hairdryer is broken. 

What can I do? Toss them? No way, take it to the REPAIR CAFE’ where you will find experts in fixing pretty much anything. Out of passion and great know how. W H E R E   &   W H E N

SUNDAY 16th JUNE @ READING HACKSPACE rLab, Unit C1, Weldale St, RG1 7BX
12:00 – 4:30 pm |
Tea&coffee&cakes offered.
Find out more on our FB page Reading Repair Café S I G N U P !

Reading Community Energy Society.


Share Offer 2019

Our 2019 share offer is now live!

Would you like to see more renewable energy in and around Reading? Would you like to make a return on your investment while supporting local sustainability initiatives?

Then our new share offer could be for you!

Building on the success of our 2016 solar panel scheme, we are pleased to launch our new share offer, providing the opportunity for you to invest in the installation of solar panels in the Reading area.

The scheme will help deliver cost-effective, low carbon energy to local organisations and businesses. We plan to install free solar panels on at least 8 buildings this spring, with 2 further opportunities also in discussion. The building occupants will receive fixed price electricity for the 20 year life of the project, with surplus funds ring-fenced to support further sustainability initiatives in the local community.

Applications are now open for individuals, organisations and businesses to invest in the scheme, with priority given to local investors (defined as having an RG postcode) and existing investors of the Society. We are looking to raise up to £363,000, with investments from £200 to £20,000 being invited. We are targeting 4.5% returns in years 1 to 3 and 5% returns from years 4 to 20.

Download the Share Offer Document

Applications can be made using the application form at the end of the share offer, online or you can download an application form.

Online Application Form

Download an Application Form

We anticipate closing the share offer on Friday 29 March 2019 at the Directors’ discretion, or sooner if fully subscribed.



Transition Town Reading, “Christmas Party.”

Wednesday 19 December, 7:30pm in RISC Room 3.

The Transition Town Reading Christmas Party will be taking place on Wednesday 19th December in Room 3 at RISC, London Street from 7.30 – 9.30pm. Come help us celebrate another successful year in Transition!

The event will begin by showing a 35 minute film about permaculture: “Surviving Collapse, Designing your Way to Abundance”, followed by party.

We’ll be joined by Reading Friends of the Earth, Berkshire Greenpeace, and other local groups. Please bring along food to share.

September/October 2018: In Transition.

Tell a friend! Join Trish Whitham from Brazier Park in a fun workshop where you will learn how Permaculture principles and design systems can help you successfully grow your own food with least effort. Learn to plan a food garden – or any project – using permaculture principles to solve problems and create abundance working with nature.
More on Thrish Whitham & Permaculture here
Reading Town Meal is a real community gathering, a “pic – nic in the park” celebrating  home grown and locally produced food. Students from Reading College will cook a free meal for over 1000 people, entirely made from produces donated by local growers and allotment holders.

The event is also a great chance to connect with the sustainable groups active in Reading: community groups and  local food & drink producers, will be showcasing local produce and activities, and three workshops will give the chance to get hands on with Permaculture principles and design systems, making the most of your home grown harvest and…baking Pizza!
Live music all day and family activities area, complete the program alongside a Town Meal treasure hunt.

This year’s menu includes  roasted Vegetable Allotment Ragout with salad and bread and Fruit Compote with granola topping. All veg!

For information on  workshops see:

A C T I O N    R E Q U I R E D
R E C Y C L E    W E E K
24 – 30 SEPTEMBER Recycling. We do. Because it matters.
The recycle week is part of a wider campaign that will run until 2019 to inspire people to change their recycling behaviours by demonstrating the benefits of recycling everyday items from all around the home. A downloadable toolkit here. Do something great this recycle week!
Not sure what you can do  with everyday items? Get inspired!
R E P A I R     C A F E’
My toaster has a lever which no longer holds toast down. The fan in my laptop is not working so it gets overheated. My leather case needs stitching. My hairdryer is broken.
What can I do? Toss them? No way, take it to the REPAIR CAFE’ where you will find experts in fixing pretty much anything. Out of passion and great know how. The Oasis is SO kids friendly, it’s a great family fun too!
W H E R E   &   W H E N

SUNDAY 21st  OCTOBER @ THE OASIS, 21 Baker St 12:30 – 4:30 pm | Tea&coffee&cakes offered.
Find out more on our FB page Reading Repair Café

S I G N U P !



Grow, grow, grow

How fulfilling and relaxing can it be to spend your Saturday mornings planting seeds, watering veggies, chopping weeds to feed the compost? Reflecting on the benefits of this new experience, here are some useful resources.

The 2018 European Permaculture Convergence is upcoming, with the aim to inspire and connect different experiences on the theme “New partnerships for Permaculture”.
In this interesting article, Clair Templar, discusses about the impact of Brexit on Permaculture, focusing on the urgency of creating stronger partnership with EU.
Read full articleThe 2018 European Permaculture Convergence will be held at Knockree Hostel, Enniskerry, County Wicklow from the 8th to 13th August 2018. For more details: European Permaculture Convergence
Invited by a friend to join them one Saturday morning, I put my baby on the pushbike and cycled the distance up to Southcote Grow Allotment. Surrounded by intimidating grey buildings, in an area where one in four residents live in flats with no garden to enjoy, is recent winner of the FOOD HERO AWARD.
This cute patch of land is cultivated by a bunch of local families that transformed a piece of derelict land into a thriving allotment growing fresh, healthy fruit and vegetables. As simple as it can be, it is indeed a transformative experience: you grow your own food and new relationships and you teach your child to nurture nature with so much fun. Check out their FB page for the Big Lunch on Sunday July 22nd.
Soutchcote Grow Allotment
R E P A I R     C A F E’
My toaster has a lever which no longer holds toast down. The fan in my laptop is not working so it gets overheated. My leather case needs stitching. My hairdryer is broken.
What can I do? Toss them? No way, take it to the REPAIR CAFE’ where you will find experts in fixing pretty much anything. Out of passion and great know how.
SUNDAY 15th JULY @ GLOBAL CAFE’ 12:30 | Hackspace | Tea&coffee&cakes offered.
Find out more on our FB page Reading Repair Café
S I G N U P !

April in Transition.


U P C O M I N G  E V E N T S


12 – 13 May 2018 | RISC
Gain inspiration and discover how to deepen your knowledge in permaculture path and start this “revolution disguised as gardening”. Trish Whitham will guide you through an introductory exploration of the ethics and principles of permaculture through exercises and mini projects. During the weekend you will examine a range of large and small projects around the world as well as the forest garden on the roof!
For booking and further information see Introduction to permaculture

The Achilles’ Heel of Algal Biofuels – Peak Phosphate. – An Update.


The following is an update to a previous posting If anything, the situation might be worse that I had concluded then, but the issue of phosphate rock reserves is more complex than I had deduced. So, this article is as written before, but with a few more numbers worked through, to account for “real” phosphate rock, rather than my initial model of it being pure fluorapatite [Ca5(PO4)3F (calcium fluorophosphate)]. The references are as appended to a full article on this subject that will appear in the next issue of the journal, Science Progress

The depletion of world rock phosphate reserves will restrict the amount of food that can be grown across the world, a situation that can only be compounded by the production of biofuels, including the potential large-scale generation of diesel from algae. The world population has risen to its present number of 7 billion in consequence of cheap fertilizers, pesticides and energy sources, particularly oil. Almost all modern farming has been engineered to depend on phosphate fertilizers, and those made from natural gas, e.g. ammonium nitrate, and on oil to run tractors etc. and to distribute the final produce2. If a peak in worldwide production of rock phosphate will occur within the next few decades, this will restrict the amount of food that the world will be able to produce in the future, against a rising number of mouths to feed. Additionally, there is a consensus of analytical opinion that we are also close to the peak in world oil production.

One proposed solution to the latter problem is to substitute oil-based fuels by biofuels, although this matter is not as straightforward as is often presented. In addition to the simple fact that growing fuel-crops must inevitably compete for limited arable land on which to grow food-crops, there are vital differences in the properties of biofuels, e.g. biodiesel and bioethanol, from conventional hydrocarbon fuels such as in petrol and diesel, which will necessitate the adaptation of engine-designs to use them – for example in regard to viscosity at low temperatures, e.g. in planes flying in the frigidity of the troposphere. Raw ethanol needs to be burned in a specially adapted (high compression ratio) engine to recover more of its energy in terms of tank to wheels miles, otherwise it could deliver only about 70% of the energy contained petrol, or diesel, weight for weight.

In order to obviate the competition between fuel and food crops, it has been proposed to grow algae from which to make biodiesel27. Some strains of algae28 can produce 50% of their weight of oil, which may be transesterified into biodiesel in the same way that plant oils are. Compared to, e.g. rapeseed, which might yield a tonne of biodiesel per hectare, or 8 tonnes from palm-oil, perhaps 40─90 tonnes per hectare29 is thought possible from algae, grown in ponds of equivalent area. Since the ponds can, in principle, be placed anywhere, there is no compromise over arable land, unlike fuel/food crops. Some algae grow well on salt-water too which avoids diverting increasingly precious freshwater from our normal uses for it, as opposed to the case for land-based crops which require enormous quantities of freshwater.

Diesel engines are more efficient27 by about 40%, in terms of tank to wheels miles, than petrol-fuelled spark-ignition engines, and so, in the spirit of energy efficiency, we shall assume that all vehicles are converted to run on diesel. This means that a total of around 40 million tonnes/year of diesel would need to be substituted for. To produce an equivalent amount of algal biodiesel, and assuming a yield of 40 tonnes/hectare (the lower end of the 40─90 t/ha range29), the algae ponds would require a total area of 10,000 km2. Ideally, the algae plants could be integrated with fossil fuelled power plants, to absorb CO2 from smokestacks by photosynthesis, driven only by the flux of natural sunlight. However, for the algae to grow, vital nutrients are also required, as a simple elemental analysis of dried algae will confirm. Phosphorus, though present in under 1% of that total mass, is one such vital ingredient, without which algal growth is negligible.

Two different methods are now used to estimate how much phosphate would be needed to grow this amount of algae: (1) to fuel the UK and (2) to fuel the world:(1) An analysis of dried Chlorella [} is taken as illustrative, which contains 895 mg of elemental phosphorus per 100 g of algae.

UK Case: To make 40 million tonnes of diesel would require 80 million tonnes of algae (assuming that 50% of it is oil and this can be converted 100% to diesel). The amount of “phosphate” in the algae is 0.895 x (95/31) = 2.74 %. (The Formula Weight, FW of PO43- is 95, while that of P is 31).Hence this much algae would contain: 80 million x 0.0274 = 2.19 million tonnes of phosphate. By initially assuming the chemical composition of the rock to be that of fluorapatite, Ca5(PO4)3F, FW 504, we can conclude that this amount of PO43- is contained in 3.87 million tonnes of it. However, actual mined rock phosphate is a more impure material than this, and that normally used for fertilizer production is reckoned to contain 29─34% P2O5 (to be compared with 42.3% as may be deduced from the chemical formula of pure fluorapatite, above). Following the calculations so far for the quantity of PO43- involved, and by using the ratio of FW for 0.5 P2O5/PO43- (71/95), we may conclude that there are (71/95) x 2.19 million = 1.64 million tonnes of P2O5 contained in this amount of PO43-. Taking the range average of 31.5% for the mineral P concentration, reckoned as P2O5, this would accord with 5.20 million tonnes of actual “rock phosphate”, yielding a conversion factor of 1.34 up from the value reckoned for pure fluorapatite. We may use the latter in the remaining calculations.

World Case: The world produces and consumes 30 billion barrels of oil a year, of which 70% is used for transportation (assumed). Since 1 tonne of oil is contained in 7.3 barrels, this equals 30 x 109/7.3 = 4.1 x 109 tonnes and 70% of that = 2.88 x 109 tonnes of oil for transportation.

Assuming that 50% of it is water, we would require twice the deduced mass of algae = 5.76 x 109 tonnes of it, which contains: 5.76 x 109 x 0.0274 = 158 million tonnes of phosphate. As before, by taking the chemical composition of the material as fluorapatite, Ca5(PO4)3F, FW 504, this amount of “phosphate” is contained in 279 million tonnes. Applying the factor of 1.34 as arrived at above, to account for the typical degree of impurity in the mineral, we obtain a requirement of 374 million tonnes of actual mined rock phosphate.

(2) To provide an independent estimate of these figures, we may note that growth of this algae is efficient in a medium containing a concentration of 0.03─0.06% phosphorus. To avoid being alarmist, we may use the lower part of the range, i.e 0.03% P. “Ponds” for growing algae vary in depth from 0.3─1.5 m, but we now assume a depth of 0.3 m.

UK Case: assuming (vide supra) that producing 40 million tonnes of oil (assumed equal to the final amount of diesel, to simplify the illustration) would need a pond/tank area of 10,000 km2. 10,000 km2 = 1,000,000 ha and at a depth of 0.3 m, this amounts to a volume of: 1,000,000 x (1 x 104 m2/ha) x 0.3 m = 3 x 109 m3.

A concentration of 0.03 % P = 0.092% phosphate, and so each m3 (assuming a density of 1t/m3) of volume contains 0.092/100 = 9.2 x 10-4 tonnes (920 grams) of phosphate. Therefore, we need:

3 x 109 x 9.2 x 10-4 = 2.76 million tonnes of phosphate, which is in reasonable accord with the amount of PO43- taken-up by the algae (2.19 million tonnes), as deduced above. This corresponds to 4.87 million tonnes of Ca5(PO4)3F, and if the 1.34 “impurity factor” is applied, to 6.53 million tonnes of rock phosphate.

World Case: To meet the requirements of the entire world would demand the substitution by algae fuel of 2.88 x 109 tonnes of crude oil, and an installation to produce this amount would occupy an area of 2.88 x 109/40 t/ha = 7.20 x 107 ha of land.

7.2 x 107 ha x (104 m2/ha) = 7.2 x 1011 m2 and at a depth of 0.3 m the ponds would occupy a volume = 2.16 x 1011 m3. Assuming a density of 1 tonne = 1 m3, and a concentration of PO43- = 0.092%, we need:

2.16 x 1011 x 0.092/100 = 1.99 x 108 tonnes of PO43-, i.e. 199 million tonnes. This corresponds to 352 million tonnes of Ca5(PO4)3F, or (x1.34) 472 million tonnes of actual mined rock phosphate.

This is also in acceptable accord with the figure deduced from the mass of algae, accepting that not all of the P would be withdrawn from solution during the algal growth.

Rock phosphate production10 in 2011 amounted to 191 million tonnes, against which must be compared the 472 million tonnes we have estimated would be needed to grow sufficient algae to fuel the world with algal biodiesel. Since food production is already being thought compromised by rock phosphate resource depletion, finding such a significant additional quantity is probably impossible. Currently, the U.S. produces less than 30 million tonnes of rock phosphate annually, but would require 104 million tonnes of the material to produce 22% of the world’s total algal diesel, in accord with its current “share” of world petroleum-based fuel. Hence, for the U.S., security of fuel supply could not be met by algae-to-diesel production using even all its indigenous rock phosphate output, and significant imports would still be needed. This is in addition to the amount of the mineral necessary to maintain agriculture. In principle, phosphate could be recycled from one batch of algae to the next, but how exactly this might be done remains a matter of some deliberation, e.g. the algae could be dried and burned30, and the phosphate extracted from the resulting “ash”, or the algae could be converted to methane in a biodigester31,32, releasing phosphate and other nutrients in the process. Clearly there are engineering and energy costs attendant to any and all such schemes and none has been adopted as yet.

I remain optimistic over algal diesel, but clearly if it is to be implemented on a serious scale its phosphorus has to come from elsewhere than mineral rock phosphate. There are regions of the sea that are relatively high in phosphates and could in principle be concentrated to the desired amount to grow algae, especially as salinity is not necessarily a problem. Recycling phosphorus from manure and other kinds of plant and animal waste appears to be the only means to maintain agriculture at its present level beyond the peak for rock phosphate, and certainly if additionally, algae are to be produced in earnest. In principle too, the phosphorus content of the algal-waste left after the oil-extraction process could be recycled into growing the next batch of algae. These are all likely to be energy-intensive processes, however, requiring “fuel” of some kind, in their own right. A recent study33 concluded that growing algae could become cost-effective if it is combined with environmental clean-up strategies, namely sewage wastewater treatment and reducing CO2 emissions from smokestacks of fossil-fuelled power stations or cement factories. This combination appears very attractive, since the impacts of releasing nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment and also those of greenhouse gases might be mitigated, while conserving precious N-P nutrient and simultaneously producing a material that can replace crude oil as a fuel feedstock.

It is salutary that there remains a competition between growing crops for fuel, and those for food, even if not directly in terms of land, for the fertilizers that both depend upon. There is a dissonance in that apparently clean, renewable sources of biofuels, in reality depend on inputs of a mined and finite reserve, which not only is growing more scarce, but its recovery leaves radioactive waste as a legacy (phosphogypsum)18. In principle, at least, recycling phosphorus from one batch to the next, in algae production, might be done more readily than for land-based crops. Along with the higher relative areal yields that are possible with algae, this might alleviate the rising demand for phosphate rock.

The above, however, illustrates the complex and interconnected nature of, indeed Nature, which as any stressed chain, will ultimately converge its forces onto the weakest link in the “it takes energy to extract energy” sequence. It seems quite clear that with food production already stressed, the production of (algal) biofuels will never be accomplished on a scale anywhere close to matching current world petroleum fuel use (> 20 billion barrels/annum)27. Thus, the days of a society based around personalized transport powered by liquid hydrocarbon fuels are numbered. We must reconsider too our methods of farming2, to reduce inputs of fertilisers, pesticides and fuel. Freshwater supplies are also at issue2, in the complex transition to a more localised age that uses its resources much more efficiently.


(2) Rhodes, C.J. (2012), Sci. Prog. 95, 203.

(27) Rhodes, C.J. (2008) Sci. Prog., 91, 317.

(28) Rhodes, C.J. (2009) Sci. Prog., 92, 39.

(29) Rhodes, C.J. (2012) Making Fuel from Algae: Identifying Fact Amid Fiction, in Gordon, R. and Seckbach, J. Eds. The Science of Algal Fuels: Phycology, Geology, Biophotonics, Genomics and Nanotechnology. Dordrecht, Springer, p177.

(30) Knoshaug, E.P. and Darzins, A. (2011) Chem. Engin. Prog., March, 37.

(31) Sialve, B. et al. (2009) Biotech. Adv. 27, 409.

(32) Heaven, S. et. al. (2011) Biotech. Adv., 29, 164.

(33) Clarens, A.F. et al. (2010) Environ. Sci. Technol., 44, 1813.

“Peak Oil” is Nonsense… Because There’s Enough Gas to Last 250 Years.


The title is a condensate of the latest rendition from Nigel Lawson, who served Margaret Thatcher’s government, both as Secretary of State for Energy and Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a recent interview, published by the Daily Mail (, Lord Lawson makes various assertions, each of which invite some consideration and question. At bold face, his conclusions confound the difference between a resource and a reserve. Furthermore, they ignore the fact that it is not the quantity available, but the rate at which it may be recovered – and this not only as a technical but economic reality (this is the “reserve”) – which is the determinant of whether and when oil or gas will “peak”.

As an example where the former but not the latter criterion holds, we might say that it is technically feasible to mine minerals from the moon, and bring them back to earth, but in economic terms, the prospect is unrealistic. However, it is the inclusion of all known, proved, probable and theoretical, that is reckoned-up as a resource, not only ignoring technical and economic factors, but the uncertainty of whether the material is there to be had in the first place. A useful analogy for the relationship between the amount in the reserve, and how quickly it may be recovered, is that it is not the size of the tank but the size of the tap that matters.

No sensible person that I am aware of, is saying that oil or gas is going to “run out” any time soon. I give a talk entitled “What happens when the oil runs out?”, but I begin by explaining that this is not going to happen, and we will be producing oil for decades to come. That noted, continuing to produce oil at the present rate of 30 billion barrels every year is unlikely to be possible for very much longer. At some point, reckoned to be around now, conventional crude oil production will reach a maximum, and then fall relentlessly. It must – this is the nature of a finite reserve. In principle, so long as that “hole” in the output of crude oil can be filled from alternative, unconventional sources, all is well, but once the loss of conventional production exceeds the provision of the latter, the overall sum will pass into the negative; in other words, global oil production will have peaked.

Lawson begins with mention of the extraction of gas and oil from shale by hydraulic fracturing (frac’ing, for the purists, but more commonly designated as fracking). He is entirely correct that it is new technologies – horizontal drilling combined with fracking – that have brought the cost down sufficiently that exhuming gas and oil from such inaccessible reservoirs is now both practically and economically viable. In principle, shale gas can be recovered all over the world, although until an actual well is drilled, there remains speculation as to how much gas there is and indeed its quality; for example, from several shale wells in Poland, came a gas that was so heavily contaminated with nitrogen that it wouldn’t burn. It also contained high levels of hydrogen sulphide, and removing both these other gases to leave pure methane would be extremely costly. That noted, because production from shale wells, of either gas or oil, tends to decline quite rapidly, down to perhaps only 20% of the initial rate within 2 years, more wells must be drilled year on year, to maintain the overall output of a field, and this rate must be elevated to raise gas production, as is sought. Ultimately, the scheme must run up against material limits to the levels of financial investment, infrastructure, equipment and trained personnel that can be brought to bear in the effort.

As to how much shale gas the United States has, claimed in the media as sufficient to last for 100 years, detailed inspection of the available figures reveals this to relate to a resource – i.e. the most optimistic set of accounts – while the reserve (proved plus probable) is more like 20 years worth. Given the known reserves of shale oil, and the expected production from it over the next few years, it is difficult to see how the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia, to don once more its crown as the world’s greatest oil-producing nation, which would mean an output of about 11 million barrels a day, up from just under 6 mbd currently, by 2017. In the tally of “oil” is included other “liquids”, including biofuels, natural gas plant liquids and refinery gains, which compromise the truth, since they have different properties from crude oil – in particular, a lower energy density.

Unsurprisingly, oil shale gets a mention, for which it is claimed there is three times as much “oil” under the U.S. as has been used in the past 100 years. Yes, it’s that resource thing again. It is probably worth stressing that oil shale is not the same thing as shale oil. Shale oil (tight oil) is actual crude oil that if recovered, e.g. through horizontal drilling and fracking, can be refined in the normal way. However, oil shale does not contain oil as such, but a solid organic material called kerogen. To produce a material resembling crude oil requires large amounts of energy to heat the kerogen to above 300 degrees centigrade, in order to crack it into liquid form; the process also uses large amounts of freshwater, and churns-out an equal volume of contaminated, wastewater which must be dealt with responsibly.

There is, as yet, no commercial scale production of oil from “oil shale”, and there may never be, since it takes almost as much energy to get oil from it as will be delivered by the oil itself, i.e. pointless. The returns are better on “oil sands”, maybe 3 to 1, in energy terms – once the material has been “upgraded” to provide a liquid fuel – but here too, vast quantities of water are needed, and sufficient energy is required to extract the bitumen in the first place, that installing nuclear reactors in such locations is being considered seriously as a source of heat, currently generated by burning natural gas.

Lawson concludes, “Today, oil, gas and coal represent 80 per cent of the global energy mix. They will continue to dominate the world’s energy markets for decades to come. And within that picture, natural gas is going to offer the cheapest way to produce electricity: cheaper than nuclear energy and massively cheaper than renewables…”. He’s obviously forgotten about climate change.

The Bunker Mentality.


One hundred feet below the Essex countryside lies the Secret Nuclear Bunker at Kelvdon Hatch, intended to house up to 600 military and civilian personnel – which may have included the Prime Minister – for 3 months, to coordinate the surviving population of London and its environs in the aftermath of a nuclear war. The bunker, in its entirety, is encased by a 10 foot thick wall, created by pouring continually some 40,000 tonnes of concrete, over a period of 7 months in 1951/52, working through the winter, and keeping the material warm by burning fires around the installation while the concrete set. The entrance to the bunker is concealed behind a very ordinary looking bungalow, and leads to a corridor 120 yards long, running into a hill. The corridor is truncated by a left, right-angle bend, intended that in the event of a nuclear blast, much of its energy would be dissipated before it could enter the main body of the bunker, which is closed-off by a pair of two-inch thick armoured-doors, each a tonne and a half in weight. A universal Faraday cage was installed to protect any electronic devices within the bunker from being taken-out by the high-energy electromagnetic pulse that always accompanies a nuclear detonation.

To allow 600 people to survive for 3 months, a supply of 24,000 gallons of water was preserved in underground tanks, along with enough food to feed that number during this time. At a daily dietary intake of 2,400 “calories” (kilocalories), a human body produces around 117 Watts of heat, and so, at full capacity, 70 kW of heat would need to be dissipated, for which an extensive cooling system was emplaced. The air supply into the bunker was drawn from the outside through a primary and secondary filtration system, and traces of dust not thus intercepted, were removed by a fine spray of water to avoid introducing any radioactive contamination. A facility was also installed with sufficient power that, in case of fire or other source of toxic release, all the air from the bunker could be extracted within 10 minutes. Since the whole is, in effect, a rather voluminous three-storey building, I imagine that to have been in there during such an operation would have been quite an experience.

Once the blast doors had been closed, that was it for the next 3 months. Some of the personnel were armed, and so anyone getting cabin fever and trying to escape would have been immediately shot, so as not to breach the security of the rest. The sanitation arrangements were interesting, since once the tanks from the latrines were full, the pumps would come into play, automatically discharging their contents to the surface in a powerful jet, possibly adding to the discomfort of anyone still surviving and unfortunate enough to get in the way of it!

In the anticipation that medical attention would be needed among the 600 throng, there was a sickbay, including a basic operating theatre, on the second floor, and also a supply of cardboard coffins, which stack flat. After about 3 days, a corpse begins to balloon with the gases of its incipient decomposition, and so the dead would be returned to the outside fairly rapidly. Since the living need sleep, there were dormitories – with the “hot bed” system intended – so that as one person went on shift, another would take his place in the warm bed, although with no lights on, this would be a noisy procedure and probably very little rest would be had by anybody.

The bunker is no longer “secret”, and is quite well signposted. It was decommissioned in 1992, and is now privately owned as a tourist attraction. Though never used for its purpose, the bunker was inaugurated entirely during the “cold war” period – such was Western fear of an all-out nuclear attack from “The Russians” – and is not a relic from WWII. Altogether, there were 12 bunkers of this kind built across the country, and connected by telephone cables set deep into the ground, so that communication could be maintained, even while the civilian population was being reduced by radiation sickness, starvation and marauding gangs, beyond those already killed instantly by the nuclear explosions.

There are many parallels that might be drawn between the mentality of the bunker, in anticipation of a nuclear attack by a foreign power, and the survival of humanity in the face of peak oil and ultimately climate change. Will a select few try to hide behind barriers, while the rest tear each other apart, fighting for what resources are left? In reality, there would have been nothing left for those in the nuclear bunker to come out to. The crops of the first year would have been destroyed by extreme cold and in the second year, there would have been little growth beneath the dust-filled skies of this nuclear winter. Much of the population would have been dead, and the land and infrastructure inhospitable to start anew. In reality, those “protected” few would have been condemned along with the huddled masses they sheltered from, once their carefully squirrelled resources had run dry.

The only course for humankind is to create a stable set of conditions, which such catastrophes cannot be part of; where our immediate security is not vulnerable to disruptions in exogenous global supply chains or threats from external forces. We, all of us, stand or fall together in the unfolding future – a choice of implementing the structures of local resilience over those of global dependency.The threat to human civilization is no longer of an external kind, but lies in our actions and behaviour – we cannot hide from ourselves.

“Get Involved Reading” Event – Accessing Local Media.


Get Involved Reading – Accessing Local Media,

Thursday 22 November, 10:00 am – 12:00 noon. 5 Queens Walk, Reading, RG1 7QF.

Today’s event was attended by Ornella, Chris B and myself, and was a great success. Alan Bunce, the Community Editor of the Reading Post and James Ashford, its Web Editor, were there as instructors and the event was organised by Rachel Miller (Reading Voluntary Action). The most important message was that the local media want input from us. This is termed “user generated content”. So, what do they want particularly?

Emphasis was placed on press releases/stories that lend themselves to a good accompanying picture. Community-based topics may be listed under the following headings:


Appeals for help




The best appreciated format for a press release is as follows:

(1) A short, to the point, introduction, and specific reference to the local area where the event occurs, e.g. “Charity football match in Woodley.”

(2) Include a direct quote from someone that contains the essence of the story.

(3) Include contact details, mobile phone number and email.

(4) Be available!

It is recommended that you locate the editor (list below) for each section of the newspaper, and approach them directly. It is further appreciated that rather than attaching a word-file, say, the text is simply put into the body of an email message.

James Ashford talked specifically about the kind of photographs that are best suited for publication in a newspaper. He said that they usually print at a resolution of 200 dpi (dots per inch) but that the quality of most electronic cameras including those on mobile phones would do the job fine and not to process or crop the image at all, but simply send the raw image as a separate attachment file (ideally RGB jpeg), including the text in the body of the email message, as before.

He suggested that a good picture should meet the following criteria:

(1) Tight – no wasted space

(2) Bright – Focus on the main character(s) or theme of the subject

(3) Upright – camera face-on, not leaning at an angle.

“People plus props”, so that objects are placed with principal characters that tell you who those persons are, e.g. a rugby player holding a rugby ball. Generally, landscape images are best as this fits in with the available space and format of the paper, but two images, landscape and portrait may be sent for them to choose from, if the latter allows better composition and focus on a key feature.

He pointed out that a photograph adds emotion to a story, beyond what can be imparted by “dry text”.

If there is a large group of people, then interest/focus needs to be introduced (e..g the principal characters can be brought to the foreground, plus props), and a caption added, running from left to right, giving the names to show who is who – up to 10 names. As an example of the former technique, he took a picture of the group of about 20 of us, huddled close but with the people at the front holding copies of the Reading Post, to signify what the event was about.

For a particular cause, he suggests finding a photographer – e.g. volunteers, enthusiasts, Everyone! – and if it’s just not possible to get hold of a photo, use a logo instead. The paper does have professional photographers, and if they are to be used, then don’t have them hanging around for an hour before the event, but tell them exactly when to come, as they have several jobs to do in a day!

Finally, if taking a photograph of an event itself is not feasible, then fake it! In other words, take a picture of e.g. someone retiring after 30 years, actually doing the job they loved, and use that rather than worrying about talking one of the retirement “do” itself.

A good photograph with a good “hook”, something that draws the reader in – people cheering, happy children etc. – is more likely to be published. A picture really can paint a thousand words.


Reading Post/Get Reading editorial contacts:

Sarah Hamilton – news editor

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3020

Linda Fort – political reporter

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3021

David Millward – business and transport reporter

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3009

Paul Cassell – education, environment reporter and The Diary.

Caversham, Emmer Green, Sonning Common, Sonning, Spencers Wood and Shinfield.

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3063

Vacancy – crime reporter (temporarily send to Sarah Hamilton)

Oxford Road, West Reading, Goring, Pangbourne, Southcote, Newtown and Coley

Vacancy – health reporter and Petfinder (temporarily send to Sarah Hamilton)

Whitley, Woodley, Earley and Lower Earley

Andy Murrill – Editor

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3024

Hilary Scott – deputy editor

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3028

Alan Bunce – community editor

Reading, Bracknell and Wokingham

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3010

Caroline Cook – features editor/What’s on

Reading, Bracknell and Wokingham Tel: (0118) 918 3061

James Ashford – web editor

Email: Tel: (0118) 918 3074

Sports desk (0118) 918 3016

Wokingham desk (0118) 918 3000