Thursday, February 23, 2017

When is a quote not a quote?

This week, the Lords have been discussing the Brexit bill. There have been some very fine speeches, including one by Lord (Frank) Judd, a highly respected former Labour MP. At one point, according to Hansard, he said:

" There has been a good deal of talk in this debate about taking the 48% seriously, but there is another statistic that we must never discount. Only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit. That is hardly an indication of the overwhelming popular will; it is an indication that some highly motivated people mobilised their case well and effectively."

This is how this was reported on the Express website (

'Lord Judd, Labour, said: “We are the peers, we should not bow to the demands of the people, only 36 per cent of the people voted for Brexit.” '

Note that the Express "quote" is presented as just that - not a paraphrase but a word-for-word quote. Could it be that readers of some popular news sources might be ever so slightly in danger of being misinformed on some matters?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Utopia or realism?

I have just read Phillip Inman's article in The Observer (22 January 2017) -  Utopian ideas on climate change will get us precisely nowhere. It's dangerous stuff - offering what could be a self-fulfilling prophecy that we will fail to do what is needed to tackle the threat of catastrophic climate change.

I generally agree with the first part of the article, which elaborates on the title. Later he makes some sensible points about, for instance, switching to electric cars. I part company from him when he says:
Aircraft makers should be forced to make their planes more efficient, and airport owners must clean up the pollution they create. But this is an exercise in minimising the impact of flying, given that its expansion is inevitable.
Increasing the efficiency of planes is no substitute for reductions in flying. The laws of physics set a limit to aircraft efficiency and we are getting close to that limit. (This was explained some years ago by the late Sir David MacKay). Flying, like most travel, is an intrinsically energy-intensive activity. Because of its speed, low cost and convenience, it encourages us to travel long distances frequently. It seems inconceivable that aviation can continue for long at anything like its present level if we are serious about lowering the risk of catastrophic climate change.

The world needs to be completely carbon neutral by about 2050 - or sooner if we use up our remaining carbon budget before then. How much flying will be possible in a zero-carbon world? I have only seen one estimate (from the Centre for Alternative Technology) - about a third of what we do now.

Furthermore, expansion of aviation is not inevitable - it is the choice of today's politicians to allow it to happen. Much of our population seems ill-informed about the seriousness of the threat from climate change and sees little moral obligation to make more than token personal gestures to mitigate that threat. The crime of our present generation of politicians is that they go along with this. They follow public opinion where they should be leading it. Responsibility lies on their shoulders. It is their duty to be better informed and more morally aware than the bulk of the population.

If we are not lucky or proactive enough to avoid catastrophic climate change, future generations will regard our present politicians, with some exceptions, as criminally negligent. My feelings are summed up in what Dylan Thomas famously said:-

Do not go gentle into that good night...
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
For me, "the light" is our civilisation and the once stable physical climate that made it possible.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

So it's Heathrow

Last week I commented on the then impending decision on a new runway at Heathrow or Gatwick. At the weekend I was pleased to see an opinion piece in The Observer by David Mitchell, where he raised a question: 

Climate change is definitely happening. Aviation contributes hugely to it. So global levels of aviation must be significantly reduced. Why is it, then, that everyone with a whisker of a chance of power agrees that London’s airport capacity should increase?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Heathrow or Gatwick - do either make sense?

Recent political events have caused some previously disjointed thoughts to coalesce.

Let's start with the impending decision on whether a new runway should be built at Heathrow or Gatwick. This raises an interesting question: how much aviation will be possible in a zero-carbon Britain and a zero-carbon world? The only attempt at an answer that I know of comes from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), who gave a tentative estimate in 2013 that in zero-carbon Britain, aviation would be limited to about a third of its present level.

Friday, August 5, 2016

More on nuclear versus renewables

My last posting was about the late Professor Sir David MacKay's opinion that the UK could not manage on renewable energy alone and that if we had enough nuclear and carbon capture and storage to get us through the winter (when solar power is very weak) we would have enough for the rest of the year and renewables would be superfluous. After that posting, I looked at the contrary view offered by the Centre for Alternative Technology in their 2013 publication Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Nuclear versus renewables

The other day I was doing some crude calculations on the feasibility of renewable energy in Britain. This came after I had detected some euphoria about the potential for solar power now that costs of solar panels have fallen and large-scale battery storage is becoming possible. I tentatively concluded that we could get all the energy we currently use if we were prepared to cover about 11% of the land area of the UK with solar farms. This was on the basis that, on average, a solar farm in the UK can deliver about 10 watts per square metre of land occupied by the farm. An on-shore wind farm, by contrast, can only deliver about 2 watts per square metre, though the land between the turbines can be used for other things. I then put together a very crude energy plan for the UK, using a combination of solar, off-shore wind, on-shore wind, tidal and wave power. It assumed that 30% of our current energy use would be from solar farms, occupying about 3% of our land, and that our energy demand would be reduced, through efficiency measures and demand management, by 37%. It looked just about feasible, technically if not politically.

Then I came across this video  in which the late and highly-respected Professor Sir David MacKay is interviewed by Mark Lynas eleven days before his untimely death in April. You can see what I thought was a pretty fair summary of the key points here. MacKay's book, Sustainable energy without the hot air, was my main source of information on the feasibility of renewable energy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

David MacKay

I was very sorry to read today about the death of Sir David MacKay, FRS.

In what I write on my blog etc. I often refer firstly to the urgency and importance of tackling the threat of climate change and secondly on the difficulty of doing so. My thinking on the second point is derived almost entirely from David MacKay's book, Sustainable energy - without the hot air, which I first read seven years ago and frequently refer to.

You can read his obituary, by Mark Lynas in the Guardian.