Main | Computer Security »

Sunday, January 18, 2015

H G Wells on Technological Unemployment

The concept of "Technological Unemployment" seems to be in fashion once again.

The sanest words I've read on the subject come from H. G. Wells in his 1914 work "The World Set Free":

He asked a passing stroller, and was told that the men had struck that day against the use of an atomic riveter that would have doubled the individual efficiency and halved the number of steel workers.
'Shouldn't wonder if they didn't get chucking bombs,' said Barnet's informant, hovered for a moment, and then went on his way to the Alhambra music hall.
Barnet became aware of an excitement in the newspaper kiosks at the corners of the square. Something very sensational had been flashed upon the transparencies. Forgetting for a moment his penniless condition, he made his way over a bridge to buy a paper, for in those days the papers, which were printed upon thin sheets of metallic foil, were sold at determinate points by specially licensed purveyors. Half over, he stopped short at a change in the traffic below; and was astonished to see that the police signals were restricting vehicles to the half roadway. When presently he got within sight of the transparencies that had replaced the placards of Victorian times, he read of the Great March of the Unemployed that was already in progress through the West End, and so without expenditure he was able to understand what was coming.
He watched, and his book describes this procession which the police had considered it unwise to prevent and which had been spontaneously organised in imitation of the Unemployed Processions of earlier times. He had expected a mob but there was a kind of sullen discipline about the procession when at last it arrived. What seemed for a time an unending column of men marched wearily, marched with a kind of implacable futility, along the roadway underneath him. He was, he says, moved to join them, but instead he remained watching. They were a dingy, shabby, ineffective-looking multitude, for the most part incapable of any but obsolete and superseded types of labour. They bore a few banners with the time-honoured inscription: 'Work, not Charity,' but otherwise their ranks were unadorned.
They were not singing, they were not even talking, there was nothing truculent nor aggressive in their bearing, they had no definite objective they were just marching and showing themselves in the more prosperous parts of London. They were a sample of that great mass of unskilled cheap labour which the now still cheaper mechanical powers had superseded for evermore. They were being 'scrapped'—as horses had been 'scrapped.'
Barnet leant over the parapet watching them, his mind quickened by his own precarious condition. For a time, he says, he felt nothing but despair at the sight; what should be done, what could be done for this gathering surplus of humanity? They were so manifestly useless—and incapable—and pitiful.
What were they asking for?
They had been overtaken by unexpected things. Nobody had foreseen——
It flashed suddenly into his mind just what the multitudinous shambling enigma below meant. It was an appeal against the unexpected, an appeal to those others who, more fortunate, seemed wiser and more powerful, for something—for INTELLIGENCE. This mute mass, weary footed, rank following rank, protested its persuasion that some of these others must have foreseen these dislocations—that anyhow they ought to have foreseen—and arranged.
That was what this crowd of wreckage was feeling and seeking so dumbly to assert.
'Things came to me like the turning on of a light in a darkened room,' he says. 'These men were praying to their fellow creatures as once they prayed to God! The last thing that men will realise about anything is that it is inanimate. They had transferred their animation to mankind. They still believed there was intelligence somewhere, even if it was careless or malignant.... It had only to be aroused to be conscience-stricken, to be moved to exertion.... And I saw, too, that as yet THERE WAS NO SUCH INTELLIGENCE. The world waits for intelligence. That intelligence has still to be made, that will for good and order has still to be gathered together, out of scraps of impulse and wandering seeds of benevolence and whatever is fine and creative in our souls, into a common purpose. It's something still to come....'

Posted by Phil at 7:28 PM
Edited on: Sunday, January 18, 2015 7:41 PM
Categories: Comment

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Domestic LED lighting is Cost-effective Right Now

Of late I've been looking in the lighting sections of supermarkets in search of usable LED replacements for compact fluorescent and incandescent lamps for normal room lighting, but to no avail.

Until yesterday, that is, when I stumbled across this little beauty in my local Aldi store.

This is a Medion MD14536 11W LED lamp (equivalent to 75W incandescent, 18W compact fluorescent), 1055 lumens, 2700K colour temperature, rated lifetime of 35000 hours. Their light output is around 100 lumens per watt. And all for a princely £9.99. The only drawback is that they are not dimmable.

An equivalent Philips 18W compact fluorescent with a 6000 hour lifetime sells for a fiver on Amazon and gives around 60 lumens per watt.

10W (60W incandescent, 810 lumens) and 5.5W (40W incandescent, 470 lumens) are also available.

My experience of modern CFLs is that they rarely last their rated lifetime. I'm lucky if they get to half of it in my residence. CFLs I purchased over a decade ago were much more reliable.

LED lighting at this price is cost-effective right now. A real bargain!

Postscript, October 14th

My local Asda now has 12W (60W incandescent, 810 lumens, 25000 hour rated lifetime) LED lamps for £16. Not such a bargain.

Posted by Phil at 8:45 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 9:20 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Friday, September 06, 2013

Scientific Illiteracy, Propaganda, or Both?

The Beeb are are being sloppy, ignorant, incompetent, or just plain malicious propaganda-spreaders once again.

A tweet by Greenpeace Nuclear @nukereaction alerted me this morning

Here it is:


Back in November, I commented on this nonsense:


The irony is that nuclear energy is the ultimate non-renewable, actually destroying matter.

Posted by Phil at 11:53 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 9:53 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Thursday, May 02, 2013

That Which Must Not be Mentioned, Episode 5,100,000

The Beeb reports that Royal Dutch Shell's profits are up.

As usual, no mention of the impacts of the consumption of fossil fuels on the climate.

Worse than that, BBC Radio 4's Today programme's coverage sounded like a worshipful paean to the company, praising the company's performance without any mention of the impacts of burning the stuff.

Posted by Phil at 8:02 AM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 9:54 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

No More Covering Up Errors, Government Told

By our own correspondent:

The Government will have a legal duty to be honest about mistakes as part of an overhaul of the system in the wake of the umpteenth scandal.

The move is part of a package of measures in England to put citizens at the heart of government, ministers said.

Propaganda Secretary Hegemony Junta said the response on Tuesday marked the start of a "fundamental change to the system".

"We cannot merely tinker around the edges - we need a radical overhaul with high quality care and compassion at its heart."

He said he wanted to create a culture of "zero harm" through the changes.

Key to this will be the new post of chief inspector of MPs - and the statutory duty of MPs to be honest about mistakes, known as a duty of candour.

But the government said it would wait before deciding whether to make individual MPs criminally accountable for hiding mistakes as it was concerned about creating a "culture of fear".

On training for MPs, ministers said there would be a pilot programme whereby MPs will have to work for up to a year as healthcare assistants before getting parliamentary expenses.

Meanwhile, cabinet ministers who fail in their jobs will be barred from holding such positions in the future.

Oh, how I wish!

The above wishful thinking is inspired by this news story.

Posted by Phil at 7:46 PM
Edited on: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 7:56 PM
Categories: Comment

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's Time to Bury the "Two Degrees Celsius Temperature Rise is Safe" Meme

The journal Science has just published a paper by Anton Vaks, O. S. Gutareva, S. F. M. Breitenbach, E. Avirmed, A. J. Mason, A. L. Thomas, A. V. Osinzev, A. M. Kononov, and G. M. Henderson about historical periods of Siberian permafrost melt, entitled Speleothems Reveal 500,000-Year History of Siberian Permafrost.

Unfortunately it's behind a paywall (grumble, grumble), but the abstract and reports give us enough information to be very concerned. From the paper's abstract:

Growth at that time indicates that global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw significant regions of permafrost

Siberian permafrost thaw warning sparked by cave data, reports the Beeb, who mention temperatures 1.5ºC above the present, without qualifying 'the present'. Such lack of rigour is a godsend to the climate change deniers, who doubtless will be equally sloppy. But read on.

Scientific American elaborates:

The details of the study reveal that conditions were warm enough even in Siberia for these mineral deposits to form roughly 400,000 years ago, when the global average temperature was 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than present. It also suggests that there was no permafrost in the Lena River region at that time, because enough water seeped into the northernmost cave to enable roughly eight centimeters of growth in the formations.

That was, in fact, the last time the formations in the Ledyanaya Lenskaya Cave grew, although other caves further south showed multiple periods of growth coinciding with other warmer periods. "That boundary area of continuous permafrost starts to degrade when the mean global temperature is 1.5 degrees C higher than present," Vaks explains. "Such a warming is a threshold after which continuous permafrost zone starts to be vulnerable to global warming."

Since Vaks's present is the "preindustrial late Holocene," that means the planet is already more than halfway there, having experienced 0.8 degree C warming to date. Such a thaw is no small matter, given that permafrost covers nearly a quarter of the land in the Northern Hemisphere and holds roughly 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon—or roughly twice as much carbon as is currently trapping heat in the atmosphere. Much of that carbon would end up in the atmosphere if the permafrost was to thaw further.


"The potential impact of these results extends to global policy: these results indicate the potential release of large amounts of carbon from thawed permafrost even if we attain the 2 degree [C] warming target under negotiation," says Kevin Schaefer, a scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, who has also studied permafrost but was not involved in this, in his words, "great science" effort. "Permafrost thaws slowly and the carbon will be released into the atmosphere over two to three centuries."

Read that again. An average global temperature rise of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels would be enough to cause significant permafrost melt.

Time to stop talking that "2ºC rise is safe" nonsense, a myth I debunked over six years ago.

Postscript, March 22nd, 2013

Dr Chris Shaw, aka @kalahar1, has an interesting post today on Talking Climate, "Time to ask the public: Why 2 degrees?"

The most important determinants of the two degree limit are the social settings in which the deliberations are conducted. Under conditions of empirical uncertainty, such as those characterising climate change projections, institutional setting alongside social and political values come to play a determining role in defining what is considered ‘true’.

Achieving group uniformity becomes an increasingly important determinant of decision making the greater the level of uncertainty. The groups that have defined the two degree dangerous limit are powerful political and technical actors. The idea of a limit has been defined according to the interests of those groups making the decisions.

What does climate change look like if the available information is interpreted by the values of citizens? The purpose of such an exercise would not be to agree a new ‘dangerous’ limit. Rather, it would be to allow publics to better understand the decision making process and see how uncertainty - rather than offering a reason for doing nothing - actually shows that there is not a single dangerous limit, the avoidance of which means safety from harmful climate impacts.

Postscript, December 2nd, 2013

Also read this summary from David Spratt - Is climate change already dangerous (5): Climate safety and an unavoidably radical future (and the rest of the series).

And today's hot story: 2C rise will be a disaster say leading scientists

Postscript, October 1st, 2014

Controversy erupted today when David Victor and Charles Kennel, writing in Nature, suggested that we should ditch the 2°C warming goal.

Climate Controversy: Does the 2 Degree Goal Need to Go? asks Stephanie Pappas at Livescience.

Limiting global warming to 2°C – why Victor and Kennel are wrong argues Stephan Rahmstorf over at RealClimate.

Victor and Kennel: re-arrange the deckchairs, says William M. Connolley.

I hadn't seen this one before, but it's worth a read: Defining dangerous anthropogenic interference. A handy background by Dr Michael E. Mann to the whole two degrees thing.

Joe Romm nails it in 2°C Or Not 2°C: Why We Must Not Ditch Scientific Reality In Climate Policy.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that 2°C is way too high, and that 1°C is the better, more cautious target.

Posted by Phil at 3:47 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 9:55 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Monday, December 24, 2012

At the end of the Year

It's almost the end of the year, and it's time to review my predictions for 2012.

So, how did I do? It's worth referring to original post and its postscripts.

1: <famous celeb> will divorce <another famous celeb>

Tongue in cheek, and a dead cert, let's move on from that one. It was just way too easy. Should have named names...

2: As the western world rushes at an ever-accelerating pace towards third-world status, we'll see more problems with crumbling infrastructure, in particular the North American electricity power grid.

My postscripts to my original post confirm this one, along with a very welcome growing awareness of the problem.

3: More 'weird weather' across the globe, bringing large loss of life, crop failures, and high staple food prices. Expect major 2007-scale floods in the United Kingdom.

Bullseye! All of the above. This prediction might as well be on auto-repeat for the rest of the century.

4: A bad year for the UK's Labour Party. The knives will be out for Ed Miliband. It's unlikely that he'll still be Labour leader this time next year.

This was pure wishful thinking on my part, alas. Nonetheless, Ed Miliband's and Labour's performance this year has been dismally weak.

5: The 'Occupy' movement won't go away, but is likely to split into multiple factions of varying degrees of militancy.

More of a miss than a hit, though Occupy's offshoots 'Occupy Sandy' and 'Strike Debt' might be seen by some to fit that description. Was right about them being labelled 'domestic terrorists', though.

6: Strong laws to regulate the banksters will not be enacted.

Nor will they be enacted next year, or the year after.

7: The financial crash will continue unabated, and governments will even more zealously chant their religious mantras of "growth at any cost".

Another dead cert. This prediction game is just too easy.

8: More "Household name" High Street stores will vanish from the urban landscape.

Blacks, Barratts, Peacocks, JJB Sports, and Comet. And more to come next year.

9: People start to wake up to reality. Physical, ecological, psychological and spiritual reality. And that will bring great suffering.

Well, the suffering's definitely here, alas, and there are signs of people getting the bigger picture. But I'm not so sure that there's a wide awakening yet. Let's hope it comes soon.

And my predictions for 2013?

More of the above.

And the UK government continuing its swing to the far right, compleat with more repression and blatant corruption.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Postscript 1, January 9th, 2013

And we're off. The High Street camera retailer, Jessops, went into administration today. More to come.

Postscript 2, January 14th, 2013

Jessops closed their doors on Friday, and tomorrow HMV goes into administration.

Postscript 3, January 16th, 2013

And today it's Blockbuster's turn, with more to come?

Postscript 4, June 26th, 2013

The Telegraph reports that 2,000 jobs [are] at risk as Dwell, Internacionale, Ark and ModelZone head for administration.

Posted by Phil at 1:33 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 9:55 PM
Categories: Comment, Waffle

Thursday, November 29, 2012

That Which Must Not be Mentioned (yet again)

The BBC are at it again!

In an article entitled "The Inuit sitting on billions of barrels of oil" there's zero mention of climate change, global warming, or the unsustainable consumption of non-replenishing resources.

Of course not.

But there is mention of jobs and the economy and some mythical 'energy independence'.

Dear BBC, the main issue with drilling for oil in the Arctic, or anywhere else, is what we do with it when we've found it. That's too difficult a concept for you to comprehend, it appears.

I wrote about this obliviousness to the climate change impacts of fossil fuel consumption back in July 2008: Wrong Numbers, episode 200,000,000,000

And again in September, 2009: Wrong Numbers, Episode 3,000,000,000

Will the media never learn?


The other day, talking about the Energy Bill, the Beeb's Roger Harrabin said this:

"DECC argues that in the long term clean energy will save money because renewables and nuclear are dear to build but relatively cheap to run."

And since when has nuclear been a clean energy source?

I expect a lot better than this from the BBC. Appalling.

Posted by Phil at 1:42 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 10:53 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Hot? Or Not?

Today my outdoor thermometer was reading 12ºC at 3pm, rather warm for this time of year, or so it seemed.

So I decided to investigate. The Met Office provides a dataset of Central England Daily Temperatures, dating back to 1878. After downloading the daily maximum HadCET 1878-2001 data, extracting the January 8th data, adding today's measurement, and playing with a spreadsheet, I got this graph (click on image to enlarge):


The line through the middle of the graph is a linear trend line, increasing over time.

Also interesting is the numbers of January 8ths with maximum temperatures of 10ºC or more:

1878-1944, 8 January 8s with max temp 10ºC or more.

1945-2012, 15 with max temp 10ºC or more, the last eight of which are from 1992 to 2012

So, yes, January 8th is getting warmer in these parts.

Posted by Phil at 9:26 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 10:51 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Refusal to Govern

It's chilling to find one's old predictions coming true.

Back in August 2006, in a post about a particularly bad thinkwanktank report on Climate Change Messaging, I stated:

As we begin our downward spiral our governments will increasingly refuse to govern, instead blaming easily targetted parts of the populace for our woes. And when the energy crunch starts to hurt, they'll move from blame to punishment, lashing out blindly as the rug is pulled from beneath their feet.

And then today I read this report in the Indy, Cameron tells MPs to stop making laws:

Sir George Young, the Leader of the Commons, has told cabinet colleagues the next session must include fewer, better drafted Bills.

The fewer, the better, of course, because that will please their owners, big business and the banksters.

Still no sign of any legislation to deal with the greedy usurers, of course.

H/t to @MagsNews for the link to the Indy report.

Postscript, February 5th, 2012:

A post today on the Gaian Economics blog led me to a Green House Think Tank paper on Sustainability Citizenship (.pdf) from Prof Andrew Dobson, in which he starts his summary by stating:

"Governments have stopped governing; markets have become the origin and legitimating source of policy."


Postscript, September 11th, 2014

By George he's got it!

George Monbiot, in his latest Guardian column, "Stopping climate meltdown needs the courage that saved the ozone layer", says

"Governments gather to discuss an urgent problem and propose everything except the obvious solution – legislation. The last thing our self-hating states will contemplate is what they are empowered to do: govern"

Posted by Phil at 8:22 PM
Edited on: Wednesday, April 01, 2015 10:51 PM
Categories: Comment, Waffle

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Predictions for 2012

A few predictions for the coming year:

<famous celeb> will divorce <another famous celeb>

Oi, Mr Brand, you could have waited a few days! There'll be more. Dead cert, as always.

As the western world rushes at an ever-accelerating pace towards third-world status, we'll see more problems with crumbling infrastructure, in particular the North American electricity power grid.

California and New Zealand both suffered the consequences of inadequately resilient electric power grids in 2011. Expect this sort of occurrence to become more commonplace over the next few years. Both countries, by the way, have had over 40 years to sort out the already known by the 1970s grid problems; both failed to do so.

More 'weird weather' across the globe, bringing large loss of life, crop failures, and high staple food prices. Expect major 2007-scale floods in the United Kingdom.

And they'll still deny that it's climate change, insisting that it's natural variations in the weather.

A bad year for the UK's Labour Party. The knives will be out for Ed Miliband. It's unlikely that he'll still be Labour leader this time next year.

The polls are already showing ridiculously large public support for the Tories. This is likely to increase, as an increasingly insecure public seeks security in "strong leadership". We learn from history, etc...

The 'Occupy' movement won't go away, but is likely to split into multiple factions of varying degrees of militancy.

In the USA and beleaguered eurozone countries, there'll be physical violence against the elite or symbols of the elite. Things will get a lot nastier, and governments will become even more repressive against ordinary citizens. The term 'domestic terrorism', or something similar, will get a lot of media attention.

Strong laws to regulate the banksters will not be enacted.

Measures pretending to be the same will be, but they'll have been drafted with the aid of the guilty parties with enough loopholes to satisfy the corrupt and greedy.

The financial crash will continue unabated, and governments will even more zealously chant their religious mantras of "growth at any cost".

Pissing against the wind never was a good idea, and attempting to 'grow' in a world in which availability of real physical and ecological resources is contracting rapidly is the worst possible strategy, which can only hasten collapse.

More "Household name" High Street stores will vanish from the urban landscape.

I'd thought this one before the announcements about the difficulties being experienced by Blacks and Barratts. There'll be more to come.

People start to wake up to reality. Physical, ecological, psychological and spiritual reality. And that will bring great suffering.

For many people, acknowledging reality will involve psychological trauma as their dreams and hopes are shown to be cruel delusions. The upside is, as Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, "the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain".

On that cheerful note, Happy New Year.

Postscript, January 1st

The ink's hardly dried on this blog post and the Grauniad comes up with this: "2012 could be 'disastrous' for retail sector, warn analysts".

Postscript 2, January 18th

This week, gift shop chain Past Times and clothing retailer Peacocks have both gone into administration. They haven't vanished from the High Street yet, but hey, it's only January and there's more to come.

Postscript 3, February 22nd

Greenbang reports today that US power blackouts leave record numbers in the dark. Whilst not confirming my prediction (it's way too soon for that), the article makes it clear that there is a problem which needs dealing with.

It was confirmed today that 224 Peacocks stores have ceased trading, including the one here in Worcester (which opened in May, 2009), so though the name survives in other towns and cities, it has definitely vanished from my urban landscape.

Postscript 4, May 16th

Clinton Cards is the latest victim of the recession.

Postscript 5, June 8th

Dmitry Orlov has also noticed the fragility of the North American electric power grid.

Postscript 6, June 30th

Apple Crop Destroyed. 90 Percent loss in Michigan, Ontario due to Bizarre Spring. Deniers: “More Co2 Needed”.

Corn jumps on US Midwest drought, up 12 pct in two days, reports Reuters.

Postscript 7, July 4th and 6th

Jesse's Café Américain pleads: Mr. President, Fix This Power Grid... John Cooper also finds the situation intolerable. Dave Cohen comments on Multilple Failures in the United States. The Associated Press story he cites backs up my claim that we've had plenty of time to fix electricity grid problems.

Postscript 8, July 17th

Electric Forecast Calls for Increasing Blackouts - "From falling investment to falling deer, America’s power grid is falling down. A lack of political will and willingness to rely on Band-Aids may doom efforts to improve the nation’s power infrastructure."

Postscript 9, July 18th

George Mobus, in his excellent "Question Everything" blog, is Watching the Global Economic System self-destruct: "It is ironic, though, that the very thing that everyone is just so sure is the cure to the problem, growth, is actually the cause of our predicament in the first place. Economic growth at a time of approaching limits of critical resources is exactly the opposite of a healthy economy. The economy is entering a phase, a permanent phase, of on-going contraction that no one will be able to halt with any conceivable fiscal or monetary policies. In the end they won't even be able to slow the contraction down after it builds momentum."

Postscript 10, July 20th

Record cereal prices stoke fears of global food crisis: "corn prices hitting a record high of $8.16 (£5.19) a bushel on Thursday, while soya beans hit a high of $17.17"

Postscript 11, July 31st

Second blackout in India in two days leaves 670 million without power, reports Reuters. "Half of India's 1.2 billion people were without power on Tuesday as the grids covering a dozen states broke down, the second major blackout in as many days and an embarrassment for the government as it struggles to revive economic growth. Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the deserts of Rajasthan, the power cut was the worst to hit India in more than a decade."

Postscript 12, August 2nd

Aging power grid on overload as U.S. demands more electricity, reports the Washington Post.

Postscript 13, August 5th

Attack on Sikh temple labelled 'domestic terrorism'.

Postscript 14, August 20th

Be sure to read Nicole Foss' article "India Power Outage: The Shape of Things to Come?"

Postscript 15, Sept 6th

Extreme Weather Supersizes Global Food Price Tags

Postscript 16, Sept 24th

JJB Sports is the latest victim of the 'downturn'. Oct 1st: JJB Sports in administration with 2,200 job losses.

Postscript 17, Sept 24th

Flood! There were some in the summer, but today's floods have had a bigger impact. It is the most intense September storm in thirty years, reports the BBC. "Now climate experts warn that every house in the country is at risk of flooding", reports the Indy.

Postscript 18, Oct 10th

Wet weather set to hit UK food prices, reports the Beeb. "The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said wheat yields in England were down by almost 15% on the five-year average, with productivity down to 1980s levels." "Winter barley yields were up 1.6%; spring barley yields were down 7.4% and oilseed rape yields were up 5.9%, so it was a "mixed picture" but the wheat harvest was the most crucial. Mr Johnson said fruit and vegetable crops had also been affected, with potatoes and apples particularly badly affected."

Note the complete absence of any mention of climate change, as I predicted.

Postscript 19, October 18th

"More than 30 chain stores closing a day", reports The Guardian. "The UK's struggling retail chains are closing their shops at a rate of more than 30 a day across the UK as the economic downturn continues, according to research. Figures show that across the UK embattled retailers closed 32 stores a day in July and August as Britain's high street continued to suffer from the consumer spending slump. That figure is up from 20 a day in the first six months of 2012."

Postscript 20, October 31st

And the next chain to likely to become no more than a ghost in our rapidly-fading memories is Comet. Both Retail Week and the Financial Times are reporting that it will go into administration tomorrow.

The BBC has a chart of High Street retailers who've been hit the hardest.

Postscript 21, December 12th

US Power Grid Vulnerable To Just About Everything

Postscript, 22, December 24th

In floods whose impacts are more severe than November's, the main rail link to Devon and Cornwall is washed out. And there's more to come. The Severn here is at its highest level since January 2008.

Retailers 'facing critical financial issues', reports the Beeb. "Nearly 140 retailers are in a "critical condition" despite Christmas being their peak trading time, business recovery firm Begbies Traynor has said. Its UK business solvency survey found 13,700 more firms were in distress, a 35% rise in the quarter to December. It said many could struggle to meet their quarterly rent payment, due on Christmas Day."

Looks like I'm going to be able to go green and recycle my 2012 predictions for 2013!

FBI investigated Occupy Wall Street as 'domestic terrorists': 'the FBI treated the Occupy movement as potential criminals and "domestic terrorists" despite the fact that Occupy demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful and the Bureau admits that protest organizers did "not condone the use of violence."'

And on the subject of 'Occupy', I got it both right and wrong. Two major offshoots of the Occupy movement, Occupy Sandy, and Strike Debt emerged this year ('multiple factions'?), very different from the original.

Posted by Phil at 12:39 PM
Edited on: Monday, December 24, 2012 1:32 PM
Categories: Comment, Waffle

Sunday, December 18, 2011

We Are the One Percent

Half of mankind's carbon emissions come from the top one percent.

We are the one percent.

Or, as Walt Kelly's Pogo famously put it forty years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us".

Well, anyone gets on a plane, or in the UK earns over £30,000 is.

The rest of us, well, don't get smug, we're all among the 700 million top consumers of fossil fuels, or the top 10%.

This lecture, in which Prof Kevin Anderson talks of that one percent, is from July this year.

Professor Kevin Anderson - Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous
View another webinar from DFID

It's the usual story. If we want to prevent disastrous climate change, we, the over-consuming top 1%, must change our ways.

Which is why we still need to talk about austerity, but not in Cameron's sense, but in the sense of a purposeful reduction in our affluence in order to save, not the economy, but the planet.

Posted by Phil at 10:30 PM
Edited on: Sunday, December 18, 2011 11:01 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Power Corrupts

The second edition of Daniel S. Halacy's The Coming Age of Solar Energy (1973, or 1975 in paperback) starts with an interesting quote from Earl Cook's The Flow of Energy in an Industrial Society (Scientific American, Sept 1971):

"Power corrupts" was written of man's control over other men but it also applies to his control of energy resources. The more power an industrial society disposes of, the more it wants. The more power we use, the more we shape our cities and mold our economic and social institutions to be dependent on the application of power and the consumption of energy. We could not now make any major move toward a lower per capita energy consumption without severe economic dislocation, and certainly the struggle of people in less-developed nations toward somewhat similar energy consumption levels cannot be thwarted without prolonging mass human suffering. Yet there is going to have to be some leveling off in the energy demands of industrial societies. Countries such as the U.S. have already come up against constraints dictated by the availability of resources and by damage to the environment.

Halacy's book is interesting to read retrospectively. A whole two paragraphs devoted to climate change!

By the year 2000 it is estimated that [carbon dioxide concentrations] may have climbed to between 375 and 400 parts per million

Close, we hit 375ppm in 2002.

... by the year 2020 we may have increased the ambient air temperature over the United States by as much as 2.5 degrees F.
... some scientists feel that a few degrees could upset things dramatically

A bit on the high side, perhaps, as current estimates are around 1 degree Celsius (1.8 deg F) warming by 2020.

Posted by Phil at 6:23 PM
Edited on: Thursday, November 01, 2012 8:11 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Money Annihilates Distinctions

"The love of money is the root of all evil" said St Paul in 1 Timothy 6:10, but I prefer a slight variant:

The concept of money is the root of all evil

Still hyperbole, I know, but I'm trying to express the essence of a profound problem.

I happened upon the following gem by accident today when searching for the origin of another quote. Here's a small excerpt from Roy Rappaport's Adaptive Structure and its Disorders (1977):

High-energy technology is, of course, not alone in impelling maladaptive trends. All-purpose money has also played a part. In addition to its obvious contribution to the concentration of real wealth and regulatory prerogative, it flows through virtually all barriers, increasing the coherence of the world system enormously. Its ability to penetrate whatever barriers may have protected previously autonomous systems against outside disruption rests upon its most peculiar and interesting property: it annihilates distinctions. It tends to dissolve the differences between all things by providing a simple metric against which virtually all things can be assessed, and in terms of which decisions concerning them can be made. But the world upon which this metric is imposed is not as simple as this metric. Living systems - plants, animals, societies, ecosystems - are very diverse and each requires a great variety of particular materials to remain healthy. Monetization, however, forces the great ranges of unique and distinct materials and processes that together sustain or even constitute life into an arbitrary and specious equivalence and decisions informed by these terms are likely to simplify, that is, to degredate and to disrupt, the ecological systems in which they are effective. Needless to say the application of large amounts of mindless energy under the guidance of the simplified or even simple-minded and often selfish considerations that all-purpose money makes virtually omnipotent and, when united with a capitalist ideology, even sacred, is in its nature stupid, brutal, and almost bound to be destructive.
With increases in the amounts of energy harnessed, with increases in the internal differentiation of social systems, with the monetization of even larger portions of life, the contradiction between the direction of cultural evolution on the one hand and the maintenance of living processes, both meaningful and material, has become increasingly profound. We are led to ask whether civilization, the elaborate stage of culture with which are associated money and banking, high-energy technology, and social stratification and specialization, is not maladaptive. It is, after all, in civilized societies that we can observe most clearly oversegregation, overcentralization, oversanctification, hypercoherence, the domination of higher- by lower-order systems, and the destruction of ecosystems. Civilization has emerged only recently - in the past six thousand or so years - and it may yet prove to be an unsuccessful experiment.
What are taken to be evolutionary advances institutionalize new contradictions and set new problems as they solve or resolve older problems or overcome earlier limitations, and social systems may eventually become paralyzed by accumulating structural anomalies at the same time that they are increasingly perturbed by mounting substantive difficulties. It may be recalled that both Bateson and Slobodkin have argued that it is good evolutionary strategy for evolving systems to change no more than persistence requires, but increasing systemic deformity may require radical correction. Revolution has historically been an ultimate corrective response of systems so affected by maladaptation as to be unable to respond homeostatically to events continually perturbing them. Flannery has argued that the radical correction of structural anomaly has been an important factor in the evolution of civilization (1972), and inquiry into the dynamic relationship among structural anomaly, substantive problem, and profound corrective processes is, in other terms, central to the thought of Marx.
Bateson (1972), however, has located the problem at a level that may be beyond the reach of revolutionary correction - in the characteristics of human intelligence. He argues that purposefulness is the dominant characteristic of human reason, a plausible suggestion, for purposefulness, encompassing both foresight and concentration, must have been strongly selected for during man's two or three million years on earth (and even earlier among man's prehuman forebears and other animals). But, located in the conscious minds of individuals and serving in the first instance their separate survivals, purposefulness must incline toward self-interest or even selfishness. (Indeed the philosopher Bergson in in recognizing this problem took religion to be society's defense against the "dissolving power" of the human mind.) That some human purposes are selfish cannot be gainsaid. But Bateson suggests that the problem of purposefulness is more profound. Purposefulness, he argues, has a linear structure. A man at point A with goal D takes actions B and C, and with the achievement of D considers the process to be completed. Thus, the structure of purposeful action is linear: A - B - C -, D. But the world is not constructed in linear fashion. We have already discussed the circular structure of cybernetic, that is, self-correcting, systems, and it is well known that ecosystems are roughly circular in plan, with materials being cycled and recycled through the soil, the air, and organisms of many species. Moreover, the circularity of both cybernetic and ecosystemic structure blurs the distinction between cause and effect, or rather suggests to us that simple linear notions of causality, which lead us to think of actors, objects upon which they act, and the transformation of such objects, are inadequate, for purposeful behavior seldom affects only a single object, here designated D, but usually many other objects as well, often in complex and ramifying ways. Among those being affected in unforseen and possibly unpleasant ways may be the actor himself.
It may be suggested, however, that linear, purposeful thought is adequate to the needs of simple hunters and gatherers, and not very destructive to the ecological systems in which they live, because both the scope and power of their activities are limited. It is when linear thought comes to guide the operations of an increasingly powerful technology over domains of ever increasing scope that disruption may become inevitable.

The process of annihilation of distinctions is also a process of alienation from nature, or what Keith Farnish calls "disconnection". And, as Charles Eisenstein notes in Sacred Economics, it depersonalises its users:

Just as money homogenizes the things it touches, so also does it homogenize and depersonalize its users: “It facilitates the kind of commercial exchange that is disembedded from all other relations.” In other words, people become mere parties to a transaction. In contrast to the diverse motivations that characterize the giving and receiving of gifts, in a pure financial transaction we are all identical: we all want to get the best deal. This homogeneity among human beings that is an effect of money is assumed by economics to be a cause. The whole story of money’s evolution from barter assumes that it is fundamental human nature to want to maximize self-interest. In this, human beings are assumed to be identical. When there is no standard of value, different humans want different things. When money is exchangeable for any thing, then all people want the same thing: money.

So, money leads to alienation, and alienation leads to... evil, of course (Colossians 1:21).

Damn that Cameron bloke for putting me in a biblical frame of mind.

Happy 400th birthday to the King James Bible.

Postscript, March 10th, 2012

Gary Alexander's Report on the Planet Earth from the Intergalactic Study Group on Worlds in Transition is a rather good rant on the dysfunctional nature of the whole concept of money.

Postscript, Sept 5th, 2012

Over at the A Prosperous Way Down site, Mary Logan asks What is Money?

Postscript, Sept 22nd, 2014

Interesting comment in an article about "Flood Wall Street", A climate of disobedience: the coming destituent flood:

"Through its univocal conception of value, capital serves to shape our actions and how we imagine our relationships with one another and the ecosystems that support us. It also mediates how we cooperate together to reproduce our world. This reconfiguration of personal and social life in strictly economic terms obliterates a whole ecosystem of values which are foundational to the continued maintenance of life on this planet."

The article has a link to The Financial Crisis as a Crisis of Imagination (.pdf), which is an interesting dissertation on the "imaginary" nature of money.

"Our endless fascination with the worthlessness of money is in some ways a catharsis for our conscription within a society where we are compelled to elevate money above all other values"

Posted by Phil at 5:25 PM
Edited on: Thursday, January 01, 2015 8:53 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Don't Need No Edukashion

Pink Floyd once famously sang "We don't need no education":

After reading today's Guardian's Q+A with David Cameron, I'm fast becoming convinced that he's as thick as another brick in the wall.

It would be an interesting albeit time-wasting exercise to analyse all his responses, so I'm going to focus on just one of the questions, from the film director Mike Leigh:

What is your moral justification for the state not providing free further education for everybody, and for the principle of student loans? And I do want to hear your moral reasoning: not any economic, political or historic excuses.
"I think there is a strong moral case for this, which is the evidence that going to university brings a benefit to that individual person over the course of the rest of their life. Therefore, I think it is morally right that they make a contribution to the cost of that course, which is what our fees policy does. And I think it would be morally wrong to ask the taxpayer to bear all of the burden of that cost, not least because there are many taxpayers who don't go to university who don't have that benefit."

Last year, Channel 4's Factcheck asked "do graduates earn 100,000 more than non-graduates?"

The answer is yes, over their working lives they earn £100,000 (net of tax, or £120,000 gross) more than non-grads.

OK, so that means they're paying £20,000 more income tax over their life than non-grads. Not including their extra National Insurance contributions (from them and their employers). They're also paying VAT on all taxable purchases made with that extra £100,000 income, that's another £10,000, say, bringing the tax differential up to around £30,000. The article cites a typical student debt of £25,000 to pay off with that extra income. But the extra tax they pay already pays for their education!

Back to Cameron:

"going to university brings a benefit to that individual person over the course of the rest of their life"
"I think it would be morally wrong to ask the taxpayer to bear all of the burden of that cost, not least because there are many taxpayers who don't go to university who don't have that benefit"

Note what he does not say. He doesn't even hint that their education might be of value to society, that we all win from educating our children. Presumably doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists, teachers, lawyers, judges, etc are of zero value to society, and don't deserve to earn more than the non-educated. Unlike his chums the banksters and businessmen, who are entitled to every penny they can grab, with bonus points if some of their wealth comes from tax-avoidance and government bailouts.

It would appear that he, like his infamous predecessor Margaret Thatcher, is convinced that there is no such thing as society.

It's difficult to feel anything but contempt for him and his arrogant attitudes, policies, and government.

Posted by Phil at 2:33 PM
Edited on: Saturday, November 26, 2011 3:05 PM
Categories: Comment

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bootstrapping Sustainability

In today's blog, we're going to get physical.

Are you sitting comfortably? If so, stand up, please.

Now grasp your shoelaces between finger and thumb and pull vertically, as hard as you can.

That didn't achieve much, did it?

The process you've just attempted in vain is called bootstrapping:

The saying "to pull yourself up by your bootstraps" was already in use during the 19th century as an example of an impossible task. Bootstrap as a metaphor, meaning to better oneself by one's own unaided efforts, was in use in 1922. This metaphor spawned additional metaphors for a series of self-sustaining processes that proceed without external help.

It's the latter concept that I wish to explore here. The term is most commonly used in computing: bootstrap loaders (from which the term to "boot" one's PC arises), but also in a more interesting way, as in bootstrapping compilers.

Bear with me with this digression, all will be clear in a little while.

A compiler translates a computer language into the low-level instructions that your computer hardware understands. So, suppose we invent a new programming language, Z, and get clever and write a compiler in Z for Z. But, there's a slight problem with that. Z's a new language, no compiler for Z exists. We're not going to get very far with that "chicken and egg" problem. So we write a compiler for Z in an already-existing language, use that to compile our Z compiler written in Z, and use the resulting program to compile itself. Now we're there. We have a self-sustaining ecosystem in which all things Z are written in Z. The chicken has become the egg, so to speak.

Now here's the problem: bootstrapping sustainable energy and a sustainable society.

We clearly can't start with everything powered from renewable, nay, replenishing1, sources. We're not there yet.

Consider the construction of a wind turbine, a whole lifecycle:

1: Obtain the minerals and iron needed for its construction. Initially, that'll be from mining, later, mostly from recycling (though the entropy law puts limits on our ability to recycle, recycling can't be 100% efficient2). Diggers running on diesel fuel. That would have to change to the use of renewable energy only.

2: Transport the materials. More diesel. That would have to change to the use of renewable energy only.

3: Turn the iron ore into steel. We currently do that using coking coal3. That would have to change to the use of renewable energy only. Whilst electric arc and induction furnaces do exist, they're not on the scale required. Can they scale to the point where they replace coke-based smelting of iron? What energy efficiencies are involved?

4: Manufacture the wind turbine's components. Probably using a mix of fossil fuels and fossil/nuclear/solar/wind-generated electricity. That would have to change to the use of renewable energy only.

5: Transport to final site and erection. Using fossil fuels, electric vehicles, sailing ships, whatever. That would have to change to the use of renewable energy only.

6: Repair and maintenance.

7: Decommissioning, recycling, returning to step 1.

We could infinitely recurse here and consider the manufacture of the mining equipment, transportation vehicles, etc. Just bear that in mind.

So there's the problem. For a technology to be sustainable, every constituent component must itself be sustainable, powered by replenishing energy sources. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Wind turbines, solar photovoltaic electricity, and biofuels are all adding to the mix of "renewable" fuel sources available.


But is it?

Apart from a few voices in the wilderness (Howard T. Odum, Sharon Astyk, John Michael Greer, and Gail Tverberg come to mind), we've pushed aside the bootstrapping problem.

What does this mean in practice? The switch to renewables will save less fossil fuel than expected, and that getting our fossil-fuel consumption down to zero will be very difficult. We'll need to reduce energy consumption, not just substitute "renewables". Their hidden fossil fuel subsidies are going to be difficult to eliminate.

And we have to do all this within the constraints of whatever economics fad we're following at the time. Don't overlook trade deficits4.


This argument also applies to nuclear electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Though nuclear is the ultimate non-renewable energy source, being the only one which destroys matter.


A little thought experiment. Let's suppose we make real progress and get all transport and consumer use of energy onto renewables. How much fossil fuel would be used to produce and maintain that infrastructure?


1: "renewable" is not per se sustainable. Consider a forest chopped down for fuel. It's sustainable if the forest is regrown at the rate it is harvested. Hence my preference for the term "replenishing". Hydropower is another example. It's replenishing until the drought comes.

2: See Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, "Energy and Economic Myths", 1975

3: Let's not forget that it was Dud Dudley's and Abraham Darby's process for smelting iron using coke instead of charcoal which made mass-production of cast iron and steel possible. See Carl Higgs' "Sedgley's Men of Iron; Dud Dudley and Abraham Darby – Keeping it in the Family!" for an interesting commentary.

4: "It makes no sense to substitute imported wind turbines or solar panels for imported oil", writes Prof Judith Stein - Keynesian Stimulus Isn't Enough: The Great Recession and the Trade Deficit


This blog post is also the basis of a comment I've made at The Oil Drum, in response to Rembrandt's article "Thoughts on a Sustainable Human Ecosystem".

Postscript, Nov 17th

"Ruben", in a comment over at The Automatic Earth, draws our attention to a paper by Christian Kerschner, "Economic de-growth vs. steady-state economy" (.pdf), in which we're reminded of Georgescu-Roegen's point that sustainability is not possible, and that decline is the best we can achieve.

PPS, Dec 2nd

Interesting Low Tech Magazine article addressing some of these concerns: The bright future of solar powered factories. A bit short of evidence re scalability. It's not enough to say that we can smelt iron and produce steel using solar furnaces. We need evidence that the process can be scaled to an appropriate level.

PPS, June 8, 2012

Have a listen to Extraenvironmentalist Podcast #42 too. Seth and Justin talk to Ozzie Zehner about his new book Green Illusions which discusses the ecological impacts of manufacturing a renewable energy future.

PPS, Oct 27th, 2012

Nicole Foss, as always, says it so much more eloquently than I ever could: Renewable Energy: The Vision And A Dose Of Reality

PPS, Oct 28th, 2012

John Weber has done a much better job than me on this. His blog posts, Machines Making Machines Making Machines and Energy in the Real World are must-reads. (via his comments on Nicole Foss's article above). And, more recently, Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI)

PPS, Jan 30th, 2013

Dawn Stover's written a good Reality Check on alternatives to fossil fuels in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (@BulletinAtomic on Twitter)

PPS, Feb 25th, 2014

Robert Wilson's written a good piece on this theme over at the Energy Collective: Can You Make a Wind Turbine Without Fossil Fuels?

PPS, Nov 19th, 2014

Gail Tverberg's on the ball in her post Eight Pitfalls in Evaluating Green Energy Solutions.

John Weber (who I've cited above) comments about the extreme resource depletion involved in rolling out renewables en masse, and asks us to Prove This Wrong.

PPS, Jan 22nd, 2015

Alex Smith's Ecoshock Radio has recently devoted three shows to Ozzie Zehner's "Green Illusions" and the issues he raises:

"Green Illusions" - Ozzie Zehner

Green Reality VS. Ozzie Zehner

Green Dreams - Future or Fantasy?

All worth a listen. To my mind, the second is the weakest, with Dan Miller all too glibly asserting that we can produce renewables technologies without fossil fuels. I've addressed that particular illusion above. It's harder than we think.

Recycling's not the answer, either, as I pointed out a while back on Twitter:

PPS, Dec 23rd, 2018

Low-Tech Magazine asks How Circular is the Circular Economy? 

"The circular economy – the newest magical word in the sustainable development vocabulary – promises economic growth without destruction or waste. However, the concept only focuses on a small part of total resource use and does not take into account the laws of thermodynamics."

Well worth a read.

PPS, Sep 18th, 2021

Thanks to a insomniac chat with @imightbeakulak on Twitter, I was reminded of the work of Dr William Rees and The Real Green New Deal project.

Their papers here are worth a read, though, ironically, the PDF has huge blocks of colour which makes printing it extremely wasteful of printer ink. Oh well.

Posted by Phil at 12:33 AM
Edited on: Saturday, September 18, 2021 11:35 AM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Dot E

Andy Revkin's latest Dot Earth piece, on how it's Overhaul Time for U.S. Nuclear Overseers, starts with the following apoplexy-inducing paragraph:

I’m convinced that the United States will be better off keeping existing nuclear power stations running, where their management can be demonstrated to be reliable, rather than initiating a decades-long decommissioning process that would not resolve community concerns about spent fuel and many other sources of risk.

I found it hard to continue beyond this, but the story is important enough to read on.

What was so upsetting about the above? Let's pick it apart and see. It is full of hidden assumptions and faulty logic.

keeping existing nuclear power stations running

Unfortunately, nuclear power plants get less reliable and more dangerous the longer they're in use. Does Revkin mention this? No.

where their management can be demonstrated to be reliable

Let's be charitable and take Revkin's managerial reliability assumption as read, and see where that leads us. They might be reliable now, but are there any factors which could or would change that during the lifetime of these plants? Like financial meltdown, peak oil, peak everything, for example? Of course not, silly me.

rather than

The decommissioning process has to take place anyway, so there is no rather than. It's an as well as. Revkin's showing a temporal bias here, completely discounting the future, only allowing for the impacts in the present. That's the kind of short-sightedness which has helped propel us into our current mess.

initiating a decades-long decommissioning process

It's implied here that somehow keeping the plants going will prevent their decommissioning, and all that goes with it. Or that somehow in the future decommisioning won't take as long, or that we'll be better able to decommission in the future than in the present. Dubious unstated assumptions.

that would not resolve community concerns about spent fuel

The longer you run them, the more spent fuel, Andy, so there's something more than slightly awry with your logic here.

and many other sources of risk

Great catch-all. There's still an underlying conceit that by putting all this off things will get better, that in the future there will be fewer risks. That's an assumption I wouldn't dare make.

The big risk is putting things off until mañana in the naïve hope that things will get better, when all around us is evidence demonstrating the contrary.

Out of sight, out of mind.


Dot E.

Posted by Phil at 7:22 PM
Edited on: Sunday, May 08, 2011 8:06 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Nukes

I said this on the subject on an internet mailing list back in December 2007:

I confess to being ill at ease over nukes, partly, I suspect, a gut reaction to the over-zealousness of its current proponents.

The late Alvin Weinberg, had this to say back in 1972:

"We nuclear people have made a Faustian bargain with society. On the one hand, we offer -- in the catalytic nuclear burner -- an inexhaustible source of energy. . .
But the price that we demand of society for this magical energy source is both a vigilance and a longevity of our social institutions that we are quite unaccustomed to."
(Science, July 7, 1972)

He continued:

"We make two demands. The first, which I think is easier to manage, is that we exercise in nuclear technology the very best techniques and that we use people of high expertise and purpose. . . .
The second demand is less clear, and I hope it may prove unnecessary.
This is a demand for longevity in human institutions. We have relatively little problem dealing with wastes if we can assume always that there will be intelligent people around to cope with eventualities we have not though of. If the nuclear parks that I mention are permanent features of our civilization, then we presumably have the social apparatus, and possibly the sites, for dealing with our wastes indefinitely. But even our salt mine may require some surveillance if only to prevent men in the future from drilling holes into the burial grounds.
Eugene Wigner has drawn an analogy between this commitment to a permanent social order that may be implied in nuclear energy and our commitment to a stable, year-in and year-out social order when man moved from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Before agriculture, social institutions hardly required the long-lived stability that we now take so much for granted. And the commitment imposed by agriculture in a sense was forever; the land had to be tilled and irrigated every year in perpetuity; the expertise required to accomplish this task could not be allowed to perish or man would perish; his numbers could not be sustained by hunting and gathering.
In the same sense, though on a much more highly sophisticated plane, the knowledge and care that goes into the proper building and operation of nuclear power plants and their subsystems is something we are committed to forever, so long as we find no other practical source of infinite extent."


"In exchange for this atomic peace [referring to no recent nuclear bomb use] we had to manage and control nuclear weapons. In a sense, we have established a military priesthood which guards against inadvertent use of nuclear weapons, which maintains what a priori seems to be a precarious balance between readiness to go to war and vigilance against human errors that would precipitate war. Moreover, this is not something that will go away, at least not soon. The discovery of the bomb has imposed an additional demand on our social institutions. It has called forth this military priesthood upon which in a way we all depend for our survival.
It seems to me (and in this I repeat some views expressed very well by Atomic Energy Commissioner Wilfred Johnson) that peaceful nuclear energy probably will make demands of the same sort on our society, and possibly of even longer duration."

John Gofman wryly noted at the time that

"If we can predict the social future for generations, including civil strife, international strife, revolutions, psychoses, saboteurs of all stripes and types, hijackers of whatever bizarre or mundane motives, psychopathic personalities of all types, and all criminality, then nuclear power is acceptable, according to Dr. Weinberg's requirements."

There seems to be a complete lack of consideration of these moral and ethical issues by today's nuclear proponents.

When the pro-nuke brigade starts earnestly and seriously discussing Weinberg's "Faustian Bargain" I'll start to take them seriously.

But not until then.

Posted by Phil at 8:23 AM
Edited on: Monday, March 14, 2011 8:38 AM
Categories: Comment, Environment, Waffle

Friday, January 07, 2011

Don't You Love Local Papers?

On Monday, the Worcester News published a letter from one K Hemming, entitled "Global warming? You must be joking".

The usual nonsense:

"So will all those easily fooled, gullible people now shut up about global warming. If there was any truth in their brainless propaganda, we would all be holding outside barbecues now and frying eggs on the pavement instead of old age pensioners freezing to death."

My response to the editor:

"In Monday's letters, K Hemming referred to "global warming" as "brainless propaganda", basing his claim on the cold weather we've experienced this winter and last.
Since not one climate scientist has predicted UK winter weather suitable for pavement egg-frying, he's rather overstating his case.
What they do predict, however, is more extreme weather conditions.
The Europe-wide Ensembles project, which reported in November 2009, predicted "increases in precipitation across northern Europe in winter", i.e., more rain and snow in winters to come. A graph on page 61 of that report shows a forecasted increase in winter precipitation over the UK.
Dr Kevin Trenberth, of the USA's National Center for Atmospheric Research, has stated that last winter "the cold and snow in Europe was 'balanced' by very warm temperatures in Greenland... The was a large so-called blocking high in North Atlantic that led to the polar outbreaks into Europe and so that is where the cold air went, making it warmer in behind". He notes that this is "weather", not "climate".
A similar "blocking high" was a feature of last month's cold snap. A paper by Varvus et al. in the International Journal of Climatology in 2006 titled "The behavior of extreme cold air outbreaks under greenhouse warming" predicted that periods of severe cold weather would persist, and in some areas, worsen, despite a greenhouse-warmed world.
Whilst we were having a cold snap, parts of Newfoundland recorded temperatures 20 degrees Celsius above the norm for December.
NOAA's National Climatic Data Center reports that "for the 2010 year-to-date (January–November), the combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.64°C (1.15°F) above the 20th century average—the warmest such period since records began in 1880."
19 national temperature records were broken in 2010.
So much for global cooling."

And what they printed:

"SIR – In his letter in Monday’s Worcester News, K Hemming referred to global warming as “brainless propaganda”, basing his claim on the cold weather we’ve experienced this winter and last.
Since not one climate scientist has predicted the UK’s winter weather is suitable for pavement eggfrying, he’s rather overstating his case.
What they do predict, however, is more extreme weather conditions.
While we were having a cold snap, parts of Newfoundland recorded temperatures 20C above the norm for December.
Nineteen national temperature records were broken in 2010. So much for global cooling."

Our media mustn't let cited facts get in the way of opinions.


Posted by Phil at 9:53 PM
Categories: Comment, Environment

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Jobs for the Boys?

I don't know if this is the millionaire cabinet's intention, but here's one plausible result of their actions on student funding.

As the economic crisis continues to bite, there will be fewer jobs to go round. Employers, in an attempt to reduce the number of job applications they process, will raise the entry bar by insisting on university degrees as minimum qualifications for even the most mundane of jobs. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that they do this already.

Soon the only people attending university and graduating will be the children of the rich.

The cynical amongst us will wonder if that's the intention, with the Tories and wannabe-Tories ensuring jobs for the boys (and girls) of the rich whilst the rest of us rot in a hell of their making.

Paranoid fantasy? Or not? Time will tell.

Posted by Phil at 8:44 PM
Categories: Comment, Waffle