Friday, July 30, 2010

magnanimity can only proceed from the powerful


This is a great article.

"If I sent my child to, say, The Sir Richard Branson College, I would feel like a feudal serf. Actually, I already do, so let me embrace churlishness by suggesting that British arts, education and public transport be funded by a properly graduated income tax in which those earning more than £100,000 would pay a good deal more than they presently do."
There are some great quotes about social justice in there too. I also found this review of Danny Dorling's book Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists, which is so super-awesome that I am going to buy it right now from Scamazon.

"politicians in Britain and the other most unequal rich countries . . . have accepted and fostered the damaging idea that inequality is "unfortunate" but inevitable, rather than seeing it, first and foremost, as unjust."

"I feel very wimpy saying this, but I'm hardly saying, 'We want a revolution, we want a utopia.' I'm just saying, 'Can we be slightly less stupid, and we'll all be better off for it.'"
- Danny Dorling

There is an extract of the first chapter as well as downloadable figures and data from the book available on the publishers website. Nice.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

algal biofuels DOH!


Interesting piece of research from Cambridge suggests that the energy required to circulate algal cultures through the tubes of bioreactors will consume far more power than the cultures will yield. I'm a big fan of the concept of algal bioreactors and I think its disingenuous for New Scientist to have published this without considering the contribution to filling that power void that renewable technology could supply. Wind turbines are fairly inefficient things for converting wind to electricity but they are much better at converting wind to mechanical power, which could be harnessed to supply the necessary pumping. Obviously wind isn't reliable and so you could have a mix of backup technology such as photovoltaics and particularly biogas produced from the anaerobic fermentation of the organic mulch left over from biodiesel extraction.

The obvious problem is that all this adds greatly to the capital costs of the whole plant. However, as algal bioreactors will need to be situated near a source of CO2 to feed the cultures and preferably a source of grey water as well then locating water treatment works, conventional power stations and bioreactors together on the same site seems a "no-brainer" and this would lead to economies of scale and reduction in system duplication. This sort of integrated treatment/power generation site is clearly the way forward in sustainable technology. Combined with CHP technology and rubbish incineration a well-designed system could offer a complete sustainable technology hub for small to medium sized towns.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

the new UK government is full of cunts


The coalition are conducting a brazen, insane Slashathon, using their dubious mandate to conduct an ideology-driven assault on many valuable government resources. So far we have seen the Sustainable Development Commission and the UK Film Council terminated, as well as more than a dozen others, in the name of "efficiency". There is no rationale behind these moves. The SDC was responsible for driving cuts worth tens of millions of pounds and it cost a paltry £3 million per annum to run. George claims they had identified further potential savings worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

A second ideological front has been opened up upon road safety, as detailed by George. Basically, funding for fixed traffic cameras is being pulled, despite their effectiveness at reducing deaths on the roads. The consequences are that the police must either shoulder the burden of catching and prosecuting speeding drivers at inordinate extra cost, or road casualties will rise dramatically. Just in case that argument sounds too absurd to believe lets just present it again:

Instead of funding fixed speed cameras to the tune of ~£10 million p.a. (net) the Tories want people to die on the roads or for the police to spend time chasing speeding motorists for ten times the cost instead of doing work that actually requires their extensive skills and training.

Did I mention the coalition's plans to slash the numbers of police?

In other news the coalition government has cut the funding for renewable generation technology. As Jonathon Porritt writes: "The greenest government ever? Don't make me laugh".

These people are demonstrably insane. As I've been pointing out for some time now.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

sustainable morons


NB: This is a post I drafted and never posted, thinking I'd add more. I haven't time at the mo, what with moving to the other side of the planet and the issue is rapidly being overtaken by even greater crimes of mosgovernment so I thought I'd knock it out anyway.

The sort of people who comment on CiF are a fairly unrepresentative slice of the British electorate. I'm thinking politically active, reasonably well educated people from a diverse array of political positions. This inclues everyone from the conservative, right wing authoritarian apes who split their time between there and the Daily Mail website as well as your more stereotypical Guardianistas, who are a happy to pass comment on pretty much any political issue over some organic breadsticks dipped in humous and some of that lovely yoghurt, mint and pea dip that sainsbury's do. Now, I don't know if the subject material of these two CiF articles are particularly rich moron bait, being on a a ridiculously fluffy subject such as sustainable development, or if over the last two weeks the nation's water supply was massively contaminated with the infective agent of Fucktard's Disease and I have mysteriously dodged the infection, but I have a problem with the general tone of responses. These consist mostly of the "dancing on the grave of the quangos" ideological reaction where the poster has scanned the title and subtext and then reacted viscerally to this with a torrent of ideologically-fuelled vitriol along the lines of "quangos are bad, mmmmmmmkay".

These posts aren't the ones that have motivated me to write this diatribe, however. The ones that really irritate me are the pseudo-analytical ones which reject the substance of George and Jonathon's arguments either because some of the savings they claim the Sustainable Development Commission has achieved are relatively intangible or through some other assault on the methods and activities of the SDC. For example, one commentator takes issue with the £13.7 million saving the SDC claims to have made by changes in administrative road travel:
I have to ask the former chair of the SDC the same I asked (unanswered) on the Mobiot thread, Part of the £60-70m SDC savings apparently comes from this calculation:
"Total reduction in carbon emissions from administrative road travel was 30,601 tonnes. Average emissions per litre assumed as 0.0023035 tonnes / litre therefore savings of litres purchased is approximately 13.28 million litres. At an average petrol price of 103.2 pence/litre (April 2008 – March 2009) this equates to approximately £13.7 million pounds saved."

Where does this original 30,601 tonnes carbon figure come from? I can't see it in the SDC self justification for their existence. And why is it applied in this weird backward manner to end up with a £13.7m monetary value? Is there no forward way to come up with a sum?

Rather makes me think think they haven't saved a real sum of money that you could use, say, to build a hospital. They're just another bunch of suits blinding the gullible with the empty "sustainable" mantra.
MartinFulbright,23 Jul 2010, 3:42PM

The problem with this analysis is that its fucking retarded. MartinFulbright doesn't seem to have read the document to which he links at all thoroughly. I found the appropriate figures in a couple of minutes. This is on page 26:

Note the 2008/2009 figures showing a 17% reduction in CO2 emissions, equating to 13,601.

Friday, July 09, 2010

another think tank report concludes that the EU can power itself almost completely using existing renewable technology


Check the awesome. Wind, solar, DESERTEC, supergrids, , no nuclear, electric cars, efficiency improvements, demand reduction, storage hydro, HVDC. Its all there (except the nuclear :~D).

"While the initial cost would be significant, the authors argue that the current model of energy production and use fails to guarantee a secure, sustainable and affordable supply into the future."


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Andrew Rawnsley: a model of learned helplessness


The almost complete absence of genuine critical analysis in this article is staggering. So, so many elephants crowded into that room and Rawnsley just sits there, up to his nose in elephant shit, blithely muttering "Pachyderms? What pachyderms?".


I commented:

This is not reform. AV is such a minor change to the electoral system that Lord Jenkins didn't even consider a referendum necessary to introduce it in his report on electoral reform. The UK's problems run far deeper than a pseudo-democratic electoral system, however. It remains a monarchy without a written constitution and governed by a plutocratic elite. Much of the electorate remains unregistered to vote and excluded from political discussion due their essential ignorance.

Any comparison of UK politics with the fundamental principles of democracy finds our little country to be grossly lacking: all citizens being equal before the law and all votes having equal weight, everyone having the opportunity to stand as a representative and their rights and liberties secured by a legitimate constitution.

Critically, these standards are centuries old and no progress has been made in the years since. Our culture has stagnated and has recently started to regress with infringements on our rights, increasing disenfranchisement and falling electoral turnouts. Where are the discussion of progress on this issue? To meet up with the basic principles of democracy our society needs to radically change. All citizens, child and adult need to clearly and precisely understand what their responsibilities to the state are as well as the rights. Technological advances enable us to deploy far more representative democratic models than the mediaeval First-Past-The-Post system. Direct Democracy, a written consititution, fully elected Houses of Parliament, a modern and independent electoral commission in charge of overseeing the administration of democracy in this country. All these things should be what our trans-Atlantic cousins call "no-brainers". And yet I challenge anyone to find mention of them in the mainstream media beyond the most laughably inadequate, mouse-step reforms such as those Andrew Rawnsley fawns over in this article.

Seriously. Fucking. Weak.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Bibi van der See is a fucking wanker


A lot of reporting is clearly complete bollocks. The combined effects of a Propaganda model at work and the broader dumbing down of printed media in my life time, combined with the UK public's addiction to panic porn, sees us at a stage in our civilisation where baldly asserted lies can be printed on the front page of a national newspaper with little or no accountability. I generally feel the Graun to be ahead of the rest in terms of the quality of their analysis and the objectivity with which it is presented. That's not to say its good.

One of the most annoying things about the Graun is its lack of consistency. The absence of an editor knocking back the sort of shite that van der Zee has regurgitated on the Graun "Environment" pages. van der Zee's brief is to cover fluffy environmental stuff. I’ve only noticed her work once before and that I found baffling.

The current target of my ire is a video report of hers on London’s three year old project trialling electric Smart cars in a variety of roles. The video itself was irritating enough with a seemingly nonplussed van der Zee spouting ridiculously poorly researched guff within seconds of it starting.

"Today we’re going to be trying out one of the 340 electric vehicles that are being tested around the UK as part of a massive government experiment to find out if electric vehicles can work. The government’s gonna be collecting information about how far people go in them, how long they need to charge them, how often they charge them and whether they really work."
First of all, Bibi, electric cars work. You don't need to find out if they work because people have been driving them for more than a hundred years. You twat.

Secondly, this project has already been running since 2007 and this is its second wave with an improved vehicle design. I know that the Graun doesn't have infinite time to invest in its fluffy pseudo-green puff-pieces but some people might consider that mention of this and a little background to the project may well be newsworthy. Van der Zee doesn't seem to appreciate this at all and instead launches into a review of . . . well, a review of any smart car- electric or otherwise. Which is, frankly, utterly redundant.

"This is a commute car and its not for taking the kids to see your mother in law or . . . not for doing the world’s biggest shopping trip because you couldn’t actually get that many shopping bags in the back then. Its for commuting and if that’s what you want it for then its perfect.”

The follow up to this journalistic recycling is the "science bit", which van der Zee knocks out with the sort of smooth patter that Loreal marketing executives go weak at the knees for.

“Its got a 30KW engine, which is, again, equivalent to about 40 horse power and it takes about eight hours to charge, and that’s a long time. However, financially, as they always argue with electric cars, that’s about 2p per mile. So its cheap to charge. It just takes a long time. If you’ve got eight hours to spare.”
Wow! That depth of analysis and keen insight into the practicalities of electric vehicles has really opened my eyes to their overstated potential to revolutionise city transport. Its clear van der Zee thinks electric vehicles are a pointless waste of time and money for anyone who doesn't regularly have an unbroken eight hour period in which to charge it. Somehow, I don't consider that to be too much of a problem for that section of the population who have TO SLEEP!

Sniping at the concept of BEVs because current, affordable battery technology means that they take many hours to charge is like sniping at internal combustion engines because they need servicing every 5000 miles. I mean, who wants to own a vehicle that you have to take off the road at fixed intervals? That's a pretty weak analogy but I can't be arsed to think up a better one and I think you get the point. Van der Zee also fails to point out that the smart car can receive 60% of its charge in three hours; a very useful extension of range if you are suddenly required to nip across town after work to pick something up. Bizarrely, these facts were presented in a photo montage accompanying an article on the Graun website about the smart ED, published two days later and which improves considerably on almost all of van der Zee's reporting. Hmmmmmm . . . .

The gist of van der Zee's reportage, if you haven't already gathered, is that electric vehicles are cheap but slow to charge. She conveys this in a manner which implies that they are fundamentally unsuitable for commuting without any attempt to justify this and doesn't seem at all bothered about reporting on essential details which might allow us to judge that for ourselves. For example, the follow-up article I linked to explains quite reasonably, that plugging the car in to charge it at night can be a challenge due to the lack of charging points unless you want to string a power cable out of a bedroom window and down into the street. Van der Zee goes to the trouble of being filmed parking her car next to one of these charging points and plugging it in without bothering to mention how their scarcity presents a significant challenge to anyone wishing to emulate her. The follow-up article- also quite reasonably and in a credible attempt at journalism- points out that Boris The Clown has pledged to greatly expand the number of kerbside charging points. A piece of information that anyone mulling over the acquisition of a BEV might find very interesting. You see, Bibi? You see how this works? You present a relevant piece of information and then embellish it with appropriate facts. That's called journalism, fuckface.

Van der Zee's final nail in the smart car is the following passage, which- if you've ever driven a smart car with an internal combustion engine- might make you splutter into your pint.

"I like this car on corners. I like the way it goes when you’re actually moving But I hate the feeling that you get when you start to accelerate and you just get this MMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEUP and it sounds like one of those electric wheel chairs that people whisk around the pavements on. But it is fast, it’s very nippy. It’s a nice little car . . . if you’re eighty. I can’t say that can I. (laughs)"
Now, I've driven a smart car. They're a crap drive. Not just bad, they're outright crap when compared to any hatchback or saloon car. Despite the reasonable poke in the engine they handle like a frying pan. But that's quite the point. It is not a hatchback or a saloon car. Its a city car or supermini or ratwagon or whatever you want to term these things and whatever you call them they are not designed to be a glorious driving experience! They are designed to be small and convenient in a city. You might hope that someone who reviews one might appreciate this and even have tried their hand with other variants to get a point of reference. Not our Bibi. No.

So, in despair, I'd like to offer my own take on the smart ED and hope that someone stumbles across this rant and sends a link to it to Mighty Guardian Reporter van der Zee. Better still, they might send it to her editor and demand to know why she's doubtless being paid close to six figures to produce such content-free shite.

Here's what I'd want to know about this vehicle.

The smart Electric Drive is- obviously- a smart car with an electric motor in it in place of the original 700cc petrol engine. That means that much of the running gear is duplicated in thousands of cars across the country and is easy and inexpensive to maintain. This version of the smart ED- the second to be deployed around London- is driven by a motor capable of 30kw peak output for short periods (~40hp). It does 0-60 in a very sprightly 6.5 seconds but is limited to 65mph for economy reasons. The improved lithium-ion batteries in this version can be charged from 20% to 80% in three hours by plugging the car into any mains socket with the included power cable. To put that into miles driven, you can go 67 miles and then plug it in for three hours while you do some work or have a lunch break Ford Prefect would be impressed with, and then go another 50 miles before you're all out of amps.

In practical terms, its just another smart car with all the advantages of small size and nippyness associated with them. Don't expect to drive to Scotland in it for the weekend, though. On the other hand, the boot will just about hold a week's shopping for a small family. There is also something pleasantly rewarding about sitting in a queue of traffic and being smugly aware that you are not contributing to some of the worst air pollution in Europe. A further advantage is that the smart ED, as with all BEVs requires considerably less routine maintenance than an internal combustion engine. On the down side, however, the batteries' working life is only a few years and they cost a lot to replace. Battery technology evolves fairly rapidly and, although investment in science and technology in this country may be on the bones of its arse, there are many countries around the world with the foresight to invest in green technology and so future developments are bound to bring costs down and ranges up (okay, I might have got a bit distracted and ranty there).

Battery electric vehicles came of age more than a decade ago and are more than capable of competing with internal combustion engines on a majority of journeys in a city. The only problem is the availability of charging points in the city but with Boris Johnston's pledge to expand the current measly 300 to a rather more practical 25,000 you can expect their convenience to rise rapidly. In terms of their green image these cars still require electricity from the grid which is generally produced from coal, gas or nuclear and so their green credentials, while superior to your average petrol or diesel car, posses a distinctly brown hue. Sourcing your electricity from a supplier of sustainably generated power can profoundly improve this to the point where your journeys, providing you own the car for long enough, become effectively carbon negative.
Notice how I clearly define the potential applications of this vehicle? Notice how I mix advocation of green technology with criticism of its current shortcomings? See how a little research puts the technology into context in terms of its sustainability? Surely someone reading the environment page of the Graun is going to be a fully paid-up tree hugger and keen to establish whether the technology in question has the potential to save the planet AND the whales simultaneously?

That's really the crux of my complaint: a reviewer of BEV should not be allowed to make direct comparison's with existing technologies. Its not appropriate, its not fair and it certainly doesn't help any of the thousands of Londoners who succumb to an early death due to that city's air pollution. More to the point, it plays into the hands of the techno-skeptics and Clarkson's of this world who want nothing more than to see another attempt to break the car companies' monopoly on transport fall by the way side.

I thank you.

Friday, July 02, 2010

UK complicity in torture


All you need to know is laid out in this excellent piece of analysis. Via Craig Murray.

"The string of communications that Murray published not only show the British government institutionally deciding that it would accept information collected using torture. But also–at least in that one paragraph–prioritizing the collection of intelligence, per se, over the collection of reliable intelligence and placing that, but not protecting the country, in moral counterweight to torture."