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52 today: read Private Eye to know what’s really going on

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Private Eye magazine is 52 today. Anyone who is a regular reader (4.4% of our readership say they are) could not help but be a bit cynical about the state of British public life. Anyone reading the section of the Eye which covers the sector they work in knows it to be spot on more often than not, so one can safely assume its coverage of other sectors is pretty accurate, too.

It’s all in the Eye… what you will very rarely read in the press; from the revolving door between corporations and politicians or civil servants, to the cosy relationship between corporate lobbyists and ministers.

Those with vested interests such as the media, tax accountants, private health firms, the construction lobby, big banks, big retailers and the utilities (ad nauseam) draft policy and legislation while lunching and schmoozing ministers and politicians. Ordinary citizens and groups do not get this level of access or engagement.

There is no problem with industries promoting their commercial interests but it must be done transparently and with equal access given to those who lack the resources and connections but will be affected by policy and legislation. The current gagging bill that is heading to the House of Lords is a measure designed to suppress the freedom of those with the least resources to lobby and the most to lose.

The rank hypocrisy, misinformation and manufactured hysteria of the press is well-documented in a regular Private Eye feature, Street of Shame. Another, HP Sauce, gives a running commentary on the similar weaknesses and failings of our politicians, whereas Rotten Boroughs gives a depressing insight into the inadequacy of those in our town halls.

Being a national or local politician is too often a thankless task and certainly not easy. Most do a tremendous job for their constituents, but not being open about who you are speaking and voting for is corrupt, especially if you are set to gain personally. Using public office to enrich yourself corrupts the system for everyone. “Trebles all round!” as the Eye would say.

The register of members’ interests which records these relationships is deliberately impenetrable, unless you have plenty of spare time. What should be a dynamic online database is a series of massive documents.

The Eye also exposes the frequently anti-democratic and unaccountable instincts of the EU, parliament, local government and the regulators who are supposed to protect us. What is so clearly forgotten by those we elect is that they are in office, not in power, and are paid to serve and represent us, not the narrow interests of a political party, corporations, unions or thinktanks.

Every freedom we enjoy has been wrested from tight grip of those who rule, yet we are sleepwalking into a surveillance, increasingly privatised state.

Manifesto pledges made at elections increasingly represent outright lies: not top down reform of the NHS or not voting for an increased in tuition fees being the two most egregious examples. The NHS might need reform and economically we might not be able to afford to put 50% of young people through university, but these issues should be discussed openly and the electorate allowed to vote on what is proposed.

Treating the electorate simply as election fodder every five years and then tearing up manifesto commitments once in government is actually quite dangerous in an increasingly connected age. Relying on apathy is a high stake game, which governments and corporations can ill afford to play. Civil unrest and consumer vigilantism are much easier to organise in the digital era. Our economy depends entirely on peace and the rule of law, yet the riots of 2011 demonstrate just how fragile that peace is.

You can regularly read about rewards for failure for a small group of quango chairs, regulators and politicians. It seems that if you fail in a public role or are beaten in an election you are guaranteed a gong, a well-paid seat on another public body or worse, a seat in the upper chamber of parliament. You failed or lost, now leave the stage, or seek another mandate from the people.

Two of the most exceptional things the Eye does is its use of freedom of information requests and in-depth reports, which regularly expose the worst transgressions of individuals and organisations. This level of investigative journalism is seen too rarely in the national press, with the odd notable exception.

In the coming weeks, we are going to be exploring how we can secure a more sustainable democracy, one that balances the needs of society, the economy and the environment upon which everything depends. Hopefully we will not end up like our cousins of the other side of the Atlantic. We’ll certainly be thumbing our back copies of the Eye for insights and inspiration.

You’re very likely to spill your coffee reading some of the articles and cartoons, as they hit the mark time after time. You’re very likely to cancel your subscription when the Eye shocks or offends, but that is its role and it is vital party of our democracy.

Vote for Policies founder Matt Chocqueel-Mangan has made the excellent point that in technology if a system isn’t working you fix the system not the blame the users.

As citizens, voters, consumers and investors, our democratic system is dysfunctional and needs radical root and branch reform. A more accountable, leaner, more decentralised and more responsible state would help reverse our declining place in the world and ignite other countries’ democratic impulse. This is not about ideology or idealism, but a pragmatic and necessary debate in a modern nation state.

If you want to really know what is going on in Britain today, a subscription to Private Eye is a pretty good place to start and infinitely superior to the regular works of fiction that constitute the majority of our national press.

All this for £28. Subscribe today.

Further reading:

The opaqueness of lobbying, party-serving, trade union-bashing and charity gagging bill is bad legislation

Functioning markets, functional democracy, sustainable economics and the rule of law

If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all

Party funding and MPs’ pay: you get the democracy you pay for

Big is the enemy of the good in all industries

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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