Francesca Baker took a trip to Notting Hill last week for a night of unscripted true stories of “passion, obsession and adventure“.
5×15. Not 75, but an evening of intellect and inspiration. A brilliant concept, developed by journalist Rosie Boycott, her daughter Daisy Leitch and the literary events promoter Eleanor O’Keeffe, the event is a highly relevant literary smorgasbord.
Five speakers, 15 minutes each. Sometimes there is no connection between the orators at all; the only link being that these are five interesting people passionate about a topic and wanting to share it with the audience.
Sometimes there is an overarching theme, carefully curated. Tonight, it was one that resonates with Blue & Green Tomorrow. Five speakers, picked by George Monbiot – author, Guardian columnist and visiting professor at the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brooks University – discussing their take on the topic, Capitalism and its Discontents.
This topic resonates not because Blue & Green Tomorrow is a communist operation or anything like it, but because both the magazine and the speakers share the view that just because we run our society in a certain way, that does not make it the right way, and accepted practices need to be questioned for their ethical and sustainable outlook.
There is a general belief that capitalism is correct, mainly because it generates wealth. But this wealth has costs. For a start, this wealth is not evenly spread. Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder professor of geography at the University of Oxford and the founder of worldmapper.org, a website visually demonstrating who has the most and the least in the world, was vehement about this, visually demonstrating his points with graphs. But it was Jack Monroe, the single mum who started her blog A Girl Called Jack, who most personably and emotionally portrayed this.
Monroe started publishing cheap and cheerful meal ideas on her blog after benefit cuts, poor housing and job difficulties forced her to feed herself and her son on only £10 a week: a sum which, as she points out, is “lower than you ever imagined you could live on“. Now a political activist and an ambassador for Oxfam, her first-hand evidence of the widespread necessity of food banks, and the wasteful nature of so many, is a result, she believes, of the inequalities of a capitalist system which sees poverty as “inevitable“.
Something else capitalism neglects is its reliance on people and the planet. The economy does not sit separately from its environment, which includes natural resources, social exchange and unpaid workers, as well as the push and pull of micro and macro monetary systems.
This belief has seen economist Kate Raworth develop the concept of “doughnut” economics. A senior visiting research associate and lecturer at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, she focuses on the rewriting of economics to reflect this century’s realities and challenges. The doughnut system stresses the fusion of social and planetary boundaries. She believes we need an economic system that focuses on the values of people, not the values of money.
This view was shared by Tim Jackson, currently professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey and director of the Defra/ESRC-funded Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group. He was economics commissioner on the UK Sustainable Development Commission from 2004-11, a role culminating in the publication of Prosperity without Growth.
This work, and his talk tonight, focused on economics for a finite planet, and how consumption and production can be achieved with social, environmental, and economic sustainability and stability achieved. He too did not have a specific agenda for curing the economy, but instead focused on changing the way we think.
Wealth does not necessarily make people happier or healthier, and we need to alter our view on what prosperity means. We need to not look at GNP and rising stock markets as a measure of success, but relationships, nature and wellbeing.
Not a bad idea, and evidently something that appealed to the curator Monbiot. As the final speaker, he spoke eloquently and convincingly about a topic I have written on before – whether we need to consider the environment in economic terms in order to make people take interest. His take was a vehement “no“. By doing so and using the term ‘natural capital’, he stated that we were playing into this capitalist agenda, and putting a price on something that can not be valued in such terms – nature.
The night was never going to force an audience of affluent people, who had spent £20 on a ticket to sit in a converted church in Notting Hill, that capitalism is innately wrong, but the speakers may have caused thought. Which is what they were there to do.
Dorling’s final sentence was this: “How we think about each other, and how we think about the world, is going to change.” For sustainability – socially, economically, and environmentally – it has to.
Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.
Photo: constantin jurcut via freeimages
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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.
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