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And another thing: profit before people is the dark heart of unrestrained capitalism

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News this week that Thomas Cook has been strongly condemned for putting image and profit for people leading to the deaths of two young children should surprise no one. The very thing Thomas Cook will be rewarded for in the City, maximising profit for shareholders, is the core driver of a lack of care for its customers.

Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser said about the King report: “Booking a holiday is a matter of trust and it is our duty to do everything we can to justify the trust our customers place in us, both now and in the future.” Trust and duty. Quite. “I resign,” would have been a better and more succinct response. Company founder Thomas Cook, a devout and sober Baptist, would be spinning at high speed in his grave for the sins of those who use his name.

You can be imprisoned for six months for stealing a £3.50 bottle of water as ‘an example’. If two children in your care die from carbon monoxide poisoning because you put profit before people, no problem, carry on, have a bonus.

Epic market failure on a murderous scale

Capitalism is harming and killing people at every turn. The system and its captains needs to be brought to heel or to court for their crimes. Even Bill Gates, arguably the world’s most successful capitalist and entrepreneur, has lost faith in capitalism’s ability to address the world’s most pressing issue, climate change.

Between them fossil fuels, energy, transport, industry, agriculture, big tobacco, big pharma, aerospace and defence kill at least 17 million people a year globally. Heart disease, the leading cause of death by illness, only kills seven million.

During the most violent and bloody period of the last century World War One and World War Two killed seven million and ten million per year respectively. As we prepare for Remembrance Sunday, maybe we should spare just a moment to remember the ‘glorious dead’ of modern capitalism. Dulce and decorum est – Is it sweet and honourable to die for someone else’s internal rate of return?

Air pollution from burning fossil fuels for energy, transport, industry and agriculture kills seven million every year. Big tobacco kills six million every year. Big pharma allows three million people to die from preventable diseases every year. Our desire to drive cars kills well over one million from road traffic accidents every year. Surprisingly, the one industry that makes tools that are actually designed specifically to kill people, aerospace and defence, kills a rather modest 163,000 people a year through armed conflict – and almost everything they make is never used (which is a use of resources crime in itself).

And that’s just the body bags of modern capitalism. Many millions more have their health impaired, suffer poverty wages,  work in slave-like conditions, and suffer the endless fear of eviction from homes, workplace abuse and injury or death from poor health and safety practices. Dickensian doesn’t even describe the depths to which modern capitalists will sink.

And while global industry is happy for governments to reduce benefits for their lowest paid employees, they are equally happy to receive huge amounts of corporate welfare in tax breaks and state subsidies. Benefits that are redistributed upwards in high salaries for average executives, like Mr Fankhauser, and in shareholder dividends.

The unsustainable elephant in the room is financial services, who provides the working capital for all this death and suffering, and actively incentivises profit being put before people. This is the same industry that single-handedly created the global economic crash in 2007 and forced governments to nationalise their losses, before bouncing back to reap even greater profits, while we and our children and our children’s children pay for their mistakes – and will do again.

Thomas Cook is just the latest example of everything that is wrong with modern capitalism, where profit and image matter more than people and planet. Isn’t it about time that a lot more of these people, these feted and cosseted Captains of Industry, and the grovelling organisations and politicians that serve them, lost everything and went to prison for a very, very long time.

Shareholders with largest holdings in Thomas Cook Group Plc:

Invesco Asset Management Ltd. – 18.10%

Standard Life Investments Ltd. – 8.78%

Guang Chang Guo, MBA – 5.20%

Capital Guardian Trust Co. – 4.59%

Marathon Asset Management LLP – 4.52%

BlackRock Investment Management (UK) Ltd. – 4.21%

Orbis Investment Management Ltd. – 2.86%

Legal & General Investment Management Ltd. – 2.78%

Norges Bank Investment Management – 1.92%

Allianz Global Investors GmbH – 1.54%

 

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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