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Hull’s city of culture success is a hearty riposte to its critics



The same city that the Economist magazine labelled an “urban ghost” in October has been named city of culture for 2017. For Hull – sometimes forgotten and often the butt of jokes – the victory is a hearty riposte to those who gave it no hope.

It’s never dull in Hull: a phrase commandeered by the city council and plastered across T-shirts, mugs, car stickers – basically anything. For years, it was seen as ironic; a last-ditch attempt by the tourism department to attract people to the city.

On paper, Hull wasn’t an attractive place to visit. It was (and still is) located in the dreaded North at the very end of the M62 in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It had a poor football team, its residents had dodgy accents and its local economy was seemingly in a rocky position. No longer was it a thriving fishing port, but instead, a town with no hope.

In 2003, Hull’s misery peaked when it was named the worst place to live in the UK by a book called Crap Towns. A BBC article from that year quotes a former resident, who described the city as “a sad story of unemployment, teenage pregnancy, heroin addiction, crime, violence, and rampant self-neglect”. Unsurprisingly, the council stuck by its original tagline.

As a Hullensian myself, I’ve heard it all before (Have I Got News For You is one of the more mainstream taunters). After moving down south in February, I’ve lost count of the odd expressions I get when I tell people where I’m from. “Where’s that?” is another often heard response.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I woke up on Wednesday morning to the news that Hull – my city – had been named city of culture for 2017, beating off competition from Dundee, Swansea Bay and Leicester.

The decision marks the city’s successful regeneration over the past decade. Culture secretary Maria Miller said the city of culture tag “can produce a wonderful mix of inward investment, and civic pride and I hope Hull’s plans will make the most of all that being UK city of culture can bring.” Meanwhile, David Cameron added his congratulations during prime minister’s questions.

Hull city council says among its list of reasons for bidding for the title was a desire to leave behind its tag as a “crap town” behind. The unwanted label did massive disservice to Kingston-upon-Hull’s famous history.

William Wilberforce, the father of the abolitionist movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was Hull born and bred; former poet laureate and current president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Sir Andrew Motion, taught at the city’s university where fellow poet Philip Larkin, an adopted Hullensian, also worked; and the pioneering pilot Amy Johnson, who set a number of long-distance flying records in the 30s, is another to call Hull her home.

However, in many ways, Hull businesses have been doing their bit to shake off the “crap” tag between them for much longer than the city of culture bidding process.

Even though the city is still anxiously waiting on a final decision by Siemens, the Green Port Hull project – a multi-million pound wind turbine manufacturing and exporting plant – is a sign of Hull’s ambition. Its economy was once dependent on its thriving docks, but it’s now using that same infrastructure to create a sustainable economy fit for the 21st century.

Meanwhile, though many in the city complain about the telephone and internet ‘monopoly’ in place by the KCOM Group (formerly Kingston Communications), its community-owned communications network model ought to be used as a blueprint for others (the city’s unique white telephone boxes still get lots of attention from visitors).

At a time when national politicians are seen as failing the British electorate, it’s down to individual cities to lead the way. And not just the largest ones like London, Birmingham and Manchester; we need a diverse mix of sustainable cities of all shapes and sizes. Having a handful of financial and business centres is not appropriate in the long-term, as global populations grow. Hull’s determined drive to become a renewable energy hub must therefore be applauded.

However, its city of culture bid took a hit in October when an article in the Economist magazine described it – and other places such as Burnley and Hartlepool – as “urban ghosts”.

Even with growth, the most ambitious and best-educated people will still tend to leave places like Hull”, the article reads.

Britain’s failing towns struggle on indefinitely in their old industrial shape and size.”

Former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson, an MP in Hull, described the piece as “bad journalism, poor research and stupid politics”. Meanwhile Michelle Dewberry, a former Apprentice winner and Hull native, said, “The city deserves a say when the ambition for it dies.”

I contacted the Economist to see if the author of the article would like to respond on Hull’s city of culture victory. A spokesperson simply said the magazine didn’t comment on editorial matters, and instead, lets its content “speak for itself”.

But forgetting the critics, 10 years on from being named the worst place to live in Britain, the dodgy accents remain, but Hull’s football team is in the Premier League and its economy – with any luck – is heading in the right direction.

It still has the Humber Bridge, once the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is home to the University of Hull, which has a leading business school, attracting brilliant domestic and international students. And tourists still flock to the Deep, a public aquarium, a marine research hub and a spectacular feat of modern architecture and engineering.

Hull remains the 16th largest city in the UK (between Brighton & Hove and Plymouth). Over 250,000 proud citizens call it home.

Urban ghost? More like city of culture.

It’s never dull in Hull.

Further reading:

A green city with sustainable plans: it’s never dull in Hull

Smaller UK cities outperform larger counterparts on ‘good growth’

‘Green capital’ Bristol named best place to live in the UK

Politicians have failed us on sustainability. It’s time for our mayors to step up

Livin’ (Sustainably) in the City


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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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