Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential campaign against George Bush senior by addressing one area where the incumbent President was weak. Simon Leadbetter looks at what was missing from Her Majesty’s Government’s legislative programme and Her Loyal Opposition’s response.
Compared to the blockbusting 2010 Queen’s speech, which was as polarising and radical as it was far-reaching, 2012’s speech was an altogether lower key affair. While the Coalition was right to focus their spin on our faltering economy, the list of legislative bills did little to stimulate a sustainable economy or preserve our ecology.
The Government has been highly ambitious with the speed of its budget cuts, significant reforms of education, health and welfare, but it has been insufficiently ambitious or reforming in addressing our country’s long-term economic and environmental needs. The Government needs to be more radical in two areas.
The first is in supporting fast-growth, innovative sustainable businesses. Start-ups are the engines of growth in the economy, disrupting complacent and inefficient existing businesses and introducing new technologies, products and services that are invaluable in terms of the nation’s intellectual property and our export strength.
As one of the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nations, we should unleash that potential in the fastest growing sector: clean energy and energy efficiency.
It is well-known that high net worth investors, venture capitalists and business angels back teams not businesses. The United Kingdom is one of the most brilliant nations; our universities and colleges produce some of the highest quality, brightest and talented teams of innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs. Our inability to commercialise and scale those innovations lies with the Government’s failure to understand innovation and its unhealthily close relationship with big business.
The impulsive abolition of Regional Development Authorities (RDAs) was huge strategic mistake; a Government so passionate about reform could have resolved the manifold issues of RDAs through judicious pruning and by refocusing efforts on the enterprise our nation needs. Cutting university funding and the tripling of tuition fees was another major error, given that the UK is increasingly moving towards a knowledge-based economy. A government that is comfortable with policy reversals and focused on economic growth would have addressed these two problems.
All of which segues nicely into the second area where a more radical approach is required. Our economy is hopelessly unbalanced by geography and sector.
The United Kingdom is currently locked into a provincial death spiral where London is the sole focus of the economy and all other regions can go to hell. This is not anti-London. London is certainly by far the biggest contributor to GDP; however, its current scale is the outcome of a spectacularly incompetent financial services sector and massively inflated property market. London’s position in the economy has become a virtuous cycle for the City and a vicious circle elsewhere. And because London is the largest generator of GDP, it must be supported at all cost, even as the provinces and regional cities go into decline, furthering the GDP gap.
The Government needs to be more radical in two areas. The first is in supporting fast-growth, innovative sustainable businesses. Our economy is hopelessly unbalanced by geography and sector.
A geographical concentration was convenient in the age of slow communications and at a time when monarchs needed to keep their allies close and their enemies closer. In the era of distributed production, virtual workforces and instantaneous, low cost communication, such a London-centric system seems very 19th century.
Though it is depressing that the Government has tied the hands of the Green Investment Bank (GIB) behind its back by disallowing it to borrow its own money, more depressing still is that the location of the GIB will be in London and Edinburgh—the epicentres of the biggest banking failures in living memory. Surely, we do not want the same group of people, with the same views and lack of talent, running the show when their great achievement is captaining the global economy into the ground.
Most of Europe and the United States have distributed economies with many centres of activity. It is only in the UK, with its capital-focused media and journalists who cannot heave their privileged carcasses outside the M25, where we are so obsessed with a single city.
Turning attention to our sector bias: financial services are too large a part of our economy— representing some 35% of corporate profits. The sector’s leaders have unashamedly shown that they are unfit to play a leading role in guiding the shape of our economy. They have allowed high executive pay for failure in corporations, exported jobs and capital, and twisted our economy around short-term profit at all costs. Greed, for want of a better word, really does seem good in the City.
The Government could and should have accelerated banking reform, separating investment banks from retail banks before 2019. It could and should have broken up the big four banks, and certainly the two it owned stakes in (Lloyds Banking Group and RBS), to encourage greater competition. Free and transparent competition is the best guarantor of innovation, consumer rights and excellence of service. If banks are too big to fail or wish to privatise profits and nationalise losses, as they have done over the last five years, then they should be taken out of private hands. The ideal solution would have been to stimulate a renaissance of smaller banks, building societies and those with a regional focus. We have a thriving sustainable investment sector and this could have been encouraged if the dominant banks were cut down to size. The British taxpayer should not be required to underwrite private sector risk-taking and failure.
As one of the world’s most innovative and entrepreneurial nations, we should unleash that potential in the fastest growing sector: clean energy and energy efficiency.
Clean energy needs investment to really take off; just as the nuclear, oil and gas industry have all enjoyed incredible state support throughout the last century, so clean energy requires that same commitment in the twenty-first. This is not some romantic or environmentalist attachment to wind, wave and tidal. It is the first responsibility of any Government to protect its citizens—delivering energy security is foremost amongst those responsibilities at a time when the threat of invasion is non-existent. By tapping into the plentiful wind, wave and tidal resources that batter our windy, wavy and tidal island, we could achieve such energy security and self-sufficiency. And because our clean energy resources are distributed across our nation, a rebalancing shift of geographic concentration would bring much needed income and jobs to economically weaker rural areas.
Fossil fuels and nuclear energy have long needed subsidies to be viable. Fossil fuels, in particular, externalise the vast majority of their real cost—the air pollution and related health problems they generate; the regular wars and dependency on less savoury regimes that they require to maintain supplies. Nuclear energy may well be a necessary evil, but then we have to face the prospects of nuclear proliferation (if we can have it, why can’t Iran?) and the long-term issues of radioactive waste storage.
In terms of energy efficiency, there are 25 million homes in the UK and over half a million commercial properties. Insulating them all properly would significantly reduce our energy consumption while providing much needed work for thousands of unemployed manual labourers.
Rather than throwing billions in quantitative easing at banks who then use it to simply recapitalise, pay bonuses for continuing failure and then lend the money back to the Government at a profit, we should instead invest in creating an emerging, pollution-free, world-beating clean energy–energy efficiency sector.
If quantitative easing of £325 billion was distributed in a more sensible way, it would equate to:
Universities & HE Colleges
Of which there are 280 (Universities UK)
£1,200,000,000 (£1.2bn) each or would fund a University sector 23 times the size it is today
Of which there are 1,178,745 (BIS Business Population Estimates for the UK and Regions)
Full time average salary jobs
Average salary is £26,200 (ONS, 2011)
12,400,000 full time average salary jobs
On the facing benches of the House, the Opposition’s proposal is just as unconvincing. Cutting the deficit a little slower appears to be their sole argument. This is not a sufficiently compelling narrative to inspire a nation or win a General Election. The Conservatives, Lib Dem and Labour must each develop a more radical and strategic vision for the United Kingdom, which remains the sixth largest economy in the world.
An idealist’s pipe dream?
Most of Europe and the United States have distributed economies with many centres of activity.
Overconfidence and a privateer mentality took England & Wales from being the weaker players in Europe in the 16th Century, threatened with extinction by continental powers, to being a global British Empire that ruled one-fifth of the world’s population at its height, sparked the industrial revolution with the injection of Scottish genius, and led the information revolution. We could and should be a leader in the clean energy and efficiency revolution.
Powerful interests in incumbent businesses, energy intensive, fossil-fuelled industries, their heavily lobbied friends in politics, the media and financial services will all seek to distort the debate and mislead the public.
A more compelling vision for the United Kingdom would be one where we are leaders in the fastest growing global sector; where we exploit abundant and clean natural resources that are distributed across the nation; where we make all of our homes and businesses more energy efficient; and where we train and deploy our talent and youth to achieve this enterprise.
It is a vision to inspire us to be a great and united nation once again.
2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage
Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.
Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.
Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each
The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.
Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.
Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.
Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.
That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.
Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.
Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.
Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.
The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.
Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity
Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.
Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.
It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.
Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight
The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.
The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.
2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded
People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.
Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.
Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.
Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.
Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
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