Speaking on the Today programme this morning in advance of tonight’s BBC2 documentary, The Truth about Immigration, UKIP leader Nigel Farage made a statement that many readers of Blue & Green Tomorrow would agree with: “There are more important things than money.”
The Truth about Immigration is a BBC2 investigation (9.30pm tonight) into the social and economic changes triggered by unprecedented immigration, and politicians’ action to get on the right side of public opinion. In tonight’s programme, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson challenges home secretary Theresa May, her shadow Yvette Cooper, business secretary Vince Cable and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on their competing plans to cut immigration and the feasibility of those plans.
We’ll review the programme tomorrow, but what surprised us today was the quasi-sustainability perspective of UKIP’s avowedly free market leader. People are more important than profit. We spluttered into our coffees.
In the Today interview, Farage made the point that community harmony was more important than being slightly richer from more immigration. This is a radical departure from the more classic free market view that unfettered markets and globalisation are the only solution to all social problems.
Housing shortages and our health and education systems being under strain are not the fault of immigrants. The decision not to allow local authorities to build new social housing, radically reforming the health service at great cost during unprecedented budget cuts and not building enough schools during a baby boom, are the principle contributors to these problems. We have unremarkable politicians making short-term political decisions in the face of long-term, remarkable strategic conditions.
Uncontrolled immigration can clearly cause community cohesion problems. It is often the young or lowest paid whose jobs are displaced by unskilled and some skilled immigrants and they naturally resent this. Companies and agencies are willing to weaken and undercut their own workforce with cheaper imported labour.
Again, this is not the fault of the immigrant workers, who have a right to move across the EU and naturally want to better their lot. Critically, the right extends to ‘workers’, i.e. those who have a job.
At fault are the rules of European organisation we are part of (change the rules), our own lax attitude to monitoring immigration in the past and managing our borders (don’t cut the border agency’s budget) and the willingness of companies to flout the laughable minimum wage (enforce a living wage). It is our political and corporate leadership who have created this problem.
The story is familiar. We face massive global issues that require real political, corporate and media leadership. One of them is increased economic migration. Instead of tackling those issues sensibly and collaboratively with other nations, once again, those with the most power and wealth choose to attack those with the least, the disabled, those on benefits, the young, the poor and those seeking better lives for themselves.
The seventh largest economy in the world has more than enough money to cope with more immigration. With a rising dependent population of children and pension age people we actually need it. Short of the Swiftian approach of eating the young and old, we need more people of working age to support those not working. Our health service, upon which the young and old are the most dependent, is held together by immigrant doctors and nurses.
While the figures are hotly contested, there is significant evidence that immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy through taxation. In addition, unviable hospitals and schools have remained open due to the influx of new patients and pupils from overseas. While this sounds counter intuitive, it remains a fact. We also benefit from the free movement of workers, with many UK citizens working across Europe with economically inactive pensioners settling in warmer Mediterranean climates.
Do we have enough space? We are the 51st most densely populated country in the world (out of 244 sovereign states and dependent territories). Probably not in our existing cities, but we know we need new towns. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit has advised parliament that up to 290,500 additional homes may be needed each year between now and 2031. That’s a city the size of Derby every year for 17 years.
We don’t have enough working age people in the UK to support our dependent population, nor do we have enough homes for those that we actually need. Closing the gate and pulling up the drawbridge will not solve these problems. Open the gates with well-paid, motivated guards to count people in and out and build a lot more (ideally sustainable) houses.
Immigration may be UKIP’s particular bugbear, but if the argument can be made that there are more important things than money, then the argument must hold for other areas that impinge on community harmony. We would spread the net wider than simply controlling immigration and the unpleasant side effect of demonising immigrants.
Allowing social mobility to grind to a halt and go into reverse.
Allowing tax evasion and extreme tax avoidance to become the norm, far outstripping any benefit cheating or additional and debatable costs from immigration.
Allowing companies to exploit consumer inertia and lack of technical knowledge to maximise profits at the individual’s expense.
Allowing companies to degrade the environment, causing a cornucopia of health and environmental problems.
Allowing our financial sector to mis-sell, fiddle rates, money launder for drug barons and overwhelmingly invest in companies that harm our people and our planet globally.
These are the things that really harm community harmony. Far more than immigration.
Our economy and the profit it generates should not harm humans or our planet. While immigration is the preferred and lazy front page of the tabloid press, there are far, far greater issues to address. Our society and environment are more important than the pursuit of more money.
To bastardise Robert F Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968, money “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Yes, Mr Farage, there are so many, many more important things than money.
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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