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Diamond faces grilling from parliament as public fights back

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Former Barclays chief Bob Diamond faced some tough questions about the interest rate-fixing scandal from the Treasury committee today in parliament.

Diamond resigned from his post as chief executive yesterday, after enduring public and political pressure over the bank’s supposed manipulation of the Libor rate – the estimated average interest rate that leading banks in London would be charged if borrowing from other banks.

Speaking in front of the committee, Diamond labelled the roles of some Barclays employees in the scandal as “reprehensible”, but was tripped up a couple of times when asked about his knowledge of the Libor manipulation.

Dissatisfaction with the high street banks is driving people to take action – George Blunden, Charity Bank

He claimed that he only found out about it “this month” – something that Barclays’ 2011 Annual Report, which was released in March this year, suggests otherwise. It mentions “investigations” into rate-fixing allegations, and is signed off by Diamond himself.

On a number of occasions throughout the questioning, including in his opening gambit, Diamond relayed his “love” for Barclays.

I love Barclays, that’s where it starts”, he began. “I love Barclays because of the people.”

But given the fact that last year, he cashed in the biggest cheque out of all FTSE 100 chiefs – a cushy £21m to be precise – this is somewhat unsurprising. He went on to describe how he felt “physically ill” when he learnt about the rate-manipulation.

Ben Dyson, founder of Positive Money, told Blue & Green Tomorrow that the debate surrounding the banking system was much wider than just Bob Diamond.

I’d say that we’re in danger of getting distracted by personalities and missing the point that the entire banking system is fundamentally broken”, he said.

Manipulating interest rates is one thing, but the thing we should really be worried about is the fact that the bulk of the money supply is on loan from banks, because 97% of money is created by banks when they make loans.

This is the root of the huge personal debts that people have and it’s also why banking has been such a hugely profitable industry for so many years.”

But the public are fighting back. According to figures released by two of the UK’s leading ethical banks, the recent sustained uncertainty and scandal in the banking sector has spawned a natural surge in interest in the ethical options.

We reported this morning how Triodos Bank had witnessed a 51% surge in account applications last week, and on Monday, opened three times as many accounts compared to an average day.

This past week has destroyed consumers’ trust, not only in the banks but also in the establishment tasked with protecting the public interest – Louis Brooke, Move Your Money

On top of this, Charity Bank welcomed 440 new customers between January 1 and June 30 this year – a figure 300 more than the same period in 2011. More recently, visitors to Charity Bank’s website, and the number of savings account enquiries doubled in the past week.

Dissatisfaction with the high street banks is driving people to take action”, explained George Blunden, chairman of Charity Bank.

Ordinary members of the public are beginning to realise that there is an alternative to depositing their savings in commercial banks, where they will have no idea what use their money is put to.”

Triodos and Charity Bank are just two of a number of ethical or sustainable options for individuals in the UK.

It was recently revealed that financial institutions that focused their business around values were outperforming those that had a primary aim of increasing capital.

The study, called Strong, Straightforward and Sustainable Banking was conducted by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, and compared the performance of 17 “values-driven” banks with 29 of the largest, most influential mainstream ones. It concluded that the more ethical institutions delivered better returns than the high street behemoths.

This banking scandal is swiftly turning into a political crisis”, commented Louis Brooke, spokesperson for Move Your Money, a national campaign aimed at encouraging people to switch to ethical banks.

This past week has destroyed consumers’ trust, not only in the banks but also in the establishment tasked with protecting the public interest.

The concentration of wealth and power in four big banks has been bad for customers, bad for business and bad for Britain.

It has also had a corrosive effect on the entire political establishment who have been compelled to go to any lengths to prop up the too big to fail banks irrespective of how depraved their behaviour has become.

Politicians seem intent on point scoring rather than finding a meaningful solution to our broken banking system. That’s why the public are taking matters into their own hands and moving their money”.

Stay tuned for Blue & Green Tomorrow’s latest in-depth report, called The Guide to Sustainable Banking, which is set for release later this month.

Further reading:

Bob Diamonds are not forever

Pay-packets of top FTSE executives increase by 12%

Sustainable banks outperforming mainstream counterparts

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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