We begin our youth as left-wing idealists with little focus on self-enrichment. As we age, however, we become progressively right-wing – with a focus on individual goals. Today, people in generation Y are on the political right of where their parents and grandparents were as youngsters, representing a change in social ideals.
On the BBC Radio 4 programme Generation Right, broadcast on Monday evening, interviews with economists, political editors and marketing experts are combined with the thoughts of a small group of young sceptical people.
Where this scepticism is directed highlights the worrying trend in this generational shift. This is the most likely generation to have the least favourable view of the welfare state – where benefit claimants are the greatest drain on state resources and personal achievement is the highest priority.
This is not to suggest that, as a generation, those under 30 years of age are automatically right-wing; it is the shift in political views in comparison to the last generation and the one before them that is under observation.
On average, generation Y is now politically right-wing, but socially liberal. Race, sexuality and gender roles are no longer defining social priorities; individual choice and freedom is generally encouraged as we live in a more individualised society. Along with this freedom comes a greater sense of individual responsibility – which is reflected negatively on communal institutions like the NHS, and more generally, the welfare state.
The redistribution of wealth to the poorer echelons of society is no longer a priority of a once proudly welfare based nation. Talking to BBC Radio 4, Bobby Duffy, head of public affairs at market research specialists Ipsos-Mori, described the different context in which generation Y has grown up in.
“In terms of technology and culture, it’s a very different context generation y has grown up in”, he said.
“With an individualised outlook, the big theme of generation Y is a sense of personal responsibility, which seems more in tune with some conservative opinions.”
He added, “That connection to the welfare state is much weaker, with a highly negative view on benefits. It is again connected to that sense of personal responsibility and because that generation has not had an awful lot of help, if you think of student loans, paying for tuition fees and the nature of the housing market, etc.”
Emphasis is also placed on school league tables and exams, which contributes towards a sense of competitiveness between peers. That’s according to the Economist’s political editor Jeremy Cliffe. This “[strengthens] that sense of individualistic drive”, he said.
The highly critical view that has been taken against benefits claimants in particular is a worryingly disproportionate one. TV shows like Channel 4’s Benefits Street influence negative opinions towards the socially disadvantaged – creating a sense of “we pay, they gain”.
This attitude was also taken towards the NHS from sixth-formers interviewed by the BBC. Those who are reliant on the health system because of self-induced damage should be forced to pay a fee – in particular heavy drinkers or obese people.
On the Radio 4 programme, Labour activist and blogger Emma Brunel placed a lack of political activism as the root cause to why young people feel so isolated and bitter towards the state. She said, “Young people have been hit hard. People are being squeezed at the very beginning of their lives, and it is cynical, but young people don’t vote.”
The idea of personal choice outweighing genuine need is an interesting observation. Generation Y is in fact the first generation to grow up with the internet and an enforced idea of social networking.
Ironically, the fundamental ideals of the internet, based on a ‘hive mind’ or large community-based interaction, have been undermined by individualistic tendencies – with selective, peer-to-peer networking.
Social media in particular has provided a platform for online personalities to be built, with groups or networks supporting that very image you choose to present. Although we are technically connected via a world wide web, we are in fact only choosing to engage with a tiny proportion of it.
Curating individuality, some argue, is actually a triumph of capitalism – where the greatest change in society is actually in consumer tendencies. Fraser Nelson from the Spectator said, “Greater individualism is bred from greater choice. Even down to what television you watch has changed. We now have people who do not even watch television, but watch Netflix or box sets – you no longer get conversations about EastEnders.”
How we choose to spend our free time increasingly defines who we are, which is a factor behind this change in social attitudes. We also live in a culture where we are defined by what we have.
Young people’s views today support socially progressive ideals, but are isolated by mainstream politics because the social pressure on generation Y to achieve individually undermines collective thought. If they felt more inclined to actively engage in political discussions, then abuses of power like the rising of tuition fees would have at the least sparked greater debate – with generation Y being taken far more seriously than it currently is.
Photo: bobaliciouslondon via flickr
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.