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Investing our way towards dystopia



Dystopian fiction is all the rage on the silver screen. From Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, the final instalment of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay, to the next instalment of Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, to Divergent’s sequel, Insurgent. Meanwhile, mainstream investment seems determined to make all that fiction a reality as fast as possible.

The joke question that asks ‘how to get somewhere’ is answered, “If you want to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.” If we wanted to live in a secure and free society, with the highest possible levels of health, wealth and happiness for all, we wouldn’t start from here, we’d start in 1978.

1978, the year the world had never had it so good. University of Canberra researchers used a novel method to work out when individual countries and the whole world enjoyed the best quality of life. Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) uses economic data as well as statistics relating to pollution, housework and car accidents among other factors. They found GPI peaked in globally in 1978 and has steadily declined since then.

Where are we in 2015? Global insecurity. The possibility of a new Cold War with Russia. Economic and political breakdown in Europe. Environmental degradation and mass extinction. Inequality within nations increasing. Voter turnout falling and extreme parties rising.

Today, vast sums of money are invested in harming people and planet for short-term profit with those who dare to protest seen as naive idealists. An even greater share of investment serves no function at all – apart from enriching the already rich. A lot of pensioners’ income unwittingly depends on damaging the prospects of their children and grandchildren. We have the exact opposite of Adam Smithsonian capitalism, with poor people’s incomes taxed to the hilt and rent-seeking property owners and wealth inheritors relatively untaxed. To protest is deemed the ‘politics of envy’, as accidental wealth inheritance is conflated with blood-sweat-and-toil wealth creation.

Our dependency on fossil fuels means we fight wars and destabilise whole regions while poisoning our atmosphere, ravaging people and landscapes. Our advertising-fuelled need for the latest shiny thing means we consume more than two earths could provide. Our need for cheaper and cheaper stuff means five million hard-working people don’t earn a living wage in the UK, the sixth richest country in the world. 168 million child workers around the world suffer modern day slavery to supply cheap stuff to the rich world – we rob the poor to feed the rich. Wealthy corporations’ need for greater margins means they demand unsustainable tax breaks, leading to cuts in essential public services and taxpayer-funded subsidies for underpaid workers.

Meanwhile we’re casually poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land and seas that provides our food. Our ice caps melt, our forests are cut down, our weather becomes more unpredictable and entire species are pushed into extinction. We jeopardise many more species, not least ourselves.

And the greatest swindle perpetrated in modern history has been the transformation of systemic private sector recklessness and failure during the financial crisis into (drum roll) public sector austerity. Clearly all those doctors, nurses, teachers, hardworking families, young people or unborn children are responsible for the credit crunch. And it will happen again as nothing has fundamentally changed and there is no moral hazard for the financial masters of the universe now.

And more people than ever impotently sign petitions, march and protest but perversely don’t vote because, “it doesn’t make a difference”. In the UK, around 6m didn’t even bother to register in the first place. 15.7m of those who were registered to vote chose not to. This non-voting constituency was 2.4m more than the 11.3m who voted for the winning Conservative party. Across OECD countries voter turnout is falling (-11%), just as we need greater engagement in the political process.

For all our incredible resilience, ingenuity, intelligence and opposable thumbs we really are a very stupid primate.

Melodramatic tosh? Not really. Intergovernmental, organisational and individual action isn’t commensurate with the challenges we face. We all fiddle while earth burns. I can confidently make a prediction that Paris 2015 will fudge an agreement that ineffectively addresses those challenges. We are all child abusers screwing the planet up for future generations.

So what can you do? Have a big ‘End of the World’ party to hasten oblivion (which is what we’re doing), bravely fight the long defeat or cleave to optimism and our species’ ability to tackle the coming catastrophe.

What you can do is invest and buy sustainably. Every pound you invest and spend is a powerful agent of change. It’s the only vote that some care about, especially those dealing with Greece. Capitalism in a liberal democracy has all the ingredients we need to create a genuinely sustainable future. If you don’t have money or power, lobby someone who does and publish what they reply – name and shame them if they do nothing. In the digital age you don’t even need to pay for a stamp.

We are racing headlong towards a dystopian future – where brutal fiction will become a hellish fact. There are real issues just round the corner with food, water and energy shortages, not to mention the catastrophic effects of runaway climate change. Resource shortages lead to war of a civil and military nature. In times of war totalitarianism is a simple step. Climate change will lead to large scale migration (is already leading to migration) which gives rise to intolerance and extremism. In times of intolerance and extremism it is harder to find a common cause.

Utopia is unachievable, but avoiding dystopia is within our grasp if we reach for it.

Invest and spend sustainably.

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


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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