The public has spoken… kind of. The European elections last week saw just 33.8% of the British electorate turn out to vote, although the typical British weather may have had a hand to play in that.
But for those who did bravely face the elements with their umbrellas in one hand and polling card in the other, the election they were about to exercise their democratic right in turned out to be one of the most significant in modern British political history.
For the first time in a century, a party other than Labour or the Conservatives won a national election, with Ukip topping the polls with 27% of the votes (though, as Ampp3d pointed out on Twitter, the “political earthquake” its leader Nigel Farage promised is more of a slight rumble when you factor in the 31 million people who didn’t even vote).
In the aftermath, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg faced calls from within his own party to resign as leader of the Liberal Democrats. In Europe, it was pushed into sixth place overall by the Green party and the SNP, clinging onto just one seat. The business secretary Vince Cable, also a Lib Dem, has been tipped as a potential successor to Clegg. He said that now was not the time for “infighting and introspection”.
Labour and the Conservatives, who have traditionally beaten each other to first place in national elections, have acknowledged that with Ukip snapping at their heels and a general election less than 12 months away, things need to change. Whilst David Cameron headed over to Brussels on Tuesday to tell his European counterparts that reform and change was needed, Ed Miliband said that the future of the country is as part of the EU. The Labour leader also said that Ukip’s success showed a “deep sense of discontent for the way this country is run”, adding that major changes need to be made in the policies.
But why did Ukip do so well? Some claim that it was simply a protest vote; that the party is offering a tenable solution to some of the key issues we face as a society; or that the excitement of a new party offering to change the way the country is being run simply attracted disillusioned voters who would normally turn from one main party to the next.
But does Ukip offer genuine solutions? Sure, Farage seems like a normal, pint-drinking, cigarette-smoking chap from down the pub, and he sure knows how to give a good speech, but the ideology that he stands for and the issues at the crux of Ukip’s main policies manage to, by Farage’s own admission, stir up a racial rhetoric that has no place in 21st century society.
What we need is a political leader that will, just once, promise real change to bring politics hurtling through the centuries, where the language and traditions politicians seem to observe are from, and into the present day. It is no wonder that only 33.8% of those who were eligible turned out to vote last week, when those they are supposed to vote for get paid a modest salary to speak in a language barely comprehendible to the average person.
We need a leader who can offer the conditions for people to earn a decent living to pay the bills and bring up a family, and not have to decide between heating their homes or feeding the mouths around the table.
We need a leader who will make sure that everyone has the same opportunities to access a decent standard of education, free healthcare and a safety net for when you lose your job in the name of austerity, irregardless of your colour, your gender, which school you went to or how little money you have.
We need a leader who will come down hard on irresponsible banks that, whilst being given the run of the pen, have a disregard for the impacts their fixation on the quick bucks have on wider society.
We need a leader who will ensure that Britain has a good platform to stand on in the global arena and speak with authority on the issues that really matter, such as solutions to climate change and human rights issues.
Regardless of the colour of this leader’s card, their presence is much-needed in British politics. The changes that are needed in order to resolve some of the fundamental problems faced by the society we live in extend much further and run much deeper than the UK’s membership of the EU.
Photo: Krzysztof Szkurlatowski via freeimages
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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