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Revenge of the Electric Car poised for UK release

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After a successful run in the US, Chris Paine’s latest documentary film, Revenge of the Electric Car, is crossing the pond and being shown on UK shores for the first time this evening. Alex Blackburne caught up with producer and writer PG Morgan to talk about the imminent release.

In 2006, US filmmaker Chris Paine released Who Killed the Electric Car? – a controversial independent picture that accused the motor industry, in particular General Motors, of a conspiracy to prevent mass production of electrically-powered vehicles.

It stirred up debate, won several awards and received a flood of critical acclaim. People began to see that something fishy was going on in boardrooms across some of the biggest manufacturers in the US.

Chris wanted to show how change can happen. That people can turn things around

But after the film’s release, Paine began to see a change. He heard rumours of an electric car revival and set out to document it. The result is Revenge of the Electric Car, which has its UK premiere at the Empire in Leicester Square this evening.

The first film is about frustration and anger – what went wrong one day in capitalism”, Paine told Blue & Green Tomorrow in October.

The other is what went right.”

Shot over three years between 2008 and 2011 and amassing over 300 hours of behind-the-scenes footage along the way, the filmmakers were given unprecedented access to a whole host of private meetings and boardroom discussions, on the understanding that they wouldn’t use any of the material until 2011.

It looks at the inner-workings of three big car companies – Nissan, Tesla and General Motors – as well as a garage convertor, Greg Abbott, as they each build the new generation of electric vehicles.

Chris always wanted to complete the story”, explains PG Morgan, who co-wrote the film with Paine and was also a producer.

He was very frustrated at the end of Who Killed the Electric Car? that the dream of electric cars had been killed off.

He’d heard how Elon Musk at Tesla was starting to build the Tesla Roadster. He went along and started filming that, and then got into a communication with General Motors, and I think it was at that point that he realised there was a new story to tell and it was worth bringing the cameras in to follow it as it unfolded.

It started off in a very tentative way, doing shoots here and there and seeing what happened, and then it gradually built into what became a fully-fledged new film.”

Since release in the US at the Tribeca Film Festival on Earth Day last year, the film has gone from strength to strength. It was shown at the Silverdocs 2012 Documentary Film Festival in Washington DC, premiered in cinemas in October and was shown on PBS, the American equivalent to the BBC, on Earth Day this year.

We had a lot of coverage from the business press as much as from the environmental press for the film, because it’s really about how companies turn around, how they take risks and how they push new ideas through. And that has a very receptive audience here”, comments Morgan.

It’s great because each day I seem to get a Google alert about the film screening in a local community centre or library.

It’s had a long life and it’s still out there informing people and entertaining them as well.”

Indeed, its life is set to be extended with its UK premiere this evening. But will an audience over here be as open to the film’s stereotypically American themes?

Primarily in the UK, it’s about an environmental message”, Morgan describes.

It’s about showing how there can be positive change.

Chris wanted to make a film that was not going to be your standard environmental doom-and-gloom film.

He wanted to show how change can happen. That people can turn things around.”

There’s no reason why electric cars should be a political football. It’s really about every political persuasion, and giving this a shot

By showing the innovation in electric cars going on in these big, market-leading manufacturers, the filmmakers lay out a bright, exciting future for the industry.

This philosophy would appear to go hand-in-hand with a number of recent studies into what the path for electric vehicles looks like. One of the most encouraging ones, by Pike Research, predicts how the market for electric vehicle supply equipment in Europe alone will be 14 times more profitable in 2020 than it is now, with a sector revenue of £793m.

For the UK, whose electric car industry has experienced a stuttering existence at best, this news is welcomed with open arms.

It’s fitting, too, that this evening’s premiere is in London – a city that has promised so much in electric cars but delivered so very little. Three years ago, the capital’s mayor, Boris Johnson, outlined an ambitious plan for there to be 100,000 electric vehicles buzzing about the city “as soon as possible”. The latest numbers show how there is just 0.006% of that figure so far.

The American economy is in a similar state to the British one”, points out Morgan.

You can see how it’s hard at the moment to make these purchases, particularly when the prices of electric cars are higher than a regular car, but the strongest thing in its favour is word of mouth and the economic argument that you’re just not filling the tank every day.

This film is for everyone. There’s no reason why electric cars should be a political football. It’s really about every political persuasion, and giving this a shot.

They just make sense economically and environmentally, and it should be something that appeals to everyone.”

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, given that Revenge of the Electric Car still has a long life ahead of it, what is in store for the future for the filmmakers? Is there a third instalment in the electric car’s journey?

Chris is going to take a break for a while but I think he’d like to come back and maybe do a third film”, says Morgan.

There’s no definite title but maybe it could be Who Killed the Gas Car?

If indeed this does materialise, Paine, Morgan and the rest of the team will be forgiven for being a little smug. After all, the role that this series of documentary films has already played in an electric car uprising is second-to-none.

We have the intelligence and renewable resources to do much better”, Paine said to B&GT last year. And it’s compelling viewing to see people doing just that.

Further reading:

Study predicts surge in electric vehicle revenue

Oxford revealed as European leader in electric vehicles

Sunderland and Estonia emerge as unlikely role models for London’s EV hopes

Can the UK mimic the French EV revolution?

Horseracing investor adopts electric vehicle network

Energy

7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption

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Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.

Mottainai

Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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