Mr Obama’s most important challenge

People in almost every country are really being hurt by the recession, and although they understand that there are people in most other parts of the world who are also having to cope with the largest economic downturn in the lifetime of most of us, it is cold comfort. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost, and this causes hardship. If you cannot earn a wage you cannot pay your bills, including your mortgage instalments, which means that your home is at risk and may be repossessed by those paragons of vice, the banks, which have already wasted your savings and your pensions. Most people feel mugged by a mugger licensed by the government to steal. Continue reading

UK terrorism laws applied to things that are nothing to do with terrorism

Parliament has enacted a series of anti-terrorism laws which are being used in ways that have nothing to do with terrorism. Great care must be taken before you give the police or the tax authorities more power because they will inevitably use powers given for one reason to assist them in ways that were not intended. Since the present Government came to office they have enacted a new criminal offence for every day of the eleven years that they have been in charge. I never knew that our criminal law was so lacking or that the people of the United Kingdom were so lawless. Continue reading

Dumbing down the study of Chemistry and climate change

The Government says that educational standards in science subjects are improving “year on year” and that science teaching is improving and the experts who monitor science teaching are satisfied that science is really well taught in schools. This is important. The whole world needs to develop highly competent and dedicated scientists who can stretch their minds to solving the problems of an increasingly populated world where the climate is changing. We need fine scientific minds to do this, intelligently dedicated researchers and people who will be able to solve the most complex and difficult problem facing the world today – that of climate change. Continue reading

Thorium energy – a project worth undertaking

Is thorium the missing piece of the energy jigsaw? Thorium is an element that is more abundant than uranium and can be used in nuclear reactors more safely than uranium. The advantages of relatively carbon free electricity generation by uranium are well understood, and so are the disadvantages. Continue reading

The Climate Change Bill will not change climate change

Peter Lilley is a Conservative MP and he has criticised the Climate Change Bill, working its way through Parliament, because it represents poor value. He places the cost at “up to” £10,000 per family in a blog written for the BBC’s very large and informative website, although it is unclear how the £10,000 is calculated and over what period. I suspect from reading between the lines that Mr Lilley is counting £10,000 per family over the period from now until 2050 – the Climate Change Bill’s final target date, which is a period of 41 years. If so that makes, in Mr Lilley’s opinion, £244 per family per year just very poor value. Odd that, because the website for which he writes, is put out by an entertainment organisation that costs each family in the United Kingdom at least £130 a year (under the penalty of prison if you do not pay) and more if the family has a second home or a student member living away from home watching television. Continue reading

Recycling collapses with the economic down turn; what should we do?

I have occasionally expressed concern about “recycling” household waste but mainly from the standpoint that much of it is shipped to China and ends up in land dumps there.  Genuine recycling is important but the economic recession has made recycling uneconomic. That does not mean that we should not recycle, but we should find a way to encourage recycling so that we can free ourselves from the tyranny of the market which has consistently poisoned our environment.

What happens now in most developed countries is that recycling is usually made mandatory by the use of various sticks and carrots. In the United Kingdom there are far more sticks than carrots to drive the donkey on. There is a tax on landfill, so local authorities either have to pay the landfill tax (which they recover from the people living in their area by raising higher taxes) and they have to find an outlet for the household waste.

There have been a number of recycling centres that take household waste all over Europe. Many of them have grown up very rapidly and have enjoyed success as commercial enterprises. Most recycling involves packaging not the actual product that the consumer wants to buy.

The success of recycling plants was based on what seemed a limitless demand for raw materials from India and China. Steel products that could be recycled used to command nearly £300 a tonne; now you cannot find anyone to give away the scrap to, and the same applies to paper and plastic products for recycling. The cost of raw materials has fallen and with those falls so the economic necessity for recycling in developed nations has fallen.

In undeveloped nations there has always been more recycling because poorer people will try to reuse any of the discarded material of the wealthy if they can. It has always been thus.

So what happens if the recycling industries have to put their businesses on pause, or worse still close them down, because for example, they based their business models on selling recycled plastic material which no one now wants ot that everyone can buy at far cheaper rates when made out of un-recycled material, because prices have fallen? The recycling industries are very important to the environmental health of our planet. They slow down the using up of resources and prevent the obscenities of landfill sites, oozing methane and burying problems for future generations.

Recycling household waste is in many parts of the United Kingdom mandatory. People have been fined for trivial mistakes or omissions. Those fines have met with widespread publicity and that creates hostility towards recycling, which is something that we should all do. However, if we carefully separate our paper, glass, plastics and empty cans and put them out for the Council’s recycling contractor to collect, what does it benefit the environment if at the end of the day the recycling contractors cannot sell the carefully, painstakingly sorted waste, so simply dump it or store it?

It is time to rethink the issue and when rethinking anything it is usually best to test first principles. The principle that we operate from now is that anyone can use virtually any packaging to make the goods more attractive, more consumer friendly but the cost of disposal rests with the consumer, through his or her taxes and effort. To my mind that is certainly putting the cart in front of the horse.

We need to develop some rules about packaging, and if we do that making rules about recycling and landfill taxes will be less of an issue. What should we do? I suggest some radical action:-

1.     Make plastic bags illegal

2.     Make plastic food wrapping including polyurethane trays and hard plastic domes on fruit illegal

3.     Some goods need careful packaging; television sets need to be packed carefully for transportation with all kinds of materials. Devise a system so that the vendor of such equipment is under a duty to collect and reuse such packaging.

4.     Return to glass bottles with deposits, rather than using plastics.

5.     Require plastic liners and similar products to be biodegradable.

6.     Tax packaging; you will be surprised how many people will go for the unpackaged option.

If we had these kinds of rules we would eliminate much of our packaging and a significant amount of our household waste. The life changes would not be significant; after all it is mostly simply a question of remembering to take your shopping bags with you before you live the house.

Solar concentrators – dreams of renewable electricity and a new grab for desert land

Virtually all of the electricity that we use involves turbines, which are sophisticated plumbing devices. Usually the turbine is wound up by a heat process most often burning gas, oil, or coal to heat water into steam to drive the turbine. Nuclear energy does not involve burning but still heats water into steam. If you live or play in Las Vegas the electricity that makes the city possible comes from the massive turbines of the Hoover Dam.

Photovoltaic cells have heat process and no turbines for their electric generation, but these are very small producers of electrical energy compared with gas, oil, coal and nuclear energy and are presently expensive because they need a great deal of energy to produce current, so that their lifetime emission is around 58 grams per kWh compared with 900 or more for coal and around 2 for nuclear power.

However there is another way to use turbines and their associated plumbing using sunshine to heat water into steam for creating large scale electricity. Continue reading