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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

14.07.2017
Electrification is the future if the world’s energy use is to be radically ‘decarbonised’ as the IPCC says is necessary. The somewhat contentious Paris accord is the latest stab at a concerted approach to this, albeit without the involvement of the USA and with a number of other countries – notably Turkey – apparently wavering in their support. Debating the extent of human influence on climate is, unfortunately futile at present; this is one issue where there is precious little common ground, despite the best efforts of some people. But what we do still need to think long and hard about is...
07.07.2017
As governments continue to push for cars with lower CO2 emissions, most manufacturers have gone beyond simply making their diesel- and petrol-engined models more efficient (although the results of this have been impressive). They have also begun to introduce more electric and hybrid cars. Toyota took the lead with the domestic launch of its first Prius model in 1997, with worldwide rollout from 2000, but more recently Tesla has captured the headlines as a manufacturer of all-electric cars. Until now, Tesla cars have been high-end models such as the Model S, popular with prosperous first...
30.06.2017
With so many other issues vying for our attention, it’s easy to forget the critical importance of food security. Food, water and shelter come at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and, without fulfilling these, other needs barely register. Or, to put it more simply, “a man with food has many problems, a man without food has one.” Surrounded as we are in the industrialised world by a wide choice of affordable food, it is all too easy to forget that there are still hundreds of millions of people who don’t enjoy that luxury. Enormous strides have been made in providing food for billions...
23.06.2017
If news reports are to be believed, renewable energy is the future, alongside electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage. The government-mediated transition to this new economy (with the help of taxpayers’ money, of course) will provide energy security and create jobs in addition to meeting the primary objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and thereby keeping the rise in average global temperatures from pre-industrial levels to less than 2°C. Well, sorry to rain on the parade, but there is a lot of wishful thinking associated with this view and, whether you are committed to or...
16.06.2017
Food plays a unique part in our lives. At minimum, it is essential for life, but it also has great cultural significance. For those of us lucky enough to live in peaceful, prosperous societies, eating can be an important source of pleasure rather than simply a means to keep us alive. But eating is not entirely risk-free. The present-day surge in rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes is strongly related to the ubiquity of affordable food, and food poisoning of varying severity can still be an unpleasant fact of life. But, alongside these very real risks, many people choose to minimise other...
09.06.2017
The United States is an exceptional country in so many ways, as visitors can attest. For Brits, a common language at first masks the vast cultural divide between the Old and New Worlds. Americans themselves though are keenly aware of the sense of difference. This uniqueness is not just about culture, but about the country’s position in the world. Having been the world’s largest economy since the 1920s, the willingness to engage more fully in global affairs led to the superpower status that has dominated world politics since the middle of last century, albeit in competition with the Soviet...
02.06.2017
Governments are elected for a whole variety of reasons, but a key one is that we hope they will spend taxpayers’ money wisely. Bill Clinton’s famous phrase – “it’s the economy, stupid” – really sums up politics in a nutshell. For sure, voters may be tempted to vote for the party that promises the most goodies, but ultimately all the good things in life have to be paid for. The money may all come directly from taxes or it may be supplemented by borrowing. Many major economies have run large deficits for years, but we as individuals still pay the price of this because some of our tax pounds,...
26.05.2017
In recent weeks, I have been very critical of both the costs and feasibility of relying on renewable energy, particularly when it comes to the enormous task of converting effectively all land-based energy use to electricity. Normally, such a change would be driven by a quantum leap in technology (the distribution of first gas then electricity direct to individual homes) or economics (in a more limited way, the ‘dash for gas’ in the 1990s). The ‘rush for renewables’ on the other hand, is driven entirely by government policy on reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Targets have been set for...
19.05.2017
In last week’s newsletter (The Energy Conundrum) I covered some of the problems with a growing reliance on renewable energy sources. I touched on the enormous difficulties involved in a comprehensive move away from fossil fuels and hinted at the scale of the costs. Not that it’s simply a question of cost – something very expensive can bring benefits worth many times the investment – but policymakers do need to consider value for money. Costs are always important, but even more so when a government supposedly imposing ‘austerity’ on the country sees the date for the books to be balanced...
12.05.2017
It seems that more people are now beginning to realise that, to be a real game-changer rather than just an expensive and unreliable contributor to energy needs, solar, wind and other sources of renewable, ‘free’ energy have to be used in conjunction with energy storage on a massive scale. Not only that, but this scale is far greater than anything we can currently conceive of. Even pumped storage, the best we currently have, could make only a very modest contribution in most geographies. Batteries, including the Tesla Powerwall, are touted as an enabler of a true renewables revolution, but...

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