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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

As George Bernard Shaw said, it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him. Shaw was talking about social class, but this is a far less divisive issue these days. Instead we are judged now more on what we say on a number of key issues rather than how we say it. This is certainly the case for climate change, a thorny and complex issue about which there is a wide spectrum of opinion but where any dissent from the official line leads to a label of ‘denier’ or worse. So, bear with me and read what I have to say with...
At some stage, human use of fossil fuels will peak and decline. The rate of decline may be quite rapid or relatively slow, depending on what becomes our main energy source, but at some stage – maybe before the end of this century – oil will be primarily used as a source of transport fuel and as a feedstock for the chemical industry. In the longer term, it will be displaced from these sectors as well. All this is inevitable. Whether it be nuclear fission (possibly with thorium as the primary fuel), efficient solar panels coupled to an as-yet-developed energy storage system, or...
Here’s how Ikea is fighting climate change reads the headline in Time. As reported by the BBC, the story is Ikea to spend €1bn to tackle climate change. The Telegraph puts this in a broader context: Ikea commits €1bn to sustainability and leads a roster of green companies trying to change the world. Companies do not spend sums like this for no good reason. They either expect to gain short-term competitive advantage or are adapting their business model to be successful in a changing market place. IKEA is still in private hands (owned through a number of not-for-profit...
In addition to the efforts of governments to increase the penetration of renewable energy sources via generous public subsidies, we are reminded from time to time that coal, oil and gas are also subsidised, which works against the policy of emissions reduction. Most recently, the Guardian has carried the story under the headline Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF. According to this, the £5.3trillion subsidy is more than all the world’s governments spend on healthcare. That’s a pretty eye-catching statement, and deserves some digging. The story is based on...

The carbon bubble

22.05.2015
As the year-end Paris climate change summit draws ever nearer, preparatory meetings continue apace and we see a stream of reports and stories arguing how vital it is to come to a binding international agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions. One of the key arguments is that a large proportion of the proven coal, gas and oil reserves will have to remain in the ground if the world is to stand a fair chance of limiting the rise in average temperatures to 2°C, the level beyond which the effects of climate change are considered to become negative. The call to put a cap on consumption...
Last week, readers who take an interest in such things would have been coming terms with the biggest surprise in UK politics for many a long year: the election of a majority Conservative government at a time when the era of multi-party politics was deemed to have replaced the old dominance by two parties and coalition or minority governments to have become the new norm. With Labour and Conservatives apparently still neck and neck after a long, attritional campaign, the expectation was that the Tories would have the most seats but that Labour Party might become the governing party with the...
We often hear from renewable energy enthusiasts that even solar-generated electricity is becoming competitive with conventional sources. While this may be true at one level – costs of solar panels have been falling fast, for example – this is also a highly misleading statement. The defining characteristic of the primary sources of renewable energy available in most countries (wind and solar) is that they are intermittent, and therefore cannot provide a constant, reliable supply of electricity. There are renewable energy sources which are more reliable (‘despatchable...
The Green Party may be something of a sideshow as far as the current UK election is concerned, but we should never underestimate the importance of green policies across (most of) the political spectrum. We take for granted – and, indeed, mainly welcome – measures to improve air and water quality and to save energy. By and large, we like the results: a better quality of life and lower bills. But when policies begin to cost real money and push up the cost of living, many people are not so sure. This is one reason we hear grumbles about targets for renewable energy. The effect of...
The Oxford online dictionary defines pollution as the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful of poisonous effects. This sounds pretty straightforward, but it actually deserves a bit of unravelling. For a start, ‘the environment’ is a widely-used term which comes laden with emotional baggage. We talk of a ‘pristine’ or ‘unspoiled’ environment and of the harm which may come to it, particularly via human action. The inference is that ‘the environment’ is something which exists separately from humanity...
Adam Smith coined the phrase ‘the invisible hand’ in the late 18th Century to describe the working of the competitive free market. By and large, the sort of capitalist market economy which Smith would have recognised has served humanity pretty well. Not that it is without its problems but, in the same way as democracy can be considered ‘the worst form of government, apart from all the others’, regulated free markets do seem to be the least bad way to run economies at present. Thomas Piketty has become feted for pointing out the seeming inevitability of rising...

Current Issues


Future costs of UK energy supply

The Scientific Alliance recently published part 1 of an examination of National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios, dealing with security of supply. We are now pleased to publish part 2 - cost of supply. The authors - Dr Capell Aris and Colin Gibson - conclude that building more gas and nuclear stations would be considerably less expensive than any of the NG scenarios, as well as offering better energy security.

What's New

14 October 2016: Read the new report by Dr Capell Aris, published jointly with the Adam Smith Institute - Solar power in Britain: the Impossible Dream