Ron’s Rambles

Saving the Planet
It does seem that we in the UK are getting the message; the number of instances of single use plastic are reducing, although it is slow. We continue to produce plastic bottles in the millions, most being for water, which is something I find difficult to understand. Admittedly a good proportion of these bottles do go into recycling but far too many go into landfill and far too many still, it seems, finish up in the sea, how does that happen? Too many get left on beaches and picnic sites and that is unforgivable, but that does not seem to be enough to explain the numbers in the sea.
The target is to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050, having zero CO2 emissions. A lot can happen in thirty years so one cannot say that that target is unachievable, but it doesn’t look very probable to me. The use of coal is fast disappearing, but space heating is very largely by burning gas and oil. It is conceivable that this could be replaced by heat pumps powered by electricity, but that assumes a fair level of individual prosperity. The resultant demand for electric power would put big demands on the electricity supply industry; a wild guestimate suggests an increase in the generating power in winter of at least 50,000MW, one hundred good sized power station. Electric cars are seen as a major solution to the problem of CO2 emissions and that is even more difficult to estimate the consequential increase in electricity but, assuming an average annual mileage of 10,000miles/car and an average fuel consumption of 40mpg, gives, very approximately 40,000MW, or 80 good sized power stations. Because daytime use of cars is much greater than at night, the peak demand would be higher.
That is just for cars but what about delivery vans and heavy lorries? Many of the large trucks have engines of several hundred kW. Battery technology may have to develop a lot further to enable these big trucks to be electrically powered, but they would probably require another hundred or more power stations. Difficult that may be, but I still believe that charging rate is the Achilles Heel of electric vehicles. I understand that there are a very few charging points for Tesla cars of 120kW, this is a very high rate and possibly implies some heavy currents which would bring more problems. Even with that charging rate, a one-hour charge would not get a heavy truck very far at motorway speeds, but most charging points currently have much less power. Hybrid arrangements with a petrol engine/battery mix have considerable potential but would not have zero emissions and the government is proposing to ban them along with all fossil fuelled cars. We have seen big strides in the generation of electricity from renewable sources but, even so, the major part of our electricity is generated in fossil fuelled stations, all of those stations will need to be replaced and all this additional generating power provided also. It is clear to me that if the 2050 target is to be met we will need a big increase in our nuclear power component and yet we continue to be a little ambivalent towards building new stations and the lead time for new nuclear stations is extensive, often with considerable local opposition.
I have no comment to make on air transport, the only realistic option that I can see there is to use hydrogen as the fuel, but they would need to get started now on developing the aircraft and the large-scale production of hydrogen. Yet more electricity generation?
Of course, I have just been considering the situation for the UK. Many European countries are putting effort into reduction of CO2 emissions, but not all of them. Poland is very reluctant to give up coal burning, as is Australia. Donald Trump has personally assured us that there is no cause for concern, and the USA is not attempting to cut their CO2 emissions. The UK has already reduced its CO2 emissions by 40% of its 1990s figure, more than any other developed nation, but the UK only contributes 1% to global emissions and, in truth, whatever we do will have practically no effect on the global situation.
If it seems unlikely that the UK will succeed in becoming carbon neutral by 2050. It looks as though global emissions will be not much less than at present. In which case, if the scientists are right, there is no stopping global warming, the ice caps will continue to shrink, reducing the area that currently reflects the sun rays, and the frozen polar regions will thaw, releasing methane currently trapped in the frozen ground. These changes will accelerate global warming. Eventually there might be a new equilibrium temperature, but there will be large areas of land flooded and that temperature may be too high for humans to continue to thrive.
Of course, nations will take some action, there will be ingenious developments to help cool the world, there will be more recycling of materials and reductions in contaminations of the seas. Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is the growing population which will be negating the efforts to keep the planet habitable. It is very difficult to see how, at some point in the future, the human race will be able to avoid some very major catastrophes as nations struggle to cope with the situation and the competition for space and food intensifies.

HS2
HS2 seems to be as big a divisive issue as Brexit, except divisions are not across Party lines. Despite the objections Boris has decided that the project will go ahead.
I find it very difficult to see the justification for expenditure on this scale for this train. The sums involved are eye-watering and, as we know from past experience, it will finish up costing a lot more than the £106bn currently talked about and, in all probability, it will be behind schedule.
Do we really need a high-speed train in this country? Who will benefit and where will the return on this expenditure come from? Is knocking 30minutes off the time to Birmingham that important?
There is need for increased capacity on that route, but longer trains, longer platforms, more frequent trains, achievable with modern signalling, are ways in which the extra capacity could be met at a fraction of the cost. 92% of travel by train is relatively short distance, only 8% is long distance, there is a crying need for improvements in the service for commuters. Where should the major expenditure be? There is a big demand for new cross-country links in the north of England, that would greatly assist the development of the region. It is difficult to see how HS2 is going to bring the economic benefit that other schemes could achieve.
The existing HST or ‘inter-city 125’ has proved to be very successful and popular. When introduced in 1976 the 125s cut an hour off the London to Edinburgh journey, the 125s were so called because they had the potential to travel at 125mph, isn’t that fast enough? (They are in the process of being phased out and probably replaced by the Hitachi AT300 which, no doubt, is equally fast). Do we really need a much faster train? If you need to go long distances quickly it is probably quicker and cheaper to fly. It is argued that, being electric, the HS2 is green, but the electricity has to be produced somewhere and the energy required by a train increases as the cube of the speed, if HS2 does travel at 250mph it will use 8 times the energy used by a 125.
There is little doubt to my mind that that amount of money could be more wisely spent in terms of the economic benefit it would bring. Why proceed with the project? One can only assume it is political.

League Tables
I am often disappointed when league tables are published comparing nations, the UK seems to be slipping down most of these tables. The OECD recently undertook a study of the health and health provision of its 36 member states – these include Australia, Belgium, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, Japan, Spain, Mexico et al.
They found that we drink more alcohol and are more likely to be obese than many other member states. We spend 10% of GDP on health, one percent higher than the OECD average, but that does not compare well with – USA 16.9%, Switzerland 12.2%, Germany, France, Sweden and Japan all spent close to 11%. Although the OECD did find the UK has good access to health care (I wonder when they did their survey) with low levels of inequality, but access to long term care was limited.
The most disappointing part of the report was that we have fewer doctors and nurses than the average, we have 2.8 doctors and 7.8 nurses per thousand of population whereas the average for OECD members is 3.5 doctors and 8.8 nurses. Hopefully we will see some improvement in those numbers soon.

Ron Watts

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