Nov 272021

I can accept “Saving the Planet” as a political slogan for those who advocate taking action to combat climate change – political slogans don’t have to be entirely accurate although I might argue that “Saving People” is more accurate. Because no matter how serious climate change gets, the planet will carry on.

Don’t get me wrong, I think climate change is really serious – we will see millions of deaths at least; quite possibly billions of deaths. And climate refugees will make the Syrian refugee crisis seem like just a tiny taste of what the real thing will be like. And some historians put the collapse of the western Roman empire down to climate change refugees – I don’t think it’s that simple but it was certainly a contributing factor. That is the level of disruption from climate refugees that we can expect.

And if you’re one of those inhumane nasties that imagines military level forces using lethal force to stop refugees, you can forget it – not only are there enough of us bleeding heart liberals who will shout “fuck that shit”, but it is doubtful that any level of military force could stop millions of refugees.

Climate change won’t destroy the planet; it won’t even destroy the environment. It will change the environment catastrophically and humans are to blame. Whole species will become extinct, but probably not humans; we’re too adaptable and we’ve survived through extinction events before (although sometimes only just).

But before anyone gets too complacent, if we don’t do anything, humanity will survive by the skin of its teeth – if just 90% of us are killed, we’ll be lucky. If we act today to make drastic changes, we might keep things down to just a few million dead; if we had acted back in the 1980s, that would be considerably less.

Walking The Beach
Nov 032009

You know I was going to jump up and down shouting I told you so … except I cannot find the post from ages ago where I pointed out that this might be a problem (extra points to anyone who finds the link!). The BBC has just had a story about the dangers to visually impaired people from “quiet cars” – hybrids and electric vehicles. Actually of course it is just about everyone who finds it helpful to hear cars coming – indeed I will listen to my iPod on “mono” in certain situations to ensure I get an early warning from the noise of approaching vehicles.

Whilst loud vehicles are an enormous pain and I certainly would not want to encourage their use. The person who invented car stereos loud enough to cause nearby buildings to shake – and yes they can get that loud – needs to be tied down and forced to listen to my choice of music for a few weeks. So called silent cars do also cause problems; in fact a certain amount of noise results from the tyres running along the road. We are used to relying on sound to assist us in locating moving vehicles; in some cases it is the only sense we can rely on.

Apparently Lotus engineers have come up with a nifty system that generates noise that varies according to the amount acceleration the driver is applying. Sorry guys, you’ve been sniffing petrol fumes too much. Whilst the driver may be impressed by the feedback he (or she) gets when they press the acceleration pedal, the rest of us are more interested in the speed of the vehicle. Sound effects for the driver are all very well (when played inside the car) but rather out of scope for this discussion.

It would not be difficult to make hybrid and electric cars generate a noise when they are moving nearly silently. And the most sensible thing to do is to standardise the noise generation before we end up with a confusing variety of different sounds and volumes. The simplest is to have a tone generated when a vehicle is moving that starts low in pitch at low speeds and rises in pitch as the speed increases. Think old-fashioned milk floats.

Jan 052007

The Uk government this morning laid into the airline industry for being environmentally irresponsible. I don’t know whether this is fair or not (although I lean towards it being fair given how airlines campaign against air fuel taxes and other such things that might affect their bottom line), but there is¬†something daft about how we all travel on our holidays using airplanes.

Of course they are very convenient and for some distant destinations there is no real alternative. But certainly for short-haul flights, it does seem rather peculiar that we insist on travelling by shoving an immense amount of weight upwards using fossil fuels when it would seem that it should be possible to travel along the ground far more efficiently (and with the possibility of using less environmentally damaging fuels).

The obvious alternative for short-haul flights is the train, so why don’t we ? Well, it is quite possibly convenience. For my own travels in Europe (rather limited) I have looked at the possibility of going via train, but ended up in the air for convenience. Not that air travel is that convenient, but it does seem so compared with train travel.

For instance, travelling from my home town to Pamplona in Spain involves 4 trains including a trip on the Paris metro. Hardly convenient when carrying large amounts of luggage! Changing trains in the same station is bad enough, but changing stations is a nightmare! Especially if you are worried about missing your connection.

Ideally it wouldn’t be necessary to change at all, but I can’t see being able to catch a direct train from my home town to Pamplona even if there was just one a week! However I think that train companies could invest in making more direct trains possible, or even ensuring that someone making a difficult transfer is guided on their way (imagine carrying a sign saying “Here For Guide to Station X”).

The train companies could also try a little harder for online information. Finding information on European train journeys is not always easy, and when you do you can often find that you can’t book online, or you have to book different legs of the journey in different places. Make it easier please!

More generally we need to consider ways of making our transport needs more environmentally friendly. Not just by punishing bad choices (taxing air travel), but by using the carrot as well … making train travel cheaper and easier. For longer journeys, why not try re-introduce airships ? At the very least these would be a good option for replacing air-freight … not quite as fast, but a good deal quicker than by sea. And as someone who has experience of tracking packages shipped internationally, I can say that the actual time in the air is usually a small percentage of the total travel time.