It’s Friday 14th July. I’m Anthony Day, this is the Sustainable Futures Report and I’m not a robot. Definitely not. I’ll explain why I said that in a moment.
I told you that in July I’m going to cut back a bit on the length of these reports, so here’s what I’ll be talking about today.
Donald Trump at the G20 and his relationships with Ivanka, Theresa, Angela - and Juliana. The wildfires in Canada, Arizona, California and Utah. The new Tesla battery, the new Tesla battery plant and the new Tesla battery-powered Model 3. What the lady on the train told me. Why there’s a new threat to the internet and why it’s important to know that I’m not a robot. And there’s news from Swansea Bay as well - not all good.
First a warm welcome to my listeners and especially my Patrons across the world. The number of daily downloads was the highest for all time for the episode published on 30th June, but when the last episode was published on 7th July that total was exceeded by 28%. The hit-rate continues to rise. Thank you all, and a very warm welcome especially if you are new to the Sustainable Futures Report. If you’d like to show your support, for as little as $1 per month, just pop across to patreon.com/sfr. The big news from Patreon is that I hear that my first Platinum Patron at $50 per month will shortly sign up. Platinum Patrons receive a shout-out on this podcast and the Sustainable Futures Report enamel badge plus one for a friend. In addition they’re invited to suggest topics that I should be featuring, and to take part in a monthly on-line sustainability discussion. After 6 months I will create a bespoke Skype presentation for an audience of their choice. They’re entitled to another every 12 months and if they need more they’ll get 25% off my normal rates.
Listen out for the shout-out next week.
Other Patron packages from $1, $5, $10 and $100 dollars are available at patreon.com/sfr.
Remember, links to stories and sources in today’s report can be found at sustainablefutures.report.
I’m really not a Robot
Why do you need to know that I’m not a robot? Well, because in the news this week Google has donated €700,000 to Associated Press to develop robots to write the news. The robot reporters will draw on open data sets on the internet and use Natural Language Generation (NLG) software to produce their copy. The data sets — to be identified and recorded by a new team of five human journalists — will come from government departments, local authorities, NHS Trusts and more, and they will provide detailed story templates across a range of topics including crime, health, and employment. Is this artificial intelligence eroding jobs? Well I’m not a robot. I research every bit of the Sustainable Futures Report myself, but if you’d like to point me in a specific direction please get in touch via [email protected]. Thanks in advance to O Patrick Williams for a number of ideas that I shall be developing, probably in early September.
Trump at the G20
As expected, President Trump stuck to his line at the G20 conference in Hamburg that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. British Prime Minister Theresa May urged him in passing to change his mind but she was more preoccupied with trying to talk about the future of trade deals post-Brexit than the future of the planet. At least President Trump didn’t delegate daughter Ivanka to sit in for him on that session, but nevertheless he ended up facing the other 19 members all declaring that the Paris Agreement was irreversible. His position did not go down well with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Last year wildfires in Alberta, Canada cost $6.9 billion and devastated some 600,000 hectares. Now hot dry weather and lightning strikes have set British Columbia ablaze. The entire towns of 100 Mile House and Cache Creek have been evacuated and the City of Williams Lake, with over 10,000 residents, was on evacuation alert this last week. 14,000 people had already been relocated. Multiple highway routes in and out of the region were partially closed due to the fires. This summer wildfires have raced out of control in the US - in Utah, Arizona and California. I’ve given up reporting that last year was the warmest year on record; that last April, May and June were warmer than these months in any previous year and so on. It’s tempting to say that this proves that the climate is changing, but we’re looking at long-term trends and 5, 10 or even 20 years of increasing temperatures could simply be a blip against the overall trend. What is true though, is that this warming trend is exactly what we would expect from climate change theory. Surely the sensible thing to do here is to follow the precautionary principle. To take action to mitigate the risks even if those risks, like most other risks, cannot be comprehensively defined. The reaffirmation by the G19 of their commitment to the Paris Agreement shows that they believe that precaution is the best principle. Let’s hope someone can persuade Donald Trump to change his view. Maybe Ivanka could have a word with him.
Back home Donald Trump still has Juliana snapping at his heels. You remember the Juliana case? This is a group of children who have been pursuing the US Administration through the courts for some years. Their case is that by permitting the continued use of fossil fuels the government is allowing pollution that will damage their future health and life chances. For months the administration has attempted to get the case dismissed or has appealed the decision of the judges that it should go ahead, but without success. Despite a furious defensive effort by some of the most powerful and wealthiest corporations on the face of the earth represented by a phalanx of $1,000 an hour lawyers from the nation’s top law firms, the children’s climate lawsuit is going to court. U.S. District Court Justice Ann Aiken set a trial date for February 5, 2018, in her courtroom in Eugene, Oregon for the lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs ranging in age from 9 to 20.
I’ll be sure to keep you informed.
Is the future of transport electric? Volvo, the Swedish car company now owned by the Chinese, certainly seems to think so. From 2019 it will offer no models solely powered by petrol or diesel. All new Volvo cars will be hybrids or pure electric. France has announced that all petrol and diesel cars will be banned from 2040, though it’s not clear whether this means the sale of these cars or whether they will be banned from the roads altogether. It’s part of France’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement and President Macron’s plan to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.
Into this arena steps a long-awaited electric car, the Tesla Model 3.
The first Tesla Model 3 rolled off the production line last Friday 7th July. Following the Model S and the Model X, this is Tesla’s mass-market car, costing $35,000 which is less than half the cost of its Model S. The new car seats the driver and four passengers, can travel 215 miles on a single electric charge and go from 0-60mph in under 6 seconds. (Those last two statistics are probably mutually exclusive.)
Potential buyers have to put down a $1,000 deposit (£1,000 in the UK). Given that some 500,000 people are believed to have done already, that’s a nice chunk of working capital. Doesn’t that add up to half a billion dollars? If you want to get your hands on a Model 3 in the UK, local pricing has not yet been confirmed and anyone registering now will not see their car before the second half 2018, according to the Tesla website, or later.
The battery is the heart of any electric car and Tesla has built the biggest battery factory in the world as well as the biggest battery in the world. This 129MWh unit will be installed in Jamestown, South Australia, some 200km north of Adelaide. It is paired with a wind farm in order to overcome the intermittence of supply when the wind doesn’t blow. Tesla founder Elon Musk has promised the state government that the battery will be delivered within 100 days of signing the contract, or else will be free of charge. That’s believed to be a $50m gamble. The battery forms a key part of the state government’s $550m energy plan drawn up after last year’s statewide blackout.
Close examination of Tesla’s battery manufacturing plant shows that no solution is without problems, as reported by Treehugger.com.
“An aerial view of Tesla’s Gigafactory indicates that there are 3,000 cars parked on the lot, and the factory is only 30 percent built out.
The factory is in the middle of nowhere really, 23 miles from the nearest city of any size, Reno, Nevada. If we assume that this is the average distance workers are commuting (and it is likely a lot farther), that the cars are powered by gasoline, and that they are average size, then according to the EPA they pump out about 411 grams of CO2 per mile or 18.9 kilograms per round trip. Multiply that by 3,000 and you have 57 tonnes of CO2 generated every day just by the the workers driving to the factory. The average car puts out 4.7 tonnes per year, So every day that the Gigafactory workers drive to work to make batteries for carbon saving electric cars, they generate as much CO2 as 12 conventional cars do in a year.”
Hmm. 411 grams of CO2 sounds an awful lot, until you remember that in the UK we work on CO2 per kilometre. That’s still 256 grams per kilometre, which is quite high by European standards. But maybe these workers are driving electric cars to work. At least they are working to increase the number of carbon-saving electric cars in the world. Of course the electric car doesn’t actually reduce the number of cars on the road. Maybe the autonomous self-driving car, arriving on demand and hired by the hour rather than owned, will start to change things.
It’s a paradox of the modern world that in this age where we can be in instant contact with anyone anywhere on the planet with full audio and video connections, we still want to physically travel more and more. It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”, which sounds to me like a justification for sitting in traffic jams. On the other hand I’m with Dr Samuel Johnson, who said, “''If I had no duties, and no reference to futurity, I would spend my life in driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman.’’ And why not?
The Lady on the Train
Talking about travel, let me tell you about the lady on the train. I think she was called Ann. Hello, Ann. Last week I was travelling back from London and signal failures closed Paddington station and everything was delayed. In circumstances like that we British start talking to each other, which of course we would never normally do. The lady on the train told me about “No Impact Man”, a film of 2009 which seems to have passed me by. It’s worth a look. It’s a documentary about a man who persuades his wife and daughter to live with him off grid - in central New York. No electricity, no TV, no newspapers, no processed food, nothing in plastic, no car, not even public transport. I believe he lasted the year and I believe he was still married, just. The trailer is up on YouTube - link on the blog. No Impact Man. There’s a book as well.
An Inconvenient Sequel
Another film to watch out for is Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel”. Do you remember his “An Inconvenient Truth”? That came out in 2006 - already 11 years ago. This is an update. Reviews are mixed, but the UK Premiere on 10th August is already sold out. The film goes on general release in the UK on 18th August. There was a book with the original film but there doesn’t seem to one this time. You’ll find a link to the trailer on the blog.
Can you trust your ISP?
I’m not sure whether this next item is about sustainability, but it’s certainly about the future. It’s about the future of the internet. I picked up a story on the BBC Click programme, which airs on BBC News 24 and can be found on BBC iPlayer. It’s about changing legislation in the US. As a result of this change it may be possible for your ISP, controller of your access point to the internet, to charge you for certain content. So, for example, if you wanted to check Facebook you might be asked to pay for your ISP’s new Social Media Package. If you wanted to book a holiday or check a train you might have to subscribe to a Travel Package. These charges would go to the ISP and would be over and above anything the actual target site might be charging you. And presumably they could lock you out of sites without you even knowing, as they do in some authoritarian states. Sounds horrendous. Let’s keep an eye on it.
And finally to Swansea Bay where they have been planning for months, if not years, to build a tidal lagoon to use the rise and fall of the tides to generate electricity. I haven’t reported on this recently as it was quite clear that the government would make no announcements on this during the election campaign. Since the election they’ve had other things on their mind as well. Wales Online urges the prime minister to give the go-ahead, following the favourable Hendry Review which was published back in January. It would be an opportunity, they say, to stimulate the economy outside London. More than £200 million has been provisionally pledged by backers led by Prudential, the large UK insurer, with Macquarie and Investec, two other major financial institutions, ready to raise hundreds of millions more in debt and equity, according to a report in the Financial Times (FT).
But investors are refusing to pledge even more cash as the Government is yet to approve the scheme.
General secretary Len McCluskey of the Unite union said that the project was a 'no brainer’, and urged the prime minister to stop dithering.
Unfortunately we can do nothing but wait and see. Apparently the rail engineering works over August Bank Holiday weekend will include initial work on facilities for HS2 at Euston station in London, so the government is supporting at least one major infrastructure project. Probably the wrong one, but that’s another story.
And next week the Sustainable Futures Report will bring you more stories, more sustainability stories. Let me know the topics you care about and I’ll do my research. Contact me on [email protected].
I’m Anthony Day. I’ve been publishing the Sustainable Futures Report and related blogs since 2006, and nearly every Friday since the end of 2014. Now I’m going to have a summer break. Not until August, so you’ve got two more reports to look forward to in July.
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Remember, if you’re planning a conference or an awards ceremony in the next few months and you need a chair, a host or a keynote speaker I still have dates free in the diary. For the moment, although November is filling up.
Until next week. This is Anthony Day saying Bye for Now.