Friday, 22 July 2011

Europe, what does it mean?

Europe. A grand idea but is it working? Originally europe was a coalition of a few countries. To begin with, France, Germany, England, Spain and Italy. In the beginning (of Europe, not of creation) none of these countries could really agree on that much at all, including at points who wanted to be in the EU. However as the disagreements settled down things began to improve. The idea was that Europe would become, almost, a superstate. A collection of countries that all work together towards a common cause of self improvement and global standing. Similar in some respects to the American system. Lots of states that govern themselves separately, but also operate under the american Government as a whole. Of course no country was quite willing to hand over complete power to the EU. England for example where particularly stubborn. Often ignoring laws passed in Brussels. (The EU headquarters) and refusing to join the Euro currency. 

However in hindsight was this perhaps wise after all?

We have all heard about the financial crisis affecting Europe of late. Countries such as Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and even Italy are all facing mounting debts which they are struggling to pay off. The problem was that as the European Union became less and less financially stable, countries such as Greece could not borrow money any more against their debts. The banks where running in fear as they saw inevitable collapse. Luckily for Greece the central European bank is not driven by personal welfare. But rather the welfare of Europe and as of today has bailed Greece out with a Total of £192,000,000. That's an awful lot of money but there is hope that not only will it rescue Greece. But also Europe as well. 

So how can bailing out Greece help? 

Firstly it means that investors and Private banks are now less inclined to run in fear. And instead can begin putting money back into the country and aid economic growth. This also applies also to the other countries mentioned. It is the strength of the universal currency that matters rather than the economic strength of an individual nation. If the Euro is still strong. So is the potential for investment.

So does this even affect the UK? 
Of course we stayed rather stubbornly with the Pound. And you could easily be mislead into thinking that this is our safety cushion. 'We don't need to worry about the strength of the Euro because we don't use it'. 

Unfortunately you would be gravely mistaken. The vast majority of the UK's outgoing trade is with Europe. If Europe then fell into recession, the vast majority of the UK's trade would be cut off. Losing us thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs. And of course, we could always find other countries to buy our goods. Sure. But the profit margin would slim dramatically in doing so. After all no one else is going to offer as good a deal as we had with Europe. Again eventually jobs would be lost as the companies would not be able to afford to maintain their output. 

Secondly, a lot of banks that operate in England have their businesses tied up in Europe as well. We could see another Banking crisis again like we had three years ago. Banks falling off the precipice. Businesses and the public in General literally losing their money to the failings of the bank in question. 

The banks in Europe and the UK include. 

(By Keelan Balderson)
Too name but a few. As you can see the devastation would be widespread. Every country in Europe would be affected. The recession would be unprecedented. And for the first time ever. Europe and its respective countries would not be classed amongst the worlds superpowers. 

So the question remains.
What we can we do to stop this from happening?

Well now this is the hardest part of all. There are a vast array of ways in which we (The UK) can begin to grow again economically. And the changes have already started in some respects. The cuts being made in England are starting to reduce the UK's Debt. (And yes, the UK is also in Debt). 
Lots of people do not agree with many of the cuts being made. And I would count myself among them. I feel as though they are focussing entirely on the wrong things. Raising student fees for example was an absolute shot in the foot. (I mean come on, here's a good idea 'Lets reduce the amount of potential talent in the up coming generations by making it harder for them to get the education they need to achieve great things'.) Taking money away from schools and the police. Its ridiculous. 

The problem is the way of thinking. The perspective in which we are currently looking through.
We do need to reduce our debt. But we can do this not by changing how much we spend on services, but by changing how we work within our services. 

Take for example the Police force. They spend more hours per day doing paperwork than actually policing. If we was to take away some of the obstructive health and safety 'Nanny state' measures that are in place. What would be the consequence. There would be more police on the streets. Less crime, which would equal less public expenditure on maintenance. Compensation and the like. Not to mention a saving on the amount of paper being used. With more police on the street less people are likely to resort to crime and therefore will find other ways to stay alive. For example getting a job. 
Straight away we see a direct increase in productivity. 

Energy is another example that really could do with a complete rethink. At the moment apart from north sea gas (which is swiftly running out), all of our energy is imported. Can you imagine how much that costs. Obviously again things are beginning to change. I will be doing an article soon about some of the measures the Scottish government has taken towards a more sustainable approach to producing energy. 

So the answer then is simple. We need to stop living in the past and embrace the future. I'm sure its clear to anyone and everyone that every day is a new day and with that it brings its own problems to solve. We cannot believe that things will always stay the same. However we can, by thinking ahead of ourselves. By using our imagination, maintain our standard of life whilst pushing the UK and consequently Europe back into the enviable position of being a place that the world looks up to. 

A friend of mine when asked the other day what he hopes to go on and do with his physics degree. Replied what do you think people care about more. An I pad or artificial photosynthesis. Of course the answer is somewhat obvious. I'm sure the I pad would win every time. But you also have to ask yourself. For how much longer will the I pad be a valid option for most people if we fall into recession? 

I leave you with one last example.
We with the French built the Concorde. Nasa has admitted many a time that it was the single greatest achievement of the last century. The engineering behind it was more advanced and more innovative than anything used for space travel. We are a country of talent. Lets use it to the advantage of all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Rain, and plenty of it

Iceland. A country that sits on one of the thinnest areas of the earth's crust. Just below the surface the heat from the Mantle causes water that has fallen beneath the cracks of the earth to rise back up again as steam. This forms so many of natures phenomenon we see there. Geysers. Hot pools, to name but a few. 

This, you could argue is one of the defining features of Iceland. Apart from the wildlife and rugged landscape. However to the residents of Iceland it isn't just a novelty feature; Used to bring in the tourists. They use the geothermal energy every day in interesting, diverse and above all Innovative ways. The whole of the country is powered by geothermal power or Hydro power. 26.2% and 74.4% respectively. 89% of the homes in Iceland are heated at no cost at all, and almost indefinitely by the power of the earth. That means there are no gas bills for heating. Can you imagine how good that would be?

But it doesn't just extend to energy use. They have developed strange but beautiful ways of harnessing the warmth of the earth. By channelling it under the roads they remain ice free all year round. By channelling the heat into a contraption similar to a BBQ they have a steam cooker. 

This, I'm sure you'll agree is an astounding amount of imagination and innovation. Iceland truly is well on its way to becoming one of the first ever countries to become completely fossil fuel free. 

This lead me to start wondering. What do we have in the UK? We certainly don't have anything like the capacity Iceland has to produce energy from geothermal sources in such abundance. There is a small geothermal plant in Southampton  But this would cater for such a small percentage of the UK's overall energy consumption as to be almost negligible.

We do however have lots of rain. Lots of coast and lots and lots of flowing water. Rain is almost a stereotypical feature of the UK. The French always comment on how much we complain of it. So what can we do with that??

Back in the past mills where used to grind flour. However that is a practice that has stopped almost completely. (Save for the odd living museum here and there.)

So lets open this out. How could we use the abundance of water in and around and above England to 
1) Improve our lives?
2) To make us a more self sufficient country. 

If anyone has any ideas. Please leave a comment and I will post them up. 

Monday, 18 July 2011

Japan PM Calls for nuclear-free future

The Unpopular PM Naoto Kan has put forward the idea recently that Japan should move towards a Nuclear free future. There is still some debate as to what this means. But potentially could be a step in the right direction towards a cleaner future for one of the worlds most developed countries. 

The question is. Can the UK, currently locked into a Carbon dependent energy system make similar changes?
What would these changes mean for the UK?
Are they logistically possible?

The problem faced by the UK government at the moment is how to convince the major energy companies to invest almost £110 billion pounds into reforming our energy plans over the next decade. No small task I'm sure you'll agree. The reasons are twofold. Not only will it dramatically help to reduce the UK's carbon footprint. But it could also help keep energy prices at a reasonable enough level so as not to start a customer revolt. The privatisation dream of the 80's set up by Margaret Thatchers government worked for a while. The concept being that strong competition between companies would keep the prices down. However these companies have fallen to the slave driver that is un-sustainable resource. 

For the future of the UK's energy to be secure. Investment is needed in a myriad of energy solutions. The stereotypical ones include Wind, Solar, Tidal etc. And these solutions are quite easily implemented both inland and offshore for relatively little cost with maximum gain. However advanced the technology is though, it would not be enough to supply power to a present version of the UK as it stands now. Innovation and imagination is required in all sectors to not only create renewable cheap clean energy. But also to conserve and make the most of the energy available to us when it arrives. A 'Smart Grid' 

(More about smart grid thinking and technology can be found here.)

At the end of the day however. No matter what the government does. It is up to us to make this happen. Every single person is responsible for the energy they use. And we all know of moments when we could have been more careful. But in a more positive light. It is up to us now to make the UK a leader in the technologies, services, designs and plans that will make the future a safe and rewarding place to be. Lets challenge ourselves to lead the way. Britain was once a cultural hub of innovation in science, art, music, and technology. We have all heard of the industrial revolution. Well we can be that again. Welcome one and all to the green revolution.