Monthly Archives: May 2017

Terrorism, Hate & Love

Terrorist attacks

In the aftermath of the Manchester bombing it is heartening to see the vast majority of the population drawing together in support of the victims, their families and the emergency services, strengthening the very sense of social solidarity that all terrorists seek to undermine.

During my lifetime I’ve seen successive waves of terrorism come and go. In the 1970’s ETA, IRA, RAF and others committed many bombings and now thankfully they’ve all given up: now Islamic Jihadists and Neo Nazis predominate. Many years ago I was studying Social Anthropology at LSE and I read a paper called ‘Intercommunal Killing in Cyprus’ by my tutor, the late Peter Loizos. The paper explored the interface between the psychology of the individual perpetrator and the surrounding community that fosters and encourages ideologies of hatred. Individual terrorists may operate alone but they are always encouraged and inspired by some community of people expressing hatred toward some other rival community or social group.

It seems to me the only long term and effective solution is to foster ideologies of love, of social inclusion, social solidarity, pluralism, diversity and egalitarianism. After the Paris bombings in November 2015 I wrote a blog expressing something along these lines. It’s been said before and it’ll be said again. The only way to defeat terrorism is to make it unacceptable to stoke the fires of hatred. I think it was Jimi Hendrix who said ‘when the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.’

Political Realities, Political Dreams

Emmanuel Macron

Emmanuel Macron

While the Trump presidency teeters towards impeachment and Britain blunders into Brexit and a dreadfully divisive general election, one might ask, ‘where is there hope?’ Had France elected Marine Le Pen they too would have followed UK and USA down the path of chaos and division. Instead they voted overwhelmingly for Emmanuel Macron. Macron has blown apart the entrenched tribal party-political divisions of French history. He has selected a gender balanced cabinet of 11 men and 11 women. What is significant is that he has brought in people from many different backgrounds and political parties, and importantly from non political backgrounds in civil society. He will have many challenges ahead.

Macron seems to want to follow a Nordic model, creating a system that is good for business, focused on modern cleantech innovation, with strong environmental and social policies and deeper integration at the European level. Bringing in Nicolas Hulot, the former Green presidential contender, to head the Ecology ministry seems a good move. The wide spectrum of talents he has brought into his cabinet looks very encouraging.

Unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, is high in the old rustbelt of north-east France, and along parts of the Mediterranean coast, and it was these ‘left behind’ people who voted for Le Pen. Macron has said he wants to renovate one million poorly insulated homes. This seems a very sensible move as it creates more jobs relative to the money invested than just about anything else, while cutting fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of the economy as a whole.

Here in UK More United have Crowdfunded to support candidates who support their pro-European values of openness, tolerance, social inclusion and cleantech innovation. Let us imagine what would happen if they grew exponentially over the next couple of weeks and had a decisive impact on the general election. Who might be in a cabinet of all the talents, inspired by what Macron is doing in France? Caroline Lucas of the Green Party keeps winning polls and accolades that say she’d make a great prime minister. I’d like to see Molly Scott Cato as chancellor, Vix Lowthion at education, Andrew Cooper at energy…but these are all Greens: we’d want others. Dr Louise Irvine at health perhaps shared with LibDem Norman Lamb. Vince Cable could be good back at business. Labour’s Chuka Umunna would be good on electoral reform, and Jeremy Corbyn clearly has a talent for community engagement and social inclusion. The old one nation, pro-European Tories like Ken Clarke and John Major might have a role to play in reversing Article 50 and working with the EU. Bringing in people from outside politics might be crucial, like Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of ‘The Spirit Level’ to look at how to make Britain a more socially just society. Jeremy Leggett and Hugo Spowers would be brilliant showing how cleantech innovation could be used to transform the British economy. I might even find a role for myself in my own dream team!

Heroes of British Democracy

Dr Louise Irvine and support

Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party, with Labour, LibDem & Green supporters

We live in very worrying times. In little over three weeks the UK will have a general election. The democratic process is vital to improve the human condition, yet globally it is under threat like never before. A free press is also fundamental. Today I want to highlight a few of the people I see as heroes in the struggle to protect British democracy.

Carole Cadwalladr has written some of the best investigative journalism since the days of Woodwood and Bernstein and the Watergate investigation. In this important article she shows the corrosive effects big data, big money and some very unpleasant people seeking to influence, and to undermine, the democratic process on a global scale, including the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump.

The Brexit referendum was dominated by big lies. For me the one person to emerge as a hero from the whole process was Gina Miller. She is now busy organising a tactical voting campaign. More United, Compass, Make Votes Matter are three of the many organisations working to try and get greater cross party cooperation to improve the functioning of British democracy, and all very much worth supporting.

What is unfolding in the constituency of South West Surrey is particularly interesting. It is the seat of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who is being challenged by the excellent Dr Louise Irvine of the National Health Action Party. I blogged before about what is happening to the NHS and this constituency contest encapsulates that bigger struggle. Locally Greens, LibDems and Labour all wanted to stand their candidates down and unite to support Dr Irvine. The Labour leadership has stupidly expelled the Godalming three and imposed a candidate on the constituency. Looks like the LibDems are also putting up a candidate. As far as I can see the only way of defeating the right wing BluKip hegemony with their big money backers is by very much greater cooperation in some kind of progressive alliance.

The Progressive Alliance is having a launch event in London tomorrow, Monday 15th May. Many Labour and LibDems members are supportive, but the leadership seem reluctant to stand their own candidates down and support rival candidates. The Green Party is much more wholeheartedly in favour. The situation is still fast moving and it may yet be the case that the spirit of cooperation will prevail.

In many constituencies the number of people who do not vote exceeds the numbers who vote for the winning candidates. If we can get these non-voters, and especially the young non-voters, to register to vote, and to vote, then maybe a miracle can be achieved and we can get rid of this ghastly government. In the meantime I’ll be busy helping in Herefordshire, where we have two great Green candidates, Diana Toynbee and Ellie Chowns, and with a couple more miracles they might win on 8th June!

Australian Solar (Again)

Baldivis

Baldivis: of 5,765 houses 3951 now have solar panels

In 2012 I wrote a blog entitled ‘Re-powering Port Augusta’, advocating large scale concentrating solar thermal power stations be built to replace Northern and Playford B ageing dirty brown coal fired power stations, which were due to close. Since I wrote that blog a number of coal fired power stations have closed and many parts of Australia have experienced power cuts. For many decades Australia has had excellent pioneer academic solar thermal researchers but still has no large scale solar thermal power stations with thermal storage. India, South Africa and Chile have all overtaken Australia on that front. Now, rather belatedly, there is a flurry of interest in building various types of solar power and energy storage systems in Australia, and especially in the Port Augusta region. Port Augusta in South Australia is ideally located for such projects with good grid connections, a very sunny climate and a workforce with relevant skills.

Sundrop Farms, with Aalborg CSP, have built the excellent system that I blogged about a few months ago (here and here). This however was relatively small scale and just for the tomato farm, not for feeding electricity into the grid, but does provide an excellent example of what can be done.

Australia’s adoption of solar power has been very unusual. The vast majority of its solar power, about 80%, is domestic rooftop arrays. (Solar farms only account for about 8%) Rising gas and electricity prices, recent power cuts, government policies that favoured small scale arrays, large numbers of detached owner occupied houses and falling prices of solar panels and batteries are all factors contributing to the rise in rooftop solar systems in Australia. Thirteen months ago Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg stated that 15% of Australian households had photovoltaic solar panels on their roofs. Renate Egan of the Australian Photovoltaic Institute claims this figure is now 26% (higher than any other country, except perhaps a few tiny island nations). In Baldivis, a suburb of nearly 6,000 houses to the south of Perth, the figure is 69% and rapidly increasing. Within a year or two it is likely that some such places will have solar panels on 90% or more of households.

Rooftop solar looks set to increase. So far this is mainly by adding solar panels to existing buildings, which are often not ideally suited due to their orientation and many having hipped roofs. If new houses were designed and orientated to maximize solar generation very much more power could be produced at very competitive prices. The next steps will be to increase energy storage and for people to switch to electric transportation systems. As I’ve said before, Australia could become a 100% solar powered economy. It is happening piecemeal, but could be very beneficially aided by clearer government goal setting and forward planning.