Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Michael, let’s talk about Singapore.

April 23, 2013

The Education Secretary Mr Gove has  said recently that research in Hong Kong, Singapore and other East Asian nations showed that expectations of mathematical knowledge and scientific knowledge were “at every stage” more demanding than in Britain.

“In order to reach those levels of achievement a higher level of effort is expected on behalf of students, parents and teachers,” he said.

“School days are longer, school holidays are shorter. The expectation is that to succeed, hard work is at the heart of everything.”

Polly Toynbee in a piece for today’ edition of The Guardian reminds Mr. Gove that he  that it’s not just expectations that are different.

Gove, calling for payment by results, cited Singapore’s high-achieving school system, “where expectations are higher”. What he didn’t say is that Singapore, like top performer Finland, is one of the most equal of developed nations. As his government drives up inequality, his schools face an ever tougher task compensating for the society they inhabit.

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Hidden agendas.

February 19, 2013

In the pages of The Guardian  today, George Monbiot describes in some detail how  two secerative organisations – the Donors’ Trust and the Donors’ Capital Fund – funded by billionaires, and which provide a cover for various vested interests,  have financed 102 organisations which either dismiss much of the current thinking on climate change or downplay the need to take action.

These groups, working through the media, mobilising gullible voters and lobbying politicians, helped to derail Obama’s cap and trade bill and the climate talks at Copenhagen.

The large number of recipients, he suggests is deliberate because it “ creates the impression that there are many independent voices challenging climate science”.

By these means the ultra-rich come to dominate the political conversation, without declaring themselves  Those they employ are clever and well-trained. They have money their opponents can only dream of. They are skilled at rechannelling the public anger which might otherwise have been directed at their funders: the people who have tanked the economy, who use the living planet as their dustbin, who won’t pay their taxes and who demand that the poor must pay for the mistakes of the rich. Anger, thanks to the work of these hired hands, is instead aimed at the victims or opponents of the billionaires: people on benefits, the trade unions, Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although most of what he describes is happening in America, there are it would appear organisations in the UK which are similarly funded and which serve a similar purpose.

The Institute of Economic Affairs is a British group that, like all the others, calls itself a free-market thinktank. Scarcely a day goes by when its staff aren’t interviewed in the broadcast media, promoting the dreary old billionaires’ agenda: less tax for the rich, less help for the poor, less spending by the state, less regulation for business. In the first 13 days of February, its people were on the BBC 10 times.
This Institute, it appears, gets some of its funding from an organisation called American Friends of the IEA.

Moribot’s persuasively argues that we need to know what these organisations are and who exactly it is that’s behind them.

 The answer, as ever, is transparency. As the so-called thinktanks come to play an ever more important role in politics, we need to know who they are working for. Any group – whether the IEA or Friends of the Earth – that attempts to influence public life should declare all donations greater than £1,000. We’ve had a glimpse of who’s paying. Now we need to see the rest of the story.

Is conservatism the result of the genes?

February 17, 2013

 Sometimes we try to explain why it is that fear seems to be more a feature of how conservatives seem to think of everything than it is of  liberal or left-wing thinking. They fear big government. If science makes a breakthrough of some sort or other, conservatives inevitably fear that or its being disruptive. If in education changes are made that disrupt a narrow channel, conservatives feel that the whole system is crumbling. They are generally resistant new ideas and so on because, it seems, of fear. Well, it may be that explanation this may, in part, have been found by those conducted a study for the American Journal of Political Science. Some of the conclusions they arrived at were reopoted on in the Saturday edition of Salon.

A new study in the American Journal of Political Science looked at the relationship between fear and political ideology, and it found that people who experience higher levels of fear tend to be more politically conservative than those who are less predisposed to feeling afraid. While the researchers emphasized that their findings in no way suggest that every conservative is more fearful than every liberal, the study did identify a relationship between a fearful disposition and increased support for anti-immigrant and other segregationist policies.

One of the study’s co-authors warns that we should not get carried away with the idea that all conservative people are fearful.

It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative,” Rose McDermott, professor of Political Science at Brown University and co-author of the study, said in a press release.

The study does not, it has to be emphasized, suggest that it’s all in the genes.

As the study’s co-author Peter Hatemi, associate professor of Political Science, Microbiology and Biochemistry at PennState, told Chris Mooney at Mother Jones: “Nothing is all genes or all environment.” But together, these things make us who we are.

There is no reason for us to believe that if we are biologically predisposed to go in a certain direction, we must continue in that direction. Biology does not have the final say on which party you support or how one votes election day.  Education, in its broadest sense, plays a huge role in the way we develop and evolve.

As we experience more of the world and gain exposure to different cultures, people who are different than ourselves can become, well, less scary, researchers say.

So rather than creating an immutable link between biology and ideology to forever bind us to a single party, the study actually suggests that people can change overtime, overcome their natural predispositions and maybe even come around to new political ideas.

The problem is that it is the natural predispositions that are nurtured.

Fuel consumption in the U.S.

April 27, 2007

As the U.S edges itself closer towards paying $4 a gallon for fuel, Andrew Leonard,  in an essay written for today’s Salon, says that recent reports coming from researchers at U.C. Davis’ Institute of Transportation Studies say that drivers are no longer “adjusting their driving habits in response to the rising cost of fuel”. Information coming from the Department of Energy show that American drivers are driving more. 

Leonard wonders why this is the case. The last time prices rose, drivers cut back on the driving they did. Not this time, it appears. He is not wholly convinced the Davis researchers explanations – that more  people live in the suburbs and driving farther than they did 20 years ago and increased fuel efficency – fully accounts for this. As far as he can see, the increased fuel efficiency would, to some extent, offset the increase in milage.

He thinks that there has been major psychological shift. 

Could this be a case of the oil shock that cried wolf? The oil shocks of the late ’70s coincided with the mainstream debut of the environmental movement. The two phenomena sent messages to the general public that reinforced each other. Conservation: good for the world and good for your pocketbook.

But what happened next? Oil companies desperate to break the stranglehold of OPEC spent billions of dollars developing new sources of supply and the price of a barrel of crude went on a sustained decline. At the same time, the environmental movement quickly became a toxic political football. The messages sent by these phenomena reinforced an entirely different conclusion. First, there was no real reason to worry about fossil fuel shortages, since the magic of the price mechanism would fix any such problem, just as it did in the 1980s; and second, conservation was something only business-hating hippie left-wingers cared about. What a relief! Not only is buying an F350 a sound investment, but patriotic, also!

Now that, it seems to me, is a pretty plausable explanation of what’s happening and why it’s happening.

Can we live without a car? It’s a serious question.

September 3, 2006

Michelle Singletary,the personal finance columnist of The Washington Post, under the heading Contentment Without a Car, today writes an interesting, if all too brief, review of Chris Balish’s new book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car (Ten Speed Press, $12.95).  

The titles of the article and the book do give the game away, but as living without a car is something that we should all be considering seriously for various reasons – or I should say all those who own a car should be considering seriously – the Singletary article and the book it deals tackle the very important subject of how it can be done.

Can we live without a car? It’s a serious question.

September 3, 2006

Michelle Singletary,the personal finance columnist of The Washington Post, under the heading Contentment Without a Car, today writes an interesting, if all too brief, review of Chris Balish’s new book, How to Live Well Without Owning a Car (Ten Speed Press, $12.95).  

The titles of the article and the book do give the game away, but as living without a car is something that we should all be considering seriously for various reasons – or I should say all those who own a car should be considering seriously – the Singletary article and the book it deals tackle the very important subject of how it can be done.

How energy-efficient am I?

August 13, 2006

According to a report in today’s Observer [link], Dr Joseph Reger, chief technology officer at Fujitsu Siemens Computers in
Munich, Germany, has warned that if half of British homes buy plasma-screen televisions, two nuclear power stations would have to be built to meet the extra energy demand. Plasma sets, he says, use up four times as much electricity as the conventional cathode-ray model. When we combine this with all the other gadgets – set-top boxes, digital video recorders, home PCs DVD players – that we use daily, we are, it seems,  becoming major contributors to the energy crisis.   

Last year consumer electronics used the equivalent of 18 terawatt hours – equivalent to the annual output from five standard power stations, and amounting to 30 per cent of the country’s total domestic electricity consumption. The Department for the Environment estimates this could rise to 31 terawatt hours by 2010, mainly due to the rise in the number of TVs, demand for bigger screens and set-top boxes. Projections show that more than 50 million digital set-top boxes will be in
UK homes by 2012. Philip Sellwood, chief executive of the Energy Saving Trust, said: ‘As the consumer electronics market continues to grow, further development of energy-efficient products will be vital to help in the fight against climate change. TVs are here to stay, but people can change how they use them, for example, turning them off standby when not in use.’

A sharp reminder that we can all do much better when it comes to being energy-efficient.