Posts by Rich Lock

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  • Hard News: The Language of Climate, in reply to David Haywood,

    And consider that we’ve already made a big step in aeronautical engineering from piston engines to turbines.

    That is a good example of what I meant by step change. My bigger problem is that while all this is lovely to talk about, and makes for a great theoretical discussion, as a society we have a built-in momentumand resistance to change at almost every level from the individual up to global.

    We’re still using much the same turbines 70 years after we made this particular change. I recently revisted my old graduate (aerospace) employer 20+ years on. They’re still working on improvements to the same models of exactly the same turbine engines 20 years later – not different brand-new designs – the same engines, just Mk [X]+3 intervening iterations (or whatever). This accounts for the vast majority of the rescource of thousands of employees. Scale that up to include airports, fuel suppliers, distribution chains, etc across the globe and you have a model that will take decades to change, for appreciable but limited benefit (you don’t overcome the contrail issue, for example).

    In the short term, I’d prefer a focus on using what we already have in a different or more limited manner. You don’t need to build more roads if you give incentives to have travel structured in a manner that means not everyone is on the road at the same time every day, for example. If air travel is a problem, then it needs to be made less accessible (it needs to cost more). That's not paletable, but medicine rarely is.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The perilous birth of the…, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    It’ll be nice to bring some data to the party.

    Is that even legal? :)

    There are, sadly, no plans to include a ban on the use of synthetic data. Although what is known is the subculture as the ‘success rush’ can be a euphoric experience, side effects can include hysteria, foaming at the mouth, blinkered vison, delusions, and self-hate. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of ‘astroturfing’, or ‘fact-twisting’, please seek assistance.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate,

    PS, in terms of investment, I doubt governments will be doing anything significant in the near future given that the prevailing flavour is austerity with a sour undertone of denialism. If we need a lot of money thrown at problems, our best best is probably to hope that today's internet billionaires start having children, stop farting around with space projects and start thinking about their possible grandchidren's futures.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: The Language of Climate,


    Perhaps a better approach to the problem of air travel is to develop alternatives. Airships have potential but they aren’t as fast, which for some purposes is just fine. Sea travel really is too slow for most human interactions, but it’s worth noting that all mail is now delivered by air, which is convenient sure, but is also wasteful. There have been huge changes in aircraft engines, particularly around noise, perhaps a stronger focus on fuel efficiency could see a whole other class of aircraft that were even more fuel efficient.

    Current engines and aircraft run about as efficiently as they ever can, without some real eureka breakthrough that would allow a step change. Next time you’re watching an old ‘60’s or ’70’s film that includes footage of a passenger plane taking off, have a look at how much particulate crap spews out the back, and compare that to today’s engines. Even if such a breakthrough were to happen, it would take decades to cascade through the current global infrastructure.

    For example, it’s well-known that the flying wing style design is roughly around 40% more fuel-efficient than the ubiquitous tube-with-wings of today’s airliners. But even leaving aside the inherent problems of instbility/control difficulty, no-one’s developing one, because:

    1) it would take billions to develop a practical passenger/freight-carrying example as you’d be starting more or less from scratch rather than tinkering with an existing design, which is what all aerospace companies spend 99% of their time doing;

    2) studies show that passengers don’t like it as most of the seats are clustered in the centre rather than at the edges close to the windows (even the centre aisle in today’s layouts is seen as preferable).

    3) 100% of existing commercial airports are set up to slot a plane into a box of certain dimensions at the terminal in nice neat rows at the various gates so that an umbilical tunnel of standard size can be attached to the doors for loading/unloading (see pic). You’d either need an entirely new infrastructure, requiring investment at each airport you want to fly into, or a lot of design concessions on your aircraft. The Airbus A380 was seen as a big breakthrough when it was introduced, but it’s still just a tube-with-wings, and it was carefully designed to fit exisiting infrastructure.

    Air travel is a big problem for global warming, not just because a lot of carbon products are burnt, but because a lot of stuff happens in the upper atmosphere. Contrails from high-atmosphere flights are a big contributor to climate change, for example.

    It’s my view that people only stop doing something when you make it harder than the ’better’ alternative. The only reason anyone uses public transport in London to commute is because the other choices are worse – if you drive, you’re stuck in traffic for hours, you pay a congestion charge, and you don’t have anywhere to park when you get where you’re going. Cramming onto a tube like a sardine is seen as a slightly less hideous alternative. The only way to stop people flying is to make it too expensive to do on a regular basis.

    I have deliberately not bought a car - I don't need one where I currently live, but I would certainly like one. I'd drive a lot more if I had one. When I was in NZ, I deliberately didn't fly back to see family in the UK very often. It caused quite a few minor family political problems....

    My preference would be to tax aviation fuel (currently tax-exempt for historical reasons that date back to immediately post-WW2 and which are no longer relevant). This would require enormous global political will to overcome extreme resistance from the air industry, but would cut down on the proliferation of cheap and cheerful airlines that are ubiquitous in Europe (easyjet, ryanair, etc) that offer £1 flights.

    A slightly more local ‘carrot’ to cut down on emissions from driving would be to offer tax breaks to companies that offer employee concessions such as working from home or far more flexible working hours. My old firm used to close down any discussion of this by basically saying that we couldn’t be trusted to work from home, and that as we were a ‘service provider’, we had to be available to ‘service’ our clients within standard hours – i.e. everyone works the same hours because everyone else works the same hours. Both reasons were, frankly, bullshit (and the first was more than a little insulting, especially given that the metrics of ‘good/bad’ employee were by far more easily measurable than any other firm I’ve ever worked for). However, they do illustrate the inherent conservatism of the current mindset, that will only be changed by making ‘bad’ things too expensive to continiue doing, and ‘good’ things financially attractive.

    In terms of how we discuss the climate and the language we use, that requires a sea change in the media business model and mind set. Climate change is a story that’s been unfolding for decades – it’s 25 years since I first started talking about this stuff – CFC’s in aerosols and so on. It’s been decades since the big climate change summits in Rio and whereever. If I want to thoroughly understand a topic, I’ll generally read a few books about it – you start to get an understanding of ‘The War On Drugs’ by reading David Simon’s ‘The Corner’, and Ed Vuliamy’s ‘Amexica’, and Misha Glenny’s ‘McMafia’, and half a dozen others.

    The news media runs on scoops, and gotcha’s, and soundbites, and 24-hour rolling news, and ‘balance’ (here’s a chap in a white coat, ‘balanced’ against this other chap in a fetching tin foil hat). They have made a virtue out of getting an insignificant factoid to air five minutes before their rival. That does not lend itself to anything like a deep appreciation of what the problems are, and what needs to be done.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Poll Day 2: Queasy, in reply to BenWilson,

    which would probably just be a full time job for one person.

    I could see it working as a crowd sourced thing.

    Well, you must have plenty of time on your hands, being a student and all. You get the kicstarter up and running and I'll chuck a tenner in the pot.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Poll Day 2: Queasy, in reply to BenWilson,

    You could probably collect some stats on column inches which are favourable to which parties, although of course there’s a lot of judgment in deciding if it’s favorable, and if so, how much so. For TV you’d have to do it on time rather than inches. The placement of the stories should be recorded too, how close to the front page, or start of the news. Sound like a lot of work. That judgment is especially hard for non-verbal stuff. How many pics of Cunliffe with a silly face, and Key from a flattering angle. How scornful the reporter sounds….

    I'd be surprised if it was particularly difficult. There's a bunch of methodologies that can be used to place any particular individual on a 2-axis scale (Nolan chart, Pournell chart, etc). I expect they could be relatively easily adapted to purpose (although everyone would shift to arguing about the detail of the methodology and the position of the base lines).

    It would be fairly labour-intensive, though - I expect you'd need a lot of warm bodies to watch and data-crunch. I remember watching a doco a while back about the US elections, and how each team basically had a bunch of interns watching every single micro- and macro-pronouncement of anyone on the other team and attempting to find contradictions or inconsistencies with what they were currently saying and what they had previously said. It appeared to be a job that suited a certain type of highly committed individual, shall we say...

    Maybe we could outsource overseas. That way they don't have skin in the game, either.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Friday Music: Electric Dreams, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    thanks for the music, Frankie.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Muse: Guilt By Association Copy, in reply to steven crawford,

    Being human is biological. personhood requires a self construct.

    So you are making a distinction between being human and being a person?

    Given the huge spectrum of human personality characteristics, and our extremely poor current understanding of how our individual personalities and mental traits develop (nature/nurture, etc.), that does seem to me to be a potentially extremely slipppery slope you’re standing at the top of.

    Hitler, obviously had a personality disorder.

    If his personality disorder was so clearly obvious, then why didn’t the hundreds of thousands of people who saw and heard him speak on a daily basis over the course of years, and who willingly followed him as their leader, see it?

    Also, ‘The Nazis’ didn’t begin and end with Hitler. It wasn’t a cult. As I say, there were hundreds of thousands of people who created a framework and then interacted within it on a day-to-day basis. ‘We were only obeying orders’ has been tried and dismissed as an acceptable excuse. But these humans were people: they had families and friends that they loved and were loved in return, they had a society that functioned on a micro and macro scale, they communicated and organised. And persuaded each other to do some terrible, vile things.

    Unpicking the individual strands of what made them do what they did is hugely complex and has provided whole careers for legions of historians, sociologists and psychologists. Societies are made up of people, just like them and just like us, and they can end up going in some pretty dangerous directions if we don’t keep a close eye on our baser instincts.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Muse: Guilt By Association Copy, in reply to steven crawford,

    but seriously I say that at least one of the Nazis, while being technically human, was not correctly wired to be a compleat person.

    Would you mind expanding on that?

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

  • Muse: Guilt By Association Copy,

    Yes, exactly. It's not a brand-new phenomenon - there have been a few sensationalist 'true story' books in the '60's to 80's: for example these and these. And a few clearly fictional examples like James Herbert's 'The Spear' from 1978.

    But what was 'few and far between' seems to have become far more widespread and full spectrum more recently.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2326 posts Report Reply

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