|The July Course at Newmarket|
- Don’t Pop That Bubble Wrap! Scientists Turn Trash Into Test Tubes – I love these scientists. Even though the idea may not have all the kinks worked out, it’s a start.
- Creationist Ken Ham calls to end space program because aliens are going to hell anyway – Well, I guess that headline says it all. From CriticalDragon1177.
- The Secret to a Tattoo’s Permanence: The Immune System – “The dye gets lodged deep in the skin thanks to hungry anti-inflammatory cells called macrophages.” I hadn’t really thought of this before, but it’s pretty cool!
- Tom Petty Criticizes Catholic Church For Sex Abuses In New Song ‘Playing Dumb’ – From mrmisconception.
- How Scientists Created A Typhus Vaccine In A ‘Fantastic Laboratory’ – Hmm I might have to add this book to the Skepchick Book Club list!
BONUS: The New Yorker Stories You Should Read Before the Paywall Goes Up. I am definitely going to look through this over the next month.
This morning, I got into a Twitter row with Jackart. He says: "State spending CAUSES lack of private investment." I agree with him that this can happen sometimes. But I disagree with him that it happened with Gordon Brown's fiscal loosening in the mid-00s.
My chart provides some background. It shows that in the mid-00s - well before the financial crisis - the government did start to run a deficit. And companies ran a surplus, with retained profits exceeding capital spending. It's also clear that, over time, these two financial balances have been mirrors of each other; the correlation between the two has been minus 0.77 since 1988Q1.
This poses the question: was it the government deficit that caused the corporate surplus? There are three ways in which it might have done - in which state spending might have crowded out private investment - but I don't think any of these mechanisms operated in the mid-00s:
- Financial crowding out. Government borrowing can raise interest rates which chokes off private spending. One simple fact tells us that this didn't happen in the 00s - real gilt yields fell; ten year ones dropped from 2.6% at the end of 2001 to 1.7% at the end of 2006.
- Ricardian equivalence. It's possible that companies saw rising government borrowing as meaning higher future taxes, and so cut investment for fear of a lower future post-tax return. If, however, the incidence of corporate taxes falls upon workers rather than profits, this mechanism won't have worked; even if firms did anticipate higher future corporate taxes (and I'm not sure this was true), they might have thought: "these'll reduce future wages rather than profits" which shouldn't have affected investment*.
- A wage squeeze. If governments hire more workers, wages will rise and this will squeeze profits and expected profits and so deter investment. This can happen; Silvia Ardagna and Alberto Alsina have shown (pdf) that sometimes fiscal contractions can raise growth because they cut wages and so alleviate a profit, so it's reasonable to suppose that fiscal expansions can sometimes do the opposite. But again, this did not happen in the mid-00s. As the IFS has pointed out, real household incomes (most of which are wages) grew very slowly then. That's the opposite of what should have happened if there were wage crowding out.
I suspect instead that the causality between the two financial balances ran the other way. A dearth of monetizable investment opportunities - because of, among other things, slower technical progress and the migration of low-wage industry to China - caused companies to reduce investment. This led to falling real interest rates and weak incomes growth, and increased government borrowing was the response to this.
Now, I'll concede that this story still gives Jackart many things to complain about. You could argue that the response to weak corporate investment should have been looser monetary rather than fiscal policy - though personally I suspect this would have increased speculation, house prices and malinvestments even more. Or you could argue that the fiscal loosening should have taken the form more of tax cuts than spending increases. And you can certainly complain that higher spending was accompanied by a lack of public sector productivity growth.
However, I just don't buy the claim that, in the 00s, Brown's fiscal expansion caused the lack of private investment.
* I suppose you could argue that firms cut capital spending because they thought that lower future wages would have depressed aggregate demand - but I'd welcome decent empirical evidence on this.
I do, of course, jest in part. But there is at least a quiet satisfaction at seeing the New York Times getting it right on the problems with pharmaceutical development. The difficulty is with the incentives that the Big Pharma companies face in trying to develop new drugs. We might want them to develop new antibiotics: it’s at least arguable that having more, better and newer ones to replace those that are made redundant by increasing resistance to them will increase future human happiness and utility more than any other industrial investment we could possibly make. Yet we’ve also managed to construct a system whereby no economically rational company would invest in this area. We’ve made it so that the incentives just aren’t there for people to be encourage to do what we arguably would like them to do.
The crux of the matter is here:
Antibiotics face a daunting proposition. They are not only becoming more difficult to develop, but they are also not obviously profitable. Unlike, say, cancer drugs, which can be spectacularly expensive and may need to be taken for life, antibiotics do not command top dollar from hospitals. What’s more, they tend to be prescribed for only short periods of time.
Continue reading the main story
Importantly, any new breakthrough antibiotic is likely to be jealously guarded by doctors and health officials for as long as possible, and used only as a drug of last resort to prevent bacteria from developing resistance. By the time it became a mass-market drug, companies fear, it could be already off patent and subject to competition from generics that would drive its price down.
We should also note this little point:
The problem, of course, lies in the industry’s incentives. The cost of developing a new drug has skyrocketed over the last three decades. A research paper by scientists from Eli Lilly suggested that in 2010, it cost $1.8 billion to bring a big new drug from conception to rollout, through the costly gantlet of clinical trials needed to prove that it is both safe and more effective than existing therapies.
Add them together and you can see what the problem is. It costs $1.8 billion to develop a new drug (most of that cost, the vast majority, being getting it through the FDA process of approval), a new antibiotic won’t have widespread use when first introduced and will almost certainly be off patent by the time it is widely used. Thus no one can make money out of spending that initial $1.8 billion.
But if we do want to have new antibiotics developed then we do need to find some manner of creating the incentives that will lead to their development. The two obvious ones that come to mind are to either (or both) increase the patent period so as to enable an earn back, or to simply reduce the costs of drug development in the first place.
Of these, the simplest and most obvious might be to change the patent period. This could actually be done quite simply, without then also upsetting all of the other markets where patents are important. At present it can take 10-12 years for a drug to pass through the licensing process (note, that’s an upper bound, an extreme). But the 20 year life of the patent has been running since that patent was first registered, right at the beginning of the process. Leaving the company with only 10-8 years to make back its vast investment rather than the 20 which the original patent system assumed. So, why not simply state that for drugs the patent clock starts ticking when the treatment is approved, not when it is registered?
The other type of solution is perhaps more radical. For example, the FDA insists that the pharma companies must prove that a treatment is both safe and also more effective than other treatments. That’s quite an imposition. It’s fair enough that there should be trials to show that the drug works. And we’d certainly like to know whether there are side effects. But we might perhaps be happy to put up with those side effects if we’re properly informed about them. And quite why “works better” is something that is required by the FDA is not really understood by your humble writer. That’s something that the market itself can work out. Doctors obviously wish to do the best by their patients so we can trust them to prescribe the “best” treatment given the circumstances their patients are in. We don’t, perhaps, need a Federal bureaucracy forcing drug manufacturers to spend hundreds of millions proving this point before launch of the drug.
But whatever the detailed solutions are it is still good to see that the New York Times is now on the same page as the economics profession. The single most important insight of the subject is that incentives matter. And if we’ve got a non- or mal-functioning part of the economy the first thing is to go look at those incentives. And as the NYT says, the incentives around drug development these days, especially of antibiotics, are cockeyed. That’s why we’re not getting any new ones. So it’s those incentives we need to fix.
One thing that struck me about Tim Farron’s Beveridge lecture last Saturday was the scale of his ambition for investment in infrastructure.
Conservatives have often talked about their admiration of Victorian values – if only they really did admire those values, because Victorian values included ambition to build an infrastructure, to create a transport, communications and logistics backbone to our economy, to make a difference, to see a problem and not worry about whether fixing it would fit with your ideology, but to just get on and fix it.
Tim goes on to demand 3 million homes, 5 new garden cities, HS3,4,5 and 6, more airport capacity and universal high-speed broadband. This is all very welcome, and with the party proposing a balanced budget, excluding capital items that will enhance economic growth, we are better placed than the other parties to deliver it. (Labour’s exclusion of all capital spending from budgetary balance will inevitably mean that some non-growth capital will crowd out growth capital.)
Despite a slight dig at Jeremy Browne and his book Race Plan, I thought Tim echoed Jeremy’s demands very closely. The chapter on infrastructure calls for:
- A global hub airport (in London; Tim wants regional capacity)/li>
- A big investment in roads
- High Speed rail beyond HS2
- More water supply and flood defences
- More superfast broadband
- Less restriction of house building
So when Tim says
Jeremy’s position is intellectually coherent, honourable … but I don’t think he’s right. We should not accept that passive, neutral government creates a strong liberal framework.
I’m not convinced that is fair. Jeremy identifies a sweet spot for strong growth and good social outcomes that involves government spending of around 35 to 38% of GDP. Within that envelope, Jeremy is calling for ambitious active government and not just on infrastructure. Passivity and neutrality are not the kind of words to describe Race Plan, or indeed any of the reactions to it.
So what we are seeing here is that two figures on opposite wings of the party, agree on a radical and ambitious policy to end the decades of underinvestment in infrastructure in our country.
The Social Liberal, Economic Liberal axis is flawed. We must be both. We must be comprehensive Liberals. Let’s say no to passive, neutral government that allows the evils of our day to grow unchecked; let’s say no to authoritarian, intrusive government that becomes an evil in itself by subjugating its citizens; instead let’s say a huge yes to active, ambitious, liberal government.
What Britain needs instead is liberalism, but with the handbrake released: an ambitious, confident, authentic liberalism. We must make the case for open markets, trade, migration, free enterprise and wealth creation. We need to eliminate the deficit, pay down our debts, encourage work, raise education standards, release the full potential of our population and invest in essential infrastructure.
Which is which?
* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Friday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice
I don’t usually write about newly discovered record-breaking objects found by astronomers, because in general it’s not long before that record falls. But in this case, I’ll make an exception for Kepler-421b. It has the longest year—that is, it has the longest orbital period around its star—for any exoplanet yet seen.
That by itself is enough to make this an interesting object, but even cooler (literally) is where that puts this planet: Far enough from its star that it may have formed in a different way from the other planets we’ve detected around other stars. It may very well be an ice giant, like Uranus or Neptune, and not a gas giant or rocky planet.
First, let’s go through the basics: The host star is Kepler-421, a star much like the Sun but a bit smaller and cooler. It’s located about 1,000 light years away, which is a fair ways (the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across). From Earth, that makes the star pretty faint.
The planet, Kepler-421b, was discovered by the Kepler observatory, a space-based telescope that has found so many of the recently-discovered exoplanets. It uses the transit method to find planets; if we see the planet’s orbit around its star edge-on then every time the planet passes between us and the star it blocks a bit of the star’s light. It’s tricky; for example Kepler-421b only blocks about 0.3 percent of the star’s light. But with modern detectors, that sort of dip in light is detectable.
Generally speaking, you need three transits to be sure you’ve got something. If you see just one it could be a starspot, or some other nonplanetary object interfering with your observations. A second transit tells you the orbital period (the year) of the planet, but it could still be a coincidental starspot. If you get a third transit at the right time interval after the second, then you can be more confident.
For Kepler-421b, the astronomers only saw two transits, which made me suspicious, but after reading their paper I’m more inclined to think they got it. The shape of the “light curve” and the incredible match between the two transits make it very likely they did find a planet. For the rest of this article I’ll just assume it exists, but remember that it has yet to be confirmed independently.
Kepler-421b is about four times the diameter of Earth (judging from how much of the starlight it blocked), and has a year that’s 704 Earth days long. That’s amazing; most exoplanets found have much shorter periods, like days or weeks. That orbit puts it about 180 million kilometers (110 million miles) out from the star. Since the star is cooler than the Sun, the planet actually receives about one-fourth the light from its star as Earth does from the Sun. That’s even less than Mars gets, so the planet is pretty chilly.
And that brings us to the second cool thing about this planet. Planets form from broad disks of material orbiting the star when it’s young. Close in it's hot (duh) so you don’t get much gas or ice. The material in the disk is mostly metal and rock. Farther out there’s still metal and rock, but water is in the form of ice (this distance is called the “snow line,” a term I like), and there’s lots of it. Giant planets that form at least that far out have a lot more ice than ones farther in, and we call them ice giants. To be clear, these aren’t giant ice balls; they look a lot like gas giants but have more ice in them as opposed to rock and denser stuff.
In our solar system, Uranus and Neptune are ice giants. Given Kepler-421b’s location, it should be one as well. If we assume it’s about as dense as Uranus, it has 16 times the mass of the Earth. That will likely give it a thick atmosphere (and it’s very cold, remember) so it’s not Earth-like at all.
But it’s the first ice giant seen orbiting another star. We’ve seen other planets with similar masses and sizes, but they orbit closer in, and are likely gas giants. Ice giants may very well be pretty common among exoplanets, but they’re pretty hard to detect. For one, the long period means you have to wait a long time to confirm them. Also, the bigger the orbit is, the less likely it is we’ll get a transit — a planet close in to its star can be seen to transit from a wide range of viewing angles, but a more distant planet needs a more tightly constrained viewing geometry (the orbit has to be more precisely edge-on) for us to spot it.
Finding Kepler-421b means that astronomers may be able to start finding more. Seeing one planet might be an anomaly, but if you find 20 more like it you can start categorizing them. This means they can use physics and models to understand better how planets form, especially that far from their parent star. We’re still figuring that out for our own solar system, so having other examples with which to compare and contrast is very helpful.
And so that’s why I’m willing to write about a record-breaker, even if that record is soon broken. As usual in astronomy, I hope it is! That turns this planet from a weirdo into the first member of its class, and that means we get to learn stuff. And astronomers love learning stuff.
I presume I am likely to be neurotic, so surprise myself when I am not. I anticipate the loss of nerve and am surprised when it is still there. When I visited a prison earlier this year, my biggest worry was my worry. As the metal gates clanged behind me, would I become like a yellow Richard Attenborough in a wartime submarine movie? Nothing happened, I wondered if my nonchalance was playing a trick on me.
When I went for an fMRI brain scan last week I was again worried that I seem unworried. This was a voluntary procedure. I have been wanting to see my brain, the cause of all my troubles, for a long time. On a train from Tunbridge Wells, the deal was sealed with a a traveling neuroscientist. Even when I was walking down the disinfected corridors of the scanning facilities in cardboard trousers, I had no butterflies.
When would the panic set in?
It was all so fascinating that my curiosity left no room for worry.
On every wall, galleries of temporal and parietal lobes, rainbow coloured neural connections, and occasional brain stems. This is the National Portrait Gallery as I would like to see it, none of those humdrum noses and painted lips, just the brains of the notable, pondering how each fold helped them forward plan for war or poetry.
I filled out all the forms, as usual an accumulation of “no”s ticked due to my fortunately mundane medical history.
I had a quick go at the tests I would have to do and worried that my scan would mainly reveal how lacklustre I was at words and number games.
Once on the machine, my skull was sandwiched into place, the panic button placed in one hand, the mind quiz button in the other. The final encasement was lowered over my face, now would be the time for my panic, during this Man in the Iron Mask moment. Slid into the body of the marvelous contraption, my lilac surgical ballet shoes sticking out, I felt rather comfortable. Alone in the room, the isolation was calming. I was relieved, my worries of possible claustrophobia were unwarranted. I had been warned that the noise of moving magnets was almost deafening, but even this was enchanting, the sense of process and progress clicking into place and out of place as I was ready for my close ups.
Parietal Lobe, are you ready? Ventricles, do not be too vain. Amygdala, do not be coy.
The tests involved concentration, not my strongest suit. A letter flashed up eight times, as it faded I would have to say a word beginning with it. My mind cramps when i play scrabble, what if it turns out I don’t know enough words?
My self-awareness is always at the forefront, so when one of my Bs was “breast”, my homunculus Freud warned me to be careful of later choices for fear I may be pronounced a fiend. The first word that came into my word for my third T was “tantric”. Homunculus Freud looked panicked, the best I could do was Timotei (I must have been thinking about Brian Cox).
After the games, I had to relax with my eyes closed. I am not very good at that and I think that they noticed I was occupying my time by attempting to replay The Long good Friday in my mind, scene by scene.
I was then removed from the innards and saw my brain for the first time. There was the bundle that interprets the world and causes me to shout an unruly inanimate objects as if they were sentient and malicious. I worried that I had fewer folds than my friend, less of a cortex canvas spread before me, but he is much smarter than me, so it was to be expected. My untrained eye was not drawn to any shadows hinting at growing sickness within. I had been asked if I was worried at what the scan might reveal, but whatever it might have or could tell me of impending illness would be there already. The act of observation would make only a positive difference, even if it might be a melancholy one.
I wondered what might happen if they scanned my brain and found it was only a near empty sack containing some liquid and at that point, I would stop existing.
“I am afraid you have no brain. This was fine before as you were unaware of this, but now you know, all awareness will vanish”, and with that, the me-ness of me ceased to exist.
Now, these scans will be projected behind me night after night in Edinburgh, and I will have to wait for that foreboding night when a neuroscientist approaches me at the bar and says, “I was looking at that scan, and I fear there is something that went unnoticed…”
My brain based, with diversions, Edinburgh show, is HERE
I will then be taking my brain on tour to England, Ireland and Wales – locations and tickets HERE
There are myriad stories around about how the S&P 500 is at an all time high. And this is true in one sense but simply isn’t true in another, more accurate sense. That other, more accurate sense being the one economists would have you look at of course. The important thing is that we should correct for inflation. In fact, we should nearly always correct for inflation so this is nothing very new or different.
The important thing to remember is that the S&P is an index and it is a purely nominal one:
Despite all the troubling geopolitical news this month, the S&P 500 continues its march higher. The index had made an all-time high of 1,985.59 on July 3rd. Today we broke through that and have been as high as 1,986.24.
We need to correct this for inflation. The reason being the following: imagine that overnight all prices in the US doubled. Yes, I know, 100% inflation overnight is unlikely but just imagine as a model for a moment. Profits would also double as expressed in purely dollars (recall, we’re doubling all prices from their current levels). Given that profits double we’d also expect share prices to double: and thus the index would double too. But would it then be true to claim that the S&P was twice what it had been? Not really, no, for each and every one percent (or any other portion of it) of the S&P can only buy exactly what it could yesterday. There’s been no change at all in the “real” value of the 500.
So what happens if we do correct for inflation? We find that the true peak is rather higher than current levels:
Will Hausman, an economics professor at the College of William and Mary, calculates that the S&P 500 hit its true high — its inflation-adjusted high — of 2,120 on January 14, 1999.
To put that another way, the market still needs to rise about 200 more points — over 10% — to be on par with where it was in the late 1990s.
We may be at a peak in the index in nominal terms but we’re still a good 10% below it in real terms.
There’s also another point that’s worth making about the S&P 500. The composition of it has changed markedly in recent decades. It used to be a fairly good representation of companies operating in the US economy. As such we could use it as a bellweather for that US economy. This really isn’t true any more. More than 50% of the revenue which the index captures is actually from outside the US these days. So it’s moving from being a useful measure of the US economy over to being a useful measure of the world economy: quite a different thing. Perhaps most importantly it is becoming divorced from domestic US political action and public policy. Another way of stating that what happens in hte US has less and less effect on the S&P 500 as time marches on.
Fandom: Return to Night - Mary Renault
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Hilary Mansell/Julian Fleming, Hilary Mansell & Lisa Clare
Characters: Hilary Mansell, Julian Fleming, Lisa Clare
What happened after the cave: chapter twenty of Return to Night.
I have spent a long time wondering why I was writing a coda to the final chapter of Return to Night. Newsflash: I generally prefer to ignore the final chapter entirely. But it leaves so many loose ends that I felt I had to bring it out into the light of day. Also, contains bonus Lisa.
I was long-winded last time so let’s try brevity: yes, and no.
When people talk about ‘women’s policy’ they usually mean one of three things:
1. Policies which only affect women directly: men (apart from trans men) do not, for example, suffer FGM or need access to abortion, so they will only ever be indirectly affected by policy on those issues.
2. Policies were your gender directly determines your rights and treatment in society: that includes gender separation in schools or prisons, or access to parental leave.
3. Policies aimed at everyone, but that disproportionately affect women because of the way our culture is gendered: I put domestic violence, sexual exploitation and gender discrimination in that category.
I said ‘yes’ because good policy in these areas promotes the interests of women, which in turn moves us closer to our ultimate aim of achieving gender equality. That’s why Liberal Democrat Women’s policy group writes policy in these areas and acts as a hub for interested party members and specialists to start discussions about them.
But I also meant ‘no’, because calling it ‘women’s policy’, rather than ‘gender equality policy’ ignores that fact that changes will affect everyone, and suggests we don’t want or need men’s input.
LDW is not a silo. Membership is open to everyone, and we encourage men to join the discussion. We ask exactly the same of them as we would for anyone involved in the policy process: a healthy respect for evidence-based policy, even if what the data shows is outside of their experience.
I’d like to add a fourth category too:
4. Everything else.
Obviously women have an interest in every area of policy. Whether it’s healthcare, education, defence, the economy; of course over half the population has an interest in every single policy area. That includes policies that only directly affect men – like testicular cancer treatment funding, for example – because women will be secondarily affected, whether as family, medical professionals or carers.
But what I actually mean here is that gender is so pervasive that even a policy that has no intention of impacting one gender more than other, will probably do that. Everything from primary school recruitment campaigns to minimum wage rates affects each gender differently. As long as that is the case, and there is no good reason for the difference, we have not achieved gender equality.
The first step towards ending gender inequality, is to recognise it. This is why LDW also wants to help others with gender impact assessments on their policies.
So if you have a motion that you think could have a gender impact, you have an idea, or you want to know more about gender equality policy, come to us. We are happy to help.
* Alice Thomas stood for Islington Council in St George's ward this May, and she is also the Liberal Youth Liaison to Liberal Democrat Women. She joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since. She is a post-graduate law student, who spends her free time baking, and then running to make up for all the cake!
Thanks to this week’s guest writer, Ann Widdecombe, who faces the “sort of atheism” that “wouldn’t once have been said”.
Patreon news. All the clerihews are written and delivered. At least I think so. There were 80 of them altogether. If you pledged $3 or more per month and haven’t yet received your personally composed clerihew, please let me know and I’ll write one for you straight away.
On Monday, I summarised the appearances of Ed Davey at last weekend’s Social Liberal Forum conference in London. Here, I outline some of the views expressed and initiatives described by Ed on the day, including during a bloggers’ interview:
Using less energy
Fuel poverty is a serious issue. Energy inefficient building stock is a key cause.
The Green deal, Ed said, had not originally gone as well as it had been hoped. In Phase 1, there were just 250,000 assessments. Phase 2 is going better, and is on track to improve two million homes.
This year will see the first ever pilot of the Electricity Demand Reduction incentive, rewarding companies who invest in energy reduction, for example, in large factories. There is the Community Energy Strategy with a new approach to district heating networks and the encouragement of community energy reduction schemes.
Ed is very much looking forward to the Paris 2015 Climate conference, which he sees as extremely significant. He is very proud of the proposed EU 40% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and the work of the “Green growth group” of 14 EU country ministers.
Measuring fuel poverty
The old model used for measuring fuel poverty was inaccurate. Even the Queen was fuel poor under it. The measurement has now been improved and there is new policy thinking on fuel poverty, particularly focussing on rural poverty.
Ed is forming thoughts for the Energy section of the 2015 manifesto. His thoughts revolve around “Five green laws for a green liberal Britain” covering these areas:
Energy efficiency and renewable heat
Raising climate ambitions
Pressed by Matthew Hulbert, Ed said that we will need to emphasise our green credentials at the next election, focussing on 2 or 3 things which we have achieved and 2 or 3 things which we want to do. He reckons that renewables “really resonate with the public” whereas “the public do not really understand what ‘green jobs’ are”.
Working with the Conservatives
Given the stories circulating, I imagined the DECC Tory ministers being at daggers’ drawn with Ed. So, I asked him how things work in the department. He replied that “the Secretary of State makes the final decisions”. He says that he and Greg Barker certainly saw eye to eye and that he has a very convivial working relationship with Baroness Verma. Obviously, it was too early to make comment on Amber Rudd or Matthew Hancock, the two new ministers. Ed noted that it was well known that he didn’t see eye to eye with John Hayes and I notice that
Michael Fallon was left hovering in “no man’s land”.
Ed mentioned that the main tension he experiences is with the Treasury and Eric Pickles. He particularly called out the practice of Mr Pickles calling in onshore wind schemes which local councils have already approved. He described such a practice as being alien to the idea of local democracy.
Ed added that the Tories have an ideological approach that all regulation is inherently bad.
Events down under
Matthew Hulbert asked Ed about the recent Australian government to end its pollution levy. Ed said this was “Extremely disappointing…but they have a democratic mandate (to do this)”.
“Growth is green” said Ed, adding that most of British business does not get the credit it deserves for green action. He mentioned that “Insurers know what is happening to the climate….High capitalists are realising that they have to take climate change seriously”.
Countering the Green party
Caron Lindsay asked about countering the threat of the Green Party at next the election. Ed immediately answered “By telling everyone about our fantastic record..19.4% renewable generation of electricity…”. He said that our record is not perfect but it is fantastic where we have had influence.
For some strange reason, Labour put product standards under Defra. Through some quiet behind-the-scenes work, Ed got this responsibility put under the banner of DECC. Appliance standards have now improved dramatically. When compared to 2000 standards, the average new appliance is saving £200 per year due to better energy efficiency.
The nudge theory is being used, allowing people to act with better knowledge. A trial is being worked with John Lewis on white goods to show, alongside the sticker price, the lifetime running costs in “pounds, shillings and pence”, as Ed put it. This, he claimed, would encourage more switching to more efficient models without laws or regulations. The same approach could be applied to cars. He was quite excited about the idea.
Jonathan Calder asked about the promise which the Liberal Democrats made not to subsidise nuclear power generation. Ed said that what we actually promised, through Chris Huhne, were “no special favours” for the nuclear industry. Ed talked about the economic rationale for Hinkley Point C, which will start producing energy in 2023. He said that the pessimistic estimates about its viability do not usually take account of the likely increase in the “price of carbon”, which will rise gradually. He said that it is wrong to compare nuclear energy with the wholesale price now. It needs to be compared with the wholesale price plus the likely carbon price increase by 2023.
He said he had changed his view on nuclear power because of the “real and present danger” of climate change, adding that you cannot move from a fossil fuel economy to a non-fossil fuel economy overnight.
He described the non-nuclear approach to energy generation as “negligent” and “risky”, adding that his main concern regarding nuclear power is the price, not safety or waste disposal.
He said that if you compare the Hinkley C prices which the government has negotiated compared to future prices, including the carbon uplift, then “I think its is a good deal”.
Climate change deniers
Ed said “Beware of people talking as if they know the future”, adding: “Whatever comes out of the energy markets has to be low carbon”.
I asked about the recent BBC Trust judgment encouraging the corporation not to give undue airtime to climate change deniers. He answered that the debate should be based on facts and interests should be declared. “Would we tolerate daily interviews with creationists?” – he asked. He mentioned a recent report by 285 scientists, the “most peer-reviewed piece of science in human history”. He mentioned that “we are winning the argument”.
Ed said: “I am optimistic about the world’s ability to deal with climate change”, quoting three reasons: Washington, Beijing and Europe.
Ed reckons that Washington is at last taking climate change seriously. The latest coal power regulations announced by Gina McCarthy are “really quite dramatic”. With the latest energy efficiency ratings the US is “really moving”. From seeing what John Podesta, Obama’s new climate change adviser, is doing, Ed has concluded that “these guys are serious”.
China is really moving too. The People’s Congress is developing an ecological civilisation. They have realised that social unrest in China is linked to the environment. “If you only have one child and the rivers are toxic” you tend to be angry. The Chinese Communist party is behaving responsibly and it is all being done because of pollution and the fact that their eastern cities are greatly exposed to rising sea levels. China are investing in renewables and nuclear more than any other country. By coincidence, Ed was travelling to China the next day to meet their energy minister. He said that “they genuinely want to move” forward.
In Europe, he is very optimistic that the 40% renewable target will get through, and this may well, in turn, positively influence China and the USA.
Ed also mentioned good signs from India, where their new Prime Minister Modi has written about fighting climate change and previously took positive measures when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.
Miliband price freeze
This will reduce competition, reduce investments and bring higher prices in the end. He is convinced that the Tories will also offer some sort of election giveaway.
Ed said that he is working an idea, saying that we need something to say which is green and will help people with their bills.
The increase in Scottish renewables has happened under the union. We are already doing very well. Is Scotland really going to be able to do any better? – asked Ed. The impact of support for renewables is currently smoothed over 20 million households. Under an independent Scotland it would be smoothed over 2 million households.
Ed said that Salmond gets away with very poor arguments because no-one challenges him. Salmond needs to be challenged. He added that we can’t just argue on the empirics and the rational. We have got to argue on the emotional. “We’re a family. I will be heartbroken if Scotland leave the union”, he said.
* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist in Newbury and West Berkshire. He is Photo Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Liberal Burblings.
Does your race determine your biological age? Controversial research claims black people age more quickly – and are up to THREE YEARS older in health terms
Researchers say black people appear to be biologically three years older older than whites
Biological age differences by race increase up until ages 60-69, and then decline
Higher biological ages among blacks fully account for their higher mortality risk
Difficult though, eh?
Wonder if they corrected for poverty or not?