My prior reports on long distance trips in the UK  have been pretty horrific. In fact I didn’t bother to write up my last UK experience (June 2022). Whilst I found signs of improvement, the overall public charging experience was still wholly unacceptable. So remember, the UK experience is there are multiple (many) charging networks, many of which require accounts or apps or both. While contactless chargers are becoming more common, they are still not pervasive. So you need to have numerous accounts set up to ensure you don’t have to spend time battling poor network coverage to register, download an app and transact two stage verification of your credit card in pitch darkness, in driving rain at 11 o’clock at night. Trust me it happens.
So today I’m sitting in the north west of France in my Air BNB writing this post and feeling pretty happy. I left my trip planning rather late, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that I started looking at the French public charging network. Whilst I have read some scare stories about French charging, it seems these are way out of date. In my research I found pretty quickly that the French have done some really sensible things. First there are several organizations that provide pass cards that work on multiple networks. While some of the pass cards are regional, there are definitely ones that are national. I signed up for Chargemap, Izivia and OuestCharge. The latter is as the name implies regional, the others appear to be national. I did panic a bit because I left registration a little late, but all the cards arrived in under a week! Further I found I could communicate with a human being at Chargemap and they were really helpful.
As you signup for a pass you also go through two stage payment card verification, so the pass doubles up as a network independent account and charge card. I used a 22Kw SDEF charger (SDEF are the national electricity company), as soon as I could to establish everything worked, and I can report it did what it says on the tin! What’s really useful is that all charges are registered in one place and instead of getting emails from multiple network organizations, you get emails from one source, AND the ability to look at the pass account, either in the app or online and see your usage and payments.
Now for the biggest news. Remember, France generates some 90% of its electricity from nuclear power. The rate I have been paying here is €25 cents per KWh! Oh, plus €1.09 per charge. This compares with €46 cents in Ireland and 40, 45 and 49p in the UK. The networks in France are pretty similar to the UK and Ireland. There are perhaps fewer fast chargers, but a very good spread of 22KWh chargers. More importantly my experience to date is 100% usable. I can’t say the same for the UK.
I’m one week into a three week trip. Over the next couple of weeks I will be trying different networks and passes and will report. But initial impressions are that France and French networks have considerable advantages over the UK nd Ireland!
Is Putin mad or just bad? What are his aims? What will he do next? What can stop him?
The answer lies in Putin’s background.
May 7 2000, The former KGB officer who only eight months earlier had been an unknown bureaucrat, was to become the President of Russia. In his inaugural speech he said, “We should know our history and take lessons from it, and always remember those that created the Russian state . .. and made it great and powerful state . . . . I consider it my holy duty to unite the people of Russia, to collect its people around clear aims and tasks, and remember each day and every minute, that we have one Motherland, one people, and that together we have one common future”.
Putin’s origins are very ordinary, but he was obsessed from an early age with learning German and to join the KGB. In his early thirties he made it into the school for foreign-intelligence officers and a first foreign posting to Dresden. This was a small KGB office and seemed to be far removed from serious intelligence action. And Putin has always played down his role and its importance at that time. However the backwater status of the KGB office seems to have been a cover for creating and managing links with terror groups across West Germany in the seventies and eighties, and in particular with the Red Army Faction, the PLO, Libyans and others. The Stasi, supported by the Putin and the KGB, provided safe havens for the Red Army Faction – also known as the Bader-Meinhof Group who launched a series of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and bank robberies in the late 1960s , killed prominent West German industrialists and bankers in the seventies and bombed US military bases, killing and injuring many servicemen and women. This model of false flag operations has been a hall-mark of Putin’s methods throughout his career.
From Dresden Putin moved back to St. Petersburg. In the early nineties the city hosted an alliance between the KGB and organised crime. Putin became deputy mayor and worked closely with organised crime to establish monopolies on oil trade and other exports. This was a violent environment, the port was totally criminalised and Putin was at the centre of it. With his KGB allies and organised criminals they ran much of the city’s economy for their own benefit.
Putin’s move to Moscow was not an obvious move. But in the space of seven months he had moved from a provincial administrators role to head of the Control Department , responsible for ensuring the president’s orders were executed, and then a year later he was promoted to first deputy chief of staff in charge of regional government, and the third most powerful role in the Kremlin after the president. And after just three months in that role he was appointed head of the entire FSB organization. Four months after Putin’s FSB appointment, a St. Petersburg human rights activist, Galina Starovoitova was shot dead at the entrance to her apartment building. At that time she was St. Petersburg’s leading democrat and vocal advocate against corruption, and deeply involved in investigations into corruption in St. Petersburg and a direct threat to Putin.
By 1999 the then president Yeltsin was incredibly weak. And the FSB effectively carried out a coup to put their own man into the presidency. Putin was a compromise figure who was acceptable to all the various power players. For a long time Putin’s ascent had been seen as accidental, but the reality was it was nothing to do with chance. The FSB engineered Putin into the position of successor to Yeltsin.
In September 1999 just a few days after Putin was appointed prime minister, a car bomb ripped through an apartment building in the Dagestani town of Buynask killing sixty four people. The blast was considered a response by Chechens to Russian aggression. Four days later another blast ripped open an apartment building in central Moscow. Without presenting any evidence officials denounced the bombing as a Chechen attack. Four nights later a further blast occurred in the south of Moscow. One hundred and nineteen people died. Panic spread throughout Moscow. Suddenly newly appointed prime minister Putin was front and center, taking the initiative and spotlight from Yeltsin as commander in chief, leading a campaign of avenging airstrikes against Chechnya. Putin appeared as a judo playing action man dressed in fatigues; a breath of fresh air compared to Yeltsin and a shoe-in for the presidency. Authorities clammed up refusing to comment to press inquiries about the source of the blasts. A few years later a former FSB colonel attempted to investigate the bombings, and was tried and sentenced to four years in a military prison. There was clear understanding that the KGB men would do literally anything to achieve their aims.
On achieving the presidency Putin surrounded himself with former allies from St. Petersburg. One was Nikolai Patrushev, an experienced KGB operator, replaced Putin as head of the FSB and would remain in power for the whole of Putin’s first two terms of office. He was observed as very close to Putin. One person close to Patrushev said, He’s a Soviet person of the old school. He wants the Soviet Union only with capitalism. He sees capitalism as a weapon to restore Russia’s imperial might.” Another commented, “Patrushev is a visionary, powerful personality and an ideologist for the rebuilding of the Russian empire. He’s cleverer and wilier than Putin, and he’s the one that got Putin into these all these ideas.”
Closest to Putin was probably Igor Sechin. A long serving, under cover KGB officer and linguist, also from St. Petersburg. He served as secretary and gatekeeper to Putin. He was very close to Putin, carrying his bags whenever he travelled, moving into higher and higher posts as Putin’s career soared. When Putin became president he made Sechin deputy chief of his administration. He controlled all access to, and all the papers Putin saw. He also collected all the bribes! Behind his subservient manner lay a relentless ambition for control and endless capacity for intrigue and plots. People close to him said he hated and resented his master. While Sechin quietly and cleverly fed ideas to Putin, Putin regarded him as a mere servant of his regime, a bag carrier. At the beginning of their Kremlin careers in the mid-nineties both men were provided with apartments in the centre of Moscow. But a problem arose when Sechin invited Putin to his apartment and Putin realised Sechin’s was larger than his own. Those familiar with the incident recall that Putin had an envy problem. And he stepped away from Sechin as if he had betrayed him. Apparently, he couldn’t speak directly to Sechin for weeks after. It’s an important insight into Putin’s mind, that he will take offence at perceived slights and keep chips on his shoulder for years.
While still an inexperienced leader Putin was faced with disaster when a torpedo abord one of the country’s nuclear submarines, the Kursk, somehow exploded, sending the vessel and crew to the bottom of the sea. Advisors indicated everyone on board would have been killed immediately. Putin was initially paralysed with fear. He didn’t know how to deal with it. He played for time. The Norwegians and others called to help but Putin didn’t want anyone to find out that everyone was dead and refused help. All the lies about the situation made everything worse. On the tenth day Putin emerged in public. He flew to Vidyayevo, a closed military city above the Arctic Circle and home port of the submarine where relatives of the crew had gathered. The day before the Russian authorities had finally admitted that all 118 crew were dead and Putin was taking heat from the media and public for his inaction. Putin exploded with rage and claimed his security men had given him a report saying the women who appeared on TV were not relatives but prostitutes hired by the media to discredit him. When Putin arrived in Vidyayevo he faced real-life anger from wives and relatives who tore into him. Putin’s reaction was another sign of his deep seated paranoia and total lack of empathy. He blamed the bungled rescue operation on the pitiful state of the military which had been left to decay during Yeltsin’s regime. Shortly after, the media personality, Berezovsky, that had led the charge against Putin, fled the country before he could be questioned and charged. He never returned to Russia.
It’s highly likely that today, Putin is badly informed. No one wants to give him the truth and the bad news. He will be fed lies about the state of the military; how it has been defenestrated by corruption, led by incompetents and manned by largely uneducated, demotivated conscripts. Yet Putin will likely be demanding to be in total control, and making decisions on the basis of flawed information. It’s clear that Putin is replaying the strategy from Aleppo and Chechnya where he is focused on bombing civilians and homes, creating terror and expecting the Ukrainians to surrender large chunks of their country. Yet in contrast we see the Ukrainian army increasingly well equipped, motivated and focusing on killing Russians and destroying their military capability. This is confirmed by the death counts which show large numbers of military deaths on the Russian side and large numbers of civilian deaths on the Ukrainian side.
On this basis, providing the West is prepared to continue supplying modern weaponry to Ukraine, it’s possible that Ukraine will push Russian troops back and reclaim the East and South. The bad news is that this will take time and cost vast numbers of civilian lives. When this becomes clear, we might expect that Putin will not accept failure. This would not be an option for him. More likely (as the poker player), he will double down on the strategy, being more aggressive at taking out the Ukrainian military equipment supply lines; or broadening the conflict by attacking one or more Baltic states, or even the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Any one of these options would bring NATO into the conflict, which would escalate the a direct confrontation with the West. And let’s be clear, Putin would like this conflict to be with directly with the West. He would be gambling that Joe Biden and NATO would resist uncontrolled escalation, rather responding with limited actions. Under these circumstances the Kremlin and Russian people would almost certainly continue to support Putin.
The West should be considering right now how they bring this conflict to a close. The best way to do that is to accelerate the destruction of the Russian military with injection of overwhelming levels of advanced military equipment and intelligence support and concurrently apply the harshest levels of economic sanctions that demonstrate to the Russian people that the war is a lost cause.
Reference: Putin’s People, How the KGB Took Back Russia and then Took On the West. Catherine Belton, William Collins 2020 ISBN 978-0-00-757881-8
In the last thirteen days our world has changed utterly. We have been unwilling bystanders to a truly mediaeval war in which peaceful, innocent people have been bombed out of their homes because their next door neighbour wants to turn the clock back to restore historical boundaries and powers. The result is the most serious humanitarian crisis In Europe since the 1940s. We are all horrified to watch the never ending images of death, destruction, but also the pitiful images of the sick, the disabled, the young, the dying and the extraordinary number of refugees fleeing their homes to the West. Our response is rightly to make Russia a pariah state, with which we will not trade, allow travel to or from, and to target key individuals with punitive legal and financial sanctions.
Except that it’s not that easy. Russia supplies some 40% of the west’s oil and gas, and several large European countries feel unable to stop buying Russian energy because of the huge damage it would do to their economies. So we continue to buy Russia’s oil and gas at inflated prices, that were caused by the outbreak of war, and effectively fund Russia’s war effort.
And until last week the war had completely eclipsed any thought of climate change, until the IPCC’s latest assessment report was published on 27th February and predictably, mostly ignored by the mass media. The report says the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.
When I say that the world has changed utterly, I am of course referring to political geography. However, it’s true to say that societal change has so far been primarily impacting on Ukraine and it’s immediate neighbours, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe. But this will change. For most of us in Western Europe we will be welcoming hundreds of thousands and even millions of refugees. We are and will continue to welcome them regardless of how many arrive (except for the UK, but that’s another story). This will put a serious unplanned load on public finance. But even so, the impact of refugees will be less serious than the impact of cost inflation on energy. So for now the UK, Germany, Holland and others are putting the brake on cancelling Russian oil and gas imports because they are taking the approach of minimising their own societal impact.
I argue this tactic is catastrophic. It hands control back to Russia. Instead Europe should plan to cancel oil and gas supplies in the very short term; in fact immediately. We should use this strategy to force and accelerate our response to climate change, something that, despite all the warnings, hasn’t happened for decades. So this is a major opportunity that we should seize.
I heard an interview yesterday with Caroline Lucas, the sole Green Party representative to the British House of Commons. Caroline is a very cogent advocate for green strategy. But when asked how to address the looming oil and gas crisis she argued, “build more wind turbines!” Strangely she focused exclusively on the supply side the problem. I suggest that while we have to sort the supply side, the massive opportunity is in the demand side. Following last year’s COP meeting in Glasgow there is unquestionable public support for change in energy usage, not just in the UK, but throughout Europe.
Let me give some examples of what we need to do:
Reduce speed limits on roads. There have been various studies that suggest this single change could save significant fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. An authoritative EU report showed 12 – 18% fuel consumption and emissions by reducing maximum speed to 110Km/hr. As an emergency measure we might anticipate a maximum speed of 90 Km/hr to have proportionately greater savings.
Dramatically reduce cost of public transport. Interestingly reducing maximum speeds provides a powerful argument for switching to public transport. With the added incentive of cost saving, we could again envisage proportionately greater fossil fuel and emissions savings.
Change motor taxation schemes to favour low milage and penalise high milage. Increase tax on personal fuel consumption and provide discounts or rebates on business fuel consumption that is directly linked to the cost of living index.
Provide (business tax based) incentives to make “electric car sharing” highly attractive, to both accelerate transition to EV usage, AND incentivise single or no car ownership.
Encourage (with grant and tax incentives) transition to electric home heating.
Provide home and business heating energy usage incentives and disincentives to influence both immediate behavior (reduce thermostat setting) and investment behavior (insulation, electric heating systems etc).
Encourage (by price and tax incentives) behaviour based usage pattern for heating plans that allow gas suppliers to manage down gas usage and introduce a form of planned rationing.
Provide all consumers with generous grants for transitioning away from fossil fuels, making it clear the level of generosity will decrease year on year. In other words act now!
These are just some ideas and examples. But most of these could be implemented very rapidly. And if we were listening to the climate scientists these types of schemes would already be in widespread usage. But in the very short term, when we stop using Russian gas and oil, rationing is high probability. Frankly so what? Compared to what the Ukrainians are living through, fuel rationing would be a small inconvenience. And the abrupt shock of rationing would be a great stimulus to consumers and business to cut dependency on fossil fuels. As I finish this piece I note the UK has just announced they are committing to end use of Russian fuels by the end of the year! Clearly the UK government hasn’t got the message yet – we all need to share the pain!
We watch and wait with growing horror. Out of nowhere we are now facing a European war that we always thought could never happen, ever again. Our governments along with the US are cobbling together a consensus on sanctions, but we know they are worse than useless. Russia has amassed a huge war chest ready for this moment and there will be no monetary pain. And anyway, China will always trade with Russia.
We know that Putin wants to reverse European history since 1989 and restore the USSR to what he perceives was its former glory. Although his monologues suggest he is a madman, in reality his course of action has been obvious since 2014 when he marched into Crimea and the world stood by. We have shown him that he can act with impunity.
We understand that his military advisors have told him that he must act swiftly, because his troops are in an incredibly harsh environment and will lose battle readiness very quickly. So we should expect tanks will roll in the next few days. There are numerous scenarios; the most benign is tanks roll into the existing parts of Lugansk and Donetsk that the Russians already control. More likely Russia will move to embrace the entirety of Lugansk and Donetsk. But equally likely is that Russia will move troops currently in Belarus the some 40Kms down the road into Kyiv, with disastrous consequences.
Forget the sanctions, the west has left Ukraine to fend for itself! Western governments have withdrawn their diplomats and advised their citizens to leave immediately! Ukraine is just starting to mobilise. They are bravely talking up their capabilities; how they will fight to the last man and woman. But you can forget that. The Russians will dominate the entirety of Ukraine in days; there will be thousands of deaths and terrible hardship, and we will watch on the Internet and on television and bemoan how useless our governments are. What could any of us have done?
Well there is something we can do? Could we mobilise public opinion throughout Europe and quite simply travel in our tens of thousands to Ukraine. Although some airlines have stopped flying, Ryanair are continuing to fly to Ukraine. We should encourage Ryanair to put on MORE flights. We could encourage top bands and performers, U2, Ed Sheeran, Queen, the Rolling Stones, Springsteen et al to mobilize and encourage their followers to travel. The Ukrainians are an entrepreneurial nation, and we should encourage them to create informal, pop-up festivals with transport and basic accommodation and supports a few kilometres behind the line of contact. Could it be done? If we waited for governments it wouldn’t happen. But if there was a groundswell of popular opinion that we can’t allow the worst case to happen, miracles could occur. The Russians would hate it! But even the Russians might think twice about the level of publicity that would inevitably occur!
Back in 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism happened because ordinary people acted. Marie and I remember the emotion of visiting the site of the Pan-European Picnic where ordinary East Germans walked, cycled and drove in their ancient Trabants for hundreds of miles to the little town of Sopron on the Hungarian/Austrian border and simply walked past the border guards.
Here in Ireland we are acutely aware that borders can be drawn by powerful people with no thought at all about the consequences for ordinary people. Today we have the technology to mobilise. Much of the time it might be said that it’s mostly used for nefarious purposes. But here’s an opportunity to use the technology for good!
On the Border: My Blog Post on how we visited the place where the fall of the Iron Curtain started in 1989!
The tactics used by the tobacco industry to resist government regulation of its products are well known including public relations campaigns, buying scientific and other expertise to create controversy about established facts, funding political parties, hiring lobbyists to influence policy, using front groups and allied industries to oppose tobacco control measures, pre-empting strong legislation by pressing for the adoption of voluntary codes or weaker laws, and corrupting public officials. Do we for one minute imagine that exactly the same tactics are not being deployed by the fossil fuel industries?
A Few Industry Examples
Over and over, ExxonMobil has misled the public about climate change by telling the public one thing and then saying and doing the opposite behind closed doors. While their tactics have evolved from outright, blatant climate denial to more subtle forms of lobbying and propaganda, their end goal remains the same. And that’s to stop action on climate change.
Exxon has known that its products would likely cause dangerous global warming since at least the 1970s. By way of its trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry as a whole has been on notice even longer — since the 1950s
From the mid-2000s through to the 2010s, ExxonMobil and other fossil-fuel companies gradually “evolved” their language, in the words of one ExxonMobil manager, from blatant climate denial to more subtle and insidious forms of delay. So while their outright denial has tapered off, their propaganda hasn’t stopped. It’s in fact shifted into a higher gear and is now operating with extraordinary sophistication. A recent study also identified systematic misuse of language to obfuscate greenwashing, fossil-fuel solutionism, technological optimism, and so on.
Summarization of article by Geoffrey Supran, Harvard Gazette, September 2021
According to a Sky News report one of the few facilities in the world that uses carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions from hydrogen production, has the same carbon footprint as 1.2 million gasoline cars. In a first-of-its-kind investigation into the Shell-owned and operated plant, lobbying group Global Witness claims it emitted far more greenhouse gases than it captured. While it has prevented five million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere since 2015, it has released another 7.5 million tons, according to the group. In fairness Shell has refuted the claims. I’m sure we will discover in due course whether this is a great example of greenwashing, fossil-fuel solutionism or technological optimism, or all three!
On 26 May 2021, the District Court of the Hague rendered a judgment in the case Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth) v Royal Dutch Shell that can rightly be called revolutionary. This is the first judgment of its kind in which a multinational corporation is held responsible, in part based on international law, for its contribution to climate change. While of course we have to await the appeal, that no doubt will be filed by Shell, the potential effects for Shell and for similar corporations are significant. The Court found that plaintiffs could bring a class action in the common interest of preventing dangerous climate change, since the interests of current and future generations of Dutch residents ‘are suitable for bundling so as to safeguard an efficient and effective legal protection of the stakeholders’.
According to the Economist, of all the oil majors, Shell’s attempts are the most intriguing. The importance of oil in its business has diminished; measured in years of production, its reserves are lower than those of its Western peers—ExxonMobil, BP, Total, and Chevron. Shell is bolder than its rivals in forecasting huge global demand for clean power over the next 30 years. And it is the only firm to link its executive’s pay to progress in reducing emissions across its operations, including sales of products such as petrol. However, despite the urgency to tackle climate change, Shell has no intention of going all in on a post-carbon future. The reason is investor support. The current business delivers over 10% returns on capital employed in exploration and refining. The returns on cleaner energy projects are less risky but with a far lower return of around 4%. Shell believes it can’t get ahead of its investors, who want returns on a par with fossil fuel based projects.
Even more worrying, Shell has a clear strategy to harvest the developing world, in just the same way that the tobacco industry did as it came under regulatory pressure. Thanks to rising populations and incomes, energy growth will be sustained for decades, and pressure to reduce carbon emissions on developing countries is much less than the developed world. This explains why Shell sets carbon footprint reduction targets per unit rather than in aggregate. So Shell is less constrained than it appears.
It’s Not Just the Fossil Fuel Industries
“There is nothing that cannot be corrupted, nothing good that cannot be transformed into something bad. And there is no clearer example than the great climate land grab.” George Monbiot, The Guardian, 26th January 2022
By now we all understand that by defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored. We might also understand that efforts to move to a more sustainable environment are woefully inadequate. Yet there is an insidious campaign to suggest we can fix this problem through “offsetting”. I am indebted to George Monbiot for drawing our attention to the Shell “Driving Carbon Neutral” service. This scheme offers fleet managers the facility to “offset their vehicle emissions through the purchase of carbon credits from a portfolio of carefully chosen nature projects”. The firms’ drivers purchase their fuel in the normal way and use a Shell card that tracks usage and enables calculation of CO2 emissions and for Shell to purchase carbon credits to the equivalent to the fleet’s emissions. Of course many companies are publicly committing to become carbon neutral, and for them this is an easy, minimal cost approach to being able to make a big dent in their company’s target. All without having to change any working practices!
However, look more closely and observe the projects are highly controversial. The concept of rewilding – is to restore living systems such as forests, salt marshes, peat bogs and the sea floor to their natural state in which they extract carbon dioxide from the air and lock it up in trees or waterlogged soil and mud. But frequently the offset projects have the objective or protecting wilderness areas that already exist, rather than establishing new carbon sinks. Or to redevelop existing areas of highly stable carbon storage making them less secure. Shell and other offset schemes promote huge forest plantings. But many areas of forest will inevitably be incinerated by the increasing wildfires. And what’s really unacceptable is that fossil fuel companies simply continue business as usual, using the offset schemes to delay as long as possible the time when fossil fuel usage must stop.
Offsetting emissions is at the core of organizations’ and countries’ commitments to achieve net zero. And early experience is revealing that offsetting projects frequently fail to deliver on objectives, and sometimes result in higher emissions than the status quo. There is a great urgency for independent governance on offsetting projects that doesn’t involve conflicts of interest observable in current offset schemes.
Reduction in absolute emissions is critical. The only way to achieve this is by taxing (specifically large) corporations. It would be appropriate to simultaneously provide financial support for provably green projects to encourage fossil fuel companies to transition.
At this stage we have to follow the money. For example, we know the US Climate effort is hugely dependent upon the Biden Build Back Better bill which is stymied by just two senators. Michael Tomasky in the New York Review of Books reports that “Manchin takes in a significant amount of corporate cash including from the oil and gas industries”. He also drives a Maserati Levante! This is just one incredibility important example, but there must be countless examples of cash led lobbying that should be regulated. We need to hold politicians in all developed countries to account for regulating lobbying and call it for what it is, fossil fuel industry bribery.
My wife and I bought a new Renault Zoe ZE50 in July 2020. It’s a fantastic city/local car, knocks spots off any ICE for cost of ownership, driveability, handing, comfort etc. The WLTP range is 395 Kms, and we normally get 300 – 330 Kms in winter and 340 – 380 in warmer weather. We’ve taken it on longer trips up to 150Km from home here in Ireland and explored the charging network with mostly good experiences. I blogged a six month usage report in January 2021.
Last week we headed out to the UK to see family members and friends that we haven’t seen since 2019 to deliver Christmas presents in person. This post is the story of our trip, but it’s really an assessment of how well BEV cars and the charging infrastructure work for serious journeys. The post is a little longer, and more detailed than my normal, but I believe it paints an important picture that is not widely understood!
MONDAY Our plan was to drive from Cork to Rosslare, then ferry to Pembroke Dock and then drive to Essex, returning via Gloucester and Bristol. Two days before departure we were advised that our ferry would be out of service for technical reasons and we were rebooked out of Dublin. I spoke to the ferry company and found that there were no good alternatives, so we decided to leave very early Monday morning and drive to Dublin to get the 0800 sailing. The original plan was to leave home at 4am, and including a stop at a fast CCS 50Kw charger just 10Kms short of the port, we would get to Rosslare in good time for the 08:45 ferry. However while the distance to Dublin is 77kms more, we also have to factor in much heavier traffic and an earlier, 0800 ferry. So we left home at 2am with full battery, planning to drive 240Kms to Naas, get a fast charge and then arrive at Dublin Port in time to top up with the fast charger there.
Of course we expected to be cold. We know from experience using the heater continuously reduces the range. So we dressed warmly, just like we would have done back in the 1950s in a Ford Popular with no heating, or even the horse and cart! However, what we didn’t factor in was the huge impact of the ambient overnight temperature on the battery. We knew it was going to be cold and planned for lower range accordingly. But on the night the temperature was -4⁰C. It rapidly became clear we were losing over 40% usable power and hence range; we wouldn’t make Naas. I had planned alternative stops, but nothing so soon. We saw a services sign with an E symbol and stopped, fortunate to find an eCars CCS 50Kw fast charger by chance. We took onboard 21Kw in 47 minutes, slow but sufficient to get to Dublin. Note a 50Kw charger should deliver 21Kw in 25 minutes. Throughout the entire journey I only encountered two chargers that operated at the rated speed. When I looked at the email bill later I found an overstay charge of €4.60! Surely the reason we were overstayed was because the charger was so slow. Not impressed.
At Dublin Port, the chargers are easy to find at the Circle K gas station right at the end of the motorway. We had 30 minutes before ferry check-in, and just enough time to take onboard 20Kw and save time on the other side of the Irish Sea. However, the eCars charger gave me a card error! I am an account holder and I assumed this part would be easy. Later that day I discovered my card expiry date had expired and to fix would have taken minutes. But the charger didn’t give that granularity of error message. So we skipped the charge and boarded the ferry. Later I checked my email, and I definitely didn’t receive an alert from eCars to update my payment method. Message to eCars, please provide alerts for card issues and review charger error messages and assume the user is in a hurry and will need clear explanation of the problem. Note also my experience in the UK is that it is common (although far from universal) to allow contactless payment without registration for additional cost. Why is eCars not offering this option?
My plan included a contingency charge just outside the ferry port at Holyhead beside Morrisons. Easily found, the charger is a PodPoint Genie Type 2 43Kw. Genie require registration. Took about 10 minutes. One hour and eleven minutes to get 24.9Kw. I calculate the charger was operating at just less than 50% of the advertised speed. Cost 42p per Kw!
From Holyhead we headed east on the A55 North Wales Coastal Expressway and M56 and then south on the M6. Next planned stop is the Norton Canes Services on the M6 Toll. This is 267 Kms and we start out with sufficient charge. But the weather is still cold and the range drops badly. My backup plan is Stafford Services North, which is 27 Kms closer and gives just that bit of safety margin. The traffic on the M6 is heavy, four lanes full of trucks. We note the hard shoulder has been turned into the fourth (so-called Smart) lane and ponder on how a BEV might fare if it ran out of charge and stopped suddenly. Probably be flattened by the heavy trucks. The charger at Stafford is Gridserve (previously Ecotricity). This is contactless, fast and we get a near full charge in in 60 minutes. Cost 30p per Kw. Chatting to other users they agree this is a great service, and how the norm is mostly woefully inadequate.
From Stafford we hope to get to our final destination near Stansted Airport, using the M6 Toll, A14 and M11. All fast roads for 277 Kms. But again we are looking at reduced range and as we approach Cambridge I invoke yet another backup plan to visit the Cambridge Services. Bad move. The chargers are Ionity, which are very flashy but prove impossible to register on site or operate by contact. Phone number is not answered. Checking on the web later I note the cost is 69p/Kw contactless and 35p/Kw with subscription! Continuing, we are running low on charge! We figure we might detour off the M11 and use the old A11 which would be more direct. However the roundabout at Great Chesterfield is closed and we are told to use the earlier junction to get to the old road. Uncertainty about the length of a diversion means the M11 is the best option, even though it is not the most direct route, and we are getting very low on juice. We press on and arrive at our destination with just 12% charge and red flashing lights. No pressure!
TUESDAY My sister in law tells me there are new chargers in the village. I go take a look and find they are four BP Pulse Type 2 3.7Kw chargers in a small, new housing estate with apartments. Clearly intended for local overnight use. I register and set up my card. Try out the system which works fine. The BP Pulse app is very useful, tells me there is a fast charger at Clavering, just 10 Kms away. I stop the slow charge and head off. The fast charger is beside the Cricketers Pub, evidently owned by Jamie Oliver’s dad. Great idea for encouraging pub customers. “I’m just nipping out to get a charge!!” To use I just put the device ID into the app and select the charger type. No problem at all. Starting speed is slow, and after 43 minutes it has given 16.3Kw at 29p /Kw. Not fast enough to be classed as fast charging methinks.
WEDNESDAY I go back the following day and do similar to get a full charge. There are three other users there, and they report their nightmare experiences of nearly running out of charge. All are incredibly pleased to find the Clavering option in an area which seems to be an BEV desert.
THURSDAY We head out to Gloucester. We stop at the Holiday Inn High Wycombe on the M40 where there is a BP Pulse CCS 50. It seems the BP network (2500 devices across the UK now) is focused on locations where users can make use of the charge time. Getting coffee, using a gym, doing shopping etc. Makes sense. We get coffee, and lo and behold I get an alert, charging stopped. Able to restart no problem, but no indication of reason. In Gloucester we stay at the Ibis Hotel, where interestingly there is one BP Pulse Type 2 3.7Kw. I hook up and plan to leave it overnight. However after a while I get an alert, charge stopped. There was another user using the other socket when I commenced, and I surmise as he/she unhooked, I got knocked off. This spooks me and I decide to try somewhere else the following day.
FRIDAY Tried the BP Pulse CCS 50Kw just down the road at the Gloucester Holiday Inn. Didn’t work. BTW I called the BP hotline from there and also the previous evening and got no answer both times. Not impressed!
Later that day stopped in Stroud. In the carpark there are four contactless dual Instavolt CCS 50/Chademo 50 devices. Brilliant performance – 29Kw in 35 minutes, only downside in cost 40p/Kw. Speaking to a VW ID3 driver he says the facility is well used and does a great job. He also speaks about other local options that don’t come close in terms of speed, reliability and cost.
MONDAY/TUESDAY Heading out to the ferry home from Pembroke Dock we stop at the Holiday Inn, Newport. Another BP Pulse CCS50 location. Charged 21.1 Kw in 63 minutes which is very slow, but the coffee was good. Heading down the M4 we met a “MOTORWAY CLOSED” sign which was pretty disconcerting, however the added distance wasn’t excessive and the satnav worked perfectly. But we are reminded that the potential for extended diversions is always there. Later on we stop at Pont Abraham where there’s another contactless Gridserve. We charge some 21 Kw which will probably allow us to get to the ferry and then the whole way from Rosslare to Cork with no further charge required. However back in Ireland, we need a coffee stop and it gives us the opportunity to try out the eCars CCS50 fast chargers close to the port for future reference. Disappointed to find these are unacceptably slow, 6.3 Kw in 29 minutes! We arrive home and note we didn’t actually need the stop outside Rosslare. But it’s always good to have contingency.
Urgent Actions for BEV Manufacturers AND Charging Network Operators. Charger network operators need to fix their service. Ireland and UK networks are pretty dreadful. Few fast chargers deliver the rated speed. Our experience is stop times are usually double what they need be. In addition charger reliability and usability is way below acceptable standard, as is support. Telephone support calls are rarely answered. BEV manufacturers need to acknowledge that public charging is an integral part of the driving experience. They don’t need to copy Tesla by providing their own network, but they do need to work with network operators to establish better car/charging integration and integrate journey planning and range management into the cars. The case for industry standards around power usage and charging times is urgent. Right now there’s widespread breaching of the Trade Descriptions Act!
A Complete Change of Mindset. This is not business as usual! Our approach to longer journeys has to change dramatically. I will say that myself and my wife are long time intrepid travellers in a wide range of scenarios and we didn’t lose the plot at any stage. But we can imagine that for many people the level of stress may be considerable. When you arrive at a charging point and there’s a 4 hour queue; or the point isn’t working and the service desk isn’t answering; and this is already your second level of contingency! From the outset, all conversations about electric vehicles has focused on range anxiety. In my view this is misleading. It suggests that larger batteries will solve the problem. I suggest the real issue is “journey planning” ensuring as a matter of course that you do not exceed your safe range, that there are always two levels of contingency throughout the journey, either as planned additional range in the battery or alternative in-range charge points.
Contingency planning. Whether it’s cold weather or heavy traffic, roadworks or diversions, or inoperative chargers, there are many unforeseen situations that may occur. For this trip I had plotted multiple options to allow for contingencies. In practice these mostly worked well. The cold weather certainly had a major impact on our range, and increased the number of stops. Our inability to access the Ionity chargers at Cambridge could have been a bad mistake with bad outcomes. Frankly we were just lucky. I hadn’t really expected to need that stop and hadn’t registered in advance. In future I would certainly put more contingencies into the plan. And detailed trip planning is essential.
Time planning. Ferries represent hard deadlines. I had left lots of time going up to Dublin but it was touch and go. Slow (fast) chargers are clearly very common. A 50Kw rated device is no guide at all. Similarly we were lucky that we didn’t have to queue. When I was at Clavering I had three people behind me and two of them were desperate, down to their last few kilowatts. I wasn’t in a hurry and was prepared to cut my charge short but they weren’t in a hurry, they simply needed the charge. And I met several people who said they would happily help others in a crisis.
The Irish charging system is very different to the UK. eCars is part of the ESB semi state operation and is pretty ubiquitous. There are other smaller operators also. With eCars you need an account, contactless isn’t possible. But eCars just looks and feels like a semi state body – they are slow to respond to device problems. Their devices operate way below the rated speed. And simple things like not informing me that my credit card was out of date is unacceptable commercial practice. BEV users on journeys will frequently be under time pressure and eCars gives the impression they are not very responsive. Given they are an effective monopoly, pressure should be brought to bear, either by encouraging greater competition or regulation.
The UK charging system. However bycomparison theUK system is like the wild west. There are so many operators and networks that it’s hard to know where to start. I found Gridserve very good on both contactless price and speed. In future I would look for this network and have them as my first choice where available. Similarly Instavolt. BP Pulse have good coverage and useful locations outside gas stations. But their speed and reliability and support are not there yet. I would recommend these three operators based on my experience. I fully accept there are other options and these will change over time with personal experience, usage and network development.
Journey time and average speed. Concerns with range have an impact on driving style and average speed. In general use locally we don’t use the Renault ECO system – it’s very sluggish, aggressively recovering power on slowing down whenever possible and discouraging excessive use of power by increasing the effort needed on the accelerator. However, we have found that on longer runs using ECO and manual control (no cruise control) we recover much more power, and avoid situations where the cruise control attempts to keep a constant speed uphill. On this journey we generally kept to around 100Kms/hr which delivers somewhere between 14.5 and 15Kw/100 Kms. Increase speed to 120 Kms/hr and the range reduces significantly. It should be remembered that much of the UK driving was on crowded roads with heavy traffic and we rarely had the opportunity to match the speed limit even if we wanted to. Across the week we travelled about around 1600 Kms in total. Driving time including charging stops was roughly 25 hours. That’s an overall average speed of 64 Kms/hr. Like everyone we would stop for rest breaks and coffee, but with frequent charging the overall stop time was far in excess of normal.
Urgent requirement for better route/charging planning technology. I will tell you there’s a lot of mental maths going on driving distance in a BEV. While this is good for the brain, it’s clear there’s a need for an BEV route planning app. Example: Set preferred charger suppliers/apps; punch in the route, with estimated range based on car make and model, traffic conditions, weather, charger status; get a list of options together with real time alerts on charger status issues.
We need to recognise that the EV market is an early technology market that will, as do all new technologies, undergo a huge wave of innovation in the next few years. And we need to recognise that BEVs are part of a new market in which charging is an integral component. Of course BEVs are brilliant. They are fast, smooth and quiet. But right now they are only really suitable for city dwellers that don’t stray too far from their own or well proven chargers. Longer journeys need pioneers who are prepared to experience some inconvenience. Early adopters will jump in, but we should be wary of encouraging mass adoption before the infrastructure is fit for purpose.
And it’s not just infrastructure. We should be giving the manufacturers feedback on how they can engineer BEVs to provide the driver with for better range information; to integrate range predictions and charger waypoints into satnavs. Also to integrate BEV journey planning and charger waypoint status into the user experience. We can see already that there are great apps available that provide good data. I would advocate for industry standards for BEV journey data that allowed artificial intelligence based tools to support the driver in making route and charging decisions.
If mainstream journalists pickup on the issues I and other early adopters are experiencing, they will warn prospective buyers to wait if they are looking for a general purpose vehicle. Similarly, we should be wary about an outbreak of BEV accidents. Driving down the M6 I shuddered to think of what would happen to an inexperienced BEV driver and their car if it stopped suddenly in the “smart lane” in the path of 45 ton trucks right behind them. It wouldn’t take more than a couple of such tragic accidents to give BEVs a bad name.
We have an immature market. There is clearly an imperative to make the transition away from fossil fuels as soon as possible, but if we are not careful, there will be a backlash against BEVs as impractical to replace the typical family car.
Finally would we repeat the exercise? The answer is yes, but preferably not in winter and we would be even better prepared given our experience.
Apps used: Zap-Map, PodPoint, eCar Connect, BP Pulse,
If we needed an anthem for COP meetings here it is. A troubled song, written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and in McCartney’s view ruined by Phil Spector. Spector’s modifications angered McCartney to the point that when he made his case in the English High Court for the Beatles’ disbandment, he cited the treatment of “The Long and Winding Road” as one of six reasons for doing so. [Wiki]
It’s extraordinary that there was so much hype over COP26. Who in their right minds would have held out any hope of Boris Johnson and his side-kicks presiding over a successful international agreement? Or that 192 parties would reach consensus. In the event we had a muted end to a disastrous conference in which China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia, and at the last minute India, defied all attempts to save the planet. No surprise!
The goals and outcomes can be scored as: Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. FAILED
Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. FAILED
Mobilise finance FAILED
Work together to deliver FAILED
While COP26 has been struggling to make sense, I was busy reading James Lovelock’s new and manifestly last book, Novacene. Always the optimist Lovelock (at the grand old age of 102!!!) encourages us to not be depressed with the apparent failure of the human species and the Anthropocene.
Lovelock looks forward to the next era of the Novacene – the age of hyper intelligence. The title of the last chapter is Envoi, his poem of farewell and we must infer his farewell to life. Lovelock reminisces on his time consulting to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1960s, where incidentally I myself followed in his footsteps in 2007. He recalls how the biologists asked the question, ”How do we detect the presence of life on other planets?” He replied that it was pointless to seek Earth-type life on other planets, especially at a time when we humans were largely ignorant of our own environment and almost wholly ignorant of other planets. This upset the senior biologists, who were convinced that the only possible form of life must be based on DNA. Accordingly he was summoned to speak to the senior NASA space engineer who asked, “How would YOU seek life on another planet?” He replied that he would seek an entropy (lack of order) reduction on the planetary surface. He had come to realize that Life in the broader meaning of the word, organized its environment. And it was from that exchange that the Gaia concept was born.
The theme of the new book is that we are now, in this 21st century at the point where the Anthropocene is ending; that the human species has left the world in crisis on many levels, but primarily man has triggered a level of global warming that will be very hard to reverse. Lovelock believes that the already exploding use of artificial intelligence will lead very rapidly, probably in this century, to the development of a hybrid species we might refer to as cyborgs. And that will herald the Novacene, the age of hyper intelligence. That it will be the cyborgs, with massively greater intellectual capability and discipline, facilitated by the Gaia global system, that will eventually bring the world’s environment back to at least to some level of sustainability.
This isn’t to say that the cyborgs will supersede humans, rather in Lovelock’s opinion, they will coexist and collaborate in, to use his phrase, entropy reduction. After the disgraceful display of entropy in Glasgow over the past two weeks, it’s hard to believe we can recover from that. However the last word must go to Lovelock. “We should not feel degraded by these, our offspring. . . . with the appearance of humans, just 300,000 years ago , this planet, alone in the cosmos, attained the capacity to know itself. . . . We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings.”
Novacene, The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence. James Lovelock with Bryan Appleyard. Allen Lane, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-0241399361
The long and winding road That leads to your door Will never disappear I’ve seen that road before It always leads me here Leads me to your door
There’s nothing wrong with protest. It serves a valuable purpose. But I suspect I’m not alone in thinking that Greta Thunberg leading tens of thousands of mostly young people in singing, “You can shove your climate crisis up your A**e” is not very helpful.
If we attempt to understand the protest it seems the general idea is that the “establishment” otherwise known as the UN, world governments, the scientific community, big business et al are not moving fast enough to save the planet. That the COP26 process is repeating the previous twenty five COP meetings which manifestly did nothing to achieve measurable outcomes of emissions or sustainability.
Naturally I (and I suspect everyone of a certain age) has huge sympathy with the youth movement. I have children, grandchildren and a great grandchild. I know the future outlook is incredibly scary. But experience tells us that blindly protesting against the establishment has never been a successful strategy. The fact is most of the world still marches to a democratic, capitalist model and making change is always going to be slow. Equally I have great sympathy with the idea that COP26 participants will make some level of commitment, but that a) the commitments are almost certainly going to undershoot the level that will ensure the planet keeps the global temperature rise at or below 1.5 degrees, and b) even those inevitably less than inspiring commitments will not be met.
The commitments made in 2015 were in the most part completely ignored. Yes there’s a much greater understanding of the problem now, but we know all the stakeholders are constrained by their existing governance models. While most climate deniers have gone quiet, the lobbyists haven’t gone away, nor the legacy industries, nor all the competing demands for priority action, funding and resources. The protesters want instant action. In the real world this isn’t going to happen. I suggest that the protesters, particularly school children find ways in each of their own countries, to maintain pressure on their governments by targeting their protests in a manner that keeps the topic in the public eye in a manner that brings the broader population along with them.
For example, there has been the hugely successful school protest since 2018. I suggest school children alter their protests to focus on getting concrete action in the very short term. How about refusing to go to school by car; requiring their own school and local authority to support safe travel to school by bus, by bike by walking. And as soon as this protest gets traction, require commitment to a deadline to introduce electric buses. This action could also be applied to travel to sports and other non-school activities.
Another example might be for again school children to create a scorecard for their local authority on climate actions and to publicise commitments and deliveries.
And most young people have parents and grandparents. We might hope that young people would be agitating amongst their family group which of course will comprise of members of all manner of professions, occupations, opportunities for influence. I would hope that all of these protesters could show us their own and their families’ plans for sustainability. It would be helpful if schools introduced climate relevant topics on the syllabus.
I fully expect the outcomes of COP26 to be underwhelming. But this shouldn’t be a moment for despair. It should be a time for the entire planet to put its shoulder to the wheel. And young people everywhere are intimately involved in communities worldwide and are in a perfect position to exert influence immediately. Maybe this is harder work, and probably less fun than simply protesting general negativity against amorphous government bodies or apparently clueless political leaders. But as we have shown in the last two pandemic years, concerted individual action is incredibly powerful. Most of us are members of wider family groups. It’s in our own interest to propagate positive thinking from the ground up. We know most of our politicians are ineffectual, assailed on all sides by competing influences and lobbyists. But if there’s a groundswell of popular opinion that says, we have to do this, and fast, our so called leaders might just do the right thing!
I’m reading a very interesting book by William Catton called Overshoot. Amazingly this was first published in 1980, yet describes where our world is today, how we arrived at the current mess and what we need to do to extricate ourselves.
Catton’s primary thinking is that since the start of the Industrial Revolution we have lived in a world without limits. Our behaviour can only be described as “limitless”. Essentially we have used fossil fuels to create amazing technologies and power huge endeavours that would have been completely impossible without them. But we overlooked that fossil fuels have been millions of years in the making, are irreplaceable in their current form any time soon, and are causing an existential problem for the ecosystem that we are utterly reliant upon. Catton calls this “the Age of Exuberance”, in which growth is central to everything we do.
We can observe this limitless behavior in so many ways. Think of the airline industry that has grown in double digits every year since the second world war. Ryanair, formed in 1984 and has since led the transformation of air travel to the a modern equivalent of a bus service. And in the process facilitated an extraordinary level of intra-European travel capitalising on EU free movement as well as cheap holidays. Just this one example poses some huge questions – should we be aiming to simply replicate what we do today with a more ecologically sustainable technology, or should we be reinventing the way we live and work? Establishing limits on growth to ensure sustainability of our entire ecosystem? Catton provides various models for understanding what’s happening. His Ecological Understanding Model categorizes people in terms of their opinions and understanding of the ecosystem impacts of our actions as follows:
People that insist the assumption of limitlessness was and still is valid.
People that don’t believe the science.
People that believe the way the world works today is just fine with minor adjustments.
People that insist that technological progress, regardless of whether it is yet invented, will stave off major change.
People who recognize that today’s behavours are deeply harmful and that major change must happen urgently.
Derived from William Catton’s Analysis of Several Modes of Adaptation
This limitless behaviour can be observed in all areas of our activity. Irish farmers have a home market of some €6bn but an export market of over €13Bn, exporting to over 160 countries worldwide. In yesterday or today’s world this is heralded as an amazing success. But in tomorrow’s world it’s a major problem because the Irish agriculture industry produces over 35% of Irelands green-house gas emissions, with a dangerously high level of methane from livestock, and nitrous oxide due to the use of nitrogen fertiliser and manure management. I listened to the chairperson of the IFA on the radio yesterday morning. His interview followed directly on from a piece covering the newly published climate budgets, which were not sympathetic to the agri-sector. His comment was that Irish farmers will not be reducing their herd size any time soon. The primary argument is that the agriculture industry is producing high quality food for the world because other countries cannot produce such high quality! Which is in fact a joke, because Irish farming is widely acknowledged as not living up to the “green” image of the Irish tourist industry. The bottom line is that the farmers will not accept significant cuts in their emissions. Which basically means all the other sectors have to massively over achieve in order to ensure Ireland as a whole meets its climate commitments. This is an exceptional example of Ostrich behaviour.
Now I have many farming friends. Sadly they have been seduced into over producing in order to enable largescale agriculture processing and marketing industries. Actually the farmers themselves have not done so well from the current economic model.
Many of us will have seen reports from Australia that the prime minister Scott Morrison announced that he will not be changing the emissions targets set in 2015, but he will commit to achieving net zero by 2050. But he refuses to release the modelling underpinning the 2050 plan, and is keeping secret the details of the plan agreed with his coalition partners who are keeping him in government. This is clearly Ostrich behavior with a strong overlay of Fantasist thinking.
Closer to home the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is as usual bombastically optimistic about the UK’s climate performance. To make the case, Mr. Johnson points to how Britain has decarbonized more than any other developed country, 1.8 times the average among European Union nations, and was the first major economy to enshrine in law a net-zero target for carbon emissions. Yet Britain is far from a climate hero. The country is committed to fossil fuels and private corporations, opposed to stringent regulation and unwilling to recognize its historical responsibility to the Global South. Even the lauded net zero by 2050 target relies on unreliable carbon offsets and unproven carbon sequestering technology. Mr. Johnson may claim the country leads the world on climate action, but we shouldn’t fall for the trick. (NY Times). In practice, the UK is pursuing policies that violate every single goal. In the recent trade agreement with Australia the UK dropped reference to any emissions and temperature goals. His government is prevaricating over a new, Australian backed coal mine in West Cumbria. More recently a large contingent of his Tory party MPs voted down an amendment to the environment bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers. It seems that Mr Johnson plays fast and loose with climate change matters that merely reinforce his reputation as a Fantasist.
In fairness we see similar positions in most of the large countries. Note that the G20 represent two thirds of the world population, and 80% of global economic output. Collectively these countries emit 75% of global annual greenhouse gases. We know that China is without question adopting the Ostrich position. They managed to persuade the 2015 COP meeting that they are still a developing country and have a right to continue massive growth rates based primarily on coal power. No sense of limits there! We can have much more sympathy with India. In fairness the average person in India emits just 2.5 tonnes of CO2 compared to the G20 average of 7.5 tonnes. And we should also mention the Canadian average per person of 18.9 tonnes!
We can expect that the COP26 conference will eventually produce some form of agreement. It seems highly likely that in the likely absence of China and Russia, that there will be no clear breakthrough that will avoid the worst case. But some compromise will probably be cobbled together by this collection of Ostriches, Cynics, Fantasists and Cargo Cultists. We must remember that few countries have met their commitments made in Paris in 2015. In the chart below, of the 36 countries assessed, and the EU, only one nation was given an overall climate rating compatible with stabilizing global warming around 1.5 °C as per the Paris Agreement.
And of course we can expect the arch fantasist Boris Johnson to claim that he has saved the planet. But we should remember that this is the very same Prime Minister that signed an International (Brexit) agreement in January 2020 and then proceeded to deny the deal before the year was out. I still believe we should be following the ideas articulated by Kim Stanley Robinson in The Ministry of the Future. In my humble opinion, we cannot rely on politicians who are inherently short-term focused, subject to lobbying and incapable and unqualified to take on this huge responsibility. I am still believe we should be following the ideas articulated by Kim Stanley Robinson in The Ministry of the Future  by establishing a powerful UN based body to guide policy together with a new monetary system not based on gold but on the carbon coin.
 Overshoot, The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change, William R. Catton Jnr.
University of Illinois Press, 1980 ISBN 0-252-0018 18-9
This week Facebook announced they are planning to invest massively in what they refer to as the Metaverse – supposedly a “massive reimagining of the social network”. Now if I was cynical, I might suspect this is just a ploy to distract and divert from early stage efforts by the US government to break up Facebook. But I wonder why they would even bother, because government breakup efforts are inevitably hugely protracted with very low odds of any successful outcome. But surely we should recognize the Facebook model has been the cause of many huge societal problems, and we should worry that a “massive reimagining” is more likely to compound those problems and introduce new ones, rather than fix them.
At its core Facebook is a money making machine based on advertising. A hugely successful one. However as we know, the “social” network is a disaster. Over two years ago I blogged, “We have crossed a threshold where Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act.” More recently it’s become patently obvious that Facebook has by its inaction, been supporting all manner of fraudulent and criminal activity that have had catastrophic impacts on society. And Zuckerberg and Facebook have consistently refused to take responsibility and implement meaningful change. The money making machine continues to roll. And very recently we have seen the entirely credible whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who made the devastating disclosure: “Facebook has avoided or rolled back interventions for ‘groups’ and ‘narrow subpopulations’ that it knew reduced misinformation, violence, and incitement because those interventions reduced the platform’s growth.”
In my experience as a senior software product manager, software companies are always driven by user experience. They work intensively to understand how the software product supports, facilitates and enhances the user’s activities. They employ all manner of devices, including surveys, user groups and councils, beta testers etc to get clarity on how the tool might work better in supporting known and unknown tasks and activities. But in Facebooks case it appears that the product management task is the complete opposite of the de facto industry approach. We can infer, they are myopically focused on manipulating user behavior and attracting and developing advertising revenues.
The other aspect to consider is that Facebook is not really inventive. They have acquired a lot of fully formed ideas by acquisition. While they have acquired some 78 companies, most of them have been procured for their people skills. But two products in particular have clearly been acquired for their ideas and capabilities – WhatsApp and Instagram. And what have they done with them? They have run them as separate software product lines! There has been no attempt whatsoever to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook into an efficient and effective platform capability. It’s all been about making money running the products entirely separately.
Imagine how WhatsApp could provide more effective chat capabilities in context with Facebook posts. How Facebook groups could be linked with WhatsApp groups to great effect. How messenger could be integrated with WhatsApp, and how Instagram could similarly be seamless with both the other two platforms. And how a common governance layer could underpin them all. Of course there would be reengineering, but the overall user experience could be massively improved. But they have done nothing!
We understand that Facebook has contracts with multiple companies in their attempts to exert some governance over undesirable content and or engagements. But where is the investment in AI in this area. Facebook should by now have developed world leading expertise in context recognition and behavioral guidance, built integral to their platform. But we have to assume they haven’t linked this to monetary gain, rather it’s a negative investment to fend off regulatory bodies or senate committees, so it doesn’t get the right level of investment.
I gather there are very early considerations of breakup; governments looking at spinning off WhatsApp and Instagram. If Facebook had brains and user focused product management, it would be looking at how it’s capabilities could be opened up – to develop industry standards for the integration and or collaboration between various forms of social media and communications. Industry experience is that standards based opening up of platforms is revenue positive for most participants. We have to conclude that the social media environment is still very, very immature.
I worry that a huge focus on the so called Metaverse would simply add yet another layer of unmanaged, ungovernable social capability with even more undesirable effects piled on top of today’s current mess. Talk about “reimagining”; just imagine youngsters unable to differentiate online reality experiences from real life and acting out their unconstrained experiences on real people.
Our problem is that Facebook is a huge monopoly. They can do what they like. Our opportunity is to encourage Facebook to come to recognize that their continued existence could be just as, if not even more lucrative, if it was socially responsible. At this point in time, I have to admit I am not optimistic.