Saturday, March 01, 2008

Off to New York

First, the story of my last forty-eight hours. Late last night I suddenly decided that I was going to find my passport. I'd need it on Sunday when I flew out to the States, after all. On finding it I discovered it expired in December. Calmed down. Rang the passport service. They had no appointments till Monday. After another panic, which I hope didn't sound too pathetic down the phone, I asked if they had any appointments in offices elsewhere in the country. They had one, at 9.00am on Saturday - in Wales!

Given that there are no trains from London that get you in to Newport by nine on a Sunday I would have to drive or make it a two day stint. After a train ride back to Letchworth to get the car, six hours driving and four hours waiting for it to be produced in Newport I am now the proud owner of a brand new passport.

All those heroics mean that I will be travelling to New York tomorrow. Blogging will be light but hopefully, when I can find a bit of time, interesting next week as I'll be at this conference till Tuesday and then taking a bit of a holiday to explore New York. Normal service will be resumed the following Monday. I'll still keep an eye on the comments and my e-mail when I can - if anyone has any New York-related recommendations please post them in the comments to this thread.

Friday, February 29, 2008

London losing its edge


A huge share of Britain's GDP, tax revenues and exports are dependent upon financial services and the continuing ability of London to attract investment in this vital industry. It is one sector where we are a world leader. Take a look at the WorldMapper map with countries' sizes adjusted to their share of the international finance and insurance market. 99% of world profits from this huge industry flow to Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg and the UK - we are the leaders:


This is a highly mobile industry as it operates globally and can communicate effortlessly across the world. If London ceases to be competitive we could lose our lead in this vital sector really quickly. If that happens we will struggle to make up for the loss of most of the around £15 billion of tax revenues that London exports to the rest of the country every year rather than spending itself. That's just tax revenues - our long-term prosperity would also seriously suffer.

With all that in mind the news, from the Financial Times, that our competitive position relative to New York and other financial centres is eroding should be extremely worrying:

"London is losing its status as the world’s leading financial centre and being overtaken by New York, according to a global survey of finance professionals.

The collapse of Northern Rock and the proposed tax crackdown on non-domiciled residents are making the UK less attractive to overseas businesses, according to the City of London Corporation, which commissioned the survey.

A separate survey, also commissioned by the City, said the UK tax system had lost its competitive edge over other financial centres. The UK had become increasingly unpredictable and uncertain, complex and unnecessarily aggressive in its approach to taxpayers, it found."

Cross-posted from the TaxPayers' Alliance blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Live-blogging E-Day

I just checked BBC News and found out about E-Day. In the face of criticism for bias and politicisation and with poor audience figures for Live Earth the BBC pulled the plug on 'Planet Relief'. One part of Planet Relief was to be twenty-four hours in which everyone tried to save energy. This part was kept in business by the determination of Matt Prescott - campaigner for low energy light bulbs among other things - who dreamed up the scheme.

As a result E-Day started at six this evening. It has a glowing write-up on BBC News Online, the support of the Bishop of London - of all people, energy companies and various environmental pressure groups. Power use will be monitored by the National Grid and compared to their business as usual predictions (which should be very good, if they get them too wrong we get blackouts).

Things aren't exactly going well:

They've actually managed to increase energy usage. Ouch!

We'll check back later.

9.40pm: Total "savings" so far are at -1.2%. E-Day is still making things worse! What will we do?

It's about as important as it would have been if things had gone well, i.e. not very. UK electricity generation is a tiny percentage of global emissions.

9.50pm: Bishop Hill has some background on the BBC's support for this farce.

10.58pm: 1.8% total increase in electricity use! Also, apparently this is a 'moral issue'. The Church of England continues its drive to become the religious wing of the BBC.

Midnight: We're a quarter of the way through and so far E-Day has seen 2% higher energy use than expected under 'business as usual'. This is proving about as successful as when anti-capitalists stage one of their periodical 'don't buy things' days.

9.00am: Over half way now and energy use is still 1.3% up on business as usual. It is running 4.4% above business as usual use right now so things are only going to get worse. How long before Dr. Prescott holds an angry, expletive-laden press conference?

2.30pm: Only 0.8% up now. Maybe they'll break even?

4.30pm: Still up 0.7%. They don't have long now. A correspondent from an American think-tank has a suggestion:

"Wouldn’t it be more effective to encourage people to turn on everything they can? The surge in demand could cause a massive blackout, which would force people to use a lot less power for awhile."

Sensible policies for a happier Britain.

9.30pm: I'm back - missed the big moment but checked it on my mobile. Sure enough, they've increased electricity consumption.

What can I say? Except:

9.35pm: Freeborn John smells a rat. I agree with him that the dissapearance of the early excess consumption is very suspicious. It is hard to explain why the pattern in the early hours would look so different at the end compared to when it was actually happening. Also - in terms of anecdotal evidence from watching the meter - the live usage bar always seemed to be running an excess higher than the average, which shouldn't happen. Still, surely they wouldn't rig it that brazenly?

00:30: They've updated the site with this message:

"E-Day did not succeed in cutting the UK's electricity demand. The drop in temperature between Wed 27 Feb and Thurs 28 Feb days probably caused this, as a result of more lights and heating being left on than were originally predicted. The National Grid refined their assessments, based on actual weather data, during Thursday afternoon but I am afraid that E-Day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect. I will do my best to learn the relevant lessons for next time. Thank you to everyone who helped me or left something off specially as their contribution to E-Day, and this Leave It Off experiment. Please enjoy E-Day's solution, video and science sections which all worked well. Warmest regards, Matt"

A few points:

1 - If the temperature had been unexpectedly mild would they have updated the prediction?

2 - How exactly do you define "worked well"?

3 - "Next time"? You've got to be shitting me.

Still, I'm impressed he managed to avoid the term "climate criminals" or call for us to be sent to Climate Camp.

Monday, February 25, 2008


You know what struck me most about the new Rambo? It's very pagan.

A few reasons why:

  • Middle Earth was Tolkein's Christian critique of Europe's pagan spirit. In the Lord of the Rings victory belongs not to martial valour, which is hopeless, but to faith and hope. In Rambo the Christian aid workers are the hobbits. Their illusions are shattered and they are saved by pagan military heroics, which are effective. It rebuts Middle Earth.
  • It is brutally violent.
  • The real heroes are overwhelmingly amoral in outlook and attitude but effective and on our side.

I'm not saying it was intended that way. I think that it is entirely possible that the film was intended to send a Christian message. However, the pagan attitude creeps in and has a certain plausibility to it. I sometimes wonder if we don't do enough to understand our Northern European/Germanic roots and how they influence our outlook.

Update: I've set this out in rather more detail on CentreRight.Com

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Indur Goklany on What to Do about Climate Change

Indur Goklany's paper (PDF) for Cato's Policy Analysis is excellent. He goes through, using the Stern Review and DEFRA's Fast Track Assessment as his sources, why even pessimistic accounts of the costs of climate change cannot find more than marginal harms within the foreseeable future. This builds into a case that humanity will actually be better off in the warmer but richer scenarios that were purported to be the worst-case scenarios by Stern and DEFRA's researchers than in a cooler but poorer world.

Goklany argues that adaptation to the specific problems that might be worsened by climate change, such as malaria, is the way forward. His study provides yet more support for the now reasonably well established three-pronged response to climate change; that such an approach is a better idea than aggresive attempts to curb emissions. Technological development, adaptation and resilient free-market institutions can all contribute to an effective response to global warming.