Thursday, 5 December 2019

Brexit election's invisible uncertainty

PERHAPS one of the most remarkable things about the so-called ‘Brexit election' is how little is being actually said about Brexit itself, or, more accurately, how little is being said about life after Brexit if, indeed, the Tories are about to “get Brexit done”.

The 2016 referendum was pitched as a vote for change, a vote to reject the status quo. Cajoled by big-ticket promises, or in some cases downright lies, people believed that somehow "leaving Europe" would make their lives better.

Three years later it is now almost certain that under a Tory-led Brexit the UK’s terms of trade are going to be inferior, perhaps substantially so, to EU membership - and it will become clear that Brexit is not the panacea that many people were promised.

Despite Boris Johnson's incessant proclamations, a vote for the Tory party will certainly not bring an end to uncertainty. Investment will not be unlocked and businesses will continue to await the development of negotiations.

And even if these are sorted relatively quickly, thus reducing or even ending uncertainty, it does not follow by any means that the economic consequences will be positive.

It is somewhat surprising therefore to hear Brexit commentator Chris Grey, Professor of Organisation Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, asserting that he has never seen a party conduct a general election campaign in such a low-key way.

“As during the party leadership contest, Johnson is scarcely visible - despite his much-vaunted campaigning skills - and has pulled out of several events, including the Channel 4 climate debate, an Andrew Neil BBC interview and even his own constituency hustings,” he says.

“And where is Jacob Rees-Mogg, for the last three years so ubiquitous in radio and TV studios that it sometimes seemed he had his own chair? Perhaps he is judged too toxic, especially following his Grenfell remarks - but it a strange kind of politician who does not come out in public when up for election.

“So, in the absence of both a substantive manifesto and a campaign providing a compelling and inclusive plan to do so, Johnson’s talk of ‘a nation moving forward’ post-Brexit might better be described in Tacitus’s line ubi solititudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

“Johnson and Rees-Mogg, possessed of the classical education that they and sycophantic cap-doffers mistake for intellectual accomplishment, would have no difficulty in translating: they make a desert and they call it peace.”

Chris Grey's Brexit blog - What would getting Brexit done mean?

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Paving the road to living in space

A MINDSET anchored within endeavours of the past and established ways of doing things is one of the most significant obstacles to humanity’s space-faring future.

Five decades after the first Moon landing, most major space agencies and all but a handful of private launch companies remain focused on the on-going development of expendable launchers or, at best, only partly reusable launchers.

Undoubtedly today’s rockets are more efficient than their predecessors. But are their inherent inefficiencies truly the way to herald a new golden age of space exploration?

The expendable rocket mindset is one of the biggest remaining barriers to a new Space Age and, if the new US Moon programme is to lead to a ‘permanent’ lunar endeavour, economic and environmental sustainability are paramount. This means leaning towards low-cost, practical and private-sector driven solutions which have the potential to create profitable and sustainable new business opportunities.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), for example, is hardly ground-breaking or inventive - more a product of linear, stop-start development. Of course, it benefits from advanced technology and engineering but, five decades after Saturn V, it lacks true innovation and the spark of commercial endeavour.

The agency has spent about US$14 billion on its super rocket and related development costs since 2010 but SLS is not expected to fly before at least mid- to late 2021. In contrast, SpaceX privately developed its mostly reusable Falcon Heavy rocket on the back of its Falcon 9 for about US$500 million, and has flown three successful missions since February 2018.

Likewise, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is the only existing commercial spaceplane in the world that is both fully reusable and capable of a runway landing. Despite this NASA still only wants to use it for the transfer of cargo to the International Space Station.

At a time when reusability, in every sense of the word, should be at the forefront, agencies such as NASA (SLS), ESA (Ariane 6), Roscomsos (Soyuz), JAXA (H-IIB) and ISRO (GSLV) seem intent on pursuing the expendability route to orbit, albeit with a modern technical twist.

Do projects like SLS cast us far enough into the future or, in some perverse way, do they limit our future ambitions? The future of space and human exploration is intrinsically intertwined with our future on Earth itself. It should not be owned by politics and politicians but by risk-takers and the visionary.

*        *        *

ROOM Space Journal is delighted to be a media sponsor of this October’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington DC, one of the biggest and most important annual gatherings of space people.

Autumn also sees the first ever Asgardia Science & Investment Congress (14-16 October, Darmstadt, Germany), ‘Paving the Road to Living in Space’.

ASIC’s goal is to offer an alternative pathway to the future, eschewing the establishment mindset as it homes in on the parallel and interconnected themes of the extraordinary science and technology required to support permanent space habitats and the first humans born in space.

Specialist speakers will also assess how the vital investment and commercial returns needed to support these bold endeavours can be created.

If you want to join like-minded visionaries in planning the practical first steps to our future in space, there is still time to register via the ASIC website

My editorial in the autumn issue of ROOM Space Journal
Image: Envisioning a space-faring future by James Vaughan

Friday, 6 September 2019

'Booking' the trend

A couple who have lived in Bourne all their lives are throwing open the doors this weekend to their dream - a new independent bookshop for the town.

Karen and Peter Smith have invested a significant amount of their personal savings into their Bourne Bookshop venture, which is located in the town’s Burghley Centre.

We’re excited it has finally come to fruition,” says Karen, who previously worked for a local agricultural firm and will be the shop’s full-time manager. She expects to employ two or three part-time staff.

“I love meeting people and have always enjoyed books so this is the perfect combination for me,” she adds.

Bourne Bookshop joins a growing number of successful, independent bookshops across the country that are bucking the trend for ebooks and online purchasing.

“Things have come full circle and people increasingly want to read real, printed books and browse before they buy,” explains Karen.

“We really want to make it work and have been overwhelmed by all the messages of support we’ve had from local people while preparing the shop.”

Karen and Peter took a long time to find exactly the right premises with good footfall and were supported in their quest by InvestSK.

“We are very happy with our location in the Burgley Centre,” says Peter, who has three grown-up children and one grandchild.

He plans to support Karen on the business side and in the shop at weekends but will continue his job as a market development manager for a national agricultural firm.

“It’s around five years since there was a bookshop in Bourne and we decided now was the time to plug this gap in the local market,” said Peter.

"This is an independent family business and we are treating it as a serious business venture," he added.

The shop will only sell brand new books, along with a few other specialist lines including jigsaws and some children’s toys.

“We'll have about 2,000 fiction and non-fiction books in stock at any one time covering all genres, as well as a good children's section," says Karen.

"We'll also have a next-day ordering service and, as things develop, will adjust the range of titles we stock according to what our customers like and ask for.”

The shop had two preview open days during the Bourne Cicle Festival weekend and is being officially opened by Coun Brenda Johnson, the Mayor of Bourne, this Saturday (7 September) at 9 am.

Initially it will be open six days a week between 9 am and 6 pm but Karen says opening times may become more flexible, according to customer needs.

“We'll also be looking to open on Sundays and some late evenings, especially at times of the year like the run up to Christmas.”

Jon Hinde, head of economy and skills at InvestSK, said: "It's a great boost to the town to have another new independent retailer on the high street, and one that provides an offer not currently available.

“This will help to increase footfall in Bourne while also diversifying the current offering in the Burghley Centre and town as a whole."

Opened in 1989, Bourne's Burghley Centre has undergone a new lease of life in recent years.
As well as a variety of independent shops it is now home to several big high street names including a Marks & Spencer foodstore, Specsavers and Subway.

 Article written for Stamford Mercury newspaper - Bourne bookshop set to open on Saturday

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Bad hair week

Boris Johnson won the Conservative leadership by posing as the candidate who could deliver Brexit and win an election.

He did not reveal, however, that he was calculating to purge the party of dissenters, despising its pluralist history, reinventing it as something anti-conservative and risking its destruction in the process.

In a few disastrous days he has engineered the loss of the Tories’ majority in the Commons and surrendered control of the legislative agenda to opposition MPs.

His discomfort in parliament on Wednesday this week was palpable, although he tried to mask it with the usual repertoire of excruciating bluster and childish gesticulation.

He used four-letter words and transgressed Parliamentary protocols and then, in one awkward peroration, declared: “Britain needs sensible, moderate, progressive Conservative government.”

Even by Johnson’s questionable standards it was a moment of exquisite hypocrisy, identifying precisely the Conservative tradition that his agenda and methods seem certain to extinguish.

It seems there is a new acceptance amongst those in high political office - including Johnson and his raft of ideologically focused MPs - that bare-faced lying is okay if it supports your political ideology or personal ambitions.

The sight of Jacob Rees-Mogg Esquire, leader of the house, prostrating himself on the benches was not helpful either, signalling utter contempt to Parliament, the country and Her Majesty the Queen. By design or otherwise it was symbolic in every way.

In all this, the media are absolutely gagging for an election - you can hear the orgasmic 'bring it on' ecstasy in the voices of specialist political commentators, as objective analysis is thrown to the wind.

The main opposition parties led by Jeremy Corbyn and Joe Swinson are right to be suspect of the motives of Johnson and his creepy entourage in trying to engineer an election date before the end of October.

Rightly, it is now the opposition who should be setting the agenda and they need to hold their nerve in the face of unfounded rants and claims from Johnson.

The Prime Minister should stew in his own entrapment for a few more weeks. Let him wallow in his messy, minority government before scuttling off to Brussels to ask for an extension.

Alternatively, he could be brave and put everyone out their misery by revoking Article 50. Either way, an election can wait... for now.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Firm pulls plans to build on woodland

A footpath through Werry's Spinney.                                           Clive Simpson

A Bourne-based agricultural firm has this week withdrawn its plans to sell off woodland for self-build homes at the heart of the town’s Elsea Park estate.

An application lodged with South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) in May by Wherry & Sons Ltd for the construction of 10 self-build homes attracted a raft of local opposition.

SKDC received more than 300 objections from residents and organisations concerned about the effects on wildlife and local amenity in an area known as Wherry's Spinney.

This week (Monday, 22 July) the company issued a statement saying it had withdrawn its plans but declined to comment further on what the future of the Spinney might be.

Now people living on the estate have urged the firm to re-think its plans for the woodland which bisects a central section of Elsea Park and is designated in the council's local plan to 2036 as a site of 'Nature Conservation Interest'.

Local residents have asked Wherry & Sons to consider offering ownership or management of the Spinney to a local community trust or wildlife association.

"In this way it could be protected and managed for future generations," said Sam Doughty, a resident who helped spear-head a campaign against the development.

"This would be a lovely philanthropic gesture to the people of Elsea Park and Bourne," she added.

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust was among those organisations which submitted objections to the development.

According to Mark Schofield,  the Trust's conservation officer, the Spinney constitutes "local distinctiveness and a sense of place".

"A self-build development would negatively affect the character and alter the access to woodland within the town," he said.

Mr Schofield added: "There are lots of examples of green spaces managed by the local community and this could be a great option for the site."

Ayla Smith, a resident who has walked her dog in the woodland for more than 30 years, told the Stamford Mercury that the Spinney is a haven for wildlife.

"This is an important wildlife corridor through the estate linking up surrounding SSIs (Sites of Scientific Interest) with Bourne's Well Head Park and the meadows," she said.

Last week SKDC placed an emergency Tree Preservation Order (TPO) on the entire Spinney for six months and said it was likely a permanent order would be confirmed.

Entrance to Wherry's Spinney.                                                    Clive Simpson

Plans for its part-sale and development were drawn up and submitted on behalf of Wherry & Sons by architect and building designer John Dickie, of John Dickie Associates, also based in Bourne.

 "At present the Spinney is 'unmanaged' and in need of a significant amount of work to bring it into a good usable condition - the proposals seek to provide a remedy for this," he stated.

James Wherry, a director and main shareholder of the Bourne-based agricultural firm, said: "We are an international trading company dealing in dry pulses - we are not land speculators or developers.

"This piece of land has been a 'dead asset' on our books for many years and if we can realise an asset gain for our shareholders we are obliged to try to do this."

In 2018 the company had a turnover of £17.4 million, an increase of almost £2 million on the previous year. It has around 16 employees and its listed assets are valued at over £6 million.

The land now known as Wherry's Spinney was originally purchased from British Rail by the company's founder Alderman William Wherry shortly after the town's railway line was closed.

The family business has a long association with Bourne dating back to the mid-1800 when Edward Wherry, the proprietor of Edenham village store, first purchased premises in North Street, Bourne.

His relative William Wherry is credited in the late 1800s as being among the first in the country to recognise the need in the food processing industry for a complete dried pea trading operation.

Article as written and submitted to Stamford Mercury by Clive Simpson on 22 July 2019.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Beware the wolf of Brexit

When I interviewed Secret Millionaire Mike Greene five years ago for a local business magazine article he vowed he would never become involved in politics.

He came into the public spotlight after appearing on the Channel 4 reality TV show and now the former Conservative party supporter is standing in this week’s Peterborough by-election for the insurgent Brexit Party.

How things have changed for the international business entrepreneur and angel investor, director of companies, trade associations, charities, marketing and retail organisations.

And how, one wonders, given his business and charity commitments will he find time to be an effective MP, should he be elected?

“My view of politics is that it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government will still get in,” he quipped as we chatted across a large farmhouse table at his family home north of Peterborough in the heart of the South Lincolnshire Fens.

His background and outspoken comments - recorded in my interview in 2014 but not used in the magazine article - make it all the more surprising that he is standing as an MP for any political party, let alone one without a declared manifesto.

“The reality is they're all as bad as each other - they promise stuff that they don't deliver on, they all become a bit flim-flam,” he said. [Not quite sure what "flim-flam" means but think it's definitely a negative]

“I don't get involved in politics partly because I find it really, really hard to respect the moral compass and consistency of the people in charge.
“I've worked enough with analysis to know that I could make numbers mean almost anything. But there's a point at which the facts just aren't relevant to a lot of people.

“I think we're in a very weak political world and I don't really believe that any of the parties do what the individuals in the party really believe.

“They're playing games. It's like monopoly and they're playing with people and they're not connecting to it.

“So I have very strong political beliefs but I try to stay out of it. Quite frankly I don't think I could ever be a good politician because I can't tow a party line.”

This Thursday’s by-election in Peterborough is set to be one of the most intriguing in recent memory. In the 2017 general election, the constituency saw a knife-edge duel between Labour and the Conservatives. In last month’s European poll, 38 percent of those who voted in the city backed the Brexit party.

Of course the voter turnout will be much larger in a high-profile by-election and, whilst both Labour and the Conservatives look set for a well-deserved trouncing, the Liberal Democrats may yet prove that there is hope for politics and our country.

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Peterborough is Beki Sellick, who lives in the city centre with her family not far from her daughter’s state school.

“I must call out Brexit for what it is,” says the local business owner and sustainability engineer.

“This time we must move on from our usual political colours and vote with our hearts, to embrace the strongest Remain candidate.
“However pleasantly Mike Greene and the Brexit Party present themselves, look beneath the chatty veneer and strip-off their smooth new suits and underneath is the wolf of Nigel Farage - dividing, demeaning and demonising," adds Beki.

Peterborough is my closest city - a place where I have worked, shopped, worshiped from and commuted to and from over many years. And if I lived there now my vote would definitely be in the Liberal Democrat box on Thursday.

Not only the has the city of Peterborough been warned but so has the country. We continue to tread and support the Brexit path - and the Brexit Party in particular - at our peril.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

A life worth living

Occasionally in the rich tapestry of life we share together on planet Earth someone or something comes along to make a difference. One such person is the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who spoke eloquently and with conviction to the UK Parliament this week. Her urgent words on climate breakdown were fresh, sharp and precise - a prophetic call to action that we continue to ignore at our future peril. Regular readers of So Said the Lighthouse Keeper will know her concerns have a deep resonance with the writer and so they are reproduced here in full. Please read on - it is time to reflect, consider and act.

"My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 16 years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations.

I know many of you don’t want to listen to us – you say we are just children. But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science.

Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting valuable lesson time, but I assure you we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?

In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us.

I was fortunate to be born in a time and place where everyone told us to dream big; I could become whatever I wanted to. I could live wherever I wanted to. People like me had everything we needed and more. Things our grandparents could not even dream of. We had everything we could ever wish for and yet now we may have nothing.

Now we probably don’t even have a future any more.

Because that future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. It was stolen from us every time you said that the sky was the limit, and that you only live once.

You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to. And the saddest thing is that most children are not even aware of the fate that awaits us. We will not understand it until it’s too late. And yet we are the lucky ones. Those who will be affected the hardest are already suffering the consequences. But their voices are not heard.

Is my microphone on? Can you hear me?

Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. That is unless in that time, permanent and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society have taken place, including a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 50 percent.

And please note that these calculations are depending on inventions that have not yet been invented at scale, inventions that are supposed to clear the atmosphere of astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, these calculations do not include unforeseen tipping points and feedback loops like the extremely powerful methane gas escaping from rapidly thawing arctic permafrost.

Nor do these scientific calculations include already locked-in warming hidden by toxic air pollution. Nor the aspect of equity – or climate justice – clearly stated throughout the Paris agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale.

We must also bear in mind that these are just calculations. Estimations. That means that these “points of no return” may occur a bit sooner or later than 2030. No one can know for sure. We can, however, be certain that they will occur approximately in these timeframes, because these calculations are not opinions or wild guesses.

These projections are backed up by scientific facts, concluded by all nations through the IPCC. Nearly every single major national scientific body around the world unreservedly supports the work and findings of the IPCC.

Did you hear what I just said? Is my English OK? Is the microphone on? Because I’m beginning to wonder.

During the last six months I have travelled around Europe for hundreds of hours in trains, electric cars and buses, repeating these life-changing words over and over again. But no one seems to be talking about it, and nothing has changed. In fact, the emissions are still rising.

When I have been travelling around to speak in different countries, I am always offered help to write about the specific climate policies in specific countries. But that is not really necessary. Because the basic problem is the same everywhere. And the basic problem is that basically nothing is being done to halt – or even slow – climate and ecological breakdown, despite all the beautiful words and promises.

The UK is, however, very special. Not only for its mind-blowing historical carbon debt, but also for its current, very creative, carbon accounting.

Since 1990 the UK has achieved a 37 percent reduction of its territorial CO2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. And that does sound very impressive. But these numbers do not include emissions from aviation, shipping and those associated with imports and exports. If these numbers are included the reduction is around 10% since 1990 – or an an average of 0.4 percent a year, according to Tyndall Manchester.

And the main reason for this reduction is not a consequence of climate policies, but rather a 2001 EU directive on air quality that essentially forced the UK to close down its very old and extremely dirty coal power plants and replace them with less dirty gas power stations. And switching from one disastrous energy source to a slightly less disastrous one will of course result in a lowering of emissions.

But perhaps the most dangerous misconception about the climate crisis is that we have to “lower” our emissions. Because that is far from enough. Our emissions have to stop if we are to stay below 1.5-2C of warming. The “lowering of emissions” is of course necessary but it is only the beginning of a fast process that must lead to a stop within a couple of decades, or less. And by “stop” I mean net zero – and then quickly on to negative figures. That rules out most of today’s politics.

The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual. The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels – for example, the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports as well as the planning permission for a brand new coal mine – is beyond absurd.

This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.

People always tell me and the other millions of school strikers that we should be proud of ourselves for what we have accomplished. But the only thing that we need to look at is the emission curve. And I’m sorry, but it’s still rising. That curve is the only thing we should look at.

Every time we make a decision we should ask ourselves; how will this decision affect that curve? We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: “Have we got enough money to go through with this?” but also: “Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?” That should and must become the centre of our new currency.

Many people say that we don’t have any solutions to the climate crisis. And they are right. Because how could we? How do you “solve” the greatest crisis that humanity has ever faced? How do you “solve” a war? How do you “solve” going to the moon for the first time? How do you “solve” inventing new inventions?

The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth.

“So, exactly how do we solve that?” you ask us – the schoolchildren striking for the climate.

And we say: “No one knows for sure. But we have to stop burning fossil fuels and restore nature and many other things that we may not have quite figured out yet.”

Then you say: “That’s not an answer!”

So we say: “We have to start treating the crisis like a crisis – and act even if we don’t have all the solutions.”

“That’s still not an answer,” you say.

Then we start talking about circular economy and rewilding nature and the need for a just transition. Then you don’t understand what we are talking about.

We say that all those solutions needed are not known to anyone and therefore we must unite behind the science and find them together along the way. But you do not listen to that. Because those answers are for solving a crisis that most of you don’t even fully understand. Or don’t want to understand.

You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before. Like now. And those answers don’t exist any more. Because you did not act in time.

Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.

Sometimes we just simply have to find a way. The moment we decide to fulfil something, we can do anything. And I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.

We children are not sacrificing our education and our childhood for you to tell us what you consider is politically possible in the society that you have created. We have not taken to the streets for you to take selfies with us, and tell us that you really admire what we do.

We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back.

I hope my microphone was on. I hope you could all hear me."