The triple shock of a huge earthquake, a devastating tsunami and an unfolding nuclear accident rocked Japan in March, and my condolences go out to all the many thousands affected.
Luckily, none of this could never happen here in Britain. Or could it?
Despite public disquiet over the safety of the industry since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power has regained political favour in recent years.
Amidst desperately slow progress in investing in renewables to fill a looming energy gap in the UK, successive governments have presented nuclear as a clean, cheap and proven solution which also offers zero carbon emissions.
Faced with public concerns after Fukushima, ministers have maintained that the UK is unlike Japan because there are no appreciable seismic risks. We do have earthquakes, but mostly they are minor.
But low seismic risk falls far short of guaranteeing safety. The more important question is whether there are risks from geological or meteorological events which could threaten the safety of our existing and future nuclear power plants. And I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.
My car was ten years old last week. As chance would have it, 100,000 miles came up on the same day. That’s the most miles of any car I’ve owned.
By European standards, it’s a middle of the road kind of vehicle. A 2000 Ford Focus with a 1.8 litre petrol engine, which has delivered 39.8 mpg over the life of the car.
The UK government launched a scrappage scheme last April, and extended it in September. My car qualifies. If I scrap the car, the government and dealer will each give me £1,000 off the full list price of any new vehicle I buy.
At first sight that’s good, but a new family car still costs £15,000. The cynic in me also noted that before the scrappage scheme began, dealers were offering discounts of £2,000 to drag buyers from the street. Those offers aren’t available within the scrappage scheme.
The result is that the taxpayer is writing a cheque for £2,000 to manufacturers for every new car sold, while the real savings to buyers are minimal. I’d be better off buying a one-year old model and saving £5,000 off the list price that way.
In addition to supporting the car industry, the scrappage scheme aims to offer environmental benefits by taking older, thirsty cars off the road and replacing them with modern, more fuel-efficient models. But does it?
My next car will be more fuel-efficient and likely smaller. I’ve seen a new Ford Fiesta Econetic claiming 76 mpg, and the equivalent Focus will do 66 mpg. Even a basic 2009 1.6 Ford Focus diesel gives 60 mpg. So is there a clear environmental case for scrapping my 10-year old car and buying a newer model?
June in Houston. It’s 99F outside as we wait an hour at immigration.
A glossy US arrival video is playing on a giant screen above our booth, but we have to wait an hour and offer all our fingerprints before we’re free to pass.
Welcome to America.
Obama’s America — but has it really changed?
The freeway towards the city looks just the same. A little less traffic perhaps.
Wide blue skies are yawning high above the endless sprawl beside the road. The downtown towers inch nearer across the final swoop of our 5,000 mile journey to reach The Loop.
In the hotel at last, I flop my bag and body down and switch on the TV. There’s a programme talking all about energy costs, and today’s phone-in prize is (quite remarkably) a free green audit of your home.
And it strikes me that I’ve never heard this stuff in Texas before.
All fresh and showered by sunset, we walk on Main Street to find a place to eat. It’s hotter than July this evening, but after ten hours in an aluminium tube we’re in no mood for air-conditioned civility. Some al fresco nachos, a cold beer and a simple plate of enchiladas are all we seek.
We find them at Cabo on Travis. A perfect terrace to catch the steamy breeze of sundown.
And then unexpectedly, outside the restaurant, we find surprise again. A parked Mini, with just the perfect bumper sticker. Actual Size.
The second anniversary of this site passed midway through a busy August. An office move and a new computer have diverted me since, but the milestone seems worth marking all the same.
There hasn’t been much time to write. This isn’t a site for daily updates – the past twelve months at Roads of Stone have seen just 28 posts.
Still, that adds up to around 20,000 words, squeezed into odd moments here and there, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve been busy.
Those words have extended to travel writing on Kenya (seven posts), Scotland, Texas, Bermuda and France.
Conversations have extended to cover geology, music, golf, UK and US politics, the history of horseracing and Shakespearean theatre, petroleum economics, global warming, the urban development of London and French cooking.
Posted in 2008, Africa, France, geology, global warming, history, London, politics, Scotland, Surrey and Sussex, travel
The news this week from America was electrifying.
After a titanic struggle, the young pretender had seen off the hot favourite. Now only destiny and history awaited.
The crucible of battle beckoned – a chance to banish the incumbent powers through destroying the old master.
And no, I’m not talking about the US Open tennis, even if for just for one moment in the second set it looked like Andy Murray might almost have the game to beat Roger Federer, just as he had swept away Rafael Nadal.
It was the American party conventions and the battle between Barack Obama and John McCain which intrigued. After glowing coverage of the Democratic bash in Denver, the Republican affair attracted little comment here initially.
Flicking the channels for a glimpse of Flushing Meadows last week, I came across a speech by Fred Thompson. The Senator’s deadpan style might almost have been compared by The Guardian to the dullest and most plodding rhetoric offered by our own Gordon Brown, but Thompson gave it a passable attempt.
The speech set out John McCain’s credentials, recalling his suffering and extraordinary courage during the Vietnam war. McCain was a principled and dignified statesman, he said, willing to stand up for what was right, and to fight the establishment machine. Willing to take risks in support of his beliefs.
The sun is out again in London, after an unusually cool spring. It’s been a cold winter across much of Europe and North America, too. But the year is turning now, as it always does eventually.
Cooler weather will come and go. Floods, droughts, disasters, snowstorms and heatwaves, too. That is the nature of living on the Earth. You’ll see reporters referring unusual weather events to climate change, but that’s largely misleading, and it’s misinformed as well.
So let’s not get confused. That is only weather, and it’s not the same as climate. Reports like those just serve to confuse the public.
The urgently pressing fact is that climate change is real. And it’s happening.
A Channel 4 documentary to be broadcast in the UK this Thursday evening and entitled The Great Global Warming Swindle argues that global warming is real, but that it is caused by entirely natural cyclicity in solar insolation.
Predictably this sensationalist claim has already been seized upon by the media. It will doubtless be interpreted by many as proof of the hoary old chestnut that ‘the scientists are divided’ on global warming. Those same people will find easy and equally inaccurate confirmation that there is no need to muzzle their gas-guzzling SUVs or to take the slightest care of our energy resources.