Skip to main content


An Energetic Future for the 2020s?

During the autumn one of the weird arid plants in our front garden began to grow a seed pod like something out of Jack and the Bean Stalk. The neighbours, who have been here for eons, exclaimed that they’d never seen anything like it before. It topped out at about 5 meters, waving in the winds the buffet this part of the Sussex coast. As Christmas began to loom my small son declared that we needed some Christmas lights at the front of the house, and I had a brainwave. I bought some cheap solar string lights off a well-known online shop, wobbled up a ladder and created what I think must be the only illuminated Desert Spoon plant in England.  Why am I telling you this? Well, those solar string lights cost about a tenner and, after a sunny day, light up beautifully until well into the night. They’re a product of three different technologies that have advanced enormously in recent years. A similar system would have cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds only twenty years ago. The lights
Recent posts

No Climate for Kids: Are Parents to Blame for Climate Change?

If you’re ever in a debate and want to use emotion to triumph over logic you might implore, “won’t somebody please think of the children?”. In the Simpsons it was Helen Lovejoy’s catchphrase , used to justify crack downs on bears, illegal immigrants and anyone else she had it in for. But it is not just an emotional argument. In decade spanning, global problems such as climate change the impact on our children is one of the key reasons why we fight. Bequeathing a damaged, overheated planet to future generations is simply morally wrong. Some people are so worried about this that they have decided not to have any children at all .  In recent years though a new viewpoint on children and climate change has emerged. This one suggests that children are not just the victims of climate change, but also the cause of climate change. It’s all very well reducing fossil fuel use, but by far the best thing any of us can do for the climate is have fewer or no children. I’ve noticed this argument incre

Creating Curves: The Uses and Abuses of Predictive Mathematical Modelling

How many people read the average academic journal paper? Poke about the internet and you’ll get a few answers: the average paper is only read by 10 people and half are only read by their authors and reviewers. These stats have questionable sources, but it’s likely that academic and fiction publishing have similar patterns – there’s a handful of Harry Potters and a very large amount of dusty paper. Research funders have been concerned about this for some time. They don’t want to hand out six figure research grants only to receive a few journal papers and a handful of receipts for academic conferences in sunny climes. In response they dreamed up the 'impact' agenda, encouraging academics to strike out beyond their ivory towers and engage with public policy and the business world. Most research reporting now requires you to list all of the wonderful things you’ve done to create impact. One group who probably won’t need to write an impact statement is the Imperial College

Everything’s (not) awesome – we’re all glued in place

Starting a blog post with “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!” might be an unusual approach in the current circumstances. You might look at the date and think that isolation has caused a few screws to work loose inside my head. But you might also recognise the annoyingly catchy song from 2014’s Lego Movie. Like many people, in 2020 I’m currently spending more time with my family than I expected. One of my small son’s current obsessions is the Lego Movie . In this cinematic masterpiece the evil Lord Business hates disorder. He builds walls between the various Lego worlds and employs a crooked policeman to crack down on the ‘master builders’ who won’t follow instructions. Finally, he deploys the Kragle, a doomsday weapon that literally glues everyone in their place. I suspect you can see an analogy coming on. Yes, that’s how the world feels to me at the moment – we’ve all been Kraggled. Our physical lives have been fixed in place where they were last Monday, whilst health and financial f

All aboard the robot road: Will self-driving cars be taking us to the pub or pension office?

If you read my blog posts you’ll probably be able to gather that I quite like cars (but dislike some of their impacts). I think about this when I watch my small son vroom his cars around our living room – is there something innate in the mind of small boys that attracts them to cars, or is it something that car loving fathers like me unwittingly encourage? The fact that small boys still make “vroom vroom” sounds with their cars speaks volumes about the ( lack of ) progress in how cars are powered. My cars vroomed, as did my father’s and so did his father’s. Lightening McQueen, the hero of Disney’s critically derided yet widely loved ‘ Cars ’ franchise, is most definitely packing a big V8, even if his latest nemesis Jackson Storm has some kind of hybrid system. I’ve previously written about electric cars, and even if my son’s first car isn’t all electric (it’s probably rolling off a production line about now) I’d wager he’ll own a few zero emission cars before he hits middle age. A

Electric Cars Spark Into Life, But Can We Really Swap Pump for Plug by 2040?

Did you hear about the man who ran over his neighbour with an electric car? He was convicted of assault with battery. Expect to hear more terrible jokes like this, as the UK Government yesterday pledged to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The UK joins the French Government, who have the same deadline to bring an end to cars powered by the venerable suck-squeeze-bang-blow . This pledge is nothing new: it just builds on a similar plan outlined in 2011 , with the language firmed up from an ‘ambition to end the sale’ to ‘will end the sale’. The big question has to be whether this policy is realistic. Luckily for us 2017 has seen quite a few opinions on this subject. In the furthest reaches of blue corner sits Stanford University economist Tony Seba , who thinks that all cars sold by 2025 will be self-driving electric Uber pods. On similar (but less extreme) lines sits the car manufacture Volvo, who say that all of their cars will be electric by 2019 (although this inc

Opportunity and Uncertainty: Exploring the Transition to a Low Carbon World

“EUREKA!”, I cried, jumping from the bath. No, I hadn’t re-discovered the theory of displacement , but I had come up with an innovative solution to the climate crisis. From my bathroom window I could see a huge flock of seagulls squawking, swooping and beating their wings. Tens of thousands more live in the English coastal city of Brighton that I call home, attracted by fast-food munching tourists and our less than wonderful refuse service. Experimental high altitude kites are now generating renewable electricity – surely, we could do something similar here and power the world with 100% renewable seagull energy! The shortcomings of my idea soon become clear. Aside from the obvious practical and ethical issues, the fact remains that, whilst common in Brighton, seagulls are comparatively rare in the UK. Indeed, they’re ‘ red listed ’ with their numbers in decline. The dream of a seagull powered world, or even UK, was not to be. This bird-brained idea highlights a more serious ch