Tuesday 8 April 2014

Three Causes for (Modest) Optimism

There's enough in the news to make for grinding of the teeth (not to mention things that give rise to CU's regular threats to emigrate) that I am inclined to register a little cluster of recent items which redress the balance a bit.

(1) The tenor of the latest IPCC report: as several commentators have noted, adaptation to climate change has started to feature as a mainstream topic instead of being viewed as tantamount to abject surrender of the greenie-lefty desideratum of abatement-only policies by diktat, in not-so-subtle pursuit of their goal of World Government.  Adaptation is the correct direction of travel, and it is to be hoped that after another 5 years of slow progress, public policy will be substantially redirected to this potentially quite urgent end.  The only vague excuse for windfarms has been as a programme of Keynsian public works, and intelligent flood defences etc are infinitely better on that score - saints preserve us, they could even show a genuine return on investment !

(2) The interview with Caroline Lucas in the Grauniad 
For Lucas, the big problem with fracking has nothing to do with the risk that it will cause earthquakes, contaminate the water table or pollute the soil. In fact, she thinks it possible that stringent regulations could minimise those risks. "It's not that fracking itself is necessarily worse than ordinary gas extraction ... Lucas accepts that we do need gas ...
These words (my emphasis) are a cut-out-and-keep collectors item.

(3) The re-opening of the Dawlish stretch of railway.   When it was first washed away, everyone shook their heads sadly and proclaimed it would take 6 months and more to fix.  And who could disagree, given the shocking length of time that British civil engineering projects generally take ?  Makes the blood boil: FFS, World War 2 only took 6 years!  Anyhow, for once the finger was pulled out and the job was done in good time.  The same attitude needs adopting rather more widely: hey, maybe even for implementation of, errr, adaptation policies ...

So - credit where it's due, and a modest round of applause to these three disparate entities for their belated but worthwhile conversions to the ways of righteousness.  There is more rejoicing in Heaven, etc etc: and no-one is beyond salvation !



James Higham said...

Dawlish - good. Fracking - let's get started.

auralay said...

Be interesting to know who was in charge at Dawlish. I suspect it had the good fortune to be run by a real engineer, not a bean counter or English Lit graduate.

Blue Eyes said...

Agree ND.

I said at the time that Dawlish need not take long, "all" they had to do was stick a load of concrete in where it had once been. Lo! Behold! The UK can do engineering!

Evan Davis makes a point in one of his infrastructure programmes that we seem to have finally nailed project management. Which leads me on to agreeing about flood defences. I think this winter may have opened many people's eyes to the fact that we can and should build stuff that makes our little island a bit more habitable. Not every corner needs to be covered by a Thames Barrier but we could do more than abandon huge tracts of, say, Suffolk to the sea.

I think people may, in the wake of the economic crisis of 2000 onwards realise that if we want a real economy we need energy and infrastructure.

In my mind what we need next is a Heseltine-style re-opening up of the North's economy to get rid of this crazy two-speed economy and, oh, a realistic reassessment of our green space.

Jim said...

I have to say I thought Dawlish would be in limbo for a long time - mainly because of some 'environmental assessment' or other that would prevent the job being done. Usually speaking nowadays its not doing the job thats the problem, its getting the State Apparatchiks to let you do it that takes most time and effort.

K said...

My understanding from family is that the hardest part of these sort of jobs is actually getting the materials to the site.

I think even Top Gear exposed this on their "how hard can roadworks be?" challenge where they couldn't get the materials they needed after 5pm or something.

If the materials are on site people are willing to do the work but even the best engineers can't fix a broken supply chain.

Anonymous said...

Auralay - Patrick Hallgate (Route Director, Network Rail) is an MSc in... Occupational Psychology.

Whoever thought to use sea containers to protect the site from the sea deserves a pat on the back - it was inspired. They are still in situe.

Anonymous said...

K - Fortunately there are large car parks at either end of the lines affected. These made for brilliant deliver, storage and porta-cabin areas.

The Dawlish Warren site was accessible by rail to the north and the Teignmouth site accessible via the rail yard at Newton Abbot (well connected by the M5 - near enough anyway.)

For the 8 weeks trains trapped in Cornwall remained there and a service was reconstructed around what was available. Depots and train maintaince schedules had to be adapted - fitters transported and lodged near to trains which could no longer reach their home depots for servicing.

Train crews were taxied to remote starting and finishing points and many members of staff volunteered their spare time to help out - multi-tasking and such like where there were temporary interfaces such as rail-coach transfers.

Part of the Teignmouth cliffs have collapsed and there is a 20mph restriction in place. That will have to be dealt with at some point but is nothing like the problem that the sea wall presented.

Long lengths of pathway have been lost along the sea wall and will take a lot of work to replace.

rwendland said...

ND, what do you think of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the Telegraph:

"Solar power has won the global argument. Photovoltaic energy is already so cheap that it competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies."

I thought PV would have a fine unsubsidised future sometime, but didn't think it was quite this close. (Of course, the UK is much less suited for PV, but if widely deployed elsewhere will have an impact.)

Nick Drew said...

the answer, of course, is - I don't give a toss ! If it's cheap enough not to need a sub, go for it. Or if some other nation positively wants to sub it, let 'em (see 2nd point below)

for me the key points are:

- need to be sure what midday-peaking electricity is actually worth. In some countries, demand peaks at midday too, which is just ideal: but in UK, we peak at rush-hour, morning and esp evening. There can be a subtle implicit sub if it gets paid as if it was flexible, when it ain't (actually much more of a problem vis-a-vis wind)

- no need to buy the line that goes "we need to sub it in order to drive the costs down": nope, let some other sucker do that