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July 24, 2007


Monbiot today:

It wasn't meant to happen like this. The climate scientists told us that our winters would become wetter and our summers drier. So I can't claim that these floods were caused by climate change, or are even consistent with the models. But, like the ghost of Christmas yet to come, they offer us a glimpse of the possible winter world that we will inhabit if we don't sort ourselves out.

I rather like that. Actually, I like the whole piece. He's quite wonderful about the new Goldsmith book:

Her book contains plenty of useful advice, and she comes across as modest, sincere and well-informed. But of lobbying for political change, there is not a word. You can save the planet from your own kitchen - if you have endless time and plenty of land. When I was reading it on the train, another passenger asked me if he could take a look. He flicked through it for a moment, and then summed up the problem in seven words: "This is for people who don't work."

Of course, this is George so there has to be something to complain about:

Last week the Telegraph told its readers not to abandon the fight to save the planet. "There is still hope, and the middle classes, with their composters and eco-gadgets, will be leading the way." It made some helpful suggestions, such as a "hydrogen-powered model racing car", which, for £74.99, comes with a solar panel, an electrolyser and a fuel cell. God knows what rare metals and energy-intensive processes were used to manufacture it. In the name of environmental consciousness, we have simply created new opportunities for surplus capital.

There's actually some method to the madness of that little car: one part political campaign, another technological.

A detour first about the rare metals: the solar panel is probably silicon (ie sand) doped with Gallium (a by product of aluminium production) although there are other possibilities. The fuel cell could be either platinum based or zirconia (zirconium oxide, again extracted from a form of sand).

The political side is that by having people play with such a toy they are ontroduced to the holy grail of future transport  methods: exactly that. Local production of hydrogen from sunlight and water and vehicles powered by fuel cells.

Whether it's ever going to actually be viable is still somewhat moot: but that is the ultimate goal.

The technological one is that at present there really aren't all that many outlets for fuel cells. They're still too expensive to use in "real world" applications. But the expense is more about manufacturing, engineering, problems, than it is about basic science. So someone making a few thousand, a few tens of thousands perhaps, and being able to sell them, advances the days that those production problems get solved. 

July 24, 2007 | Permalink


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This is the exact opposite argument to that you make concerning the Toyota Prius, where you rejoice in the fact that (possibly) it currently uses more resources to make than a Jeep, and ignore the fact that it is an early adopter and production costs are likely to fall.

Tim adds: "Rejoice"? Not sure I do. Note, find amusing, yes. But then as I supply the fuel cell industry, of course I'm being a hypocrite. Clearly, recommending a small toy is exactly the same as recommending a full sized car.

Posted by: Matthew | Jul 24, 2007 10:01:14 AM

"Clearly, recommending a small toy is exactly the same as recommending a full sized car. "

Are you still talking about the solar powered toy here? Or the difference between a Prius and a Jeep...? ;)

Posted by: JuliaM | Jul 24, 2007 10:17:00 AM

Has everybody forgotten the extremely dry winters in 2004 and 2005 we had in the South East? You know, the ones that led to the droughts in the following summers? Monbiot can talk models/predictions all he wants as he doesn't let the facts get in the way.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Jul 24, 2007 10:56:45 AM

"So I can't claim that these floods ..are even consistent with the models." Since the models are a product of hubris and dishonesty, one might ask "so what?".

Posted by: dearieme | Jul 24, 2007 12:27:31 PM

Do please explain, dearieme, how you ascertained that "the models are a product of hubris and dishonesty".

Posted by: StuartA | Jul 24, 2007 12:41:09 PM

You missed George's best bit about the Goldsmith book (by association), I thought:

"When the new owners dress up as milkmaids and then tell the excluded how to make butter, they run the risk of turning environmentalism into the whim of the elite."

Quite so. When it's not farcical, there's something almost fascistic about these multimillionaires and aristocrats (cf Tristram Hunt) telling us to tighten our belts.

Tim adds; Tell me more about Tristram Hunt....

Posted by: Erasmus | Jul 24, 2007 7:12:54 PM


Because they flout almost all of the key rules for building forecasting models....


Posted by: Cleanthes | Jul 26, 2007 3:38:24 PM