Posts Tagged ‘scotland’

“The Geek Manifesto” is a book by Mark Henderson which has been making quite a splash with a few science-minded people I know: I think I’ve had it recommended to me about four times by different people. So I bought it for my kindle and I’m now about half way through.

Because I’ve been following a lot of science people on twitter for a while, a lot of the issues raised by the book aren’t new to me. I followed the sacking of David Nutt for commenting on his scientific findings on drugs, I followed the libel reform case between Simon Singh and the BCA, and I also saw the birth of the Science is Vital campaign as a response to the 2010 Spending Review. These issues, and other similar ones are covered in the manifesto. I’m sure there’ll be others as I work my way through the book.

As a scientist, these issues do matter to me. I want decisions to be based on evidence, and I want politicians to try to compile high-quality evidence where it’s needed. It is true that it is easier in general to find examples of policy-driven evidence than evidence-driven policy; for instance, the War in Iraq was not justified by the evidence available at the time.

If there was evidence to show that wind farms don’t work — that they don’t produce power that can be used, that they fail to reduce CO2 emissions, or that they are ultimately more polluting than they save — I would want to know about it. I would want to say to my colleagues, look, it’s not working, let’s find another way, some other technology. I don’t want to bet my career on something that doesn’t work.

Of course, wind power may not be the best long-term solution to all our energy needs. That’s different, and fine by me. I’m not trying to build a panacea for all humanity’s ills, I just want to change the world a little bit to be a better world.

The truth is that the evidence /doesn’t/ say that. Wind farms produce more electricity than they use and they save enough in carbon to balance their construction costs in only a few months of their 20-year lifetime (also see here.

I wonder if part of the reason that the wind industry has failed to engage with its detractors is that most of our talking comes from the CEOs and lobbyists that are a crucial part of our industry, but who aren’t actually scientists or trained in assessing evidence objectively. That’s one reason why I set up this blog; I wanted someone to be presenting the balanced viewpoint that the energy debate demands.

Scientists are good at that, and we need to be here; we need to be heard.


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Hydro generation ‘high’ after warm and wet winter.
“A wet and mild winter has contributed to record levels of energy production for many hydro power stations across Scotland.” (2 March 2012)

Drought may last until Christmas: Environment Agency
“Official drought zones have been declared in a further 17 English counties, as a warning came that water shortages could last until Christmas.” (16 April 2012)

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I’m not really a climate scientist (a physicist, since you ask), and all this talk of apocalyptic doom is a bit depressing. So here are some interesting things:

In my end of the woods, I’ve been doing some really time consuming and exhausting analysis work. It requires creativity, focus and technical knowledge, and came packaged with loads of data to go through and a tight deadline. Said deadline is tomorrow, but as it’s someone else’s job to check the numbers I’ve already worked out I feel like the pressure is off me a little now. Perhaps when it eases I’ll be seen back on twitter on occasion (@turbinetastic).

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Come, walk wi’ me on Scottish hills,
Or by her comely lochs,
And see the footprint in the peat
Whaur ancient farmers walked.
Stop to drink fae water fresh,
Sae cauld it chills your hand,
And think o’ ancient fisherfolk
Who fed thus fae this land.

Born o’ you in ancient days, in ancient days were we,
Wi’ life fae you in many ways, and many ways to be.

Come, walk wi’ me on Scotland’s roads,
and to her busy heart
Whaur city folk ha’ toiled long
Through daylight and through dark.
Walk through halls o’ industry
Whaur working folk did tread,
Or ponder wi’ the thinking men
Who changed the world wi’ lead.

Drawn by you through history, through history were we,
And thus we grew in industry, in industry were free.

Come, walk wi’ me whaur pylons stride
across the misty hill
And tether thus each hame and hearth
to coal plant or wind-mill.
Ride on electricity
Throughout our thriving land
And feel the pulse o’ life and worth
You’re holding in your hand.

Guided now through modern days, through modern days are we,
And much we learn through modern ways, in modern ways to see.

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Dear Donald Trump,

Welcome to Scotland! We’re a relatively small place, and our native population are poor compared to our neighbours in London and certain parts of the US. In the international community we’re known for our tartan, our friendly football fans, our whisky, the Enlightenment, and, of course, golf.

We are, of course, pleased that you have chosen to invest some of your vast fortune here. It may be true that, without a golf course, Scotland’s laws allow all of us to enjoy access to some of our wonderful views and unspoilt land, whereas a luxury resort tends to belong mainly to the rich who can afford to use it. It’s also true that golf courses pose risks to the environment, as they’re highly managed with pesticides and chemicals and provide poor habitat for local flora and fauna. Still, water use is less of an issue in Scotland as we get plenty of rain to keep your grass green all year round. So that’s some consolation, at least.

I was concerned, several years ago, with some of the things I read about your company’s aggressive approach to gaining planning permission for your golf course, though. I read about the misuse of council compulsory planning orders and actual false statements used in planning applications. It seemed the local community felt they would not benefit from your golf course and fought against you (even amidst a hostile environment, as one councillor claims she is “used to abuse from the Trump organisation”). You pushed through the application and gained planning permission. Of course you did that by listening to your opposition, being open to changing your plans appropriately, and showing due consideration for the nation and environment which was to house your ambitious project, rather than by bullishly throwing your money and influence at elected officials until they caved to your preferences. Naturally.

And now, you want control over land that is not yours, and that you cannot buy. You try to hold the Scottish people to ransom, forcing them to choose between an offshore wind farm (and a small one, only 11 turbines; in fact the site is planned as a research and development base for offshore wind technology) and your luxury golf resort.

Your golf resort was never intended for the people of Scotland. You want the land to be a scenic backdrop where rich tycoons and executives can sit in luxury. But the land is our home; it is not simply a painted backdrop, but the source of all of our resources. Its farmland feeds our families, its people educate our children, its landscape inspires our artists and songwriters. We must be able to provide energy to our population. This is a basic need for us to continue to function as a modern first-world country.

This offshore wind hub could provide Scotland with additional security of energy supply; it allows us to take advantage of the resources we have to meet our daily needs. It will provide our graduates with jobs here in Scotland, so our best people don’t feel obliged to move to London and the South East. It does not burn fuel, therefore does not release smoke or chemicals into the atmosphere during operation. It reduces our carbon footprint. It helps to move an immature technology forwards, working towards a better and more secure energy future.

Not everyone in Scotland likes wind farms. Generally anti-wind-farm people seem to prefer offshore wind farms, because they’re not close to peoples’ homes – so fewer (purported) health impacts and noise concerns – and the wind resource is better offshore anyway. But you have railroaded people into giving you what you want, making a mockery of the planning process on the way, and you expect us to listen to your objections? Did you listen to our objection then?

So tell me now, Mr Trump, why should we, as the Scottish people, care what you think? Do your tax dollars pay for our roads, our schools, our hospitals? Have you shown due care and consideration for our valuable ecology and environment? Have you cared for our population? Have you done anything other than bully us in an attempt to profit from our worldwide reputation as the home of golf?

No. You’re a billionaire in a snit, and, whatever you think of offshore wind farms, we’re a better place without you.

Yours Sincerely,

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Today saw the return of some extremely windy weather across Scotland. The met office has already reported some of the headline wind speeds on their website as a comment dated 03/01/12 17:55 (links to a live website which will be updated and overwritten). I thought it might be good to see the locations of these reported wind speeds on a map:

Some of the windiest locations in Scotland

Data from the Met Office, image produced using Google Earth. Image may be reproduced freely if credited to @turbinetastic.

“Gusts” are short term wind speeds, usually measured over about three seconds. They can be very damaging, as we saw today in Scotland.

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