Monday, July 11, 2011

Stormy weather

On Saturn a raging storm has developed from a small spot to cover an area about 4 billion square kilometres, or eight times the surface of the Earth (NASA, New Scientist).

Neptune's moon Triton has a thin atmosphere and huge streaks of black material across its surface. These are created by geysers of dust and nitrogen erupting from under its icy surface as it is heated by the sun. In other words, even at the edge of the solar system, where temperatures are below -200C, sunlight can still drive distinctive weather systems. (Carl Murray of UCL quoted in Guardian report)

Monday, July 04, 2011

'Into Eternity'

Here are a few half-thoughts (predictable for those who know my views) about Into Eternity, which I watched last night.

1. This is an outstanding piece of work. Do go out of your way to give it the time and attention it deserves.

2. Andrei Tarkovsky already made this movie. It was called Stalker.

3. A viewing of Into Eternity reinforces my view that it is corrupt and wrong to continue to increase the amount of nuclear waste unless and until we have proven and economically sane solutions as to what to do with that waste and we ensure that those who profit from new investment in nuclear power also bear their fare share of the liabilities and long term costs it imposes.

4. It would be good to see a thorough investigation of what the options are for (third, fourth generation...) nuclear power, and what prospects there may be for rendering nuclear waste, not least plutonium, less dangerous. A participant in Into Eternity says that it is theoretically possible to make transform waste into harmless substances but not practical to do so, but the film takes the issue no further. This assertion does need to be explored and tested in many fora, including non-technical documentary film.

5. The reality in the UK seems to be rather different from Finland/Sweden. Sellafield, where ... tonnes of plutonium are ‘temporarily’ stored on the surface in what is by some accounts a Steptoe and Son operation, with chaotic record keeping and people routinely ignoring alarms when they go off. Britain has at least £70 billion of liabilities in remediation at this and other sites to meet before we even start on something new. Meanwhile, as a polity, we are not yet anywhere remotely approaching serious regarding potential alternatives. We invest, according to one account, around £12m (20p per capita) per year into renewable energy generation and storage (wind, solar, hydrogen etc) R&D.

6. Watch this clip:

Note: Thanks to Jessie Tegin and OpenCity UCL for sending a copy of the film

P.S. There is a campaign to stop new nuclear power stations in Britain.

P.S. 5 July: George Monbiot has a useful commentary here, to which I have added my one penny worth of response here.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

'I guess what I’m saying is at some point, we’ve all parked in the wrong garage.'

Apart from the whole Mao was “70% correct, 30% incorrect” blather which the [Chinese Communist] Party has been clinging to like a crazy shut-in on an episode of Hoarders, there’s also a growing tendency to excuse the worst excesses of the 1958-1976 period as simply “Mao being Mao.” Like a kindly but eccentric drunk uncle who gave out candy to little children but also did to 5-10 for putting the candy store owner into a coma with a 2×4. I don’t count myself among the “Mao the Monster” crowd, but give the guy his due: His reign featured some of the the craziest and most destructive events in 20th century history, and whether he was the mastermind or a dupe is kind of irrelevant. As bad ideas go, having this guy run your country is up there with hitching a ride with Ryan Dunn or hiring R. Kelly as your baby sitter.

Mao may have been great as a political visionary, a poet, a revolutionary general and/or a noted connoisseur of stewed fatty pork, but when that many people die on your watch and the NEXT guy (or the next, next guy – sorry Hua) presides over a historically unprecedented period of economic development…that’s not good. That’s not even 30% not good. That’s like 70% sucks and 30% really, really sucks and all the Red Songs in the world aren’t going to change those numbers.
-- from It’s a Mad Mad 90th Anniversary by Jeremiah Jenne