Scientists don’t have the best of relationships with politicians and business people. They are indifferent to politics, which is way they are not seen actively engaging in the decision making process of government policy. Their interests lie where they have opportunities to practice their profession. So they can gain funding for their research projects that they wish to use to better the world and society.
Scientists are never really actively engaged in civic action in government operations. They are often used as tools to a politician’s plans where they help draft the policy rather than create the necessary items to put the plan into action. This is known as policy based evidence. The opposite is called evidence based policy.
This is where I think the government’s climate and environment policies have demonstrated a classic example of this situation. Recently the government and the London Assembly has revealed that the pollution levels are climbing to an unsafe level. This level is so bad that there are health hazards around the capital. The biggest polluters of this crisis hasn’t been petrol cars, but diesels.
Incidentally over ten years ago when the congestion charge was introduced the government was encouraging people to switch from petrol to diesel. The belief at that time was that diesel is a fuel that is good for fuel economy and therefore it will better for the environment than petrol cars. That is true of course. Diesel delivers greater fuel efficiency and can deliver a stronger drive at lower revs than petrol. However if you bother to pick up a book on the subject you’ll find that it’s been known that diesel is far more toxic. In fact it’s been known for many years having been studied before the green revolution began.
Sir David King was the UK government’s chief scientific advisor from 2000 – 2007. During his time in that post he said that ‘climate change is a greater threat to the world than terrorism’. Sir David is an example of a scientist satisfying government policies by extracting pieces of evidence that only satisfy the need of the policy to work that does not include the counter factual stuff.
When they do take action they focus on promoting ways in which people should be less economically efficient like leaving the car at home and taking public transport to work. But what really annoys me is that they don’t try to be creative with innovative designs in green technology. Some politicians do little to help with this and their policies are not right for saving the planet. They want people to take up public transport more often yet some of them choose not to invest in upgrading or investing in new technology like hydrogen powered cars, new railway networks or hybrid fuel busses.
When the politicians speak of promoting climate change they don’t have any good ideas on how to fight it with bettering science. Promoting the further expansion of wind turbines in rural areas isn’t going to be good enough. These big machines are the budget furniture of the eco-tech world. The reason for this is because they are only capable of making just a third of the wind power into electricity. But the general population is not aware of this.
Just ask Albert Betz, who discovered this in experiments with wind turbines in 1919. He discovered that only 59.3% of the motion power of wind is captured by a turbine, of that power that is achieved it’s not efficient to justify the running costs of wind turbines. This is known as the Betz Limit. The turbines used by the National Grid are only able to achieve 75-80% of the Betz Limit. So you only make just 40% of the energy from wind power. The solution that can be achieved to make them more efficient is to change the shape of blades. A ship’s sails have a wider surface area to catch the lightest of winds. With wide blades like a conventional windmill you can generate more power to make them more efficient.
Why don’t we hear these facts in enough information about the decisions to promote a sustainable living? Well the majority of scientists choose not to get involved for protection of their research grants that pay for their science projects. Many of them are employed in the government and business and most of their funding comes from investors connected to public funds. So if they question their paymasters they are in a position of an ethical dilemma that leads to them being ostracised. Some of the founders of green movement have even been dismissed by their fellow activists for questioning climate change. Some of them have been unfairly branded as ‘holocaust deniers’.
The time has come for the geeks to realise that not only are they to inherit the Earth, they must fight for their share of the power. We can not rely on civil servants and green lobbyists to do the work of fighting climate change. Some of those people on these boards haven’t even got a science background.
I want to see scientists push the need to help build a better country to promote activism within the scientific community. The geeks rightfully deserve to take their place to build a better world.