Monthly Archives: September 2004

Disposable legislation

Like a lot of those harried urban Labour MPs we’ve been hearing from lately, I feel a sort of vague discomfort with the idea of people on horses rushing through the countryside in pursuit of small, quite fluffy mammals – it’s just not very nice is it? Unlike most of those Labour MPs, though, I don’t have a constituency mailbag bulging with threats of deselection and other low-grade mischief.

The hunting ban is an ugly thing: illiberal, politically contingent and irrelevant – a throwback to an earlier era of dogmatic, one-dimensional leftism – sentimental, anthropomorphic, shabby. It’s a casual and thoughtless infringement of liberty that will save the lives of (maybe) 30,000 foxes per year – about a third of the number killed by cars. It’s such a bad law it makes me feel queasy. It’s like dangerous dogs on steroids – trashy, knee-jerk legislation for trashy, soundbite politicians. I’m a Labour Party member and I’m ashamed of it.

“It looks like we have a no-chute, sir”

Genesis Mission has landed, 8 September 2004
This is how you test the resilience and optimism (and sanity) of a human being. You ask him to work for 14 years on a space science project, you grant his wish and send his path-breaking probe to gather specks of the solar wind (at a fascinating and mysterious location called Lagrange-1), you successfully return the probe to earth orbit, you even allow him his crazy Burt Reynolds fantasy of grabbing it during its descent using stunt helicopter pilots… and then you crash his precious probe into the desert at 150 miles per hour. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful and so pathetic as this little film of Genesis tumbling (and tumbling) silently to earth today.

Of course, in the very, very long run, it’s going to be our readiness to make the best of a cock-up like this (and Beagle 2 and Columbia and so on…), to pick ourselves up and to keep trying, that confirms our humanity and that gives us the slightest chance of exceeding the bounds of our home planet one day…

The beginning of the post oil era (again)…

The prospect of the $50 barrel of oil is focusing the minds of the West’s policy makers and business leaders nicely. The last time we had a proper oil crisis the rich economies comprehensively cocked it up and wound up more dependent on oil and its fragile producer network than ever before – one of the twentieth century’s great missed opportunities (try to picture the world now with the oil producers reduced to suppliers of a secondary energy source… It’s a different place all together and one in which 9/11 and Iraq would probably never have happened).

This time I think we’ll get it right, though. The planet-wide rush for alternatives – hydrogen in particular – will be faster and more widespread than anyone expects. You will be driving a hybrid SUV or a fuel cell car in ten years and the Northern European economies, in particular, will get the majority of their domestic power from renewables within twenty-five (the NIMBYs, meanwhile, will need to be marginalised – we have no choice this time round).

Business Week on the unexpected revival of solar power. The Economist’s excellent survey of the car industry (Economist surveys are free, I think, but may require free registration), including this piece about electric cars. James Surowiecki in Wired Magazine points out that Hybrids are already selling fast with practically no advertising, no real Government subsidy and no track record. MSNBC on a fascinating and possibly Quixotic effort to kick-start hydrogen without waiting for fuel cells by converting ordinary internal combustion engines to run on H².

This last, from a firm entertainingly called Intergalactic Hydrogen is particularly interesting because it looks like it might be one of those tipping point projects. They don’t want to convert us all. They’ll probably convert thousands to tens-of-thousands of rich Americans to hydrogen – for reasons of altruism, fashion or paranoia – but they’ll seed suburbia with hydrogen refueling stations and they might just produce the kind of critical mass necessary to trigger mass adoption.


Is it possible (advisable, acceptable?) to blog Beslan? Blogging is such an utterly trivial thing to do with your time that even mentioning the apocalypse that overtook that town in North Ossetia must be wrong. Is it? I don’t know. It certainly feels crass to me… Would silence be worse, though? Of course, even worrying about all this is sickeningly self-obsessed. I should just register my grief and solidarity with the parents of Beslan and shut up (and maybe offer a link to the British Red Cross appeal for Beslan while I’m at it).