Saturday, September 02, 2006
SHOWCASE TECHNOLOGY PROJECTS FOR SCOTLAND I
Zero or negative cost
1) Instead of paying for the Red Road flats to be demolished give them to their occupants, on condition they
sign up to a good factoring agreement. Any unoccupied flats or where the occupants choose to be rehoused rather
tha ownership to be offered free to neighbours or sold at auction. These flats used to be Europe's highest
& are still impressive. It would be interesting to see if private owners & private enterprise can run them
more succesfully than the Council or GHA. Require the same ofer to be made for any other blocks of flats
which GHA wish to demolish.
2) Paint a big orange line along the pavement between Glasgow Central & Queen St stations with the distance in
metres written so that strangers know the way.
3) Immediately allow First the right to run a hovercraft across the Forth to Edinburgh - skip planning controls,
environmental impact statements, inspections, long lunches discussing it etc etc. 16
Under £100,000 (administratiion costs only)
4) Run a public competition for proposals to showcase technology projects costing under £1 million.
5) Invite tenders for the building of an arcology (a town enclosed as a single building) of 10,000 homes
somewhere in the Highlands or Borders with a low population. Such an arcology not to be subject to any planning
permission but must carry long term building insurance.
6) Pass a motion in Holyrood stating that we have a national goal that Scots should be at the cutting edge of
scientific achievement & Scotland should, proportionately to our size, contribute to space development at
least as much as any nation even Singapore.
Friday, September 01, 2006
SMOKING BAN SPEECH AT SLD CONFERENCE
On motion to ban smoking in public places
Section (a) of this motion calls on us to support it only if the case is clearly proven. It isn't. A BMJ statistical analysis found only slight statistical significance when 48 studies were combined. Looked at separately only seven showed significant excesses of lung cancer meaning 41 did not.Further the combined risk was merely 24 percent, also called a "relative risk" of 1.24. Such tiny relative risks are considered meaningless, given the myriad pitfalls in epidemiological studies. "As a general rule of thumb" says the editor of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine Marcia Angell, "we are looking for a relative risk of 3 or more" before even accepting a paper for publication.According to the National Cancer Institute "Relative risks of less than 2 are considered small & are usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or the effect of some other not evident." The main exception to that rule comes when the study is extremely large, but such was not the case with the BMJ analysis. The studies showing excess disease comprised only 1,388 people in total. By contrast a recent study implicating obesity as a cause of early death contained more than three hundred & twenty THOUSAND subjects.
So where does this leave us? Do we know passive smoking doesn't cause lung cancer. No. But we do know that either it does not, or that if it does the risk is so tiny as to be unmeasureable. Does this mean that passive smoking poses no health risks? No. It makes sense that it would aggravate asthma if nothing else. Does it mean that just because smokers arn't murdering other people, they're not still engaged in a nasty, expensive habit that greatly increases their own chances of sickness & premature death? Definitely not. But it does mean that we cannot legitimately limit people's freedom on the basis of this alleged risk to others. Over the next few years Ireland & New York will be able to produce substantial statistical populations & they may prove the banner's case. Or they may disprove it. Or & this is my bet, modern air extraction systems, which can remove 96% of smoke, may be proven effective. We shall see.
Some years ago, to the obvious embarassment of the leadership, the federal party voted to examine lightening the criminal burden on cannabis users. I remember a TV news programme immediately after in which a Mr Michael Howard said we were wrong because nobody should ever, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever even think about thinking about any sort of reform. With it's well known commitment to balance the BBC then interviewed his shadow, Mr Jack Straw who said his opinion was a little more hardline than that.(pause for laughter - none came - this is a tough audience) He has clearly changed his mind.I was very proud of our party that day. It seemed to me that we were acting in the best traditions of classic Liberalism. Having been the first to call for some decriminalisation of cannabis, despite some dubious medical claims, I would be sorry to see us leading the way towards the effective criminalisation of tobacco.Thus I urge you to reject this motion.
(they passed it by a large majority - we will see)(I would like to acknowledge that the section "A BMJ ......... Definitely not" was listed almost verbatim from http://www.sepp.org/reality/pseudosci.htmla site I reccomend to anybody who believes themselves a free thinker on environmental subjects)________________________________________________
This is also reprinted from my November 2004 archive to be made more accessible. Since then, of course, the ban has been brought in. Less is now said about passive smoking as a proven major health risk & more about the "right" of non-smokers not to be in the vicinity of smokers, without having to stand outside, or indeed in a pub that chooses to go non-smoking.
Success in this venture is entirely measured in terms of enforcement rather than in whether the promised 1,000 lives a year are being saved. There has been no mention of investigations, if any, into whether there has been a great reduction in passive smoking deaths in New York or Ireland.
To be fair to the SLD it is worth pointing out that though I was the only person who spoke directly against the ban but that a number of others spoke for a partial ban on, I suspect, a tactical basis.
MY PRO-NUCLEAR SPEECH from 2001
I wish to speak specifically against the amendment to this motion. Unlike the motion itself which gives reasons for its case, the amendment simply states as a matter of doctrine that nuclear energy must be disposed of. Since this means the loss of 40% of Scotland's electricity within 10 or, with a certain amount of juggling, 15 years I think we are owed a solid justification. Since the main motion hopes for an increase from 11 to 21% of our wind, water & solar capacity this still leaves an overall reduction of 30% on our current capacity. Assuming that over the next 10 years the economy will grow at 2.5% we will have a shortfall of nearly 60% of current capacity. The only option other than rationing is a massive programme of building coal, gas & oil generators & which would obviously involve tearing up the Koyoto Treaty. For the Scottish Liberal Democrats to vote for such a policy would be, & would be seen to be, grossly irresponsible. The example of California should be a warning. There the richest part of the richest society in the world is suffering regular power blackouts because for the last 20 years political considerations have prevented the building of generating capacity.
At the slight risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic I now intend to speak in favour of nuclear power.It has been calculated by Professor Cohen of Pittsburgh that, even if there were no other source, uranium particles recovered from seawater could keep our present nuclear power industry going for 5 billion years, whereas the sun is expected to explode in five & a half. It must therefore be considered as pretty sustainable. In general terms nuclear energy is competitive with coal & significantly cheaper than oil or gas. The French are currently generating 77% of their power atomically. They are also profitably selling power to all their neighbours, including us.
The basic arguments used against following their example are the risk caused by accidents, waste disposal & leakage of low level radiation. They are all wrong. The worst accident was at Chernobyl in 1986 caused by the Soviet notorious neglect of safety. As a result 10/20,000 deaths were predicted. Despite the most minute tracking of variations in cancer rates the total currently stands at 45. By comparison in another Soviet accident, in 1989, 570 people on a train died in a gas pipeline explosion. The total of deaths in the following 15 years is 2, in Japan. Bearing in mind that we are talking about creating nearly 20% of all humanity's energy for that period this is a safety record not even approached by any other industry in human history. At the same time to mine coal we tolerate the deaths of hundreds of thousands annually worldwide from black lung & an unquantified but large number from emphysema when we burn it. Waste disposal is truly a non-problem. Reactor waste is very nasty stuff but there is no technical difficulty in turning it into glass producing an entire cubic metre per reactor year. This can be stored in a very deep hole where it will be safe for millions of years. This is not even a problem for our remote descendants since a highly radioactive material is, by definition, one with a relatively short half-life. After 10 years reactor waste radioactivity is reduced a thousandfold. After 500 it is less radioactive than the ore originally mined. This is also why decommissioning reactors is normally unnecessary. Just lock the door & leave it. Recent research on radiation has shown it is not the threat we thought. Classically estimates of the danger of low level radiation have been based on the theory that there was a linear progression from say 5000milliSieverts (a level which will kill 50% of people within a month) to zero with no safe limit in between. Purely because it was a very conservative assumption it was proper to use it when we had no better model. We do now. Following the failure of Chernobyl to satisfy the theoretical predictions statistical examinations have been made of victims of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombs, people who worked with radium & most importantly hundreds of thousands of tests of radon in homes. The results have consistently shown that at low levels, below 150 milliSvs radiation has no bad effect. Indeed the radon tests have actually shown a negative correlation between radioactivity & cancer. This is not as strange as it seems. Many things are dangerous in large dose but beneficial in small. 1 aspirin may cure you but 1000 will kill. By comparison you & I will normally have a dose of 2mSvs a year, nuclear workers & uranium miners get 2.5 & airline pilots, because they work at high altitude, get about 6.
In conclusion it is clear that the only thing we have to fear from nuclear electricity is fear itself. This is not a good reason to prepare ourselves for blackouts. The human race has an unlimited future if we will only reach out for it.Anyone who wants to check what I have said should surf www.world-nuclear.org or www.formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/ nuclear
This is the speech I made some years ago to the Lib Dems against an Executive amendment dismissing any use of nuclear power. It went over fairly well - the 5 billion year line got a laugh - & despitr Jim Wallace, then leader, saying in his main speech that he didn't see how any Liberal could support nuclear & Ross Finnie being drafted in at the end to do a speech ignoring any technical questions & asking us not to "embarass" the leadership 1/3rd of the members voted my way.
In the intervening years the closure of Torness has been put back a the early 2020s but the facts remain unaltered. Tony Blair, who at the time called nuclear an "unattractive option" may now be considered a follower of me.
This speesch was also in my original page - now part of the November 2004 archive - but I ahve reposted it here to make it more accessible.