Tuesday, 2 July 2013


You hear of things during the course of your day. Some lift you, some make you chuckle, some inform you, some make you reflect. Occasionally, you come across things that make you completely "facepalm" at the sheer banality of it all. Such an thing occurred today; an article in The Guardian, one of my more common sources of epic facepalming.

£50bn. Hold on, that doesn't do it justice, let's give this the shelf space it deserves; FIFTY BILLION POUNDS. That's a lot of dosh. Only.....it isn't, not really. It's chump change to most of the controlling factors of society, mere fractions of a larger, even more impressively meaty budget. But it's still many, many, many times more than what we can easily imagine spending. No wonder, therefore, that it has made big news as the projected (and rapidly inflating) budget for HS2, that imaginatively named controversy soon to be snaking its way between London and Birmingham.

Now, I've been loosely following this thing, not with any great interest, but still keeping a beady eye on it in a "hope it fails and embarrasses the Government completely" kind of way. In many respects, I'm getting my wish, but I digress. In reading the article above, it occurred to me that I had not, at any point, thought something like "£50bn? You could spend that on something really useful". This is uncharacteristic of me to say the least, but also something that a lot of people seldom devote serious time to, as Andrew Steele appears to have done here.

The entire science budget for the coming year is £4.6bn. That's across all levels of science, including all research, all patented technologies, everything. Yet the Government are prepared to throw £50bn at a train network that will, at best, shave 35mins off the journey between London and Birmingham. Let's put this in perspective, a science budget of £50bn would change the world. The entire world, thusly :-

  • It would put the UK front and centre in all leading technology and scientific sectors, it would enable economic stability (as most of the economy is actually dependent on science and graduate sectors), it would fundamentally alter the way we're able to live our lives. 
  • It could begin to seriously address issues to do with climate change, poverty, the economy, joblessness, pollution, medical treatments. 
  • It could train and teach an entire scientific workforce capable of then building forward again, establish the UK as a world leader in scientific research and economic progression. 
  • Scientists and professionals worldwide would flock here, new centres of research would pop up almost overnight and the resulting technologies are only limited by imagination. 
That's what £50bn buys you. Or, you could have a slightly quicker train. You could have the cure for cancer. Or some diffuse and as yet unknown economic boosts from a HS train network along the middle of Britain. You could have completely clean, basically infinite energy. Or shave 35mins off your commute.

Tell me right now that you're not facepalming. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Water, water everywhere, and way too much to drink....

Some of you may know of Al Gore, the luckless but highly intelligent, climate-driven author and environmental activist from the United States. Luckless because he lost a U.S. Presidential Election (despite winning the popular vote) on a disputed legal technicality, and an environmental activist because he has dedicated his life to travelling the world to raise awareness of all sorts of climate related nastiness. You may have even watched his famous and hard-hitting documentary "An Inconvenient Truth". Then again, you may not have; this is where I come in.

Amongst the facts and figures of this documentary, Al Gore gives candid reflections on his work. One of the most prominent is the fact that he has given the same presentation thousands of times, in countries all over the world, to people from all walks of life. One of the most common issues he faces is disbelief in the face of evidence; basically, because the consequences are not occurring to them yet, they do not believe the problem exists. So, consider us as Europeans, even just as people from Britain, safe within our little sphere of unpredictable but non-extreme weather. Climate Change is far from our shores, right?

Sooooooooo wrong.

Fact One - Our planet redistributes heat. It has to. Heat from the equator naturally makes its way to the poles, and it does this by way of wind and ocean currents. It is fundamental to the steady climate of the planet. One of the largest and most famous of these ocean currents is called the North Atlantic Drift, which brings warm water from the southern Atlantic, which then cools and begins to head south again, like a huge ocean conveyor of heat to the north. 

Fact Two - At the end of the last ice age, retreating glaciers in what is now the northern U.S. and Canada left behind a huge body of melt-water, which are the origins of the Great Lakes. As these glaciers were retreating, this enormous body of water was held back by a ring of frozen glacial walls, which eventually gave out. This caused a massive influx of fresh water into the sea, diluting the salt content of the northern Atlantic, effectively shutting down that conveyor of heat we call the North Atlantic Drift.

Fact One and Two Consequence - With no heat exchange in that part of the world, northern Europe was plunged into a 1000yr ice age within 10 years. Britain had glaciers as far south as Cardiff. 

Fact Three - Temperatures rise far quicker at the poles than at the equator. A rise in the average temperature of 1 degree celsius at the equator will equal a corresponding rise of 12 degrees at the poles - again this is down to Fact One.

Fact Four - Greenland is a huge combination of floating water ice and land bound ice. When the former weakens, the latter begins to slide into the sea extremely fast. There is more fresh water bound within Greenland than in the Great Lakes combined, certainly more than the amount released into the ocean during the events of Fact Two. Greenland is melting at a furious rate.

Fact Three & Four Potential Consequence - The resulting influx of fresh water into the Northern Atlantic will shut down the North Atlantic Drift, causing the cessation of heat transfer to Europe. Within as little as a decade, average temperatures will plummet and Europe will enter an ice age of a duration far longer than 1000 years. Reflection of energy from the sun will vastly increase in the northern hemisphere, causing a corresponding dip in worldwide temperatures thought to be enough to trigger a global ice age. Fertile land will massively decrease, living space will be confined, wars over resources and food will be rife.

So, just in case you're sitting there thinking that Global Warming is rubbish because we've had a bit of snow, you're a bit far off the mark. Global Warming is something that triggers Climate Change, which can swing in either direction. If the ice shelves of the Arctic and Greenland decide to give up the ghost, it can only take ten years for the entire planet to become inhospitable.

Unless something is done now, of course.

Just Keeping Things Cheery,

Ger Morris

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Well Then.....Umm.....And Life

"Well then....umm....and life" struck me as a particularly accurate title, considering that my previous post was just over a year ago. I was, quite honestly, struck by the novelty of being able to rant and rave about this and that, but eventually got a little bit defeated by the worry that I was ranting a little bit more than would be interesting to a lot of people. Kind of like cry wolf, but where the crying is replaced with unfocused yet largely enthusiastic digs at the Government.

However, the bug has bitten me again and I feel that if I don't write something now I'll likely let this whole thing wander off into the ether. So then, a topic is required. Something positive, perhaps. Inspiring, even. Well then.......umm.....


Just recently, a familiar, mop-topped particle physicist appeared once again over the airwaves to grace us with sweeping vistas of jaw-dropping beauty and a relentless peppering of facts that leave most open-mouthed and quietly shaking their head in astonished revelation. I am, of course, referring to that bastion of science, Professor Brian Cox and his new series 'Wonders of Life'.

Now let's clear something up from the outset, here; I am a huge fan of Professor Cox. I place myself firmly between "would worship him if I believed in deities" and actually wanting to be him - indeed I am actually listening to the soundtrack of 'Wonders of the Solar System' right now. My girlfriend insists this is down to some latent homosexual tendencies I have brewing within me (Brian, call me, XOXOXOX), but it's simply more accurate to say I am a huge fan of what he's done in the name of science for a country that is woefully deficient in supporting its scientific base.

"Oh, we're not that bad, surely..?", I hear you scoff. Well here's an example. The University of Manchester, a stalwart of scientific research if ever there was one, quite recently developed a wonderful little material called Graphene. Barely one atom thick, it is stronger than steel at similar scales and is far, far more conductive than copper. It promises nothing less that the complete revolution of our electronic, medical and industrial sectors. Even more recently, the statistics were released for the number of forthcoming patent applications for this almost limitless technology. China, behemoth that it is, has 2000+ applications. Samsung has over 400 in progress, securing a future amongst the best in mobile technologies.....

The UK has 42.

Let's think about that a minute. The country that developed the technology, that is more aware of it than any other country on Earth, has managed only 42 new patent applications on such a revolutionary technology. This is down to the shameful funding allocated to the research sector, the woeful state of our economic and growth potentials......we're basically in a bit of a mess. But there's something that can be done about that.

Brian Cox himself has said that economies in the Western World are largely dependent on their ability to consistently fund an active and flourishing research, education and scientific community. It's the pillar of the work-force, skilled job creation, technology progression and viability to prospective companies. Yet even the recent doubling of the scientific budget by Westminster does little to scratch the surface of what's needed, of what other countries are prepared to invest. This is where people like Professor Cox and the BBC come in.

By putting science front and centre, with a presenter who is obviously as blown away by the material as you are, who can put complex ideas into bite-sized chunks, you're essentially making a down payment on future scientific potential in this country. In my humble opinion, which admittedly gets less humble the more people disagree with me, Brian Cox and his shows should be shown to every school child in the UK. Investors should be strapped to a chair and made to absorb it. In a very real sense, it's by inspiring wonder and the habit of asking questions and seeking answers that we will reinforce and embolden a generation to improve on our shabby state of affairs.

Brian is not alone either. Huge credit is owed to the likes of Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Dara Ó Briain, Professor Stephen Hawking, BBC Horizon and a whole host of boffins working under harsh conditions to advance science for all of us. However, it's in getting this work to the public eye, in such a way as to engender wonder and curiosity in the populace, that scientific prospects for progress will increase in this country.

So, love him or hate him, it'll be people like Brian that have the best chance of securing a better future for everyone in the UK. Certainly not that utter tit-factory in Government.

......And I almost made it through without ranting too...

Just a small human in a big Universe,

Ger Morris