Transitioning to a Green Economy saves more than just lives

A Fossil Fuel Economy Requires 535x More Mining Than a Clean Energy Economy

While it may seem unbelievable, the concept is simple.

Fossil fuel economies need constant investment in raw materials for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure (everything from the drill bits to the engines that burn the fuel). The wear and tear on the equipment throughout the FF economy means regular replacement. The fuel itself is also mined. We also use oil products to try and reduce the wear and tear on the equipment. Think about your oil change in your car. Now magnify that by a billion and you won’t even be close to the cars on the road across the world.

Clean energy economies invest all of the mining in resilient infrastructure. Solar panels have no moving parts. Solar panels last years. The energy they produce is not mined, we are literally collecting free energy that’s landing all around us. If we move away from EVs, the wear and tear decreases further (an EV is a sop to car manufacturers- they’re overweight ICE car analogues).

So while clean energy skeptics may point at the mining needed to produce solar panels, they’re being disingenuous at best.

Remember: we cannot reason with the unreasonable. We cannot use evidence to debate with those who do not respect evidence. We will fail if we use logic to challenge those who have abandoned logic for greed.

The Darwinistic Approach (and why everything worthwhile boils down to Natural Selection)

In my youth, I was lucky enough to study science, specifically Genetics. My thesis was about the change in populations due to natural drift – assuming a small rate of random mutation and some selection pressure. Selection pressure is what we would probably describe as “something going wrong” but it can also be a simple filter. Using a Darwinistic approach allows us to evaluate and iterate on a problem. What we are trying to achieve is “whatever can happen, will happen”. That’s the basis of Evolution and has led to a dizzying array of biodiversity in the natural world.

Mathematician Augustus De Morgan wrote on June 23, 1866: “The first experiment already illustrates a truth of the theory, well confirmed by practice, what-ever can happen will happen if we make trials enough.” In later publications “whatever can happen will happen” occasionally is termed “Murphy’s law”, which raises the possibility — if something went wrong—that “Murphy” is simply “De Morgan” misremembered.

The thing to remember about Evolution (and by extension Darwinistic Natural Selection) is that the possibilities generated must come before the selection pressure or nothing survives the selection filter. If the organism doesn’t survive to reproduce, then the line ends. The bank of possibilities must be there already.

This translates into “innovation” easily. An organisation must populate itself with a wide heterogeneity of minds in order to generate the ideas (the fundament of innovation) with sufficient diversity that can survive the selection pressure filter. The ideas should not initially be fettered by the selection pressure criteria (otherwise every problem that looks like a nail results in a solution that resembles a hammer).

After the ideation is complete (though, in truth, ideation and iteration should never stop – just like cell mutation), the selection filter can be applied. Ideas which don’t at first make the grade should be subjected to further iteration before they can be discarded. Only this way can you have a truly Darwinistic natural selection.

Natural selection in this way resulted in modern humans – but also resulted in pilot whales, baboons, golden eagles and bumblebees. Each of them adapted to the niche they occupy. If you apply your selection pressure with the single-minded aim of producing something that looks like a human, you’ll miss out on the entirely practical solutions that resemble bees, monkeys, birds and dolphins. In business terms, this means discarding every solution that doesn’t resemble “we have always done it this way”. What happens to organisms that discard new things? They die out.

We are in an unprecedented era with worldwide biodiversity loss. Organisms are simply unable to adapt to the new way of the world quickly enough. Evolution is simply too slow. Unfortunately for us, we are part of that. Humans are tremendously adaptable – mostly due to our brains and the technologies we develop – but it would be arrogant to assume that we are not under selection pressure right now. Humans continue to evolve but, like our counterparts in nature, we will not evolve quickly enough and, due to the way natural selection works, many of us won’t make it. The Selection Pressures of a changing climate (whether you think it is man-made or not is somewhat irrelevant) are presenting new challenges that we need new ideas to resolve.

Our technology may save us, but we are only fielding ideas that look like old ideas, under the same selection pressures. Great ideas (the baboons, bumblebees, eagles and whales) are discarded because the selection criteria are not fit for purpose. The Legacy pressures from “we have always done it this way” obstruct the effective solutions by discarding innovative ideas.

for example

Statement: We need food to survive
Selection Pressure: Food is not distributed equally
Legacy Pressure: We must grow food for profit not to resolve hunger
Result: A lot of people starve to death but we generate some value for shareholders

Statement: We need food to survive
Selection Pressure: Food is not distributed equally
Legacy Pressure: Only solutions resembling beef steaks will be considered
Result: A lot of people starve to death, but some people get steak

As you can see, Legacy pressures are artificial selection pressures. They limit innovation, they hinder success. They leave us without workable solutions and instead present us with short term distractions that bring us no closer to the result we need (avoiding mass extinction).

We have the opportunity to generate all of the ideas we need before the real selection pressure starts. But we have to rid ourselves of Legacy pressures.

So, Green Software.

Her we are, mid-July in Malta and the temperature is soaring. 34º which ‘feels like’ 39º when you consider the humidity. All over the world weather is breaking new records and none of it in a good way. Record breaking soil temperatures. Record breaking sea temperatures.

My point for today was to highlight the state of green software.

Green Software is software specifically designed (or maybe excellently coded) to reduce resources or to have a positive impact on the environment. You won’t find very many so-called Web3 technologies in the list due, in part, to their huge energy requirements and many of them on Github will be unfinished, non-functional or perhaps one-offs far below what would be considered an MVP.

I am reminded of the Code 4 Good project back in Northern Ireland. I originally kicked it off as Code 4 Pizza. The idea that we would have a hackathon, provide pizza and drinks and focus on an area that really needed fixing for the good of society. Back in 2009, it was a pretty new idea and we managed to hack the local transport monopoly timetables into something usable. Later, I pitched the idea to the Building Change Trust and they ran a series of successful mini-projects where they’d match a programmer with a charity who had a need. Small bits of code to produce web apps and phone apps to make lives easier for charities.

This needs revived. To take on the challenge of fighting environmental collapse during a period when large corporations (fearful of boycotts from climate deniers) are pulling back on their public commitments – and if not held to account – will likely pull back on their real world commitments.

Some of this will be invisible software. Like software that helps a 3D printed solar panel frame orient itself towards the sun. Some of it will be very explicit, like reducing the energy footprint of major apps (Honestly, I’m looking at Firefox and Chrome here). As some of you may remember, I’ve been a fan of ultra-low-power-computing for years. The idea that my Phone has enough computing power for all of my needs has been demonstrated multiple times, the idea that my iPad (with a 20W power supply) was able to outpace the desktop PCs in Film School (with their 400W PSUs) is not lost on me. The concept that the Raspberry Pi, running on a tiny 5V 1A power supply could conceivably replace all of an individuals desktop computing needs is again not lost on me. On the Pi, desktop usage is a little sluggish, maybe not so much that a novice user would notice, but I notice.

But these pieces of hardware use less energy when working hard than a desktop PC uses when idle and I don’t know anyone who’s happy with their current energy bills.

We have the hardware to run highly optimised software – we just need to optimise the software.

Remember where you are from. You’re from Earth.

Demonstrating “all” is difficult. Most of the time, the climate doesn’t follow our dire predictions. The date arrives and the apocalypse doesn’t happen.

This is why so many movies (2012, The Day After Tomorrow) depict two things

1. The disruption is happening faster than predicted.
2. It’s happening to nice, educated, relatable white people, not to strangers far from us.

Hence drama ensues. But this is a movie, right?

The reality is that it will be slightly slower than predictions but it will be uneven. Entire regions populated by people who don’t look like you will be devastated by floods or hurricanes. Meanwhile you’ll complain that the summer was a bit rubbish (or in sailing circles that the westerlies and trade winds patterns are changing).

The locations hit worst will be places that you like to go on holiday or regions which make your products cheaply.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Providing developing countries with modern technology (such as solar) in sufficient quantities could change them from being a carbon-producing economy into a carbon neutral economy. The impact of that alone could be massive – China already has realised that their rapid industrialisation has had a negative impact and they’re taking steps to produce more solar every year than most countries will ever install in a lifetime.

We have the technology to create a future-proofed 22nd Century civilisation. But like climate disruption, it is applied unevenly.

The negatives of globalisation can be turned into positives if we remember that we all live on the same sphere (the pale blue dot) and that what happens in London or Mumbai or Durban will have an effect on lives in Shenzhen, Helsinki and Melbourne.

Remember this when someone asks you where you’re from.

You’re from Earth

Green Ways

Wouldn’t it be great to have 10 miles of relatively straight commuter greenway for cycles, ebikes, cargo bikes, scooters and runners alongside the M1 stretching from Lisburn to Belfast with a connection hub at Blacks Road (where there’s already a Park and Ride) and connector greenways from Lambeg, Derriaghy, Dunmurry, Finaghy, Balmoral, Falls, Malone.

Paths and bridges so human commuters didn’t have to constantly dismount. So that they didn’t have to constantly worry about 1 ton death machines piloted by distracted drivers.

We have to start thinking about the future at some point.

Electric cars are a bandaid to the problems of the future. They’re more efficient and less polluting than ICE cars, but their efficiencies are tiny compared to bikes, ebikes and scooters. The average ICE car has an efficiency of about 3%. (That is, about 3% of the gasoline you put into it is used for actually moving you.) Electric cars are also impractical for the thousands of households who don’t have a driveway. How are they meant to charge their cars? Cars as a whole block pavements.

So what happens in 10-15 years when it’s almost impossible to buy a ICE car? Where’s the alternative transport coming from? Why not plan for it now?

But we can add a six lane road in Belfast and 500 more parking spaces in a Brutalist edifice in the city. Where are the 500 spaces removed from the public domain? Why aren’t we converting on-street parking to cycle lanes wholesale? No demand? Well, yes, there’s no demand while you don’t actually have cycle lanes. There’s no demand while cyclists are murdered by drivers. No demand while cyclists are despised by government as much as they are despised by motorists.


I don’t think that hydrogen is going to be a satisfactory alternative. We need to get out of the mindset of choosing finite resources (we only have a finite amount of hydrogen on earth). We end up just moving the problem down the road. Remembering that the water on our planet is finite and it’s a thin skin on the surface of the Earth should be sobering. Remembering that every hydrogen transaction is lossy. And every hydrogen escape is a permanent loss to the planet.

It’s the same with nuclear. Hydrogen is not renewable, nuclear is not clean.

Much of the energy we use is tied up in cars – they’re horrendously inefficient. Not just in the energy conversion (~70% loss) but in the transportation of 100 kgs of human, we have to also transport 900 kgs of car (and that’s for an average one). So, when you think about it, only 3% of the energy we put in the tank is used to transport a human. Electric cars won’t save us from this – they’re a band aid (and they’re even heavier)

(I question the symbolism of Wrightbus in the photo. I question the commitment of the minister from a party of climate-disruption denialism. I question the use of hydrogen for storage – after all, it’s not like hydrogen under pressure has been a problem in the past.)

Take the long view. Build civilisations to last.

The Realm of the Possible: Inventing a New City

After DRIVING past the new “death trap” paint on the Sydenham Bypass that’s meant to be a “cycle lane”, I am comforted to see that some cities have leaders who are prepared to re-make the world as we would like it, and not just rely on what has been past. .

Seattle to permanently close 20 miles of streets to traffic so residents can exercise and bike on them

Nichola Mallon, our Infrastructure Minister, isn’t being advised on what’s in the realm of the possible. It’s the problem with that department (and in particular Roads Service). When you ask a road engineer on what would solve a problem, they think in terms of roads.

I tend to think of the realm of the possible extends from impossible to impossible!

So how do we get people cycling and walking more?

Is it impossible to make cycle lanes which are more than paint?

No, plainly not. Here is a part of the Sydenham Bypass with a kerb! This would make cycling much safer. So, why is the department so happy with a line of paint? If we have it for part of the Sydenham Bypass, why not all of it? Why not extend it to Bangor and Ards?

Is it impossible to close BT1 to private street traffic?

No, it’s not. In fact, a lot of that is in the Regional Transportation Strategy including deflecting traffic from hope street straight to the Ormeau/Cromac area via a new road at Bankmore Square. Essentially the only cars in the centre outside of emergency services and buses, should be taxis and disabled vehicles.

Is it impossible to turn every non-disabled parking space in that area into cycle lanes to protect cyclists from buses, lorries and taxis?

No, obviously. We will see a decrease in traffic overall after the pandemic passes as a lot of people-intensive businesses will be re-looking at their leases for commercial property (some large businesses are closing multiple sites and having their workers work from home because working from home can improve productivity (as long as the kids are at school!) If you think about it, all of the streets in the CBD of Belfast are host to “car corpses”. Cars which are driven in and just lie dead all day. Our streets are littered with them. What are the knock on effects of that?

So we don’t need as many parking spaces? Or commercial parking lets? Or office buildings?

No, we really don’t – so that frees up huge amounts of space for cycling and pedestrians. Think of the lives saved from cars not careening into people.

What about those offices? Will they lie empty?

Well, Belfast City Council has been trying to square the circle of getting people to move into the centre of the city, but there just hasn’t been the space. So, if we are talking about maybe a million square feet of unoccupied office space right now and perhaps up to five times that in two years, that’s a thousand 1000 sq ft apartments now, and 5000 in the next decade. That solves the “Belfast is a graveyard” problem every evening as well as fostering small business in the city centre – including the eateries in the city which really deserve a bit of an uplift after the runaway rates and Covid-19 related collapse.

Thousands more living in the city would be a massive uplift for the city economy. And we have the space.

Are there other things we can change?

Of course, with decreased traffic and more reliance on public transport, we don’t need that M2/Westlink Exchange upgrade. That’s a waste as it is, it’s doubly so after the pandemic. We could invest that in live/work apartments in the city centre. We could invest in arterial segregated cycle lanes from four quarters of the city as well as dedicated cycle freeways along the M1, M2 and A2. With the decreased pollution of decreased traffic, Stockman’s Lane might be bearable to cycle through.

Anything else?

Well, I’m always going to say “free public transport”. The fact that it would decrease pollution and particulate matter, reduce the burden of road repairs on the taxpayer, increase social and economic mobility for just about everyone, equalise some of the society and put cash in the pockets of low and middle income workers is just the tip of the iceberg.

We have an opportunity to change the city and be an exemplar. Wouldn’t it be great to be proud of Belfast for things that were great and that worked? Stuff we could boast about that was good on a global stage and not just “better than what we deserve”. Can’t we aspire to greatness as a city? Celebrate our best and brightest?

Rather than a ship that sank, forty years of civil war and an alcoholic footballer?

Possible Changes to Cycling/Walking Provision in Northern Ireland:

From the Department of Infrastructure:

I am delighted to announce that there will now be a walking and cycling Champion within my Department. Our champion will ensure that we deliver our commitment to increase the percentage of journeys made by walking and cycling. Inspiring our communities, restructuring our spaces, changing forever the way we live – and changing it for the better.

“I want to increase the space available for people who want to walk and cycle by extending pavements, pedestrianising streets and introducing pop up cycle lanes. I have already identified some parts of Belfast City Centre and Derry City that can be transformed in this way

This is a fabulous opportunity. Northern Ireland missed out on some key legislation regarding eBikes. We are way behind the rest of the UK with this.

The UK legislation was harmonised with EU law EN15194 in April 2015. Your steed is an “electrically assisted pedal cycle” (or EAPC, or ebike, or Pedelec) if: the bike has pedals that propel it; the electric motor won’t assist you when you’re travelling more than 25 km/h (15.5mph); and the power doesn’t exceed 250 watts. In the UK you must be over 14 years old to ride an electric bike but you don’t need a licence, nor do you need to register it or pay vehicle tax.

The cycles that meet these requirements (which affect two-wheeled bikes but also tandems and tricycles) can be ridden on any cycle paths and anywhere else that bikes are normally allowed.

In all cases, these are pedal assist cycles and not “twist and go” throttle based solutions.

Either way the announcement from the Minister for Infrastructure could go a long way to changing the face of Belfast. Increasing mobility and reducing congestion are key to further health concerns both in terms of environment but also in the current pandemic. I’m excited about the possibility of cycle lanes that might, for instance, shadow the M1 into Belfast rather than track slowly along the Lisburn Road dodging buses and parked cars. Talk about an infrastructure ready project.

And while we are at it, the Minister may want to look at the York Road Exchange upgrade with a sceptical, future looking eye. Sacrifice a car lane for a bike lane all the way up to Mallusk and Jordanstown. Extend the bike courses out from Bangor and Lisburn. Make sure there’s a solid Bike access lane from West Belfast and the small streets of North Belfast.

And please, please, make the cycle lanes more than just paint on the roads. It’s bad enough that we sacrifice pavement for cars, but parked cars render cycle lanes utterly useless.

Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets.

[Read the article] Of course, some of us have been saying this for years. Remember when the Segway debuted? There was a reported conversation that everyone derided. Apparently Steve Jobs, on viewing the prototype Segway with Dean Kamen, said that we would design cities around this thing. It was backed publicly and financially by Jeff … Continue reading “Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets.”

[Read the article]

Of course, some of us have been saying this for years.

Remember when the Segway debuted? There was a reported conversation that everyone derided. Apparently Steve Jobs, on viewing the prototype Segway with Dean Kamen, said that we would design cities around this thing. It was backed publicly and financially by Jeff Bezos.

How the media laughed.

And now the media are calling for us to redesign cities to cope with new PEV (personal electric vehicles) designs. Of course, all of this is a little moot for the UK as the Tory government failed to deliver an election promise on licensing for LEVs and PEVs and of course, our government couldn’t do it because we don’t have one.*

But watch this space because things are afoot. They’ve extended the bus lanes on one of the busiest roads in Belfast. They’re introducing a new bus called the Glider which will, like this recently multi-million investment in dumb ticketing machines at major stops, will be utterly underwhelming. They’re going to close the area around Belfast City Hall to private traffic. They’re going to invest massively in the Westlink-M2 exchange yet not actually address the cause of queues in the morning. But that’s because …. I don’t know. I’m sure they have great reasons.

*and do you ever notice that when change is needed, politicians decide on whether it’s a devolved matter or not depending on how close it is to lunchtime.