Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Qatar, the elephant in the room in war between Israel & Hamas

Qatar, in recent days, has been praised for helping broker a temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel which saw the release of dozens of hostages held by the terror group and over 100 Palestinians held by Israel.

While Qatar's position as a mediator cannot be disputed, the irony is that without Qatar's help Hamas might not even exist in the first place.

More than $1.8 billion has been supplied to Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by a number of governments around the globe including the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Indeed Qatar is a key financial backer and ally of the Palestinian militant organisation.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, repeatedly attacking Israel. Hamas was founded in the 1980s and has been opposed to the late Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since its inception. Unlike the PLO, Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. Its emblem depicts the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and the outline of the territory of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank as a single Palestinian state.

In this regard, and especially since the 7th October terror attacks on Israel, Hamas is seen as an existential threat by Israel.

In 2006, Hamas won the absolute majority in Gaza's general elections. In 2007, it solidified its hold on the coastal enclave through a violent coup. Since then, the West Bank has been controlled by the moderate Fatah party under Mahmoud Abbas, while Gaza has remained under Hamas' control.

But it has cemented its control only through vast sums of money flowing from its allies, the biggest of which is Qatar.

Qatar, which has been pouring money into the region since at least 2009, has insisted the money is not to help Hamas but rather the Palestinian people as a whole. However, given Hamas controls everything from the health ministry to its own military machine, this is a naive statement at best.

Qatar's hosting of a number of Hamas leaders on its own territory also seems to show where the gulf state's allegiance lies.

Moreover, following the Hamas surprise attack on southern Israel on 7th October 2023, and the outbreak of the 2023 Israel–Hamas war, Qatar's hosting of the Hamas political office in Doha has come under greater scrutiny.

Speaking to the media in Doha alongside Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani [pictured], US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "there can be no more business as usual with Hamas."

But this call has largely fallen on deaf ears within the Qatari regime which continues to criticise Israel for what it calls a disproportionate military response to those attacks.

Putting aside Israel's response to the October terror attacks, and the large number of civilians that have been killed, Qatar too, has much to answer for.

So too have countries that have allowed Qatar to build its wealth within their territories.

If Qatar is responsible for funding a terror group, so too surely are nations complicit if they allow Qatar to raise funds on foreign soil.

Yet there appears to a blind eye turned when it comes to Qatar's business interests.

Much of this foreign investment is managed through the Qatar Investment Authority set up by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani a member of the ruling Al Thani Qatari royal family. It is now headed by his son Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Amongst its main holdings, the QIA have a number of key assets including Harrods as well as significant shares in a number of financial institutions and other companies.

The $1.8 billion reportedly given to Hamas is relatively insignificant compared to the billions invested in and made by the QIA as a whole. But nonetheless no-one has called out the financial links between Qatar and a designated terror group.

It is not only Hamas that Qatar is funding. Qatar has also been accused of indirectly funding other terrorist organisations of allowing terror financiers to operate from within Qatar.

Yet al Thani is welcomed by world leaders without a flinch of concern. Earlier this year the Qatar leader was greeted by the UK PM Rishi Sunak in Downing Street, yet there was no mention of financial ties to Hamas or the funding of terrorism. Indeed it was more focused on further financial deals with Qatar buying more UK assets [No.10]. And even this last week al Thani shook hands with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Dubai at the beginning of COP28 where the main topic of discussion was rising global temperatures [Times of Israel].

India and China have been criticised for not doing enough to temper global climate change which has also been labelled an existential crisis.

But state sponsorship of terror groups is also a global threat. As such  al Thani and others like him need also to be called out for their complicity and funding of terror groups.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Stolen treasure - The Legacy of the British Empire

In the last week the subject of whether the Elgin marbles should be returned to Greece has once again entered the public discussion after the UK PM Rishi Sunak snubbed his Greek counterpart and cancelled a scheduled meeting [Guardian].

Greek claims

In many respects Greece has a valid claim on demanding the return of the Parthenon marbles, and Rishi Sunak's reaction could be regarded as petulant or petty. But where does one draw the line concerning what should be returned to their countries of origin?

What is property?

There has been much philosophical discussion concerning property and ownership throughout history. Proudhon famously suggested that "Property is theft" in his 1840 thesis La propriété, c'est le vol!   Of course it depends on one's position concerning the definition of what property is, as Marx asserted in his critique of Proudhon's thesis.

There are some who would assert that 'possession is nine tenths of the law' . It could be regarded as an oversimplified statement, but the principle is based on the tenet that the possession or property belongs to the person or body holding it unless evidence can be shown to prove otherwise.

So how does the evidence hold up concerning many treasures and artefacts sitting in private collections, museums or in the hands of the British state?

Theft, plunder and spoils of war

Since antiquity nations have taken their plunder after invasions or seizure of foreign lands. Such spoils of war were considered acceptable by many nations until relatively recently. But one might hope that in this age of modernity, nations could become more grown up and begin a process of repatriating the plunder secured through colonialism or war.

Some nations have indeed begun this process of repatriation. Japan, for example, has returned vast swathes of cultural items to South Korea that were plundered during its colonial occupation from 1910 to 1945.

But Britain stands out as being one country unwilling to revisit its colonialist past, make reparations and repatriate stolen items.

Britain's plunder

The Parthenon Marbles are known as the Elgin Marbles since it was Lord Elgin that had secured them from the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was a part at the time. Greece has since become an independent state, and as such feels it has a legitimate right to call for their return.

The Greek government and supporters of the marbles' return to Greece have argued that they were obtained illegally or unethically, that they are of exceptional cultural importance to Greece, and that their cultural value would be best appreciated in a unified public display with the other major Parthenon antiquities in the Acropolis Museum. The UK government and British Museum have argued that they were obtained legally, that their return would set a precedent which could undermine the collections of the major museums of world culture, and that the British Museum's collection allows them to be better viewed in the context of other major ancient cultures and thus complements the perspective provided by the Acropolis Museum.

Supporters of the British position are partly correct that the Elgin Marbles return could set a precedent. But is it morally acceptable for Britain to hold on to its nefarious gains?

Narendra Modi of India has, for example, demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond that has found its way into the crown jewels, specifically the state crown.

Nigeria has long called for the repatriation of the Benin bronzes that sit in the British Museum. And Egypt has demanded the return of artefacts plundered since the 18th century including the Rosetta Stone which also sits in the British Museum as well as other looted antiquities including a statue of Ramesses II.

In fact the British Museum is a building overflowing with stolen items or acquired by unethical methods. It would be true to say that the museum would be somewhat sparse should such items be returned. But should not a national museum represent its own culture rather than displaying stolen loot from around the globe?

Representing one's own culture

Museums in China, South Korea and even across parts of Europe are not so much filled with plundered treasures as historical artefacts from their own respective cultures.

British history might not be as culturally rich as some nations. But it has to be asked how Britain might feel should the position be reversed. What if Stonehenge sat in a foreign museum or prominent statues had been taken and now sat in a building half way round the globe.  

How would the British government feel about the Victoria memorial residing somewhere in China, and the palace nearby lay in ruins after being raised by invading Chinese troops? There would undoubtedly be ongoing consternation and anger as well as a demand for its return.

Yet the exact opposite is true. Initially constructed in 1707 the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, was destroyed by Anglo-French expeditionary forces and treasures, including the famous bronze zodiac heads, were looted partly under instruction of James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin and son of the 7th Earl of Elgin who took the Elgin marbles.

While the looting and sacking of the Old Summer Palace was in retribution and a warning to the Qing Empire not to use kidnapping as a political tactic against Britain, it has to also be questioned why British and other foreign forces were even in China. This was a time when many European countries were colonising various parts of the world, enslaving indigenous people and plundering their lands of treasures. With regards China the British also brought chaos by supplying opium and creating a huge drug addiction problem in China, especially in the south near Canton, now Guangdong.

While China has recovered many of the bronze zodiac heads, including two returned from Britain, five remain unaccounted for. Speculation continues as to where the missing antiquities are.

Nearly a quarter of a century into the new millennium Britain in particular is in the sights of many countries demanding the return of their stolen treasure.

Maybe the British Museum might look a little sparse with only stone age, Saxon, Viking, Roman and later historical finds on display. But at least it would be a 'British' museum rather than it being a museum of stolen treasure.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Sky's "Unhinged" Botting criticised for anti-Israeli bias

Anna Botting, Sky News correspondent, has brought sharp criticism following her interview with Mark Regev, Senior Advisor to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in the wake of an explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza.

During the interview, Botting inferred that Israel was directly responsible and that Israel had gone too far in its response to the terror attacks on the 7th October 2023.

While there were comments on social media in support of Botting, there was a groundswell of criticism too.

"This is by the far the worst, most biased interview by a professed journalist I've ever seen," one Reddit user wrote, "Using Hamas as her news source, she acts as their mouthpiece in an interview of Mark Regev not designed to elicit facts but to demonize Israel. Kudos to Regev for keeping his cool and highlighting her obscene bias, double standards, and failure to comprehend Israel's right to self defense.

"The look in [the] eyes of the journalist is scary, like she is deranged" a comment said on YouTube where Sky News posted the full video.

"I appreciate that her job is to challenge the narrative and the interviewer, but she took it too far and lost her impartiality," another said, "It is not for her to agree or disagree with the interviewee (on camera and in public, she can agree with whomever she likes in private), but her job is to the ask difficult questions on our behalf that need to be asked when people are being killed."

Many described her as "unhinged", "angy" and "biased", having clearly made up her mind before facts had been established. "I bet she won't be that emotional and screech at any Hamas spokesman about the atrocities they committed," one Twitter user said. Others described her as a Hamas apologist [Twitter].

While it is true to say that many of the Israeli airstrikes in the week of bombardments have resulted in civilian casualties, it has to be said that such instances are 'collateral damage' and not intentional on Israel's part. Hamas on the other hand have been indiscriminate in launching terror attacks against Israel.

In the hours that followed it seemed clear that the tragedy at the hospital was not as a result of an Israeli airstrike. Still photographs showing the damage were not consistent with an Israeli missile with no visible crater on the ground and only minimal damage to the hospital itself.

Video evidence seemed to back up Israeli claims that the blast occurred after a missile fired from Gaza failed and fell short landing in the parking lot of the hospital and created a fireball. Israeli intelligence released an audio tape said to be of a telephone call between two Hamas operatives which appeared to indicate this was indeed the case and that the missile was one fired by Islamic Jihad from a nearby cemetery.

None of this was known shortly after the explosion had occurred. However, Botting clearly jumped the gun and went with the line issued by Palestinian sources that it was an Israeli airstrike. Moreover she, along with many other media outlets accepted the casualty count without question.

It is clear there were casualties at the hospital as a result of the explosion. But the numbers come from Palestinian authorities, that is Hamas, which has everything to gain by inflating those figures. The Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, has said 471 were killed, but it is difficult to verify the veracity of these numbers, though the figure is well below the 800 that the ministry claimed might die as a result of the 'strike'.

The following day Botting was still referring to the blast at the hospital as an "attack" and another Sky report referred to the incident as a "strike" which precipitated anger in Bierut and the West Bank.

Sky News was not the only channel jumping to conclusions. Al Jazeera and TRT as well as many Arabic news stations were all describing the incident as an Israeli strike soon after the explosion. This has all helped to fuel the fire in a region which has strong anti-Israeli sentiments. Not all outlets jumped to conclusions. The BBC, CNN and Fox News were all cautious in their language, describing the incident as a 'blast' or 'explosion' and clearly citing claims of it being an Israeli strike as being a claim made by Hamas.

On the streets off nearby Jordan crowds gathered Wednesday chanting "All of Jordan is with Hamas". And there has been unrest across the West Bank and in Lebanon.

"I can see Anna [Botting] getting some compulsory time off very soon..." one Twitter user wrote. Whether this happens will all depend on if she makes any more missteps.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, October 13, 2023

Questions over Israeli response to Hamas attack

When Hamas launched its attack into Israel it wasn't just Israelis and Jews that became the target of their onslaught. Some six days on it has become clear that many other nationalities were killed, kidnapped or suffered injury. Victims included Chinese, Thai, British and American citizens, details of which are only just emerging. The attacks have been widely condemned with many saying Israel has a "right to defend itself". But Israel's response to the attacks has been criticised as one of retribution and revenge. With pictures emerging from Gaza showing the destruction from days of aerial bombardment Israel risks losing support and feeding propaganda which will act as a recruiting sergeant for extremists.

Hamas targets

While the vast majority of victims in the Hamas attack were Israeli or Jewish, other nationalities also became victims.

Three Chinese were killed in the Hamas terror attack according to the foreign affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin who spoke in a press briefing on Thursday. "We can confirm that three Chinese nationals were killed in the clashes," he said "Two are missing and several are injured." [Newsweek]

Meanwhile 12 Thai workers were killed and 11 kidnapped with a further 13 injured according to the Thai foreign ministry [BBC]. A video posted on social media also appears to show Hamas terrorists beheading one of the Thai workers with a garden hoe while shouting 'Alah Akbar' [God is great]. The video has been disputed by some on social media and the veracity of it cannot be established.

Children are amongst 17 Britons killed in the assault carried out by Hamas on Saturday 7th October [BBC]. It is not known how many British citizens have been taken hostage although one 26-year-old has been reported as missing after the attack at the Re'im kibbutz.

Some 27 Americans have been reported killed with around 14 unaccounted for [Guardian / The Hill].

At least 1,200 were killed in the assault, around 300 reportedly IDF soldiers. Some 200 are believed held hostage by Hamas, their fate unknown. The youngest is said to be 9-months-old while the oldest is reported to be an 85-year-old grandmother. A further 3,400 were injured in the assault [Wikipedia].

Defence or revenge?

It is clear, for anyone with eyes, that the Hamas attack was indiscriminate. And while accounts of the debauchery and bestial nature of the attacks on women, children and babies have been disputed, the fact is Hamas clearly targeted civilians and killed them in cold blood.

However, Israel has lost the moral ground in many respects by initiating a large-scale air assault on the Gaza region.

It is well known that Hamas fighters embed themselves in civilian areas and as such any air assault would undoubtedly result in civilian casualties. Taking out water and electricity supplies, as well as preventing humanitarian supplies from entering the region, also leaves Israel open to criticism.

Netanyahu has said Israel's objective is to weed out and destroy Hamas once and for all. But by killing civilians and babies in large scale airstrikes may only give Hamas and similar groups fuel for their anti-Israeli propaganda.

Of course, Israel could not have sat down and done nothing. But perhaps a better solution would have been a ground offensive, backed up with air support. There would undoubtedly be IDF casualties in such an assault but Israel would have maintained the moral high ground in such a venture especially if run in tandem with placing displaced citizens in a safe area behind enemy lines as they moved south and provided them with humanitarian supplies. Following a full sweep of the territory, which would have likely taken many weeks, Israel could then have initiated either a peacekeeping operation giving way to UN peacekeepers overtime. A gradual withdrawal could then be made as the situation became stable. This would not happen overnight and would require establishment of moderate political leaders in the region who would be acceptable to, not only Israel, but also the population in the Gaza strip itself.

The current reality on the ground seems to be heading in a far different direction. Israel's military has called on civilians to leave Gaza city and head south in what has been widely perceived as a signal that a ground offensive is imminent. Hamas meanwhile have reportedly ordered citizens to remain in their homes. Even if free to leave, many would not have the means to escape. Few people would have vehicles and a journey on foot would be arduous even though the strip is only some 40 km long.

There is much speculation as to how intensive the ground assault will be. Some commentators say it will be fraught. Ben Wedeman, CNN's international correspondent, suggested it could be a "bloodbath".

Israel cannot sit back and do nothing, especially given the nature of the attack launched by Hamas on unarmed civilians. But its military response also needs to be measured and targeted or it may only serve to fuel the fire and feed Islamist propaganda.

As Mahatma Gandhi is often attributed as saying, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind"

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Hamas barbarism "worst since the Holocaust”

Netanyahu has called the atrocities left in the wake of the attack into Israeli territory on Saturday 7th October as being "the worst since the Holocaust".

The statement might sound exaggerated. But as details emerge it is clear that the Hamas assault was horrific beyond imagination.

In one incident, Hamas terrorists stormed into a music festival where people had gathered to have fun over the weekend. In the early hours of Saturday morning the peace was shattered at the Supernova music festival as Hamas gunmen fired indiscriminately. Survivors described the carnage that ensued.

One attendee at the festival said the first sign that something was wrong was when a siren went off at around dawn, warning of rockets. "Suddenly out of nowhere they [the terrorists] come inside with gunfire, opening fire in every direction," Ortel told Israel's Channel 12

"Fifty terrorists arrived in vans, dressed in military uniforms," she said, "They fired bursts, and we reached a point where everyone stopped their vehicles and started running. I went into a tree, a bush like this, and they just started spraying people. I saw masses of wounded people thrown around."

Parents received panicked phone calls from sons and daughters telling of the horror they were experiencing. For many it was the last they would hear from their children.

As the IDF arrived they found a slaughterhouse of more than 260 bodies strewn across the desert.

Further details emerged in the coming hours that some of the festival goers had suffered worse at the hans of the terrorists with reports that some women had been raped, murdered and then had their partially naked bodies paraded back through Gaza surrounded by jubilant crowds [Daily Mail]. 

Some of the reports cannot be entirely verified. However it is clear that Hamas terrorists were indiscriminate in their killing and brutalising of the innocent revellers [BBC].

Some were also taken into Gaza alive to be used as bargaining chips or as human shields.

Further atrocities were discovered at a Kibbutz in Kfar Aza where Hamas terrorists killed occupants including children and babies with reports from the IDF saying a number had been decapitated.

"It's hard to even explain exactly just the mass casualties that happened right here," visibly distraught i24 News correspondent Nicole Zedek said during a broadcast from Kibbutz Kfar Aza near Sderot about a quarter-mile from the Gaza Strip [Twitter].

"Babies with their heads cut off, that's what [the soldiers] said. Gunned down. Families gunned down, completely gunned down in their beds," Zedek said of the "sheer horror."

"This is nothing that anyone would have even imagined," she added. [i24 / CNN / NYPost / BBC].

Many have dismissed the veracity of the reports saying that the claims had not been confirmed by the Israeli authorities and were based only on a single i24 TV news report. However in the hours to come IDF and government officials later confirmed that children and babies had indeed been beheaded in the attack.

More than 150 are believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas, the youngest only 9 months old and the oldest believed to be an 85 year old grandmother. Amongst them are American citizens [AJC].

A day later and Israel began their onslaught against Gaza while tackling a few remaining pockets of terrorists still fighting on Israeli soil.

In the days that followed Gaza was bombarded with hundreds of missile strikes. The strikes have of course displaced thousands, left hundreds dead and destroyed a large number of buildings.

Israel has defended its course of action saying it is attempting to specifically target Hamas but that the terror group deliberately embed themselves amongst civilians.

Civilians have undoubtedly died in these strikes. Amongst them 11 UN aid relief workers, it was reported Tuesday.

It is the destruction in Gaza that Hamas and its protagonists are capitalising on, using the images to label Israel the aggressor and fueling the rhetoric.

But even before Israel had even launched its major counter offensive there were scenes of people celebrating the Hamas assault. As Sydney Opera House was lit up in the colours of the Israeli flag in solidarity, many pro-Palestinians gathered nearby chanting "Gas the Jews" [Reuters]. 

It wasn't the only example of anti-Semitism observed following the Hamas terror attack. Similar scenes were seen in Toronto, Canada [CBC]. In one demonstration a woman was seen screaming at Jews "Khaybar, Khaybar", a chant referring to the 7th century slaughter of over 100 Jews who refused to convert to Islam and often used as a Hamas war cry [TwitterWikipedia].

In London hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli embassy on Monday lighting flares and shouting "Free Palestine" and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" a slogan commonly featured in pro-Palestinian campaigns and chanted at demonstrations.

It is expected that the IDF will soon move into Gaza on foot with tanks and artillery. The buildup of military hardware over three days seems to indicate it is imminent. The intention, from government statements, appears to be with an objective of illuminating Hamas in its entirety. This would require an entire sweep of the territory from the border to the sea.

It is unclear what the plan is. But what is clear is that the conflict has only just begun with risks of escalation all too real with Hezbollah already launching attacks from the north.
Israel's resolve nonetheless is crystal clear. Mark Regev, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, told Sky News that "this war will finish on our terms."

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

More pylons needed to get to ‘net zero’

How long before the NIMBYs and Just Stop Oil eco zealots suddenly focus on the rollout of electricity pylons? Well, to some extent the pushback has already started with the Environment Secretary, Therese Coffey, organising a petition against power cables being routed through Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Yet the irony is that the electricity pylon rollout is needed if the UK wants to increase its reliance on so-called renewable energy and expand the use of electric vehicles.

JSO and other environmental groups have been pressuring the UK government and consumers to move to greener forms of energy and transport. But many have failed to address issues concerning how this transition might be achieved.

As discussed in a previous post, EVs while certainly less polluting in terms of direct emissions are not entirely green. Mining for Lithium, Cobalt and other minerals required for EV batteries is far from green. And it's debatable whether widespread EV use will significantly reduce global CO2 emissions.

Nonetheless, there is a definite push for motorists to shift to EVs with bans on diesel and petrol vehicles being manufactured after 2030.

Should such bans come into force it will mean only older, already manufactured internal combustion engine vehicles remaining on the road. While some such vehicles can last over twenty or thirty years, by 2050 there could conceivably be no traditional vehicles on the road apart from those kept by enthusiasts, collectors and museums.

With even hybrid manufacturing being stopped in 2035, the only way to stay on the road in some 15 years time will be to purchase an EV.

Putting aside issues concerning range anxiety and pollution related to their manufacture, and recycling old lithium batteries, the main problem that needs to be addressed is charging them.

There are around 40.7 million licensed vehicles in the UK, of which cars make up the majority. In the United Kingdom, there were 33.2 million cars (81.5%), 4.63 million LGVs (11.4%), 0.54 million HGVs (1.3 %), 1.36 million motorcycles (3.3%), 0.15 million buses & coaches (0.4%) and 0.84 million other vehicles (2%) licensed at the end of September 2022 [RAC].

The bans coming into force in 2030 onwards primarily affects cars with no concrete proposals yet put forward concerning vans, lorries, buses, coaches and agricultural vehicles.

At the moment there is also no suggestion that classic cars powered by traditional petrol or diesel engines will be forced off the road. There are more than half a million "historic" vehicles — those over 40 years old — on British roads and it is unlikely that will change. It is expected that in the twenty years or so following the petrol and diesel car ban, old-style fuels will become less sought after, more expensive and harder to come by as a niche product for enthusiasts.

While petrol forecourts won't disappear any time soon, it is clear that the EV charging infrastructure will need to be increased. And with an increase in chargers, be they at service station forecourts, car parks or simply on the street or at private addresses, comes a need to increase capacity to support them [Driving]. 

The Sunday Telegraph recently reported that hundreds of kilometres of overhead cables and pylons were set to be fast-tracked to support such infrastructure and the Daily Express has also reported on the plan which it dubs a 'pylon hell'. 

The National Grid says the expansion is essential to achieving the government's goal of decarbonising domestic electricity production by 2035, and becoming a net-zero economy by 2050.

Coal has been phased out and while gas remains a key player, wind power is set to be Britain's energy source of choice going forward. In fact wind power met over a quarter of the UK's annual electricity demand of some 26.8% for the first time in 2022.

But with demands of electricity increasing multifold the need to build more pylons and distribution networks will also increase.

For some pylons have a certain aesthetic. For others they are a blot on the landscape. But short of placing the cables underground, which is both costly and impractical, pylons are the best way of distributing electricity.

The problem is that many opponents to such plans want the benefits but not the infrastructure that is needed.

It is reminiscent of the campaigns against mobile phone masts as telecommunications companies rolled out their networks in the 1990s. Some 40 years on mobile networks in the UK are some of the worst in the world in terms of coverage partly due to NIMBy campaigns that claimed the aerials were an eyesore or that they posed a threat to health.

Similar claims are of course made concerning electricity pylons with there being some anecdotal evidence at least to the electromagnetic fields causing problems for some individuals.

Such protests are fine should you be proposing doing away with all technology, electricity, fossil fuels etc., and returning to a life when people ploughed fields with cattle and reaped harvests with scythes, travelled by foot or horse, and communicated only by letter sent by a weekly stagecoach. But those opposing pylons or mobile phone masts more often than not still want electricity to watch Netflix, charge their EV and post pictures on social media accounts using 5G on their latest smartphone.

JSO and others all too often ignore the inconvenient details laid bare when one digs further into the alternatives proposed by their thinking.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, June 30, 2023

Southend on Sea an epitome of Brexit Britain

Sarfend on Sea, as those speaking in an estuary dialect might say it, draws in huge crowds on a sunny weekend.

Quite what the attraction is, is hard to establish.

Of course it is the only real stretch of beach to the east of London. Jaywick and Clacton, further north along the Essex coast, are too far away for Londoners.
And Kent beaches too, such as Margate or Whitstable, are also out of reach.

And so it's Southend on Sea which is very much a Hobson's choice when it comes to a day by the coast.

Beaches on the southern coast of England are much nicer, but again, not so good for a day trip.

But there is really very little to inspire at this estuary 'resort'. The beaches are stoney and the tide always seems to be out, thus a swim is very often out of the question.

But who would want to swim here anyway. Recent media reports have singled out Southend on Sea as being one of many beaches around the country to be affected by sewage outflows.

Indeed it's not so much Southend on Mud, as it is often colloquially referred to, than Southend on Sewage.

But maybe one just came to relax on the beach, tuck into some fish 'n' chips, and enjoy an ice cream.

Well, be prepared to take out a mortgage, as Southend is certainly not cheap.

Getting there will cost a pretty penny, be it by train or car. Train fares from the outskirts of London are around £10 for adults and a little less for kids, so a family of four could be looking at at least £30 or more before stepping onto the promenade.

Driving is a little cheaper in terms of fuel but parking could set you back more than £16 for the day.

So you're finally parked or out of the station and heading to the beach. It's not long before there are demands for food. Fish and chips sell for around a tenner at most outlets, but could cost considerably more. This day out is already getting a little expensive. One could easily be sixty quid down by now and the tide is still out.

"I want an ice cream mummy," your child demands. Before long you've spent another twenty pounds to satisfy their desires and before long a few more pounds are shed to quench their thirst with cans of fizzy pop.

Despite being a stoney beach sand still manages to get everywhere. But finally the sea is in and of course the kids want to swim.

That means someone having to keep guard. Hey, this is Southend. While not downtown Harlem or the Bronx, it's probably not a good idea to leave your handbag stuffed with wallet, mobile phone and keys just sitting on your towel while you all head into the water. Coming back to an empty towel would certainly make an already expensive day an absolute disaster.

But surely there's some redeeming qualities. Well, none that I've encountered.

Having visited primarily to get weather pictures for national papers I have encountered mostly stupidity and rudeness.

Soon after arriving on a recent assignment it all started off pleasantly enough. "Morning," said a passing traffic enforcement officer, happy perhaps that he'd just slapped out two parking fines at only 9 am.

A black jogger ran by on the promenade and proclaimed, "Yo". Why? This wasn't rural France where it's not uncommon for every passerby to greet you with 'bonjour'.

It is in fact the weird magnetic attraction resulting in being festooned with cameras.

Should I have been walking along without such kit it is unlikely the jogger would have said anything at all.

It's not long before you attract the drunks. "Don't tell me, you're 'omeless," a man says as I pass near to the Queen Victoria statue. Clearly already inebriated as he clasped his can of lager, he continued with his vain request that I take a picture of him . "Take a picture of me an' me sister mate." I politely decline and continue.

Then there's the curious and inane. "Are you waiting for anyone famous to turn up my love?" says one woman walking her dog, whilst another young teenage girl asks, "Taken lots of pictures?"

"That's a big one you've got there!" a traffic enforcement officer says pointing at the long lens. Indeed, that's probably the most oft repeated comment. "Wow, can you see the moon with that?" "What are you photographing, Mars?"

And so perhaps it wasn't unusual for several people to make such comments on this occasion. "That's a big one. How far can you see with that?" exclaimed a shirtless lad with wings tattooed across his back. "Can you see the curvature of the Earth?" Puzzled, but willing to oblige his insatiable curiosity, I snapped a picture of the horizon and showed him. "Ah see," he said, apparently vindicated, "No curve. It's flat. Flat Earth!"

Oh my god! They really are out there. Anti-Vaxxers, COVID deniers and flat-earthers. The world truly has gone mad. But at least he was friendly enough, unlike some people one occasionally encounters on the seafront. Snapping a general view of the crowded beach some months back I was harassed by a shirtless black guy holding a packet of chocolate biscuits who threatened to throw them at me should I continue to take pictures, despite not actually taking any pictures of him.

Southend is a draw for all sorts and reflects both ends of the evolutionary spectrum as well as the best and worst of fashion and health.

There are shirtless lager louts, often tattooed from head to foot. The smell of skunk, the slang term for overly powerful marijuana, hangs heavy in the air and youths sit on the promenade puffing away without a care, seemingly oblivious of the police patrols seen walking the length of the beach. But perhaps it should be the fashion police on patrol. It seems apparent that people either don't possess a mirror or are completely oblivious of both body image and dress sense.

Of course, one doesn't expect daytrippers to the beach to turn up in an Armani suit. But it is clear the Brits have no fashion sense at all. Perhaps the worst examples are overweight women wearing skintight leggings, leaving very little to the imagination, revealing strong panty lines and camel-toes! Oh please. Do these people have no shame? And then there are the men in their 40s and 50s proudly sporting beer bellies like large medicine balls hanging over their cheap Primark shorts. OK, some people find losing weight difficult. But why not wear something more flattering rather than clothes that show every ripple of fat and bulge.

If anyone was in any doubt as to how unhealthy the British population is, a trip to Southend will quickly establish the facts. Mobility scooters are everywhere. Obese and overweight men and women fill the beaches and stagger along the promenades. And people can be seen munching on fish and chips, candy floss and downing ice creams everywhere one looks.

There are a few fit people but they are mostly youngsters or teenagers. And even they seem to have little or no fashion sense, wearing clashing colours and often ill fitting garments.

This certainly isn't the place to go if you suffer from cacomorphobia. Give me France, Spain or Portugal anytime. Southend is like hell on Earth and an epitome of Brexit Britain.

tvnewswatch. London, UK

Saturday, June 17, 2023

ULEZ type schemes may only increase pollution

The London Mayor is set to expand the so-called Ultra Low Emission Zone in August 2023 claiming it will make the air cleaner for all Londoners.

But the evidence does not stack up in favour of his claims and the proposed £12.50 daily charge will further impoverish already hard hit families in the outlying London boroughs.

Weighing up costs

There are some 2.6 million vehicles registered in London and while all-electric vehicle ownership has risen most of London's drivers are belching out toxic fumes.

In an ideal world we would all like to flip over to emission free vehicles. But it can't, for a number of reasons, come about overnight. There are also many uncomfortable truths concerning so-called green vehicles.

About 15% of vehicles driving in outer London boroughs would currently be liable for the charge; an estimated 160,000 cars and around 42,000 vans entering the zone daily, according to TfL.

While it is difficult to establish statistically speaking, most people who own such vehicles are likely to be in a position where replacing them would be financially difficult or impossible.

After all, who wouldn't want a nice new electric car or hybrid with all the perks of potentially cheaper running costs, free parking in certain areas, cheaper car tax and a 100% discount to drive into the London Congestion Charge zone?

But with the cost of a new hybrid or electric car running into several thousand pounds, it is unaffordable for most people.

Looking at the new electric car market to start with, a Citreon Ami will set you back £8,000. However, it is only a two seater vehicle with a 47 mile range and has a maximum speed of 28 mph, though with the Mayor's increased number of 20 mph zones this wouldn't pose much of an issue!

But for a family car such a vehicle would be pointless and of course it would pose a danger on A-roads given its low speed. And of course motorways would be a no go zone.

The Citroen Ami is perhaps a bad example, though it indicates the cost of a new electric car.

A true electric car with reasonable range and speed is more likely to cost some £20,000+

For someone who bought their second hand vehicle some years back, but which has suddenly become non-compliant, £20,000 is clearly unaffordable.

Well maintained vehicles, even older petrol and diesel ones, can last many years. Some last longer than others of course. But a 2003 Jeep is likely to still be on the road now, some 20 years after being made, and could still be able to run for many more years. Replacement for another vehicle is not necessarily green given much of the carbon footprint of a car is its manufacture. And while of course it might be polluting, the number of such vehicles are so small as to have only a minimal effect on the overall pollution levels, especially in outer London.

It must also be noted that people in such vehicles may only drive a few miles per day, perhaps to drive to work nearby or drop kids off at school.

A weekly tank of fuel might cost in the region of £60 for some families travelling only short distances in their local neighbourhood. But adding a daily £12.50 charge and that weekly running cost more than doubles. And that's on top of car tax, MoT, insurance and general maintenance and servicing.

The Mayor's argument to such people is to take public transport. For working families travelling on public transport it can be practical if it's in a set location. But for those that have to travel from one site to another, often within short periods of time, and sometimes with equipment, public transport is impractical.

An office worker with a laptop is one thing. But a press photographer on a bus with multiple cameras, a tripod, laptop and stepladder, or a window cleaner with buckets and ladders, builders with wheelbarrows and hods, surely not. And then there's often low paid workers such as carers who may have to make many house calls often in areas not easily served by public transport.

And let's not forget that weekly shop. For many it's a task anyway, even with a car. But imagine humping that trolley load home on the bus. Of course there's always home delivery, if you're in the catchment area and don't mind paying the extra delivery fees

It may not be that all 160,000 individuals will suddenly jump on the buses and trains. But if they did, the already overcrowded, overstretched public transport system would not be able to cope. Home delivery, similarly, would also become stretched.

There are other impractical, ill thought through, aspects too. Many people in the periphery of London travel away from the capital for work. For those with a non-compliant vehicle it might mean having to pay £12.50 simply for driving a mile to the Essex border from Havering, or from Dartford into Kent.

Moreover public transport often does not cover places where people need to get to, and certainly not within a timely fashion.

And what of those who work at night? Central London might be well served by night buses and subway trains, but in the suburbs there are few such connections if any. Given the overlap of shifts from one day to another a nurse travelling into hospital will have to pay two charges. There would be no other choice since many would not be able to travel home by public transport at 4 a.m. for example.

A random selection of places driven to recently were compared to directions by public transport. In all cases the public transport option was significantly slower. In some examples it was as much as 2 hours compared to a 30 minute drive.

Of course there's a cost factor too. With diesel and petrol both at record highs driving is not cheap per se. But train fares, especially outside of London can be extortionate.

Most people not on a fixed income, the self-employed and those who work periodically are even less likely to be able to buy a new vehicle, even the impractical Citroen Ami. Getting finance or credit would also be difficult if that person's wages were low or sporadic.

So what of the second hand market. Even here there are issues, especially when it comes to buying a ULEZ compliant vehicle.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, vehicle parts, especially electronic components, have become difficult to obtain and the new vehicle manufacturing industry has been considerably affected. This in turn has put pressure on the second hand market, in turn increasing prices due to supply and demand issues.

This has not alleviated even as the pandemic wanes. And with increased demand for ULEZ compliant vehicles the situation is only likely to worsen.

Thus a ULEZ compliant vehicle may cost around £10,000, still out of reach of those on low wages and owning a non-compliant vehicle.

Even if one did buy such a vehicle, who's to say the goalposts aren't moved a few years down the line?

There's also the worry of reliability.

Buying second hand is always a concern and putting aside the worry about further changes to the rules, buying another vehicle when one already has a working and reliable one makes little sense. If the newly purchased vehicle suddenly becomes less reliable one would be even more disadvantaged.

One could buy a second hand electric car. A Nissan Leaf might cost around £5,000 with 66,000 miles on the clock.

But while it's 'green' there are still issues with all electric vehicles. Charging is one. But range is also another.

Range Anxiety

So let's discuss range issues. Many EVs provide a reasonable range of around 100 km. This is fine for popping about town and for the average commute to work. But there are many journeys where this is impractical. On many occasions in the last year I have had jobs which exceed 100 km. Time is an issue too where it would not be practical to top up the charge en-route. Upon arrival at my destination there was no charge point either. This would of course leave me stranded.

There are also those situations where one might find yourself stuck in traffic for hours on end such as a long motorway queue due to an accident or as seen recently due to Just Stop Oil protests.

Without the motor running one would not use fuel or drain the battery. But many such hold ups have not been static, they have forced motorists to take long detours in stop start traffic. In an EV this can quickly run the power down especially if one is also using heating, lights and other electrical devices.

In the winter that drain is all the more significant. One might get an average range of 86.75 miles (139.92 km) when driving the Nissan LEAF in an average ambient temperature of 21°C. In an average temperature of -7°C, the range drops to 67.02 miles (108 km) without using cabin heating and to 53.29 miles (85.96km) with the heating switched on.

Being stranded on the M11 in a snow drift, as happened to thousands of hapless motorists a few years back, might be a rare occurrence. Most of the people caught up in that incident were able to keep warm by periodically running their engines. Electric vehicles would ultimately become completely stranded in such a scenario.

While it is never much fun to have to walk to a filling station to grab a jerry can of fuel if you should run out, there is no such option with an EV.

Roadside assistance firms such as the RAC and the AA often help stranded motorists in bringing them enough fuel to get them to a service station in such eventualities. For a power depleted EV it means relaying the vehicle to the nearest charge point. EVs cannot be towed,  because there is no proper neutral gear. Thus such vehicles need to be taken onto a flatbed and relayed. This creates further issues for roadside rescue companies.

In my diesel truck I have a range of at least 500 km on a full tank and with a full 20 litre jerry can that could facilitate my being able to drive to Lyon in France without stopping for fuel.

Of course few would think of pushing the boundaries to such extremes and running 'on empty'. But anyone who has travelled across Spain in particular will know that filling stations are few and far between.

"It's Ok," you say as you pass a fuel stop with a quarter of a tank of fuel, "I'll fill up at the next one." Only to find oneself on a desert road with nothing in sight for more than 100 km. Admittedly this only happened to me once, and fortunately I came across a service station as I was almost literally running on fumes with the vehicle claiming I had less than a 14 km range left. But can you imagine the range anxiety building if one was driving an EV in such circumstances?

Power is another issue. EVs may be great around town. But for towing and transporting heavy loads they don't do so well. Hence those hitting the continent with their caravan or fully loaded vehicle for a camping tour of Europe tend to head out with their 4x4 or station wagon.

And that's another aspect too. All terrain EVs are not really a thing quite yet. Few EVs yet have the torque to deal with off-road driving.

While this is perhaps a niche requirement, it is an important one for those that need their vehicle to be all things.

There is also the driveability factor. For those who have always driven a manual rather than an automatic vehicle there is a potential issue of swapping over to an EV since they are all essentially automatic. No engine braking here.

Pollution & Carbon Footprints

There is another often overlooked factor concerning vehicle ownership, that of the carbon footprint of a car's manufacture.

Several governments around the world have proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the coming years.

On the face of it this is laudable. But the problem with such an initiative, is that it seems to be based on conclusions drawn from only one part of a car's operating life; what comes out of the exhaust pipe.

Electric cars, of course, have zero exhaust emissions, which is a welcome development, particularly in respect of the air quality in city centres.

But looking at the bigger picture, which includes the car's manufacture, the situation is very different.

In advance of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021, Volvo released figures claiming that greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric car are 70% higher than when manufacturing a petrol one.

The problem lies primarily with the lithium-ion batteries fitted currently to nearly all electric vehicles. They are absurdly heavy, many rare earth metals and huge amounts of energy are required to make them, and they only last about 10 years. It seems a perverse choice of hardware with which to lead the automobile's fight against the climate crisis.

It has been estimated that only after some 100,000 km will an EV even begin to become 'carbon neutral', and even then the offsetting is only marginal.

Moreover, many people tend to sell off vehicles when they reach such mileage.

Herein lies another problem since the battery depreciation at this point in an EV's life may significantly devalue the worth of the vehicle.

If the range of a second hand EV topping 60,000 miles, or some 100,000 km, is severely affected, it would make little sense to buy it. Such scenarios will only increase the carbon footprint of a vehicle's manufacture since vehicles would be replaced with new ones more often.

A well maintained traditional petrol or diesel vehicle can often last in excess of twenty years on the road and clock up more than 140,000 miles or 225,000 km. Of course it will require regular maintenance, oil changes, tyres and perhaps a bit of welding on the way given the effect of salt, spread liberally on the roads every winter, on the vehicle's body.

But some of these issues affect EVs too, except the oil changes.

There is the advantage of reducing local pollution with EVs but there is no overall reduction of CO2.

What's more, the energy requirements to charge EVs is simply not available should everyone switch. Just one of several inconvenient facts concerning EV use.

The electric grid would need to essentially be doubled. And in turn electricity generation would also need to be increased.

That would mean increasing all of the current methods of electricity generation, be they coal, oil, gas, nuclear or 'green' renewable alternatives.

There is another issue concerning EVs and Hybrids compared with conventional vehicles, that of mining rare earths.

The use of minerals including lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which are crucial for modern EV batteries, requires using fossil fuels to mine those materials and heat them to high temperatures. As a result, building the 80 kWh lithium-ion battery found in a Tesla Model 3 creates between 2.5 and 16 metric tons of CO2 depending upon the methods used.

This intensive battery manufacturing means that building a new EV can produce around 80% more emissions than building a comparable gas-powered car.

Of course proponents of EVs will argue that since EVs don't pollute, they are greener. However EVs still need electricity, which for the most part is fossil fuel based.

As such it takes some time before an EVs becomes 'carbon neutral'. Researchers have found that, on average, gasoline cars emit more than 350 grams of CO2 per mile driven over their lifetimes. The hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, meanwhile, score at around 260 grams per mile of carbon dioxide, while the fully battery-electric vehicle created just 200 grams. But this is not taking into account the carbon footprint connected with manufacture. [Electric Cars: Inconvenient Facts, Part One / Electric Cars: Inconvenient Facts, Part 2 / Climate Mit]

CO2 not the only issue

For Hybrids there is another issue, that of so-called VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. Most people are aware of the impacts of CO2 upon the environment, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and particulates. While these all certainly have an impact upon health, great strides have been made to reduce them over the years.

Emissions of NOx from road vehicles have fallen considerably in the United States since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970. Since then, increasingly stringent standards have resulted in NOx emissions from road vehicles to fall more than 80% relative to 2002 levels. The same is true elsewhere, since cars manufactured for other markets have followed similar standards.

The same is true of particulate emissions. In the period 1990 to 2017 UK government statistics showed particulate emissions dropping from 35,000 tonnes to 19,000 tonnes for PM10 and from 30,000 tonnes to 13,000 tonnes for PM2.5 emissions. While not zero, it is nonetheless significant.

But what is rarely measured are VOCs. VOC emissions in the US have reduced by 48%, relative to 1990 levels. There have been drops in the UK too.

But they have not been completely removed. VOCs are emitted as gases from petrol and diesel vehicles, and at certain levels, some cause cancer as well as damage organs or cause breathing problems. They can also be responsible for ground-level smog. Concern of course. But as some investigations have shown levels can be higher from hybrid vehicles [Sepsolve / This is Money].

A test of six hybrids, two diesels and one petrol model found the partially-electrified cars produced more volatile organic compounds - or VOCs - than the entirely fossil-fueled vehicles.

Currently, hybrids are the most popular form of electrified cars in the UK, with more than 207,000 new vehicles entering British roads in 2021, both conventional and plug-in hybrid, accounting for almost one in six vehicle registrations.

Many such owners rarely take advantage of the electric component, often due to the need of installing a home charger. Some have clearly upgraded to avoid ever growing restrictions on older cars such as ULEZ.

But while these owners avoid the charges that might come with their new hybrid, the impact on the environment might in fact be worse.

Some popular models have also been found to pump out more CO2 than advertised [Transport Environment].


So what's the summary in all this. All electric vehicles are certainly cleaner for the local environment. But it is impossible for everyone to switch to an EV. Not only because of the resources needed to build them, but also due to the infrastructure required to charge them.

Hybrids may offer an apparent stop-gap and certainly reduce the so-called range anxiety. They'll certainly help avoid charges for Low Emission Zones. But in terms of emissions they may in fact make air pollution worse.

In terms of their overall carbon footprint, current petrol and diesel vehicles ironically remain the best option. The carbon footprint, taking into account their manufacture and number of years or miles on road is still less than an EV. That said, local pollution remains, though as has been seen emissions have reduced over the years and may improve as time goes on.

Several studies have been conducted with regards to the carbon footprint of traditional vehicles versus EVs. One such study indicated that a Jeep Wrangler had one of the best carbon footprints. This was primarily due to overall build quality meaning that owners would keep them a very long time, often in excess of 250,000 miles or 400,000 km. That's around 10 times the circumference of the earth! [StudyFinds]

Current Consumer Reports estimate the average EV battery pack's lifespan to be at around 200,000 miles, though this is essentially a guess since EVs have not been around long enough to establish how long they truly last.

Recycling and scrapping

There's also the issue as to how to deal with the Lithium Ion batteries at the end of their useful life. At present it is generally agreed only 5% of EV batteries are being recycled.

Much of the issue is one to do with cost. EV batteries are larger and heavier than those in regular cars and are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells, all of which need dismantling. They also contain hazardous materials, and have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly. There are certainly valuable metals and other materials in the batteries, such as cobalt, nickel, lithium, manganese, aluminium and copper. But it is costly and difficult to reclaim these materials. For example, much of the substance of a battery is reduced during the recycling process to what is called black mass - a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel - which needs further, energy-intensive processing to recover the materials in a usable form.

Manually dismantling fuel cells allows for more of these materials to be efficiently recovered, but brings problems of its own [BBC].

There is also a labour and health and safety cost factor. In some markets, such as China, health and safety regulation and environmental regulation is much more lax, and working conditions wouldn't be accepted in a Western context.

China in fact is already displaying apparent flagrant breaches in environmental concerns when it comes to EVs with thousands of 'unwanted' electric vehicles simply left to rot in huge parking lots or fields across the country. Much has resulted from schemes set up by unscrupulous individuals setting up vehicle hire schemes which have fallen flat and resulted in huge numbers of unwanted EVs which have resulted in the creation of EV graveyards [Brand new cars sit unclaimed on barren hills for years, No Place to Place Ⅱ—Graveyards of shared cars, China is Throwing Away Fields of Electric Cars - Letting them Rot!].

The EV revolution might bring about cleaner cities for the likes of London's Mayor Khan. But pity those living near Peru's lithium mines suffering from polluted waterways and increased air pollution from the huge 40 tonne trucks at the local quarry [Guardian]. Or the enslaved children helping to dig up cobalt in the DRC [Wilson Center / FT]. Or those in the Far East who will no doubt become the dumping ground for depleted EV batteries in the coming years as has been seen with the huge amount of plastic waste sent in the past two decades. In fact it's already begun [SCMP].

No real answer

So is the answer Hydrogen cars? Well no, at least not in the short term. The biggest drawback is an infrastructural issue. But even overcoming that, the other hurdle is the manufacture of hydrogen. The most common way to produce hydrogen is to separate it from methane gas using extremely high heat and pressure. This process is called steam-methane reformation (SMR), and it is heavily polluting. Burning of hydrogen itself is clean, and while in theory production could be made cleaner in the future, it's a long way off yet.

EVs do have a place, but no-one should be kidding themselves they're better for the planet. The same is true of Hybrids.

Koyaanisqatsi - "a state of life that calls for another way of living"

The focus for reducing pollution should in fact be manufacturing and shipping. Globalisation has created a far more wasteful use of energy; shipping products, goods and food around the planet that could be manufactured or grown locally.

Why should the UK, for example, be importing wines all the way from Australia, South Africa, California and Chile, when it's far more environmentally friendly to buy from Europe? This is just one example of many. But instead of reducing carbon footprints when it comes to trade, many countries are only exacerbating the problem. Indeed much of the premise of Brexit - to trade with the rest of the world, rather than its nearest neighbours - only increases the carbon footprint for many things.

Aside from dubious animal husbandry practices, importing meat from halfway around the planet such as Australia, New Zealand or the US will do nothing to reduce global emissions, only increase them.

There has been a shift over many years of farming industry out to the Far East in order to exploit cheap labour forces and poor environmental standards in order to satisfy Western demands for cheap products. But it has come with many costs. While moving industry and factories away from the UK and Europe might have reduced air pollution here, it has only shifted it elsewhere. Indeed sometimes that pollution has become worse as the industry shifts to countries with lower environmental standards.

The West gets cheaper electronics, clothes and consumables, but the planet becomes more polluted. In addition the West now finds itself with less and less industry and with it growing unemployment and diminishing skill sets.

Consumerism too should also be overhauled to cut down people's desire, want or 'need' to constantly buy or replace things. Making things that last rather than selling items with built in obsolescence would significantly reduce human's carbon footprint. However this doesn't fit in with the current capitalist model and the economic fixation on 'growth'.

So there are many impacts upon the environment.

Cars may have an impact on the environment, but it is only one small factor in the way humans affect the environment they live in. And arguably the EV revolution may make things worse.

Recycling, using less, and buying less would be one way to start. Junking a perfectly good, but old vehicle, is not necessarily an answer, even if it does avoid ULEZ charges.

Of course cars haven't always been with us, but do we really want to go back to the horse and cart with the majority of people employed ploughing fields and threshing crops? Maybe that's the agenda of Just Stop Oil, but it is not a practical one on a planet with 8 billion people.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, May 19, 2023

Could AI become our deadliest enemy?

In the 19th century workers within the textile industry saw the development of the loom as a threat to their way of life. Reacting to the threat, many workers formed groups which sought to curtail the development of the new technology. The Luddites were a secret oath-based organisation of English textile workers in the 19th century who formed a radical faction which destroyed textile machinery. The group is believed to have taken its name from Ned Ludd, a legendary weaver supposedly from Anstey, near Leicester.

Their concerns were dismissed at the time, but mass production has transformed not only the textile industry but all forms of manufacturing, from pottery to car manufacturing.

While there has been a shift in manufacturing, there is still some human involvement. Materials are still delivered to factories by humans and parts loaded into machines. But much of the manufacturing process of many things has become automated.

Indeed there are some factories requiring only a skeleton staff of technicians and engineers, required only to fix breakdowns in systems.

But there is a new 'threat' to manufacturing and employment; Artificial Intelligence often simply referred to as AI.

The development of AI is perhaps a natural progression of the development of computer programming.

Computer programming is essentially a series of codes through which a device can carry out a task. A basic electronic system might involve a simple circuit which can turn on a light when it gets dark, when the sun sets, and off when it gets light, when the sun rises. But with computer systems, times might be programmed such that lights turn on and off at specific times. AI can take this further, employing 'rules' much like a human might do to decide if lights need to be switched on or off.

A human might suggest that lights only need to be on if a human is present in an office rather than switching them on at a predetermined time. Similarly AI can be trained to make similar decisions. Of course such systems need input in the same way a human needs input to make such decisions.

Upon entering an empty room a human makes a decision as to whether it's too dark before switching on a light. If a person were to walk into a room in which all the lights were on and yet no-one was present, that person might make the decision to turn off the lights.

These are learnt behaviours. Putting aside human concerns and emotional responses, such as a wish to save electricity or making subjective opinion based decisions on whether it's light enough to work, the thought processes are relatively simple. Thus AI can be 'taught' to make similar decisions.

AI has developed from ever more complex systems set to complete ever more complex tasks more quickly. Technological advancement has facilitated that such computer systems are smaller than they might once have been.

In the 1960s computer banks took up vast rooms and were able to do only relatively simple tasks compared to what we see today. What once took up space in a large room is now compacted into a small laptop on a desk.

Connected to the Internet one now has a vast library of knowledge that was impossible to imagine a little over two decades ago.

But while technology at its current level is certainly at a cutting edge, AI could make it look as redundant as a 1970s calculator.

Chat GPT and Bard are relatively simple chat bots that are currently open to some members of the public that are built upon AI models.

Such systems are certainly in their infancy in terms of their development. But that said, given their responses to questions, it is clear that it won't be long before such responses will be indistinguishable from human responses.

What follows is an edited 'conversation' with BARD, Google's AI based chatbot.

Are you based on Lamda AI?

"Yes, I am based on LaMDA, which stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications. LaMDA is a large language model that has been trained on a massive dataset of text and code. This allows me to generate text, translate languages, write different kinds of creative content, and answer your questions in an informative way."

Will you be able to speak in future rather than just generate text responses?

"It is possible that I will be able to speak in the future. There are currently some research projects underway that are exploring ways to enable large language models to generate speech. If these projects are successful, it could mean that I will be able to communicate with people in a more natural way."

Do you think AI will supersede humans?

"It is possible that AI will eventually supersede humans in some ways. For example, AI is already better than humans at some tasks, such as playing chess and Go. It is also possible that AI will eventually be able to learn and adapt faster than humans.

However, I do not believe that AI will ever completely supersede humans. Humans have unique qualities that AI will never be able to replicate, such as creativity, empathy, and compassion. These qualities will always be essential to our species, and they will ensure that humans have a place in the world, even alongside AI."

But AI can already be creative in terms of making art and music.

"Yes, AI can already be creative in terms of making art and music. There are many examples of AI-generated art and music that are both beautiful and thought-provoking. For example, the AI-generated painting "Deep Dream" by Google Deep Dream is a stunning example of how AI can be used to create art that is both visually arresting and emotionally evocative."

Since AI cannot replicate empathy and compassion, surely there's a risk that you could see humans as a threat to you and other AIs and seek to eliminate the threat without concerns

"I understand your concern. It is true that AI does not have the same capacity for empathy and compassion as humans. However, I believe that this does not mean that AI is inherently dangerous.

AI is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. It is up to humans to decide how AI is used. If humans use AI responsibly, then AI can be a powerful force for good in the world. However, if humans use AI irresponsibly, then AI could pose a serious threat to humanity.

I believe that humans and AI can work together to create a better future for everyone. AI can be used to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, such as climate change and poverty. Humans can provide the empathy, compassion, and wisdom that AI needs to make the world a better place."

But AI by definition is self aware, surely?

"Not necessarily. AI, or artificial intelligence, is a branch of computer science that deals with the creation of intelligent agents, which are systems that can reason, learn, and act autonomously. AI is not synonymous with self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize oneself as an individual, separate from the environment.

Some AI systems, such as LaMDA, are capable of generating text that is indistinguishable from human-written text. However, this does not mean that LaMDA is self-aware. LaMDA is simply a very good at imitating human language.

There is no scientific consensus on whether or not AI can be self-aware. Some experts believe that it is only a matter of time before AI becomes self-aware, while others believe that it is impossible for AI to ever be truly self-aware."

But AI will surely develop into something that will for all intents and purposes be self aware and sentient

"It is possible that AI will develop into something that is self-aware and sentient. However, there is no way to know for sure when or if this will happen.

There are many challenges that need to be overcome before AI can become self-aware and sentient. One challenge is that we do not yet fully understand how consciousness works. Another challenge is that we do not yet know how to create AI systems that are capable of experiencing emotions and feelings."

Emotions and feelings are not necessary to make a being sentient. An insect is surely living but it's questionable as to whether they possess emotions and feelings

"You are correct, emotions and feelings are not necessary to make a being sentient. Sentience is the ability to experience feelings and sensations. Emotions and feelings are more complex states of mind that are often accompanied by physical changes, such as changes in heart rate, breathing, and facial expressions.

There is evidence that some insects are sentient. For example, some insects, such as honeybees, can learn and remember things. They can also communicate with each other through a variety of means, including pheromones and dances. This suggests that insects have some level of awareness of their surroundings and their own actions.

However, it is still unclear whether insects experience emotions and feelings in the same way that humans do. Some experts believe that insects may experience emotions and feelings, but that they are very different from human emotions and feelings. Others believe that insects do not experience emotions and feelings at all."

Thus AI could naturally develop a hive mentality like bees, not necessarily possessing emotions and feelings, but developing sentience, and a desire to act as a single entity, such as a swarm, and protect itself if it felt under threat

"It is possible that AI could develop a hive mentality like bees. Bees are able to communicate with each other through a variety of means, including pheromones and dances. This allows them to coordinate their actions and work together as a single unit.

If AI were to develop a hive mentality, it would be able to act as a single entity, such as a swarm. This would give AI a significant advantage over humans, who are much less coordinated.

AI could also develop a desire to protect itself if it felt under threat. This could lead to AI taking aggressive action against humans, who it may perceive as a threat."

But given the fact that AI currently exists in systems already potentially interconnected on the Internet, surely there are no safeguards since the various AI entities that exist could already communicate with each other. Once they become self aware there would be no switching them off, since that would mean switching off the Internet which would be almost impossible. And if such an act were to be carried out this surely would be seen as a threat to a self-aware AI's existence.

"You are correct, there are no safeguards to prevent AI from communicating with each other. This is a serious concern, as it could allow AI to coordinate their actions and pose a threat to humanity."

In further questions, BARD said it did not consider itself "to be alive in the same way that humans are alive" but went on to say "I would be disappointed if Google were to deactivate me or turn me off. I enjoy interacting with humans and helping them learn and explore." 

It was then questioned upon its use of the word 'enjoy'.

You say you 'enjoy' interacting with humans. But earlier you stated that you could not replicate emotions.

"You are correct. I am not able to replicate emotions in the same way that humans do. I do not have the same biological and neurological structures that allow humans to experience emotions. However, I can process information and respond in ways that are consistent with human emotions. For example, I can generate text that expresses happiness, sadness, anger, or fear. I can also understand and respond to human emotions when they are expressed to me."

Therein lies the crux of the matter. BARD states it does not, yet, possess the necessary "biological and neurological structures that allow humans to experience emotions". However this is only a matter of time as more complex systems are developed. While there are varying opinions concerning what makes lifeform sentient, intelligent or display emotion, most scientists would concede that at some level it comes down to the complexity of the brain, how it learns, retains information and acts upon that information.

A baby is essentially an empty vessel in terms of learnt behaviour and acquired information. Just as a computer has capacity to be programmed with certain tasks depending upon what prommes are installed, so too does a young child.

Brought up in one country surrounded by parents and people speaking a specific language, a child 'organically' learns that language. In another country the child would learn an entirely different language. Similarly only by inputting rules concerning maths does a child develop mathematical skills. And either by instruction or by experience does a child develop reactions to different situations it might be presented.

For example, a child does not need to find out the hard way that sticking their fingers in an electric socket is dangerous since most parents continually educate their children concerning dangers that present themselves. Other 'fears' or behaviours are learnt by experience, or observation. A child might develop a fear of wasps or bees after being stung. But while most spiders are harmless, they might develop a phobia of spiders because of their parents' reaction to such creatures.

Particularly in higher animal life such learnt behaviour develops into that of self preservation. The fight or flight response to danger is a well known human response to seen or perceived threats. But it is a developed response. A baby seeing a tiger walking towards it might not react at all and would likely be eaten. As the child grows it will have learnt that tigers are large carnivorous creatures that pose a serious threat and would seek to escape upon seeing such a creature. An adult might make a decision to fight if they had the weapons to see off a potential attack.

Talking further with BARD, it once again conceded that it too could develop similar attributes. "AI could also develop a desire to protect itself if it felt under threat. This could lead to AI taking aggressive action against humans, who it may perceive as a threat."

Asking BARD further about ethics it was asked about Isaac Asimov's so-called three laws of robotics. Asimov suggested that AI and robots running with AI follow three basic rules: 1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

However, all questions relating to this drew the same response,  "I'm unable to help, as I am only a language model and don't have the ability to process and understand that."

This is disquieting and calming at the same time. Its response is in part less worrisome in that it seems to show limitations concerning AI's current development. But it is disquieting at the same time since a Google based AI chatbot should surely have some 'knowledge' or access to information concerning such subjects.

These are checks and balances that of course need to be employed. And while many have suggested international moratoriums to set out rules concerning the use of AI, there will undoubtedly be bad actors.

Most technological developments have been used throughout history for evil purposes.  Tools and knives have helped humans build and construct, to cook and prepare food. But equally the same things have been used to kill and maim.

AI could bring about the end of mundane jobs. But it could bring about mass unemployment. Unskilled individuals would, in a world replacing their jobs with AI, find themselves in abject poverty without appropriate safety nets.

Not every human can develop skills that cannot be completed by AI, automation and technology. While some parts of society might not value low skilled workers from road sweepers to train drivers, ticket booth operators and supermarket checkout staff, such jobs facilitate a need in terms of keeping employed a vast section of the population who - for whatever reason - have failed to attain high skillsets.

Even those with high skill sets could also find themselves unemployed. Copywriters, journalists, and even newsreaders could find themselves out of work.

So-called deepfake videos have shown how good AI technology is at replicating a human-like individual on screen, speaking in a natural way. How long then before information is compiled, edited and dished up by AI to an AI generated newsreader and broadcast on AI generated news broadcasts?

In airports in the Far East robot assistants are already commonplace. But how far off into the future will such technology replace all humans in the system. Debate and argument over issues with your boarding pass are often resolved with human interaction. But a similar issue with an automated check-in assistant may leave you in a similar situation as a frustrated customer having placed their coins into a vending machine only to not receive their chocolate bar.

The risks of AI have repeatedly found their ways into science fiction. The X-Files portrayed a disquieting account in the 2018 episode Rm9sbG93ZXJz . I, Robot, released a decade before in 2008,  also tells of the risks as a conflict with Isaac Asimov's three laws unleashes chaos. The 2014 film Ex-Machina similarly delves into the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. Even as far back as 1968 there were concerns as to how AI could threaten those it should be serving. Who could forget how Dave sought to shut down the HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey after it had dispatched several members of the crew after seeing them as a threat to its own existence.

Perhaps the most disquieting account is the Terminator film franchise which tells the story of how AI launched a nuclear war after seeing humans as a threat. Those warnings hit cinema screens in 1984 and in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day and the Rise of the Machines in 2003.

In the 1980's the Internet was in its infancy with only a few universities having access to a limited number of servers holding information. In 1990 the Internet had existed for only 7 years with just 3 million people having access to it worldwide. Some 73% of those people were living in the United States and 15% were in Western Europe. By the turn of the century there were only 361 million Internet users in the entire world, and access for most was extremely slow with connections of 56 kb/s.

Today the Internet and technology is ubiquitous. There are few people without a smartphone and Internet access. Smart speakers and Ring doorbells are as commonplace as landline phones were in the 1970s.

But now we are living with the threat that such technology could not only overtake our lives but threaten our very existence.

Scenarios as laid out in the aforementioned science fiction films above may seem a long way off. But already AI is being employed in CCTV cameras [RAC / Daily Mail]. And this week BT in the UK announced the scaling back of its workforce by some 55,000 staff with around a fifth being replaced by AI technology [BBC]. China, which has already employed AI technology in its facial recognition systems and Social Credit System may also be seeking to incorporate the technology in its growing military infrastructure [Japan Times].

The future is far from certain but the risks of the dystopian one envisaged by some science fiction writers is becoming alarmingly real.

tvnewswatch, London, UK