Saturday, 17 August 2019

Europe has space for enough wind turbines to power the entire world, study finds

Europe could create 100 times the energy it currently produces through onshore windfarms

Europe has enough space to create millions of wind turbines that could power the entire world until 2050, according to a new scientific analysis.

An international team of researchers say there is 4.9 million square kilometres of land – 46 per cent of Europe’s total land – that would be suitable for wind turbines, according to the paper published in Energy Policy.
Study estimates 11 million additional wind turbines could create 497 exajoules of power (file photo) ( Envision Energy )

Building 11 million additional wind turbines could create 497 exajoules of power which would supply the world’s energy needs until 2050 when there is expected to be a global demand of 430 exajoules.

Reaching this target would mean ramping up onshore wind power production by a factor of more than 100, scientists say. They say we need to drastically increase wind power to avert climate catastrophe.

“The study is not a blueprint for development but a guide for policymakers, indicating the potential of how much more can be done and where the prime opportunities exist,” said co-author Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex.

“Our study suggests that the horizon is bright for the onshore wind sector and that European aspirations for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid are within our collective grasp technologically,” he said.

“Obviously, we are not saying that we should instal turbines in all the identified sites but the study does show the huge wind power potential right across Europe.”

A map showing the power density potential for each European country (University of Sussex / Aarhus University)
Scientists analysed data from the European Copernicus satellite programme and wind speed atlases.

They also used Geographical Information System data to find areas that might not be suitable for a windfarm due to roads and restricted access for military or political reasons.

Peter Enevoldsen, assistant professor in energy technology at Aarhus University, said: “Critics will no doubt argue that the naturally intermittent supply of wind makes onshore wind energy unsuitable to meet the global demand.

“But even without accounting for developments in wind turbine technology in the upcoming decades, onshore wind power is the cheapest mature source of renewable energy, and utilising the different wind regions in Europe is the key to meet the demand for a 100 per cent renewable and fully decarbonised energy system.”

Large parts of western Europe are ripe for onshore farms because they have good wind speeds and flat land. Researchers say Turkey, Russia and Norway also have huge potential for future wind power density.

Mark Jacobson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, said: “One of the most important findings of this study, aside from the fact that it concludes that the European onshore wind potential is larger than previously estimated, is that it facilitates the ability of countries to plan their onshore wind resource development more efficiently, thereby easing the way for commitments by these countries to move entirely to clean, renewable energy for all purposes.”

(Source: Independent)

Anti-natalists: The people who want you to stop having babies

They believe humans shouldn't have children. Who are the anti-natalists - and how far are they willing to push their ideas?

"Wouldn't it just be better to blow a hole in the side of the earth and just have done with everything?"

Thomas, 29, lives in the east of England, and although his idea of blowing up the world is something of a thought experiment, he is certain about one thing - humans should not have babies, and our species should gradually go extinct.

It's a philosophy called anti-natalism. While the idea dates back to ancient Greece, it has recently been given a huge boost by social media.

On Facebook and Reddit, there are dozens of anti-natalist groups, some with thousands of members. On Reddit, r/antinatalism has nearly 35,000 members, while just one of the dozens of Facebook groups with an anti-natalist theme has more than 6,000.

They are scattered around the world and have a variety of reasons for their beliefs. Among them are concerns about genetic inheritance, not wanting children to suffer, the concept of consent, and worries about overpopulation and the environment.

But they are united in their desire to stop human procreation. And although they are a fringe movement, some of their views, particularly on the state of the earth, are increasingly creeping into mainstream discussion.

While not an anti-natalist, the Duke of Sussex recently said he and his wife were planning to have a maximum of two children, because of environmental concerns.

Philosophical chat
Thomas hadn't heard of anti-natalism before someone used the term to describe his views in a YouTube comments thread a few years ago. Since then, he's become an active member of an anti-natalist Facebook group. It provides him with intellectual stimulation and a place to test his debating skills.

"I think it's awesome, you're discussing real life problems," he says. "You've got an idea - let's say humans do go extinct. What if humans then evolve again? Then you haven't really solved the problem.

"There's a lot of discussion, some of it gets quite touchy."

But his passion for anti-natalism isn't only theoretical. Thomas believes all human life is purposeless and has tried, although not succeeded, in getting a vasectomy on Britain's National Health Service (NHS). NHS doctors can refuse to perform sterilisation operations if they believe the procedure is not in the best interests of the patient.

Non-violence and consent
Despite some of the nihilist rhetoric in anti-natalist groups, there's no indication that they're a violent threat. When they do talk about extinction it often feels as though it's a debating exercise. No-one in their online communities is threatening murder or violence.

Thomas's idea of blowing a hole in the side of the earth - he imagines a big red button that would end human life and says he'd "press that in an instant" - is actually highly controversial because of a key anti-natalist principle: consent.

Put simply, it's the idea that creating or destroying life requires the consent of the person who will be born or die.

Kirk lives in San Antonio, Texas. He says he recalls a conversation with his mother when he was just four years old. She told him that having children was a choice.

"This doesn't make any sense to me, to voluntarily put someone who has no needs or wants prior to their conception into this world to suffer and die," he says.

Kirk says that even at that young age, he became an anti-natalist. He opposes the creation of human life because none of us were explicitly asked if we wanted to be here.

"If every person gave consent to play the game of life then I personally wouldn't have any objection to that," he concedes. "It hinges on the consent or lack thereof."

The concept also works in reverse. The problem with that big red humanity-eraser button is that plenty of people enjoy life - and not everyone would consent to it all coming to an end. Instead, Kirk and most anti-natalists want people to volunteer to stop giving birth.

Mental health issues
There's another distinct theme common in anti-natalist groups. Posters frequently share experiences of their own mental health, and occasionally condemn those with mental health problems for having children.

One post included a screenshot of a post from another user that read: "I have a borderline personality disorder, in addition to bipolar and generalized anxiety". The anti-natalist added their own comment: "This individual has two kids. I feel bad for the kiddos".

In another group, there was also a comment where someone was clearly contemplating suicide.

"I've had schizophrenia and depression," Thomas explains. "Depression does run in my family too. I think if I have kids there's a high likelihood that they're going to be depressed and they're not going to like their life."

But he also says the community is often wrongly labelled by outsiders.

"People start labelling us crazy psychos," he says. The truth, he says, is much more complex.

Saving the earth?
Fuelling anti-natalist arguments in recent years is an increasing focus on the environment and the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Judging from posts in the anti-natalist groups, there's clearly a large overlap between their ideas and environmental activism.

"I feel that it is selfish to have children at this time," adds Nancy a vegan, plastic-free, animal rights enthusiast and yoga instructor from the Philippines."The reality is that the children being born into the world are creating more destruction for the environment."

In a Facebook group called "very angry anti-natalists" a petition is being shared which they hope to send to the United Nations. Its title is "Overpopulation root of the climate catastrophe - worldwide birth stop now." So far it has 27,000 signatures.

The idea of refraining from having children to benefit the environment isn't a new one. In Britain a charity called Population Matters has proposed this for years - although they are not anti-natalists. In fact, they argue in favour of the sustainability of the human race rather than its extinction.

"Our aim is to achieve harmony between the human race and the planet we're fortunate to inhabit," says Robin Maynard, the group's director. "If we have fewer children across the globe and smaller families we can achieve a much more sustainable population."

But will an increasing population necessarily lead directly to environmental disaster? According to the BBC's Global Population Correspondent Stephanie Hegarty, it's hard to say, because the future is so difficult to predict.

"According to scientific projections, due to economic development and dropping fertility rates, the population of the world is likely to plateau at about 11 billion in 80 years," she says. "Whether the planet can sustain that or not - we do not know.

"It's also very difficult to predict how many people the planet can sustain because it's all about consumption. And that means everything from air, water, food, fossil fuels, wood, plastic - the list goes on and on," she says. "Clearly some of us are consuming a lot more than others. A family of 12 in a country like Burundi will consume less, on average, than a family of three in Texas.

"There are so many factors that are going to be changing over the next decade and the next century that we can't predict right now."

Insults and criticism
Among the intense philosophical and ethical debates going on anti-natalist groups, there's a darker and less edifying undercurrent. Some routinely insult parents - calling them "breeders". Other slurs are directed at children.

"Whenever I see a pregnant woman, disgust is the first feeling." wrote one user next to a picture that said: "I hate baby bump".

But that doesn't mean that all anti-natalists hate children, according to those who spoke to the BBC.

"I would say I personally like children and it is because I like them that I don't want them to suffer," Nancy says. "Maybe bringing them into the world would give me some pleasure but the possible threat is so huge I'm just not sure it's worth it."

But that's not the only criticism. In some anti-natalist groups, users allude to the notion that babies shouldn't be born in war zones, if there is a high chance of disability, or even to low-income parents. At times the rhetoric sounds like selective breeding - or eugenics.

The anti-natalists we spoke to had mixed feelings about those ideas.

"What are their motives behind having a kid?" says Thomas when asked if he's concerned about children being born in war-torn areas. "In such a country there's less hope that things are going to turn around."

He's more relaxed about children being born into low-income households.

"Obviously I'm against having kids... but I think you can be happy and in a low-income area."

"My anti-natalism is across the board," states Nancy. She opposes eugenics. "Why are we picking and choosing some groups because they are in a position of disadvantage?"

So is there a general anti-natalist life philosophy?

"Do the best you can," says Kirk. "Be kind - and don't procreate."

(Source: BBC)

The system lifted me from poverty. Today, Danielle John is not so lucky

One woman’s shocking story sums up the inhumanity of the modern benefits regime

Last week, a woman’s sanction letter from the Department for Work and Pensions went viral on Twitter. Danielle John, from Cardiff, simply wrote: “Was told to put this up on Twitter… this was because I had a miscarriage and missed appointment.”

These stories are fairly common now. We are used to seeing reports about people being sanctioned because of attending a funeral/cancer treatment/their child being in hospital. But this one struck me in particular because the language was so coldly efficient. Brief to the point of cruelty. I didn’t know it was possible, even in a business letter, to say: “We’re about to ruin your whole life” without a shred of empathy.

The letter, written in February 2017, starts in large font: “You’ll lose some of your payment… This reduction will last 229 days.” Two hundred and 29 days for a single missed appointment. That’s almost 32 weeks of punishment. Or, if you prefer, February until August, with no money at all. When you consider that the harsher punishments for domestic violence introduced in 2018 suggest a sentence towards the upper limit of “a fine to up to 26 weeks’ custody” for common assault, you have to wonder what fantastical, sadistic metric the DWP has used to calculate sanctions.

The letter goes on to say that for her missed appointment – I just want to pause to remind you here that Danielle John was having a miscarriage at the time of missing this appointment – she would be sanctioned £10.40 for each of those days. So, a total of £2,381.60.
 Author Kerry Hudson outside the council block where she used to live in Airdrie, Scotland. Photograph: Mark Vessey

For two years, I have been writing solely about exclusion based on my experiences of homelessness and poverty and the consequences of austerity in the deprived towns I grew up in. I’ll admit to feeling a little jaded. Like many, I’m tired and, with the rest of the nation, I’m sitting with my popcorn watching the Brexit Shit Show in fascinated, terrified, distracted horror. As a consequence, part self-protection, part general fatigue, I’ve stopped feeling as much as I should about the many stories of human hardship, pain and deprivation that austerity has inflicted on so many of the most vulnerable.

But when Danielle posted her letter on Twitter, I took the time to read a little further. Yes, as usual, the letter was shocking, callous and entirely devoid of compassion. But then I discovered that Danielle had not been able to address the missed appointment – thus incurring 229 days of punishment – because, according to a doctor’s letter she also posted, she was suffering “recurrent miscarriages from August 2015 until October 2016” and that “she probably would not have been able to work at that time”.

Danielle says she had attempted suicide by slashing her wrists a few months before her sanction meeting and they still sanctioned her. After she was left with no money from February to August in 2017, she says the stress and debt sent her back to drug use after being clean for 15 years and she is still repaying the debt she incurred during those months.

Danielle John represents only one of these… I was going to say cases but of course she is a person. A human being who went through an undeniably human experience where she had no choice but to depend on a system hardwired to disregard humanity.

I was born into a single-parent family in receipt of benefits for my entire childhood. For much of that time, we lived in temporary homeless accommodation and hostels. I left school at 15 with no qualifications and with severe depression and anxiety as a result of growing up in poverty. I’m writing in this newspaper now because, no matter where we lived or how poor my education, I had access to libraries. I was able to get dependable benefits at 16 that allowed me to access housing benefit and offered me the stability to go to college, which was also free. Back then, I was just about able to afford university and once I was there I could access mental health treatment on the NHS and live in council housing.

Decades into the future, when we look back and wonder how things have ended up as they are, I hope we don’t have to say it’s because we were distracted or jaded. That we were listening to certain narratives about poor communities and forgetting to really think about the human repercussions of the frequent austerity horror stories.

In 2019, food bank usage, which has been directly linked by academics to sanctions, continues to rise and we still have the UN poverty envoy publicly labelling universal credit “universal discredit”.

Indeed, even Amber Rudd, secretary of state for the DWP, has backed down from three-year sanctions, which were deployed if claimants made three or more serious breaches, realising that forcing people to live below the poverty line for three years is unlikely to help raise them up or act as any form of incentive. Though, of course, if in the first place she’d asked anyone with any expertise in, or experience of, poverty, – if she’d even met me at a bus stop for five minutes – any of us could have told her that and saved a lot of time, expense and hardship.

That we currently have a benefits system that so arbitrarily brutalises and fails our most vulnerable should be a national scandal. But it is the dismantling of all the other essential, social mobility-enabling services that makes this such a scary story. Not just for today or next year but for consequences that will be seen in decades to come.

(Source: The Guardian)

Sigrid Nunez’s portraits of animal intelligence

Sigrid Nunez, like Virginia Woolf, is a writer known for her intellectual rigor and her ability to capture, insightfully and unsentimentally, the myriad complexities of human life in beautifully written prose. In the ambition and variety of their work, they have much in common. Something else that they share: neither Sigrid Nunez nor Virginia Woolf is thought of as a warm-and-fuzzy writer, and yet both, quite literarily, are.

And I mean warm and fuzzy in every sense of the phrase. For while both Nunez’s marmoset Mitz (from her 1998 novel Mitz) and Woolf’s spaniel Flush (the hero of Flush: A Biography, published by Woolf in 1933) are warm-blooded and furry creatures (although they suffer the indignities of lice and fleas), they are also engaging characters based upon actual animals. Many famous nonhuman literary characters are inventions: Chekhov’s lapdog, E. B. White’s mouse and pig and spider and swan, Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, John Steinbeck’s Red Pony, and Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Elsa, the lion who was born free, did exist, as did Tulip, J. R. Ackerley’s beloved Alsatian bitch. Nevertheless, real or imagined, few animals have literary pedigrees as noble as Flush and Mitz.

Both animals embark upon an incredible journey to arrive at their ordained homes: Mitz is captured in a Brazilian jungle, almost fatally shipped across the ocean, cruelly displayed in a junk store, whimsically purchased by a Rothschild, and finally brought home to Tavistock Square by the concerned and devoted Leonard Woolf. Flush wends a less dangerous, but similarly circuitous, route to Wimpole Street. And both creatures thrive in a sort of literary animal heaven: Flush with the mid-nineteenth-century power couple (poetry) of Barrett and Browning, and Mitz with Woolf and Woolf, their mid-twentieth-century counterparts (prose).

Do some writers appreciate or understand something about animals that others do not? I think that perhaps they do, for fiction writers are always attempting to penetrate and plumb the depths of alien consciousness. Both Nunez and Woolf make the leap from human mind to animal heart with gazelle-like certainty and grace. Flush and Mitz are as real and engaging as the humans with whom they cohabit, and the reader delights in these interspecific ménages. John Chamberlain, reviewing Flush in the New York Times in 1933, wrote: “In seeking to record the states of consciousness of a dog, Mrs. Woolf is more successful, it seems to us, than she ever was at adumbration of the psychic life of human beings.”


As a child I was forbidden from reading any books in which an animal even flirted with mortality because of the devastating effect such books (or films) had on me. The rapport that exists between animals and people is in some ways deeper and more consistently affirming than human/human affection because it is not dependent upon the constraints of language or eroded by the tribulations of everyday life, and so it is spared the tension and damage that miscommunication and irritation often wreck upon those relationships.

Mitz poignantly and charmingly explores this mysterious and life-affirming bond. We are never told exactly how Leonard feels about Mitz, but the reader understands the tender intimacy that they share because Nunez depicts it. Leonard and Virginia sleep in different beds in different bedrooms, but there is Mitz, stowed in the pocket of Leonard’s waistcoat, safe and warm against his heart, and here is Mitz, delicately removing the dandruff from Leonard’s scalp. They may not sleep in the same bed, but Mitz waits on Leonard’s pillow until he falls asleep before retiring to her birdcage, and returns to wake him in the morning.

Our relationships with animals may be simpler than those we have with fellow humans, but that ease in no way diminishes the devastating sadness that accompanies their loss. And I feel that a deeper and more profound sadness enshrouds the conclusion of Mitz. For as imagined by Sigrid Nunez, the death of Mitz seems somehow to represent, or parallel, the loss of something much larger than a marmoset but equally precious: peace. Europe had narrowly avoided war in September of 1938 by allowing Hitler to annex the Sudetenland. “Leonard called the pact a national disgrace and gave it six months.” He was right: Mitz died in December of 1938. Three months later, in March of 1939, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, and in September, with his invasion of Poland, the war officially began. And less than two years later, in March of 1941, Virginia Woolf took her own life.


I knew that Sigrid Nunez is a cat person, but where did this surprising appreciation and understanding of marmosets come from? And dogs, as well—The Friend, Nunez’s most recent novel, is a book about many things, but at its heart it is a love story between a woman and a dog. Yes: love. Whether it be a cosmopolitan woman’s deep affection for her gigantic dog, or a man’s devotion to the little monkey that warms his breast, the love that is shared between humans and animals has informed many of our most beautiful and heartbreaking stories. Sigrid Nunez knows this, Virginia Woolf knew it, and knew that Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew it as well, for on the last page of Flush she quotes Mrs. Browning:

… I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness, —thanking the true PAN
Who by low creatures leads to heights of love.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Some fairy tales may be 6000 years old

When it comes to the origin of Western fairy tales, the 19th century Brothers Grimm get a lot of the credit. Few scholars believe the Grimms were actually responsible for creating the tales, but academics probably didn’t realize how old many of these stories really are. A new study, which treats these fables like an evolving species, finds that some may have originated as long as 6000 years ago.

The basis for the new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is a massive online repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, which was compiled in 2004. Although not all researchers agree on the specifics, all modern Indo-European cultures (encompassing all of Europe and much of Asia) descended from the Proto-Indo-European people who lived during the Neolithic Period (10,200 B.C.E.–2000 B.C.E.) in Eastern Europe. Much of the world’s modern language is thought to have evolved from them.
An illustration of Beauty and the Beast from 1913. WARWICK GOBLE

To conduct the study, Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, and colleagues scanned the repository. They limited their analysis to tales that contained magic and supernatural elements because this category contained nearly all the famous tales people are familiar with. This narrowed the sample size to 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast.

But tracing these tales back through time is no easy task. There are scant historical records, and many of the fables began as oral stories that left no written versions. So the researchers used statistical methods similar to those employed by biologists to trace species lineages back through the branching tree of evolution based only on modern DNA sequences.

Here’s how it worked: Fairy tales are transmitted through language, and the shoots and branches of the Indo-European language tree are well-defined, so the scientists could trace a tale’s history back up the tree—and thus back in time. If both Slavic languages and Celtic languages had a version of Jack and the Beanstalk (and the analysis revealed they might), for example, chances are the story can be traced back to the “last common ancestor.” That would be the Proto-Western-Indo-Europeans from whom both lineages split at least 6800 years ago. The approach mirrors how an evolutionary biologist might conclude that two species came from a common ancestor if their genes both contain the same mutation not found in other modern animals.

But it’s not quite so simple. Unlike genes, which are almost exclusively transmitted “vertically”—from parent to offspring—fairy tales can also spread horizontally when one culture intermingles with another. Accordingly, much of the authors’ study focuses on recognizing and removing tales that seem to have spread horizontally. When the pruning was done, the team was left with a total of 76 fairy tales.

This approach allowed the researchers to trace certain tales, such as The Smith and the Devil, which tells the story of a blacksmith who makes a deal with the devil in exchange for unmatched smithing prowess, back thousands of years—all the way to the Proto-Indo-European people. If the analysis is correct, it would mean the oldest fairy tales still in circulation today are between 2500 and 6000 years old. Other stories seem to be much younger, appearing for the first time in more modern branches of the language tree.

The authors have done “as good a job as possible,” with the data they have, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

In a new dispatch, published this month in Current Biology, he ruminates on what allows these stories to stand the test of time. “What really interests me is why these cultural forms exist. Why is it that fairy tales, art, songs, poems, why do these things seem to have such longevity?”

Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re “minimally counterintuitive narratives.” That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend. Beauty and the Beast, for example, contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance. The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.

“This is of course something we now need to test more rigorously,” he says. “That’s the next phase of this research.”

(Source: Science Mag)