Greenland: Yes We Can

November 26, 2008

Greenland has overwhelming voted for more autonomy from Denmark in yesterday’s referendum.

Over 75% of Greenlanders backed the plan.
Just over 23% said no.
The turnout was around 72%.

I reckon that’s an impressive turnout given the dark Arctic winter days. Those in the north of the country must be coping with little or no daylight at this time.

Its a clear sign that the island is heading towards independence.

As I said in yesterday’s blog, the First Minister Hans Enoksen has a timescale of independence in 12 years time.

Others prefer a shorter timescale.

The former foreign minister Aleqa Hammond sees independence in 8 years.

And the head of the Greenland union SIK, Jess Berthelsen, sees it happen in 4 years.

The defeated unionists like the Democrats leader Jens Frederiksen and rebel Siumut politican Finn Lynge are now left arguing over the timescale and the feasibilty of independence.

Lynge in particular thinks that with only 57 000 people, Greenland cannot be independent. He said it was ‘impossible for an island with 50,000 to 60,000 inhabitants to become an independent state.’

‘There are simply too few of us to provide the personnel necessary to develop a viable state’.

The ex-First Minister Lars-Emil Johansen rejects that criticism. Echoing the slogan of Barack Obama he simply says ‘Yes We Can’.

Greenland is rich in oil, gas, gold, diamond and other minerals.

Scottish companies like Cairn Energy are keen to develop the Greenland oil and gas potential. It is now the largest oil company investing in Greenland with a total of 8 licences around the island. Greenland’s oil company Nunaoil has a 8% stake in those licenses.

Its part of the Greenland Government’s plan to diversify its economy which is currently largely based on the fishing industry.

And speed the path to independence.

The world’s current smallest states by population:

1 Vatican City 920
2 Tuvalu 11,640
3 Nauru 13,050
4 Palau 20,300
5 San Marino 28,880
6 Monaco 32,410
7 Liechtenstein 33,720
8 Saint Kitts & Nevis 38,960
9 Marshall Islands 59,070

Currently the population of Greenland would put it at no. 9 in the world.

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Eyes north to Greenland

November 25, 2008

Today is the day of Greenland’s referendum on wresting more powers from Denmark, in a move that is seen as a precursor to full independence for the Arctic island.

Greenland flag

A yes vote would see key economic powers move from Copenhagen to the Greenland Parliament and decrease Greenland’s dependence on the annual block grant of 472 million euros it receives from Denmark.

Greenland would also take control of its oil resources and mineral wealth, although the current referendum deal leaves the possibility of a Danish share when annual oil revenue exceeds $12.6 million. Estimates say north east Greenland might have around 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. Climate change is making access to those resources much easier and cheaper. One report quotes a Greenlander looking forward to having a wine industry in the near future!

Greenlandic would be recognised as the country’s official language. It is spoken by the vast majority (around 50 000) of the population.

There are only around 57 000 people in Greenland. Around 39 000 are eligible to vote in the referendum.

A ‘yes vote’ is widely expected. It is said that about three quarters of the voters are already decided on voting for more autonomy.

The expected change in autonomy will then be implemented on the 21st June 2009; the day instigated a few years after devolution in 1983 as the National Day of the country. It also voted that same year to leave the EU in a referendum, having previously joined as part of Denmark.

The First Minister of Greenland, Hans Enoksen, supports the ‘Yes vote’.

He expects that with more fiscal autonomy the demand for full independence will increase.

“Agreeing on self-rule is the only road forward,” he said, pointing out that “the Greenlandic people have wished for many years to be more independent.”

He set out his timetable for full independence:

“Greenland will be independent in 12 years … for my 65th birthday.”

Other politicans share this broad timescale. Lars Emil Johansen, one of two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, says he dreams the day will come by 2021, in time for the 300th anniversary of Denmark’s colonisation of Greenland.

“Of course we can be the masters of our own destiny and fly on our own wings”

His advisor Hans Jakob Helms agrees:

“Home rule was a compromise,” Helms said. “It’s a simple fact that home rule has reached its limit and there’s a need for more room for self-government.”

Around 300 years of a political union? The parallels with Scotland and the rest of the UK are striking. And similarly to the planned 2010 referendum in Scotland, the Greenland referendum is also non-binding. However the Danish Government will respect the wishes of the Greenlanders.

And like Scotland, Greenland has its own Unionist doubters of independence.

The Greenland Democratic Party are against further devolution – they are campaigning for a ‘No vote’ – and against full independence:

Palle Christiansen, the political spokesperson of the Democrats, who are part of Greenland’s opposition, warned against hurrying the process, noting that ‘self-rule brings with it more than just oil revenues.’

Christiansen cited the administration of judicial affairs as just one area which would incur major costs on the Greenlandic government.

And a minority of members of the Siumut Party have openly dismissed talk of independence, much to their party’s disgust:

“Greenland will never be an independent state,” Finn Lynge recently stated, much to the dismay of his Siumut party, which is part of the government coalition and strongly in favour of a “yes” vote in the referendum.

Its not great times for the government coalition. It may be falling apart under scrutiny from the Greenland Audit Commission, which might result in the referendum result becoming a springboard for a subsequent snap General Election in the country.

“There are only between 50,000 and 60,000 of us living here in geographically and climatically extreme conditions. With such a tiny population it is impossible to provide the human contributions needed to turn Greenland into a modern and independent state,” Finn Lynge said.

Greenland has many social problems like alcoholism and a high suicide rate.

“No one can build an independent state on heavy drinking”, Finn Lynge has stated.

So will the Unionists win the day?

Will the credit crunch and the example of their neighbour Iceland’s financial troubles persuade the Greenlanders to vote against further powers for their Parliament?

We’ll all need to wait and see.

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Electric cars

November 24, 2008

I see Australia is the latest country to start the switch to electric cars and wean its population off dependence on oil.

It follows Denmark and Israel’s lead.

New Zealand has already clinched a deal with Mitsubishi for a fleet of electric cars to be introduced in 2009. And in Japan, Japan Post is replacing its vehicles with electric equivalents.

In England, London has already been at the forefront of electric car usage and Boris Johnston has given a grant for the scheme to be extended across the boroughs of the city.

Now Brighton and Hove are planning a similar system. They successfully secured a £2.2 million grant from the EU for their project. Their 10 charging points will cost £30 000 altogether or £3000 each, quite a bit cheaper than the London counterparts.

The Australian model will be powered by renewable energy. The recharging stations will be powered by wind turbines.

Project Better Place will raise $1 billion to provide 250 000 recharging stations in the east of the country.

This works out at $4000 per recharging station.

Thats a lot cheaper than the £7000 it takes to install a recharging station in London, but I guess the price difference is down to the sheer massive scale of the Australian project.

The similar Danish system is also run by wind turbines. Around 20% of Denmark’s electricity production comes from wind, but the fact that the car batteries are traded in to charge – and they store electricity from the grid – with a number of batteries charging at any one time means that wind power can provide base load even when the wind is not blowing.

In fact, 2 million electric cars in circulation would provide Denmark with a standby capacity of electricity over 5 times its needs.

Project Better Place are in discussion with another 30 countries keen to implement the system. The mayor of San Francisco wants electric cars there.

The same company has already done the same in Israel.

Norway has about 50 recharging stations, but plans to have 400 on the go by 2011. The Norwegian Car company Think currently makes around 10 000 electric cars a year and can’t up with demand but does plan to open new factories to increase production.

Not to be left behind the Swedish Government are planning to provide a network of recharging stations across the country. It plans to be oil-independent by 2020.

The Finns seem to have taken a different approach. They have started a scheme where they convert your existing car to electric using lithium ion batteries. They claim that the top speed of your car will be a little less but the acceleration of the car will be better.

Even the Icelanders – slated by new Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy as being in an ‘Arc of Insolvency’ – have just shook hands on a deal with Mitsubishi to fleet test their electric cars in the country in 2009, similar to the New Zealand deal.

Another country in Murphy’s ‘Arc of Insolvency’, Ireland, will shortly announce plans to have 10% of all its cars powered by electricity by 2020. Project Better Place are already in talks with the Irish Government. Its predicted around 50 000 jobs could be created in Ireland with the establishment of such eco-friendly policies.

So much for the environmentally aware Scandanavians and the forward thinking Irish in their Arc of Prosperity you might say. What about Scotland?

Until recently Scotland had only one electric car. That was a G-Wiz, the electric car much used in London, with a slightly dodgy safety record. It also had only one public recharging station, in the Braehead Shopping Centre.

Clydebank Housing Association has provided electric cars for its tenants at Radnor Park. They are recharged at the local power station that provides electricity for the flats.

Its been funded by a £37 000 Community Scotland grant.

The Department of Transport is also planning to pilot a ‘green van’ scheme in various locations in England from Newcastle, Gateshead, and Liverpool to Leeds and Coventry. In Scotland only Glasgow has been selected.

James May, of BBC’s Top Gear, is not a fan of the Westminster Government’s ‘green transport’ policy:

‘People think it’s about style or performance, but it’s down to the science. There has to be a hydrogen infrastructure in place to provide the energy to make electric vehicles work properly. We are nowhere near that point.’

Far from ‘kick-starting’ the revolution, May says the Government is simply ‘window-dressing’. ‘There’s a feeble bit of Congestion Charge relief if your drive an electric vehicle. This is no more a Green-vehicle strategy than my cat,’ he says.

Newer electric cars like the Smart Fortwo Electric can plug into a mains socket, has a top speed of 70 mph and can travel for 75 miles without a recharge.

The new Tesla Roadster is an electric sports car, assembled by Lotus. It can do 0 – 60 in 3.9 seconds and can travel 244 miles on a single charge of its battery. Of course it does cost 99 000 euros or around £84 000.

Tesla Roadster

75% of Scots in a recent survey said they would consider changing to an alternative powered car if they became readily available.

The Scottish Government has planned a consultation exercise on electric cars this Autumn. But there are already calls for the SNP Government to try and get Project Better Place’s network in Scotland.

But if it doesn’t act soon Scotland could be the poor relation of Europe in electric car takeup.

Spain has announced a target of 1 million electric cars on its roads by 2014.

Germany is launching its own network of electric car recharging stations.

Portugal is also announcing its own network of recharging stations. It will build 1300 stations by 2011.

France has recently announced a $549 million investment in electric and hybrid cars.

With the SNP Government’s commitment to renewal energy surely the Danish model based on wind turbines is the way forward? The combination of providing much more base load than we need and have the rest exported, the reduction of carbon emissions and the prospect of being oil independent when the oil finally runs out must be the favourite way ahead.

Back to James May:

‘The wind blows, the waves roll, the sun shines. The moon in the sky plucks at the sea to makes the tides, and Tennyson’s wild cataract leaps in glory. And he wasn’t talking about an eye infection. All of this will go on for as long as there is a world, and we need convert only a very tiny amount of it to electricity to keep driving until the sun goes out.’

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Sarah Palin and fruit flies

October 25, 2008

I guess no-one should be surprised by the latest anti-science diatribe by Sarah Palin.

This time she’s picking on the humble fruit fly.

She was giving a speech on promoting the funding of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):

“For many parents of children with disabilities, the most valuable thing of all is information. Early identification of a cognitive or other disorder, especially autism, can make a life-changing difference.”

Now given that Sarah Palin has a Down’s Syndrome son, you may have thought have fighting for disability funding would have been a home run for her. You may also have expected her to champion scientific research into disabilities.

So for her to question the earmarked money for scientific research was a bit surprising:

“Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You’ve heard about some of these pet projects they really don’t make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.”

Fruit fly research.

The fruit fly research that she is talking about must be the Olive fruit fly research. The Olive fruit fly is an invasive pest that threatening California’s multi-million dollar olive crop. In trying to save a chunk of California’s economy in these difficult times, the $211509 French grant probably is a worthwhile investment.

Besides, if you know anything about science, you’ll know that vital findings have resulted from the most tangential experiments. Who knows what benefits might come out this study?

Certainly not Sarah Palin.

If she was only aware of what research of the humble fruit fly has already given to science I bet she wouldn’t have mocked this research in her speech.

For example, progress in birth defects research. That work brought a Nobel Prize.

Progress in autism research. The very condition that Sarah Palin started her talk about. She has a nephew suffering from autism. Fruit fly research may bring vital clues to improve his life.

Diabetes research.

Cancer research. Indeed, fruit fly research has led to critical advances in the treatment of colon cancer and possibly all cancers.

Alzheimer’s research. And scientists have just cured fruit flies from Huntington’s disease, a massive leap to the treatment of humans.

And work on increasing the life-span of fruit flies may have benefits in slowing ageing in humans.

And what makes the fruit fly so ubitiquous in medical research?

Chiang Ann-shyn – director of the Institute of Biotechnology and director of the Brain Research Center at National Tsing Hua University in Hsinchu City, Taiwan – explains in this article:

‘One reason fruit flies were used was the similarities between their genes and human genes, Chiang explained. Although a fruit fly carries only around 135,000 genes, which might seem few in comparison to a human being’s 4 billion genes, a large number of genes that suffer from human genetic disorders can be found in the fruit fly. “Flies are cheap to breed, and their genes can be manipulated quickly,” he declared. Moreover, better understanding of genes would allow scientists to search faster for novel therapeutic drugs for healing diseases like Alzheimer’s, he added.’

I think its clear by now that Sarah Palin has no understanding of science.

Her Young Earth creationist views.
Her disregard for climate change.
Her appalling environmental record.
Her attempt to ban books from the local library in Wasilla.

And now this.

Go back to what she said at the start: “For many parents of children with disabilities, the most valuable thing of all is information.”

What Sarah Palin is promoting with her fruit fly ‘I kid you not’ nonsense is dis-information.

Its just as well it looks like the Republicans look like they are losing the election.

Having Sarah Palin as Vice President with an elderly, poor health John McCain as President just doesn’t bear thinking about.

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The tide is turning

September 29, 2008

Its been announced today that major new tidal energy projects will be launched in the Pentland Firth, the Sound of Islay and the Antrim coast.

The Pentland Firth in particular has been described as ‘the Saudi Arabia of tidal power’ and could provide Scotland with half its electricity [Robert Gordon University estimate] (Over 15 TWHrs per annum).

Tidal farms around Orkney and Shetland may produce 25 000 MW (73 TWHrs per annum).

Although the annual needs are measured in TWHrs, the actual plant machinery is measured in MW or GW. It is then factored into how much electricity it can provide in a year, taking a third as a load factor.

For instance,

A 6 GW plant provides 6 x 365 (days in a year) x 24 (hours in a day) x 0.33 (load factor)

i.e. 17.2 TWHrs.

Installed nuclear plant has 2.09 GW, (July 08). [6.1 TWHr]

Installed renewables plant have 2.96 GW (Sept 08 figure). [8.64 TWHr]

In total, Scottish electrical plant from all fuel sources has 10.3 GW [30 TWHr]. As you can work out from the Robert Gordon figure, this pretty much equates to what Scotland uses in electrical requirement.

But, as you can see with the figures talked about regarding the Pentland Firth and the Northern Isles alone, Scotland has far more energy potential than it needs, it has the capability to export vast amounts of electrical power.

Just using tidal energy alone. And tidal energy is ‘always on’ unlike wind power (36.5 GW estimated plant). And I haven’t mentioned Wave Power (14 GW estimated plant) either.

The nuclear argument is a red herring. As long as we build over 2 GW of renewable plant by the time the last Scottish nuclear plant Torness is decommisioned (expected in 2023), we should replace the nuclear output with ease.

Scotland doesn’t need it.

The tide is turning.

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Labour’s Life on Mars

September 20, 2008

Fresh from being the LabourHome poll of being the most competent cabinet member with a hardly blistering 6.18 out of 10, Alan Johnson is reported in The Times as stepping aside the battle to succeed Gordon Brown in favour of David Miliband.

(The high point of 6.18 out of 10 does bring Wendy Alexander, the ex-leader of the Scottish Labour MSPs, back to mind with her self-marked 10 out of 10.

If the best regarded Labour politician can score – from their own supporters, mind! – a lowly 6.18; well – is Alan Johnston less than two-thirds the politician Wendy Alexander is?

And the rest of the cabinet not fit to lace her boots?

Or is Wendy Alexander just self-deluded?)

Of course, Alan Johnston has never made a secret of the fact that he doesn’t want the top job:

He once told GMTV the idea of him entering No 10 was similar to “the idea of putting the Beagle on to Mars – a nice idea but doomed to failure”.

Beagle 2

He obviously doesn’t want the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills job either.

Some people already think Gordon Brown is living on another planet. And that’s just the Labour MPs!

Now its up to David Miliband to reach for the skies.

Alan Johnston has just cleared the runway.

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Religion and evolution

September 15, 2008

Today the Church of England has issued a posthumous apology to Charles Darwin:

“Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth in 1809, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.”

Charles Darwin on Bank of England £10 note

Its one example of religion trying to come to terms with the theory of evolution.

The BBC purports that 47% of Americans reject the theory of evolution.

That to me is a startling figure but it goes some way to explain how a creationist like Sarah Palin can be considered a viable Vice President candidate.

The BBC also found that in the UK only 48% of its poll believed in evolution.

Another startling figure.

Hopefully, the Church of England apology will begin to see religious attitudes to evolution change for the better.

On a tangential note, its sad to see that Paul McCartney has given a death threat over his plans to play a concert in Israel.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by religion’s out of date coming to terms with Darwin and evolution.

It seems religion has not came to terms with The Beatles yet either.

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