Friday, February 23, 2024

Waste Work - the book and some events

In case anyone hasn't noticed, we have a new and what we think is a pretty substantial book out exploring many different aspects of Dharavi's waste economy, arts - based methods, and the enormous set of issues and difficulties faced by the people who inhabit that space. The book touches on lots of contemporary themes - rampant urban inequalities, climate crisis, climate justice and ecological breakdown, the wicked problem of plastic waste, labour politics, human rights and also how to (creatively) do research in collaborative ways with very marginalised communities that is not tokenistic, extractive or otherwise ethically suspect. I'll write more about this in another blogpost but in the meantime here are two presentations that explain what we have been up to a bit more - the first is a little video report from our Plastik ka Mela event at the Maharastra Nature Park in April 2023, and the second is a presentation that Ben Parry and I gave for a symposium organised by the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art at V&A Dundee in January 2023.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Dealing with the 'impact agenda'

An enjoyable couple of hours this afternoon spent chewing over questions of how to think about and 'do' impact in the arts and humanities with students from the Scottish Graduate School for the Arts and Humanities. I don't think I've shared it before here, so here's a powerpoint from a previous talk I did on the subject in 2019. Lots of similar issues came up in the discussion...

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Some thoughts on the UK's current energy predicament

I tried to post a thread on Twitter but due to my general incompetence with social media it didn't work properly. So I've put it here (slightly revised and expanded) instead: 

I’m old enough to remember the days when the UK Govt (& thus the taxpayer) owned the Central Electricity Generating Board, & their Scottish equivalents, & British Gas (which was merged from regional gas boards). A thought experiment…(1/..)

In the 1980s the Thatcher government privatised all the utilities - power, water(except in Scotland), gas (British Gas had been merged from regional gas boards in the 1970s), plus telecoms & rail, and the outlines of the current privatised energy system were introduced.

Proponents of privatisation argued the private sector would be more ‘efficient’, that shareholders would bring fresh investment that the taxpayer wouldn’t have to pick up, and that competition between companies for households’ business would keep prices down.

Small investors were encouraged to pick up shares in the new utility companies and the intervening years have been something of a bonanza for shareholders, although the ownership structure of UK utilities is now insanely complex, with many international entities including foreign governments, funds and other energy firms having stakes in them, with a complex regulatory regime (Ofgem etc) that appears to have been asleep at the wheel.

I haven’t done the maths (perhaps someone at @ft can help) but the total revenues and profits of our biggest utility firms must now be hundreds of billions of pounds a year: dividend payouts from energy firms are amongst the highest in the stock market.

We are now facing a full blown economic crisis particularly around energy costs which will drive up household/business bills to unaffordable levels and add huge inflationary pressure across the economy - with resultant hardship, job losses, erosion of wages/savings, stress etc.

The case for either a BIG government windfall tax on utilities this year (or an ongoing levy on profits) is thus absolutely solid. A way of getting some help to households/businesses struggling to pay bills and making the utility shareholders share the pain of this shock.

Looking further ahead one wonders what might have happened even if the utilities had been just part-privatised, with the govt retaining a stake in them (kind of the EDF model, although EDF is basically the French state )-- & also how the UK has run nuclear energy. 

Investors didn’t want to shoulder the risks around nuclear - look what happened to British Energy. BNFL publically owned. So we CAN run nationalized utilities when we want to: look at the rail companies! When they're not making giant profits, the private sector doesn't want to know.

I don't claim to be any kind of expert in energy policy but it seems to me that the wave of privatisations now looks like a colossal mistake, involving massive risk taking with energy security, and loss of revenue to the exchequer, which the public is now having to suck up and pay for, as usual.

Of course advocates of privatization will say that it's brought inward investment, created dividends for pension funds, ordinary investors and the like and that the utilities pay millions in corporation tax every year (except when they don't). And that they (and their very well paid directors) should be rewarded for their outstanding leadership and risk taking, la la la, etc etc etc.

With greater public ownership we could have shared in the profits (cf. Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund) and also insured ourselves against potential price shocks. We export energy to the highest bidder (free markets, baby) and our energy security is thus shot to bits.

Massive over-reliance on hydrocarbons and a systematic refusal to invest in renewables/insulation/energy efficiency/ or lower demand and build green infrastructure over decades, has left the whole population (except the super rich) extremely vulnerable to market shocks. Even without taking into account the climate impacts this seems like a dangerously stupid policy, and makes our economies hostage to hydrocarbon producing states whose human rights records are highly dubious, to say the least. So this is a security issue as well as a climate and social justice issue.

We need a total rethink of our energy system to deal with climate change - it is absolutely intertwined with the current geopolitical turbulence. Energy storage technologies are also absolutely critical - batteries, fuel cells etc...but these batteries are also reliant on raw materials/manufacturing processes that come from parts of the world that often get labelled as ‘unstable’ - again showing how intertwined energy systems are and how energy security is a global issue.

Local renewable generation schemes? Combined heat and power? Micro generation? Solar? Tidal? Home insulation schemes? Radical energy efficiency? I remember all of this was debated heavily in the 1970s after the oil price shock of 1973.

President Carter argued heavily for investment in alternative energy, particularly solar, and here he is addressing the nation about it in 1977. We've hardly heard any talk like that from any American president since...

But then Thatcher and Reagan, (Thatcher on the back of soaring North Sea Oil revenues) went hell for leather on the hydrocarbons and slashed R&D funding for renewables - heavily lobbied by the multinational oil lobby.

And what about a bit of nationalisation? We always seem to manage to do it when the private sector blows up shareholder cash (see RBS, HBOS, Railtrack etc) but not when it’s profitable for shareholders. Why is that? See here for more arguments.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Things I noticed right at the end of 2021 (31 Dec 2021)

Levelling Down: First Past the Post's Impact on Regional Inequality

Treasury Shelves £30bln Plan to Electrify UK Railways

27 Courses, Very Little Edible

Matt Johnson: Five Keyboard Tricks I Use All The Time!

Man Accused of Chris Whitty Assault Contests Charges in Dressing Gown

Norway to stump up a third of each home's power bills to help deal with energy crisis

Belgian Artist Creates COVID Free Bubble

Monday, December 20, 2021

Things I noticed this week (20 Dec 2021):

Why Championship Chess Sets are So Expensive

'A trash heap for our children': How Norilsk became of the most polluted places on Earth

'Back to the bad old days': swingeing rail cuts set alarm bells ringing

Treasury Shelves £30bln Plan to Electrify UK Railways

Climate Change has destabilized the Earth's Poles, putting the rest of the planet in peril

The Least Used Paris Metro Station

He Voted to Impeach. Can He Survive in the G.O.P.? 

Who's watching? How governments used the pandemic to normalise surveillance

Peter Thiel's 'Free Speech for Race Science' Crusade at Cambridge University Revealed

Despite the Focus on Russell Group Institutions as drivers of social mobility, it is actually universities outside this group that are contributing most to social mobility

All That Sugar: The West India Docks

UbuWeb Sound: Sound Sculptures (1985)

Soft Machine: Moon in June (Bilzen Festival, Aug 22 1969)

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 17, live from Teatro La Fenice

Chicken Madras being cooked at Bhaji Fresh, Warrington

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Things I noticed this week (11th Dec 2021)

Winter cab view from two of the most scenic railways in the world

Jonathan Karl: Betrayal with Peter Baker

Counting the neurological cost of COVID-19

Hackers are Spamming Businesses' Receipt Printers with 'Antiwork' Manifestos

Seven Egyptian Breakfast Dishes

Hold the tree planting: Protect ecosystems first for maximum carbon storage, study says

Reliving the New York Subway Map Debate

'Listening to Kenny G' is an Ironic Masterpiece

Glasgow's High Rise Flat Baggers

Monty meets Sly & Robbie: People Make the World Go Round

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Things I noticed this week (5th Dec 2021)

Ralph Humphrey/Chester Thompson - Zappa's More Trouble Every Day Drum Groove Analysis:

Tehran 2021: Autumn Walk in Mellat Park

Coffee or Chai? At 2 Kolkata Cafes, ‘Adda’ Is What’s Really on the Menu

Who can still afford to live in the city?

QAnon Hero Michael Flynn Secretly Said QAnon is 'Total Nonsense'

Howard Jones: Hide and Seek, Live at Siyan

The endless woes of Ferguson Marine

A stroll along the Dollis Valley Greenwalk

Jonathan Pie at COP 26: The World's End

Cooking Campfire Pizza on the Sadj Grill

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Things I noticed over the last two weeks (28th November 2021)

After a brief hiatus, a bumper edition:

The Isle of Secrets: Orford Ness

What makes for the best villains in drama? Brian Cox/Economist podcast

Highest Railway Station in Europe: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Greenland's government bans oil drilling, leads indigenous resistance to extractive capitalism

At the End of the World. it's Hyperobjects all the way down

Embarassing tank gaffe turns Cheshire remembrance into 'Dad's Army'

A look at what sewage is doing to a beach in England

Support for populist sentiment falls all over Europe, survey finds

Home Office covering up its own study of why refugees come to the UK

AOC: What's so hard about saying this is wrong?

Living in Poverty as Politicians Argue over Huge Salaries

James Garner as Marlowe: Grey Tweed Jacket

Paisley Sunset, 27th November

Jaques Pepin: Onion Soup

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Things I noticed this week, 7th Nov 2021

These Climate Science Deniers are attending the COP26 climate summit

You want to see a modern country commit suicide? Take a hard look at Britain

Foreign Office secretly targeted British news outlets

Mark Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg

Peter Millray - Time Machine (1976)

A castle for sale in North Ayrshire: probably some of the cheapest property (per square foot/acre) available in the UK...

David Lammy: the Tories think rules are for little people, not them

Transparency over emissions remains a sticking point at COP 26

The Ahr Valley Flood

The Filmmakers’ Hut, Salo, Finland

Ibrahim Maalouf - Live in Istanbul

A Ramen Cart

November mushroom foraging