Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

Sketch of American Astronomer, Space Scientist and Activist Carl Sagan

December 3, 2022

I’ve put up this sketch of Carl Sagan began he was one of the major figures in space research as well as a committed Humanist and political activist. He was also a major populariser of astronomy and science, most notably through his blockbusting TV series and its accompanying book, Cosmos. This was also notable for its soundtrack, composed by Vangelis, who also composed the music for Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. According to the blurb on Cosmos’ back cover, Sagan was

‘(t)he director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies and David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets, for which he received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and for Distinguished Public Service, and the international astronautics prize, the Prix Galabert. He has served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, as chairman of the astronomy section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as a President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union. For twelve years, he was Editor-in-Chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. In addition to 400 published scientific and popular articles, Dr. Sagan (was) the author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Cosmic Connection, The Dragons of Eden, Murmurs of Earth and Broca’s Brain. In 1975 he received the Joseph Priestly Award “for distinguished contributions to the welfare of mankind,” and in 1978 the Pulitzer Prize for literature.’

It was Sagan who suggested that Black Holes could be used as interstellar subways so that spaceships from one part of the universe could use them to travel faster than light to another part of the cosmos connected by the wormhole passing between the Black Hole and its White Hole. He also suggested that Venus could be terraformed into a living, habitable world through the introduction of genetically engineered bacteria that would consume its toxic carbon dioxide atmosphere and replace it with breathable oxygen. He also noted that Mars had a large instability in its rotation, and that this could have resulted in its current, millions-year long period of lifelessness. But it was possible that in time its rotation would return to a more hospitable position and the planet would once more bloom into life. He was also a staunch advocate of the view that the universe was inhabited by intelligent alien civilisations and that one day we would contact them. He also wrote a later book, Pale Blue Dot, after the view of the Earth from space.

He was also a fierce opponent of what he considered to be superstition. He was one of the founders of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal along with the stage magician James Randi. They were formed in response to the publication of Gauqelin’s research suggesting there really was a link between the star sign under which people were born and their later careers. He was alarmed by the rise of Creationism and the New Age, and expressed his fears about them in his book, The Demon Haunted World. He was afraid that this would lead to a new Dark Age in which people would wake up every morning to anxiously look through their horoscopes.

He was also greatly concerned with the environment and global warming and the threat of nuclear war. In the 1980s he also proposed the idea of nuclear winter. This was the idea that a nuclear war would send millions of tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking out the sunlight and causing temperatures to plunge. This has since been rejected by scientists, but I have seen it suggested as one of the causes for the extinction of the dinosaurs. In this case it was the dust thrown up by the asteroid’s impact 65 million years ago that blocked out the sun’s light, after the initial holocaust caused by its impact.

During the inquiry following the Challenger disaster, Sagan claimed that it had occurred because the Shuttle was poorly designed, the result of a compromise between NASA and the military. The Shuttle was originally intended to be fully reusable and smaller. However, the armed forces insisted on it becoming larger so that it could carry military satellites into space. The result was that it was larger, and only partially reusable as it required an external tank to carry the extra fuel it needed to reach orbit. This was jettisoned after its fuel was consumed to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

He also wrote the SF novel, Contact, later filmed with Jodie Foster playing the lead. This was about a female astronomer, who makes contact radio contact with aliens, a method Sagan himself strongly advocated. Following their instructions, she constructs an artificial wormhole portal that transports her across space so she can finally meet them. I remember coming across the book in the Cheltenham branch of Waterstones in the 1980s and was rather put off by its blurb. This boasted about it challenging and refuting racism, sexism and so on. All good stuff, of course, but a bit too PC for me.

Many of these themes appear in Cosmos. This was his personal view of the history of science, and while I loved it at the time, I have serious issues with some of the claims now. One of the problems is that he accepts what we were all told at school, that the Greek philosophers were scientists. He believed that if Greek science had progressed, we would have had space travel by now. The ancient Greeks were certainly responsible for laying the foundations of western science, but they were not quite scientists in the modern sense. They used deduction rather than the scientific method of induction. Deduction meant that they observed a phenomenon and then invented an explanation. In induction, devised by Francis Bacon in the 16th/17th century, the scientist observes a phenomenon, comes up with an explanation, and then devises an experiment to disprove it. If the explanation passes the test, it is tentatively accepted as true until a later observation or experiment disproves it. The ancient Greeks didn’t do much practical experimentation.

Sagan also followed the popular explanation of the evolution of the brain, in which there is a lower, animal brain with the higher faculties evolving later, so there’s a primitive reptile brain and a more advanced mammal brain. But Victorian scientists found that both types of brain structure were present in the earliest, most primitive animals. He also followed the standard, accepted narrative that the Roman Catholic church had suppressed scientific knowledge and experimentation during the Middle Ages. This has since been rejected by historians of science. To many such historians now, the Middle Ages after the 8/9th centuries were an age of innovation and discovery. Jean Gimpel’s book proposing the idea was called The Medieval Machine, after the invention of the clock, to symbolise the period’s belief in a universe governed by law, discoverable by human reason under the light of the divine. And rather than the revival of classical learning in the Renaissance leading to a new enlightened, rational order, it had the potential to do the opposite. The medieval philosophers and theologians were Aristotelians but were very aware of the flaws in Aristotelian science and had modified it over the centuries in order to conform more closely to observed reality. But the Renaissance Humanists would have dumped all this, and so we would have been back to square one with no further scientific advances than what was permitted through a rigid adherence to Aristotle’s thought.

There’s also an anti-Christian element in Cosmos too. He describes how Hypatia, the late Neoplatonist female philosopher was murdered by a group of Christian monks in the 4th century. Hypatia has symbolised for a long time to radical atheists the fundamentally anti-science, and to feminists, the misogyny in Christianity. But by this time Neoplatonism was a mixture of science and mystical speculation, forming what has been called ‘the mind’s road to God’. The real motives for her murder weren’t that she was some kind of pagan threat, but more from a power struggle between the authorities in that part of the Roman world.

Sagan is also critical of western imperialism and describes the horrors the Conquistadors inflicted on the Aztecs and other peoples of the New World. He’s right and this section is clearly a product of its time, with the rise of anti-colonial movements among the world’s indigenous peoples, the Black Civil Rights movement in the US and the horrors of the Vietnam War, as well as Reagan’s new Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust. But looking at this 40 years later, it’s also one-sided. Europe wasn’t the only expansionist, brutal, imperialist culture. Islam was also militaristic and expansionist, and at the time the Spaniards conquered South America, the Turkish empire was expanding and subjugating parts of Europe, while Muslim pirates were raiding the continent as far as Iceland for slaves.

It’s also dated from an archaeological standpoint. At one point Sagan discusses the Bronze Age collapse of the societies of the Ancient Near East, showing how it was characterised by a series of crises, similar to the process of the fall of other, later civilisations into Dark Ages, but that these aren’t causes in themselves. It’s Systems Analysis, which was popular at the time, but which I think has also become subsequently passe.

All that said, Sagan was right about global warming, whose devastating effects he illustrated with the example of the planet Venus. This has also suffered catastrophic heating due to its greater nearness to the Sun. This released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect so that it is now a hell planet of burning temperatures and sulphuric acid rain. He also wasn’t wrong about the threat of renewed militarism and nuclear war and was a welcome voice against Reagan’s strident belligerence.

As a science populariser, his influence has also been immense. Cosmos was a bestseller, and I think it prepared the way for other bestselling works by astronomers and scientists like Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. And I certainly was not surprised when Brian Cox, the scientist, not the actor, said in an interview in the Radio Times that he was a massive admirer of Sagan. That came across to me very strongly from his numerous TV series about space and the planets.

My Email to Bristol Green Party about Their Slavery Reparations Motion on the Council

February 26, 2022

I’m still furious about the motion for the payment of reparations for slavery to Britain’s Black community which was passed last year almost unanimously by Bristol council. It was introduced by Cleo Lake, the then Green councillor for Cotham, a ward in the northern part of the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the deputy leader of the council and head of equalities for the city. All the parties of the left supported – the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. It was only opposed by the Conservatives, who said it was well meant. In many ways it was a continuation of the affirmative action programmes giving aid to Black communities. It was very definitely not, as the proposer stated, a hand-out to individuals but finding to Black organisations to create prosperous, self-sustaining Black communities.

My problem with this is the connection to slavery. This is a more complicated issue than simply rich western Whites dragging Blacks off to oppression and forced labour in the plantations. Slavery existed in various forms in Africa long before the arrival of Whites in the continent. Black states, some of which had slave populations of 75 per cent, preyed on each other, and sold them to outsiders like the Arabs. They were also enslaved by the Turkish empire and Christian Abyssinia. From east Africa they could be exported overseas as far as India, where Bengal had been a major slave trading centre since the 14th century and Indonesia. At the same time, the Barbary pirates, Muslims from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, raided Europe from Spain and Italy to Britain, Ireland and Iceland, carrying off 1 – 2/12 million Whites. But this isn’t mentioned in school history and, although there are an increasing number of books about it, I doubt very many people are aware of it. In America and Europe the global nature of slavery is played down so that the focus is almost wholly on Black transatlantic slavery.

This is understandable as slavery is held to be the ultimate source for the continuing problems of the Black community – unemployment, drugs, crime, racism, poor academic performance and marginalisation and alienation from mainstream society. But the result has been a gross simplification of the historical reality. Critical Race Theory, which developed from Marxist legal scholarship in the 1970s, simplifies the racial situation in the west into oppressed Blacks versus privileged Whites. All Whites benefit from the dominant position in society, even if they despise racism. And all Blacks, regardless of socio-economic status, are oppressed. Lake and Craig’s proposal follows this logic by demanding such payments for all ‘Afrikans’, thus making White collectively responsible for slavery, even when it was others that were really responsible.

I’ve written to Lake and Craig about this, and got no reply. Last Sunday I sent an email to the Green party in Bristol about it. I got no reply to that either. I don’t think they’re capable of defending their position. Or just arrogant and ignoring me as one of the ‘little people’. Here’s the email.

‘Dear Sir,

I am writing to you now to express my grave concerns about last year’s motion in the city council, proposed by Cleo Lake, then your councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Labour deputy leader and head of equalities Asher Craig, to pay reparations for slavery. I have absolutely no objection to the practical form these reparations were to take, which was in fact to be funding to Black led organisations to create prosperous, sustainable Black communities. I am very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by the Bristol Black community, and do support initiatives to improve their conditions. And it is, of course, entirely natural and appropriate that this should be guided by the community itself. But I am very concerned about the way this funding was linked to the reparations movement and the decision that it should apply to all ‘Afrikans’. This showed, at best, a poor understanding of the history of African slavery. At worst it appears to be anti-White, separating Bristolians into good, virtuous, persecuted Blacks, and evil, persecutory Whites, who should feel guilty for the crimes of the ancestors, according to the principles of Afrocentric history and Critical Race Theory.

In fact Black Africans were enslaving other Black Africans long before the transatlantic slave trade, and continued to do so long after Britain had officially banned the slave trade and slavery itself. The proportion of slaves varied from state to state from around 30 per cent to as high 75 per cent. In west Africa the principal slaving nations were the Ashanti, Dahomey, Whydah and Badagri. In east Africa they included Abyssinia and the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples. These states became extremely rich through the trade in human suffering. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey, for example, raked in £300,000 per year. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Islamic states, such as the Turkish empire in north Africa and the Sultanate of Oman one the east coast. Black Africans were exported to the Middle East, India and south-east Asia. If reparations are to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, then this means also paying them to the descendants of those who enslaved them and profited by selling them to Europeans and Americans.

There is also the additional problem in that many of these states were paid compensation and subsidies by the British government to support them economically after the loss of such a profitable trade. But I see no awareness of this in Lake’s motion. An additional problem is that some of these states have no remorse over their ancestors’ participation in the abominable trade. There are statues and streets named after Efroye Tinobue in Nigeria, a powerful female merchant who became a kingmaker in Nigerian politics in the 19th century. But she was also a slaver. There is a very strong debate in Nigeria and  Ghana about the role of the chiefs in the slave trade, and Liverpool’s museum of slavery was widely praised by some Nigerians for including their role. But there seems to be little knowledge or engagement with this fact. Nor do Lake and Craig show any awareness that White Bristolians were also among the Europeans enslaved by the Barbary pirates. In the 16th century five ships were taken from Bristol harbour, and in the 17th they briefly established a base on Lundy. But councillor Lake seemed unaware or unconcerned about this.

I realise that this comes from the belief that the transatlantic slave trade is the direct cause of the inequalities experienced by the contemporary Black community, but I fear that this the proposal has grotesquely simplified the historical reality. I am not sure how many Bristolians are aware that other nations were also involved in the slave trade, like the Spanish and Portuguese. It seems to me that the call for payment of reparations to all ‘Afrikans’ makes Bristol responsible for African enslavement carried out by other nations.

And I am very concerned about the racial politics involved the call. It seems to be strongly influenced by Afrocentrism, which holds that Whites are inferior, and intrinsically more cruel and exploitative than Blacks, and that slavery did not exist in Africa before the appearance of Europeans and Arabs. It also seems to partake of Critical Race Theory, which also considers that all Whites are privileged racists, even when they oppose racism. This has become very topical in recent weeks with the report that Brighton and Hove council, led by the Greens, has voted to include it in their school curriculum.

I very much regret that for these reasons I find Councillor Lake’s motion deeply flawed and simplifying history to a grotesque and racially divisive degree.

I know that the motion was proposed and passed a year or so ago. But I have written to both Councillors Lake and Craig about this, and so far not received a reply from them. And I believe this issues has not gone away but has increased with the debate over the teaching of British history and Critical Race Theory.

 would be very grateful, therefore, to hear your views and explanations in answer to my concerns. You may contact me at my email address —-

Yours faithfully’,

Book on Christians Enslaved by Muslim in the Early Modern Mediterranean

February 5, 2022

Robert C. Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500-1800 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan 2003).

This is another book I order for me reading about non-European forms of slavery, and particularly the enslavement of Europeans. I feel this is unjustly neglected and that the understandable concentration of the transatlantic slave trade has distorted the public understand of history as global phenomenon. One of the arguments the abolitionists had to face from the pro-slavery camp was that slavery was universal and had been a part of nearly every culture since ancient Egypt. It has also, in my view, created a distorted view in which Black enslavement by Whites is somehow seen as unique, and that the White European invasion and conquest of much of the rest of the world is somehow seen as inevitable. White are somehow seen as uniquely racist, imperialist and evil, as expressed in ideologies like Afrocentrism and Critical Race Theory. But this was not the case. Whites also suffered enslavement, and Europe was for centuries under threat from a militant and expansionist Islam, which also enslaved Black Africans and had its own ideology of racism.

The book’s blurb runs:

“In this book Robert C. Davis uses many new historical sources to re-examine one of the least understood forms of human bondage in modern times … the systematic enslavement of white, Christian Europeans by the Muslims of North Africa’s Barbary Coast. Far from the minor phenomenon that many have assumed it to be, white slavery in the Maghreb turns out, in Davis’ account, to have had enormous consequences, ensnaring as many as a million victims from France and Italy to Spain, Holland, Great Britain, the Americas and even Iceland in the centuries when it flourished between 1500 and 1800. Whether dealing with the methods used by slavers, the experience of slavery or its destructive impact on the slaves themselves, Davis demonstrates the many, often surprising, similarities between this ‘other’ slavery and the much better known human bondage suffered at the very same time by Black Africans in the Americas.”

The book is divided into three parts. Part II has chapters on the number of people enslaved and slave taking and slave breaking. Part II is on the Barbary states, and slave labour and slave life, Part III is on Italy, described as the home front. The final chapter is ‘celebrating slavery’. This appears to be about how the slaves themselves tried to reconcile their condition theologically by seeing it as a punishment from God.

As with the other books I’ve done no more than glance at it so far, but I was struck by this remark from an old Sicilian lady in the 20th century that shows the memory of raiding and enslavement still persisted into her lifetime:

“The oldest [still] tell of a time in which the Turks arrived in Sicily every day. They came down in the thousands from their galleys and you can imagine what happened! They seized unmarried girls and children, grabbed things and money and in an instant they were [back] aboard their galleys, set sail and disappeared… The next day it was the same thing, and there was always the bitter song, as you could not hear other than the lamentations and invocations of the mothers and the tears that ran like rivers through all the houses.” (174).

I’ve thought for a very long time that so many of the racism and Islamophobia in Europe is just a simple case of White racism against Blacks and Brown people, developed from imperialism and the slave trade, but also due to the memory of a real threat from Turkish and Muslim imperialism and slaving. And I do think that the attitudes that promoted the Islamic enslavement of White Christians still persist in that section of the Muslim community, chiefly Pakistani, that raped and abused White girls in grooming gangs.

Short 19th Century Book on the Enslavement of Europeans by the North African Barbary Pirates

February 1, 2022

Charles Sumner, illustrated by E.R. Billings, White Slavery in the Barbary States (No date, printed by Amazon).

One of the points I’ve been trying to make in my various blog posts about the current controversy over Britain’s participation in the slave trade is that slavery was by no means something that only White Europeans did to Africans and other peoples of colour. It was practised by many African societies long before contact with Europe, as well as Islam. From the 17th century onwards Muslim pirates from Morocco and Algeria raided Europe as far as Iceland, even attacking American shipping in the Mediterranean, to carry off White westerners into slavery. It’s been estimated that about 2.35 million Europeans were enslaved by them.

I found this short illustrated history of the Barbary slave trade on Amazon. It’s only 81 pages long, and was published in the 19th century. It’s blurb reads

“First published in 1853 by Charles Sumner, “White Slavery in the Barbary States” outlines the history of the centuries in which Moslems enslaved Europeans and later, Americans, and what led to its halt.

The Barbary slave trade refers to the slave markets that flourished on the Barbary Coast of North Africa, which included the Ottoman provinces of Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania and the independent sultanate of Morocco, between the 16th and middle of the 18th century. The Ottoman provinces in North Africa were nominally under Ottoman suzerainty, but in reality they were mostly autonomous. The North African slave markets were part of the Arab slave trade.”

There are also a number of other excellent books on the subject, like Simon Webb’s The Forgotten Slave Trade, but I’m hoping this will act as a short but informative overview of this part of the global history of slavery. I intend to post a proper review of it in due course.

Paul Joseph Watson on Alex Scott’s Devastating Discovery of a Black Slave-Owning Ancestor

October 20, 2021

Paul Joseph Watson is another right-wing YouTube personality like Sargon. He used to be Alex Jones’ British sidekick on InfoWars on the other side of the pond. And like Sargon, he contributed to the destruction of UKIP by joining it. So, I make the same caveats and warning about his content as I do about Sargon’s. However, like Sargon and the ghastly Lotus Eaters, he also makes very good points occasionally. In this video he discusses the shock Alex Scott had on the genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, when she discovered that one of her Jamaican ancestors, Robert Francis Combs, owned slaves in the 1820s. Scott is a Black woman, who was brought in as part of the Beeb’s diversity campaign to replace Dan Walker on Football Focus. Her ancestor was Jamaican, and I at first thought that he might have been a White planter, as many of them had children through their Black mistresses. But this was not so. Combes was Black. Scott was assured by an historian present that this actually wasn’t uncommon. Paul Joseph Watson goes on to make the point that slavery was found all over the world, and that it was Africans who sold the slaves to us. At the same time the Barbary pirates from North Africa raided Europe as far as Iceland for slaves. He asks why this isn’t taught in schools, and complains that only Whites are taught to feel shame about their ancestor’s past involvement in slavery.

Watson is exactly right. One of the problems faced by the Abolitionists was that slavery was found all over the world. In America and the Caribbean, free Blacks and those of mixed race often did own slaves. Black slave owners also received compensation for the emancipation of their slaves by the British government on abolition in 1837. One of the documents I looked at when I was working on the slavery archive at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum contained a list of Maroons – the descendants of the runaway slaves, who succeeded in establishing free Black towns in the Jamaican interior – who owned slaves, with the recommendation that they should also receive compensation. Watson also points out in the video that so great was the involvement of indigenous African chiefs in the enslavement of other Africans, that it’s become a major issue in Nigeria with commenters stating that they can now no longer blame the Whites.

However, it does seem that Black involvement in the slave trade is being deliberately played down because of current racial politics. It is held that there is a direct line from slavery to the current underprivileged condition of much of the western Black population. This is true, but it’s also an oversimplification as it assumes that slavery is only something Whites did to Blacks. Real, undisguised chattel slavery has returned to Africa, apart from areas like Mauretania where it’s never gone away. The Islamists in Libya have opened slave markets there, and there are also markets selling slaves in Uganda. But anti-racist activists really don’t want to discuss this issues because, as I columnist Kate Maltby wrote, it is diversion from the main issue of tackling western racism and inequality.

But this issue has to be tackled, even if it complicates matters particularly when it comes to reparations for slavery. I’ve pointed out how the motion passed by Bristol council calling for reparations for all ‘Afrikans’ is actually unfair, because of the complicity of many African peoples in the slave trade. And Critical Race Theory and other forms of extreme anti-racist ideologies are also unjust for precisely the reason Watson points out. They do demand that Whites feel guilty for slavery while ignoring others’ involvement.

I have every sympathy for Scott. It was a terrible shock to her as a woman of colour, and she is not responsible for whatever her ancestors did. But neither are contemporary Whites.

This is why we need to be properly informed and educated about historical slavery, rather than accept the received, simplified view devised by well-meaning anti-racists.

‘I’ Article on Companies Developing Technology to Cleanse Air of CO2

December 1, 2020

This is interesting. It might be another corporate puffpiece, but if it’s genuine then it does seem that some of the technology in SF novels about combating climate change might be coming true.

In its edition for Saturday, 28th Novewmber 2020, the newspaper ran this story ‘Conjuring a climate solution out of thin air’ by Maeleine Cuff, subtitled ‘Giant machines that can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere? This is no sci-fi’. It said

Scientists agree that global climate targets are slipping out of reach. To keep warming below 1.5 C – the “safe” climate threshold – the world will have to work out a way to remove 100 to 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere this century.

Enter direct air capture (DAC). It is an offshoot of carbon capture and storage, whereby pollution from factories and power plants is trapped and stored underground. DAC takes that one step further, focusing on pulling the gas directly from the air. That is a tougher ask, because CO2 in our air is at much lower concentrations than in the flue gases of a power plant. But DAC technology can scale, it could give humankind the power to control global pollution levels.

This month the Government pledged £1bn to the creation of four industrial carbon capture clusters, which will trap emissions from industry and pipe them out to sea for storage.

There are signs a breakthrough might be close. Swiss firm Climeworks has built a handful of DAC plants across Europe. Orca, under construction in Iceland, will be the world’s biggest facility when it opens next year, capable of removing four million tons of CO2 every year. Canadian rival Carbon Engineering, meanwhile, is building a plant that could suck away a mikllion tons a year.

Both use chemical reactions to bind CO2 molecules, drawing them away from the other gases that make up our air. The CO2 can then be pumped underground for storage or used with hydrogen to make low-carbon fuels.

In the UK, the captured CO2 is most likely to be pumped into spent oil and natural gas fields in the North Sea. There is little need to worry about it escaping once it has been stored, says Professor Stuart Haszeldine, an expert in carbon capture technologies at the University of Edinburgh. “We know how to do this,” he says. “We know what the engineering is. And most importantly we know how to behave and and remediate this if something does go a bit wrong.

Climeworks is partnering with Icelandic start-up Carbfix to store its CO2 safely in basalt rock, “Even if you have an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, it cannot come out again,” says Christoph Beuttler from Climeworks.

It is still early stages for DAC – there are only 15 plants in North America and Europe – and the tech remains very expensive.

Costs should come down, however, as efficiency improves. Climeworks thinks it can reduce the cost of extracting a ton of carbon dioxide from $1,000 to $100 within a decade. But DAC is never going to be a cheap option. “The fact is, it is going to be easier to decarbonise a lot industrial processes than it is to build an entire sector from a standing start,” says Dr Mark Workman, a carbon storage expert at Imperial College London.

There is also a fierce debate over who will pay for it. Most experts think governments will have to force the creation of a new market. That could be in the form of subsidy regime, or with legislation to force fossil-fuel producers to arrange for storage.

A hike in VAT to pay for the polution caused by goods and services has also been mooted, placing the cost on a public who, Dr Workman argues, are not prepared for the scale of such a challenge. “We are going to remove an invisible gas and store it in invisible storage sites. And we are going to be talking vast quantities of money – tens, if not hundreds of billions of pounds,” he says. “There is does need to be a much broader social dialogue about this.”

There was also a boxed article on the same page, ‘DAC in the UK’, which ran

In St Fergus on the east coast of Scotland, Pale Blue Dot Energy wants to build not only a carbon storage hub for Scotland but also the UK’s first direct air capture (DAC) system. It has teamed up with Canadian firm Carbon Engineering to get a DAC site up and running by 2026.

It faces a race to be the UK’s first DAC plant. Climeworks tells I the Government’s funding announcement means it is now looking at expanding into the UK too.

Stephen Baxter predicted this kind of technology in one of his ‘Xelee’ novels. Set centuries in the future, Earth is tackling the problem of global warming by freezing the Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere and turning them into giant balls of dry ice. The planet’s waste heat is also dumped into space by beams of giant lasers.

No-one’s talking about giant lasers just yet, the use of technology to scrub the atmosphere of Carbon Dioxide does seem to be close. It’s just that at the moment it’s too massively expensive to be practical on a large scale. Perhaps a new technological breakthrough will be needed before it becomes really affordable.

Images of the North African Slave Trade in White Europeans and a Quote from Hitler

September 22, 2020

I’ve put up several posts already critising Sasha Johnson for her quote stating that Blacks will enslave Whites, for which she was thrown off Twitter. Johnson seems to see herself as a British Black Panther, and so has demanded a Black militia to defend Blacks from the police, and an all-Black party. Which roughly follows the Panthers’ programme and activism.But she’s pushed this even further, following the pattern of the activist style of politics that Conservative historian Noel Sullivan views as the real origin of Fascism into overt racism with that Tweet.

But from the middle ages to the 19th century Arabs from north Africa captured and enslaved White Europeans. This only ended in the 19th century with the French invasion of Algiers. The slave raiding increased with the rise of the Barbary pirates in the 16th century. Mediterranean Europe was particularly affected. Whole communities were attacked and carried off in France and Italy, but it also extended to Britain and Ireland and even as far afield as Iceland. I found this contemporary drawing of White European slaves being landed by the captors at Algiers c. 1700 in The History of the World, Vol 2: The Last Five Hundred Years, Esmond Wright, general editor, (W.H. Smith 1984), page 265.

The same page also carried this picture of Mulay Ismail, who ruled Morocco from 1672-1727. Morocco was another north African state which relied for its economy on slave raiding.

It’ll surprise no-one that Adolf Hitler also celebrated the conquest and enslavement of those he considered inferior races in Mein Kampf. He wrote

For the development of the higher culture it was necessary that men of lower civilisation should have existed, for none but they could be a substitute for the technical instrument without which higher development was inconceivable. In its beginnings human culture depended less on the tamed beast and more on employment of inferior human material.

it was not until the conquered races had been enslaved that a like fate fell on the animal world; the contrary was not the case, as many would like to believe. For it was the slave which first drew the plough, and after him the horse. None but pacifist fools can look on this as yet another token of human depravity; other must see clearly that this development was bound to happen in order to arrive at a state of things in which those apostles are able to loose their foolish talk on the world.

Human progress is like ascending an endless ladder; a man cannot climb higher unless he has first mounted the lowest rung. Thus the Aryan had to follow the road leading him to realization, and not the one which exists n the dreams of modern pacifists.

Adolf Hitler, My Struggle (London: The Paternoster Library 1933), page 122.

These show that not only is Sasha Johnson ignorant of the White slave trade, or just doesn’t care, she also shows the same attitude towards those she considers racially inferior and an enemy as Hitler. Only the colours have been swapped. It is, in my view, fair to call her a Nazi. And her supporters, including the members of her Black militia and prospective members of her proposed Blacks only party are also Nazis.

Now I think that she’s probably just young, stupid and got carried away. But she still deserves to be treated like any other Nazi until she grows up and sees sense. After all, to many people before the Nazi seizure of power, Hitler was a joke. There’s a line in the Bernardo Bertolucci film The Conformist, about a young man who joins the Italian Fascist party after he shoots the paedophile, who tried to attack him, that’s very pertinent. ‘When I was in Munish, there was a man ranting in the beerhalls. We all used to laugh at him. That man was Adolf Hitler’.

BBC World Service Programme Next Tuesday on Scientists Generating Electricity from Leaves

May 13, 2020

This sounds completely bonkers, like the academy discussing ways to generate sunlight from cucumbers in Swift’s great satire, Gulliver’s Travels, but apparently is real science. According to the Radio Times again, next Tuesday, 19th May 2020, the BBC World Service programme, People Fixing the World, is about how scientists have found a way to generate electricity from leaves. The blurb about the programme by Tom Goulding on page 120 of the Radio Times runs

Money might not grow on trees, but scientists in Italy might have discovered the next best thing: leaves that generate electricity when they touch one another on a windy day. This process, enough to power 150 LED lights, is one of several remarkably simple ways of producing energy that scientists are just beginning to understand. In this optimistic documentary, reporter Daniel Gordon investigates some age-old ideas that could finally become viable renewable energy sources with new technology, such as the interaction between fresh and salt water at estuaries and a 5 km well being dug to extract untapped heat in Iceland.

The programme is on at 3.05 in the afternoon.

This sound really awesome, though it reminds me a little of the ‘treeborg’, a cyborg tree aboard a spaceship in a Matt Smith Dr. Who story, and also somewhat of the Matrix films, in which the robots have risen up and enslaved humanity. Unable to use sunlight after humanity wrecked the planet’s whether and created permanently overcast skies, the machines turned instead to growing us all in bottles and using the electricity generated from our bodies. Fortunately, I don’t think that’s a viable option. After the movie came out, people naturally wondered whether that could actually work. And the answer is, that it doesn’t. The amount of electricity generated by the human body is way too small. Nevertheless, reading this in the Radio Times makes you wonder if someone couldn’t harness it to provide useful power, nonetheless. Should the producers of this programme be giving them ideas?

Going on to geothermal power, I can remember in the 1970s watching items about it in Iceland on the popular science programmes’ Tomorrow’s World on the Beeb and Don’t Ask Me on ITV. That was the programme that gave the viewing public the great science broadcasters Magnus Pike and David ‘Botanic Man’ Bellamy.

I haven’t heard of electricity being generated by the interaction between fresh and salt water before, but I was amazed at how long ago tidal power has been around as a possible power source. Turbine wheels were put in the Thames estuary in the 16th century to provide power for mills. George Bernard Shaw also mentions tidal power in his book, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. As an example of the type of wrangling that goes on in parliamentary democracy, he asks the reader to imagine the type of fierce debate that would occur if someone suggested putting up a tidal barrage in one of Britain’s great rivers. There would be a fiery contingent from Wales arguing that it should be on the Severn, and an equally fierce body of proud Scots declaring it should be on one of their rivers. I don’t think he need have worried. There have been debates about building a barrage on the Severn since I was at secondary school, and it’s no nearer being built because of concerns over its ecological effects.

But this programme sound amazing. I thinks there’s a simple science experiment for children, in which electrodes are stuck into a lemon or potato, and connected together to turn on an electric lightbulb. Will we be doing something similar in our gardens in a few years’ time, just as people are now putting solar panels on their rooves?

 

Short Book on William Morris

March 3, 2018

One of the programmes on the BBC Radio 4 series on the history of British Socialism Present by Anne McElvoy was, naturally, on William Morris, the great British artist, writer – he translated a number of Icelandic sagas, and is regarded as one of the founder of modern genre Fantasy – and social activist and revolutionary Socialist, William Morris.

If you don’t have the time or patience for a full scale biography of Morris, but want to know a bit more about him, I can recommend Peter Stansky’s William Morris (Oxford: OUP 1983). It was published as part of OUP’s ‘Past Masters’ series of short biographies of the great figures of the past, like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Darwin, and so on. It’s only 96 pages, including index. The chapters are as follows:

1. Youth
2. Oxford
3. Red House and the Firm
4. Poetry and Early Politics
5 The 1880s
6 Last Years

There’s also a section for further reading. The blurb for it on the back cover runs

William Morris was one of the great figures of the Victorian age; an artist and craftsman and a successful writer of romances. He was also an ardent socialist and leader of the labour movement. His concern for the place of art in society, and his analysis of that society’s discontent, place Morris as a thinker in the company of Marx and Ruskin. Peter Stansky presents, in the context of his age, and in all his engaging multiplicity, the life and personality of a man whom a contemporary perceptively described as ‘The Earthly Paradox’.

The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills

July 16, 2016

Body Economic Pic

By David Stuckler, MPH, PhD, and Sanjay Basu, MD, PhD (New York: Basic Books 2013)

This is another book I picked up in the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street the other day. Written by two American health researchers, it examines the way economic recessions and austerity affect people’s health from the Great Recession of the 1930s, the Fall of Communism, Greece and Iceland, and today’s recession, which began with the banking collapse in 2008. The authors are medical researchers, whose own experience of poverty and ill health has led them to examine its effect on entire societies. They conclude that while recessions often lead to high – frequently devastatingly high outbreaks of disease and mortality, what is really crucial is the state’s handling of them. In countries which have a strong welfare state, and are determined to invest into getting their citizens back into work, such as Denmark in the 1990s, public health may actually improve. And as public health improves, the economy begins to pick up. In countries where the opposite is true – where the state just cuts, and is intent on dismantling the welfare infrastructure, like Greece and Cameron’s (and May’s) Britain, the result is higher disease and mortality.

As well as giving the impersonal stats, they also illustrate the damaging effects of austerity on public health through personal case studies. These include ‘Olivia’, a little girl, who suffered terrible burns when her unemployed father tried to burn their house down in a drunken rage, and an elderly Greek man, Dimitris Christoulas. Unable to see any way out of his poverty, he publicly shot himself outside the Greek parliament building.

One of the victims of austerity mentioned in the very first pages of the book is Brian McArdle, a severely disabled man, who was nevertheless declared ‘fit for work by ATOS. Basu and Stuckler write

‘”I will never forgive them,” wrote thirteen-year-old Kieran McArdle to the Daily Record, a national newspaper based in Glasgow. “I won’t be able to come to terms with my dad’s death until I get justice for him.”

Kieran’s father, fifty-seven-year-old Brian, had worked as a security guard in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow. The day after Christmas 2011, Brian had a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side, blind in one eye, and unable to speak. He could no longer continue working to support his family, so he signed up for disability income from the British government.

That government, in the hands of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron since the 2010 elections, would prove no friend to the McArdles. Cameron claimed that hundreds of thousands of Britons were cheating the government’s disability system. The Department for Work and Pensions begged to differ. It estimated that less than 1 percent of disability benefit funds went to people who were not genuinely disabled.

Still, Cameron proceeded to cut billions of pounds from welfare benefits including support for the disabled. To try to meet Cameron’s targets, the Department for Work and Pensions hired Atos, a private French “systems integration” firm. Atos billed the government £400 million to carry out medical evaluations of people receiving disability benefits.

Kieran’s father was scheduled for an appointment to complete Atos’ battery of “fitness for work” tests. He was nervous. Since his stroke, he had trouble walking, and was worried about how his motorized wheelchair would get up the stairs to his appointment, as he had learned that about a quarter of Atos’s disability evaluations took place in buildings that were not wheelchair accessible. “Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go,” said Kieran. “He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man.”

Brian did manage to reach Atos’s evaluation site, and after the evaluation, made his way home. A few weeks later, his family received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions. The family’s Employment and Support Allowance benefits were being stopped. Atos had found Brian “fit for work”. The next day he collapsed and died.

It was hard for us, as public health researchers, to understand the government’s position. The Department for Work and Pensions, after all, considered cheating a relative minor issue. The total sum of disability fraud for “conditions of entitlement” was £2 million, far less than the contract to hire Atos, and the department estimated that greater harm resulted from the accidental underpayment of £70 million each year. But the government’s fiscal ideology had created the impetus for radical cuts. (Pp. 3-4).

I don’t know whether Mr McArdle was one of those, whose deaths has been commemorated by Stilloaks on his blog, or whether his case was one of those which Cameron and aIDS laughed at when they were read out in parliament. But is notable that such cases are coming to the attention of health researchers and medical doctors, and are a cause of serious academic and medical concern.

Stilloaks, Mike, DPAC, the Angry Yorkshireman and very many other disability activists have covered individual cases, and the way the ‘fitness for work’ tests have been fiddled by Atos and now their successors, Maximus, in order to provide the pretext for throwing the vulnerable off benefits. Mike’s called it ‘Chequebook Genocide’. Jeff3, one of the great long-term commenters on this blog, refers to it as the Tories’ Aktion T4 – the Nazi’s extermination of the disabled during the Third Reich. There have been about 490 cases in which people have died of starvation, neglect and despair thanks to be thrown off welfare. And according to mental health profession, about 290,000 or so people have seen their mental health deteriorate – sometimes very severely – due to the stress of these tests.

Books like this show how counterproductive such austerity policies are, as well as their purely destructive effects on human life. But this will not be heeded by the Tories, nor by the baying, right-wing rabble who blindly follow them. They want to grind the poor even further into the dirt, to create an impoverished, desperate working class willing to take on any kind of work, no matter how low-paid, not-paid – think of all the unpaid ‘internships’ – and degrading. All so they cut taxes and give more power to the rich, the bankers, big business and particularly the hedge funds and vulture capitalists.

And so the many are killed, all for the privileged few represented by Theresa May.