Back home now after a week in Iceland. Primarily for The 20th Nordic Congress of General Practice, a huge event with 1,500 delegates in the magnificent new Harpa Conference Centre and Concert Hall for which I and four fellow GPs ran a workshop on the subject ‘Doctors as Social Activists’. Link to my presentation
Main staircase with welcome message on the risers
Astonishing building for a country of 300,000 people
This was the very opposite of a freebie because we paid all our own expenses and discovered, having dutifully followed the advice to book flights and accommodation well in advance, that all five of us would have to pay the £700 registration fee for the conference.
This was on top of Reykjavik being, with Tokyo, currently the most expensive capital city in the world, even without the devalued pound, so that everything – food, trips, entrance to exhibitions, goods in shops – was more than twice as expensive as at home. Nonetheless, Lesley and I gritted our teeth, tightened our belts (I lost 3½ lbs on the trip) and took the opportunity to see something of this fascinating country and its admirable people.
Apart from the conference we were lucky to be in Reykjavik for Iceland’s National Independence Day (from Denmark : 1944). In spite of a cold wind and intermittent downpours, the atmosphere was festive and friendly. We felt it a real privilege to be there. We heard the President give a speech and then an actress gave a beautiful recital of a poem in Icelandic. Then there was a parade to the fair-ground around the lake, where there were circus acts and the world’s oldest strong-man competition.
Formidable police – but no guns
An Icelandic poem – beautiful even when no understood
Charmingly informal compere
After the parade
Very strong men
The town outside our room
The houses and buildings in Reykjavik were extraordinarily varied, often brightly painted, and quite a few had large murals painted on them.
The famous Hallgrimskirkja cathedral dominated from the top of the city, It was striking outside, although the concrete was currently under repair – testifying to the extreme harshness of the climate. The inside was serenely beautiful, with the most magnificent modern organ I have ever seen, being played while we were there.
We were unlucky with the weather, but we shared a car for a day out to the Snaefellsjoekull National Park north of the city, and took a coach trip around the ‘Golden Circle’ on our last day – our only really sunny day.
The Golden Circle is very much a tourist route but you see the junction between the American and the Eurasian tectonic plates (separating at about a centimetre a year) at the Þingvellir National Park, the magnificent Gullfoss Falls, and the geysers at the Haukadalur Geothermal Area.
Everywhere you see beautiful blue lupins, apparently a recent, deliberate introduction to stabilise and enrich the soil (lupins of course being nitrogen-fixers) which are proliferating at an incredible rate and seem to be broadly welcomed. You can see them in the foreground and in the hills in the picture bottom right above. We were told that the country was 85% covered by trees when the Vikings arrived, but they cut them all down for fuel, housing and ships.
One thing which surprised us was the sheer size of the country – more than 300 miles East to West and 200 North to South. So we only saw a small part close to Reykjavik.
And this yellow door was the entry to our little room, with its blind to make it dark when it ought to have been night.
The journalist Christopher Booker has a way of trumpeting his discovery of what turn out to be non-existent science scandals. Here he is on February 7 this year:
This article, headed “The fiddling with temperature data is the biggest science scandal ever”, turned out to be a misleading account of perfectly proper adjustments to readings from outdated measuring equipment which Mr Booker mistakenly thought showed that scientists were tampering with the historical record and trying to deceive the world about the need for action over climate change. [Full explanation of his errors here].
Mr Booker is rather given to this kind of language. Six years ago he ran an article in the Sunday Telegraph with the eerily similar heading “This is the worst scientific scandal of our generation“. The full text of this article, dated 29 Nov 2009, is still on the ST website [here if you want it]
That ‘worst scientific scandal of our generation‘ wasn’t a scandal either, although Booker wasn’t alone in trumpeting it and calling it by the ridiculous misnomer, Climategate. And in a curious coincidence of hyperbole (unless they were hand-in-glove) another journalist, James Delingpole, wrote an article in The Spectator the following week [here if you want it] referring to the same events as ‘the greatest scientific scandal in the history of the world‘. Gosh!
Another curious coincidence was the timing: these journalists, and a few others, broke the news of this 2009 ‘scandal’ – based as it was on a perverse interpretation of a ten-year-old stolen email, selected from thousands and quoted out of context – just three weeks before the Copenhagen Climate Summit of that year. It was therefore perfectly timed to undermine the political will so essential to making that crucial conference a success. What is certain is that Climategate – later described by Professor Sir Paul Nurse (see below) as ‘the scandal that never was’, did indeed play a part in securing the limp outcome which was so bitterly disappointing to all but climate change deniers.
At least four independent enquiries subsequently exonerated Dr Phil Jones and the Climatology Department of the University of East Anglia of all the charges of dishonesty which had been levelled so viciously against them. But the clearest description I have found of what actually happened was contained in a BBC Horizon programme by Professor Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and Nobel laureate. This programme is no longer available online but I prepared a transcript of some crucial sections at the time and posted them [here]. This extraordinary account makes it clear that Dr Phil Jones’ Department was the object of a coordinated campaign to undermine its authority as a world-leading centre for climatological research, and to undermine the credibility of the warnings it, and by implication climate science in general, was giving.
That 2009 campaign by Mr Booker and others of his persuasion was all too successful. The worry is now that they have their (short) sights on undermining the climate talks which are scheduled for this year. They must not be allowed to succeed this time – the world cannot afford another Copenhagen. You might even say that the concerted effort in which they have played a not-insignificant part – either as collaborators or, hopefully, as dupes – to deceive the world over the most serious existential threat mankind has ever faced, really is ‘the biggest science scandal ever’.
It is simply gorgeous to drive. We absolutely love it.
Elastic. Like the wind. Sweeping up hills. Effortless. Gliding. Peaceful and docile in city jams. Like a little rocket when you put your foot down. Wonderful feeling of peace after a journey
And none of that old nonsense of ‘starting the engine’. Whatever the weather, you just touch your foot on the brake, turn the key, drive away. When you stop, the engine stops. No gears (this is the thing that seems to surprise everybody) and of course no clutch. Electric motors have their maximum power at rest, completely unlike ordinary engines which have to be ‘started’ (with an electric motor!) and then have to rev up until they have enough power to get you moving. So the e-up! zooms straight off with a complete absence of fuss. Smooth from the first instant. No ‘warming up’ and none of the lumpy performance of many internal combustion engines when they are ‘cold’.
Under way the response is beautifully sensitive, especially while manoeuvring gently. There is an excellent hill-hold function which means you don’t need the handbrake to start on a gradient, either forwards or reverse. And the clever ‘recuperative braking’ function – which turns the engine into a dynamo as you lift pressure off the accelerator, reclaiming energy and feeding it back into the battery – means that most of the time you don’t need to move your foot onto the brake pedal at all to slow down. This has become so automatic and so convenient that it is the thing I find myself missing most while driving the diesel car.
On the road the e-up! has a solid, quality feel. It’s a bit bouncy on rough roads, especially in the back, but on reasonable surfaces it is smooth and refined and feels like a much larger car than it is .
Another thing people ask is whether the lack of engine noise is a problem – should there be some sort of warning sound instead? On the contrary, the quiet is nothing but a bonus. Many modern cars, especially hybrids, are virtually silent at low speeds and all drivers have to be careful near pedestrians and cyclists. At higher speeds road noise from the electric car builds up and the bright LED running lights wrapped round the ends of the front bumper are extremely effective in making the car conspicuous, even out of the corner of the eye. These lights, the easiest way or distinguishing the e-up! from the petrol up!, are a safety feature we appreciate very much, especially on country roads. Much more relevant to the comfort of pedestrians, surely, is the wonderful absence of noise and fumes. This is something that is is likely to be appreciated more and more as people become used to it and increasingly expect it. (As a matter of fact the only time a pedestrian has stepped out in front of us during the eight months we have had the e-up! was when I was driving the other (diesel) car and the pedestrian was wearing headphones.)
There are a few irritating economies which hang over from the inexpensive petrol up! but are out of place in a premium vehicle. The electric version is highly specified with, for example, an integrated ‘info-tainment’ console, with sat-nav, radio, bluetooth phone link, aids to economical driving and charting of battery range and accessible charging stations. Yet it comes with only one smart key. We found that getting a second would cost us the best part of £200 and require a complex verification procedure requiring ID. Again, for a four door car it seems mean not to have an interior light for the rear seats or one in the luggage compartment/boot.
One small point is that the plastic flap that covers the charge point sticks out and can be broken off if you walk carelessly by it the wrong way.
The most serious criticism we have is that the range is consistently overstated by the instrumentation. When you have got used to this you make allowances but this is very much the wrong way round! If, instead, you always got a longer range than indicated it would do wonders to combat ‘range anxiety’ and make a huge difference to how positive people felt about the whole experience. It seems an elementary mistake for VW to have made, possibly reflecting their own wishful thinking about their exciting new baby.
So, with the battery fully charged we get an indicated range of between 70 and 80 miles, which seems to be calculated from our driving style over the last few journeys. This indicated range jumps to about 90 miles when we switch to eco+ mode (which turns off the climate control and restricts the performance a bit). But on the road, using a combination of driving modes (the touch of a button toggles through normal, eco, and eco+ modes) we can only rely on a range of 70 miles in the summer and 60 miles in winter (when the battery is less efficient and you need more heating and lights). And another problem is that there is no way of finding out how much leeway you’ve got before you would actually run flat. Short, that is, of having a friend with a low-loader follow you until you roll to a stop. We suspect the car would actually go further than it says, but have no way of being sure. And you do need to be sure.
Which is why the e-up! is not, in our opinion, a practical only car. It is an absolutely fabulous second car, but you need something else for the longer journeys. Which brings me to the issue of charging the battery.
The nuts and bolts of the electricity bit
Charging at home from an ordinary 13 amp square-pin plug in the garage is practical, convenient and cheap. This is a huge advantage of the VW models – you simply don’t need a special charging point, whether subsidised or not. When the technician came to install ours we talked it through with him and decided not to go ahead.
Our e-up! adds about 8 miles range for every hour of charging at home. During this time it draws about 2 kilowatts, less than an electric kettle and well within the output of our solar panels during more than half the year. To the extent that we charge like this our motoring is entirely cost-free and carbon-free. For people who worry about this sort of thing this benefit is very significant indeed.
Anyway, for these reasons we try to charge during the day.The VW Car-net app (another premium feature) allows us to monitor the state of charge remotely and switch the process on and off at will. Connection can be lost at times but usually it works brilliantly.
Staying with friends we can plug into their household supply just as easily as into our own – another big advantage of the VW way of doing things. Sometimes they have solar panels as well.
In the eight months we have had the electric car we have spent £481 on petrol for the Skoda diesel compared with £889 for exactly the same period last year when we had the same Skoda and a petrol Ford Ka. Which extrapolates to a saving of almost £700 in a full year, less 14p per kWh for any charging which isn’t covered by the solar panels. So, with the free road tax, free car parking permit in the town and freedom from congestion charges if we went to London, we are already eating quite substantially into the premium price for this gloriously premium vehicle.
Using public charging points is another thing entirely. In fact it is a jungle. Fortunately, having the diesel Skoda to use for longer journeys we have hardly had to use public chargers at all. But we are beginning to get our heads around the options available and gain a little confidence.
To start with you can’t just go to a charging point, plug in and make any payment necessary with a credit card. Oh no. That would be far too sensible. The charging points are all run by networks for which you need different access cards, sometimes purchasing payment credits in advance. The exception is EcoTricity – you do need to apply for their card but it is free and charging is all free as well. The excellent SpeakEV electric car forum http://goo.gl/0XqqfD lists seven different networks at the present time. All their comments speak of the lunacy of this way of doing things. But you just have to decide which networks you need depending on where you live and where you want to travel.
And the next problem is that there are at least four types of connector and two categories of charging speeds. Low speed AC (Alternating Current) charging is relatively easy, it uses the Type 2 connector which seems to be pretty ubiquitous. But when we tried it at a garden centre 14 miles away and measured the charging rate it only charged at the rate we get at home – about 8 miles added each hour. So if we had arrived there with a nearly flat battery (which of course we didn’t) it would have taken two hours to add what we needed to get us home.
When you get to Rapid DC (Direct Current) charging the fun really begins because there are three incompatible systems.
As a Volkswagen our e-up! uses what is intended to be the new standard – CCS
Using this it should draw 30 kW and charge to 80% in 15-20 minutes. More of these points are coming online and we now have a good range at about the right distance from home – Andover, Romsey, Farnborough, Fareham. Ringwood, Beaconsfield, Crawley, the M4/A34 junction and Reading. So far we have not had a chance to try one, but it is looking good. Another advantage of rapid charge points is that they are unlikely to be occupied for as long as AC points.
As I understand it, Renault’s and Nissans use the CHAdeMO connector and the up-market American Teslar range use a third, completely different kind of its own, sited in places like hotel car parks. These last charge at an almost incredible 120 kW and give the cars a range of 200 miles.
This is an extraordinary production. And, the Royal Court run being completely sold out, we were lucky to see it yesterday.
It is extraordinary because it is not presented by any sort of actor but by a top international scientist, and one who obviously believes that doing this – presenting climate science as clearly as he can to two London theatre audiences a day – is the most important thing he has to do at the moment. And as we read from the free handout that one of his many professional roles is Chairman of the Science Policy Advisory Committee of the European Space Agency, we could well imagine, on what was the day of maximum tension after their triumphant comet landing, Professor Rapley would rather have been much closer to the action .
But onto the stage he walked, without the slightest showmanship, sat down, and talked quietly for 70 minutes about the situation that faces the world.
Behind him, and perfectly synchronised with his words, were steadily-evolving images, graphs and diagrams on a huge, kaleidoscopic back-drop.
The fact that these graphics were almost entirely monochrome made the occasional use of red extremely striking. The sound track was equally subtle; gently supporting the narrative and punctuating it with hanging silences while he took a sip from his water glass. In all it was a deceptively sophisticated telling of a story which is, of course, far too dramatic to require theatricality. To my mind it was perfectly judged, and absolutely convincing.
Professor Rapley had been Director of the British Antarctic Survey and was particularly authoritative about the collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelves; now happening far more rapidly than ever expected. And as past Director of the Science Museum and Chairman of University College London’s Policy Commission on Communicating Climate Science he presented a masterly overview of all aspects of his subject. He described this year’s report from the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change, with its unequivocal call for action, as the most audited document in history. One easily-understood implication of this report being that three quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of a more than 2°C rise in global temperature over pre-industrial levels. We have already had 0.8°C of that.
There were lots of young people in the audience, as well as older folks like us. But deniers were not at all in evidence. One day such people must realise that they have grandchildren too (Professor Rapley’s oldest will be the age he is now in 2071 – hence the title). Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment, that is going to be too late.
As promised, here are some links for people who attended my talk at St Mary’s, Clapham on Wednesday 18 June, 2014
1. Hilarious video showing what a statistically valid ‘debate’ about climate change would actually look like:http://tinyurl.com/k5uslqx (4.9 millionviews and counting – updated January 2015)) Sending up the folly of ‘false balance’ in reporting of climate change issues by media such as Fox News and (disgracefully) the BBC:
2. IPCC reports : Climate Change 2014
The links take you to the menu for each report – I particularly recommend the videos, and especially the first one.
Global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut in half by mid-century and further after that.
Complete transformation in the energy system – especially electricity generation.
The atmosphere is a common resource – free dump for greenhouse gases
We need a broad portfolio of approaches
3. The five stages of Climate denial (beautifully exemplified in the Murdoch press, including The Wall Street Journal ) http://tinyurl.com/lz2ltaj Stage 1: Deny the problem exists it does Stage 2: Deny we’re the cause we are 2b: deny the scientific consensus it’s 97% Stage 3: Deny it’s a problem it is Stage 4: Deny we can solve it (too expensive, will hurt the poor, etc.) the exact opposite of the truth Stage 5: Say it’s too late anyway it isn’t, quite, no thanks to Murdoch
Britain must do all it can to create a secure, prosperous and sustainable future by helping to prevent climate change.
We call on the government to maintain its commitment to the Climate Change Act by taking further steps to encourage investment in the green economy, greater use of renewable energy and positive action across society.
The Energy Bill currently being considered in Parliament is an important and urgent example of the commitment needed. We urge the government to act on the recommendation from its own Committee on Climate Change to include decarbonisation targets in the Energy Bill.
And I got the nice badge to prove it:
Now I’m seeing if my colleagues on the Alton Society committee will agree to us signing up as a body. STOP PRESS: Yes they have, with enthusiasm!