The BBC: The Back Business Campaign | Brussels Blog

The BBC: The Back Business Campaign

posted by on 30th Oct 2014

19th. November: Waiting answers to these complaints.

…Sunday 6th October…

The BBC imply: Only economic growth can create jobs.

All major political parties and business are pushing for economic growth. This is reported widely on the BBC and in other media.

The BBC has extensive coverage of business and presents economic growth as essential for the creation of jobs. The BBC also promotes economic growth as “good thing”. Every hour of every day there is business news, climate news is much rarer and of mixed quality (I will make a separate complaint on this.) There is hardly any mention of the fact that economic growth brings more environmental hazards, such as greenhouse gas emissions, except occasionally that “green growth” is a possibility.

By leaving the underlying assumption that jobs depend only on growth, the BBC is promoting a falsehood. The green agenda is being buried by growth propaganda. “Public purposes: Sustaining citizenship and civil society” says “You can trust the BBC to provide high-quality news, current affairs and factual programming that keeps you informed and supports debate about important issues and political developments in an engaging way.”

In leaving the public ill-informed the BBC is failing its guidelines. For background see:

Job creation doesn’t need economic growth

Greenwash from Stern?

Public purposes: Sustaining citizenship and civil society


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Questions on Human population reduction

posted by on 28th Oct 2014

Questions I put on Corey Bradshaw’s blog,  Conservation Bytes, after his recent paper.

The abstract for the paper, “Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems”, starts:

The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system. There are consequently more frequent calls to address environmental problems by advocating further reductions in human fertility… Assuming a continuation of current trends in mortality reduction, even a rapid transition to a worldwide onechild policy leads to a population similar to today’s by 2100.

My questions and comment …

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The Green Settlement Handbook

posted by on 19th Oct 2014

Eco settements: Old ideas have failed

New settlements in developed countries damage the world

In developed countries, new settlements damage the world. Building them brings materials from the world marketplace, causing destruction of nature and atmospheric pollution. The greenhouse gasses emitted by sourcing these materials cause the emission of large amount of greenhouse gasses.

The lifestyles of the residents in new developments are also damaging. Even if these newcomers wanted to live a world-friendly life-style, they would find it impossible because the other residents are mostly the affluent who live high-carbon lifestyles with a high level of car ownership. Consequently these developments do not have the facilities and organisation necessary for low-carbon lifestyles such as local shops and public transport.

Cheating the young

In Britain, new settlements are a step in a process that cheats those that do not own property – particularly the young. New housing is usually sold at many times the cost of the actual bricks and mortar, while the price of property keeps rising (with the occasional hiccup) mostly to the benefit of the old and affluent.

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Global warming means no high buildings

posted by on 30th Sep 2014

Ignorance of embodied carbon

Most of the examples of “green building”, I have seen have an element of greenwash that even fools the most eminent experts. The late Professor Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett Professor of Planning and Regeneration at UCL gave the lecture, ECO-TOWNS, Will they be Eco-?, Can they become Towns?, in the 2008 Lecture Series What is Land For?. He first example was BedZed. His summary included:

• UK’s largest eco-village
• 100 homes, community facilities and workspace for 100 people
• Heating requirements: 10% typical home
• 60% recycling aim
• Target fossil fuel car miles: 50% national average
• Food delivery and allotments

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The parable of the smoking carriages

posted by on 29th Sep 2014

Living standards and well-being

As mentioned in Greenwash from Stern? economic growth and “increased living standards” are often measured as GDP per capita but in developed countries these increases have little or no effect on well being. Richard Wilkinson’s Ted Talk shows the average well-being in developed countries is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth and societies that are more equal are healthier and happier ones.

In his talk Richard Wilkinson uses the example of Denmark as a society of happy, healthy people where the income distribution is more equal than other developed economies. He also points out that, in Denmark, it is possible to rise up the social ladder very much easier than in the USA. His advice to the people who wish to live the American Dream leave the USA and go to Denmark.

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Greenwash from Stern?

posted by on 24th Sep 2014

The Physics-Politics-Gap

Lord Deben was one of the headliners at the 2013 annual meeting of the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group. Lord Deben (“the best Environment Secretary we’ve ever had”) is now Chair of the Committee on Climate Change. He spoke about progress towards the UK’s targets on carbon emissions. In the Q&A, Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, suggested that, despite reducing carbon emissions, climate change required very much more.

Lord Deben said there was only so much that was politically possible. As I was waiting in the lobby to buttonhole him, I heard him say something more explicit: Meyer was not being realistic – there were political limits to what could be achieved. I think Mayer’s point had been that the laws of physics were greater than the laws of politics so we had to do much more to avert climate disaster. The Zero Carbon Britain report has called this the Physics-Politics-Gap.

Lord Deben may be right that there are political limits to action on climate and Mayer may also be right saying that won’t be enough. This would mean that the Physics-Politics-Gap cannot be closed. The end-of-nearly-all-life-on-Earth scenario presented by LastHours.Org is actually looking plausible.

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The UK should be an environmental leader

posted by on 7th Sep 2014

This is evidence to the Treasury Subcommittee written in 2007 but still relevant.


Executive summary:

The UK generates a small percentage of the world’s CO2. The best role for the UK is to show the rest of the world that pleasant environmentally friendly lifestyles are possible. Economic mechanisms such as earmarked taxes are necessary but it will be necessary to go beyond purely economic disciplines.

Large budgets for education and promotion are necessary to gain public acceptance. So are large environmental lifestyle projects such as model settlements. The finance can be found within the planning system. It should be recognised that the planning system creates very large amounts of wealth, which can be traded on an international scale. It is possible that existing development corporation legislation can be used to this effect.

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Adam Smith, Timothy Worstall and large international companies

posted by on 8th Aug 2014

A “called out” comment on an article by Timothy Worstall

Following his interesting article, Soaring Inequality And CEO Pay Are Not Caused By The Principal/Agent Problem, Timothy Worstall “called out” this comment…

What did Adam Smith believe about large international companies?


Thank you for your analysis. It may be correct but I am often (but not always) suspicious of the power and influence of large international companies. Is this a background to this issue? If there were no very large international companies, there would be much less income inequality.

I thought I might ask your view on this as a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Is the following summary of Adam Smith’s views on the topic accurate?

Adam Smith’s Critique of International Trading Companies…

Such companies, in Smith’s view, had corrupted and captured many European and non-European governments and undermined their societies’ ability to engage in peaceful transnational affairs and equitable self-rule. In contrast with Smith’s well-known concerns about the rise of commerce in modern Europe in his four-stage account of social development— which were outweighed, in his view, by the many material benefits and personal liberties brought about by the eclipse of feudalism—his narrative of globalization offers a trenchantly critical appraisal of commercial practices that ultimately undermine many of the gains that the initial rise of modern commerce once made possible…

Timothy Worstall, replied

Yes, but…..

The but being that Smith’s international companies were state supported monopolies with their own armies and often fighting their own wars. That’s a rather different kettle of fish than that of our own dear multinationals of today really.

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Teaching or discovering?

posted by on 9th Jul 2014

This was originally posted on 7th December 2014 as “Ben said never hire the graduate”. It is being reposted for technical reasons

Recently (13th November) I listened to the BBC’s program about computer technology, Click with Gareth Mitchell and Bill Thompson. It was about an experiment in using tablet computers to enable illiterate children to learn.

Children in two remote villages Ethiopia were given tablet computers by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project. The children could not read and did not go to school. The solar powered computers were delivered in boxes with no instructions. They were pre-loaded with a small range applications.

The children switched on the computers, powered up the applications and started teaching themselves English. They managed to change the system settings.

OLPC wanted to know if children could learn in the absence teachers and teach themselves how to read. The children learnt quickly and taught each other with no adult intervention.

Ed McMearney from OLPC described how they had “fixed” the setting system on the computers so the children would not make the applications unusable. The settings were also fixed to disable the cameras on the computers so that photographs would not fill up the computer memory. The children managed to work out how to change the system setting and were able to take photographs.

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The problems of software development

posted by on 4th Jul 2014

This is a note I wrote in 2002 and 2003. It is not easily accessable elsewhere. It is still relevant although the examples are old. There are, of course, more recent examples.

It identifies procurement methodology as a key element in the failure of large software projects. As such, it has implications wider than software development.

The Problems of Software Development


This study document investigates a particular aspect of the problems of software development which is one of the main causes of failure for many medium and large-scale software projects. It draws upon a combination of informal and respected formal sources. The conclusions reached are what I believe to be the best picture of the current situation and the best way forward for future software developments commissioned by medium sized companies.

Development Approaches and Financial Models

Within the IT community there is considerable debate upon the merits of different software development methodologies. This debate has recently become more intense because of the wellpublicised failure of a number of large public projects. Software development is now national news.

The problem of managing software development in a market economy has a scope that ranges from the generalities of economic theory to the specifics of computer systems. Few have a grasp of the full range of issues involved.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the financial environment is a fundamental part of that  process. This document starts with two idealised financial models: the “Cost Plus” model and the “Fixed Payment” model.

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