Saturday, 11 November 2017

All that glitters is not Green

You may have accidentally encountered recently one the many saccharine encomia gushingly worshipping at the feet of Norman Foster's new Bloomberg building in London. If so, you will have been covered in all the ordure of 'sustainability' and 'most environmentally friendly building in London'. It's mostly utter bull. 

Sure, the building has the very highest BREEAM rating, but BREEAM only measures environmental cost in use. I know both this and its partner civils assessment CEEQUAL well - in fact I'm a qualified CEEQUAL assessor, so know the devil in the detail. Neither scheme counts the construction cost, or rather, where this is acknowledged, it can be negated by petty measures such as reducing site waste or ensuring local waterways are protected during construction. You see, steel and concrete are the grossest environmental offenders in terms of manufacturing CO2 cost. They're also critical to new construction.

Bloomberg himself, a zealous Remoaner, also campaigns for the closure of coal-fired power stations. Now, I can't suggest that there's any numerical equivalent between the carbon cost of his new building and the 37m. tonne / pa CO2 output of the UK's  coal power stations, but his own contribution is not insignificant. His building used 15,500 tonnes of steel - twice the steel in the Eiffel Tower - 65,000 cu.m of concrete, 600 tonnes of bronze and 450 tonnes of aluminium. The carbon cost will be close to 250,000 tonnes of CO2. Yet in the Guardian, Rowan Moore almost achieves orgasm in his praise for the behemoth;
This is not just an office building, or rather two buildings joined by a glass link. It’s a full-spectrum chthonic-to-celestial, cultural-social-technological, natural-synthetic, virtual-real, analogue-digital phenomenon....Metaphors and allusions come easily enough – it is Starship Enterprise and baroque palazzo at once, somewhat Ian Fleming, the interior of the personal volcano of a benign Blofeld. There are those aquariums and, behind a big glass wall, a majestic view of St Paul’s, as if it were itself a great stone fish captured and put in a tank....creates a sort of field of art, in which different elements of a single artist’s work reappear in different parts of the building. It reinforces the field-like properties of the complex as a whole, the sense of a pervasive intelligence, a Kirk-Spock figure controlling the art, architecture, technology, sustainability, catering and wellbeing strategies.
Now this isn't a piece about AGW or the effects of CO2. It's a piece about hypocrisy; the hypocrisy of my industry which does everything it can to discount the environmental cost of its activities, and the hypocrisy of the Bloomberg apologists, who praise the great man's fight against CO2. The CO2 cost of new construction doesn't even necessarily count against the UK's total; usefully, CO2 is accounted at the place of manufacture of the materials and components. So Bloomberg's carbon could well be part of China's or Thailand's total. This allows the West both to splurge on high-carbon new buildings and blame the $10-a-day economies for polluting our environment. 

If this building 'saves' 250 tonnes a year of CO2 from its energy efficiency, it will still take 1,000 years to pay-back the construction cost before there's any net advantage. The building has an economic life of 75 years. 

There's little structurally wrong with the 1970s office blocks that are now being destroyed wholesale in order to give our big name architects new pictures for next decade's portfolios. And as long as global corporates are driven by vanity, our cityscape will get these self-indulgences, like Onan's seed falling fruitlessly to earth. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The more shrilly the EU begs for money, the longer we should hold out

Herr Barnier has been at it again. This time his shrill demands for money are accompanied by threats to 'shake the tree' to force businesses to relocate from the UK to the EU. This, of course, is a delusion common amongst unelected bureaucrats and petty demagogues who don't understand quite how business makes decisions. It is, however, revealing of Herr Barnier's attitude - and a taste of what we can expect after Brexit.

If the EU is planning how to discriminate against firms headquartered in the UK - even those trading with the EU on WTO terms - it is pretty certain that those measures will be implemented anyway post-Brexit. They will be faced with a nation that has two key weapons in her armoury - corporate tax rates, and state aid. When no longer constrained after Brexit from using these tools, the UK can also apply reciprocal constraints against EU firms, excluding them for example from bidding for government work and so on. A mixture of economic liberalism and targeted protectionism. 

The fact is that the EU are quite desperate for British money. They will beg and whine and try all sorts of blackmail in order to force an undertaking from us. Our tactic must be quite clear; no trade deal, no money. And  if we need to write-in clauses constraining Herr Barnier's tree shaking, that's useful to know.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

'Copper Cage' is not always a prison

One of the joys of ISPs here is that they provide high-speed unlimited volume 3G / 4G net access for around €1 a day. One of the miseries is that, the cities apart, it's all delivered over the mobile network and is susceptible to weather events. So whilst the UK is still debating how to lay cables with enough bandwidth to allow people to download .jpgs in under a minute, they're rolling out 4G here even to the most remote and sparsely inhabited parts. Austria, about a third as densely populated as the UK, has used the mobile network to escape the copper cage to the extent that the domestic landline has become a thing of the past - even the oldies have dumped them in favour of 'handys'.  

However, our first 8" of snow of the year combined with trees that have not yet shed their brilliant autumn foliage has left us with no web for the past two days. The network crawled back into life this morning and my little Huawei cube is now glowing away wirelessly. Just a reminder that the copper cage is not always a prison - it can confer resilience. 

I am of an age that simply finds alternatives when the web is down. A dvd or cd, a pile of Christmas cards and a fountain pen are useful. Not storing anything digital you own on someone else's server is also a plus. However, the pub yesterday evening was a scene of demented and addicted compulsive phone users checking their dead  devices every few seconds, becoming tangibly angry and frustrated into drinking out of nihilism rather than conviviality, so dependent are they on continuous 3G access.

Is this the way of the future? Will they grow out of it? Can they learn from us before they implode? I have a feeling that as the webwar hots up such outages will become more and more frequent, and Russia and China will throw resources at trying to secure cyberdominance. If the phone-addicks don't learn to live with it they have a lot of suffering to endure.