2015/16 Floods: What does this mean for the future of the UK?

On the 12th November 2015 the UK was hit by the first of a series of storms. Storm Abigail hit with maximum wind gusts of 84mph and brought with it heavy rain. The immediate result was power cuts to nearly 20,000 homes in Scotland. In the following three months the UK was hit with a further eight storms. The costs of these consecutive storm events project an uncertain future for the UK.

Recently released data from the Met Office makes December 2015 the wettest calendar month on record (in a series from 1910). In December the storms that hit were Desmond, Eva and Frank. Record breaking rainfall of 341.4mm of rain in 24 hours (Honister Pass, Cumbria) was brought by Storm Desmond. The resulting floods flooded 5200 homes across Lancashire and Cumbria. 43,000 homes across north-east England were without power and on 5th December 61,000 homes in Lancaster lost power when an electrical substation was flooded. Since then there has been more homes flooded, with estimates reaching 16,000. The flooding of farmland and homes has cost the government, and thus the taxpayer, massive amounts of money.

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Happiness from First Principles

Putting any theological or heterodox philosophical opposition aside, I am confident in saying; the only process that ‘designed’ the most fundamental biology and physiology of humans, was evolution. That is, all of our hardwired features exist–as if they had been designed by a god–to ensure survival in the environment in which our species developed. However, excluding some run-down areas in the north of England, the environment we inhabit today hardly resembles the prehistoric one our species developed in. We are hardwired to enjoy sugar because our ancestors would have needed its energy, we enjoy sex (even with contraceptives!) because our ancestors needed several kids in the hope that any would survive, and males find large breasts attractive because they are a reliable indicator of fertility–not because they are shallow. Continue reading

Hiroshima: Was It ‘Necessary’?

J. Samuel Walker wrote, on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, that ‘The fundamental issue that has divided scholars . . . is whether the use of the bomb was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States.’1 This piece tries to solve the ‘fundamental issue’—was the bomb necessary from Washington’s perspective? Continue reading

Future of Physics: Quantum and Space

Of the physical sciences, most people see physics as having the least potential. Physics has had many advancements in the past which has changed the world. Mechanical laws and formulas enable us to make better products and understand have to move objects and vehicles more effectively. Energy and transfers of energy make efficiency understandable and make sure we provide only enough power to products that need. Electricity has allowed for more environmentally friendly, more flexible and widespread industrial and consumer products that require energy, either for short amounts of time and extended periods. Great scientific discoveries do not seem to be coming from physicists in the quantities of other sciences, nor previous periods of physics.

When thinking about the future of physics (or conversing with other would-be scientists looking to go into chemical or biological fields) it is often hard to think of where the world/life changing discoveries, inventions and associated funding will come from. Upon pondering this topic for a while (and wishing to talk about both the two fields) I came to conclusion that physics has a lot of room to move, but quantum physics and astrophysics are areas with the greatest potential.

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The Paris Agreement, a landmark success or another lenient failure?

The 21st Conference of Parties (COP) was held at Le Bourget, Paris between the 30th November and 12th December 2015. It was convened with the aim of producing a new, legally-binding agreement that commits every country, from all stages of development, to reducing emissions in order to mitigate against the impending climatic catastrophe. At the 2009 COP 15 in Copenhagen, generally regarded as a failure, governments also convened with the aim to create a similarly legally-binding deal. However, it culminated with the USA and BASIC countries drafting a non-legally binding agreement, the Copenhagen Accord. This agreement incorporated countries responsible for 80% of the world’s pollution [1] and its failure to be legally-binding and applicable to all countries greatly increased the importance of the climate talks in Paris (COP 21). The four previous COPs and in particular the ‘Lima Call for climate action”, devised at COP 20 (Lima 2014) [2], laid the foundations for the Paris talks. There was a renewed sense of optimism that the talks would prove successful. At 18:26 on 12th December 2015 (the day after the Conference’s original finish date) this optimism was rewarded when Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister brought his gavel down on COP 21, announcing that the Paris Agreement, a new climate deal, had been adopted.

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To what extent did Napoleon’s government during the Consulate bring benefits to France?

Between 1799 and 1804 Napoleon as First Consul instigated a series of sweeping reforms, fundamentally changing the institutions of France. He had a shrewd idea of what was necessary after a decade of Revolution: ‘My policy is to govern men as most of them wish to be governed. It is in this way, I believe, that popular sovereignty is acknowledged.’ Opposition notwithstanding, he was able to convert the majority of Frenchmen from being citizens to being subjects, and to impose on them a political, administrative and judicial system which reflected his own tastes for efficiency and uniformity. So, to what extent did Napoleon’s government during the consulate bring benefits to France? The answer must be that it did so only so far as to secure a regime at bottom authoritarian; that some benefited more than others as a result. However, for many if not all contemporaries the Consulate was ‘rational’, ‘modern’ and ultimately ‘beneficial’ notwithstanding.

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Capitalism, Affluence and Happiness

‘Happiness’ is challenging to define. The United Nations, in its ‘World Happiness Report’, distinguishes between happiness and satisfaction in that happiness is based on the short-term, ‘did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?’, and satisfaction the long-term ‘how do you feel about your life as a whole?’. Responses to these surveys are then combined to give each country a score. Two other measures of happiness are suicide rates and the incidence of mental illness. The first, while influenced by factors external to life satisfaction such as the role of religion and average hours of sunlight, certainly correlates with the level of severe unhappiness. The second is perhaps even more linked, the UN found the incidence of mental health problems to have the strongest correlation with unhappiness of all the factors they measured.

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Economic Concepts Applied to Football

Simple supply and demand

For most sides in the Premier League there is excess demand, but perfectly inelastic supply. Whilst this is hardly ideal for these clubs, inequalities between supply and demand can be fatal for smaller clubs. Darlington Football Club are the classic example of this – only their demise came about due to excess supply. Up until 2003, the club played at Feethams, with a capacity of 8,500. The average crowd they pulled in this season was 3,312 – whilst significantly lower than capacity this is the norm for clubs of that level. However, it was an ill-fated move to the Reynolds Arena in the 2003-04 season that sparked the beginning of the end for the club. Bizarrely, the chairman had chosen to build a 25,000 all seater stadium despite the low crowds Darlington attracted. This was an economic disaster and the money spent on the stadium was simply never recouped from entrance fees. Add this to the fact that money was raised for construction from high interest loans and the club was always going to be in trouble. The maintenance and running costs for such a large stadium were huge, and it wasn’t long before the club was driven into administration – just 6 months after they moved in. Whilst money was raised to keep the club going in the short term it was simply not sustainable and the club went bust in 2011

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The De Beers Diamond Deceit

‘Diamonds are forever’, well at least that’s what the De Beers Diamond Corporation would like to make you believe. Whilst the diamond industry is often seen as one of the most profitable markets ($72 billion-a-year retail business worldwide) in our current world, when actually put under scrutiny there is insufficient reasoning behind it to merit the excessive demand that it carries. The explanation behind what appears to be a societal crave for diamonds can be tracked back to arguably one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the history of the world by the De Beers diamond cartel. Attaining their goal of creating a monopoly in the diamond industry, De Beers launched an extensive project that intended to (and successfully) indoctrinate the public in believing that the true way for a man to propose was with a big shiny rock on a ring, the target audience overtime became much more broad and went through the relationships of marriage, long-standing partner or even a short-term girlfriend.

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Moyes’ Sacking – Football or Financial?

February 2014, David Moyes, at the helm of Manchester United F.C. for almost 7 months now, had been finding it increasingly difficult to replicate the high standards set by his predecessor, the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. High profile losses to Chelsea and Stoke followed by an agonising draw to Fulham (at home) had left the reputation of the most successful English football team in tatters. Many reasons were put forward but it was ultimately a combination of factors that had contributed to the unexpected decline of a team that had won the league just a year ago – and convincingly by 13 points. Fast-forward two months to April 22nd and David Moyes had been removed from the most prestigious job in club football before he even got to learn all the names of the staff roster. It was 10 months! 10 months (of a 6-year contract), that’s all it took for the board to realise that this had been a costly mistake and it was time to cut losses. Evidently, the results on the pitch were a major factor in making this decision but, obliquely, it was the detrimental effects off it that led to this brutal decision.

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Drugs, Economics and Fairness

Modern society has a drug problem and we are not quite sure who we can blame for it nor whether we can solve it. Pharmaceutical companies today thrive on the flaws of the patent system, created to protect innovation and promote research, but their efforts seem to have had far reaching effect. In light of information relating to Turing Pharmaceuticals and other drugs companies, the impact and considerations associated with medicines of all kinds is coming under intense scrutiny. Whether the drugs companies are at fault, or out of date law systems which are far too easy to exploit for companies is an important question to keep in mind when discussing recent events in the industry. However, we need to confirm that the present situation is a problem and that requires being empathetic with those in and around the industry.

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Privacy as a Standard

The internet has advanced from simply being able to view webpages on a CRT monitor to the Internet of Things allowing for a healthier, safer and more fulfilling lifestyle. The internet has also changed how we perceive information and data, how we share it, how we control it (whether we control it), who we trust to know and have it. In many ways, the internet has made us more relaxed when sharing information about ourselves. Privacy today is considered a right at a very basic level but should we raise the bar for what we consider acceptable?

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Why Globalisation Isn’t Perfect

Globalisation is the extent to which economic activity is able to transcend geography. In ancient times trade was limited to a neighbouring villages, then, with the invention of the wheel and the state, trade was able to happen across continents. However this was not yet globalisation in the truest sense; cross border economic activity was limited to a few traders in specific goods, capital, individuals, ideas and firms remained largely constrained to their geographical origin. Perhaps the age of seafaring was the beginning of globalisation; ships were able to transport goods anywhere in the world, the goods one was able to purchase was solely limited by their financial, rather than geographical, position. This criteria, to me, is of less significance, international economic links were very different to local economic links at the time. In the post feudal age, individuals were, on the whole, free to choose their occupation or start a business – but only locally. The ability to migrate for work was limited, industries – though able to sell goods abroad – would struggle to exist in any international form (excluding those focused solely on international trade, such as the British or Dutch East Indian Trading Companies).

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‘Should the Government pay obese people to lose weight?’

The notion of obesity has been an underlying problem in Western society ever since the development of capitalism. Overweight, unhealthy individuals have become an icon of economic prosperity, but have brought about a barrage of problems; both for themselves and for society as whole. It is estimated that around 24% of adults in the UK are obese, and the World Health Organisation further predicts that around 74% of men and 63% of women will be obese by 2030. The National Health Service, is plagued with claims concerning various health defects that have arisen due to obesity, thus, is powerless to deal with often more harmful and detrimental illnesses. Hence, the government has often been pressurised to take greater measures to impede the rise of obesity, with one plausible solution being to offer a financial incentive to avert the individuals from succumbing to obesity.

Offering a financial stimulant to obese families will incentivise them to eat healthily albeit to a certain extent. It is common knowledge that obesity is prevalent in families who typically have a low amount of disposable income to spend on food, which drives them to excessively consume foods that are instant, due to the seemingly low cost. Thus, the financial incentive may drive them to consume healthier foods that in-turn may result in less claims for the NHS. The additional funds that are pumped into the NHS to deal with obesity related diseases could instead be utilised to incentivise these families. This would further be economically beneficial for these families and thus, could bring about benefits for both the individuals and the government.

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