TED talk with Elon Musk

What kind of crazy dream would persuade Elon Musk of trying to take on the auto industry and build an all-electric car? This is a fascinating discussion between Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and TED curator Chris Anderson.

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Redesigning the Future

How does design effect our future? I was delighted to watch this short video from a discussion at the RSA in London by a design team looking at how we can transition from a linear economy into a circular economy – moving from a disposable economy to one that plans for longevity and reuse of the constituent materials. It’s a fascinating talk.

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Hot Masala Chai

Masala Chai

Masala chai in a clay cup

I just bought a ‘spiced chai’ at Pret, one of those white-tile-and-stainless-steel-adorned cafe chains in London. My tea has been served in a thick paper cup with a thin plastic lid; when I look inside I discover it’s a pyramid-tea-bag-in-hot-water-with-a-hint-of-some-steamed-milk kind of chai. And to my disappointment it tastes like it. It’s bland to say the least. It’s not really an authentic ‘indian masala chai’ like I used to drink from one of those bit-of-freshly-swept-mud-floor tea stalls along the road in India, full of sugar and black tea leaves and boiled with milk (likely from a cow in the nearby village) and water from some dubious source where you just pray that the cup has been washed somehow to resemble clean – and when you take a first sip and the cardamon or ginger comes through and the colour is a nice milky dark brown and the sweetness of the sugar rushes to your head – you notice that life is suddenly very good in that little bit of India.

A proper chai stall

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Don’t Worry

When I was 26 I joined the Great Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament. Back then, in 1986 and Ronald Reagan was president, we were fearful that the USA and Russia would launch a nuclear war. Unable to continue to live in this heightening tension, I was moved to join the march and do something about it. We were going to walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. and speak to our leaders and everyone along the way about the issue.

Everyday we would walk around 15-20 miles. There was between 400-600 of us, and early in the morning we’d start off together and then end up at the next ‘tent city’ somewhere up the road. Continue reading

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Less Bad is not the same as Good – the Sustainable Cars of the Future

“The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation” – Albert Einstein

Green – The New Religion

There’s no escaping the continuing environmental and consumer messages about reducing energy use, producing less waste, recycling more, driving less. Green has become our shared mantra and underpins the new 21st century morality in the West. Thou shalt not fly. Thou shalt separate metal tins from glass bottles. And as many companies are beginning to get on board, we should be happy. Green products nowadays line the supermarket shelves touting ‘less packaging’, ‘natural’ and ‘good for the planet’. Even our toilet paper has become ‘green’ – declaring that the paper is FSC certified, or that ‘three new trees were planted for every one cut down’ to make your toilet tissue.

My background is in transport, so when I look at car manufacturers, it seems every car company is producing a ‘green’ car and touting it’s credentials as an innovator driving down the long road to the future. Every small change is a Big Deal for the car makers. Continue reading

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How I fell in love with a fish

I love this video. It’s entertaining, informative and really makes you question what you are eating and where its come from. Think fish farming is sustainable? Watch this very entertaining TED video by chef Dan Barber as he searches for a real sustainable fish and ends up questioning how we measure success. Continue reading

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Are Industry Roadmaps Stifling Innovation?

Climate Change refocuses everything. The trajectory that we were all on has suddenly been interrupted with a new emerging awareness that how we have been living and what we have been making as a human species has been and is continuing to have an effect on the planet’s ecosystem. Oh, and it’s serious. Unfortunately transport is one of the sectors where the CO2 emissions are still increasing – at the moment transport accounts for over 20-25% of the world’s total emissions.

Transport is made up of air travel, shipping, freight hauliers, rail and personal transport. We depend on all of them. But can they change?

The auto industry has had a rude awakening. Not only are they beginning to understand that they have to downsize their SUVs, they have to somehow compete with auto makers on a global scale. Players like Toyota unexpectedly captured a large segment of the US auto market with their popular Prius. And amidst the financial meltdown, auto companies have had to receive loans, declare for bankruptcy, and beg for stimulus packages such as the recent scappage schemes to help keep themselves and their dealers afloat. But these are short term measures, and as the money for the schemes dry up, they are once again faced with the changing world before them.

In this context, with the growing knowledge that transport emissions have to decrease, combined with the recent collapse of the financial systems across the world, and the introduction of regulatory frameworks to help bring emissions down, the UK government has been working with the automotive industry to get a handle on where new car technology is heading, and where investors would best put their money. Continue reading

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Are Lithium batteries an environmental problem for EVs?

My colleague Sian from We Are Futureproof and I have been sticking our necks out and supporting electric vehicle technology. However, that’s not a position readily shared by many environmental groups or even the Green political party. Several NGO’s are skeptical of progress in general, and remain glued to wholesale demand reduction for cars until we all resort to walking, cycling and taking the bus, as if we will someday see the backside of the automobile. But if we assume that cars will be around a while longer, albeit transformed in design and power train, then we’re all for the transition away from running on liquid fuels to powering up on electrons. And indeed, the transition to the electric vehicle (EV) looks inevitable.

Besides the ever present range issue, where most first generation EVs resemble milk floats or golf carts with a range under 100 miles, there is another slight sticking point that comes up in conversations nowadays and that is around the supply of materials that go into the batteries for electric vehicles. Currently, EV’s use lithium ion batteries, and lithium has been quite expensive.

Much as today’s drivers are hostage to scarce, increasingly costly oil, will tomorrow’s drivers be reliant on scarce, increasingly costly lithium?

According to ecomii.com, around half of an EV’s manufacturing cost comes from its lithium ion battery. Mass adoption of EVs depends largely on improving the competitiveness of their batteries. But lithium is also used in batteries for other electrical technologies including laptop computers, digital cameras and cell phones. As demand rises faster than supply, price increases. Unfortunately the supply of lithium is limited by both geological and political factors. Continue reading

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Riversimple launches the car company of the future

 Not only have they launched a prototype of their new urban hydrogen fuel call car, but Riversimple have essentially redefined how car companies of the future will operate.

I love Riversimple. I’ve been following them since last year when they launched their first prototype model developed with Morgan cars. This week they launched their new urban runabout vehicle at Somerset House in London. Perched beside the Thames, the new car silently rolled before the audience.

It’s body is made from carbon fibre, left charcoal-black and rough without the usual polished paint job. It’s bat-like doors swing upwards, leaving egg-shaped holes to access the interior of the car, which sports two tan-coloured leather bucket seats. Beneath the bonnet lies the hydrogen fuel cell; much smaller than I imagined, roughly about the size of a briefcase, the cell resembles a computer server with cooling fans and wires. Continue reading

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New Towns where Cars aren’t Needed

It’s hard for me to remember being in a town where cars where not the dominant form of transport. Maybe university towns come the closest, where most everyone rode an old bike to classes and cars were more on the periphery, isolated in huge campus parking lots for the weekend. But I’ll have to admit that I find the concept of a town without cars quite attractive, as I’m sure many of my eco colleagues would agree. But could it work? And would it be a positive move towards the future, or a birkenstock-step backwards to a romantic past?

FreiburgMany have heard of the German town of Freiburg. It’s where the Green Party really started. The locals famously resisted the building of a nuclear power station, and instead proved that trams were better than cars, solar energy was sufficient, thanks very much, and low-energy homes became the norm.

In Vauban, a suburb located on the outskirts of Freiburg, the community has gone further. They pride themselves in being car free.

Vauban has gone further and made it generally socially ‘undesirable’ to own a car. Well, people actually do own cars, but they are kept in expensive solar parking structures on the outskirts of the town. So people can have their car, or use the local car-club, when they need a car, otherwise public transport, cycling and walking gets them around.

Cycling in VaubanBut does it work? And is this a template for other towns? Well, it seems that maybe a car-free system is not as desirable as we’d like to hope. If the tram workers go on strike, then everything goes pear-shaped. Car clubs get overbooked and taxi services become stretched to the limit.

But more importantly, articles seem to suggest that the town is too socially contrived, even militant, controlled by ‘school teachers’ who thrive on ‘rules and discipline’. People still desire to own a car. Or already own one, and pretend they don’t.

Maybe we’re not ready yet for these towns, or there needs to be new and more visionary ideas added to the picture if we’re to really wean a post-modern society away from the 20th century love affair with private car ownership.

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