Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 2021

British Water

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This morning I got an email from The Guardian, a British newspaper that I subscribe to. This is a lightly edited extract from their newsletter – about how they get “scoops”.

<blockquote>… reporter Sandra Laville came across something rather curious that made her think ‘that’s funny’. In her case, it was a statistic. 

“I came across this figure that only 14 percent of waters in English rivers were of good ecological standard,” she recalls. “I thought ‘that’s really low’.”

She started asking questions – of officials, scientists at the Environment Agency, and crucially of campaigners determined to improve the quality of their local environment. 

The big breakthrough came when she secured data from water companies on when and where sewage had been released into rivers. When she totted up the answers it came to a total of 1.5m hours of dumping in a single year

“I remember swimming in the sea 25 years ago when there was a big scandal about sewage being poured into the ocean,” Sandra tells me. “I couldn’t believe this was happening in rivers too.” 

The revelations have put pressure on the authorities to come clean on the locations and instances of sewage discharge; on the water companies to take action and invest; and on the regulator to ensure that everyone improves their game. “Nothing will change overnight – this is a massive underinvestment in infrastructure,” Sandra says. “But this has really exposed what they have been doing.” 

</blockquote>

One of the leading reasons why I came to Canada was that I no longer wanted to be an Economic Adviser to the British Government. We were shared between the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment, and I was going to be moved from looking at London Underground investments to Water Privatisation. And I did not want any part of it. In 1988 water in the UK was controlled by a network of Regional Water Authorities. They were very effective and a distinct improvement over the earlier patchwork quilt of Water Boards. In fact the reorganisation of those was also a significant factor in my earlier career at British Waterways Board in the early 1970s but that isn’t relevant.

Mostly I wanted to work on public transport issues. There did not seem to me to any justification for the privatisation of water. Indeed, it seemed to me that the only way it could be justified was that it would reduce “public spending” (i.e. using taxation revenues) and rely of private funding. For the private sector to make money they would need to find a way to create a profit margin in what was, at the time, absent as it was not needed by the public sector. It simply did not occur to me then that new water companies would seek to cut costs by dumping untreated wastewater in rivers and the sea – but that is what they have been doing.

One of the remarkable shifts in recent years has been the steady rejection of Hayek’s philosophy pursued by Margaret Thatcher and other right wing ideologues. Nearly every policy change introduced in the name conservatism has been shown to be fallacious. The claimed outcomes of better services at lower cost are never achieved in reality – though there has always been quite a bit of “clever” bookkeeping to make it look good. But it also seems that no matter how strong the evidence, when ostensibly left leaning, “progressive” parties get into power they fall into the same mire. Both BC NDP and federal Liberals are pursuing policies that are obviously designed to benefit the few over the broader public interest. This is most clearly true in the case of energy policies. Instead of picking the cleaner, more economically affordable renewable options, our governments are still choosing to support fossils – coal, oil and fracked gas. In transportation we still opt for more freeways and road expansions even though it is clear that this has never ever cured traffic congestion and can’t due to simple geometry. That we still have a mid twentieth century commitment to extending urban sprawl indefinitely which experience shows simply increases costs in general and “externalities” that we mostly try to ignore.

Today we heard the Throne Speech from Ottawa. What we needed to hear was that as a country we are going to change direction in view of the clear and present danger now posed by the climate crisis. For a long time governments at all levels have refused to face up to this challenge and pretend that business as usual can continue. We saw exactly that at COP26 in Glasgow. We got more of the same today from Justin Trudeau. The CG did not announce the end of fossil fuel subsidies and the cancellation of TMX. There was no mention of the export of US thermal coal through Canadian ports – which only happens because no local port community in the US will allow it. Canadian ports are only lightly managed – and that is a federal jurisdiction where local concerns account for nothing. There is a lot about cleaning up the most recent messes – but not very much about what needs to be done to cope with future issues which will inevitably be even worse, as the greenhouse gases that cause these disasters have already been emitted. Too many tipping points have already passed. Too little has been achieved through carbon capture and storage – except increasing the production of oil and gas. There are no offshore wind farms around here, very little geothermal power generation (despite huge potential) and not much in the way of energy storage or improvements to the grid to accommodate renewables. And there won’t be any time soon.

How bad does it have to get to see changes in policy? It has taken Britain 50 years to acknowledge that shutting down railway branch lines was short sighted and ineffective. The mess of water privatisation has also taken a similar amount of time to be acknowledged. In Canada our governments seem even more determined to refuse to change. But then we are still digging up asbestos to export – even though its use here is banned. We know what we are doing is not working. There was no major announcement about reductions of oil and gas extraction so now we know that big business is still calling the shots and humanity is doomed.

As Seth Klein just tweeted: “This #ThroneSpeech was an opportunity post-election, post-COP, post-floods to announce additional climate emergency initiatives & measures. The government took a pass. An exceptionally boring speech.”

Charity Launches Emergency Flood Response and Appeal

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I just received this press release from the Salvation Army. You may well have seen the news about the disaster that has befallen British Columbia. I am fortunate not to live in one of the hard hit areas. I am also an atheist but the Salvation Army has taken lots of stuff from us that we needed to dispose of over the years, some of which must have been sold and the funds used for their services.

No doubt there will be other appeals – and BC is getting help from the Canadian government. But if you were looking for some way to help we do know that the Sally Annes are on the ground Doing Good now.

POSTSCRIPT

This was posted to Twitter by the CBC shortly after this post was published

“Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) is now available for eligible British Columbians in southwest, central and southeast areas of the province and Vancouver Island who were affected by flooding and landslides from Nov. 14-16. DFA is available to homeowners, residential tenants, business owners, local governments, Indigenous communities, farmers and charitable organizations that were unable to obtain insurance to cover disaster-related losses.”

Lots of pictures of the damage – and the work being done to repair it

And Air Canada just tweeted “in response to #BCStorm, Air Canada is adding cargo capacity by upgauging 14 flights to #A330 & #Dreamliner aircraft to @yvrairport from @yulaeroport, @TorontoPearson & @FlyYYC to help maintain important economic supply links to/from BC. We continue to monitor this situation.”

The Provincial Emergency Coordination Center has been activated. Those who wish to donate funds, supplies, or services to support the flood recovery effort can e-mail donations@gov.bc.ca or contact the Canadian Red Cross at WeCare@redcross.ca or 1-800-418-1111.

Vancouver, B.C. (Nov. 18) — The Salvation Army has launched a massive emergency response effort to help victims of the worst flood in a century in British Columbia. Emergency Units are on the ground in six of the hardest hit communities across the province providing food, hydration, shelter, clothing, and blankets to first responders, evacuees, and flood victims.

“We have been on the ground since day one in the hardest hit communities,” says Mike Leland spokesperson for The Salvation Army in B.C. “We have several of our trained emergency response units actively supporting the impacted communities. Our feeding trucks are there, we have been airlifting in meals, and we have set up evacuation centres in communities to receive victims of the floods.”

With six emergency response vehicles in the field and evacuation centres open, The Salvation Army is on the front lines in Kelowna, Kamloops, Chilliwack, and Abbotsford, while locations in Maple Ridge and Abbotsford have been working around the clock to supply communities with food, hydration, and blankets. To date, the Army has provided close to 10,000 meals to those being impacted, as well as those first responders who are on the ground. They also mobilized two more Emergency Vehicles on standby in case the weather begins to change once again.

“Several of our locations outside of the impacted areas mobilized their communities immediately to assist in the effort,” says Leland. “This is a tragedy unfolding and we are here for those people and communities day and night and we will be here to end, and see this through into the recovery phase… this is what we do, but we don’t do it alone.”

The Salvation Army has also launched an Emergency Flood Relief Appeal. People can help by going to salvationarmy.ca/BCFlood or call 1.800.SAL.ARMY to make a safe and secure donation.

“We need people to help,” says Leland. “This is going to take everyone coming together, not only to assist right now, but to help these communities recover in the weeks and months ahead. Every dollar donated will go directly towards helping these communities today with essential services and then into the aftermath of these floods to help them recover.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2021 at 10:54 am

Posted in Emergency

Dongles

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Not having been anywhere very much since the pandemic started, and my pensions continuing to arrive and there not being much to spend them on, when Apple announced the new MacBook Pro I was quite interested. Especially since the old Mac was not going to be upgraded to OS 12 Monterey as it was too old. It worked just fine, except for the touchpad which seemed reluctant to “click” on anything. I use a Logitech mouse because I think a scroll wheel and a right click button is essential, and I no longer have the capacity to remember a whole bunch of keypad “shortcuts”.

While I am adapting to the new machine, I am noting that the issue of external connections is more pressing than I thought it would be. I did buy a couple of USB – C cables but what I did not appreciate is that Thunderbolt 4 is not backwards compatible to earlier versions. So while I have gone out and got another USB to USB – C connector I now how two useless connections.

Thunderbolt to Projector and to Gigabit Ethernet adapters
Connectors

I am not sure if there is a market for such things, but then it occurred to me that there are deserving causes out there. For example, people like you who actually read this blog. And if you have read this far, and you have an old Macbook Pro that you are not about to trade in for a new one, you may find these connectors useful. On the About page of this blog is an email address that works. Do not add a comment below, because anyone can read that. Send me an email and be sure to include your snail mail shipping address, and I will send either or both to you. Do not offer me anything in return, but if you wish to pay it forward please feel free to make a donation to one of the many worthy organisations that have doubtless been asking you for a donation recently. I don’t need to know how much or who to, and you could always try thoughts and prayers, since many appear to think those work too.

Old Thunderbolts with new USB – C

I will also reply to every email I get but the first one that expresses an interest can have the one of their choice – or both. And actually what I have only now just noticed is the a USB C connector will fill nicely into the old Thunderbird socket. I no longer use a projector but that ethernet thing …. hmmm.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Posted in computers

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