- Published on Tuesday, 02 September 2014 08:20
by Nick Breeze
Many people who consider themselves financially savvy have touted the wisdom of buying up gold with their extra cash to insure against any looming financial catastrophe. The inevitability of another crisis means that some sort of wealth refuge acting as insurance against currency or stock market shocks, is simply prudence in excelsis.
Enter stage-left, amid the chatter in the global village, the biggest of all the “cryptocurrencies”, Bitcoin (BTC). Bitcoins appear nothing more than an encrypted sequence of numbers representing a certain amount of an anonymous, digital currency, created by techies and constrained by a complex algorithm, with no need for a central bank.
This virtual currency is mathematically generated based on a virtual “mining” process that can only go up to 21,000,000 BTC’s. With this limit to actual creation of BTC’s, inflation is kept in check because the intrinsic value of the coin is limited to the divisibility of the total known amount.
Bitcoin can also be traded between individuals face to face, or with those in far off foreign lands, using a digital wallet. The transfer of BTC’s from one wallet to another is relatively underwhelming but those who use it think differently. Exchanges are popping up everywhere allowing traditional currency purchases of BTC’s, either in large quantities or small fractions of a single coin.
So is it used as a real currency? There is a taxi driver in Hereford, pubs in London, online ecommerce stores, professional services, and now even Virgin Galactic will promise to take you to space in exchange for your BTC’s. Property agents are getting into it, as well as street market traders. The attraction might be anonymity for some but for the mainstream techno consumer, it is the long-term philosophical view that a decentralised monetary system offers more value and security than the central banking system.
Another question often asked is whether gold is about to be replaced by Bitcoins as the new store of wealth for contrarian investors? At a time when London buses have just stopped accepting cash and the bulk of our conceptual reality is relocating to the interconnected digital landscape, it does seem unlikely that we’d enter into another era of hoarding physical gold to manage our affairs.
Currencies function because we trust them. If we don’t trust them, we don’t want them. The abuse of the American dollar through quantitative easing to bail out careless bankers, leaves many people distrustful of the value attributed to such currencies.
In the case of the USD, it might take only a sea port refusal by China to accept payment for goods in anything but their own currency (or anything but dollars!). That could cause widespread belief that the greenback is worthless and lead to the exchange value of the dollar collapsing. This, so called, “reserve” currency would become the little brother to the big beast of inflationary failure, the Zimbabwean Dollar.
How much more sense does it make to implement a decentralised monetary system that is secure, democratic and, by design, finite, to avoid the temptations of bankers and policymakers to make bad judgements at the expense of the masses?
Right now, the most dated object I keep about my person is my leather wallet. My barcoded library card has relocated to my key ring, whilst my car key has relocated to an App on my phone. My smartphone is a powerful multi-use computer performing endless tasks combining, personal, professional and social. Strikingly, all my plastic cards from the Oyster to the credit and debit cards are still little changed from their prototypes that I recall from my childhood in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.
So will it work? Will we transition? It seems from my research, that Bitcoin is already working and people are transitioning already. It’s value has risen compared to mainstream currencies. The emergence of new exchanges, directories of traders, service providers, and a vibrant idea sharing community of entrepreneurs, mean that this is a very exciting area that looks set to change our perception of money and value.
However, I doubt very much that there will be a day or a month where one currency fades and another becomes the norm. What we tend to see is the bell-curve effect where those that see the potential jump in early and lead the charge. Eventually the benefits and widespread use expand out to the herd, increasing confidence and reducing fear. Government legislation will form alongside, in what we hope will be a more durable, robust and fair monetary system.
Let’s watch and see.
- Published on Friday, 22 August 2014 08:29
by Nick Breeze
Dystopian projections of the future for human civilisation can hardly be called optimistic but should they be taken seriously?
Contributors to IDP:2043: Enfant terrible of Scottish letters and author of Trainspotting Irvine Welsh and graphic artist Dan McDaid, celebrated French graphic novelist and illustrator Barroux, Costa Award winner Mary Talbot and artist Kate Charlesworth, ‘godfather of British comics’ and creator of 2000AD Pat Mills and graphic novelist Hannah Berry, graphic novelists Adam Murphy and Will Morris. Story editor: crime writer and graphic novelist, Denise Mina.
Fiction certainly does not have to adhere to any rules of fact but our identification with it usually implies some kind of connecting cord from the imagination. In the case of the new literary genre, known as “Cli-FI”, shortened from “Climate-Fiction”, authors are increasingly depicting the world as it might be towards the end of the century, or perhaps even a decade or two away. Needless to say, the depictions are seldom desirable, but are these storytellers reflecting an unnecessary internal pessimism, or are they derived from visible seeds of decay, visible now in our current existence?
Having spoken to many scientists about their findings on climate change I am intrigued by the often appended line to the dialogue that goes something like, “…but I am an optimist and I am confident humanity will make the necessary changes before it is too late.” Of course, the trouble is, instead of slowly turning the carbon effluent monster of human civilisation around towards a sustainable future, the rate of consumption, and thus pollution, is actually going up.
Corporations have taken over our democracies, assuming the status of living entities (extremely wealthy entities), and proceeded in buying up vast quantities of the natural world, before converting it into carbon pollution and wasteland. Conflict among humans and the number of failed states is rising. The amount of food being produced is required to go up to feed our burgeoning populations but it can only go down due to pressure from climate change and poor use of land. Corporations are manipulating seeds, patenting them and desecrating the future potential for organic agriculture. Water is running to all time lows as fossil acquirers that supply much of China, India and other regions are drying up. Huge food baskets like California is collapsing to drought. The Ukraine is being destroyed by war. The list goes on and with it the hopes for a stable, secure and plentiful future diminish.
It is hard to comprehend the reality of all this when one lives in a wealthy western culture like the UK (where I am), and the supermarket shelves are stacked with plentiful supplies of everything and anything. Stalls on the street are bursting with colourful fruit and veg, whilst restaurants and coffee shops are everywhere. The UK imports around 40% of its produce, a figure likely to rise as the government offers up more agricultural land to housing developments. The impacts on food prices from a range of impacts, largely all with a root cause of climate pressure, will be a steady rise with some shocks along the way. Conflict around the world will continue to rise and be exacerbated by these issues. We in the west may feel safe from harm now but the seeds of dystopia are most definitely being sown around us.
In this graphic Cli-Fi novel, titled IDP-2043 (IDP standing for Internally Displaced Person/’s), a number of distinguished writers and graphic artists have contributed to one flowing storyline. Perhaps the most recognisable name in the list is Irvine Welsh but this is very much a collaborative effort and each contributor makes a mark. The story extrapolates out all the trends of our current course, starting with massive sea level rise that leaves the UK about half its current size in area. The government is largely a corporate dictatorship ruling with fear and hardship, with dark plans to save it self.
The lead character in the story is a woman from the ghetto who’s growing celebrity and outspokenness is causing problems for her superiors. Even the hit men sent to execute her have some logic to their own psychotic disposition as they lament the burden of human population. The unfolding story is fast paced and makes for good entertainment. It would be great to see many more of these stories being published with strong links to the challenges that we can see in our own societies. For instance, the restriction of education and fairness, and the subjugation of democracy for corporate power, in order than money can continue to flow into the hands of those who least deserve it.
The narrative points to one conclusion, which humanity should try to grasp sooner rather than later. True value does not reside in the blind acquisition of inanimate objects. True value will always be in the balance of human life with nature, the ability to feed to satiety, to sup water when thirsty, to remain warm when outside it is cold (and vice versa), to be stimulated intellectually and to live our lives with respect for the social dynamics of our society, as much as for the individual private worlds which we inhabit.
Cli-Fi is a growing genre and this graphic novel is a worthy contribution, beautifully packaged with its own tapestry of talent to embroil oneself in. It is available to order online from Freight Books: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/idp-2043.html
by Nick Breeze
- Published on Thursday, 31 July 2014 08:32
On the 10th July we were able to attend and record the Geoengineering Debate in Cambridge. Here is the list of participants in the debate and the link where each segment can be watched. The following quote is from Professor Martin Rees's preface to the Royal Society report on geoenegineering (read by Dr Hugh Hunt in the opening):
"The continuing rise in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is driving changes in the Earth's climate. The long-term consequences will be exceedingly threatening, especially if nations continue 'business as usual' in the coming decades. Most nations now recognise the need to shift to a low-carbon economy, and nothing should divert us from the main priority of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But if such reductions achieve too little, too late, there will surely be pressure to consider a 'plan B'—to seek ways to counteract the climatic effects of greenhouse gas emissions by 'geoengineering'"
Watch the debate here: https://vimeo.com/channels/geoeng
For the motion:
Oliver Morton is The Economist's briefings editor. Before coming to The Economist as energy and environment editor in 2009, he was the chief news and features editor of Nature, the international scientific journal. He specialises in the energy business, climate science and policy, and other green issues. He is the author of "Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet", a study of photosynthesis, its meanings and its implications, and "Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World".
Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics in the University of Cambridge, and is an oceanographer and glaciologist involved in polar oceanographic and sea ice research and concerned with climate change processes in the polar regions. He leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has led over 40 polar field expeditions.
Against the motion:
Helena Paul works with EcoNexus on the impact of emerging technologies on biodiversity, communities, food sovereignty. Technologies include synthetic biology, geoengineering, GM crops and trees. I also focus on the impact of biofuels, biomass production, bioenergy generally on land and biodiversity. EcoNexus researchers are concerned that not enough account is taken of the complexity of natural systems when making interventions.
Matt Watson is a Reader in earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He is the Principle Investigator for SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering). His research involves inversion of remotely-sensed data to retrieve physical parameters of volcanic plumes and clouds over several spatial scales, using both ground- and satellite-based techniques.
In the chair:
Hugh Hunt is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering at the University of Cambridge. He leads the "Delivery Methods" part of SPICE and is the engineer in charge of the 1km testbed that was cancelled. His other research interests include wind-turbine reliability, tidal power and flood defences, noise and vibration from railways, gyroscopes and boomerangs. He has also made several documentaries for Channel Four and PBS Nova on subjects such as Dambusters' bouncing bombs, the Colditz glider and WW1 Zeppelins.
- Bitcoin - Decoding The Cryptocurrency
- Book Review: IDP:2043 A Graphic Novel Depicting The UK Ravaged By Climate Change Impacts
- Geoengineering Debate - University of Cambridge
- Debunked Or Defunct; Is Clive James Really An Able Commentator On Our Times?
- UK Shale Extraction Series - Part 1
- Food insecurity ~ 2014-2015
- The Truth About This Devastating Weather: David Cameron’s Policies Will Make It Worse!
- David Wasdell: Earth Sensitivity To Temperature & Emissions
- The View From The Met Office: Super Models and Climate Change Customers ... Welcome To Planet “B”
- Part 2: Environment In TV
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