John Hutton, the Business Secretary, would like to see 7,000 wind turbines built off the British coastline by 2020. That’s roughly two a day, if we started construction now, worked flat out, even weekends, had enough engineers for the job (did I mention Network Rail?) and everything went without a hitch.
“It’s crazy,” says Sue Ion, from the Royal Academy of Engineering. “Building wind turbines in a difficult marine environment is not an easy job. This is a serious engineering challenge that hasn’t been thought through properly.”
In September the academy, backed by the large engineering institutions, proposed a feasibility project to see whether Government ambitions to green the nation were technically doable. The project would, according to Dr Ion, provide a kind of engineering roadmap, assessing current technologies and forecasting research still required. Best of all, it would cost a miserly £750,000 and be free of vested industrial interests.
Surprisingly, the Government has yet to respond. Dr Ion admits her frustration: “The science on climate change is clear but people have forgotten that engineers have to apply that science. It’s all very well to say that we’ll have 20 per cent of our energy coming from wind power by 2020, but that’s useless if nobody’s done any studies on how that’s going to be delivered. If people continue to set unrealisable targets, Government policy will begin to lose credibility.”
I have an idea: a year ago the Environment Agency fined four British companies £750,000 for breaking EU rules on carbon emissions trading. You can see where I’m heading . . .
— Has some sort of minor rapprochement been reached between the Church and stem-cell biologists? The Catholic Church in Italy is funding research at the University of Milan to isolate stem cells from foetuses that have miscarried naturally. The Bishop of Terni is giving €80,000 to a €2 million project exploring the use of such cells in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The donation, it is reported in Science, has received papal blessing. The Church remains opposed, however, to the use of embryonic stem cells and IVF treatment.
— Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist and owner of a chain of private brain-scanning clinics, has suggested in the US press that all presidential candidates should have their grey matter probed. This, he suggests, would help to steer clear of a future Adolf Hitler (cursed with “faulty brain wiring”) or Slobodan Milosevic (who suffered “poor brain function”). Amen’s approach to the cranium is not half as whacky as his attitude to dating. “I’m just always looking for the perfect brain,” he once told the Sacramento Bee. “If I date someone long enough, they get scanned.” Likewise, he offers to scan prospective boyfriends of his three daughters; he says it is just as instructive as meeting their parents. I bet the Amen girls can’t wait for Valentine’s Day.
Anjana Ahuja: Science Notebook
7 January 2008
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