Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Like the USA, Britain is very keen on increasing its energy independence -- and replacing coal imports with domestic production is an easy option in that field -- as Britain has mountains of the stuff underground. The Greenies moan but they don't like the only realistic alternative -- nuclear -- either

Coal production in Britain has increased sharply after a surge in new opencast coal mines, undermining the government's claim to be a world leader on combating climate change. Dozens of opencast coal mines have been authorised by ministers and local councils across the UK, reversing a decade-long decline in coal production in Britain and often against intense local opposition. As a result, mining companies are now sitting on 71m tonnes of coal in licensed opencast mines, compared with 55m tonnes in 2007. And over the next few months, the industry is likely to win permission to mine another 15m tonnes from across the UK.

The rise prompted condemnation from leading Nasa climate scientist Prof James Hansen. He said boosting coal production would undermine the UK's position on climate change. "[The] UK will be a joke. It is moral turpitude, depravity, to build more coal-fired power plants or open coal mines, knowing what we know now," he said. "It was one thing to dig coal when we didn't know the consequences, but quite another thing today." "The UK would not be in a position to ask anybody else to do anything," he added.

Figures from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) - which is leading the UK's efforts to persuade world leaders to agree deep cuts in CO2 emissions at the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen in December - indicate that coal production in the UK grew markedly this year. In the first three months, coal dug from opencast mines, which excavate from the surface, increased by 15%, while Britain's overall coal production went up by almost 10%. Coal imports also increased, by nearly 13%, compared with the same three months of 2008.

The rises will put the UK's claims to be a world leader on climate change and green energy under severe strain in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks. Ed Miliband, the UK energy and climate minister, has warned that no new coal-fired power station can be built unless it eventually includes carbon capture and storage technology to trap part of its CO2 emissions. But this technology will not be proven until 2020, and environment campaigners insist the UK must reduce coal and gas use now if ministers are serious about cutting CO2 emission by 34% over the next decade.

Jim Footner, an energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said: "Our domestic policies simply don't stack up. It's difficult to lecture large industrialising countries like China and India about their energy use while we're happily considering new coal-fired power stations and digging coal out at an ever-faster rate."

Environmental groups also accuse ministers of wrecking the countryside by allowing opencast mines to proliferate across southern Wales, northern England, the Midlands and central Scotland. For the first time, opencast mines now produce more coal than traditional underground mines.

Climate activists are now focusing heavily on the coal industry. Protesters have occupied a planned 1.7m tonne opencast site at Mainshill in South Lanarkshire, sabotaging a coal conveyor belt at another site nearby. Activists in Wales are staging a "climate camp" this weekend near Ffos-y-fran opencast mine near Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, where 11m tonnes of coal is earmarked for extraction.

Patrick Harvie, leader of the Scottish Green Party, said: "Coal extraction is a dirty business in terms of health impacts, social impacts and environmental impacts - it's not a benign industry in any way. We need to be reducing our reliance on coal now, and looking at alternatives wherever possible."

Ministers in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh are routinely rejecting objections by local residents and in some cases local councils, to push through applications for new opencast mines. Since the 2005 general election, 54 mines have been approved across the UK and only four rejected.

The Scottish government - which boasts it has the world's toughest CO2 reduction targets after pledging to cut emissions by 42% by 2020 - has meanwhile made it easier for the coal industry by relaxing planning regulations on opencast mines. Alex Salmond, the first minister, is also supporting plans for a new 1600mw coal-fired power station to replace Hunterston nuclear power station on the Clyde. Over the past four years, 25 open cast mines have been approved in Scotland and none refused.

The Decc's figures also show that much of this coal is being stockpiled, with stores now at the highest level for a decade. By the end of 2008, more than 18m tonnes of coal was being stored - 30% more than in 2007 - suggesting that power companies are building up strategic reserves of coal to prevent electricity blackouts if the UK's energy imports are threatened or prices increase.

Figures from the British Geological Survey, the Decc and the UK Coal Authority, the agency which oversees the industry, show that last year the amount of coal available from existing open cast mines jumped to 54m tonnes, compared with 38m tonnes in 2007. There was a further 13m tonnes available last year from sites where mining has yet to begin. And this year another 3.7m tonnes of coal has been approved at four new opencast mines. A further 19 opencast mines totalling 14.6m tonnes are now being considered across Britain.

A Decc spokeswoman said: "We don't see this as counter to our climate change message. The UK is at the forefront of global efforts to decarbonise fossil fuels." Ministers are championing carbon-capture technologies by directly funding one scheme and supporting three other projects funded through a new levy on power companies...


Thin Skins Across the Pond

There's been a bit of a fuss in Britain the last few days. It's keyed to Americans taking a look at the performance of their government-run health care system, the National Health Service, or NHS, and finding it wanting.

It seems that more than a few Britons are taking this personally, as if our horror at seeing, for example, Britons routinely denied potentially-lifesaving cancer drugs because of their cost is a hostile, anti-Britain sentiment.

Quite the contrary: If we did not like you, we wouldn't be so horrified.

This debate is more than of passing interest to me because this week the National Center for Public Policy Research will release its newest book, "Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care."

The chapter on Britain is the longest.

Beginning soon, we'll be running a story a day from the book in this blog. As we do, I expect I'll also be editorializing a good bit more about what our friends in Britain have said in defense of their own health system, and their attacks on our own.

In the meantime, I recommend this excellent post on the Classically Liberal blog, which contains several stories from Britain. [See below]


The NHS, life expectancy and America's health care debate

Excerpt from the post mentioned above

Bureaucrats who work for the British government’s health care system are unhappy that their system of centrally planned care is being used as an example of what Americans should fear with Obamacare. One such individual, from the Faculty of Public Health, Alan Maryon-Davis, claimed “The NHS (National Health Service does a damn fine job.” And his proof: “We spend less on health in terms of GDP than America but if you look at health indices, especially for life expectancy, we have better figures than they do in America.”

What is interesting is how Maryon-Davis was able to include so much misinformation into one sentence. It is almost breathtaking. So let’s unpack his claim one phrase at a time. “We spend less on health in terms of GDP than America...” This is true. But does it mean anything?

Americans spend more on cars, in terms of GDP, than do Brits. Does this mean Brits have better automobile transportation than Americans? Not at all, they have significantly less. The British government puts a lid on health care in some very simple ways: they deny it. So you can’t get the treatments in the UK that you can get in the United States.

Americans can choose to spend on these treatments, British subjects can not. If we cut the amount of health care we give out, we could cut our costs significantly. Take one example that was in the news recently, because this British woman, agreed to be interviewed by opponents to Obama’s take-over of health care.

Katie Brickell asked for a pap smear when she was 19. The NHS told her she could not have it. When she turned 20, she was told, she could ask again. She asked again, one year later. Now they told her they had changed the rules and she could only have a pap smear when she turned 25. So, once again she delayed the test. When she was 23 they told her she had cervical cancer, the very thing the test is designed to detect. She said: I gave an interview and everything I saw was truthful...” She said: “I would say to anybody in my situation now that if they had the money, they should go private.”

Luckily she was working a company that also provided private insurance. So she was immediately put on drugs that, so far, have saved her life, and appear to have put the cancer in remission. She has to take two different drugs and she acknowledges, that under NHS care “I would have had to get a lot of clearance to get that level of care. On private, that just was not an issue. If I needed a scan, it was immediate. On the NHS, it was often a two or three-week wait.”

The NHS was doing what it was designed to do: cut the costs of health care by rationing health care according to edits set by bureaucrats as their best guess as to what, is a good idea, on average. The rules are set to cut costs. In most cases a 19-year-old doesn’t need a pap smear, Katie wasn’t “most cases.” The system can’t individualize needs the way that private care can.

Thelma Nixon was told that her case of wet macular degeneration would mean she would go blind. She need injections into the eyes to prevent this. Injections, or blindness, there was no other option. The NHS told her she didn’t fit their guidelines because the cost was too great. So they decided she needed to go blind, after all NHS provides health care at a lower cost than the US and that’s a good thing.

Thelma remortgaged her home while the Royal National Institute for the Blind went to bat for her. The press caught on to the story and started campaigning for her. Since British health care is politically controlled this was causing bad publicity for the ruling party and the NHS relented—for Thelma. Those who don’t manage to create a media frenzy around themselves are not so fortunate.

But Thelma’s initial treatments were paid for by herself, from the house mortgage. And when that ran out a local businessman gave her the funds for two more treatments. Other readers of her local paper rallied to her case and provided funding. ONLY after this media frenzy was created did the NHS relent. They sent up new guidelines for assessment and will not disqualify people from care according to the new policies.

More here

British woman gives birth on pavement 'after being refused ambulance'

Don't you just love that good ol' NHS?

A young mother gave birth on a pavement outside a hospital after she was told to make her own way there. Mother-of-three Carmen Blake called her midwife to ask for an ambulance when she went into labour unexpectedly with her fourth child. But the 27-year-old claims she was refused an ambulance and told to walk the 100 metres from her house in Leicester to the city's nearby Royal Infirmary.

Her daughter Mariah was delivered on a pavement outside the hospital by a passer-by, just before ambulance crews arrived. Today the Trust that runs the hospital said it would look into any complaint made about the advice and care the 27-year-old received.

Ms Blake said she started going into labour at about 7.15am on Sunday, August 2. She said: "I phoned up the Royal Infirmary, it's just across the road, and they said to go into a hot bath, and then to make my way over there. "I went into the bath and realised she was going to come quickly. I didn't think I'd be able to make it out of the bath, so I phoned the maternity ward back and told them to get an ambulance out. 'They said they were not sending an ambulance and told me I had had nine months to sort out a lift.'

Experienced mother Ms Blake today said she knew she had to get herself out of the bath and try to get to the hospital. 'The friends with me would have had no idea what to do. I knew at that point that she was nearly here so I had to get out of the house,' she said. 'I thought if I got across the road then at least somebody would be able to help me. 'I left the house and got to the end of the close, but there was no-one around to help.'

Eventually Ms Blake and her friends enlisted the help of a physiotherapist who happened to be passing on her way to work. She dialled 999 and helped deliver baby Mariah while waiting for emergency services. She even helped remove the cord from around the tot's neck, Ms Blake said today.

She said: 'I don't really remember much after that. Mariah was born, then the paramedics arrived then after that the midwives arrived. I think I went into shock. 'It's just lucky that the physio was there.'

Ms Blake said despite the happy ending she was upset she was told to make her own way to the hospital as, being an experienced mum, she knew she did not have the time.

Today a spokeswoman for the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust said: 'We are disappointed that Ms Blake was not happy with the advice and care she received and will of course investigate any complaint. 'We are pleased that both Ms Blake and her daughter are well and healthy.' [Mealy-mouthed indifference]


British indifference to real crime again

But deny the Holocaust and you are in BIG trouble -- four years and six months in jail worth of trouble in fact

A mother has written to magistrates in disgust after four teenagers who viciously attacked her son walked free from court. Mary Jordan has demanded an explanation after the gang admitted to the unprovoked assault. Oliver Jordan, 18, was taken to hospital after the group of 16-year olds, who had been drinking, battered him to the ground, kicking and punching him as he fell.

Each of them was given a sixmonth referral order, which means they will have to appear before a youth offender panel which will suggest ways in which they can ‘repair the harm caused’. But Mrs Jordan, a driver for a private car-hire company, dismissed the punishment and has condemned the sentence in a personal letter to the magistrates in which she accused them of giving a green light to street violence. The 43-year-old, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, wrote: ‘Did my son need to be brain damaged or dead before you would have given him justice? ‘This is not justice for my son, his girlfriend, my family and her family – you have let us all down. ‘I disagree with what you have done and would like an explanation as to how and why you reached this verdict.’

Recalling the night of the attack in Gloucester, she went on: ‘I shall never forget arriving at the hospital, waiting till the ambulance crew brought my son in … covered in blood, his face all swollen and battered. He may be a teenager to you but he was still my baby. ‘It was the first time in my life that I felt defenceless. I wanted to take the pain away but I couldn’t. ‘His little sister broke down and cried when she saw her brother covered in blood. I stayed with him and watched him start to lose consciousness.’ She added: ‘Opposite my son was a teenager who was being treated for a sprained ankle and swollen hand – well, guess what, he was one of my son’s attackers.’

Gloucester Youth Court heard last week that Mr Jordan and his girlfriend were followed along a street before they were surrounded by a group of youths, some of whom were on bikes and a moped. Prosecuting solicitor Katherine Jones said: ‘The youth on the moped said, “Who’s going to do it?” 'Matters rapidly deteriorated and they rained kicks and punches on Mr Jordan, who fell to the ground and curled up into the foetal position. ‘His girlfriend tried to pull them off, but she was dragged away and thrown to the ground. 'Fortunately residents heard the commotion and came out and one of them phoned the police.’

She added: ‘Mr Jordan had a suspected broken nose, multiple cuts and bruises, a split lip and swollen jaw, while his girlfriend suffered bruising and swelling to the eye, nose and knee.’

Dealing with the four youths, the chairman of the court bench Sue Alexander told them: ‘This attack by a pack fuelled by drink was horrific, shocking and vicious. ‘It must have been a terrifying experience for the victim.’ She went on: ‘There is a stark choice between custody and a referral order – and I can say that you are not going to prison today.’

Mrs Jordan, whose husband Tim, 45, is a factory worker, also asked in her letter: ‘So what do they have to do before they go to prison?’ She went on to explain that her son, who has recently left school, and his girlfriend have suffered flashbacks since the attack in February and now drive everywhere because they are too nervous to walk around.

The parents of the four defendants, who admitted charges of assault causing actual bodily harm and affray, said they were ashamed by their sons’ actions. The solicitor for one of the youths, said: ‘He deeply regrets this. When drink goes in, sense goes out. He let himself and his parents down.’


Nazi slogans 'OK in English' says German court

Rather permissive for a German court:
"A Federal appeals court has ruled that people can be prosecuted for displaying Nazi slogans in Germany only if they are in the German language.

The Federal Court of Justice on Thursday overturned a lower court's ruling convicting a neo-Nazi of transporting a shipment of 100 T-shirts with the slogan, "Blood and Honour," written in English. The slogan is a direct translation of the German "Blut und Ehre," a motto of the Hitler Youth.

The display of Nazi symbols or slogans is forbidden in Germany, but the court ruled that the ban only applied to those written in the German language.

It sent the case back to the lower court and noted that the defendant could still be found guilty, because the shirts also carried banned Nazi symbols.


This is a pity in a way. It would have been interesting to see how an English court ruled on the matter. But now the English will be to embarrassed to prosecute (I hope).

Bright British students are waking up to the uselessness of many degrees

It was while doing his Saturday job at Sainsbury's and "stacking shelves alongside graduates" that Tom Mursell started having doubts about going to university. "I had been accepted to study law at Bournemouth University but was working with a lot of graduates who were extremely pessimistic about the usefulness of their degrees," he remembers. "It's sad that people graduate with so much debt and then can't get decent jobs."

Mursell, now 20, turned down his place at university (despite getting the A-level grades he needed to study law) and launched, a service aimed at – you guessed it – students who feel that university might not be for them.

And who can blame them? Figures released last week by The Office of National Statistics indicate that this year's graduates will enter the worst jobs market in a generation. The jobless total hit 2.4 million – the highest for nearly 15 years with 928,000 in the 18-24 age group alone. That's one in five of all young people out of work. Thanks to the recession, there are fewer graduate jobs available than ever before – numbers have diminished by over a quarter – and those that are available are being chased by on average 45 graduates per job, according to research published last month by High Fliers Research Ltd. Tony Blair's push back in 1998 to get half of all school leavers into higher education has thus had one notable result: the graduate jobs market is now completely saturated.

"The biggest client group I see is recent graduates," says Denise Taylor, a registered careers adviser and author of How to Get a Job in a Recession (Brook House Press). "They've been searching for that elusive graduate job because nothing else will do, but then often have to resign themselves to working as a call centre operator sitting on £12,000 of debt."

This is exactly what didn't appeal to Mursell, and it was his girlfriend's experience with careers advisers at her school that kick-started his business idea. "She was even more sure than me that university wasn't for her, but there was a lot of pressure for her to go," he says. "Then she came back from college one day with a job seekers pack, which made her feel like she was about to join the dole queue. It just wasn't on."

So Mursell set about investigating what the other options might be off his own back. "I learned that there are so many opportunities after A-level, from distance learning to apprenticeships, that you don't get told about at school," he explains. "I set up the website initially as an information resource, but after a few months my inner entrepreneur kicked in and I thought, I could make a business out of this."

Mursell is one of an increasing number of students bucking the university trend, and the success of his site – they now get 15,000 unique users a month, and he and his partner have just taken on a third member of staff – suggests that more and more young people are keen to find out about alternatives to university. Mursell now spends the majority of his time spreading the word in schools and sixth form colleges that "you don't need a degree to be a success in life", and have just launched a Results Day information pack (, which is being sent out to 3,500 schools and colleges. "There is a domineering social feeling that if you go university then you're kind of better in a way," he continues, "which is very wrong."

When A-level results are announced this Thursday, an estimated 50,000 UCAS applicants will be without a university place. There are alternatives, though, and plenty of enterprising young people are seeking them out and pursuing dreams that don't cost £3,225 a year (the price of a university education as per this September).

Laura Griggs, 18, is waiting for her A-level results in maths, biology and PE from Guisley School in Leeds, and wants to become an accountant. The learn-while-you-earn scheme she has joined through the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) means that she can get her qualifications while she works. "I wanted to continue learning but without the debt, plus I am guaranteed a job at the end," she explains. Griggs has already started working at an accountancy firm in central Leeds and is really enjoying the practical experience: "When you finish something on your own it's really satisfying. You feel good about completing a task."

She is earning £13,000 a year for two years during her training, with one day a week out of the office to study. Her plan is to do her chartered accountancy study straight afterwards, aged 20, which is when the big bucks will kick in. Most of her friends are going to university but that doesn't phase her in the least: "Everyone goes to university these days; it's not that special. I just feel like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders because I am focusing on what I want to do and not getting into loads of debt in the process."

So there are alternatives to university, it's just knowing what they are. Andy Gardner, the university and careers adviser for JFS School in Brent, and La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School in Camden, always gives his pupils a PowerPoint presentation, "What if you earned while you learned?" detailing all the options from advanced apprenticeships at companies like BT and Tesco, to "DIY learning" routes into accountancy, marketing or law while working. Like Mursell, he thinks the pressure to go to university is very real. "Increasingly, I'm hearing that sixth form students feel under enormous pressure to apply for university, even if they are not really committed," he says. "One sixth former likened the UCAS application process to a train ride they couldn't get off."

Tristan Pruden, 18, from Bainbridge, near Wenslydale in North Yorkshire, didn't let himself get pushed into university. "I decided against it a year and a half ago when I realised it would cost me around £7,000 a year." He was considering a degree in architecture before doing the sums and now, as he waits for his results for three A-levels and two A/S-levels, Pruden is readying himself for an altogether different dream: cooking.

Pruden found out about a scholarship for a one-year Cordon Bleu course at the Tante Marie cooking school and got it, thanks to his enthusiasm and the experience he has already gained working in restaurants in the Yorkshire tourist area where he lives. A fan of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, and encouraged by his current restaurant boss, he says, "I've always done a lot of cooking and really enjoy it. I would much rather be hands-on with my learning than sit listening to a tutor."

Having a passion like this, and clear idea of what you want to do, is, of course, a distinct advantage. Lorraine Candy, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, didn't go to university because she knew she wanted to be a journalist.

Candy started out on a local paper in her native Cornwall, securing a job after doing work experience in the summer holidays before her A-levels. "They offered me a job so there was no point doing my A-levels. From there I went to the Wimbledon News where I worked with Piers Morgan. I worked freelance for a local paper in the week and for the nationals at the weekends."

She maintains it was incredibly hard work but that in industries such as journalism, it is gaining work experience that is key: "I don't think a degree matters in journalism. The work experience I got in the four years I would have been at university were invaluable. I was on the Daily Mirror by the time I was 20. I could have wasted that time and been four years behind everyone else."

Subsequently, Candy is a huge advocate for on-the-job training. "At Elle we don't care if people have degrees or not. I don't look for it on CVs – it's totally irrelevant to me. In the creative industries people come through many different routes."

Candy is not the only high-achiever to have given university a miss. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Philip Green, Alan Sugar .... all are just a handful of the big-hitters lacking a degree. And, as Andrew Carroll, a teacher and careers adviser at Wilmington Enterprise College in Dartford, suggests: "Maybe this is a bit punk rock, but I think the people who make the choice not to go to university are probably the leaders of the future."


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