Tag Archives: uk

UK fails to report on positive COVID-19 cases due to glitch

Nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the UK weren’t included in the daily number of reported cases due to a technical glitch. This produced an artificially low estimate of the spread of the virus, delaying efforts to trace those that had been in contact with the infected people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson chairs the weekly Cabinet Meeting. Credit Number 10

Public Health England (PHE) said 15,841 cases between 25 September and 2 October were left out of the UK daily case figures. They were then added in to reach Saturday’s figure of 12,872 new cases and Sunday’s 22,961 figure. All those who tested positive had been informed, but others in close contact were not.

The error was reportedly caused by the Excel spreadsheet used to compile the data. Michael Brodie, PHE’s interim chief executive, said that officials had identified an issue in the “data load” process which means the results were not uploaded to the national database. Some of the files apparently exceeded the maximum size that can be loaded onto PHE’s system.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “As NHS test and trace and PHE have said, a technical issue was identified on Friday in the process of transferring positive test results into the reporting dashboard. This was quickly resolved and all outstanding cases have been transferred into the contact tracing system.”

The news brought wide criticism on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been on the defensive for its messy handling of the pandemic since March, when the government hesitated to impose a lockdown. More than 57,000 people have died from the virus in Britain, the highest number in Europe, and the country is now dealing with a second wave.

“This incident should never have happened,” the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said to Parliament, adding the government would do an investigation and upgrade its computer systems. Still, this didn’t appease the Labour Party, which described the episode as evidence of Johnson’s government serial incompetence. The party’s shadow secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the glitch was “shambolic.”

The UK reported 12,594 new cases yesterday, a number that did not include the backdated cases. A large part of these cases are in the northwest, in cities like Liverpool and Manchester, who have large university student populations. Adding the missing cases back into the reported data brought the rate of spread to within the government’s projections, officials said.

Almost immediately after England’s contact tracing program was unveiled in May, it has been plagued by problems regarding access to testing data, making it impossible in some cases for local officials to keep track of the virus. A network of testing sites processed tens of thousands of daily tests for weeks but the government didn’t share detailed results with local officials.

Despite pandemic, recycling is fast expanding across the UK

Despite the challenges and restrictions brought in by the coronavirus pandemic, the United Kingdom seems to be turning more environmentally aware, at least in one regard. Accoring to a new report, nearly nine out of ten households claim they regularly recycle. According to the same research, people say they are more prepared to change their lifestyles to protect the environment.

Credit Flickr Bill Smith

Recycle Now, a government-funded recycling campaign managed by the a waste advisory body called Wrap, carried out a survey to UK households on recycling. They found that up to 73% said to be willing to do more for the environment, which is up from 68% in 2019. Also, 93% agreed that “everyone has a responsibility to help towards cleaning up the environment.”

“It’s fantastic to see that despite everything that has been thrown at them this year, more people than ever in the UK are taking responsibility for the environment by choosing to recycle,” Peter Maddox, director of Wrap UK, told The Guardian. “However, we still have a way to go in terms of correctly identifying what can and cannot be recycled.”

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. On average, households in the UK get rid of 1.5 items each day that could be recycled in the general rubbish; mainly foil, aerosols and plastic detergent or cleaning bottles, the study showed. More than 80% of Brits puts one or more items in the recycling that are actually not accepted by local collectors, mainly plastic fil, toothpaste tubes and glass cookware.

The same problems were reflected in separate polling published this week, with one in three London residents claiming to find recycling information difficult to understand. The findings came from a study carried out by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which will carry out a program to boost recycling rates with the charity Hubbub and the drinks company Innocent.

Households will be asked to help catch “recycling’s most wanted” such as drinks cans, yogurt pots and bathroom plastics, which belong in the recycling, but sometimes manage to escape. Gavin Ellis, the co-founder of Hubbub, said in a statement “supporting households to recycle better is more important than ever before” as lockdown changed the way we live and work.

As useful as recycling can be, it can also be lulling people into a false sense that they are having a positive impact on the planet. While recycling can limit the environmental damage, it is still having an overall negative effect — researchers stress that reducing our consumption and waste is crucial.

Beaver families get ‘legal right to remain’ in the UK

A victory of science and conservation ensures that several families of beavers will be allowed to live in southwest England. It’s the first time an extinct native mammal has been given the official right to remain in England.

Beavers have been making a small resurgence in Europe. Image credits: Max Saeling.

The European beaver was once common across much of Europe and western Asia. However, they were hunted to near-extinction, and at the turn of the 20th century, there were only around 1,200 beavers surviving in relic populations.

In England, beavers had been extinct since the 16th century — until 2013. In 2013, a surprising video showed a family of beavers on the aptly-named Otter River, in Devon, England. It’s not clear how the beavers got there in the first place, and authorities were planning on having them removed.

The Devon Wildlife Trust, the local branch of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, stepped in to help the beavers. Along with the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates, and the Derek Gow Consultancy, they were granted a five-year delay to study the beavers and their effect on the wildlife.

Beavers feel safer in deeper water, so they have mastered the art of building dams and pools. They also build complex homes with underwater entrances, that keep them safe. These behaviors have the ability to reshape the entire ecosystem to their liking — but their liking can be helpful for the environment. In the five years in which researchers studied the effects that the beavers had on the local environment, they concluded that “the positive impacts of beavers outweighed the negatives”.

The benefits that the beavers provided helped not only the natural ecosystem but also the local human settlements. They boosted biodiversity by creating new, wild wetlands, and the structures the beavers built also helped filter pollutants from water. Their dams worked as a natural defense against flooding, and the water became cleaner and clearer. Overall, the local ecology was replenished and supported. Professor Richard Brazier, from the University of Exeter, also notes that the activities of beavers help to lock up carbon and are also encouraging “wildlife tourism,” as people wanting to spot then inject revenue into the local economy.

In light of these findings, the English government has granted the beavers a ‘legal right to remain’ in the area.

The decision was hailed as a landmark precedent, with envronment minister Rebecca Pow saying that the project is “informing how we think in the future” and that the beavers can be a “natural management tool”. There are now at least 50 beavers at the site in Devon, and there is evidence that beavers are also active in other parts of the country — and it’s not clear what will happen to these populations.

The situation in England seems to mirror that in Scotland, where beavers were reintroduced a decade ago and seem to be doing well.

However, not everyone is convinced. The Angling Trust, a representative body for all anglers in England and Wales, expressed disappointment at the protection that beavers were offered instead of other protected migratory fish species — although researchers note that the beaver activity has actually increased fish biomass. However, despite this decision, the British beaver battle is only just beginning.

In Scotland, farmers have also raised concerns about the dams flooding valuable agricultural land, and the Scottish government has authorized the cull of 87 beavers, out of a population of 450 individuals (although beavers are a protected species under European law).

Those involved in the Devon beaver trial emphasize that any wider reintroduction requires careful management. However, if things are done right, the benefits strongly outweigh any such costs.

After centuries of near-extinction, European beavers may finally get a breather.

Offshore wind farms are cheap enough to bring electricity costs down

The energy generated by offshore wind farms in the UK is getting so cheap that it could soon reduce household energy bills, according to a new study. This could be a tipping point for renewable energy, as it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel energy.

Credit Flickr UK Department of Energy (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Renewable energy projects in the UK have been long been subsidized by the government, leading to complaints that clean energy is ramping up household bills. However, the most recently approved offshore wind projects will likely work with so-called negative subsidies, paying money back to the government and still reducing bills, a study by Imperial College researchers showed

“Offshore wind power will soon be so cheap to produce that it will undercut fossil-fuelled power stations and maybe the cheapest form of energy for the UK. Energy subsidies used to push up energy bills, but within a few years, cheap renewable energy will see them brought down for the first time. This is an astonishing development,” said lead researcher Malte Jansen in a press release.

Energy companies that participate in the auction state the price at which they are willing to sell the energy they produce to the government. Last year, the UK made a record auction in which companies offered to build offshore wind farms for around 40 pounds ($51) megawatt-hour of power, 30% cheaper than two years earlier. While this was impressive, researchers and policymakers back then could only speculate the actual implications of this.

In their study, researchers looked at future electricity price trends and found that the contracted price is very likely to be below the UK wholesale price over the lifetime that these wind farms would produce electricity.

The wind farms are likely to be built and run with these costs since financing is now accessible at lower costs for such projects. The study also looked at other offshore wind auctions held by governments in five other European countries. They found that Germany and the Netherlands have seen some zero-subsidy offshore wind farms winning auctions, but that the UK projects are likely to be the world’s first negative-subsidy offshore wind farms.

“This amazing progress has been made possible by new technology, economies of scale and efficient supply chains around the North Sea, but also by a decade of concerted policymaking designed to reduce the risk for investing in offshore wind, which has made financing these huge billion-pound projects much cheaper,” said Iain Staffel, lead author, in a press release.

The researchers argued that the price of offshore wind has fallen so fast in the UK mainly because of technology development, as the country is building larger wind turbines further out at sea. Larger turbines can exploit more wind energy and have access to more consistent wind speeds at higher altitudes. The success of UK offshore wind farms, which are now primarily built in the Dogger Bank region of the North Sea, means the UK has considerable skills and expertise than can be exported around the world, the researchers argued.

This could lead to more ambitious projects, such as producing hydrogen fuels using the wind power on-site, out at sea, researchers say.

“These new wind farms set the stage for the rapid expansion needed to meet the government’s target of producing 30 percent of the UK’s energy needs from offshore wind by 2030. Offshore wind will be pivotal in helping the UK, and more broadly the world, to reach net-zero carbon emissions with the added bonus of reducing consumers’ energy bills,” said Staffel.

However encouraging this development is, it should be noted that cheaper renewable energy is only part of the puzzle. If we want to achieve a sustainable future and a reasonable climate, we have to make sure that this energy isn’t added on top of fossil fuel energy. In other words, using cheap wind energy is great — but we also need to make sure that the oil, coal, and gas stay in the ground.

Air pollution is still 30% lower than pre-lockdown levels in major cities across the UK

Although traffic levels are returning to normal, air pollution is 30% lower than expected in towns and cities in the United Kingdom, according to a new report. This is likely explained by a smoother flowing of traffic and changes in commuting behavior, the researchers argued.

Air pollution is widely recognized as a threat to both public health and economic progress. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 4.2 million deaths annually can be attributed to outdoor fine particulate matter air pollution, caused by many emission sources such as transportation and energy production.

A team of researchers at the University of York looked at more than 100 roadside sites across the UK and found that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution levels were 30% below normal on July 1. At the peak of the coronavirus crisis, pollution levels were 56% lower than normal nationwide, the study found.

This is despite there’s now a similar number of vehicles on the roads as there was before lockdown. For instance, heavy goods vehicle traffic (HGV) is at 95% of its normal levels, while vans are at 90% and personal cars are at 75%. But the small reduction is actually enough to cut congestion and pollution.

“It seems that while traffic levels look like they have mostly returned to normal, concentrations of some air pollutants are still quite a lot lower than expected. We think the reason is that congestion has not fully returned, and this has quite a large effect on emissions and hence concentrations,” David Carslaw, who led the analysis, said in a statement.

A lesson for urban planners even beyond the coronavirus pandemic

The researchers argue that the findings could help cities across the globe to improve the way they tackle air pollution. This is particularly important during the pandemic, considering the growing evidence that polluted air could make the novel coronavirus more deadly.

Nitrogen dioxide is mainly emitted by diesel vehicles and has been at dangerous levels in most urban areas in the UK since 2010. It is responsible for an estimated 23,500 early deaths every year in the country. During the lockdown, traffic levels fell to levels last seen in 1995, leading to a drop of NO2.

Different types of vehicles emit different levels of pollution. For example, HGVs have stricter regulations so they emit less pollution than diesel cars. This could indicate that less car traffic is behind lower pollution levels. But, according to Carslaw, less congestion was likely the reason for the drop in NO2 levels.

“Everyone would appreciate improved air quality and this suggests we don’t need such savage reductions in road traffic as seen during lockdown to achieve that. If you can reduce traffic by 10-20% and remove a lot of the congestion, that may have a disproportionate effect on the emissions,” said Carslaw.

Advisers to the UK government said last week that air pollution was likely to be increasing the number and severity of COVID-19 infections. This followed calls from lawmakers for action and a warning that the government had a legal obligation to urgently review its air quality strategy.

But the problem is actually much broader than just the UK. More than half of the world’s population is living with growing levels of air pollution that are affecting their health every day, a concerning study reported in June. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are among the regions with the largest increases.

Fossil Friday: the UK’s first-ever pterodactyl fossil

Fossil hunters have discovered the UK’s first pterodactyl. This family of dinosaurs is more commonly found in China or Brazil.

The skeleton of Thalassodromeus sethi, a related tapejarid.
Image via Wikipedia.

A fragment of the fossilized skeleton was discovered by a fossil hunter while out walking his dog in Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight. Unsure as to what exactly he had found, he passed the fragment over to Megan Jacobs of the University of Portsmouth Palaeontology department. Jacobs suspected it was a pterodactyl jaw — further research proved her right.

Ancient flier

“Although only a fragment of jaw, it has all the characteristics of a tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food, and a downturned, finely pointed beak,” says Megan Jacobs.

“The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly colored.”

These dinosaurs are known from specimens recovered in China and Brazil and had never been found in the UK before. Tapejarids are on the smaller size as far as pterodactyl breeds go, although they do have a host of other distinguishable traits. Most have a bony crest on their snout, which supported an even larger crest of soft tissue in some species extending all the way across the skull.

Tapejarids also have a large, distinctive nasa antorbital fenestra, the opening in the skull birds show between their nose and their small, pear-shaped eye sockets. Judging from the ratios of their braincases, tapejarids likely had excellent sight and probably relied heavily on it for hunting, more-so than other pterosaur groups.

Finally, tapejarids had wings that protruded from nearer the belly than near the back due to shoulder girdles of smaller size compared to those of other pterosaurs.

The UK fossil lacked teeth, but was very similar in appearance and structures to tapejarid jawbones. The authors describing the finding christened it Wightia declivirostris, and explain that it’s likely more closely related to Chinese tapejarids than the Brazilian ones.

The finder donated the fossil to the Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown, so that it might go on display in the future.

The paper “First tapejarid pterosaur from the Wessex Formation (Wealden Group: Lower Cretaceous, Barremian) of the United Kingdom” has been published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

May was the sunniest month on record in the UK — and climate change might be behind it

The world-famous British gloomy weather is going through a transition, and climate change might be behind it. May was the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK, continuing a trend that saw the sunniest British spring thus far, according to data from the Met Office.

Green Park in London. Credit Flickr

Following a drenching winter with record rain, the UK had 266 hours of sunshine in May – besting the previous record of 265 hours from June 1957. A record was also broken in spring, with 626 hours of sun, compared to the 555 hours registered in 1948, the previous record-breaking year for sunny days.

This sudden switch from extremely wet to extremely dry surprised meteorologists, claiming this doesn’t seem like British weather. The UK gets on average 436 hours of sun between March and May. Since 1929, only 10 years had more than 500 hours – with none seeing more than 555 hours.

“We’ve swung from a really unsettled spell with weather systems coming in off the Atlantic to a very, very settled spell,” Professor Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, told BBC. “It’s unprecedented to see such a swing from one extreme to the other in such a short space of time. That’s what concerns me.”

Warm weather at the end of May offset cooler conditions earlier in the month, the Met office reported, adding that the month was warmer than average but not exceptionally so. It has been the driest May in England and second driest in Wales with 9.6mm and 14.3mm, respectively.

Is it due to climate change?

The Met Office said this is not an indicator of the future, because the jet stream might behave differently. Meteorologists believe man-made climate change may be implicated but said it is too soon to tell. The rapid heating of the Arctic may be influencing the jet stream, although that is not proven.

Professor Joe Smith, chief executive of the Royal Geographical Society, told the BBC: “In a wider context it’s a signal of the increasing unpredictability of the UK’s climate. The fact remains that bold early actions to slash emissions can still cut the larger risks associated with climate change in the UK and around the world.”

Weather is part of the UK identity, with more than nine in ten that have talked about it in the last six hours, according to a survey. Britain’s geography has made its weather mild, changeable, and famously unpredictable. The variability means residents never know quite what to expect

Climate change is causing warming across the UK, according to research by the Met Office. All of the UK’s ten warmest years on record have happened since 2002. Heatwaves are now 30 times more likely to happen due to climate change. Winters are projected to become warmer and wetter on average.

UK researchers map “profound long‐term changes” in plankton populations around their island

Plankton living in the waters around the UK have been undergoing dramatic changes in the past six decades, a new study reports.

In this image, triangles represent coastal stations while grid squares illustrate trends in Continuous Plankton Recorder data — blue indicates a decreasing abundance trend, while orange indicates an increase.
Image credits: University of Plymouth

The findings showcase the effect of climate change on the microscopic algae, which underpin the entire ocean food web. The results are particularly worrying as changes in plankton populations can have drastic ramifications for the health of all ocean life and the services they provide to humanity around the globe.

A sea of troubles

“Plankton are the base of the entire marine food web. But our work is showing that climate change has caused plankton around UK waters to experience a significant reorganisation,” says Dr. McQuatters-Gollop, the lead scientist for pelagic habitats policy for the UK and co-lead author of the study.

“These changes in the plankton suggest alterations to the entire marine ecosystem and have consequences for marine biodiversity, climate change (carbon cycling) and food webs including commercial fisheries.”

The study, led by members from the University of Plymouth, collaborated with researchers across the UK and combined findings from several offshore surveys such as the Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) and UK inshore long-term time-series. Then, the team overlapped these observations with records of sea surface temperature changes to see whether climate change was impacting plankton communities — they found that yes, it has been, for at least six decades.

The analyses of plankton functional groups showed profound long-term changes across large geographical areas around the UK coastline. For example, the average abundance of meroplankton (a group of animal plankton which includes lobsters and crabs that lives on the seafloor) between 1998 and 2017 was 2.3 times higher than the average for 1958-1967 in the North Sea, coinciding with a period of increasing sea surface temperatures. At the same time, a general decrease in plankton species that live in the water column and a decrease of up to 75% in offshore species populations could be observed.

The team explains that their results provide further evidence that human activity is placing both direct and indirect pressure on marine ecosystems, which are buckling under the strain. They further note that it is vital for us to understand the effect we’re having on these ecosystems since any perturbation here will be felt throughout our communities as well. Commercial fish stocks, sea bird populations, and the ocean’s ability to create oxygen from CO2 are all dependent on plankton.

“In this paper, we have tried to turn decades of speculation into evidence. It has long been thought that warming seas impact on plankton, the most important organisms in the marine food web,” says Professor Paul Tett, from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, co-author of the paper.

“By bringing together such a large, long-term dataset from around the UK for the first time, we have discovered that the picture is a complex one. We therefore need to build on the success of this collaboration by further supporting the Continuous Plankton Recorder and the inshore plankton observatories.”

The paper “Lifeform indicators reveal large‐scale shifts in plankton across the North‐West European shelf” has been published in the journal Global Change Biology.

A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.

COVID-19 in the UK. A Week in an Underprepared Nation

A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspactive.
A week in the COVID 19 crisis from a UK perspective.

New research from the University of Huddersfield has starkly warned that the local authorities of the UK are unprepared for the sheer numbers of deaths likely to be caused by the spread of the COVID-19 novel strain of the coronavirus.

In a paper published in the journal Emergency Management Review, the authors warn that major increase in mortality rates and staff absences will mean a struggle to issue death certificates, leading to a bottleneck in burials and cremations, with mortuaries filled beyond capacity, adding that even if fatality rates are at the lower end of expectations — one per cent of virus victims — it is highly likely that death and bereavement services will be overwhelmed.

The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for Coronavirus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As well as analyzing the readiness of local authorities, the authors including Dr Julia Meaton, Dr Anna Williams and researcher Helen-Marie Kruger, drew on data from previous pandemics. Their findings are based on research conducted in 2019 which aimed to assess how well prepared the UK was to handle a potential flu pandemic.

This is by far from the first time that medical professionals have warned the UK authorities that their response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping that the globe is insufficient. Much of this criticism has focused on the UK authorities failing to secure sufficient medical equipment to handle the growing crisis.

When future generations look back at the handling of this crisis by Boris Johnston’s government they will likely be forced to navigate a litany of lousy excuses, u-turns, bluffs, under the table deals, incompetence and the collapse of the NHS after a decade of neglect. An NHS already at breaking point before the onset of a global pandemic and the health crisis it has wrought.

What follows are revelations of mishandling and blunders that have unfolded during just one week of this crisis. 

Missed emails and missing ventilators

Even as the aforementioned paper was being published, the Government was facing accusations of failing to secure 25,000 ventilators — a potentially life-saving piece of equipment — from UK manufacturer Direct Access. 

The Cheshire based company claim that it informed the UK Department of Health that it could secure the 25,000 ventilators and 50 million coronavirus testing kits, yet its e-mail went unanswered for two weeks. During this intervening period, Direct Access says that the equipment was purchased by other countries. Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, has apologised for the error and promised to investigate the situation.

“No one seemed to be taking us seriously,” says Andy Faulkner, the manager of Topland, a Dubai firm helping Direct Access obtain ventilators, adding that the two companies offered the government 5,000 units a week over five weeks — but initially received no response. “They asked us to register on the ventilation website, which we did, and then waited another five days for any response.”

Faulkner concluded by saying that it could be as late as July before the companies could offer the NHS any further equipment, even were it to be ordered immediately. 

“Brexit over breathing”

The error comes on the heels of the revelation that Johnson’s government had failed to enroll in the EU scheme to jointly obtain ventilators to avert the predicted shortfall over the following critical weeks. 

The official line from Downing Street was initially that as they were no longer part of the European Union then it had been believed they could not be part of the scheme, an excuse so flimsy that the Independent referred to it as “Brexit over breathing.” Downing Street later clarified that the failure to register in the programme was a result of a communications mix-up. A claim that has been dismissed by Brussels.

On Friday a spokesperson for the EU made it clear that the 11-month transition period during which Britain makes its exit includes an allowance for the country to join in any “joint procurement” programmes. They continue: “The member states’ needs for personal protective equipment have been discussed several times in the meetings of the health security committee where the UK participated.

“At these meetings, the commission stressed its readiness to further support countries with the procurement of medical countermeasures if needed, so member states and the UK had the opportunity to signal their interest to participate in any joint procurements.”

Number Ten did state that they would take part in any future measurements to procure ventilators undertaken by the EU.

To many, this may be seen as an assurance that is both too little and too late. It is estimated that the UK will need 30,000 ventilators to deal adequately with the deepening COVID-19 situation. The NHS currently has an estimated 8,000 machines, with a further 8,000 expected to be ready for the end of April. A deeply worrying shortfall. 

What has come as a shock to some, is that the Government has approached a manufacturer to produce ventilators, albeit one with no prior history in building medical devices and equipment. 

Help from unusual sources

The company Dyson unveiled a prototype ventilator — the Co Vent — just last week, immediately garnering an initial order for 10,000 units from Westminister. The deal will be based upon the device passing tests from expert clinicians and health regulators, according to a spokesperson for Boris Johnson. 

The involvement of the company, founded by billionaire Brexit-supporter and Tory-part donor James Dyson, has garnered a great deal of scepticism, with a representative from Penlon-part of the ventilator Challenge UK consortium — stating that it is deeply unrealistic to design a new ventilator and rapidly begin producing tens of thousands of the device. 

Why have a ventilator by a leading manufacturer in the field when you can buy 10,000 unbuilt prototypes from a Tory donor? Credit: Dyson.

There is, of course, some crossover between the ventilator and the machine that made Dyson a household name, the vacuum cleaner. Both machines are designed to pump air efficiently, and some of the parts are similar. If this doesn’t inspire much Dyson have employed the Technology Partnership — a company that employs some scientists with experience in designing medical interventions — to assist them. Dyson has also pledged to donate 4,000 Co Vent units globally to help fight against COVID-19, as well as promising to donate a further 1,000 devices to the UK.

Fortunately, the NHS is receiving help from a somewhat unexpected source to help tackle other shortages. A medical fetish website — MedFet Uk has donated its entire stock of disposable scrubs to the NHS after it was approached by procurement representatives. 

“Today we donated our entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital. It was just a few sets, because we don’t carry large stocks, but they were desperate, so we sent them free of charge,” the company said in a statement posted on their Twitter account. 

The scrubs donated by medical fetish website MedFetUK

Whilst the company has received rightful praise, it seems utterly terrifying that so many years of abuse, neglect, and cost-cutting measures by the Tory Government has left NHS is such dire need of essentials they have to appeal for help from a fetish website. 

The MedFetUK Twitter statement went on to reflect this sentiment, concluding: “So when it’s all over…and the doctors, nurses and other staff have done an amazing job (as they undoubtedly will despite the circumstances)… let’s not forget, or forgive, the ones who sent the NHS into this battle with inadequate armour and one hand tied behind its back.”

UK set to trial its first universal basic income experiment in Hull

So far trialed in Europe, the US, and a few other countries, a universal basic income (UBI) is basically a guarantee from the government that everyone gets a minimum income (meant to cover the basic cost of living). Now, the UK wants to have a go at it, specifically in the port city of Hull.

The UK city of Hull. Credit Wikipedia Commons

A group of councilors from different parties backed the idea of giving every adult in Hull a sum that would range between 50 and 100 pounds per week regardless of their income. Those who currently get disability payments or pensions would “instead get the equivalent sum in universal basic income and there would be higher payments for pensioners and lower sums for children,” according to The Guardian.

Alongside Hull, Sheffield and Liverpool — all of which are cities in northern England — have also asked to host pilots of the universal basic income program. Sam Gregory, a member of a lab that backs the project in Sheffield said the reaction shows that “the Westminster way of doing things has failed these communities for far too long.”

Nevertheless, the process won’t be straightforward for Hull. Matt Jukes, the chief executive of Hull city council, will have to ask permission to Sajid Javid, the chancellor. The shadow chancellor, John McDonell, had vowed to OK the scheme if Labor won last month’s election.

A 2016 report by Compass looked at the possibility of implementing UBI across England. The results showed it would be “too expensive” to do so but highlighted the positive outcomes it would bring such as “raising average incomes at the bottom and reducing poverty levels.”

Universal basic income under discussion

Providing citizens with universal basic income has emerged as a key discussion in different parts of the world. While some economists claim the scheme is a source of empowerment as it gives citizens more choices, others have criticized it for being too expensive and difficult to implement.

The fear behind automation and artificial intelligence leaving millions out of jobs in the future has been a driver of UBI. Up to one-third of the US workforce will need to learn new skills and change jobs by 2030 because of automation, a McKinsey & Company report said.

Back in 2017, Finland was the first country to try a version of universal basic income. Two years after, preliminary results showed that 55% of those who received it said they felt less stressed and had less difficulty concentrating. Nevertheless, Finland decided not to continue with the study.

In the US, the town of Stockton, California is doing an 18-month experiment, paying 500 dollars to 130 randomly selected citizens with the objective of reducing poverty. The town’s mayor Michael Tubbs found inspiration in a book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who said the solution to poverty was to implement a guaranteed income.

Meanwhile, Canada, Ontario launched a plan in 2017 to distribute monthly payments for three years to 4,000 people with limited income. Nevertheless, a few months later the government canceled the scheme, despite early results were similar to the ones reported in Finland.

The UK may soon get its first cryogenic energy battery

Energy storage company Highview Power has announced its intention to build a cryogenic energy storage facility in the north of England, a first for the U.K.

Image credits Highview Power.

A decommissioned power plant will be converted to house the cryobattery, according to Highview Power. After completion, the installation will have a 50 MW/250 MWh capacity (roughly as much energy as 25,000 households use in a day) that it will store without using water, toxic materials, and with no emissions. The energy to be stored here will be sourced from renewable sources, the company adds.

So how does it work?

I have bad news: there will be very little cryogenics going on at the cryobattery. In fact, no freezing or unfreezing of people is so far planned. Bummer.

However, what the battery will do is use electricity sourced from renewable sources (such as wind or solar) to compress huge volumes of air and store them in tanks. It’s a ‘cryo’ battery because there is a point, if you compress air enough, where it turns into a (very very cold) liquid; that’s the form it will be stored in. When energy is needed in the grid, the compressed air will be allowed to warm up, decompress, and escape the tanks — all while powering a turbine.

Highview Power said that they pitched the concept to the U.K. government, which is looking for ways to meaningfully reduce the country’s carbon emissions. They further note that the compressed air approach is much cleaner than conventional batteries. The cryobattery doesn’t involve the use of any toxic chemicals, it doesn’t need rare or advanced materials to be built (which means less environmental damage since you don’t need to produce and extract them), and doesn’t produce any emissions. Additionally, it can hold energy for up to several weeks at a time, which is longer than in traditional batteries.

The system is expected to boost local grid stability and reliability by storing renewable energy when bountiful, and releasing it when needed. Highview noted that the process is well-established already, having been used for natural gas storage. The company plans to build more cryogenic batteries across the U.K. in the future, and CEO Javier Cavarda said they’re also in talks with officials from Spain, South Africa, and several Middle Eastern countries.

Can recycle help the environment? Not for half of UK adults

Despite its key role in conserving energy, reducing landfills and even saving money, half of the adults in the UK don’t believe recycling is good for the planet, according to a recent survey by Smart Energy GB.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The study, carried among 4.000 adults, showed just 49% believing that removing single-use plastics will make a difference and that just three in 10 think energy efficiency would have the biggest impact on protecting the environment.

In association with the University of Salford, Smart Energy GB carried the study to highlight the effect of energy efficiency and smart meter installation in the battle against the climate crisis.

Only 20% of those surveyed were aware of the smart meter’s (an electricity network system that uses data technology to make the UK more energy efficient) contribution in helping make the country more sustainable. If each house installed a smart meter, the country could achieve 11 percent of its 2050 carbon targets.

The research company stressed that Brits underestimated the importance of energy efficiency in the battle against the climate crisis, and measures were needed to raise awareness in the general public.

Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Smart Energy GB, said: “We are facing a climate crisis. The UK wants to lead the world with our commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. But we have a lot to do if we really want to meet that goal.”

The role of recycling

As with many things, it just takes more — more resources, more energy — to make new things than to recycle old things. Consider that 20 recycled cans can be made with the energy needed to produce just one single can using virgin materials

Glass is one of the most popular materials recycled, because of its raw material composition — mostly sand — and because it can be recycled over and over again without degrading in quality. In fact, recycled glass is the main ingredient in making “new” glass.

In 2016, the UK generated 222.9 million tons of waste, up 4% from 2014. England was responsible for 85% of the total. Construction and demolition generate the most – about 136 million tons a year. Mineral waste accounts for 36% of the total and includes anything that’s leftover from mining or quarrying and can’t be used again.

The recycling rate for UK households’ waste was 45.7% in 2017, a small increase on the previous year. Wales had the highest recycling rate in 2017 at 57.6%. It’s the only UK country to exceed the EU’s target to recycle at least 50% of waste from households by 2020. England and Scotland followed with 45.2% and 43.5% respectively.

Cigarette consumption in decline in the UK, showing tobacco tax works

Amid government efforts and health concerns, people are ditching cigarettes in England, with around 1.4 billion fewer cigarettes being smoked per year, according to new research funded by Cancer Research UK.

Credit: Flickr

The study, published in Jama Network Open, showed that average monthly cigarette consumption fell by nearly a quarter between 2011 and 2018. This represents around 118 million fewer cigarettes being smoked every month. Stricter tobacco laws and taking action to encourage people to quit smoking can be linked with the results.  

Based at UCL, the researchers looked at cigarette sales data for England and compared this with the monthly self-reported cigarette use of over 135,000 individuals from the Smoking Toolkit Study.

Over the period analyzed, the average number of cigarettes smoked monthly declined by 24.4% based on survey data and 24.1% based on sales data from 3.40 billion and 3.41 billion a month to 2.57 billion and 2.58 billion, respectively.

“It’s brilliant that over a billion fewer cigarettes are being sold and smoked in England every year. The decline in national cigarette consumption has been dramatic and exceeded the decline in smoking prevalence, which, over the same time period, was around 15%,” said lead author Dr Sarah Jackson.

Currently, 16% of English adults smoke cigarettes. That’s far from 1974 when almost half of the adults in the UK smoked. Now the government wants to “finish the job” and make smoking tobacco obsolete in England by 2030. This would help to deal with the daily 200 deaths from smoking-related illnesses.

In a green paper released on July 22, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) laid out its plans for a cigarette-free England. The goal will be to crack down on the industry and pledging to help smokers quit or move to reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes.

An annual YouGov survey commissioned in early 2019 by Action on Smoking and Health showed that 72% of adults were in favor of manufacturers paying a levy or license fee to help smokers quit and prevent young people from starting. About 64% of the survey participants would be in favor of inserts in tobacco products with information on how to quit

“Big tobacco said that introducing stricter regulation wouldn’t work and campaigned against it, but this is proof that smoking trends are heading in the right direction. But smoking is still the biggest preventable cause of cancer, and certain groups have much higher rates of smoking, such as routine and manual workers, so we can’t stop here and think job done,” said George Butterworth, senior policy manager at Cancer Research UK.

UK, Greece, Czech Republic, Albania — no longer measles-free

Because of several measles outbreaks in the UK, Greece, Czech Republic, and Albania, these Four European states are no longer considered “measles-free.”

Measles is considered eliminated when there is no endemic disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area, and this is no longer the case for these countries.

Measles is highly contagious and dangerous. Common complications include diarrhea and vomiting (which can lead to dehydration) middle ear infection (otitis media), inflammation of the voice box (laryngitis), infections of the airways and lungs, and fits caused by fever (febrile seizures). Measles is also potentially fatal. Other severe complications include blindness and, for pregnant women, miscarriage.

“Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning. If high immunization coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily and some will tragically die,” warned Gunter Pfaff, the head of the WHO’s European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination.

Close to 365,000 cases have been reported worldwide this year according to the WHO — almost three times as many as in the first half of 2018. There were 89,994 cases of measles in 48 European countries in the first six months of 2019, more than double the number in the same period in 2018. Already, there have been more than the 84,462 cases reported for all of 2018.

The UK reported 953 cases in 2018 and 489 for the first six months of 2019. In the same period of time, Greece reported 2,193 (vs 28 in 2018), Albania 1,466, and the Czech Republic 217. Based on 2018 data, the disease can no longer consider eliminated in the UK, Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania. The main reason for this is the insufficient vaccination rate — most people get vaccinated, but not everyone, which raises the potential for spreading the disease.

“Each of these countries are examples that have extremely high national vaccination coverage. So these are not examples of countries that have particularly weak systems,” said Kate O’Brien, director of the WHO’s Immunization Department. “This is the alarm bell that is ringing around the world: being able to achieve high national coverage is not enough, it has to be achieved in every community, and every family for every child,” she said.

While the disease is highly contagious, it can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine. According to the WHO, more than 20 million deaths have been prevented around the globe between 2000 and 2016 thanks to measles vaccination.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on health leaders to address the issue. Current statistics show that current second-round vaccinations for children in the UK are at only 87.2%. The first doe is only partially effective — it’s the second one that renders the body immune to the disease. Mary Ramsay, of the government agency Public Health England, states, “Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.”

The resurgence of a preventable disease

Globally, the picture is also concerning. Worldwide, the number of cases for January 1 to July 31 this year tripled to 364,808, compared with 129,239 during the same seven months last year. The highest numbers of cases were reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and Ukraine. The United States also registered its highest number of cases in 25 years. The numbers are especially worrying as 90% of all cases go unrecorded worldwide, according to WHO.

The disease had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems, with numbers steadily decreasing until 2016 when a resurgence began. Austria and Switzerland were confirmed to have elimination status in 2018. Measles has been eliminated in 35 of the 53 countries in the WHO’s European region for 2018, from 37 in 2017. Early this year, Sri Lanka has been declared measles-free.

Across the Atlantic, Americans have already suffered a record high measles outbreak in 2019. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report showing that there were 1,172 cases so far with 124 hospitalizations and 64 reported serious health complications.

According to the WHO, the reasons for people not being vaccinated vary significantly between communities and countries, with a lack of access to quality healthcare or vaccination services hindering some from getting the jabs, while others may be misinformed about vaccines and the need to vaccinate. Some aren’t following up on their shots because they believe that measles no longer poses any risk. In situations when a disease like measles is eradicated, people start to think the disease isn’t around anymore.

UK sees climate change as more important than Brexit

Despite the messy negotiations of Brexit — i.e. Britain leaving the European Union — United Kingdom citizens believe that climate change is a more important issue and should be a top priority to the newly-appointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to a new survey.

London’s skyline. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

 

Up to 71% of the UK public agreed that climate change would be more important than the country’s departure from the EU in the long term, the ComRes survey showed. Six out of 10 adults said the government was not doing enough to prioritize the climate crisis. The study, commissioned by Christian Aid, found that women and young people were more likely to say that action over climate change is a more pressing priority than issues around Brexit. The trend was also more pronounced on residents from Wales and the East Midlands.

“It’s clear that beyond the present political turmoil, UK adults know there is a bigger crisis which is potentially catastrophic for the whole of humanity – particularly some of the world’s poorest people, who are more vulnerable to the effects of this climate emergency,” Christian Aid’s director of advocacy Laura Taylor said.

Almost two-thirds (61%) of respondents said the Conservative Government led by Johnson is not doing enough to prioritize climate actions, despite its recent setting of a net-zero goal for 2050. Key concerns voiced included a lack of policy around decarbonizing transport.

When taking office this week, Johnson gave an inaugural speech and briefly mentioned the environment. He said Britain was “leading the world in the battery technology that will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation”.

“I hope the Prime Minister will hear the challenge from the majority of the UK public to do more to tackle this climate emergency. We need a rapid and radical shift to reduce emissions in the UK and we need global action for climate justice in which the most vulnerable communities are supported,” said Taylor.

The survey came at the same time the UK tries to solve its exit from the EU, now with a new Prime Minister. The UK voted to leave the EU through a referendum in 2016, with leave winning with 51.6% of the votes. Since then, the exit has proven more difficult than initially expected.

The UK was supposed to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, two years after it started the exit process. But the withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK has been rejected three times by UK MPs. A six-month extension was now granted until 31 October.

The consequences will likely be severe. The UK government has projected that in 15 years, the country’s economy will be anywhere from 4 percent to 9 percent smaller under Brexit than it would inside the bloc, depending on the exit arrangement. Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its biggest source of foreign investment.

Fire.

The UK had a coal-free week — the first time since 1882

The UK’s powerplants haven’t burned any coal for the last five days, the longest streak since the Industrial Revolution.

Fire.

Image credits Rahel Jalal.

Since May 1st, 1 pm, power plants in the UK haven’t burned a single lump of coal. This is the country’s first coal-free week since the advent of the Industrial Revolution in 1882, according to the BBC. Wind, gas, and nuclear power have covered the demand.

Cut the coal

“As more and more renewables come onto our energy system, coal-free runs like this are going to be a regular occurrence,” says Fintan Slye, Director of UK System Operator at National Grid.

“We believe that by 2025 we will be able to fully operate Great Britain’s electricity system with zero carbon.”

Another factor that helped this coal-free stretch was timing: grids are more likely to reach carbon-neutrality in spring (or autumn) when winds are high and days are long enough for solar panels to have a sizeable output. At the same time, domestic demand for energy is still relatively low, as customers don’t need to cool, heat, or light their homes that much.

The country has previously managed to go coal-free — both last year and earlier this year — but never for so long. Coal doesn’t have a very large presence in the UK’s energy grid to begin with — under 10% of the country’s energy is currently derived from coal-fired plants. The country is a global leader in offshore wind energy, and can also draw on nuclear power as a green option. However, the UK is quite fond of gas-fired plants and, while definitely cleaner than coal, gas-fired plants still generate emissions (both during gas extraction and burning), so this coal-free period wasn’t also emissions-free.

Still, this was definitely a step in the right direction. There’s been a worldwide move away from coal and towards renewables for the last few years, although it seems to have stalled somewhat last year as several countries added more coal to their grids. Coal currently ranks second to oil as a main source of energy worldwide. Coal is one of the largest single sources of carbon emissions in the world and a key driver of climate change.

Hoverfly.

Britain is going through a “widespread loss” of pollinating insects, study reports

Great Britain is in great trouble, new research reports — it’s running out of pollinators.

Hoverfly.

Image via Pixabay.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology measured the presence of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species across the UK from 1980 up to 2013. According to a new study, one-third of the investigated species saw a decline in the number of areas in which they were found over this time frame, while one-tenth saw an increase. The remainder of species either had stable population trends or only saw inconclusive changes.

Bee gone

“We used cutting-edge statistical methods to analyse a vast number of species observations, revealing widespread differences in distribution change across pollinating insects,” says Dr. Gary Powney of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who led the research. “There is no one single cause for these differences, but habitat loss is a likely key driver of the declines.

The study analyzed over 700,000 records, most collected by members of the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society (BWARS) and the UK Hoverfly Recording Scheme, who looked at more than 19,000 1km by 1km squares across Great Britain. The team writes that it’s possibly the first study of its kind — a large-scale, long-term, species-specific estimates of distribution change for pollinating insects in Britain.

One positive finding of the study was that key bee species — those responsible for pollinating flowering crops — have actually seen an uptick in numbers. They say this could be an effect of the large increases of mass-flowering crops grown during the study period and government-subsidized schemes that encourage farmers to plant more of the wildflowers the bees feed on.

But now, the bad news: the study also found that, on average, the geographic range of bee and hoverfly species has declined by a quarter — this, they write, is equivalent to a net loss of 11 species in every one-square-kilometer area. This included non-crop pollinator species.

Losses were more notable in northern Britain — likely as a result of climate change. Species that prefer cooler temperatures likely reduced their geographical spread in response to rising mean temperatures, the team writes.

“While the increase in key crop pollinators is good news, they are still a relatively small group of species [among all pollinators],” says Powney. “Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’ and fulfil the essential role of crop pollination.”

Non-crop pollinators are just as vital to us and the environment at large as crop-pollinator species. They help preserve biodiversity levels in the wild by pollinating wildflowers and acting as a key food resource for other wildlife. “Wildflowers and pollinators rely on each other for survival,” Powney adds, explaining that “loses in either are a major cause for concern when we consider the health and beauty of our natural environment.”

Dr. Claire Carvell of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, a co-author of the study, says the results point to multiple pressures affecting species of bees and hoverflies across the country. She says we need more and more reliable data on the pattern of pollinator decline, as well as its causes.

“While this analysis sends us a warning, the findings support previous studies suggesting that conservation actions, such as wildlife-friendly farming and gardening, can have a lasting, positive impact on wild pollinators in rural and urban landscapes. However, these need further refining to benefit a wider range of species.”

“In addition to recording species sightings, more standardised monitoring of pollinator numbers is required at a national level and a new UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme has been set up to do just this.”

The team says that this study relied entirely on wildlife recorders who go out and take the pulse of different species in their areas. As such, they want to encourage more people to take part in wildlife recording to help us better understand how wildlife is reacting to environmental changes.

The paper “Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Conventional CAES.

The North Sea could become the UK’s largest battery — one that lasts for the whole winter

The UK’s coast may be useful as a huge battery of renewable energy, new research suggests.

Beach.

A beach on the North Sea, Denmark.
Image credits Willfried Wende.

Rocks off the UK’s coast could be used as long-term storage for renewable energy, according to earth scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde. The energy storage method involves pumping compressed air into local, porous sandstone formations, which can later be released to generate large quantities of electricity.

Air pockets

Using such a technique on a large scale could store enough compressed air to cover the UK’s winter energy needs — when demand is highest — the authors explain.

“This method could make it possible to store renewable energy produced in the summer for those chilly winter nights,” says lead author Dr. Julien Mouli-Castillo of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.

“It can provide a viable, though expensive, option to ensure the UK’s renewable electricity supply is resilient between seasons. More research could help to refine the process and bring costs down.”

The main drawback of renewable energy such as wind or solar is that it isn’t very reliable. Sometimes they produce a lot of energy, sometimes they don’t produce any. This variation in output is highly dependent on weather conditions, which tend to vary by season. That’s why renewable energy is best paired with storage systems such as batteries, for example, so that any surplus can be stored and released as needed.

Engineers and geoscientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde used mathematical models to assess the potential of compressed air energy storage (CAES) processes in the UK. Such systems are is already in use in certain sites in Germany and the US. CAES involves using an electric motor to compress air and pump it at high pressure into porous geological layers when energy is plentiful. When supply can’t keep up with demand, this air is released to power turbines that generate electricity and feed it into the grid.

In essence, CAES-type systems act as a compressed-air electrical battery.

Conventional CAES.

A conventional CAES-type installation. The one proposed in this paper does away with the ‘fuel’ and ‘combustion’ bits, essentially turning it into a renewable-energy battery.
Image credits Julien Mouli-Castillo et al., (2019), Nature Energy.

The team predicted the UK’s storage capacity by combining the results of their modeling with a database of geological formations in the North Sea. Porous rocks beneath UK waters (in the North Sea) could store about one and a half times (160%) the UK’s typical electricity demand for January and February (77–96 TWh), they found.

Setting up a CAES system for the UK would be quite expensive and laborious, the team notes, since the infrastructure needs to be built from the ground-up — we’d need to drill injection wells and lay down long stretches of undersea cables, for example. But measures can be taken to reduce costs and labor associated with its installment. For example, locating injection wells close to sources of renewable energy, or installing new ones close to areas where drilling is planned.

Such measures would also make the system as a whole more efficient, they add. Roundtrip energy efficiency (the ratio between energy input and energy retrieval in a storage system) predictions based on the UK’s current grid and generation area layout would be around 54–59%, with a potential storage cost in the range US$0.42–4.71 per kWh1.

The paper “Inter-seasonal compressed-air energy storage using saline aquifers” has been published in the journal Nature Energy.

England’s youth are drinking less and less — and some have never had a drink

Wine glasses.

Image credits Kimery Davis / Flickr.A new study published by researchers from the University College London shows that the younger generations in England drink less, and in fewer numbers, than those before them. This trend, the authors note, is largely powered by people who never start drinking.

Cracking fewer cold ones with the boys

“These trends are to be welcomed from a public-health standpoint,” says the study’s corresponding author, Dr. Linda Ng Fat. “Factors influencing the shift away from drinking should be capitalised on going forward to ensure that healthier drinking behaviours in young people continue to be encouraged.”

The team drew on data pertaining to alcohol consumption recorded as part of the annual Health Survey for England, which looks at changes in the health and lifestyles of people all over the UK. The survey was first carried out in 1991 and involve around 8,000 adults and 2,000 children each year. Information is collected through an interview and, if the participants agree, a visit from a specially trained nurse.

The team used data from 9,699 people aged 16-24 years collected between 2005-2015. They looked at the proportion of non-drinkers among social demographic and health sub-groups, along with alcohol units consumed by those that did drink and levels of binge drinking.

The data revealed that 29% of 16-24-year-olds in the UK don’t drink alcohol — a significant increase from 18% back in 2005. The lion’s share of this increase is represented by those who have never consumed alcohol: their ranks swelled from 9% of their age cohort in 2005 to 17% in 2015. In other happy news from the team, fewer young people are drinking above recommended limits — from 43% in 2005 to 28% — and they’re less enthusiastic about binge drinking — 18% reported to binge drinking in 2015, down from 25% in 2005. Furthermore, more young people were also engaging in weekly abstinence compared to previous generations (from 35% to 50%).

“Increases in non-drinking among young people were found across a broad range of groups, including those living in northern or southern regions of England, among the white population, those in full-time education, in employment and across all social classes and healthier groups,” Dr. Ng Fat explains.

“That the increase in non-drinking was found across many different groups suggests that non-drinking may becoming more mainstream among young people which could be caused by cultural factors.”

Beer pressure

Young people tend to take more risks and live less healthily than older generations, but the team’s results seem to hint at a cultural shift. Risky behaviors such as binge drinking “may be becoming less normalized,” the authors explain, while not-drinking “maybe becoming more acceptable”. This rise in non-drinking wasn’t mirrored among ethnic minorities, those with poor mental health, or smokers, however — with the last point suggesting that the risky behaviors of smoking and alcohol tend to cluster together.

Still, the authors caution that the cross-sectional, observational nature of this study does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect to be drawn at this time.

The paper ” Investigating the growing trend of non-drinking among young people; analysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys in England 2005–2015″ has been published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Want people to buy more electric cars? Simply put green license plates

Something as simple as having differentiated, colored license plates could help boost electric car sales — at least, that’s what a new government proposal claims.

Could a small move like this have a big impact?

In the UK, electric and other low-emission cars, vans, and buses could be given special green plates to encourage more people to buy such cars, and boost awareness for “clean” cars.

As strange as it may seem, there is some reason to believe that something as small as this could make a big difference. Already, similar ideas have been implemented in Norway, Canada, Latvia, and China — and the results have been encouraging.

Elisabeth Costa, director of the Behavioural Insights Team — a company partly owned by the government which studies how to use behavioral science for better policy — explains:

“Simple changes based on behavioral science can have a big impact. Green plates would be more noticeable to road users, and this increased attraction can help normalise the idea of clean vehicles, highlighting the changing social norms around vehicle ownership.”

The British government will decide this on consultation right as Prime Minister Theresa May will be addressing the first ever zero-emission vehicle summit — and impetus for having more “green” cars on the streets is growing. Hybrids and electric cars accounted for 5.5% of the cars sold in the UK in the first half of the year, compared to 4.2% for the same period in 2017.

However, colored plates can only go so far — at the end of the day, you need strong, concrete measures if you want to support a market like electric cars. The UK already has generous subsidies for electric cars, but a study for the RAC Foundation found that the lack of reliable, easy-to-use charging points is the main roadblock to people purchasing more electric cars. This was echoed by separate research from AA, the UK’s largest motorist association, which found that although 1 in 2 young drivers want electric cars, 8 out of 10 drivers feel that the lack of sufficient electrical chargers is the main reason not to buy an electric car.

Yet this all shows that more and more people are nearing a tipping point where they are willing to buy electric cars — and a small PR stunt, the “coolness factor” of the colored plates could end up making a difference. Similarly, having red plates for the more polluting cars might also play a role. A spokesman for the Environmental Transport Association said:

“While green number plates will be positive PR for low-emission car makers and early adopters of the technology alike, to be truly effective any such initiative will need to at the same time shame the drivers of the most polluting vehicles; an electric or hydrogen-powered vehicle might sport a green plate, but the biggest gas guzzlers should have theirs branded red.”