The Great Debate UK

How cities can help protect citizens from air pollution

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–Julian Hunt is former Director-General at the Met Office and Visiting Professor at Delft University of Technology. Amy Stidworthy is Principal Consultant at Cambridge Environmental Research Consultants. The opinions expressed are their own.–

The Saharan dust in London last week affected the atmosphere, and caused irritation to the many people who suffer from breathing difficulties. Just as in the smog of the 1950s and of Dickens’s day, which was caused by soot from coal burning, the cloud of dust particles was dense enough that less sunlight made it through to ground level.

When this happens, polluting gases and particles of all kinds are not dispersed upwards, and are concentrated in layers below the tops of the tallest buildings. When finally the sun broke through last week, the dust was dispersed and for those suffering from the effect of the dust there was some relief.

But London is fortunate because such meteorological events are very unlikely to occur in the height of summer when it may coincide with a heat wave. Other countries, in southern Europe for example, may not be so fortunate. In large Asian cities, huge sandstorms, dust from coal combustion and industrial sources, and emissions from motor vehicles can lead to health effects so severe that an 8-year old girl living near a crossroads was reported to have died from particle-related lung cancer.

from The Great Debate:

Afghanistan votes on its future

The coverage on the impending Afghan presidential elections has been filled with death and chaos -- the tragic shooting at the Serena hotel where an international election monitor was killed, the shocking attack on the Afghan Election Commission's headquarters, the killing of a provincial council candidate and the news that several international monitoring groups are pulling out.

These tragedies, however, shift the focus from the major news in Afghanistan this week: Election fever has gripped the nation. I hear from Afghans as well as many foreigners now working in Afghanistan that the excitement about the coming April 5 presidential election is palpable and encouraging.

The Consumer Student

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–Priyamvada Gopal is a University Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of English and Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge. The opinions expressed are her own.–

The once highly-regarded British public university is not quite dead but it is in terminal care. After half a century of global success on public funding that amounted to less than 1.5% of Britain’s GDP, in the space of two years we’ve seen the partial withdrawal of the state from the sector, and it is expected that this is a precursor to full withdrawal followed by extensive privatisation.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Crimea: Too small to matter

Crimea is permanently lost to Russia.

That is implicit in President Barack Obama’s remarks about where the Ukraine crisis heads next; the terms of the Paris talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the West’s rejection of military action to hurl back the occupying Russian forces.

That Crimea is gone forever is also the view of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who declared, “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.”

from The Great Debate:

How GM can recover

General Motors chief executive officer Mary Barra on Tuesday and Wednesday will appear before Congress to explain why GM took more than a decade to issue a recall on a faulty ignition switch, which led to at least 13 deaths. The hearings will be a proving ground for Barra, who became CEO in December 2013, as well as for GM’s new chairman, Theodore “Tim” Solso, and the entire GM board.

Congress will question why Barra’s most recent predecessors didn’t catch the defective switch. A likely explanation is that the board and senior management were so focused on digging GM out of bankruptcy that they weren’t paying attention to what else may have been going amiss.

from The Great Debate:

America is not broke

“We’re broke.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Tea Party groups have repeated that phrase so frequently that it must be true, right?

But America is not broke. Our short-term budget outlook is stable, and our long-term challenges are manageable if both sides are willing to compromise. So why would politicians falsely claim that we’re broke? To justify radical changes to our nation’s social contract that Americans would never accept any other way.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Forget the drama: A solution for Crimea

President Vladimir Putin has disastrously miscalculated and Russia now faces deeper isolation, tougher sanctions and greater economic hardship than at any time since the Cold War. So declared President Obama after the NATO summit in Brussels.

European leaders have sounded even tougher than Obama, though less specific. Some whose countries lie far from Russia -- for example, British Prime Minister David Cameron -- have whipped themselves into a fury reminiscent of King Lear: “I will do such things -- what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.”

from Ian Bremmer:

The G7 and the limits of Russia’s ‘political isolation’

 

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama delivered the major address of his weeklong trip to Europe, focusing on the Russian incursions into Ukraine and the coordinated Western retaliation. “Together, we have isolated Russia politically, suspending it from the G8 nations,” Obama said. For annexing Crimea, Russia was punished with temporary exile from this coalition of advanced industrial democracies, a group of Western countries that collectively act on their shared values.

There is just one problem: Russia never shared these values, and the G7 has neither represented global interests nor driven the international agenda for quite some time.

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s new ‘values pact’

Now that Russia President Vladimir Putin has swallowed Crimea, the question becomes: What if the peninsula doesn’t satisfy his appetite for new Russian territory? What if the only thing that will satiate his hunger for power is the goulash known as eastern Ukraine? Or does he then move on to Moldova, and then on and on?

Indeed, while the world watched the protests in Kiev and the Sochi Olympics last month, the Moldovan territory of Gagauzia quietly held a referendum about whether or not to join Russia if the rest of the country opts for stronger ties to the European Union. Its citizens, just like those in Crimea, have argued that they would be economically better off on Putin’s planet, rather than as meager satellites in the Western solar system.

Changing weather patterns mean meteorology is more important than ever

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–Julian Hunt is former Director-General of the UK Met Office, and a Visiting Professor at Delft University of Technology. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Since the 1990s, the United Kingdom has celebrated National Science and Engineering Week every year to coincide with World Meteorological Day (which this year is Sunday 23 March). This is fitting, given that meteorologists, whose original interest was more in the effects of outer space (especially meteors and lightning) than weather, work with scientists and engineers ever more closely, both in the use of modern measurement techniques and in making conceptual advances in mathematics and physics.

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