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I’m falling in love with Twitter all over again

Its not that I ever necessarily fell out of love with Twitter, but the irresistible force of curiosity is always confronted by the immovable object of limited time, until someone finds a way to squeeze more than 24 hours in a day. But of late, I’ve found myself reaching for Twitter more and more and find some genuine treasures at a time when the mainstream news media seem to have entrenched positions on … pretty much everything. We’ve all been encouraged to step outside our echo chamber (something of a challenge personally), but thats easier said than done when you’re surrounded by like minded friends on FB, your (digital) newspaper tells you everything you want to hear or nothing you want to hear (in the case of the other sides newspaper), so getting a balance, can be, well, tricky. Twitter seems to be the best of both worlds, with the magic addition of a lot of humour. If there’s one thing that can take the heat out of the most contentious situations, its the ability to laugh at yourself, your predicament and your political … what’s the opposite of fellow travellers?

It feels like I’m not alone in this, so here’s to you Twitter for worming your way back into my affections and just to avoid any doubt, the renewed interest has abolsutely nothing to do with the prognostications of the 45th President of the USA.

The different types of capital and why they’re important.

When we think of capital in an economic sense, we think of money, investment or wealth; the stuff that starts companies and oil the wheels of finance around the world. We think of venture capital, risk capital; we think of financial capital. It took me a long time to realise that there are other types of capital. Or more accurately, since I’m not from what Australians aptly call, “the big end of town”, it took me a long time to realise what financial capital was and a whole lot longer than that to discover the other types of capital: social capital and intellectual capital.

Capital works to earn money so that you don’t have to, but of course allocating that capital does require some effort, particularly if you want it back with a decent return. You can learn this at some point if you study economics, probably around the age of 17 or 18 if you don’t come from the sort of family where its in the air you breath. Schools also major on the importance of intellectual capital. They don’t call it that, they call it being bright or high potential. If you have intellectual capital, you are more likely to go to a good university and get on in life. If you have financial capital and intellectual capital, you’re probably in a really good place.

But what happens if you have zero financial capital and average intellectual capital? Presumably, all is lost. Well, no, not exactly, because what schools don’t teach you explicitly is the importance of the third type of capital: your individual social capital. ¬†How good are you at building social networks? Can you work with people? Do you have a high degree of emotional intelligence? The point is that there are many ways to become successful and many combinations of capital that can help you through life, but we do a poor job of helping students understand this. Exams are important, but we all intuitively know that its not the only way forward.

Hard work and good social intelligence can be as powerful as coming from a wealthy family or being born with brains if you recognise what you have and how to use it. Some might consider this a ‘school of life’ approach, but I’d prefer to think of it as more a function of self-awareness than experience. If we’re going to get the best out of everyone, we have to signpost different routes to success as a society, otherwise we risk consigning too many to the scrapheap before they’ve started, which doesn’t work for anyone.

Why Science Matters

Why does science matter? Grand physics experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva or breakthroughs on genome sequencing sound cool, but does it really impact my day to day life? The answer is emphatically yes and a paper published fifty years ago gives us a great example why. Described by Nature magazine as, ‘arguably the greatest climate-science paper of all time’, Syukuro Manabe and Richard Wetherald published the results of their work building a climate model and effectively settled the debate on whether Co2 caused climate change. Scientists had known since 1861 (yes, 1861) that CO2 was a greenhouse gas, but the Manabe and Wetherald paper yielded realistic results as to how it happens. At the time, climate change was not even on the political agenda, but scientists have built on their work and are probably the best hope we have for avoiding catastrophic and unavoidable climate change. Now tell me that science doesn’t intrude into your daily life.

Its yet another example of why collaboration within the scientific community should go unhindered. These are not UK problems, US problems or any other countries problems, they are global problems. Scientists need to move freely if ideas are to move freely. Which means politicians need to get out of the way or we’ll all end up the poorer for it.

Quiet progress on reducing UK carbon footprint

For those of us with a passing interest in the future of the planet (hopefully everyone) or UK energy policy (unlikely to be everyone), there have been some important milestones achieved in the last month that have received varying degrees of attention. On pollution control the UK has performed abysmally. To be blunt, we’re poisoning ourselves. If this was a football match, we’d be losing 0-5 at home. There’s been a lot of noise in the media about diesel cars and air pollution and with some justification. Government seems to have got the advice to motorists wrong. Badly wrong. In the early noughties rush to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, diesel cars and vans were promoted as environmentally sustainable, without any thought of the side effects of using diesel. The Law of Unintended Consequences seems to stalk government decision making more than most. But in keeping with newspaper tradition of reporting the bad news and ignoring the good, they seem to have over looked the fact that UK electricity is quietly getting cleaner. In a big way. There have been multiple days recently when coal made no contribution at all to our electricity supply. As I write this, I can see that nearly 47% of UK electricity is being generated from zero carbon sources and just under 27% of that is from wind and solar*. That’s a big deal in my book. Gas-fired power stations still comprise the biggest source of supply, but they’re considerably cleaner than coal. So whilst we can’t claim three cheers for UK energy policy, we can at least claim two. Its a shame that more hasn’t been made of this – good news makes people feel better and gives us all a stake in a more environmentally friendly future.

* How do I know this you might ask? Because there’s an app for that and you can find it here. A bit geeky, but fun for anyone with an interest in energy policy. Which is probably no one.

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