Artful Codger - Left standing by hi-tech
The frenetic, ever-accelerating pace of modern scientific developments can easily catch out any one of us – and there is no more apt example than Norfolk County Council’s plans to build a waste incinerator at Lynn.
Notwithstanding the doubts of many over the health aspects of waste incineration, at the time the county council made their decision, there were numerous more eco-friendly waste disposal solutions that might have been considered, but were rejected in favour of burning.
Now it looks like even more compelling solutions will soon be available, and by the time the Lynn incinerator is built – if it is ever built – it is going to look as outdated and dead as the dodo and the dinosaurs. What is more, it will be costing the ratepayers of Norfolk millions and millions of pounds – not so much a legacy from the current council leadership, more like a millstone for future generations.
Whole new scientific fields, with revolutionary new techniques, are opening up, and these were highlighted by Science Minister David Willetts, when announcing a £600 million package of investment in British science.
A new scientific field known as “synthetic biology”, which finds ways of using specifically designed bacteria to solve medical and industrial problems, will be handed £50 million of the new money. Mr Willetts said he had been particularly taken by one company TMO Renewables, that had designed a micro-organism capable of turning human waste into biofuels.
“The experts say of synthetic biology that it will feed us, heal us and fuel us,” said Mr Willetts. “TMO Renewables have found a naturally occurring organism which they have slightly modified. It eats rubbish and produces bioethanol.
“Instead of having to build an incinerator, these organisms – which die outside the lab – go into a vat with waste, including human waste. After they ferment it, ethanol is produced. It can be used as a fuel. It is environmentally friendly.
“Using land for bioethanol instead of food has been pushing up food prices. So we can say ‘look, we can convert waste into ethanol and it won’t have the same effect’.”
The funding will be used to help companies and universities to develop their technology and turn it into commercially exploitable products.
I just hope that Eric Pickles, the minister charged with making the final decision on the incinerator project, is keeping his eye on the bigger picture of how rapidly science is advancing and the monumental implications it has for all of us. If he goes ahead and allows it to be built, he will be in danger of looking as out of touch with reality as Norfolk County Council.
We can all be caught out by technology. In my 40 or so years in the newspaper industry, I saw massive changes from letterpress printing right up to desktop publishing. The changes over the decades came at ever-increasing speed, and finally in the period 2008 to 2010 (when I retired) became a torrent which had me struggling at times.
It must all seem equally turbulent to the county councillors – which is why it is vital that they keep up with what is happening in the wider world. It takes courage to admit you are wrong, but you will earn respect for doing so.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Monday 27 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: South west
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
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