Published, The Irish Times, science page, 24th October 2020
Click HERE to listen to report for Drivetime on RTE Radio 1
(Broadcast 5th June, 2017)
Butterflies, and bees provide a number of ecological services essential for any landscape – including pollination and – and their numbers and diversity in an area are considered to be excellent indicators of how well insects generally are doing in a landscape.
To see how they are getting on in the Irish landscape I visited Ballyannan woods near Midleton in Cork. This is an area where cultivated fields with neat rows of potato plants lie next to Ballyannan woods, a mixed woodland, containing sycamore, beech and natural oak trees popular with local walkers.
The diversity of the landscape here makes it an ideal location for the National Biodiversity Data Centre to carry out weekly butterfly monitoring, along the same designated route, for seven months per year.
I met Dr Tomas Murray an ecologist with the Data Centre and members of a diverse butterfly monitoring and counting group, which included students, older people and people working with local community groups.
It was an overcast day, and on days like these, it can be more difficult to catch butterflies, but after a little while we were in luck.
I also spoke to Dr Dara Stanley, a lecturer in Plant Ecology in the Botany and Plant Science Dept at NUI Galway has investigated how human activities are impact on bees in particular, but also butterflies and other insects.
One of Dr Stanley’s research projects focused on the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are used as seed treatments on crops.
Dr Stanley explained to me that the use of chemicals, herbicides and pesticides of all types is killing bees, but also affecting their behaviour and reducing the food that is available to them.
Over the years, many rare species of bumblebee have been migrating westward across Ireland to those areas where hay making, and hay meadows, which are full of flowers, is still common practice.
Changes in agricultural practice too have reduced the places where pollinating insects can live, and reduced the amount of flowers they can eat. The cutting of gardens in suburban landscapes has a similar effect, Dr Stanley said.
Certainly, changes in the landscape over the last half century of so around Midleton and many other parts of Ireland have been dramatic. Much of the change has come about as a result of more intensive use of the land.
The decline of butterflies and bees in Ireland has been dramatic, and the question is what can be done to stop or reverse the decline.
An All Ireland Pollinator Plan, a north-south initiative which began in 2015, set out some specific ways that farmers, gardeners and others can help halt or reverse the decline of our pollinators, butterflies and other insects.
The recommendations for farmers include allowing field margins to grow unmanaged encouraging wild grasses to grow, or to introduce wild flower strips.
For gardeners the message is don’t cut the grass too regularly, every six weeks is enough, and allow one small sunny spot to grow unimpeded.
For now, the decline in our biodiversity is reversible, scientists believe, but if ignore the red flags that nature is raising, we’re likely to pay a heavy price for our inaction.
Report on the curlew for Drivetime on RTE Radio 1The haunting cry of the curlew, the wading bird with the long-curved bill which has been written about in song and verse and was once common across the Irish countryside.
Sadly, there are just 120 breeding pairs of curlew left in Ireland, a bird that has been written about in song and verse and was once so common across the Irish countryside. Thousands of curlew flock to our shores in winter to escape harsh scandinavian winters, native Irish curlew, are now on the verge of extinction.
I went in search of the curlew recently, and began by meeting Alan Lauder, an independent wildlife conservation consultant, and Chair of the Curlew Task Force, set up by the government last November, in a desperate attempt to prevent the disappearance of our native Curlews.
I met Alan in Broad Lough, an estuary of the Varty river, near Wicklow town. It’s one of the many places around the Irish coastline where thousands of foreign-born curlews come to feed and take advantage of the mid Irish climate when they are not breeding. Many people in the conservation community had long suspected that all was not right with the curlew, but until recently nothing was done, Alan told me.
In November of last year, a meeting took place in Mullingar where experts and interested bodies gathered to discuss the plight of the native Irish curlew. The meeting decided that urgent action was required to save the bird, Alan told me.
The following day, still having not seen or heard a curlew, I travelled north in hope, to the village of Carrickroe, Co Monaghan, to meet Anita Donaghy and Joe Shannon of Birdwatch Ireland. Anita who is a project field officer for Birdwatch, gave me the background to the Curlew’s gradual, sad decline.
Joe, who is the local field officer for Birdwatch, travels around the north Monaghan countryside listening for the alarm call of the adult curlew, which indicates that curlew chicks are in the area.
He reassured me that earlier this morning he had found a breeding pair, with chick or chicks, in a newly cut field, in Drumlin country, a couple of miles north of Carrickroe village.
We had finally found a pair of native Irish breeding curlews, with one adult, probably the male, circling constantly, protecting at least one chick on the ground.
The curlew chicks are vulnerable to predators such as the fox, as they are exposed out in the centre of a cut field. The eggs are laid on the ground for one month, and then it takes a further five weeks for the chicks to gain the ability to fly, or fledge. In days gone by, sheer numbers of curlew meant the population remained stable, despite the vulnerability in early life.
Today, however, Birdwatch Ireland estimate that – just for the native curlew population to remain stable – requires each breeding pair to produce one chick, but surveys indicate curlews are only producing one chick for every five pairs.
The suspicion is that curlews are continuing to decline at perhaps a rate of 10 per cent per year, so unless something big is done, the cry of the native curlew will be lost to Ireland forever in a few short years.
The odds appear to be against the survival of the native curlew, but the National Parks and Wildlife Service is not giving up and has introduced measures to reduce the threat from predators,
If the curlew is to survive it will also require farmers to co-operate with conservation efforts in the areas where the curlew remains, and for the public to row in behind with active support through donations or volunteering their help.
Piece for Drivetime, RTE Radio 1
(broadcast, 6th July, 2017)The Atlantic Salmon is one of Ireland’s iconic species, celebrated on our stamps, coins and in the stories that we read to our children.
Yet the numbers of this powerful, tenacious migratory fish have declined by 60 per cent over the last 40 years and there are real fears that the conservation measures underway may not save the salmon from extinction in the long term.
Dr Niall O’ Maoleidigh, fisheries scientist with the Marine Institute, and was my host for recent visit to the Marine Institute Salmon Research Centre just outside of Newport Co Mayo. Niall told me that records are available that show how bad things have become for the native Atlantic salmon.
The Research Centre at Newport has been a base for research on the salmon since 1955. It lies lies just north of Clew Bay, and at the base of the Nephin Beg Mountain Range in an area of stunning natural beauty.
The site is located at the juncture of two connected lakes, a saltwater lake called Lough Furnace that connects to Clew Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and a freshwater lake, Lough Feeagh that provides access to the upriver salmon spawning grounds in the Nephin Beg Range.
This means that all fish movements upstream and downstream from sea to river, and river to sea can be precisely counted using salmon traps.
The adult salmon start to arrive back from their feeding grounds in the Faroe Islands or of western Greenland in the month of June. Some adult salmon may have migrated more than 4,000 miles across open ocean to get home to arrive back at the Burrishoole river.
I went for a walk with Ger Rogan, a researcher at the Marine Institute, who is in charge of the fish census, or counting, programme. Ger showed me the salmon trapping facility and explained how it works.
On the edge
The scientists at Newport know that there are some 600 adult fish associated with the Burrishoole river. That indicates a population living on the edge, as 600 is also the so-called conservation number for this river, meaning the number of adult fish needed to replenish the population.
The Burrishoole river is an index river for the other 144 Irish salmon rivers. This means that the trends affecting this river are seen as indicative for native salmon generally. This suggests salmon across Ireland are living on the edge too.
Pat Hughes, is the rod fishery manager of the Burrishoole fishery and a local man, and he is concerned about the fall in salmon numbers since he began as the fishery manager in Newport in the late 1980s.
I spoke to angler Brian Lovering from Bristol who has been coming for 20 years, despite the steady fall off in salmon numbers. He said he was attracted to the west of Ireland’s unique charm and the friendliness of its people.
Saving the salmon, will require adherence to the strict conservation plans for each of our salmon rivers, added to strong international cooperation to identify and deal with the problems this magnificent fish faces while feeding out at sea.
Listen to discussion on the plastic problem in our seas on Today with Sean O’Rourke RTE Radio 1 (broadcast, 8th March ’16)
Plastic is all around us, in our clothes, glasses, computers, phones, toys and the packaging for food and drink products. Behind most election posters we looked at recently, there were strong plastic cables, holding those posters in place.
Plastic is lightweight, flexible, clear, opaque, almost unbreakable, and cheap to manufacture. It is a wondrous modern product, but it also has a dark side.
In Ireland we are producing in the region of 210,000 tonnes of plastic per year. Yet, we only recycle 36 per cent this plastic waste. That means that more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic here each year ends up buried in landfill sites, where experts say it could take 1,000 years to breakdown, or it finds it way to the sea.
Scientists in Ireland, and elsewhere, have grown concerned about a ‘steady stream’ of plastics entering our oceans and how that is affecting marine life. The evidence now emerging suggests that plastics are disrupting the balance of marine life to such an extent that it presents a real threat to all life on Earth.
About 45% of plastic waste is sent for burning, or waste-to-energy, as some would call it, while 15% or 30,000 tons is sent to landfill each year. The new Dublin ‘Waste-to-Energy’ plant due to open at Poolbeg in 2017, operated by Covanta, may help if it takes plastic waste that currently ends up put into domestic black bins – about 20% of all plastic waste.
Currently municipal solid waste, including plastic waste is sent for burning to European incinerators. Dealing with the plastic here, is in line with the proximity principle – that waste be dealt with as close to source as possible. It will also create jobs.
However, Repak are keen to say to people that they want more plastics put in the recycling, green bin, and not in the black bin, as some still do.
The amount of plastic waste is growing year on year by about 4% so this is not a problem that will be going away. The dumping of plastic waste is a big problem, according to a spokesperson for Repak (Ireland’s only industry-funded packaging recycling firm) with 80% of marine litter being plastic.
Repak that they are seeing less newspapers these days, and more cardboard (as a result of Internet shopping) and more plastic.
It is relatively easy to sort plastic bottles, he said, as they use optical sorters, which spot a bottle on a conveyor line and an air nozzle shoots the bottle off.
Interestingly, he said that some of the worst plastic packaging they have to deal with are rasher packs as they are made from a number of different plastic laminates and are very hard to break down.
This difficult mixed plastic is, however, useful as a ‘solid recovered fuel’ which is used as a replacement for coal in cement kilns.
All of the cement kilns in Ireland use this SRF and this is helping to reduce the amount of coal which we have to import – so plastic is not all bad,
Plastics products have been ubiquitous since around 1939, as during WW11 plastics production increased to replace scarce natural materials such as rubber.
But, it wasn’t until 1972, when scientists, by accident, that plastic waste was becoming a huge problem in our oceans.
A group of marine researchers were on a vessel in the Sargasso Sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, trawling the surface of the ocean to collect a brown algae seaweed called Sargussum why they were interested in studying.
When they hauled in their first catch, they fund lots of tiny plastic particles. Further tows brought in further ‘catches’ of plastic. The finding of plastics in such numbers in the centre of the Ocean was a surprise and a concern.
Now, scientists estimate that there is more than 268,000 tons of plastic in the world’s oceans, some collecting, due to currents, in huge agglomerations of rubbish, and plastic with nicknames like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).
In parts of the GPGP there are 2 million pieces of plastic per square mile of ocean. But, as well as what are called macro-plastics, which can end up inside fish and marine creatures, blocking intestines, there are micro-plastics, which are much smaller, sometimes tiny piece of plastic, which are problematic too.
There are other garbage patches too, one off California, one close to Japan.
Plastic waste can enter the sea from cities and towns on the coastline, but it can also travel along inland waterways from places far from the coastline.
A recent study in the United States, published in the top journal Science, showed how far plastic can travel to end up in the ocean The ocean is always downstream of illegal dumping sites, where rubbish, including plastics, first ends up in rivers, streams and lakes. That’s true in the US, and in Ireland too.
There is clearly a plastic problem in Irish rivers. For example, the River Liffey at the Strawberry Beds outside Dublin. When the river Liffey is low, plastic bags can be seen hanging like vegetation out of trees normally submerged in the water. This plastic will end up, like the Liffey’s waters, entering the Irish Sea.
The extent of the problem of plastic in rivers in developed countries can be judged from the few cities, like Los Angeles and Baltimore, where there are engineering measures in place to prevent waste, including plastic waste, from entering the sea.
In 2015, Baltimore caught 118,670 plastic bottles alone which were prevented from entering the sea, as they would otherwise have done. Baltimore, by the way, has about twice the population of Dublin. If we assume that Baltimore and Dublin are pretty similar economically, then there are more than 50,000 plastic bottles – conservative estimate – entering the sea at Dublin each year.
Particularly damaging are micro-plastics; tiny pieces of plastic, which form when plastics are exposed to sunlight. micro-plastics are consumed by marine river life and then, when they make their way to the sea, by ocean creatures too.
Other research has shown that rivers and lakes in the US are full of tiny fibres of polyester and nylon, which are shed from clothes when they are laundered. The fibres are so small, they wash down drains into sewers and pass through the filtration system of wastewater plants, and end up out in the oceans too.
The fibres are swallowed by fish, and become lodged in their bodies, along with any bacteria or chemicals which may have been attached to the fibres in transit.
Ocean currents can transport plastic huge distances and computer models have shown that some plastics can travel more than 1,000 km in 60 days. So a piece of plastic could enter the sea in Dublin at the start of April, and end up floating off the coast of Lisbon by the end of May. It’s an international problem.
Marine life can mistake the larger plastic pieces for food, and plastics can thus get caught in their intestines. The fish or birds can’t get the plastic out of their bodies, and this hampers their ability to consume nutritional foods they need. They can ultimately end up starving to death. This has been reported in seabirds, turtles, fish and marine mammals.
When plastic pieces are smaller than 5 mm they are called micro-plastics. Micro-plastics act as an attractive solid surface for marine microbes, because nutrients, which the microbes need tend to accumulate on flat surfaces.
Marine creatures consume the micro-plastics, and the level of plastics then enters the marine food chain from the bottom up. There is on definite view on where this might end up, but certainly there are some very bad scenarios.
Amy Lusher, formerly a researcher at NUI Galway, and Simon Berrow, Chief Scientific Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have carried out pioneering research in the problem of plastics at sea.
In May 2013, the two researchers were alerted when three beaked whales were found stranded on the north and west coast of Ireland. These creatures feed on squid in deep waters and little is known about them. They are rare, and it is highly unusual for three to be stranded within a few days and weeks of each other as happened here
An adult female was stranded at Five Fingers Strand in Donegal and two days later a whale calf was found washed ashore about 2km away. Then two weeks later, a second adult female beaked whale was found stranded at Ballyconneely in Co Galway. The immediate questions were why?
Post mortem results found that the two adult females had macro-plastics in their stomachs, while micro-plastics were identified throughout the digestive tract of the single whale that was examined for micro-plastics.
Simon Berrow told me in an email that it was “very disturbing” that micro-plastics were found throughout the digestive tract of the one beaked whale which was examined for micro-plastics, as these whales are offshore, deep-diving species which are very rarely even sighted by humans.
This was the first study, he said, that had directly identified micro-plastics, using a new technology, in the body of a cetacean species. Cetaceans are a group of 88 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise. It suggests that even marine animals at the top of the food chain, feeding in deep waters, are ingesting significant amounts of micro-plastics into their bodies.
Simon is preparing a new research paper on the levels of micro and macro plastics in a range of dolphin species sampled in Irish waters over the last few years, and it will be interested to see if a similar result is confirmed again.
There can be many reasons why a marine creature gets stranded, or washed up on a beach. For example, there has been an increase in the number of dead dolphins washing up on the west coast of Ireland since the start of 2016, with 28 animals stranded, the second highest number every recorded for the first two months of the year.
Most of the strandings, scientists say, were in Mayo, Sligo and Donegal and the evidence showed that the dolphins died when they were caught up in the large fishing nets of foreign registered super-trawlers fishing in Irish waters.
Dolphins and other cetaceans (whales and porpoises) are under pressure in Irish waters from the nest of super-trawlers, as well as depletion of their natural prey – fish – due to over-fishing by the same trawlers. Add to that, the issue of micro-plastics and it’s no surprise to note that dolphin numbers are declining.
It will require a systematic, international response, from governments around the world, but, getting that, is always difficult.
It has been left to individuals to try and do something. For example, Boyan Slat, a Dutch guy in his early twenties, got a lot of publicity in 2013 for coming up with a plan to clean up the ocean using a V-shaped array of floating barriers.
The array was designed in such a way that the plastic pieces concentrated in the centre of the V, where they were then scooped up by a conveyor belt driven by solar panels and dropped in a collecting station for recycling. A modification of this approach will be used off the coast of Japan later this year.
Boyan’s efforts largely went unnoticed until he gave a TEDx talk, called How the Oceans can Clean Themselves’ and this went viral.
Individuals can also help by signing up to an app called Marine Debris Tracker. This involves people on the beach logging litter finds, which is fed into a database which can better help scientists study ocean rubbish patterns.
Barrack Obama signed legislation in December last to ban the use of plastic micro-beads in cosmetics. Micro-beads are used as exfoliating agents, and in toothpaste. They are made from petrochemical plastics like polyethylene, and they are so small that they pass through waste water treatment plants.
The micro-beads remain in the environment for 50 years, and are causing a build up of micro-plastic pollution in places such as Lake Erie in the USA.
The Plastisphere is the term that scientists use to describe how organisms have adapted in the oceans and elsewhere to live in harmony with human-made plastics.
Microbes are naturally attracted to plastics, which provide a solid surface to cling to in open ocean, and an all day buffet, as nutrients collect there too.
Some of the microbes ingest plastic too, and these plastic-loaded microbes are in turn eaten by plankton, which are tiny floating living organisms, which are in turn eaten by larger creatures such as fish and whales.
The reasons that scientists are concerned is that they have no idea how the presence of plastics in the marine food chain will play out into the future.
There is a concern, for example, that this could make global warming worse. Normally, in pre-plastisphere days, the oceans were a ‘carbon sink’ which absorbed excess carbon which could otherwise causing global warming.
This happened because tiny marine plants absorbed carbon dioxide, they were eaten by fish and other creatures, who pooped, and this poop, with carbon in it, fell safely to the bottom of the ocean.
The evidence now shows that plastic in poop causes it to break up easier, and this liberates carbon before it falls to the bottom of the ocean. So there is more carbon available to contribute to global warming.
There is also concern that plastics may be carrying harmful organisms, such as the carol pathogen reported in Hawaii and the Caribbean in 2014.
The worry is that plastics could transport some kind of microbe superbug across the world by travelling via ocean currents. The plastisphere offers microbes the chance to eat well and travel the world, even if they are dangerous pathogens.
The suspicion has to be that while micro-plastics have not been proven by scientists to have detrimental effects on marine life, that is what’s happening.
By the time the definitive proof is available, we may have already done irreparable damage to our oceans, as once something enters the food chain, as micro-plastics have done, it is going to be very difficult to remove it.
Scientists are loath to say seafood is not safe, and it is an important source of protein, as well as Omega 3. It’s know that plastics also attract chemicals, some very nasty ones like mercury, which can end up in the food chain.
The consensus is that the risk from plastics, and the chemicals they attract is still low in fish generally and not enough to outweigh the benefits from eating fish But, if we continue the way we are going, that consensus could change.
Click above to hear discussion broadcast on Today with Sean O’Rourke, RTE Radio 1, 30th November, ’15
Electric cars have been around the late 19th century, but they have never matched the appeal of cars run on either petrol or diesel.
That is all set to change, as the most popular cars on the market in coming decades are likely to be both electric and driverless.
The question is, is Ireland ready for electric, driverless cars, how do they work, are they safe? and how will they potentially make our lives better?
The first commercial electric cars appeared as early as the 1880s and ‘electric drive’ cars as they were called were popular with early drivers.
However, from the turn of the 20th century, there was a growing demand for cheaper automobiles, from the general public.
From the 1920s, petrol was becoming more easily available and cheaper, petrol driven cars had a longer range, had greater horsepower, and the introduction of automatic starting mechanisms in petrol cars increased their appeal to all groups.
Yet, from as early as 1908, when the first Model T Ford’s were mass produced, the popularity of the electric car was waning.
In the mid 1960s the United States Congress introduced the first bills recommending support for the development of a new generation of commercial electric cars to try and deal with the issue of air pollution.
This paved the way for a revival of interest in electric cars in the 1970s, a revival which was further helped following the soar in oil prices following the Oil Crisis of 1973, and the birth of the environmental movement.
It seemed to many back then, 40 years ago, that the time had come for electric cars, but people resisted buying them, due to their cost, so-called ‘range anxiety’ and the daily hassle of recharging their batteries.
The situation stayed like that for the following decades, with electric cars remaining a niche market, but in the last decade two things happened.
Governments, including the Irish government, began actively promoting e cars as a way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas, and to reduce reliance on imports of fossil fuels from The Middle East.
In Ireland this mean grants for people buying e cars (there is a 5k grant in place) and tax relief. Allied to that the ESB began building a network of public charging points, and there are now about 2,000 on the island.
The other thing that happened is that battery technology – which has been slow to develop for technical reasons – has started to improve.
Fully electric cars (there are also electric/petrol and electric/diesel hybrids) are totally dependent on batteries, usually lithium ion types.
These batteries, like the ones in our smartphones, are efficient, but the are expensive. This of course, affects the sale price of e cars.
The e car batteries need to be 80 per cent cheaper, some industry analysts say, in order for e cars to break through into mass use, and truly compete with cars based on the internal combustion engine (ICE).
Some believe it will be possible to make cost cutting improvements to the lithium ion battery, while others say a new battery technology is needed.
Electric are based on pretty simple technology, which hasn’t changed all that much since the first electric cars appeared in the 19th century.
One hundred per cent electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric and the VW e golf all make use of an electric motor.
There is a battery, of a series of connected batteries, that link to the electric motor and provide the power to drive the car forward.
They are green because they are based on electricity rather than petrol or diesel, but, of course, electricity can be produced by burning fossil fuels.
The battery is vital, as it charges the electric motor, and determines how far the car can travel without a charge, and its performance.
The first battery used in any electric vehicle was an old fashioned lead-acid battery which was itself invented in 1859.
The batteries that are, these days, used in electric cars are lithium ion batteries which are light, and have a good ability to store energy.
The problem with lithium ion batteries, as many of us will know from using smartphones, is that they need to be regularly recharged, and that after hundreds of recharges, they can become depleted, and just ‘die’.
So, there is a desperate need for a new battery technology that do not need to be recharged as often, and don’t die with lots of re charges.
From the buyers point of view, the big downside with electric cars is that they have to be recharged for hours, overnight, and that the driver might still, with a long journey, feel that he might needed a top up recharge.
This is something called ‘range anxiety’ and it’s a well known factor that has turns off buyers and that e car makers are trying to address.
Yes, there are a few competing options. Perhaps the most promising is one being developed in the UK at Cambridge University.
Scientists there last month announced they had found a way to develop batteries that are one-fifth the coast and weight of current e car batteries.
The technology is called lithium air technology and it’s important because it can reduce the cost of electric cars, while also enabling them to match the range of petrol and diesel cars.
Electric cars, based on these, the scientists say, could drive from London to Edinburgh with a single charge, hugely increasing the range of e cars.
This new technology also produces batteries which can store a lot of energy, and can recharge thousands of times without the battery dying.
Yet, lithium ion batteries, as well all know from our smartphones, have to be recharged often, and after repeated charging they can gradually die.
A lithium air battery can create a voltage from oxygen molecules – air – in the vicinity of the positive electrode. It appears to be a big breakthrough.
This all looks promising, but it is just emerging from the lab, is at the development stage, and may be a decade before it enters the real world.
Sales of e cars in Ireland remain disappointing low, despite the efforts of Government to promote e cars through subsidies, grants and tax breaks.
The ESB have been actively promoting the greater use of e cars in Ireland by building a network of public charging points and grants. Grants are of 5k are available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland for buyers of new e cars.
Minister Coveney has been pictured driving a fully electric Nissan Leaf, and the ESB has been busy building infrastructure to support e cars.
Yet, in 2014, Ireland’s Central Statistics Office reported that just 222 electric cars were sold, which, is poor, but significantly up on the 55 cars that were sold in 2013.
The Government has set itself a target of 230,000 e cars being in use in Ireland by 2020. We currently have a little over 10,000 e cars here.
To compare, there were 13,929 petrol cars sold in 2014, and 47,559 diesel cars. So, electric is still very much a niche market in Ireland.
Ireland might use Norway as a comparison, a country of similar size, where 23, 390 electric vehicles were registered in 2014 alone.
The Norwegians have encouraged this through the lack of VAT on e cars, and free car parking, free access to bus lanes and free public charging points for e car owners. Ireland has followed some of these measures.
People are still reluctant to purchase e cars, and one of the mainr reasons is the ‘range anxiety’ already mentioned as well as the perceived hassle of charging batteries for hours overnight.
People might also enjoy driving, and feel that an electric car, running silently without gear changes, is not what they traditionally enjoy.
For e cars to really take hold here, the Government might have to follow Norway’s lead and allow e cars travel in bus lanes, and park for free.
Allied to that, the cost of e cars needs to come down. I think they really need to be cheaper than existing petrol or diesel cars to break through.
They might also need to have a ‘unique selling point’ that marks them out as distinctly different or superior to petrol or diesel cars.
There are signs that this might happen, as electric cars are set to become driverless, and that this will happen a lot faster than we might imagine.
Hard-nosed analysts of the global car industry are convinced driverless cars WILL happen, and will happen in the near future.
Certainly, companies with huge reputations like Google, and Apple are reportedly investing in developing a driverless, electric car.
Volvo are working on one too, as are BMW, and legislation has already been passed in some US states permitting cars to be driverless.
VW too, who are under huge pressure these days of course, are reportedly work on an electric driverless car of their own.
The people who look at these things closely are expecting that a driverless car will be for sale inside the next five years.
The market potential is huge, according to the Boston Consulting Group, who estimate the driverless car market will be worth $42 billion by 2015.
The Google X driverless car is expected to hit the market in 2018, with Apple’s Project Titan to arrive in or around the same time.
It is very interesting that technology companies like Google and Apple are investing so heavily and secretively in driverless cars.
These giants clearly believe that people will be travelling in driverless, electric cars in future, using the Net, Apps, or whatever else freely.
Inside a Google car, Google have a captive audience to promote all kinds of other technology which people will use freely on their way to work.
Many of the barriers that would have blocking the development of the driverless car are being removed.
The two biggest blocks are legislation and the willingness of people to use them. A lot is happening on the legislation side.
For example, six states in the US have already passed legislation allowing the testing of driverless cars out on the public roads.
The world has already had its first driverless car crash, which happened in July last when a driverless Lexus crashed and three Google employees got minor injuries.
Also, just last week a the Google driverless car had an encounter with the law in Silicon Valley California for driving 24 mph in a 35 mph zone.
The police officer pulled over the prototype car and spoke with the people inside, but no ticket was issued.
Irish and UK legislation would have to be substantially changed to allow for driverless cars to operate here, but it needs to happen urgently.
The UK is addressing this in law, and we need to too.
The other legal issue people would have is who is to blame if a driverless car crashes. People don’t want to be held account for something that is not under their control – understandably.
This led Volvo last month to say that it would take liability for any crash of any of its driverless cars – others will probably follow.
But, generally speaking the driverless car will be far safer than a car piloted by a human, who may be tired, distracted, or drunk.
We have had technologies in our cars which are not under our control already for years.
The best example perhaps would be ABS braking. This has been around since the 1980s, where control of the braking is taken from the driver to best ensure that wheels don’t lock, and spin out of control.
There are also systems which help us to park -self parking systems – where sensors guide a car as well as cruise control.
But, the vision for a driverless car goes way beyond these familiar features to a situation where a person, or persons, sit in, type or speak in a destination point, and then sit back and relax, read or work.
The driverless car will be able to sense its surrounding using existing technologies like RADAR, GPS and computer vision.
They will update their maps based on sensory input, and be able to track their position everywhere and adjust to all driving conditions.
Most of the ideas for driverless envisage a person in a driver’s seat, with a cloud, or wifi connection to other vehicles all around them.
The vehicles will communicate each other’s position and destination, and share the sensory input on road blocks, accidents or weather conditions.
All that intelligence will better get everyone safely from A to B. Dublin might have a swarm of electric vehicles, efficiently moving all of us.
A giant, traffic management system, with zero pollution, and an order of magnitude safer than what have. Safety, and efficiency might drive this.
It is not about breakthrough technology it is about incorporating a range of existing technology into a 21st century vehicle, which has, up to now, been run on an internal combustion engines, born in the 19th century.
The honeybee is a vital pollinator of crops that enable humans to survive on this planet, yet, in the U.S.A. half of managed honeybee populations have disappeared in the last 10 years.
The U.S. administration was so alarmed about the threat to human existence this represents that President Obama, in 2014, launched a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and other Pollinators.
We discuss the theories put forward to explain why honeybees are in trouble, and the main planks of the U.S. strategy to maintain and build up honeybee numbers again.
Most of us love our TV, but large screen LED TVs can take up a lot of space, when fixtures, fittings, and the width of the set are all taken into account. Imagine a large screen TV, just 1 mm in width, that can be stuck to the wall for viewing, and peeled off and put away when not required.
South Korean electronics giant, LG, say such ultra-thin, wide screen TVs will be available for sale in Autumn this year. They are based on new technology which removes the need for bulky light boxes.
We’ve heard the expression being ‘drunk in love’. Well, scientists have found that the effect of alcohol is very similar on the mind and body, as the impact of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin.
Scientists have long wondered why sleep, which made our ancestors, vulnerable to attack, evolved in human beings. They are finding that it has a lot to do with making sense of each day’s experience.
We also discuss how Japanese scientists are making remarkable progress with a ‘dream reading machine’ that can predict the content of people’s dreams – after the fact – with up to 80 per cent accuracy.
Listen below to discuss on all of the above with Declan Meehan on The Morning Show with Declan Meehan.
This was first broadcast on 21st May 2015
DNA, the famous ‘code for life’ can help catch a criminal, prove parentage, or link someone with a long-lost cousin. It can also provide clues as to what species of plants and animals might survive or disappear with global warming.
The Earth has been a lot cooler, and warmer at various times in its past, and such changes have often led to large-scale extinctions of many species. The question for scientists is: Why did some survive, while others perished?
Dr Louise Allcock, a zoologist based at NUI Galway, has been using DNA to determine what exactly happened to the number and distribution of particular animal species during past Ice Ages in Antarctica.
This evidence from the past can provide a clue as to what might happen to animals worldwide with global warming.
It could provide an early warming system for species that are likely to get in trouble with global warming, and, thereby, allow some time for experts to put a conservation strategy in place.
LISTEN: Interview with Dr Louise Allcock
Broadcast on 2nd August 2012 on Science Spinning on 103.2 Dublin City FM.
Broadcast on 103.2 Dublin City FM, Science Spinning with Seán Duke, on 09/06/2011
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