How to really solve the great challenges of our time

Longitude by Dava Sobel

What if the great problems of our day, problems that cost the lives of thousands could be solved relatively quickly and cheaply?

What is a technique existed that could spur on these solutions?

And, what if the side effects of the innovation was the creation of new industry, prosperity and lower prices.

Look to the Past

Today, we use subsidies. Their track record of delivering success is absyml. It creates an army of officials to administer schemes only a few people ever use and hardly ever reach their stated intention.

Dava Sobel’s book showed me there is another way. If we look to the past, there is a simpler and more effective way to help unlock the great solutions to enormous challenges.

There have always been men and women who are after fame and fortune and all they need is the opportunity.

The Lessons from John Harrison

The life of a relatively unknown English clockmaker provides the answers.

The British Parliament in 1714 set up a prize in the Longitude Act. This was “An Act for Providing a Public Reward for such Persons or Persons as shall discover the Longitude at Sea”.

On 20 July 1714 the British Parliament, then usually very careful with taxpayers money, was prepared to give away tens of millions of pounds, in today’s money, if someone could solve the problem of measuring longitude at sea.

The British Parliament set up a prize that rewarded not only the first prize, but also for the second and third prize by:

  • £20,000 if accurate to 30 miles
  • £15,000 if accurate to 40 miles
  • £10,000 to the discoverer of a method which determined the longitude to 60 geographical miles

They set some conditions down, including:

  • The method had to be proved to be “practicable; and
  • Useful at sea” on a voyage to the West Indies.

Whether the terms had been met was to be administered by:

  • Commissioners—later to be called the Board of Longitude.
  • The Astronomer Royal was ex officio a member of the board.

The provisions were to apply to all who qualified, regardless of nationality. No Little Englander values were tolerated when taking to the greatest challenges of the age.

£20,000 is the equivalent of a few £ million today. And, as income tax was a lot lower, that really was a lot of money.

Why Was It Needed

The reason that the British Parliament set aside so much money was simple. Thousands of people a year died at sea. Boats got off course and either died at the sea or crashed on rocks and all because they did not have any idea where they were in the sea.


An English clockmaker John Harrison devoted his life to this quest. A mix of fame and fortune took an innovative clock maker away from his business to create a watch for seafarers to measure where they were at sea.

The reward may be a small fortune, but those going in for the prize knew they handed over the ownership over.

Don’t Trust The Establishment

Even though John Harrison solved the problem, the Establishment did everything in their powers to stop him.

They passed a new Longitude Acts to stop him winning, and they did so not once but twice.

The Board was full of his enemies who sent his enemies to determine if his innovations worked.

He never did win the Prize. It was never given. The Board dissolved in 1828.

In the end of the day Harrison received £8750 directly fro, the British Parliament. In addition to the advances he had received he nearly got £20,000.

He only got it after his son lobbied the British Parliament and the King. John Harrison published a pamphlet, at his expense, to tell the story about what had happened.

John Harrison revolutionized seafaring. Britannia ruling the waves was due in large part due to a humble perfectionist. He saved the lives but seafarers, but hardly anyone new about him. His invention, the chronometer, does not bare his name.

Some individuals have worked out this is the right way to go. The X Prize is a great example spurning on innovation by individuals. Space travel has been revolutionized by them.


Imagine if Governments copies the British Parliament of 1714.

£10 million tax free for the person who invents clean and cheap energy perhaps seems a pittance compared to the billions burnt in subsidies every year. Copy the idea and offer 2nd and 3rd Prizes as well and you’ll unlock on the desire for fame and fortune amongst billions of people.

Now an army of officials may have to go and do something else other than administering subsidies. Companies dependent on subsidies to exist would go broke.

But, imagine the amazing things that we could solve!

40 years of improvement – the UK Car’s industry


I’ve just got back from a day trip to England. People seemed to be prospering, although a lot of people seemed to have drunk the cool aid that things were so much better before the UK joined the EU in 1972 than they were today.

I was curious. The UK car industry is touted as an example of why membership of the EU has been bad for the UK.

Do the facts add up: Car Production

Car production seems to be doing very well.

I checked on line, and the UK Car makers have this very helpful chart that shows that things really are doing well.

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Also, it seems that a lot of skilled people are working in the UK making these cars.

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A Lot has changed for the better in 40 years

Now, the numbers are down from the 1970s. But, a lot has changed in 40 odd years since the UK joined the EU. A car plant from 1972 and a modern one is a very different place. Computers and robots are two good things and no-strike agreements are another.

Now it seems that British Leyland used to employ nearly 180,000 people in the early 1970s. Now, my recollection was that they produced embarrassing rust buckets that British customers were happy to switch away from to Japanesse cars were allowed in. British customers still had to pay for British Leyland via the infusion of taxpayers’ subsidies. Of course it did work and British Leyland was finally and thankfully closed down.

Some people, like the UK Socialist Party (I was surprised to see they still exist) are against these improvements. Economic nationalism has it appeals, but this the gutter of the economic scoundrel, and the direct pathway to poverty.

People can make a lot more from a lot less. It takes less human and natural resources – and that’s a good thing. That the cars we can buy in the UK are now better, more efficient and reliable, and cost a lot less, is a case for celebration. That we have on offer so many choices from the UK and other countries is a case to rejoice. You can try and stand up against these forces of nature but your chances of succeeding in the real world are about as much as anyone wanting to buy the Austin Allegro.

Biofuels 1st Generation Death Knell in Europe


The lifeline to Europe’s biofuel industry of state subsidies is about to end.
Last Wednesday commissioners backed new environmental state aid guidelines that will ban state subsidies for Europe’s first generation biofuel production. Instead taxpayers money will only be allowed for  second-generation biofuels.
The detailed guidelines can be found here.
This can come up no surprise since the commission adopted the 2030 climate and energy roadmap.  first generation biofuels
 Of course biofuels that can exist in the European market place without state subsidies will continue to thrive. But, a lot of resources by companies taking big bets that were dependent on the continued flow of taxpayers money into their bank accounts by way of price support are likely to be upset. By 2020 the aid cheques will stop.
France’s Commissioner Barnier was the only commissioner to vote against the proposal.

Where Do They Stand on Energy and Climate Change

A useful summary from my colleagues at FH.

European People’s Party (EPP)

 Overall, Climate and Energy do not feature strongly in the EPP’s manifesto. A number of fleeting references are made however such as the EPP “will champion an EU energy market and invest in low carbon technologies”.

Elsewhere, the group says “they [The EPP] are determined to tackle climate change through an efficient use of energy and investment in renewables while preserving Europe’s industrial base through affordable energy prices”.

The Social Democrats (S&D)

In section 9 of the Group’s manifesto titled ‘A Green Europe’, the group say that the EU must “regain global leadership on climate change ” which requires “both close co-operation with our partners and leading by example”.

They call for the implementation of Project Bonds to “finance good investments in the green economy, renewable energy and technology”.

The group specifically says that it supports binding targets for GHG reductions, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Europe’s Liberals (ALDE)

In its Manifesto, the party is much more vocal than either the EPP or S&D about transiting to a low-carbon economy, specifically that “A strong emphasis on renewable energy will create jobs and make us less reliant on energy imports”.

The Party manifesto is quite concrete in terms of policy:

  • ETS: The manifesto says that the ALDE party “will work for a functioning emission trading system to reduce CO2 emissions, and will work to strengthen it as a driver for innovation and energy efficient solutions”. It notes that a well-functioning carbon market is a key tool to reduce GHG emissions effectively.
  • CCS: The group specifically mentions carbon capture and storage.
  • Funding: ALDE will shift EU support under structural and cohesion funds towards research and investment into future orientated sectors such as renewable energy sources sectors.
  • Energy: The group will reinforce the single energy market.

–       The group calls on Europe to take the lead on climate change.


Climate change features predominantly throughout the Green manifesto.

The Party outlines concretely their proposals.

  • They would like the 20% GHG reduction target for 2020 to be increased until 2030.
  • Public institutions, businesses, and especially the financial sector, must be encouraged to divest from climate damaging assets.
  • Public subsidies for fossil fuel investments should be ended.
  • Binding targets for renewables and energy efficiency are essential. The call for a 40% energy efficiency target for 2030 and a 45% binding renewable energy target.

Nuclear: On nuclear the group is very specific saying that nuclear power has “no part in Europe’s energy mix”. They call for a shutting down of risky nuclear power plants, an end to direct or indirect subsidies and insist that operators pay full liability for the damage.

Coal: The group also call for a phasing out of coal.

Shale gas: The group say they will continue their campaign against “the dangerous and damaging practice” of shale gas extraction and call for an immediate ban.

The Group argue that their policy proposals will create jobs, stimulate economic activity and reduce Europe’s dependence on imports.

Looking ahead, the Greens are likely to gain seats in the upcoming election with the two largest delegations French Europe Ecologie and German Die Grünen expected to do well.

European Conservatives and Reformists Group

The Group’s Communique of 20 March makes numerous references to energy.

Interestingly, it says that “Recent events have shown that energy security is a core strategic interest for Member States of the European Union”. Building on this the Group say that the EU should “Make full use of our [Europe’s] indigenous energy resources,” an indirect reference to the Group’s support for shale gas exploration and nuclear energy.

Elsewhere, the call for a single integrated energy market which would mean cheaper prices for consumers and industry.