Environment

Uber Destroys More Value: Demolishes Bikes from Failed Rental Businesses Rather Than Donate Them

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 7:00pm in

Uber behaves badly yet again.

So everybody should just stay poor, George?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 7:54am in

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Environment

So George has identified the criminals in the global warming crime, the rich (that's us), and the innocent, the poor (largely black and brown people). He identifies us as racist too.

Yes, You Can Drink the Water: Clean and Safe Public Water Supplies. Microplastics, A Plea for a Modest Post Coronavirus Priority

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/05/2020 - 2:55am in

Leaders of countries should consider what they must do to ensure we can drink the water in a world after we have learned to cope with coronavirus.

Battle brewing over AGL's plans to turn Westernport into a gas factory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 8:18am in

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Environment

In Victoria's Westernport Bay, a battle has ignited over energy corporation AGL's plans to build a massive new gas import terminal at Crib Point.

Crossroads for Planet of the Humans

By William Rees

 

[Editor’s Note: The Steady State Herald first published a review of Planet of the Humans on May 1. The following review adds valuable information to the dialog.]

“It stands to reason…”

Who hasn’t heard this expression in everyday conversation? Humans tend to think of themselves as rational beings, and many people sincerely believe they are being reasonable all the time.

However, human reason invariably operates in a straitjacket. Even the most elevated of human thought is constrained by life experience and the unquantifiable set of beliefs and values, as well as facts and assumptions, that every individual acquires by growing up in a particular cultural environment. Life experience determines a person’s perception of reality. Unsurprisingly, people are most comfortable when the universe unfolds in harmony with their culturally preset notion of how things ought to be.

Of course, in complex societies there are many potential versions of “truth” on any particular subject. “Reality”—or rather, our socially-constructed perception of reality—comes in many guises.

Herein lies potential chaos. It starts when a line of thought taken for granted by a group of people who share the same cultural narrative is disputed by another group who observe a different set of beliefs, values, and assumptions.

Renewable energy

Politicians, corporations, and big environmental NGOs claim that renewable energy can support the economy. Really? At what level and at what cost? (Image: CC0, Credit: Kenueone)

Consider the dilemma of modernity. Propelled by fossil fuels, our increasingly global techno-industrial (mainly capitalist) society has generated unprecedented material prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. This extraordinary progress leads us to believe an endless energy bounty will support the ten billion humans expected on the planet by mid- to late century. The catch is that this same success is already well on the way to depleting and polluting the seas, denuding the continents of forests, displacing the world’s wildlife, and triggering climate change.

This is not a problem according to the cultural mainstream. Radiating self-confidence and buoyed by unquestioned past material success, the political and corporate leadership seem confident that human ingenuity (our greatest resource) will prevail. They argue that we have already found economically viable renewable substitutes for fossil fuels such as biomass, wind turbines, and solar photo-voltaic arrays. These alternatives should enable economic growth to continue indefinitely, bringing the affluence needed to “fix” the ecosphere. The big environmental NGOs have climbed on board for pushing the techno-fix narrative, and most citizens are only too happy to go along for the business-as-usual ride.

Not everyone is jumping on the pro-growth bandwagon, however. A surge of scientists and citizens has written a competing narrative. This renegade group reasons that wind and solar technologies are quantitatively insufficient to power modern society, contribute to ecological destruction, and are heavily subsidized by fossil fuels and not really renewable. To them, the only reasonable “solution” to the ongoing climate and eco-catastrophe, difficult as it may be to achieve, is adapting to much lower levels of energy and material consumption, sharing existing income/wealth, and learning to live within the biophysical means of nature.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs challenge the notion of “green growth.” (Image: CC BY-SA 2.0, Nicolas Genin)

This new movement has been growing steadily and waiting to catch fire politically. While there has been a deepening discussion about the impacts of the economy on the environment, there has also been a significant lack of media coverage about it. That was, however, until a few weeks ago, when one documentary ignited the argument against economic growth: Planet of the Humans.

The Gibbs/Moore production has ignited a conflagration of competing worldviews unparalleled by any debate about alternative energy sources in the history of the environmental movement. As a human ecologist, I’ll admit up front that I am in the renegade camp, but I am not blinded to certain weaknesses in Gibbs’ take on our dilemma. This film contains many pros and cons when framing the conversation of environmental protection. Let’s explore what Planet provided.

The Underbelly of Environmental Organizations

Planet of the Humans does a great service in eroding faith in renewable energy, particularly the travesty of broad-scale biomass energy. It achieved less than it could in undermining wind and solar power. This is a shame since the loudest screams of “foul” come from wind/solar advocates, and there are plenty of recent analyses and data which the film could have drawn on to cut them off. It’s an ironic weakness, because the films critics are most adamant about how “dated” the wind/solar information is. Yes, it’s dated, but on both sides of the argument about whether wind/solar is capable of replacing fossil fuels at the current size of economy.

The film also succeeds in skewering several environmental organizations and popular heroes in the process. Though it’s difficult to watch the hypocrisy of environmental champions unveiled, investigating into these advocacy groups is important and necessary. For instance, Gibbs reveals the large and mainstream environmental organizations are highly dependent on the corporate sector for their financing, either directly or indirectly. This certainly compromises what they can say about the (corporate) values of society and helps to explain why so many environmental NGOs support capital-intensive (i.e., profit-oriented) approaches to energy supply and climate change—e.g., electric cars, solar photovoltaics, wind turbines, carbon capture and storage, etc. These organizations make us think they are saving the planet by introducing “green” tech; yet they are supporting—and enjoying the support of—the corporate giants that contribute to destroying the earth. Even the Green New Deal is a false-promise approach that suggests all we have to do is invest in techno-fixes to continue on our growth-bound path.

A Better Refute Against Renewables Replacing Fossil Fuels

As noted above, up-to-date data are important, and accurate data even more so. Planet of the Humans relies excessively on old research and off-the-cuff comments from interviewees. Gibbs/Moore could have better supported their case by referencing current issues with “green” technology, including extended net energy analysis from mine-shaft through operation, as well as the decommissioning of commercial wind turbine and solar installations.

Solar panels in Germany

Germany: Powered by renewables? (Image: CC BY-SA 3.0, Andrew Glaser)

However, Gibbs does bring a critical question to light: Are renewables effectively displacing fossil fuels?

Let’s look first at the case of Germany, a leader in green energy investment. According to Clean Energy Wire, while wind and solar make a significant contribution to German electricity production (21 percent and 8 percent respectively) these two sources supply a mere 5 percent of German primary energy consumption (3.5 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively). Biomass—largely green trees as Gibbs pointed out—supplies a full 7.6 percent. Meanwhile, fossil fuels still account for about 78 percent of primary consumption, and carbon emissions have been more or less plateaued for a decade. (Yes, carbon emissions did drop in Germany in 2019, by about 6 percent, but 2019 also marked a sharp slump in German GDP growth, especially in the industrial sector). All this despite hundreds of billions invested in wind and solar energy. Furthermore, keep in mind that wind and solar require full backup power, either domestic or imported. (Note this well: It is a common error to conflate electricity generated with total energy demand/consumption. The former is typically only about 20 percent of the latter.)

Then there’s the global picture to consider. According to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019, in 2018, fossil fuels supplied 11,743.6 Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent) or 85 percent of the world’s primary energy, while non-hydro renewables (mostly commercial biomass, wind, and solar) contributed only 561.3 Mtoe (4 percent).

Are renewables catching up? While the contribution of non-hydro renewables to global primary consumption has expanded by 437 Mtoe since 2008 (16 percent per year), consumption of fossil fuels increased by about 1,750 Mtoe (about 1.5 percent/yr) in the same period. This marginal increase is over three times the total supplied by non-hydro renewables in 2018. This same year, consumption of non-hydro renewables increased by 71.1 Mtoe (14.5 percent), but fossil fuels were up by 276.3 Mtoe (2.4 percent).

Bottom line? Starting from a much larger base, the pre-pandemic annual absolute growth in fossil fuel production/consumption continues to outpace that of renewables, especially non-hydro-renewables, by a wide margin, despite the higher relative growth rate of renewables. Nothing suggests this will change while economic growth remains the goal, especially since new technology requires economic growth based on current levels of technology.

Bountiful Energy Could Do More Harm Than Good

Gibbs underplays (and the subsequent criticism I have seen entirely misses) a critical point: Even if renewables were “the answer”—i.e., even if our techno-industrial, capitalist growth succeeds in contriving any cheap, plentiful substitute for fossil fuels—it would be catastrophic. Without a sea change in expansionist values and our anthropocentric approach to the natural world, humans will simply use the energy bounty to complete their dismemberment of Earth. (Planet’s horrific sequences of stranded orangutans—their habitats destroyed for palm oil and sugar cane for “green energy”—is perhaps the most illustrative example of this potential destruction.)

In short, it’s really beside the point whether “100 percent renewable energy” is possible because any techno-fix would be disastrous given the prevailing cultural narrative and macroeconomic goals.

The Bottom Line

Planet of the Humans is far from inaccurate in undermining today’s overconfidence in renewables and mainstream environmental NGOs but is arguably a bit unfair to some individuals. Gibbs engages people on both sides of a complicated issue, selectively goring some. Wherever one stands on the issue of sustainable energy, though, Planet of the Humans is proving to be a deeply moving and motivating production.

And now there is a complicating—but possibly complementary—factor. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an unscheduled opportunity to rethink our energy and economic futures. The real planet of humans is at a crossroads: Pre-pandemic trends will not simply resume as if nothing had happened.

Homo sapiens is an allegedly rational species. Virtually everyone agrees that we must avoid an ecosystem collapse and reverse global warming. We also recognize that if civilization is to persist, we must have energy sources. So, what is the solution that balances these two issues?

CASSE’s push for the steady state economy is certainly one of the most rational answers to that question. It really ”stands to reason” that we need an economy that fits on the planet, using a reasonable amount of energy from renewable sources and with processes that don’t destroy our ecosystems. Reducing energy use to that reasonable amount surely entails real (not just political) degrowth. “Degrowth toward a steady state economy” summarizes the solution quite well.

William Rees is a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former Director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning, best known for ecological footprint analysis.

The post Crossroads for <em>Planet of the Humans</em> appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.


Only government can fund the Green New Deal: the deficit obsession has to end

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 6:56pm in

I share this post from the Tax Justice Network blog with permission. There are small points where I would put this emphasis in a different place, but the key message that it is for government to fund the Green New Deal and run deficits to do so is spot on.

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Last week we published the second part of our Tax Justice Focus special on climate crisis and tax justice. This blog reproduces the lead article by famed German economist Peter Bofinger, in which he argues the case for a radical transformation of our understanding of how economics works, and why the state must take the financial lead in investing in a fossil fuel-free future. Please note that this article was written before the Covid-19 pandemic required neoliberal-leaning states to actively intervene to protect their economies from total meltdown. Click here to download the first and second parts of our Tax Justice Focus special.

By Peter Bofinger[1]

To take climate change seriously, we must completely transform how we generate, transmit and store energy.  We need to change the ways in which people and things move around. We must retrofit and refurbish our homes and offices and public buildings, to make them friendlier to the climate. As Jeremy Rifkin has rightly said, we need a Third Industrial Revolution.

This raises a big question. How can we pay for it?

To raise finance on the enormous scale required, only a few options are possible.

The first could be to tax carbon. But the big problem here is that this will tend to make fuel more expensive, which will in turn tend to hurt poorer sections of society the most.  When French President Emmanuel Macron tried to impose new fuel taxes in 2018, protests by the Gilets Jaunes  (or Yellow Vests) erupted on French streets, eventually forcing him to reverse course.  The way around these potentially insurmountable political difficulties is to return the proceeds of carbon taxes (or the revenues from carbon trading schemes, as Prof. Jim Boyce argues elsewhere in this edition,) directly and equally to each citizen, as ‘carbon dividends’.  So if such schemes are put in place, the revenues will likely have to flow back to the population, instead of being invested in green projects.  Wealth taxes and higher corporate taxes can contribute, but to raise funds at the vast scales required are unrealistic.

Could we finance a third industrial revolution through public-private partnerships, where financial institutions raise the funds to finance green projects?  This may help in some situations, but governments can generally borrow so much more cheaply than private sector actors can, so this is an extremely expensive option. (Elsewhere in this edition, Prof. Daniela Gabor raises additional warnings in about relying heavily on private finance.)

The only other solution that is big enough to address the challenge is for governments to borrow to pay for the green transformation. Interest rates are at historically low rates – bonds issued by some governments currently enjoy negative yields. There is no sign of inflation, and ample room for borrowing.  So in this environment, government borrowing is by far the best way to pay for the green transformation.

But there is an obstacle. That obstacle is a mindset, which says that governments must not borrow, they must not add to the national debt, and they must not spend more than they receive in revenue. Budget deficits must be zero.  We Germans call this Schwarze Null, or Black Zero.

And here is the crux of the current problem facing Europe. If Black Zero says you cannot borrow to invest, then we cannot pay for a credible green transformation, at least without savage, economy-damaging cuts elsewhere.

Yet in Germany there is a broad consensus that while climate change is important, Black Zero is much more important. We need Black Zero, the thinking goes, to protect our children and our grandchildren from large public debts.  Black Zero first, climate second. And Germany is the most powerful country in Europe – so this way of thinking suffuses European policy-making.

Where does this bias against deficits come from?  In Germany there are historical reasons for its existence: old memories of hyper-inflation, and more?  But in fact, it is taught in standard economics textbooks around the world, and a generation or more of economists has fallen under its spell.

For instance, in his popular book The Principles of Economics, Greg Mankiw says that public debt “crowds out” private debt.  That is in the main introductory text that millions of students have read, and it’s presented as a fact of life: that whenever a government increases its debt and runs a deficit, this reduces private savings and private investment. They do not qualify this in any way in this main text book.

But this argument is completely wrong.  It rests on the outdated classical logic of a corn economy.  The idea is that if a household saves corn, and the government grabs some of that corn, then there is less corn to plant or to eat. That may be true for a household that saves corn. But they are untrue if there is a financial system.  The government does not absorb someone else’s money when it borrows and spends.  As John Maynard Keynes explained, you don’t have to consume less to get financing: it comes from banks or from capital markets. The financial system creates money. And when the government borrows it spends the money into the economy immediately. (This idea is also embedded in Modern Monetary Theory, by the way.)

Another related theory, known as Ricardian Equivalence, says that the government is like a household, and if it borrows today it must repay it eventually through higher taxes in future years. So, this theory goes, it is kindest to our children to reduce government debt eventually to zero.

But again, this makes no sense. If you can borrow money at a one percent annual interest rate, for example, and invest the proceeds in a project that will yield four percent returns, your economy – and likely your children – will be better off? The ensuing growth of your economy means that this productive borrowing could also reduce your debt as a share of your economy. And if you can borrow at negative interest rates – as you can now – this equation becomes even more attractive.  Not only that, but government bonds are safe assets: people in the financial sector right now are worrying that there are not enough safe assets.  And there is high demand for green bonds.

The money is there for the taking.  Yet this anti-borrowing obsession has been embedded into German and European institutions for decades. For example, in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that established the European Union, it was decided that governments should bring their debts down to or below 60 percent of GDP. But 60 percent is a totally arbitrary number!  A doctor who tried to treat a patient on such a basis would be sued.  It inflicts pain. If a debt limit means you spend less on the things that matter, then it is almost criminal.

Germany’s climate package approved in December last year is another case in point. It says that we do not want to tax carbon immediately: we can wait until 2021. If you subtract revenues from trading carbon certificates, Germany envisages spending just 0.2 to 0.3 percent of GDP. This is peanuts. It will not tackle climate change effectively.

China, by contrast, has been running double digit deficits for years (if you include national and provincial government budgets). It has borrowed enormous sums, spent more on renewable energy in the past decade than the United States, Japan and Germany combined, and enjoyed large economic growth at the same time. Especially for large economies, there are almost no limits to the deficits that countries can run.

Public debt is a bit like drinking. Excessive drinking is obviously bad. So what is the right amount?

A good way to decide is to avoid textbook theories and to follow the “Golden Rule” for fiscal policy.  If governments make investments from which future generations benefit – as with green investments – why should it pay for those from current revenues?  And green investments can be highly productive: if we retrofit the whole housing stock for energy efficiency, for instance, there can be major energy savings, potentially making these investments very profitable in economic terms.

There is more good news here. The Euro area could stabilise its current debt to GDP ratio at around 90 percent, while running a 2.7 percent fiscal deficit, assuming a reasonable nominal GDP growth rate of 3 percent per year.  People are talking about a Green New Deal (GND) requiring €150-200 billion per year, which is worth just 1.3 – 1.7 percent of GDP. So we could finance the European GND, with plenty left over for other spending priorities, and without even increasing European debt levels.  (And even if we did increase the debt, it would likely harm neither us nor future generations anyway.)

We could increase borrowing in several ways. One would be to exclude green investments from the European Stability and Growth Pact, which forces European governments to curb deficits and borrowing. Another way is to issue Euro-bonds with joint liability, justified by the fact that the climate isn’t a national issue but a European (and global) one. A third way, suggested by Paul de Grauwe, is for the European Investment Bank to issue bonds to finance green investments, and for the European Central Bank to then purchase these bonds as part of its long-term asset-buying programme.

I only see two potential constraints here. One is labour: massive green infrastructure investment requires a lot of labour that cannot be done by robots. But with widespread automation and digitalisation threatening many jobs, job creation is likely to be highly positive for Europe.

The second obstacle is Germany.  The mindsets on debt in Germany are rigid, even if some economists are at last starting to think differently. This is the real constraint on financing the Green New Deal.

The money is there. The Golden Rule has never been more appropriate than today, when we have such low interest rates, and even negative rates. Almost nothing can go wrong if we borrow more to finance this productive investment.

If not now, when?

A video of Mr. Bofinger’s talk can be seen here.

[1] Peter Bofinger is a Professor of Monetary and International Economics at the University of Würzburg, and was a member of Germany’s five-strong Council of Economic Experts from 2004-2019.

Investment in sustainable energy is collapsing just when we most need a Green New Deal

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 5:52pm in

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Environment

I thought I had found the most depressing news story of the day already, and then I found this, in The Guardian:The Guardian:

Investment in global energy will fall by $400bn (£324bn) this year, the biggest slump in the industry’s history, as the Covid-19 pandemic fuels a collapse in energy demand.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the unprecedented investment slump follows the most severe plunge in energy demand since the second world war. The price of oil suffered an historic market crash last month when US oil prices turned negative for the first time.

So far, so unsurprising, but then they noted:

The IEA said the decline in investment is “staggering in both its scale and swiftness” and will impact every major sector, from fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal to renewable sources including wind and solar power.

And they added:

In a report, the IEA said the decline in investment in areas such as clean energy technology could undermine the transition to renewable, sustainable sources of energy.

“The crisis has brought lower emissions but for all the wrong reasons,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “If we are to achieve a lasting reduction in global emissions, then we will need to see a rapid increase in clean energy investment. The slowdown in spending on key clean energy technologies also risks undermining the much-needed transition to more resilient and sustainable energy systems.”

This is deeply worrying. What we most urgently need us a Green New Deal to get us out if the mess we are in and to save us from the vastly bigger climate crisis to come. If Covid-19 delays the transition to sustainable energy then we are in the deepest possible trouble. And only government action can prevent that now.

We need  the biggest ever investment that the world has ever seen now. But do we have the politicians with any of the vision required to deliver that?

Time to take the COP 26 talks away from the UK if we are unable to deliver them

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/05/2020 - 5:14pm in

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Environment

The Guardian has the most depressing news story of the day:

Vital international climate talks due to be hosted by the UK are expected to be delayed until late next year because of the coronavirus crisis, it has emerged, dashing hopes they could be reconvened sooner.

The UN talks, known as Cop26, were to be held in Glasgow this November, but in early April they were postponed as governments around the world grappled with lockdown. At that time governments thought the summit could be reconvened within the first three months of 2021.

However, at a follow-up UN meeting on 28 May the UK will try to persuade other countries and the UN that a much longer delay is necessary and talks should be moved to the first half of November 2021, the Guardian has learned.

So we can apparently manage Brexit on time.

And we can have a Covid-19 crisis, in no small part of the government's own creation now, but we cannot manage to hold a conference on the most pressing crisis facing the world?

I hate to say it, but the world does, in that case, need to take this conference away from the UK, which the world should rightly see as a failed state in this context, and give the leadership of this event to a government with the competence to manage it.

We cannot afford this delay. And I have no doubt that it is entirely deliberate.

Study: Hunters Kill Birds During Their Annual Migrations Through the East Asian-Australasian Flyway

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/05/2020 - 11:55pm in

Study: hunters slaughter birds as the undertake their annual migrations in chokepoints along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.

80s Space Comedy From Two of the Goodies

Astronauts, written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, 13 episodes of 25 minutes in length. First Broadcast ITV 1981 and 1983.

I hope everyone had a great Bank Holiday Monday yesterday, and Dominic Cummings’ hypocritical refusal to resign after repeatedly and flagrantly breaking the lockdown rules aren’t getting everyone too down. And now, for the SF fans, is something completely different as Monty Python used to say.

Astronauts was a low budget ITV sitcom from the very early ’80s. It was written by the two Goodies responsible for writing the scripts for their show, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and based on the personal conflicts and squabbling of the American astronauts on the Skylab programme six years earlier. It was about three British astronauts, RAF officer, mission commander and pilot Malcolm Mattocks, chippy, left-wing working-class engineer David Ackroyd, coolly intellectual biologist Gentian Fraser,and their dog, Bimbo,  who are launched into space as the crew of the first all-British space station. Overseeing the mission is their American ground controller Lloyd Beadle. Although now largely forgotten, the show lasted two seasons, and there must have been some continuing demand for it, because it’s been released nearly forty years later as a DVD. Though not in such demand that I didn’t find it in DVD/CD bargain catalogue.

Low Budget

The show’s very low budget. Lower than the Beeb’s Blake’s 7, which often cited as an example of low budget British science fiction. There’s only one model used, that of their space station, which is very much like the factual Skylab. The shots of their spacecraft taking off are stock footage of a Saturn V launch, the giant rockets used in the Moon landings and for Skylab. There also seems to be only one special effects sequence in the show’s entire run, apart from outside shots. That’s when an accident causes the station to move disastrously out of its orbit, losing gravity as it does so. Cheap matte/ Chromakey effects are used to show Mattocks rising horizontally from his bunk, where he’s been lying, while Bimbo floats through the bedroom door.

Class in Astronauts and Red Dwarf

It’s hard not to compare it with the later, rather more spectacular Red Dwarf, which appeared in 1986, three years after Astronaut’s last season. Both shows centre around a restricted regular cast. In Red Dwarf this was initially just Lister, Holly and the Cat before the appearance of Kryten. Much of the comedy in Red Dwarf is also driven by their similar situation to their counterparts in Astronauts – personality clashes in the cramped, isolated environment of a spacecraft. The two shows are also similar in that part of this conflict from class and a Conservative military type versus working class cynic/ liberal. In Red Dwarf it’s Rimmer as the Conservative militarist, while Lister is the working class rebel. In Astronauts the military man is Mattocks, a patriotic RAF pilot, while Ackroyd, the engineer, is left-wing, Green, and affects to be working class. The three Astronauts also debate the class issue, accusing each other of being posh before establishing each other’s place in the class hierarchy. Mattocks is posh, but not as posh as Foster. Foster’s working class credentials are, however, destroyed during an on-air phone call with his mother, who is very definitely middle or upper class, and talks about going to the Conservative club. In this conflict, it’s hard not to see a similarity with the Goodies and the conflict there between the Conservative screen persona of Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie’s left-wing, working class character.

Class, however, plays a much smaller role in Red Dwarf. Lister is more underclass than working class, and the show, set further in the future, has less overt references to contemporary class divisions and politics. The humour in Red Dwarf is also somewhat bleaker. The crew are alone three million years in the future, with the human race vanished or extinct with the exception of Lister. Rimmer is an ambitious failure. For all he dreams of being an officer, he has failed the exam multiple times and the B.Sc he claims is Batchelor of Science is really BSC – Bronze Swimming Certificate. Both he and Lister are at the lowest peg of the ship’s hierarchy in Red Dwarf. They’re maintenance engineers, whose chief duties is unblocking the nozzles of vending machines. Lister’s background is rough. Very rough. While others went scrumping for apples, he and his friends went scrumping for cars. The only famous person in his class was a man who ate his wife. The three heroes of Astronauts, however, are all competent, intelligent professionals despite their bickering. Another difference is that while both series have characters riddled with self-loathing, in Red Dwarf it’s the would-be officer Rimmer, while in Astronauts is working class engineer Ackroyd.

Britain Lagging Behind in Space

Other issues in Astronauts include Britain’s low status as a space power. In a speech in the first episode, the crew express their pride at being the first British mission, while paying tribute to their American predecessors in the Apollo missions. The Ealing comedy The Mouse on the Moon did something similar. And yet Britain at the time had been the third space power. Only a few years before, the British rocket Black Arrow had been successfully launched from Woomera in Australia, successfully taking a British satellite into orbit.

Personal Conflicts

There are also conflicts over the cleaning and ship maintenance duties, personal taste in music – Mattocks irritates Ackroyd by playing Tubular Bells, publicity or lack of it – in one episode, the crew are annoyed because it seems the media back on Earth have forgotten them – and disgust at the limited menu. Mattocks is also shocked to find that Foster has been killing and dissecting the mice he’s been playing with, and is afraid that she’ll do it to the dog. Sexism and sexual tension also rear their heads. Mattocks fancies Foster, but Ackroyd doesn’t, leading to further conflict between them and her. Foster, who naturally wants to be seen as an equal and ‘one of the boys’ tries to stop this by embarrassing them. She cuts her crew uniform into a bikini and then dances erotically in front of the two men, before jumping on them both crying ‘I’ll have both of you!’ This does the job, and shames them, but Beadle, watching them gets a bit too taken with the display, shouting ‘Work it! Work it! Boy! I wish I was up there with you boys!’ Foster also objects to Mattocks because he doesn’t help his wife, Valerie, out with the domestic chores at home. Mattocks also suspects that his wife is having an affair, which she is, in a sort-of relationship with Beadle. There’s also a dig at the attitudes of some magazines. In the press conference before the three go on their mission, Foster is asked by Woman’s Own if she’s going to do any cooking and cleaning in space. Beadle and his team reply that she’s a highly trained specialist no different from the men. The joke’s interesting because in this case the butt of the humour is the sexism in a certain type of women’s magazine, rather than chauvinist male attitudes.

Cold War Espionage

Other subjects include the tense geopolitical situation of the time. Mattocks is revealed to have been running a secret espionage programme, photographing Russian bases as the station flies over them in its orbit. The others object, and Ackroyd is finally able to persuade Beadle to allow them to use the technology to photograph illegal Russian whaling in the Pacific. This is used to embarrass the Russians at an international summit, but the questions about the origin of the photos leads to the espionage programme being abandoned. The crew also catch sight of a mysterious spacecraft in the same orbit, and start receiving communications in a strange language. After initially considering that it just might be UFOs, it’s revealed that they do, in fact, come from a lonely Russian cosmonaut. Foster speaks Russian, and starts up a friendship. When Mattocks finds out, he is first very suspicious, but then after speaking to the Russian in English, he too becomes friends. He’s the most affected when the Russian is killed after his craft’s orbit decays and burns up re-entering the atmosphere.

Soft Drink Sponsorship

There are also digs at commercial sponsorship. The mission is sponsored by Ribozade, whose name is a portmanteau of the British drinks Ribeena and Lucozade. Ribozade tastes foul, but the crew nevertheless have it on board and must keep drinking it. This is not Science Fiction. One of the American missions was sponsored by Coca Cola, I believe, and so one of the space stations had a Coke machine on board. And when Helen Sharman went into space later in the decade aboard a Russian rocket to the space station Mir, she was originally to be sponsored by Mars and other British companies.

God, Philosophy and Nicholas Parsons

The show also includes arguments over the existence or not of the Almighty. Mattocks believes He exists, and has shown His special favour to them by guiding his hand in an earlier crisis. Mattocks was able to save them, despite having no idea what he was doing. Ackroyd, the sceptic, replies that he can’t say the Lord doesn’t exist, but can’t see how God could possibly create Nicholas Parsons and Sale of the Century, one of the popular game shows on ITV at the time, if He did. As Mattocks is supposed to be guiding them down from orbit, his admission that he really didn’t know what he was doing to rescue the station naturally alarms Foster and Ackroyd so that they don’t trust his ability to get them down intact.

Red Dwarf also has its jokes about contemporary issues and politics. Two of the most memorable are about the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer being covered with a gigantic toupee, and the despair squid, whose ink causes its prey to become suicidal and which has thus destroyed all other life on its world in the episode ‘Back to Reality’. Other jokes include everyone knowing where they were when Cliff Richard got shot. Red Dwarf, however, is much more fantastic and goes further in dealing with philosophical issues, such as when Rimmer is incarcerated in a space prison where justice is definitely retributive. If you do something illegal, it comes back to happen to you. This is demonstrated when Lister follows Rimmer’s instruction and tries to set his sheets alight. He shortly finds that his own black leather jacket has caught fire.

Conclusion

Red Dwarf is able to go much further in exploring these and other bizarre scenarios as it’s definitely Science Fiction. Astronauts is, I would argue, space fiction without the SF. It’s fictional, but based solidly on fact, including generating gravity through centrifugal force. But critically for any comedy is the question whether its funny. Everyone’s taste is different, but in my opinion, yes, Astronauts is. It’s dated and very much of its time, but the humour still stands up four decades later. It had me laughing at any rate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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