How will new Labour government fight climate change? ...Tech & Science Daily podcast

New Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer speaks outside No 10 Downing Street (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
New Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer speaks outside No 10 Downing Street (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

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As Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party basks in a honeymoon period thanks to a Commons super-majority, what are the environmental challenges ahead?

We asked Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London, about the new government’s priorities for tackling the climate crisis, transitioning to renewable energy and the Tories’ eco report card after 14 years in power.

Meanwhile, four test astronauts are due to complete 378 days living in a Martian habitat simulation.

The space agency’s Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog mission involved four volunteers locked in an environment designed to look and feel like the Red Planet, called Mars Dune Alpha.

The habitat was 3D-printed inside the Johnson Space Center in Houston, with the team undertaking mission operations, including ‘Mars walks’ and farming, while communication with the outside world was only via external ground control.

The test, due to end this weekend, is meant to calculate diet, exercise and health requirements for future Mars missions.

Plus, space scientists at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University are working on a major new project hunting exoplanets in the solar system.

We hear from about their development of an “astrocomb” helping the South African Large Telescope project, with Richard McCracken, associate professor and lasers expert.

And the rest

Japan’s farewell to floppy disks, the giant fanged swamp beast that ‘was pre-dinosaurs top predator’ and why song melodies became ‘simpler since the Fifties’.

Listen on the above player, Spotfy, Apple Podcasts or wherever you stream.

Here’s an automated transcript of today’s episode:

Hello, I'm Mark Blunden, and this is The Standard's Tech and Science Daily podcast.

Coming up, the space laser comb, hunting rare exoplanets.

But first, as Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party basks in a honeymoon period, thanks to a common supermajority, what are the environmental challenges ahead?

We asked Simon Lewis, Professor of Global Change Science at University College London about the new government's priorities for tackling the climate crisis.

Well, I think that is going to be one of the big ones, but not only climate change.

So, it's going to be tackling carbon emissions while trying to boost the economy and tackling the cost of living crisis all at the same time.

They're trying to integrate these three things to give a real boost.

And specifically, they're going to end new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea.

And that's very important from a climate perspective and couple that with big investments in onshore wind, solar, and offshore wind through this new Great British Energy Company.

Just got 8 billion of funding.

And we wanted to know about Labour's plans for transitioning from dependency on fossil fuels to renewables.

There is, and it's in the Labour Manifesto, a kind of careful transition for the workers who are involved in North Sea.

But of course, they've got the kind of skills that are required for the transition.

And I think for ordinary people, the impact will be the reducing of bills because of course, this gas and oil that comes out of the North Sea gets sold on the international markets.

So actually, what you need is cheaper energy which can come from renewables as that's the way to reduce bills.

Then there's the critical issue of holding water companies to account.

And with those awful sewage outflows into rivers and coasts, we asked Simon what we know.

In the Labour Party Manifesto, it's very unclear what they're going to do about this issue that's really captured the public and said this is an outrage, putting raw sewage into our rivers and coastlines.

They say they'll put water companies into special measures, but they don't say what those special measures are.

So, it's quite unclear what they're actually going to do about this problem.

So, I think it's really one to watch.

Finally, we wanted his verdict on the Tories eco record after 14 years and five prime ministers.

I think they've done incredibly poorly on the environment.

And I think one thing stands out.

Nationally, Rishi Sunak kind of broke the long-term cross-party consensus on tackling climate change.

So, he both rode back on policies and used quite a lot of divisive rhetoric to kind of break open that previous unity and try to make it into another strand of the culture wars.

And that's been really damaging.

And it's not been damaging just to the UK and having a set of coherent policies to tackle climate change while improving people's lives.

But also internationally, it's been a disaster.

I'm a climate change scientist.

I've sat in the room on the international stage with Rishi Sunak and his speeches have gone down like a lead balloon.

And we have lacked credibility on the international stage.

Next, a four strong team of NASA test astronauts is due to complete over a year, living in an immersive Martian habitat simulation.

The space agency's crew health and performance exploration analog mission has seen the volunteers live in an environment designed to look and feel like the red planet and it's called Mars June Alpha.

The habitat was 3D printed inside the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, with the team undertaking mission operations, taking mission operations including Mars walks and farming, while communication with the outside world was only via external ground control.

The test due to end this weekend is meant to calculate diet, exercise, and health requirements for future Mars missions now.

Staying with space and scientists at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University have embarked on a major new project hunting exoplanets in the solar system.

Exoplanets are planets orbiting a star other than the sun and the team's using a particularly massive spyglass capable of peering deep into the cosmic void.

The Southern African Large Telescope, SALT, is the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere.

It has a 9.2 metre diameter mirror.

It's made up of 91 individual hexagonal segments and it's located about four hours drive north of Cape Town.

We started working with them in 2016 when we tested a prototype laser frequency comb at their telescope.

That's Richard McCracken, Associate Professor and Lasers Expert at Heriot-Watt, who explains what they're looking for.

The astronomers want to measure starlight and they want to measure the different colours that they get from stars as accurately as possible.

What they also want to do is look for any changes in the spectrum they get from a star over time, because those changes can mean that perhaps there's another planet, an exoplanet, orbiting around that distant star.

And how it works.

They use a spectrograph.

It's an instrument that lets us visualize the rainbow of colours that comes from the star.

Zooming in on those colours is really high definition.

And if we want to measure a change in the spectrum over time, we need to have some kind of local ruler, an absolute standard that we can compare the starlight against.

And this is what we've been developing at Heriot-Watt University.

And it's thanks to a critical piece of technology developed in Edinburgh.

We've built a laser frequency comb.

Essentially, it's an optical ruler, a ruler of light that is projected onto the spectrograph in tandem with the starlight, and it allows us to measure these tiny spectral shifts with extreme precision.

Next, Japan has finally bid farewell to the humble floppy disk, which until last month was amazingly still the medium for submitting official documents.

3.5-inch disks capable of storing not even 1.5 megabytes of data are now being consigned to history as part of a campaign to digitise bureaucracy.

The Japanese government's digital agency has now scrapped all 1,034 regulations governing their use except for one environmental mandate related to vehicle recycling.

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Stay there for more news from the world of tech and science, plus the top predator before the dinosaurs.

Why not hit follow in the meantime and give us a rating.

Welcome back, research by the National Science Foundation at the Field Museum in Chicago and University of Buenos Aires suggests a giant salamander-like creature was a top predator in the Ice Age before dinosaurs.

Gaiasia jennyae, a swamp creature with a toilet seat-shaped head, had interlocking jaws, which it would use to clamp down on prey as it swam past.

Its fossil was found in Namibia's Gaius Formation, giving the first part of its name and the second part is after late British palaeontologist, Professor Jenny Clack, a specialist in the evolution of early tetrapod’s.

They are four-limbed vertebrates that evolved from lobed, thinned fishes.

It's understood Gaiasia jennyae had a skull more than two feet long and lived in swampy waters 40 million years before dinosaurs first evolved.

And finally, computer scientists at Queen Mary University of London have discovered how melodies of popular songs have become considerably simpler since the 1950s.

They analysed hundreds of chart hits from the past 70 years to discover a significant decline in the complexity of rhythm and pitch in song melodies.

They said the biggest transitions, or what's described as bursts of change, occurred in the years 1975 to 2000, when music genres of new wave, disco, and stadium rock started gaining popularity in the mid 1970s, and hip-hop became more prominent in the early noughties.

The team also found moderate evidence of what's described as a melodic revolution in the year 1966, around the time when major music studios began to adopt new technologies, such as software applications to record, edit, and produce music.

You're up to date, come back at 4 p.m. for the latest general election news, interviews, and analysis from The Standard's Westminster team, and we'll be back on Monday at 1 p.m., see you then.