Welcome to our February Upbeat Bulletin. We hope these bite-sized snippets of good news will warm the cockles during this cold snap …
Sustainability is in the house
We start with interesting news from Paris, where a new eco-friendly house is pushing the boundaries in sustainable construction. This is a very welcome development because building construction is the leading source of waste in Gay Paree. It produces a massive 9.5 million tonnes of rubbish every year and accounts for 20% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.
This ambitious bio-house called La Petite Fabrique (The Little Factory) features an oak staircase made of 80 recycled doors, a structure made of bio-sourced wood, triple-glazed windows, and 16 hyper-efficient solar panels that produce electricity as well as filtering and ventilating the building’s air. It, therefore, offers a fantastic blueprint for the future.
There are a number of other eco-friendly quirks too. The insulation consists of 225 straw bales, a layer of recycled cardboard in the floors, and 39 steel piles that produce 50% less CO2 than concrete. Meanwhile, the tarmac from the courtyard has been replaced with living “vegetate” floor slabs that soak up surplus rainwater. Tom and Barbara from The Good Life would certainly approve.
So what was behind the architects’ vision? Nathalie Chazalette and Delphine Paillard wanted to show construction companies what’s possible and inspire them to reach similar levels of sustainability. They’ve done a tremendous job. La Petite Fabrique contains no concrete whatsoever and weighs less than 200 tonnes – that’s six times lighter than a normal house of its size. C’est magnifique.
Electric car production set to accelerate
Ever thought about buying an electric vehicle to help the environment? If you’ve stuck with petrol or diesel in the past, then it’s probably due to two factors: the cost of electric vehicles and what’s commonly referred to as ‘range anxiety’. Nobody wants to run out of battery when they’re halfway down a motorway.
However, experts believe that electric car sales are going to increase exponentially during the next three years. Why? Because (a) superior batteries with a 200-mile range that can be fully charged in just five minutes are coming very soon, and (b) electric cars will finally cost the same as gas-guzzling ones in the near future.
Apparently it’s all about a so-called ‘tipping point’ where consumers suddenly decide that their hard-earned is best invested in electric vehicles irrespective of environmental concerns. This point has already been reached in Norway, for example, where government tax breaks have made electric vehicles cheaper. The result? Electric cars now have an eye-popping 54% market share.
Although it’s going to take the rest of Europe time to catch up – electric cars currently have a market share of just 1.6% in the UK - the falling price of batteries means this is likely to happen sooner rather than later. Ten years ago the cost of a 30kWh battery was approximately $30,000. Today it’s closer to $4,000.
Of course, there is another big reason why electric cars are the future though: they’re simply better all-round. They are cheaper to run, have faster acceleration, and are quieter on the road too. That’s why 91% of electric vehicle owners say they’ll never go back.
Vaccine rollout steps up a gear
Finally, we end with news of the country’s incredible inoculation offensive. Although many people scoffed when the government set its target of vaccinating 15 million vulnerable people by mid-February, it’s all been going rather well. A whopping 13.5 million people have now received their first jab. It’s quite the logistical achievement.
Furthermore, scientists now believe that the Oxford / AstraZeneca jab significantly reduces transmission as well as protecting against severe forms of Covid-19. This is fantastic news. Scientists have long suspected that the vaccines would reduce transmission but now they have substantial proof.
Evidence is also emerging that the vaccines will provide good protection against those worrisome variants too – despite recent reports to the contrary. The media panicked last week when a small trial suggested that the South African strain could evade the AstraZeneca jab. However, these reports jumped to the wrong conclusions. For starters, the South African variant isn’t even expected to become dominant in the UK.
What’s more, many studies that have shown reduced vaccine efficacy are based on trials that only assess the impact of antibodies (which are just one part of the immune system) on engineered viruses in lab conditions. The impact of T-cells, which annihilate infected cells, have been ignored.
It’s highly encouraging, therefore, that a new study has revealed that both vaccinated individuals and those previously infected with Covid-19 show a strong T-cell response against all the variants – including the sinister South African one. This means their immune system should fight off whatever version of the virus they encounter. Phew.