Best of the week’s news: comment and analysis from E&T’s editorial staff

E&T staff pick their favourite news stories from the past week and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them.

Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 replacement model emits smoke on plane

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is now a fire hazard. Neat! It’s like something James Bond would have in his arsenal of clever gadgetry, but it would be an accidental secret weapon. Picture this: Bond and Miss Moneypenny are high up Mount Everest for some reason, trying to catch one of the many baddies that have hilarious names. “James,” Moneypenny says in that exasperated tone of hers, “I’ve lost my phone, and we’re hundreds of miles away from civilisation, and I need to call my dermatologist. This mountain air is making my skin quite itchy.” “Miss Moneypenny, you can use my phone,” Bond answers, in that alluring and not-at-all-creepy voice he has. He pulls out his shiny Note 7 from inside his fireproof/bulletproof suit, handing it to her. She gives him a half-smile; you can tell she’s getting kind of sick of him after all these years. Moneypenny dials in the number. She memorised it because her skin always breaks out. As she puts it to her ear, the phone makes a fizzing noise and her hair starts to smoke. She flicks the phone away like it bit her, and her hands go up to her ear. Her hair continues to burn due to her incessant need to use so much hairspray it puts a hole in the O-Zone. As her coiffured-do goes up in a ball of stinking flame, Moneypenny screams and flaps around like an albatross gone wild. James picks up the now-deceased Samsung, peering at its charred remains. “Well, Q didn’t tell me it would do that.”

Jack Loughran, news reporter

UK Government gives fracking go-ahead to Cuadrilla

The Government has approved Cuadrilla’s fracking project after months of local opposition and political wrangling. What’s wrong with this picture? Firstly, the mere name Cuadrilla sounds like a massive evil corporation from a dystopian future, which is appropriate, I guess. Secondly, the fact that the Government is prioritising a private company’s ambitions, which many claim could screw up the water table and environment, over all other concerns. Weirdly, Theresa May recently said that the UK was on the brink of ratifying the Paris Agreement that was signed last year. These two actions appear to be in complete opposition. The Paris Agreement is basically an attempt to wean the world off of fossil fuels in the long term interest of the planet and yet the new fracking agreement effectively opens a new chapter for UK gas exploration. This is coupled with the removal of carbon-capture support last year, which some experts have said could make fracking vaguely environmentally viable, and huge reductions in renewable subsidies. May doesn’t seem to realise that merely signing on the dotted line of the Paris Agreement doesn’t, in itself, reduce the impact of climate change, it needs to be backed up with policy and action.

Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor

Blue Origin succeeds by landing New Shepard rocket after escape system test

Hopefully soon the Earth won’t be the limit when we’re booking our future holidays. Despite worries and expectations of a disaster, Jeff Bezos’ commercial space company Blue Origin has landed its New Shepard rocket successfully, during a test of its escape system. The company said it had expected the rocket to break up or crash - so the landing was a nice surprise. The escape system is a feature developed to save future passengers in case something goes badly wrong during flight. The system was initiated about 45 seconds after take off. It made the rocket motor ignite underneath the New Shepard’s crew capsule, after which the capsule detached from the rest of the rocket, at the altitude of 4,893 metres, and safely descended with the help of parachutes. The booster itself performed a flawless vertical landing 3.2 km away from the launch pad in West Texas.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 replacement model emits smoke on plane

As Oscar Wilde may have observed, had he been a tech industry analyst and not a playwright and poet, to have one flagship phone burst into flames may be regarded as a misfortune, but to have the replacement model also go up in smoke looks like carelessness. Who exactly is in charge of quality control over at Samsung these days?

Apple Pay reach widens as hold-out UK banks finally roll out adoption

I was positively cock-a-hoop at this news, given that I am both a customer of one of those hold-out banks and also the proud owner of an Apple Watch. I’ve been waiting for my bank to get with the Apple Pay programme since Christmas Day last year.

Obama and DiCaprio join forces to fight climate change

This is one of the more baffling headlines from this week. You have to read the story just to understand the connection between Obama and DiCaprio. Next week: Angela Merkel and Adam Sandler join forces to tackle EU migration. 

Dickon Ross, editor in chief

Paris Agreement to be enacted next month, UN says

The ambitious Paris agreement on climate change to limit global warming to just a couple of degrees centigrade has been ratified by national governments to go into force as soon as 4th November, which is quicker than anyone had expected or even hoped. Now the really hard part starts - spending on the engineering to make it happen, ranging from more renewables and storage to taking carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. We’ll have a detailed report about what it will take in our issue out in November. Meanwhile, is it too late for some of the world’s natural wonders? We look at the Australian case in our issue out next week.

UK electricity generation from solar edges past coal in 2016

Good news! The UK is now generating more electricity from solar panels than from burning coal. Coal’s contribution even fell to zero in the spring for the first time since the 19th century. And the bad news? The figures are tiny - around 5 per cent each. And the contribution from gas rose from 30 to 40 per cent.

Jade Fell, assistant features editor

UK Government gives fracking go-ahead to Cuadrilla

If it wasn’t for the horrific earthquake in Haiti, this would take the top spot in ‘most terrible news stories on the week’ without a shadow of a doubt. If we are to even dream of coming close to limiting climate change to below the 2 degrees C level we need to think about actually sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, so why anyone would think it was a good idea to invest millions of pounds in further fossil fuel extraction is completely beyond me. Elsewhere in Europe countries are announcing amazing advances in their renewable energy markets. Last year, wind power generated 140 per cent of Denmark’s electricity supply, while back in May Germany succeeded in supplying almost all of its energy needs from renewable sources for the first time – stories which suggest that renewable energy really could be the answer to our problems. You know what definitely isn’t the answer? Investment in fossil fuels. It looks like the UK has – not for the first time this year – taken a big step back from any real progress.

Vitali Vitaliev, features editor

Obama and DiCaprio join forces to fight climate change

“In LA you can die of encouragement,” they say in Hollywood. Very true. My own continuing experience with Hollywood where one of my latest novels has been optioned, does confirm the metaphor of Vladimir Mayakovsky, well known Russian poet of the 1920 and 1930s, who called it “the factory of dreams”. Mind you, I don’t share the widespread stereotype of Hollywood as all talk and no action: the producers I am dealing with are extremely professional, punctual and knowledgeable – and yet, my firm belief is that filmmakers and film stars, including such great talents as DiCaprio, should be left to do what they are best at – making films and acting in them – not getting involved in the extremely serious geopolitical issues like climate change. The latter should be left to scientists and politicians to deal with, for, in my view, the very fact of Hollywood stars’ involvement trivialises them to the level of – in the best of scenarios, a good action thriller - in the worst, a cheap melodrama.

Time for Team Brexit to build bridges and be nice to the European Parliament

The headline of this excellent Comment piece by Pelle Neroth sounds rather ironic in view of the more recent news of Steven Woolfe, the favourite to take over from Nigel Farage as leader of the UK Independence Party, being rushed to hospital after an alleged fight with fellow UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Some MEPs are obviously finding it hard to be nice to the European Parliament, and to each other. Whereas I kind of understand and even share their angst to an extent, I strongly disapprove of the violence and wish they could limit themselves to verbal battles, not fist fights (to which they often resort in the parliament of my native Ukraine, say). In any case, I was relieved to learn this morning that Woolfe, a fearless parliamentary gladiator, is recovering well.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

Charity challenges people to spend Friday without phones

By the time you read this – and it could be on your phone – it’ll be too late to join in with Save the Children’s well intentioned stunt to highlight the problem of mobile phone ‘addiction’. I suspect Phoneless Friday will pass quietly by, never to be heard of again. When surveys suggest millions of us just can’t cope without knowing our handset’s stowed safely in our pocket, it doesn’t mean we’re addicted to them, just that they’ve become such a routine part of everyday life. We’ve probably all managed to leave home phoneless, but how many would bother turning round if it extended our journey by more than a few minutes? We manage, just like we did before mobile devices entered the mainstream, which after all was a relatively short time ago. You don’t have to forsake your phone unless you really want to, but it’s in a good cause so there’s nothing to stop you popping over to and making a donation. No one’s going to know you actually spent the day glued to your screen.

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