Centrica's deal with the US is important - but we won't feel the benefits for aeons

It's a start, but just a start.

Today Centrica struck a £10bn supply deal with the US  - describing it as a "landmark agreement".

"This... represents a significant step forward in our strategy, enabling Centrica to strengthen its position along the gas value chain and helping to ensure the UK's future energy security," said Sam Laidlaw, Centrica's chief executive in a statement.

Just how landmark is it? Well, it's effectively the first time the UK has signed a gas import deal with the US - so it's important for a number of reasons.

US natural gas prices are very much cheaper than those in the UK and Europe - around a quarter to a fifth. Here's the thing though: this deal won't lower UK prices all that much, as although the price of the contract is indexed to the US gas market, there is a significant fixed fee on top, which roughly doubles that price. In addition, the volumes of gas involved aren't big enough to have much of an impact on price anyway.

But the important thing about this deal is that it's the first - and therefore a gateway for all sorts of similar contracts.

"More and more deals will get signed with the US from Europe" says Jonathan Lane, Head of Power Consulting at GlobalData. "This will push the US price up, and the European price down. Natural gas prices will eventually harmonise".

The other benefit of the deal is one of security. At the moment the UK relies on a small number of gas suppliers - and heavily on Qatar. The contract with the US will bring some diversity, increasing potential sources and energy security if a pipeline fails.

This is all set very much in the future though - the first shipments aren't due until 2018, so the current strain on our gas supplies may continue for a while.

More on this here.

 
Photograph: Getty Images
GETTY
Show Hide image

Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496