Who is a Citizen anyway?

And what does it take to become one?

Across the world the topic of citizenship is more alive than at any other time since perhaps the end of the cold war, or even WWII. Watching the ongoing European migration crisis, Donald Trump’s speeches on Mexico, Nicolas Maduro’s condemnation of “Illegal Colombian” refugees, Australia’s policy to “boat people” and Myanmar’s exclusion of the “Rohingya”from its latest census efforts, it is clear that it’s not just Europe that is grappling with the issue of identity.

Since the treaties of Westphalia in post-medieval European history, the role of people and organisations has been defined by a “state-centred” view of the world. “We”, in the sense of the global body politik, became attached to the concept of a “nationality” or more simply an identity based on a combination of geographical proximity and the ethereal notion of “shared values” (whatever that phrase may in fact mean). But in a world where communication is not constrained by geography and where nations are rarely culturally “homogeneous” (if again they ever were), it seems that what makes a “citizen” is no longer clear. At least not to me.

Take for example the position of an EU citizen who chooses to work in the UK. They may study in the UK for many years, speak the language fluently, and eventually take a job there. During this time they have access to medical services from the UK, the security provided by the Police, fire brigade, intelligence services and so forth. They may even decide to marry a non-UK national and buy a home in the UK too. But after all of this, if they do not “apply” for UK citizenship, they cannot vote in the UK General Election. In fact, those who may have followed this pattern for the last 20 years (and paid taxes) are still not entitled to vote in the UK Referendum on the EU either. Even UK nationals living abroad in Europe, paying taxes and with ties to the UK may be “disqualified” from voting if they live for a certain time out of the country. Nor – I hasten to add – is this a UK only phenomenon.

Examining this, the obvious question comes: “what qualifications must one have to be a citizen”?

Is residency sufficient? Certainly many of those who have lived illegally in OECD nations (i.e. without official approval), may well become “citizens” by virtue of residency for a prolonged period. Being born in a nation (if if you do not reside there), is also sufficient grounds for “citizenship” in many countries too.

What about “cultural affinity”? Many Citizenship tests require people to speak the host language, recite parts of the country’s history and demonstrate an awareness of that nation’s “values”, often followed by a form of commitment or pledge, America perhaps being one of the more famous examples.

How about “attachment to the nation”? Those with family, spouses, historical links and even in some cases religious ties (see Israel), can also qualify as “Citizens” without any of the above mentioned criteria.

But, you may be asking, “why does this matter”?

Citizenship matters because, for better or worse, we live and function in a world that is still defined by nations. Our laws are written by nations, our careers and treatment abroad are defined by our “National identity” and our ability to change the way our world functions is still largely constrained to working within the constraints of our governments. In short, regardless of our preferences, our nationality and our “citizenship” is important.

But if citizenship matters, then how do we define it and how do “we” as citizens of our nation states define who else is “eligible” to be a citizen? Perhaps one of the aforementioned criteria, a blend of factors or maybe you, the reader, have your own view. One thing is for certain though, no-single definition is universally recognisable.

So if we must have citizens and citizenship must be given based on criteria which few agree with unanimously, then how do we evolve and adapt to the modern world?

This is no insignificant question and more fundamentally, this is the single major question which helps to explain why the issues of migration (illegal, asylum, refugee, etc) are so divisive within nations. It is one thing to say that those in need should receive help. That is a proposition which few disagree with, including all Europeans (though it may not be so clear to see). The issue however is not “helping those in need” or even deciding “who can work for a period, but rather at what point do those who have come to your nation seeking help, safety, work or a better life, have a “right” to become a “citizen” and what obligations are we, as citizens, under to those who we accept to reside within our borders? This question forms one of the core concerns voiced by those Eastern European nations who opposed quotas as well as those engaged in the Australian government‘s immigration policy.

Many in Syria are in desperate need. That is certainly true. But it is also the case that those refugees who are now residing in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other neighboring states are in many cases (if not all), safe from the immediate risk of violence which forced them to flee. Given that, is it not reasonable to ask why a Syrian family who suffers should have any greater claim to reside and become an EU citizen than an Internally displaced Kivu family from the Congo or a Rohingya family forced to flee from Rahkinese authorities?

As the Guardian recently opined in respect of Syrian refugees “the US is shielded from the humanitarian dilemma by a stroke of geographic luck”, yet there are many nations which could equally deserve that description (the UK being one). But is “Geographic luck” really the ultimate determinant of who can become a “citizen”?

While I will not profess to have a holistic answer to such an all encompassing question, I will suggest the following. If we are to have “criteria” for citizenship, then let them be applied equally to all, irrespective of origin. I do not see why it is appropriate that a refugee from Syria is any more eligible than one from any other conflict, nor do I see why an EU citizen should have greater access to the “perks of citizenship” across the EU than other citizens of OECD nations (as just one example).

Why is it right that a citizen from Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the US should find it harder to live, work and study in the UK than a citizen from any EU nation? Surely one cannot claim that some supposed sense of “EU citizenship” is of greater cultural significance than shared heritage, shared heads of states (in some cases), shared language and shared social/corporate practises?

Citizenship and its connotations are inevitably ugly because by their nature they are divisive, as they were intended to be. But if we must live with them, then we must at least strive to apply their principles equally and fairly.

Quirks of geography, the whim of the press or prevailing public sentiment, appeals to narrowly held “fundamental beliefs” and politicised appeals to “solidarity”, are poor arguments with which to dispel the principles of fairness and justice.

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The World needs more passionate people – are you living yours?

Dreams. We all have them. Fleeting thoughts and moments of transcendence where the constraints of the world we face are gone and our minds, free of constraints, expand and search outside the realm of possibilities for a place, a vision, where we feel an affinity. Maybe it feels like you have never had one right about now. Hell, maybe it feels like you haven’t had one for a very, very long time. But dreams are a home for the mind to explore its limits and to challenge its notions of what is and what could be. At least to my mind, dreams are a gateway to our souls.

I believe that the world I see is full of dreamers. People with passions so diverse and so fantastical, that to fathom what could exist if these were truly pursued to their fullest extent, is beyond the wildest imaginations of the most eloquent creators of fables and fictions.

However, what concerns me in this world is how quickly these passions – so pure and so powerful -become buried by the passage of time. The burden of doubt, sic insecurity, the fear of failure and the desperate craving of some degree of security.

It seems as though we are the generation which simultaneously cannot fail, and yet are so constrained by the fears and concerns of our own human frailties that we are inevitably destined to fall short of our aspirations.

This needs to change. This fear of not reaching the “undefined” end game is a barrier that we find ourselves up against again and again. Especially when we consign our desires to the bin and opt for the warm embrace of a certain “safe” outcome.

To value security and to desire a comfortable life is no crime. Nor am I trying to suggest that people whose circumstances are extremely challenging have “given up” on their dreams due to a lack of ambition or even worse: courage. There are perhaps fewer cruelties in life than seeing your dreams taken from you by the circumstances of your environment.

I acknowledge fully that I have been gifted good fortune well beyond what is “fair” or “reasonable”, so perhaps for many this piece of prose is nothing more than the musings of an over indulgent young idealist. Perhaps that is so.

But to my mind, to witness passion in people is to observe what happens when dreams transcend from the realm of constraints that we ourselves impose upon our conscience. To embrace a moment of passion is to explore ones desire to explore and to understand that which makes us feel at once in comfort and in an instance filled with trepidation.

If there was never a reason for us to be here and to be given this chance this place, this right to make a life for ourselves and to set out our stall on the stage of the heavens and determine the play of our lives for the audience in the stars afar. Then let us be sure that our stories, the stories of those we live and the stories of everyone who has been given a chance and a right to build their own futures and tell their own fables, will leave the stage with their heads held high and the knowledge that they gave the world the show that truly moved them.

If we are but creatures of destiny, then let our destinies shine so brightly that they glow for all to see. In the darkest corners and the cruellest hours of sombre days, it is the sparkle of light from those valiant few whose radiance gives warmth and stir to those in need. It is in their being, their glowing, their smiles and their harmonies that we are stirred from within by forces from that many had thought were lost, or so irretrievable that their very past existence had become questionable.

Our world is nothing without these moments. These brief sojourns from the relentlessly ticking clock of the days fading moments.

Our passions and desires are what make us human and make our lives worth living. I admire all my friends and those in my family who I see aspiring to achieve their dreams.

I hope that more people find and follow their dreams too.

An Alternative Energy Reality – viewing Europe from a Greener 2030

At first the stock-analysts and fund managers had brushed aside reports that the traditional energy giants of the 20th century were due for a heavy fall.

It seemed like an act of sheer lunacy to consider that overnight the value of the world’s leading multinationals could fall by over 40%, then continue to decline. But with the declaration of a “Global Carbon Cap” and the Energy revolution from Europe in the early 2020’s, the giants of old had discovered they could no longer rely on their “booked reserves” to bolster their stock price, and soon their seemingly impregnable balance sheets melted away like the ice caps had before them.

It all started, strangely enough, in Europe. An area that many had thought may have lost its lustre for innovation.

Caught in the midst of a two-pronged geopolitical storm, between an expansive Russian foreign policy, (which used Energy supply as a foreign policy weapon) and an expanding Middle Eastern conflict, the instability from which had created significant threats to global energy supplies, European nations were forced to seek out new technologies to achieve greater energy independence and economic security.

For many years Renewable Energy had been seen as “fashionable” but dismissed by many as an impractical to the problem of Europe’s energy future. It could not be stored (at commercial cost or commercial scale), it was inefficient in its generation (Offshore Wind lagged well behind its fossil Fuel Combined Cycle cousins) and it caused political headaches to locate many commercial scale renewable projects in close proximity to where energy was needed (i.e. population centers). Then things began to shift.

In the UK companies such as Flexitricity began an initiative to swap diesel powered back-up generators on commercial premises with battery storage units. Most firms had invested significant sums into “contingency plan” energy storage capabilities. But these “back-up generators” were often expensive, rarely used and relied predominantly on diesel (and other petroleum substitutes). Replacing these units with Energy Storage units created significant cost savings for these firms and played a significant role in reducing the total costs of these organisations.

As a provider of virtual Smart Grid technology, Flexitricity and other UK innovators in the field convinced firms that they could achieve the wholly trinity of: enhancing their green credentials, ensuring a robust back-up power source for the premises and the ability to make money from their generators (which hitherto had been sunk costs).

The surge in locally available domestic energy storage capacity provided a boom for local communities, who realised that these new electricity storage units could provide spare capacity to store surplus energy from domestically generated renewable sources. These individuals and communities, through using “smart-grid” software providers and the new generation of electricity traders, were able to store  their surplus electricity and release it for sale into the national grid system at peak times, when prices were at their highest. This not only made domestically generated renewable energy more cost effective (in some cases very profitable), but it also made national energy systems more resilient as the UK grid relied increasingly on 10’s of 1000’s of providers rather than under 100.

Following a series of innovations in the production of solar panels, the public sector gradually understood that with the large tracts of land at its disposal, it could produce vast quantities of energy and store it domestically at low cost.

The first public sector concepts involved grand projects for 30+MW sites, but were slow to catch on and implement. However the public sector soon realised that areas such as roads could be turned into giant energy generators during the process of routine road maintenance, whilst following the example of the Scandinavian, the Public Sector in the UK also became more open to the concept of district heating systems. This in turn became a public sector alternative to energy storage through local battery units, thus further reducing costs.

However alongside innovations in the production and storage in energy came the revolution in the demand and consumption of Energy. With fuel prices becoming increasingly sensitive for European families in the 2010’s, Smart meter systems were rapidly deployed across the UK and major European economies, driven by a 2022 EU competition commission ruling that “consumers at all times must have the right to determine the exact levels of energy which they choose to consume; and if consumers are unable to identify their consumption level; or it is unclear; it is the obligation of the firm(s) to disclose this information to the end consumer at minimal inconvenience.” The leader in this field of energy consumption knowledge sharing was a product called “Hive”.

Launched by British Gas in the early 2010’s, it played a significant role in adapting consumers behaviour and their awareness of individual/household energy consumption. These changes led to huge increases in efficient energy usage amongst households and corresponding declines in both net Energy consumption. Furthermore, the peaks and troughs of energy demand in the UK system became less pronounced, as consumers increasingly utilized their high energy demand activities (e.g. washing machines) at traditionally “off-peak” hours, thus smoothing out the consumption curve.

Where the UK led, others in Europe followed.

As European demand for energy fell and domestically sourced energy became more reliable and cost competitive, it provided a boom for the fledgling 3D printing industry across Europe. With its rich heritage of “artisan designers” and its discerning consumer market, the combination of low energy prices and technological innovation generated a boom in “bespoke” manufacturing across all sectors of the European economy which helped significantly reduce unemployment across the continent. The continents trade deficit with the world also declined and traditional export dominated markets, who had seen Europe as a key market, became increasingly concerned and uncertain of their strategies.

But the turning point for Europe came with a crucial technological innovation, that allowed the conversion of Renewable Energy into an energy sources for which Europe was already well developed to exploit. Gas – or rather – Hydrogen gas.

In 2015 a UK company called ITM power began piloting projects alongside the German utility powerhouse “RWE” to demonstrate its technology that converted excess renewable energy into Hydrogen fuel cells or Hydrogen gas. This innovation was a game-changer for Europe, which allowed natural gas to be gradually phased out in favour of Hydrogen gas and which accelerated the rapid growth of European wide Hydrogen and Electric powered transport systems.

Working alongside idealistic challenger energy utilities like ecotricity, ITM’s technology and innovations in energy storage allowed the UK to complete a nationwide renewable transportation re-fueling network. Not only did this dramatically reduce the UK’s air pollution, it also had significant effects on the health of its citizens and bio-diversity of its landscape. Such rapid success immediately spawned copy-cats and rival innovators from across Europe and the world economy writ large.

In 2030 it seems bizarre to imagine how “natural gas” and “fracking for shale gas” could possibly have been the future, but it is always worth remembering that only where ideas and innovation thrive has mankind developed. It was fortuitous that the leaders of the developed world created and maintained an innovative environment in 2015. But it might not have taken much for history to have developed rather differently.