Newton’s modest proposal

Newton Emerson in excellent form, once again, in today’s Irish Times, foolishly bravely running the risk of comparison with a satirical giant of Irish literature with a modest proposal for the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, to considerUpdated Newton’s kindly given Slugger permission to reprint the full text. Many thanks, Newton –

What about a generation of generators?

Northern Secretary Peter Hain unveiled two new budget priorities in his speech to the British Labour Party conference: “Boosting our investment in Northern Ireland’s children” and “A new drive to promote renewable and other clean energy.”

The announcement is not before time. Almost half of Northern Ireland’s children leave school with no useful qualifications, while Belfast has the worst air quality in the United Kingdom.

However, as the secretary of state did not announce any new funding for these policies, an imaginative, joined-up government approach to their implementation will have to be found.

That is why this column proposes using disadvantaged children to generate electricity.

Placed in a suitably rewarding environment, such as a treadmill, a child can produce 120 watts of power comfortably over a long period or up to 200 watts of power uncomfortably over an even longer period.

There are 383,300 children aged under 16 in Northern Ireland. If the educationally hopeless half were all placed on treadmills for 12-hour shifts they could generate almost 20 megawatts of electricity on a continuous basis.

This does not include the further 20 megawatts that would be saved by taking all 191,650 underprivileged children away from their £400 Playstations on a continuous basis.

Keeping children interested during repetitive tasks is often difficult, not least because it is no longer permissible to beat them.

A way around this problem is to acknowledge that repetitive tasks are never interesting but sometimes you just have to do them anyway.

However, telling this to an underprivileged child is abusive. Fortunately the problem can be solved by simply telling children that we must give power back to working-class communities. For some reason, underprivileged people never get tired of hearing this.

Like windmills, treadmills will never provide all our electricity needs because they cannot cope with fluctuating demand. In Wales this problem is solved by the Dinorwig hydroelectric power station, which pumps water up to a high reservoir during off-peak periods.

The water is then released down through turbines at 8.15pm every weekday, when all the underprivileged people in Britain switch their kettles on halfway through Coronation Street.

As Peter Hain said in his speech last week: “My vision for Wales is my vision for Northern Ireland” – and that vision is clear. By making underprivileged children climb to the top of Slieve Donard at the end of their 12-hour shift, then lowering them down again in buckets attached to generators as needed, peak demand can be easily met. Thanks to a poor diet the typical underprivileged child weighs around 12 stone so the potential energy stored would be quite considerable.

Raising 191,650 children weighing 76kg each to a height of 849m over 24 hours would add around 1.5 Megawatts of flexible capacity to the system.

Obviously this could be increased by adding a tower to the top of Slieve Donard, or by asking every child to carry up a brick. Northern Ireland’s underprivileged children are always willing to pick up a brick for a suitable cause.

Poor diet offers a further possibility for power generation. Thanks to their consumption of fat, sugar, salt and processed meat, all underprivileged children are exceptionally flatulent.

If the resulting methane could be collected, preferably while the children are on their treadmills, it could be fed to a biogas generator of the type currently found on some landfill sites.

An average daily output of 50ml per child would result in 9,582 cubic metres of fuel, delivering around 120 kilowatts of bonus capacity.

There is no doubt that underprivileged children are the clean energy source of tomorrow, especially if we wash them today.

But when the useless half of Northern Ireland’s population are finally expected to help keep the lights on, won’t society itself be the real winner?

Peter Hain: imaginative, joined-up government approach to the implementation of his policies must be found.