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A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.
Saturday, November 15, 2003
"Wind farms don't work - they ruin people's lives, destroy the countryside and harm wildlife. It beggars belief that certain members of the Green movement have bought into it." [The environmentalist, Dr. David Bellamy, on wind farms, November 10 - see below for story].
If I were asked what is the single most crass policy of the present government, it would have to be the promotion of wind farms. These make no sense environmentally, economically, or in terms of energy production, as many despairing experts point out daily. It is thus wonderfully encouraging to read about increasing local opposition to the desecration of our last remaining wilderness by these ephemera of modern sensibilities.
Forgive me for being parochial, but I am especially pleased by the growing resistance to wind farm sites on some of my old haunts when I was a young lad 'up North'. Here is a recent report from the Rochdale Observer: 'Political rivals unite against wind of change'.
I grieve that Tandle Hill, in Royton, and Crompton Moor, above Shaw (my father - a Shaw man from th' edge o' moor, the heyside - would have been horrified if still with us) are seen as two prime sites for wind farms. It is thus most satisfying that Euro MP, Chris Davies, and Phil Woolas, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, are putting their political differences aside to fight the proposals. "Go lads, get 'em!"
Sadly, I also gather that there are further threats in the Oldham and Saddleworth districts, including Dovestones and Indian ('Injun') Head (where I spent hours of my childhood climbing and pretending to be an Indian brave, when not looking for parts of a 'plane that had crashed there); most of the hills around Uppermill (austere, but immensely beautiful); open land between Springhead and Scouthead; and pretty Delph and Denshaw. This is just outrageous.
But, luckily, the fight against such orc-like behaviour has now drawn in a real heavyweight environmentalist to the cause, namely Dr. David Bellamy. "Well done, mate!" In Rochdale, I gather David has already led a march to the top of Knowl Hill to highlight opposition ('Bellamy battle over wind farm', Manchester Evening News, November 10).
It is thus no surprise that readers of Country Life have just voted wind farms Britain's worst eyesore. Here are the report and survey results: 'The 10 most hated eyesores'.
All the bluster in the world will not hide the fact that wind farms are totally ephemeral to our genuine energy and environmental needs. This is where 'global warming' is proving such a dangerous political construct. The battles against the loss of our last wilderness MUST be won.
So don't forget to visit and support the excellent new web site: Wind-Farm.org. Highly recommended with your morning coffee.
Philip at Gale Force.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Oh well, it's Friday! We all need a bit of light relief from environmental angst. So find out which character you are closest to in The Lord of the Rings: Matthew Barr's 'Fellowship of the Ring Personality Test'.
Now where is that axe? Gimli Son of Gloin.
How refreshing to have an independent, hardworking scientist writing on those much-abused Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of spring-sown GM crops in the UK: 'Evaluating the farm-scale trials' (Sp!ked, November 13). Conrad Lichtenstein is Professor of Molecular Biology at Queen Mary College, University of London. He is committed to the public understanding of science within the GM debate (would that others were!), and he is a long-term specialist on the subject who was doing research in the field when GM automatically meant General Motors.
Here are two telling quotations from his article raising points all too easily hidden under the compost heap:
(a) "That the evaluation involved GM crops is not relevant: herbicide-tolerant crops can also be, and indeed have been, developed by conventional methods. GM is a process not a product - and, as demonstrated by this study, each new product (whether it is GM, conventional or organic) needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis using rational evidence-based science."
(b) "Meanwhile, back on the organic farm, the 'organic horse' bolted long before 'stable doors' had been invented: organic farmers use old-fashioned herbicides that, because they are less specific in their toxicity, are rather poisonous beyond their intended victims, the weeds. Yet they are in use, because their adoption preceded the regulations now required for approval of modern herbicides. As we know, organic farmers and consumers are concerned for the environment - surely they should therefore also be willing to submit their herbicides to the same farm-scale evaluations?"
Absolutely. An excellent article, well worth the read along with your morning coffee.
And boy! How we need a GM potato against the bacterium, 'ring rot' (Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. sepedonicus). (See today's press, such as:'Potato farmers fear epidemic of new disease', The Guardian, November 4 - and you can give each paper a mark out of 10 according to how correctly they print the little bug's scientific name!). Never mind the cod - there soon won't be any chips! Philip in vinegary mood.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
� Animals - those cuddly things (e.g., badgers, pandas with big eyes, and seals) that are much, much nicer than People. Not quite so keen on mosquitoes, head lice, and the smallpox virus (animals?), mind you. Exterminate, exterminate! "But, my dear, they are all biodiversity and needed for harmony and balance!" Hm!
� Biodiversity - the best argument after Sustainable Development when you can't think of any other - everywhere can be conveniently made to be 'biodiverse' (even under your finger nails!). "40,000 species are going extinct every year, you know!" [Especially when you switch off your computer.] "Er - can you name one or two?"
� DDT - that nasty, horrid chemical in Silent Spring which kills all the pretty birds (we think!) - "And it really is a pity about those poor people who get malaria. They must find something else at once."
� Deforestation - all those lovely trees and things we like to hug (mentally) being destroyed by your greed, sin, and thoughtlessness. "Oh! Aren't those old-fashioned wooden toys lovely! Carving is such a lost craft!" Never, of course, Development. Have you also noticed? Forests are always 'exploited', never neutrally 'used'. (Both India and Venice depended on deforestation for their wonderful development. Let's raise a glass - un’ ombra - to the wood cutters of Dalmatia!).
� Degradation - something happening that we don't like. Must be globalisation.
� Development-- some dreadful change, which must be bad, corrupt, and capitalist, which we definitely won't like, and which will ruin everything forever.
� Ecological Scare - some media-worthy event to scare the pants off everybody which is very useful as moral blackmail to demonstrate that we are 100% right and that you are all totally doomed if you don't believe us and do exactly as we say.
� Eco-Warrior - (i) a hero of the green left or green right; (ii) a dysfunctional and/or self-appointed bigot (normally young and having a tantrum because they are not getting their own way) who tramples over everybody else in the name of their own environmental delusions, but who expects to be exempted from all responsibility for their actions when brought to court.
� Environmental - something vaguely 'good' that sounds nice, which will help all the little animals, birds, and (sometimes) plants, and which can be used as a mantra against all change, development and economic growth.
� Environmental Monitoring - finding the very worst Ecological Scare possible.
� Ethical Investment (Environmental) - investment in things that we have decided are 'good' for everybody else and the planet (and don't worry about all the unemployment, poverty, food shortages, etc.); has little to do with morality, like managing to produce enough food to outstrip population growth, pests, diseases, and change, for example;
� Global Warming - a perfect political construct to hammer the use of the car and the US, and to prevent all further industrial development; the ideal source of Ecological Scares come rain or shine; not, of course, to be confused with highly complex and little-understood climate change.
� Green Groups - a fun opportunity for (mainly upper class) climbers, absailers, boaties, and young folk who are out for a laugh, but who still want to feel 'good'. "Met this chap at Eton...."
� Lost Tribe - a group of folk (preferably in a deep tropical forest) who can be romanticised and patronised, who "live in harmony with Nature" and who are much, much better than we are and who can teach us so, so much, but who must not want electricity or TVs under any circumstances. "Just loved that programme about that eco-friendly tribe on the tele last night, Annabel!" "Ab fab! Justin!"
� Natural - (i) a lovely, vague word for anything that is deemed to be 'old fashioned', or has little to do with reality, people, and the modern world; (ii) chemicals which you don't know are chemicals.
� NGOs (Environmental) - an opportunity for a cool job (with lots of travel) for young people who don't know what to do with their development and environmental studies degrees or, for that matter, their life; alt. some organisations inflicting ill-trained naif young people on the rest of the world, including the poor.
� Organic - a trendy colour supplement life-style choice for those who can afford it, for those who feel they and their babies (dogs, etc.) are extra-special, and for those who want to spend time playing with mud and manure (it's Natural) - "And it's better for you all, you know, even if you can't afford it or don't want it." Watch out for those bacteria! [Real meaning: containing carbon and is or was once living. Makes the idea of 'organic salt' totally ludicrous!]
� People - nasty 'bacteria' who teem and ruin the Earth; alt. everybody who doesn't do precisely what we say and want.
� Plants - best if big trees (Rain Forest) or with pretty flowers. Not much time for lichens and mosses, though.
� Pollutant - any substance, preferably with scary-sounding name (e.g. dihydrogen oxide - 'water' to you mate!), about which hair-raising tales of human and/or environmental risk (see Ecological Scare) may be told. Makes ideal hype for the suppression of industry and enterprises of all types - no scientific data or rational evaluation needed (or desired). Read all about it! WRONG AMOUNT OF CHEMICAL KILLS! By Earnest Green. "Environmental campaigners warned today that dihydrogen oxide, a widespread substance, is dangerous in very large or very small doses, leading to death either by hydration or by dehydration.... "
� Population Growth - all those People who are spoiling our little world and who are less valuable than either we or those cuddly animals are.
� Precautionary Principle - an anti-change, anti-evolutionary, 'Stop-The-World-I-Want-To-Get-Off' mentality which aims to prevent all development and growth by using whatever convenient ecohype or fears happen to lie to hand. Keep your legs crossed and it might soon lose its fadish favour.
� Rain Forest - our icon, our long-lost Eden, a jungly place of animals and birds; unfortunately found in poor benighted countries where we don't live. "Never mind, we'll teach them what to do." "The lungs of the world." "Er... I thought lungs took in oxygen and gave out carbon dioxide!"
� Birds - "Oh! Isn't it terrible. With Global Warming the poor old lesser-spotted sporan might have to go to live in Sweden!" The ultimate icon. More money per feather..... Cf. with the poor old NSPCC.
� Savanna, Steppe, Fynbos et al. - "Er -what's that!"
� Scientist - (i) 'Non-Green': a very dangerous man (Saruman) in a white coat who will turn the world into Mordor and who is paid by Big Business and who is totally biased; (ii) 'Green': a totally unbiased person who tells 'the truth' about what humans are really doing to the Earth.
� Sustainable Development - a ubiquitous, politically-compliant, phrase, a pleasant sounding palliative to inexorable and inevitable change. Dished up as a placebo to ecochondriacs the world over. It hides the fact that ecological and economic change are the norm, not the exception; that equilibrium solutions are impossible goals; and that we inhabit a rather disturbing non-equilibrium world in which volcanoes erupt, earthquakes quake, seas rise and fall, and climate changes, whether under human influence or not. The phrase lurks everywhere, in government documents, shareholder reports, and research grant applications. Without it, you can get no money. For business, it is a neat PC word, all PR and ethical investment, but signifying little; for scientists, it means, "Give me funds for research"; for politicians, "Your nice 'Green' vote"; for authoritarian environmentalists, it means either no growth at all or limited growth of a type approved of by an elite few – wind farms, 'yes', nuclear power, 'no'; organics, 'yes', GM 'no'.
� World Green Organisations - (i) great opportunity for neo-colonial scientists who find it difficult to raise funds or to get into foreign countries to carry out their animal and plant research. And they can feel good too. (ii) Great way of interfering in other countries and spreading worldwide gloom.
"Ah! Baldrick! Could you look after my 'Greenspeak Dictionary' while I go to Mrs Miggin's Ye Olde Pie Shoppe for a yard of ale?"
Famous last words. Philip.
Now, I wonder if one of those so-called 'Ghost Ships' from America (BBC News Online) just happens to be named 'The Brent Spar'! Remember that debacle - where the ever self-righteous environmentalists got it badly wrong. I have a feeling we are about to experience another mess. But it isn't funny - we lose much-needed jobs and revenue, and in a region once a proud hub of the ship-building and ship-dismantling industries.
Let's just think the situation through calmy and logically:
(a) Old ships exist - sadly, they are not 'ghosts', and they will not conveniently fade away into the ether; old ships thus need to be dismantled safely, and, where possible, the material re-cycled efficiently;
(b) Somebody has to do the job;
(c) Companies, as with everything else, bid for the job in the global market place;
(d) Able UK wins the bid, and it brings the work to the UK, where strict environmental laws ensure that the dismantling will be achieved safely; they also bring new jobs to a depressed region;
(e) Able UK, along with a number of other companies in the region, do this work regularly, and they state that there is nothing special about these particular ships. Indeed, if a company won a contract to build a new ship, it would also have to handle some of the same materials;
(f) What are the alternatives? Send the ships to the developing world (some countries would take on the job without a second thought), where there is often a notorious lack of environmental concern and legal safeguards for the workers involved? Great idea, I don't think! Or, send them to another advanced country and lose the jobs and work from the UK? Great idea again. Let's simply lie down in the face of serious competition and just give up. Or, having arrived in the UK, send the ships back to America, so that they might possibly break up naturally in the winter seas and pollute the oceans. Now that is redolent of the Brent Spar!
(g) Or, make sure all legal permits are in place, and get on with the job safely and efficiently. In the end, nobody would even notice.
The truth is that some environmentalists (remember there are many shades of green) are not living in the real world and they are starting to be a serious threat to the UK economy. I wonder how much of the protest about these particular ships is because they are (Heaven forbid!) American and were once used to service the American navy? Our rationality about America has now gone out to march with the barmy brigade.
I think we should be proud that a company here won the contract and that the task is likely to be well done in the UK. I say, keep the ships and send back the protesters.
First posted yesterday. Now revised and corrected after the bottle of claret. Philip.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
From time-to-time, I suggest non-PC or semi-PC (today's) examination questions for dubious academic subject areas, like 'Development Studies' and 'Environmental Studies'. Earlier questions on October 13 and November 4. Here is the third:-
"European agricultural subsidies, even when given in the guise of aiding the environment, are elitist and a form of protectionism unfair to the farmers of the developing world." Discuss.
See for reading: the article from this month's excellent Prospect Magazine linked in Romantic but 'rong, below.
Chief Examiner Philip.
One of the last remaining nuggets in the dross of our media underworld still worth the monthly mining is undoubtedly Prospect Magazine, which continues to print accessible, but deeply thoughtful, essays on a wide range of important topics.
A particular gem, just published, and luckily selected as one of their open access essays, is by Richard H. Webb, Director of the Consultancy, StepOut, and Research Associate at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences at the LSE: 'Virtual Agriculture' (Prospect, November 2003). This commentary is essentially a much-needed critique of Colin Tudge's over-romantic and over-lauded book (and green tract), So Shall We Reap.
Here are two key quotations from the long piece, which should, however, as always, be read in its entirety:-
(a) "The greens are hostile to big business on principle, and agribusiness in particular. But in many other respects they stand shoulder to shoulder with the farming subsidy lobby. They both need the public to believe a number of unsubstantiated things about agriculture - not least that there is a crisis to be managed. And they both celebrate the agricultural "exception," arguing that the normal rules of business should not apply to farming and food production. While both would like the third world farmers to flourish, neither wants them participating in a globalised market. Small farmers are good, our own small farmers are best. Dependence on foreign food is dangerous."
(b) "Tudge is stubbornly ignorant about finance, although he attacks its practitioners with great ferocity. A few minutes in a bookshop would have told him that cash and profit are very different motivators, that a balance sheet is not where agricultural wages appear, and that a low-margin, high-turnover business is absolutely not what everyone wants.
What comes through is Tudge's - and by extension his supporters' - contempt for business. For Tudge it is a "dogfight." His is a world populated by distant hate figures and shadowy organisations, but he shows little understanding of the concerns of the small farmer. Nowhere in the book is there any objective reference to what farmers actually think and feel. The vast dataset on farmer opinion - tens of millions is spent each year on surveys - remains untouched. Perhaps the hugely diverse values and personal ambitions of billions of people fit poorly into his romantic assumptions about the nobility of their calling.
So why are we told that this is "a tract for our times?" How can those who articulate the green case possibly be comfortable with such a curiously unbalanced mix of myths and beliefs, such a partial view of the world? Is it because it suits their interests to have the deracinated urban middle classes believing these things about food and agriculture? Without such a myth, the public would not allow them to transfer the vast CAP budget to their plans for a managed landscape - the game of virtual agriculture that they hope to play across Europe."
Trenchant stuff which goes right for the jugular of deeply-muddled green thinking on agriculture. I have long been wary of elitist ideas (protectionism by another name?) concerning agricultural exemptions from normal market forces in the UK, especially in respect of the developing world and the issue of fair, open, competition. Webb encapsulates my fears far more cogently than I could myself. I endorse his arguments completely. It is a fine article, and one that shows clearly how much green thinking on agriculture is romantic but 'rong.
I would also encourage everyone to read the print version of Prospect Magazine on a regular basis. A light in a darkening media world!
Now for some virtual coffee. Philip.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
"On Tuesday, when it hails and snows,
The feeling on me grows and grows
That hardly anybody knows,
If those are these or these are those."*
“… and whatever a man knows, whatever is not mere rumbling and roaring that he has heard, can be said in three words.” Motto quoted by Ludwig Wittgenstein at the start of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921; 1922) >>>>>
CLIMATE IS UNCONTROLLABLE
fx = “x is controllable”
“fx is false for all values of x
How likely is?
Errrrrrr?!? Can I hold your hand, Pooh?
Philip. Time for a little something.....
*From the immortal poem: 'Lines Written by a Bear of Very Little Brain' (Winnie-The-Pooh, Chapter VII, 'In which Kanga and Baby Roo come to the forest, and Piglet has a bath').
Monday, November 10, 2003
Here are the details of Paul K. Driessen's challenging new book, just published: Eco-imperialism. Green power. Black death (2003). Direct links to Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, etc., are all provided at the web site.
This is Greenpeace Co-founder Patrick Moore's opinion of the book: “The environmental movement I helped found has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity. The pain and suffering it is inflicting on families in developing countries must no longer be tolerated. Eco-Imperialism is the first book I’ve seen that tells the truth and lays it on the line. It’s a must-read for anyone who cares about people, progress and our planet.”
Powerful stuff - recalling the final words of Anna Bramwell's little masterpiece, The fading of the greens (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1994, p. 208): The environment "...is the 'Northern White Empire''s last burden, and may be its last crusade."
As Private Eye might say -"Green is the new Empire Red" or "Green is the new 'othering'". The less Said on that the better!
Philip. Cerebral coffee time.
Now, I never expected to see this splendid (and rather funny) comment piece and organic food report in The Observer (November 9) (and relating to its rather PC and 'right on' Monthly Food Magazine too!): 'Organic? No thanks!'. Here is the opening salvo from the comment piece to whet, or not to whet, your appetite:-
"It was the cheeses which did it; the five grim, rubbery, flavourless specimens, which died on the tongue and murdered the spirit. Throughout a long, dreary day, I and chef John Torode had been taste testing 80 organic products in 16 different categories. It seemed a good idea at the time. After all, sales of organics are booming, as we learnt last week with the news that they have just topped £1 billion a year. Britain is now the third biggest consumer of organic produce in the world after the United States and Germany. The time had come to see what was out there."
"The results, as you can read for yourself in today's Observer Food Magazine, were dismal."
And here are the full results from the Monthly Food Magazine: 'The great organic taste test'. I just love some of the critical, uncompromising assessments, such as: "When raw it looks odd, all pale like a boudin blanc, and it tastes odd too, probably because of the high cereal content. Bad."
It's amazing what rich people will pay a premium for to support their daft life-style myths! One up to The Observer - reality reporting in a largely colour supplement, 'Ab Fab' world. "No! Seriously darling!" Top marks.
And just to show you that I'm not biased, I'm off for a refreshing mint tea! Philip goes Menthal!
[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]