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 22, 2003

England - Rugby World Champions!

English Rugby Flag      UK Flag

"He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Wilkinson!"

What can one say? As Wallabies weep, their tears just water our English Rose. Thanks lads - you have done us proud. It must be OBEs all round - and for Clive and Skipper Martin, a knighthood please (what leadership!). And who will ever forget that final drop goal....... Sublime, Jonny.

And here is the whole glorious shooting match: 'England revels in World Cup glory' (BBC Sport, November 22).

Environmental angst - who cares!

Philip - off to toast one of the greatest squads ever!

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The cinder in Celia Johnson's eye

Today I am going to trust the railways to travel to present a Regional Guest Lecture on climate change for the Royal Meteorological Society. I hope it does not prove pointless and a signal failure - at least I can avoid being 'Bushwhacked' by a motley collection of demonstrators in central London. But are railways the great answer to our transport problems, an assertion I so often hear from those of a more romantic disposition? Here are just a few thoughts to track while I hope I am being whisked along to the wonderful city of Durham..... (Conquest and the Mediaeval Warm Period! Historian wife grimaces...)

DESPITE frozen points and cattle truck conditions, the idea that railways are God's gift to transport continues to bedevil our thinking. From Rev. W. V. Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine to Agatha Christie's Oriental Express, we British see trains through a romantic haze of steam and smoke. Even Tony Benn (and he'll certainly be out ranting today!) is reported to weep as Roberta in Edith Nesbitt's masterpiece, The Railway Children, appears through the vapours to scream "Oh! My Daddy, my Daddy!" What we have all forgotten is the cinder and smut in Celia Johnson's eye as Laura Jesson plays out her Brief Encounter to the heart-rending strains of Rachmaninoff's 'Second Piano Concerto'. And as with Laura, it will end in C-minor.

Railways are not the ultimate answer. We are a tiny, dense island, with a complex network of modern communications, quite unsuited to the linear tracks and limited railheads of a 19th century network. Just take London Bridge (fingers crossed for me this morning!). Every day, trains come to a grinding halt as they approach this notorious bottleneck, each on a competing line from another epoch, the Railway Age, when private steam and coal were 'King'. Today, huddled commuters grapple in ancient, decrepit, chilly carriages, grimly marred by graffiti, grime and gashed glazing. And the cost per egregious mile of this dubious privilege is often 5 times that of flying to New York from London. A First Class Return ticket for me to Durham would be around £245 and a 'walk on' Second Class ticket circa £170 - and this does not include the extra journeys from my home town and across London.

Yet, to break this commuter stranglehold, we would have to destroy part of one of the oldest markets in London. Borough Market, established in 1756, and built in its present form by H. Rose in 1851, is a gem, where all the stalls offer genuine, farmers' fare and where Bridget Jones smoked and flirted her way through insecurity to love. As William Wordsworth declared of the Kendal and Windermere Railway: "Is then no nook of English ground secure/From rash assault?" (I'd love to hear him on wind farms!)

Railways are not, and never were, an environmental utopia. I should know. As a young lad, I was a keen ferroequinologist, 'student of the iron horse', and I roamed freely the spider's web of lines radiating out from Manchester. I too fell in love with the sight of an A4, like 60014, 'Silver Link', rounding the majestic curve of York Station, granted one of the wonders of the world. But my long-suffering mother was far less impressed by the filthy shirt and grimy neck of her son. Monday wash was a grey day of scrubbing and the mangle.

And now, even in a world obsessed by the myth and witchcraft of carbon dioxide emissions, modern railways must run nearly to capacity to gain any benefits from their high capacity/pollution ratios. And when the trains do reach their destinations, cars and lorries emerge from every corner to pick up weary souls, two hours late, and the freight from the broken-down monster that caused the delay.

Admittedly, passenger numbers have increased recently. Yet, this is true for all forms of transport and railways have simply been forced to take their part of the strain. And, of course, certain developments, such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (most certainly a good thing) and the Central Railway for freight may prove effective and exciting, especially as long distance, although the initial investments are likely to be enormous, no less than £11 million per track mile in the case of the Central Railway. But we are never going to return to the tank engine and the floral displays of Little Piddington-on-the Marsh.

One way forward is to reduce the overall need to travel. This will demand two things that we have singularly failed to achieve so far in the UK, namely a cost effective IT network and a much more entrepreneurially-encouraging system of taxation. Recent tax changes have even penalised those who wish to work from home on contract. Moreover, unlike in the US, we still do not have free local telephone calls, while broadband remains too slow in its uptake. We also need to push for far more flexible working patterns, especially for parents with young families and working mothers.

Sadly, railways just shunt us into a long-lost siding, albeit one with a quaint signal box.


Still, today, I shall thrill, yet again, to the marvellous curve of York Station and to the glorious view of the Cathedral as one arrives at Durham station - if I get there in good heart and time. Hope the lecture goes well too! Wish me luck!


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Kyoto Protocol is dead? Long live adaptation, says new book!

This interesting piece from the Montreal Gazette captures well a new and spreading realism regarding the fast-sinking Good Ship 'Kyoto Protocol' on climate change: 'Kyoto Protocol is dead' (Montreal Gazette, November 17) - "Russia was last nail in coffin. It's time for international community to move on and adjust to warmer world."

"The Kyoto Protocol's short and unhappy life has come to an end, though some of its die-hard supporters refuse to admit it. From the outset, it was flawed in principle. It has proven unworkable in practice. No one should mourn its passing."

Interestingly, a powerful new book is to be launched during the next two weeks on precisely the theme of adaptation to inexorable climate change: Adapt or die: the science, economics and politics of climate change, edited by Kendra Okonski and formally published in December 2003 by Profile Books.

In this new book (for which I was kindly asked to write a Preface), 13 experts challenge the conventional wisdom that the effects of climate change will be devastating for the environment and humanity, and that 'climate control', through international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, is the only way to stop it. Instead the authors argue that policymakers and society should focus on adaptation to deal with climate change. Climate control, they argue, will not prevent the negative effects of climate change, nor will it benefit humanity. By contrast, we must adopt policies that promote human well-being today and in the future, by eliminating disease and poverty, developing new technologies, and improving humanity's resilience to change.

I understand that the book will be launched on:

24th November in Copenhagen, Denmark;

27th of November in Milan, Italy;

1st of December in London, UK. Here are the details of the London launch.

The book has been deliberately published to coincide with the COP-9 meeting of the UNFCCC which will take place in Milan.

I think the UK and Europe should really start to the heed this book, not to mention the surrounding rumbles, or they will soon be the last souls clinging to a doomed ship. Icebergs ahoy!

I am looking forward to monitoring precisely how the UK media deal with this new publication.

Philip. Lunch soon!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

On Preposterous Penguins and 'Global Warming'.....

Although, as a Site, it is not quite my politics, I think you might enjoy the anti-'global warmers' Editorial Cartoon and Comment at Cox & Forkum: 'Warm Up' (my thanks to the boss of the excellent Black Triangle blog for this link). Isn't it funny how penguins always make particularly hilarious cartoons, from the scatological Steve Bell to the above, not to mention, of course, my own little feller typing away on his laptop. I trust this is not a severe case of global 'penguinism'.

And so to this......

THE sky is sepia over Gotham City. At Wayne Manor, Alfred Pennyworth has just ironed the evening newspaper and delivered it to the gloomy, panelled study.

“Have you seen this story?” Bruce Wayne cries out. “The Great Antarctic Ice Shelf is melting away. The Arctic has holes in it, and the igloos are turning to water!”

“Holy penguins! The birds are all falling into the sea!” Robin declaims.

“No! Unholy Penguin! The dark over the city is not natural; it is Penguin-made, from his smokestacks and dread industry. The world will boil if we do not stop him. Let’s go, Robin. The longer we tarry, the more dire the peril. To the Batmobile! Emission impossible…..”

Yet, by a rubbish dump, in a jet-black alley on the other side of the city, the Joker laughs. This’ll burn him out, the Cape Candle and his Boy Blunder. And they don’t know – even I can’t control the sun! Damn it! Climate change! I wish I could! But where is that accursed Penguin? The thought of light hurts my eyes! (To be continued…..)

Philip, who really adores penguins. I must now waddle off to the 'Great Wen'. Ciao.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Another Brent Spar? Mandelson lands powerful punch.....

Peter Mandelson MP, long-accused of being the arch-spinner, has given a straight upper-cut worthy of John Prescott to the ridiculous posturing and spinning about the so-called 'ghost ships' (fully reported in The Independent too!) (see my November 13 Blog): 'Ghost ships: the scare that never was' (The Independent on Sunday, November 16). Here is a key paragraph:

"Peter Mandelson, the local MP, accused the groups of 'colossal misinformation' after personally inspecting the two ships that docked in the north-eastern port last week. And senior government sources pointed out that the ships - continually described as 'toxic timebombs' by environmentalists - are in fact 'no more toxic than the average car ferry'."

Well done, Peter! I hate to admit this - but I once taught Peter biogeography. Glad to see common sense on the environment got through. Philip. Tea and toast, penguin?
Climates of Opinion (with thanks to Winnie-the-Pooh).....

A Climate Change Ditty


A Human of Little Brain (with deep apologies to Winnie-the-Pooh, who has more fluff than to worry about 'Global Warming'. A little something, now - that is serious!).

"On Monday, when the sun is hot,
I wonder CO2, or not?
Does cosmic ray flux do the lot?
I really don't know what is what!"

"On Tuesday, when it hails and snows,
Milankovitch will curl my toes!
For surely, he's the one who knows
If Heat Wave or an Ice Age blows?"

"On Wednesday, when the sky is blue,
Soot, aerosols - volcanoes too;
These factors seem to me too few!
Perhaps I'll turn to Dr. Who?"

"On Thursday, when it starts to freeze,
The sun begins to seem the wheeze!
Or water vapour, clouds, and trees?
I really cannot cope with these!"

"On Friday -- "

I give up worrying and (like Pooh) enjoy myself. "Hunny!" It's Feedback time!"

My recommendation to everybody on this gloomy Monday. Thanks Pooh - you are a comfort. Philip.
(P.S. Hope you like the picture of me typing on my laptop in the top righthand corner.)
Not NIMBYs - Defenders of the Last Wilderness for Us All.....

"This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the counsels of the great." (J.R.R. Tolkien, 'The Council of Elrond', The Fellowship of the Ring).

I am not by nature a campaigner, more an academic observer. Hence the normal character of this blog. But there will be one exception for which I do not apologise - attacking the absolute stupidity of government policy on promoting wind farms in some of our last remaining wilderness (see Blog below). Here is a telling comment, taken from a letter to The Independent (November 14), by John Kelly, F.I.E.E: "Any engineer or scientist who takes the time to study, dispassionately, the arguments of the wind energy supporters will come to the conclusions that wind power can never, be it on-shore or off-shore, deliver what it claims in terms of numbers of homes supplied or in reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and that the power that is generated is at such a high cost that it is only economically viable by virtue of a package of subsidies which, according to official figures, will be worth a billion pounds in 10 years' time. This must be found from the consumer to boost the profits of a few multinational corporations and shrewd investors." "It is time that this whole charade was recognised for what it is - the greatest scam since the South Sea Bubble." Absolutely, sentiments that echo to perfection the scathing denunciation of wind farms by the world famous environmentalist, Dr. David Bellamy (quoted at the head of my previous blog).

But the real battle is on the ground, in the Shires, where good folk care passionately for their landscapes and wilderness. Here is a list of just a few of the splendid web sites where the little people are fighting back for beauty and nature against the increasingly ugly and aggressive wind-farm orcs. And isn't it splendid that the internet allows this democracy against overblown organisations. Please give them your support in any manner you can.

The Hobbits Fight Back
Blade Runner!
Abingdon, Crawford and Elvanfoot (ACE);
Barningham High Moor;
Campaign Aganist Turbines at Shipdham (CATS);
Cefn Croes Wind Farm;
Community Against Bake And Trerulefoot Turbines (COMBATT);
Friends of Eden, Lakeland and Lunesdale Scenery (FELL);
Friends of Rural Cumbria's Environment (FORCE)
Marton, Askam and Ireleth Windfarm Action Group (MAIWAG)
Meikle Carewe Windfarm Action Group (McWAG);
Not on Ark Hill (NOAH, Angus);
Not in North Argyll (NINA);
Protect the Flint Hills [One US Site for Interest];
Save Our Borders Scenery (SOBS);
Save the Vale Action Group (Hardy's Blackmore Vale);
Say 'No' to the Scoutmoor Windfarm (Lancashire);
Say 'No' to the Whinash Windfarm;
Skye Windfarm Action Group (SWAG);
SOS Porthcawl (An Offshore Example);
Tairgwaith Action Group;
The Wight Against Rural Turbines (ThWART, Isle if Wight);
Views of Scotland;
Walkerburn Action Group.

Bravo to them all! Thank you so much. Philip. Lunch - and to raise a glass to England!! Rugby, of course! Watch out you Wallabies next Saturday!

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