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.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Code blue emergency.....

'Global warming' is on hold folks. It is two decades since Boston and New York experienced such a long stretch of bitter cold. Here is a splendidly graphic piece of reporting: 'Freeze shocks cities into stillness' (USA Today, January 15):

"Meanwhile, the second arctic blast in two weeks was expected to continue today for the coldest stretch in nearly two decades. Record lows were predicted for dozens of cities, including New York; Boston; Providence; Hartford, Conn.; and Newark, N.J. The record low atop New Hampshire's Mount Washington — minus 34 degrees in 1934 — also was expected to fall."

'Cold Mountain' indeed!

And here's the weather for today: 'Bitter cold, blustery winds and subzero wind chills retain their icy grip on the East' (USA Today, January 16):

"A low of 1 degree was reported overnight in New York's Central Park, matching the record set on the same day in 1893, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Silva. North of the city, in White Plains, the temperature dipped to zero, he said."

Help - the Ice Age cometh! Get pumping out that carbon dioxide at once! Where is the Mammoth Protocol?

Philip, I'm staying across the pond. "But have the little ducklings survived on Beacon Hill?" Ice-breaking news needed urgently.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Aerosols cool the climate debate.....

I'm sure that everyone remembers the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) diagram (IPCC 2001, Figure 6.6) which examines our degree of knowledge, and uncertainties, about different agents possibly involved in global mean radiative forcing (if you can't find the original, the much-abused Dr. Lomborg most helpfully reproduces the diagram as Figure 139 in The Skeptical Environmentalist).

On the cooling side of the diagram, there is something called the 'aerosol indirect effect', our understanding of which is classed as VL, i.e. 'Very Low'. Intriguingly, it appears that this might possibly more than balance out, on the warming side, carbon dioxide, about which our understanding is classed as (how surprisingly!) H, i.e. 'High'.

Now read this, just published in Nature - 'Pollutants that cool' ['Observational evidence of a change in radiative forcing due to the indirect aerosol effect.' Joyce E. Penner, Xiquan Dong & Yang Chen, Nature 427, 231–234 (2004)]:

"Anthropogenic aerosols (tiny particles that contribute to smog and haze) can enhance cloud reflectivity by increasing the number concentration of cloud droplets. Many small droplets scatter more sunlight back into space than fewer large ones, so in theory an accumulation of aerosol particles can produce cooling, known as the indirect aerosol effect. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that the indirect effect of aerosols might be negligible, in part because of a lack of direct evidence that this mechanism affects the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared. New data from sites of polluted (Oklahoma) and clean (Alaska) air show that aerosol pollutants affect cloud optical depth significantly, at a magnitude expected from the indirect aerosol effect, and hence that this effect is an important factor in climate."

Well! Well! Something I have been saying for yonks. It is also worth recalling that no less that 66% of the factors/agents in the famous Figure are, like the 'indirect aerosol effect', classed as VL, i.e. about which we have only a very low level of understanding, while for three others we possess only L, low, or M, medium levels of understanding. One agent alone is classed as H, for which our understanding is thought to be high - now I wonder what that little package might constitute? Remember, as well, that water vapour and clouds remain the big modelling problems!

So, with the famous recent work on temperature, cloud cover and the cosmic ray flux (CRF), followed by this on aerosols, things are looking distinctly.....


Philip, off for a late cold snack for lunch.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Acres of print on GM..... and yet more acres of GM crops.....

It is always fascinating, if not necessarily edifying, to compare and contrast the coverage of the GM debate in our glorious media. With the recent advice of English Nature and Acre (The Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) to the government possibly giving the 'green' light (how the 'greens', by contrast, are seeing 'red'!) to GM maize, the acres of print have been most productive, modified or not. Here is a selection for your delectation:

(a) The Guardian (January 14) is relatively straightforward about the spring time-line for maize, but it adds a sting in the tail, namely that, given the controversy surrounding GM crops, a full cabinet decision may be required;

(b) The Daily Telegraph (January 14) also suggests that Britain is bracing itself for GM crops in the spring. It states that, despite widespread opposition, Acre has supported GM maize and that there may even be qualified support for GM oilseed rape and GM sugar beet under different field regimes;

(c) The Daily Mail (January 14), ever predictable, talks of a spring introduction for maize, ahead of a series of approvals for other products, in the face of 90% opposition! Here is the Mail in typical 'Femail' Section mode: "The decision - by the Government's Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment - flies in the face of official polls showing 90 per cent of people oppose 'Frankenstein' crops and food." [Not quite what a significant recent survey concluded - namely that folk would choose GM food if the price was right!];

(d) The Daily Mirror (January 14) focuses on the fury of the protestors as large-scale GM farming comes a step closer. It is worth deconstructing some of the language used by this (er!) 'Newspaper of the Year': 'furious', 'warned', 'death knell', 'angry', 'threat' and, of course, the inevitable 'Frankenstein foods';

(e) The Independent (January 14) notes that Acre has given a "partial approval", and also mentions the spring time-line. Some of the reporting here, however, is above average: "Professor Jules Pretty, deputy chairman of Acre and an ecologist at Essex University, said that it was the way that a GM crop was managed - rather than simply whether it was GM or not - that determined whether the damage took place";

(f) The Sun (January 14) even gets in on the act, suggesting a spring planting. This is splendid tabloid stuff - five simple sentences, each a paragraph, ending with: "Greenpeace blasted the maize recommendation." Amaizing and quite corny. Clearly a new disease - 'Green Maize Blast'. Clever reporting though - "Get yer cobs off";

(g) Some Scottish newspapers also report the story, suggesting that the advice is mixed and a hot potato for government. Here are The Scotsman (January 14) and The Dundee Courier (January 14). The Courier writes: "Politicians were yesterday handed the hot potato of deciding the future of genetically modified cropping in this country after receiving mixed messages from the Advisory Committee of Releases into the Environment, which was specifically appointed by the Government to come up with answers on GM";

(h) And, lastly, here is the standard BBC Online Science/Nature News (January 13) and the earlier report of the New Scientist (January 04).

On slightly wider issues, I have to say that there is a lot of muddled thinking in all this. If evidence of greater herbicide use is seen by some as a reason to postpone GM Herbicide Tolerant (GMHT) crops, then conventional sugar beet should immediately be banned in favour of GMHT beet, where herbicide use is incontrovertibly lower.

Moreover, misinformation on US maize herbicide-use is completely irrelevant to any consideration of UK sugar beet and oilseed rape. A major reason for increased herbicide use in US GMHT crops is the growth in 'No-Till' farming that is made possible. Again, I find ideologically opposition to 'No-Till' odd in the face of the massive evidence (accumulated since the 1930's dust bowl problems in the central USA) that eliminating tillage is the single most important step in soil conservation to reduce water and wind erosion, which occurs on a large scale in many areas of the world (outside western Europe) with vulnerable soils/climates. No-tillage is an essential component in making agriculture sustainable through preventing soil loss. More damage has been done to soils worldwide in the C20th by tillage and overgrazing than by any other factor. It is thus sad to see opposition to this essential practice just for the sake of attacking GM crops.

So, watch this space! The acreage of GM print (like GM crops!) can only grow! As we go through this charade, the rest of the world is just getting on with it: 'More acres devoted to biotech crops' (The Washington Post and Yahoo!News, January 14):

"The global acreage devoted to genetically altered crops jumped 15 percent last year, the seventh straight year of double-digit growth and a sign that a broad controversy over the safety of the technology has not deterred farmers from adopting it."

Philip, fed up with the wholly-contrived brouhaha. Dinner.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Germaine homes in.....

For today's 'Home Planet' programme on BBC Radio 4, listen here (select the 'Listen to the Latest Programme' button, top left). Not only do you get Stotty et al. on Australian swamp stonecrop and hummingbird hawk-moths, but also Professor Germaine Greer, no less, on NIMBYism. Lively stuff. Fauna and frolics all round.

Philip, attacking the Tasmanian invader (not Germaine, of course!) - the devil in our ponds!
'Global warming' humour at last.....

I have recently encountered some of the more fundamentalist of the 'global warming' faithful. They make Eeyore seem positively Tigger-like!

I am thus beginning to feel that I need a little more bounce myself (many would disagree!) - so how about some 'global warming' humour? And here to provide a laugh is last Sunday's 'Wizard of Id' strip: Comics.com (January 11).

I just love that opening cell: "A reporter has been standing outside in the snow for two hours waiting for an interview."

Idiotically, idiosyncratically, idiomatically, idiolect.

Philip, whose id wants more of the idem! Coffee time!

Monday, January 12, 2004

Cold comfort for the 'global warming' faithful.....

My apologies for no full blog today - I have been busy broadcasting. But here are two noteworthy items relating to some of my own recent rantings:

Melanie Phillips has written a powerful version of her original blog (see January 10 below) for her Daily Mail column (January 12) (The Gang of Three at SIAW won't be happy bunnies as they wait around in their socialist burrow): 'The global warming fraud':

"So global warming has become big business."

"This is ironic. For it is yet another variation of left-wing, anti-American, anti-west ideology which goes hand in hand with anti-globalisation and the belief that everything done by the industrialised world is wicked. The agenda to cripple this world is revealed by highly questionable assumptions made by climate modellers about likely developments in economics, technology or population movements, which affect emissions and consequent temperature predictions."

And here is The Christian Science Monitor (January 12) on that record-breaking North American freeze (see blog for January 11): 'As temperatures plunge, a nation dons earmuffs':

"Global warming? Fuggedaboutit! North Americans have had a universal case of the shivers in recent days. Sweeping across the country from the Pacific Northwest to New England, the Polar Express brought storms and bone-chilling cold."

"For many cities, there were record low temperatures: 19 below zero at Montpelier, Vt.; 16 below at Syracuse, N.Y.; 7 below zero at Scranton, Pa. St. Johnsbury, Vt., bottomed out at 27 below, eight degrees warmer than Whitefield, N.H., at minus 35 degrees for the nation's low. Even Georgia, Alabama, and Florida had freeze warnings."

I just love the "Fuggedaboutit!"

Philip, still worried about those little ducklings on Beacon Hill. They have no ear muffs, I'm sure. And what will they do if the ice doesn't quack.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Boston, Buffalo and Providence increasingly chilly about 'global warming'.....

Well, dudes, just look at this (from Don Sutherland's The Winter Center - 'Forecast Discussion', New York, January 11, 2004):

"Yesterday [January 10] saw near record and record low readings, as the coldest air mass in a decade covered the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states."

Minimum temperatures (Fahrenheit) included:
Albany: -11
Baltimore: 6
Boston: -3 (record low)
Buffalo: -7 (record low)
Burlington: -11
New York City:1
Philadelphia: 4
Providence: -1 (record low)
Richmond: 14
Washington, DC: 8

And to turn the icicle yet further into the heart: "As cold as these readings were, there is increasingly strong model support for an even colder air mass later this week." Possibilities are:

Boston: -10 to -7
New York City: -6 to -3
Philadelphia: -5 to -2

Grief! Those little ducklings will be in trouble on Beacon Hill!

Meanwhile, Canadians are also praying for some 'global warming'.....

Here is the weather situation for Canada, 10 January:

"The intense cold of the Pacific west has moved across to the east, and is currently responsible for temperatures of -27 Celsius (that's -17 Fahrenheit - brrrrr!)and below!

With the extreme cold, electricity consumption has skyrocketed as residents of Manitoba try to keep warm. Over the course of this weekend, the temperatures may well creep up a little, but it looks as though they could plummet once again at the start of next week."

In the extreme cold, together with high winds, the fire fighters are having their work cut out responding to emergencies. Fires in New Brunswick were very challenging to put out due to the extreme weather." (From: 'Weather News', BBC Weather, January 10).

Shiver my timbers! Mr. Blair is going to have a hard job persuading Mr. Bush about that warming world. And even Canada might start to cold shoulder Kyoto once again.

Philip, as mild and warm-hearted as ever.
Waiting on both Socialism and Melanie.....

One blog that is always interesting to read and which has been kind enough to recommend EnviroSpin (if, understandably, with significant caveats entered) is Socialism in an Age of Waiting (SIAW).

Here SIAW takes both Harry's Place and EnviroSpin to task for daring to link to Melanie Phillip's uncompromising blog on 'The global warming scam' (January 9): 'Butterflies and Bees' (January 11). There is also a neat comment about Ophelia Benson of Butterflies and Wheels.

And here is SIAW's original comment on EnviroSpin, with which, funnily enough, I have some sympathy: 'EnviroSpin Watch Watch' (January 4):

"All that said, in the absence of a Marxist alternative (we are not specially qualified or well-informed enough to provide one), EnviroSpin Watch performs a useful function - if only to make those who disagree with Stott, as we often do, clarify exactly why they disagree."

That seems fair enough to me. One of the striking features of the blogging world is the availability of a wide range of comment that so often falls between the editorial cracks of the media. Likewise, I find SIAW of value, because it helps me to understand why a significant portion of the 'left' remains somewhat queasy about many 'green' constructs.

Luckily, there are now a range of blogs, 'left' to 'right', 'libertarian' to 'authoritarian', that really do make the internet something of value. Many are by folk who would be far better commentators than most of those currently writing in the hard-copy press (Norman Geras and Oliver Kamm spring to mind). Moreover, they often represent excluded voices, those lying outside the febrile and self-referential world of the metropolitan beltway and North London.

Blogging can thus create a nexus of understanding that is impossible either through stereotypical newspapers (e.g., Telegraph readers hardly ever read the Guardian) or through more formal, campaigning web sites. I see this as a genuine advance in interactive democracy, and a challenge to old-fashioned journalism.

I am thus grateful to both Melanie Phillips and SIAW, and I will link to both, as occasion fits. And, I fear, Melanie is absolutely right on so much about the 'global warming' grand narrative.

Philip, very much enjoying our brave new world that has such bloggers in it. Lunch!

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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