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, February 21, 2004

The real cost of wind turbines.....

* The Danish wind turbine (vindmøller) industry has cost the Danish taxpayer 3,000,000,000 DKK over the last decade according to the Danish Society of Wind Turbine Neighbours;

* Photographs of rare raptors slaughtered by wind turbines in the Altamont Pass near San Francisco, California;

* Law suits over bird deaths - 'Deadly turbines' (The Mercury News, January 13): environmental group (the Center for Biological Diversity) sues over thousands of birds killed by wind turbines;

* Wreckage in the landscape (Denmark);

* Potential disfigurement of important historic sites: windräder in Germany and les éoliennes in France;

* Landscape destruction by l'energia eolica, Italy (click on the button labelled 'Galleria Fotografica');

* Noise pollution, Barrow, England.

Anyone heard of the famous precautionary principle? Or is that to be employed only when it is convenient for certain arguments?

Philip, taking precautions against 'green' dystopias.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Famous conservationist exposes the wind farm "scam".....

In what can only be described as one of the most excoriating letters against wind farms I have ever read, the famous conservationist, Professor David Bellamy, lays waste to any claims that this source of energy is good for the environment ('Come clean about wind farms', Letters, Country Life, February 19, p. 56). It is a magisterial piece of writing. I especially enjoyed:

"... I beg those green organisations that have been sucked into the vortex of vested interests that are pushing this environmental scam to come clean."

It now appears that wind farms are opposed by two of our finest environmental gurus - James Lovelock, of 'Gaia' fame, and David. It really is time for government to drop this folly of an energy policy.

Philip, with David B. 100%.
Rewriting that Guardian Leader.....

Some days, the Groaniad is just so depressing in its cynical and negative view of everything. Today is such a day, from the dire pieces by Naomi Klein and Colin Tudge to its 'Letters' of unalloyed Spartian disingenuity and the ever-so predictable 'Leading Article' on the government and GM maize.

I have thus rewritten the 'Leading Article' on GM maize in a positive and non-cynical mode. What a change! I feel better all ready:

The New Guardian, Leading Article, February 20, 2004.

Moral maize: yes

As a name, T25/Chardon LL, is hardly an advertiser's dream - but the genetically-modified maize to which it refers will soon, according to cabinet minutes published in this newspaper yesterday, be commercially grown in Britain, thus making it the first new GM crop legally approved for commercial planting in the UK. This is timely news.

The UK is already some years behind much of the rest of the world in developing and growing GM crops. Such crops are now commercially viable in countries as disparate as Canada and China, with over 6 million farmers, many small-scale and local, benefiting from the lower costs and reduction in chemical usage. In 1990, the UK was still at the forefront of biotechnology in agriculture, with many specialists working in the field. Today, by sad contrast, we lag worryingly behind, many of our experts having gone abroad to benefit from the more empathetic research and development environments that exist in other countries, including Australia and Germany.

The government is thus to be congratulated for taking both a strong moral and a sensibly pragmatic stance on this issue, despite the fierceness of the highly disparate, strident, and often irrational, opposition. The approach which appears to have been adopted by Margaret Beckett and her team is exactly right for any crop novelty - GM, conventional, organic, or alternative - namely, a carefully-researched, crop-by-crop, product-by-product, approach. Some GM crops will prove a boon for the UK; others will be largely neutral; while yet others will not be suitable for our special island conditions. It is surely correct to examine each novelty as it comes along and then to make a considered decision in each specific instance. Neither a blanket ban nor a blanket acceptance will serve British agriculture as it deserves.

The idea of an outright rejection of GM crops is dangerous nonsense for the UK. Very soon GM crops will move into their third and fourth generations with all sorts of exciting novelties, including the production of biodegradable materials for packaging, enhanced biofuels with good environmental characteristics, and consumer products, with benefits like lowered cholesterol and improved cooking qualities. GM crops will also be used for what is called 'pharming', to carry much-needed vaccines, medicines, and nutritional supplements. Moreover, some of the countries about to join the EU are already deeply involved with GM crops and GM research, and they could prove powerful competitors in the near future. It would be tragic if, yet again, the UK, once the leader in a scientific field, lost out through its failure of will in the politics and economics of novel development.

The prime minister and the government are thus right and brave to forge ahead, despite much 'Little Englander', 'Little Scottish', and 'Little Welsh' opposition. It is vital that the UK re-asserts its international leadership in the careful development of GM crops. Moreover, we must not let British agriculture lag behind the rest of the world at a time when it is already in so parlous a state. We are confident that, in ten to fifteen years time, the GM brouhaha will have been largely forgotten and that these crops will be taken as a normal part of modern agricultural life. We would also like to see GM crops being linked with organic systems for the very best of modern developments in agriculture. The present artificial dichotomy is foolish and unhelpful.

Philip, thank goodness for Polly Toynbee's piece today - at least there is a little light in the Groaniad's gloaming.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Look East.....

..... if you really want to know what is going to happen to world energy growth:

(a) 'Clean energy a distant dream' (Herald Sun - The Australian, February 19):

"Barbara McKee told an international conference on the Gold Coast yesterday the world's dependence on fuels such as coal and gas was likely to grow to about 87 per cent by 2020 rather than decline from the current 85 per cent as suggested by supporters of the Kyoto climate change protocol.

Ms McKee, who heads the US Department of Energy's office of coal and power import and export, said a key reason for the projected increase was that around 2.4 billion people across the world now had no access to commercial energy.

A large proportion of them lived in the Asia-Pacific region which had the fastest growing demand for energy."

(b) 'China to boost nuclear power as demand soars' (Planet Ark, February 19):

"Beijing has drafted a preliminary plan to quadruple nuclear power capacity to more than 32,000 megawatts (MW) between 2005 and 2020, or roughly two plants a year. China has built only eight reactors over the past two decades."

"Ah tow'd yer so!", as my father would have said.

Philip, losing megawatts at the sublime nonsense that is UK energy policy!
I never say "I told you so", but.....

Alex K's latest report speaks volumes of common sense: 'GM opposition "was overestimated"' (BBC Science/Nature News Online, February 19):

"A national debate across the UK about people's views of genetically-modified crops probably exaggerated the strength of anti-GM feeling, researchers say." Quite.

And (one hates to admit this) the government is absolutely correct to progress (as with all other novel products) step-by-step and crop-by-crop. We have regrettably allowed the debate to become idiotically polarised, with nonsensical hype on both sides. GM is neither the Salvation of the World nor the Great Satan. Now let's get down-to-earth and pragmatic - some GM crops will be great in the UK, others neutral, while others will prove unacceptable. And that's it. To reject or to accept GM outright would be equally foolish options.

And just watch the GM production from the states about to join the EU.....they won't hold back, and rightly so.

Philip, 65% mushroom - if not Fungus the Bogeyman to some! Nearly lunch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Playing the extinction card.....

Apologies that this is not on the web, but if you can glean a copy of Country Illustrated (Anniversary Edition 2004, out today), you will be able to read my colourful piece trumping all those daft attempts to play the extinction card in the 'Great Global Warming Game' - "Why '1 million extinctions' is just plain wrong" (Country Illustrated, February 2004, pp. 80 - 83). And if you don't like the article, at least the picture of the bee-eater is a winner!

Philip, as usual creating pandamonium.
There is a tide.....

Now, as readers of this blog will know all too well, I am just a touch tart about much of the material that finds its way into the ever-so right-on and rather smug 'Environment' pages of the 'Society Section' of the dear-old Groaniad. But today, the tide has turned and waves of penitence flow through my salty soul as 'The Guardian Two' release themselves to produce a very good article indeed on what is happening with our attempts to harness the power of the seas - 'Breaking with tradition' ('Society Section', The Guardian, February 18). I found this to be both a balanced and an informative piece (except, of course, for the inevitable conspiratorial start - you can't expect everything to change!). The picture of the wave is also wonderfully like those in Constable's master print, 'Brighton Beach'. It is, moreover, salutary to have an article pointing out clearly the potential benefits of sea power over wind power.

So thanks lads - you are spared any more poetry from Stotty Shakespeare! But here's the real thing:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;" or,

"The wild waves whist,-" Drive for power.

Philip, riding on the crest of a wave. I shall now surf for some coffee.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

To cull or not to cull [badgers, deer and hedgehogs (again!)…..]

'A Soliloquy for Margaret à Beckett'
(or 'David Archer on a Tractor with a Hamlet Cigar')
(Even deeper apologies to the Bard than usual)

TO CULL, or not to cull: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler for the farmer to suffer
The diseases and viruses of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a bloat of badgers,
And by gassing end them? To cull; let sleep;
No more; and, by their sleep to say we end
TB and all the thousand natural shocks
That herds are heir to, ‘tis a consumption
Devoutly to be miss’d. To cull, let sleep;
Let sleep: perchance they dream: ay, there’s the grub;
For in their sleep of death no beetles come
When they have snuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes a nonsense of a beastly life;
For who would bear the hog and deer of time,
Jaws of iron, proud eggs eaten contumely,
Vegetation grazed away, the law’s delay,
Introduced insolence that then spurns
The patient merit of our native stock,
When we are badgered day and night
By a bare hedgekin? Who would Pooh bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
And, like a David Archer, fear yet more dread
Of undiscovered cows, reactors showing
In Herefords gross tumours growing,
A farm with no returns and furrowed brow,
Oft many badgers, but no longer cow?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their udders turn all dry,
And lose the name of action.

Signed (for the lads at The Guardian), Stotty Shakespeare. I shall now get me to a bunnery for lunch.
Those Hebridean hedgehogs again (they get everywhere!).....

For today's 'Home Planet' programme on BBC Radio 4, listen here (if you are in the UK, it is broadcast every Tuesday afternoon at 15.02 GMT on BBC Radio 4; if you are outside the UK, you may still listen to it, online, via the BBC 'Home Planet' Web Page: (a) on the day in question, choose the 'Listen Live' button; or, (b) for one week after the first broadcast, choose the 'Listen Again' button; or, (c) after one whole week, select the relevant date under 'Previous Programmes'.). Today, you get Stotty et al. on those eggcentric hedgehogs of Uist (again!) (See 'The Tale of the Hebridean Hedgehogs', February 15); salmon, lice and wrasse; vinegary comments on cod and chips; and vernalisation! Quite puts a spring in your step! And some very interesting listener-feedback on wind farms! Well! Blow me down!

Philip, in jolly mood as the days lengthen! Not quite lunch - just time for a little something.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Cullable tales.....

As 'The Tale of the Great Uist Hedgehog Cull' ('Hedgehog find worth £20', BBC News Scotland, February 14) grows more bizarre by the day, here is EnviroSpin's very own.....

The Tale of The Hebridean Hedgehogs
(with deep apologies to Beatrix Potter)

ONCE upon a time there were four little hedgehogs who went to live on a Scottish island called South Uist (here is the map they used). They were good little hedgehogs and they only ate beetles and slugs – but they did breed so. Counting them became quite a prickly matter.

One day, the more adventurous hedgehogs set out across the island to see what they could see. They met a Tabby Kitten, who was washing her white paws. “Tabby Kitten, do you know where there are birds’ eggs to eat?” “Meow!” said the Tabby Kitten, still washing her paws. “You should go to Benbecula.”

So they sailed across the tiny sea to see what they could see. There they met a speckled hen. “Sally Henny-penny, do you know where there are birds’ eggs to eat?” “Cluck!” said the speckled hen. “You should go to North Uist. But please don’t eat my eggs.”

So again they sailed across the tiny sea to see what they could see. There they met Cock Robin, sitting on a twig. “Cock Robin, do you know where there are birds’ eggs to eat?” “Tseee!” said Cock Robin. “You should go to the seashore. But please don’t eat my eggs.”

So off they set once more, down to the grassy shore, moving as fast as their stubby legs would carry them. There they saw some white things spread out upon the grass and sand looking just like pebbles dropped from the sky. Soon they were cracking and crunching, sucking and slavering, with eggs for breakfast, eggs for luncheon, and eggs for tea.

But the poor birds waded about in the water looking feathered and downcast, screeching at the PRICKLES in the grass and piping a sad song:

“Lily-white and clean, oh!
Our eggs must be saved, oh!
Hedgehogs on this sandy spot
Never here be seen, oh!”

The hedgehogs became twitchy, because lots of big people, like Old Mr McGregor, heard the birds’ mournful piping. They came to carry off the hedgehogs and they put them in small sacks, as if they were pocket handkerchiefs. Sometimes the spikes stuck out like hair-pins!

But other big people - those who adore Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Squirrel Nutkin, and all the other pests that eat lettuces or eggs - became angry. They wanted to save the hedgehogs, prickle by prickle, and take them back to the old country and to their homes, where the Hebridean hedgehogs could eat nasty things like slugs and snails, about which they did not care quite so much.

But little did they know. The hedgehogs were soon climbing, climbing, climbing up into the trees to find more eggs – for, after all, they were HEDGEHOGS.

Motto: Treat animals as animals, not as cuddly bunnies with no prickles.

And the hedghogs certainly know what it's like to be out in the celebrity jungle - last year, many famous Luvvies, including Sting, Sir Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Joanna Lumley, Sir Tim Rice and Watership Down author, Richard Adams, apparently offered the animals homes over the summer!

Philip, about to snuffle in the larder himself. I bet hedgehogs can't make omlettes. Don't egg them on! Bad yolk! Promise I won't crack any more.

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

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