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, May 28, 2004

Well done, the lads! Tabloid Britain has some merits.....

"Half of Britons (52%) think trying to tackle global warming in Britain is a waste of time....."

I clearly fret far too much about my fellow citizens being swept up by foolish hysteria over 'global warming'. The most recent MORI poll demonstrates an admirable imperviousness in the tabloid and red top masses to environmental ecohype. Thank goodness. It seems that doughty commonsense keeps trendy metropolitan fashions firmly in their place. Here's a full report in The (non-tabloid) Scotsman:

'Awareness of Global Warming "Is Low"' (The Scotsman, May 27): "Public understanding of climate change and the international political agenda to tackle this issue is low, according to a poll out today.

Half of Britons have never heard of the Kyoto Agreement – the deal legally binding countries to reducing greenhouse gases and ratified by Europe, Japan and the developing nations.

The findings by Mori Social Research Institute, come on the eve of the release of the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow. [If anything, this will turn them even more off. A howler indeed.]

The report shows the British public may be out of step with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s opinion, that climate change is the most important issue facing the world today.

It also reveals a level of ignorance and scepticism over environmental issues."

I just love down-to-earth British scepticism. I suspect the real interest ranking is:

Beckham and Posh;
Diana still;
=Football (European Cup);
Some highly dubious topics;
Iraq war/peace;
This thing about 'the wevver' - "Is it going to be well hot this summer?"

Philip, off to have lunch with the redoubtable Fred Singer. Will be great to see him again in London. Listen out for Fred on the excellent 'Jeremy Vine Show', BBC Radio 2, at 12.30 pm BST (you can listen online).

Thursday, May 27, 2004

How big a howler is The Day after Tomorrow? Vote now .....

The Times critic howled with laughter when he saw The Day after Tomorrow. How many howls does the film deserve? (5 = one of the worst 'science' films ever).

Have fun, and do vote - in the sidebar, on the right. Thanks.

And here, just to keep you going, is our very own Bjorn Lomborg's recent review of the film: 'Entertaining discredited ideas of a climatic catastrophe' (The Australian, May 27): "The second let-down is more fundamental: none of the movie's thrilling developments could happen."

And Philip's verdict: save your hard-earned cash for Harry Potter. Far more adult and much more fun. Magic even.

Philip, enjoying hearing the wolves howl. But, as The Times critic warned: "If you are being chased by packs of wolves in frozen Manhattan, head for the Public Library with a cute girl and a box of matches." And, if you would like to hear the wolves howl, then go here (.wav file - sound on, please) at the excellent The Searching Wolf Web Site. Moreover, instead of wasting your time watching the film, why not visit the superb Wolf Park for a much better, real-life, experience? Tea time.
Nuclear Power is Good for 'Gaia'.....

James Lovelock's recent high-profile promotion of nuclear power has brought about a mighty fission in the Great Green World of 'Gaia'. His practical fusion of pragmatic commonsense and clear logic doesn't seem to appeal to the more fundamentalist and puritanical of the faithful(now there's a surprise).

But, of course, when you strip away all the myths, he is absolutely correct about nuclear power. It is basically "Good for 'Gaia'":-

(a) Nuclear power (currently 17% of the world's electricity supply) has the safest record of any major form of energy production. In the West, it has killed no one and injured no one. An analysis by The Paul Scherrer Institute of the number of serious accidents worldwide (i.e., they killed at least 5 people) in the energy sector between 1969 and 1996 gives the following telling results:

Oil = 334; coal = 187; natural gas = 86; LPG = 77; hydropower = 9; nuclear = 1.

(b) Nuclear weapons require enrichment of over 90%; nuclear power needs less than 10%. Most nuclear waste is useless for making weapons.

(c) Nuclear power stations release no 'greenhouse gases'. Over the whole energy cycle audit, they release lower levels of 'greenhouse gases' than any other energy source, including solar power and those dreaded wind farms.

(d) The radiation from a nuclear power station is less than that from a coal-powered station or from a large hospital. (And there are fewer superbugs too, despite the jokes!)

We need a new slogan: "Nuclear Power is Good for 'Gaia'!"

Philip, slaying those hydra-headed myths one-by-one. Lunch at last. "Enriched, I hope?" he said, glowingly.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Humans, fire and climate change.....

One of the many areas in which ecologists and climate scientists tend to make totally unsupported assumptions is in their assessment of the potential contribution of biomass fires to modern climate change. They have no sense of the ecological history of the last 18,000 years to 1 million years. I therefore welcome this excellent (and how often can we say that!) report in today's The Independent (May 26): 'The burning issue': "Israeli researchers have pushed back the date at which humans harnessed fire by half a million years."

Although there have been various earlier claims for the controlled use of fire by hominids as far back as 1.4 million years (in Africa), "Richard Klein, an expert on early humans, from Stanford University in California, says the Israeli scientists have made an important discovery. 'I think they have made by far the best case yet for humanly controlled fire before 250,000 years ago.'"

What we can certainly assert is that humans/hominids have been managing fire as a tool for a very long time, and may be for some hundreds of thousands of years.

Yet, in many climate and palaeoecological studies, it is just assumed that we have witnessed a significant modern increase in gas and particulate emissions from biomass burning. This is likely to be completely wrong on two basic accounts:

(a) First, we know that around 12,000 years ago, and earlier, there were far more savannas and grasslands in the world than there are today. Indeed, fire-prone savannas 'ruled' the tropics and the sub-tropics, there being hardly any true forests at all (so much for the myth of the ancient rain forest, by the way). Most of South East Asia, Africa, and even large portions of Amazonia were covered by savannas. Moreover, quite independent of the human use of fire, these savannas burnt annually through natural fires resulting from lightning strikes and other causes, thus contributing historic major (non-anthropogenic) emissions into the atmosphere;

(b) Secondly, and as now supported by the latest Israeli study, we must accept that humans have themselves been employing fire, both directly and indirectly, in ecosystems for hundreds of thousands of years.

The real position is thus probably entirely the opposite of that so often assumed. Today, gas and particulate emissions from biomass fires are probably at one of their lowest levels ever in the last 1 million years because of the long-term retreat of the grasslands and savannas and because of the many curbs in place on the human use of fire.

Although world historic fire ecology is only one small example, it illustrates just too clearly the inadequacy of so many of the 'assumptions' built into current, short-term ideas about modern climate change. In certain parts of the world, grasslands have dominated for millions of years (e.g. southern Africa), while, in others, savannas were far more widespread at the end of the last Ice Age, to be replaced by forests as the Earth warmed.

In summary: our current knowledge of world landscape change over the last 18,000 years to 1 million years shows how dangerous it is to make untested assumptions about current 'greenhouse gas' emissions and particulates and to employ these in models. As a long-time savanna specialist, you can see precisely why I think many climate scientists are suffering from a severe bout of 'presentism'.

Philip, off to graze.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Day after.....

Trenchant review of The Day after Tomorrow in USA Today (May 24): '"Day After Tomorrow": a lot of hot air': "As a scientist, I bristle when lies dressed up as 'science' are used to influence political discourse. The latest example is the global-warming disaster flick, The Day After Tomorrow." Read on. No comment from me required.

And here is another, truly scathing, review from, of all places, Fox News itself (May 25): '"Day After" and $200 Million Short': "Hilariously awful in most places, with an incoherent script and questionable acting, 'Day After' will come on Friday and the question will be: Can innumerable, mind-numbing special effects, nearly all of them created on a computer and placed in what can only be called a random order, overcome sheer inanity?"

Philip, far more terrified, of course, by Harry Potter's Dementors! Now they do leave one cold! Salad?
Climates of opinion, or questions, questions, questions.....

In 2000, Professor S. Fred Singer listed a large number of queries about climate change (see: 'Global warming: unfinished business').

Interestingly, few of these serious questions have been satisfactorily answered during the intervening period. Indeed, many have even been bolstered by recent scientific and economic research. However, the idea that there is a scientific consensus over climate change remains a dangerous myth. Good science above all admits what it does not know. In the light of the current hysteria over 'global warming' in the UK, therefore, I am repeating some of the more interesting questions that Fred raised here (with a few small additions of my own). Moreover, this is timely, because Fred is due to be interviewed about the dire film, The Day after Tomorrow, on the ever-excellent The Jeremy Vine Show (BBC Radio 2) this coming Friday. Do not miss it (around 12.30 pm, I believe).

Climates of opinion: re-iterating Fred's concerns

Climate science is not "settled" - it is both uncertain and incomplete. The available observations do not all support the mathematical models that predict a substantial global warming and form the basis for a control policy on greenhouse (GH) gas emissions. Many Russian scientists, for example, remain highly sceptical about the models. We need a more targeted program of climate research to settle a whole range of major scientific issues.

1) The fate and control of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere is uncertain: its uptake into the oceans; the biological pump; the missing carbon sinks. The future growth of atmospheric CO2 depends crucially on estimates of residence time and of the amount of fossil fuels likely to be used for energy production. Some researchers suggest an 8x pre-industrial value, while others doubt whether CO2 will even double. New research has now cast doubt on the whole economics behind much of the modelling;

2) The temperature record of the last two hundred years is of poor and varied quality and shows many discrepancies. Surface temperatures disagree with recent measurements from satellites and balloons. The 'urban heat island' effect may skew the record, and current methods to account for this effect have been criticised only recently; systems of measurement have varied greatly throughout the period, and remain particularly poor with respect to the air over the oceans;

3) General Circulation Models (GCMs) vary by 300% in their temperature forecasts, require arbitrary adjustments, and cannot handle crucial meso-scale and micro-scale cloud processes. Their forecasts of substantial warming depend on a positive feedback from atmospheric water vapor (WV);

4) GCMs cannot account for past observations: the temperature rise between 1920 to 1940, the cooling to 1975, and the absence of warming in the satellite record since 1979. Various explanations need to be explored: reduced positive feedback from WV; increase in cloudiness; the cosmic ray flux (CRF); anthropogenic aerosols; human-made landscape changes; increasing air traffic; solar variations influencing climate;

5) Prehistoric climate fluctuations, on timescales as rapid as a decade, are prevalent - as judged in the data from tree rings, sediments, and ice cores. Such climate events are not explained by existing models, nor can current GCMs account for El-Nino events, the North Atlantic Oscillation, and other contemporary rapid changes in climate;

6) Sea level (SL) rise is a major feared impact of a future warming. It seems likely, however, that increased evaporation from the ocean may lead to more rapid accumulation of polar ice and a lowering of sea level. This possibility is supported by an observed inverse correlation between SL rate of rise and tropical sea-surface temperature (SST). Real-world sea-level curves show no rising eustatic sea-level;

7) Severe storms and hurricanes have diminished in the past 50 years. A global-warming trend is calculated to reduce the latitudinal temperature gradient and therefore the driving force for storms and severe weather;

8) Global agriculture will likely benefit from climate warming and increased precipitation; increased CO2 leads to more rapid plant growth; increased nocturnal and winter warming leads to a longer growing seasons. Farmers can, and will, adjust to climate changes, as they always have;

9) The spread of disease vectors, like malaria-carrying mosquitoes, is likely to be unimportant in comparison to human vectors. In addition, medical science and insect control technology are sure to progress;

10) Historical evidence supports the idea that warmer climate intervals are beneficial for human activities, food production, and health. Colder periods have had the opposite effect. Some periods of 'The Little Ice Age' were truly dire for human populations. Moreover, in purely statistical terms relating to the last 800,000 years, we are not too far off the next Ice Age;

11) Mitigation techniques are available that can slow down the rise of atmospheric GH gases and a possible climate change: energy conservation and increased efficiency often make economic sense; hydro- and nuclear power are available now; solar energy may be around the corner; 'clean' coal is on its way; tree planting, ocean fertilization, and the long-term geological storage of carbon may be low-cost methods of sequestering atmospheric CO2;

12) Policy measures should be applied with great caution, and only when justified by scientific data, lest they create more harm than good. In particular, mandatory controls on energy use by whatever method can create great economic losses, impacting especially on poor people and poor nations.

There are many, many more questions to add - particularly on the economic side - but these will do for starters.

Hysteria and the 'global warming' myth are dangerous for us all.

Philip, in need of strong coffee.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Sending the Greens nuclear.....

James ('Gaia') Lovelock is always an independent and thoughtful contributor to the environmental debate. He is also a most delightful person - one of the nicest with whom I have had the pleasure to debate on TV.

Although I personally disagree with him on the threat of 'global warming' and on our ability to 'manage' climate change predictably, I still entirely accept his internal logic that, if you are someone who really believes in dramatic 'global warming', the only mid-term energy option is nuclear power [to which I would add, coupled possibly with the long-term geological storage of carbon and with the development of 'clean' coal]. The rest is so much hot air and puritanical wishful thinking.

Thus, in many ways, I am pleased that James has re-iterated his position today in The Independent (May 24): 'Only nuclear power can now halt global warming' - Leading environmentalist urges radical rethink on climate change: "[Lovelock's] call will cause huge disquiet for the environmental movement. It has long considered the 84-year-old radical thinker among its greatest heroes, and sees climate change as the most important issue facing the world, but it has always regarded opposition to nuclear power as an article of faith. Last night the leaders of both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth rejected his call."

I bet they did - for, inevitably, green theology can't take sound, practical logic. Lovelock's position neatly exposes the utopian dreams (e.g. wind power) that pass for Green energy policy. Unfortunately, these could damage us all (not to mention put billions out-of-work and into poverty as well as damaging landscapes like our last remaining moorlands and estuaries), whereas, at the very least, James would energise the world.

I do hope I can remain as independent and vigorous as James if I make 84.

Philip, hat-tipping a former debater. Tea?
Two big wry smiles on The Day after Tomorrow.....

First, among all the twaddle being written about The Day after Tomorrow, here is an excellent comment in The Daily Telegraph (May 24): 'Climate change is a great opportunity':

"The biggest puzzle here is our enthusiasm to believe that we're all doomed unless we stop burning oil and coal. Of course many of those preaching environmental disaster would secretly be pleased to see it happen.

Quite apart from the immense satisfaction of the told-you-so, they reckon we've got it coming, especially in the West, because we have been so irritatingly successful. More people than ever before are living healthier, longer and wealthier lives than their grandfathers could have contemplated, in almost every part of the globe.

We love spooking ourselves, which is why we go to movies such as Independence Day. Global warming, though, is as much an opportunity as a threat, and the money being squandered on cutting CO2 emissions would be far better spent on finding ways to exploit the opportunity, especially for the world's poorer countries. Economic growth, not bunny-hugging, produces the resources to tackle big problems. So enjoy the movie, but do remember: it's fiction."

And, secondly [and in good time], here is my own very wry view of The Day after Tomorrow (journalists - please feel free to quote): The Day after Tomorrow appears to be just another, rather cartoon-like, Boys' Own, disaster movie, and I'm sure it will be enjoyed as such. The Ice Age was, I think, more fun, and certainly rather wittier (especially about evolution). Moreover, poor-old New York has been destroyed so often now, by big gorillas to aliens, that another crushed apple won't prove the ultimate crunch. In addition, the 'science' of this particular New York blockbuster would seem to be no less hokum, and we should not take it seriously. Nevertheless, I'm absolutely certain that the 'Green' bunnies will be on every media warning us that we shall all freeze, fry, or flood [take your pick] in our burrows if we don't mend our naughty ways. It will be somewhat amusing to see these earnest souls desperate to extract the maximum 'shock' value from such wayward science. But will I go to see it? You must be joking! I'm saving up my pennies for something much more fun - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the De-Luxe DVD of The Lord of the Rings. After all, these are far more realistic! Enjoy the disaster, but then go out and have a nice meal- and forget it.

Philip, your saner Film Critic. Popcorn time? "Hi! Could you turn down the air-conditioning in this cinema, please? Thanks."

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

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?