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 14, 2005

So much for the future of British science.....

An important and worrying piece from Josie Appleton over at Sp!ked: 'Taking the spark out of science' (Sp!ked, January 13):

"Health and safety concerns are putting a dampener on school science practicals. A survey of teachers and scientists finds that everything from keeping snails to swabbing for cheek cells, running model steam engines to burning peanuts, is now being avoided because it is seen as too risky. The result is that children are being turned off science - with experts fearing for the next generation of chemists and physicists."

Oh dear! We are becoming such a wet and pathetic generation. People seem to want to squeeze the spark out of all living and learning. Without risk, there is no life, just a vegetable existence. Probably suit the politicians, mind you.

Philip, with apologies for the slow blogging - I have been busy broadcasting and speaking in schools (despite being a clear risk!).

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

We still need witches to burn, hang and drown.....

The human capacity for self-delusion is surely only matched by a deep desire for self- and 'other'-flagellation - "Mea culpa! We're all doomed!" The extraordinary attempts to implicate human sinfulness in the cause of the Indian Ocean tsunami, not to mention the recent storms in Europe, know no bounds - they range from sinful drunken policemen in Indonesia via a wrathful God and a Satanic Dubya to big oil! It all goes to show, yet again, that Bruno Latour was right: "We have never been modern". It is not sufficient to acknowledge the simple and down-to-earth truth that we live on an intrinsically restless physical planet, both atmospherically and geologically. We still need witches to burn, hang and drown.

In particular, I have rarely heard such rubbish as that being dumped to try to link current weather in Europe to the tsunami and the tsunami to current weather in Europe. One respected radio programme seemed quite put out when I said calmly that there was no link whatsoever between the tsunami and the recent floods in Cumbria, north-west England! That was the last thing they wanted to hear. They needed witches weaving spells.

I wonder what all these heretic hunters would have made of the dreadful year, 1589? The final decades of the 16th century - right at the heart of the 'Little Ice Age' - were a climatic horror story in Europe, with mighty storms sinking ships (including a goodly portion of the Spanish Armada in 1588) in the Atlantic and on the North Sea. 1589 was particularly of note because of the rather dramatic attempts to bring King James VI's bride, Anne of Denmark, over to Scotland. These were thwarted over and over again by absolutely treacherous weather. You can just see the headlines in The Gloomiad (Scottish Edition, September 3, 1589): "Anne's royal tryst thwarted by Global Cooling", report by Peter the Green and John-a-Vitals. Admiral Munk, who had been given the rather dubious honour of bringing the new Scottish Queen safe to shore, was not a happy mariner, and he roundly observed to any who would listen that he had never known such storms in all his long life (he must have many descendants working in the media).

Confined one day to his storm-tossed cabin, he at last divined the answer - of course, not knowing of CO2 and oil and Dubya, it was the work of witches, and he recalled with tremulations that he had cuffed a certain Copenhagen citizen, the wife of whom (unfortunately) was a notorious witch. She was clearly a pretty powerful witch to boot, because, after his third attempt to steer the good ship Gideon to Scotland, he was forced to land the Queen in rough old Norway. It is rumoured that the poor 14-year old Queen was ever so pleased to see dry land again, even if it was a frozen fjord and not a warm royal bed - unsurprising really, as she had been nearly drowned and crushed to death. The bitter (and frustrated) King likewise implicated witchcraft - it was the tenor of the times.

So remember folks - America, and big business, and oil, and CO2, and patio heaters, and you and me are little more than the latest big bad witches - it's just that they are dressed up in a bit of modern flummery, that's all. Computer models are but the new cauldrons writ large. Don't be bewitched and befuddled. Still, watch out for the witch hunts: witch-finder generals abound, and The Lord Blair is sending them far and wide to scour the land.

Rationality is facing its next great crucible; the ever-righteous finger will point at me, and at you. The baying crowd will cry for hangings, and the media will fuel the flames. Expect it to get much worse before sense returns to a saner land.

Philip, fascinated by how human nature never changes.
The Concorde Fallacy.....

Back40 (always a thoughtful read) improves on my analysis and little essay of yesterday ("Time to be adult about 'global warming'", below) at the Crumb Trail blog: 'Sunk cost effects' (January 10).

Sadly, I think he may be correct.

Philip, off to the sales! Groan. Still coffee and cake.....

Monday, January 10, 2005

Time to be adult about ‘global warming’.....

The ‘Bushwhacking’ of the Kyoto protocol and the failure of the public to respond to increasingly shrill hype about 'global warming' have plunged Europe, and the UK in particular, into apoplexy. ‘Green’ organisations, politicians, a pantheon of environmental correspondents, and a remarkably compliant and uncritical media are wilfully spreading gloom and doom about the Earth. Why? Because they are increasingly terrified of anyone who dares to challenge their most precious myths - that the science of climate change is ‘known’, that humans are the prime cause, and that we must all mend our ways at once if we are to save the planet.

In UK bien pensant circles, ‘global warming’ has become one of the grand narratives of the ‘New Age’. To argue against it immediately transforms you into a lackey of the fossil fuel lobby, a paid patsy of industry, an eccentric sceptic, or, to use the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s, phrase, ‘an enemy of the people’. I hope I'm none of these, but I must ask: ‘Is the science really known?’ ‘Are humans the single cause?’ And ‘Are the Kyoto protocol and 'climate management' the most effective ways of facing climate change?’ On all counts, I doubt it, and increasingly so.

Despite the allusions to ‘science’, to rising emission curves of CO2, to melting ice caps, and to this or that climate model, the construct of ‘global warming’ has little to do with ‘science’. It is fundamentally a socio-political idea that can be firmly dated to 1988, when it replaced the earlier ‘threats’ of a nuclear winter and a plunge into another Ice Age.

The CO2 curve has been known since the late-19th Century, but only in 1988 did it come into its own to legitimise the new ‘Green’ agenda of curbing population, industrial development, fossil fuel use, the car, America, capitalism, and globalisation. Here was a ‘science’ that could be employed to horrify the world into action, to verify the ‘grand narratives’ of Rachel Carson, of ‘Small is Beautiful’, and of ‘The Limits to Growth’, which, by the late 1980s, had been melded into a ‘Green’ view of the world. Moreover, any extreme climate event, a hurricane or a flood, could be claimed as a product of ‘global warming’, and thus of our own evil actions and selfish greed. The ‘morality’ of the new ‘Green’ agenda was deliberately linked to a carefully-garnered ‘scientific’ legitimation, yet it is important to note that the basic agenda had already been formed well before the ‘science’ was used retrospectively as a tool of legitimacy.

But ‘global warming’ isn’t climate change. The truth is that, despite all our best efforts, we have no grasp of what is really happening to climate. We can all agree that there has possibly been a small rise in temperature since around 1800 AD, but this is hardly surprising when you recall that we are emerging from a ‘Little Ice Age’ that ended around 1880 AD. Moreover, from the end of the 1940s to the 1970s, there was a cooling trend. Yet more, in 1200 AD we were 1 to 2 degrees C warmer than we are now (despite ‘global warming’). Further, our climate models remain primitive, more primitive than Lara Croft, and they ignore many factors, from soot to Pacific ‘vents’ to the cosmic ray flux. The 'vents' alone could reduce warming estimates by as much as one third. It is vital to remember that all the dramatic projections we see in the media are just politically-selected ‘scenarios’ taken from fundamentally limited models.

More significantly, climate change is governed by millions of factors, some gradual, others catastrophic, ranging from the flip of a Monarch butterfly’s wing, through the character of the Earth’s surface (albedo), volcanoes, oceans, water vapour, the geometry of the Earth, solar cycles, dust, space debris, and chaotic attractors. The idea that we can predict the future direction of long-term climate change based on the human semi-control of just one factor is unbelievable.

Yet worse, the Kyoto and climate control/management agendas are flawed for another reason. In tempting people to think that we have the power to halt climate change, - surely one of the biggest myths of all time -, this distracts us from the need to recognise that change is the norm and that humans have always coped with change, not by trying to play God with an entity still beyond our comprehension, and utterly beyond our predictive control, but by adapting to change where and whenever it appears, hot, cold, wet, or dry. There is no such thing as a stable climate; even a grinning Mr. Blair cannot change this fact. It is a utopian dream, but one which could undermine our drive for flexible development in the face of inexorable change. Like a King Canute, we must admit that we cannot control the elements, although we can improve our planning for them, as with the dreadful Indian Ocean tsunami.

It is time to be adult about climate. Cutting ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions will not halt climate change. The Kyoto protocol and 'climate control' are no bases for sensible policy-making. During the next few months we are going to be assaulted by a massive media and government propaganda machine to make us all bow to the Great God of 'Global Warming'. We must stand our ground with dignity and with thoughtful and courteous argument. We must weather the storm.

Philip, in fighting mode. Coffee.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


Do not miss paying a visit to this most interesting blog on proposals for an Open Tsunami Alert System (OTAS):

"The Open Tsunami Alerting System (OTAS) is an open-source project to supplement the existing tsunami warning systems in a decentralized, non-governmental fashion. OTAS does not attempt to supplant any existing warning systems, and will be designed to integrate easily into other tsunami warning systems."

The sinister left dextrously analysed.....

A trenchant piece from Nick Cohen in today's The Observer (January 9): 'Cowards of the left' (differently headlined in the print version: 'Our illiberal elite'):

"Many don't want to acknowledge the breakdown. Times when old certainties fall apart are unsettling. They force people to decide what they believe in: Do you want priests to be able to control 'their' people? Are you for fascism? If you answer 'no' to both questions, you will undoubtedly find when the battle is joined that you will have to spend as much time fighting the left as the right."

Well worth the read.

Philip, wondering what the story is behind that change of headline? Hm! Coughee and comfort for my cold! Aaaaaaaachooo!

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

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