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, May 07, 2005

"Yes, Minister!" Energy's back in fashion.....

EnviroSpin is doing well. We predicted that the debate on energy policy would come to the fore as soon as Mr. Blair had cleared the election hurdle. And so it has.

The first sign that energy is to become a serious issue once again was demonstrated within 12 hours of Mr. Blair's historic re-election, with the re-naming of 'Trade and Industry' as 'Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry' (here is the new Cabinet, BBC News, May 6). Moreover, the job has been given to one of the most reliable of ministers, and a known Blairite moderniser, the excellent Alan Johnson, a man with his feet on solid ground.

The revised name says it all. This will be a New Labour government, which will focus on maintaining British competitiveness and on supporting industry that has been suffering visibly in recent months - witness both Rover and Marconi.

Moreover, there is 'energy', at the core. This follows the pre-election call by a number of industry luminaries for a Ministry of Energy.

I'm delighted. It is a sensible re-start to government, and a move in the correct direction. Now, the nuclear power and energy debate can begin in earnest.....

Philip, "Time to focus on energy, Humpy." "Yes, Prime Minister." "Coffee in the garden. The sun is out, the laburnum is in golden flower, and the birds are warbling." "Spring is sprung,/ The Blair is ris',/ I wonder where/ The Howard is?" "Very droll, Bernard."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Labour wins historic third term.....

Well! EnviroSpin wasn't that far out. We predicted a Labour victory with a majority of around 78. With most seats now in, the current prediction is for a final overall Labour majority of around 66, plus an independent from Wales.

You will hear a lot of Blair-bashing rubbish about the Prime Minister limping back into No. 10, with phrases like "a drastically-reduced majority". It isn't "drastic" at all. This is media sneering and much wishful thinking by some, especially the anti-war brigade and London metro-elites. Blair is the first Labour leader ever to win three consecutive terms of office (see: 'Blair secures historic third term', BBC News, May 6). It is a tremendous achievement. And, historically, a majority of 66 is large by any standards - it only looks somewhat diminished because Blair's first two wins were extraordinary landslides. Such landslides are, of course, rare, and they are highly unlikely for a government that has been in power for some time.

Moreover, you have to remember that this is a majority over all other parties. The gap between Labour and its nearest single challenger, the Conservatives, remains a chasm, with Labour on well over 350 seats and the Conservatives on less than 200. The Liberal Democrats will end up with around 60 seats, while, thank goodness, there are no Greens or other extreme minor parties with seats, except for the Welsh and Scottish national parties. Northern Ireland does not count until this afternoon, but it is, in any case, sui generis. The only cumulonimbus cloud of the evening was Bethnal Green and Bow; the least said about that, the better

So, for me, this is as good a result as one might, in all honesty, expect. On EnviroSpin, we shall now monitor, over the next months, what it will mean for science, for the environment, and, above all, for Britain's energy policy.

For the moment, however, I'm just relieved that Mr. Blair is back where he belongs - and somewhat knackered after a long night!

Philip, with the slogan: "Coffee, coffee, coffee!" Triple espressi all round. And well done, Tony.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Vote with pride and read The Guardian with a peg on your nose.....

It often appears that The Guardian is full of young men who play silly games. The newspaper's reputation for unthinking ageism is well-known (oh so liberal!), while its infantile election pranks (remember Clark County, Ohio) are just about worthy of an undergraduate magazine. Today, however, it plumbs the depths: 'Time for Operation Nose Peg' (The Guardian, May 5, scroll to bottom):
"Time for Operation Nose Peg: hundreds of readers have requested Polly Toynbee's ingenious nose pegs to allow them to vote Labour today while holding their nose. If you are one of them, don't forget to take a picture of yourself at your polling station wearing the nose peg and G2 will publish them after the election. Email nosepegs@guardian.co.uk or send your pic to G2, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER."

Well, let's first recall what happened following The Groaniad's ill-fated Ohio campaign:

The Presidential Results for Clark County, Ohio, 100% of precincts reporting:

Bush (Incumbent): 34,941 (51%)
Democratic, Kerry: 33,535 (49%)
Non-Partisan: Badnarik 185 (0%)
Non-Partisan: Peroutka 146 (0%)
Swing to Bush: 9%.

So that really worked, then, lads. Perhaps, at this election, we should launch a counter 'Operation Nose Peg'. We could all be seen reading The Guardian sporting an enormous Cyrano de Bergerac-sized honker clip. After all, the stench of the self-righteous dismissal of Mr. Blair, of the Iraq war, of the most effective Labour government for many years, of Christianity, of Israel, of America, of Bush (far cleverer than they know), of older folk like me, and of anybody who dares to challenge gilded metro-elite smugness - with everything wrapped up, of course, in re-cycled environmentalist (as distinct from environmental) garbage - is rank. No wonder print sales are plunging. It'll be matching the New Statesman next! Dog whistles all round.

Animal reading The Guardian with peg on its nose.Indeed, should we go so far as to submit photographs of ourselves holding The Gloomiad at arms length and putting Polly's nose pegs to genuine good use?

No. Much better - we should just go out and vote with pride, for Labour and for a prime minister who has bravely taken tough decisions in a naughty world. I disagree with Mr. Blair on a number of issues, but he is not a liar and he has led with conviction and with honour - just compare him to the rest of our European leaders! What a shady bunch! We do not know how lucky we are.

Thus, today: VOTE FOR LABOUR and for MR. BLAIR - and pegs on while you sniff the wailing Brownites who lard the greasy columns of the Groaniad's 'Opinion' Section. How they will go for Mr. Blair when he wins! I trust he hangs on in there for another three years at least.

But, more seriously: above all vote, if only to show how much we value the bravery of those who voted in the fledgling democracy of Iraq. To sneer about democracy, however fragile and imperfect, and about the hard-won right to vote is a self-indulgent luxury of a pampered people, of those who have never known the lash of the non-democratic world.

Vote Labour.

Philip, who has already appropriately voted at the The Veterans Club. And I bet more of us oldies vote too. Lunch, and a toast to Tony in a crisp sauvignon blanc from NZ. Cheers! Now where is that peg? "Yes, I have hung out the washing, dear!"

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Going nuclear after the election - the need to play politics.....

It is significant that today, the very day before the General Election in the UK, The Times leads with an excellent comment on nuclear power. Despite the failure of many electoral candidates of all parties to mention the 'N' word, it is abundantly clear to most sensible political commentators that there is no way that the next government will be able to duck the issue of developing a new generation of nuclear power stations. Indeed, because the only practical alternatives for generating 93% of Britain's electricity are coal and gas, there is no option but to face up to this vital issue - the energy elephant is beginning to break the furniture in the room.

My prediction (and I got one set of 'reds' - Liverpool - correct last night) is that Labour will be returned with a majority of around 78, or more. It is true that there will be some strange results locally, with odd Lib Dem Gains and Labour Losses, but Mr. Blair should be back in No. 10 by 4.0 am on Friday morning. I likewise predict that he will stay on as Prime Minister until 2007. Blair has long had his political agenda and he remains driven to see this through to a conclusion. I have no time whatsoever for the bleating 'left' which claims Mr. Blair is a 'liar' and cannot be trusted. Beneath, he is a man of conviction and of faith, and his concern to improve Britain is genuine and powerful. Here I agree entirely with Alice Miles writing in The Times (go to The Times, 'Opinion', today) and I disagree profoundly with Polly Toynbee in The Guardian.

What the rabid left cannot grasp is, that to achieve his agenda, Mr. Blair has to persuade an ever-reluctant and difficult electorate of unpalatable truths - but we should remember that treading carefully and warily is not deceit. It is practical politics in a complex and demanding democracy.

And it will have to be exactly so with nuclear power. Mr. Blair knows that, ultimately, we, as a country, will have little choice but to go nuclear. The question is: how to sell the big 'N' to a public that has been treated so poorly by the nuclear industry in the past? On this issue, there is indeed no trust, but not because of Mr. Blair.

Accordingly, I should like to ask my many friends and colleagues who are 'global warming' sceptics like myself (especially our American cousins) to try to understand precisely why Mr. Blair will have to argue for 'dangerous climate change' during the next couple of years. This will be the only way that he can convince the British public that nuclear power and technology are the way forward for energy. In essence, politically, he has to demonstrate that the dangers of 'global warming' are worth the risk of nuclear power. It's as simple as that.

Likewise, readers of this blog will know that I am as severe a critic as any of the 'global warming' paradigm; yet, because I am now so concerned by the looming gaps in Britain's energy provision, you may even hear me, of all folk, never mind Mr. Blair, setting aside on occasion my criticisms of 'global warming' in order to strive to bring some sense into energy policy. If in the end, worries about 'global warming' will help the new Prime Minister to achieve the next generation of nuclear power, then it has to be thus.

So, tomorrow: vote Labour with pride; yet, take Mr. Blair with a pinch of snuff on 'global warming'; but support him as strongly as possible when he attempts to turn the Good Ship 'Energy' round in turbulent British waters. Let's rid, as soon as possible, the landscape of those disfiguring wind farms that do nothing signficant about our energy problems and let's plug the energy gap at its core. Otherwise, Britain's economic half-life will be short indeed! Decay will be inevitable.

Philip, ready to play the politician when there is no choice. I had better take a long spoon to my morning cuppa....! "Yes, dear! And I will have a banana too." All this monkey business.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Oh dear! Our bien-pensant 'journo bods' feel their concerns are being ignored..... Weep! Weep!

As somebody who normally admires the critical writings of David Aaronovitch (one of the few luminaries in the dark recesses of The Gloomiad), I was a tad disappointed by his piece today: 'We seem to be forgetting the big issue' (The Guardian, May 3):
"Missing altogether were the topics that we seem to have spent the most time arguing about: Iraq, and what most of us serious journo bods privately agree we should spend most of our time arguing about - the environment."

First, that risible, self-indulgent phrase: "serious journo bods". Yep, David, you precious few who know the truth about everything from Iraq to climate! By contrast, of course, the benighted electorate, the bedint, poor souls, wouldn't recognise a proper concern if it hit them. Unlike our self-regarding metro-elite, they are clearly suffering from false consciousness. Arrogant balderdash! I'm delighted that the public has shown the sound sense to ignore much of the middle-class media hype over environmental issues. Indeed, it has been one of the few blessings of this election campaign that the words, 'global warming', have hardly been uttered. That truly makes me warm to Tony and Gordon (who both surely noted that their ice creams didn't melt yesterday in Gillingham).

I was also sad to see David's piece falling into that classic Gloomiad trap - a touch of ageism:
"So nothing on climate change. And though it was true that most of those in the room will be dead long before their low-lying town is finally inundated, it was still rather shocking, given recent reports from the Arctic and the evidence that stuff is happening right now."

Look, David, we older bunnies have children and grandchildren, and we are most certainly concerned about the future. It's just that we've heard media scare-mongering throughout our lives and we have wisely learned to take it calmly and with an un-PC pinch of snuff. After all, during the last forty years, I have been threatend with an Ice Age, a nuclear winter, the collapse of world population, then a swarm of people, the collapse of world agriculture, etc., etc., ad nauseam. None of it, of course, has happened. This is why the down-to-earth British electorate has developed the innate good sense to ignore fashionably-journalistic ecohype.

Indeed, what is currently fascinating about the election is the fact that the Labour vote appears to be holding at around 40% despite the many pompous, and often much-touted, defections from Labour by our chatterati (just look at the bunch spouting off in the latest New Statesman for a stomach-churning sample). And the reason (well-argued by Peter Riddell in The Times today) - the solid Labour base knows a good thing when it sees it and ignores the media crap over Iraq and the environment.

So, no self-indulgent vote for the wet Lib-Dems, or the even-wetter Greens, from me: I'll stick with the less puffed-up, but far more reliable, Labour core (the Conservatives are just lamentable and not worth mentioning).

And David: you are normally a fine critical commentator. Please don't go soft and swallow the Gloomiad's daily dish of tripe and onions.

Philip, getting the beer in for a long Thursday night. Here's a summary of how the polls are going: Electoral Calculus.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Quotes of the Day.....

All the quotes for today are taken from a quite superb analysis by Graham Searjeant writing in The Times ('Business' Section, May 2): 'We have to give growth the thumbs up':

"Raising petrol taxes or reducing car use in Britain will not save our planet. Quite apart from self-interest, if raising Western industrial energy costs loses business to China, carbon dioxide emissions would rise." [my italic]

"To meet the Kyoto long-term targets that the countries signed up for, cuts would on current projections need to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions altogether by 2050. Even if America made its contribution, the target would be incompatible with growth in developing countries on present technologies."

"But there is not the slightest chance of stopping the momentum of global markets. For the three billion people of China, East Asia, and the Indian sub-continent, rising living standards are being achieved largely through trade....This means they depend on rising demand from richer countries."

"Today, as in the 1960s, dreaming of zero growth just diverts us from the task."

Thank goodness for some economic reality. The Times has become increasingly sane on 'global warming' and energy. By contrast, The Groaniad and The Independent live in cloud-cuckooland. Well done, The Times.

Philip, always seeking sanity over Britain's future energy requirements. Now I need a Musa to fuel my own morning? Coffee and banana, everyone?

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Burying 'global warming'.....

Your Sunday miscellany raising lots of new issues about good ol' 'global warming':

(a) An intriguing report by Robert Matthews on the problems faced by academics critical of the standard line on 'global warming': 'Leading scientific journals "are censoring debate on global warming"' (The Sunday Telegraph, May 1):
"Two of the world's leading scientific journals have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming.

A British authority on natural catastrophes who disputed whether climatologists really agree that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, says his work was rejected by the American publication, Science, on the flimsiest of grounds.

A separate team of climate scientists, which was regularly used by Science and the journal Nature to review papers on the progress of global warming, said it was dropped after attempting to publish its own research which raised doubts over the issue..."(read on).

(b) James E. Hansen, one of the fathers of the 'global warming' syndrome, demonstrates his own independence by raising serious issues about a vital climate-model variable (see: Hansen, J.E., et al. 'Earth's energy imbalance: confirmation and implications.' Sciencexpress, April 28, 2005). In this, Hansen argues that the surface temperature ultimately changes 0.67˚C per Watt per square meter (W/m2). Originally, in 1988, he thought it was a full degree; in 2001, he lowered this to 0.75; and now he has given us the even lower figure, which should markedly depress the range of possible climate-change scenarios. A discussion of the new paper can be found here: 'James Hansen increasingly insensitive' (World Climate Report, April 28):
"Hansen calculates that since the 1880s, there has been, in net, an added +1.8W/m2 of radiation reaching the surface, (resulting from positive additions from greenhouse gases, solar changes, black carbon aerosols, and negative changes from sulfate aerosols and land-use changes). His Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) climate model produces a total change in temperature as a result of the 1.8W/m2 of added energy to the earth's climate system of about 1.2ºC (indicating a climate sensitivity of about 0.67ºC/Wm2). Since the planet has warmed up about 0.6-0.7ºC between 1880 and now, that leaves another 0.5-0.6ºC of warming yet to occur. By 'yet to occur' we mean that it is not yet being measured by thermometers at the earth's surface. Using the 'old' sensitivity of 1 degree would give a remaining warming of 1.1˚C, or nearly double what is now expected.

These are big changes and should be big news [my italic], but it is apparent that those who report on these matters may be far from a hand calculator."

Hm! With respect to report item (a) above, why indeed is this seemingly important revision not being reported by the British media?

(c) At last, the geological storage of CO2 is being reported and considered seriously: 'Greenhouse gases buried at sea' ('Money Section', The Sunday Telegraph, May 1):
"The capture and storage of CO2, or carbon sequestration, is not new but the Miller project would be Britain's first. Under the scheme, carbon dioxide emitted by power stations would be liquified, pumped back out to the North Sea via a disused oil pipeline and stored in the depleted Miller field.

The discussions are still at an early stage but if an agreement is reached, the potential benefits could be huge. Scientists estimate that, on average, just one such project could remove 1m tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere every year - the equivalent of the combined emissions pumped out by 100,000 4x4 cars every 12 months."

And there's a lot of support for this from geologists. Rock on, say I.

(d) Finally, if a tad solipsist, my posh new A Parliament of Things web site is now fully up-and-running, with over 20 essays and other comments on the site. I hope you will enjoy the climate, energy, biodiversity, forest, and miscellaneous pages. Do please visit. Thanks as ever.

Philip, unlike The Observer (Editorial Comment, May 1) - The Gloomiad's Sunday stablemate - , delighted that ecohype over 'global warming' has not clouded the elections at all. Yet, will it rain on Thursday? That is the marginal question! What a shower! Time for a good tipple? "Club claret, old chap? Carruthers?"

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

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