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 13, 2005

Friday charivari.....

(a) "Where have all the flowers gone?": even the Sainted Joan, icon of the 60s, Pinter's ex, and The Thinking Man's Crumpet, is now contemplating a future with civil nuclear power: 'From the Cuban missile crisis to Windscale, I've never been a nuclear fan. But is it time for a rethink?' (Joan Bakewell writing in The Guardian, May 13):
"I was recently in Great Yarmouth and saw out at sea the great wind farms in action. They are sprouting up all over the place and predictably prompting objections from local people who don't want them to spoil their view. Besides, the protesters tell us, renewable energy is so costly and needs such extensive investment for small returns, that we need to think again. All week in Oxford, discussions have been going on about renewables, from which the nuclear discussion is excluded. But the debate cannot be long delayed.

Changing your mind gets harder as you get older. You arrive at a worldview which seems the sum total of all life's lessons. So it is with me. It sits comfortably to be anti-nuclear power. I conjure up the evidence of my life - the nuclear race, strontium 90 in the milk, the Windscale disaster. But now I'm beginning to think it isn't enough. I'm going to have to think it all through again."

Wow! For a 60's soul, like me, this is as dramatic as a polar magnetic reversal. The world has turned upside down. Let's throw a 'Birthday Party' for Joan's 'Homecoming'. How Pinteresque!

(b) We are now GM billionaires: this week, a farmer, somewhere, planted the billionth acre of GM crops: 'One billionth biotechnology acre and counting' (PR Web, May 11):
"This is a huge milestone for the world. Just ten years ago, biotech crops became commercially available for the first time. Since then, they've been adopted with astonishing speed. In the United States, about 85 percent of all soybeans, 75 percent of all cotton and nearly half of all corn is biotech enhanced.

Just how big is a billion acres? Let's start by recalling that the traditional understanding of a single acre is the amount of land a yoke of oxen can plow in a day. In German, the word "Acker" means, literally, "a field."

Today, of course, we need more precise measurements - and so a square acre measures precisely 208.75 feet per side.

A billion acres is a lot of territory. It would take more than 27 land masses the size of Iowa to fill up that much space.

If you lined up a billion square acres, they would circle the planet at the equator more than 1587 times. They would reach to the moon and back 164 times. They would go all the way to the sun and all the way back - and still have some length left to spare.

Some years ago, it was possible to say that biotech crops were a newfangled concept. Today, with a billion acres of them now planted, they are a conventional source of food."

Successful crop trashing, lads and lassies! Our 70s-something Joan will be drinking GM cocoa next!

(c) Gee 8! Get those climates of opinion: at the next G8 meeting, Tony Blair wants a new approach to climate change. Listen to America's Chief Climate Negotiator, Harlan Watson, outline on BBC Radio 4's flagship 'Today' programme (May 13, 08.32 slot, audio on) US resistance to the Prime Minister's plans. Mr. Watson pours a large bucket of cold water on the idea that there is a hot consensus over the scientific evidence demanding urgent action. Cool listening!

Oh! What a hippy-happy day for the Greens - Joan goes nuclear, a billion acres of GM, and the US calls Europe's cant. Must be Friday the 13th!

Philip, off to Bluewater to challenge the hoods! Hm! Coffee and carrot cake.....

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

New times for David Aaronovitch.....

Do not miss David Aaronovitch's splendid farewell G2 essay at The Gloomiad: 'So, some people think I'm rightwing ...' (The Guardian, May 10). This says it all about the 'Dave Spart' left that has so lost its arrogant way. Nose pegs all round:
"All of a sudden I began to experience the left from the outside. And the first thing that struck me was its capacity for smug certainty and uniformity of response."

From Iraq to the politics of 'global warming', we know precisely what David means.

I understand that David is now moving to The Times. This is good news, and I look forward to reading his penetrating commentaries from the saner left in my own DNOC.

Meanwhile, all one can say about the current form of The Groaniad is: "Mein Gott!"

Except, of course, for the quite excellent Martin Kettle: 'My God, Labour will miss him when he has gone' (The Guardian, May 10):
"So much for the voters, then. The electorate may have chosen in their reduced millions to return a Labour government with Tony Blair at its head, but that was last week. This week, it's back to business, almost as though the election counted for nothing. For too many journalists and Labour MPs, it is clear that the voters are now deemed to have come up with the wrong answer. If the democratic process chose not to get rid of Tony Blair, then they - we - will now have a go at remedying the voters' verdict. It was all absolutely predictable but none the less shocking and outrageous for that.

Call me old-fashioned, but the renewed obsession with Blair's departure is not merely disrespectful to the democratic process and to the voters. It is an outright defiance of it. Frank Field was right to call it a kind of treachery yesterday. I hear a lot of people complaining about the government's disregard for the liberty of dangerous people. But if we cannot live with our democracy then we really are in trouble. Get over it....." Bravo! It needed saying.

Philip, also pleased that Jeremy Vine has won the 'Speech Broadcaster of the Year' award. He has been much better balanced on a whole range of issues than many of his more chatterati equivalents. Brr! Boy, this is a chilly May! I can't even sit out in the garden for breakfast... 'Global warming! Global warming! Global warming!' Oh! I forgot - I should put on the patio heater!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nuclear power is already at the centre of the post-election debate.....

The Sunday newspapers make it clear that a complete re-assessment of Britain's energy policy is now on the cards, and not before time. This is something that Philip and EnviroSpin have been arguing for ages (see, for example, the recent essay, based on my pre-election 'Comment' in The Times, entitled, 'Energy and British Politics', at my neophytic web site: A Parliament of Things).

Today, The Observer breaks the news on the forthcoming energy re-assessment with a leaked, confidential Whitehall document seen by the newspaper. This is a 46-page briefing for incoming ministers drawn up by the Director-General of Energy Policy at the encouragingly re-named (Saturday blog, below) Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry: 'Secret papers reveal new nuclear building plan' (The Observer, May 8):
The briefing warns incoming ministers "...that key policy targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and boost green energy are likely to fail, and that decisions on new nuclear power stations must be taken urgently. It advises that 'it is generally easier to push ahead on controversial issues early in a new parliament'.

The document points to the key role new nuclear power stations, which do not emit carbon dioxide, would play in tackling carbon emissions. It states: 'We now have 12 nuclear stations providing 20 per cent of our electricity carbon-free. By 2020 this will fall to three stations and 7 per cent as stations are retired.'

It also points to the increased risk of an electricity supply shortage after 2008, when a number of nuclear plants are due to close, and warns of a growing reliance on imported gas supplies.

It continues: 'Extending the lives of nuclear stations and/or new build could strengthen the generating sector's contribution to CO2 reductions, by 2020 and beyond.'

But it adds that to avoid a very steep drop in nuclear output a decision is needed quickly, because it takes a decade to get stations operational... (read on)

This scoop is then backed-up in the newspaper by a useful comment and analysis from Brian Wilson, who was Energy Minister between 2001 to 2003: 'A question we can duck no longer' (The Observer, May 8):
"The reason energy policy was the dog that didn't bark during the election campaign is that each party has a problem in making its public position sound credible. They all pay homage to the need to address climate change. It is more difficult to put forward solutions that are both convincing and cost-free to the electorate.

But there is going to have to be a major review of how the UK plans to meet its domestic targets and international obligations on emissions. The pretence that this can be achieved through renewables and energy efficiency will have to be abandoned [my italic].

Two pennies are dropping. The first is that there is a dichotomy between aiming for massive reduction in demand while making political virtue out of cheap energy. It just isn't happening, particularly in the domestic sector. Second, the pursuit of renewables is self-defeating if their benefit in carbon reduction terms is cancelled out for 20 years by the decline of nuclear power.

More than anything else, it is this latter consideration that has put nuclear back on the agenda..." (read on)

Although not possessing The Observer's scoop document, The Sunday Times (May, 8) likewise underscores the urgent need for action on nuclear power in its 'Leading Article':
"Energy policy, now being run by Alan Johnson, is another key area. An early decision is needed to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations. Once that has happened the government can abandon the industrialisation of the countryside with the hideous wind farms that will only make a token contribution to Britain's energy needs."

With respect to this vital issue, it will be interesting to observe FoE, Greenpeace, and their ilk, hoisted on the petard of 'global warming'. Undoubtedly, Mr. Blair will employ fears over 'global warming' to try to drive through a decision on nuclear power, which some Greens (especially 1960's and 1970's souls) hate even more. Yet, in reality, the country has little choice. Energy-efficiency gains will be eaten up by growth, while Britain can only generate the core 93% of its energy requirements from some mix of coal, gas, and nuclear power. The question for Mr. Blair is simple: how do you sell the final decision on the precise mix to a British public, who will be whipped up into a frenzy of fear by the usual suspects?

Luckily, such daft proposals as those for wind farms in the iconic Lake District and at Ben Lomond may help Mr. Blair in this. These proposals are so insensitive (stupid, one might even say) that they have already caused normally-Green groups, like The Ramblers, to back off wind farms:
"We all know that action on climate change is vital... but are giant turbines in the countryside the only answer?"

Accordingly, a deep loathing for wind farms in beautiful British countryside is growing by the day and among all sorts of people, from the literati to the glitterati, from farmers to ramblers. Moreover, government is too well aware of the high cost of wind energy, as against nuclear power (onshore wind, plus backup = 5.4p/unit; offshore wind, plus backup = 7.2p/unit; nuclear, including decommissioning and waste = only 2.3p/unit). Rising electricity costs will endear no government to a critical electorate.

Thus, as I have often said: watch Tony B. manipulating 'global warming' in order to persuade the British electorate (and reluctant ministers, like Margaret Beckett - see: 'Beckett puts block on the building of new nuclear power stations', The Sunday Telegraph, May 8) that nuclear power just has to be. And don't (especially our American cousins) get too upset by his climate-change exaggerations. Rather, sit back, and enjoy observing the more authoritarian Greens caught out by their own rhetoric. "What larks, Pip!"

See also today on this topic: 'Plans for nuclear energy set to spark cabinet row' (The Independent on Sunday, May 8):
"Proposals to build a series of nuclear power stations in Britain will be put to Tony Blair this week by Alan Johnson, the new Secretary of State for Productivity, Energy and Industry.

The Prime Minister told senior aides before the election that he would use any fresh 'political capital' to launch a personal crusade for a big programme of reactor-building.

He partially cleared his path last week by moving Patricia Hewitt, who opposed new nuclear power plants, from the Department of Trade and Industry, which was in charge of energy policy..." (read on)

And do return to EnviroSpin often - energy policy is going to be one of the biggest debates in Britain for some time. I'm really up for this one. Indeed, I feel totally energised, as are my nuclear family.

Philip, off for some caffeine to stimulate him further. Too little solar power today. No - the sun is out! The garden folks..... Collared doves all round. And there's a little wren on the path.....

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

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