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 21, 2005

Fast-breeding conspiracies.....

It had to come. The nuclear power conspiracy theorists have been fast breeding in the 'Green' left reactors, and their big megawatt output station is, of course, the New Statesman: 'The nuclear charm offensive' (New Statesman, May 23):
"We are all being taken in by a carefully planned public relations strategy. Its mission: to push nuclear power back on the political agenda, rebranded as the new 'green' alternative."

Yea! Yea!
"What had happened was that a group of journalists had taken the bait offered them by a few canny public relations experts. It was a spectacular PR coup, but how had it happened and who was behind it?"

Cue! Dark, dramatic, blade-running music.

Of course, the fact that there may be a sound case for re-considering nuclear power seems to have passed by such spin-obsessed brains. And what power generator doesn't spin (especially wind)? Enrons all round.

Moreover, what weak journalists. Pathetic. Taken in by PR, I ask you. Wake up lads and lassies: this is the real world, not Nutwood.

And why shouldn't the pro-nuclear bods take advantage of the excessive hype over 'global warming'? The leftie Greenies and the Chicken Little environmentalists have, after all, given nuclear a gift. They're bound to react.

The 'New Statesman', by the way, is running a vote on the question of nuclear power (top right of page: 'Does nuclear power meet our future energy needs?'). Time to help the conspiracy along, I deem. EnviroSpinners, please do take a moment to vote there.

Philip, unspun, and still for nuclear power in the medium term. But lunch first - and then for that blast of a Cup Final!

Friday, May 20, 2005

The Independent wins: it's dire at science.....

Here must be one of the worst reports ever: 'The rape of the rainforest... and the man behind it' (The Independent, May 20). Why?

(1) The Mato Grosso is not true tropical rain forest - it is largely dry transitional forest and cerrado, a seasonal, wooded form of savanna that experiences regular fire. There is also the Pantanal in the south;

(2) The rain forests are not the 'lungs of the world'. This is total crap in every sense. Stop and think a moment - what do lungs do? They take in oxygen and give out carbon dioxide. Just what we need. Well done, lads!

(3) I can't go on. The piece is too bad. So read this over at The Daily Ablution (May 20). It's splendid and says it all: 'Rain Forest Disappearing, Eco-Luddites to Blame':
"Another claim, that 40-50 years constitutes 'the estimated number of years that the rainforest will survive if deforestation continues at its current rate,' is hilariously contradicted in the Indy's own page one story.

According to the article, the Brazilian portion of the rain forest 'sprawls over 4.1 million sq km ... and covers more than half of Brazil's land area' (the latter being actually 8,456,510 sq km). 26,130 sq km of the Brazilian forest has been deforested in the 12 months ending last August - the highest rate in years. Based on these figures, my handy Windows® calculator tells me that, at the current rate, the rain forest has (approximately) 156.90776884806735553004209720628 years left.

I'm sincerely at a loss to explain the utter incompetence that such a contradiction displays. My best guess is that - in the finest tradition of propagandists, if not of responsible journalists - they're simply regurgitating 'data' being fed to them by their ideological allies..."

What a truly dreadful report.

Philip, no more tea. A good strong, single malt required.
Letter of the day.....

Here is a seminal letter from Dr. Paul Rylott in today's The Daily Telegraph (May 20), explaining why some 'environmentalist' (NB. not 'environmental') organisations may be dangerous for the environment:
"Sir, Greenpeace has slammed soya-bean farmers of the Mato Grosso region of Brazil for the massive deforestation in the Amazon basin.

The region, a recent newcomer to soya growing, has become an area of choice for Europeans wanting to source non-GM soya, and this demand has contributed to the deforestation. The demand was stimulated by Greenpeace and its supporters, who claimed that growing GM would benefit only biotechnology companies.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, consumers of GM soya can rest easy in the knowledge that their produce comes not from virgin rainforest, but from age-old US soya fields that are now farmed using less pesticide than ever before."

In the immortal words of Basil Brush: "Boom! Boom!"

Philip, "I want the right to buy GM soya. That is the ethical choice." Tea first though.
Earthquakes: how modern are we?.....

I'm just off to record a BBC broadcast on the two London earthquakes of 1750. The first of these occurred around noon on February 8, 1750, and probably measured 4 on the Richter Scale of earthquake magnitude. This would have been felt by people walking along, while free-standing objects would have swayed about. The second, and more powerful, being 5 on the Richter Scale, occurred at 5.30 am on March 8, 1750, waking sleepers, throwing them out of bed, and causing the city's church bells to ring out ominously. Both earthquakes were caused by movements in the underlying London clay, which expands and contracts. Here is an account of the two events by the radical, William Hone, writing some 80 years later:
"On the 8th of March, 1750, an earthquake shook London. The shock was at half past five in the morning. It awoke people from their sleep and frightened them out of their houses. A servant maid in Charterhouse-square, was thrown from her bed, and had her arm broken; bells in several steeples were struck by the chime hammers; great stones were thrown from the new spire of Westminster Abbey; dogs howled in uncommon tones; and fish jumped half a yard above the water.

London had experienced a shock only a month before, namely, on the 8th of February 1750, between 12 and 1 o'clock in the day. At Westminster, the barristers were so alarmed that they imagined the hall was falling." [From: William Hone, The Everyday Book, Vol 1 (1827), at 175].

Although at the heart of the Enlightenment, these London earthquakes were interpreted by scholars and divines as religious in origin, i.e., acts of God, and not as natural events. Indeed, William Whiston (1666 - 1753), the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and successor to Newton, deemed the earthquakes to be portents of a doom that would arise in 1866. Charles Wesley, no less, also made a dramatic sermon on the events, entitled 'The Cause and Cure of Earthquakes' [NB. This sermon is now attributed to Charles Wesley, although it was originally thought to have been presented by John Wesley]:
"'O come hither, and behold the works of the Lord;
what destruction he hath brought upon the earth!' Psalm xlvi. 8.

Of all the judgments which the righteous God inflicts on sinners here, the most dreadful and destructive is an earthquake. This he has lately brought on our part of the earth, and thereby alarmed our fears, and bid us 'prepare to meet our God!' The shocks which have been felt in divers places, since that which made this city tremble, may convince us that the danger is not over, and ought to keep us still in awe; seeing 'his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.' (Isa. x. 4.)

That I may fall in with the design of Providence at this awful crisis, I shall take occasion from the words of my text,

I. To show that earthquakes are the works of the Lord, and He only bringeth this destruction upon the earth....."

Interestingly, following the dreadful Boxing Day earthquake (2004) off Sumatra, and the resultant tsunami, similar interpretations were offered up all round the world.

This makes me wonder, along with with Bruno Latour: "Have we ever been modern?"

Philip, in the words of Voltaire: "Unhappy mortals! Dark and mourning earth!/ Affrighted gathering of human kind!/ Eternal lingering of useless pain!/ Come, ye philosophers, who cry 'All's well,'/ And contemplate the ruin of the world." And that is just my commuter train this morning into London! Ciao.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Comment of the day.....

On: BBC Ceefax 145 (6), 19 May, 2005:

From Dr. John Etherington:
"The Sustainable Development Commission says we must have wind power to provide 10% of electricity from renewables by 2010. Why? Certainly not to 'combat climate change'.

DEFRA's own projection is a saving of 9.2 million tonnes of CO2 emission by 2010. This is less than four ten-thousandths of world emission, cannot measurably change global CO2 concentration and only a gullible idiot would believe it could deflect 'global warming'". [my italic]

As ever, John is bang on the button.

Philip, increasingly amazed at the range of "gullible idiots" who think wind energy can save the world. It is so patently daft that it beggars belief. "Tea?" "Oh! What a cute teapot? I've never seen one with a little wind farm on the lid to keep it warm." "Stirring again, Stott!"
Wittering again on TV.....

See Philip, today, on the excellent 'The Daily Politics' programme (BBC 2, 12 noon: choose 'Latest programme' video button) debating nuclear energy and wind power with Caroline Lucas MEP of The Green Party.

Philip, an enjoyable and good humoured debate, well chaired by Andrew Neil. Home for coffee.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Royal Society issues Papal Bull.....

..... and, thank goodness, the media has reacted quite correctly as the true guardians of free and open debate: 'Global warming generates hot air' (The Daily Telegraph, May 16):
"There's no doubt that this is a difficult subject that arouses strong emotions and which, if the more pessimistic projections turn out to be anywhere near the truth, will cause mankind some serious problems in the coming decades. Yet I fear I am going to be a great disappointment to Sir David.

However vigilant we may be against attempts to present a distorted view of the scientific evidence, he cannot count on my support, and it's not merely because of my instinctive leaning towards individuals on the fringe."

One up to the media there; yet, a lamentable day for science. I, for my part, shall continue to smuggle out corrective comment on a daily basis from the Arcetri of my PC.

And, by the way, can I stress, yet once more, that yours truly has no links at all with the oil industry and that I am a totally independent academic who is simply interested in seeking the 'truth', however darkly we may perceive it. This snide 'smeering' (nice neologism, Philip) has to stop - (The Smeerings of Snide Corner - a truly Dickensian construct!)

Galloping Galileos. Papal bulls are the enemies of 'truth' in science. Steady state or big bang? Time recedes.

Philip, needing a solid lunch. We live in a dangerous age. The Inquisition is round the corner..... Reminds me all too vividly of Schiller's Don Carlos, which I have just seen at 'The Gielgud' in London. Splendid. A warning from history.
Guardianistas truly browned off.....

I don't often give much time or space to Paul Brown's apocalyptic reporting in The Groaniad. Brown is to the environment what Madeleine Bunting is to moral 'understanding' (witness Norman Geras' excoriating deconstruction of Bunting's latest horror, which "...is little short of an apologia for suicide bombing" - 'Bring out the Bunting', Normblog, May 15).

Today, however, I do have some sympathy for Brown (Paul that is, not Gordon). Despite all the Blair rhetoric, it is increasingly clear that the British Government is failing miserably to cut carbon dioxide emissions, while, of course, it, and Tony B. in particular, continue to lecture the world about the moral and urgent need to do so. If you are of Brown's ilk, then you really must feel extraordinarily sick at heart over the double-speak. Of course, this state of affairs is inevitable. What hasn't dawned on many poor souls is the simple fact that cutting carbon dioxide emissions significantly in the face of much-needed economic growth is well nigh impossible in the short- to medium-terms. It just ain't going to happen, folks. And energy efficiency is a nightmare in Britain, with its enormous stock of housing between 50- to 150-years old.

Thus, here is Brown reporting on the Royal Society's own latest emissions: 'Climate change policy in tatters' (The Guardian, May 16):
"The government has admitted it is not reaching its promised 20% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010. It looks likely to reach only 13%. Under the Kyoto agreement, which came into force this year, the government is committed to cutting all greenhouse gases by 12.5% and has said it will easily achieve this.

However, the Royal Society casts some doubt on this and says the government is overestimating the effect of the policies that it is relying on to reach these targets. Among examples are building regulations expected to reduce energy use in homes, but which are not enforced, and rising volumes of traffic."

In truth, the position is worse, as Brown rightly points out. Under 8 years of Labour and Mr. Blair, carbon dioxide emissions have hardly been reduced at all:
"...the scientists emphasise that most of the gains the UK has made in reducing emissions are nothing to do with Mr Blair, and happened because of the switch to gas before he came to office." [my italic]

Sadly, true. Time, therefore, I judge, for The Gloomiad to back nuclear power and to drop its own apologias for tilting at wind farms.

Philip, reading The Guardian with a peg on his nose. Nearly time for elevenses (or twelveses), Pooh.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The cycle of life.....

Here's a neat comment on Friday's blog about 'Saint' Joan Bakewell and nuclear power ('Where have all the flowers gone?, May 13) from Jaime Arbona of the ECE at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (posted with permission):
'The problem of activists and fanatically religious people is that when they change, they go to extremes. Sometimes they follow a cycle. Take, for example, this reasoning by Joan:

"With the issue of nuclear power opening up again, my natural impulse is to clench my teeth and insist as I always have, "Not that way, not that way.""

1. "As a child I knew nothing of politics and strategy. I simply believed you had to have a bigger bomb than your enemy, hit them hard and win the war."

2. "The mindset of the child grew into the mindset of the nuclear disarmer."

3. "Being anti the bomb easily segued into being against all nuclear power. Nearer home in 1957 there had been a major nuclear accident at Windscale which released radioactive material into the atmosphere of Cumberland, up to 10 times the normal level."

4. "Now the mindset has changed again. Today we are up against global warming, and a dependence on fossil fuels that are not only running out but exist in places where they cause political mayhem."

5. "The odds at present are that global warming will wreak more havoc across the planet than nuclear power stations, even with their unresolved problems of radioactive waste."

6. "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."

7. Go back to number 1.

So she's 70 and she's back to being a child.

What the fanatically opposed to nuclear power never seem to realize is that once the genie is out of the bottle there's no way to put it back. Better to make use of his powers to grant wishes and guard against his penchant to play tricks on us. It's still the safest way we have to generate power. We know, we have been doing it for 50 years.

P.S. The genie is out of the bottle for GMOs, etc. But the fanatics don't realize that either.'

Quite Shakespearian, Jaime:
"And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."
[As you like it, Act II, Scene vii]

And, just as I like it too! Thanks, Jaime - great comment. The story of Luddites in many an age.

Philip, getting pretty close to that sixth age himself. "Now where are those pantaloons?" (Wife: "Hardly 'lean', though!") "But not, my dear, sans nuclear and GMOs." "Tea in the cool sun. Gunpowder or Earl Grey?"
Cool! Climate change and cosmic-ray (CR) intensity (again).....

A fascinating new paper has just appeared in Advances in Space Research: 'Prediction of expected global climate change by forecasting of galactic cosmic ray intensity time variation in near future based on solar magnetic field data' (A.V. Belov, L.I. Dorman, R.T. Gushchina, V.N. Obridko, B.D. Shelting and V.G. Yanke, in press,
Copyright © 2005 COSPAR Published by Elsevier Ltd., available online since May 3 - DOI = doi:10.1016/j.asr.2005.03.088):

In this paper, a method of predicting the expected contribution to global climate change of cosmic-ray (CR) intensity is presented. The work is based on the forecasting of galactic CR intensity time variation in the near-future based on solar activity data and on determined parameters of convection-diffusion and drift mechanisms.

This provides the possibility of making a prediction for the expected part of global climate change caused by long-term CR intensity variation. In the paper, the authors use the model of cosmic-ray modulation in the heliosphere, examining the relations between long-term CR intensity variations and parameters of the solar magnetic field. The latter can now be predicted with some accuracy.

By using this prediction, the expected CR intensity variations in near Earth space can also be estimated with a fair degree of accuracy.

There are two possibilities: (1) predicting CR intensity for 1–6 months by using a delay of long-term CR variations relative to the effects of solar activity; and (2) predicting CR intensity for the next solar cycle.

In the second case, the prediction of the global solar magnetic field characteristics is crucial. In both cases, reliable long-term CR and solar-activity data, as well as the solar magnetic field, are necessary. For the solar magnetic field, the authors employ the results of two magnetographs (from Stanford and Kitt Peak Observatories).

The resulting forecasting of long-term CR intensity variation is then used for the estimation of the part of global climate change caused by CR intensity changes (i.e. the influence on global cloudiness).

The authors conclude:

On the basis of solar magnetic field data, by taking into account tilt angle data and data on reversals, a sound determination of CR-intensity change and prediction can be made for the future, with a correlation coefficient between observed and predicted intensities of about 0.97 for the 1 month prediction, 0.91 for the 6 months prediction, and 0.80 for the 12 months prediction.

For the period of about 2 years ahead (i.e., up to the end of 2006), the CR-intensity is expected to increase by some 10%. It is thus further expected that some small global cooling will occur with an increase in precipitation corresponding to the increase in the global-cloud covering of about 2.0-2.5%. [my italic]

I bet this doesn't get reported much in the British press!

Philip, all for a few new variables clouding those 'global warming' certainties! Late breakfast in the cool garden? Coffee and croissants. Yum!
Climate-change contingent.....

Here is a most interesting analysis of anthropocentric views of climate change: 'A history of human perceptions of anthropogenic climate change in the past 1000 years' (Hans von Storch and Nico Stehr, Ånnaboda, 9-11 May 2005, .pdf):
"Concerns over extensive transformations of the earth's climate have been expressed since the 18th century enlightenment and earlier. And it is plausible that initial discussions contained strong religious elements. In the following we present a list of cases. It seems reasonable to speak of a 'history of anthropogenic climate changes'. Most of the cases were not real; as a matter of fact, none of them proved to be associated with significant impacts related to the suggested dynamical link. But all cases were associated with the perception of significant discontinuities; in most instances the apprehended change was seen as a threat; only rarely were they welcomed as a improvement."

Climate change - remember, it's always been our fault - and bad! "Oh Goddess, Gaia! Forgive our foolish ways!"

Philip, always for contingent concepts, especially where big Barthesian myths are concerned. "Good morning you Mad, Mad World." Coffee.....

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

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