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, June 11, 2005

Hamlet: "Kyoto not to be" - Europe stars yet again.....

Well! Well! European hypocrisy continues to know no bounds - something is rotten in the state of Denmark (so much for all that wind power). Just look - here are the latest, updated Danish statistics on its Kyoto Protocol targets: 'Progress [now that is an optimistic word] toward the Kyoto targets: Greenhouse gases' (NERI, Denmark, May 2005):
"The table shows the Danish emission of greenhouse gases calculated in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.....together with the changes compared to the base year. According to the EU Burden Sharing Agreement under the Kyoto Protocol Denmark is legally bound to reduce the emissions by 21% calculated on the basis of the base year emissions. In 2003 Denmark has increased the emissions by 6.2%." [my emphasis]

So, no swan here - Denmark remains an ugly duckling. Time for a Hamlet cigar?

Philip, back from bohemian Brighton (well, that's one word for it), remaining gobsmacked at Europe's effrontery in chiding the US. I knew Denmark was a great country for fairy stories.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Now I know Robin Cook (for it is He) thinks He's pretty near to God, but.....

Even He may have problems making climate change history. Enjoy the hubris: 'If we make global warming history we'll all be better off' (inevitably, of course, The Groaniad, June 10).

Especially the hairy mammoths. As Private Eye would observe in 'Lookalikes'.....

Philip, give me Blair any day. Brighton there and back again - I suspect more than the fabled minute, though. Rock all round.
Telegraphing the message.....

The Daily Telegraph is in my good books. One very rarely these days gets a long 'Letter to the Editor' published unscathed by the journalistic hand: 'Can humans combat climate change?' (The Daily Telegraph, June 10). My thanks to the DT.

Do also pop over to the The Times today for a splendid article by the best of our Foreign Editors, Bronwen Maddox: 'US thinks Blair should lower public hopes' (The Times, June 10).

Philip, off to do some quick recording in jolly old Brighton! Building sand castles against the 'global warming' tide. "Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside." Coffee first, of course.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

At last, a Europolitician grasps Kyoto economic realities..... and further G8 woes

In a mighty blow to the forthcoming G8 Summit, and to European unity on energy policy and 'global warming', Germany's forceful Angela Merkel, powerful candidate for the Chancellorship of Germany, breaks ranks: 'Merkel kündigt energiepolitische Wende an' (Financial Times Deutschland, June 8). Here is a translation, courtesy of the excellent Dr. Benny Peiser:
"Angela Merkel, the chancellor candidate of Germany's conservative party, announced a radical change in Germany's energy policy in the event of an election victory. She plans to ease significantly restrictions on power station operators and the energy industry.

'There will be significant corrections, if we receive the confidence of the popular vote', Merkel said on Wednesday in Berlin. The high energy prices have became a 'growth risk' for the German economy. Among other things, Merkel promised to reduce the burden posed by the eco-tax.

The boss of the CDU wants to correct substantial projects of the red-green energy policy on emission trading, nuclear energy, climate change and the promotion of renewable energies. Above all, the operators of coal and nuclear power stations would profit most from such changes.

Kyoto Protocol on the test stand

In addition, Merkel plans to scrutinise the targets for the reduction of CO2 emissions set by the Kyoto Protocol: 'We need a Kyoto plus.' The US, who do not want to limit their emissions, would have to be included. According to Merkel, the red-green plans for stricter targets of the emission trade starting from 2008 would be also changed. Only Germany and Great Britain have committed themselves to lower their greenhouse gas output in this context. This, however, represents a competitive disadvantage. 'National politics are not the correct answer to globalisation and global challenges,' said Merkel with view to CO2 emissions in developing countries...."

And then there is this on Blair, Bush, and climate change, which I believe is part of the transcript of last evening's Newsnight (Susan Watts, Science Editor, BBC 2 Newsnight, June 8):
"I'm told it didn't go well last night. Whatever track Tony Blair
decided to try to shift President Bush, it didn't succeed. In fact,
I understand the mood in No. 10 this morning was one of bitter
disappointment. They are disappointed not only about the content
of what President Bush has said but about the language he is using.
He wouldn't even use the phrase 'climate change'. There is no sense
that he signed up to any urgency on this. And in fact, the people
now tasked with picking up the pieces between now and Gleneagles
are feeling very daunted by this."

"The danger is that the Government oversells what they got out of
the Americans. In fact, there is discussion now about actually
pulling away from the G8, admitting that we haven't got what we
wanted rather than try to sell this as something it really isn't."

Philip, all totally to be expected. And if the nonsense over climate change damages the economies of the rich countries, we will never be able to help Africa out of its terrible plight. Clean water, energy, and free trade remain the key priorities for the developing world.
'Global warming' and the curse of presentism.....

Farmers and country folk know about the weather. Their lives and livelihoods depend on it. They witness its diurnal and seasonal patterns on the farm and in the field. By contrast, in modern cities, existence tends to be insulated against such harsh realities through an urban heat island and by a semi-troglodyte existence in shopping malls and pedestrian parades. But weather, and longer-term climatic change, remain at the heart of the story of Britain’s once and future countryside.

During the so-called 'Medieval Warm Period', some 800 years ago, Britain was a rural island and the population revelled in summer temperatures probably between 0.7 to 1.6 degrees Celsius higher than even the average today. From 1100 to 1300, frosts in May were a rarity; there were bountiful harvests and enough to eat for all. From exquisitely illustrated medieval manuscripts, we can see that hunting with dogs and fishing flourished. Moreover, crops could be grown even on the marginal lands of Dartmoor and the Pennines, while vineyards graced the mellow slopes of the rolling hills around Hereford and in the Welsh Borders. As the climate archaeologist, Brian Fagan, has written, "...the Medieval Warm Period was an unqualified blessing for the rural poor and small farmers." Yet, the period was as warm as, if not warmer than, today, even with our much-hyped ecochondria about current 'global warming'.

But then it all changed. By 1309/10, Europe had entered what is known as the 'Little Ice Age'. The harvest of 1315 was a disaster. Dogs slithered after skinny hares on the icy Thames, bread froze indoors, even when wrapped with straw, shipping from the Baltic was disrupted, and the wines soured, the English vineyards becoming abandoned and derelict by the C15th. Seeing their once blessed land so afflicted, local chroniclers were wont to lament along with Isaiah 5.25: "Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them." The renowned Flemish artist, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c.1524/30 – 69), 'Peasant Brueghel', as he is known, caught the icy reality in his highly atmospheric genre and biblical panoramas, like 'Hunters in the Snow’' of 1565 and 'The Cencus (sic) at Bethlehem' of 1566. Intermittently, therefore, for some seven centuries, bitter cold, wild surging westerly storms and dire famines would engender death and disease well into the 1800s, ending with one of the most dreadful of all occurrences, the 'An Ghorta Mór', the Irish potato blight and famine of the 1840s.

Why then do we all now fear a little 'global warming'? Since around 1800, thank goodness, we have been warming by some 0.7 degrees Celsius, thus taking us out of the 'Little Ice Age' and away from the apocalypse of cold, disease, famine and death. Yet, our temperatures probably remain lower today than those that brought about such ripeness in the countryside of the 'Medieval Warm Period', the rich produce of which was able to support the master craftsmen who created the triumphant vaulting of Lincoln Cathedral and who constructed the mighty choir of Canterbury.

In assessing the significance of climate change, history is always of seminal importance. We can too easily become wrapped up in the myths and narrow concerns of our own brief age, in the curse of presentism, losing a true sense of the ever-changing Earth. And the myth of 'global warming' is currently one of the most powerful and pernicious of all the drivers of political policy, especially when one remembers that cold is nearly always worse for the countryside, for agriculture, for disease, and even for animal and plant biodiversity.

Philip, lamenting the arrogance of current presentism and its PC obsessions. Off to the Great Wen to talk energy with our politicians. Coffee first.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On being a 'global warming' sceptic.....

To be a sceptic is a difficult and dangerous business. To be what the philosopher, David Hume, called a "mitigated", or moderate, sceptic is, in addition, deeply frustrating. In the first case, sceptics are seen as enemies of 'religion'; in the second, the moderate sceptic is constantly misunderstood, because one is dealing with carefully-modulated degrees of questioning and doubt that do not conform easily to the modern world of sound bites, shallow interviews, and pressure-group action. The media inevitably favour the religious fanatic who can encapsulate into a single sound bite simple articles of unquestioned faith that mesh readily with the prevailing public mood, which they themselves so often - too often - share.

In the UK, 'global warming' is now a faith. We must not underestimate this fact. To be a "speculative atheist" - again employing Hume - is to place oneself on the outside of liberal society. You will be interviewed as a curiosity, if at all. You will also be attacked ad hominem. The aim will be to make you a leper, an untouchable. Some polite American scientists, when they are interviewed on, say, BBC Radio 4, are shocked by the vitriol they encounter if they dare to raise complexities and queries about the science, or even about appropriate action in relation to the perceived threat of 'global warming'. They have forgotten that, in the UK, the 'science' is legitimised by the popular myth, not the other way round. This is something that even our august Royal Society has failed to grasp. Too many of us believe that we are making an independent scientific assessment, when, in reality, we have subsumed vital Hume scepticism to the demands of the faith.

But to be a "mitigated" sceptic - like me - is even more problematic. The "mitigated" sceptic has first to distinguish 'global warming' from 'climate change'. Secondly, 'climate change' itself has to be broken down into three component and separate questions: "Is climate changing and in what direction?" "Are humans influencing climate change and to what degree?" And: "Are humans able to manage climate change predictably by adjusting one or two variables, or factors, out of the thousands involved?" Imagine trying to unravel these threads in the shoddy warp and weft of a three minute radio interview, or a five minute television debate between three people. There is no air space for the "just reasoner". Yet, as Hume was at pains to stress, when we are shown the "infirmities" of human understanding, we should naturally acknowledge "... a degree of doubt and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny, ought ever to accompany a just reasoner."

What is more deeply depressing, however, is the failure of the media, not the failure of the politicians, nor of the scientists. A critical media is vital for a functioning democracy. The media, nevertheless, can become dangerous when it 'crusades' uncritically, siding too readily with the establishment and government of the day. In such circumstances, the debate never achieves the depths of "just reasoning", but becomes ensnared by the slogans of 'the faithful', or worse, of the spin doctor and activist.

The fundamental question in relation to 'global warming' is: "Can humans manipulate climate predictably?" Putting this more scientifically: "Will cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the margin produce a linear, predictable change in climate?"

The "mitigated" sceptic has to answer "No". In so complex a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system as climate, not doing something at the margins is as unpredictable as doing something. Surely, this is what the Royal Society should be admitting? This is the cautious science; the rest is dogma. And what precisely is a 'better' climate? 'Doing something' might inadvertently lead to 'worse'.

We are thus crying out for a media that will have the bravery to seek "just reason". On climate change, the British public deserves a richer and more nuanced debate.

I must thus remain the "mitigated" sceptic, despite the tenor of the times. My scepticism is not extreme. It is not the scepticism of pure relativism. Rather, it confronts instead what can be done about climate change that will work. At present, this fundamental question is lost in the clamour "to do something at all costs" and to damn those who doubt we can.

Philip. Coffee time.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The little boy in the crowd.....

With Emperor Blair in Washington, strutting his inexorable parade to the Gleneagles G8 Summit, the crowds along the roadside cry out loudly: "The Emperor must do something about climate change!" The cacophony grows more raucous by the hour - here, and over there, and over here, and even here.

Yet, I remain the little boy in the crowd. Is climate changing? Yes, of course it is. That is what climate does. I learned that at school. Do humans influence climate change? Yes, of course they do, but in many different ways, most little understood, and only as one small factor out of the millions of other factors involved. I learned that at big school. Can we humans manage climate predictably by fiddling at the margins with just one selected human factor out of the many human factors involved - not to mention, of course, the millions of non-human factors?

'NON', 'NEE', 'NO'. I learned that by common sense and from basic primary school science. And so:
"'... the Emperor has nothing at all on!' said a little child.

'Listen to the voice of innocence!' exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

'But he has nothing at all on!' at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold."

Shhh! Pass on the whisper as swiftly as possible:

"The Emperor cannot manage climate whatever he does. He has no clothes!"

[And your chance to vote on Emperor Blair's mighty powers is right opposite, with EnviroSpin's NEW Mini Poll: 'Can Mr. Blair control climate change predictably?' Do vote now. Thanks.]

Philip - And that, folks, is the butt-naked truth. One long-known by Old King Cnut (for it is he). Even if Emperor Blair were to close every factory, ground every aircraft, shut down every power plant, crush every vehicle, and plunge 4 billion people worldwide into poverty, climate would still change, and often dramatically. Shhhh! 'He has nothing at all on!' And we all know those toadying lords of the bedchamber.

Monday, June 06, 2005

When it doesn't fit the model, it's just the variability of the weather.....

The fact that England and Wales have experienced the driest winter for thirty years is a bit of a blow for the climate-change modellers and for the 'global warming' faithful. 'Global warming' is meant to give us wetter winters (*witness this): (see: 'England and Wales record driest spell in 30 years', The Daily Telegraph, June 6).

Dear, dear! Ah! But, of course, the answer is simple (silly old me):
"Wayne Elliott, of the Met Office, said: 'It is just the variability of the weather. Bearing in mind the effect of climate change, we should have had a wetter winter but it was not doing that, so we cannot blame climate change.'"

Now, let's get this straight. When the weather doesn't fit the model, it's just "variability". When the weather seems to fit the model, we're all doomed! Yep! That's clear, then. Thanks.

It's all rather like the ancient test for witchcraft. On being dunked in a river, if the poor woman swam, she was a witch; if she wasn't, she drowned. The classic win-win, lose-lose ploy!

Funnily, I have a teeny niggle (no more than this) that the weather is about to enter a phase that might pose the 'global warming' faithful some little challenges. Two or more of the more cyclical controls on climate could just be starting to push us into a cooling phase. But let's wait and see. Unlike the 'global warming' faithful, I don't know what the climate will do, even in the short-term. I suspect it will always catch us out - exactly like this winter.

Thus, only one prediction is for sure: with Blair and the G8 Summit imminent, hurricanes of hot air will be whirling around Gleneagles in Scotland. Flying Berlusconis! It really is dangerous nonsense. And the Blair tornado is due in Washington this week. Yet, I suspect, it may only turn out to be a weak front.

BBC weather maps all round!

*[And if you want to read some earlier spectacular BBC envirospin on this topic, then just go back in time with Dr. Who to Our Much Loved and Much Missed AK, who was on tip-top form: 'Winters really are getting wetter' (BBC Science/Tech News, March 17, 2000) (hat tip to Dr. Benny Peiser for this reference)]

Philip, wide-eyed at some of the media rubbish that is being piled on the junk heap that is 'global warming'. And talk about re-cycling? Time to hose the whole lot down! Oh! Sorry, I can't. There is a hosepipe ban because of the unseasonably dry winter. Boom! Boom! Coffee.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Masters of the British poetic landscape.....

My comment today relates to the BBC Series, 'A Picture of Britain', and to Tate Britain's forthcoming exhibition, likewise entitled 'A Picture of Britain' (June 15 - September 4), by exploring an often-neglected corner of the art world, namely master prints by famous British artists of 'the rural idyll'. Such prints - as do this promising exhibition and its concomitant BBC programmes - provide us with important insights into how we continue to perceive 'rurality' in Britain. They also help us to understand certain elements of '(non)-modern' 'environmentalism'......

A MASTER PRINT is quite different from a decorative or sporting print. Master prints are works of art deliberately cast in the medium of a print, whether an engraving, etching, woodcut or lithograph, by a major artist. These are not copies or cartoons, but are works of art integral to the canon of works by the important artist concerned. If you have ever had an opportunity to view the etching, engraving and drypoint by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-1669) entitled 'The Three Trees', you will know exactly what I mean by 'a master print'. This extraordinary work is probably the most famous printed depiction of landscape and weather in the whole story of art. The plate from which the print was taken was worked by Rembrandt with a stunning set of techniques that portray the atmospherics of climate, long slashing drypoint lines encapsulating to perfection the force of driving rain, while, in the background, clouds rise and lour over a low plain.

Perhaps the most celebrated series of atmospheric landscape prints by a British artist is that known as 'English Landscape Scenery' by John Constable (1776-1837), which was carried out in conjunction with the young professional mezzo-tinter, David Lucas (1802-1881). Mezzotints are produced by a tone process in which the metal plate is roughened or ground all over using a tool called a 'rocker'. This creates a burr that prints velvet black. Thus, working from dark to light, the artist then scrapes down the burr to create the required tones. The technique became especially popular in England, and the Constable-Lucas prints are unquestionably the most dramatic ever made in the medium. Particularly striking are the early trial proofs, which are deep, rich, and evocative. For example, proofs of 'A Seabeach – Brighton' (1830), 'Weymouth Bay, Dorset – Tempestuous Afternoon' (1830), and the gothic-romantic 'Castle Acre Priory (Glebe Farm)' (1830/32) on pale-cream paper present unmatched studies of the interplay of sunlight and shadow, form and feel, that so characterise what Constable termed the chiaroscuro of Nature. Luckily, you can still pick up prints quite easily from this remarkable series.

A second great series of mezzotints is that by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), entitled the Liber Studiorum, which was produced to emulate Claude Lorrain’s (1600-1682) renowned Liber Veritatis. For most of the plates, Turner created sepia drawings and etched the outlines himself, before handing the plate over for partial mezzo-tinting by professionals. Some plates, however, were completed entirely by Turner himself, and the early states of these are remarkable for their depth and delicacy. Through this ambitious series of prints, Turner aimed to demonstrate his mastery of all poetic landscape forms, such as the Historical, Mountainous, Pastoral, Marine and Architectural. The prints were issued in sets of 5 between 1807 and 1819. A classic example is the 'Junction of the Severn and the Wye' (1811), which represents the 'Elevated Pastoral', or 'Epic', landscape form.

In the same league as those by Constable and Turner are the dark-rich etchings of Samuel Palmer (1805-81). Few captured better the classical rural idyll than Palmer and, once seen, it is impossible to forget their exquisite play of light and shadow as sheep and cattle wend their weary way to stream or cot. For many, these remain the ultimate in the British poetic landscape form. Although small, they stand out on any wall through their sheer depth and intensity.

Other important early poetic landscape prints come from artists such as John Crome (1768-1821), the founder of the Norwich School, and Cornelius Varley (1781-1873). Crome is particularly known for his lovely softground etchings, notably of dense, but ever-so delicate, trees. These were probably drawn from life and they possess a delightful 'open-air' feel. Varley, who was also one of our finest water-colourists, produced a series of etchings entitled 'Scenery on the Thames' (1809). These tend to harbour a strong English feeling for the river and for boats. Further early print makers well-worth considering are Edward Calvert (1799-1883) and Thomas Lound (1802-1861), a member of the Norwich School. And no consideration of the C19th could fail to include one of its most pre-eminent printmakers, Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), whose American brother-in-law was James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).

When we move into the C20th , the range of rural master prints becomes wide and immensely attractive. Representative of the Neo-Romantic landscape movement are the most beautiful 'Hardyesque' etchings of Robin Tanner (1904-1988), including 'Christmas' (1929), 'Harvest Festival' (1930), and 'Wiltshire Rickyard' (1939). These are usually signed in pencil and are often inscribed. Equally attractive are the hardwood engravings of Gwen Raverat (1885-1957), grand-daughter of Charles Darwin and author of that little masterpiece, Period Piece. A Cambridge Childhood (1952). These are normally signed, titled, and numbered in pencil. But the list of beguiling artists is long, and includes such important names as Sir Muirhead Bone, Paul Drury, John Nash, Eric Ravillious, Sir Frank Short, Reynolds Stone, and Graham Sutherland. Sutherland’s (1903-1980) truly magical etching, 'Village', of 1925, is seminal.

The choice of British poetic landscape master prints available to examine and to deconstruct is thus broad. Of course, it is sensible to know what you are doing and it would be wise, in the first instance, to consult such well-known master-print dealers as Abbott & Holder, The William Weston Gallery, and Garton & Co.

Master prints of the British poetic landscape thus embrace and capture our deepest sense of ‘ruralness’, a sensitivity that remains a powerful force in the British psyche and in the politics of the 'rural'.

Philip, wallowing in Britten, Delius, and Elgar. An accessible introduction to the nuances of the master-print world is provided by Antony Griffiths in Prints and Printmaking. An introduction to the history and techniques (British Museum Press, 1996, 2nd Edition). Enjoy, deconstruct, and then you will understand much better British antagonisms to such 'modernisms' as GM crops, not to mention the middle-class espousal of the 'organic'. Tea among the buttercups? "Daa, da, daa, da, daa, da, daa/ Daa da d! d! d! daaa....."

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

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

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