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 18, 2005

Emission impossible - it's known as economic growth, folks.....

The Kyoto Protocol to date (key selected countries):

Australia: not ratified Kyoto;

Brazil: no Kyoto targets;

Canada: to date, emissions have risen by 20% on 1990-levels;

China: no Kyoto targets;

Denmark: currently a rise in CO2 emissions of 6%, 27% off 2010 target;

Greece: projected to be emitting 38.6% more CO2 on 1990-levels by 2010;

India: no Kyoto targets;

Ireland: projected to be emitting 29.4% more CO2 on 1990-levels by 2010

Japan: CO2 emissions have (eponymously) currently risen by between 8%-12.1% on 1990-levels;

New Zealand: emissions now expected to be some 30 million tonnes over Kyoto target;

Portugal: projected to be emitting 53.1% more CO2 on 1990-levels by 2010;

Spain: projected to be emitting 48.3% more CO2 on 1990-levels by 2010;

Switzerland: this week predicted that it will be short of its Kyoto target by at least 2.5 million tons;

US: not ratified Kyoto.....

..... And why should it? As I wrote yesterday in a tentative 'Letter to the Editor':
"Sir, Constant European chiding of the US for failing to reduce CO2 emissions will cut no ice. Despite having signed up to the Kyoto Protocol, most European countries are embarrassingly far from attaining their own emission targets, often by more than 30%. The latest statistics are for Denmark, which, according to the EU Burden Sharing Agreement, is legally bound to reduce emissions by 21% but which has increased emissions by 6.2%. Why should America heed so hypocritical a Europe? Of course, there is another interpretation of such rises, namely that they are proxy measures of much-needed economic growth."

As one well-known environmental commentator put it (or words and sighs to this effect) on a 'Today' programme some time back: "But it won't happen will it. So why waste so much political energy on it?"

A warning the heavily over-extended Mr. Blair should heed.

Philip, off to the Great Wen to host a Summer Garden Party. Pimms all round. The first really warm day of summer. Short sleeves and poppy frocks abounding. Cooler again (of course) by the Monday wash - "So much dirty washing from that Mr. Kyoto, Prof. P." "Don't worry, Mr. Toad, you'll be out of gaol and driving that new SUV soon." "Poop! Poop!"

Friday, June 17, 2005

Kiwis in trouble over Kyoto - Opposition calls for withdrawal from the Protocol.....

It appears that, while Kiwis can play rugby, they can't add up: 'Labour admits $1b botch-up' (New Zealand Stuff, June 17):
"Opposition parties are calling for New Zealand to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol after a shock report yesterday found that the Government's calculations of New Zealand's net greenhouse gas emissions were out by millions of tonnes.

The recalculation of New Zealand's liabilities means that the Government may have to pay more than $500 million in carbon charges in 2012. Previously, officials believed New Zealand would hold a $500m credit by 2012....."

And: 'Billion Dollar blowout' (The New Zealand Herald, June 18):
"Taxpayers will be at least $1 billion worse off under revised Government estimates of the costs of the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming."

The list of failing signatories grows longer by the day, the most recent being Denmark ("Fairy tales all round") and Switzerland ("William Tell misses target"), and now New Zealand.

As was expected, the unreality and costs of Kyoto are beginning to show. I say take a(n) Haka to it.....

Philip, an All Black day for the 'global warmers'. Collapsing scrums all round. "Hey! Ref! Time to call 'No Side'." Tea?
Five reasons why so many UK environmental correspondents are poor on critical science.....

1. The problem of making science attractive in our schools and universities: 'Science dull and hard, pupils say' (BBC Online Education News, June 16):
"The survey reveals that 79% of pupils associated scientists with being clever. The children were asked if they would study science subjects if they were not compulsory. Some 45% said they would take biology, 32% chemistry, 29% physics and 19% combined science. But 16% would not choose any of them."

The idea that science is for the clever means that most children opt for subjects that are perceived to be far easier for attaining high exam grades (media studies and development studies, he adds cynically);

2. Good old British snobbery: science, despite being for the "clever", is still largely perceived as 'a trade'. Being a scientist is thus not on a par, for example, with being a lawyer or a merchant banker, an actor or a pop star, or even, paradoxically, with a doctor (a different type of 'scientist');

3. The perception that you will earn more as a manager of scientists (MBA, economics, or politics) than as a practising scientist or engineer;

4. (1) - (3) above lead to the inevitable outcome that most media Environmental Correspondents, including some Science Correspondents (though these do tend to be better), possess arts and humanities backgrounds, including media studies. Indeed, certain well-known names have no formal science training at all. A number of correspondents are also politically motivated and write as activists, even in news items;

5. The fact that, in Britain, Shakespeare is always given preference over Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.

No wonder that science in the UK is legitimised by the hegemonic social myth and that we daily suffer such unbalanced reportage as this: 'G8 climate plans "watered down"' (BBC Online Politics News, June 17).

See also this: 'Only dead scientists are known to teens' (The Guardian, June 17):
"Teenagers are so out of touch with modern science that they cannot name a single living scientist, a survey reveals today.

Environmentalist and broadcaster David Bellamy was the closest that two out of almost 1,000 respondents got. Others cited Madonna, Chemical Ali, Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus. Some students even plumped for their science teachers....."

Philip, often horrifed by the uncritical nonsense of so much environmental reporting. Time for an espresso doppio to stir me up.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Balance and debate? Not for our fundamentalist Channel 4 'News'.....

I have just watched one of the worst news reports ever about the G8 discussions over 'global warming'. As you may know, documents have been leaked today that purport to show that Mr. Blair isn't having it all his own way over climate change. Indeed, it appears that there may even be a smidgen of scientific and economic caution and common sense being built into the final version of the G8 document. Thank goodness, some of us might add.

But not on Channel 4 'News' (19.00, June 16), of course, which was nothing less than a biased and totally unbalanced attack on the US and on the drafters (actors filmed darkly) of the document. The take was also clearly designed to bring yet further pressure on Mr. Blair (who might, however, have other things on his mind this evening). Two interviews were included, one with a spokesperson for FoE and the other with Michael Meacher of all people. Utterly incredible (and some people think the Beeb is unbalanced! This was in a different league). What about the many scientists and economists who have genuine and serious doubts about the whole agenda, never mind about various parts of the agenda? Here was the oxymoron of elite liberal European fundamentalism excluding all other voices.

What I watched was, in truth, a religious broadcast, masquerading as 'news' reporting. This was the religion of 'global warming' in its most fundamentalist and raw form, and we all know the deep dangers of such fundamentalism. If critical scientists and economists, and our friends from across the pond, want to learn what rationality is currently up against here in the UK, then this was it in spades.

This Channel 4 'news' item was a disgrace to British television.

Philip, very angry at such blatant bias. Time for a snifter, and for the 'BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year 2005'. Let's hope for some Mozart to calm the seared soul. Magic flutes all round. Or, should I bring down the Queen of the Night on Channel 4 'News' and all its works?
The Archbishop should be ashamed to call the free flow of ideas "unpoliced".....

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, yesterday used a chilling phrase. He described the world wide web as a free-for-all that was "close to that of unpoliced conversation." What could he have been thinking of by employing so emotive and so resonant a word as "unpoliced"? The inquisition, imprimaturs, 1984, Hitler, Stalin, the Stasi, Mao, Pol Pot..... Throughout all ages, tyrants of every hue, religious or secular, or both, have desired 'to police' conversation. Indeed, the church itself has a less than reputable history in this respect.

It seems to me that the Archbishop should be minding his own ill-judged language rather than lecturing others (including us poor bloggers). The world wide web is a great step in self-empowerment and freedom from control, manipulation and PCness. This is why it is feared in countries like China and derided and misunderstood by many arrogant journalists who are, at last, seeing their hegemony over 'comment' weakened. Of course, it is vital to protect children, the innocent, and the weak from internet abuse, but, from now on, the genie of free speech will be much harder for tyrants and elites to put back into the bottle, and that can only be right. Senior churchmen should think twice before talking of 'policing' the right to free expression [see also Harry's Place (June 16) for further comment: 'Online disorder'].

In addition, just peruse this 'Letter to the Editor' on the good Archbishop: 'Apophatic or what?' (The Daily Telegraph, June 16: and today's difficult word, 'apophatic', is defined here).

Yet, to be fair to the old ArchBee, here is the more nuanced, but still distinctly apophatic, full text in the Ye of Little Faith Olde Guardian (June 16): 'This media tribe disfigures public life'.

Interestingly, this theme is also at the core of a long, thought-provoking essay by Professor Frank Furedi over at Sp!ked (June 13): 'From Europe to America: the populist moment has arrived' - "On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has become convinced that the people do not know what is best for them."
"...Whatever the rights and wrongs of the populist rejection of the EU treaty, the manner in which the 'No' campaign is disparaged by professional politicians betrays a powerful anti-democratic temper. It appears that professional politicians attempt to account for their isolation from the electorate by pointing their finger at the incompetence of the public. On both sides of the Atlantic, the political class has drawn the conclusion that the problem with the people is that they do not know what's in their best interest. This sentiment is particularly widespread among liberal and left-wing activists and thinkers..."

I recommend a careful read.

It is all too easy for both elected and unelected elites to fall into what, following J.R.R. Tolkien, I now think of as 'the sin of Saruman' - the feeling that you, and you alone, have the right and the wisdom to guide and manage people's thoughts and actions - if only you had 'The Ring'. Throughout time, 'good' people have believed that they know what is best for everybody else, for a populace that is clearly suffering from false-consciousness. Such 'good' people can be extremely dangerous and much deluded.

Philip, blogging for freedom - and to be able to comment openly on such dangerous sentiments from our sainted 'leaders'. Coffee first, of course.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Only a deracinated computer nerd with no sense of history could get us into a panic about 'global warming'.....

I live on a small portion of the Earth in North Kent, England, with one of the longest archaeological records in the world exhibiting continuous human occupation and industrial development. The internationally-famous skull of 'Swanscombe Man' (actually a woman), dating from 400,000 BC, was discovered in Thames gravels just four miles away, associated with working flint tools. Industry was already with us then. At Baker's Hole, some 2 miles away, there are the flint axes of 'hunter-gatherers' who inhabited the area around 180,000-200,000 BC. Other finds tell us of late-Palaeolithic and Mesolithic peoples (c.10,000 BC).

Then, from around 3,000 BC, we have the remains of a Neolithic agricultural settlement, which produced a distinctive decorated-pottery known as 'Ebbsfleet Ware'. Bronze Age and Iron Age ditches and enclosures finally give way to the remains of an important Roman religious settlement, Vagniacis, which flourished at Springhead on the local river between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. Large burial grounds, many temples, mosaics, and a villa give testimony to the thriving economy of this Romano-British centre. Then, from Saxon times, there are the remains of a water mill, and so on, and so on. There is even a very special link with the New World, with North America, the high Algonquin princess, Pocohontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan of the Algonquin Nation, lying buried with great honour beneath my local parish church in Gravesend. And the story progresses - the site now carries the exciting, brand new and rather beautiful Channel Tunnel Rail Link to Paris and to Brussels.

Throughout this long, long, long tale, climate and sea-levels have changed over and over again, sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically, with sub-tropical interludes, ice ages, permafrost, temperate floods, and drought. The vegetation has swung between forest and heath, open meadow, swamp land and sea, between chilly tundra, boreal forests, mixed deciduous forests, and grassland.

And, of course, the Earth never came to a crunching halt. Of course, humans have gone on, adapting and altering their lives, growing stronger, healthier, and older throughout. Today we live longer and with less hardship than any of these, our doughty ancestors.

I find it pathetic - I am ashamed - when we go into a funk over a little climate change - currently, at most, 0.7 degrees Celsius over 200 years! It is nearly obscene, with all our resources, to think that we shall not be able to adapt once again - unless, that is, we have lost our evolutionary dynamism and drive. Going back in time has never been an option, or part of the great story.

Just as Swanscombe woman could have no possible idea of the Roman wonder that was Vagniacis, neither have we about Virtualia, the city of the next 400,000 years.

Our present funk over climate is an insult to the men and women of our past.

Philip, delighted with the fascinating history of 'The Romano-British Religious Centre of Vagniacis at Springhead, Kent', just published by our excellent local historical society (2004). "A cup of wine back at the villa, Lurcius? Do you prefer it in Samian or Rhenish ware?" "Wot a snobbus!"

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Watch out! There's a sunflower about.....

One despairs at the utter rubbish that is reported in the name of 'global warming'. Today, we have Britain threatened by sunflowers and our doom will be compounded by the decline of the beech tree (which, by the way, was one of the later, and more localised, arrivals in our post-Ice Age Holocene forests). I tremble at the thought. Sunflowers? How can we survive? Ears cut off all over.

So, here is the bar(l)my BBC online report: 'Climate change threat to gardens' (BBC Online News England, June 14). And here is my re-writing of this dire report in a somewhat more optimistic fashion [remember, to maintain the hegemony of an 'idea' - i.e., 'environmentalism' - language is everything. Challenge the language, and the myth will fall apart]:

'Climate change great opportunity for gardeners'

The English garden in the South East is due for a new blaze of colour because of global warming, experts say.

By Persephone Polyanna

The English country gardener in the South East will be presented with many new opportunities for planting in the next 100 years, scientists say.

Climate change might, though we don't know, reduce our need to maintain large lawns and help us to diversify the shrub borders of Surrey, Kent, Hampshire, and Sussex. We may even be able to develop fair olive groves and extend grape vines.

The benefits of possible 'global warming' are being discussed today at a The Royal Society for Happy Gardeners (RSHG) conference at the University of Wisley.

Following certain selected climate scenarios (which, however, are only computer-based) experts say summer temperatures in the South East may hopefully rise by up to 1.5C by 2050, although the effect on rainfall is not certain.

With a bit of luck - although again we have no idea - it might even be a little warmer still by the 2080s, the scientists say.

"This is going to provide truly exciting opportunities for the gardener", said Penelope Poppy from the RSHG.

"It's already happening - you can see fields of smiling sunflowers everywhere", grins Professor Bob Bloomer, holding up some striking lavender cultivars.

"For the average gardener there will be lots of terrific new colourful plants to choose from, while the National Trust will find it easier to maintain some of the more expensive exotic gardens and orangeries from the Victorian and Edwardian Ages. Less fuel will be needed to service greenhouses and glasshouses, and this can only be good for the environment."

"And don't we just love the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh!" Penelope Poppy purrs. "We may well be able to have parts of England recalling the gorgeous Mediterranean scenes painted by Vincent and by Bonnard, with fields of sunflowers becoming common features along with palms, shrubs, and gorgeous-smelling eucalyptus! I can't wait! Sounds like natural aromatherapy everywhere."

One possible pity is that levels of sunlight tend to be lower in England than in the Med, but many plant and tree species found in southern France are still expected to become more common further north, again providing an increase in biodiversity and gardening choice.

These will include the walnut, poplar, sweet chestnut, plums, kiwi fruits, pistachio trees, and vines, the scientists say.

Our native woodlands of oak, beech, ash and Scots pine will survive, just increasing the new overall biodiversity, though we might lose a few beeches in Kent and Surrey.

Overall this is a wonderful opportunity. "If, of course, it happens", cautions Prof. Bloomer. "We may start to cool, and that could be quite challenging for gardeners."

Philip, always looking on the bright side of life. Pistachio nuts all round. "Where shall I put the garden rubbish, dear?" Coffee.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Oz Prof: carbon dioxide good - 'global warming' myth bad.....

Now here's a refreshing take on climate change to chew over with your billycans around the billabong. Makes a pleasant change from all that angst-ridden nonsense pumped out in the UK on a daily basis by The Independent and The Gloomiad: 'Global warming cyclical, says climate expert' (The Age, July 13):
"[Professor] Rob Carter, from James Cook University in Townsville, said the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in recent decades had boosted agricultural crop yields.

'Carbon dioxide is the best aerial fertiliser we know about,' he told the Victorian Farmers Federation in Morwell late last week.

He said the Kyoto Protocol would cost billions, even trillions, of dollars and would have a devastating effect on the economies of countries that signed it. 'It will deliver no significant cooling - less than 0.02 degrees Celsius by 2050,' he said.

'The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been the main scaremonger for the global warming lobby . . . Fatally, the IPCC is a political, not a scientific body.'"

Just so. Professor Carter then went on rightly to stress the cyclical nature of climate change:
"Professor Carter said that over 2.5 million years there had been 50 glacial and interglacial periods. Of the past 400,000 years, the earth had been colder for 90 per cent of the time, with briefer warmer periods of about 10,000 years.

He said the earth was now at the end of a warmer period, and reputable climate-change scientists agreed that the climate was going to get colder. The debate was whether it would take tens, hundreds or even thousands of years to occur."

He concluded:
"Climate had always changed and 'always will', he said. 'The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.'"

Another nail in the mythical scientific coffin of consensus. And so say I:

"Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me."

Philip, better than being led the 'global warming' fandango! Lunch. "Hey mate! No kangaroo or croc on the menu? Lancashire cheese will have to do. Ah! Crocodile Dundee cake. Thanks."
Letter of the moment.....

Today, there is a simple, but highly effective, 'Letter to the Editor' in The Financial Times from a Mr. Tim Hammond: 'A long way to go in the global warming debate' (The Financial Times, June 13). Mr. Hammond concludes:
"This is no way to conduct a scientific debate. Nor should we non-scientists be taken in by those who shout loudest and or those who shout from the highest towers.

There is a long way to go yet before the proponents of global warming convince everyone."

Mr. Hammond is a non-scientist. As I travel around the the country, I encounter the views he has expressed so well among a wide range of ordinary folk who remain deeply sceptical both of government spin on 'global warming' and of the strong-arm tactics of some leading scientific bodies. Ecohype can backfire badly.

It would thus appear that down-to-earth common sense can grasp what some over-heated scientists are unable to discern.

Philip, off to breakfast in the garden with the thrushes, which seem to be on a 'snailfest' this morning. Bash, bash, bash! Gastronomy indeed! It's a bit like a Gastropub out there - 'The Slug and Barrowboy'. "I'll stick with my cereal, thanks, Mr. Throstle." And what is that big yellow ball? Haven't seen that for a while.....

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Warmer is better.....

A quite splendid piece, with fascinating map, in today's The Sunday Telegraph by Robert Matthews: 'Warmer, wetter ['sunnier' in the printed newspaper - a few other changes too] and better (or the good news that the climate change lobby doesn't want you to hear)' (The Sunday Telegraph, June 12):
"...After studying the likely consequences for everything from crop yields to human health,... results are anything but apocalyptic. They have found that a hotter planet brings with it many benefits, and that humans can adapt perfectly well to it.

Indeed, far from joining the calls for action, some now warn that trying to prevent climate change could prove far more catastrophic than learning to live with it. Nor is this cheery vision based solely on questionable computer models. Analysis of past episodes of dramatic - but entirely natural - climate change repeatedly shows the benefits of a warmer world."

Ths is encouraging. More critical journalists (doing what they should be doing) are starting to ask the right questions [see also the excellent piece in today's Sunday Times Scotland], questions that, to date, have often been buried by government and activist spin and trampled in the rush "to do something".

Particularly interesting in this news story is the re-assessment of the medical implications of change, because these have frequently been overplayed in the most disreputable manner by the 'global warming' sorority/fraternity:
"... a review published last year by scientists at the University of London pointed out a basic medical fact: in many countries, cold kills far more people each year than heat. For the kind of temperature rise predicted for the UK over the next 50 years, the team estimated that heat-related deaths would rise by about 2,000 a year - but that this figure would be dwarfed by a cut in cold-related deaths of 20,000.

Other climate-related health scares have collapsed under close scrutiny. In 2002, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, added his voice to claims that Britain could be facing the return of malaria.

A subsequent analysis by experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that changes in land use and socio-economic trends made the risk 'highly unlikely'. Oddly, the lifting of this eco-threat was not widely reported."

The benefits of warming for agriculture and tourism are also examined.

Climate is never stable for a moment. Indeed, the idea of a 'sustainable climate' is an oxymoron. Thus, climate is always either warming or cooling. Controlling this in a predictable fashion will be impossible, but, at least, the question raised by Mr. Matthews (and one now hopes by other critical journalists) needs to be addressed.

On the longest of geological time scales, we are still probably cooling from the closure of the Tethys Sea. On the million-year (700,000-year) cycle, periods of cooling are likely to outstrip warming by a wide margin. On the 10,000-year pattern, we are cooling overall (from around 8,000 BP). On the centennial scale, we are currently warming a smidgen (c. 0.7 degrees Celsius) as we move out of (thank goodness some might say) the Little Ice Age - hence, of course, all the current brouhaha. On the decennial pattern, we have warmed a fraction for some 30 years, following a 30-year small post-war cooling phase. However, there are indications in the climate cycles that we might soon again experience a little cooling phase. And then.... and then, there is the next Ice Age.....Brr. Milankovitch cycles all round.

I'm for a bit of warming any day. But well done to the Telegraph group of newspapers. During the last couple of weeks, they have stood up commendably to the heavy Tony 'Shane Warne' Blair spin from government.

"Well played, sir! And off leg spin too!" [Stumped? Cricket to our cybervisitors from across the pond. How about this? "He played the slow arm googly off his pads to backward short leg. The square leg umpire signalled a leg bye..." Yep, you have baseball!]

Philip, wondering when we are going to get a nice, warm, sunny summer's day. Even the swallows seem lack lustre. Breakfast - but not in the garden. Patio heaters all round.

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

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