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, September 24, 2005

The BBC 10, The Independent 0.....

Richard Black, the new Environment Correspondent at the BBC's Online News, is proving to be an outstanding addition to the BBC team, and he is clearly in a totally different league from most 'environment correspondents' (campaigners?) in the press. Here is his latest piece, which merits the most careful attention. It is a first class journalistic analysis: 'Hurricanes and global warming - a link?' (BBC Online Science/Nature News, September 23). Do read it all.

In this piece, there are many firsts for British journalism. Quite amazingly, Black bravely castigates The Independent newspaper for its disgraceful and truly dire tabloid-style headline:
"The latest to succumb was the British newspaper The Independent, which screamed on its front page: 'This is global warming', above an alarmingly portentous graphic of Hurricane Rita's projected path."

But is it global warming?"

And where else have you read this from a journalist?
"... but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that we would all benefit from people on both wings of the issue looking rather more to research, however laboured its progress, and rather less to screaming headlines and easy quotes."

Bravo. And there is so much more to commend. I congratulate the BBC. It was to try to promote such reporting on environmental issues that this blog was first established.

By contrast, my contempt for the reporting in newspapers like The Independent grows colder by the day.

Philip, proud of the Beeb at its best. Time for a coffee in the golden September sunshine?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Hurricane cycles and human hatred.....

In newspapers like The Independent and The Guardian, certain attempts to lay 'the blame' for the present tragic Gulf Coast hurricane season on America, on Americans, and on George Bush in particular, have plumbed depths that bring little but disgrace to British and European journalism. It makes me ashamed to have to read it, and I apologise for it. I hope that the commentators and the reporters involved, not to mention some of the people (and the scientists) they quote, will also grow to know their shame.

Yet, the human exploitation of such mighty natural phenomena seems to know no bounds. To date, hurricanes Katrina and Rita have already been blamed on the Japanese paying back America for Hiroshima; sickeningly, as ever, on the Jews ('modern' left anti-Semitism is increasingly both intellectually lazy and deeply dangerous); on neo-cons; and on Mr. Bush himself. We have, truly, never been 'modern'. You may remember that the dreadful Boxing Day Asian tsunami was itself attributed to an American-Jewish conspiracy and to certain defilements of Islam, such as drinking in Aceh. It appears that human fanaticism, and hatred of other human beings, will always contrive to exploit every human tragedy for its own conceited and tawdry political ends. It is the witchcraft of every age.

What can one do? Here then, simply, is the American hurricane record for the last 200 years, which exhibits, as we know, a c.30-year cycle of enhanced activity and reduced activity [I should point out that the record is much more general before satellite evidence became available in the 1960s(1)]:

Early 1800s: many tropical cyclones and hurricanes, including a direct hit on New York City in 1821 (probably a Category 4 Hurricane);

1840s - 1860s: much reduced hurricane activity;

1870s - 1900: a return to heavy tropical cyclone and hurricane activity, including the well-recorded 1887 season, in which at least 19 'tropical storms' occurred, with, most unusually, 4 recorded later than November 1 - overall at least 11 were serious hurricanes. In 1900, Galveston, Texas, was largely destroyed and some 12,000 people killed;

1901 - 1925: a return to reduced hurricane activity;

1926 - 1960s: a return to highly-destructive hurricanes, including many well-recorded New England hurricanes. In 1933 alone, there were no fewer than 21 Atlantic tropical storms. 'Hurricane Bets(e)y' struck New Orleans in 1965 flooding the city, while Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 Hurricane with 200 mph winds, hit Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi in 1969, killing many people;

1970 - 1994: a return to reduced hurricane activity, with few above-average hurricane seasons;

1995 onwards: increased hurricane activity once more, with Katrina and Rita in 2005. Some 4 more hurricanes are predicted for 2005. We should expect high hurricane activity for the next 20 or so years.

The idea that recent hurricane patterns may be readily attributable to single-variable human-induced 'global warming' is just not tenable. History is far from bunk; it is our true key to any real understanding of what poor players we are, strutting and fretting our [mere] hour upon the stage. 'Global warming' is but the fundamentalist religion of presentism, and the witchfinder generals are out among us, yet again, in the Crucibles of Conspiracy and the Salems of Science. Watch and beware.

In this Age of Darkness, we must cling on dearly to Enlightenment values and to Gradgrindian facts. Mitigated scepticism is salvation.

*See also this excellent comment at the newly-revivified George Junior blog: 'Merchants of doom' (September 23).
(1) Hurricane records prior to 1961 fail to list many storms when no ship experienced the gale-force winds, or recognized these as a tropical cyclone. Indeed, powerful hurricanes sank ships unfortunate enough to encounter them. The logs of other ships have been lost, destroyed, or have become illegible.

Philip, thinking of all those potentially-affected by Hurricane Rita. I can but wish you the very best of luck when she strikes land tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mr. Blair quietly kills off the Kyoto Protocol.....

In a remarkably little-reported comment presented by Tony Blair in midtown Manhattan at the Clinton Global Initiative (first day, September 15), the British Prime Minister quietly nailed down the lid on the Kyoto Protocol coffin. He also made it abundantly clear that there would be no 'Son of Kyoto'. Here is the full text of his careful [lawyer's] comment relating to climate change:
MR. BLAIR: "I think that - three points I would like to make here. The first is that I think, whether for reasons to do with concern over global warming or for reasons to do with concern over energy security and supplies, I think this issue is coming together in an important way. It's there now on the agenda and I'm pleased about that. I think it's very important. The second thing, though, is that I think - and I would say probably I'm changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years. I think if we are going to get action on this, we have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it. The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem. What countries are prepared to do is to try to work together cooperatively to deal with this problem in a way that allows us to develop the science and technology in a beneficial way. Now, I don't think all of the answers lie in just - in developing the science and technology, but I do think there is no way we are going to tackle this problem unless we develop the science and technology capable of doing it. And that really brings me to the third point, which is I think the point that you were really raising, which is, well, how do you create the forces that drive people then to develop the science and technology? How do you create the markets and the research and the development of this technology so that we can shorten the timeline so that we're not waiting 25 or 30 years to develop fuel cell technology, so that, for example, in nuclear fusion, which is now a major issue as well we are developing the technology, so that you can bring those costs of wind power and solar power down? How do you do that? And I think that is the issue that the international community needs to address because we tried at Gleneagles to try and - some people have signed Kyoto, some people haven't signed Kyoto, right. That is a disagreement. It's there. It's not going to be resolved. But how do we move forward and ensure that post-Kyoto we do try to get agreement? I think that can only be done by the major players in this coming together and finding a way for pulling their resources, their information, their science and technology in order to find the ways of allowing us to grow sustainably? And the meeting that will take place on the 1st of November, which is effectively the G-8 of the India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico. That is going to allow us, I hope, not to negotiate international treaties, but to allow us to start beginning the necessary dialogue as to how we are going to shorten these timelines for developing the science and technology and how we are going to ensure that countries like China and India, as they grow - and they will grow. And they are not going to - they are not going to find it satisfactory for us in the developed world to turn around and say, look, we have had our growth. You have now got yours so we want you to do it sustainably even if we haven't. So they aren't going to demand, in my view, some process that allows us to share the technology and transfer so that we can benefit collectively for the work that needs to be done. And the real issue I think - because to be honest, I don't think people are going, at least in the short term, going to start negotiating another major treaty like Kyoto. The real issue is how do we put these incentives in the system so that the private sector, as well as the public sector says, this is the direction policy is going to go, so let's start getting behind this. So that is what - I think it's a key issue."

Common sense and real politics at last on climate change. I hope I have been saying this for ages.

Philip, off for a celebratory coffee in the garden before summer wanes. Hm! The bunnies are looking rather sickly green...

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

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