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, November 12, 2005

Where energy policy is concerned, we should be playing Sibelius, not Elgar.....

The energy mix of every country is going to be slightly different, depending on its geography, its state of development, and its indigenous resources. For the next 50 or so years, however, the core suppliers of electricity in nearly all developed countries will have to comprise some mix of the following five sources of generation: clean coal; natural gas; nuclear power; and, where available in significant amounts, hydroelectric power and/or geothermal power. The so-called 'renewables', wind, wave, tide, and solar power, will be available in various mixes, but will be physically unavailable to many economies, and, even where they are available, they are unlikely to contribute more than 10%-15% of total supply because of a whole suite of technical limitations.

Despite these facts, in the UK, there has been a serious political failure to face up to such energy realities, with a facile belief that the future can be managed through the expansion of 'renewables' and through increasing energy efficiency. In reality, energy efficiencies will be eaten up by much-needed economic growth, while 'renewables' can only help at the margins.

The geographical location of FinlandBy contrast, Finland has been bold in its energy policies, and it has produced an exemplary mix suiting its own geography and economic requirements [see: 'Viewpoint: Finland's new reactor') (BBC Online Science/Environment News: 'Analysis')]. [Right: the location of Finland: image in the public domain, from the Wikipedia article on 'Finland'.]

As Mikko Elo, an MP for Finland's Social Democrat Party, wisely points out:
"We need a lot of energy in Finland. We have a cold climate, long distances and an energy-intensive industry.

We make good use of almost every form of energy production. Hydropower, coal, natural gas, wood, wind and turf all play a part.

But if we are to help our economy as well as the environment, the answer has to be more nuclear power.

At the moment, nuclear provides 28% of our electricity. Once the fifth reactor is up and running, that figure will rise to 34%..."

Currently (good word!), Finland's electricity is produced as follows (you will note the specific regional geographical availability of hydroelectric power and biomass timber fuels):

Nuclear: 25.1%, soon rising to 34%;
Hydro: 16.9%;
Coal and Peat: 18.2% and 7.5% = 25.7%;
Natural Gas: 11.7%;
Biofuels: 11.7%;
Others, including imported energy: 8.9%.

Any sensible, open-minded soul is well aware that the correct mix for Britain will have to read something like this:

Nuclear: 25%;
Clean Coal: 30%
Natural Gas: 30%
Other, including wind, wave/tide, solar, and biofuels: 15%.

Over the next fifty years or so, there is simply no other practical choice, although the percentages between clean coal, natural gas, and nuclear can vary.

It is urgently time for UK politicians to face up to these energy realities. If Finland can do so, so can we. It is deeply refreshing to listen to a Social Democrat MP, like Mikko Elo, saying openly:
"We have decided to dispose of all our own waste, although we will not accept waste from other countries. Our experts tell us Finnish rock is very good for nuclear waste disposal - and I trust our engineers. As far as I understand it, there is very little risk involved."

Please, please can we become, once again, in the UK a 'Can Do' society, like Finland, not one fearful of its own shadow.

Sibelius: self portrait.Where energy is concerned, we must start playing Finlandia, or it will be a steady march to decline in the UK's Pomp and Circumstance. [Right: a self-portrait of Jean Sibelius, the famous composer of Finlandia: the image appears to be in the public domain, from the Wikipedia article on 'Jean Sibelius'.]

Philip, absolutely bored to tears by the UK attitudes that we mustn't do this, that we can't do this, and that we are terrified of everything. 'Precaution' has become a watchword for inertia. So, "Come on England! We need to beat the two 'As' - er? - Australia and Argentina, of course!" Drop goals and penalties all round! Lunch break.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lord May: "a serial alarmist".....

The House of Lords ChamberThe House of Lords is a paragon of how to dress tough words in velvet speech. Here is a classic statement from Lord Lawson of Blaby on Robert McCredie ('Bob') May, Baron May of Oxford, OM, AC, FRS, President of the Royal Society, taken from yesterday's House of Lords Debate on Climate Change [Right: the House of Lords Chamber: image for non-commercial use only (from Wikipedia)]:
"The noble Lord, Lord May, speaks with great passion and, indeed, with great charm - it is a potent combination. However, it has to be said in the kindest possible way that he is a serial alarmist. When some 30-odd years ago the Club of Rome produced its report on the limits to growth - many of your Lordships will recall it - which stated that there would be such a shortage of resources that growth would more or less grind to a halt within a reasonably short space of time, this fallacious forecast, which received a great deal of media attention at the time, was warmly endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord May, as he now is. He said that he thought growth would come to an end even sooner as a result of the second law of thermodynamics. Now he is sending out a new alarm which is the exact opposite; that is, he refers to the alleged rise in carbon dioxide emissions, and therefore global warming, as a result of very rapid continuing growth for a long time to come. So he has backed both horses in the race."

I also greatly enjoyed this from Lord Waldegrave of North Hill:
"I am one of those who, like my noble friend Lord Lawson, reacts adversely to scare stories, and also, to some extent, to an overwhelming consensus of all sensible people. I am therefore doubly suspicious of an overwhelming consensus trying to scare me.... So I start from a point of view that when a dissident voice comes along and sticks pins in the consensus, I am predisposed to favour the dissident; in this case, that global warming is all the fault of the Americans, or more particularly George W Bush. I therefore start with the view that Mr Matt Ridley and Mr Bjørn Lomberg sound like the scientists for me; and that the more they are berated by the powers that be, the more I remember how the dissidents on BSE and AIDS were berated by the powers that be. If you doubt that they are berated, go on to the Internet, or read Andrew Simms in the Guardian; the language is not that of science but of the commination service from the Book of Common Prayer."

The last sentence is particularly apposite: "... the language is not that of science but of the commination service from the Book of Common Prayer." Absolutely. Indeed, the more one reads the hyperbole of the 'global warming' faithful, the more one has to recognise that we are dealing with a religious sect, not critical science. Lord May should take care: this is dangerous ground for the Royal Society.

And so it's:

"Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses,
Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses,
Tantantara, Tzing boom!
Bow, bow, ye lower middle classes!
Bow, bow, ye tradesmen, bow, ye masses,
Blow the trumpets, bang the brasses."

"We are peers of highest station,
Paragons of legislation,
Pillars of the British nation."
[From: Iolanthe: 'Loudly let the trumpet bray']

Philip, lording it over his morning cuppa. A peerless coffee. "Peri good, P."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The UK's energy gap (finally) understood.....

At last, the UK's gaping energy gap is being acknowledged, as is the continuing role of fossil fuels and the serious limitations of wind power:

Nuclear power plant.First, here are two excellent live reports by Tom Fielden on BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme this morning, November 10 (audio on: select the 'Listen Again' audio clip slots for the Thursday archive, 06.09 and 07.40). [Right: nuclear power plant, with water vapour and sunflowers: image - free use from Wikipedia.]

Secondly, here likewise is a good report from Richard Black at BBC Online: 'Britain facing large energy gap' (BBC Science/Nature Online News, November 9):
"Fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy source - there is no alternative" (John Loughhead of the UK Energy Research Centre, who compiled the new 'Report' following a two-day conference held last month under the auspices of the Geological Society of London)...

"... The immediate issue is the impending closure of most British nuclear power stations and many coal-fired units.

By 2015, all four Magnox nuclear stations still operating will have shut down, as will five of the seven stations running Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs).

Under the European Large Combustion Plant Directive, many of the nation's coal-fired plants will also close in the next decade.

In principle, the gap could be bridged by new power stations burning gas or coal; but this would work against the government's short term targets and long term aspirations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

'Without the need to reduce emissions, there would not be an energy gap by 2050,' said Dr Loughhead.

Meanwhile, demand may continue to rise; and managing that demand, says the report, is a key issue..."

In the meantime, the serious limitations of wind power in relation to the UK National Grid have just been highlighted in yet another meticulous study by Hugh Sharman [I have also written an article on this piece for Country Illustrated magazine, out soon]: 'UK wind power takes a battering' (New Scientist, November 12):
"... Hugh Sharman, Principal of the energy consulting and brokering company Incoteco in Hals, Denmark, argues that the UK's energy grid will not be able to handle more than 10 gigawatts (Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineering, vol 158, p. 161)."

And, here is part of what I have written for Country Illustrated magazine (in press):
"As Mr. Sharman points out, wind power poses an entirely new challenge to the grid operator, above all because big wind farms tend to be remotely located, with the majority sited in the north and west of Britain. By contrast, the demand load lies in an epicentre lying between London and Birmingham. First, wind generators are paid at the station boundary and they do not carry a financial penalty for the fact that up to 15% of the power they generate is lost during transmission. Secondly, of the additional 10.7 GW being built or planned, 6.8 GW will be generated in Scotland. Scotland’s electrical inter-connection is currently limited to 0.5 GW with Northern Ireland and 2.2 GW with England. Even with upgrading, it appears that only a small part of the total 7.3 GW ultimately proposed for Scotland can ever be connected. In Mr. Sharman’s words, precisely 'how much can actually be accommodated will depend on the willingness of the politicians and the public to make very large investments in grid upgrades and, possibly, power storage, but these issues are not currently at the forefront of debate, and there are no mechanisms in place to pay off these investments.'

One is tempted to add: 'So much for integrated government thinking on the energy issue.' To date, government has been claiming that the UK’s system can accept anything up to 26 GW of wind power. By contrast, Mr. Sharman's detailed analysis illustrates, worryingly, that this is not the case, and that, as witnessed in the much larger wind systems of Denmark and Germany, 10 GW (+/- 25%) will prove to be the safe upper limit of all wind capacity. This means that the push for wind power inevitably fails to fulfil the government's aim of using wind to offset some of the generating capacity now being lost through the closure of coal-powered and nuclear-powered generators..."

So the energy chickens are at last coming home to roost, if somewhat belatedly. Slowly, but surely, the media and government are starting to listen to the energy experts rather than to noisy, but hopelessly utopian, 'Green' activists. The change is urgent, and much needed, for the UK: Conservatives (aka RHons Cameron and Letwin) and Lib-Dems (aka Hon Norman Baker), please take note.

And, finally... just as I have been predicting for some time on EnviroSpin, it now appears to be dawning on Lord May and Sir David et al. that not too many folk are heeding their ecohype on 'global warming' - from the same Today programme as above:
"Lord May, if you have been following his utterings of the past year or so, has been getting more and more and more shrill on the issue of climate change. He is sounding like a desperate man. But he is shouting and shouting, and people aren't hearing." (Roger Harrabin, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 10 November: audio clip 06.38).

Philip, promoting gas, clean coal, and nuclear for a powerful UK future. And, of course, morning coffee. It's an energy wake-up call everyone!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Etonian environmentalist mafia exposed.....

Eton College ChapelSo you want to know the roots of environmentalism in egalitarian Britain? Who pulls the 'Green' strings in the UK? Then look no further than the King's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor - Eton College, or just plain old Eton to you and me (and all with a dash of Stowe School and Millfield).

[Upper Right: Eton College Chapel: image licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. This is material from the Wikipedia article on Eton College.]

Here is the Great Green Short List I have been promising you for some time:

[(a) Robin Hanbury-Tenison, OBE, Eton - although he has become increasingly critical of "radical anti-capitalist Greens"];

(b) The (real) Right Honourable Peter Robert Henry Mond, 4th Baron Melchett, Eton and Cambridge;

(c) Honourable Sir Jonathan Espie Porritt, 2nd Baronet, CBE, Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford;

(d) Zac Goldsmith, Eton and, since 1997, editor of The Ecologist magazine, founded by his uncle, Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith (Millfield and Magdalen College, Oxford);

[(e) And here is that dash of Stowe we all know and love so well: George Monbiot, Stowe School and Brasenose College, Oxford.]

But, above all, watch out for two closet Etonian 'Greens', the first now bidding to lead the Conservative Party: The Right Honourable David William Donald Cameron, Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, and The Right Honourable Oliver Letwin, Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. You should also monitor The Honourable Edward (Ed) Henry Butler Vaizey, St. Paul's and Merton College, Oxford. He and Cameron are part of the so-called 'Notting Hill' set.

And it might just be an idea to keep an eye on those two young Royal Etonians, Prince William of Wales (William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor), Prince William to you and me, and Prince Henry of Wales (Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor), Prince Harry.

So you naively thought that Britain was no longer run by our leading Public Schools? I'm afraid, where the environmentalists are involved, it's all still Green Bow Ties and Green "Stick Ups" popping out all over the place (in joke). And just note how many of them pop up on the BBC? So it's:

"Jolly greening weather,
An' organic harvest breeze,
No chemicals on the heather,
Lots o' sustainable trees,
Wind farms all together,
With Kyoto holding the keys,
No nuclear plants together,
With Kyoto holding the keys."
[With deepest apologies to William Johnson, Master]

Philip, like Merrick, seeking a Grammar School boy's revenge? No, just watching the Old Boys 'Green' Network at play. And to think that I have spoken and dined at Eton! I have failed. Time for a glass of Pomerol?
Environmental elitism: I smell a class rat.....

Oh! I do like it when a tough, rough business 'person' punctures the PC platitudinousness of our more poncy PC environmentalists. And today's 'Quote of the Day' is a blinder in this respect.

Here is Michael O'Leary, Chief Executive of Europe's biggest low-cost airline, Ryanair [first half profits up to a record £160 million], on the environmentalists who are constantly whinging on about its low-fare structure increasing emissions:
"We will double our emissions in the next five years because we are doubling our traffic. But if preserving the environment means stopping poor people flying so only the rich can fly, then screw it."

And when you think about it, Mr. O'Leary has a good point. Scratch an environmentalist, and you will invariably find an elitist. First, as I have pointed out before on this blog, the leaders of the UK environmental movement are a particularly toffee-nosed bunch, Lord Snootys to a chap and gal, from Prince Charles to an Eton mafia [e.g. (Honourable Sir) Jonathan Espie Porritt, 2nd Baronet, CBE, educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford - to be fair, he doesn't use his title].

Secondly, have you noticed? Environmentalists always want things "to cost more", from organic parsley to hemp underwear. It's hard cheese if you are on benefits, lass. Thirdly, they are forever hollering for more taxes and tolls, charges and curbs, on everything, and all of these proposed taxes are retrogressive on the poor. And finally, they just have to fly, my darlings, or drive spiffing cars, because what they do is so important, and, in any case, they will plant a few pretty trees on their estates to offset their 'naughtiness'.

The double standards are often breathtaking. I have never forgotten watching a television report of a 'Top People's Bash' in which a leading posh UK environmentalist stood blithely in front of a line of limousines delivering the great and the good of the environmental and PC worlds to the feast while lecturing the rest of us, 'the bedint', on environmentalist ethics. It really was the "We haves" and "You shall not haves"."If you don't do what We say, Nanny will be wery, wery cross."

To adapt a famous quotation: "Only the little people pay environmental taxes."

When you deconstruct so much of the environmentalist pieties, you will smell a class rat lurking beneath the garbage. And just watch the rich 'Green' farmers wriggle when you talk about the evils of subsidies and the need for free trade.

Class warfare? You bet. Thank goodness for the Michael O'Learys; we need them to blow away all this trustafarian tosh.

Yet, in the real world, despite all the nannying, the 'Sunday Colour Supplement Greenies' don't stand a chance. I also noticed that another low-cost airline, EasyJet, has just recorded a 13.7% increase in passenger numbers. It's up, up and away.

Philip, "Ee! I wer' browt up on tripe an' chips! Ah canna stand this poncy wafflin'" "Tea with six sugers, luv?" Let's all clear our minds of cant. Coffee.

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

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