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.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Music to your ears.....

Now I don't spend all my time battling the forces of irrationality.

You might like to visit my new web site, just up on the Web, to see what I get up to in my spare time: Philip Stott's Music Box.

I hope you enjoy Stotty's efforts. The first time you load the site, it may take a minute, as it includes a full Clarinet concerto. I have checked the speed on my own system, however, and it loaded in under 20 seconds - so there shouldn't be too many problems.

Philip, have a relaxing Bank Holiday - if the rain will stop!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

'Your Auntie Beeb NEEDS YOU!'.....

Climate Chaos Comic: Page 2 [as threatened: Page 1 was yesterday!]:

Your Auntie Beeb NEEDS YOU
[Copyright: Philip Stott, 2006]

Philip, "Now get to it you procrastinating proles and 'Save the Planet'!" "Wot! No windfarm on your roof yet? You lazy laggard! Three showings of Climate Chaos for you then!" "I'm orf for brekkers! WHERE'S MY COFFEE?!! Get marching there, Man!"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

'The BBC plans climate chaos??'.....

Apologies to Auntie - but here's my special Climate Chaos Comic. Enjoy [Page 2 tomorrow!]:

Climate Chaos Comic Page 1
[Copyright: Philip Stott, 2006]

Philip, great program for the Mac that Comic Life. Came all bundled too. Knew it would prove useful one day. Just a bit of fun among the media chaos..... Coffee with a comic?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Tinkerbell vote.....

Yesterday, David Cameron, the new, fresh-faced leader - the Peter Pan - of the Conservative Party was asking us: "Do you believe in fairies?" He.....
"..... flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

'Do you believe?' he cried. Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate. She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn't sure.

'What do you think?' she asked Peter. 'If you believe,' he shouted to them, 'clap your hands; don't let Tink die.'

Many clapped. Some didn't. A few beasts hissed.

The clapping stopped suddenly; as if countless mothers had rushed to their nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved. First her voice grew strong, then she popped out of bed, then she was flashing through the room more merry and impudent than ever. She never thought of thanking those who believed, but she would have like to get at the ones who had hissed."

Unquestionably, Mr. Cameron is tapping into the touchy-feely 'Neverland' that is C21st Britain, and especially so among young women. As Martin Kettle points out in today's The Guardian (May 23), 'Cameron has the edge', Cameron is.....
"..... now seven points ahead of Labour among women voters and 10 ahead among women in a notional Brown-Cameron contest. Wellbeing may sound airy-fairy [my italic] stuff to many traditionalists - but it could be winning the next election for the Tories."

And, depressing though it is, Kettle has a point.

All you need to do to test this is to sit for an hour or so in one of our post-Borders' comfy bookshop armchairs by the PC-ly-labelled area: 'MIND-BODY-SPIRIT'.

Fairface FairyFirst, you will notice that the section on 'FAIRIES' is particularly large and that it outstrips the shelves on traditional theology and philosophy by bookmarks. Secondly, you will be amazed at the large number of well-dressed young women who flit gracefully to the 'FAIRY' shelves, where they can read about the history of fairies, fairies today, health-through-fairies, and spells of all kinds. The books are big and bright, like a fairy story before bedtime. The cloan ny moym, the an slua sidhe, the daoine sidhe, the tylwyth teg, not to mention solitary pixies, fly out of every page. Thirdly, observe with amazement the demure seriousness with which our 'yummy mummies' and Bridget Jones devour these votive volumes. "Do they believe in fairies?" "Of course they do!" All those post-Enlightenment tomes that talk earnestly about 'the belief in fairies' dying out in the 1800s, er, or the 1900s, er, or by the 1930s, lie dusty and unopened on forgotten stacks. It is the Enlightenment that has been abandoned, not fairy folk. A trip to one of our major shopping malls, like Bluewater, will confirm this bookshop tryst, the stores there teeming with kitsch figurines of the fairy host. And Fairyland, of course, haunts the web. [Above right: 'Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things' by Sophie Anderson (French, 1823-1903): public domain, from Wikipedia: 'Fairy']

Inevitably, some beasts have hissed at Cameron, like The Sun, but the Zeitgeist is with the fairies, and, one fears, with the Boy Cameron. How can that hobgoblin, that Captain Hook, Gordon Brown compete? The clock is ticking with Mr. Blair's crocodile tears.

For me, this is just part of the madness of Our Self-Indulgent Age, in which well-fed souls seek out any fairy story, from 'global warming' and 'organic food' to 'herbal healing' and charming figures with golden wings. Sadly, of course, it began with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and those delightful Cottingley Fairies, the daft old beggar. But there you have it. Humans find it hard to live with the fact that they are alone in the world as truly sentient beings.

Yet, for those of us who want to face up to the harsh realities of a real world - the heterotopias, not the utopias - this is a sad demise. And, of course, it isn't even true for 'Fairyland', where, traditionally, faeries were pesky, malicious creatures, curdling the milk and upsetting three-legged stools.

Now, Anne of Ingleside (why does she become so soppy?) would have adored all these fairy books and ornaments; not, however, her down-to-earth neighbour, Mrs. Mitchell:
"'A rowan tree? Whyn't you have it planted by the front door? It would keep the fairies out.'

'But who would want to keep the fairies out, Mrs. Mitchell?'

'..... I was only joking. O' course I don't believe in fairies . . . but if they did happen to exist I've heard they were pesky mischievous. Well, good-bye, Mrs. Blythe. I'll call round next week for the obitchery.'"

So, young Mr. Cameron is after Anne's - the Tinkerbell - vote.

We have indeed never been modern! Tattoos, body piercing, herbal remedies, trance dancing (aka, clubbing), windmills on the roof - and fairies. The Tory TINK TANK knows it. Shout loud enough, children, and Tink the Tory may revive.

And, like those Cottingley fairies, 'global warming' is the 'cut-out-science' of the Nursery - but folk just want to believe it. After all, we must have a climate fit for the fairies (who only eat organic), don't we?

"Who would want to keep the fairies out?"

Philip, the more we know about the complex workings of the world, the more we turn to fairy tales. Arthur Schopenhauer is alive and well, and surviving in 'Neverland'. "Oh! I do like a bit o' obitchery!" Rowan trees all round!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Some clear thinking in the fog.....

Excellent comment piece from Ruth Lea in today's 'Business Section' of The Daily Telegraph (May 22) (and not just because yours truly gets an honourable mention): 'Climate change policy is as clear as good old London fog':
"..... But adaptation, for all its obviousness, is not the chosen option of the UN's environmental policy makers. They have chosen the 'mitigation' route instead - doubtless motivated by the desire to blame climate change on the rich, capitalist, globalising, fossil fuel burning, carbon emission polluting 'West' (especially the US). This option assumes that climate change is almost entirely caused by man-made carbon emissions and that curbing carbon emissions is essential in order to 'control' or 'prevent' the supposed horrors of further climate change....." [read on]

And very much worth the full read too.

Philip, we need more business leaders to speak out with such common sense. Time for a wee dram.
Canada starts to change the "upholstery buttons".....

It was the Freudian psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981), who argued that the way a society thinks is governed above all by what he termed the points de capiton, the "upholstery buttons". These fix the fabric of current hegemonic meaning onto the structure of our signs, or language, just like the buttons which attach the leather covering to a chair or settee. Points de capiton represent the key signifiers, or dominant language, defining an entity, or '-ism', like Marxism. Ultimately, they comprise both a mythic language for that '-ism', as well as a metalanguage, the overarching set of language controls that govern everything written, spoken, drawn, or acted upon with regard to 'the idea'. Points de capiton thus determine both the content and the meaning of the entity, or '-ism'. In many instances, a master, or key, signifier is ultimately 'sealed' into the discourse by a range of such Words of Power (magic words).

For 'Environmentalism' (with a capital 'E'), one such key point de capiton is unquestionably 'sustainable/sustainability'. An empty, Humpty Dumpty word per se (see my blog of April 17: The unsustainability of 'sustainability'), but, nevertheless, a magic Word of Power sealing 'Environmentalism' into the common discourse of government, industry, education, and daily language. To overthrow any oppressive discourse, such as 'Environmentalism', it is thus vital to undo the "upholstery buttons" and to replace them with alternative, more liberating Words of Power.

I am thus delighted to read that the new Canadian government may be doing precisely this. According to The Hill Times (May 15), '"Sustainable development" becomes "responsible development" at NRCan':
"PMO and Environment Canada spokespersons say they know nothing about it, but change in terminology is under way at Natural Resources Canada.

Natural Resources Canada is now using the phrase 'responsible development' in place of 'sustainable development,' The Hill Times has learned, drawing intense criticism from at least one environmental advocate who says the federal department appears to be trying to 'stamp out' an environmental word. [my italic]

Emma Welford, communications director for Natural Resources minister Gary Lunn (Saanich-Gulf Islands, BC), acknowledged the decision to use 'responsible development' in place of 'sustainable development' at Natural Resources Canada, and said it reflects the new Conservative government in power, but she added that it is independent of the government's work on a yet-to-be released 'made in Canada' climate change plan.

'I think when you look at the development of natural resources, everyone wants to make sure that there's all sorts of benefits. There's lots of responsibilities that come with that, the protection of the environment, ecosystems, as well as efficient and effective management of those resources. It's not different, it's just a bit clearer, and real language that actually means something,' Ms. Welford said. 'It's nothing to get too excited about.....'"

There I disagree, Ms Welford. This alters the key Word of Power, and didn't that poor "environmental advocate" recognise at once the deepness of the threat to 'Environmentalism'?

Well done Canada, say I. The way to undermine any '-ism' is to replace its Words of Power. This is far more effective than any scientific, economic, or political wrangling. It changes the very paradigm, and such word replacement often indicates that a paradigm is beginning to enter a crisis phase.

Moreover, as The Globe and Mail (May 20) reports: 'Ottawa now wants Kyoto deal scrapped.' The two go hand-in-hand:
..... Canada will not support attempts by other countries to set deeper emission-reduction targets for the Kyoto Protocol's second phase, according to private instructions to Canadian negotiators in Bonn, Germany.

The instructions obtained by The Globe and Mail also show that Canada wants the climate-change accord phased out in favour of a separate, voluntary deal....."

To my knowledge, this is the first governmental challenge to a key 'Environmentalist' Word of Power 'upholstered' onto the world at the Rio Conference in 1992. No wonder the Greens are going ape. The paradigm is showing the first signs of shifting..... Just watch those words.

Interestingly, of course, Australia may soon follow suit, as Canada leaves Kyotodom to join the new Asia-Pacific Pact on climate: 'Goodbye Kyoto, hello Asia-Pacific Partnership' (CBC News Online, 19 May) and 'Canada set to join climate pact' (The Australian, May 22).

The plate tectonics of climate-change politics are on the move.

My own preference, by the way, would be for 'flexible development', accepting change, and the need to adapt to insistent change, as the norm, but then I am but a mere academic observer of changing paradigms.

Philip, deconstructing is such fun. I shall enjoy my coffee this morning. Might even have a banana as a treat. My way of going ape.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

BBC's 'Climate Chaos': mark the Series out of 50......

Somebody asked me recently to list the main factors that drive climate changes. I thought it might be useful to repeat the exercise here to demonstrate once and for all that, by trying to reduce climate change to carbon dioxide and temperature, the myth of 'global warming' illustrates to perfection the serious sin of monocausal explanation (a point so tellingly made by the famous meteorologist, Professor Richard Lindzen, in his video clips below [see Saturday blog]).

On Wednesday this week (24th May), the BBC (yet again!) launches a two-week television Series, 'Climate Chaos'. Readers of 'EnviroSpin' who are planning to watch (endure) this doom-laden odyssey of drowning polar bears, flooding islands, and the burning Bush (the published schedules, as you will see, are not encouraging with respect to any sense of balance) might like to take time to mark the BBC out of 50 by ticking off the number of the following climate factors from all scales which receive serious attention (nay, any attention) and balanced analysis during the Series. Earth obliquity rangeI have deliberately compressed the list to only 32 composite climate drivers to enable such a couch-potato exercise (please note that, because of their overall importance, the final two factors carry 10 marks each). Feel free to print out the list. It may make the Series more endurable. And, by "serious attention", I mean as much balanced coverage as Item 28: "Human-induced emissions of 'greenhouse' gases". The image opposite [NASA, from Wikipedia] illustrates just one of the 32 climate drivers selected below, a medium-term driver, namely the Earth's spin wobble, which causes a slow 2.4° change in the tilt of the axis (obliquity) on a cycle of c. 41,000 years. Currently the Earth is tilted at 23.44 degrees from its orbital plane. The more the tilt moves away from 22.1 degrees, the colder the winters, the warmer the summers, and vice versa.

The 32 Climate Drivers (Cycles upon Cycles)
(NB. All drivers carry 1 mark, except the last two which are worth 10 marks each)

+ Cosmic ray flux;
Sun spot cycles.+ Solar magnetic cycles;
+ Sunspot cycles [opposite, NASA];
+ Meteorite impacts;
+ Cosmic dust;
+ Changing shape of the Earth's orbit (eccentricity);
+ Changing axial tilt of the Earth (obliquity);
+ Shorter duration 'wobbles' of the Earth upon its axis;
+ Axial orientation of the Earth (precession);
+ Orbital inclination of the Earth;
+ The changing shape of the Earth (mean dynamic oblateness [J2]);
+ The changing rotational velocity of the Earth's core;
Erupting volcano.+ Changes in the Earth's magnetic field;
+ Tectonic movements of the Earth;
+ Volcanic eruptions [opposite: public domain];
+ Changes in the circulation patterns of the oceans;
+ Changes in ocean salinity and chemistry;
+ Changes in ice-sheet stability (mass-balance of glaciers) and sea-ice thickness;
+ Changes in atmospheric water vapour, the most important 'greenhouse' gas of all;
+ Clouds and cloudiness;
+ Natural variations in atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide and methane
+ Changing albedo (reflectivity of Earth) through landscape change, natural and human;
+ Overall surface radiative energy fluxes;
+ Changing vegetation;
+ Natural biomass fires, agricultural and industrial fires, and their emissions;
+ The emission of aerosols and particulates, both natural and human;
+ The emission of tar balls;
+ Human-induced emissions of 'greenhouse' gases;
+ Known factors not listed;
+ Unknown factors;
+ Chaotic attractors (10 marks);
+ Non-linear feedback links for all of the above (10 marks).

Milankovitch cycles

[Image above: Milankovitch variations, from Wikipedia: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2]

If your mark is lower than 25, just switch off and sustain yourself with a good, strong single malt.

But, before you do, and so you know, current estimates of what will happen in the geological long-term range from models predicting that the general cooling trend which began some 6,000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years to models that suggest the current warm climate may last another 50,000 years. Well, there you have it.

Philip, if I see another image of a drowning polar bear or a melting iceberg, I'll turn on a patio heater. I do wish we could grow up over climate change in the UK. Coffee - but it's too cold in the garden!

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

WWW EnviroSpin Watch

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