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.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Coming clean over climate change.....

In their political heart-of-hearts, all Governments (including those in Europe) know that there is absolutely nothing we can do predictably about climate change, and, indeed, extremely little practically to curb the rise of 'greenhouse gas' emissions. Unfortunately, through a type of tabloid-hysteria in the old broadsheet world, including the BBC, the politicians have been persuaded to adopt knee-jerk reactions and to lecture people that they can, and that they must, "do something" about climate. They are now in a bind of their own making. Whatever they do, they will be damned. They can have no predictable effect on climate, and there is no way, even, that they will manage a significant reduction in gas emissions. Yet, they must continue to speak as if they are cutting, and can cut, emissions, and to argue that they will, miraculously, control climate. At some point, a lot of little boys and girls are going to spot the deception and to cry out: "The Emperors have no clothes!"

Here are the stark political realities:

(a) First, no country is reporting its true emissions of 'greenhouse gases'. Indeed, new research shows that Britain, for example, may be emitting 92% more methane (CH4) than declared under the Kyoto Protocol; Germany 62% (Germany has now acknowledged this fact and has raised its original estimates by 70%); France 47% [see: 'Kyoto promises are nothing but hot air' (New Scientist, June 21) and 'Methane emissions twice official level - study', (The Guardian, June 22)]. Further, the New Scientist makes the following telling observations:
"The most alarming failure of greenhouse gas emissions reporting is thought to have occurred in China, the world's second largest emitter. In the late 1990s, when its economy was growing by 10 per cent a year, the Chinese government reported a dramatic fall in CO2 emissions to the UN climate change convention. It declared that, after a long period of steep increases, emissions had fallen from 911 million tonnes of carbon a year in 1996 to 757 million tonnes in 2000, a drop of 17 per cent.

China said the fall in emissions was achieved by burning less coal, an assessment it based on a decline in coal production. Some analysts praised the country for using coal more efficiently, but that picture was called into doubt when declared coal production and emissions estimates resumed their fast rise. Estimates for 2004 put China's CO2 emissions above 1200 million tonnes.

Most analysts now conclude that the drop in emissions was entirely illusory [my italic]. It coincided with major changes in the organisation of the Chinese coal industry, which replaced state targets with a market system. 'Emissions figures before 1996 were inflated because mine officials had production targets to meet, and declared they had met them when they had not,' one analyst told New Scientist. By 2000, this effect had gone, and 'subsequent figures for CO2 emissions are probably more accurate as a result.' While the Chinese government may not have intentionally misled the international community over its emissions at the time, the incident reveals how easy it could be to fiddle official figures."

(b) Secondly, all emissions continue to rise, even according to official figures. The latest statistics show that 'greenhouse gas' emissions in the EU increased by 0.4% between 2003 and 2004, and even grew in the ever-pious UK by 0.2% (and these statistics exclude emissions from aircraft and shipping). On a world scale, CO2 emissions are now predicted to augment by 75% between 2003 and 2030, mainly because of exponential growth in the developing world [see: 'World CO2 emissions to rise 75 pct by 2030' (Planet Ark, June 21)]:
"Global emissions of CO2 will hit 43.7 billion tonnes in 2030, up from 25 billion tonnes in 2003, the Energy Information Administration [US] said in its annual forecast. By 2025 global CO2 emissions could hit 40.05 billion tonnes annually, up 0.03 percent from the forecast issued last year, said the EIA, the statistics arm of the Department of Energy. Last year's report did not look as far ahead as 2030."

By 2010, developing Asian countries will surpass North American emissions by some 21%.

(c) Thirdly, most efforts to curb emissions will be gobbled up by: (i) the significant return to coal that is currently taking place; (ii) the fact that more efficient energy buildings are still new, and additional, build; (iii) the continued growth in transport and free trade; (iv) the fact that most people, underneath, remain largely unmoved by the 'global warming' hype (just look at the 'EnviroSpin' Mini Poll, opposite); and, we hope, (v) continued world economic growth.

So, what can we expect? Much more of this hot air: 'EU, US to agree "urgent" action on climate change' (Planet Ark, June 21). Which means, being deconstructed?

+ A great deal of international talk about 'new technology' solving the crisis, while allowing growth to continue unchecked;

+ Increasingly ludicrous carbon-trading schemes;

+ A sudden, and rising, interest in 'adaptation' to climate change;

+ An awful lot of gibberish about YOU doing your bit with your light bulbs and your rubbish (largely a waste of time);

+ A load of waffle from young, eager, fresh-faced political hopefuls, like David Cameron and David Miliband, not to mention from all the soppy Lib Dems (you can shoot snipe off their backs); and,

+ Increasingly angry Greens, who will, nevertheless, continue to employ the 'global warming' hype to try to change your evil ways of living;

+ Meanwhile, world emissions will continue to rise, and, as ever, climate will change - but in what directions? Who knows?

Sometimes one really does wish one lived on another planet where the only strains came from a Schubert Quartet. I don't think I can stand it. It'll have to be Radio 3 from now on in the morning.

Philip, an Old Trout skulking in the shallows, listening to Schubert. "Tea?"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

New Mini Poll.....

After much testing and searching, 'EnviroSpin' has, at last, a new Mini Poll service [with Pollhost]. This carries no adverts on the blog, but only on the results pages, and I approve entirely of Pollhost's policies, which reject web sites that exhibit racism, hatred, harassment, adult content, obscene material, nudity, and pornography. I thus feel confident that the advertising on this poll will prove acceptable for a Family Friendly site like 'EnviroSpin'.

Thanks for your patience. And do please vote on our new 'EnviroSpin' poll (opposite) - tick up to three (3) boxes.

Have fun.

Philip, hungry after all that searching. Dinner! Hm! Good wine this evening, I think? A little treat.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

News without those pesky ads.....

I am delighted to say that 'EnviroSpin' can now offer a regular 'Science News' ticker (courtesy of ABC) [opposite], without the danger of any uncontrolled pesky ads. The ticker checks for stories regularly (around every 10 minutes) - just click on the 'Headline' for the full story.

Philip, so glad to have dropped those ads. A celebratory coffee is needed. I hope to provide an ad-free Mini Poll again soon. Thanks for your understanding.

Monday, June 19, 2006

An apology: the sudden removal of certain services.....

I must apologise for the precipitate removal from this blog of certain services which I know were valued by visitors to 'EnviroSpin' (e.g. the daily 'Science News' and the Mini Polls). Very sadly, some of the advertisements put up by the service providers have become increasingly unacceptable for a Family Friendly Site, like 'EnviroSpin', and, in all conscience, I am unable to continue to permit such advertisements to appear on my blog. I sincerely hope that you have not been embarrassed by any of the advertisements that have been shown today (I only noticed them myself for the first time this evening). Needless to say, I was very angry indeed, and I have acted at once.

I shall now seek suitable alternative services, if these can be found. I have already changed the Site Counter to one that respects Family Friendly Sites.

Please note that I have likewise had to remove the Vote, the Guestbook, and the Counter from my essay web site, 'A Parliament of Things'. Again, my apologies.

Thank goodness no changes have been required on the new Philip Stott's Music Box. Everything on this site is under my own control - as they are now on 'EnviroSpin' and 'A Parliament of Things'.

Philip, all for an open web, but it must respect Family Friendly options at all times. Thanks for your understanding. A strong expresso is required.
Middle-class panics from MMR to 'global warming'.....

Not being a medic, I have refrained from commenting on the disastrous 'yummy-mummy' panic over the MMR vaccine and its [seemingly non-existent] link with autism [see: 'Misplaced autism worries fuel measles outbreak' (The Guardian, June 16)].

As you may recall, confidence among the professional and media-type middle classes in the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) triple-vaccine collapsed following some hysterically-reported research first published in The Lancet that hypothesized a possible link between the vaccine, given at 18 months, and then at 4 years, with autism and bowel disease. Part of The Lancet paper was later retracted, and one of the authors may now face professional misconduct charges brought by the General Medical Council (GMC).

But these latter points are not what interest me, nor am I briefed enough to comment on the whole sorry tale. What I do know is that the media, and a bunch of precious, middle-class pundits, failed lamentably to assess the extremely meagre evidence for any link against the deadly serious, and fully-understood, risks of failing to achieve the necessary levels of vaccination for 'herd-level' protection in any given population. And the outcome of this folly? Unsurprisingly, as The Guardian reports, Britain is today "... experiencing its biggest measles outbreak in 20 years, fuelled by the reluctance of some parents to have their children immunised because of now-discredited claims of a link between the MMR jab and autism."

In 2006, there have been some 449 reported cases of measles; in 2005, there were 77. The first direct death from measles has been recorded. But worse: while the safe level for 'herd' immunisation rates is, according to the WHO and others, between 92 and 95%, rates in London have fallen to 71%, and in Britain as a whole to below 85%. Now that is genuinely a cause for concern.

Three factors merit comment. First, the prime withdrawers have been well-educated, middle-class mothers. Secondly, some of the media built up the hype in a truly disgraceful manner. Thirdly, there was no scientific understanding of the need to balance risks, only a foolish yearning for impossible absolutes and a flurry of febrile comment.

On all this, I recommend strongly Cristina Odone's outstanding piece in today's The Times [apologies - no direct hyperlink for copyright reasons]: 'White, middle-class, loving mums. And their stupidity could kill your child.'

Middle-class panic has become one of the self-indulgent curses of the age, and, behind much of the panic, there often lies class arrogance and loathing. Though they would never actually utter such an un-PCness, some, deep down, do believe that they are more important than everyone else, and that everything about their existence is much, much, more precious, from hemp to 'organic' Hypericum. There is a sense of horror at playing your part in a 'herd of humanity'.

Interestingly, a substantial element of 'global warming' panic is likewise class-driven, especially those metro-media attacks on cheap air fares. In their heart of hearts, the 'yummy mummies' and the 'dandy dads' believe that 'the great unwashed' should know their place and stay at home in Blackpool or Margate. What they want is immunisation from 'the herd'!

And, when the middle class cease flying to their Provencal and Tuscan villas, and snooty academics stop jetting off to conferences, then you should believe in 'global warming'.

In this respect, I was delighted that, in the Queen's Birthday Honours, the founder of EasyJet, and Easygroup Chairman, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, received a knighthood [see: 'Honours offer snapshot of new establishment' (The Guardian, June 17)]. This was a splendid one-in-the-eye for the Etonian Greens and their pot-porritt ilk. Stelios is indeed a jolly chap, and he has brought the destinations of the self-important within most people's reach. Folk go up to him on the street to thank him for opening up their world.

And, of course, the idea that grounding Sir Stelios, and his no-frills jets, would "save the planet" is as stupid as refusing the MMR jab. It is a carefully-contrived middle-class, media conceit and panic to undermine an increasingly democratic world - Stelios, by the way, also introduced cheap internet cafes and cheap car rental. As for balancing the risks of climate change and economic adaptation - no, they don't want to hear about that! It might mean that folk can continue driving their el-cheapo cars, clogging up the roads for the Porcheistas.

Like Pooh, I thus wonder to myself a lot. How much middle-class panic is actually about putting a cordon sanitaire around privileged existences, from Chelsea to Chiantishire, Green Belt to Golf? Increasingly, I am finding my 'Old Labour' hackles rising.

Philip, detoxing after flying back from Porto! Tea and coffee only on return. There's my punishment. "See you next year in Tuscany, Old Thing!"
'Sceptical Landscapes' back on air.....

I hope it is not too solipsist to let you know that the five programmes of my little radio Series, 'Sceptical Landscapes', are being repeated, one after the other, each day this week on BBC Radio 4 at 3.45 pm (BST).

You can listen in live each day here [select: 'Now on air', and click the Listen Live button].

Philip, 3.45 pm? Why not have tea in the garden with Stotty? Sceptical sandwiches all round!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Political ecology and environmentalism: Marxism through the back door.....

For a long time now, there has been an uneasy feeling that the grand narrative of environmentalism is morphing into the grand narrative of Marxism, but in a new guise. Of course, this is rarely admitted, or made transparent, the deep faiths of environmentalism being cleverly dressed up in pseudo-scientific gobbledygook, somewhat like Old Marxism itself.

The veracity of such observations are, however, beautifully exposed by the latest Volume [30, Issue 3, 2006] of the academic journal, Progress in Human Geography (Hodder Arnold), a frequent refuge for much plaintive Marxist, and anti-capitalist, academic rhetoric, and one showcasing writing that would sometimes do justice to Pseuds Corner in Private Eye. Try these for starters:
"In the writings of self-described neoliberal promoters... the micro- and macroscales of neoliberal rule are thus usually explained as fitting together naturally as some sort of synergistic adaptation of both personal imagination and social-regulation brought on by a global struggle for political-economic survival: a naturally selected, heteronormative, coupling, it would seem, as well as very convenient for business..." [p. 362]

"The first is to nuance rather than abandon our analyses of neoliberalism: a nuancing which... can be developed in part through the analysis of the context-contingent connections between neoliberal governance and neoliberal governmentality..." [p. 367]

Accordingly, I commend for your deconstruction two articles in the latest issue of PiHG, the first on 'Political geography: political geographies of globalization' [pp. 357 - 372], the second on 'Political ecology: where is the policy?' [pp. 382 - 395].

The latter, in particular, lauds the necessity "to expose the free market, anti-environmental agenda" attacked by one political ecologist at the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group during a recent conference of the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

The article further plainly declares that the roots of political ecology lie in "Marxian political economy" [p.387] [a bizarre simplification!], and bemoans the fact that this "hardly opens doors in mainstream policy institutions". Quoting another political ecologist, the paper then admits that: "An overt Marxian analysis would make most policy makers bin the reporrt after page 2."

The article goes on to assert what readers of 'EnviroSpin' have long sensed:
"Some who have shed overt Marxian language perceive that these sorts of critiques of power can go a long way in the policy world and lead to important positive changes..."

"... The upshot of all this with respect to policy is that, while political ecologists will no doubt continue to argue among themselves about the appropriate place for Marx, the legacy of Marxian analysis on political ecology will continue to present a sometimes awkward choice" [p. 388].

You bet. Thus, the arrival of 'Neo-Marxian' political ecologists, and every flower blooming, so long as it is, of course, socialistic.

I am delighted to read such papers, because they present us with two clear warnings.

First, in the academic world, much 'environmental' and 'ecological' analysis is little more than discredited Marxist thinking dressed up as pseudo-science to look acceptable to modern policy makers (who too readily fall for its tropes). Secondly, environmentalism has become a back door for authoritarian Marxism and Socialism to sneak into, yet again, public policy-making, especially at the international level. Beware such at the UN.

These trends have to be resisted, and seen for what they are, and it is dispiriting that so many straightforward scientists are bedazzled by the Old Dictator's new clothes. For, as ever, the Emperor is bare.

I think it will all end in tears, like the demise of its parent grand narrative. 'Global warming', environmentalism's Berlin Wall, must be torn down, stone by stone. In the meantime, we must suffer the paradigm and its follies.

Philip, just returned from a most pleasant visit to Portugal, where the tripe is real, in marked contrast to much of academia. "Chilled white port, all round?" "Obrigado!"

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

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