Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Birdcage Walk : Cheesestick Rationing

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 Jo 1 comment


    Yesterday…no, it’s later than I think…two days ago, I attended the 2013 Conference of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group, at the invitation of Rhys Williams, the long-suffering Coordinator. “…Sorry…Are you upset ?” “No, look at my face. Is there any emotion displayed there ?” “No, you look rather dead fish, actually”, etc.

    At the prestigious seat of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), One Birdcage Walk, we were invited down into the basement for a “drinks reception”, after hearing some stirring speeches and intriguing panel discussions. Despite being promised “refreshments” on the invitation, there had only been beverages and a couple of bikkies up until now, and I think several of the people in the room were starting to get quite hypoglycemic, so were grateful to see actual food being offered.

    A market economy immediately sprang up, as there was a definite scarcity in the resources of cheesesticks, and people jostled amiably, but intentionally, so they could cluster closest to the long, crispy cow-based snacks. The trading medium of exchange was conversation. “Jo, meet Mat Hope from Carbon Brief, no Maf Smith from Renewable UK. You’ve both been eviscerated by Delingpole online”, and so on.

    “Welcome to our own private pedestal”, I said to somebody, who it turned out had built, probably in the capacity of developer, a sugarcane bagasse Combined Heat and Power plant. The little table in the corner had only got room around it for three or at most four people, and yet had a full complement of snack bowls. Bonus. I didn’t insist on memorising what this fellow told me his name was. OK, I didn’t actually hear it above the hubbub. And he was wearing no discernible badge, apart from what appeared to be the tinge of wealth. He had what looked like a trailing truculent teenager with him, but that could have been a figment of my imagination, because the dark ghost child spoke not one word. But that sullenness, and general anonymity, and the talkative gentleman’s lack of a necktie, and his slightly artificial, orange skin tone, didn’t prevent us from engaging wholeheartedly in a discussion about energy futures – in particular the default options for the UK, since there is a capacity crunch coming very soon in electricity generation, and new nuclear power reactors won’t be ready in time, and neither will Carbon Capture and Storage-fitted coal-fired power plants.

    Of course, the default options are basically Natural Gas and wind power, because large amounts can be made functional within a five year timeframe. My correspondent moaned that gas plants are closing down in the UK. We agreed that we thought that new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plant urgently needs to be built as soon as possible – but he despaired of seeing it happen. He seemed to think it was essential that the Energy Bill should be completed as soon as possible, with built-in incentives to make Gas Futures a reality.

    I said, “Don’t wait for the Energy Bill”. I said, “Intelligent people have forecast what could happen to Natural Gas prices within a few years from high European demand and UK dependence, and are going to build gas plant for themselves. We simply cannot have extensions on coal-fired power plants…” He agreed that the Large Combustion Plant Directive would be closing the coal. I said that there was still something like 20 gigawatts of permissioned gas plant ready to build – and with conditions shaping up like they are, they could easily get financed.

    Earlier, Nigel Cornwall, of Cornwall Energy had put it like this :-

    “Deliverability and the trilemma [meeting all three of climate change, energy security and end-consumer affordability concerns] [are key]. Needs to be some joined-up thinking. [...] There is clearly a deteriorating capacity in output – 2% to 5% reduction. As long as I’ve worked in the sector it’s been five minutes to midnight, [only assuaged by] creative thinking from National Grid.”

    However, the current situation is far from bog standard. As Paul Dickson of Glennmont Partners said :-

    “£110 billion [is needed] to meet the [electricity generation] gap. We are looking for new sources of capital. Some of the strategic institutional capital – pension funds [for example] – that’s who policy needs to be directed towards. We need to look at sources of capital.”

    Alistair Buchanan, formerly of Ofgem, the power sector regulator, and now going to KPMG, spent the last year or so of his Ofgem tenure presenting the “Crunch Winter” problem to as many people as he could find. His projections were based on a number of factors, including Natural Gas supply questions, and his conclusion was that in the winter of 2015/2016 (or 2016/2017) power supply could get thin in terms of expansion capacity – for moments of peak demand. Could spell crisis.

    The Government might be cutting it all a bit fine. As Jenny Holland of the Association for the Conservation of Energy said :-

    “[Having Demand Reduction in the Capacity Mechanism] Not our tip-top favourite policy outcome [...] No point to wait for “capacity crunch” to start [Energy Demand Reduction] market.”

    It does seem that people are bypassing the policy waiting queue and getting on with drawing capital into the frame. And it is becoming more and more clear the scale of what is required. Earlier in the afternoon, Caroline Flint MP had said :-

    “In around ten years time, a quarter of our power supply will be shut down. Decisions made in the next few years. Consequences will last for decades. Keeping the lights on, and [ensuring reasonably priced] energy bills, and preventing dangerous climate change.”

    It could come to pass that scarcity, not only in cheesesticks, but in electricity generation capacity, becomes a reality. What would policy achieve then ? And how should Government react ? Even though Lord Deben (John Gummer) decried in the early afternoon a suggestion implying carbon rationing, proposed to him by Professor Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute, it could yet turn out that electricity demand reduction becomes a measure that is imposed in a crisis of scarcity.

    As I put it to my sugarcane fellow discussionee, people could get their gas for heating cut off at home in order to guarantee the lights and banks and industry stay on, because UK generation is so dependent on Natural Gas-fired power.

    Think about it – the uptake of hyper-efficient home appliances has turned down owing to the contracting economy, and people are continuing to buy and use electronics, computers, TVs and other power-sucking gadgets. Despite all sizes of business having made inroads into energy management, electricity consumption is not shifting downwards significantly overall.

    We could beef up the interconnectors between the UK and mainland Europe, but who can say that in a Crunch Winter, the French and Germans will have any spare juice for us ?

    If new, efficient gas-fired power plants are not built starting now, and wind farms roll out is not accelerated, the Generation Gap could mean top-down Energy Demand Reduction measures.

    It would certainly be a great social equaliser – Fuel Poverty for all !

  • Un égard, un regard, un certain regard

    Posted on August 27th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Whatever it is, it starts with attention, paying attention.

    Attention to numbers, faces, needs, consideration of the rights and wrongs and probables.

    Thinking things through, looking vulnerable children and aggressive control freaks directly in the eye, being truly brave enough to face both radiant beauty and unbelievable evil with equanimity.

    To study. To look, and then look again.

    To adopt a manner of seeing, and if you cannot see, to learn to truly absorb the soundscape of your world – to pick up the detail, to fully engage.

    It is a way of filling up your soul with the new, the good, the amazing; and also the way to empty worthless vanity from your life.

    Simone Weil expressed this truth in these words : “Toutes les fois qu’on fait vraiment attention, on détruit du mal en soi.” If you pay close attention, you learn what is truly of value, and you jettison incongruities and waywardness. She also pronounced that “L’attention est la forme la plus rare et la plus pure de la générosité.” And she is right. People feel truly valued if you gaze at them, and properly listen to them.

    Those of us who have researched climate change and the limits to natural resources, those of us who have looked beyond the public relations of energy companies whose shares are traded on the stock markets – we are paying attention. We have been working hard to raise the issues for the attention of others, and sometimes this has depleted our personal energies, caused us sleepless nights, given us depression, fatalism, made us listless, aimless, frustrated.

    Some of us turn to prayer or other forms of meditation. We are enabled to listen, to learn, to try again to communicate, to bridge divides, to empathise.

    A transformation can take place. The person who pays close attention to others becomes trusted, attractive in a pure, transparent way. People know our hearts, they have confidence in us, when we give them our time and an open door.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Obey the Future

    Posted on August 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Disobedience only gets you so far. Resistance can be fertile, but intellectual ghettos can be futile. The human tendency to generalise creates too much negativity and prevents us from being constructive. We complain about the “evil” oil and gas companies; the “greedy” coal merchants and their “lying” bankster financiers; but refuse to see the diamonds in the mud.

    We should obey the future. In the future, all people will respect each other. There will no longer be war propaganda carried by the media, demonising leaders of foreign countries, or scorn for opposing political parties. In the future, human beings will respect and have regard for other human beings. So we should live that future, live that value, have care for one another. I don’t mean we are obliged to give money to charity to help needy people in poor countries. I don’t mean we should campaign for our government to commit funds to the Climate Finance initiatives, whose aim is to support adaptation to climate chaos in developing countries. No, charity is not enough, and never matches the need. Philanthropy will not answer climate change, and so solutions need to be built into the infrastructure of the global economy, sewn into the design, woven into the fabric. There should be no manufacture, no trade, no form of consumption that does not take account of the climate change impacts on the poor, and on the rich, on ecosystems, on ourselves.

    Yes, it’s true that corporations are destroying the biosphere, but we cannot take a step back, grimace and point fingers of blame, for we are all involved in the eco-destructive economy. We are all hooked on dirty energy and polluting trade, and it’s hard to change this. It’s especially hard for oil, gas and coal companies to change track – they have investors and shareholders, and they are obliged to maintain the value in their business, and keep making profits. Yes, they should stop avoiding their responsibilities to the future. Yes, they should stop telling the rest of us to implement carbon taxation or carbon trading. They know that a comprehensive carbon price can never be established, that’s why they tell us to do it. It’s a technique of avoidance. But gathering climate storms, and accumulating unsolved climate damages, are leading the world’s energy corporations to think carefully of the risks of business as usual. How can the governments and society of the world help the energy companies to evolve ? Is more regulation needed ? And if so, what kind of political energy would be required to bring this about ? The United Nations climate change process is broken, there is no framework or treaty at hand, and the climate change social movement has stopped growing, so there is no longer any democratic pressure on the energy production companies and countries to change.

    Many climate change activists talk of fear and frustration – the futility of their efforts. They are trapped into the analysis that teaches that greed and deceit are all around them. Yet change is inevitable, and the future is coming to us today, and all is quite possibly full of light. Where is this river of hope, this conduit of shining progress ? Where, this organised intention of good ?

    We have to celebrate the dull. Change is frequently not very exciting. Behind the scenes, policy people, democratic leaders, social engineers, corporate managers, are pushing towards the Zero Carbon future reality. They push and pull in the areas open to them, appropriate to their roles, their paid functions. Whole rafts of national and regional policy is wedded to making better use of energy, using less energy overall, displacing carbon energy from all economic sectors.

    And then there’s the progressive politics. Every leader who knows the shape of the future should strive to be a Van Jones, or a Jenny Jones, any green-tinged Jones you can think of. We should enquire of our political leaders and our public activists what flavour of environmental ecology they espouse. We should demand green policies in every party, expect clean energy support from every faction. We should not only vote progressive, we should promote future-thinking authority in all spheres of social management – a future of deeper mutual respect, of leaner economy, of cleaner energy.

    The future will be tough. In fact, the future is flowing to us faster than ever, and we need resilience in the face of assured destructive change – in environment and in economy. To develop resilience we need to forgo negativity and embrace positivity. So I ask you – don’t just be anti-coal, be pro-wind, pro-solar and pro-energy conservation. Where leaders emerge from the companies and organisations that do so much harm, celebrate them and their vision of a brighter, better, lower carbon future. Where administrations take the trouble to manage their energy use, and improve their efficiency in the use of resources, applaud them, and load them with accolades. Awards may be trite, but praise can encourage better behaviour, create exemplars, inspire goodly competition. Let us encourage the people with good influence in every organisation, institution and corporation. Change is afoot, and people with genuine power are walking confidently to a more wholesome future.

    Protect your soul. Don’t get locked into the rejection of evil, but hold fast to what is good. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Be strong for goodness, even as you turn your back on a life of grime.

    Live the Zero Carbon future, and make it come as soon as it can.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Academic Freedom, Be Prepared, Behaviour Changeling, Big Picture, Big Society, Burning Money, Carbon Commodities, Carbon Pricing, Carbon Taxatious, Climate Change, Climate Chaos, Climate Damages, Coal Hell, Conflict of Interest, Corporate Pressure, Cost Effective, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Design Matters, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Eating & Drinking, Economic Implosion, Efficiency is King, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Change, Energy Denial, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Environmental Howzat, Evil Opposition, Extreme Weather, Faithful God, Feed the World, Feel Gooder, Financiers of the Apocalypse, Food Insecurity, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Fuel Poverty, Global Heating, Global Singeing, Global Warming, Green Investment, Growth Paradigm, Hide the Incline, Human Nurture, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Incalculable Disaster, Low Carbon Life, Mass Propaganda, Media, Money Sings, National Energy, Near-Natural Disaster, No Pressure, Not In My Name, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Nudge & Budge, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Emissions, Peak Oil, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Protest & Survive, Public Relations, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stop War, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technomess, The Data, The Power of Intention, Unqualified Opinion, Unsolicited Advice & Guidance, Unutterably Useless, Utter Futility, Vain Hope, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Vote Loser, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
  • Tillerson Talks It Down

    Posted on July 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, was recently invited to talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States of America, as part of their series on CEOs.

    His “on the record” briefing was uploaded to YouTube almost immediately as he made a number of very interesting comments.

    Reactions were mixed.

    The thing most commented upon was his handwaving away the significance of climate change – a little change here, a little change over there and you could almost see the traditional magician’s fez here – shazam – nothing to worry about.

    In amongst all the online furore about this, was discussion of his continued Membership of the Church of Oil Cornucopia – he must have mentioned the word “technology” about seventy-five times in fifteen minutes. He clearly believes, as do his shareholders and management board, that his oil company can continue to get progressively more of the black stuff out of tar sands, oil shales or oil-bearing shale sediments and ever-tighter locked-in not naturally outgassing “natural” gas out of gas shales. At least in Northern America.

    As numerous commentators with a background in Economics have claimed, well, the price of oil is rising, and that creates a market for dirtier, harder-to-reach oil. Obviously. But missing from their Law of Supply and Demand is an analysis of how oil prices are actually determined in the real world. It’s certainly not a free market – there are numerous factors that control the price of the end-product, gasoline, not least state sponsorship of industries, either through direct subsidies, or through the support of dependent industries such as car manufacture. At least in North America.

    In the background, there is ongoing shuttle diplomacy between the major western economies and the assortment of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who still have the world’s largest pool of cleaner-ish petroleum under their feet. That, naturally, has an impact on supply and pricing : even though the strength of this bonding is not as tight-fast as it historically was, there appears to have been more of it since around 2005. Or at least, that’s when I first started monitoring it consciously.

    In addition to that, there are only a limited number of players in the oil industry. It is almost impossible to break into the sector without an obscene amount of capital, and exceedingly good buddy-type relationships with everybody else in the field – including sheikhs you formerly knew from when you attended specialty schools. So, no, the market in oil is not free in any sense. It is rigged – if you’ll excuse the pun.

    And then there’s foundational reasons why oil prices are artificial – and may not cause a boom in the “unconventional” production that Rex Tillerson is so excited about (in a rancher-down-the-farm kind of way). Oil is still fundamental to the global economy. In fact, the price of oil underpins most business, as oil is still dominant in the transportation of goods and commodities. Despite all the techno-wizardry, it is fundamentally more costly to drill for fossil fuels in shale, than from pressure wells where oil just gloops out of the ground if you stick a pipe in.

    It’s not the drilling that’s the major factor – so the technology is not the main driver of the cost. It’s the put-up, take-down costs – the costs of erecting the infrastructure for a well, or putting underground shale heating or fracturing equipment in place, and the cleaning up afterwards. Some of the technologies used to mine shales for oil use an incredible amount of water, and this all needs to be processed, unless you don’t mind desecrating large swathes of sub-tropical scenery. Or Canada.

    The price of oil production has a knock-on effect, including on the very markets that underpin oil production – so increasing oil prices have a cyclic forcing effect – upwards. It also has an impact on the prices of other essential things, such as food. One can see a parallel rise in the price of oil and the price of staple crops in the last few years – and the spiralling cost of grain wheat, rice and corn maize is not all down to climate change.

    Oil companies are in a quandary – they need to have higher oil prices to justify their unconventional oil operations – and they also need good relationships with governments, who know they cannot get re-elected if too many people blame them for rising costs of living. Plus, there’s the global security factor – several dozen countries already have economies close to bust because of the cost of oil imports. There are many reasons to keep oil prices depressed.

    Let’s ask that subtle, delicate question : why did Rex Tillerson espouse the attitudes he did when asked to go on the record ? Why belittle the effects of climate change ? The answer is partly to soothe the minds of American investors, (and MENA investors in America). If such a powerful player in the energy sector believes “we can adapt to that” about climate change, clearly behind-the-scenes he will be lobbying against excessive carbon pricing or taxation with the American federal administration.

    And why be so confident that technology can keep the oil flowing, and make up for the cracks appearing in conventional supply chains by a frenzy of shale works ? Well, logically, he’s got to encourage shareholder confidence, and also government confidence, that his industry can continue to deliver. But, let’s just surmise that before he was shunted onto the stage in June, he’d had a little pre-briefing with some government officials. They would be advising him to show high levels of satisfaction with unconventional oil production growth (in America) – after all, this would act against the rollercoaster of panic buying and panic selling in futures contracts that has hit the oil markets in recent months.

    So Rex Tillerson is pushed awkwardly to centre stage. Global production of oil ? No problem ! It’s at record highs (if we massage the data), and likely to get even better. At least in America. For a while. But hey, there’s no chance of oil production declining – it’s important to stress that. If everyone can be convinced to believe that there’s a veritable river of oil, for the forseeable future, then oil prices will stay reasonable, and we can all carry on as we are. Nothing will crash or burn. Except the climate.

    Rex Tillerson’s interview on global (American) oil production may have been used to achieve several propaganda aims – but the key one, it seems to me, was to talk down the price of oil. Of course, this will have a knock-on effect on how much unconventional oil is affordable and accessible, and maybe precipitate a real peak in oil production – just the thing he’s denying. But keeping the price of oil within a reasonable operating range is more important than Rex Tillerson’s impact on the American Presidential elections, or even Rex Tillerson’s legacy.

  • Just like they said it would be – how extreme weather is proving climate change theory

    Posted on July 11th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Nature has been sending a strong, chaotic message to many people in the last few months – drought, floods, storms, and very unusual temperatures and weather events.

    Public communicators of science have been explaining the underlying phenomena – the ENSO cycle in the Pacific Ocean has been flipping winds and sea surface temperatures from a condition known as La Nina, towards the El Nino configuration; plus, in the northern hemisphere, wind flow high above our heads has been erratic.

    Scientists have been careful not to claim every extreme weather event as proof of climate change theory. After all, any one violent storm or unprecedented high could be just that – freak – never to be repeated. Climatologists instead talk of “loading the climate dice”, a way to explain that extreme weather is more likely in a warming world.

    Reticence and restraint are in evidence, however, now is a prime moment to assert, without triumphalism, that all this crazy weather does indeed offer confirmation of climate change theory – everything is happening just the way the atmospheric scientists said it would.

    Arctic amplification

    There is no doubt that surface of the Earth is warming up, and the Arctic region of the globe is warming faster than anywhere else. This is to be expected in a world with added Greenhouse Effect from rising carbon dioxide levels in the air. The climatologists projected that this would happen, due to localised additional heating resulting from the side effects of melting ice, snow and permafrost in the northern pole. Antarctica, on the other hand, would not show the same kind of strong “albedo” feedback response as it was still too cold and ice-and-snow bound and surrounded by isolating ocean and wind currents.

    Up there, where the air is clear

    Scientists predicted that because of Arctic amplification, the profile of the planet’s atmosphere would change under global warming conditions. And so it has. The tropopause – the place where the lower, thicker atmosphere – the troposhere – meets the upper, thinner stratosphere, has shifted, and the temperature change profile or “inversion” at this height has also been modified. While the air close to the Earth’s surface has become warmer, the air in the stratosphere has become colder. All just as the scientists predicted would happen.

    Jet stream weaker and loopier

    Close to the surface of the planet, wind tracks and the passage of storms, pressure systems and clouds are turbulent and pretty chaotic. But above this zone, winds flow freely. The winds stream because the atmosphere drags whilst the Earth turns. Because of the general patterns of billowing air below them, jet streams are usually centred at particular places – the polar jets at around 30 degrees angle from the poles, the subtropical jets at around 30 degrees from the Equator.

    Atmospheric scientists have been monitoring these winds for change, as the models indicated that the northern polar jet, in particular, would shift its position northwards, because of the other climate changes, and weaken. As it weakened, they worked out that the normal wavy kinks in the jet stream would become big loops, and maybe even lock into certain shapes for longer than usual, a situation known as a blocking event.

    Wobbly weather

    Because jet streams have an impact on the movement of weather systems further down, the scientists projected that the more meandering jet stream would carry weather systems out of their usual tracks, and also create bubbles of unusual temperature. Normally cold places would see heatwaves, normally hot places would have cold snaps, and everywhere would experience unseasonal and more extreme weather. And this is exactly what we have been seeing.

    The number of freak weather events is mounting, along with insurance company manager blood pressure readings. The flooding and drought that would be expected with the periodic Pacific ENSO system flip from La Nina to El Nino have been highly damaging, and when the final accounting is done, probably more damaging than previously.

    The food on the table

    Climate change scientists have long predicted altered patterns and increased variability of rainfall with global warming. There are real concerns that farmers can no longer predict when, or for how long, it will rain, and this is affecting major food growing regions. The major global rice, wheat and maize corn harvests are at risk, and recent years of failings have dented confidence and ballooned prices.

    Strange weather is impacting on fruit and vegetable growing, as seasons are becoming unclear and even swapping their normal order. The weather has gone wrong, and this is exactly what the scientists have been warning us about for several decades in official reports. How much easier would we have accepted changing realities if we had understood the language of the early research papers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change !

  • BP Biofuels : Murders & Acquisitions ?

    Posted on July 2nd, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    [ The empty billboard at Highams Park train station, that had previously boasted an advertisement for BP's Olympic public relations mission, after I complained about it. ]

    I can see it now – a shimmering summer London afternoon – the heat radiating from the newly constructed sports track, and all television eyes on the shiny BP Biofuels filling station.

    Oh, you’ll have choice. Which “green” fuel shall we choose for the Olympic village van ? Bioethanol, biodiesel or biobutanol ? The bright white and metal filling station will be glowing like an saving angel in a storm, with the friendly, homely green and yellow BP star flower tattooed across it.

    But while you’re drinking in the public relations, “Oh look ! BP goes green !”, you will be living a distraction, like a child hypnotised by glinting gemstones. You will not be looking further than the pump station podium, to the full context, where lies a narrative rich in troubling complexity, harrowing tales that somehow never quite make it to the bread-and-circus mainstream media.

    1. BP Biofuels is growing by acquisition, not in-house development

    It is clear from the outset that BP Biofuels is a greenwash mirage – the “world class” fossil fuel oil and gas company are not tending to dirty their engineers’ hands with actually making biofuels themselves. What BP Biofuels has been doing is leveraging their ecological reputation by making purchases of already-existing companies – for example, Tropical Bioenergia in Brazil.

    Where they have entered into a more joint venture, things are a bit rocky, for example, at Vivergo Fuels in Hull, England, which was due to open in early 2012, no, I mean “late spring”, no actually “later in the year”.

    And where they have been unable to acquire or merger, they’ve been taking to the law courts to suppress the competition, as with Gevo in Minnesota in the United States of America.

    2. Land grabbing in the Brazilian Cerrado and the socioeconomic fallout

    Although BP Biofuels are claiming that they are developing advanced biofuels with due care for sustainability, there are continuing problems with land use change in the Brazilian Cerrado, which is documented as displacing indigenous people, and perhaps even partly behind the murder of social activists in the region.

    BP Biofuels is making use of the highly unequal Brazilian economy by using low-skilled or unskilled landless people in the area. As usual, the BP company reports focus on the safety of their employees – they claim that mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting is improving the wellbeing of their workers – but they are not addressing the economic disadvantage that forces people to work for extremely low wages in this business.

    3. Ecosystem destruction by agrifuel/agrofuel farming

    Sugarcane plantations have been highlighted as causing detrimental effects to soils, even causing stress on local water supplies.

    4. The GM crop menace

    At least one company specialising in the sale of agrochemicals, I mean genetically modified crops adapted for use with patented agrochemicals, is active alongside the BP Biofuels concerns. It is possible that there will be extensive crossover between the energy and GM crops companies – not only in the ownership of the genome of energy crops such as GM sugarcane, but also GM trees – to be used to build carbon credits for the large international companies growing plantations in Brazil.

    5. Buggy biofuels will remain a niche in the vehicle fuel market

    Biofuels made by any process that involves microorganisms suffer from one unique problem – speed – or rather, lack of it. There does not appear to be much evidence that any bio-activated production of biofuels – whether it be fermentation for ethanol, or algae grown for oil – can be sped up. This indicates that biofuels grown from bugs are likely to remain relatively small-scale in the global fuels markets – adding weight to the arguments from companies such as BP for drilling for fossil fuels in the Arctic Ocean and offshore in Africa, South America and Asia.

    [ NOTE WELL : Before you mentino it, yes, this post does not have much in the way of links, in fact, none at all. That's because I'm still compiling sources on this subject and hope to write it up properly later on. If you're keen to find out more, Google knows everything, just about. ]

  • The Gloves Are Off

    Posted on May 21st, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    I received what at first glance looked like an innocent-looking email from somebody I think is doing a pretty good job in deconstructing the appalling media treatment of science and technology :-

    “Jo, Could you edit your comment down this morning so it’s significantly shorter? [...] If you’re not up for shrinking it, I’ll shorten it myself this afternoon, and I probably won’t do as good a job in relation to what you are trying to get across. Thanks, [...]“

    Unfortunately, I do not like being warned that my comments will be edited, and possibly become less clear than the way I originally wrote them. I particularly don’t like the implication that my argument could become corrupted by somebody else editing my ideas.

    My summary : open debate is being stifled.

    To protest, I removed my entire comment.

    Here are my original comments in full :-

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

    I have to ask the question – what kind of a geek is Mark Henderson ? A former science editor of The Times, maybe, but what is his personal geek rating in science, technology and engineering ? He admits he doesn’t have a science degree, so how can he speak on behalf of science geeks ?

    I listened to his interview with The Guardian’s Martin Robbins and all I picked up was static – I didn’t hear him talk about real science or real technology. However, he was careful to put in the “good box” what I call the “Mark Lynas dud duo” – the two technologies that it seems most people object to – nuclear power and GM crops. He therefore gets a first propaganda strike from me.

    If I’m not mistaken, he does not have a science or research background himself, so he is unable to determine that his claim that the UEA scientists had a “culture of non-disclosure” was a myth, generated by the climate change denial echo chamber.

    There were, and continue to be, reasons why researchers are not permitted to publish certain information, including the fact that data may come from other research units who cannot give authority to publish data for a variety of reasons – for example, data obtained by a country’s military services.

    What this myth glosses over is the truth – there have been several decades of work by the scientific community themselves to make data collection and databases more transparent and available. Climate change scientists have in particular been working across the international borders to attempt to link data sources in a coherent way to substantiate global reporting. They’re not hiding data, they are actively working together to liberate it. Henderson needs to research this apparently glib assertion, made apparently without checking the facts. He therefore gets a second propaganda strike from me for this.

    I am not surprised that Henderson aims for the jugular of the “green movement” as you report. This is a common easy target – this straw man. There is no such thing as a coherent “green movement” who have uniform beliefs and common exposure to science and research. Strike three.

    It is true that there are some people who consider themselves green environmentalists who have a deep-seated distaste for nuclear power and GM crops, but who have only the barest acquaintance with the scientific knowledge of atomic energy engineering or biotechnology.

    However there are a good number of very well-educated scientists who are against the exploitation of nuclear fission for energy and genetically modified plants for food and energy. The reasons that scientists oppose nuclear energy and biotechnology may not always be the same reasons that so-called environmentalists oppose atomic power and GM crops, but that doesn’t mean that the environmentalists have unfounded concerns. It is simply a category error to say that all those who oppose nuclear power and GM crops are being unscientific, or are not scientists. Strike four.

    It is also a category error to equate non-governmental organisations “NGOs” with “environmentalists”, or attempt to claim the high intellectual ground as a “geek” in support of nuclear power and GM crops. Strike five and six.

    The most deceptive category error of all is to claim that nuclear power and biotechnology are “science”. They are not. They are “technologies” – and technologies can go wrong – as nuclear power has spectacularly done. Strike seven.

    Dick Taverne seems to have been confusing “technology” with “science” for some time now, with his group “vaingloriously” (?) named “Sense about Science”. Does he really believe that only people that think like he does are showing any sense about science ?

    What happens when countries are persuaded to permit GM crop technologies, and they are universally grown – and the science actually begins, and 20 or 25 years later scientific research shows that there are significant problems ? Will we be able to say, it’s all OK, GM crops are scientific, so they must be fine, even though they cause major problems ?

    Mark Henderson therefore gets seven counts of propaganda against him in my view. I therefore would humbly suggest – in the terms of Simon Singh – that his position is “bogus”.

    You quote Alice Bell saying about the “tension at the heart of green NGOs” – “Too quick to reject science (GMOs) whilst, at the same time, too keen to claim scientists know the incontrovertible truth when it suits their campaigns (climate change).”

    There are multiple problems with her statement from my point of view. First of all, people in “green NGOs” are not necessarily untrained in science and technology, as is hinted at by her construction.

    Second, “green NGOs” are not “too quick to reject” nuclear power and GM crops – they have been rejecting the social, economic, investment and environmental risks of nuclear power and GM crops for many years.

    Her implication is that there is a kneejerk, ideological response against these technologies, whereas, in fact, the “green NGOs” are often raising scientific research as the basis of their aversion to these technologies.

    Third, she is surprised that “green NGOs” accept climate change science. She doesn’t seem to realise that “green NGOs” are basing their position on climate change on science in exactly the same way that they are basing their position on nuclear power and GM crops on science.

    What would perhaps make her head spin is to find out that a number of “green NGOs” are against some of the proposed technological “solutions” for climate change – including Carbon Capture and Storage (too uncertain, too expensive, too fuel-hungry, not answering coal pollution in general).

    She would perhaps look at the opening of the recent CCS research station in Mongstad in Norway, and believe that CCS is a valuable technology because people are doing engineering experiments for CCS. She will then perhaps be ready to accept that CCS is a science, and therefore a good thing. She will have been spun.

    How many times do we need to unpack the public relations surrounding a technology to demonstrate that not all technologies are useful, not all technologies are good, and that not all technologies have been subjected to sufficient scientific research before being launched ?

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    I tweeted a little :-

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    @alicebell I have been somewhat chiding towards you here in comments http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Please do disagree if you wish

    @markgfh I have been somewhat uncomplimentary towards you here in comments : http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to dispute my position

    @SLSingh I have appropriated a term of yours here in comments http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to utter witheringness

    @carbonbrief I am somewhat churlish in comments under Robin Webster’s piece here : http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Feel free to castigate/moderate

    @senseaboutsci I am somewhat less that congratulatory about Dick Taverne here in comments : http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Please do contradict me

    I wonder if @mark_lynas will ever notice my coinage here in comments ? http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Or feel stung enough to blat one back ?

    @mjrobbins I complained about your Mark Henderson interview here in comments : http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto Wondering if you sense my drift

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    Replies from Martin Robbins :-

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    @mjrobbins
    @joabbess I’m a pragmatist: my view is that opposing nuclear power or GM aren’t coherent positions, so I’m much more in the Lynas camp.

    @mjrobbins
    @joabbess I’d say more broadly that Mark has an extremely expert understanding of policy issues, which many greens are naive about, hence

    @mjrobbins
    @joabbess support for e.g. nukes isn’t an implication that they’re necessarily perfect, but an understanding that the alternative was coal.

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    My replies to Martin Robbins :-

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    @mjrobbins Hmm. I do not see opposition to nuclear power as incoherent. As an industry, it’s opposing itself quite coherently, without help.

    @mjrobbins Throughout development of GM crops and GMOs there have been spectacular failings – again – an industry that’s bad for itself.

    @mjrobbins To my mind pretty logical, coherent & pragmatic 2 B opposed to the waste of public funds on new nuclear power – subsidy essential

    @mjrobbins Who told U (& Y did U believe) “alternative [to nuclear power] was coal” ? Bypass for both is solar, wind power & Renewable Gas

    @mjrobbins I would say many “greens” quite clued up about policy – particularly its failings. Despite Climate Change Act, no big picture

    @mjrobbins Unlike Mark Lynas, I am not an environmentalist. Am physicist, engineer, computer programmer & now climate change degree. Geek ?

    @mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too, which is why I say we should not fritter away our time on unproven technologies with 20 year timeframes

    @mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too, which is why I say we should avoid locking ourselves into nuclear power with decommissioning “long tails”

    @mjrobbins I’m a pragmatist too which is why I say we should avoid locking energy systems into coal, oil & fossil gas supply/cost volatility

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    A reply from Simon Singh :-

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    @SLSingh
    @joabbess Use bogus, but no need to use my name. IMHO yr 1st para is wrong. As Times science correspondent for a decade, Mark is qualified.

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    My replies to Simon Singh :-

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    @SLSingh I question Mark Henderson’s conceptual framework : his approach to science, scientists & technologies, despite his media experience

    @SLSingh Apologies if using your name as reference offended you. I felt justified in using word as you had fought successfully to use it.

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    I complained to Carbon Brief :-

    =x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

    @joabbess
    Just received email “Would you mind awfully editing your comments? If not, we’ll do it for you, and it may not read the same as you want it”

    @joabbess
    & who is it demanding I edit my comments or that they will be edited for me, perhaps losing their meaning? @carbonbrief http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief Your email reads like “…if you don’t edit your comment, we’ll do it for you”, so I had to delete it http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief You are clearly seriously interested in open debate – demanding me to edit my comment http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief Although you hold the ultimate right to moderate comments, you do not have the right to edit my ideas http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief I consider your project a failure because you are not open to free debate http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief This is how to stifle dissent, send an email asking if I wouldn’t mind cutting down my comment length, or allowing you to do it

    @carbonbrief It is not reasonable to demand that somebody edits their comments, when the only other option is that you will do it for them

    @carbonbrief When you open up the floor to debate on science and technology, be aware that engineers have mature opinions about reality

    @carbonbrief I will not contribute to your project if you demand that unless I edit my ideas, you will do it for me http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief If you want an open debate about science and technology, you need to be prepared for some people to have well-developed ideas

    @carbonbrief If you’re editing me how many other people are you editing? Are they as unhappy as I am with this demand? http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/book-review-the-geek-manifesto

    @carbonbrief In meantime you can always call me & apologise for offering to adjust my views in comment I left on your website. Censorial!

    @chr1stianh So, how do you explain sending me an email offering to edit my remarks to a state of confusion unless I edit them myself ?

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    Now it appears that there is a “launch” for Mark Henderson’s book “Geek Manifesto”. Simon Singh tweeted :-

    @SLSingh
    Send Geek Manifesto by @markgfh to every MP http://bit.ly/Jr9pf5 pledge page

    @SLSingh
    http://geekmanifesto.wordpress.com/ RT @kriswager: At #6wsc12 you wore a geek badge & you referred to a book – what was the title?

    I replied :-

    @SLSingh No I won’t pledge to send a copy of @markgfh Geek Manifesto to every MP. I think his intellectual framework is based on falsehoods

    Carbon Brief tweeted :-

    @carbonbrief
    The revolt of the Geeks – a book review http://bit.ly/JCqnoH #geekmanifesto

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    And why is this discussion so relevant ? Well, the organisation “Sense” about Science, that Simon Singh is a part of, has been pushing the protection of an open field trial of GM wheat.

    They’re currently taking the pouty-pouty flouncy approach over an alleged break-in by a “protester” who may have damaged the plants.

    It’s science, right, so we must protect it ? Or is is just technology, and the science says that we should be highly cautious in deploying biotechnology ?

    It’s too easy to get people to cluster around a bad idea.

    Simon Singh tweeted :-

    @SLSingh
    Depressing RT @BBCBreaking: GM wheat trial has been vandalised causing “significant” damage to crops http://bbc.in/JfHASc #Rothamsted

    I replied :-

    @SLSingh Unless there is proper discourse in public arena about biotechnology & who pays for research & why, it will continue to be opposed

    Other Tweets :-

    @NicholasCollins
    Breaking – #Rothamsted GM wheat trial to go ahead despite break-in yesterday as experiment was not significantly disrupted

    @adamvaughan_uk
    Attack on Rothamstead: Man arrested after break-in at GM wheat trial site http://tgr.ph/JJWTY2

    @NicholasCollins
    Breaking – a 50-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage after being arrested at #Rothamsted site yesterday, police confirm

    @sallylepage
    Panic over-the wheat is fine and the intruder has been arrested. Take note protesters:it’s illegal http://bit.ly/Krsbwk #dontdestroyresearch

    @johanntasker
    GM crop trial latest: Police confirm 50-year-old man in custody after being arrested on suspicion of criminal damage http://tgr.ph/Jv4FyG

    @nick9000
    @senseaboutsci Assuming the GM wheat trial is a success how will it be commercialised? Will the UK tax payer benefit? #dontdestroyresearch

    @senseaboutsci
    We’ll answer this question in Q&A w @Rothamsted & @TheSainsburyLab today 4:30 http://bit.ly/KuGcJS #dontdestroyresearch Send us your Qs now!

    @ticobas
    Check that moronic TtFB comment in last paragraph “Man arrested after break-in at GM wheat trial site” via @Telegraph http://soc.li/S1cxKzL

    “A spokesman for Take The Flour Back said: “We have no information about this incident, but are relieved if the quantity of GM pollen released from the trial has been reduced.”"

    @BBCRBlack
    ‘Vandalism’ of UK GM wheat trial – man charged http://bbc.in/Ma8zAq

    @loubgray
    ‘Vandalism’ of UK GM wheat trial – man charged @BBSRC statement on damage @Rothamsted – http://bit.ly/JJsgA9 from @dbkell

    @NicholasCollins
    My new take on Rothamsted break-in: trial to continue despite alleged vandalism http://tinyurl.com/7jbt4xg

    The Rothamsted research station has been playing public relations too :-

    @Rothamsted
    An intruder attempted to break into our trial on Sunday. They caused damage but failed to disrupt the experiment http://bit.ly/Krsbwk

    I commented :-

    @joabbess
    @Rothamsted Seriously, what do you expect when people are aggrieved by your apparently careless approach to gene management ?

    @joabbess
    @Rothamsted Technologies are not always useful & science not always good. The world learned much through Nazi medical experimentation but…

    @joabbess
    @Rothamsted Sorry, but I don’t believe you. Even if I read of a drone flying over test site spraying Ready Roundup, I shall not believe it

    The main BBSRC body also got in on the act :-

    @BBSRC
    BBSRC statement on damage to @Rothamsted Research #GM field trial http://ht.ly/b2rHm

    My response :-

    @joabbess
    And so the shiny public relations begin “@BBSRC statement on damage to @Rothamsted Research #GM field trial http://ht.ly/b2rHm” @BBSRC

    Leo Hickman was dubious of the inflation of the Rothamsted break-in story :-

    @leohickman
    “GM protestor charged” is now second lead story on BBC News website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18140957 >>Interesting, but slightly OTT?

    I replied :-

    @leohickman Of course it’s over the top – the fluffing up of this event, whatever it really was, is designed to support cause of GM science

    @leohickman We’re scientists and we’re peeved because somebody smashed our test tubes. You’ve got to love us. We want to sell you GM wheat

    Let’s just remind ourselves of the general context of GM crop commercialisation :-

    It’s all about the agrochemical sales…

    GM crops are ruining economies and societies…

    And let’s just remind ourselves of the general context of nuclear power too :-

    @chr1stianh
    More on nuclear costs from Reuters. http://reut.rs/KBW12N

    @kevinmeyerson
    StarTelegram: #Omaha #nuclear plant is “appalling indictment of a culture of open disregard for safety recommendations” http://bit.ly/KiMG3Q

    Is Fukushima Dai-ichi Unit 4 really safe ?

    The Fukushima Dai-ichi multiple nuclear accident has still not been cleaned up, but then, neither is Chernobyl.

    Anybody who adopts the “environmentalists are stupid” and “nuclear fuel and waste radioactivity isn’t that bad” line of reasoning, such as George Monbiot, and seemingly Mark Lynas and Mark Henderson, are in effect supporting sub-standard industry regulations, and are leaving the door wide open to further, possibly much more serous, nuclear power accidents.

    And anyone who uses the position “environmentalists are stupid” to support the development of genetically modified crops, trees and other bioenergy plants, has really not thought through the problems that could be caused by genetic contamination of the world’s major crops, and the possiblity that food speculation and carbon credit trading could trigger mass land grabs in Africa and Asia by those who own the GM energy and food crops, making conditions so much worse for the world’s poor.

    GM crops may be sold to us as solving pest problems by using less fertilised, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, or being climate change and drought tolerant, to help feed the world, but in all likelihood, GM crops will be used to dominate agricultural profits by continued use of high levels of agrochemicals, and dominate the food markets by those who own the genomes.

  • The Island Prescient

    Posted on April 1st, 2012 Jo No comments

    Video Credit : Dogwoof

    The message today is taken from the Book of Psalms, chapter 104, an anthology of holy songs recognised by both Jews and Christians as being divinely inspired.

    I have heard and read some Christian leaders, including North Americans and Australians, claim that global warming isn’t happening, because they believe that the Bible teaches that dangerous sea level rise is impossible, based on the contents of verses 5 to 9.

    “You set earth on a firm foundation
    so that nothing can shake it, ever.
    You blanketed earth with ocean,
    covered the mountains with deep waters;
    Then you roared and the water ran away –
    your thunder crash put it to flight.
    Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out
    in the places you assigned them.
    You set boundaries between earth and sea;
    never again will earth be flooded.” (The Message)

    These verses contain a reference to the Noah’s Ark story – the Biblical account that encapsulates a very widespread oral tradition of worldwide inundation. Some scientists believe these narratives are an echo of very real events, and that the Epic of Gilgamesh also records severe drought (corresponding to the Bible story of Joseph in Egypt):-

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Energy Independence : Scheer Truth

    Posted on March 26th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Carl-A. Fechner, fechnerMedia

    Renewable energy pessimists are everywhere.

    Some commentators, government leaders, energy companies and representatives of international institutions are keen to show that not only is the renewable energy deployment glass half empty, the water hasn’t even wet the bottom of the glass yet.

    Yet there are renewable energy architects – developers, promoters, politicians, scientists, engineers and academics – who document the evidence of the rapid growth in zero carbon energy – who show us that the sustainable energy glass could be brimming over.

    What do experts say ? Here’s the belated Hermann Scheer from the film “The 4th Revolution : Energy Autonomy” :-

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Advancing Africa, Advertise Freely, Assets not Liabilities, Bait & Switch, Be Prepared, Big Number, Big Picture, Big Society, Carbon Commodities, Climate Change, Conflict of Interest, Contraction & Convergence, Corporate Pressure, Deal Breakers, Delay and Deny, Demoticratica, Direction of Travel, Disturbing Trends, Divide & Rule, Dreamworld Economics, Economic Implosion, Emissions Impossible, Energy Autonomy, Energy Denial, Energy Disenfranchisement, Energy Insecurity, Energy Revival, Energy Socialism, Engineering Marvel, Evil Opposition, Feed the World, Foreign Interference, Foreign Investment, Fossilised Fuels, Freemarketeering, Global Warming, Green Investment, Green Power, Growth Paradigm, Hide the Incline, Hydrocarbon Hegemony, Low Carbon Life, Major Shift, Marvellous Wonderful, Mass Propaganda, Media, Military Invention, National Energy, National Power, National Socialism, No Blood For Oil, Not In My Name, Nuclear Nuisance, Nuclear Shambles, Obamawatch, Oil Change, Optimistic Generation, Paradigm Shapeshifter, Peace not War, Peak Coal, Peak Emissions, Peak Energy, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil, Petrolheads, Policy Warfare, Political Nightmare, Public Relations, Pure Hollywood, Regulatory Ultimatum, Renewable Gas, Renewable Resource, Resource Curse, Resource Wards, Revolving Door, Social Capital, Social Change, Social Democracy, Solar Sunrise, Solution City, Stirring Stuff, Stop War, Sustainable Deferment, Technofix, Technological Fallacy, Technological Sideshow, Technomess, The Myth of Innovation, The Power of Intention, The War on Error, Ungreen Development, Voluntary Behaviour Change, Wasted Resource, Western Hedge, Wind of Fortune, Zero Net
  • Living Life and LOAFing It

    Posted on February 5th, 2012 Jo No comments
    CHRISTIAN ECOLOGY LINK
    PRESS RELEASE

    Living Life and LOAFing It – Green Christians ask churches to “Use your LOAF !” on sourcing sustainable food

    In the run up to Easter, Christian Ecology Link is asking supporters to think and act on how they source food for their church communities, with the aim of reducing the impact of unsustainable agriculture on their local area, and the wider world.

    CEL have launched a new colour leaflet on the LOAF programme principles in time for Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), or Pancake Day, on 21st February 2012.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • The Last Battle

    Posted on January 15th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    The “Statue of Liberty” or Saint John’s Lamb of God ?

    Britain’s real enemy is not Iran.

    The real enemy is the mismanagement of the Earth’s energy resources.

    The last battle is to overcome the misdeeds of those who have commandeered and wasted the Earth’s energy resources – and that includes ourselves.

    It should not be a violent dispute, for aggression and the use of weapons are morally unjustifiable. But all the same, it will be a genuine, Titanic, struggle.

    As C. S. Lewis portrays with so much resonance, it matters little under which flag or title we serve or belong – what matters is our allegiance to the precepts of divine honour, holy devotion and right dealings with other people :-

    “Why did the faithful Taarkan end up getting to come into Narnia ? Usually Lewis writes allegorically so is he trying to tell us something when a worshipper of Tash is allowed to enter the new Narnia ? Any thoughts ? …It wasn’t the name that mattered, but rather the conduct of the Taarkan and how he chose to see and do things. He didn’t believe in the cruelty and underhanded ways his countryman were doing things, but rather in honour and a code of conduct. So even though the Taarkan thought he was worshipping Tash, the whole time he was actually worshipping Aslan [Turkish for "Lion"] through his thoughts and deeds. So when the time came for the end of the world and judgement, he was placed where his heart had always led him.”

    For those who recognise the twin threats from climate change and energy depletion, we realise that there is hard work ahead. Our natural aim is to protect ourselves; and the moral consequence is that we are obliged to protect the other – because both climate change and energy depletion are global problems.

    Climate change hits the poorest the hardest – already, significant changes in rainfall and weather patterns have created long-term drought, encroaching coastal and inland inundation, crop losses and enforced migration. And it’s only going to get worse. It’s so terrible we could not even wish it on our enemies – it teaches us that nobody is an enemy.

    To solve climate change, we need to change our energy systems. Some hail the depletion of hydrocarbon and coal energy resources as a gift that will help us resolve the emissions problem and prevent dangerous climate change, by making a virtue of necessity – but the situation is not that simple.

    The reaction of the world’s authorities, wealth controllers and corporate proprietors to the winding down of fossil fuel energy resources has so far been complex, and there are many indications that warfare, both military and economic, has been conducted in order to secure access to energy.

    This may be the way of the lion in us all, but it is not the way of The Lamb. The Lamb sacrifices all that others value so that he is qualified to bring about a new universal regime of peace and responsible autonomy – a kingdom of priests, pastors with mutual respect.

    We are called to become good stewards of each other and the Earth. The gentle Lamb of God will judge our hearts.

    The Book of the Revelation to Saint John the Divine, Chapter 4 :-

    “…I looked and saw a door that opened into heaven. Then the voice that had spoken to me at first and that sounded like a trumpet said, “Come up here ! I will show you what must happen next.” Right then the Spirit took control of me, and there in heaven I saw a throne and someone sitting on it. The one who was sitting there sparkled like precious stones of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow that looked like an emerald surrounded the throne. Twenty-four other thrones were in a circle around that throne. And on each of these thrones there was an elder dressed in white clothes and wearing a gold crown. Flashes of lightning and roars of thunder came out from the throne in the center of the circle. Seven torches, which are the seven spirits of God, were burning in front of the throne. Also in front of the throne was something that looked like a glass sea, clear as crystal…And as they worshiped the one who lives forever, they placed their crowns in front of the throne and said, “Our Lord and God, you are worthy to receive glory, honour, and power. You created all things, and by your decision [and for your pleasure] they are and were created…”

    The Book of the Revelation to Saint John the Devine, Chapter 5

    “In the right hand of the one sitting on the throne I saw a scroll that had writing on the inside and on the outside. And it was sealed in seven places. I saw a mighty angel ask with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals ?” No one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or see inside it. I cried hard because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or see inside it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying and look ! The one who is called both the `Lion from the Tribe of Judah’ and `King David’s Great Descendant’ has won the victory. He will open the book and its seven seals.” Then I looked and saw a Lamb standing in the center of the throne…The Lamb looked as if it had once been killed. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God, sent out to all the earth. The Lamb went over and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. After he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders knelt down before him. Each of them had a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Then they sang a new song, “You are worthy to receive the scroll and open its seals, because you were killed. And with your own blood you bought for God people from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You let them become kings and serve God as priests, and they will rule on earth.”"

    Leaders of the powerful nations – put aside your death-hastening technology.

    Let there be a low carbon energy peace on a climate-stable Earth.


    Additional Readings

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%203:7-9&version=NIV

    “…Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles [non-Jewish people] by faith, and announced the gospel [good news of God's love and forgiveness] in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith…”

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%203:26-29&version=NIV

    “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized [ritual bathing] into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile [non-Jewish person], neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Thou_My_Vision

    “Thy love in my soul and in my heart -
    Grant this to me, O King of the seven heavens.

    O King of the seven heavens grant me this -
    Thy love to be in my heart and in my soul.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Spirits_of_God

    [ UPDATE : No, I have not taken leave of any of my senses. I was in church, All Saints in Highams Park, London E4, and many thoughts arose as I contemplated the stained glass window, with its Suffering Servant Messenger King/Lord/Master, rainbow, Alpha, Omega, Noah's dove with the sprig of olive; and listened to the reading from Revelations 4; and sang "Be Thou My Vision" with the congregation; and considered what Epiphany the world needs at this time of intense war propaganda. There are those who declare themselves as Christian who claim that war with Iran is prophesied. This may be a fringe view, but the narrative infects major political discussion in the United States of America : "The problem, of course, is that rhetoric can have political effects that narrow the options available to decisionmakers. If you've publicly declared Iran's nuclear program sufficiently threatening to warrant initiating a potentially catastrophic war and then sanctions fail to achieve their defined goal, you may have a hard time walking back from that threat." ]

  • Biomassacre : Agrofuels Aggro

    Posted on January 8th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Stop Biomassacre Subsidies from You and I Films on Vimeo.

    The UK Government has a neat plan – meet a considerable proportion of the nation’s electricity needs by burning biomass and biofuels : wood, waste wood, agricultural residues, palm oil, maize ethanol and such-like.

    They are even considering setting up a generous subsidy, the kind of subsidy that would encourage massive imports of biomass and bioliquids.

    Without care and regulatory checks and balances, the net effect will almost certainly be rainforest deforestation, land grabbing in under-developed nations, and economic problems for the growing biomass heat movement in the UK.

    Most people probably think burning wood, wood waste and plant-derived fuels to make power sounds like a good energy idea – stop burning coal and start burning trees – has to be better for the planet, surely ?

    There are a number of really deep problems with this agenda. Almuth Ernsting of Biofuelwatch told me this weekend that burning biomass for electricity generation is incredibly inefficient.

    She said the UK Government has apparently heard concerns about the burning of bioliquids such as the biofuel bioethanol for power generation, and it shouldn’t be included in the subsidy arrangement.

    However, biomass-fired power generation is still set to receive support – although it is still being depicted as making use of agroforestry residues, and all sourced within the country – judging by a recent permission for a biomass burning plant in Yorkshire.

    Generous subsidies for burning biofuels to generate electricity will encourage the combustion of food-quality oils, imported from across the world, exacerbating the existing problems with the destruction of tropical rainforest for commercial gain.

    Offering significant subsidies for burning biomass for power generation will most probably trigger further logging of virgin rainforest, as it would be cheap to produce and export to Britain.

    Even if biomass were sourced in the United Kingdom – with restrictions on imports from areas of the world where there is extensive land grabbing and deforestation occurring – the subsidy would encourage the burning of wood products for generating power instead of being used in the most efficient way – to heat homes.

    Almuth Ernsting said, “the big energy companies are going to burn that much wood, small heat providers won’t be able to compete.” The same would be true of street-scale biomass combined heat and power (CHP) proposals.

    Almuth Ernsting and others have pointed out that the UK Government public consultation on the subsidy ends on 12th January 2012, but that even after that date, people are being encouraged to write to their Member of Parliament to express views.

    Another group, nope, is also calling for citizen action :-

    http://nope.org.uk/

    In an e-mail to joabbess.com, Almuth Ernsting offered extra resources :-

    “All the materials related to our campaign against subsidies for biomass and biofuel electricity can be found here :-”

    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/uk-campaign/rocs_overview/

    “A briefing about the impacts of ROCs for biomass, biofuels and waste incineration :-”
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_impacts/

    “A briefing to hand or send to MPs :-”
    http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs_mps/

    “A guide to lobbying MPs on this :-” http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/mp_guidance_rocs/

    “We have got two email alerts on one page just now (http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/2011/rocs-alerts/), though we will take down the one to respond to the DECC Consultation when that closes next Thursday, while keeping the one to MPs. However, we very much encourage people to write personal letters or, even better, visit their MPs, which will have much more impact than taking part in a standard email alert.”

  • The Problem of Powerlessness #2

    Posted on October 22nd, 2011 Jo No comments
    On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

    Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

    I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

    Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

    I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Occupy your mind #5

    Posted on October 18th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : npmeijer

    It rained last night in London. Cold rain. And the wind was blowing. And the poor little Occupyers were on my mind.

    So I cooked up some vegan fare and this morning went down to St Paul’s Cathedral to try and offer nourishment to the be-weathered masses. Most of the placards and signs were gone, minimising the message, but the tent city was still there.

    As usual at political protests, I took certain measures to disguise myself, and carried no form of identification.

    Signs of the global economic meltdown – the train I wanted to catch was cut short – probably by the theft of metal cabling. It’s wrong to make the transport system grind to a halt – so many people depend on it. But I can understand why people are press-ganged into stealing metals – poverty is on the rise.

    It took me ages to reach St Paul’s Cathedral, and I went straight to the kitchen tent to unload lunch, and grab a coffea (tea mixed with coffee) and breakfast mini-croissant.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Daniel Yergin : Revisionist Comb-Over

    Posted on October 4th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    Image Credit : cache.daylife.com

    I don’t have anything against balding people. Anybody can start losing hair, and will most likely feel embarrassed about it and start doing silly things like combing strands over the patch – the classic comb-over : not a sign of vanity, more a sign of vulnerability. It’s a kind of disguise, not admitting to the facts, even as the facts become more and more apparent. The balding person does not accept what is happening, and is seeking to delay the inevitable.
    I’ve read the Introduction and Prologue (and a little of Chapter 1) of Daniel Yergin’s new book “The Quest : Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World”. I have found it very hard-going, and I keep having to pause. The reason ? I am far too critical of the writing, and it keeps making me some kind of cross between a tad narked and full-blown irritated.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Ed Miliband : Squeezed Middle

    Posted on October 3rd, 2011 Jo No comments
    Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, addressed the pre-party conference cameras in uncustomary casual attire, shelving his favourite suit, dazzlingly shiny tie and white shirt, you know, the one with the fat turned-over cuffs.

    He sought to assure the nation that his one man mission is to relieve the financial pressure on the hardworking “squeezed middle” – fighting their corner against the profiteering railway companies and the moneygrabbing energy companies.

    The little snippet of BBC TV News 24 that I saw cut to the correspondent raising doubts about whether this cost-of-living protection strategy would have any impact on the wider economy – whether measures to control transport fares and energy bills would create economic growth.

    What does this little word “growth” mean to the BBC TV reporter, I asked myself. Does he think it means increasing employment, increasing incomes ? And how could employment be increased ? By increasing the “consumption” of goods, energy, water, transportation and knowledge economy services ? And how can this “aggregate demand” consumption be increased, if unemployment remains high and incomes remain stagnant ?

    Allowing the utility and transportation companies to raise their prices allows them to remain profitable and build their businesses, presumably creating employment as well as giving a return to investors – those who have their savings in pension funds – where the fund managers invest in energy and transport. Why not allow energy and transport prices to rise ? People can learn to spend more on these valuable services, surely ? Pensioners will have their funds protected, and energy and transport businesses will stay profitable, paying tax into the state.
    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

    Posted on June 26th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Mark Holderness

    Mark Lynas betrayed more of his intellectual influences this week, when he tweeted as @mark_lynas “Colony collapse disorder – honeybees – not quite the environmental story it seemed:
    http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/authors/hannah-nordhaus/an-environmental-journalists-l.shtml

    Hmmm. That’s a piece from a new generation of Nordhaus-es, Hannah, writing for the Breakthrough Institute, founded by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism“, a document I truly regret wasting the paper to print. As I read it, I started scratching hot red comments in the margins, so many, that in the end the pages were more red than black-and-white.

    Hannah’s piece, like her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament“, is more delicate and considered, I think, but still shreds decades of environmental thought and much science, without any justification in my view.

    She writes, “…very quickly, many journalists settled on neonicotinoids — pesticides that are applied to more than 140 different crops — as the likely culprit. It seemed a familiar story of human greed and
    shortsightedness. With their callous disregard for nature, big chemical companies and big agriculture were killing the bees — and threatening our own survival. The honey bee’s recent problems have occasioned a similar rush to judgment. Before any studies had been conducted on the causes of CCD, three books and countless articles came out touting pesticides as the malady’s cause. Had I been able to turn a book around quickly, I might have leapt to the same conclusions. But I was late to the party, and as more studies came out and I came to better understand the science, I became less and less convinced that pesticides provided a convincing explanation for beekeepers’ losses…”

    Her argument appears to be that pesticides are bad for other pollinators, not bees; but that this makes life harder for the bees, who then have to do all that pollination instead :-

    http://naturebeebookclub.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/the-beekeepers-lament-nordhaus-hannah/

    “In steps John Miller, a boundingly energetic and charismatic beekeeper, who tasks himself with the care and the sustainable keeping of honeybees. He is descended from America’s first migratory beekeeper, N.E. Miller, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, transported thousands of hives from one crop to another, working the Idahoan clover in summer and the Californian almonds in winter. Back then beekeepers used to pay farmers to keep a few dozen hives on their land. But now farmers pay beekeepers millions of dollars to have their crops pollinated by upwards of ten thousand hives. With the rise of the monocrop and increasingly efficient pesticides, there are simply not enough natural pollinators to complete the massive task of sexing-up millions of acres of almond groves.”

    This kind of writing seems to me like a lot of anti-green writing, where a straw man is set up, only to bow down and worship it. The central framework of fallacy appears to be :-

    a. Environmentalists are zealous, and therefore crazy.
    b. They believe pesticides are dangerous to bees.
    c. They must be wrong, and pesticides can’t be all that bad for bees.

    Let’s just read a little around that idea, shall we ? Let’s start with Wikipedia, just to make it easy :-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_toxicity_to_bees

    “For the majority of pesticides that are registered in the United States, EPA only requires a short-term contact toxicity test on adult honeybees. In some cases, the agency also receives short-term oral toxicity tests, which are required in Europe. EPA’s testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With Colony Collapse Disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies.”

    Actually, it’s not just “mad environmentalists” who are concerned about the effect of pesticides on honeybees. Here’s just one scholarly paper :-

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754
    “High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health”, Mullin et el., 2010.

    What has this got to do with Climate Change. I can hear you asking ?

    Well, it’s like this – in order to do intensive farming, agricultural chemicals are used on crops. Specialised herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used on genetically modified crops, along with chemical fertilisers.

    In order to convince people to accept Genetically Modified food, they’ve got to be encouraged to believe that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are really alright.

    Hence, pesticides cannot be fingered as a problem for bees, otherwise people might not accept GM crops…

    Yes, it’s coming back round to tampering with our food genes. And it’s being sold to us as a cure for Climate Change.

    At the bottom of this page there’s a transcript of a snippet from a television programme I was unlucky and incensed enough to have viewed yesterday. Called “The Wonder of Weeds”, it took us through the basic logic of modern-day plant breeding, including the role for genetic modification of plants – without once mentioning the words “life sciences”, “bioengineering”, “biotechnology” or even “genetic modification”.

    The GM crops are presented as being the saviour of humanity, without once mentioning why conditions in the world may be damaging crops in new ways in the future, a lot of which will be due to climate change.

    There was the usual category error – of confusing science with technology. Let’s repeat that one again. Technology is when you play with the genes of a crucial staple crop like wheat. Science is when you discover, maybe 25 years later, that it has had knock-on effects in the food chain. Oh dear. Too late for remorse – the genetically modified genome is now globally distributed.

    The presenter of the programme, Chris Collins, didn’t even spot the cognitive dissonance of his own script. In the first part of the programme he talks about common weeds that are foreign invaders in the UK and cause untold trouble. In the second part of the programme he doesn’t even blink when he talks about modifying crops at the genetic level – not questioning that introducing foreign genes into vital crops might have detrimental, unforeseen impacts – rather like a microscopic version of the imported “plant pariahs”, Buddleia davidii, Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese knotweed. Oh yes, Oxford Ragwort, another introduction to the UK, is not such a hazard, but you can’t guarantee what happens when you get plant invaders.

    I find it astonishing that such obvious propaganda on behalf of corporate plans to modify crops for their own private market profit is allowed into BBC television programming.

    Climate Change is being used as the Trojan Horse rationale in which to bring GM crops to the UK, and elsewhere, as part of international agricultural development programmes. This is the ideological equivalent of a rogue gene inserted into the DNA of science. I find this an outrage.

    I recommend you check the work of GM Freeze to counter this braintwisting manipulation.

    And if you want a little bit more of an insider on what Dr Alison Smith, featured in the BBC show, is actually doing with her amazing knowledge of plants – it seems her work encompasses improving the production of alcoholic beverages, not feeding the world. I kid you not :-

    http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/news-events/news/2011/110615-pr-improved-crops-food-security.html
    “Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency : Alison Smith, John Innes Centre : Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.”

    What is the BBSRC ? This is a research programme that’s “infested” with corporate people – whose agenda is money-making, not philanthropy.

    And what’s genetic modification of crops got to do with Mark Lynas ? Well, just read his new book, “The God Species“, and you’ll find out.

    The plain fact in my view is that we do not need genetically modified crops in Europe. In Africa, they’re too poor to afford the chemicals to use with the GM seeds. And in the not-too-distant future, the price of the chemicals will shoot up because of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas, making GM crops inaccessible to those North Americans who currently use it. So this particular technology takes us nowhere forward at all. We need to manage water and the root causes of poverty rather than tamper with genes.



    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01224kv/hd/The_Wonder_of_Weeds/

    BBC 4 TV
    Saturday 25 June 2011

    “The Wonder of Weeds”

    “Travelling around the UK and meeting experts in botanical history, genetics, pharmaceuticals and wild food, Chris Collins tells the story behind the plants most people call weeds.”

    45 minutes 20 seconds

    …And the massive irony of all this is that the very crop that has become a monoculture at the expense of weeds, wheat, was once a weed itself…

    Plant scientist Professor Nick Harberd of Oxford University has researched the moment a weed became wheat.

    Nick : “About half a million years ago, there was spontaneously, in the wild, nothing to do with human beings, a cross-hybridisation, a cross-pollination if you like, between two wild grass species…”

    “…So one can imagine that humans were cultivating this wheat [10,000 to 12,000 years ago] in a field and then by chance a weed was growing within that field. And there was again a spontaneous hydridisation event beteen the cultivated wheat and this wild grass that was growing in that imaginary field.”

    “The whole process made a plant that was bigger and more vigorous. And as a result of this we ended up with the wheat crop we all grow and feed off today.”

    Nick can exactly recreate exactly how wheat and weeds crossbred in a lab today…

    47 minutes 40 seconds

    Weeds helped us out millenia ago and now scientists in the 21st Century have turned to weeds once again for one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever.

    It could save lives by creating a super wheat.

    It all took place here, at the John Innes Institute in Norwich.

    Alison : “So come on in Chris. You need to sterilise your feet here…”

    Chris : “So this means we’re not bringing in anything nasty from outside…”

    Alison : “That’s right. No thrips or viruses or anything else that might come in.”

    Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.

    Chris : “This is the first time I’ve ever dressed up to go and see a weed.”

    Alison : “We look after our weeds very carefully here.”

    Alison’s team have been studying a small common weed called Arabidopsis [thaliana] or Thale Cress, which is now used as the model to map the DNA of all plants on the planet.

    Alison : “Well this weed is incredibly easy for us to work on. And all plant scientists almost in the world take information from this weed. And many plant scientists only work on this little weed.”

    “The reason why it’s really useful is that like a lot of weeds it goes from seed to seed really quickly, so we can get through lots and lots of generations, and that makes it easy for us to do genetic studies to understand how the weed behaves and what all of its genes are doing.”

    “But also, about 20 years ago, plant scientists got together. And at that time they were working on lots and lots of different plants. And they decided, let’s work on one plant together that can become the model from which we can develop our understanding of plants.”

    “So about the same time as we were sequencing the human genome, we started to sequence the genome of this little weed. So in 2000 we got the entire gene sequence of this weed, all of the genes are known, the same time as we understood the human genome.”

    Chris : “So really then, this small weed is a blueprint for all plants ?”

    Alison : “This is the model for all plant life, that’s right.”

    But the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome is not just for the sake of it. Alison and her 600 colleagues are unlocking the secrets of the plant’s success, like its speedy growth rate and its hardiness, and are transfering those abilities to the crops that matter to us, like wheat.

    This is one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever, where one of the humblest weeds could save millions of lives around the world.

    Chris : “Now we’ve seen our magic weed and you’ve got this genetic blueprint. How do you take that blueprint and apply it to arable crops like this wheat ?”

    Alison : “Well we can start to tackle, using this blueprint, some of the real problems that we have with our crops like disease, for example. Our crops are quite susceptible to some diseases. We’ve been able to breed for that, but we haven’t known what genes we’re breeding for.”

    “In Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis gets diseases as well, we can understand exactly how it’s resistant to those diseases. We know what genes it needs. And we can say right, where are those genes in wheat ? Can we make sure that our new wheats have the genes that make them resistant to disease ?”

    “Another example would be how the wheat exactly makes its seeds. Obviously, this is the really important bit of wheat. This is what we eat. This is human food. We understand a bit about the process of about how these little seeds are formed, but in Arabidopsis we understand in absolute molecular detail how those seeds are made, and that helps us to understand how we make to make better seeds, bigger seeds, more nutritious seeds in wheat. We can apply that knowlege in wheat.”

    Well, I know scientists don’t like to be too dramatic, but I’m going to be, because of simply what I’ve found out. Weeds can play a big role in arable crops like wheat, or even maybe the future of humanity.

    Alison : “I think it was the starting point for what has to be a revolution in our crops, a revolution in understanding how they work and making them work better and doing that fast.”

    “It’s taken our ancestors, you know, millenia, to get to this point. We can’t afford to take the next step in millenia. We have to take it in tens of years or less. And in order to do that, you’re absolutely right, the information from Arabidopsis has been the key to pushing us forward.”

    It’s the resilience of weeds and the insights they give us into helping crops survive that makes them amongst the most useful plants on the planet…

  • A Green Van for all the People

    Posted on June 20th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Green Jobs ! Green Energy !

  • Libya Futures

    Posted on March 22nd, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    Outside the usual political and media circles, questions are being asked. Why has the United Nations sanctioned military engagement in Libya in the form of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 ? Why the heavy firepower here, in Libya, when the ostensible rationale for intervention was only to implement a No-Fly Zone ? Why not gloibal military action elsewhere in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) arena where there are other despots making life unpleasant or endable for their citizens ?

    I present to you two possible futures for Libya, both of which will require extensive cooperation with foreign corporate and political players, something that Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (or Qaddafi) threatens, or rather, depending on various news reports, “threatened”.

    1. The Dash for African and Arabic Natural Gas (and Oil)

    In a carbon-constrained world Natural Gas is a boon – it has roughly half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal when burned to produce steam to generate electricity. Any country that’s got Natural Gas, especially good quality Natural Gas that doesn’t have to be hydraulically “fractured” from rock strata, is a country we will learn to love and trade on significantly generous terms with.

    There has been extensive surveying of Libya, and the whole of North Africa’s Maghreb region, including the type of offshore seismic surveying that found extensive gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean that Israel is now laying claim to (and preventing Gaza from exploiting). This has led to quite a lot of excitement in the fossil fuel energy industry, so, reading between the lines of the conference agendas, there is high dollar value under Libya’s maritime territory :-

    http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/gsl/site/GSL/lang/en/page7792.html
    http://www.geolibya.org/evdetails.asp?Myval=36

    In addition to Natural Gas there may well be high levels of top quality oil – and keeping up the flow of crude oil, as we all know, is crucial to the health of the world’s economy. Threats of re-nationalising the Libyan fossil fuel resources therefore caused corporate shock :-

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/67d1d02a-5314-11e0-86e6-00144feab49a.html#axzz1HKdP1z5V

    “Oil companies fear nationalisation in Libya : By Sylvia Pfeifer and Javier Blas in London : Published: March 20 2011 : Western oil companies operating in Libya have privately warned that their operations in the country may be nationalised if Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s regime prevails. Executives, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the rapidly moving situation, believe their companies could be targeted, especially if their home countries are taking part in air strikes against Mr Gaddafi. Allied forces from France, the UK and the US on Saturday unleashed a series of strikes against military targets in Libya. “It is certainly a concern. There are good reserves there,” said one executive at a western oil company with operations in Libya. “We have lost some of our production [because all operations have stopped] but our bigger concern is what will happen to the exploratory work as that gives you a future rather than the immediate impact,” he added. Most of the world’s large international oil companies have producing assets in Libya, including Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, and Italy’s Eni, which is the largest single investor there. Germany’s Winstershall – a unit of BASF – and OMV of Austria are also present. The country is the world’s 12th largest oil exporter, and the escalating violence there has triggered a jump in prices to nearly $120 a barrel. More than half of Libya’s oil was exported to Italy, Germany and France last year…”

    BP had to evacuate its staff, and extend a favour to some British citizens, during the recent uprising :-
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8344391/Libya-Britain-borrows-BP-jet-to-evacuate-citizens.html

    Production in the country has taken a hit due to the fighting, but order should soon be restored. Clearly, long-term stability in Libya, with unhindered, inexpensive access to the country’s oil and gas resources is an important part of the national security interests of many Western democracies.

    2. Solar Libya

    http://www.desertec.org/en/global-mission/milestones/

    The DESERTEC project of the European Union seeks to roll out solar power in the desert sands of North Africa, and makes the promise of economic and social development of the countries that take part, although that dream has been questioned :-

    http://www.ceu.hu/theses/1/2010/the-desertec-project-a-new-resource-curse-for-countries-in-north-africa-and-the-middle

    Let’s face the facts here – massive new energy projects in North Africa will be financed and developed through large multinational, transnational corporations, companies who have contributed to the economic slavery of Africa for, let’s approximate here, centuries.

    What guarantees can the Maghreb have that this is not a further land grab on Africa’s potential ?

    In addition, the recent social and political volatility in the Middle East North Africa region could jeopardise the noble plans of the European Union to reach out in energy partnership.

    Hang on. Wait a minute. Is the wave of uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa connected in any way to the interests of oil and gas companies who want Future #1 to prevail for the whole region, not just Libya ?

    American companies have been so keen to sell nuclear electricity projects to Saudi Arabia and others around the Arabian Gulf – but has this been encouraged from the high-ups to keep the Arabs off the scent of Renewable Energy ? Forget nuclear power – it’s expensive and awkward. Iran only pursues civilian nuclear power to irritate the United States Government. A solar Arabia could give the Middle East and North Africa a second generation of being the energy princes of the world. I suspect they will go for this in a big way very shortly, uprisings or no uprisings. Why ? Two little words – Fukushima Daiichi.

    So there we have it – two entirely probable, slightly competing, futures being mapped out for Libya by the big guns of NATO (a euphemism for the USA). If Libya is split into two countries, the fossil fuel Future #1 will be likely applied to East Libya, and the desert solar Future #2 will be foisted on West Libya.

    Continued interference in the country is a certainty.

  • Breadline Cairo : Democracy’s Challenge

    Posted on February 11th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Well, Mubarak’s made an exit – and real Egyptian democracy can begin – as long as the army don’t get crowd control ideas above their station and the old elites don’t interfere with the process of free and fair elections.

    But democracy is not going to solve the problem of the price of bread.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20082-can-complexity-theory-explain-egypts-crisis.html
    http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/09/un-food-agency-severe-drought-threatens-wheat-crop-china-food-security/
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jan/28/climate-change-food-bubble
    http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/07/economist-krugman-high-cost-of-food-extreme-weather-climate-change-tunisia-egypt/
    http://climateprogress.org/2011/02/04/contribution-of-high-food-prices-to-mideast-unrest/

    Climate Change plays a part in creating scarcity and irregularity in crop production :-

    http://www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/latest.pdf

    But it’s what happens next that’s the killer :-

    http://www.wdm.org.uk/stop-bankers-betting-food/what-problem

    “Food Speculation : What is the problem? : Banks, hedge funds and pension funds are betting on food prices in the financial markets, causing drastic price swings in staple foods such as wheat, maize and soy…”

    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-how-goldman-gambled-on-starvation-2016088.html

    “By now, you probably think your opinion of Goldman Sachs and its swarm of Wall Street allies has rock-bottomed at raw loathing. You’re wrong. There’s more. It turns out that the most destructive of all their recent acts has barely been discussed at all. Here’s the rest. This is the story of how some of the richest people in the world – Goldman, Deutsche Bank, the traders at Merrill Lynch, and more – have caused the starvation of some of the poorest people in the world. It starts with an apparent mystery. At the end of 2006, food prices across the world started to rise, suddenly and stratospherically. Within a year, the price of wheat had shot up by 80 per cent, maize by 90 per cent, rice by 320 per cent. In a global jolt of hunger, 200 million people – mostly children – couldn’t afford to get food any more, and sank into malnutrition or starvation. There were riots in more than 30 countries, and at least one government was violently overthrown. Then, in spring 2008, prices just as mysteriously fell back to their previous level…”

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/lifestyle/article-23921754-the-men-who-ate-the-world-why-foodstuffs-have-shot-up-in-price.do

    “The hedge fund guy sitting beside me was asked about his next plan for global domination. He’d done houses and gold – what was the new new thing? “Food,” he said between mouthfuls of lobster. “We’re piling into food. Weather’s getting weird, so there’ll be crop failures. There won’t be enough to go around.”…”

    Many blessings for your newly-born democracy, Egypt, and we hope you can win the fight to secure affordable food, too.

  • Words fail me

    Posted on January 25th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    It’s not quite accurate to say that language has entirely failed me, in fact, I am as loquacious as ever, but for a few minutes back there, whilst watching Paul Nurse present the Horizon “Science under Attack” show on iPlayer, I was definitely gobsmacked :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00y4yql/Horizon_20102011_Science_Under_Attack/ (UK TV Licence Payers only. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.)

    How is it that even Paul Nurse has entirely missed the key point about why people resent and resist genetic modification of crops and animals ?

    There is a very clear dividing line between technology and science. Just because you can engineer something with technology, doesn’t mean you should do it. And it doesn’t mean it’s scientifically sound.

    The results are not in from GM crop testing, and in some cases, GM crops are being deployed without the full long-term testing that everybody would expect.

    This is worse than the presumptions of the pharmaceutical industry, pumping out Thalidomide and then having to say sorry (or not) to a generation of people born without limbs.

    The reason we, the vast majority of people, don’t want genetically modified foods and fuels, is because the science is not complete. We don’t actually know yet the full scale of the impacts of GMOs on ecology, wildlife and human beings.

    Technology is building the atom bomb and dropping it. Science is following up the cancer distribution in the Japanese population and making recommendations that this kind of weapon should never, ever be used again, as its effects have profound genetic implications.

    Genetically modifying organisms is technology. It’s not science, and we shouldn’t have to accept it if we don’t want to.

    It’s instructive to look at the research that is being done into “biosciences” (one of a bunch of phrases used to cover the practices of genetic modification of plants and animals). In the UK, the BBSRC is a prime example of the cooperation between technology and industry, where undercover of some pretty decent research, gene splicing carries on. If only people outside the research establishments knew more about this. Remember, it’s all about increasing the sales of herbicides :-

    http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/food-security/2010/100602-pr-helping-plants-to-help-themselves.aspx

    “…Development of resistant crops could provide a good way forward. If the genes responsible for resistance to pests could be identified, they could be bred into specially selected crops by either conventional or GM methods. GM crops that are resistant to pests have already been proven to be an important tool in developing sustainable alternatives to chemical pesticides. GM is not the only option we have available for crop protection, but given the challenges we face in securing future food supplies all technologies need to be considered, keeping possible social, economic and policy implications in mind…”

    http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/science_and_impacts/impacts_genetic_engineering/roundup-ready-soybeans.html

    “…Herbicide-tolerant crops are engineered to enable crops to withstand doses of herbicides that would otherwise kill them. These crops are generally developed by the manufacturers of the herbicide with the hope of increasing the sale of that herbicide. Roundup ReadyTM crops, for example, are produced by the Monsanto company, the producer of the herbicide Roundup, a billion-dollar product that generates about 40 percent of the company’s annual revenue…”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/8277851/Britons-must-swallow-fear-of-GM-crops-to-feed-world.html

    In the United States, John Podesta, formerly somebody I considered one of the good guys, has joined Joule Unlimited to make fuel from genetically modified microorganisms. Tell me this is a good idea, and I’ll tell you that it could be decades after the technology is implemented before the full facts of contamination of the environment with gene fragments is in the scientific literature :-

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/01/biotech-firm-promising-liquid-fuels-solar-energy-lands-podesta-board-directors/

    Later that same day…

    Having watched the BBC broadcast in detail, I have to answer the question posed by the good gene technology scientist. He asks something along the lines of “…if the GM technology has failed, why have millions and millions of farmers planted millions and millions of acres of GM crops ?…”

    The answer is, of course, the salesmanship of the agricultural chemical companies in selling their herbicide-tolerant, GM crops.

    It has nothing to do with the validity of the product, or even its viability. It has everything to do with the sales of chemicals.

    Paul Nurse asks for scientists to be more present in the media and make their evidence more widely available.

    So, Paul, where are the publicly available copies of all the GM crop science then ? Or is that too commercially sensitive as “intellectual property” to be shared with us ?

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=can-genetically-modified-crops-feed-09-04-16

    “Can Genetically Modified Crops Feed the World? : Genetic modification has been touted as a solution to hunger, but does it really boost yields? David Biello reports : April 16, 2009 : Humans have been genetically modifying crops for millenia the old-fashioned way – selective breeding. But new techniques that insert foreign genetic material, say bacterial genes to produce insecticide in a corn plant, have raised health and environmental concerns. And that has prompted European countries, most recently Germany, to ban genetically modified, or GM, crops.”

    “Proponents argue that GM crops can help feed the world. And given ever increasing demands for food, animal feed, fiber and now even biofuels, the world needs all the help it can get. Unfortunately, it looks like GM corn and soybeans won’t help, after all. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that genetically engineered crops do not produce larger harvests.”

    “Crop yield increases in recent years have almost entirely been due to improved farming or traditional plant breeding, despite more than 3,000 field trials of GM crops. Of course, farmers have typically planted, say, GM corn, because it can tolerate high doses of weed-killer. And the Biotechnology Industry Organization argues that GM crops can boost yields in developing countries where there are limited resources for pesticides. But it appears that, to date, traditional plant breeding boosts crop yields better than genetic modification. Those old farmers were on to something.”