BP Biofuels : Murders & Acquisitions ?

[ 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

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 :-

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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 :-

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@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.

Living Life and LOAFing It

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.

Continue reading Living Life and LOAFing It

Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

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…

Mark Lynas : Mutant Ninja

Mark Lynas may call himself a “green”, and be a clean-shaven, respectable, politely-spoken Oxford academic type but he appears to be mutating into something very unappealing indeed. He’s written some good books on climate change – every schoolroom and university module should have one – but on energy, he is deep in the political woods, without even a wind-up flashlight.

His latest stunt is to join in with accusations from Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit that the IPCC’s report on Renewable Energy has been partly crafted by people without appropriate independence or expertise. Here, from Andrew Revkin :-

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/a-deeper-look-at-an-energy-analysis-raises-big-questions/

“The IPCC must urgently review its policies for hiring lead authors – and I would have thought that not only should biased ‘grey literature’ be rejected, but campaigners from NGOs should not be allowed to join the lead author group and thereby review their own work.”

And who is this nefarious untalented Non-Governmental Organisation ? Greenpeace, it appears, according to Mark Lynas, is not capable of writing about the future of energy (or even the current situation).

Daniel Kammen has weighed in and The Revkin has updated his post :-

“There is no Himalaya-gate here at all. While there are some issues with individual chapters, there is no ‘Greenpeace Scenario.’ The 77% carbon free by 2050 is actually more conservative than some cases. The European Climate Foundation, for example has a 100% carbon neutral scenario and Price Waterhouse has a very low carbon one for North Africa. Further, while the IPCC works from published cases, the scenarios are evaluated and assessed by a team.”

There have been a number of reports written in the last year that back the viability of Renewable Energy technologies in replacing the world’s fossil fuel and nuclear energy systems. Not all of them were crafted by Greenpeace researchers. In fact, virtually none of them. Nuclear…yes…maybe it’s that little word “nuclear” that’s the root cause of Mark Lynas’ problem with Greenpeace.

In the Guardian, he is quoted as saying :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/15/italy-nuclear-referendum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/13/greenpeace-foe-charles-secrett-criticism

“Many ‘green’ campaigns, like those against nuclear power and GM crops, are not actually scientifically defensible…”

And that’s where you are so wrong, Mark Lynas with the book coming out soon that you seem so desperate to publicise by saying things you know people will find annoying. Nuclear power is a TECHNOLOGY, not a SCIENCE. This is the same basic category error made by Dick Taverne and a number of other public commentators who don’t appear to have an engineering background.

TECHNOLOGY is where people decide that their designs to make something look like they’ll work, build them and don’t foresee flaws with them. SCIENCE is where people study the technology that they’ve built and research the flaws that appear and report on them. Science is what has shown the limitations with the original boasts about genetically modified crops. It turns out that GMOs are a ruse to sell chemicals. And on nuclear fission – the science is in and on the front of your daily newspaper : nuclear power plants pose a number of risks. The advice of the reputable scientists and engineers – old fission nuclear power plants should be withdrawn.

But returning to Renewable Energy, a number of organisations now believe that the demise of fossil fuels needn’t stop humanity from accessing abundant energy. Here is just a very short compilation :-

The Two Marks : Mark A. Delucchi and Mark Z. Jacobson :-
http://www.peopleandplace.net/on_the_wire/2011/2/5/mark_jacobson_and_mark_delucchi_wind_water_and_solar

PriceWaterhouseCooper :-
http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/100_percent_renewable_electricity.html

CAT Zero Carbon Britain 2030 :-
http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/

Roadmap 2050 :-
http://www.roadmap2050.eu/

European Renewable Energy Council R[e]volution :-
http://www.erec.org/media/publications/energy-revolution-2010.html

But oh, no, we can’t quote the last one because Greenpeace researchers were involved, and Mark Lynas wouldn’t approve of that. Mark Lynas appears to be living in a world where Greenpeace people can’t have engineering research skills because they have ideals, working for a world that uses safe, clean energy.

The IPCC report on Renewable Energy is here :-
http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/

Much as I respect turtles, I have to say it – Mark Lynas, you’re a turtle – slow-moving and easy to catch out and turn into soup. You should know by now not to get sucked in by spurious non-arguments from Steve McIntyre. The “cleantech” industry that’s ramping up to provide the world with green energy is worth billions, soon to be trillions of dollars worldwide, and this fact appears to have completely passed you by. The only future for energy is sustainable, renewable, non-nuclear, clean, quiet and safe. There is no other viable, liveable, option.

[ UPDATE : In the Independent newspaper, Mark Lynas is quoted as remarking “Campaigners should not be employed as lead authors in IPCC reports”. So, Mark, it’s really fine for employees of the major oil, gas and mining companies to take a leading role on major IPCC reports; but it’s not fine, according to you, that somebody working for much less money and much higher principles than mere corporate profit should contribute ? Denigrating somebody for being a “campaigner” is a stereotypical insult. Everybody’s got an agenda, campaigners included. What’s your agenda, Mark ? Selling your new book ? Don’t be dismissive about Greenpeace researchers. They may have ideals, but they’re not naive – they also have brains – and with their declared position on getting at the truth they can be trusted to be direct, decent and honest. Where’s your ethical compass, Mark ? ]

Viva Italia !

Algae BioDiesel Report Card : Fail

The New York Times blog asks, plaintively, when algae biofuels will be economically viable :-

http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/the-future-of-algae-fuels-is-when/

“January 25, 2011 ; The Future of Algae Fuels Is … When? : By TOM ZELLER JR. : As I write in Tuesday’s Times, a new study from the Rand Corporation, the global policy think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif., and formed more than 60 years ago to advise the American government on military issues, suggests that Department of Defense is wasting its time exploring alternative fuels. It raised particular questions about the near-term viability of algae-based fuels, which the study’s authors considered to be more or less laboratory-level stuff — and certainly not likely to scale up to any significant extent in the next 10 years. Given that the military has gone to great lengths to publicize its ongoing efforts to go green, and in particular, algae-green, the report did not sit well with with everyone…”

The eagerness around algae biodiesel seems to stem largely from those who want something to invest in, now that fossil fuels are starting to look like a liability :-

“…Certainly a number of investors continue to bet on the promise of squeezing oil from algae in amounts substantial enough to put a dent in the use of petroleum-based fuels. And dozens of companies and academic labs are busy chasing that dream. Despite all this, the Rand study’s lead author, Jim Bartis, remained steadfastly skeptical that the technology would be ready for prime time within the next decade — and certainly not ready for widespread military use…”

Highly crucially, hypothetical research has shown that the return on investment may not be very high :-

http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2011/01/the-eroi-of-algae-biofuels.html

“…What Colin discovered was that the EROI of the Reduced Case and Literature Model were 0.13 and 0.57, respectively. This shows that we have much to learn for the potential of making viable liquid fuels. Additionally, Colin’s calculations for the experimental setup (and Reduced Case analysis) show that 97% of the energy output resides in the biomass, not the bio-oil For his idealized Literature Model, 82% of the energy output was in the biomass. While these results seem discouraging, we do not have much ability to put these results into context of the rate of development of other alternative technologies and biofuels. How long did it take to get photovoltaic panels with EROI > 1 from the first working prototype in a lab? We have somewhat of an idea that it took one or two decades for the Brazilians to get reasonable EROI > 1 from using sugar cane for biomass and biofuel production (Brazilian sugar cane grown and processed in Sao Paulo is estimated near EROI = 8)…”

Can it be that venture capital is chasing an imaginary rabbit down a virtual warren ?

For just $250 (ker-ching !) you can purchase a copy of an informative report, that just might explain it all :-

http://www.oilgae.com/ref/report/digest/digest.html

Interestingly, it is noted, “The yields of oil and fuels from algae are much higher (10-25 times) than competing energy crops”. Those “energy crops” would be the genetically modified food crops that are intended for the BioEnergy agri-industry, then.

And what at the food crops that the GM scientists want to splice with ?

I think we need to understand who has intentions for which crops :-

http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/gene_stack_increases_biofuel_crop_productivity

“Gene stack increases biofuel crop productivity : Thursday, January 20, 2011 : By Jim Lane : In Illinois, Chromatin announced the successful first demonstration that genes can be assembled, stacked, and expressed in sugarcane using the company’s mini-chromosome technology…Developers, however, want to insert genes that offer improvements in multiple traits – when an organism has more than one gene inserted in this process – for example, for disease resistance, insect resistance, herbicide resistance – this is called a gene stack. In 2007, for example, Monsanto and Dow introduced an eight-gene stack (SmartStax) that contained eight herbicide tolerance and insect-protection genes, including Dow’s Herculex I and Herculex RW; Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Rootworm/RR2 and YieldGard VT PRO, Roundup Ready and Liberty Link tolerance genes. Gene stacking, thereby, is foundational in the drive for higher productivity from land crops…”

“…Not every plant genome is stable enough to support extensive cross-breeding in order to introduce desired genes. One of those is sugar cane. So, let’s say you wanted to introduce several genes, not just one – for example, insect resistance, herbicide resistance, disease resistance, higher sugar concentrations, and enzymes to enable better bagasse digestion. If you could do it at all in cane – and it would be a monumental, unprecedented achievement in cross-breeding, it would take, say 13 years or so to accomplish it. It has made changes at this level uneconomical. So that’s what the Chromatin breakthrough is all about. Creating a method to bring the sort of possibilities that have materially advanced yields in, say, corn and soy, to a whole new array of energy and food crops. Opening up the door for more rapid improvement of the underlying per-acre yields. Thereby reducing the amount of acreage needed to support, say, a cellulosic ethanol or renewable diesel processing technology. Increasing thereby the radius over which biomass can be transported at economically viable rates. Making the processing plants larger, and more cost effective. Speeding up the point at which a given technology can achieve parity with fossil oil. Pushing us faster towards the scaling of energy crops and biofuels…”

“Sugarcane and other feedstocks : Chromatin has wrapped itself into a worldwide exclusive with Syngenta in sugarcane – so, for improvements in the sugarcane genome, that’s where they will come from in so far as this technology is concerned. Meanwhile, Chromatin is pretty well wrapped up in terms of licenses for its technology in corn, soy, canola and cotton. And, Chromatin said last year that it would pursue opportunities in sorghum as a developer. But there are the energy canes, and the energy grasses like switchgrass and miscanthus. Or the woods like eucalyptus or poplar. Or the aquatic species, like algae. For those platforms, this is a licensable technology…”

Tampering with the genes of some of the most important crops in the world. That’s bold. Will we accept that ?

Syngenta are going to mess with sugarcane, all in the name of Climate Change alleviation.

And where will this sugarcane be grown ? In Brazil.

And who will be farming this sugarcane for BioEthanol use ? Dirt-poor people from the landless underclass, just as now.

So, corrupting the gene pool of one of the world’s most important food crops for some dubious possible gains in energy productivity, and still not resolving the human rights issues of how this is farmed.

What a revolution !

Work with me, James Delingpole

To: James Delingpole
Date: 25th January 2011
Subject: Dodgy science on the telly

Dear James,

Like you, I felt somewhat intellectually “tampered with” by Paul Nurse (“Science under Attack”, Horizon BBC 2, 24th January 2011), and I wondered if we should make some sort of common cause against the domination of faulty thinking of the scientific elite in the media.

As you know, I’m a fan of Climate Change Science, and everything I see, read and hear confirms the projections. In the end, you will come to believe, but the evidence for manmade Global Warming is not the source of my contention with the BBC today.

I disliked the incredibly scornful tone of the Genetically Modified research technologist, who when interviewed avoided the broader picture of the imposition of GM crops against the will of the people. He asked a question something like “…if GM crops are so bad, then why have millions of American farmers planted them ?…” and naturally, because you are a smart chap, you and I both know the real answer to that question.

It’s not the quality of the products that keep farmers hooked on GM, it’s the power of the sales force and the exclusivity contracts people sign up to. What people are really buying is not the GM seed but the herbicides, and Paul Nurse didn’t even touch on that subject (but if he had, he might have “interfered with” that, too).

Why is it that Paul Nurse could not distinguish between technology and science ? What blinkered him from separating the brute force of invention from the laboured acquisition of rigorous knowledge ?

Several top science advisers and commentators have made this mistake in the past, including John Beddington and Dick Taverne :-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/geneticmodification/8278241/GM-food-what-are-the-rules.html

http://www.whale.to/a/lord_dick_taverne.html

So, James, can we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on opposing untested technologies ? Can we walk together under the same banner, protesting Frankenstein biofuels and gene poisoning ?

Can we find something to agree on, something to work together for ?

With my finest regards,

Jo Abbess

Words fail me

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.”

We Will Get To You

Video Credit : Brooklyn Space Program

Eventually we will reach you.

Scientists are proverbially poor at communication, but we will eventually be able to explain to you what is happening to the Earth in a way that you will understand.

You need to give some time to the data, to the arguments. You need to read the significant research papers, learn how to read graphs, learn the acronyms, abbreviations, technical terms.

You will need to be able to weigh in your mind the significance of probabilities, the risks of extremes, the trends, the changing patterns.

After a while, you will start to reappraise the evidence, and start looking into the data and see the conclusions for yourself.

You will begin to appreciate the strong line of reasoning, and come to be in awe of the minds of many who work on Climate Change.

I’ve become impressed by the body of scientific evidence, that’s why I will always be aligned with the Climate Change science community.

We’re not going anywhere. We’re here, and we’re right. There has already been significant change in the Earth’s climate due to humankind’s mining-to-burn activities, and the projections are for further, possibly very dangerous change.

The scientists know what the problems are, and what the engineering solutions are. Some companies/corporations, economists and politicans and sadly even some compromised “environmentalists” promote non-solutions like carbon pricing, Carbon Taxation, Carbon Trading, Carbon Capture (and Storage), GM Crops, Nuclear Power, geoengineering – but the academies of scientists are telling you they won’t work, or won’t solve all the problems.

What is needed is wholesale removal of Fossil Fuels from the global economy in order to prevent further deterioration and disruption in the global climatic conditions. Either BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil hang up their boots forever, or they need to embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay in business.

Oil, gas and coal depletion in the production facilities of those countries that are national players will mean that they will go bust, because a consistently high price for Fossil Fuels is not supportable, because the global economy is so Fossil Fuel-dependent currently. This is both a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, so the price will be governed by the operation of this two-sided cartel, not by the theories of “scarcity economics”.

Either Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela and so on are on their way to extreme poverty, or they will embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay economically developed.

Meanwhile, the project of empirical scientific enquiry continues apace, and even though rich fossil fuel businesses are financing doubt, even though people with pension funds in mining pour scorn on Climate Change science, and even though the mainstream media can’t recognise uneducated propaganda when they meet it; you need to trust the intellectual community of Climate Change science researchers.

Stop listening to accusations of malpractice, dodgy data, weak methods, poor models. Do you really know what you are talking about when you pass judgement on the scientific community ? Who told you that scientists were wrong ? Can you really trust the people who tell you not to trust the scientific community ? Do you have the right or the authority to lay somebody else’s fabricated blame at the door of those whose whole lives are devoted to discovering the truth ?

Why don’t you do an integrity check on your sources, before replicating myths ?

Read the science journals and not the newspapers, is my advice.

And when it comes to the Internet, search wisely. You can’t believe every website you come across – there are some web loggers who are misled, and there are others seeking to mislead.

If you want to filter out the nonsense, try this :-

True Science

Ride the Future

Video Found At : Energy Bulletin

The Earth keeps turning, the Sun keeps burning, and the future will look a lot different than today as we drag down Carbon Dioxide emissions “by hook or by crook”.

We have to be wary of possible “crooks”. There are still technology “snake oil salesmen” out there, trying to impose Genetically Modified crops on us, or Nuclear Power, or Carbon Capture and Storage (to justify the continued use of Coal), and using the vehicle of science to push their wares :-

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/agriculture/8048917/Climate-change-threatens-UK-harvest.html

“Climate change threatens UK harvest : Climate change could push up food prices by causing large-scale crop failures in Britain, the Met Office has warned. : By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent : Published: 08 Oct 2010 : Rising temperatures could mean events such as the drought in Russia this summer, which pushed up grain prices, hit countries like the UK. But they said the worst effects of climate change could be limited by investment in better farming and the development of new drought resistant or heat tolerant crops. This could be done by aid money, breeding and new technologies like genetic modification (GM)…”

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/news/article/908/crop_failures_set_to_increase_under_climate_change

Look out for terms like “new crops”, “crop development” or “modified crops” :-

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101007092817.htm
http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/3/034012/

See the use of the word “biotechnology” in the actual research paper :-

http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/3/034012/pdf/1748-9326_5_3_034012.pdf

But, as everybody can probably guess, most farmers in the world will not be able to afford Genetically Modified crops, and anyway, nobody really yet knows if GM crops confer the benefits claimed – there is some evidence that “life scientists” don’t know the full range of effects on organisms from gene splicing.

Continue reading Ride the Future

Tu Me Manques, David Miliband

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing David Miliband from the political fish-eat-fish top table already.

If he were to ask me, which he won’t, but anyway, if he did, I would recommend that he starts reading up about Energy production and supply, over the next 18 months or so before he gets invited, acceptingly, back into the Shadow Cabinet of the UK Government.

If he were to spend his time on the train between South Shields and Westminster looking into energy security matters, into crustal petrogeology, the Middle East oil fields, Wind Power, solar and marine options, he could make a strong comeback into the limelight – as opposed to the “lemon” light he’s been cast into, thrust into, so far.

If he becomes acquainted with the ways and wiles of engineering and fossil fuels over the next few years, the viability of Renewable Energy solutions, the transport explosion phenomenon and how to control it, then he will be able to offer solid assistance to his younger brother Teddy – who appears to be mistakenly sold on the idea of new nuclear power.

And if Ed Miliband were to ask, (again, which he won’t), I’d say – atomic energy cannot save us; carbon capture technology cannot save us; algae biodiesel can only trickle, even Frankenstein GM algae biodiesel; Peak Oil is almost definitely here; efficiency of use alone cannot save us. We have to go right out for a non-combustion, Renewable Energy future.

Hungry for Change

People often talk about the weather in relation to Climate Change, but neglect to talk about the possible obvious and inevitable side-effects – hunger and starvation.

Frontline Club will screen the film “The Hunger Season” on 1st October 2010, and follow it with a panel discussion hosted by BOND and Oxfam UK :-

http://frontlineclub.com/events/2010/10/liberation-season-screening—the-hunger-season.html?utm_source=Frontline&utm_campaign=074ce4510f-Announcing+October+events&utm_medium=email

“Across the world a massive food crisis is unfolding. 
Climate change, increasing consumption in China and India, the dash for Biofuels are causing hitherto unimagined food shortages and rocketing prices. This has already provoked unrest and violence from the Middle East to South America and there is no end in sight in the coming months. The people who are going to be most sorely affected are those already living on the razors edge of poverty, those dependent on food aid for their very survival. As commodity prices have risen by 50%, the UN Agencies have barely half the budget they need to meet the needs of 73 million hungry people they are currently feeding…”

Biofuel targets may not be the only factor behind food price rises :-

http://www.wdm.org.uk/food-speculation/great-hunger-lottery

“In The Great Hunger Lottery, the World Development Movement has compiled extensive evidence establishing the role of food commodity derivatives in destabilising and driving up food prices around the world. This in turn, has led to food prices becoming unaffordable for low-income families around the world, particularly in developing countries highly reliant on food imports. Nowhere was this more clearly seen than during the astonishing surge in staple food prices over the course of 2007-2008, when millions went hungry and food riots swept major cities around the world. The great hunger lottery shows how this alarming episode was fueled by the behaviour of financial speculators, and describes the terrible immediate impacts on vulnerable families around the world, as well as the long term damage to the fight against global poverty…”

Continue reading Hungry for Change

Don’t Mention the Petrochemicals

The Climate Change narrative is being hijacked by several “special interests”, or rather “corporate public relations operations”, I have decided.

Let me take you round the loop one time to show you my logic on their warez. Note the dates of the pieces – Evidence A was quickly followed everywhere by Evidence B :-

Evidence A : Recent Research links Bee Death to Pesticides

http://environmentalresearchweb.org/cws/article/news/43568

“Aug 27, 2010 : Insecticide implicated in bee decline : Honeybees, bumblebees and many other insects are being slowly poisoned to death by persistent insecticides used to protect agricultural crops. Small doses of the toxic chemicals accumulate over time, meaning that there is no safe level of exposure. That’s the conclusion from recent research looking at the long-term effects of a commonly used class of insecticides. As they buzz from flower to flower, bees, moths and hoverflies carry out a vital job. Around one third of agricultural crops are pollinated by these busy insects, a service that is worth £440 m a year to the UK economy alone. But in recent years these valuable pollinators have been struggling, with populations plummeting worldwide. Honeybees in particular have been suffering, with colony collapse disorder (CCD) – a phenomenon where the bees desert the hive – becoming more common in Europe and North America. Controversy has swirled around the issue, and everything from mobile phones to GM crops have been blamed. Now new studies indicate that insecticides are playing a significant role. The most recent studies have exposed a variety of insects to varying doses of neonicotinoid insecticides over long time periods – 12 months or more. Neonicotinoid insecticides are widely used worldwide; they work by acting on the central nervous system of the insect…”

Continue reading Don’t Mention the Petrochemicals

In The Belly Of The BP

I was warned. And it’s true. BP are so protective of their company image that they live in denial. I should know. I’ve been inside the belly of the beast and spoken to one of their head sustainability honchos. Who had a total disconnect about the risks of Fossil Fuel depletion.

“Oil and gas will remain the mainstay of the “Energy mix”. We’ve said that publicly…”

So they’re telling the world what to believe, are they ?

Continue reading In The Belly Of The BP

How Many Times Do We Need To Say No ?

The Guardian runs with a story on how the UK Government’s Chief Scientist, Professor John Beddington will push the idea of Genetic Modification of Food Crops :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/06/gm-food-revolution-government-scientist

Plant-breeding down the centuries of agricultural history have given us wonderful natural foods, suited to their growing environments and healthy for human life. The process of selection, inter-breeding and nurturing new variations of plants has involved changes in the genetic code for some lines of species. But this “natural genetic modification” bears no relation to laboratory work to splice and dice genes in food crops across and within families of plants (and even animals).

Continue reading How Many Times Do We Need To Say No ?