Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • GWPF & The Hockey Stick Curve

    Posted on April 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
    The previous post in this series examined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) Briefing Paper No3 “The Truth About Greenhouse Gases“. Despite its title, Briefing Paper No3 said very little about such gases. Yet one subject (not directly to do with greenhouse gases) was discussed at some length within the paper. As it is also discussed in other GWPF papers, the subject will be examined in this fourth post of the series.

    AN IMPOSSIBLE HOCKEY STICK AVERSION

    In Briefing Paper No3, perhaps the strongest accusation made by the author Professor William Happer concerns the IPCC who allegedly “rewrote the climate history” by deleting the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age (MWP & LIA) from the climate record.

    Happer tells us that both MWP & LIA were “clearly shown in the 1990first IPCC report. Then eleven years later, according to Happer, they were both simply expunged from the climate record for no valid reason.

    Indeed, within the 2001 third IPCC report, the MWP & LIA are entirely absent from the graph that according to Happer is “not supported by observational data”. This is the dreaded “Hockey Stick” curve.

    Can the IPCC really be responsible for such skullduggery ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • The Truth Is Relative

    Posted on March 30th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    Image Credit : BBC

    Many ordinary people, when asked about global warming and climate change, offer views they’ve read or heard somewhere, often using the word “could”, because that word appears a huge lot in public communications and media, especially television. “The world could warm by as much as four degrees by the end of the Century.” “Rain-fed agriculture in southern Europe could be gone by 2050″. “Thames Water could end up having to buy water from Scotland”. That kind of thing.
    However, when asked about their own personal views, people often show reluctance to commit. And so it appears that the one thing they really believe is that truth about global warming and climate change is relative.

    So, for many people, the truth is relative. And why should that be ? Maybe people don’t want to be known to have an actual opinion because they fear that if they show commitment to one view or other, they might cause an argument because other people around them think differently. After all, it’s hard to know which people are climate change “accepters”, and which people are strongly against the facts emerging from the science of atmospheric physics.

    So people, when surveyed, will not state their own views on what they think is a hot button topic. They will cite public scientists, and other well-known public figures – regardless of their actual knowledge. By deferring to the opinions of others, people delegate the matter of deciding where they themselves stand. People often admit that they themselves don’t know the truth, but somebody else, surely, does.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Through A Keyhole, Darkly

    Posted on March 29th, 2012 Jo No comments
    Trying to have a rational discussion about climate change with people can be hard work. Aside from the self-styled “sceptics” – those who deny large swathes of the science with the wave of a dismissive hand, and the curmudgeons – those who deliberately spread disinformation, I have a great deal of sympathy for people who have doubts about the causes and effects of global warming.
    I have “walked a mile in their shoes”, and I find that most of their lack of comprehension stems from being forced to look through a keyhole at selected facts. Their view is distorted, and they are missing the context in almost every case.

    Let me run through just one basic problem from start to end. Climate change scientists say things like, “The 20th Century saw unprecedented global warming”. Climate change doubters say things like, “The current temperature of the Earth is unremarkable. It’s been hotter before, and it will be cooler again.” Notice if you will the first dispute – it’s a completely artificial one – based on semantics.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Academic Freedom #6 : Policy Levers

    Posted on March 23rd, 2012 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Taproot

    Many scientists express that their aim in their work is to offer a good foundation for Government decision-making. Our gathering and processing of data and evidence is to be offered to the lawmakers to enable them to choose a way forward, and design a strategy to get there. This is a noble ambition – to be a useful servant of the facts (or at least a disciple of statistics with plus and minus margins of error).

    However, science is not the only force at work in influencing Government decisions. For a start, Governments change through elections in democracies, and all debate about public policy passes through a narrow ideological gate – where people decide on a very small range of questions that concern them at the time. Election issues are almost always centred around tax and welfare, and elections are often called for the favourite politicians of the moment.

    And then there’s the question of which organisations influence elected governments on a day-to-day basis – who has the ear of leaders and their senior staff ? The public relations budget lines of large companies and corporations can be kept trim and tidy – politicians are easy to get access to if you have a lot of capital to invest (or make out that you do).

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening

    Posted on March 16th, 2012 Jo No comments


    Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

    This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
    This is the second in a series of posts on the educational charity and climate sceptic “think-tank” Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The first post examined GWPF”s organisation and its principles (or lack of them). Here we examine GWPF”s Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening by Philipp Mueller who is the Assistant Director of the GWPF. Coverage of the greening Sahel has been in the media for a decade now, so this cannot be too controversial a subject, can it?

    GWPF BRIEFING PAPER No2 – SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SUBJECT
    Mueller explains what this Briefing Paper No2 is about in the first three sentences.

    “Global warming has both positive and negative impacts. However, very often only the negative consequences are reported and the positive ones omitted. This article will show an example of a positive effect of warming.” 

    Mueller then sets out to show how the Sahel is enjoying a “positive impact” of global warming.

    Yet already here is a glaring omission. Despite this being an ideal opportunity to list out all the other “positive impacts”, Mueller fails even to hint at what any of the others might be. Never mind. We still have the Sahel. Or do we?

    THE GREENING OF THE SAHEL – MUELLER”S VERSION
    Mueller”s account can be summarised thus:

    Between the 1950s and 1980s reducing rainfalls across the Sahel (the region of Africa immediately South of the Sahara Desert) caused severe drought and famine. But, according to Mueller, since the early 1980s this process has gone into reverse with the Sahel greening, harvests more plentiful and the Sahara shrinking.

    The reason for this improvement is more than simply increasing rainfall. The climate of the Sahel region is delicate. Additional rainfall results in higher levels of vegetation. This induces yet more rain while reducing soil erosion. However, there is more at work than just this one “feedback” mechanism. Mueller says the extra factor that might be responsible is “the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels.” It seems the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 let plants grow better, especially in arid regions. Clever stuff, that!

    Mueller does not leave it there. He discusses the cause of the underlying increase in rainfall citing papers that suggest the rainfall was due to a warmer climate in the Sahara or a warmer North Atlantic, a process “partially caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Mueller”s shrinking Sahara is not unprecedented. In the past the Sahara, far from being a desert, was once a grass-covered savannah. This was over 6,000 years ago during the Holocene Climate Optimum (when temperatures were 2-5 deg C hotter than now according to Mueller but not according to others) and also during two other times in last 120,000 years.

    Mueller says the future isn”t certain. The Sahel may become wetter or it may become drier. But, he concludes, today the Sahel is undoubtedly wetter and suddenly Mueller becomes far more certain about those speculative causes of the greening of the Sahel.  “The increase in rainfall, which was probably caused by rising temperatures, and rising CO2 concentrations, might even – if sustained for a few more decades – green the Sahara. This would be a truly tremendous prospect.”

    This account makes bold statements but can it all be true?

    DO PIGS FLY?
    Mueller”s account contains many omissions and misrepresentations. The list is so long that the full account of Mueller”s errors are appended to the bottom of this post and just a summary is presented here.

    After droughts end, things grow greener. That is natural. The Sahel has a delicate climate and research shows that increased human emissions were more likely the cause of the initial drought rather than the cause of the re-greening. The recovery is also very patchy. Drought and famine, declining crops as well as encroaching deserts continue to plague parts of the Sahel, to the point that the description “greening” remains a subject for debate. Mueller”s rosy account fails to tell us any of this.

    It is wild speculation to assert that any recovery in the Sahel is a result of global warming and to dangle the prospect of a future green Sahara is the exact opposite of the message provided by Mueller”s reference on the matter. However welcome the re-greening of parts of the Sahel, it cannot be relied on.

    Mueller does mention this in passing but he fails to mention the confident scientific finding that any re-greening will eventually be reversed in the future. So if this greening of the Sahel is the prime example of the “positive impacts” of global warming, it is no surprise that Mueller fails to list any of the others.

    CONCLUSION
    GWPF Briefing paper No2 is an entirely flawed document. The views it expresses are those of the author (as the disclaimer on the cover says), not those views of the GWPF. Yet the author works with a “distinguished team of GWPF Academic Advisors.” Further, it remains a wonder that a registered charity whose task is to educate the public on global warming could ever put its name on such a report. If this is representative of GWPF Briefing Papers as a whole, it would be a cause of grave concern.

    A second GWPF Briefing Paper will be the subject of the next post in this series. Hopefully it will prove to be more factual in nature than Briefing Paper No2.

    APPENDIX – Details of Omissions & Misrepresentations within Mueller”s paper.

    A1 – OMISSION
    Mueller”s account began with mention of a drought between the 1950s & 1980s. This drought requires greater consideration than just a mention. Would we not expect a region to become greener in the period following a drought? Strangely, while Mueller discusses theories for the greening, he fails to mention the causes of the initial drought and its continuing legacy. This is not some minor event. The drought has been described as “…among the most undisputed and largest recent climate changes recognized by the climate research community.”

    The causes of the drought have slowly become better understood. Rising population and over-grazing by livestock was the first theory but studies now show the drought resulted from changes in ocean surface temperatures Folland et al (1986) Giannini et al (2003)which are likely due in part to the sulphate aerosol pollution of Europe and North America Rotstayn & Lohmann (2002) Biasutti & Gainnini (2006) and thus it is the cleaning of emissions from power stations that has likely allowed the rains to return.

    Mueller remains entirely silent about the potential role of sulphate aerosols in causing the drought and the subsequent greening. It is difficult to understand his silence as these findings are well known. Perhaps the potential role of human pollution in causing a “devastating drought” sits too uncomfortably with the intended message of “positive impacts” from global warming.

    A2 – OMISSION
    To emphasis his “positive impact”, Mueller tells us the greening is “a very welcome and very beneficial development for the people living in the Sahel.” What Mueller omits to tell us is that conditions have yet to return to the levels seen in the 1950s and that drought and famine still stalk the Sahel. His rosy reporting is even used by one sceptical commentator as proof that the continuing drought in the Sahel is but a “pseudo-catastrophe.”

    Climatology may not provide the best reports of the events but the Sahel drought is reported in newspapers and the humanitarian aid networks. “In 2005, drought and famine hit the Sahel, claiming many lives. The pattern was repeated in 2010 with the crisis most acute in Niger. And now the early warning signs are there for problems again in 2012.” For Mueller to entirely miss such prominent reporting in the age of the internet is truly remarkable!

    A3 – OMISSION
    It is also remarkable how Mueller writes of improving agricultural outputs across the Sahel. Mueller cites the findings of Chris Reij in a small region of Burkina Faso and also Olsson (2008), from where he quotes half a sentence about improved agricultural output in Burkina Faso and Mali.

    What Mueller totally misses in Olsson”s paper is the preceding sentence and the following half sentence which says – “After many years of dwindling food production in the Sahel, only two countries show signs of improved agricultural performance. …while the other Sahelian countries show decreases in their production.” So Mueller omits to mention the situation in the other nine countries of the Sahel, instead concentrating on the two countries where the evidence doesn”t directly contradict his theorizing.

    A4 – MISREPRESENTATION
    To reinforce his greening Sahel message Mueller strays geographically. He embellishes part of a Heartland Institute report that quotes a second-hand report from geologist Stephan Kropelin.

    This concerns greening within the deserts of Western Sahara, a much-troubled country that is in Africa but definitely not part of the Sahel! It is from the same Heartland report that Mueller times the start of the greening as “since the early 1980s” when if he had read the other more reliable references he cited he would have known the greening began in 1994.

    The entirety of the Sahel is not greening as Mueller would have us believe. It is patchy and there remains enough areas still suffering encroaching desert to make the term "greening" debatable. Somehow Mueller fails to notice.

    A5 – MISREPRESENTATION
    Mueller does manage to notice that there are signs of greening even in some areas where rainfall is still decreasing. Mueller asserts this might well be due to increased levels of atmospheric CO2. To support his CO2 claim Muller cites Sherwood Idso who has long espoused such theories and claims certain forest studies show evidence of it

    But when it comes to the greening of the Sahel, Idso makes clear the CO2 link is only speculation and makes do with pointing out where researchers fail to mention his brave theorising.
    There is one logical problem with Mueller”s claim which may be why Idso does not pursue a similar argument. It is difficult to reconcile patchy Sahel greening with a widespread (indeed worldwide) phenomenon like rising CO2 levels. The most likely reason for patchy greening (other than patchy rainfall) is very, very, widely discussed and observed on the ground. It is farmers changing their methods of cultivation, something Mueller fails to even mention, preferring instead to advance his ridiculous CO2 claim

    A6 – MISREPRESENTATION
    The prehistoric green Sahara of the mid-Holocene with its lakes and rivers is used by Mueller to reinforce his argument that global warming may trigger a return to such conditions and so provide a truly tremendous “positive impact” from global warming. Again he manages to misrepresent the words of others. On this matter Mueller concludes “(Professor Martin) Claussen has considered the likelihood of a greening of the Sahara due to global warming and concluded that an expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is possible as a consequence of CO2 emissions.”

    This is an exceedingly bizarre interpretation of the source document! Claussen”s quote actually says “some expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is theoretically possible”,(end quote, emphasis added) words too pessimistic for Mueller so he changed them.

    Not only does Mueller misquote Claussen, he wholly ignores the explicit warning that Claussen makes against any belief in a future green Sahara. “But he(Claussen) warns against believing the mid-Holocene climate optimum will be recreated.” This source document continues by pointing to the continuing tree-loss in the Sahel and the shrinkage of Lake Chad; this despite the improved levels of rainfall.

    Indeed, Claussen is not alone in dismissing a green Sahara.  Yet Mueller”s report concludes that a green Sahara is a distinct possibility, the exact opposite of the very authority that he claims is supporting his conclusions.

    A7 – OMISSION
    Finally, Mueller is silent about one “negative impact” of a greening Sahel. He intimates that any greening due to global warming will be permanent but this is incorrect. Climatology shows that the Sahel has a very sensitive climate such that it can be stated “with confidence” that “any greening of the Sahel and Sahara in the near future will eventually be reversed.”  The greening is unreliable. It is thus hardly an encouraging example of a “positive impact” from global warming.


     

  • Wind Powers #1 : Civitas Fictitious ?

    Posted on January 12th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    [ An extract from the online Christian Ecology Link discussion forum : 11th January 2012 ]

    The Civitas report on wind farms.

    A couple of days ago, Civitas published a report entitled, “Electricity costs: the folly of wind-power” : http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prleaelectricityprices.htm [ Download report PDF ]

    This report was produced by the Civitas economist, Ruth Lea. The report attracted a fair bit of publicity and even more antagonism from those within the renewables industry. Sadly, as usual the media have done rather less research than they should have; in particular they failed to check the background of the authorities quoted, though the Guardian did point to Lea’s views on climate change.

    The following YouTube link leads to Ruth Lea denying the significance of anthropogenic climate change and the ‘flaws’ in Britain’s expensive climate change legislation. She uses all the same sad old errors and, in so doing, limits her credibility as an effective researcher : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvmgUYGgqwU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcFfxUIRbyo

    Her comments seem to be straight out of the Chicago School mythology that economics overrides nature – the view of many scientifically illiterates.

    But it gets better, she quotes, as an authority, Dr Kees le Pair, but fails to mention that he is a member of the ‘Committee of Recommendation’ of the Fusion Energy Foundation. The development of nuclear fusion, if it happens, will require very significant investment, investment that could, perhaps, otherwise be made in wind farms and other renewables so there is an important conflict of interest that has been wholly ignored : http://www.fusionenergyfoundation.org/about-us

    This matters to all of us because it shows the dangerous level of uncritical evaluation that is made of so called scientific reports and information sources. I still remember the days past when research involved trips to libraries and hours of reading and, unless, the library had an academic connection, new information would not have been easily available.

    Perhaps it was the more difficult nature of research that made the media, and much of its audience, that much more careful. The advent of the Internet has provided for rapid transmission of information, straight to your computer or even your smartphone, but apparently at the cost of critical evaluation. So much information is available that even report writers seem to fail to check the background of their sources or the veracity of the information given by that source. Yet, that same Internet provides the means of checking and it’s far less tedious than back in the days of library visits.

    Careful use of a search engine can throw up evidence of partiality and YouTube can often confirm background beliefs that have overridden scientific evidence if not common sense. It’s not just
    in reports such as this one from Civitas but also within so many anti this, that and the other environmental groups that plague the Internet.

    Look carefully at Occupy, for example, and dig deeply enough, you will find some truly amazing YouTube material on the way in which the City of London is a part of worldwide Zionism that is somehow linked with the Vatican and Knights Templar ! Did you know that the Bank of England is owned by the Rothschilds ? The Internet, as well as giving freer voice to information also gives voice to conspiracy theorists and to the murk of prejudice. Just as it is both wrong and dangerous to spread unfounded rumours so it is to spread disinformation, so please use your search engine, take a little time and then critically assess whether this information that you have been given is likely to be both accurate and honest.

    RT

  • Open Letter to Renewable Energy Deniers

    Posted on January 10th, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    To all Renewable Energy Deniers,

    Things are getting so much better with renewable energy engineering and deployment – why do you continue to think it’s useless ?

    We admit that, at the start, energy conversion efficiencies were low, wind turbine noise was significant, kit was expensive. Not now. Wind and solar farms have been built, data collected and research published. Design modifications have improved performance.

    Modelling has helped integrate renewable energy into the grids. As renewable energy technologies have been deployed at scale, and improvements and adjustments have been made, and electricity grid networks have adapted to respond to the variable nature of the wind and the sunshine, we know, and we can show you, that renewable energy is working.

    It’s not really clear what motivates you to dismiss renewable energy. Maybe it’s because you’re instinctively opposed to anything that looks like it comes from an “envionmentalist” perspective.

    Maybe because renewable energy is mandated to mitigate against climate change, and you have a persistent view that climate change is a hoax. Why you mistrust the science on global warming when you accept the science on everything else is a continuing mystery to me.

    But if that’s where you’re coming from when you scorn developments in renewable energy, you’re making a vital mistake. You see, renewable energy is sustainable energy. Despite any collapse in the globalised economy, or disruption to fossil fuel production, wind turbines will keep spinning, and solar panels will keep glowing.

    Climate change has been hard to communicate effectively – it’s a huge volume of research, it frequently appears esoteric, or vague, or written by boffins with their heads in the clouds. Some very intelligent people are still not sure about the finer points of the effects of global warming, and so you’re keeping good company if you reserve judgement on some of the more fringe research.

    But attacking renewable energy is your final stand. With evidence from the engineering, it is rapidly becoming clear that renewable energy works. The facts are proving you wrong.

    And when people realise you’re wrong about renewable energy, they’ll never believe you again. They won’t listen to you when you express doubts about climate change, because you deny the facts of renewable energy.

    Those poor fools who have been duped into thinking they are acting on behalf of the environment to campaign against wind farms ! Wind energy will be part of the backbone of the energy grids of the future.

    We don’t want and we can’t afford the concrete bunkers of deadly radioactive kettles and their nasty waste. We don’t want and we can’t afford the slag heaps, dirty air and melting Arctic that comes from burning coal for power. We don’t want and we can’t afford to keep oil and Natural Gas producing countries sweet – or wage war against them to keep the taps open.

    Instead we want tall and graceful spinners, their gentle arms waving electricity from the breeze. We want silent and dark photovoltaic cladding on every roof.

    Burning things should only be done to cover for intermittency in wind and sunshine. Combustion is very inefficient, yet you support combustion when you oppose renewable energy.

    We must fight waste in energy, and the rising cost of energy, and yet you don’t support the energy resources where there is no charge for fuel. Some would say that’s curmudgeonly.

    When you oppose renewable energy, what is it you’re fighting for ? The old, inefficient and poisonous behemoths of coal hell ? We who support renewable, sustainable energy, we exchange clunky for sleek, toxic for clean. We provide light and comfort to all, rich and poor.

    When you oppose renewable energy, you are being unbelievably gullible – you have swallowed an argument that can ruin our economy, by locking us into dependency on energy imports. You are passing up the chance to break our political obedience to other countries, all because wind turbines clutter up your panoramic view when you’re on holiday.

    You can question the net energy gain from wind power, but the evidence shows you to be incorrect.

    If you criticise the amount of investment and subsidy going into renewable energy, you clearly haven’t understood the net effect of incentivisation in new technology deployment.

    Renewable energy has a positive Net Present Value. Wind turbines and solar panels are genuine assets, unlike the liabilities that are coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors.

    Renewable energy deployment will create meaningful, sustainable employment and is already creating wealth, not only in financial terms, but in social welfare terms too.

    Renewable energy will save this country, so why do you knock it ?

    Quizzically yours,

  • Methane Concentrations : Losing Control

    Posted on January 9th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Every once in a while, it’s good to remind myself of the data – to help me focus once again on why I do what I do.

    Yesterday evening, I decided to catch up on exactly how out of control atmospheric methane concentrations are in the region around the Arctic :-

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov

    When reviewing the charts, the secondmost important thing to see is the high point measurements, the peaks, rising over time.

    The most vital thing to observe, however, is the inexorable rise of the minimum measurements since around 2007 – which implies a higher overall background atmospheric methane concentration.

    Much of this methane explosion can probably be blamed on global warming from excessive carbon dioxide emissions – which showed signs of coming under control between 1990 and 2000, but after that lifted off once more.

    People dispute why carbon dioxide emissions have risen consistently and sharply since the turn of the millenium – but one of the answers is to be found in the rapid deployment of coal-burning for power generation. Stronger environmental controls on air quality have reduced the health impacts of coal-burning, but mean that the net effect is stronger global warming.

    So much could be done to alleviate the strong warming of the Arctic, and prevent dangerous instabilities. It is time to say it – and keep on saying it – and not relent – every measure to keep the Arctic cool is urgent.

  • Alchemic for the people

    Posted on January 2nd, 2012 Jo No comments

    I was less than a metre above current sea level, rooting about in the holy bookshelves of my Evangelical host, searching for a suitable title.

    I pulled out “Who Made God ?” from underneath a pile of books on their sides, letting the column slump downwards, alerting my companions to the fact that I had definitively made my choice for the evening’s reading.

    We were treated to gentle Christmassy music for an hour or so as we all gave up talking to read by candlelight and compact fluorescent.

    I didn’t read fast, as at first I didn’t have my newly-necessary reading glasses, and when I was encouraged to fetch them, the light was too dim to make reading easy. Those fashionable uplighters.

    I read into the second part, and I had already formed in my mind several disagreements with the author, Professor Edgar Andrews, despite him having taken several good lines of reasoning and made some humourous points which I had duly responded to with a slight audible giggle.

    I instinctively didn’t like his pitch about the impossibility of organic chemistry and I froze a little : personally I see no need for God’s personal, literal, physical intervention to make the ladders and spirals of genes – the DNA and RNA forming from the appropriate nucleotide bases – A, T, G, C.

    And then the book’s author blew away his credibility, for me, at least, by getting bogged down in the absolutes of Physics, and ignoring Chemistry. He quoted the Laws of Thermodynamics, and claimed Entropy as proof that God doesn’t play dice because he’s in the garage playing mechanic. The direction of the universe, the arrow of time, plays towards randomness, the author of the book proclaimed. Order cannot come from inorganic matter – Life is the organising force.

    At this, I took several forms of dispute, and immediately found in my mind the perfect counter-example – the formation of crystals from saturated solution – the building of the stalgamite and stalagtite from the sedimentary filtering of rainwater. Another example, I think, is chiral forms of molecular compounds – some chemicals behave in different ways if formed lefthandedly or righthandedly. The different forms behave predictably and consistently and this is an ordered behaviour that I believe – without the necessary university instruction in Chemistry – is an imposed denial of chaos.

    In fact, the whole of Chemistry, its world of wonder in alchemy, I think points to a kind of natural negation of the Laws of Physics. There is the Micro World, where Newton, and more introspectively, Einstein, are correct in their theoretical pragmas. But in the Macro World, there is Chemistry, and there are precursor compounds to organic essentials. Life forms itself from dead stone. For a Physicist this is “just not cricket”, it is a whole new universe.

    Why can Aluminium be used for containers in microwave ovens, but steel cannot ? And why is Aluminium so light ? Why does water expand when it freezes ? Here the Physicists can help out. But they cannot, when it comes to explaining, or even accurately predicting, all the chemical properties of alloys and compounds.

    I have been pondering, in a crude, uneducated way, about industrial chemistry for the last couple of months. How large volume reactions are encouraged, catalysed. How fluids work. How gases breathe. My conclusion is that most chemical engineering is a bit brutish, like the workings of the internal combustion engine. Things are a tad forced. It is probably not possible for chemical engineers to replicate photosynthesis entirely – it’s too dainty for them. But that is the kind of chemistry we need to overcome our climate and energy problems.

    We may not be able to match the leaves on the trees, but we can do gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics, and it is gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics that will save the planet. Electricity to replace much fuel. Semiconductor physics to bypass photosynthesis. And Renewable Gas chemistry – engineering the chemical building blocks of the future and providing backup to the other green energies.

  • The Storm

    Posted on December 30th, 2011 Jo No comments

    On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.

    There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.

    On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.

    “Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”

    The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.

    However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.

    We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.

    “I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”

  • Clicking with Climate

    Posted on December 5th, 2011 Jo 3 comments

    Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

    Human beings have two brains. The first is a self-centred workhorse of pragmatic decision-making, interested in social engagement in order to further individual interests – whether those interests are purely for personal enrichment or for the reward of the social group more widely.

    The second human brain is a relativistic engine, constantly comparing, reflecting, analysing. We are concerned about other peoples’ emotional response, wondering what other people think about us, responding to peer group pressure.

    Are we more successful, popular than others ? Do people listen to us more than others ? We know we’re right, but do they ? We need to pitch ourselves in the right way. We jostle for pole position, for a place on the platform, hoping not to make too many opponents, whilst making more converts to our point of view.

    Personally, I don’t listen to my second brain very often. As a social animal, I hope I’m tolerant, and my priorities in interpersonal engagement are mutual empowerment, transparent collaboration and inclusion. In my public projection, I’m not trying to vaunt myself over others, or massage my image for approval, or put up a fake facade. You get me, you get direct.

    But I can’t avoid the second human brain entirely – as it is the reason for a lot of fuzziness in our view of the world around us. It’s too easy to stir doubt, falsehoods and bad ideas into the collective cake mix of society, where it fizzes into a bubbling mess. In matters of climate change science and energy engineering, there are no grey areas for me. But for a number of people I know, these are subjects of much confusion, denial and disinformation.

    People hold on to the totem of what other people think. And so you have even very intelligent social commentators reciting from paid-for public relations by companies and business pressure groups. Journalists often do not appear to understand the difference between pseudo-science and real live science. There are too many people selling unrealistic, unworkable technological “solutions”, particularly in energy, so it’s hard to know what to accept and what to dismiss.

    Yet it is critical to know what rock, what branch to keep a hold of in the flood of information that could sweep us away. The social construction of climate change is an important edifice, a safe house in an information world at war with itself. What high wind can sweep away the grubby pages of non-science from the Daily Mail ? What rising sea can cleanse the Daily Telegraph of its climate change denial columnists ? What can stop the so-called Global Warming Policy Foundation from infecting the Internet with their contrarian position ? What can make us accept the reality and urgency of global warming ? How can we learn to click with climate change ?

    Three significant academic thinkers on the social significance of climate change are launching new works at the British Library in London, on 16th January 2012. The British Sociological Association have invited Mike Hulme, John Urry and Gordon Walker to discuss chapters from their recent books which address the question – where next for society and climate change ?

    In the words of Chris Shaw at the University of Sussex, “they pull no punches in their analyses, and their approach is based on years of research into the social dimensions of the climate change debate. This is an essential opportunity for all those interested in bringing climate change into the democratic sphere, to help understand the issues involved in such a transition. It is also a chance to discuss the ideas with the authors and other delegates.”

    For more information, see here and here.

  • Climategate 2011 : It’s like déjà vu, all over again

    Posted on November 23rd, 2011 Jo 6 comments

    If I had funding of the order of £494,625.00, I wouldn’t waste most of it on legal costs, I would spend it on a decent communications campaign – something fresh and not smelling of two year old turkey sandwiches.

    Climategate 2011 ? It all smells like déjà vu, all over again. It’s so fresh, it’s practically putrid. Who’s going to take this seriously ?

    If I were to have a word with the media outreach team of the organisation behind Climategate, I’d recommend they try climbing up the strategy ladder a bit. As Michael E. Mann says, this latest “release” of electronic mail, that is actually several years out of date, is “pathetic“.

    Electronic mail is informal – it does not constitute official publication of facts or figures. It is not formal research; it is “free speech” dialogue, protected under numerous laws in many jurisdictions. For the climate change sceptics to base their arguments against climate change science on the basis of climate change scientists’ e-mail is ridiculous. No, it’s worse than ridiculous, it’s laugh-out-loud weak. Anyone who has been drawn into the Climategate narrative is not thinking very carefully, or they would realise how tendentious and flimsy it is.

    Look guys, we’ve had the inquiries, the reports, the investigations, the debates. You lost. Get over it. The climate change scientists have done nothing wrong. Start reading the actual science instead of the trumped-up nothing-there scandal.

    Global Warming is a fact. It’s caused by excessive human greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s causing damages around the world. It’s going to get worse – much worse – if we don’t have an integrated policy response.

    All the recommendations of the economists have failed. All the international negotiations have so far failed. Many of the promises of the technologists have failed.

    My dear climate change sceptics and skeptics, we need to pull together to resolve this. All your carping, speculation and stirring the pot isn’t helping. Can you please find some arguments that have a foundation in reality; proposals that can contribute something positive – or just get out of the road – you’re snarling up the traffic of genuine progress.

  • Another Meeting I Will Not Be Attending

    Posted on November 21st, 2011 Jo No comments

    What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.

    Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.

    But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.


    Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.

    He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.

    And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.

    How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?

  • Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

    Posted on November 21st, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    Yes, indeed they are. Everyone is entitled to hold their own particular opinion. In this democracy of ideas, every longshot, wingnut, bonehead, rogue, charlatan, conspiracy theorist, crank, crony and astroturfer should be permitted access to the microphone on the stage. If we hold a public meeting about immigration, we should, of course, invite a white supremicist, a member of the British National Party, and a Daily Mail journalist to offer us their wise words. If we hold a sociological symposium on the Second World War, we should of course invite a Holocaust-denier. If an engineering conference, a cold fusion-in-a-test-tube enthusiast. Of course we should provide balance, as much balance as possible, and offer wisdom, insight and rant from all ends of all spectra. It’s only reasonable.

    It therefore goes without question that somebody from the Global Warming Policy Foundation “think tank”, so copiously and generously sponsored by a person or persons unknown, should be invited to speak on the platform, or in a panel, at a well-funded quasi-establishment meeting on Climate Change. Regardless of a complete lack of training in atmospheric physics, or even knowledge of the span of the last five years in the science of global warming, naturally, a GWPF man must be invited by GovToday to a presitigious conference to be held on 29th November 2011 in the City of London grandly entitled “2011 Carbon Reduction : The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy”.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Slaying the Climate Ghouls

    Posted on October 31st, 2011 Jo 3 comments
    They may have been BESTed, but the climate change denier spooks and ghouls are still fluttering about like deranged rabid bats. Here is a draft of a letter I am considering sending to somebody in an organisation under which I serve…

    31st October 2011

    Dear XXXXXXXXXXX,

    It seems to me that you are labouring under several false impressions of the consensus in science regarding global warming and climate change. For example, you do not appear to accept that global warming is taking place, a fact that is evidenced by over a century of data. And as another example, you do not appear to accept that global warming is causing climate change, a scientific reality evidenced by countless studies. However, I’m not going to guide you to the peer-reviewed science for those points. All I want to do in this particular communication is offer you a popular critique of one of your key arguments, and challenge you to check your sources.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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 »

  • China Launches : Space Republic

    Posted on October 1st, 2011 Jo No comments

    China has launched Tiangong-1, the “Heavenly Palace“, and demonstrated an international co-operative republic of space in the making. Many technologists, scientists, engineers and military personnel in the major economies will have taken part in the coordination of this project.

    Three things come to mind. First of all, China are going to experience a massive drain on domestic economic and social development in pursuit of its programme to set up a space station. Some could say this is deliberate, and that China has been convinced to spend on space to keep them from world economic dominance.

    Next, the Chinese are obviously going to set up Earth monitoring systems, and are going to find out that everything the Americans have said about environment and climate, based on the data from the NASA, NOAA and UAH satellites and space occupation, is accurate; and wonder why they were convinced of the possibility of the alternative, and the necessity of going up there to find out for themselves.

    And thirdly, the Chinese are going to find that they are drawn into the American and United Nations economic and military security programmes, monitoring common “enemies” – such as those breaking carbon treaties and constructing disallowed nuclear power stations.

    So, not a space republic – not even a space race. More, a space replication, repeating what’s already been done before. A giant public works project that should keep the hardworking Chinese people proud for a moment.

    Happy Birthday, China !

  • We Need To Talk About Delingpole

    Posted on July 6th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    James Delingpole clearly hasn’t heard of Global Dimming – a phenomenon successfully attributed to airborne particles – usually called “aerosols” in the scientific literature. It was featured in a Horizon programme, I think, which aired on the television several years ago now, in 2007, if I recall correctly, and it’s since been cached in YouTube, and unsurprisingly even has its own Wikipedia page, where I think James could start a proper education :-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLfBXRPoHRc
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e_XBwPHqz8
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueaib127Ebk
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayd5R2NkVcA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA74df19bWs

    At the present, Delingpole seems to think that it’s somehow news that Chinese economic development is connected to increased dirt in the sky, and that this has a temporary dampening effect on Global Warming until the microscopic gritty bits fall out of the air into some unlucky kiddie’s lungs.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • George Monbiot : New Clear

    Posted on July 5th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    It is a newer, clearer tone that George Monbiot uses in his piece The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. He seems to have lost his dirty annoyance with filthy anti-nuclear activists and moved onto a higher plane of moral certitude, where the air is cleaner and more refined.

    He is pro-technology, but anti-industry. For him, the privately owned enterprises of atomic energy are the central problem that has led to accidents both of a radioactive and an accountancy nature. “Corporate power ?”, he asks, “No thanks.” The trouble is, you can’t really separate the failings of nuclear power from the failings of human power. It’s such a large, complex and dangerous enterprise that inevitably, human power systems compromise the use of the technology, regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned. For a small amount of evidence, just look at the history of publicly-managed nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Not exactly peachy. And as for those who claimed that a “free” market approach to managing nuclear power would improve matters – how wrong they were. In my view, on the basis of the evidence so far, nobody can claim that nuclear power can be run as an efficient, safe, profit-making venture.

    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…

  • Mark Lynas : Mutant Ninja

    Posted on June 15th, 2011 Jo 3 comments

    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 !

  • Retour au Latour

    Posted on June 8th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    In the realm of conspiracy theories, one branch is particularly difficult to unseat – suppositions of technological risks to health – or what I am naming “technocankery”, since a good number of them attribute cancer to the use of technology. Why, it is clear to see : cancer is caused by small, unseen mutations, and it’s hard to pinpoint causal effects. “Carcinogen” is therefore a useful accusation to hurl at any technology you don’t like, even if you have no proof or evidence.

    But we’re doing science. How we know what we know is through a long chain of experimentation and monitoring, data gathering that can lead to reasonable claims that can then be subject to further testing and assessing. People rightly assert that we need to keep our minds open to possibilities unconceived, or mistakes unknowingly trodden. As the Dalai Lama Tweeted 25th May 2011 : “To arrive at certainty, you need to start from a skeptical posture. The best scientists are impartial, not swayed by their own beliefs.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Renewable Gas #2 : Fugitive urban emissions

    Posted on May 28th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas, although it’s the one most scientists worry about on the long term scale. Its diversion out of deep storage into the active global carbon cycle is causing global warming, and that, the evidence strongly shows, is causing widespread and disruptive climate change.

    But in short timeframes, methane is the gas on everybody’s worried lips. The sources of methane are affected by global warming, and methane emissions cause strong global warming in the short term, so it’s a positively augmenting feedback, self-amplifying, and causing grave concern in many environmental policy seminars.

    People often point the finger at the digestive systems of ruminant livestock when they want to pinpoint a scapegoat for rising methane emissions, but they should perhaps look closer to their own bathrooms and kitchens and their underfloor gas pipelines.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Is this the return of El Nino ?

    Posted on April 19th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Click here for the Weekly ENSO advisory.

    It seems possible that the Pacific is returning to neutral El Nino conditions, or possibly a full-blown El Nino. If total solar irradiance is increasing due to a renewed sun cycle, an emerging El Nino this Northern Hemisphere summer could make for scorching temperatures.

    To add to the aggravation, the Earth’s energy imbalance is leading to higher surface temperatures still, despite ocean cycling of heat to the depths and atmospheric aerosol effects on radiation equilibrium.

    James Hansen of NASA and his colleagues are arguing for better measurements of the effect that airborne particulates are having, and sounding the warning siren yet again about Global Warming and the time delay between increased radiative forcing and increased surface warming.

    The globe is warming. It hasn’t stopped, and it isn’t getting any cooler. As time goes by, the science becomes ever more verified :-

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110415_EnergyImbalancePaper.pdf

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/

  • Sunshine power

    Posted on April 19th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

    Solar photovoltaic cells based on semiconductor transistor junctions are becoming cheaper, more efficient and more widely relied upon. Mankind can thrive, drinking in the sunshine.

    Yet, the solar power technology of today could still become a minor footnote if there is a revolution in Physics or Chemistry :-

    http://socialbarrel.com/solar-power-discovery-dims-future-of-photovoltaic-cells/6382/

    “Solar Power Discovery Dims Future of Photovoltaic Cells : Posted by Francis Rey on April 18, 2011 : University of Michigan researchers made a breakthrough discovery on the behavior of light, which could alter solar technology from now on. Professor Stephen Rand, Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Physics and Applied Physics, and William Fisher, an Applied Physics doctoral student, found out that light, when traveling [sic] through a nonconductive material, such as glass, at the right intensity can produce magnetic fields 100 million times stronger than previously deemed possible. During these conditions, the magnetic field has enough strength to equal a strong electric effect, producing an “optical battery” that leads to “a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation”, Rand said…”

    http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/04/13/um-says-solar-power-without-solar-cells-is-possible/

    http://solar.calfinder.com/blog/solar-research/harnessing-solar-power-without-cells/

    Mmm, love that solar radiation !