Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

I was speaking to a nuclear power “waverer” the other day. They said that George Monbiot or Mark Lynas was saying that since Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, Germany’s Carbon Dioxide emissions will increase, because they will be using coal and Natural Gas power stations :-

http://www.davidstrahan.com/blog/?p=1130
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20665-germany-will-use-fossil-fuels-to-plug-nuclear-gap.html
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/germany-italy-greens-nukes-and-climate-change/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/15/italy-nuclear-referendum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/04/nuclear-industry-stinks-cleaner-energy
http://www.monbiot.com/2011/07/04/corporate-power-no-thanks/

I explained that this was a common misconception, and that Germany is still planning to meet their carbon targets, and that it can be done even with coal and gas power plants because in a few decades’ time the coal and Natural Gas power plants will only be used a couple of weeks a year in total to back up all the renewables, such as wind power and solar power, that Germany is building.

This is not the end of the story, however.

Continue reading Renewable Gas #5 : Beyond Biogas

What I Do, I Do For My Country

Recently, pro-nuclear, anti-wind power climate change-sceptic and early publisher of Resurgence magazine, Hugh Sharman, announced to the Claverton Energy Research Group forum that he had been published in European Energy Review. “The clock is ticking”, reads the headline, “Energy policy has become a hotly debated topic in the UK. No country in Europe has more ambitious climate change goals. But the UK has taken few concrete steps yet. It is estimated that £200 billion is required until 2020 to start the UK on the its energy transformation. […] Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is expected to come out with a White Paper setting out the framework that should persuade utilities and investors to sign on to the government’s vision. Will it work? Energy consultant Hugh Sharman has grave doubts. With some like-minded specialists, he has started a website bringing together people who are alarmed at the UK’s energy situation. He […] sketches a sombre perspective…”

Continue reading What I Do, I Do For My Country

Natural Gaza (4)

What’s wrong with this map ? Yes, the same old question. And the answer is again the same – the lack of geographical accuracy in the map reflects the lack of legal accuracy on the part of Israel in appropriating marine Natural Gas that belongs to the Palestinian Gaza Strip.

The map is taken from a new research paper by Brenda Shaffer, of the School of Political Sciences at the University of Haifa, which has been accepted for publication in Energy Policy at some point in the near future :-

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421511004113
“Energy Policy : Article in Press, Corrected Proof : doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.05.026 : Israel – New natural gas producer in the Mediterranean : Brenda Shaffer : Received 7 November 2010; accepted 16 May 2011. Available online 2 June 2011”

Continue reading Natural Gaza (4)

George Monbiot : New Clear

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.

Continue reading George Monbiot : New Clear

Venezuela : The New Frenemy

What if Venezuela is America’s new “frenemy” – the oil-producing trading friend that the United States just loves to hate ? They might not have an appetite or budget for military intervention, but considering the fossil fuel resources locked away under Venezuelan soil and sea, they might just be pleased at a change in the regime – and only one person would need to be removed to make that happen…

Since the economic sanctions were imposed on Venezuela by the USA, for trading with Iran, several very interesting events have transpired, several of them on the same day, 8 June 2011.

Continue reading Venezuela : The New Frenemy

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…

Glenn Beck : “Dangerous and Evil”

http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/glenn-beck/transcript/beck-americas-energy-under-attack

Thank you, Coal.

Thank you for the asthma, the mercury, the mountain top removal, the birth defects, the mine fatalities, the grossly inefficient electricity networks, the lack of investment in electricity networks, the smog, the heat, and above all, thank you for giving us Glenn Beck, on a platter – this is so much fun to watch !

Mark Lynas : Turn Turtle

from : Jo Abbess
to : Mark Lynas
cc : George Monbiot
date : Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 8:07 PM
subject : You may not have properly understood Germany’s energy plan

Dear Mark,

From where I’m sitting, you appear not to have understood Germany’s energy plan, which centres on ramping up and rolling out as much renewable energy as possible.

You are quoted, and write :-

http://us.arevablog.com/2011/06/16/quote-of-the-day-42/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/15/italy-nuclear-referendum

“If the German greens really took climate change seriously, they would instead be pushing for a phase-out of coal – which generates by far the largest proportion of the country’s power and consequent carbon emissions – from Germany’s electricity grid. Instead, the new nuclear phase-out plan will see a hefty 11GW of new coal plants built in years to come, with an additional 5GW of new gas. The only way emissions from these plants could be controlled would be through “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) – yet Greenpeace in Germany has already mounted a successful scaremongering campaign against this new technology, helping to ensure that future fossil emissions will go into the atmosphere unabated.”

How does having strong renewable energy ambition sit with commissioning new coal power plants ?

Well, as you probably know, the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine – hence back up is required. Nuclear power cannot back up wind power or solar power because it is not very flexible.

Coal and gas are easily stored, and coal and gas power plants can be kept awaiting use as and when required by renewable lulls.

There is no point in fitting Carbon Capture (and eventually Storage) to coal fired power plants if they’re only going to be used for occasional wind back up – too expensive. And the tests are showing problems. And even though it’s claimed that CCS can take away 90% of the emissions, it’s more like 85% because CCS uses more coal fuel.

It would be better if Germany opted totally for new gas plant for their wind back up, but they appear to not want to be big importers of fossil fuels, so they’ve gone mostly for coal which they can mine, at a pinch, at home. In the UK we’re going for gas, because we believe in continued good relations with Qatar (via the House of Saud ?) and Russia (via BP ?)

The amount of time that coal and gas plants will be in use when renewable energy is fully developed in Gemany will be days per year in total. So in 20 years time when they’ve built all their wind and solar, they get to meet their carbon targets and still have operational coal and gas plant for when necessary.

How is it that you’ve missed this central plank of their policy ?

On the one hand, I could be asked to excuse this lapse of reasoning on your part – as far as I know you haven’t trained as an energy engineer, so how could you be expected to understand load balancing and load following in the real world ?

On the other hand, you’ve just written a book extolling the virtue of nuclear engineering, in effect dismissing the sensible decisions that Germany and other countries have taken, so I cannot let this pass by without commenting.

Sorry to report it, but you’ve just made it into my Little Book of The World’s Most Annoying Men because you appear to have no idea about the pitfalls of nuclear power, you do not seem to understand other approaches to the energy crisis; and in addition, you have built a generalist argument concocted from stereotypes to make the green movement the punch bag for your position. When I read a similar irrational rant in Anthony Giddens’ book “The Politics of Climate Change”, I became so angry, my reptile-inherited brain took over, and I threw the book across the room.

Why, I ask myself, are you following in Giddens’ footsteps and becoming so reactionary ? Are you adopting the position of George Monbiot, who seems to be evolving into a curmudgeon ?

I shall not be buying your new book, because your arguments are, to my mind, faulty.

Regards,

jo.

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 !

Adam Curtis : Daft Punk

[ UPDATE : BRILLIANT DECONSTRUCTION OF ADAM CURTIS’ WORK FROM BEN WOODHAMS ]

The final part (I really hope it is the final part) of Adam Curtis’ trilogy on “Evil” Computers and “Devillish” Enviromentalists – “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” – a title drawn from a poem written by what would appear to be a madman – has now been uploaded to YouTube, allowing me to view it without taking part in the memory-eating public monitoring disappointment that is BBC iPlayer :-

Adam Curtis certainly reveals himself as a little monkeyish in this episode, throwing overarm and underhand javelins at “liberals” of all hues and cries, particularly environmental ones; and throwing in liberal references to primates wherever he can, seemingly to suggest that mankind has un- or de-evolved by adopting computing tools and studying the natural world.

Continue reading Adam Curtis : Daft Punk

Retour au Latour

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.”

Continue reading Retour au Latour

Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

I’m looking quizzical, rubbing my chin. Adam Curtis appears to have lost control of his mind, or at the very least, is showing signs of unhealthy self contradiction. Where are the checks and balances ?

At the start of Part 2 of “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, he unpicks, and, I would suggest, stamps on, the idea that ecosystems are networks of feedback loops, tending to re-balance. And then at the end of the same presentation, he asserts that human revolutions fail, and society folds in on itself and returns to the state of power and control it was in before. Now which is it to be, Adam Curtis ? Self-correcting stability or non-correcting ebbs, flows and shifting sands ?

Continue reading Adam Curtis : Chaotically Unstable

No Connection

Many news articles now follow a predictable path. Some awe-inspiring, statistics-shaking weather event hits town – in the case of Joplin, literally. Then some people muse about whether these extreme events could have anything to do with Global Warming. Then some other people smother the idea very publicly. “No one weather event can be attributed to Climate Change !”, they insist, and yes, in the grand scheme of things they’re right – you cannot say for certain that one freak tornado, hurricane, flood or storm can be cast iron guaranteed to have been caused by atmospheric heating and increased sky water vapour. There is No Connection, official, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and donate to a worthy clean-up cause.

Continue reading No Connection

George Monbiot bites Thorium bait

George Monbiot in his new role as an apologist for the twice-bailed-out-of-insolvency British Nuclear Power industry, has now taken the Thorium bait, quite probably the most well-funded piece of astroturfing propaganda in existence :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/09/coalition-greatest-threat-to-environment

“This ‘greenest government ever’ is the greatest threat yet to our environment : The coalition is preparing to bin Britain’s climate change targets. After all, ministers have corporate sponsors to take care of : George Monbiot, guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 May 2011”

“…we should start considering other options for decarbonising the electricity supply: especially new nuclear technologies such as thorium, integral fast reactors or travelling wave reactors…”

“New”, George, “new” ? The only thing that’s “new” is the desperate rush to try Thorium power out, now that there are doubts about “classic” nuclear reactor design. Here’s what James Birkin has to say over at the Claverton forum, where they have real energy experts discussing Thorium reactors :-

Continue reading George Monbiot bites Thorium bait

Nuclear power price fudge

[ UPDATE : E-MAIL FROM THE COMMITTEE ON CLIMATE CHANGE POINTS TO THE SECOND DOCUMENT – AND IT’S DEFINITELY A FUDGE ON “CAPEX” – SEE PAGE viii FOR EXAMPLE ]

Today’s publication of the UK Government Committee on Climate Change’s “The Renewable Energy Review” report seems to me to contain some fudge on the cost of nuclear power.

Almost everybody agrees that the current cost of generating nuclear power from existing reactors and plant is reasonable. There are questions about how much, exactly, it’s going to cost to decommission ageing reactors as they become dangerous, and there are also questions about how much it’s really, really going to cost to safely “dispose” of the radioactive waste from over 50 years of nuclear electrical generation. Even so, the operations and maintenance costs, the “O&M” costs of keeping nuclear power stations ticking over is fairly reasonable – unless there are unplanned “outages”, or radioactive accidents, or problems with the price of uranium fuel…happily, these added burdens can be kept off the balance sheets for the most part.

However, it is in projecting the real costs of new nuclear power, from shiny, spanking, new glistening, glowing concrete reactors, that deep and discomforting questions arise, and the CCC report, I think, I’m sorry to say, fudges the issue.

Continue reading Nuclear power price fudge

One wedding and several funerals

[ UPDATE : SEVERAL NEW PLAUSIBLE FACTOIDS HAVE EMERGED NECESSITATING CHANGES. ]

Jubilant scenes across New York as mass flag-waving breaks out to celebrate.

Are they congratulating Wills and Kate ? The Americans probably reviewed the TV ratings for the right royal wedding and decided they too needed something to boost the morale of the nation. So they went and killed Osama Bin Laden.

Or not. He could have been dead for days, because the plans were made weeks ago. Was he killed pre-emptively ahead of the collective British regal marital hysteria ? Why did the young newlyweds ship out to an “undisclosed location” instead of jetting off on honeymoon, pronto ? Was there a “credible threat” made on their lives in retaliation at the death of the Al Qaeda spiritual leader ? Or was an unarmed Osama bin Laden murdered by a surprise military attack at night at his family home after an Al Qaeda threat was made on Prince William and his new wife ? You have to admit the timing of the news is interesting…

Bin Laden “buried at sea” ? Yeah, right. If his body was dumped at sea, that could cause considerable affront to his supporters, but at least it would cover the fact that he had been dead for well over 24 hours, which would be an even worse affront according to Muslim burial traditions. If the body was no longer fresh enough for a photo shoot a hypothetical burial is necessary, one that can obscure the facts from international cameras and mobile phones. The Americans sent in a hit squad rather than dropping bombs from drones. Why go in person ? To make sure they have video and photographic evidence of the killing to show to Hillary Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama a few days later ? And by what moral and legal justification did Barack Hussein Obama issue a kill order instead of capturing Osama bin Laden for trial for his alleged crimes against humanity ?

Meanwhile, back in Libya, several other funerals have taken place after a NATO bombing raid in Tripoli, at night, targeting the Gaddafi family home, the victims of which included a son and some grandchildren of Colonel Gaddafi (and possibly even Muammar Gaddafi, the Brother Leader, himself, was killed too, although we don’t know that for sure yet) and sparked massive protest, which may lead to foreign troops “on the ground” to “finish off” the war – maybe disguised by gas masks, or under cover of enacting war crimes warrants. Various world leaders have declared they want to see the end of the current regime in Libya. NATO might be used to protect energy supplies. It could get a whole lot nastier now. What had Libya and Libya’s leader done to deserve this ? Declare energy independence ? :-

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/67d1d02a-5314-11e0-86e6-00144feab49a.html#axzz1LD4mxQ1w
“Oil companies fear nationalisation in Libya : By Sylvia Pfeifer and Javier Blas in London : Published: March 20 2011 : Western oil companies operating in Libya have privately warned that their operations in the country may be nationalised if Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s regime prevails. Executives, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the rapidly moving situation, believe their companies could be targeted, especially if their home countries are taking part in air strikes against Mr Gaddafi. Allied forces from France, the UK and the US on Saturday unleashed a series of strikes against military targets in Libya…”

Osama bin Laden was arguing for a end to foreign interference in Arab territories, which naturally would have involved reasserting national control of oil and gas resources, and retaining wealth in the countries of origin. And many western strategists believe that this “threat” should never be allowed to happen. Osama bin Laden, in poor health, had probably negotiated a deal where he was allowed to live peacefully in retirement, but things changed, and the American Navy stormed his house at night and killed him and attacked his family. If the United States go after a sick man, and nearly murder his wife just because she happened to be in the way when they shot him (no taking prisoners, then), what will they do now ? Take out Pakistan for harbouring him (even though they agreed to host Osama bin Laden’s retirement in the first place) ? Or cut international aid intended for disaster relief in Pakistan ? It is now a distinct possibility that by encouraging universal joy over the death of the “sinner” bin Laden, a great piece of media entertainment, the world audience is being warmed up for overpowering violence against Libya, whipped up by American hawks. The deal breakers. All the wrong actions for all the wrong reasons.

And what did Barack Hussein Obama say ? “No Americans were harmed“, whilst “bringing Osama bin Laden to justice…Justice has been done“. Internal moral compasses may flinch at these words. Justice normally involves a court of law, not the President of the United States watching an “enemy of America” being liquidated on a secure webcam. Two victims of extensive and enduring negative American propaganda have been attacked with full military might whilst tucked up in bed at home. Who’s next ? Julian Assange ? Hugo Chavez ? Some other man made out to be a demon ? And while Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader in the United Kingdom says the world is now a “safer place”, Americans are being issued with travel advisories.

The spoils of war

See the rest of Gaddafi’s speech to the United Nations here

When did Colonel Muammar Gaddafi learn of threats from the world’s major oil consumer countries against his rule ? Was it in early 2011 ? Or was it several years earlier ? On the public stage, he has been deliberately reduced to a figure of fun, and his message advising non-aggression and protection from aggression is being lost. He is now a desperate man :-

http://www.youtube.com/?v=DTjpdUiILDw

Continue reading The spoils of war