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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:

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 :-

“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 :-

“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 :-
“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 :-
“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.

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…

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Flashback 2008 : Who Pays for the Re-Powering ?

2nd November 2008

Browsing at a newsagent on a mainline railway station…

The question on the front cover of Fortune magazine, Europe edition Number 20, November 2008, already on the stands is “Who Pays for The Bailout ? You do, of course”. Of course, as this Credit Crunch means Bailout argument plays out, the issue of Energy and Climate Change is lost. But the question should be all about how to create a new green economy. Who pays for the re-powering ?

A sign of the greening times – another story teaser on the Fortune magazine advises “10 Green Stocks to Own Now”, and the front of the Independent on Sunday quotes Obama claiming that Energy is his “number one priority” in his bid for presidential election, with his “Apollo” project :-

“Obama’s green jobs revolution : Democrat will lead effort to curb world’s dependence on oil; Plans to create five million new posts in clean energy projects : By Geoffrey Lean in San Francisco and Leonard Doyle in Washington : Sunday, 2 November 2008 : Obama has pledged to create five million new ‘green collar jobs’ if elected : Barack Obama is promising a $150 billion “Apollo project” to bring jobs and energy security to the US through a new alternative energy economy, if his final push for votes brings victory in the presidential election on Tuesday. “That’s going to be my number one priority when I get into office,” Mr Obama has said of his “green recovery” plans. Making his arguments in a radio address yesterday, the Democratic favourite promised: “If you give me your vote on Tuesday, we won’t just win this election. Together, we will change this country and change the world.”…”

Meanwhile…Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband (and Peter Mandelson) get off the plane in Saudi and beg for investment into green energy in the UK :-

“Gulf petrodollars help UK go green : Brown calls for Saudis to give more cash to IMF : Gaby Hinsliff, political editor : The Observer, Sunday 2 November 2008 : The fight against climate change will get an unexpected boost today from oil-rich Gulf states which will pledge to invest some of their petrodollar profits in British green energy projects. The surging oil price over the past year has left parts of the Middle East awash with cash as the rest of the world is squeezed by the credit crunch, making Arab royals some of the few active investors worldwide. The Gulf states have enjoyed a $1.4 trillion windfall from higher oil prices since 2003. Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday with Gordon Brown at the start of a tour of the region. He said some of that cash would now ‘help our firms reap the rewards from going low carbon and providing green energy to thousands of families’ under a so-called ‘green Gulf deal’ to be announced today…”

But that’s not the real reason why they are there. Ostensibly, the delegation’s serious business is about asking Saudi and other Arab oil states to contribute more towards the International Monetary Fund :-

“Gordon Brown in the Middle East : Brown hopeful of Saudi cash for IMF : Allegra Stratton in Riyadh,, Sunday 2 November 2008 15.30 GMT : Gordon Brown said today he was hopeful of success in his attempts to persuade dollar-rich Gulf states to prop up ailing national economies through a massive injection of capital into the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The prime minister spent three hours in one-to-one talks with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, trying to persuade the monarch to invest in a revamped IMF. On the first leg of a four-day visit to the Middle East, and aiming to secure hundreds of billions of dollars for the fund, Brown called off a planned dinner with business leaders accompanying him so as to allow maximum negotiating time with the Saudi king. The IMF currently has around $250 billion in its emergency reserves but there are fears that, with Hungary, Iceland and Ukraine having already sought assistance and more nations expected to follow, the sum might not be sufficient. Brown hopes to persuade Gulf leaders to use some of the estimated $1 trillion they have made from high oil prices in the last few years to boost the reserves, indicating that he would like to see the current sum increased by “hundreds of billions” of dollars. The prime minister said following the talks that he was hopeful of having secured Saudi backing…”

But hang on, what’s this ? :-

“…Brown, who is accompanied by a high-level trade delegation seeking Gulf investment, including the CEOs of BP and Shell…”

What on earth are BP (formerly British Petroleum) and (Royal Dutch) Shell doing in a delegation to the Arab states begging for the IMF charity fund and green energy investment ? Is it that BP and Shell won’t pay for green energy and it’s too hard to ask the British people to pay extra tax, so they’re coming to the Arab countries for a green energy bail-in ? What is going on here ? If OPEC countries are all in the “Axis of Evil”, and no foreign oil and gas companies can get a toehold, why are BP and Shell in the government delegation to Saudi ?

Paying for new energy systems can be expensive. The European Union Emisssions Trading Scheme is saying they want 100% of carbon emissions auctioned by 2013 to pay for larger projects – Carbon Capture and Storage and new Nuclear Power. However, the costly deadweight “white elephant in the room” is not nuclear power, but dead wells.

Are they all talking about Peak Oil in the OPEC Gulf, and proposing business opportunities to the King of the House of Saud to offset the Middle East’s future total loss of business as the wells empty – offering them compensation in the form of green investment deals ? Asking the Saudis to join the green energy race now and get ahead ?

BP and Shell have benefited from the recent rise in the price of oil, profiting even as the oil price has hit millions and created impoverishment. But they’re going to have to spend a very large amount on exploration for new oil and gas from now on. So why is there still resistance to spending more on renewables ? Can BP and Shell ever be convinced to go green ? Would a barrel load of toxic news work ? No. BP and Shell can’t pay for green energy because they have to maintain the profits of their shareholders. Pensions are going to be bad enough without forcing major “British” oil companies to pay for such things as bioethanol, algae biodiesel, solar panels and wind farms.

Action to tackle climate change must be a “tight shadow” on Peak Oil and its fall – tighter than the 9.1% depletion of the largest wells projected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) To reverse the oil decline, and more so to take action on climate change, investment is required. Banks are becoming owned by oil-rich nations, but this is simply a natural outcome of poor financial regulation that led to the Credit Crunch. However, it doesn’t mean that the future will be oil and gas necessarily. This new layer of ownership of financial bodies is not significant, as it will not seriously impact the greening of energy, if people are serious about it.

What is of value here is not banking but energy itself, which underpins the entire economy. The scenario is this : Saudi Arabia will not admit in public that it’s going down because of “Peak Oil”. They would prefer to keep up the revenue, but they’re not “engineering” a reduction of supply. It’s reducing anyway.

From their perspective, allowing supplies to weaken, by not doing any new investment into raising production, would be protecting their reserves to sell in future. A good strategy – even more so as prices rise against losses of supply but strong demand (even despite the blooming recession).

I figure that what BP and Shell are doing in the Middle East is making the case to the major oil-producing states to keep on pumping.

I guess that what Gordon Brown is doing is making the Saudis an offer they can’t refuse – either the major western states will implement measures to control oil prices which would make OPEC lose revenue, or the Saudis can underwrite the global bailout.

This mission is not about green energy investment. It’s about keeping the oil flowing.

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Selling Thorium to China

Kirk Sorensen, formerly of Teledyne Brown Engineering, now of Flibe Energy

To: Claverton Energy Research Group
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 June 2011
Subject: “Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a ‘greener’ nuclear option”‏

Hi Clavertonians,

As you are, I’m sure, aware, context is everything.

I was so sure we’d escaped the clutches of the “Thorium Activist Trolls” a few years ago, but no, here they are in resurgence again, and this time they’ve sucked in George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tinsdale, all apparently gullible enough to believe the newly resurrected Generation IV hype campaign.

They should have first done their research on the old Gen IV hype campaign that withered alongside the “Hemp will Save the World, No Really” campaign and the “Biodiesel will Save the World, AND You Can Make it at Home” brigade. Oh, and the Zero Point Energy people.

I was, I admit, quite encouraged by both the Hemp and Biodiesel drives, until I realised they were a deliberate distraction from the Big Picture – how to cope with the necessity of creating an integrated system of truly sustainable energy for the future.

Hemp and Biodiesel became Internet virally transmitted memes around the same time as the Thorium concept, but where did they come from ?

Where does the Thorium meme originate from this time round ? I found some people took to it at The Register, where they spin against Climate Change science a lot – watch the clipped video :-

I would suggest that there are connections between the Thorium campaign and the anti-Climate Change science campaign, and I have some evidence, but I’m too busy to research more in-depth just now, so I’m not going to write it all up yet.

The key issues with all energy options is TIME TO DELIVERY and SCALEABILITY, and I think the option presented by the Thorium fuel cycle fails on both counts.

Yeah, sure, some rich people can devote their life savings to it, and some Departments of Defense (yes, Americans) and their corporate hangers-on can try selling ANOTHER dud technology to China (which is the basis of some Internet energy memes in my view).

Remember Carbon Capture and Storage ? The British Government were very keen on making a Big Thing about CCS – in order to sell it to the miscreant Chinese because (WARNING : CHINA MYTH) China builds 2 !! coal-fired !! power stations a week/day/month !!

THORIUM – A Brief Analysis
TIME TO DELIVERY – 20 to 50 years
USEFULNESS ASSESSMENT – virtually zero, although it could keep some people on the gravy train, and suck in some Chinese dough

The Tyndall Centre say that global emissions of greenhouse gases have to peak AT THE LATEST by 2020. We should be thinking about rolling out the technology WE ALREADY HAVE to meet that end.

Don’t believe the hype,


PS What other evidence do we have that the Thorium meme is most likely just a propaganda campaign ? Nick Griffin of the British National Party backs it, and the BNP are widely alleged to promote divisiveness…

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Steve McIntyre : Plan Beak


Steve McIntyre, probably the only person on the planet who might grumble about the cost of Barack Obama’s suit rather than his all-American wars, has suddenly become an expert energy engineer, it seems.

This month, he’s taking aim at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, regarding their special report on Renewable Energy, questioning the contributions of an engineer, Sven Teske, and basing his objections on the fact that Teske works for Greenpeace :-

Flinging any kind of pseudo-mud he can construe at the IPCC is not Steve’s newest of tricks, but it still seems to be effective, going by the dance of the close cohort of the very few remaining loyal climate change “sceptics” who get published in widely-read media :-

He even pulled the turtleneck over Andrew Revkin’s eyes for a while :-

And Mark Lynas has been joining in, in his own nit-picky way :-

The few comebacks have been bordering on the satirical, or briefly factual, with the exception of Carbon Brief’s very measured analysis of the IPCC’s communication expertise :-

Leo Hickman’s being bravely evenhanded :-

It’s not a total surprise that New Scientist and The Economist wade in deep :-

Sven Teske’s explanation has not been accepted by Mark Lynas, although it seems really OK to me :-

The Daily Mail digs out the usual emotive terms :-

Steve McIntyre is playing out the “Princess and the Pea” narrative, complaining about a few wrunkles in a process of international collaboration, and distracting us from looking at the actual report, which I would encourage you most warmly to do :-

It is full of the most incredible case studies and intriguing engineering discoveries. It makes cautious, conservative calculations, and looks at conditions and caveats in a very transparent manner. For a work that relied on the contributions of over 120 people and managed to compose a document so helpful and illuminating, I’d say it’s a work of profound achievement, and should be read in every school and university. Four scenarios from a collection of 164 are studied in depth to compare their strengths and weaknesses – and the conclusion of the SRREN team is that :-

“Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies…”

Somehow, though, Steve McIntyre believes otherwise. I suppose it’s not completely fair to berate him, because he might be suffering from a delusion, given that he seems to believe his opinion trumps that of over a hundred of the world’s authorities on what is possible in Renewable Energy technologies; and I’m the last person who would criticise somebody for having a mental illness.

I’m wondering, however, since he often sticks his nose up at IPCC matters, and since the world is suffering from stress in the supply of fossil fuels, whether he has a “Plan Beak” for the world’s energy crisis ?

Come on Steve McIntyre, tell us what your plan is to provide energy for humanity. Don’t tell me you believe that Nuclear Power is the way forward. I just won’t believe you, and a large number of the citizens of the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and help us all, even Switzerland, would share my doubts.

As everybody can clearly see from the Columbia University graph at the top of this post, the IPCC are right about emissions, and the global warming data shows they’re right about that too. Why should they be wrong about Renewable Energy ?

I mean, I detect there are a few issues with the way the IPCC organises itself, and the style of its reports, but hey, where’s the viable alternative ? I don’t see one, anywhere. And don’t go pointing me to groups with pretensions.

We may just have to get used to complex international bodies, formed of complex, intelligent people, and learn how to read their complex, intricate reports with care and attention. And not get distracted by grumpy semi-retired mining consultants.

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Mark Lynas : Dam Right

On one thing, Mark Lynas is right – the world cannot cope with more large hydropower dam projects – just look at what Rainfall Change has meant for power blackouts in South America.

However, yet again, he blurs the value of one of the central principles guiding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – inclusivity :-

Who are the experts on climate change and energy ? We need to make sense of the various voices, and for that, we need to hear them all. The IPCC is the best platform we have – it is as neutral as it is possible for a host organisation to be.

Mark Lynas has just joined the Delayers-and-Deniers club, whose agenda has moved on from trying to take down Climate Change science to taking down any organisation that could help the policy and industry situation improve.

His contributions, including this comment at, betray his unwitting complicity in a destructive agenda :-

Mark, they’re Americans. Americans believe in Free Speech. Americans are legally permitted to say anything they like, even if it has no factual basis. I know, there are lots of Canadians, Britannians and Australians in the Delayers-and-Deniers club, too, but the central point stands – all this grunting and dismissiveness about the IPCC is their way of distracting the public mind from the real problems we must face in changing the energy systems while we still have time – before it becomes a genuine crisis situation, where we can no longer act.

Who is completely independent, neutral or unbiased about Climate Change ? Who is completely independent, neutral or unbiased about Energy ?

Solving Climate Change requires solving Energy, and that requires solving the problems in democratic dialogue. The so-called Climate Change “skeptics” do not engage in forthright, honest, transparent dialogue, not even about energy. Back away from the grumblers, Mark !

I have my criticisms of the “corporate steal” of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention – issues of economic development and industrial investment have dominated the international conferences, and unworkable economics theories have snuck into the Kyoto Protocol and any other initiative you think of – including the emergence of proposals for Carbon Taxation and Carbon Trading schemes.

I also have criticisms of the communications structure within and around the IPCC – I think the IPCC reports should be written in such a way as to make sure that everybody can take in the full seriousness, urgency and momentum of what they are discussing.

Why are executives of major energy companies bothering to take part in the IPCC process ? Because they perceive that things cannot go on like they are. This is the same perception as held by those in Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations and charities.

Nominate for me a set of people who are entirely independent, who cannot have a biased opinion about the future of energy and the environment, and I will place my trust in their review of the literature on Climate Change and Renewable Energy.

Failing that, I stick with the collage produced by the multi-viewed expert panel, corporate and non-corporate, part of the IPCC. There is nothing better than a totally open forum. Maybe International Rivers want to take part in future IPCC work ? If important views are being ignored, they need to be included from now on.

Allowing the Delayers-and-Deniers to keep setting the agenda is dangerous and disabling. We’ve already seen the success they had in derailing public acceptance of Climate Change science. Their latest plans include telling us that wind power and solar power don’t work. It would be laughable, except that the mainstream media keep repeating the lies :-

Mark, your allegiance to the failing nuclear industry demonstrates that you have not understood that its promotion is one of the tactics of the Delayers-and-Deniers club to keep us from effective, long-term energy change.

By attacking anything that has the possibility of succeeding, they have a stranglehold on progress. Don’t give in to their agenda. We shouldn’t be fighting each other.

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Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

I found this excellent little CATO Institute debate somewhere in my Twitter stream, and I watched the whole of it, despite the annoying accents and speaking styles of the speakers, and the insider economics references to Pigou and Coase (they’re only theorems, you know).

I thought that Kate Gordon made some excellent rebuttals to Andrew Morriss’ whining, pedantic free marketeering, and I was with her right up until the last few frames when she said that the Center for American Progress, of course, supports a carbon tax, as this is, of course, the best way to prevent Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Such disappointment ! To find that somebody so intelligent cannot see the limitations of carbon pricing is a real let down. I tend to find that American “progressives” on the whole are rather wedded to this notion of environmental taxation, “internalising the externalities” – adding the damages from industrial activities into the cost of the industrial products. I do not see any analysis of the serious flaws in this idea. Just what are they drinking ? What’s in the Kool-Aid ?

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The “red tape” challenge

So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?

He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.

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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 :-

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The Cost of a Tankful

[ UPDATE : The windfall tax on the oil and gas companies is going to amount to £2 billion, not £10 billion – and George Osborne is going to watch them “like a hawk” to make sure there’s “no funny business” and that they don’t pass on the cost of the tax to their vehicle fuel customers. Yeah, right. Like, when are people going to wake up and realise market tinkering won’t help ? We need “big number” public investment in sustainable fuels and sustainable vehicle technologies, not efforts to massage fuel duty to appease vocal petrolheads. ]

Let’s see now…how’s the price of a gallon of fuel today ?

Well, the fuel duty escalator has been scrapped for the rest of this UK Parliament.

Plus, fuel duty has been decreased by 1 pence per litre.

This will gladden the hearts of many who have campaigned against the scorching taxes on fuel costs to motorists.

But Value Added Tax for fuel hasn’t been brought down – because the UK Government said it would be illegal under EU law to cut VAT specifically for fuel.

None of these measures announced in today’s UK Budget will stop the price of vehicle fuel from rising further with the markets, unfortunately, so nobody who depends on their personal vehicle should be rejoicing.

The £10 billion or so that will be extracted from the North Sea oil industry via a raise in production tax (apparently to pay for cancelling the fuel duty increase) will no doubt be charged back out to vehicle fuel customers one way or another…the price of ICE Brent Crude for forwards contracts dipped a little today, but the average has shot up over the last 3 months.

Minor adjustments to the price of vehicle fuel will not resolve the fundamentals driving crude oil price changes – and hence the price of diesel and petrol and the pump.

The major shake-up in the price of crude oil shows that suggestions to tinker with taxes or levies to try to adjust consumption for environmental reasons will be a totally failed strategy even before it begins.

So why oh why has George Osborne instituted a Carbon Price Floor for electricity emissions in the power generation sector ? The “price signal” this is supposed to give, an “incentive” to reduce high carbon generation and invest in low carbon generation, will be totally lost amongst the increasing operating costs for electricity production – not least because nuclear power is about to get much, much more expensive because of the response to safety concerns raised by the Fukushima Daiichi Japan Nuclear Accident.

It is time to admit that green taxation doesn’t change behaviour because it is always small compared to other price effects.

It is also time to recognise that proactive investment in such things as low carbon fuels, vehicle fuel efficiency and small electric vehicles, small fuel cell vehicles, more public transport, lower driving speeds, fully inflated tyres, de-centralisation of employment and re-localisation of public services are key to tackling Climate Change for the transport sector.

So…how’s the Green Investment Bank shaping up, then, George Osborne ?

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American Full Spectrum Dominance

The documentary evidence shows that America’s business interests often outweigh its political progress. Yet it’s perhaps more concerning that, increasingly, corporate America is at risk of damaging good environmental governance.

With all the talk of free markets in international trade, the Coalition Government in the United Kingdom has felt the pressure to open up the back door to American energy businesses, whose highly-paid sales representatives in slick suits want us to buy their dirty energy projects – just take a look at the upcoming UK Energy Bill and its proposals for Electricity Market Reform.

American companies seem poised to sweep in and take all our public non-subsidy “support” for building new nuclear power plants. Viewers of a sensitive political disposition should look away now as this is a Wikileak :-

The country that brought you the engineering industry that brought you the giant Gulf of Mexico giant oil spill now wants to bring you unsafe deepwater drilling in Britain’s Continental Shelf – and the UK’s new Energy Bill would let them do that without demonstrating any learning from the BP April 2010 fiasco :-…

There’s lots of talk in the energy sector and the financial markets about the American shale gas miracle “gamechanger” and how it can be replicated in Europe and across the world, and not enough discussion about the environmental dangers :-

It’s good to talk about local environmental damage from “unconventional” gas, but what’s not being discussed so widely is that these “new” resources of Natural Gas aren’t really very green, and neither are the “traditional” resources – in some cases they’re not much better than coal :-

We know that the Americans always seek to protect the interests of American-owned businesses – and we know they do that for the best of intentions – to keep America wealthy (except it’s really only a few people in America that have any wealth, but anyway…)

Yet I think there should be a limit to how far we have to bend over backwards to accommodate their needs for economic recovery.

To export all their dirty energy technology to Europe is just not helpful, and I think we should say no, no, no.

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Who Planned Pipeline Attack ?

[ UPDATE 3 : Israel has said it has already prepared for just such an Egyptian disruption scenario, and won’t suffer from shortages of gas… ]

[ UPDATE 2 : The Jerusalem Post says that it was reported that explosives were detonated at the terminal… Why does the Jerusalem Post article contain a history of gas production in the region ? Part of the gas that comes through Egypt has come from Gazan wells If that supply fails, then countries round about will have to buy their gas from Israel’s new wells… Israel will probably blame Iran for the Egyptian gas terminal explosion Apparently the gas supply to Israel may not have been damaged, but they’ve turned the taps off anyway, as a precautionary measure ]

[ UPDATE : We now learn it was not an attack after all… Notice the propaganda – we are reminded in the video report that there may be dark fundamentalist forces at work, even whilst being told that this was not in fact the case.]

An unidentified group has taken advantage of all the turmoil in Egypt, gone undercover, and attacked a gas pipeline, which means that supplies to politically moderate Jordan (and the more hardline Syria) will be cut off.

Who planned this ? It’s probably too early to say, but I can think of several possible answers to the question, and none of them are pretty.

“Saboteurs attack Egypt gas pipeline to Jordan”

“Jordan gas supplies to be halted a week after blast”

“Egypt Gas Pipeline Attacked”

“Gas pipeline to Jordan, Syria set ablaze in Egypt…Unless the pipe is repaired quickly, it could become a big problem for Jordan, a country already spending heavily in fuel subsidies, a Jordanian senior official said….”

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Market Tinkering

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government in the United Kingdom have several competing interests to juggle when it comes to the electricity generation industry.

Any proposed tinkering in the electricity market will need to show it still promotes competition (even though new entrants will probably complain they can’t compete in auctions), even as it guarantees safe and stable power supplies, even as it needs to make sure consumers don’t get ripped off.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change have published a clearly-written consultation document on their proposals for an Electricity Market Reform (EMR), detailing various methods of intervening to ensure long-term objectives on carbon emissions and energy security :-

I’ve been reading some really helpful commentary on the system-wide effects of these proposals :-

So far, my conclusion is that the net effect of these proposals will be to make the electricity generators feel secure about future earnings.

I’m not convinced that anything I’ve read so far will help energy supply companies feel willing to leap the expensive investment hurdle to ensure the UK gets new low carbon power plants.

I’m not even sure if the carbon and power pricing described will deter companies from dirty power generation and direct them towards new low carbon investment.

When I happened on the levelised cost of power in the main DECC analysis document, I came to a very pragmatic conclusion :-

Figure 2 (see top) shows that FOAK (first of a kind) new nuclear reactor plant designs (which is what we are told we will be getting in the UK) are probably going to yield similar unit electricity price values to Onshore Wind Power and Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant using Natural Gas feedstock.

My question is : why do we need to intervene with the electricity market to incentivise low carbon generation if the cheapest technologies are the low carbon options anyway ? (Yes, I’ve deliberately forgotten to discuss Carbon Capture and Storage).

My second question is : are the financial instruments proposed for the electricity market simply a sop to the electricity generators to leverage investment in new and efficient low carbon power stations ? Come and invest in new power generation in Great Britain and see your earnings stable (or rising) !

And my third question is this : don’t the NIMBY campaigns against Onshore Wind Power realise their success means that the overall cost of electricity to the consumers will rise significantly as wind power has to move offshore ?

My conclusion is : it would be far cheaper simply to instruct the largely publicly owned banks to make investment finance available, but only for low carbon technologies and forget about trying to maintain the facade of a free market.

Power supply is virtually a monopoly – and the State is bound to maintain supply – DECC have even got proposals on the table in their main Energy Bill to buy up any power companies that fail…yet another bailout !

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James Hansen’s Hate Mail

Image Credit : Earth Beat Radio

New Year, new hate campaign against Climate Change scientists :-

“Singing in the Rain : 26 January 2011 : In the past 2 – 3 weels I received a deluge of nasty-language messages saying that I should be fired, deported, run over, etc. Such a sudden burst of malice seems unlikely to be spontaneous.”

“Perhaps recent articles and internet stories provided stimulation, e.g., an article by Pat Michaels in the Washington Times and a statement by Richard S. Courtney on a blog. Michaels distorts the facts and uses quotes out of context. The Courtney statement […] mischaracterizes my testimony.”

“…The essence of my testimony, in both trials, was that the evidence for human-caused climate change is clear. I emphasized that the UK government, the fossil fuel industry, and the utility EON were aware of the effect of continued coal-burning on the future of young people. But instead of addressing the problem effectively, they engaged in greenwash…”

Over at MediaLens, the two (three) Davids are blanking the “every little bit helps” approach :-

“Focusing on personal consumption, and each of us ‘doing our bit’, is what we mean by the ‘debate’ being stuck on square one.

Asking the general public to kindly remember to switch off their lights has had about as much impact as a light dusting of sugar. Looks pretty, but causes coughing fits when eating the cake.

I can’t wait for their comments on Climate Week :-

“One week to show how we can combat climate change…inspiring millions to act.”

Supported by David Cameron ! Sponsored by Tesco (owners of a very large and unnecessary carbon footprint) !

A zero carbon supermarket ? I really cannot believe it :-

Note in the following that Tesco don’t intend to carbon label their transport systems, warehousing or stores – only the products that consumers buy :-

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Algae BioDiesel Report Card : Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And where will this sugarcane be grown ? In Brazil.

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

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

What a revolution !

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Work with me, James Delingpole

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

Dear James,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my finest regards,

Jo Abbess

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Words fail me

It’s not quite accurate to say that language has entirely failed me, in fact, I am as loquacious as ever, but for a few minutes back there, whilst watching Paul Nurse present the Horizon “Science under Attack” show on iPlayer, I was definitely gobsmacked :- (UK TV Licence Payers only. Sorry. I don’t make the rules.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later that same day…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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