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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

The carbon bubble

22.05.2015
As the year-end Paris climate change summit draws ever nearer, preparatory meetings continue apace and we see a stream of reports and stories arguing how vital it is to come to a binding international agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions. One of the key arguments is that a large proportion of the proven coal, gas and oil reserves will have to remain in the ground if the world is to stand a fair chance of limiting the rise in average temperatures to 2°C, the level beyond which the effects of climate change are considered to become negative. The call to put a cap on consumption...
Last week, readers who take an interest in such things would have been coming terms with the biggest surprise in UK politics for many a long year: the election of a majority Conservative government at a time when the era of multi-party politics was deemed to have replaced the old dominance by two parties and coalition or minority governments to have become the new norm. With Labour and Conservatives apparently still neck and neck after a long, attritional campaign, the expectation was that the Tories would have the most seats but that Labour Party might become the governing party with the...
We often hear from renewable energy enthusiasts that even solar-generated electricity is becoming competitive with conventional sources. While this may be true at one level – costs of solar panels have been falling fast, for example – this is also a highly misleading statement. The defining characteristic of the primary sources of renewable energy available in most countries (wind and solar) is that they are intermittent, and therefore cannot provide a constant, reliable supply of electricity. There are renewable energy sources which are more reliable (‘despatchable...
The Green Party may be something of a sideshow as far as the current UK election is concerned, but we should never underestimate the importance of green policies across (most of) the political spectrum. We take for granted – and, indeed, mainly welcome – measures to improve air and water quality and to save energy. By and large, we like the results: a better quality of life and lower bills. But when policies begin to cost real money and push up the cost of living, many people are not so sure. This is one reason we hear grumbles about targets for renewable energy. The effect of...
The Oxford online dictionary defines pollution as the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful of poisonous effects. This sounds pretty straightforward, but it actually deserves a bit of unravelling. For a start, ‘the environment’ is a widely-used term which comes laden with emotional baggage. We talk of a ‘pristine’ or ‘unspoiled’ environment and of the harm which may come to it, particularly via human action. The inference is that ‘the environment’ is something which exists separately from humanity...
Adam Smith coined the phrase ‘the invisible hand’ in the late 18th Century to describe the working of the competitive free market. By and large, the sort of capitalist market economy which Smith would have recognised has served humanity pretty well. Not that it is without its problems but, in the same way as democracy can be considered ‘the worst form of government, apart from all the others’, regulated free markets do seem to be the least bad way to run economies at present. Thomas Piketty has become feted for pointing out the seeming inevitability of rising...
It’s still over eight months before the next climate summit – COP21 – will be held in Paris. These are annual events, but some are more significant than others; in this case, negotiators have deemed it time for a further major push, and the organisers have put on record their commitment to coming up with a binding international agreement committing all nations to take action. In the month’s leading up to each of these events, it is normal for there to be a spate of news stories focussing attention on the need for action, to heighten awareness and raise expectations...
Readers of the Guardian last Saturday would have opened their paper to find the headline Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’ causes cancer, says WHO study. Roundup is the trade name used by Monsanto for glyphosate, a very widely used, broad action herbicide. It is now no longer covered by patent, so is also supplied by a range of different manufacturers, but the direct association with Monsanto is too good to miss for anti-pesticide campaigners. If such a commonly-used chemical as glyphosate, found in many a garden shed across Europe, really was a significant cancer risk, this would...

Carbon accounting

20.03.2015
December’s Paris climate summit (COP21) is being billed as a crucial step on the path towards reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. The organisers have stated their intention to come to “a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.” That is something which has never been achieved before in the two decades of UNFCCC negotiations, despite the partial agreement enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol and the high hopes invested in the failed Copenhagen summit (COP15) just over five years ago. As Oscar Wilde might have said, to fail to reach...
That’s the title of a report published this week by Cambridge Econometrics. Commissioned by the European Climate foundation, this follows Fuelling Europe’s Future, published in September last year. Both studies look at the projected effects of moving to a lower-carbon, more efficient vehicle fleet between now and 2030. The conclusions are, as expected, very positive. Motorists would save on fuel, demand for imported oil would reduce, jobs would be created and air pollution (a continuing problem in cities) would be reduced. However, if you subscribe to the view that he who pays...

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What's New

The Scientific Alliance has published a new report on wind energy, jointly with the Adam Smith Insitute:  Wind Power Reassessed: A review of the UK wind resource for electricity generation.