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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

22.09.2017
I make no apologies for talking about the thorny issue of climate change yet again. There’s a good reason why: after a decade or more of unwillingness to listen to criticism of the IPCC story on climate change, this week a mainstream paper was published in Nature Geoscience that to all intents and purposes shows many of the criticisms to be justified. Even the most objective-sounding paper is open to different interpretations, and this one is no exception, despite its apparently unambiguous title: Emissions budgets and pathways are consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. The message from...
14.09.2017
This is proving to be a pretty bad season for Atlantic hurricanes, after several years in which few intense ones made landfall. Hurricane Harvey, which started in late August, was the first major hurricane to hit the United States mainland since 2005 (Hurricane Wilma, in the same year as the flooding of New Orleans caused by Katrina). Irma, coming along a few days later and only dissipating this week, was a category 5 storm bringing destruction to the Caribbean and Florida. Despite the intensity of the storms, the total death toll so far is around 150. Each fatality is a personal tragedy, of...
08.09.2017
While many people pay lip service to objectivity and provide evidence in support of their assertions, true objectivity is very rare. Science is supposedly a body of knowledge assembled dispassionately by researchers looking at all available evidence in a totally unbiased way. This, at least, is the utopian vision encapsulated by Karl Popper, who argued that any scientific hypothesis should only be regarded as valid until falsified (for which even a single verifiable piece of evidence is sufficient). All very straightforward, but such a purist view of science ignores the facts that scientists...
01.09.2017
Electric cars may well be the future of personal transport, but only if consumers choose to buy them in preference to the cars of today or if governments effectively ban the internal combustion engine. In both France and the UK, politicians are leaning towards the latter, announcing a cut-off date of 2040 for the sale of conventional petrol- or diesel-fuelled cars. Actually, it’s not really as clear-cut as that. In July, the heady early days of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, the new government announced that the sale of new conventional cars would be illegal from 2040 (France to ban sales of...
21.07.2017
Major infrastructure projects can be fraught with difficulties of various kinds, not least political, where the UK planning system can drag out decision-making for years. Even before reaching that stage, governments are loath to make decisions that are subject to significant local or national opposition. The intended third runway at Heathrow is a case in point. A number of major new airports have been built in other countries while each government of the day in Westminster has failed to bite the bullet. In the meantime, the country’s primary airport – and one of the world’s busiest –...
14.07.2017
Electrification is the future if the world’s energy use is to be radically ‘decarbonised’ as the IPCC says is necessary. The somewhat contentious Paris accord is the latest stab at a concerted approach to this, albeit without the involvement of the USA and with a number of other countries – notably Turkey – apparently wavering in their support. Debating the extent of human influence on climate is, unfortunately futile at present; this is one issue where there is precious little common ground, despite the best efforts of some people. But what we do still need to think long and hard about is...
07.07.2017
As governments continue to push for cars with lower CO2 emissions, most manufacturers have gone beyond simply making their diesel- and petrol-engined models more efficient (although the results of this have been impressive). They have also begun to introduce more electric and hybrid cars. Toyota took the lead with the domestic launch of its first Prius model in 1997, with worldwide rollout from 2000, but more recently Tesla has captured the headlines as a manufacturer of all-electric cars. Until now, Tesla cars have been high-end models such as the Model S, popular with prosperous first...
30.06.2017
With so many other issues vying for our attention, it’s easy to forget the critical importance of food security. Food, water and shelter come at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and, without fulfilling these, other needs barely register. Or, to put it more simply, “a man with food has many problems, a man without food has one.” Surrounded as we are in the industrialised world by a wide choice of affordable food, it is all too easy to forget that there are still hundreds of millions of people who don’t enjoy that luxury. Enormous strides have been made in providing food for billions...
23.06.2017
If news reports are to be believed, renewable energy is the future, alongside electric vehicles and carbon capture and storage. The government-mediated transition to this new economy (with the help of taxpayers’ money, of course) will provide energy security and create jobs in addition to meeting the primary objective of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and thereby keeping the rise in average global temperatures from pre-industrial levels to less than 2°C. Well, sorry to rain on the parade, but there is a lot of wishful thinking associated with this view and, whether you are committed to or...
16.06.2017
Food plays a unique part in our lives. At minimum, it is essential for life, but it also has great cultural significance. For those of us lucky enough to live in peaceful, prosperous societies, eating can be an important source of pleasure rather than simply a means to keep us alive. But eating is not entirely risk-free. The present-day surge in rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes is strongly related to the ubiquity of affordable food, and food poisoning of varying severity can still be an unpleasant fact of life. But, alongside these very real risks, many people choose to minimise other...

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