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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

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...
This week, the Royal Society made public the submission it had made to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health as a contribution towards the group’s current hearings on Population Dynamics in the Post-2015 World. This gives an interesting opportunity to look at this contentious issue. The world’s population is at an all-time high and is set to continue growing, albeit at a slower rate than in the recent past, for at least the next few decades. Latest projections from the UN (World Population to 2300) are for a peak of 9.2 billion...
The answer is definitely yes according to a new report from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, commissioned by an organisation called Agora Energiewende. The report – Current and future costs of photovoltaics – suggests that “In a few years, solar energy plants will deliver the most inexpensive power available in many parts of the world.“ The first health warning is that Agora Energiewende presents itself on its web-page like this: “Our central question is: How do we manage the clean energy transition? Agora Energiewende will prepare the...
This week, BP has published its latest Energy Outlook 2035, which analyses likely global energy use in twenty years’ time. Also this week, a further element of the EU Ecodesign Directive brings in mandatory energy efficient standards for domestic ovens, cookers and cooker hoods (EU introduces new rule to make cooking greener). Further standards will be introduced and existing ones tightened over the coming years. They now apply to a range of appliances, but this time there has been no repeat of the media furore over the banning of the highest-powered vacuum cleaners. The change...
Two hundred years ago, railways revolutionised travel, but the majority of journeys were still undertaken on foot or by horse-power. A century later, the situation had changed remarkably little, until the coming of the mass-produced motor car started a second revolution. Today, personal mobility is taken for granted in the developed world and is becoming a reality for a great many people in emerging economies. One result is clogged roads and delays. This, and governments’ desire to cut use of fossil fuels, has intensified the long-standing debate about private versus public...

Peak oil postponed

05.02.2015
Mark Twain once famously said that reports of his death had been exaggerated. Is the same true of the impending demise of oil as one of our primary energy sources, neatly encapsulated in the concept of Peak Oil? The unexpected dramatic recent fall in the price of oil has brought the future of fossil fuels into sharp focus once again and must give pause for thought. Oil is a resource which is finite in the strict sense of the word, but whose supply has in practice been increasing year by year. The effective level of resource is determined by economics. As supplies get tighter, prices rise...
As Nils Bohr said, prediction is very difficult, particularly about the future. The recent (and continuing) drastic slump in oil prices is a perfect example of this. Rather than the seemingly inevitable approach of Peak Oil, we seem to have a return to cheap energy, at least temporarily. Given the central place of energy to the world economy, this is bound to have some profound effects. Overall, the impact should be very positive. Drivers have already seen a significant drop in the price of petrol and diesel, and reduced transport costs will translate in many cases to reduced prices of a...
Scientists may lay claim to objectivity, but we should always be cautious in accepting the conclusions of others. Take, for example, a news item from this morning: Pesticide ban to save bees ‘based on flawed research’. The argument made by Norman Carreck, who works at the University of Sussex on bee research, is that other scientists had used unrealistically high levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in experiments with bees, so wrongly concluding that these chemicals are a likely cause of a decline in numbers. To add further interest to this intellectual spat, one of the...

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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.