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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” This is a statement of the Precautionary Principle, which seems at first sight to be a self-evidently sensible statement. If this approach had been taken in years gone by, rabbits and cane toads perhaps would not have been introduced into Australia, nor Japanese Knotweed into the UK. Some things have unintended consequences, but some of these are predictable with a bit of...

High-tech farming

21.01.2016
Modern societies have an ambivalent relationship with agriculture. In poor countries, farming families may still make up the majority of the population, and agriculture remains the largest part of the economy, whereas in the rich world the great majority of us are disconnected from the reality of growing and harvesting food. This leads to a romanticised view of the sector, with a perceived ideal of happy and healthy farmers growing nutritious and tasty food without the need for pesticides and other modern technology. This is the underpinning of the organic movement, which has managed to...

A perfect storm?

14.01.2016
Life is about priorities. Most of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world enjoy secure food and energy supplies and are free to worry about issues such as broadband speed and where to go on holiday. But still, for far too many people, the main priority is much simpler: to be able to grow or afford enough food. On a broader level, Europe has enjoyed probably its most peaceful seven decades ever. With the notable exception of the Balkan conflicts – very nasty indeed, but also quite localised – the great majority of Europeans have grown up free from conflict. Of course...
First: a Happy New Year to all readers. How 2016 will shape up is anyone’s guess, with ‘experts’ being no more likely to call things correctly than the rest of us mere mortals. However, we can be certain that many of the same issues will continue to form the backdrop to our lives; we just don’t know quite how and to what extent other unknown factors may disrupt things. Putting aside matters economic, political and social, which are beyond the scope of this newsletter, we will all continue to depend on secure supplies of energy and food. Most of us also take for...
The COP21 jamboree in Paris is done and dusted. But, not surprisingly, the outcome has in practice changed little and the news media have moved on to other things. The only ‘legally-binding’ aspect of the agreement is that countries are obliged to put forward their planned emissions reduction targets to the IPCC every five years. They don’t have to set ambitious goals (although the hope is that the competitive aspect of this process will put pressure on them to do so) and neither do they have to achieve those they set. Even continuing to be a part of the process isn...

Beyond Paris

11.12.2015
The COP21 climate conference is not yet over, but is in its final throes. Technically, a deal should be done by the end of Friday, but it is now known that talks will carry on into the weekend (a fairly normal occurrence). This time around, world leaders made their appearance at the start rather than the end of the jamboree. Since they will not have to suffer the embarrassment of announcing a weak deal – failure is unthinkable, so a deal there will surely be – this takes a little of the pressure off negotiators. But only a little. This summit, after all, has been promoted as...
With the COP21 negotiations in full swing in Paris, climate change is once more in the news. But it is no longer front-page news, whereas it regularly made headlines in the lead up to the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009. Admittedly, Europe has other things on its collective mind at the moment, in the aftermath of terror attacks and with the continued influx of refugees and economic migrants, but there have been clear signs of a waning in public interest in climate change for some time. It is difficult to keep a topic on the front page over a long period. Issues come and go, and...
In his Autumn Statementthis week (a budget in all but name), George Osborne gave UK government support to increased R&D on new energy sources: “The government will prioritise energy security, whilst making reforms to meet our climate goals at lower cost. The government is doubling spend on energy innovation, to boost energy security and bring down the costs of decarbonisation.” The prioritisation of energy security is entirely consistent with Amber Rudd’s recent speech, which is a reassuring sign of joined-up government. The reference to decarbonisation is necessary...

Replacing coal

20.11.2015
To no-one’s great surprise, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, this week announced that the UK’s coal plants to be phased out within 10 years. That this was the government’s intention was never in doubt; coal had to go if the country was to meet its independently-set carbon budgets and agreed emissions reduction targets. However, the balance of what Ms Rudd said was really the more interesting facet of her speech. In particular, she made it clear that meeting climate change targets would not be at the expense of energy security: “No government...
The UK Met Office this week issued a press release highlighting the news that the global average temperature this year is set to be a full degree higher than the pre-industrial norm (Warming set to breach 1C threshold, according to the BBC report). As we near the start of the Paris climate change summit, we can expect to see more stories like this. The only surprising thing is that the press release got relatively little coverage in the mainstream media. The implication of the report is, of course, that we are now halfway to the nominal 2° threshold of ‘dangerous warming...

Current Issues


RIP Bob Carter

Prof Bob Carter, who eloquently put forward evidence-based arguments sceptical of mainstream climate science, died suddenly in January. For an equally eloquent tribute, see

A clock tune in honor of a true man of true science.

What's New

7 October 2015; Letter in The Times on the safety of low doses of radiation, as Chernobyl becomes a wildlife haven.