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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

20.02.2009
- Will the pessimists be right? - Non-GM herbicide tolerance - GM rice needs less fertiliser Will the pessimists be right? Despite arguments often being put forward on the basis of "the facts", they are as frequently countered either by a different interpretation, or by alternative "facts". The use of quotation marks does not mean that these facts are generally false, rather that they represent a small part of a much wider truth. For this reason, perfectly intelligent, well-qualified people can hold diametrically opposed views, each believing that their position is fully supported by the...
06.02.2009
- Population control: at the heart of the green movement - Air-freighted organic food - The evolving GM debate Population control: at the heart of the green movement This week, Eton-educated Jonathan Porritt, sometime head of Friends of the Earth UK, current head of the Sustainable Development Commission and, as son of Lord Porritt, entitled to a baronetcy if he so chooses, has called for a curb on population growth. Couples having more than two children are, in his view, irresponsible because of the demand they place on the environment. In particular, he would like to see population...
30.01.2009
- Walking the Copenhagen tightrope - Misuse of words Walking the Copenhagen tightrope The EU has this week put down its marker for the negotiations on a post-2012 climate change policy package due to be completed in Copenhagen in December. Regular readers will know of our doubts that such a deal will happen, but it is still worth looking in more detail at what European politicians see as the way forward. Having committed themselves in principle to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 30% against the 1990 baseline by 2020 – or 20% if other countries do not join in – the Commission...
23.01.2009
- "Intelligent" transport - Is Antarctica warming? "Intelligent" transport The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology publishes a series of "POST notes" to inform MPs and peers about relevant issues. Number 322, published this month, covers the topic of Intelligent Transport Systems. It gives an interesting and succinct summary of available technologies and applications, although it unfortunately does nothing to address the key issue of how to deal with unintelligent road users. Central to the paper is the use of technology to increase road safety. Casualties have been reduced...
16.01.2009
- European Parliament vote on pesticides - Google's carbon footprint - The beginning of the end of the incandescent lightbulb European Parliament vote on pesticides After much discussion the European Parliament has, as expected, voted for a further tightening of pesticide regulations, making the original Commission proposals even more stringent. The story is not quite over: the new regulation has to be agreed by the Council, and some member states will vote against, but too few to prevent passage. Campaigners hail this development as a further step along the path to abolition of...
09.01.2009
- Crunch year for environmental policies - Negative feedback in the climate system Crunch year for environmental policies As the world's attention continues to focus on the economy, 2009 will be a critical year for environmental politics. The crucial Copenhagen summit in December is now imminent and the key question is what international response there will be to the pressure to negotiate a binding and effective post-Kyoto treaty. The outcome of last month's Poznan conference was a bare minimum commitment to a deal in Copenhagen, hedged with ifs and buts. Nevertheless, the great majority...
03.01.2009
Phasing our incandescent lightbulbs This week saw the next step in the phasing out of traditional tungsten filament lightbulbs; manufacturers and importers are no longer supplying 100 watt or any pearl bulbs in EU Member States. By 2012, manufacture or import of all such bulbs will be banned, and consumers will instead need to rely on the low-energy compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). And this is not just another example of Europe leading the pack on environmental issues. A number of other countries, including the USA, are set on the same course. It is undeniable that CFLs use considerably...
19.12.2008
- What lessons can we learn from 2008...and how might things develop in 2009? What lessons can we learn from 2008…and how might things develop in 2009? 2008 will be remembered by most people around the world as the year of The Crash. The long period of growth which improved the lives of the great majority (but, unfortunately, still not those of most Africans or significant minorities in other developing regions) seemed unstoppable, but masked a financial system built on foundations of sand. Inevitably, these were washed away, first by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the USA, and then...
12.12.2008
- Reality bites in Poznan and Brussels - The consequences of alarmism Reality bites in Poznan and Brussels As this newsletter goes out, the UN climate change conference in Poznan goes to the wire. Starting on 1st December with government negotiators and a wide range of NGOs present, the final two days are given over to the high-level part of the meeting, attended by ministers and top officials from all 186 participating nations. 10,000 people have attended this conference, with the aim of cobbling together a way forward which would result in a post-Kyoto (after 2012) package of mitigation...
05.12.2008
- The impossibility of objectivity - The next bubble? - Mutation breeding The impossibility of objectivity Too often, disagreements on any issue – including scientific ones – are a dialogue of the deaf.  It is rare indeed for two people with radically opposed views to be prepared to listen or accept that there may be nuggets of truth in their opponent's arguments. This does not just apply to activists with a firm belief in a particular cause, it is also characteristic of professional scientists who we might naively expect to behave better. The reason for this is simple. We all have...

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