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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

28.06.2008
- Infrastructure planning - Changing the power generation balance Infrastructure planning The UK government is trying to streamline the country's complex planning system. At its worst, this can currently result in large expenditures and years of delay while public enquiries are held into such major projects as Heathrow's Terminal 5 and the Sizewell B nuclear reactor. The rules allow not just local opposition groups to present their case, but also national lobbying organisations play a major role in opposing projects on principle rather than for reasons directly related to the proposal. In...
21.06.2008
- Eco-towns: Neverland or nightmare? - Rethinking genetically modified crops Eco-towns: Neverland or nightmare? Having sprung the idea of building ten "eco-towns" on an unsuspecting public, the UK government is now facing the opposition it no doubt expected, but also an unflatteringly critical look from the media at both their justification and credibility. The first round of public consultation ends on 30th June, with the short list (whittled down from the current 15 proposals) to be announced soon afterwards. However, there are already signs of back-sliding. The latest reports talk of "...
14.06.2008
- Food security and agricultural technologies - In defence of pesticides - Energy futures Food security and agricultural technologies As we have said before, the recent realisation that our food supply may not be as secure as we imagined is beginning to focus minds. The sharp rise in food prices is merely a concern to most people in the industrialised world, but a potential disaster for many people in developing countries, unless they are lucky enough to have a surplus of agricultural produce to sell. Of course, hunger and malnutrition are not still prevalent simply because too little...
31.05.2008
- Oil prices, fuel taxes and buying habits - The shape of things to come - Peak water? Oil prices, fuel taxes and buying habits It cannot have escaped anyone's notice that oil prices have surged to record highs over the past few days. Only a few months ago, the $100/barrel milestone was passed, but since then prices have risen by a further 30%. This, of course, has implications for the whole of modern society, which is so dependent on energy, but the first and most obvious effect is the steep rise in the price of petrol and diesel. This is making the UK government think again about the...
24.05.2008
Pesticides and the future of European agriculture There is a major revamp of European pesticides regulation in the pipeline, since the current directive – 91/414 – expires soon and must be replaced. However, the new draft regulation has been significantly amended by the European Parliament, and in its current form represents a significant threat to the already limited range of crop protection products available to farmers. Farmers and the industry have voiced their concerns, and now they are being backed up by scientists in a piece carried on the BBC website ("Effective chemicals may be...
17.05.2008
-Biofuels from waste - The green lobby: a misuse of influence Biofuels from waste Waste, fuel and food together present us with some high priority problems at present. How do we deal with the high levels of waste generated as pressure on landfill gets ever tighter? Do biofuels represent an opportunity (albeit limited) to replace fossil fuels for transport, or do they simply threaten food production? One useful approach is to use the waste to produce fuel, which at the same time eases the pressure on agricultural land for food production. There are a number of companies actively working...
10.05.2008
Are genetic modification and organic farming incompatible? There has been rather a focus on food and agriculture in this newsletter recently, and we continue the trend this week. We make no apologies for this: food supply is once more a headline issue, and recent large commodity price increases have reminded us again of the fragility of civilization. If insufficient food is available, or if it is unaffordable, this of course hits the poorer hardest, but ultimately threatens even rich, sophisticated societies. Food is at the top of the hierarchy of needs, and threats to food security can...
03.05.2008
- Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice - Farmers defend pesticides - Green labelling Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice One of the criticisms levelled at agricultural biotechnology is that it is under the control of a few large multinational companies which are trying to dominate the food supply, and that their objective is to maximise profits above all else. Farmers in developing countries, the argument goes, will either forgo the benefits of new technology or (and this now seems to be the fashionable view) have high-priced seeds thrust upon them with no benefit to themselves...
26.04.2008
Ecological footprints The euractiv.com website this week carried an interview with Mathis Wackernagel, director of the Global Footprint Network, which is an organisation "committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity". Their message is simple and superficially scary: we are using effectively more than the resources of one world, and have to change our ways if we are not to become "ecologically bankrupt". Others have been here before, of course. The theory is that it is possible to measure the...
19.04.2008
Food: the next crisis? Those of us fortunate to be in the developed world take food for granted. It is quality rather than quantity which is our main concern and even with the 24-hour availability of an enormous range of high-quality food – something which would have been almost unthinkable just a generation ago – most people now spend a minor share of their household budget on buying food. Partly, this is because the price of most commodity crops has been low in both relative and absolute terms for quite some time. But, although the recent sharp rises in food costs may make us grumble,...

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