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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

29.09.2007
- Set-aside set aside (for now) - Increasing the ocean's capacity for CO2 - Time for a Severn barrage? Set-aside set aside (for now) The requirement for Europe’s farmers to leave some of their land (currently 10%) fallow was introduced about fifteen years ago, amid concerns that the direct production payments then being made under the Common Agricultural Policy were encouraging the formation of some interesting new geographic features, including wine lakes and butter mountains. Set-aside was designed to reduce production of grain which at the time was contributing towards an increasing...
22.09.2007
- An inconvenient truth or a convenient teaching aid? - Environmental costs and benefits - Electric cars An Inconvenient Truth or a convenient teaching aid? Readers may recall that the then Education Secretary Alan Johnson, and then Environment Secretary David Milliband sent a DVD of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” to all secondary schools in England as part of the “sustainable schools” programme (Newsletter 13th April). The government, enthusiastically endorsing the view that the debate over the science of climate change was over, saw this as a good way of getting the message over...
15.09.2007
- Politics and the environment - Biofuels and food Politics and the environment The Conservative Party, as part of its repositioning, has a number of study groups working on policy options. The latest to report is the Quality of Life group, led by ex-Environment Secretary John Gummer and including Zac Goldsmith, son of the late Sir James, nephew of Teddy, editor of the Ecologist and now aspiring Conservative MP. It is clear that the Tories are big on the environment: this is more that David Cameron riding his bike or a dog-sled. The two big questions are which party is going to set the...
09.09.2007
- The BBC and Planet Relief - NGO lobbying in Brussels - "Climate models prove more reliable" - The mystery of the disappearing bees   The BBC and Planet Relief After what seems to have been a degree of heart-searching, the BBC has backed out of plans to run a “Planet Relief” TV special on climate change next January. This was intended to “raise awareness” of the issues, in a similar way to Live8, which sought to increase concern about global poverty. The reasons for the Beeb’s change of mind are not entirely clear. The official spokeswoman said that it had nothing to do with...
01.09.2007
Science trumped by human nature We have benefited enormously from scientific advance and its practical applications. Humans are the ultimate generalists and highly adaptable because they observe and learn. The scientific method takes this one stage further: we put forward hypotheses and do experiments to validate them. If the hypothesis doesn’t fit the observations, we reject it. But if it does fit the facts, that doesn’t prove it’s right. Science should continually test theories so that we become more certain of their correctness, but we can never be absolutely sure. Post-modern thinking...
25.08.2007
Transports of delight Those readers old enough to remember Flanders and Swann will, we hope, forgive us for using the title of one of their best known songs for this week’s newsletter. The song waxed lyrical about the pleasures of using London buses, but here we take a rather more critical view of transport in modern societies. Personal transport – unless muscle-powered – is a particular bête noire of environmentalists at present, given its seemingly inexorable increase. In recent times flying – although by any rational definition a form of public transport – has come in for particular...
18.08.2007
The politics of environmentalism The environmental movement has achieved much over the last few decades. Much of this can be dated from the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 marks the effective birth of organised, high profile activism. From these beginnings, in less than half a century, environmentalism has become mainstream. In the industrialised world, air and water quality has improved tremendously, recycling rates have steadily improved, and European farmers are paid for conservancy work rather than just growing food. By any...
11.08.2007
Climate of Intolerance   As it’s August, we have a shorter newsletter than usual this week.  Climate of intolerance Newsweek has used climate change as its cover story this week, under the title “The truth about denial”. The gist of the argument is that there is a well-funded “denial industry” which seeks to undermine the sound scientific basis for the prevailing concerns about human-induced climate change. Parallels are drawn with the tobacco industry lobby and, of course, all this is said to be taking place in the name of private profit.   This is the latest example of a deeply...
04.08.2007
- Planes, the environment and personal choice - Who pays for new transport links? - Climate (un)certainties - Soil Association takes a dim view of international airfreight Planes, the environment and personal choice Air travel has become a particular focus of environmentalist criticism, partly because it is believed that jet engine exhaust gases high in the atmosphere may have a proportionally greater effect on climate change than low level emissions, and partly because of the continued strong growth of the aviation sector. This, of course, is in addition to the natural concerns of people...
28.07.2007
- Urban development and congestion - The future of the railways - Weather, infrastructure and climate - Economic solar power on the horizon? - Friend or FoE? Urban development and congestion In a week where the Government has promised a major investment in new housing, the key problem of lack of proper infrastructure planning is highlighted once again. It is not just that there are too few homes available, but that they are becoming increasingly unaffordable to a significant  proportion of young people, because house building (for a number of reasons) has been allowed to fall well behind...

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