Getting climate change and asbestos wrong

You’d think that there had been enough pop science articles about climate change for even the thickest journalists to have grasped that “global warming” is

  • short-hand for complicated climatic processes, more accurately referred to as anthropogenic climate change, which don’t necessarily involve warming in any given place. (For instance, the diversion of the Gulf Stream could make the UK colder.)
  • not specifically identifiable in any given day’s or year’s temperatures in any particular place. Climate is not necessarily the same as weather

I assume that Christopher Booker is not a complete fool. He’s expensively educated, and he studied at Cambridge. So, it’s hard to see why he’s spreading ideas as confused as those in his Telegraph article, where seems imply that climate change is pretty well only “global warming” and the fact that some Russian measurements are wrong makes it all false anyway. (I paraphrase)

The world has never seen such freezing heat
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.(from the Telegraph)

Oh dear, Christopher, the point really isn’t whether a given month is “hot”.

How can you explain this to someone who believes that it is somehow discrediting Al Gore’s arguments to mention Al Gore’s name in the context that someone he knows has been misled by being supplied with a handful of duff numbers?

The science is too difficult for me to understand, but I’m pretty confident that it rests on millions of different types of observations, over many years and all parts of the world. And the work has been analysed and peer-reviewed by legions of climate scientists.

So, it’s not actually proven. (And, granted that my own assessment that the climate has changed dramatically over my lifetime, let alone Christopher Booker’s, is anecdotal.) But there seems to be such a serious weight of evidence to support it, it would be pretty dumb to imagine it is contradicted by one month’s error figures.

Pretty well as dumb as this complete misunderstanding of the evidence on asbestosis, for example, on the basis of some spuriously-qualified scientist :

Booker’s articles in The Daily Telegraph on asbestos and also on global warming have been challenged by George Monbiot in an article in The Guardian newspaper
Booker’s scientific claims, which include the false assertion that white asbestos (chrysotile) is “chemically identical to talcum powder” were analysed in detail by Richard Wilson in his book Don’t Get Fooled Again (2008).
Wilson also highlighted Christopher Booker’s repeated endorsement of the alleged scientific expertise of John Bridle, who has claimed to be “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”, but who in 2005 was convicted under the UK’s Trade Descriptions Act of making false claims about his qualifications, and who the BBC has accused of basing his reputation on “lies about his credentials, unaccredited tests, and self aggrandisement”.(from the Criticism section of Brooker’s Wikipedia entry)

Smug and Selfish

I often wonder about terms like “left” and “right wing” and how well they actually describe people. When you look at different nations the terms mean even less. For example in the US “Left of centre” is still reasonably “right wing” by (traditional) UK standards and weirdly we have a left wing government which is implementing more right wing policy than any in living memory. So I wonder, do the terms still mean anything?

It gets even more confusing when I apply them to myself. Personally, I exhibit left and right wing traits. More than that, I mix wanting to be filthy rich with wanting the general standards of society to be improved. Are these reconcilable? I have no problems with government taxation (I actually think tax is a GOODTHING™®) but the thought of government interference with my life is abhorrent. One area where I was concerned that I had strong left-wing tendencies was in the newspapers. Out of habit, I read the Guardian newspaper each Saturday, which is certainly a “leftie” newspaper. Fortunately, today I find myself seriously add odds with some of its other readership. Maybe I am still a “right winger..”

In the “Money” Supplement, there is a section where people write in with a problem and others give advice on how to solve it. It is normally pretty cheesy stuff about which fair trade presents they should buy for some wedding. Today it was about some one who was struggling to cope with the increased petrol costs and was asking for advice as to how others cope.

As you may have imagined (if you’ve ever read the Guardian), the responses were nearly all along the lines of “it serves you right for driving a gas guzzler” and “Stop whining, there are people worse off in Nigeria” (or where ever). One even suggested the questioner doesn’t “have to live 25 miles from [their] place of work.”

What self satisfying, smug, arrogant nonsense the answers are.

Infuriatingly, this is typical of a certain group of the UK society, most of whom are Guardian readers… They appear to be of the opinion that the massive fuel price rises are a GOODTHING™®© because it will combat climate change and (as most are well off enough to not actually be affected by the increased prices) any side effects are easily tolerable. This is not a “socialist” view point as the whole set up massively disadvantages the poor over the wealthy. Like most things, there is the assumption that a some of money which one person feels is insignificant must be insignificant for everyone else – yet at the same time it carries the idea that the increase will make other change their lifestyle to one the first person feels is “better.” It really annoys me.

Take an example of some one I know very well. This person is very hard working but, to be honest, not very well off. Earning low end of the average wage, this person has to pretty much accept any job offered to them. At the moment, they work 32 miles from where they live. The area is not well enough serviced by public transport to make that viable and, like most people, they own a car that is a few years old (and is used for family tasks at the weekend). Now, with today’s prices they are paying £1.19 per litre of fuel. The round trip journey is 64 miles, and is a mix of traffic. Their car is reasonably economical but, because of the nature of the journey, they rarely get better than 30mpg from it. As a result, each day they are using 10 litres of fuel per day. The simple journey to and from work is costing them nearly £3000 per year. Shocking. This is a only a £600 a year rise over last year, but when you live close to the margins, £600 means an AWFUL lot.

Now everyone has choices. My friend has choices. They could change jobs, but there aren’t any closer. They could move house, but being poor they cant afford one closer to work, they could cycle but it would take hours and they’d have no where to change at work, they could change cars to a more efficient one but (again) they are poor and cant afford a new car.

Switch the example to me. I am not rich (far from it, sadly), however I am better off than my friend. I drive a much more un-economical car to work (albeit a much shorter distance). I live a less environmentally friendly life and, to be honest, if you try to change me through taxation you will leave people like my friend destitute on the streets before it has any effect on me.

How, in the real world, do things like increase fuel prices have any real effect on changing people’s destruction of the environment?

In a similar manner to increasing alcohol tax, forcing shops to up the price of “party drinks” and the like, it has no real effect on the people clamouring for it. All it does is massively disproportionately punish the poor. You don’t even have to be rich to ignore these measures, because the poor will break before the middle classes begin to suffer.

Back to my rant about the Guardian. It is nice to think there is a whole swathe of supposedly “Left wing” Guardian readers who are happy to see poor people suffer even more because it massages their “climate change guilt.” No wonder the Labour party have become right wing neo-Nazis.

Bees buzz off

(Yes, OK, that headline was just too bad a pun, even for this blog.) Bees are getting wiped out, in America and Europe. British bee-keepers lobbied Parliament on Wednesday. Beekeepers have asked for £8 million 5 year research programme. This is a pretty modest sum by government spending standards but the Environment Department (DEFRA) says it couldn’t possibly afford it.

American bees are apparently dropping like flies….. This is blamed on Colony Collapse Disorder, which is basically another way of saying that a whole colony dies and no one knows why. It has also happened in the European mainland, but not yet in the UK, according to DEFRA, although some British beekeepers think that they are experiencing it.

In case bees seem like an irrelevant luxury, especially if you don’t eat honey, the Independent pointed out that:

Without the presence of bees, much of agriculture would be impossible, and this is a sobering thought right now, as feeding the world is suddenly becoming more difficult because of rising demand and the transfer of much crop production into biofuels, especially in the US.

DEFRA’s response is to devise a strategy which involves setting up some sort of “Dad’s Army” for Bees – volunteers looking out for diseases- and – you may have guessed it, on current government form – setting up a database. (Is there a database administrator anywhere who could volunteer to explain to the UK government exactly what databases can and cannot do? )

It looks as if no one knows why bees are dying off, There are any number of possible explanations, some of which – blaming the use of mobile phones – strike me as ludicrous. (Although I have to admit that banning mobiles to save world food production would have two upsides.)

Finding out would seem to be a matter of some urgency, you would think. But apparently not worth £8 million, in contrast to the sums spent on other government projects, for instance:

…. the Identity and Passport Service has carried out nearly 90,000 interviews with first-time adult applicants at its new, multi-million pound network of centres.
The centres cost £50m to set up and £30m a year to run. (from the BBC)

So far 90,000 people have been interviewed and none have been knocked back. That’s £80 million spent on illiberal stupidity that has actually done nothing except make last year’s passport provision incredibly more costly. (Oh, and set up even more “joined-up government” databases, of course. )

Why is it always so easy to find government money for vanity projects or extending the apparatus of repression, but seemingly impossible to find any money to protect the environment?

Why do some farmers hate Badgers?

Badgers are always the first up against the wall when there’s a hint of TB in cattle. The BBC reported today that “Science chief urges badger cull.”

This is despite there being plenty of evidence that killing badgers doesn’t even stop the spread of TB in cattle.

The most recent study by the Independent Scientific Group, published in June, also suggested badgers played a role in the spread of bTB, but warned that culling would have to be so extensive it would be uneconomical.
Meanwhile, conservation groups, including the Badger Trust, argue the disease can be contained by improving the cattle-testing regime and introducing tighter restrictions on cattle movements.
(Source: Another BBC post)

Killing badgers is not popular. In 2006, 96% of 47,000 people who responded to a government consultation were against it. Yet another pointless waste of money on a public consultation that is going to be ignored, then?

As the British Badger Trust says:

The badger is one of Britain’s best loved and iconic animals and as such is part of our National Heritage. They are a poignant symbol of the British countryside and a protected species.

A “protected species”, note.

In case, you assume that Britain is awash with wild mammals, especially badgers, it isn’t. The English countryside bears the scars of decades of agribiz and can barely furnish up a half-eaten water-vole for your environmental pleasure. The badger is one of the few surviving wild mammals of any size.

Barely anyone has ever seen a badger, outside of children’s book illustrations. There are a handful of badger refuges where you can watch them from a hide. I have seen a road-killed badger up close. Once. In almost the only area of England that is neither developed nor mountainous. (Probably not for long.)

Badgers are not just threatened by farmers who have somehow come to believe that their cattle can catch badger diseases.

There is also a “sport” (I use the term ironically) called badger baiting (the clue’s in the name) which involves sending dogs into badger setts and killing them. This is understandably illegal. Badger Watch has a News section that consists of recent prosecutions. So, how is it not criminal to consider gassing hundreds of badgers. Even the repellent humans who kill them for sport don’t kill more than one or two at a time. The cull is aimed at most of the findable badger population.

This isn’t a problem because badgers are really cute (although they are.) It’s a problem because it’s yet another misguided assault on an increasingly fragile ecosystem, driven by short-term economic goals, at a time when we are all supposed to be coming to recognise the interdependence of life in our increasingly fragile eco-systems.

There is an online parliamentary e-petition against culling. Please sign it if you live in the UK and you don’t support culling and you can bring yourself to believe there’s any point.

Ebuyer Good and Bad

Well, first off, I was wrong when I worried about Ebuyer getting my goods to me, they actually arrived today. Fortunately, I had relied more on City Link’s claims of when the goods would be delivered than Ebuyers and was able to accept the delivery.

Oddly, even though Ebuyer claimed the shipment would only be two thirds of the goods, all arrived at the same time. I wonder if Ebuyer are aware of this… 😀 Overall, this is not a “well done” to Ebuyer, I am relived the things arrived but the almost random scheduling is still annoying. I hope it never comes down to a case of me singing a company’s praise simply because they managed to do what I paid them hundreds of pounds to do…

Also, especially pertinent since my local authority now only collects household waste every two weeks, the amount of packaging used was outrageous. Seriously. I even took some pictures (one of the items was a new memory card so I had to try it out) to prove my point.

Box on side Box from top

I have put some household items around it so you can get an idea of the size. It is a big box. You would think it held something really big, or really fragile.

Contents - shot 1 Contents - Shot 2

As you can see, the sole contents of this box were FIVE DVD-RW disks. Yes, only five. All that packaging for five disks. Amazing really. The memory card was a bit different as it came in a plastic envelope – much more in proportion. I wonder if I can make Ebuyer pay for the extra costs involved in getting rid of that carboard and the plastic padding that was inside (doesn’t photo very well, so I excluded most of it). Anyway, I am still going to think of Ebuyer as a bad shop for a while longer…

[tags]Waste, Environment, Bad Shops, eBuyer, Google Checkout, Rant, Shops, Society, Technology[/tags]