Azara Blog: November 2006 archive complete

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Date published: 2006/11/30

Are we running out of oil? (permanent blog link)

There was a "debate" this evening at New Hall about "Are we running out of oil?" (part of the Environment on the Edge series). Well of course the supply of oil is not infinite and we are using a heck of a lot of it each day, so eventually it will run out. The real question, which is what the "debate" was about, is "When we will hit peak oil?" (i.e. the maximum of oil production).

The "debate" consisted of two speakers each giving a presentation, with some questions from the audience at the end.

The first speaker was Jeremy Leggett. He worked as an oil industry consultant, before becoming an environmental campaigner (working for Greenpeace), before becoming the CEO of a solar energy company. Given his credentials, it is not too surprising that he gave a slick performance.

He is in the camp that believes that the peak of oil production will happen within the next five or six (or so) years. He claimed that not many people belong to this camp, instead most people (e.g. most oil companies, most journalists, most financial analysts, most governments, the IEA) allegedly believe peak production will not happen until the 2030s. Well, you don't have to read much in the press to know that that black-and-white view is not quite right, lots of people worry about oil production tailing off in the near future.

Leggett claimed he hoped he was wrong, but given the environmental damage that oil causes you have to wonder if that was a genuine sentiment or not.

He went through a potted history of oil. The peak of oil discovery in the 48 continental US states was in 1930. By analysing discovery versus consumption, some chap by the name of Hubbert predicted that production would peak around 1971, and it did peak in 1970. World oil discovery peaked in 1965. So will the world follow the US pattern. (Of course looking at the 48 states conveniently ignores the huge oil fields discovered in Alaska. And presumably also ignores oil in the Gulf of Mexico.)

The main problem with analysing this question seems to be lack of data. OPEC has stated reserves, but Leggett showed a table that made it pretty clear these stated reserves are just made up. Apparently in 1985 Kuwait arbitrarily increased its stated reserves from 64 to 90 (billion barrels). (Presumably to get an increased quota.) Then Iraq increased its stated reserves from 47 to 100 in 1988 and the rest of OPEC joined the game. And it seems that from 1990 until today the stated reserves of the major OPEC oil producers have pretty much remained constant from year to year, which means that by some miracle the oil produced has magically somehow exactly matched the oil allegedly discovered.

Of course the demand for oil is increasing (circa 1.8% per year currently). So if the supply starts to fall, the world is going to be in for a nasty shock, and within ten years if you believe peak oil is upon us. Leggett called this shock an "economic dislocation", which is a nice way of saying it will be a massive depression probably with massive inflation (so stagflation).

The second speaker was Ian Vann, Group Vice President Exploration and Production for BP. In contrast to Leggett, Vann came across as a folksy engineer-type. And his talk was not nearly so slick. His main argument was that the limit to oil production were political more than geological, technical or economic. He did not particularly give a convincing argument that this was the case, but unless you're a day-in-and-day-out energy expert, you cannot really judge.

Apparently the cumulative amount of oil consumed to date is around 1 trillion barrels, and the world currently consumes around 30 billion barrels per year. Vann claimed that somehow there might be another 3 trillion barrels which might be able to be produced. Apparently, for example, there has been no real oil exploration in Iraq for forty years, so there might be huge reserves there still to be discovered. But this seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

At the end there were some questions from the audience. Of course several people pointed out that even if there are 3 trillion barrels of oil waiting to be produced, climate change is so serious that we perhaps shouldn't even want to produce this oil.

One person asked whether oil companies should be sued like tobacco companies. Vann took this question in stride, and rather politely pointed out that we are all accountable for consuming oil. Of course smokers are also responsible for their own health, but that has not stopped them suing the tobacco companies, and no doubt people will similarly start suing the oil companies rather than accepting their own responsibility, that is the way of the world. (Indeed, the state of California has said it will sue car companies for foisting cars on the state. Which is a similar statement of denial.)

Leggett pointed out at this point that nobody blamed smokers, but of course that is the problem. Already in 1970 the Boston Science Museum had an exhibit of a normal lung and a smoker's lung, and even a ten-year old could understand that smoking was not good for your health. Unless someone held them down and shoved cigarettes in their mouth when they were kids, smokers have nobody but themselves to blame. And similarly for people and oil.

(Leggett actually then diverted off onto a completely unrelated point about suing oil companies because they are exaggerating their reserves. That is a completely fair point but irrelevant to the question at hand. Unfortunately this kind of diversion of a question is a bit too common for political types. Perhaps now that Leggett has a proper job he was just tired and his mind wandered.)

Now Leggett works for a solar energy company so was happy to plug that technology (no matter how unsuitable it currently is for Britain) when given the chance. But even he admitted that it is nowhere near likely to fill the gap left when, as he sees it, oil production drops in a few years.

Indeed the main problem for the world is how to adjust if the oil supply suddenly comes nowhere near meeting demand. Well, there will be an "economic dislocation". Eventually the world will adjust, but how will it adjust. As Leggett sees it, there could be two alternatives scenarios. Either the world becomes a low-carbon economy, or the world, in a panic, throws environmental considerations out the door and goes down the path of short-term fixes such as using even worse fuels than "conventional" oil, like "tar sands" oil and coal.

Well, it is pretty obvious that the low-carbon economy will not be here in ten years. So if you really believe that peak oil is coming in a few years, the only conclusion is that the second scenario is much more likely. Governments of the world would not be very popular if they did nothing to find energy sources and keep their economies going. It's a no-brainer. The academic middle class of Britain might tut-tut, but they will be ignored.

Framework Programme 7 budget approved by European Parliament (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The European Parliament has approved a 54bn euro (£36bn) plan to boost science research in Europe.

Framework Programme 7 (FP7) is designed to support several priority areas of research.

Of the different research categories, information technology gets the biggest chunk of funding, with a 9.1bn euro (£6bn) budget.

But research into climate change and energy have received a comparatively small amount of funding in the plan.

The Parliament gave the go-ahead to the plan on Thursday at its second reading. FP7 is due to be formally adopted by the EU on 5 December. The programme is due to run from 2007 to 2013.

Of course no scientists are going to complain about more funding for science research. (Well, somehow the humanities have also managed to cream off some 610 million euros of this budget.) And the EU wastes so much money on agriculture that European citizens should be happy that at least some money is being spent on something else.

But there is a question whether increased science research funding should be done at European level (where the level of associated bureaucracy is large and the corruption is large) or at national level (where it is not nearly so bad in either regard, at least in the UK).

There is also the question of the targetted research areas. Information Technology (IT) does not really need much public-sector support, the private sector is happy to throw money at it, because plenty of money can be made in return. Government should only really be funding things that nobody else will fund. In particular, energy research should be getting much more funding, considering that energy is a much more pressing issue for the world than IT.

Universities allegedly must do more for poor students (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Universities must do more to admit students from deprived backgrounds, higher education minister Bill Rammell has said.

In 2005/06, £386m was spent on widening participation, improving retention rates and helping disabled students.

While universities say progress has been made, government figures show an upward trend in poorer student numbers has levelled off since 2002.

Mr Rammell now wants all outreach activities to target deprived groups.

Speaking at a conference in London, Mr Rammell called on universities to help overcome the real and perceived barriers poorer youngsters faced in getting to and succeeding in higher education.

"We need to think about how to close social class gaps at every stage of the education system," he said.

He was responding to a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), based on questionnaires completed by universities.

It found 89% of the institutions surveyed said progress in widening participation over the past four years had been strong.

But it said while there was "overwhelming" evidence that wider participation programmes were raising aspirations, there was "weak" evidence of raised attainment and access.

It did acknowledge that some questionnaire answers may have been understated or overstated, and therefore a more rigorous measurement of progress was needed.

All a bit ridiculous the amount of time and effort this pathetic hectoring of universities takes up. So the HEFCE asks universities "are you really nice chaps to poor people" and get the response "yes", what a surprise. But this is not the real issue. The real issue, as Rammell himself at least had the grace to point out, is the under-18 education system. By the time you are 18 it is far too late to close the gap. It is not up to universities to be baby-sitters for people who have not been properly educated in the first place, no matter how much the political elite would want to see it otherwise, for reasons of political correctness.

Date published: 2006/11/29

The local council throws out Stansted Airport expansion plans (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Expansion plans for Stansted Airport which could boost the number of passengers have been rejected. Uttlesford District Council turned down BAA's planning application to extend the existing runway.

The airport operator wanted to increase passenger numbers to 35m a year.

Councillors said they were concerned about the impact expansion would have on the local environment. BAA said it would appeal against the decision.

Uttlesford's planning officers' reasons for recommending refusal include the impact it would have on noise, air quality, road and rail networks and local quality of life.

They said economic benefits had not been demonstrated to be strong enough to outweigh other factors.

A second runway at Stansted was contained in the government's 2003 Aviation White Paper, a review of which is due from the Department for Transport before the end of this year.

Is this supposed to be a surprise? A small and rather insignificant district council is only ever going to look after the interests of its own residents (unless some bribery goes on), so of course they are going to refuse to allow Stansted to expand. This is a perfect illustration of the stupidity of the English planning system. The regional and national interests were not considered at all, just the interests of a few people living near Stansted. (And surprise, most of these people are no doubt happy to fly, just as long as they don't have to suffer the consequences.) There now has to be an appeal, with the main winners being the lawyers. Five years ago BAA would probably have won hands down. But most of the ruling elite have recently become hysterical about airplane travel (well, airplane travel by ordinary people, because of course the ruling elite will continue to fly). So who knows what will happen now. The main hope of the anti-Stansted organisations must be that they can drag out the planning inquiry long enough that BAA either gives up in despair or the government officially decides to hammer the aviation industry. And people wonder why England has a dysfunctional transport system.

Yet another report on climate change (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The biodiversity and productivity of seas around the UK could already be suffering the consequences of climate change, a report has concluded.

It says damaging storms have become more frequent, and rising sea surface temperatures have led to an apparent northward shift of warm-water plankton.

The "Annual Report Card" pulls together leading research on climate change's impact on the UK's marine environment.

The study was compiled by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership.

The partnership (MCCIP) - including government departments, academics and NGOs - hoped the publication would give more people better access to the research, and help them understand the issues surrounding the topic.

The report looked at a range of climate-related issues affecting the marine environment; from temperature changes and sea level rise to the distribution of fish species.
Each of the contributing scientists rated their level of certainty about the statements within the report, as low, medium or high, based on the amount and consistency of available data.

It gave a low confidence rating to the impact of climate change on the distribution of fish species because it said that observations of rare fish migrants to UK water cannot yet be directly attributed to global warming.

It also added that although cold-water species had moved further north in some regions, such as the North Sea, the shifts had not happened elsewhere.

But forecasts for increases in sea surface temperatures (SST) received a high confidence rating.
But the study also said that whilst the variety and distribution of marine species were being altered by climate change, it was not the only factor; commercial fishing remained the major cause of changes in fish populations.

Projection of sea levels around the UK's shores rising up to 80cm by 2080 received a "medium" confidence rating, yet forecasts of increased coastal flooding merited a "low" confidence rating, illustrating the complexities of modelling the impacts of climate change on the seas around the UK.

Some interesting current best guesses. Of course as with all studies on climate change, nothing good is ever deemed to be likely to happen, it always has to be negative to get any mention.

Date published: 2006/11/28

Global CO2 emissions have accelerated the last five years (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The rise in humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide has accelerated sharply, according to a new analysis.

The Global Carbon Project says that emissions were rising by less than 1% annually up to the year 2000, but are now rising at 2.5% per year.

It says the acceleration comes mainly from a rise in charcoal consumption and a lack of new energy efficiency gains.
The Global Carbon Project draws its data from a wide range of sources, including measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and studies on fossil fuel use.

From that data, researchers have extracted two trends which they believe explain the sharp upturn found around the year 2000.

"There has been a change in the trend regarding fossil fuel intensity, which is basically the amount of carbon you need to burn for a given unit of wealth," explained Corinne Le Quere, a Global Carbon Project member who holds posts at the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey.

"From about 1970 the intensity decreased - we became more efficient at using energy - but we've been getting slightly worse since the year 2000," she told the BBC News website.

"The other trend is that as oil becomes more expensive, we're seeing a switch from oil burning to charcoal which is more polluting in terms of carbon."

The Project does not have data on precisely where this is happening, but there is anecdotal evidence of increases in charcoal burning in parts of Asia and Africa.

You would think, with China opening up a new coal power plant every N days, that the geniuses who work on this subject would have been able to predict this would happen ahead of time. And it's a bit of a pity that they can't blame the Americans for all this increase, that's the usual scapegoat in these matters.

Britain's water systems are allegedly in crisis (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain's water systems are in crisis and the government has a decade to put things right, according to a coalition of conservation and angling groups.

They are setting out a 10-point plan to make UK water systems sustainable, including fair pricing, slashing waste and upgrading sewerage facilities.

People should have personal allowances and homes should be metered, they say.
It is perhaps unusual to find conservation groups such as the Wildlife Trusts, WWF and the RSPB in league with angling associations.

But on water, they find common arguments, namely that Britain should:

"It's clear that adequate supplies of clean water are essential, not only for our lives but for the health of the habitats, species, landscapes and soils we depend on," said Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust.

"For too long, we've taken water for granted - we hope the Blueprint will mark the beginning of a concerted effort to put this right."
Within two years, their report says, the government should publish a plan for metering every home. The meters should actually be installed throughout England at least by 2020.

It wants the government to set a consumption ceiling of 125 litres per person per day in most areas, and 100 litres in areas of scarcity.

By comparison, a bath uses about 80 litres, flushing the toilet about 5-10 litres, and a hosepipe 500 litres per hour.

Another day, another "crisis".

This is just more control freakery from the academic middle class. How dare the peasants "take water for granted", next thing you know they'll take education for granted, and the health service for granted, and the air they breathe for granted.

More seriously, it is fair enough to think that water meters are a good idea. There are negatives (e.g. the health of poor people might suffer as they cut water use) but you can at least make a case for meters. Unfortunately these propagandists will only mention the positives, not the negatives.

And any group that talks about "pricing water fairly" is obviously up to no good. What "fair" normally means in these circumstances is "conforms to my prejudices".

If you are going to price water based on economic, rather than social, reasons, then it should be priced based on how much it costs to provide the service, taking environmental, capital and operational costs into consideration (including supply and disposal). That is the "fair" price. An arbitrary price decided by a bunch of unaccountable control freaks is not "fair". Unfortunately they (like Thatcher) know the (economic) price of everything and the (social) value of nothing.

There are no good reasons to set an arbitrary consumption ceiling. By requesting that, these people are just saying that they should decide how other people choose to consume their income. Which of course is the mentality of these people. How dare the peasants decide what to do with their own money.

And it is not that bizarre that so-called conservation groups and anglers are working together here. The former hate consumption (especially by the peasants) of anything, including water. The latter, in common with all other special interest groups, think that their special interest should trump the interests of the rest of society. They both think the world should stand still. Or preferably revert to pre-industrial times, when the peasants consumed little and did what they were told, and England was a "green and pleasant land".

Date published: 2006/11/27

Tories want businesses, but not households, to pay "green" taxes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Conservatives are planning a carbon tax on British businesses to persuade them to reduce their emissions, shadow chancellor George Osborne has said.

The party says the proposal would raise more revenue than the existing climate change levy.

Any extra money would be returned to businesses through other tax cuts.

The climate change levy was introduced in April 2001 to cut emissions from business.

Companies can often recoup the money through the energy they save and can also avoid the levy by using renewable energy - but not nuclear energy.

The BBC's economics editor, Evan Davis, says the levy raises less than £1bn per year, and that this new proposal is the first substantive proposal by the Conservatives for a new environmental tax.

He also says there are no plans by the Tories to tax households directly on their carbon emissions.

The Conservatives have said they want green taxes to form a higher proportion of all taxes, although they do not want the overall tax take to rise.

It's a nonsense to put all these so-called green taxes on businesses and not on households unless the pollution of the latter has already been taxed at source. And the Tories, like all the other political parties, have not faced up to the fundamental problem of so-called green taxes. If they succeed in changing people's behaviour then the amount of tax is drastically reduced, so you have to whack up the rate or increase other taxes in compensation.

The level of an environmental tax should not be determined by fiscal requirements, it should be determined by the amount of environmental damage a given activity causes. No political party (and no so-called environmentalist) is willing to face up to this simple idea. (A starter for ten: car drivers already pay a sky-high carbon tax, while train commuters pay an effective negative tax, since their journey is heavily subsidised, so which activity do all the ruling elite want to tax more and which do they want to subsidise more?)

Some chemistry teacher wants anti-evolution materials to be used in schools (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Science teaching materials deemed "not appropriate" by the government should be allowed in class, Education Secretary Alan Johnson has been told.

Ex-head of chemistry at Liverpool's Blue Coat School, Nick Cowan, says the packs promoting intelligent design are useful for debating Darwinist theories.

He urged Mr Johnson to view packs from lobby group Truth in Science for himself, before condemning them.

Education officials insist intelligent design is not recognised as science.

Advocates of intelligent design say there are things that cannot be explained by evolution and so argue for the existence of a supernatural intelligence behind the creation of the universe.
Mr Cowan's call comes as the Guardian reported that the Truth in Science materials were being used in 59 schools.

Mr Cowan says they are "very scholarly" and could be extremely useful in helping children understand the importance of scientific debate

He told the BBC: "Darwin has for many people become a sacred cow.

"There's a sense that if you criticise Darwin you must be some kind of religious nut case.

"We might has well have said Einstein shouldn't have said what he did because it criticised Newton."

Mr Cowan argues that science only moves forward by reviewing and reworking previous theories and that these materials foster an understanding of this.

He also points out that the Truth in Science materials, which he describes as outstanding, do not mention creationism or even God.

Of course these materials don't mention creationism or God. The Truth in Science folk (yes, the name already tells you they are suspect) are trying to pretend, disingenuously, that they are interested in a scientific debate. They are not interested in a scientific debate, they are interested in undermining (specifically) evolution because they have religious objections to some of its conclusions. They don't seem to spend much time trying to undermine the theory of relativity, or the standard model of physics, or anything else. Unfortunately people who "criticise Darwin" (i.e. criticise evolutionary theory) generally are "some kind of religious nut cases".

Of course in a couple of hundred years, much of the current theory of evolution will be refined or overturned (assuming the religious nutters haven't managed to stop scientific research on the subject). That is how science works. Serious evolutionary biologists, not creationists, will be the people who move the subject forward.

A reduction in European bluefin tuna catches (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The annual catch of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean is to be cut by one fifth in an attempt to conserve dwindling stocks.

The 42-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) agreed the quota cut at a meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Iccat also agreed measures to combat illegal hunting of the giant fish.

Conservation groups criticised the scale of the cuts as "weak, scandalous and inadequate".

Scientific advice prepared for the Iccat meeting concluded that catches in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean were about three times above sustainable levels.
A WWF study found that one in every three bluefin landed in the Mediterranean was caught illegally.

The Iccat deal will see:

The Iccat decision follows reductions made earlier in the year in Japan, which agreed unilaterally to cut its own catch of southern bluefin tuna by 50%.

If you take the WWF figures on illegally caught bluefins at face value, and by some miracle Iccat managed to stop most of this illegal fishing, then the amount of fish landed would be reduced by around a third, which is halfway to the scientific request for a two thirds reduction. Needless to say it is easy for the scientists to make these requests, it is not they who will be out of a job.

However the real question is whether the increase in permitted minimum size from 10kg to 30kg will do any good whatsoever. The fishing fleets will presumably still catch those smaller fish, only they will then have to chuck the dead (or damaged) fish back into the water. Hardly a great victory for the environment, indeed it could make things worse than now by forcing the fishing fleets to catch even more bluefins than now.

Date published: 2006/11/26

Police want to use audio surveillance on public crowds (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A new civil liberties controversy has flared up over the news that police chiefs are considering using high-powered microphones to "eavesdrop" - as critics will see it - on crowds at the London 2012 Olympics.

A high-ranking officer told the BBC the proposal to strengthen security by using microphones alongside closed-circuit TV involved "taking public surveillance to an entirely new level".

But the former Home Secretary David Blunkett called publicly on the government to block the scheme.

He told BBC Radio Five Live's Weekend News programme that the suggestion was "simply unacceptable", and smacked of the "surveillance state".

Mr Blunkett said the idea echoed the fictional authoritarian "Brave New World" of Aldous Huxley.

"As you walk down the street you expect to be able to have a private conversation," he said.

"If you can't guarantee that - and here is someone speaking who has been pretty tough in terms of what should be available to protect society - I believe we have slipped over the edge."

He said he hoped the government would not authorise it.

"There is an enormous difference between surveilling people in terms of CCTV - where what you see is what anyone can see walking down the road - and actually recording someone's private conversations," he said.

The idea of using audio surveillance at the Olympics is being considered among proposals for enhancing security at the Olympics, well-placed sources have told Five Live.

The devices would be able to pick up conversations up to 100 yards away.

But details of how the system might be used have not been worked out.

Safeguards could be included in the scheme, such as requiring audio surveillance to be authorised by a senior officer and ensuring the system was reviewed by an independent monitor.

The proposal has not yet been finalised, however, or submitted for political approval.

Police sources concede that public debate and political approval would be needed before such a controversial extension of police powers could be approved.

Unbelievable, both the proposal (not that the police don't already do stuff like this without anyone knowing about it) and the condemnation by Blunkett (one of the worst Home Secretaries of all time, in particular with regard to civil liberties).

Blair regrets the slave trade (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he feels "deep sorrow" for Britain's role in the slave trade.

In an article for the New Nation newspaper, the prime minister said it had been "profoundly shameful".

But Mr Blair stopped short of issuing a full apology, which some commentators have demanded.

The government is reportedly setting out its plans for next year's bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been drawing up ideas for the 25 March anniversary, including the possibility of a "statement of regret" for Britain's involvement.

He has already ruled out a formal apology.

In comments reported by The Observer, Mr Blair said: "It is hard to believe what would now be a crime against humanity was legal at the time.

"I believe the bicentenary offers us a chance not just to say how profoundly shameful the slave trade was - how we condemn its existence utterly and praise those who fought for its abolition - but also to express our deep sorrow that it could ever have happened and rejoice at the better times we live in today."

The statement is due to appear in New Nation, a newspaper aimed at the black community, on Monday.

Activist Paul Stephenson told the BBC: "The prime minister could have gone further, but nevertheless it is a step in the right direction."

A written ministerial statement to Parliament is expected this week, setting out the government's commemoration plans.

In February, the Church of England General Synod voted to apologise to the descendants of victims of the slave trade.

You would think there were more serious, modern, issues to worry about, rather than apologise, or not, for things that happened over 200 years ago. Of course if this were America any sort of half-apology would immediately bring billion dollar lawsuits. Perhaps Blair is worried that Americans (who seem to think they rule the world) might decide to sue the British government in American courts.

Date published: 2006/11/25

Cambridge looks towards developing the east side of the city (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Transport bosses have been working out how to accommodate the traffic created by 11,500 new homes and 5,000 jobs in Cambridge East which may become a reality over the next 20 years.

It is estimated that nearly 2,300 people could travel from the new developments to the city centre alone during peak hours.

The houses are set to be built in three phases with estates designated for north of Newmarket Road, north of Cherry Hinton Road, and finally, on Marshall's airport, if the company moves to another site.

The scheme aims to get 60 per cent of the development's 30,000 residents to leave their cars at home, and would see up to 21 buses an hour going into the city centre. A segregated busway would be created to allow journey times of just ten minutes, and every house would be within 400 metres of a bus route.

Planners want 30 per cent of people to walk or cycle, and a new direct route across Coldhams Common, including a new cycle bridge, would be created as well as an upgrade of the Jubilee route and Tin's Path from Rosemary Lane.

New residents would also be given a discount pack when they move in offering a year's free membership of a car club; a public transport season ticket pass; vouchers for free cycle lessons; vouchers for use at the cycle shops for maintaining a bike, buying accessories, hiring or loaning a bike, or towards the cost of buying a bicycle; plus discount vouchers for local shops and free home delivery vouchers.

Despite the best intentions, 40 to 50 per cent of journeys will be by car and more than 11,000 cars are expected to travel out of the development between 7am and 10am. If planners only do the minimum to deter drivers, more than 14,500 cars will be on the roads.

Many of these numbers do not add up. In Britain there are around 2.2 people per household, and that number is declining, so it's hard to see how there are supposedly going to be 30000 residents in these 11000 homes.

Further, if there are 11000 cars leaving the area in the morning and only 2300 heading into the city centre that means they are claiming that 80% of the jobs for these drivers are elsewhere. In particular presumably many of these people will be heading for the A14. What's the point of adding thousands of homes in Cambridge if the people who live in them work elsewhere? And in a not-very-nice area like the east side of the city, is that really likely to be the case?

And where are these 5000 jobs coming from? Currently there are no jobs (to speak of) on that side of the city except for Marshall's, which of course the geniuses who run Cambridge are trying to expel (for this very housing). The biggest employers in the city are the university and Addenbrookes, and they are expanding in the south and west, not the east.

And in similar locations elsewhere in the city, do less than half of rush hour journeys happen by car? Or is the city (as usual) sticking up two fingers to new residents and insisting that their living conditions should be worse than for existing residents? Let the peasants go by bus while the ruling elite go everywhere by car (including taxi).

Will there be any substantive shopping centres added to the area, or (as now) are they going to force east-side residents to crawl up Newmarket Road or Coldhams Lane in order to go shopping? Unfortunately the geniuses who run Cambridge have insisted that all shopping be either in the city centre or along Newmarket Road, which seriously exacerbates the traffic problem. But the politicians and bureaucrats of course always blame car drivers rather than themselves.

British Airways caves in over staff wearing crosses (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Bishop of London has welcomed a review of uniform policy by British Airways in the wake of a row over a worker ordered to stop wearing a cross.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres said he took his "hat off" to Nadia Eweida for standing up for the British tradition of free expression.

Ms Eweida had lost her appeal against a decision banning her from wearing the cross visibly at the check-in counter.

The airline said it had to reconsider "in the light of the public debate".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's PM programme, the Bishop of London paid tribute to Ms Eweida.

He said: "I hope in some ways that this story is going to encourage more people to wear their cross to stand up in public for the historic faith of this country because they can certainly do so in a way that protects the rights of others as well as Christians.

"There is something of an anxiety about intolerant secularism in our country and I think this is a very important blow and hats off to Nadia Eweida."

The only people who have any sort of "anxiety about intolerant secularism" are intolerant Christian fundamentalists. Unfortunately the world seems to be more and more dominated by these fundamentalists, and this is just the latest example in Britain of religious fundamentalists (not just Christians) browbeating the rest of society into submission. BA always allowed Eweida to wear her cross, but just not visibly. She wanted to wear it visibly so that (she said) people would know that Jesus was looking after them. Unfortunately he is not. Hopefully she will not now decide to push Christianity on BA's customers. Hopefully BA will not now have started a religious war amongst its staff as each sect decides to try and prove that it is bigger and better than the rest. Hopefully British bishops can go back to spouting their nonsense to their own flock in church on Sundays, rather than inflicting it on everyone else.

Date published: 2006/11/24

David Cameron is allegedly concerned about poverty (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

David Cameron claims there has been a "big change" in the way the Conservatives think about poverty.

In a speech to mark 25 years since the Scarman Report into the Brixton riots, the Tory leader will argue poverty is not only "absolute" but "relative".

It was not just "material deprivation," but the fact that some people "lacked things others took for granted".
Mr Cameron is attempting to rid the Conservative Party of its "nasty party" image by adopting a more conciliatory tone on social issues.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there is a big change in the way that we think about poverty. Stop treating it as an issue for government, start treating as an issue for society."

But he ruled out capping high salaries and big City bonuses as way of tackling the inequality gap.

He said he did not believe "we'll make the country happier by capping the salary of David Beckham".

The "relative" definition of poverty uses median household income to determine who is "poor". The median household income is the income of the average household. It is not the average of all household incomes. In particular, no matter how much money the top earners make, it has no (direct) impact on the median household income, and so does nothing to reduce the "inquality gap". The only way the Tories (or anyone else) can reduce the rate of "relative" poverty is to close the gap between the average British household and the poor British households. So David Cameron is saying that the high flyers are good chaps and deserve their extortionate salaries. And the poor people deserve even more subsidy from the rest of society. And the people in the middle should be hammered to pay for it. It seems that David Cameron believes that the people in the middle don't really deserve their hard-earned incomes, and that he can "make the country happier" by taking more of it away from them.

Shock: food manufacturers try to convince people to buy their food (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Leading food manufacturers are accused of using tactics to push foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children.

A report by consumer group Which? says companies use "underhand" ploys such as free toys and websites to appeal to young children.

Researchers monitored the marketing practices of 12 food giants over six months and interviewed 50 children.

Food manufacturers rejected the consumer group's claims, saying they adhered to advertising guidelines.
Which? researchers looked at 20 different marketing techniques used by the 12 companies: Burger King, Coca-cola, Cadbury Schweppes, Haribo, Kellogg's, KFC, Kraft, Masterfoods, McDonald's, Nestlé, Pepsico and Weetabix.

The most popular methods used the internet, children's films and the World Cup.

Some products encouraged "viral marketing", when children spread a brand message to each other by emailing e-cards, cartoons or spoof adverts. Others used competitions.

Which? says advertisers are turning their focus to parents too, "making foods high in fat, sugar or salt seem healthy options for their children".

Nick Stace of Which? said: "How can parents be expected to give their children a healthy, balanced diet when these sophisticated, underhand techniques are targeting their children often behind their backs?

More control freakery by the academic middle class. How dare companies make people want to buy their products. They should obviously be socially responsible and do the exact opposite and go bust. And if Which? doesn't like obnoxious corporate marketing perhaps they should look at how they themselves try to entrap people to buy their useless magazine.

Date published: 2006/11/23

Plastic reusable paper allegedly good for the environment (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Toshiba has developed a printer that uses plastic "paper" that can be re-used hundreds of times.

The electronics firm said the printer could help companies reduce carbon emissions as it helped to cut the amount of paper they consume.

Toshiba said the machine was designed for businesses and could find a home in many niche applications where permanent copies of documents were not needed.

Industry experts said firms might find it hard to adjust to re-useable paper.
Mike Keane, a spokesman for Toshiba TEC Europe, said under normal working conditions a sheet of the plastic paper can be used 500 times.
Comparisons carried out by Toshiba suggest that companies could reduce their carbon emissions in two ways by adopting the printer, said Mr Keane.

Firstly, he said, the production process for the B-SX8R generates about 1.5kg of CO2 emissions. By comparison the production process for laser printers, which require either ink or toner, generates up to 6.5kg of carbon emissions.

Secondly, he said, the fact that it helps firms to use less paper and reduces the amount they have to recycle would also help reduce the emissions for which a firm was responsible.
But Jeff Cooper, chair of the International Solid Waste Association's Scientific and Technical Committee, said adapting to using the printer could be a problem.

"The main problem is likely to be the human behavioural issues and training ourselves to re-use quickly rather than hoard," said Mr Cooper.

He also questioned Toshiba's analysis of the lifecycle costs of using paper compared to the B-SX8R as it did not take enough account of the costs involved in storing the plastic paper for a long time.

Using plastic paper for documents would involve "substituting an eminently renewable resource for a predominantly non-renewable resource," he said.

The analysis by Cooper hits the nail on the head. And in addition, the claim of the number of reuses and the amount of CO2 allegedly saved are almost certainly better than what would be achieved in reality. The story is indicative of how companies are now trying to sell technology for allegedly being green rather than for allegedly solving some business requirement.

Date published: 2006/11/22

Atmospheric methane level looking somewhat stable (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The rise in concentrations of the greenhouse gas methane in the atmosphere has slowed down considerably in recent years, research suggests.

Scientists say levels have been stable for about seven years following a steep rise during the last century.

Researchers believe the slowdown may be due to measures aimed at reducing the release of methane from gas pipelines, paddy fields and landfill sites.
"Methane is not as significant a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, but its effects are important," said Sherwood Rowland from the University of California at Irvine, US.

"The world needs to work hard to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases."

Interesting, but only one study.

More special pleading on behalf of rural Britain (permanent blog link)

Moira Constable, chief executive of the Rural Housing Trust, says in the BBC:

More and more people are following their dream and moving out of the urban areas, either in pursuit of a much-vaunted lifestyle idyll or to invest in a second home.

It is no coincidence that at the same time, local people are deserting the villages where the houses once occupied by their parents and grandparents have become too expensive for them.
Villages that become exclusive settlements for the wealthy risk losing everything that attracted the new inhabitants there in the first place.

Villages don't need any old housing; they need affordable housing. They need it for local people. Urgently.

Why is this situation any different from life in urban and suburban areas? Rural areas are nothing special except that under any rational definition they are "unsustainable" in that they must get whacking great subsidies from the rest of the country in order to survive, never mind thrive.

Date published: 2006/11/21

LSE professor talks nonsense about housing in the UK (permanent blog link)

Anne Powers, a professor at the LSE, says in the BBC:

Housing has become a major topic because housing costs are extremely high in large parts of the South East and the South West of England and in more popular parts of the rest of Britain.

The economy has been growing steadily for 13 years and the number of jobs has multiplied.

Land constraints and fragmenting households have greatly increased pressures, leading to large-scale outer building in southern "growth areas".

At the same time immigration is far outstripping emigration, creating even greater pressure, particularly in London. We cannot indefinitely build more - we are an island.

And we are overbuilding in much of the rest of the country. There are major disincentives to repair existing homes within older industrial areas of the Midlands and the North of England.

People often prefer to buy a new house in a suburb than to renovate an older existing home.
The pressures of growth in the South East, decline and overbuilding elsewhere are socially polarising and environmentally harmful.

We build about the right number of homes but in the wrong places. So what should we do?

We should create incentives to reinvest in existing buildings. At the moment, there is a tax of 17.5% VAT on all repair and renovation.

This is an absurd barrier to maintaining what are often intrinsically well-planned, well-designed homes and streets.

We need to shift planning and design in favour of existing communities. Integrating old with new makes close-grained urban spaces attractive and harmonious.

We have a vast stock of under-used buildings created over centuries of urban and industrial growth that require specialised restoration and design skills.

We cannot afford to throw away existing housing assets. So we should stop demolishing decayed terraced homes in the North and much needed affordable housing in the South.

Architects and planners must adapt to this new low-impact approach, since the environmental impact of new housing is devastating.

Yet the Treasury subsidises infrastructure for new developments at about £35,000 per home, with extremely weak enforcement on environmental standards.

Yet suburbanites are generally better off, and white, while older, inner-city communities are poorer and more racially mixed.
Families would stay in cities if neighbourhood environments were better cared for, greener, cleaner, and safer.

For this to happen, we need local management of local conditions and services within attractive, integrated and dynamic neighbourhoods.

We also need traffic-calmed "home zones" that favour people of all ages on foot and bicycle over cars. Streets then become an outdoor living room.

An amazingly poor article, full of second-rate analysis.

"We cannot indefinitely build more - we are an island." A trite truism. Yes, you can probably not fit 100 billion people in the UK. But you could easily fit 100 million or more. The UK is not that densely populated, even in London. There is plenty of space (just fly over East Anglia and take a look), it's just that the ruling elite refuse to allow most of it to be built on.

"People often prefer to buy a new house in a suburb than to renovate an older existing home." Gee whiz, why would that be? The fact that the ruling elite can make statements like this shows how out of touch with reality they are. And what are they saying, that they should be able to force the peasants to live where the ruling elite tells them to live?

"At the moment, there is a tax of 17.5% VAT on all repair and renovation." Well, why not, almost all other consumption is taxed at this rate. But this should also be the tax rate on new builds, that is the problem.

"The pressures of growth in the South East, decline and overbuilding elsewhere are socially polarising and environmentally harmful." Translation: "I am one of the rich people who already live in the South East. All you other peasants who want to live here just go and bugger off."

"We need to shift planning and design in favour of existing communities." Well in Cambridge, at least, that is already the case. No major new build happens without the local chattering classes getting to put their two cents in. And their views are completely selfish, they never consider what the new residents might want. Of course most of their views are ignored (they are just too selfish), but unfortunately some of the worst ones are accepted.

"We cannot afford to throw away existing housing assets." Well, there are plenty of people in the country who believe most existing houses should be replaced by much more energy efficient ones. Of course this question is a complex equation, involving replacement and operational costs summed over a long period. Unfortunately nobody involved with urban planning can be trusted to do the sums fairly and properly, since they all have an axe to grind one way of the other.

"Yet suburbanites are generally better off, and white, while older, inner-city communities are poorer and more racially mixed." Yet another member of the ruling elite complaining about suburbanites. It's a bit much when a rich person complains about other rich people. In the UK we could do with a ruling elite that cares about all the people, not just some politically correct sector (which is always poor, so the elite can patronise them with their alleged concern).

"Families would stay in cities if neighbourhood environments were better cared for, greener, cleaner, and safer." Another trite statement. The reason people move to the suburbs is because those goals are more likely to be achieved there than in the dreadful large cities of Britain. (Well, Cambridge counts as a city, although it is really suburban in most ways.)

"We also need traffic-calmed "home zones" that favour people of all ages on foot and bicycle over cars. Streets then become an outdoor living room." Well, there is no reason that speed limits could not be reduced to 20 mph on many streets. But the rest of that argument is just the typical rant made by non-workers, complaining about workers having to get to work to pay taxes to keep the non-workers alive and kicking. Streets are not living rooms. Streets are not play areas. Streets are not quiet zones. Streets are for people to get about from A to B. It has always been like that, and no doubt will always be like that, in spite of the ruling elite trying to pretend otherwise.

The Carbon Trust wants businesses to profile pollution of products (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A scheme designed to help companies measure the total amount of carbon emissions from their goods and services has been launched by the Carbon Trust.

The "cradle-to-grave" initiative will provide businesses with a profile of products' pollution, from the sourcing of raw materials through to disposal.

A recent poll by the Trust showed that 66% of people asked wanted to know the "carbon footprint" of their purchases.

The carbon audits aim to identify ways firms can cut energy use and emissions.

Not the stupidest idea but can it be done properly? Does anyone know if some good has been produced using solar energy or oil or gas or coal? Does anyone know if a good made in China has come via road or rail to get to the port? Or even a good made in the UK? Does anyone have a clue how much pollution is produced for any good made in China? (And this is relevant since most goods in the UK have at least some components made in China.) So this looks more like an exercise in self-justification for the Carbon Trust than anything else. The Carbon Trust is one of the zillions of quangos afflicting the nation, whose main purpose in life seems to be self-justification.

And the poll result is meaningless. First of all they should have told the people what the cost of this information would be. (Surprise, all the people assume someone else would pay the cost, but in fact they would, as consumers, somehow or other.) Secondly, what people say in polls is meaningless in any case. In this case, for example, would this alleged knowledge actually be used by anyone (as a consumer), other than by a few members of the academic middle class?

Date published: 2006/11/20

Britain's airports could run out of runway space (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain's airports could run out of runway space for aircraft within 15 years if aviation growth is left unchecked, a report says.

The report by 60 local authorities also says the aviation sector is one of only a few industries planning to increase its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The Strategic Aviation Special Interest Group (Sasig) wants Downing Street to curb growth.

The government is aiming for a 60% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050.

Sasig said the government had "seriously underestimated" future demand for air travel.

It is calling for a full review of the 2003 Aviation White Paper, which published growth forecasts.

One option the government could follow was to ensure the rate of annual growth was cut from 5% to 2%, the report said.

This could be brought about by a "polluter-pays" tax on air travel, it adds.

At the same time, train services could be improved to make rail services a more viable alternative to short-haul flights.

Isn't it amazing that the "polluter-pays" principle should apply to air travel (and driving) but not to train services. There is hardly a train service in the world that does not receive a massive public subsidy, and that is just a business subsidy and completely ignores the environmental damage that trains cause, which is also not paid for by train customers, and the other implicit subsidies train services receive (e.g. having priority over cars at intersections). By all means air travel should pay for its environmental damage. But so should train travel, and train travel should also not be given any business subsidy, which represents an indirect consumption of energy, and so an indirect CO2 emission. Why should a teacher who lives and works in Cambridge by subsidising a rich London commuter who takes the train every day from Cambridge to London and back?

The reason that "Britain's airports could run out of runway space" is exactly because there are plenty of organisations like Sasig which are trying to prevent airport expansion. And so what if "the aviation sector is one of only a few industries planning to increase its CO2 emissions". If the people of Britain want to spend their CO2 allowance on air travel rather than some other, allegedly more politically correct, activity, then the ruling elite have no reason to stop this and should just shut up. It's like complaining that computers, in total, are using more and more electricity, because more and more people can afford computers. It's a nonsense argument.

And the government is just as likely to have "seriously overestimated", as underestimated, future demand for air travel. The main reason many people do not fly more now is not because of the cost of the flight but because of the sheer hassle involved, and the cost of accomodation at the other end. And no doubt the members of Sasig, since they are part of the ruling elite, fly abroad much more often than the average British citizen. If they so hate air travel, they should not themselves ever fly, even on "business".

Unfortunately there are far too many organisations like Sasig which just have a knee-jerk hatred of aviation (for mainly political reasons) and so have nothing to add to the debate. They should just be ignored.

Government wants to force a drug on a woman in a vegetative state (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A woman in a vegetative state will be given a sleeping pill which may "wake her up" against her family's wishes.

The 53-year-old, who has not been named, will be given zolpidem which early research has shown can bring people out of a vegetative state.

Her family do not want the test to go ahead, preferring to let her die, as she may be left seriously disabled.

But Sir Mark Potter, head of the High Court's family division, ruled against their wishes earlier this month.

The drug proposal was put forward by Laurence Oates, the outgoing Official Solicitor, who suggested that zolpidem be prescribed, the Guardian newspaper reported.

It is normally used to help insomnia but has been cited in a number of cases where it has caused patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) to wake up.

An improvement was seen within 20 minutes of taking the drug and wore off after four hours, when the patients restored to their permanent vegetative state.

A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "It is a very difficult situation.

"The Official Solicitor, who represents the woman, came to a view that was opposite to the family.

"He accepts that there are incredibly sensitive issues that need to be addressed with this family and the woman itself.

"But he also takes the view that there are other issues for other patients in this situation.

"He believes that no stone should be left unturned in trying to save life."

It is not known when the drug will be given to the woman, although the judgement only allows doctors to give a three-day course of the drug and they have been told they must stop if the woman starts to suffer.

Dreadful interference by the State. The idea that "no stone should be left unturned in trying to save life" is manifestly nonsense. If this drug cost a billion pounds to administer you can bet the government would not be so keen to try it. And if the drug is likely to provide no real lasting benefit (as seems the case) and could cause detriment then this experiment should not be undertaken, especially against the wishes of the family. Given the problems facing the planet, trying to resuscitate people with PVS should not be given any kind of priority. At some point you should just let people die with dignity.

Date published: 2006/11/19

Cunningham speaks out on House of Lords (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The House of Lords should be either "largely appointed or wholly elected", says the chairman of the joint committee looking into its reform.

Lord Cunningham said it was his personal view that there was "no logic" in having an upper house made up by both methods.

He also said there was no consensus "on the way forward". Reform was again included in the Queen's Speech.

House of Commons leader Jack Straw is said to favour a 50% elected house.

Among other measures leaked in October, Mr Straw wants to cut membership from 741 to 450, and limit terms to just three parliaments or about 12 years.

House of Lords "reform" is another simmering disaster of the Blair years. Cunningham is of course correct that there is "no logic" in having a split Lords but there is no logic in any choice, it is all totally arbitrary. But it would be good to see a House of Lords elected by proportional representation with long or infinite terms.

Date published: 2006/11/18

The internet is partly to blame for making voters disillusioned with politicians (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Tony Blair's outgoing chief strategy adviser fears the internet could be fuelling a "crisis" in the relationship between politicians and voters.

Matthew Taylor - who stressed he was speaking as a "citizen" not a government spokesman - said the web could be "fantastic" for democracy.

But it was too often used to encourage the "shrill discourse of demands" that dominated modern politics.
Speaking at an e-democracy conference in central London, he said modern politics was all about "quality of life" and that voters had a "very complex set of needs".

The end of deference, the rapid pace of social change and growing diversity were all good things, he argued, but they also meant governments found it increasingly difficult to govern.

"We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government," Mr Taylor told the audience.

Like "teenagers", people were demanding, but "conflicted" about what they actually wanted, he argued.

They wanted "sustainability", for example, but not higher fuel prices, affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.
He went on: "At a time at which we need a richer relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had, to confront the shared challenges we face, arguably we have a more impoverished relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had.

"It seems to me this is something which is worth calling a crisis."

The internet, he told the conference, was part of that "crisis".

Amazing, everything is a "crisis". Well if the internet is part of this "crisis" it is but a small part of it. The major contributors to the "crisis" are the ordinary (so-called mainstream) media, such as the BBC, and the politicians themselves.

For example, just listen to Radio 4's Today, BBC radio's flagship programme for the chattering classes, any weekday morning. A fair fraction of the segments (other than the trivial ones on some joke subject or on sport or weather) involve some special interest group pleading for more money for their special interest (always in "crisis", like everything else in the world). The Radio 4 presenters never (or rarely) ask whether the money is worth spending, and what else should be sacrificed in order to fund this special interest. No, the job of government, it seems, to to spend and spend and spend with no thought of where any of it comes from.

And the politicians are no better. They never tell people that if they want something they will have to pay for it. No, the politicians will deliver services people want but someone else will pay for it: car drivers, smokers, families without children, the "rich", you name it, but never the people who want the services. Of course in the real world the voters soon discover that there is no such thing as a free lunch (especially after the government has wasted much of the money on bureaucracy and consultants), so end up being rather cynical. Unfortunately the somebody-else-should-pay-for-everything-I-want premise is the keystone of political discourse in the modern world. This "crisis" has nothing to do with the internet.

UN climate conference in Nairobi comes to no great conclusion (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UN climate talks in Nairobi have ended with agreement reached on all outstanding matters.

The most difficult issue, a review of the Kyoto Protocol, was settled to the advantage of developing countries.

There is no deal on another round of mandatory cuts in emissions to follow the Kyoto Protocol, and no firm timetable for negotiating cuts.
The most important of the issues outstanding as the talks entered their final phase concerned the review of the Kyoto Protocol.

The protocol states that it should be reviewed at this stage, with many of its measures open to discussion.

A number of developing countries viewed this with suspicion, believing that it might open the door to demands that they consider binding cuts in emissions, possibly impacting economic development.

They asked for, and eventually got, a minimal review.

The European Union, with the support of a number of other nations, wanted a root and branch examination of emission targets and all the other components of the protocol.

The plan now is for such a review to take place in 2008.

To the concern of activists, the conference approved a proposal from Belarus that it be allowed to join the Kyoto Protocol in a way that could see it able to sell surplus emissions.

Its emissions declined sharply after the reference date of 1990 with the decline of Soviet bloc industry, and environment groups say Belarus will be able to make money from this with no resultant drop in global greenhouse gas emissions.
The next round of talks will be in Bali next December.

Nothing significantly new here. The UN should be required to publish how much carbon emissions are produced by these rather vacuous conferences held all over the world (including the contributions from all the NGO and media hangers on).

The Kyoto Protocol is flawed in various ways, and the wheeze for Belarus is just the latest example. (Of course letting Belarus collapse further economically might not be so bright for other reasons.)

Date published: 2006/11/17

Iter, the latest nuclear fusion reactor (permanent blog link)

Kaname Ikeda, director-general nominee for Iter, the (soon-to-be) latest, and therefore biggest and most expensive, nuclear fusion reactor in the world, says on the BBC:

The world faces a huge energy challenge in the coming years.

Not many people would disagree with that statement now, but how we meet that challenge is a matter for intense debate.

One thing is certain though - we need to rapidly develop our best options to tackle the problem, with estimates of energy needs indicating an increase of some 60% over the next two decades, due to projected growth in population and industrialisation of the developing countries.

Add to that the fact that currently over three-quarters of the world's energy is produced by burning fossils fuels producing CO2 and using up natural resources, and the need to develop new sources of energy that do not produce greenhouse gases becomes even more apparent.

Energy efficiency and renewables all have a role to play in tackling the problem, but they are unable to cover this demand alone.

Nuclear fission can help in bridging the gap, but its deployment faces political, technical and environmental concerns. If possible, we need to develop other alternatives. This is the reason for research into developing fusion power.

After decades of research in laboratories all over the world, a consortium of countries representing over half the world's population is now poised to take a major step forward in proving whether fusion power can become a reality.
The raw materials to produce this reaction are water and lithium.
There is enough deuterium for millions of years of energy supply, and easily accessible lithium for several thousands of years.
The aim of Iter is for the first time to put reactor scale physics and technology together in a single experiment to demonstrate that a fusion power plant is feasible.

The European experiment Jet, hosted in the UK, has already produced 16MW of fusion power, but only by inputting 25MW to heat the plasma.

Iter is double the dimensions of Jet, and has the goal of producing 500MW of fusion power, 10 times the input power.
If the Iter project and materials facility are successful, a prototype fusion power station could be putting electricity into the grid within 30 years, with commercial fusion power following 10 years later.

Sceptics make the comment that fusion power has always been - and will always be - 50 years away - but the time horizon seems to be slightly shortening now.

Indeed, in the early 1970s the US Department of Energy was claiming that fusion would be with us by 2000. Oh well, so much for that prediction. But nuclear fusion is worth pursuing, not only for energy reasons but because of basic research. It's certainly worth more to the world than astronomy or high energy physics, and if you only could fund one of the three, it's pretty obvious which it should be. Although it is often portrayed as having near-infinite sources for its raw materials and no really dangerous waste, the real situation is unlikely to be so clear cut. And there is also the question of the eventual cost per unit of energy produced. Of course a cheap(ish), clean(ish), plentiful(ish) source of energy would be a disaster for the so-called environmentalists, because it would allow humans to make an even bigger impact on the environment than currently happens.

There is allegedly a crisis in the UK computer industry (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The computer industry faces a skills crisis, the president of the British Computer Society has told BBC News.

Unless steps are taken now, there will not be enough qualified graduates to meet the demands of UK industry, warned Professor Nigel Shadbolt.

Prof Shadbolt said there was increasing demand but decreasing supply of graduates in computer science.
Professor Shadbolt has released previously unpublished research which shows that in the past four years demand for IT and computer graduates has doubled while at the same time the number of students studying the subject has declined by a third.
He said he feared that any shortfall in skilled IT professionals in the UK would lead to a loss of highly paid jobs to the emerging economies of India and China.

Isn't it amazing how everything in the world is in "crisis". One of the probable reasons for the decline in student numbers in IT is because an increasing number of IT jobs are already being outsourced to India and China, because pay over there is a fraction of what it is in the UK (as in all other disciplines), and IT jobs are trivial to outsource. So why should a young person bother taking a degree in a subject where your career could well be over by the time you are 30. IT went through a nosedive in 2000-2002, because of the collapse of the internet pyramid scam, so the fact that IT jobs have, perhaps temporarily, recovered does not really mean anything. And, as with most things in life where the government doesn't interfere too much, if the demand really is there, the supply will catch up soon enough.

Ofcom wants to ban "junk" food adverts for under-16s (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Food and drink manufacturers have attacked Ofcom proposals to ban junk food adverts targeted at under-16s.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was "shocked" by the decision, adding it feared that the planned regulations were "over the top".

Ofcom said the moves would cost broadcasters an estimated £39m in lost advertising revenue.

The proposed changes are expected to be enforced from the end of January 2007, and be phased in over 24 months.

It's amazing how much power an unelected, unaccountable, quango has over such an issue. Of course the control freaks and health fascists have long been asking for such a ban, so it is not that surprising that Ofcom has gone down this road (it would have happened sooner or later). Expect the control freaks to make further demands, since the Ofcom proposal does not ban all "junk" food adverts, just those on programmes supposedly aimed at children. Heck, let's just extend the logic of the control freaks in the obvious way. Why should we have car adverts, since cars are so "evil". Or why should holidays abroad be allowed to be advertised, since airplanes are so "evil". Indeed, ban cars and airplanes from being shown at all (except perhaps in a negative light). Take any pet hatred of the chattering classes and ban it from television. And films. And newspapers. And books.

Date published: 2006/11/16

Grand challenges in nanotechnology (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A team of experts has drawn up five "grand challenges" in order to evaluate the safety of nanotechnology.

The field's potential could be compromised unless the scientific community can implement a programme of systematic risk research, they warn.

Writing in Nature journal, the team says that fears about nanotechnology's possible dangers may be exaggerated, but not necessarily unfounded.

The five challenges are designed to be completed over the next 15 years.

"The threat of possible harm - whether real or imagined - is threatening to slow the development of nanotechnology unless sound, independent and authoritative information is developed on what the risks are and how to avoid them," author Andrew Maynard and his colleagues write in Nature.

The five grand challenges include developing instruments to evaluate exposure to engineered nanomaterials in air and water and developing methods for assessing their toxicity.

The group of experts says that if the global research community can take advantage of the safety infrastructure already in place for biotechnology and computing, then nanotechnology has a rosy future.

A reasonable idea from reasonable people. Unfortunately in the modern world there are plenty of people who will oppose nanotechnology for religious reasons, just like there are plenty of people who oppose certain aspects of biotechnology (e.g. so-called GM food) for religious reasons. (The religion being the hatred of technology and especially the hatred of technology that involves corporations making money.) So only time will tell whether these "challenges" do much to assuage concerns over nanotechnology. Although it is probably wise to try and pre-empt the religious nutters in these matters.

Vastly premature babies should not be given intensive care (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Babies born at or before 22 weeks should not be resuscitated or given intensive care, a report says.

The recommendation is being put forward by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which considers ethical questions raised by advances in medical research.

For those born after 23 weeks, the recommendation is that doctors should review the situation with the parents and take their wishes into account.

But doctors warned no two babies born at 22 or 23 weeks would be the same.

The report has been released after two years of research.

It also gives guidance on how parents should resolve arguments with doctors over the fate of their babies.

The report comes against a backdrop of medical advances which have been able to sustain the lives of very premature babies.

However, research shows that many of these babies do not live very long, or go on to develop severe disability.

Part of the problem is that despite advances in modern medicine, it is not always obvious to doctors which babies will survive and thrive.
Bliss, the premature baby charity, is campaigning for one-to-one neonatal intensive care, and for decisions to made based on clinical reasoning, and not financial constraints.

A sensible report. The UK cannot even fund a decent education for most of its children, why are we throwing money away on these babies, with the main result being to let them suffer even longer than would otherwise be the case. And Bliss, like all special interest pressure groups, is taking the piss. All decisions need to be partly based on financial constraints, otherwise you are just asking for a 100% tax rate (and even that would not raise enough money to pay for everything that somebody somewhere deemed to be desirable). Unfortunately in today's media-driven world, where weepy parents can be brought out in front of the television cameras, it is difficult for any sensible discussion to be had.

Scientists want a moratorium on bottom-trawling (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Marine scientists say the case for a moratorium on the use of heavy trawling gear in deep waters is now overwhelming and should be put in place immediately.

A new report prepared for the UN indicates the equipment is doing immense damage to the ecosystems around seamounts, or underwater mountains.

Its analysis shows bottom-trawling is being used in regions which harbour particularly sensitive corals.

The UN's General Assembly will resume discussions on the issue this week.

They are set to conclude on 21 November.

"At the very minimum we want an agreement this year to freeze any further expansion of bottom-trawl fisheries," said Matthew Gianni of the campaign group Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.

"We also want to see established a reverse burden of proof; that is, you cannot fish on the high seas using bottom gear unless you can prove you are not going to do damage to the ecosystems in which those fisheries will take place."

Just another example of the fishing industry needing global regulation. But there is no way to "prove you are not going to do damage to the ecosystems" because anything you do will damage the ecosystem in some sense. The question, as usual, is what is the relative cost of the damage compared with the relative benefit, and in this case the former is almost certainly much larger than the latter. And also, the fishing industry takes the benefit without the cost, which is the reason we need regulation.

Date published: 2006/11/15

UK government wants legally binding 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A climate change bill will make the UK government's long-term goal of a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 a legally binding target.

The bill, outlined in the Queen's Speech, will also establish a "Carbon Committee" to ensure the target is met.

But it makes no reference to annual CO2 reductions targets, which opposition parties and environmentalists deem necessary to tackle global warming.

However, ministers said that they would "consider appropriate interim targets".

Annual targets are silly. If you have a cold winter you suddenly find on 25 December that all the remaining coal plants in the country need to be shut down in order to meet your annual target. Well the opposition parties and so-called environmentalists might find this amusing but back in the real world nobody else would. So annual targets would just end up being ignored.

Targets every ten years are more relevant, with review after five years to see if they still make sense. Needless to say, any target for 2050 is meaningless, even if it is allegedly "legally binding". It is easy for today's politicians to promise to today's voters that tomorrow's politicians will gladly crucify tomorrow's voters. When push comes to shove, in 2040 the politicians of the day will be happy to change the law if need be.

Of course if the British economy collapses, for whatever reason, then the target will easily be met.

And CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas, it's a bit bizarre that it garners sole attention here. And of course the calculation of (CO2) emissions will be wrong. If Britain imports Chinese steel then it is Britain that is really responsible for the emissions created in making and shipping the steel, but it will not be tallied as such.

All in all a bill to appease the chattering classes more than anything else.

Chocolate allegedly good for reducing risk of clots (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A small amount of dark chocolate a day can thin the blood and cut the risk of clots in much the same way as taking aspirin, US researchers have said.

Researchers carried out tests on 139 "chocoholics" who were disqualified from another study because they could not give up their habit.
They carried out tests comparing how long it took platelets taken from the "chocoholics" and others who had not eaten chocolate to clump together when they were run through a mechanical blood vessel system.

Platelets from those who stayed away from chocolate clotted faster, at 123 seconds, compared with 130 seconds for the chocolate group.

Wow, a whole 130 seconds versus 123. But only if you stuff yourself so much with chocolate as to make yourself ill. Presumably for normal chocolate eaters the effect is down in the noise. So this sounds like another perfectly pointless health study. In particular they are only looking at one thing in isolation and needless to say there are downsides of eating chocolate (certainly of eating a lot of chocolate). The only advantage of this study is that it is a stick in the eye for the health fascists who want to make sure that nobody ever eats anything unhealthy like chocolate.

Date published: 2006/11/14

The world's forests allegedly not doing that badly (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A new technique for measuring the state of the world's forests shows the future may not be as bad as previously feared.

An international team of researchers say its Forest Identity study suggests the world could be approaching a "turning point" from deforestation.

The study measures timber volumes, biomass and captured carbon - not just land areas covered by trees.

The findings are being published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The trend is better than previously thought," said Pekka Kauppi, one of the paper's co-authors.
The report also showed a correlation between a nation's economic growth and "forest transition", in other words, a shift from deforestation to net gains in tree cover.

The researchers found that when Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita reached $4,600 (£2,400), many nations experienced forest transition and saw an increase in forestry growing stock (volume of useable timber).
But there was a risk that a misleading picture was being created by rich nations importing raw timber or wood-based products from poorer nations, rather than destroying their own woodlands.

"This is a serious problem," Professor Kauppi said. "It is called 'leakage' or 'exporting ecological impacts' and it exists, unfortunately."

The countries where forests are now doing better are rich (e.g. the USA), the countries where forests are doing less well are not rich (e.g. Brazil). So the 'leakage' is exactly the nub of the problem. Rich people are improving their own environment by exporting their environmental problems to poor countries. This is not surprising but is also an indication that things are not as rosy as the report's authors might like to pretend.

This is exactly the reason why the Kyoto Treaty is fundamentally flawed. Europe, for example, can reduce its supposed greenhouse gas emissions, at least as calculated by the Kyoto Treaty, by shutting down its steel plants and instead importing steel from China. Needless to say this is almost certainly a net negative to the world environment and in particular probably leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions (since Chinese plants are almost certainly not as environmentally friendly as European ones, and the steel also has to be shipped around the planet). Well, the eventual strategy of the ruling elite must be to hobble the European economy so much that eventually it can no longer afford to pay China to make steel, and can no longer make steel for itself, i.e. becomes poor. That would reduce Europe's real, rather than supposed, emissions.

Eating too much red meat correlated with breast cancer (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Eating large amounts of red meat may double young women's breast cancer risk, a study suggests.

US researchers writing in Archives of Internal Medicine looked at over 90,000 pre-menopausal women.

Having one-and-a-half servings of red meat per day almost doubled the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer compared to three or fewer per week.
Writing in Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers led by Dr Eunyoung Cho, said: "Several biological mechanisms may explain the positive association between red meat intake and hormone receptor-positive breast cancer risk.

They say cooked and processed red meats have been shown to contain cancer-causing chemicals such as heterocyclic amines which are created during the cooking of red meat.

A second potential link is the growth hormones which are given to cattle in the US, although not in Europe.

The researchers also say red meat is a source of heme iron, which previous research has shown fuels the growth of oestrogen-induced tumours.

Dr Cho's team added: "Given that most of the risk factors for breast cancer are not easily modifiable, these findings have potential public health implications in preventing breast cancer and should be evaluated further."
And Maria Leadbeater, nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, added: "To date we are still a long way off fully determining the many and complex root causes of this disease and it is an area for further research.

"Further studies will need to be done to fully establish the exact nature of any link between a diet high in red meat and breast cancer.

"The benefits of eating a healthy and varied diet are well established and the biggest risk factors for breast cancer remain gender and increasing age."

Well the last comments say it all. There seems to be an unfortunate tendency these days to do health studies by looking at correlations between things that are considered bad (by the chattering classes), such as red meat, and diseases, such as cancer. Keep going until you find a correlation and then write an article implying there must be a causation. And of course the media (run by the chattering classes) is happy to go along with this claim, witness the first sentence in the article. But correlation is not causation. Of course here there might well be a causation and the researchers at least give plausible (and well known) reasons why this must be the case. But is there a real problem even if there is a causation? Everybody knows that you should eat everything and anything in moderation. And the researchers have only looked at one thing in isolation. There are no doubt health benefits from eating (some) meat. But that issue is completely ignored here. And the only way to do this study properly is to take two random groups of women and insist that one group eat too much meat and the other less, and see what happens. But that kind of study would never be done. It is just too easy to find and publicise correlations, so why do science properly?

Surprise, poorer people not as healthy as richer people (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain's poorest communities are 2.5 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than the general population, research suggests.

They are also 3.5 times more likely to develop serious complications of diabetes, including heart disease.

The report, by the charity Diabetes UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes, calls for action to tackle social inequalities.

What a surprise, rich people are healthier than poor people, who would have thought it. And is being poor making people unhealthy or is being unhealthy making people poor or something much more complicated? Unfortunately this question is completely lost on the chattering classes, who have an agenda to pursue. No doubt this "research" will be followed by the inevitable demand to solve all problems via the taxation system. If these people manage to find one disease which affects rich people more than poor people (and there is bound to be one) are they going to throw their arms up hysterically and complain about "social inequalities"? Why is the country wasting money on this kind of pointless "research"?

Date published: 2006/11/13

Supermarket packaging waste allegedly a problem (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK's leading supermarkets have pledged to step up their efforts to cut packaging waste.

In a meeting with environment minister Ben Bradshaw, retailers agreed to look at ways of reducing food waste and making recycling information clearer.

Retailers have vowed to tackle waste, with Waitrose, Asda and Sainsbury's among others making specific commitments on reducing packaging.

An estimated 60% of all food packaging is now recycled, at a cost of £1.5bn.

Retailers gave ministers an update on the progress they had made in increasing recycling and the use of degradable packaging materials.

Mr Bradshaw said positive steps had been taken, but anti-waste initiatives needed to be "more visible" to consumers.

"Until the supermarkets demonstrate clearly that they are willing to lead by example, we cannot expect consumers to get fully engaged with reducing their own waste," he said.

One recycling expert said there needed to be greater emphasis on wasteful use of energy as well as greener packaging materials.

This focus on supermarket packaging waste is just hot air to appease the chattering classes, who love to think of supermarkets as villains (since the chattering classes are anti-commercial so think all big companies are villains), and who love to think of "recycling" as wonderfully environmentally friendly (which it is not). In Cambridge the vast bulk of waste is produced by building firms, not households, and so in particular is not supermarket waste. And Bradshaw is rather taking the piss. The problem with waste is that consumers do not have to pay for its disposal, except indirectly, so they have no incentive to reduce it. Blaming supermarkets is just passing the buck, for political reasons.

Supermarkets do waste an awful lot of energy. You cannot go into one without a decent jacket on because the air conditioning is up to full and the chilled cabinets are never covered (except for the ones with frozen food). Unfortunately the chattering classes have insisted that there should be no carbon tax on electricity, so nobody is paying the correct price for electricity, so there is little incentive to reduce electricity consumption. (Instead the chattering classes get hysterical about both car drivers, who already pay a hefty carbon tax, and airline passengers, who will soon do the same.)

The city part of Clay Farm will allegedly be affordable and sustainable (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Half the homes on a new development in Cambridge will be affordable.

Cambridge City Council, which owns part of the Clay Farm site in the south of the city, has decided it should put its money where its mouth is and go for 50 per cent affordable housing.

Councillors wanted all new development in the city to meet the ambitious target, but a planning inspector ruled against it. The authority now hopes to prove it can work.

Coun Sian Reid, executive councillor for environment and transport, said: "We are very excited about what we see as an opportunity to do an exemplary development, the kind we would love to see coming forward to planning committee. We have set 50 per cent affordable housing, which is what we originally wanted in the Local Plan.

"What we're really keen to see on this site is a highly sustainable development.

"We want to put our money where our mouth is on climate change. We want to prove we can sell them for more than we would if they were badly designed or not very green."

No planning application has yet been submitted for the scheme. Developers building the rest of Clay Farm will only have to provide 40 per cent affordable housing.

When they say affordable they of course mean "affordable", i.e. less than market rate but still extortionate. (You can usually buy a decent 1930s house for what most new developments charge for flats.) And who will benefit from this subsidy of their lifestyle? Of course certain politically correct categories of public sector workers. In particular, staff of Cambridge University will not qualify, although they are far more "key" to the success of Cambridge than any of the "key" workers in the public sector.

And when they say sustainable they of course mean "sustainable", i.e. high-density rabbit hutches with lots of flats and no private gardens and no car parking space. Funnily enough Reid herself lives in a large detached house with a large garden and plenty of car parking space on Millington Road. But of course the ruling elite get to live in one class of accomodation and the peasants are expected to live in something altogether much worse.

The main problem with all these upcoming large residential developments in Cambridge is that they are run by developers, who in league with the ruling elite are happy to squash in as many people as possible. The slogan of today's urban planners might as well be "building the slums of tomorrow today", as happened in the 1960s.

Date published: 2006/11/12

Tories do not want extension of 28-day limit for detention of "terror" suspects (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The 28-day limit on detaining terror suspects before they are charged should only be extended if there is "credible evidence" to do so, the Tories say.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has said he "completely" agrees with police calls for longer detention periods.

But shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve accused ministers of a "knee-jerk" reaction to warnings of an increased terror threat.

It was time for a "rational debate" on the issue, he told the BBC.

Mr Grieve said: "If there is credible evidence that an extension is needed, we will consider that pragmatically."

But every increase to the time limit "subtly" undermined British principles, he added.

Last year, the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Labour rebels defeated government plans to extend the period to 90 days - Prime Minister Tony Blair's first Commons loss.

A compromise was eventually agreed to extend it to 28 days, doubling it from the previous 14 days.

Mr Grieve said: "One of the difficulties we have is that we have a government that tells lies.

"It has done it pretty serially over the last few years and so trust breaks down and, as they are concerned more with presentation than with substance, it is always incredibly difficult to have a rational debate with them about what is actually needed."

Shadow home secretary David Davis told the BBC that "arguments [in favour of a 90-day limit] I have seen so far both in public and in secret are worse than not great. They are dreadful."

A lot of the modern Tory political canon, under David Cameron, is just fluff or, worse, bad policy. So it is good to see that at least on civil liberties the Tories are, for now, willing to argue against the further encroachment of the police state that Tony Blair and (it seems) Gordon Brown want.

Someone argues against carbon trading (permanent blog link)

Kevin Smith (from some project called Carbon Trade Watch, from some organisation called Transnational Institute) on the BBC says:

In 1992, an infamous leaked memo from Lawrence Summers, who was at the time Chief Economist of the World Bank, stated that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that".

The recently released Stern Review on climate change, written by a man who occupied the same position at the World Bank from 2000 to 2003, applies a similar sort of free market environmentalism to climate change.

Sir Nicholas Stern argues that the cost-effectiveness of making emissions reductions is the most important factor, advocating mechanisms such as carbon pricing and carbon trading.

While dumping toxic waste in the global South might look like a great idea from the perspective of the market, it ignores the glaringly obvious fact of it being hugely unfair on those getting dumped upon.

In a similar way, Stern's cost-benefit analysis reduces important debates about the complex issue of climate change down to a discussion about numbers and graphs that ignores unquantifiable variables such as human lives lost, species extinction and widespread social upheaval.
Such schemes allow us to sidestep the most fundamentally effective response to climate change that we can take, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground. This is by no means an easy proposition for our heavily fossil fuel dependent society; however, we all know it is precisely what is needed.

What incentive is there to start making these costly, long-term changes when you can simply purchase cheaper, short-term carbon credits?
Effective action on climate change involves demanding, adopting and supporting policies that reduce emissions at source as opposed to offsetting or trading.

Carbon trading isn't an effective response; emissions have to be reduced across the board without elaborate get-out clauses for the biggest polluters.

Well it's good to see at least one person willing to argue that carbon trading might not be sensible. On the other hand his proposed solution, to stop the world, is not very practical. He might not have any ambitions in life other than to live and then die (and not consume any resources of any kind), but most people do. And the planet can perfectly cope even if fossil fuel is used, the question is how much, and that partly relates to the fundamental source of this problem, and most other problems, which is that there are too many people on the planet. All these academic so-called environmentalists would contribute much more to the world if they actually did some science and engineering (e.g. figuring out how to make solar cells more efficient) rather than just write diatribes against modern life.

Date published: 2006/11/11

Ministers shoot their mouths off over religious hatred laws (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Ministers are considering whether race hate laws should be revised after BNP leader Nick Griffin was cleared of charges relating to speeches he made.

A jury decided speeches by Mr Griffin and party activist Mark Collett in 2004 had not incited racial hatred.

Home Secretary John Reid said he would consult ministers after Gordon Brown said current laws may need reviewing.

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said Muslims were offended and must be sure that the law would protect them.
Legislation banning the use of threatening words to incite religious hatred were passed by Parliament earlier this week and are expected to come into force next year.
Lord Falconer later told BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? that the government had to show young Muslims that Britain was not anti-Islamic.

"We should look at them in the light of what's happened here because what is being said to young Muslim people in this country is that we as a country are anti-Islam, and we have got to demonstrate without compromising freedom that we are not," he said.

He said there should be "consequences" from saying Islam is "wicked and evil".

It is pathetic that ministers feel obliged to introduce even more, unnecessary, laws just because of one court case. The new "religious hatred" law is already a step too far (why should one not be allowed to take the piss out of religions, they are one of the worst influences in the world). But Griffin would probably have been convicted under that, if it had been in force at the time. So why yet another draconian law? And Falconer is not the brightest of chaps at the best of times, it is unbelievable he is the Lord Chancellor. By "consequences" is he now suggesting that someone should go out and take a pot shot at Griffin? And (some) Christians were offended by the "Life of Brian" (since it was a bit too accurate a portrayal of religion), does that mean it should have been banned? Of course the Christian establishment said yes, but fortunately they were ignored. Griffin might be loathsome but his own words are the most effective weapon against him. And these particular words were spoken in private (at a meeting the BBC infiltrated). We don't need yet more censorship laws by the control freaks that run Britain.

UN releases yet another report on global poverty (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Efforts to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change have been called "woefully inadequate" by a UN-commissioned report.

Rich countries have focused on ways to reduce carbon emissions but have largely ignored helping poor nations cope with the consequences, it says.

The findings appear in the UNDP's Human Development Report 2006.

The authors say farmers whose crops are reliant on rainfall are already having to cope with unpredictable weather.

The report, called Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis, says climate change "now poses what may be an unparalleled threat to human development".

What's new? Everything is always an "unparalleled threat" and every response is always "woefully inadequate". Governments of the world do not even come close to providing adequate services for their own citizens, and worrying about citizens in other countries comes way down the pecking order, not surprisingly.

Date published: 2006/11/10

Head of MI5 complains about all the terror plots in the UK (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

MI5 knows of 30 terror plots threatening the UK and is keeping 1,600 individuals under surveillance, the security service's head has said.

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller warned the threat was "serious" and "growing".

She said future attacks could be chemical or nuclear and that many of the plots were linked to al-Qaeda.
MI5 has increased in size by nearly 50% since 9/11 and now stands at roughly 2,800 staff.

But according to Dame Eliza the current terror threat will "last a generation" and her concern is that even with MI5's rapid growth, the security service will not be able to investigate nearly enough of activities it deems to be suspicious.
Dame Eliza, who rarely speaks in public, gave a speech to a small audience on Thursday, detailing what she believes her organisation and the UK is facing.

She said that, since the 7 July bombings, five further major conspiracies in the UK had been thwarted.

"Today, my officers and the police are working to contend with some 200 groupings or networks, totalling over 1,600 identified individuals - and there will be many we don't know - who are actively engaged in plotting, or facilitating, terrorist acts here and overseas," she said.

Considering that this speech was given to a "small audience" it certainly has been well trailed in the media. Given her status, no such speech would be given for no reason, so you have to wonder if she gave it because she wants to:

Needless to say, the biggest reason that the UK is now getting so much attention from the nutters and terrorists is because of Tony Blair's folly in Iraq. Perhaps she was just pointing out that her job would be a lot easier if it weren't for Tony Blair.

Congress might send Bolton packing (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The US envoy to the UN, John Bolton, looks set to lose his job after the Democrats' victory in mid-term polls.

Mr Bolton was appointed to the post during a Congressional recess after his nomination stalled in the Senate.

The White House wants Mr Bolton to stay at the UN, but the chances are slim of him being backed by the Senate.

He would become the second high-profile member of President George Bush's team to leave after the polls, following Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr Bolton's appointment in August 2005 was a procedural manoeuvre which avoided the need for him to be confirmed until the end of this year.

That procedure cannot be repeated, and the new climate in Congress appears to rule out winning a two-thirds majority of senators.

President Bush has formally asked for Mr Bolton to be confirmed during the final session of the outgoing Senate.

But the senators who opposed Mr Bolton last time, including one Republican, are refusing to change their minds.

Bolton represents everything that is wrong about the Bush administration. Hopefully Congress will indeed send him packing, and require Bush to nominate someone who has some respect for the rest of the world, instead of just being arrogant and inward looking.

Date published: 2006/11/09

Cambridge fire station planning application rejected (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Plans for Cambridge's new fire station have been thrown out after being branded "Stalinist".

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority wants to demolish Parkside fire station and build a new one with 131 flats above, a restaurant or cafe and car parking.

But Cambridge City Council's planning committee said the scheme was overdevelopment and some flats lacked adequate light and ventilation.

John Andrews, managing director of developers Revurban Developments, told the committee: "High-quality design was of paramount importance to us. The scheme provides vital facilities at no cost to the local taxpayer.

"It is a positive contribution to townscape and design quality, affordable housing, provides the first car club in Cambridge and together with your officers, I recommend the scheme for your approval."

But councillors' concern ranged from the quality of the design to the dangers of radiation from a mobile mast on the nearby police station.

Coun Alan Baker, committee chairman, described the flats on East Road as "Soviet style, Stalinist" but Coun Sian Reid said the scheme was "imaginative".

Coun Baker said: "I don't think the application provides appropriate living conditions for light, air quality and the size of accommodation. We need more detail on the location and mix of affordable housing.

"I'm concerned about servicing of the commercial unit and it is my belief the tower is far too tall."

The committee approved a separate application for the demolition of existing buildings but rejected the new development by five votes to four. The fire authority plans to appeal.

Whenever a Cambridge councillor doesn't like a proposed development he (or she) calls it "Stalinist". It doesn't prove anything. And it's ridiculous that the planners cannot work with developers better up front, so that concerns can be addressed before applications are formally considered, for example with regard to height. As it is, an appeal will be made which is going to cost the taxpayer a lot of money whichever side wins. And the end build quality is unlikely to be any better, even if the city "wins". Too much building development money in the UK is spent on lawyers rather than on architects and engineers.

Bush proclaims he is going to be reasonable from now on (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Democrats are set to win the final seat needed to take control of the US Senate, the Associated Press reports.

AP declared Democrat Jim Webb victor in Virginia by 7,236 votes over Republican incumbent George Allen. Official results have yet to confirm a win.

Democrats have already taken the House of Representatives, and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has resigned.

President George W Bush is to meet key Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and has said he wishes to work with her party.

Mr Bush is to have lunch on Thursday with Ms Pelosi, who is to become the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Who knows, maybe Bush has suddenly decided to become a reasonable person. But don't count on it. He came to power in 2000 claiming he was going to be a uniter, not a divider, but has spent the last six years being as divisive as possible, for party political reasons. His speech makers know how to get him to utter sentences, but there is no proof he believes any of what he says. Fortunately he is now a lame duck.

UN releases another report on water (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A new report from the United Nations Development Programme has demanded a big increase in spending to provide clean water.

The UNDP wants another $4bn (£2bn) a year spent, and says that water has not received the attention it deserves.

Water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea kill far more people than HIV/Aids and malaria combined, it said.
The report says that 2.4 billion people in the world do not have access to safe sanitation.
But Kevin Watkins, the report's author, says that the world needs to think on a much bigger scale than this.

He says a similar initiative is needed as that carried out 100 years ago in major European cities, including London, to provide water and sewage treatment.
In the modern world of what Mr Watkins calls "water apartheid", the rich do not suffer in the same way, and the incentives for government to act are less.

"You can't help wondering - if the children of the wealthy were suffering the same fate as the children of the poor regarding water and sanitation, if high income women were also walking four hours a day to collect water - whether something would have been done about it."
The report does not believe that water represents a major security threat, and the prospect of 'water wars' is not as serious as others have predicted.

Well the world does not pay nearly enough attention to the supply of water, as compared with other problems. This is partly because it is not sexy (compared with terrorism or global warming). It is also partly because a lot of the chattering classes spend all their time and effort trying to bring the rich people of the world down to the standard of the poor people rather than the other way around (since the latter is allegedly "unsustainable").

But the argument by Watkins about "water apartheid" is spurious. All people, not just high income people, care less about problems which do not affect them. This is not a very original or deep statement, and proves nothing. And why is it that the rich countries are deemed to be the ones responsible for sorting out the water supply for the poor countries of the world? This is just another example of assuming the governments of the poor countries should be absolved of all responsibility for their actions. Of course rich countries can help, but they should be taking a back seat, not be the driver. Colonialism should be dead.

Date published: 2006/11/08

Republicans get hammered in 2006 elections (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Democrats have won control of the US House of Representatives in mid-term polls, for the first time in 12 years.

The party surpassed the 15 extra seats needed to wrest power from the Republicans, but the Senate race remains too close to call.

Democratic hopes of taking the Senate hinge on Montana and Virginia, but Virginia is facing a likely recount.

Correspondents say Democratic gains reflect voter discontent over Iraq, government corruption and the economy.

A day of liberation. Of course the Democratic leaders are themselves fat cats who have more in common with their opponents across the aisle than with the hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans. But at least Democrats don't seem to believe in torture. And at least Democrats did not start the war in Iraq for party political purposes. And at least Democrats believe that the federal budget deficit is now beyond a joke and needs attention. The basic problem for the Republican Party this year was that conscientious Republicans stayed home or even voted Democrat, and although there are not many Republicans like that, it was enough to tip the balance in some crucial races. Even though the Republicans ran their typically scummy negative campaign, offering nothing to Americans but threats and scare-mongering. Perhaps the best consequence (assuming the Democrats do gain nominal control of the Senate) is that Bush will no longer be able to put fundamentalist nutters, who believe the President is above the law, onto the Supreme Court. Bush himself is finished, but his terrible legacy will linger for decades, both at home and abroad.

Another anti-chemical health study (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Toxic chemicals may be causing a pandemic of brain disorders because of inadequate regulation, researchers say.

A report in the Lancet identifies over 200 industrial chemicals, including metals, solvents and pesticides, which have potential to damage the brain.

Studies have shown low-level exposure of some can lead to neurobehavioral defects in children, the US and Danish team behind the report said.

UK experts remained divided over the findings.

One in six children worldwide has a development disability such as autism and cerebral palsy.

The causes are unknown, but the researchers trawled through a range of previous studies and data to show how some chemicals can effect the brain.
Professor Mark Hanson, director of developmental origins of health and disease at Southampton University, said: "The authors have put their finger on something which is important and which will not go away."

But he said the findings were extremely hard to prove as the effect of the chemicals did not seem to lead to gross abnormalities, "but rather change the way that the normal control systems work".

However, Professor Alan Boobis, a toxicology expert at Imperial College London, said: "The authors of this review have raised an issue of significant concern, but some of the evidence in support of the conclusions lacks rigour."

Well you would have to be pretty naive to think that man-made chemicals (or even non-man-made chemicals) never caused problems. But that is not the question, rather it is what is the cost versus the benefit for given concentrations, and in comparison with alternatives. Unfortunately an anti-chemical mentality seems to have taken hold amongst certain sections of the European ruling elite. And they often seem to rely on "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" analysis.

Date published: 2006/11/07

IEA publishes its latest energy report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The world could be dependent on "dirty, insecure and expensive" energy by 2030, an influential report has warned.

Current trends showed that demand for power was set to grow by 53% by 2030, the International Energy Agency said.

But if governments delivered on their promises to push cleaner and more efficient supplies, demand could be cut by about 10%, the agency suggested.
The International Energy Agency's (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2006 also echoed the findings of a recent UK report that said the benefits of cutting emissions outweighed the costs of climate change.
The WEO champions the role of nuclear power, saying it could make a "major contribution to reducing dependence on imported gas and curbing CO2 emissions".

It forecasts that the total global generation capacity of nuclear power plants could increase from 368 gigawatts in 2005 to 519 gigawatts in 2030.

The additional nuclear power plants would also have the advantage of being less vulnerable to fuel price changes than coal or gas-fired generation, helping to enhance the security of electricity supplies.

However, it said that governments would have to convince the private sector that the initial investment of about $2bn-3.5bn (£1-1.8bn) per reactor would be a wise move.

The report also projected that biofuels were set to play an increasing role in road transport, providing up to 7% of the total consumption in 2030.

The supposed "cut" in the "alternative policy" scenario of 10% is not in fact a cut relative to energy consumption today, it is relative to the "business as usual" prediction of a 53% increase by 2030, so in fact represents a 38% increase by 2030. It is too bad the BBC used such misleading language, because it makes the report sound much more dramatic than it is. Even with this supposed 10% "cut", most fuel in 2030 would still be "dirty, insecure and expensive". (Most people would take nuclear power, in particular, to be all three of those things.) And a 10% reduction could easily happen just because of a world depression, or a disease which kills hundreds of millions of people. And although one might trust the IEA on energy outlook over the next five or ten years, beyond that it is just playing games, like everyone else who cares to predict that far into the future.

Money being thrown away on another pointless road pricing study (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Disgruntled business leaders believe it is a matter of "when" not "if" congestion charging will be introduced in Cambridge after the Government poured another £1 million into developing the scheme.

Cambridgeshire County Council has been awarded £1,055,000 on top of the £385,000 it got in July 2005 to look at whether charging motorists to drive into the city would cut cars and boost public transport.

A charge of £4 has been suggested and the council has asked the Department of Transport for three years' worth of funding. It now has cash to pay for two.

But business leaders have slammed the move saying the Government's decision to pour more money - now £25.5 million across the country - into research means it is a case of "when" not "if" congestion charging will come to Cambridge.

And they say the Government is using it as an excuse not to invest in much needed improvements to the city's transport infrastructure.

Cambridgeshire County Council said the cash, enough to fund two years of work, will fund research into public transport improvements and travel patterns. A progress report will be given to the council's cabinet in spring 2007.

John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "What I find difficult is the amount of money spent on study after study, not money to do something practical.

Where we need the money to do something practical, they are not getting on and doing it.

"It must mean it's not a matter of 'if ' but 'when and how'.

They wouldn't be putting that money in if they were considering if it was an option or not.

"Cambridge is seen as one of the key leaders and I would rather wish it wasn't. Business is very concerned about this concept."

But Coun Reynolds, cabinet member for environment and community services, said he was delighted with the investment.

He said: "This is a critical issue in Cambridgeshire where we have a rapidly growing population and thousands of new homes being built in the very near future. Doing nothing is not an option when it comes to tackling the growing challenge of congestion.

"We must undertake thorough investigation of all options, including road-pricing schemes, to see what will deliver the best results for Cambridgeshire as a whole."

David Howarth, MP for Cambridge, said: "Road pricing is something the county council should be interested in. It would be very difficult to improve congestion and travel in Cambridge without it.

"However, it is essential that any money raised through it has to go back into public transport in the city."

Of course it's "when" not "if". The whole country is going that way. The ruling elite have spoken. They wish to kick the working class off the roads, as they have already done in London, so that the rich people of the world can get about more easily. So the only question is if Cambridge is going to get some earlier, inferior and costly technology, as in London. The fact that they are talking about a charge of £4 already means that the answer to this is yes, they are intending to have an access, not a congestion charge. So the next question is where are they going to put up the barriers, at the edge of the city or in the core.

John Bridge is unfortunately correct, this money is wasted. It would have been far better spent on education, which is underfunded in Cambridge. And Reynolds represents Bar Hill, and it is villagers who will suffer much more than the residents of Cambridge, so why is he sticking up two fingers so enthusiastically to his own voters. And "public transport" in Cambridge means Stagecoach. The less said about them the better (they are not one of the better or socially-minded companies on the planet), so why is Howarth so keen that drivers should be subsidising them?

The number one problem with transport in Cambridge is the transport planners, not the drivers. The former have done everything possible to make the situation worse from year to year, and of course blame the latter. If a big store, like John Lewis, leaves Cambridge because the ruling elite have treated shoppers in Cambridge so badly, perhaps the Cambridge ruling elite will wake up and stop treating their customers as scum.

Date published: 2006/11/06

"Silent" airplane promoted (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

More and more of us fly every year. As we do so, the political pressure to act to curb greenhouse gas emissions from planes is rising.

Now a team of researchers in Britain and the US has come up with a revolutionary new aircraft design that could make a dramatic contribution to curbing climate change.

The SAX-40, which has been developed by the Cambridge-MIT Institute, is a radically different shape of aircraft.

Officially, it is what is known as a "blended wing". It has a tailless wedge-shaped body with two bat-wings.

The Silent Aircraft Initiative (SAI) team has succeeded in coming up with a radically quieter plane. Crucially, the SAX-40 is also 35% more fuel-efficient than any airliner currently flying.

Oil prices may no longer be the $78 a barrel they were a few months ago, but with high fuel costs likely to continue, fuel efficiency is a major factor in all airlines' calculations.

Yet none of this means the SAX-40 will necessarily be built. Ever since the Boeing 707 first flew in 1957 and ushered in the commercial jet age, airliners have changed very little in their basic appearance.

Airliners still consist of a tube-like fuselage, with two swept-back wings and engines slung underneath.

There are good economic reasons why design has remained so conservative.

By making the fuselage a tube, aircraft-makers can easily build a family of larger or smaller variants, utilising many of the same parts.

And by sticking engines under the wings, it's easier to maintain them, or upgrade them halfway through an aircraft's 30-year lifespan.

Naturally, aircraft manufacturers have made considerable improvements in the past 50 years, for instance using composite materials and lighter, more efficient engines.
For manufacturers, it is much safer to develop new airframes out of what has gone before, rather than re-tool completely with a brand-new production line.
But the skies are not going to fill with radically new aircraft shapes any time soon.

When an airline buys a new plane, it will keep it flying for decades in order to make it pay its keep.

Which means even if this design gets the thumbs-up from the manufacturers, we won't be queuing up to board planes like the SAX-40 before 2030 at the earliest.

The inertia to move to an unproved, untested, uncosted design is huge, not surprisingly. Boeing and Airbus and the hundreds of airlines and airports in the world are not just going to drop everything, including their billions of pounds of fixed investment, on the offchance that this plane is indeed the future. Once upon a time the BBC trumpeted Concorde as the future. Clever design is not everything. Hopefully something can come of this all, or at least the best features, but you would be a brave (or foolish) person to make a bet on it.

Throwing money at kids improves reading skills (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Struggling young readers make dramatic improvements when they are given tailored one-to-one coaching by expert teachers, research suggests.

A study of around 500 six-year-olds suggested those on the Reading Recovery scheme caught up with their peers in 20 weeks - four times faster than normal.

The government-backed scheme also saw improvements in writing and motivation, the Institute of Education study found.
Reading Recovery, which is part of the government's Every Child a Reader programme, works by giving the poorest readers individual support from specially trained teachers for 30 minutes a day over 12 to 20 weeks.

An evaluation of the £10 million project, which is funded by the government and several charitable trusts, also found that those who did not get the extra help fell further behind their peers.
[T]he high costs of the scheme at £2,500 per pupil - about the same amount primary schools have for one child's education a year - have made it unaffordable for schools without extra financial support.

Educationalists taking the piss, as usual. Who would have thought that one-on-one teaching would do any good? Astonishing, isn't it. Of course one of the problems with evaluating these kinds of schemes is that most of the experts have a vested interest in saying what a jolly good idea it is too, so the "dramatic improvements" have to be taken with a pinch of salt. But it's trivially obvious that one-on-one teaching is bound to help. The real question, as usual, is the benefit versus the cost. And if only the ordinary students of Britain could have an extra 2500 pounds of money thrown at them, and not just the select few who are at the bottom of the pile. Sack all educationalists and instead spend the money on education.

Date published: 2006/11/05

Saddam Hussein sentenced to death (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Saddam Hussein has been convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging.

The former Iraqi leader was convicted over the killing of 148 people in the mainly Shia town of Dujail following an assassination attempt on him in 1982.
The process was marked by frequent interruptions by defendants and their lawyers and problems with security.

The first judge assigned to preside over the case, Rizgar Amin, resigned after complaining of government interference and three defence lawyers were assassinated.

And the former leader's lawyers have attacked the timing of the planned verdict, which comes days before the US votes in mid-term elections.

US President George W Bush's Republican Party is at risk of losing control of Congress, in part because of voter dissatisfaction over its handling of the Iraq conflict.

What a surprise. The victors find the vanquished guilty. The only good thing here is that in this case Hussein deserves to die, he was a horrible dictator. That is the only possible excuse Bush and Blair have left for why they launched their disasterous foray into Iraq. Of course that was not the reason the war was launched, it was just a party political exercise so that the Republican Party could look tough and patriotic. The fact that the verdict coincidentally comes two days before the mid-term elections is just further proof of this party political motivation. Unfortunately Bush and Blair have managed to replace a horrible dictator with a feeble democracy which will soon result in Iraq being split into three parts, with the biggest and richest part, dominated by the Shiites, probably eventually being run as a horrible theocracy. This is easily the most disasterous foreign policy misadventure in the history of America. The only possible good that might come out of all of this is that it might encourage the world to move away from its dependence on oil sooner rather than later.

Tele-evangelist admits to "sexual immorality" (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Disgraced former US evangelist leader Reverend Ted Haggard has confessed to his followers that he was guilty of "sexual immorality".

"I am a deceiver and a liar," Rev Haggard said in a letter - a day after his New Life Church fired him for what it called "sexually immoral conduct".

A vocal opponent of gay marriage, he earlier admitted buying drugs and having a massage from a gay masseur.

But he denied using the methamphetamine or having sex with the man.

Is anyone supposed to be surprised by this? Is there a single tele-evangelist in America who is not a hypocrite (amongst other things)? Unfortunately these pseudo-religious creeps dominate the Republican Party, starting at the top, in the White House. They use their religious pretensions to hoodwink the American people over and over again.

Hilary Benn supposedly wants a ban on cluster bombs (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A worldwide ban on the use of cluster bombs is being called for by the international development secretary.

Hilary Benn said they had a very serious humanitarian impact and likened them to land mines, which were banned under international law in 1999.

The comments by Mr Benn, who is hoping to succeed Labour deputy leader John Prescott, were in a letter to cabinet colleagues leaked to the Sunday Times.
Mr Benn's letter, which is in contrast to government policy, was sent to Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and Defence Secretary Des Browne, the Sunday Times reported.

In it he said: "The high failure rate of many cluster munitions, and the failure of many militaries around the world to use these munitions in a targeted way means that cluster munitions have a very serious humanitarian impact, pushing at the boundaries of international humanitarian law.

"It is difficult then to see how we can hold so prominent a position against landmines, yet somehow continue to advocate that use of cluster munitions is acceptable."

The UK should lead the way in boycotting the weapons, he said, and ministers should call for a ban next week when attending a major international arms convention in New York.

Well good for Benn for stating the obvious. There is no excuse for not banning cluster bombs. But how pathetic is this government that every discussion of any policy gets leaked to the media, seemingly in an effort to thwart proper analysis and/or accountability.

Date published: 2006/11/04

Not many people attend a climate change rally in London (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Thousands of climate change campaigners have attended a rally in London, calling for world leaders to act urgently on the issue.

The action included a march from the US embassy to Trafalgar Square, where celebrities joined a demonstration.

Some 22,500 people attended the rally, said the police while organisers said 25,000. There were no arrests.

Ashok Sinha, director of Stop Climate Chaos, said climate change was "the biggest threat the planet faces".

The academic middle class in action. These people are amongst the biggest contributors to climate change (since they are above average in wealth, although not quite as wealthy as they used to be in the good old days). So they can shout all they want, but they are a bigger part of the problem than they are part of the solution. And one of their demands at the rally was that all fossil fuels be banned by 2020. Right. Once upon a time we were supposed to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050, then 80% then 90%, now it is supposed to be 100% by 2020. Very credible. Just make a number and a year up, but make sure it is more and more extreme each time, otherwise people will get bored.

The UK public is allegedly against "green" taxes (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Most voters believe "green taxes" are more about raising money than helping the environment, a BBC poll suggests.

All three main parties say they want to use the tax system to encourage more environmentally-friendly behaviour.

But the Populus poll suggests they may have a fight on their hands convincing voters there is not a hidden agenda.

Some 62% of those polled said they thought green taxes were just a revenue-raising measure and nearly half were against the idea altogether.
But of the 1,002 people interviewed by Populus on 1 and 2 November for the or BBC Two's The Daily Politics, 45% were against the idea of higher taxes on activities that cause pollution.

This is a similar figure to those polled a month ago, before the Stern report was published.

Nearly 70% said green taxes would unfairly hit poor people, while the rich would continue to drive and fly as much as before.

Polls are not to be trusted. In this case the actual anti-"green" tax figure is if anything likely to be higher. The media has been suggesting for quite some time that "green" taxes are good, and people answering opinion polls often want to be seen to be good. So the pro-"green" tax figure is probably exaggerated. (According to opinion polls, Labour won the 1992 election, because it seems people were embarrassed to admit to being Tory voters to pollsters.)

"Green" taxes are often promoted as being motivated to get people to change their behaviour, but that is silly, since the changed behaviour would of course reduce the amount of tax raised. Needless to say no government would put up with less tax, so it's not too surprising that people have concluded that other taxes will remain the same and that these new taxes are just another excuse to screw the ordinary people of Britain. You can guarantee that government ministers will continue to be driven and flown everywhere (and mostly at public expense).

Of course "green" taxes can be easily justified under the "polluter pays" principle. But then they should be set at a rate based strictly on this principle. In particular, for carbon emissions the rate should be the same no matter what the source of the carbon is. Unfortunately the only "green" taxes ever proposed by the ruling elite involve car drivers (who already pay a carbon tax) and airline passengers. For some reason all other consumer sources of carbon are ignored. So it is fairly obvious that the "polluter pays" principle is not the driving factor here.

Date published: 2006/11/03

The end of fish as we know it (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

There will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas by the middle of the century if current trends continue, according to a major scientific study.

Stocks have collapsed in nearly one-third of sea fisheries, and the rate of decline is accelerating.

Writing in the journal Science, the international team of researchers says fishery decline is closely tied to a broader loss of marine biodiversity.

But a greater use of protected areas could safeguard existing stocks.

"The way we use the oceans is that we hope and assume there will always be another species to exploit after we've completely gone through the last one," said research leader Boris Worm, from Dalhousie University in Canada.

"What we're highlighting is there is a finite number of stocks; we have gone through one-third, and we are going to get through the rest," he told the BBC News website.

Steve Palumbi, from Stanford University in California, one of the other scientists on the project, added: "Unless we fundamentally change the way we manage all the ocean species together, as working ecosystems, then this century is the last century of wild seafood."
In 2003, 29% of open sea fisheries were in a state of collapse, defined as a decline to less than 10% of their original yield.

Bigger vessels, better nets, and new technology for spotting fish are not bringing the world's fleets bigger returns - in fact, the global catch fell by 13% between 1994 and 2003.

Another end of the world report, this one more believable than others because sea stocks are one of those things which really do need global control and it is not happening. The fundamental problem beyond the political point is that there are too many people on the planet, and feeding them all requires a vast consumption of other species. Nobody ever wants to deal with this more fundamental point.

Date published: 2006/11/02

Britain the most watched society on Earth (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Fears that the UK would "sleep-walk into a surveillance society" have become a reality, the government's information commissioner has said.

Richard Thomas, who said he raised concerns two years ago, spoke after research found people's actions were increasingly being monitored.

The Surveillance Studies Network report said there are up to 4.2m CCTV cameras - about one for every 14 people.

Other techniques are used to record work rate, buying habits and movements.

Surveillance will increase in the next decade, the report added.
The research says surveillance ranges from the US national security agency monitoring all telecommunications traffic passing through Britain to key stroke information used to gauge work rates and global positioning satellite information tracking company vehicles.

Is this supposed to be a surprise? The British chattering classes are control freaks. At least Tony Blair will be able to claim to have made Britain number one in something during his time in office.

Britain's teenagers allegedly badly behaved (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Britain's teenagers are among the most badly behaved in Europe, a study by a think-tank has suggested.

On every indicator of bad behaviour - drugs, drink, violence, promiscuity - the UK was at or near the top, said the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The institute looked at the results of a number of studies of adolescents conducted in recent years.

The researchers believe the country's record can be explained by a collapse in family and community life in the UK.

Measured against German, French and Italian youngsters, British 15-year-olds are drunk more often and involved in more fights, and a higher proportion have had sex.

The institute says young Britons are marked out by how they spend their free time.

In England, 45% of 15-year-old boys spend most evenings out with their friends, and in Scotland the figure is 59%.

In France just 17% of boys spend their time in the same way.

IPPR is one of the many useless consultancies which plague the nation. First of all they are almost certainly comparing apples and oranges, since surveys across nations are difficult to do properly. Secondly this just sounds like the usual complaint of fossils that "the kids of today just aren't as good as when we were kids". The same trite report was no doubt written in 1996, 1986, 1976, 1966, ..., 1306, 1296, ..., so all rather pathetic. And isn't it wonderful that they take boys spending time with their friends as a negative thing. How dare those kids be sociable. No doubt the real aim of this study is to encourage government to become an even bigger control freak than it is already. And to steal even more money from people without kids so that people with kids can have more time off. The IPPR is a consultancy of New Labour luvvies so unfortunately has some connection with government policy.

Date published: 2006/11/01

London commuters are a problem for Cambridge (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Evening News says:

Commuters who live in Cambridge and work in London have been blamed for a housing crisis in the region.

Housing experts and campaigners joined members of the public to discuss the housing needs of Cambridgeshire and neighbouring counties, and the Government's plans for half a million new homes in the region.

In a heated debate at Cambridge Guildhall, organised by housing charity Shelter, experts were united in insisting more homes were needed in the region, but divided about how many should be built and who should benefit.

John Reynolds, chairman of the regional planning panel, and deputy leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said commuters who lived in Cambridge but worked elsewhere were sapping the local economy.

He said: "Many people still live very long distances from where they work, which is an issue of real concern in Cambridge.

People who live in the city but work in London are taking huge sums of money out of our region's economy, which is something we have to try to tackle.

"The Cambridge area has been identified by the Government as a major driver of the UK economy, and if we are having 478,000 new homes built in our region we have to ensure those homes go to people who work here too."

Mary Edwards, from Cambridge Friends of the Earth, said commuters were also damaging the environment, and claimed targets for 478,000 new homes were being driven by the need to house London workers rather than those in need in Cambridgeshire.

London commuters do push up house prices in Cambridge, as everywhere else anywhere near London. In Cambridge it often happens that one partner works in Cambridge and the other in London, and that is a mitigating circumstance.

Reynolds is wrong to say these commuters are "sapping the local economy", since they are probably spending more of their income in Cambridge than in London. (Indeed, how well would Waitrose and other posh stores be doing without all the rich London commuters shopping there.) So the biggest decrement is for London itself, as in all other big cities of the world where commuters flee to the suburbs after work.

And Friends of the Earth has got some cheek. The so-called environmentalists spend most of their time saying that car drivers should be screwed and that public transport passengers (which most London commuters from Cambridge are) should be subsidised to the Nth degree. This is the root of the problem. London commuters are not paying the true cost of their transport, so are living further from London than otherwise would be the case. The more you subsidise trains, the further commuters move from London and the bigger the problem becomes. So FoE should campaign for all public transport subsidies to stop.

US says only it should be able to meddle in Lebanon (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The United States has said there is "mounting evidence" that Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are planning to topple the Lebanese government.

The White House said Syria hoped to stop the formation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri.

Spokesman Tony Snow said any attempt to destabilise the Lebanese government would violate UN resolutions.

Syria's ambassador to the US rejected the allegations as "ridiculous".

Let's see. Which country recently tried to bomb Lebanon back to the stone age (via its proxy Israel)? Pot meet kettle.

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