Azara Blog: October 2008 archive complete

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Date published: 2008/10/31

Half of Cambridge students allegedly plagiarise (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Almost half of students admitted to plagiarism in a poll carried out by a students' newspaper at the University of Cambridge.

The Varsity newspaper reported that students admitted to copying material found on the internet and submitting it as their own.

The survey also claimed that only one in 20 students had been caught.

The University of Cambridge says that it has policies in place to prevent this serious disciplinary offence.

Yet another meaningless poll (it was not random, so not scientific). But any story that reflects badly on universities (in particular Oxbridge) of course has to be given plenty of press coverage. On the other hand, since it is often difficult to detect and even harder to prove plagiarism, needless to say students who plagiarise will usually get away with it. But that has always been the case. The internet just opens up more possibilities to do it more easily.

Yet another end of the world report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The planet is headed for an ecological "credit crunch", according to a report issued by conservation groups.

The document contends that our demands on natural resources overreach what the Earth can sustain by almost a third.

The Living Planet Report is the work of WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network.

It says that more than three quarters of the world's population lives in countries where consumption levels are outstripping environmental renewal.

This makes them "ecological debtors", meaning that they are drawing - and often overdrawing - on the agricultural land, forests, seas and resources of other countries to sustain them.

WWF's David Norman says the world will need two planets by 2030.

The report concludes that the reckless consumption of "natural capital" is endangering the world's future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy.

This kind of report is produced pretty much every year by pretty much the same (and other similarly inclined) groups. Given that we have four billion years of "natural capital" in the bank, a few decades of this allegedly negative period might not be the end of the world. But WWF and the others always believe that anything to do with humans is the end of the world.

It is amusing that every environmental report these days has to mention the current dire economic situation. Unfortunately for the authors, in spite of the implied linkage, the real credit crunch is of far more importance to the world than this report.

The people who produced this report are academic middle class and so are some of the richest people living in some of the richest countries, and so have a far, far higher "demand on natural resources" than the average citizen of the world. If they are so concerned about the situation, they should cut back on their own prodigious consumption. In particular, they should not have any children (who are the single biggest contribution to future human "demand on natural resources"). Needless to say, these academic middle class authors do not believe their own consumption is "reckless", it's just everyone else who is "reckless" (in particular, the workers of the world who dare to aspire to the same consumption levels as the academic middle class).

Yet another study linking rise in temperatures to humans (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The rise in temperatures at Earth's poles has for the first time been attributed directly to human activities, according to a study.

The work, by an international team, is published in Nature Geoscience journal.

In 2007, the UN's climate change body presented strong scientific evidence the rise in average global temperature is mostly due to human activities.

This contradicted ideas that it was not a result of natural processes such as an increase in the Sun's intensity.

At the time, there was not sufficient evidence to say this for sure about the Arctic and Antarctic.

Now that gap in research has been plugged, according to scientists who carried out a detailed analysis of temperature variations at both poles.

Their study indicates that humans have indeed contributed to warming in both regions.

Other than the fact that the BBC seems to have completely garbled the fourth paragraph, this is as to be expected, and it's amazing that so much time and effort is wasted on this kind of research, which has such a totally predictable outcome. Unfortunately for these scientists, it is not (yet) illegal for humans to have an impact on the planet, and it is obvious to anyone who cares to take a look, that humans have a huge impact on the planet in all sorts of ways, and not just in the limited area they have investigated. (But so do trees, for that matter.)

Date published: 2008/10/16

Cambridge railway station development finally gets outline planning consent (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

An £820m plan to refurbish and modernise Cambridge train station and its surrounding area has been given outline planning permission.

Cambridge City Council planners gave the go-ahead for the CB1 scheme, put forward by developers Ashwell, which includes 331 new homes.

The scheme will also include improved transport links to the station and a new Station Square.

It also includes 1,250 student rooms for Anglia Ruskin University.

There will also be space for 28 taxis, parking for disabled people and nine bus stops.

It includes a multi-storey car and cycle park with room for more than 2,800 cycle parking spaces, 50 motorcycle parking spaces and car parking for rail users.

There will also be improvements to the existing Hills Road and Brooklands Avenue junction and the junction between Hills Roadand Station Road, as well as new roads, footpaths, public spaces, and public and private open space.

Existing office accommodation in the area is to be redeveloped to increase office space by 36%.

It has been a ridiculously long time in the planning, in the usual British way. And unfortunately, it has also been made worse the longer it has gone on, because of the involvement of the Cambridge academic middle class in the planning decision. It is not at all obvious that this scheme will make a wonderful contribution to Cambridge but the railway area is so bad it is hard to see this scheme making it worse than what it is now. Unfortunately, given the credit crunch and the recession, this is not the best time to be starting on this development, and it will be interesting to see if Aswhell goes full steam ahead.

Surprise, the usual suspects support the closure of Mill Road (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Proposals to shut Cambridge's Mill Road as a throughroute for traffic have won backing from cyclists, shops and taxi drivers.

The News revealed yesterday that one option for the congested shopping street put before Cambridgeshire County Council involved a barrier to through traffic except for public transport and cyclists, possibly on the midway point at the railway bridge.

Jimmy Akhtar, postmaster at Romsey Town Post Office, said: "I don't think that would be a problem. Mill Road can be very congested."

But he warned that any scheme should not completely prevent cars using Mill Road, adding:

"I rely on a lot of my customers getting here by car."

Martin Lucas-Smith, co-ordinator for Cambridge Cycling Campaign, said: "This would certainly be a massive benefit for cyclists, and we urge the county council to give it serious consideration.

"Evidence elsewhere is clear that road closures result in an overall reduction in motor traffic, rather than merely displacing it." v Sid Couzens, chairman of Cambridge Licensed Taxi Owners' Association, said: "I think it would be a good idea for everybody, not just taxi drivers.

"It would cut congestion and pollution. Rising bollards have been a success elsewhere - when they have worked."

Surprise, people who have a direct (financial or otherwise) interest in seeing this latest proposal from the Cambridge transport "planners" go ahead are dead keen, who would have thought it.

No doubt Lucas-Smith would exclaim equal joy at the closure of all roads to cars. If there is one thing that the CCC is more than pro-cycling, it is anti-car. So why would anyone take anything he, or the CCC, says seriously, on this subject.

And in spite of it being outrageous that taxis are exempt from pretty much all regulation that affects ordinary drivers in Cambridge, it is hardly surprising that taxi drivers would continue to support the extension of this outrageous system that benefits them.

If the Cambridge News could have been bothered to continue this vacuous exercise, no doubt they could have gladly informed us that taxi drivers would like to see cyclists banned from Mill Road, and the CCC would like to see taxis banned from Mill Road. This is all just the cult of the selfish, writ large. Special interest pressure groups always want to see their own interests put above the interests of society as a whole. It should not be the job of the Cambridge News to blindly encourage this trend.

As for the poor postmaster, he must be either very confused or just misquoted. He can forget about many of his customers getting there by car if they close Mill Road, unless the closure miraculously happens at a point far from his store. Does he understand what the word "closure" means?

Some red squirrels have allegedly developed immunity to squirrel poxvirus (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A ray of hope has been offered for one of the UK's most iconic and endangered animals.

Scientists have found that some red squirrels have developed immunity to a disease that has ravaged their numbers.

The pox is transmitted by grey squirrels; but while greys suffer no ill effects from it, if a red catches the virus it will be dead within weeks.

The findings, published in EcoHealth, suggest a vaccine could now help to save red squirrels from annihilation.

Well, no doubt we are a long way from any such vaccine. But perhaps now the BBC will desist from its perpetual propaganda that demonises and calls for the extermination of grey squirrels (supported by other academic middle class control freaks who laughingly call themselves conservationists).

Date published: 2008/10/13

Government admits defeat over 42 day detention (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has told MPs that plans to extend terror detention to 42 days will be dropped from the Counter-Terrorism Bill.

It follows a heavy defeat for the government in the House of Lords, which threw out the plan by 309 votes to 118.

Ms Smith said instead the measure would be in a separate piece of legislation to be brought to Parliament if needed.

Once again the House of Lords saves the nation from the worst excesses of the Government of the day. Of course the Government now hopes and prays that there will be some big terrorist incident in future so that they can rush this proposal through Parliament at that time.

Latest attempt to reduce deforestation by throwing money at it (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A new global deal to protect the world's rainforests has been proposed in a report drawn up for Gordon Brown.

The idea is part of a review into deforestation and green energy by Swedish businessman Johan Eliasch.

The ex-Tory donor says cash put aside for carbon saving in rich countries should be transferred to nations with rainforests in need of protection.

Rainforest destruction accounts for about a fifth of the carbon emissions blamed for fuelling climate change.

Details of Mr Eliasch's plan are due to be announced on Tuesday.

His report says an international deal to protect forests would reduce the cost of tackling climate change by up to 50% in 2030.

It would also allow much more ambitious CO2 cuts to be achieved globally without extra cost.

Forest destruction produces about a fifth of the world's extra C02, and any scheme to reduce forest felling will be broadly welcomed.

But the review will need to ensure it does not lead to indigenous people being dispossessed; or feed corruption; or create a moral hazard in which poor countries hold rich nations to ransom threatening to fell their trees; or flatten carbon markets supporting clean energy.
...
The review will be met by goodwill peppered with scepticism. Some carbon traders are confident that forest credits can be prevented from swamping the market, but others do not believe the scheme will work.

A massive challenge will be avoiding "leakage" in which some countries take hand-outs for keeping forests they had no plans to fell in the first place, whilst illegal loggers run riot in countries that either stay outside the scheme or fail to enforce it.
...
Some sceptics fear even that optimism may be misplaced if carbon trading merely creates the illusion of progress but in fact diverts funds to the many crooks now running forestry in some developing nations
...
Some campaigners fear that channelling funds into forestry could spark a new "natural resources" curse in which corrupt and inefficient governments get money to protect their forests but can only waste it because it is not clear who owns the forests, who should be paid for protecting them, and how agreements should be policed.

The nightmare scenario, according to one analyst, is that we place undue confidence in protecting tropical rainforests in order to tackle climate change, lose sight of the imperative for a quick transition to a low-carbon economy in the rich world, trade off domestic emissions against putative "avoidance of deforestation", but then find that tropical country governments are unable to reduce deforestation.
...
One carbon trader told me: "Look, there are going to be some people scamming money out of this deal - but at least it is a deal... and it has to do more good than harm."

The odds that this works is extremely low, given the history of massive corruption when it comes to sending money from the developed to the developing countries (which is usually the fault of people at both ends). The optimism expressed by the "carbon trader" should not go unchallenged (and traders have a direct financial interest, which makes their opinion less trustworthy). It is entirely possible that this kind of proposal could do more harm than good, and it is up to the proponents of this idea to convice the world otherwise. This also goes for the equally naive statement that "it would also allow much more ambitious CO2 cuts to be achieved globally without extra cost". There will be a lot of extra cost to the ordinary people of the world when the rich corrupt creeps that run the relevant countries hive off most of the money to their Swiss bank accounts.

Tories use childish threats against Heathrow third runway contractors (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The Conservative Party has warned firms not to get involved in any plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

The Tories warned they would stop expansion of the west London airport if they won power at the general election.

"Anyone getting involved in any contract for a third runway should be very, very careful," said shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers.

How pathetic and dumb can the Tories get. They have just added millions of pounds to the cost of the expansion. So contracts will now definitely include even steeper cancellation clauses than was the case. Well perhaps the Tories are just trying to make it too expensive to go ahead (a typically vindictive academic middle class thing to do). Or perhaps Villiers is looking to do some moonlighting consulting for these companies to tell them how to be "very, very careful".

Date published: 2008/10/12

The peasants should allegedly not be allowed to have decent homes (permanent blog link)

Lisa Jardine says on the BBC:

...
The family as a unit has varied considerably in the course of history, but the bond between those who live under one roof together has always been an important one. Today, a "family" tends to mean the tiny cluster of individuals related by birth - typically, father and mother and one or two small children, but increasingly, one adult and a partner or dependant - who share a residential unit.

Until the 19th Century, however, the word "family" was a synonym for an entire "household", and was used to cover all those who lived together in a dwelling, whether related by birth to the householder, employed in their service, or simply lodged with them. "Home" was the bricks and mortar in which half a dozen or more adults lived their lives, supporting one another by their labour.
...
But increasingly domestic structures centred on the housing needs of the growing middle classes. Scaled-down town-houses were put up, many of which still survive today, modified for modern use. These still provided lodgings for dependants and servants under a common roof, but centred on the family life of a group of blood-relations, in a way we can recognise.

Further down the social scale, accommodation was also always shared, but here it was fraught with difficulties. Just as happens today in rapidly urbanised economies, most of the working classes found themselves living in ad hoc ways, in overcrowded accommodation, which entirely lacked the privacy that we all now crave, and could hardly be said to offer the stable communal structures that Erasmus and Richardson wrote about.
...
In our own times, the drive towards privacy has become paramount. We can see the modern ideal emerging in those wonderfully dated advertisements for domestic appliances from the 1950s and 60s, which show a smiling housewife, immaculately turned out in a many-petticoated dress with a cinched-in waist, pushing her vacuum-cleaner over expanses of carpet, or admiring her shiny new refrigerator.
...
That dream is summed up in the so-called Parker Morris Standards, adopted for social housing in the 1960s. They became mandatory for council housing in 1969, and remained in force until 1980.

The Parker Morris Standards laid down the dimensions for typical items of household furniture for which the dwelling designer should allow space, and provided anthropometric data needed to calculate the living space required to use and move around that furniture.

Its rules specified that a four person terrace house should have 74.5 square metres of space; kitchens for one or two people should contain 1.7 cubic metres of enclosed storage space; in one, two and three-bedroom dwellings the WC could be in the bathroom, but in four person houses it should have a separate compartment. The Parker Morris Standards for space, privacy and convenience continue to provide the familiar features of what we feel to be a modestly comfortable and convenient family home today.

But since the scramble for home ownership in the 1980s, our demands for personal space and privacy have come to dominate the planning and construction of domestic dwellings, and residential units have got ever smaller.
...
Now is perhaps the time when we have to begin to ask ourselves whether the units of accommodation which have been constructed - often in glamorous high-rise blocks, with built-in appliances and fabulous views - are really, in the long run, fit for "family" living, however we define that family.
...
Perhaps the drive in Britain towards compact, separate "homes", with ever-tinier floor-plans, crammed together by developers on restricted urban sites, is our housing equivalent of the Dutch tulip craze of the 1630s - our housing South Sea Bubble.

Heaven forbid that the peasants have their own home, with a decent amount of space.

Jardine, being academic middle class, completely misses the real point, which is that there has been a cosy conspiracy between the developers, the urban planners and the academic middle class to force more and more housing on less and less space. There is plenty of land in England, so much in fact that everybody could easily have a decent house with a decent garden. But it's not allowed to build on this land. That is the real problem, not that ordinary people want a bit of "privacy". The British ruling elite have forced this misery on the entire country.

The Cambridge Accordia housing estate wins RIBA Stirling Prize for 2008 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

A contemporary housing estate for a "post-Thatcherite Britain" has won the 2008 Stirling Prize for architecture.

Accordia, in Cambridge, was one of six developments shortlisted for the Royal Institute of Architecture (RIBA) prize, and the first housing estate to win it.

Its architects received the £20,000 prize at a ceremony in Liverpool.

The judges said Accordia, on a brownfield site near the city centre, won because it is "not afraid of communal aspirations and aesthetics".

It also impressed the panel with good size, well-proportioned rooms in its houses and flats.

"This is high-density housing at its very best," the judges said.

Needless to say it's a bit arbitrary what does and does not win the Stirling Prize. Some semi-random committee of worthies gets to decide what is allegedly the best "building" (or in this case, collection of buildings). The fact that the prize is named after James Stirling, who was architect for one of the worst buildings ever put up in Cambridge (although it was not entirely his fault, the builders were also dreadful), just goes to show what architects think of their customers.

If Accordia was the best housing estate, never mind the best building, put up by a British architect (in the UK or not in the UK) in the last year, then UK housing is really in a dreadful state. Well, at its best, the Accordia site has some nice blocks of flats. But many of the buildings are rather pedestrian. One can imagine that a lot of these blocks are attractive to Londoners, who are the people who decide these prizes. After all, London is a fairly dreadful city all the way around, and so to a Londoner the Accordia site looks like a slice of heaven. But if you compare Accordia to the best of pre-war buildings in Cambridge (e.g. on Barrow Road or Latham Road) then there is no comparison.

And when you think that (most of) these buildings are aimed at millionaires, or near millionaires, it is not exactly inspiring. Further, the site is close enough to the Cambridge railway station that a lot of residents are just London commuters. Hardly a great victory for Cambridge, or for a "sustainable" lifestyle.

And the social housing on the site has all been dumped in a corner at the back. That is hardly worthy of "communal aspirations". There are also no public facilities on the site (except for a large lawn and a disused nuclear bunker) so that is not very good either.

Still, Accordia, being targetted at the rich, is far better than the other recent major housing site in Cambridge, Arbury Park.

Date published: 2008/10/10

The planet is allegedly losing trillions of dollars per year through forest loss (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

It puts the annual cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion.

The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

The study, headed by a Deutsche Bank economist, parallels the Stern Review into the economics of climate change.
...
Some conservationists see it as a new way of persuading policymakers to fund nature protection rather than allowing the decline in ecosystems and species, highlighted in the release on Monday of the Red List of Threatened Species, to continue.

There is nothing new here. So called conservationists have been arguing this case for years. Thus this should be seen as a political, not a scientific document. And it's hard to believe that just because they have found some economist has put his name to such a document, that governments of the world will take this any more seriously. And no doubt there are also plenty of holes in the calculations.

Date published: 2008/10/09

Government gives go-ahead for more passengers at Stansted Airport (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Controversial plans for an expansion of Stansted Airport in Essex have been given the go-ahead by the government.

Airport owner BAA wants to increase passenger numbers from 25 million to 35 million a year and flights leaving the airport from 241,000 to 264,000 a year.

Objectors said an expansion would damage the environment but some unions said the proposal could bring new jobs.

Uttlesford District Council leader Jim Ketteridge said the decision was a blow for the community.

Needless to say this is good news for all of East Anglia except for a narrow slice near Stansted. Unfortunately, this decision will almost certainly be challenged in the courts by some locals and the so-called environmentalists, and given that judges are from the same academic middle class background as the protestors, there is a very good chance that the court will overrule the government. That would kill Stansted expansion for decades because the next government will be Tory, and the Tories would never allow Stansted to expand (since the Tory landed gentry would be upset, the same reason they oppose all development of any sort in East Anglia and in other Tory parts of England).

A computer network in Austria is using quantum cryptography (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Perfect secrecy has come a step closer with the launch of the world's first computer network protected by unbreakable quantum encryption at a scientific conference in Vienna.

The network connects six locations across Vienna and in the nearby town of St Poelten, using 200 km of standard commercial fibre optic cables.

Quantum cryptography is completely different from the kinds of security schemes used on computer networks today.

These are typically based on complex mathematical procedures which are extremely hard for outsiders to crack, but not impossible given sufficient computing resources or time.

But quantum systems use the laws of quantum theory, which have been shown to be inherently unbreakable.

You have to be pretty naive, or disingenuous, to believe that there is anything such as "perfect secrecy". There is always a human element in the process somewhere (access to buildings, access to computers, access to talkative employees, etc.), so you don't necessarily need to intercept a message in between sender and receiver to get hold of the message. So it will be interesting to see if this network indeed provides a "quantum leap" in actual, rather than theoretical, security, versus existing conventional cryptography. (It was presumably a lot more expensive.)

Cambridge railway site re-development moves forward (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cambridge's huge railway station development, cb1, is being recommended to councillors for approval, the News can reveal.

The master plan for the £850 million scheme - which will see the building of shops, offices, houses and a health centre, surrounding a public square - is due to be considered by a meeting of the city council's planning committee next week.

A report to that meeting by a senior planning officer says the project, the biggest in the city for decades, does not flout Cambridge's planning blueprint, the Development Plan - and "should be supported".

The ball is now in the court of councillors on the committee, who meet in special session at Murray Edwards College - formerly New Hall - on Wednesday.
...
Opponents of the massive development are set to lobby the nine-strong committee in the hope councillors will reject the officer recommendation and say no to the plan.

Objectors have claimed the scheme has major flaws, including over-development of the 26-acre site, and the risk it will cause transport chaos in the area.

A public meeting to address the transport concerns was held in Cambridge earlier this week.

Shaun Noble, secretary of Bateman Street and Bateman Mews Residents Association, said: "The officer report recommending approval still has to be looked at by the planning committee.

"On the transport side, we still see it as a 21st Century development with a transport infrastructure based on Victorian streets."
...
The latest version of the development features a new Station Square with a "transport interchange" - with 28 taxi bays and 11 bus stops.

A multi-storey car park with room for 632 cars and more than 2,800 cycle parking spaces are also planned.

As well as more than 330 homes, 40 per cent of which will be "affordable", there will be student housing for Anglia Ruskin University, a 120-bed hotel, and a "polyclinic" for Addenbrooke's Hospital and Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust.

One step forward. Needless to say the NIMBYs are not happy, but it's hard to see the city turning this down now. And if the Bateman Street and Bateman Mews Residents Association doesn't like the "transport infrastructure based on Victorian streets" perhaps they should suggest that the city knock down all the houses on one side of Bateman Street and offer a clear, wide, path towards the cb1 site from Trumpington Road.

The car parking figure looks low, but of course the academic middle class people who run Cambridge hate cars and have deliberately forced the developer to make the development as stupidly hostile to cars as possible (to the limit where the developer would stick up two fingers to the city and walk away). So much for an integrated transport system.

Date published: 2008/10/07

Global warming might allegedly hasten spread of diseases from animals to humans (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Climate change may hasten the spread of diseases that can move from wild animals to humans, warns the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in a report.

The Deadly Dozen highlights 12 zoonoses - animal-borne diseases - that may spread as the climate warms.

The US-based organisation advocates establishing a global early warning network making use of Western and indigenous people's knowledge.
...
WCS acknowledges that climatic shifts could also lessen the prospects for some zoonotic diseases.

Without observations, it suggests, we cannot really know; and wild animals can act as early indicators of disease.

Surprise, another scare story about global warming. Because nothing positive can happen with global warming, instead everything must get worse, otherwise you will get no publicity for your agenda. Well, N paragraphs down from the top, we get some balance. But, surprise, the BBC is pushing the scare story (not many people get N paragraphs down).

Some committee wants an 80% cut in UK emissions by 2050 (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The UK government's official climate change advisers have raised the bar on ambitions to cut emissions.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050 should include international aviation and shipping.

It said other industries would have to make up any shortfall in those areas.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has intimated at an 80% cut, but ministers have been wary of counting aviation and shipping, where cuts are difficult.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Of course the entire accounting system for emissions is bogus (they are counted where goods are produced, not where they are consumed), so in some sense the game being played here is indeed just a game. But needless to say, the academic middle class people who run the CCC want to play the game with severe cuts. Of course 2050 is a long way away, and no matter what the academic middle class people who run the country decide today, governments in the future can decide differently. And this is not the way to move foward today. Instead there should be a global carbon tax. But the academic middle class people who run the country prefer to play games.

Date published: 2008/10/06

25% of the world's mammal species are allegedly at risk of extinction (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

At least 25% of the world's mammal species are at risk of extinction, according to the first assessment of their status for a decade.

The Red List of Threatened Species says populations of more than half of mammalian species are falling, with Asian primates particularly at risk.

The biggest threat to mammals is loss of habitat, including deforestation.
...
The report's authors said the current concern with financial matters must not be allowed to obstruct the decline in the Earth's natural systems.

"The financial crisis is nothing compared with the environmental crisis," the deputy head of IUCN's species programme, Jean-Christophe Vie, told BBC News.

"It's going to affect a few people, whereas the biodiversity crisis is going to affect the entire world. So there is a risk that because of the financial crisis, people are going to say 'yeah, the environment is not that urgent'; it is really urgent."

Only an academic middle class person could say something so stupid. The financial crisis is not "going to affect a few people", it is going to affect pretty much everyone. And it would be interesting to see any opinion poll where people think that the "biodiversity crisis" ranks anywhere near the top of priorities for people on the planet. How about clean water for all humans, decent education for all humans, decent health care for all humans, decent homes for all humans. Although you can easily claim that biodiversity has some link to many other issues, hardly anyone (outside the academic middle class) is going to claim that biodiversity is the main problem that needs to be sorted in order to progress these other goals. The world economy has much more relevance.

Corporations are allegedly the source of all evil on the planet (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Businesses must change their attitude to environmental issues if the tide of ecological decline is to be halted.

That was the message from Valli Moosa, president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, opening the World Conservation Congress.

The former South African minister said all companies should have directors with environmental experience.
...
Mr Moosa spoke frankly about his view that unfettered markets and businesses are largely responsible for the world's current environmental ills.

"Leading entrepreneurs and markets have certainly contributed to the growth of the global economy; yet while individuals may be moral, markets are not," he told delegates.

"The damage industries and commerce do to people and the environment is real, it is considerable, and it is unacceptable."

But, he added, it was also unnecessary.

Businesses had a short-term interest in saving money through saving energy, and every boss had a different kind of interest in leaving the world an environmentally sound place for their children.

Every business, he said, should include at least one non-executive director with a working knowledge of environmental issues, just as they should include someone with a working knowledge of accountancy.

It's amazing this kind of simplistic babble ever sees the light of day in any international organisation. So let's see, if "individuals may be moral, markets are not" then we can easily make the equally irrelevant comment that "individuals may be immoral, markets are not". It's just mind numbing that anyone can blame corporations for all the evils of the planet. Corporations do not force people to consume goods. Corporations do not force governments to wage war (at least not very often). Corporations do not force people to breed (and the number one problem on the planet is that there are too many people). And if he wants to stick two fingers up to corporations, why should they pay any attention to anything he says, least of all this idea that somehow they "should have directors with environmental experience" (perhaps he is short a few directorships and wants to be offered some more).

Date published: 2008/10/05

So-called Wildlife Trust wants to kill grey squirrels (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

The public are being urged to track the UK's red squirrel population to help protect it from a deadly virus.

The Wildlife Trusts charity wants to guard against the threat posed to the UK's estimated 160,000 red squirrels by squirrel pox, carried by greys.

By people reporting sightings of reds during Squirrel Week, which starts later, it hopes to identify areas where protective measures may be required.

These could include culling of grey squirrels, which are more common.

Conservationists say culling is a necessary evil to help preserve red squirrels for the future.

Culling is not a "necessary evil", it is academic middle class control freaks who think they have the right to play God. It is amazing how many so-called conservationists seem to spend all their time and effort fighting Mother Nature and in particular trying to commit mass killing against some species or other that they happen not to like. Hopefully the public will not help this organisation (although no doubt many of the academic middle class will).

Union chief says teachers should not be prosecuted for having affairs with older students (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Teachers should not be prosecuted for having affairs with their sixth formers, a union chief has said.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said it was an "anomaly" that a teacher who had sex with a pupil aged over 16 could go on the sex offenders register.

She told ITV's Tonight programme the law was wrong because a teacher could legally enter a relationship with a sixth former at another school.

Child protection professionals have criticised her comments.

In 2001, the law was changed to make it illegal for teachers to engage in sexual activity with pupils at their school aged under 18.

But Miss Keates said the abuse of trust law had gone too far in cases where the relationship started after a pupil had reached the age of consent.

She is correct. The teacher should be sacked (from that school) but it is ridiculous beyond belief to make this a criminal offense.

Date published: 2008/10/01

Cambridge Energy Forum discussion (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge Energy Forum sponsored a "debate" tonight about the "energy problem". So we in the UK want cheap and "carbon free" energy, so how do we get there. There were three speakers, Candida Whitmill (some consultant or other), Fiona Harvey (environment correspondent for the Financial Times) and David Mackay (physics professor in Cambridge). They each spoke for about ten minutes, and then after a break there was over an hour of discussion with the audience.

Candida Whitmill was co-author of a recent report which suggested that power cuts were imminent in the medium term in Britain. She argued that security of supply is even more important than climate change.

Fiona Harvey dismissed that. And her main point was that there is plenty of money waiting to pile into renewable energy. The real problem holding back Britain was the planning system. Basically, Britain spends far too long discussing things and not enough time actually doing anything. Well, she is totally correct, but unfortunately the current planning system works to the benefit of the academic middle class (e.g. so-called environmentalists and other NGOs) because it means they can stop pretty much any big project for years and years, if not forever. No government has yet been willing to take away the power from these control freaks. And unfortunately the government does not properly compensate people who lose out from infrastructure developments, but if less money were wasted on lawyers and consultants blathering incessantly, then this money could instead be used to compensate the losers.

David Mackay has written a book on energy and his main point was to suggest one way Britain could meet its energy demand in 2050 in a low-carbon way.

As is to be expected in any such event in Cambridge, the audience was packed full of the academic middle class. But surprisingly, most of the questions and discussion more or less made some sense. Needless to say, in such a short time nothing substantive could really be discussed.

The one issue that not only divided the speakers (Whitmill and Harvey) but also some in the audience was the question of whether the lights would indeed go out in Britain in the medium term (because old power plants are going to be wound down and new ones are not opening up fast enough). It's always amazing when two experts can completely disagree on something like that. We shall find out.

One of the Cambridge hi-tech luminaries suggested that high oil and gas prices were a good thing, because it would mean people would consume less, so there would be fewer carbon emissions. Well, this kind of argument is dumb on several levels. The first problem with this argument is that high oil and gas prices will mean that more coal will be used to produce power, perhaps not in the EU, but certainly in China and elsewhere, and coal is far worse than oil and gas for carbon emissions. And the second problem with this argument is that it is only ever made by rich people (e.g. the academic middle class), who of course are responsible for far more carbon emissions than most other people. The average British citizen is not going to be persuaded by the rich to back reductions in carbon emissions with the line that "yes, we are going to make you poorer, a lot poorer, don't expect to ever have the lifestyle that we have". This is where almost all the so-called environmentalists fall down.

BA boss says the Tories have no clue about Heathrow (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Tory plans to scrap a third runway at Heathrow and build a high-speed rail line instead, "beggars belief", says British Airways' chief executive.

Willie Walsh told an audience in the City the plans would damage the economy and create "decades of delays".

He said the Conservatives were "all over the place" on aviation proposals.

The Tories have argued that a high speed rail network would improve transport links without the environmental impact of a new runway.

The Tories were not immediately available to comment on Mr Walsh's latest comments.

They are proposing to create a new 180mph line linking London St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - saying it would cut Heathrow flights by 66,000 a year, or 30% of the planned capacity of the third runway.

Theresa Villiers, the shadow transport secretary, announced to the party's conference in Birmingham on Monday that a Conservative government would say no to a third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Walsh says the latest idea that a rail link from Leeds and Manchester to Heathrow would be an adequate substitute for a third runway "beggars belief".

"Flights to Manchester and Leeds are less than three per cent of Heathrow”s current operation. The runway capacity this would free up would be swallowed almost immediately by natural growth.

"And even this tiny and temporary benefit would not be forthcoming until 2027.

"So the Conservatives apparently want to undermine the UK”s efforts to succeed in a global economy - and condemn Heathrow to permanent status as the most delay-prone airport in Europe".

He added:"The Conservatives may have an election to win but they must not forget that if they are successful, they will have a country to govern."

Needless to say, Walsh has a vested interest in this. The Tory announcement has immediately made BA worth less. On the other hand, Walsh is correct. The Tories seem to have introduced this policy just to appeal to the academic middle class people who write for the national media (e.g. the BBC), so that they can get favourable press coverage. The Tories seem to have no clue about the actual implication of any of this. Meanwhile David Cameron and the other top Tory toffs will continue to fly here, there and everywhere. It's just the peasants who should be expected to stay home.

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