Apr 102012

Once upon a time there was something called ‘tax’, which was a system of levies intended to fill the treasury vaults or, in the distant past, the royal coffers. Of course no one ever liked paying taxes very much, not ever, taxesbut at least the concept was easy enough to grasp and to justify. In a well-ordered society there should be funds available to meet the cost of communal needs, like defence forces, administration, health care, education, the police, the judiciary etc., and everyone should contribute.

We may have groaned about having to pay taxes, but at least we could understand why it was necessary. Now, all that seems to have changed. A pending announcement from the government about the much-heralded Green Deal illustrates just how far we have departed from the old concept of taxation. We’ll come to that in a moment, but first let’s look at a couple of stages in the evolution of taxes during the last few decades.

The idea of imposing taxes to change people’s behaviour, rather than merely to fund public services, is not new. Inflating the cost of alcohol in order to curb excess drinking, while at the same time diverting vast amounts from our pockets to the Treasury - for the public good of course - has long been a sure-fire earner for Chancellors of the Exchequer. By the middle of the last century, taxes on tobacco were fulfilling the same role, and the term ‘sin tax’ had entered the vocabulary.

This subterfuge has proved very successful, always providing that our political masters are careful not to reduce our smoking and drinking too much, which would kill the goose which lays the golden eggs. ‘Sin’, as a Bishop once said, ‘is always with us’, and a long succession of cash strapped governments have good reason to give thanks for that it is so.

Then came the age of Blair and Brown, when the electorate was encouraged to passively connive at the world of smoke and mirrors that those two arch deceivers inhabited.

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greenpeace For years I’ve received press releases from Greenpeace and have done little more than glance at them before they are consigned to an archive. Very few, if any, have had a direct bearing on climate change. The activities of the Japanese whaling fleet seemed to be the most popular topic, a controversy that lies beyond the remit of Harmless Sky.

This morning yet anther release arrived, but this caused me some concern as, although it too had nothing to do with climate change, it sounds a rather a scary warning about the path that green political activism might follow in the future. Here is what it had to say:

Greenpeace submitted the first test case European Citizens’ Initiative in December 2010. Please find below and online a concise briefing outlining our position on this engagement tool.

European Citizens’ Initiative – Greenpeace briefing

The Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, enshrines the right for one million Europeans to petition the European Commission and require it to draft legislation on the basis of their demands (or justify its refusal to do so). This right is known as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).

In December 2010, Greenpeace and Avaaz submitted a one million signature ECI in accordance with the rules established by EU treaties. The ECI was in response to the first authorisation by the Commission in March 2010 for the cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) crop in Europe in 12 years. This authorisation was in direct breach of a request by all 27 member states for a review of the approval system for GM crops. It also raised serious health and environmental concerns. The ECI therefore called for a moratorium on all new authorisations and a review of the GM approval process.

Now drumming up a million signatures on a petition sounds like a pretty onerous task – or it does until you look at the demography of the EU. With 27 member countries and a population of just over 500 million things seem a little different. To put it bluntly, fooling 1 in 500 of the population all of the time is not likely to pose much of a problem for organisations with the kind of spending power that Greenpeace, WWF or Friends of the Earth now have.

That said, the press release continues like this:

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said: “The citizens’ initiative is a good idea in principle, but in reality one million euros will go a lot further to lobby the Commission than one million signatures. Data requirements for the citizens’ initiative are far too restrictive, while lobbyists continue to have direct access without disclosing names and addresses, let alone their passport numbers. Over a year ago, one million people from all over Europe signed a one million citizens’ initiative for a moratorium on GM crops and a strengthening of safety assessments. Their voices have been heard, since the Commission has yet to authorise new GM crops.”

(At present, signatories are required to provide their date and place of birth together with other information from their passport or identity papers.)

So it appears that in the opinion of Greenpeace one million euros can buy lobbying on a scale that trumps a procedure requiring the EU  to either legislate or justify not doing so. And the cost is peanuts for exerting influence on a trading block that contributes a significant part of the global economy.

Just how much power over our politicians, our governance, and our lives to these organisations have now?

The whole press release can be found here.

An email from Tony Brown last evening brought a strange snipit of news which he is told is now in the public domain, although I haven’t come across it anywhere yet.

NLambG Apparently, a contact of Tony’s at the Met Office has told him that the resignation of Chris Huhne has brought about a change in governance of that august British institution which incorporates an extraordinary irony. The Met Office’s new ‘owning minister’, who will report to Parliament on the organisation’s performance, governance and business plans, is the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb who, though a solicitor by trade, has more than a passing connection with the controversial world of climate science. Continue reading »

(What follows is a comment which Alex Cull posted on another thread. It is quite extraordinary that an ex-government chief scientific adviser and ex-president of the Royal Society should be capable of thinking like this, and Alex’s final comments is typically sharp.)

may

Happy New Year, all! Here’s a recent interview you may find of interest – Robyn Williams of the ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Science Show talking to Lord May; worth a listen/read, in my opinion. An excerpt (emphases mine): Robyn Williams: So what do you make of someone like Lord Lawson, with whom you sit in the House of Lords, who has for many, many years, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer, a brilliant man, but nonetheless talks about climate change consistently over the years as if it is highly questionable. What do you say to him?

Robert May: And particularly amazing more recently is Andrew Turnbull, who I always thought of as a very sensible person. He was the Cabinet Secretary, a civil servant, not a politician. So his career was taking advice from people who knew more about it than him, and he is right up there as a denier. Polly Toynbee wrote an extraordinarily cruel thing about him. I do find it puzzling, but I do have one perhaps unsound potential explanation. These people are all economists, and more recently I’ve come to learn a little bit more about economics and I realise it is very largely (and I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way, it’s just a statement), it is largely faith-based. It doesn’t have much in the way of testable hypotheses and things. It does have things in the way of simple models but they tend to be grounded on beliefs, and the discussions they have would have been a more familiar in Socrates’ Athens than in today’s scientific colloquium. And so I have some sympathy that just as you may believe in perfect markets or general equilibrium or hidden hands, you could have a belief that the climate can’t do that. That is a charitable explanation. There are less charitable ones, that it ultimately derives from other kinds of motives.

I had a look at columnist Polly Toynbee’s article, which I think he might be referring to; it’s from August last year and about why Britain must resist “Tea Party madness” (where else would it be but in the Guardian?) and it, too, is I think worth a read, from a climate change psychology perspective. She writes:

On matters of fact, those of us who are not scientists can only listen to what scientists say and trust such an overwhelming global consensus.

Now that’s what I call faith.

Dec 082011

BookerBBC Today, Christopher Booker, Telegraph columnist and author of The Real Global Warming Disaster will be launching a report he has written for the Global Warming Policy Foundation called The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. I implore anyone who is interested in the strange story of how the British public was sold the idea that anthropogenic climate change is threatening the future of the planet to read it.

I saw a draft of the report a little while ago because Booker has used a great deal of the information that Andrew Montford and I have uncovered about the BBC’s unhealthily close and cordial relationship with climate activism. This is very satisfying for us as we have long believed that this is a scandal that needs to be confronted and given a good public airing. Hopefully that will now happen.

However this new GWPF report also contains much that is new to me, and Christopher Booker has obviously cast his net very widely in order to gather together incontrovertible evidence that our revered national broadcaster has strayed far beyond the statutory limitations imposed on its activities so far as impartiality is concerned. Furthermore, the author is scathing about what happened when the BBC Trust set up a review to supposedly consider the accuracy and impartiality of the Corporation’s science coverage. Their chosen author - a self confessed ‘media tart’ with close links to the BBC - ignored evidence that should have been at the heart of his deliberations. This was provided in a submission that Andrew Montford and I provided him with, and this document now forms the core of Christopher Booker’s indictment of the BBC and the science review.

By chance, new evidence of the BBC Trust’s very strange behaviour when climate change is in the frame has just come to light. This concerns their oft repeated claim that the Jones Review was a ‘routine’ exercise and quite unrelated to Climategate and the welter of criticism, led by the blogoshere, of the BBC’s routinely partisan reporting of the climate debate. It would seem that the Trust has not been altogether truthful.

When Andrew and I originally wrote to the then chairman of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, Professor Richard Tait, suggesting that we should contribute to their recently announced review of science coverage, we said:

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Dec 052011

LouiseGrayIt’s always reassuring to think that, whatever their opinions might be, Environment Correspondents on the leading national broadsheets are really up-to-speed with the basics of highly contentious subjects like climate change. Now there’s Louise Gray of the Daily Telegraph for example, who’s been covering the subject for years. Surely we can feel confident in the factual content of her reports, can’t we?

But this afternoon I saw a reprint of a Telegraph article about the Durban Summit under Ms Gray’s by-line at the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this  is the opening paragraph below the sub-heading:

The Lib Dem minister, who is responsible for climate change, will arrive at UN talks in Durban, South Africa, today to lead the charge for an international deal to stop global temperatures rising above 35.6F (2C). (GWPF)

Oh Dear! But fear not, some eagle eyed newshound at the Telegraph has been hard at work saving their ace environment reporter’s blushes, because this is what I found when I checked out the story at their website.

The Lib Dem minister, who is responsible for climate change, will arrive at UN talks in Durban, South Africa, today to lead the charge for an international deal to stop global temperatures rising by more than 3.6F (2C). (Telegraph)

Perhaps as well as changing that very embarrassing piece of copy, the Telegraph should consider changing it’s Environment Correspondent.

(I’m very grateful to Geoff Chambers for this post. He seems to have spotted something that others haven’t: TonyN)

group

You’re a group of top scientists, showered with funding and honours – even a small share in the Nobel Peace Prize – and engaged in a “Cause” (that’s how you describe it) which you are convinced is of vital importance for the future of the planet.

But there are people opposed to your Cause – other scientists who disagree with your findings. They are to be the subject of a major TV documentary film. The film-makers ask you to reply, defending your Cause. What do you do?

Now read on:

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Nov 222011

(I’ve been waiting to post this since mid-afternoon, but the site has been down. Very frustrating)

There is a very big story breaking at WUWT and JefId’s.

Apparently another 5000 Climategate emails have been released on the net, with 220,000 more (yep! I counted the noughts) being withheld meantime.

From what I can see of the snippets that are floating around already, they look genuine, but these excerpts are very short and obviously lacking context, so it would be a mistake to read too much into them.

Since the last time this happened, a scandal over telephone hacking by Rupert Murdoch owned newspapers has broken in the UK. The establishment had little trouble whipping up a full-scale judge-led inquiry - complete with a barrister to ask witness giving evidence under oath difficult questions - in next to no time. Could this have been in order to ensure that the focus of attention remains on telephone hacking rather than on awkward questions about how political parties have courted, and curried favour with, the Murdochs for decades?.

If this really is Climategate2, then the blogosphere should do whatever is necessary to ensure that the same the establishment cannot avoid exerting the same degree of diligence in establishing just what is happening in the climate science community. That includes legal direct action.

This time there has to be a proper judicial enquiry, and it has to have access to everything on UK bases mail servers that could possibly be relevant to the way climate science, and the IPCC process, is being practiced this country.

Nov 152011

LordKrebs

What follows is a comment that Alex Cull posted on the New Statesman thread. It seems far too good to languish there:

Alex Cull Says: November 14th, 2011 at 10:29 pm Here’s a link to a very recent interview on ABC’s [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] Science Show (audio is available and they should have a transcript up within a few days) with Robyn Williams talking to Lord Krebs, zoologist, Principal of Jesus College Oxford and member of the CCC [Climate Change Committee].

Lord Krebs: How are we going to decarbonise the electricity supply? The answer is there is no one magic bullet. What you need is a portfolio of renewables – particularly, in the UK, offshore wind because we are lucky, we’ve got a very windy shoreline, some onshore wind, although the NIMBYs (the not-in-my-back-yard brigade) tends to slow that down, there’ll be a small amount of wave and tidal power, and nuclear will have a significant role to play.

No mention about the growing concerns re the cost (a minor detail, it seems – what’s a mere Mars-mission equivalent here or there, after all?) Indeed, what Lord Krebs also appears to be saying is that not only will we have to totally “decarbonise” the economy, but we will need to be persuaded to ditch the idea of economic growth as well (which raises, does it not, a double question mark over how all this massive decarbonisation is to be paid for, at the end of the day.)

Lord Krebs: …and I think we do need, in the longer term, to get used to the idea of a different model from the model of continuous economic growth for ever and ever. It just isn’t sustainable.

Robyn Williams: So that’s a question of changing people’s behaviour, which is always a challenge. How do you do that?

Lord Krebs: It’s a matter of changing politicians’ behaviour. But the politicians, at least in a democratic society, are there because the people put them there. So if the electorate sent a signal to the political classes – “We don’t want a model of forever getting richer, forever using more resources, forever plundering the environment” – then I expect the politicians would change their pitch. So it is, in the end, about changing people’s behaviour and people’s aspirations. And that’s a really difficult nut to crack. When we think of the scientific contribution to problems such as global warming or food security, we tend to think of the technological aspect of science, the biological sciences, physics, engineering, chemistry, and so on. But actually, in my view, the behavioural sciences have got a huge contribution to make, here, in trying to understand how we change people’s norms, people’s expectations, and people’s aspirations.

Notice how this shifts from changing politicians’ behaviour (we, the electorate, doing this by exerting our democratic rights), seamlessly to changing the electorate’s behaviour (but then there’s a riddle – who will need to change our behaviour, so we can then change the politicians’ behaviour?)

Lord Krebs: But going back to the fundamental question of “Can we change people’s aspiration and people’s expectation?” I think this is a really interesting area for research. The people who probably know most about it are, of course, the marketing people, because they know how to get us to expect to be able to buy new stuff, whether it’s an iPhone or a new item of clothing, because of this year’s fashion. So we ought to be able to take their skills and their knowledge and turn it to a different purpose, to get people not to expect to have the latest gadget, the latest styles of clothing but to realise they’re perfectly happy with what they’ve got.

Robyn Williams: Who would pay for that advertising campaign?

Lord Krebs: That’s a very tricky one, who would pay for it.

Robyn Williams: If it’s the government, then the old “nanny state” accusation comes in.

Lord Krebs: There’s always a risk of “nanny state”, and I think that again is really part of the problem, of who ultimately takes responsibility.

I’m wondering if Lord Krebs might have actually already provided an answer to the riddle. “So we ought to be able to take their skills and their knowledge and turn it to a different purpose, to get people not to expect to have the latest gadget…” etc. Who’s this “we”?

For those who have not come across his lordship before, he first come to public attention, and earned his ennoblement, by heading the Food Standards Agency. One of his sillier contributions at that time was an attack on the organic food movement. He is now – God help us! – chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. In real life, he is a world expert on the behaviour of birds.

That such an influential figure should seriously suggest that the same people who have managed to convince us that supermarkets sell good food and that its sensible to buy such shoddy goods that that they need frequent replacement are just the people to sell climate change – when scientists, politicians and activists have failed – is bizarre. But it is Krebs extraordinary confusion about the role of politicians and their electorates in a free society that really amazes. Is it surprising that the general public is becoming more and more suspicious about what scientists tell them?

trustlogo

Before saying any more about Professor Steve Jones’ BBC Trust Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of the BBC’s Coverage of Science, I should probably own up to not having read the whole report. It runs to over a hundred pages, much of which deals with areas of science that I am not particularly interested in. More importantly perhaps, by the time I had read the one part of the report that considers issues I am very familiar with, I had doubts as to whether the rest was likely to be worth reading.

There are a few basic requirements for any kind of review: objectivity, accuracy, breadth of outlook, the willingness to consider even unwelcome material, clarity and precision when writing up the findings. All of these are essential if the end product is to have any kind of credibility, and all of these are lacking in the parts of the Professor Jones’ work that I have examined.

Only a fairly small section of this report - less than ten pages - focuses specifically on climate change, although this subject seems to be the elephant in the room throughout the introductory sections, which I have only skimmed through. Climate change is, without question, the most important, the most controversial, and most testing scientific issue that the BBC has had to report during the last decade. One might have expected that rather more space would have been devoted to detailed consideration of such an important topic.

If this rather bulky submission wasn’t enough to inflict on readers, there is also an appendix of similar length presenting Imperial College London’s Content Analysis of BBC the BBC’s Science Coverage. This is a terrifyingly dry looking document, but I did catch sight of a familiar name on the title page.

One of the author’s of this paper is Alice Bell, a specialist in the sociology or education and science communication at Imperial who I once had a very minor run-in with on her blog in connection with the ‘Bedtime Story’ climate scare advertising campaign launched by DECC in the run-up to the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. She had said, in passing, ‘I am in no way a climate change sceptic, in fact I find such people a bit worrying’. I suggested to her that I found social scientists who categorise ‘people’ as ‘a bit worrying’ because of a single opinion they hold with which you disagree might, just possibly, be ‘a bit worrying’ themselves. The point seemed to be lost on her. (Update: Alex Cull has an excellent comment about the Context Report and Alice Bell here.

Anyway, when I first had a look at Professor Jones’ report I did the obvious thing and turned straight to the part that deals with the submission that Andrew Montford and I made to his review. This is what he has to say about it:

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