I’ve been away for about three weeks, and the last few days have been devoted to trying to catch up. Anyone who tries to persuade us that the climate debate is over for all reasonable people should try reading their way back into the subject after even such a short break.At Climate Audit, Steve McIntyre and others are dismembering a new climate reconstruction from Michael Mann of Hockey Stick fame here. It would seem that, once again, there are many questions to be asked about strange statistical techniques that palaeoclimatologists love, and real statisticians find surprising.

On the three Sundays when I was out of the country, the BBC broadcast a series of programmes on climate change presented by Dr Ian Stewart. I’ve only seen one short clip from this that was posted on YouTube. In this sequence the Hockey Stick is presented as a courageous piece of ground-breaking research that has been successfully defended against unwarranted attacks by ignorant and unscrupulous sceptics. Unfortunately, while Dr Mann is given ample screen time to defend his work, the BBC found it quite unnecessary to allow any sceptic to explain why they have doubts about the Hockey Stick.

Closer to home, there has been the usual backlog of mail to deal with, and this contained at least one interesting item; a communication from the Office of the Information Commissioner about my request to the BBC for information about a climate change seminar that they referred to in their 2007 impartiality report. Their Senior Complaints Officer has written to the BBC asking them why the Corporation did not provide the information that I asked for under the terms of the Environmental Information Regulations.

This letter is dated 28th July 2008, some two months ago. Its author informs me that she will ‘update’ me again in about six weeks time unless she receives a reply from the BBC before then. I wonder if the passage of time is measured on a different scale in the Office of the Information Commissioner from the rest of the universe. My response was blunt and predictable.

Our holiday took us by train to Paris, Venice, Budapest, then into the Transylvanian mountains of Romania where we hired a car for a week before heading home via Vienna. There are many enduring memories of this trip, and here are just two of them.

Sitting on the ruined wall of a medieval castle high above a remote Romanian village, on a perfect early autumn morning, looking out over a valley that has barely changed since medieval times. The country surrounding the village is still cultivated on the strip system, the land patterned with crops growing in narrow bands so that everyone has fair shares of good ground and bad. There are no fields here. Potatoes, standing cereals and other crops, interspersed with stubble where harvesting had already taken place, presented a complex interlocking pattern of autumn colours and subtle textures as if some omniscient textile designer had woven the landscape into an intricate and ageless tapestry.

Surrounding the arable land were vast, open, rolling pastures on the lower slopes of the hills, unfenced and terraced in places. Here, herds of cows and goats grazed under the watchful eye of herdsmen leaning on long sticks, with dogs at their feet. With no enclosures the animals cannot be left unattended. And then on the higher slopes, dense forest, mainly beach and oak, already showing patches of russet and ochre where early frosts had touched the foliage.

Close by an elderly couple were loading newly cut hay onto a cart while the two horses harnessed to it fidgeted and waited to start the long journey downhill to the village. They all looked pretty contented; a sharp contrast with the streets of the western European cities that we had passed through, where contentment is nothing but a distant memory.

But the strangest thing of all was what we could hear; the sound of distant voices and barking dogs drifting up to us on the cold still morning air. Just that and nothing else. No sound of motorcars or aircraft or any other kind of machinery, however hard one listened. Precisely the same sounds that the ancestors of the people working in the field would have heard five hundred or a thousand years ago.

A few days later we were travelling through a quite different countryside between the Hungarian border and Vienna. This was a richer, greener land, well ordered and prosperous, with farms and small communities dotted among well-tended fields. But there was no doubt that the twenty-first century had arrived here, for as far as the eye could see in any direction the landscape was dominated by hundreds (yes really hundreds) of wind turbines. A once beautiful and tranquil landscape now industrialised and made ugly, and for what purpose?

2 Responses to “Return from holiday round up: Michael Mann, the BBC and holiday-snaps”

  1. Perhaps predictably, I’ve drawn a blank on trying to get details of who attended the BBC seminar from other sources.

    Another approach which we might consider would be to ask for an extract of the visitors book at Television Centre for the day of the seminar. I think we should wait and see what the information commissioner comes up with first though.

  2. Bishop Hill

    The visitor’s book sounds like a good idea, but as you say, it’s probably better to wait at least until the OIC gets some kind of initial reaction from the BBC, frustrating as that is.

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