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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

10.05.2008
Are genetic modification and organic farming incompatible? There has been rather a focus on food and agriculture in this newsletter recently, and we continue the trend this week. We make no apologies for this: food supply is once more a headline issue, and recent large commodity price increases have reminded us again of the fragility of civilization. If insufficient food is available, or if it is unaffordable, this of course hits the poorer hardest, but ultimately threatens even rich, sophisticated societies. Food is at the top of the hierarchy of needs, and threats to food security can...
03.05.2008
- Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice - Farmers defend pesticides - Green labelling Stress-resistant, nitrogen-efficient rice One of the criticisms levelled at agricultural biotechnology is that it is under the control of a few large multinational companies which are trying to dominate the food supply, and that their objective is to maximise profits above all else. Farmers in developing countries, the argument goes, will either forgo the benefits of new technology or (and this now seems to be the fashionable view) have high-priced seeds thrust upon them with no benefit to themselves...
26.04.2008
Ecological footprints The euractiv.com website this week carried an interview with Mathis Wackernagel, director of the Global Footprint Network, which is an organisation "committed to fostering a world where all people have the opportunity to live satisfying lives within the means of Earth's ecological capacity". Their message is simple and superficially scary: we are using effectively more than the resources of one world, and have to change our ways if we are not to become "ecologically bankrupt". Others have been here before, of course. The theory is that it is possible to measure the...
19.04.2008
Food: the next crisis? Those of us fortunate to be in the developed world take food for granted. It is quality rather than quantity which is our main concern and even with the 24-hour availability of an enormous range of high-quality food – something which would have been almost unthinkable just a generation ago – most people now spend a minor share of their household budget on buying food. Partly, this is because the price of most commodity crops has been low in both relative and absolute terms for quite some time. But, although the recent sharp rises in food costs may make us grumble,...
12.04.2008
Transport of the future Transport is important for virtually everyone. Even if we don't make many journeys ourselves, we rely on efficient delivery of goods (and, particularly, food) and letters and parcels, unlike in the world of Harry Potter, cannot be delivered by friendly owls. Politicians, policymakers and commentators recognise this and pay a lot of attention to the topic, but little seems to be happen which makes any real difference to congestion or ease of travel. Despite the apparent best efforts of all concerned, we seem at best to be running to stand still, as demand grows...
05.04.2008
- "Finches flying free" - European citizens' views of genetic modification - Nuclear new build: clarification   "Finches flying free" The BBC Radio 4 Today programme April Fool's joke related to a supposed plan by the RSPB to capture and "repatriate" to Denmark migratory finches which have been staying in the UK in increasing numbers and out-competing species such as sparrows for food. The first clue that this was a spoof was the name of the trap to be used: the moggie. Confirmation, if any was needed, came when the plan was said to involve flying them on BA from Heathrow Terminal 5,...
29.03.2008
- Horizon scanning for threats and opportunities - Entente nucleaire Horizon scanning for threats and opportunities The online edition of the Journal of Applied Ecology carries a new article: "Future novel threats and opportunities facing UKbiodiversity identified by horizon scanning". 35 contributors, mainly from academia and environmental policy organisations, compiled a list of 195 issues, consulting over 450 people in the process. A short list was then discussed and scored for probability, hazard and novelty in a workshop, to arrive at a final list of 25 topics judged to be the most...
07.03.2008
- Food security comes first - Environmental priorities and choices Food security comes first Magnus Linklater, writing in the Times on Thursday, discusses what he sees as a looming food security problem (Who knows there's a food crisis?). A series of poor harvests, China's growing demand for grain imports, government subsidies for biofuels: all these and doubtless a range of other issues are contributing to a steep rise in food prices. But does this really pose a threat to our food security? The new government chief scientist, Prof John Beddington, certainly thinks so, and on Friday the...
29.02.2008
- Being green is not a black and white issue - Are drought-tolerant plants on the horizon? Being green is not a black and white issue Modern environmentalism is a product of prosperity. As the fortunate populations of the developed world take for granted that they are well fed, live in comfortable houses and have energy on tap to meet all their needs, their concerns move towards issues such as nature conservation and the general state of the environment: a perfect illustration of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This is good and healthy. We should be thoughtful about our use of resources and...
22.02.2008
- The "overpopulation" of the UK - Is peak oil really close? The "overpopulation" of the UK Readers of the Telegraph will have seen this week a report that the United Kingdom is actually only capable of supporting 17 million people rather than the nearly 61 million currently living here. This rather worrying conclusion comes from a report published by the Optimum Population Trust, a think tank which, in its own words, " campaigns for stabilisation and gradual population decrease globally and in the UK.". The majority of people (assuming they are not already OPT members) will probably...

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