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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

16.11.2007
- Energy security - Fuel from algae - Galileo: what goes around, comes around Energy insecurity On November 7th, the International Energy Agency launched its latest World Energy Outlook report, with a projection that energy demand by 2030 could be 50% higher than today's. A large part of this inexorable growth will inevitably come from the world's two largest countries, China and India, both developing rapidly and investing heavily in new generating capacity to meet demand. With populations of about 1.3 and 1.1 billion respectively, they make up 37% of the world total, and any increase in...
09.11.2007
- A breakthrough for GM food? - The trouble with science A breakthrough for GM food? In a BBC Radio programme (Hardtalk, 26th October) Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur. A rather interesting discussion ensued during the interview, initiated by the following statement from Mr Price: " For instance, it may be counter intuitive, but the carbon footprint of organics is more than GM crops. And that's a real dilemma because people say they want organic because it tastes better, because it's free of pesticide, but, from a carbon footprint point of...
03.11.2007
- Is organic food really better for you? - France takes a step back on agricultural biotechnology - A car-free Olympics Is organic food really better for you? This week there have been reports of a study which purports to show that organic food really is more nutritious, rather than the "lifestyle choice" which David Miliband suggested. The four year Low Input Quality Food project has been funded by the EU to the tune of £12 million and is coordinated by Professor Carlo Liefert of Newcastle University. The university's research farm was one of the sites where trials were carried out....
27.10.2007
- Science and consensus - Crop protection in Europe - Organic standards Science and consensus It is true that science progresses via the formation of consensus: over time the vast majority of scientists accept the evidence which builds up and consider a hypothesis as valid. It is equally true that science also progresses when that consensus is challenged by new observations or hypotheses. Most scientists work on incremental advancements, increasing the body of knowledge within or on the borders of an existing consensus. A minority, whether by luck or judgement, come up with consensus-...
20.10.2007
- Obesity as big a problem as climate change - The problem with cement - Development in China Obesity as big a problem as climate change We would not normally comment on a purely health issue, but then it is not often we see such eye-catching statements as that of Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, who at the weekend said that obesity in the UK is a “potential crisis on the scale of climate change”.  This is a good illustration of the all-pervasiveness of the climate issue: it is the metaphor which government ministers use when they want to emphasise the seriousness of a problem. But...
13.10.2007
- An Inconvenient Judgement - Gore and IPCC win Nobel prize An Inconvenient Judgement On Wednesday, in the High Court, Mr Justice Burton ruled that Al Gore’s Oscar-winning film – An Inconvenient Truth – contained nine scientific errors, and should not be shown to schoolchildren without them also receiving the other side of the argument. Essentially, the judge has said what any reasonable person watching the film would conclude; that it promotes a clear and committed point of view and uses every presentational device it can to do push home the message. It is a polemic from someone who...
06.10.2007
- More on tidal power - Better biofuels - UK fuel duty rise to fight climate change - The truth becomes more inconvenient   More on tidal power Following last week’s mention of the Severn barrage, the project now has the blessing of the Sustainable Development Commission, the influential body chaired by Jonathan Porritt. The blessing, however, is conditional. First, the SDC only supports the scheme if other wetland habitats are developed to provide feeding grounds for birds displaced by the barrage, which seems entirely sensible. Second, the Commission says that the scheme should be...
29.09.2007
- Set-aside set aside (for now) - Increasing the ocean's capacity for CO2 - Time for a Severn barrage? Set-aside set aside (for now) The requirement for Europe’s farmers to leave some of their land (currently 10%) fallow was introduced about fifteen years ago, amid concerns that the direct production payments then being made under the Common Agricultural Policy were encouraging the formation of some interesting new geographic features, including wine lakes and butter mountains. Set-aside was designed to reduce production of grain which at the time was contributing towards an increasing...
22.09.2007
- An inconvenient truth or a convenient teaching aid? - Environmental costs and benefits - Electric cars An Inconvenient Truth or a convenient teaching aid? Readers may recall that the then Education Secretary Alan Johnson, and then Environment Secretary David Milliband sent a DVD of Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” to all secondary schools in England as part of the “sustainable schools” programme (Newsletter 13th April). The government, enthusiastically endorsing the view that the debate over the science of climate change was over, saw this as a good way of getting the message over...
15.09.2007
- Politics and the environment - Biofuels and food Politics and the environment The Conservative Party, as part of its repositioning, has a number of study groups working on policy options. The latest to report is the Quality of Life group, led by ex-Environment Secretary John Gummer and including Zac Goldsmith, son of the late Sir James, nephew of Teddy, editor of the Ecologist and now aspiring Conservative MP. It is clear that the Tories are big on the environment: this is more that David Cameron riding his bike or a dog-sled. The two big questions are which party is going to set the...

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