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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

07.07.2007
New PM, new science minister With Gordon Brown finally moving next door, everyone is looking for clues as to how government policy will evolve. Science has probably not been top of everyone’s mind, given the security issues the new PM was immediately landed with. Nevertheless, changes which could affect science policy have already been made and all those interested in the future of British science have their collective fingers crossed.   It was Mr Brown who was behind the formation of the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), designed to help one of our centres of scientific excellence learn...
30.06.2007
- Weather or climate? - Empty political gesture of the month - Public transport - Air travel: fuel efficiency or noise levels? Weather or climate? Undoubtedly, 2007 has so far brought some fairly extreme weather. The UK had some exceptionally warm weather in April (after last year’s miserable, cold spring) but is now suffering an unseasonably wet June. All signs of climate change, some might say, before telling us that we can expect much more of the same unless we drastically reduce our carbon emissions. But is this weather really so unusual, or are we just sensitised to changes because...
16.06.2007
- Nanotechnology and public engagement - Transport subsidies and the environment - EU organic regulation - The Heiligendamm testament Nanotechnology and public engagement Nanotechnology is fashionable and, like most new technologies, has had its potential over-hyped by many. One area where the potential may or may not ultimately be fulfilled is thin-film photovoltaics. Conventional solar cells are a very expensive means to generate electricity, despite continued efficiency increases. They also use considerable quantities of pure silicon, which was until recently in relatively short supply...
02.06.2007
The politics of organic food This week the Soil Association, the UK’s leading organic farming campaigning and accreditation organisation, published a consultation paper on the air freighting of organic produce. One option proposed is a withdrawal of the Soil Association’s approval for organic status for such imports. And the reason? You’ve guessed: climate change. The Association is concerned about the contribution air travel makes to greenhouse gas emissions, and does not think that the organic movement should be associated with this. In many ways, this is an entirely natural (I use the...
26.05.2007
-Energy white paper -New planning rules -Road charging Energy white paper The  energy white paper, published this week, seems to complete the government’s change of heart on nuclear power. Four years ago, this option was effectively ruled out of the equation. More recently, there have been more favourable noises, plus the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’s report (which seems to chart an acceptable way forward via rewarding communities prepared to host waste facilities) and now a white paper which clearly makes the case for nuclear as an important part of the mix. This may have...
19.05.2007
- Galileo project - Awkward questions on behalf of our children - What is a natural habitat? - Eco-towns - Engineering more efficient photosynthesis Galileo project Many of us take for granted satellite navigation. Like all the best technologies, the complex science behind it is hidden. For the user, it is just a question of keying in a destination and, hey presto, directions are provided. While not absolutely infallible – as we are made aware on slow-news days when some unfortunate driver ends up on a railway line or in a river – they are pretty useful, and many people rely heavily on...
12.05.2007
- Government support for micro-generation - How green is Brown? - Fear of flying - Bio-fuels Government support for micro-generation The government talks about its ambitious targets for emissions reductions, and the role of individual householders in this. However, the incentive for people to invest in micro-generation schemes has not been very great. A miserly £12.5million was allocated last year in grants for installing wind turbines, photo-voltaic panels and the like, and the monthly allocation was regularly all used on the day it was released. Although the budget for the scheme has...
05.05.2007
Cutting carbon dioxide emissions means compromises for the green movement This week sees the publication of the IPCC Working Group 3 report on climate change mitigation. This takes as given the work already published by WG1 (the scientific basis) and WG2 (impacts and adaptation) and proposes ways in which the extent of climatic changes can be reduced. In our view, the major role ascribed to carbon dioxide by the IPCC remains an unproven hypothesis, and the extent to which emission reductions can influence future temperatures therefore equally uncertain. Nevertheless, it is interesting to...
28.04.2007
- Chinese response to climate change - Free market approach to energy effiency - GM approvals by default in the EU - St George's mushroom - Greening the European Parliament? Chinese response to climate change If we accept that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are a key driver of climate change, then it is clear that any mitigation response must have the commitment of all major economies if it is to reduce emissions significantly and have any hope of slowing the warming trend. The Kyoto protocol is acknowledged to be more in the nature of a demonstration project than a truly effective...
21.04.2007
- The future of farming - Climate change at the UN Security Council - Ecocide or rates? - Kilimanjaro's ice The future of farming This week saw Professor Bill McKevley, head of the Scottish Agricultural College, raising the issue of competition between food and non-food crops in a world with an increasing – and increasingly prosperous – population. In an article in the Scotsman and an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, he laid out the facts which are well known by some but probably not appreciated by the general public. The following points seem to be irrefutable:     * The world’s...

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