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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

25.08.2007
Transports of delight Those readers old enough to remember Flanders and Swann will, we hope, forgive us for using the title of one of their best known songs for this week’s newsletter. The song waxed lyrical about the pleasures of using London buses, but here we take a rather more critical view of transport in modern societies. Personal transport – unless muscle-powered – is a particular bête noire of environmentalists at present, given its seemingly inexorable increase. In recent times flying – although by any rational definition a form of public transport – has come in for particular...
18.08.2007
The politics of environmentalism The environmental movement has achieved much over the last few decades. Much of this can be dated from the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, and the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 marks the effective birth of organised, high profile activism. From these beginnings, in less than half a century, environmentalism has become mainstream. In the industrialised world, air and water quality has improved tremendously, recycling rates have steadily improved, and European farmers are paid for conservancy work rather than just growing food. By any...
11.08.2007
Climate of Intolerance   As it’s August, we have a shorter newsletter than usual this week.  Climate of intolerance Newsweek has used climate change as its cover story this week, under the title “The truth about denial”. The gist of the argument is that there is a well-funded “denial industry” which seeks to undermine the sound scientific basis for the prevailing concerns about human-induced climate change. Parallels are drawn with the tobacco industry lobby and, of course, all this is said to be taking place in the name of private profit.   This is the latest example of a deeply...
04.08.2007
- Planes, the environment and personal choice - Who pays for new transport links? - Climate (un)certainties - Soil Association takes a dim view of international airfreight Planes, the environment and personal choice Air travel has become a particular focus of environmentalist criticism, partly because it is believed that jet engine exhaust gases high in the atmosphere may have a proportionally greater effect on climate change than low level emissions, and partly because of the continued strong growth of the aviation sector. This, of course, is in addition to the natural concerns of people...
28.07.2007
- Urban development and congestion - The future of the railways - Weather, infrastructure and climate - Economic solar power on the horizon? - Friend or FoE? Urban development and congestion In a week where the Government has promised a major investment in new housing, the key problem of lack of proper infrastructure planning is highlighted once again. It is not just that there are too few homes available, but that they are becoming increasingly unaffordable to a significant  proportion of young people, because house building (for a number of reasons) has been allowed to fall well behind...
21.07.2007
- Back-pedalling on bio-fuels? - Goodbye to set-aside - Approved by default - No role for biotech in food security? - Risk versus benefits Back-pedalling on bio-fuels? Bio-fuels have had a roller-coaster ride in the past couple of years. From a situation where few people outside Brazil had even heard of their existence, they suddenly became fashionable and an undeniable “good thing”. Converting plants into motor fuel seemed to have an ideal mix of benefits, both reducing net carbon dioxide emissions and providing a renewable alternative to mineral oil. Governments thought they were on to...
14.07.2007
- Spud they don't like - Should we worry about milk from clones? - Ruminants, methane and climate change - The Sun and climate change Spud they don’t like This week, it has been reported on the Indymedia website that the only current GM potato field trial in the UK was destroyed over the weekend. The trial was of blight-resistant potatoes, and run by NIAB (the National Institute for Agricultural Botany) in Cambridge. Part of the message, from “Digger” reads “The potato plants were already flowering, spreading genetic contagion into the surrounding countryside. Public concern and...
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...

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