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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

26.02.2016
Polluted air is a major contributor to the global burden of ill-health. A comprehensive WHO study (Global Burden of Disease) attributes nearly 6 million deaths to it in 2010, second only to overall diet and high blood pressure. It kills more people than smoking, alcohol or drugs. So, when we see headlines such as UK air pollution ‘linked to 40,000 early deaths a year’, it is not something we should dismiss lightly. This headline comes from a report about a new study – Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution – recently published jointly by the Royal College of Physicians and...
18.02.2016
Nor, for that matter, of peak coal or gas. Fossil fuels, said to be on the path for an effective demise in the rich world later this century, will actually continue to fulfil the major part of our energy needs for the foreseeable future. So says the latest BP Energy Outlook. Gone is ‘Beyond Petroleum’, back comes making the most of what they do best, albeit in straightened times given the stubbornly low oil price. To be fair to BP, this has been their consistent story even through the period of what is often described as greenwashing. Since they know the business better than anyone and are...
11.02.2016
This week saw the opening of a massive energy project centred on Shetland. A consortium led by the French energy company Total has invested £3.5bn in extracting gas from deep undersea over 100 km west of the islands, receiving it onshore at a new complex adjacent to the existing Sullom Voe oil terminal, and then feeding it into the UK mainland gas grid. According to the report “the Shetland Gas Plant is said by its operator Total to be capable of supplying energy to two million homes” (Total turns on gas from west of Shetland Laggan and Tormore fields). By coincidence, an article last...
29.01.2016
“Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.” This is a statement of the Precautionary Principle, which seems at first sight to be a self-evidently sensible statement. If this approach had been taken in years gone by, rabbits and cane toads perhaps would not have been introduced into Australia, nor Japanese Knotweed into the UK. Some things have unintended consequences, but some of these are predictable with a bit of forethought. But...
22.01.2016
Modern societies have an ambivalent relationship with agriculture. In poor countries, farming families may still make up the majority of the population, and agriculture remains the largest part of the economy, whereas in the rich world the great majority of us are disconnected from the reality of growing and harvesting food. This leads to a romanticised view of the sector, with a perceived ideal of happy and healthy farmers growing nutritious and tasty food without the need for pesticides and other modern technology. This is the underpinning of the organic movement, which has managed to...
14.01.2016
Life is about priorities. Most of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world enjoy secure food and energy supplies and are free to worry about issues such as broadband speed and where to go on holiday. But still, for far too many people, the main priority is much simpler: to be able to grow or afford enough food. On a broader level, Europe has enjoyed probably its most peaceful seven decades ever. With the notable exception of the Balkan conflicts – very nasty indeed, but also quite localised – the great majority of Europeans have grown up free from conflict. Of course, we have...
08.01.2016
First: a Happy New Year to all readers. How 2016 will shape up is anyone’s guess, with ‘experts’ being no more likely to call things correctly than the rest of us mere mortals. However, we can be certain that many of the same issues will continue to form the backdrop to our lives; we just don’t know quite how and to what extent other unknown factors may disrupt things. Putting aside matters economic, political and social, which are beyond the scope of this newsletter, we will all continue to depend on secure supplies of energy and food. Most of us also take for granted the fact that we...
18.12.2015
The COP21 jamboree in Paris is done and dusted. But, not surprisingly, the outcome has in practice changed little and the news media have moved on to other things. The only ‘legally-binding’ aspect of the agreement is that countries are obliged to put forward their planned emissions reduction targets to the IPCC every five years. They don’t have to set ambitious goals (although the hope is that the competitive aspect of this process will put pressure on them to do so) and neither do they have to achieve those they set. Even continuing to be a part of the process isn’t obligatory, since...
11.12.2015
The COP21 climate conference is not yet over, but is in its final throes. Technically, a deal should be done by the end of Friday, but it is now known that talks will carry on into the weekend (a fairly normal occurrence). This time around, world leaders made their appearance at the start rather than the end of the jamboree. Since they will not have to suffer the embarrassment of announcing a weak deal – failure is unthinkable, so a deal there will surely be – this takes a little of the pressure off negotiators. But only a little. This summit, after all, has been promoted as another make...
04.12.2015
With the COP21 negotiations in full swing in Paris, climate change is once more in the news. But it is no longer front-page news, whereas it regularly made headlines in the lead up to the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009. Admittedly, Europe has other things on its collective mind at the moment, in the aftermath of terror attacks and with the continued influx of refugees and economic migrants, but there have been clear signs of a waning in public interest in climate change for some time. It is difficult to keep a topic on the front page over a long period. Issues come and go, and...

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