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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

09.10.2015
This week, a well-respected academic has come in for criticism for writing an article at the behest of a large multinational company (Harvard professor failed to disclose connection). The main problem was that the company was Monsanto, regularly vilified by activists for what they consider to be a range of sins, including farmer exploitation and attempted dominance of the agricultural supply chain. The academic is Calestous Juma, director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project and Professor of the Practice of International Development at Harvard. Unsurprisingly, this has...
02.10.2015
The scandal engulfing the Volkswagen group - and very probably other major car manufacturers - is a serious one, but essentially about ethics and customer trust. To deliberately falsify the outcome of emissions tests is fraudulent and will have long-running consequences but it is not necessarily, as some commentators have suggested, the beginning of the end for diesel as a mainstream fuel. Diesel engines have long been the motive power of choice for buses, commercial vehicles and (non-electric) trains. By compressing a mixture of air and low-volatility oil to a high degree, diesel...
25.09.2015
Greenpeace has published the latest in a bi-annual series of studies focussed on energy, written jointly with the Global Wind Energy Council and SolarPowerEurope. This year’s Energy [r]evolutionis a particularly important one because of the impending Paris climate summit, on which so many hopes are riding. The big message this time around is that it is possible to deliver a global energy system which is 100% renewable by 2050 (see Is a 100 per cent renewables-powered world really possible?). The study is certainly well produced and weighty – coming in at 364 pages – but not all of this is...
18.09.2015
Last week, I argued that the proposed Hinkley Point C reactor, to be built by EDF with Chinese partnership, did not represent good value for money for the UK taxpayer. This week, it’s appropriate to look at some of the reasons why nuclear fission remains a key technology for the future, and why one bad deal shouldn’t be allowed to put that future in jeopardy. In fact, as others have pointed out to me, even the Hinkley project may not be so bad when taken in context. There are other projects also in the pipeline in the UK. Nugen is a joint venture between Toshiba and ENGIE (formerly GDF...
11.09.2015
The need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is seen by some as both vital and obvious. Others see no pressing urgency in the light of uncertainty about the relative contribution of various uncontrollable factors to changing climate patterns. This divergence of views provides plenty of scope for argument between those who want to phase out fossil fuels at any price and those who believe the chosen route of renewable energy is currently simply not up to the task. There is, however, a path which all shades of opinion should be able to agree on; a route to low-carbon electricity with built-in...
04.09.2015
As the summer break comes to an end, many minds will be firmly focussed on the next climate change summit – the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – taking place in Paris from November 30. That’s just under three months away. On December 11, the conference will come to an end with the celebration of a binding international deal to slash emissions. At least, that’s the theory. The fact that this is the 21st year of talks says something of itself. Bringing enough industrialised countries together to put the Kyoto protocol into force...
24.07.2015
In five months’ time, negotiators hope that a global agreement on climate change mitigation will have been reached in Paris. Expectations are once again being raised, for example by bullish pronouncements from the EU’s lead negotiator (No plan B if Paris climate summit ends in failure, says EU climate chief). Following so many earlier failures to agree, governments are working to make agreement as certain as possible, and this week have had a series of ‘informal ministerial consultations’ in Paris. Expectations are also being raised based on the outcome of this two-day meeting (Deal on...
17.07.2015
As the old joke goes, there are three kinds of economists; those who can count and those who can’t. This and worse give a picture of a profession that is not generally held in high esteem. Expert predictions made about economic growth, inflation or any number of other indicators vary considerably between teams, and who actually turns out to be right seems more a matter of luck than judgement. Many people assume that economics is described as ‘dismal’ because of its association with the quantification of human misery. The origin of the term is correctly ascribed to Thomas Carlyle, but the...
10.07.2015
Any action, however well-intentioned, can have bad consequences, hence the saying about the road to Hell. A similar way of expressing the same idea is as the Law of Unintended Consequences. No matter how careful we are in planning and no matter how much good we want to achieve, sometimes our actions come back to bite us. There are no easy ways to avoid this, but the important thing is to learn from the experience and not make the same mistake twice. Releasing rabbits into the wild in Australia in the late 19th Century was initially done to provide hunting, and no-one at the time would...
03.07.2015
Although not a household name, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed is credited with helping tens of millions of people in poor countries; for this, he has been awarded the 2015 World Food Prize (Anti-poverty pioneer wins 2015 World Food Prize). The organisation he founded as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee in the early 1970s has become BRAC, the largest development organisation in the world, operating in 11 countries in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. To quote from the organisation’s website, “BRAC… catalyses lasting change, creating an ecosystem in which the poor have the chance to seize...

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