Friday, October 24, 2003

Norwegian dud

A new and illiberal law will come into force in Norway next year banning smoking in public places. As someone who barely smokes, I would not miss coming home smelling of cigarette smoke. But the notion that smoking represents a health risk is wrong - if there is a risk, it is very small indeed.

There is a big difference between smoking at work or on public transport, where you have no choice over being there, and smoking in pubs and restaurants, where I believe customers should have the choice.

What laws like this do is provide further subtle control over how we live, and all in the name of our good health.

BBC NEWS | Health | Norway gets tough on smoking

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Joan Ruddock is starting to annoy me...

Having just succeeded in getting recycling legislation through Parliament, Joan Ruddock MP, former leading light in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is now tabling a motion to demand the government listens to the results of the GM Nation? exercise i.e. people are rather nervous about GM so lets not challenge those ideas, let's just not do the whole GM thing, thank you very much.

Joan Ruddock

Meanwhile, the Co-op, a chain of supermarkets run by regional co-operative societies, has decided to exclude GM from their stores, for much the same reasons cited above. This comes a couple of years after Iceland, a chain of frozen food retailers, decided to do the same.

It should be pointed out that both chains are rubbish...

Guardian Unlimited | UK Latest | Co-op bans GM foods

Monday, October 20, 2003

GM: why Blair is wrong...

According to leader of the anti-globalisation movement, George Monbiot:

'The public has comprehensively rejected the technology; the chief scientist has warned that pollen contamination may be impossible to prevent; the field trials suggest that GM threatens our remaining wildlife. Yet the government appears determined to force us to accept it. '

It's all in the spin. Blair would be proud of language like this.

The public have comprehensively rejected 'Frankenstein foods' it is true. I'm fairly confident, however, that the public haven't rejected GM. They've never been given a chance to accept it, given the panic created around it.

Monbiot talks of 'contamination'. Since when was the mixing of different strains of the same plant 'contamination'? Contamination is a phrase more suited to poisons - but no-one has ever been able to show that GM crops are poisonous.

And the best twist of all: our 'remaining' wildlife, as if Britain only a couple of hundred wild animals left.

And he has the cheek to call his article 'The Enemies of Science'!

george monbiot

Childbirth: the other MMR

A new report prepared by the World Health Organisation and UN agencies demonstrates starkly the impact of poverty and underdevelopment on childbirth.

The report estimates the number of women who die in childbirth annually as 529,000. Of these, 95 percent live in Africa and Asia. Less than one percent of deaths in childbirth occur in the developed world. For example, the Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) for Europe is 24 deaths per 100,000 live births. In Africa as a whole, the figure is 830 deaths per 100,000 live births. In other words, a pregnancy in Africa is 35 times more likely to result in death than a pregnancy in Europe. Add to this the fact that African women usually have more pregnancies, and the lifetime risk of death in childbirth for some African women is 175 times greater than for women in the developed world. There are a number of factors which contribute to this problem, but the organisations that produced the report have emphasised the lack of trained medical staff as the biggest problem. Where 'skilled attenders' are available to assist with the birth and spot potential complications, death rates fall dramatically. While Western women often fret about 'natural' childbirth, this report illustrates the degree to which large numbers of lives could be saved by introducing basic medical intervention to those who do not have access to it. The problem with the 'developing' world is that it isn't developing fast enough.

Africa childbirth deaths 'unacceptable', BBC News, 20 October 2003

Climate change: a useful summary

This piece by Jack Hollander in the Wilson Quarterly provides a sane and useful summary of what is going on with climate change.

1. It is not true that there has been consistent warming for over a decade. 'From 1860 to 1940, Earth’s surface warmed about 0.4ºC. Then Earth’s surface cooled about 0.1ºC in the first four decades after 1940 and warmed about 0.3ºC in the next two. For those two most recent decades, temperature measurements of the atmosphere have also been available, and, while these measurements are subject to significant uncertainty, they indicate that the atmosphere’s temperature has remained essentially unchanged.'

2. The degree to which carbon dioxide etc added by human activity is to blame for warming is also not clear. The simple fact of there being more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not the same as demonstrating a man-made effect. Certainly, the fact that most of the extra CO2 was added at a time of cooling suggests at the very least that any effect is not necessarily dominant.

3. There is little justification for the idea of a stable climate, interfered with by humans. Climate change is the historical norm.

4. Most of the more alarming statements about climate change are based on the results of models which are known to be inaccurate and need further work. There are a number of factors which are not properly integrated into the analysis yet. "The forcings that drive long-term climate change," concludes James Hansen, one of the pioneers of climate change science, "are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change. Anthropogenic greenhouse gases, which are well measured, cause a strong positive forcing [warming]. But other, poorly measured, anthropogenic forcings, especially changes of atmospheric aerosols, clouds, and land-use patterns, cause a negative forcing that tends to offset greenhouse warming." Moreover, the models are incapable of predicting sudden changes, only gradual ones.

5. As a response to this, the Kyoto Protocols are deeply flawed. They don't include major developing countries, it takes no account of the cost of achieving carbon-reduction targets, and the cutbacks suggested would be both hugely expensive and ineffective.

6. Global temperature variation doesn't matter nearly as much as is suggested. 'During all of recorded history, humans have survived and prospered in climate zones far more different from one another than those that might result from the changes in global temperatures now being discussed.' Agriculture tends to do better in warmer rather than cooler periods; insect-borne disease is a problem of poverty, not temperature; sea-levels are always changing and adaptation has been possible, if not always without pain; there is no evidence of an increase in extreme weather events.

7. Even if everything the environmentalists say is true, 'It will be nearly impossible to slow climate warming appreciably without condemning much of the world to poverty, unless energy sources that emit little or no carbon dioxide become competitive with conventional fossil fuels.'

Wilson Quarterly @ the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The panic before

This is a reprint from Newsweek back in 1975 explaining how a new ice age was approaching.

Global Cooling -- Newsweek Magazine