Friday, September 23, 2005

Climate change and air travel

A new report suggests the growth of air travel must be curbed to prevent climate change. Rough translation: all those oiks taking advantage of cheap flights to visit far-flung corners of the world should stay at home instead, and make do with Skegness.

Decarbonising the UK, published this week by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, argues that if air travel continues to expand at its current rate, there is no chance the UK government will meet its target of cutting carbon emissions by 60 per cent before 2050 - unless, that is, all other sectors stop emitting carbon altogether (1). The report cites government figures which suggest that passenger numbers will rise from 180million to 475million over the next 25 years.

But why should we accept that air travel is the problem, and that it needs to be curtailed? It's more realistic to say that unrealistic carbon emissions targets are the issue here. And why should we cancel our holidays just so the government can be seen to be doing its bit for the environment by achieving questionable targets?

Read on...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cracking up

'46,000 Londoners are using crack', declares BBC News, reporting on a new study from researchers at Imperial College London and Bristol University. Data was collected from three data sources from April 2000 to March 2001: people arrested who were referred to drug workers; specialist drug units; and a combination of accident and emergency department records and a community survey.

From these records, 4,117 different individuals aged 15 to 44 were identified. Using statistical analysis, it was estimated that there was a further 16,855 unobserved crack users in the populations sampled, suggesting 46,000 in London as a whole. One of the authors, Matthew Hickman from Imperial College, said: 'We must be cautious, but analysis suggests there is a substantial problem.'

There is no doubt that the use of powdered cocaine has become more widespread in recent years and is regarded as unremarkable in some sections of society, as the furore over Kate Moss has illustrated. While legal sanctions, particularly for supplying class A drugs like cocaine, remain stiff, there is far less opprobrium attached to use than there would have been in the past.

However, this latest estimate of 'crack' cocaine use seems remarkably high - nearly four times higher than indicated by the British Crime Survey which suggested 13,600 users in London. In particular, the suggestion that 2.4 per cent of men aged 15 to 44 in the 12 boroughs sampled were using crack seems astonishing.

There are problems with all the different methods of estimating drug usage, as there are with measuring crime in general. The latest estimate is based on a relatively small amount of data, and relies on assumptions about the quality of the data and the degree to which it is representative of the whole population. The figures might be correct - or they might be wildly inaccurate. While the researchers clearly want us to believe that their estimate is credible, they are right to say that 'as with all indirect estimates, they should be interpreted cautiously'.

The implication of the horrified headlines is that London is going to rack and ruin with tens of thousands of zombie-like drug users creating a massive crime wave to feed their habits. Clearly, that hasn't happened. Instead, prices are falling and it may be that more people are using hard drugs occasionally rather than becoming helpless addicts. If the likes of Moss, who have more money than sense, want to snort their inflated earnings away, so be it. As for the use of drugs more generally, isn't it time we had a grown-up discussion about the increasing gap between the social acceptance of drug use and the draconian legal penalties applied?

Read on...