Monday, January 24, 2005


Sounds like a "Yes Minister" fix is being tried

The Government is secretly trying to backtrack on its commitment to take action on global warming, according to campaigners Greenpeace. The environmentalists have posted documents on their website which show the UK Government asked for targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to be excluded from EU climate policy. The British Government asked for the phrase "substantial reductions by up to possibly 50% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels" to be removed. It also asked for a commitment of 60% to 80% reductions to be replaced with "significantly enhanced reduction efforts".

However, the amendments, which were proposed to draft council conclusions on climate change dated December 9, 2004, were overruled by other member states.

In his key speech on climate change in September last year Mr Blair said: "In the longer term, The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's seminal report on energy concluded that to make its contribution towards tackling climate change, the UK needed to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050. "This implies a massive change in the way this country produces and uses energy. We are committed to this change." He said climate change was a top priority for the G8 presidency, saying: "We have to recognise that the commitments reflected in the Kyoto protocol and current EU policy are insufficient, uncomfortable as that may be, and start urgently building a consensus based on the latest and best possible science."

However, a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted the Government was not opposed to setting targets but felt they should be based on cost benefit analysis which was still on-going. "When that's finished we feel it would be better to look then and not use a figure plucked out of nowhere," he said. "It shouldn't be interpreted as suggesting that we don't have a commitment but rather that we feel the figure should be based on full information."

More here


'I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobiles are safe.' This quote from Sir William Stewart was reported on the front page of the Sun, beneath the headline 'Mobiles "a danger to children"'. With these words, Stewart - former chief scientific adviser to the government and author of an influential report on mobiles back in May 2000 - launched a report by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), the government's advisory board on radiological issues, on 11 January 2005. There was little new in the report, which is simply a restatement of the existing knowledge that there is no evidence of human harm from mobiles. The report didn't even recommend the enforcement of new restrictions on the erection of mobile masts, as many in the industry had feared.

The only thing for news editors to hang their headlines on was Stewart's personal intervention at the conference, when he took it upon himself to 'speak from the heart' and say that children under eight shouldn't be allowed to own a mobile. He reiterated his personal restriction of his grandchildren's mobile usage, and suggested that mobile companies were irresponsible for encouraging such a growth of usage among children.

This split between a scientific and more personal face is at the heart of the mobile phones saga. The original Stewart Report back in 2000 was essentially two reports in one. The first was an exemplary scientific review of knowledge in this particular field, which concluded that there was no significant evidence of harm. But the other aspect of the report was about self-consciously acknowledging public anxieties.

Public meetings were held - although these were attended only by a handful of anti-mobile activists. Through the course of these meetings Stewart established himself as a darling of the anti-mast campaigners (even they were taken aback at some of his precautionary recommendations). At the same time, the established scientific authority on the subject, the NRPB, was attacked in the report for not being sufficiently proactive in relation to public anxieties. The upshot was, in the mind of many, a clever blending of science and public fears that blandly stated that there was no evidence of harm, but precautions were nonetheless advisable.

Everybody was happy - except perhaps the billions of mobile phone users (the Stewart findings were publicised around the world) disconcerted by the 'no problem, but there may be a problem' message.

The mobile phone scare was kicked off by the London Sunday Times back in 1996, with the infamous headline that mobiles could 'fry the brain'. Subsequently the issue became a campaign focus for newspapers such as the Daily Express, with the media publicising any study that suggested some form of problem associated with mobiles, from disorientating homing pigeons to weakening sex drives or giving us cancer.

It was made clear in parliament that the Stewart Inquiry was set up in response to this media campaign (although the letters MPs were receiving from those angry at nearby mobile phone mast sitings also helped to create support). As some newspapers crowed, the seriousness with which the UK authorities took the mobile risk issue was testament to the power of the media in influencing a government that is clearly nervous about the extent of its connection to public concerns.

The ridiculous thing about this saga is that everybody knows that nothing will change - the mobile network is here to stay, and even the anti-mast campaigners only object to the specific location of masts. Sounding off about possible risks can therefore only be posturing without consequence; raising an alarm, but aware that the inevitable anxieties raised have nowhere to go.

But it is not strictly true that the scare is without consequence. One can safely speculate that levels of parental anxiety have increased. Many people now wrestle with the dilemma posed between warnings from an apparently definitive voice of science, and more direct experience that suggests no problem with allowing their children to use society's most popular means of communication.

The emphasis upon the risks posed to children has far more to do with presentational politics than it does with science. Instead of reflecting some new research involving children, it reflects the way in which a focus upon children's welfare is becoming de rigeur in contemporary Anglo-American science policy.

Meanwhile, the mobile phone companies have been set up as pantomime villains, hawking dangerous devices to toddlers. Stewart has frequently attacked their 'irresponsibility', putting himself on the side of the innocent public. Yet it is a myth that children have ever been specifically targeted through advertising. They don't need to be, given that texting in particular is so central to teenage social life. In any case, children can't get a mobile phone without parental consent and financing. The much-publicised MyMo phone that has been withdrawn in the wake of Stewart's pressure was not a serious mass-market device, but a gimmick pushed by a small group of entrepreneurs. (I was on a Scottish radio phone-in when a spokesman dramatically announced MyMo's withdrawal, after explaining it was a Chinese product they had picked up at a trade fair in Germany.)

There is one key mistaken assumption that it is particularly important to challenge. In a 'what every user should know' article in The Times (London) on 13 January 2005, for example, it was explained that the latest report 'noted gaps in the scientific literature and, accordingly, recommended a precautionary approach'. In fact, there is actually no necessary relationship between an issue of scientific knowledge, and the politics of precaution. Gaps in scientific literature might represent a case for further scientific research but they are certainly not grounds, in themselves, for advising precautionary changes in people's behaviour.

The world's leading experts in the field have themselves warned against the application of non-science-based precaution, making clear that some proof is required of a hazard. Even the consumer safety-obsessed European Commission, for its own reasons, has felt obliged to explain in an important communiqu, that one cannot simply invoke precaution without some kind of identifiable hazard, as opposed to mere uncertainty.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Comments? Email me here. My Home Page is here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: