Thursday, 31 March 2011

The unfolding of new clean energy opportunities

The scope for finding ways to unlock energy from the natural processes of the planet never ceases to astound. From wind to sun to wave - and now to the electric potential of estuaries, as fresh water meets salty sea water. Necessity is once again getting maternal with invention..

New eco-battery potential where rivers meet sea.. published on Earth Times yesterday

Monday, 28 March 2011

One for the sweet-tooths..

I just love the idea of the Earth being formed from fluffy soft goodness! Geology isn't all about hard rocks and big bangs - maybe planets started with soft whispers..

Earth started out as 'candy floss' on EarthTimes

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Frankenfoods don't pass the 'euck!' factor test

Monsanto's boardroom no doubt cracked open the bubbly this week, with news that Europe's highest court has ruled against France, for its 2008 halt to the growing of genetically-modified maize. The ruling, by Paolo Mengozzi, the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice, may have been founded on a technicality. However, it's one that the big biotech companies will only be too happy to widen from a crack to a flood, of their so-called Frankenfoods onto the European market.

But does it actually matter? Isn't GM really a worry for the last decade? After all, the US and much of the developing world has been swamped with GM maize and soya for a decade or more, with no mass outbreaks of mutancy. And scientists are constantly holding out the promise of the feeding of the starving masses, saving the earth's climate, and even longer shelf-life tomatoes – all to come from their hubbling-bubbling genetic cauldron.

The problem is that, like radiation, or human cloning, GM isn't about the science, however compelling and plausible. It's about gut reactions – the 'euck' factor. If scientists are splicing genes from a fish onto the genes from a tomato, there aren't many of us whose stomach wouldn't do a little turn at chomping down on the result. The bottom line is that scientists are not omnipotent – they do get things wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.

Nature is exceptionally complex, far too impenetrable to ever be broken down and understand by even the cleverest of minds. So caution should be the keyword in taking any science off of the drawing board and putting it onto the consumers plate. And a pretty good test is what your gut tells you about the technology being pushed. If you feel queasy, then, to me, that's a good sign to be extra-special cautious – and to look for ulterior motives.

So forget the legal loopholes, and the lawyers arguments, and the scientific debate, worthy as they may all be. At the end of the day, policy must be a matter for the people – and if Europeans don't want GM food, why should the US, biotech firms and free-trade bigwigs be able to force it on us?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Has 'Climate-gate' changed the AGW forecast amongst TV weather-casters?

A new study from Washington's George Mason University has thrown a revealing light onto just how damaging the storm around 'Climate-gate', which hit at the tail-end of 2009, may have been - particularly in affecting opinion-formers' views on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). At the time, much negative commentary in the media surrounded the leaking of stolen private emails, which were sent between climate scientists in the UK and the US. Many sought to claim that these emails proved a measure of deception from the scientists involved - and even put into doubt the validity of AGW.

Subsequent independent investigations have exonerated the scientists involved, with nothing more threatening than a certain over-defensiveness by them – not surprising, in the face of relentless pressure from the climate-change skeptic community. The basic science of AGW still stands. But how did the story play out within the wider community?

Answering that question was the aim of this new research, a combined study conducted between the Climate Change Communication and Social Science Research Centers. It surveyed a broad sample of television weather-casters, across the US, when the media furore was at its height. Questions were asked about their knowledge of, and opinions on, the issues surrounding Climate-gate. Published results in the Bulletin of the American Meteorology Society showed that, of those aware of the story, 42% felt more skeptical that global warming was in fact happening – presumably because of the issues raised by the controversy.

One of the researchers, Ed Maibach, sees this as worrying, given the importance of TV weather forecasters in leading public opinion on climate change issues. He said “most members of the public consider television weather reporters to be a trusted source of information about global warming”. Other surveys of American public opinion have seen global warming slip down the list of peoples major concerns.

This all goes to reinforce how quickly rational scientific debate be overwhelmed by an emotionally powerful competing story – which Climate-gate certainly was. Further research is now being conducted by the same unit, into how TV weather-casters can help educate their audiences, on the links between weather events and broader climate change issues. Maibach is hopeful that weather-casters can have an important positive role to play in this area. This all goes to show – the need to focus on a proper telling of the AGW story has probably never been more important.

Vernal Equinox - time to kick things off!

The sun is shinin', the grass is growin', and all around Mother Nature is bubblin' - so it's a perfect time to start my scribblin. This time of year is one of those reset buttons on the planetary clock; when the Earth crosses over into the summer side of her yearly arc round the Sun (well, that's if you're in the northern hemisphere!)

So time to cast eyes forward, and look forward to the verdant eruption of spring. And it does feel, after all of the dark days, political and real, that the world has seen over the winter, that now -- maybe -- the global village is going to witness a new flowering.

Exciting times, just a little bit  scary, but I'm an optimist, so let's hope people round the world can build up from the rotten edifice that has collapsed so dramatically in the Arab world -- and maybe in the minds of us apathetic lot in the West too.

I'll be posting odd'n' sods of new stories, ideas, and events on the environmental side of things -- ones that interest, excite or annoy me. Hopefully they'll do the same to some of you out there -- though probably not in the same proportion!