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Friday, May 19, 2006


It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.

The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”

Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.

Following the ice age threats from the late 1800s, fears of an imminent and icy catastrophe were compounded in the 1920s by Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan and an obsession with the news of his polar expedition. As the Times put it on Feb. 24, 1895, “Geologists Think the World May Be Frozen Up Again.”

Those concerns lasted well into the late 1920s. But when the earth’s surface warmed less than half a degree, newspapers and magazines responded with stories about the new threat. Once again the Times was out in front, cautioning “the earth is steadily growing warmer.”

After a while, that second phase of climate cautions began to fade. By 1954, Fortune magazine was warming to another cooling trend and ran an article titled “Climate – the Heat May Be Off.” As the United States and the old Soviet Union faced off, the media joined them with reports of a more dangerous Cold War of Man vs. Nature.

The New York Times ran warming stories into the late 1950s, but it too came around to the new fears. Just three decades ago, in 1975, the paper reported: “A Major Cooling Widely Considered to Be Inevitable.”

That trend, too, cooled off and was replaced by the current era of reporting on the dangers of global warming. Just six years later, on Aug. 22, 1981, the Times quoted seven government atmospheric scientists who predicted global warming of an “almost unprecedented magnitude.”

In all, the print news media have warned of four separate climate changes in slightly more than 100 years – global cooling, warming, cooling again, and, perhaps not so finally, warming. Some current warming stories combine the concepts and claim the next ice age will be triggered by rising temperatures – the theme of the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Recent global warming reports have continued that trend, morphing into a hybrid of both theories. News media that once touted the threat of “global warming” have moved on to the more flexible term “climate change.” As the Times described it, climate change can mean any major shift, making the earth cooler or warmer. In a March 30, 2006, piece on ExxonMobil’s approach to the environment, a reporter argued the firm’s chairman “has gone out of his way to soften Exxon’s public stance on climate change.”

The effect of the idea of “climate change” means that any major climate event can be blamed on global warming, supposedly driven by mankind.

Spring 2006 has been swamped with climate change hype in every type of media – books, newspapers, magazines, online, TV and even movies.

One-time presidential candidate Al Gore, a patron saint of the environmental movement, is releasing “An Inconvenient Truth” in book and movie form, warning, “Our ability to live is what is at stake.”

Despite all the historical shifting from one position to another, many in the media no longer welcome opposing views on the climate. CBS reporter Scott Pelley went so far as to compare climate change skeptics with Holocaust deniers.

“If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel,” Pelley asked, “am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?” he said in an interview on March 23 with CBS News’s PublicEye blog.

He added that the whole idea of impartial journalism just didn’t work for climate stories. “There becomes a point in journalism where striving for balance becomes irresponsible,” he said.

Pelley’s comments ignored an essential point: that 30 years ago, the media were certain about the prospect of a new ice age. And that is only the most recent example of how much journalists have changed their minds on this essential debate.

Some in the media would probably argue that they merely report what scientists tell them, but that would be only half true.

Journalists decide not only what they cover; they also decide whether to include opposing viewpoints. That’s a balance lacking in the current “debate.”

This isn’t a question of science. It’s a question of whether Americans can trust what the media tell them about science.

There is also the 1975 Newsweek story about the coming Ice Age here from which the undernoted quote is dated only in (1) being about the threat of cooling rather than warming & (2) the fact that back then it was politically correct to at least think of technological solutions.

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


A couple of responses to an article with the above title posted on CCnet. The article was about the disappearance of everything from mammoths in Asia to giant everythings in the Americas & giant Moa in New Zealand at a time period which usually roughly coincides with the last Ice Age & very closely coincides with human beings turning up.
If a major catastrophe kills 90% of a species then to kill 95% would require a doubly great catastrophe & so on. I find it unlikely that, due to the law of diminishing returns reduction to less than 1 breeding group, of a widespread numerous species could be achieved by anything much short of a meteor that produces continent sized sterilisation.

Hunting on the other hand, since it tends to kill at a fairly flat rate, assuming a flat population of hunters & so long as prey is available. This can quite effectively reduce a declining population to zero.

Neil Craig


Andre Bijkerk

Dear Benny,

The answer to that question is no. Whilst the temperature changes were indeed gradual, easy to cope with for fauna, the precipitation changes were overnight, and that was the real killer. In Siberia the dry steppes changed in marshed and swamps in the Preboreal, following the Younger Dryas causing the last mammoths to go extinct around 11,200 Cal BP (9600 carbion years), The American megafauna perished at the beginning of the Younger Dryas, around 12500 Cal BP (ca 10500 carbon years) with an extreme dry period.

Our paper regarding this theory is under review of Quartenary International.

Non calor sed umor.


CCNet is a scholarly electronic network edited by Benny Peiser. To subscribe, send an e-mail to ("subscribe cambridge-conference").


Blair's speech to the CBI in which his widely reported remarks about nuclear were made. In fact nuclear only gets mentioned about 2/3rds of the way through & gets 3 paragraphs.
Fourth, we will publish before the summer break, the Energy Review. Essentially the twin pressures of climate change and energy security are raising energy policy to the top of the agenda in the UK and around the world.

Yesterday, I received the first cut of the Review. The facts are stark. By 2025, if current policy is unchanged, there will be a dramatic gap on our targets to reduce CO2 emissions; we will become heavily dependent on gas; and at the same time move from being 80/90%, self-reliant in gas to 80/90% dependent on foreign imports, mostly from the Middle East and Africa and Russia.

These facts put the replacement of nuclear power stations, a big push on renewables and a step-change on energy efficiency, engaging both business and consumers, back on the agenda with a vengeance. If we don't take these long-term decisions now, we will be committing a serious dereliction of our duty to the future of this country.

He doesn't say anything specific about blackouts nor about nuclear being cheaper & specifically calls for a "big push on renewables" so it is not exactly an about turn (where an about turn would be sensible) but still welcome movement. This is somewhat surprising since the rest of the speech is mainly about economics & makes, at the least, all the right noises about economic success.
We had micro change in the 1980's that gave us flexible labour markets; we had macro change with the independence of the Bank of England which gave us economic stability. We have the English language. We have a strong science sector. We are part of the EU and a partner of the US. As the Olympics showed, we are regarded now as a dynamic nation, at ease today with the multicultural and globalised world we live in.

Major British success stories, like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, IT and engineering, are underpinned by scientific knowledge. Indeed, many global businesses, such as IBM, Pfizer and Boeing invest substantial amounts in R&D in the UK - not least because it brings them close to our excellent science base.

Research also creates new businesses. In the past two years 20 spinouts from UK Universities have floated on stock exchanges, raising well over £1 billion alone.

Funding for science has doubled and will over time, treble.

Animal research and testing has played a part in almost every medical breakthrough of the last century, for both humans and animals.

Everything possible is being done to remove the threat from animal rights extremists
An argument at least equally strong for allowing GM research
The point is: whenever we can, we will take - as we did with stem-cell research - the pro-science and business friendly position
That would be good to see.
Sixth, globalisation means that the burden of regulation weighs more heavily than in the past.

Smarter regulation means doing away with regulations that are outdated or inefficient; fewer regulatory bodies; and it means risk-based enforcement by all regulators, not enforcement by rote.

and on glabalisation
a bold WTO deal.

It is possible but to get it everyone must move: Europe on agriculture; the G20 on NAMA; and the US on subsidies. From the discussions I have had with President Bush, President Lula of Brazil and Chancellor Merkel, I think a bold deal is do-able. But it has to be done.

All of this is very good. The only problems are (A) he didn'tstartt supporting this 9 years ago & (B) he has a longtendencyy to act as if it is only important to say things & that makes them automatically done. Still, a very long way ahead of Jack McConnell who repeatedly says growth is his "number one priority" & does absolutely nothing.

It may be that, having failed to make Iraq his legacy, he has decided that a new generation of competitive nuclear & a pro-science policy will be his legacy. Here's hoping.

Monday, May 15, 2006


I ran across this article, with lots of coloured illustrations, showing how much electricity & other power scotland produces & uses.

Figure 18 shows that we import the equivalent of 29.46TWh coal & export 39.50. the explanation for this apparently wasteful situation is (previous page) because "Scottish coal has a sulphur content of approximately 1% and so fits within England's 'bubble', but not Scotland's. Because of this, only a proportion ( e.g. for Longannet about 23%) of Scottish coal is used for generation within Scotland. The remainder is sent to power stations south of the border. At the same time, Scottish Power imports coal from as far afield as Russia, Colombia and South Africa". This also shows how cheap the transport of what amounts to millions of tons of material really is.

Figures 21 & 20 show that we are producing 44.74 TWh of power annually split 33% by coal, 11.3% renewables (it isn't further divided but my understanding is that hydro traditionaly produces 10% which would leave under 1.5% for wind), 35.4% nuclear (rather lower than I thought), 20.6% gas & 1.2% oil.

We bused 76.4%, exported 17.9% of which 13.3% goes to England & 4.6% to Ireland both North & South (this is a Jan 2006 publication & Soputhern Ireland's electricity is recently in a bit of a mess because their windmills aren't providing as expected) & 5.6% lost in transmission.

Thus if we close down our nuclear stations but also stop exporting (assuming we don't have long term contracts which I think doubtful) we would still have a (35.4% less 17.9%) 17.6% shortfall.

In 2015 when new emission standards come in we will have to close much of our coal generation - I'd guess about half but that is purely a guess & anyway depends on how much can successfully be updated. Asuming 1/2 the coal is lost that would be a 51.9% production shortfall when Torness closes about 2025.

It is only when we are using peak production (ie winter evenings) that we would see blackouts. Fig 22 shows only 36% of use is for domestic, 31% is industrial & 33% is public services (including trains). However this fluctuates with the time of day. During winter evenings much more of the use is for domestic & less for industrial. Thus cutting off industry first (as happened recently in Spain when there was no wind) wouldn't have that much effect in stopping blackouts then.

Except that things are much worse than that. Electricity demand rises, uaually, rather faster than GNP. Thus, assuming current growth of 1.5% annually by 2025 we will need 1/3rd more than now. As the current windmill percentage (1.3) shows we will need something else in massive quantities. If we get the SNP's preferred growth rate of 4% we will need at least 211% of current power. At my suggested growth of 9% our economy would have grow to 560% of current in 2025!

Without nuclear & only half our coal we will be producing only 51.9% of what we currently do & requiring between 130% & 211% (assuming I don't become first minister) - a shortfall of between 78-159%. With our 2 big reactors now producing 18% that means between 4 & 9 new reactors. This is very much a seat of the pants figure taking no account of differential changes in English/Irish demand or of new technology being more efficient & thus using somewhat less, or of the fact that, since nuclear delivers at a flat rate you need a bit extra to cover peaks, but it gives a general idea.

The way to build these is just to put them beside the ones we are closing down. A nuclear reactor takes very little space so at worst all you have to do is push back the security fence a bit & thus get Hunterson I, II,III,IV & V. The infrastructure & workforce are, after all, already there. Being really innovative instead of decommissioning our current reactors you just seal them off (they are already in the security zone) & leave them 50 years till they are no longer hot - this gives you a big pile from the decommissioning fund to pay for it (nuclear is a semi-nationalised industry already & could, if we paid for it that way be an overwhelmingly profitable one).

Our current production is 44.74tWh (Terrawatthours). 1TWh equals 1000 Gigawatt hours which is a million Megawatts or a billion Kilowatthours each of which is one unit or what a 1 bar electric fire uses in an hour. Thus run a 1 bar fire 3 hours a night all year & you use a millionth of a TWh. Another way of calculating this is that at 1.5p a unit (the cost of French nuclear) this costs £670 million, at 3p (roughly the current cost) it is £1.3 billion & if it was all being produced by onshore wind or similar costing renewables £2.5 billion. This differential is just under all Scots corporation tax, 45 times the cost of all machine tools purchased annually by what remains of Scottish manufacturing industry or £370 per head. If we got it right this could be the difference between Scotland's economic failure & success.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


As a follow up to my post on the effect of Moore's law continuing the increase in computing power so that in 50 years it will have increased 8 billion times.

Stanford are having a conference on this subject. See The refer to this as the Singularity (a term taken from an astronomical term for the area where conventional physics breaks down, known in day to day conversation as a Black Hole. Just as a Black Hole is somewhere where we cannot tell what is going on inside, where the laws of physics break down & you can't come back when you go through a singularity in human history is something where unforcastable changes take place, rules of society change & we can't go back to the old ways afterwards. The invention of agriculture is taken as the classic case though you could make a good case for the discovery of fire or the Industrial Revolution. Of course the more Singularities you come up with the less singular they are.

Or to quote from the site
the singularity represents an "event horizon" in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future cease to give reliable or accurate answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence. Many futurists predict that after the singularity, humans as they exist presently won't be the driving force in scientific and technological progress, eclipsed cognitively by posthumans, AI, or both, with all models of change based on past trends in human behavior becoming obsolete.

In the 1950’s, the legendary information theorist John von Neumann was paraphrased by mathematician Stanislaw Lem as saying that “the ever-accelerating progress of technology…gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

Or to put it another way we cannot really envisage (!) the long term results of the enormous geometric growth of computer capacity & indeed lesser, but still enormous, by historical standards, GNP growth.
On the other hand if you enter a Black Hole (I am told) there is no point at which you will find yourself passing the event horizon, there will always be a visible universe to you it is just that some of it will get further away. The crossing of the event horizon is only seen by the observer. Thus we, in my own lifetimes, have passed the event horizons of the mass childhood epidemics like polio, the Pill, Gay Rights, & the Internet all of which have changed society in ways incomprehensible to an observer in 1954 (to whose values we in turn could not return) & are, by & large, the better for it.

Please ignore the "puny minds" & "no longer science fiction" references here - somebody is not showing the required seriousness.
forecast that computational intelligence will, in the coming two or three decades, not only match but swiftly surpass human intelligence, and that civilization will at that point be radically transformed in ways that our puny minds cannot possibly imagine. This bold hypothesis, now often called "The Singularity," strikes some as wonderful and strikes others as abhorrent. But whether it is wonderful or abhorrent, is the singularity scenario even remotely plausible, or is it just science fiction? If the singularity scenario is plausible, is the time frame proposed ridiculous or realistic?
I would go for realistic that's what the arithmetic says & arithmetic beats wishes every time.

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