Not Saussure

March 20, 2007

But it seemed such a good idea at the time…

Filed under: environment — notsaussure @ 9:59 pm

Tim Worstall reports, with no little enthusiasm, the news in The Guardian that

The multimillion-dollar effort to eradicate one of the world’s deadliest diseases received a significant but controversial boost yesterday when scientists announced the creation of genetically modified mosquitoes that cannot pass on malaria.

Trials revealed that the GM mosquitoes could quickly establish themselves in the wild and drive out natural malaria-carrying insects, thereby breaking the route through which humans are infected

and offers a small prize to

the first person who spots an anti-GM campaigner arguing that no, it is better that million die than we release frankenmonsters into the wild

I’m a bit late to claim the prize, since several folks in his comments column have beaten me to it, and James Higham is his normal eloquent and passionate self on the subject. (more…)

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March 13, 2007

A success story of British farming

Filed under: environment, Food, Politics — notsaussure @ 11:30 am

Shame it’s illegal, of course, but apparently

The number of cannabis farms being found by police has trebled over the last two years, according to a report.

Charity DrugScope said 1,500 cannabis farms were found in London alone in the past two years, compared with around 500 in the previous two years.

Its magazine Druglink said over 60% of cannabis sold in the UK was grown here, compared to 11% 10 years ago.

And all this without any assistance whatsoever from David Miliband, DEFRA, the EU or anyone else.

The solution to the woes of British farming is clear; remove it from the ambit of DEFRA altogether and, instead, have John Reid declare war on it.

Better still, have him appoint a Farming Tzar to prosecute this war on farming. Within 10 years, all the farmers will be coining it.

Update:  should be news to gladden the heart of The Times’ Richard Morrison, at least; I see, via Tim Worstall, that he’s complaining

Either we commit to local values, protect and support our own industries, and nurture a pride in community, or we take our chances in the global marketplace and dump all this Britishness nonsense. In other words, either the nation state still has clout and deserves allegiance, or it doesn’t. Ordinary people need to know where the Government stands.


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February 26, 2007

EU plans for low-energy light-bulbs

Filed under: environment, EU, Law, press — notsaussure @ 5:35 pm

I see from Ellee Seymour that

Germany’s environment minister Sigmar Gabriel wants normal light bulbs to be banned in the EU and energy saving lights used instead. Studies show that carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 25 million tonnes a year if both households and the services sector exchanged traditional light bulbs for energy saving lights.

I’ve never used the things myself since I’m under the impression they’re very expensive — at least in terms of the initial outlay, though I accept they may well save you money over their lifetime — and don’t actually do a particularly good job of providing illumination (cue joke about why they’d appeal to the EU). My impression of these things seems to be confirmed by the comments to Ellee’s article, which probably explains why various governments want to force us to buy something we’re all clearly too foolish to realise is a superior product.

My initial reaction is that I’d give more sympathetic consideration to any environmental proposals coming from the EU if they were to calculate, and justify, the carbon footprint caused by shifting the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month because the French insist on it. It certainly costs a good deal in other respects; according to Wikipedia,

Moving various files and equipment between the two cities takes 10 large trucks and the costs for two locations are estimated at €200 million a year. A force of 30 people load the trucks for the 400 km journey between the two locations. Around 5,000 people attached to the Parliament, such as parliamentarians, advisors, clerks and journalists, also move between Brussels and Strasbourg. Most of the parliamentarians are against using Strasbourg and various initiatives have been taken over the years to have Brussels as the sole location. The latest of these initiatives was a EU-wide online petition, oneseat.eu. The petition was not accepted.

I mean, if they expect me to inconvenience myself for the sake of the planet, they might show willing by doing something seems eminently sensible and that most EU parliamentarians want, though the French — particularly the Strasbourg restaurateurs, bar-owners and prostitutes, one imagines — are, for obvious reasons, opposed.

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January 12, 2007

Smoking at home and environmental health

Filed under: civil liberties, environment — notsaussure @ 7:48 pm

I’m not at all sure about this, which expands on a comment I made in reply to an excellent post by Longrider about the strange story of how Gwynedd Council is

investigating a complaint from a neighbour about a couple smoking in their own home.

A woman, who has not been named, has written to the council saying cigarette smoke from next door was “permeating into her living room”.

Gwynedd Council’s public protection service has said it has a duty to investigate.

My initial reaction was much the same as Longrider’s — and, I suspect, of most people; what on earth is the world coming to if these council snoops start making problems for you smoking in your own home? (more…)

November 27, 2006

Recycling is a gris-gris

Filed under: environment, scams — notsaussure @ 3:20 am

Penn & Teller explain why recycling, except for aluminium cans, is an expensive scam that damages the environment.

I knew both that recycling paper is a complete waste of time and resources and that recycling jobs (the heavy lifting, that is, not managing and promoting the schemes at the taxpayers’ expense) are a particularly unpleasant and unnecessary form of outdoor relief, but the material about landfill was new to me.

via [Geeks are Sexy]

November 10, 2006

And the prize for the dumbest bit of environmental activism…

Filed under: environment — notsaussure @ 7:22 pm

A neo-Jacobin has the story:

Plane Stupid activists have got to take the title of being the dumbest environmental organisation the world as ever seen – only last week the group attempted to occupy the ‘London’ headquaters of EasyJet, it was organised as a part of their ongoing national campaign against short haul flights.

So, true to form, this dumb outfit march off to occupy a building in London.Once there, they draped a massive banner on the roof, and formed a human chain around the entrance of building. However, what this group failed to recognise was the fact they were not standing outside EasyJet’s HQ – that happens to be in Luton, not London.

Read on here:  A neo-Jacobin: Plane Stupid: how dumb can this lot be?

It’s not that difficult to find out where EasyJet live, after all; it’s one of their FAQs, for Christ’s sake.

Via Tim Worstall


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November 9, 2006

Latin is a dead language, because of lead

Filed under: environment, Medicine — notsaussure @ 7:15 pm

As dead as dead can be.

First it killed the Romans,

And now it’s killing me!

As we used to sing at school. Now we know better; the culprit was apparently plumbum, or lead in the vulgar tongue.

Somewhat confusing, not to say confused, article in the Guardian today by Sarah Boseley about study in The Lancet by Dr Philippe Grandjean, from the University of Southern Denmark, and Philip Landrigan, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York which warn of the potential dangers posed by environmental pollution. The study’s subscription only, so I’ll have to rely on the Guardian’s summary: (more…)

October 17, 2006

Are you a selfish, uncaring bastard?

Filed under: environment, Opinion polls — notsaussure @ 4:10 pm

The Telegraph reports the publication of Predict and decide: Aviation, climate change and policy:

Dr Brenda Boardman, who oversaw the project, said: “The Government has to confront the contradictions in its policies.

“Unless the rate of growth in flights is curbed, the UK cannot fulfil its commitments on climate change.

“If Government wants to be confident about achieving its targets, it has to undertake demand management. Relying on technological fixes alone is totally unrealistic.”

The findings suggest that public awareness of these issues has grown steadily and support for restraining the growth in air travel now outweighs opposition, with a majority in favour of airlines paying for environmental damage, even if this means higher fares.

Commenting on this,

Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation said: “This isn’t the first time that serious academic research has highlighted the Government’s failure to control the climate change impacts of flying.

“These findings give the lie to politicians’ oft-repeated fallback that there are “no votes in taxing air travel. There clearly are.”

This surprised me, partly because I can remember the way that, thoughout the 1980s successive Labour politicians were mystified by the fact that opinion polls regularly showed considerable support for policies involving higher taxes to pay for better hospitals, schools and pensions and yet, when it came to a general election and Labour promised exactly that, people stubbornly voted for the Tories, who were promising them nothing of the sort.

Eventually, of course, people twigged to the fact that it’s one thing to ask someone in a face-to-face interview whether he’s prepared to pay a bit more for something seen as socially desirable. It’s quite another to get him to vote for it in the privacy of the polling booth. This type of question eventually became known as the ‘are you a selfish, uncaring bastard?’ question, because that’s what it was thought, in effect, to be asking punters, and fell into disrepute. That’s one of the reasons, I’m told, that parties use focus groups; you can elicit more truthful answers, or at least answers that’ll better predict voting behaviour, by asking more indirect questions.

Anyway, intrigued by the findings that there are, apparently votes to be had in taxing air travel, I took a look at the report, and the polls are even more misleading than I thought. We may, I think, set aside an online EU survey since it was completely self-selecting, and concentrate on the various UK polls. One of these asked people how much they agreed or disagreed with the following propositions:

a) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like;
b) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, even if this harms the environment;
c) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, provided government acts to limit the harm done to the environment;
d) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, even if new terminals or runways are needed to meet the demand;
e) Building new terminals or runways to enable people to travel by plane as much as they like is acceptable if environmental costs are included in the cost of flights

The results aren’t that unexpected; most people agreed with the first proposition, disagreed when environmental costs were pointed out, and became rather keener on flying again if ‘government acts to limit the harm’ or ‘if environmental costs are included’ — though, significantly (but unsurprisingly) people are only happy with the environmental costs being included so long as they don’t add very much to the cost of the ticket.

All this, apparently, points to the importance of

framing questions of environmental and social policy in the context of the problems they are designed to address, and ensuring that people have the opportunity to reach informed opinions.

(or so that you get the answer you want, of course). That being the case, what can you make of the statement, of another survey — a face to face one this time — that

The study also provides further evidence that public opinion on policy has changed: across both groups, 68% agreed that “Protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing down economic growth in the air travel industry.”

other that that the wonder it is it wasn’t more than 68%?

I’m not disputing the idea that some sort of carbon tax on air tickets is probably necessary; I’ve not looked into the question, but the idea seems to make sense. I’m a bit worried, though, that two separate issues are being confused here — the idea that the polluter should pay for the cost of clearing up the damage done by air travel and the idea that we should discourage air travel by taxing it, regardless of how we spend the taxes thus raised. However, I very much dispute the idea there are votes to be had in it.

Let’s have a survey asking a question on the lines of ‘Are you prepared to see government put high enough taxes on your the cost of your air travel to discourage you and your family from traveling by air for your holidays, in order to avert environmental problems in the future rather than to give you any advantage now, while rich, selfish buggers (especially ones with 4x4s) and businessmen continue to swan about by air as much as they like?’ Then we’ll see. Until then, I think people would be most ill-advised to assume it’s an election-winner.


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September 4, 2006

Vandalised DEFRA Wiki (III)

Filed under: environment, Politics, Spin, UK — notsaussure @ 12:59 pm

It’s not only David Miliband’s experiment with online policy-making that’s run into problems; The Devil’s Kitchen reports that, having subjected the poor man to international ridicule by exploiting the comedic potential of the wiki, his tormentors have started on his Wikipedia entry, (which had been cleaned up the last time I looked, but is still open for editing).

A Missed Trick?

Filed under: environment, local democracy, Politics, recycling — notsaussure @ 10:36 am

Tim Worstall on a recycling scheme:

there’s something I find really rather odd in the tone of the discussion. That it is somehow immoral for someone to attempt to make money out of recycling. We faced this a few years ago, we were looking into computer recycling. If you can get hold of a mountain of the stuff it’s profitable to extract the metals (yes, even without sending it all to China).

So I spoke to a few local councils (who were, at the time, complaining about getting mountains of the stuff) and said, well, give it to us (it was, at the time, ultra vires for them to charge for it) and we’ll recycle it.

We met with blank refusals because we admitted that yes, we were hoping to turn a profit by doing so. Very weird to my thinking. No one was in fact reprocessing this scrap (only reasonably modern machines that still worked were desired by the charities) so what did it matter what was the motivation? Surely getting the recycling done is the important thing?

Apparently not. Motives must be pure or Gaia is not appeased I suppose.

Possibly had he approached the councils offering to remove and dispose of their old equipment (in an environmentally friendly manner, of course) for a moderate fee, the councils would have found his approach less surprising.

I suspect, though, that he’s right about people feeling uncomfortable with introducing the profit motive into recycling.

For one thing, it raises the uncomfortable question of whether some recycling is environmentally sound or not. I’m told by people who understand these things, for example, that recycling paper is frequently downright environmentally hostile, since the amount of energy you use collecting the stuff, taking it to a factory and then cleaning and reprocessing it into something is usually considerably greater than that of producing the stuff from scratch.

Worries about ‘saving the trees’ are, of course, a bit misguided; you don’t normally make paper and cardboard from tropical hardwoods or Brazilian rain forests, so worrying about conserving commercially farmed softwoods is a bit like not eating chips because you want to conserve potatoes.

Putting recycling on a commercial footing, so the actual energy costs are exposed, makes all this a lot clearer, which is why I suspect some people would rather not worry about it and prefer to feel virtuous about sorting and putting the stuff in recycling bins. It may, of course, turn out that recycling paper is still the least bad way of disposing of it, since turning it into landfill is expensive, but I’d be very to see a comparison of the energy costs plus greenhouse emissions, etc, of recycling paper vs just burning it.

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