Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Warming Attitudes...

These last few days I feel like there's been a true hurricane of climate change in the press. It is truly amazing that the issue has jumped so far up the mainstream press ladder. Unfortunately it doens't look like the usual skeptics and deniers will be convinced. That was not to be expected. After all the Stern report is not on the science of climate change but on the economics.

So, to attack the report on the science is pointless. This Stern report is on money, wellfare, hard cash and how to make sure we all keep having it.

Obviously Sir Nicholas Stern has become a communist, stalinist, socialist, etc, etc. In the eyes of some anyway. We can leave those and focus on the more constructive feedback. There will be no magic bullet and the inherant uncertainty in climate science means we need to reduce risks without going back to living in caves. As Sir Stern said, it is about probability.

The BBC has some video on their website of news footage around the presentation of the report and the response of the international community.

Roger Pielke has a debate going on his site as well: http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/

What is interesting is the press release from MIT on changing behaviours in North America towards climate change.

"Almost three-quarters of the respondents felt the government should do more to deal with global warming, and individuals were willing to spend their own money to help."

That sounds good. It looks like people are starting to see the issue and understand the importance of taking action. What else did this study tell us?

"The other big change is a substantial increase in people’s willingness to spend their own money to do something about it. In 2003, people were willing to pay on average $14 more per month on their electricity bill to “solve” global warming. In 2006 they agreed to pay $21 more per month—a 50 percent increase in their willingness to pay.
Could $21 make a real difference? Assuming 100 million U.S. households, total payments would be $25 billion per year. "That's real money," said Herzog. "While it cannot solve the whole problem, it can certainly make significant strides."


It's a start. However, it is clear that more will be needed. Much more. Plenty of educating still to do. But then Americans (and Europeans) already pay for the occupation of Iraq. Costs that could be included in the total cost of gasoline or petrol... Although the occupation of Iraq is about more than just oil. There's another fluid at stake there...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Golden Dummy!

What every baby needs, a golden dummy...

On the Millionaire Fair in Moscow it is a real feast of good taste as the newly rich and bored decide what to spend their money on. This one is my favourite by far.

Ah, to suck on that.....................

Reports, reports.... Everywhere....

There have been a few reports published the last few days. First there was the Stern Report on Climate Change and the cost of action and inaction. This report was an independent report requested by the UK government. You can find the report on the treasury website. You will also find a link to the presentation given by Mr Stern himself...

Presentation by Stern (PDF)

Full report (PDF)

There are also a few other links. One to a list of comments from other economists including a few Nobel prize winners and the President of the World Bank Mr Wolfowitz.

Then there was the report from the United Nations on greenhouse gas emissions. Not a pleasant read, as these emissions are still rising. Showing that we have a lot of work to do...

You can find the report here:

http://unfccc.int/2860.php

That should be some nice bed time reading for all of us.

Copenhagen ConsensussssZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz.....

I'm getting so bored with this Lomborg and his so called Copenhagen Consensus. It is all presented as a highly sophisticated and balanced review of how to solve the world's problems. Every once in a while he gets a few friends to sit down and they look at a bunch of serious global issues and come out with a list of priorities.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

The catch is the starting premise:

If the world would come together and be willing to spend, say, $50 billion over the next five years on improving the state of the world, which projects would yield the greatest net benefits?

I think it is an excellent question. However, this project has nothing to do with improving the state of the world. It has everything to do with an attempt to discredit any action towards greenhouse gas emissions. Every two years they produce a list and every time the Climate Change issue is near the bottom of the list.

It is simple. If you take a period of five years and $50Bn you would not spend it on climate change. Virtually every economist and environmentalist agrees that tackling the issue globally will take more than five years and $50Bn... So, if you list issues under this premise than you would have to give priority to many other issues. You don't need a Nobel prize winning economist for that. The starting point is nonsense. In the real world we are not limited to $50Bn or five years.

Unfortunately the press is not particularly complete in their reporting and so only the conclusion is widely reported. That is, action on global warming is not value for money. Of course the real problem is that most work on the issues featuring high on their list will be in vain if we do not tackle Climate Change.

If the real purpose of this little club was to take action on global issues Lomborg would be travelling the world talking abou the those high priority issues and not about Climate Change. Funny then, that he spends all his time talking about a "low priority" issue...

The new report commissioned by the UK government was dismissed by Lomborg:

"If the Stern review comes out and says we should do a little, then I think that's entirely in line with other economists. If it says we should do a lot now, then that would be surprising and, I would argue, wrong."

Lomborg does not need to read the report. Like all climate skeptics he knows everything already.

Prediction for this year's Copenhagen Consensus: Climate Change near the bottom of the list once again.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth Video

I discovered this video of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and thought there might be people out there who have not seen this yet. It is not the movie itself but the slide show he has presented many times and on which the movie is based.

The link is here:

http://climatechangeaction.blogspot.com/2006/04/video-of-week-al-gore-inconvenient_28.html

I have not had the opportunity to see the movie and though this was interesting... No amazing discoveries here, but a decent roundup of the situation as it stands with Climate Change.

Difficult Dialogues in Kansas

Through the blog of John Voisey at the University of Kansas, the Angry Astronomer, comes this excellent link to a set of video recordings of the University of Kansas' series of Difficult Dialogues.

The first video is of a talk by Kenneth Miller “God, Darwin, and Design: Creationism’s Second Coming".

The fourth talk is by Richard Dawkins on his "God Delusion" book...

They are all very interesting and thought provoking. If you have some time, go and have a look...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Scientology once more...

The Guardian had an interesting article today about the new Scientology place in London. Turns out they do not like to discuss the whole thetans in our head stuff... I suppose not unless you pay.

"After days of filling out sheets of A4 paper, I had learned that all "the data" can be found in Hubbard's writings and anything I came across with which I didn't agree - like, for example, the claim that "yellow and brown people" are less "progressive" than whites - should be skipped and revisited later. "

Yes, if you disagree you are obviously not ready for this sophisticated level...

Maybe later we can be super heroes and understand more about our perceptions:

"Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard taught that people have 57 "perceptics." They include an ability to discern relative sizes, blood circulation, balance, compass direction, temperature, gravity and an "awareness of importance, unimportance."

And these people are tax exempt? Perception of gravity? Perception of importance?

I need a few days to recover...

Euthanasia should be legal

Not really a news story but something that is close to my heart and of the greatest importance. In the UK it is still a crime to help a loved one end their life. Even if they have a clear wish to do so and are terminally ill.

For some reason it is deemed in the best interest of those who are suffering that they suffer as long as possible. The argument against euthanasia is mostly religious and partly not. The argument is often that only God has the right to take human life. The non-God argument is that legalised euthanasia could lead to people choosing to do so because they would be forced by their family.

The first argument is easily refuted. If we choose to lead our life to the will of God we should simply do away with hospitals. If you get cancer, well it's God's will. So be it.

The other argument is mostly used by religious people as a disguise but nevertheless deserves an answer. The answer is that with legalised euthanasia the family does not have that power.

I have very intimate experience with this issue in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legalised. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, a highly agressive unknown type it was clear she would have only months to live. Those months were not good. Treatment did not do much and the fast growth of tumors resulted in a number of organs to be wholly or partially removed. In short, her life quality was extremely poor. She was in constant pain.

One argument used is that pain control these days is advanced. Yes it is, but not that advanced. She had always been clear she would not want to suffer if there was no chance of survival. She was with it and not under any pressure.

Our doctor interviewed her, without any family present. He then called for a second opinion from another hospital. They confirmed the diagnosis. A third doctor then visited my mother to interview her. After this our doctor agreed to assist my mother.

After the procedure he was clearly very, very affected and was a great help in dealing with the situation. He then had to submit paperwork to the prosecuters office and after making sure all the steps were followed as described in the law no charges were filed against him.

I think this is a whole lot better than the practice in so many countries today where people are made to suffer greatly because of a lack of control of their own life. The number of doctors worldwide that administer morphine or other medications at lethal levels in such situations is significant. They do it because they care greatly about their patients. Yet, they have to live in fear of prosecution.

This needs to stop. These guys at "Dignity in Dying" have a great website and an active campaign to get legislation in the UK sorting this issue. Support them.

46th Skeptics' Circle

It's here, the 46th Skeptics' Circle at Left Brain/Right Brain.

Another great collection...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Godless Behaviour?

One of the arguments that always comes up when discussing religion (and my lack of it) is that without religion there is no moral code. If there is no God, no holy book to guide us there is no restriction on our behaviour, nothing to tell us what is good and bad.

This is of course nonsense. Humans have evolved from social creatures and social behaviour has always been important for the success of the group. Religion is merely the structure early humans used to deal with the many unknowns. Same today.

Or as Richard Dawkins would put it:

"A lot of people think they get their morality from the Bible because they can find a few good verses. Part of the Ten Commandments are okay, part of the Sermon on the Mount are okay. So they think they get their morality from the Bible. But actually, of course, nobody gets their morality from the Bible, we get it from somewhere else. And to the extent we can find goodness in the Bible, we cherry-pick them, we pick and choose them. We choose the good verses in the Bible and we reject the bad. Whatever criterion we use to choose the good verses and throw out the bad, that criterion is available to us anyway, whether we're religious or not. Why bother to pick verses, why not just go straight for the morality?"

Going down this road a bit further, if you state that religion makes people "better people" than that is a testable claim. You could look at crime rates and other indicators of societal behaviour and you would potentially see some pattern there...

Well, for one, the percentage of atheists of the prison population is lower than the percentage of atheists in society. But there is an established knowledge of conversion in jails, so that is not solid proof. Well, luckily somebody else was intruiged by this question and Skeptic magazine had an article on this not so long ago.

The study is titled “Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religi-osity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies”. The study showed that a more religious society certainly does not mean a more stable society.

The study was carried out on data collected in the 90's and 2000's in 18 well developed countries.

"For this study’s purpose, “dysfunctionality” is defined by such indicators of poor societal health as homicide, suicide, low life expectancy, STD infection, abortion, early pregnancy, and high childhood mortality (under five-years old). Religiosity is measured by biblical literalism, frequency of prayer and service attendance, as well as absolute belief in a creator in terms of ardency, conservatism, and activities. "

Using that list of parameters the author (Gregory S. Paul) has constructed a number of graphs setting out the relationship between the level of religiosity and these social indicators.






"The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly."

So, not the outcome expected then by the usual religious suspects...

A higher level of religiosity correlates with higher abortion rates, homicide, STD infections and mortality.

"What we can be clear about from this study is that highly religious societies can be dysfunctional, whereas by comparison secular societies in which evolution is largely accepted display real social cohesion and societal well-being."

So there you have it. This study results in some interesting questions. Is the higher level of dysfuntionality in more religious societies caused by religion or is religion the result of a dysfunctional society?

I hope somebody picks this up and continues the work.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Alien TV...

I suppose it is a bit of a confirmation that television in general is not getting any better when we start hoping for alien TV transmissions. The ITV website (a UK television station) has this story today regarding a new radio telescope that will be keeping an eye out for alien television broadcasts...

"Scientist Dr Abraham Loeb, from Harvard University in the US, said: "By a happy accident, the telescopes will be sensitive to just the kind of radio emission that our civilisation is leaking into space."
If ET is producing similar signals, these will be visible as "spikes" in the radio spectrum, a science magazine reported."


The article also mentions that in order for us to see these signals the aliens would need to be just as advanced as our civilization. Proof of which is of course Big Brother.

Obviously we would also have to hope that they are using the same television signal standard. Something even us good humans on earth can't agree on.

http://www.itv.com/news/index_d181d7a557c9ac02a3d133eeb4303f09.html

The first intercepted alien televisionbroadcast is already on the net... It does not make for happy viewing...

The Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson Show

http://www.5shock.com/ran/scary.html

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Drought-resistant crops...

An article that has received far less attention than I believe it should have is this one regarding the development of drought resistant crops.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200507/s1411649.htm

"In research to be published in leading international journal Nature, the scientists from the Australian National University report that they have identified a gene which regulates water efficiency in plants.
It is the first time such a gene has been isolated and scientists say it will allow them improve the drought resistance of most crop species and could have major implications for crops grown in dry areas."

Obviously Australia has major problems with the supply of fresh water for agricultural purposes. Australia has suffered increasingly severe droughts that are getting more frequent. As climate change is set to contunue these droughts are forecast to increase in frequency. However, it is not just Australia that has to deal with this issue.

Climate change is likely to lead to much dryer conditions in large parts of Southern Europe and bring further droughts to North America, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. In short, water shortages will be a major issue and indeed are already an issue in some parts. All over the world water tables are falling as we are depleting resources of fresh water in some cases millions of years old.

In the early seventies it was predicted by some that the world would not be able to sustain the population size of the earth as it stands today. The green revolution made sure today more people have access to food & water than ever before. However, this is being achieved in a non-sustainable way.

The use of GM crops could provide a solution by the further development of these drought resistant crops. However, there is a great resistance against GM crops in some parts of the world, especially Europe with fears that GM crops will contaminate the ecosystem.

So, what to do? I would say that the potential benefit of these drought resistant crops outweighs the potential or perceived issues with GM crops...