Category Archives: Politics & Society

Resource Politics

I have always thought that each region in the world should be mostly self-sufficient. Again a few benefit from unregulated globalization, but most of us don’t. I remember the rare-earths being a part of the periodic table that we did not bother with when I learned chemistry, but now they have become crucial substances. Forget oil. While people were distracted with peak oil and CO2, rare-earths sneaked in. They are not as rare as the group name suggests but we need better ways of extracting the metals both to reduce energy use in the process and to reduce the environmental mess the process has traditionally caused. Maybe there is scope for genetic engineering of bacteria to do the extraction for us.

The “good” news: Precious metals that could save the planet.

The “bad” news: Concern as China clamps down on rare earth exports.

The good news: New solar-cell efficiency record set. The opening fact sets the scene: we need only a little more than 0.01% of the energy the earth receives from the sun to cover all current energy needs. I will keep arguing for solar power.

Beyond one dimensional economics

I have thought for a long time that because money has an integer counter for it, money counting to the last digit becomes an obsession. Here is an attempt to move it to one and a half dimensions: Calculating the real value to society of different professions. The full publication can be taken free from a link on that page. We are still in the realm of estimating some monetary value so we have not got to a proper second dimension yet but this is a good first step. One estimate is that a hospital cleaner provides £10 of value for each £1 pay, whereas the investment banker loses £7 of value for each £1 the activity seems to create. The terminology is vague because we have not got the scale yet for what we want to measure; it may not be possible in any case to have a clear numeric counter. Money is also not as real as it seems as the real goods and services it can buy per unit of cash changes. I remember Max Born, the physicist, commenting that he sold his house in Germany just before the hyperinflation started in 1923 and that he was paid the sum some time later by which time it was nearly worthless.

We world leaders

I remember seeing some TV reporting of the Genoa 27th G8 summit in 2001. After some of the violent protests there was a comment by Tony Blair in Genoa starting, “We world leaders……”. At that moment I had some understanding of the inner driver of Tony Blair. It was a revelation. My impression was confirmed by what I saw in the public parts of the meetings between Blair & Bush before the invasion of Iraq. Although I think that some of the people putting the knife in now are also serving their own agenda, the latest inquiry confirms it. Ken Macdonald confirms it directly: Intoxicated by power.

Why do people evade the evidence?

I was struck by this article: Killer syndrome: The Aids denialists

I did not realise that there was still an argument against the HIV/AIDS link and that retroviral medication has given longer life to many. The methods seem to be the same as those that are used by many people who suggest global warming is a hoax. I am trying to think symmetrically about this by asking myself – why do I accept the evidence? I have started that on my page Climate Change. It is easy to get locked into a position and to cease thinking laterally.

I found responses to the news that UEA CRU had disposed of raw data used for the temperature estimates about twenty years ago, Climate change data dumped, fascinating in this respect. This particular news item is mentioned a lot of times, if you check in Google, as showing that the scientists were destroying evidence that would show them biased. There is rare mention that a lot of data is being lost all the time. NASA cannot even read the data tapes recorded decades ago because the tape readers are gone. I remember in the mid 1980s buying a 20 MB hard disk that cost as much as four or five good specification complete computers now. I would always like to keep all the data, but I can understand that some people will want to tidy up with no bad intent.

Science is not about certainty or perfection; it is a way of collecting and assessing evidence about the world.

Science, Society and Politics

I found this a very pertinent article by Polly Toynbee:

Bad politicians are slave to public opinion. Good ones try to change it

Her mention of the Alan Johnson & David Nutt clash is just what I said to friends when discussing it:

‘ Johnson could have told a truth about both science and politics: “This drug research is accurate, but people fear softening the law sends the wrong message. I intend to talk about it openly. Politics is about listening and talking to people. When the facts are more widely understood, we will review drug classifications.” ‘

Polly gives a few other examples of scientific evidence being ignored in the long term.

eco-friendly messages

This article shows just how far we have to go:

Top 10 green living myths

 It is correct that people may become complacent just because they use eco-products and eco-machines, and buy local, but these may not be all they seem. We don’t want to put people off making improvements because it seems too complicated to know what is best and this seems an argument for proper research with clear recommendations for major effective changes. David MacKay’s book Sustainable Energy – without the hot air makes similar points.

There is a temptation for manufacturers of good products to make eco/sustainable claims that are only partially true in order to enhance sales.

The UEA CRU Affair

The emails published from the email theft from UEA has not altered my view of global warming. What is fascinating is a few all-too-human slips and annoyances that appeared in some of the mails have been the real storm in the teacup. Why are some people so desperate to discredit the science that shows global warming? What big vested interest in denial (not just scepticism) has paid some gang to do the hack job? I thought this fair comment from the UEA team:

Climatic Research Unit update – November 24, 3.30pm

The Fire Alarm Problem

I found this article and its comments, published today, fascinating: World on course for catastrophic 6° rise, reveal scientists

Here is something to think about: Why Building Occupants Ignore Fire Alarms

The main point that I got from the article about the 6C temperature rise is that CO2 emissions are rising because more energy is being used and that now coal predominates as the source. Also that there is evidence that sinks for CO2 are becoming less absorptive, and there may even be a reversal where a sink becomes a source.

A lot of the commentators are hearing the very loud fire alarm and finding reasons to ignore it. The scientists in the article are arguing for action to prevent that degree of temperature rise and not for more taxes per se. The need is to redirect economic activity (that is human resources not mere money) to develop energy sources other than those that emit CO2. I suspect that China will be at the forefront of this and become very rich rather than be kept poor because of this redirection of effort. I can imagine a future situation where countries that have power stations that emit CO2 will be threatened with military strikes in the way that Israel current threatens Iran about its nuclear fuel reprocessing.


When I started this blog my intention was to avoid political and social policy comment but I now think that is shirking responsibility. I read the diary of Lady Florentia Sale covering the first Afghan war sometime in the late 1960s. The fact that Imperial armies could be defeated stuck with me ever after (even after seeing the Carry On Up the Khyber movie). Afghanistan has never been a nation in the sense we use that word, it is still a collection of clans. Foreign forces have never survived there. I find that Simon Jenkins often expresses my views better than I can and I agree totally with his article. Face down the militarists and get out of Afghanistan

I think we should buy the opium produced in Afghanistan so that the farmers get a living until some other crop proves better. We should decriminalize the derived drugs, making them controller substances that addicts can get on prescription while they are given treatment to get off the addiction. This will greatly diminish the crime associated with drugs as well as the bad effects of adulterated drugs. There are other good medical uses for opium and its derivatives. If there really was a surplus it could be destroyed. This will not solve all the world’s problems but it would straightforward to implement. Don’t think that I have some vested interest in this, I only have occasional wine with meals, have never used any other drugs, and avoid as many medications as I can.