“Tea And Toast – Boom”

I’ve just finished transcribing an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, which was broadcast back in May and was about the Eigg Electric project:

The project – to power the Scottish island of Eigg’s homes and small businesses almost entirely by solar, wind and hydropower, seems to have largely been a success – bearing in mind, though, that there are about 100 people living on Eigg and the island is about 5 miles long by 4 miles wide, so essentially there’s the population of a single London street inhabiting an area the size of an entire London borough, without the kind of energy-hungry infrastructure generally required by city-dwellers.

I’m not entirely against renewable energy – and if it didn’t require subsidies and was cheaper, more abundant and as reliable as the alternatives, I’d be entirely for it. What I find a bit off-putting about the notion is illustrated by the following exchange, where the BBC’s Tom Heap visits the house of Ailidh Morrison, a local, who puts the kettle on:

Tom Heap: And what is the limit you work under?

Ailidh Morrison: We work – each residential house gets 5 kilowatts, so that would be a kettle, an immerser would take you up to 5 kilowatts, and anything with an element is 2.5 kilowatts.

Tom Heap: Right, so that’s just about to come to the boil, that taking a big 2.5 kilowatts –

Ailidh Morrison: That’s 2.5 kilowatts to run, yeah.

Tom Heap: Right.

Ailidh Morrison: If I had that on and then I tried to put on a toaster and the immerser on at the same time, my leccy would flip off and I’d have to ask the leccy boys to come and switch it back on.

And a few moments later:

Tom Heap: So how much of a problem is it, this 5-kilowatt restriction?

Ailidh Morrison: It’s no problem at all. I’ve never had that kind of problem with it. I’ve only done it a couple of times, and that’s when I still had the toaster, because yeah, I put the kett- yeah, because the kettle’s 2.5, the toaster’s 2.5. So you can have those both on at the same time, so if I had my immerser on in the morning, and go – oh, I’ve put that on to have a bath later, and think oh, I’ll make my breakfast, tea and toast – boom. Out. That’s it off.

Ailidh is okay with this because she’s happy with the community-owned scheme and is signed up to saving the planet from global warming – and that’s fair enough, it’s her choice. I don’t think I’m much of an energy spendthrift, but I think I’d balk at those kinds of constraints – always having to wait for the washing machine to stop before I could make a cup of coffee or use the vacuum cleaner, for example, or constantly having to choose between hot water or a hot breakfast.

It seems a bit like having to count the cracks in the pavement every time you go for a walk, or facing being fined for going a few pence above your household budget, or needing to log the precise number of calories in every single morsel of food you eat.

“Life’s too short” is not a phrase I’d normally use, but am sorely tempted to make an exception in this case.

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BBC Audio Jigsaw Puzzle

Until this week, I’d only been vaguely aware of the recent controversy about Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt, who has been compelled to resign from his honorary position at University College London, following some unwise remarks made at a lunch during the World Conference of Science in South Korea.

My very minor involvement in the ongoing spat that has broken out over this resignation, has been to transcribe a couple of audio segments from the BBC’s Today programme on 10th June:

What interests me is that although we hear Sir Tim’s voice during each of these segments, we never hear the actual interview. What we get first is essentially an extended soundbite, and later on in the programme, we get another soundbite from him which is different from the first, except that it has the same concluding couple of sentences. Somewhere along the line, there has been quite a bit of editing, and it is not clear at all what order the material was originally in.

Why is this important? It’s important, I think, because these edits can subtly change the meaning of what is said. In each segment, BBC presenter Sarah Montague starts by saying “There are three problems with having women in the laboratory – according to the Nobel laureate Sir Tim Hunt…” which immediately provides a frame for the rest of the piece. The listener understands that this is about Sir Tim’s thoughts about the place of “women in the laboratory” – or indeed, women in science – in general.

Each of the soundbites from Sir Tim ends with “I just meant to be honest, actually.” Honest about what? It isn’t totally clear, although I would suspect most listeners to have been primed to think that he means: honest about his general views on the role of “women in the laboratory”. And this is reinforced during the rest of the second segment, with Connie St. Louis and Dr. Jennifer Rohn being critical of Sir Tim and no-one else being there to offer a different viewpoint.

What else could it have meant, though? In the first piece, Sir Tim refers to “emotional entanglements” that “made life very difficult” and were “disruptive to the science”. In other words, he seems to be talking about the fact that in his own experience, he found falling in love with female colleagues (and them falling in love with him) a hindrance to getting proper work done in the laboratory. Could that be what he was referring to, when he said “I just meant to be honest” – i.e. honest about his personal experiences, rather than honest about his general stance on the role of women in science?

It would be interesting to hear the whole of the original interview in its unedited form. It could be that sitting through all of it would not change most listeners’ impressions of Sir Tim Hunt and his views one jot. On the other hand, there’s a possibility it could then become clear that the BBC has – by carefully selecting and arranging each fragment of audio – subtly guided listeners into a particular interpretation of what they have been hearing.

I’m reminded of an episode of BBC’s Newsnight programme five years ago, where I believe the BBC spliced bits of a speech by Barack Obama together, in order to do just that:

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“What We Say Is Absolutely True”

We’re having a bit of a heatwave here in the UK, and by an astonishing coincidence, Lord Deben of the Committee on Climate Change popped up on the radio this morning, warning of the toasty horrors to come:

John Humphrys: Can’t we wait and see?

Lord Deben: If we wait and see, it’ll be much more expensive and of course the climate will then become much more difficult to live in, even in this country, with much short – with much greater numbers of heatwaves one end and flooding at the other, and some parts of the country, like the east of England, with very little water and other parts with huge amounts of water. And we will be better off there than many of the countries of the world, and one of the most remarkable things, if you take the country you’ve just talked about – Bangladesh – Bangladesh will practically be unable to be lived in, if we do not halt the march of climate change, and we’ll have 170 million displaced people wandering around the world, looking for somewhere to live. We can’t wait for that – we have to put it right, now.

So, “heatwaves one end and flooding at the other”, presumably happening at the same time – goodness me!

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“The Threat is Immediate”

Or so Professor Hugh Montgomery of UCL told the BBC earlier this month:

But there’s good news:

Adrian Goldberg: What can we do about it?

Hugh Montgomery: Well, that’s the good news on this. So the Lancet Commission really took a view to say “Well, what’s the nature of the threat?” and it’s quite clear the threat is immediate – that’s us and our children – and very grave. And the next step forward is “Is there a way of fixing it?” and actually I have to say a little bit to my surprise, when we talked to all the technologists and so forth, they say “Yeah, it’s not a problem, we can fix this right now, the technologies are available right now.” And then the finance people took a look and we said “Well, can you move the money?” and they said “Yeah, there’s no shortage of money – easy to fix that”. And actually, therefore, it comes down to just political will.

And if he’d listened to Bonn Climate Change Conference Co-chair Daniel Reifsnyder on the BBC a couple of weeks before that, he’d have learned that “everybody wants a deal in Paris in December”. So there we are, looks like it’s all fixed. ;)

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“Recipe For Disaster”

Seven years ago, American network ABC produced a series called Earth 2100, in which they tracked a fictional character called Lucy into a future dominated by man-made climate catastrophe. Newsbusters.org published a partial transcript of the trailer, which was broadcast in June 2008 (h/t Samizdata) and I’ve republished it on my transcript site, with a few changes.

[Map labelled “New York City” is shown being gradually submerged under water.]

Unidentified male “reporter”: Temperatures have hit dangerous levels.

Unidentified male voice: Agriculture production is dropping because temperatures are rising.

Heidi Cullen: There’s about one billion people who are malnourished. That number just continually grows.

Unidentified male voice: Prices of energy have gone through the roof. Political conflict has grown.

Peter deMenocal: You got more people, less and less resources – that’s a recipe for disaster.

As a prediction of the future – and going by its vision of 2015, with temperatures and fuel prices skyrocketing, and New York City real estate going the other way – Earth 2100 has its obvious shortcomings. Seen just as a piece of speculative fiction (you can still watch it all on the Green Videos YouTube channel) I think it works rather well, however – an example of cli-fi at its most dramatic.

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“A Note of Realism”

BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin reported that a “note of realism” had crept into the climate talks in Bonn last week, after all the usual lengthy arguments (no doubt over things like whether to use the phrase “differentiated commitments/contributions” or “commitments/contributions/action”). I’ve transcribed a short segment of Friday’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4, which also has an interview with one of the co-chairs at Bonn, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Environment Daniel Reifsnyder.

The realism in question seems to have been the fact that the meeting had to end and some sort of final text would need to be come up with. Otherwise, according to both Messrs Harrabin and Reifsnyder, the talks had been unusually euphoric, the reason being because “everybody wants a deal” (Harrabin) and “we’re really on the way” (Reifsnyder).

Daniel Reifsnyder: … at Paris, we will only agree – afterwards, we will need to implement. There’s going to be a long period where many changes will have to occur, and there’ll be – the commitments of parties to implement the commitments they make, and to take on further commitments in the future, will be quite critical.

Mishal Husain: And when you say a long period, how long? How long would it take, for example, to have a global treaty on the lines of what we’ve seen the G7 agree, in terms of phasing out greenhouse gases?

Daniel Reifsnyder: Well, I think keep on [?] the trajectories that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been speaking about are 2050 and the end of the century, so this is a multi-decadal effort. Um, but it has to begin and it has to begin resolutely, with serious actions today, on the part of all of the countries involved.

However, if Paris will be not much more than the start of a global multi-decadal effort (and as shrewd commentator Robin Guenier has noted, it will hardly be the start, 1992 surely being a better candidate for that), it’s a bit of a puzzle for me to see exactly how COP21 will differ from every climate conference there has been since Copenhagen in 2009.

Could one reason why the bureaucrats are smiling be the realistic prospect of future climate junkets, guaranteed year after year, I can’t help but wonder?

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Pause Button

Just like global warming, this blog has now entered a sort of “pause” or “hiatus” and will remain there for an indefinite period. (Actually, it’s not quite the same thing, as global average temperatures could just as well start going down instead of up, but you see what I mean…)

Lots of very interesting events will, no doubt, happen between now and this time next year, and I may pop back from time to time to add my 2 cents (just slightly over 1 British pence). However, at least for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be otherwise engaged and blogging will be on hold.

There’s still the transcript site, which will be updated now and then, when time allows:


“The Next Asbestos”

Here are a few recent audio transcripts I’ve done.

My favourite quote is from that last transcript (“You are being lied to, all the time. And we are not lying.”) as it sounds exactly like one of those paradoxic “knights and knaves” type logic puzzles.

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2015: “Florida will be under water”

You’d think “Will St. Petersburg [Florida] be here in 2015?” a headline tailor-made for the global warming scare, but it actually relates to a little-known prophecy to be found in Google’s newspaper archive; in 1974 Hollywood writer and hypnotist Elroy Schwartz produced a movie called 75 I.T. about the startling yet somewhat unfeasible prognostications, made in a trance state, of former Los Angeles newspaper feature writer Wanda Sue Parrott.

According to Schwartz, Ms. Parrott describes a future that is just recovering from a worldwide nuclear disaster that happens (happened?) sometime between 2005 and 2015 when a nuclear device in Communist China accidentally goes off and causes a worldwide chain reaction.

A gigantic tidal wave inundates the world, wiping out most of the U.S. A cloud of nuclear fallout drives the surviving civilization underground, into caves.

To come over all Jungian for a moment, could there be, I’m wondering, something or other deep in the human psyche that is prone to inklings of universal catastrophe? From Edgar Cayce dreaming of vast geological upheavals, to Paul R. Ehrlich’s apocalyptic imaginings of global famine and the population bomb, to the current “climate crisis”, it’s almost as if there were kind of internal goblin (for want of a better word) lurking beneath the surface of the human mind, perpetually whispering about the end of the world.

Perhaps there are some people to whose inner ear the goblin’s voice is clearly audible and who go on to associate with, hire and promote people like themselves, who also heed that voice. And that, in turn, could be one reason why some of these grand environmental panics have flourished in the way that they have.

(Probably not, I suppose, but it’s fun to idly speculate.)

Happy new year, by the way!

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“The Ill-Informed Pub Bore”

The Royal Society, a well-known UK-based faith organisation which until a few decades ago mostly concerned itself about scientific matters, has issued a new pamphlet in a push to win converts and isolate climate heretics and unbelievers (those members of the ordinary public it characterises as the “ill-informed pub bore” or the “family know-it-all”.)

A few mornings ago, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a segment in which a reporter – armed with the RS’s tract “A short guide to climate science” – went into an actual pub to speak to a sample selection of pub-goers (how representative a sample is not very clear) about the contents thereof and to separate (in time-honoured religious fashion) the sheep from the goats. This is how it ended:

Zoe Conway [BBC reporter]: So Frank, you’re taking this guide away – are you threatening to bring this back to the pub?

Frank [CAGW believer]: Absolutely. Got to try and convince these people to start doing things about supporting the argument to stop global warming.

Zoe Conway: Ian, what will you do if Frank brings this guide back in, like I’ve done?

Ian [CAGW sceptic]: Make sure I’m not here. [Laughter.]

I think the BBC deserves some praise at this point for usefully warning us about a new kind of obstacle we might now encounter, on venturing into a drinking establishment, between us and a well-earned beverage – the beady-eyed individual with a rolled-up copy of “A short guide to climate science”, on the lookout for unwary victims to convert and to cajole into “doing things about” global warming. Thanks for the heads-up, BBC!

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