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It really is time to put the brakes on climate change

It really is time to put the brakes on climate change

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has produced yet another report on climate change. The report states clearly that, based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening. When I first started at university almost 20 years ago, the nature of climate change was a live debate. However by the late 1990’s, when I graduated, the evidence had become overwhelming and the debate was settled. Since that time, more and more evidence has accumulated, but the policy makers have stopped listening, as we hurtle towards the cliff edge. NOW really is the time to put the brakes on climate change before it is too late…

For the record, I have a BSc in Ecological Science at The University of Edinburgh and an MPhil in Plant Ecology, my thesis was on the potential affects of climate change on mountain vegetation in Scotland, so I am in a position to know what I am talking about.

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Shutting the stable door, thoughts on ash dieback and other pathogens

Shutting the stable door, thoughts on ash dieback and other pathogens

The UK Government has recently announced a ban of the import ash saplings (Fraxinus excelsior) due to the spread of the Chalara fraxinea fungus, AKA ash dieback. This has been a disaster waiting to happen and one that could be avoided. Although the ban has just been announced there widespread reports infection across the UK (including Scotland), this is not an isolated windborne infection, which the Sectary of Sate for the Environment Owen Paterson MP, is currently claiming that it is.

The government’s own scientific advisors have repeatedly given warnings that there are an increasing number plant pathogens entering the country, such as C. fraxinea, Phytophthora ramorum, P. lateralis, P. cinnamomi and P. kernoviae. They have also been telling the Government that there is a need to increase biosecurity in the horticultural trade (plant nurseries and garden centres). However, the Government has refused to take notice of these warnings, saying that putting regulations in place which required the horticultural trade to improve biosecurity would be an increase “red tape” and this would be “bad for the economy”. Really? The scientist who investigated the Phytophthora Spp. outbreak which caused over £2m of damage to Balloch Country Park, were told they are not allowed to name the Garden Centre (which borders the park) which is the most likely source of the infection. On the grounds of commercial confidentiality. No action been taken against the Garden Centre, nor can any claim for compensation be made due to the gagging order on the plant pathologist who investigated the outbreak. How exactly has this helped the economy?

Nor is the UK Government particularly keen coming clean on the cost of felling and destroying all the Larch (mostly Larix kaempferi) in the South West of England, to control an out break of P. ramorum. Should P. ramorum spread into Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), which is a possibility, this would devastate the British forestry industry, worth over £7.2 billion a year.

This is not all, the UK Government has a track record of opposing any form of environment protection at the European level as well. So it is rather rich for them to suggest that the current problem is the fault of EU for allowing international trade, without appropriate controls and biosecurity measure. The problem of imported plant pathogens is not new, Dutch Elm Disease was c. 1967 from North America. In spite of its name Dutch Elm Disease does not come from the Netherlands, it gets it name because the fungus that causes it and the way it spread by beetles were first discovered by two Dutch scientists (Bea Schwarz and Christine Buisman) in 1921. It is thought to originate from Asia, possible in the Himalayas, but no one really knows.

What we do know is that the movement of plants and living plant material is increasingly being moved around the globe. At the same time the number of plant pathologist being trained and employed in Britain is in sharp decline. At a time when we are seeing an increasing threat to our forests, it is galling to find that the UK government is cutting almost 30% of jobs at Forest Research. This is merely symptomatic of this Governments attitude to science, particularly environmental science which it sees as an inconvenience. Well Minster the truth can be very inconvenient and the cost of dealing with environmental damage is massively greater than protecting the environmental.

For the record, the author of this post is a plant ecologist who has, in the past, worked on forest biodiversity.

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A storm in a tea cup over climatic change

A storm in a tea cup over climatic change

Listening to the Today programme radio this morning I couldn’t understand how John Humphrys could decide that the Climatic Research Unit at UEA had some how mislead us all on the basis of a reports he hadn’t even read. What ever happened to objective, fact based, reporting? The news agenda seems to hijacked by small lobby groups, it used to be Greenpeace on the loony left, but they have been replaced by the loony right climate deniers, nether group bothered with the science or with all of the facts. The facts and the science are somehow lost along the way, it doesn’t help that Humphrys, by his own admission doesn’t understand the scientific issues, and can’t count (later in the programme he was insisting that 1968 was over 50 years ago). Professor Tom Burke, did try his best to show the story up for the a storm in a tea which it really is, but was constantly interrupted by Humphrys, who was determined to show the depth of his ignorance. He also seemed to be insisting that one small group of climate modellers, were central to the whole of the climatic change research, which is also a massive exaggeration. Some members of the group may have egos big enough to think they are the centre of the universe, but the fact is this group only plays a small part in trying to predict the future impacts of climatic change. Their work is based on a far larger body of evidences which shows clearly that the global climate is changing and that the current change is largely driven by human activity. That is the thing we need to understand and focus on.

Listening to The World at One, Martha Kearney was asking if there where any “climate sceptics” on the review panel which looked at the work published by CRU. This is worrying as it show that BBC News readers can tell the difference between science and politics. The word Science is from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”, it includes the use of careful observation, experiment, measurement, mathematics, statistical analysis, and replication. To be considered a science, a body of knowledge must stand up to repeated testing by independent observers. The word “Politics” comes from the Greek word politika, it is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions, this is based opinion (facts are not . Politics can be informed by science, but science should not be driven by politics, that just leads to bad sciences.

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