Category Archives: environment

Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria

BBC caught out promoting fake news about OPCW report

The Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reports no evidence of banned chemical weapons use by the Syrian government in Douma last April. This conflicts with the strong claims of NATO states and most of the mainstream media at the time. It also shows that the illegal missile attacks by France, UK and USA (FUKUS) on Syria at the time (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?) were completely unjustified.

While the NATO governments involved have yet to respond to the OPCW report (let alone make apologies for their actions) many mainstream media outlets seem determined to continue promoting fake news when it comes to Syria. Some major news outlets have completely misrepresented the OPCW findings.

OPCW has problems but got this one right

I have commented on some earlier OPCW reports on Syria and have found them unconvincing, biased or relying only on terrorist sources (see Another shonky OPCW chemical incident report on Syria and Chemical weapons use in Syria UN report flawed by political bias).

However, this one is a bit different. It is an interim report on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, last April. This incident got a lot of publicity with France, UK and USA declaring they had evidence which proved there had been an attack using sarin. This alliance (FUKUS) was sufficiently confident with their “intelligence” to order an illegal missile attack on several sites in Syria. (see The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?)

This interim report is also different because the area of alleged attack was soon liberated by Syria and Syria, together with Russian Military Police and the UN Office for Project Services, was able to stabilise the area and enable inspectors from the OPCW to take samples and interview people in the buildings which had allegedly been attacked. A big difference to earlier reports which had relied only on “open sources,” and the testimony and samples provided by the White Helmets – a group affiliated with the jihadists and which actively campaigns against the Syrian states and has a history of false reporting.

While this is only an interim report some conclusions are clear (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

“No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.”

Media coverage

I have yet to see any response from NATO governments, particularly those comprising the FUKUS attack group. A sharp contrast to their vociferous accusations at the time of the alleged incident.

However, it appears that much of the mainstream media, and some of the sources it relies on, will draw unwarranted conclusions from this interim report to support their narrative.  For example, Al Jazeera claims Interim OPCW report finds proof of chlorine used in Syria’s Douma.

That is an outright lie. It did not give any such proof or even make that claim.

There is also this from the BBC:

Again an outright lie – the report found nothing of the sort.

Reuters are going with Chemical weapons agency finds ‘chlorinated’ chemicals in Syria’s Douma. Mind you this headline is a “correction” – “(Corrects to “various chlorinated organic chemicals” instead of chlorine).” Technically correct but misleading.

Sky news is claiming Chemical attack confirmed in deadly Douma strikes, but OPCW finds no evidence of sarin. Again wrong. No evidence of sarin but also no evidence presented of any chemical attack at all.

ABC also misrepresented the OPCW report claiming Chlorine used in Syria’s Douma, no trace of nerve agent, Interim OPCW report finds.

The NZ Herald was more neutral in their report Watchdog reports on alleged Syria attack behind airstrikes.

On the other hand the Xinhua Chinese news agency correctly reported Various chlorinated organic chemicals found in samples from Douma attack sites: OPCW, and RT correctly reported Nerve agents not found in samples from Syria’s Douma – interim OPCW report saying (in its second sentence ““Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples” from two locations in the Damascus suburb of Douma.”

And I get the impression most of the “alternative” media sources I see on social media are reporting the OPCW findings correctly. So what was that about “Fake News” and the strong recommendations we get to wear blinkers so that we do not see alternative news sources?

Bellingcat also misrepresents findings

Eliot Higgins, who runs the Bellingcat organisation which provides “open source” information often used by western governments and media, also misrepresents the OPCW report. His organisation is responsible for initiating the story that the MH17 flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine by a Russian BUK unit especially imported for the occasion (and exported immediately afterwards).  Bellingcat is also responsible for many of the claims of chemical weapons used by the Syrian government.

Higgins tweeted:

What is the basis for misleading reports of chlorine use

The OPCW report mentions chlorine only twice – in this paragraph describing the original open source and media reporting of the alleged incident (paragraph 3.1 in Background):

So, no evidence of chlorine use found by the OPCW team. Those making this claim will point, in justification, to the fact that “chlorinated organic chemicals” were found at a few of the examined sites (paragraph 2.5 in Summary):

“Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive.”

Many of the commenters I have seen on social media who resort to this to prove their claims of chlorine use seem not to understand the chemical differences involved or to argue that traces of any chlorinated organic chemicals must mean chlorine had been present.

Surprisingly, the OPCW did not draw any conclusions from the presence of these chemicals and are still attempting to establish their significance. I would have thought their job was to show if the trace levels found were at all unusual for environmental samples.

As a chemist I do not find the OPCW detection of traces of these chemicals at all surprising. For example, the report mentions the presence of “dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid” in samples of concrete debris, wood fragments, a water tank wood support, and some clothing.  But these chemicals are common in drinking water and even groundwater (see the Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, Dichloroacetic Acid in Drinking-water ). Some of the chemicals found are common chlorinated compounds in treated wood (e.g. bornyl chloride and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol as mentioned in a footnote to Annex 3 of the OPCW interim report).

So, in fact, the identified chlorinated organic chemicals are what one may expect from such samples or especially samples taken from areas where explosives have been used.

This OPCW report is still of dubious scientific quality

I find a lot wrong with this OPCW report – but first the positive.

It followed (mostly) the OPCW guidelines for on-site inspection and sampling. This is a sharp contrast with the earlier OPCW reports on Syria where investigators relied on samples and testimony from jihadi affiliated groups like the White Helmets and their associates. This was possible because Douma had just been liberated and the Syrian Government and Russian Armed Forces made an immediate request for the OPCW to send their own observers to check media claims. (Although, given their willingness to trust jihadi-linked groups based in a terrorist-controlled area it does seem strange that the OPCW was unwilling to send their investigators to those areas and rely on terrorist guarantees for security in past investigations. Although, I am being sarcastic. Even in the case of Douma the OPCW team, was concerned about attacks from suicide bombers which seem to operate freely in the terrorist-held areas).

But have they learned?

In paragraph 5.1 describing their activities and timeline the OPCW say:

“Following reports in the media of the alleged incident on 7 April 2018, the Information Cell of the Secretariat immediately informed the FFM team and initiated a search of open-source information to assess the credibility of the allegation. The major sources comprised news media, blogs, and the websites of various non-governmental organisations. The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high. Based on this information, the Director-General initiated an on-site investigation.”

Will the OPCW learn from this specific incident. In  previous reports they stopped at “The assessment by the Information Cell was that the credibility of the allegation was high” – and they would have this time of the Syrian, Russian and UN military had not provided them the security they required for onsite inspections.

The OPCW assessment was that the credibility of the jihadi-connected groups was “high.” Their own inspections showed they were mistaken. Will they be more careful with such claims in the future?

This question is important as NATO countries at the UN Security Council earlier this year effectively prevented adoption of mandatory on site inspections for UN-related chemical weapons investigations. At the OPCW the NATO countries have also pushed through a policy enabling the OPCW to go beyond its investigatory role and carry out a political role of apportioning blame.

The science is shonky

I find it incredible that the report should simply list identification of traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without either providing some sort of indication of the concentrations involved or comparing levels with measurements from  control samples – taken from areas outside the alleged attack area. This is a basic scientific mistake.

Those who wish to claim that the presence of chlorinated organics “proves” chlorine was used in this area could well be right. But only if the concentrations of these chemicals was much higher than normal for environmental samples.

I really can’t help thinking that this shoddy reporting of the science is a political trick enabling the report to be misrepresented. The OPCW is, after all, an international body and subject to the same sort of political manoeuvring we have come to expect from all such international bodies.

Interviews in country X!

The report states (paragraph 8.17:

“The FFM team interviewed a total of 34 individuals; 13 of these interviews were
conducted in Damascus and the remainder in Country X. Analysis of the testimonies is ongoing.”

Two issues for me here:

1: 13 interviews in Damascus – where most witness could have been found and 21 interviews in “Country x?” What this means is that more people from the defeated jihadi groups and their families were interviewed than those remaining in Douma who may have been less motivated to lie.

2: Country X! really? This is meant to be an intelligent report – not a spy thriller. There is absolutely no reason to be so coy about the location of the people interviewed. This is just childish.

I should note that the defeated “rebels”/terrorists and their families were given the opportunity to be transported to Idlib (still in terrorist hands). This has been a common feature of settlement agreements as areas are liberated. Of course, many choose to stay – even those who had been actively fighting with the militants. There is usually a provision for fighters to formalise their citizenship and even join the Syrian Army.

Many of the “rebel” fighters and members of affiliated organisations travel from Idlib into neighbouring Turkey – and further on. Why is the OPCW afraid to reveal the location of their interviewees in Turkey or other countries? Are they concerned this might reflect on the reliability of their testimony?

The warehouse and chemical production facility.

The Syrian government also asked the OPCW to investigate a chemical production facility and warehouse they had found deign liberation of East Ghouta and Douma. They believe these had been sued by terrorists to manufacture chemical contain weapons. (Similar facilities had been found in East Aleppo where terorists appeared to be adding chemicals to projectiles used in their “hell cannons.”

Only one paragraph was devoted to this inspection – paragraph 8.16: Warehouse and facility suspected of producing chemical weapons:

“At the warehouse and the facility suspected by the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic of producing chemical weapons in Douma, information was gathered to assess whether these facilities were associated with the production of chemical weapons or toxic chemicals that could be used as weapons. From the information gathered during the two on-site visits to these locations, there was no indication of either facility being involved in the production of chemical warfare agents or toxic chemicals for use as weapons.”

That is all – no details. No inventory of chemicals held at the sites. No sign of what the warehouse and production facility was actually used for.

Now, I can accost the Syrians may have been completely wrong in their suspicions about these sites – after all that assessment was made by military officers on the ground in the heat of battle, not chemical weapons experts. But I find the lack of information frustrating, even suspicious.

Were any cylinders of chlorine present at these sites. After all, if politically motivated commenters and media wish to misinterpret the presence of normal traces of chlorinated organic chemicals in collected samples why should they not also be forced to consider stocks of chlorine held in terrorist controlled areas -even if their declared use was innocent.

Conclusions

At last, and OPCW report on Syria actually based on factual evidence, the samples and interviews collected by the OPCW on site. A great advance over earlier reports based on “evidence” from terrorist-connected sources and social media or “open sources.”

But I wish the OPCW was more serious in reporting their scientific findings. Reporting traces of chlorinated organic chemicals without any indication of concentrations and comparison with normal environmental samples is shoddy work laying their information wide open for misrepresentation and distortion. Given the current geopolitical struggles and the way international organisations can be manipulated, I can’t help feeling this shoddy reporting was possibly intentional.

Despite these weaknesses, I think this report shows what is possible. It does show that the military action taken by FUKUS last April was not only illegal it was either based on poor intelligence and, more likely, based on claims these governments knew to be false. It is always good to see such blatant political and military hypocrisy exposed.

However, the weaknesses in the report show that more must be done to improve the scientific quality of OPCW work and reduce political influence on that work. This aspect is important because the recent changes giving OPCW a role in apportioning blame for alleged attacks open up that organisation to being so politicised it will lose all credibility.

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Meat substitutes – prospects and new ethical questions

Nigel Latta tells us about a plant-based meat substitute – chicken-free chicken – produced by  SunFed meats. This is an example and not meant as an endorsement of any specific product.

I am deeply ashamed of it now – but at the time it seemed like an experience I couldn’t afford to miss. It was so exotic – and I was travelling.

Twenty years ago I ate at a restaurant in Johannesburg, the Republic of South Africa,  which specialised in meat dishes – from game animals. It was a real feast. Stews of ostrich, zebra, hippo, giraffe and other animal meats. Not something us New Zealanders normally experience.

But I no longer eat animal meats – and haven’t for several years. My decision is based on ethical considerations. So you can understand my shame.

Some might call me a weirdo – but I do not think my ethical decision is really all that unusual. Vegetarianism, veganism and similar dietary approaches are relatively common these days. And I think there are many more of us who resist labels but wish to avoid animal meats for basically ethical reasons. Even if only reducing animal meat consumption to rare occasions.

However, in common with others who avoid eating animal meat, I am surprised that there are still so few choices for us. Restaurant menus only seem to give token recognition of our existence, if at all, and the dishes on offer are often uninspiring.

On the other hand, there does seem to be a renewed interest in meat substitutes. Not only for health reasons but also because of the growing appreciation of how animal-based agriculture is harming our environment. Even in little old New Zealand which usually insists it is “clean and green” but is also proud of its efficient and intensive animal-based agricultural industry.

I welcome that interest. These days I have no problem finding or producing tasty plant-based meat substitutes for myself but it has taken some research effort. Products on supermarket shelves are few and far between. However, if you believe some recent news reports the arrival of tasty meat substitutes is so imminent the established agricultural industry is starting to worry.  A recent report citing an agribusiness spokesperson, Ian Proudfoot, reckons:

New Zealand meat and dairy producers needed to identify what level of risk the products presented for their industry and plan accordingly.

The threat of vegetarian alternatives to meat products was looming as companies were beginning to create products that would genuinely appeal to consumers, Mr Proudfoot said.

For example, US company Impossible Foods has developed a plant-based food that is said to closely resemble the taste and smell of meat – and has attracted $US150 million in investment.

“This is definitely going to happen in the next five years and it could start to happen in the next two to three years.”

He said in the dairy sector, New Zealand would have multiple alternative milk products – such as almond and hemp milk – competing with it, all of which were designed to meet specific consumers’ desires.

The current alternative meat market was less of a threat because it was aimed at wealthy consumers. However, this would change as the new “alternative protein” companies were bought up by bigger players in the food industry, he said.

What about animal-based meat substitutes?

The company Sunfed Foods is producing plant-based meat substitutes. However, it’s founder Shama Lee says there are another two alternatives:

  1. Cultured meats – these are grown from starter cells taken from animals such as stem cells. This is the method Sergey Brin bankrolled to produce his rich-man’s hamburgers, and
  2. Bioengineered meat – where animal protein is grown from a bioengineered culture of yeast cells.

These alternatives may be a bit further down the line but could be in your supermarkets in 10 or 20ears.

I don’t doubt the possibilities – but I will believe it when I see it. I know for a fact that it is possible to produce very tasty plant-based meat alternatives but our supermarkets are hardly swamped with these products. In most cases, they still need to be home produced in New Zealand. So will cultured meat products get the supermarket shelf space – especially if competing with traditional meats?

Still, such products should solve the ethical dilemma many of us face. We would be able to eat “real” meat without worrying about how the animals had been treated and slaughtered.

Is there a new ethical dilemma?

OK, if I am still around when it happens I may be able to take part in a feast of stews like that in Johannesburg but using cultured meat instead of real animal meat. I could still get to taste the ostrich, hippo, zebra and giraffe stews without any feelings of guilt.

However,  will it stop there? We could go even more exotic.

Just think about it. We could also produce cultured meat using starter cells from humans! Imagine eating human meat knowing that nobody had been harmed in the preparation of the product!

Would this make cannibalism respectable? In fact, who could resist such artificial human meat – it would be so exotic.

And once more people got a taste for cultured human meat – will there be some adventurous people wanting to eat the “real” meat – uncultured human meat?

The mind boggles! One thing for sure – like all human advances there will be new ethical questions. And, no doubt, ideological groups and religions willing to use these ethical issues to promote guilt.

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Citing scientific studies and the arrogance of ignorance

Image credit: Why Citing a Scientific Study Does Not Finish An Argument

One thing that gets me going (as readers here probably know) is the way scientific citations are cherry-picked and dragged in to support biased positions. It’s a common form of confirmation bias in the fluoridation debate. And I get even angrier when the perpetrators of this thoughtless and cherry-picking citations will then claim they “have science on their side.”

Parroting citations and (often unconnected) claims are not what science is about!

So I was very pleased to see this article Why Citing a Scientific Study Does Not Finish An Argument by Jonny Anomaly and Brian Boutwell at Quillette. They point out that throwing down a gauntlet like “actually, studies show . . . “ often kills the discussion:

“It’s hard to know what to say when people cite scientific studies to prove their point. Sometimes we know the study and its relative merits. But most of the time we just don’t know enough to confirm or refute the statement that the study is supposed to support. We are floating in a sea of information, and all we can do is flounder around for the nearest buoy to support a view that’s vaguely related to the conversation.”

I think this is why anti-fluoride propagandists rarely get challenged when they come out with their misinformed claims that fluoridation causes IQ loss, ADHD, hypothyroidism, etc. Their discussion partners are often not familiar enough with the scientific literature to challenge the claims. Of course 99 times out of 100 the propagandist is also completely unfamiliar with the literature and is simply parroting a claim they saw in one of their “nature news” newsletters, or similar. And surely throwing out citations one has never read is a clear example of the arrogance of ignorance.

The fact is: “All of us lack the time to understand more than a small fraction of scientific research.” But when the discussion partner is familiar with the cited studies the propagandist quickly lurches into a Gish Gallop – or deletes the online discussion and bans the person. Those of us who have entered into this debate with the motivation of clarifying the science will know what I am talking about.

We should be wary of arguments relying on citations even in cases where the proponent has read the literature. Citing an individual study is really meaningless:

“Of course, that’s not always how science works, or how knowledge is spread. A single study is rarely anything more than suggestive, and often it takes many replications under a variety of circumstances to provide strong justification for a conclusion. And yet, poorly supported studies often make their way into newspapers and conversations as if they are iron clad truths.”

That’s another thing that angers me – even fairly reputable magazines will report individual studies as if we should take the results as “gospel truth,” without even considering the quality of the research – let alone any supporting research.

The problem of correlations

Often such poorly supported studies rely on correlations – and the way commenters and the media cite such correlations as “evidence” is another bugbear of mine. The authors rip into this problem:

“Correlations are everywhere, and given enough data from enough studies, we will find correlations that are surprising and interesting. But . . .  causation is difficult to infer, and some correlations are flukes that don’t admit of a common cause, or that can’t be consistently replicated.

“We are pattern-seeking creatures, and correlations are patterns that cry out for explanation. But sometimes our political views infect our prior beliefs, and these beliefs lead us to look for patterns until we find them. Given enough tests and time, we will find them.”

I am amazed at how studies relying on the poor use of correlations often make it into scientific journals. I have written about one example in ADHD linked to elevation not fluoridation.” There is a similar situation for the recent paper of Hirzy et al. (2016) which I discuss in Anti-fluoride authors indulge in data manipulation and statistical porkies. Although I understand that particular paper was rejected by several scientific journals before it ended up in Fluoride which accepts anything that is anti-fluoridation.

Frankly, I think more papers like this should be challenged and that journals have an ethical responsibility to publish critiques of such papers. Unfortunately, I think I am being a bit idealistic here as many editors have their own biases.

When it comes down to it I think even with the scientific literature it is a case of reader beware. One should never take citations at face value – especially when used to confirm a biased argument. Rather than accepting such arguments we should follow them up, read the cited paper – and other papers in the research area of we have time. We should approach all such claims using citations critically and sensibly.

This is in line with the conclusion the authors make to their article:

“We’re not advising you to commit social suicide by interrupting every conversation with a demand for more evidence. But we do think the phrase “studies show…” should be met with cautious skepticism, especially when the study supports the politically-motivated preconceptions of the person who’s talking.”

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Climate deal signed – now for the hard bit: action

Paris-Agreement-1024x575

Image credit: TWITTER/PEDRO SIRGADO

In the words of Prof Richard Allan, Reading University:

“The human race has a climate crisis, Paris has delivered a plan, next begins the hard bit: action.”

The final draft text of a climate agreement has been accepted by delegates in Paris. It’s 31 pages long and full of the normal political phrases. Download the full text if you wish to browse through the details.

The important bits are that it sets the goal of limiting the world’s rise in average temperature to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius”.

Countries will be required to report on “national inventories of emissions by source” and also to report on their mitigation efforts. There will be an ongoing structure to enable this and check compliance.

NZ researchers comments

Here are some comments from New Zealand researchers gathered by the NZ Science Media Centre:

Professor James Renwick, Climate Scientist, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University, comments: 

“The Paris Agreement is a great achievement, the most positive thing to come out of the COP negotiations to date. The call for transparency, continual ratcheting up of emissions targets, and the provisions for climate finance, are very positive outcomes.

“Great to see (in article 4) that developed countries shall undertake “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”. Take note, New Zealand – no hot-air credits, actual emissions reductions are required. But, targets remain voluntary and the required actions remain daunting.

“The review of a 1.5°C warming limit may come too late as we are well on the way to 1.5°C with present greenhouse gas levels. Staying below 2°C warming is a big ask, but this document provides a framework for action. Now we just need the action.”

Professor Ralph Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, comments:

“The Paris Agreement is certainly a major step forward given all the national constraints and differences. It is in many ways a compromise and I doubt will have any immediate impacts on NZ government policies.

“Minister Paula Bennett will take some time to come to grips with her new portfolio and the Royal Society’s Climate Change Mitigation panel that I chair will be producing outputs that should help with the realisation that there is much New Zealand can do to reduce our GHG emissions – and not rely on buying carbon credits from offshore as is the current intention.

“The only mention of carbon pricing in the Agreement is below – with nothing about carbon trading far as I am aware: ‘Also recognizes the important role of providing incentives for emission reduction activities, including tools such as domestic policies and carbon pricing’.

“The really positive outcome of the COP21 was in fact outside the Plenary rooms.

“The momentum of businesses, cities, NGOs, financiers, bankers, indeed across all civil society, in their intent to move towards a rapid transformation to a low-carbon economy was far more impressive than the formal negotiations.

“There will be many years of further negotiations needed to support the principles of this Agreement. But COP21 will be remembered for the event where global society came to fully understand the many opportunities and co-benefits that climate change mitigation and adaptation methods provide.

“This indeed was a key message of the IPCC Mitigation 5th Assessment Report. After working on renewable energy systems for over 40 years at Massey University, it is pleasing to see that it will now have a major contribution to make worldwide alongside energy efficiency and innovative technology development. Technologies will not solve it alone – and behavioural change and social issues are key – but the transformation has begun.

“Overall the COP reminded me of a two week-long Telethon with announcements, celebrities, new funding announcements – “Thank you very much for your kind donation!”

“NZ will have to become more nimble and innovative to reduce our emissions across all sectors and keep up with the leading countries I think.”

Comments from UK researchers

The following comments, and Prof Allan’s above, were gathered by the UK Science Media Centre:

Ajay Gambhir, Senior Research Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London, said:

“It is remarkable that a text of this ambition has been agreed by all Parties, given the much less ambitious options still on the table just three days ago. However, the gap between the agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C and the current combined level of countries’ emissions pledges – which are not nearly enough to achieve this goal –  means there is considerable work to do over the coming years.”

Prof Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University, said:

“Limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change will have a large impact on the reaction of the world’s ecosytems.  The challenge will be in everybody’s commitments to be visionary to achieve this goal.”

Dr Ilan Kelman, University College London, said:

“The Paris outcome is momentous, but let’s not get too carried away. The initial draft’s limitations are not overcome, especially that key parts remain voluntary. Major hurdles still exist in countries taking forward this agreement – given that governments change and that strongly opposed interests have not disappeared. Then, we have implementation on the ground which will take years. Today is not the end, but the beginning of a journey which has already taken too long to start.”

Prof Simon Lewis, Professor of global change science, University College London, said:

“The new Paris Agreement is historic, important, world-changing and inadequate all at the same time. It is astonishing that all the countries of the world have agreed a pathway together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the proof that this will happen will depend on  policy changes.

“To meet a target of well below 2 degrees C above per-industrial levels will require leaving the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Will the deployment of renewable technologies be quick enough and cheap enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground? Personally I hope so. The proof will be whether globally investors shun fossil fuels and we soon see coal companies going out of business while investments in renewable technologies skyrocket.”

Prof David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a game-changer. The long nights of negotiations have paid dividends. Legally binding, a robust way to increase emissions reductions, and strong reporting requirements – really impressive.  This agreement is the first concrete step on our collective way towards avoiding dangerous climate change. Paris already has the world’s sympathy, today it also has the world’s gratitude.”

Summaries from the New York Times

The New York Times also has commentary and reactions to the following specific clauses (see Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris and Inside the Paris Climate Deal).

Temperature Increase

“Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

Preservation of forests

“Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.”

Bearing the cost

“As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.”

Tansparency

“In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties’ different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established.”

Absence of “Greenhouse Gasd Emissions Neutrality”

“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

Loss and damage

“Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.”

Five-year contributions

“Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.”

See details of comments on these clauses at  Inside the Paris Climate Deal – The New York Times.

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Talk of “mini ice age” bunkum

Grand_Solar_Min_500

The global mean temperature difference is shown for the time period 1900 to 2100 for the IPCC A2 emissions scenario (relative to zero for the average temperature during the years 1961 to 1990). The red line shows predicted temperature change for the current level of solar activity, the blue line shows predicted temperature change for solar activity at the much lower level of the Maunder Minimum, and the black line shows observed temperatures from the NASA GISS dataset through 2010. Adapted from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010). Credit: Skeptical science

Irresponsible and misleading reporting of scientific issues always annoys me. But I have been particularly annoyed with the recent headlines of the sort Now it looks like we’re in for an ice-age.” Here reporters have taken it on themselves to naively extrapolate research on the modelling of solar cycles to predictions about climate. Without considering any of the whole complex of inputs into climate change.

I would have thought  with all the controversy, and political and scientific discussion, about climate change over the last few years, that even the most junior reporter would recognise this complexity. That they would not make such naive extrapolations. And, particularly, they would completely ignore the role of the major recent inputs into climate change – anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The research sparking the media reports was published last year –  Sheperd et al., (2014). Prediction of Solar Activity from Solar Background Magnetic Field Variations in Cycles 21-23. This paper does not talk about climate – in fact, it doesn’t even include the word temperature. Nor did the Royal Astronomical Society press release referring to this modelling work (see Irregular heartbeat of the Sun driven by double dynamo).

Yet the  media article linked above claims the researchers say “fluid movements within the Sun will converge in such a way that temperatures will fall dramatically in the 2030s.”

Of course, if the solar model reported in this paper is accepted by other researchers it will be used in  modelling of future climate change. But we can get an idea of the likely effect of including this solar model from what  such modelling has shown in the past (see What is causing warming of the earth?)

Better still – the figure above is from Skeptical Science – using data from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010). This shows the predicted future temperature of the earth modelled using current solar levels and the grand solar minimum of the sort predicted by Sheperd et al., (2014).

So much for the claim we are headed fo a “mini-ice age.”

See also:

A grand solar minimum would barely make a dent in human-caused global warming
Media Reports The World Will Enter A ‘Mini Ice Age’ In The 2030s. The Reverse Is True.
No, Earth is not heading toward a ‘mini ice age’
The ‘mini Ice Age’ media sensation – and the reality

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Putting politicans in their place on climate change

The US is a strange country. It has some great comedians (and some great scientists) but it also has some lousy politicians.

It’s a real mystery to me how the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology can have so many idiots on board.

These Congressmen Think They’re Smarter Than Scientists. Jon Stewart Disproves That Real Quick..

Jon Stewart would have made a great science teacher.

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A balanced debate

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): Climate Change Debate.

This is the way to handle these debates – love to see it with creationism, vaccinations and fluoridation as well.

Thanks to Paryngula.

Is anyone listening?

anyone

Thanks to: Twitter / SonyKapoor: “Is this mic actually on?” ….

Astro-turfing for scientific credibility

In my article Anti-fluoridation study flawed – petition rejected  I referred to Bill Hirzy’s flawed paper, Hirzy et al. (2013)on fluoridation chemicals. He has now submitted a correction to this paper. Interested readers can see it at  Corrigendum to “Comparison of hydrofluorosilicic acid and pharmaceutical sodium fluoride as fluoridating agents—A cost–benefit analysis” [Environ. Sci. Policy 29 (2013) 81–86].

Hirzy does admit to embarrassment for the major mistake in his calculations. However, he doesn’t hold back on his political line. He concludes that his arguments for making bottled water fluoridated with NaF available is:

“an economically and socially feasible alternative to putting industrial grade HFSA into 100 gallons per day per capita and flushing more that 98 percent of that into municipal waste water treatment plants. Of course the phosphate industry would have to find some other means of dealing with 250,000 tons per year of HFSA than shipping it from their factories to drinking water treatment plants, passing it through households and into waste water treatment plants.”

Well, I guess he is primarily a political activist (this paper and its correction seem to be the total of his scientific publication list).

American Environmental Health Sciences

However, I was interested to see his contact details given in the paper as: “American Environmental Health Sciences, 506 E Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20002, USA.” I wondered, who the hell is the American Environment Health Science organisation, so did an internet search. Try it and see if you can find out anything more than I did.

Sum total was 2 links. One to a Chinese Hardware Co which referred to:

” American Environmental Health Sciences researcher One study found that 99 percent of American families with dogs and cats allergens, but only less than half of which the family cat or dog . Most of the family pet allergens from schools, hospitals , shopping malls , cinemas and other public places .”

Not much sense there.

The other was to a conference programme (The Middle East Waste Summit 2009). One of the speakers (our old friend Paul Connett) was described as “Director, American Environmental Health Science Projects.” Not as coincidental as one might think – Bill Hirzy works for Paul Connett’s Fluoride Action Network as a paid political lobbyist.

Still – how credible is this organisation. A search of its postal address showed it to be a residential house in Washington. In fact, it seems to be the house in which Bill Hirzy lives!

My conclusion – another astroturf organisation with a sciency name used to give some sort of credibility to Bill Hirzy and Paul Connett. I know the anti-fluoridation movement has a track record in setting up astro-turf organisations for this sort of purpose (see my article Anti-fluoridationist astro-turfing and media manipulation). But I wonder how widespread this practice is for supplying credibility in scientific journals and conferences?


Note: A reader brought to my attention that the address for the International Society for Fluoride Research Inc., publisher of the Fluoride journal, is 727 Brighton Road, Ocean View, Dunedin 9035. Another residential address.

By the way the  International Society for Fluoride Research Inc. is registered in New Zealand as a charity where you can view details of its rules and financial reports.

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Conspiracy theorists misuse analytical evidence

The normal cherry picking and confirmation bias approach to science of the ideologically driven is annoying enough. At least we can discuss this and offer alternative scientific findings. And let’s face it – we are all prone to cherry picking and confirmation bias.

But some peopel carry this opportunist and naive use of science  to extremes. This is particularly true of conspiracy theorists obsessed with contaminants. For them, the very fact that a contaminant is detected, irrespective of its extremely low concentration, is “proof” of contamination. The means they can feed their obsession with analytical evidence which actually does not support their argument.

Reminds me of the old days when some people used to claim radioactive contamination of the environment because they could get a few background clicks on a Geiger counter.

Here’s one from NORTHLAND NEW ZEALAND CHEMTRAILS WATCH. (It is hard to get a more extreme conspiracy theory than chemtrails!). In Rainwater Test Result From Nelson Shows Aluminium, Barium & Strontium Present  they cling to an analytical report showing the presence of “three elements known to be linked to geoengineering globally” in Nelson rainwater.

(Click image to enlarge)

ana-chemtrails

For them, simply the ability to detect something (or maybe even to include the elements in an analytical report, feeds their conspiracy theory.

Despite the fact  amounts detected are barely over the detection limit!

Of course, when we reject this sort of “evidence” as meaningless this becomes evidence for another conspiracy theory.

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