Sunday, May 11, 2008


They know they will be out of government soon if they do not

The British government has shelved plans to get people to reduce their carbon footprint by allowing them to trade personal emissions permits because it would be too expensive and ambitious. After studying ways of encouraging individuals to cut their CO2 emissions so they could sell their excess permits to those who exceed their carbon quota, the environment ministry has concluded it is not yet practical. "Personal carbon trading has potential to engage individuals in taking action to combat climate change, but is essentially ahead of its time and expected costs for implementation are high," the ministry said Thursday.

The idea for personal CO2 trading is taken from the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which forces big industrial emitters of the gas that causes global warming to clean up their act or buy permits from companies that have. The ETS makes being green profitable and polluting more costly for business but does nothing to encourage more than 60 million people living in Britain to do anything about it, despite being responsible for a large chunk of Britain's total emissions.



The author below, Bernard Ingham is a journalist best known as Margaret Thatcher's press secretary

My text this week is taken from Corinthians I: "Behold, I shew you a mystery." In the election for London's Mayor, the Greens got just over three per cent of the vote. Leaving aside such misguided places as Norwich, where the Green Party gained three seats, they struggled elsewhere to poll anywhere near that. In my native Calderdale, with its strong "Green" lobby, they managed only just over one per cent - less than the BNP, English Democrats and Independents, the other small groups that fought the election there.

Yet Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Nationalists dance slavishly to the Green tune. To hear him talk, the dear, departed Ken Livingstone was as Green as grass. Gordon Brown would carpet Britain, onshore and offshore, with wind "farms". David Cameron sails under the "Vote Blue, Go Green" banner. The Liberal Democrats are mostly eco-nuts. And the European Union goes berserk at the very mention of carbon dioxide.

Which brings me to the mystery. What ails them? Have they lost their powers of reason? I ask because their pre-occupation with combating something that may or may not exist - that is, man-made global warming - is responsible for part of the growing burden of costs with which every household is now saddled. How much this energy/environmental burden contributed to Gordon Brown's Merrie May Day - otherwise known as Black Thursday - is far from clear, partly because consumers are unaware of what they are paying.

If they knew, all our politicians would belatedly bring some cost/benefit analysis to their environmentalism. It has been distressingly absent so far. Would the Prime Minister have had solar panels and Cameron a wind turbine installed on their houses had they known they would never get their money back on the "investment"? There are good and bad "buys", but they don't come much worse than waiting for decades, even half a century, for any return on your capital. It doesn't say much for their business acumen.

Belatedly, Labour MPs are pressing Gordon Brown to ditch some of his so-called green taxes since their environmentalism is only as strong as the economy or their political skins. So, how much is the Government forcing us to shell out to try to make them appear greenly virtuous? There's the rub. Governments are not in the habit of dishing out research grants to academics to show how stupidly they use our money, so all I can offer you are pointers.

Let's forget the so-called climate change levy (CCL), which has as marginal an effect on domestic consumers' bills as it does on CO2 reduction. Instead, the real damage is done by Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) designed to encourage the development of wind, wave, tidal, solar and other "renewable" forms of electricity. These are as idiotically conceived as the CCL, since nuclear and large-scale hydro-electricity, which emit next to no greenhouse gases, are excluded from both.

ROCs latterly have provided a 100 per cent subsidy substantially to wind power - so far the only major renewable source of electricity - and earlier this year, the Business Department forecast they would cost 23bn pounds by 2020, or, nearly 1,000 pounds per household. And for that we would optimistically get only 14 per cent of our electricity - and then only when the wind was blowing.

Unfortunately, that figure was out of date when it was calculated because Tony Blair had signed up to a battily impractical EU requirement to produce 20 per cent of our energy - and not just electricity - by 2020 from renewables. If we are to offset the massive use of oil and gas for transport and domestic heating with renewables, we shall, as things stand, have to generate up to 45 per cent of our power with wind. So that will treble the eventual cost to 3,000 per household - without providing a reliable power supply.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, says that eight per cent - or 80 pounds - of the current average current gas and electricity bill can be attributed to environmental charges and this is only going to rise with the billions required to link remote and largely useless wind farms to the grid.

This is not to mention more generally the costs of the carbon trading and offsetting rackets, the Treasury's punitive tax revenue from petrol and diesel, Gordon Brown's new "green levy" doubling car tax revenue to 4bn while, on the Treasury's own admission, reducing carbon emissions by less than one per cent, and taxes on rubbish. Why do we put up with this "green" extortion to so little purpose? That's the real mystery.


British region sees longest cold spell since 1892

WEATHER experts say this April has been the wettest in Coventry and Warwickshire since 2004. Staff at Bablake Weather station in Coventry reported the city had nearly 70mm of rain in April, the third month out of four this year with above-average rainfall. They also recorded three days with sleet or snowfall last month in Coventry, which is the highest incidence of April snowfall since 1998.

There was nearly 100 hours less sunshine than during April last year and with an average monthly temperature of 8.2C, this has been the coldest April in the city since 2001. And, according to the station, the region as a whole has been cooler over the past year. A spokesperson from Bablake Weather station said: "It looks like global warming has plateaued out in our region over the past 12 months. "Every month since May 2007 has been cooler than its counterpart 12 months previously in Coventry, and April 2008 has now continued that trend for a twelfth consecutive month."

He added: "Looking at the records, this is the longest such spell locally since our records began in 1892 - the previous record stood at eight months in both 1897 and 1934." The warmest April recorded by the station was in 2007, with temperatures averaging 11.7C, and the coldest in 1917 and 1922 at 5.8C.


Nutty British immigration tribunal frees terror supporter

A firebrand preacher once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe is due to be freed within days after being granted bail by an immigration tribunal. Abu Qatada, who came to Britain in 1993 and last month defeated the British Government's efforts to deport him to Jordan on terror charges, will be subject to a 22-hour curfew when he is released from Long Lartin high-security prison.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said she was extremely disappointed at the decision and promised all steps necessary to protect the public. Some of the bail money is thought to have been put up by Norman Kember, the Christian peace worker who was held hostage in Baghdad for four months from November 2005 by a group of insurgents. Abu Qatada had made a video appeal for his release.

The bail decision by the Special Immigration Advisory Tribunal is a fresh blow to the British Government's anti-terror policies. Last month, the Home Office was forced to abandon plans to deport 12 Libyans, leaving a memorandum of understanding with Libya, signed in October 2005, effectively in tatters.

Abu Qatada, 45, has been convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and of plotting to plant bombs. The radical cleric once called on British Muslims to martyr themselves, and tapes of his sermons were found in a flat in Germany used by some of the September 11 hijackers.


The great organic myths: Why organic foods are an indulgence the world can't afford

They're not healthier or better for the environment - and they're packed with pesticides. In an age of climate change and shortages, these foods are an indugence the world can't afford, argues environmental expert Rob Johnston

Myth one: Organic farming is good for the environment

The study of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) for the UK, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, should concern anyone who buys organic. It shows that milk and dairy production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). A litre of organic milk requires 80 per cent more land than conventional milk to produce, has 20 per cent greater global warming potential, releases 60 per cent more nutrients to water sources, and contributes 70 per cent more to acid rain.

Also, organically reared cows burp twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle - and methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. Meat and poultry are the largest agricultural contributors to GHG emissions. LCA assessment counts the energy used to manufacture pesticide for growing cattle feed, but still shows that a kilo of organic beef releases 12 per cent more GHGs, causes twice as much nutrient pollution and more acid rain.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) relates food production to: energy required to manufacture artificial fertilisers and pesticides; fossil fuel burnt by farm equipment; nutrient pollution caused by nitrate and phosphate run-off into water courses; release of gases that cause acid rain; and the area of land farmed. A similar review by the University of Hohenheim, Germany, in 2000 reached the same conclusions (Hohenheim is a proponent of organic farming and quoted by the Soil Association).

Myth two: Organic farming is more sustainable

Organic potatoes use less energy in terms of fertiliser production, but need more fossil fuel for ploughing. A hectare of conventionally farmed land produces 2.5 times more potatoes than an organic one. Heated greenhouse tomatoes in Britain use up to 100 times more energy than those grown in fields in Africa. Organic yield is 75 per cent of conventional tomato crops but takes twice the energy - so the climate consequences of home-grown organic tomatoes exceed those of Kenyan imports.

Defra estimates organic tomato production in the UK releases almost three times the nutrient pollution and uses 25 per cent more water per kg of fruit than normal production. However, a kilogram of wheat takes 1,700 joules (J) of energy to produce, against 2,500J for the same amount of conventional wheat, although nutrient pollution is three times higher for organic.

Myth three: Organic farming doesn't use pesticides

Food scares are always good news for the organic food industry. The Soil Association and other organic farming trade groups say conventional food must be unhealthy because farmers use pesticides. Actually, organic farmers also use pesticides. The difference is that "organic" pesticides are so dangerous that they have been "grandfathered" with current regulations and do not have to pass stringent modern safety tests.

For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil for ever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans - exposure can cause Parkinson's disease. But none of these "natural" chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming.

Myth four: Pesticide levels in conventional food are dangerous

The proponents of organic food - particularly celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have jumped on the organic bandwagon - say there is a "cocktail effect" of pesticides. Some point to an "epidemic of cancer". In fact, there is no epidemic of cancer. When age-standardised, cancer rates are falling dramatically and have been doing so for 50 years.

If there is a "cocktail effect" it would first show up in farmers, but they have among the lowest cancer rates of any group. Carcinogenic effects of pesticides could show up as stomach cancer, but stomach cancer rates have fallen faster than any other. Sixty years ago, all Britain's food was organic; we lived only until our early sixties, malnutrition and food poisoning were rife. Now, modern agriculture (including the careful use of well-tested chemicals) makes food cheap and safe and we live into our eighties.

Myth five: Organic food is healthier

To quote Hohenheim University: "No clear conclusions about the quality of organic food can be reached using the results of present literature and research results." What research there is does not support the claims made for organic food. Large studies in Holland, Denmark and Austria found the food-poisoning bacterium Campylobacter in 100 per cent of organic chicken flocks but only a third of conventional flocks; equal rates of contamination with Salmonella (despite many organic flocks being vaccinated against it); and 72 per cent of organic chickens infected with parasites.

This high level of infection among organic chickens could cross-contaminate non-organic chickens processed on the same production lines. Organic farmers boast that their animals are not routinely treated with antibiotics or (for example) worming medicines. But, as a result, organic animals suffer more diseases. In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia against 4 per cent of conventionally raised pigs; their piglets died twice as often. Disease is the major reason why organic animals are only half the weight of conventionally reared animals - so organic farming is not necessarily a boon to animal welfare.

Myth six: Organic food contains more nutrients

The Soil Association points to a few small studies that demonstrate slightly higher concentrations of some nutrients in organic produce - flavonoids in organic tomatoes and omega-3 fatty acids in organic milk, for example. The easiest way to increase the concentration of nutrients in food is to leave it in an airing cupboard for a few days. Dehydrated foods contain much higher concentrations of carbohydrates and nutrients than whole foods. But, just as in humans, dehydration is often a sign of disease.

The study that found higher flavonoid levels in organic tomatoes revealed them to be the result of stress from lack of nitrogen - the plants stopped making flesh and made defensive chemicals (such as flavonoids) instead.

Myth seven: The demand for organic food is booming

Less than 1 per cent of the food sold in Britain is organic, but you would never guess it from the media. The Soil Association positions itself as a charity that promotes good farming practices. Modestly, on its website, it claims: "... in many ways the Soil Association can claim to be the first organisation to promote and practice sustainable development." But the Soil Association is also, in effect, a trade group - and very successful lobbying organisation.

Every year, news outlets report the Soil Association's annual claim of a big increase in the size of the organic market. For 2006 (the latest available figures) it boasted sales of 1.937bn pounds. Mintel (a retail consultantcy hired by the Soil Association) estimated only 1.5bn pounds in organic food sales for 2006. The more reliable TNS Worldpanel, (tracking actual purchases) found just o1bn of organics sold - from a total food sector of o104bn. Sixty years ago all our food was organic so demand has actually gone down by 99 per cent. Despite the "boom" in organics, the amount of land being farmed organically has been decreasing since its height in 2003. Although the area of land being converted to organic usage is scheduled to rise, more farmers are going back to conventional farming.

The Soil Association invariably claims that anyone who questions the value of organic farming works for chemical manufacturers and agribusiness or is in league with some shady right-wing US free-market lobby group. Which is ironic, considering that a number of British fascists were involved in the founding of the Soil Association and its journal was edited by one of Oswald Mosley's blackshirts until the late 1960s.

All Britain's food is safer than ever before, In a serious age, we should talk about the future seriously and not use food scares and misinformation as a tactic to increase sales.


Tax revolt in Britain: "Gordon Brown must stop his crippling tax rises or face an election hammering, Cabinet ministers have warned him. They told the beleaguered Prime Minister that millions of decent, hard-working families have been stretched to breaking point by Labour's punishing policies. Warning that the country will revolt against any further drain on dwindling family finances, they used an extraordinary Cabinet meeting to tell the Prime Minister that voters have "reached the limit" of their endurance for his relentless hikes in income tax, fuel duty and council tax. Even Chancellor Alistair Darling is understood to be counselling that Middle Britain cannot take any more financial punishment. And in the first signs of a Cabinet revolt, ministers demanded a halt to any new taxes."

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