Monday, August 18, 2008

More British "Health & Safety" nonsense

Card-playing oldsters landed with $500 bill

The 14 whist players - aged between 70 and 90 - met every Friday for almost 10 years in a communal room at a sheltered housing complex in Norfolk. But officials at Neville Court, in Heacham, told the group they must pay liability insurance for all those who did not live at the complex before they could meet again. Tom Coulstock, from Hunstanton, said the cheapest insurance the group could find was $500 a year, which would have to be paid in addition to the $3 a head entrance fee. Just six of the players are residents and as none of the group can afford to pay the charge, the card-lovers have been forced to disband and re-locate elsewhere.

Freebridge Community Housing (FCH), which runs Neville Court which comprises 20 flats, said the insurance was "common practice". But player Bill Corbett, who lives nearby, said: "Perhaps they think that pensioners will attack one another with the playing cards? The situation is so stupid its laughable. "Freebridge claim the insurance is a matter of course but you can't tell me every group meeting needs public liability insurance. They are just trying to cover their own backs. We should not have to pay for that."

Mr Corbett, 86, said the game took up five tables in a corner of the communal room and insisted there had never been any trouble in the club's eight year history. He said the six residents who live at the home find it hard to travel outside the premises. "They don't understand why they can't have their friends over to play cards," he said. "It's health and safety gone mad and it is short-sighted of Freebridge."

Mr Coulstock said: "It's a farce. If they offer room hire they should have the insurance cover in place for the service they offer. "We won't be using the room in the future. We'll find somewhere that already has the insurance in place." Another player, who did not wish to be named, added: "It's disgusting that Freebridge is more concerned about making sure no-one could ever sue them than ensuring their residents have a good quality of living. "How on earth is someone going to injure themselves whilst playing cards?"

The card players were told they had been banned from the premises after their game on August 1. Tony Hall, chief executive of FCH, said it was standard procedure to ensure members of the public using their facilities were insured. "Freebridge Community Housing actively promotes the use of its community rooms as the social interaction of its elderly residents and people from the local community is a positive contribution to their lives," he said. [By banning them? Bare-faced British hypocrisy again]

"It is general practice that any room hire includes a requirement for insurance. "This can be covered by the group, club insurance or could form part of the hire cost. Freebridge charges a nominal hire charge but then require individuals to organise their own insurance. "The requirement has been in place for many years, but as Freebridge has recently updated the hire agreement it is checking that groups have their own insurance in place. "I am surprised Mr Corbett has been quoted $500 for insurance and Freebridge will make enquiries with our own insurance company to see if alternative quotes are more competitive."

FCH owns and manages around 7,000 properties for rent in the King's Lynn and West Norfolk area. [It is a QANGO -- a hived-off local government body]


Rape compensation disgrace in Britain

The latest revelation about Britain's rape policies is cause for indignation, tempered by a small sigh of relief. The news that there existed a practice of cutting compensation to rape victims who had been drinking alcohol before the attack provides the indignation; the fact that it has been disputed and rowed back, the relief.

According to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, 14 rape victims - accounting for around one percent of rape-related applications - were told that they would be paid less compensation because of the involvement of alcohol.

Compensation reflects a desire to mitigate for the harm suffered by an innocent victim. The idea that this can be parcelled up and chipped away at because a woman had a few glasses of Pinot Grigio before being brutally attacked is abhorrent. As Helen, a rape victim whose compensation was cut by a quarter, puts it: "Which 25 per cent did they think I was responsible for?"

It may well be common sense that drinking excessively makes women more vulnerable to being raped, and that it clouds the issue of consent. But the fact that a woman can choose to take responsibility for minimising her risk of being raped is in no way comparable with saying that she is responsible should the worst come to pass.

For someone to be convicted of rape, a jury will have decided that there is sufficient evidence to prove that the victim did not give consent, and that the defendant was aware that consent was not given. This is no straightforward task, helping to explain the woeful statistic that less than six percent of reported rapes currently result in a conviction.

For the few who battle through their ordeal to achieve justice, the last thing they deserve is belittlement at the hands of the CICA. For their sake, it's just as well this ignominious policy has been repealed.


British security laws are eroding human rights, says UN

This UN body is generally anti-Western but there is nonetheless much truth in what they say below

A report from the UN's committee on human rights hit out at Britain's terror and libel laws and use of the Offical Secrets Act. The UN said provisions under the Terrorism Act 2006 covering encouragement of terrorism are too "broad and vague" which could infringe on freedom of expression. Under the new law people convicted of encouragement of terrorism face up to seven years in jail even if they did not intend to incite violence

"In particular, a person can commit the offence even when he or she did not intend members of the public to be directly or indirectly encouraged by his or her statement to commit acts of terrorism, but where his or her statement was understood by some members of the public as encouragement to commit such acts," concluded the committee.

The body also said tough libel laws should be reformed to end "libel tourism" - where people come to the UK to sue over articles they would not be able to pursue in their own countries.

And it said the use of the Official Secrets Act was gagging civil servants from bringing issues of genuine public interest to wider attention even when national security was not at risk.

The criticisms came as part of the committee's analysis into human rights in the UK. But the body welcomed the government's abolition of common-law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales and the adoption of the civil partnership act recognising unions between gay and lesbian couples.


Drug companies fed up with blundering British bureaucracy

So Brits don't get new drugs

One of the world’s leading drug companies is threatening to withdraw some of its new cancer treatments from the process by which they are approved for use in the National Health Service. Cancer patients in Britain will consequently be denied more effective drugs that are available to sufferers in other countries.

Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, has already refused to supply economic data on its drug Avastin for treatment of lung and breast cancer to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), the authority that evaluates the cost-effectiveness of medicines for the NHS. This means Avastin will not be available on the NHS for those diseases. Avastin is said to double the time a breast cancer patient’s condition remains stable when compared with existing treatments. Studies have also shown improved survival rates for lung cancer victims.

Roche said last week it will consider withdrawing from other evaluations rather than submit products only for them to be rejected by Nice as too expensive. The statement is the latest twist in the growing row over decisions by Nice. Earlier this month Nice caused an outcry in a preliminary decision when it rejected the use of Avastin (also known as bevacizumab), Sutent (sunitinib), Nexavar (sorafenib) and Torisel (temsirolimus) as too expensive to treat kidney cancer.

“The alternative to these drugs for many patients is death,” said Jonathan Waxman, professor of oncology at Imperial College, London. “Nice is making terrible mistakes.” The survival rates for cancer in Britain are already among the lowest in Europe — on a par with Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, according to data published last year. However, cancer charities acknowledge there has been significant improvement in rates since the government made the issue a priority with its NHS Cancer Plan, first launched in 2000. Some consultants argue, however, that Britain already spends less on cancer drugs than many other European countries and that it is “crazy” to reject drugs proven to prolong life.

Richard Barker, director- general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which represents the drug companies, said: “Nice does a tough and necessary job, but is making errors because of a very mechanistic approach. It relies too much on arithmetic and not enough on clinical judgment.”

Nice was created in 1999 with the aim of ensuring that decisions on the best and most cost-effective drugs for the NHS were made at a national level, were transparent and could be challenged. When the drug companies scrutinised the economic modelling used by Nice, they realised that the estimated costs of their drugs and effectiveness could vary widely. Even more seriously, some of the calculations were wrong. There was an outcry in the medical community in February 2006 when Nice stated that Temodal (temozolomide) — declared as the biggest breakthrough in treating brain tumours for decades — did not offer value for money. Temodal had won approval from the European regulator in 2004, but many British patients were denied treatment as Nice wrangled over costs.

Peter Davison, 48, a manager for Cambridge University Press, was among the few British patients who received the drug — because he was diagnosed with a brain tumour while working in Singapore. “I was lucky to be abroad,” said Davison, who is now in remission. “Four months after I had the operation to remove the tumour, I was running and climbing mountains.” When Schering-Plough — the pharmaceutical company which markets Temodal — prepared its appeal against the Nice decision, it identified an error in the modelling. Once corrected, the model showed the drug was cost-effective — and as a result it was ultimately approved for NHS use.

Not surprisingly, the drugs companies now want full access to the economic models, with the chance to check the accuracy of the calculations. In May, the High Court ruled that Pfizer and Esai, the companies which market the Alzheimer drug Aricept, should be given full access to these models. “We believe this modelling might not be fit for purpose and we want to check it,” said a Pfizer spokesman last week. Nice said it was seeking leave to appeal to the House of Lords after the High Court decision.

Even where the models are correct, consultants and patients’ groups say Nice fails to give proper weight to the evidence from clinicians and patients’ groups. The Sunday Times has highlighted the fact that NHS patients do not even have the option of paying for the drugs privately because of government ban on “co-payments”. The government has said it will review the issue.

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of Nice, said the evaluation process was recognised internationally and Nice had been commended by the World Health Organisation for the quality of its work. He said: “We have a finite amount of money to spend on healthcare and we have to divide it up in as fair and as equitable a way as we can. We can’t say to yes to everything. It’s awkward, it’s difficult, it’s unpleasant.”


The internet shrinks your brain? What rubbish

One lot of assertions is countered by another lot of assertions below.

Winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature are entitled to grand pronouncements, or else what is it for? So Doris Lessing, last winter, anathematised the entire internet, declaring that it had "seduced a whole generation into its inanities". According to Lessing, the web helped to create "'a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned, and where it is common for young men and women who have had years of education to know nothing of the world".

One might wonder how she knew this with such certainty. How many of these young men and women had she met, and held conversations with? Slightly more, perhaps, than the average immobile person in her late eighties.

But Lessing has received confirmation in recent weeks from much more contemporary quarters. In the latest Atlantic Monthly, the headline over a major article by Nicholas Carr asked the question: "Is Google making us stupid?" to which Carr's answer was a Dorisian affirmation. Not long afterwards, Bryan Appleyard penned a long piece entitled "Stoooopid... why the Google generation isn't as smart as it thinks", which - as you can imagine - also took the Lessing line.

"Once," wrote Carr, "I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski." The culprit was the net, which, with its search engines, YouTubes, blogs and Facebooks, seemed to be "chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation". And not just his. Carr quoted a writer who blamed the internet for changing his mental habits. "I can't read War and Peace any more," this writer complained, leaving unclear whether he was trying to re-read Tolstoy's masterpiece, or had got halfway through before webweariness overtook him.

Carr's view was that there are two kinds of reading: deep reading, which - essentially - is books, and web reading, where all we're doing is the much lesser decoding of information. In the first we make "rich mental connections" and in the second we just don't. In one we are properly engaged, in the other we ain't. "In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book," says Carr, invoking an ideal, "or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas." With the net and its instant access to information we turn into "pancake people", widely and thinly spread.

Appleyard had just been inside that quintessential British experience-former, the intercity train carriage. On the train to Wakefield, with his new 3G iPhone, he was "distracted from distraction by distraction". There were the calls, the texts, the e-mails, "and I'd better throw in the 400-odd news alerts that I receive from all the websites I monitor via my iPhone". I get seven or eight a day on my phone - Sky news, Tottenham Hotspur and London weather. Four hundred on one train trip seems excessive. Anyway... "The digital age is destroying us by ruining our ability to concentrate... it's killing me and it's killing you," says Appleyard, who might die more slowly if he elected to receive fewer news alerts.

"Attention," he asserts, "is the golden key to the mystery of human consciousness... the opposite of attention is distraction, an unnatural condition." Which argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, would make the idiot savant, with the inability to be distracted, the most natural human being of all.

The rot set in with television, but "the internet multiplies the effect a thousandfold... Now teenagers just go to their laptops on coming home from school and sink into their online cocoon," wasting their time on stuff like MySpace on which, apparently, they create connections which are all "threadbare", lacking "the complexity and depth of real-world interactions", lacking in loyalty and feeling.

Appleyard fears that we are now "infantilised cyber-serfs", whose lives the internet has made easier, "but only by destroying the very selves that should be protesting at every distraction, demanding peace, quiet and contemplation". Yes, we all should all be monks. Matins, then work in the fields, then simple food, then Compline, some contemplation, then up - slowly - to the Scriptorium to illuminate some manuscripts, supper, prayers and bed.

How often do such Weh ist mir [Woe is me] arguments rest on an idea of our "natural" selves being alienated by the world of progress? Wasn't it better when we all skinned our own rabbits and made our own music? Let us salute the ideal, St Simeon Stylites, up his pillar in the Syrian desert. Now there was an undistracted man.

Let us begin then at the level of personal experience. I have no problem with reading long novels, despite being a daily and constant user of the internet. I was one of the few people I knew who had read War and Peace 35 years ago, and I still am. Far from turning me into a bibliphobe, the internet has made it much easier for me to find and buy books that were hard to get before.

Nor do I recognise in Lessing's and Appleyard's strictures the experiences of my own daughters. I think they know, not just as much as Lessing did in her teens, but a lot more. Nor, from what I can see, are their Facebook contacts "threadbare". They are almost all people the girls know in real life and see regularly, supplemented with contacts that might otherwise have easily been lost, such as friends from earlier schools. In this sense the internet has helped my kids' social life be just as rich, if not richer, than my own was.

How can, for example, the Google project to place on the internet as many books as possible be productive of anything other than greater learning? What we are asked to do is to look. If we have that capacity, then we don't need to be ordained into the learned priesthood, or try to wangle ourselves library cards to which we aren't entitled. Just type three words, in the right order, and as Aladdin says, Open Sesame, and connections are made - some predicted, many fortuitous. Perhaps it is this uncontrollable, self-sustaining spread of knowledge that threatens the "certainties" that Lessing recalls.

Of course, what all three of my Jeremiahs entirely miss about the internet is its quality of engagement. That's what makes the new era so much better than the television age. As Clay Shirky, the American writer, put it, the new media are a triathlon: "People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share..." Isn't that superior, he asks, to being stuck in a basement watching reruns of Gilligan's Island? The challenge is not to lament, but to equip, to teach ourselves how to search and how to discriminate. A GCSE [diploma] in search engine skills, perhaps.


One injection 'vaccine' cure for arthritis within five years

A single injection that could cure rheumatoid arthritis is being developed by British scientists. The treatment works like a vaccine and could be available within five years. Cells would be taken from the body, altered, and injected back into the affected joint.

A team at Newcastle University will now test the vaccine on volunteers with the disease. Scientists in the field are extremely excited about the development. There are 350,000 people in the UK with rheumatoid arthritis, which is a condition where the body's immune system attacks the joints, unlike oestoarthritis which is more like wear and tear of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is difficult to treat because it is caused by a malfunctioning immune system, causing inflammation in the wrong places.

Prof Alan Silman, medical director of the charity Arthritis Research Campaign, which funded the research, said: "This is an important potential cure. It is possible one injection could switch off the abnormal immune response. "If it works it could reverse the disease and stop further episodes."

The Newcastle team will test the effectiveness of the new vaccine in eight volunteers with rheumatoid arthritis from the Freeman Hospital as part of a pilot study, which could then lead to larger trials.

The vaccine works by reprogramming the body's own immune cells. Using chemicals, steroids and Vitamin D, the team has devised a way to manipulate a patient's white blood cells so they surpress, rather than activate, the immune system. It is thought the cells will then act as a brake on the over-reacting immune system and stop it attacking its own joints. Although a similar technique has been used in cancer research, this is the first time it has been adapted to rheumatoid arthritis.

John Isaacs, Professor of Clinical Rheumatology at Newcastle University's Musculoskeletal Research Group, who is leading the team, said that although the work was in a very early, experimental stage it was "hugely exciting". "Based on previous laboratory research we would expect that this will specifically suppress or down regulate the auto-immune response," he said. Samples will be taken two weeks after the injection to establish whether it has induced the expected response.

The team also hope to find out if the vaccine is effective only in the joints it is injected into, or whether the new cells spread throughout the body. Prof Silman said the treatment may prove expensive as each patient would have to have their own cells taken and manipulated rather than a drug which can be made in bulk and prescribed to all people with a condition. He said it would be unlikely that the vaccine could be offered in normal local hospitals because of the expertise necessary to manipulate the cells in the laboratory.

It raises fears the vaccine would have to go through the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence cost effectiveness tests. But if the vaccine did work with a one off injection and completely stop the disease it is likely to offer such a huge benefit to the patient that even a relatively large price may be deemed acceptable. Prof Silman said he expected the jab to cost less than $50,000. The research is being funded by medical research charity the Arthritis Research Campaign, which is providing $432,000 over 18 months.


British government tries to civilize its Leftist academics

British academics will be encouraged to conduct research with their Israeli peers in an attempt to heal fractured relations between UK and Israeli universities. Gordon Brown has signed up to a $1,480,000 academic exchange scheme during his trip to Israel today. The government has been keen to promote links between the two countries to play down attempts by British academics to boycott Israeli academics over the treatment of Palestinians.

In May, members of the University and College Union voted to consider the moral and political implications of education links with Israeli institutions. But the UK government's contribution of $40,000 to the scheme which is mainly funded by charities was described as an insult by a leading Anglo-Jewish historian. Geoffrey Alderman, visiting professor of theology and education at York St John University, said: "Compared to the money that the government is giving to the Palestinian Authority, this is an insult. I would throw this back in their faces. If the government was seriously interested in a programme to foster academic cooperation, it would think in terms of millions."

The higher education minister, Bill Rammell, said the new scheme would help foster academic cooperation through joint research programmes and academic exchange trips between the UK and Israel.

The Britain-Israel research and academic exchange partnership (BIRAX) will award scientific research grants to junior academics - from postdoctoral students to mid-career researchers and lecturers - who tend to have far fewer international opportunities. The British Council will manage the scheme, which is funded by the Pears Foundation, the United Jewish Israel Appeal, with smaller contributions from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Israel's Ministry of Science.

The academic who led the call for the boycott, Tom Hickey, a politics and philosophy lecturer from the University of Brighton, said academics should consider whether it was "morally acceptable to continue links with Israeli institutions where there was evidence that they were complicit in the occupation".

The government will give the same amount to improve links between British researchers and their peers in Palestine. Rammell said this would be "in the near future".

The scheme will last for five years in the first instance, although it is anticipated that it will develop over time into a longer-term partnership.

The British Council is also working on proposals to support academic links between Britain and Palestine, which the government will offer equal funding to support. Rammell said: "There is a long history of cooperation between Israel and the UK and BIRAX will help further cement this relationship and create new partnerships. It will help strengthen academic links between individual researchers and between universities in both countries. "There have been calls in the past for a boycott of Israeli academics but I strongly believe that we have much to learn from each other and our researchers have much to gain from working together. Education should be a bridge between nations not a barrier."

Trevor Pears, the executive chair of the Pears Foundation, said: "The new scheme increases academic collaboration in science and technology with potentially lasting benefits for Britain, Israel and, hopefully, the world."

The chairman of UJIA, Mick Davis, said the scheme would strengthen "the living bridge that draws on the great history of academic cooperation that has benefited Israel and the UK so greatly over the years".


Desperation time: Forget Global Warming -- The Oxygen Crisis Threatens human survival

A brand new scare. The lack of warming and the collapse of the agw fear machine is leading to new causes. We may soon see the creation of a new UN IPOC - Intergovernmental Panel on Oxygen Crisis. The author of the screed below, Peter Tatchell, is best known as a British homosexual activist. He appears to base his latest cry for attention on the contents of an as-yet unwritten book

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is big news. It is prompting action to reverse global warming. But little or no attention is being paid to the long-term fall in oxygen concentrations and its knock-on effects. Compared to prehistoric times, the level of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere has declined by over a third and in polluted cities the decline may be more than 50%. [This is risible. Gaseous diffusion is very rapid. A huge difference like this in Oxygen concentration between city and country is impossible] This change in the makeup of the air we breathe has potentially serious implications for our health. Indeed, it could ultimately threaten the survival of human life on earth, according to Roddy Newman, who is drafting a new book, The Oxygen Crisis.

I am not a scientist, but this seems a reasonable concern. It is a possibility that we should examine and assess. So, what's the evidence? Around 10,000 years ago, the planet's forest cover was at least twice what it is today, which means that forests are now emitting only half the amount of oxygen. Desertification and deforestation are rapidly accelerating this long-term loss of oxygen sources. The story at sea is much the same. Nasa reports that in the north Pacific ocean oxygen-producing phytoplankton concentrations are 30% lower today, compared to the 1980s. This is a huge drop in just three decades.

Moreover, the UN environment programme confirmed in 2004 that there were nearly 150 "dead zones" in the world's oceans where discharged sewage and industrial waste, farm fertiliser run-off and other pollutants have reduced oxygen levels to such an extent that most or all sea creatures can no longer live there. This oxygen starvation is reducing regional fish stocks and diminishing the food supplies of populations that are dependent on fishing. It also causes genetic mutations and hormonal changes that can affect the reproductive capacity of sea life, which could further diminish global fish supplies.

Professor Robert Berner of Yale University has researched oxygen levels in prehistoric times by chemically analysing air bubbles trapped in fossilised tree amber. He suggests that humans breathed a much more oxygen-rich air 10,000 years ago.

Further back, the oxygen levels were even greater. Robert Sloan has listed the percentage of oxygen in samples of dinosaur-era amber as: 28% (130m years ago), 29% (115m years ago), 35% (95m years ago), 33% (88m years ago), 35% (75m years ago), 35% (70m years ago), 35% (68m years ago), 31% (65.2m years ago), and 29% (65m years ago).

Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University and Professor Jon Harrison of the University of Arizona concur. Like most other scientists they accept that oxygen levels in the atmosphere in prehistoric times averaged around 30% to 35%, compared to only 21% today - and that the levels are even less in densely populated, polluted city centres and industrial complexes, perhaps only 15 % or lower.

Much of this recent, accelerated change is down to human activity, notably the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels. The Professor of Geological Sciences at Notre Dame University in Indiana, J Keith Rigby, was quoted in 1993-1994 as saying:
In the 20th century, humanity has pumped increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning the carbon stored in coal, petroleum and natural gas. In the process, we've also been consuming oxygen and destroying plant life - cutting down forests at an alarming rate and thereby short-circuiting the cycle's natural rebound. We're artificially slowing down one process and speeding up another, forcing a change in the atmosphere.

Very interesting. But does this decline in oxygen matter? Are there any practical consequences that we ought to be concerned about? What is the effect of lower oxygen levels on the human body? Does it disrupt and impair our immune systems and therefore make us more prone to cancer and degenerative diseases?

Surprisingly, no significant research has been done, perhaps on the following presumption: the decline in oxygen levels has taken place over millions of years of our planet's existence. The changes during the shorter period of human life have also been slow and incremental - until the last two centuries of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. Surely, this mostly gradual decline has allowed the human body to evolve and adapt to lower concentrations of oxygen? Maybe, maybe not.

The pace of oxygen loss is likely to have speeded up massively in the last three decades, with the industrialisation of China, India, South Korea and other countries, and as a consequence of the massive worldwide increase in the burning of fossil fuels.

In the view of Professor Ervin Laszlo, the drop in atmospheric oxygen has potentially serious consequences. A UN advisor who has been a professor of philosophy and systems sciences, Laszlo writes:
Evidence from prehistoric times indicates that the oxygen content of pristine nature was above the 21% of total volume that it is today. It has decreased in recent times due mainly to the burning of coal in the middle of the last century. Currently the oxygen content of the Earth's atmosphere dips to 19% over impacted areas, and it is down to 12 to 17% over the major cities. At these levels it is difficult for people to get sufficient oxygen to maintain bodily health: it takes a proper intake of oxygen to keep body cells and organs, and the entire immune system, functioning at full efficiency. At the levels we have reached today cancers and other degenerative diseases are likely to develop. And at 6 to 7% life can no longer be sustained.

Scaremongering? I don't think so. A reason for doomsaying? Not yet. What is needed is an authoritative evidence-based investigation to ascertain current oxygen levels and what consequences, if any, there are for the long-term wellbeing of our species - and, indeed, of all species.


UPDATE: An emailed comment from Prof. Roy Spencer of UAH below.

"It doesn't get much more stupid than this. The O2 concentration of the atmosphere has been measured off and on for about 100 years now, and the concentration (20.95%) has not varied within the accuracy of the measurements. Only in recent years have more precise measurement techniques been developed, and the tiny decrease in O2 with increasing CO2 has been actually measured....but I believe the O2 concentration is still 20.95%....maybe it's down to 20.94% by now...I'm not sure.

There is SO much O2 in the atmosphere, it is believed to not be substantially affected by vegetation, but it is the result of geochemistry in deep-ocean one really knows for sure.

Since too much O2 is not good for humans, the human body keeps O2 concentrations down around 5% in our major organs. Extra O2 can give you a burst of energy, but it will harm you (or kill you) if the exposure is too long.

It has been estimated that global wildfire risk would increase greatly if O2 concentrations were much more than they are now.

To say there is an impending "oxygen crisis" is the epitome of fear mongering."

Update 2: I think Lubos Motl has the final word on the matter

Lomborg replies to the ticklish one

Says that Alarmist predictions of climate change, like those from Britain's Oliver Tickell, are bad science

Much of the global warming debate is perhaps best described as a constant outbidding by frantic campaigners, producing a barrage of ever-more scary scenarios in an attempt to get the public to accept their civilisation-changing proposals. Unfortunately, the general public - while concerned about the environment - is distinctly unwilling to support questionable solutions with costs running into tens of trillions of pounds. Predictably, this makes the campaigners reach for even more outlandish scares.

These alarmist predictions are becoming quite bizarre, and could be dismissed as sociological oddities, if it weren't for the fact that they get such big play in the media. Oliver Tickell, for instance, writes that a global warming causing a 4C temperature increase by the end of the century would be a "catastrophe" and the beginning of the "extinction" of the human race. This is simply silly.

His evidence? That 4C would mean that all the ice on the planet would melt, bringing the long-term sea level rise to 70-80m, flooding everything we hold dear, seeing billions of people die. Clearly, Tickell has maxed out the campaigners' scare potential (because there is no more ice to melt, this is the scariest he could ever conjure). But he is wrong. Let us just remember that the UN climate panel, the IPCC, expects a temperature rise by the end of the century between 1.8 and 6.0C. Within this range, the IPCC predicts that, by the end of the century, sea levels will rise 18-59 centimetres - Tickell is simply exaggerating by a factor of up to 400.

Tickell will undoubtedly claim that he was talking about what could happen many, many millennia from now. But this is disingenuous. First, the 4C temperature rise is predicted on a century scale - this is what we talk about and can plan for. Second, although sea-level rise will continue for many centuries to come, the models unanimously show that Greenland's ice shelf will be reduced, but Antarctic ice will increase even more (because of increased precipitation in Antarctica) for the next three centuries. What will happen beyond that clearly depends much more on emissions in future centuries. Given that CO2 stays in the atmosphere about a century, what happens with the temperature, say, six centuries from now mainly depends on emissions five centuries from now (where it seems unlikely non-carbon emitting technology such as solar panels will not have become economically competitive).

Third, Tickell tells us how the 80m sea-level rise would wipe out all the world's coastal infrastructure and much of the world's farmland - "undoubtedly" causing billions to die. But to cause billions to die, it would require the surge to occur within a single human lifespan. This sort of scare tactic is insidiously wrong and misleading, mimicking a firebrand preacher who claims the earth is coming to an end and we need to repent. While it is probably true that the sun will burn up the earth in 4-5bn years' time, it does give a slightly different perspective on the need for immediate repenting.

Tickell's claim that 4C will be the beginning of our extinction is again many times beyond wrong and misleading, and, of course, made with no data to back it up. Let us just take a look at the realistic impact of such a 4C temperature rise. For the Copenhagen Consensus, one of the lead economists of the IPCC, Professor Gary Yohe, did a survey of all the problems and all the benefits accruing from a temperature rise over this century of about approximately 4C. And yes, there will, of course, also be benefits: as temperatures rise, more people will die from heat, but fewer from cold; agricultural yields will decline in the tropics, but increase in the temperate zones, etc.

The model evaluates the impacts on agriculture, forestry, energy, water, unmanaged ecosystems, coastal zones, heat and cold deaths and disease. The bottom line is that benefits from global warming right now outweigh the costs (the benefit is about 0.25% of global GDP). Global warming will continue to be a net benefit until about 2070, when the damages will begin to outweigh the benefits, reaching a total damage cost equivalent to about 3.5% of GDP by 2300. This is simply not the end of humanity. If anything, global warming is a net benefit now; and even in three centuries, it will not be a challenge to our civilisation. Further, the IPCC expects the average person on earth to be 1,700% richer by the end of this century.

Tickell's hellfire and damnation sermon also misinforms us of the solutions to global warming: panicking is rarely the right state of mind for finding smart solutions. In essence, Tickell says that because the outlook is so frightening, we need to cut much, much more than the Kyoto protocol called for. Now, all peer-reviewed, published economic models demonstrate that such an effort is a colossal waste of money - one of the leading models shows that, for every pound spent, Tickell's solution would do about 13p-worth of good.

Tickell finds that current climate efforts like Kyoto have been "miserable failures", which is true, but makes it seem rather odd that he thinks much-more-of-the-same will suddenly be great policy. He claims that the reason these policies are not realised is because our governments are "craven to special interests". While this is convenient to believe, it is, of course, incorrect; the real reason is that no one in the electorate wants to pay œ2, œ3 or even œ4 for a litre of petrol.

If we are to find a workable and economically smart solution, we would do well to look at the best climate solution from the top economists from the Copenhagen Consensus. They found that, unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good, we should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy. This requires us to invest massively in energy research and development (R&D). Right now, we don't - because the climate panic makes us focus exclusively on cutting CO2.

R&D has been dropping worldwide since the early 1980s. If we increased this investment ten-fold, it would still be ten times cheaper than Kyoto, and probably hundreds to thousands of times cheaper than Tickell's proposal. The literature indicates that for every pound invested, we would do œ11-worth of good. The reason: because when we all talk about cutting CO2, we might get some well-meaning westerners to put up a few inefficient solar panels on their roof-tops. While it costs a lot, it will do little and have no impact on Chinese and Indian emissions. But if we focus on investing in making cheaper solar panels, they will become competitive sooner, making everyone, including the Chinese and Indians, switch.

Such a proposal is efficient, politically feasible and will actually fix climate change in the medium term. Being panicked by incorrect data and suggesting outlandish policies might create a splash, but it will stall our prospects of achieving real change. Let's not be silly - let's choose the best solution.


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