‘We’ve had so many wins’: why the green movement can overcome climate crisis

 

 

The Guardian, 12 October 2020:

Leaflets printed on “rather grotty” blue paper. That is how Janet Alty will always remember one of the most successful environment campaigns of modern times: the movement to ban lead in petrol.

There were the leaflets she wrote to warn parents at school gates of the dangers, leaflets to persuade voters and politicians, leaflets to drown out the industry voices saying – falsely – there was nothing to worry about.

In the late 1970s, the UK was still poisoning the air with the deadly toxin, despite clear scientific evidence that breathing in lead-tainted air from car exhausts had an effect on development and intelligence. Recently returned from several years in the US, Alty was appalled. Lead had been phased out in the US from 1975. Why was the British government still subjecting children to clear harm?

Robin Russell-Jones asked the same question. A junior doctor, he quickly grasped the nature of the lead problem, moving his family out of London. His fellow campaigner, Robert Stephens, amassed a trove of thousands of scientific papers, keeping them in his garage when his office burned down – he suspected foul play.

Their campaign took years. But in 1983, a damning verdict from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution prompted the UK government to decree that both petrol stations and manufacturers must offer lead-free alternatives. Leaded petrol was finally removed from the last petrol pumps in the UK in 1999.

 

 

Will the Cop26 climate conference be a national embarrassment for Britain?

 

 

 

The Guardian, 7 September 2020:

If the government doesn’t get its act together soon, then Cop26, the UN climate change conference due to be held in Glasgow in November next year, could become a national humiliation for the UK and an environmental catastrophe for the rest of humanity.

One likes to imagine that the UK government is taking the climate emergency seriously, but that illusion has been shattered by the appointment of the former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as a UK trade adviser. Abbott has described global heating as “absolute crap”. One of his first actions after becoming prime minister of Australia was to abolish his own climate change advisory council, followed by a decision to scrap Australia’s carbon tax.

Global heating is starting to run out of control. At a time when the need for concerted international action is greater than ever, the international community is failing to reduce its carbon emissions. The Kyoto protocol was designed to curb global emissions of all greenhouse gases, but annual emissions have actually risen by more than 60% globally compared with 1990, the baseline year for the protocol. More carbon has been emitted as a result of human activity since 1990 than in all previous years since the start of the industrial revolution. By any standards, the Kyoto protocol has proven a spectacular failure, but the fault cannot be laid entirely at the door of the UN.

The main obstacles to progress have been the reluctance of fossil-fuel-dependent nations to change their business model, and the cynical strategy of disinformation launched by the fossil fuel industry, and secretly funded free-market thinktanks, notably the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Cop26 is probably our last opportunity to turn this situation around, but it won’t happen without a set of game-changing proposals from the organisers. Probably the most critical measure would be to introduce an effective global carbon tax. At the moment we have carbon trading schemes, but these are just a market mechanism for purchasing the right to emit carbon. It is cheaper for industry to pay for its emissions than to invest in greener technologies.

The most fair and equitable method of introducing a carbon tax is to set up a global carbon incentive fund, and to levy the tax on countries whose per capita emissions of carbon dioxide are above the global average. The fund would then disperse grants to countries whose per capita emissions are below the global average. The beauty of this scheme is that it penalises the richer nations for their profligate lifestyles, and it incentivises developing nations to avoid fossil fuels and to develop their energy infrastructure using low-carbon technologies.

For this strategy to work the price needs to be set at the right level initially, and then escalated rapidly. The UN has determined that carbon emissions have to fall by 7.6% each year over the coming decade if we are to have any chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C. The current carbon price on the European emissions trading system is just under €30 per tonne of carbon dioxide, so one proposal would be to set the starting price at $30, and then double the price every two years.

If that were introduced in 2022, the price would be $240 per tonne of CO2 by 2028. Before the fossil fuel industry emits ritual howls of protest, it needs to be remembered that Sweden already operates with a carbon tax of $123 per tonne of CO2, while the cost of air pollution to society, according to the IMF, is $140 per tonne of CO2.

The calculation for the amount of carbon needs to be made on the basis of consumption, not production. Many countries export a large volume of manufactured goods, so their territorial emissions are high, whereas the end consumer is based in another country. China, India and Russia, which together represent 40% of all carbon emissions, would benefit from using consumer-based emissions, whereas the US would lose out, but not as much as would the UK.

At $30 per tonne, the UK’s contribution would be more than three times larger: $7bn versus $2bn, reflecting the demise of the UK’s manufacturing base. However this is still less than half of the annual budget of the former Department for International Development. In addition, the UK started the industrial revolution and would have been responsible for virtually 100% of global carbon emissions in 1750. It is therefore entirely appropriate for the UK to lead the world in demanding a consumption-based carbon tax.

Calculating the figures should be straightforward, as the Global Carbon Project already produces annual consumption estimates. However, it does have limitations. The Global Carbon Project does not include other greenhouse gas emissions, and more importantly it does not estimate carbon dioxide emitted by changes in land use, such as deforestation, crop-burning, ploughing and so on. So there needs to be a supplementary tax that penalises environmentally irresponsible governments such as Brazil’s, which seems to regard trashing the planet as a political accolade.

The solutions are clear, but as host nation, Britain is in desperate need of a leader with vision and determination. The question is: can anybody identify anyone in Boris Johnson’s cabinet who might have the political will to carry this forward?

• Robin Russell-Jones is chair of Help Rescue the Planet and scientific adviser to the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution

Chronic effects of Air Pollution Begin Before Birth and are Life Long

The February 2020 edition of Air Pollution News, the newsletter published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution, published an article by Dr Robin Russell-Jones.

APPG Newsletter February 2020

Air Pollution is a global problem. 90% of the urban population worldwide are exposed to levels above the WHO guideline limit for small particulates (PM2.5) of 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of air (µg/m3). [1] Recent studies estimate that air pollution causes 8.8 million premature deaths globally, which represents 15.7% of all deaths. [2] This makes ambient air pollution the greatest preventable cause of death globally, bigger even than smoking at 7.2 million deaths.

The new estimate for mortality in the UK is 64,000 premature deaths annually. UK citizens lose on average 2.2 years of life due to a health hazard that is beyond their control. These latest estimates are based on 41 studies from 16 different countries. [3]

Excess mortality is only a small part of the total picture. A joint Royal Colleges report from 2016, based on 40,000 deaths annually, estimated that air pollution in the UK costs the economy £20 billion per annum, with mortality contributing only 8% of the total.[4] The rest relates to morbidity – in other words the chronic effects of air pollution which begin before birth, and persist throughout life. This review will examine some of these other effects.

“Air Pollution costs the economy £20 billion per annum, with mortality contributing only 8% of the total.”

Birth weight

Birth-weight is a critical measure. An analysis of 32 studies linking pregnancy outcomes with the level of small particulates (PM2.5) concluded that each increase of 10 µg/m3 in PM2.5 lowers birth-weight by 16 grams.[5] It is well known that smoking during pregnancy also lowers birth weight, but mothers have the option of stopping, and most do. Living in urban areas does not give pregnant women this option. In Central London pregnant women are exposed to a level of small particulates that will lower the birth weight of their baby by around 24 grams. It is the equivalent of passive smoking twenty four hours a day for 9 months.[6]

Levels of PM2.5 in the capital are below the annual EU limit of 25 µg/m3, but the health effects of small particulates are without threshold. The EU commission are currently reviewing the Ambient Air Quality Directive and are likely to lower the annual limit. In the US, the legal limit is 12 µg/m3, and 8 µg/m3 in Australia.

During the Olympic Games in 2008, the Chinese Government made every effort to reduce pollution levels in Beijing, notably by restricting vehicle access, and birth weight increased.[7] The maximum benefit (23 grams) was for women who were in the last trimester of their pregnancy during the Olympic Games – in other words the stage of pregnancy associated with maximum foetal growth.

Exposure in utero

Low birth weight is linked to a host of adverse outcomes in later life, including lower IQ. Evidence also exists for a direct impact of pollution during pregnancy. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are generated by any combustion process, so members of the public are exposed from activities such as smoking, cooking, domestic fires, and of course traffic, particularly diesel. Researchers in New York have reported that exposure to PAHs during pregnancy in non-smoking mothers is linked to developmental delay at 3 years;[8] an IQ reduction of 4-5 points at 5 years;[9] increased anxiety, depression and inattention at 6-7 years;[10] reduced surface white matter in the brain at 8 years;[11] and delayed self-regulatory behaviour that was most significant at 11 years.[12]

These observations have not yet been replicated in the UK. Even so the situation may be worse as diesel vehicles represent a much larger proportion of the UK car market than in the US. Since 2000 the proportion of new vehicles which run on diesel has increased from 14% of the new car market to almost 50%. Levels of Benzo-a-pyrene, the only PAH monitored in the EU, have increased by 52% at traffic monitoring sites since 2000.[13]

Effect on IQ

These observations have profound implications for public health and educational attainment. UK children and teenagers are currently suffering a mini epidemic of mental health problems which the medical profession are struggling to explain. Commentators have targeted social media, but the toxic impact of air pollution on developing brains is equally worthy of attention, and a vital area for further research.

Thus air pollution has also been linked with IQ deficits in teenagers and a recent London based study showed higher rates of depression amongst teenagers exposed to higher levels of air pollution.14,15 It could be argued that these associations are not causal, but intervention studies are compelling and cannot be dismissed so easily. For instance, a recent US study demonstrated an increase in the cognitive performance of school children when air filters were fitted to schools in Los Angeles.[16]

Dementia

There are also data showing that air pollution also impacts cognitive function in later life. A systematic review in 2016 identified 31 studies linking air pollution with cognitive decline: 15 in the Americas, 5 in Asia and 11 in Europe.[17] In 2017 a study of 2.2 million older adults living in Ontario showed that their chances of developing dementia increased the closer they lived to a major highway, indicating a dose-response relationship for traffic-derived pollution and dementia.[18] In 2018 a study of 75 GP practices in Greater London showed that the chances of developing dementia was linked to ambient levels of both PM2.5 and NO2.[19] The authors concluded that 14% of dementia cases in the UK are attributable to air pollution.

Measures needed

It is obvious that the UK Government should be doing more to mitigate these health effects.

HMG could increase the tax on diesel, introduce a diesel scrappage scheme, bring forward the phase-out date for fossil fuel vehicles from 2035 to 2030, and give councils the powers to identify and fine highly polluting vehicles at the roadside.[20] They should also introduce WHO limits by 2030 at the latest with a mandatory air quality standard for PM2.5 of 10 µg/m3, and an intermediate target of 12 µg/m3 by 2025.

Instead, DEFRA has produced a Clean Air Strategy which conspicuously fails to address the problem posed by diesel.[21] It contains a commitment to halve the number of people in the UK exposed to levels above the WHO limit for PM2.5 by 2025. This is not a standard. This is an aspiration that lacks any legal force

It is for these reasons that the UK needs a Clean Air Bill and a National Clean Air Agency tasked with responsibility for both indoor and outdoor air quality.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones is Scientific Advisor to the APPG on Air Pollution. He was previously Chair of CLEAR, The Campaign for Lead Free Air.

References

  1. Landrigan P et al. ‘The Lancet Commission on pollution and health.’ Lancet (2018); 391: 464-512
  2. Lelieveld et al. ‘Cardiovascular disease burden from ambient air pollution in Europe reassessed using novel hazard ratio functions.’ European Heart Journal, (May 2019); vol.40: 1590-96: https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehz135
  3. Burnett R et al. ‘Global estimates of mortality associated with long-term exposure to outdoor fine particulate matter.’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (2018); 115: 9592-9597 15
  4. Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health ,‘Every Breath We Take: The Lifelong Impact of Air Pollution’ (2016): https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impactair-pollution
  5. Sun X et al. ‘The association between birth weight and exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and its chemical constituents during pregnancy: a meta-analysis.’ Environ pollution (2015); 211: 38-47. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2015.12.022
  6. Smith R et al. ‘Impact of London’s road traffic air and noise pollution on birth weight: retrospective population based cohort study.’ BMJ (2017);359:j5299
  7. Rich D et al. ‘Differences in birth weight associated with the 2008 Beijing Olympics air pollution reduction: results from a natural experiment.‘ Environ Health Perspect (2015);123: 880-87
  8. Perera F et al. ‘Effect of prenatal exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on neurodevelopment in the first 3 years of life among inner-city children.’ Environ Health Perspect (2006); 114: 1287-1293’
  9. Perera F et al. ‘Prenatal airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon exposure and child IQ at age 5 years.’ Pediatrics (2009); 124: 195-202
  10. Perera F et al. Prenatal polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure and child behaviour at age 6-7 years. Environ Health Perspect (2012); 120: 921-926.
  11. Peterson B et al. ‘Effects of prenatal exposure to air pollutants (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) on the development of brain white matter, cognition, and behaviour in later childhood. ‘ JAMA Psychiatry (2015); 72: 531-40.
  12. Margolis A et al. ‘Longitudinal effects of prenatal exposure to air pollutants on self-regulatory capacities and social competence.‘ Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2016); 57: 851-60.
  13. European Environment Agency 2016 report. EEA report no 28/2016: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/airquality-in-europe-2016
  14. Wang P et al. ‘Socioeconomic disparities and sexual dimorphism in neurotoxic effects of ambient fine particles on youth IQ: A longitudinal analysis.’ PLOS ONE (2017); 12(12): e0188731. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188731
  15. Roberts S et al. ‘Exploration of NO2 and PM2.5 air pollution and mental health problems using high-resolution data in London-based children from a UK longitudinal cohort study.’ Psychiatric Research 2019; 272: 8-17.
  16. Gilraine M et al. ‘Air Filters, Pollution and Student Achievement.‘ EdWorking Paper No 20-188. (Jan 2020)
  17. Clifford A et al. Exposure to air pollution and cognitive functioning across the life course- A systematic literature review. Environ Research (2016); 147: 383-398.
  18. Chen H et al. ‘Living near major roads and the incidence of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis: a population-based cohort study.’ The Lancet (2017); 389:718-726.
  19. Carey I et al. ‘Are noise and air pollution related to the incidence of dementia? A cohort study in London England.’ BMJ Open (2018);8:e022404.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-022404
  20. Russell-Jones R. ‘Air pollution in the UK: better ways to solve the problem.’ BMJ (2017); 357:j2713 doi: 10.1136? bmj.j2713.
  21. DEFRA. Clean Air Strategy Published Jan 14. 2019. Ref PB14554. GOV.UK : https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/770715/clean-air-strategy-2019.pdf

 

The Gilgamesh Gene by Dr Robin Russell-Jones

gilgamesh-gene-web

What was it that initially separated us from other primates?
What was differe
nt about Homo sapiens 30,000 years ago that predicated our survival and the demise of our closest rivals, the Neanderthals?
Why are we obsessed with the notion that GDP is the only possible measure of progress?
If we are able to predict our own demise, why can we not do anything to stop it?

The Gilgamesh Gene is about the human condition, and in particular what it is in our make-up that has brought us, along with most other species on earth, to the brink of extinction. Ultimately it is a question about human psychology. The author draws on the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh to shed light on our predicament and offer a way out.

The epic is the oldest narrative in existence: it tells the story of a vainglorious king, Gilgamesh, who ruled the city of Uruk in Sumer about 2750 BC. He wished to leave a lasting memory of his feats by building great palaces out of cedar wood, killing the mythical guardian of the cedar forests so that he could “stamp his fame on the minds of men forever”. Dr Russell-Jones compares the different versions of the legend and traces their influence through Bronze Age civilisations to traditions that still dominate human thinking and world affairs today.

The Gilgamesh Gene incorporates the key scientific data that underlies the science of global warming, the decline of coral reefs, and the extreme vulnerability of ecosystems everywhere to global changes in the atmosphere and the oceans. His book is a warning that humanity’s demise is imminent, unless precautions are taken.

Pressure mounts over ‘suppression’ of UK fracking impacts report

theGuardian

The Guardian, 14 June 2016:

Pressure has been growing as the delay has lengthened. Letter-writers to the Guardian have called for publication, and a petition by pressure group 38 Degrees has more than 124,000 signatures.

Robin Russell-Jones, a long-time environmental activist who submitted scientific research to the report showing that methane emissions from fracking were worse than those of coal and that methane was rising because of fracking, wrote to the Guardian: “It would be highly embarrassing for the government if its dash for gas was found to be incompatible with our climate change commitments, agreed by the UN. Embarrassing unless the government accepted the scientific case and announced it was going to abandon fracking and invest in renewables.”

Green campaigners told the Guardian that further delay was indefensible.

“When it comes to fracking this government is about as transparent as a brick wall with no windows,” said Daisy Sands, head of energy at Greenpeace UK. “The impact of fracking on climate change is a major concern for many people. The prime minister who once promised ‘a revolution in transparency’ should release this report and give people a chance to make up their own minds.”

Vanessa Vine, of Frack-Free Sussex, who helped to organise protests against oil exploration in Balcombe, said: “It speaks volumes that this report is being withheld.”

A spokesperson for Decc said: “The Infrastructure Act clearly requires Government to consider the CCC report properly before responding, and that is what is happening. As such, if we had laid the CCC’s report before parliament as soon as we received it we would not have met our legal requirements. We are carefully looking at this report to ensure it is given the proper consideration it is due. It will be published as soon as that process is complete.”

The low price of oil will affect Middle East environmental efforts

Times of Oman, 7 March 2016:

There is a creeping, devastating problem that flows from the low price of oil and is potentially catastrophic for the Middle East: the effect on plans to mitigate climate change.

In 1989 a then young medical doctor, Dr Robin Russell-Jones, wrote an editorial for the Lancet entitled “Health in the Greenhouse” It concluded as follows :

“Any strategy to combat global warming must be conducted on a global scale and is bound to involve enormous investment in energy conservation, re-afforestation, renewable sources of energy and changing patterns of agriculture and transportation This approach will require a new agenda for world leaders, a new role for the United Nations Environmental Programme, and a new awareness of man’s fundamental reliance on the integrity of world ecosystems. The expense may be considerable, but the cost of doing nothing is incalculable.”

Twenty seven years later nothing much has changed except that annual emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, have risen by 60 per cent. Continue reading

Fracking : An English duck that will never fly

Times of Oman, 11 March 2016:

After reading the article by ‘The low price of oil will affect Middle East environmental efforts’ (March 7) by Richard Galustian last week on the impact on the environment of low oil prices, I felt compelled to raise another very important subject.

Fracking has aroused huge controversy in the UK, mainly in England, as there is a moratorium on fracking in Scotland and Wales. There is very little public support for fracking and virtually no local support with anti-fracking groups springing up wherever fracking companies apply for permission to drill.

Indeed to get the programme off the ground the UK government has taken away responsibility for permission to drill from the local councils and has had to offer generous tax incentives to fracking companies to make the industry financially viable. That was before the price of gas fell to one third of its peak value last year.  Continue reading

The pursuit of shale gas is another example of the Coalition’s betrayal of the environment

The Independent, 23 July 2013.

The decision by George Osborne to offer substantial tax breaks to fracking companies has not only infuriated environmentalists. It has caused despair amongst business leaders in the renewable and energy conservation sectors. Whilst fossil fuel companies seem to be the recipients of unending largesse, the government has been decidedly lukewarm towards the green economy and investment has fallen sharply over the past 2 years.

In defense of shale gas, the government claims that it is more fuel-efficient than burning coal, and can therefore be used as a transitional fuel on the way to a low carbon economy. However this argument is highly suspect, firstly because shale gas will last for at least 30 years once the infrastructure is in place, and second because shale gas (methane) is a potent greenhouse gas, twenty times more powerful than CO2 over a 100 year time frame.

Whilst  burning gas releases less CO2 per unit of energy than coal, this benefit is negated by releases of methane during the fracking process. Calculations published by Professor Tom Wigley in the journal  Climatic Change in 2011 show that unless fugitive emissions  of methane are kept below 2 per cent, then shale gas is no better than coal from a global warming perspective. In the US fugitive emissions have been running at around 7 per cent, and the fossil fuel industry has been strenuously resisting methane control legislation proposed by the EPA. This explains why shale gas in the US is cheap, but also means that America’s new energy mix is making climate change worse not better.

Debates about the importance of climate change usually generate more heat than light but there are 4 key facts that put the problem in perspective: First there is no reputable scientific journal that disputes the reality of climate change, nor of man’s contribution to it. Second there is no national scientific academy that diverges from this scientific consensus. Third virtually every government accepts that temperature rises need to be limited to 2 degrees centigrade in order to avoid irreversible climate change. Fourth levels of CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) in order to stay below the 2 degree barrier.

Currently levels are 400 ppm and are rising by 2-3 ppm per annum: so we cannot afford 30 years of shale gas as a transitional fuel.

Another way of looking at this paradigm is that we can only safely generate another 565 Gigatonnes(Gt) of CO2 and stay within the 2 degree threshold. The Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated that the proven reserves of coal gas and oil globally  amount to 2795 Gt, so unless we come up with an effective method of carbon capture, then 80 per cent of proven reserves need to stay below ground. This means writing off 27 trillion dollars in fossil fuel assets, and this simple calculation encapsulates the entire climate change problem.

Ten countries own 72 per cent of proven fossil fuel reserves worldwide, and these are also the countries that have proven most obstructive whenever the UN tries to impose national limits on emissions of CO2. Thus the US signed the Kyoto Protocol but George Bush refused to ratify it. In 2012 Canada withdrew from the Protocol in order to avoid an 8 billion dollar fine. Russia finally ratified in 2005 but has continued to argue against stricter limits, and Australia did not ratify until 2007. Other major players such as China and India are classified as developing countries and are not therefore bound by the Protocol at all ; nor do they wish to be. In effect CO2 emissions worldwide are largely uncontrolled by any international treaty, and as a result annual emissions of CO2 have increased by over 50 per cent compared with 1990, the baseline year for Kyoto.

In the UK emissions have reportedly fallen by 15 per cent, but this is not due to any effort by the Government on behalf of renewables or energy conservation; merely that the UK has exported most of its manufacturing base abroad to places like China. When this is taken into account, CO2 emissions in the UK have actually increased by 20 per cent since 1990.

It is extraordinary that the Coalition has not paid a higher price politically for its neglect of the environment and the Green economy. On smoking and alcohol pricing, the government’s determination to ignore the scientific data on behalf of big business is going to cost them dear: but exactly the same tactics have been used by lobbyists to steer the Treasury down the shale gas route. We have 5 times more fossil fuels in proven reserves than we can safely use, so why on earth is Shell drilling in the Arctic, why are oil companies seeking to develop unconventional sources such as shale gas,  and tar sands, and why are politicians subsidizing them in these lunatic ventures? One can only wonder at the scientific advice being offered to ministers, or perhaps their inability to understand it.

Too hot to handle

The Guardian, 5 April 1995:

Last week the international community met in Berlin to determine what further measures are needed to combat global warming. On Thursday it was announced that ozone depletion over the northern hemisphere has reached a record low due to high levels of chlorine monoxide and low temperatures in the stratosphere. These two issues are closely linked. They are both worsening atmospheric casualties of man’s industrial activities, and they are both preventable.

Indeed the CFCs that destroy ozone are also potent greenhouse gases. Warming of the lower atmosphere leads to cooling of the stratosphere, the formation of polar stratospheric clouds and accelerated ozone loss. To those who ask: “Which is the most important environmental issue?” They are both issues of critical importance to our Society.

However society’s response could not be more different. Whilst the causes and remedies for ozone depletion are widely recognised, there is an extraordinary reluctance to accept the implications of climate change.

Newspaper editors either ignore the issue altogether, or ask journalists such as Matt Ridley and Richard North who are making a career out of criticising the environmental movement and who write articles which seem unbelievably complacent about the effects of global warming.

The Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and the Today newspaper carried no coverage whatsoever. Only a brief mention appeared in the Daily Telegraph and nothing in the Times. However the Times had published a scientifically confused article by Matt Ridley (March 25), and a further piece on March 27 which cast doubt on the reliability of temperature measurements! The Independent had also published a fatuous article by its economic correspondent stating that the solution global warming was to ignore it, get rich and then pay for the consequences.  At least the Independent allowed the chairman of Friends of the Earth to reply (March 29).

Only the Guardian and the Financial Times demonstrated a coherent policy towards the issue. Several articles appeared in both papers, but perhaps the most surprising was an FT piece on the response of insurance companies to climate change (March 31). The world’s six largest storm catastrophes between 1987 and 1993 cost the insurance sector $36 billion in compensation. By setting premiums according to customer’s environmental record, the insurance companies hope to influence industrial practice in a way that governments seem unwilling to do. A further article on this theme appeared in the Sunday Telegraph: “Bank catch a chill on global warming”. How revealing that the most conservative of institutions should the ones to take global warming seriously.

During the four days that five newspapers could not find space for any mention of global warming ozone depletion, those same papers devoted 163 to pages to sport and an incredible 19 pages to the funeral of Ronnie Kray. Do people think that the burial of a malevolent old gangster from the East End is of greater importance than the integrity of the ecosystems that sustain life on this planet?