The Gilgamesh Gene by Dr Robin Russell-Jones


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


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?

How scandalous is the lead scandal?

Hans Eysenck book review in New Scientist, 14 April 1983:

Lead versus health, Edited by M.Rutter and R.Russell-Jones, Wiley, pp 379, £18.50
The lead scandal, By Des Wilson, Heinemann Educational, pp182, £12.50, pbk £3.95

Both these books deal with the question of whether low-level exposure to lead has important effects on behaviour and intelligence, and both come to a rather positive conclusion. Apart from these similarities they could not be more different.

Des Wilson is not a scientist but an activist; he is indeed, as is said in the book, “one of Britain’s most experienced and best-known campaigners on social issues”. The Lead Scandal is manifestly a propaganda effort, as the title suggests, and his presentation of the evidence is rather one-sided, as well as being emotional and full of accusations of scientists and politicians with whom he disagrees.

It is a very effective package, paperbacked with a threatening kind of picture on the cover: it has a subtitle (“The fight to save children from damage by lead in petrol”) which begs the question, and although it contains nothing but the truth, it certainly does not contain the whole truth.

Continue reading