A sad song of ice and fire


The Observer, 30 August 2020:

Global warming is worse than portrayed by Robin McKie (“Revealed: Earth loses trillion tonnes of ice in less than 30 years”, News). Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center estimates that the world has warmed by just over 1C since 1880, but temperatures are higher over land than water. Thus Europe has warmed by 2C, and the Arctic by more than 3C.

Loss of ice leads to loss of reflectivity, which aggravates the warming, but wildfires in the Arctic are also dirtying the snow, which increases heat absorption. This can only end badly. Melting of the permafrost has the potential to double the amount of methane in the atmosphere. If the Arctic seabed starts to give up the vast amount of methane stored as clathrates, global warming will become irreversible and it is game over for human civilisation. Politicians seem transfixed by this unfolding tragedy. Their latest excuse is the pandemic, but they have done almost nothing over the past 30 years. The Kyoto protocol was designed to reduce carbon emissions but since 1990, the baseline year for Kyoto, annual emissions have increased by 50% globally. The UK is hosting COP26 (the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) next year. We can only pray that the government recognises the awesome responsibility it carries.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
chair Help Rescue the Planet,
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Act now on air pollution



The Observer, 2 January 2020:

Local authorities should be congratulated for banning vehicles from city centres (“Is this the end of the road for cars in Britain’s cities?”, Focus). Diesel vehicles are a particular problem as they generate ultra-fine particles, which are the most dangerous biologically. It had been assumed that diesel emissions would become less of a problem with the introduction of stricter emission standards, but recent testing has shown that diesel filters emit a huge number of ultra-fine particles when the filter is automatically decoked every 300 miles. Pressure from car manufacturers has ensured that these emissions are not included in EU vehicle emission tests.

Evidence as to the health impact of air pollution is also accumulating. A recent study showed that academic performance improved after air filters were fitted to schools in Los Angeles, providing key evidence of a causal link. After Brexit we will no longer be protected by EU air quality standards, and the government’s forthcoming environment bill is a poor substitute for EU law. We urgently need a new clean air act, and a national clean air agency to enforce it.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, scientific adviser, all-party parliamentary groups
Geraint Davies MP, chair, all-party parliamentary group on air pollution
House of Commons, London W1A

More renewables please


The Observer, 27 January 2019:

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must take most of the blame for our terminally confused energy policy (“The Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy now lies in ruins”, Leader). In February 2018, the government stated in its 25-year plan for the environment: “We will take all possible action to mitigate climate change while adapting to reduce its impact”, while the BEIS was promoting the use of fossil fuels through the development of a domestic shale gas industry.

The government has also scrapped its carbon capture research programme and abandoned zero-carbon homes. Since February last year, Claire Perry, the minister responsible for renewables, has ditched the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay, discontinued the feed-in tariff for solar power and reduced the subsidy for electric vehicles.

Your leader doubts the ability of renewables to power the UK, but that is precisely what is required by the Paris agreement and our 2008 Climate Change Act. Decarbonisation would happen much quicker if the government removed the obstacles it has placed in the way of onshore wind and reversed its current energy policy.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Frack and ruin


The Observer, 14 October 2018:

Why is it so difficult for the Observer to make up its mind about fracking (“Fracking fissures obscure the need to embrace green technologies”, leader)? Shale gas is a climate-changing fossil fuel, yet you claim the environmental impact of fracking is “unproved”.

It is true that gas produces less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than coal, but this is offset by the rapid rise in atmospheric methane largely attributable to increased gas production globally and the cavalier attitude to fracking in North America.

The second problem is timing. It has taken seven years for Cuadrilla to resume drilling and it will probably take another 10 to 15 before gas is being produced in commercial quantities and even that will depend on government support. So shale gas will come on stream at the same time as the UK is scheduled to decarbonise its electricity supply; in other words it will be displacing renewables, not replacing coal.

Fracking is being foisted on local communities by a business-friendly, environmentally illiterate government.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Climate change – the Brexit threat


The Observer, 9 September 2018:

There is a tacky interface between industry and government when it comes to public health or the environment, and it is abundantly clear that Brexit is fatally shifting the balance towards deregulation (“Green watchdog will lack bite after Brexit”, News).

It is no coincidence that the most prominent Brexiters are also climate change deniers because they perceive climate change legislation as a major threat to industrial profit. This is the reason that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was dissolved, the reason that climate change has been omitted from the remit of the government’s new green watchdog, and the reason that Brexiters fulminate against the Climate Change Act.

The ruinous aspect of their delusion is that climate change offers huge opportunities to UK businesses that invest in energy efficiency, clean energy or ultra-low emission transport, as these new technologies can then be exported, something that Brexiters are apparently keen to promote. Instead, the government has scrapped zero-carbon buildings, abandoned the tidal barrage in Swansea Bay and frozen the fuel escalator, thus encouraging the rapid growth of diesel vehicles.

The chancellor boasted that this had saved motorists £47bn over the past seven years. Unfortunately, air pollution has cost the NHS £140bn over the same period and 280,000 premature deaths. How tragic that Brexit generates politicians of such limited vision who can only look backwards.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

It’s not rocket science


The Observer, 5 August 2018:

Global warming is not that complex and many of the solutions are readily available (“Our scorched Earth needs voters to put more heat on their politicians”, Andrew Rawnsley, Comment). The problem is scientifically illiterate politicians who assume that decisions can be postponed indefinitely.

They are now engaged in a deadly folie à deux with car manufacturers or energy company executives who argue that they cannot make the necessary investments in green technology without the right signals from government, while politicians argue that matters can be left to the free market, a position that is formulated after intensive lobbying by those same companies.

The media are guilty of the same self-defeating logic. Little attention is devoted to air pollution or climate change on the grounds that the public appears uninterested in environmental issues.

Journalists should recall that the Greens achieved 15% of the vote in the EU elections of 1989 when ozone depletion hit the headlines. The dangers from climate change are immeasurably worse and it is time the media got their act together.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones, chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Marlow, Bucks

Silence on climate change




The Observer, 27 November 2016:

The key element missing from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the emotional force of Trump’s campaign, plus any hope for the future of the planet (“The shock lessons for liberals from Brexit and the Trumpquake”, Comment). Thanks to TV programmes about the natural world, of which Planet Earth II is a shining example, the public is well aware of the dangers of global warming, even if David Attenborough is prohibited by the BBC from uttering the words “climate change”.

In the same vein, global warming did not feature in the Brexit debate or the US presidential election, even though Trump’s position – that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese – is absurd. Although Trump is a major climate change denier, most politicians, like much of the media, are in the minor denial camp. They take the view that it is happening, but now is not the time to deal with it as it is going to upset voters or persuade viewers to switch off.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Chair, Help Rescue the Planet
Stoke Poges


Gagging scientists isn’t new

The Observer, 28 February 2016:

I am not the least surprised to learn that the Cabinet Office is seeking to censor scientists who unearth findings that might prove inconvenient or embarrassing to  Government Ministers (Scientists alarmed at bid to “muzzle” their findings.Feb 21). These same strictures have applied to members of the medical profession for at least 10 years. Hospital doctors are not permitted to comment on NHS policy as a representative of the Trust by whom they are employed; instead they are obliged to write in a private capacity and even then they may not be immune from censure, which is why many letters from consultants are anonymous.

In 2003 I wrote an op-ed piece for the Times which stated “The NHS is the last refuge of Stalinist practices in the West. It has a central command and control structure whereby politically inspired initiatives filter to front-line medical staff through layers of managers and bureaucrats, most of whom have no medical qualifications”.  The Times put my hospital, St Thomas’, at the end of the article and it wasn’t long before I was called in by management and told in no uncertain terms that any repeat of this episode would lead to  disciplinary action. Scientists can express their views. They just need to be careful about their affiliation.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire



Stop Making diesel cars and pedestrianise town centres

The Observer, 24 January 2016 (text in bold not published):

Your headline about  air quality illustrates the abject failure of the Government to control pollution levels nationally (Shock figures to reveal deadly toll of global air pollution Jan 17)).

Last March the Supreme Court required the Government to produce an action plan, but nothing much has been forthcoming apart from extending low emission zones. Laboratory measurements of NOx pollution from cars bears so little relationship to emissions on the road that some cars emit more pollution than lorries, so it is hardly surprising that banning lorries from city centres has proven ineffective Furthermore studies on children’s lung function published in the Lancet recently has  demonstrated that the government’s low emission strategy is of no benefit to children’s health, so why does it insist on pursuing a failed policy?

The only rational response is to stop producing diesel cars and to limit access to city centres for all diesel-powered vehicles. Instead London’s mayor Boris Johnson capitulated over  emissions from old  diesel taxis under pressure from London cabbies.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire

The planet will lose every time that business calls the shots

The Observer, 10 Jan 16:

Surprisingly, your article on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) fails to mention the environment. (A deal for freer trade or corporate greed? Here’s the truth about TTIP Jan 3) The independent UK committee on climate change supports fracking in the UK, but its Chair, Lord Deben has also stated that his committee would not hesitate to ban fracking if the UK was unable to meet its climate change commitments.

So imagine a scenario in 2030 whereby several US or European-based companies are extracting shale gas and/or shale oil in the UK, and Lord Deben’s committee announced that further extraction was incompatible with the UK’s Climate Change Act which requires an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. I have no doubt that those same companies would sue the British Government under the terms of TTIP, and the result would either be massive compensation or repeal of the Climate Change Act.

It needs to be remembered that the World Trade Organisation has the power to impose punitive fines on governments  as well as other public institutions. By contrast all the climate change agreements reached post-Paris are voluntary, and there  is no equivalent body to enforce environmental standards. Disputes will be held in secret without any environmental representation, so the planet will lose out every time.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges,Buckinghamshire