The Purpose of Surveillance

It is odd how things change. In the 1970s I visited the United States of America. The security checks were friendly and the people at immigration were polite and generally helpful. Of course, the security was not one hundred percent; I was on one flight in which the crew had captured a person who wanted to hi-jack the plane and locked him in the lavatory while the plane proceeded normally to its destination, without fuss and without a plethora of armed intervention when we arrived at our destination. Continue reading

Striving for Perfection

There are many ways that humans can be oppressed; the means of oppression are threats to survival, poverty, threats to freedom and corruption and these threats in all societies are present, but as societies become more prosperous the risk of each threat changes. Continue reading

A little good news for a change

It is not always possible to report good environmental news; little of it exists. Environmentalists of needs must be moaners and doom and gloom merchants trying tp prevent people from dealing in the destruction of what we all need to enjoy life. Continue reading

Brazil’s proposed dam at Belo Monte

Brazil has been thinking of building a dam across a northern tributary of the Amazon on the Xingu River, close to a place called Belo Monte and also close to where the Jurinia people of Paquicamba live. There has been a tortuous legal process which has been followed in Brazil but now the appeals have resulted in permission for building the dam to be given. It will be the third largest dam in the world and may be no more successful than any other dam. Continue reading

Does anyone want 1400 tonnes of toxic rubbish?

Sometimes the reporting media of the United Kingdom puts an unconscious spin on a news event which attempts to make the best of a bad job. One example is “the UK is working with Brazilian authorities to return more than 1,400 tonnes of toxic waste to Britain”. This was a quotation by an official employed by the Environment Agency about some ninety containers full of all kinds of rubbish that householders in some parts of the United Kingdom had carefully segregated and separated as required by their municipal authorities in the belief that it would be recycled and rendered harmless. Continue reading

The Minister for Energy and Climate Changes speaks

“The rich world must act first, but that won’t stop dangerous climate change unless we help the poorest countries to act too.” This was what Mr Ed Miliband said last week. You will remember that Mr Miliband, a gentleman who studied politics, economics and philosophy at university and has spent his working life in politics (apart from a brief early foray in journalism), is the Minister in Charge of the Department of Energy & Climate Change. Continue reading

Brazil and its forests which serve us all

Step by step, and taking very small steps, Brazil is planning to end its practice of permitting more trees to be cut down than are grown each year, and it plans so to do by 2015. Brazil will be trying to end illegal logging and consult on a national plan how its forests should be managed.

In some ways the plan will not make too much difference as it is based around planting more trees than are cut down, but cutting a large old tree creates more emissions, especially if the tree is burnt, than the immediate effect of planting a small new tree.

Deforestation in Brazil creates three quarters of its greenhouse gas emissions. Brazil has not signed up to Kyoto and has no targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

Trees are a national resource for Brazil and they have them in abundance. They exploit them for their own economic benefit. This enables some people to prosper, others to earn wages to feed themselves and their families and for the country to attempt to develop itself into a wealthy country, like perhaps England, whose large deciduous forests were cut down five or six hundred years ago.

But development in the tropical rain forest causes damage to the local eco systems and to the people who live in the Brazilian forests. There are more species of plants and animals in any single hectare of tropical rain forest than there are in the whole of the United States and Canada.

Trees are also an international resource, holding huge stores of carbon and creating in places like Brazil an incredible variety of life forms many of which are used to improve human health and cure or alleviate illness. They should be preserved, because preserving them creates benefits for the whole of humanity, not least in helping the problem of climate change.

And that is why it must be right for the rest of humanity to help Brazil preserve these trees and forests without losing the economic benefits of the. The only way to do this is for the rest of humanity to make it more valuable for Brazil (and the other nations with large areas of forests) to preserve and enhance their forests, rather than crop them and turn them into temporary farmland. Providing such an incentive would not cost the world much, and may well be an important factor in saving it.

Biofuels and biocrops; their cause and effects

Five years ago most environmentalists thought that biofuels were unconditionally good. If you grew your own fuel, the reasoning went, you could grow an infinite supply and the carbon emitted when the food was burnt as fuel would be recycled by being soaked up again into the structures of new growing biocrops. Continue reading

Increasing energy prices – why they will rise and rise and what we can do about it

Natural gas and electricity prices will get higher. British Gas increased electricity and gas bills by an average of 15% this January and is now signalling further large price increases. It claims that its profits have been hit by a 92% increase in the wholesale price of gas in the past twelve months and therefore it will need to increase its prices to ensure that it does not lose money.

All of the energy supply companies in the UK are in the same position as British Gas. Electricity and gas are still cheap for consumers in the UK. Heating oil is now around 60p a litre, which in kWh terms must be the most expensive ever. Continue reading

Biofuels in Brazil and the environmental cost of them

In Brazil people are talking about biofuels.  Biofuels were hailed as the solution to fossil fuel carbon emissions, rather like biomass is in the United Kingdom today. Brazil produces large quantities of biofuel, mainly from sugar cane, which is turned into ethanol. This is pumped from what used to be petrol pumps and propels transport all over Brazil. 

Of course there is no free lunch in energy, and the complexities of life on earth means that the biofuel panacea turned into a biofuel poison. Continue reading