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Archive for November, 2009

let’s get UCL to sign up to 10:10

By Jon Agar, on 29 November 2009

How do we do something about climate change? At international level, progress is as slow as treacle – although we are waiting to see what might happen at Copenhagen. On an individual scale it seems that small steps are not enough. It’s easy to be despondent.

Which is why Franny Armstrong’s 10: 10 campaign is a breath of fresh air. The idea is that you sign up and commit to a 10% cut in carbon emissions in 2010. The clever bit is that the ‘you’ can be an individual, a business, or an organisation of any scale. And if enough ‘yous’ join in then we – the whole country – can achieve a ten percent cut.

As the 10:10 campaigners say: “By signing up to a 10% target we’re not just supporting 10:10 – we’re making it happen. In our homes, in our workplaces, our schools and our hospitals, our galleries and football clubs and universities, we’ll be backing each other up as we take the first steps on the road to becoming a zero-carbon society. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a huge problem like climate change, but by uniting everyone behind immediate, effective and achievable action, 10:10 enables all of us to make a meaningful difference.”

So let’s try to get UCL to sign up!

The roll call of people, businesses and organisations that have signed up to 10:10 is impressive. There are lots of good reasons why UCL should join: UCL is a beacon of public engagement, UCL would be the first 10:10 university and therefore be exemplifying its own commitment to global citizenship by taking a lead, and the 10:10 campaign’s HQ is in Camden and therefore on our doorstep.

Comment below if you want to join the ‘Let’s get UCL to sign up to 10:10’ campaign.

Let’s think of next steps too.

when should science dictate politics?

By Jon Agar, on 2 November 2009

Two frontpage headline stories in today’s Guardian catch the eye. The bigger headline is ‘Drug experts in mass revolt over sacking’. The smaller one is ‘World leaders accused of myopia over climate deal’

Both report controversies over the proper relationship of scientific evidence to political action. In the first story, two experts have resigned from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs following the sacking from the same body of Professor David Nutt by the home secretary, Alan Johnson. Nutt was angered by the fact that decisions on the classification of drugs did not follow the evidence of harm presented by the Advisory Council. When Nutt publicly quarrelled with the decisions he was asked to go.  “You cannot have a chief adviser at the same time stepping into the public field and campaigning against government decisions”, said Johnson, “You can do one or the other, but not both”.

In the second story, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which collates and channels scientific advise on global warming, accused politicians of “political myopia”: “I gave all the world’s leaders a very grim view of what the science tells us and that is what should be motivating us all, but I’m afraid I don’t see to much evidence of that at the current stage”.

Why do I feel Nutt is wrong and Pachauri is right, when both complain that politicians are not following a clearly expressed scientific consensus?

In the drugs case, there is a clear distinction between science and politics. I think it is absolutely right that the advisers present their scientific findings and then the home secretary can take a decision on classification that is contrary. The decision is a political one. It would help if the definitions of what the classifications (class A, class B etc) are were clearly political rather than partly physiological, but that is another matter. I don’t believe that the scientific consensus has not been fairly considered, it’s just that the political factors (for example not upsetting the editor of the Daily Mail by appearing to be soft on drugs) are more important. However, Johnson is in the wrong to complain that independent academic scientists, especially those who are privileged to be able to offer direct advice, should not also speak publicly. His reaction was a hot-headed misfire – a worrying one from a politician I had previously identified as future prime minister material. I wouldn’t like to see such decisions made in the heat of anger if the question was whether to declare war or not… 

In the global warming case, I don’t think that many of the world’s politicians are fairly considering the scientific consensus. Therefore, in this critical period in the run up to Copenhagen, Pachauri is entirely justified in speaking out.