Archive for the ‘General election 2010’ Category

Climate change makes it on to the leaders’ debate agenda

April 23, 2010

There was a question about climate change during the second leaders’ debate for the UK general election.

Unfortunately, the question was a bit naff.  Essentially, it was “what have you done personally in the last 6 months to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions?”  I guess it was slightly more illuminating than “what’s your favourite colour?” but only just.

So what did they say?

Brown kicked off.  He’s only flown once during the election campaign, which hasn’t been 6 months.  He takes trains.  And he installed solar panels (I think he meant solar water heating).  More relevantly, he mentioned the climate change act and that he’s been working with Europe and the rest of the world to find global solutions to these issues.

Cameron started by saying that he had tried to get the Tory party to embrace environmental issues and pretty much acknowledged that this had failed.  He’s had insulation fitted.  And opposed the 3rd runway at Heathrow.

This question played into Cameron’s hands as he could talk about his own opinions without saying anything about his party. He also had to say nothing about some of his MP’s (and MP candidate’s) dodgy views on the science of climate change.  I was surprised that neither of the other leaders brought this up.

Clegg gets the train to Sheffield (unless he has lots of stuff for his kids). His more general point was that planes create lots of CO2 and that the taxing of flights needs to be looked at.  Because passengers are taxed, not flights, there is no incentive for efficiency in flight numbers.

Brown’s second comment focussed on changing the UK’s energy balance.  He spoke about  reducing our “addiction to oil” and aiming for 50% renewables by 2020, which would include nuclear.  He then questioned Clegg about his opposition to nuclear power and Cameron about his opposition to wind power.

Cameron didn’t really answer the question and mentioned his Green Deal, which apparently encourages efficiency.  Brown responded by saying that Labour had a similar scheme already.

Clegg answered Brown’s question by saying that he had no fundamental opposition to nuclear but thinks its very expensive, would take too long get online and might increase energy costs. Clegg would use the money earmarked to support the nuclear industry to start insulation schemes and support other types of renewable energy.

Personally, I’ve always thought nuclear makes sense from an emissions point of view but I’ve not really looked into the economics of it.  It seems to work for France.

After some more arguing about energy balance, Cameron said that Clegg’s policy of rejecting nuclear meant that there would be “power cuts by 2013″.  Well that just sounded a bit vague.

The debate went downhill from here.  Clegg took a swipe at Brown about his sidelining at Copenhagen and pointed out that Cameron’s decision to align himself with some questionable characters in the EU wouldn’t help with climate negotiations in Europe.

Cameron’s defence was a bit silly: he said that the Lisbon treaty only had 7 words on climate change (why would it have more? it’s a document about the functioning of the EU).  His justification for his EU grouping was even more daft.  It was essentially that the recently deceased Polish president had been in that grouping, Clegg and Brown had said nice things about him after his death so the whole grouping must be fine.  I don’t follow that logic.

If this is the only discussion of climate change at these debates then that’s a shame because I don’t think we really learnt much about what the 3 parties are proposing.

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Make science an issue

January 14, 2010

The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) last night hosted a debate between the science spokesmen of the three main parties: Lord Drayson (Lab), Adam Afriyie MP (Con) and Dr Evan Harris MP (LibDem).  Firstly, what a great development this is for science policy in this election year – science and engineering have a massive impact in the UK and any effort to “Make science an issue” has to be applauded.  The debate can still be viewed here.

Ok, what about the debate?  Well, the opening statements from Drayson and Afriyie did not fill me with confidence.  Afriyie wants to “get Britain working again” – to me, this sounded like he thinks science in this country is broken.  He probably didn’t mean that and was just mindlessly spouting a party slogan but it’s not how I would have kicked off if I was in his position.  Drayson started off by saying that there “have been no cuts” in the science budget.  I’m sure that most people relying on STFC funding (a topic that was brushed under the carpet in this debate) might find that like a kick in the teeth.  In this company, it was not hard for Harris to tower above his opponents on the scientific, as well as general political, issues at hand.

Given the topic of my previous blog post, I was keen to hear the panel’s views on the “Impact” agenda.  However, as seemed to be a problem with the debate format, the question (“What impact do you expect from government funded research?”) was a bit vague and the initial answer from Drayson was very fluffy.  Harris was negative with respect to the Impact Plan, espousing the merits of blue sky research with unknown impact.  Afriyie picked up the ball and gave more of an opinion on the impact debate and mirrored my own (and the research council’s) views that getting scientists to think about impact at the proposal stage is no bad thing but it should not be used to determine funding decisions.  However, when a question on private/public funding of science came up, Afriyie then seemed all for more applied research to close the “innovation gap” between top quality research and industrial output.

Afriyie later well and truly dropped the ball on the subject of Prof. Nutt.  His view seemed to be that ministers should be free to sack any “advisor” they have for any reason at all!  (This also missed the point, made by @SmallCasserole on the Twitter #scidebate feed, that Prof. Nutt was not a personal advisor; he was the head of a statutory body.)  Afriyie’s opinion seemed even more ridiculous as, in response to a previous question on scientific knowledge within the House of Commons, he had described his passion for evidence based policy.  This evidence can, presumably, be cherry picked from whichever advisor suits your opinion.

Libel reform also got a lot of support from all on the panel.  However, given that the question (as well as most of the momentum behind the libel reform campaign) came from Sense About Science, Afriyie’s assertion that he was making the libel reform case “very loudly within the Conservative Party” rang a little hollow after Zac Goldsmith’s pathetic hatchet job of Sense About Science in the Guardian’s CiF.

So, my conclusion from all this is that Drayson was keen to keep his head down; Harris is clearly a massive bonus for parliament even if his chances of becoming the next Science Minister are relatively slim; and that Afriyie veered from good (repaying student loans for graduates going into teaching, compulsory “science lessons” for all Conservative MPs) to catastrophic (Prof. Nutt, David Cameron’s “zeitgeist” being enough to increase donations to medical research charities).  But I am excited about this interaction between science and politics and really hope that this is widespread and continues all the way to the general election this year.


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