Monday, September 24, 2007

Letter to the editor: followup to landills and incineration

James A Gleeson was annoyed that I hadn't debunked his entire letter, so here goes.

James A. Gleeson complains that I didn't comment on the main element
of his letter about landfills and incineration. I commented on what I
considered the most important claim, that global warming was not at
all caused by human activity.

Mr Gleeson's says his main claim was a "revolutionary method of
cleaning" that can be applied to "power stations, industry and
incineration". From the details he mentioned I think he means a
material called "LSCF", and the recently published research by Prof
Ian Metcalfe and co. This material can be used to extract pure oxygen
from the air and can withstand high temperatures.

LSCF makes it easy to burn methane gas in pure oxygen, avoiding the
pollution that arise by burning it in nitrogen-rich air and producing
only carbon-dioxide and water. These can then be easily separated and
if we could find something to do with the carbon-dioxide, this would
make methane an incredibly clean fuel.

LSCF is not a magic bullet for industry or waste incineration. Its
benefits depend on the fact that methane is a very simple molecule,
containing only carbon and hydrogen. It would not have the same effect
when incinerating domestic or industrial waste as these produce a wide
variety of nasty pollutants even if burnt in pure oxygen.

As for recycling the carbon-dioxide, Prof Metcalfe himself points out
that it is much cheaper to just release it into the atmosphere and
that recycling would only be economical under a carbon credit system

On landfills, Mr Gleeson says that "the very same toxins and
chemicals, irrespective of world population, existed in a processed or
unprocessed state then, as now". This is simply not true.

We are burying toxins and chemicals in landfills now that do not occur
in nature. It is true that the materials from which these chemicals
are made have been around for billions of years but they were never
before combined in these ways.

To ignore how the materials have been processed and combined is to
ignore the difference between C-O2 and C-O (carbon-monoxide) or
between H2-0 (water) and H2-O2 (peroxide bleach). In both cases the
basic materials are the same but the difference is life or death.

Human-created landfills tend to be located close to large population
centres, so their toxins (natural and man-made) have a much greater
effect than those buried deep in the earth's crust.

Landfills and incineration are probably both necessary evils but far
better than either is to reduce the amount of waste we produce and
where that waste is unavoidable, to use materials which can be

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Letter to the editor: climate change science

James Gleeson's points about landfills and climate change do no stand
up to examination.

He claims that landfills are a natural phenomenon, citing bogs and
landslides as examples. Neither bogs nor landslides involve the
burying of masses of toxic and volatile chemicals with all the
resultant dangers and so the comparison is invalid.

He cites Dr Antonio Zichichi's comments this year, saying that he
pointed out that climate change is driven by natural phenomena. Dr
Zichichi is not a climate scientist but has published a paper pointing
out problems with current climate modelling. His paper is available
online and contains the following, emphasised in bold text: "it is not
possible to exclude that the observed phenomena may have natural
causes. It may be that man has little or nothing to do with it." Even
if Dr Zichichi is right (and all of the thousands of climate
scientists are wrong), he is simply saying that their methods are
wrong. His paper does not put forward any evidence that humans are not
actually to blame.

The claim that "Human activity has less than 10pc impact on
environment" also comes from Dr Zichichi. Consider that a few thousand
years ago there were vastly fewer humans on the planet and each one
had a far smaller impact than humans today. So in the blink of the
planet's eye we have gone from having almost zero impact to 10pc. This
is an enormous, unprecedented change. It's hard to imagine how this
could occur without a significant impact on the planet!

Mr Gleeosn also cites Dr David Bellamy's stance on global warming. Dr
Bellamy wrote to the Sunday Times on 2005 to say he had "decided to
draw back from the debate on global warming". Before that he made
incredible claims about the worlds glaciers in a letter to New
Scientist. When Guardian journalist George Monbiot pressed him for his
source material it turned out he'd seen the figures on a website run
by a climate sceptic, who in turn could not provide any source for
them. You can read the details at

The fact is that climate scientists are so sure about the human role
in climate change that the UN IPCC has been able to get their
conclusions accepted by countries such as the USA and Saudi Arabia who
have a vested interest in business as usual. That just would not be
possible if there was any serious doubt that we are to blame.

Update: Published with the Monbiot paragraph omitted.

Update: He wasn't happy with my reply so I had to reply again.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Pilger, Israel and the "coup" in Palestine

I'm seeing more and more about boycott Israel, including an article by John Pilger talking about how the boycott movement is picking up steam. The most interesting thing in the article was a reference to an article by Kathleen Christison, an ex-CIA analyst, and her explanation of the "civil-war"/"coup" in Palestine. I've only read a small bit of it so far but it seems to pin the blame on Elliott Abrams and the US.