‘Climate emails hacked by spies’

From today’s Independent.

A highly sophisticated hacking operation that led to the leaking of hundreds of emails from the Climatic Research Unit in East Anglia was probably carried out by a foreign intelligence agency, according to the Government's former chief scientist. Sir David King, who was Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser for seven years until 2007, said that the hacking and selective leaking of the unit's emails, going back 13 years, bore all the hallmarks of a co-ordinated intelligence operation – especially given their release just before the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

The coming Chinese century

There’s an astonishing piece by Mark ‘Six Degrees’ Lynas in the Guardian.

The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful “deal” so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.

China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait. The failure was “the inevitable result of rich countries refusing adequately and fairly to shoulder their overwhelming responsibility”, said Christian Aid. “Rich countries have bullied developing nations,” fumed Friends of the Earth International.

All very predictable, but the complete opposite of the truth.

Astonishing, if true. So what’s China’s game?

Why did China, in the words of a UK-based analyst who also spent hours in heads of state meetings, “not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets?” The analyst, who has attended climate conferences for more than 15 years, concludes that China wants to weaken the climate regulation regime now “in order to avoid the risk that it might be called on to be more ambitious in a few years’ time”.

This does not mean China is not serious about global warming. It is strong in both the wind and solar industries. But China’s growth, and growing global political and economic dominance, is based largely on cheap coal. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to.

What’s funny about this is that China is beginning to throw its weight about in a thoroughly American fashion. Looks like we all have some adjusting to do.

Another challenge for Obama

Sobering stuff from the Pew Research Center.

A recent Pew Research survey showing a sharp decline in the proportion of the public saying there is solid evidence of global warming has triggered considerable speculation about why these views are changing. The poll was released a day after 18 leading scientific organizations released a letter reaffirming what they see as scientific consensus on climate change.

The survey found 57% saying there is "solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades." In April 2008, 71% said there was solid evidence of global warming, and in 2006 and 2007, 77% expressed this view.

Why do fewer Americans believe the earth is warming? No single factor emerges from Pew Research Center surveys, but rather a range of possible explanations, including a sour economy and, perhaps, a cooler than normal summer in parts of the United States.

First, it is important to note that signs of a change in public opinion — on the environment generally and global warming more specifically — were evident long before Pew Research’s new survey. In March, Gallup’s annual environment survey found an increase in the percentage of Americans who say the seriousness of global warming is “generally exaggerated” — from 30% in 2006 to 41% this year. Similarly, Fox News found the percentage of registered voters saying they “believe global warming exists” has fallen from 82% in January 2007 to 69% in May of this year.

Pew Research surveys show that as economic concerns have surged, fewer people view the environment as a top policy priority. In our annual survey on the public’s policy agenda, just 41% rated protecting the environment as a top priority; just a year earlier, 56% rated it as a top priority. Yet other issues also were overshadowed as more people focused on the economy and jobs. There were sharp declines as well in the proportions rating dealing with illegal immigration (down 10 points), reducing health care costs (10 points) and reducing crime (eight points) as top priorities for the president and Congress.

Professor Mackay’s Illuminations

The classic visual PowerPoint cliche to indicate inspiration is to draw a light bulb over someone’s head. Physicist David Mackay’s inspired idea was that the humble light bulb would provide a graphic way of communicating to non-physicists the scale of the energy gap now facing our society.

We asked David to be the external assessor for our new Open University course on Energy Measurements at Home partly on the basis of his terrific book Sustainable Energy — without the hot air. But we had no idea then that he would be appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It’s clear that he made the video before he knew it either. Wonder how his political masters are getting on with such a clear thinker — and speaker. I suspect they are finding it, well, slightly uncomfortable. Speaking truth to power is generally not appreciated, and I can’t see Professor Mackay trimming to the wind. Someone once accused him of being against wind turbines. He replied: “I’m not against anything. But I am for arithmetic.”

Universal phone charger approved


A new mobile phone charger that will work with any handset has been approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations body.

Industry body the GSMA predicts that 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers are generated each year.

Currently most chargers are product or brand specific, so people tend to change them when they upgrade to a new phone.

However, the new energy-efficient chargers can be kept for much longer.

The GSMA also estimates that they will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6m tonnes.

About time too. Now for digital camera chargers…

Thanks to James Miller for spotting it.


One of my colleagues has estimated that our university department could save nearly £17,000 a year on toner if we all simply used a special font for our laser-printed documents. He’s probably right, but it sure brings on a tussle between one’s aesthetic sensibility and one’s environmental ‘conscience’. But maybe it’s not so bad in small sizes. Only one way to find out…

Greener cloud computing? I wonder

Energy consumption from data centers doubled between 2000 and 2005–from 0.5 percent to 1 percent of world total electricity consumption. That figure, which currently stands at around 1.5 percent, is expected to rise further. According to a study published in 2008 by the Uptime Institute, a datacenter consultancy based in Santa Fe, NM, it could quadruple by 2020.

“Having energy consumption go from one to three percent in five to ten years, if that goes on, we are in big trouble,” says Kenneth Brill, Uptime Institute executive director. Unless this growth is checked, greenhouse gas emissions will rise, and “the profitability of corporations will deteriorate dramatically,” he adds.

Hmmm… Not sure about the profitability angle, but the environmental issue is a real one. According to this report, Yahoo is now taking it seriously.

At any rate, its new datacentre near Buffalo, NY, includes buildings oriented to take advantage of the breeze coming off Lake Erie, with cupolas to vent hot air from racks of servers. Operators only have to switch on air-conditioning when outside temperature rises above 27 degrees.

GM’s Volt: cost-benefit analysis

GM is claiming that its forthcoming electric car, the Volt, will do 230 mpg. Amazing, if true. But it will cost $40,000. Writing in The Atlantic, Daniel Indiviglio reported on some calculations to see how long he’d have to drive a Toyota Corolla before he’d have recouped the purchase price of the Volt.

The price difference in 2011 between the Volt and Corolla should be approximately $24,189. Next, I figured out how much it would cost to drive a mile in each car. That’s around 11.9 cents per mile for the Corolla and 1.3 cents per mile for the Volt. Thus, it’s around 10.6 cents more expensive per mile to drive the Corolla.

From this point, it’s pretty simple. Just divide the price difference by how much more per mile it costs to drive the Corolla. That tells us that you would need to drive the Volt approximately 229,000 miles before you break even for paying more to buy it.

Clearly, my methodology takes a few short cuts. Each year you drive the Volt, the price of gasoline may continue to increase. So the number would likely be a little less. For example, if you assume $4 per gallon, then you’d need to drive around 177,000 miles to break even.

There’s a little more help that Volt drivers will get — from Uncle Sam. There will be a government rebate of $7,500 available when you buy a Volt. That lowers its potential price tag to $32,500, reducing the difference in 2011 prices between the Volt and Corolla to $16,689. As a result, you would need to drive approximately 158,000 miles to break even, based on my other original assumptions.

158,000 miles is still a lot. Unless the price of gas truly skyrockets well past the $3 level after 2011, then the argument for purchasing a Volt will remain based more on environmental ethics than economics. That is unless you drive cars for a really, really long time.