Monday, 9 September 2013


Back in December 2007:
Arctic summers ice-free 'by 2013'
Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.
Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.
And now that we have reached 2013?
There has been a 60 per cent increase in the amount of ocean covered with ice compared to this time last year, they equivalent of almost a million square miles.
In a rebound from 2012's record low an unbroken ice sheet more than half the size of Europe already stretches from the Canadian islands to Russia's northern shores, days before the annual re-freeze is even set to begin.
The Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific has remained blocked by pack-ice all year, forcing some ships to change their routes.
A leaked report to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seen by the Mail on Sunday, has led some scientists to claim that the world is heading for a period of cooling that will not end until the middle of this century.
Yes, all hail the new mantra... we are at risk from Global Cooling.  Let me guess, this can be solved by a range of government initiatives funded by new green taxes which will involve a huge expansion of State spending and impose a range of restrictions on businesses - and the time to act is now!

More seriously, what we have just seen is called, in technical terms, an "experiment".  We set out a "hypothesis", i.e.  that the computer models are accurate predictors of future climatic trends, from that we obtain a "prediction", i.e. that northern polar waters would be ice-free in summer by 2013, and now we have observed a "result", that they are anything but.  So we reach a "conclusion", which is that the hypothesis is false, i.e. that the 2007 modelling studies were "wrong".  Those would be the modelling studies based on science that was settled, presumably?  In which case that science is "wrong".

Apologies for the technical scientific terms in that paragraph, I've put them in quotes so that you can spot them.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Muddling through a conflict - again

I find issues of foreign intervention very difficult to call.

On the one hand, there are clearly appalling things being done in Syria, and I feel sympathy for the desire to "do something" (although I fear the politician's syllogism). On the other hand, I completely see the argument that asks what - exactly - does this have to do with us, or (to put it another way) who appointed us as the judge, jury, and (quite possibly) executioner?  There is also a very practical question arising from the sheer number of nasty things of various types happening all over the world which we are wilfully ignoring.  Egypt and North Korea spring to mind without any real difficulty, I am sure there are others.

What confuses me, though, is why we have this debate again and again, and always in the heat of the moment.  It's a little late to ask for this, I realise, but what we should surely be doing is to have a parliamentary debate while things are quiet, and discuss the philosophical issues around foreign interventions, and set a stance which the UK will then hold to.  That stance could then be the official policy of the UK Government, and when a situation like the Syrian one arises, we could focus on the issues of proof (did Syria actually use chemical weapons?) rather than the philosophical ones.

The policy could be something like:

 "Internal conflicts will, by and large, not be our concern because there are too many of them. So, we will not intervene unless:
  • there is a UN decision to intervene
  • there is proven use of any weapons or tactics on a specific list that we will publish 
  • that the conflict affects UK interests in relation to [specific list, say food, essential imports (i.e. oil), British citizens abroad, UK security, etc] 
  • that the conflict affects the physical borders of any of our [listed] allies and that ally asks for our help or is unable to ask for our help but clearly needs it 
But that if the conflict meets one or more of these criteria then we will intervene as quickly and as forcefully as we are able." 

But that's just my rough first draft, off the top of my head. I'm not especially advocating that particular set of words, the point is more that if we had  a published statement of when we would intervene, rather than always making it up as we go along, then there could be an open debate on the issues of principle, we could act quickly when something does happen, and - who knows - if it became widespread then nasty regimes might think twice about using chemical weapons or the like.