Branson – self publicist or eco-warrior?

George Monbiot talking nonsense again.  Only, today, it’s rather grandiose nonsense.

So now we know: Richard Branson doesn’t read the Guardian. On Thursday, it published an extract from my book showing that there are no foreseeable substitutes for aviation fuel (kerosene) that don’t currently cause more harm than good. A few hours later, Branson announced that he would be investing £1.6bn in technologies intended to reduce climate change. First among them would be alternative fuels for aircraft.

He singled out biofuels as a promising opportunity. While pure biodiesel can be used to run a car engine, it cannot be used in jet planes at a higher concentration than roughly 10%. This is because its “cloud point” is much higher than kerosene’s.

As I posted in the comments to George’s article, I couldn’t discuss the science of aviation fuel with either George or Richard – at least, not without looking rather unintelligent.  But I think I can safely say that, if Richard Branson is investing £1.6 billion in the research, he’s got something interesting in mind.

And what’s this about?

Now it could be that Branson’s money will help develop a new source of biofuel – algae grown in ponds in the desert for example, or waste products from crops and forestry. If so, that’s something we should welcome, while remembering that it can’t comprise more than 10% of his fleet’s fuel. The problem is that we need to cut carbon emissions by 87% by 2030 in every sector – aviation included – and there’s no conceivable way in which a change of fuel could do this, especially if the number of flights keeps growing.

Monbiot’s condemning Branson because the carbon emissions he may save from cutting aircraft emissions won’t be enough to save the entire world? 

Give the guy a break.  One man can only do so much…!

Does the moon rotate? Not in British Primary Schools.

According to a book that was released a couple of years ago to explain science to Primary School teachers, the moon doesn’t spin on its axis:

The Moon is only about one-quarter of the size of Earth. It does not spin on its axis so it keeps the same face towards the Sun at all times.

Good to see the kids are in safe hands.

(Thanks to Ansible Link, for the tip.  Anyone who wants to know exactly how the moon does rotate, should read this).

Art: Sit naked and hug a dead pig for four hours

Is it art, or is it a woman hugging a dead pig for publicity:

Kira O’Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig – at the taxpayer’s expense.

The controversial Irish performance artist will invite one person at a time to watch her sit in a specially-constructed set and perform a ‘crushing slow dance’ with the carcass in her arms.

She claims the bizarre exhibition is an attempt to ‘identify’ with the pig, which she cuts with a knife during the show.

I tend towards thinking it’s all about the self-publicity myself.  But then I’m somewhat cynical.
Steve at Outside the Beltway seems to think much the same.  He has, however, put his thinking cap on and come up with a suggestion as to how Kira could really learn how to identifying with the dead pig:

My first thought upon reading that was, “Wouldn’t she identify better with the pig if she were butchered in a similar manner?” Now that would be an example of one willing to go the distance for one’s art.

I can’t fault the logic of Steve’s suggestion.

Personally, though, I’d prefer if she tried to identify with a live pig.  Perhaps she could visit a petting farm.

Pink snow in Siberia

The snow in Siberia this week was pink:

Experts at the local meteorology centre said sand from neighboring Mongolia was to blame for this unusual natural phenomenon.  Before it arrived in Maritime, the cyclone passed Mongolia, where sand storms had been raging in the desert.

Reminds me of one of the few occasions it snowed in my home town of Bridgwater, England.  When I got home from my walk in the snow, my socks had turned pink.  Clearly also the result of Mongolian cyclones.

Four things

Yep, I’ve been tagged to do another of those ‘revealing’ meme things – this time by both Tim Newman and Sean Guillory. So here goes:

Four jobs I’ve had

  • Mushroom sorter in a mushroom factory
  • Traffic light salesman
  • Post room assistant
  • Medical policy officer

Plus many many others that I’m far too embarrassed to admit to.

Four movies I can watch over and over

  • Star Wars (the original one)
  • The Princess Bride
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • Field of Dreams

Four places I’ve lived

  • Ottawa, Canada
  • Seattle, USA
  • Irkutsk, Russia
  • London, England

Four tv shows I like

  • The West Wing
  • Northern Exposure
  • Quantum Leap
  • Doctor Who

All of which I tend to watch on dvd rather than tv these days.

Four places I’ve vacationed

  • Venice
  • Crete
  • Mongolia
  • Wales

Four of my favourite dishes

  • Gnocchi
  • Pelmeni in mayonnaise
  • Beans on toast
  • My girlfriend’s Thai curries

Four sites I visit daily

Four books I’ve read this year

Four bloggers I’m going to tag with this

OK, that’s it. We’re done. Back to business.

Sweden to go become the greenest of the green

While this Swedish initiative is definitely one to watch, it’s not quite as innovative and daring as it sounds:

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years – without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises.

For starters, Sweden is the kind of country that has oodles of potential to develop green energy – lots of coastline, mountains, lakes, wind, that sort of thing.  The article goes on to note that Sweden already takes 26% of its energy from green sources, as opposed to an EU average of 6%.

And lets not forget, Sweden already has plenty of nuclear power stations.  Although they say they won’t build any new stations, I doubt they’ll be taking down the old ones just yet either.

Finally, the article interestingly neglects to mention whether any use will be made of gas.  I’d put natural gas in the unrenewable category, but I wonder if it will slip into another category if the going gets tough.

Still, an initiative to be applauded, and one sure to be watched closely by every other developed country, including the United States, following George Bush’s recent statement that he plans to wean the world’s largest energy consumer off Middle Eastern oil over the next couple of decades.

Oh, and in case you were curious – Britain has pledged to produced the grand total of 10% of its electricity by 2012.

Mini Eden discovered in Papua

Scientists in Indonesia have discovered hundreds of animal species new to science in the Jungles of Western New Guinea:

During a 15-day expedition in December, the researchers found hundreds of rare birds, more than 20 new species of frogs, five kinds of previously unknown palms, four new breeds of butterflies, and giant rhododendrons with white blossoms the size of bread plates — believed to be the largest on record.

“It is as close to the Garden of Eden as you’re going to find on Earth,” expedition chief scientist Bruce Beehler said.

The BBC has pictures.