A new cartoon created by John Cook illustrates the failure of climate contrarians to manage global warming risks
Climate change is fundamentally a risk management problem. Whether or not you agree with the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming, there is an undeniable risk that the consensus is correct and that we're causing dangerously rapid climate change.
Frequently, climate contrarians argue against taking action to mitigate that risk by claiming the uncertainties are too large. One of the most visible figures to make this argument is climate scientist Judith Curry, who said in 2013,
"I can't say myself that [doing nothing] isn't the best solution."
This argument represents a failure to grasp the principles of basic risk management, as illustrated in the following cartoon.
When it comes to managing risk, uncertainty is not our friend. Uncertainty means it's possible the outcome will be better than we expect, but it's also possible it will be much worse than we expect. In fact, continuing with business-as-usual would only be a reasonable option in the absolute best case scenario.
Doing nothing is betting the farm on a very low probability scenario. It's an incredibly high-risk path that fails to reduce the threats posed by the worst case or even most likely case scenarios. This is a concept Judith Curry understood in 2007, when she wrote,
"The rationale for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide is to reduce the risk of the possibility of catastrophic outcomes. Making the transition to cleaner fuels has the added benefit of reducing the impact on public health and ecosystems and improving energy security ... I have yet to see any option that is worse than ignoring the risk of global warming and doing nothing."
Judith Curry of 2007 got it exactly right. Unfortunately she and her fellow climate contrarians no longer seem to grasp these fundamental principles of risk management.
Failing to mitigate global warming by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions is fundamentally equivalent to continuing to smoke cigarettes, driving without a seat belt, or refusing to buy homeowner's insurance. Each situation represents the failure to take action to reduce the risks of a very dangerous outcome.
Even if you personally have doubts about the 97 percent expert consensus on human-caused global warming and the threats it represents, there's a good chance you're wrong. You may also doubt the medical science consensus that smoking causes lung cancer, but acting on that doubt by continuing to smoke is a risky decision. The difference is that in the latter case, you're only risking the health of yourself and those in your proximity. In the case of global warming, you're risking the health of entire ecosystems and future generations.
From a risk management perspective, mitigating the undeniable threat of catastrophic climate change is a no-brainer. So let's stop delaying and denying and get to it.Dana Nuccitelli
The raw ingredients in famous brands are vulnerable to political upheaval, changes in agricultural practices and natural disasters
The perfume industry is facing a major problem: maintaining constant levels of quality is crucial, but it is increasingly difficult to obtain a regular supply of all the necessary natural ingredients. Essential oils such as jasmine, rose, vetiver, ilang-ilang, iris, vanilla, sandalwood or lavender cannot be synthesised in the laboratory. But supplies are dwindling and need to be protected, in some cases by the perfume industry itself.
In 1987, for example, Chanel made an agreement to buy all the jasmine flowers produced by the Mul family, which has been the main source of the flowers in France for five generations. Jacques Polge, Chanel's top "nose" since 1978, made the decision when developers started trying to buy up land around Grasse, where the Muls cultivate three hectares of the precious plant.
The crop of fragrant white flowers – between 10 and 15 tonnes a year – is almost entirely used in Chanel No 5, the perfume created by Ernest Beaux in 1921 and now the world's biggest-selling fragrance. The smallest bottle (30ml) contains the equivalent of 1,000 buds. They are hand-picked in the morning to retain as much fragrance as possible, from August to October – and processed the same day.
The partnership between Chanel and the Mul family has since been extended to include Provence rose, iris, tuberose and an old variety of geranium. The factory located nearby is both a laboratory and a processing plant.
At Guerlain, a subsidiary of LVMH, the head perfumier Thierry Wasser was also responsible for starting jasmine production again in Calabria, Italy. "I spend about a quarter of my time in the fields, talking to growers," he says. His quest for new fragrances has taken him as far as the mountains near Kashan, Iran, in search of the Damascus rose, still grown there using traditional methods. It features in a new eau de parfum.
His work takes him to Tunisia too, to supervise the harvest of orange blossom, of which Guerlain distils 100 tonnes a year for its own use. Here too he sources bergamot, a favourite ingredient in his preparations.
Wasser has set aside a bottle of rose oil, which he considers the most remarkable of last year's harvest. It is the result of a perfect balance between dew and sunlight. Much as with the best wines, the raw materials of perfume are always changing, affected by the soil, sunlight, rainfall and temperature. Their price varies too, depending on crop yields.
None of the big three – Chanel, Guerlain and L'Oréal – have any immediate plans to invest more extensively in growing. They see raising the trees and flowers on which they depend for essential oils as a separate business.
But François Demachy, the nose at Christian Dior Parfums and head of the perfumes division at LVMH, reckons diversification into primary production as a likely move for the industry to make. He says he is "considering [investing] further upstream" in the long term. He is certainly concerned about "availability problems" for certain ingredients, which has prompted him to increase the range of sources for some flowers and even to seal an agreement with a Sri Lankan producer of sandalwood – a rare species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).
"What was Jean-Paul [Guerlain] thinking of when he put so much sandalwood in Samsara?" his successor Wasser jokes. The price of the essential oil has rocketed since 1989 when the perfume was launched.
Each bottle of perfume is made from raw materials whose quality and cost are sensitive to changes in agriculture, politics, natural disasters, climate and disease. All of which can be a major headache for perfumers.
"Rural flight has substantially reduced these micromarkets all over the world. Farmers are tempted to switch to cereals or oil-producing plants, which often pay much better than flowers. The growers who work for the perfume industry and their pickers do not earn a great deal," says Jean-Pierre Coutauchaud, head of speciality raw materials purchasing at L'Oréal. In the perfumes produced by L'Oréal (Trésor, Lancôme, Armani), natural materials only account for 20% of ingredients, the rest being artificial.
"In Indonesia, the Chinese who used to farm the patchouli fields have been persecuted, forcing them to give up their crops, which in turn led to an incredible price rise," Wasser explains. For several months after the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010 vetiver exports stopped, he adds. On the other hand, the Arab spring in 2011 did not affect the supply of jasmine, despite it being mainly sourced from Tunisia and Egypt.
Nearer to home, the lavender fields of Provence have been severely damaged in recent years by insect-borne bacteria.
"We now keep reserves of strategic raw materials – such as vetiver, vanilla and lavender – selected on the basis of three criteria: they can't be synthesised, only come from a single geographical source and are needed in large quantities," says a spokesperson at Givaudan, which manufactures perfume for several brands.
Givaudan, based in Vernier, Switzerland, is taking steps to mitigate shortages. It has launched schemes to protect and sustain sources of endangered raw materials. It has helped tonka bean growers in Venezuela, restarted sandalwood production in Australia, and helped to improve the quality of benzoin resin in Laos and ilang-ilang in the Comoros islands.
Haiti produces half the world's supply of vetiver. Its roots yield an essential oil with a mysterious dry fragrance akin to smoked wood, which Haitians call the "essence of tranquillity". In 2012 Givaudan started working with Agri Supply, the main producer of the oil. Its refurbished vetiver distillery is now the largest in the world. Some 160 farmers in three villages in the Cayes district have formed a co-operative and negotiated a guaranteed minimum price. They also receive technical support from the Swiss firm.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le MondeNicole Vulser
Suppressing a hormone that governs metabolism boosts your chances of living to a grand old age, but there's a downside
Would you be prepared to sacrifice your fertility in order to live longer? It's an almost inconceivable dilemma, but one day we could be offered a choice between having children and enhancing our chances of reaching a grand old age.
The idea that fertility and longevity may be intertwined was first mooted in the 1970s when gerontologist Tom Kirkwood, now at the University of Newcastle, proposed his "disposable soma" hypothesis. Over time, our bodies age as a result of natural degeneration or "wear and tear", and Kirkwood suggested that they have a limited energy budget that can either be used to repair damaged cells and halt this decline, or saved to allow us to reproduce.
Thirty years on and advances in genomic techniques have enabled scientists to pinpoint one of the key molecular pathways involved in the ageing process, controlled by a hormone known as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1).
The link between this particular hormone and longevity was uncovered almost by chance, while biologists were studying the behaviour of a species of worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. Worms have a special mechanism that kicks in when they're exposed to severe environmental stress: their levels of IGF-1 drop, putting them into a state of hibernation during which they're unable to procreate. But, crucially, they stay alive.
In all mammals, including humans, IGF-1 is believed to initiate a chain of events that controls the way energy is used. There are genes involved that stimulate proteins to begin vital processes such as the repair of damaged cells, which can have a big impact when it comes to postponing the onset of cancer, for example.
However, the type of processes that are initiated depends on the levels of IGF-1, with low levels sending the body into a self-preservation mode, switching energy allocation away from the reproductive organs and devoting resources to maintenance and DNA repair.
Having low levels of IGF-1 can make a big difference when it comes to avoiding some of the most common degenerative illnesses in later life, and we're now getting some fresh insights into how this might work for Alzheimer's disease. This month, psychiatrists from the VU University of Amsterdam report their investigation into the link between IGF-1 and this form of dementia. They found that high levels of IGF-1 in the blood of middle-aged people was associated with a high genetic risk of getting Alzheimer's – the first time such a link has been found in humans. They believe that reduced activity of the hormone prevents the disease from developing.
"Alzheimer's disease in late life is probably driven strongly by spontaneous low-grade inflammation in the brain," explains longevity researcher Maarten Rozing from Leiden University in the Netherlands, who wasn't involved in the research. "So low IGF-1 activity would mean far more molecular activity being devoted to repairing damaged tissue, which can halt the inflammation and prevent it from spreading."
There is more evidence linking low IGF-1 activity and healthy ageing. A recent study looking at centenarians in the Ashkenazi Jewish population of New England found an intriguing genetic link: they were more likely than the general population to carry mutations that reduced the activity of IGF-1.
However, far from being a matter of genetic fate, it may actually be possible to proactively influence the level of IGF-1 in our bodies, since it is related at least partly to diet. Some researchers believe that low-calorie or even low-protein diets can be beneficial, and calorie restriction experiments with mice, starting from birth, have yielded positive results in terms of survival benefits.
"You see the mice living up to 40% longer and [they] are much healthier," Rozing said. "However, it's a little more difficult to examine this in humans, simply because they live so long! But some experiments have shown that calorie restriction can lead to metabolic benefits – such as low chlolesterol and lower blood pressure."
The downside is that while low IGF-1 appears to improve your chances of health ageing, it may also have a drastic effect on your ability to reproduce, especially for females. Genetic experiments in fruit flies in which IGF-1 production is knocked out altogether result in a big increase in lifespan, but also render the insects infertile.
This could prove to be a defining conundrum for future generations of humans. Our natural instinct is not only to reproduce but also prolong our survival for as long as possible, but can we have both?
Researchers from the Institute of Experimental Genetics in Germany and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development in New Zealand, have been looking at ways of manipulating the cascade of processes controlled by IGF-1 –without the need for extreme calorie restriction. One method involves a substance called resveratrol, which is found in red wine and affects energy metabolism. However, just as was predicted by Tom Kirkwood 40 years ago, the evidence suggests that such tinkering leads to a trade-off between longevity and reproduction, reducing fertility.
If it came to it, which would you choose?David Cox
Results of 50-year study suggest changing food patterns will lead to rise in obesity and global food insecurity
The world food supply has grown increasingly dependent on a shrinking list of crops, such as wheat and maize, in the past 50 years with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security, according to a new study.
The report from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia documents for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown more homogeneous and are showing no signs of slowing.
"More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat, and they rely increasingly on a short list of major food crops, like wheat, maize and soybean, along with meat and dairy products, for most of their food," said lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at CIAT, a member of the CGIAR consortium of research institutes. "These foods are critical for combating world hunger, but relying on a global diet of such limited diversity obligates us to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines."
The study, using data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, encompassed more than 50 crops consumed in more than 150 countries (accounting for 98% of the world's population) between 1961 and 2009. It found that 50 crops made up the top 90% of calories, protein and fat around the world.
The report, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, suggests that a growing reliance on a few food crops may accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change. The study's findings on obesity echo a January report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which said, on current trends, the world will see a huge increase in the number of people suffering certain types of cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, as more people in developing countries switch to diets rich in animal produce, fat, salt and sugar.
The CIAT study confirms that crops now predominant in diets around the world include several that were important 50 years ago - such as wheat, rice, maize and potato. But the emerging "standard global food supply" also consists of energy-dense foods that have become prominent more recently: soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil.
Wheat is a major staple in 97.4% of countries and rice in 90.8%, while soybean has become significant to 74.3% of countries. In contrast, many crops of regional importance - including cereals such as sorghum, millets and rye, and root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam - have lost ground.
Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops - for which globally comparable data are not available - have suffered the same fate.
The loss of biodiversity poses risks, the CIAT study warns. A more homogeneous global food basket makes agriculture more vulnerable to drought, pests and diseases, which will be exacerbated by climate change, says Luigi Guarino, a co-author and senior scientist at the Global Crop Diversity Trust, in Germany.
"As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production systems that feed us. The price of failure of any of these crops will become very high."
The report throws up an interesting paradox. As the human diet has become less diverse at the global level over the past 50 years, many countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, have widened their menu of major staple crops, while changing to more globalised diets.
"In east and southeast Asia, several major foods - like wheat and potato - have gained importance alongside longstanding staples, like rice," Khoury notes. "But this expansion of major staple foods has come at the expense of the many diverse minor foods that used to figure importantly in people's diets."
The study attributes changes in global diet to a familiar list of reasons. Rising incomes in developing countries have allowed more consumers to include larger quantities of animal products, oils and sugars in their diets. Moreover, urbanisation has encouraged greater consumption of processed and fast foods. Related developments, including trade liberalisation, improved commodity transport, multinational food industries, and food safety standardisation have further reinforced these trends.
"Countries experiencing rapid dietary change are also quickly seeing rises in the associated diseases of overabundance," says Khoury. "But hopeful trends are also apparent, as in northern Europe, where evidence suggests that consumers are tending to buy more cereals and vegetables and less meat, oil and sugar."
The researchers single out five actions to foster diversity in food production and consumption to improve nutrition and food security:
• actively promote the adoption of a wider range of varieties of the major crops worldwide to reduce the vulnerability of the global food system to climate change, rising food demand, and increased water and land scarcity. This is especially important for certain crops, such as bananas, for which production is dominated by a very few, widely grown commercial varieties
• support the conservation and use of diverse plant genetic resources, including farmers' traditional varieties and wild species related to crops that are critical for broadening the genetic diversity of the major crops
• enhance the nutritional quality of major crops through crop breeding to improve the content of micronutrients like iron and zinc - and make supplementary vitamins and other nutrient sources more widely available
• promote alternative crops that can boost the resilience of farming. Key measures include identifying and conserving nutritious locally grown "neglected and underutilised" crops
• foster public awareness of the need for healthier diets, based on better decisions about what and how much we eat as well as the forms in which we consume food.Mark Tran
Dr Dave Hone: The Daohugou Fauna is rich in dinosaurs, lizards, pterosaurs, salamanders and mammalsDr Dave Hone
Anyone with a computer can now join an Oxford University research project to reveal what role global warming played the UK’s record-breaking wet winterDamian Carrington
The longship at the heart of the British Museum's new Viking exhibition is spectacular – but the rest of the show is a bloodless collection of bowls and brooches
It cuts through the air like a sword through flesh, relentless. The prow is as sharp as a shark's tooth. A fragile heart of oak survives within the metal skeleton. This ghost ship is solid yet empty, there and not there.
Roskilde 6, the biggest Viking ship ever found, is the lifeblood of the British Museum's exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend. This colossal exhibit – it is 37 metres long in its reconstructed totality, though only about a fifth of the hull is original timber – is spectacular, beautiful, thought-provoking and profound. It embodies not just the nautical ingenuity and martial prowess of the Vikings but their art and beliefs, too.
Around its enigmatic presence are displays that amplify its meanings. A carved, eighth-century "picture stone" from the Swedish isle of Gotland shows such a longship ferrying a dead warrior to Valhalla, the hall of the god Odin, where Vikings who die bravely in battle will feast until they are called to fight in the last battle, Ragnarok.
A phantom Viking ready for that apocalyptic fight glares from a glass case near the warship. He's a surreal composite of metal and bone. His head is a helmet. Under this grins a jaw, with its teeth filed to create a horrific snarl intended to terrify monks. Tattoos would have added to the warrior's scary aspect as he jumped off Roskilde 6 into the surf, screaming and roaring as he rushed onshore to kill and steal and burn.
On 8 January 793, men like this in ships like this appeared on the horizon off Northumbria. Monks were illuminating manuscripts and chanting prayers in Lindisfarne monastery. Within hours, records the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "the heathen miserably destroyed God's church ..."
Britain was an easy target for the Viking raiders. A straight line westward from southern Norway leads directly to north-east Britain. The same instinct to forge westward led Vikings from Greenland to America, where they fought native Americans. Roskilde 6 reveals something else about their sailing skills: it is wide with a very shallow, flat underside. This design meant Viking ships could easily navigate rivers. They besieged Paris by sailing up the Seine. They created the kingdom of "Rus" – the origin of Russia – by sailing down its rivers until they reached the Black Sea, and even terrorised the eastern imperial city of Byzantium.
It's an incredible story. The Vikings burn in history, unforgettable antiheroes. I just wish this exhibition made a more engaging and humanising job of telling that story. The longship is sublime, the swords and skeletons that surround it are terrifying, but Vikings: Life and Legend is, until you reach these wonders, a pedantic exercise in pure archaeology that fails to shape its subject into a stimulating narrative.
I've started my account of it at the end because that's where it finally comes alive. The huge space where Roskilde 6 glides majestically among swords and skeletons is this show's conclusion, which you reach after a journey so badly staged it left me numb. Are the curators resting on their shields, confident that a real Viking ship is enough of a stunner to float everyone's boat, or do they have more obscure reasons for rendering the Viking world mute, impersonal and even – can this be – boring?
Vikings is the first exhibition in the British Museum's new state-of-the-art gallery. It takes advantage of this huge space to display that ship, no less. But when you enter the show there's no excitement at all. The new gallery is not as charismatic as the museum's old Reading Room, where great shows like The First Emperor (and his terracotta warriors) and Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum were staged. The circular shape of the Reading Room made for magical labyrinthine displays. This place feels, on first sight, more like a big grey box where display cases are laid out in dismal straight lines.
There's no stage-setting. No gory recreation of the Lindisfarne raid, say, to get us in the mood. Instead, cases of smallish, similar objects throw visitors straight into some thorny problems of archaeology. How do Viking artefacts compare with things being made at the same time by Baltic and Slav peoples? One of the first cases offers a chance to find that out.
I felt like crying. Where were the swords? And if I was ready to bawl, what does this exhibition offer its younger visitors? It can't claim not to be for them. You can't put on an exhibition called Vikings without expecting some kids. The only way this exhibition could sound more child-friendly would be if it was called Vikings and Dinosaurs. But the austerely beautiful cases of brooches and golden rings and amber offer very little to fans of Horrible Histories. This is mean, especially as the shop at the end is quite happy to push a lucrative array of Viking toys.
Even the soundtrack to the first displays, a reading of classic Viking literature, is in Old Norse. Instead of opening up this world, as a well-read translation might, it closes it off in melancholy Nordic words. This is perhaps a clue to what the curators think they are doing. They want to estrange our view of the Vikings. Forget those rehashed Norse myths in The Hobbit, forget the song in Horrible Histories where the Vikings are a heavy metal band who are "gonna paint the whole town red tonight – literally ..."
No wait - it's even madder than that. Don't just forget modern images of the Vikings: forget what was written about them in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and forget (or learn to appreciate in Norse) their own great works of literature, which were written down in the middle ages but draw on oral traditions going back to the age of the Viking raids.
These sagas of the Vikings are full of characters. Just to reel off some nicknames is to get a taste of their vivid humanity: Ragnar Hairy-Breeches, Ivar the Boneless, Eric the Red, Thorstein the Black, Olvir Hump. The Vikings left a legacy of stories in which legend and truth mingle. They'd have told this exhibition as a story.
Why not weave their tales and the histories written by their enemies into the mix of archaeological stuff to give it warmth and context? The refusal to do so cannot be an oversight. It looks like an archaeological dogma: only material objects painstakingly excavated are to be relied upon as evidence. The rest is romantic twaddle, apparently.
For instance, where are the gods? The picture stone showing a ship arriving at Valhalla is one of just a handful of images of mythology in this exhibition. There's more about bowls and bracelets than about Thor.
Maybe I am being too hard on the curators. Perhaps the Vikings are innately difficult to bring to life in an exhibition. Their art is full of atmospheric swirls and crafty detail, but it is not their greatest cultural achievement. They really were better with words. Egil's Saga is the first psychological novel, a portrait of a tortured genius who is at once a poet and a serial killer. Where does Viking visual art attain that complexity?
The art historian Kenneth Clark said the Vikings had a culture, not a civilisation. Their everyday life looks hard, cruel and repetitive in this exhibition. A beautiful ivory flask from Byzantium just seems in another league of sophistication and layered meaning. But when you reach the ship hall you will see that Clark was wrong. The Vikings created something that went beyond any civilisation of their age. The greatest work of art here is the longship. It is a great human image of endeavour and exploration: these were not just killers but intensely curious pathfinders who even colonised the icy wastes of Greenland. A clever Viking called it that, according to the sagas, to make it sound more attractive for settlers.
If you sail these troubled waters, take my advice. Head straight for the longship and the Viking armour. Gaze on Roskilde 6 and let its eerie magic work on you. There is elvish gold here, but to find it you must fight your way past some oddly joyless ogres.Jonathan Jones
Spare computer time lent to researchers at Oxford University will allow intensive climate modelling of 2013-14 conditions
Citizen scientists can help to solve a critical question raised by England's wettest winter in at least 250 years: was climate change to blame?
Spare home computer time lent to researchers at the University of Oxford will allow an intensive modelling effort to determine whether global warming made the deluge more likely.
The role of climate change in the downpours, that resulted in at least £1bn of flood damage, has been fiercely debated. The prime minister, David Cameron, told parliament he "very much suspected" a link between global warming and climate change, while the statement from the Met Office's chief scientist that "all the evidence suggests a link to climate change" was attacked by leading climate sceptic Lord Nigel Lawson as "absurd".
The result of the study should be ready within a month and follows earlier research which found that heavy flooding in England in 2000 was made two to three times more likely by climate change.
Professor Myles Allen, who leads the weather@home research, said basic physics shows that warm air holds more water and rainfall gets more intense, but added that the chaotic nature of weather means that no specific flood can be attributed to human-induced climate change alone.
"We can, however, ask and answer the question of how the odds of getting an extremely wet winter have changed due to man-made climate change: have past greenhouse gas emissions loaded the weather dice?" Allen told the Guardian. "We need to find out if we are getting "too many double-sixes" with the British weather dice."
He said the team did not know what the result would be and would be discovering the answer at the same time as the public. "It is absolutely possible the experiment will tell us climate change had nothing to do with the extremely wet winter."
The project will see the winter weather of 2013-14 rerun about 30,000 times in computer climate models. One set of models will start with the actual climate conditions at the start of December 2013, while another set will begin with conditions that would have existed in a world without climate change, ie much lower greenhouse gas levels, lower sea surface temperatures and much greater sea ice cover in the Arctic. Comparing how often an extremely wet winter occurs in each set of models will show whether or not global warming loaded the weather dice.
The record wet winter is by definition an extreme event and therefore, to ensure the result is statistically convincing, the models have to be run many thousands of times and therefore require huge computing power. "That is why we are asking for the help of the general public," said Allen. "We will be able to go from speculating about the influence of climate change to providing scientific evidence. The climate is changing, and the sooner we understand in detail what these changes mean for Britain, the better."
Previous research by Allen's team revealed the strong influence of climate change as far back as 2000. A study published in 2011 concluded that serious floods in southern England in 2000 would have been between one-third and one-half as likely in the absence of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. But Allen noted that global warming could be beneficial in some circumstances: the risk of flooding due to the rapid melting of spring snow, which drove widespread flooding in 1947, could be less likely now, he said.
Other so-called "attribution" studies have also linked heatwaves to climate change. The great heatwave that struck Europe in 2003 and led to more than 30,000 deaths was made at least twice as likely by climate change, while the chance of the extreme heat that struck eastern Europe in 2010, killing 50,000 people and destroying the wheat harvest, was tripled by global warming.
The record wet winter in England has prompted a renewed debate on the influence of climate change on extreme weather, which scientists have warned will be intensified in a warmer world.
Climate economist Lord Nicholas Stern said it was "a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change" while Labour leader, Ed Miliband, warned that the UK was "sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change". But the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, widely regarded as a climate sceptic, refused to echo Cameron's warning of a link when asked to do so in the House of Commons in January.
According to Cancer UK and the World Health Organisation, Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide with an estimated 8.2 million deaths in 2012. Lung cancer was the highest at 1.6m (figures rounded).The graphic below shows the top four most common causes of cancer, by region, around the world and how they rank
State of the climate report predicts that, by 2030, Australia’s temperature will have risen by between 0.6C and 1.5CPaul Farrell
Uncapped, almost unconditional, the vast sums of public money we give to farmers buy only destruction
Just as mad cow disease exposed us to horrors – feeding cattle on the carcasses of infected cattle – previously hidden in plain sight, so the recent floods have lifted the lid on the equally irrational treatment of the land. Just as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) exposed dangerous levels of collusion between government and industry, so the floods have begun to expose similar cases of complicity and corruption. But we've heard so far just a fraction of the story.
I hope in this article to lift the lid a little further. The issues I've begun to investigate here – the corrupt practices and the irrationality of current policies – should unite both left and right in a demand for change. They should be as offensive to those who seek to curb public spending as they are to those who seek to defend it.
In July 2013 the British government imposed a £26,000 cap on the total benefits a household can receive. In the same month it was pursuing a different policy in urgent discussions in Brussels: fighting tooth and nail to prevent the imposition of a proposed cap precisely 10 times that size (€300,000, or £260,000). The European commission wanted this to be as much money as a single farmer could receive in subsidies. The British government was having none of it.
It won, with the result that this measure is now discretionary – member states can decide whether or not to cap farmers' benefits. Unsurprisingly, the British government has decided not to. The biggest 174 landowners in England take £120m between them. A €300,000 cap would have saved about £70m. If farmers were subject to the benefits cap that applies to everyone else (£26,000), the saving would amount to about £1bn. Why should a cap be imposed on the poor but not the rich?
Last week the MP Simon Danczuk read out a letter in the House of Commons that one of his constituents had received from the Department for Work and Pensions. It told her she was about to "enter the second stage of your intensive job-focused activity". It expressed the hope that "all the activity or training intervention completed so far has not only supported you to achieve your aspirations but has moved you closer to the job market".
Lying in a coma since December had not affected her ability to work, or her progress towards achieving her aspirations. She's in a coma because she suffered a heart attack. The heart attack, her father maintains, was brought about by extreme stress, caused by the threat of having her benefits stopped despite a mental illness so severe that she had been unable to work for 27 years.
Two days before this letter was read to the Commons, the farming minister, George Eustice, was speaking at the conference of the National Farmers' Union. He began by paying "tribute to the great work" of its outgoing president: "Thank you for what you've done." Can you picture a minister in this government saying that about the head of any other trade union? The NFU's primary work is lobbying. Yet the critical distance between government and lobbyists you would expect in a functioning democracy is non-existent.The closest of neighbours
The same goes for distance of any other kind. The address of Eustice's ministry, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is 17 Smith Square, London SW1. The address of the National Farmers' Union is 16 Smith Square, London SW1. Though farmers comprise just 0.3% of the population of England and 1.4% of the rural population, ministers treat them and their lobbyists as an idol before which they must prostrate themselves. Rural policy and farming policy are, to the government, synonymous; 98.6% of rural people are marginalised by the decisions it makes.
Eustice continued his speech by announcing that he is seeking to "slash guidance", to "drive down the burden of farm inspections further", and that he is "pushing hard at an EU level for sanctions and penalties to be more proportionate". These are the sanctions and penalties imposed for breaking the conditions attached to farm subsidies. They take the form of a reduction in the benefits a farmer receives. "More proportionate" is the government's code for smaller.
So just as the rules and penalties regulating the ordinary recipients of benefits have become so onerous that many find them almost impossible to meet, the rules and penalties attached to the benefits the rich receive are being reduced.Subsidies and soil erosion
But how? The conditions attached to farm subsidies (which are called cross-compliance) are already so weak as to be almost non-existent. Let me give you an example. There are several rules which are meant to encourage farmers to protect their soils from compaction and erosion. Their purpose is to sustain fertility, to defend water supplies and the ecology of the rivers and to prevent flooding. Not one of these measures appears to be either functional or enforceable.
All farmers receiving subsidies must complete a soil protection review. This is a booklet they fill in to show that they have thought about soil erosion and identified any problems on their land. Once every 100 years on average, an inspector from the Rural Payments Agency will visit the farm. If the inspectors identify a soil erosion problem, they have the power to, er, offer guidance about how to rectify it. And that, in practice, is it. There are hardly any cases of this guidance being followed up with even the threat of action, let alone the imposition of any penalties. And even the guidance, Eustice now promises, will be "slashed".
Bad enough? Oh no. Most inspectors have no expertise in soil erosion. So all they tend to do during their centennial visits is to ask the farmer whether he or she possesses a soil protection booklet. If the answer is yes, that's job done, even if their soil is rushing off the fields and into the rivers.
To discover whether or not farmers are causing a related problem – soil compaction through the use of heavy machinery in the wrong conditions – inspectors need to dig holes in the fields with a spade, to look at what has happened to the soil layers. But – and here you have a choice of laughing or crying – they do not possess the power to conduct an "invasive investigation" (that is, digging a hole). So they are not permitted even to detect, let alone enforce, a breach of the compaction rules.
Are we there yet? Nope. Even these unenforceable non-rules are deemed too onerous for farmers growing a crop that both strips and compacts the soil faster than almost any other. Because the rows are planted so far apart, and because the soil is left bare through autumn, winter and much of the spring , maize causes more severe erosion than any other cereal crop. Yet, as I pointed out a fortnight ago, maize growers are entirely and mysteriously exempt from the erosion rules.Questions ignored
Since then I have asked the department five more times for an explanation. While all my other questions have been answered, albeit halfheartedly, this one was not fudged or spun or mangled, but simply ignored. I've never encountered this before: a government department refusing even to acknowledge that a question has been asked. What should I conclude but that the answer is highly embarrassing? I guess that because it's almost impossible to grow maize without wrecking the soil, and because the government's plans for biogas production depend on growing maize to fuel anaerobic digesters, the only way to reconcile this conflict is to remove the crop from the regulations.
In a devastating response to claims made in the Guardian's letters page by the NFU, the soil scientist Robert Palmer calculated that so much compaction and erosion is caused by maize growing that a 10-hectare field causes the run-off of 375m litres of water. Maize expanded 24% between 2012 and 2013, much of it in sensitive catchments. This is a formula for repeated flooding.
As a result of these multiple failures by the government, even Farmers' Weekly warns that "British soils are reaching crisis point". Last week a farmer sent me photos of his neighbours' fields where "the soil is so eroded it is like a rockery. I have the adjoining field … my soil is now at least 20cm deeper than his." In the catchment of the River Tamar in Devon, one study suggests, soil is being lost at the rate of five tonnes per hectare per year.No enforceable regulations
I could go on. I could describe the complete absence of enforceable regulations on the phosphates farmers spread on their fields, which cause eutrophication (blooms of algae which end up suffocating much of the freshwater ecosystem) when they run into the rivers. I could discuss the poorly regulated use of metaldehyde, a pesticide that is impossible to remove from drinking water. I could expand on the way in which governments all over Europe have – while imposing a temporary ban for flowering crops – permitted the use of neonicotinoid insecticides for all other purposes, without any idea of what their impact might be on animals in the soil and the rivers into which they wash. The research so far suggests it is devastating, but they were licensed before any investigation was conducted.
There is just one set of rules that are effective and widely deployed: those that enforce the destruction of the natural world. Buried in the cross-compliance regulations is a measure called GAEC 12. This insists that, to receive their money, farmers must prevent "unwanted vegetation" from growing on their land. (The rest of us call it wildlife habitat.) Even if their land is producing nothing, they must cut, graze or spray it with herbicides to get their money. Unlike soil erosion, compaction and pollution, breaches of this rule are easy to detect and enforce: if the inspectors see trees returning to the land, the subsidy can be cut off altogether.
Many of the places in which habitats might otherwise be allowed to recover – principally the highly infertile land in the uplands – are kept bare by this rule. It's another means by which floods are hard-wired. The government has just raised the incentive to clear such land, by announcing that hill farmers will now be paid the same amount per hectare as lowland farmers – equalising the rate upwards, not downwards.Richest people in Britain
It also seems to be on the verge of raising the amount of public subsidy paid to the owners of grouse moors by 84%. These are among the richest people in Britain. The management of their land to maximise grouse numbers involves the mass destruction of predators and the burning of blanket bogs, causing floods downstream and releasing large amounts of carbon. If this looks like the work of a self-serving club of old school chums, that's because it is.
First we give landowners our money – vast amounts of it, uncapped and almost unconditional. Then we pay for the costs they kindly dump on us: the floods, the extra water purification necessitated by the pollution they cause, the loss of so many precious and beautiful places, the decline of wildlife that enchants and enraptures. Expensive, irrational, destructive, counter-productive: this scarcely begins to describe our farming policies.
But it need not be this way. Change the rules, change the incentives, support impoverished farmers to do the right thing, stop support for the rich farmers altogether, and everything else can follow. In my book Feral, I've begun to sketch out what a functioning, lively, wonderful countryside could look like. High in the catchments, where most of the rain falls and the soil is so poor that farming is sustained only through public money, we should be paying the farmers to replant trees, which hold back the water and stabilise the soil.Replant and rewild
To these returning forests we could reintroduce animals that have been wiped out across much or all of this land: capercaillies, wildcats, pine martens, eagles, lynx, moose, bison, even, in the Scottish Highlands, wolves. Aside from the opportunities this rewilding presents for re-enchanting our lives, experience elsewhere in Europe suggests that eco-tourism has a far higher potential for employment, for supporting communities, for keeping the schools and shops and pubs and chapels open than sheep farming does.
We should turn the rivers flowing into the lowlands into "blue belts" or "wild ways". For 50 metres on either side, the land would be left unfarmed, allowing trees and bogs to return and creating continuous wildlife corridors. Bogs and forests trap the floodwaters, helping to protect the towns downstream. They catch the soil washing off the fields and filter out some of the chemicals which would otherwise find their way into the rivers. A few of us are now in the process of setting up a rewilding group in Britain, which would seek to catalyse some of these changes.
Where soils are fragile and the risk of erosion is high, farmers should be encouraged to move towards regenerative or permacultural techniques: clever new methods that can produce high yields without damaging soil, water and wildlife. A fortnight ago, Rebecca Hosking, a farmer who uses regenerative techniques, published a photo of the confluence of the stream leaving her land with the stream leaving her neighbour's land. His looked like cream of tomato soup; hers was clear.Corporate welfare
The British government currently spends – on top of the £3.6bn in farm subsidies disbursed in this country – £450m on research and development for the food and farming industries. Much of this money could be characterised as corporate welfare. Yet a search of the British government's website finds not one mention of permaculture. Not a penny of public money is being spent on investigating its potential here.
It's not hard to see how land that is now being pillaged, eroded, polluted and wrecked could be allowed to remain productive – even to produce more food for people than Britain does today (though perhaps less for livestock and biofuel) – while also supporting a vibrant ecosystem. It is not hard to see how public money could be spent to deliver social goods rather than social harms. But for this to happen we must insert a political crowbar between numbers 16 and 17 Smith Square, to prise the government away from the industry it is supposed to regulate.George Monbiot
Swedish medical team hoping for world first as women born without uterus or who lost it to cancer get embryo transfers
Four of nine women given pioneering womb transplants in Sweden have now also had embryos transferred, the pioneering Swedish doctor treating them has said.
Dr Mats Brannstrom, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Gothenburg University, said his team had embarked on a programme of embryo transfer for the women, who were either born without a womb or lost it as a result of cancer. All have ovaries so were able to produce eggs that were fertilised using IVF.
Brannstrom predicted that three or four of the nine women might succeed in giving birth, which would be a world first. Other womb transplants have taken place in Saudi Arabia and Turkey but no recipients have yet managed to have a child. A pregnancy was achieved in Turkey, but it failed after two months.
"We have already begun transferring embryos into four of the women and plan to make attempts with the others when they are ready," said Brannstrom. He would not say whether any of the women were pregnant at the moment. In a study published last week, the team said that there were "mild rejection episodes" in four women who received donated wombs. Two patients had to have the uterus removed because of complications.
Brannstrom's technique is controversial because he is accepting wombs donated by living women, who are relatives or friends of his patients. Elsewhere, wombs from dead donors have been used.
Dr Richard Smith, head of the UK charity Womb Transplant UK, which is trying to raise money to carry out transplants here, has said that large chunks of blood vessels had to be removed from the donor as well as the uterus itself, raising the risks of the operation for the donor. In the UK, there would be ethical questions because the operation is not a life-saving procedure, he said.
The women will have to take drugs throughout their pregnancy to ensure their body does not reject the organ. They will also have to be watched carefully for how the womb progresses throughout pregnancy.
Dr Charles Kingsland, a spokesman for Britain's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "There are questions about how the physiological changes in the uterus will affect the mother and whether the transplanted uterus will be conducive to a growing baby."
Brannstrom said the transplanted wombs would be removed after a maximum of two pregnancies.
Climate change is a rich topic to explore in the classroom. From science and geography to politics, it's an area with roots in a range of subjects and can be a great source for debate
Climate change takes on added significance this week as thousands of people across the UK take part in Climate Week, a national campaign to raise awareness of the issue and steps that can be taken to address it.
This week we have a collection of resources to help your students explore the wider issue of climate change and its potential impact.
For secondary pupils, start with the Met Office's Guide to Climate Science. It answers a range of questions including: what is weather; what is climate; has our climate changed before; and what could be the impact of future climate change around the world? The guide is accompanied by a Weather and Climate presentation and teacher's notes. There is also a Climate Zones Poster that helps explain how human activity is leading to changes in weather and climate.
Have I Got Climate Science For You is an engaging interactive quiz from the Science Museum that asks students to apply their knowledge of climate change and think about its implications. There's also a climate report activity designed to help students understand the difference between weather and climate, and to consider the impact that climate change can have on their and other people's lifestyles. Carbon Cycle Caper is an activity in which students play out the carbon cycle, to understand how it has been affected by our use of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution and how this underlies current worries about climate change.
Climate change controversies: A simple guide provides a user-friendly overview of the scientific understanding of climate change. Produced by the Royal Society, the document gives answers to eight of the most commonly asked questions about the science of climate change. There's also Climate Change: A Summary of the Science. It looks at the current scientific evidence on climate change, highlighting the areas where the science is well established, where there is still some debate, and where substantial uncertainties remain.
Combating climate change is a resource from the EU Commission that focuses on the EU's commitment to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 20% by 2020. It draws students' attention to ways of using energy resources more sustainably, switching to more renewable forms of energy, capturing and storing carbon dioxide and reversing deforestation.
The Climate Change resource pack includes an eight-page student booklet that features summaries of the world's climate, the greenhouse effect, the human contribution to climate change, the effects of climate change, and what can be done about it, created by BP Educational Service.
Explore the key causes of climate change by looking at and questioning a range of perspectives and explanations with this resource, Make the Link Climate exChange - What is Climate Change.
Big Picture Health and Climate Change is a magazine that explores the potential impact of climate change on human health and includes interviews with people whose lives are directly affected by climate change.
Oxfam have a variety of climate change resources for secondary students. The effects of climate change on the UK aims to enable pupils to make connections between their own lives and the issue of climate change by examining implications for the UK now and in the future, while case studies are used to explore the Effects of climate change around the world. There's a climate change quiz and a presentation that explores the impact climate change is having on the world's poorest communities. There are also lots of ideas for taking action on climate change including organising film screenings and writing to your MP.
Pathways to education for sustainable development is a guide from the WWF that offers a whole-school approach to addressing sustainability in schools for staff who are interested in facilitating the process. The guide can be used as a whole resource, or activities can be used alone. The WWF has also created a teaching resource that looks at the impact of climate change on the Russian Arctic and paths to solving the problem. There's also a poster that explores climate change by looking at the impacts of human activity in Latin America and in the UK.
For more information, check out the Guardian's interactive resource, Everything you need to know about climate change.
On a lighter note, Ditty Box: Tackling Climate Change is a teaching resource from the Poetry Society giving an adaptable lesson plan by poet Karen McCarthy Woolf around creating list poems on the theme of climate change.
For primary pupils, Sunny Schools have created a pack of six lessons that look at topics including climate change, carbon footprints and renewable energy. The lessons can be used individually or together to create a whole topic. They are accompanied by activity sheets and photo-cards. There's also an activity which looks at different people's opinions about climate change.Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.Valerie Hannah
Research by the Medical University of Graz say vegetarians are more likely to think they have poorer health and relationships
Vegetarians are more likely than meat-eaters to believe they are unhealthy, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Medical University of Graz who analysed interviews with more than 1,300 people found those with a meat-free diet were more likely to feel unhealthy and to think they had a poorer quality of life in terms of physical health, social relationships, and environmental factors.
Searching a database of 15,000 samples, researchers from the Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology compared hundreds of vegetarians in age, sex and social backgrounds with people who eat meat.
"The vegetarians have indicated that they have a worse subjective health condition, more health restrictions and increased allergies, and incidences of cancer and mental illness," epidemiologist and lead researcher Nathalie Burkert said.
While Burkert stressed that the limits of the study meant it would be impossible to conclude the cause and effect between a vegetarian diet and unhealthy living, the research team advised that further studies were "urgently needed" to determine this.
They also found that vegetarians had a lower body mass index and said they consumed less alcohol.
The findings suggested the more favourable diet was the so-called Mediterranean diet – high in fruit and vegetables and including moderate amounts of meat. Participants who kept that diet reported feeling more healthy and were found to suffer less frequently from chronic diseases.
"They had better health, and a better quality of life and fewer visits to the doctors," said Burkert.
The study used Austrian participants but researchers argued the findings are relevant for anybody thinking about their diet, and suggested that vegetarians could turn to substitutes if they were looking for healthier meat-free options.