Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Did the Standard tell the truth about the Heathrow climate change camp?

The press watchdog mostly looks the other way when complaints are made, but it mustn't brush this one under the carpet

This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday March 04 2008 on p27 of the Comment & debate section.

Something unusual is going to happen tomorrow. The Press Complaints Commission, Britain's only arbiter of fairness and accuracy in our newspapers, is due to make a ruling. What's so odd about that? Well, as Nick Davies shows in his book Flat Earth News, out of 28,000 complaints to the PCC submitted over 10 years, it managed to make a formal adjudication on just 448, or 1.6%. Most of the time it finds a reason to look the other way. This isn't too surprising: six of its 16 commissioners are newspaper or magazine editors.

But tomorrow's case is so serious, and the evidence that has accumulated over the past seven months so strong, that even the PCC can't brush it under the carpet. It concerns the London Evening Standard's reporting of the climate camp established close to Heathrow airport last August. Soon after it opened, the paper accused the campers of putting the lives of millions at risk by planning to invade the airport and plant hoax bombs. The story was repeated by the Sun, the Mail, the Express, the Telegraph and the BBC. I have now seen the correspondence about this case. It makes astonishing reading.

The front page article, written by the paper's chief reporter and headlined "Militants will hit Heathrow", claimed that "climate change activists plan to use illegal tactics such as hoax suspicious packages to cause maximum disruption at one of the busiest times of the year. They have also discussed simultaneous assaults on the airport's security fence to stretch police resources to the limit." Inside the paper, a journalist called Rashid Razaq - who spent a night undercover in the camp - reported that one man was "urging us to get them panicked with different things at the same time, like bags left around the airport and people climbing the fence'. Late that night, I saw two protesters checking out the security fences." As the organisers of the camp began to investigate, the story started to fall apart. They also discovered that this is not the only occasion on which Razaq has been accused of taking liberties with the truth.

How did Razaq see protesters "checking out the security fences"? The camp was at least a kilometre from the airport fence - he could not have seen anyone from there. When challenged by the campers, the Evening Standard claimed that "Mr Razaq had left the camp to go to a nearby petrol station to buy food when he was returning to the camp with a colleague, Sebastian Meyer. Their route back took them close to the perimeter fence of the airport, where he saw two men whom he recognised from the camp. One was trying to climb the fence while another kept watch." The Evening Standard contends that "it was a sufficiently light night to recognise faces".

There are several problems with this story. As photos and maps produced by the campers show, neither the petrol station nor any part of the route to the camp is close enough to the fence to recognise faces. Meyer is a professional photographer. If, somehow, they had seen people at the fence, and managed to recognise them as protesters, why did they not take photographs? I put this question to the Evening Standard's managing editor, Doug Wills. "He didn't take any photos of it because it was pitch black." But the Standard had already claimed that "it was a sufficiently light night to recognise faces". I asked Wills for a map reference for the section of fence. He has not been able to provide one. And why, if one of the protesters was trying to climb the fence - a more serious matter than merely "checking it out" - did Razaq not report this?

What about the claim that the protesters were planning to plant hoax bombs? The Standard explains that the man who raised the plan was "white and in his late 20s". "He used words to the effect: 'We need to make people sit up and take notice. Leave some packages around Heathrow. That'll make them take notice.'" This is a completely different statement to the one quoted in Razaq's article. In the published version, someone else - "a woman in her 30s" - says "we have to make people sit up and take notice". None of the alleged statements amounts to a "plan" by the camp.

But the real problems arise when you see Razaq's notes, which were obtained by the PCC after several requests from the campers. At first Razaq claimed that "I made an accurate note of what was said as soon as the meetings finished". But when the notes were released, they turned out to be dated "13/8" - the day after the events Razaq describes. They contain none of the damning quotes or descriptions the Evening Standard published. The only quoted speech was an intention to make "a big impact and make people around the world sit up and take notice, to know we mean business", this time attributed not to a man in his 20s or a woman in her 30s, but to a "group of three campaigners". Why did Razaq record this and not the far more serious instigation to plant hoax packages, supposedly made by the same man, in the same breath, at the same meeting?

Razaq has also been accused of misreporting by the Freud Museum in London. In January last year he claimed it was showing a film containing footage from al-Qaida recruitment videos, "outlawed in most western countries". It wasn't being shown. The curator told me: "He made up details. He put in facts that were completely wrong. I think he is one of those journalists who is prepared to just go and make up a story." Doug Wills told me that the curator had informed Razaq that the al-Qaida film was in an exhibition. Wills forwarded an email from the curator, which mentions the film but not its inclusion in the show. Ironically, the title of the exhibition was Paranoia.

In January this year Razaq wrote that he had gone undercover as a cleaner in Barnet Hospital, and found staff flouting basic safety rules. The hospital tells me that he was in fact employed as a porter, and that he misunderstood or misreported the rules. The Standard insists Razaq was a cleaner. When I spoke to Mr Razaq, he referred me to statements by the managing editor.

Is the Evening Standard worried about his reporting? Not a bit of it. Of the Heathrow coverage it says: "We are 100% satisfied that our published reports were fair and accurate on a matter of public interest." They were not just Razaq's work, but the product of "an extensive operation organised by an extremely experienced team of executives and senior reporters". When the Freud Museum sent a letter of complaint, the paper neither published the letter nor replied to it. The problem seems to be a systemic one.

I don't know how the Press Complaints Commission will rule. But the evidence I have seen suggests that if the Evening Standard is not required to publish a correction, we need a bolder arbiter.

Tippling point

Global warming and changing tastes are putting the squeeze on Europe's traditional vineyards. We are now in a 'post-classic' era of boozier, bolder wine. Robert Joseph explains how old favourites may taste soon - and why Finnish merlot may be on the menu

Tuesday March 4, 2008
The Guardian

A farm worker prunes merlot vines in a drought-stricken vineyard
A farm worker prunes merlot vines in a drought-stricken vineyard. Photograph: Tim Wimborne/Reuters

For anyone who feels they have finally mastered the concept of postmodernist books and architecture, there is a new intellectual and linguistic challenge, in the shape of "post-classic" wines. The term was coined by the world's leading viticulturist Dr Richard Smart, at the second World Conference on Global Warming and Wine in Barcelona last month before an audience of the great and good of the wine world and - via a carbon-saving video link - Al Gore. If even a few of the alarming predictions made by experts at that event prove accurate, many of the world's most famous wines may either simply cease to exist or be altered beyond recognition over the next 50 years. The effect of climate change will not be restricted to wine - but for Smart, wine may be "the canary in the coal mine of agriculture".

According to French tradition, the character of a classic wine - its DNA, if you like - is attributable to four factors that are collectively known as terroir. Three of these - the slope of the vineyard, its soil and subsoil and the climate were, it was believed, immune to human influence. The other ingredient - the choice of grape variety - was dictated by custom or law, so a burgundy producer, for example, has to make his red wine from pinot noir grapes; even the thought of his experimentally planting a few merlot or shiraz vines is as acceptable to the French wine establishment as birth control to the Vatican.

For true believers in terroir - a group that now includes a growing number of self-termed terroiristes in California - the part played by the winemaker is very similar to that of a musician performing a musical score. One vineyard should always produce the liquid equivalent of the Eroica while another will give you Clair de Lune. This is nowhere more evident than in the cellars of small burgundy estates, whose vignerons might produce small batches of wine using the same grape variety and methods from each of a number of plots situated often only yards apart. The variations in weather from one season to another and the winemaker's skills will all naturally affect the final result, but in theory at least, the meursault he makes from his chardonnay vines in the Perrières vineyard that was planted on the site of an ancient quarry should always taste recognisably stonier than the more immediately softer, more appealing wine from a plot called Les Charmes onthe other side of the road.

To a Gallic chauvinist, the subtleties of terroir are rarely if ever found outside France. Aimé Guibert of the Domaine Mas de Daumas Gassac in Languedoc-Roussillon has dismissed all New World wines as "industrial" and said that "every bottle of American and Australian wine that lands in Europe is a bomb targeted at the heart of our rich European culture". But unique combinations of grape, site and climate abound across the planet. Even a complete novice can spot the differences in flavour and style between the rieslings that top Australian winemaker Jeffrey Grosset produces in his Watervale and Polish Hill vineyards in the Clare Valley, which is just as well, because the Polish Hill can cost a fiver a bottle more. And the effects of those combinations transcend the climatic influences of particular years or winemakers. In other words, a 1955 Chateau Latour should be as recognisable in a lineup as the 2005, even though the cellarmaster and the weather of the two vintages were quite different.

Whether this will be as true of the 2055, however, is another question. According to research across 50 wine-growing regions by climatologist Gregory Jones of Southern Oregon University, Bordeaux will be 1.2C warmer in 50 years, while Chianti's vines might be baking in temperatures that are a full 2C hotter than they are today. Stated bluntly, both areas will be enjoying a similar climate to North Africa today. This warmer weather will give riper, sweeter grapes, which then become stronger, more alcoholic wines: "post classics" that lack the fine, complex subtle characteristics that are associated with the world's finest wines today. Red wines may be more immediately pleasing to drink, thanks to the lower levels of mouth-drying tannin that has historically been the hallmark of most young bordeaux and barolo, for example, but like the whites, they will lack the fresh bite of acidity that makes wine such a great accompaniment to food. Wine grapes, like people, tend to reveal their true character when they are subjected to stress, which is why most of Europe's most famous wine regions are in so-called climatically "marginal" areas where the vines often struggle to ripen. Wines produced in warmer weather, with adequate irrigated water, often lack the edge that separates the great from the simply adequate; drinking them can be a little like watching a top-class football team half-heartedly playing opponents from a lower division.

Many wine lovers will have already noticed the phenomenon. In the 1991 edition of his seminal book on bordeaux, David Peppercorn recalled that the great reds of the Medoc in the 1940s usually had alcoholic strengths of 11-11.5%. By the late 1980s, he regretted the trend towards 12.5% having become "the norm to be aimed at". In 2005, the norm was closer to 13.5% and critically well-received reds such as Chateau Balthus and Lynsolence weighed in at a whopping 14.5%. In California, where, in 1971, red wines averaged 12.5%, the Martinelli winery now makes a zinfandel with an alcohol content of 17.4%.

Whatever you might think of a red wine that is as strong as a gin-and-tonic, California's thick-skinned, sun-loving zinfandel grape, like the Rhone's and Australia's shiraz, is naturally suited to making wines with quite high alcohol. But Burgundy may become too hot for the pinot noir, the thinner-skinned, cooler-climate grape with which it has been associated for more than a thousand years. Jacques Lurton of Chateau la Louvière in Bordeaux expects the widely grown merlot in his region to be increasingly supplanted by the less heat-averse cabernet sauvignon and legal but currently unused grapes such as the petit verdot, and the malbec and carmenère that are respectively now more usually associated with wines from Chile and Argentina. So, it could be farewell to the classic aromas of cigar boxes and flavours of slightly unripe blackcurrants and green peppers that are the hallmarks of claret today, and hello to mouth-filling, rich, spicy, more peppery tastes that are rather more like Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

And what's true of these ancient French regions will be apply to areas such as Barolo in Italy, La Mancha and Rioja in Spain, Australia's Hunter Valley, all of which will effectively be rewriting the melodies and orchestration of their terroir. As global climate patterns change, we are already seeing greater variation between vintages, and, more worryingly for the men and women who grow the grapes, far greater unpredictability. For Ernst Loosen, one of Germany's most respected estate owners and winemakers, "Every year seems to be another challenge . . . a new problem. How do we handle these weather patterns? How am I to keep the style of my wine? It requires a lot of experimental stuff."

Among the solutions to Loosen's and hundreds of thousands of other winemaker's problems will be what his compatriate Hans Schultz of Geisenheim University calls "climate adjustment" or "shaping wines with technology". This will include new ways of growing and training vines and the introduction of irrigation to the classic regions of Europe. Watering vines is currently illegal in these areas because of fears of the overcropping it might facilitate, but if higher temperatures are not accompanied by rain, grapes can stop ripening completely.

The alternative to altering the way wine is made in traditional regions will be to shift production to places where the process is easier. Spain's leading winemaker Miguel Torres, who is spending millions of dollars on research into ways to counter climate change, is developing new vineyards high in the Pyrenees. Others, including owners of big-name bordeaux chateaux such as Mouton Rothschild and Cheval Blanc, are looking far beyond their own borders and investing in vineyards in South America. The challenge is to choose which countries offer the best prospects.

For Dr Smart, some areas that already produce wine will fare better than traditional parts of Europe. Tasmania, New Zealand and Argentina are all on a "lucky list" that is headed by Chile, thanks to the cold current that runs along its long coast. The southern hemisphere, Smart contends, will be less badly hit than the north because of its smaller land masses and larger areas of cooling ocean. He is working on a project in China, now the seventh largest wine producing country in the world. Most of China's existing vineyards are less than ideally situated, but there is a cool, new, unexploited region to the north-west of Beijing that shows real potential.

Another surprising possible beneficiary of post-classic wine may be England, though when English winemaker Stephen Skelton stood up at the conference wearing a union flag shirt he was, perhaps understandably, taken less than seriously. When he began to describe his experiences, however, the audience began to take more notice. "For the first seven years of my wine growing, I never saw a day with a temperature of over 29 degrees. Since 1994, there has only been one year when it did not rise above 29. Last year was actually the second warmest year ... in 356 years of record keeping, even though it was overcast in June and July." For the moment England's strongest suit lies in its sparkling wines which beat champagnes in blind tastings - and sell at champagne prices. One explanation for this is the price of the land on which the English grapes are grown. Skelton has apparently had interest from two major champagne houses but so far the costs of investment have proved too high. Another worry might be the thought that if, as has been suggested, global warming leads to a stoppage of the gulf stream, England will be a better place to develop ski slopes than vineyards.

The French national agronomic research institute, INRA, has pointed out that, with just two degrees of global warming, there will be places in Finland that enjoy a climate that is very similar to that of wine regions in northern France today.

Of course, there are those who dismiss global warming as being of little concern - or as being manageable. Bruno Prats, former owner of Chateau Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux, said that he was very confident in the future of that region, provided the producers amended the blend of their grapes to suit the new conditions. In his view, the spicy petit verdot, traditionally a bit player in red bordeaux, where it rarely makes up as much as 5% of the final wine, may have a major role to play. But Prats is hedging his bets: today, the wine he makes comes from Chile. Another participant in the conference who seemed relaxed about climate change was the Bordeaux-based superstar winemaking consultant Michel Rolland, who has successfully helped to produce wine almost everywhere, including such unlikely countries as India and Uruguay. "So far," he said, "climate change has been very good for us." However, like Prats, Rolland has cannily invested some of his money in high-altitude vineyards in Argentina.

Climate change is not the only factor influencing the future of wine. Long before global warming became a mainstream concern, many of us had already begun to discover and enjoy wines that bear more than a passing resemblance to the ones that Old Europe is wrestling with today. In 1993, Oz Clarke's book New Classic Wines heaped justifed praise on regions such as Casablanca in Chile, Margaret River in Western Australia and Marlborough in New Zealand. All of these places were already delivering wines that offered a new spin on the traditional efforts of regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy. Fifteen years ago, however, the idea that southern-hemisphere countries could be talked of in the same breath as those Gallic meccas was complete anathema. When Clarke launched his book at an international tasting event in New York, many of the French members of the audience ostentatiously left the hall. Today, some of those same Frenchmen and women are busily prospecting for vineyards on the other side of the world.

When lovers of classic wines that taste the way they did in the 1950s and 1960s have wanted to apportion blame for the fact that their modern counterparts have become bigger, richer and less "elegant" and "austere" - to use the old-fashioned winetaster's vocabulary - they have usually pointed their fingers at the US guru Robert Parker and his favourite winemaker Michel Rolland. Parker, the "emperor of wine" whose opinions shape the destinies and even the pricing policies of the most famous wines in the world, likes the big flavours that are associated with ripe grapes. His tasting notes rarely include words such as "elegant". The bottles that get the highest marks tend to be described as "opulent", "inky" "blockbusters" with "gobs of fruit". That 17.4% Zinfandel was, for example, a wine he particularly liked.

Parker owes his success to the fact that large numbers of people across the world agree with his tastes - or, at the very least, have lost their inclination for the way wines used to be. A glance at the shelves of Tesco or Thresher reveals that, far from being at the dawn of the age of the post-classic wine, we've been increasingly surrounded by it, and enjoying it, since the arrival of the first bottles of Cloudy Bay sauvignon and Rosemount chardonnay two decades ago. Today, it is an inconvenient truth that even given the richer style of French wines, most of us apparently still prefer to drink bottles from Australia and California. The only question is how long it will take us to shift our allegiance to the post-post-classics of China, Finland and, who knows, maybe even Yorkshire.

Classic v post-classic: The best of the old and new wines


Originally, chardonnay came from Burgundy, with an alcoholic strength of around 12% and rarely more than the subtlest influence of new oak barrels. Today, that style of wine can still be found in Chablis, the coolest part of Burgundy. Elsewhere, richer more tropical flavours prevail (though excessive oak has been in decline for the past five years).

Classic Marks & Spencer Petit Chablis 2006 (£8.79)
Attractive, light, fresh wine with some of the "mineral" character that chablis gets from the chalky soil - and no oak. Great with oysters.

Post-classic Hendry Ranch Unoaked Chardonnay 2006 (£12.54, Vineyards Cellars, 01488 681313)
No barrels have been used in the making of this California effort either, but it's absolutely packed with almost every kind of sun-ripened fruit you can imagine.


This is where the classic versus post-classic fight has arguably been most fierce, with US critics singing the praises of "blockbusters" that have been hated by classic lovers in Europe.

Classic 2004 Berrys' Margaux (£15.95, Berry Bros & Rudd, 0870 900 4300)
Made by arch-classicist Chateau Durforts Vivens in a moderate climate that produced wines applauded by bordeaux traditionalists, this is the kind of pure, medium-bodied, blackcurranty wine that even a novice might recognise as claret.

Post-classic Chateau Pavie 2003 (£133,
The most controversial wine in Bordeaux - and arguably the world. US critic Robert M Parker said this "inky" wine from the hot 2003 vintage was a "brilliant effort ... a wine of sublime richness ... with extraordinary richness". In Britain, Jancis Robinson thought it "completely unappetising. Porty sweet. Ridiculous wine more reminiscent of a late-harvest zinfandel than a red bordeaux".


Classic Spanish wine for most people was usually rioja: gentle stuff with a fairly light colour, that had often spent five years or more in big casks before it hit our shelves. Spain's post-classics are inky blockbusters from the region of Priorat, which once made cheap communion wine but now commands prices of up to £100 a bottle in New York.

Classic Muriel Rioja Crianza 2001 (£5.69, Sainsbury)
Typical of many people's notion of classic Rioja. Medium-bodied, with soft, strawberry and vanilla character from the barrels in which it has been aged.

Post-classic Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses 2005 Priorat (£216.48 for a case of 12, equivalent to £18.04 each,
Great, intense wine with extraordinary richness of almost chocolatey flavour. Drink with an intensely flavoured plate of game.

· Robert Joseph is the author of the Complete Encyclopedia of Wine (Carlton). His book The Descent of Wine will be published later this year.

Lump sums

Oil production may soon 'peak', but what about coal? David Strahan reports on the recent figures that suggest global reserves may not be nearly as plentiful as the industry and governments have led us to believe

This article appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday March 05 2008 on p9 of the Society news & features section. It was last updated at 09:24 on March 05 2008.

For weeks, South Africa has suffered rolling blackouts caused in part by a shortage of coal. Gripped by unusually bitter snowstorms, China recently banned coal exports for the next two months. And at Newcastle, Australia, the world's largest coal export terminal in the world's largest coal exporting country, the queue of carriers waiting to load has been known to stretch almost to Sydney, 150km to the south.

Coal, for so long the Cinderella of fossil fuels, is suddenly not just in demand but in desperately short supply. The world's biggest producers and exporters are struggling, and the price of imports to Europe has doubled to almost $140 (£70.5) per tonne over the past year. "It's a global crunch," says John Howland, managing editor of the international coal industry magazine McCloskey's Coal Report.

The immediate reasons for the price spike are soaring demand, inadequate infrastructure and bad weather. But now there are also gnawing doubts that global coal production may, within the next few decades, face fundamental geological constraints, or "peak coal".

Ask most energy analysts how much coal we have left, and the answer will be a variant on "plenty". The latest "official" statistics from the World Energy Council put global coal reserves at the end of 2006 at a staggering 847bn tonnes. Since world coal production that year was just under 6bn tonnes, the reserves-to-production (R/P) ratio - the theoretical number of years the reserves would last at the current rate of consumption - is well over 100 years.

It is commonly assumed, therefore, that there can be no shortage of coal this century. However, a clutch of recent reports suggest that coal reserves may be hugely inflated - a possibility that has profound implications for global energy supply and climate change.

A report published last year by the EU Institute of Energy pointed out that as demand for coal has soared since the turn of the century - with China famously opening one coal-fired power station per week - the world's reserves have fallen fast. The authors calculated that the R/P ratio had dropped by almost a third, from 277 years in 2000 to just 155 in 2005.

Marginal deposits

Mysteriously, this fall happened despite a sharp rise in the price of coal, which traditional economic theory suggests should increase the level of reserves by making it possible to exploit more marginal deposits. The report warned that "the world could run out of economically recoverable (at current economic and operating conditions) reserves of coal much earlier than widely anticipated". When the latest data, from 2006, was published last year, the R/P ratio had dropped again to just 144 years.

Energy Watch, a group of scientists led by the German renewable energy consultancy Ludwig Bölkow Systemtechnik, has drawn an even more alarming conclusion. In a report also published last year, the group argues that official coal reserves are likely to be biased on the high side. "As scientists, we were surprised to find that so-called proven reserves were anything but proven," says the report's lead author Werner Zittel. "It is a clear sign that something is seriously wrong."

Energy Watch found that many countries' reserves figures had remained suspiciously unchanged for decades - China's since 1992, despite having mined 20% in the intervening years. But in those countries that had revised their figures, the changes were overwhelmingly negative. For instance Britain, Germany and Botswana had cut their reserves by over 90%, more than could be accounted for by mining alone, suggesting these gloomier updates were based on improved data.

As a result, Energy Watch concluded the current reserves figures are likely to represent the upper limit of available coal, meaning that production will stall far sooner than expected. On the basis of a country-by-country analysis, the group forecasts that although global coal output could rise by about 30% over the next decade, it will peak as early as 2025 and then fall into terminal decline.

Less coal, of course, means less carbon, and a recent analysis by Dave Rutledge, chair of the department of engineering and applied science at the California Institute of Technology, suggests that current forecasts of man-made CO2 emissions may be far too pessimistic. By analysing the coal production trends in individual countries, using an ingenious technique called Hubbert linearisation, Rutledge's estimate of the total amount of coal that remains to be produced is much lower than the official figures.

Using historical examples such as Britain, where coal output peaked in 1913 and mining is now all but finished, he can demonstrate that the approach is far more accurate than traditional explanations. By this method, the predicted future global coal production will amount to around 450bn tonnes before mining stops - little more than half the current official reserves figure.

The effect on the emissions outlook is dramatic, producing a peak atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2070 of just 460ppm (parts per million) - fractionally above the 450ppm that many scientists believe is the threshold for runaway climate change, and lower than even the most optimistic of the 40 climate scenarios by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "In some sense, this is good news," Rutledge says. "We are likely to hit 450ppm without any policy intervention." Therefore, even if governments did nothing, total CO2 concentration would not surpass the presumed climate change threshold by much.

Dangerously complacent

Neither Energy Watch nor Rutledge could remotely be described as climate-change deniers - quite the opposite - but their findings worry many climate scientists, including Pushker Kharecha, at the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. He agrees that coal reserves are probably overstated, but insists that curtailment of coal emissions is still essential to combat climate change. "What are the risks if the low-coal people are wrong?" he asks. To pin our hopes on low coal would be dangerously complacent, he argues, because if it is only marginally wrong the additional emissions could ensure catastrophe.

Rutledge agrees that although his analysis suggests that the fossil fuel reserves assumed in the IPCC model are far too high, it does not mean the problem of climate change is solved. Recent evidence suggests that the climate is more sensitive to carbon emissions than previously thought, and the IPCC model does not yet take account of long-term "positive feedback loops", such as the melting Siberian permafrost or shrinking icecaps, which will accelerate global warming. Jim Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute, has warned that the danger threshold for CO2 is probably much lower than 450ppm.

What it does mean, however, is that the world's looming energy crisis could be even more severe than anyone imagines. In the International Energy Agency's latest long-term forecast, global coal consumption needs to rise 60% by 2030 to satisfy economic growth, and coal-fired electricity generating capacity has to double. But if Zittel and Rutledge are right, there is little chance of those predictions being fulfilled. And as global oil production goes into terminal decline within the next decade or so, there is even less chance that synthetic coal-to-liquids fuels can make up the crude deficit.

But the good news is that the imperatives of climate change and peak oil are identical. "In the long run, economies that rely on depletable resources are doomed to fail," Zittel warns. "The coal peak makes it even more urgent to switch to renewable energy without delay."

· David Strahan is the author of The Last Oil Shock, published by John Murray Ltd. Details at

A change in the climate: credit crunch makes the bottom line the top issue

This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday March 06 2008 on p28 of the Financial section. It was last updated at 00:10 on March 06 2008.

A business briefing by Asda would normally be an occasion to whet the appetite of environmental analysts along with financial ones as the WalMart subsidiary has never passed up an opportunity to bang the drum about its latest green or sustainability initiative.

But at last week's trading update in the City, neither a 46-page strategy document nor an accompanying hour's talk from the chief executive, Andy Bond, brought a reference to the subject. The discussion was all about "profitable growth", "staff retention" and "customer focus".

BP, meanwhile, is digging up Canadian tar sands and considering the sale of its renewable-power business. The oil group says its priority is to get its profits and share price back on track.

This shift was mirrored on a grander scale at Davos in January. The World Economic Forum was meant to give a leading role to climate change but coverage of the events was completely dominated by discussions about what was happening on Wall Street.

Environmentalists and other campaigners fear that sustainability and wider corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues are falling off the boardroom agenda as businesses tighten their belts in the face of turbulent stockmarkets, the credit crunch and a looming economic slowdown. And they worry that CSR could be seen by business as a fad whose time has come and gone.

Hannah Griffiths, corporates campaigner at Friends of the Earth, says her organisation had always argued that regulation was needed because when the crunch came, profits would come first. "We always felt that companies do not take CSR as seriously as they claim to and voluntary action does not work."

Her concerns are supported by SustainAbility, a strategy consultant that specialises in this area. It says it is already seeing a squeeze on corporate responsibility budgets and expects this to continue for the next 12-24 months.

"But each time the sustainable development movement has been temporarily derailed, it has re-emerged on a new and more effective trajectory," says Maggie Brenneke, a director at SustainAbility. "We anticipate that companies will respond to this downturn with a honed emphasis on capturing opportunity space through innovation and entrepreneurship."

Rising sea levels

Others are also concerned that corporate social responsibility is coming under pressure just as it appeared to have won acceptance. Last night a seminar in London addressed the question of "how to keep climate change responses at the top of the corporate agenda" at an event due to be attended by representatives of companies from Shell to the BBC via Rio Tinto and Eurostar.

Serious companies will continue to pursue these issues but others may not, warns Professor David Grayson, chairman of the Doughty centre for corporate responsibility at Cranfield School of Management. "If companies still see their own CSR in terms of specific initiatives and have not embedded it into the fabric of the business then you might well see it cut back," he argues.

Craig Bennett, development director at Cambridge University's programme for industry, agrees. "There must be concerns that CSR will be squeezed in an economic downturn. But there is a strong argument that when times get hard that is just when CSR can help a company differentiate itself from competitors and thrive," he explains.

Previously scoffed at by many right-wing commentators, CSR has moved into the mainstream, partly because of climate change. The realisation that everyone is going to be affected by rising sea levels, unpredictable weather systems and government regulation triggered enormous interest in "sustainable" business models and CSR.

Financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom, alleged labour abuses at Nike and environmental abuses at Shell have all played into the hands of anti-corporate, human rights and green campaign groups. The outcry has also led politicians to initiate a blizzard of regulations, leaving companies adopting CSR as a strategy to manage risk as much as project a positive public image.

Measuring the value of such moves is hard but Christopher Satterthwaite, chief executive of the public relations firm Chime Communications, is willing to make a stab at it: "We reckon that 25%-30% of anyone's stock price is related to their reputation - how admired or not admired they are."

Chime has bought into the concept with a separate business called the Corporate Citizenship Company, a CSR consultancy that works for such companies as Unilever, Dyson, BP, Diageo, Vodafone, Sky and HSBC.

Criticism softens

For its part, Asda denied it had given up on its CSR agenda, saying its interest was highlighted by initiatives such as using more local suppliers than any other major supermarket. "We remain committed to the company's strategy of reducing energy consumption and sending zero waste to landfill," Bond said.

A BP spokesman said the oil group remained highly responsible even if it did not necessarily believe in CSR. "We have never used the term CSR and do not advocate that strategy of parcelling it up and hiving it off as a specific activity with its little office. We are interested in CR, corporate responsibility, which is essentially about running the whole of our business in a responsible way."

Tobias Webb, founding editor of Ethical Corporation magazine, believes firms may become more discerning. "I think what you will see are companies wanting more bang for their bucks."

One of the most important signs that CSR has truly arrived and will not be easily shifted is that its biggest critics have softened their position.

The Economist magazine used to be deeply sceptical about the whole concept but last month produced a 24-page supplement called "Just good business" and notes that its intelligence unit has just produced a survey showing that only 4% of respondents thought CSR was "a waste of time and money".

Martin Wolf, an associate editor of the Financial Times and a former high-profile critic of CSR, has mellowed on the subject too. He used to argue that CSR distorted the market by deflecting business from its primary role of profit generation but now says: "I'm not as against it as I was."

Wolf feared that CSR would force companies to seek social outcomes better left to government. But he says: "90% to 95% of CSR is just hot air. It is PR in the positive sense of internal PR that motivates staff and makes them feel good about the company they work for but that's all."

This is just the kind of thinking that has Friends of the Earth reaching for the green panic button.


Corporate social responsibility - a commitment to looking after all "stakeholders" inside and outside a business - has risen fast up the boardroom agenda in recent years. Many of the initiatives have come from major corporations such as British American Tobacco and Shell after bruising encounters with non-governmental organisations. Shell realised it had to adopt a more enlightened policy after the 1995 conflict with Greenpeace over its attempt to dump the Brent Spar platform in the North Sea. But arguments have raged ever since about whether firms are engaged in "greenwash" - an attempt to divert criticism from their core businesses.

Hibernation-like behavior in Antarctic fish -- on ice for winter


Scientists have discovered an Antarctic fish species that adopts a winter survival strategy similar to hibernation. Reporting this week in the journal PLoS ONE, the online journal from the Public Library of Science, scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the University of Birmingham reveal, for the first time, that the Antarctic ”˜cod’ Notothenia coriiceps effectively ”˜puts itself on ice’ to survive the long Antarctic winter.

The study showed that the fish activate a seasonal ”˜switch’ in ecological strategy — going from one that maximises feeding and growth in summer to another that minimises the energetic cost of living during the long, Antarctic winter. The research demonstrates that at least some fish species can enter a dormant state, similar to hibernation that is not temperature driven and presumably provides seasonal energetic benefits. Scientists already know that Antarctic fish have very low metabolic rates and blood ”˜antifreeze’ proteins that allow them to live in near-freezing waters. This study demonstrates that Antarctic fish - which already live in the ”˜slow lane’ with extremely low rates of growth, metabolism and swimming activity - can in fact further depress these metabolic processes in winter.

Lead author Dr Hamish Campbell, formerly at the University of Birmingham, UK but now at University of Queensland, Australia said,

“Hibernation is a pretty complex subject. Fish are generally incapable of suppressing their metabolic rate independently of temperature. Therefore, winter dormancy in fish is typically directly proportional to decreasing water temperatures. The interesting thing about these Antarctic cod is that their metabolic rates are reduced in winter even though the seawater temperature doesn’t decrease much. It seems unlikely that the small winter reductions in water temperature that do occur are causing the measured decrease in metabolism. However, there are big seasonal changes in light levels, with 24 hour light during summer followed by months of winter darkness — so the decrease in light during winter may be driving the reduction in metabolic rates.”

Dr Keiron Fraser from BAS says,

“This is our first insight into how these fish live in winter. We have for the first time in the Antarctic, used cutting edge technologies combining tracking of free swimming fish in the wild and heart rate monitors to allow us to investigate just how these animals cope in winter with living in near freezing water and almost complete darkness for months on end. It appears they utilise the short Antarctic summers to gain sufficient energy from feeding to tide them over in winter. The hibernation-like state they enter in winter is presumably a mechanism for reducing their energy requirements to the bare minimum. The interesting question we still have to answer is why these fish greatly reduce feeding in winter when food is still available.”

Why these fish chose to adopt this hibernation-like strategy during winter is currently unclear, but it presumably provides energetic benefits. The traditional views of hibernation are being challenged constantly. This study introduces a new group of animals that appear to utilise a hibernation-like strategy that allows them to survive during the long winters in one of the harshest environments on Earth.

Warming climate may cause arctic tundra to burn


Bozeman — Research from ancient sediment cores indicates that a warming climate could make the world’s arctic tundra far more susceptible to fires than previously thought. The findings, published this week in the online journal, PLoS ONE, are important given the potential for tundra fires to release organic carbon — which could add significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases already blamed for global warming.

Montana State University post-doctoral researcher Philip Higuera is the lead author on the paper, which summarizes a portion of a four-year study funded by the National Science Foundation

Higuera and his co-authors examined ancient sediments from four lakes in a remote region of Alaska in and around Gates of the Arctic National Park to determine what kind of vegetation existed in the area after the last ice age, 14,000 to 9,000 years ago. By looking at fossilized pollen grains in the sediment cores, Higuera and his co-authors determined that after the last ice age, the arctic tundra was very different from what it is now. Instead of being covered with grasses, herbs, and short shrubs, it was covered with vast expanses of tall birch shrubs.

Charcoal preserved in the sediment cores also showed evidence that those shrub expanses burned — frequently.

“This was a surprise,” Higuera said. “Modern tundra burns so infrequently that we don’t really have a good idea of how often tundra can burn. Best estimates for the most flammable tundra regions are that it burns once every 250-plus years.”

The ancient sediment cores showed the shrub tundra burned as frequently as modern boreal forests in Alaska — every 140 years on average, but with some fires spaced only 30 years apart.

Higuera’s research is important because other evidence indicates that as the climate has warmed in the past 50 to 100 years, shrubs have expanded across the world’s tundra regions.

“There is evidence of increasing shrub biomass in modern tundra ecosystems, and we expect temperatures to continue to increase and overall moisture levels to decrease. Combine these two factors and it suggests a greater potential for fires,” Higuera said. “The sediment cores indicate that it’s happened before.”

The world’s high latitude tundra and boreal forest ecosystems contain roughly 30 percent of the planet’s total soil carbon. Currently, much of the carbon is locked in permafrost. But a warming climate could cause the permafrost to melt and release its carbon stores into the atmosphere where it would contribute to the greenhouse effect.

“Vegetation change through an increase in shrub biomass and more frequent burning will change a great deal of the carbon cycle in these high latitudes,” Higuera said. “We don’t fully understand the implications, except that it’s reasonable to expect that carbon that was previously locked up could enter the atmosphere.”

The paper is the first in a series Higuera expects to publish from his field work. Future papers will examine how climate, vegetation, and fire regimes have interacted over the past 15,000 years in the region.

Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country

William R. Cline, Peterson Institute


(left to right) C. Fred Bergsten, William R. Cline, and Jonathan Lash at the Peterson Institute

C. Fred Bergsten, William R. Cline, and Jonathan Lash at the Peterson Institute
The Peterson Institute and the Center for Global Development released Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country by William R. Cline at a luncheon on September 12, 2007. After brief remarks by Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, Dr. Cline discussed the magnitude of global warming and its differential impact across countries, providing detailed information for countries and subregions within larger countries. Dr. Cline finds developing countries’ production may fall between 10 and 25 percent if global warming continues unabated.

William Cline, senior fellow since the Institute’s inception in 1981, holds a joint appointment at the Institute and the Center for Global Development. Dr. Cline has been a pioneer in the study of the economic effects of global warming. His Economics of Global Warming (1992) was among the first studies to tackle this crucial topic and won the 1992 Harold and Margaret Sprout Prize for best book on international environmental affairs.


Book: Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country
by William R. Cline
July 2007

In Brief: Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country [pdf]

News Release: World Agriculture Faces Serious Decline from Global Warming [pdf]
September 12, 2007

Presentation: Global Warming and Agriculture [pdf]
William R. Cline, Peterson Institute

In Brief

Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by CountryUnabated global warming will reduce global agricultural capacity at least modestly by late in this century, contrary to some estimates that it will benefit global agriculture over that period. The damages will be the most severe and begin the soonest where they can least be afforded: in the developing countries. The losses will be much larger if carbon fertilization1 benefits fail to materialize, especially if water scarcity limits irrigation.

Temperatures in developing countries, which are predominantly located in lower latitudes, are already closer to or beyond thresholds at which further warming will reduce rather than increase agricultural capacity, and these countries tend to have less capacity to adapt. Moreover, agriculture accounts for a much larger share of GDP in developing countries than in industrial countries, so a given percentage loss in agricultural potential would impose a larger income loss in a developing country than in an industrial country. This study starkly confirms the asymmetry between potentially severe agricultural damages in many poor countries and milder effects in rich countries.

A small amount of warming through, say, the next two or three decades might benefit global agriculture (with some countries gaining more than others). But i t would be a serious mistake to do nothing about global warming on grounds that some studies have estimated global agricultural gains rather than losses for the first few degrees of warming. The delay of some three decades for ocean thermal lag before today’s emissions generate additional warming is a sufficient reason not to stop the clock at, say, 2050 in an analysis of the stakes of climate change policy for world agriculture over the coming decades.2 This study therefore chooses the final three decades of this century (the “2080s” for short) as the relevant period for analysis.3

Cline uses two types of agricultural impact models, “Ricardian” statistical economic models and process-based agronomic crop models, combined with leading climate model projections, to develop comprehensive estimates for over 100 countries, regions, and regional subzones in the largest countries. He develops a “consensus” set of geographically detailed estimates for changes in temperature and precipitation by the 2080s and applies these climatic changes to the agricultural impact models.

He estimates global agricultural output capacity (including carbon fertilization) to decline by about 3 percent by the 2080s. But if the carbon fertilization effect did not materialize, the losses would be at about 16 percent.4 These losses would be disproportionately concentrated in poor countries. On average, developing countries would suffer losses of 9 percent. Damages would be severe in Africa (17 percent average loss), Latin America (13 percent average loss), and South Asia (30 percent average loss in India and 20 percent in Pakistan). The losses would be much larger if the benefits from carbon fertilization did not materialize (averaging about 21 percent for all developing countries, 28 percent for Africa, and 24 percent for Latin America).

This study is particularly important for the cases of China and India. China is already the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide (after the United States but ahead of the European Union), and its cooperation will surely be crucial to effective action against global warming. Although this study finds China a modest gainer in agriculture under business as usual warming (increase in agricultural capacity by about 7 percent with carbon fertilization), the estimate turns to a loss (7 percent reduction in agricultural capacity) if carbon fertilization effects do not materialize or are offset by excluded damages. For India, prospective losses are massive (as large as about 40 percent in the absence of carbon fertilization).

For Australia, one of the two steadfast opponents of the Kyoto Protocol, the principal international initiative against global warming, the study suggests that a more positive position on global warming abatement would be in its long-term interests. The estimates for Australia indicate losses of around 16 percent even with carbon fertilization (with much larger losses suggested by the Ricardian estimates). As for the United States, the other principal opponent, although the estimates show an aggregate gain of 8 percent in the case with carbon fertilization, they indicate a comparable loss (6 percent) if carbon fertilization is excluded. Moreover, regional losses are pronounced: by about 30 to 35 percent in the Southeast and in the Southwest Plains, if carbon fertilization is excluded (and about 20 to 25 percent even if it is included).

The findings of this study strongly suggest that policymakers in both industrial and developing countries should ensure that international action begins in earnest to curb global warming from its “business as usual” path. Moreover, illustrative summary calculations suggest it would be a serious mistake to downplay the risks of future agricultural losses from global warming on grounds that technological change, for example in new seed varieties, will swamp any negative climate effects. The pace of global agricultural yield increases already decelerated from 1961–83 to 1984–2005, and a sizable portion of agricultural land will likely be diverted to the production of ethanol for fuel by late in this century.


1. Increase in yields as a result of increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

2. Warming at the ocean’s surface is initially partially dissipated through heat exchange to the cooler lower layers of the ocean. Only after the lower levels warm sufficiently to reestablish the equilibrium differential from the surface temperature does the “committed” amount of warming from a given rise in carbon concentration become fully “realized.”

3. However, damages could continue to grow throughout the following two centuries before atmospheric concentrations of carbon eventually begin to decline once again from mixing into the deep ocean. Even if carbon emissions collapsed after the 2080s back to well below today’s levels, the delay of some three decades for ocean thermal lag means that the warming and effects estimated in this study would substantially underestimate the eventual equilibrium warming and damages.

4. Moreover, the Ricardian models count on availability of more water for irrigation under circumstances in which there could easily be less water. Neither the Ricardian nor the crop models deal with increased damage from pests or more frequent and more severe extreme weather events (e.g., floods and droughts). For several reasons, then, declines in global agricultural capacity by the 2080s could thus easily be greater than the estimates in this study and perhaps lie in the range of 10 to 25 percent.


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