Do you feel lucky?

Airconcover.jpgOnce again, Ian Wishart is working himself up into a fine frenzy over at his blog, responding to a perceptive post by Bomber Bradbury at Tumeke! In the comments there he claimed to have “pointed out numerous mistakes in Gareth’s snide and out of context ‘review'”, and — funnily enough — I didn’t feel inclined to let that pass. So I suggested a little wager, and drew this furious response. So, knowing it will make precious little difference in the strange version of reality that Wishart occupies, here’s my (final) response…

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The twain must meet

richard-holmesSpeaking recently at the Hay Festival in the UK, biographer Richard Holmes attacked the “dangerous” division between the arts and the sciences, warning that the split could be fatal in the face of global warming. Fifty years ago the British novelist and scientist C P Snow gave a famous lecture, The Two Cultures, which pointed to a breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities. I was a young man at the time and can remember thinking it characterised my position adequately enough.  I was reasonably well informed in literature, history and theology but had very sparse knowledge when it came to the sciences. I’ve tried over the years since to get better acquainted with the major themes of science, but it’s pretty well in the nature of things that there’s no easy path from the humanities to the sciences. Traffic the other way flows much more readily and many scientists are very much at home in both worlds.

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You never give me your money

BillEnglish.jpg Bill English’s first budget has disappointed many by ditching promised tax cuts, but pleased a few by reinstating a Green home insulation initiative. The Science Media Centre has a handy summary here. There’s $321 million of new money for R&D through a “Primary Growth Partnership” (details due on June 2), which goes some way to offset the loss of Labour’s “Fast Forward” fund, but no money for the promised climate change research centre (it was going to be a “virtual” centre, now it’s actually gone). Reaction in the science community was mixed, as the Science Media Centre documents. Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, director of the He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme at the University of Otago, Wellington commented:

“I’m very pleased to see that there has been multi-partisan agreement about the importance of retrofitting insulation and install sustainable heating and that significant investment has been included in this Budget. There is going to be a ramp up over four years and by the end of that time it is estimated that over a quarter of uninsulated houses in New Zealand will be insulated.

“I think it’s important that the Government is requiring people to insulate their houses before they can access the subsidies for sustainable heaters. This makes physical and energy efficiency sense and is based on sound public health science. There has also been further attempts to increase the incentives for landlords to upgrade their properties, which is important for the 40% of householders that rent in the private sector.

Meanwhile, Prof Paul Callaghan at Victoria University was “disappointed” with the budget:

“If New Zealand is to turbocharge its way out of this recession, we have to develop new export businesses based on knowledge and innovation. What we need are significant new investments to build our innovation system. The 2009/10 budget has not addressed that issue.”

However, in a fairly clear signal that the Emissions Trading Scheme is going to survive its select committee review, Nick Smith announced increased funding of $6.9 million for developing the Emissions Trading Scheme, “including international linkages”.

[Beatles (rare long version)]

The Minister Speaks

nick-smith_editedThe Minister Responsible for Climate Change Issues Nick Smith’s address to the recent NZ Climate Change Centre’s conference Managing the Unavoidable appeared to be the first comprehensive public statement he has made since assuming ministerial responsibility.  I read it with interest and here offer comments on some of it. 

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This year’s model

Take MIT’s global ocean model, assimilate data from NASA’s fleet of satellites, and run the whole thing through two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers on a much more detailed grid than used before, and you get this stunning animation of ocean currents from 1994 to 2002. It makes fascinating viewing: look for the complex whorls of currents to the southwest of NZ, or the loops of the Gulf Stream (red/white is fastest moving water).

This sort of detailed ocean modelling is important for capturing the interactions between atmosphere and ocean: useful for improving weather forecasting on short and medium term timescales, as well as improving climate projections on regional scales. NASA JPL press release here.