UKIP’s energy policy: Lots of fracking, little evidence

  • 20 Sep 2013, 16:30
  • Mat Hope

UKIP is ready to put the party into party conference, meeting today to celebrate its 20th anniversary at a time when it's flying high in the polls. In preparation for the revelry, the party's energy spokesman, Roger Helmer MEP announced its latest policy this morning: frack the UK.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today Programme, Helmer said the UK had to "look at the available evidence" for developing a shale gas industry. UKIP has - and concludes fracking can only be a good thing for the economy, he says.

UKIP's fracking plan

Exploiting the UK's shale gas resources could provide an "economic windfall" for the country, and UKIP has plans for that bounty, Helmer told the Today audience.

UKIP has seen how the US's shale gas industry boom has decreased domestic energy prices and helped its economy recover and is feeling inspired. He cites evidence from the British Geological Survey, which estimates the UK has 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas locked underground.


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A pre-IPCC recap of the links between extreme weather and climate change

  • 17 Sep 2013, 17:20
  • Roz Pidcock

With just over a week to go until the UN's new climate report is released, media stories are beginning to be written anticipating the report, and a series of leaks from the notoriously leaky review process have provided ample fodder for those who want to put their own spin on things.

Today's  Telegraph gets a few things wrong in examining what scientists know and don't know about the link between extreme weather and climate change.

Yesterday,  the paper uncritically reproduced the argument of a piece in the  Mail on Sunday which claimed that the IPCC's estimate of how much the world has warmed since 1951 has halved since the last report in 2007.

That claim appears to be  wrong, but the Telegraph piece  this morning repeats some of the arguments - as well as some new ones about the link between extreme weather and climate change.

Hurricanes, droughts and floods

Let's focus on what the new IPCC report apparently says about  rising global temperatures and hurricanes, droughts and floods. Writing in the Telegraph, journalist Bruno Waterfield says:

"The EU has often linked extreme weather events to global warming after the IPCC said six years ago that it was more than 50 per cent sure that hurricanes, flooding and droughts were being caused by manmade global warming. That figure is expected to be revised down to less than a 21 per cent certainty that natural disasters are caused by climate change."

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Scientists take the Mail on Sunday to task over claim that warming is half what IPCC said last time

  • 16 Sep 2013, 15:40
  • Roz Pidcock

The Mail on Sunday yesterday claimed the international climate community is conceding the world hasn't warmed as much since the middle of last century as previously thought. We ask climate scientists what they make of the story.

A major new report on the state of the climate is due imminently from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). An involved process of review by experts and governments worldwide is coming to a close, and the first part of the report is set for release at the end of next week.

Last week, a draft summary of the document was  leaked to  journalists. In yesterday's Mail on Sunday, climate skeptic journalist David Rose claims to have seen information in the summary which "reveals scientific forecasts of imminent doom were drastically wrong".

The Mail on Sunday  piece is entitled 'World's top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we said'. It follows a series of other  articles Rose has written for the Mail on Sunday recently which, taken together, suggest that the fundamentals of climate science are being thrown into doubt.

The  Telegraph quickly repurposed the Mail on Sunday article under the headline, 'Top climate scientists admit global warming forecasts were wrong'. Meanwhile,  The Australian went a step further with a story headlined 'We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC'.

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Boris's energy policy quick fix will take a decade to kick in

  • 16 Sep 2013, 15:00
  • Ros Donald & Mat Hope

Credit: The Sun

Noted empiricist, Boris Johnson, has been known to pen a comment or two on the subject of climate change after a  glance out of the window. This weekend, after spying wind turbines through the windscreen of his Previa, the Mayor of London turned his fancy to energy policy.

According to his latest epistle in the  Sun on Sunday, realism and decisive action are needed to meet the country's growing energy demand, reduce dependence on imported gas and avoid power shortages.  He reckons nuclear power and shale gas production will cut bills and keep the lights on, without further blighting the countryside with a "parade of waving, white-armed old lunatics, gesticulating feebly at each other across the fields and the glens" (wind turbines, to the rest of us).

Let us assess the good mayor's vision of a brighter energy future.

"No one seriously believes that wind turbines are the answer to our power shortages"

Based on observing the turbines' seemingly slow rotation speed as he chauffeured his son northwards, Johnson shares his revelation: windfarms alone can't provide for the UK's growing energy needs.


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The Mail on Sunday's topsy-turvy view of climate change continues

  • 10 Sep 2013, 15:00
  • Freya Roberts

Reading the Mail on Sunday this weekend, you'd be forgiven for thinking scientists and governments are planning emergency meetings to reconsider the fundamentals of climate science, following claims in the media that Arctic sea ice is rebounding.

The  article in question, by climate skeptic journalist David Rose, was echoed by a similar piece in the  Sunday Telegraph. "...It's global COOLING!", the headline declares, before arguing that Arctic sea ice is "rebounding" contrary to predictions.

Here are five claims the article makes, and why they will leave you with a topsy-turvy view of what's actually going on.

1. The Arctic ice cap grew "by 60% in a year"

As we approach the annual minimum point for Arctic sea ice, when the ice cap has melted to its smallest point, it's clear that there's more ice now than there was this time last year.


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Yes, windfarms need wind to work: The danger of taking data snapshots

  • 27 Aug 2013, 14:50
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Flying Stag

There's an old parable about trying to describe a whole  elephant if all you've ever encountered is the trunk: it's unlikely you'd succeed. The same is true of windfarms' ability to produce electricity. If you've only ever seen them on still days, it would be hard to see how they could contribute to the UK's energy production.

The  Telegraph got fixated on the elephant's trunk this weekend. It claimed that at a given time, some of the UK's windfarms were only producing enough power "to make a few cups of tea". A look at the bigger picture reveals a more complex situation, however.

No wind

Windfarms produce power when it's windy, and don't when it's still. Wind's intermittent nature makes it pretty easy to find data to suggest windfarms aren't working -  it's just a case of picking the right weather conditions.

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How the Conservatives sextupled the CCC’s estimate for green power costs

  • 27 Aug 2013, 14:30
  • Robin Webster

A Labour Party commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector would add £125 to consumer energy bills by 2030, argues the Conservative Party. But the estimate relies on the assumption that the cost of wholesale electricity will remain the same - one of several factors that ensure the Conservatives' figure is six times higher than a previous analysis suggests. 

The figure appears on a new website from Conservative Party headquarters, which claims Labour's proposed policies will cost voters more in the future: 

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 At 16.43.14

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Is David Cameron right to be confident in the UK's shale gas regulation?

  • 12 Aug 2013, 15:00
  • Robin Webster

Fracking  could lead to air and water pollution, water shortages and pose a threat to human health, argue protestors. But the UK Prime Minister  David Cameron says the process is safe - because the system for regulating it in this country is one of "the most stringent in the world". 

In today's Telegraph,  Cameron writes: 

"International evidence shows there is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage, if properly regulated". 

Well-respected institutions seem to agree. Reports from Parliament's  Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Committee, the  International Energy Agency (IEA) and the  Royal Societyhave all concluded that the environmental impacts of shale gas extraction can be managed - so long as the regulations are strong enough. 

So do the UK's rules come up to scratch?

The basics: how the regulatory system works    

Say you are a company looking to extract oil and gas in Lancashire. You first have to apply for a licence to extract oil in the area from the Department for Energy and Climate Change

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Cameron throws a penny in the shale gas well and hopes his wishes come true

  • 12 Aug 2013, 14:30
  • Mat Hope

Sourced under creative commons

Shale gas has become a national  talking point in recent weeks. The media debate has hit overdrive, with  strong rhetoric occasionally displacing the facts. And now the UK Prime Minister has got in on the act - throwing his weight behind the creation of a UK shale gas industry.

Writing in the  Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron is optimistic that exploiting shale gas can bring energy prices down, create jobs, and help communities. He says that for those reasons, the UK "cannot afford to miss out on fracking". Evidence suggests the prime minister's optimistic claims should come with some caveats, however.

Energy prices

Cameron says adding shale gas to the UK's energy mix has "real potential to drive energy bills down". His claim contrasts with a number of reports that suggest shale gas is unlikely to stop gas prices rising.

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The BBC discusses changes in the sun - and why they don’t mean an ice age is on the way

  • 09 Aug 2013, 12:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Could changes deep within in the sun soon see us skating on a frozen-over Thames? The question of the sun's role in climate change - and the prospect of an icy future - pops up in the media from time to time.

This morning, it was the BBC's turn on the Today Programme. The slot did a pretty good job of explaining that although changes in the sun have affected climate in the past, greenhouse gases are now the dominant factor driving temperatures up.

The programme's topic was the imminent  flip in the sun's magnetic field, the force responsible for driving sunspot activity. Steve Tobias, professor of maths at Leeds University, explained how this switch happens about every 11 years, when the sun's output is at the highest point in a natural cycle.

Asked whether the sun's waxing and waning contributes to climate change. Professor Tobias explained:

"It does feed in but it's a very small effect. The sun's total irradiance actually varies by a fraction of a percent, so the direct forcing is very small … it may have indirect effects for the climate but I think I should stress current global warming trends are not really due to changes in the sun's activity."

Presenter Justin Webb pressed a bit more, saying "but years ago the sun created an ice age, didn't it?"

The simple answer is yes. But as Tobias explained, human activity is now the main driver climate change, not the sun - a mistake that has led some parts of the media to suggest we're headed for a ' mini ice age'. Here's a closer look at what the sun has to do with our climate.

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