Scotland’s irrational GM crop ban

The Scottish government has decided to ban genetically modified crops to ensure Scotland maintains its ‘clean, green status’. This phrase, symbolic of what we are supposed to want to preserve, has not been defined, and we have no way of discerning exactly how it relates to the consequences of GM crops. Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Scottish National Party Member, announced the policy as Scotland’s stance, ahead of the government’s request to be exempted from EU-authorised GM crops.

None of the reasons given for the prohibition follow from the evidence we have about GM crops nor from countries’ experiences with them. One anti-GM-crop writer, Mike Small of Bella Caledonia, remarkably complained we are falling foul of an ‘expertocracy’ because of our ‘unswerving devotion to scientists’. He has also given a number of reasons why we should support the prohibition of GM crops in Scotland. Among those were that GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers; do not increase yield potential; increase pesticide use; and have not been shown to be safe to eat. These claims are simply wrong.

If we take a look at a meta-analysis conducted last year of the impacts of genetically modified organisms we see that the agronomic and economic benefits of GM crops are large and significant. The positive feedback we hear from people in developing countries is reflected in the studies as we find that yield and profit gains are higher in developing countries than in developed countries. It concludes that, on average, GM technology has increased crop yields by 21%, reduced pesticide quantity by 37% and pesticide cost by 39%, and meant average profit gains of 69% for GM-adopting farmers.



The World Health Organisation has verified that all GM foods available in the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. People have been consuming them for decades in the United States and in 2014 GM crops made up 94% of soybean acreage, 93% of all corn planted, and 96% of all cotton. For as long as populations have consumed them no resulting effects on human health have been shown in the countries where they have been approved.

While farmers in the rest of the UK are looking to take advantage of GM technology, farmers in Scotland are concerned by the Scottish Parliament’s backwards policy; spokespeople for the agricultural industry say it will impede their efficiency and competitiveness. They are right: Scottish farmers will not be capable of competing in the same market as their neighbours if shut off from technological advances just as other countries are adopting GM crops.

To give any credence to Mike Small and similar superstitious claims would be to completely go against accepted evidence and rationality. So if Scottish politicians follow through with the GMO prohibition without any credible counteracting evidence that it would be harmful for Scotland, it will not only hold the country back, but the boundaries of scientific research will be redefined and Scotland might lose its leading research experts to more supportive political environments.

The fiddly and tricky bit of the new electricity system

That the amount of electricity we can generate from wind turbines is inherently variable is well known. What isn’t as well known is how they intend to deal with it:

Households’ lights could be dimmed and kettles take longer to boil when the wind isn’t blowing, under Government-backed plans to routinely dip the voltage of Britain’s electricity supplies.
As Britain builds more wind farms, the measures to dip voltage could be used when there is an unexpected lull in wind power output.
New technology to instantly dip the voltage of power to entire regions “at the press of a button” has already been quietly trialled on half a million households across north-west England.
The system could be rolled out across the UK in coming years, ministers have indicated – after trials showed consumers did not notice any difference.

That is just fine for domestic supplies. No one does notice although we do have a technical word for this: “brownout”. It’s something that we consider to be part of a Third World (for which read “bad”) electricity supply system.

For while there’s pretty much no problem with domestic supplies this causes absolute chaos in industry. Something that is already being seen in Germany. There, it’s not so much that the grid is intentionally lowering (or, as is proposed, raising at times) the voltage, it’s that the country’s reliance upon wind just makes it happen. And modern production machinery simply cannot deal with variations in voltage.

There have been cases not just of production runs faltering, ruining what was being produced, but of voltage variations damaging the actual machinery itself. This has in turn led to German industry scrambling to deal with the problem: effectively, the solution is to put something like a giant UPS on the side of every piece of production machinery.

This, of course, has costs, substantial costs, and needs to be added to the cost of this new electricity generation system. And it isn’t added: so, therefore, the costs of wind power are not fully accounted for. Just as with the original carbon emissions, we’ve got an uncosted externality in the system making the numbers even worse than the current massive price.

Nationalising the energy companies works so well, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Corbyn tells us all it would be lovely if the gas and energy companies were nationalised:

The cost to taxpayers of renationalising the UK’s gas and electricity sector, as desired by aspiring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, would total as much as £185bn, according to city experts.
Peter Atherton, analyst at Jefferies investment bank, said that the cost to take control of just the UK assets of companies, which include British Gas owner Centrica and network operator National Grid, would drain about £124bn from the nation’s coffers.
Mr Corbyn has stated that he would nationalise British Gas, SSE, Eon, RWE, Npower, Scottish Power and EDF if he became Prime Minister in 2020. He said he would also put National Grid back into public hands.

This is because public policy should decide how these companies work, not the cut and thrust of the purely commercial world.


It was not too long ago that Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy conglomerate, was one of the Kremlin’s most powerful weapons. But those days now seem like a distant memory. Today, Gazprom is a financial shadow of its former self.

The speed of Gazprom’s decline is breathtaking. At its peak in May 2008, the company’s market capitalisation reached $367bn (£237bn), making it one of world’s most valuable companies, according to a survey compiled by the Financial Times. Only fellow Exxonmobile and PetroChina were worth more. Gazprom’s deputy chair Alexander Medvedev repeatedly predicted that within a decade the Russian energy giant could be worth $1 trillion.

That prediction now seems foolhardy. Since 2008, Gazprom’s value has plummeted. In early August it had a market capitalisation of $51bn – losing more than $300bn. No company among the world’s top 5,000 has suffered a bigger collapse, Bloomberg Business News reported in April 2014, and by the end of the year net income had fallen by an astonishing 86%.

Why’s that then?

Experts say Gazprom’s main problem is that it continues to serve as Putin’s favoured geopolitical weapon. Examples include the company’s purchase of major Russian media outlets that were then turned into Kremlin mouthpieces, bullying or buying the loyalty of neighbouring states and sponsoring the egregiously expensive Olympic Games in Sochi.

Most ominously for the company, the Putin administration still keeps pushing Gazprom to implement new projects that are important for the Kremlin but risky from a financial viewpoint. Two prominent examples concern Ukraine and China.

Because Gazprom is run according to public policy, not the cut and thrust of a purely commercial world.

That it would be public policy running the energy companies is exactly why Crobyn suggests their nationalisation. That it would be public policy running them is exactly why it’s a bad idea for them to be nationalised.

If only the warmists bothered to read the actual research

Talking about climate change inevitably brings up huge shouting matches. But let’s put that to one side for a moment and just start insisting that those who do urge action on it actually read the reports that lead to the urging of action. As The Guardian quite obviously isn’t here:

The fact is that it is in the very poorest countries where women have the most children, on average. And where population growth slows, generally economic growth speeds up, and carbon emissions rise faster. This happens on a global scale and even within countries – certainly within the poorer ones where there is most scope for population control, and where, also, the potential for industrialisation is greatest. It is unclear which is cause and which is effect: it is likely that they play off each other. And in some cases, perhaps, population policies go hand in hand with economic reforms. Only in the wealthiest countries, though, which already have lower fertility rates, are these links weakened or even broken.

This phenomenon raises the counterintuitive possibility that curbing population growth could generate higher global emissions than would otherwise be the case.

No, that’s not something you’re allowed to do. For, as the SRES, the economic models upon which the whole game is based, have entirely the opposite assumptions baked into them. A richer world has a smaller population. And those richer, smaller, worlds have lower emissions than poorer and more populated ones. Other than the entirely extreme world of A1FI that is (and really, nobody believes that coal is going to provide 50% of energy in 2100).

Economic growth leads to falling fertility and thus a smaller future population. The combination of these two is part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.

It is, of course, fine to have differing views on the subject itself. But we’re adamant that whatever your views are they must at least be consistent with the evidence that leads you to them.

Let’s call a thing what it is shall we, a spade is a spade after all

It’s not so much the pettifogging that annoys, although there is a tinge of that, it’s the hijacking of an honourable description that really irks:

A typical household has 40 plastic carrier bags stashed away at home, ministers have claimed, as new figures showed the number of bags used by shoppers rose for the fifth year running.
British shoppers took home more than 8.5 billion single-use carrier bags from supermarkets in 2014, 200 million more than in the previous year, figures from charity WRAP show.

Charity: the giving of money to aid mariners in peril on the seas perhaps. Or alms to house the destitute. But the most important part of the description is voluntary.

Following the review we worked closely with Defra to develop a programme of work, in line with sharpening our
strategic focus, that will make a significant contribution to helping the UK achieve its environmental objectives
and obligations, such as achieving the 50% household recycling rates by 2020, but at less cost. As a result grant
funding from Defra for 2014/15 has been confirmed at £17.6m (2013/14: £25.7m), expected to reduce to £15.5m
in 2015/16.

Financial Results for 2013/14

WRAP‟s total income for 2013/14 was £65.4m (2012/13: £63.2m) of which the majority (98.9%) was grant
funding from government and EU sources. Although the underlying grant funding from Defra reduced compared
to the previous year, the addition of the Resource Efficient Scotland programme and the timing of activity in EU
funded grant schemes, notably the ARID capital grant scheme in Wales, resulted in a marginal increase in total

This is not a charity. This is a tax funded arm of the central bureaucracy. As such it most certainly isn’t voluntary.

It has to be said that a caring society would indeed have a place in it for those who get their kicks counting plastic bag hoarding by household. But it’s not entirely obvious that those working hard on the minimum wage should be charged tax to pay for it. Perhaps it should be paid for, voluntarily, in a charitable manner, by those who share this minority taste?

At which point we are going to revert to calling a spade a spade. WRAP is not a charity, it is a collection of tax leeches.