What happened to summer?

March 10, 2009

Metservice forecasters were right about today – The temperature has plummeted and it’s hailing  -and it feels cold enough for them to be right about tomorrow: 

Tue 10 Showers, some heavy and possibly thundery with hail.Strong cold southwesterlies.
Wed 11 Showers. Some snow down to 500 metres at first. Cold gusty southwesterlies, gradually easing.

AgResearch and Lincoln University plan merger

March 10, 2009

Ag Research and Lincoln University are looking at a merger.

The proposal is to create a world-class, land-based University supporting research, education and extension that is focused on New Zealand’s vital primary industries.

“This would create an internationally outstanding entity, which would rank in the world’s top five of its type,” said Tom Lambie, Chancellor of Lincoln University.

“New Zealand needs to lift its rate of productivity growth and the obvious place to start is with the land-based industries. Through the creation of a world-class, internationally ranked, 21st century land-based University, the performance of New Zealand’s land-based industries will be enhanced substantially,” said Mr Lambie.

AgResearch Chairman Sam Robinson says when AgResearch was formed it brought together animal sciences from the Ministry of Agriculture and plant sciences from the DSIR which allowed, for the first time, the development of a coherent scientific view of how a farm operates.

“This merger will go that one vital step further and translate all that knowledge and technology that our scientists produce into coherent education and training for immediate industry benefit along the entire value chain. AgResearch has more scientists than any other government-owned research organisation in New Zealand and merging with Lincoln University will provide a more stable base for New Zealand’s most important research and development, and enhance teaching activity,” said Mr Robinson.

A fact sheet on the proposal is here.

The merger profile is here and lists expected benefits from the merger including critical mass and concentration of expertise, new opportunities for research, better integration of research, combine education and research in a way separate organisations can’t, increased revenue, raise the profile of the sophistication of land-based industries as a career, enhanced ability to recurit staff and students, produce more relevantly-educated graduates, greater funding stability and security of revenue and a much stronger voice for the land-based industries.

Closer investigation may unearth some fish hooks, but at first glance this sounds like a sensible merger of people and resources which will benefit agricultural research.

Anything which leads to improvements in farming practices and productivity is to be encouraged for its own sake and because it will be good for the environment and the economy too.

Stronger links between farming, science and the university should be good for all of them.


Ecologic to counter greenwash

March 10, 2009

Green is the new black and environmentalism has assumed elements of religion so that anyone who questions it risks being accused of heresy.

But every religion attracts false prophets so how do we know if we’re being led astray from the path to a cleaner, greener planet or at least fooled into thinking we’re doing the green thing when we’re not?

Kathryn Ryan sought some answers to these questions and others on the dangers of greenwashing from Brian Clegg, the author of  Ecologic: The Truth and Lies of Green Economics.

Brian’s most recent book is Ecologic to be published by Eden Project Books in January 2009. He has written seven other science titles, including The Global Warming Survival Kit (Doubleday), and Upgrade Me (St Martin’s Press). His earlier book, A Brief History of Infinity reached #1 on Amazon in Popular Science (General) and Popular Maths, staying at #1 for ten further weeks.

Born in Rochdale, Lancashire, UK, Brian read Natural Sciences (specializing in experimental physics) at Cambridge University.  After graduating, he spent a year at Lancaster University where he gained a second MA in Operational Research, a discipline developed during the Second World War to apply mathematics and probability to warfare and since widely applied to business problem solving.

From Lancaster, he joined British Airways, where he formed a new department tasked with developing hi-tech solutions for the airline. His emphasis on innovation led to working with creativity guru Dr. Edward de Bono, and in 1994 he left BA to set up his own creativity consultancy, running courses on the development of ideas and the solution of business problems. His clients include the BBC, the Met Office, Sony, GlaxoSmithKline, the Treasury, Royal Bank of Scotland and many others

He has a blog, Now Appearing.

You can listen to Ryan’s interview here.


Political disappointments

March 10, 2009

Rob Hosking writes that the government seems oddly vague  over the sacking of Ross Wilson as chair of ACC.

They might seem vague but the reason is obvious: if you’re politically appointed you can be politically disappointed.

Either the horrific financial position ACC is in or Wilson’s political views, if not his allegiance, would be grounds for a job loss under a new administration and the combination makes the decision compelling.

It is also another argument for following the USA’s example where political appointees offer their resignations when the government changes.

Incoming ministers could choose to accept the offers or not. That would enable them to keep those who are performing well and let those who aren’t, or whose services are no longer wanted for whatever reason, to leave with their dignity intact rather than facing the indignity of being sacked.


Return of The Troubles or an isolated act?

March 10, 2009

News of terrorist attacks in what was called The Troubles in Northern Ireland was regular until a few years ago and the trouble wasn’t confined to Ireland.

I was in London in 1982 when an IRA bomb killed 11 people and seven horses, just one tragic incident in a long list of terrorist acts.

In recent years the war has been confined to words and both sides of the debate on whether Northern Ireland remains part of Britian have spurned violence – until yesterday when two British soldiers were  killed by suspected IRA dissidents . These were the first politically motivated deaths of soldiers in the province for 12 years.

Irish leaders have been quick to condemn the attack:

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, whose IRA-linked party represents most Catholics in Northern Ireland, criticized the dissidents.

“There is no popular support for these actions,” Adams told BBC Radio 4 Monday morning.

Leaders of the territory’s Catholic-Protestant administration warned that Irish Republican Army dissidents were trying to tear apart their young coalition and drag Northern Ireland back to its bloody past.

This appears to be an isolated act by dissidents but it does show that the peace is still fragile which is understandable after generations of division over The Troubles.

I saw a tiny example of the strength of feeling when one of our staff, the son of a protestant minister from Northern Ireland, met an English visitor. Something came up in conversation which made him realise she was Catholic and the atmosphere cooled, though thankfully only momentarily.

Zen Tiger has a related psot.


Holcim keen to build in Nth Otago

March 10, 2009

Holcim NZ is keen to build a cement plant near Weston in North Otago if the Environment Court upholds the resource consents it was granted late last year.

Holcim had several other options for production in New Zealand but narrowed that down to continuing on its Westport site or building a new plant near Weston.

 If the Environment Court upheld resource consents then Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd chief executive Jeremy Smith would most likely recommend the $300 million plant near Weston be built.

Mr Smith told the Environment Court Holcim hearing yesterday he would recommend to Holcim’s New Zealand board of directors that the plant and its quarries proceed.

Holcim’s predecessor had planned to build a plant on the site more than 20 years ago but chaged its mind when construction and demand for cement declined in the economic downturn not unlike those forecast now but Holcim’s cheif executive Jeremy Smith said:

Building the Weston plant, with a minimum 50-year life and up to 100 years, given the limestone reserves, would be “a long-term decision”.

“What the economy will do, we have to face that.

“But there is no way Holcim will make that decision based on hypothetics today,” Mr Smith said.

Opinions in North Otago are divided on the benefits of the plant.

I think that providing the company meets conditions imposed on its consent any negatives impacts will be minor and more than cancelled out by the creation of about 120 fulltime permanent jobs and the positive economic and social affects that will have on the district.


GE animals okayed by FDA but challenged in NZ

March 10, 2009

The FDA has approved medicine from genetically engineered goats:

The drug, meant to prevent fatal blood clots in people with a rare condition, is a protein extracted from the milk of goats that have been given a human gene.

The same drug, which was approved in Europe in 2006 but has not been widely adopted, is the first to have been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under guidelines the agency adopted only last month to regulate the use of transgenic animals in the nation’s drug and food supply.

Meanwhile, back here GE Free New Zealand is making a High Court challenge  to development applications by the Environmental Risk Management Authority and Crown research institute, Agresearch.

AgResearch has made four applications to develop, import and commercialise genetically modified animals from nine species, including sheep, cows, pigs and horses.

But the GE-Free lobby argued that Erma had wrongly allowed the applications to go ahead.

It said insufficient information had been provided on the new organisms to be created or where they would be developed and tested.

This sounds like emotion versus science but courts don’t rule on those, they have to go by the law.


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