An almighty row has erupted, in the internet chatrooms where such things are discussed, about a BBC report on climate change that was edited after its first appearance. That the report was altered has been acknowledged. What is now at issue is why this was done. Was it to flesh out the detail, or was it – as some claim – to placate a pesky critic who complained that the original report would provide succour for global warming sceptics?
The report quoted the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation, Michel Jarraud, as saying that global temperatures this year were likely to fall because of the cold La Niña current in the Pacific. The revised version of the BBC report left no doubt that the long-term trend was warming. It did not, however, address a graph, compiled by the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and popular with sceptics, which shows this year's cooling cancelling all the past 10 years of warming.
Contrarian that I am, I have some sympathy for the sceptics. Such a consensus has now solidified around the warming thesis that it has become heresy to give any counter-indication the time of day. The only real division you can find is between those climate-change adherents who believe we face global-warming armageddon – in which case there is not a lot we can do – and those who believe that we can, by judicious policies and individual action, save the planet for our children and their children.
I wonder whether we non-scientists really need to quarrel about this. For many, if not all the measures advocated with great passion by the climate-change consensus boil down to good stewardship and boring, old-fashioned thrift. The mini-windmill on David Cameron's new house is an economical way for an individual household to generate electricity, even contribute to the national grid. People in sunny climes were fitting solar panels long before the global warming panic took hold. It was a way of harnessing technology to maximise what nature provided free.
Taking a shower rather than a bath, catching rain in a water butt and fitting a water meter are all about husbanding resources and keeping costs down. Growing your own vegetables, making compost and re-using empty containers are virtues recognisable to anyone who lived through the Second World War.
Take the opprobrium that now attaches to gas-guzzling cars. Cheap petrol was the single reason why SUVs were able to become so popular in the United States. Now that petrol has more than doubled in price, their resale value has plummeted. Here, they are the preserve of those who do not need to worry about where the next litre of fuel is coming from. But here, too, they are in decline. Not just because of graduated car tax and parking fees, and not just because of "green" social censure, but because, as the price of petrol soars, the economics change.
If you have to run a car, there are cheaper ways of doing it than with a gas-guzzler. It is also gratifying to see shopping carts and baskets coming back. Even if the supermarkets make a huge profit from the reusable bags they sell, at least there are fewer plastic versions to disfigure trees.
The latest target of the anti-carbon brigade on the home front is the tumble-drier, which consumes extravagant amounts of electricity. Far better, they say, – if you have the option – to dry the washing out of doors. But was it not always so? If no rain is forecast, the laundry was always fresher and easier to iron if it was dried au naturel.
My particular beef is with food waste. How come one-third of the food we buy apparently ends up in the bin? It certainly doesn't end up in my bin. As my mother's daughter, I am a dab hand with leftovers. Perhaps this has something to do with the orphans – Korean, Biafran, depending on your age – held up to shame us as children. I am also a recycler to rival the most zealous green. Provide a bin for bottles, plastics, newspapers, you name it, I will lug it wherever it is supposed to go; it's not about carbon emissions, but about being a responsible citizen.
If my efforts save the planet from an arid future and humanity from early demise, that is fine by me. But it's a bonus. The philosophy of waste-not want-not is the real reason I do it.
True love? Pull the other leg
So it's adieu to Carla and zdravstvyi to Alina. What a vicarious springtime feast for the male of the species! Vladimir Putin, so Russia's popular press reports, has been out a-courting and returned with the luscious Ms Kubaeva. An Olympic gymnast just a few years older than his daughters, she appears to share his passion not only for sport, but for politics. She entered parliament last December as one of a bevy of Putinettes and rose at once to the dizzy heights of youth committee vice-chair.
Could Vladimir and Alina's romance be just a fairy tale? Of course. The gossip has it that Putin secretly divorced his wife, Lyudmila, in February. But the pair of them turned out to vote as a couple on 2 March, looking perfectly happy together. Anyway, we will know soon enough. The wedding is supposedly set for 15 June, Whit Sunday in the Russian Orthodox calendar, a decorous five weeks after the prospective groom ceases to be President.
And if the rumours are true, then you have to ask how long Putin will remain focused on preserving his political power. Might he not have other, more enjoyable, things to do?
Those Germans know how to dress up
The very first time I went to stay with a German family, in my early teens, I was under instructions to pack a long black skirt and a white or black long-sleeved blouse. The three-line-whip necessity for such an outfit – hardly a standard item of a teenager's wardrobe even then – was stressed in every preparatory phone call. You see, my friend's father had season tickets for the Düsseldorf opera, where we were to see The Magic Flute.
For those upset by the plunge in sartorial standards at Covent Garden and without the means or inclination to grace the lawns of Glyndebourne, going to the opera in Germany provides the ultimate in reassurance. It is, even in this more relaxed age, the acme of formality – as I was reminded by the fuss over Chancellor Angela Merkel's rather striking décolletage when she attended the recent opening of Norway's new opera house.
Ms Merkel, whose established working uniform is a sensible and sober trouser suit, with an orange or green jacket for best, was resplendent in a full-length black gown and blue bolero. Inevitably, though, it was the daring neckline that drew the comments.
Some were even perplexed enough to address questions to her office. The German government spokesman responded thus. "Guests," he said, "were asked to wear evening dress. That this dress caused such a furore seemed excessive to the Chancellor." Ms Merkel, he went on, was shocked at the extent of the coverage, sorry if she had diverted attention from the Norwegian royals, but "not really upset, since most reports were complimentary".
Bravo, encore! A good press, however unexpected, is something no politician should pass up.
* Maybe it just reflects the address lists I am on, but a disproportionate number of events currently in the offing feature climate change or sustainability in the title. Even subjects that would seem quite remote from global warming. Could it be that a climate change angle increases the likelihood of attracting funding? Anyone out there still interested in Iraq?
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