Archive for January, 2008

SD and the Legislative Process

In 2002 we were recommended to the Cabinet Office by DEFRA to advise on the application etc of sustainable development to the UK legislative process. This is one page of a number submitted. We used the example of sustainable methods of flood prevention as an example of changes to the legislative guidelines.

Extract of a Report and Recommendation on Regulatory Impact Assessment to The Cabinet Office 2002

Sustainable Development

This focuses on the section Sustainable Development in Annex 4. Firstly I would draw attention to the phrase in paragraph one containing the phrase ….so that the welfare (social, economic and environmental) of future generations is not compromised.

So many times I hear phrases such as sea level rises in 50 years time or x degrees rise in temperature in 100 years time etc.

The words “of future generations” alone could be detrimental for the present. Take for example flooding. Flooding is not only caused by increased rain fall, it is caused by the surge of water getting into the river system quicker. Removal of tree and vegetation cover allows water to enter the river system faster causes a surge and tomorrow somebody drowns or a town or city centre is flooded causing £ millions in damage.

The welfare of people is compromised today not a future generation in 50 years time. Only using the words “future generations” reduces the impact and importance of this issue.

A recommendation would be to include the word “now ” for example, …the welfare now (social, economic and environmental) and of future generations is not compromised.

Alternatively “of present and future generations”. Though this has a certain amount of ambiguity, present generation still does not have the impact that it is relevant immediately.

To an overview of this Sustainable Development section. I feel that it is accurate in directing attention to the three groups stated , broadly social, environmental and economic. As regard assistance in Better Policy Making I would recommend a slightly deeper exploration of SD.

I agree “one purpose of cost-benefit analysis is to ensure that in pursuing any single objective, we should not impose disproportionate costs elsewhere”. Though in regard to SD and better policy making I would suggest that one does not need to just pursue just one objective.

To me this section says if we want to win in one objective, we should try and ensure that we do not lose in the other two. A win, neutral, neutral scenario.

There is no reason why if one is looking at policy in the light of SD why one should not be looking at benefits across all 3 objectives. Win, win, win scenarios.

Hypothetically one could make a policy decision to improve bio-diversity in the countryside, by encouraging more hedgerows, woodland management and reforestation. This could be done as part of policy change regarding subsidies to farmers, cutting down on over production and reform of CAP.

The result of this increased bio-diversity could be the faster response and increase in predator/prey relationships. This could cut down on damage to crops by pests as they are controlled by natural means rather than use of chemicals. This could also then reduce the amount of cost in producing a given amount of food in a given area.

This could be part of a ‘value added’ organic production programme. Increased woodland, reinstatement of hedgerows etc. could reduce the speed of run off into the river system decreasing the risk of flooding . Hence reduced costs to householders, insurance companies and less social upheaval and disruption of communities.


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Background Foot and Mouth Assessment

The FMD Assessment, from March 2001

was sent to Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond in August 2007, by a SNP Councillor, to assist with the new outbreak. A background was also requested, in order to understand it’s previous political significance.

In February 2001 at the onset of the FMD outbreak I started modelling the course of the disease and it’s projection. During March 2001 I was becoming concerned that the Governments response was not consistent with my projections.

This coincided with a Newsnight special on the disease. Using this as a basis I sent a report to Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Prime Minister was going to Chequers to decide the date of the general election over the weekend of 31st March/1st April so the report had to be posted to arrive at Downing Street on the morning of Friday 30th March.

At the beginning of the next week I received a letter from 10 Downing Street expressing the PMs thanks for the report. Unusual for Downing Street to send an immediate acknowledgement especially during a time of national crisis and over a weekend when the PM was making the decision over the election.

This then coincided with a change in the Government approach to the outbreak. MAFF Minister Nic Brown could have been quoting from the report from the 2nd April onwards especially if I remember correctly during a visit to Cumbria.

The report was accurate the disease was under control by May and the June election went ahead.

The next year I was invited to a meeting at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House London. I had been involved in producing the UK proposal for the World Summit on Sustainable Development Johannesburg and this meeting was to discuss the post summit UK response. One speaker was the then Environment Minister Michael Meacher. The meeting was well attended, for example I was sitting next to the Canadian Ambassador and his party.

At the reception I was talking to someone who headed up the organisation which disposed of the carcasses in the 2001 epidemic. Naturally he was interested that there was an accurate model of the outbreak sent to the PM at the end of March 2001 and requested a copy.

On returning from London I forwarded a copy. The view was expressed that it was exactly what organisations involved in the outbreak wanted at the time. The information from MAFF was sparse yet the PM and Cabinet Ministers had access to probably the only accurate prediction of the epidemic. The report was filed in the science library of one of the UKs largest, if not largest organisation dealing with the environment. It may now be being read again in the course of this outbreak.

There was a inquiry into the outbreak chaired by Sir Brian Follet. I was not invited to give evidence and as far as I know my report was never submitted either. I assume that this was because my report went through political channels i.e. the Prime Minister and Cabinet and not through civil service e.g. MAFF. Strange as I have been told my report was probably the only accurate one available during March and start of April 2001 and possibly used to brief the MAFF Minister Nick Brown.

As a footnote though it focused on FMD. In the section Land Use Scenarios it discussed the role of flood prevention. As well as modelling the FMD outbreak I was also running projections of flooding in the UK. If I had been invited to give evidence, from the credibility on supplying the correct assessment and projection of the FMD outbreak to the PM, perhaps some attention could have been put on the flood scenarios and their prevention. Which may, given more than 5 years reduced the flooding in Carlisle, Perthshire, Yorkshire and Southern England.

Roger Thomas

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Foot and Mouth Assessment

During February and March 2001 an epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease occured in the UK. With there being very little consenus on the outcome, we sent the following assessment to Prime Minister Tony Blair in time to decide the date of the general election. As far as we have been made aware it was the only correct model of the outbreak available in March 2001.

For more back ground

Response to Newsnight Special on Foot and Mouth 27th March 2001.

Analysis of Reaction Time at Onset Of Epidemic

Land Use Scenarios

Time of Election and Susceptibility To Sunlight and Heat


Analysis of Reaction Time at Onset of Epidemic

Not being an epidemiologist the start of the outbreak was assessed at the time in terms of simple ecological models for population dynamics.

If the virus is considered as a living organism then its rate of increase is its biotic potential. This normally occurs as the first part of an exponential growth curve (e.g. x2). The rate of increase is best judged from its doubling time. The time required to double the number of cases.

The morning the government announced the formation of the countryside task force, immediately afterwards the number of outbreaks was announced as double the daily rate the week before. Those who understood biotic potential, ( or its epidemiological equivalent ) would appreciate that those figures would project to the present situation.

With a given incubation period of 14 days anyone with even the slightest estimate of animal movements within that period would know a different situation would develop than in 1967.

Then FMD was in the main confined to Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and that area. There were less animal movements. The lag time of the incubation period would mean in the present case there would be multiple foci all with the potential of exponential growth curves, derived from animal movements during the incubation period prior to the to first outbreak and subsequent ban on animal movement. A massive influence for the maximum biotic potential.

A argument could be presented that on notification of the very first outbreak the disease was already out of control. All that could be done was to make the maximum effort to bring it under control. As its increase would be an exponential curve, even one days delay at the beginning would be paid for a few weeks down the progression, such as now with 40 cases a day.

The nature of exponential growth is sometimes difficult to comprehend, such as the example of putting a grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, two on the second, four on the third etc., then seeing how many are needed for the 64th.

Due to the masking affect of the lag time of the incubation period, just based on information from the main news even just an estimate would give a figure that there would be automatically inevitably twice as many cases a day in two weeks time. Those cases having already been infected. That is the most basic and simplest model.

Naturally with access to the data on type of strain, its specific characteristics, approximations of animal movements in the incubation period prior to the first outbreak etc. a more accurate model could have been produced.

The conclusion from the most basic model was the outbreak was out of control as soon as the first case was notified. All that could be done then was to bring it under control. Some models predict 70 cases a day at peak, just one days delay, in dealing with it in the maximum possible capacity when there were only 4 or 5 cases a day still directly relates to number of cases a day now or the prediction for the future.

The above is an explanation for brevity rather than absolute accuracy.

Land Use Scenarios

This in the main relates to the situation if the native fell sheep of the Lake District are lost. This area is called a grazing ecosystem. Bio mass is exported off the land as live weight of sheep.

This productivity is sustainably maximised by grazing pressure. If there are not enough sheep in a given area, the sheep can be selective in what they eat. This allows the growth and increase of plants that the sheep find unpalatable compared to what they prefer. Hence in time the potential productivity of an area falls.

One consequence pointed out was without sheep the traditional Lakeland scenery will disappear. Giving rise to scrub or eventually woodland, depending on what the natural climatic climax for the area was without the sheep.

Though as the Lake District existed before sheep were extensively reared there it is open to debate what ‘traditional’ applies to.

In the evolution of an area to its climatic climax, in this case the Lake District. Storage takes place as woody tissue, increasing in time as mass per square metre. A tree stores more CO2 as tissue than grass per square metre.

This mass is composed by the fixation of CO2 from the atmosphere as plant tissue. The Lake District, for example, then becomes a carbon sink, in effect contributing to a reduction of the affects of climatic change by CO2 emissions.

If an agreement on Climatic Change that ‘polluter pays’ happens, how much is the Lake District worth as a carbon sink if parts of it revert to a natural climatic climax?

The same principle also applies to forestry. Over and above the value of land in producing wood from trees, in a managed cultivation approach, is the fact that the wood is also additionally a carbon sink. Again who does the polluter pay?

One consequence of an evolution of an area to its climatic climax, is the increase in numbers of species of animals and plants. This increase in bio-diversity is directly related to the stability of the ecosystem in question. Such as its ability to adapt to change.

This could relate to the Burns Report on hunting and the control of fox numbers. If there is an increase in numbers of species such as mice and voles or whatever is determined as a main food source for foxes. Then it could be found if more areas of the countryside evolved to a climatic climax, foxes would have more food and not have to have numbers controlled due to their predation on chickens for example.

Flooding is not only caused by an increase in rainfall but importantly, the surge of how quickly runoff from land gets into the main river channel. Water from land evolving to towards a climatic climax with more scrub and trees will enter the river system slower than from a smooth grassland ecosystem. Damage from flooding could therefore be reduced in certain areas. What is it worth to reduce the costs of flood damage?

A model then generates lots of hypothetical scenarios for exploration. For example more people shocked by scenes of mass animal slaughter could turn vegetarian. Demand for meat falls. As a consequence farmers get paid for managing ‘carbon sinks’ and reducing the costs of flooding as well as existing animal husbandry.

Jobs lost from a ban on hunting are also replaced by countryside management as a contribution to sustainable development.

The above is not meant to be totally scientifically accurate. More as a general overview of scenarios and possibilities for the future for discussion and research.

One thing FMD has achieved is the beginning of the coalescence of economic, political, social, cultural, ecological, biological and environmental issues into an understanding of applied planetary engineering.

Time of Election and Susceptibility To Sunlight and Heat

All things being equal the course of the present FMD outbreak could be much worse. It has been reported that sunlight and heat reduce the virulence of the virus.

Had the outbreak began in October for example it would have gone through a longer winter period, as it did in 1967.

Occurring as it has at this side of the winter solstice with increasing day length, sunlight and heat, this could be an important part of its epidemiological transition.

Though this is a strain that is not the normal for this country.

Increasing sunlight and heat could be a key element in the environmental resistance to the biotic potential of the disease. Together with culling, disinfectant, restricted access, limiting vectors of transmission etc.

Increasing day length etc. by May could help bring the disease under control anyway, what ever other steps are taken. Only access to an accurate model of its progress containing all available knowledge and research could answer how much sunlight would play in its control by May.


For so long governments have dealt with only economic, political and social factors.

What FMD has done is show what biological, ecological and environmental factors can do to upset the established apple cart.

Suddenly politicians have had to broaden their agenda of understanding beyond existing domains.

The ecology, epidemiology and vectors of transmission of one small virus that appears suddenly from nowhere can wreak more havoc than any group of strikers or protesters have ever done.

While across the Atlantic Mr Bush turns his back on the Kyoto Treaty.

Ignore the environment and it has an ability of making itself noticed in ways that can only be comprehended when they happen. History might show that will be the lesson he learnt.

Roger Thomas 29 March 2001

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Alex Salmond’s Celtic Lion A Cultural view

The Scottish Nationalist Party waited more than 70 years until in May 2007, under the leadership of First Minister Alex Salmond, they formed the new Scottish Government. After an election campaign of pure genius, ideas, music, graphics and more contributing to the attrition of the Labour lead, the country waited for the next big idea.

On the world stage, not in Scotland, but at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York on the 12th November, Alex Salmond revealed his vision – the Scottish Celtic Lion. A Scotland equalling the economic growth rate of the UK as a whole by 2011 them matching that of other small independent EU countries by 2017.

So where did Salmond’s Celtic Lion come from? A series of transpositions which began in the 1980s. The rapidly expanding Asian economies of South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, got dubbed the East Asian Tigers. From 1994 Ireland’s economy boomed, due to a number of factors. Membership of the EU, often given as a major influence, with up to 4% of GDP being transfer payments from other member states. Access to the markets of Europe, US investment, assisted by an English speaking, low wage workforce at the time of a high technology boom, amongst others. With a growth rate almost matching the Asian economies, Ireland became the Celtic Tiger.

So after the economic success of it’s near neighbour, the SNP want Scotland to become the Celtic Lion.

Here the comparison could break down. Celtic Tiger is a descriptive term from 1994. Celtic Lion is a much older symbolism which may not fully reconcile itself with Alex Salmond’s vision, but could provide broader, more expansive, inclusive and aspirational objectives for Scotland. A alternative version of the Celtic Lion which if the Scottish Government considered, might be more compatible to the interests of Scotland and more in keeping with the underlying small print of Alex Salmond’s Celtic Lion vision.

As Alex Salmond in New York referred to, and at a later Gaelic college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig lecture, in Edinburgh on the 19th December spoke on, the need for a strong economy and a strong culture to go hand in hand. Perhaps the origins of the Celtic Lion need to be explored.

The Celts were a culture, not an empire, which covered most of Europe in pre Roman times, around 400 BC. A decentralised, trading network made up of individual tribes. After the rise of Rome, the culture continued in the Celtic fringe, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Jewellery and artefacts show the lion was a common symbol in Celtic culture. Without a written record it is difficult to be precise, but it would not be unrealistic to consider it is similar to today’s associations in terms of meaning. Courage, leadership, light, justice etc. The lion also having many meanings in heraldry, depending on how it is presented. The Scottish lion rampant, face in profile, is magnanimity.

Celtic culture had a strong affinity with the natural world, a relationship which persists today, whether in music or simply the way brand Scotland is marketed. Mountains, wildlife, lochs and surrounding seas. In terms of a cultural identity, Celtic Lion is perhaps more representative of leadership in environmental issues, rather than a single goal pursuit of increasing economic growth.

For the SNP Government it is not unreasonable for them to place increasing economic growth at the centre of their vision for Scotland. Alex Salmond is an economist, and one area of contention for the party is Scotland’s oil. In the 1980s, when the high growth economies of Asia were taking off, they had to watch Scotland’s assets contribute to fuelling the consumerism and business centric policies of Margaret Thatcher’s UK Government. A situation they feel Scotland did not get the best end of the deal from. Now in power, why not have the attitude of “we can do that”?

The world has now moved on. Though world leaders discuss climate change, it is only one small part of the need to manage the planet more sustainably. Away from the headlines, beneath the veneer of traditional policies is the quest for the ‘new development model’. Is there a better way to run a country or a planet than the strategies that have brought us to the edge of global ecological life support system collapse?

This may be the vision of Scotland’s Celtic Lion given form, this may be the strategy that fulfils the subtext of the First Ministers speeches better than the pursuit of narrow economic growth strategies. In the quest for independence from the UK, Scotland runs the risk of being dependent on an out of control and increasingly chaotic global dynamic. Far better for Scotland to create it’s own destiny and even have the ability to lead the world to a better future.

The Scottish Government has exceeded many expectations in it’s achievements and conduct so far, golf courses aside. The question is, do they have the courage to surpass their own aspirations? There is a way forward for Scotland which leaves the goal of increasing economic growth in the 80s. Is Scotland brave enough to seek the thistle and grasp it?

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