30th September 2020

Environment Fracking: Fermanagh council investigating ‘significant error’ in consultation

Environment Fracking: Fermanagh council investigating ‘significant error’ in consultation


environment Fracking - BalcombeImage copyright
PA Media

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Fracking is a process to force gas out of shale rock by injecting water and chemicals into it under pressure

A council is to hold an inquiry after a “very significant error” was found in the wording of planning guidelines on fracking sent out for public consultation.

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has halted the consultation and set up an audit to find out what happened.

Councillors had agreed the wording of a local development plan to guide planning decisions.

But when it was sent out for consultation it had been changed.

The original wording precluded unconventional hydrocarbon extraction – or fracking – until there were guarantees that it would not affect the environment or public health.

The council’s chief executive Alison McCullagh acknowledged the rewording of the public consultation had “impacted adversely” on public confidence in the process.

“It’s apparent that the arrangements in place for document oversight and control were not as robust as expected,” she said.

The original wording had stated the council “will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until it is proved that there would be no adverse effects on the environment or public health”.

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In England, there is a moratorium on fracking after concerns the resultant seismic activity was affecting communities

But the reworded version said: “Council will not permit exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction until there is sufficient and robust evidence on all associated impacts on the environment and human health.”

Confidential council minutes showed officials in the Department for the Economy criticised the original wording.

They had suggested it be amended to more closely reflect the position on fracking in Northern Ireland’s regional planning document – on which local development plans are based.

Environment Exploratory licence

The wording that appeared in the final version sent out for consultation by the council is similar to that in the regional document.

A spokesman for the Department for the Economy said “local development plans are required take account of the regional context set by the Northern Ireland Executive and central government departments”.

“The Department for the Economy provided a response to the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council draft plan strategy as a statutory stakeholder.

“There is no requirement for the department to commence a formal investigation of staff connected to this matter.”

Fracking is a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas or oil trapped within it.

Tamboran, an energy firm, has applied for an exploratory licence to assess the potential for shale gas in 608 sq km of County Fermanagh.

The licence is currently being considered by the Department for the Economy.

Were sufficient gas to be discovered, and a full planning application granted for commercial drilling, the gas would be recovered by a process of unconventional hydrocarbon extraction.

Fracking is banned in the Republic of Ireland and in England there’s a moratorium after concerns resultant seismic activity was affecting communities.

30th September 2020

Environment Brexit: Further clashes over work on NI port controls

Environment Brexit: Further clashes over work on NI port controls


environment UK and EU flag flying in Westminster

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Border controls are currently used for checks on agri-food products and animals.

Stormont ministers have clashed over the environment minister’s proposal that work should be halted on facilities at ports that could be used for checks related to Brexit.

The controls are currently used for checks on agri-food products and animals.

In July, the UK confirmed it intended to put border control posts at Northern Ireland’s ports.

Work to expand the posts was then requested by the government.

However, it is understood Environment Minister Edwin Poots has taken the view that to press ahead with the expansion of current point of entry controls would be a waste of public resources after the latest UK Internal Market Bill.

The new bill sets out rules for the operation of the UK internal market – trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – after the end of the Brexit transition period in January.

There has been controversy over the bill explicitly stating that these powers should apply even if they are incompatible with international law.

However, ministers say it is needed to prevent “damaging” tariffs on goods travelling from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland if trade deal negotiations with the EU fail.

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PA Media

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Edwin Poots says he does not want to create any barriers around Northern Ireland

In a letter to Mr Poots, the Westminster Environment Secretary George Eustice set out what work is required to expand controls at Northern Ireland’s ports.

Details have not been published and in a statement, Stormont’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs stated “this matter is currently being considered by the executive and it is inappropriate to comment further”.

Stormont officials are concerned any ministerial order to pause work on the points of entry could be in breach of the Northern Ireland Act.

The act – which underpins the Stormont executive – gives the Northern Ireland secretary the power to order a minister or department to take an action if he believes it is required to fulfil the UK’s international obligations.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party argue that proceeding with work on the controls is required to fulfil the executive’s international obligations.

The matter was put to a cross-community vote during a late session of the executive on Thursday night.

No authorisation was given for the environment minister to pause the work.

The executive adjourned its discussions on Thursday night in order to obtain legal advice.

Ministers resumed their proceedings on Friday evening and further discussions are expected in the coming week.

30th September 2020

Environment Nuclear: Hitachi scraps £20bn Wylfa power plant

Environment Nuclear: Hitachi scraps £20bn Wylfa power plant


environment Wylfa Nuclear Power Station at Cemaes Bay, Anglesey, North Wales.Image copyright
Getty Images

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The new Wylfa power station would have been built next to the old power plant on Anglesey

Plans for a £15-£20bn nuclear power plant in Wales have been scrapped.

Work on the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey was suspended in January last year because of rising costs after Hitachi failed to reach a funding agreement with the UK government.

Hitachi has now confirmed it is withdrawing from the project, after Isle of Anglesey council said it had received the news on Tuesday.

It would have created up to 9,000 jobs during construction.

Hitachi said it made the decision given 20 months had passed since the project had paused “and the investment environment has become increasingly severe due to the impact of Covid-19”.

Minister for Economy and North Wales Ken Skates said: “The news from Hitachi today is deeply disappointing.

“There has been a tremendous effort by Horizon Nuclear Power, Ynys Mon Council, the North Wales region and all our partners to bring this important project forward. Now is the time to continue with this strong partnership and build upon those efforts.

“We must not lose sight that Wylfa remains one the best sites in the UK for new nuclear development.”

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Horizon Nuclear

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Work on Wylfa was due to start this year

Hitachi said it would coordinate with the UK government and other bodies over handling the planned construction sites and other matters.

Developer Horizon’s chief executive Duncan Hawthorne said: “I understand this announcement will be disappointing for our many supporters who had hoped to see our project through to completion and I would personally like to thank you for your support throughout our time on this project.

“Nuclear power has a critical role to play in helping tackle our energy needs, meeting our climate change targets and levelling up the economy through green growth and job creation.”

Hitachi is also scrapping its project at Oldbury on Severn in Gloucestershire despite describing both sites as “highly desirable” for new nuclear plants.

Mr Hawthorne said: “We will do our utmost to facilitate the prospects for development which will bring the major local, national and environmental benefits that nuclear can uniquely deliver as we push to transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050.”

Environment ‘Very disappointing’

The UK government said it remained committed to nuclear power and recognised the announcement was “very disappointing news” for the people of north Wales.

“Nuclear power will play a key role in the UK’s future energy mix as we transition to a low-carbon economy, including through our investments in small and advanced modular reactors,” a spokesperson said.

“That’s why we previously offered a significant package of potential support to this project that went well beyond what any government has been willing to consider in the past.

“This included taking a one third equity stake, providing all of the required debt financing to complete construction, and providing generous financial support through our Contract for Difference scheme.”

The UK government said it remains willing to discuss a replacement for the original Wylfa plant, which shut in 2015 after 44 years of service, with viable companies.

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There has been a long campaign against a new nuclear station

Anglesey council was told on Tuesday that Hitachi was withdrawing, and council leader Llinos Medi said: “This is very disappointing, particularly at such a difficult time economically.”

However campaigners against the project have welcomed Hitachi’s move claiming a new nuclear power station would have “endangered lives on Anglesey and beyond”.

The People Against Wylfa B action group said: “It would have ruined the environment over an area which is 10 times greater than the current site.”

It called on Hitachi to “ensure that no nuclear scheme will happen on the site in the future” and return the site to its “former state, for community benefit”.

29th September 2020

Environment Christen Press: Man Utd signing on competing with USA rivals in WSL

Environment Christen Press: Man Utd signing on competing with USA rivals in WSL


Christen Press scores with a peach of a shot

Manchester United’s new signing Christen Press says she is “a little crazy and competitive right now” after missing six months of football because of the coronavirus pandemic.

World Cup winner Press, 31, signed for United on a one-year deal from National Women’s Soccer League side Utah Royals.

Five United States internationals have joined English clubs, seeking regular football after the NWSL was postponed.

“I never thought I would be away from the game for this long,” said Press.

“I have been away from football – at least in a team environment with a coach and team-mates – for six months. That’s the longest stretch of my life.

“So what an opportunity to play and compete [at Manchester United]. I have missed competition so much over the past six months – so I’m a little crazy and a little bit competitive right now.

“Hopefully after my first few games I get that out.”

‘Every game is like the World Cup final’

Press, who has signed for United alongside USA team-mate Tobin Heath, will come up against compatriots Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis – who have joined rivals Manchester City – in the Women’s Super League this season.

“Our national team is so crazy and competitive that it feels really normal to have them on our rival team. We have been competing together and against each other for years. Yes, it’s just in practice, but every single game is like the World Cup final.

“It’s really fun that they are going to be in the same city. Hopefully when it’s safe, we’ll be able to see them and spend time with them.

“But we are also in a rat race to compete and help our teams as best we can.”

Press could make her debut in Manchester United’s home fixture against Brighton on 4 October.

environment Around the BBC - Sounds

environment Around the BBC footer - Sounds

29th September 2020

Environment Saudi Arabia to host first Ladies European Tour golf week with back-to-back tournaments

Environment Saudi Arabia to host first Ladies European Tour golf week with back-to-back tournaments


environment A hole at the Royal Greens Golf Club, near Jeddah
Royal Greens Golf Club is a two-hour drive north of Jeddah in the King Abdullah Economic City

Saudi Arabia is to host its first professional tournaments for women in November, with two Ladies European Tour events scheduled to take place.

The Saudi Ladies International will be held from 12-15 November, with the Saudi Ladies Team International from 17-19 November.

Both tournaments will take place at the Royal Greens Golf Club.

The first event had been set for March of this year but was cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are extremely excited to be part of history in bringing the first professional women’s golf event to Saudi Arabia,” said Alexandra Armas, chief executive of the Ladies European Tour.

“We are thankful to their commitment to deliver not one but two tournaments, in what has been a difficult year for golf.”

There will be a $1m (£780,000) prize fund for the singles tournament, with a further £500,000 pot for the team event, which will see professional players partner with amateurs in a new format.

Both tournaments will be held within a bio-secure environment.

Wales’ Amy Boulden, who clinched the first LET title of her career at the Swiss Ladies Open earlier this month, said: “This type of commitment to women’s golf is really amazing to see at this time.

“It’s given players another massive week to look forward to competing in and allows us to take the game we love to a new country where we can play on what is a truly incredible golf course with one of the most picturesque views you’ll see on Tour.”

England’s Meghan MacLaren, who finished last season as the top British player on the LET, decided to boycott the event when it was scheduled for March for “sportswashing” reasons.

There have been accusations that Saudi Arabia is using tournaments such as these, or other events like last year’s heavyweight world title rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr, to divert attention away from human rights issues in the country.

However, the people behind bringing boxing, Formula E motor racing and golf, among other events to Saudi Arabia, have told BBC Sport “it’s all part of a programme designed to get people more active”.

29th September 2020

Science Coronavirus: False claims test kits for ‘Covid-19’ were sold in 2017

Science Coronavirus: False claims test kits for ‘Covid-19’ were sold in 2017


science Woman holding a coronavirus test kitImage copyright
Getty Images

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False claims about Covid-19 test kits and thermometers have been spreading on social media

Six months since the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, false claims continue to circulate on social media.

Here’s our latest round-up of some of the most widely shared.

Science Claim: Test kits for ‘Covid-19’ were being exported before the outbreak

Verdict: A database of worldwide shipments of chemical supplies created in 2020, but going back to 2015, did refer to their use for “Covid-19 kits”. The World Bank, one of the international organisations responsible for maintaining the list, says this was because these previously existing products are now being used for Covid-19 testing. The website has now been changed and a clarification issued.

The claim on social media – a persistent one among conspiracy theorists – is that this is evidence the pandemic was planned all along, and the World Bank knew about it. This is false and we can settle any doubts about what’s going on.

The screenshot being shared is genuine and includes trade information under the heading “COVID-19 Test kits exports by country in 2017”. Other pages show earlier years with similar data. So you can understand why this might have caused some confusion.

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The classification of these products is now “medical test kits”. Covid-19 test kits were not sold before 2020

According to the World Bank, the page was created in April 2020 to make it easier to find all of the previously existing products that are now being used for Covid-19 testing.

All the chemical products listed on the site have had other uses for many years, but the World Bank says they were re-categorised to ease the tracking of items that are particularly important to tackle the coronavirus.

From 7 September the title of the database was changed to “medical test kits”, and to avoid further misunderstanding includes a disclaimer that says “the data here track previously existing medical devices that are now classified by the World Customs Organization as critical to tackling Covid-19.”

The claims of a conspiracy seem to have emerged on social media late last week and have since spread across multiple platforms and languages.

Although the allegations appeared on Twitter and Facebook almost simultaneously, they only gained traction after a UK-based user on Facebook published a video pointing out the alleged discrepancy in the test kit data on 5 September.

Links and screenshots of the database then spread more widely on Facebook and Twitter, and also appeared on Reddit, Instagram and WhatsApp.

The claims have also crossed over into other languages, including Dutch, Italian, German, Polish, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese and Hebrew.

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Science Claim: Infrared thermometers harm the brain

Verdict: False. These devices are not dangerous.

The sight of someone having their temperature checked using a thermometer pointed at the forehead is fairly common these days.

These thermometers record a person’s temperature by measuring infrared radiation from the surface of the body.

A high temperature is an indication of possible coronavirus infection.

A video posted on YouTube with 2 million views falsely claims this process is dangerous. It is not and there’s a simple explanation why.

The thermometer records the infrared radiation coming off the body – the surfaces of all objects emit this type of radiation – but nothing is fired at the person.

The man presenting the video describes the concerns of an unnamed “Australian nurse”, and refers specifically to the potential harm done to the pineal gland.

This is deep inside the brain and controls a hormone called melatonin. The man calls it the “gateway to the spirit realm”.

But there’s no way the pineal gland would be harmed or could be “targeted” by a thermometer.

“They just pick up your infrared radiation. They’re not shooting anything,” says Stafford Lightman, a professor of medicine at Bristol University.

As for the claim that it’s safer and more effective to measure temperature at the wrist, Prof Lightman says it isn’t.

He explains that your limbs get cold and the blood supply to the wrists – unlike to the face – can be quite variable so it isn’t a good place to take a temperature.

Science Claim: Eating llama meat can help fight coronavirus

Verdict: There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Ineffective and unproven Covid-19 treatments have been touted online since the beginning of the pandemic, and in some cases, they’ve even been promoted by leading politicians.

This one however is new to us. One of Peru’s regional governors has suggested that eating llama and alpaca meat could help fight off coronavirus.

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Consuming llama meat won’t help you fend off coronavirus

According to a Peruvian radio station, the governor cited studies indicating that llamas and alpacas carry antibodies which could potentially be modified to develop a Covid-19 treatment.

The BBC science team reported on this research a while back, but these studies do not conclude that eating the animals’ meat could help a person combat the virus. Scientists instead found that the llama’s antibodies could possibly be adapted to make a therapy for humans.

So far, the only drugs that have been proven to save lives in clinical trials are dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.

Science Claim: A homeopathic medicine, arsenicum album, can help prevent coronavirus

Verdict: There is no scientific evidence to support the use of this homeopathic medicine to protect against Covid-19.

India’s ministry for alternative medicine, Ayush, has promoted the use of a homeopathic medicine, arsenicum album-30, claiming it can help prevent people from contracting coronavirus.

There are however no peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting its use as a preventative treatment for Covid-19.

Recently, the Indian PTI news agency reported that the western state of Gujarat had distributed the medicine to more than half of the state’s population as a preventative treatment.

A top health official in the state said she believed in “some effectiveness” of the medicine against coronavirus, but admitted that “to actually establish this, we need more rigorous analysis”.

There is no evidence that the medicine is effective, either in the prevention or treatment of Covid-19.

Additional reporting by Olga Robinson, Alistair Coleman and Upasana Bhat.

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29th September 2020

Science Alligator on gas snaps up Ig Nobel prize

Science Alligator on gas snaps up Ig Nobel prize


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Media captionAlligator bellows: The first pair of sounds are in ambient air; the second pair are in heliox

Have you heard the one about the alligator that performed the party trick of breathing in helium so it could talk in a funny voice?

It’s not that hilarious but then you’d be careful never to smile at a crocodilian.

Stephan Reber and colleagues performed the experiment to try to understand how alligators might communicate.

It was a serious piece of research but its slightly comedic aspects have just won the team an Ig Nobel Prize.

Ten such awards were handed out on Thursday by the science humour magazine Annals of Improbable Research.

The annual Igs are intended as a bit of a spoof on the more sober Nobel science prizes.

Other 2020 winners included the team that devised a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows; and the group that wanted to see what happened when earthworms were vibrated at high frequency.

All this kind of stuff sounds daft, but when you dig a little deeper you realise much of the research lauded by the Ig Nobels is actually intended to tackle real-world problems and gets published in peer-reviewed, scholarly journals.

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Annals of Improbable Research

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A real Nobel Laureate, Andre Geim (bottom-left), prepares to hand the Ig Nobel Acoustics Prize to Stephan Reber (middle-top) and his team

Dr Reber told BBC News he was honoured to receive the Ig.

His team’s study had attempted to show that crocodilians and other reptiles could advertise their body size through their vocalisations – something that mammals and birds can do when they call out.

“The resonances in your vocal tract sound lower overall if you’re larger because it’s a larger space in which the air can vibrate. We didn’t know if reptiles actually had resonances. Frogs, amphibians, don’t for example. So we needed a proof of concept that crocodilians actually have resonances,” he explained.

This was achieved by putting an alligator in an enclosed tank that could be filled alternately with normal air and a supply of oxygen and helium (heliox). The vibrations of the vocal tissues don’t change but the noise the animals are able to make will, because the speed of sound is different in the different gas mixtures.

The analysis of the frequency spectrum confirmed alligators’ body size does indeed correlate with the resonances they produce. “Although whether the animals can pick up on these cues, I haven’t tested,” the Lund University, Sweden, researcher said.

This is the 30th year the Ig Nobels have been presented.

Their usual home is the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US; and the event is always a riotous affair that involves lots of paper plane throwing and a small girl who shouts “boring” at anyone who talks for too long.

But the Covid-19 crisis forced this year’s ceremony online.

Even so, some traditions were maintained, like the involvement of real Nobel Laureates. Dr Reber’s team was presented with its Ig by Andre Geim, the UK-based researcher who won the Physics Nobel in 2010 for his work on graphene.

The Prof is something of a superstar having also won an Ig earlier in his career for levitating frogs.

Here’s a full list of the 2020 Ig Nobel winners. Each winning team was given a cash prize – of a 10 trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe.

For Acoustics: Stephan Reber, Takeshi Nishimura, Judith Janisch, Mark Robertson, and Tecumseh Fitch, for inducing a female Chinese alligator to bellow in an airtight chamber filled with helium-enriched air.

Psychology: Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule, for devising a method to identify narcissists by examining their eyebrows.

Peace: The governments of India and Pakistan, for having their diplomats surreptitiously ring each other’s doorbells in the middle of the night, and then run away before anyone had a chance to answer the door.

Physics: Ivan Maksymov and Andriy Pototsky, for determining, experimentally, what happens to the shape of a living earthworm when one vibrates the earthworm at high frequency.

Economics: Christopher Watkins, Juan David Leongómez, Jeanne Bovet, Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz, Max Korbmacher, Marco Antônio Corrêa Varella, Ana Maria Fernandez, Danielle Wagstaff, and Samuela Bolgan, for trying to quantify the relationship between different countries’ national income inequality and the average amount of mouth-to-mouth kissing.

Management: Xi Guang-An, Mo Tian-Xiang, Yang Kang-Sheng, Yang Guang-Sheng, and Ling Xian Si – five professional hitmen in Guangxi, China, who subcontracted a murder one to the other with none of them in the end actually carrying out the crime.

Entomology: Richard Vetter, for collecting evidence that many entomologists (scientists who study insects) are afraid of spiders, which are not insects.

Medicine: Nienke Vulink, Damiaan Denys, and Arnoud van Loon, for diagnosing a long-unrecognized medical condition: Misophonia, the distress at hearing other people make chewing sounds.

Medical Education: Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Narendra Modi of India, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Donald Trump of the USA, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, for using the Covid-19 viral pandemic to teach the world that politicians can have a more immediate effect on life and death than scientists and doctors can.

Materials Science: Metin Eren, Michelle Bebber, James Norris, Alyssa Perrone, Ashley Rutkoski, Michael Wilson, and Mary Ann Raghanti, for showing that knives manufactured from frozen human faeces do not work well.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

29th September 2020

Science Could VR help universities teach students?

Science Could VR help universities teach students?


Universities are preparing to reopen but not all teaching will be in-person. The Covid-19 pandemic means that remote learning will also play a pivotal part in education.

BBC Click’s Lara Lewington took a trip to a university science department, currently devoid of students, to see how virtual labs could change science education as we know it.

The virtual reality (VR) labs provide a safe place for experiments that may be difficult to do in the flesh – and offer universities who could not afford the kit, the same opportunities to experiment.

See more at Click’s website and @BBCClick

29th September 2020

Science Hamilton delivers when it counts to put Bottas in shade – all you need to know before Tuscan GP

Science Hamilton delivers when it counts to put Bottas in shade – all you need to know before Tuscan GP


science Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton
Listen to the Tuscan Grand Prix on the BBC Sport website and mobile app on Sunday from 14:00 BST

Valtteri Bottas must be starting to wonder what he has to do to beat Lewis Hamilton at all this year.

Bottas has not won a race since the opening grand prix of the season. And the last time he started ahead of his Mercedes team-mate in qualifying was at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix at Silverstone in early August.

The Finn looked to have a great chance on Formula 1’s first visit to Mugello.

From the start of practice on the spectacular, fast and challenging track in the beautiful hills of Tuscany, Bottas had an edge on Hamilton. And yet come the end of qualifying it was Hamilton who took pole position. The 95th of his career. A century, remarkably, is not far away.

It was odd to see Hamilton struggle so through Friday and Saturday morning at Mugello, for one of his greatest strengths has always been his adaptability.

It’s something that is seen to best and most obvious effect in the wet, when he always excels in conditions in which grip levels change from lap to lap.

science Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton beat team-mate Bottas to pole by just 0.059 seconds

But it’s also seen, for example, in the first practice session at Monaco, when most drivers take time to build up to the limits to avoid an embarrassing and damaging trip into the walls. Hamilton does, too; it’s just he tends to be closer sooner than anyone else.

And the same goes for new tracks. And yet here was F1 at a new track, a particularly difficult one, one of which only a handful of drivers had experience, and Hamilton was on the back foot.

He had even spent time in the Mercedes simulator before the race to learn Mugello, but it had made no difference. And he was not sure why.

“I don’t really have a great answer for that,” Hamilton said. “I came here with the same mental approach. I tried to do extra work in the sense of doing the simulator.

“The first couple of laps in first practice looked good and then they just pulled away in terms of how much improvement everyone was making.

“For me, I would say some of it was balance. I was struggling with balance and at the end of the day it is confidence here. You have to really carry a lot of speed into these corners.

“It is a high-speed circuit and not wanting to put a foot wrong. And if you’re uncomfortable with the balance of the rear of the car, you pull back and then you’re just too slow at the apex and exit of a lot of these corners.”

Some of those corners have to be seen to be believed. The run through Turns Six, Seven, Eight and Nine is one of the most spectacular on any track anywhere. All are flat out.

On Hamilton’s pole lap, his minimum speed through Six – known as Casanova – was 177.1mph, then 175.8 at Savelli, and 176.5 and 170.9 through the two right-handers known as Arrabbiata, the loss of speed accounted for by tyre scrub.

Around a track of 15 corners, the cars generate lateral forces of more than 5G in seven. The drivers brake only six times. No corner is taken in lower than fourth gear in a Mercedes, and the changes in gradient and gravel traps waiting to catch any error are what saps that confidence if a driver is not happy with his car.

How Hamilton turned it around

Hamilton is not all about natural talent – he works at it, too. And it was there that lay the secret to his pole.

“Normally I tend to think one of my strengths was learning a circuit quite quickly and for this one we went on the simulator, which I never do, and I don’t feel like I benefited particularly,” he said.

“I was struggling to find the limit in certain sectors and Valtteri was miles ahead, really.

“The pressure was higher than ever because if I hadn’t done the work I wouldn’t have got the result we got at the end.

“There is an incredible amount of detail you have to go into, last night dissecting every single corner, basically, and sector and trying to fine-tune that set-up.

“There’s a real fine line between knowing whether you have understeer or oversteer and whether you are on the limit or not in certain places.

“You can be on the limit in one corner but not the rest. You can be on the limit in the first corner but not the second and then the third you are. So understanding whether you have the balance right within yourself and knowing what to request when you do move towards the limit to pre-empt what the car is going to do.

“There is a real science to it. It is not only the ability to drive, but to understand those things and to be engineers at the end of the day. We work with these geniuses who can balance numbers like nobody else but we need to be able to do that on the track.”

Hamilton was 0.53secs off Bottas in first practice, 0.207secs behind in the second session, 0.083secs behind in final practice, and took pole by just 0.059secs.

For Bottas, it was agonising. He felt more was in the car, but did not get the chance to turn things around on his second run after Esteban Ocon’s Renault went off at Turn Three.

Hamilton was ahead of Ocon and did get a second lap in, but did not improve, saying the circuit was slower because the wind had picked up, so it may have been academic anyway.

What chance Bottas in the race? His best hope is the start.

“It is one of the longest runs of this season into Turn One and if the headwind stays the towing [effect] will be quite powerful,” he said.

Red Bull back in business

science Max Verstappen
Verstappen has only qualified on the front row once this season, at the Styrian Grand Prix in July

The race may not be simply an in-house Mercedes battle, for the Red Bull of Max Verstappen tends to be a closer match in the races. And, after a dismal race last weekend at Monza, this was the closest the Dutchman has been to pole all year.

“From our side we did a very good job setting up the car compared to some other weekends where we have been a bit further away and I was not entirely happy with the car,” said Verstappen, who has been close to the Mercedes all weekend, and split them in two of the three practice sessions.

“We more or less maximised what we could do this weekend. We started straight away with a positive balance and the right wing level for our car. And maybe the track characteristics a bit, we seem to be bit better on higher-downforce tracks.”

He, too, had been putting in the homework – although in his case it meant renting a GT race car and coming to Mugello to learn the circuit and its secrets.

“I was here a few weeks ago,” Verstappen said. “It is not an F1 car but it gives you a better idea than driving on the simulator.

“I grew up driving on the simulator but I find it way better driving a real-life car. It gives you more of an idea of what lines you have to take because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what car you are driving you are riding it more or less the same.

“That helped me a bit to get started. Also to set up the car. When I come here, I am not just cruising around, I am here working on the set-up and trying to make that car fast as well. And it gave me an idea of how to start with wing level and roll stiffness and things like this.

“When we started, the car was already in a very good window and I knew the track from a few weeks ago instead of a few years ago and that always helps.”

Can he do anything about the Mercedes in the race? Verstappen, well aware of the power of Mercedes this year, was not going to say that. But it is on his mind.

“For once we have quite decent top speed. It won’t be easy to pass but the track, the last few corners are wide and long so you can do a few different lines but it depends on if you have the pace to follow and tyre degradation.”

29th September 2020

Science UN report: Covid crisis does little to slow climate change

Science UN report: Covid crisis does little to slow climate change


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Wildfires are being linked to climate change in many parts of the world

The global response to Covid-19 has barely made a dent in the causes of climate change, according to a major new report.

While emissions of CO2 plummeted during lockdown, concentrations of the long-lasting gas have continued to rise in the atmosphere.

The period from 2016 to 2020 will likely be the warmest five years on record, the study finds.

The authors say “irreversible” climate change impacts are increasing.

The United in Science report brings together experts from a large number of international organisations, including the UN and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), to give an updated snapshot of the state of the global climate.

The study shows that global lockdowns had a significant and immediate impact on emissions of greenhouse gases, with daily levels in April 2020 falling by 17% compared with 2019.

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Traffic reductions across the world during lockdown have proven temporary

But this steep drop hasn’t been maintained. As the world returned to work, emissions rose and by June were within 5% of the previous year.

Over 2020, the expectation is that emissions will fall 4-7%.

While emissions can tell us what is happening on the ground, it is the concentrations of these gases in the atmosphere that makes all the difference for global temperatures.

Because CO2 can last for centuries, adding even a reduced amount to the air increases the warming potential of all the gas that has built up over decades.

This new study shows that is exactly what’s happened at a couple of key monitoring stations around the world.

At the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, the amount of CO2 measured in air samples has increased from 411 parts per million (ppm) in July 2019 to 414ppm in July this year.

Similarly, at Cape Grim monitoring station in Tasmania, concentrations were also up from 407 to 410ppm in the year to July.

A full global picture on atmospheric concentrations of warming gases won’t be available until later this year – but experts say the direction of travel is clear.

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Melting glaciers are seen as an irreversible impact of climate change

“Greenhouse gas concentrations – which are already at their highest levels in three million years – have continued to rise,” said WMO Secretary-General, Prof Petteri Taalas.

“Meanwhile, large swathes of Siberia have seen a prolonged and remarkable heatwave during the first half of 2020, which would have been very unlikely without anthropogenic climate change.

“And now 2016-2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated,” he said.

The report also highlights the growing gap between the action that’s needed to keep under temperature thresholds and the reality of efforts to cut emissions.

To keep the world from going beyond 1.5C of warming (since preindustrial times) this century, greenhouse gas production needs to be slashed, urgently.

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Fires in Siberia were said to have been made far more likely because of human-influenced climate change

The study says that by 2030, the world would need to cut the combined emissions of the top six carbon-producing countries to have a reasonable chance of staying below the 1.5C “guard rail”.

While not impossible, the report says it would essentially require a pandemic-sized carbon slowdown every year from now until the end of the decade.

All the while, the authors say, the evidence of the impacts of climate change continues to grow.

Global sea levels are rising much faster than previously recorded. Between 2016 and 2020 the rate of increase was 4.8mm per year, an increase over the 4.1mm recorded between 2011 and 2015.

The extent of sea-ice in the Arctic has continued to decline, at a rate of 13% per decade.

Rising temperatures have also seen droughts and heatwaves and have increased the risk of wildfires.

In Siberia, a recent attribution study has shown that the heat that persisted between January and June this year was made at least 600 times more likely by human-driven climate change.

“Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development,” said UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, in a foreword to the report.

“We must turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future,” he wrote. “We need science, solidarity and solutions.”

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattmcgrathbbc.

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