Friday, 31 January 2014

Interview with Dr Stuart Parkinson, head of scientists for global responsibility

The head of a major scientific body that promotes the ethical practice and use of science and technology has accused the environment secretary Owen Paterson of misrepresenting the threat of global climate change and lacking concern for many vulnerable parts of the world. 

Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director for Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), is also concerned that the European Union (EU) is increasingly funding ‘security research’ by arms manufacturers and that the British government is failing to support the renewable energy sector. He also fears that an opportunity to make the case for peace may be lost in this year’s events to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.

It was at the Conservative Party conference last year that Paterson, responsible for fighting the effects of climate change, spoke up after the first part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) trilogy was released. Scientists are 95% certain that humans are the ‘dominant cause’ of global warming since the 1950s. Worryingly, scientists are convinced that warming is projected to continue and in the worst cases scenario the situation is bleak for many parts of the world.

Paterson said, “this report shows a really quite modest increase…..remember that for humans the biggest cause of death is cold……..and warming will lead to longer growing seasons extending a little further north into some of the colder areas.”

Parkinson believes Paterson’s comments, “were poorly informed and misrepresent the extent of the global climate change as outlined by the IPCC. By focusing on the direct climate impacts on the UK he is showing a stunning lack of concern for the many other vulnerable parts of the world.” 

With the EU having massively increased funding for security research to €1.4 billion over the next six years, Parkinson worries that this is “resulting in an increasing use of technologies that alter the approach away from tackling the root causes of crime to ‘controlling’ the public with all sorts of implications for freedom and human rights.” 

Many of those who support the security industry contend that it provides jobs and that research is required to maintain UK firm’s positions in a growing market. The same argument is also advanced for government funds allocated to the UK’s arms manufacturers for research.

Parkinson disagrees and the SGR late last year released a report, Offensive Insecurity. This reveals that companies such as BAE Systems now has more workers in the USA than in the UK. A report that was co-authored by Ministry of Defence economists has calculated that were arms exports to halve then over 30% more jobs would be generated in five years due to the high technology skills of arms industry workers being redeployed elsewhere in civilian industry. US statistics show that the number of jobs created by spending $1bn on education is five times as many as in the military. 

“Our organisation does not just want to make arms industry workers unemployed. We want government funds to be switched away from the capital-intensive arms industry and into the renewable sector so that it can long-term replace the oil and gas sector, including fracking,” said Parkinson, whose political understanding was formed after he worked on military engineering projects whilst he was studying for his degree. Meanwhile, whilst Parkinson is in favour of research on technologies like carbon capture and storage, he contends that there is “no such thing as clean coal, only less dirty coal.” 

The SGR contends that many of the problems facing society today are the result of the irresponsible use of science, design and technology. A century ago the latest developments in scientific technology were brutally applied in a War largely carried out using nineteenth century military tactics. The introduction of machine guns, modern artillery, airplanes and tanks, allied to poison gas, led to the slaughter in the trenches. 

The Government plans to commemorate the First World War Centenary between 2014 and 2018 include battlefield visits for secondary school students. Key battle dates will be marked. Some right-wing historians have complained that the plans are too low key and by focusing on British defeats over emphasises the futility of war. Professor Gary Sheffield, vice president of the Western Front Association, has said, ‘the plans seem to miss out the fact that Britain won the war in 1918……the war was an enormous national achievement.” Others are calling the sacrifice of millions a necessary fight for freedom and even a battle for survival.


Parkinson entirely disagrees and will not be supporting “any event which seeks to glorify the war or Britain’s role in it, and I fear much of what the government plans may do this. The commemoration focus must be on ‘never again’ as the War was a horrendous waste of life that could have been avoided with greater political will.” 

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