World to America: Grow Up! (updatedx3)

As America digests the news that Chicago won’t be holding the Olympics, the right has reacted with unbridled joy, while other commentators just seem dumbfounded. I especially like Politico’s roundup, which claims that “veteran Olympic watchers” have been left stunned by the decision.

This claim rests on quotes from Olympic historian, Bill Mallon who grumbles about the voting procedure, suggests with a straight face that the IOC should be remodelled on the US Congress, and puts the whole thing down to anti-Americanism.

If the U.S. president, who is universally recognized as the most powerful person on the face of the earth, comes to their meeting and entreats them to give him the games to his own home city, which has by far the best bid, and they turn around and say not only are we not going to give you the games, but you finish last – that reveals that they’re so euro-centric and international-centric, it’s ridiculous.

Leaving aside the ongoing, and bizarre, insecurity about Europe, d0 we really have to apologize for the International Olympic Committee not acting as an extension of American power?

(Especially, when Obama told delegates “We stand at a moment in history when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations — a time of common challenges that require common effort.”)

Unfortunately, we have more of this whingeing to look forward to. The United States has had two Olympics since 1984 – with the second, in Atlanta, widely recognised at the worst games in recent times. Now, angered at not having hosted a World Cup (soccer, for American readers – you know, the sport kids play) since 1994, the US is bidding for the 2018 or 2022 championships. Obama, Disney and even Henry Kissinger (!) have been lined up in  support.

The decision is due in December, just as the Copenhagen climate summit will be in full swing. Maybe the United States should throw major sporting events into the climate negotiating pot: “every time you don’t let us have an Olympics or World Cup, then another small island state will be left to drown…”

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Kill human rights workers

More depressing news from West Africa – surely the world’s most unstable region – as Gambia’s Big Man president Yahya Jammeh declares he wants to kill human rights workers in the country. This is what he said:

I will kill anyone, who wants to destabilise this country. If you think that you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders, and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it. We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of the country. If you are affiliated with any human rights group, be rest assured that your security and personal safety would not be guaranteed by my government. We are ready to kill saboteurs.

And this in the country that is host to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (sic), which was set up by the African Union.  The AU is traditionally lily-livered when it comes to dealing with Africa’s many nefarious leaders, and it will be interesting to see how it responds to this open threat to its staffers.

Tories use girl’s death to score (invalid) points

When the story broke on Monday that a young British schoolgirl, Natalie Morton, had died after receiving the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer, I wondered why it had made the news. After all, she also died after eating her breakfast that morning, and presumably after attending a couple of lessons. Why did the news stories not provide this information, I wondered. Why did they only mention the vaccination – which after all, was just another event in the girl’s schedule that day. And why didn’t they mention any of the other British children who’d also died that day, in road accidents, for example?

The reason, I soon worked out, was that newsmen like to start controversies. Controversies, however unfounded, sell newspapers or help broadcasters sell advertising space. However, this still didn’t tell me why the BBC – a “public service broadcaster” which has no need to sell ads and which is supposed to be a responsible counterweight to the tabloids and the Murdoch TV channels – published the story on its website under the banner, “Schoolgirl dies after cancer jab.” As with the tabloid press, the tone of the article, and of the BBC’s report on the episode in the 10 o’clock news, strongly suggested, without any evidence, that Natalie Morton’s death was caused by the vaccine.  Anyone who did not see the follow-up story, published today, would have reasonably thought that the HPV vaccine was dangerous and may well have decided it was unsafe for their daughters to be immunised. Given that the vaccine is expected to reduce cervical cancer cases by 70%, such a decision would have left thousands of girls at risk of contracting a frequently fatal disease.

Hopefully, the follow-up story, which reports that Ms Morton died of a massive tumour in her chest that affected her heart and lungs, and not because of the vaccine (nor because she ate breakfast or attended lessons that day, for that matter), will receive as much coverage as the initial report and the scare will abate, though I’m not holding my breath. You only have to look at the mountain of coverage received by the MMR scandal (where duff science linked the vaccine to autism) to see that vaccination is not a topic that attracts responsible journalism.

Sadly, it doesn’t attract responsible politics either.

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Brainwave – let’s re-invent the IPCC

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, George Will has a bright idea in today’s column which will, sadly, be read in 350 or so US newspapers this morning: “America needs a national commission appointed to assess the evidence about climate change.”

Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Shame, really, that the world already has the IPCC whose job it is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Of course, Will knows this. In the run up to Copenhagen, he’s simply lobbying for anything that will delay robust steps to cut emissions (RealClimate has a round up of his woeful track record writing about the issue).

What he may not know, however, is that the IPCC itself owes its existence – at least, in part – to a much earlier American attempt to deflect policy action. Alex and I covered this in our paper, State of the Debate:

According to Shardul Agrawala’s fascinating account of the origins of the IPCC, its roots can be found in a workshop held in 1985 in Villach, organized by two United Nations agencies and the non-governmental International Council for Science (ICSU).

At the Villach workshop, a group of scientists, acting in a personal capacity, announced a consensus that “in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature would occur which is greater than any in man’s history.”

The need to deepen, extend and institutionalise this consensus was pushed in particular by the United States government – in part because it wanted to ‘buy time’ and delay a potentially costly policy response. The US wanted an inter-governmental mechanism and that’s what it got.

According to Agrawala, this formal insertion of scientific expertise was of great importance. The result was to pump sufficient shared awareness of the climate problem into the international arena, providing a platform for governments to enter into a serious negotiation.

The IPCC’s dominant position in the debate also became self-reinforcing. “The more credible experts there were already in the IPCC, the more attractive it was for other established experts to join, [and] the more internal strength the institutions had to defend its scientific integrity against political pressures.” An anchor for global understanding of the issue, and perceptions of its seriousness, had been provided.

But, hey, let’s have another review of the evidence! If it takes another thirty years, I am sure that will suit Will just fine…

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