If you’re reading this blog and want to respond then please use the contact form on the site. You can also follow me on twitter. Prospect magazine has published my review of Hugh-Aldersey-Williams’s delightful chemistry book, Periodic Tales. The best science writing emulates fiction, creating plots, surprises and characters out of its esoteric material. The science writer’s trick is to transmute the dull tinplate of fact and theory into the precious gold of truthful entertainment. Since its plans to sell off much of the Forestry Commission’s land were leaked the press last October, the government has found itself subject to a sustained lobbying campaign. The commission has wheeled out its friends to tell the press what an irreplaceable paragon of environmental virtue it is, and specifically how much access to the countryside will be lost if its land is sold.
I have learned that when the government’s proposals are put to public consultation next week, this particular charge will be found to be simply wrong. All sales of land will be subject to the same access provisions as now. So the hyperventilating lobbyists, from ramblers to baronesses, can calm down: the Forest of Dean will not suddenly be closed. It was the Labour government that was quietly selling Forestry Commission land in recent years with no such public-access requirement.
The access row is a smokescreen to cover old-fashioned bureaucratic self-preservation. The Forestry Commission is keen to remain a cosy nationalised monopoly. Forestry Commission is a walking conflict of interest. It is like the Bank of England running a huge high-street bank, or the BBC owning Ofcom. George Monbiot is advertising a speaking tour with a poster of himself as a boxer about to hit somebody. This month saw the discovery of the first small and “rocky” planet like ours outside the solar system, Kepler 10b, orbiting a star more than 500 light years away. This month also saw terrible floods in part of Australia.
Here I intend to link these two news stories. But don’t worry-I have not gone astrological on you. The link is not a causal one. Some people think I am obsessed by the shale gas revolution and that I might be exaggerating its significance. Well, if anything I’m underplaying it. The International Energy Agency says so. The Edge’s Annual Question is a great compilation of brief effusions from science groupies like me.