RSPB: James Delingpole "has not looked into the evidence in a balanced way"

RSPB also currently preparing research note into defecatory habits of <em>Ursae</em> in woodland areas.

The RSPB's Conservation Director, Martin Harper, has responded to a piece by anti-wind-farm campaigner James Delingpole in last weekend's Mail on Sunday (heroically, the Mail misspelled Delingpole's name, but I'm assuming "James Dellingpole" isn't a real person). In the piece, Delingpole accused the RSPB of "making hundreds of thousands of pounds from the wind power industry – despite the turbines killing millions of birds every year", in reference to a partnership whereby the charity gets £60 for every member who signs up with a renewable energy company.

In response, Harper writes:

In his piece Mr Delingpole is selective with his facts and has chosen to ignore the large body of science that supports the principle that appropriately located windfarms have negligible impacts, and instead highlights a few studies from other parts of the world that are deeply misleading when extrapolated to windfarms in general, or indeed windfarms in the UK.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that between 20,000 and 37,000 birds are killed each year by wind farms in America, which is quite a long way off "millions". Conversely, cats, power lines and windows all kill at least 100 million birds each per year in that country.

Which is to say that windfarms are not likely to be at the top of the RSPB's priority, no matter how much Delingpole wishes otherwise. But something which is at the top of their priority? Climate change:

With every year that goes by, I am more and more concerned about the very real impact climate change is already having on wildlife. Our global climate is increasingly destabilised and, on average, is continuing to warm; wildlife is on the front line of these changes and is already feeling the crunch. Last year, we were horrified by the impact that the extreme rainfall throughout spring had on birds attempting to breed on our reserves, whilst the evidence that increases in North Sea temperature have disrupted the food chain and are causing declines in seabirds continued to stack up.

Earlier this year, Delingpole was also smacked down by the Met Office, after he claimed that they had conceded that "there is no evidence that ‘global warming’ is happening" (they have conceded no such thing). Given how widely anthropogenic climate change is accepted – and how passionately Delingpole disagrees with the scientific consensus – who or what will he turn his sights on next?

Given how little you need to do to spark the wrath of Delingpole, it would be interesting to see what he thinks about the utterer of these words:

The problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level.

It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases.

We have to look forward not backward and we shall only succeed in dealing with the problems through a vast international, co-operative effort.

Of course, the Mail on Sunday is as unlikely to publish a hit-piece on Thatcher (who, yes, said that in 1989) as Delingpole is to write it. But wouldn't that be a thing to behold?

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

0800 7318496