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Submission to the BBC science review

This posting deals with a project that I have been working on with Tony Newbery of the Harmless Sky blog. Long-term readers will be aware of the story already, but it's all explained if you have only been coming here in the last twelve months. The posting here is a joint one, and has been crossposted at Tony's blog.

Over the last several years, Tony N (Harmless Sky) and I have taken a great deal of interest in the BBC’s coverage of the climate debate, and this has involved a good deal of behind-the-scenes research. So we were obviously interested when the BBC Trust announced in early January this year that they were to conduct a review of the impartiality of their science coverage.

Our first reaction was to write to Professor Richard Tait, the trustee who was fronting this project, requesting that we should make a submission to the review and pointing out that the main critics of the BBC coverage of AGW were in the blogosphere. Not only were we unable to get a reply form Professor Tait, but we were unable even to get confirmation from the secretary of the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that he had been given the letter. This will be the subject of another post.

Fortunately, in April, I happened to spot a request for comments from the general public on an obscure BBC web page. He contacted Professor Steve Jones, the person commissioned by the BBC Trust to conduct the review, who proved to be rather more approachable than Professor Tait. It was quickly arranged that we should make a submission before the end of October. His report is due to be published in the Spring of 2011.

The document that we finally sent to Professor Jones can be found here and it will be interesting to see whether anyone takes notice of what we have said.

Read the submission at the link below.

BBC Science Review Submission

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Reader Comments (73)

Interesting stuff about Harrabin in there.

A few years ago there was an interview with Harrabin in CAM magazine. It's a free magazine mailed out to Cambridge graduates. I didn't keep it as he hadn't particularly registered on my radar at the time. It contained some stuff which is very odd taken together with his CEMP activity.

First, although a climate reporter, he's actually an English graduate, so he has no scientific training at all beyond - at most - A Level (if that). I cannot imagine what he'd be doing in such a role as he is clearly not competent to evaluate or challenge what he's told by "scientists".

Second, he made the extraordinary comment that it was terribly inefficient to run public life democratically, and it would be better if all important decisions could be made for us by experts.

The latter view is, I suspect, pretty accurately indicative of what most ecofascists think. Having failed to win over popular opinion, they seek a license to ignore it instead. We can be sure that Harrabin's "experts" would include people like himself and Bob Ward. I thought that kind of utopianism had died with H G Wells, to be honest, but it seems not.

Recent polls on CAGW credulity seem to have belief in it down to about the 35% level. This is about in line with belief in things like ghosts, astrology, spiritualism and homeopathy. We're now at the level where only an irreducible hard core of the invincibly stupid are taken in by it, but are they still in charge?

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Justice4Rinka , perhaps you are referring to ??

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

It appears that the links at the end of your document are not working

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Typo in para 24 of the submission?

"we would draw your attention to the following programmes, which we feel are particularly memorable for their lack of bias"

"Lack of" bias??

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAngusPangus

Clear, to the point, and supported by evidence - excellent work again.

What Prof Jones will make of it - who knows!
I met Prof Jones a few times in the late 1980s (he wasn't a Prof then), and he then struck me as a committed scientist and excellent teacher.
Sadly, in present times one can't predict any longer if eminent scientists will still follow their callings - or will be succumbing to the lure of politicised establishment science.

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

I wrote to Richard Black of the BBC following a piece he did to draw attention to Mann's 2008 research. i think Black gave a title to his piece - something like the "Hockey Stick lives". I wrote to Black asking him if he accepted the conclusions of the Wegman report. He responded by saying that he accepted that Wegman found what he found.I am neither a scientist nor a statistician but I can read and analyse. I have seen nothing in any of the blogs or elsewhere that discredits Wegman's work into MBH 1998/99. It is revealing that Black cannot give a straight answer to this question. I asked him in 2008. i wonder what his response might be were he to be asked the same question now.

In 2007, Black wrote another piece called "Climate scepticism: The top10". This purports to address the major concerns of climate sceptics. To illustrate the piece, there is a picture of the sun with the caption: "Unravelling the sceptics". Ten major concerns are apparently addressed. However, the "counter" to the "sceptic" position seems to have been written by Gavin Schmidt who boasted about his participation on Realclimate. Readers here would undoubtedly take issue with some of the claims made under the heading "counter". I am not sure if this piece by Black is still online, i doubt it. I have a copy. It might be interesting to ask Black to re-visit his piece. What he has done, of course, is give the last word to "some of the counter-arguments made by scientists who agree with the IPCC". I have no doubt that few readers here would accept without qualification that "The urban heat island effect is real but small" and "Even so, the linear trends since 1998 are still positive".

I have not time now to write again to Black but i would encourage readers here to do so.

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered Commentersam mccomb

Cracking submission, nicely written :)

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Page

I wonder how far down your submission some junior BBC researcher will read before consigning it to the wagger-pagger-bagger and sending you a nice letter thanking you for your valuable contribution.
This document has much more value as a stand-alone exposition of how a movement can utilise a power/influence vacuum.
Send it everywhere.

Nov 16, 2010 at 10:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

AngusPangus - you are correct. I wonder if the line originally read 'lack of balance' and was not checked after editing?

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil D

It seems that there are wheels within wheels at the BBC. It reminds me of the spy thrillers of the 60s and 70s.

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrank Brown

Good Lord! There's a lot of stuff in there I didn't know (particularly about Harrabin). But I don't expect anything other than another whitewash, despite the evidence you present.

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobinson


That's the one, and these were some of the phrases I remembered:

"...the Junior Common Room had appeared to be captured by factions interested in supporting Nicaragua or promoting foxhunting. If you could have a non-partisan, technocratic JCR, you would do much more to support the lot of ordinary undergraduates" (who had, of course, voted for no such thing)

"The paper did some good because it supported a JCR campaign to get rid of the iniquitous KEF – Kitchen Establishment Fund; we all had to subsidise the kitchen to produce the most execrable food." I feel the same way about the television licence.

"They brought in outside caterers; this put up the prices but people didn’t mind as the food was now worth eating. I realized then what you could do with the printed word." It cost others money but he got his way and learned that control of the media was useful.

It's all there, isn't it? I can scarcely imagine anyone less suited to be an environemtal correspondent at a tax-funded state broadcaster.

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Are the BBC obliged to respond to this document?

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

Harrabin and Richard Black have been MIA for weeks, and for the second day in a row the BBC's SciEnv home page shows nothing about climate. What's happening?

Nov 16, 2010 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Congratulations to both authors for putting together a devastating expose. One almost feels pity for the gullibility and abysmal lack of scientific finesse within BBC ranks that rendered them highly vulnerable to manipulation. Ironically, it was the BBC's obvious descent into overt climate campaigning and alarmism that pushed me, and I suspect many others, to investigate the evidence more closely and critically.

Agree that the typo sec 24 'lack of bias' should be 'lack of balance'. Also in the last para of sec 22 'media converge of climate science' should read 'media coverage of climate science'.

Nov 16, 2010 at 12:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Regading media stories, either this is nothing, or I may have just come across a new 'keep the Scottish public in the dark about anti-AGW news' tactic.

The Scotsman ran an article a few days ago titled 'Scotland 'risking a blackout' in a bid to go green..

'THE "lights could go out" over Scotland unless new power stations are built in the next two years to ward off a looming electricity crisis, the head of one of Scotland's most successful companies has warned Alex Salmond.'

I attempted to repost this article on my Facebook account and got the following error message:

'MESSAGE FAILED. This message contains blocked content that has previously been flagged as abusive or spammy. Let us know if you think this is an error.'

Am going to keep an eye on this...

Nov 16, 2010 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaulH from Scotland

Excellent and thorough research work by you and TonyN. Faultless apart from a few typos.

Thank you both for your efforts.

Nov 16, 2010 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Michael Mann's thoughts (in the emails) to contact Richard Black, because Paul Hudson (BBC) wrote: Whatever Happened to Global Warming, never looked good...

The Realclimate team, seemed to think Richard was a gatekeepr for their view of AGW.

Nov 16, 2010 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I've just bumped up against the error noticed by AngusPangus! LOL! Stopped me dead in my tracks!! :o)

Para 24, "lack of bias.:" should prolly be "lack of balance.:"

Nov 16, 2010 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

Could you pop a copy in the post to Jeremy Paxman?

With so many journalists around the world, could the BBC be challenged to produce photographic evidence of rising sea levels? If the photos are clearly time and date stamped, it would be possible to eliminate those due to high tides, atmospheric pressure or simply coastal erosion.

The ancient city of Alexandria is now underwater, and Harlech Castle is now miles from the sea. Both due to plate tectonics I believe, rather than changes in sea level

Nov 16, 2010 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charley

I endorse Phillip Bratby's sentiments completely.

sam mccomb says '......but i would encourage readers here to do so....' If my experience is anything to go by, it will be a total waste of time. I was writing to Mark Thompson for over three-and-a-half years and failed to get a reply from him until I involved my MP. Even then his replies came through my MP rather than directly.

Throughout the whole paper chase it was self-evident that the BBC was not interested in balanced coverage of climate change instead clinging slavishly to the line beloved of all the major political parties.

This line was completely supported by the BBC Trust in case anyone thinks of writing in that direction!

Nov 16, 2010 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered Commenteryertizz

Well done chaps! I feel a celebratory blog post coming on....

Nov 16, 2010 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Delingpole

I wonder if the fact that BBC pensions are tied into climate alarmism has also played a part

Nov 16, 2010 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul

James D

We all look forward to another of your stunning articles.

Nov 16, 2010 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Page 9: "At no point was there any suggestion
that anthropogenic Co2 emissions may not be entirely responsible for
climate change, a claim that the IPCC report did not make."

I make that a triple negative. I think it means what I think you mean it to mean, but it could be a lot clearer.

Much like this comment, in fact.

Nov 16, 2010 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterThe Pedant-General

The Pedant-General observes:

Page 9: "At no point was there any suggestion
that anthropogenic Co2 emissions may not be entirely responsible for
climate change, a claim that the IPCC report did not make."

Very true. Look no further than AR4 SPM p2 footnote 1:

Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

This divergence in definition is twenty years old and it has caused no end of trouble. It will carry on doing so until the FCCC is forced to accept the wider and more scientifically justifiable definition adopted by the IPCC.

In short, it allows the conflation of ‘climate change’ with ‘CO2’ under the heading ‘anthropogenic’. With FCCC goggles on, all else can be ignored as not relevant. All emphasis can fall on CO2 – in other words it becomes an energy problem rather than a massively complex climate change analysis.

Framing policy on this basis was never going to work.

Nov 16, 2010 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

The important question what constitutes balanced reporting. Enough is objectively known about the science of AGW to cause concern amongst scientists. The consensus amongst scientists is valid and although the precise outcomes are not all predictable you can be objective about a risk management strategy. I know you guys here disagree with some part or all of that but nothing you've said is persuasive to me, so far as I have read. Is the bbc bound to conflate science with a minority making a lot of noise which they haven't justified? Personally I don't think so.
What about the self interest and disinformation on AGW in the sponsors of the Tea party and alike such as the Koch brothers. Where is your skepticism of these groups?
Unfortunately life is too short to read every opinion out there!

Nov 16, 2010 at 5:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBemused Scientist

@Bemused Scientist

Your moniker fits quite a lot of us here, believe it or not. I have no problem about the establishment being objective about a risk management strategy. What I don't see is objectivity, the Bish deals extremely concisely with that in his submission. It shows quite clearly that in this particular regard, it is NOT scientific consensus that is forming the policy, but the worldview of a very select and specific group. The document makes it pretty clear that the wide range of scientific views, even as they stood then, was not what was presented. Most participants were policy wonks rather than scientists. That's the point. It was not a scientific review.

Is the BBC bound to conflate science with the minority with special access and influence which they haven't justified? Personally I don't think so. What about the self interest and disinformation on AGW in the sponsors of the Grantham Institutes, or the tax funded NGO's? Where is your scientific scepticism of these groups?

Life is too important not to inform yourself of all views, especially when the establishment tell you to 'trust us, and hand over the cash'.

a(nother) bemused scientist.

Nov 16, 2010 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

Bemused Scientist:

A scientist is someone who follows the Scientific Method. "Climate scientists" refuse to do that - their data and workings are secret. When they are teased out (McIntyre finding Mann's "Censored" ftp directory) or forced out (Briffa's Yamal data by the Royal Society), it is discovered that "climate scientists" use bad statistical methods like short-centered PCA, use cherry-picked tree rings (YAD06), and a host of other processes designed not to reveal truths, but to created 'evidence' for pre-determined conclusions. Then they "hide the decline", corrupt peer review, and refuse FOI requests while jaunting off to tropical resorts on the taxpayer's dime to tell their funding politicians of Imminent! Global! Disaster! which can only be solved by more funding to themselves.

In short, some of us have read "The Hockey Stick Illusion" and paid attention. From you we get irrelevant comments about the Tea Party. Please explain just what kind of "scientist" you are.

Nov 16, 2010 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrewSanDiego

Hmmm... I suppose someone who places the character string "scientist" in their moniker clearly wants us to believe they are a "scientist".

I will admit that it's TOUGH these days, when you can't tell from the content of a comment, who is a "scientist" and who is a "propagandist" ;)


Nov 16, 2010 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

Bemused Scientist

The problem for some of us is the insane direction that 'climate policy' (forgive the phrase) seems to be taking.

Advocacy for gigantic (unfeasible) leaps towards decarbonisation by the developed economies in a world where China, India and others will not follow is never, ever going to work.

For example, in 2009, India environment minister Jairam Ramesh said:

"India will not accept any emission-reduction targe - period. This is a non-negotiable stand."

At some point the greens and carbon counters of this world are going to have to wake up to the harsh realities and drop the wishful thinking.

Acceptance that adaptation and mitigation rather than mitigation (abatement) alone will of necessity be the first step towards a rational response.

Nov 16, 2010 at 6:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


I don't think you read my earlier comment carefully enough.

Nov 16, 2010 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

@ Cumbrian Lad
I glad we agree on some things. I would have a natural distrust for all organizations where a lot of power is concentrated in the hands of a small group. But you need resources to carry out global scale experiments so I don't see we can avoid that problem.
@AndrewSanDiego. The tea party are exerting a lot of influence in US and few/none of the political representatives support action on climate change. Considering the influence of the US on the world I believe they are relevant
@BadAndrew I might or might not be a scientist from your point of view - *shruggs*
@BBD Not sure on that. If AGW remains in disagreement then yes I can't see it working.

Nov 16, 2010 at 7:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterBemused Scientist

"@BadAndrew I might or might not be a scientist from your point of view - *shruggs*"

So the inclusion of "scientist" in your name must be for your own amusement. *shruggs*


Nov 16, 2010 at 7:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew


There's no future in unilateral decarbonisation in a globalised world even with a consensus on AGW. In fact I believe such a consensus has existed for a while, but look around you - what evidence do you see of a will toward coherent action? Remember COP15.

I suggest that it is unrealistic expectations emerging from a self-defeating mix of science, advocacy and politics that have so far ensured failure. And will continue to do so until alarmism is muffled by pragmatism.

Eg: science should cease advocacy. Environmentalism should be assessed on what it can deliver, not what it claims. Politicians need to stop posturing and start thinking.

Consider the madness where greens oppose nuclear and champion wind as a viable energy technology on which to begin the work of decarbonsing an industrial economy.

Nov 16, 2010 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Like a lot of words, "science" is another one that has been hijacked for nefarious reasons. Hence we have social science, political science and environmental science, none of which have anything to do with science. Thus Bemused Scientist could be a social scientist and thus not have a clue about the scientific methodology.

Nov 16, 2010 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

James delingpole has written his article.

Nov 16, 2010 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Bemused Scientist

What I mean is summed up in point 4 of the document under discussion. The 2006 IPPR is quoted as follows:

Many of the existing approaches to climate change communications clearly seem unproductive. And it is not enough simply to produce yet more messages, based on rational argument and top-down persuasion, aimed at convincing people of the reality of climate change and urging them to act. Instead, we need to work in a more shrewd and contemporary way, using subtle techniques of engagement.

To help address the chaotic nature of the climate change discourse in the UK today, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won, at least for popular communications. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective. The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken.

The fantasy notion that 'individual actions' can be 'effective' in determining future climate change is there for all to see. As is the obvious fallacy. Collectively 'we' achieve precisely nothing by carbon counting and all the rest of the nonsense.

Global, co-ordinated decarbonisation might have a chance, but as I have already pointed out, it isn't going to happen.

So pretty much all the rest of the 'debate' about 'tackling climate change' is pointless.

When was the last time atmospheric CO2 ppmv fell, Bemused?

Nov 16, 2010 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

What the BBC should do, but does not, is stop listening to activist PR from the likes of Futerra and start digging into the real problems:

1. Going forward, how does the global economy deal with its overwhelming dependence on coal?

2. What about the 1.5bn people with no access to electricity? Where do they figure in a global decarbonisation program?

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


Concentration of effort/power is one thing, but the issue here is not that scientific endeavour is being harnessed to the common wealth, rather that those with influence (and those not with publicly recognised power) are shepherding the public into a particular course, which benefits only the influencers, and which is only marginally supported by the great 'scientific consensus' whilst being presented as being totally underpinned by near 100% fact. That is dishonest, and no scientist worth his salt would go along with it if it didn't so happen that most of them depend on the influencers for their salt. That's why us peppery individualists get so shaken up about it.

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

saying there is no future in unilateral decarbonization is rather categorical - I think it is yet to be decided. Do I see evidence of coherent action? No - this is why I come digging for answers to sites like this and climate progress etc. Do you accept that without disinformation campaigns such as those funded by the Koch brothers with everyone reading from the same page that the consensus would have a better chance?
No sure I understand your next paragraph, if a cancerous growth is spotted on a vital organ the doctor will presumably advocate to have it removed. Some greens oppose nuclear because of weapons, waste and safety. I'm with those who see it as a lesser evil.

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBemused Scientist

A very perceptive article by TonyN and the Bishop which is getting some traction in the MSM.

The politics of AGW started to manifest itself with Tony Blair around 2005, which is when the BBC also started to get taken over by the climate change mantra of which the two authors write so eloquently. Last year I wrote a long piece about climate politics from a British perspective-the UK being particularly important because it is one of the few things we are World leaders on.

It might help readers to see the context of the BBC involvement as both the Govt and its institutions started to buy into the AGW story.

"Article: Politics of climate change. Author: Tony Brown
Climate change has become highly politicised and the British Govt - long time leaders in funding research into the subject - were very heavily implicated in making it a political issue in order to promote their own agenda. An unsual subject for me, but very well referenced with numerous links and quotes from such bodies as the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons."


Nov 16, 2010 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered Commentertonyb

@BBD see you next post now.
Carbon counting is valid IMO. Whilst I agree individual actions are a drop in the ocean we are supported in our lives by an extensive infrastructure (energy, food, water commodities), carbon counting helps with clarity, giving everyone some idea of the cost of their choices. In democracy politicians ability to act beyond their rhetoric requires that the people who have voted them in will withstand the consequences of climate policies without immediately disposing of them.
The media dissemination of what climate scientists have to say and the consequences of future risk thus becomes instrumental of whether people at large will be prepared to absorb and adopt the advice.
the Keeling curve for you:

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterBemused Scientist

@Cumbrian Lad
The scientific consensus being that AGW is very likely happening and that the risks of not curtailing CO2 output need to addressed. This is followed by a number of possible policies. So it is justifiable that we must adopt a significant policy. But exactly which policy that might be is more open to question - so the 'dishonesty' would be mistaking the need to adopt a policy with the need to adopt some specific policy. I don't believe this is the case in general. Maybe I did not understand your post fully.

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBemused Scientist


Thanks - I am familiar with the Keeling curve - the question was rhetorical - it trends inexorably upwards despite all the chatter.

There is no future in unilateral decarbonisation because:

1. It will not have a significant effect on the atmospheric fraction of CO2 but it will significantly damage the economy that embarks upon it which will -

2. Be suicidal for its political leadership (assuming it to be democratically elected)

The Koch brothers are as irrelevant as Romm et al. The problem is one of global realpolitik. You are stuck in a 'debate' which isn't going to make any difference.

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


You say you find this paragraph confusing:

Eg: science should cease advocacy. Environmentalism should be assessed on what it can deliver, not what it claims. Politicians need to stop posturing and start thinking.


Nov 16, 2010 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


The issue is that the public are being fed distortions and downright falsehoods. This is nothing to do with science. The basic science does not support what is being proposed. It is politics, it is money and it is power. It ain't science.

I was not able to get to Dr Pielke's talk this evening unfortunately, but just read his views on the actual data on storm damage, and what the Insurance companies push to policy makers.

Nov 16, 2010 at 8:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad


Carbon accounting is necessary for the reasons you suggest.

Carbon counting is a miserable waste of personal time and energy, usually (but not always) carried out to make the counter feel morally superior to others.

Nov 16, 2010 at 9:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD


Cumbrian Lad mentions Roger Pielke Jr's talk.

Visit Pielke's blog and search for the 'iron law' of climate policy. He makes a convincing case that whenever there is a direct confrontation between economic interests and 'climate change', the former will win out.

The reasons are of course political and economic. However Pielke's reasoning is far from simplistic and he is no 'climate sceptic'.

Like me, he is a climate policy sceptic.

Nov 16, 2010 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Richard Black's back...

...and I'm being removed for further consideration allready.... (Comment 17)

I only mentioned this article about Bishop Hill's Submission.

and why Cancun would fail - ie China will burn it's coal...

Nov 16, 2010 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

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