Tag Archives: Margaretta D’Arcy

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 22nd March 2014

AIB bites the bullet and its time for other banks to wake up?

  

AIB has taken a refreshing approach to the problem of mortgage arrears

For five years, politicians have been carping about the slow learning banks not writing off mortgage debt for homeowners in arrears. Now AIB is doing just that. But its actions are not being met with universal approval from public representatives.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said whether a family gets a sustainable solution to its mortgage headache depends on which bank provided them with their loan.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said he “welcomed” the development but called for a more “systemic” approach. He remarked that although AIB restructured their mortgage, in one case the family involved still had problems with other unsecured debts to credit card companies or credit unions.

This was what the Insolvency Service of Ireland was originally established to achieve – agreements to deal with all debts. Next month the organisation will produce figures for the numbers of people who have gone down the insolvency route. The figures will be low but the organisation is likely to stress that the pipeline of deals is growing.

The individuals who have secured Personal Insolvency Arrangements (which cover mortgages and unsecured debt) have won significant write-offs. The problems is that numbers using the service remain very low. But the service’s existence may be forcing banks to become more realistic.

One answer is for the Central Bank to introduce a uniform system for dealing with mortgages arrears and force the banks and unsecured lenders to implement it. But the Central Bank’s policy has been to leave it to the banks to decide how they will solve the problem.

AIB has taken a refreshing approach, bitten the bullet and put the rest of the banks to shame. Its split mortgage sees a portion of debt written off and a second part of the mortgage being put to one side or warehoused. This leaves the borrowers with a new loan which is no more than 80% of the current value of the home.

If the borrowers make an attempt to pay off some of the warehoused portion of the loan, the bank will write off more money from that loan. The smart part of this arrangement is that while AIB does write down some debt there is a clear incentive for people to make a contribution to the warehoused portion of their loan. These arrangements will only apply in a minority of cases where borrowers are in arrears.

The bank has broken away from other members of the Irish Banking Federation which has remained curiously silent on AIB’s innovation.

The attitude of the remaining members of the industry is that the danger of write-offs being exploited by unscrupulous borrowers is so large as to justify not writing off debt as a policy. That has resulted in the problem dragging on for years.

The Governor of the Central Bank. Patrick Honohan. does not want to micro manage the lenders – instead he wants them to come up the solutions. So the Central Bank has ordered the banks to sort out 25% of mortgage accounts which are in arrears by the end this month.

AIB’s mortgage book is not the worst in the Irish market, but it still has decided that writing off debt is one possible solution to take to clean up the mess.

How long will it be before the other banks stop wasting time and follow suit?

50% of European women have needless operations for early breast cancer?

 A European study finds

Preparing for a mammography    

‘Needless surgery’ for half of women who have mastectomies for early breast cancer

50% European women having mastectomies for early signs of cancer & who have to endure needless surgery, a major study suggests.

Experts said the figures from a national audit of UK care were a “terrible” indictment of the treatment received by patients – with too many enduring extra procedures or unnecessary mastectomies because the extent of disease was not detected accurately.

The study presented to the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow examined the treatment of women with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) – an early sign of cancer.

Of more than 8,000 patients, about 2,500 ended up having a procedure to remove their breast.

  However, the study found that in 49% of such cases, the mastectomy was either unnecessary or was being carried out because a previous operation had failed.

Researchers said the failure to accurately chart the extent of disease meant doctors were carrying out too many mastectomies when women did not need them – while carrying out more minor procedures on those who needed full breast removal.

The study found that in almost one third of cases, the women undergoing mastectomies had already undergone a lumpectomy, which is a more minor procedure which should only be used for small lumps.

In most of those cases, further surgery was required because the extent of disease had been underestimated, researchers said.

Conversely, 21% of the mastectomies were carried out on women whose lumps were small enough that such major surgery could have been avoided, the study found.

Researchers said the figures provided a “stark” warning that thousands of women were receiving the wrong treatment, and highlighted enormous variations between hospitals.

Experts said that the problems arose when pathologists and radiologists failed to accurately plot the spread of disease – over and under-estimating the extent of disease.

Dr Jeremy Thomas, a consultant pathologist at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK, who led the study, said “It is a terrible figure, and it is quite clear that there is significant variation between hospitals.”

He said it appeared that the extent of disease was not being properly mapped by some teams, while others might benefit from taking more biopsies to measure the size of tumours more accurately.

“It would appear from our data that, in some hospitals, the discussions in the multi disciplinary teams are not looking in enough detail at the results from the mammograms and pathology in order to make the right decision about the best surgical treatment for these women,” Dr Thomas said.

Each year, around 5,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – a condition where non-invasive cancerous cells are contained within the milk ducts of the breast.

Without treatment, around half of cases are likely to develop invasive breast cancer .

However, doctors are unable to accurately identify which of the patients will do so, meaning all are offered treatment, the scale of which varies depending on the size of tumours.

Researchers said the study uncovered “very wide variations” in practice between different hospitals.

At some, no mastectomies were carried out on women found to have only small tumours. In others as many as 60% of operations were found to involve small lumps which could have been safely removed without a mastectomy, the research found.

Experts said that in some cases, women might opt for mastectomy, even if they were told a lumpectomy was sufficient, but said the scale of the differneces could not be put down to patient preferences.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “These results highlight a variation in practice which needs to be addressed to ensure that all patients who are given a diagnosis of DCIS receive the highest possible standard of care and most appropriate treatment, regardless of the hospital they are in. We look forward to seeing how these results can inform practice to ensure that these variations are no longer an issue.”

DCIS accounts for around 20 per cent of cancers which are detected by breast screening.

The study’s authors said that management of DCIS was “one of the most challenging parts of breast screening practice” and pointed out that 80 per cent of all mastectomies are carried out on larger tumours, which cannot be managed via lumpectomy.

Activist Margaretta D’Arcy the 79 year old warrior released from Mountjoy prison on Friday

 

Margaretta D’Arcy is seen during her release from Mountjoy prison in Dublin today.

Aosdána member served nine-and-a-half weeks of her three month jail term.

Activist and Aosdána member Margaretta D’Arcy (79), who was released from prison in Dublin this morning, described Shannon airport as “a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

Speaking at a press conference in the city-centre, she said the Government, by allowing US military planes to land in Shannon airport, was complicit in murder and asssination.

M/s D’Arcy served nine and a half weeks of a 12-week sentence for refusing to sign a bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon airport. She was arrested in Galway on January 15th and taken to Limerick to serve a three month sentence for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon airport on October 7th, 2012.

The sentence had been suspended when served at Ennis District Court last December, but was activated when she refused to sign the bond.

She said today she could not have signed the bond stipulating she keep away from Shannon, she said, because to do so would have enabled the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter to say: “Oh she is just like us, we knew in the end.”

She explained today that by going onto the runway “we alerted the aviation world that Shannon is not a proper airport but a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

She said she had received “thousands of letters of support from all across the world. Somehow all over the world it has triggered something.

“The Government is willing to put somebody who speaks the truth in to jail. There is a growing awareness of truth. We have to speak the truth. We cannot be complicit, we cannot compromise with the truth. If something is wrong we have to go and say it is wrong. And it is completely wrong for the Government to allow a civilian airport to be used as a military airport. It is a crime for the military to be able to hide behind a civilian airport. It is something that we should not tolerate.”

Referring to the vindication of Garda whistle-blowers Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson, along with the support she has received for her actions, she said she had a sense that things were changing in Ireland.

“I don’t think we are going to put up anymore with complicity. We can change the world. The world is changing.”

She plans to return home to Galway tomorrow, and is due to be admitted to hospital early next week, where she has been treated for bladder cancer.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

She is due to appear in court again on June 24th in relation to a separate charge of an incursion on Shannon airport’s runway on September 1st, 2013.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

Limerick tot Theo meets the hero who found him wandering on a roadway

  

Explorer Theo Costelloe with his mother, Christine, and dad, Keif, at the Castletroy Park Hotel, Limerick, yesterday with UL student James Ryan who found him wandering along the roadway in the early hours of the morning.

A two-year old boy has met his hero who found him wandering along a roadway in the early hours of the morning after the toddler walked out of his home while his family slept in their beds.

Theo Costelloe gave student teacher James Ryan a high-five after meeting up with him along with his mother, Christine, and father, Keif.

Theo climbed out of his cot at 2am last Wednesday, walked down his stairs and managed to open his front door before being found a mile away by Mr Ryan.

The intrepid toddler was clutching his baby sister’s pink sleep blanket and was only wearing a blue one-piece sleep suit when he was found “shivering” by gallant James.

Kilkenny native James Ryan, who’s studying Irish and French in University of Limerick, was walking home from his nightclub job when he saw Theo crossing the Dublin Road in the dead of night.

James said: “He’s the nicest child. To be honest he was happy out. He wasn’t phased at all. He was a little nervous after first meeting him, but then after a few seconds he was grand. When the Gardaí pulled up he hid between my legs.”

Theo and his parents were thrilled to meet the man who saved their son from possible death or serious injury.

“When the Gardaí pulled up . . . He was saying ‘Nana’ and stuff like that. I thought he was staying at his granny’s house because he was saying ‘Nana’ over and over, and I thought maybe something had happened to his granny. So I tried to walk him back towards the house and he seemed like he knew where he was going to be honest. So, he more or less led me to where he was going.”

Keif Wynne, 35, praised James for his gallantry: “He’s an absolute legend. You can tell he’s a gentleman. The right man found him, being honest. The right man did find him. It could have ended so nasty.”

Looking at Theo, he added: “Just look at him. He went from such a tiny child and now look at him . . . he’s just a lunatic running everywhere. He’s always been a small bit shy, but obviously he’s pushing the boundaries now.”

Asked if the family would be investing in a new bolt lock, he joked: “Don’t mind buying a lock, we’ll be buying a new door.”

Christine Theo’s mother, who was panic -stricken when Gardaí called to her home at Aspen Gardens to inform her that Theo had been found a mile away, threw her arms around James as they met for the first time.

James had flagged down taxi driver, Noel Flanagan, who waited with him and Theo until Gardaí arrived.

James added: “Noel deserves praise too because he was half of it too.”

He said: “I hailed a taxi and Noel stopped. Theo was cold so we just sat into the front seat. It turned out I knew Noel because he has dropped me home from work once or twice.”

After giving his hero a high five, little Theo presented James with a ‘thank you’ card and returned the T-shirt he had given him on his first unforgettable trip away from home alone.

Wild bee hives hit by killer bug parasite to Ireland

 

Hives for wild bees have been decimated by a bug the Varroa parasite (pic above right) introduced to Ireland accidentally.

The varroa parasite, nicknamed ‘destructor’ because of its impact on bee colonies, attaches itself to a bee’s body and then feeds on its blood.

Between 2011 and 2012, Irish honey production was slashed by almost 70pc due to the combination of bad weather and the damaging impact of the varroa mite.

If it is left untreated it can wipe out a hive in a matter of weeks, according to the international federation of beekeepers, Apimondia.

The parasite was first introduced 20 years ago. But now, struggling honey producers have received a major boost in the form of a temporary EU ban on three controversial crop chemicals.

And Ireland’s 3,000 beekeepers are hoping that record numbers of queen bees produced last summer will help kick-start honey production this season.

“Irish beekeepers really didn’t have a decent honey crop for a number of years,” Apimondia chairman Philip McCabe said.

“But this year will hopefully tell a lot if we can get some decent weather and we see just what impact the ban will have.”

Ripples of Big Bang open new theories and questions

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)    

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

No one was around 14 billion years ago when all of existence was compressed into a single point so small that it would not have been visible to the human eye.

Most scientists believe that pressure within this single dot built to such an extent that, when it exploded, the resulting wave of super-heated particles spread out like a hot, dense soup trillions of times hotter than anything that can be manufactured on Earth. Space, time and the laws of physics came into existence after the Big Bang.

It took roughly 380,000 years for the hot particles from that primordial explosion to cool down enough to form atoms, the building blocks for everything from dust to stars and galaxies. Planets began to form from the gas and dust that circled the stars a few billion years later.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and scientists who have been working together for three years and using a telescope at the South Pole to look for a specific pattern of light waves within the faint microwave glow left from the Big Bang announced Monday that they’ve uncovered evidence of this cosmic expansion.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are confident that they have spotted ripples in the fabric of the cosmos that followed the Big Bang.

Like all big scientific claims, it has to be confirmed by other teams of scientists following their methodology. If it turns out to be correct, as many suspect it will, it will be celebrated as one of the most momentous discoveries in astronomy.

Even so, finding evidence of what happened a split second after the Big Bang doesn’t mean that there are not other big questions to be answered. Humans have only begun to understand the nature of the universe. This discovery represents the first step in a long march to understanding far more.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 13th February 2014

Seventy nine year old activist Margaretta D’Arcy transferred to Mountjoy prison

 

Artists (79) was serving second month of sentence in Limerick before being moved

Artist and peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy has been transferred from Limerick Prison to Mountjoy in Dublin, her family confirmed today.

Artist and peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy has been transferred from Limerick Prison to Mountjoy in Dublin, her family confirmed today.

The 79-year-old Aosdána member, who is entering the second month of a three-month sentence, was informed that she was to be transferred to the Dóchas women’s prison this morning , her son Finn Arden said.

“I spoke to her by telephone and she was in good form,” Mr Arden said.

His mother was imprisoned in mid-January for refusing to sign a bail bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon airport, following imposition of a suspended sentence for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon on October 7th, 2012.

She is suffering from cancer and has arthritis.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice said there are no plans to offer her early release from prison on compassionate grounds.

Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has appealed to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter as have a number of MEPs and several TDs, but the department has said that Mr Shatter believes resolution of the matter “rests entirely with the individual concerned”, as stated in the Dáil.

Ms D’Arcy has been visited in a private capacity by Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, and was in court again earlier this week relating to protests over US military use of Shannon.

The seriousness of the climate situation has yet to sink in nationally

 

We are witnessing a displaced fury against windmills and pylons rather than tackling the real threat to our future
It is tempting to imagine that a sea change in Ireland’s on-again, off-again relationship with the reality of climate change has occurred in recent times, as extreme weather events have yet again battered our coastline, inundated farms and flooded urban areas, with the latest wave of damage running to more than €100 million.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, visiting areas ofLimerick hit by flooding, commented: “I think we all now believe in climate change . . . the defences that were here, with the new climates that we are having all around the world, are no longer adequate.”
Next up was Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin. “When calm is restored I think we have to do some serious thinking about long-term flood defences because clearly climate change is a reality.”
Then Brian Hayes, Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, said the OPW had identified some 250 at-risk locations for repeated flooding. The costs of trying to defend these locations, he warned, would run into “tens of billions of euros”.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Opposition leader Micheál Martin both agreed that climate change was indeed real. The one who doesn’t seem to have got the memo was Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. As the storms rolled in and the flood waters rose higher, Hogan chose instead to join Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney in celebrating securing a renewal of the environmental vandalism that will be Ireland’s latest derogation from the EU nitrates directive.
“Whether we have scientific evidence or not in relation to climate change, it looks as if we’re going to have these types of weather patterns in the future,” said Hogan. This was about as close to uttering the “c” word as he has managed in 2½ years. And yes Minister, there is evidence alright, mountains – and lakes – of it, in fact.
Tipping point: Not everyone is so conflicted. The world is “perilously close” to a climate tipping point, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde warned recently.
With a culinary flourish, she added: “unless we take action, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”.
The public service broadcaster RTE with a budget in excess of €300 million, should have a team covering climate and environment with the depth and passion lavished on business or sports. Instead, it scrapped its solitary environment post.
Rosy future: The Marian Finucane Show on Sunday featured an economist gushing about the rosy future of improved labour market opportunities his three-year-old daughter would enjoy by the mid-2030’s.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s 2012 document Turn Down the Heat projects that global average temperatures will break the plus 2 degrees “point of no return” by the end of that decade. This locks us into a future of food and fresh water shortages, devastating and intensifying weather extremes, coastal inundation, desertification, ocean acidification and mass extinction events. This shocking reality has barely made a dent in our national discourse.
Quite how anyone imagines the global economy could survive such relentless disruption has become the question that dare not speak its name.
RTÉ’s failure on environmental reporting is a tragedy. The print media have hardly fared much better. RTÉ’s audience council is now inviting the public to comment on its communication of climate change. Submissions close next Monday.
Interestingly, Met Éireann’s head of forecasting, Dr Gerry Fleming, pointedly avoided linking the ratcheting up of extreme weather events in Ireland to climate change, stating: “it’s our grandchildren or great grandchildren who will make that call”. His British counterpart, the Met Office’s chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo, had no such reservations. “All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change . . . there is no evidence to counter the basic premise that a warmer world will lead to more intense daily and hourly rain events.”
The clamour for answers is gathering pace yet, oddly, the outrage is not being directed against the real enemy, an energy system utterly dependent on coal, oil and peat-burning. In our displaced fury, we are, Don Quixote-style, tilting instead at “ugly” windmills and pylons.
Amid the gloom, some positive news: An Taisce has just established a new climate change committee (disclosure: I’m a member) to take a more forceful approach to communicating this crisis and challenging Ireland’s dangerous do-nothing consensus.

Minister Reilly says Rehab cannot be forced to comply with public pay policy

  

Rehab will hold meeting next week to decide whether to disclose CEO’s salary

The Minister for Health has admitted that Rehab cannot be forced to abide by public pay policy.

But James Reilly says the government expects organisations receiving major public funding to pay staff at similar rates to public servants.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has agreed to hold a hearing with Rehab “in the next fortnight” to discuss pay and funding issues.

Meanwhile, the Rehab board of directors is meeting next Monday to decide whether to reveal the salary package of its chief executive, Angela Kerins.

The Chairman of the Group, Brian Kerr, said last month that the remuneration of the CEO is a matter for the Rehab Group board – and since the last voluntary disclosure of her salary in April 2011, there has been no formal request from any relevant authority to do so again.

In a statement on January 23rd, Mr. Kerr said some of the pressure that has been placed on Ms. Kerins and her family has been entirely unfair and very personal.

Minister Reilly says the government will not stop until it has full transparency in bodies that receive State funding. But he is ruling out an independent inquiry.

The human brain now reacts to emoticons naturally,

says neuroscientists

 

The humble smiley face or ‘emoticon’ is now much more than a simple pattern of colons and symbols. According to a recent study, the human brain now reacts emotionally to seeing them on our screens.

With the advent of text messages as one of the most popular forms of communication, human beings as a physically emotive people meant some messages were lost in translation without the addition of a 🙂 or 😛 to indicate their mood.

Now, according to a team of neuroscientists, we have used emoticons so often in the past 40 years that the human brain now recognises them as human faces.

The report was published in Social Neuroscience and titled Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study involving 20 participants in the study.

As part of the experiment, the 20 people were shown images of upright and inverted faces, emoticons and meaningless strings of characters. The participants’ facial responses, known in neuroscience as the N170, showed that inverted faces “produces a larger and later N170 while inverting objects which are perceived featurally rather than configurally reduces the amplitude of the N170.”

The first documented use of the emoticon was by Scott E Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University, who suggested that the smiley face be used as an indication of when something is a joke or not.

2014 Google Science Fair seeks entries from teens 13-18 worldwide

  

2014 Google Science Fair is seeking entries from teens worldwide

Students aged 13-18 who have a concept for changing the world are invited to submit their ideas to the fourth annual Google Science Fair and be in with a chance of winning some pretty spectacular prizes.

Students from around the world may enter the Google Science Fair. All they need to participate is curiosity and an internet connection, Clare Conway of Google Science Fair team wrote on Google’s Official Blog.

Students have until 12 May to submit their projects. The winners will be announced at a finalist event at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, on 22 September.

M/s Conway also detailed the prizes that are up for grabs.

“This year’s grand prize winner will have the chance to join the Virgin Galactic team at Spaceport America in New Mexico as they prepare for space flight and will be among the first to welcome the astronauts back to Earth, a 10-day trip to the Galapagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour and a full year’s digital access to Scientific American magazine for their school.

“Age category winners will have a choice between going behind the scenes at the LEGO factory in Billund, Denmark, or an amazing experience at either a Google office or National Geographic.”

If there is global warming this is what Britain look like

 

The possibility that global warming might have something to do with the extraordinary weather is now rapidly floating up the agenda.

It is an all too familiar sight these days as Father Thames reclaims his ancient sovereignty over his flood plain. A Street, in Oxford, has become a river, banked by sodden suburban homes. Its inhabitants have taken to canoes instead of cars. But this time there is something else: people are holding a banner: “Can we talk about climate change now?”

Well, I guess they can. At first, the possibility that global warming might have something to do with the extraordinary weather – which has dumped nearly 300 Windermeres of water on Britain in two months – was little discussed. But it is now rapidly floating up the agenda.

After years avoiding what used to be his trademark issue, David Cameron has now twice voiced his strong suspicion of a link with climate change, most recently in a passionately delivered peroration at Tuesday’s press conference.

Junior environment minister Dan Rogerson, standing in for the more sceptical Owen Paterson, agreed on Thursday that global warming was to blame. And Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey accused some Conservatives of “parroting the arguments of the most discredited climate change deniers” – only for his deputy, Michael Fallon, to hit back by denouncing “unthinking climate change worship”.

More significantly, Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, judged that “all the evidence” suggested that climate change helped cause the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years”. She was launching an official study that fingered increasingly heavy rains, sea-level rise in the Channel, and an increasing intensity of Atlantic storms hitting Britain as possible signs of its effects.

The report also cited the “extreme cold” of the North American winter, stretching all the way down to New Orleans, which has even forced a polar bear at a Chicago zoo to take refuge indoors. Indeed, last month Michigan became the chilliest place on the planet, beating the South Pole: water thrown from buckets turned to ice in mid-air, while the 200-strong community of Hell, west of Detroit, froze over.

California, meanwhile, is suffering its most severe drought in a century; Australia has just had its hottest year on record, and Argentina sweltered through some of its worst heat in December. And Arctic Norway has been so hot and dry that it has experienced three major wildfires in two months, while Greenland has been basking in a heatwave.

None of this, let it quickly be said, can clearly be attributed to climate change. Even the Met Office report said “it is not possible, yet, to give a definitive answer”, leading Lord Lawson to protest: “It’s just this Julia Slingo woman” making an “absurd statement”. More clarity may come – a 2011 study found that global warming made the devastating floods in 2000 at least twice as likely to happen – but firm conclusions are, at the least, premature.

Nor is it clear that such “extreme events” have increased because of climate change. But what does seem to be certain – and has been consistently predicted for decades – is that these will become more intense as the world warms up and injects greater energy into the weather system. So the lesson of this winter’s weather and the other extremes around the world is that – whatever their cause – this is what climate change is expected to look like. Or as one former Tory ministerial adviser put it to me: “We are watching the trailer of the movie called Global Warming.”

That undermines a reassuring view that seems to have been adopted by Mr Paterson – that climate change will do more good than harm for most of this century and is, as he put it, “something we can adapt to over time”.

This approach rests on over-simple calculations of longer growing sessions, the fertilising effects of increased carbon dioxide in the air, and reduced deaths from cold in developed countries (the fate of the poor, who suffer throughout, is glossed over), which pay scant attention to the effects of extreme weather.

But these, as we are finding out, can be extremely disruptive. So far only a tenth as many homes have been inundated as in the 2007 floods, but 70 per cent of the fire and rescue services are caught up in the biggest mobilisation since the Second World War.

Fishermen have been stranded in port, tens of thousands of families have lost power, and much of the country almost came to a halt this week as roads and bridges closed, and rail links were smashed: rail chiefs warn that hundreds of places on railway lines are at risk and that services will be disrupted for months. The estimated cost, 1 per cent of GDP, threatens the recovery. So what will the feature film be like?

It’s time to do more than talk about it.

In with a chance: rhinos have just been given more protection

Prince William makes his mark on the wild side

Now for some good news: the agreement this week, between 46 countries in London, to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade (since the original treaty to control it was agreed 41 years ago). It comes not a moment too soon; the trade is driving the rhino, the elephant and many less spectacular species toward extinction.

It also marks the emergence of a new big player on the international environmental stage, joining his father and grandfather. The Duke of Cambridge has shown this week that – just like the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh – he is a force to be reckoned with. It was en route to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, on the Royal Yacht Britannia, that an abiding love of nature was instilled in Prince Philip as he tried out a new camera by taking pictures of seabirds. This led, in time, to him effectively lobbying governments as head of the World Wildlife Fund.

Prince Charles has taken the issue even further, campaigning on a host of issues, and increasingly using his convening power to bring governments together. His son joined him in making this week’s meeting a success. Let’s hope it’s just a beginning.

Homes built of fungi (but will there be mushroom inside?)

We’ve gone through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages to the Atomic one. But what’s next? Promoters of a new building technique, about to be tried out in New York claim it’s going to be – wait for it – the “Mushroom Age”. In future, they hope, we’ll live in self-growing houses made of fungi.

Don’t worry, it’s not like the Smurfs’ spotty homes. This will be very hi-tech, if organic, stuff – based on bricks made of corn stalks and mushroom cells that grow to form blocks in any shape an architect dreams up. And once they are laid, the bricks go on growing, meshing together and strengthening construction.

The first such building, three giant joined-together towers, is to open at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in Queens in June to provide cool (in more senses than one) seating for people attending its summer concerts. Pedro Gadanho, of the museum, believes the material “could change the way people build”.

“It’s really inexpensive, almost cheaper than anything,” adds its designer, David Benjamin. It emits no carbon, it requires almost zero energy, and doesn’t create any waste (eventually it’s composted). Enough, in short, to turn a Smurf green.