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Southampton researchers' private jet row spreads

Ruth Hammond | 26.10.2006 11:54 | Ecology | Education | Birmingham | South Coast

Use of private jet by researchers at UK centre for climate change research draws widespread criticism

Controversy over the use of a private jet by staff from the National Oceanography Centre (, one of the UK's centres for climate change research, has grown with coverage of the affair on BBC South Today yesterday evening. The National Oceanography Centre and University of Southampton did not provide anyone to comment directly, but issued a statement that left several unanswered questions. A few further facts have also emerged since Robert Carson's original post on Indymedia: Ed Hill, director of the Oceanography Centre, did not actually go on the trip, but Andrew Roberts and Bill Wakeham definitely did.

The justification offered by the University is that the trip had to be at the weekend to avoid disrupting the teaching schedule, and therefore use a private jet. This is duplicitous: as Head of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Vice-Chancellor of the University, Roberts and Wakeham do not actually teach. And in any case, there are scheduled flights at weekends, so why the private jet? We still don't know the identity or background of the businessman who provided the private jet – were they from Big Oil, perhaps?

Speaking on the South Today programme, Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation said "They do need to confess… the excuse that they had to do it over a weekend to avoid disrupting a teaching schedule is almost Homer Simpson-like in its banality". Local MP Alan Whitehead, who gave a speech at the University last week about carbon emissions and climate change, commented that "the University needs to think carefully about what aircraft travel is being used for".

Meanwhile, the RAPID climate change research programme, based at the Oceanography Centre and funded to the tune of £20 million, is holding an international conference in Birmingham this week. The Government's Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir David King, addressed the conference on Tuesday about the severe threat of climate change. He said that "immediate action is required if we are to bring this under control" and "what we need is global leadership" ( Unfortunately it is clear that Sir David cannot look to Southampton for either.

Ruth Hammond
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