Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

The birth of climate change scepticsim was foretold

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isaiah
I started the year with The Sceptics’ Creed – based on the statement of faith recited every week in many churches. In a similar vein, then, here is the birth of Climate Change Scepticism as (not) foretold in the Bible by the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a chill is born,
to us the Sun is dimming,
and climate disruption be on our shoulders.
And it will be called
Woefully counterfeit, a mighty hoax,
Everlasting garbage, the price of progress.
Of the greatness of scepticism and denial
there will be no end.

(Definitely not Isaiah 9:6)

Written by Martin Lack

9 December 2013 at 13:00

Posted in Climate Change, denial, Environment, Humour, poetry

Tagged with

Occam’s Razor works for me!

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‘The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From The Front Line’ by Dr Michael Mann, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, was recently published in paperback.  I decided to purchase a copy.  Here is my review of the book, as published on amazon.com.

In the opening chapters of this book, Michael Mann repeatedly makes it clear that, as a physicist, his interest in palaeoclimatology was entirely natural.  That is to say, he did not approach the evidence for climate change with any prejudicial notion of what he wanted to find, least of all to prove that ongoing climate change is predominantly human-caused.  

Those who are suspicious of Michael Mann’s motives will no doubt respond:
“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he!

However, all readers of this book will, sooner or later, have to decide where they stand on the question of the validity of ‘Occam’s Razor’.  This is the logical supposition that, among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.  With regard to climate science, I have to say, it works for me:  Either this book is an unashamed piece of propaganda and, from the very start, is deeply disingenuous; or it is the honest account of a very humble physicist who, completely unwittingly, became the focus of the biggest industry-funded misinformation campaign of modern times.

Having read both this book and Andrew Montford’s ‘Hockey Stick Illusion’, I should like to propose that, even if you have not done so, you have the following choice:  Do you put your trust in an authoritative argument from a genuine expert (Mann) or do you want to believe the conspiracy theory put forward by a non-expert (Montford)?

Put it another way, are you going to believe that climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research; or are you willing to accept that business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business?

If you are undecided, the following facts may help you:
(1)  There is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.
(2) There is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

In the opening chapters of this book I was particularly impressed by the following argument (attributed to Stephen Schneider): We do not buy home insurance because we think our house may burn down. We buy it because that very unlikely event will be catastrophic… Applied to the issue of anthropogenic climate disruption, humanity’s continuing failure to take out insurance against an increasing probable catastrophic outcome does indeed seem “crazy”…  Unless of course, you prefer to believe the ideologically prejudiced opinions of other genuine non-experts like Senator James Inhoffe, who would have us all believe that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is a false alarm.

If, after reading this book, you still think ACD is a false alarm, I suggest you cancel your fire insurance – you’re wasting your money – it’s never going to happen.

Colin Russell is released on bail

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Latest email from Greenpeace
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Hi Martin,

Amazing news! Four minutes after I heard Colin’s appeal hearing had started, news came that he had been granted bail. I didn’t even have time to make myself a cup of tea.

The support team in St Petersburg are paying the bail money as soon as possible. Hopefully he’ll be out before the weekend.

Thanks to the 100,000-plus people who petitioned for Colin’s release, and sent messages of support to him and his wife Christine. She wanted to send this message in reply to you all:

“Thank you thank you thank you. As I am reading your beautiful words of love and support for Colin, [our daughter] Madeleine and myself I have tears running profusely. My heart is filled with your love. Colin will be so humbled by your messages of support when I see him and hug him he will feel and know your love and support. Love to you all and thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

If you would like to leave a message for Colin, or any of the Arctic 30, you can do so via this website.

Despite today’s good news, this is not over yet. The Arctic 30 still stand accused of a crime they did not commit.

Twenty-eight activists took peaceful action on behalf of us all, and two journalists shone a spotlight on destructive Arctic oil drilling. The charge of hooliganism is both an insult and an outrage. Nobody will truly be celebrating until they’re home and the charges have been dropped.

————

pardonactivists

Written by Martin Lack

28 November 2013 at 14:45

Greenpeace petition to help get Colin Russell out of jail

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Dear Greenpeace member,

Collin Russell (Photo via Greenpeace)

I’ve never written to you before, but I really hope you can help me today.

My dear husband Colin Russell is one of the Arctic Sunrise crew members arrested at gunpoint for protesting Arctic oil drilling. Just this week his bail application was denied in a Russian court – even though every other crew member had their bail applications approved and all but one other have been released.

This could mean at least three more months alone in a prison cell during the icy winter in St Petersburg. This is difficult for me to take in. Col stays positive and strong in difficult circumstances. But with this latest news, I just know he’s being tested beyond his limits.

Greenpeace has launched a global petition demanding freedom for Col and all his Arctic Sunrise crewmates. Can you please help by adding your name today?

Col was so happy when we spoke on the phone over two months ago. I remember how upbeat he was, just so happy to be back on a ship he’s grown to love during 14 years of working as a radio operator for Greenpeace. We made plans to visit friends and family in Melbourne, maybe spend a week together on the coast over Christmas. But now, who knows when I’ll see him next?

I’ve hardly been able to speak to Col much since he went to prison. We had a short phone call, but that was over a month ago. Now it’s been 67 days of worry and anxiety for me and our 24-year-old daughter Maddie. All of this because Colin and 29 others were brave enough to tell oil companies like Shell and Gazprom to stop drilling in the Arctic.

The Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop spoke to Russian authorities about Col several weeks ago. But there’s more that she and our government can do to rescue these heroes and bring them home. Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, must call President Putin to ensure Colin is also granted bail.

It would really mean the world to Maddie and I to have your name on this petition.  Please click here to join us.

I can’t write down in words how frustrating it is not being able to speak to him right now. I just want to tell him that Maddie and I – together with millions of Greenpeace supporters in every corner of the world – are thinking of him today.

That old saying, that alone we are only one voice and together we are powerful, has a whole new meaning for me now.

Thank you for helping us out. It means so much to us having you on our side.

Chrissie Russell, on behalf of Greenpeace.

P.S.  It’s been over two months since the Russian coast guard illegally boarded the Arctic Sunrise ship and arrested my husband and 29 others at gunpoint — all for peacefully protesting against the terrible threat of an Arctic oil spill. Please make sure your name is on this petition today. Thank you.

Written by Martin Lack

25 November 2013 at 12:40

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains

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Rousseau in 1753, by Quentin de La Tour
(Image credit: Wikipedia)

This must surely be a contender for the most well-known opening line of a personal treatise on political theory.  Written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) in, possibly his most famous work, The Social Contract (first published in 1762).  Is it not more readily identifiable than the opening lines of works by Adolf Hitler or Karl Marx?  OK, let’s not argue about it.  That would be a distraction…

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they. (Rousseau)

I have been aware of Rousseau (and this quote) for some time – at least since coming to appreciate the importance of the seventeenth century Age of Enlightenment. For ease of reference, the relevant Wikipedia article begins thus:

“The Age of Enlightenment (or simply the Enlightenment or Age of Reason) was a cultural movement of intellectuals beginning in the late 17th and 18th century Europe emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual interchange…”

To long-established readers of this blog (and/or those that do not question my motives or integrity), it may seem odd that I acknowledge the benefits of the Age of Enlightenment.  This is because I am socially-conservative; and would argue that modern science is founded upon the rational belief in an existential Universe (rather than argue that it is undermined by irrational belief in a non-existent God).

In my defence, I would say that this is part of what makes me what Stewart Brand calls an eco-pragmatist (as opposed to either an idealist or a radical).  I believe that the way we do things needs reformation – not revolution.  This is the essence of the school of thought known as ‘Ecological Modernisation’ – which I summarised on this blog in a three part series of posts (i.e. starts here) in September 2011. However, let’s try and get back to Rousseau…

I was recently reminded of this Rousseau quote (and of the political, religious and societal turmoil caused by Enlightenment thinking) while watching yet another DVD.  If I am hard to pigeon-hole politically, this is probably why I have suddenly become such a fan of the Danish film director Susanne Bier – whose films are hard to categorise cinematically.  This all started with me watching Love Is All You Need (2012) – and being really impressed by Trine Dryolm who almost outshines her co-star Piers Brosnan.  Susanne Bier admits that she sets out to make her films hard to categorise and, unquestionably, she succeeds.  I enjoyed the film – and Trine Dryholm’s performance – so much that I decided to get out two more films featuring the latter.  This resulted in me watching Bier’s previous film, In A Better World (2010) and A Royal Affair (2012), by Nicolaj Arcel (another excellent Danish film director I had never heard of) and co-starring fellow-Dane Mads Mikkelsen – best known (by me at least) for playing the main Bond villain, ‘Le Chiffre’, at the roulette table opposite Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006).

If you have not seen any of the above three Danish films, I would heartily recommend them all.  However, it is A Royal Affair that brought me back to thinking about the Age of Enlightenment in general and Rousseau in particular. As I will now try to explain…

The Age of Enlightenment was generally a good thing but, as I have said now many times, it is also the basis for one of the most significant fallacies of modern times – the belief that humans are superior to Nature (rather than being part of it).  However, the reason for my focus on the quote from Rousseau is that, although I may be taking it out of context, I believe it may explain why so many humans are failing to appreciate the seriousness of our current predicament. On the Wikipedia page for Rousseau, the Political Theory section is quite helpful – if you want to understand the context within which The Social Contract was written.  However, I am, quite unashamedly, going to take it out of that context; and apply it to environmental politics today.

To me, at least, the opening quotation resonates with my understanding of how and why so many perfectly intelligent people can be so blinded by ideology that they choose to believe that:
“Climate scientists are over-stating a problem in order to perpetuate the funding of their research.”
Rather than accept that:
“Business leaders are down-playing a problem in order to perpetuate the viability of their business.”

However, there is no significant precedent for research scientists over-stating environmental problems – nor any evidence (that has not been examined and found to be groundless) that climate scientists are doing this or have done this at any time in the last twenty years.

Whereas, there is a very significant precedent for business leaders (in the tobacco industry) down-playing environmental problems – and a great deal of evidence that this is exactly what fossil fuel executives have been doing for at least the last 20 to 50 years.

It is hard to understate how angry this makes me. However, as John Ashton, former climate change advisor to the British government said in a speech given at the Bedford School recently, we should be angry about this but getting angry is not enough.  We should put this anger to use and – rather than give up on the political process – engage in it in order to change it.  He also suggested that this requires us to stop being fatalistic and see the future as something we can change (rather than something that is just going to happen to us).  Here is that talk, which is well worth watching.

I will conclude this missive by reproducing below two comments I posted elsewhere recently:

(1) In support of an article, entitled ‘Rocks Hold The Truth About Climate Change’, written by Ted Nield (the editor of the Geological Society’s website and Geoscientist magazine), on the Telegraph website:

Well done, Ted, for setting the (palaeoclimatic) record straight.

Given the massive conflict of interest that any petroleum geologist automatically has – when facing the reality that it is impossible to explain the totality of post-Industrial climate change unless burning fossil fuels is its primary cause – it is hardly surprising that the occasional ‘contrarian’ view gets aired on the Geological Society’s website.

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

The denial of inconvenient science did not end well for the Catholic Church 400 years ago. Today, however, the only obscurantist Establishment is the Fossil Fuel Lobby (FFL), which now stands isolated and alone – following the demise of the Tobacco industry’s campaign – trying to turn residual uncertainty in science into unreasonable doubt.

Given that the Tobacco industry set up the first ‘Astroturf’ groups 20 years ago to deliberately campaign against climate science and other things (i.e. not just to defend smokers’ interests) – and that this is now all in the public domain – it amazes me that so many perfectly intelligent people continue to be fooled by the same strategy as perpetuated by the FFL. Whatever happened to: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”…?

(2) In support of an article, entitled ‘Super Typhoon Haiyan: Realities of a Warmed World’, written Michael Mann (Penn. State Uni. and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars), on the Huffington Post website:

You don’t have to be a scientist to understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics but it helps. It helps even more not to allow your ideological prejudices to determine which science you will accept (e.g. cosmology and/or particle physics) and which you will reject (e.g. evolutionary biology and atmospheric physics).

More water evaporates from a warmer ocean; and a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture. Evaporation is what drives our weather; and more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time provides more energy for more storms of greater intensity. Thus, so-called ‘global weirding’ was predictable (and therefore was predicted) from the basics of atmospheric physics. What is amazing is that so many are ideologically prejudiced against accepting this fact (and that it is now being validated by unfolding events).

The ideologically-driven denial of science did not end well for the Catholic Church over 400 years ago. The only obscurantist Establishment today is the Fossil Fuel industry. However, deniers of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) would have done well to heed the warning of George Santayana from over 100 years ago: “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it”.

All those who pick a fight with history and/or science are destined to lose eventually.  However, it is just a shame that we are all – along with those who dispute the nature of reality – tied to the railway track and unable to get out of the way of the approaching train that is ACD.

So here’s to those chains of ideological blindness being broken very soon.

Greedy Lying Bar Stewards guilty of crimes against humanity

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Last week, I finally got to see Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s brilliant Greedy Lying Bastards documentary about the industry-funded campaign to discredit climate science and scientists. Even for someone like me – familiar with the subject matter – there was a great wealth of detail packed into this 90-minute documentary and/or the extras on the DVD.  Therefore, even if (unlike me) you got to see the film at the cinema, I would recommend that you get it out on DVD as soon as you can.  Indeed, as with Chasing Ice, you might even want to consider buying your own personal copy to keep for posterity (or for use in any class action Law Suits you may pursue at some future date).

Ecologists are prone to pointing out that trees cannot migrate.  They also don’t respond well to mandatory evacuation orders and – along with houses – tend to get burned in forest fires.  Thus, Greedy Lying Bastards begins with news and home movie footage of the June 2012 fires in Colorado, with the poignant voiceover – of what the devastating fires were like to witness first-hand – provided by some of those who lost their homes as a result:  To me, the most striking thing is that, in many cases, the homeowners complied with the evacuation orders but did not expect to end up homeless.  The message being fires come and go but, though they did not appreciate it at the time, the 2012 fires were on an unprecedented scale and out-of-control.  Although Rosebraugh could not have known it when he embarked on the production of this documentary, sadly, this has since become an all-too-familiar storyline.

Record-breaking fires, droughts, floods, freezes and storms have now become annual events:  This is what anthropogenic climate disruption  - as opposed to global warming – looks like and, it seems, we may have to get used to it.  Climate is not weather; and no single unusual weather event is indicative of climate change.  However, climate is the term used to describe the typical weather expected (in any one place) on the basis of long-term observations.  Therefore, when you have (as we do now) frequent and repeated instances of unusual weather in many different parts of the planet, this is indicative of what objective scientists – both liberal and conservative – now call global anthropogenic climate disruption.  

As Michael Mann points out early on in the documentary, the term ‘positive feedback’ sounds like a good thing but, as is now becoming painfully obvious, it is not.  A better term would be ‘vicious circle’:  As a result of a variety of vicious circles, the change that humans have caused is now becoming self-reinforcing and – unless we take concerted action – this will soon accelerate beyond our capacity to stop it:  Given the kind of responses required, the scientific consensus view is that we now have very little time to take action to prevent (effectively) irreversible change from also becoming unstoppable.

Another early contributor to the documentary is Kevin Trenberth who – echoing the subsequently-published ‘Climate Departure’ research of Camillo Mora (et al) – points out many places are already recording unprecedented rainfall and temperature events.  However, as he does throughout the documentary, Rosebraugh juxtaposes scientific facts with human examples of the consequences of those facts:  Such as the 30% reduction in crop yields experienced by third generation farmers in mid-Western states like Kansas – Farmers who say the droughts of 2011 and 2012 are unprecedented in living memory.  Such people do not need climate scientists to tell them that it is significant that this should have happened two years running.

Flipping back from citing examples of scientists with a history of industry-funded denial of environmental problems caused by industry – like Fred Singer and Pat Michaels – Rosebraugh then takes the viewer off on a trip to to Kivalina in Alaska… Kivalina is a Inupiat community on the shores of the Chukchi Sea (i.e. north of the Bering Strait separating Siberia and Alaska), which will now have to be relocated because of excessive coastal erosion.  As one of the community leaders points out, sea ice and/or pack ice used to protect their coast but now, given long ice-free periods in almost every year since 2004, coastal erosion is unmanageable. Interestingly, in 2008, events at Kivalina were the trigger for a class action Law Suit against 24 Energy Companies in the USA – similar to the action taken against the Tobacco companies a decade earlier.  Sadly, this case was dismissed by the District Court in Northern California on the grounds that “regulating greenhouse emissions was a political rather than a legal issue and one that needed to be resolved by Congress and the Administration rather than by courts”.

The most shocking thing in the movie, however, is perhaps sight of a February 17, 1993 memo from within the Tobacco giant Philip Morris, which reveals the birth of the industry-funded campaign to deny climate science.  In a reality-inverting style that might even have surprised George Orwell, this front group was named ‘The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition‘ (TASSC).  Thus it was that, with the help of ideologically-blinded scientists like Fred Singer, the tobacco industry helped finance the setting up of supposedly-independent groups that would campaign to protect their industry’s interests.  However, as the memo reveals, beginning a practice that would later become known as ‘Astroturfing’, they made sure these fake ‘grassroots’ organisations would not be linked to their industry by ensuring they campaigned against things other than tobacco.  These included GMOs, nuclear power and nuclear waste but, top of the list, was global warming.  So it is that Rosebraugh reveals the counter-intuitive fact that the Fossil Fuel industry did not just copy the Tobacco industry’s idea of denying science:  Climate change denial was in fact the Tobacco industry’s idea.

With memos like that dated February 17, 1993 in the public domain, how is it that we are still arguing about whether or not industry funds the denial of inconvenient science?

Moving forward to the post-Tobacco era of denial, Rosebraugh reveals all the links between Exxon Mobil, the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity and the Tea Party.  The one glimmer of hope in all this must therefore be the electoral failure of Mitt Romney (and now Ken Cuccinelli too).  Is it too much to hope that those who deny science have now become unelectable?  The recent victory of Tony Abbott in Australia suggests it may be too early to say on a global scale but, in the USA at least, it may be that those who wish to pick a fight science and history are now going to lose.

This brings me to what I see as the second really alarming thing in the documentary – the revelation of the full significance of term ‘Citizens United’.  As a UK citizen, my understanding of this subject was, to put it mildly, somewhat confused.  I had thought this was just the idiosyncratic name given to a court case in the USA that resulted in Corporations being treated as individuals – thus allowing much greater scope for them to influence the outcome of elections.  In plain English, this could be described as a corruption – if not outright abrogation – of the democratic process.  However, as Rosebraugh illustrates, such a notion is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Towards the end of the documentary, the Senior Attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one Joel Reynolds, reduces our human predicament to a very simple assertion:

We face a choice between the survival of the planet and the survival of corporate profit.  

————–

This brings me briefly to mention the extras included on the DVD, which include the following:

1.  An explanation of how and why the IPCC is not a politically motivated organisation by Achim Steiner – the Director of UNEP.  Ardent believers in the Agenda 21 conspiracy for Communist World Domination via the UN will of course say to themselves, “Well he would say that wouldn’t he!”.  However, such zealous believers – such as these guys – need to actually listen to what he says and then come up with some actual evidence to demonstrate that he is lying.

2.  A factual summary of the effects of lobbying in the USA, which highlights the 1 billion US Dollars fossil fuel companies spent between 1998 and 2011 – $147 million in 2010 alone.  They used this money to: protect their $4 billion/year subsidies; to block cap and trade legislation (or any other effective legislation to put a price on carbon pollution); to preserve a weak legislative framework that allows them to pollute our atmosphere with impunity; and to promote policies favourable to their profitability.  And how was all this achieved?  Primarily by means of a network of over 700 political lobbyists on Capitol Hill, which is more than one for every elected representative.

3.  An assessment of the poor quality of media coverage of the climate change issue:  Put bluntly, climate change is the consequence of a great many journalists to differentiate between objective scientific fact and prejudiced unscientific opinion.  Sometimes, although now quite rarely, those who deny the nature of reality do manage to put forward a genuine scientist.  However, by indulging in what Max Boykoff calls “He said, she said” journalism, some media outlets fail to assess – or report – the motives and/or special interests of those putting forward minority views.  This failure is either irresponsible (willful ignorance) or disingenuous (ideological blindness) – or is just evidence of incompetence.

4.  Case study 1 – Peru:  As in many other parts of the World, glaciologists have used photographs taken almost 100 years ago to determine that about 70% of the glaciers left in Peru after the last Ice Age have now disappeared.  This did not shock me half as much as discovering that, as the glaciers have disappeared, the local climate has become more extreme.  Given my life-long interest in geography, however, I really should have been able to work this out for myself:  Proximity to glaciers high up in the Andes Mountains has exactly the same moderating influence upon climate as does proximity to the sea in low-lying areas (i.e. maritime climates have less overall variation in annual and diurnal temperature than continental climates).  As a result, local high altitude farmers have seen a 50% drop in crop yields and an increase in disease and mortality in their animals.

5.  Case study 2 – Uganda:  In 2010, months of unusually heavy rain resulted in mudslides.  However, even more remarkably, many farmers in Uganda now say that their climate has changed:  Since 2007, there has been no recognisable seasonality to rainfall and as such no specific time to plant crops or harvest them.

I think all this can be summarised as follows:  Anthropogenic climate disruption is already here; and with it has come increased levels of malnutrition, starvation, suffering and premature death.  The only question that therefore remains is this:

How bad must things get before the morally reprehensible political lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – which is perpetuating energy policy paralysis – becomes socially unacceptable?

How many more must die because of climate change denial?

with 8 comments

Warmer oceans cause more evaporation; leading to more moisture in the atmosphere more of the time.  This results in more frequent storms of greater intensity than before.  This email from Greenpeace therefore needs no further introduction from me:

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Dear supporter,

These are extremely tough times for the people of the Philippines. Unfortunately, this disaster is not over yet and recovering from it will take a lot of time and resources. Nothing will make up for the lost lives though.

I often say this and unfortunately it is true on this occasion as well. It is those who are the least responsible for climate change who are getting hit the hardest by its impacts.

I received the email below from the Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Von Hernandez. It was such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do that I asked if I could share it with you. He agreed.

Please continue to show solidarity with our colleagues, their families and the Filipino people and remind our governments that every fresh investment in a fossil fuel project is a bet against our children and children’s future on this planet, as Von put it himself.

In solidarity,

Kumi Naidoo
International Executive Director
Greenpeace International
———-

Dear friends,

It is impossible to put into words the despair that millions of Filipinos are going through right now.

Days after Haiyan (Yolanda) sliced through the central islands of the Philippines, it has become horrifyingly clear that the damage wrought by the super typhoon has been colossal, the devastation absolute.

As of this writing, almost a thousand people have been officially confirmed to have lost their lives. The number of dead, however, is expected to exceed 10,000 — as more reports continue to filter in from other cities, islands and villages that were flattened by the apocalyptic winds and enormous walls of sea water that came rushing ashore.

More than 10 million people are estimated to have been displaced by this single event. Hunger, sickness and despair now stalk the most hard hit of areas, even as aid from both local and international sources started to trickle in. The President has already declared a state of national calamity.

It will probably take a few more days, maybe weeks before the total extent of this disaster can be confirmed. But for sure, this is now considered the worst natural calamity that the country has ever experienced. 

While storms and typhoons are indeed natural occurrences, the ferocious strength and destructive power delivered by this typhoon have been characterized as off the charts and beyond normal.

This is also not the first time. 

Last year, there was Bopha, which resulted in more than 600 fatalities, and before that a number of other weather aberrations too freakish even for a nation that has grown accustomed to getting more than 20 of these howlers in any given year. As if on cue, and following the template of Bopha in Doha, Haiyan also came at a time when the climate COP is taking place, this time in Warsaw.

Some of you would have already heard about the emotional opening speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation at the climate summit, bewailing the absence of responsible climate action at the global level and refusing to accept that the fate of Filipinos may now be irretrievably linked to a future where people are served super typhoons for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Once again, a disaster such as this one, underscores the urgency of the work we do as a global organization on climate change. 

It is in fearful anticipation of tragic scenarios such as these why our staff and activists go through great lengths, putting their life and liberty at risk, to take action at the frontlines of climate destruction — whether that’s in the forests of Sumatra or the hostile waters of the Arctic.

I would like to believe this is part of the larger narrative why 30 of our colleagues remain in detention in Russia. And it is our hope that they find courage and inspiration to endure the injustice they are going through, moving the planet away from the clear and present danger posed by runaway climate change.

We thank you all for the messages of solidarity and support you have sent our way at this time.

More importantly, I would urge you to use this moment to remind your governments that every investment in fossil fuels is an investment in death and destruction. 

The impact of new coal plants being built or new oil fields being developed — do not remain in their immediate vicinities — they translate into epic humanitarian disasters and tragedies, as we continue to witness in the Philippines.

Regards,

Von Hernandez
Executive Director
Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Written by Martin Lack

15 November 2013 at 16:30

Don’t panic about population (energy is the problem)

with 32 comments

First broadcast in the UK on Thursday, ‘Dont’ Panic –The Truth About Population’ was the re-assuring title of an absolutely fascinating programme presented by Hans Rosling, a globally-renowned medical doctor and public health statistician.  Amongst other things, Hans Rosling is Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Here is how the BBC summarises the programme on their BBC iPlayer website:

Using state-of-the-art 3D graphics and the timing of a stand-up comedian, world-famous statistician Professor Hans Rosling presents a spectacular portrait of our rapidly changing world.  With seven billion people already on our planet, we often look to the future with dread, but Rosling’s message is surprisingly upbeat.  Almost unnoticed, we have actually begun to conquer the problems of rapid population growth and extreme poverty.

Across the world, even in countries like Bangladesh, families of just two children are now the norm – meaning that within a few generations, the population explosion will be over.  A smaller proportion of people now live in extreme poverty than ever before in human history and the United Nations has set a target of eradicating it altogether within a few decades.  In this as-live studio event, Rosling presents a statistical tour-de-force, including his ‘ignorance survey’, which demonstrates how British university graduates would be outperformed by chimpanzees in a test of knowledge about developing countries.

From the outset, Rosling is indeed very funny, engaging and, yes, convincing on many fronts.  He presents compelling data to indicate that the ‘population bomb’ has already exploded; and suggests that there remains a great deal of under-used agricultural land in many poor countries around the World.  However, even so, as well as acknowledging that he is not an expert on climate change, he admits that future energy consumption is the biggest problem we face.

The state-of the-art, computerised graphics (projected onto an invisible glass screen) are indeed a very effective way of making complicated historical data – and predictions about the future – seem remarkably simple.  Although I think there are one or two occasions where Rosling overstates his case, in general he presents a wealth of information that suggests that our problems are not only solvable; in many cases they have already been solved.

Nevertheless, as he himself acknowledges in the opening sequence of the programme, given the relentless growth in human resource consumption (even if not population) and what he calls “unpredictable climate change”, humanity now faces “undeniably huge challenges”.  That being the case, you may well ask, how and why is he so positive?  Well the easy answer would be, watch the programme and you will find out.

However, for those of you without the time or ability to watch the programme, which will only be available in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the next few days  - and may not stay posted on YouTube for very long – I will try to summarise its content below.

Rosling’s presentation of 12 thousand years of data (mostly just the last 200 years) is interspersed with fascinating video footage of life for very poor people in Mozambique, etc) but, even so, he manages to be almost unremittingly positive.  Along the way, he highlights numerous misconceptions that British people have regarding the extent to which progress has been made on a range of international problems.  Although I suspect that this is because our media tend only to report bad news, I also think that it is a little too early to declare victory.  We may be winning battles, but the war that humanity is waging against Nature is a very long way from being over.  However, I am getting ahead of myself…  As promised, here are the main points of his presentation, which, as stated above begins with the ending of the last Ice Age (about 12,000 years ago).

Population Growth
Global human population in 10,000 BC is estimated to have been about 10 million.  By 1800 AD it had only grown to 1 billion.  Industrial revolution (mechanisation of agriculture, improved healthcare, etc.) causes doubling to 2 billion by 1920s and 3 billion by 1950s.  By the 1990s it had doubled again but is now slowing (currently 7 billion).

Whereas the global population has doubled in the last 50 years, most growth has been in Asia.  In Bangladesh, for example, the population has tripled from 50 to 150 million in this time.  However, as in developed countries, the number of children women have (i.e. family size or ‘fertility’) reduces with improved education and healthcare.  Since Independence in 1972, Bangladeshi fertility has reduced from 7 to 2.2.  Globally, in the last 50 years, average fertility has reduced from 5 to 2.5.

Life expectancy is more complicated.  The differences between rich and poor countries were much greater in 1963 than they are now.  Life expectancy in poor countries has generally improved from 35 to 50 years.  We clearly live in a much less divided World (compared to 50 years ago).  However, it is simply not true to say – as Rosling does – that “we no longer live in a divided World.”  Such a remark is simply incompatible with the data presented in the programme; and is little more than a rhetorical victory for positive thinking over reality.

Having said that, the demographic transition (towards low birth and low death rates) does appear to be progressing well in most countries.  This is why, in the absence of other complicating factors, global human population is expected to peak at about 11 billion by the end of this Century.

Education and Healthcare
As noted above, family size reduces once women gain improved access to education and healthcare.  Apart from anything else, people choose to have smaller families once they realise that their children are more likely to survive into adulthood.

Pre-1800, 4 out of 6 children died in childhood.  By 1960, however, 4 out of 5 were surviving!  This was the ‘population bomb’.  Today, on average two adults have two children and both survive.   However, global population is still growing because of the increases in life expectancy.

We have reached ‘Peak Child’, there are 2 billion children in the World today and it is expected that there will be 2 billion at the end of the Century; the increased population will be due to there being a lot more older people.  The current baby boom in the UK is a Western anomaly but, not so the prediction that number of people over 80 years will double in the next 25 years.

Population Distribution
As of 2010, the global population comprised 1 billion in the Americas, 1 billion in Europe (including Russia), 1 billion in Africa, and 4 billion in Asia.  Rosling refers to this as “the World’s ‘PIN code’” (i.e. in 2010 it is ’1114′).  Using this shorthand, Rosling suggests that the Word’s PIN code will by ’1125′ by 2050 and ’1145′ by 2100.

Meeting the demand for resources
Professor Rosling acknowledges the huge challenges this inevitable growth will create.  How can we feed all these people; especially if everyone who is now poor is going to become less so?

Before tackling this question, Rosling shows how much life has improved in recent decades for many people in Mozambique (one of the World’s poorest countries).  However, focusing on the poorest of the poor (subsistence farmers), he then paints a startling picture of the long road of technological development:  For subsistence farmers, the first stage in a long progress of self-improvement will be saving up to buy a bicycle.  It is a truly humbling experience to see how significant and revolutionary such a purchase can be.

Still living in a divided World
Of the 7 billion people alive today, the poorest 1 billion live on as little as 1 US dollar per day (1$/day) whereas the richest billion live on 100$/day (or more).  In the middle, the vast majority are in the middle living on about 10$/day.  For those of us who are most fortunate, everyone else seems poor.  However, if you are among the poorest people in the World, the difference between 1$/day and 10$/day is very significant indeed.

Rosling’s favourite illustration is that of improving average national incomes and life expectancies over the last 200 years.  It is true that this shows that all nations are now better off than they used to be.  However, in his characteristically positive way, Rosling focuses on the fact that things are improving fastest for the poorest (rather than on the historical growth of inequality).

Having said that, Rosling does provide compelling evidence to suggest that the UN’s new target – to eliminate extreme poverty within 20 years – may well be achievable:  The ‘only’ things that can get in our way are resource depletion and climate change.

Fossil Fuel Consumption
Rosling admits he is not an expert on how bad the change could get nor how we should minimise it.  However, his presentation of fossil fuel use is very striking:

  • Today 50% is consumed by the richest billion of population; 25% by the 2nd billion; 12.5% by the 3rd billion.
  • This leaves more than half the global population consuming little more than 10%.
  • Given the time it will take for people to drag themselves out of extreme poverty, the problem we face is the growth in demand by those who are already no longer in poverty (extreme or otherwise).

Thus, Rosling suggests that the remaining growth in global population (i.e. from 7 to 11 billion) is not the main problem we face.  However, – and this is where Rosling’s presentation finally becomes quite challenging:  He suggests that those living in richest countries cannot tell others what to do; and that it is entirely legitimate for those who are less fortunate to demand that we moderate our excessive consumption (of both resources and energy).

Conclusions

  1. The problems of extreme poverty and population growth (may well) have been solved.
  2. Climate change is still a massive problem (which we must therefore try to solve).
  3. Excessive per-capita resource consumption in rich countries must now be reduced.

All the data used in the presentation is available at: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/dontpanic

Why Table 12.4 of IPCC AR5 should not be trusted

with 23 comments

At the end of September, Working Group 1 (WG1) of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  This report, entitled ‘Climate Change 2013: Physical Science Basis’, now has its own website, from where the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) and Full Report (chapter-by –chapter) can be downloaded (as PDF files).

Observers of contrarian cyberspace will have noticed that a certain Table in the full report (Table 12.4) has been widely touted as proof that climate change is no longer the problem “alarmists” think it is.  Even high profile professional people (who ought to know better) have demeaned themselves by publishing guest posts on unscientific websites: e.g. ‘Understanding the IPCC AR5 Climate Assessment’ by Professor Richard Lindzen on WattsUpWithThat.

AR5 Table 12-4

The problem with such a mis-reading of the speculative data in Table 12.4 (summarising ‘Components in the Earth system… susceptible to abrupt or irreversible change’ on page 12-78) is that it completely contradicts the historical data in Table SPM.1 (summarising ‘Observed Changes in the Climate System’ on page SPM-23).

AR5 Table SPM-1

Whereas Table 12.4 suggests climate scientists consider it improbable that a variety of catastrophic tipping points will be passed in this Century, Table SPM.1 indicates that they have generally high confidence that we are already witnessing increased frequencies of various unusual weather events.

Thus, trying to use Table 12.4 to suggest that anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is not the massive problem the IPCC has confirmed it is (with 95% confidence), is one of the most shameful pieces of cherry-picking I think I have ever seen.  As with his mis-use of graphs in his presentations to the already-sceptical, this suggests that Lindzen knows what he is doing and is deliberately trying to mislead and or misdirect people.

As I would not just want anyone to take my word for it, I have reproduced within this post both tables and the text that accompanies them in their respective reports.  However, rather than start with Lindzen’s shameless cherry-picking of Table 12.4 and attempted inversion of the IPCC’s position, which would only confuse people (as I suspect is his intention), perhaps I should have started with the facts as presented in the SPM.  If so, I can only apologise and now attempt to redress the situation.

As is the way with everything else, the SPM has been reduced to a series of Headline Statements (PDF available here).  However, such sound bytes are very useful and, in the current context, the most relevant are as follows:

  • Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
  • The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.

I should also wish to draw your attention, noting that a gigatonne (GT) is roughly equivalent to a cubic kilometre of ice,  to the following sound bytes from section B.3 of the SPM regarding the Cryosphere (page SPM- 5):

  • The average rate of ice loss from glaciers around the world, excluding glaciers on the periphery of the ice sheets, was very likely 226 [91 to 361] GT/yr over the period 1971−2009, and very likely 275 [140 to 410] GT/yr over the period 1993−2009.
  • The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased from 34 [–6 to 74] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 215 [157 to 274] GT/yr over the period 2002–2011.
  • The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased from 30 [–37 to 97] GT/yr over the period 1992–2001 to 147 [72 to 221] GT/yr over the period 2002-2011.  There is very high confidence that these losses are mainly from the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.

As noted on page SPM-5, 100 GT/yr of ice loss is equivalent to about 0.3 mm/yr of global mean sea level rise (SLR).   It is perhaps also worth noting, here,  that SLR is currently 3.0 mm/yr (and accelerating all the time).

If your head is already spinning with all this data, just try to focus on one fact:  The SPM contains two numbers for decadal average melting rates in Greenland, namely 34 GT/yr in 1990s and 215 GT/yr in 2000s.  As we shall see, these numbers not only bring into question the cherry-picking of Table 12.4; this six-fold increase in ice loss in just 10 years suggests that the conclusions stated in Table 12.4 are incompatible with what is already happening.

As every teenager knows, you cannot confidently draw a straight line through anything less than three points on a graph.  However, we are not dealing with a linear relationship here and, if we were, the above numbers (i.e. 34 and 215) would imply Greenland had been gaining ice prior to the 1990s (which it wasn’t).  This therefore gives us even more confidence that the annual rate of ice mass loss in Greenland has accelerated.

Indeed, perhaps the person who compiled Table 12.4 should have consulted Wikipedia:

  • 1961 to 2003:   +25 to –60 GT/yr => 1982, –18 GT/yr
  • 1993 to 2003:  –50 to –100 GT/yr => 1998, –75 GT/yr
  • 4/2002 to 11/2005: mean 215 GT/yr => 2004, –215 GT/yr
  • 3/2002 to 9/2012: total ~2900 GT => 2007, –276 GT/yr
  • 2008 to 2012: mean 376 GT/yr => 2010, –367 GT/yr

Table 12.4 expresses high confidence that the disintegration of Greenland ice sheet is exceptionally unlikely in this Century.  This may be because the total volume of ice (i.e. If 2,850,000 km3) is so large.  However, at what point does the accelerating ice loss become catastrophic (especially if it is already irreversible in any timescale relevant to human civilisation)?

It must be accepted that the accelerating ice mass loss will eventually reach a maximum rate (due to the finite amount of solar radiation (etc) and then decline as surface area declines.  However, it would seem unwise to assume we have reached that point already.  That being the case, the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet is already happening.  In my opinion, this is a catastrophe – we just haven’t had to deal with the consequences yet.

Either way, how can the IPCC ignore the fact that the melting of the Greenland lcesheet is already accelerating?  As it is almost certainly already beyond our capacity to stop it, this makes the relevant entry in Table 12.4 seem counter-factual.

Given what Joe Romm has called the ‘planned obsolescence’ of the AR5 – as a result of systematically ignoring the effects of positive feedback mechanisms that are already observable – I suspect that the same is true for all the other entries in Table 12.4.

Given all of the above, it is even more ludicrous to try – as Lindzen and others have done – to  use Table 12.4 to falsify the basic position of the IPCC, which is that ACD is already happening and already accelerating; and the longer we wait the harder it will get to stop it.

Written by Martin Lack

3 November 2013 at 00:02

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

with 19 comments

As for the flat Earth, the debate is over.

I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood.  This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…”   In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.

There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).

Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz.  This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.

Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false.  However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right.  This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong.  I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly.  However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:

Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable.  This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.

Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).

So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:

“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.”  Yes, that applies to everyone.  Here are a few facts:

IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause.  If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event.  The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications.  This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy.  Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped.  See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).  

Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP.  This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited.  For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info).  As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.

While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’.  Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic.  See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.

The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk.  Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent.  Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.

IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter.  Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor.  See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.

The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming.   This myth has been repeatedly debunked.  This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.

There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise.  CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems.  Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog

Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.

But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.

It’s about proper open debate.  The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.

While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat.  For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant.  Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science? 

Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.

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