Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category
Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations? This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.
Unfortunately for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant: Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments. Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists. However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious: The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.
Similarly, it seems, our national governments appear determined to ignore warnings from professional bodies, national scientific academies, and international organisations. Anyone who asserts that humanity needs to stop burning fossil fuels as fast as possible is, it seems, immediately dismissed as an environmental ‘alarmist’.
If you stop to think about it objectively, even for a moment, the reasons for this are very obvious: Far more serious even than the USA defaulting on its debt repayments, the problem is that the share prices of the World’s fossil fuel companies are entirely dependent upon the assumption that all the Earth’s fossil fuels will be burned. This is referred to as ‘business as usual’ (BAU).
Thus, in the minds of our politicians at least, if they accept the reality that we have a problem at all, the only solution to the problem is one that allows fossil fuel companies to continue with BAU.
Unfortunately for our politicians, fossil fuel companies, and all life on Earth (human and non-human), such a solution does not exist and is, almost certainly, technologically unachievable in the timescale that it would now be required.
The solution everyone is hoping will emerge is carbon capture and storage (CCS). This is a subject about which I have written a great deal; and I do not intend to repeat myself now other than to say this: CCS will only be able to help solve our problem when the rate of removal of CO2 from our atmosphere is greater than global emissions. Getting CCS to work will take decades (as will decarbonising our economies). It is quite possible that we do not have decades of time in which to do either but, one thing is for sure, it makes no sense to delay making a serious attempt to do either.
Therefore, I believe all would do well to ponder the question as to why the World Bank published ‘Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development’ last year. There is a big clue given in the ‘Abstract‘, which reads as follows:
Economic development during the next two decades cannot mirror the previous two: poverty reduction remains urgent but growth and equity can be pursued without relying on policies and practices that foul the air, water, and land.
The World Bank accepts that humanity cannot go on treating the Earth with contempt; treating it as if both its resources and regenerative capacity are infinite. This is because, as is becoming increasingly obvious (in the case of the latter at least), they are not infinite.
This brings us to the crux of this post, which is to refute the entirely bogus argument that we humans have nothing to be afraid of because climate change is natural; life has survived it in the past; and will therefore do so again. There are at least two problems with this line of argument:
1. Because we were already in a warm interglacial period – and atmospheric CO2 is now 40% higher than at any time in the last 1 million years – it is highly unreasonable to dispute the fact that post-Industrial warming is unnatural (i.e. all sparrows may be birds but not all birds are sparrows).
2. In the entirety of Earth history, there have been 5 mass extinction events (i.e. periods when between 50 and 95% of all species have been wiped out). These events are each associated with periods when global average temperatures were more than 5 Celsius warmer than they are now (and there is strong evidence that a sixth mass extinction is already underway).
In responding to sensible comments on my previous post, ‘A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al.‘, I found myself referring to the most recent mass extinction event in the Earth’s history, the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred 55 million years before present (MaBP). However, as the following video graphically demonstrates, what is now happening to the Earth’s climate as a result of the post-Industrial burning of fossil fuels, is looking increasingly like the Permian mass extinction event, which occurred 252 MaBP.
This video is only about 10 minutes long, so I hope people will watch it. If not, however, the main points are summarised below:
1. There have been five mass extinctions before and humans are now almost certainly causing a sixth.
2. The ongoing melting of terrestrial ice will now cause sea level to rise continuously for several centuries.
3. This is probably unstoppable but is survivable (i.e. assuming all humans can move away from coastal areas).
4. All past mass extinction events occurred when global average temperatures > 5 Celsius warmer than now.
5. Common to each event is further rapid warming triggered by methane release from permafrost and seabed.
6. We already have evidence that rates of both species extinction and methane release are now accelerating.
7. Positive feedback mechanisms (such as disappearing sea ice) will soon make methane release unstoppable.
8. If this ‘tipping point’ is passed, anthropogenic climate disruption will almost certainly be unsurvivable.
This is why the World Bank agrees that we need to decarbonise our global economies as fast as possible.
The video below contains a very compelling 22-minute summary of an impressive array of work, widely reported in the World’s newspapers this week. The research team, based in the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii, was led by Associate Professor Camilo Mora.
Sadly, it has already been dismissed by people with a track-record denying, downplaying or dismissing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). People such as Bjorn Lomborg, for example.
A brief summary of the key points of the research:
1. For any geographic location the time of ‘climate departure’ is the time beyond which even the coldest monthly average temperature will be warmer than anything observed in the last 150 years. The same method was used to determine the time beyond which a range of other factors (such as precipitation and evaporation) would no longer fall below the range of local values observed in the last 150 years.
2. The monthly average data for all these calculations, data were obtained from 39 global climate models (GCMs – the accuracy of which I discuss below) constructed by 21 climate modelling centres in 12 different countries around the World. Common to all of these models is the same suite of CO2 emissions projections scenarios, two of which the research team used to define the range of possible temperature rises: RCP8.5 – representing a business as usual (BAU) scenario where humanity makes no attempt to reduce CO2 emissions; and RCP4.5 – representing a scenario where globally co-ordinated and concerted efforts are made to reduce CO2 emissions. With regard to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it should be noted that:
– RCP8.5 is projected to result in a continuing increase to 900 ppm CO2 by the end of the Century; and
– RCP4.5 is projected to result in a peak value of 500 ppm being reached by mid-Century.
3. The results suggest that on average, climate departure (for temperature) is reached 2047 under the RCP8.5 scenario, or 2069 under the RCP4.5 scenario. This therefore implies that aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions could delay the onset of climate departure by several decades. Furthermore, the results suggest that climate departure will come to lower latitudes (equatorial and tropical areas) first. Under RCP8.5 this is as early as 2020 in some places. Under RCP4.5, climate departure is projected to be experienced almost everywhere by the end of the Century.
4. The team has produced an interactive map, published online here by the Washington Post newspaper, which can be used to see when climate departure is predicted under both scenarios for any location on the Earth’s surface.
5. The team suggests that the historical focus on absolute changes in temperature (i.e. predicted and observed to be greatest in polar regions) have given humans a false sense of security about the likely personal impacts. This study inverts that pattern and shatters the illusion that humans will not be directly impacted by changes in temperature. This is because, where the natural climate variability is smallest, less absolute change is required for it to be significant and most of the species present have less resilience to that change.
6. The research highlights the changes that have already occurred. Indeed, the most striking finding of the research is that the pH of seawater across the entire planet – i.e. without any exceptions – is already lower than it has been at any time in the last 150 years.
7. The research highlights the fact that those areas that are likely to reach climate departure soonest are also areas with the highest average population density and the lowest capacity to adapt. Under RCP4.5, it is expected that 1 billion people will be living in area experiencing unprecedented climatic conditions by 2050. Whereas, under the RCP8.5 this is expected to be 5 billion people (i.e. half the currently-projected global population).
8. The research indicates that the Earth’s most significant biological assets (essential ecosystem services and biodiversity) are at risk. This is the consequence of three facets of the above: (a) equatorial and tropical regions will be the first to experience climate departure; (b) they contain the greatest proportion of the Earth’s biological assets; and (c) are the least resilient to any change and the least able to adapt.
Conclusions (some readers may find some sentences upsetting)
1. If we stick to BAU, we will guarantee that (a) the long-term consequences will be increasingly unpleasant; (b) mitigation will become impossible; and (c) adaptation will be required sooner and faster and therefore be more costly. Alternatively, if we decide to try and mitigate ACD (by aggressively reducing CO2 emissions), we may be able to limit the unpleasantness and the scale and total cost of adaptation required (by humans and non-humans alike).
2. If we do nothing, the extinction of a significant proportion of species on Earth would appear to be unavoidable in the long-term (and, if that happens, the survival of humanity would have to be seriously in jeopardy). Alternatively, if we take action, the extinction of some species looks highly probable but, critically, this will buy most species several decades to adapt. This means that the costs of adaptation can be spread over those extra decades.
3. Given all of the above, how can it make any sense to continue to argue about what we should do?
Comments about the accuracy of Global Climate Models (GCMs)
One very easy way to dismiss all this is to point out that, in the course of the last decade, global average temperatures have slipped from well above 75th to just above 5th percentile of GCM predictions. Despite this, however, the exponential nature of the observed temperature increase over the last 150 years is very obvious in the above video.
Furthermore, the only way anyone can justify reaching the conclusion that this increase will not continue is by asserting that CO2 is not the main driver. A recent article on the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media website, entitled ‘Examining the Recent Slow-Down in Global Warming‘, has an excellent set of graphs that explain how and why we can be certain that CO2 is the main driver.
In addition, as per the comments I have posted on the above article, none of the GCMs include the global dimming effects of industrial pollution. Given that this is the case, I really do not understand why so many climate scientists keep saying we do not understand the reason for the current hiatus. In his book, ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’, James Hansen repeatedly complains about the fact that, 20 years ago, NASA refused to invest in satellite monitoring of this pollution. Thus we have been unable to model its effects because we have no data to put into the GCMs.
I decided that my review of The Revenge of Gaia, as published by James Lovelock in 2006, was dragging on a bit, so have decided to finish it off. This is therefore the fourth and final part (and thus longer than normal posts).
Having explained what Gaia is (part one), discussed the need to decarbonise our economies (part two), and discussed the various sources of renewable energy available to us (part three), we must now confront ‘the radiating face of Gaia’. The possibly surprising reality is that almost half the book is taken up by Lovelock discussing the sensibility – if not inevitability – of the widespread use of nuclear energy to generate electricity.
As before, some may consider this a self-contradictory position to adopt because, as indeed Lovelock concedes, the ecological carrying capacity of the Earth in a post-carbon age is unlikely to be greater than it was before the Industrial Revolution. That being the case, why would such a small population (of say one billion humans) need nuclear energy; and who is to say they would be capable of harnessing it? When the history of human failure (to see the writing on the wall) has finally been written, catalogued and left in the library long enough to be coated in dust, some may well wonder if today’s nuclear power plants will become the curious prehistoric monuments of a distant, post-carbon, future.
However, I see Lovelock’s pro-nuclear stance as part of the technological optimist side of his split personality: Whereas his pessimistic side laments the unintended ecocide being caused by human arrogance, greed and stupidity; the optimistic side of Lovelock assumes humanity will somehow avert the approaching environmental catastrophe and will, therefore, need lots of energy to power a post-carbon civilisation.
However, to be fair, Lovelock has always been in favour of nuclear energy. In this respect, he is probably very unusual amongst those concerned with issue of environment degradation. He may never have quite been a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but the truth of the matter is that most pro-nuclear environmentalists have not always thought as they do now (e.g. Mark Lynas and George Monbiot). Nevertheless, however and whenever they came to be so, they join with the likes of Tom Blees, Stewart Brand and James Hansen – in being pro-nuclear. Personally, I think it is much more accurate to describe them as ‘ecopragmatists’ (and would count myself as one too). Indeed, Brand’s most recent book sounds like it is worth reading: Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto.
As such, all would agree that nuclear energy will have to be the main source of power in decades to come if billions of humans survive the approaching environmental meltdown, which we are causing by burning fossil fuels.
Before continuing, I think it is worth drawing attention to a couple of things recorded by Brand in the online Afterword he is maintaining in relation to this book. (i.e. as quoted on the Wikipedia page for the book – as per the above link):
(1) Brand quotes Lovelock as having repudiated his alarmism because “Something unknown appears to be slowing down the rate of global warming”. This would appear to suggest that Lovelock was not satisfied by the answers that climate scientists have given, namely that: (a) warming is being offset by ‘global dimming’ (caused by other forms of atmospheric pollution); and (b) the ‘missing’ heat will be found in the deep ocean (because it must have gone somewhere).
(2) Brand has appears to admit having been influenced by the ‘global warming has stopped’ myth that has been peddled so fiercely by the fossil fuel lobby. He has therefore suggested that maybe nothing (more) will happen as a result of the accumulating greenhouse gases. However, he also chose to add that doing nothing about our CO2 emissions would be “like playing Russian Roulette with five cylinders loaded”.
As I have now said quite a few times, although sympathetic to the overall message, I am concerned by intellectual incoherence, selective blindness and a tendency to exaggerate, which Lovelock appears to display in the writing of The Revenge of Gaia. Although not limited to his remarks about radiation and nuclear power, these traits are certainly very much present. This is a shame, in my view, because Lovelock also makes some very valid points about the irrational way most people assess the chances of either good or bad things happening. For example, the chances of any individual winning a lottery is extremely small but, even so, a great many people waste an awful lot of money trying to do so. Similarly, the risk of any individual dying as a result of travelling in a car is much higher than that of flying in an aeroplane but, even so, how many of us worry about the former more than the latter?
Lovelock, correctly in my view, blames widespread anti nuclear sentiment today on fears, stoked by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), over mutually assured destruction that grew out of the insanity of the Cold War. Such fears were entirely justified but, as Lovelock says, the demonisation of the civil nuclear power industry was not. Just because it was a by-product of military programmes to build atomic bombs does not make it inherently bad. Mobile Phones were a product of military surveillance technology, but they are generally accepted as being beneficial (apart from those who blame them for killing bees and causing brain cancers).
Cancer is another subject about which Lovelock has a lot to say; but here also, I think he takes his argument too far. It is undoubtedly true that cancer is very common; that very little of it is caused by radiation; and that even less is caused by artificially-created radiation. Lovelock makes the point that the whole planet was irradiated as a result of atomic bomb tests in the 1950s but the only deaths linked to such tests have been among those who witnessed them. Lovelock also recalls the reactor fire at Windscale (now called Sellafield), which also irradiated the entire UK but has not been linked to any deaths. Most famously of all, of course, Lovelock cites the meltdown at the Chernobyl plant in what is now Ukraine. Estimates vary but, given the amount of hysteria caused in Europe about radiation clouds, the numbers of people killed as a result (i.e. as determined how many more people have died than might otherwise be expected to die) is really not that great. This is not intended to belittle the suffering of individuals; merely to suggest that people put these things in some proper perspective: Perspective that might include considering how many people are shot dead every day; or die in car accidents every year; or how many were killed in wars in the last decade; or died as a result of the Spanish Flu epidemic nearly 100 years ago.
However, Lovelock goes further; and the point at which I think he ceases to be reasonable is this: He suggests that oxygen is a carcinogen. Noting that – whereas some photosynthesising plants can live for hundreds of years – humans tend not to live for much more than 100 years, he argues that oxygen is a carcinogen because it of its involvement in biochemical processes at the level of individual cells (i.e. respiration). This may be true but, if so, it would also be true to say that eating causes constipation. However, that does not mean that we should be worried about eating! Furthermore, there are also scientific studies that have linked the development of cancer with oxygen-deficiency at cellular level. Far more importantly still, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the risks of any individual dying of cancer are dramatically increased by their inherited DNA and lifestyle choices they make (such as excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco smoking). For all of these reasons, I find Lovelock’s argument about oxygen being carcinogenic to be misleading; if not disingenuous.
Nevertheless, I agree with Lovelock that civil nuclear power should not be feared in the way it is (in many minds); and it should not have been abandoned in the way it has (in many countries). However, I remain bemused by the conflict between Lovelock’s misanthropic pessimism (most recently echoed by Bob Geldof) and his technological optimism, which ignores the geologically unprecedented rate of both CO2 rise and warming that has occurred in the last 200 years.
In addition, there remains the problem that the global use of civil nuclear power would likely be a new form of technological dependency (along with the widespread use of GMOs) that will probably not reduce inequality of opportunity because the ‘trickle-down’ effect does not seem to work.
There is also growing evidence that time is no longer a luxury that humanity has. The relatively stable sea level and climate that has made agriculture, civilisation, urbanisation and modernity possible has now been brought to an end by the folly of humans believing they were superior to nature; rather than part of it.
We have fouled our own nest; and we appear to be running out of time to clean it up.
Although much delayed and interrupted by other stuff, this is now the third part of my review of The Revenge of Gaia, as published by James Lovelock in 2006. The first and second parts were published on this blog last month (i.e. here and here).
Once again, I will assume the reader is familiar with the concept of Gaia (as described in part one of my review and on Wikipedia). Also, as discussed in part two of my review, I will also assume the reader is aware of Lovelock’s subsequent attempts to repudiate his ‘alarmism’ (April 2010) and, even more astonishingly, disavow his faith in the objectivity of climate scientists (June 2012). However, in all of this, I hope readers will recognise that I am trying to be pragmatic and objective; as opposed to dogmatic and prejudiced.
Previously, I had got as far as Lovelock’s assertion (circa 2006) that humanity needs to get off its addiction to fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Therefore, I now continue by looking at the ways in which he suggests we might (or indeed might not) do that. However, it must be stressed that Lovelock accepts (or at least accepted) that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will not prevent excessive climate disruption unless we decide to leave most fossil fuels in the ground (or radically reduce the rate at which we are burning them).
Lovelock’s first non-fossil fuel option is hydrogen; and his first point is that, as with electricity, hydrogen has to be manufactured. In addition to pointing out that it can be manufactured from fossil fuels and in nuclear reactors, Lovelock explains how hydrogen can be produced from water by hydrolysis. However, the problems inherent in transportation and distribution of hydrogen (e.g. very low atomic mass and high explosive potential) and the low amount of energy return on energy input (EROEI) mean that this is unlikely ever to be commercially viable.
In contrast to this, hydrogen could be widely used in fuel cells (i.e. as used to generate electricity on the command module in the Apollo missions), although this is not without its own problems and dangers. Wikipedia has a good summary of methods of hydrogen production, from which the important takeaways appear to be that hydrogen is:
(1) mostly produced from hydrocarbons (steam reforming); and
(2) mostly used in oil refineries to derive lighter products from heavy ones (hydrocracking); or
(3) used in other chemical processes to produce other things (e.g. ammonia and methanol).
Both Lovelock and the above Wikipedia article refer to the potential of a hydrogen economy. Indeed, Lovelock refers specifically refers to the work of Geoffrey Ballard – who pioneered the concept of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells (i.e. like rechargeable batteries), which would consume hydrogen in use (by driving an electric motor) and generate it when not in use (by being recharged).
Expressing his hope that this technology will become widespread, Lovelock moves on to explain why he hopes that renewable technology will not: In essence, his objections are based on:
(1) low EROEI (i.e. in manufacture of hardware with a low energy conversion efficiency); and
(2) low energy density (i.e. need for large areas of land to be given over to electricity production).
Lovelock suggests that the concept of sustainable development has been hijacked by those who promote renewable energy as a means of avoiding dealing with the impossibility of perpetual economic development on a finite planet with finite resources. This is a point on which I would agree – and have agreed (as published here by the Geological Society of London). However, even so, I find his complaints about the industrialisation of the countryside somewhat tiresome. The bottom line is this: anything that reduces our dependency on fossil fuels must be a good thing; as must be the use of any fossil fuels consumed in working towards that goal.
Lovelock does himself no credit whatsoever by suggesting that pursuit of wind power is short-sighted because climate change will alter planetary atmospheric circulation. Such an assertion is almost (but not quite) as stupid as suggesting that harnessing the Earth’s tidal energy is likely to slow the Earth’s speed of rotation (to any significant extent). Similarly, his suggesting that the UK would need 276 thousand wind turbines (each 100m high) to meet national demand for electricity is nothing more than a straw man argument (because no-one is suggesting that this can or should be the aim and it ignores the agreed need for overall consumption to be reduced).
Lovelock’s comments about tidal energy, pre-date the development and testing of numerous technologies (e.g. around the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland), but he does make the valid point that, as with CCS, it will take decades for any technology to become widely available and implemented. However, this does not change the fact that it would be almost insane for an island nation such as the UK not to pursue these technologies. The down-side to all this is that it will require additional power distribution infrastructure to be built. However, so will micro-generation (as opposed to centralised generation), unless everyone is to become self-sufficient and not feed-in unused power to the national network (the income from which is the main reason most people install the systems).
Lovelock then moves on to consider hydro-electric power (HEP). He makes the point that HEP is not without environmental cost (loss of farmland, enforced displacement of populations, and interference with fluvial deposition patterns including the benefits of regular flooding of farmland). However, he also seems to ignore the fact that HEP can be of considerable benefit to communities in areas where population density, competition for land and ecological carrying capacity are all low.
On the subject of biofuels, Lovelock merely re-states his objections to the diversion of agricultural land away from producing food (and takes another swipe at those who favour the inherently inefficient use of land for organic farming). It is on this subject that the intellectual incoherence of Lovelock’s position is most clearly displayed: being simultaneously pessimistic (about the prospects for so many people living on such a small planet) and optimistic (about the potential for technology to solve all our problems) – especially if we embrace GM crops.
However, given that he could not possibly have heard of it in 2006, Lovelock may be forgiven for not mentioning a new avenue for sustainable biofuel production that emerged in 2010 – namely GM algae that photosynthesise ethanol (instead of glucose). However, even this may now be eclipsed by the potential of the latest idea – higher mixed alcohol fuels. These can be produced form any solid, liquid or gaseous waste product and, therefore, could solve all our energy problems (but only if fossil fuel companies don’t buy up the patents to such ideas and then make them disappear).
Finally, in his long preamble to consideration of the future potential of civil nuclear power, Lovelock turns his attention to solar energy: Here, once again, his argument is primarily based on low EROEI and on the cost of manufacturing the hardware (not to mention all the other finite metallic resources required).
On this front, I must confess I have some sympathy: Harnessing the energy the Earth receives from the Sun (especially in mid-to low latitude countries where population densities are and probably will remain low) would seem like an obvious choice. However, pursuing solar power generation on a large scale simultaneously in a large number of countries would have a serious impact on the demand for – and cost of – copper (and other even rarer metals), which is already high as a consequence of the success of hand-held electronic devices such as mobile phones.
As for Lovelock’s justification for his pro-nuclear stance, that will be the subject of the next post in this series (although I am not promising when that will be).
Here in the UK, the Daily Mail has got itself a lot of publicity for printing an article last Saturday entitled “Man Who Hated Britain”. The article was about the late father of Ed Milliband, who is the current leader of the Labour Party (and could therefore be our next Prime Minister). For the avoidance of any doubt, I must declare that I think such an eventuality would be a disaster for Britain. However, I digress…
Basically, the Daily Mail’s argument is that, if for no other reason than that he died in 1994, many people may not realise that Ralph Miliband was a passionate believer in the political philosophy of a certain Karl Marx (oh and, yes, he was Jewish as well). Choosing to ignore the fact Milliband senior joined the Royal Navy and settled down to married life here after the War, the Daily Mail based its entire article on something he wrote in his diary when he arrived here as a refugee from the Nazis (at the tender age of 17).
Despite asking for and being given a right to reply, Ed Milliband has had to put up with the Daily Mail refusing to apologise and – indeed repeating its criticism of his father. In essence, therefore, the Daily Mail’s position is that you cannot love Britain if you are a Socialist. However, this is nothing new; this has always been the position of the Daily Mail – they have just never found such a blunt way to say it before. The Independent newspaper has helpfully summarised the whole story in this article yesterday.
Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, this is an easily falsifiable argument; especially when you consider that the newspaper routinely uses xenophobic headlines to attract readers: It does not matter whether the subject is radical Islamic preachers, environmental protestors, or climate scientists – according to the Daily Mail they all hate Britain.
With regard to radical Islamic preachers in Britain, I agree it does seem somewhat hypocritical to criticise the country in which you have chosen to live. However, to be entirely fair, they have chosen to work here; and they are living here in the hope that they can turn the UK into an Islamic state. Does this mean that they ‘hate’ Britain? No it does not; it just means they don’t like it the way it is.
Exactly the same logic applies to environmental campaigners and climate scientists. To label them as anti-British (anti-Western or anti-progress) is grossly unfair. They are not anti-British – they just believe Britain would be better if it was not at war with Nature.
So what is the Daily Mail up to? I think it is essentially peddling xenophobia. This may well have originated as an evolutionary survival mechanism. However, today, in the absence of any predators, xenophobic tribalism is essentially a maladaptive coping strategy: It is a method of absolving oneself of responsibility for anything; and shifting the blame for everything on to somebody else.
This is essentially what climate change denial is: Many of those of a religious persuasion tell themselves humans cannot be changing the Earth’s climate (because God won’t allow that to happen). Many of those of a humanist persuasion tell themselves that we are not changing the Earth’s climate (because that would require us all to admit we have made a mess of things).
Seen in this light, we would all appear to be planet haters now. If we can admit this to ourselves and to each other; I think that this might be the first step on a long road towards doing something about it.
In the meantime, my response to those who think there is still something inherently evil about Communism is as follows:
It is amazing how so many – who no doubt consider themselves to be very much right-of-centre politically – forget that the first people to be called “Christians” would today be described as Communists.* So, I think a little less contempt is called for; and a lot less hypocrisy.
Marxism is essentially Industrialism without the Capitalism. Whereas Marxism prioritises production; Capitalism prioritises consumption. As such, both are deeply mired in the unsustainable delusion of ‘growthmania’. It may be that Capitalism has proven itself far better at wealth creation, but, neither system has proven to be very good at providing equal opportunity for all.
* The Bible makes it clear that, in the very earliest years at least, Christians formed a self-supporting community of people within which property and food were shared. Therefore, those who think there is something inherently evil about Communism have got stuck in the past: McCarthyism never did do anyone much good; and it is now at least 50 years out of date.
Having said all that, I am still not a ‘Watermelon’ (i.e. green on the outside but red on the inside). I remain a (non-financial) supporter of the Conservative Party and, as such, I live in the hope that one day soon it may stop allowing ideology to prejudice its attitude to science; and accept what climate scientists are telling us will happen if we do not take radical steps to decarbonise our economies by 2050. For goodness sake, even business leaders are now saying we must do this. What the hell are we waiting for?
UPDATE: On 1 October 2013, in a welcome attempt to put the record straight, The Daily Telegraph has re-published its very fair-minded obituary of Professor Ralph Milliband from its edition of 7 June 1994. (H/T Roger Davies [@4589roger] on Twitter).
Here is an email I have received from freelance photographer Nick Cobbing:
I was shocked to see pictures of Denis behind bars in the Russian courtroom on Thursday. I’m a freelance photographer too and I was about to replace him when the ship reached the next port. But now Denis is being held in jail for another 2 months, without charge.
Yesterday, a further eight Arctic activists appeared before a court in Murmansk, Russia. No charges were laid, but now all 30 are being detained for two months as Russian authorities pursue an investigation around piracy charges. Today, Greenpeace lawyers have launched an appeal against these detentions.
The Russian authorities are punishing those who have risked their liberty to highlight the madness of Arctic oil, while protecting the fossil fuel industry. It should be the other way around.
Join me in central London or at a venue near you, on October 5, as part of worldwide event to free the Arctic 30. Sign up to get an SMS or email with more details about events at various locations around the country.
I am relieved to see people all around the world speaking out in support my friends. Russian newspapers are blanking out images on their webpages to draw attention to it. Together we’ve sent over 660,000 messages to Russian embassies worldwide. We’ve made global headlines. Now we need to show our determination on the street.
On Friday, I went to the Russian embassy in London with my young son (pictured). I met his mother onboard the Arctic Sunrise four years ago. We all visited the ship again just a few months back. Some of the crew are like part of our family now: people like Haussy (the ship’s electrician from New Zealand), ‘Big John’ (outboard mechanic from Tonga), and Paul (first mate from Canada). It’s upsetting to think I was saying goodbye to them on the quayside in Norway only last month. Now they are facing up to two months in a Russian jail without charge.
I could have been behind bars in that courtroom yesterday. But instead I can stand with my brave colleagues and show them that they’re not alone. Join me in standing up for the Arctic 30 on October 5. We must show the world that blatant intimidation will not succeed.
I’ll do anything I can to get these guys home as soon as possible. Thanks for being there with me.
Freelance Photographer and part of the Greenpeace community
As promised earlier this month, this is the second part of my review of The Revenge of Gaia, as published by James Lovelock in 2006. Having been told by many people I should read it, I have now done so (almost). It is a deeply challenging book – for people with or without religious beliefs; and for people with or without strong views regarding the environment.
In the first part of my book review (as per the above link), I said that I thought the concept of Gaia was convincingly argued and well explained. Indeed, I still consider that to be the case.
However, throughout my reading of the book I have been troubled by a little voice in my head repeatedly reminding me that Lovelock has since said he was wrong to be such an Alarmist (April 2010) and/or Fracking is the answer to our energy problems (June 2012).
This kind of inconsistency and intellectual incoherence also runs right through the book. However, to be fair to Lovelock, once you have been fooled into thinking burning carbon is not the problem you once thought it was, fracking is bound to seem like a dream come true. I will return to this issue later but, for now, let’s get back to the book.
Just as it deeply inconsistent to argue that humanity is on a self-destructive path and then argue that it may not be so bad as we thought – or that now we know we are in a hole we should just keep on digging it deeper – it is also inconsistent to argue:
–(1) that the primary problem is the post-Industrial increase in the global human population and then argue that the best solutions may be highly technological and require the consumption of vast resources; and
–(2) that modern agriculture has reduced biodiversity and then argue that Rachel Carson was wrong see modern agriculture as the problem in her seminal book, Silent Spring, and that DDT should not have been banned.
Sadly, Lovelock does both of these (and more).
However, to be fair to Lovelock once again, he has always been pro-nuclear and anti-wind; and – in this book – he explains both positions very clearly and convincingly. There is no intellectual incoherence or internal inconsistency here. There is, however, a great deal to challenge the conventional wisdom of environmentalists. Although I think Lovelock takes his opposition to wind farms just a little too far, I think he is absolutely right to challenge the anti-nuclear stance of most environmentalists. However, once again, I think Lovelock damages his case by being a little too enthusiastic – offering to heat his own house by having a nuclear waste repository in his own back garden. However, rather than be side-tracked into a debate about the safety of the civil nuclear power generation, let’s do as Lovelock does – and review all the options.
Lovelock prefaces all his remarks by pointing out how completely dependent modern civilisation is upon the constancy of supply of electricity. Given this, he then looks at all the energy sources we could use to generate this electricity, starting with fossil fuels:
Bizarrely, Lovelock begins by trying to falsify the argument that fossil fuels are a finite non-renewable source of energy. Sure, their energy is ultimately derived from the Sun, but, if we are using them up many times faster than they are formed, their potential future formation is irrelevant (as is the fact that the Sun is also a finite source of energy). However, before moving on to compare individual fossil fuels, Lovelock does make the valid point that there is nothing “unnatural” about using them; and then concludes by making the fundamental point that the rate at which they are now being burnt vastly overwhelms the planet’s natural capacity to recycle the CO2 produced by our doing so.
Lovelock then begins his comparative review of fossil fuels by pointing out the inefficiencies of burning any solid or liquid fuel to generate electricity; whilst also acknowledging that the petroleum industry can produce petrol, diesel and aviation fuel from natural gas. However, in a way that makes his most recent pronouncements about Fracking appear very strange, he then goes on to point out all the problems of reliance upon natural gas: These arise from the fact that it is very hard to prevent between 2 and 4 percent of methane escaping without being burnt. As lovelock explains, because methane is nearly 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas (GHG), the warming effect of the unburned methane is almost equivalent to that caused by burning the methane that does not escape. This is just one reason why relying on natural gas is not a good idea.
Along the way, Lovelock also alludes to the problems of scaling-up carbon capture and storage (CCS) to the point that it becomes effective (i.e. atmospheric CO2 concentrations will only begin to fall when sequestration is greater than emissions). He points out that, as with every other technological innovation in history, it will probably take humanity about 50 years to get to the stage where this is happening globally. In 2006, at least, Lovelock was adamant that time is a luxury humanity does not have; and that we must stop using fossil fuels (for generating heat and power) as soon as practicable (within a decade being suggested as a sensible target).
Although I have not completed Lovelock’s review of all our energy options, I think I will stop there. The rest of my book review will have to wait. However, I would just like to conclude by returning to the subject of Lovelock’s subsequent pronouncements (2010 and 2012). In light of the most recent statements by the IPCC, these would now appear to have been very foolish indeed: Gaia is not mocked; and as humanity sows, so it shall reap.
The text below is reproduced from a comment I have just posted on the Climate Slate website. The comment itself was prompted by my having recently watched the movie ‘Chasing Ice’, conceived and produced by James Balog and Jeff Orlowski. This documents how James came to set up the Extreme Ice Survey and reveals some genuinely alarming facts such as the reality that many of the Earth’s glaciers have retreated further in the last 10 years than they did in the entire 20th Century.
Without further ado, therefore, here is my comment:
With apologies to all, I have not got time to argue percentages with anyone. There is today no legitimate debate about whether the end of the [Holocene] sea level and climate stability of the last 12 thousand years is human caused. This is because its ending cannot be explained solely by reference to natural forces (i.e. those that operate on shorter timescales and/or are random).
Those with a vested interest in the continuation of business as usual have turned residual uncertainty in climate science into unreasonable doubt regarding climate scientists. Given that the tobacco industry did this so successfully to medical science, it is not really that surprising that the fossil fuel industry has copied its modus operandi. What is surprising, however, is that so many perfectly intelligent people have been (and continue to be) fooled by the same ‘Merchants of Doubt‘ (e.g. fooled by ‘Astroturf‘ groups into believing that they are in a fight to preserve their liberty).
There is only one plausible explanation for this, which is that people prefer conspiracy theories to reality because they make them feel better about the World and/or themselves. However, I think it is time for people everywhere to stop reading their ‘bedtime stories’; and start dealing with reality.
The worst-case scenario is that anthropogenic climate disruption continues to accelerate and becomes unstoppable (i.e. climate sensitivity becomes irrelevant because no new equilibrium will be reached). If we allow that to happen, the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history will be inevitable. Fortunately, amongst those best-qualified to have a valid opinion, the majority view is that change is not quite unstoppable yet. However, the majority view is also that the change we have caused is already – and will be – irreversible in any timescale meaningful to humanity (i.e. it will take tens of thousands of years to be reversed).
“The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition [of CO2 to the atmosphere] is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more.”
Anyone genuinely open to the idea of following the evidence wherever it leads should be very concerned by the carefully-considered choice of words in the above ‘Position Statement on Climate Change’ published by the Geological Society of London (or, indeed, any similar statement by any equivalent National body anywhere in the World).
To dismiss this as politically-correct fear-mongering is to admit you are a conspiracy theorist.
If you have not already done so, please get ‘Chasing Ice’ out on DVD. Failing that, at least view the photographs (e.g. below – click on image for more) and/or the time-lapse photography on the Extreme Ice Survey website.
…At the going down of the Sun, and in the morning, you should remember them.
The following is extracted from a post on the Center for American Progress (CAP) website yesterday, by Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at CAP, which was entitled, ’10 Truths that Should Be Said at This Week’s House Climate Change Hearing. The article was published in advance of yet another travesty of modern democracy on Capitol Hill this week – a House of Representatives Committee meeting where scientifically illiterate politicians try to validate their prejudiced beliefs by getting scientists to tell them that anthropogenic climate disruption is just a smokescreen for a Communist and/or Zionist plot to stall Western development. However, I should really let Daniel explain the context…
This Wednesday, September 18, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee will conduct a long-overdue hearing on climate change. It is unfortunately not to seek scientific facts from reputable institutions, such as the National Academy of Sciences, the American Meteorological Society, and similar experts, as requested 27 times by Ranking Committee and Subcommittee Members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL). Instead, the hearing is titled “The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policies and Activities.”
The scheduled witnesses are Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. During the hearing, they will probably be subjected to a barrage of phony claims by the 14 climate-science deniers who are serving on the subcommittee in an attempt to discredit President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. These members undoubtedly will repeat the false and misleading claims made by the big polluting utilities, coal companies, oil companies, and other special interests that profit from the status quo of no limits on carbon pollution.
Instead of these stale attacks on settled climate science, hyperinflated estimates of the cost of cleanup, or denial of executive authority to act, here are 10 truths that should be said at the hearing.
Here, then, is the list of 10 facts. Anyone feeling the need to dispute any of the following needs to explain the existence of all data from which the reality of these facts has been deduced (see CAP website for details).
1. Climate science is settled.
Similar to the tobacco industry denying that smoking cigarettes can cause cancer, many big polluters and organizations funded by them continue to deny the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change. Nonetheless, the overwhelming scientific verdict is in: Industrial carbon and other pollutants are responsible for climate change.
2. Climate change harms Americans and our economy.
Spewing carbon pollution into the air may be free to coal-fired power plants and oil refineries, but Americans bear the costs. The 25 most damaging climate-related storms, floods, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires in 2011 and 2012 took more than 1,100 lives and caused a total of $188 billion in damages. The number of these extreme weather events, as well as the price tag, has grown over the past three decades.
3. Military leaders warn that climate change will harm national security.
Earlier this year, U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III said that climate change poses the greatest security threat in the Pacific region. What’s more, the Defense Department’s latest Quadrennial Defense Review Report warned that climate change “may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.”
4. There is no limit on carbon pollution from power plants.
Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of the industrial carbon pollution emitted in the United States. Yet these plants can generate unlimited tons of carbon pollution, even though there are restrictions on their mercury, acid rain, and smog pollution. President Obama’sClimate Action Plan would set carbon-pollution standards for new and existing power plants.
5. The Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to set carbon-pollution standards.
The Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA ruled that climate change pollutants are covered under the Clean Air Act, and as such, the agency’s administrator must consider whether these pollutants “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” If the administrator finds that this is the case, he or she has the authority to limit pollutant emissions. President George W. Bush’s EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and President Obama’s Administrator Lisa Jackson both made this endangerment finding based on science. This decision provides the legal basis for the EPA to set carbon-pollution limits on power plants, oil refineries, and other major industrial polluters.
6. Pollution-reduction programs create jobs.
Requirements to reduce air pollution create jobs because they require companies to invest in new equipment, practices, or technologies, all of which generate additional employment. Likewise, a carbon-pollution standard for power plants would generate thousands of jobs in labor-intensive energy-efficiency retrofits in buildings; the manufacture, installation, and operation of wind and solar power; and other investments necessary to slash this pollution.
7. Carbon-pollution reductions will increase energy efficiency, saving consumers money.
Reducing wasteful electricity is a cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. This involves improving transmission lines, employing smart-grid technology to better manage electricity use, and making buildings and homes more efficient. Using less electricity will also save consumers money by lowering their electric bills.
8. Carbon-pollution reductions are affordable.
Resources for the Future, or RFF, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that a “4 percent reduction in the average emissions rate [of power plants] … results in a reduction of 93 million short tons of carbon dioxide emissions” but would lead to an electricity-rate rise of only 1.3 percent. This approach would achieve $25 billion annually in net benefits, according to RFF. With energy efficiency measures, consumers could actually save money because they will use less electricity.
9. U.S. leadership will increase worldwide pollution reductions.
Time and again, the United States recruits other nations to join its climate-pollution-reduction efforts. Earlier this month, the members of the G-20 agreed to support additional measures to use the Montreal Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs—a super pollutant that is a significantly more potent climate pollutant than carbon dioxide. China recently announcedthat it will ban new coal-fired power plants in three regions, including Beijing, in order to cut its share of coal usage to below 65 percent by 2017.
10. Regulations prompt increased investment and innovation to reduce coal pollution.
Congressional supporters of big coal companies argue that “carbon capture and storage,” or CCS, technology to burn coal with significantly fewer emissions is far from commercialization and too costly… Unfortunately, many of these legislators voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, which would have provided billions of dollars for CCS research and deployment. Now they oppose the EPA’s efforts to attack climate change, which would boost the development of CCS and enable many coal plants to continue operation while slashing their pollution.
Secretary of Energy Moniz and EPA Administrator McCarthy will likely mention many of these important truths—as will Reps. Waxman and Rush on the subcommittee. It’s time for all committee members to acknowledge these truths, so that Congress can support solutions to the growing health and economic threats posed by climate change.
Activity levels in the deniosphere have been very high this week, following the publication of the usual nonsense from David Rose in the Mail on Sunday on 8 September 2013. Whilst I cannot be bothered to even try and engage with people on that blog, I did attempt to do so with readers on Mike Adams’ Natural News (NN) blog (see my previous post on this blog). Sadly, even on that very ill-judged republication, the levels of selective deafness amongst Mike Adams’ readers would appear to be very high.
As anyone who has attempted to reason with those who believe climate science is a Communist conspiracy will tell you, circular arguments are very common. However, I think the example below is an absolute classic.
The same blogger who drew my attention to the NN article also pointed me in the direction of a rebuttal on the WordPress blog of the UK’s Meteorological Office. In response to a number of comments on that blog, I have posted a number of replies (all of which are currently awaiting moderation). However, in a style reminiscent of ‘Denier Comment of the Day’ on uknowispeaksense, I would like to draw attention to one comment in particular (and my response to it):
Judge Fudge (@jdey123) (16:27:20) 13/09/2013
Records of arctic sea ice extent starting only in 1979 are way too recent to make meaningful conclusions. Antarctic sea ice extent is in any case increasing. How come this is continually ignored? We are told that global surface temperature pause is due to the ocean absorbing more heat, yet this year, arctic [sea ice] extent has increased more than 50% from that recorded last year and Antarctic sea ice extent is above average. The myth has unravelled. Why are taxpayers paying for the Met Office to promote Marxist ideology hidden as environmental concerns? It’s time for the Coalition government to stop funding these people.
Martin Lack (10:37:46) 14/09/2013
So, what you’re saying is this: You cannot draw any firm conclusions from a 34-year accelerating loss of sea ice but you want the World to do just that on the basis of a 15-year pause in a multi-decadal warming trend.
For the record, the above was actually my second reply to Judge Fudge. This was my first:
Martin Lack (20:50:30) 13/09/2013
The Antarctic is colder than it would otherwise be because of the hole in the ozone layer above it (another example of how humans can affect the environment). Antarctica is also completely surrounded by a huge expanse of uninterrupted, cold ocean. Despite all of this, however, the Antarctic Peninsula is the fastest-warming place in the southern hemisphere. The only myth that is unravelling is the 50-year-out-of-date paranoia that everything you don’t like the sound of must be part of a Communist (or Zionist) plot for World domination.