Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

BBC Panorama on the Energy Crisis in the UK

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The BBC have very helpfully posted the recent Panorama programme ‘Energy Bills: Power Failure’ on YouTube (as embedded below). Presented by Tom Heap (who regularly does spots on CountryFile), it is very fair-minded and includes contributions from a wide range of people. Therefore, even if you do not live in the UK, I would recommend watching the programme because: it is very good at describing the problems that we all face; and makes it crystal clear that we must find a solution (but does so in a way that somehow avoids being dogmatic).

Some questions I would like help in answering are as follows:
1. What is the instrumental music used in the opening night-time sequence in Blackpool?
2. Why do so many poor people use the most expensive (pay-as-you-go) way to heat their homes?
3. Can we give Angel Gurria (Secretary-General of OECD) a Nobel Prize for plain-speaking?
4. How can anyone avoid concluding that Ed Milliband is an opportunist and a con-man?
5. Why did the CEO of RWE nPower not admit profit margin on generation (as opposed to sales)?
6. Is the need for decarbonisation actually incompatible with power generation being privatised?
7. Why has carbon capture and storage not been made a priority in order to continue burning coal?
8. Is it realistic to think that (in a post-carbon era) energy will ever be cheaper than it is now?
9. When will the UK government admit that fracking is not actually low-carbon and (thus) not the answer?
10. Has Michael Fallon not read the BGS report that says only 10% of shale gas is probably recoverable?

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UPDATE (23/12/2013): I think the answer to Q1 is “Burn”  by Ellie Goulding (see comments below).

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.  

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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?

The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood

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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.

The importance of being earnestly wrong

with 5 comments

I began my previous post by asking the question: “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?”  I followed this by observing that:  “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.”

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is, of course, a very funny and very famous book by Oscar Wilde.  Sadly, this post is neither funny nor famous (not yet, anyway).  In fact, this post is prompted mainly by a TED video (embedded below) of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz – the author of ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’.

As the TED website makes clear, in its biography of her, Kathryn is a journalist who has written articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines and is also a former editor of the Grist blog.  She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East.

Anyone who automatically assumes 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…  needs to watch this video.  Although this may sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it probably is not.

Earlier this year, the movie ’Greedy Lying Bastards’ went on general release – and so will soon be available on DVD.  Accordingly, reviews are now appearing in the media again.  This one by Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian website is typical.  For many people, therefore, the truth that the fossil fuel companies have financed a longstanding campaign to perpetuate doubt regarding climate science is a well-established fact – as incontestable as the fact that the tobacco industry did exactly the same for decades in order to sell as many cigarettes as possible.  However, there remains a sizeable minority of people on this planet for whom, it seems, the very repetition of this fact is proof of its falsity.  For these people, who generally decided what they wanted the truth to be a very long time ago, any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right (or that the person presenting the evidence has been duped by – or is part of – the conspiracy to perpetuate a lie).

Of course, if you try and point this out to such people, you are accused of peddling your own conspiracy theory.  However, tobacco companies have been taken to court and found guilty of trying to hide the link between cancer and smoking.  Climate scientists have only ever been taken to court for saying things fossil fuel companies do not want us to hear.  This too will be dismissed by the factually-challenged as evidence of a wider conspiracy; now including the judiciary.  However, for these people, is there no point at which the simplest explanation (which is supported by observable and documentary evidence) becomes more reasonable than an ever-expanding conspiracy (which is not supported by the vast majority of available evidence)?

This brings me back to something else I said on my previous post:

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.

So, again, the question remains:  What about all those people who are not being paid to misinform (i.e. the so-called ‘Merchants of Doubt)’?  How do we explain their existence – and how can we tell the difference between those who are being deliberately deceitful and those who are merely wilfully ignorant?  To be blunt, how can we spot the difference between someone who is just bigoted and someone who is being paid to be wrong?

I am afraid that I do not know for sure but, having spent an entire year carefully examining all the evidence, I am entirely satisfied by the scientific, historical, and observational evidence – and the logical arguments – that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the Earth’s climate.  Therefore, although I can never be certain, despite everything Kathryn Schulz says in the above video, I think it is legitimate to question either the sanity or motives of anyone who repeatedly ignores the fact that their arguments have been shown to flawed; and/or repeatedly re-states things that can easily be determined to be false.

No-one should be in any doubt about this: such people are not being sceptical; they are in denial.

Sadly, I recently had to delete an entire comment on my most recent post by someone identified only as ‘Oakwood’. He or she claims a professional need to remain anonymous but spends an awful lot of time posting comments on blogs by non-experts such as Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat), Steven McIntyre (ClimateAudit) and Andrew Montford (BishopHill).  It is, therefore, not that surprising that much of the content of what Oakwood’s comments elsewhere can be traced back to things by these non-experts (whose arguments have all been repeatedly falsified and discredited).

I therefore decided to send Oakwood an email in which I started by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts…”  In response, Oakwood started by saying he agreed with that assertion but, sadly, followed it with yet another re-statement of his own “facts” that are not actually facts at all… Then, as if to add insult to injury, Oakwood followed that litany of previously debunked arguments and climate myths (which I will look at in detail tomorrow), with this masterpiece of unfalsifiability:

…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’.

This is a self-sealing argument that is entirely predicated on conspiracy theory:  If the consensus is real, reliable and reasonable, there is no legitimate reason to doubt the science.  Therefore, 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.

Tomorrow, probably not for the last time, I will rebut all of Oakwood’s “facts” in part two of this series, entitled: ‘The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood’.

Why the World Bank says we must decarbonise now

with 30 comments

In the context of 3 billion years of history, are we now witnessing the ‘last hours’ of most life on Earth?
(Click photo and/or read below for more information)

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.

James Lovelock stuck between a rock and a hard place

with 7 comments

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).

10 inconvenient truths for climate ‘sceptics’ everywhere…

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…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…

Smoke rises from the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana

Smoke rises from the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Montana (SOURCE: AP/Matthew Brown)

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.

Conclusion
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.

Conservatives for conservation (of a habitable planet)

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Whilst I am aware of – and have previously quoted – Lord Deben (i.e. leader of of the Committee on Climate Change – the advisory group David Cameron and George Osborne are ignoring so studiously), I was not aware of the campaign he is heading on Twitter.  Thanks must therefore go to John Havery Samuel for alerting me to James  Murray’s Are the Green Tories preparing a fight back? article on the BusinessGreen website.

As a child, just about everyone in the UK will probably remember learning about the story of Elijah humiliating the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (i.e. as recounted in 1 Kings 18 in the Old Testament).  However, not all may recall the crisis of faith that followed this tremendous victory (see 1 Kings 19).  Although I have never really had the moment of victory, I often feel that I have sure spent a long time having a crisis of faith.  However, once you appreciate that I am a socially-conservative environmental realist (see links below if you don’t believe me), I think my persistent feeling that I am in an extreme minority becomes entirely understandable.

I would very much recommend that you read the entire story (i.e. of Green Conservatives preparing a fight back) on James’ blog.  Hopefully these opening paragraphs will encourage you to do so:

One of the bright spots in an otherwise pretty dispiriting summer for the UK environmental movement has been the unlikely emergence of Tory grandee John Gummer as Twitter’s latest eco-warrior. Now known as Lord Deben, the former Environment Secretary and current chair of the independent Committee on Climate Change has provided a beacon of centre-right common sense on matters environmental – and all in 140 characters.

He has argued that fracking may be useful, but will never provide a silver bullet for the UK’s energy crisis; repeatedly challenged “climate deniers and dismissers” to provide one example of a credible institution that supports their crackpot theories; and taken numerous pot shots at ill-informed anti-green commentators and several of his climate denying colleagues in the Lords. All because, in his own words, “no reasonable person would ignore expert opinion and wager his children’s future on the contrarian views of people who are not peer reviewed”.

It has been a breath of fresh air and a useful reminder that not all Conservatives have signed up to the reckless vision being relentlessly promoted by Lord Lawson and the Murdoch press – a vision whereby fracking miraculously saves the economy and climate change is either not really happening or left to look after itself. They may not have access to the media foghorm enjoyed by their less progressive colleagues, but there are some Tories who still understand the existential threat posed by climate change, the value of the green economy, and the relationship between conservation and Conservatism. The big question for the UK’s green political scene is whether or not there are enough of them and whether they can wrestle back control of a narrative that Lord Lawson and his friends have recently steered in their own direction.

For those that would challenge my assertion that I am (or can be) ‘socially conservative’, I can only refer you to things I have written on this blog previously:

A brief history of mine (12 March 2012).

Why I am not a socialist (25 June 2012).

Why I am not [just] a capitalist (26 June 2012).

Similarly, for those that would challenge my assertion that I am an environmental realist, I can only refer you to the following:

The problem with inverting reality (31 January 2012).

Conserving mass, water and energy (11 July 2012).

Entropy – an unauthorised biography (7 September 2012).

Why the Conservative Party is not acting in the public interest

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The Conservative Party in the UK hit a new low this week
The Party leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron, clearly felt that the last week before Parliament’s summer holidays was a good week to try and bury some bad news.  I think he failed.  I also think that posterity will reveal that he was very unwise to think he would succeed.

Having done something very unusual in politics – come up with some sensible policy initiatives that played well with the public – the Conservative Party has now very publicly decided that it will not bring forward legislation to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging and to enforce a minimum price per for alcohol.

Even if Lynton Crosby has not officially lobbied the government on behalf of the tobacco industry, he is on record as having told them to “scrape the barnacles off the boat”.  This advice was intended – indeed it was understood – to convey the need to ditch unimportant or peripheral policies in the run up to the next General Election in 2015.

And so it is that – in order to avoid people concluding that it has caved in to pressure from the tobacco industry and put commercial interests above those of long-term public health – the Conservative Party in the UK has admitted that it considers long-term public health to be unimportant.

It has taken some doing but, I must now admit, I am almost ashamed to say I vote Conservative.

In an attempt to avoid appearing not to be acting in the public interest, the Conservative Party has now inadvertently admitted that it really is not acting in the public interest.  How mad is that?

Cynics (and socialists) will of course question, “When has it ever acted in the public interest?”  To an extent, this criticism may be justified.  Indeed, for me, the Conservative Party has generally been the least-worst option.

The Conservative Party may still be the least-worst option
The Labour Party has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to manage the public finances.  However, if it can extricate itself from the problem of being controlled by its very own special interest group – namely the Trade Union movement – there may yet be some hope for it.

Meanwhile, of course, the problem with the Liberal Democrats is that I think they are, err, well, too Liberal (funnily enough).  They are the go-to party of anyone with an alternative lifestyle but lacking the environmental focus to back the Green Party.

As for the Green Party, well, unless or until we change our electoral system in the UK, voting for them will remain a wasted vote (unless you happen to live in Brighton).

If UKIP could actually breakthrough the glass ceiling created by our undemocratic FPTP voting system – and actually look likely to come first in any parliamentary constituency – I would certainly find myself drawn to its core message.  However, in reality, I will never vote for UKIP until it stops trying to out-do the Tea Party movement in the USA in some kind of global competition to see who can be the most consistently anti-science.  Indeed, I am surprised that UKIP has not included in its manifesto a commitment to have Creationism taught in schools.

Of course, the real problem with politics in the UK is that, as in the USA, it has been completely corrupted by money.  The only solution that could possibly put real power back in the hands of ordinary people (apart from changing the voting system of course) would be the public funding of all political parties and the prohibition of large donations of any kind to any party.  Here again, the Conservative Party has refused to allow this to happen (even though Labour was willing to discuss it).

So what is to be done?  I don’t know really.  However, what I do know is that the events of this week have further undermined public confidence in the extent to which the UK can be described as a representative democracy.  It is certainly a very long way from being ruled by a government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Indeed, the UK would appear to be ruled by a government of the people, by the puppets, for the plutocrats.

Sadly, there is no reason on Earth why anyone should be surprised about any of this.

There is no excuse for being blissfully ignorant
It is now at least 20 years since it became widely known that big business was controlling politics in Western countries.  Whether it be big pharma, big tobacco, big agriculture or big oil… Big business has been playing the role of master political puppeteer for decades.  Ever since environmental concerns first drove the US government to implement sensible regulation in the 1970s (which many other countries then copied), big business has been quietly and relentlessly working behind the scenes to get as much of it as possible repealed; and to prevent any new stuff from being enacted.  In fact, it is amazing that things like the 1979 Convention to deal with Acid Rain (etc), the 1989 Montreal Protocol to ban CFCs, or the 1991 Madrid Protocol to protect the Antarctic were ever implemented.

However, the thing I find most amazing of all is that so many people are still fooled by the propaganda and lies that big business feeds them.  It is almost as if they are all patients in a psychiatric hospital being kept calm and compliant by a daily cocktail of drugs.

Just as the tobacco industry did, since 1989 at least, the fossil fuel industry has spent hundreds of millions of US dollars convincing people that the relevant science is uncertain and that environmentalists are out to stall Western development and/or curtail their freedom.  It is almost as if everyone is content to stay in The Matrix and remain blissfully unaware of the nature of reality.

However, I remain hopeful that the silent majority will soon wake up to what is going on.  A first step in this process would be for people to learn to differentiate genuine grassroots organisations like Avaaz and 350.org from industry-funded astroturf organisations like Americans for Prosperity… or any number of similar highly co-ordinated and internationally linked conservative think tanks (CTTs).

In the UK this week, we have been given a rare glimpse behind the curtain; and it is not a pretty sight. What most people need to do now is indulge in a spot of lateral thinking and wake up to the fact that big businesses do not generally operate in the public interest; they mainly operate to serve the interests of those who are already extremely wealthy (i.e. the 1%); and their primary weapon of choice to get their way is the CTTs.

Recognising environmental scepticism as a violation of the public interest
According to research done by a team headed by Peter Jacques, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, an analysis of books published between 1972 and 2005 identified 141 expressing scepticism regarding the reality, necessity, or urgency of addressing environmental problems.  Of these 141 books, 92% were authored and/or published by someone with direct links to CTTs (Jacques et al. 2008: 349).  Furthermore, in ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, they concluded that:

Since environmentalism is unique among social movements in its heavy reliance on scientific evidence to support its claims… it is not surprising that CTTs would launch a direct assault on environmental science by promoting environmental scepticism in their efforts to oppose the environmental movement… Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement.  Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement co-ordinated by CTTs… (ibid: 353, 364)

The following year, Jacques summarised the conclusion of all the above research, in his book Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life, by saying:

…environmental scepticism… is not just a set of independent rebel scientists… the sceptical counter-movement is organised… to defend [the status quo] against the environmental movement… to stave off changes to globalism. (Jacques 2009: 37)

Jacques has also highlighted the central aim of CTTs as being to cause confusion and doubt amongst the general public, in order to prevent the creation of a popular mandate for change (i.e. achieved, as noted previously, by countering supposedly ‘junk science’ with their ‘sound science’), which he refers to as the “science trap” (ibid: 148).

However, the ultimate conclusion Jacques draws from all of this research is that environmental scepticism is a social counter-movement that uses CTTs to provide “political insulation for industry and ideology from public scrutiny”; and that this deliberate obfuscation stems from a realisation that “anti-environmentalism is an attitude that most citizens would consider a violation of the public interest” (ibid: 169).

Image credit: Mirror Group Newspapers

Voting Conservative may seriously damage your health (and that of the planet)
This week, the Conservative Party in the UK has validated this research by demonstrating that it is willing to ignore the advice of health professionals and instead do what will keep the tobacco and alcohol producers happy.

The public should therefore be in do doubt that this is also what it is doing for the fossil fuel industry.

Addendum (1100 hrs, 20 July 2013)
Despite being told that fracking would probably be profitable as it is, the government is going to give the industry massive tax breaks to accelerate development.  

Now we know burning fossil fuels is the problem we should not be finding evermore ingenious ways to burn them.

Written by Martin Lack

20 July 2013 at 00:02

My final word on Fracking?

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Professor Iain Stewart presenting one of his many excellent TV programmes (this one about the north-west of Scotland).

(Probably not!)

Herewith appended below is an email I sent today to Professor Iain Stewart (and copied to all those named in it).

However, please note that I have just found the BBC TV programme to which it refers has now been posted on You Tube (also appended below).

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Dear Professor Stewart,

I wanted to express my appreciation for the sensitive way in which you handled the issues in last night’s Horizon programme and for all the facts, figures and research findings it contained.  I was particularly interested in the evidence that shale gas has escaped from poorly-constructed wells in the USA.  Even if the UK can improve on the 6 to 7% failure rate in the USA, 100% success (i.e. no failures) is highly improbable.  Therefore, if fracking must be pursued (for whatever reason), this would make it imperative that the British Geological Survey establish baseline monitoring for methane as soon as possible. Would it be possible to get a copy of the transcript of the programme (or a list of References)?

Given my geological background and my MA in Environmental Politics, I have written a great deal about Fracking and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) on my blog.  However, having started out very much opposed to both Fracking and CCS, my position has evolved as a consequence of ‘exchanges of views’ I had last year with Professor Peter Styles (Keele) and with Professor Robert Mair (Cambridge/Royal Society).  As a result of these exchanges – summarised or linked to here on my blog – I would agree with Peter that we probably need shale gas.  However, I believe Peter also agrees with me that we probably cannot afford it*.  I also understand that the remit of the Royal Society specifically excluded the long-term sustainability implications of pursuing fracking.

Nevertheless, this leaves me wondering whether you could encourage the BBC to do a second programme to address the consequences of humans burning all the Earth’s fossil fuels simply because they are there; and/or the need for ‘Western’ per capita energy consumption to be drastically reduced?  Having read David MacKay’s book, Sustainable Energy: Without The Hot Air, I think our biggest problem is that most people do not think holistically about the problems we face or, even worse, they seem to think concepts such as ‘ecological carrying capacity‘ are just [eco-Fascist] propaganda.  However, although it would seem that CCS is now going to be essential in order to minimise anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), I think it is also the biggest obstacle to getting politicians to take decisive action to decarbonise our power generation systems.

Even if such a second Horizon programme is not likely, I remain very appreciative of all you have done – and are doing – to raise the profile of ACD as an Earth Science issue that should be of concern to all.

Kind regards, [etc]

* If fracking becomes the new energy boom, it is very hard to see how CCS will ever be able to be rolled-out on a global scale to keep pace with unabated CO2 emissions.

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