Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Climate change denial IS conspiracy theory

with 42 comments

I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change.  People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.

However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet.  This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts.  Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:

Scientific conspiracy theories:  ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).

Political conspiracy theories:  ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).

Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it.  This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.

Stephan Lewandowsky

In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things:  NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.

In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research.  Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.

Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether.  Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) - who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.

As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:

On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.

Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website –  the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).

If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.

It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.

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UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction

This is participatory democracy in action

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Fantastic news!  Despite all their attempts to obfuscate, the Conservative Party’s attempt to curtail democracy in the UK has been defeated.  This is how 38 Degrees reported the news to me by email.

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Dear Martin,

Great news. Last night the government was defeated in a crucial House of Lords vote on the gagging law. [1] A key change which took out one of the worst parts of the bill was voted through.  There’s more to do, but this is a huge step forward.Over 160,000 people signed the last-minute petition to ask Lords to back these important changes. [2] It helped tip the balance and people power worked.  The petition was integral in winning the vote and persuading Lords to protect freedom of speech.

Just before the big vote, Lord Harries – who proposed the changes – was handed the massive petition, and he referred to it several times during the debate.

The proposed changes were backed by Lords from across the political spectrum.  Lord Tyler, an influential Lib Dem peer, joined with Baroness Mallalieu (Labour) and Lord Cormack (Conservative), to support the amendment. [3] The government were defeated by 237 votes to 194.

Lord Harries receiving the petition
Lord Harries receiving the petition in the House of Lords just before the debate.

Lord Harries said:
“Thank you to everyone who added their name to the petition. It was amazingly powerful that I was able to tell fellow Lords during the debate, that I had with me a petition with the names of over 130 NGOs who had signed up to the petition and a staggering 160,000+ signatures of people who have spoken out about this dangerous law.

This was an impressive achievement which will not have been lost on their lordships.  As a result, I am pleased to say that we defeated the Government on some of the worst parts of their proposals.“

The campaign is working and together we’ve got the government on the back foot.But we’re not out of the woods yet.  Next week, on the 21st January, the Lords will hold their final vote on changes to the law.

And if we manage to push through further changes, there’s a chance that the government may try to undo our hard work by calling a fresh vote in the House of Commons.  So we’ll each need to keep an eye on our MPs.

“Thanks so much to everyone who’s taken action against the gagging law so far. It’s been amazing to see people power in action. We’ve made great strides in protecting democracy, but the fight’s not over yet”
Liz Hutchins – Friends of the Earth

It’s been an amazing campaign so far, with 38 Degrees members up and down the country throwing the kitchen sink at the gagging law. [4] This isn’t the first time that 38 Degrees members have caused a stir on a big vote in Parliament.  Together we’ve won votes on protecting our forests, stopping Rupert Murdoch and the privatisation of the NHS.

But this is about more than just political point scoring.  Some of our core values are around protecting democracy and fairness.  38 Degrees members have shown again that we will stand up together for what we believe in – and that when we do, it makes a real difference.

Thanks for everything you do,

Robin, David, Belinda and the 38 Degrees team

P.S. Here’s a little more detail on what happened in the Lords last night:

Lord Harries’ amendment (amendment 45) centred on staff costs for charities and campaign groups. [5]

The government wanted the gagging law to place heavy restrictions on how much campaigning work staff at charities or campaigning groups could do.  That could have meant, for example, limits on how many public meetings about the NHS 38 Degrees staff could help organise.

Amendment 45 removed most of these restrictions on staff.

You can see the wording of the amendment, and a full list of who voted for it, here: http://www.parliament.uk/Templates/LordsDivisions/Pages/LordsDivisions.aspx?id=51023&epslanguage=en&date=2014-Jan-15&itemId=1&session=2013-May-08

There are still other big problems with the gagging law – such as restrictions on campaigning in individual constituencies, and restrictions which hinder charities and campaign groups working together in coalitions.  Votes on these issues were postponed until next week – so there’ll be more to do to make sure they go the right way.

NOTES:
[1] The Guardian: Peers vote to exclude some staff costs from charity spending limits: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/15/peers-vote-exclude-staff-charity-spending
[2] The petition: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/fix-the-gagging-law#petition
[3] Hansard transcript of the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/ml50-R-II-rev.htm
[4] Gagging law public meetings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlGKzTuDp60
[5] Lord Harries’ amendments in full: http://civilsocietycommission.info/lord-harries-of-pentregarths-amendments/


38 Degrees is funded entirely by donations from thousands of members across the UK. Making a regular donation will mean 38 Degrees can stay independent and plan for future campaigns. Please will you chip in a few pounds a week? https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/start-a-direct-debit

38 DEGREES Registered Company No. 6642193

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As I have now said to my (evangelical Christian) Conservative MP (who was not persuaded by prior argument):

” I am glad that sanity has prevailed… and that it was a retired Anglican bishop who helped it do so.”

Written by Martin Lack

16 January 2014 at 19:26

George Monbiot is as incisive as ever

with 9 comments

I admit it, even though I am (or would like to be) socially conservative, George Monbiot is one of my heroes. His long track record of illuminating the stupidity of climate change scepticism was one of the reasons I decided to pursue the subject in my MA research.

In his most recent offering on his blog (and in the Guardian on 20 August), George has brillianly highlighted the astounding double standards at the heart of current UK energy policy:

“The government is introducing a special veto for local people to prevent the construction of wind turbines… [Whereas the] government’s new planning guidance makes [Fracking] developments almost impossible to refuse… If local voters don’t like it, they can go to hell…

It has taken me 20 years and an MA in Environmental Politics to work out why I was so uncomfortable being involved in the extractive industries (i.e. mineral exploitation). George achieved this in little more than a few minutes:

Extracting resources, like war, is the real deal: what politicians seem to consider a proper, manly pursuit. Conserving energy or using gas from waste or sustaining fish stocks are treated as the concerns of sissies and hippies: even if, in hard economic terms, they make more sense.

The graphical nature of reality

with one comment

In response to demand (and comments submitted), here is yesterday’s post in graphical form:

what ifglobalwarming_theories
Questioning the reality, reliability, or reasonableness of the consensus understanding of atmospheric physics (i.e. that post-1850 warming cannot be explained unless 40% extra atmospheric CO2 is the main driver) can only be justified by believing that the majority of climate scientists are either stupid, mistaken or corrupt.

Whistleblower or security threat?

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The link between the Edward Snowden story and the theme of this blog is somewhere between tenuous and non-existent.  However, I am really fed up with anyone who is passionate about the issue of environmental sustainability being labelled “anti-Capitalist” – and I am equally fed up with whistleblowers being labelled as security threats.

Is Edward Snowden a whistleblower or an international security threat?  If you are undecided, please read this message from Avaaz:

This 29-year-old just gave up his whole life to blow the whistle on the US’s insane PRISM program — which has hacked all our emails, Skype messages and Facebook posts for years. If millions of us act urgently and get behind him, we can help press the US to crack down on PRISM, not Edward. Let’s stand with him before it’s too late:

Sign the petition

This 29 year-old analyst just gave up his whole life – his girlfriend, his job, and his home — to blow the whistle on the US government’s shocking PRISM program — which has been reading and recording our emails, Skype messages, Facebook posts and phone calls for years.

When Bradley Manning passed this kind of data to Wikileaks, the US threw him naked into solitary confinement in conditions that the UN called “cruel, inhumane and degrading”.

The authorities and press are deciding right now how to handle this scandal. If millions of us stand with Edward in the next 48 hours, it will send a powerful statement that he should be treated like the brave whistleblower that he is, and it should be PRISM, and not Edward, that the US cracks down on:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_prism_global/?bSkdncb&v=25820

PRISM is profoundly disturbing: it gives the US government unlimited access to all of our personal email and social media accounts on Google, Youtube, Facebook, Skype, Hotmail, Yahoo! and much more. They’re recording billions of our messages every month and the CIA can now or in the future use the information to prosecute, persecute, or blackmail us, our friends or our families!

Edward was horrified by this unprecedented violation of individual privacy. So he copied large amounts of files, sent them to the Guardian newspaper for publication and escaped to Hong Kong. His bravery not only exposed PRISM, but has started a domino effect around the world, shining a light on secret spy programs in Canada, the UK and Australia in just days! Now he’s trapped in Hong Kong, waiting to be arrested. A global outcry could save him from extradition to the US, and encourage other countries to grant him asylum.

We can’t let the US do to Edward what they did to Bradley Manning. Let’s urgently stand with him, and against PRISM:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_prism_global/?bSkdncb&v=25820

Sometimes the things our governments do are simply breathtaking. When heroic individuals like Edward have risked their own freedoms to bring scandals of this scale into light, the Avaaz community has come together to demand fair treatment — and won. When half a million of us joined with other organizations and activists calling on the US government to stop its cruel treatment of Bradley Manning, he was relocated to a medium-security prison and taken out of solitary confinement. If we act quickly, we might do better for Edward, and help him win the fight he’s bravely taken on, for all our sakes.

With hope and determination,

Ricken, Emma, Oli, Mia, Allison, Ari, Dalia, Laura and the whole Avaaz team

PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=25795

MORE INFORMATION:

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance

Edward Snowden Contact Glenn Greenwald Should Be ‘Disappeared’, Security Officials ‘Overheard Saying’ (Huffington Post)
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/06/10/nsa-leaker-and-journalist-should-be-disappeared-overheard_n_3414346.html?utm_hp_ref=canada&ir=Canada

NSA PRISM program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

Prism scandal: Government program secretly probes Internet servers (Chicago Tribune)
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-nsa-prism-scandal-20130607,0,301166.story

PRISM by the Numbers: A Guide to the Government’s Secret Internet Data-Mining Program (TIME)
http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/06/06/prism-by-the-numbers-a-guide-to-the-governments-secret-internet-data-mining-program/

Anger swells after NSA phone records court order revelations (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/obama-administration-nsa-verizon-records

Data-collection program got green light from MacKay in 2011 (Globe and Mail)
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/data-collection-program-got-green-light-from-mackay-in-2011/article12444909/

Greens unveil plan to require warrant to access phone and internet records (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/11/greens-warrant-phone-internet-records

Written by Martin Lack

13 June 2013 at 10:30

Help end 1 trillion USD of corporate tax evasion

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In advance of the G8 Summit to be held in Northern Ireland, Avaaz is asking people to sign a petition to help encourage President Obama and Canadian PM Harper do the right thing.

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Dear friends,

In days, world leaders will decide whether to plug a gigantic $1 trillion per year corporate tax loophole – and get enough money to end poverty, put every child in school and double green investment! A deal is close, but US President Obama and Canadian PM Harper are being lobbied and on the fence – let’s press them to stand up to corruption and end the massive yearly heist:

Sign the petition

In days, governments will discuss whether to plug a gigantic $1 trillion per year corporate tax loophole – enough money to end poverty, put every child in school, and double green investment! Most governments want powerful multinationals to pay these taxes, but the US and Canada are on the fence. To get a deal, we need them to feel the pressure.

$1 trillion is more than every country combined spends on their military. It’s bigger than the budgets of 176 nations. It’s $1000 each for every family on the planet. And believe it or not, it’s the amount that our largest corporations and wealthiest individuals evade each year in taxes.

This should be a no-brainer. To massively boost our public finances in a time of painful cuts and debt, all we need to do is ensure that everyone pays the taxes they’re supposed to.  But big US corporations are fiercely lobbying to protect their dodgy practices. A massive public campaign will help identify and hold accountable the two leaders – President Obama and Prime Minister Harper, who are considering siding with corruption over this gigantic step forward for the planet. Let’s get to one million voices and then Avaaz will deliver our call to leaders and the media in the middle of the negotiations:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_tax_havens_r/?bSkdncb&v=25627

Apple, one of the world’s wealthiest companies, paid basically $0 in tax on $78 billion they made in recent years by setting up shell corporations in low-tax countries and posting profits abroad. This kind of global tax evasion gives multinational firms a huge advantage over smaller domestic companies. It’s as bad for a healthy market economy as it is for democracy and economic stability.

But in days, governments will consider a plan that would make it harder for companies and individuals to evade taxes by hiding their money offshore and in tax shelters. The plan would require countries to share information to expose where the money is hidden and require “fake” companies to reveal who’s really behind them. If talks go well this week, the G8 could agree to the whole thing later this month.

In hard times, when governments everywhere are cutting spending on vital social priorities, it’s particularly galling that the wealthiest get a free pass from paying their fair share. (Even more so when the hard times were caused by massive government handouts to bail out banks owned by the same people). Governments are finally getting serious about plugging these holes in our finances, but the US and Canada are falling sway to powerful business lobbies.

A large public petition that’s well covered by the media will help highlight which countries are blocking the agreement, and make this a political issue for Obama and Harper to deal with. A powerful call from the world’s people to choose to give a massive boost to our planet instead of preserving corrupt loopholes will also help these leaders to find their consciences and good sense. We can’t let the lobbyists win this one in the shadows, let’s bring the spotlight of public attention to this massive decision for our planet:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/g8_tax_havens_r/?bSkdncb&v=25627

Every week, our community strives in and often wins fights for human rights, democracy, conservation and more. But some decisions have the power to affect thousands of causes at once, often preventing many problems from ever happening. $1 trillion per year in public funding would make a massive difference in the lives of children who could go to school, lives that could be saved, peace that could be built, habitats that could be protected, and so much more. For the sake of all these future struggles that we might not need to fight, let’s win this one.

With hope,

Alex, Jeremy, Christoph, Marie, Ian, David, Paul, Ricken and the whole Avaaz team

PS – Many Avaaz campaigns are started by members of our community! Start yours now and win on any issue – local, national or global: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/start_a_petition/?bgMYedb&v=25479

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MORE INFORMATION:

Europe’s push against tax fraud gains momentum (BBC)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22627330

The Corrosive Effect of Apple’s Tax Avoidance (New York Times)
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/business/making-companies-pay-taxes-the-mccain-way.html

Factbox: Apple, Amazon, Google and tax avoidance schemes (Reuters)
http://in.reuters.com/article/2013/05/22/eu-tax-avoidance-idINDEE94L07Z20130522

Tax havens are entrenching poverty in developing countries (The Guardian)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/14/tax-havens-entrenching-poverty-developing-countries

The missing $20 trillion (The Economist)
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21571873-how-stop-companies-and-people-dodging-tax-delaware-well-grand-cayman-missing-20

Europe’s lost trillion in taxes (CNN)
http://money.cnn.com/2013/05/21/news/economy/europe-taxes/index.html

Military spending by country (The Economist)
http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/04/daily-chart-9

The Business Case Against Overseas Tax Havens (ASB Council)
http://asbcouncil.org/sites/default/files/library/docs/taxhaven_report.pdf

Who says the Bible is irrelevant?

with 8 comments

Please do not worry that I am suddenly turning all Evangelical on you. Far from it. I just cannot get over how relevant the following words seem. They were written by former Pharisaic Jew, Saul – known to Christians as St Paul – to his young protegé, Timothy, in 66-67 AD.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… (2 Tim 3: 1-4)

I am trying hard to fend-off a potential Messiah complex with regard to environmentalism but it seems, to me at least, an incontrovertible aspect of modernity that we have now fulfilled this 1950 year-old prophecy. However, as regular readers of this blog may well be able to guess, what concerns me more is that the greatest failure of modernity arose out of the Age of Enlightenment: This seventeenth-Century revolution in natural philosophy meant that Western science emerged from the Dark Ages but, from it, along with all the positive benefits of building on Chinese and Islamic scholarship, we sadly inherited the idea that humans are superior to Nature – rather than part of it. This is a fallacy that underlies the inability of many to accept the reality of ACD (i.e. anthropogenic climate disruption). Either that, or they are deluded into thinking that:
1. Humans are incapable of affecting their environment (despite the precedents of industrial pollution causing Acid Rain and CFCs creating the hole in the Ozone layer); or
2. God will not allow humans to trash the Environment (due to infantile reliance upon things like Genesis 9:15: “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” Yes, Senator James Inhoffe [R-OK], I am looking at you).

The nonsense of “Sustainable Growth”*

with 27 comments

“Sustainable Growth” is a term invented by World Leaders last year at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil.  On a finite planet with finite resources, it is a physical impossibility; it is an oxymoron; to talk about it is as delusional as pretending you will live for ever.  I’m sorry, but, as with climate change, denying the nature of reality changes nothing.

As an experienced geologist and hydrogeologist, I am a Fellow of the Geological Society of London (GSL) and a Member of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM).  As such, the GSL has previously published a 500-word “soapbox” item written by me, entitled ‘Know Your Limits!’, in their Geoscientist magazine.

However, I believe this has now been surpassed by an article written by CIWEM’s Executive Director, Nick Reeves, just published in CIWEM’s monthly WEM magazine.  Having obtained the permission of both author and publisher, I am delighted to reproduce the article, entitled ‘The Growth Delusion and Handlebar Tape’in full below.

Other than to say that Nick Reeves has an admirable track-record for speaking his mind and saying things very few people in positions like his are willing to say – such as his support for Latin American style environmentalism in ‘The Human Rights of Mother Earth’ (July 2011) – I do not really want to comment further at this point.  However, the conflict between notions of sustainable development and resource depletion will be picked-up in another longer-than-normal post later this week.  Therefore, without further ado, here is the 1800-word article by Nick Reeves:

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THE GROWTH DELUSION AND HANDLEBAR TAPE 

The world is running on empty says CIWEM executive director Nick Reeves

How do you successfully break a mistaken and destructive intellectual and economic consensus? How do you persuade world leaders that 21st century problems cannot be fixed with 20th century economics?

The UK is no longer a front-line developed nation and has fallen behind Brazil in the league table of economic powers.  It will take a lot more than handlebar tape to get a grip on things.  We need to think in different terms and get a proper fix on our place in a world that is running on empty.

The economic crisis of 2007 was a car crash in slow-motion.  The driver wasn’t fit.  And it was frustrating because nobody warned us and the banks danced to the speculative tune.  Now economists can calculate a much more dangerous event that is being greeted with even less concern: our world is rapidly running out of resources – of water, energy, metals, phosphorous and food.  The data is not in dispute.  The market is reflecting what our leaders ignore.

The Industrial Revolution allowed us to make technological progress in delivering resources, outweighing the increasing marginal effort to dig ever deeper and chase lower-quality ores, for instance.  The average price of 33 commodities (equally weighted) declined by 70 per cent (after inflation) between 1900 and 2002.  Then, abruptly and without any particular crisis, prices reversed and in ten years the average commodity tripled to give back the advantage of the previous 100 years.  It is perhaps the most important ‘phase’ change of modern times, yet it attracted, remarkably, little attention or concern.

The causes are not hidden: there has been an explosion in population and consumption since 1800 and the birth of the ‘Hydrocarbon Age’.  Global population has increased from one billion to seven billion, tripling even in my lifetime.  At the same time, consumption of hydrocarbons and some metals increased one hundredfold.  Initially, with few people and extensive high-grade resources, this did not show in prices, but more recently, with population growing still faster than ever in absolute terms, we have had to absorb an unprecedented surge in demand per capita from India, with its 1.2 billion people (growing at over seven per cent a year) and China, with almost 1.3 billion (growing for over 20 years at ten per cent a year), a rate that will double consumption every seven years.  China last year accounted for a jaw-dropping 53 per cent of the world’s cement use, 48 per cent of its iron ore and 47 per cent of all the coal used.  How could reserves not wither away under this attack and prices not rise? We have every reason to be fearful.

Low-cost, high-grade coal, oil and natural gas – the backbone of the Industrial Revolution – will be a distant memory by 2050.  Much higher cost remnants will still be available but they will not be able to drive our growth, our population and, most critically, our food supply, as before.  Conventional food production is dependent desperately on oil for insecticide, pesticide and fertiliser, and for transportation over thousands of miles.  Modern agriculture is an industry that converts oil into food.

It will require brave political decisions to survive the loss of depleted hydrocarbons without risking economic collapse.  If we permit the population to grow to the levels predicted, and if we don’t curb our greed, we must find the capital – while we still have it – to build very large-scale, very smart electricity grids, across Europe and North America, fed by increasingly efficient wind and solar power and other renewables that may come on stream.

Once they are built, the marginal operating cost will be much lower than our present hydrocarbon-dependent system and, critically, cost will be constantly falling while hydrocarbon costs rise.  This will be a great threat to the giant hydrocarbon multi-nationals, several of which fund well-organised obfuscation and propaganda campaigns to reinforce our wishful thinking.  Carbon dioxide has lost its greenhouse effect, they say, and coal is clean! In the US, even larger investments are made: Congress is bribed (legally) to ignore both climate science and the logic of finite resources.

Metal resources are the stuff of nightmares because entropy is merciless.  Every time you use a metal, some is lost.  European countries recycle between 40 per cent and 80 per cent – the US is worse – yet at even 90 per cent these precious resources will slip through our fingers.  So frugality is needed, because even an economy with zero increase in physical output will slowly lose its metals.  But which politician has the nerve to talk about the necessary zero growth in population and physical output?

The most immediately threatening shortage is in our food supply, and not just from oil constraints.  The bigger threats lie in four limiting inputs: water, soil, potassium and phosphorus.  We build homes and grow food in deserts and over-pump irreplaceable underground water.  (Already, about 300 million Indians and Chinese, among others, are fed by over-pumping reserves that will inevitably run out.) We waste over half our global water supply and we totally mis-price it.  For most countries, all of this can be fixed.  Yet some over-populated, poor nations have a more intractable problem and water scarcity will cause increasing friction for them.  Water wars is here.  It’s happening now.

Land availability and erosion are also limiting our ability to grow food.  Over the millennia, we have lost about one-third of our land, turning it into desert and stone.  We build new cities on our best river valley soil, which is replaceable only with more marginal land.  There are no New Worlds or new Midwests.  The land we have – eroded by wind and water – loses one per cent of its soil each year, about 100 times the rate of natural replacement.  If sustained, this erosion would bring our species to its knees.  But the problem can be solved relatively easily by moving towards no-till, in which crop residues protect the soil against the elements.  We need to move rapidly, though: to 100 per cent from less than ten per cent, globally, today.

The limits on phosphorous and potassium are terminal potentially.  They are elements and cannot be made.  There is no substitute for them.  They are vital for the growth of all living things, vegetable or animal (we humans are one per cent phosphorus by body weight).  And these irreplaceable nutrients on which modern agriculture depends are mined and are steadily depleting.  So what will happen when the reserves run out?

The only glimmer of hope would be if the world went organic – nurturing the soil with worms, fungi and complex micro-organisms and avoiding use of pesticides and insecticides.  Organic farming extends critical fertiliser resources many times, perhaps at best approaching the rate of natural replacement from bedrock.  However, organic farming is just one per cent of the agricultural total, and we will, typically, wait for a greater crisis in fertiliser prices before we move.

Finally, global warming’s most reliable consequence is weather extremes – droughts and floods, which have badly hit production, will continue to do so.  Far from being alarmist, scientists have consistently under-predicted the speed of environmental decline, failed to address population growth, and so we slalom our way to hell.  Scientists, with a few brave exceptions, are fearful of being criticised as doom-sayers and exaggerators – a terrible academic crime – even though underestimating, in this case, is far more dangerous and irresponsible.  (Arctic ice-melt is already at levels that, 15 years ago, were predicted for 2050.)

Both population and yield per acre for grains are growing at 1.2 per cent a year.  A stand-off? You bet.  Population growth will slow, but so will productivity as we approach the limits of each grain species.  How, with no safety margin, will we find the extra grain necessary to produce meat for the growing middle class of developing nations when a single pound of dressed beef displaces 30 pounds of grain?

There will be a single painful answer to all of these questions – rationing through price.  We the rich nations can and will be careless with our resources for decades longer, but only at the cost of pushing prices up unnecessarily fast and thereby inadvertently forcing the poor into malnutrition and outright starvation.  A typical developed country now spends ten per cent of its income on food; Egypt spends 40 per cent.  You can see easily that, if food prices triple again in the next 30 years as they did in the past ten, the numbers will not compute.  A growth-reducing and lifestyle-eroding irritant for us will become life and death for them.

Greater income equality in such countries and better education, especially for women, would help lower population growth and increase productivity.  Less corruption and more efficient distribution of the food available, especially in India, would buy decades of time.  But this is who we are: a species given to corruption, incompetence and self-interest.  Capitalism sucks because it believes that its remit is exclusively to make maximum short-term profits – come hell or high water.

We could solve all our problems if only we were the efficient, rational human beings of standard economic theory and had politicians willing to think in the long-term interest of their people rather than their own.  Perhaps later, as the crisis grows, as failing states threaten to destabilise global politics (resource pricing already played its part in the Arab spring) and China throws its increasing weight around in its correctly perceived great need for more resources, the developed world will act with resolve, as the US, the UK and others did so well in the World War II.  We must hope so.

Fortress North America with (per capita) five times the water and seven times the arable land of China, has the capability and willingness to ignore this global problem for now.  Yet eventually it, too, will be dragged kicking and screaming into world turmoil – just as it feared would happen in the 1930s – and share the pain.

In the meantime, countries such as Egypt, with surging populations, escalating food import bills and widening trade deficits, cannot afford to feed their people.  Who will do it for them? We rich countries cannot even make the tough political decisions required to keep our own resource prices down, let alone worry about others.  This attitude is epitomised by the use of one-third of the US corn crop (the world’s biggest) for desperately inefficient ethanol production as a subsidy for already rich farmers.  To fill a 4×4′s tank once would displace enough maize to feed one Indian farmer for a year.  One day, this will be seen as the moral equivalent of shooting some of the world’s poorest people, but more painful.

Closing Down Sale - Everything Must Go

Lindzengate – one year on

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Today is the first anniversary of my trip to London to hear a certain Professor Richard S. Lindzen give a talk to an invited audience of climate change “sceptics” in a Committee Room inside the Palace of Westminster.

Having sat through a highly misleading presentation I was one of those who put up my hand to ask a question.  However, having been invited to speak by the chair of the meeting, I attempted to address some of the misrepresentation of fact that I had just witnessed.  I was then interrupted by Professor Lindzen and, having self-identified myself as a non-believer, was not allowed to ask a question.

This sequence of events has been the subject of much pedantic debate, on this blog and elsewhere, so the video (of the Q & A session following Lindzen’s talk) is embedded to provide proof of my version of events.  To just see me not ask a question view from about 5:26 onwards.

Once the Question and Answer session was completed, I approached Professor Lindzen who, obviously confident he could rebut anything I said, kindly invited me to email my questions to him.  This I did and, the rest, as they say, is history.

Although I would advise against following links without first reading to the end of this post, for those of you that are unfamiliar with this particular history, it may be summarised as follows:

1. I sent Professor Lindzen 3 emails and never received any substantive answers to my questions.  All I ever got was a perfunctory response in which Lindzen (1) feigned indignation at my suggestion that he had once helped the tobacco industry defend itself against the claim that smoking causes lung cancer; and (2) warned me not to publish my email.  I ignored him.

2. In failing to answer any of my original questions, Lindzen has, in particular, failed to explain why he uses the same tactics he claims others use to mislead people (i.e. graphs whose axes have been stretched or compressed in order to make two correlating data sets appear not to correlate – as appended below).

3. Having failed to get Lindzen to answer my original questions, I submitted a formal complaint to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) because his behaviour was likely to bring climate scientists and/or MIT into disrepute.  Without addressing the above very specific piece of hypocrisy from Lindzen, MIT refused to take any action.

4. I therefore complained to the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who astonishingly, admitted they had no code of conduct against which they could judge and/or censure Lindzen for what he had done.

5. Consequently, Professor Lindzen has continued to travel around the World giving talks and writing letters to Newspapers – repeating the same message:  A message that reveals that he is either being wilfully deceptive of is so blinded by ideology that he cannot see how wrong he almost certainly is about climate sensitivity.

If any or all of this comes as a surprise to any readers, I would recommend that, before you dive into the links above, you start by reading this brief summary of exactly what it was I was unhappy about.   You can then follow links from there (or here) depending on your level of curiosity.

Other than that, from the above-referenced brief summary, I have here extracted the image of the graph from Lindzen’s presentation (whose absence from the PDF version on the Internet has never been satisfactorily explained), with my caption explaining why it destroys any veil of objectivity that Lindzen might otherwise be able to hide behind.

Misrepresentation of data?

Steeply inclined Keeling curve versus apparently non-correlating temperature – if you stretched the temperature axis enough it would appear to correlate quite well. Therefore slide neither proves not disproves anything.

There is, however, one final thing to note about this graph; something that has only become clear to me in the last few months: It has clearly been generated using the Wood for Trees website, which was set up by a non-climate scientist who admits that his website has repeatedly been used by climate sceptics to manipulate data to support invalid conclusions. So much so, in fact, that the home page now includes a warning against people doing this. Therefore:

What does it say about Lindzen that he would use a graph like this – obtained from such a website – in his presentation?

———–

Further reading:

http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/are-you-negligent-incompetent-or-complicit/

http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/and-then-there-were-three/

The CO2 Fairy does not exist (yet)

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Dog Poo Fairy

With my thanks to the Keep Britain Tidy campaign for inspiring this post.

I believe the time has long since past for us humans to admit that the scale of many of our activities now exceed the capacity of our environment to assimilate and recycle the wastes we produce.

Because it is not just plant food, these wastes include carbon dioxide.

As I have said many times before, a frontier mentality is no longer sustainable: Using a passing river as a source of water, a laundry, and a toilet is OK if you live in a sparsely populated wilderness but; when you live in an overcrowded slum it is likely to lead to premature death.

Many things that we humans now do have become a problem simply because of the scale at which we are now doing them; and that includes the doubling of the CO2 into our atmosphere (which we look likely to achieve within the next few decades).

Is this to be the White Man’s Folly?

Written by Martin Lack

1 February 2013 at 00:02

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