Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘fossil fuels’ Category

Will Gazprom give the Russian Arctic an amnesty?

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This news just in from Greenpeace:
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Greenpeace

Dear supporter,

Prepare yourself for some great news:

The Arctic 30 have been granted amnesty by the Russian parliament!!

This means the legal action by Russia against the Arctic 30 can come to an end and the 26 non-Russians will be free to return home to their families as soon as they are given exit visas by the Russian authorities.

While we’re breathing a huge sigh of relief, they still aren’t home yet. And Gazprom and Shell are still planning on drilling for oil in the Arctic. If you haven’t already sent a message to Shell’s new CEO, click here. 

I think the best thing to share with you about the amnesty decision is from one of the Arctic 30.

Peter WillcoxPeter Willcox, Captain of the Arctic Sunrise:

“I might soon be going home to my family, but I should never have been charged and jailed in the first place. We sailed north to bear witness to a profound environmental threat but our ship was stormed by masked men wielding knives and guns. Now it’s nearly over and we may soon be truly free, but there’s no amnesty for the Arctic. We may soon be home, but the Arctic remains a fragile global treasure under assault by oil companies and the rising temperatures they’re driving. We went there to protest against this madness. We were never the criminals here.”

It is not clear when the non-Russian crew among the Arctic 30 will be able to leave Russia. They don’t have the correct stamps in their passports because, well, they were brought to Russia by commandos after being illegally seized in international waters.

This fight continues. Accepting amnesty does not mean admitting guilt. It means we can focus on what this is really about: saving the Arctic.

You have stuck with this story since the beginning. The most important thing you can do now is to help everyone you know understand that this is still far from over. The Arctic 30 were in the Arctic to bring attention to the absurdity of Arctic oil drilling. Tell Shell’s new CEO to ditch the deal with Gazprom and leave Arctic oil in the ground.

Keep this fight alive.

Tell Shell: End Gazprom deal

Onward,

Ben Ayliffe
Arctic Campaigner
Greenpeace

P.S. If you’re on Facebook, share this post today. Let your friends and family know there is still no amnesty for the Arctic.

Written by Martin Lack

18 December 2013 at 17:41

Please remind Shell that Lloyds think Arctic drilling is bad

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Lloyds of London have warned that fossil fuel exploration of the Arctic will damage an important ecosystem. With that in mind, here is the latest email I have received from Greenpeace:

Image credit: Greenpeace/Denis Sinyakov

Dear supporter,

Any moment now, Gazprom will pump the first drops of oil from beneath the icy Arctic seas.

But Gazprom’s plans to open up huge areas of the Arctic to drilling depend on its powerful partner, Shell. This January, Shell has a new boss taking over. That means we have a major opportunity to stop both companies from destroying the pristine Arctic.

Tell Ben van Beurden, Shell’s new CEO, to scrap Arctic oil drilling and end the deal with Gazprom.

Why would he listen to us? Because Shell’s investors want to make money, not take risks. Shell’s board want the investors to be happy, and as a new CEO, he will want to start with a clean record.

More and more industry insiders are warning that Arctic drilling is a losing battle. Shell already suffered a massive PR fail and a criminal inquiry for its series of mishaps trying to drill in Alaska last year. And Gazprom, already infamous for a 2011 rig accident in which 53 people died, came under serious fire recently for its role in the imprisonment of the Arctic 30.

This might be the best chance we’ve ever had to protect the Arctic. If Shell scraps Arctic oil, Gazprom will be cut off from the resources it needs to expand oil drilling to grotesque proportions. And it will send a clear signal to other oil companies that Arctic oil just isn’t worth the risk.

Tell Shell’s new CEO to ditch the deal with Gazprom and leave Arctic oil in the ground.

Our movement to save the Arctic is incredibly strong. We sent 2.5 million messages to Russian embassies demanding freedom for the Arctic 30, who were finally released on bail last month. Nearly 5 million of us have added our voices to a call to create a global sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole, protected from oil drilling and destructive industry. We won’t stop growing, or fighting, until we win.

Thank you for everything,


Ben Ayliffe
Arctic Campaigner
Greenpeace

Written by Martin Lack

12 December 2013 at 16:05

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).

Colin Russell is released on bail

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Latest email from Greenpeace
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Hi Martin,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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pardonactivists

Written by Martin Lack

28 November 2013 at 14:45

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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.

It is not a crime to care too much – Free the Arctic 30 now!

with 3 comments

Here is an email I have received from freelance photographer Nick Cobbing:

Hi Martin,

I was shocked to see pictures of Denis behind bars in the Russian courtroom on Thursday. I’m a freelance photographer too and I was about to replace him when the ship reached the next port. But now Denis is being held in jail for another 2 months, without charge.

Yesterday, a further eight Arctic activists appeared before a court in Murmansk, Russia. No charges were laid, but now all 30 are being detained for two months as Russian authorities pursue an investigation around piracy charges. Today, Greenpeace lawyers have launched an appeal against these detentions.

The Russian authorities are punishing those who have risked their liberty to highlight the madness of Arctic oil, while protecting the fossil fuel industry. It should be the other way around.

Join me in central London or at a venue near you, on October 5, as part of worldwide event to free the Arctic 30. Sign up to get an SMS or email with more details about events at various locations around the country.

I am relieved to see people all around the world speaking out in support my friends. Russian newspapers are blanking out images on their webpages to draw attention to it. Together we’ve sent over 660,000 messages to Russian embassies worldwide. We’ve made global headlines. Now we need to show our determination on the street.

On Friday, I went to the Russian embassy in London with my young son (pictured). I met his mother onboard the Arctic Sunrise four years ago. We all visited the ship again just a few months back. Some of the crew are like part of our family now: people like Haussy (the ship’s electrician from New Zealand), ‘Big John’ (outboard mechanic from Tonga), and Paul (first mate from Canada). It’s upsetting to think I was saying goodbye to them on the quayside in Norway only last month. Now they are facing up to two months in a Russian jail without charge.

nick cobbing at protest

I could have been behind bars in that courtroom yesterday. But instead I can stand with my brave colleagues and show them that they’re not alone. Join me in standing up for the Arctic 30 on October 5. We must show the world that blatant intimidation will not succeed.

I’ll do anything I can to get these guys home as soon as possible. Thanks for being there with me.

Nick Cobbing
Freelance Photographer and part of the Greenpeace community

Written by Martin Lack

1 October 2013 at 15:13

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