Archive for the ‘Go Beyond Oil’ Category
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, was interviewed by offbeat TV presenter Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday on BBC1.
Salmond’s comments about energy policy highlight the intellectual incoherence and dishonesty to which our politicians are driven by growthmania.
Although Salmond should be commended for standing up to Donald Trump’s opposition to offshore wind farms, he still appears to be basing his aspiration for a future independent Scotland on future revenue from extracting crude oil and gas from beneath what would be its territorial waters.
Scotland may well already be near the top of the international list of countries with the greatest percentages of installed renewable energy generation, it may well be the home of European research and development into Tidal power, but, its would-be independent government still appears to be assuming it will be OK to generate revenue from oil production over the next 50 years equivalent to those of the last 50 years.
This does not sound like a good idea to me. It is one very good reason not to vote for Scottish independence.
Scottish independence does not look like it will be compatible with preventing anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Furthermore, ACD is probably making its presence felt right now across the UK in the form of unusually cold weather. Sure, it is not possible to attribute any single event to ACD but, all the same, ACD was predicted (from a basic understanding of atmospheric physics) to give rise to wider range of more extreme weather events of increased frequency and intensity. This is exactly what we are now observing. In fact, we have been observing it for about 50 years but, until quite recently, it had not been that obvious. This is what James Hansen and his colleagues showed us last August: The climate dice are now loaded – which means we get double-six a lot more often (and a few more double ones than we used to as well).
This is great news but, what we really need is an International agreement (like that which protects the Antarctic from resource exploitation). If we need to despoil the Arctic to get fossil fuels, then we are very clearly far too dependent on them: The time has come to invest in and/or subsidise the pursuit of renewable (i.e. infinite) alternatives. Here is the appeal for help from Greenpeace.
Last night, Shell announced it’s giving up on plans to drill for oil in the Arctic in this year.
It’s amazing news, because it means no drilling in the pristine waters of Alaska this year. And the pressure you put on Shell helped make this possible.
Right now I’m thrilled, this is a huge success for the Arctic. But the fight isn’t over. We’ve got a real opportunity to stop industrial exploitation in the Arctic, forever.
Last month, President Obama ordered a sweeping review of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic. Meanwhile, Shell was found to have 16 safety and environmental violations on their rig that ran aground in Alaska. Now it’s time for Obama to abandon the idea of Arctic drilling completely.
I’m sure you won’t want the good news to stop here, and that in the days ahead you’ll still be part of the movement to keep Shell out of the Arctic forever.
But for the moment it’s all about enjoying what we’ve accomplished together. Thank you so much for all the work you have done to protect the Arctic.
Greenpeace Executive Director
P.S. This is great news, but there is much more to do. Our Arctic campaign and all the work we do to protect the environment depends entirely on your support. Can you make a donation now to help make a protected Arctic a reality? (Link to Greenpeace UK website here.)
Latest email from Greenpeace:
We’re making headlines. Our ad – which 1,269 amazing Greenpeace supporters helped pay for – has made a splash in the Telegraph, Britain’s most widely-read broadsheet. We’re also hoping to get the ad printed in the Times tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who has taken part in this campaign. Together, we’ve exposed Shell’s long list of costly Arctic blunders to investors, politicians and the public at large – and we’re not done yet.
Want to keep the pressure up until we’ve won this thing for good?
Right now, Greenpeace is looking for a few creative, eco-conscious youngsters to design a flag for all the world to see. The winning design will be taken to the North Pole, where it will join a scroll featuring millions of names demanding the Arctic be protected forever. We will plant it at the bottom of the ocean at the top of the world, where it will remain: a statement from people who care about the health of our planet and a symbol of the conscience of humanity.
Why? Because the Arctic belongs to everyone, yet young people today will most likely live to see a time when there is no more Arctic sea ice in the summer – a fate unthinkable just a few decades ago. We know that Arctic drilling to burn more oil will accelerate climate change and is a folly driven by greed, and as a movement we’re doing everything we can to stop it. Today that means inviting the youth of the world to be heard. Click here to find out more information, then get a young person involved – or send this email on to someone you know.
Thanks for being part of this,
Ian and the Arctic team
The latest email from Greenpeace/savethearctic.org,
Right now, one of Shell’s Arctic oil rigs with 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board, is being retrieved and assessed for damage after it ran aground within sight of Alaska’s fragile coastline. The Kulluk got into serious trouble after hitting a typical winter storm off the island of Sitkalidak, near Kodiak. The old rig was stranded just miles from an endangered sea otter and sea lions habitat, threatening the area with a potential oil spill. After this latest fiasco Shell’s reputation is now in tatters.
This isn’t the first time Shell has put their crew and the Arctic at risk this year. The grounding of the Kulluk is the latest in a series of embarrassing accidents that have plagued Shell’s attempts to find oil in the extreme Arctic. The company intends to try again next year and the decision about whether or not it gets that opportunity will be made soon. This is our chance to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic next year and beyond. Tell United States President Barack Obama to call ‘timeout’ on Arctic drilling and suspend Shell’s permits.
A Greenpeace team is in the area monitoring the situation. The 30-year-old Kulluk was being towed back from the Arctic when it hit heavy weather that caused the towing line to break. After a 48 hour rescue attempt the situation became too dangerous and the team was forced to let the rig drift free. The US Coast Guard evacuated crew members by helicopter, and the rig ran aground just miles from the Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge. After six days of struggling harsh weather conditions, the rig is now being finally towed away.
This is more proof of the recklessness and unchecked greed of corporations like Shell. We cannot let them put the most precious areas of our planet at risk in search of oil and profits. Tell President Obama that we cannot trust Shell’s assurances on safety. He must protect the Arctic and its wildlife and suspend Arctic drilling permits immediately.
This is the latest mishap Shell has suffered after an extremely rocky drilling season. Their woes included another grounding – this time of their drillship the Noble Discoverer – a flash fire on board this ship, an oil spill containment dome that failed spectacularly and “was crushed like a beer can” during testing, and warnings from the US Coast Guard for inadequate pollution prevention and safety equipment.
With Big Oil in the Arctic, disaster is not a question of if, but when. Shell’s top officials have admitted that “there will be spills”. It’s time for us to put a stop to this insanity before it’s too late, and right now with the media coverage of this accident we have a good chance of making our voices heard. Ask President Obama to suspend Shell’s permits and protect the Arctic for all of us, and please forward this email to friends and family.
Latest email from Greenpeace:
Our greatest fears about Shell’s incompetence in the Arctic are starting to be realised.
The Kulluk – Shell’s creaking Arctic oil rig – was being towed back to harbour for maintenance when it was hit by a storm. The tow line broke and despite several attempts to reattach it the onboard crews failed and it eventually ran aground. Shell’s crew was rescued by the US Coast Guard.
The rig now sits abandoned perilously close to the rocky shoreline of Sitkalidak Island in Southern Alaska. This part of the coast is home to endangered species of sea lions, otters and over 250 bird species.
This proves – yet again – that the company is simply not prepared for the hazardous Arctic conditions where any spill could take years to clean up.
So far the more than 139,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the Kulluk have not leaked into the fragile marine environment. The longer it remains near the cliffs the likelihood of a spill will increase.
But this is only the latest in Shell’s long list of Arctic failures. In the past year, it lost control of another one of its drill ships in a ‘stiff breeze’, crushed its safety equipment and had an on-board fire. The list goes on.
Shell cannot be trusted with the Arctic.
It’s essential that we get this news out to as many people as possible. Please forward this email to a friend who will join us in our bid to protect the Arctic.
Invite them to join us by signing here: http://www.savethearctic.org
We have a Greenpeace team on the way to Sitkalidak right now to monitor the situation closely and we’ll update you very soon.
This shocking news just in from Greenpeace International and http://www.savethearctic.org/…
“This film is a powerful expression of how our fates are intertwined, because climate change is affecting all of us no matter where we live.” – Jude Law
Please support the campaign to save the Arctic by sharing this video with your friends and family via email, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In or any other platform.
As an Arctic Defender, your name will join supporters like Jude Law and Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke on the Arctic Scroll. Other supporters include Sir Paul McCartney, Penelope Cruz, Robert Redford, One Direction, Alexandra Burke, Jarvis Cocker and Sir Richard Branson and over 500,000 more.
Greenpeace is already over half way to its target of 1 million supporters at http://www.savethearctic.org/. Once they reach 1 million names, they will be off to the Arctic to plant a scroll with 1 million names on the bottom of the ocean, at the top of the world. Please help them get it there.
Connecting the dots – the story concludes…
This is the third and final post re-visiting points made in the introduction to my MA dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK (as summarised on my About page), which are (1) the philosophical roots of scepticism (monday); (2) the political misuse of scepticism (yesterday); and (3) the psychological causes of denial (below).
The psychological causes of denial
When Leon Festinger published A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance in 1957, he introduced it by citing the illogicality of someone continuing to smoke cigarettes even though they know it is bad for them (i.e. something it took over 50 years to get tobacco company executives to publicly admit). He suggested that the discomfort this knowledge causes makes people try to rationalise or justify their behaviour. Furthermore, when faced with such discomfort (i.e. dissonance), he concluded that people will also actively avoid exposure to information likely to increase their discomfort; and seek solace in the company of those that reinforce their prejudice.
Today, the modern equivalent is continuing to burn fossil fuels even though we know that doing so is damaging the Earth’s climate. In particular, it is insane to take advantage of melting Arctic sea ice to extract previously-inaccessible crude oil, when we know that burning this additional fossil fuel (rather than finding an alternative source of energy) is going to aggravate an already growing problem. Listen to the arguments of Greenpeace International Director Kumi Nadoo (from 0:50) in this brief video:
Does this not make you feel uncomfortable?
David Aaronovitch defines a conspiracy theory as “the unnecessary assumption of conspiracy when other explanations are more probable“; (a.k.a. ‘Occam’s razor’ or ‘the simplest explanation is most likely to be true’). He reviews a large number of modern conspiracy theories (such as those surrounding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the assassination of President Kennedy, the accidental death of Princess Diana, and the terrorist attack of 9/11) and draws a number of conclusions together under the title ‘Bedtime Story’ (which hints at the nature of his overall thesis); namely that we invent conspiracy theories to make ourselves feel better and/or to absolve ourselves of responsibility for things that did not go the way we would have wanted.
Therefore, if cognitive dissonance is the cause, confirmation bias is the resultant effect: By being selective in what you read or who you listen to, you will receive only messages that you want to; ones that enable you to remain “comfortable“. You see only what you want to see; and believe only what you want to believe.
Unfortunately, in any large-scale disagreement, people on both sides of an argument will often accuse the other party of confirmation bias. However, if you continue to reject the vast majority of empirical (i.e. observational) data; in favour of an extreme minority of data capable of supporting an alternative hypothesis, I am afraid the most likely explanation is that you are suffering from cognitive dissonance. Insisting that you are right and everybody else is wrong; or that everybody else is deluded, incompetent or mendacious just is not credible (especially if you are unqualified to comment and/or being paid by an oil company to spread misinformation). See Denial… is not a river in Egypt! (20 June 2012).
Ben Goldacre has pointed out that “only 49% of the population can be better-than-average at driving a car…” Dr Tari Sharot has recently provided an interesting further twist on this statistical certainty by describing what she has called Optimism Bias. Here is Dr Sharot explaining her research at TED…
Sharot has uncovered evidence that humans tend to be unduly optimistic. She suggests that optimism is an evolutionary survival mechanism (because giving up on escaping a predator would be likely to result in being caught and eaten): Using an MRI scanner to monitor brain activity, Dr Sharot has accumulated a large body of evidence that indicates that:
We assimilate new information that proves we are being unduly pessimistic; but
We ignore any new information that proves we are being unduly optimistic.
If so, which one are you doing?
Polite Reminder (to those still in denial about being in denial)
Record-breaking rainfall in the UK, unprecedented storms and temperatures in Washington DC, record-breaking droughts, floods, landslides, and bush-fires all around the world… Will the fake sceptics admit they are wrong when we see 1-in-100 year floods every 5 years? Or must we wait until they are an annual feature? Just how much longer must we wait for people to admit they are wrong; and that this is not normal? The world may not be about to end but, are the signs that it is past its best not clear enough to see? This is not random weather; this is what happens when we ignore what scientists have been saying for over 150 years.
Please Connect the Dots!
Just because we can do something does not always mean we should. Climate change is making it possible to extract hydrocarbons from previously impossible places. However, knowing that something will have long-term adverse consequences but choosing to do it anyway – Isn’t that a working definition of insanity…?
If it is, shouldn’t we invoke the “when you realise you’re in a hole you should always stop digging” principle?
This is a the text of an email I received from Greenpeace yesterday:
Today, a Finnish icebreaker is heading to Alaska to help Shell drill for oil. Everyone has a limit – for me it’s the Arctic. That’s why I’m here in Helsinki to stop it before it gets there. And that’s why I need your help. Take action now and stop Shell with me. [N.B. This is a time-sensitive campaign response - please visit Greenpeace website and enter your name and email address and they will email Shell on your behalf.]
The Arctic is one of the last untouched natural areas on the planet, home of polar bears, narwhals, and other unique wildlife.
Due to climate change, the Arctic sea ice is melting at an accelerating rate, opening up the Arctic to companies in search of more oil.
It is wrong in so many ways. What would happen when an oil spill happens, I’m afraid to even think of it.
And I’m not alone. In the last three months, nearly 400,000 people from all over the world have taken action against one of the most powerful and dangeous companies that has ever existed. But we need you too. By the end of this week we want 500,000 people shouting at Shell that it must end its campaign of Arctic destruction. Click here now. [N.B. This is a time-sensitive campaign response - please visit Greenpeace website and enter your name and email address and they will email Shell on your behalf.]
We can change things! Together we can stop Shell and other oil companies from destroying the Arctic. Not everyone can board a ship to demand that change. But today, you can email Shell and ask them to stop drilling for oil and ask 10 of your friends to do the same. Together, we can save the Arctic!
Greenpeace Nordic activist from Finland.
This week saw the first anniversary of the Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated the east coast of Japan, which I still vividly remember watching – in total disbelief on live TV – as black water filled with burning debris inundated huge swathes of farmland: It was simultaneously mesmerising and sickening in equal measure.
Greenpeace and many other environmental groups made a bug fuss about the ensuing breakdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant but, as with many other things in life, things are never as simple as we would like them to be. Therefore, despite the fact that I am a Greenpeace supporter (e.g. with regard to their ‘Go Beyond Oil’ campaign), I do not agree with their facile opposition to nuclear power. For the time being at least, I wish to remain ambivalent – and here is why:
Fukushima was actually incredibly well designed (to cope with reasonably foreseeable events); and the only reason its defences failed is that the coastline subsided in the 20 minutes between the quake and tsunami hitting it. After that, the failure of the back-up generators became inevitable if fuel supplies were not replenished.
Seismologists reckon that Tokyo will be the next place to be hit by a similarly massive Earthquake so, I agree that the Japanese should close down the nuclear power stations there immediately. However, there is only one problem remaining – Japan does not have many other options; but I am sure it could now invest heavily (global debt crisis permitting) in tidal and wind power…
However, adopting a global perspective, more people die each year putting on their underwear than die from nuclear accidents. Nuclear waste and proliferation risks are problems we cannot magic out of existence and, if we had not given up on Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR) 25 years ago, we would probably have them working by now. If this were the case then, we would now be able to re-process all the long-lived, highly-radioactive waste into a much smaller volume of less radioactive waste that will not remain dangerous for anything like as long. Furthermore, FBR could have solved all our nuclear waste and energy supply problems because conventional thermal nuclear reactors can only use less than 1% of all the Earth’s uranium (i.e. the other 99% can only be used as fuel in FBRs).
Despite all of the above, however, I think the best argument for NOT pursuing nuclear energy is in fact that it is high-tech; and is just another way of perpetuating the dependency of poor countries on Western technology. Therefore, as much as I hope that the use of renewables can be scaled-up to provide for all our future energy needs, in the long run, I think FBR will prove unavoidable. This is because, notwithstanding the decimation of the human population of the planet that may yet be caused by climate change, it seems likely that the global population could be 50% greater than it is today by the end of the century.
If this is indeed what is going to happen then, climate change will continue to erode our ability to grow sufficient food at the same time as we will have to try and feed ever greater numbers of people. This means that we will have to find ways of growing food on land not currently suited to agriculture (e.g. hydroponics), which will lead to the industrialisation of the countryside. In turn, this will mean that food production will have to compete for space with novel means of renewable energy generation that take up a lot of space (e.g. farming algae for biofuel, or solar power stations).
Countries like the UK are extremely lucky to have a very high ratio of coastline per unit land area; so it must be hoped we will make best use of it for tidal power generation schemes. However, many countries will not have the luxury of a choice. Many, therefore, may be forced to buy-in solar power generated on land that is genuinely unusable for anything else (such as the Sahara desert).
For all of these reasons, I agree with those who say that within a 50 to 100 year time horizon, the necessity for widespread deployment of FBR is almost a dead certainty.
So, I’m sorry to all who are anti-Nukes but, this is not an ideal world!
Recommended reading: Blees, T (2008), Prescription for the Planet: The Painless Remedy for Our Energy & Environmental Crises.
Those who have recently criticised me for appearing to be on a single-handed mission to dismantle climate change denial have, of course, suggested that I am grossly over-ambitious; and/or that I need to focus on solutions. Well, today, I promise I will do that but, first a brief re-statement of the problems; courtesy of this 18-minute video of James Hansen’s recent TED talk (which I summarise and discuss below)…
Here is a summary of the problems we are now facing:
1. The Earth’s current energy imbalance is 0.6 Watts per sq.m.; a rate of energy input 20 times greater than the energy output of all human activity; and equivalent to the detonation of 400,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs every day.
2. Since measurements began in 2003, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the annual rate of mass loss from both the Greenland and Antarctica ice caps.
3. The last time atmospheric CO2 was 390 ppm, sea levels were 15 m higher than they are today, which implies even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, this is where they would end up several centuries from now because the warming “is already in the pipeline” (i.e. because the Earth must warm-up in order to restore its energy balance).
4. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels soon, sea level rise will continue to accelerate, which is likely to cause between 1 and 5 metre rise by 2100AD (depending on how quickly we now decide to stop burning them).
5. Palaeoclimatology tells us that 350 ppm is the safe limit for avoiding significant disruption to the planet’s ecological carrying capacity (i.e. in terms of both populations of individual species and overall biodivesity); and it now seems likely that between 20%-50% of all species will be “ticketed for extinction” by the end of the century.
6. If we push the Earth beyond it’s “tipping point” (i.e. allow all the emerging positive feedback mechanisms to take hold); ACD will become unstoppable; and the ensuing socio-economic damage will be almost unimaginable. The total global cost of mitigation is already put at somewhere between 35 and 70 Trillion US Dollars depending on how soon we choose to act.
7. If we had started to get off fossil fuels in 2005, it would have required 3% reduction per year in order to restore energy imbalance by 2100AD. If we start next year, it will require 6% p.a. If we wait 10 years it will require 15% p.a.
8. Recent droughts in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico were 3 Standard Deviations outside the norm. Events such as these cannot therefore be ascribed to natural variability; anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) is happening just as Hansen said it would 24 years ago (if we did not change course – which we haven’t).
9. Pursuing emissions limits (i.e. Cap and Trade) will not work because there is no actual incentive to reduce emissions without any self-imposed restraint being to the advantage of others who do not do the same (i.e. the Tragedy of the Commons problem).
10. Hansen uses the analogy of an approaching asteroid – the longer we wait to prevent it hitting us the harder it becomes to do so.
Some will no doubt respond to all of this by claiming that Hansen is just seeking to make money out of environmental “alarmism” (e.g. by citing his Blue Planet award for a lifetime’s work) but, it is no longer just Hansen that is saying these things. He is now joined by people like:
– the International Energy Agency; and
– William Nordhaus.
To those who respond in such fashion, I am bound to ask:
1. How much longer are you going to hold out against the tide of history, science and now economics? and
2. What are you going to say to your children and grandchildren when you are finally proven wrong? (You had better start planning those speeches because that is what is going to happen).
In this TED talk, Hansen re-states the argument he made in Storms of my Grandchildren very succintly that what we need is a Fee and Dividend system, whereby fossil fuel producers and refiners pay the government a fee that is distributed to all taxpayers; with governments keeping none of the money: This would ensure consumers received more than they had to pay for fuel (especially if they maximise efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels). In other words this would incentivise reductions in consumption (i.e. something that market forces alone struggle to do).
So why is it not happening? You guessed it… It is not in the interests of fossil fuel companies to back such a system because it will ultimately see them put out of business. But they already recognise the need to diversify away from fossil fuels (or at least they did) so, if the asteroid is approaching, what are they waiting for?
This is the problem, the people at the top of the oil companies are either in denial of the fact that oil will one day run out; and/or that “the asteroid is approaching”; and/or they are just not looking beyond securing a decent profit to stick in the bottom line of next year’s Annual Report.
Two questions that remain unanswered
1. When are our politicians going to stop being led by the nose down a Cap and Trade dead-end? and
2. When are we (the general public) going to start demanding that our politicians change course?
We must all be mad if we put up with the business-led control of world politics much longer because… It is not going to end well!