Archive for the ‘International Energy Agency’ Category
I am grateful to Schalke Cloete, of One in a Billion blog fame, for alerting me to this public debate, which was held on Monday at the privately-financed Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina (the US State that has passed a Law that makes accelerating sea level rise illegal).
The debate appears to have been arranged at the behest of one of the two protagonists, Alex Epstein (founder of the Center for Industrial Progress) – whose challenge Bill McKibben (350.org) clearly accepted.
The video below runs to nearly 100 minutes in length so, I suspect, only very few will watch it. Anyone who does will find it very rewarding but, for the majority that probably will not watch it, I have summarised its content below.
To start with both speakers are given 10 minutes to put their case, they are then given opportunity to respond to the points made by the other; to cross-examine each other; and to put forward closing arguments.
Bill McKibben went first and started by stating that fossil fuels were good for us but that the advantages of their continued use are now outweighed by the disadvantages and, therefore, wherever we can, we should stop using them. He then provided fact-based evidence for twelve risks we face if we do not do this:
1. Ocean acidification which will kill corals and endanger a wide variety of shellfish.
2. Melting Ice caps and permafrost (sea level rise and methane release).
3. Increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events of all kinds.
4. Reduced crop for crops of all kinds and consequential increases in food prices.
5. Mass extinction of species (that cannot migrate or whose habitats are degraded).
6. Inundation of coastal cities (with all the collateral damage and disruption that will cause).
7. Increased frequency and severity of forest fires.
8. Increasing numbers of deaths resulting from atmospheric pollution and heat waves.
9. Economic growth and development will be hindered by increased expenditure on mitigation.
10. Socio-political instability and insecurity arising from all of the above (see the Pentagon’s QDR).
11. Libertarian desires will be endangered by the increasing need for autocratic responses.
12. Democracy itself is endangered by policy inaction being promoted by the fossil fuel lobby.
In response to all of this, Alex Epstein insisted that the risks were unproven. This being North Carolina (where accelerating sea level rise has been outlawed), he insisted that there is no evidence that things will get that bad. He then proceeded to point out that climate-related deaths (whatever they are) have gone down over time, whilst CO2 levels have gone up. Despite the fact that he did not himself offer any evidence, he dismissed all of McKibben’s well-referenced arguments as mere speculation. He then trotted out numerous climate denial classics including the mutually contradictory arguments that (a) global warming has stopped and (b) technology will enable us to solve the problem. Alex repeatedly referred to fossil fuels as affordable abundant energy; and repeatedly referred to it as real energy (implying that somehow renewable energy is not real?)
Bill McKibben responded to all of this by pointing out that correlation is not proof of causation; and provided yet more evidence to back up his original assertions. He questioned why anyone would champion increased fuel use rather than promoting the reduction of demand through improved energy efficiency. He questioned why Epstein was so defeatist about the prospects for renewable energy; and pointed out that many of the problems he cited had in fact already been solved. Renewable energy is real energy and, since the alternatives to fossil fuel exist, its use should therefore be maximised as fast as possible.
Epstein responded by asserting that all environmentalists are anti-progress because they are anti –hydroelectric projects and anti-nuclear. He therefore challenged McKibben to endorse the legitimacy of both as potential solutions. He then trotted out yet more climate change denial classics such as (i) CO2 is a trace gas (citing the rise from 0.03% volume to 0.04% volume as insignificant – even though that would actually represent a 33% increase); and (ii) climate model predictions have proven to be unreliable (when in fact they have proven to be overly optimistic). Despite the fact that Epstein – Philosophy and Computer Science major – is clearly no expert in the natural sciences, he even tried and failed to refute the fact that ocean acidification is not happening (by claiming they are becoming less alkaline and more neutral).
Epstein was then invited to rebut McKibben’s arguments. In so doing he repeated his mantra about the folly of giving up on the most affordable and abundant energy source we have, which would prevent progress; and unnecessarily condemn millions to a life of misery. He asserted that fossil fuels had made modern agriculture possible and solved the problem of world hunger that people worried about 40 years ago. Furthermore, given the growth in human population since then, he suggested that we now need fossil fuels in order to prevent widespread malnutrition and starvation.
In rebutting Epstein’s arguments, McKibben started by repeating that fossil fuels had made many good things possible in the past but that the risks of their continued use now outweigh the disadvantages. Climate change has already resulted in more food being eaten than grown in 6 of the last 11 years; and that unabated increase in fossil fuel use will only make it increasingly hard to grow crops. McKibben also questioned the wisdom of trying to refute the opinions of the World’s leading ecologists by asserting that our oceans are not actually turning into acids.
In their closing speeches, Epstein and McKibben recapped their main arguments: Epstein questioned the validity of all the evidence McKibben had presented (but presented none himself); and questioned the integrity of McKibben – accusing him of misrepresenting the situation (for what motive?). In complete contrast, McKibben did not use such language and, being careful not to attack Epstein personally, repeated his main point that the fossil fuel industry is the only one that does not pay to dispose of its waste. He then concluded by suggesting that fossil fuel companies need to decide to become energy companies instead; and embrace the use of all the alternatives that we have.
This week, I was very pleased to discover that some of my recent output has been listed on a Weekly round-up of blogosphere posts related to anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) on the Science blogs website. However, I was even more grateful when I saw mention, within that round-up, of a very significant event in British politics last week.
Over recent months, I have posted quite a lot of stuff about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and carbon capture and storage (CCS); culminating in the items I posted last week (discussed below). It is therefore ironic that I did not notice the row that erupted last week as a result of a public letter to the Secretary of State for the Energy and Climate Change (Ed Davey) from the Chairman of the government’s relevant independent advisory body (the Committee on Climate Change [CCC]) – former Conservative Environment Minister John Selwyn Gummer (now Lord Deben) – as publicised in The Guardian last Thursday.
The UK government published a draft Energy Bill in May this year, on which I commented at the time – in ‘A very unsustainable Energy Bill’. At that time, I was concerned about the stated aim of the UK government to become less reliant upon imported gas. More specifically, I was (and am) concerned that it is planning to replace this with oil shale gas (from fracking); rather than encouraging people to get off the grid altogether by investing in micro-generation (such as solar panels).
It seems, therefore, that anticipation had been growing that an announcement would soon be made that the UK is likely to remain reliant upon new gas-fired power generation (without CCS) well beyond 2030. If the UK pursues this strategy it will do so despite the following:
– 1. The widespread international agreement – of organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); numerous scientists such as James Hansen; and even influential (and formerly sceptical) economists such as William Nordhaus – that humanity can no longer afford to delay decarbonising its energy generation systems.
– 2. The agreement reached at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh in 2009 that – in energy generation a least – fossil fuel subsidies and fossil fuel use both need to be phased out.
– 3. The fact that the Earth has five times more conventional fossil fuel than is now considered safe to burn; and therefore now is not the time to be finding a whole load more unconventional fossil fuels to burn as well.
This all makes me wonder if George Osborne has been paying too much attention to what libertarian ideologues like Richard Lindzen are probably telling him. Wherever this transparently intellectually incoherent policy is coming from, it was clearly this refusal to phase out fossil fuel use (now that we know it is causing ACD) that drove Lord Deben to publish the CCC’s letter last Thursday. In it, he began by stating:
Extensive use of unabated gas-fired capacity (i.e. without [CCS] in 2030 and beyond would be incompatible with meeting legislated carbon budgets. These are, of course, designed to balance the costs and risks of meeting long-term objectives and they require significant investment in low-carbon power generation over the next two decades…
What is even more surprising is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to respond so promptly – quite possibly due to the CCC’s suggestion that pursuing gas (from fracking) instead of equivalent investment in renewable energy could be illegal because (as the CCC letter continues):
Unabated gas-fired generation could therefore not form the basis for Government policy, given the need under the Climate Change Act to set policies to meet carbon budgets and the 2050 [emissions reduction] target.
As I made clear on my blog last week, having benefited from an exchange of emails with Professor Robert Mair (on fracking) and with Dr Bryan Lovell (on CCS), I remain convinced that pursuing fracking as a panacea to all our energy problems is insane; but have reluctantly come to accept that we may have to rely upon CCS if we are to avoid significant ACD. However, this is no excuse for doing as George Osborne has done – effectively telling his own independent advisors that, once again, the non-scientist knows what the best course of action is.
Indeed, apart from putting your hands over your ears and shouting “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, there can only one possible reasons for doing as George Osborne has done – he must believe we can continue to burn fossil fuels with impunity and/or doubt the reality of catastrophic ACD if we do not use CCS to prevent it.
I therefore think it is crunch time for the UK’s Coalition government. Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I support on many issues, famously said he wanted to make it “the greenest government ever”. Sadly, it seems to be failing significantly in many ways: In addition to crippling the green revolution at birth – by removing most of the incentives to get individual households to invest in Solar PV panels on their roofs (etc) – it now seems set to pursue energy independence in the form of fracking. As The Guardian concludes:
The argument over the [decarbonisation] target is now likely to reach the top of the government with pressure mounting on Cameron to face down critics of the government’s green policies and adopt the CCC recommendations in full.
I could have called this post ‘Algebra and Art in the service of Anti-Science’ but, let’s be honest, you would not have had a clue what I was on about; and would have been much less likley to read on. However, if you have read this far, I hope you will continue…
First of all, what do I mean by using the term “fake sceptics”? I like this term because it conveys all the key points made in the introduction to my MA dissertation: That, far from remaining resolutely open-minded in the face of uncertainty, those who sometimes call themselves “climate realists” are, in fact, dismissing all the evidence that supports an unwelcome conclusion. This is not scepticism; it is ideological prejudice and/or willful blindness.
Despite the protestations of people on contrarian websites such as Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit, the jury is not out on our understanding of climate science any more than it is on our living on a near-spherical Earth. In the face of all the evidence to validate both of the above, which pours in on an almost daily basis, it is simply irrational to continue to dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding the nature, scale and urgency of the problem that is anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Furthermore, such an irrational position can only be sustained by invoking conspiracy theory; and/or the marketplace of ideas (i.e. “I am right and everyone else is wrong”)… But what, you may ask, has this got to do with Algebra and Art (or Pythagoras and Plate-Spinning in particular); and why combine the two subjects under one heading and in one post? Well, if you have not already guessed, I hope that all is about to become clear…
The Algebra of Pythagoras
Thanks to Pythagoras’ Theorem, we are mostly taught from a fairly young age that, for any right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Like many other things the early Greek mathematicians worked out, this has proved very useful – not least because it provides us with the equation for a circle (the shape traced out by rotating a right-angle triangle about one of its other two corners). With my thanks to the Worsley School website, here is a useful illustration:
Fake sceptics are of course familiar with this particular equation, because they spend their entire lives going around in circles and take great delight in wasting the time of those who try to stop them…
The Art of Plate-Spinning
Back in October last year, I attempted to engage college drop-out and ex-TV Weatherman, Anthony Watts (of WattsUpWithThat? [WUWT] infamy) in rational debate. Sadly, I failed. This was because, even after realising that one cannot use the words ‘denial’ or ‘denier’ on WUWT (i.e. the “D-words”), Anthony got very embarrassed and blacklisted me after failing to appreciate that I am not a published author and that I was not trying to promote a book full of “such ugliness” as D-words; and having a massive sense of humour failure in the process. For those new to this blog and/or unfamiliar with this sorry tale, this all goes back to my reading of Robert Henson’s excellent book Rough Guide to Climate Change; and my re-formulation of his summation of the arguments climate change sceptics make into what I called ‘The Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’. Thus it was that Anthony Watts got very upset by the way in which I presented these on my blog alongside a spoof cover of a book I have not actually written – Tough Guide to Climate Denial.
So what has all this got to do with plate-spinning? Well, as Henson acknowledged, no one sceptic believes and/or argues all of these things simultaneously but, as I have argued before, trying to tackle these fake sceptics on any one argument is a bit like trying to kill the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology: Defeat is never admitted; another argument is merely substituted; and pretty-soon you find yourself back where you started.
Demolition Progress Report
Now you may understand why I combined the two subjects. However, I think that some progress is now finally being made. Here is an update on progress towards the demolition of each of these ‘Six Pillars of Climate Change Denial’…
1. Global warming is not happening: Dr Richard A Muller has admitted that 20th Century Warming is real and unprecedented in thousands if not millions of years; and therefore it is not an artefact of the Urban Heat Island Effect; the distribution of Land and Sea monitoring points of the substitution of Surface measurements with those from Satellites.
2. Global warming is not man-made: If it is unprecedented in millions of years, how can it be explained by well-understood natural climate forcings (factors tending to bring about change) that have not changed significantly? (i.e. A 1% increase in total solar irradiance and 4% increase in atmospheric moisture; compared to a 40% increase in CO2).
3. Global warming is not significant: If it is unprecedented and man-made, how can it be insignificant and why would we choose not to stop it? Can you feel a circular argument coming on…?
4. Global warming is not necessarily bad: Ongoing research into the effects of increased CO2 on plant growth clearly show short-term benefits are quickly overtaken by longer-term adverse consequences – especially if increased CO2 is combined with increased temperature. Furthermore, as predicted by climate models, the problem is not global warming it is ACD and, whatever the nature of ACD in any one place at any one time, the impact on agriculture is generally negative – which means food prices are likely to rise. This cannot be good.
5. Global warming is not a problem: May be so but, ACD most definitely is a problem; and the longer we delay tackling it the number of people impacted and incapacitated by it will increase; and the number of people willing and able to solve it will decrease.
6. Global warming is not worth fixing: A variety of entities such as the US Department of Defense (Quadrennial Defense Review in 2010); the Communist Party of China (Climate Change White Paper in 2011), and the International Energy Agency (World Energy Outlook in 2011) all agree with the Stern Review that any delay will be a false economy – as now does the formerly-sceptical American economist William Nordhaus.
So what is to be done?
There is most certainly much that could be done but, encouraged by the leaders of our big energy companies, our politicians keep spurning every opportunity they are given to make the required changes. Phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies, levelling the playing field for renewable energy and treating the Green Economy as a business opportunity would all be a good start. Instead of which, our leaders are fixated on short-term problems such as a global debt crisis; but are ignoring the approaching asteroid of ACD; which becomes harder to blow off-course the longer we wait to attempt doing so. In the end, as David Roberts has suggested, our response to ACD is simple: Either we do something or we’re screwed.
Yesterday, I mentioned that I worked as a mine geologist in Australia in the late 1980s. One of the weirdest places I visited, while living and working in the Hammersley Range of Pilbara Region in the NW of Western Australia, was the former asbestos mining town of Wittenoom.
I made the trip up from Newman to Wittenoom before the tarmac Highway through to the coast was completed in the late 1980s.
The town itself was bulldozed in 2007 but, as an historical site, even though the Highway has made it much easier to get to, visiting is probably not a good idea…
In the late 1980s there was still a Youth Hostel in the town and, even though the risks are probably minimal, I remain slightly nervous about the fact that I had a good look around – walking over the spoil heaps (on which plants do not grow) that fill much of the steep-sided valley between the mines and the town. The Western Australian government leaves you in no doubt about who will be responsible if any tourists eventually become ill as a consequence of a visit…
Mining at Wittenoom stopped in 1966, according to the Australian Asbestos Network website, but it was not until 2006 that the government of WA declared the site to be contaminated; and officially closed the town. So what is all the fuss about? Blue asbestos (crocidolite) is probably one of the most dangerous naturally occurring substances that is not radioactive. One microscopic fibre inhaled may be sufficient for you to develop chronic breathing difficulties (mesothelioma) – only one problem it takes decades to develop… So guess what? Decades after miners and their families started developing breathing difficulties and dying, the mining companies (and later the government) denied all responsibility for what was happening. Does this sound at all familiar? It should do, because we humans have a very sad record of discovering things to be hazardous; allowing a lot people to die before those with a lot of money to lose finally admit their responsibility; when governments finally intervene to restrict access to the substance and/or make its use illegal. I am thinking of things like heroin, uranium, x-rays, chlorofluorocarbons, and tobacco.
On the Learning from Dogs blog, yesterday, Paul Handover published an 18-minute video of a presentation by David Roberts (a blogger on the Grist website). It is the most straight-forward explanation of why people need to wake up to the reality of what humans are doing to the planet; and I cannot recommend it highly-enough.
As David points out in his presentation, the International Energy Agency claims that greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 5 to 10 years or:
– stabilising the Earth’s temperature will become impossible;
– 6 Celsius rise by the end of the century will be guaranteed; and
– mitigation and/or adaptation costs increase by 500 billion USD every year.
Even if Carbon Capture and Storage does prove achievable (I remain sceptical), we now seem to be very short of both time and money. However, I am not just a doomsayer: I believe that this problem is solvable but only if we think outside the box, #StopFossilFuelSusidies; and start paying people to install renewable electricity and water-heating systems in their own homes (etc). My only question is this:
How long will it be until fossil fuels are classified as Hazardous?
While you’re waiting to build-up a head of steam of rage over this issue, please listen to this very apt song by 80′s Australian band V.Spy V.Spy, entitled ‘Injustice’:
Have you ever noticed that it is common for people to attempt to discredit those with whom they disagree rather than dealing with what they say? This has been called many things, such as “attacking the messenger”, tactical avoidance, distraction, misdirection, hypocrisy, intellectual dishonesty… but, to me, it is symptomatic of denial.
Why is it that people get so upset by use of the word denial? Has it really anything to do with ‘Holocaust denial’? I don’t think so – this is just a facile way of not addressing the issue – that is to say – it is yet more tactical avoidance: Indeed, I think it is an attempt to deny that one is in denial about being in denial. Is anyone going to be brave enough to
deny it tell me I am wrong! :-)
Of course, so-called “sceptics” will say this is an unfalsifiable argument, but is it?
I suspect that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth is round. I would hope that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth is very old. One thing I know is that over 75% of Americans accept that the Earth’s climate is changing and that we need to try and stop it. How much longer must we wait for the Republican Party – and worshipers at the temple of free market economics and ideologically prejudiced libertarian conservatives everywhere – to wake up to this reality?
Just how much evidence are they waiting for? What will it take for them to admit they are wrong? How many times must their arguments be debunked before they will stop repeating them?
If global warming stopped in 1998, why has each decade since the 1980s been warmer than that which preceded it? If global warming is going to be beneficial, why is the Pentagon so scared about it? If global warming is not worth fixing, why are organisations like the International Energy Agency and economists like Nicholas Stern and William Nordhaus saying it is?
Indeed, why is someone like Economics Professor Mark Jaccard willing to be arrested for civil disobedience in order to make the point that:
“The window of opportunity for avoiding a high risk of runaway, irreversible climate change is closing quickly. Within this decade we will either have steered away from disaster, or have locked ourselves onto a dangerous course. Our governments continue to ignore the warnings of scientists and push forward with policies that will accelerate the burning of fossil fuels. Private interests — coal, rail, oil, pipeline companies and the rest — continue to push their profit driven agenda, heedless of the impact on the rest of us.”
Must we wait until people resort to self-immolation in order to get their point across? I really hope not because, the only difference between this kind of ultimate “alarmism” and a suicide bomber is the number of people killed – they are both terrorists.
Rather than continue to deny reality by dismissing the evidence, so-called “sceptics” need to put their ideological prejudice to one side and fully digest it (i.e. the evidence). Rather than try to repeatedly vomit all over it, they should just accept that it might actually do them some good to chew it over and, along with their pride, swallow it.
Ever since Professor Richard Lindzen gave up on the idea of following the evidence wherever it may take him (I am not sure when this happened but it seems safe to assume that it has at some point in the last 50 years or so), it was almost inevitable that he would, sooner or later, be caught out peddling unscientific nonsense to credulous people (i.e. telling so-called “sceptics” what they want to hear).
As if this had not happened before, it certainly happened when I attended his talk at the Palace of Westminster on 22 February 2012: Having discovered that he had given a similar talk as a Keynote Address to the Heartland Institute’s International Climate Change Conference in May 2010, I went prepared with 3 questions. However, I was so amazed by the level of selective data omission and/or misrepresentation that I blew my chance to ask a question by trying to redress even his most basic failure to acknowledge the relevance of palaeoclimatic data that underlies current concern regarding anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD).
Having been invited to submit my questions via email, I somewhat cheekily decided to submit a very long list of questions arising from both what Professor Lindzen said and what he chose not to say. However, whether it be because I made some moderately-contentious assertions or merely because I had the temerity to question his motives, Professor Lindzen has decided to refuse to answer my questions. Furthermore, his superiors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have now decided to hide behind the veil of academic tenure – and/or academic freedom – in order to avoid asking Lindzen to explain himself.
This is therefore a very sad day for those interested in upholding the importance of intellectual integrity and honesty in the pursuance of scientific knowledge; and for anyone who believes in the importance of achieving the widest-possible dissemination of that knowledge to – and its proper understanding in – the minds of the general population.
Even if they are not important to MIT, I should have thought such things were important to the American Geophysical Union (AGU). But apparently not. Apparently, it is perfectly OK for a prominent atmospheric physicist to accuse just about every other climate scientist on the planet of being involved in a conspiracy to foist environmental “alarmism” on a credulous world; to be guilty of scientific malpractice, deceit or stupidity; and to do so in a manner that appears deeply hypocritical, obfuscates a great deal of relevant information, and dupes numerous audiences into thinking they are right and the majority are wrong. Truly, this could only happen in a post-modern world where moral relativism and the marketplace of ideas have come to dominate all aspects of society.
Therefore, as a consequence of an ideologically-driven need to deny the reality of all environmental problems (that require modification of human activity in general and business practice in particular), I believe Professor Richard Lindzen is the archetypal example of what happens when political dogma gets in the way of scientific inquiry; and truth appears to be the main casualty.
Unfortunately, the Earth may yet be the ultimate casualty because no matter how many times you repeat a lie – even one as big as “there is no cause for alarm over global warming” – it does not become any more likely to be true.
Since he won’t tell me, I really don’t know or understand why Lindzen says the things he does; or why he chooses not to say the things he omits; or why he uses graphs that are clearly very misleading (even when it has been pointed out to him that doing so either shows him to be incompetent or deceitful), but I am sure of this: It is extremely likely that he is peddling a message that is dangerously misleading and that, allowing for non-linearity in climate science in general and ongoing positive feedback mechanisms in particular, climate sensitivity is somewhere between 2 and 6 times greater than he continues to claim he believes it to be.
Therefore we are left with the stark fact (now attested to by organisations like the International Energy Agency and economists such as William Nordhaus) that:
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. [i.e. Point #7 in my summary of James Hansen's recent TED talk]
This is a transcript of an email – copied to about 20 key contacts (i.e. the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, British and American journalists, and climate science bloggers around the world) – sent at 0900 hrs GMT today, Monday 5 March 2012.
***UPDATE: Please make sure you read this too (and/or instead)!***
Professor Richard S. Lindzen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dear Professor Lindzen,
RE: Your presentation in the Palace of Westminster in London on 22 February 2012
In writing you this third email, I am hoping that it will not be spammed. I say this because it seems very clear to me that I may have alienated you by previously making “contentious accusations”. These having been that you have undertaken “previous advocacy work for and on behalf of the tobacco industry”; that you have “fought for so long on behalf of the tobacco industry to prevent legislation to minimise the harmful effects of smoking”; and that you are now “focused instead on helping the fossil fuel lobby deny that anthropogenic climate disruption is happening”. These remarks were unsubstantiated potential slurs on your reputation for which I am now happy to publicly apologise.
I say “publicly” because, in addition to accepting this apology, I hope you will forgive me taking the liberty of copying this email to a number of my relevant contacts. This is because you have publicly and repeatedly (since at least May 2010) questioned the integrity, reliability and/or sensibility of the conclusions of the vast majority of relevantly-qualified climate scientists, the IPCC, and the majority of the World’s relevant professional institutions – all of which consider that we do indeed have legitimate reason to be concerned over ongoing anthropogenic climate disruption. However, just as James Hansen once described you and other “contrarians” as behaving like lawyers (who only present “arguments that favor their client”), I believe this is what you were doing in your presentation at Westminster – and have been doing repeatedly since at least May 2010.
You have repeatedly asserted that climate sensitivity is very low (i.e. 1 Celsius eventual temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric CO2); whereas the genuine consensus view is that climate sensitivity is somewhere in excess of 2.5 Celsius. I therefore believe that we have reached a momentous point in human history; and that bad decisions made now will have irreversible consequences. This is a view recently endorsed by the economist William Nordhaus, who has concurred with numerous other assessments – such as the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) and the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook (2011) – that delaying de-carbonisation of the World’s power generation systems – and all other mitigating actions – will be a false economy. If so, then despite being in the middle of a global debt crisis, we simply must change course; because we cannot afford not to.
In stark contrast to this, James Hansen has also suggested that “policy inaction is the aim of those that dispute global warming” and, once again, I believe this is your aim too. What I am unclear about is your motive(s). However, even if I am entirely wrong, can you please explain why I came away from your Westminster presentation feeling like this?
For example, can you please explain:
– 1. How you can legitimately criticise both Science and the Guardian for publishing a letter signed by 255 prominent members of the National Academy of Sciences in May 2010, given that the Wall Street Journal refused to publish that letter – choosing instead to publish one signed by 16 “sceptics”; of whom you were 1 of only 4 legitimate climate scientists?
– 2. Why did you highlight the manipulation of graphs (e.g. by stretching their y-axes) as being the way that those with whom you disagree supposedly make things seem more alarming; and then do exactly the same thing with a number of your own graphs to make it seem that there is no cause for alarm? (e.g. see Skeptical Science)
– 3. The PDF of the presentation that is (or was) on the Internet does not include what I think was possibly the most misleading graph (i.e. the one showing a steeply inclined Keeling curve superimposed on temperature data [as per the screenshot from the video on my blog – see links below]), which appears to show no correlation with it over the short-term). Is there any good reason why this omission should have occurred?
Therefore, far from being an environmental “alarmist”, I believe I am a realist and – because climate change denial has prevented significant energy policy changes for at least 24 years now - it seems to me that we are gambling the entire future habitability of planet Earth on you being right about climate sensitivity; when the vast majority of the evidence (including looking at 1990 modelling in the light of what actually happened to CO2 emissions) strongly suggests that you are in fact wrong.
To conclude, Professor Lindzen, I am an unemployed environmental advisor and/or lobbyist; I have no employer to embarrass, and no job to lose. However, it seems to me that it would not be unreasonable for any objective observer to conclude that you have been indulging in the hypocritical obfuscation of many relevant facts; and the misdirection of your multiple audiences. Therefore, because your presentation at Westminster was not one, could you please give me an unequivocal and clear statement of the reasons for what appears to me to be your entirely unwarranted optimism?
I look forward to hearing from you very soon.
Yours very sincerely,
Martin C. Lack. BSc (Geology), MSc (Hydrogeology), MA (Environmental Politics).
N.B. My two previous emails to you were published as promised last week (subject to minor modification and enhancement with video and screenshot of the “missing” graph) at:
An open letter to Richard Lindzen (28 February 2012)
Prof. Lindzen – try this instead! (29 February 2012)
Hopefully “mugging” has the same meaning in English-speaking countries all around the world. If not, for the avoidance of any doubt, I mean “what to do if someone steals your money from you while you’re walking down the street…”
First let’s agree on what you don’t do: You don’t just ignore it; and you don’t stand there arguing with the person next to you about who is going to give chase. However, even if you don’t fancy your chances tackling the criminal yourself, surely you would chase them anyway and draw attention to the person making off with your money, in the hope that others will come to your aid? Failing all of that, you would report the matter to the police, in the hope that they can track down the person responsible and bring them to justice.
Well, I have news for you, in 2011 the Planet may have been mugged by Climate Change but many people seem to have failed to notice and/or take action: Take the Arab Spring for example, this was basically triggered by sky-rocketing food prices that were themselves a consequence of unprecedented drought in central Russia. Next we had the record-breaking number and intensity of tornadoes hitting the south-eastern States of the USA and, worldwide, so many flooding events one hardly knows where to begin. However, somewhere between Queensland in January and the Phillipenes in December, it surely must have become obvious to most people that our global climate has gone bananas?
If not, then check out the latest report from the NASA, which highlights the fact that 2011 was the 9th warmest year on record despite being in the middle of a La Nina event (which should have made it cooler). Helpfully, Hansen et al (2012) also point out that “Nine of the ten warmest years are in the 21st century, the only exception being 1998, which was warmed by the strongest El Nino of the past century.”
In July, it was reported in the UK’s Independent newspaper that scientists on both sides of the Atlantic were preparing to abandon their reticence to identify human activity as being the cause of increasingly-frequent extreme weather: Extreme weather link ‘can no longer be ignored’ (1 July 2011). Then, in November, the IPCC released its ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX).
Although immediately dismissed by sceptics as saying nothing new (because we still cannot prove a causal link between human activity and any given event [i.e. conveniently ignoring that we may never be able to do this]), it should be clear to anyone who understands the meaning of the phrases “beyond reasonable doubt” and “most prudent course of action” what we should do. However, if not, the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has provided a useful summary: ‘Ten key messages of the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events’.
So then, what was the international response to all of this? Not a lot, I am afraid: Hailed as being the last-minute success of extended deliberation and almost all-night debate, the agreement reached at the end of the UNFCCC’s talks (COP17) in Durban in December has made significant, irreversible climate change almost certain. Having been warned by everyone from Greenpeace to the International Energy Agency that time is running out, COP17 gave the UNFCCC 8 more years to argue about who is more to blame and who should blink first. But don’t take it from me, this is the view of one of India’s most prominent and successful environmental journalists, Praful Bidwai:
Online article: Durban’s Greenwash Outcome (Jan 2012); and
New book: The politics of climate change and the global crisis (Jan 2012).
If so, what should our leaders have done. Well, of course that is much more tricky. Primarily because the actions necessary challenge so many of our long-cherished assumptions about the way economics and politics work best. What everyone seems to so conveniently forget is that, leaving aside for a moment the inherent difficulty of spending your way out of a global debt crisis, investing in an environmentally-sound future would actually create and secure jobs.
In a deliberate allusion to the transformative ideas of President Franklin D Roosevelt over 80 years ago, this has been called The Green New Deal; and I would say that the time to pursue it is now: It is not a plan for a green utopia; it is merely a plan to guarantee the survival of humanity – Our current course of action is not sustainable and not survivable.
Now is no time for arguing because, we have not just been mugged, at least 20 years ago many of us were collectively abducted and held hostage by a nasty strand of neoliberalism that paints environmentalism as the enemy; and environmental concern as a zero sum game. However, the truth of the matter is that treating the environment as a vast warehouse whose goods can be used without paying for them is the real zero sum game; and the warehouse is now dangerously empty. Therefore, even if you feel you cannot embrace the principle of participatory democracy by doing something yourself (why not?), you should embrace that of representative democracy and write to those who supposedly act on your behalf (otherwise they will have no mandate to demand change).
Finally, please remember that some people on Earth – along with all non-human inhabitants and future generations of humans – do not have a vote; so please don’t waste yours.
Doing the right thing is not always easy, especially if you are the President of the United States of America. In a political system that is quite possibly more corrupt than North Korea, the Obama administration is surrounded by very highly-paid lobbyists who have tried very hard to get the Keystone XL Pipeline approved.
Possibly for the first time in his entire Presidency, Barrack Obama has done the right thing: North America needs to understand that Tar Sands are not the answer to its need for energy security, just as the rest of the world needs to understand that Arctic Oil and Shale Gas are not the answer to their’s either.
There will be many who will be angry about this decision but, in getting angry, they expose the shallow and narrow-minded nature of their position: They treat fossil fuels like climbers treat mountains; and want to burn them merely because they are there. To do so requires an extra-ordinary degree of tunnel vision; but they have proven themselves equal to the task. Just like the tobacco company executives who went before them, and from whom they have learnt so diligently, they have known what they are doing will hasten the death of many people but, solely in the interest of increasing their own affluence, they have kept on going.
For how much longer must we put up with the Fossil Fuel Lobby shamelessly denying climate change has been caused – and is now being accelerated – by the burning of fossil fuels? Bring on the class act law suit, our children and grandchildren need it now!
Even the International Energy Agency now admits that we must stop burning fossil fuels; and we must do so quickly. Now is not the time for 20 or 30 year programmes, we must do it all in 5 or 10 years, or we can kiss goodbye to a reasonably-habitable planet: If we burn all fossil fuels simply because we can, the best estimate of people whose opinions we really should respect is that by 2100AD the Earth will have warmed up by an average of 4 to 6 Celsius (that’s 7 to 11 Fahrenheit)… It will be Game Over for millions of acres of farmland and, if you thought 2011 was a bad year for refugees and enforced migration, just wait until all our coastal plains and cities are flooded; then you will know what the scientists meant when they talked about “climate disruption”!
Well Done President Obama, you have done the right thing: This is a victory for common sense; and it must be hoped that, far from finding some way to circumvent this decision, those who would wish to build this pipeline will take a good long hard look in the mirror (and then go and get a job working for Greenpeace). Now I am getting stupid – I had better stop.
Here in the UK, the Discovery Channel has recently completed screening a series of programmes about Cobalt Coal, one of many small privately-owned coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, USA.
Entitled simply COAL, this puts a very challenging human face on a serious dilemma: However, if James Hansen thinks it is important enough to get himself arrested, I am inclined to think he has good cause for believing that we must soon decide to leave it in the ground.
As someone with an almost lifelong interest – and Degree in – geology (amongst others), I have come very reluctantly to the conclusion that Hansen is right: Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do it; and the same logic applies to the proposed exploitation of all unconventional fossil fuels… Therefore, I think the US government – and all other governments of countries with significant coal reserves – should be actively pursuing investment in alternative technology and/or renewable energy: Apart from anything else this would provide alternative employment for coal miners (whose employers do not seem to be doing a great deal to prevent them from developing chronic respiratory diseases as a result of inhaling coal dust)… When we realised that mining asbestos was bad for our health and our environment, we stopped doing it: How long must all life on Earth wait for us to accept that we must similarly stop burning fossil fuels?
In George Orwell’s dystopic novel, Brave New World, artificial jobs were created. However, Green Jobs would not be artificial, they would be real and purposeful: Indeed what purpose could be better than trying hard to avoid allowing the status quo / business as usual / burn all fossil fuels paradigm continue? …That’s right; there isn’t one!
Furthermore, as the International Energy Agency recently pointed out: “Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.” (World Energy Outlook (Press Release), 9 November 2011).
Finally, carbon capture and storage is almost certainly an inherently dangerous myth peddled by those that have an entirely selfish interest in the perpetuation of business as usual.