As the Bishop of London said at the funeral service for the late Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven today, this is neither the time nor the place to argue about her legacy. Comments on this post are therefore disabled (until tomorrow at least). However, even putting aside politics, all those miners of coal who have have shown such crass disrespect for the late Margaret Thatcher need to bear in mind that mining coal is one of the most environmentally damaging things humans have ever done. Therefore, in seeking to make the UK less dependent upon coal, it could be argued that Mrs Thatcher’s greatest mistake was pursuing gas rather than renewable energy. This mistake, replicated the world over for several decades now, is a mistake for which we and our children and our children’s children shall pay a very heavy price.
“An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it” — Orlando A. Battista.
As it says on my About page, “The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” — John Dryzek (2005: 70).
This is the almost-ubiquitous advice of stockbrokers but, sadly, it is almost universally ignored.
I have never died before. Does this mean I can presume upon my immortality?
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a few suggestions to all those who think concern for the environment is a false alarm, a new religion, or an excuse to curtail your freedom or tax you more heavily:
1. Grow up.
2. Go back to school.
3. Open your eyes and look out the window.
4. Stop cherry-picking data that reinforces your prejudice.
5. Stop ignoring all the data that contradicts your misperception of reality.
6. Read this Wikipedia article on the New World Order – it might just open up your mind.
7. Read this Skeptical Science article on the History of Climate Science – it might just resolve your confusion.
I happened to stumble across a BBC TV Horizon special, entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World’ last Thursday. It begins with a fascinating review of humankind’s history of – and propensity for – invention. It also explains some truly fascinating – and inspiring – developments in the spheres of space exploration, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and power generation.
In the introduction, the programme presenter and narrator Liz Bronnin explains how, after 100s of thousands of years of technological stagnation, the fast-moving world of technological innovation is very definitely a modern invention.
She then looks at how, since our governments announced they were not going to do so, private investors are now involved in a race to return to the Moon (and win a $US 20 million prize). Just after 11 minutes in, however, economist Marianna Mazzucato makes the point that private sector development would never happen unless governments first spent money innovating (just look at your Computer, iPhone, or SatNav).
This is followed by an examination of the invention of graphene (i.e. the repeated use of sellotape to produce a film of graphite comprised of only one layer of carbon atoms in a hexagonal matrix). It is truly astonishing what graphene can do – including carry the weight of a cat…
After 23 minutes, a variety of talking heads demonstrate the complexity of modern science and the impossibility of any one person understanding it all. However, Bronnin then presents the example of Professor Robert Langer at MIT. What he is doing – and enabling others to do – is truly amazing; including potentially doing away with the need for chemotherapy to treat cancer.
After about 32 minutes, Bronnin introduces the power of the Internet to promote innovation – crowd-sourcing research funding and the concept of open-source technology – the complete abrogation of intellectual copyright… It is a fundamental challenge to globalised Capitalism; but it may well be the solution to many of our problems…
However, to me, the final third of the programme is by far the most fascinating… It looks at the challenges of finding a replacement for fossil fuels. It provides a very clear message that this is a technological challenge driven by the reality of physics – not by ideology.
It presents the case for synthetic biology, which has now succeeded in genetically modifying cyanobacteria so that they use photosynthesis to produce ethanol. This is brilliant, but, it is still only recycling CO2 (it is not removing it from the biosphere). With this technology, we could stop the CO2 content of the atmosphere from rising (but it will not help get it down again).
In the final 10 minutes of the programme, Bronnin presents the inspiring case of the British inventor, Michael Pritchard, who miniaturised water treatment technology as a result of watching the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004; when people were surrounded by water they could not drink… Indeed, to prove that it works, he even gets Bronnin (at 54 minutes) to drink water extracted from a tank including all kinds of unpleasant things including dog pooh…
For all these reasons, if you have not seen it, I would recommend that you watch the programme:
Re-engineering nature for our benefit will, without doubt, be very very useful. However, I still think the optimism of the comment at the very end of the programme “…I never worry about the future of the human race, because I think we are totally capable of solving problems…” is very unwise. This is because anthropogenic climate disruption is a problem that is getting harder to solve the longer we fail to address it effectively.
Bronnin concludes by saying that, “it is an exciting time to be alive…” However, I remain very nervous. This is because, as Professor Peter Styles of Keele University – a strong supporter of the hydraulic fracturing industry – recently acknowledged, it will be impossible for carbon capture and storage to remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to prevent very significant changes to our climate. This is because of the collective hypnosis that deludes most people into seeing perpetual economic growth as the solution to all our problems.
In short, I am certain that technology alone cannot save us. In order to avoid the ecological catastrophe that all but the most ideologically-prejudiced and wilfully-blind can see developing all around us… we need to modify our behaviour: This primarily means that we need to acknowledge the injustice of a “use it up and wear it out” mentality and, as individuals, all learn to use an awful lot less energy.
Climate change “sceptics” have picked a fight with history and science – primarily with the concept of Entropy - and they will lose. The only question that remains is this: Are we going to let them put us all in (what xraymike79 recently called) ‘the dustbin of failed evolutionary experiments’.
So said Lord (Julian) Hunt, Vice President of GLOBE and a former Director General of the UK’s Meteorological Office, in an article published in The Times newspaper on 2 April 2013 (behind paywall). Fortunately (for me and all those without a Times subscription), the text of what appears to be the same article has been released to the media by the British Embassy in Beijing. This is presumably because Lord Hunt refers to China.
However, without further comment from me, here is the article in full:
It was the chilliest Easter Day on record, and last month is the coldest March for at least 50 years. But we are not alone in shivering. Across much of Europe, temperatures have been unseasonably cold. In Germany, this has been called a once in a “100-year winter”.
We should not be surprised. It has long been expected that climate change would bring more weird or extreme weather — not just cold but rain, droughts and heat waves — to the UK. So longer spells of colder winter weather are consistent with this. As were drought conditions around this time last year, followed by many months of heavy rain which resulted in the UK experiencing in 2012, the second wettest year on record.
Extreme weather has become more frequent across the world. Australia started 2013 with a record breaking heat wave. Similarly, a heatwave in the US in 2012 (the warmest year on record for mainland America) contributed towards widespread drought which proved devastating for many crops. Russia also experienced its second warmest summer last year. This follows the country’s hottest summer on record in 2010 with states of emergency in seven Russian regions as a result of brush fires, while 28 other regions were put under states of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought.
And then there is the steady increase in peak rainfall rates. These have doubled in South East Asia,for instance over 30 years. It is such a problem that the Malaysians have built a huge SMART tunnel (or Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel) in Kuala Lumpur which doubles up as both a motorway and a six-mile long pipe to cope with flash floods. A similar less pronounced trend is occurring in the UK, which help explains the rise in localised, incredibly heavy showers which have brought flooding from Cumbria to Cornwall. This is caused by a change in the atmosphere called “vertical mixing” in which cumulus clouds become stronger and bigger.
In the UK, the trend is likely to be towards colder winters as a large part of Arctic ice melts permanently (as now happens every summer). The winds over the ice-free ocean could then push colder currents up to Iceland and the Arctic ocean. And as a result of colder waters from the North, the northern UK, in particular, may no longer enjoy the same level of warming from the Gulf Stream as it did when the sea ice boundary was further south.
It is these colder oceans which help to rebut one of the more common arguments used by sceptics to argue that “global warming has stopped”. They often point to graphs which purport to show that Earth’s temperature has not risen in 16 years. But that graph combines land and ocean temperature. Separate the two, and you see that on land temperature is still rising — 0.3℃ over the past decade. More dramatically, in China it has risen by 2℃ over the past 50 years, and 3℃ in the Antarctic over 30 years.
The drop in sea temperature is not just taking place in the Arctic, where the ice is melting, but equally strongly in the eastern Pacific, where winds off the South American coast bring deep, colder waters to the surface. Normally this La Niña phenomenon lasts for three to five years. However, it has been active for more than a decade, caused by easterly trade winds along the equator that have been strengthened by general warming of the atmosphere. When La Niña finally falls away, some time in the next few years, the surface cooling will end. This will increase temperatures over large areas of the globe, disrupting agriculture and fisheries in many countries, and pushing up food prices.
Fortunately, even some sceptics are won round when they experience the problems themselves. The scepticism of some Russian officials has disappeared as they have seen the permafrost melt in the north of the country, and watched the effects of prolonged heatwaves and droughts.
Responsible nations are preparing for the effects of climate change. However, all governments need constant encouragement, in the face of financial austerity and the claims of sceptics, to expand programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical they do so, otherwise future generations will have more to worry about than a freezing cold Easter Sunday.
For all those people who have not been duped into believing in the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas, Lord Hunt is someone whose opinions should carry weight. Experts are real and so is anthropogenic climate disruption. So, then, I really do hope that climate change denial will founder on the rocks of reality (and the sooner the better it will be for everybody).
In the Preface to my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, I make clear that it was reading Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, that prompted me to do the research that my book summarises.
Therefore, I am delighted here to reproduce the review of my book by Vice-President of the Geological Society, Dr Colin Summerhayes, now published on Amazon.co.uk, in which this comparison is made. Although Dr Summerhayes has asked me to stress that his review his solely a statement of his personal opinions, he agreed that it would be appropriate for me to highlight the expertise that perhaps make his opinions significant: Dr Summerhayes is a marine geologist and oceanographer with a particular interest in the Antarctic. As such, since 2010, he has been an Emeritus Associate of the of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) – a part of Cambridge University. Prior to that, Dr Summerhayes was Executive Director of the International Council for Science’s Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and, as such, was also one of the editors of the Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report published by SCAR in 2002. For the record, Dr Summerhayes was also, to my knowledge, the only other non-sceptical person in the audience when Professor Richard Lindzen gave his now infamous talk in a Committee Room of the Palace of Westminster in February 2012 (which I refer to as Lindzengate).
However, without further ado, here is the review posted on Amazon by Dr Summerhayes:
In 2010, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway did a service to science when they documented the manufacture of doubt about human-caused global warming by many of the same people who brought us ‘safe’ cigarettes. Most of their book focussed on doubt generated in the USA. The attack on the science of global warming remains shrill, and it comes from within the UK as well. Martin Lack has provided much the same service as Oreskes and Conway by documenting the UK’s sources of doubt about this socially important topic. Lack starts out by addressing the philosophical roots of scepticism, its misappropriation for ideological reasons and the psychological causes of denial. He lists the main UK organizations, scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others promulgating ‘denial’ of the science of human-induced climate change. Rather than labelling these ‘agents’ ‘deniers’, Lack prefers to label them ‘sceptic’ or ‘contrarian’, citing Robert Henson’s definition of the climate change contrarian position (in the 2008 second edition of “The Rough Guide to Climate Change”) as: “The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem”. Scientific scepticism is healthy and widespread within the climate science community, the group of people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to human-caused climate change. Their collective view could be called ‘scientific consensus, or scientific authority, or conventional scientific wisdom’. It is this ‘mainstream’ view that is attacked by the contrarians. Their common argument is that this or that particular point is wrong, hence the whole edifice is wrong. Such an approach displays a fatal misunderstanding of what Karl Popper meant by falsification. Read Lack and learn.
My book is now available in electronic form – search any online bookstore website for the ISBN 9781481783989 – and if it does not show up on Amazon.com please pester them until it does.
What we know is this: As a whole (including the oceans), on average, over the long term, the Earth is getting warmer; and that it is doing so at a rate equivalent to – or in excess of – that at which it emerged from the last Ice Age. Therefore, since we were already in the middle of a warm inter-glacial period, the question remains, which one of these are we now witnessing:
ACD = Anthropogenic climate disruption; or
AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming?
One is consistent with the reality that Earth’s climate is complicated (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the fact that it can be unusually cold in one place whilst unusually hot somewhere else (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the bulk of atmospheric physics; thermodynamics; and the Laws of conservation of Energy, Mass and Water (whereas the other is not).
Have you worked out which is which yet? If not, any or all of the following may help:
Please do not worry that I am suddenly turning all Evangelical on you. Far from it. I just cannot get over how relevant the following words seem. They were written by former Pharisaic Jew, Saul – known to Christians as St Paul – to his young protegé, Timothy, in 66-67 AD.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… (2 Tim 3: 1-4)
I am trying hard to fend-off a potential Messiah complex with regard to environmentalism but it seems, to me at least, an incontrovertible aspect of modernity that we have now fulfilled this 1950 year-old prophecy. However, as regular readers of this blog may well be able to guess, what concerns me more is that the greatest failure of modernity arose out of the Age of Enlightenment: This seventeenth-Century revolution in natural philosophy meant that Western science emerged from the Dark Ages but, from it, along with all the positive benefits of building on Chinese and Islamic scholarship, we sadly inherited the idea that humans are superior to Nature – rather than part of it. This is a fallacy that underlies the inability of many to accept the reality of ACD (i.e. anthropogenic climate disruption). Either that, or they are deluded into thinking that:
1. Humans are incapable of affecting their environment (despite the precedents of industrial pollution causing Acid Rain and CFCs creating the hole in the Ozone layer); or
2. God will not allow humans to trash the Environment (due to infantile reliance upon things like Genesis 8:22. – Yes, Senator James Inhoffe [R-OK], I am looking at you).