Welcome to Lack of Environment (established 10 August 2011).
Although scientifically trained (with degrees in Geology and Hydrogeology – see my About page), this blog arises from my having also got an MA in Environmental Politics and, as such, as the tagline indicates, is a blog on “the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems”… I hope you will take this on board; and enjoy the discussion.
“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” – Herman E. Daly (former World Bank economist). For more information on this, please see my It doesn’t have to be like this (21 May 2012).
Explanatory note: Obama may highlight coal but, given that climate change and ocean acidification are consequences of pumping geospheric carbon* into the biosphere, the priority must be to eliminate the most carbon intensive sources first. That means phasing out tar sands and coal as soon as possible. Hence the title to this post.
*i.e. carbon that has been out of circulation within the biosphere for millions of years, which has given rise to atmospheric CO2 levels unprecedented in millions of years. It really is that simple.
In the run up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 21 scheduled for December 2015, 24 of the UK’s foremost academic institutions, including the Geological Society have published a joint Climate Communiqué calling on national governments to take immediate action if they want to avert the serious risks posed by climate change. The document states that to tackle climate change, governments, including that of the UK, must seize the opportunity at climate talks in Paris in December to negotiate an agreement based on the latest scientific evidence. Pointing to that scientific evidence, the organisations say that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world by early in the second half of the century.
I recommend that all watch the video just broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 News this evening.
The video is one of a report, by Jamal Osmond, from Somaliland.
Never heard of it? Me too.
Somaliland is not recognised by the international community but, as the northern part of Somalia, it has existed in relative peace for many years. Whilst Somalia’s civil war has raged on, Somaliland has been very stable.
In recent times, Somaliland has even been receiving refugees fleeing the chaos in Yemen (on the other side of the Gulf of Aden).
However, as the title of this post indicates, I was particularly struck by the comments made by one of many natives of Somaliland that have returned home after years living in London.
This post has been prompted by recent comments on an old post on another blog. That blog is Learning from Dogs, and the old post – dating from December 2011 – was about the financial crisis in Greece… Yes, it really has been going on that long!
For reasons I cannot now recall, I was not impressed by the humorous nature of the original post – entitled ‘Financial bailouts explained!’ – preferring instead to focus on the seriousness of the crisis.
However, a recent response to my original comment – no doubt prompted by the events of the last week or so – led me to try and clarify my opposition to the idea of a European superstate.
What we now refer to as the European Union (EU) was formerly the European Communities (EC) and, originally, the European Economic Community (EEC). This was formed by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. Originally envisaged as a way to prevent the resurgence of extreme nationalism, it is interesting to note that concerns about the erosion of national sovereignty appeared very early in the EEC’s history:
“Through the 1960s, tensions began to show, with France seeking to limit supranational power.” — Wikipedia
Anyway, in attempting to justify my opposition to the idea, I suggested that a European superstate was not necessary to prevent another war in Europe; offering the Battle of Waterloo as evidence (because it was followed by 99 years of peace in Europe). However, upon further reflection, I realised that this does not validate my argument… and so began a train of thought that led me back to Garrett Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’.
The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is an essay written by Hardin, which was published in an academic journal in 1968 (a link to which is provided below). In this essay, Hardin used a medieval analogy – of the over-grazing of land held in common ownership – to warn of the dire consequences of unbridled self-interest on an over-populated planet with finite resources.
What now follows, therefore, is that train of thought, which all started with The Treaty of Rome:
To be honest, my reference to Waterloo is probably a logical fallacy… and peace in Europe since WW2 is probably due, in large part, to the Treaty of Rome that created the EEC. However, it is not the only reason; others would include the dominance of the US and USSR during the Cold War era.
Like many others, I am in favour of European co-operation and free-trade (etc) but not in favour of political and fiscal union of widely divergent economies. Despite this, I think Europe-wide legislation is a good thing when it comes to tackling environmental issues such as the over-fishing of our seas, global warming and ocean acidification – all of which are consequences of treating the Earth like ‘a business in liquidation’ (Herman E. Daly).
Given that the EU has an admirable record in promoting climate change mitigation, some may find it odd that I would oppose the construction of a European superstate. However, I think it is entirely reasonable to make a special case for global environmental issues that do not respect national boundaries. As Isaac Asimov once said, “It is important that the World get together to face the problems which attack us as a unit.”
The problem is that, because our survival as a species is endangered by global warming (etc), humanity is now self-harming. Furthermore, until libertarians stop denying the nature of reality, we will continue down the road to what Garrett Hardin called ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ (1968). As with the problem of global over-population, so it is with global warming: Libertarians everywhere need to acknowledge the reality of the problem and, therefore, recognise that it is in the best interests of every individual that we all exercise self-restraint.
Clearly, it would be good if the Treaty of Rome can be used to help prevent the Tragedy of the Commons. However, what concerns me is that free trade is used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to enrich those who already have far more than their fair share of the Earth’s finite resources:
“The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a comprehensive free trade and investment treaty currently being negotiated – in secret – between the European Union and the USA. As officials from both sides acknowledge, the main goal of TTIP is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards and environmental regulations, such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even new banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.” — War on Want
If you are a European citizen, I hope you will register (or have registered) your opposition to TTIP by signing one (but only one) of the many petitions on the Internet. One of these can be reached via the above link to the War on Want website.
I know this is very late but, it is such significant moment, I feel I must comment on the recent decision of Lancashire County Council to refuse to allow fracking to proceed in their county.
Never mind that their decision was primarily the result of NIMBYism… spurious worries about earth tremors; slightly-less spurious worries about groundwater contamination; and probably-valid worries about methane escaping into overlying aquifers (rather than being sucked out of the ground)… this was a great result for anti-fracking campaigners all around the world.
This decision sets an important precedent that I hope will not be overturned by the inevitable appeal by Cuadrilla; and/or over-ruled by the same national government that has promoted the cause of NIMBYism when it comes to opposing onshore wind turbines and solar farms.
Our supposedly “greenest government ever” could and should therefore be decried as hypocritical if they try and go against the wishes of local people in Lancashire.
Long-standing readers of this blog, written as it is by someone with a geological and hydrogeological background, may recall some of my previous posts on the subject of fracking. However, in a nutshell (or perhaps I should say “in a drill casing”), my opposition to fracking has hardened over time. Initially, my opposition was based on the same logical grounds as that against drilling for oil in the Arctic: Having established that burning fossil fuels is changing our climate, humans should now be trying to stop burning them as soon as possible. Now, however, I am also against it because it has been proven to give rise to methane contamination of groundwater; and because as little as 3% of the gas will actually be recoverable.
Given that China has now announced that it intends to make its carbon emissions peak within 15 years, can the G7 now be shamed into doing the same? We can but hope.
However, I digress from fracking (and Lancashire): In May this year, I was delighted by the appointment of Amber Rudd, as the new Climate Change Minister. This was partly because she is a woman. However, I was mainly pleased because, unlike so many totally ill-qualified, ‘sceptical’ non-experts — with Degrees in subjects like economics (Lord Lawson), Sociology (Benny Peiser), English (James Delingpole) or Classics (Christopher Monckton) — Amber Rudd accepts that the IPCC is not part of a global conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous world.
Amber Rudd, in common with the vast majority of relevant experts with a history of producing peer-reviewed scientific research, has concluded that the growing disruption to the Earth’s climate is being predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels in the last 200 years.
The only people now disputing this (as-near-as-science-ever-gets-to) certain fact are those with a vested interest in the perpetuation of the oil industry… and a handful of credulous (or wilfully blind) economists and journalists who perpetuate the myth that the science is uncertain.
Sadly, whether deliberately or otherwise, these very same people have, just as they did for the tobacco industry, succeeded in delaying for decades the effective regulation of an environmentally-damaging product.
That being the case, investment in fossil fuel companies should not only be seen as financially unwise; it should be seen as corporately irresponsible and socially unacceptable. We can but hope.
However, in the UK at least, there is of course the problem of the Energy Gap: The UK is being forced to close down it’s ‘dirty’ (i.e. high carbon intensity) coal-fired power stations. Unfortunately, the mix of low-carbon and renewable sources (i.e. wind, solar, tidal, and nuclear) — which even the fossil fuel executives of 50 years ago thought would have become dominant in the power-generation sector by now — is nowhere near to being in a position to replace coal. This leaves the UK importing huge amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
As a quick aside, I would like to encourage all non-scientific types not to be intimidated by jargon. Take “carbon intensity” as an example. This is merely a reference to the number of carbon atoms in the product being burnt. As such, mining tar sands is ‘highest’ and burning methane is ‘lowest’.
Sadly, however, none of this changes the fact that burning any fossilised carbon increases the total amount of CO2 circulating within the biosphere, which is warming the planet as a result of the basic Laws of Physics. To make matters even worse extra atmospheric CO2 is slowly reducing the pH of seawater, which is making it harder for shellfish of all kinds to live and grow. This is a much more serious problem because they are the only means Nature has for removing excess carbon from the biosphere (by the processes that created the fossil fuels in the first place)…
Getting back to LNG: Clearly, it would be much better if the UK did not have to do this. However, if we accept the science, we do not have the luxury of taking decades to phase-out fossil fuel use.
China is right and the G7 should follow their lead.
As many economists have now pointed out, humanity needs to treat climate change as an existential threat — far more potent than any Earthbound terrorist group — that requires mobilisation of the military-industrial complex to minimise and/or adapt to it. Sadly, far too much of the military-industrial complex is still fighting a rear-guard action to perpetuate its own existence — rather than on trying to safeguard the habitability of planet Earth for future generations.
World-famous film director, James Cameron, might well have cited the ill-fated MS Titanic as an analogy for humanity today. However, I am sure we would all rather that money would be invested in minimising climate change; rather than on constructing Elysium.
We can but hope.
I often used to tell people, “If you can’t say anything positive then don’t say anything at all!”.
When it comes to this blog, however, I have repeatedly failed to take my own advice.
I therefore think I may have to stop blogging unless or until I can be more positive.
In the meantime, I would encourage all those who can to make their voices heard by engaging in positive collective action and/or peaceful public protest.
In the UK, there is an opportunity to do this next week – on June 17 – and I do hope it remains peaceful.
For the record, however, I have also added an addendum to my last post, which includes this link to an attempt by The Carbon Brief to be positive about the G7’s latest statement of intent:
Sadly, it too makes sobering reading – highlighting the similarities with the [then] G8’s pronouncements in 2009 and the fact that the [now] G7 produce less than 20% of global CO2 emissions. I would therefore agree with former Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who suggested recently that the larger G20 must drive the planned global climate deal.
Whatever happens, I hope we do not see further nefarious and/or criminal acts to prevent progress (e.g. such the entirely bogus ‘Climategate’ scandal in 2009).
Despite the scientific and economic consensus – that 80% of known fossil fuels must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid allowing climate change to become unstoppable and irreversible (IEA, IMF, IPCC, OECD, etc.) – the best the G7 can do is propose that we stop burning fossil fuels by the end of the century…
If the BBC report of the second day of this week’s G7 Summit in Germany is to be believed, this may be due to more tangible fears of a Greek exit from the Euro-zone and/or emerging threats like Islamic State.
However, I suspect that our global politicians are simply unwilling or unable to face the reality that such a proposal – that humanity can take 85 years to wean itself off its hydrocarbon addiction – is not a strategy that a significant proportion of species on Earth are likely to survive…
But please don’t take my word for it, just Google “80% of species face extinction by climate change” and take a look at the results you get, like this one: One in six species faces extinction as a result of climate change (i.e. even 17% would be significant).
The above article, on The Conservation website, cites research recently published by the author, Mark Urban, in the Science journal; the abstract of which reads as follows:
Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. I synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change–induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.
Urban, M.C. (2015), ‘Accelerating extinction risk from climate change’, Science 348 (6234) pp.571-573
17% may be a lot less than 80% but, as this most recent synthesis of available research states, previous estimates of the risk “vary widely” and – given the complexity of ecological systems upon which we rely for food production (etc) – I think most biologists would agree that 17% is still very significant.
The scientific and economic consensus is that global CO2 emissions must peak within a decade in order to avoid a runaway greenhouse effect taking hold. Is failing to do this really a risk that humanity should be taking?
As the BBC has pointed out, the G7’s stance may well signal (to investors) that the end of fossil fuel era is approaching. However, whereas the G7’s mid-century target is for emissions to be cut 40-70% globally compared with 2010, the scientific and economic consensus makes the G7 appear reckless and/or complacent in suggesting that we can afford to burn fossil fuels at all past 2050.
Ultimately, I think the reason for humanity’s collective failure to address the urgency of the need for action on climate change comes down to psychology. After all, being in denial is cheaper than being in therapy.
Also worthy of note is this attempt by The Carbon Brief to be positive about the G7’s communique:
James Delingpole is the reason that I started blogging four years ago. (If this is news to you, please see Background.) I have therefore been drawn out of blogging hibernation by the fact that James’ name features on the winning exhibit of this year’s Anglia Ruskin Sustainability Art Prize.
The award-winning piece, by third year BA (Hons) Fine Art student Ian Wolter, is a supposed memorial inscribed with the names of a (hopefully) dying breed of individuals who – entirely illegitimately – claim to be climate change ‘sceptics’. That is to say, they claim to be ‘sceptical’ about the fact that humans are the primary cause of post-Industrial climate change.
Thus, I say “entirely illegitimately” because, as I have often said before, true ‘scepticism’ is the foundation of modern science: It is the reason modernity emerged from the mysticism of the Earth-centred Universe wherein the Roman Catholic Church attempted to hold back the progress of scientific enquiry.
True scepticism is the willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads you. This is in stark contrast with supposed climate change ‘sceptics’ who choose to believe in scientific and/or political conspiracy theories – and reject all the evidence that conflicts with their ideological prejudices.
The prize-winning artwork includes the names of many of those that featured in my MA dissertation and my book – and who have featured on this blog (see ‘Peddlers of Doubt – monkeys or organ grinders’ (20 Feb 2012) and the posts that followed it).
Whereas the third Viscount – and former Lord – Christopher Monckton of Brenchley has described the artwork as a “death threat” , it is simply an optimistic assertion that the days of pseudo scepticism are numbered… As, indeed, was a recent post on the Yale [Unversity] Climate Connections website – entitled ‘Climate Warnings: Heard, but not Listened to’ (subtitled “With all that climate scientists have cautioned us about over the past three decades, we’ve forfeited all rights to say ‘nobody saw this coming'”), which began as follows:
The trouble is, of course, that these supposed sceptics refuse to accept the validity of any evidence that conflicts with what they want to believe (i.e. that humans are not primarily responsible for ongoing climate disruption): They are like the ‘Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil’ monkeys.
Twenty-seven years ago, when the world briefly awoke to the threats of global warming and tropical deforestation, scientists could only speculate on what changes might come in the future. Now, one need only look and observe.
The really crazy thing in all of this – and the primary reason for this blog post – is the length James Delingpole has gone to defend the self-confessed ideological basis of his rejection of the fact that climate change is an inevitable consequence of pumping 300 million years-worth off carbon into the atmosphere in about 300 years…
I say James Delingpole is “full of sheet” because of the two full pages that the Daily Mail newspaper allowed to cover with his Watermelon conspiracy theory – that dismisses all those who assert that human-caused climate change is a reality that must be faced as “climate zealots”.
Indeed, rather than accepting that the majority of relevantly-qualified scientists might actually be right, he prefers to dismiss them all as part of…
“…[a] powerful climate alarmist establishment — which includes everyone from the UN, Nasa and the Royal Society to the BBC and The Guardian [newspaper]…”
So, as I said, James is a self-confessed conspiracy theorist and – since he also admits to being completely incapable of – and uninterested in – assessing science for himself, I am not going to waste any more time refuting his cognitive dissonance.