Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘Civil disorder’ Category

Please welcome Cumbria to the world of global weirding

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Whilst I have the greatest of sympathy for all those affected by flooding in Cumbria, they should not seek to blame the government or the Environment Agency.

If anybody is to blame it is the fossil fuel industry, which has spent the last 50 years trying to discredit climate science and climate scientists, in a short-sighted and mean-spirited attempt to prevent effective regulation of the pollution caused by burning their products.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture more of the time.

14 of the last 15 years have been the warmest on record. This rainfall in Cumbria is the highest on record for any 24 hour period in over 300 years.

How many more statistical records must we see broken before the denial of the validity of climate science becomes as socially unacceptable as farting in an elevator?

Written by Martin Lack

7 December 2015 at 21:30

Managing climate risks to well-being and the economy

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The Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change has today published its 2014 progress report. The report considers preparedness to climate change in England related to major infrastructure, business, public health and emergency planning. It also provides an update to the ASC’s previous analysis of flood risk management.

This report is the last in a series that will feed in to the ASC’s first statutory report to Parliament on the National Adaptation Programme in 2015.

A copy of the report can be found on our website at:

The associated news story is available at:

A riotous assembly of data leads to a ground breaking conclusion

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Or should that have been: ‘Ground-breaking data leads to riotous conclusion’…?

One of the incidental benefits of being a Fellow of the Geological Society and a Chartered Geologist is that I get the society’s monthly Geoscientist magazine. This month’s edition includes an article written by Alan Watson – a Chartered Civil Engineer and a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers – who has published an eBook entitled ‘Gravity and Mind – Human Response to Tectonic Stress‘.

Astonishingly, Watson’s book and his article question the scope and reliability of the notion ‘free will’.  Leaving aside the question of crowd psychology (i.e. the fact that individuals behave differently when in a group), Watson’s analysis of data suggests that civil disturbance can be linked to tectonic disturbance.  That is to say, riots are more frequent in the days immediately preceding earthquakes.

With the permission of the editor of Geoscientist, I publish extracts of the article below with graphical representation of the results of Watson’s analysis, upon which his startling conclusions are based.  However, many of the images in the original article are Copyright of the British Geological Society (BGS).  Therefore, if you have the time or inclination, please view the whole thing on the Geological Society website.

Here is how Watson begins this article:

Reports of ‘unusual animal behaviour’ before earthquakes became common during and after the 1960s – snakes coming unseasonally out of hibernation, dogs deserting their kennels, birds sensing impending quakes and, most recently, insects not resting. But, as anyone who has lived with animals will know, animals ‘behave strangely’ all the time; which means evidence of this kind suffers from a huge and possibly unresolvable ‘false positive’ problem. The trouble is, nobody bothers to record animals’ ‘normal’ behaviour. And even if you do watch them all the time, the quality of their behaviour is extremely tricky to quantify.

Humans, though are different. We have the media. I believe that comparing news reports with seismicity data provides compelling evidence that we humans may be responding to the effects of seismicity shortly before earthquakes.

I think it is worth repeating, here, that Watson is no liberal-minded social worker seeking to excuse irresponsible or criminal behaviour.  He is a well-respected geotechnical engineer with a professional reputation to look after.  Therefore as you will see, especially if you read the whole article, he has been meticulous in consideration of all the reasons why correlation might not imply causation.  As he says:

My intention in this article is to summarise the facts about the relative timing of earthquakes and riot, and let you make your own mind up.

We all know the adage about correlation not necessarily meaning causation; but the first step must be to determine whether there is at least a correlation there. I believe the statistics show there is.

As such, Watson investigated two hypotheses regarding earthquakes of magnitude greater than 2.5 on the Richter Scale (i.e. ‘2.5ML’), namely:

  1. That there is a significantly higher incidence of riot and disorder shortly before earthquakes of 2.5ML or greater, compared with the same period afterwards.
  2. That there is a significantly lower incidence of riots and disorder after more than 140 days has passed since the last most recent earthquake of 2.5ML or greater, compared with the incidence that would be expected by chance.

One of the many potentially complicating factors that Watson acknowledges is the reality that, as happened in the UK in August 2011, one riot can often be the trigger for so-called “copy-cat” riots by those you might call opportunists.  Hence Watson says:

A substantial number of cases of riot appear in clusters with a common initial cause. My dual studies have therefore included both a full appraisal of these cases, including ‘tails’ of clusters as well as excluding them. One would imagine that copy-cat rioting in these tails of riot clusters would be influenced to a lesser extent by seismicity than might be the case for the initial onset of violence. The dual study therefore removes the uncertainties resulting from such potentially contaminating ‘sociological’ effects.

As stated in my introduction, many of the Figures in the original article are Copyright of the BGS.  However, with my thanks to the editor of the Geoscientist magazine, I am able to reproduce here the graph demonstrating the correlation of the ‘without tails’ data.


Watson summarises the results of his analysis by making the following six statements:

  1. There is a significantly higher incidence of rioting and disorder in the 14 day periods prior to earthquakes compared with the 14 day periods after earthquakes.
  2. The ratio of riot frequency before to after earthquakes falls off from a peak of 3.2 (with tails and 2.5 without) within 14 days to a lower ratio of 2.5 (with tails and 1.67 without) within 7 days of the shocks.
  3. There are substantially fewer instances of rioting and disorder when more than 140 days have passed since the last most recent earthquake of at least 2.5ML.
  4. These findings will provide support to other earth science studies about interactions between the biosphere and the lithosphere. There have been reports of unusual behaviour exhibited by birds, snakes and insects, among other species, prior to earthquakes. This project widens the scope of influence between the lithosphere and biosphere and asks the question: are humans influenced by the behaviour of the lithosphere in ways not yet understood?
  5. The statistics of riot and earthquake incidence serve to re-affirm seismology research known as ‘the new geophysics’ that tectonic stress may vary on a regional scale prior to earthquakes.
  6. The occurrence of riots, in certain circumstances, may provide one further factor to consider, when assessing the risk of an impending earthquake.

In his personal communications with me, the editor of the Geoscientist magazine expressed his own surprise at the conclusions of Watson’s analysis, to which I responded as follows:

On the fundamentals of the statistics and/or the plausibility of the hypothesis, I think it much more credible than many other commonly-held beliefs about the nature of reality (and I am not talking about religion).

For the avoidance of any doubt, one of the ‘many other commonly-held beliefs about the nature of reality’, to which I was alluding here, is the startlingly-persistent, unduly-optimistic, counter-factual, and/or ideologically-prejudiced belief that humans are not primarily responsible for the unprecedented warmth and accelerating change through which we are now living.

As the pre-eminent film director, James Cameron, says in this trailer (below) for a new television series, ‘Years of Living Dangerously‘,  to be screened next year:

“If 99 doctors say you sick and need an operation, would you seek another opinion?”

I’m sorry but – this will happen

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Just over seven months ago, I posted an item about the near-term probability of a catastrophic eruption of the Katla volcano on Iceland. Today, sadly, I think I have discovered that this might not be the worst natural disaster in human history (not to have happened yet).

Scientists believe that, when it happens, the Katla eruption could ultimately be responsible for the deaths of millions of people.  However, there are many uncertainties; and a great deal of scope for deaths to be prevented.  The same cannot be said for a mega tsunami originating in the Canary Islands.

La Palma is one of a group of Spanish volcanic islands off the coast of North Africa.  The volcano of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma erupted in 1949 and 1971.   It is not like most other volcanoes; it is more like the Laki fissure on Iceland.  Previous eruptions have been associated with earth movements; and it is now estimated that another eruption could send a large part of La Palma sliding into the North Atlantic ocean.  In fact, it is estimated that another eruption could cause a landslide containing 500 cubic kilometres to slide into the ocean.

Contrary to popular myth, scientists are not prone to being alarmists.  However, a wide variety of scientists are actively studying and modelling the consequences of another eruption of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma.

At the end of this post you will find the YouTube video of the BBC/Discovery Channel production “Could We Survive a Mega Tsunami?”  Similar to fears over an approaching ecological catastrophe arising from human activity, this fear over a catastrophe emerging from the Canaries is founded on science: It is not just the idle speculation of a bunch of doomsayers.  There is evidence of previous tsunamis in the Canaries caused by previous landslides on the islands.  What marks the landslide on La Palma (that has not happened yet) is the size of the area that could be affected (and the volume of material that could be mobilised).

The programme (video below) uses Hollywood style CGI, dramatic reconstruction and footage of previous tsunamis to great effect to tell the story of what is guaranteed to happen if the landslide occurs.  This has been established using a combination of physical and computer modelling (you need to watch the video to appreciate the reality of all this).

Within 10 minutes, the mega tsunami – travelling at the speed of sound – would hit Gran Canaria, within 60 minutes Morocco, within 90 minutes Portugal, within 3 hours England; within 6 hours the Caribbean.  Most devastating of all, however, by virtue of the geography, within 7 hours the entire length of the Eastern seaboard of the USA would be hit almost simultaneously.

Within minutes, social media would alert the World to the disaster but, it is thought, the USA would not take notice until its network of buoys in the North Atlantic indicated a tsunami was on its way.   Worse still, psychologists reckon that even after being warned, 50% of urban Americans would ignore the danger (i.e. optimism bias and denial strike again).

In the city of New York, the authorities have already spent 10 years analysing the consequences of a mega tsunami from the Canaries, which will reach several kilometres inland, and have determined that the death toll will be significant.  Along the eastern seaboard of the USA, 40 million people live within 40 km of the current seashore and 30 million of those people live within 10 metres of current sea level.  By the time the tsunami makes landfall, it is likely to be at least 25 metres high.  However, the main problem is that there will not be one wave, there could be as many as 10 waves; and each one has a very long wavelength – measured in hundreds of metres – so it will be like a river of water flowing inland.  And what goes in must come out again; and when the water flows back out to sea again it is loaded with debris… Then you have the interruption to basic services, the breakdown of law and order; and the spread of disease…  This will make what happened to Japan very modest by comparison.

One member of the US authorities estimates that there could be over 4 million casualties (I am not sure what he means by this).  It seems clear, then, that this tsunami would make the death toll of the Indonesian tsunami (250 thousand) seem modest by comparison.   Authorities in New York City reckon they could not cope with more than 600 thousand displaced people.

The collateral damage will also be extensive.  The tsunami would knock out every single east coast port, which will trigger food shortages everywhere east of the Mississippi…

But enough from me. Watch the video. It will blow your mind…

Written by Martin Lack

20 April 2013 at 00:02

Life is full of tough choices…

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…but this isn’t one of them.

Or is it?
The trouble is, of course, that removing all the subsidies and tax breaks given to the fossil fuel industry (which are delaying the creation of a free market in power generation) will make fossil fuels even more expensive.

In the USA, the fiscal cliff was narrowly avoided by last-minute agreement on budget cuts (hence the above choice). However, the fiscal cliff arose out of over-spending and economic stagnation; and both of these can be blamed – at least in part – on rising fuel prices.

In the UK, fossil fuels are already more than twice as expensive as they are in the USA (as they have been for decades). However, as a result of a weakening currency, they are now expected to reach an all-time record next month.

Even if we ignore the impossibility of perpetual growth in resource consumption and waste generation on a finite planet — and the consequential reality that we cannot rely on perpetual economic growth to pay-off the massive debts denying it has caused — we all need power to heat and light our homes; and get us to and from work.

The end of the era of cheap energy is therefore cited by many as the reason for the end of growth.  This is a reality the World urgently needs to take on board.  This will require radical thinking; and radical changes in policy in all areas of government policy.  Thus, Richard Heinberg has been proven right:

Is it time to go “cold turkey”?
Sadly, electric cars are not going to be the answer; unless the electricity is generated from renewable or nuclear energy.  Therefore, since the latter will take decades to become a reality – and our governments are still not doing as much as they could to invest in renewable energy – power generation capacity is clearly developing into a serious problem.

Here in the UK, we are facing a double-whammy: Record-breaking high fuel prices and the EU-enforced early-retirement of 10% of our oldest (and most-polluting) coal-fired power stations.  Therefore, unless we, as individual consumers, invest in renewable energy, we will soon be paying more than ever for something whose supply will be more uncertain than ever.  Believe me, if I could install solar PV panels on my roof I would.  Sadly, without a job, I cannot.

Sadly, too, opposition to the radical solutions needed for us to resolve our problems is unwelcome irrespective of its origin: Denying that we have a problem is just as much an impediment to implementing solutions as is disregarding potential solutions for ideological reasons.  For example, if our governments had not given up on fast breed reactor programmes in the 1980s (as a consequence of the campaign for nuclear disarmament mutating into ideological opposition to civil nuclear power generation) we would probably by now have solved the technical problems and be extracting uranium from sea water (wherein there is more of it than there is beneath our feet).

Must we embrace nuclear power?
In the long-run, yes, I think we must. The only thing that will make this unnecessary is the increasing possibility that Nature will soon intervene – and reduce the global human population to pre-Industrial levels (i.e. 1 billion). However, in the meantime, an awful lot of poor people need low-tech solutions. The good news is that such solutions definitely exist and, as Stephen Leahy pointed out over the weekend (reposting an item from over 3 years ago): “Bringing clean energy to billions costs far less than fossil fuel subsidies”.

Will we choose to fail or choose to succeed?
Just how long, I wonder, until expensive energy (and therefore expensive food) causes social instability?

What will our governments do then?  Admit they were wrong and make radical changes, or send the Army on to the streets to maintain order?  Sadly, I think we know the answer to that one – Jared Diamond gave it to us several years ago:

Not the Serenity Prayer

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With my thanks to, The Great Spirit, and Idle no More, this is not the Serenity Prayer as I recall it:

Written by Martin Lack

31 January 2013 at 17:32

I would go to DC if I could

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Sorry,, I have a slight geographic impediment; it is commonly known as the North Atlantic Ocean.

If you have no such geographic barriers preventing you from going to the event, please sign-up here.

Written by Martin Lack

15 January 2013 at 00:02


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