Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category
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.
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.
But Greenpeace UK will just keep re-posting it… Here is the latest email from their Head of Arctic Campaigns, Ben Ayliffe:
I think we might have offended someone. This morning we were shocked to learn that our viral video calling on LEGO to break its lucrative partnership with oil giant Shell has been REMOVED from YouTube!
More than 3 million people have viewed this video in less than three days. People everywhere are sharing it with friends and loved ones, shocked to learn that this dearly-loved children’s toy brand is helping Shell clean up its image. Now our important message is being attacked, and it’s time to ramp our efforts and fight back.Our ad might have offended the likes of LEGO, Shell, and its corporate pals. But this is nothing compared to what Shell wants to do to our beautiful Arctic. Despite the real risk of a terrible and unstoppable oil spill, it continues to forge ahead to plunder every last drop of oil it can from this pristine environment.
The only reason Shell can get away with it is by forming public partnerships with the brands we all love. And we’re sorry to say this includes LEGO. Their deal involves everything from incentivising fuel purchases with free Lego kits, to plastering the Shell logo on the side of millions of children’s toys.
If Shell had its way, it would drill for oil in every corner of the planet. So it’s up to people like you and me to make sure that doesn’t happen. Not now, not ever. Ask Lego to stop its partnership with Shell today.
In the past we’ve helped delay Shell’s plans in the Arctic and opened up the public’s eyes to their dangerous plans. Now Shell is desperately trying to rebuild its reputation by partnering with beloved brands like LEGO. But LEGO doesn’t have to play along.
Please watch this video and send your message to LEGO right away. Let’s move one step closer to kicking Shell out of the Arctic.
Thanks for getting involved.
Are humans a plague upon the Earth? When I read stufff like this (from Avaaz), I find it hard not to feel ashamed of what our species is doing to this planet.
Poachers just shot one of the world’s largest elephants, Satao, then hacked his 100 pound tusks out of his face with a machete. At the current rate of killing, elephants may be extinct in 15 years, but this week if we act now we have an amazing chance to crack down on the illegal trade that fuels the slaughter.
Each day, 50 regal elephants are butchered just to make dinky ivory trinkets! The main culprit for this carnage is Thailand — the fastest growing market for unregulated ivory. And tomorrow the international body created to protect endangered species has a chance to sanction Thailand until it cracks down on the elephant killers. Experts fear Thai leaders are mounting a propaganda campaign to dodge penalties, but it just takes Europe and the US to ignore their noise and spearhead action to end the slaughter.
Let’s give key European delegates, and the US, the global call they need to tune out Thailand and bravely lead the world to save the elephants. A final decision could be made tomorrow, so we have no time to lose — sign the petition, then send a message to the UK Environment Minister:
20,000 African elephants are killed every year, and the number of ivory products on sale in Bangkok trebled in the last twelve months. Government representatives to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have the responsibility to keep the world’s rarest plants and animals alive, and when sanctions were applied to Thailand twenty years ago, it forced the country to pass critical wildlife protection laws.
Thailand says it’s hard to distinguish legal ivory from Thai elephants from smuggled African ivory, and that it has adopted an action plan to stop the ivory trade. But 20 years of delays and a recent military coup tell a different story. If we reach out to the ministers who set the position, we can get the votes needed to prevent Thailand exporting items like aquarium fish and exotic flowers.
Right now CITES representatives are considering whether to sanction Thailand for its failure to stem the ivory trade. Let’s make a call directly to key delegates and the UK Environment Minister now to ensure they make the right decision. Add your voice, then share widely:
Last year, the Avaaz community helped force Thailand to agree to ban the domestic ivory trade. But Thailand’s new military government has done little to show it will fulfil this promise or restrict this bloody business. Let’s show the strength of our community by issuing an enormous call to protect the lives of one of the world’s most precious species.
Alex, Danny, Alice, Nick, Lisa, Emma and the rest of the Avaaz team
World famous elephant ‘Satao’ killed by poachers in Kenya (Forbes)
The ivory highway (Men’s Journal)
Legal reform must shut down Thailand’s ivory trade (WWF)
Elephant population too small to supply huge local ivory market (Bangkok Post)
Major increase in Thai ivory market shows need for action at wildlife trade meeting (World Wildlife Fund)
I am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?
With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:
(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.
What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P
If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).
N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.
The Geoscientist is the Fellowship magazine of the Geological Society of London. With the Permission of the Editor of the magazine, I hereby republish extracts from three items in the most recent issue (cover image shown here) of the magazine:
There will, no doubt, be howls of protest from all the ‘climate ostriches’ within the Geological Society – those who dispute the problematic nature of the reality that:
(a) the Earth’s fossil fuel resources are non-renewable and finite;
(b) burning them is the primary cause of ongoing climate disruption; and
(c) feeding 10 billion humans will be very hard without fossil fuels.
Sadly, however, reality is not altered by our refusal to face it!
(1) The Only Way is Ethics (Opinion piece by Roger Dunshea*)
We all know geology is the most enjoyable of sciences, bringing together a differential of maths, a wave of physics, a whiff of chemistry and a gene of biology… Our science combines analytical techniques in the laboratory with equally important observation, sampling and experimentation in the field… We grapple with the fundamental structures of this planet, its minerals and history, and the enormous magnitude of time it has taken us to get to where we are now. As a group of scientists we are in a unique position to appreciate that this planet’s rock-based economic resources are essentially finite and that their replacement is either not possible or may take at least mega-millennia…
These resources have delivered abundant power and materials, resulting in outstanding increases in agricultural and industrial output, as well as some glinting adornments for the celebs. The average lifespan of Homo sapiens has been transformed and global numbers have increased at an astounding rate…
Geologists specialise in different areas of the science… Geology has made a major contribution to global society but do we risk threatening the prospects of future generations due to the current unsustainable levels of extraction? Should geologists start thinking more about helping the long term economic prospects of Homo sapiens?
So while our peers in the medical and life sciences are developing new ethical standards to protect the wellbeing of current and future generations, is it not now time to start discussing and developing a set of geological scientific ethics that can support very long-term global economic sustainability?
(*Roger Dunshea spent most of his career in the UK public sector in managerial and financial roles)
(2) Experimenting on a Small Planet (by William Hay)
This thick and well-illustrated volume is a highly readable tour through the multidisciplinary science behind Earth’s oceanographic and atmospheric warming and cooling on both geologic and anthropogenic timescales, by a major contributor with a phenomenal grasp of the whole… Many of these topics are neglected in mainline global-warming work, and professionals as well as outsiders will find much that is new to them…
The decreasing temperature gradient south from the Arctic has already made the northern jet stream slower, more frequently erratic, and much more likely to stall in place with the weather masses it controls. Extreme weather is steadily increasing as a result, and more and worse would be coming even if greenhouse gas emissions stop immediately (which of course will not happen). Predicting the specific great changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulations is confounded, however, because there has been no documented past occurrence of an icy Antarctic and an ice-free Arctic from which to reason by analogy, and north-south interconnectedness is uncertain, nor has there been anything comparable to our geologically instantaneous increase of greenhouse gasses to levels unknown for 35 million years.
Bill Hay has searched for explanations of the two major stable states of Phanerozoic climates, “greenhouse” and subordinate “icehouse”, and of the switches between them. He has focused on the Cretaceous and early Paleogene, when the poles were mild and temperate and deep oceans were warm, and the middle and late Cenozoic, when Antarctic continental ice and a mostly-frozen Arctic Ocean produced strikingly different regimes because the world’s oceans were dominated by polar-chilled deep water, and the atmosphere by great latitudinal temperature and pressure gradients, a regime that culminated in the waxing and waning continental ice sheets of the past two million years.
Changes due to even ‘present’ atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to develop for millennia before new quasi-equilibria were established. Mankind is facing catastrophe as a rapidly increasing population simultaneously outgrows its resources and enters a more hostile global environment.
(Review by Warren Hamilton)
(3) The Energy of Nations (by Jeremy Leggett)
Subtitled ‘Risk Blindness and the Road to Renaissance’, the risk that Leggett’s book draws to our attention is that because of the demands of nations for us collectively to cut back on the use of fossil fuels (so as to mitigate the effects of global warming caused by emissions of carbon dioxide) eventually the assets that oil companies have in the ground, and that form the basis for their share price, will become worthless because we shall have to stop using them…
“This risk goes completely unrecognised by all sectors of the financial chain” he says. If that realisation comes suddenly rather than slowly, it could “amount to another bubble bursting and a grave shock to the global financial system”. We are looking at what Leggett calls “unburnable carbon”.
Leggett’s argument also revolves around ‘peak oil’. Production has been running at about 82 million barrels/day, but the rise in demand by 2050 will be such that we will need 110 million Bpd. Yet all that industry has been able to do over the past few years is keep production flat in a time of extended oil prices. Where is all that extra production to come from?…
Leggett’s answer is to call for massive investment in what he calls the cleantech energy sources we shall need in the future. Currently we are saddled with a dysfunctional dinosaur and riddled with short-term thinking. The industry may be right to say there will always be gas, and oil, and coal. But the Stone Age didn’t stop because we ran out of stones. Endless growth is a problem on one planet with finite resources. So what can we do about it? We could all start by reading Leggett for ideas, that’s for sure.
(Review by Colin Summerhayes)
Copyright in all of the above remains with Geoscientist.
I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change. People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.
However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet. This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts. Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:
Scientific conspiracy theories: ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).
Political conspiracy theories: ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).
Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it. This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.
In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things: NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.
In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research. Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.
Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether. Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) – who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.
As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:
On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.
Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website – the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).
If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.
It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.
UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction