Lack of Environment

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

Archive for the ‘fossil fuels’ Category

AGU continues complicit support for Merchants of Doubt

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http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/04/18/scientists-asked-boycott-major-conference-after-agu-votes-retain-exxonmobil-ties

Scientists Asked to Boycott Major Conference After AGU Votes to Retain ExxonMobil Ties

This is not surprising given the AGU’s failure to discipline Richard Lindzen for academic misconduct, hypocrisy, and the denegration of fellow AGU members, but, as reported via DeSmogBlog recently:

Scientists are being asked to boycott the next major meeting of the world’s biggest earth sciences organisation after it voted to retain relationships with ExxonMobil.

The American Geophysical Union last week rejected calls from members to break ties with ExxonMobil over the oil giant’s history of funding and supporting climate science misinformation.

AGU members have been voicing their dismay at the decision, which ignored the concerns of more than 200 scientists, many of them AGU members, calling for the relationship to end.

AGU’s board said it would accept sponsorship from ExxonMobil for a breakfast event at its Fall Meeting in December – an event the oil company had previously sponsored.

But Professor Charles Greene, of Cornell University, told DeSmog: “This is far from over. There can be little doubt that this will lead to the biggest shake up in AGU’s history. There is a lot more at stake here than $35,000 for a graduate student breakfast.”

Greene has called on scientists to boycott the December meeting held by AGU – an influential organisation with about 60,000 members in 139 countries.

In a statement Greene said: “At what level does the behavior of a corporate sponsor become sufficiently reprehensible for AGU to refuse its support? I guess that a corporation like ExxonMobil, which has deceived the general public for decades while placing human society at great risk, has not achieved that level.

“The only conclusion to be drawn is that AGU will accept money from just about any corporate entity, no matter how unethical its behavior. I certainly will not attend an ExxonMobil-sponsored Fall Meeting, and I hope that every AGU member who feels the same way about this lapse in judgement will consider sending a similar message.”

ExxonMobil is facing investigations from several attorneys general, led by New York, over allegations the company misled shareholders and the public about the risk of climate change caused by fossil fuel burning.

The probes were sparked by investigations from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which highlighted internal Exxon documents showing in the 1970s the company’s own scientists were aware of the clear risks of burning fossil fuels.

Over the years Exxon is known to have spent tens of millions of dollars funding dozens of organisations that have worked to mislead the public about the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

Check out DeSmog’s research into ExxonMobil’s Funding of Climate Science Denial.

In the run up to AGU’s decision, more than 100 AGU members signed an open letter alongside other scientists asking for their organisation to end the relationship with Exxon.

Some members also issued a detailed dossier to the board claiming the organisation’s relationship with ExxonMobil violated its own organizational support policy, agreed in April 2015.

That policy states that AGU “will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.”

The dossier included numerous examples of Exxon funding organisations, including the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, that have underplayed and disparaged the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change.

Scientists are also pressing the AGU leadership group to release more details of how the board came to its decision, including their deliberations over the dossier.

In announcing the decision, AGU president Margaret Leinen wrote that “it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly.”

She said it had been decided AGU’s acceptance of ExxonMobil sponsorship did “not constitute a threat to AGU’s reputation.”

ExxonMobil also funds meetings of ALEC – a lobby group with strong corporate ties that creates template bills for legislators that block attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow the development of renewable energy.

Stephen Moore, a member of ALEC’s advisory council alongside ExxonMobil government affairs manager Cynthia Bergman, told an ALEC meeting last year: “The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming!”

Professor Nathan Phillips, of Boston University, said: “What was called for was an exercise of judgment. Instead, the AGU avoided taking a principled stand by claiming it is not possible for it to make a judgement. The leadership seems prepared to accept some loss of membership, but what it may not be prepared for is the redoubled commitment of members who won’t relent in shining an even brighter light on the inconsistency of the AGU’s mission of a sustainable planetary future with its endorsement of ExxonMobil’s past and current activities.”

ExxonMobil’s company position on climate change says: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.”

The AGU is holding two conference calls this week where members can ask questions of AGU President-elect Eric Davidson, CEO Christine McEntee and Leinen.

Image courtesy of Natural History Museum

Open Letter to David Cameron

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29 March 2016

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister,

Whatever happened to the greenest government ever?

Given my experience of working in environmental consultancy or regulation, I understand the importance of making pragmatic, risk-based decisions (as opposed to dogmatic, opinion-based ones).  I therefore believe that government policy should be formulated this way.  Unfortunately, however, this does not always seem to be the case.

As a pragmatic scientist, I am not ideologically opposed to nuclear power.  However, I do question the logic of pursuing ‘Hinkley Point C’ when equivalent investment in distributed renewable technologies – from domestic solar PV to submarine tidal stream – could probably generate more electricity faster.  Indeed, as Greenpeace has recently pointed out, the UK could meet nearly all its electricity generation needs from renewable energy sources by 2030.[1]

With regard to risk, the scientific consensus is that, in order to minimise anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), the World must now embark upon the fastest-possible transition to a zero carbon economy.  Therefore, I also question the logic of simultaneously promoting investment in shale gas; discouraging investment in renewables; and cancelling investment in Carbon Capture and Storage research.

It is now over 50 years since scientists started warning of the climatic implications of continuing to burn fossil fuels;[2] and 50 years since fossil fuel company executives started spending huge sums of money on being “Merchants of Doubt”.[3]  As such, along with their counterparts in the tobacco industry, they have clearly not acted in the long-term interest of humanity as a whole.

However, as with the individual health benefit of ceasing to smoke tobacco, the sooner we stop burning fossil fuels the greater the collective environmental benefit will be. Therefore, I am pragmatically opposed to shale gas exploration because burning it is not consistent with the need to transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible.

I am certain that you would like to secure an enduring political legacy; and would therefore like to ask just one question:

What could be better than being remembered as the Prime Minister that committed the UK to meeting nearly all its electricity generation needs from renewable energy sources by 2030?

Yours sincerely,

Martin C. Lack

————
[1] See: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/uk-can-be-almost-entirely-powered-renewable-energy-2030-new-study-shows-20150921.

[2] Nuccitelli, D. (2015), ‘Scientists warned the US president about global warming 50 years ago today’, Guardian newspaper, 5 November 2015: London.

[3] Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt,  New York: Bloomsbury. See: http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/

It’s ‘Game Over’ for Fossil Fuels

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bookcoverleggettI’d really like to think oil companies will soon admit the game is up: The extraction of fossil fuels is going to become increasingly financially uneconomic and socially unacceptable.

After all, it is almost 4 months since Mark Carney said as much at the Bank of England: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/09/30/bank-england-head-warns-potentially-huge-risks-literally-unburnable-fossil-fuel

It is also 20 months since Lloyds of London urged financial investors to consider the risks of continuing to back fossil fuels: http://blueandgreentomorrow.com/2014/05/09/insurers-should-consider-climate-risks-says-lloyds-of-london/

No wonder academics that have watched 50% of the Great Barrier Reef disappear in the last 30 years – and say it will all be gone in another 20 years – are almost reduced to tears:
‘Does Australia Care About Saving The Great Barrier Reef?’ (Andrew McMillen, in GQ Australia, 18 January 2016)

The Guardian may be five years late with it’s warning that humanity has now delayed the onset of the next Ice Age by 100 thousand years – a prospect first highlighted by the Geological Society of London in 2010 – but this is no excuse for the oil industry to continue to deny the nature of reality.

The game is up. Now is the time to invest in non-fossil alternatives that could even make Forumla1 carbon neutral. Alternatives like the mixed alcohol fuels being produced by Bioroot Energy: Fuels that can be created from any waste product containing carbon.
http://www.biorootenergy.com/about/

This is the hydrocarbon equivalent of the nuclear industry’s Fast Breeder Reactor, which could burn all the world’s nuclear waste and the 99% of the Earth’s uranium that a conventional reactor cannot burn and, when we’re through with all of that, we could extract uranium from seawater…
https://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/our-three-biggest-problems-solved/

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?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-35025065

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/gallery/2015/dec/05/storm-desmond-in-pictures

Written by Martin Lack

7 December 2015 at 21:30

Disgraceful Volkswagen caught putting profit before planet

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Non VWI can barely believe it.  One of Germany’s best-value exports (i.e. in the non-luxury end of the car market) has been caught faking the CO2 emission test data on its diesel cars in the USA (and, it has subsequently emerged, elsewhere).

Has it been doing the same in Europe?  Is this the beginning of an international  scandal similar to the rigging of financial markets in the City of London?

One thing is for sure, in putting profit before doing their bit to reduce the carbon footprint of their cars, I think the manufacturer should be re-branded:

Nicht VolksWagen

Written by Martin Lack

21 September 2015 at 18:02

From Noah to Nordhaus via Inhofe

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US Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is a climate change sceptic primarily because he believes God has promised not to flood the Earth again; and the rainbow in the sky tells him it must be true.

Such ideologically-driven wilful blindness is very dangerous. Indeed, most climate scientists agree that it threatens the future of most life on Earth.

Sadly, such ideological blindness is not unique to those foolish enough to believe the Earth was created in 6 days only 6,000 years ago. As Stephan Lewandowsky et al have pointed out, adherence to libertarian ideology and free market economics are strongly correlated with a rejection of the scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of post-Industrial climate change. Pseudo-skeptics may have attempted to discredit this research but, they cannot refute the empirical evidence for the above correlation.

Indeed, in his book Poles Apart: The international reporting of climate scepticism, James Painter provides ample evidence that climate change ‘scepticism’ is predominantly a feature of right-wing newspapers in English-speaking countries.

However, I digress from the story I want to tell…

It is no secret that stories of a global flood, like that of Noah and his Ark, are found in the earliest writings of numerous ancient civilisations around the World.  Until yesterday, however, I had no idea what this might have to do with an abrupt but temporary global cooling event, known as the Younger Dryas, which occurred between 11,500 and 12,900 years ago.

This came to my attention yesterday morning while watching television, when the presenters of BBC Breakfast began interviewing a journalist I had never heard of before.

For at least 20 years, Graham Hancock has, apparently, being telling anyone that would listen that a comet impact in Antarctica about 12,000 years ago – and the sudden sea level rise it caused – wiped out most evidence of an advanced human civilisation that predates any of the others by about 5,000 years. In doing some research on this yesterday, I discovered that this was something that the Huffington Post had picked up on in May this year.  However, digging a little deeper, I found that it is over 5 years since Hancock’s ‘smoking gun’ evidence was reported in the Scientific American magazine.  It would therefore appear that Hancock is very good at self publicity and recycling old news.

Even so, I nearly choked on my breakfast when Hancock suggested that the Giant Sphinx at Gaza was not built by the Egyptians. He pointed out that the Sphinx appears much more weathered (by rainfall) than the in-situ stone on the pyramids around it. However, the real clincher for his argument was the fact that organic material – which can be carbon dated – found at the Gobekli Tepe site in Turkey is about 12,000 years old. This is significant because all other early civilisations – that left behind monumental architecture – are thought to date from no more than 7,000 ago.

This has long been a mystery that archaeologists could not explain, but which is explained by the comet impact.

However, again as a result of research I did yesterday, I was amazed to find out that suggesting a comet impact might explain the origins of the story of Noah’s Ark was not just Hancock’s idea. It is one that can be traced all the way back to Edmund Halley in 1694, as blogger Jason Colavito pointed out in his summary of Graham Hancock at the end of last year.

So, Graham Hancock has used his skills as an investigative journalist to pull together evidence from different spheres of science to solve the archaeological mystery of Gobekli Tepe.  Therefore, given the amount of criticism he received 20 years ago for putting forward an idea with no supporting evidence, it is perhaps understandable that he is now making so much of the fact that the evidence has since been found.

However, even if the idea was not really his in the first place, I think this explanation for the Younger Dryas event is important because it highlights the fact that the vast majority of modern human civilisation is in danger of being wiped off the face of the Earth if large amounts of land-based ice slide into the sea.

Sadly, those who continue to dispute that this might happen – and/or assert that Antarctica is actually cooling – have picked a fight with science and history that they are bound to lose.

On what basis do I say this, you may well wonder. Well, for the record, here are two good reasons:

1. It is impossible to explain the totality of post-Industrial warming without acknowledging that the dominant factor is the 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 caused by the burning of fossil fuels (see also Fig 5 in Hansen et al 2007 below).

2. Although the interior of Antarctica may be cooling – and the sea ice around it may not be shrinking because of the huge expanse of the surrounding Southern Ocean – the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and Antarctic peninsula are amongst the fastest-warming places on the planet.

Fig 5. in Hansen et al (2007), 'Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE'. Clim. Dyn., 29, 661-696

Fig 5. in Hansen et al (2007), ‘Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE’. Clim. Dyn., 29, 661-696

To conclude, I can do no better than to refer, once again, to the six reasons put forward by the formerly-sceptical economist William D. Nordhaus as to ‘Why the global Warming Skeptics are Wrong‘.

—-

10 Sept 2015 (15:00 BST): With apologies for any confusion caused, this blog post has now been edited to remove repetition and ambiguity resulting from my hasty/poor proof-reading of the original.

Fracking off in Lancashire (and elsewhere?)

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Elysium (2013)

Elysium (2013)

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.

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