The Really Inconvenient Truth For The GWPF – Debunking GWPF Briefing Paper No1

This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.

This is the sixth post in a series examining the UK-registered educational charity and climate denial 'think-tank' Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). Previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have identified very serious shortcomings and it is now make-or-break time for the GWPF's reputation.

GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – The Really Inconvenient Truth' will be a good test for this because “the GWPF is proud to publish this dispassionate but devastating critique of UK climate change policies, and of the alleged basis on which those policies rest.”

So says the foreword written by Lord Lawson of Blaby, the founder of the GWPF. Such a statement pretty much overrules the disclaimer that appears on the cover of these Briefing Papers (that views expressed are those of the author not the GWPF).

So will GWPF pride come before a fall?

REALLY INCONVENIENT AND REALLY TRUE?

The author of Briefing Paper No1 is Lord Andrew Turnbull, a retired senior civil servant and a GWPF Trustee. Turnbull has a “unique authority” for the task according to Lord Lawson. But a “unique authority” may not be adequate because the subject of Briefing Paper No1 encompasses not just UK climate change policy, but also the entirety of the work of the UN IPCC. Now that is a whole lot of subject-matter!

The Really Inconvenient Truth which Turnbull attempts to convey is that the basis for UK climate policy is shaky because it rests solely on the IPCC's findings. “The propositions of the IPCC do not bear the weight of certainty with which they are expressed,” he says.

However Turnbull is at pains to describe what he is attempting in Briefing Paper No1. He wishes only to point out the doubts and flawed procedures that exist. He does not seek to “replace“ the IPCC “propositions” with alternative propositions.

That is what he says. But what does he then do?

The gargantuan task Turnbull tackles in Briefing Paper No1 requires a seriously focused analysis but there is none of that here. Briefing Paper No1 is a sweeping account of the subject that strongly advances alternative “propositions.

In essence, Turnbull's message is that “the IPCC view is a narrowly-based and over-simplified one … downplaying the role of natural forces.” The alternative view he advances sees a less dramatic climate change that would allow the world to adapt without reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Turnbull concludes (quoting the GWPF's inaugural lecture) that the IPCC view “is impossible to accept.”
Logic dictates this is a call for its “replacement.

As already mentioned, Briefing Paper No1 analyses IPCC work in its entirety. It thus covers the science, the climatic impacts and the policy responses.

These will be examined here in reverse order – kind of upside-down.

1 POLICY RESPONSES

Turnbull argues at some length for what he calls “no regret” mitigation policies to reduce CO2 emissions, policies which would not impact greatly on the UK economy. Yet Turnbull is entirely disinterested in the CO2 reductions that such minimal policies would achieve. It really does beg the question why he argues for any mitigation policies at all.

Indeed he talks briefly of preferring “adaptation” policies, pointing to the Institute of Civil Engineers who allegedly think that too little attention is paid to “adaptation.” Confusingly, Turnbull gives no source for this allegation. So is he referring to the UK's Institute of Civil Engineers? It is strange if he is. Their policy statements on climate change are unequivocal and wholly opposite to Turnbull's allegation. This is true even in their 2008 statement Adapting the UK to Climate Change (whose title may have given rise to Turnbull's confusion, perhaps a new take on 'judging a book by its cover.').

2 CLIMATIC IMPACTS

Turnbull deals quickly with the IPCC work on climatic impacts. He calls it shabby and quotes twice the Inter Academy Council (IAC) Report 2010 on the IPCC. This time Turnbull's source is referenced so there is no mistaking Turnbull's misinterpretations.

Turnbull makes here two accusations.

Firstly he says the IAC strongly criticise the IPCC WG2 for using non-peer-reviewed material. On this Turnbull is wrong. The IAC say using such “gray” literature is “relevant and appropriate” and is only criticising particulars of how it is used!

Turnbull's second quote (from the IAC Executive Summary) is about the IPCC's use of unsupported or unclear probability assessments within the WG2 Summary for Policy Makers. Any reader of this WG2 Summary will see it is only a summary. It's probability statements are shoddy work but not the shabby underhand work of deception that Turnbull describes.

This second IAC quote is used to back up Turnbull's otherwise unsupported accusations of “a consistent pattern of cherry-picking, exaggeration, highlighting extremes and failure to acknowledge beneficial effects.” Here Turnbull is entirely at odds with the IAC report which never makes any such comment or anything remotely in this vein.

Indeed the IAC begins its conclusions “The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well” showing Turbull's intemperate tirade against the IPCC WG2 is entirely preposterous!

3 THE SCIENCE

On the science, Turnbull concludes that the IPCC “sees calamity just around the corner, producing calls for dramatic and early CO2 reduction.” This is a blunt but fair assessment.

Yet Turnbull goes on to make many strong but largely unsupported accusations against the IPCC science. He says it ignores 'huge controversy', relies on 'unproven assumptions' since it ' ignored' certain possibilities. He says its findings have been 'strongly challenged' and cites “some scientists … many scientists” who hold alternative views. And for good measure Turnbull also rounds on the Hockey Stick curve, as did GWPF Briefing Paper No3.

None of this has any substance to it. The “many scientists” (in fact one misguided scientist working outside his specialism) was debunked  in Part 5 of this series.

As for the “some scientists,” again only one of these is named – climate 'skeptic' Professor Richard Lindzen (who is a member of the GWPF's Academic Advisory Council). It is difficult to support the idea that Lindzen's work has been ignored by the IPCC. Lindzen's work contributed to the 2007 IPCC report within two different chapters and he was even a Lead Author in the 2001 IPCC report on the very chapter relevant to Turnbull's comments.

While Turnbull makes no reference to any particular piece of work by Lindzen (and there continues to be a lot of that), it is safe to say that the available work relevant to Turnbull's discussion had been already shown as entirely flawed scientifically well before Briefing paper No1 was published.
 

THE REALY INCONVENIENT TRUTH FOR TURNBULL & THE G.W.P.F.

Be it in the science, the climate impacts or the policy responses, there is but one good word that can be said about GWPF Briefing Paper No1 – it is consistent.

It is consistent in being always wrong!

The same appears to be the case generally with GWPF Briefing Papers which have all now been reviewed by this series – consistently wrong and entirely flawed.

The 'debunking' process could be continued to other GWPF publications, searching for the merest hint of some improvement in its reporting, some publications that might show at least some merit. But enough is enough.

GWPF is a UK-registered charity. If a UK charity uses controversial materialsuch material must be factually accurate and have a well-founded evidence base” (emphasis added). Yet all GWPF Briefing Papers have been shown to be riven with controversial material that is in no way factual or well-founded in evidence.

This is made worse because the charitable “purpose” of the GWPF is to “advance the public understanding of global warming and of its possible consequences, and also of the measures taken or proposed to be taken in response to such warming” (emphasis added).

For an educational charity to be spreading so much untruth and error is surely unacceptable, even scandalous. It is evidently a significant non-compliance that impacts on the public trust in UK charities generally. On this basis, a formal complaint will now be made and pursued with the UK Charity Commission.

There does also remain one as-yet unasked question.

Why would a bunch of respected and otherwise sensible people make such fools of themselves in this manner?

Engagement Can Be Tiring

Image Credit : Skeptical Science

This is a record of a short email exchange.

I feel it encapsulates some of the difficulties of communicating climate change science when there are a large number of people in the conversation who have a destructive agenda.

They may have different reasons for attacking the process of science learning by the general population, but they unite on strategies that belittle people and spread doubt.

At the same time, there are people with accurate knowledge who take different positions about how much emphasis they should place on the risks posed by climate change.

We need to get our act together and form a united front, surely ?

Continue reading Engagement Can Be Tiring

Apocalyptic Apoptosis

Image Credit : Carl-A. Fechner, fechnerMedia

The Evangelist : “Climate change is so serious, we need to tell everybody about it. Everybody needs to wake up about it.” The Audience “We have heard this all before. Do pipe down.”

The Social Engineer : “Everybody should be playing their part in acting on climate change.” The Audience : “This story is too heavy – you’re trying to make us feel guilty. You’re damaging your message by accusing people of being responsible for causing climate change.”

The Social Psychologist : “By making such a big deal out of climate change, by using Apocalyptic language, audiences feel there is no hope.” The Audience : “Climate change is clearly not a big deal, otherwise the newspapers and TV would be full of it all the time.”

The Post-Economist : “Climate change is caused by consumption. We need to reduce our consumption.” The Audience : “We don’t want to be told to live in cold caves, eating raw vegetables by candlelight, thanks.”

The Defeatist : “It’s already too late. There’s nothing we can do about it. All I can do is sit back and watch it happen.” The Audience : “Isn’t that being a little too negative ? If you think there’s nothing that can be done, what hope have we got ?”

The late, great Hermann Scheer said that “Today’s primary energy business will vanish – but it won’t give up without a fight…the greatest and the worst environmental pollution of all is when countless so-called energy experts keep on trying to talk society out of even contemplating this scenario [of 100% renewable energy] as a possibility for the near future – because that is what makes society apathetic and unmotivated…”

So who or what is making us passive and unmoved ?

Is climate change really our fault ? Or is it something we’ve inherited because of the irresponsible energy companies ?

Are we responsible for responding to climate change or is it somebody else’s responsibility ?

Continue reading Apocalyptic Apoptosis

Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening


Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
This is the second in a series of posts on the educational charity and climate sceptic “think-tank” Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF). The first post examined GWPF”s organisation and its principles (or lack of them). Here we examine GWPF”s Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening by Philipp Mueller who is the Assistant Director of the GWPF. Coverage of the greening Sahel has been in the media for a decade now, so this cannot be too controversial a subject, can it?

GWPF BRIEFING PAPER No2 – SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SUBJECT
Mueller explains what this Briefing Paper No2 is about in the first three sentences.

“Global warming has both positive and negative impacts. However, very often only the negative consequences are reported and the positive ones omitted. This article will show an example of a positive effect of warming.” 

Mueller then sets out to show how the Sahel is enjoying a “positive impact” of global warming.

Yet already here is a glaring omission. Despite this being an ideal opportunity to list out all the other “positive impacts”, Mueller fails even to hint at what any of the others might be. Never mind. We still have the Sahel. Or do we?

THE GREENING OF THE SAHEL – MUELLER”S VERSION
Mueller”s account can be summarised thus:

Between the 1950s and 1980s reducing rainfalls across the Sahel (the region of Africa immediately South of the Sahara Desert) caused severe drought and famine. But, according to Mueller, since the early 1980s this process has gone into reverse with the Sahel greening, harvests more plentiful and the Sahara shrinking.

The reason for this improvement is more than simply increasing rainfall. The climate of the Sahel region is delicate. Additional rainfall results in higher levels of vegetation. This induces yet more rain while reducing soil erosion. However, there is more at work than just this one “feedback” mechanism. Mueller says the extra factor that might be responsible is “the rise of atmospheric CO2 levels.” It seems the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 let plants grow better, especially in arid regions. Clever stuff, that!

Mueller does not leave it there. He discusses the cause of the underlying increase in rainfall citing papers that suggest the rainfall was due to a warmer climate in the Sahara or a warmer North Atlantic, a process “partially caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mueller”s shrinking Sahara is not unprecedented. In the past the Sahara, far from being a desert, was once a grass-covered savannah. This was over 6,000 years ago during the Holocene Climate Optimum (when temperatures were 2-5 deg C hotter than now according to Mueller but not according to others) and also during two other times in last 120,000 years.

Mueller says the future isn”t certain. The Sahel may become wetter or it may become drier. But, he concludes, today the Sahel is undoubtedly wetter and suddenly Mueller becomes far more certain about those speculative causes of the greening of the Sahel.  “The increase in rainfall, which was probably caused by rising temperatures, and rising CO2 concentrations, might even – if sustained for a few more decades – green the Sahara. This would be a truly tremendous prospect.”

This account makes bold statements but can it all be true?

DO PIGS FLY?
Mueller”s account contains many omissions and misrepresentations. The list is so long that the full account of Mueller”s errors are appended to the bottom of this post and just a summary is presented here.

After droughts end, things grow greener. That is natural. The Sahel has a delicate climate and research shows that increased human emissions were more likely the cause of the initial drought rather than the cause of the re-greening. The recovery is also very patchy. Drought and famine, declining crops as well as encroaching deserts continue to plague parts of the Sahel, to the point that the description “greening” remains a subject for debate. Mueller”s rosy account fails to tell us any of this.

It is wild speculation to assert that any recovery in the Sahel is a result of global warming and to dangle the prospect of a future green Sahara is the exact opposite of the message provided by Mueller”s reference on the matter. However welcome the re-greening of parts of the Sahel, it cannot be relied on.

Mueller does mention this in passing but he fails to mention the confident scientific finding that any re-greening will eventually be reversed in the future. So if this greening of the Sahel is the prime example of the “positive impacts” of global warming, it is no surprise that Mueller fails to list any of the others.

CONCLUSION
GWPF Briefing paper No2 is an entirely flawed document. The views it expresses are those of the author (as the disclaimer on the cover says), not those views of the GWPF. Yet the author works with a “distinguished team of GWPF Academic Advisors.” Further, it remains a wonder that a registered charity whose task is to educate the public on global warming could ever put its name on such a report. If this is representative of GWPF Briefing Papers as a whole, it would be a cause of grave concern.

A second GWPF Briefing Paper will be the subject of the next post in this series. Hopefully it will prove to be more factual in nature than Briefing Paper No2.

APPENDIX – Details of Omissions & Misrepresentations within Mueller”s paper.

A1 – OMISSION
Mueller”s account began with mention of a drought between the 1950s & 1980s. This drought requires greater consideration than just a mention. Would we not expect a region to become greener in the period following a drought? Strangely, while Mueller discusses theories for the greening, he fails to mention the causes of the initial drought and its continuing legacy. This is not some minor event. The drought has been described as “…among the most undisputed and largest recent climate changes recognized by the climate research community.”

The causes of the drought have slowly become better understood. Rising population and over-grazing by livestock was the first theory but studies now show the drought resulted from changes in ocean surface temperatures Folland et al (1986) Giannini et al (2003)which are likely due in part to the sulphate aerosol pollution of Europe and North America Rotstayn & Lohmann (2002) Biasutti & Gainnini (2006) and thus it is the cleaning of emissions from power stations that has likely allowed the rains to return.

Mueller remains entirely silent about the potential role of sulphate aerosols in causing the drought and the subsequent greening. It is difficult to understand his silence as these findings are well known. Perhaps the potential role of human pollution in causing a “devastating drought” sits too uncomfortably with the intended message of “positive impacts” from global warming.

A2 – OMISSION
To emphasis his “positive impact”, Mueller tells us the greening is “a very welcome and very beneficial development for the people living in the Sahel.” What Mueller omits to tell us is that conditions have yet to return to the levels seen in the 1950s and that drought and famine still stalk the Sahel. His rosy reporting is even used by one sceptical commentator as proof that the continuing drought in the Sahel is but a “pseudo-catastrophe.”

Climatology may not provide the best reports of the events but the Sahel drought is reported in newspapers and the humanitarian aid networks. “In 2005, drought and famine hit the Sahel, claiming many lives. The pattern was repeated in 2010 with the crisis most acute in Niger. And now the early warning signs are there for problems again in 2012.” For Mueller to entirely miss such prominent reporting in the age of the internet is truly remarkable!

A3 – OMISSION
It is also remarkable how Mueller writes of improving agricultural outputs across the Sahel. Mueller cites the findings of Chris Reij in a small region of Burkina Faso and also Olsson (2008), from where he quotes half a sentence about improved agricultural output in Burkina Faso and Mali.

What Mueller totally misses in Olsson”s paper is the preceding sentence and the following half sentence which says – “After many years of dwindling food production in the Sahel, only two countries show signs of improved agricultural performance. …while the other Sahelian countries show decreases in their production.” So Mueller omits to mention the situation in the other nine countries of the Sahel, instead concentrating on the two countries where the evidence doesn”t directly contradict his theorizing.

A4 – MISREPRESENTATION
To reinforce his greening Sahel message Mueller strays geographically. He embellishes part of a Heartland Institute report that quotes a second-hand report from geologist Stephan Kropelin.

This concerns greening within the deserts of Western Sahara, a much-troubled country that is in Africa but definitely not part of the Sahel! It is from the same Heartland report that Mueller times the start of the greening as “since the early 1980s” when if he had read the other more reliable references he cited he would have known the greening began in 1994.

The entirety of the Sahel is not greening as Mueller would have us believe. It is patchy and there remains enough areas still suffering encroaching desert to make the term "greening" debatable. Somehow Mueller fails to notice.

A5 – MISREPRESENTATION
Mueller does manage to notice that there are signs of greening even in some areas where rainfall is still decreasing. Mueller asserts this might well be due to increased levels of atmospheric CO2. To support his CO2 claim Muller cites Sherwood Idso who has long espoused such theories and claims certain forest studies show evidence of it

But when it comes to the greening of the Sahel, Idso makes clear the CO2 link is only speculation and makes do with pointing out where researchers fail to mention his brave theorising.
There is one logical problem with Mueller”s claim which may be why Idso does not pursue a similar argument. It is difficult to reconcile patchy Sahel greening with a widespread (indeed worldwide) phenomenon like rising CO2 levels. The most likely reason for patchy greening (other than patchy rainfall) is very, very, widely discussed and observed on the ground. It is farmers changing their methods of cultivation, something Mueller fails to even mention, preferring instead to advance his ridiculous CO2 claim

A6 – MISREPRESENTATION
The prehistoric green Sahara of the mid-Holocene with its lakes and rivers is used by Mueller to reinforce his argument that global warming may trigger a return to such conditions and so provide a truly tremendous “positive impact” from global warming. Again he manages to misrepresent the words of others. On this matter Mueller concludes “(Professor Martin) Claussen has considered the likelihood of a greening of the Sahara due to global warming and concluded that an expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is possible as a consequence of CO2 emissions.”

This is an exceedingly bizarre interpretation of the source document! Claussen”s quote actually says “some expansion of vegetation into today”s Sahara is theoretically possible”,(end quote, emphasis added) words too pessimistic for Mueller so he changed them.

Not only does Mueller misquote Claussen, he wholly ignores the explicit warning that Claussen makes against any belief in a future green Sahara. “But he(Claussen) warns against believing the mid-Holocene climate optimum will be recreated.” This source document continues by pointing to the continuing tree-loss in the Sahel and the shrinkage of Lake Chad; this despite the improved levels of rainfall.

Indeed, Claussen is not alone in dismissing a green Sahara.  Yet Mueller”s report concludes that a green Sahara is a distinct possibility, the exact opposite of the very authority that he claims is supporting his conclusions.

A7 – OMISSION
Finally, Mueller is silent about one “negative impact” of a greening Sahel. He intimates that any greening due to global warming will be permanent but this is incorrect. Climatology shows that the Sahel has a very sensitive climate such that it can be stated “with confidence” that “any greening of the Sahel and Sahara in the near future will eventually be reversed.”  The greening is unreliable. It is thus hardly an encouraging example of a “positive impact” from global warming.


 

Feet in first

My lovely friends.

I received a wonderful gift over Christmas – bamboo socks.

The gift of socks is a massive present cliche – often a “faux pas”.

Describing a gift of foot socks as a “faux pas” is highly amusing, because that expression is French for “false step(s)”.

But this particular present of footwear was not embarrassing or laughable in the slightest.

It was extremely well thought out – inspiring, Zeitgeistian, educational, novel and fun – it even came in a bright orange pouch.

In Summer, by chance I was at an event where I heard the outlines and some conclusions of Lucy Siegle’s research into clothing fabrics.

Essentially, cotton is under threat worldwide – if you buy anything made from cotton, you should perhaps consider it an investment and hold onto it as long as you can. It could become quite irreplaceable.

There are solutions, even in a climate changed world – bamboo and hemp being two avenues for sourcing sustainable clothing fibres.

Fabric made from bamboo is soft and comforting, and in this particular case, quite, quite funky.

I have the obvious criticism of the use of retail – that we cannot expect to green up our lives purely through shopping – because consumerism is part of the climate change and energy crisis.

But I think that something functional like organic and recycled clothing can come into the category of truly green spending – after all, we do need to replace our clothes from time to time.

To cap it all, the socks had green stripes !

So top marks to my clever friend for cracking a superb seasonal joke and demonstrating the future of fabrics at the same time.

Raising a toast to a Sustainable 2012.

The Storm

On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.

There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.

On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.

“Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”

The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.

However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.

We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.

“I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”

First Arcticane of Wintertide

Image Credit : Copyright 2011 EUMETSAT

Something not completely dissimilar to a hurricane or a typhoon has been gusting at incredibly high speeds through the lowlands of Scotland today – and further afield.

Yet, regardless of whether this heralds the start of a proper snow-and-ice winter, it’s not likely to prevent 2011 being one of the hottest years ever.

July and August, worldwide, were nearly the hottest on record in 2011. Meanwhile, the Blob Chart tells the story in a way that nobody can deny.

Meanwhile, in Durban, South Africa, the world’s governments struggle to make sense. A healthy economy is a carbon-emitting economy – because industrial energy causes high carbon emissions. What needs to happen is that the energy production businesses start to diversify their portfolio – increasing the amount of energy they produce from renewable, sustainable low carbon resources, whilst decreasing the amount of fossil fuel energy they supply.

It can’t be left to individual “big hitters” to kick-start the renewable energy revolution – it requires transnational, international, multi-national and national energy companies to start to displace carbon from their products.

If they don’t, they will face mass disinvestment, as ethical concerns rise up the agenda of investor groups and funds. So, BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil – if you don’t start switching from selling us hydrocarbons to selling us renewable energy, your businesses will under-compete. You have been notified.

Clicking with Climate

Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

Human beings have two brains. The first is a self-centred workhorse of pragmatic decision-making, interested in social engagement in order to further individual interests – whether those interests are purely for personal enrichment or for the reward of the social group more widely.

The second human brain is a relativistic engine, constantly comparing, reflecting, analysing. We are concerned about other peoples’ emotional response, wondering what other people think about us, responding to peer group pressure.

Are we more successful, popular than others ? Do people listen to us more than others ? We know we’re right, but do they ? We need to pitch ourselves in the right way. We jostle for pole position, for a place on the platform, hoping not to make too many opponents, whilst making more converts to our point of view.

Personally, I don’t listen to my second brain very often. As a social animal, I hope I’m tolerant, and my priorities in interpersonal engagement are mutual empowerment, transparent collaboration and inclusion. In my public projection, I’m not trying to vaunt myself over others, or massage my image for approval, or put up a fake facade. You get me, you get direct.

But I can’t avoid the second human brain entirely – as it is the reason for a lot of fuzziness in our view of the world around us. It’s too easy to stir doubt, falsehoods and bad ideas into the collective cake mix of society, where it fizzes into a bubbling mess. In matters of climate change science and energy engineering, there are no grey areas for me. But for a number of people I know, these are subjects of much confusion, denial and disinformation.

People hold on to the totem of what other people think. And so you have even very intelligent social commentators reciting from paid-for public relations by companies and business pressure groups. Journalists often do not appear to understand the difference between pseudo-science and real live science. There are too many people selling unrealistic, unworkable technological “solutions”, particularly in energy, so it’s hard to know what to accept and what to dismiss.

Yet it is critical to know what rock, what branch to keep a hold of in the flood of information that could sweep us away. The social construction of climate change is an important edifice, a safe house in an information world at war with itself. What high wind can sweep away the grubby pages of non-science from the Daily Mail ? What rising sea can cleanse the Daily Telegraph of its climate change denial columnists ? What can stop the so-called Global Warming Policy Foundation from infecting the Internet with their contrarian position ? What can make us accept the reality and urgency of global warming ? How can we learn to click with climate change ?

Three significant academic thinkers on the social significance of climate change are launching new works at the British Library in London, on 16th January 2012. The British Sociological Association have invited Mike Hulme, John Urry and Gordon Walker to discuss chapters from their recent books which address the question – where next for society and climate change ?

In the words of Chris Shaw at the University of Sussex, “they pull no punches in their analyses, and their approach is based on years of research into the social dimensions of the climate change debate. This is an essential opportunity for all those interested in bringing climate change into the democratic sphere, to help understand the issues involved in such a transition. It is also a chance to discuss the ideas with the authors and other delegates.”

For more information, see here and here.

Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

Yes, indeed they are. Everyone is entitled to hold their own particular opinion. In this democracy of ideas, every longshot, wingnut, bonehead, rogue, charlatan, conspiracy theorist, crank, crony and astroturfer should be permitted access to the microphone on the stage. If we hold a public meeting about immigration, we should, of course, invite a white supremicist, a member of the British National Party, and a Daily Mail journalist to offer us their wise words. If we hold a sociological symposium on the Second World War, we should of course invite a Holocaust-denier. If an engineering conference, a cold fusion-in-a-test-tube enthusiast. Of course we should provide balance, as much balance as possible, and offer wisdom, insight and rant from all ends of all spectra. It’s only reasonable.

It therefore goes without question that somebody from the Global Warming Policy Foundation “think tank”, so copiously and generously sponsored by a person or persons unknown, should be invited to speak on the platform, or in a panel, at a well-funded quasi-establishment meeting on Climate Change. Regardless of a complete lack of training in atmospheric physics, or even knowledge of the span of the last five years in the science of global warming, naturally, a GWPF man must be invited by GovToday to a presitigious conference to be held on 29th November 2011 in the City of London grandly entitled “2011 Carbon Reduction : The Transition to a Low Carbon Economy”.

Continue reading Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

Tom Heap : Panoramic Nonsensity

Date: 9 November 2011
From: tim b
To: jo abbess

Hi Jo,

Just picked up on your blog following leads on Tom Heap – I’m writing a piece for my website (www.biggreenbang.co.uk) on the panorama / KPMG saga – just wanted to say what a great blog it is~!! Don’t find so many to-the-point sites in the UK – have picked up on guys like Joe Romm in the States but you seem to have your finger right on the pulse in the UK!

…Should explain that my site has been initiated by a load of IT techie nerds who are already working in telecoms and are about to launch a zero carbon mobile phone company (by a combination of using low carbon technology, buying into renewable power and carbon offsetting) They are committed to putting part of their profits into green projects and are setting up BGB in the hopes that it will be a vehicle for making sustainability issues available to a wider public – they have ambitions to develop it as a community resource too – They obviously hope to get spin-off business for their mobile phone network but I believe their motives are genuinely good and they seem to be giving me a fairly free rein!

look forward to hearing from you

=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=x=

Date: 10 November 2011
From: jo abbess
To: tim b

Hi Tim,

Good luck with the Panorama research.

Another person to follow on this is Christian Hunt at Carbon Brief :-

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/looking-into-panoramas-sources
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/kpmg-not-sure-if-written-report
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/11/another-correction-from-the-mail-group-on-energy-bills

…Keep the green flag flying !

Continue reading Tom Heap : Panoramic Nonsensity

Death of the Solar Salesman

Poor dear Greg Barker MP. As he attempted to answer questions in the House of Commons today on his disastrous decision to cut the solar photovoltaic feed in tariff, his face became progressively redder. His temper clearly became frayed as he got quite cross, and asked female Labour Members of Parliament to calm down, and even asserted that one question from a female opposition MP was “hysterical”, which I think was borderline sexist.
For some reason, nobody asked the Department of Energy and Climate the basic question – why don’t you increase the Feed in Tariff budget, instead of trying to whittle down the pence paid per kilowatt hour produced ? The Feed-in-Tariff scheme is working really well at the moment. It’s preventing the country having to subsidise the construction of several new power stations, and it has been providing, until now that is, new jobs and economic productivity.

Continue reading Death of the Solar Salesman

Camp Frack : Who’s afraid of hydraulic fracturing ?

When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.

It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).

The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.

[ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]

Energy Poll #7 : Unconventional Fossil Fuels

Question 1    How often do you find articles in the press about “unconventional” energy, which includes shale gas, Arctic oil and tar sands ?







Question 2    Do you think the world will need to exploit all sources of fossil fuels, regardless of their quality ?







Question 3    Are you keen to see more vehicle fuel being produced from non-fossil sources ?







Question 4    Would you be prepared to buy a replacement vehicle with lower fuel consumption ?







Question 5    Do you think that price rises for complex resources of oil and gas can be kept to a minimum ?






Background Information : please give a few brief details about what kind of person you are, to help us check that a representative sample of people have answered the survey.

What region are you living in ?
How old are you ?
What gender are you ?
How do you prefer to keep up to date with science ?

Is Climate Change really happening ?
Is Peak Oil really happening ?
Do you know a lot about energy  ?
Enter your e-mail address if you want the final results










The Dearth of Sense

While everybody’s busy discussing ethics in the media, today’s been a great day to bury bad news – the shelving of the Energy Bill – and with it the Green Deal, the only hope Britain had left of economic recovery in the short-term.

And what of the Electricity Market Reform white paper and the National Policy Statements on energy ? Into the round wastepaper-bin-shaped recycling receptacle, possibly.

What next ? The revocation of the Climate Change Act and the dissolution of the Committee on Climate Change ?

I don’t know whether I should make overt political statements, but I think this news sugar ices the brioche, so I will : David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” has failed.

We need Van Jones, right here, right now.

George Monbiot : New Clear

It is a newer, clearer tone that George Monbiot uses in his piece The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. He seems to have lost his dirty annoyance with filthy anti-nuclear activists and moved onto a higher plane of moral certitude, where the air is cleaner and more refined.

He is pro-technology, but anti-industry. For him, the privately owned enterprises of atomic energy are the central problem that has led to accidents both of a radioactive and an accountancy nature. “Corporate power ?”, he asks, “No thanks.” The trouble is, you can’t really separate the failings of nuclear power from the failings of human power. It’s such a large, complex and dangerous enterprise that inevitably, human power systems compromise the use of the technology, regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned. For a small amount of evidence, just look at the history of publicly-managed nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Not exactly peachy. And as for those who claimed that a “free” market approach to managing nuclear power would improve matters – how wrong they were. In my view, on the basis of the evidence so far, nobody can claim that nuclear power can be run as an efficient, safe, profit-making venture.

Continue reading George Monbiot : New Clear

Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

Image Credit : Mark Holderness

Mark Lynas betrayed more of his intellectual influences this week, when he tweeted as @mark_lynas “Colony collapse disorder – honeybees – not quite the environmental story it seemed:
http://breakthroughjournal.org/content/authors/hannah-nordhaus/an-environmental-journalists-l.shtml

Hmmm. That’s a piece from a new generation of Nordhaus-es, Hannah, writing for the Breakthrough Institute, founded by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, authors of “The Death of Environmentalism“, a document I truly regret wasting the paper to print. As I read it, I started scratching hot red comments in the margins, so many, that in the end the pages were more red than black-and-white.

Hannah’s piece, like her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament“, is more delicate and considered, I think, but still shreds decades of environmental thought and much science, without any justification in my view.

She writes, “…very quickly, many journalists settled on neonicotinoids — pesticides that are applied to more than 140 different crops — as the likely culprit. It seemed a familiar story of human greed and
shortsightedness. With their callous disregard for nature, big chemical companies and big agriculture were killing the bees — and threatening our own survival. The honey bee’s recent problems have occasioned a similar rush to judgment. Before any studies had been conducted on the causes of CCD, three books and countless articles came out touting pesticides as the malady’s cause. Had I been able to turn a book around quickly, I might have leapt to the same conclusions. But I was late to the party, and as more studies came out and I came to better understand the science, I became less and less convinced that pesticides provided a convincing explanation for beekeepers’ losses…”

Her argument appears to be that pesticides are bad for other pollinators, not bees; but that this makes life harder for the bees, who then have to do all that pollination instead :-

http://naturebeebookclub.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/the-beekeepers-lament-nordhaus-hannah/

“In steps John Miller, a boundingly energetic and charismatic beekeeper, who tasks himself with the care and the sustainable keeping of honeybees. He is descended from America’s first migratory beekeeper, N.E. Miller, who, at the beginning of the 20th century, transported thousands of hives from one crop to another, working the Idahoan clover in summer and the Californian almonds in winter. Back then beekeepers used to pay farmers to keep a few dozen hives on their land. But now farmers pay beekeepers millions of dollars to have their crops pollinated by upwards of ten thousand hives. With the rise of the monocrop and increasingly efficient pesticides, there are simply not enough natural pollinators to complete the massive task of sexing-up millions of acres of almond groves.”

This kind of writing seems to me like a lot of anti-green writing, where a straw man is set up, only to bow down and worship it. The central framework of fallacy appears to be :-

a. Environmentalists are zealous, and therefore crazy.
b. They believe pesticides are dangerous to bees.
c. They must be wrong, and pesticides can’t be all that bad for bees.

Let’s just read a little around that idea, shall we ? Let’s start with Wikipedia, just to make it easy :-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pesticide_toxicity_to_bees

“For the majority of pesticides that are registered in the United States, EPA only requires a short-term contact toxicity test on adult honeybees. In some cases, the agency also receives short-term oral toxicity tests, which are required in Europe. EPA’s testing requirements do not account for sub-lethal effects to bees or effects on brood or larvae. Their testing requirements are also not designed to determine effects in bees from exposure to systemic pesticides. With Colony Collapse Disorder, whole hive tests in the field are needed in order to determine the effects of a pesticide on bee colonies. To date, there are very few scientifically valid whole hive studies that can be used to determine the effects of pesticides on bee colonies.”

Actually, it’s not just “mad environmentalists” who are concerned about the effect of pesticides on honeybees. Here’s just one scholarly paper :-

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009754
“High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health”, Mullin et el., 2010.

What has this got to do with Climate Change. I can hear you asking ?

Well, it’s like this – in order to do intensive farming, agricultural chemicals are used on crops. Specialised herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are used on genetically modified crops, along with chemical fertilisers.

In order to convince people to accept Genetically Modified food, they’ve got to be encouraged to believe that pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are really alright.

Hence, pesticides cannot be fingered as a problem for bees, otherwise people might not accept GM crops…

Yes, it’s coming back round to tampering with our food genes. And it’s being sold to us as a cure for Climate Change.

At the bottom of this page there’s a transcript of a snippet from a television programme I was unlucky and incensed enough to have viewed yesterday. Called “The Wonder of Weeds”, it took us through the basic logic of modern-day plant breeding, including the role for genetic modification of plants – without once mentioning the words “life sciences”, “bioengineering”, “biotechnology” or even “genetic modification”.

The GM crops are presented as being the saviour of humanity, without once mentioning why conditions in the world may be damaging crops in new ways in the future, a lot of which will be due to climate change.

There was the usual category error – of confusing science with technology. Let’s repeat that one again. Technology is when you play with the genes of a crucial staple crop like wheat. Science is when you discover, maybe 25 years later, that it has had knock-on effects in the food chain. Oh dear. Too late for remorse – the genetically modified genome is now globally distributed.

The presenter of the programme, Chris Collins, didn’t even spot the cognitive dissonance of his own script. In the first part of the programme he talks about common weeds that are foreign invaders in the UK and cause untold trouble. In the second part of the programme he doesn’t even blink when he talks about modifying crops at the genetic level – not questioning that introducing foreign genes into vital crops might have detrimental, unforeseen impacts – rather like a microscopic version of the imported “plant pariahs”, Buddleia davidii, Rhododendron ponticum and Japanese knotweed. Oh yes, Oxford Ragwort, another introduction to the UK, is not such a hazard, but you can’t guarantee what happens when you get plant invaders.

I find it astonishing that such obvious propaganda on behalf of corporate plans to modify crops for their own private market profit is allowed into BBC television programming.

Climate Change is being used as the Trojan Horse rationale in which to bring GM crops to the UK, and elsewhere, as part of international agricultural development programmes. This is the ideological equivalent of a rogue gene inserted into the DNA of science. I find this an outrage.

I recommend you check the work of GM Freeze to counter this braintwisting manipulation.

And if you want a little bit more of an insider on what Dr Alison Smith, featured in the BBC show, is actually doing with her amazing knowledge of plants – it seems her work encompasses improving the production of alcoholic beverages, not feeding the world. I kid you not :-

http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/news-events/news/2011/110615-pr-improved-crops-food-security.html
“Glucosidase inhibitors: new approaches to malting efficiency : Alison Smith, John Innes Centre : Improving the efficiency with which barley grain is converted into beer and whisky would reduce waste and energy consumption in the brewing industry, as well as ensuring profitability. This project aims to improve the efficiency of malting, the first stage in beer and whisky production, by building on new discoveries about how barley grains convert starch to sugars when they germinate.”

What is the BBSRC ? This is a research programme that’s “infested” with corporate people – whose agenda is money-making, not philanthropy.

And what’s genetic modification of crops got to do with Mark Lynas ? Well, just read his new book, “The God Species“, and you’ll find out.

The plain fact in my view is that we do not need genetically modified crops in Europe. In Africa, they’re too poor to afford the chemicals to use with the GM seeds. And in the not-too-distant future, the price of the chemicals will shoot up because of Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas, making GM crops inaccessible to those North Americans who currently use it. So this particular technology takes us nowhere forward at all. We need to manage water and the root causes of poverty rather than tamper with genes.



http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01224kv/hd/The_Wonder_of_Weeds/

BBC 4 TV
Saturday 25 June 2011

“The Wonder of Weeds”

“Travelling around the UK and meeting experts in botanical history, genetics, pharmaceuticals and wild food, Chris Collins tells the story behind the plants most people call weeds.”

45 minutes 20 seconds

…And the massive irony of all this is that the very crop that has become a monoculture at the expense of weeds, wheat, was once a weed itself…

Plant scientist Professor Nick Harberd of Oxford University has researched the moment a weed became wheat.

Nick : “About half a million years ago, there was spontaneously, in the wild, nothing to do with human beings, a cross-hybridisation, a cross-pollination if you like, between two wild grass species…”

“…So one can imagine that humans were cultivating this wheat [10,000 to 12,000 years ago] in a field and then by chance a weed was growing within that field. And there was again a spontaneous hydridisation event beteen the cultivated wheat and this wild grass that was growing in that imaginary field.”

“The whole process made a plant that was bigger and more vigorous. And as a result of this we ended up with the wheat crop we all grow and feed off today.”

Nick can exactly recreate exactly how wheat and weeds crossbred in a lab today…

47 minutes 40 seconds

Weeds helped us out millenia ago and now scientists in the 21st Century have turned to weeds once again for one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever.

It could save lives by creating a super wheat.

It all took place here, at the John Innes Institute in Norwich.

Alison : “So come on in Chris. You need to sterilise your feet here…”

Chris : “So this means we’re not bringing in anything nasty from outside…”

Alison : “That’s right. No thrips or viruses or anything else that might come in.”

Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.

Chris : “This is the first time I’ve ever dressed up to go and see a weed.”

Alison : “We look after our weeds very carefully here.”

Alison’s team have been studying a small common weed called Arabidopsis [thaliana] or Thale Cress, which is now used as the model to map the DNA of all plants on the planet.

Alison : “Well this weed is incredibly easy for us to work on. And all plant scientists almost in the world take information from this weed. And many plant scientists only work on this little weed.”

“The reason why it’s really useful is that like a lot of weeds it goes from seed to seed really quickly, so we can get through lots and lots of generations, and that makes it easy for us to do genetic studies to understand how the weed behaves and what all of its genes are doing.”

“But also, about 20 years ago, plant scientists got together. And at that time they were working on lots and lots of different plants. And they decided, let’s work on one plant together that can become the model from which we can develop our understanding of plants.”

“So about the same time as we were sequencing the human genome, we started to sequence the genome of this little weed. So in 2000 we got the entire gene sequence of this weed, all of the genes are known, the same time as we understood the human genome.”

Chris : “So really then, this small weed is a blueprint for all plants ?”

Alison : “This is the model for all plant life, that’s right.”

But the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome is not just for the sake of it. Alison and her 600 colleagues are unlocking the secrets of the plant’s success, like its speedy growth rate and its hardiness, and are transfering those abilities to the crops that matter to us, like wheat.

This is one of the most important discoveries in plant biology ever, where one of the humblest weeds could save millions of lives around the world.

Chris : “Now we’ve seen our magic weed and you’ve got this genetic blueprint. How do you take that blueprint and apply it to arable crops like this wheat ?”

Alison : “Well we can start to tackle, using this blueprint, some of the real problems that we have with our crops like disease, for example. Our crops are quite susceptible to some diseases. We’ve been able to breed for that, but we haven’t known what genes we’re breeding for.”

“In Arabidopsis, Arabidopsis gets diseases as well, we can understand exactly how it’s resistant to those diseases. We know what genes it needs. And we can say right, where are those genes in wheat ? Can we make sure that our new wheats have the genes that make them resistant to disease ?”

“Another example would be how the wheat exactly makes its seeds. Obviously, this is the really important bit of wheat. This is what we eat. This is human food. We understand a bit about the process of about how these little seeds are formed, but in Arabidopsis we understand in absolute molecular detail how those seeds are made, and that helps us to understand how we make to make better seeds, bigger seeds, more nutritious seeds in wheat. We can apply that knowlege in wheat.”

Well, I know scientists don’t like to be too dramatic, but I’m going to be, because of simply what I’ve found out. Weeds can play a big role in arable crops like wheat, or even maybe the future of humanity.

Alison : “I think it was the starting point for what has to be a revolution in our crops, a revolution in understanding how they work and making them work better and doing that fast.”

“It’s taken our ancestors, you know, millenia, to get to this point. We can’t afford to take the next step in millenia. We have to take it in tens of years or less. And in order to do that, you’re absolutely right, the information from Arabidopsis has been the key to pushing us forward.”

It’s the resilience of weeds and the insights they give us into helping crops survive that makes them amongst the most useful plants on the planet…

Selling Thorium to China

Kirk Sorensen, formerly of Teledyne Brown Engineering, now of Flibe Energy

To: Claverton Energy Research Group
From: Jo Abbess
Date: 24 June 2011
Subject: “Don’t believe the spin on thorium being a ‘greener’ nuclear option”‏

Hi Clavertonians,

As you are, I’m sure, aware, context is everything.

I was so sure we’d escaped the clutches of the “Thorium Activist Trolls” a few years ago, but no, here they are in resurgence again, and this time they’ve sucked in George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tinsdale, all apparently gullible enough to believe the newly resurrected Generation IV hype campaign.

They should have first done their research on the old Gen IV hype campaign that withered alongside the “Hemp will Save the World, No Really” campaign and the “Biodiesel will Save the World, AND You Can Make it at Home” brigade. Oh, and the Zero Point Energy people.

I was, I admit, quite encouraged by both the Hemp and Biodiesel drives, until I realised they were a deliberate distraction from the Big Picture – how to cope with the necessity of creating an integrated system of truly sustainable energy for the future.

Hemp and Biodiesel became Internet virally transmitted memes around the same time as the Thorium concept, but where did they come from ?

Where does the Thorium meme originate from this time round ? I found some people took to it at The Register, where they spin against Climate Change science a lot – watch the clipped video :-

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/01/china_thorium_bet/

I would suggest that there are connections between the Thorium campaign and the anti-Climate Change science campaign, and I have some evidence, but I’m too busy to research more in-depth just now, so I’m not going to write it all up yet.

The key issues with all energy options is TIME TO DELIVERY and SCALEABILITY, and I think the option presented by the Thorium fuel cycle fails on both counts.

Yeah, sure, some rich people can devote their life savings to it, and some Departments of Defense (yes, Americans) and their corporate hangers-on can try selling ANOTHER dud technology to China (which is the basis of some Internet energy memes in my view).

Remember Carbon Capture and Storage ? The British Government were very keen on making a Big Thing about CCS – in order to sell it to the miscreant Chinese because (WARNING : CHINA MYTH) China builds 2 !! coal-fired !! power stations a week/day/month !!

THORIUM – A Brief Analysis
TIME TO DELIVERY – 20 to 50 years
SCALEABILITY – unknown
USEFULNESS ASSESSMENT – virtually zero, although it could keep some people on the gravy train, and suck in some Chinese dough

The Tyndall Centre say that global emissions of greenhouse gases have to peak AT THE LATEST by 2020. We should be thinking about rolling out the technology WE ALREADY HAVE to meet that end.

Don’t believe the hype,

jo.

PS What other evidence do we have that the Thorium meme is most likely just a propaganda campaign ? Nick Griffin of the British National Party backs it, and the BNP are widely alleged to promote divisiveness…

Adam Curtis : Daft Punk

[ UPDATE : BRILLIANT DECONSTRUCTION OF ADAM CURTIS’ WORK FROM BEN WOODHAMS ]

The final part (I really hope it is the final part) of Adam Curtis’ trilogy on “Evil” Computers and “Devillish” Enviromentalists – “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace” – a title drawn from a poem written by what would appear to be a madman – has now been uploaded to YouTube, allowing me to view it without taking part in the memory-eating public monitoring disappointment that is BBC iPlayer :-

Adam Curtis certainly reveals himself as a little monkeyish in this episode, throwing overarm and underhand javelins at “liberals” of all hues and cries, particularly environmental ones; and throwing in liberal references to primates wherever he can, seemingly to suggest that mankind has un- or de-evolved by adopting computing tools and studying the natural world.

Continue reading Adam Curtis : Daft Punk

The toxic legacy of mined energy

We are stardust ? Well, not quite. As carbon-based lifeforms we’re actually the offspring of a young sun, composed of the lighter elements, with a low concentration of a few transition metals essential for our health and vitality. Irn Bru, anyone ?

The actual products of exploding old stars that got lodged in the crusty skin of the accreting Earth are often quite toxic to us. Over millions of years, heavy and radioactive elements, being of no use to the ecosystem, have been deposited at the bottom of lakes, seabeds, and ended up lodged in seams of coal, and caverns of petroleum oil and Natural Gas. Uranium ores and other nasties have been overlain by forests and deserts, and only rarely vent, like radon, from Vulcan’s infernal lairs.

And what do humans do ? We dig this stuff up to burn or fission for energy, and when we do it creates toxic waste, that hurts us, and the life around us. Why are we surprised that mercury from the coal power industry is killing fish and harming children ? Why is it a shock that the tailing ponds from mining tar and oil sands are devastating pristine wilderness and waterways ?

Continue reading The toxic legacy of mined energy

Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

http://www.cato.org/event.php?eventid=7999

I found this excellent little CATO Institute debate somewhere in my Twitter stream, and I watched the whole of it, despite the annoying accents and speaking styles of the speakers, and the insider economics references to Pigou and Coase (they’re only theorems, you know).

I thought that Kate Gordon made some excellent rebuttals to Andrew Morriss’ whining, pedantic free marketeering, and I was with her right up until the last few frames when she said that the Center for American Progress, of course, supports a carbon tax, as this is, of course, the best way to prevent Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Such disappointment ! To find that somebody so intelligent cannot see the limitations of carbon pricing is a real let down. I tend to find that American “progressives” on the whole are rather wedded to this notion of environmental taxation, “internalising the externalities” – adding the damages from industrial activities into the cost of the industrial products. I do not see any analysis of the serious flaws in this idea. Just what are they drinking ? What’s in the Kool-Aid ?

Continue reading Carbon Dioxide – a virtual, negative commodity

The “red tape” challenge

So, I’m sitting in my local cafe at lunchtime talking to my local property developer-landlord. So, I ask him, do you think there will be worsening economic conditions this year ? And will there be more unemployment ?

He takes a pretty dismal line – things are becoming more and more squeezed – landlords are finding that their properties are unoccupied, or the rents are being forced downwards, and there is no spare finance capacity to do renovations, the banks won’t lend, and there’s no certainty of being able to sell properties if the business becomes uneconomic. He’s had to sack people he was formerly able to employ.

Continue reading The “red tape” challenge

The spoils of war

See the rest of Gaddafi’s speech to the United Nations here

When did Colonel Muammar Gaddafi learn of threats from the world’s major oil consumer countries against his rule ? Was it in early 2011 ? Or was it several years earlier ? On the public stage, he has been deliberately reduced to a figure of fun, and his message advising non-aggression and protection from aggression is being lost. He is now a desperate man :-

http://www.youtube.com/?v=DTjpdUiILDw

Continue reading The spoils of war

James Hansen’s Hate Mail

Image Credit : Earth Beat Radio

New Year, new hate campaign against Climate Change scientists :-

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110126_SingingInTheRain.pdf

“Singing in the Rain : 26 January 2011 : In the past 2 – 3 weels I received a deluge of nasty-language messages saying that I should be fired, deported, run over, etc. Such a sudden burst of malice seems unlikely to be spontaneous.”

“Perhaps recent articles and internet stories provided stimulation, e.g., an article by Pat Michaels in the Washington Times and a statement by Richard S. Courtney on a blog. Michaels distorts the facts and uses quotes out of context. The Courtney statement […] mischaracterizes my testimony.”

“…The essence of my testimony, in both trials, was that the evidence for human-caused climate change is clear. I emphasized that the UK government, the fossil fuel industry, and the utility EON were aware of the effect of continued coal-burning on the future of young people. But instead of addressing the problem effectively, they engaged in greenwash…”

Over at MediaLens, the two (three) Davids are blanking the “every little bit helps” approach :-

“Focusing on personal consumption, and each of us ‘doing our bit’, is what we mean by the ‘debate’ being stuck on square one.

Asking the general public to kindly remember to switch off their lights has had about as much impact as a light dusting of sugar. Looks pretty, but causes coughing fits when eating the cake.

I can’t wait for their comments on Climate Week :-

http://www.climateweek.com/

“One week to show how we can combat climate change…inspiring millions to act.”

Supported by David Cameron ! Sponsored by Tesco (owners of a very large and unnecessary carbon footprint) !

A zero carbon supermarket ? I really cannot believe it :-

http://www.greenweblog.net/2010/02/03/tesco-opens-world%E2%80%99s-first-zero-carbon-supermarket/

Note in the following that Tesco don’t intend to carbon label their transport systems, warehousing or stores – only the products that consumers buy :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/13/tesco-carbon-labels

The Gamechanger

Gasland at the ICA London : 17 – 27 Jan, 4 – 6, 11 – 13, 16 – 17, 19, 26 – 27 Feb 2011

The public propaganda budget for most energy and mining companies is eensy weensy compared to the profits they can make by polluting and stealing.

Are you ready for another American energy myth ? Yes, the country with the energy production “community” that brought you the Gulf of Mexico spill disaster of April 2010, is now threatening groundwater pollution and seismic shocks at a county near you in the United Kingdom.

A glimpse of the public relations that have led up to this can be seen very easily by using an Internet Search Engine using an Internet Browser (like Google running on Google Chrome, for example), using the search term : “shale gas gamechanger”.

That little word “gamechanger” has been soaking through the business, engineering and financial press in relation to “unconventional” gas for at least six months. Everybody digests this word in connection with information touting the magical promise of virtually free gas in the rocks beneath our feet. And then they repeat the concept and this little sales word to others. It’s gone completely viral.

Roger Harrabin of the BBC (thanks, Roger) brings word that the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research has recommended a moratorium on shale gas operations until more science is known about the results of the engineering :-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12190810

“…”We are aware that there have been reports from US of issues linked to some shale gas projects,” a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) told BBC News. “However, we understand that these are only in a few cases and that Cuadrilla (the firm testing for shale gas in Lancashire) has made it clear that there is no likelihood of environmental damage and that it is applying technical expertise and exercising the utmost care as it takes drilling and testing forward.”…”

So who is this company “Cuadrilla” ?

It is an entity formed from one Australian engineering giant and one American financial giant, seeking to propagate the American way of life of developing “new” energy resources :-

http://www.mining-reporter.com/index.php/component/content/article/653-lucas/2867-riverstone-llc-invests-us58-million-in-cuadrilla-resources-

“…Lucas announced that the Riverstone/Carlyle Global Energy and Power Funds, a group of energy-focused private equity funds managed by Riverstone Holdings LLC, has committed to subscribe US$58.0 million for equity in Cuadrilla Resources Holding Ltd, the holding company established by Lucas to hold its investment for unconventional hydrocarbons exploration and development in Europe.”

“Lucas was a founding shareholder in Cuadrilla and has supported the management team since the company’s inception. Lucas’ total investment as of today’s date amounts to A$52.4 million.
Cuadrilla has applied for, and in some cases been granted, exploration licences totalling in excess of 1.5 million acres in the UK, Holland, Spain and Poland. In addition, Cuadrilla has designed, overseen the manufacture of and delivered state of the art cementing and fracture stimulation equipment and is soon to take delivery of a DrillMec HH220 top drive rig.”

So, does this technology actually work safely ?

Nobody really knows, is the short answer.

http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/shalegasreport

“…Funded by the Cooperative, the Tyndall report demonstrates how the extraction of shale gas risks seriously contaminating ground and surface waters. In this regard alone, there should be a moratorium on shale gas development until a there is a much more thorough understanding of the extraction process…”

Why do we continue to have American companies imprinting their business models on the UK ? We have to have their “independent” nuclear deterrent, their behemoth nuclear reactor construction companies, their health insurance companies, their failed genetically modified crops, their privatised prison and school and health centre management policies, their tax concepts, their social control policies, even their zeal for state terrorism…sorry…”The War against Terror”. And nobody seeks to question why we have to copycat everything the Americans do, even when it goes badly wrong.

Why can’t we have a War against Error ?

We need a real “regime change” here – we need to say a big no to American energy policy. And that starts with asking a few questions about the way American companies do business.

Here’s just one example of the sort of practice that the people behind Cuadrilla get up to :-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlyle_Group

“In 2000, Carlyle entered into a joint venture with Riverstone Holdings, an energy and power focused private equity firm founded by former Goldman Sachs investment bankers. In March 2009, New York State and federal authorities began an investigation into payments made by Carlyle and Riverstone to placement agents allegedly made in exchange for investments from the New York State Common Retirement System, the state’s pension fund. It was alleged that these payments were in fact bribes or kickbacks, made to pension officials who have been under investigation by New York State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo. In May 2009, Carlyle agreed to pay $20 million in a settlement with Cuomo and accepted changes to its fundraising practices.”

And you trust these people with the right motives when agreeing to finance shale gas exploitation in Europe ?

A. J. Lucas Group is the engineering partner in this enterprise :-

http://markets.ft.com/tearsheets/businessProfile.asp?s=AJL:ASX

“The Company’s Oil and Gas segment is engaged in the exploration for and commercialization of hydrocarbons in Australia, Canada, United States and Europe. As of June 30, 2010, the Company held 56.95% interest in Cuadrilla Resources Corporation Limited (Cuadrilla).”

Starting with Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, they appear to want to dig up the whole of Lancashire :-

http://www.channel4.com/news/shale-gas-striking-gold-in-blackpool

“Mr Cornelius said Cuadrilla would begin the extraction process in early January and would hope to have its first flare – gas burning at the surface – by early February.”

“If successful, the find would be extremely significant given Britain’s dwindling energy resources and our increasing reliance on imported gas. Cuadrilla had previously said the amount of shale gas in the Bowland site could meet as much as 5 to 10 per cent of Britain’s energy resources.”

“Now, after the first samples have been analysed, the suspicion is that the Lancashire fields could hold a lot more.”

“Now one site has been explored, the drilling rig will be moved to another site on the Bowland Shale to assess the size of the gas field overall. If those explorations also prove successful, then Cuadrilla will look to sell the entire operation to a large exploration company, like Shell, to carry out the expensive and time-consuming production process.”

Somebody has to say no to this. That somebody could be you.

What does shale gas “fracking” do to land, peoples and communities ?

Come and find out :-

http://www.culturecritic.co.uk/competitions/win-a-pair-of-tickets-to-the-premiere-of-gasland/

“GASLAND : Opening 17 January 2011 : Winner – Special Jury Prize – Sundance Film Festival 2010 : Nominated – Grand Jury Prize – Sundance film Festival 2010 : A frightening documentary that follows director Josh Fox as he attempts to uncover the truth about Halliburton-developed procedures for drilling for natural gas (known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’). When Fox is offered $100,000 for drilling rights to land he owns in Pennsylvania, his subsequent cross-country investigative odyssey lands him in communities contaminated by chemical waste caused by ‘fracking’ (the residents of one town are able to light their drinking water on fire). Another in a long line of essential environmental documentaries – each of which seems to be more alarming and compelling than the last…”

Come along and watch your own hellish future if you are unlucky enough to sit on top of gas-bearing rock formations :-

http://www.ica.org.uk/?lid=27269

“Gasland
17 – 27 Jan, 4 – 6, 11 – 13, 16 – 17, 19, 26 – 27 Feb 2011
A frightening documentary that follows director Josh Fox as he attempts to uncover the truth about Halliburton-developed procedures for drilling for natural gas (known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’). When Fox is offered $100,000 for drilling rights to land he owns in Pennsylvania, his subsequent cross-country investigative odyssey lands him in communities contaminated by chemical waste caused by ‘fracking’ (the residents of one town are able to light their drinking water on fire). Director Q&A plus panel discussion : After the premiere on 17 January there will be a discussion panel afterwards comprising the director Josh Fox, along with representatives from The Co-operative and WWF.”…”

Here’s just a few links to peoples groups opposed to the engineering of unconventional gas :-
http://nofracking.com/
http://durangoherald.com/article/20110116/NEWS01/701169903/-1/s
http://www.marcellusprotest.org/
http://www.atlantic.sierraclub.ca/en/we-are-fracking-out
http://dearsusquehanna.blogspot.com/2011/01/fracking-to-pollute-water-air.html

It’s time our authorities read between the lines and regulated this practice away from Europe.

If we had a sparsely populated continent with lots of unused land, then maybe it might be OK. But with the risks still fully unquantified, we should keep this engineering out of well-populated and ecologically sensitive areas, particularly areas with water courses and farmland.