Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • Curmudgeons Happen

    Posted on January 5th, 2014 Jo 1 comment

    I was talking with people at my friend’s big birthday bash yesterday. I mentioned I’m writing about Renewable Gas, and this led to a variety of conversations. Here is a kind of summary of one of the threads, involving several people.

    Why do people continue to insist that the wind turbine at Reading uses more energy than it generates ?

    Would it still be there if it wasn’t producing power ? Does David Cameron still have a wind turbine on his roof ? No. It wasn’t working, so it was taken down. I would ask – what are their sources of information ? What newspapers and websites do they read ?

    They say that the wind turbine at Reading is just there for show.

    Ah. The “Potemkin Village” meme – an idyllic-looking setting, but everything’s faked. The Chinese painting the desert green, etc.

    And then there are people that say that the only reason wind farms continue to make money is because they run the turbines inefficiently to get the subsidies.

    Ah. The “De-rating Machine” meme. You want to compare and contrast. Look at the amount of money, resources, time and tax breaks being poured into the UK Continental Shelf, and Shale Gas, by the current Government.

    Every new technology needs a kick start, a leg up. You need to read some of the reports on wind power as an asset – for example, the Offshore Valuation – showing a Net Present Value. After it’s all deployed, even with the costs of re-powering at the end of turbine life, offshore North Sea wind power will be a genuine asset.

    What I don’t understand is, why do people continue to complain that wind turbines spoil the view ? Look at the arguments about the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.

    I have contacts there who forward me emails about the disputes. The yachtsmen of Poole are in open rebellion because the wind turbines will be set in in their channels ! The tourists will still come though, and that’s what really counts. People in Dorset just appear to love arguing, and you’ve got some people doing good impressions of curmudgeons at the head of the branches of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and English Heritage.

    There are so many people who resist renewable energy, and refuse to accept we need to act on climate change. Why do they need to be so contrarian ? I meet them all the time.

    People don’t like change, but change happens. The majority of people accept that climate change is significant enough to act on, and the majority of people want renewable energy. It may not seem like that though. It depends on who you talk with. There’s a small number of people who vocalise scepticism and who have a disproportionate effect. I expect you are talking about people who are aged 55 and above ?

    Example : “Climate Change ? Haw haw haw !” and “Wind turbines ? They don’t work !” This is a cohort problem. All the nasty white racists are dying and being buried with respect by black undertakers. All the rabid xenophobes are in nursing homes being cared for in dignity by “foreigners”. Pretty soon Nigel Lawson could suffer from vascular dementia and be unable to appear on television.

    The media have been insisting that they need a balance of views, but ignoring the fact that the climate change “sceptics” are very small in number and not backed up by the science.

    Why does Nigel Lawson, with all his access and privilege, continue to insist that global warming is not a problem ?

    Fortunately, even though he’s “establishment” and has more influence than he really should have, the people that are really in charge know better. He should talk to the climate change scientists – the Met Office continue to invite sceptics to come and talk with them. He should talk to people in the energy sector – engineers and project managers. He should talk to people in the cross-party Parliamentary groups who have access to the information from the expert Select Committees.

    And what about Owen Paterson ? I cannot understand why they put a climate change sceptic in charge of the Department of the Environment.

    Well, we’ve always done that, haven’t we ? Put Ministers in Departments they know nothing about, so that they can learn their briefs. We keep putting smokers in charge of health policy. Why do you think he was put in there ?

    To pacify the Conservative Party.

    But I know Conservative Party activists who are very much in favour of renewable energy and understand the problems of climate change. It’s not the whole Party.

    We need to convince so many people.

    We only need to convince the people who matter. And anyway, we don’t need to do any convincing. Leaders in the energy industry, in engineering, in science, in Government (the real government is the Civil Service), the Parliament, they already understand the risks of climate change and the need for a major energy transition.

    People should continue to express their views, but people only vote on economic values. That’s why Ed Miliband has pushed the issue of the cost of energy – to try to bring energy to the forefront of political debate.

    What about nuclear fusion ?

    Nuclear fusion has been 35 years away for the last 35 years. It would be nice to have, because it could really solve the problem. Plus, it keeps smart people busy.

    What about conventional nuclear fission power ?

    I say, “Let them try !” The Hinkley Point C deal has so many holes in it, it’s nearly collapsed several times. I’m sure they will continue to try to build it, but I’m not confident they will finish it. Nuclear power as an industry is basically washed up in my view, despite the lengths that it goes to to influence society and lobby the Government.

    It’s going to be too late to answer serious and urgent problems – there is an energy crunch approaching fast, and the only things that can answer it are quick-to-build options such as new gas-fired power plants, wind farms, solar farms, demand reduction systems such as shutting down industry and smart fridges.

    How can the energy companies turn your fridge off ?

    If the appliances have the right software, simple frequency modulation of the power supply should be sufficient to trip fridges and freezers off. Or you could connect them to the Internet via a gateway. The problem is peak power demand periods, twice a day, the evening peak worse than the morning. There has been some progress in managing this due to switching light bulbs and efficient appliances, but it’s still critical. Alistair Buchanan, ex of Ofgem, went out on a limb to say that we could lose all our power production margins within a couple of years, in winter.

    But the refrigerators are being opened and closed in the early evening, so it would be the wrong time of day to switch them off. And anyway, don’t the fridges stop using power when they’re down to temperature ?

    Some of these things will need to be imposed regardless of concerns, because control of peak power demand is critical. Smart fridges may be some years away, but the National Grid already have contracts with major energy users to shed their load under certain circumstances. Certain key elements of the energy infrastructure will be pushed through. They will need to be pushed through, because the energy crunch is imminent.

    The time for democracy was ten years ago. To get better democracy you need much more education. Fortunately, young people (which includes young journalists) are getting that education. If you don’t want to be irritated by the views of climate change and energy sceptics, don’t bother to read the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the online Register or the Spectator. The old school journalists love to keep scandal alive, even though any reason to doubt climate change science and renewable energy died in the 1980s.

    Although I’ve long since stopped trusting what a journalist writes, I’m one of those people who think that you should read those sources.

    I must admit I do myself from time to time, but just for entertainment.

  • Hadeo- and Archaeo-Geobiology

    Posted on July 8th, 2013 Jo No comments

    What can deep time teach us ?

    Whilst doing a little background research into biological routes to hydrogen production, I came across a scientific journal paper, I can’t recall which, that suggested that the geological evidence indicates that Earth’s second atmosphere not only had a high concentration of methane, but also high levels of hydrogen gas.

    Previously, my understanding was that the development of microbiological life included a good number of methanogens (micro-life that produces methane as a waste product) and methanotrophs (those that “trough” on methane), but that hydrogenogen (“respiring” hydrogen gas) and hydrogenotroph (metabolising hydrogen) species were a minority, and that this was reflected in modern-day decomposition, such as the cultures used in biogas plants for anaerobic digestion.

    If there were high densities of hydrogen cycle lifeforms in the early Earth, maybe there are remnants, descendants of this branch of the tree of life, optimal at producing hydrogen gas as a by-product, which could be employed for biohydrogen production, but which haven’t yet been scoped.

    After all, it has only been very recently that psychrophiles have been added to the range of microorganisms that have been found useful in biogas production – cold-loving, permafrost-living bugs to complement the thermophile and mesophile species.

    Since hydrogen and methane are both ideal gas fuels, for a variety of reasons, including gas storage, combustion profiles and simple chemistry, I decided I needed to learn a little more.

    I have now read a plethora of new theories and several books about the formation of the Earth (and the Moon) in the Hadean Eon, the development of Earth’s atmosphere, the development of life in the Archaean Eon, and the evolution of life caused by climate change, and these developments in living beings causing climate change in their turn.

    Most of this knowledge is mediated to us by geology, and geobiology. But right at its heart is catalytic chemistry, once again. Here’s Robert Hazen (Robert M. Hazen) from page 138 of “The Story of Earth” :-

    “Amino acids, sugars, and the components of DNA and RNA adsorb onto all of Earth’s most common rock-forming minerals [...] We concluded that wherever the prebiotic ocean contacted minerals, highly concentrated arrangements of life’s molecules are likely to have emerged from the formless broth [...] Many other researchers have also settled on such a conclusion – indeed, more than a few prominent biologists have also gravitated to minerals, because origins-of-life scenarios that involve only oceans and atmosphere face insurmountable problems in accounting for efficient mechanisms of molecular selection and concentration. Solid minerals have an unmatched potential to select, concentrate, and organize molecules. So minerals much have played a central role in life’s origins. Biochemistry is complex, with interwoven cycles and networks of molecular reactions. For those intricately layered processes to work, molecules have to have just the right sizes and shapes. Molecular selection is the task of finding the best molecule for each biochemical job, and template-directed selection on mineral surfaces is now the leading candidate for how nature did it [...] left- and right-handed molecules [...] It turns out that life is incredibly picky : cells almost exclusively employ left-handed amino acids and right-handed sugars. Chirality matters [...] Our recent experiments have explored the possibility that chiral mineral surfaces played the starring role in selecting handed molecules, and perhaps the origins of life as well. [...] Our experiments showed that certain left-handed molecules can aggregate on one set of crystal surfaces, while the mirror image [...] on other sets [...] As handed molecules are separated and concentrated, each surface becomes a tiny experiment in molecular selection and organization. On its own, no such natural experiment with minerals and molecules is likely to have generated life. But take countless trillions of trillions of trillions of mineral surfaces, each bathed in molecule-rich organic broth [...] The tiny fraction of all those molecular combinations that wound up displaying easier self-assembly, or developed a stronger binding to mineral surfaces [...] survived [...] possibly to learn new tricks.”

  • Natural Gas in the UK

    Posted on February 27th, 2013 Jo No comments

    The contribution of coal-fired power generation to the UK’s domestic electrical energy supply appears to have increased recently, according to the December 2012 “Energy Trends” released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. This is most likely due to coal plants using up their remaining allotted operational hours until they need to retire.
    It could also be due to a quirk of the international markets – coal availability has increased because of gas glut conditions in the USA leading to higher coal exports. Combatting the use of coal in power generation is a global struggle that still needs to be won, but in the UK, it is planned that low carbon generation will begin to gain ascendance.

    The transition to lower carbon energy in Britain relies on getting the Natural Gas strategy right. With the imminent closure of coal-fired power plant, the probable decommissioning of several nuclear reactors, and the small tranche of overall supply coming from renewable resources, Natural Gas needs to be providing a greater overall percentage of electricity in the grid. But an increasing amount of this will be imported, since indigenous production is dropping, and this is putting the UK’s economy at risk of high prices and gas scarcity.

    Demand for electricity for the most part changes by a few percentage points a year, but the overall trend is to creep upwards (see Chart 4, here). People have made changes to their lighting power consumption, but this has been compensated for by an increase in power used by “gadgets” (see Chart 4, here). There is not much that can be done to suppress power consumption. Since power generation must increasingly coming from renewable resources and Natural Gas combustion, this implies strong competition between the demand for gas for heating and the demand gas for electricity. Electricity generation is key to the economy, so the power sector will win any competition for gas supplies. If competition for Natural Gas is strong, and since we don’t have much national gas storage, we can expect higher seasonal imports and therefore, higher prices.

    It is clear that improving building insulation across the board is critical in avoiding energy insecurity. I shall be checking the winter heat demand figures assiduously from now on, to determine if the Green Deal and related measures are working. If they don’t, the UK is in for heightened energy security risks, higher carbon emissions, and possibly much higher energy prices. The Green Deal simply has to work.

  • 16 More Years

    Posted on February 4th, 2013 Jo 3 comments

  • A Question of Resilience

    Posted on January 28th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Again, the evil and greedy oil, gas and mining companies have proved their wickedness by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk.

    The questions posed so unrelentingly by the climate change deniers have sewn a patchwork tapestry of disinformation, which continues to poison genuine dialogue and is undermining political progress. We cannot take these people with us into constructive engagement, and ask them to help us forge a broad consensus. It is as if they exist in a parallel universe. Some of us will continue to attempt to conduct dialogue, but will end up wasting our time. The documentation by the media is faulty, and perpetuates the success of the denier strategy of divide and rule.

    But hold on a minute. There are problems with the stance of climate change denial, but what about the positioning of climate change activists ? Let’s try that first paragraph one more time :-

    [ Again, the "evil" and "greedy" oil, gas and mining companies have proved their "wickedness" by manipulating public opinion, by directly financing conspiracy theorists who deny climate change science. The irony is tangibly acidic. The paranoid have actually been duped by a genuine conspiracy. They have drunk the Kool Aid; they have believed the lies; they have continued to communicate doubt. They think they are challenging corruption in high places, but what they are really doing is reinforcing apathy in the face of genuine risk. ]

    By casting the fossil fuel and mining corporations as wrongly motivated, by using negative emotive labels, the dominant narrative of political activists has failed, once again, to move us all forward. These kinds of revelations about underhand corporate public relations activities are by now unsurprising. The news cannot shock, although it may disgust. Yet, since nothing is offered to counter-balance or correct the inappropriate behaviour of the “fossil fuellers”, they win the game they invented, the game they wrote the rules for. Protesting at a petrol station achieves nothing of any note, not even when there’s a camera-friendly polar bear. We hear the message of pain, but there is no ointment. There is a disconnect between the gruesome discovery and any way out of this mess. The revelation of intent of the carbon dinosaurs, the recounting of the anti-democratic activities, does not result in change.

    Environmental pollution is a “victimless” crime – no matter how much we sympathise or empathise with the plight of poisoned floating fish, dying bees, asthmatic kids, or cancer-laden people. Fines and taxes cannot rectify the scourge of environmental pollution, because there is no ultimate accountability. Regulation cannot be enforced. The misbehaviour just carries on, because there is systemic momentum. There is no legal redress (“due process” in Americanese) for those who are suffering the worsening effects of climate change, and there is no treaty that can be made to curb greenhouse gas emissions that anybody can be bound to by international sanctions.

    And so when we hear the same old story – that the energy industry is propagandising – we cannot respond. We don’t know what we can do. We are paralysed. This narrative is so tired, it snores.

    Truth may have been a victim, but the energy industry are also vulnerable – they are acting in self-defence mode. Let’s take the big vista in : there is stress in the global production of fossil fuel energy, and all routes to an easy fix, even if it’s only a short-term fix, are choked.

    So let’s ask the question – why do the energy companies deceive ? Do they think they are being deceptive ? Why do fossil fuel miners seek to massage public opinion ? This is a question of resilience, of Darwinian survival – seeking advantage by altering policy by tampering with public assent. They believe in their product, they construct their mission – they are protecting their future profits, they’re making a living. They’re humans in human organisations. They’re not “evil”, “greedy” or “lying” – as a rule. There are no demons here, nor can we convincingly summon them.

    Look at the activist game plan – we announce the deliberate actions of the fossil fuel companies to influence the political mandate. But these scandals are only ever voiced, never acted upon. They cannot be acted upon because those who care have no power, no agency, to correct or prevent the outcomes. And those who should care, do not care, because they themselves have rationalised the misdemeanours of the fossil fuellers. They too have drunk from the goblet of doubt. Amongst English-speaking politicians, I detect a good number who consider climate change to be a matter for wait-and-see rather than urgent measures. Besides those who continue to downplay the seriousness of climate change.

    Look also at the difference between the covert nature of the support for climate change deniers, and the open public relations activities of the fossil fuel and mining companies. They speak in the right way for their audiences. That’s smart.

    In time, the end of the fossil fuel age will become apparent, certain vague shapes on the horizon will come out of the blur and into sharp focus. But in the meantime, the carbon dinosaurs are taking action to secure market share, maintain the value of their stock, prop up the value of their shareholders’ assets. The action plan for survival of the oil, gas, coal and mining operations now includes the promotion of extreme energy – so-called unconventional fossil fuels, the once-dismissed lower quality resources such as tight gas, shale gas, shale oil and coalbed methane (coal seam methane). Why are the energy industry trying to gild the rotten lily ? Is the support for unconventional fossil fuels a move for certain countries, such as the United States of America, to develop more indigenous sources of energy – more homegrown energy to make them independent of foreign influence ? This could be the main factor – most of the public relations for shale gas, for example, seems to come from USA.

    The answer could come by responding to another question. Could it be that the production of petroleum oil has in fact peaked – that decline has set in for good ? Could it be that the Saudis are not “turning off the taps” to force market prices, because in actual fact the taps are being turned off for them, by natural well depletion ? The Arab Spring is a marvellous distraction – the economic sanctions and military and democratic upheaval are excellent explanations for the plateau in global oil production.

    It seems possible from what I have looked at that Peak Oil is a reality, that decline in the volumes of produced petroleum is inevitable. The fossil fuel producers, the international corporations who have their shareholders and stock prices to maintain, have been pushing the narrative that the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels can replace lost conventional production. They have been painting a picture of the horn of plenty – a cornucopia of unconventional fossil fuels far exceeding conventional resources. To please their investors, the fossil fuel companies are lying about the future.

    Sure, brute force and some new technology are opening up “unconventionals” but this will not herald the “golden age” of shale gas or oils from shale. Shale gas fields deplete rapidly, and tar sands production is hugely polluting and likely to be unsustainable in several ways because of that. There might be huge reserves – but who knows how quickly heavy oils can be produced ? And how much energy input is required to create output energy from other low grade fossil strata ? It is simply not possible to be certain that the volumes of unconventional fossil fuel production can match the decline in conventionals.

    The facts of the matter need admitting – there is no expansion of sweet crude oil production possible. There’s no more crude – there’s only crud. And slow crud, at that.

    Peak Oil is a geological fact, not a market artefact. The production levels of crude and condensate may not recover, even if military-backed diplomacy wins the day for the energy industry in the Middle East and North Africa.

    Peak Oil has implications for resilience of the whole global economy – the conversion of social and trade systems to use new forms of energy will take some considerable time – and their integrity is at risk if Peak Oil cannot be navigated smoothly. Peak Oil is dangerous – it seems useful to deny it as long as possible.

    It’s pretty clear that we’ve been handed lots of unreliable sops over the years. The energy industry promised us that biofuels could replace gasoline and diesel – but the realisation of this dream has been blocked at every turn by inconvenient failings. The energy industry has, to my mind, been deploying duds in order to build in a delay while they attempt to research and develop genuine alternatives to conventional fossil fuels – but they are failing. The dominant narrative of success is at risk – will all of this continue to hold together ? Can people continue to believe in the security of energy systems – the stability of trade and economic wealth creation ? Oh yes, people raise concerns – for example about disruption in the Middle East and North Africa, and then propose “solutions” – regime change, military support for opposition forces, non-invasive invasions. But overall, despite these all too evident skirmishes, the impression of resilience is left intact. The problem is being framed as one of “edge issues” – not systemic. It’s not clear how long they can keep up with this game.

    The facade is cracking. The mask is slipping. BP and Centrica in a bout of hyper-realism have said that the development of shale gas in the UK will not be a “game changer”. It may be that their core reasoning is to drag down the market value of Cuadrilla, maybe in order to purchase it. But anyway, they have defied the American energy industry public relations – hurrah ! Shale gas is not the milk of a honey-worded mother goddess after all – but what’s their alternative story ? That previously under-developed gas in Iran and Iraq will be secured ? And what about petroleum ? Will the public relations bubble about that be punctured too ? Telling people about Peak Oil – how useful is that ? They won’t do it because it has to be kept unbelievable and unbelieved in order to save face and keep global order. Academics talk about Peak Oil, but it is not just a dry, technical question confined to ivory towers. Attention is diverted, but the issue remains. Looking at it doesn’t solve it, so we are encouraged not to look at it.

    So, why do the energy industry purposely set out to manipulate public opinion ? Well, the reason for their open advertising strategy is clear – to convince investors, governments, customers, that all is well in oil and gas – that there is a “gas glut” – that the world is still awash in petroleum and Natural Gas – that the future will be even more providential than the past – that the only way is up. All the projections of the oil and gas industry and the national, regional and international agencies are that energy demand will continue to rise – the underlying impression you are intended to be left with is that, therefore, global energy supply will also continue to rise. Business has never been better, and it can only get more profitable. We will need to turn to unconventional resources, but hey, there’s so much of the stuff, we’ll be swimming in it.

    But what is the purpose of the covert “public relations” of the energy industry ? Why do they seek to put out deception via secretly-funded groups ? When the truth emerges, as it always does in the end, the anger and indignation of the climate change activists is guaranteed. And angry and indignant activists can easily be ignored. So, the purpose in funding climate change deniers is to emotionally manipulate climate change activists – rattle their cages, shake their prison bars. Let them rail – it keeps the greens busy, too occupied with their emotional disturbance. By looking at these infractions in depth are we being distracted from the bigger picture ? Can we make any change in global governance by bringing energy industry deception to light ?

    Even as commentators peddle conspiracy theories about the science and politics of a warming planet, the “leader of the free world” is inaugurated into a second term and announces action on climate change. Although progressives around the world applaud this, I’m not sure what concrete action the President and his elite colleague team of rich, mostly white, middle-aged men can take. I am listening to the heartbeat of the conversation, and my take away is this : by announcing action on climate change, Barack Obama is declaring war on the sovereignty of the oil and gas producing nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

    You see, the Middle East and North Africa are awash in Natural Gas. Untapped Natural Gas. The seismic surveys are complete. The secret services have de-stabilised democracy in a number of countries now, and this “soft power” will assist in constructing a new narrative – that unruliness in the Middle East and North Africa is preventing progress – that the unstable countries are withholding Natural Gas from the world – the fossil fuel that can replace petroleum oil in vehicles when chemically processed, the fossil fuel that has half the carbon emissions of coal when generating electricity. Resources of Natural Gas need “protecting”, securing, “liberating”, to save the world’s economy from collapse.

    Obama stands up and declares “war” on climate change. And all I hear is a klaxon alarm for military assault on Iran.

    But even then, if the world turns to previously untapped Natural Gas, I believe this is only a short-term answer to Peak Oil. Because waiting in the wings, about ten years behind, is Peak Natural Gas. And there is no answer to Peak Natural Gas, unless it includes a genuine revolution in energy production away from what lies beneath. And that threatens the sustenance of the oil and gas industry.

    No wonder, then, that those who fund climate change denial – who stand to profit from access to untapped fossil fuels, secured by military aggresssion in the Middle East and North Africa – also fund opposition to renewable energy. The full details of this are still emerging. Will we continue to express horror and distaste when the strategy becomes more transparent ? Will that achieve anything ? Or will we focus on ways to bring about the only possible future – a fossil-fuel-free energy economy ? This will always take more action than words, but messaging will remain key. The central message is one that will sound strange to most people, but it needs to be said : fossil fuels will not continue to sustain the global economy : all will change.

    Funnily enough, that is exactly the summary of the statements from the World Economic Forum in Davos – only the world’s administration are still not admitting to Peak Fossil Fuels. Instead, they are using climate change as the rationale for purposeful decarbonisation.

    Well, whichever way it comes, let’s welcome it – as long as it comes soon. It’s not just the survival of individual oil and gas companies that is at stake – the whole global economy is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels – and climate change. I use the word “economy”, because that is the word used by MBAs. What I mean is, the whole of human civilisation and life on Earth is at risk from Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change. Unconventional fossil fuels are the most polluting answer to any question, and expansion of their use will undoubtedly set off “climate bombs“.

    Don’t get me wrong – Natural Gas is a good bridge to the future, but it is only a transition fuel, not a destination. Please, can we not have war against Iran. Please let’s have some peaceful trade instead. And some public admissions of the seriousness of both Peak Fossil Fuels and climate change by all the key players in governance and energy.

  • How is your Australia ?

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    [ PLEASE NOTE : This post is not written by JOABBESS.COM, but by a contact in Australia, who was recently asked if they could send an update of the situation there, and contributed this piece. ]

    John and Jono: Resistance to coal in heat-afflicted Australia
    By Miriam Pepper, 24/1/13

    It was predicted to be a hot summer in eastern Australia, with a return to dry El Nino conditions after two back-to-back wet La Nina years. And hot it has been indeed. Temperature records have tumbled across the country – including the hottest day, the longest heatwave, and the hottest four month period.

    With heavy fuel loads heightening fire risks, bushfires have blazed across Tasmania, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Queensland. The fires have wreaked devastation on communities, with homes, farmland and forest destroyed. Thankfully few human lives have been lost (unlike the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009), though many non-human neighbours were not so fortunate. Some 110,000 hectares burned and 130 houses were lost in the Tasmanian bushfires earlier this month, and fires still rage in Gippsland Victoria where over 60,000 hectares have burned so far. And we are only just over halfway through summer.

    On January 12, the Australian Government-established Climate Commission released a short report entitled “Off the charts: Extreme Australian Summer heat”. The document concluded that:

    “The length, extent and severity of this heatwave are unprecedented in the measurement record. Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Scientists have concluded that climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.”

    The Australian continent is one of climate change’s frontlines, and also a major source of its primary cause – fossil fuels.

    While the mercury soared and the fires roared, a young translator from Newcastle called Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming that the ANZ bank, which is bankrolling a massive new coal project at Maules Creek in north western NSW, had withdrawn its loan. Whitehaven Coal’s share price plummeted temporarily before the hoax was uncovered, making national news.

    This action did not come out of the blue, neither for Moylan personally nor for the various communities and groups that have for years been confronting (and been confronted by) the rapid expansion of coal and coal seam gas mining at sites across Australia.

    The scale of fossil fuel expansion in Australia is astonishing. Already the world’s biggest coal exporter, planned mine expansion could see Australia double its output. The world’s largest coal port of Newcastle NSW has already doubled its capacity in the last 15 years and may now double it again. Mega-mines that are on the cards in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland would quintuple ship movements across the Great Barrier Reef, to 10,000 coal ships per year. If the proposed Galilee Basin mines were fully developed today, the annual carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning their coal alone would exceed those of the United Kingdom or of Canada. The implications of such unfettered expansion locally for farmland, forests, human health and aquatic life as well as globally for the climate are severe.

    I have twice had the privilege of participating in a Christian affinity group with Moylan at coal protests. And at around the time of his ANZ stunt, John the Baptist’s ministry and the baptism of Jesus in the gospel of Luke were on the lectionary. For me, there have been some striking parallels between John and Jonathan (Jono).

    John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. Jono the Activist has been camping for some time in Leard State Forest near Maules Creek, at a Front Line Action on Coal mine blockade.

    John got himself locked up by criticising the behavior of Herod, the then ruler of Galilee (in what is now northern Israel). For making the announcement that ANZ should have made, Jono could now face a potential 10-year jail sentence or a fine of up to $500,000.

    When followers suggested that John the Baptist might be the Messiah, he pointed away from himself and towards the Christ that was yet to come. When the spotlight has been shone onto Moylan, by the media and activists alike, he has repeatedly deflected the attention away from himself and towards the resistance of the Maules Creek community to the project and towards the impacts if the project goes ahead – the loss of farmland and critically endangered forest, the drawdown and potential contamination of the aquifer, the coal dust, the impacts on the global climate. And indeed, the way that Moylan has conducted himself in media interviews has I believe resulted in exposure about the Maules Creek project itself (which is currently under review by the federal Environment Minister) as well as some mainstream discussion about broader issues such as responding to the urgency of climate change, government planning laws and the rights of communities, and ethical investment.

    In an opinion piece published today, Jono Moylan finishes by urging us to act:

    “We are living in a dream world if we think that politicians and the business world are going to sort out the problem of coal expansion on their own. History shows us that when power relations are unevenly matched, change always comes from below. Every right we have has come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things and the time to act is rapidly running out.”

    Whatever our age, ability or infirmity we can all play a part in such change from below.


    Climate Commission:
    Frontline Action on Coal:
    Maules Creek Community Council:
    “Potential jailing not as scary as threat of Maules Creek mine”, opinion piece by Jonathan Moylan, 24/1/13:
    Greenpeace climate change campaigns:
    Australian Religious Response to Climate Change:
    Uniting Earthweb:

  • A Referendum for Energy

    Posted on January 24th, 2013 Jo No comments

    As I dodged the perfunctory little spots of snow yesterday, on my way down to Highbury and Islington underground train station, I passed a man who appeared to have jerky muscle control attempting to punch numbers on the keypad of a cash machine in the wall. He was missing, but he was grinning. A personal joke, perhaps. The only way he could get his money out of the bank to buy a pint of milk and a sliced loaf for his tea was to accurately tap his PIN number. But he wasn’t certain his body would let him. I threw him an enquiring glance, but he seemed too involved in trying to get control of his arms and legs to think of accepting help.

    This, I felt, was a metaphor for the state of energy policy and planning in the United Kingdom – everybody in the industry and public sector has focus, but nobody appears to have much in the way of overall control – or even, sometimes, direction. I attended two meetings today setting out to address very different parts of the energy agenda : the social provision of energy services to the fuel-poor, and the impact that administrative devolution may have on reaching Britain’s Renewable Energy targets.

    At St Luke’s Centre in Central Street in Islington, I heard from the SHINE team on the progress they are making in providing integrated social interventions to improve the quality of life for those who suffer fuel poverty in winter, where they need to spend more than 10% of their income on energy, and are vulnerable to extreme temperatures in both summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps. The Seasonal Health Interventions Network was winning a Community Footprint award from the National Energy Action charity for success in their ability to reach at-risk people through referrals for a basket of social needs, including fuel poverty. It was pointed out that people who struggle to pay energy bills are more likely to suffer a range of poverty problems, and that by linking up the social services and other agencies, one referral could lead to multiple problem-solving.

    In an economy that is suffering signs of contraction, and with austerity measures being imposed, and increasing unemployment, it is clear that social services are being stretched, and yet need is still great, and statutory responsibility for handling poverty is still mostly a publicly-funded matter. By offering a “one-stop shop”, SHINE is able to offer people a range of energy conservation and efficiency services alongside fire safety and benefits checks and other help to make sure those in need are protected at home and get what they are entitled to. With 1 in 5 households meeting the fuel poverty criteria, there is clearly a lot of work to do. Hackney and Islington feel that the SHINE model could be useful to other London Boroughs, particularly as the Local Authority borders are porous.

    We had a presentation on the Cold Weather Plan from Carl Petrokovsky working for the Department of Health, explaining how national action on cold weather planning is being organised, using Met Office weather forecasts to generate appropriate alert levels, in a similar way to heatwave alerts in summer – warnings that I understand could become much more important in future owing to the possible range of outcomes from climate change.

    By way of some explanation – more global warming could mean significant warming for the UK. More UK warming could mean longer and, or, more frequent heated periods in summer weather, perhaps with higher temperatures. More UK warming could also mean more disturbances in an effect known as “blocking” where weather systems lock into place, in any season, potentially pinning the UK under a very hot or very cold mass of air for weeks on end. In addition, more UK warming could mean more precipitation – which would mean more rain in summer and more snow in winter.

    Essentially, extremes in weather are public health issues, and particularly in winter, more people are likely to suffer hospitalisation from the extreme cold, or falls, or poor air quality from boiler fumes – and maybe end up in residential care. Much of this expensive change of life is preventable, as are many of the excess winter deaths due to cold. The risks of increasing severity in adverse conditions due to climate change are appropriately dealt with by addressing the waste of energy at home – targeting social goals can in effect contribute to meeting wider adaptational goals in overall energy consumption.

    If the UK were to be treated as a single system, and the exports and imports of the most significant value analysed, the increasing net import of energy – the yawning gap in the balance of trade – would be seen in its true light – the country is becoming impoverished. Domestic, indigenously produced sources of energy urgently need to be developed. Policy instruments and measured designed to reinvigorate oil and gas exploration in the North Sea and over the whole UKCS – UK Continental Shelf – are not showing signs of improving production significantly. European-level policy on biofuels did not revolutionise European agriculture as regards energy cropping – although it did contribute to decimating Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest. The obvious logical end point of this kind of thought process is that we need vast amounts of new Renewable Energy to retain a functioning economy, given global financial, and therefore, trade capacity, weakness.

    Many groups, both with the remit for public service and private enterprise oppose the deployment of wind and solar power, and even energy conservation measures such as building wall cladding. Commentators with access to major media platforms spread disinformation about the ability of Renewable Energy technologies to add value. In England, in particular, debates rage, and many hurdles are encountered. Yet within the United Kingdom as a whole, there are real indicators of progressive change, particularly in Scotland and Wales.

    I picked up the threads of some of these advances by attending a PRASEG meeting on “Delivering Renewable Energy Under Devolution”, held at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London; a tour to back up the launch of a new academic report that analyses performance of the devolved administrations and their counterpart in the English Government in Westminster. The conclusions pointed to something that I think could be very useful – if Scotland takes the referendum decision for independence, and continues to show strong leadership and business and community engagement in Renewable Energy deployment, the original UK Renewable Energy targets could be surpassed.

    I ended the afternoon exchanging some perceptions with an academic from Northern Ireland. We shared that Eire and Northern Ireland could become virtually energy-independent – what with the Renewable Electricity it is possible to generate on the West Coast, and the Renewable Gas it is possible to produce from the island’s grass (amongst other things). We also discussed the tendency of England to suck energy out of its neighbour territories. I suggested that England had appropriated Scottish hydrocarbon resources, literally draining the Scottish North Sea dry of fossil fuels in exchange for token payments to the Western Isles, and suchlike. If Scotland leads on Renewable Energy and becomes independent, I suggested, the country could finally make back the wealth it lost to England. We also shared our views about the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being asked to wire all their new Renewable Electricity to England, an announcement that has been waiting to happen for some time. England could also bleed Wales of green power with the same lines being installed to import green juice from across the Irish Sea.

    I doubt that politics will completely nix progress on Renewable Energy deployment – the economics are rapidly becoming clear that clean, green power and gas are essential for the future. However, I would suggest we could expect some turbulence in the political sphere, as the English have to learn the hard way that they have a responsibility to rapidly increase their production of low carbon energy.

    Asking the English if they want to break ties with the European Union, as David Cameron has suggested with this week’s news on a Referendum, is the most unworkable idea, I think. England, and in fact, all the individual countries of the United Kingdom, need close participation in Europe, to join in with the development of new European energy networks, in order to overcome the risks of economic collapse. It may happen that Scotland, and perhaps Wales, even, separate themselves from any increasing English isolation and join the great pan-Europe energy projects in their own right. Their economies may stabilise and improve, while the fortunes of England may tumble, as those with decision-making powers, crony influence and web logs in the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, resist the net benefits of the low carbon energy revolution.

    [ Many thanks to Simon and all at the Unity Kitchen at St Luke's Centre, and the handsomely reviving Unity Latte, and a big hi to all the lunching ladies and gents with whom I shared opinions on the chunkiness of the soup of the day and the correct identification of the vegetables in it. ]

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #1 : Approached by short woman with a notebook in Parliament Square, pointing out to me a handwritten list that included the line “Big Ben”. I pointed at the clock tower and started to explain. The titchy tourist apologised for non-comprehension by saying, “French”, so then I explained the feature attraction to her in French, which I think quite surprised her. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #2 : Spoke with an Austrian academic by the fire for coffee at IMechE, One Birdcage Walk, about the odd attitudes as regards gun ownership in the United States, and the American tendency to collective, cohort behaviour. I suggested that this tendency could be useful, as the levels of progressive political thinking, for instance about drone warfare, could put an end to the practice. When aerial bombardment was first conducted, it should have been challenged in law at that point. We are all Europeans.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #3 : Met a very creative Belgian from Gent, living in London. We are all European.

    Other Snapshots of Yesterday #4 : We Europeans, we are all so civilised. We think that we need to heat venues for meetings, so that people feel comfortable. Levels of comfort are different for different people, but the lack of informed agreement means that the default setting for temperature always ends up being too high. The St Luke’s Centre meeting room was at roughly 23.5 degrees C when I arrived, and roughly 25 degrees C with all the visitors in the room. I shared with a co-attendee that my personal maximum operating temperature is around 19 degrees C. She thought that was fine for night-time. The IMechE venue on the 2nd floor was roughly 19 – 20 degrees C, but the basement was roughly 24 degrees C. Since one degree Celsius of temperature reduction can knock about 10% of the winter heating bill, why are public meetings about energy not more conscious of adjusting their surroundings ?

  • Boris’ Entirely Accurate Assessment

    Posted on January 21st, 2013 Jo 3 comments

    Image Credit : jgspics

    It’s lucky for Londoners that we have a Mayor of the intellectual stature of Boris Johnson. Not only is he a fashion icon, a promotor of safe cycling, and a total sex god, especially dangling from high wires at Olympic Stadia wearing a rumpled suit, but he’s also a sheer genius on science. He’s as learned as the best taxi chauffeur in the City’s Square Mile, and not only that, he’s studied Earth Sciences in depth, and has so much wisdom from his knowledge, that he feels justified in challenging an entire pantheon of climatologists.

    Here he is writing philanthropically, no doubt, for our general edification, in the Daily Telegraph online,

    “…I am sitting here staring through the window at the flowerpot and the bashed-up barbecue, and I am starting to think this series of winters is not a coincidence. The snow on the flowerpot, since I have been staring, has got about an inch thicker. The barbecue is all but invisible. By my calculations, this is now the fifth year in a row that we have had an unusual amount of snow; and by unusual I mean snow of a kind that I don’t remember from my childhood: snow that comes one day, and then sticks around for a couple of days, followed by more. I remember snow that used to come and settle for just long enough for a single decent snowball fight before turning to slush; I don’t remember winters like this. Two days ago I was cycling through Trafalgar Square and saw icicles on the traffic lights; and though I am sure plenty of readers will say I am just unobservant, I don’t think I have seen that before. I am all for theories about climate change, and would not for a moment dispute the wisdom or good intentions of the vast majority of scientists. But I am also an empiricist; and I observe that something appears to be up with our winter weather, and to call it “warming” is obviously to strain the language…”

    I must defer to the man – his memory is incredibly accurate, and the conclusions based on his impressions entirely valid. It cannot be true that in the winter of 1967-1968, for example, when he was a little brat, that snow was so deep and so treacherous in parts of London that cars could not drive up slopes steeper than about 25 degrees; and that the snow lasted for several weeks and caused major infrastructure disruption, especially when there was a second phase of snowfall. It cannot be true that winters in the UK in the late 1970s and early 1980s were really quite bad, because Boris cannot recall them, despite being nearly aged 50, unless of course, he grew up in another, more tropical part of the world.

    As his claim to be an “empiricist” is backed up by his winter recollections, we can trust what he says about Piers Corbyn, obviously. Piers Corbyn, alone among his generation, perhaps, is reported by BoJo to believe that “global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on the mood of our celestial orb.” And he has a fascinating, entirely convincing explanation for recent hard winters, “When the Sun has plenty of sunspots, he bathes the Earth in abundant rays. When the solar acne diminishes, it seems that the Earth gets colder. No one contests that when the planet palpably cooled from 1645 to 1715 – the Maunder minimum, which saw the freezing of the Thames – there was a diminution of solar activity. The same point is made about the so-called Dalton minimum, from 1790 to 1830. And it is the view of Piers Corbyn that we are now seeing exactly the same phenomenon today.”

    It’s all so simple, really, and we have to thank Piers Corbyn, shake his hand warmly, and thump him on the back to express our deep gratitude for explaining that history is repeating itself, all over again. Nothing, of course, has changed in the Earth’s atmosphere, so its composition couldn’t be accentuating the Greenhouse Effect, whereby minute amounts of Greenhouse Gases keep the surface of the planet above the 18 or 19 degrees Celsius below freezing point it would be otherwise.

    So of course, just as he is right about solar activity being the primary driver of global temperatures today, just as it was clearly the only significant driver in the past, Piers Corbyn must be entirely correct about his predictions of future cooling, especially because he’s being quoted by Borish Johnson, on the website of a very well-read newspaper, no less, “We are in for a prolonged cold period. Indeed, we could have 30 years of general cooling.”

    The Daily Telegraph have hit on a superb way of guaranteeing web hits. The strategy of setting a cool cat amongst the warming pigeons is even acknowledged by Mr Johnson himself, “all those scientists and environmentalists who will go wild with indignation on the publication of this article”.

    But it appears that despite this clownish, jokey, provocative stance, Boris might actually believe there is something in Piers Corbyn’s analysis : “I am speaking only as a layman [a "layman" with a platform in a national newspaper, which pay him to write this stuff] who observes that there is plenty of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders whether it might be time for government [just a "layman" with some old university pals in the Cabinet] to start taking seriously the possibility – however remote – that Corbyn is right. If he is, that will have big implications for agriculture, tourism, transport, aviation policy and the economy as a whole.”

    BoJo then dives off the psychological deep-end, “Of course it still seems a bit nuts to talk of the encroachment of a mini ice age. But it doesn’t seem as nuts as it did five years ago [oh yes, it does]. I look at the snowy waste outside, and I have an open mind.” Open minded ? About things that have been established as reality ? I suppose we should stay open minded about the entire field of Chemistry or Physics, then ? Or how about the Theory of Gravity ? Was Boris being open minded about gravity when he took to the harness and wire during London 2012 ?

    Am I giving “oxygen” to the madness of the global warming deniers by writing about this truly ill-informed opinion from Boris Johnson ? The media are already giving more than enough oxygen to people in high office with quaint, outdated views. Should I be silent as major newspapers continue to pour forth ineptitude ?

    Am I “scoring an own goal” by pointing out his piece is a travesty of the scientific facts ? No, I am pointing out that his article contains invalid scientific opinion.

    When I first read this piece, I thought it was a parody, but now I’m not so sure. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to skew the confidence of other people – confidence in the main body of science, and the decades of patient work by people with thousands of data sets of measurements from the natural world, not just poor memories of winters past.

  • Statistical Elephants Roam Chamber

    Posted on January 20th, 2013 Jo No comments

    Image Credit :

    Somewhere on the Internet, as I write, somebody will be arguing about global warming – or rather, several somebodies, since disputes require multiple parties, and global warming is, as claimed by some, to be sufficiently contentious to have spawned ongoing vituperativeness. Many of the lines of reasoning will include references to the cyclic nature of Nature. Most of the data considered will be from measurements of “surface” temperatures – the temperature of the atmosphere near the land surface of the Earth, and the temperature of the oceans near the surface with the atmosphere.

    These are of course, the easiest things to measure, as this is the part of the Earth system that people inhabit, and all kinds of surface temperature records, of varying validity and accuracy, have been recorded for millenia.

    The lower reaches of the air and the upper waters of the oceans, are, however, prone to quite wide swings in temperatures, owing to the turbulent nature of heat, air and water transport in and around the surface of the Earth. And so, easily distracted creatures that we are, if we have any honour in our research into global warming, we consider this see-sawing surface temperature data, and we apply our best analysis techniques to try to comprehend its “walk” – the direction it is taking overall. And herein lies a faultline, that despite decades of obsession, is not easily vaulted. The use of statistical techniques to analyse surface temperature data suffers from two key problems :-

    (a) An assumption that we can determine accurately the period of time over which we can confidently apply statistical analysis techniques in order to be able to determine trends in surface temperatures; and

    (b) An assumption that surface temperatures can be treated with the usual statistical toolbox of techniques – that surface temperatures would, unless forced, fall into a distribution curve of random readings, spread like a bell curve around a central mean.

    And so an army of inspectors applies probabilistic statistical methods to the Earth’s surface temperature data sets, and some say it comes up with more questions than answers. For example, there may, or may not be, evidence that trends can only be claimed over decadal, or multi-decadal, periods; that all the apparent warming can be put down to natural cycles of the oceans, so a cooling phase will be next; that no trend can be claimed in 50 years because of the wild swings in the data ; that all the data is confused with volcanic episodes; that lots of mini-cycles in the Earth system are confusing us. And so on.

    When I find people arguing about the surface temperature records, and whether a global warming trend can be picked out from them, I ask them if they’ve looked at the bigger picture : the global heat transport system. Water can retain heat better than air – a very large proportion of the heating caused by sunlight ends up in the oceans – at different places in the depths of the oceans. Over time, this heat is exchanged with the atmosphere, rather like global Gas Central Heating, but a lot of it stays down there – so if there is a trend for global warming, it’s probably best to look in the oceans for it.

    And when we do, all the arguments about statistical analysis of surface atmospheric temperatures vapourise into meaninglessness, almost. The trend of ocean warming is so clear, you don’t need to apply any kind of statistical methods (apart from a couple of years of averaging) :-

    Image Credit : Climate4You

    Actually, the trend of atmospheric warming is also clear, if you take the long view :-

    Image Credit : NASA GISS

    Anybody who is still arguing about the periodicity of surface temperatures, as if natural cycles could explain global warming, should think again.

    Surface temperature cycles are perhaps able to explain whether the next 10 years or so will see more or less global warming – but they cannot explain away the 100 year trend in global warming.

    And when people have come to terms that statistics cannot wipe away the reality of global warming, then comes the sting in the tail. Because the ocean is exchanging heat with the atmosphere over time, this creates a time lag – between the heat being generated in the oceans, and surface temperatures rising as a result.

    We ain’t seen nothing, yet.

    18th January 2013



    @richardabetts Think focus on air temps waste of time: most heat ends up in oceans … @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins

    @richardabetts Number of reasons why air temps bounce around making short-term interpretation difficult @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins

    @richardabetts …but oceans temps could well continue a solid upwards gradient over next decades @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins

    @richardabetts If oceans continue recent warming gradient, will drag air temps on average up with them @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins

    @richardabetts If ENSO taking new shape/profile/cycle, this could obscure some of atmospheric temp rise @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins

    @richardabetts Even ENSO obfuscation can’t put off ~1.2degC warming next 30 years … @lucialiljegren @nmrqip @ed_hawkins


    @ClimateOfGavin Sometimes distrust obsession re atmospheric temps: look at ocean warming @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip

    @ClimateOfGavin However much @lucialiljegren obsesses on air temperatures I only care about ocean warming @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip

    @ClimateOfGavin Lower atmosphere temperatures flip-flop all kinds of reasons: not oceans @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip

    @ClimateOfGavin Thermal capacity of oceans means they should show more reliable trend ? @lucialiljegren @ed_hawkins @richardabetts @nmrqip



    @joabbess @ClimateOfGavin Probably, but we only have good enough sub-surface observations of past ~50 years or so.



    @ed_hawkins Yet since oceans good heat retainer even mediocre records of past relevant 4 comparison eg … @ClimateOfGavin

    @ed_hawkins We should definitely use what we know about thermal capacity of oceans to accept ships etc historical records @ClimateOfGavin

    @ed_hawkins Ocean records of last 50 years allow for calibration between surface and depths, & with historical records too @ClimateOfGavin



    @joabbess @ClimateOfGavin Of course – deep ocean observations are very relevant, but not the only type of measurement that are useful!



    @ed_hawkins I’m sure there must be mines data going back several hundreds of years, doing same trick for mass earth temps @ClimateOfGavin


    @JohnRussell40 :-

    @joabbess Surely mines data will be swamped by core heat? V. hot down there. @ed_hawkins @ClimateOfGavin


    @ClimateOfGavin (Gavin Schmidt)

    @JohnRussell40 @joabbess @ed_hawkins borehole temperatures can in fact be deconvolved to show widespread recent warming Henry Pollack et al



    @ClimateOfGavin I assume you mean this … Think that’s pretty clear ! @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins

    @ClimateOfGavin Interestingly reflects surface up-blip in 1940s, which Phil Jones et al keep trying to smooth @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins
    @ClimateOfGavin That up-blip in 1940s was what got us all started looking for historical marine records: v useful @JohnRussell40 @ed_hawkins

    @ed_hawkins I’m trying to hint that endless debates about cyclicity/statistics of air temps = time-wasting & not productive @ClimateOfGavin

    @ed_hawkins If read 1 more mangled media article about statistical trends of air temperatures, going to scream & jump about @ClimateOfGavin

    @ed_hawkins The overall graph speaks for itself – or it should – louder than anything … Fig. 1 @ClimateOfGavin


  • Fossil Fuel Company Obligation

    Posted on November 6th, 2012 Jo No comments

    I knew I knew her from somewhere, Ms Henrietta Lynch PhD, from the UCL Energy Institute. I had the feeling we’d sheltered together from the rain/police helicopters at a Climate Camp somewhere, but she was fairly convinced we’d crossed paths at the Frontline Club, where, if she was recalling correctly, I probably tried to pick an “difference of opinion” with somebody, which she would have remembered as more than a little awkward.

    Why ? Because when I’m surrounded by smart people displaying self-confidence, I sometimes feel pushed to try to irritate them out of any complacency they may be harbouring. Niceness can give me itchy feet, or rather emotional hives, and I don’t see why others should feel settled when I feel all scratchy.

    So here we were at a Parliamentary event, and I was on my best behaviour, neither challenging nor remonstrative, but all the same, I felt the urge to engage Henrietta in disagreement. It was nothing personal, really. It was all about cognition, perception – worldviews, even. After my usual gauche preamble, I snuck in with a barbed gambit, “The United Nations climate change process has completely failed.” A shadow of anxiety crossed her brow. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that”, said Henrietta Lynch. She went on to recount for me the validity of the UN climate talks, and how much further we are because of the Kyoto Protocol. “Ruined by Article 12″, I said, “…the flexible mechanisms”. She said I shouldn’t underestimate the effort that had gone into getting everybody into the room to talk about a response to climate change. I said, it would be useful if the delegates to the climate talks had power of some kind – executive decision-making status. Henrietta insisted that delegates to the climate talks do indeed have authority.

    I said that the really significant players, the oil and gas production companies, were not at the climate talks, and that there would be no progress until they were. I said that the last time the UN really consulted the oil and gas companies was in the 1990s, and the outcome of that was proposals for carbon trading and Carbon Capture and Storage. Each year, I said, the adminstration of the climate talks did the diplomatic equivalent of passing round a busker’s hat to the national delegations, begging for commitments to carbon emissions reductions. Besides leading to squabbling and game-playing, the country representatives do not even have the practical means of achieving these changes. Instead, I said, the energy production companies should be summoned to the climate talks and given obligations – to decarbonise the energy resources they sell, and to increase their production of renewable and sustainable energy. I said that without that, there will be no progress.

    Oil and gas companies always point to energy demand as their get-out-of-jail-free card – they insist that while the world demands fossil fuel energy, they, the energy resource companies, are being responsible in producing it. Their economists say that consumer behaviour can be modified by pricing carbon dioxide emissions, and yet the vast majority of the energy they supply is full of embedded carbon – there is no greener choice. They know that it is impossible to set an economically significant carbon price in any form, that there are too many forces against it, and that any behavioural “signal” from carbon pricing is likely to be swallowed up by volatility in the prices of fossil fuels, and tax revenue demands. Most crucially, the oil and gas companies know that fossil fuels will remain essential for transport vehicles for some time, as it will be a long, hard struggle to replace all the drive engines in the world, and high volumes of transport are essential because of the globalised nature of trade.

    Oil and gas companies have made token handwaving gestures towards sustainability. BP has spent roughly 5% of its annual budget on renewable energy, although it’s dropped its solar power division, and has now dropped its cellulosic ethanol facility. BP says that it will “instead will focus on research and development“. Research and development into what, precisely ? Improved oil and gas drilling for harsh environmental conditions like the Arctic Ocean or sub-sea high depth, high pressure fields ? How many renewable energy pipedreams are exhausted ? BP are willing to take competitors to court over biobutanol, but even advanced techniques to produce this biofuel are not yet commercialised.

    So, the oil and gas majors do not appear to be serious about renewable energy, but are they also in denial about fossil fuels ? All business school graduates, anybody who has studied for an MBA or attended an economics course, they all come out with the mantra that technology will deliver, that innovation in technology will race ahead of the problems. Yet, as the rolling disasters of the multiple Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor accident and the continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the blowout of the Horizon Deepwater drilling rig show, technological advancement ain’t what it used to be. Put not your faith in technology, for engineering may fail.

    For the oil and gas companies to be going after the development of unconventional fossil fuel resources is an unspoken, tacit admission of failure – not only of holding a bold vision of change, but also a demonstration of the failure of being able to increase production from discoveries of more conventional petroleum and Natural Gas. It is true that oil and gas exploration has improved, and that technology to drill for oil and gas has improved, but it could be said that the halting pace of technological advancement means that the growth in fossil fuel exploitation is not strong enough to meet projected demand. Technology does not always make things more efficient – the basic fossil fuel resources are getting much poorer, and perhaps scarcer.

    There is some evidence that global petroleum crude oil production rates have peaked, despite BP adding significant South American heavy oil fields to their annual Statistical Review of World Energy within the last few years. Some of the jitteriness in total production is down to geopolitical factors, like the chokehold that the United States has imposed on Iran via economic sanctions, and some of it is related to consumption patterns, but there is an element of resource failure, as indicated in this IMF report from last month :-

    “Over the past decade the world economy has experienced a persistent increase in oil prices. While part of this may have been due to continued rapid demand growth in emerging markets, stagnant supply also played a major role. Figure 1 shows the sequence of downward shifts in the trend growth rate of world oil production since the late 1960s. The latest trend break occurred in late 2005, when the average growth rate of 1.8 percent per annum of the 1981-2005 period could no longer be sustained, and production entered a fluctuating plateau that it has maintained ever since.”

    There is an increasing amount of evidence and projection of Peak Oil from diverse sources, so perhaps our attention should be drawn to it. If this type of analysis is to be trusted, regardless of whether the oil and gas companies pursue unconventional oil, change is inevitable. Bringing the oil and gas companies onto the world stage at the United Nations climate talks and demanding a reduction in fossil fuel production would be an straightford thing to make commitments to – as it is happening already. A huge facesaver in many respects – except that it does not answer the energy security question – how the world is going to be able to adapt to falling fossil fuel supplies. You see, besides Peak Oil, there are other peaks to contend with – it will not simply be a matter of exchanging one energy resource with another.

    Can the oil and gas companies hold on by selling us Natural Gas to replace failing oil ? Only if Natural Gas itself is not peaking. As the oil and gas companies drill deeper, more Natural Gas is likely to be found than petroleum oil, but because they are so often associated, Peak Oil is likely to be followed quite sharply by Peak Natural Gas. But does anybody in the oil and gas companies really know ? And if they did, would they be able to let their shareholders and world’s media know about it without their businesses crumbling ?

    What I want to know is : with all the skills of dialogue, collaboration, and facilitation that the human race has developed, why can Civil Society not engage the oil and gas companies in productive communication on these problems ?

  • The Art of Non-Persuasion

    Posted on October 17th, 2012 Jo No comments

    I could never be in sales and marketing. I have a strong negative reaction to public relations, propaganda and the sticky, inauthentic charm of personal persuasion.

    Lead a horse to water, show them how lovely and sparkling it is, talk them through their appreciation of water, how it could benefit their lives, make them thirsty, stand by and observe as they start to lap it up.

    One of the mnemonics of marketing is AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action, leading a “client” through the process, guiding a sale. Seize Attention. Create Interest. Inspire Desire. Precipitate Action. Some mindbenders insert the letter C for Commitment – hoping to be sure that Desire has turned into certain decision before permitting, allowing, enabling, contracting or encouraging the Action stage.

    You won’t get that kind of psychological plasticity nonsense from me. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and ethics should be applied to every conversion of intent. In fact, the architect of a change of mind should be the mind who is changing – the marketeer or sales person should not proselytise, evangelise, lie, cheat, sneak, creep and massage until they have control.

    I refuse to do “Suggestive Sell”. I only do “Show and Tell”.

    I am quite observant, and so in interpersonal interactions I am very sensitive to rejection, the “no” forming in the mind of the other. I can sense when somebody is turned off by an idea or a proposal, sometimes even before they know it clearly themselves. I am habituated to detecting disinclination, and I am resigned to it. There is no bridge over the chasm of “no”. I know that marketing people are trained to not accept negative reactions they perceive – to keep pursuing the sale. But I don’t want to. I want to admit, permit, allow my correspondent to say “no” and mean “no”, and not be harrassed, deceived or cajoled to change it to a “yes”.

    I have been accused of being on the dark side – in my attempts to show and tell on climate change and renewable energy. Some assume that because I am part of the “communications team”, I am conducting a sales job. I’m not. My discovery becomes your discovery, but it’s not a constructed irreality. For many, it’s true that they believe they need to follow the path of public relations – deploying the “information deficit model” of communication – hierarchically patronising. Me, expert. You, poor unknowing punter. Me, inform you. You, believe, repent, be cleaned and change your ways. In this sense, communications experts have made climate change a religious cult.

    In energy futures, I meet so many who are wild-eyed, desperate to make a sale – those who have genuine knowledge of their subject – and who realise that their pitch is not strong enough in the eyes of others. It’s not just a question of money or funding. The engineers, often in large corporations, trying to make an impression on politicians. The consultants who are trying to influence companies and civil servants. The independent professionals trying to exert the wisdom of pragmatism and negotiated co-operation. The establishment trying to sell technical services. Those organisations and institutions playing with people – playing with belonging, with reputation, marketing outdated narratives. People who are in. People who are hands-off. People who are tipped and ditched. Those with connections who give the disconnected a small rocky platform. The awkwardness of invested power contending with radical outsiders. Denial of changing realities. The dearth of ready alternatives. Are you ready to be captured, used and discarded ? Chase government research and development grants. Steal your way into consultations. Play the game. Sell yourself. Dissociate and sell your soul.

    I have to face the fact that I do need to sell myself. I have to do it in a way which remains open and honest. To sell myself and my conceptual framework, my proposals for ways forward on energy and climate change, I need a product. My person is often not enough of a product to sell – I am neuro-atypical. My Curriculum Vitae CV in resume is not enough of a product to sell me. My performance in interviews and meetings is often not enough of a product. My weblog has never been a vehicle for sales. I didn’t want it to be – or to be seen as that – as I try to avoid deceit in communications.

    Change requires facilitation. You can’t just walk away when the non-persuasional communications dialogue challenge gets speared with distrust and dismissal. Somehow there has to be a way to present direction and decisions in a way that doesn’t have a shadow of evil hovering in the wings.

    “A moment to change it all, is all it takes to start anew.
    To the other side.”

    Why do I need to “sell” myself ? Why do I need to develop a product – a vehicle with which to sell myself ?

    1. In order to be recognised, in order to be welcomed, invited to make a contribution to the development of low carbon energy, the optimisation of the use of energy, and effective climate change policy.

    2. In order to put my internal motivations and drive to some practical use. To employ my human energy in the service of the future of energy engineering and energy systems.

  • Cross-Motivation

    Posted on October 7th, 2012 Jo No comments

    A fully renewable energy future is not only possible, it is inevitable.

    We need to maximise the roll out of wind and solar renewable electricity systems, and at the same time fully develop marine, geothermal and hydropower energy, and of course, energy storage.

    We need strong energy conservation and energy efficiency directives to be enacted in every state, sector and region.

    But we need to get from here to there. It requires the application of personal energy from all – from governments, from industry, from society.

    In arguing for focus on the development of Renewable Gas, which I believe can and will be a bridge from here to a fully renewable energy future, I am making an appeal to those who view themselves as environmentalists, and also an appeal to those who view themselves as part of the energy industry.

    Those who cast themselves as the “good guys”, those who want to protect the environment from the ravages of the energy industry, have for decades set themselves in opposition, politically and socially, to those in the energy production and supply sectors, and this has created a wall of negativity, a block to progress in many areas.

    I would ask you to accept the situation we find ourselves in – even those who live off-grid and who have very low personal energy and material consumption – we are all dependent on the energy industry – we have a massive fossil fuel infrastructure, and companies that wield immense political power, and this cannot be changed overnight by some revolutionary activity, or by pulling public theatrical stunts.

    It definitely cannot be changed by accusation, finger-pointing and blame. We are not going to wake up tomorrow in a zero carbon world. There needs to be a transition – there needs to be a vision and a will. Instead of a depressive, negative, cynical assessment of today that erects and maintains barriers to co-operation, we need optimistic, positive understanding.

    In the past there has been naievety – and some environmentalists have been taken in by public relations greenwash. This is not that. The kind of propaganda used to maintain market share for the energy industry continues to prevent and poison good communications and trust. I no more believe in the magic snuff of the shale gas “game changer” than I believe in the existence of goblins and fairies. The shine on the nuclear “renaissance” wore off ever before it was buffed up. And the hopeless dream of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) becoming a global-scale solution for carbon emissions is about as realistic to me as the geoengineering described in Tolkein’s “The Lord of the Rings”.

    Nuclear power and CCS are actually about mining and concrete construction – they’re not energy or climate solutions. I’m not taken in by token gestures of a small slice of wind or solar power or the promise of a segment of biofuels from large oil and gas companies. Public relations and lobbying are the lowest form of faked, usurping power – but simply attacking brands will fail to make real change. I think honesty, realism and pragmatism are the way forward – and there is nothing more practical than pushing for Renewable Gas to back up the accelerated deployment of renewable electricity to its fullest scale.

    My appeal to those in control of energy provision is – to see through the fog to the unstoppable. State support, both political and financial, of new energy technologies and infrastructure has to be a short- to medium-term goal – because of the volatility of the economy, and the demands of your shareholders. The need to build public support for new energy means that we the citizens must all be offered the opportunity to own energy – and so that means building a common purpose between the energy sector and society – and that purpose must be Zero Carbon.

    There is and will continue to be a porous border between the energy industry and governments – energy is a social utility of high political value. However, the privilege and access that this provides should not automatically mean that the energy industry can plunder public coffers for their own profit. What contribution can the energy industry make to society – apart from the provision of energy at cost – in addition to the subsidies ? Energy, being so vital to the economy, will mean that the energy sector will continue to survive, but it has to change its shape.

    You can dance around the facts, but climate change is hitting home, and there is no point in continuing to be in denial about Peak Oil, Peak Coal and Peak Natural Gas. These are genuine risks, not only to the planet, or its people, but also your business plans. We need to be using less energy overall, and less carbon energy within the eventual envelope of energy consumption. So the energy sector needs to move away from maximising sales of energy to optimising sales of energy services and selling low carbon energy systems, power and fuels.

    You would be wrong to dismiss me as an “eco warrior” – I’m an engineer – and I’ve always believed in co-operation, expertise, professionalism, technology and industrial prowess. What impresses me is low carbon energy deployment and zero carbon energy research. Progress is in evidence, and it is showing the way to the future. Realistically speaking, in 20 years’ time, nobody will be able to dismiss the risks and threats of climate change and energy insecurity – the evidence accumulates. We, the zero carbon visionaries, are not going to stop talking about this and acting on it – as time goes by, the reasons for all to engage with these issues will increase, regardless of efforts to distract.

    Nothing is perfect. I no more believe in a green utopia than I do in unicorns. But without reacting to climate change and energy insecurity, the stock market will not carry you, even though the governments must for the mean time, until clean and green energy engineering and service organisations rise up to replace you. Lobbying for pretences will ultimately fail – fail not only governments or peoples, but you. You, the energy industry, must start acting for the long-term or you will be ousted. As your CEOs retire, younger heads will fill leadership shoes – and younger minds know and accept the perils of climate change and energy insecurity.

    This is the evolution, not revolution. It is time to publicly admit that you do know that economically recoverable fossil fuels are limited, and that climate change is as dangerous to your business models as it is to human settlements and the biosphere. Admit it in a way that points to a sustainable future – for you and the climate. The pollution of economically borderline unconventional fuels is wrong and avoidable – what we need are renewable energies, energy conservation and energy efficiency. One without the others is not enough.

    How can your business succeed ? In selling renewable energy, energy conservation and energy efficiency. You have to sell the management of energy. You have to be genuinely “world class” and show us how. No more spills, blowouts and emissions. No more tokenistic sponsorship of arts, culture and sports. The veneer of respectability is wearing thin.

    As an engineer, I understand the problems of system management – all things within the boundary wall need to be considered and dealt with. One thing is certain, however. Everything is within the walls. And that means that all must change. “…Of course, the money would be great. But adding in the reward/punishment dimension is a sure way to sabotage brilliant performance. Moshe Feldenkrais observed that when one is striving to meet an externally imposed goal, the spine shortens, muscles tense, and the body (and mind) actually works against itself. He called this “cross motivation,” and it occurs when one forsakes one’s internal truth to maintain external equilibrium. There are lots of examples of this: the child stops doing what she’s doing because of the fear of losing parental approval, love, protection. The employee cooks the books to keep his job. The candidate delivers the sound bite, and dies a little inside. Feldenkrais attributed most of our human mental and physical difficulties to the problem of cross motivation. If you watch Michael Phelps swim, you can’t help but notice that he makes it look easy. He is clearly strong and powerful, but all of his strength and power are focused on moving him through the water with the greatest speed and efficiency. There’s no wasted effort, no struggle, no straining. He is free of cross-motivation! Would straining make him faster? Of course not. Unnecessary muscular effort would make him less buoyant, less mobile, less flexible. Will dangling a million dollars at the finish line make him swim faster? Probably just the opposite, unless Michael Phelps has some great inner resources to draw upon. The young Mr. Phelps has already learned how to tune out a lot of the hype. He’ll need to rely on “the cultivation of detachment,” the ability to care without caring…”

  • Cold Ground : Hot Sky

    Posted on October 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Something bizarre is happening in the sky, 4,000 metres above our heads. It’s getting unusually warm.

    While we’ve been busy thanking Gaia that the surface temperatures in Greenland have dropped to ice-sustaining levels, we’ve taken our eyes off the rest of the Earth system.

    Cold ground. But hot sky.

    I suppose the key question is whether this heat burden will be circulated back around to ground level before the depths of Winter – in which case, it might defer the re-formation of the Arctic Sea Ice.

    Is it possible that at the same time as the Arctic Ocean is free of sea ice in Summer, that it’s significantly curtailed in Winter, too ?

    Is this the onset of a “new climate state” ?

  • No Cause for Alarm

    Posted on September 25th, 2012 Jo No comments

  • Odds in the Arctic

    Posted on September 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    [ UPDATE : The images and charts are current - meaning that the situation has changed since the post was written on 14 September 2012. Thus, if you try to tie the diagrams in with the text, it won't make much sense. Apologies. ]

    It’s about this time of year that bleak-humoured atmospheric scientists and statisticians all over the world start to place bets on the low point of the volume (or area, or extent, or thickness) of Arctic Sea Ice.

    The rumour yesterday was that the low point was going to be called for today. But…there are some odd things going on in the Arctic, and that could shift the odds.

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • Obey the Future

    Posted on August 5th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Disobedience only gets you so far. Resistance can be fertile, but intellectual ghettos can be futile. The human tendency to generalise creates too much negativity and prevents us from being constructive. We complain about the “evil” oil and gas companies; the “greedy” coal merchants and their “lying” bankster financiers; but refuse to see the diamonds in the mud.

    We should obey the future. In the future, all people will respect each other. There will no longer be war propaganda carried by the media, demonising leaders of foreign countries, or scorn for opposing political parties. In the future, human beings will respect and have regard for other human beings. So we should live that future, live that value, have care for one another. I don’t mean we are obliged to give money to charity to help needy people in poor countries. I don’t mean we should campaign for our government to commit funds to the Climate Finance initiatives, whose aim is to support adaptation to climate chaos in developing countries. No, charity is not enough, and never matches the need. Philanthropy will not answer climate change, and so solutions need to be built into the infrastructure of the global economy, sewn into the design, woven into the fabric. There should be no manufacture, no trade, no form of consumption that does not take account of the climate change impacts on the poor, and on the rich, on ecosystems, on ourselves.

    Yes, it’s true that corporations are destroying the biosphere, but we cannot take a step back, grimace and point fingers of blame, for we are all involved in the eco-destructive economy. We are all hooked on dirty energy and polluting trade, and it’s hard to change this. It’s especially hard for oil, gas and coal companies to change track – they have investors and shareholders, and they are obliged to maintain the value in their business, and keep making profits. Yes, they should stop avoiding their responsibilities to the future. Yes, they should stop telling the rest of us to implement carbon taxation or carbon trading. They know that a comprehensive carbon price can never be established, that’s why they tell us to do it. It’s a technique of avoidance. But gathering climate storms, and accumulating unsolved climate damages, are leading the world’s energy corporations to think carefully of the risks of business as usual. How can the governments and society of the world help the energy companies to evolve ? Is more regulation needed ? And if so, what kind of political energy would be required to bring this about ? The United Nations climate change process is broken, there is no framework or treaty at hand, and the climate change social movement has stopped growing, so there is no longer any democratic pressure on the energy production companies and countries to change.

    Many climate change activists talk of fear and frustration – the futility of their efforts. They are trapped into the analysis that teaches that greed and deceit are all around them. Yet change is inevitable, and the future is coming to us today, and all is quite possibly full of light. Where is this river of hope, this conduit of shining progress ? Where, this organised intention of good ?

    We have to celebrate the dull. Change is frequently not very exciting. Behind the scenes, policy people, democratic leaders, social engineers, corporate managers, are pushing towards the Zero Carbon future reality. They push and pull in the areas open to them, appropriate to their roles, their paid functions. Whole rafts of national and regional policy is wedded to making better use of energy, using less energy overall, displacing carbon energy from all economic sectors.

    And then there’s the progressive politics. Every leader who knows the shape of the future should strive to be a Van Jones, or a Jenny Jones, any green-tinged Jones you can think of. We should enquire of our political leaders and our public activists what flavour of environmental ecology they espouse. We should demand green policies in every party, expect clean energy support from every faction. We should not only vote progressive, we should promote future-thinking authority in all spheres of social management – a future of deeper mutual respect, of leaner economy, of cleaner energy.

    The future will be tough. In fact, the future is flowing to us faster than ever, and we need resilience in the face of assured destructive change – in environment and in economy. To develop resilience we need to forgo negativity and embrace positivity. So I ask you – don’t just be anti-coal, be pro-wind, pro-solar and pro-energy conservation. Where leaders emerge from the companies and organisations that do so much harm, celebrate them and their vision of a brighter, better, lower carbon future. Where administrations take the trouble to manage their energy use, and improve their efficiency in the use of resources, applaud them, and load them with accolades. Awards may be trite, but praise can encourage better behaviour, create exemplars, inspire goodly competition. Let us encourage the people with good influence in every organisation, institution and corporation. Change is afoot, and people with genuine power are walking confidently to a more wholesome future.

    Protect your soul. Don’t get locked into the rejection of evil, but hold fast to what is good. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Be strong for goodness, even as you turn your back on a life of grime.

    Live the Zero Carbon future, and make it come as soon as it can.

    Read the rest of this entry »

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  • The Engagement of Reason

    Posted on August 2nd, 2012 Jo 2 comments

    This is just a snippet from a long email trail about climate change…


    From: Jo Abbess

    Dear KC,

    You are a human being. What you think is important. What you know is useful.

    What I want to ask you is : who do you read ? Whose opinions do you value ? Whose information do you choose to accept ? And are you as sceptical about these authors as you are about the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] community of scientists ? If not, why not ? Do you discredit climate change science because of the views of others, or because you have read the IPCC science for yourself and you have a dispute with their conclusions ?

    The question of authority is important here – not the authority of power or influence, but the authority of expertise. Who do you think has more expertise and authority to make claims about the state of the world’s climate and the causes of the obvious perturbations in it ? If you think that discernment should be a matter for yourself, then I would ask you to actually review the IPCC science reports and give me (us) a summary from your point of view. If you think that people other than the IPCC have the right and authority and expertise to pronounce on climate change, who are they ? And what science have they done to support their views ?

    With my full respect, as one human being to another,


    From: KC

    Thanks, thanks, and thanks. ;-)

    There is an enormous body of information on all aspects of the issue, and obviously, I have not read all of it. I am not a Climate Scientist, so I have to go with the views of others. On the one hand, we have the IPCC, and its supporters, and on the other hand, we have those who disagree with the IPCC. There are many, but for the sake of simplicity, I think WUWT [Watts Up With That] is a fair, reasonable and credible “disbeliever/skeptic site” that presents teh alternative views in a reasonable and competent manner. I started off supporting the IPCC view, and on the surface, it seemed to make sense.. I was a “Believer”. As I read more, I found a lot of loose ends starting to show up, and I became a skeptic. At the moment, I am neither a “Believer” or a “Dis-believer.” There are points pro and con for each side. My position is in the “muddy water in the middle” There are always “two sides to every story.” I find the best way to read IPCC and “believer” sites, to get their views on the points of the Disbelievers/Skeptics”, and vice-versa. I presently remain in the “muddy water in the middle”, simply because neither side has presented what I feel is a “slam/dunk case” to support their position.

    The Authority/Expertise issue is an important one. I started off as an IPCC Believer, and went with the flow of their “Experts”. Then the “Disbelievers/Skeptics” started to present disturbing points. I think the first was the BBC Program that suggested that “Temperature Change came first, and CO2 rise followed.. [ Channel 4's "The Great Global Warming Swindle" perhaps ? ] Then there was the revelation about the quality of US Weather Station Data. Then there was the issue of “non-transparency of data and computer models”. Then there was the issue of ‘Carbon Credits”, which are useless as a mechanism for reducing Atmospheric CO2. Then there was the issue of Terra Preta/Biochar being promoted by ardent “Believers” whose major thrust of effort was promoting Biochar based on future carbon credit payments, rather than on its merits as an agricultural tool. Then there was the issue of the change in direction from “Global Warming” to “Global Climate Change”. Then there was the Stern Report which over-emphasises threats, and under-estimates benefits of climate change, and the cost to implement remediation measures. Then there was the extreme intolerance of the views of “Dis-believers or Skeptics.” Then there was the issue of the IPCC claiming that “Consensus Science” was science, when it is not. Etc, etc. All these “loose ends” and many more detract from the credibility of the IPCC Camp, to the point that I cannot personally accept their views blindly, and go with their flow.

    I do like your concept of “… discernment should be a matter for yourself.” That is EXACTLY where I stand. I am confused about the IPCC Position, and as a “confused mind”, I say “No!” to blind and complete acceptance of their views. I neither accept nor reject the “authority” of either side. What I am looking for is “clear water”, and few enough “loose ends” that I can comfortably “go with the flow” of one side or the other. Hence, I remain a skeptic. Given that the IPCC has “staked out a position”, I feel the “burden of proof” rests with them to show that their position is correct. I feel it is only necessary for the dis-believers and skeptics to raise “reasonable doubts” for the IPCC case to collapse. I feel the IPCC position is basically “We have staked out our position, and we are right unless you prove us wrong.” Thats not the way it works in the Courts… the Prosecution must prove its case “beyond all reasonable doubts” in order to win. The Defence only has to present “reasonable doubt” to win.

    I personally “have no dog in the fight”, and it is not necessary for me, at this stage, to move firmly into the “Believer or Disbeliever” camp. Many are like me…. simply wanting to know enough to feel comfortable supporting one side or another. Others are in the difficult position of having to “take a stand” even though they may not be confident in taking a position. Or, in the case of Policy Makers, if unsure, “The Confused Mind says “No”", and they base their policy decisions on considerations other than Climatge Change. For example, while the Politicians mouth support for Climate Change amelioriation, the outcome of the Durban Meeting was basically “Yes, we support climate change controls, and we will implement them after 2020, but we can’t say what we will do, or how long after 2020 we wil do it.”

    Thanks also, for your open-ness and understanding.


    From: Jo Abbess

    I understand where you are.

    The problem with the discourse on climate change is that a lot of it is very shallow, and people are prone to emotional reactions such as hand-waving dismissiveness, angry retorts and sadly, even personal insults. It’s easy to get submerged in this and not find solid ground.

    When I first encountered the Internet wranglings of Steve McIntyre and the ramblings of Anthony Watts, it took me some time to realise that they were guilty of the behaviour they accuse others of. As I researched what they were claiming, I realised it was all vapourware.

    We find we are wading into an academic dispute, with people trying to protect the shreds of their careers and reputations as it becomes clear that they are in error. But who exactly is in error, here ? And who is producing the smoke and mirrors fluff to try to hide the fact that they are losing ground ?

    As in law, it is almost impossible to come to a clear understanding of what the actual situation is by just relying on confusing “circumstantial evidence” or hearsay from second- or third-hand witnesses.

    A number of “sceptical” scientists and deeply involved people such as Anthony Watts have contributed to the body of knowledge on climate change. The IPCC and leading research agencies and universities have taken note of their contributions – and have even included them in literature reviews, research analysis and invited the “sceptics” to take part in report review and writing teams.

    However, if you look carefully, behind the web log waffle, you will find that the conclusions of Richard S. Lindzen, John R. Christy, Anthony Watts, Roger Pielke Sr and so on have been successfully challenged by other climate change experts.

    Although they may claim they have been ignored, they have been included. And although they may claim they have uncovered flaws or deliberate science misconduct, they have not, and the mainstream climate change scientists have been repeatedly vindicated.

    I invite you, as I do everyone, to read the IPCC science reports as a first step to learning about the foundation of the issue of climate change. In the Fourth Assessment Report, you will find the work of the climate change “sceptics” discussed, and some of the climate change “sceptics” listed in the co-author lists. You will also find that the overwhelming conclusion from the body of evidence is as outlined in the IPCC synthesis on the state of the science.

    The recent pre-paper by Anthony Watts, which was released in a flurry of Internet wreckage in response to the “conversion” of Richard Muller of the BEST project, is merely an update of work Watts released before, which was duly noted by the American science agencies, and taken note of in later data analysis. The current Watts paper is possibly not going to be published because of flaws already discovered :-

    whose “conclusion is not supported by the analysis in the paper itself”.

    Because Americans appear to believe in free speech above truth telling, we can expect more hate speech and false claims to come from the climate change “sceptic” echo chamber, unfortunately, before it becomes clear that Anthony Watts latest contribution is interesting, but not a “gamechanger”.



    From: FH


    You have hit the nail on the head. Very few read the IPCC science reports, maybe the exec summary, but not the detail. And therein lies the problem, a few hot head deniers pick one little point and build a huge conspiracy theory out of it.

    Sad, because whether we like it or not we ARE all in this mess together, climate does not recognise national boundaries, wealth, status or anything else, we will all suffer.

  • James Delingpole Kludges Forth

    Posted on August 2nd, 2012 Jo No comments

    I sometimes wonder whether James Delingpole writes just to wind people up, or whether he really believes what he is saying. For sure his “opinion pieces” if one may call validly them that, are full of shock ! And awe ! And blame ! And scandalous notions ! But if one strips away the outrage, is there anything really of substance there ? I suppose, on balance, that he puts way too much effort into his anti-science outpourings, so I guess he is serious about his stance, even if he’s way too crazed in his emotive language. Here he is falling once again for the Anthony Watts’ school of thought. Sensation gets the punters in, (at the last count over 2,800 comments), so I assume that his affronted manner is deliberate.

    I’m sorry, it’s really tiring to read, but I think it’s instructive – about the state of climate change “scepticism” – or rather in this case “outright denial” – today. As a climate change denier, James Delingpole imitates his leaders in archetypal fashion. He focuses on a small proportion of all the reams and reams of global warming data, and ignores the bigger picture. Typical. He name calls and blames without any solid foundational evidence. And he gets to entirely the wrong conclusion without realising he’s gone badly wrong.

    So, here’s a lesson for James Delingpole about global warming :-

    1. The continential/contiguous states of the USA are not the whole world.

    The temperature record of the continental/contiguous states of the United States of America (CONUS) in no way equates to overall global warming. There are other places in the world. You cannot extrapolate from the USA to the globe.

    2. The surface station global warming data is not the only temperature data in the world.

    There are records of ocean warming, for example, and measurements of temperature derived from satellite observations. Everything needs to have context to be seen in true relief.

    3. Surface temperatures are not the most consistent measurement of global warming.

    You have to go up a couple of kilometres to avoid surface wind effects, and localised heating from buildings and other infrastructure, before you can safely say you have overall consistency in your temperature readings. Surface station data needs treatment, or adjustment, or homogenisation.

    [ Or as David Appell in his Quark Soup puts it, "Then there are the inconvenient facts that : (1) USA48 is 1.6% of the Earth's surface area, and : (2) the trend of the USA48 lower troposphere, as measured by satellites as calculated by UAH, is 0.23 ± 0.08 °C from 1979 to present (95% confidence limit, no correction for autocorrelation). Satellite measurements almost completely avoid the urban heat island problem." ]

    James Delingpole claims, without any foundation whatsoever, “the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – the US government body in charge of America’s temperature record, has systematically exaggerated the extent of late 20th century global warming. In fact, it has doubled it.”

    No, James, that’s simply just not true. NOAA have not “systematically exaggerated” global warming temperatures. If you care to take a look at the actual research for once, you will find that the methods used to draw up analysis figures are rigorous, tested and verified. And peer reviewed. And actually published in a journal. Unlike Anthony Watts’ paper that you are bleating about :-

    By contrast to NOAA’s integrity, let’s look a moment at what Anthony Watts has done, according to Tamino :-
    “What Watts has shown is that he can get a lower warming trend for the continental USA than others get. All you have to do is systematically eliminate the data you don’t like, while ignoring things like station moves, instrument changes, and recording data at different times of day. Don’t you dare correct for known biases (unless of course doing so would make the estimate of global warming smaller)! And if the satellite data should be in better agreement with others than with yourself, don’t breathe a word about that.”

    Ah. Cherrypicking. Where have we seen climate change deniers do that before ?

    Yet more from James Delingpole, “But I think more likely it is a case of confirmation bias. The Warmists who comprise the climate scientist establishment spend so much time communicating with other warmists and so little time paying attention to the views of dissenting scientists such as Henrik Svensmark – or Fred Singer or Richard Lindzen or indeed Anthony Watts – that it simply hasn’t occurred to them that their temperature records need adjusting downwards not upwards.”

    Actually, James, you’re wrong again. In fact the output of Henrik Svensmark, Richard Lindzen, Anthony Watts, Roger Pielke Sr, John Christy and a number of other climate change “sceptics” have indeed been paid attention to by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For example, Svensmark in Chapter 2 of Working Group 1 of the Fourth Assessment Report, and Lindzen in Chapters 8 and 9 :- (Search “Svensmark”) (Search “Christy”, “Pielke”)
    (Search “Lindzen”) (Search “Lindzen”)

    In fact, some of these scientists have been contributing authors or even editors of the IPCC reports. Surprised ? You shouldn’t be, James. This is an academic spat you’ve waded into, with no intellectual equipment to help you comprehend what is going on.

    So, Anthony Watts’ new paper is not yet peer-reviewed, and not published (and does not even have a fixed, agreed list of authors), and some have already started to pick it apart. Apparently, he has ignored certain crucial information about surface station temperature measurements :-

    “Thus we now have three reasons, why the technical problems may cause a difference in the trends of the raw data: 1. Time of observation bias stronger in rural stations. 2. More problems due to the UHI [Urban Heat Island effect] in the bad stations. 3. Selection bias (bad/good stations at the end of the period may have been better/worse before). Sounds like the first two problems can be solved by homogenization. And the third problem is only a problem for this study, but not for the global temperature trend. Time for the Team Watts to start analyzing their data a bit more.”

    Does the Anthony Watts data actually back up the claim made in the press release ?

    “The new improved assessment, for the years 1979 to 2008, yields a trend of +0.155C per decade from the high quality sites, a +0.248 C per decade trend for poorly sited locations, and a trend of +0.309 C per decade after NOAA adjusts the data. ”

    Well, it seems not.

    “In his press release, Anthony Watts does not explicitly state that these trends are for raw data. The manuscript does state this important “detail”…” He lifts a table from Figure 17 of the Anthony Watts paper – and, correct me if I’m wrong, but the more “trustworthy” results are almost exactly that same as those from NOAA !

    dana1981 and Kevin C on Skeptical Science, go so far as to say “Ultimately the paper concludes “that reported 1979-2008 U.S. temperature trends are spuriously doubled.” However, this conclusion is not supported by the analysis in the paper itself.” ! :-

    To those who watch the development of climate change science closely, Anthony Watts’ revelations about surface station data problems are not exactly new :-
    “In a previous survey, Watts found numerous problems with the placement of the monitoring stations, and a U.S. Government Accountability Report, published a year ago, found 42 percent of stations did not meet at least one standard regarding their location, such as being too close to extensive paved surfaces or obstructions such as buildings or trees. However, a study published in 2010 by NCDC researchers in response to these concerns, found no evidence that the temperature trend was inflated as a result, and other work has come to similar to conclusions, Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told LiveScience in an email. This is of course not the answer that Watts et al want to hear, and so they keep talking about it as if this work doesn’t exist,” Schmidt wrote. The controversy extends to a statistical process, called homogenization, which climate scientists use to correct for bias in the data, which Watts’ analysis says further inflates the warming trend. However, the homogenization methods used by NCDC have been heavily reviewed and ranked among the best internationally, according to Peterson. “There is no network in the world that does not have this problem, so scientists all over the world are working on this,” [NCDC Dr Thomas C.] Peterson said.”

    And people appear to be used to unpicking and rebutting his claims. As @caerbannog666 tweeted, “How many lines of code does it take to prove Anthony Watts wrong? 65, if it’s python: … (scroll down a bit for the code)”

    Other self-styled climate change “sceptics”, such as Steve McIntyre and Roger Pielke Sr appear to be sliding away and distancing themselves from the Anthony Watts “pre-paper” – so why is James Delingpole so excited about it ? :-

    Meanwhile, here’s real global warming data :-

    And here’s what the mainstream climate change scientists made of Anthony Watts’ previous contributions :-

    “Given the now extensive documentation by [Watts, 2009] that the exposure characteristics of many USHCN stations are far from ideal, it is reasonable to question the role that poor exposure may have played in biasing CONUS temperature trends. However, our analysis and the earlier study by Peterson [2006] illustrate the need for data analysis in establishing the role of station exposure characteristics on temperature trends no matter how compelling the circumstantial evidence of bias may be. In other words, photos and site surveys do not preclude the need for data analysis, and concerns over exposure must be evaluated in light of other changes in observation practice such as new instrumentation. Indeed, our analysis does provide evidence of bias in poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites; however, given the evidence provided by that poor exposure sites are predominantly MMTS sites, this bias is consistent with previously documented changes associated with the widespread conversion to MMTS-type sensors in the USHCN. Moreover, the bias in unadjusted maximum temperature data from poor exposure sites relative to good exposure sites is, on average, negative while the bias in minimum temperatures is positive (though smaller in magnitude than the negative bias in maximum temperatures). The adjustments for instrument changes and station moves provided in version 2 of the USHCN monthly temperature data largely account for the impact of the MMTS transition, although an overall residual negative bias remains in the adjusted maximum temperature series. Still, the USHCN adjusted data averaged over the CONUS are well aligned with the averages derived from the USCRN for the past five years. The reason why station exposure does not play an obvious role in temperature trends probably warrants further investigation. It is possible that, in general, once a changeover to bad exposure has occurred, the magnitude of background trend parallels that at well exposed sites albeit with an offset. Such a phenomenon has been observed at urban stations whereby once a site has become fully urbanized, its trend is similar to those at surrounding rural sites [e.g., Boehm, 1998; Easterling et al., 2005]. This is not to say that exposure is irrelevant in all contexts or that adherence to siting standards is unimportant. Apart from potentially altering the degree to which a station’s mean value is representative of a region, poor siting in the USHCN may have altered the nature of the impact of the MMTS transition from what it would have been had good siting been maintained at all stations. Moreover, there may be more subtle artifacts associated with siting characteristics such as alterations to the seasonal cycle. Classification of USHCN exposure characteristics as well as observations from the very well sited USCRN stations should prove valuable in such studies. Nevertheless, we find no evidence that the CONUS average temperature trends are inflated due to poor station siting. Acknowledgments. The authors wish to thank Anthony Watts and the many volunteers at for their considerable efforts in documenting the current site characteristics of USHCN stations.”

  • Bosworth: “We are not going soft on coal”

    Posted on July 21st, 2012 Jo No comments

    At the annual Stop Climate Chaos coalition chin-wag on Friday 20th July 2012, I joined a table discussion led by Tony Bosworth of the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

    He was laying out plans for a campaign focus on the risks and limitations of developing shale gas production in the United Kingdom.

    During open questions, I put it to him that a focus on shale gas was liable to lay Friends of the Earth open to accusations of taking the pressure off high carbon fuels such as coal. He said that he had already encountered that accusation, but emphasised that the shale gas licencing rounds are frontier – policy is actively being decided and is still open to resolution on issues of contention. Placing emphasis on critiquing this fossil fuel resource and its exploitation is therefore timely and highly appropriate. But he wanted to be clear that “we are not going soft on coal”.

    I suggested that some experts are downplaying the risks of shale gas development because of the limitations of the resource – because shale gas could only contribute a few percent of national fuel provision, some think is is unwise to concentrate so much campaign effort on resisting its development. Bosworth countered this by saying that in the near future, the British Geological Survey are expected to revise their estimates of shale gas resource upwards by a very significant amount.

    He quoted one source as claiming that the UK could have around 55 years of shale gas resource within its borders. I showed some scepticism about this, posing the question “But can it be mined at any significant rate ?” It is a very common public relations trick to mention the total estimated size of a fossil fuel resource without also giving an estimate of how fast it can be extracted – leading to entirely mistaken conclusions about how useful a field, well or strata can be.

    Tony Bosworth said that shale gas reserve estimates keep changing all the time. The estimate for shale gas reserves in Poland have just been revised downwards, and the Marcellus Shale in the United States of America has also been re-assessed negatively.

    Bosworth said that although campaigners who are fighting shale gas development had found it useful to communicate the local environmental damage caused by shale gas extraction – such as ozone pollution, traffic noise, water pollution and extraction, landscape clearance – the best argument against shale gas production was the climate change emissions one. He said academics are still being recruited to fight on both sides of the question of whether the lifecycle emissions of shale gas are higher than for coal, but that it was becoming clear that so-called “fugitive emissions” – where gas unintentionally escapes from well works and pipeline networks – is the key global warming risk from shale gas.

    Opinion around the table was that the local environmental factors associated with shale gas extraction may be the way to draw the most attention from people – as these would be experienced personally. The problem with centring on this argument is that the main route of communication about these problems, the film Gasland, has been counter-spun by an industry-backed film “Truthland”.

    The Royal Society recently pronounced shale gas extraction acceptable as long as appropriate consideration was paid to following regulatory control, but even cautious development of unconventional fossil fuels does not answer the climate change implications.

    There is also the extreme irony that those who oppose wind farm development on the basis of “industrialisation of the landscape” can also be the same group of people who are in favour of the development of shale gas extraction – arguably doing more, and more permanently, to destroy the scenery by deforestation, water resource sequestration and toxification of soils, air and water.

    Tony Bosworth told the group about the Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage Local Authorities to declare themselves “Frack-Free Zones” (in a similar way to the “Fair Trade Towns” campaign that was previously so successful). He said that FoE would be asking supporters to demand that their local governments had a “No Fracking” policy in their Local Plans. It was suggested in the discussion group that with the current economic slowdown and austerity measures, that Local Authorities may not have the capacity to do this. Tony Bosworth suggested that in this case, it might be worth addressing the issue to church parish councils, who can be very powerful in local matters. It was pointed out that frequently, parish councils have been busy declaring themselves “Wind Free Zones”.

    It was considered that it would be ineffective to attempt to fight shale gas production on a site-by-site direct action basis as the amount of land in the UK that has already and will soon be licenced for shale gas exploration made this impossible. Besides which, people often had very low awareness of the potential problems of shale gas extraction and the disruption and pollution it could bring to their areas – so local support for direct action could be poor.

    One interesting suggestion was to create a map of the United Kingdom showing the watersheds where people get their tap supplies from superimposed on where the proposed shale gas exploration areas are likely to be – to allow people to understand that even if they live far away from shale gas production, their drinking water supplies could be impacted.

    In summary, there are several key public relations fronts on which the nascent shale gas “industry” are fighting. They have been trying to seed doubt on low estimates of actual shale gas production potential – they have been hyping the potentially massive “gamechanging” resource assessments, without clear evidence of how accessible these resources are. They have also been pouring scorn on the evidence of how much damage shale gas could do to local environments. And they have also been promoting academic research that could be seen to make their case that shale gas is less climate-damaging than other energy resources.

    Shale gas, and the issue of the risks of hydraulic fracturing for unconventional fossil fuels, is likely to remain a hot ecological topic. Putting effort into resisting its expansion is highly appropriate in the British context, where the industry is fledgeling, and those who are accusing Friends of the Earth and others of acting as “useful idiots” for the ambitions of the coal industry just haven’t taken a look at the wider implications. If shale gas is permitted dirty development rights, then that would open the gateway for even more polluting unconventional fossil fuel extraction, such as oil shale and underground coal gasification, and that really would be a major win for the coal industry.

    Friends of the Earth Briefing : Shale gas : energy solution or fracking hell ?

  • Just like they said it would be – how extreme weather is proving climate change theory

    Posted on July 11th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Nature has been sending a strong, chaotic message to many people in the last few months – drought, floods, storms, and very unusual temperatures and weather events.

    Public communicators of science have been explaining the underlying phenomena – the ENSO cycle in the Pacific Ocean has been flipping winds and sea surface temperatures from a condition known as La Nina, towards the El Nino configuration; plus, in the northern hemisphere, wind flow high above our heads has been erratic.

    Scientists have been careful not to claim every extreme weather event as proof of climate change theory. After all, any one violent storm or unprecedented high could be just that – freak – never to be repeated. Climatologists instead talk of “loading the climate dice”, a way to explain that extreme weather is more likely in a warming world.

    Reticence and restraint are in evidence, however, now is a prime moment to assert, without triumphalism, that all this crazy weather does indeed offer confirmation of climate change theory – everything is happening just the way the atmospheric scientists said it would.

    Arctic amplification

    There is no doubt that surface of the Earth is warming up, and the Arctic region of the globe is warming faster than anywhere else. This is to be expected in a world with added Greenhouse Effect from rising carbon dioxide levels in the air. The climatologists projected that this would happen, due to localised additional heating resulting from the side effects of melting ice, snow and permafrost in the northern pole. Antarctica, on the other hand, would not show the same kind of strong “albedo” feedback response as it was still too cold and ice-and-snow bound and surrounded by isolating ocean and wind currents.

    Up there, where the air is clear

    Scientists predicted that because of Arctic amplification, the profile of the planet’s atmosphere would change under global warming conditions. And so it has. The tropopause – the place where the lower, thicker atmosphere – the troposhere – meets the upper, thinner stratosphere, has shifted, and the temperature change profile or “inversion” at this height has also been modified. While the air close to the Earth’s surface has become warmer, the air in the stratosphere has become colder. All just as the scientists predicted would happen.

    Jet stream weaker and loopier

    Close to the surface of the planet, wind tracks and the passage of storms, pressure systems and clouds are turbulent and pretty chaotic. But above this zone, winds flow freely. The winds stream because the atmosphere drags whilst the Earth turns. Because of the general patterns of billowing air below them, jet streams are usually centred at particular places – the polar jets at around 30 degrees angle from the poles, the subtropical jets at around 30 degrees from the Equator.

    Atmospheric scientists have been monitoring these winds for change, as the models indicated that the northern polar jet, in particular, would shift its position northwards, because of the other climate changes, and weaken. As it weakened, they worked out that the normal wavy kinks in the jet stream would become big loops, and maybe even lock into certain shapes for longer than usual, a situation known as a blocking event.

    Wobbly weather

    Because jet streams have an impact on the movement of weather systems further down, the scientists projected that the more meandering jet stream would carry weather systems out of their usual tracks, and also create bubbles of unusual temperature. Normally cold places would see heatwaves, normally hot places would have cold snaps, and everywhere would experience unseasonal and more extreme weather. And this is exactly what we have been seeing.

    The number of freak weather events is mounting, along with insurance company manager blood pressure readings. The flooding and drought that would be expected with the periodic Pacific ENSO system flip from La Nina to El Nino have been highly damaging, and when the final accounting is done, probably more damaging than previously.

    The food on the table

    Climate change scientists have long predicted altered patterns and increased variability of rainfall with global warming. There are real concerns that farmers can no longer predict when, or for how long, it will rain, and this is affecting major food growing regions. The major global rice, wheat and maize corn harvests are at risk, and recent years of failings have dented confidence and ballooned prices.

    Strange weather is impacting on fruit and vegetable growing, as seasons are becoming unclear and even swapping their normal order. The weather has gone wrong, and this is exactly what the scientists have been warning us about for several decades in official reports. How much easier would we have accepted changing realities if we had understood the language of the early research papers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change !

  • George Monbiot : Peak Agitation

    Posted on July 7th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    My electronic mail inbox and Twitter “social media” timeline are full of people sparking and foaming about George Monbiot’s latest kow-tow to American academia. Apparently, he has discarded the evidence of many, many researchers, energy engineers and market players and poured luke-warm, regurgitated scorn on the evidence and inevitability of “Peak Oil”.

    The level of agitation contradicting his stance has reached a new peak – in fact, I think I might claim this as “Peak Agitation”.

    Here is just one example from Paul Mobbs, author of “Energy Beyond Oil”, and a multi-talented, multi-sectoral educator and researcher.

    I initially read it in my inbox and nearly fell of my chair gobsmacked. When I had recovered from being astonished, and asked Mobbsey if I could quote him, perhaps anonymously, he wrote back :-

    “No, you can quite clearly and boldly attach my name and email address to it ! And perhaps ask George for a response ?”

    Sadly, George Monbiot appears to have jammed his thumbs in his ears as regards my commentary, so he is very unlikely to read this or become aware of the strength of opposition to his new positioning. But anyway – here’s for what’s it’s worth (and when it comes from Paul Mobbs, it’s worth a great deal) :-

    Re: Peak oil – we were wrong. When the facts change we must change.

    Hi all,

    I’ve sat patiently through the various emails between you all — mainly to
    take soundings of where you’re all at on this matter. In addition, over the
    last few days I’ve separately received four dozen or so emails all asking
    to “take on” Monbiot. I wasn’t going to reply because I’ve so many more
    pressing matters to take care of, but given the weight of demands I can’t
    avoid it.

    I don’t see any point in “taking on” Monbiot; the points he raises, and the
    debate that he has initiated, are so off beam compared to the basis of the
    issues involved that it there’s no point proceeding along that line of
    thought. You can’t answer a question if the question itself is not

    Let’s get one thing straight — present economic difficulties are not simply
    to do with “oil”, but with the more general issue of “limits to growth”.
    That’s a complex interaction of resource production, thermodynamics,
    technology, and relating all of these together, economic theory. Reducing
    this just to an issue of oil or carbon will fail to answer why the trends
    we see emerging today are taking place. Instead we have to look towards a
    process which sees energy, resources, technology and human economics as a
    single system.

    The problem with this whole debate is that those involved — Monbiot
    included — only have the vaguest understanding of how resource depletion
    interacts with the human economy. And in a similar way, the wider
    environment movement has been wholly compromised by its failure to engage
    with the debate over ecological limits as part of their promotion of
    alternative lifestyles. Unless you are prepared to adapt to the reality of
    what the “limits” issues portends for the human economy, you’re not going
    to make any progress on this matter.

    Monbiot’s greatest mistake is to try and associate peak oil and climate
    change. They are wholly different issues. In fact, over the last few years,
    one of the greatest mistakes by the environment movement generally (and
    Monbiot is an exemplar of this) has been to reduce all issues to one
    metric/indicator — carbon. This “carbonism” has distorted the nature of
    the debate over human development/progress, and in the process the
    “business as usual” fossil-fuelled supertanker has been allowed to thunder
    on regardless because solving carbon emissions is a fundamentally different
    type of problem to solving the issue of resource/energy depletion.

    Carbon emissions are a secondary effect of economic activity. It is
    incidental to the economic process, even when measures such as carbon
    markets are applied. Provided we’re not worried about the cost, we can use
    technological measures to abate emissions — and government/industry have
    used this as a filibuster to market a technological agenda in response and
    thus ignore the basic incompatibility of economic growth with the
    ecological limits of the Earth’s biosphere. As far as I am concerned, many
    in mainstream environmentalism have been complicit in that process; and
    have failed to provide the example and leadership necessary to initiate a
    debate on the true alternatives to yet more intense/complex
    industrialisation and globalisation.

    In contrast, physical energy supply is different because it’s a prerequisite
    of economic growth — you can’t have economic activity without a
    qualitatively sufficient energy supply (yes, the “quality” of the energy is
    just as important as the physical scale of supply). About half of all
    growth is the value of new energy supply added to the economy, and another
    fifth is the result of energy efficiency — the traditional measures of
    capital and labour respectively make up a tenth and fifth of growth. As yet
    mainstream economic theory refuses to internalise the issue of energy
    quality, and the effect of falling energy/resource returns, even though this
    is demonstrably one of the failing aspects of our current economic model
    (debt is the other, and that’s an even more complex matter to explore if
    we’re looking at inter-generational effects).

    The fact that all commodity prices have been rising along with growth for
    the past decade — a phenomena directly related to the human system hitting
    the “limits to growth” — is one of the major factors driving current
    economic difficulties. Arguably we’ve been hitting the “limits” since the
    late 70s. The difficulty in explaining that on a political stage is that
    we’re talking about processes which operate over decades and centuries, not
    over campaign cycles or political terms of office. As a result, due to the
    impatience of the modern political/media agenda, the political debate over
    limits has suffered because commentators always take too short-term a
    viewpoint. Monbiot’s recent conversion on nuclear and peak oil is such an
    example, and is at the heart of the report Monbiot cites in justification of
    his views — a report, not coincidentally, written by a long-term opponent
    of peak oil theory, working for lobby groups who promote business-as-usual
    solutions to ecological issues.

    Likewise, because the neo-classical economists who advise governments and
    corporations don’t believe in the concept of “limits”, the measures they’ve
    adopted to try and solve the problem (e.g. quantitative easing) are not
    helping the problem, but merely forestall the inevitable collapse. For
    example, we can’t borrow money today to spur a recovery if there will be
    insufficient growth in the future to pay for that debt. Basically, whilst you
    may theoretically borrow money from your grandchildren, you can’t borrow
    the energy that future economic growth requires to generate that money if
    it doesn’t exist to be used at that future date. Perhaps more perversely, a
    large proportion of the economic actors who have expressed support for
    limits are not advocating ecological solutions to the problem, they’re
    cashing-in by trying to advise people how to make money out of economic

    Carbon emissions and resource depletion are a function of economic growth.
    There is an absolute correlation between growth and carbon emissions. I
    don’t just mean that emissions and the rate of depletion fall during
    recessions — and thus “recessions are good for the environment”. If you
    look at the rate of growth in emissions over the last 50 years, the change
    in energy prices has a correlation to changes in carbon emissions as the
    price of fuel influences economic activity. That’s why carbon emissions
    broke with their historic trend, halving their previous growth rate, after
    the oil crisis of the 1970s; and why they then rebounded as energy prices
    fell during the 90s.

    The idea that we can “decarbonise” the economy and continue just as before
    is fundamentally flawed. I know some of you will scream and howl at this
    idea, but if you look at the research on the interaction between energy and
    economic productivity there is no other conclusion. Due to their high
    energy density and relative ease of use, all fossil fuels have an economic
    advantage over all the alternatives. That said, as conventional oil and gas
    deplete, and “unconventional” sources with far lower energy returns are
    brought into the market, that differential is decreasing — but we won’t
    reach general parity with renewables for another decade or two.

    Note also this has nothing to do with subsidies, or industrial power –
    it’s a basic physical fact that the energy density of renewables is lower
    than the historic value of fossil fuels. On a level playing field, renewable
    energy costs more and has a lower return on investment than fossil fuels.

    We do have the technology to develop a predominantly renewable human
    economy, but the economic basis of such a system will be wholly different to
    that we live within today. Unless you are prepared to reform the economic
    process alongside changing the resource base of society, we’ll never
    see any realistic change because all such “ecological” viewpoints are
    inconsistent with the values at the heart of modern capitalism (that’s not
    a political point either, it’s just a fact based upon how these systems
    must operate). E.g., when the Mail/Telegraph trumpet that more wind power
    will cost more and lower growth/competitiveness, they’re right — but the
    issue here is not the facts about wind, it’s that the theory/expectation of
    continued growth, which they are measuring the performance of wind against,
    is itself no longer supported by the physical fundamentals of the human

    The present problem is not simply “peak oil”. Even if volumetric production
    remained constant, due to the falling level of energy return on investment
    of all fossil fuels the effects of rising prices and falling systemic
    efficiency will still disrupt the economic cycle (albeit at a slower rate
    than when it is tied to a simultaneous volumetric reduction). Allied to the
    problems with the supply of many industrial minerals, especially the
    minerals which are key to the latest energy and industrial process/energy
    technologies (e.g. rare earths, indium, gallium, etc.), what we have is a
    recipe for a general systems failure in the operation of the human system.
    And again, that’s not related to climate change, or simple lack of energy,
    but because of the systemic complexity of modern human society, and what
    happens to any complex system when it is perturbed by external factors.

    The worst thing which can happen right now — even if it were possible,
    which is entirely doubtful — would be a “return to growth”. The idea of
    “green growth”, within the norms of neo-classical economics, is even more
    fallacious due to the differing thermodynamic factors driving that system.
    Instead what we have to concentrate upon is changing the political economy
    of the human system to internalise the issue of limits. At present, apart
    from a few scientists and green economists on the sidelines, no one is
    seriously putting that point of view — not even the Green Party. And as I
    perceive it from talking to people about this for the last 12 years, that’s
    for a very simple reason… it’s not what people, especially the political
    establishment, want to hear.

    Rio+20 was an absolute failure. In fact what annoyed me the most was that
    the media kept talking about the “second” Rio conference, when in fact it
    was the third UNCED conference in the Stockholm conference in ’72. If you
    contrast 1972 with 2012, the results of this years deliberations were worse
    than the policies sketched out in the 70s ! Seriously, the environment
    movement is being trounced, and as I see it that’s because they have lost
    the intellectual and theoretical rigour that it possessed in the 70s and
    80s. Rather than having a clear alternative vision, what they promote is
    “the same but different”. Once environmentalism became a media campaign
    about differing consumption options, rather than an absolute framework for
    evaluating the effects of consumption, it lost its ability to dictate the
    agenda — because its the ability to look forward and observe/anticipate
    trends unfolding, however unwelcome those truths might be, which gives
    groups political power.

    Politicians have lost control of the economy because their materialist
    ambitions no longer fit to the extant reality of the economic process. This
    outcome was foreseen over 40 years ago by economists like Georgescu-Roegen
    and Boulding but ignored, even amongst many liberals and especially the
    left, for political reasons. These same principles, based around the issue
    of limits, were also the founding reality of the modern environment
    movement — but over the last 20 years the movement has lost this basic
    grounding in physics and economics as it has moved towards an
    aspirationally materialist agenda (green consumerism/sustainable
    consumption, etc.).

    Unless you’re prepared to talk about limits to growth, and the fact that
    the economic theories developed over two centuries of unconstrained
    expansion now have no relevance to a system constrained by physical limits,
    then you will not solve this problem. Just as with Monbiot’s “change” on
    the issue of nuclear, his failure is a matter of basic theory and
    methodological frameworks, not of facts or data. Unfortunately people keep
    throwing data at each other without considering that the framework within
    which those facts are considered and understood has changed, and that
    consequently their conclusions may not be correct; and until the movement
    accepts that the rules governing the system have changed we’ll not make
    progress in advancing viable solutions.

    To conclude then, Monbiot’s mistake isn’t about peak oil, or climate
    change, it’s a failure to internalise the physical realities of the
    “limits” now driving the human system. Unless you consider the interaction
    of energy, economics and pollution, any abstractions you draw about each of
    those factors individually will fail to tell you how the system as a whole
    is functioning. Those limits might dictate the end of “growth economics”,
    but they DO NOT dictate the end of “human development”. There are many ways
    we can address our present economic and environmental difficulties, but that
    cannot take place unless we accept that changing our material ambitions is
    a prerequisite of that process.

    Let’s be clear here. The principles which drive the economy today would be
    wholly alien to Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and others who first laid down
    the rules of the system two centuries ago. Likewise Marxism and similarly
    derived ideas have no validity either because they were generated during an
    era when there were no constraining limits. There is no “going back” to
    previous theories/ideologies on this issue because we face a scenario today
    which humans society — with the exception of those ancient societies who
    experienced ecological overshoot (Rome, Mayans, Easter Islanders, etc.) –
    have never had to face before.

    We have to move forward, to evaluate and understand is the role of
    ecological limits within the future human economic process and how this
    changes our advocacy of “solutions”. That debate should be at the heart of
    the environment movement, and the issue of limits should lead all
    discussions about all environmental issues — not green/sustainable
    consumerism and other measures which seek to reassure and pacify affluent
    consumers. That said, especially given the demographic skew within
    membership of the environment movement, we have to begin by being honest
    with ourselves in accepting the “limits agenda” and what it means for the
    make-up of our own lives.

    In the final analysis, you cannot be an environmentalist unless you accept
    and promote the idea of limits. That was at the heart of the movement from
    the early 70s, and if we want to present a viable alternative to disaster
    capitalism then that is once again what we must develop and promote as an

    Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,



    “We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
    nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
    for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
    that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
    righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
    God, and with one another, that these things may abound.”
    (Edward Burrough, 1659 – from ‘Quaker Faith and Practice’)

    Paul’s book, “Energy Beyond Oil”, is out now!
    For details see

    Read my ‘essay’ weblog, “Ecolonomics”, at:

    Paul Mobbs, Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
    email –
    website –

  • Gas in the UK (2)

    Posted on June 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    …Continued from

    Questions from the floor

    [Tony Glover]

    …increasing electricification of heat and transport. I was interested in what Doug said about heat. [If energy conservation measures are significant and there is] a significant reduction in gas use for heat…interested in the Minister’s response.

    [Terry ? (Member of PRASEG)]

    I’m interested in gas that would need CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] [in future] …[since there would be no restriction there would be an] incentive to build new gas in next few years away from CCS-usable infrastructure. Maybe encouraging gas stations over next few years to be built in view of CCS.

    [ ? ]

    [There have been mentions of the] Gas [generation] Strategy and gas storage. Is it your intention to have both in the Energy Bill ? [Need to improve investor confidence.]

    [Charles Hendry MP] I’m more confident than Doug on CHP…[in respect of energy conservation we will begin to increase our use of] CHP [Combined Heat and Power], geothermal energy, don’t need District Heating. I think we’ll see more people switch to electric heating. The likely pricing on gas will mean people have to look at other sources – such as localised heat storage, intelligent ways to produce hot water and heat in their homes [...for example, a technology to store heat for several days...] The first [new gas power] plants will be where they are already consented – where originally coal plants – need to have identified in advance – no new plant is consented unless…We’ve asked Ofgem to ask re securing gas supplies. If we can stretch out the tail of North Sea gas – can stretch it out 30 – 40 years [...] technology [...] Centrica / Norway [...] develop contracts [...] Is there a role for strategic storage [Centrica asking] [...] Buying and selling at the wrong price (like the gold) [widespread chuckling in the room]. Some of it may not need legislation. Gas Strategy will be published before the Energy Bill.

    [David Cox] Get very nervous about gas storage. Don’t think there’s a need to put financial incentives in place to increase gas storage. We think the hybrid gas market is successful – a market and regulatory framework – [gas storage incentives] could damage.

    [Doug Parr] I’m not downbeat because I want to be downbeat on heat. [Of all the solutions proposed none of them show] scaleability, deliverability. I’d love that to come true – but will it ? [...] Heat pumps ? Biogas is great but is it really going to replace all that gas ? If we’re going to be using gas we need to make the best use of it [...] Issues around new plant / replacement – all about reducing risks no exposing ourselves to [it] – security of supply, climate risks, issues about placement [siting of new plant]. If CCS can really be made to work – it’s a no-brainer – do we want all that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or … ? Our entire policy becomes dependent on a technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated. Other technologies that people thought were great – years later they still haven’t arrived [for example, rooftop wind turbines]. If we say CCS is the only way it’s going to work – what’s Plan B ? We are going to use [fossil fuels] – should not become wholly dependent on technology not yet demonstrated.

    [Alan Whitehead] Perhaps people should be asked – which would you prefer – a CHP / DH [Combined Heat and Power / District Heating] plant in the valley here, or a couple of wind turbines on that hill ? That would [shake things up].

    Questions from the floor

    [ X ? ] See [...] as the ultimate destination. Most important – gas can be made zero carbon – not pie in the sky. 1. Start contributions of carbon-neutral gas and 2. will need far less if [we act] like Japan – force installation of microCHP. Their aim is to do same as for washing machines [bring prices down - make widely available for the home]. MicroCHP [with] heat pumps – reduction as good as decarbonising gas or electricity. But can also decarbonise gas.

    [ X ? ] The Minister mentioned the importance of CHP but recently dropped [...] mandate. If CHP so important what measures is the Government taking to ensure its installation ?

    [ X ? ] Electricity is a rubbish fuel for heating buildings – very peaky load – need something cheap to store, cheap to [...]. Fits very well with forcing down demand. Where we’re getting our gas from. At the moment our waste is being incinerated. For a cheap additional cost, where currently incinerating we can do anaerobic digestion [AD], producing a fungible asset – the gas – can gradually decarbonise our grid.

    [ Thomas Grier ? ] …a decision [?] of London – CHP in London over the next few years. If we want to use electricity for heat, we need to reinforce the electricity grid [by 60% to 90% ?] In rural situations – use electrical heating. In urban, use decarbonised energy. [This model projection] shows the gas grid disappearing – it will collapse at some point if all we have on the gas grid is cooking.

    [ X ? ] …[encouraged CHP then a few days later] stood up then said all support [removed ?] for CHP next year. A Heat Strategy that said there is enormous [scope / potential] for CHP. We want to see gas, we want to see efficiency. Are we moving towards [...] without it they won’t build it.

    [David Cox] Microgeneration – couldn’t get it down economically. Reliability [issues]. Full supporter of biogas – AD got a contribution to make – but never more than 5% – no matter how much [we crack it]. Electricity is not very good for heating – but how to we decarbonise the heat sector ? Always been an advocate of CHP. Government need to do more incentivising of that.

    [Charles Hendry MP] Innovation and invention [...] Government can’t support all emerging technologies. Best brains around the world [are working on] how we move fundamentally in a low carbon direction. On the waste hierarchy – burning of waste should be the final stage – finding a better use for it. [I visited] the biggest AD plant in Europe in Manchester – biogas and electricity generation. We are seeing Local Authorities taking a more constructive long-term view on how to manage waste. CHP – we all want to see more of it – to what extent does it need support ? That depends on whether new build – building a community around it. [By comparison, urban retrofitting is probably too expensive] Iceland [took the decision and] retrofitted almost every home – I’m now more convinced than before. What is the right level of subsidy and what makes good economic case ?

    [Doug] We do keep missing opportunities. [For example in Wales, Milford Haven, the new Combined Cycle Gas Turbine at the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) refinery to process the gas] should have been CHP. I am enthusiastic about lots of heat technologies [but the same questions/issues apply] scaleability and deliverability. District heating [DH] – an infrastructure asset ! [Can change priorities about what gets built - for example in Denmark (?)] they’re building large-scale solar farms to top up the DH. In the Treasury’s infrastructure plan [see DH could be...] Heat is the poor relation in energy debate. Other networks have been identified in the National Policy Statements (NPS) – but not heat.

    [ Leonie Green, Renewable Energy Association ] [I must] defend heat pumps. In Sweden 90% of new builds [hav e heat pumps ?] – heat pump efficiency is a function of the energy-efficiency of the building [...] Just on AD – National Grid report said it could provide 50% [of the nation's supply. Our members think] that’s a bit too high – we think 25%. My question is really about the benefits. We are hearing anxiety about costs, but it’s piecemeal on benefits. We’ve been strong on jobs, balance of trade, exports [all benefits of renewable energy investment and deployment]. Pleased to see DECC put out [report from] Oxford Economics [on the] wider economic benefits. How can we get more and more balance in reports. [An example] Deutsche Bank renewable generation opportunities.

    [ ? ] We would also support more than 5% from renewable gas – also about hydrogen – we used to do it when it was town gas – why not again ? As regards injecting biomethane/biogas from AD into the National Grid [last year ? to this year ?] 130 enquiries to connect AD to our network – none have progressed. Please sort these [registrations] out.

    [ ? ] Minister, we’re not expecting you to fund all technologies – we need some logic – especially with transport. The Government doesn’t recognise the difference between Renewable Natural Gas if used in transport and fossil fuels. Would be simple – a tax on gas if used in a vehicle. What’s the problem over [...] ?

    [Colin Snape, University of Nottingham] We are looking at reducing the costs of carbon capture – we have a section of PhDs… One other gas source not mentioned – gas from underground gasification of coal [UCG]. In UK [...] 2 billion tonners of coal – slightly offshore – on the energy coast of the UK – where all the action is on CCS – obviously UCG needs to be coupled with CCS to be carbon neutral. Would [be operational] in a very short time period [...incentives...]. Significant proportion of UK needs.

    [ ? ] What is the purpose of the Gas Strategy ? Shale gas isn’t a miracle. The “Golden Age of Gas” [report by the International Energy Agency (IEA)] doesn’t mean cheap gas, because [it will be put to] lots of uses. Renewable electricity and nuclear are not going to come until the 2020s. How do we avoid building loads of gas generation that is not necessary after that time ? What’s the role of mothballing (relatively cheap to bring CCGT out of mothballs comparing to build new). No sign of reduction in electricity demand reduction – therefore there will be high gas use.

    [ Doug Parr ] On UCG, the IEA had two scenarios in the “Golden Age of Gas” – both took us over 3.5 degrees Celsius [in additional global warming]. Even if there is unconventional gas sources, still a huge danger of going down the road of unrestrained gas use. What is the alternative ? We should not end up becoming dependent on gas. Should not build gas to fill a short-term hole – they will lobby for their own interests – to keep open.

    [ David Cox ] CCGTs won’t be built without guarantees greater than 20 years. Also renewable energy might not provide in the way that we hope. The CCC report – what caused the rise in energy prices ? The wholesale gas price – not renewable energy, green policies. However, that was slightly dishonest – the counter-factual was [...] renewable energy significantly still more expensive than fossil fuel there. Until we can get costs of renewable energy down to the prices of fossil fuels… [The industry] don’t give the impression [they will build] on the basis of short-term need. Gas isn’t clean, I admit that [...] CCS – that will work.

    [Charles Hendry MP] A lot comes back to a need for a balanced approach – carbon targets and security of supply. If you haven’t sorted out security of supply, the electorate will not give permission to go low carbon. Gas is a hedging fuel currently but don’t know where costs going over time. As a politician, I like pipelines – know where it’s going (not like LNG, where there was limited use of new LNG import plant). If we want Scandinavian gas, we need security of demand to build the new pipeline. How we deal with issues of biomethane – in 2 years – need to make more progress. Some of these [techologies] will be gamechangers – some, look back in a couple of years… [Need a] permissive framework to allow a lot of ideas and technologies. There is no source of energy that hasn’t required subsidy in early days. Fanciful to suggest new forms of energy can come through without support. The letters we get [from the public, from constituents] are on vehicle fuel costs, not how much their gas bill went up last winter…

    Official end of meeting

    A gaggle of people gathered in the hallway to discuss some items further.

    The Electricity Market Reform (EMR) was generally criticised – as it contains measures likely to specifically benefit nuclear power. Electricite de France was identified as very involved. The Government had said “no nuclear subsidy”, but the EMR measures are equivalent to hidden subsidies.

    The Levy Cap was criticised as it would disturb investor confidence – if several nuclear reactors came on-stream in 10 years time, in the same year, they would eat up the whole subsidy budget for that year – and other technologies would lose out. If was felt that a number of the EMR proposals were “blunt instruments”, not overcoming shortcomings of former levies and subsidies.

    Although the EMR was designed to addressed economic fears, it wasn’t assisting with financing risks – if anything it was adding to them. Rates of return have to be guaranteed for loans to be made – chopping and changing subsidies doesn’t allow for that.

    Leonie Green said that the REA members don’t like the Premium Feed-in-Tariff (FiT). She also said later that they were not pleased about the cuts in support for AD.

    Since my personal interest is in using Renewable Gas of various sources (including Biomethane / Biogas) to displace Natural Gas from the gas grid, I spoke with various people about this informally (including a woman I met on the train on my way home – who really got the argument about decarbonising gas by developing Renewable Gas, and using that to store excess renewable electricity, and use it as backup for renewable electricity. Although she did say “it won’t be done if it won’t confer benefits”.). One of the key elements for developing Renewable Gas is to create a stream of Renewable Hydrogen, produced in a range of ways. Somebody asked me what the driver would be for progress in Renewable Hydrogen production ? I said the “pull” was supposed to be the fabled “Hydrogen Economy” for transport, but that this isn’t really happening. I said the need for increased sources of renewably-sourced gas will become progressively clear – perhaps within a decade.

    One of the persons present talked about how they think the Government is now coming out of the nuclear dream world – how only a few of the proposed new reactors will get built in the next decade – and how the Government now need to come up with a more realistic scenario.

    It was mentioned that is appears that the Biogas technologies are going to have the same treatment as solar photovoltaics – some sort of subsidies at the start – which get cut away far too early – before it can stand on its own two feet. This was said to be the result of an underlying theory that only a fixed amount of money should be used on launching each new technology – with no thought to continuity problems – especially as regards investment and loan structures.

  • This Is My Thesis

    Posted on May 21st, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    I have recently been awarded a postgraduate Master of Science (MSc) degree, and several of my contacts suggested that I might consider studying for the academic qualification of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). To be awarded a doctorate, I would need to make a valuable contribution to the body of knowledge and achievement in my chosen field. I do not think that paper-based research on its own would count as taking collective human understanding a step further, and so I must consider what forms of theorising, construction, engineering, creation, experimentation, configuration, data collection, analysis and argumentation I would need to make accomplishments in, in order to gain the good review of my peers, and the acceptance of my skill. It is not enough to love Wisdom, she has to be sought out, and introduced to your friends.

    My first instinct is collaborative – how can I find a place where I can nurture my learning and strategy, in co-operation with others – where I can find a welcome, and make statements and discoveries that gain me a status, get me recognition ? I want to shine, in order to become useful, to serve my fellow woman and man. I don’t want to be competitive, winning out over others, but be part of a vanguard, a flight formation, spurring each other on to make progress together, striving as a group. I’m not ambitious, except for truth, beauty and good technology. I can share acclaim and I want to bring everybody with me. We can, standing elbow to elbow, vanquish destructive forces.

    Yet, this proud, altruistic aim, to be part of the pack of pioneers, to offer something helpful, is marred by reality. Whilst I want to be constructive, others adopt divisiveness, in order to isolate outliers, and clamber over others to win the crown. I must not only reserve my right to speak against the herd, I must also wield it. I am relegated to the Zone of Insignificance, the people whose voices do not count because they articulate criticism. I do not want to join those who act as if they have the only viable formulation of reality – with their patronising stance – offering to host the public conversation, claiming they are at the centre of the debate, whilst at the same time undermining others with clever cynicism and sneering dismissal of those who will not join them.

    I cannot be bought, and neither can I be seduced into a false alliance. I will not support meta-narrative, nor other contrivances. But this leaves me conflicted. One of the most significant problems with public discourse on science and technology in relation to resource limits and environmental damage is the persistence of the “anti” lobby – those people who feel bound to continue to be negative about things that have not yet been resolved. Many have been anti-nuclear, anti-fossil fuels, anti-coal, anti-energy companies, anti-Government policy, anti-hijacking of the United Nations process on climate change by economists. These voices, these positions, are important, but do not own the platform, and so they continue to rage. It is impossible to make progress without having something to rally around, to have a positive flag to muster under, but people with genuine influence continue to mis-step in their proposals and policies.

    I want to bridge the gaps between the social groupings – I need to – in order to offer a way forward that can put some of the anti-thesis to bed, and galvanise efforts towards real, workable, cost-effective solutions. A genuine peoples movement for progress can accrete consensus, enormous non-hierarchical power, and can even draw in its detractors if it can be seen to be working. I am going to have to step out in faith, and at much risk – for I am going to attempt to join together the direction of the energy sector with the concerns of the environmentalists. I am not going to use a marketing strategy, nor sell a public relations pill to financiers and investment funds. I am not going to paint a green picture that has no details or exists only in a dream world. I am fairly certain that everybody is going to hate me, at least for a while, but in the end, I hope they will see that I am right, as I feel I am not generally mistaken.

    Since I expect to be slighted and put down, and for people to work to marginalise me, I do not expect to be adopted by an academic institution or an energy or engineering company in the pursuit of my goals. In fact, I would resist such appropriation, for I am intellectually liberated. So, my work will not be accorded a standard accolade by a respectable institution or corporate body, and in fact, since that is the case, I can choose to work in any way that I see fit. Since, according to many scientists, we do not have much time to gain global assent for workable climate change solutions, as we must have a peak in greenhouse gas emissions in the near term, I cannot measure out five or seven years to complete a body of work which would then be reviewed. Instead, I shall publish in stages, and take peer review, including negative criticism, if any should be offered, as I go.

    Although I wish to be practical rather than purely written, I shall not have much access to the funds, laboratories or engineering workshops where I could do the work myself. Instead, I shall have to ask questions of those who are already doing the work I am following, and try to ascertain their progress, and make my recommendations for their advancement. I seek to investigate live uses of the technology and systems I write about – as I expect them to be put to use before I have completed documenting them. My work will therefore be literature, but I want my intelligence to be fully accessible, so I will not use academic forms of composition. I shall write in what I hope is an easy, open way, and provide a mechanism for reply. I am going to offer my work by subscription, and I hope that those who register to receive my report in sections, will participate in making my work better.

    The human race needs to be for something, not merely against, in all the myriad multitude of complaints that rise up like evaporating water, or steam from boiling pots, all and every day. However, a false unity, or a crooked one, cannot help us. We need to use what we’ve already got, and only imagine small gains in technological prowess. We should stop believing in public relations and advertising. We should stop being lulled into passivity by those glossing over our concerns, or those outspending logic. We should not give up in the face of overwhelming ineptitude and embedded vested interests. We cannot overhaul everything overnight, and somebody’s got to pay for change, and so they had better be the right changes. We need to be pragmatic, and not overreach, nor over-commit ourselves where technology could fail.

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

    Posted on May 14th, 2012 Jo 3 comments

    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?


    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.


    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.').


    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!


    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.


    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?

  • Moving towards a logical conclusion

    Posted on May 5th, 2012 Jo 1 comment

    Although I consider him to be an enemy of the people by being a key architect of the privatisation of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), I was delighted to hear Andrew Lansley say this about tobacco sales : “We don’t work in partnership with the tobacco companies because we are trying to arrive at a point where they have no business in this country.” Finally, after over ten years of hard work by a rainbow coalition of healthcare providers, local government administration, campaigners, social activists, educators and charities, it is possible for the UK Secretary of State for Health to tell the tobacco industry their products are not wanted here.

    The deep question is : why didn’t the UK Government just ban the tobacco companies outright at the start or tell them to diversify out of selling cancer sticks in order to keep their retail licences ? Well, the simple answer is that companies like British American Tobacco (BAT) are privately-owned capitalised companies, with many pension and other major funds heavily invested. The UK Department of Business, Trade, Enterprise, Industry, Information, Skills, Services and Manufacturing or whatever it’s been variously called over the last few decades, simply couldn’t tell shareholders to pull their investment out of death-by-inhalation stocks.

    Everyone sees a return on investment in the industries of death generally, such as the arms trade, the junk food industry, and petrochemicals (ask yourself : how many people have suffered and died because of diesel particulate-provoked asthma ?) It takes a certain amount of time to reach the logical conclusion that wars do not need to be fought, making armaments redundant; for healthy food to become seen as essential to beat off diabetes and obesity epidemics; and for urban transport to be electrified to save lungs and hearts.

    No, you just can’t ban an entire product range overnight because, finally, the science has broken through the doubt barrier and shown beyond reasonable scepticism that tobacco smoking causes cancer, emphysema and other serious and fatal conditions. No, you have to go at it step by painful step, reducing availability, changing the rules on presentation at the point of sale, putting up signs in public places.

    And it all takes time, this gradualist approach. The tobacco industry may now wind down to a dribble in Britain (although it will continue to do well in Asia and Africa), and peoples’ savings for retirement will have soon all moved out of fag ends into something else.

    Yet, we don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to the climate change and energy crisis. We simply don’t have the 25 to 50 years it could take to adopt a gradualist approach to energy sector change. Anything that takes longer than 10 years to begin to displace carbon out of the energy economy is too slow to be useful.

    People are slowly beginning to wake up to the fact that their money is invested in climate change, and are making demands on their pension fund and bank account managers – but this is all happening too slowly – despite the keen interest in ethical investment.

    The energy sector has got to change – and change fast. Changing the energy sector so radically and so quickly is not something that can be done by applying small changes to the costs of energy – particularly as the wider costs of energy are so volatile anyway. Gradually introducing renewable energy technologies with subsidies and grants and special tax breaks is not going to displace carbon fast enough.

    Governments may not like the thought – but maybe they will consider starting to ban things – and not be shy about being explicit. However, this kind of action will generate significant resistance and dissent.

    How then to rapidly alter the world’s entire energy sector ?

    Start telling the truth about how the energy sector is scraping the bottom of the barrel in a number of fuels and fields ? Could this approach cause a run at the investment bank ? Could it tip the balance in energy systems deployment towards the less-intensive options – green energy – the only possible area of growth in the energy sector – which becomes the only possible logical conclusion ?