Energy Change for Climate Control
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  • 20 Letters

    Posted on November 22nd, 2014 Jo No comments


    [ Video : George Marshall of the Climate Outreach Information Network launching his new book "Don't Even Think About It" on the communication of climate change at the Harvard Book Store, whereto he had to fly, thereby causing significant personal carbon dioxide emissions. This YouTube does not feature Ian Christie, but is not entirely unrelated to his address, which is documented in the text below. ]

    This afternoon, Ian Christie of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG) at the University of Surrey stunned a group of seasoned environmental and political campaigners by suggesting that twenty letters could change the course of history. He suggested that if Member of Parliament or somebody working for another public organisation received as few as twenty letters on the same subject in their mailbag or email inbox, then they would feel that this would signify a change of mood in public discourse and warrant action, or, at the very least, a public statement.

    Ian Christie came to speak to the Green Christian Annual Members Meeting today under the heading “Sustainable Living : Why we struggle and how we can change”, and presided over three facilitated workshops on Church, Community and Campaigning. He was introduced as working with the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey, and having helped to pull together “Church and Earth”, the Seven Year Plan for the Church of England, as a response to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation initiative which culminated in the “Many Heavens, One Earth” Windsor Conference in November 2009. Ian Christie has also done project work with the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development and the think tank Theos. He has been environmental advisor to the Bishop of Kingston.

    Ian Christie said that his colleague Tim Jackson, who has written a best-selling book “Prosperity Without Growth”, is on a permanent global tour, wherever the book gets published. The “juicy paradox” is that his carbon footprint is enormous. “I don’t fly”, said Ian, “I’m more or less offsetting his emissions”. Ian said that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about our carbon emissions-filled lifestyles – we’re doing very well in not very promising circumstances. It’s not surprising that we haven’t made much progress in sustainable living – this is perhaps the biggest thing humanity has asked ourselves to do.

    Ian said, “Between 5% and 15% of the population (and this figure hasn’t changed over the last 10 years) are consistently trying to live within their personal carbon budget – in all areas of their lives. Meanwhile, between 5% and 20% don’t care at all. They might vote for UKIP. It’s nice to know they’ve got someone to vote for now. The other 45% or so, including myself, drift into that middle ground. We get confused. We give up. Feel that taking the trouble on environmental issues is a big of an effort – because other signals are not there, because other people are not doing it. Anyone who thinks we can bring about environmental “conversion”, person by person – it’s too difficult.”

    He went on to say, “We don’t tell positive stories very well. We’re much better at telling the apocalyptic story. There’s a lack of supporting infrastructure. People get locked-in to behaviours. We want to do the green, sustainable thing but we can’t. The idea that joy in less is possible is unbelievable.” He went on to explain that, “consumption can [make us feel good]. More can be more. I get a thrill going into John Lewis sometimes, all those bright and shiny things. It’s amazing they’re available for sale and that I can afford them. Consumerism can be fun.”

    Ian Christie remarked about the RESOLVE research of colleagues that there was a sense of “threatened identities”, when we’re asked to change our lifestyles – our whole identity can be at stake. There are a lack of positive incenties and collective [success] stories. He gave an example – one where people cooking for their families want to recreate the cosy, nourishing food of their childhoods, and they do that by using meat. These people find it hard to be told that they need to give up eating meat to save the planet. Another example, when people are told to cut down on car driving – there is a feeling of a loss of freedom, I can go where I like and do what I want to do. “Climate change is perhaps too big, distant or complicated for us. It is certainly too much for any one person to deal with – me, Tim Jackson, or the Pope.” Ian Christie spoke about the clash of desires and values – and that St Paul got there first (Romans 7:15-17) (and St Augustine, but paraphrased). He mentioned a friend, Mayer Hillman, who had written a letter to his loved ones overseas to say that he was sorry but that he would never be visiting them, as this would involve flying, and he could not do that. He said that he has discovered that many people had a dirty secret, which he calls “Top Gear Syndrome” – and “you’d be surprised how many environmentalists like watching Top Gear”. He also mentioned “Copenhagen Syndrome” – where environmentalists feel that they need to attend every meeting on climate change – and so they fly there. People like to go to exotic places – Greens especially.

    Ian Christie emphasised that we can’t get to sustainable living one person at a time. He said that this amounted to a “Collective Action Problem” or (CAP). He showed us an image of what is commonly called a Mexican Stand-Off – where a group of three people have their weapons at each other’s throats and nobody will back down – each of the three major groups in society thinks that the other two should take the lead. So governments think that businesses and citizens should act. And citizens think that government and businesses should act. And businesses think that their consumers and governments should act.

    Ian said that there is a clear finding from social research that people feel safety in numbers – they’re terrified of falling out with their neighbours – for example, in some cultures like America, people would rather make everyone feel comfortable than break out of normative behaviour or views. Individual households have a low perception of “agency” – feeling that they can make any significant change – that they don’t have sufficient capacity to act – “no clout” – as one member of the audience commented.

    Ian gave some examples of attitudes of people’s attitudes on environmental lifestyles : “I will even though you won’t – even though no one else steps forward”; “I will – but it’s never enough”; “I might if you will” or even, “I know you won’t, so don’t ask me”. He said that Collective Action Problems need to be addressed by all actors needing to be engaged. He said that there would be “no one best buy” and that action will tend to be “clumsy solutions”. He said that people need “loud, long and legal” signals from government, consistent messages and incentives for change.

    Ian Christie said there is a community level of action possible – “communities of practice”. He recommended that we look up the CLASL research done by Defra/WWF. He mentioned “moments of change” – times of transition in life – and whether these might be appropriate times to offer support for alternative choices. He said that action by individuals cannot be guaranteed by giving messages to people as if they are only consumers, rather than citizens. If we say that something will save people money, they won’t necessarily act. We need to address people’s values.

    Ian talked about some of the results of the research from the SLRG project, which is coming to an end. He spoke about the evidence of “Rebound Effects”, where people make savings on their carbon dioxide emissions by living frugally and then spend the money in ways that increase greenhouse gas emissions, like taking holidays by aeroplane – he mentioned the Tesco offer to “turn lights into flights”, where people were being encouraged to buy energy efficient light bulbs in exchange for Air Miles – “it’s going to make things much worse”. He said that research showed that respending (reinvestment) is what matters and that we need to go to the source of the emissions, through a carbon tax, for example.

    Ian Christie said that it is very limited what we can do as individual households. Lots of policymakers have thought to get through to people at moments of change – although there used to be no evidence. People’s habits and networks can be restructured for example when they move home, have a child or retire – a “habit discontinuity”. Research has now shown that there is an effect with housemovers – who are much more likely to act on information if they are given information packages on green living – but only a small minority are truly motivated. He asked “how do we magnify it ?” The sheer act of moving house makes people amenable to change. Research has also shown that there is a willingness amongst new parents – who would express more pro-environmental values [as a result of] having a new child – but are less capable of acting on these wishes. The reverse was found in those entering retirement – they wanted to live more frugally – but didn’t express this desire in terms of sustainable living.

    Ian said that the “window of opportunity” for introducing lifestyle change closed after three months or so – and that people did not retain their new habits without “lifestyle support systems”. People didn’t want to hear from a green group, but would be open to hearing from a church, or their Health Visitor, or Mumsnet. Maybe even a hairdresser ? One project that he recommended was PECT, the Peterborough Environment City Trust, which is acting as a facilitator to embedding changes. He said people get depressed if they feel businesses and governments are not doing the same thing. He mentioned avenues and approaches for increasing the sense of agency : framing environmental issues in : moments of change, local food growing, community energy groups, frugality, health and well-being… People like to think they are living a more frugal lifestyle.

    Ian Christie said that previously, the Church of England work on the “Fifth Mark of Mission” was perhaps not making much progress, but that there is now a pretty motivational group in Church House – with the “new blood” of Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop Richard Cheetham and Canon Giles Goddard.

    He said that the Church of England needs to have a Press Release ready to put out the same day as the next Papal Encyclical – to say “see what the Pope is doing on Climate Change”.

    Ian Christie suggested that positive activities could inspire : why could a church not turn an emergency feeding centre – a food bank – into a food hub – a place where people could come for tools, seeds and food growing group support ? They could be linked to Transition Towns projects. What about Cathedral Innovation Centres ? Why not partner with the National Trust or the National Health Service over environmental issues ? He said the NHS has a Sustainable Development Strategy – “the best I’ve seen”. He said they are longing to work with partners – including churches. He mentioned the National Union of Students too – who have sustainable living project funds. How about calling for a New Green Deal for Communities ? The reason why the Green Deal has been so poorly supported has been it has been promoted to individuals and it’s much harder to get individuals to commit and act on projects.

    Ian pointed towards good intervention concepts : “safety in numbers” approaches, moments of change, congregation spaces, trusted peers in the community, consistent messages. He recommended Staying Positive : “look how far we’ve come”; we have two decisive decades ahead; Business As Usual is failing – CEOs are breaking ranks; cities are going green and the churches are waking up.

    He suggested that in future, instead of community groups drawn together by fear – such as Neighbourhood Watch – we should anticipate Neighbourhood Welcome – an eco-house in every community to invite new local residents to for inspiration for their new lifestyles.

    He asked “Is there another way of organising other than catastrophising ?”

    In questions, I asked Ian Christie why he only had three social groups rather than four. I said that I see businesses broken down into two categories – those that produce energy and those that consume energy to provide goods and services. I said there were some excellent sustainable development strategies coming out of the private enterprises consuming energy, such as Marks and Spencer. He said that yes, amongst the energy producing companies, CEOs have yet to come out and saying anything. He pointed to Unilever, who are beginning to see themselves as being opposed to the petrochemical industry – the source of much of their chemical feedstock. He said that he hoped that it would be possible to drive a wedge between these two groups, open up the gap as wide as it can be between energy-consuming and energy-producing companies. He said that food companies, for example, could be brought to understand that if they continue using fossil fuels that they are threatening their own businesses – and that they could come to be against the use of fossil fuels.

    When asked about whether we should try to set the economy on a “war footing” as regards climate change, Ian Christie said “we aren’t in a war like that. We are the enemy. We are the war.” He said that the churches need to bring climate change into every talk, every sermon “this is how we do Christian witness”. He said we can’t have a government-led mobilisation on climate change in the same way as in wartime.

    In discussion after the breakout workshops, Ian Christie said that we need to try to get to local opinion-formers. He said that a critical mass of communication to a Member of Parliament on one subject could be as few as 20 letters – that could be considered to be a change of public opinion – a shift. He said that this technique of mass letter writing is how other people “play the game” in politics, so we must do it too. For example, we could write to our churches, our leaders, our democratic representatives, and demand a New Green Deal for Communities, and in letters to political candidates for the General Election we could say it would be a critical factor in deciding who we vote for. In the General Election in 2015, Ian said that it could be a five-way split, and that the “green issue” could be decisive, and so we should say that our vote will go to the greenest of people.

    Ian said we should try to audit our church expertise, and that we should aim for our churches to give one clear overall narrative – not an “environmental narrative”, but one that urges us to be truly Christian. He said that it was important that church leaders talk the talk as well as walk the talk – making it normal to talk about these things – not keeping them partitioned. The weekly sermon or talk in church must tell this story. He said that people disagree for really good reasons, but that the issue was one of trying to create a setting in which disagreement can get somewhere. He mentioned the work of George Marshall and the Climate Outreach Information Network as being relevant to building narratives that work on climate change out of a silence or absence of dialogue.

  • European Referendum : Corpse Factory

    Posted on November 9th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So I was in a meeting on a dateless date, at an organisation with a nameless name, with some other unidentifiable people in the room with me. For some reason I had been invited, I cannot think why. Ah, yes, I can. I was invited to attend because, apparently, I am a “campaigner”. I am, allegedly, somebody who buys into the notion that communications should serve the purpose of directing public attention and support towards a particular outcome, decided in advance by a political elite. And it seems, if I believe something is right, and that a message needs communicating, I will take action, but never invoice, because I am a believer. Well let me tell you right here and now, I am not that person. I may have that reputation, but really, I despise propaganda : the deliberate formation of a murmur of Tweet starlings, or the collective wall-to-wall newspaper coverage of the same story, the scandal story hauled out to scare the horses and herd them to the salt water shore, the faux narrative of collective political or social will for change.

    I want to believe that even though I am occasionally paid to communicate a story (but most often not), that my narrative, and importantly my agenda, is my own. I will not be co-opted. I shall not be defined by storytelling, I shall not be paid for spreading information – for if I were to be telling money-backed tales, I may end up peddling lies. And I do not want lies to be spoken. I am an ontologist. My ontology is :-

    SO
    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS.

    and not

    IT IS
    AS
    IT IS,
    SO…

    There is no “therefore” in what I write. When I say “should”, like, “we should adopt renewable energy”, it’s your choice as to whether you agree with me. You shouldn’t read anything and be swayed or directed, except by the force of reason based on evidence. I am the photographer, the recorder, but not the public relations consultant. And I am especially not an unsalaried volunteer. I paint the future using my own perspective, my own understanding, my own research, my own best judgement, but I am not telling people what to think. Although I go slightly beyond merely noting and analysing what is happening, to articulate possible futures, I am not a persuader.

    I do not want to write the script for the actions of the readers or listeners. I do not want to precipitate a revolution, or dehydrate the horses before leading them to the river bank. I want to describe rather than proscribe or prescribe. I want to scribe the way I see things, I do not do it in order to create waves or push buttons or light beacons. The facts should speak for themselves, and if anybody consumes my communication, they should be free to act as they feel fit, or suits. I am not a paid-for, paid-up, in-the-pocket campaigner. I am not spun round other peoples’ fingers like a talking puppet. I am a free person.

    So, there I was in this meeting, and the people in the room were discussing an event that is likely to take place. It appears from some analysis that the next British Government could well be another Coalition Government, with the Conservative Party having only a shaving of a majority for rule. And when they have crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s and formed a currently impossible political marriage, which I’m guessing will involve the Green Party as well as the Liberal Democrats, then they will need to live up to their promise to hold a referendum on British participation in the Grand European Experiment – economic union with other European countries.

    But nobody talks about Europe. Except to complain. In the meeting I attended, the hosts of the meeting were consulting for ways to highlight the Europe Question, and to give it a pro-Union light.

    For me, it’s facile. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is just a bunch of mediocre-sized islands off the coast of the European continent. Something like 80% of UK trade is with European countries, because Europe is our gateway to the rest of the global market, and you always do the most trade with your neighbours. It’s natural. Can anybody seriously suggest we ditch the Common Market – the agreements that European countries have come to to ensure common standards of goods and services, common terms and conditions of trade and common legal processes regulating trade ? So we want to reserve some kind of sovereignty over some kinds of decisions ? Why ? The UK is heavily involved in the central European institutions and governance bodies. We have massive input. We vote for MEPs. Why should things not go our way ? And even if things don’t go perfectly our way, will the negotiated compromises be so bad ? Subsidiarity – making decisions at the lowest/best/most appropriate level of administration – that’s still going to keep a lot of British control over British affairs. Surely the UK suffers a greater risk of interference from any pan-Atlantic trade deal that it does from Europe ?

    The UK have made commitments. Our Parliament has agreed that we need to work on climate change, social justice and economic stability. We have implicitly agreed that to address climate change we need Energy Change and environmental regulation; to achieve social justice we need human rights, justice, health, education and a benefits system; and for economic stability we need economic stimuli – for example, in national infrastructure projects. In terms of climate change and Energy Change there is so much we need to do. If we stay in Europe, all of this will be so much easier. Within the European project for energy market harmonisation is the work on standards to achieve gas and electricity grid harmonisation. The improvement and augmenting of interconnections between countries, and the provision of wider energy storage, will enable the balanced use of renewable energy. Governments need to create incentives for deploying renewable energy. Governments need to create mechanisms to leverage and facilitate renewable energy deployment. Without Europe, outwith Europe, it will cost us more, and be more complex. Within Europe, it will be easier.

    So, in the meeting I attended, I put forward my vision : if the UK stays in Europe, it will be easier to handle problems of energy – improving and replacing infrastructure and plant, co-ordinating the uptake of new renewable energy technologies and dealing with emerging energy security issues. Why, the North Sea, as everybody knows, is draining dry, and we can only build certain levels of relationship with countries outside the European Union, such as Russia. If the UK left the EU, the EU would be competitors with the UK for Russian Natural Gas, for example. I said I thought that energy security was a good thing to explain to people and a good reason to raise support for UK’s continued participation in Europe.

    So, somebody else in the meeting, who shall remain faceless and nameless, poured very cold water on this idea. They seemed to disbelieve that the UK faces risks to energy security. Instead, they suggested that the pro-Europe argument should be based on how the UK can “keep our place at the table”. How out of touch can one get, I thought to myself ? This kind of patrician argument is not going to wash. Appealing to some non-existent pride in the UK’s continued role as stakeholder in the European project is going to go down like a lead balloon. It’s a vote loser, for sure.

    What most people care about first is money. Their money. Any appeal to their pockets is going to help. We live in tough times – thanks to Government austerity policy – and we still cannot get a handle on public borrowing and spending. Because of the Government’s austerity policy.

    So how about we cast it like this : your energy is going to get much more expensive if the UK abandons the European community of nations. Plus, your lights could genuinely go out, unless you, the people, either as taxpayers or billpayers, fork out for new energy investments that the energy companies haven’t made for 20 years. Because of privatisation. Without taking part in the European energy market harmonisation, and the European development of new and renewable energy infrastructure, plant and networks, your bills could significantly rise/spiral out of control. If European companies were required to sell energy assets back to the UK, because the UK pulled out of Europe, we would be in a very fine mess indeed. Do you really want this kind of chaos ? Energy policy in the UK is already bad enough.

    The facts are available to those who search : British production of oil and gas from the North Sea is declining at something like 6% a year. The UK became a net energy importer between 2004 and 2006 (depending on how you define it). The Netherlands will become a net Natural Gas importer in the 2020s. Norway’s Natural Gas will reach a peak some time in the 2020s. It’s no good thinking that because the UK is a “gas hub”, and that British finance can currently spin up gas imports to the UK, that this situation is going to remain true. Within 10 to 15 years, I think that the UK will face significant competition for Natural Gas supplies with other European countries. Better to be in the debating chamber, surely, rather than scratching at the wind-and-rain-splattered window from outside ? So can the UK forge a gas alliance with countries outside the European Union, and apart from Norway ? A gas import alliance that sticks ? And that isn’t demolished by competition from the rest of the European Union for gas supplies that come through pipes sitting in European Union territory ? OK, the UK might want to leave full European Union membership, and join Norway in the European Economic Area, but will this guarantee beneficial import status for Natural Gas from countries that supply the full members of the European Community ?

    I said, instead of trying to talk about direct opposites – either Inside Europe or Outside Europe – let’s talk about how things can be helped by wider co-operation. The European Union was founded on energy treaties – coal and nuclear energy (and steel), and now Europe needs to move to a union forged on renewable power and Natural Gas – and later Renewable Gas – and it’s going to be so much easier to do if the UK stays at the party.

    The North Sea needs re-developing. Not for oil, but for wind power. This is going to happen best with full cross-border co-operation. Already, the UK has agreed to play a large part in the “North Sea Offshore Grid” wind power project in league with Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. And Luxembourg, strangely, although it doesn’t have a coast. Unlike new nuclear power, which could be decades in construction, offshore and onshore wind in Europe can be quick-build. If you want new power, you pick wind and solar. And, despite policy fumbles, this is happening. Actually, in the end, who really cares about subsidies for renewable energy, when the most capital-heavy organisations in the world start backing renewable power ? In some ways, I don’t care who brings me low carbon energy, and I don’t care if I have to pay for it through my tax or my bills, I just want it to happen. OK, offshore wind power is for the big boys, and you’re never going to get a diversity of suppliers with this project, and the dreams of decentralised energy are vapours, whisked away by giant engineering firms, but at least renewable energy is going to happen. One day people will realise that for the newspapers to rehearse the arguments of High Net Worth Individuals, and for sheep-like energy ministers to complain about onshore wind power and solar farms, is just a way to keep small electricity generators out of the energy markets, and allow the incumbent energy players to keep making profits. But when the need for a multiplicity of small energy installations becomes critical, I think this tune will change.

    I can see all this. But, because I am not a spin meister, or spin meistress, or a campaigner, I’m not going to be crafting fine messages to share with my networks on this particular subject. I did start (see below), but then I thought better of it. I dislike the use of social media, web logging and journalism to push an agenda. The trouble is, I know that the people who are vehemently against the European endeavour have so many trigger arguments tested and ready to deploy, such as : immigration, regulations, budgetary demands. None of these stand up to scutiny, but they are very easy props on which to deploy Corpse Factory scares and scandals, up there with the War on Terror. The pro-European segment of the population always stays so silent. If there were to be a Referendum on Europe today, I can pretty much guarantee a kneejerk exit. The British public act collectively by reflex. They never re-analyse their position. They mob, gang and plunder.

    I don’t think pro-Europe organisations know how to sell Europe. But they shouldn’t need to “sell” Europe. European membership should be an obvious best choice. So why should I try to talk up Europe ? I couldn’t have any influence, as one lone voice, against the Daily Mails, Daily Expresses and Daily Telegraphs of this world. And anyway, it’s not really my fight to fight. I don’t have a job title that reads “arch propagandist”. I am not that person. It does not become me. I prefer straight-talking, not mind-bending.

    I won’t get invited back. That’s just fine. I am not a volunteer campaigner. I’m not a political pusher. I’ve only played the role of “evangelist” on climate change, renewable energy and good policy because sometimes there is little else I can think of that might help or make a difference. But I don’t have any influence. And I don’t want any. I am just going to continue telling it the way I see it. Giving my perspective. I cannot guarantee any outcomes. And anyway, I prefer democratic engagement over salesmanship. Don’t ask me to sell your ideas, your policies, your projections. I don’t want to.

    Full membership of the European Union is the logical option for the United Kingdom, no matter how many tired dead donkey corpses the rabid tabloid media keep digging up to appall us all. Sooner or later, we also need to consider joining the Euro currency, and I predict we will, but I’m not your convincer on that argument, either.




    “What has Europe ever done for us ?”

    Common Climate : Common Cause : Common Market

    On climate change, the United Kingdom has secured the Climate Change Act, legislation with broad-based support across all political parties. The UK shares the concerns of other European countries about the potential risks and impacts from climate change in our geographical region. Society-level change in response to climate change includes energy change – changing the sources and use of energy – and changing policies for land use to include planting forests and energy crops. Within the European Community, the UK has worked to secure region-wide legislation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, waste control and air quality. All of these contribute to the response to climate change, and have developed action on climate change into a common cause. In addition to regulatory change, the European Community is seeking to develop trading mechanisms to enable carbon dioxide emissions control, and it working to develop a common market in carbon.

    Common Future : Common Purpose : Common Interest

    Common Values : Common Opportunities : Common Voice

    Common Security : Common Goals : Common Networks

    Common Infrastructure : Common Society : Common Protection

    Common Standards : Common Framework : Common Development

  • Climbing the Concern Ladder

    Posted on October 25th, 2014 Jo No comments

    How do we get things changed in a democracy ? The model of political campaigning that has been established over the last century is failing us. In the past, if there was a problem, a small group of people could create a fuss about it, march some placards to somewhere relevant, write some letters, talk to some dignitaries, chain themselves to some railings, occupy a lobby, get some press, and after some years, maybe, get something done.

    These days there are just too many complaints for them all to be heard. Philanthropic, charitable and political messages crowd the stage. In this age of social media, the campaign metaphor has been replaced by a ladder of concern. Concern is expressed. Hopefully others will find that they too are sufficiently concerned, and reflect that concern through some medium. And slowly, it is hoped, this concern climbs the ladder of attention, until it is visible, audible. The entitled and endowed middle classes catch the concern, and repeat it. Lots of emails fly. George Monbiot writes about it in The Guardian. Some speeches are made at serious meetings. Angelina Jolie is invited to grace a conference. And then, hopefully, this concern hits the people who have some kind of leverage over the problem, and they act.

    Action is almost guaranteed if the concern is the result of a specific outrage, committed by a specific person or group, and has a specific solution. But otherwise, who knows ? How universal and impactful does a concern need to be before it gets acted upon ? And surely some things don’t need campaigns, because the governments already know enough about problems such as people trafficking, slavery, animal welfare, crime and torture ? After all, things such as prostitution and illegal drug trade are included in national economic statistics.

    I took public transport today in London and I was doused in outrage pouring from advertisements asking for charitable giving to prevent the inhuman practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As I read these appeals, I felt two overwhelming sensations – one of intense anger that children are being permanently injured because of insane and unjustifiable, hateful beliefs about female sexuality. And a second feeling of dragging despair that giving a small donation every month to this organisation would have very little impact on abusive culture, which leads to many forms of violation, not just the unimaginably painful and destructive incision and even resection of a child’s clitoris and the sewing together of her labia, leading to permanent nerve damage, lasting wounds, loss of sexual function, complications from incontinence, ruined relationships, injuries from sexual intercourse, and serious medical risks during childbirth, and possibly the need for reconstructive surgery.

    This is a problem which cannot be fixed by expressing normal murmurs of concern, building a wave of concern that climbs a ladder of concern, or making monthly token charitable payments. This concern is not susceptible to a campaign. What this problem needs is regulation, legislation, policing. This concern shouldn’t have to compete with all the other concerns out there, like distressed retired donkeys, threatened butterflies, meltdown polar bears, de-forested orangutans and by-catch dolphins. Some things just shouldn’t happen. They just shouldn’t be tolerated. And they shouldn’t be lost amongst an avalanche of other concerns. This problem is so serious that it should be an automatic priority for all the authorities, co-ordinating to detect and prevent it. This concern shouldn’t have to campaign for funds. Or attention.

    Switch to BBC News. Roger Harrabin reports that “The UK’s chief scientist says the oceans face a serious and growing risk from man-made carbon emissions. [...] Sir Mark Walport warns that the acidity of the oceans has increased by about 25% since the industrial revolution, mainly thanks to manmade emissions. [...] He told BBC News: “If we carry on emitting CO2 [carbon dioxide] at the same rate, ocean acidification will create substantial risks to complex marine food webs and ecosystems.” [...] The consequences of acidification are likely to be made worse by the warming of the ocean expected with climate change, a process which is also driven by CO2.”

    Media Lens Editors reported this piece. My reaction was – who would be paying attention to this ? This is not the “dangerous climate change comes from global warming” story, this is the “other” carbon problem, the decimation of marine productivity and the whole pyramid of life, resulting from increasing levels of dissolved carbon dioxide in seawater because of higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air. The overwhelmingly major causes of this problem are irrefutably and definitely fossil fuel combustion, and its seriousness is hard to deny, even though Roger Harrabin attempts to make light of it by devoting column inches to a laboratory crab who isn’t getting with the programme.

    Ocean acidification is a concern that shouldn’t get lost in amongst other concerns. It should be paid serious levels of attention. And not just by middle class philanthropists who work for non-governmental organisations and charities. And yet, cursory analysis of the segmentation of the population who treat BBC News as a main and trusted information source may suggest that the only readers who would act on this piece are exactly these middle class charity staff, or at a push, retired middle class charity staff.

    My Media Lens comment was, “Right expert. Right message. Wrong audience. Wrong medium. The UK Government’s chief scientist. OK. Good. Ocean acidification. OK. Good. No quibbles about whether or not extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a real problem or not (as known as “climate change” or “global warming”, which is real by the way). The BBC News. Wrong medium. Wrong audience. The only people going to listen to this are those who already know about the problem but are still as powerless to act as they were yesterday. The UK Government should present this information to the oil, gas and coal companies with a polite request for them to unveil their plan of action in the face of this undeniable problem.”

    There is no reason why this story should be covered in BBC News by Roger Harrabin. What can anybody reading it do about the problem ? There is no purpose for this article. It is a pointless statement of concern, or rather, a belittling rehearsal of the concern. Unless this article, and the thousands like it, lead to the Government demanding answers on Energy Change from the fossil fuel companies, there is no point in reporting it, or in this case, disparaging it with faint humour.

    The only time that ocean acidification should appear in a media piece is to report that the problem has been presented to the architects of increased ocean carbon dioxide, and answers have been requested.

    And who are the architects of increased atmospheric and ocean carbon dioxide ? Those who mine fossil fuels. Those companies like BP and Shell, ExxonMobil, and all the coal extraction companies should act. They should offer us alternative non-fossil fuel energy. And the news should be about how these companies are taking action to offer us Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane, solar power, wind power and Zero Carbon transport fuels.

    Answers from the past will simply not do. Trying to assert that somebody needs to pay for pollution won’t prevent pollution occurring. Carbon taxes or carbon pricing won’t work – since they won’t prevent the mining of fossil fuels – and if fossil fuels are mined, of course they will be burned. Carbon combustion quotas won’t work – since economic wealth is based on burning carbon, so many forces will conspire to maintain levels of fossil fuel combustion. Carbon mining quotas won’t work, since the forces for increasing mining quotas are strong. Carbon trading won’t work, since it won’t reduce the amount of fossil fuels mined – because, obviously, if fossil fuels are mined, they will be burned.

    I am tired of reading about climate change, global warming, freshwater stress and ocean acidification in the news. It seems there is nothing I can do that I have not already done that can provide a solution to these problems. Enough with communicating the disaster. I want to read about engineering and energy companies who have switched business models to producing Zero Carbon energy. I want to hear how energy security concern is taking oil, gas and coal companies towards Renewable Everything.

  • On Not Setting The Proper Tone

    Posted on May 28th, 2014 Jo No comments

    So, I turned up for a national Climate Change campaigning and lobbying day some years ago. I had offered to steward at the event. My attire concerned one of those close to the organising team. After all, there were Members of Parliament due to attend, and Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press. “I don’t think it’s quite setting the right tone.” she commented.

    Well, I want to know what the right tone is, exactly. And I don’t think anybody else does, either. How do we make change happen ? Really ?

    I’ve just received another email missive from The Climate Coalition asking me to Tweet tomorrow about the Carbon Budget.

    “As you may remember, back in 2011 we successfully fought for the government to deliver on its climate targets by adopting the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) recommendations on the 4th Carbon Budget…”

    I mean, that’s a bit of a claim to start with. I very much doubt that anything that the Climate Coalition (or Stop Climate Chaos, as they were known in 2011) did had any bearing on the UK Government’s policy- or decision-making.

    “…That decision is currently up for review and we need to make sure the government sticks to the ambition it showed 3 years ago, starting with a Twitter love in this Thursday.”

    I beg your pardon ? How can The Climate Coalition make sure the UK Government does anything ? By Tweeting ? OK, so The Climate Coalition is an umbrella organisation of over 40 organisations, ostensibly representing over 11 million people, but it doesn’t have any real political weight, or any serious influence with The Treasury, who are normally the ones resisting the development of the green economy.

    “…We’ve heard rumours that this is currently being negotiated in government, with at least some arguing for weaker targets. We don’t know yet which way it’ll go, so David Cameron and Nick Clegg might just need a bit of support from us to make the right decision and stick to our current targets…”

    So this is what it’s all about – a show of support for the UK Government !

    So, tell me, why should I join in, exactly ? I won’t be having any kind of genuine impact. It’s just a token flag-waving exercise.

    I know I’m not setting the right tone, here. I’m challenging the proposals for action from one of the country’s largest collective groups with a clear position about climate change. But that’s because it’s a washout – there is nothing to be gained by responding to this appeal to Tweet.

    I mean, if they called for the whole 11 million people to do something actually meaningful, like withdraw their labour for one hour a day, or refuse to use household appliances for 8 hours a week, or all demand a meeting with the fossil fuel producing companies asking them what their plan is to decarbonise the energy supply, then I suppose that might be something worth trying.

    But Tweeting ? In support of a Government decision that they ought to make anyway based on the existing Climate Change Law and the science ? Why would they need me to join in with them on that ?

  • Tillerson Talks It Down

    Posted on July 14th, 2012 Jo No comments

    Rex Tillerson, Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, was recently invited to talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States of America, as part of their series on CEOs.

    His “on the record” briefing was uploaded to YouTube almost immediately as he made a number of very interesting comments.

    Reactions were mixed.

    The thing most commented upon was his handwaving away the significance of climate change – a little change here, a little change over there and you could almost see the traditional magician’s fez here – shazam – nothing to worry about.

    In amongst all the online furore about this, was discussion of his continued Membership of the Church of Oil Cornucopia – he must have mentioned the word “technology” about seventy-five times in fifteen minutes. He clearly believes, as do his shareholders and management board, that his oil company can continue to get progressively more of the black stuff out of tar sands, oil shales or oil-bearing shale sediments and ever-tighter locked-in not naturally outgassing “natural” gas out of gas shales. At least in Northern America.

    As numerous commentators with a background in Economics have claimed, well, the price of oil is rising, and that creates a market for dirtier, harder-to-reach oil. Obviously. But missing from their Law of Supply and Demand is an analysis of how oil prices are actually determined in the real world. It’s certainly not a free market – there are numerous factors that control the price of the end-product, gasoline, not least state sponsorship of industries, either through direct subsidies, or through the support of dependent industries such as car manufacture. At least in North America.

    In the background, there is ongoing shuttle diplomacy between the major western economies and the assortment of regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who still have the world’s largest pool of cleaner-ish petroleum under their feet. That, naturally, has an impact on supply and pricing : even though the strength of this bonding is not as tight-fast as it historically was, there appears to have been more of it since around 2005. Or at least, that’s when I first started monitoring it consciously.

    In addition to that, there are only a limited number of players in the oil industry. It is almost impossible to break into the sector without an obscene amount of capital, and exceedingly good buddy-type relationships with everybody else in the field – including sheikhs you formerly knew from when you attended specialty schools. So, no, the market in oil is not free in any sense. It is rigged – if you’ll excuse the pun.

    And then there’s foundational reasons why oil prices are artificial – and may not cause a boom in the “unconventional” production that Rex Tillerson is so excited about (in a rancher-down-the-farm kind of way). Oil is still fundamental to the global economy. In fact, the price of oil underpins most business, as oil is still dominant in the transportation of goods and commodities. Despite all the techno-wizardry, it is fundamentally more costly to drill for fossil fuels in shale, than from pressure wells where oil just gloops out of the ground if you stick a pipe in.

    It’s not the drilling that’s the major factor – so the technology is not the main driver of the cost. It’s the put-up, take-down costs – the costs of erecting the infrastructure for a well, or putting underground shale heating or fracturing equipment in place, and the cleaning up afterwards. Some of the technologies used to mine shales for oil use an incredible amount of water, and this all needs to be processed, unless you don’t mind desecrating large swathes of sub-tropical scenery. Or Canada.

    The price of oil production has a knock-on effect, including on the very markets that underpin oil production – so increasing oil prices have a cyclic forcing effect – upwards. It also has an impact on the prices of other essential things, such as food. One can see a parallel rise in the price of oil and the price of staple crops in the last few years – and the spiralling cost of grain wheat, rice and corn maize is not all down to climate change.

    Oil companies are in a quandary – they need to have higher oil prices to justify their unconventional oil operations – and they also need good relationships with governments, who know they cannot get re-elected if too many people blame them for rising costs of living. Plus, there’s the global security factor – several dozen countries already have economies close to bust because of the cost of oil imports. There are many reasons to keep oil prices depressed.

    Let’s ask that subtle, delicate question : why did Rex Tillerson espouse the attitudes he did when asked to go on the record ? Why belittle the effects of climate change ? The answer is partly to soothe the minds of American investors, (and MENA investors in America). If such a powerful player in the energy sector believes “we can adapt to that” about climate change, clearly behind-the-scenes he will be lobbying against excessive carbon pricing or taxation with the American federal administration.

    And why be so confident that technology can keep the oil flowing, and make up for the cracks appearing in conventional supply chains by a frenzy of shale works ? Well, logically, he’s got to encourage shareholder confidence, and also government confidence, that his industry can continue to deliver. But, let’s just surmise that before he was shunted onto the stage in June, he’d had a little pre-briefing with some government officials. They would be advising him to show high levels of satisfaction with unconventional oil production growth (in America) – after all, this would act against the rollercoaster of panic buying and panic selling in futures contracts that has hit the oil markets in recent months.

    So Rex Tillerson is pushed awkwardly to centre stage. Global production of oil ? No problem ! It’s at record highs (if we massage the data), and likely to get even better. At least in America. For a while. But hey, there’s no chance of oil production declining – it’s important to stress that. If everyone can be convinced to believe that there’s a veritable river of oil, for the forseeable future, then oil prices will stay reasonable, and we can all carry on as we are. Nothing will crash or burn. Except the climate.

    Rex Tillerson’s interview on global (American) oil production may have been used to achieve several propaganda aims – but the key one, it seems to me, was to talk down the price of oil. Of course, this will have a knock-on effect on how much unconventional oil is affordable and accessible, and maybe precipitate a real peak in oil production – just the thing he’s denying. But keeping the price of oil within a reasonable operating range is more important than Rex Tillerson’s impact on the American Presidential elections, or even Rex Tillerson’s legacy.

  • 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
    understood!!

    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
    catastrophe.

    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
    economy.

    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
    alternative.

    Peace ‘n love ‘n’ home made hummus,

    P.

    .

    “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 http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ebo/

    Read my ‘essay’ weblog, “Ecolonomics”, at:
    http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/

    Paul Mobbs, Mobbs’ Environmental Investigations
    email – mobbsey@gn.apc.org
    website – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/index.shtml

  • Clicking with Climate

    Posted on December 5th, 2011 Jo 3 comments

    Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    For more information, see here and here.

  • The European Union Question #2

    Posted on October 25th, 2011 Jo No comments

    Image Credit : Debbie Portwood

    Unbelievably, yesterday, people in the British Government sacrificed their careers rather than vote with David Cameron’s three line whip against a Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I say “unbelievably”, but I know full well why it happened. Democracy is broken in Britain, and there is every reason to point the finger of blame and accusation at the media, for their continued massacre of the issues in political debate. They should be observers and reporters; but instead they are influencers and arbiters.

    Here’s how it goes : the Daily Mail, to take just one example, raises the outrage level, and repeats arguments that have little substance. People act on the basis of what they read in the papers and see on TV, and they develop poor reasoning, and do things like sign an ePetition. The thing gets publicly debated, partly in the media of course. And then finally the democratic representatives, the Members of Parliament, have to make a choice to stand with the stirred-up outrage or instead, vote with sanity.

    A vote on Europe would be a disaster. The wording would be over-simplistic and hide the true agenda. It would be too easy to sway people to vote for the worst option.

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  • Camp Frack : Who’s afraid of hydraulic fracturing ?

    Posted on September 17th, 2011 Jo 1 comment

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

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

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

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

  • It’s just La Nina #1

    Posted on January 13th, 2011 Jo No comments

  • Stop Climate Chaos : 2011 Campaign Idea

    Posted on October 26th, 2010 Jo No comments

    The Stop Climate Chaos coalition meet tomorrow to present and hear suggestions on Climate Change campaigning in 2011.

    How are we going to make it zoom, people ?

    From some of my project work with faith groups, I had this suggestion to make :-


    Alliance with Ethical Investment groups

    “Put your money where your mouth is”

    Following on from the Church of England selling its shares in Vedanta :-

    http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=9871

    it was hoped that the Church of England investment portfolio would continue to be “cleaned up”. But there appears to be a long way to travel.

    The Anglican Communion worldwide includes environmental protection as its “Fifth Mark of Mission”, and the Church of England is part of the international interfaith “seven year plans” :-

    http://www.anglican.ca/search/faq/037.htm
    http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr10009.html

    but the Church Commissioners report in the last year has confirmed that the Church of England still holds shares in companies such as BP, responsible for ecological devastation of the Gulf of Mexico :-

    http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12234

    Groups such as the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility and National Ethical Investment Week are all active in encouraging communities to put their money where their mouth is – and the faith communities have a very large amount to play with :-

    http://www.arcworld.org/about_ARC.htm
    http://www.eccr.org.uk/AboutUs
    http://www.neiw.org/about

    With the launch of the Green Investment Bank – even though severely under-capitalised – there is a chance to tie up the questions to the answers.

    If every consumer choice were a green choice, there would be no environmental problem. The only way to reach that point is for every contract, every stock and share, every procurement order, every transport vehicle, every energy source and every material resource to be green.

    The choices that companies make in the business they conduct is based on the premise that people want what they sell so much they are prepared to invest directly in them as well as buy their products.

    There are several levers for change here. Investment, such as pension funds, if moved in bulk, can have a de-securitisation effect on unsustainable business models. Not so much a “boycott” as a “landslide” of change.

    The faith communities have already proved that they can change international commerce with the Fair Trade movement. Now it’s time for the Green Investment movement.


  • The Year of Unceasing Rain (4)

    Posted on October 21st, 2010 Jo No comments

    Irony alert ? “Typhoons ? They happen all the time. It’s just a little local storm. Nothing to worry about. Happens every season or so. The locals know how to read the warning signs, and head to high ground or build their huts on stilts. Power lines down ? Oh, they’ll be strung back up in no time. And the rice paddies will benefit from all that extra rain.”

    Watch out China – here comes Megi :-

  • BBC Hedges

    Posted on August 10th, 2010 Jo No comments

    [ YouTube Credit : The link to the video above comes thanks to the endeavours of that most fair and balanced individual James "no net global warming since 1998" Delingpole. "No net global warming since 1998" ? James ! You're quoting Pat Michaels, but did he perhaps make that up ? Or was it something that Christopher Monckton might have made up ? ]

    The BBC puts the blame on Climate Change – almost – in a report on the Russian heatwave-wildfire disaster.

    But they just can’t bring themselves to admit it as an organisation – and put the claims into the mouths of others – using quotation marks in the headline (‘partly to blame’) and ascribing the opinion to “researchers”, the “UK Met Office” and “experts” :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10919460

    “10 August 2010 : Climate change ‘partly to blame’ for sweltering Moscow : By Katia Moskvitch : Science reporter, BBC News : Global climate change is partly to blame for the abnormally hot and dry weather in Moscow, cloaked in a haze of smoke from wildfires, say researchers. The UK Met Office said there are likely to be more extreme high temperatures in the future. Experts from the environmental group WWF Russia have also linked climate change and hot weather to raging wildfires around the Russian capital. Meteorologists say severe conditions may linger for several more days…”

    Well, I’ve got a bit of a question to pose – it might not be possible to ascribe the current weather conditions in Russia (and Pakistan and China and and and…) to Climate Change, statistically. I mean no one weather event can be said to have been caused 100% by Climate Change. But would these extreme weather events have happened without Climate Change ?

    That is by far the most important question to ask, and Michael Tobis does just that :-

    http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2010/08/moscow-doesnt-believe-in-this.html

    “…Are the current events in Russia “because of” “global warming”? To put the question in slightly more formal terms, are we now looking at something that is no longer a “loading the dice” situation but is a “this would, practically certainly, not have happened without human interference” situation? Can we phrase it more formally? “Is the average time between persistent anomalies on this scale anywhere on earth in the undisturbed holocene climate much greater than a human lifetime?” In other words, is this so weird we would NEVER expect to see it at all?…”

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