Zero Careers In Plainspeaking

There are many ways to make a living, but there appear to be zero careers in plainspeaking.

I mean, who could I justify working with, or for ? And would any of them be prepared to accept me speaking my mind ?

Much of what I’ve been saying over the last ten years has been along the lines of “that will never work”, but people generally don’t get consulted or hired for picking holes in an organisation’s pet projects or business models.

Could I imagine myself taking on a role in the British Government ? Short answer : no.

The slightly longer answer : The British Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) ? No, they’re still hooked on the failed technology of nuclear power, the stupendously expensive and out-of-reach Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), and the mythical beast of shale gas. OK, so they have a regular “coffee club” about Green Hydrogen (whatever that turns out to be according to their collective ruminations), and they’ve commissioned reports on synthetic methane, but I just couldn’t imagine they’re ever going to work up a serious plan on Renewable Gas. The British Government Department for Transport ? No, they still haven’t adopted a clear vision of the transition of the transport sector to low carbon energy. They’re still chipping away at things instead of coming up with a strategy.

Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a British oil and gas multinational ? Short and very terse and emphatic answer : no.

The extended answer : The oil and gas companies have had generous support and understanding from the world’s governments, and are respected and acclaimed. Yet they are in denial about “unburnable carbon” assets, and have dismissed the need for Energy Change that is the outcome of Peak Oil (whether on the supply or the demand side). Sneakily, they have also played both sides on Climate Change. Several major oil and gas companies have funded or in other ways supported Climate Change science denial. Additionally, the policy recommendations coming from the oil and gas companies are what I call a “delayer’s game”. For example, BP continues to recommend the adoption of a strong price on carbon, yet they know this would be politically unpalatable and take decades (if ever) to bring into effect. Shell continues to argue for extensive public subsidy support for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), knowing this would involve such huge sums of money, so it’s never going to happen, at least not for several decades. How on Earth could I work on any project with these corporations unless they adopt, from the centre, a genuine plan for transition out of fossil fuels ? I’m willing to accept that transition necessitates the continued use of Natural Gas and some petroleum for some decades, but BP and Royal Dutch Shell do need to have an actual plan for a transition to Renewable Gas and renewable power, otherwise I would be compromising everything I know by working with them.

Could I imagine myself taking on a role with a large engineering firm, such as Siemens, GE, or Alstom, taking part in a project on manufactured low carbon gas ? I suppose so. I mean, I’ve done an IT project with Siemens before. However, they would need to demonstrate that they are driving for a Renewable Gas transition before I could join a gas project with them. They might not want to be so bold and up-front about it, because they could risk the wrath of the oil and gas companies, whose business model would be destroyed by engineered gas and fuel solutions.

Could I imagine myself building fuel cells, or designing methanation catalysts, or improving hydrogen production, biocoke/biocoal manufacture or carbon dioxide capture from the oceans… with a university project ? Yes, but the research would need to be funded by companies (because all applied academic research is funded by companies) with a clear picture on Energy Change and their own published strategy on transition out of fossil fuels.

Could I imagine myself working on rolling out gas cars, buses and trucks ? Yes. The transition of the transport sector is the most difficult problem in Energy Change. However, apart from projects that are jumping straight to new vehicles running entirely on Hydrogen or Natural Gas, the good options for transition involve converting existing diesel engine vehicles to running mostly on Natural Gas, such as “dual fuel”, still needing roughly 20% of liquid diesel fuel for ignition purposes. So I would need to be involved with a project that aims to supply biodiesel, and have a plan to transition from Natural Gas to Renewable Gas.

Could I imagine myself working with a team that has extensive computing capabilities to model carbon dioxide recycling in power generation plant ? Yes.

Could I imagine myself modelling the use of hydrogen in petroleum refinery, and making technological recommendations for the oil and gas industry to manufacture Renewable Hydrogen ? Possibly. But I would need to be clear that I’m doing it to enable Energy Change, and not to prop up the fossil fuel paradigm – a game that is actually already bust and needs helping towards transition.

Could I imagine myself continuing to research the growth in Renewable Gas – both Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methane – in various countries and sectors ? Possibly. It’s my kind of fun, talking to engineers.

But whatever future work I consider myself doing, repeatedly I come up against this problem – whoever asked me to work with them would need to be aware that I do not tolerate non-solutions. I will continue to say what doesn’t work, and what cannot work.

If people want to pay me to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t working, and won’t work, then fine, I’ll take the role.

I’d much rather stay positive, though, and forge a role where I can promote the things that do work, can work and will work.

The project that I’m suitable for doesn’t exist yet, I feel. I’m probably going to continue in one way or another in research, and after that, since I cannot see a role that I could fit easily or ethically, I can see I’m going to have to write my own job description.

Battle of the Lords

I don’t quite know what powers Lord Deben, John Gummer, but he looks remarkably wired on it. At this week’s PRASEG Annual Conference, he positively glowed with fervour and gumption. He regaled us with tales of debate in the House of Lords, the UK’s parliamentary “senior” chamber. He is a known climate change science adherent, and in speaking to PRASEG, he was preaching to the choir, but boy, did he give a bone-rattling homily !

As Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, he is fighting the good fight for carbon targets to be established in all areas of legislation, especially the in-progress Energy Bill. He makes the case that emissions restraint and constraint is now an international business value, and of importance to infrastructure investment :-

“The trouble with energy efficiency is that it’s not “boys’ toys” – there’s no “sex” in it. It is many small things put together to make a big thing. We won’t get to a point of decarbonisation unless we [continuously] make [the case for] [continuous] investment. […] GLOBE [of which I am a member] in a report – 33 major countries – doing so much. […] Look at what China is doing. Now a competitive world. If we want people to come here and invest, we need to have a carbon intensity target in 2030 [which will impact] [manufacturing] and the supply chain. [With the current strategy, the carbon targets are] put down in 2020 and picked up again in 2050. Too long a gap for business. They don’t know what happens in between. This is not all about climate change. It is about UK plc.”

To supplement this diet of upbeat encouragement, he added a good dose of scorn for fellow Lords of the House, the Lords Lawson (Nigel Lawson) and Lord Ridley (Matt Ridley) who, he seemed to be suggesting, clearly have not mastered the science of climate change, and who, I believe he imputed, have lost their marbles :-

“Apart from one or two necessary sideswipes, I agree with the previous speaker. There is no need for disagreement except for those who dismiss climate change. [I call them “dismissers” as we should not] dignify their position by calling them “sceptics”. We are the sceptics. We come to a conclusion based on science and we revisit it every time new science comes our way. They rifle through every [paper] to find every little bit that suppports their argument. I’ve listened to the interventions [in the House of Lords reading of and debate on the Energy Bill] of that group. Their line is the Earth is not [really] warming, so, it’s too expensive to do anything. This conflicts with today’s World Meteorological Organization measurements – that the last decade has been the warmest ever. I bet you that none of them [Lords] will stand up [in the House of Lords] and say “Sorry. We got it wrong.” They pick one set of statistics and ignore the rest. It is a concentrated effort to undermine by creating doubt. Our job is constantly to make it clear they we don’t need to argue the case – the very best science makes it certain [but never absolute]. You would be very foolish to ignore the consensus of view. […] In a serious grown-up world, we accept the best advice – always keeping an eye out for new information. Otherwise, [you would] make decisions on worst information – no sane person does that.”

He encouraged us to encourage the dissenters on climate change science to view the green economy as an insurance policy :-

“Is there a householder here who does not insure their houses against fire ? You have a 98% change of not having a fire. Yet you spend on average £140 a year on insurance. Because of the size of the disaster – the enormity of the [potential] loss. Basic life-supporting insurance. I’m asking for half of that. If only Lord Lawson would listen to the facts instead of that Doctor of Sports Science, Benny Peiser. Or Matt Ridley – an expert in the sexual habits of pheasants. If I want to know about pheasants, I will first ask Lord Ridley. Can he understand why I go to a climatologist first ? [To accept his view of the] risks effects of climate change means relying on the infallibility of Lord Lawson […]”

He spoke of cross-party unity over the signing into law of the Climate Change Act, and the strength of purpose within Parliament to do the right thing on carbon. He admitted that there were elements of the media and establishment who were belligerently or obfuscatingly opposing the right thing to do :-

“[We] can only win if the world outside has certainty about institutional government. This is a battle we have taken on and won’t stop till we win it. [The Lord Lawson and Lord Ridley and their position is] contrary to science, contrary to sense and contrary to the principle of insurance. They will not be listened to, not now, until UK has reduced level of carbon emissions, and we have [promised] our grandchildren they they are safe from climate change.”

Phew ! That was a war cry, if ever there was one ! We are clearly in the Salvation Army ! I noted the attendance list, that showed several Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press should have been present, and hope to read good reports, but know that in some parts of the Gutter, anti-science faecal detritus still swirls. We in One Birdcage Walk were the assembly of believers, but the general public conversation on carbon is poisoned with sulphurous intent.

Boris’ Entirely Accurate Assessment

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.

Enron, Fudging and the Magic Flute

Allegedly, the United Kingdom is about to break free from the Dark Ages of subsidies, and enter the glorious light of a free and light-touch regulated, competitive electricity market.

The Electricity Market Reform is being sold to us as the way to create a level playing field between low carbon electricity generation technologies, whether they be established or new, baseload or variable, costly-up-front or cheap-and-quick-to-grid.


Personally, I do not accept the mythology of the Free Market. I do not accept that a fully competitive, privatised energy sector can be delivered, regardless of the mechanisms proposed. The Electricity Market Reform is less Englightenment and more Obscurantism, in my view – the call of the Magic Flute is going to fall on deaf ears.

Who will play the pipe ? Who will call the tune ? Who will be the Counterparty ?
At the National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios day conference-seminar on Thursday 27th September 2012, I listened carefully to several spokesmen from the companies, quangos and agencies deny that they would have anything to do with determining, underwriting or administering deals for the EMR’s proposed “Contracts for Difference” (CfD) – essentially setting a guaranteed lowest price for selling electricity to the grid, regardless of market movement. Mark Ripley of the EMR team at National Grid was very clear “National Grid will not be the contractual counterparty for the CfD”. I asked Jonathan Brearley of the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at a break who would be independent enough to set the “strike price” – the minimum price for which electricity generators could expect to sell electricity ? He suggested that perhaps the UK Government would set up an independent governing body – gesturing at arm’s length. I asked him rhetorically who could reasonably be expected to be seconded to this new quango – how could they be truly independent…I did not get an opportunity to ask how the CfD revenues and payouts would be administered. I didn’t know at that time about the rumours that Ofgem – the current electricity generation quango regulator – could be closed down under a new Labour Government.

The shadow cast by the nuclear industry
During the presentation by Jonathan Brearley of DECC, he indicated that back room discussions are going on between large potential electricity generation investors and the UK Government. Even before the ink has hit the paper on the EMR draft, it seems the UK Government is inviting large investors to come and talk to them about deals for guaranteed generation sales prices. As far as my notes indicate, he said “The first nuclear project has already approached us for a contract.” I asked him directly in the break if this kind of pre-legislation arrangement was going to allow the nuclear industry to cream off subsidies. He denied that Contracts for Difference would be allocated for current nuclear power plants. He did not admit that there are strong indications that the so-called Capacity Mechanism of the EMR could be applied, propping up the profits of the nuclear power plants already running, and encouraging them to apply for extension licences for their cracked reactors to keep running after they should have been shut down for safety reasons.

After the National Grid meeting, I went to an EcoConnect meeting, where Eric Machiels of Infinis said, in reference to the strong influence of EdF (Electricite de France) in proposing new nuclear reactors in the UK, “The EMR was set up to meet two requirements. [First] to justify incredibly high investments. [And] nuclear – if you need to invest £10 billion or more, 10 years away, you need regulatory certainty…[But you have to know, decisions on nuclear development] will rely on decisions made in the Elysee Palace and not in Number 10.”

Well, it seems clear that the steer is still towards the UK taxpayers and billpayers stumping up to support the ailing French atomic power fleet.

A bit of a big fudge
There is no reason to believe that the Curse of Enron will not haunt the UK energy trading halls if the EMR goes ahead with its various microeconomic policies. Everybody will play for profits, and the strength of over-competitive behaviour between the current market actors will not encourage or permit new market entrants.

At the EcoConnect meeting, Diane Dowdell of Tradelink Solutions warned of the risks of going back to the kind of electricity markets of former decades, “Unless you worked under the Pool, you wouldn’t know how it works. It is a derivative…DECC need to look at Ireland – their Pool system has been utterly destroyed. Please don’t follow in the footsteps of Ireland – get the balancing right.”

The big issue is the macroeconomic need to incentivise investment in new electricity generation plant and infrastructure – something that will not be achieved by flipping microeconomic market trading conditions to benefit low carbon generators. How can new low carbon generators come onto the grid ? By placing focus on investment decisions. New generation has to clear a higher hurdle than how much it can sell green power for on the half-hourly market. Funds and financing are not going to be directed to choose low carbon investment just because marginal costs (the Carbon Floor Price and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) are applied to high carbon players already in the market. The guarantees of profits into the future from the institution of Contracts for Difference (Feed in Tariff) and the Capacity Mechanism will maybe trigger a slice of investment in new nuclear power, but it won’t ensure that new gas-fired power plants are built with Carbon Capture and Storage.

At the EcoConnect meeting later on, another DECC man reported back on the UK Government’s call for evidence on the EMR. DECC’s Matt Coyne said that amongst the conclusions from the consultation with industry there were concerns about the conditions for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) under the EMR. (Securing a PPA is the guarantee that investors need to be able to commit to backing new electricity generation capacity). He said that developers are finding it hard to secure finance for new generation investment and that it was a widely-held view that the EMR would not improve that, although he said that “it is our view that the Contracts for Difference will improve things.” Other people at the meeting were not so sure. Diane Dowdell said, “I desperately hope the EMR works. It’s got to work. [Conditions] seem to be edging out the small- and mid-sized players.” Eric Machiels said, “The Big Six vertically integrated energy suppliers are in the best position to retain their position.”

In my notes, I scribbled that Michael Ware, a dealmaking matchmaker for renewable energy projects, offered the view that “Government does resemble toddlers driving a steam train – there are lots of buttons to push…[The UK is] just a rainy little island at the edge of Europe. Capital is truly international. It all feels much easier to do business elsewhere. [The EMR looks] almost designed to turn off investors.”

There were several calls to retain the Renewables Obligation – to oblige energy suppliers to keep signing up new clean power from smaller players if they couldn’t make it themselves.

What is my agenda ?


Tamino’s Arctic Sea Ice Poll


For some time I have not felt a keen sense of “mission” – a direction for my climate change and energy activities. However, I am beginning to formulate a plan – or rather – I have one important item on my agenda. I am aware that perception can be fatal – and that people in many “camps” are going to dismiss me because of this.

Suddenly I don’t fit into anybody’s pigeonhole – so the needle on the dial will probably swing over to “dismiss”. However, I think it’s necessary to pursue this. I think I have to try.

I am prepared to hold several conflicting ideas in the balance at one time, and let the data add mass to one version of the truth or another.

I’m prepared to accept the possibility of low climate change sensitivity (the reaction of the Earth biosystem to global warming) – apart from the fact that the evidence is accumulating – pointing heavily towards rapid instabilities emerging on short timescales. I don’t think I ever really left behind the hope – and I’m crossing my fingers here – that some massive negative carbon feedback will arise, heroically, and stem the full vigour of climate chaos. But as time slips by, and the Arctic cryosphere continues to de-materialise before our very eyes, that hope is worn down to the barest of threads.

And on energy security, I am prepared to accept the reasoning behind the IEA, BP, Shell and other projections of increasing overall energy demand between now and 2035, and the percentage of fossil fuel use that will inevitably require – apart from the fact that some evidence points towards increasing uncertainties in energy provision – if we are relying on more complex and inaccessible resources, within the framework of an increasingly patchy global economy.

If access to energy becomes threatened for more people globally, and also if climate change becomes highly aggressive in terms of freshwater stress, then I doubt that human population growth can carry on the way it has been – and in addition the global economy may never recover – which means that overall energy demand will not grow in the way that oil and gas companies would like their shareholders to accept.

My impression is that energy producing companies and countries are not openly admitting the risks. If energy supply chaos sets in, then the political and governance ramifications will be enormous, especially since the energy industry is so embedded in administrations. It is time, in my view, that projections of world energy use to 2035 included error bars based on economic failure due to energy chaos.

What do I need to do – given these pragmatic positions ? I need to include realists in the crisis talks – pragmatic, flexible thinkers from the energy industry. Just as we are not going to solve climate change without addressing energy provision, we are not going to solve energy insecurity without addressing climate change impacts on energy infrastructure. And so I need to find the energy industry people, meet them and invite them to the discussions on the risks of chaos. I need people to take in the data. I need people to understand the problems with slipping back into “thinking as usual”.

As to the setting – whether I should be an employee or an independent advisor/adviser, consultant or a researcher, I don’t have any idea what would be best. Collaborators would be useful – as I am but one person with a track record of being rather awkward – despite trying to engage my best behaviour. But then, nobody’s perfect. In a sense it doesn’t matter who does the job, but we have to break the public relations-guided psychology of denial. People are not generally stupid, and many are snapping out of their drip-fed propaganda delusions. I wonder exactly how many other imperfect people are out there who are coming to the same conclusions ? And what will be the game changer ?

This Is My Thesis

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

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

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

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

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

So will GWPF pride come before a fall?

REALLY INCONVENIENT AND REALLY TRUE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 POLICY RESPONSES

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

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

2 CLIMATIC IMPACTS

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

Turnbull makes here two accusations.

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

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

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

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

3 THE SCIENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is consistent in being always wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

There does also remain one as-yet unasked question.

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

Engagement Can Be Tiring

Image Credit : Skeptical Science

This is a record of a short email exchange.

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Engagement Can Be Tiring

Bishop Hill : Wrong Conclusions



Today, another lesson in why I refuse to take climate change “sceptic” web logs seriously.

Willis Eschenbach has written a post for Anthony Watts on the “Watts Up With That” weblog, which has been dutifully echoed over at Andrew Montford’s “Bishop Hill” weblog.

The self-styled climate change “sceptics” are claiming that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last five millenia has precipitated a decline in global temperatures.

Yet again, they don’t appear to have seen the broad picture.

Continue reading Bishop Hill : Wrong Conclusions

GWPF & The Hockey Stick Curve

Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge.
The previous post in this series examined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) Briefing Paper No3 “The Truth About Greenhouse Gases“. Despite its title, Briefing Paper No3 said very little about such gases. Yet one subject (not directly to do with greenhouse gases) was discussed at some length within the paper. As it is also discussed in other GWPF papers, the subject will be examined in this fourth post of the series.

AN IMPOSSIBLE HOCKEY STICK AVERSION

In Briefing Paper No3, perhaps the strongest accusation made by the author Professor William Happer concerns the IPCC who allegedly “rewrote the climate history” by deleting the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age (MWP & LIA) from the climate record.

Happer tells us that both MWP & LIA were “clearly shown in the 1990first IPCC report. Then eleven years later, according to Happer, they were both simply expunged from the climate record for no valid reason.

Indeed, within the 2001 third IPCC report, the MWP & LIA are entirely absent from the graph that according to Happer is “not supported by observational data”. This is the dreaded “Hockey Stick” curve.

Can the IPCC really be responsible for such skullduggery ?

Continue reading GWPF & The Hockey Stick Curve

The Truth Is Relative

Image Credit : BBC

Many ordinary people, when asked about global warming and climate change, offer views they’ve read or heard somewhere, often using the word “could”, because that word appears a huge lot in public communications and media, especially television. “The world could warm by as much as four degrees by the end of the Century.” “Rain-fed agriculture in southern Europe could be gone by 2050”. “Thames Water could end up having to buy water from Scotland”. That kind of thing.
However, when asked about their own personal views, people often show reluctance to commit. And so it appears that the one thing they really believe is that truth about global warming and climate change is relative.

So, for many people, the truth is relative. And why should that be ? Maybe people don’t want to be known to have an actual opinion because they fear that if they show commitment to one view or other, they might cause an argument because other people around them think differently. After all, it’s hard to know which people are climate change “accepters”, and which people are strongly against the facts emerging from the science of atmospheric physics.

So people, when surveyed, will not state their own views on what they think is a hot button topic. They will cite public scientists, and other well-known public figures – regardless of their actual knowledge. By deferring to the opinions of others, people delegate the matter of deciding where they themselves stand. People often admit that they themselves don’t know the truth, but somebody else, surely, does.

Continue reading The Truth Is Relative

Debunking the GWPF Briefing Paper No2 – The Sahel Is Greening


Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

What Does GWPF Really Stand For ?

Image Credit : Global Warming Policy Foundation

This article was written by M. A. Rodger and was originally posted at DeSmogBlog and is syndicated by an informal agreement and with the express permission of both the author and DeSmogBlog, without payment or charge. The author’s original artwork here was not initially included over at DeSmogBlog.
The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is a UK-based climate-sceptic think-tank founded in November 2009 by Lord Lawson. Within two years of its launch, a survey of scepticism in the global media by Oxford University’s RISJ had added a final chapter showing the GWPF had gained success in “inserting itself into the (UK) national discourse” and that its founder and its director had become “the two most quoted sceptics by far” within the UK national press.

The GWPF believes it has made a difference, saying of itself “The key to the success of the GWPF is the trust and credibility that we have earned in the eyes of a growing number of policy makers, journalists and the interested public.” Yet the GWPF has also been criticised for being secretive, misinformed, wrong and perverse.

Continue reading What Does GWPF Really Stand For ?

Wind Powers #1 : Civitas Fictitious ?

[ An extract from the online Christian Ecology Link discussion forum : 11th January 2012 ]

The Civitas report on wind farms.

A couple of days ago, Civitas published a report entitled, “Electricity costs: the folly of wind-power” : http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prleaelectricityprices.htm [ Download report PDF ]

This report was produced by the Civitas economist, Ruth Lea. The report attracted a fair bit of publicity and even more antagonism from those within the renewables industry. Sadly, as usual the media have done rather less research than they should have; in particular they failed to check the background of the authorities quoted, though the Guardian did point to Lea’s views on climate change.

The following YouTube link leads to Ruth Lea denying the significance of anthropogenic climate change and the ‘flaws’ in Britain’s expensive climate change legislation. She uses all the same sad old errors and, in so doing, limits her credibility as an effective researcher : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvmgUYGgqwU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcFfxUIRbyo

Her comments seem to be straight out of the Chicago School mythology that economics overrides nature – the view of many scientifically illiterates.

But it gets better, she quotes, as an authority, Dr Kees le Pair, but fails to mention that he is a member of the ‘Committee of Recommendation’ of the Fusion Energy Foundation. The development of nuclear fusion, if it happens, will require very significant investment, investment that could, perhaps, otherwise be made in wind farms and other renewables so there is an important conflict of interest that has been wholly ignored : http://www.fusionenergyfoundation.org/about-us

This matters to all of us because it shows the dangerous level of uncritical evaluation that is made of so called scientific reports and information sources. I still remember the days past when research involved trips to libraries and hours of reading and, unless, the library had an academic connection, new information would not have been easily available.

Perhaps it was the more difficult nature of research that made the media, and much of its audience, that much more careful. The advent of the Internet has provided for rapid transmission of information, straight to your computer or even your smartphone, but apparently at the cost of critical evaluation. So much information is available that even report writers seem to fail to check the background of their sources or the veracity of the information given by that source. Yet, that same Internet provides the means of checking and it’s far less tedious than back in the days of library visits.

Careful use of a search engine can throw up evidence of partiality and YouTube can often confirm background beliefs that have overridden scientific evidence if not common sense. It’s not just
in reports such as this one from Civitas but also within so many anti this, that and the other environmental groups that plague the Internet.

Look carefully at Occupy, for example, and dig deeply enough, you will find some truly amazing YouTube material on the way in which the City of London is a part of worldwide Zionism that is somehow linked with the Vatican and Knights Templar ! Did you know that the Bank of England is owned by the Rothschilds ? The Internet, as well as giving freer voice to information also gives voice to conspiracy theorists and to the murk of prejudice. Just as it is both wrong and dangerous to spread unfounded rumours so it is to spread disinformation, so please use your search engine, take a little time and then critically assess whether this information that you have been given is likely to be both accurate and honest.

RT

Alchemic for the people

I was less than a metre above current sea level, rooting about in the holy bookshelves of my Evangelical host, searching for a suitable title.

I pulled out “Who Made God ?” from underneath a pile of books on their sides, letting the column slump downwards, alerting my companions to the fact that I had definitively made my choice for the evening’s reading.

We were treated to gentle Christmassy music for an hour or so as we all gave up talking to read by candlelight and compact fluorescent.

I didn’t read fast, as at first I didn’t have my newly-necessary reading glasses, and when I was encouraged to fetch them, the light was too dim to make reading easy. Those fashionable uplighters.

I read into the second part, and I had already formed in my mind several disagreements with the author, Professor Edgar Andrews, despite him having taken several good lines of reasoning and made some humourous points which I had duly responded to with a slight audible giggle.

I instinctively didn’t like his pitch about the impossibility of organic chemistry and I froze a little : personally I see no need for God’s personal, literal, physical intervention to make the ladders and spirals of genes – the DNA and RNA forming from the appropriate nucleotide bases – A, T, G, C.

And then the book’s author blew away his credibility, for me, at least, by getting bogged down in the absolutes of Physics, and ignoring Chemistry. He quoted the Laws of Thermodynamics, and claimed Entropy as proof that God doesn’t play dice because he’s in the garage playing mechanic. The direction of the universe, the arrow of time, plays towards randomness, the author of the book proclaimed. Order cannot come from inorganic matter – Life is the organising force.

At this, I took several forms of dispute, and immediately found in my mind the perfect counter-example – the formation of crystals from saturated solution – the building of the stalgamite and stalagtite from the sedimentary filtering of rainwater. Another example, I think, is chiral forms of molecular compounds – some chemicals behave in different ways if formed lefthandedly or righthandedly. The different forms behave predictably and consistently and this is an ordered behaviour that I believe – without the necessary university instruction in Chemistry – is an imposed denial of chaos.

In fact, the whole of Chemistry, its world of wonder in alchemy, I think points to a kind of natural negation of the Laws of Physics. There is the Micro World, where Newton, and more introspectively, Einstein, are correct in their theoretical pragmas. But in the Macro World, there is Chemistry, and there are precursor compounds to organic essentials. Life forms itself from dead stone. For a Physicist this is “just not cricket”, it is a whole new universe.

Why can Aluminium be used for containers in microwave ovens, but steel cannot ? And why is Aluminium so light ? Why does water expand when it freezes ? Here the Physicists can help out. But they cannot, when it comes to explaining, or even accurately predicting, all the chemical properties of alloys and compounds.

I have been pondering, in a crude, uneducated way, about industrial chemistry for the last couple of months. How large volume reactions are encouraged, catalysed. How fluids work. How gases breathe. My conclusion is that most chemical engineering is a bit brutish, like the workings of the internal combustion engine. Things are a tad forced. It is probably not possible for chemical engineers to replicate photosynthesis entirely – it’s too dainty for them. But that is the kind of chemistry we need to overcome our climate and energy problems.

We may not be able to match the leaves on the trees, but we can do gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics, and it is gas chemistry and electricity and semiconductor physics that will save the planet. Electricity to replace much fuel. Semiconductor physics to bypass photosynthesis. And Renewable Gas chemistry – engineering the chemical building blocks of the future and providing backup to the other green energies.

Clicking with Climate

Image Credit : University of California at Berkeley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, see here and here.

Climategate 2011 : It’s like déjà vu, all over again

If I had funding of the order of £494,625.00, I wouldn’t waste most of it on legal costs, I would spend it on a decent communications campaign – something fresh and not smelling of two year old turkey sandwiches.

Climategate 2011 ? It all smells like déjà vu, all over again. It’s so fresh, it’s practically putrid. Who’s going to take this seriously ?

If I were to have a word with the media outreach team of the organisation behind Climategate, I’d recommend they try climbing up the strategy ladder a bit. As Michael E. Mann says, this latest “release” of electronic mail, that is actually several years out of date, is “pathetic“.

Electronic mail is informal – it does not constitute official publication of facts or figures. It is not formal research; it is “free speech” dialogue, protected under numerous laws in many jurisdictions. For the climate change sceptics to base their arguments against climate change science on the basis of climate change scientists’ e-mail is ridiculous. No, it’s worse than ridiculous, it’s laugh-out-loud weak. Anyone who has been drawn into the Climategate narrative is not thinking very carefully, or they would realise how tendentious and flimsy it is.

Look guys, we’ve had the inquiries, the reports, the investigations, the debates. You lost. Get over it. The climate change scientists have done nothing wrong. Start reading the actual science instead of the trumped-up nothing-there scandal.

Global Warming is a fact. It’s caused by excessive human greenhouse gas emissions. Climate Change is real, it’s happening now, and it’s causing damages around the world. It’s going to get worse – much worse – if we don’t have an integrated policy response.

All the recommendations of the economists have failed. All the international negotiations have so far failed. Many of the promises of the technologists have failed.

My dear climate change sceptics and skeptics, we need to pull together to resolve this. All your carping, speculation and stirring the pot isn’t helping. Can you please find some arguments that have a foundation in reality; proposals that can contribute something positive – or just get out of the road – you’re snarling up the traffic of genuine progress.

Another Meeting I Will Not Be Attending

What appears to be a serious event is due to take place at the Energy Institute in London on 6th December 2011, “Peak Oil – assessing the economic impact on global oil supply“.

Dr Roger Bentley, author of a seminal 2002 paper on the subject, research that spawned hundreds of related learned articles, will be speaking.

But the event organisers have also invited one Dr Matt Ridley, the self-styled “rational optimist”, and member of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and this, I’m afraid, prevents me from attending.


Ridley projects a view that many probably find comforting – as his headline in The Times of 1st October 2011 summarises – “Cheer up. The world’s not going to the dogs”.

He has been captured speaking at a TEDx event pouring scorn on “environmental” scare stories of the past, but not bothering to delve or dig into how mankind has actually gone out of its way to act on past crises and prevent catastrophes.

And now he’s thrown in his lot with the shale gas miracle men, writing a report with a foreword by Freeman Dyson, one of the world’s most balanced individuals.

How much uncorroborated optimism can one man contain ?

Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

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

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

Continue reading Everyone’s Entitled to their Opinion

The Problem of Powerlessness #2

On Wednesday, I received a telephone call from an Information Technology recruitment consultancy. They wanted to know if I would be prepared to provide computer systems programming services for NATO.

Detecting that I was speaking with a native French-speaker, I slipped into my rather unpracticed second language to explain that I could not countenance working with the militaries, because I disagree with their strategy of repeated aggression.

I explained I was critical of the possibility that the air strikes in Libya were being conducted in order to establish an occupation of North Africa by Western forces, to protect oil and gas interests in the region. The recruitment agent agreed with me that the Americans were the driving force behind NATO, and that they were being too warlike.

Whoops, there goes another great opportunity to make a huge pile of cash, contracting for warmongers ! Sometimes you just have to kiss a career goodbye. IT consultancy has many ethical pitfalls. Time to reinvent myself.

I’ve been “back to school” for the second university degree, and now I’m supposed to submit myself to the “third degree” – go out and get me a job. The paucity of available positions due to the poor economic climate notwithstanding, the possibility of ending up in an unsuitable role fills me with dread. One of these days I might try to write about my experiences of having to endure several kinds of abuse whilst engaged in paid employment : suffice it to say, workplace inhumanity can be unbearable, some people don’t know what ethical behaviour means, and Human Resources departments always take sides, especially with vindictive, manipulative, micro-managers. I know what it’s like to be powerless.

Continue reading The Problem of Powerlessness #2

We Need To Talk About Delingpole

James Delingpole clearly hasn’t heard of Global Dimming – a phenomenon successfully attributed to airborne particles – usually called “aerosols” in the scientific literature. It was featured in a Horizon programme, I think, which aired on the television several years ago now, in 2007, if I recall correctly, and it’s since been cached in YouTube, and unsurprisingly even has its own Wikipedia page, where I think James could start a proper education :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLfBXRPoHRc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e_XBwPHqz8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueaib127Ebk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayd5R2NkVcA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA74df19bWs

At the present, Delingpole seems to think that it’s somehow news that Chinese economic development is connected to increased dirt in the sky, and that this has a temporary dampening effect on Global Warming until the microscopic gritty bits fall out of the air into some unlucky kiddie’s lungs.

Continue reading We Need To Talk About Delingpole

George Monbiot : New Clear

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

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

Continue reading George Monbiot : New Clear

Mark Lynas : Oxford Ragwort

Image Credit : Mark Holderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

BBC 4 TV
Saturday 25 June 2011

“The Wonder of Weeds”

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

45 minutes 20 seconds

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

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

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

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

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

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

47 minutes 40 seconds

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

It could save lives by creating a super wheat.

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

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

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

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

Dr Alison Smith is head of Metabolic Biology here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve McIntyre : Plan Beak

[ UPDATE : SKEPTICALSCIENCE HAVE DEBUNKED STEVE McINTYRE. ]

Steve McIntyre, probably the only person on the planet who might grumble about the cost of Barack Obama’s suit rather than his all-American wars, has suddenly become an expert energy engineer, it seems.

This month, he’s taking aim at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, regarding their special report on Renewable Energy, questioning the contributions of an engineer, Sven Teske, and basing his objections on the fact that Teske works for Greenpeace :-

http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/14/ipcc-wg3-and-the-greenpeace-karaoke/
http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/16/responses-from-ipcc-srren/
http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/18/lynas-questions/
http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/20/the-carbon-brief-a-first-coat-of-whitewash/

Flinging any kind of pseudo-mud he can construe at the IPCC is not Steve’s newest of tricks, but it still seems to be effective, going by the dance of the close cohort of the very few remaining loyal climate change “sceptics” who get published in widely-read media :-

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/18/lynas_greenpeace_ipcc_money_go_round/
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/06/18/lynas_greenpeace_ipcc_money_go_round/page2.html
http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/Lost+desmog/4968296/story.html
http://thegwpf.org/the-climate-record/3231-ipcc-used-greenpeace-campaigner-to-write-impartial-report-on-renewable-energy.html
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100092809/greenpeace-and-the-ipcc-time-surely-for-a-climate-masada/

He even pulled the turtleneck over Andrew Revkin’s eyes for a while :-
http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/a-deeper-look-at-an-energy-analysis-raises-big-questions/

And Mark Lynas has been joining in, in his own nit-picky way :-
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/new-ipcc-error-renewables-report-conclusion-was-dictated-by-greenpeace/
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/questions-the-ipcc-must-now-urgently-answer/
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/new-allegation-of-ipcc-renewables-report-bias/
http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/the-ipcc-renewables-controversy-where-have-we-got-to/

The few comebacks have been bordering on the satirical, or briefly factual, with the exception of Carbon Brief’s very measured analysis of the IPCC’s communication expertise :-
http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2011/06/the-ipcc-and-the-srren-report
http://www.jeremyleggett.net/2011/06/mark-lynas-questions-hether-greenpeace-expert-should-be-an-ipcc-author/
http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/06/16/246665/ipcc-renewables-2/

Leo Hickman’s being bravely evenhanded :-
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/21/peace-talks-climate-change-sceptics

It’s not a total surprise that New Scientist and The Economist wade in deep :-
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20583-conflict-of-interest-claimed-for-ipcc-energy-report.html
http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/06/ipcc-and-greenpeace

Sven Teske’s explanation has not been accepted by Mark Lynas, although it seems really OK to me :-
http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/climate/the-ipccs-renewables-report-finds-a-clean-ene/blog/35322

The Daily Mail digs out the usual emotive terms :-
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2004440/Leading-climate-change-group-used-Greenpeace-campaigner-write-impartial-report-renewable-energy.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

Steve McIntyre is playing out the “Princess and the Pea” narrative, complaining about a few wrunkles in a process of international collaboration, and distracting us from looking at the actual report, which I would encourage you most warmly to do :-

http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/
http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report

It is full of the most incredible case studies and intriguing engineering discoveries. It makes cautious, conservative calculations, and looks at conditions and caveats in a very transparent manner. For a work that relied on the contributions of over 120 people and managed to compose a document so helpful and illuminating, I’d say it’s a work of profound achievement, and should be read in every school and university. Four scenarios from a collection of 164 are studied in depth to compare their strengths and weaknesses – and the conclusion of the SRREN team is that :-

http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/press/content/potential-of-renewable-energy-outlined-report-by-the-intergovernmental-panel-on-climate-change

“Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies…”

Somehow, though, Steve McIntyre believes otherwise. I suppose it’s not completely fair to berate him, because he might be suffering from a delusion, given that he seems to believe his opinion trumps that of over a hundred of the world’s authorities on what is possible in Renewable Energy technologies; and I’m the last person who would criticise somebody for having a mental illness.

I’m wondering, however, since he often sticks his nose up at IPCC matters, and since the world is suffering from stress in the supply of fossil fuels, whether he has a “Plan Beak” for the world’s energy crisis ?

Come on Steve McIntyre, tell us what your plan is to provide energy for humanity. Don’t tell me you believe that Nuclear Power is the way forward. I just won’t believe you, and a large number of the citizens of the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and help us all, even Switzerland, would share my doubts.

As everybody can clearly see from the Columbia University graph at the top of this post, the IPCC are right about emissions, and the global warming data shows they’re right about that too. Why should they be wrong about Renewable Energy ?

I mean, I detect there are a few issues with the way the IPCC organises itself, and the style of its reports, but hey, where’s the viable alternative ? I don’t see one, anywhere. And don’t go pointing me to groups with pretensions.

We may just have to get used to complex international bodies, formed of complex, intelligent people, and learn how to read their complex, intricate reports with care and attention. And not get distracted by grumpy semi-retired mining consultants.

Mark Lynas : Mutant Ninja

Mark Lynas may call himself a “green”, and be a clean-shaven, respectable, politely-spoken Oxford academic type but he appears to be mutating into something very unappealing indeed. He’s written some good books on climate change – every schoolroom and university module should have one – but on energy, he is deep in the political woods, without even a wind-up flashlight.

His latest stunt is to join in with accusations from Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit that the IPCC’s report on Renewable Energy has been partly crafted by people without appropriate independence or expertise. Here, from Andrew Revkin :-

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/a-deeper-look-at-an-energy-analysis-raises-big-questions/

“The IPCC must urgently review its policies for hiring lead authors – and I would have thought that not only should biased ‘grey literature’ be rejected, but campaigners from NGOs should not be allowed to join the lead author group and thereby review their own work.”

And who is this nefarious untalented Non-Governmental Organisation ? Greenpeace, it appears, according to Mark Lynas, is not capable of writing about the future of energy (or even the current situation).

Daniel Kammen has weighed in and The Revkin has updated his post :-

“There is no Himalaya-gate here at all. While there are some issues with individual chapters, there is no ‘Greenpeace Scenario.’ The 77% carbon free by 2050 is actually more conservative than some cases. The European Climate Foundation, for example has a 100% carbon neutral scenario and Price Waterhouse has a very low carbon one for North Africa. Further, while the IPCC works from published cases, the scenarios are evaluated and assessed by a team.”

There have been a number of reports written in the last year that back the viability of Renewable Energy technologies in replacing the world’s fossil fuel and nuclear energy systems. Not all of them were crafted by Greenpeace researchers. In fact, virtually none of them. Nuclear…yes…maybe it’s that little word “nuclear” that’s the root cause of Mark Lynas’ problem with Greenpeace.

In the Guardian, he is quoted as saying :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/jun/15/italy-nuclear-referendum
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/13/greenpeace-foe-charles-secrett-criticism

“Many ‘green’ campaigns, like those against nuclear power and GM crops, are not actually scientifically defensible…”

And that’s where you are so wrong, Mark Lynas with the book coming out soon that you seem so desperate to publicise by saying things you know people will find annoying. Nuclear power is a TECHNOLOGY, not a SCIENCE. This is the same basic category error made by Dick Taverne and a number of other public commentators who don’t appear to have an engineering background.

TECHNOLOGY is where people decide that their designs to make something look like they’ll work, build them and don’t foresee flaws with them. SCIENCE is where people study the technology that they’ve built and research the flaws that appear and report on them. Science is what has shown the limitations with the original boasts about genetically modified crops. It turns out that GMOs are a ruse to sell chemicals. And on nuclear fission – the science is in and on the front of your daily newspaper : nuclear power plants pose a number of risks. The advice of the reputable scientists and engineers – old fission nuclear power plants should be withdrawn.

But returning to Renewable Energy, a number of organisations now believe that the demise of fossil fuels needn’t stop humanity from accessing abundant energy. Here is just a very short compilation :-

The Two Marks : Mark A. Delucchi and Mark Z. Jacobson :-
http://www.peopleandplace.net/on_the_wire/2011/2/5/mark_jacobson_and_mark_delucchi_wind_water_and_solar

PriceWaterhouseCooper :-
http://www.pwc.co.uk/eng/publications/100_percent_renewable_electricity.html

CAT Zero Carbon Britain 2030 :-
http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/

Roadmap 2050 :-
http://www.roadmap2050.eu/

European Renewable Energy Council R[e]volution :-
http://www.erec.org/media/publications/energy-revolution-2010.html

But oh, no, we can’t quote the last one because Greenpeace researchers were involved, and Mark Lynas wouldn’t approve of that. Mark Lynas appears to be living in a world where Greenpeace people can’t have engineering research skills because they have ideals, working for a world that uses safe, clean energy.

The IPCC report on Renewable Energy is here :-
http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/

Much as I respect turtles, I have to say it – Mark Lynas, you’re a turtle – slow-moving and easy to catch out and turn into soup. You should know by now not to get sucked in by spurious non-arguments from Steve McIntyre. The “cleantech” industry that’s ramping up to provide the world with green energy is worth billions, soon to be trillions of dollars worldwide, and this fact appears to have completely passed you by. The only future for energy is sustainable, renewable, non-nuclear, clean, quiet and safe. There is no other viable, liveable, option.

[ UPDATE : In the Independent newspaper, Mark Lynas is quoted as remarking “Campaigners should not be employed as lead authors in IPCC reports”. So, Mark, it’s really fine for employees of the major oil, gas and mining companies to take a leading role on major IPCC reports; but it’s not fine, according to you, that somebody working for much less money and much higher principles than mere corporate profit should contribute ? Denigrating somebody for being a “campaigner” is a stereotypical insult. Everybody’s got an agenda, campaigners included. What’s your agenda, Mark ? Selling your new book ? Don’t be dismissive about Greenpeace researchers. They may have ideals, but they’re not naive – they also have brains – and with their declared position on getting at the truth they can be trusted to be direct, decent and honest. Where’s your ethical compass, Mark ? ]

Viva Italia !