Walking out to buy a few household essentials from the corner shop, I ran into somebody I’ve known since my childhood, practically, returning from the drycleaners with two trailing kids in tow.
“Happy Spring !” I said, and smiled, and pointed out the lovely blossom on the urban street tree. Eldest child grumbled about hayfever. Parent mentioned April Showers.
“It’s been the wettest drought, ever !”, proclaimed eldest child, who I noticed was wearing a Team GB tracksuit and therefore probably up to speed with current events. “It has been rather damp”, I admitted, “and yet the drought’s not over yet. If you look at the Met Office records, you can see we’re still not up to normal levels of rainfall. And it was like this last year.” “And the year before that”, added parent, “although I expect for this month it might show we’ve had quite a lot more than normal.” (Select “Rainfall”)
|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
“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
This account makes bold statements but can it all be true?
DO PIGS FLY?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
A6 – MISREPRESENTATION
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
|Every once in a while, it’s good to remind myself of the data – to help me focus once again on why I do what I do.
Yesterday evening, I decided to catch up on exactly how out of control atmospheric methane concentrations are in the region around the Arctic :-
When reviewing the charts, the secondmost important thing to see is the high point measurements, the peaks, rising over time.
|The most vital thing to observe, however, is the inexorable rise of the minimum measurements since around 2007 – which implies a higher overall background atmospheric methane concentration.
Much of this methane explosion can probably be blamed on global warming from excessive carbon dioxide emissions – which showed signs of coming under control between 1990 and 2000, but after that lifted off once more.
People dispute why carbon dioxide emissions have risen consistently and sharply since the turn of the millenium – but one of the answers is to be found in the rapid deployment of coal-burning for power generation. Stronger environmental controls on air quality have reduced the health impacts of coal-burning, but mean that the net effect is stronger global warming.
So much could be done to alleviate the strong warming of the Arctic, and prevent dangerous instabilities. It is time to say it – and keep on saying it – and not relent – every measure to keep the Arctic cool is urgent.
|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.
|On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.
There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.
|On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.
“Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”
The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.
However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.
We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.
“I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”
|The following was written by Aubrey Meyer in November before the United Nations climate change talks, reportedly in response to a proposal by Damian Carrington of The Guardian newspaper, although it was not published there.
UN = United Nations
What chance a climate deal in Durban ?
Representatives of over a hundred nations meeting in Durban at the end of the month will “seek to advance the implementation of the (UNFCCC) Convention and the Kyoto Protocol” in the words of the organisers of the UN’s seventeenth annual climate change meeting.
Kyoto was adopted in 1997, came into force in 2005 and will expire next year with dangerous emissions growing faster than ever. At this rate of advance we are at grave risk of being overcome by uncontrollable climate change. Many senior climate scientists think it could already be too late.
|The International Energy Agency, in its 2011 World Energy Outlook, said that we cannot delay further action to tackle climate change and that the door to 2 degrees Celsius is closing. It says that the world is currently on a trajectory to a temperature increase of 6° Celsius or more.
As long ago as 2007, the UK Government’s Committee on Climate Change said that it is not now possible to ensure with high likelihood that a temperature rise of more than 2°C is avoided. It then assigned a less than even chance of success to its statutory emissions reduction plan in the Climate Act.
Since those calculations were made there have been developments in the science that give even greater cause for concern, with some government scientists saying there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature increase at or below 2°C.
A fresh approach is now required. We probably have no more than four years to effect a downturn in global emissions. That change in direction must initiate a fullterm global emissions reduction path to a point where a safe and stable temperature level is achieved.
The question is where do we start ? The voluntary national reduction plans emerging from the Cancun negotiations are completely inadequate. The notion that they can be advanced over time to a realistic global target will result in too little too late.
But behind the headlines, negotiating postures have shifted significantly since Kyoto. They have moved beyond the complete stand-off between developed and developing countries. By agreeing to set voluntary national emissions targets, developing countries have recognised that they too must participate in a global action plan from the start if the two degree limit is to be met.
This places the delicate issue of historical responsibility as a second order consideration and opens the door to negotiation within agreed global targets.
Even more encouraging is the wide recognition of the principle of equal per capita entitlements to emit, with the accompanying right to trade those entitlements. This principle is at the core of the climate mitigation policy framework proposed at the UN by the Global Commons Institute based in London and which has many supporters in the UN process.
The Contraction & Convergence (C&C) policy framework was first negotiated at the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan in 1997, when Developing Countries led by the Africa Group, India and China, proposed C&C as part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Contraction & Convergence (C&C) is an approach to meeting the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) : to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to a value that is both safe and stable.
Contraction refers to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that is needed to prevent dangerous climate change. Within this contraction, the world’s nations would converge on an equal per capita sharing of that carbon contraction budget. With contraction we obviously get convergence, the only question arising is how to organise it.
The atmosphere is a global commons and everyone has an equal right to emit greenhouse gases into it. If you don’t stand for that, you have to defend inequality which the majority will clearly reject. Climate change is an issue of survival and equity is the price of that survival.
In July 2009, fully five months before COP15 in Copenhagen, the Chinese Government publicly accepted the C&C principle for UNFCCC negotiations, and stated a willingness to negotiate rates of C&C based on immediate convergence to per capita equality of emissions entitlements worldwide.
They stressed the difference between actual per capita emissions and emissions ‘entitlements’ and pointed out that international emissions trading can absorb the difference between the two.
The C&C principle is embedded in the UK Climate Act of 2008. However, the rate of convergence is prescribed to complete only by 2050, within an overall 100 year contraction of emissions. The UK was part of a group of developed country Governments that prescribed these rates of C&C to the rest of the world in Copenhagen.
Since overall this prescription gave Developed Countries on average twice the per capita entitlements of the Developing Countries while 80% of the budget was consumed by 2050, the entire thing was unsurprisingly rejected by those countries – China memorably amongst them – as prescriptive and unfair to them. The UK publicly and naively denounced China for ‘wrecking the negotiations’.
The US had supported C&C earlier in the UN process, but continues to reject any renewal of the ‘one-sided’ Kyoto Protocol, because it logically refuses a way forward that excludes Developing Countries from emissions control. They, on the other hand, continue to reject prescriptions from Developed Countries that they regard as unfair.
The way to break this deadlock is clear: the UK should stop prescribing and become willing to broker negotiation of an agreement at the UNFCCC based on the C&C principle but at a faster rate of convergence to equal per capita emissions entitlements globally.
This way all nations or regions become part of an agreement that will be rational, consensual and fair. We can get on with achieving UNFCCC-compliance at rates that retain some chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.
On sight of a letter to this effect sent to Ban Ki Moon (another C&C supporter), the Chinese Government again showed interest. Why don’t we ?
|People working for non-governmental, and governmental, organisations can be rather defensive when I criticise the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. What ? I don’t back the international process ? Climate change, after all, is a borderless crime, and will take global policing. Well, I back negotiations for a global treaty in principle, but not in practice.|
The annual wearisome jousting and filibustering events just before Christmas do not constitute for me a healthy, realistic programme of engagement, imbued with the full authority and support of global leadership structures and civil society. People can try to spin it and claim success, but that’s just whitewash on an ungildable tomb.
The Climate Change talks that have just taken place in Durban, South Africa, were exemplary of a peculiar kind of collective madness that has resulted from trying to navigate and massage endless special interests, national jostling, brinkmanship, unworkable and inappropriate proposals from economists, communications failures and corporate interference in governance.
The right people with real decisionmaking powers are not at the negotiating table. The organisations with most to contribute are still acting in opposition – that’s the energy industry, to be explicit. And the individual national governments are still not concerned enough about climate change, even though it impacts strongly on the things they do consider to be priorities – economic health, trade and political superiority.
Over 20 years ago, the debate on what to do to tackle global warming and still maintain good international relations was already won, by the commonsense approach of Contraction and Convergence – fair shares for all. Each country should count on their fair share of carbon emissions based on their population – and we would get there by starting from where we are now and agreeing mutual cuts. The big emitters would agree to steeper cuts than the lower emitters – and after some time, everybody in the world would have the same, safe emissions rights.
What has prevented this logical approach from being implemented ? Well, we have had the so-called “flexible mechanisms” pushed on us – such as the Clean Development Mechanism which essentially boils down to the idea that the richer high-emitting countries can offset their carbon by paying for poorer low emissions countries to cut their carbon instead. Some have been attempting to make the CDM carbon credits into a commercial product for the Carbon Trading market. Some may contest it, but the CDM and carbon trading haven’t really been working very well, and anyway, the CDM doesn’t aim for emissions reductions, just offsets.
Other carbon trade has been implemented, such as the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), which doesn’t appear to have caused high emissions industries to diversify out of carbon, or created a viable price for carbon dioxide, so its usefulness is questionable.
Many people have put forward the idea of straight carbon pricing, mostly by taxation. The trouble with this idea should be obvious, but rarely is. Over four-fifths of the world’s energy is fossil fuel based. Taxing carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would just make everything, everywhere, more expensive. It wouldn’t necessarily create new lower carbon energy resources, as the taxes would probably be put into a giant climate change adaptation fund – a financial institution proposed by several people including Oliver Tickell and Nicholas Stern, although in Stern’s case, he is calling for direct grants from countries to keep the fund topped up.
On the policy front, there has been a continuing, futile attempt to force the historially high-emitting countries to accept very radical carbon cuts, as a sign of accountability. This “grandfathering” of emissions responsibilities is something that no sane person in government in the richer nations could ever agree with, not even when being smothered with ethical guilt. One of the forms of this proposal is “Greenhouse Development Rights“, essentially allowing countries like China to continue growing their emissions in order to grow their economies to guarantee development. The emissions cuts required by countries like the United States of America would be impossible to achieve, not even if their economy completely toppled.
Sadly, a number of charities, aid and development agencies and other non-governmental organisations with concern for the world’s poor, have signed up to Greenhouse Development Rights not realising it is completely untenable.
The only approach that can work, that both high- and low-emitting countries can ever possibly be made to agree on, is a system of population-proportional shares of the global carbon pie. And the way to get there has to be based on relative current emissions, ignoring the emissions of the past – your cuts should be larger if your current emissions are large. And it should be based on the relative size of the population, and their individual emissions rates, rather than taking a country as a whole. Yes, there will be room for a little carbon trade between nations, to enable the transfer of low carbon technologies from wealthy nations to un-resourced nations. Yes, there will be space for enterprise, as corporations have to face regulation to cut emissions, and will need innovation in technology to divest themselves of fossil fuel production and consumption.
This is Contraction and Convergence – and you ignore it at our peril.
A few suggestions for further reading :-
“Contraction and Convergence The Global Solution to Climate Change” by Aubrey Meyer. Schumacher Briefings, Green Books, December 2000. ISBN-13: 978-1870098946
The Greenhouse Effect : Science and Policy” by Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Science, Volume 243, Issue 4892, Pages 771 – 781, DOI: 10.1126/science.243.4892.771, 10 February 1989.
“Climate Change : Science and Policy“, edited by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandea and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti. Island Press, 10 February 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1597265669
“Equity, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and Global Common Resources” by Paul Baer, Chapter 15 in “Climate Change Policy : A Survey” by Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz and John O. Niles, Island Press, 2002. ISBN-10: 1-55963-881-8 (Paper), ISBN-13: 978-1-55963-881-4 (Paper)
I was in my local cafe diner, screening for neighbourhood gossip and genning up on the Daily Mail’s latest scandal and outrage. Several stories were told from different angles throughout the grubby pages of the well-thumbed copy I was sifting through. “You know”, I mused, “I think they might actually want their readers to become schizophrenic.”
On the front page the headline “RESTORE ELITISM TO OUR SCHOOLS“. The editorial line seemed to be aimed at persuading the readers to find Michael Gove’s speech just as “extraordinary” as the writer did – “extraordinary” as in “bad”. This, after all, is a newspaper that often seems to want to portray itself as succour for the common man.
On page 7, however, the same story took on a nanny-ish tone “We must demand more of our teachers… and our children : And here’s why it matters: for the first time 1m [million] youngsters are not in work or education.” So, presumably, the writer of this piece was having a dig at teachers and their performance. Plus it was also having a swipe at out-of-work out-of-the-classroom “scrounger” teenagers.
Where, I asked myself, was the analysis of why so many young people were without a role in life, without prospects ? Where are the jobs, work placements and apprenticeships for “youngsters” ? The statistics show that there are not enough openings for every NEET.
Back in the 1970s they were expecting global cooling – of the economy. There were oil shocks and shocking prices, and petrochemists beavered away, sweating over test tubes the size of football fields, whisking up synthetic fuels.
It was not the first time that the world had tried to synthesise liquid vehicle fuel. Hitler famously did it during the Second World War, and had it not been for Bergius and Fischer-Tropsch, Nazi Germany would have collapsed much sooner under the anvil of global economic sanctions. I mean, the history books insist the multi-pronged military assault was responsible for the Victory in Europe, but the final push would never have succeeded without the suspension of energy trade.
Various syngas and synfuel projects have continued in various places, mostly America, and although the first plants used coal and Natural Gas to make other things, these days the emphasis is on biomass.
We can expect to see a dramatic rise in the amount of Biogas and Bio-syngas produced over the next few decades, along with renewably-sourced hydrogen. It will all get fed into the global syngas refineries, and out will pop power, vehicle fuel and chemistry.
|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.
When do micro-seismic events add up to earthquakes ? Landslips ? Tsunamis ? Who really knows ? These are just a few questions amongst many about underground mining techniques that will probably never be properly answered. Several mini-quakes were suggested to be responsible for the shutdown of Cuadrilla’s activities in Blackpool, north west England early in 2011, and there have been unconfirmed links between tremors and fracking in the United States of America, where unconventional gas is heavily mined.
It is perhaps too easy to sow doubt about the disbenefits of exploding rock formations by pressure injection to release valuable energy gases – many legislative and public consultation hurdles have been knocked down by the merest flick of the public relations wrist of the unconventional fossil gas industry (and its academic and consultancy friends).
The potential to damage the structure of the Earth’s crust may be the least attributable and least accountable of hydraulic fracturing’s suspected disadvantages, but it could be the most significant in the long run. Science being conducted into the impact on crust stability from fracking and other well injection techniques could rule out a wide range of geoengineering on safety grounds, such as Carbon Capture and Storage proposals. If we can’t safely pump carbon dioxide underground, we should really revise our projections on emissions reductions from carbon capture.
[ Camp Frack is under canvas in Lancashire protesting about the imposition of hydraulic fracturing on the United Kingdom. ]
I was speaking to a nuclear power “waverer” the other day. They said that George Monbiot or Mark Lynas was saying that since Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, Germany’s Carbon Dioxide emissions will increase, because they will be using coal and Natural Gas power stations :-
I explained that this was a common misconception, and that Germany is still planning to meet their carbon targets, and that it can be done even with coal and gas power plants because in a few decades’ time the coal and Natural Gas power plants will only be used a couple of weeks a year in total to back up all the renewables, such as wind power and solar power, that Germany is building.
This is not the end of the story, however.
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.
[ 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 :-
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 :-
He even pulled the turtleneck over Andrew Revkin’s eyes for a while :-
And Mark Lynas has been joining in, in his own nit-picky way :-
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 :-
Leo Hickman’s being bravely evenhanded :-
It’s not a total surprise that New Scientist and The Economist wade in deep :-
Sven Teske’s explanation has not been accepted by Mark Lynas, although it seems really OK to me :-
The Daily Mail digs out the usual emotive terms :-
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 :-
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 :-
“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.
On one thing, Mark Lynas is right – the world cannot cope with more large hydropower dam projects – just look at what Rainfall Change has meant for power blackouts in South America.
However, yet again, he blurs the value of one of the central principles guiding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – inclusivity :-
Who are the experts on climate change and energy ? We need to make sense of the various voices, and for that, we need to hear them all. The IPCC is the best platform we have – it is as neutral as it is possible for a host organisation to be.
Mark Lynas has just joined the Delayers-and-Deniers club, whose agenda has moved on from trying to take down Climate Change science to taking down any organisation that could help the policy and industry situation improve.
His contributions, including this comment at JudithCurry.com, betray his unwitting complicity in a destructive agenda :-
Mark, they’re Americans. Americans believe in Free Speech. Americans are legally permitted to say anything they like, even if it has no factual basis. I know, there are lots of Canadians, Britannians and Australians in the Delayers-and-Deniers club, too, but the central point stands – all this grunting and dismissiveness about the IPCC is their way of distracting the public mind from the real problems we must face in changing the energy systems while we still have time – before it becomes a genuine crisis situation, where we can no longer act.
Who is completely independent, neutral or unbiased about Climate Change ? Who is completely independent, neutral or unbiased about Energy ?
Solving Climate Change requires solving Energy, and that requires solving the problems in democratic dialogue. The so-called Climate Change “skeptics” do not engage in forthright, honest, transparent dialogue, not even about energy. Back away from the grumblers, Mark !
I have my criticisms of the “corporate steal” of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention – issues of economic development and industrial investment have dominated the international conferences, and unworkable economics theories have snuck into the Kyoto Protocol and any other initiative you think of – including the emergence of proposals for Carbon Taxation and Carbon Trading schemes.
I also have criticisms of the communications structure within and around the IPCC – I think the IPCC reports should be written in such a way as to make sure that everybody can take in the full seriousness, urgency and momentum of what they are discussing.
Why are executives of major energy companies bothering to take part in the IPCC process ? Because they perceive that things cannot go on like they are. This is the same perception as held by those in Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations and charities.
Nominate for me a set of people who are entirely independent, who cannot have a biased opinion about the future of energy and the environment, and I will place my trust in their review of the literature on Climate Change and Renewable Energy.
Failing that, I stick with the collage produced by the multi-viewed expert panel, corporate and non-corporate, part of the IPCC. There is nothing better than a totally open forum. Maybe International Rivers want to take part in future IPCC work ? If important views are being ignored, they need to be included from now on.
Allowing the Delayers-and-Deniers to keep setting the agenda is dangerous and disabling. We’ve already seen the success they had in derailing public acceptance of Climate Change science. Their latest plans include telling us that wind power and solar power don’t work. It would be laughable, except that the mainstream media keep repeating the lies :-
Mark, your allegiance to the failing nuclear industry demonstrates that you have not understood that its promotion is one of the tactics of the Delayers-and-Deniers club to keep us from effective, long-term energy change.
By attacking anything that has the possibility of succeeding, they have a stranglehold on progress. Don’t give in to their agenda. We shouldn’t be fighting each other.
from : Jo Abbess
to : Mark Lynas
cc : George Monbiot
date : Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 8:07 PM
subject : You may not have properly understood Germany’s energy plan
From where I’m sitting, you appear not to have understood Germany’s energy plan, which centres on ramping up and rolling out as much renewable energy as possible.
You are quoted, and write :-
“If the German greens really took climate change seriously, they would instead be pushing for a phase-out of coal – which generates by far the largest proportion of the country’s power and consequent carbon emissions – from Germany’s electricity grid. Instead, the new nuclear phase-out plan will see a hefty 11GW of new coal plants built in years to come, with an additional 5GW of new gas. The only way emissions from these plants could be controlled would be through “carbon capture and storage” (CCS) – yet Greenpeace in Germany has already mounted a successful scaremongering campaign against this new technology, helping to ensure that future fossil emissions will go into the atmosphere unabated.”
How does having strong renewable energy ambition sit with commissioning new coal power plants ?
Well, as you probably know, the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine – hence back up is required. Nuclear power cannot back up wind power or solar power because it is not very flexible.
Coal and gas are easily stored, and coal and gas power plants can be kept awaiting use as and when required by renewable lulls.
There is no point in fitting Carbon Capture (and eventually Storage) to coal fired power plants if they’re only going to be used for occasional wind back up – too expensive. And the tests are showing problems. And even though it’s claimed that CCS can take away 90% of the emissions, it’s more like 85% because CCS uses more coal fuel.
It would be better if Germany opted totally for new gas plant for their wind back up, but they appear to not want to be big importers of fossil fuels, so they’ve gone mostly for coal which they can mine, at a pinch, at home. In the UK we’re going for gas, because we believe in continued good relations with Qatar (via the House of Saud ?) and Russia (via BP ?)
The amount of time that coal and gas plants will be in use when renewable energy is fully developed in Gemany will be days per year in total. So in 20 years time when they’ve built all their wind and solar, they get to meet their carbon targets and still have operational coal and gas plant for when necessary.
How is it that you’ve missed this central plank of their policy ?
On the one hand, I could be asked to excuse this lapse of reasoning on your part – as far as I know you haven’t trained as an energy engineer, so how could you be expected to understand load balancing and load following in the real world ?
On the other hand, you’ve just written a book extolling the virtue of nuclear engineering, in effect dismissing the sensible decisions that Germany and other countries have taken, so I cannot let this pass by without commenting.
Sorry to report it, but you’ve just made it into my Little Book of The World’s Most Annoying Men because you appear to have no idea about the pitfalls of nuclear power, you do not seem to understand other approaches to the energy crisis; and in addition, you have built a generalist argument concocted from stereotypes to make the green movement the punch bag for your position. When I read a similar irrational rant in Anthony Giddens’ book “The Politics of Climate Change”, I became so angry, my reptile-inherited brain took over, and I threw the book across the room.
Why, I ask myself, are you following in Giddens’ footsteps and becoming so reactionary ? Are you adopting the position of George Monbiot, who seems to be evolving into a curmudgeon ?
I shall not be buying your new book, because your arguments are, to my mind, faulty.
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 :-
“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 :-
“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 :-
CAT Zero Carbon Britain 2030 :-
Roadmap 2050 :-
European Renewable Energy Council R[e]volution :-
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 :-
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 !
Although variability in Renewable Electricity generation is a real issue, it’s not a huge one, according to recent reports, that from the International Energy Agency (IEA) “Harnessing Variable Renewables” among them :-
Even so, there is a need to improve cheap methods of energy storage – and one of the simplest ways to increase capacity in this area is to produce Renewable Gas – which can be stored as easily as Natural Gas.
This chart shows why George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tinsdale have all plumped for the wrong choice – new Nuclear Power cannot deliver more electricity or reduce carbon dioxide emissions for us at the time when we need it most – the next few years :-
0. Massive energy conservation drives – for demand management – are clearly essential, given the reduction in UK generation.
1. It is impossible to increase new Nuclear Power capacity in less than ten years, but total UK generation is falling now, so now and in the next few years is the timeframe in which to add capacity. We cannot go on relying on Nuclear Power imports from France – especially given the rate of power outages there.
2. The fastest growing generation sources over the next few years will be Wind Power, Solar Power and Renewable Gas – if we set the right policies at the government and regulator levels.
Eventually we will reach you.
Scientists are proverbially poor at communication, but we will eventually be able to explain to you what is happening to the Earth in a way that you will understand.
You need to give some time to the data, to the arguments. You need to read the significant research papers, learn how to read graphs, learn the acronyms, abbreviations, technical terms.
You will need to be able to weigh in your mind the significance of probabilities, the risks of extremes, the trends, the changing patterns.
After a while, you will start to reappraise the evidence, and start looking into the data and see the conclusions for yourself.
You will begin to appreciate the strong line of reasoning, and come to be in awe of the minds of many who work on Climate Change.
I’ve become impressed by the body of scientific evidence, that’s why I will always be aligned with the Climate Change science community.
We’re not going anywhere. We’re here, and we’re right. There has already been significant change in the Earth’s climate due to humankind’s mining-to-burn activities, and the projections are for further, possibly very dangerous change.
The scientists know what the problems are, and what the engineering solutions are. Some companies/corporations, economists and politicans and sadly even some compromised “environmentalists” promote non-solutions like carbon pricing, Carbon Taxation, Carbon Trading, Carbon Capture (and Storage), GM Crops, Nuclear Power, geoengineering – but the academies of scientists are telling you they won’t work, or won’t solve all the problems.
What is needed is wholesale removal of Fossil Fuels from the global economy in order to prevent further deterioration and disruption in the global climatic conditions. Either BP, Shell, Chevron and ExxonMobil hang up their boots forever, or they need to embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay in business.
Oil, gas and coal depletion in the production facilities of those countries that are national players will mean that they will go bust, because a consistently high price for Fossil Fuels is not supportable, because the global economy is so Fossil Fuel-dependent currently. This is both a buyer’s market and a seller’s market, so the price will be governed by the operation of this two-sided cartel, not by the theories of “scarcity economics”.
Either Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, China, Venezuela and so on are on their way to extreme poverty, or they will embrace new clean energies (not Nuclear Power) to stay economically developed.
Meanwhile, the project of empirical scientific enquiry continues apace, and even though rich fossil fuel businesses are financing doubt, even though people with pension funds in mining pour scorn on Climate Change science, and even though the mainstream media can’t recognise uneducated propaganda when they meet it; you need to trust the intellectual community of Climate Change science researchers.
Stop listening to accusations of malpractice, dodgy data, weak methods, poor models. Do you really know what you are talking about when you pass judgement on the scientific community ? Who told you that scientists were wrong ? Can you really trust the people who tell you not to trust the scientific community ? Do you have the right or the authority to lay somebody else’s fabricated blame at the door of those whose whole lives are devoted to discovering the truth ?
Why don’t you do an integrity check on your sources, before replicating myths ?
Read the science journals and not the newspapers, is my advice.
And when it comes to the Internet, search wisely. You can’t believe every website you come across – there are some web loggers who are misled, and there are others seeking to mislead.
If you want to filter out the nonsense, try this :-