Friday, November 27, 2015

David Cameron Misled Parliament over Syria Bombing

David Cameron lied in Parliament yesterday. He argued that bombing Syria was legal, invoking UN Resolution 2249 when he said "It calls for member states to take, and I quote, all necessary measures,"

But that was a selective quote and stopped too soon. The next phrase is "in compliance with international law," but he (and as did Hilary Benn later and several other pro-bombing commentators) left out that phrase.

The whole Resolution and the preamble with statements by all 15 Security Council members should be read. It's here:

The whole of paragraph 5, from which Cameron quoted reads:

5. Calls upon Member States that have the capacity to do so to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter, as well as international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, on the territory under the control of ISIL also known as Da’esh, in Syria and Iraq, to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL also known as Da’esh as well as ANF, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the United Nations Security Council, and as may further be agreed by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and endorsed by the UN Security Council, pursuant to the statement of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) of 14 November, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria;
Neither bombing nor the euphemistic named 'air strikes' get a mention anywhere in the text, indeed UN Resolution 2249 does not give legal sanction for bombing - that requires a further resolution under Chapter VII.

Here's the Hansard transcript of Cameron's speech, 26 Nov 2015 : Column 1491:

This is further underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2249. We should be clear about what this resolution means and what it says. The whole world came together, including all five members of the Security Council, to agree this resolution unanimously. The resolution states that ISIL
“constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.
It calls for member states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL and, crucially, it says that we should
“eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.

He should have said "all necessary measures, in compliance with international law". To selectively cherry-pick a single phrase and spin it to suggest a very different meaning from that which the 15 members of the Security Council intended isn't just disingenuous, it's a lie. In this case a murderous lie.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

With the recent news that global average surface temperatures are now about 1°C above pre-industrial levels, reports that greenhouse gas emissions are still inexorably rising, increasing frequency of extreme weather events and attention focussing on Paris and the COP21, there has been a new flurry of articles about sea level rise in the newspapers and other media.

Here's an example from The Independent.

"Homes belonging to more than half a billion people could be submerged by rising sea levels if the current rate of global warming continues, scientists have said.

"A 2C increase in the Earth's temperature would result in houses occupied by 130 million people being left underwater by rising sea levels, according to an investigation by research group Climate Central. However, a 4C change - which would be the likely scenario at the current rate of increase - would impact more than 600 million."

The Internet is awash with interactive maps that show which parts of the world get flooded at different levels of global warming.

Some pictures mocked up to represent what various places would look like with flooding following either 2 or 4° of warming produced by Climate Central have been shared widely around the Internet. While they have undoubtedly done a great service in drawing people's attention to the problem, there is an implicit assumption that sea level will rise with a linear correlation to warming.  It's potentially much worse.

There is a fundamental error in the underlying thinking. Sea level rise is partly caused by the thermal expansion of the oceans' water as it warms, but this is trivial in comparison with the potential rise through the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.  The ice melt is only rather indirectly linked to a rise in global temperature.

Look at it this way.  Take two ice cubes out of the freezer, put one in a cool room and one in a warm room.  They both melt.  For sure one will melt faster than the other but they both melt.  As soon as the ice is out of the freezer it is no longer in equilibrium with its surrounding temperature and its eventual fate is sealed.

So it is with the polar ice sheets; as soon as the global climate has warmed to the point at which the ice is no longer in equilibrium they will melt.  And that's what has happened.  Of course it's a lot more complicated that an ice cube from the freezer.  Most of the Antarctic, and Greenland most of the year, has weather well below zero but the warming oceans are eroding the ice from around the edges and below.  The loss of ice is, partly, made up by snowfall, but the ice mass balance, the difference between snowfall gain and melting loss, is now negative.  The polar ice caps are melting and will continue to melt until there is none left, and that's just with 1°C of warming.

And here's the rub; all those articles that relate sea level rise to temperature are disingenuous. If we stop burning all fossil fuels by tea-time today and hold temperatures to just what's baked into the system by greenhouse gasses already released, all the ice will melt and land within about 60 metres of present sea level will be lost.

But keep in mind the melting ice cubes, one in a cool room and one in the warm.  The rate of melting will be different. The big uncertainty about the ice caps is the timing of their melting and the speed of the consequent sea level rise. Anything we can now do to reduce the amount of global warming will help slow the sea level rise, giving humanity more time to adapt to the new geography. Mitigation has the potential to improve, perhaps save, the lives of a billion people.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Graph that Matters II

Last month I wrote a short piece about the graph of global surface temperatures to August 2015 showing just how much warmer this year has been so far than any other year since thermometers were invented (and several thousand years before that too).

I wrote then that "This is the graph that should have every politician going OMG WTF and be front page news everywhere, but outside the world of climate geeks it's been pretty much ignored." 

The bad news is that I was right; the graph was pretty much ignored.  The worse news is that the graph has now been updated to include September and the 2015 line, already way over any previous year, is still rising.

This is the latest data from NOAA and there are commentaries from Eric Holthaus and Andrew Freedman (with more graphs).

This week the climate talkers in Bonn wend their convoluted way on the road towards Paris but still there is an air of unreality.  People are still talking about 2° as if it's a worthwhile target to keep below but ignore the inconvenient truths that 2° will be really bad in all sorts of ways in all sorts of places, that the IPCC calculations only give a two thirds chance of keeping below 2° if the emission targets are met and that the uncertainties in the global climate models are such that reality will probably turn out worse than the scenarios suggest.

Importantly, the INDCs, the key tool for COP21, just don't add up to the 2° they're aiming for.  But what they should be aiming for is a global warming limited to 1.5° (and even then there will be more than enough adaptation to cope with).  So what emissions reductions are needed to achieve this relatively safe scenario?  

Fortunately Aubrey Meyer has been crunching the numbers and come up with the definitive diagrams.


As the second diagram suggests a 15 years Emergency Transition is needed, yet nobody is talking about such a thing.

Let's repeat that in case you missed it.  We need a 15 years Emergency Transition, starting now and getting to as near as dammit zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if our children and grandchildren are going to inherit a planet worth its name.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Syria Re-visited

A couple of years ago, in the summer of 2013, I wrote a series of pieces for my blog investigating the part that climate change had to play in the origins of the civil war.  A great deal has been written on the subject since then that confirms my initial thoughts.  Now someone well known outside climate science community has raised the issue and people are talking about it.  For their various or nefarious reasons some will deny the connection, but they are wrong.

Here's what Charlotte Church had to say, reported in The Huffington Post.

To save folk looking up what I wrote back then, I've gathered the pieces together and re-posted them below:

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war?

The issue of water does not feature much in discussions on Syria but water shortage and a perceived unfairness in water distribution was one of the original triggers to the uprising a couple of years ago, though it's now been overtaken by all sorts piling into the scrum.
It's a fairly arid area with a growing population and growing demand for irrigation. Much of the water is supplied by rivers that start in other countries, Turkey and Lebanon, and flow to other countries, Iraq, Jordon and Israel. Some of the catchment, the Golan Height, has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Groundwater is being abstracted much faster than replenishment. There have been several drought years, particularly in the north and east of Syria. Global warming is likely to cause climate change towards less rainfall in the region and recent droughts may be the start of worse to come.
If there's one place where war will be triggered by water this is it. Or maybe this was it.
Here are a couple of significant articles to start off with: 
Quote from IRIN  (What is IRIN?)
DEIR EZ ZOUR, 17 February 2010 (IRIN) - Drought in eastern and northeastern Syria has driven some 300,000 families to urban settlements such as Aleppo, Damascus and Deir ez Zour in search of work in one of the largest internal displacements in the Middle East in recent years. 
The country’s agriculture sector, which until recently employed 40 percent of Syria’s workforce and accounted for 25 percent of gross domestic product, has been hit badly, but farmers themselves are worst affected, say aid officials.

In some villages, up to 50 percent of the population has left for nearby cities. 

Note the date - 17 February 2010. Mass migration of rural population forced by drought into cities such as Aleppo, scene of the latest atrocities. Without water, unable to grow crops, the cattle dead, uprooted to the city, is it any wonder that folk find scapegoats, religions and causes?
For a recent update see Peter Gleick's piece 
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

Part 2

Winter precipitation trends in the Mediterranean region for the period 1902 - 2010.

This is the graph
That shows the drought
That drove the farmers
Away from their fields
And into the cities
Where they looked for scapegoats
And found religion
Took up their weapons
And were killed in number.

We watched in horror
We wrung our hands
We talked of bombs
But not of rain
Nor climate change
Nor carbon emissions
Nor greenhouse gases
Symptoms not causes
Our own complicity
In dreadful slaughter.

Now read Peter Gleick's piece on Science Blogs:
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

We need to talk about global warming.

Part 3

Further Reading

In the previous two posts about the Syrian conflict I have suggested that the roots of the disaster lie in climate change.  A key feature of the current coverage of the reporting on the conflict is the absence of consideration of the origins, particularly any reference to global warming. Global policy decisions are being made with reference to symptoms not causes.

It turns out that there is an extensive literature relating what may be the Fertile Crescent's worst drought since the Neolithic to man-made climate change. Importantly, warnings were made of social unrest and military conflict that would be the likely consequences if the effects of the drought were not mitigated.  These warnings were issued in timely manner but, at least to any meaningful extent, were left unheeded, action not taken.

I list below a selection of reading, from short blog-pieces and journalists' reports to academic papers and lengthy reports from international organisations.

Water resources management in Syria
The Fertile Crescent
26 November 2008
2008 UNDrought Appeal For Syria
US Cable released by Wikileaks
18 May 2009
Climate change, water resources, and the politics of adaptation in the Middle East and North Africa
Jeannie Sowers·Avner Vengosh·Erika Weinthal
Climatic Change  DOI 10.1007/s10584-010-9835-4
11 August 2009
Syria Drought Response Plan
Report from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
24 November 2009
Syria: Drought response faces funding shortfall
Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions: Climate change and the risk of violent conflict in the Middle East
Oli Brown, Alex Crawford
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD
16 January 2010
Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business, threatens prized heirloom chiles
Gary Nabhan
17 February 2010
Syria: Over a million people affected by drought
25 March 2010
Syria: Why the water shortages?IRIN
13 October 2010
Earth Is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived
Robert F. Worth, Hwaida Saad
New York Times
Drought Vulnerability in the Arab Region – Special Case Study: Syria
Wadid Erian. Bassem Katlan & Ouldbdey Babah
June 2011
Global and Local Economic Impacts of limate Change in Syria and Options for Adaptation
Clemens Breisinger et al.
International Food Policy Research Initiative (IFPRI)
27 October 2011
NOAA study: Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts
16 February 2012
Sowing the Seeds of Dissent: Economic Grievances and the Syrian Social Contract’s Unraveling
Suzanne Saleeby
29 February 2012
Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest
Francesco Femia & Caitlin Werrell
June 2013
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict
Peter Gleick

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Graph that Matters

This is the graph that should have every politician going OMG WTF and be front page news everywhere, but outside the world of climate geeks it's been pretty much ignored.

The grey lines show global surface temperature records, month by month, going back to 1880 with just the six most recent coloured in red and this year's temperatures up to August coloured green.

The climate deniers had the silly people believing there was some kind of 'pause' or 'hiatus' in the relentless march of global warming but we've know all along that with over 90% of the planet's heat gain that our greenhouse gas emissions are causing, ending up in the oceans, measuring surface temperatures is only a rough proxy for global warming.  It would take an El Niño year for some of that heat to come up again and that's exactly what we are seeing now.

The observations demonstrate that the climate scientists have been right all along and yet the politicians, the news media and pretty much everybody, fret about anything they can except the climate catastrophe.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Government Approves more Fossil Carbon Burning

EDF have been given planning permission to build a new 1800MW gas power station at Sutton Bridge, in Lincolnshire.

The Climate Change Act 2008 states:

"1. (1) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline."

But today Energy and Climate Change Minister, Lord Bourne, granted EDF Energy planning consent to construct a new gas power plant at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire.

The station is designed to operate continuously for 35 years. That takes us past 2050, the Target Date in the Climate Change Act 2008 by which time the UK carbon account must be at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.

The Minister's decision has put his Secretary of State's duty in jeopardy.

Lord Bourne's announcement in full

The Climate Change Act 2008

Sutton Bridge B non-technical summary of the proposal

EDF Energy is 100% owned by the French Électricité de France S.A. formed  in 1946 upon the nationalisation of the French electricity industry and now operating as a limited liability corporation 85% owned by the French state. See Wikipedia.

The bulk of the profits from operating the Sutton Bridge power station will, therefore, accrue to the French state while the carbon emissions will be accounted for by the UK.

The Planning Application does not comment on the plant's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions as this is not required under planning law.  There is no indication in today's ministerial announcement that the climate change impact has been taken into account in reaching the decision.

EDF has yet to make a final investment decision so it is by no means certain that the plant will be built.  If the Paris COP21 climate conference in December reaches an agreement that is consistent with appropriate global warming mitigation then this development may be ruled out.  Even without a strong binding agreement at Paris the investment environment that is swinging towards disinvestment from fossil carbon fuels may make the proposal unattractive the EDF.

EDF has an expanding interest in renewable generation, particularly in both on and off-shore wind.  Unfortunately several on-shore wind proposals have recently be withdrawn, EDF Renewables making statements of the form "After reviewing the scheme in the light of recent government announcements on onshore wind, the company has informed xxx Council that it does not intend to develop its plans for the project any further".  See EDF Renewables News reports such as this.

So it is clear that the Government are currently preventing renewable electricity generation schemes whilst allowing fossil carbon based generation, contrary to their statutory obligation under the Climate Change Act 2008 and in denial of the consequences of global warming.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Economic Growth Rates: what do they mean?

Hardly a news bulletin goes by without a mention of economic growth, whether it be the 7% talked of in connection with China or the 2% associated with the UK economy. Almost always there is an underlying framing of the discussion with more being better, an increase in growth being good, a decrease bad news.
Leaving aside for the moment what the GDP number actually measures, whether it measures what is useful or not, let’s look at the arithmetic.  Few folk, I suspect, think too hard about the implications of growth over time, over the timescales of human interest, of ourselves and our grandchildren.
Here’s a table, a little ready-reckoner, showing what happens to a hundred pounds worth of economic activity at different growth rates to the end of this century.

At a very modest growth rate of 1%, which most politicians would regard as failure, the economy doubles in size by the year 2085.  If China keeps up its 7% rate it will have doubled in less than a decade.  I’ve coloured the doubling time year in blue for different growth rates.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider what doubling the economy looks like.  We see the economy though the money in our bank accounts, in the amount of shopping we do, the number of cars on the road.  What would our local high street look like if the economy were doubled?
Having twice as much money in our bank account might seem like a nice idea, but think the implications through.
Imagine what multiplying the economy by ten would do.  That’s what we get with a 3% growth rate before the end of the century, or by mid-century at the Chinese rate of 7%.  Colour red. Imagine!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why I'm Voting Corbyn

Today I paid my three quid to get to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election.  As a Green Party member it did take a bit of thinking through.  Here's the train of thought.

Whatever other ills there are in the world, the existential crisis facing humanity is global warming.  If you don't have this at the top of your list you are in denial.

Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything showed us that we will not effectively address this issue if we do not also completely change the way capitalism operates.  Pope Francis in Laudato Si taught us that to tackle climate change we must simultaneously tackle global injustice and spoke of capitalism as "the dung of the Devil".

Capitalism does not have within itself the ability to solve the climate crisis. See my previous blog, The End of Capitalism has Begunabout Paul Mason's forthcoming book and my previous to that blog, Grown Up Economics, in which I explore the incompatibility of the degrowth required for effective climate change mitigation and capitalism.

So, to tackle the most important issue, we must do what we can to lesson the impact of capitalism, to change it into something unrecognisable, even to overthrow it.  That is going to be tough if both the Government party and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition are wedded to the same cause of neo-liberalism and continuous economic growth of this finite planet.

Jeremy Corbyn represents those who cast doubt on the validity of the current direction of travel being relentlessly pursued by the Tories and, if not actively supported, at least not being effectively opposed by much of the Labour Party including three of the contenders for leadership.

The SNP's Mhairi Black was spot on in her maiden speech when she quoted Tony Benn's Weathercock and Signpost analogy.  To be a leader you do not need to study opinion polls; you need to set out the agenda you think is right and shout "This way, come follow me."  That's what Corbyn has done. I may not follow him down every twist and turn of his path but he is headed in a good direction; the others are Hell-bent 180° to the contrary, heading to what Pope Francis, in his metaphor that is religion, calls Hell.

If my three quid can nudge our country a fraction in a better direction it will have been well spent.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The End of Capitalism has Begun

I've just chanced upon an article in the Guardian by Paul Mason.  It caught my eye as it's by the same guy that wrote the foreword to the new, 2015, edition of Yanis Varoufakis's book The Global Minotaur, that I've been reading this weekend.

Read Paul Mason: The End of Capitalism has Begun

Did you read it? All of it? Do you see the significance? Why Marx was right, why the Transistion Town movement is right, why Varoufakis is right, why the Pirate Party is right, why Occupy is right, why decarbonisation, degrowth, and everything else that you, my friends, hold dear is right?

We're part of the great global transition to postcapitalism. It began for me when the late Dr David Fleming told me about it on a train journey returning from an Ecology Party conference in 1977. 

And we need to get on with it.

(Paul Mason wrote that last sentence but I'm sure he is giving away his intellectual property right to it.)

Paul Mason's book, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, is published on 30th July 2015.

David Fleming's Book Lean Logic, A Dictionary for the Future and how to Survive It, was published in 2011.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Grown up Economics - Beth Stratford in Lincoln

This in not so much a review or report as my personal take home messages from a talk given by Beth Stratford followed by discussion in Lincoln on Tuesday 14th July 2015, organised byt the Lincoln Green Party.

Global warming brings humanity its existential crisis. The science is clear for all rational minds. Dealing with it involves more than a direct approach.

Capitalism has within it the requirement to transfer wealth from the workers to the capitalists. This is acceptable so long as there is economic growth, so long as the pie keeps growing and there is hope for all of increasing prosperity. Capitalism therefore requires growth for its survival.

Unless and until there is absolute decoupling of economic growth and resource consumption, growth on a finite and fragile planet must come to an end. Even a modest 3% growth in the global economy would represent a ten-fold increase by about the end of the century.

A steady state economy or even degrowth is a requirement for human survival. But since capitalism requires the transfer of wealth to the capitalists, zero growth implies a fall in the level of real wages, an increasing gap between rich and poor. Since this, beyond a certain point, becomes politically unacceptable, almost all politicians continue to assume that pursuit of growth is required.

The solution to what is otherwise an impossible dilemma is to change capitalism so fundamentally that it promotes greater equality and social justice. It may then not even be capitalism. This is what Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’ and Pope Francis in ‘Laudato Si’ argue for, that we must work for a change to the global economic system so that it creates equality and social justice if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

For the Green Party, the debate as to whether to campaign more about climate change or austerity is a false dichotomy, the one goal requiring success in the other.

Global warming mitigation requires an end to capitalism as we know it, or, turning that around, capitalism requires global warming denial.

Beth Stratford is a PhD researcher at Roehampton University and is interested in how house price inflation is affecting our working behaviour and values. She co-ordinated the Transforming Finance conference in London and the Just Banking conference in Edinburgh. She has worked as a campaigner for Friends of the Earth in Scotland and 10:10, an editor and researcher for the late Dr. David Fleming and Lean Economy Connection, and a documentary film maker. She holds an MSc with distinction in Ecological Economics, and a degree from Cambridge in Politics.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Pope, the Archbishop, the Patriarch, the Doctors and the Scientists

This week saw the publication of two important papers.  A group of scientists headed by Gerardo Ceballos provides more evidence that we are entering the planet's sixth mass extinction and Pope Francis published his encyclical, Laudato Si, in which he describes the predicament and offers solutions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholemew, published a supporting essay in the New York Times under the heading of Climate Change and Moral Responsibility as a preview of an article to be published next week in the Lancet "highlighting the inalienable and undeniable link between climate change and human health".

But let's leave saving our own skins till next week and concentrate today on the rest of the biosphere.

Here's the abstract of
Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

by Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle and Todd M. Palmer.

The oft-repeated claim that Earth’s biota is entering a sixth “mass extinction” depends on clearly demonstrating that current extinction rates are far above the “background” rates prevailing in the five previous mass extinctions. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticized for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis. We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

The Pope devoted a substantial part of his encyclical to biodiversity.  He speaks to all of us and his writing must surely chime with those of us concerned for the wildlife in our own neighbourhood.

Loss of biodiversity
The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful. We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight. Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species. Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life.
Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity. The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands. A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”.24 We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.
The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted. In some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern.
Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.
In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?”25 This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.
Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.

Download the whole of Laudato Si here.

So that's the Pope, the Archbishop, the Patriarch, the Doctors and the Scientists.  Politicians, where are you?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

404 Why it's a bad number

This is the Mauna Loa data, the Keeling Curve, for the year to May 2015.  It's a bit noisy from week to week but concentrate on the smoothed average shown by the blue/white boundary. 
CO2 concentration peaked at about 404ppm this year, a rise of over 2ppm on this time last year, and will now drop back a little as the northern temperate forests come into leaf, start photosynthesising and sequester CO2.

The extraordinary thing is that despite everybody knowing that global warming could end civilisation we continue to burn fossil carbon so next May the concentration could reach over 406 ppm.

We've known since 1824, thanks to Joseph Fourier, that the atmosphere kept us warm, and since 1864, thanks to John Tyndall, that adding gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere would warm the planet further. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated just how much warmer and by 1938 Guy Callendar had measured both the rise in CO2 concentration and the rise in temperature, added them together and gave us the correct answer.

Before humans started burning a lot of fossil carbon, CO2 concentration was around 280ppm.  By the time Charles Keeling started the Mauna Loa observations in 1958 it had already risen to around 315ppm.  James Hansen made the number 350 famous, the level we really should not be above if human civilisation is to have a sustainable future.  Yet here we are with a new record set and a discussion amongst climate scientists as to whether the rate on increase is increasing.  Doh!

Moral: We have to stop burning fossil carbon.  Now. And then we need to get the concentration back down below 350ppm by sequestering carbon.

Friday, May 08, 2015

So Much for the Tea Leaves

With poetry and prose appropriate to a failed election.

Let's start with some numbers  (hat-tip the BBC website) from Brighton Pavillion, Boston & Skegness, Gainsborough and Louth & Horncastle:

In a constituency where voters think there is a good chance that their vote will count towards a winning candidate, they will vote for the policies they agree with most, will vote for hope, will vote Green.  But where there is little chance of the Green Party winning, especially in a seat that is marginal between two other parties, people are reluctant to 'waste' their vote on a candidate with no hope of winning.

This means that if we had a properly proportional voting system, in which everybody's vote counted for something, then people would be more likely to vote for the party that best matched their preferred policies.  And all the indications are that for a great many people that means the Green Party.

As we have seen with the SNP in Scotland, when change comes, it can come very quickly.  The future is an uncertain place.

But there is anger and sadness about today; some have tried to describe those who would make the rich richer and poor poorer, who would promote the arms trade, who would build that genocidal weapon of mass destruction they call Trident, and who would deny the global warming that is likely to end human civilisation, perhaps even the extinction of the human race. I don't think we have simple words to describe such people. At such times we must call on the poets:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars 
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires--and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings--the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash--and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again;--a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress--he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects--saw, and shriek'd, and died--
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful--was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless--
A lump of death--a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon their mistress had expir'd before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them--She was the Universe.
Lord Byron

Or perhaps this piece from Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake

Thanks to Maxim Griffin

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

An Elephant in the Polling Booth

In 1978, as the Ecology Party's representative on the wonderfully named Parliamentary Liaison Committee for Alternative Energy Strategies, I met Tony Benn, then the Energy Minister.  He dismissed us as a 'single issue party', dismissed our call for renewable energy and said that nuclear generated electricity would be too cheap to meter. He was wrong, on both counts, as he came to admit in latter days when his position became almost indistinguishable from that of the Green Party.

Still the Green Party is criticised as being a single issue Party, but now we hear another criticism, that we have been too quiet about the environment.  Rocks and hard places come to mind.

The overwhelming failure of the election campaign, and UK politics in general, is the almost complete absence of discussion about global warming and climate change.  So focussed are we on the minutiae of daily life, little things that only affect the present generation for the next few years, the NHS, education, pensions, transport, Scottish independence, austerity, migration, bankers' bonuses, energy costs, Trident replacement, tactical voting and what have you. None of these things, however excited we may get about them, represent an existential crisis for the very future of human civilisation.

Our society, led by all the powers that be, is heading for global warming of several degrees. 4 degrees, 6 degrees, more, who knows, but the certainty is that the trajectory we are currently on leads to a future which is not survivable. Let me repeat that: the trajectory we are currently on leads to a future which is not survivable.  And I've not heard any politician outside the Green Party say that. 

Which is why I'm voting Green. Nothing else really matters.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So who to vote for on this seventh day of May?

The three constituencies covered by the East Lincolnshire GreenParty, Gainsborough, Louth & Horncastle, Boston & Skegness, are amongst the safest Tory seats in the land. so while one should never say never, it's a safe bet that the three Conservative MPs will be returned to Parliament.

If you are a Tory supporter, your choice lies between casting your vote for your candidate or staying at home safe in the knowledge that your vote will not make a difference since your candidate will win with a safe majority even without your help.

But what if you are not very rich and concerned only about maximising your personal wealth or you have not been tricked by the overwhelming billionaire-owned media into thinking that the neo-liberal economic agenda promoted by the Tories is actually good for most people? If you are a climate change denying racist opposed to all things foreign you may as well paint yourself purple and yellow, but for the great majority of nice, sensible folk there is a bit of a dilemma.

Remember, in these safe Tory seats, your vote won't make a difference to the outcome of the election.

The remaining purpose of your vote is to send a signal, a message, to whoever ends up in government. So, forget about traditional loyalties and habits, ignore personalities and slick rhetoric, media presentation and election spending power. Instead vote for what you believe in, vote for the party that has the policies that most closely match your own.

Here's a website that allows you to do that easily, objectively, in an unbiased way.

Vote for Policies.

You take a survey, answering a series of questions and the computer programme matches your answers to the policies of the various parties and tells you which party your answers suggest you should be voting for.  It's particularly useful for people who have not read through each party's manifesto, so that's most of us.
I'm pretty sure that, were he to have been alive today, William Shakespeare would have voted for the Green Party.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Looking at the tea leaves…

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.  Niels Bohr may have said that.

Notwithstanding, here's mine:

Labour and Tory take about the same number of seats, both well short of a majority. Most Scottish seats go to SNP. LibDems have a few along with a handful of Greens, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and Northern Ireland parties.

Conservative will not be able to form a minority government because even with LibDem and UKIP support, a Queen's speech cannot be passed; Labour and SNP will oppose. Labour, however, can win a Queen's Speech with SNP support; SNP would not join the Tories in voting it down. Continued Labour government would be dependent upon SNP support and this will be provided as SNP and Tories won’t get together to stop Labour. Even on a matter such as Trident replacement, in which Labour would get Tory support, it would not be in SNP’s interest to bring down a Labour government.

So we will have a minority Labour government with SNP theoretically holding the balance of power, but unable to do anything apart from support Labour, even in the absence of an official deal.


Whatever, we do need a post May7th Agenda:

After a little party on Friday night, the real work begins for the Green Party:
  • to retain all the 'surge' members when their renewals come round,
  • ensuring the organisational strength for by-elections or,
  • a snap general election in case a minority government fails,
  • ensuring a Yes vote in an EU referendum in the unlikely event that we get a government that insists on one,
  • getting ready for big gains in the EU Election 2017,
  • grabbing local council seats in any local elections,
  • winning big time in 2020,
  • campaigning tirelessly for proportional representation,
  • challenging every wrong thing that whoever is in power does,
  • and most important of all campaigning on global warming to ensure a decent agreement in Paris this December and a future that allows politics to continue in a human society that hasn't gone extinct.