Monday, January 04, 2016

To 2°C

There's been a lot of talk of strange weather, floods in the UK and many other places, droughts elsewhere, a record number of CAT 5 storms and the link to El Niño and global warming is now widely accepted. Much of the talk about flooding in the UK is around what should be done about this so-called 'new normal'. My prescription started here and was summarised in four key points in descending order of both importance and altitude:
  1. Slow down the rate at which water enters rivers.
  2. Divert water out of rivers on to land where flooding causes relatively little damage.
  3. Prevent water reaching homes and businesses.
  4. Get water into the sea.

It has been good to see that attention is being given to slowing water down before it reaches rivers, by reafforestation of uplands and creating leaky blockages to small streams, ponds, swales and other wetlands and a host of other farmland management practices.  The finger has been firmly pointed at the game-bird shooting industry, sheep farming, and subsidies that encourage farmers to do exactly the wrong thing.
Less attention has been given to what climate change we should be expecting over the next few decades.  The changes we are seeing are happening in a world that has seen only about 1°C of average global surface warming. There's at least another half degree already baked into the system even if we stop the rise of greenhouse gas concentration at its current level.  The recent Paris COP21 Agreement saw aspirational commitments towards a 50% chance of keeping the warming to 2°. Promised actions are leading us towards 3° and actual actions, if extrapolated, overshoot even that disastrous level.
But lets be optimistic, let's assume that the world's governments and peoples adopt strong climate mitigation measures and luck is on our side of the 50% probability and we do actually keep the global average surface temperature rise to 2°C.  When it comes to extreme weather event adaptation we should, rather than planning for more of what we have recently witnessed, be preparing for weather in a world where warming is double what we now see.
What weather should we expect in a 2° world and what do we need to do now to be able to cope with it?  That's where today's discourse needs to be.


Monday, December 28, 2015

After the Deluge

As I discussed in my piece, Turned Out Wet (Again), we need a new approach to flood management.  We've only had about 1°C of average global surface temperature warming so far, the Paris COP21 agreement promises a 50% chance of limiting warming to 2°, INDCs are heading us to 3° and actual actions are currently on track to push us through 4°.  Whatever the outcome of our endeavours, we should be planning for extreme weather events far more serious than the record rainfall in northern England of December 2015.

So first step is to get government to take climate change seriously and to act accordingly. It's a difficult first step.

And then we need a simple prescriptive framework to apply across river basins and adapt to site specific situations.  Here are some principles:

  1. Slow down the rate at which water enters rivers.
  2. Divert water out of rivers on to land where flooding causes relatively little damage.
  3. Prevent water reaching homes and businesses.
  4. Get water into the sea.

Top of the list, if water doesn't get into the river, the river won't flood!  The whole landscape needs to be looked at in terms of water retention.  The hills of northern England offer great potential.  Their natural vegetation is deciduous woodland and vast swathes of upland Britain should be re-afforested.  The grouse shooters would lose out. Tough on them. We need beavers not game-birds.  A new priority for farmers must be a smarter approach to drainage, allowing the appropriate soil water management for cultivations and pasture but restricting the rate of outflow from the farm overall, with ponds and swales an d wetlands so that heavy rain does not reach rivers in minutes and hours but is retained for days.

At number two, rivers should be engineered to not pass water on downstream quickly.  The dredging lobby have it exactly wrong. Except at the river's mouth, moving water faster downstream just shifts the problem. Rivers need to flood onto their floodplains as soon as possible so we need spillways to land where large volumes can be stored safely and then released slowly.  As with the upland farms, appropriate engineering and management incentives must be provided for farmers on floodplains.  The land has to be made available for flooding, not for housing estates!

Thirdly, flood defences for urban areas need to be improved, raised, strengthened and managed effectively.  That's a continuation of policy already under way, but the point to note is that the cost will be lower and the effectiveness greater if the previous two upstream principles have been dealt with seriously.  Without that, urban defences will sooner or later end in tears.

Finally, the rivers need to discharge to sea as speedily as possible.  It is only here, downstream from vulnerable infrastructure, that there may be local conditions that warrant dredging.  As sea level rises over the coming decades, as it surely will no matter what global warming mitigation measures are adopted, the importance of the three earlier areas for action increases. Discharge to sea is the last resort.


This picture has produced wry smiles around cyberspace.  (If you are the copyright owner do let me know.)  I gather it comes from near Clitheroe where the local planning authority is Ribble Valley Borough Council.  Party political point scorers may like to note that this council comprises 33 Tories, 6 LibDems and an Independent.

As I said, the first step is to get government to take climate change seriously and to act accordingly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

National Parks won't be Fracked.



Fracking for gas in the UK has always been a Ponzi Scheme. The geology is far more complex than in the USA and consequently the productivity and profitablility of ventures here have always been in doubt. There has never been a possibility that the sort of environmental impact seen in the US would be tolerated here.

As I pointed out here. and in other blog-posts in 2013, fracking in the UK has been pursued because inward investment can be spent by the directors of the companies now, and then in a few years when the scheme is abandoned, the investors will find they have lost out. Close relatives of senior government ministers stand to make a lot of money by convincing potential investors that there's money to be made in fracking. The latest farce concerning National Parks is just the latest PR effort to keep the money flowing in by sending a message that the government supports fracking.

Think about it; today's change to the rules allow sideways drilling to expend under National Parks from well-heads outside the boundary. There are only limited places where that would be geologically possible and will make no material difference to the industry.

In the USA the fracking industry is in deep trouble, debts are mounting and profits have gone. Our Paris COP21 Agreement means that these new sources of fossil carbon have to be left underground. To pretend that fracking will take place in the UK on any significant scale is delusional. We should focus our efforts on pointing out the Ponzi nature of the idea, warning gullible investors to find safer homes for their money, such as windfarms.



    Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the operators by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the operator.

    Ponzi scheme - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponzi_scheme
    Paul Mobbs has updated his Frackogram - the diagram that summarises the vested interests and relationships in the UK fracking industry.  It is well worth close scrutiny.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

After Paris COP21, Stop Shopping.

There's millions of words being written about the Paris COP21, the historic agreement that sets us on a course to a brave new world of sustainability, or a sell-out to the interests of power and greed, promoting the short-term interests of the 1% and leading to mass die-off and the end of civilisation.  You choose.

But first lets have a quick reality check.
  • There's enough greenhouse gas already emitted to send us past the 1.5°C mark whatever we do.
  • The ice caps are no longer in equilibrium with climate so will melt, raising sea level by a great many metres, though the rate of rise is unknown.
  • The pledges made (and they are only words not actions so far) will send global average surface temperature way into the territory of catastrophic climate change for many parts of the world.
  • The poorest people will suffer the most and the soonest, with scant hope for compensation from those who caused the problem
However one interprets the outcome of COP21, it is clear that the real work of change lies ahead of us.  We have to stop burning fossil carbon and we have to change everything to make that possible.
It's easy, and probably justified, to blame 'the leaders'. But that still leaves what each of us can do. Protest, persuade, vote, demonstrate, write, shout, whatever, but we need actions beyond words.
Each of us needs to stop burning fossil carbon and that, roughly speaking, means we have to stop shopping.  We can fill in one of those carbon footprint surveys to indicate (very roughly) what our share of the damage is but there's a pretty close link between what we spend and our climate impact.  Rich people (and I guess that's most of my readers) are far more part of the problem than poor people.
For sure, not all shopping is equal.  There's airline tickets and there's tickets for string quartets.  Every time we buy something we are performing a political and climate-affecting act that is likely to be more influential than all the voting or protesting that we can do.
If we all stop shopping the whole edifice of industrial capitalism collapses, and without all that messy business of the bad guys up against the wall.
If we all stop shopping in a smart way we can engineer the transition to the fossil fuel free future that COP21 promises.  String quartets will survive and we can concentrate on building conviviality in our neighbourhoods. I could be a good life.  We choose.


Monday, December 07, 2015

Turned out Wet (again)

[Update 26th December 2015: It's still raining. Much of northern England has had its wettest December on record.  UK Government still in material denial over significant action on global warming.]


In February 2014, at the time of the Somerset Levels flooding, I wrote a couple of blog-pieces about the weather (well, I am English). They are here: Turned out Wet and here:Turned out Wet (and still raining)

In case you don't want to follow those links I'll repost the first section, which turns out still to be relevant:


Climate scientists talk of extreme weather in terms of 3-sigma or even 5-sigma events. In a distribution of possibilities 3-sigma refers to the probability of something happening that lies at least 3 standard deviations away from the norm. For a normal distribution that’s a chance of some 1 in 370. A 5-sigma event has a probability of about 1 in 1.7 million, so you really should not be holding your breath waiting for it to happen.

A plot of a normal distribution (or bell-shaped curve) where each band has a width of 1 standard deviation Source: Wikipedia

The real world is not quite so simple. The probabilities of weather events are not distributed evenly about the mean – a dry day can’t get any drier but a wet day could be a lot wetter. Skewed or fat-tailed distributions are common. But to get a qualitative handle on things for practical purposes, such as whether it’s worth spending money on a particular flood defence, one might consider a 3-sigma event as very rare, maybe having occurred during the historical record just once or twice or not at all. That’s the sort of probability that the Environment Agency seriously considers planning for and often spends big money on defending against. There will always be some who say the money should not be spent, or should be spent differently, but that’s all part of the normal cut and thrust of public policy making and spending.
A 5-sigma event, even with fat-tailed weather event distributions, is so rare it’s probably never been experienced and may never have happened at least during much of the last few thousand years of the Holocene climate regime. Most people in a democracy would baulk at policies and public spending to protect against 5-sigma events. And if there are downsides to a policy that protects against such an event then it is soon and sensibly ruled out.
However, such thinking presupposes that the climate is stable, that what were 3-sigma events haven’t become a whole lot more common and that the previously 5-sigma events have not now slipped into the 3-sigma category. But that is exactly what climate science tells us to expect in a warming planet. The global warming caused by our emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses is producing climate changes that are shifting the probabilities. For the British Isles more stormy weather with higher rainfall totals falling with greater intensity, interspersed with occasional severe droughts, is the future we need to expect.
The winter of 2013/4 has seen a 5-sigma event in southern Britain. Rainfall has been the highest in the record and the number, frequency and intensity of Atlantic depressions has surpassed previous knowledge. One might justifiably wonder whether there has been a similar period of stormy weather since the Atlantic Period, since the Neolithic settlers built the Sweet Track across the Somerset Levels.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset, asked, rhetorically, “Was it climate change or incompetence?” and stated, “These floods were predictable”. His opposition to windfarms and poor voting record in Parliament on climate related issues, makes one think that here is a man who does not understand climate science and does not take climate change seriously. But then he is a parliamentarian who, presumably, feels the need to represent the views of his constituents. Opinion surveys have shown that a large proportion of the British public do not accept the scientific consensus on climate change, so perhaps Mr Liddell-Grainger is not unusual. 


*********************
Almost two years on and in the light of the rainy weather in Cumbria and elsewhere it's time to re-visit the issue.  We've just seen another extreme rainfall event; the Honister weather station recorded 341mm in 24 hours, a new UK record.  That's certainly a 3-sigma event, maybe a 5-sigma, but that depends on how one does the statistics.  As I suggested in February 1014 (copied above) we should be looking at the dynamic aspect of the weather record; the climate is no longer stable so that which should once have been regarded as so unlikely it can, for practical and policy purposes be regarded as 'won't happen' should now be expected, mitigated against and adapted to.

This is where the weather buffets politics.  Last time I took a passing swipe at the Somerset MP, Ian Liddell-Graingers's grasp of climate science so let's now, in fairness, turn to the Penrith MP, Rory Stewart. What's his Parliamentary record on climate change?

Here's the TheyWorkForYou calculation


Climate Change: There have been votes in Parliament on targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and on increasing the proportion of electricity generated via renewable means as well as on the establishment of a UK Green Investment Bank, to invest in projects which, for example, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Rory Stewart generally voted against measures to prevent climate change


Stewart is not just the local MP, he is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), so he was being interviewed for the television news in wellies and hi-viz in front of a flooded street scene.  To his credit, though I don't suppose he realised it, he got it right when he suggested that talking in terms of a one in hundred year event is not helpful. I think, however, he meant helpful as in helping the damp folks piling their carpets on the street, rather than the statistical meaninglessness of 'one in a hundred years' when the climate is changing.


It was only four weeks ago that an up-beat Rory Stewart said: “This is a real model of local river management" while on a visit to a flood management project in his constituency.  Stewart, as befits the 'Floods Minister', has actually involved himself and written quite a lot on the flooding issue, as can be seen from his own blog.  It's good to see, and perhaps surprising from a man more well-known for his writings about walking in the deserts of central Asia.

But, and please help me if I've missed it, he appears to have not noticed the elephant in the room.  He never mentions global warming.  Sorry, Rory, but it's well past time to push your government into serious global warming mitigation and adaptation instead of allowing the UK to be seen in Paris COP21 as the world's laggards.


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

David Fleming, five years on.

By coincidence, we've just been in Amsterdam exactly five years since David Fleming died on the 29th of November 2010 there and we made the trip through the snow to his funeral to say our last goodbye.

I thought of him again as we passed through Europort, the planet's greatest agglomeration of stuff in containers and of the oil refineries that are so central to the whole sorry enterprise of industrial capitalism that has brought our planet's ability to sustain civilization to the brink.

Then at the Stedelijk Museum we visited the Isa Genzken exhibition, Mach Dich Hüpsch, in which she shows what happens to all that stuff after it has left the shipping containers, the shop-fronts and our homes. Mach Dich Hüpsch, she says, but there's nothing pretty about the detritus of our consumerism.

David saw the lie of bright plastic and might better have enjoyed the Dutch Masters in the Rijksmuseum nearby (the bookmark I use in my copy of Lean Logic is a postcard of Van Dijck's, Still Life with Cheese, he sent me from the Rijksmuseum) or appreciated Van Gogh's respect for the peasants' lives and feared the anxieties expressed by Edvard Munch and so brilliantly displayed at Munch: Van Gogh.

Meanwhile in Paris the COP21 begins.  David foresaw what he called a climacteric, "A stage in the life of a system in which it is especially exposed to a profound change in health or fortune."  He wrote of "...the convergence of events which can be expected in the period 2010-2040.  They include deep deficits in energy, water and food, along with climate change, a shrinking land area as seas rise, and heat, drought and storm affecting the land that remains."


While there is no longer serious talk of uncertainty in the anthropogenic origin of global warming, there is a great deal of uncertainty in how the future will play out, but politicians and many other commentators struggle to deal with uncertainty.  David Fleming wrote, "It is unknown how fast the climacteric will develop. One view is that it will unfold as a slow deterioration - a long descent - with periods of respite allowing time for intelligent responses to be worked out and applied. Another view is that, because our civilisation is so connected, urbanised, and dependent on fully-functioning complex energy and distribution systems ... the turndown will be more delayed than expected: there is, as Adam Smith observed, a great deal of ruin in a nation. But when it comes it is likely to be more abrupt than expected."

Lean Logic, was published privately in limited edition shortly after David's death but thanks to the unstinting effort of Shaun Chamberlin to bring the work to a wider audience it will soon be available from Chelsea Green.

Shaun describes the book at greater depth on his blog at Dark Optimism and I commend Lean Logic as an invaluable tool for understanding the uncertain future.




Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Graph that Matters III

You read about The Graph that Matters?

And the updated The Graph that Matters II?

Well, it got worse; the October figures show the trend is upward.  And people a still fretting about stuff that really doesn't matter all that much.



That's all.

Though if you missed the two earlier posts linked to above, they're still there.


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: http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12132.doc.htm

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.


and


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
Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertile_Crescent
26 November 2008
2008 UNDrought Appeal For Syria
US Cable released by Wikileaks
http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=08DAMASCUS847&q=act%20and%20as%20economic%20multiplier%20on%20pressures%20social
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
http://pubpages.unh.edu/~jlu36/CCSowersVengoshWeinthal.pdf
11 August 2009
Syria Drought Response Plan
Report from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/syria-drought-response-plan
24 November 2009
Syria: Drought response faces funding shortfall
IRIN
http://www.irinnews.org/report/87165/syria-drought-response-faces-funding-shortfall
2009
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
http://www.iisd.org/publications/pub.aspx?id=1130
16 January 2010
Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business, threatens prized heirloom chiles
Gary Nabhan
http://grist.org/food/2010-01-15-drought-drives-middle-eastern-peppers/
17 February 2010
Syria: Over a million people affected by drought
INRIN
http://www.irinnews.org/report/88139/syria-over-a-million-people-affected-by-drought
25 March 2010
Syria: Why the water shortages?IRIN
http://www.irinnews.org/report/88554/
13 October 2010
Earth Is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived
Robert F. Worth, Hwaida Saad
New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/14/world/middleeast/14syria.html
2010
Drought Vulnerability in the Arab Region – Special Case Study: Syria
Wadid Erian. Bassem Katlan & Ouldbdey Babah
http://www.preventionweb.net/english/hyogo/gar/2011/en/bgdocs/Erian_Katlan_&_Babah_2010.pdf
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)
http://www.ifpri.org/sites/default/files/publications/ifpridp01091.pdf
27 October 2011
NOAA study: Human-caused climate change a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts
http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20111027_drought.html
16 February 2012
Sowing the Seeds of Dissent: Economic Grievances and the Syrian Social Contract’s Unraveling
Suzanne Saleeby
http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/4383/sowing-the-seeds-of-dissent_economic-grievances-an
29 February 2012
Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest
Francesco Femia & Caitlin Werrell
http://climateandsecurity.org/2012/02/29/syria-climate-change-drought-and-social-unrest/
June 2013
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict
Peter Gleick
ScienceBlogs
http://scienceblogs.com/significantfigures/index.php/2013/06/10/syria-water-climate-change-and-violent-conflict/


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.
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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
32.
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.
33.
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.
34.
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.
35.
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.
36.
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.
37.
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.
38.
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.
39.
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.
40.
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.
41.
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.
42.
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?