Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trump and the Azolla Event

Azolla filiculoides

About 50 million years ago, at a time known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were much higher than today, probably mostly because there had been a lot of volcanoes erupting over periods of many thousands of years. Consequently, average global temperatures were much higher; there was no ice at either pole and tropical vegetation spread over what is now the Arctic.

Then the CO2 levels dropped and temperatures declined.

Where did the carbon go?

The Arctic Ocean was all but cut off from the rest of the world's oceans as the gap between Norway and Greenland had not opened up. With large rivers and a much higher rainfall adding fresh water to the Arctic Ocean it seems likely that the water became stratified, the denser salt-water below and a layer of fresh water floating above. Over an area of perhaps four million square kilometers, a tiny little floating fern called Azolla could grow and spread across the surface.

Azolla can grow very fast, drawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As the plants died their remains sank to the bottom into an anoxic environment where the carbon remained and was buried. Over a period of almost a million years countless trillions of Azolla plants sequestered enough carbon to reduce the atmospheric CO2 content by perhaps 80%, ending the intense greenhouse effect and allowing a cooler climate to return.

Azolla forms a symbiotic relationship with the cyanobacterium Anabaena azollae, which fixes atmospheric nitrogen, giving the plant access to this essential nutrient. Given sufficient phosphates, it romps away, doubling its mass every few days. In south-east Asia it has been traditionally cultivated in rice paddies, leaving a nitrogen-rich mulch when the fields are drained.


In Britain it is regarded as a non-native invasive species but the adverse effects, if any, are not very serious. See Non Native Species Secretariat. Of course in these days of xenophobia and distrust of all things foreign, there is a prejudice against all non-native species that goes way beyond the rational, and anyway, Azolla grew in the British Isles before the last Ice Age cleared it out. It just didn't make it back till Victorian plant collectors and gardeners re-introduced it.

But really we should regard Azolla as the plant that, more than any other species, saved planet Earth from a Venusian fate of runaway greenhouse heating, returning the global climates to a state in which the human species could evolve. Perhaps we owe it one.

And what of Trump? The President's recent action to allow drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic is particularly crass. The Azolla beds form part of the source rock for the hydrocarbons that he thinks should be extracted and burnt, undoing all the good work that this little fern did for us 49 million years ago.


The Azolla Foundation provides much more information and links to the literature.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My letter to EU President Tusk



The e-mail that I just sent to

press.president@consilium.europa.eu

To: His Excellency Mr Doald Tusk
The President, Council of the European Union
Rue de la Loi/Wetstraat 175
B-1048 Brussels
Belgium

29 March 2017

Dear Mr Tusk,

Notice of Individual A50 dissent

I refer to the Treaty on European Union as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon signed on 13 December 2007 in Lisbon.

I am informed that notice has been given to the European Council by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, of the intention of the British government to withdraw the United Kingdom (the “UK”) from the European Union (the “EU”).

As a British national and citizen of the EU, I hereby notify the Council of my dissent from and objections to this act of the British government. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not consent to being deprived of my European Citizenship or the rights conferred by that citizenship. Further, quite apart from not having my consent, I contend that, contrary to its claim, the British government does not have a democratic mandate from the people of the UK to leave the EU and accordingly I object to and contest the validity of its notice served under Article 50.2.

While reserving my position on whether the British government has complied with the requirements of Article 50.1, the basis for my opposition to its notice of intention to withdraw is that the referendum, which is the source of the mandate claimed by the British government, was fundamentally flawed as set out below.

I contend that the result of the referendum should be treated as void (notwithstanding that it was non-binding in any event) for the following reasons (inter alia):

(a) During the months prior to the referendum, voters were subjected to an onslaught of misrepresentations by those campaigning and in the British news and social media, much of which took the form of distortions of facts that were calculated to mislead readers. As a result, the majority of voters were either uninformed or wrongly informed about the pertinent issues and by no stretch of the imagination could the referendum result truthfully be described as a democratic exercise in informed choice;

(b) Only 37.5% of those eligible to vote, voted in favour of leaving the EU (17.4 million persons);

(c) Several million British nationals who arguably should have been eligible to vote, were excluded from doing so. Those excluded comprised, amongst others (i) the entire 16-18 age group, although the same group were able to vote in the recent Scottish referendum on independence; (ii) non-UK EU member state nationals resident in the UK, although nationals of Commonwealth nations and Eire resident in the UK were able to vote; and (iii) British nationals who had been resident outside the UK for more than 15 years, including those residing in the EU; and

(d) In spite of a large body of evidence that in the 9 months since the referendum was held a sizeable fraction of those who voted to leave the EU have changed their minds as the issues have crystallised, the British government refused a second referendum before giving notice to the Council.

In conclusion, I humbly request that my objection to being forcibly deprived of my European Citizenship and corresponding rights is noted and acted upon by the Council. Further, I request that the Council note my grounds for objecting to the British government's notice of intention to leave the EU and take them into account in its response to that notice.

Please be good enough to acknowledge this communication.

Yours,
etc


Sunday, February 05, 2017

Anarchism - from David Fleming's Lean Logic

Anarchism.  “Anarchism”, from the Greek an and arches, means “no chief” – hence “no rule”, but there is more than one way of interpreting this, and it has been anarchism’s big problem that people tend to settle on the wrong one – the idea of anarchy as mere chaos.  It was in this sense that John Milton used it – as the state of affairs...
Where eldest Night                   
And Chaos, ancestors of Nature, hold
Eternal anarchy amidst the noise
Of endless wars, and by confusion stand;
For hot, cold, moist and dry, four champions fierce,
Strive here for mast'ry.                                                   (Paradise Lost, book ii, lines 894-899)
Secondly, there is the main body of anarchist literature.  We cannot really speak of “mainstream” anarchism, because anarchist writers, as you might expect, have tended to disagree with each other.  But there is a fundamental proposition in common: governments have a poor, even catastrophic, record, guided by almost any motive other than the interests of the people to whom they are in principle responsible.  If governments could somehow be persuaded or forced to back off, the people could make a far better job of things.
There are some famous names in this literature, and they deserve a mention: [i]
o  William Godwin (1756-1836)  argued that the guide to our actions should be reason, the logic of the Enlightenment.  Once people have a rational understanding of their duties, there is no need for such sensibilities as honour, generosity, gratitude, promises, or even affections; nor for such limitations on individual judgment as marriage, orchestras or the theatre, nor, of course, for government.  He did admit that this enlightened deference to reason would not be easy to achieve; it would require ceaseless vigilance and self-examination, he supposed, but beyond that, there were no suggestions about how it was to be done, and Godwin’s rule of logic lives on in the literature both as perhaps the most heroic of all statements of the perfect society, a fantasy with remarkable staying power, for here we are considering it two centuries later.[ii]
o  Max Stirner (1806-1856) took individualism as far as it would go: no state, government, private property, religion, family, ethics, love or associations beyond what individuals happen to want, when they want it. [iii]
o  Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) looked to the Gospels for the peace and love, which is all that is needed, he claimed, to sustain society without governments, laws, police, armies and private property. [iv]
o  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) was an early, and strong supporter of localisation: the best safeguard of liberty and justice lies in food producers and craftsmen working together in cooperatives. [v]
o  Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) looked to the violent overthrow of the state, and its replacement as a bottom-up federation of trade-unions (anarcho-syndicalism).[vi]
o  Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) developed his advocacy of the abolition of private property and communal living in an extended and valuable discussion of land, biodynamic farming, decentralised urban planning, technology and the history of effective local action.[vii]
CULTURE AND GOOD SENSE
Matthew Arnold’s orderly anarchism
For Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), the cohesive principle is a common culture.  By “culture” what he had in mind was the very highest standards, “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.” [viii]  Later critics picked him up on this: culture is not limited to the best; it is, less ambitiously, the common story and tradition of a *community – but Arnold’s point holds: the way in which a community can preserve itself from anarchy (in its chaotic, Miltonian sense), is to build a community which is interesting enough to recognise itself as a particular place with its own identity, loyalties and obligation.  The outcome, as Arnold put it (the above sentence fills in the logic which Arnold does not spell out) is that a community learns “to like what right reason ordains.”[ix]
The common factor for most of these (but not Matthew Arnold, box) is the desire to see the end of government, and the most explicit statement of this is Bakunin’s anarcho-syndicalism, which sees trade unions as the spearhead of revolution, destroying both the government and the capitalism that sustains it.  In this way, the strengths of traditional anarchism’s positive visions and insights were impaired by the tendency to focus on one ideal solution – an ideology in its own right – as the magic pain that had to be endured first, before anarchism itself could have a chance.  A broader, more real vision was suggested by Alexander Herzen (1812-1870), who warned of the consequences of *abstraction, and insisted, instead, on the case for focusing on the local, the feasible, the practical, tangible, the proven – on the freedom to make and care for the particular place.  It was this grounded vision which, a century later, was taken up by Colin Ward.[x]
For Ward, anarchy (or, perhaps less confrontationally, “anarchism”) is the study of organisation – of rule of a particular kind: self-rule, the orderly habits and interactions that come into being with the formation and maintenance of human groups.  Anarchism, as Ward explains,
is about the ways in which people organise themselves, [xi] 
and...
Anarchists are people who make a social and political philosophy out of the natural and spontaneous tendency of humans to associate together for their mutual benefit. [xii]
As Ward points out, the reality underlying this is undeniable: the speed, efficiency and *imagination with which people bring order to a situation which has potential for chaos is revealed whenever a group of people are aligned, in the sense of having a common interests and a common purpose.  It applies, for instance, at times of protest – at Climate Camp in the United Kingdom in 2008, for instance, and in the uprisings in Budapest in 1956 and in Prague in 1968, when good order and altruism were as solid as the commitment to sustain the revolutions.  During the Hungarian uprising, it was the custom in Budapest... 
... to put big boxes on street corners, and just a script over them, “This is for the wounded and for the families of the dead”.  They were set out in the morning and by noon they were full of money.[xiii]
Happenings like these are exceptional, of course.  In due course the revolutions are either suppressed or successful, and things go back to normal, and yet they have something to tell us which could be useful.  Among the students of revolution who have noticed the remarkably competent groupings and councils that come into being if given a chance, Hannah Arendt writes ... 
Each time they appeared, they sprang up as the spontaneous organs of the people, not only outside of all revolutionary parties but entirely unexpected by them and their leaders.  They were utterly neglected by statesmen, historians, political theorists and, most importantly, by the revolutionary tradition itself.  [Even sympathetic historians] regarded them as nothing more than essentially temporary organs in the revolutionary struggle for liberation; that is to say, they failed to understand to what extent the council system confronted them with an entirely new form of government, with a new public space for freedom. [xiv]  
The emphasis here is on what can be done in practice (a bottom-up way of thinking), rather than on ambitions about having to do a lot of demolition first. 
On the other hand, the state’s natural reflex is to make things difficult, even without intending to do so.  The essential freedoms and resources which enable local action are eroded by governments, and, in some cases, such as education, their elimination is comprehensive.  And in terms of sheer practical possibility, too, the option of effective local community is becoming more remote: it is harder to make practical sense of things, for instance, in a locality which has lost its post office, hospital, school, surgery, shops, abattoir, railway station, local trades, church, magistrates court, probation services and local presence in farmland, and where it is difficult to decide on a collective celebration, owing to (amongst other things) prohibitions on grounds of health and safety, the fees and lead-times needed for an entertainments licence, and the sense that there is no cultural expression which does not exclude or offend many or most of the people living there.  
And yet, anarchism, in the cool, practical, local sense intended by Colin Ward, recognises that we innate community-builders ought to concentrate on what we can positively do.  We have a talent for order, and the inherited culture and accomplishments of the modern world are mainly the product of this talent.  The history of social inventions, the institutions and social capital that give us existence as a recognisable and living society, is the history of anarchism in this sense.  Medicine – the science and the institutions – were the product of voluntary persistence, backed by charitable donations, as were the schools and universities.  The whole of our inheritance of education was invented and made to happen by citizens, investing their time and talent in schools and colleges, in teaching as a creative skill in its own right, in sustaining diversity, and in increasing access.  Even such fundamentals as insurance against accident, sickness and loss of income – arranged through the friendly societies, and owned by their members – were voluntary enterprises and, from their start in the eighteenth century to their displacement by a state system in 1911, they had expanded their reach to almost universal coverage of working people.  The organic movement began as a citizens’ inspiration, developing its authority and its scientific standing by using its freedom to decide for itself.[xv] 
The weak point in that capacity for invention – in the spontaneous order that is the primary aim and accomplishment of anarchism – is that it is exposed to the distrust and jealously of centralising governments.  If it works, it tends to be taken over, and the spontaneous order tends to die. 
Anarchism has had its moments.  There are insights there that are relevant to a future of insolvent government, a deeply diminished economy, and no alternative for communities other than to invent everything for themselves, including the meaning of community.  Lean Logic will borrow from it, and will mix it with other lines of enquiry which most anarchists would have been horrified by.  But, then, anarchists have always had trouble with their allies.[xvi]



[i].              Note that Ted Honderich (1995), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, is a helpful first reference on anarchy and its main thinkers (though it omits Colin Ward).
[ii].             William Godwin (1793), An Enquiry Concerting Political Justice and its Influence on Modern Morals and Happiness; William Godwin (1794), Caleb Williams.  For an accessible summary of Godwin’s anarchist thought, see Roy Porter (2000), Enlightenment, pp 455-459.
[iii].            Peter Marshall (2010), Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, pp 220-234.
[iv].           Ibid, pp 362-384.
[v].            Ibid, pp 234-263.
[vi].           Ibid, pp 263-309.
[vii].          See Peter Kropotkin (1899), Fields, Factories and Workshops especially in the (1974) edition by Colin Ward.  See also Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread and Mutual Aid.  [Publication details to follow]
[viii].         Matthew Arnold (1869), Culture And Anarchy, p 6.
[ix].           Ibid, p 82.
[x].            For more detail on Alexander Herzen see Abstraction.
[xi].           Colin Ward (1985), Anarchy in Action p 4.
[xii].          Ibid, p 15.
[xiii].         BBC sound archive cited in Ward (1985), p 34.
[xiv].         Hannah Arendt (1965), On Revolution, pp 260, 267, 252-253, check. 
[xv].          A major influence on Ward’s thinking was Percival Goodman and Paul Goodman (1947, 1960), Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life, at it remains a core text of the anarchist literature, especially in the context of land use and planning.  For brief histories of the evolution of medicine, education and social security in the United Kingdom, see James Bartholemew (2004), The Welfare State We’re In.
[xvi].         See also José Peréz Adán (1992), Reformist Anarchism.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ferens Open, Hull, City of Culture.

Here's a review of the current Open Exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery in Kingston upon Hull, City of Culture: A city of imagination is on display at the Ferens - Rich Sutherland. 

Nice review, very positive and rightly so. Go see the exhibition yourself; it's well worth while.


But.

Well, first, a declaration of personal interest. I submitted three paintings to the exhibition but the judges, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Maureen Lipman, and David Mach, did not accept them.  Probably because they weren't much good. That's fine, and I got the consolation prize of a free entry ticket to the Exhibition Preview night (which took place a week after the exhibition opened and was free anyway!).

There are about 300 pictures with prices ranging from £25 (I bet the frame cost more than that) to a few grand. But now here's the thing. Not one of the pictures had an obvious political content. There was plenty of stuff that most folk would be pleased to hang on their sitting-room walls but not much that challenged, confronted, questioned or just said "Hey! Stop! Look around you and think!"

Upstairs in the gallery dedicated to the founder T. R. Ferens, there a biographical panel that mentions Ferens' art buying policy; he had excellent judgement but bought safe and uncontroversial works.  The Open Exhibition's judges are following his lead, sound choices amongst the safe and uncontroversial.

In another room, thank goodness, we find five of Francis Bacon's popes. Now I'm not saying I'd want one over the sofa but this is art to make one go hmmmm. Bacon: Nervous System.


Maybe I should have submitted a pretty picture of a tree, but that's not the point. Here's what you won't see in Hull; they may be a bit rubbish, but that's not the point either.


Refugees at the Greek Macedonian Border.
Oil on board. 45 x 60 cm




Wir Sind
Oil on board 55 x 42 cm




Arrival on the Island of Lesbos.


Oil on board 45 x 60 cm

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war? A Question Revisited.

In the summer of 2013 I wrote some pieces about Syria on this blog. Now that it's all gone utterly pear-shaped, I thought I'd take a look at what I was thinking back then, more than three years ago. I've copied the three sections below.

But before we get there here are a few points that are not getting enough attention in the media. I make no excuses for the behaviour of Putin, Assad or anybody else but let's bear in mind the following:
1. Syria, under Assad's leadership, is a properly constituted state, recognised at the UN.
2. The Syrian government has invited, as is their right under international law, military support from Russia.
3. Other governments, including the UK's, have acted to aid those who would seek regime change, have supplied weapons and even been directly involved in military action within Syria's territory.
4. Israel remains an occupier of Syrian territory, in defiance of UN Resolution 242.

But back to my main point, the Syrian conflict is the first significant war triggered, at least in part, by global warming. I fear it may not be the last.

And here's an excellent new report from Alex Randall and The Climate and Migration Coalition.

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


SATURDAY, AUGUST 31, 2013

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war? 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

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 01, 2013


Is the Syrian conflict a climate war? 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 inSyria 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/

Thursday, June 30, 2016

High Winds - Equatorial crossing jet streams and the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation

Curious things are aloft.

Robert Scribbler, in his blog, brought the world's attention to the fact that over the last few days the jet stream was crossing the Equator in three different regions, over the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. He described it as 'unprecedented'. It may have happened but before but it is certainly not normal. Jet streams in the northern and southern hemispheres are separated by the equatorial air masses and don't, as a rule, mix.

Paul Beckwith picked up the story and made this informative video. He used the Earth Map that shows, quite wonderfully, all the planet's winds in real time. Click this link and have a play.  Click on 'EARTH' to pull up the menu. To see the jet stream click the 250 hPA on the row marked Height. Today, Thursday 30th June 2016, the jet stream can clearly be seen crossing the Equator if three places (drag across the map to see different views of the world). By the time you are reading this the patterns will, of course, have changed, but here's a screenshot I took yesterday:
The north to south equatorial jet stream crossing can be seen in the central Pacific Ocean.


Another feature that Paul Beckwith talked about was the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation. The what? Here's a useful short article from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) that explains this phenomenon and it's importance. Briefly, very high up there are winds that blow consistently east to west or west to east, changing direction about every 28 months.  The pattern has been rather regular for the last 40 years during which it has been observed - until this year.  You can see these winds on the Earth map if you adjust the Height to the for right of the scale by clicking on 10 hPa. These are winds high up in the stratosphere but they have their influence on the atmosphere lower down.

The ECMWF article was written more than a year ago and it concludes with this question: "...no-one knows what will happen to the QBO in the decades ahead – will it remain largely unchanged, will its period lengthen, or will it change more radically?" A year on and we can already begin to answer that. There is right now an ongoing radical change.

The data for the QBO has been made available by Markus Kunze of
Institute of Meteorology at the Freie Universität Berlin. Take a look at their accompanying figure showing the past 60 year record and then revisit Paul's video, about 12 minutes in. Here's a screen-shot showing the critical change in the QBO pattern this year.





These high level winds, in the stratosphere and upper troposphere, are important for the redistribution of heat energy from the tropics to the poles. And the temperature difference between tropics and poles influences in turn these winds - and ultimately our weather. As the planet warms because of the greenhouse gasses we have emitted, the poles are warming faster than the tropics, the high winds adopt new patterns and we experience weather we are ill-adapted to cope with.

While a local flood or dry spell may be dismissed as just the vagaries of weather these changes we are seeing up aloft are profound, on a planetary scale, and will gradually show their impacts. The thermal gradient, equator to pole is weakening as poles warm more. This weakens the jet (driven by density, pressure differences and the Coriolis force) letting it move around more, further mixing warm and cold air and reducing seasonality. The the warm wet winters we in the British Isles have experienced recently may be an impact of this phenomenon and we can expect similar in future winters. 

We don't know exactly what will happen but the probability distribution of uncertainty is skewed to the bad side. That's why Paul Beckwith and Robert Scribbler are calling this a 'climate emergency'. 

Since Robert wrote his blog on this subject and since Paul Beckwith made his video some aspects of the story have been criticised by other climate scientist and Robert has revised the original piece, adding a note of explanation at the bottom. That's the way science works. We're working at the frontiers of knowledge and all understanding is provisional, but it's important to understand the significance of the phrase I used earlier, the probability distribution of uncertainty is skewed to the bad side. The other important thing is never, ever bother with that dwindling band of climate change deniers who get excited who jump up and down whenever a real climate scientist, quite properly, pushes at the boundaries of knowledge. 

Further reading:

David Edwards
Gabriel Samuels
Caroline Holmes
RT
Josh Marks


And for facebook users, join the discussions on Climate Geek.


Added note Friday morning 1st July.

The story has gained a lot of attention over the last 24 hours and divided the social media into it's two traditional camps. There are a great many in the "Oh dear, this looks bad" camp. There are also a lot of people, though not quite so many as at Camp 1, muttering "Utter nonsense" and linking to the story in the Washington Post and quoting the long-standing climate change deniers Joe Bastardi, Roy Spencer and Anthony Watts.

There is a third camp, the great majority of climate scientists who just get on with science, very properly publish their work in the peer reviewed journals so that almost nobody reads it when it eventually emerges. They don't get publicly shot down in flames when their work is not perfect and they don't create the public reaction that might influence politicians to act to save human civilisation from its own destruction.  Pity about that.


In the fullness of time we will discover whether the changes in the jet stream and the QBO are real and are significant or not but meanwhile these things are being thought about by non-scientists and questions are being asked. That's no bad thing, so we should sing yo for Robert and Paul.