Sunday, December 14, 2014

After COP20 Lima

There are plenty of folk (eg at CarbonBrief and Adopt a Negotiator ) searching the entrails of the climate conference for clues as to what happened and what the meaning of the finally agreed document will turn out to be. Let's step back from the details and try to catch the big picture.

First the positive. At Lima there really was nobody questioning the science; climate denial is all so last decade that it has become fine to just ignore anybody who doubts that burning fossil carbon will inevitably lead to catastrophic global warming. If you should still meet such a character just point to the Moon and ask him to fetch the cheese.

The game now is brinkmanship, and it's the biggest such game ever. The poor world, after centuries of colonisation, exploitation, theft and unfair trade has seen an opportunity for reparation. They didn't invent the industrial revolution, the fossil carbon complex that is set to destroy the habitability of the planet. They hold the moral high ground (though some of it is perilously close to sea level).

The rich world knows the score but wants to minimise its pain. The newly industrialising nations must not be allowed to become the new polluters just because they have no historical legacy of guilt. Adaptation payments may be deserved but its not easy to give away one's wealth. And, though is can't be admitted for fear of frightening the horses, the rich world's wealth is not so very secure. Economies, post 2008, are known to be fragile enough and with a quarter of the global stock-market based on potentially stranded assets of fossil carbon, any mismanagement of the transition to zero-carbon could bring the house of cards crashing down.

Maybe the collapse of Western capitalism isn't much to worry about when one's home environment no longer affords a sustaining livelihood. For some nations taking the risk of calling the rich world's bluff is no relative risk at all and the rich will have to blink first to avoid mutually assured destruction.

Let's keep the science in mind. I just saw this from @CraigBennett3 Director of Policy and Campaigns at Friends of the Earth UK, who used his 140 characters thus:
Some judge #COP20 against what politicians say is "possible" I prefer to judge against what scientists say is "necessary" &what is equitable
It's just one of countless such expressions of the sentiment that political leaders and the system they operate in are not up to the job.

Now herein lies a danger. It's rather easy to blame the politicians and to blame the system, but is that not just creating a scapegoat? If a politician announces big time consumption cuts, life changes to put fossil carbon-burning into history, and soon enough to avoid climate disaster, will she become Prime Minister in May 2015? No, not even if her name is Natalie Bennett. Most folk have not yet understood the peril. And some who think they have, have not properly.

The science is clear: business as usual has set us on a path to catastrophic warming that will surely see a mass die-off this century; BAU is not an option. Even the mitigation and adaptation pathways discussed and not yet agreed upon at Lima imperil billions. There is an optimism bias built into the way we interpret science. There is uncertainty in climate science but the probability space of error is skewed to the bad side.

In their excellent essay, The Collapse of Western Civilisation, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway fictionally recount, from the viewpoint of a historian way in the future, how climate change wreaked catastrophe in the late 21st century. They point out our convention of statistical significance leads to scientific 'truth' being accepted when there is some 95% confidence. The one in twenty chance, the low probability high consequence event, is ignored. When politicians talk of staying below 2°C they may not acknowledge that there's only a 66% chance of meeting their goal. Poor odds for survival of civilisation.

So let's drop the scapegoating, internalise the science truthfully, and work out what we, each of us, individually, can contribute to being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The government does not have it within its power to force us to make the change. Governments in democracies, may be able to nudge, but are essentially followers not leaders. We have to push our own lives to carbon zero.

Just as the poor nations can risk all in the game of brinkmanship so too can we. At the end of the game we can stop shopping; it's our ultimate weapon. That would collapse the system in short order. And its outcome is no worse than climate catastrophe. On the way we can use every piece of engagement in the economy as a political tool.

For every purchase we make, be it a plane ticket, a chocolate bar, a garden fork or an entry to a poetry recital, our first thought should not be can we afford it but can the planet afford it. Will the transaction increase the amount of fossil carbon burnt or will it increase the sum total of human happiness at zero carbon cost?

We have the power to take the required action and when we do the politicians will be empowered to follow our lead.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Searching for Unburnable Oil in Lincolnshire.

In 2013 Egdon Resources applied for planning permission to drill an exploratory oil well at Biscathorpe, a particularly pretty spot in the Lincolnshire Wolds.  The local community voiced their many and varied objections and my own letter to Egdon's Managing Director, Mark Abbott, can be read here.  Once the Highways Department of the County Council objected on the grounds that the access roads were inadequate for the proposed lorry traffic, Egdon withdrew their application.

A new application was submitted this year but the site was moved a few hundred yards distant from the earlier proposal.  It remains a mystery as to why Egdon didn't pick this new location in the first place, presumably they just didn't think about it enough, but the new site removes many of the objections.  It's on an old quarry site, reclaimed for agriculture.  There is little issue relating to archaeology, biodiversity, scenic interruption, noise, lighting, or traffic on a small lane.  No newts will be harmed.

Taking the planning guidance at face value it seems likely that planning consent will be granted.    But the planning legislation was constructed with particular objectives in mind and that did not include saving the human race from catastrophic climate change.  Narrowly defined, our planning rules are no longer fit for purpose.

Here is what I have written to the Lincolnshire County Council's Planning and Regulation Committee:

In the foreword to the World Bank’s November 2014 report, Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group, wrote:

“Many of the worst projected climate impacts outlined in this latest report could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C. But, this will require substantial technological, economic, institutional and behavioural change. It will require leadership at every level of society.”

“Every level of society”; Kim is calling for leadership from you, the councillors of Lincolnshire County Council. Similar calls have been made recently by Christiana Figueres, Head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nation.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that most of the fossil fuel already discovered must be left underground and unburnt if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. There can be no justification for searching for further sources of oil and gas.

The planning rules, under which you are considering the current application for an exploratory oil well near Biscathorpe, were designed for a purpose other than climate change mitigation. If they are narrowly interpreted you will likely grant planning permission. These rules, however, are not fit for the purpose now called for. You have it within your powers to step up to Jim Yong Kim’s call, to show leadership, and to refuse planning permission for any search for new sources of fossil fuel in Lincolnshire. You owe this to our future generations.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Turned Out Nice

Last February, when there was a wet spell, I wrote a little piece, Turned Out Wet in which I discussed probabilities of extreme weather events. I followed it a few days later with
Turned out Wet (and still raining).  If you didn't read them at the time, or need a refresher, please take a look before proceeding.

Right, done that?  Good.

Yesterday we had another one, another extreme weather event.  Ok, nobody's home was destroyed, it was just a rather pleasant day.  Up until yesterday, the highest temperature recorded in England on the last day of October had been 20°C.  This year the temperature reached 23°C in several places in North Kent, with Gravesend seeing 23.6°C, and over 20°C across a large part of England. (Let's ignore central London where the heat-island effect kicks in.)  So that's three degrees warmer than had ever been recorded. Does that make it another 3-sigma (or more) event?

Well, there's a kind of cherry-picking there if I say yes. There's nothing that special about a particular day.  I mean, we couldn't claim any significant record if there had been warmer days close to the 31st of October.  But there aren't. The nearest nearby record temperature was November the 4th 1946 when 21.7°C was recorded in Prestatyn.  In 2011 there was a very warm spell at the beginning of October (I remember it - I went swimming off the Lincolnshire coast) when Gravesend (again) reached 29.9°C.  But that was October the 1st, a whole month earlier.

So was yesterday's weather another portent of doom, more evidence for global warming?  Frankly, it really doesn't matter.  Writing this on the eve of the release of the IPCC AR5 Synopsis, we should understand that we already have enough knowledge and understanding to realise that we have to stop all burning of fossil carbon fuels now if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.  And even then a lot of people are going to have to adjust to not living close to the current sea level.

We no longer need a thermometer to know that the patient is critically ill.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Ski-Slope Diagram*, the 2°C Meme and the EU Climate Agreement.

I gave a little talk at the Transition Town Horncastle Skill-share day last Saturday. Eschewing the all too common PowerPoint presentation, I had painted, in oils, a rendition of the Ski-slope diagram from WBGU German Advisory Council On Global Change. Solving the climate dilemma: The budget approach. 2009.

Figure 3.2-1
Examples of global emission pathways for the period 2010–2050 with global CO2 emissions capped at 750 Gt during this period. At this level, there is a 67 % probability of achieving compliance with the 2 °C guard rail (Chapter 5). The figure shows variants of a global emissions trend with different peak years: 2011 (green), 2015 (blue) and 2020 (red). In order to achieve compliance with these curves, annual reduction rates of 3.7 % (green), 5.3 % (blue) or 9.0 % (red) would be required in the early 2030s (relative to 2008).

I added an asterisk to the title, a footnote of warnings. Here they are:

*Warning: several assumptions which may turn out to be invalid are embedded within the diagram. Errors are likely to be on the bad side.

  • The commonly talked about 2°C limit isn’t really a limit, rather it’s a two thirds probability. (Would you fly a plane with a one in three chance of crashing?)
  • The 2°C limit is a political, not scientifically based, obligation.
  • Global average warming of 2°C is disastrous for the climate over large areas of the world.
  • That much CO2 in the atmosphere spells disaster for marine ecosystems through ocean acidification.
  • The emission scenarios associated with 2°C limit are based on Global Circulation Models (GCMs) that have two significant limitations:
  • The Butterfly Effect, whereby outcomes are tightly dependant on initial conditions. These are known unknowns that can at least be dealt with statistically.
  • The Hawkmoth Effect, whereby outcomes are tightly dependant on the models’ accuracy in representing the real world. This is an unkown unknown, much more difficult to control.
  • Even supposing the 2°C had some valid basis, we are currently heading on a trajectory that overshoots it by a disastrously wide margin.
Last Thursday the EU leaders agreed to limit our greenhouse gas emissions, reducing them by at least 40% on 1990 rates, in order to meet our obligation to keep average global warming to 2°C, but as we can see, such a figure is pretty meaningless. For any rational use of the precautionary principle, we have no ‘carbon budget’ left. The area under the Ski-slope graph has shrunk to nothing if we are looking for a sensible probability of over 90% of avoiding disaster. For those low-lying parts of the world that will be affected by the already crossed threshold of polar ice melt tipping points, disaster is already locked it. The game we have to play is adaptation and maximising mitigation. Setting up carbon budgets to avoid 2°C warmings is just so much tilting at windmills.

Kevin Anderson warned David Cameron and Ed Davey of the folly of the 2°C meme in his open letter, but to little avail. Poland may not have had her way but that is cold comfort. Here’s the text of the EU Agreement: European Council (23 and 24 October 2014) Conclusions on 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework

David Spratt, whose book Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action was published in 2008, has recently presented Dangerous climate change: Myths and reality and delivered a lecture on the topic at the Breakthrough Forum.

Some good things do come out of Australia.

And Canada, from where Naomi Klein has told us This Changes Everything.

The time for emergency action is now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Climate March London September 21st 2014

Are you coming too?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bishopthorpe Farm Wind Farm Inquiry

The Planning Inquiry into the Bishopthorpe Farm (Newton Marsh Extension) Windfarm in Lincolnshire was having its public session today.  Most people speaking were concerned about the view, some quite passionately. This is what I told the Inspector:

People will be worried about the appearance of the windfarm and its effect on landscape but the overriding issue is global warming. People of my generation may be lucky to avoid the worst effects of climate change but our grandchildren’s lives will be made impossible by our reckless burning of coal, gas and oil. We have already burnt too much, enough to ensure the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets. Mitigation of some of the further damage is still possible if we stop our greenhouse gas emissions quickly. That requires the rapid decarbonisation of our electricity generation. Onshore windfarms are currently the fastest and cheapest tool for the task.

No matter what one’s feelings of aesthetics or passion for a particular landscape, to object to this windfarm proposal is a denial of climate science, an abrogation of our responsibility to future generations who cannot yet speak for themselves, who are not given a say in this Inquiry.

We have to stop burning fossil carbon. If we want to use electricity it must be generated without burning fossil carbon. Once electricity demand has reduced enough and renewable generation capacity increased enough to allow us to close all the gas and coal power-stations, we will then have the luxury of choosing where the best location for windfarms might be. Until then the overriding consideration has to be to increase capacity as fast as possible. If a developer is willing to build a windfarm, reducing our need to burn fossil carbon, we should encourage them by all means at our disposal. To do otherwise is to demonstrate denial of the urgency and seriousness of the global warming problem.

We currently have a government in confusion, with some ministers openly denying the science and others unclear about the urgency of the issue. Our democratic system produces politicians who have to please their electors rather than do what is right. Sadly, many people just do not have the required grasp of climate science to be able to form rational opinions and so rely on their prejudices and personal perceptions of aesthetics.

Absurdly, the planning system ignores global environmental effects. The failure to replace fossil fuel burning with renewables will lead to catastrophic climate change. A local impact is that the site of Bishopthorpe Windfarm will become flooded as sea level rises and becomes part of the Greater North Sea as the ice caps melt, but that is not considered in the planning process.

From this inquiry we should send a clear signal to government that we want planning decisions to maximise climate change mitigation. This is the existential issue of our time and the responsibility we bear for the sake of future generations. This windfarm should be built with all possible speed.

Monday, August 04, 2014

I Will Not Commemorate the War

I will not commemorate the war
That started a hundred years ago,
Until the war has ended.

The war continues, the battles rage on,
In Syria,
In Palestine,
In Iraq,
In Ukraine,
In a dozen other places,
The war continues, the battles rage on.

I will turn away from monuments and memorials,
I will not join the men at their cenotaphs and graves,
I will not wear a red poppy
Until the war has ended.

I will not blame warmongers afar
Without first blaming those at home,
The warmongers who make and sell the weapons,
The politicians who make the mongers' trades possible,
The savers whose investments oil the wheels of the industry.
No, don't give me your lame excuse of jobs and economy,
You who would make a hundred year war last to eternity.

There was a lull, a truce, they called it armistice,
But it was not the end of the war,
Just a moment of hesitation,
An opportunity to regroup,
To fight under different flags,
Over different lines.

I will leave nostalgia aside for now,
I will stand apart from the crowd,
Alone maybe,
And say that a hundred years is enough to show
The war to end all wars is a lie.

You are still fighting.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Gleaning Vegetables in South Lincolnshire

Hi, we are urgently requiring volunteer gleaners for a huge haul of broccoli due to be gleaned in South Lincolnshire Tuesday 15th July. Please, please would you be able to share this message far and wide!
Call out to fellow gleaners – a bounty of broccoli is beckoning!
 An exciting summer of gleaning is upon us – please spread the word far and wide!  We have found thousands of beautiful broccoli going to waste on a farm in South Lincolnshire!  On Tuesday 15th July, we’ll be going on a mission to save as many as possible of these tasty delicacies for charity! All produce is going to our good friendsFareShare to be distributed to charities dealing with food poverty.
 With a promise of monthly gleanings from our friendly Lincolnshire farmers topped up with some days on our Cambridge farms, Suffolk and Norfolk farms we are looking forward to a busy and ‘fruitful’ summer with lots of valuable fruit and veg to distribute to various food charities throughout the UK.
We had some fantastic opportunities earlier this year to spread the word after two fantastic leek gleans in Lincolnshirewhere we saved almost 2 tonne of leeks over two days resulting in interviews on BBC local radio and television, which some of you contributed to. Along with some follow up in the local press and a story in the Farmers Weekly, this coverage has seen lots of new Lincolnshire gleaners and farmers across the region getting in touch. Here are a few photos of the event for you to enjoy.
Our farmers have formed partnerships with Gleaning Network UK, alerting the food waste campaign when opportunities come up to save healthy, fresh food for those who most need it. Our volunteers spend several hours harvesting and then packing the fresh veg – which is then collected and distributed it to food poverty projects such as homeless hostels and food banks to benefit those suffering food poverty.
Next gleaning day on Tuesday 15th July 10am-5pm (TBC):
Travel expenses are covered for those travelling from Cambridge, Peterborough, Boston and nearby in SouthLincolnshire – just check with us first!
Please join us in the fields! If you can make it, please contact me at to confirm whether you can make the whole day, and send me your phone number and where you’ll be travelling from (e.g. Cambridge, Boston, etc.) so we can group you with fellow travel companions. We’ll then send you finalised details closer to the time.
Please get in touch asap so we have an idea of numbers – the more people we have, the more broccoli we can save! Also, please do check whether you can make it, as lots of drop outs at the last minute can jeopardise the gleaning day going ahead!
Please spread the word to your friends and networks, and do recommend any groups you think we should get in touch with! If you can't join us this time, watch this space – we’ll have more gleaning days coming up over the coming year!
See you in the fields!
All the best, 
Vicki Beers
Cambridge Gleaning Coordinator
We are 2014 BBC Food and Farming Award winners for Best Initiative in British Food.
Follow us: 
Sign the Feeding the 5000 pledge against food waste!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


We went to a funeral
In the rain.
A green burial
A poem.

When most folk had left
A lone woman stood by the grave
Singing a song
In a strange language
In the rain

Then we went to the pub and had cakes and ale.
There will always be Sunshine.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

An Open Letter to Mark Abbott, Managing Director of Egdon Resources.

 22nd May 2014
Dear Mark,
Thank you for coming to Donington-on-Bain Village Hall in Lincolnshire on Wednesday 21st May 2014 to present your plans for oil exploration at Biscathorpe in the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And thank you for having the patience to listen to me politely for over half an hour while I told you to change your job.  I found it an interesting conversation.
You and I both started our careers as geologists; you became a successful businessman and I a campaigner against the exploitation of fossil carbon.  We have some common ground but we are operating in different paradigms.
You came to our community to assure us that you operated in a well-regulated industry, acting at all times within the law, in accordance with UK government policy, and that you took your responsibilities towards protection of the local environment seriously.  You think you can manage your planned operations in such a way as to produce little nuisance for local residents and with little risk to the natural environment including the world-wide rare habitat of a chalk-stream.  By and large, I believe you.  There is the issue of low-risk/high-consequence events such as a major well-head explosion but let’s keep fingers crossed and leave that to one side.
I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, to see no mention of global warming and climate change on your display material.  When I questioned your colleague, Martin, who has responsibility for environmental protection compliance, it became clear that he was only concerned with the ‘local environment’.  Somehow the atmosphere is not part of this.  In common with other oil and gas companies involved in the UK prospect, you appear to be happy to engage with the public about the local environmental threats, which, perhaps correctly, you regard as manageable risks, but are reluctant to draw attention to global warming caused by greenhouse gasses, the end waste products of your industry.  Carbon dioxide, you might argue, is the responsibility of he who burns the carbon, not the producer.  An arms manufacture would deny responsibility for the actions of the man with the trigger finger in the same manner.  That logic cannot be applied to fugitive methane, a much more powerful greenhouse gas in the short term.
I was also disappointed, and actually quite surprised, that you had not heard of Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  Here’s her website: Her job is to deliver an agreement between 194 nations at the Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015, replacing the Kyoto Protocol, to provide a mechanism for carbon reduction that leads to a safe climate.  Her many recent speeches to the oil industry, governments and other significant players have highlighted the danger of the ‘carbon bubble’ and stranded assets.  These are matters that directly affect the profitability of your industry and as a managing director I am surprised that you are not keeping abreast of these developments.  You told me that you had heard of fellow geologist Jeremy Leggett and were aware of Carbon Tracker but, again, you seemed unaware of the significance of the issues raised.  I suggest you seek a meeting.  He can be contacted here
You pointed out that Egdon is a very small player and that these are really matters for the big boys.  Did you read the letter from Shell last week?  They say “In summary, Shell does not believe that any of its proven reserves will become ‘stranded’ as a result of current or reasonably foreseeable future legislation concerning carbon”.  Thus they believe that Christiana Figueres will fail in her task and COP21 will not deliver the agreement required to limit climate change safely.  Sadly, they may be right, but that will spell the end of civilisation as we know it and perhaps worse.  The consequences of failure have begun to be spelled out by the World Bank particularly in their report Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided Shell admit the problem in their 16th May letter: “We concur with the view in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that there is a high degree of confidence that global warming will exceed 2° by the end of the 21st century.”
From our conversation, Mark, it seems to me that your position is aligned with that of Shell.  You accept that global warming and the consequent climate change are real and are caused largely by man’s emission of greenhouse gasses.  You expect the continued use of fossil carbon, though declining over, as you put it, ‘the next few decades’.  You argue that exploiting the UK’s resources of oil and natural gas, in line with government policy, helps the UK economy and energy security and the generated wealth can be used to speed the transition to a low-carbon future.
All well and good, if only we had the luxury of time.  Sadly we don’t; there is no longer a ‘carbon budget’ left.  David Spratt explains this in his blog this morning at 
Last night the topic of ice melt came up in our conversation.  You said that you had read about it on the BBC website.  I was disappointed that you use the main-stream media as a filter for information central to your industry’s long term future.  As a geophysicist, you are part of that small proportion of the population able to read und understand the scientific literature, even in a field not directly your own.  Yet rather than reading the source papers you rely on journalism for a lay audience.  I suggest you follow the references given here by Roz Pidcock at Carbon Brief just the day before yesterday.  You will see that we are already committed to the loss of many of the world’s largest cities and vast stretches of the best agricultural land to rising sea level, even if we stopped all carbon burning today.  On your journey to Donington-on-Bain, perhaps you visited the nearby market town of Louth.  Next year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the completion of the church spire.  In another 500 years it will only be visible to the jellyfish.  The areas most at risk are graphically illustrated in this piece published yesterday by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme:
In announcing the forthcoming UN Climate Summit 2014 in New York this September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “I challenge you to bring to the Summit bold pledges. Innovate, scale-up, cooperate and deliver concrete action that will close the emissions gap and put us on track for an ambitious legal agreement through the UNFCCC process.”  He was addressing all of us but particularly those of us who are privileged to hold positions where we can make the required pledges.  That means people like you, Mark, who have an influence in the fossil fuel industry as well as people like me who have the resources to campaign.  No matter how small our individual influence may be, we have to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Veteran campaigner, Bill McKibben, released his ‘Call to Arms’ yesterday asking that people come to New York in September, engaging in the democratic process that you talked about last night.  Democracy, Mark, cannot be left to an occasional vote (and I trust you voted Green in today’s EU election) for as 20th century history has shown, the most evil governments can arise through democracy.  Your reasoning that Egdon acts within the law and according to the policies of a democratically elected government form a weak defence, the defence of ‘only carrying out orders’.  Ultimately we all have to take personal responsibility for our actions.
So Mark, I think you are an honest man, trying to do your best for the world as well as for yourself.  I ask you to step out of your comfort zone, study what real Earth-systems scientists are saying, unmediated by politicians or journalists, and confront the inescapable conclusion that we have to stop burning carbon pretty damn quick.  Use the resources at your disposal to turn our path so that you may one day say to your grandchild, I was part of the problem but then I tried to be part of the solution.  It’s a big ask, because the first step will be to forego submitting that planning application to drill for oil at Biscathorpe.
Regards, Biff Vernon.

27 May 2014

Dear Biff

Many thanks for your emailed letter dated 22 May and for attending the exhibition in Donington on Bain Village Hall last week about our proposals for a conventional exploratory oil well at Biscathorpe. It was good to meet you and hear your views.

I hope you found the information in our displays and discussions with the Egdon team to be helpful.
We will continue to inform the local community of our plans by updating our project web page:!Wellsite Biscathorpe

You will have another opportunity to submit your views when Lincoinshire County Council’s planning department undertakes its statutory public consultation, following receipt of our planning application.

Yours sincerely

Mark Abbott

Managing Director
Egdon Resources U.K. Limited Tel: 01256 702 292

Monday, May 05, 2014

What the fracking industry does not want to talk about

According to the British Geological Survey, fracking could release considerable fossil fuel resources contained in shale rock formations around the UK. Fracking is controversial, and even the government accepts that it will not reduce the price of gas, but much of the debate around fracking has centred on local pollution, which the industry seems happy to discuss.

It argues that the risks are manageable and can be worked around with appropriate regulation.  However, there is an undeniable issue which the fracking industry does not seem to want to talk about: climate change.

We have already discovered more than enough oil and gas to push temperatures way through any notional safe limit.  According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, “Only 20% of the total reserves can be burned unabated, leaving up to 80% of assets technically unburnable”.

Climate change, resulting from the emission of carbon dioxide and accidental escape of methane, is the inevitable consequence of exploiting unconventional gas resources.
All burning of natural gas produces carbon dioxide and though it is true that gas burns with lower emission than coal, for the total global warming potential the leakage of unburnt methane, a much stronger short-term greenhouse gas, has to be taken into account.  There has been insufficient monitoring of methane leakage from fracked wells and the whole gas distribution chain but a paper published last year, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” (David T. Allen, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1304880110) shows that it is quite wrong to regard shale gas a some kind of ‘clean’ substitute for other fossil fuels.
As the dangers of climate change become apparent to legislators, the exploitation of fossil fuels is likely to be prohibited, leaving the currently hyped carbon bubble as a stranded asset.  Why then is fracking being pursued?  The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee wrote in the March 2014 the ‘Green Finance’ report: “...the transition to a low-carbon economy will require investors to take account of the reality of a carbon-constrained world. This shift is happening, but there are obstacles to overcome—stock markets are currently over-valuing companies that produce and use carbon”. 

A case which illustrates this issue can be found here in the East Midlands: There is a geological basin called the Gainsborough Trough that contains a great thickness of shale, the same formation as is found in Lancashire. It is likely to contain gas that might be released by fracking.  A small company, Egdon Resources, holds the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) for part of this area.  Last year the price of its shares was around 10 pence.

In January 2014 the French company Total announced they would buy into the work that Egdon were planning. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, came went to Gainsborough to welcome the plan. Egdon’s shares went up to about 30 pence. Those of Egdon’s directors with substantial holdings of their company’s shares became very rich people almost overnight, though not a single cubic foot of gas had been produced.  It can be argued that it is, currently, possible to make a lot of money in the industry, not by producing gas from the shale, but by convincing investors that there is money to be made in the future. 

Total only committed to spending €20 million. For a company whose sales in 2012 topped €200 billion, that sounds like the sort of cash that might be found down the back of the boardroom sofa and the brand recognition from the Prime Minister is likely to have been useful with fracking banned in their native France.

Some of Lincolnshire’s largest nature reserves lie in the area with fracking potential but Paul Learoyd, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said "I do not envisage any circumstances where Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust would permit fracking or any other fossil fuel extraction on land under its control."

Some of the communities earmarked to host these kinds of projects have begun to form their own solutions. Residents of Balcombe, the Sussex village which has been the focus of mass anti-fracking protests, have formed a co-operative solar energy project. With a view to capacity increasing, REPOWER Balcombe aims to start by supplying 7.5% of the village's power demand.

Despite recent arguments that fracking will lessen Europe's energy reliance on Russia, it seems unlikely that much gas will ever be produced from UK shale by fracking.  If gas is produced then catastrophic climate change will become ever more certain.  However, Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, believes that we will see a “low-carbon world”.  She told  New Scientist in March: "carbon neutrality is going to be so standardized that you will look at anything that is not carbon neutral and go, ‘where the hell did that monster come from?’ It's exciting."

This article was first published in Transition Free Press.

Monday, April 14, 2014

BBC Fails Again on Climate Change Report.

Listening to the BBC's Radio 4 news bulletins about the IPCC WGIII report on climate mitigation, one might be forgiven for thinking that all is well, that the climate could be sorted by adding some solar panels and at very little cost to the global economy.  What a relief!  This time the BBC did not roll out crackpot climate deniers - they just made up their own denial story.  The real report from the IPCC paints a very different story.  In the Summary, after a great deal of dire warnings, we reach page 17 where there is a paragraph about the economics, the aspect that the BBC focussed upon.  This is what it says.

Estimates of the aggregate economic costs of mitigation vary widely and are highly sensitive to model design and assumptions as well as the specification of scenarios, including the characterization of technologies and the timing of mitigation (high confidence). Scenarios in which all countries of the world begin mitigation immediately, there is a single global carbon price, and all key technologies are available, have been used as a cost‐effective benchmark for estimating macroeconomic mitigation costs. Under these assumptions, mitigation scenarios that reach atmospheric concentrations of about 450ppm CO2eq by 2100 entail losses in global consumption - not including benefits of reduced climate change as well as co‐benefits and adverse side‐effects of mitigation - of 1% to 4% (median: 1.7%) in 2030, 2% to 6% (median: 3.4%) in 2050, and 3% to 11% (median: 4.8%) in 2100 relative to consumption in baseline scenarios that grows anywhere from 300% to more than 900% over the century. These numbers correspond to an annualized reduction of consumption growth by 0.04 to 0.14 (median: 0.06) percentage points over the century relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year. Estimates at the high end of these cost ranges are from models that are relatively inflexible to achieve the deep emissions reductions required in the long run to meet these goals and/or include assumptions about market imperfections that would raise costs. Under the absence or limited availability of technologies, mitigation costs can increase substantially depending on the technology considered. Delaying additional mitigation further increases mitigation costs in the medium to long term. Many models could not achieve atmospheric concentration levels of about 450 ppm CO2eq by 2100 if additional mitigation is considerably delayed or under limited availability of key technologies, such as bioenergy, CCS, and their combination (BECCS).

Original document here

The BBC has, quite rightly, received much criticism for its climate change reporting recently.  It now seems to have adopted a more subtle approach - selectively cherry-picking tiny fragments, removing them from their context and reporting them as the main story.  BBC fail again.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tipping Point for Climate Action?

For the past 40 years or more some of us have, one way or another, being saying that we'd better change the way we do things or we'll all be doomed. Back in the 1970s, we got excited by a couple of paragraphs mentioning the environment in a national newspaper.  Today the talk is everywhere, and we're a lot closer to being doomed.

There has been a gradual raising of awareness of environmental threats, with global warming leading the pack as our understanding improves but those threats have become more immediate as we have failed to address them.

If we project current trends forward, the future looks bleak. Greenhouse gas emissions are currently on a worse track that the worst scenario, RCP 8.5, described by the IPCC.  If this continues then those who survive to the 22nd century will be inhabiting a very different planet.  Some think it may not be survivable.

To ensure that the worst does not come to pass there has to be change, change so sudden and dramatic it may best be thought of as a tipping point in the affairs of people.  Tipping points are, in the global warming context, regarded more often as sudden, non-linear, changes in the behaviour of elements that influence global climate, the collapse of an ice-sheet for example.

But can there be tipping points in the socio-political sphere and if so are we at or close to one? For many millions of people, 1939 was a tipping point. The change from 1938 to 1940 was dramatic, a non-linear development of previous trends. Let's do some wishful thinking for a moment and consider what sort of tipping point is required to get us off our present path to the cliff-edge.  Most importantly we have to reverse the increase in, and then reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.  And we have to make the cuts so deeply and so suddenly that the climate system feels a tipping point and halts its warming trend.

We know there are no silver bullets to achieve this so everything at every level needs to be tried.  At COP21 in Paris in December 2015 we must have legally binding globally accepted emission reduction targets with a programme of mitigation and adaptation and the funding agreements in place to ensure targets are met.  A big ask, but necessary. We know that to help achieve this there must be a great raft of smaller agreements, focussing on particular parts of the system, addressing particular interest groups.  Some of these will involve international agreements between many or a few nations, others will be more local, within nations and regions and right down to the village and household, reaching to individual hearts and minds.  Many actions will be voluntary, others backed by legislation.  Nothing should be ruled out until it is demonstrably not part of the solution.  It all involves a large proportion of the human race behaving differently, as individuals, communities, companies and states.  The difference from the present trajectory is so profound it requires a socio-political tipping point.

Could it be that we are, right now, approaching just such a tipping point?

Last September saw the publication of the IPCC AR5 report on the science. Three points of note, two of them well reported: the science has become more secure since AR4, the prognosis more dire, and, importantly, the document was signed off by the 194 nations with much less argy-bargy than previous such reports.  In March 2014 we were given the WGII report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The writers tried hard to show that there was still hope, that mitigation now still has a point but also showed clearly the shape of the upcoming catastrophe if mitigation were to fail. All rational thinkers now accept the science, leaving just a rump of deniers.  The BBC is condemned by many for giving any airtime to them.  As I write this WGIII is considering the final wording of its report on mitigation and adaptation.  It seems it will be another unequivocal statement.  The IPCC synthesis report will be produced later this year and Ban Ki Moon has called a special Climate Summit 2014 this August.

Christiana Figueres has made numerous speeches recently, pulling few punches.  Notably she has declared that much of the fossil fuel already discovered will have to be left underground.  She speaks of stranded assets, a devastating concept for the fossil fuel industry and the global financial system of which it is such a large part.  Jeremy Leggett and Carbon Tracker have raised the phenomenon to the top of the agenda and the UK Parliarment's Environmental Audit Committee have warned of the carbon bubble danger. The Prince of Wales' Corporate Leadership Group have taken up the issue with their Trillion Tonne Communiqué.  This involves many leading businesses, including big carbon sources such as Shell, calling for government to set emission reduction targets and make a success out of COP21 in Paris in 2015. Business is running ahead of government in tackling global warming.

This could be the moment for all of us, as individuals and working in households, communities, businesses and all levels of government and non-governmental institutions, to tip society and politics beyond the point of resistance, to re-engineer humanity's course towards as soft a landing as can be achieved.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Why Cameron was wrong to say climate change is one of the most serious threats.

Last Wednesday, 26th February 2014, there was an exchange in the House of Commons between the Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. As recorded by Hansard,  where you can read the whole thing, after some discussion about floods and spending on protection, it went like this:
Edward Miliband: It is very interesting, because someone who in opposition wanted to talk as much as he could about climate change is now desperate to get off the subject. I asked him a question: will he just set out for his party and for the country his views on man-made climate change?
The Prime Minister: I believe that man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world face. …
Edward Miliband: Excellent; we are getting somewhere. I agree with what the Prime Minister said about the importance of climate change.
Yes, it is excellent, we are getting somewhere. But where and how quickly? Cameron is wrong to say that climate change is one of the most serious threats. It is far and away the most important threat; by far the most likely cause of the end of civilisation as we know it, perhaps even the extinction of the human race. Miliband is wrong for not pointing this out and wrong for not talking of climate change at all in his Labour Party Spring Conference speech two days later. That was rather a large omission for one of the most serious threats that this country and this world face.
Certainly the floods have increased the volume of climate related talking but let's just take a check as to where we are.  The first part of the IPCC AR5, the biggest scientific study ever undertaken about anything, was published last September. It presented the physical science. Near the end of this month the second part, on 'Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability' will be published, spelling out consequences.

On the same day as Cameron and Miliband came to agreement in Parliament a paper by Todd Sanford et al. was published in Nature with the opening lines: "It is time to acknowledge that global average temperatures are likely to rise above the 2 degrees C policy target and consider how that deeply troubling prospect should affect priorities for communicating and managing the risks of a dangerously warming climate." Sanford says that we are ill-prepared for a world that is increasingly likely to experience warming well in excess of 2°C this century.  The World Bank, in its 4 degrees Turn Down the Heat reports last year has shown just how unacceptable such a scenario is. My son, Chris Vernon, while working on the Greenland Ice Sheet melt problem, set out just why the the future for his generation is so bleak in this article over a year ago.
David Cameron (and Ed Miliband) are wrong to think that their brief parliamentary agreement represents any serious glimmer of hope.  Too much time has slipped by, the (arbitrary) 2 degree goal has slipped by, we are currently on course for worse than the worst case scenario presented by the IPCC.  Government, and that means all government ministers, must recognise that man-made climate change is the most serious threat that this country and this world face. And we the people must empower government to act accordingly. We mustn't just sit back and blame the politicians. It is our collective responsibility.

The choices before us:

The Ski Slope Diagram from German Advisory Council on Global Warming drawn in 2009.  We have chosen the red path, or worse.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Turned out Wet (and still raining)

My last blog-piece sparked off a twitter debate between Zoe Williams of the Guardian and one of the brigade of chicken headed deniers (See recent speech by Prince Charles). Richard Snape kindly recorded the conversation on this storify, and then went on to write a return blog-piece of his own. Thank you Richard, it’s very helpful and perhaps treats my piece with more gravitas than it deserved. The following is really a response so you’ll need to read it to make much sense of this post.
Importantly, mine is not a statistical analysis. The trouble is there aren't really any data to analyse. Rainfall records only go back ~250 years and I just made the wild assertion that this is the wettest such period since the Neolithic. That may or may not be true and probably we’ll never know.
It’s good not to cherry pick the data and I've not defined what period or events I'm talking about. Southern England December 2013, January 2014, into February 2014 and still counting, will do for time and space, rainfall, depression intensity and frequency, wind-speed, temperature, the whole gamut of weather will do for the 'event'. Sadly, we don't have the data set for all that lot going back to the Neolithic!
So is it 5-sigma? Well, frankly, I can't be certain; depending on where one draws the boundaries, it might be. Or not! You're quite right, Richard, about 'generic'. I'm wielding a broad brush.  So never mind the data, your three points of 'implied argument' are spot on:
1. If the observation is very unlikely, then the distribution must have changed.
2. The distribution changing implies climate change (and often the anthropogenic forcing element thereof).
3. If the climate is changing - that cannot be coped with using Business-as-usual methods.
I love Nick Taleb; if you haven't yet, read Black Swan.  Expect the unexpected.
But Richard, you say "climate science appears to indicate that warming would increase the amount of water that can be carried in the atmosphere". I’d put it more strongly. We know that global warming leads to more rainfall, (in as much as we know that apples fall downwards). And we’re not just dealing with Somerset. It’s reached Berkshire so must be important now. The bigger the unusual event is the more unusual it is, but of course there I go, cherry-picking boundaries.
“I think that Climate Change probably is happening." Good. But the IPCC put that more strongly. They use the word 'unequivocal' with reference not just to climate change but to the assertion that climate change is largely being caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. I agree with the IPCC position in this regard.
"Fundamentally, the rarity or otherwise of individual weather observations cannot, in my opinion, provide conclusive evidence for or against climate change." Very true, but the thing is, we've done and dusted that debate. We know, like we know that apples fall downwards, that our greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming, which is, in turn, causing climate change (see my earlier piece on these phrases). There are plenty of details to research and argue about, which is what climate scientists do, (we're not quite sure which daisy the apple will roll onto) but all the scientists working in the field accept the basics. There is consensus. My political purpose is to get folks to realise this.
It's really very difficult for climate scientists to communicate what they really believe. Everyone, at least in public, has to be very careful, trying to please their employers and not risk their careers. (Be particularly wary of what some meteorologists say. Weathermen are not always climate scientists, failing to see the wood for the trees.)
One of the trickier areas is with the global climate computer models. The numerical models are largely built on the underlying assumption that the climate is stable and they do not sufficiently account for thresholds and tipping points. But don't be tempted to think that therefore the models are rubbish. That would be ignoring the vital rider that the probability space of error is all on the bad side. The models underestimate the likelihood of catastrophic change. If you are not frightened of serious mathematics you might like to dig into the work of Lenny Smith at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.

This diagram is for the comment below:

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Turned Out Wet

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. But he has now gone beyond the pale, not only failing to inform himself of the science and provide leadership towards sound policy, but has stooped to abuse of civil servants with a better grasp of reality. He has called the Chairman of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith (who took a double first and a PhD at Cambridge) “a little git” and “a coward” and said, "If I just have to stick his head down the loo and flush, I will." That may win him popularity amongst some flooded residents but it is hardly a scientifically defensible position. It diminishes the office of Member of Parliament.
No, Mr Liddell-Grainger, these floods were, quite reasonably, not predicted, because they are a 5-sigma event. If the Environment Agency were to ask for money to protect against 5-sigma events up and down the land, it would be MPs like Mr Liddell-Grainger who would be voting the requests down. But these are just the sort of requests that will have to be made, and accepted, as 5-sigma turns to 3-sigma as our planet warms. If the MP for Bridgewater and west Somerset were to lead the calls for climate mitigation, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation, building resilience in the face of already committed climate change, then he would be worthy of his post.
There are times when insults have a place.  Mr Liddell-Grainger seems to support Prince Charles's intervention in the Somerset flood problem, but it was just a week earlier that the Prince of Wales berated those he called the brigade of headless chicken climate deniers.  His speech is well worth reading.

The Ecologist has just published a useful piece about 'Vision 2030', the long term plan for the Somerset Levels and Moors.  Natural England also write abut it and here's a useful contribution from Mark Avery.
Update 9th Feb 2014 Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Environment Agency, has now spoken out in this piece for the Guardian. He says "Over the past two and a half months, Britain has faced the most extreme series of weather events we have ever experienced.... The surge down the east coast of England in early December was the biggest in 60 years, and in some cases even higher than in the tragedy of 1953. The storms over Christmas and new year were unprecedented, and they have since been followed by the wettest January in the south since records began. Last week the highest waves ever recorded in Britain were crashing against the south-west coast. Serious flooding has resulted, in many different parts of the country.

In other words, this has been a 5-sigma event, a concept that Mr Pickles clearly failed to grasp, while the Met Office's Chief Scientist said Dame Julia Slingo said "all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change".

There's a sequel to this piece on my next blog here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Of windfarms, birds and global warming.

At a meeting of the Louth branch of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, we were treated to a talk by John Clarkson, local birder.  John spends much of his life sitting near or walking around windfarms.  For offshore sites a boat is required.  His job is to watch the birds, identify them, count them, track their movements and general behaviour as they interact with the windfarms.  Windfarm developers have to commission such studies as part of the planning process.
We learned that birds sometimes die as a result of collisions with wind turbines.  There was the celebrated case of the white-throated needle-tailed swift, only three records of which exist for the British Isles.  The last specimen to stray the thousands of miles from its normal home in eastern Asia died, to the consternation of the throng of birders that had gathered to watch this rarity, when it flew into a turbine.
However, it soon became clear from the data that John presented that wind turbine mortalities pale into insignificance beside the bigger dangers of buildings with windows, cats, motor vehicles and pesticides. The clear message is if you want to reduce bird mortality don’t have a cat.  Harder to quantify, we heard, but by far the most significant impact on bird populations is habitat loss.  More of that anon.
John’s detailed observation reports and the records of radar tracking over the North Sea were fascinating.  Birds, it seems, are well able to see wind turbines and take avoiding action – flying round them.  An exception, in Spain, is the gryphon-vulture, which flies with its head down looking at the ground and not watching where it is going!  Spanish windfarm operators have, however, greatly reduced mortality by keeping a lookout for approaching vultures and stopping the turbines for a few minutes, with negligible loss of electricity generation, while the vultures sail safely by.  British and Danish bird observations show that almost all daytime bird flights are low down, below the height of turbine blades.  This is especially true at sea where almost all birds fly within a very few metres of the waves.  Close observation of a group of marsh harrier nests within a proposed windfarm site concluded that the birds hunt close to the ground.  Radar tracking of night time migration flights shows that birds fly very much higher, way above the turbines.
A survey of a Lincolnshire windfarm and adjoining farmland showed a greater population of small birds marking their territories with song within the boundaries of the windfarm.  The varied habitat of access tracks and rough ground provided an improved habitat compared with the neighbouring arable monoculture.  The biodiversity associated with windfarms should be considered a bonus.  For off-shore windfarms this effect may be even more significant since turbines prevent the large-scale trawling operations that have destroyed so much of the North Sea’s bed habitat and the turbine bases provide structures for reef formation and an explosion of biodiversity.
In the question and answer session that concluded John Clarkson’s talk, it soon became evident that several of the wildlife-loving audience were against windfarms.  Some folk just do not like the look of turbines in the landscape, and it’s hard to argue against personal aesthetics.  They rarely say so explicitly, preferring to come up with other excuses that attempt to be factual rather than subjective.  Most such arguments fail miserably.  One lady talked of the vast amount of concrete (there’s really only a little concrete used per unit of electricity generated) and that in 25 years when the turbine would be removed the concrete would be left in the ground.  I’ve no idea where the idea that after 25 years the turbine will be removed came from, as if in the year 2039 we will no longer want electricity.  It seems more likely that as and when turbine components wear out they will be mended or replaced, with its concrete base having a pretty lengthy serviceable lifetime.
Now recall that John had suggested that far and away the biggest threat to our bird population was habitat loss.  It was upon this theme that I drew attention to the long term habitat loss that is inevitable in a business as usual, fossil-fuel burning future, in which global warming will push average temperatures 4 or more degrees higher within the lifetimes of our younger children and grandchildren.  We had a choice, I pointed out, of either producing our electricity from renewable sources or doing without power.  The alternative, our present course of carbon emissions, inevitably leads to habitat loss on such a world-wide scale that discussion of whether birds crash into turbines is utterly irrelevant.
There were, sadly, immediate mutterings of disbelief and opposition from some in this audience of nature lovers.  Denial of science is evidently rife within what one might assume was a fairly intelligent and informed group of people.  Such is the depth of feeling, the subjective loathing of windfarms, that rational discourse is set aside.  Somehow we have to convince these doubters, not only that the science is right, but that the future is bleak beyond imagination; that a 4 degree world is just not going to be survivable for vast swathes of the global population, either of humans or of birds.
Of course many people realise the truth and I am personally grateful to the lady behind me who thanked me for being brave enough to voice what she had been thinking.  And that brings me to the conclusion that it’s time to stop being polite about global warming, ducking the contentious issues, avoiding confrontation with deniers, whether they be fools or knaves.  We need to shout out that policy and behaviour change must come, quickly, urgently; we need radical emissions reduction policies, now.  We, the people, need to empower the politicians and legislators to change direction.  When someone mutters nonsense about doubting the climate science we must look upon them in the same way as we would one who claims the Moon is made of cheese.  After all, anyone can see that the Moon is the colour of a Wensleydale so of course it must be dairy produce.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Global warming or climate change?

These two phrases are used, misused and confused.  Time for some clarity.
They mean different things.  If you use them interchangeably to mean the same thing then you’re likely to have got it wrong at least half the time.  In fact I reckon folk get it wrong more often than not.  There’s a distinct bias towards climate change, which is somehow regarded as more politically correct, at least by those who haven’t really thought about it.
First, global warming.  There are clues in the words.  Global, because it affect the globe, the whole planet; warming because the temperature is rising.  Global warming is happening because we’ve added greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.  It will continue happening until the planet reaches a new equilibrium temperature at which incoming and outgoing radiation are in balance.
Climate change is to do with changes in climate.  Again there are clues in the words.  Global warming will cause changes in climate and these changes are local and regional, varying depending on the geography of land and mountains, oceans and their currents.
So, if you are discussing whether a particular part of the world will get warmer or cooler, wetter or drier, more unsettled of more stable, or you are discussing resulting changes in agriculture, floods and droughts, population adaptations and migrations, then fine, use the phrase climate change.  These are all the second order consequences of global warming.
If you are discussing the effects of burning fossil fuel and of the release of methane on the planet’s climate system, then it is only right and proper to use the phrase global warming.  Don’t be embarrassed; don’t worry about upsetting people with inconvenient truths.  Call a spade a spade and call freshly dug soil freshly dug soil, but don’t muddle them up.

And another thing... think about sea level rise.  Much of it is the result of the thermal expansion of the ocean's water. Now that has to be a result of global warming, pure and simple. No climate changes involved.  Even the contribution made by ice melt is a temperature thing.  To talk about sea level rise under the heading of 'climate change' stretches language to absurdity. It's global warming.