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(Science?) cat on a hot tin roof. Heat of tin may not be due to global warming and climate change – so says Dr. William Reville in the Irish Times. August 20, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Science.
6 comments

This blog has been taken to task for concentrating on the ultra-liberalism of the Irish Times and that’s a fair criticism – although it’s sort of difficult to peg Breda O’Brien, or indeed John Waters as ultra (or indeed any sort of) liberals. [You see, it’s the little criticisms or questions with a grain of truth that hurt, not the big existential ones like ‘WorldbyStorm, you’re not a socialist/Republican/Green’]

So, that in mind let’s consider a source of constant fascination to the CLR, the author of the Irish Times Science column, Dr. William Reville. It’s a remarkable column, as has been noted, here and here and here. And if I check on the search function of the Irish Times I see that in this month alone we’ve been treated to pieces on “Oxford view on Shroud of Turin eagerly awaited” (Is the Turin Shroud real or a medieval forgery? The centuries-old question may soon be answered, writes William Reville – I await with bated breath the outcome of that ‘scientific investigation’) and “Growing challenge to prevailing view on climate change”(sub-head: A small but growing view is that global warming is a natural process – nothing to do with human activity, writes Dr William Reville).

Yes indeed, the ‘Science’ column of the “paper of record” is now given over to climate change – well, not quite denial, but certainly – doubt.

He starts:

GLOBAL warming/climate change is a very serious and important issue. It has been under scientific investigation since 1986 by the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC declares global warming is a fact and it is driven largely by emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities (IPCC Report 2007 – http://www.ipcc.ch/). I have reported the IPCC reports uncritically in this column, but a growing number of scientists are now presenting evidence that contradicts the IPCC position and I will give you a flavour of their position in this article.

Then comes a mea culpa…

Some scientists always disputed the findings of the IPCC but I dismissed this largely as expert opinion hired by the international oil industry.

Well, one wonders what investigations he made into the bona fides of those who disputed this.

However, it is now clear that many eminent scientists, who are not beholden to vested interests, disagree with the IPCC (eg physicist Freeman J Dyson who argues that the modelling methods used by IPCC are not nearly discriminating enough to reliably predict future climate conditions). The American Physical Society recently issued a statement to say: “There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming since the Industrial Revolution.”

And the heart of his new-found scepticism, sorry, doubts about the IPCC.

Well, critics charge the following: First, IPCC is an activist/ political enterprise whose agenda is to control emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, and concentrates exclusively on evidence that might point towards human induced climate change. Second, leading IPCC scientists reflect the positions of their governments, or seek to persuade their governments to adopt the IPCC position. Third, a small group of activists wrote the all-important Summary for Policymakers (SPM) for the four IPCC reports to-date. SPMs are revised and agreed by the member governments. The thousands of scientists who do the scientific work have no direct influence on these selective summaries. Fourth, large professional and financial rewards go to scientists who are willing to slant scientific facts to suit the IPCC agenda.

He makes a reasonable point. And then a not so resonable point.

Two things strike me about these charges. First, if they are true it is amazing that no whistle-blower has emerged from among the large ranks of IPCC. Second, why does IPCC not strenuously rebut these charges?

Well firstly, the lack of whistle-blower would indeed strike one as leading to a belief that, bizarre as it may seem, the bulk of scientific opinion backs the concept of anthropogenic climate change. Secondly, why should the IPCC whose function is to assess the data and arrive at a conclusion become an activist agency? Particularly in a context where increasingly event the most recalcitrant governments are finally accepting their central thesis. Indeed why should they waste time and energy dealing with marginal critiques?

Incidentally I love the charge that there are ‘large professional and financial rewards… [for] scientists who are willing to slant scientific facts to suit the IPCC agenda’. That it is made in the main by those whose funds directly or indirectly appear to be sourced in the ‘international oil industry’ perhaps is indicative of it being the finest passive aggressive attack ever.

Still, not one to be put off by such things as the ‘mainstream majority scientific position’ our man in Cork notes that:

THE US Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) was set up “to base environmental policy on sound science rather than exaggerated fears”. However, it has been accused of being influenced by the oil industry.

‘Influenced’ is a nice way to put it. For a rather deeper take on this consider this from Newsweek which discusses the ways in which S Fred Singer, leading light of SEPP was central to climate change denial in the 1980s in conjunction with Exxon and the American Petroleum Institute.

But undeterred by – or unaware of – such side issues Reville continues.

SEPP has published scientific evidence (Nature, Not Human Activity Rules the Climate, S Fred Singer ed. The Heartland Institute, 2008) – http://www.sepp.org/publications/ NIPCC_final.pdf – to illustrate that 20th-century global warming is not the once-off phenomenon of recent historical times claimed by the IPCC, and that most of the current warming is the result of natural and uncontrollable variations in solar activity and very little is being caused, or could be caused, by human emissions of greenhouse gases. The SEPP also claims that we have little to fear from global warming since human civilisation always fared better during warmer than during colder periods.

The last statement is risible. One need merely look at a map to see that firstly global populations have increased rapidly across the last two centuries and the density of these populations around coasts is significant entailing massive disruption should climate change lead to increasing sea levels (not to mention other effects such as pervasive flooding of plains etc). But a bit of digging about the report that Reville references leads to some disquieting conclusions.

Firstly let’s examine The Heartland Institute which is a libertarian/conservative think tank, based in the US. It has already run into trouble over global warming with a strong contrarian stance. Fine, as far as it goes. Let a thousand flowers bloom, but consider the following. In September 2007 the Heartlands Institute published a list of 500 scientists from:

A new analysis of peer-reviewed scientific literature [which] reveals that more than 500 climate scientists have appeared as authors or coauthors of peer-reviewed scientific articles confirming that climate change is a natural phenomenon.

The authors of this?

The names were compiled by Dennis Avery and climate physicist S. Fred Singer, the co-authors of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), mainly from the peer-reviewed studies cited in their book. The researchers found evidence of climate change long predating human industrial activity, captured in such “proxies” as tree rings, stalagmites, lichens, pollen, plankton, insects, public health, Chinese history and astrophysics.

Only problem is that the scientists referenced didn’t agree with the interpretation Singer and Avery, and indeed the Heartland Institute were making. Or as desmogblog.com noted:

…we have received notes now from 45 outraged scientists whose names appear on the list of 500. We’ve published more quotes here.

Dozens of scientists are demanding that their names be removed from a widely distributed Heartland Institute article entitled 500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares.

The article, by Hudson Institute director and Heartland “Senior Fellow” Dennis T. Avery (inset), purports to list scientists whose work contradicts the overwhelming scientific agreement that human-induced climate change is endangering the world as we know it.

The response from the Heartland Institute?

DeSmogBlog, a Web site created to attack conservative and free-market nonprofit organizations, targeted The Heartland Institute in late April 2008, and in particular two lists posted on Heartland’s Web site [ http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=21971 ] of scientists whose published work contradicts some of the main tenets of global warming alarmism. The blog persuaded some of the scientists appearing in the lists to ask that their names be removed from the lists.

In response to the complaints, The Heartland Institute has changed the headlines that its PR department had chosen for some of the documents related to the lists, from “500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares” to “500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares.”

What motivates the scientists? They have no right — legally or ethically — to demand that their names be removed from a bibliography composed by researchers with whom they disagree. Their names probably appear in hundreds or thousands of bibliographies accompanying other articles or in books with which they disagree. Do they plan to sue hundreds or thousands of their colleagues? The proper response is to engage in scholarly debate, not demand imperiously that the other side redact its publications.

It’s pretty masterful, isn’t it? For consider again the phrasing in their initial communication: ‘authors or coauthors of peer-reviewed scientific articles confirming that climate change is a natural phenomenon’. Not a lot of room there for the subtle reworking they then go for. And they continue:

Many of the complaining scientists have crossed the line between scientific research and policy advocacy. They lend their credibility to politicians and advocacy groups who call for higher taxes and more government regulations to “save the world” from catastrophic warming … and not coincidentally, to fund more climate research. They are embarrassed — as they should be — to see their names in a list of scientists whose peer-reviewed published work suggests the modern warming might be due to a natural 1,500-year climate cycle……. the point should be obvious: There is no scientific consensus that global warming is a crisis.

Now that’s bad enough, because the actual statements from the scientists referenced:

I have NO doubts ..the recent changes in global climate ARE man-induced. I insist that you immediately remove my name from this list since I did not give you permission to put it there.”

or

I don’t believe any of my work can be used to support any of the statements listed in the article.”

On a side issue, entertaining, isn’t it, to see a supposedly libertarian organisation denying individual autonomy to those who it references? I guess the collective trumps all. Erm.. who again are the collective?

But this is all background. What of the report itself?

It makes for interesting reading. It attempts to demolish, in a fairly predictable fashion, the bona fides of the IPCC, then curiously attempts to have its cake and eat it. It agrees that climate change may be occurring but that the effects are ‘minimal’, indeed even congenial to human civilisation.

Our findings, if sustained, point to natural causes and a moderate warming trend with beneficial effects for humanity and wildlife.

Go wildlife. Hope the humans have waterproofs.

If, for whatever reason, a modest warming were to occur – even one that matches temperatures seen during the Medieval Warm Period of around 1100 AD or the much larger ones recorded during the Holocene Climate Optimum of some 6,000 years ago – the impact would not be damaging but would probably be, on the whole, beneficial.

But then consider the following. On various outlets the 24 contributors are described as ‘some of the brightest names in the climate field’, climate experts, university professors and ‘well reputed’ and even ‘reknowned’ scientists. Hmmm…. let’s see about that.

Warren Anderson
United States
Dennis Avery
United States
Franco Battaglia
Italy
Robert Carter
Australia
Richard Courtney
United Kingdom
Joseph d’Aleo
United States
Fred Goldberg
Sweden
Vincent Gray
New Zealand
Kenneth Haapala
United States
Klaus Heiss
Austria
Craig Idso
United States
Zbigniew Jaworowski
Poland
Olavi Karner
Estonia
Madhav Khandekar
Canada
William Kininmonth
Australia
Hans Labohm
Netherlands
Christopher Monckton
United Kingdom
Lubos Motl
Czech Republic
Tom Segalstad
Norway
S. Fred Singer
United States
Dick Thoenes
Netherlands
Anton Uriarte
Spain
Gerd Weber
Germany

It’s a good list, but if we go to realclimate.org change we see that the provenance of these fine fellows is as follows:

Contributors (info from Source Watch http://www.sourcewatch.org and other sources)

Warren Anderson, US
(co-author of Fire and Ice)

Dennis Avery, US
(director of the Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute)

Franco Battaglia, Italy
(professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Modena)

Robert Carter, Australia
(”Professor Carter, whose background is in marine geology, appears to have little, if any, standing in the Australian climate science community;” well known climate change skeptic)

Richard Courtney, UK
(Technical Editor for CoalTrans International (journal of the international coal trading industry), was a Senior Material Scientist of the National Coal Board and a Science and Technology spokesman of the British Association of Colliery Management)

Joseph d’Aleo, US
(retired meteorologist & well known climate change skeptic)

Fred Goldberg, Sweden
(associate professor at the Royal School of Technology in Stockholm)

Vincent Gray, New Zealand
(founding member New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, which has the stated aim of “refuting what it believes are unfounded claims about anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.”)

Klaus Heiss, Austria
(economist, Science & Environmental Policy Project)

Craig Idso, US
(founder and chairman of the board of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, funded by Western Fuels and Exxon Mobil)

Zbigniew Jaworowski, Poland
(professor at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw & global warming skeptic)

Olavi Karner, Estonia
(Tartu Observatory)

Madhav Khandekar, Canada
(retired Environment Canada meteorologist, on the scientific advisory board of Friends of Science, published in Energy & Environment)

William Kininmonth, Australia
(past head of head of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology’s National Climate Centre, known Australian climate change skeptic; listed as “Director of the Australasian Climate Research Institute,” but the Institute is listed as simply a trading name for “Kininmonth, William Robert”, and is based at his private residence)

Hans Labohm, Netherlands
(economist, author of Man-Made Global Warming: Uravelling a Dogma)

Christopher Monckton, UK
(… connected with the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), formerly the Frontiers of Freedom’s Center for Science and Public Policy, which promotes the views of global warming skeptics)

Lubos Motl, Czech Republic
(theoretical physicist who works on string theory and conceptual problems of quantum gravity)

Tom Segalstadt, Norway
(head of the Geological Museum within the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo, IPCC reviewer)

S. Fred Singer, US
(Whom we also all know; former space scientist and government scientific administrator, runs the Science and Environmental Policy Project and has been connected with numerous conservative think tanks, including Cato, American Enterprise Institute, and of course, the tobacco industry)

Dick Thoenes, Netherlands
(emeritus professor of chemical engineering, Eindhoven University of Technology, co-author of Man-Made Global Warming: Uravelling a Dogma)

Anton Uriarte, Spain
(professor of Physical Geography at the University of the Basque Country)

Gerd Weber, Germany
(works for the ‘Gesamtverband des Deutschen Steinkohlenbergbaus’ (Association of German coal producers))

So, perhaps three of those exalted ‘experts’ could claim to have direct professional expertise in meteorology, let alone climate change. Impressive, I think you’ll agree. And while the oil industry is not in situ for this particular gig a cheer or two for King Coal.

And note that name Christopher Monckton (United Kingdom). Now that was familiar to me. But from where? Climate scientist? Researcher? Why no. For Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is a ‘journalist, politician and business consultant, policy advisor, writer, and inventor’ according to wiki. Inventor you say, then surely he has some engineering and/or scientific expertise. But no again, for his invention is the multi-million selling “Eternity” and “Eternity II” board games. This doesn’t invalidate his right to say whatever he likes about climate change, but to be a contributor in a project in direct contradiction with the IPCC might well necessitate something a little more grounded.

Now I could be petty and list off those on the IPCC, but to be honest lunch is only so long and I can’t be arsed.

And the response from scientists in the field? According to ABC News this was as follows:

ABC News showed Singer’s most recent report on global warming to climate scientists from NASA, from Stanford University and from Princeton. They dismissed it as “fabricated nonsense.”

Now, I’ll leave it to http://www.realclimate.org to dissect the report in detail, but you get the idea.

But these being all of a piece, as it were what of Reville’s point that:

The American Physical Society recently issued a statement to say: “There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming since the Industrial Revolution.”

This got the anti-climate change camp all of a fluster with ragged breathing and sweaty palms. But. Er. No. No it didn’t. The editorial in the newsletter of the APS ‘Physics and Society’ suggested did include the quoted phrase. However the APS as a body this July noted:

The Forum on Physics and Society is a place for discussion and disagreement on scientific and policy matters. Our newsletter publishes a combination of non- peer- reviewed technical articles, policy analyses, and opinion. All articles and editorials published in the newsletter solely represent the views of their authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Forum Executive Committee.

The FPS Executive Committee strongly endorses the position of the APS Council that “Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate.” The statement in the July 2008 edition of our newsletter, Physics and Society that, “There is considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for the global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution” does not represent the views of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Physics and Society.

All this was on foot of the APS newsletter publishing two pieces, one accepting climate change and one not, the latter written by the ubiquitous Mr. Monckton. Now I’m an ambitious kind of a person, but I know my limits and the idea that – for example – I might have an article on cosmology published in an associated newsletter of Scientific American or New Scientist or a professional science body is simply nonsense. So how come climate change is seen as an area where anyone can ‘have a go’, as it were?

Dismal dismal stuff. And what is so striking is just how thin the NIPCC and associated groups is. For a serious tilt at the IPCC something a lot more weighty would be necessary, with perhaps actual climate change experts as distinct from industry/excited non specialists. And isn’t it telling that they can’t get that level of expertise? Still, that’s perhaps not the point from their perspective. And perhaps not that important in the big picture in the context of – as noted before – some awareness by states of the seriousness of the issue.

Yet, here is the thing. It takes me about twenty or so minutes over lunchtime on a couple of successive days to find out all this information in the detail necessary to put together a post on the subject. William Reville – one presumes – has more time and the added incentive of being paid for his time. And yet he doesn’t do so. Odd that.

Remember, as the line says at the foot of each of his articles:

William Reville is associate professor of biochemistry and public awareness of science officer at UCC

While I’m at it can I direct you to the remarkable (for which read insane) site here. The US state conflicted on climate change? Who’d have thunk it?

Ciaran Cuffe responds to Michael O’Leary – and raises the possibility of slow travel rather than aviation… July 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Transport.
13 comments

Nice piece by Ciaran Cuffe of the Green Party in the Irish Times yesterday in response to Michael O’Leary’s bilious article on ‘eco-loons’ (which was considered here), I mean, I mean of course those who suggest aviation has a part to play in reducing emissions. Oh no, he meant eco-loons.

Anyhow, Cuffe notes:

IT’S HARD to know whether Michael O’Leary is in the denial or the anger stage of facing up to climate change. Clearly he took some satisfaction in his recent rants on the letters pages that accused columnist John Gibbons of belonging to the “eco-loonie” camp. Like a latter day Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s play, Death of a Salesman, he has failed to realise that the world has changed, and he must learn the new rules of the game. He was at it again on Wednesday, addressing an Oireachtas Committee on Transport. Ironically next door the Climate Change Committee listened to submissions on the European Union’s proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

And further to the figures suggested by O’Leary – which were wrong – he argues:

As regards the science, O’Leary’s suggestion that aviation is only responsible for 2 per cent of emissions in Europe is incorrect.

According to the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research EU 2005 aviation emissions were approximately 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), representing 4 per cent of total emissions, and they are increasing fast. This figure does not include indirect warming effects, such as those from nitrogen oxide emissions, contrails and cirrus cloud effects, so the overall impact on climate may be as high as 12 per cent.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated aviation’s total impact at twice or as much as four times the 4 per cent figure. Whatever way you look at it, O’Leary is clearly playing down the figures.

Moreover Cuffe notes that aviation is:

Remarkably … not subject to many of the taxes that apply to road or rail users. Due to a loophole, jet fuel has historically been exempt from taxation, creating an anomaly in the market that favours airlines. Indeed, under Ireland’s Essential Air Services Programme, some of Ryanair’s routes such as the Dublin-Kerry service receive a handsome annual subsidy.

On mainland Europe Ryanair has also been given financial support by regional governments to fly to their airports. Thankfully the European Commission decided last week to address the free ride that O’Leary has enjoyed over recent years.

It really is entertaining to hear O’Leary’s rhetoric about ‘free markets’ on this when underlying it all is an de facto massive subsidy from public funds. And not just our state but all states.

Almost any remedy, but particularly that proposed by the Commission to include aviation within the Emissions Trading Syste, can only rectify what – under a cold analysis – would be a major distortion of the market to tilt it away from other forms of transport towards air travel. And the costs of all this, at least initially? Well, as Cuffe notes, these will only kick in under the new proposals in 2012 and range from €5 to €40 a return journey. Now perhaps on the margins RyanAir operates under that spells the end of international ‘cheap’ aviation, but beyond those circles… it’s not outrageous.

I also agree entirely with Cuffe as regards some measures to reduce emissions:

Unlike other emissions, most flights are not as necessary as activities such as heating your home or growing food. Our greenhouse gas emissions are increasingly a contributory factor to the weather extremes that cause drought, flooding and the loss of lives in the developing world.

Airline emissions exact a high price on the planet, and jobs in the industry come at a high price. O’Leary stated that it takes a thousand flights a year to sustain a single job. At a rough tally that’s 100,000 kilos of CO2 emissions.

We must rethink airline subsidies, and concentrate more on creating employment in the new sunrise industries that use less carbon to create more jobs. O’Leary feels a switch to nuclear power might save the day, but even a doubling of nuclear power worldwide would only lead to a 5 per cent reduction in global CO2 emissions, and his arguments distract from the need to conserve energy and use it wisely.

There are measures that can be taken to reduce airline emissions. Changes in the amount of air traffic control areas could ensure aircraft are not forced to zigzag around Europe. Reducing the military air space currently out of bounds to commercial planes could allow straight line flights between destinations and save fuel. Distributing aircraft loads more efficiently can also reduce emissions.

That said while I like his final thoughts there is a small problem with them. For he suggests that:

There are alternatives to flying. I’ve rediscovered the art of slow travel over the last few years.

You can take a late morning ferry from Dún Laoghaire, and connect with a Virgin train at Holyhead that has you in the centre of London by early evening. Should you wish, a 10-minute walk from Euston to St Pancras railway station allows you to catch a Eurostar train that takes less than two hours to central Brussels.

This is true. I have done it myself from Dublin to Rome and back. The Eurostar is a joy, sleepers comfortable, although not necessarily the best way to actually fall asleep in. And he is absolutely right,

On the train and ferry you can enjoy a full meal, get some work done or enjoy the view. You can even stretch your legs without disturbing fellow-passengers. You never have to remove your shoes, stand in line for more than a few moments or empty your drink into a bin before you board.

If you reserve a seat on some trains you’re greeted by name at the carriage door. The lower carbon option is a remarkably pleasant alternative to plane travel.

But… there is a problem and that is one of cost and time.

It’s not cheap to travel trans-Europe by train. It’s not horrendously expensive, but it is more expensive than flights – although a caveat, I’m talking here about flights from Ireland to other points. How much more expensive? Well consider the following…

A useful resource, and one I’ve turned to in the past is Seat61, which is arguably the single best means of determining how to travel overland by train and ferry anywhere on earth. For those of us apprehensive about flying, although I’m more or less over that, it’s great. For anyone who is just interested in thought experiments, experiencing something a little more visceral in terms of the travel experience or more environmentally friendly transport it is essential.
Using their links it’s easy to calculate the costs of travelling on any given day, so how about we decide we’ll travel tomorrow Sunday 20th of July.

By RyanAir (incidentally, an airline I’ve never used… for various reasons) it would cost to fly to Paris return on the 20th July and returning 27th July €296.14 for a flight (07.05 outbound to Paris, 22.50 inbound to Dublin the following Sunday). €296.14. Quite a bit of money.

Let’s travel sloooowwwww….

Dublin Ferry Port – London Euston 44 euro

0845 – 1627 (change Crewe)

Walk down the road to St. Pancras keeping in mind the 30 minute minimum check-in time for the Eurostar.

Eurostar

St. Pancras to Paris Nord

18.00 – 21.20 149 GBP

And returning…

Paris Nord to St. Pancras

09.13 – 10.36 (earlier train at 8.07 if you’re frantic to ensure the connection is made) 69.50 GBP

London Euston – Dublin Ferry Port 44 euro

1146 – 1904 (change Crewe)

The total costs?

Eurostar is €275 (218.50 GBP)
Dublin – London – Dublin €88

€363 total

So, almost €80 more expensive than flying.

If one were to book say months in advance, September non-flexible fares drop to £80 return on the Eurostar… clearly moving this into a more reasonable €188 in total.

However, if you book RyanAir it would cost for the same dates in September no more than €51.15.

There are obviously other fares to be taken into account. Transport from airport into city centre, cost of food on day long journeys by train. And then there is always the possibility of delays and cancellations. In 2004, once again trying to make it to the Eurostar I had a most – ahem – interesting day travelling to London after the Stena ferry was out of action. This included a dash to Dublin Ferry Port, a wait while Irish Ferries decided whether or not to accept the near mutinous passengers from Stena, then, due to refurbishment a remarkable journey across central and eastern lines to get to London, barely on time to make a connection with the Eurostar. Not something I’d be keen on replicating.

Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but it is a process dependent upon a number of elements working smoothly at every stage of the journey. Travel further onward from Paris and one is then dependent upon other national transport services doing likewise. That said, if the money is there it is worth every cent.

But this links into a broader discussion about working hours/holidays and so on. Even if the money is there a whole day from a limited holiday allocation is a whole day. An instinctive, if partially unwarranted, aversion to train travel is in part based on the sense that it is ‘slow’. And that makes me wonder, in the absence of high speed links, and indeed the lack of geographic proximity to Europe whether slow travel will catch on in quite the way it might be hoped. Because if it effectively takes a full day to get to Paris, as against 90 minutes by air, then what of Barcelona or Rome (start at 9 on a Saturday, arrive in either around the same time the next morning). And if you really want the sun, and if you have a large family and are dependent upon discounts and suchlike well then these sort of proscriptions are probably so far off the scale as to be Utopian…

Which suggests that shifts in modes of transportation, time usage, holiday allocation and suchlike would be necessary before even beginning to see some change in public behaviour. And that makes me think that should the worst come to the worst people will simply be priced out of the market, and we would see much more localised travel on holidays, perhaps akin to the situation in the late 1960s before the package holiday boom took off. Oddly enough that’s the sort of world, avoiding air travel much of the time, that I’ve lived in for decades now, but I’ve never noticed any great appetite amongst others to join me…

It doesn’t have to be that way, and Cuffe implicitly appears to acknowledge that aviation will continue into the foreseeable future – nor do the proposals from the Commission ban aviation. But it’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? Not so much slow travel as almost no travel.

What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world but loses his airline? Nothing, according to Michael O’Leary of RyanAir…. July 9, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Business, climate change, European Politics, European Union, Uncategorized.
5 comments

There truly is something a bit parodic about Michael O’Leary. The confrontational public, and for all we know private, image. The idea that has gained a currency in Irish society that he, and Ryanair, somehow single handedly altered the European aviation industry (not true… ). The off the cuff statements, that like RyanAir advertising, are – despite appearances – hugely considered and so on… That said, it makes great (if unbelievably irritating) copy, and is an excellent promotional strategy.

Still, reading today that:

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT: A DECISION by the European Parliament to include aviation in its CO2 Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) could eventually cost consumers an additional €50 on every flight, the chief executive of Ryanair has warned.

…I can’t help but feel he’s got his priorities a little – skewed.

Michael O’Leary of Ryanair said the ruling, which parliamentarians described as an “enormous stride” in safeguarding the environment against greenhouse gases, would not reduce emissions, but instead “further damage European airlines” at a time when oil costs some $140 a barrel.

“These clowns in the European Parliament seem determined to destroy the European airline industry with these discriminatory taxation penalties,” he said.

“Aviation is not the cause of, nor the solution to, CO2 emissions or global warming. Increasing taxation on air travel will have no effect on either emissions or global warming, it will just raise the cost of air travel for ordinary European consumers.”

He would, of course, have been more accurate had he said that aviation is not the sole cause, nor the single solution to CO2 emissions or global warming. But of course it is a major contributor and it is part of the solution. Which makes his point that it won’t decrease emissions a bit odd because if it does hit demand for travel then passenger numbers drop and so do journeys made. And the reality of climate change does require ordinary European passengers, or extraordinary ones, to accept that there will be changes in the future.

And it’s interesting to look at the stats because in the European context we read that…

Emissions from aviation currently account for about 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, but they are increasing fast – by 87% since 1990 – as air travel becomes cheaper without its environmental costs being addressed. For example, someone flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year.

The rapid growth in aviation emissions contrasts with the success of many other sectors of the economy in reducing emissions.

Without action, the growth in emissions from flights from EU airports will by 2012 cancel out more than a quarter of the 8% emission reduction the EU-15 must achieve to reach its Kyoto Protocol target. By 2020, aviation emissions are likely to more than double from present levels.

Interesting to note that the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has “estimated that aviation is responsible for around 3.5% of anthropogenic climate change, a figure which includes both CO2 and non-CO2 induced effects” … which is close to it’s percentage of EU gas emissions.

3.5% may seem relatively little, but looking at the figure for transport as a total of emissions (c. 15%) we see that it is about a quarter. So a quarter of all emissions of all transport globally is caused by aviation. I wouldn’t be investing in the airlines if I were Michael… And incidentally if ever an excuse for EU sponsored action were needed, for national governments tend to run scared of the O’Leary’s, Bransons and Smurfits of this world…

A further cause of his discomfort might be the following…

…a new regulation debated yesterday could mean passengers will soon be able to see exactly what they have to pay for their flights when booking online.
Under the regulation, fares displayed would have to include all taxes and charges that are generally added to the basic ticket price as the online booking process proceeds. The ruling should come into force later this year.

It’s all politics… it truly is… heh, heh…

“You couldn’t make it up” …. No. #1433 November 30, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, European Politics, Fianna Fáil, Uncategorized.
7 comments

George Clemenceau, the former French Prime Minister, is reported to have coined the phrase “War is too important a matter to be left to the military”. One might equally say today that climate change is too important a matter to be left to the politicians, particularly politicians like Liam Aylward.

Aylward, a Fianna Fáil MEP, writes in a letter to today’s Irish Times (sub req’d)

Madam, – I fully support the objective of the European Union to guarantee that C02 emissions in Europe will be reduced by 20 per cent by 2020.

But we need international action at a global level if we are to arrest climate change.

I would like to see the forthcoming UN Conference on Climate Change, which begins in Bali on December 9th next, securing a commitment from other international partners, most notably from the United States, China and India, to match this EU commitment.

All noble enough sentiment so far, even if our chums over at Spiked might disagree. However, Aylward really gives the game away with his next line.

Unless all key players are actively involved in reducing C02 emissions, we will lose this battle and the ozone layer will deplete.

When I read this earlier today, I had to go back and check it again, to make sure I wasn’t missing something. No, “the ozone layer” is still there. Whichever way you look at it, it seems that Liam Aylward’s understanding of climate change is less than that the average Junior Cert Geography student (or, indeed, anyone who’s taken an hour and a half to sit through An Inconvenient Truth). Rather it appears that he’s picked up a few vaguely “environmental” concepts over the last twenty years – climate change, ozone layer, pollution – and conflated them all into some progressive-sounding, but ultimately meaningless platitudes.

Ozone depletion, remains, of course an important issue, but it is a separate one to the issue of climate change to be addressed at the Bali summit. It’s not caused by CO2 emissions, but (as any fule kno) by the release of of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It’s also an area where, unlike climate change, substantial progress has been made (but also one which is much easier to address than climate change).

It’s possible, of course, that Aylward is referring to the theory that does exist that man-made climate change will, through the cooling of the stratosphere, will increase ozone depletion and prevent the current, slow, recovery of ozone levels. However, given that the link isn’t strong, and the evidence is far from conclusive, as well the fact that if climate change isn’t properly addressed, the impacts of ozone depletion will be far less significant than the wider effects of an increasing mean global temperature it would seem an odd issue to focus on. So I doubt it.

We’ve been here before. Back in 2003, Martin Cullen said

“All of the experts are saying all of this is the greenhouse gases having an effect on the ozone layer and it’s causing major changes in weather.”

and was subject to a scathing attack from Fintan O’Toole a couple of days later. O’Toole concluded that piece by stating:

Major changes in attitude don’t come about without passionate leadership. Who’s going to believe that someone who hasn’t bothered to get even a basic grasp of the subject actually gives a damn about it?

But this is what we’re stuck with. Some politicians have deep moral and ideological convictions. Some have the technocratic appeal of being able to understand problems and work out pragmatic solutions.

We’re governed, to a very large extent, by people who have neither. We get all the brisk cynicism of professionals but little of the basic competence.

Given that Aylward reminds us of his position at Vice-President of the Climate Change Committee of the European Parliament, those words seem as apt now as they did five years ago.

Gormley contra mundum: In defence of the Greens June 17, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, Global Warming, Greens, Irish Election 2007, The Left.
17 comments

Like Worldbystorm, the recent negotiations and formation of a coalition government have reminded me of a cold December night in 1994. December 14th, in particular, and the conference to decide whether Democratic Left would enter into government with Labour and Fine Gael, the latter described as ‘neo-fascists’ by one over-enthusiastic delegate (he was opposed, I should make clear).

In particular, I keep thinking about a brief conversation I had with a friend of mine at the back of the conference room in the Gresham, after the decision had been taken. I was disappointed, but unsurprised at the result, and was lamenting the future of the party, the Left … the usual kind of thing. His response was short, but to the point: “Better us in there than the fucking PDs”.

Even though I didn’t agree with him at the time, it was a very hard point to argue against and it’s something which has stuck with me ever since. While it’s easy to stand back and make the argument that parties of the left should stay out of government until they can present a truly left-wing alternative in Irish politics, those who adopt such a position (and it’s a valid one) need to face up to the fact that, in the short-term at least and possibly for longer, it condemns the most vulnerable in society to a worse government than might otherwise have been the case. And it’s for that reason that I’ll try and defend the decision of the Greens to go into government, even if I’m not entirely sure that it’s the right one.

There is something very amusing about listening to the radio, or looking at politics.ie, and coming across the denunciations, the lamentations, the screams of ‘betrayal’ and ‘selling out’. It’s particularly rich coming from members of Fine Gael (as if their policies on important issues were in any substantial way different from Fianna Fáil’s) and Labour (who had the decency to sell out before the election, in their alliance with Fine Gael and particularly with the tax policy announced by Rabbitte at conference, rather than waiting until after the results were in like the treacherous Greens). Sinn Féin members have been a little less hysterical, probably because they were never part of the putative ‘Alliance for Change’ but a nasty part of me might also suggest that a party which is willing to share power with arguably the most reactionary political grouping on the island isn’t really in a position to throw stones.

Frankly, anyone who claims to be all that surprised at the Green’s decision is either extremely naive, or deliberately disingenuous. The party never ruled out the principle of coalition with Fianna Fáil. Why should they? They made it clear in the course of the campaign that they wanted to enter government, and there’s no particular reason why coalition with Fine Gael would be any more favorable, from a policy perspective, than coalition with the dreaded Fianna Fáil.

What the more shrieking of the critics seem to forget is that the choice the Green Party was presented with wasn’t either coalition with Fianna Fáil or coalition with ‘the Rainbow’. It was coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats or back to opposition and the continuation, in effect, of the current government. One of the Green TDs (I think it was Paul Gogarty) made the point well on the radio yesterday, citing the protesters outside the conference with signs saying “Save Tara – Vote No”. Now, while entering government with Fianna Fáil may very well not save Tara, staying out of government most certainly won’t.

There is, of course, the argument that parties of the left (with the Greens generally, although not always, included in this grouping) shouldn’t let themselves be used by right-wing parties to help them consolidate their hold on power. Rather, they should be looking at building a ‘left alternative’, usually at grassroots level, in order to achieve real and substantial change at some unspecified point in the future.

A couple of problems with this, however. Firstly, none of the left-wing parties (except the Socialist Parties and the micros) actually subscribe to this. Labour’s entire election campaign was based on cooperation with a Christian Democrat party. Sinn Féin remind us that they’re willing to work with anyone. Unless all parties agree to work together in building the elusive ‘alternative’, it’s not going to happen and it’s unrealistic to expect a single party to stand aside from government in the full knowledge that its rivals on the left would jump at the chance if they were presented with it.

More importantly, though, is that the ‘broad left’ strategy is, inevitably, a long-term one, lasting decades rather than years. In the recent election, after much soul-searching, I gave my first preference to the Greens. This was based on one issue: climate change. While it didn’t factor as one of the big issues during the campaign, in my view it’s the single most important issue facing the country (and, indeed, the planet). And, if there’s one issue that can’t be left aside for ten, twenty or more years, it’s this one.

The climate change policies included in the Programme for Government couldn’t, by any standards, be described as radical or mould-breaking. However, they’re unquestionably better than they would have been had the Greens remained in opposition. Similarly, they’re a lot less concrete than they might otherwise have been, substituting rather vague ambitions for specific targets. This presents a challenge for the Green members of government but also, I would submit, an opportunity. While the more cynical (or, perhaps, astute) observers will state that this allows Fianna Fáil to wangle out of any move on carbon emissions, it also provides gives the initiative to Gormley and Ryan, in their respective Departments to drive the policies forward, put specific proposals to Cabinet and insist that they be accepted.
It’s not going to be easy, however. The party already has a bitter taste in its mouth, with Dick Roche’s extraordinarily cynical and disrespectful stunt on Thursday, signing the S.I. to commence work on the M3. It has the imminent difficulty of having to defend co-location (collective responsibility and the fact that they’ve agreed to the presence of the Progressive Democrats at the cabinet table doesn’t allow them to shrug their shoulders and blame it on the other gang). How will they deal with the possibility of Beverley Flynn being given a junior Ministry? It’s also going to have to face whatever fallout arises from the Mahon Tribunal, and think seriously about exactly how bad things have to get before they might consider leaving.

It’s this last question that’s, perhaps, going to be the hardest for the Greens. At all costs, it must not allow itself to become another Progressive Democrats, a mudguard for Fianna Fáil. It must not be afraid of walking away from power if the circumstances dictate. The great myth of PD participation in government is that they punched above their weight, and forced Fianna Fáil to enshrine their views as policy. In fact, Fianna Fáil never had any difficulty with PD policies. They were never led anywhere other than where they wanted to go. This will not, one hopes, be the case with the Greens. If the Greens don’t find themselves fighting to implement their policies, that’s when they need to start asking themselves some hard questions.

If I was a member of the Greens, I have to admit that I don’t know how I would have voted. Despite the considerations above, the agreed Programme for Government is deeply flawed. franklittle‘s criticism of it that it has very little in it to tackle social exclusion is a fair one (although I would disagree with his argument that the environmental policies are ‘middle-class’ ones. The fact that working-class people may not be particularly concerned with an issue doesn’t necessarily making the issue itself bourgeois, any more than the fact that working-class people support Fianna Fáil makes that party the voice of the proletariat).

As I think Mary White said at the conference, not a great deal, not even a good deal, but, ultimately, I think’s probably better than the alternative (the same government formation, but without the Greens). At this point, though, it has the potential to deliver real change on certain vital issues. It’s up to the Green Party to make sure it does.

Why, bad as it is, climate change isn’t the only threat: Near Earth Objects and December 2004. March 11, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Environment, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Technology.
7 comments

Not sure if anyone caught this in the Guardian on Wednesday. With the day that was in it it seemed possible to briefly raise our eyes from the electoral gutter to the clean fresh sky above us and beyond that space itself.

Er…no, actually best not. Let’s go back to the Assembly Election, because I read one of the most disturbing reports in a newspaper I’ve ever seen.

The Planetary Defence Conference is taking place soon with the aim of establishing ways to deal with asteroids that threaten to impact with the Earth. Near-Earth Objects ranging from grains of dust to moving mountains kilometers in size are fairly certain to have caused up to extinction level events in the past.

Various techniques have been suggested for dealing with them and the Conference will consider them in some detail. These range from attaching propulsion systems to them in order to deflect them to attempting to destroy them with nuclear weapons and such ideas are well known from films such as Deep Impact and Armageddon. Still, interesting and all as that is what really my eye was the information contained further down the story. When discussing one possible threat to the planet it noted:

    All eyes for the moment are on Apophis, a 390-metre wide asteroid discovered in 2004, which has an outside chance of hitting the Earth in 2036. If it struck, Apophis would release more than 100,000 times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima. Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole planet would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere. There could be dark skies for a year or more and crops worldwide would be destroyed.

But it could actually be worse.

    Many smaller objects around the Earth’s orbit break up when they reach the atmosphere, with no impact beyond a short fireworks display. An NEO wider than 1km, however, collides with Earth every few hundred thousand years and an NEO larger than 6km, which could cause mass extinction, will collide with Earth every 100m years. Experts agree that we are overdue for a big one.

This potential threat has led the Conference to consider the following…

    The critical question psychologists will address is whether details of an impending impact should be kept secret, to avoid widespread panic. In December 2004, for example, scientists calculated that if Apophis were to hit it would land somewhere along a line that crossed central Europe, parts of the Middle East, the most populated district on Earth (the Ganges River valley), and on out across the Philippines. At the time, the information was kept secret and many NEO scientists agreed it was the right thing to do.

Wait a second. The threat assessment was of such significance (i.e. it was thought that the chances it could actually happen were sufficiently high) that it was felt better in the interests of public order to keep a lid on the information? Isn’t that sort of remarkable and how come we’ve heard so little about it up until now? Granted the threat passed. We’re still, mostly, here. But even so…

    But Clark Chapman, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says secrecy goes against the advice of many experts in risk management. “There are myths about the downsides of putting all information out, used as rationalisations by astronomers and space agency officials for withholding information, but which are counter to the policies of expert social scientists.”

    He says the perception that members of the public would immediately panic about an impending impact has no support from studies of social psychology. “If risk communication is done poorly, people may become unduly alarmed, they may lose faith in the veracity of official statements, they may misunderstand what’s being communicated, they may ignore important warnings.”

To be honest it’s not so much the threat of panic that worries me, but the threat of a giant rock hitting the planet.

And, to my mind, it indicates how parochial much of our thinking is. We’ve been discussing climate change here over the week, and it’s always struck me that whether caused by anthropogenic sources or otherwise there is an imperative to act, if only because it forces us to think smarter about our technologies, our utilisation of resources and our place on the planet…

There is of course an appeal, and it’s understandable, for a simpler way of life, but I think that’s a serious error, indeed it’s hard to see how that can be achieved with a planetary population in the billions short of some very unpleasant measures.

This as a great opportunity to shift ourselves forward into using much more clever technologies in transport, energy and conservation. If we are dependent upon land transport or slower air transport then it makes sense to use the most advanced technologies available and make them more efficient.

And, like it or not, to sustain our planetary environment we must, of necessity, have a presence in space both to monitor the biosphere and to warn of and guard against incoming problems, must, of necessity have a high technology civilisation. Not for puerile issues of national or international pride or because technological progress is an end in itself (although arguably it can be when developed appropriately) but as a matter of survival and since it’s the smart thing to do. And also because, to be honest, this universe we find ourselves in is implacably hostile in it’s simple indifference not merely to human life but to the biosphere in general. The current efforts to establish a means of dealing with climate change are enormously important, but climate change isn’t the only threat we as a species or the planet faces, yet, ironically we are, as ever, the only species on the planet in a position to do something about it.

SwindleWatch ’07 March 4, 2007

Posted by smiffy in climate change, Environment, Environmentalism, Film and Television, Global Warming, Media and Journalism.
42 comments

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been had”? I can’t be sure, but I’d bet Johnny Rotten’s famous quote will crop up in next Thursday’s Channel 4 documentary on climate change, The Great Global Warming Swindle, taking its name from the not-very-good Sex Pistols film.

According to the Channel 4 website:

In a polemical and thought-provoking documentary, film-maker Martin Durkin argues that the theory of man-made global warming has become such a powerful political force that other explanations for climate change are not being properly aired.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Imagine what it could mean if it were true: that there’s a vast conspiracy of vested interests including, most recently, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, collectively lying to use about the nature and cause of climate change, and that all our concerns about energy conservation and reduction of greenhouse gases have been a complete waste of time.

Don’t go rushing to buy shares in Ryanair just yet. The Observer’s science editor Robin McKie has a pretty damning piece in today’s edition rubbishing the programme. While I’m not sure I’d go along with his comparision with CFC gases and with his proposed solution, he makes the point that many of the claims on the programme are untrue and simply a rehash of the same so-called ‘scepticism’ that, until relatively recently, used to get an amount of coverage in the media disproportionate to the weight of scientific support it attracted in the name of a ‘balanced debate’ (i.e. until the BBC realised that it was a load of old rot, and that there was little or no support for the view that contemporary climate change was anything but man-made).

Something McKie doesn’t point to, however, is the background of the director. Martin Durkin has quite a track record in this kind of programme. George Monbiot writes about him here, pointing to his some of his previous output including a report on how silicone implants reduce the risk of breast cancer (initially proposed to the BBC’s Horizon but dropped when the commissioned researcher contradicted the claims, then shown by Channel 4), a series (again for Channel 4) called Against Nature, which essentially argued that environmentalists were proto-Nazis out to control the world (which misrepresented the views of many of those interviewed, for which Channel 4 was forced to apologise) and a programme (once again, Channel 4) on genetically-modified foodstuffs which one of the participants described as having “rendered great disservice to science generally and to the scientific debate on GM-food particularly“. For someone with no scientific background, one has to wonder how Martin Durkin keeps being commissioned for programmes like these. Or, as Private Eye wrote at the time “What does Channel 4 do with programme makers condemned by the TV watchdog,the Independent Television Commission (ITC), for using underhand editing techniques? The answer is, er, hire them to make another programme.”

One intriguing element to the whole affair is the link to the Revolutionary Communist Party, also known as the Living Marxism group, also known as the Institute of Ideas, also known as Spiked Online, also known as Sense About Science. Phew! It’s hard to keep up, even for an ex-DL member, so for an introduction to the bizarre and murky world of this sect which went so far left it came out the other side, check out George Monbiot’s pieces and ‘The Revolution has been Televised‘ and ‘Invasion of the Entryists‘, as well as Nick Cohen’s ‘The rebels who changd their tune to be pundits‘. All of these pieces highlight the role played by RCP members and friends in Durkin’s films and, while it isn’t claimed that Durkin is a member of the RCP, an article on the group by What Next states that “The day after (a piece on Against Nature appeared in The Guardian), the paper reported Martin Durkin, the Against Nature producer, saying that the RCP had been dissolved a year previously. Not known as an RCP member or supporter, it’s not clear how he was privy to such information”.

It’s hard to do justice to the sheer strangeness of the ideology behind this group in its various guises. Essentially, it presents an uber-libertarian view of the world, where everything suggestive of state intervention in private lives, or which might limit scientific exploration or experimentation to any degree is charged with being ‘politically-correct’ or totalitarian, part of a creeping statism which aims to control the actions of everyone on the planet. Whatever you’re for, these professional controversialists will be against it. Indeed, if John Waters scrubbed himself up a bit, he might even be admitted as a member.

Much of what they write, particularly from The Times’ Mick Hume or the New Statesman’s Brendan O’Neill seem, at first glance, to be run-of-the-mill contrarianism. Worried about emissions for air travel? Just leftie elitists trying to stop working class people going on holidays. Use a green bin for recycling? Council plot to regulate our lives. Concerned that maybe homophobic or racist abuse shouldn’t be thrown around on a college campus? Politically-correct Big Brother attack on freedom of speech.

Pretty standard, Magill-type rubbish, all in all.

But poke a little deeper and you find an ideology far odder than anything dreamt up by Eamon Delaney in a rare, sober moment. This is also the group which denied the existence of concentration camps in Bosnia, as well as describing Neil Hamilton as a ‘sacrificial lamb’. For a real indication of how nuts they can get when questioned, check out the stunned response of the presenters of Little Atoms (not known for the tough interrogation of their guests) to Brendan O’Neill’s (Spiked contributor and New Statesman columnist) claim that intervention is always wrong, even in the case of genocide, because it’s paternalistic and disempowering.

Many profiles of the RCP-group try to understand their almost Ayn Randian ideology. Some think that they continue to be Marxists, religiously so, and are promoting the market and global capitalism in order to hasten its inevitable demise (rather like those fundamentalist Christians who want to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem in order to bring about the Apocalypse). Others see them as having abandoned the class-struggle and economic elements of Marxism, leaving only an ultra-humanist fanatical devotion to ‘progress’ for its own sake. Others still see them as just in it for the money.

I’ve no idea. All I would say is that if you do sit down to watch the programme on Thursday, treat everything you hear with some scepticism, and do some research into who is speaking. You wouldn’t want to be had!

[As a side-note, looking back over that Nick Cohen piece in the New Statesman for the purpose of writing this post, one quote in particular jumps out immediately:

Former lefties can make a good living in the media by attacking their ex-comrades – I’d do it myself if the price was right.

Doh!]

When being right isn’t quite enough… The political mainstream, climate change and the Greens October 30, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Labour Party, climate change, Global Warming, Greens, Irish Politics.
3 comments

It was truly startling to see the co-option of the Stern Report on climate change by the British Government today. The report makes for depressing reading, positing a future which would see a 20% decrease in global GDP in the event of uncontrolled climate change – and lest that sound not so bad it’s worth considering that in the crassest terms it’s the developed world which would be hit hardest by that decrease in GDP in terms of material comfort while the developing world would be hit as hard or worse in terms of the human effects.

But the stray thought that struck me was that the impact of the implementation of Stern et al would mean, to a significant degree the validation of a broad range of ideas generally associated with the Greens (both in political and social terms). This is, to my mind at least (and as someone long influenced by the red-green thinking of those such as that of Bahro and Gorz), welcome in terms of conversion away from a high carbon economy to one which utilises technological improvements and considered use of resources in the framework of a low carbon environment.

But isn’t this also the point at which Green ideas are subsumed, as socialist ideas were before them, into the general paradigms of mainstream politics. The UK example is particularly instructive. Here we have all three major parties, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives engaged with considerably more determination than one might have ever previously anticipated in such ideas.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that it sounds the death knell of Green parties, but it does perhaps indicate that their political role will remain perhaps more marginal than they or we might hope for in the future, that their relationship will be similar to that of Sinn Féin to Fianna Fáil as regards ‘Republicanism’ where the larger more mainstream party picks the elements that are most voter friendly, or indeed both the larger parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in relation to social democracy.

Of course, is this a surprise? No-one has expected the Greens to coast to state power on the back of simply being right on many of the big issues, but it seems to me slightly unfair that they may not reap any reward for sterling work over the past number of decades. And while the current poll ratings for the Greens, as seen in the RedC figures from the weekend are good, it’s hard to believe they reflect anything much more than our local political concerns rather than – say – the influence of those who have seen ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

 

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the Greenest of them all? September 22, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Energy consumption, Environment, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Greens, Uncategorized.
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There is an interesting debate rumbling through certain portions of the environmental movement.
A piece in the New Statesman by John Gray this week under the heading ‘Clear and Present Danger’ reviewed George Monbiot’s latest work Heat. The book is about global warming, and has been serialised in the Guardian this week. It’s good stuff, but extremely depressing. Monbiot is convinced of the necessity to implement sweeping changes in the society.

Yesterday Monbiot criticises the report from the Tyndall Centre, which we’ve noted here previously, but I’ll look at that in a moment.

Let’s start with John Gray the interesting, if mildly misanthropic, philosopher who has made a career from taking contrarian positions on a range of issues.

The essence of the debate, actually let’s call it a three way debate because of course Friends of the Earth and the Tyndall Centre are also involved, hinges on this. The Tyndall Centre has proposed a report which calls for specific cuts in emissions in selected areas. Monbiot considers that the Tyndall Centre figures are too little and are ‘two decades too late”. John Gray considers that Monbiot might well be right, but that global warming is, as James Lovelock has proposed, now all but inevitable and it’s now a matter for battening down the hatches and preparing for it’s impact.

So who is right? Well, essentially all three are right but perhaps some are more right than others.
The Tyndall Centre proposals are probably overly cautious. Something needs to be done, but attempting to implement that in a democratic society is going to be incredibly difficult (note the way in which Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian admitted last week that it was only An Inconvenient Truth which finally brought home to him the reality of global warming – if he found it difficult to get you can bet 90% of the population is in some form of denial). That’s why Tyndall have pitched towards the political centre and acceptability. Tyndall seeks to rein in temperature rises to only two degrees above preindustrial levels, something they believe can be accomplished by a 90% decrease in emissions by 2050. Monbiot disagrees since he believes Tyndall have got the figures wrong and that even a 90% decrease is too little unless achieved by 2030.

Monbiot characterises this in the following terms in the Guardian piece:

“In other words, Friends of the Earth [who initiated the Tyndall Centre Report] had already set the target before it asked its researchers to find out what the target should be. I suspect that it chose the wrong number because it believed a 90% cut by 2030 would not be politically acceptable.

This echoes the refusal of Sir David King, the government’s chief scientist, to call for a target of less than 550 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, on the grounds that it would be “politically unrealistic”. The message seems to be that the science can go to hell – we will tell people what we think they can bear.”

He’s right. But he’s also wrong. Unfortunately it is politically unrealistic and unacceptable. The nature of the changes Monbiot believes are necessary are such that it’s hard to see anything short of a very authoritarian government being able to push them through. Perhaps that’s what we’ll have by 2030.

John Gray points to a further problem with Monbiot’s thesis and implicitly that of the Tyndall Centre which I’ve already noted. The developing world is simply not going to alter it’s energy consumption in such a way as to alter global warming even if the UK does follow the Tyndall Centre/Monbiot path.

“However sensible it may be in parts, there is a profound unreality surrounding the programme of action Monbiot proposes. “Curtailing climate change must be the project we put before all others,” he writes. But who are “we”, exactly? Humanity at large is ridden with intractable conflicts, and delusional bigots rule its most powerful state. An American air attack on Iran would produce an oil shock greater than any that has yet occurred, triggering the search for other sources of energy – many of them dirtier than oil. Moreover, continuing growth in human numbers (a crucial factor in the worsening en vironmental situation that Monbiot mentions only once in the book, giving it less than a single complete sentence) is increasing resource scarcity around the world. It is always claimed that the human environmental impact is a matter of per capita resource rather than sheer numbers, but there is an upper limit. By conservative estimates, there will be some two billion more human beings on the planet 50 years from now. Coming decades are far more likely to bring intensifying resource wars than concerted action against climate change.”

More pointedly Gray comments that:

ˇThere is, in fact, not the remotest prospect of the world adopting anything like Monbiot’s programme, but once again this may not matter. As he recognises, it may already be too late: “Because the carbon released now stays in the atmosphere for some 200 years and causes climate change many years into the future, there is perhaps a 30 per cent chance that we have already blown it.” It is a sobering admission, from which Monbiot immediately retreats. “I am writing this book in a spirit of optimism,” he declares, “so I refuse to believe it.””

I don’t think that’s to Monbiot’s discredit, but I would tend to think along with Gray that the pass may already have been sold, that global warming is now on an unstoppable path and we’re going to have to adjust to it. This adjustment is going to be painful in the extreme, whether as painful or more so than that proposed by Monbiot is an important point to consider.

Let’s think about it a bit further. If global warming is unstoppable what we can expect are radical, but not unheard of, shifts in the nature of the planetary environment. Sea level rises, increased temperatures, the destruction of certain species, indeed of whole ecologies. All this is survivable, for much of the human population of the planet, but the point isn’t really survivability but how much of what there is now we should seek to preserve.

And that’s where Monbiot is absolutely correct . If global warming can be halted or at least softened in impact, it makes sense to plan our society in terms of much smarter energy consumption. If Gray is correct, and it can’t, then exactly the same holds true – if not more so. Frankly I’m not a huge fan of narrow energy sustainability, and am particularly suspicious of those who would see us retreat from technology. I would hope that we can find new sources which will leap-frog us beyond such constraints – but I’m realist enough to recognise that the world we live in is one where energy sources are decreasing and therefore in the short to medium term we must utilise them wisely.

Gray concludes by saying that:

“There are some useful things that can be done. In Britain, we can increase flood defences against rising sea levels, secure our electricity supplies by commissioning replacements for existing nuclear power stations, develop new technologies for cleaner coal and create wildlife corridors to help other species adapt. But first we have to accept that we cannot control the process of climate change we have set in motion. Unfortunately this requires an insight into the limits of human power that is beyond most environmentalists. Like the rest of humankind, they cannot bear very much reality.”

I think Gray is being unnecessarily harsh. Monbiot in particular has paid greater attention to this topic than many before him. One cannot fault him for retaining a sense of optimism in the face of catastrophic change. Environmentalism has been aware of these dangers for a considerable period of time – and now it shapes much of the debate, note the way in which capital (even if only in the form of Richard Branson) is finally waking up to the issue. Whether, though, the changes they seek to implement can realistically alter the dynamic of global warming is a different question, but at least some of the range of measures proposed will be worthwhile particularly if integrated into new technologies…

Perhaps that sounds like a new, somewhat greener, spin on techno utopianism. If so I plead guilty, but I genuinely see this as an opportunity for progressive technologies to be allied with environmentalism in the face of a fundamental change in global climate. If eventually we can’t ameliorate it perhaps we can be sure we won’t exacerbate it further.

The first cut is the deepest – or how curbing emissions may not be so painful… September 16, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in climate change, Energy consumption, Environment, Environmentalism, Global Warming, Uncategorized.
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A great, illuminating article in the Guardian yesterday about a report from the UK based Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research which for once actually maps out a clear strategy to carbon cuts in order to reduce greenhouse gases to a level that would actually make an impact. Granted these are for the UK, but they have a clear application on this island, North and South. You can find the details at the Tyndall Centre and the article here, but for your reading convenience the details are as follows.

A sustainable effect i.e. one that would prevent a 20C increase in temperature necessitates a 60% cut in emissions by 2050. That’s a huge figure but one that Tyndall Centre believes is realistic. They propose concentration on specific sectors but as Kevin Anderson, research director at the centre notes: “Our research demonstrates that the UK can move to a low carbon economy…but the journey will become much more demanding the longer the government leaves it to act.”

So what are the areas. Train transport: with the introduction and extension of the network, double decker trains and their use as a substitute for short haul flights (great, just as I get over my fear of flying the damned things are grounded).

Energy consumption: with a shift towards renewables – in fact a jump from 5% to 36% by 2030. Energy saving in industrial processes will be necessary with the introduction of smart technologies.

Car Transport: or goodbye the car. Well no, not quite. Simply by shifting from oil to alternatives would cut emissions. But it will also necessitate a reduction in car numbers, some 13% by 2030.

Buildings: A new emphasis on energy saving houses. Insulation, energy saving devices and bulbs and domestic energy generation alone would make a significant dent in the overall figure. Now they step into PARECON territory by suggesting we would all as individuals trade emissions. Interesting to see if that might work, but the possibility is there with greater integration of domestic electronic controls which various companies have been releasing into the market over the past decade or so, allied with the internet. Utopian? Perhaps not.

Aviation: A significant player, but not quite as significant as one might expect. Lighter aircraft, slower aircraft, updated turbo props for short haul flights and such like should be sufficient to negate the negative effects of aviation. And trains will take up some of the slack.

So, in a way it’s not about forgoing present societal standards, but making them ‘smart’.

Why do I like it? Well firstly because global warming is the single most pressing issue that we face, bar none. Secondly because this report doesn’t run around screaming with hands in the air pretending that technological society can suddenly shift into reverse gear, but instead approaches the topic in a measured fashion that places technological progress at the heart of social progress and – to my mind the security of our societies. The report accepts that air travel and car transportation will remain features of our civilisation but that they must be improved to be sustainable. Thirdly because it gives clear, attainable goals for action that don’t require herculean efforts on our part, merely a logical approach to the issue. Fourthly because weaning ourselves away from fossil fuels ensures, or at least improves, the security of our societies. Any criticisms? Well this isn’t a criticism but it doesn’t see a place for nuclear power, which is fair enough, my internal jury is still out on that one. Implicitly for it to be successful it would require a similar response from the rest of the world, a tricky job persuading those industrial behemoths India and China to sign up to this sort of regimen. It also is predicated on some new technologies and some fairly significant improvements in others. Perhaps they’ll work, we’ll see. But all in all a good days work.

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