Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Springtime in North Yorkshire

Every year I say the same old thing - leaves, buds, flowers, lengthening evenings, heating off, solar panel kicking into life... well it's true, I love springtime, the renewal, the light, the life.

Well this year I got whisked away by train to the North York Moors to stay in a converted barn on Red House Farm in Glaisdale to celebrate my birthday. Glaisdale is on the wonderful Esk Valley Line, a railway so beautiful and meandering it is a surprise it survived Dr Beeching's axe back in the 60s. On trips like this, the journey to and from the destination is part of the holiday itself.

From an eco-living point of view, the trip scored highly - public transport only, spending money in the local community (all our food was bought in the village shop and the brilliant butcher's), eggs from the farm, walking on the moors, wood fired heating, local organic ale in the pub... absolutely brilliant in every way.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

John Lewis' Green Windows

People keep asking "Will the environment suffer in the recession?" John Lewis obviously don't think so.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I understand the ice cores! Victory is mine!

I appear to have won my mini-war with some denier acquaintances by outflanking them on the battle of the ice cores.

The denier argument goes like this:

"The ice cores show that past temperature rises happened before carbon dioxide concentrations rose, therefore temperature drives carbon and not the other way round, hence man made carbon emissions will not cause temperature rises."

The statement is true, the conclusion is 180° out.

The ice cores show the relationship between temperature and carbon dioxide under natural warming (there were no power stations or SUVs). So something other than carbon pushed up temperature (slowly), leading eventually to the slow release of carbon dioxide and methane (eg from melting permafrost and other climatic changes). This carbon will have then contributed in turn to that warming which lasted for 5000 years before starting to cool again. So we would expect to see what we see in the ice-cores.

The current situation is quite different. Carbon dioxide is rising faster and further than in the ice cores due to man's activity. Temperature rises are lagging behind the carbon rises. Using the deniers' own logic, this lag proves that man-made carbon emissions are driving current temperature rises.


BTW: the full explanation can be seen on the excellent realclimate.org.

Labels: , ,

Monday, March 16, 2009

Know your sceptics from your deniers...

I keep getting asked to respond to the arguments put forward by climate change sceptics and deniers, which is difficult as I'm not a climatologist and the science is very complex once you get past the simple facts of:

1. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the environment (or we wouldn't be here);
2. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the environment will trap more heat;
3. Greenhouse gas concentrations are much higher now that they were in pre-industrial times due to fossil fuels;
4. Therefore you would expect temperatures to rise since the industrial revolution and they appear to have done so.

But the climate is a complex 4 dimensional beastie with natural cycles and a complex set of positive and negative feed back loops, so it is impossible to make an easy correlation between gas concentration and, say, average temperature. It is in this grey area that the sceptics and deniers thrive.

So let's have a look at the difference between a sceptic and a denier:

Sceptic: someone who doesn't believe manmade climate change is a dominant force having analysed the data with an open mind. Note that high profile sceptics like Bjorn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson accept the basic principle (they'd be daft not to) but think the IPCC is overstating the impacts by a long way. That's all part of the debate.

Denier: someone to whom the whole idea is anathema, whatever the evidence, for one or more of the following reasons:

1. They see it as a left wing plot to smother the economy and raise taxes (Melanie Phillips, Vaclav Klaus)
2. They are natural contrarians who always swim against what they see as comfortable orthodoxy (Christopher Booker, David Bellamy)
3. They make a living out of it (Fred Singer, the hosts of that anti-climate change conference last week who were funded by Exxon-Mobil until 2006)

Deniers hate being called deniers - they say they are sceptics, but nobody would ever admit to being 'in denial'!

There is a very interesting correlation between deniers on climate change and, say, people who 'disbelieve' the health effects of passive smoking. Fred Singer has been funded to 'disprove' both in his time, the Heartland Institute holds events on both, and Christopher Booker has railed against passive smoking, the link between vCJD and BSE, and indeed the theory of evolution (he's a historian by the way).

I've taken apart Christopher Booker before, but the latest person's arguments to be thrown in front of me were from Prof Bob Carter. Prof Carter is a scientist working in a related discipline with a raft of peer-reviewed papers and academic awards to his name. He has been popping up in the media and in person around the world 'debunking' the idea of manmade climate change and attacking carbon taxes for at least six years. Just one problem. He won't submit his anti-climate change arguments to a peer-reviewed academic journal. Why not? He told the Sydney Herald "the role of peer review in scientific literature was overstressed."

Now that is rubbish and he knows it. Peer review is the basic quality control system in science. All the IPCC analysis Carter derides as "lacking scientific rigour" is peer reviewed. Otherwise anyone could throw up any old nonsense and say it was a fact...

The scientific community has challenged Carter to "put up or shut up", but he refuses to face up to the challenge. It is also worth noting that he is on the board of an organisation funded by the energy industry, but again the Prof says "whether or not a scientist had been funded by the fossil fuel industry was irrelevant to the validity of research".

I came to this thinking Carter was a sceptic, but now I think he's a denier. And there's an easy way for him to disprove that assertion - peer review.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

No hair shirt required

Today I went to an early morning climate change event at a hotel about 2 miles from home. The event was about the carbon emissions in the North East of England and what could be done to tackle them. One of the speakers, who I've known for a couple of years, made a quip about me arriving by bike.

I cornered him later to point out (in a friendly way) that I didn't wake up this morning and say "Brilliant, I can save a few grammes of carbon by cycling!". Instead I looked out the window and thought "Brilliant, the sun is shining, I can have a lovely cycle up the river valley, listen to the morning birdsong, and get some light exercise while I'm at it!".

It was indeed lovely. When I emerged from the valley I spotted one of the other delegates bouncing over speed humps in his car, looking stressed. Who was wearing the hair shirt?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What if the lights go out?

I was just stepping into the shower this morning when the water went cold. The lights had gone off too. I dried off the cold splash of water that had hit me before I could jump out and went and checked the fuse box. Everything was OK there, so we had a power cut.

I got dressed and went up to the newsagents - he was using two battery powered camping lights and a calculator to run the shop, and was worried about his perishable foodstuffs. The pedestrian crossing was out of order too. A symphony of burglar alarms rang out across the neighbourhood.

When I got back we lit the stove with a match to boil the kettle and had cereal rather than toast. My partner and I fought a battle over who was blocking whose light from the window in order to read the paper. It was eerily quiet with no fish tank pump or fridge humming in the background.

After breakfast I found I had about an hour of battery left on my laptop, but no broadband, so I checked my e-mail on my mobile phone. My work choice boiled down to what didn't require much access to the net as the clock was ticking on my battery reserves on both.

Ninety minutes after the cut started it ended, then we had half an hour of power followed by a further ten minute cut. Since then it has been fine and I'm still sighing big sighs of relief.

Now hundreds of millions of people across the world have no access to electricity at all, and many more suffer regular power cuts. 90 minutes without power is nothing on the grand scale of things, but everything changed or came to a halt while it lasted. Our luxuries, basic needs (food, warmth), communication systems, security systems and traffic control systems have all become incredibly dependent on a stable supply of electricity.

So what happens if the lights do go out? Will we descend into Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic anarchy or rebuild small self-sufficient communities and live in eco-harmony singing around the campfire? And do we want to go there?

Labels: ,

Friday, March 06, 2009

Lord Mandelson Goes Green...

...not the way he expected...

Labels: ,