Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have a very Merry and Green Christmas!

And all the best for the New Year.

Don't forget that, if you're struggling to make a New Year's resolution, making a 10:10 commitment would be a good place to start.

Take care - there will be plenty more in 2010,



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Monbiot vs Plimer

I know I've been a bit obsessed about the denial movement of late, but you really must watch George Monbiot take apart the darling of the denial circuit, Ian Plimer, and his dodgy science. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Age of Stupid

I finally watched Franny Armstrong's Age of Stupid last night on BBC4. The film is effectively a series of modern day mini-documentaries of people with different attitudes to climate change around the world, but framed as archive pieces being assembled by Pete Postelthwaite in an armoured repository in post-apocalyptic 2055. There are also some animated sequences, but these were undoubted the weakest part of the film as they tended to slip into a standard activist polemic-by-numbers, whereas the real life elements really got across the complexities, self delusions and frustrations in the response to climate change.

There was the small scale wind farm developer, losing a planning application in the face of NIMBYs. The head NIMBY, a middle aged woman who had apparently managed to stop a farm "on her Scottish estate" said to the camera "of course I'm worried about climate change, of course we must expand renewable energy", leaving the "but not in my back yard" unspoken.

There was the Indian entrepreneur who was on a mission to bring air travel to the poor through a low cost airline, the Iraqi kids scratching a living in Jordan whose father had been killed by the Americans, the American who saved hundreds in the aftermath of Katrina but who used to work in the oil industry, the elderly French alpine guide who was campaigning against a second Mont Blanc tunnel.

But the story that really struck home for me was the Nigerian woman trying to get into medical school while living in the shadow of a Shell Oil refinery. A standard line from the sceptic/denial camp is that acting to stop climate change will divert funds away from poverty reduction and lock the poor into a doom loop. What utter nonsense. Shell flares enough gas in Nigeria to be equivalent to about 10% of the UK's carbon emissions. They could sell it cheaply to Nigerians for cooking, vehicles etc, but no they just burn it off. Nigeria, with all its natural wealth, is stuck in a rut of corruption, poverty and pollution. So the $6m question is, what has the high carbon economy ever done for the poor?

As I said before, the animations didn't add much and the Postlethwaite bits could be a bit mawkish, but the heart of this film is a powerful story of how we can be so stupid - and I use that word in as nice a way as I can as few people featured were being particularly greedy. It is both a warning and an insight into the trajectory we are locked into by the dint of what is between our ears.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

You can't kill a zombie

Ben Goldacre writes the regular Bad Science column in the Guardian. Normally he sticks to medical issues, particularly the MMR scare, but he turned his scathing eye to climate change denial this week and gave us a new phrase - "zombie arguments". These are the arguments that keep coming back no matter how many times you blow it to smithereens - global cooling in the 70s, mediaeval warm period, no warming since 1998 and all the usual suspects. You can try using the well rehearsed responses listed at Grist, New Scientist or try the heavy artillery of scientific argument at Real Climate, but you won't kill zombies with mere facts - they keep coming back.

BTW, I had lunch on Saturday with a leading climatologist. He's very relieved that none of his e-mails to Phil Jones at CRU have been through the denialists' distortion mill and says that Phil Jones is a true gent and completely above reproach. The New Scientist debunking of the e-mail allegations is worth a read - there really is nothing in it.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Cooking up a storm...

A strange cooking urge comes over me when I have a young baby in the house. I don't know whether it is some kind of hunter-gatherer-protect-the-young-instinct, or just the fact when I cook, I want to cook, not just heat stuff up. It's a paradoxical thing - I'm meant to have no time at all (baby, toddler, 1.6 jobs), but I'm spending about an hour almost every evening cooking (one evening a week is usually a junk food binge). Sometimes, like tonight, it gets me in trouble if people are hungry...

So what's this got to do with sustainability? Food makes up a huge chunk of our carbon footprint - and then you add in all the other environmental issues - nitrogen run-off into rivers and lakes, pesticide use, land use, biodiversity loss, soil erosion.

If you cook from fresh, you can choose where each ingredient comes from and, to an extent, how it was produced - I try to get as much as possible from our allotment (not a lot!) and from Northumberland and rural Durham - our city's agricultural hinterland - and organic where possible. You can also avoid all the gunk that processed foods use to bulk out food and try to make it moreish. There's more I'd like to do - get more from the allotment and do a bit more foraging - although my attempt at using dandelion leaves instead of rocket this summer didn't quite work out. I must dig out my copy of food for free.

We can go a little deeper as well. Like many people I believe we need to reconnect to the natural systems we rely on - and our food choice is probably the closest conscious interaction we have with that world. So cooking properly with good ingredients is my little way of connecting, living life properly and giving two fingers to the myth that we're all too busy.


Friday, December 04, 2009

20% off The Three Secrets of Green Business...

OT: My first book, The Three Secrets of Green Business will be published by Earthscan later this month. For more details see here.

I'm very excited and it is Christmas, so I'm offering a 20% discount and some free goodies to subscribers to my monthly bulletin, The Low Carbon Agenda - you've got until 15th December to sign up as the offer will go out on the 16th.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

When Physics & Politics Collide

If he wins the next UK General Election, Conservative leader David Cameron is going to have a problem. His first act to decontaminate the Tory brand was to fly to a melting glacier and hug a husky. Vote blue, go green was the slogan. But a recent survey found that the top ten Tory or Tory-leaning bloggers are all proudly in the climate change denial camp. If Dave is going to match his talk with action if and when he wins, will he be able to bring his party with him?

Going further to the right, the small party UKIP are renowned deniers and at the extreme end of the scale, the racist BNP are also deniers. In the US and Australia the situation is similar - as you move from centre to the right, climate change denial goes from rare to the gospel. And what do these people tell you? That climate change is a socialist hoax to enslave the individual in a communist new world order. Those of us who "spread alarm" about climate change are 'watermelons' - green on the outside and red in the middle. This is clearly preposterous - are (almost) all the climatologists and world leaders involved in some humungous socialist conspiracy? In any case communism has been just as polluting as capitalism.

Going leftwards, there is a tendency for Marxists to deny - the Great Global Warming Scandal declared that Margaret Thatcher had created the whole thing to smash the mining unions (crikey...). But you have to go much further from the centre before you hit such crazy conspiracy theories.

I find all of this bizarre. Climate change is about physics, not politics. You have to look at the evidence and decide whether or not you accept it. Your political orientation shouldn't come into it. Politics is about people, not physics.

So why does it happen? Previous environmental crises have been regional in source or impact - acid rain from the UK would damage European forests - or involved certain chemicals (eg DDT, CFCs) which could easily be substituted or phased out. What climate change does for the first time is fundamentally challenge the status quo. Our economy is built on cheap fossil energy and that is rebounding on us in a big way. The solutions are political and difficult and will be very hard for a free marketeer with their abundance mentality to accept.

It is much easier to deny the science than accept the reality. But in my book the laws of physics will always defeat political argument every time.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lord Lawson "fiddles climate data"

Nigel Lawson is another non-climatologist who believes he is qualified to review the evidence on climate change. He has recently been in the press harrumphing over the CRU e-mail hack revelations.

Shame he has been found out fiddling the 21st century climate data on the logo of his new objective climate change think tank to show a cooling trend.

This is the latest in a long line of faked data from the sceptic/denier camp - eg Pat Michaels misrepresenting James Hansen's predictions to Congress and Christopher Monckton's fictional IPCC prediction. [update - we should add Booker, Plimmer, and Durkin to this list]

Should we have an independent review? Or just laugh?

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Birdlife: my favs

The last couple of years we've been getting a small flock of long tailed tits (above) in the garden. I love them - they're cute, cheeky and agile and they look like they've got a real gang-of-mates thing going on. But this year they've been usurped in my affections by a pair of nuthatches (below). They're cute too, with added colour and their habit of running straight down tree trunks towards the feeders is just delightful.

The Observer ran an article a couple of weeks ago about the growing popularity of birdwatching. I'm not surprised - watching the activity around the feeders is a lovely, innocent pleasure that makes my heart sing. A reminder that eco-living can be local as well as global.

Images are from Wikipedia and used under Creative Commons licence.