Category Archives: Climate Change

Bristol City Council commits to go fossil fuel free

disinvestment
Bristol City Council has committed to go fossil fuel free! Or, more specifically, to not knowingly invest funds into companies whose primary business is fossil fuel extraction.

Despite the fact that Bristol City Council, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t currently hold any direct investments in fossil fuels anyway is beside the point. The entrenching of an ethical investment policy by a public institution is more about the potential to raise people’s awareness as it about ensuring that the Council will not fund the industries that are, at least in part, responsible for the dangers facing us and our planet due to climate change.

In short, I think this news is huge and really exciting.

And yet strangely the up-take of this news has been limited.

Bristol’s Mayor, George Ferguson, tweeted it to his 27,000 followers, there was a mention in passing in the Guardian and the campaign group pushing for fossil fuel disinvestment wrote a short blog!

That combined with an excited text message from my friend (incidentally I love that I have friends who get excited about fossil fuel disinvestment) seems to be the only ripples this news has had.

Even Bristol Greens, who played a significant part in securing this, seemed to be oddly quiet having published a general article on disinvestment last Friday that makes no mention of this exciting news coming from Bristol!

I think it only fair that a hat tip goes to Green Party Cllr Charlie Bolton who tabled a question at January’s member’s forum that led to the amendment of Bristol County Council’s ‘Ethical Investment Policy’.

On a related note, I am delighted that another organisation that at some point deemed me employable, the Quakers of Britain, have been really vocal during the recent ‘disinvestment events’ and have adopted an awesome position on the subject:

“Friends have discerned that investment in these companies is incompatible with a commitment made by Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) to become a low-carbon, sustainable community.”

Quakers are once again leading the way showing the role religious institutions can play in ethical investment, as Bristol is for local authorities.

As I say, I think these are some of the first pretty exciting yet tentative steps in tackling the entrenched carbon intensive norm that currently operates within our society.

You can read more about Quaker’s disinvestment here and more about Bristol’s disinvestment here.

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Filed under Bristol, Climate Change, Politics, Religion

Note to the Telegraph: Green MEP is not an avid bee keeper

Molly

Molly Scott Cato MEP – not an “avid bee keeper”

I was pleasantly surprised to see in today’s Daily Telegraph (not the natural bedfellows of The Green Party) an article that seriously examined the idea that the 2015 General Elections will be a ‘5 horse race’. It wasn’t long however before I started to spot the usual stereotyping that blights so much of the media coverage of the Green Party.

As a precursor to the rest of this blog it is worth highlighting the notable rise in quality media coverage the Greens have enjoyed over the last 6 months. This is, at least in part, thanks to the recently re-elected leader Natalie Bennett, who worked as a journalist including a number of years as an editor at The Guardian.

And yet it still feels like they are fighting an up-hill battle at every turn.

Using this latest Telegraph article as a case in point…The article is generally positive towards the Greens highlighting 7 reasons why they will be a major factor in May 2015’s General Election and yet a patronising whiff exists over the article and manifests itself in the smallest of details.

Take for example the section on last May’s European elections:

While Mr Clegg’s party lost 10 out of 11 MEPs, the Greens not only held their two seats but added a third – Molly Scott Cato, an avid beekeeper who became the party’s first ever South West MEP.

Why on earth would Ben Riley-Smith, the author of the article, choose ‘an avid beekeeper’ as a description for Molly rather than say, ‘a published economics author’ or ‘a former district councillor’ or ‘a former Professor of Economics’…?

This was a point that earlier today I raised on twitter copying in Molly Scott Cato MEP.

Her response just makes this point even more remarkable:

Curious. Not only did Riley-Scott choose the frankly bizarre description of ‘an avid bee keeper’ to describe this acclaimed author and academic but, bizarrely, this then turns out to be a complete falsehood anyway.

I then googled ‘Molly Scott Cato beekeeper’ to see where this apparent myth might have come from and sure enough, it appears in a number of other media outlets from the BBC (including the pun ‘making a buzz of her own’) to our local rag the Gloucestershire Citizen.

As Molly said in her tweet… #stereotypes.

This type of lazy stereotyping by the press perpetuates the myth that Greens are only interested in the environment. Even when an economist is elected the media look to describe her in outdated environmental terms.

This is in turn reinforces the perception of voters that Greens do address the issues that most concern them. Of course the irony is that ‘the economy’ consistently tops the list of issues concerning voters and yet journalists, like Riley-Scott, think it more pertinent to mention a completely made-up hobby of Molly’s rather than the fact that she is acclaimed economist!

Things are improving for the Greens in terms of media coverage but to say this is an uphill battle is an understatement.

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Filed under Climate Change, EU politics, Gloucestershire, Politics

2 graphs that explain the dangers of climate change

The New Scientist yesterday published this graph under the headline ‘World on track for worst-case warming scenario’:

New Scientist

The graph shows how we, as human beings who are the primary drivers of global warming, are following the ‘worst case’ projections that the IPCC set out in their climate modelling. The article explains:

“Models predict how much the world will warm depending on how much we emit in future. Scientists typically look at four different possible futures, ranging from an uber-green society to a worst-case scenario, in which no action is taken to combat global warming. Le Quéré [the lead author] and her colleagues show how today’s emissions are near-perfectly in line with the worst-case scenario. This means that, according to scientists’ best estimates, the world will be as much as 5.4 °C warmer in 2100 than it was before the industrial revolution.”

The article goes onto talk about the ‘2 degree guard-rail’ – in other words the internationally agreed assumption that we need to keep global rise in temperature below that of 2 degrees from 1990 levels.

As I wrote back in 2009 however, this agreed guard rail is based on science that is now nearly 15 years out of date (based on work done pre-2001). As this graph from a 2009 University of Copenhagen report shows – the expected outcomes or ‘dangers’ of climate change will occur at a significantly lower temperature rise than was estimated back in 2001.

Click on the image to enlarge:

Fig 8

(Source: page 16 from here).

This report explains the significance of these findings in no uncertain terms:

“…a 2oC guardrail, which was thought in 2001 to have avoided serious risks for all five reasons for concern, is now inadequate to avoid serious risks to many unique and threatened ecosystems and to avoid a large increase in the risks associated with extreme weather events”

It goes onto conclude:

“…although a 2oC rise in temperature above pre-industrial remains the most commonly quoted guardrail for avoiding dangerous climate change, it nevertheless carries significant risks of deleterious impacts for society and the environment.”

In short, the first graph shows how we are currently on course for the worse-case projections that climate scientists have predicted. This will have disastrous consequences. The second graph then tells us that the targets that we are so woefully missing might well prove to be inadequate anyway and that the probability of these disastrous consequences start to go through the roof at approximately 2 degrees of warming.

With this in mind, riddle me this…why is this not on the front page of every newspaper, on the agenda of ‘Cobra emergency meeting’ in Downing Street, the number one priority for voters?

Is it as simple as a case of our collective head’s being buried in the sand? I don’t know, all I do know is that if we want change, we have to demand it from our decision makers.

In 2015 the UK has a general election – make sure you only lend your vote to someone who understands climate change and whose party take these risks seriously!

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The Scottish vote for independence should be a celebration – change is happening.

This is a guest post from a good friend and current Phd student, Charlie Langan.

Edinburgh
A quick disclaimer to start: I will not be voting in the Scottish referendum. When there was the possibility of having a postal vote, I believed that neither side had provided any substance to vote for . Since then however, I believe that the Yes campaign has provided a story to believe in. Given the opportunity, I would vote Yes.

Yes for a chance to change both Scotland and the UK for the better.

The starting point of the debate though, which is often overlooked, is whether there is a problem with the state of the Union.

There is evidence that the system is not currently working. I am more and more ashamed of the news stories about the UK that make it to Uganda where I live. Despite not being patriotic, I find myself with, increasingly regularity, volunteering my Scottish status to separate myself from these stories. This is something I have never done before.

The turn to aggressive, confrontational and emotive attitudes and policies on immigration, the European Union, tax and social welfare among other issues coming from the UK, seems to me at odds with the progressive political agenda coming from Scotland.

As an environmental economist working on climate change, I recognise the strength of Scotland’s devolved policies based and founded upon science. However, I do believe that Scotland is running to the limit of its powers and is being constrained. Without being able to set taxes and create incentives, it is difficult to nudge people into making decisions that are better for the society we want to be.

Scotland has shown ability and aptitude to develop strong policies giving, at least me, assurances that Holyrood could probably handle sectors such as the economy (and by most measures better than the current UK government performances in health, education and environment sectors).

I think there is a lot of similarities between the current debate on independence and climate change.

Climate change is a problem, but it took a long time to really understand how it affects us all. Scottish and UK society, national priorities and policies aren’t in harmony, and the differences are perhaps becoming irreconcilable.

In this light, the debate boils down to do we need to change or not. It is a lazy argument that change is too risky just because it’s change. Those who refute change on the principle of change are often those have gained too much power under the status quo and don’t want the boat rocked (the equivalent big oil lobby against the green economy and taking action on climate change). The argument heard is often it’s too expensive to change, and closer examination such claims are generally unfounded.

If there is a consensus that a problem exists and there is a need for something to be done, the debate turns to what is the solution for a better Scotland and a better UK?

The problem here is evaluating any solution, as this requires making predictions of the future, or a new future or a new paradigm. Climate models using hundreds and thousands of years worth of data are made to look like child’s play compared to trying to model the complexity of economies. Those who claim certainty are un-honest, and there are many uncertainties making definitive answers difficult. But we are quite good and familiar at managing the risk of unknowns.

In many respects the Yes campaign has been taking a systematic approach to think through the key issues and logically trying to plot the best course that Scotland could follow if independence is chosen; i.e. identifying risks and proposing management. I don’t like Alex Salmond, nor do I attribute all the successes of the Scottish parliament to him, but I have become to believe that he and the Yes campaign continues to capture the progressive nature that exists within many Scottish policies. Drawing upon the scientific wisdom, it’s not the result that counts, but the method used that shows your success.

The Better together campaign have never unpacked themselves; is it “we are better together” or “we would be better together”? I have already dismissed for the former, but the latter – how – what could Scotland gain? What could the UK gain? What can both parties bring to the table that is not already there? What solutions is the no camp providing? Why have we never seen a better together vision for the future of Scotland? What will be on the table if a no vote is returned in the referendum and discussions turn to devolution max? How valuable would UK membership be to Scotland, if we all find ourselves outside the EU?

The nature of the independence and climate change debates has also been similar in that: the no campaign has been taking on the role of the climate sceptics, focusing on trivial or false corner stones of the debate (the hypothetical currency), distorting the wider picture of the debate (its all about the economy), and resorted in threats (you can’t depend on oil). I look forward to future comparisons with the UK debate and eventual referendum on the EU membership; will it also focus on these boring issues?

But here perhaps we are better together, working toward building commonality between Yes and No, then we can rationally and logically take the final step to spilt or not. I would like to see real discussions on pros and benefits of both camps visions’ for the future of Scotland.

Scotland should be giddy with the opportunities in front of it, not cowed into worrying about making the wrong choice. After all, the debate should be a celebration, change is already in motion and in this sense Scotland has already won!

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Former Shell employee appointed as new Environment Secretary

truss
Today’s cabinet reshuffle has seen a number of high profile changes that have gripped the Westminster bubble (and let’s be honest, no one else).

One of the smaller changes that was pushed through was the departure of Owen Patterson from the post of Environment Secretary. Hynd’s Blog has reported before about how he doesn’t ‘believe’ in man-made climate change including the time when he managed to recite 10 separate climate change myths on national radio in as many seconds.

It is with considerable pleasure then that we see the back of him as he disappears back to the backbenches.

Replacing Patterson is the Conservative MP Liz Truss. Or perhaps a better prefix to her name might be ‘former Commercial Manager for Shell’ Liz Truss.

This employment history comes from her Wikipedia page which in turn references her own website biography. Interestingly though there is no mention of Shell on biography now….I’ll let you decide why she, or a government press spinner, might have taken this bit of information down before she is announced as the new Environment Secretary.

In case you are wondering about my use of Wikipedia, don’t worry, I cross checked it. We know that her employment history is true as she mentions it quite openly in a 2012 interview in the New Statesman.

All this said, we know very little about her views on the environment in general. We know that she pushed for solar panels to be put on school roofs but opposed ‘solar farms’ in her own Norfolk constituency…and that is about it.

Perhaps a more pertinent question for number 10 might be, what qualifications does she have to take up this role in the first place?

But hey, as we know, actually knowing anything about a cabinet brief is a side issue. The main criteria for promotion in this reshuffle seems to be to not be posh and/or male with the focus on being what is right for the Tory 2015 election strategy not what is right for Britain.

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A vote for UKIP in Stroud is a vote against science

ukip
My local paper, The Stroud News and Journal, this week published a letter from the UKIP perspective parliamentary candidate, Caroline Stephens. In the article Ms Stephens argues ‘that the climate has always been changing’ and that the local Greens should leave poor old Mr Patterson (the current climate change sceptic Tory Environment Minister) alone.

For those of you who are not familiar with the environmentalist epicentre which is Stroud, this move is akin to turning up to the WOMAD music festival to argue why you thought, not that you just didn’t like world music, but that it didn’t actually exist.

The reaction she received in the SNJ was comparable to a very verbal booing off stage. It was a splendid mixture of disbelief, outrage and bewildered humour.

But for every Stroudie who commented on the article, there are probably hundreds more who were taken in by her half-truths.

And so, once again, I feel honour bound, for the sake of anyone who is even considering lending her a vote, to highlight the pure idiocy of what she (and many other UKIPpers) actually thinks:

Point 1 – She writes:

If climate had never changed, the world would still be in say the Jurassic period maybe. If climate didn’t vary from one place to another sun seekers would not likely prefer southern Spain to the north of Scotland for their sun bathing holidays.

The first sentence is about as idiotic axiomatic and a non-sentence as me saying ‘if the Sun wasn’t there then there would be no life on this planet’.

I look forward to her speculation about where we would be without gravity.

Her second sentence shows a misunderstanding (or purposeful confusion?) of the fact that when we talk about global warming, we are talking about the globe, not what the weather is like in Spain.

Up to this point she is slightly odd but nothing too harmful.

Point 2 – She writes:

Currently there has been no statistically significant global warming for around 17 years (depending on which dataset is used).

I love the proviso here… “depending on which data set you use”. Perfect.

I think she is referring to the disparity between surface temperature and ocean temperature. If so, our friends over at Skeptical Science (who have devoted quite a lot of time to myth busting) write:

“Records show that the Earth has been warming at a steady rate before and since 1998 and there is no sign of it slowing any time soon (Figure 1).  More than 90% of global warming heat goes into warming the oceans, while less than 3% goes into increasing the surface air temperature.”

So that explains the surface temperature recordings to which I assume she refers (but this is hard to tell when her myths are written with no sources to support them).

You can read more about why the earth has been getting warmer in the last 17 years here.

Point 3 – She then references Prof John Cristy:

Yes, her only real half reference is the same John Cristy profiled here. Lol.

Point 4 – One has to ask how there were so many storms and floods going back to the nineteenth century and before. No one had even thought of blaming humankind for the weather then although the alarmists of the day did blame so called witches for ‘cooking’ the weather? Weather (rain) not climate change has been the cause of floods which have been exacerbated by the European Union’s discouraging dredging of waterways in the name of creating wetland wildlife habitats.

Just wow…of course, it is the EU’s fault!

Right, let’s keep this simple. Rain (weather) is different to climate. But the climate can impact on extreme weather events (this was the very basic point that Green Cllr Sarah Lunnon was making that sparked this bizarre response from Ms Stephens).

If you want to know exactly how climate change might impact on extreme weather events you can read this 2012 IPCC report.

A slightly more credible source than her…oh wait…none existing source.

Point 5 – (I skip a bit here as it all relates to extreme weather and frankly, I’m getting a bit bored). But towards the end she writes:

Thank goodness there are a few climate rationalists left in the Coalition to try to defend our way of life.

Sigh. “Climate rationalist”. She is of course referring to Owen Patterson who I think broke a record a few months back with the most number of climate change myths spouted on national radio.

Read this blog on his (would be comic if it wasn’t so depressing) appearance on the BBC’s Any Questions.

The Greens have my absolute backing when they call for the sacking of this man who seems to be able to ignore basic climate science.

In short, the whole letter consisted of half-truths, misinformation and vague unsupported ideas that I felt needed to be tackled .

But I look forward to Ms Stephen’s (fully referenced with peer reviewed science) response.

Until this happens though I hope the good people of Stroud will back a candidate/party that actually uses science to base their views (and policies on).

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Filed under Climate Change, EU politics, Far-right politics, Gloucestershire, Media, Politics

Mike Assenti on the need to change the political climate around flooding

With half of the Somerset Levels currently underwater and thousands of lives and livelihoods put on hold, a huge argument has erupted around the Enviornment Agency and what it should have done to prevent the situation.  Mike Assenti writes for Hynd’s blog on climate change, flooding and his growing frustration with the political establishment.

Somerset-floods_2802176b
Suddenly, it seems everybody is an expert in flood management.

Why weren’t the rivers dredged? Should the rivers even be dredged? Did the Environment Agency give the government bad advice, as Eric Pickles has claimed? Is the Environment Agency’s policy the direct result of the Treasury’s rules, as the EA’s Chairman Chris Smith has countered?

Frankly I don’t know.

Unlike Mr Pickles, I’m more than happy to admit that I’m really not well versed on the evidence on the effects of dredging, and I’m most certainly not an expert in flood defences. But, if you’re interested, George Monbiot wrote a fascinating article on the subject last month for the Guardian.

The media is understandably mostly concerned with the striking images of the effects of this weather, and with the terrible personal stories of those affected. (Now that it is the Home Counties which are facing some serious flooding, the tension seems to have ratcheted even higher…but this is a subject for another, more cynical post.)

Much of the focus has been given to the short term effects of the flooding, and even to the medium term causes and preventative measures. Of course, the fact that there is now a political row attached to this aspect will undoubtedly drive further superficial analysis.

What has had far less attention though are the long term causes of this extreme weather. Whether or not this current batch of weather is definitively linked to climate change is almost impossible to say for certain, but the MET Office Chief Scientist, Dame Julie Slingo has stated that, “All the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change“.

Regardless of the provenance of this current batch of storms, climate scientists broadly agree that one effect of climate change is likely to be the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather.

We have spent years hearing the horror stories of climate change, and even seeing what are supposedly some of the early effects. Agreements have been made as to how best to tackle it, carbon targets set, carbon targets postponed, reduced, and missed. Subsidies have been introduced to encourage the development and installation of renewable power sources, said subsidies then reduced or removed. The leader of a government which came to power claiming to be ‘the greenest ever’, has since been quoted demanding the removal of ‘all the green crap’ from utilities bills.

As an Engineer, I am reluctant to point out a problem without also suggesting a solution. However, in this case my frustration with the attitudes of those in power (both politically and commercially), as well as with a large part of the general public has spilled over from indignant rage into resigned apathy. I don’t know how more clearly the scale of the problem and nature of the solutions to climate change need to be stated before we start to take it seriously. Dozens of solutions to this problem have been mooted, but all of them require a fundamental shift in thinking by those in charge.

Instead of paying lip service to those campaigning for solutions to climate change, we need to start seeing some real action. We need to see real investment in renewables and local storage, rather than incentivising fracking. Countering the assertion of the energy companies that green subsidies are to blame for increasing bills not with (the totally accurate) explanation of how little these subsidies are, but with an explanation of why it is fair that they are paid. Taking more control of public transport, to make it economical to travel by train or bus rather than driving. Appointing an Environment Secretary who isn’t a climate change skeptic would be a good start, not to mention ditching a chancellor who wants the UK to be behind Europe on tackling climate change.

For years now the images of the effects of climate change have been of floods in Bangladesh, typhoons in the Far East and rising sea levels in the Maldives. Now that affluent villages in the South West of England are under water, will we start to see a shift in attitude?

Sadly, I suspect that we will continue treating the symptoms rather than the root cause.

I recently heard an excellent description of climate change skeptics who cite the cold weather in the US as evidence against climate change as standing on the Titanic, claiming, “The ship can’t be sinking – my end is 500 feet in the air”.

Here in the UK, we are ignoring the oncoming icebergs while we argue about drying the bed linen.

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A global democracy is the only solution to our economic crisis

We are living through a democratic as well as economic crisis. This crisis has resulted in Oxfam today reporting that the richest 85 people in the world have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion.

This is not a sign of system that just needs tweaking but of one that has gone very very wrong. These failings are a sign of a democratic deficit as much as our economic one.

If global economic policy was set with the will of the majority in mind would we see 3.5 billion people holding the same wealth as 85? Of course not.

These symptoms only exist due to a democratic failing.

We need, now more than ever, a global democracy that can keep up with the times – the global commerce, the international wars, and of course, global inequality.

Our current global governance is a joke – The World Bank, the UN and IMF (to give just 3 examples) have consistently failed. Why? Because the powerful minority have never entrusted true democratic principles into global governance.

The UN Security Council, to give just one example, gives 5 of its nation state members a veto. Can you imagine a national parliament that gave 5 of its 200 or so members a permanent veto?

Ask yourself the question (as part of the global 5% elite who has access to a computer) – do you feel empowered to influence any of these bodies, the UN, the IMF or the World Bank? Assuming not, then imagine how a rural farmer in Thailand or a street cleaner in Kenya must feel.

We are collectively devoid of democracy. Only by building a true democracy we can we begin to show the failings of our current system.

This is why I so strongly believe that we need a world parliament. One citizen, one vote.

Such a radical suggestion has radical consequences – the good people of China would have 1.3 billion votes while the good people of the UK would have around 70 million.

But that’s fine. That’s democracy.

The people who are currently struggling to make ends meet might vote for a huge wave of fossil fuel sponsored energy generation to kick start failing economies but future generations lives at risk through runaway climate change. But that’s the risk of democracy.

Even with these dangers, I find it hard to believe that we could do much worse than we currently are:

  • Billions trapped in poverty
  • Millions killed by the hands of other men
  • Billions going hungry
  • Climate change threatening not just future generations but centuries to come.

With this sort of track record isn’t it time we at least tried to implement a true democracy?

Suggested further reading:

George Monbiot’s book ‘Manifesto for a new world order’.

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What can we learn from UKIP’s half-baked, semi-coherent, anti-science policies

711px-Derek_Clark
UKIP’s education spokesman, Derek Clark MEP, today made Gove look like a model of modernity and scientific enlightenment by stating that he believed, “all teaching of global warming being caused in any way by carbon dioxide emissions must also be banned”.

To clarify, this spokesman of a supposedly libertarian party, wants to ban schools from teaching about climate change!

UKIP’s main energy document ‘Keeping The Lights On’ claims that there is “increasing doubts about the theory of man-made climate change.” Something which the growing scientific consensus around man-made climate change directly contradicts.

UKIP’s education policy, like that of its energy policy, directly contradicts the consensus reached by the majority of climate scientists.

For some this makes them heroes for standing up to ‘establishment thinking’. For others, this blogger included, this makes them halfwits that put political ideology before evidence whatever the impact this might have on ordinary people.

Disturbingly though, poll after poll shows UKIP are on course to do rather well in May’s elections. They are certainly going to kick the Tories into third and may even beat Labour and finish on top of the pile.

So what does this tell us?

It tells us something which I have been shouting about for a long long time within progressive circles.

The electorate doesn’t worry about little things like policies but they do care about sentiment, feelings, and gut reactions.

UKIP have been exceptionally good at presenting an image of ‘standing up for ordinary people against the political elite’ and ‘speaking common sense’ whilst at the same time having a list of incoherent, half-baked and anti-science policies.

In contrast The Green Party has a list of science-based progressive policies that have been shown to be the most popular with the electorate but have failed to gain a significant vote share because at best they are seen as ‘standing up for the environment’ (something which most people include well down on their list of priorities) but at worst are seen as ‘middle class, university educated elite who are out of touch with ordinary people’.

And so, in the run up to the coming European elections, I hope to hear Greens talk coherently not about ‘the science behind the badger cull’ but about how they are ‘standing up for animal welfare. I hope to hear not about their proposed ‘Financial Transaction Tax’ but about ‘putting people before big business’. I hope to hear most of all not about ‘the scientific consensus around climate change’ but about ‘looking after our planet for future generations to enjoy’.

This might seem like a crass simplification of politics but if there is one thing UKIP can teach us – it is that in a badly informed democracy, gut feelings are more important than policies.

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There is hope yet when the Telegraph publishes an article like this on climate change

My hopes were lifted today when I read this article ripping shreds out of climate change sceptic Sean Thomas in…wait for it…no, not The Guardian, but the Daily Telegraph!

Might this be a game changer? Instead of giving column space to climate change sceptics such as James Delingpole is The Telegraph now looking to publish serious scientists such as Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and PhD holder in oceanography, Corinne Le Quéré?

Can we finally move on from spending our time responding to the delusional few who keep peddling the ‘is global warming man-made?’ debate and start discussing how we are going to limit and mitigate the impact climate change is already having?

Maybe I am being too optimistic, but either way this article in today’s Telegraph by Corinne Le Quéré is an absolute corker and well worth a read.

What if man-made climate change is loading the dice on floods in the UK?

Flooding

Despite what ignorant pundits may have to say on the topic, climate change has raised the risk of flooding in this country

Sean Thomas depicts me in his blog as professing a new type of religion because I speak about climate change and flood risk. His tweet appears to describe me as a “nutter”. Mr Thomas appears to be himself professing ignorance, something I hardly recommend.

I am a physicist of 20 years’ experience, and climate change research is a science, not a faith. That means it is based on observations and on understanding of how the world works. It is the same kind of science that provides the tides, currents and weather forecasts. It’s not perfect science, but science, and knowing the weather, has taken us a long way in making our everyday life a lot more comfortable.

Mr Thomas is ignorant of the fact that heavy precipitation in winter has increased over the past 45 years in all regions of the UK. That’s not just stories told by people based upon their own experience, it is a lot of data collected and analysed all over the UK.

Mr Thomas is ignorant of the fact that that heavy precipitation is an anticipated consequence of a warming climate in wet regions of the world, such as the UK. It is simple physics: the planet warms, water evaporates more, more moisture is available in the atmosphere for individual storms, therefore more heavy precipitation. Storms are made by the weather, but climate change puts more moisture into the atmosphere that makes the rainfall heavier.

As for his ignorance on Arctic melting, Mr Thomas cites one year of data for his claim. The September ice cover has shrunk by 40 per cent in 30 years. When there is no ice, seawater evaporates and loads the atmosphere with moisture, which affects the weather patterns. A look at a map shows that the UK is close to the Arctic, and the possibility that changes in the Arctic might play a role in the weather that we are experiencing in the UK and elsewhere. Mr Thomas takes science and data very lightly.

What is harder to detect is the exact contribution of climate change to extreme weather when it occurs. Bad weather has always been around and “extreme” is a relative term. The techniques required to detect the role of climate change in extreme weather is at an early stage of development, and we don’t yet have the capacity to apply it while weather events occur. If UK science had that capacity then it would help alleviate Mr Thomas’s ignorance over the difference between weather, climate and belief. It would also help put a cost to the risks we are taking by changing the climate.

Mr Thomas refers to the “eerie and echoing syntax” and “the faintly theological tones of the estimable Professor Corinne Le Quéré” – but the only faintly theological tones here are made up by Mr Thomas’ livelihood as a writer of religious fiction. His fatalistic belief that data and independent evidence is of no value, and that climate change is all in the mind of the thousands of scientists specialising in the topic, is ignorant and foolish. While Mr Thomas might believe that it is all in the hand of god, science attributes manmade climate change to man, and coping with and limiting the consequences is in our hands.

If Mr Thomas would like to improve upon his fictional writing, my university, the University of East Anglia, has an esteemed creative writing programme, though he’ll have to do better than this to win a place.

 

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Tory MP Zac Goldsmith to join The Green Party over Heathrow expansion?

With the release of a government commission short-list of possible further airport expansions, rumours of a Conservative defection to The Green Party have started circulating. Hynd’s Blog takes a look at the possibility of The Green Party attracting millionaire Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith. 

Zac_2495a
Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has responded angrily to the prospect of Heathrow being expanded saying that Cameron will “never be forgiven” if he u-turns on Heathrow expansion.

A government-appointed independent commission, led by Sir Howard Davies has today issued a shortlist of three options for building new runways – 2 of which are based on expanding Heathrow.

Goldsmith stated on BBC’s Newsnight: “If the Government changes its position on Heathrow expansion I will trigger a by-election, and if it happens in the manifesto of the next election then I certainly wouldn’t stand as a Conservative.”

Goldsmith went on record criticising all three party leaders saying, “This is about enabling all three party leaders to defer any kind of decision making till after the election because none of them frankly have the courage to front up the voters before the next election, when it really matters”. The Green Party’s lead candidate in the South West for the European elections, Molly Cato-Scott, cheekily responded tweeting:

Although this might seem like a long-shot, Goldsmith does have a long established relationship with the party. His uncle Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith was a founding member of The Green Party and the founding Editor of the Ecologist Magazine – a role Zac would go on to take up himself.

It is equally well known that Goldsmith has a close working relationship with Green MP Caroline Lucas in parliament. This stretches beyond traditional ‘(G)green’ issues to issues such as drug policy reform.

And what does Goldsmith think of The Green Party? Well, just last week he tweeted saying:

In short, it’s not as impossible as some might think for this Conservative millionaire to join a radical left-wing party…but let’s be honest, neither is it very likely.

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The video Shell doesn’t want you to see

Greenpeace’s Shell Grand Prix ceremony video has been banned from YouTube.

So, they put it back up.

I thought I would share their video partly because I don’t think Shell should be oil drilling in the Arctic and partly because I am opposed to censorship.

Please do share this video.

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MP arrested after protesting against fracking

In a refreshing break from the usual “all talk no action” criticism of Westminster, Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, has today been arrested for taking part in an anti-fracking protest.

As a rule of thumb I don’t support illegality, but as Caroline has already explained to BBC News, there are times when non-violent direct action is justified.

I for am proud of Caroline for putting her liberty on the line in defence of her views (supported by well established science).

Commenting on her arrest Caroline said:

“Along with everyone else who took action today, I’m trying to stop a process which could cause enormous damage for decades to come. The evidence is clear that fracking undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis and poses potential risks to the local environment.

 “People today, myself included, took peaceful non-violent direct action only after exhausting every other means of protest available to us.  I’m in the privileged position of being able to put questions to the Government directly and arrange debates in Parliament, but still ministers have refused to listen.

“Despite the opposition to fracking being abundantly clear, the Government has completely ignored the views of those they are supposed to represent.  When the democratic deficit is so enormous, people are left with very little option but to take peaceful, non-violent direct action.”

I am pleased to see that at least one MP understands the severity of what’s at stake.

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Owen Patterson, the Secretary of State for the Environment, on Any Questions

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Patterson, recently graced Any Questionsthe BBC Radio 4 show, with his presence.

I listened to his performance and was utterly horrified. I knew he has quite a history when it comes to climate change but to hear him repeating so many climate change myths in such a short period of time was terrifying.

Luckily for you my dear reader, our friends over at skepticalscience.com have responded to his regurgitation of some old myths. It is worth reading their whole blog but I wanted to draw your attention to the manuscript of Patterson’s tirade where they have usefully hyperlinked every false claim to a separate myth busting page.

“Well I’m sitting like a rose between two thorns here and I have to take practical decisions – erm – the climate’s always been changing – er – Peter mentioned the Arctic and I think in the Holocene the Arctic melted completelyand you can see there were beaches there – when Greenland was occupied, you know, people growing crops – we then had a little ice age, we had a middle age warming – the climate’s been going up and down – but the real question which I think everyone’s trying to address is – is this influenced by manmade activity in recent years and James is actually correct – the climatehas not changed – the temperature has not changed in the last seventeen years and what I think we’ve got to be careful of is that there is almost certainly – bound to be – some influence by manmade activity but I think we’ve just got to be rational (audience laughter)  – rational people – and make sure the measures that we take to counter it don’t actually cause more damage – and I think we’re about to get -“

Peter Hain interjects at this point with the observation: 

“And this man is our Secretary of State for the Environment, for goodness’ sake!”

In ten seconds Patterson managed to discredit himself, Cameron (for it was he who chose him for this position despite knowing his ‘views’), and the entire reputation of the British government as one that takes climate change seriously.

Cameron cannot keep someone in such a key role who holds such fundamentally dangerous views about climate change. Either this government’s reputation goes or Patterson goes, Cameron can’t keep them both!

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What definition of an emergency excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I remember back in 2009, alongside millions of others around the world, I took to the streets to demand that our leaders stop playing ‘Russian Roulette’ with our future and secure a legally binding climate agreement.

While some at the time expressed frustration through violence at the failure of Copenhagen, all I remember is the crushing feeling of defeat as our leaders floundered.

In the words of Mark Lynas, Copenhagen was a “disaster”. It is hard to disagree with him on his use of adjective.

Since then, despite knowing all too well the severity of the risk that we as a species face, I have lost my voice and my heart when it comes to climate change.

This apathy is not unique or very surprising, but nor is it particularly helpful.

It is not unique because I know through speaking to friends and other ‘environmentalists’ that others have experienced a ‘post Copenhagen slump’.

It is not surprising because we are getting to a stage where we have to choose the worst of some very bad options. In the classic moral question where you ask if someone would pull a switch to divert a train from killing a group of people if you knew your actions would kill one person, no one expects that person to pull the switch with enthusiasm.

Equally though, this apathy is not particularly helpful because it runs the danger of throwing us even further away from tackling climate change and avoiding the most serious of consequences – large scale human death.

This is why I owe a huge amount to my wonderfully articulate and courageous friend, Dom Aversano, who this week metaphorically shook me out of this apathy.

Dom is one of those guys with an admirably solid moral core and who oozes determination and passion – in a very self-effacing English sort of way!

This week Dom took to the pages of the Huffington Post to write about how we have now exceeded 400 ppm of carbon in our atmosphere. If like most people, you’re thinking… ‘what the hell does that mean?’ Dom provides a nice summary:

“On 9 May this year the number of parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere exceeded 400ppm for the first time in at least 800,000 years. Anything above 450ppm dangerously risks pushing us passed an irreversible tipping point. This is would mean the climate is then out of our control… The end result is a planet 6°C warmer and no longer capable of supporting our current civilization.”

In short, we have just slid past another milestone that edges towards not just being slightly fucked, but proper fucked.

Dom quite rightly asks, why then are our leaders not calling this a national state of emergency?

Cameron did call a Cobra meeting (where politicians get together to show that they are doing, or planning on doing, something about a national emergency) for the tragic death of Lee Rigby a few weeks ago. He has failed however, to hold an equivalent meeting whenever he is told of how climate change will cause of the death of millions or even possibly billions of humans.

Figures vary dramatically on the current death toll from climate change. The World Health Organisation estimates 140,000 deaths as a result of climate change. Kofi Annan’s organization, the Global Humanitarian Forum, puts the figure closer 300,000 every year.

There are various estimates out there extrapolating this into the future. The Daily Mail recently ran with the figure of 100 million deaths by 2030 – although I am not sure how we can know anything more accurate than ‘a lot’.

What definition of an emergency is Cameron using that excludes climate change but includes the murder of Lee Rigby?

I hope that most readers would agree that these sorts of figures do constitute a national ‘emergency’.

It is well established that they only way to reduce the likelihood of us suffering the worst consequences of climate change (like the upper estimates on the number of deaths) is to reduce our carbon emissions.

Dom, in his Huffington Post article, signposts us to how the government is fairing in this respect. In 2012 the UK’s carbon emission went up 3.9%.

To put this into context, around 11% of the world’s GHG emissions come from within the EU and every other nation state in 2012 saw a reduction in their GHG emissions apart from…you guessed it, the UK!

Despite such as urgency for action – made only more so by the fact that a ton of GHG emissions saved today is worth more than a ton saved in a year – our elected representatives have in the last week voted against imposing strict emission targets.

My own elected representative,  Neil Carmichael MP, has voted against his Conservative Party colleague’s , amendment that would have removed carbon from the energy production cycle by 2030.

Word’s fail me in the face of such short-termism. And so I will finish with the words that Dom finished his article with:

 “It might be said that talk of asteroids and destruction to civilisation is alarmist, polemical, and childish, but the great climate scientist James Hansen said in response to the unprecedented Arctic ice melt last summer that “We are in a planetary emergency”. In the face of such a stark warning it is childish and irresponsible not to respond, and polemical and alarmist to ignore the scientific community’s advice. We owe it to the children of today, and the future, who are relying on us to act now.”

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The evolution of the coalition’s nuclear policy

Remember this:

Charles Hendry saying “The coalition agreement clearly sees a role for new nuclear, provided that there is no public subsidy.”

I remember it well.

I thought about it last April when this headline broke::

Fro the Guardian, “Ministers planning ‘hidden subsidies’ for nuclear power.”

In case there was any confusion, Fiona Hall the Lib Dem leader in the European Parliament, clarified:

“Such a public subsidy to help build new nuclear power stations in the UK would go completely against the Coalition Government Agreement.”

Well, guess what. Now we have this:

The Guardian reports, “Energy secretary Ed Davey grants EDF permission to build and run two reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset.”

Do I feel let down? Yeah, I do.

Hinkley Point

Update:

Caroline Lucas hits the nail on the head when she says:

“Despite the energy department’s attempts to rewrite the dictionary on the definition of a subsidy, it’s now blindingly obvious that billions of pounds of public money will be thrown at new nuclear in the form of a strike price and the underwriting of costs including accident liability and construction – in direct breach of the Coalition agreement”

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‘The greenest government yet’ claim is melting – a bit like our arctic sea ice

I blogged earlier about the irony of having a Justice Secretary who had backed a B&Bs owner discriminatory policy against a gay couple. I worry though that these concerns pale into insignificance in comparison to the new Environment Secretary.

Let me introduce Owen Paterson. He has quite a track record…

Just two weeks ago he called for an ‘ending to all energy subsidies’ and a ‘fast track exploration of shale gas’. Damien Carrington reported in the Guardian that Paterson has ‘spoken against wind farms’ and ‘supported aviation expansion’.

Sam Coates at the Times however went one step further saying

It doesn’t look good that he is an anti renewable, pro shale gas, pro aviation expansion sort of guy – but is it possible that David ‘I want the Greenest government ever’ Cameron has appointed a ‘sceptic on Climate Change’ to DEFRA?

This move comes just days after it was reported that climate change was occurring much faster than any of us had anticipated.

As Sam Coates at the Times commented though he has been welcomed by the one and only Lord Lawson  who commented:

I am very pleased to see in this reshuffle the promotion of Owen Paterson. Owen Paterson is little known to the British public because he has been Northern Ireland Secretary, so he is well known there, but really little known elsewhere. He is in fact one of the most able and promising young men or women around the Cabinet and therefore his promotion to Environment is extremely welcome….he is a man of reason and sense.”

This would be the same Lord Lawson who is the Chair of the think tank ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ and author of the book ‘An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming’.

Any hint that this government is/was or is going to be, ‘the greenest government yet’ is melting away – a bit like our arctic sea ice!

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“Polar bear extinction now likely”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) ran the headlinePolar Bears: On Thin Ice? Extinction Can Be Averted”. The blogger Joe Romm suggested that perhaps a more apt headline might be “Polar bear extinction now likely.”

Sadly, Joe seems to have hit the nail on the head. There is no positive spin to put on this story. The Arctic sea ice has shrunk to 4.1m sq km (1.6m sq miles) which breaks the previous record of 4.3m sq km in 2007). This is not good news for polar bears.

The problem is, as I have said before, I don’t really care about polar bears. I suspect, if you are honest with yourself, nor do you. Can you imagine living in a world without polar bears? I can.

Of course, this isn’t about polar bears, it’s about humans.

Rising sea levels…

The sea won’t rise because of arctic sea ice melting. Even if the Arctic sea ice completely disappears within 30 years, this won’t directly affect sea level.

But here’s the thing…it’s all connected. A warmer arctic will accelerate the Greenland ice sheet melt and this, leaves us in big trouble.

The Greenland ice sheet is 1.9 miles thick and contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 7.5 meters. The 2007 IPPC report considered the Greenland ice sheet to be stable having a small effect on sea level rises over the coming century. There is evidence however showing that the Greenland ice sheet is melting much faster than we had originally considered. Indeed, in July the Guardian reported that “The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history”.

It is estimated that the Greenland ice sheet currently contributes about one fifth of the current annual seal level rise of 3mm. As the melt of the ice sheet continues we leave our coastal communities in serious risk.

As Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace said, we put “billions of people’s future in jeopardy”.

It’s your fault…

There is little doubt now about man’s contribution to global warming. The Economist summed it up in their article on arctic ice melt saying:

There is no serious doubt about the basic cause of the warming. It is, in the Arctic as everywhere, the result of an increase in heat-trapping atmospheric gases, mainly carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned. Because the atmosphere is shedding less solar heat, it is warming

It’s going to get worse

Feedback mechanisms are often talked about it terms of global warming. Symptoms that then act as a catalyst for further change in global temperature. The most obvious example here is the melting arctic sea (a symptom of a rise in temperatures) absorbing more heat (as ice reflects heat) and therefore causing more warming.

One feedback mechanism which is often not discussed though is human stupidity. With the melting of the arctic sea ice (largely caused by human burning of fossil fuels) it opens up new possibilities of fossil fuel extraction in the arctic.

The Washington Post reports that “Shell is finally close to drilling a well in the pristine Chukchi Sea…[which] could eventually yield 400,000 barrels of oil per day”. Another example shows Exxon exploring the once frozen Kara Sea enabling an additional 38 billion barrels of oil a day.

Human stupidity is only accelerating the nature of the problem we face.

As George Monbiot points out, on the same day the new figures showing arctic sea ice melt are released we spend the day arguing about whether or not we should be building a third runway at Heathrow – a move that wouldputs the target of reducing…carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050…even further out of reach”.

There is no positive spin on this story

This isn’t about Polar Bears – although they will inevitably struggle to survive as their habitat is all but wiped out – it is about humans and how billions of us are going to struggle to survive.

It is estimated that climate change is already killing 300,000 people a year. As Nobel peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai, said: “Climate change is life or death

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A broken system leaves parliament in the dark ages

Yesterday Christopher Chope MP (aka The Chope) along with a small group of co-conspirators managed to talk the Daylight Saving Bill out of parliament.We know that this is not the first time he has done it either. It is just the latest illustration of how our outdated Private Members Bill system  is not fit for purpose. It is fundamentally undemocratic that a Bill can scuppered by just a handful of MPs. Any MP who has ever been involved in this  should be deeply ashamed. It only adds weight however to Caroline Lucas MPs call for modernising parliamentary procedure.

Daniel Vockins, the campaign manager for the Lighter Later campaign, summed up the nature of the problem when he commented, “Today’s result is yet another damning indictment of our broken private member’s bill system. Even with over 120 MPs staying in Westminster to vote in favour of the bill today, the support of 90 national organisations, the UK government, and strong public opinion polls, it’s not possible to get a bill passed a couple of MPs determined to talk it out of receiving a proper vote.”

It is an outrage that our supposedly democratic system can have such a failure built into it. Not only are we left with the lighter later campaign de-railed but we are left with a parliament operating in the dark ages. We need reform.

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The true cost of EU membership

At £14.7bn a year the EU seems a pretty expensive club to be part of. So why are we? The logical answer is that we, as a vested interest, must be getting something significant in return. But what? This blog aims to justify the spending £14.7bn in return for membership of the EU. No easy task.

Firstly, out of the £14.7bn we get about £5bn back in rebates. So actually, I am going to try and justify the expenditure of just over £10 bn. To put this into context that is about one tenth of our current health expenditure.

The UK is currently incredibly reliant on trade with the EU. Three and a half million jobs are reliant on the EU’s single market. That’s roughly one in ten British jobs. Being part of the EU gives us access to a 500 million strong consumer market. 50% of UK trade, that’s about £200bn year, is with other EU Member States. Not to be sniffed at. I do not accept however, the argument that we would lose access to the EU market if we left and negotiated trade terms. I do however think that we would lose a competitive edge. Quantifying the long term impact of this is difficult. It is feasible however to imagine a scenario where we gradually lose leverage within future negotiations. By staying in the EU, and playing a positive role within it, we can at least guarantee access on an equal playing field.

Equally, the EU, through competition and consumer rights laws have driven down prices for consumers and increased consumer protection. One simple example is the reduced roaming charges for using your phone throughout the EU. Again, would we lose this if we left? Probably not. Can I imagine a scenario where we miss out on future benefits if we were not full members? Certainly.

Our trade outside of the EU is also highly dependent on the EU. Being part of the single biggest trading bloc in the world means that we can enter the world’s markets with far more clout than if we were acting alone. To illustrate, the recently signed EU Free Trade Agreement with South Korea has eradicated all tariffs for UK businesses. It is estimated that this will bring in £500 million a year of benefits to British businesses. Free Trade Agreements (FTA) are being negotiated with countries around the world and if they are all completed, they would bring considerable benefit to the UK.

In light of this, I would argue that although I think we could function as a politically autonomous country with economic links to the EU; I think we would be severely disadvantaged. Being part of the EU is good both for British business but also for you as a consumer.

Outside of the economics, there are a plethora of reasons why our de facto £10bn membership fee represents value for money. The EU is central to the UK’s ambition of tackling climate change for example. The EU looks like it will stick to a 20% reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) by 2020 while the UK is calling for 30%. Be under no illusion however, the EU is doing more to bring about a global movement than the UK could dream of by itself. The potential within the EU is huge. For example, the Emissions Trading Scheme is the biggest of its kind, and although not currently working, has the potential to effectively reduce GHG emissions on a massive scale.

The list of benefits could go on, from counter terrorism (frontex) through to workers rights (minimum wage). The EU is at the heart of many things that we take for granted (such as the right to work anywhere in the EU).

When you look at £10bn a year in isolation it can feel (and indeed is) a lot of money. In context however, I feel it represents value for money. Think of the strategic benefit of spending £97bn on replacing Trident compared to the £10bn on EU membership. Think of the strategic benefit of spending £18bn on an ID card scheme in comparison to £10bn on EU membership. Think of strategic benefits of the £11.2bn spent on the NHS database scheme in comparison to £10bn on EU membership. Suddenly, £10bn on EU membership seems like a bargain!

The sad truth however is that most people in the UK do not want the UK to keep its membership. If we held a in/out referendum tomorrow we would leave. I cannot stress strongly enough how counterproductive that would be. We need to be inside this lumbering beast to install the reforms it so badly needs. We need the EU and all the benefits it brings, even if we don’t realise it.

Of course, our politicians know all this. That’s why we are still a member, that’s why we haven’t had a referendum as we were promised. Our politicians, even the Tory’s, know that we need to be part of the EU.

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