Tag Archives: Climate Change

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As I wrote back in 2009 however, this agreed guard rail is based on science that is now nearly 15 years out of date (based on work done pre-2001).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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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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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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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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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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UKIP, “the laziest party in Europe” – didn’t we already know this though?

In a rare example of accountability, the Mirror has today branded UKIP the ‘laziest party in Europe’.

The story highlights the far-right party’s voting record, the worse of any political party in Europe. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage it reports, has the 5th to worst voting record out of all 752 Members of the European Parliament.

Two of the politicians that fared worse than Farage were his UKIP colleagues Godfrey Bloom and UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall. UKIP MEPs missed approximately a third of all votes they were expected to attend.

Quite rightly, Conservative MEP leader Richard Ashworth condemned this voting record saying, “UKIP bank the salary, pocket the expenses, but don’t turn up to do the work. They let their country down.”

The problem though rests in the fact that this article represents an exception to the rule. It represents a rare example of holding our elected representatives in Brussels to account.

Think about, when was the last time you read a story about a vote in the European Parliament compared to a story about a vote in the UK parliament?

The only reason this story has appeared in our national press now, is because of the impact UKIP is currently enjoying on our national UK politics.

Indeed, the almost exact same story was ignored by our press back in 2010 when Labour MEP Mary Honeyball blogged about UKIP’s voting record.

This situation though, of what is happening in Brussels being ignored by the majority of the British media, is nothing new. Let me give you an example.

In 2011 the then Tory (now UKIP) MEP, Roger Helmer, tweeted overtly homophobic comments (and indeed dismissed the whole notion of homophobia as, “a propaganda device designed to denigrate and stigmatise those holding conventional opinions”). These outrageous comments were picked up, but only by online blogs such as Liberal Conspiracy*.

Take though the recent comments by Tory MP David Davies (he commented that parents “wouldn’t want gay children”). On this occasion, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The BBC and Mirror all picked up on these comments.

One comment made by a MP, the other by a MEP.

In the last few years Tory MEPs have voted against opposition to the death penalty, against basic measures to combat climate change and against women’s rights. Where is the public and media outrage?

UKIP embarrassing Britain in Brussels is nothing new, but because of their success in the recent elections, our papers now deem it newsworthy!

*This comment in no way means to belittle online blogs such as Liberal Conspiracy which holds a readership comparable to much of the mainstream media. But the comment aims to highlight the different editorial standards blogs and traditional papers hold. 

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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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The human impact of climate change

I get frustrated with people talking about the consequences of climate change as being some far off disputed theory. We are already seeing the consequences, it is just that they are affecting the group of people we have become so used to ignoring, the poor and marginalised.

The Human Impact report from the Global Humanitarian Forum states that climate change is leaving 300,000 dead every year (that’s the equivalent death toll of a 1000 September 11th). In addition the report states that 325 million people (that’s 4 times the population of the UK) are already seriously affected by climate change. This could be through serious weather events, rising sea levels or desertification which can bring hunger, disease and poverty.

Climate change is already, and holds the potential to increasingly, hamper our efforts to tackle poverty, malnutrition, human rights abuses and many more very worthwhile aims. For anyone who wants to see any change in the world that affects humans, tackling climate change has to be your number one priority.

Where to start? Without wanting to sound like a cliché and quote Gandhi, start with yourself. An average person in the UK produces 9.8 tonnes of CO2 per year (compared to just 0.2 tonnes if you live in the least developed countries). It is one of the great ironies that it is the developed world who is predominantly causing the problem of man made climate change through a system which has systematically screwed over the majority world (everybody else) but it is the poorest “bottom billion” who are disproportionately suffering.

Of course, due to the above mentioned ignoring of the poor and marginalised, we (the minority rich) refuse to except that our actions are causing such levels of human suffering. Why would you think about this? It is a horrible thought. But let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Most people, are not acting maliciously, it is an unintentional impact. We can see that when ordinary people are given easy and accessible ways of reducing the harm their actions have they tend to take it. Fairtrade is a good illustration of that. All we need is for people to associate their actions with the suffering we can see occurring because of climate change (or being extenuated because of climate change). It won’t fix the problem but it will start the wheels of change rolling.

Action doesn’t have to be painful. There is no beards, bare feet and beetroot involved in turning your thermostats down by one degree (and saving 10% on our heating bill). Sadly though, this by itself is not enough. Any environmentalist who tries to convince you a sustainable future in the next 100 years is all skipping through fields and cycling in the sunshine is either misleading you or exceptionally stupid (I wouldn’t rule either out).

We need to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Not just one or two of us, but all of us (well the 5% who make up the “developed world”). Some things will be better (hopefully), some things will be different and some things will be worse. What we need to do though is stop hiding our heads in the sand and do something.

Firstly, work out your personal carbon footprint on one of the many on-line counters. If you are normal, it will come out around 8-12 tonnes of CO2 a year. If (like me) you are a “greeny” (technical term) it will come out 4-8 tonnes of CO2. The startling truth is that we need to be aiming for 1-2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. This is a big drop by anyone’s standards. If you are already below 2 tonnes and live a relatively normal life then tell people about it. For everybody else, start with the easy things; change your electricity supplier, turn your heating down, get solar installed etc. None of this hurts.

I know people do not want to change. I know people do not want to think about the thousands of people dying, going hungry, loosing their homes and suffering but we do not have a choice. If we do not act now, we will go down in history as the generation who monitored unprecedented levels of suffering but did nothing about it. The scale of the current problem is only going to escalate. We are not prepared to deal with the looming crisis.

I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist because I like the environment. From my own personal perspective I couldn’t give a shit if the Panda was extinct. I do care though about people. I care about the thousands who are currently dying, the millions suffering and the billions in the future who we are leaving with a pretty bleak outlook. At the moment the consequences seem foreign, but it is only a matter of time before they are on our doorsteps.

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The greenest government yet? Sadly yes!

The greenest government yet?

This coalition government set out to be “the greenest government yet“.  Sadly, it appears to be achieving this.  Not because of any amazing policy initiative but more out of an utter failure of New Labour to act on climate change.  The over-riding message coming out of this government is we are acting “Green”.  The over-riding message coming out of NGO’s is “good, but you desperately need to go further”.

So what have the coalition achieved so far?

1 The Green Deal: 100,000 jobs to insulate and upgrade homes, reducing carbon emissions and saving money
2 £1bn for a Green Investment Bank
3 Replacing Air Passenger Duty with a per-plane duty
4 Scrapping Heathrow’s third runway
5 £200m for low-carbon technologies, including £60m for infrastructure to help create an offshore wind manufacturing industry
6 £1bn for a commercial scale Carbon Capture and Storage
7 £860m will fund a Renewable Heat Incentive
8 Lobbying the EU to increase our emissions cut target from 20 per cent to 30 per cent and provided effective leadership at Cancun.

This government has done more in 6 months than Labour achieved in 13 years to tackle climate change. Yet, anyone who is aware of the severity of the problems facing the UK through climate change can see that these measures simply do not go far enough.  The Green Investment Bank for example is a good idea, but it needs investment 4 – 6 times the amount currently being proposed to be truly effective.

This is the greenest government yet, that I have little doubt.  To be able to mutter this statement though is a cause for Labour to hide in shame, not for the coalition to hold its head up high.  We need to congratulate the coalition on the steps they have taken and push them further – much further.

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Bjørn Lomborg is still on the wrong path to tackle climate change.

 

Bjorn Lomborg, the sceptical environmentalist

Bjørn Lomborg, the “sceptical environmentalist” has come out and acknowledged that man-made climate change is a problem, and one that should be prioritised by governments.  This revelation is a welcome step in the right direction.  Lomborg remains however, woefully off course on his action plan on how to tackle climate change.

Lomborg advocates a heavy investment in R and D to the tune of 100 billion dollars.  This is sort of investment would be welcome and indeed needed.  We should approach his arguments however with a degree of caution for his action plan would leave humanity facing terrible consequences when average temp increases climb well above the 2 degree guard level.  Lomborg, denies we need action to reduce emissions now, making a predominantly economic argument for a lack of action in the short-term.  His argument falls down on two levels.

Firstly, as Phil Bloomer (Policy director for Oxfam) points out in a letter to the Guardian, there are plenty of things that can be done now to tackle climate change that would be revenue creators such as a levies on aviation and shipping.  If we simply sit back and wait for the affect of R and D to kick in we might be waiting for another 20 years.  If we want to leave ourselves a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees (which I have siad previously is a dangerous target to be aiming for) then we need to peak our emissions by 2015, at the latest (see http://climatecongress.ku.dk/pdf/synthesisreport).  If we fail to cap our emissions for 20 years we can expect to see average temp rise by 2.8-3.2 degrees.   This would leave us with a dangerously high chance of experiencing run away climate change (see page 16 of the above mentioned report for impacts in relation to temp rises).

Lomborg, fundamentally approaches the issue of climate change from an illogical perspective.  Lomborg has tried to work out what is economically feasible and then work backwards.  What I would advocate is the need to start with what is scientifically imperative to leave us reasonable odds of not experiencing some of the worst effects of climate change.  Recent history shows that if the danger is considered big enough the political will power and the money can be found (use the bail out of the banks as a case point). To put an economic imperative before a scientific imperative (that has such disastrous consequences) is something no policy maker can afford to do.

Policy makers (and still perhaps Lomborg) need to understand the severity of the threat we face and the short length in which we have to act.  If we do not begin to understand this, we face a potentially perilous future.

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Climate change, the challenge ahead for human rights

Zia Pits in Kenya

Going into 2010 we can see human rights violations occurring daily across the globe.  While there have been some significant steps in the right direction there have also been significant set-backs.  Human rights as a concept, continues however, to serve an incredibly important purpose.  It can shed light on some of the darkest situations.  It can provide a mechanism to help individuals hold governments and corporations to account. For human rights to continue to be a useful tool in building a better future, those who work with it such as human rights NGO’s need to ensure they fall down the right line of the defining political debate of the 21st century.

George Monbiot wrote recently how the world can be divided into two broad camps; those who believe that any restraint on personal freedoms is a restriction on their liberty and those who believe that human behaviour needs to be restricted for the greater good.  He states:

Humanity is no longer split between conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and progressives… Today the battle lines are drawn between expanders and restrainers; those who believe that there should be no impediments and those who believe that we must live within limits (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/dec/14/climate-change-battle-redefine-humanity)

Traditionally, human rights activists have fallen down the side of the liberals, seeing restraint and restrictions as a way of restricting fundamental freedoms.  Human rights both in practice and academically has grappled with the question of to what extent rights should be restricted and come out stronger on the other side.  There is however, something unique to the 21st century that human rights are struggling to reconcile with – the acknowledgement of climate change.

We can see now, more than ever, that human behaviour needs to be restricted.  We have consumed more resources, released more carbon dioxide and destroyed more eco-systems in the last few hundred years than our ancestors did for the previous millennium.  As a result of this uncontrolled behaviour, with expansionism being pushed at every angle, we have propelled our selves towards a greater threat than humanity has ever faced before.

Amnesty International has acknowledged climate change to be a human rights issue.  They tackle it as part of their economic, social and cultural rights campaign.  With millions loosing homes, food systems collapsing and forced migration spiralling, we can see that the aim to ensure everyone has access to an “adequate standard of living” (article 25) may prove to be extremely difficult.  The right to safe access to water will be a growing issue in many “stressed areas” of the world.  Currently, Amnesty International has not researched or put forward any position or policy recommendations on how they think we can avoid the negative consequences of climate change.  Will they advocate enforced carbon emission reductions? Will they advocate a restriction on travel (in direct contradiction to Article 13 – freedom of movement)?

There are three potential responses to this conundrum that human rights advocates (including myself) could take.  One, you could argue that that human rights should focus on civil and political rights (torture, death penalty etc) and this way you need not get caught up in the complexity of working on climate change.  Regardless of what terror climate change is causing, you can still universally condemn torture.  Two, you can acknowledge climate change to be an issue, but focus on it pointing to other more qualified NGO’s working on it.  This could leave you open to the very obvious criticism…”why do you not become specialised in the issue which will affect human rights more than anything else”? Three, you advocate a curtailment of individuals rights on the basis it is protecting the most fundamental of rights of other people.  For example, advocate a restriction on air-travel, arguing that it directly affects others right to life and livelihoods.

I would argue the latter.  Human rights have always come with restrictions.  Human rights as a discourse have never advocated full unimpeded action.  Human rights come with restrictions and responsibility.   If we acknowledge that certain action is pushing other people (maybe future generations) into such peril that they can no longer justify continuing that action, it is surely the States responsibility to curtail that behaviour.  The tricky bit here is that we do not know exactly what the consequences of our actions today will be on future generations.  We can not say for sure that xx tons of carbon dioxide released now will kill xx number of people.  Life is not that simple.  Increasingly however, it is looking pretty dire (see my earlier blog https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/copenhagen-and-the-2-degree-guard-rail-the-wrong-goal-missed/). If we continue living as we are, we are effectively ensuring that billions of people in the coming century will not have sufficient access to food, water and shelter.

Is it possible for the human rights discourse to push such a complex message? It has to be.  I consider engaging human rights with the issue of climate change as perhaps the last chance saloon for civilisation as we know it.  To lead this debate, we need internationally recognised human rights actors to stand up and state exactly what we need to aim for (opposed to what is politically acceptable) and exactly how we are going to reach these targets.  Anything short of this is synonymous with standing by and watching the greatest human rights abuse of our age un-fold.  Climate change is a human rights imperative that can not be ignored.

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The Real Green New Deal

At the moment every other political announcement seems to have the word “green” in it.  It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between progressive policies and simple greenwash.

What I recommend is to read the “Real” Green New Deal, put together by a collection of highly respected individuals including, Colin Hines, Tony Juniper and Andrew Simms (plus many more).  It highlights how we need to tackle climate change in conjunction with the economic crisis and peak oil.  It is the first piece of social policy that I have read for a very long time to actually excite me. 

It is from this document that I think you can begin to judge other political parties green commitments in the run-up to the next election.

It is downloadable from:

http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/A_Green_New_Deal_1.pdf

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UK Met office: We have no chance!

I blogged a few days ago about the need to ensure that the global temperature sticks well below the two degree rise many are aiming for (https://stevehynd.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/copenhagen-and-the-2-degree-guard-rail-the-wrong-goal-missed/).  I still stick by this.  This morning however I stumbled across this BBC article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8405025.stm which states:

“Meeting the lower target of 1.5C favoured by some developing countries is virtually impossible, the UKMO says”.

It goes on to say:

“Even if emissions peaked in 2020, there would be a 50% chance of temperatures rising by more than 2C, the target adopted by the G8 at its July summit.”

Essentially, this is the UK met office saying…we are very unlikely to be able to stick to 2 degrees and we are almost definitely not going to be able to reach a safer target of a 1.5 degree rise in temperature.

I have to say…prospects for humanity are not looking too good right now!

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Copenhagen and the 2 degree guard-rail, the wrong goal missed

We are constantly told that if we want to avoid “serious” climate change then we have to stick to below two degrees. Have you ever wondered though where this mysterious 2 degree figure came from or who came up with it? In the next couple of weeks at Copenhagen anyone with any grasp on climate change will be trying to beg, borrow and steal their way to an agreement that would result in us (humans) limiting the average global temperatures to below 2 degrees from 1990 levels. Anything above this and we are doomed! It is thus slightly important to explain why even this target is wholly inadequate.

In 2001 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) came up with the 2 degrees figure using a very sensible method. Simply, they looked at the bad stuff that was likely to happen because of climate change (species extinction through to run-away climate change – this is when tipping points cause further tipping points (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkUaAltxUpg) and worked out how likely at different temperatures it was to happen. At 2 degrees they figured there was very little chance of runaway climate change occurring. There was however still a significant chance of species extinction (there were then events in between that varied in their likelihood of occurring). They considered this to be a “safe” level to aim for.

This all seems very sensible (what’s a few species in the grand scheme of things?). In the run-up to Copenhagen however, the University of Copenhagen produced a report (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/files/synthesis-report-web.pdf) authored by many of the original IPCC authors highlighting why, in the light of the latest science since 2001, this 2 degree guardrail is wholly insufficient. Essentially they were saying that they had underestimated the temperature at which these reactions to temperature rise would occur. This is hugely problematic.

According to their latest estimates, sticking to 2 degrees would leave us with a moderate chance of experiencing run-away climate change. I cannot emphasize how scary this is. A moderate chance of plunging our entire species into starvation, mass migration, probable war and potential extinction! Why are we not in a state of emergency? Why have I been blogging about the death of the local pub, when soon we will not be able to grow the crops needed for brewing (let alone to feed ourselves)?

This is IF we meet our 2 degree target. What do you think…will our leaders unite together to make the sort of agreement that is needed to make lasting cuts in carbon emissions? I suggest not. Will our leaders buckle to economic and political pressure rather than scientific reality? I suspect so. What does this mean for us as a species…as a civilized society…a community…a family or even as an individuals?

It means that we are facing very very tough times ahead. How tough depends on how we (as a species) act now! How prepared we are for these tough times depends more on how we act as a community, family and individuals. To tackle this issue we need a collective effort like never before (think WW2 and multiply it…the enemy we face now is far scarier than the threat fascism ever posed to humanity…the millions that Hitler wiped out might look like small numbers if we do not act on climate change).

Think of climate change though not as something that is either happening or not happening but as something that is on a scale. I have no doubt that we will witness the extinction of many more species, but how far down this scale towards run-away climate change we slip is really up to us.

British Green MEP Caroline Lucas recently summed the situation up by stating that if we meet the EU’s most ambitious targets then we will leave ourselves a 50:50 chance of experiencing the worst consequences of climate change.  These are odds I am not willing to accept.

We can act now to limit to the consequences of climate change or we can go down in history as the only species that monitored itself into extinction.

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Why I am not a vegetarian!

People often ask whether I am a vegetarian or not.  There is not a simple yes or no answer to this question.  Below is a briefing I wrote during my time at QCEA on the issue.  Hopefully, it provides a little overview of why I try to reduce the amount of meat and dairy I consume. For more information check out the full length briefing paper available at: http://qcea.quaker.org/energysecurity/fact_sheet.htm.  Please note that this articel does not look at issues around animal welfare or human health concerns. Both of which can be used to make convincing arguements around meat and dairy consumption. All of the arguements below require a significant shift and reduction in our consumer patters.  It does not require us to boycot all meat products.

Livestock production and the environment 

Choices we make around meat consumption go far beyond the common misconception that it is simply an ethical decision about killing an animal. Livestock production has severe repercussions in terms of climate change, oil use, water use and deforestation. 

Climate Change 

Livestock production contributes as much as 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That is 64% of all nitrous oxide, 37% of all methane and 9% of all carbon dioxide. To put this into context, the production of a kg of beef generates approximately the same GHG emissions as driving 250 km. There are also a number of hidden GHG emissions in meat production:

  •  Fertilizer and grain production
  • Forest clearing for cattle ranching
  • Extensive use of machinery 

Although a small amount of meat consumption could be justified and might even be beneficial for climate change, the current volume and methods that are used are far from sustainable.

A significant reduction in the industrialized world’s meat and dairy consumption is desperately needed. 

Resource Depletion

 Livestock production is an energy-intensive process that is eating into our natural resources.

 Deforestation: 

In the last ten years an area the size of Greece has been cleared in the Amazon due to cattle ranching and feed crop production. That’s 19,368 km² per year. Brazil has recently stated it hopes to double the size of its cattle industry. The Brazilian government does not see this as contradictory to their commitments to tackle climate change. 

Oil: 

Modern agriculture is dependent on oil to feed our crop production, through fertilizers and machinery, transport of goods and packaging. Without the intensive production of grain, our current farming methods would cease to exist. The future of intensive meat production is linked inextricably to an intensive mode of agriculture based on cheap oil. In an age of peak oil, how much longer can we justify using cheap oil to produce vast quantities of grain and meat? 

Water: 

Livestock production consumes large quantities of water. For every litre of milk produced, we use 990 litres of water in the production process. This rises to over 15,000 litres for a kg of beef. Intensive farming methods are also responsible for pollution of water sources. Animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizer and pesticide use and sediment from eroded pastures all find their way into rivers and streams. Both nitrogen and phosphorus excreted by animals increase the chance of there being too many nutrients in water (eutrophication) which can lead to algal blooms. This problem can be exacerbated by the use of nitrogen fertilizers. 

Three things you can do: 

  • Eat less meat and dairy- This one is simple. Unless you’re meat and dairy free already, it wouldn’t hurt to eat a little less.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables – Good for your health and the environment
  • Eat local and organic produce – Whether you’re a vegetarian, a dedicated carnivore, or somewhere in between, you can help by purchasing local produce in season. 

Three steps for policy makers: 

Individuals need to act to tackle this problem but we also need to see leadership from governments. Leaders should:

  • Commit to a reduction of meat and dairy products in line with GHG emission reductions.
  • Provide a fund for developing countries such as Brazil to ensure that zero deforestation is reached by 2015.
  • Produce a clear education campaign highlighting the full impact of livestock production to enable consumers to make informed decisions.

 All references can be found in the QCEA briefing paper

available at http://www.quaker.org/qcea/

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