What we learned this week

  • The other week I posted a rather nice Bill McKibben piece. It’s been set to video, so I thought I’d post that too. (HT Yes Magazine)


  1. OMG what a ridiculous piece of fearmongering! Floods, drought, fires, tornadoes… aaahhhhh!!!!!

    The truth is that NOAA and NASA have both said that ‘climate change’ is not to blame here. I disagree. Our planet is cooling, and that is the problem.

    The truth is that a warming planet would have fewer extremes in weather due to a narrower gradient of air mass temperatures. It is cooling planets that have the largest extremes.

    This video is on par with any ghost hunter or alien autopsy out there, pure fiction.

    Statement from Gavin Schmidt, a very prominent NASA climate scientist:
    “There is no theory or result that indicates that climate change increases extremes in general.”

    Again, I disagree. As the planet cools, the difference in temperatures between polar and equatorial regions increases. The storms were driven by cold fronts, not warm fronts.

    And claims that we have a worse drough than the dustbowl are just lies.

    From NOAA:

    3.0 Precipitation in the 2000s

    Since the year 2000, parts of the region have once again turned to a drier than normal pattern. And with 2008 starting out extremely dry in some places, many people have begun to wonder if the area is returning to another “Dust Bowl” climatological period. And although it is very hard to predict the future precipitation over the span of several years, a comparison of the current dry period with the 1930s dry period can be made.

    3.1 Extent

    The dryness this decade has not been as widespread as in the 30s. Large parts of the region have seen 10% to 20% less precipitation than normal, but some have actually had a surplus. Figure 7 is a map of the precipitation departures from normal in terms of a percentage of normal for 2000 to 2008.

    3.2 Intensity

    The driest years of this current decade have also not been nearly as intensely dry as the dry years of the 30s. The driest years this decade were generally 30 to 50% below normal. Figure 8 is a map of the departure from normal in terms of a percentage of normal (total precipitation divided by normal precipitation) for the single driest year in the 2000 to 2008 time period.

    3.3 Desertification

    Another measure which shows how this decade has not been as intensely dry as the 1930s is to look at how many years were not only dry, but extremely dry. Very few locations have seen less than 10 inches of precipitation in a single year this decade, and no location has experienced these desert-like conditions more than once. Figure 9 is a map of the number of years with less than 10 inches of precipitation during the 2000 to 2008 time period.

    3.4 Length

    Another factor to consider is how many years this decade which have seen below normal precipitation. The comparison here once again shows that not as many years were dry this decade as were in the 1930s, thus the cumulative effect of the dry period has not been as intense. Figure 10 is a map of the total number of below normal years from 2000 to 2008. Notice that no areas have been below normal all 9 years this decade.

    3.5 Breaks

    The wet years this decade have also been more significantly wet, helping to reduce the cumulative effect of the long term dryness. There have only been a few areas which have not had a very wet year, and most areas have had extremely wet years which more than compensate for the driest year this decade. Figure 11 is a map of the departure from normal in terms of a percentage of normal for the single wettest year in the 2000 to 2008 time period.

    3.6 Summary

    As can be seen in the various images presented above, the 2000s have been drier than normal in some locations, but not nearly as dry as the 1930s. The extent of the dryness has also not been as widespread as it was in the Dust Bowl.

    Enough of the fearmongering propaganda. Surely this site is above that nonsense. 😉

    1. Thanks for the knee-jerk copy and paste job. If you listened to the video, you’d have heard McKibben say that Texas and “adjoining parts of Oklahoma” are facing conditions worse than the dustbowl. This is entirely true:

      As usual, you’ve been so busy assuming the worst and googling your rebuttal you’ve missed the more specific, more reasoned truth that was being said.

        1. Listen again. He’s not talking about the US generally. But you’re predisposed to hear ‘alarmism’, and that’s what you hear.

          1. No, I am subjected to alarmism by alarmists. As I pointed out above, the most widely recognized authorities said there is nothing to see here.

            Your posted video says exactly the opposite.

            Authorities: “Everything is fine’.

            Alarmist Video: ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            Do you see the difference?

          2. So, to come back to your original point, you’re denying that McKibben only compares Texas and Oklahoma to the dustbowl?

      1. What makes you think, Gareth, that arctic sea ice extent is driven by global temperatures? Perhaps you weren’t aware that arctic temperatures last month were lower than they were in May 1981 (i.e. 30 years ago) and in May 1971 (40 years ago). Oh … and about the same as they were 50 years ago.


        Also you might consider why antarctic sea ice extent has been increasing.

          1. Here’s my question again: What makes you think, Gareth, that arctic sea ice extent (or “collapsing Antarctic ice shelves”) is/are driven by global temperatures?

          2. For some reason I can’t reply to your post Robin but here is the answer and it explains why ice volume is important. I hope we can agree that it takes a lot of heat energy to melt Ice, anyone who disagrees on this point is disagreeing with established laws of physics. Thus if the volume of sea ice is going down year on year then it can only be that the ice is absorbing more heat energy from it’s enviroment. The only way this can happen is if the environment is getting hotter.

          3. The dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet are very interesting and not well understood. There has been some interesting work done recently – much more recently than the paper you cited, which anyway referred to the Wilkins Ice Shelf, a tiny fraction of the Antarctic continent – and I could refer you to it if you wish. But we would be getting well off topic and Jeremy, not unreasonably, doesn’t like that.

  2. “So, to come back to your original point, you’re denying that McKibben only compares Texas and Oklahoma to the dustbowl?”

    Jeremy, there was alot more to that video than one quote about TX and OK. Did you miss all the tornado and raging water video?

    Maybe you need to review it again. If you still do not see alarmism, I suggest you have someone drive you to the hospital, you’re not well.

    1. I was responding to your copy and pasted rebuttal, I think you’ll find. Do you want to acknowledge that it was a little hasty, and that McKibben didn’t say what you think he did?

      1. Jeremy, why are creating another strawman argument? The point I made was not about one comment out of a four plus minute alarmist video.

        Here it is…

        “OMG what a ridiculous piece of fearmongering! Floods, drought, fires, tornadoes… aaahhhhh!!!!!”

        I stand by that.

        I’m not discussing McKibben.

        Stay on topic.

        1. So what you’re essentially saying is that the bit of your comment that looked like discussion was really only window dressing for your real purpose, which is to ridicule those who accept the science of climate change. Great. I’ve been waiting for you to admit that for weeks.

  3. Why, if the Arctic has melted for the first time in “thousands of years” (1:45 in the above video) did a German raider reach Japan in 1941? “After a long period of negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Soviets agreed to provide Germany with access to the Northern Sea Route through which Germany could access both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans… HSK7 departed for her first raiding voyage from Gotenhafen on 3 July 1940 with a crew of 270… In early September, the Komet crossed the Bering Straits into the Pacific Ocean” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_auxiliary_cruiser_Komet#Breakout_into_the_Pacific

        1. The Northern sea route goes east across the top of Europe and Asia, and is often navigable for a couple of months a year. The Northwest passage is the long-sought after route that goes west across northern Canada and only opened as a viable shipping route for commercial vessels in 2009.

          They’re both in the arctic, but if you’re arguing that a WW2 german navigation of the northern sea route disproves climate change, you’re way out on a limb.

          1. So then if I said the Canadian ship St. Roche (well known here in Canada) was “the second sailing vessel to complete a voyage through the Northwest Passage. It was the first ship to complete the Northwest Passage in the direction west to east, going the same route that Amundsen on the sailing vessel Gjøa went east to west, 38 years earlier… In 1940-1942 she became first vessel to complete a voyage through the Northwest Passage in a west to east direction, and in 1944 became first vessel to make a return trip through the Northwest Passage, through the more northerly route considered the true Northwest Passage, and was also the first to navigate the passage in a single season. Between 1944-1948 she again patrolled Arctic waters.” would I be equally “out on a limb”?

            I’m simply disproving an alarmist claim with historical facts. Perhaps this might show how alarmism has become blatantly dishonest.

            As a note… there were no radar, sonar or satallite navigation aids for these boats, unlike todays world, they were ‘driving blind’.

          2. There are a couple of dozen exploratory journeys, some successful and some not, but it has never been a viable shipping route for commercial vessels.

            I choose my words carefully, so I’d appreciate it if you read them carefully too.

          3. It’s not your words I’m challenging Jeremy, it’s ‘weepy’ Bill McKibbon’s DIRECT QUOTE “the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years” (1:45 in the above video).

            This is a barefaced lie. Your defending it is unconscionable. It is telling tho’ in defending the lie you rephrase the comment as “viable shipping route for commercial vessels.” although that was never mentioned, “melted for the first time in thousands of years” was.

            I choose ‘weepy’ Bill’s words carefully, so I’d appreciate it if you read them carefully too.

          4. Then I suggest you take it up with Bill. I don’t have a problem with it, and I was responding to your point about shipping routes.

          5. Except at no point did I note, mention or discuss “shipping routes”. Again, your choice to confuse readers, like ‘weepy’ Bill is rather telling.

            Bill told a barefaced lie. Anyone can see this for themselves. Your choice to defend the indefensible is of course yours

          6. No, you were the one who brought up the random German excursion during the second world war, confusing your shipping routes in the process.

            You know what’s interesting though? You’re proving Bill’s point. Could he more specific, and less facetious? Sure. But he’s absolutely correct on the main point of his little spiel here: that we are fixated with the details, picking holes and fault-finding, making excuses, and point blank refusing to look at the big picture.

          7. At worst it’s an oversimplification – the arctic is opening up in ways it hasn’t for as long we we have records for. But you obviously deny that, so it doesn’t actually matter what Bill McKibben says and what words he chooses to use. You knew before you watched the video that you weren’t going to engage constructively with it, so let’s not waste each other’s time any further.

          8. oversimplification/ barefaced lie… I guess it’s just a matter of semantics for an alarmist.

  4. Why, If global warming is creating worse weather, is it that… “The US has been spared from any landfalling hurricanes since 2008; and the hurricane drought in 2009 and 2010 is relatively rare in the historical record. In fact, the US has not had a three-year stretch without a hurricane landfall since the 1860s.” http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/5/prweb8466734.htm

    1. climate change isn’t linear, and two years does not make a trend. From your own link:

      “The lack of US landfalls in 2010 was primarily due to a persistent western Atlantic trough that essentially protected the US East Coast from any direct hits. We do not expect this feature to be in place this year during late summer and fall when most tropical storms occur. Further, the Gulf and Caribbean sea surface temperatures are particularly warm this year; and we expect more development in these regions and less in the eastern tropical Atlantic.”

      Hurricanes develop over warmer seas. You can see why those who can read a global temperature graph might be concerned.

      1. You denying denier you! Are you saying the weather is at fault? There’s more CO2, where are the hurricanes?

        Of course global warming is linear, how else do we only get consistant warming according to the models? Of course it’s linear, thats why the temperature adjustments are all slanted to show linear trend increase.

        Why don’t you just admit it… alarmists wait to see whatever is going on then in retrospect blame global warming for the cause. The absurdity of thinking you can predict 90 years into the future while not being able to predict next month is telling.

        1. No, it’s not linear, because as you are at pains to point out elsewhere, there are more factors in play than CO2 alone. Weather patterns, solar cycles, etc.

          And no, it’s not consistent. Because there are more factors in play than CO2 alone. Weather patterns, solar cycles, etc.

          Can you try and engage with what I actually say, rather than your caricatured parody of climate science?

          1. So what’s the point of taxing CO2 if these other factors are at fault? ie drivers of climate

            You can’t have it both ways.

          2. The engine is the primary force in moving your car, but sometimes there are hills or headwinds that speed you up or slow you down.

            Greenhouse gases are the primary force in warming the climate, but natural cycles contribute too, sometimes warming, sometimes cooling. The natural cycles are not something we can do anything about, but we can do something about CO2 emissions.

          3. Hills and headwinds don’t drive your car. CO2 drives the climate except when it doesn’t, or so alarmists say.

            More snow/less snow, drought/flood, hot/cold, tornadoes/no tornadoes, hurricanes/no hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis… CO2 does it all! Hardly.

          4. Then you’re saying CO2 isn’t the driver of climate? If you agree with me on that then we have no problem.

          5. You’re constantly caricaturing my position as saying that CO2 is responsible for everything, and I’m constantly saying there is more than one factor in play.

          6. *sigh*

            as I said before, CO2 we can control, the other factors we can’t. So let’s control the CO2.

            How many times do we have to go round this circle?

          7. Did you mean to say…


            as I said before, CO2 we can tax, the other factors we can’t. So let’s tax the CO2.

            How many times do we have to go round this circle?” ?

          8. Jeff, you need to pull your head out of the constant barrage of denial and mockery that you’re reading online. You’ve lost perspective, and you’ve lost the ability to listen to people.

            I’ve asked several times now – if you want to comment, then discuss what I’m saying, not what you assume I’m saying. You’re caricaturing my views. If you were paying attention, you’d notice that I haven’t called for a tax on CO2.

          9. Jeremy:

            I can’t speak for Jeff, but I certainly try to listen to what you say. For example you say above, “CO2 we can control … So let’s control the CO2”.

            But as I explained on May 31 (in some detail and with a lot of supporting evidence) on your “Credit where credit is due” thread, nothing we can do can possibly make the slightest real difference.

            Except, that is, to further weaken our already shattered economy by, for example, driving major manufacturers overseas, to increase everyone’s fuel bills (especially those of the poorest – the ultimate regressive tax), to undermine scientific research (ironically including “green” research) and to pointlessly industrialise of some of our wildest and most beautiful countryside.

            Perhaps it’s you who’s not paying attention.

          10. No, I seem to remember that was the thread where you kept insisting the UK was heading off on its own, and I kept pointing out just how much everyone else was doing too. It didn’t get us anywhere last time, it won’t this time either, and I’m not going to revisit it.

          11. My appologies then Jeremy for my misrepresentation of your position. May I ask, then, what would be your solution with the requisite no increase in costs.

          12. There is no one solution, but hundreds of different initiatives adding up to a full scale transition to low carbon economy.

          13. Yes, Jeremy. And it turned out that your “everyone else” turned out to be no more than some tiny economies (you mentioned the Maldives, New Zealand, Costa Rica and Ethiopia) that cannot make the slightest difference (taken together, their emissions are 0.3% of the global total). And anyway they’re only making non-binding promises – unlike us with our binding legislation. Meanwhile, the really big boys – China, India, Russia, Japan, Canada – have no intention of curbing their GHG emissions. And the USA is not going to sign up to Kyoto either.

            So, yes, we’re on our own. And our futile actions cannot make any difference.

          14. As I said before, the UK is 13th out of the G20 in investment in renewable energy. Seriously, go back and look if you have to. I’m not going round in circles with you Robin.

          15. No, going round in circles is not a good idea. You may well be right about our being only the 13th out of the G20 in investment in renewable energy. I’m not disputing that – because it’s not the point. The point is that it’s clear (go back and look if necessary) that the world’s major economies – the USA, China, India, Russia, Japan (i.e. the world’s top 5 emitters, responsible for nearly 60% of all CO2 emissions) – have no intention of curbing their emissions. The unavoidable consequence is that the rate of global CO2 emissions will continue to accelerate. I’m not saying that that’s s good (or a bad) thing, Simply that it’s a fact. And that fact means that whatever the UK does cannot make any difference.

  5. Re the drought in Texas, I found this article interesting, by John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist (who also helped to uncover IPCC’s “Glaciergate” snafu in 2009):

    He’s not an AGW-sceptic, but neither does he have much time for Bill McKibben:

    “According to a recent op-ed by Bill McKibben (see here [link]), “the drought [in Texas and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico] is worse than that of the Dust Bowl”. I find myself disliking this op-ed more and more each time I read it. The quoted statement is one of the most offensive. Of course it’s worse than that of the Dust Bowl: the Dust Bowl drought doesn’t even make the top twenty for Texas because most of Texas wasn’t severely affected by it except for parts of the Texas Panhandle. But it’s not worse than 1956, and it’s not worse than 1918.


    He also has something to say about tornadoes:

    1. Hi Alex. McKibben’s piece is full of hyperbole and righteous anger, for sure. It’s a polemic, and taken as such, I don’t have a problem with it. It is more outspoken than the things I normally post, so I’m not surprised Jeff and Gator have been hopping up and down.

      The reason I posted it is because McKibben points out the dangers of focusing on individual events and not making connections. Since we don’t seem to be able to get over the language of it, how about this article which makes the same point:

    2. Wow Alex! What a find! Thanks for the links, the first one was a real eye-opener. I especially like this part “According to a recent op-ed by (Weepy) Bill McKibben… I find myself disliking this op-ed more and more each time I read it… So certainly there’s no significant trend, nothing that anybody but a fool would conclude was being caused by global warming.”. And since this comes from “John Nielsen-Gammon (who) is the Texas State Climatologist and a Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University… received his Ph.D. from MIT in 1990. He teaches weather forecasting, atmospheric dynamics, and climatology, and his research areas include heavy rainfall, data analysis, air pollution, and droughts.” I think I’ll listen.

      Thanks again, Jeremy probably didn’t read it but I did. Even the extended link where Chris Mooney thought Weepy was out to lunch. (When alarmists question alarmists you know the writing is on the wall).

      All the best…. Jeff

  6. I followed the ‘credit where credit’s due’ exchange with a lot of interest a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been fascinated by this one too.

    As Jeremy seems to be a little outnumbered, I thought I’d add a supporting comment or two, and perhaps an observation.

    Cards on the table – I accept the argument that climate change is occurring, that it’s largely due to rising concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and that the concentrations are rising largely due to human activity.

    What we can and should do about it is something else entirely, I’m sure we all have our own views.

    I’m a qualified scientist (physics and environment), Chartered, and do science for my day job – but I’ve no special knowledge of climatology, so don’t listen to anything I tell you about it. To be frank I’ve not read the vast majority of the sources, links and references I’ve seen posted in these comments. The bottom line is I choose to take the view man-made climate change is likely to be occurring not because I’ve critically evaluated the evidence myself (because I haven’t), but because I choose to place my trust in what I perceive to be the majority view of the established scientific community.

    Could they be wrong – yep, of course. We are trying to understand the full complexity of the Earth’s climate, and it’s not going to be easy is it. The patterns and correlations in the data are going to take some time to be understood – and as with any observation based science, can always be rendered false by the emergence of new data.

    It’s obviously easy to find isolated facts and arguments to support any position, but (in my humble opinion) the bottom line is, unless you’ve personally studied much of the evidence in some detail it’s hard to have enough perspective and context to draw robust conclusions . . . of course that’s just my opinion and you might disagree.

    Science is actually a spectator sport, and anyone can submit their evidence/results/theories for examination – but there’s just no point submitting it to the blogosphere, because quite frankly it’s not authoritative, objective or reliable. All it does is increase the ‘noise’ in the system that casual readers have to wade through in order to arrive at ‘the truth’. I’ve a theory that most people give up, and simply choose to either believe the ‘experts’ or believe the ‘experts’ are wrong based on emotional preferences . . . but I’ve no evidence to back that up!

    If you believe you have evidence that climate change is not taking place then please submit it to the appropriate journals and bodies etc and get the scientific consensus changed – because quite frankly I’d like to pay less for my fuel, energy, food, water and tax as well. Posting it to blogs like this isn’t going to change very much at the end of the day . . . though I accept it’s quite fun.

    Sorry I got a little flippant there at the end, but I’ve run out of time, as I’ve got to go and cook tea.

    Looking forward to all the comments 🙂

    1. Agreed. Actually, I’d say that unless you have the experience and background knowledge, you’re not going to be able to look into the evidence for yourself. There’s just too much. Even climate scientists are specialised, and the body of work crosses all kinds of disciplines. Nobody knows the geology, the biology, the meterology, the whole lot. Ultimately, you have to take somebody’s word for it. It becomes a matter of trust, and who you think is best placed to give honest answers.

      Like you, I agree with climate change as the mainstream opinion (skeptics deny it’s mainstream, or course), and I trust our scientific institutions more than the skeptic think tanks. As you say, the mainstream may be wrong – I happen to believe mainstream economics is wrong – so the decider for me is the risk factor. The cost of acting on climate change and being wrong is far lower than the cost of doing nothing and being wrong. Unfortunately, skeptics rarely want to engage with that angle of the debate.

      1. Jeremy: You say, “The cost of acting on climate change and being wrong is far lower than the cost of doing nothing and being wrong.”

        Please explain why you think this is so. And, before doing so, perhaps you would explain first precisely what you mean by “acting on climate change”.

          1. This is a matter of great personal interest. Here’s why:

            When I first became interested in the AGW in late 2007, my view was close to yours today. I was a lukewarm supporter of the AGW hypothesis and considered that, on balance, it must be safer to take action to curb emissions than to do nothing. But, after some excellent discussion and sharp debate (on the New Statesman’s online site), I had to concede that I was wrong. It’s from that position that my views have developed to where they are today. So, if my concession then was unwarranted, my present position may be based on a shaky foundation.

            Therefore, I’d seriously like to know why you believe “The cost of acting on climate change and being wrong is far lower than the cost of doing nothing and being wrong.” We may have touched on it before – but we haven’t really had that discussion.

          2. Honestly, we have been over this and I know your views. I’m surprised you haven’t remembered mine. I’m sure it’ll come up again in posts, but I’m not going over it again in a comment thread.

          3. OK. Jeremy, it’s your blog: if you don’t want to discuss this with me, we won’t. But Next Starfish wrote an interesting post and invited comments. So I trust you’ll not object to my responding to that. See below.

    2. You (NS) said anyone with “evidence that climate change is not taking place [should] submit it to the appropriate journals … and get the scientific consensus changed”. Then, if it were, you hoped you would be able “to pay less for [your] fuel, energy, food, water” etc. Well, that rather misses the point. No one questions whether or not climate change is taking place. It always has and it always will. No, the key questions are (a) whether recent climate change is man made and (b) whether, if man’s influence continues, we face serious problems – possibly catastrophe. The “appropriate journals” are already replete with what is claimed to be evidence supporting and challenging both propositions. And BTW no one has produced any evidence that there is a “scientific consensus” on these matters – not that science has anything to do with consensus anyway. Yet, despite all this uncertainty, you’re paying more for your fuel, energy, food, water, etc. anyway. Why?

      The answer is the so-called Precautionary Principle: just in case we’re threatened with catastrophe, we must take the steps that would avert it. Seems simple enough doesn’t it?

      But it’s not simple: taking those steps (essentially radically reducing the use of fossil fuels) has massive disadvantages. For example, more expensive or non-existent energy (an inevitable consequence of CO2 restriction) means that clean water, proper sanitation, fresh food, adequate health care, better education, etc. will be either unavailable or hopelessly expensive for many of the world’s poorest people. Moreover, inadequate energy supply is a major cause of political instability and violence, affecting, in particular, the most helpless and vulnerable people. In other words, because something nasty might happen in the future, we would make something nasty certainly happen now. So it’s not so simple after all.

      But all this – although interesting – is totally theoretical: there is no “we” to adopt the Precautionary Principle. In the real world of international power politics and economics, individual countries make their own decisions. And they’ve made them: as I pointed out to Jeremy above, the USA, China, India, Russia and Japan (responsible for nearly 60% of all CO2 emissions) and many smaller economies – have no intention of curbing their emissions. The result is that the rate of global CO2 emissions will continue to accelerate. If that means we face catastrophe, we better get used to it. But one thing is certain: you’re paying more for your fuel, energy, food, water, etc. isn’t going to make any difference.

      1. Robin – I think you make a lot of good an interesting points.

        What I meant about ‘paying more for … etc’ really referred to existing national taxes (eg fuel duty) and additional costs (such as the climate component of the AMP water funding round etc) etc, rather than any personal choices I make myself.

        You’re of course right it comes down to ‘precautionary principle’, but I personally wouldn’t overplay this, what I mean is my understanding is that not only is the ‘fact’ of global warming established, but the ’cause’ is also fairly well established too ie: industrial age CO2 emissions. Obviously it’s complex, with a variety of feedbacks, but there’s no other possible cause (so I understand) – solar forcing remains constant (or even slightly down), no change in volcanism etc. So I don’t think ‘precautionary principle’ in the sense of ‘we’re not sure about the science so we better hedge our bets’ applies, only ‘we don’t know how bad it might get so we better do something’.

        I do agree strongly though that there’s a debate to be had about what ‘we’ should do about it, and I take your point about ‘there is no we’. I think the science takes us a little further, and then we’re in the realms of ethics and politics.

        Science is good at understanding observables, but when making predictions about the future of complex systems such as the planet it struggles – chaos theory and all the rest. So we don’t ‘know’ exactly how the climate will change. We can model it (all models are wrong, but some of them are useful) and make projections, and these appear to show warming over the medium term of 1-6 C. With perhaps the median being the most likely. I’m currently reading Six Degrees, by Mark Lynas, and I would suggest that any change of this magnitude would be devastatingly traumatic for humanity.

        Anyway – what should we do ? I think it’s perfectly reasonable for everyone to have different opinions about this, and (being a democracy supporter) the way I’d hope it would be decided is for democratically mandated governments to implement policy in accordance with the views of their electorates. Internationally it’s down to negotiation and deals (as ever).

        So what should we personally aim to do ? My own subjective view is that if we accept climate change is bad and will be worse for ‘poor people’ (because things always are), then we (the rich people) should ‘do what we can’ to not make it so bad for them – ie: make efforts to limit carbon emissions and take steps to plan for a warmer world. I think responding to climate change is an ethical issue!

        Whether other countries do likewise or not would not be a significant issue for me, as I’d advocate we ‘do the right thing’ regardless – the same argument as I’d deploy versus slavery, child-trafficking, proliferation of weapons etc. Just because ‘they’ do something bad, it doesn’t mean we should. I accept this ethical basis for decision making isn’t always popular, but I cast my own vote on this basis. I believe in ‘thinking global’ but ‘acting local’ – influence what you can, and start with yourself.

        I don’t think it’s true that other countries (US, China, India etc) aren’t going to do anything about carbon emissions – they clearly are ‘doing plenty’ (to varying degrees, – China currently has 3 of the world’s largest PV cell manufacturers and are spending many millions on development). I generally accept that emissions from most countries are going to continue to increase for several year though – after all the BRICS are developing . . . I don’t think we should cripple our own economies(or the world’s) by implementing every carbon reduction strategy we can think of – we do need to look as the pros-cons as you point out. We should jump at every ‘quick-win’ though, refine our tax systems and markets to impose a cost on carbon, and most importantly ‘run like mad’ to adapt to a warmer-wetter world.

        Once you get down to the ‘what exactly should ‘we’ do’, I think all your other points are very valid – and in fact often overlooked in the debate. Should we tax carbon more, resulting in higher food and energy prices (affecting the poor) ? No easy answers . . . I’m working on my own blog post on this topic – nuclear/fracking/peak oil/peak food/transition etc.

        1. Thanks NS for a thoughtful and interesting post. I rather doubt BTW that the cause of recent global warming is “fairly well established” – global temperatures have been increasing since the late 17th century (at a modest rate of about 0.5 deg. C per 100 years) and there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly remarkable about recent warming. My guess is that this modest warming trend will continue. I certainly hope so – a recent suggestion that we might quite soon be heading for a period of cooling (http://www.boulder.swri.edu/~deforest/SPD-sunspot-release/SPD_solar_cycle_release.txt) is potentially frightening. What’s uncertain, however, is the validity of the hypothesis that we’re heading for catastrophic warming (a la Lynas) – if anything, the evidence suggests that we’re not.

          But I think we agree that this isn’t about the science: it’s about the harsh realities of international power politics and economics. And, if Lynas is right, they mean we’re heading for catastrophe. (My personal view is that Lynas is probably wrong.)

          Incidentally, I’m far from sure that, because for example China is massively increasing its CO2 emissions means it is doing “something bad” – akin, as you suggest, to slavery, child trafficking etc. On the contrary, its burning of fossil fuels has been the primary reason for its massive economic growth that has resulted in its lifting over 300 million people out of appalling poverty. On a rather lesser scale, the same applies to India. That’s surely a matter for celebration, not criticism? When it comes to ethics, we should be careful: in my view, it’s immoral, for example, that many of the most vulnerable and deprived people in Africa (especially children) could have their hope of a better life prejudiced because comfortable people in the West, people who take reliable energy for granted, are obsessed by what is still an unverified hypothesis. I was dismayed therefore when Christian Aid and Oxfam – a charities I have long supported – campaigned (fortunately without success, thanks largely to China and India) to block a recent World Bank loan to South Africa to enable it to build a much-needed power station.

          BTW I think you’ll find that China’s building of PV cells (and windmill components) is largely driven by the opportunity to sell these things to what I suspect it may see as the gullible West. And anyway the manufacture of these components can itself be environmentally damaging and seriously hazardous.

          So what are we to do? Well, the one thing we know about the future is that it’s completely uncertain. We face multiple risks – for example, I suspect global cooling (see above) may be just as big a risk as global warming; and far more damaging – modest warming can be beneficial. But it’s not just climate change: international terrorism, another financial collapse (Greece shows just how close the EU is to disaster), vast population movements, nuclear war, a global epidemic … who knows? The best way to prepare for these unknowns is to prioritise the strengthening of our economy. And current policies – especially I’m afraid “green” policies – are having the opposite effect.

          Perhaps China and India have something to teach us.

          1. Further to the above, you may be interested to read this remarkable (and surprising) article by the leading AGW campaigner, Mark Lynas (whose book you’re currently reading): http://www.marklynas.org/2011/06/questions-the-ipcc-must-now-urgently-answer/.

            An extract:

            “… if the ‘deniers’ are the only ones standing up for the integrity of the scientific process, and the independence of the IPCC, then I too am a ‘denier’.”

            How long, I wonder, before he’s accused of being in the manipulative pay of the evil Big Oil?

          2. Robin – one more post and then I’ll probably call it a day on this topic for now (the columns are getting too narrow) – but no doubt we’ll ‘bump into each other’ elsewhere on Jeremy’s blog (and of course you’re always welcome over on mine – though it’s generally less controversial).

            Lots to answer and comment on . . . a couple of specific responses first:

            1 – On the science, I’ve nothing to add – I don’t follow the science on global warming in enough detail to confidently comment on. As I’ve said before I’m up-to-date (ish) with what I take to be the general scientific consensus, and I pretty much accept that to be the ‘state of understanding’. If they’ve got it wrong and the world isn’t going to get much hotter, then I too will be a happy man!

            2 – Re: the Chinese developing a world class PV market – I don’t know the basis or motivations involved, but like you would be surprised if it wasn’t largely commercial – that said I’m sure they will make use of plenty in China, as well as exporting. I understand the ‘feeling’ in the PV world is that grid parity (the point at which PV generated watts, are price equivalent with coal-fired watts) should be reached within the next 3-5 years. Supposedly within 10-20 years they are confident the dominant price factor in PV will be installation labour costs, rather than the cells . . . so heavy investment in PV now will no doubt benefit China in the future . . . and so onto your China/India could teach the West something point – yes, for sure!

            3 – Clearly I wasn’t equating the development of the poorer parts of the world with any of the ‘evils’ I gave as ethical-issue examples. We both seem to agree that it is right of everyone on the planet to have access to the same standard of development, and I too therefore welcome the development of the BRICs and elsewhere – despite the increase carbon emissions and increased competition for resources it causes.

            ….and so onto a few other points I’d like to make before I ‘sign-off’ on this one…

            4 – I think there is plenty ‘we’ (governments/individuals) can do to reduce our carbon footprints without inflicting economic harm on ourselves. In fact I’m firmly of the opinion many of these things can be justified without considering carbon, on a purely resource efficiency basis ! Why waste water ? Why not utilise waste heat ? Why spend so much on fuel/energy if you can make things more efficient ? All developed nations have a mix of newer/older industries, public buildings and housing stock in which retrofitting various efficiency measures would both reduce carbon demand, and be economically beneficial. When it comes to new development, that it should be as efficient as we can make it (subject to cost-benefit) is a no brainer. These are the quick wins, and also include power generation and distribution (smart grid etc), agriculture, transport, etc etc.

            There are three other areas we can consider – firstly the ones that do impact us economically:

            5 – As a nation, companies, or individuals, we can choose to make further carbon reductions that do affect us economically – here I would argue we should carefully consider cost-benefit. There are no easy answers, and a variety of factors to consider – trend-setting, public awareness raising, green-market advantage (as with China’s PV industry) etc etc. Often though I’d suggest that the ‘money’ might be better spent doing something else than reducing carbon – such as immunising African children to pick a topical example.

            6 – Secondly there are the ones that only comprise redistribution of wealth within the economy – such as taxing petrol and government redistributing that money, such as to Winter fuel payments for the elderly. Again any single mechanism will have to be considered on it’s own merits, but broadly speaking I’d favour these measures. As a society we’ve always sought to promote desirable behaviours via the tax system, and I consider carbon reduction to be a very desirable behaviour. Done well I’m in favour of such incentivisation and redistribution, to incorporate ‘carbon cost’ into the economic framework – afraid I’d have us all paying far more for air travel, petrol, energy etc etc – with targeted subsidies to protect the poor. . . . clearly not everyone agrees with this.

            7 – But the biggest and most radical thing I’d advocate is the wholesale reconsideration of capitalist consumer culture – which ultimately is the driving force behind the majority of the world’s carbon emissions. If ‘we’ could loose our love affair with making-owning-dumping endless quantities of ‘stuff’ I believe we’d be better off not only in terms of carbon, and the environment generally, but probably happier on the whole as well. This is a whole other area though, and too much to discuss here, but ultimately I think this is what we will have to move to, either of our own accord – or because we will be forced to: just be scarcity and cost of resources (if you’re right about climate change), or due to cost and scarcity AND climate collapse if Mark Lynas is right.

            Final point about Mark’s book (I’ve just finished the chapter on 5 degrees of warming and everyone is killing each other for food !). I’ve followed his blog and Twitter for a little while and he’s a reasonable guy – the blog post you tagged is indeed fascinating. His book will give you sleepless nights if you a) ‘believe it’ and b) are of a disposition to have sleepless nights as a result of scary books, but it does seem a plausible analysis of the results of global warming . . . if it’s occurring, in many respects it doesn’t matter whether it’s anthropogenic or otherwise in origin, we’ll have to adapt to it.

            One of the points I’m trying to high light on my blog is issues are rarely black or white – there is always complexity and uncertainty, and value judgement in play. One of my other key points though is that we (I refer to us an individuals now) can ALWAYS do SOMETHING. We might not be able to solve a global problem through our actions (obviously) but it’s a lie to believe we have zero influence. I’d humbly suggest the benefit is in both the positive effect we have on the world (however minimal) – but also on ourselves through the process on engaging with the world, showing compassion for others, and ultimately adopting a generous and serving nature . . . as I’m now at risk of this turning into a sermon, I’ll call it a night.

            Until the next time . . . .

            Next Starfish

          3. Having re-read my comments below I’ve spotted a million typos and dodgy grammar (I tend to massively overuse punctuation), so apologies.

            I’ve just got back from a meal out which included ‘some’ beer . . . so it’s remarkable I managed to string anything sensible together at all.

          4. Phew, Steve – a long post! (Don’t worry about the punctuation etc.; I understand what you’re saying.) And, as you’re calling it a day, I’ll confine myself to some brief observations:

            1. As the world clearly has no intention of doing anything about it, it matters not whether the so-called consensus is right or wrong.

            2. My point about China (and India) is that they have no intention of slowing their pace of economic growth; and they’ve decided that the increased burning of fossil fuels is the way to achieve that. Their intentions re PV manufacture etc. are therefore relatively unimportant.

            3. Yes, the above economic growth means massive advantage for hundreds of millions of their poor people. That can only be good news – for us as well as them.

            4. I am not opposed to our finding ways of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Provided we don’t think doing so has anything to do with “saving the planet”. And especially provided that we don’t, in the process, weaken our economy. Sadly, both provisos are being ignored now.

            5. I agree.

            6. Well, I don’t agree that “carbon reduction” (presumably you mean the reduction of CO2 emissions) is a particular priority. But it’s utterly ridiculous that the current tax regime actually benefits the rich and damages the poor. As someone said, the Sherriff of Nottingham would have been embarrassed by it.

            7. I wholly disagree about the “reconsideration of capitalist consumer culture”. First, it’s completely unachievable – so is a pointless ambition. And secondly because – for all its faults – it’s capitalism that’s improving the lot of all those poor people around the world. And wealthier people are more caring, have fewer children, protect their environment … etc. On several occasions, I’ve urged Jeremy to change the name of this blog to “Make Wealth Universal”.

            8. Re your final comment, you seem to have overlooked my point that we face multiple risks – global warming, global cooling (far worse), international terrorism, financial collapse, vast population movements, famine, nuclear war, a global pandemic, asteroid strike, natural disaster … etc. It’s absurd to keep worrying about only the first.

            9. And, yes, I agree – when disasters do occur (as they will), we can, as you say, always do something. And the stronger and more resilient our economy, the more effective that something is likely to be.

            I look forward to our next discussion.

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