Thursday, November 30, 2006
"But oddly, though we know about [climate change], we don’t know about it. It hasn’t registered in our gut; it isn’t part of our culture. Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?"
Now, the Ashden Trust has published what seems to be the first review of the world's first opera about climate change, And While London Burns.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The puppet can't cut it. Here's what we can do to help:
Iraq needs strong leadership, a strong man to bring stability to the country. A strong man. General something. Like that guy in Pakistan. Or somewhere. What was his name?"
"The Supreme Court stepped gingerly into the national debate over global warming on Wednesday, asking how much harm would occur if the Environmental Protection Agency continues its refusal to regulate greenhouse gases from new vehicles".
The cast in this strange combination of (on the one hand) epic struggle for the future of man and biosphere and (on the other) grosteque farce includes Dick Cheney's hunting buddy Antonin Scalia, Gregory Garre and Ken Starr. Twelve states, mainly along the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts, three cities, a U.S. territory and 13 environmental groups are pitched against the administration of the George W Bush, the EPA, trade associations for car and truck makers and automobile dealers, Michigan and eight other states.
The dumbass AP reporter (or his/her editor) writes "many scientists believe [carbon dioxide] is flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate". Believe?
In a battle between a corrupted legal system and science who will win? As David Archer recently wrote on Realclimate (http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/11/avery-and-singer-unstoppable-hot-air/) - riffing Thomas Jefferson and Richard Feynman -- " I tremble for humanity when I reflect that nature cannot be fooled. You're damn right I’m scared".
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Monday, November 20, 2006
The numbers may be a little wobbly in places, but not to the extent that the argument is undermined.
The article was written in early October, with a quick update in early November. Had it been completed a few days later, it would have taken account of the calculations by Paul Baer and Michael Mastrandrea (High Stakes, IPPR, 6 Nov 2006).
Sunday, November 19, 2006
We have the distinction of going where no species has gone before. Whether we make good use of that distinction depends on human nature and the way we choose to organise our societies. What is the value of medical discoveries if most people cannot afford them? What good does it do to harness power if we only use it to make weapons? Who can say that anti-science forces will not send us backwards in time?
This is why we need a deeper understanding of human nature, and this can be achieved only if the social sciences replace their ideology-laden, fragmented approach with objective science grounded in a unitary theory of behaviour. There is only one such theory around, which is why I predict that 50 years from now every psychology and sociology department will have Darwin's portrait on the wall."
Friday, November 17, 2006
Around the city, garbage dumps steam with the combustion of natural gases, an auto yards glow with fires from fuel spills. All of Lagos seems to be burning.-- George Packer in The New Yorker
Newcomers to the city are not greeted with the words “Welcome to Lagos” They are told “This is Lagos” – an ominous statement of fact. Oliza Izeobio, a worker in one of the sawmills along the lagoon, said, “We understand this as ‘Nobody will care for you, and you will have to struggle to survive.’ ” It is the singular truth awaiting the six hundred thousand people who pour into Lagos from West Africa every year. Their lungs will burn with smoke and exhaust; their eyes will sting; their skin will turn charcoal grey. And hardly any of them will ever leave.
Rem Koolhas described how his team, on its first visit to the city, was too intimidated to leave its car. Eventually, the group rented the Nigerian President’s helicopter and was granted a more reassuring view:
"From the air, the apparently burning garbage turned out to be, in fact, a village, an urban phenomenon with a highly organised community living on its crust…What seemed, on ground level, an accumulation of dysfunctional movememtns, seemed from above an impressive performance, evidence of how well Lagos migh perform if it were the third largest city in the world."
The impulse to look at an “apparently burning garbage heap” and see an “urban phenomenon,” and then to make it the raw material of an elaborate aesthetic construct, is not so different from the more common impulse not to look at all.
Folarin Gdadebo-Smith [who works in local government] says. “You’re aware of the ‘megacity’ thing...Lagosians talkabout it as a trophy. As far as I am concerned it’s an impending disaster.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
"The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander must make is to establish...the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature."—Carl von Clausewitz, On War
"The actual reason for the failure of the US policy in its political field and international relations is their lack of information regarding the world's realities and also the enclosure of the decision making people of that country in their own fabricated and false political propaganda."—From the Web log of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, following a visit to New York in September 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
The specific point concerned the future role of the European Union. Soros thinks the EU -- a far from perfect but actually existing example of an open society -- can play a key role in building a more just world order, but that it needs to define a mission. As Garton-Ash was probably correct to say, the EU cannot simply keep offering membership to an ever larger number of states (although, for Soros and I guess for Garton Ash, keeping the process of negotiation with Turkey alive is crucial). Europe, Soros said, needed something new to motivate people, to "get them out on the streets" in the way the cry for freedom had in so many central and eastern European countries.
I asked what, given the sheer number of very hard problems facing the world (some of them maybe unprecedentedly hard), should the Europeans choose as a priority, or priorities? Soros answered that one priority should be a common European energy policy in the face of a resurgent, bolder and nastier Russia.
I agree that Europe's energy future is vital, and share Soros's concern about the dangers of the present situation. But I am sceptical of the answer he gave. Is a common energy policy really something around which large numbers of people could mobilise? Perhaps if repackaged as part of an "employment/climate change/global justice and development" mission? Hmmm, let's keep talking.
To be fair, Soros did not hear my question or that from others very well (the venue was the echoing University Church) and he only had time for brief answers .
At first, I sympathised with another questioner who asked him "what if it's all too late?". She was refering to the growth of fundamentalist terrorism in the UK (on this, I don't think the UK authorities are exaggerating because I don't see a convincing argument that it is in their interest to do so). But then again -- in contrast to her fear -- here and now is where we have to learn to be more serious and tougher in the sense of not giving up hope and facing the problem sensitively and firmly, as George Soros has not done since at the age of 13 or 14 he joined the anti-Nazi resistance in Budapest in 1944.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
This impression is reinforced by a contribution to the Policy Forum in Science (3 Nov 06) by David Doniger, Antonia V. Herzog and Daniel Lashof which takes seriously the idea that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas could be stabilised at no more than 450ppm CO2e without bringing the whole show to a grinding halt.
(the quote in the title of this post is the second half of the much over-quoted observation which begins "The Americans always do the right thing...")
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
P.S. 9 Nov: reporting on this issue improved over the next 24 hours, with US sources reporting the deaths, and UK press reporting Hamas calls for revenge.
Monday, November 06, 2006
The richest industrialised nations need to act much faster and more effectively to tackle climate change; but failure in the West is not a reason for people in China not to act urgently too.
1. The “safe” level of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is probably much lower than is generally understood.
Unless there is radical change in the way the world produces the energy it needs and how land and other resources are used, mankind is likely to change the global climate in ways that will impose big dangers and high costs on people and nations worldwide.
Other effects of global warming would include more storms of the kind that displaced millions of people and caused $15bn in damage to coastal provinces (according to reports from Xinhua in August 2006). And, as former US Vice President Al Gore points out in his film An Inconvenient Truth, if as now seems possible, warming causes a substantial part of land-based ice in the West Antartic Ice shelf and Greenland to melt, then sea level rise will displace tens of millions of people from the regions of Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere.
To avoid, or at least reduce the risk, of dangerous climate change with impact such as these it is necessary to:
- first, sharply reduce and then stop the increasing rate of emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and;
- second, reduce total global emissions in order to prevent atmospheric concentrations reaching substantially higher levels that trend lines indicate.
To date, much international discussion at the interface of science and politics has taken as a rule of thumb that, as a first step, global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) should be not exceed approximately twice concentrations before the modern industrial era. A typical range used is 500 to 560 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere (see, for example, Socolow et al, Science 2004, and Scientific American, Sept 2006).
Each part per million of CO2 corresponds to about 2.1bn tonnes of atmospheric carbon. The current level – about 380ppm – is 800bn tonnes. 560ppm would mean about 1,200 tonnes. On this reckoning the world adds 400bn tonnes of carbon to the global atmosphere, but no more, and not exceed this target.
It is sometimes argued that total global emissions of up to twice this amount, or 800bn tonnes, would be OK because vegetation, soils and the oceans will soak up half. But this argument is open to challenge. A warmer climate is likely to mean that vegetation and soils become a net source rather than a sink of carbon, leading to a positive feedback (warmer soils means more of the greenhouse gases CO2 and methane, more greenhouse gases means warmer soils and so on). And using the oceans as a sink causes acidification that scientists now think may cause the most rapid and disruptive change to life in the seas since catastrophic events tens of millions of years ago (see Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, Royal Society August 2005 and The other CO2 problem, New Scientist August 2006).
So it is far from sure that atmospheric concentrations of around 560ppm will be “safe” in the sense that this level will keep the risk of disasterous impacts, including those described for
Advisors to the British Government and others have suggested that 450 or even 400ppm of CO2 may be nearer the mark[i], with a 2 to 20% chance of a temperature increase of 5 degrees Centigrade[ii] if global greenhouse gas concentrations were stabilised at the equivalent of 430ppm CO2.
Virtually every advance in climate science points to bigger impacts and more serious consequences than previously predicted from human emissions of greenhouse gases. That being the case, caution is wise. And the time available to act is much shorter than is often thought. Currently, the combustion of coal, oil and gas, together with other activities, add approximately 7 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere every year. At the present rate, with no acceleration, it would probably take about 12 years for atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to reach 400ppm [iii]. Other stocks of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human action including methane and nitrous oxide have the effect of an additional 15% of CO2 so the actual human forcing on the atmosphere when CO2 levels are 400ppm will actually be equivalent to 460ppm.
If, at such a time, it became clear that a higher concentration would cause catastrophic damage, then to avoid those impacts all emissions would have to cease immediately[iv]. Since this is virtually unthinkable, there may well be much less than twelve years for the world to begin a rapid, rational and effective transition to a very low carbon economy.
It is likely that the risk of catastrophic climate change is already as much as one in five. The risk is increasing with every passing month that the world fails to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It’s like a game of Russian roulette: there is a bullet in one of the chambers of the revolver, and we are in the process of putting in a second bullet. The gun is pointed at the head of everyone in the world.
As mentioned above, global emissions are currently about 7bn tonnes of carbon a year.
But whatever the exact figures on Chinese emissions and those of other countries, there is some simple arithmetic from which we cannot escape – assuming, that is, that we want to start by stabilising global emissions at around today’s levels of 7 billion tonnes.
If present day global emissions were allocated equally to every person in the world,
Energy consumption in
3. This situation presents enormous political challenges, requiring extraordinary creativity and leadership at many levels within
One of the first things that comes up when
The responsibility of the rich industrialised nations to act first was recognised in the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. China is a signatory to the Protocol, and benefits from some investment in clean and renewable energy projects under the Clean Development Mechanism (see, for example, World's Biggest Greenhouse Gas Deal Takes Effect in Win-Win Situation for China, Industrialized Nations ). The European Union is also offering some additional assistance with projects such as carbon capture and storage for one coal fired plant by 2020 (see the article by Jon Gibbins on chinadialogue). The
Current actions in the richest countries are hugely, even grotesquely, inadequate given the need for cuts. So far, very few have reduced their emissions at all except as fortuitous byproduct of other measures. For example, in my own country,
The richest countries need to massively ratchet up their commitment to energy efficiency, demand management and clean energy at home and abroad.
Hundreds of millions of people have risen from poverty since
The political challenges to achieving greener growth and distributing its benefits widely and equitably are enormous. Support and advocacy by some at high levels of government, which occurs both in the West and
Government and civil society in
On 30 October the British government published a detailed assessment of the economic impacts of climate change. A team led by former World Bank chief economist Nick Stern concluded that the need for action was urgent, that acting now will be much cheaper than not acting, and that it is the only way to protect future economic growth in all countries. Crucially, “strong deliberate policies by goverments are essential to motivate change”. The British government has said it will introduce a bill in the next parliamentary session to address the challenge.
Many civil society groups in
On 4 November some tens of thousands of delegates from some of these groups, which comprise environment and conservation organisations, churches, unions and womens’ and others organisations, and have a combined membership of many millions, took part in one of a series of demonstrations in over 50 countries, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable such as Bangladesh, calling for faster action to reduce emissions by the rich countries. In
The path to a politics of climate change may be very different in
At the recent summit in .
[ii] Meinhausen 2006, cited in Stern Review, page 9
[iii] The calculation here is that at a rate of 7bn tonnes a year it takes 12 years to produce 84bn tonnes. 84bn tonnes translates to an additional 40ppm in the atmosphere, but half of this is soaked up by vegetation, soils and the oceans, meaning the net addition to the atmosphere over 12 years is approx 20ppm.
[iv] Some scientists suggest that a massive programmes to draw down carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere into stable sinks in soil and geological strata plus geoengineering to inject sulphates into the stratosphere could help should such a stage of crisis be reached. But such approaches are likely to be face both severe challenges of technical practicability and political acceptability.
[vii] 5.7 – 0.57 = 5.13
[viii] e.g. IIASA 1, 2 & 3 as cited by Japan’s National Institute of Environmental Sciences as cited in Stern supporting paper in ref 2 above