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The Great Unmentionable by George Monbiot.

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A real pleasure and privilege to republish this article from Mr. Monbiot.

For some time now I have subscribed to the articles published by The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.  From time to time references have been made to PRI articles here on Learning from Dogs.

Recently, I read a PRI essay that had been penned by George Monbiot.  It was called The Great Unmentionable.  It blew me away.  So I took a deep breath and dropped George M. an email asking if I might republish it here.  George was very gracious in giving me such permission.

Mr. George Monbiot.

Mr. George Monbiot.

First some background to George Monbiot for those who are unfamiliar with his work and his writings.  As his website explains:

I had an unhappy time at university, and I now regret having gone to Oxford, even though the zoology course I took – taught, among others, by Richard Dawkins, Bill Hamilton and John Krebs – was excellent. The culture did not suit me, and when I tried to join in I fell flat on my face, sometimes in a drunken stupor. I enjoyed the holidays more: I worked on farms and as a waterkeeper on the River Kennet. I spent much of the last two years planning my escape. There was only one job I wanted, and it did not yet exist: to make investigative environmental programmes for the BBC.

After hammering on its doors for a year, I received a phone call from the head of the BBC’s natural history unit during my final exams. He told me: “you’re so fucking persistent you’ve got the job.” They took me on, in 1985, as a radio producer, to make wildlife programmes. Thanks to a supportive boss, I was soon able to make the programmes I had wanted to produce. We broke some major stories. Our documentary on the sinking of a bulk carrier off the coast of Cork, uncovering evidence that suggested it had been deliberately scuppered, won a Sony award.

Anyway, to the article in question that was published on the Guardian Newspaper’s website, 12th April 2013.

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The Great Unmentionable

April 12, 2013

We have offshored both our consumption and our perceptions

By George Monbiot

Every society has topics it does not discuss. These are the issues which challenge its comfortable assumptions. They are the ones that remind us of mortality, which threaten the continuity we anticipate, which expose our various beliefs as irreconcilable.

Among them are the facts which sink the cosy assertion, that (in David Cameron’s words) “there need not be a tension between green and growth.”

At a reception in London recently I met an extremely rich woman, who lives, as most people with similar levels of wealth do, in an almost comically unsustainable fashion: jetting between various homes and resorts in one long turbo-charged holiday. When I told her what I did, she responded, “oh I agree, the environment is so important. I’m crazy about recycling.” But the real problem, she explained, was “people breeding too much”.

I agreed that population is an element of the problem, but argued that consumption is rising much faster and – unlike the growth in the number of people – is showing no signs of levelling off. She found this notion deeply offensive: I mean the notion that human population growth is slowing. When I told her that birth rates are dropping almost everywhere, and that the world is undergoing a slow demographic transition, she disagreed violently: she has seen, on her endless travels, how many children “all those people have”.

As so many in her position do, she was using population as a means of disavowing her own impacts. The issue allowed her to transfer responsibility to other people: people at the opposite end of the economic spectrum. It allowed her to pretend that her shopping and flying and endless refurbishments of multiple homes are not a problem. Recycling and population: these are the amulets people clasp in order not to see the clash between protecting the environment and rising consumption.

In a similar way, we have managed, with the help of a misleading global accounting system, to overlook one of the gravest impacts of our consumption. This too has allowed us to blame foreigners – particularly poorer foreigners – for the problem.

When nations negotiate global cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, they are held responsible only for the gases produced within their own borders. Partly as a result of this convention, these tend to be the only ones that countries count. When these “territorial emissions” fall, they congratulate themselves on reducing their carbon footprints. But as markets of all kinds have been globalised, and as manufacturing migrates from rich nations to poorer ones, territorial accounting bears ever less relationship to our real impacts.

While this is an issue which affects all post-industrial countries, it is especially pertinent in the United Kingdom, where the difference between our domestic and international impacts is greater than that of any other major emitter. The last government boasted that this country cut greenhouse gas emissions by 19% between 1990 and 2008. It positioned itself (as the current government does) as a global leader, on course to meet its own targets, and as an example for other nations to follow.

But the cut the UK has celebrated is an artefact of accountancy. When the impact of the goods we buy from other nations is counted, our total greenhouse gases did not fall by 19% between 1990 and 2008. They rose by 20%. This is despite the replacement during that period of many of our coal-fired power stations with natural gas, which produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide for every unit of electricity. When our “consumption emissions”, rather than territorial emissions, are taken into account, our proud record turns into a story of dismal failure.

There are two further impacts of this false accounting. The first is that because many of the goods whose manufacture we commission are now produced in other countries, those places take the blame for our rising consumption. We use China just as we use the population issue: as a means of deflecting responsibility. What’s the point of cutting our own consumption, a thousand voices ask, when China is building a new power station every 10 seconds (or whatever the current rate happens to be)?

But, just as our position is flattered by the way greenhouse gases are counted, China’s is unfairly maligned. A graph published by the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee shows that consumption accounting would reduce China’s emissions by roughly 45%. Many of those power stations and polluting factories have been built to supply our markets, feeding an apparently insatiable demand in the UK, the US and other rich nations for escalating quantities of stuff.

gm1

The second thing the accounting convention has hidden from us is consumerism’s contribution to global warming. Because we consider only our territorial emissions, we tend to emphasise the impact of services – heating, lighting and transport for example – while overlooking the impact of goods. Look at the whole picture, however, and you discover (using the Guardian’s carbon calculator) that manufacturing and consumption is responsible for a remarkable 57% of the greenhouse gas production caused by the UK.

Unsurprisingly, hardly anyone wants to talk about this, as the only meaningful response is a reduction in the volume of stuff we consume. And this is where even the most progressive governments’ climate policies collide with everything else they represent. As Mustapha Mond points out in Brave New World, “industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning”.

The wheels of the current economic system – which depends on perpetual growth for its survival – certainly. The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.

By considering only our territorial emissions, we make the impacts of our escalating consumption disappear in a puff of black smoke: we have offshored the problem, and our perceptions of it.

But at least in a couple of places the conjuring trick is beginning to attract some attention.

On April 16th, the Carbon Omissions site will launch a brilliant animation by Leo Murray, neatly sketching out the problem*. The hope is that by explaining the issue simply and engagingly, his animation will reach a much bigger audience than articles like the one you are reading can achieve.

(*Declaration of interest (unpaid): I did the voiceover).

On April 24th, the Committee on Climate Change (a body that advises the UK government) will publish a report on how consumption emissions are likely to rise, and how government policy should respond to the issue.

I hope this is the beginning of a conversation we have been avoiding for much too long. How many of us are prepared fully to consider the implications?

www.monbiot.com

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So very difficult to pick out the sentence that carried the most power, for the essay is powerful from start to end.  But this one did hit me in the face, “The impossibility of sustaining this system of endless, pointless consumption without the continued erosion of the living planet and the future prospects of humankind, is the conversation we will not have.

Finally, I can’t resist reminding you, dear reader, of the point made by Prof. Guy McPherson in his book Walking Away from Empire, which I reviewed on March 6th.  particularly in the first paragraph of the first chapter; Reason:

At this late juncture in the era of industry, it seems safe to assume we face one of two futures. If we continue to burn fossil fuels, we face imminent environmental collapse. If we cease burning fossil fuels, the industrial economy will collapse. Industrial humans express these futures as a choice between your money or your life, and tell you that, without money, life isn’t worth living. As should be clear by now, industrial humans — or at least our “leaders” — have chosen not door number one (environmental collapse) and not door number two (economic collapse), but both of the above.

Maybe this is why we seem unable to have the conversation because to do so means we have to look at ourselves in the mirror.  Each one of us, you and me, has to address something so deeply personal.  Back to Prof. McPherson and page 177 of his book (my emphasis):

It’s no longer just the living planet we should be concerned about. It’s us. The moral question, then: What are you going to do about it?

For my money, Mr. Monbiot is yet another voice of reason in the wilderness; another voice that deserves to be followed.  I say this because by way of introduction to his philosophy, he opens thus:

My job is to tell people what they don’t want to hear. That is not what I set out to do. I wanted only to cover the subjects I thought were interesting and important. But wherever I turned, I met a brick wall of denial.

Denial is everywhere. I have come to believe that it’s an intrinsic component of our humanity, an essential survival strategy. Unlike other species, we know that we will die. This knowledge could destroy us, were we unable to blot it out. But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.

“… until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.”

I sense the growing of this threat to the point where maybe within less than a year the vast majority of open-minded, thinking individuals know the truth of where we are all heading.

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Plus ça change – sequel

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”).

As I wrote yesterday, “… out of curiosity I wondered what I had published a year ago, in early February 2012.  To my amazement what was published was as fresh and relevant as if it had been published today.

So here’s the second part of that trilogy of posts from February, 2012.  (It reads in its original form with the links and references unchanged.)

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Climate, truth and integrity, part two

Continuing from Part One last Friday.

Last Friday I started re-publishing the wonderful comments that had appeared on Climate Sight in response to a question that I had raised, namely,

While in every way that I can think of, I support the premise of mankind affecting global climate, I would love to hear from someone who could reconcile the Post above with these recent items:” and then included the links to the WSJ and Daily Mail items.

If you are not familiar with those WSJ and Daily Mail items, then you will need to go back to Friday’s Post.

So moving on.

The third response was from chrisd3, here’s what he wrote,

Paul, here is the Met Office’s response, which begins, “[The Daily Mail] article includes numerous errors in the reporting of published peer reviewed science undertaken by the Met Office Hadley Centre and for Mr. Rose to suggest that the latest global temperatures available show no warming in the last 15 years is entirely misleading.”

Here is Deltoid taking David Rose apart on some earlier pieces:

And NASA never said anything about the Thames freezing over. Rose just made that bit up.

Finally, here is a chart of global temps from HadCRU:

From this, it is pretty clear why Rose chooses 15 years as his starting point: 1997-1998 was the time of the largest El Nino ever recorded, resulting in a huge temperature spike. Using that as the starting point for a temperature comparison is absolutely classic cherry-picking.

And in any event, you can’t say anything about trends in noisy data by simply comparing two arbitrary points. That is not a valid way to analyze the data (especially if you pick an obvious outlier as your starting point!). It is like trying to say whether the tide is coming in or going out by looking at the height of two waves. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to look at the long-term trend to remove the noise.

Let me take you to that Met Office response (and I’m republishing it in full).

Met Office in the Media: 29 January 2012

Today the Mail on Sunday published a story written by David Rose entitled “Forget global warming – it’s Cycle 25 we need to worry about”.

This article includes numerous errors in the reporting of published peer reviewed science undertaken by the Met Office Hadley Centre and for Mr. Rose to suggest that the latest global temperatures available show no warming in the last 15 years is entirely misleading.

Despite the Met Office having spoken to David Rose ahead of the publication of the story, he has chosen to not fully include the answers we gave him to questions around decadal projections produced by the Met Office or his belief that we have seen no warming since 1997.

For clarity I have included our full response to David Rose below:A spokesman for the Met Office said: “The ten year projection remains groundbreaking science. The complete period for the original projection is not over yet and these projections are regularly updated to take account of the most recent data.
“The projections are probabilistic in nature, and no individual forecast should be taken in isolation. Instead, several decades of data will be needed to assess the robustness of the projections.

“However, what is absolutely clear is that we have continued to see a trend of warming, with the decade of 2000-2009 being clearly the warmest in the instrumental record going back to 1850. Depending on which temperature records you use, 2010 was the warmest year on record  for NOAA NCDC and NASA GISS, and the second warmest on record in HadCRUT3.”

Global average temperatures from 1850 to 2011 from the three individual global temperature datasets (Met Office/UEA HadCRUT3, NASA GISS and NOAA NCDC)

Furthermore despite criticism of a paper published by the Met Office he chose not to ask us to respond to his misconceptions. The study in question, supported by many others, provides an insight into the sensitivity of our climate to changes in the output of the sun.

It confirmed that although solar output is likely to reduce over the next 90 years this will not substantially delay expected increases in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases. The study found that the expected decrease in solar activity would only most likely cause a reduction in global temperatures of 0.08 °C. This compares to an expected warming of about 2.5 °C over the same period due to greenhouse gases (according to the IPCC’s B2 scenario for greenhouse gas emissions that does not involve efforts to mitigate emissions).  In addition the study also showed that if solar output reduced below that seen in the Maunder Minimum – a period between 1645 and 1715 when solar activity was at its lowest observed level – the global temperature reduction would be 0.13C.

Back to that response from chrisd3.  He offered this, “Finally, here is a chart of global temps from HadCRU.”  Here is that chart, remember we are looking at Global temperatures.

Global temperature trend

OK, between this Post and my Post last Friday, you probably get the message!  There were many other contributions and I could go on and on quoting the great responses I got, all of them uniformly saying there IS global warming unprecedented in recent years.  The message is crystal clear and those who wish to deny the evidence … well, I can’t come up with a polite term, so will just leave it at that!

My final contribution is from Martin Lack, author of the Blog Lack of Environment, and a good friend of Learning from Dogs.  Here is what he wrote in a recent email,

You may have seen my latest response to How much is most?

When I eventually saw your earlier comment, I was surprised and disappointed in equal measure because I almost feel that I have failed in some way. Let me explain:  Unlike ClimateSight and SkepticalScience, which both do an excellent job of focusing on the science of climate change, my blog is deliberately focused on the politics underlying the denial of all environmental our problems; including 2 key aspects to my MA dissertation, namely the political misuse of scepticism; and the psychology of denial.  See my How to be a Climate Change ‘Sceptic’  for more detail.

Therefore, although not specifically categorised as such, just about everything I have posted is traceable back to Paul and Anne Ehrlich’sBetrayal of Science and Reason (1996) and/or Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt (2010).  For someone who does not currently go to any Church, I am remarkably fond of quoting Scripture so, if necessary, please forgive me but, as the Good Book says:  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Therefore, I do not think you should be surprised by the amount of misinformation and misrepresentation contained in the original WSJ Sixteen’s article; and/or the fact that denialist arguments are repeated no matter how many times they have been shown to be false.  Furthermore, I would warn against trying to summarise it all on Learning from Dogs.  This is definitely Book territory and, in addition to the two mentioned above, the market is already saturated by the likes of Climate Change Cover-up by James Hoggan and Climate Change Denial by Haydn Washington and John Cook.

With very best wishes for a fog-free future,

What to say to close these two Posts off?  Frankly, it’s difficult to know how to pitch it.  The science seems clear beyond reasonable doubt.  But if you are reading this and disagree, then PLEASE offer the science to refute the conclusions presented here.  I promise you that I will present it on Learning from Dogs.

So let me end with a simple photograph.

Earthrise

This is the photograph that wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called, “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”

The now world-famous photograph was taken by Astronaut William Anders from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, a little over 43 years ago on December 24th, 1968.

As the Earth rose above the horizon of the moon, NASA astronaut Frank Borman uttered the words, “Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.”  Bill Anders then took the ‘unscheduled’ photograph.

Now project forward 43 years to the year 2055 and play with the idea of what ‘pretty‘ planet Earth will be like for mankind and so many other species, including our longest companion, the dog, if we don’t get our act together pretty soon!

Sandy’s legacy perhaps?

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Will history show in a few years that Hurricane Sandy was a turning point?

Not available to watch in the USA, there’s been a programme on BBC TV under the heading of Sandy: Analysis of a Hurricane.  I am told by those who have watched it that it is chilling in a very frightening way.  It shows the power, both literally and metaphorically, of the effects of much warmer seas off the US eastern seaboard.

Yesterday was the concluding part of Ellen Cantarow’s essay.  If you missed it and want to read it, Part One is here and Part Two here.  In that second part, I included a video showing graphically, in a very creative way, the effect of New York City addeding 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent) to the atmosphere in 2010.  I saw that video in a recent post by Christine of 350orbust fame.

Christine has very kindly given me written permission to republish that post.  I have left out the video as that was included on Learning from Dogs yesterday, as just mentioned.

Our Carbon Pollution: Is It Different From Raw Sewage?

In a very short time – years or at most decades – humans will look back at our spewing of carbon pollution into the atmosphere with the same disgust and disbelief that we now look back on people in the middle ages in Europe who dumped their raw sewage into the streets. Here’s a recent video that makes tangible the carbon emissions that New York City spews out every day.

The good news is that Hurricane Sandy may have started a new discussion in the U.S. on climate change in general, and pricing carbon pollution in particular (sadly, in Canada we are lagging far behind. Our current federal government is intent on dragging us back into the 20th Century):

  • Speaking to Bloomberg News, oil and gas giant Exxon reiterated its support for a carbon tax yesterday. A spokeswoman for the company said that the tool could “play a significant role in addressing the challenge of rising emissions.” Click here to read full article.
  • The right wing American Enterprise Institute recently held a day-long conference on pricing carbon: Yesterday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conference to talk about anything and everything related to the economics of carbon taxes.  Normally, a full-day conference with more than a dozen speakers on a tax issue in DC will be lucky to get more than a few dozen attendees, even with a free lunch.  Carbon taxes, though, are different.  The enthusiasm for this issue is such that there were over 200 attendees, many of whom stood for half the day.

What makes carbon taxes different? Simply put, people across the political spectrum now know that putting a price on carbon is an indispensable tool for dealing with our climate and budget problems, and that a carbon tax is the most politically viable path forward.  This dynamic has created an exciting amount of momentum that now needs to be turned into policy. Read more on ThinkProgress.

  • This week, in an open letter, a coalition of the world’s largest investors (responsible for managing $22.5 trillion in assets) called on governments on Tuesday to ramp up action on climate change and boost clean-energy investment or risk trillions of dollars in investments and disruption to economies. They said rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme weather were increasing investment risks globally.
  • The World Bank – now headed by a scientist, for the first time ever – released a report this week calling for urgent action on climate change. “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” warns we’re on track for a 4°C warmer world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.
  • On the good news front – the Tesla Model S won the 2013 Car of The Year award, the first electric car to win in the 60 year history of the award! Read more. Also under the heading of  “good news”, Harvard Students have voted to support their university’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry (read more).

It feels like we’re on the edge of a paradigm shift. What do you think?

For all our sakes, I do hope Christine is correct in her judgment.

A journey of tears.

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Day by day we threaten the planet we all live on.

It struck me recently that there is no easy journey of change.  Must have been like that since time immemorial.  Using the phrase ‘no easy journey’, is a safe interpretation!  The reality for all thinking, feeling individuals when we look at the madness of where mankind has arrived and the journey ahead must cause us all to weep; not all that infrequently I suspect.  Hence my choice of title for today’s Post on Learning from Dogs.

Maybe I am drawn to this reflective mood because I have finished James Hansen’s book, Storms of my Grandchildren.  To say it has disturbed me is a massive understatement.  But let me not wander off into some emotional haze but come back to the journey.

The road to hell.

Let’s take coal.  Here are Hansen’s thoughts on “Old King Coal” going back to 2007.  Note: CCS stands for carbon capture and sequestration.

Scientific data reveal that the Earth is close to dangerous climate change, to tipping points that could produce irreversible effects. Global warming of 0.6°C in the past 30 years has brought the Earth’s temperature back to about the peak level of the Holocene, the current period of climate stability, now of nearly 12,000 year duration, and more warming is “in the pipeline” due to human-made greenhouse gases already in the air. The Earth’s history tells us that the world is approaching a dangerous level of greenhouse gases, a level that would produce accelerating sea level rise, extermination of many animal and plant species, and intensification of regional climate extremes, including floods, storms, droughts and forest fires. It is urgent to slow emissions, as another decade of increasing emissions would practically guarantee elimination of Arctic sea ice, accelerating disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, and regional climate deterioration during coming decades.

The most important time-critical action needed to avert climate disasters concerns coal. Consider: 1) one-quarter of fossil fuel CO2 emission remains in the air for more than 500 years, 2) conventional oil and gas reserves are sufficient to take atmospheric CO2 at least to the vicinity of the “dangerous” level, and it is impractical to capture their CO2 emission as it is mostly from small sources (vehicles), 3) coal reserves are far greater than oil and gas reserves, and most coal use is at power plants, where it is feasible to capture and permanently sequester the CO2 underground (CCS = carbon capture and sequestration). Clear implication: the only practical way to keep CO2 below or close to the “dangerous level” is to phase out coal use during the next few decades, except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.

The resulting imperative is an immediate moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants without CCS. A surge in global coal use in the last few years has converted a potential slowdown of CO2 emissions into a more rapid increase. But the main reason for the proposed moratorium is that a CO2 molecule from coal, in effect, is more damaging than a CO2 molecule from oil. CO2 in readily available oil almost surely will end up in the atmosphere, it is only a question of when, and when does not matter much, given its long lifetime. CO2 in coal does not need to be released to the atmosphere, but if it is, it cannot be recovered and will make disastrous climate change a near certainty.

The moratorium must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level), despite large present CO2 emissions in developing countries. The moratorium must extend to developing countries within a decade, but that will not happen unless developed countries fulfill their moral obligation to lead this moratorium. If Britain should initiate this moratorium, there is a strong possibility of positive feedback, a domino effect, with Germany, Europe, and the United States following, and then, probably with technical assistance, developing countries.

A spreading moratorium on construction of dirty (no CCS) coal plants is the sine quo non for stabilizing climate and preserving creation. It would need to be followed by phase-out of existing dirty coal plants in the next few decades, but would that be so difficult? Consider the other benefits: cleanup of local pollution, conditions in China and India now that greatly damage human health and agriculture, and present global export of pollution, including mercury that is accumulating in fish stock throughout the ocean.

There are long lists of things that people can do to help mitigate climate change. But for reasons quantified in my most recent publication, “How Can We Avert Dangerous Climate Change?” a moratorium on coal-fired power plants without CCS is by far the most important action that needs to be pursued. It should be the rallying issue for young people. The future of the planet in their lifetime is at stake. This is not an issue for only Bangladesh and the island nations, but for all humanity and other life on the planet. It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty (no CCS) coal-fired power plants. No doubt our poor communication of the matter deserves much of the blame. Suggestions for how to improve that communication are needed.

OK, before I finish off, enjoy Hansen’s interview on CBS’s “Late Show with David Letterman” which has found it’s way onto YouTube, (I found the sound level pretty low!)

All of us who embrace this beautiful planet and acknowledge the extraordinary set of circumstances that enabled man to achieve so much must now weep.  Weep for what we have unwittingly done to Planet Earth, and hope our tears bring about change.

Helping the planet – afterthought

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A valuable contribution from a reader.

Yesterday, I posted an item built around a visit by Prof.  Nicole Darnall, ASU, outlining the practical ways that a society can respond to the present challenges.

That post prompted a email to me from a Environmental Specialist who did not have the authority to speak publicly.  Nonetheless, it seems perfectly valid to voice those views, as follows:

Dear Mr. Handover:

I found your posting via a Google alert I’ve set up. I like your idea of trying to pull the high-flying concept of saving the planet down to a local level by referencing analysis from a local expert.

But I wonder whether you chose the right expert; e.g., if Dr. Darnall’s forecast is correct, then her recommendation of Meatless Mondays won’t go far and fast enough. It can’t even be said to be a good start — as its very name locks people into thinking that just one meatless day suffices. In fact, no consumer product is ever marketed by asking consumers to use it just one day a week; e.g., very little Pepsi-Cola would be sold by prodding consumers to drink it one day a week, conceding that Coca-Cola remains the drink of choice the rest of the week. A City University of London prof might be making more sense when he recommends one meat day per week, see Eat meat on feast days only to fight obesity, says adviser.

Producing meat is harmful for the environment as growing animals requires energy and water, and cows produce the greenhouse gas methane Photo: Christopher Jones

Preceding Dr. Darnall’s recommendation is her assessment, which states that methane has 21 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.  But climate authorities now say methane has 25 times the effect of CO2 over a 100-year timeframe and 72 over a 20-year timeframe — which many use because methane’s half-life in the atmosphere is only about 10 years — while others use even higher figures;  e.g., see Cornell Gas Study Stirs Heated Debate

A study examining the greenhouse impacts of methane leaks in the unconventional natural gas industry has proved highly controversial.

Below you can see I’ve addressed some even more basic points to Dr. Darnall directly;  I haven’t yet had any reply.

The Environmental Specialist also included some important and pertinent points that had been sent to Dr. Darnall but I have decided to delay including that ‘letter’ for a short while in the hope that Dr. Darnall will reply.  But read the items that are linked to above.

Footnote.

Do also read the comments that came in to yesterday’s Post.

Is it me? Or are we all truly insane?

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At times it does seem as though we, as in mankind, are truly beyond help!

If you detect a note of frustration in the title of today’s Post and the sub-heading above, then you are not mistaken.  It comes from a series of communications that have impinged upon my consciousness over the last twelve hours or so.

This morning Rob I., from here in Payson, emailed me a scan of an article in today’s (Monday) The Arizona Republic newspaper, written by Doyle Rice.  It was entitled Study: Global temps may jump 5 degrees by 2050

I’m going to take the liberty of reproducing it in full.

As the U.S. simmers through its hottest March on record — with more than 6,000 record-high temperatures already set this month — a new study released Sunday shows that average global temperatures could climb 2.5 to 5.4 degrees by 2050 if greenhouse-gas emissions continue unabated.

The study findings are based on the results of 10,000 computer model simulations of future weather overseen by researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

“These are the first results to suggest that the higher warming scenario could be plausible,” said study lead author Dan Rowlands of Oxford.

It is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.

Most scientists say that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal are causing the planet to warm to levels that cannot be explained by natural variability.

The study was published online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience and backs up similar predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.

The climate models used in the study accurately reproduced actual, observed temperature changes over the last 50 years. Assuming that models that simulate past warming realistically are the best candidates for future warming predictions, the authors conclude in the study that a warming of 2.5 to 5.4 degrees by 2050, compared with the 1960-90 average, is in the “likely range” of climate warming.

The Earth’s average temperature during the decade of 2000-10 was almost a full degree higher than the average from 1960-90, Rowlands said.

I don’t feel too bad at ‘borrowing’ the story above because I also subscribe to the UK’s Met Office News Blog and, guess what, in my ‘in-box’ this morning were two news stories from the Met Office.  Let me take them in this order.

The first one I want to refer to here is this Citizen science looks at future warming uncertainty  and includes the link to the Nature Geoscience magazine article that prompted the story in The Arizona Republic.

This is how it develops,

A project running almost 10,000 climate simulations on volunteers’ home computers has found that a global warming of 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 is ‘equally plausible’ as a rise of 1.4 degrees.

The study addresses some of the uncertainties that previous forecasts, using simpler models or only a few dozen simulations, may have over-looked.

Importantly, the forecast range is derived from using a complex Met Office model that accurately reproduces observed temperature changes over the last 50 years.

The results suggest that the world is very likely to cross the ’2 degrees barrier’ at some point this century if emissions continue unabated.

It also suggests that those planning for the impacts of climate change need to consider the possibility of warming of up to 3 degrees (above the 1961-1990 average) by 2050, even on a mid-range emission scenario. This is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.

Just go and read that last paragraph again: “This is a faster rate of warming than most other models predict.

Then the next item from the Met Office blog was this,  Why is it so warm?  It’s referring to the specific weather conditions in the UK at present:

The last few days have been unseasonably warm but why is this happening so early in the year? The answer lies largely in the air flow directly above the United Kingdom but more importantly where that air has come from.

Just a few paragraphs down we read, “we have seen a new record high for Scotland in March as the temperature reached 22.8 °C  [73.04 °F] at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire on Sunday 25 March.”  So another temperature record!

I had a quick call with Martin Lack about an hour before starting this Post and he pointed me to the Australian website of CSIRO.  There we find the latest State of the Climate report, from which we read,

The previous State of the Climate, released in March 2010 highlighted a multi-decadal warming trend over Australia’s land and oceans, an increase in record hot days and decrease in record cold days across the country, a decrease in rainfall in southwest and southeast Australia, an increase in global sea level, and increases in global greenhouse gas concentrations.

Do read the full report starting here.  Or if you want a video to watch, then here it is:

Dr Karl Braganza from the Climate Monitoring Section of the Bureau of Meteorology discusses the State of the Climate in 2012.

Also on the CSIRO website is a small piece saying,

Planet Under Pressure 2012

Scientists from around the globe are meeting in London in March to discuss ‘solutions, at all scales, to move societies on to a sustainable pathway’. Planet Under Pressure 2012 is designed to bring together senior policymakers, industry leaders, NGOs, young scientists, the media, health specialists, and academics from many disciplines.
25 March 2012

Meeting to discuss ‘solutions, at all scales, to move societies on to a sustainable pathway’.  Any rational thinking person on this planet if given a chance to reflect on the science knows we have to change our ways.  And the means to do it are clear; we are not talking rocket-science here.

So when Martin Lack catches my attention with a recent piece entitled The seven woes of the Tea Party and I am linked to this article by Rick Santorum, I feel as though it must be me!  This is what Mr. Santorum writes:

The Elephant in the Room: Challenging science dogma

As with evolution, the ‘consensus’ on climate change has become an ideology.

Questioning the scientific consensus in pursuit of the truth is an important part of how science has advanced through the centuries. But what happens when the scientific consensus becomes an ideology that trumps the pursuit of truth? Answer: Those making legitimate inquiries are ostracized, the careers of dissenters are destroyed, and debate is stifled.

Unfortunately, I am referring not only to the current proponents of the theory of man-made global warming.

With the penultimate paragraph reading thus,

Why? Well, maybe because Americans don’t like being told what to believe. Maybe because we have learned to be skeptical of “scientific” claims, particularly those at war with our common sense – like the Darwinists’ telling us for decades that we are just a slightly higher form of life than a bacterium that is here purely by chance, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s informing us last week that man-made carbon dioxide – a gas that humans exhale and plants need to live, a gas that represents less than 0.1 percent of the atmosphere – is a dangerous pollutant threatening to overheat the world.

Frankly, I am lost for words and probably best that I am!  Lost because irrespective of political ‘left’ or ‘right’ the science of where this so-called intelligent species we call homo sapiens is heading, is beyond question.  I use the phrase ‘beyond question’ not as a statement of fact but as a statement of truth.  For science, as this non-scientist understands it, is about distinguishing the truth from ‘non-truth’.

Our beautiful companions for thousands of years truly do know better.  That’s the truth you see in those eyes below.

The truth is always clear, Mr. Man. Just open your eyes!

Meating climate change!

with 3 comments

An interesting reflection on the rearing of cattle and an ‘Anti-Meat pill!  No kidding!

I was vaguely aware of the contribution of cattle towards the overall rise in greenhouse gases.  A very quick web search found this news item from the United Nations which included,

29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released today.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

But what prompted me to look a little closer at this was a recent article on the Big Think website that was entitled, The Anti-Meat Pill: Human Engineering to Combat Climate Change.

Let me quote a little from the article, presented on the Big Think website by Daniel Honan.

NYU Bio-ethicist Matthew Liao has caused a stir recently with a forthcoming paper that explores the biomedical modification of humans in order to stop us from consuming red meat.

and a paragraph later continued with,

In a forthcoming paper to be published in Ethics, Policy and the Environment, Liao suggests that humans might take pills to bring about mild nausea to rid ourselves of our appetite for red meat. This would have a mitigating effect on climate change, he argues.

Liao refers to studies such as a widely-sited UN report that estimates 18 percent of greenhouse emissions come from livestock, which is a higher share than transportation. Another report, from 2009, estimates livestock emissions are significantly higher, at 50 percent. Fact of life: cows fart. Other negative impacts of increased livestock farming includes deforestation and a drain on water supplies.

The Internet rapidly found Matthew Liao’s website and from there the paper referred to above, which is introduced thus,

Professor Matthew Liao of New York University

Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change.

Now if we go back to that UN article, we can see that emissions from cattle and livestock in general is not a minor issue.

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.

But modifying humans, frankly, misses the point.

That is unless we wholeheartedly embrace the need to change, to sustain the only planet we can call home, and do it because we care, Planet Earth will do the bioengineering for us – engineering us into extinction.  For example, just cut back on eating meat!  And if you don’t want to do it for the planet, do it for the health of your children as this Health Petition underlines in spades.

So I’m sorry Professor Liao but this seems like a step too far – by a long way.

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