Tag: environment

Helping a pair of young birds.

Hoping that this story of rescuing some young birds may be of help to others.

Last Saturday afternoon we were sitting outside under the shade with the ‘kitchen’ group of dogs enjoying themselves.

Jean and I noticed Casey taking a great interest in something on the ground.  Casey is a keen explorer as this photograph from earlier in the year demonstrates.

Casey demonstrating a dog's focussing skills!
Casey demonstrating a dog’s focussing skills!

The something that had caught Casey’s attention was a small baby bird that had fallen from a nearby nest.  We called Casey away and went across to see the tiny creature whereupon Jean picked up the baby bird.

The patch of ground where the birds were found.
The patch of ground where the birds were found.

Frankly, we didn’t have a clue as to what to do but called Wildlife Images, just a few miles away from where we live.  As the Wildlife Images website explains:

Our guiding principles are the foundation for “why” we do what we do. These principles guide us in our work, our relationships with each other, our guests, supporters, sponsors, and vendors.

Saving Wildlife

Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center is the educational leader of a healthy co-existence with our wildlife neighbors by rehabilitation sick, injured, and orphaned animals.

Involve – people to share in our vision.
Educate – children and adults about the personal benefits of taking care of wildlife entrusted to our care.
Inspire – the public to engage in our rehabilitation and education efforts.

Jean and I had previously visited the centre and been impressed with their dedication to saving wildlife.

Over the phone we were told that the best thing to do was try and find the old nest and replace the baby bird within the nest.  If all else failed then bring the bird across to Wildlife Images.

Frankly, we struggled to find the nest but at least got a ladder up against the likely tree from where the bird had fallen.

It was as we were getting the ladder in place that we discovered another tiny bird on the ground in amongst the dead leaves and ground cover.  Now we had two birds and knew we were struggling to do the right thing for these vulnerable creatures.

We drove across to Wildlife Images and they advised us to build an artificial nest and hang that up in the tree.  The call of the baby birds would attract the mother and, with a bit of luck, the mother would return to feeding the chicks again.  We were also told to speak quietly around the baby birds so that they wouldn’t imprint on our voice.  Apparently that was the greater risk of them being rejected rather than the smell of humans on their little bodies.

So back home we went and soon had a makeshift ‘nest’ in place.

Would it work?
Would it work?

Once the ‘nest box’ was in place, it was time to place the youngsters in their new home.

Good luck, my little things.
Good luck, my little things.

We left the birds in peace and went inside for a while.  Our fear was that they might try leaping out.

Then curiosity got the better of us and we needed to see if they were still alright.  So a couple of hours later, I took the following photograph.

Against all odds!
Against all odds!

The evening approached and we feared for their fate.

Then miracle of miracles we saw the mother come to them and start feeding her offspring.

We retired for the day content that we had done all we could.

Then on Sunday morning, bright and early, we went outside again.  Had they survived the night?  Had the mother returned to feed them this second day?

We heard nothing: saw nothing. Feared the worst.

It was no good, I had to climb the ladder and take a peek.

Still alive!
Still alive!

They were still in the land of the living!

Yet, there was still no sign of the mother.

Jean and I sat under our nearby gazebo and tried hard not to fear the worst.  My camera was on my lap.

Then Jean saw a flash of feathers.  It was the mother arriving to feed her young.

I was able to take the following picture.

Not the best quality picture but so what!  It's proof the birds are being cared for by their mother.
Not the best quality picture but so what! It’s proof the birds are being cared for by their mother.

In the scheme of things, rescuing a couple of small birds doesn’t add up to much.  But I’ll tell you! When Jean and I saw the mother feeding her young both of us were a little wet around the eyes!

Food – early green shoots.

Excuse the pun! But there are signs of change.

Yesterday’s post spelled out in letters bold, so to speak, the madness of our present relationship with food.  As in the blindness of the vast majority of consumers when it comes to our consumption of food.  Such as the blindness of Americans, for example!  Presuming that few are aware that feeding all of us Americans accounts for about 15% of US energy use, [1] and the average food item travels more than 5,000 miles from farm to fork. [2]

So it’s encouraging to see that there are signs of hope.

For example, in the UK, Martin Crawford has a wealth of information about forest gardening on his website The Forest Garden.

Welcome to the Forest Garden.

Inspired by the effortless abundance in nature we believe that forest gardens are the best way to produce local wholesome organic food, timber products and a myriad of other natural non-wood items. Forest gardens, with careful design and management, also improve degraded soils and create wildlife havens, employment and beauty. We love this way of gardening and farming with nature, we hope you do too.

We’ve just started to create the largest Forest Garden site in UK so please check back regularly to see how we’re getting on.

And Martin’s thirteen-minute video on the topic is pure inspiration.

Then in the USA, we see the increasing power of the voice of such organisations as the Post Carbon Institute whose mission statement reads:

Post Carbon Institute provides individuals, communities, businesses, and governments with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy, environmental, and equity crises that define the 21st century. We envision a world of resilient communities and re-localized economies that thrive within ecological bounds.

Watch the PCI’s Overview video here.

Still in the USA but much closer to home, indeed just a four-minute drive away, is Sweet Water Farm.

A picture from Sweet Water Farm.
A picture from Sweet Water Farm.

Sweet Water Farm is a small family owned and operated farm located in beautiful Hugo, Oregon near the base of Mt. Sexton. Sam and Denise work the fields with their son Ari and daughter Ivory overseeing the operation. Our mission is to provide healthy food to our community while take care of the place we call home.

Then we have the Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute with more resources for us. And the Siskiyou Permaculture Resources Group. With more for us, I don’t doubt!

So how to leave this?

Firstly, by reminding ourselves of Rebecca Hosking’s Modbury, Devon farm.

Secondly, by reading the article in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper back in February, 2009. From which I quote:

More than 96 per cent of all the food grown in Britain is reliant on synthetic fertiliser. Without it we’d be in serious trouble.

But without artificial fertiliser there’s not enough nutrients for the crops to grow, and without ploughing there is nothing to aerate the soil. So how can we manage without them?

The answers are in nature. As Charles Darwin pointed out, earthworms have been ploughing and aerating the soil for millions of years. And as for fertilisers, just look at how a forest flourishes: by using the natural fertility created by billions of living microbes, fungi, plants and animals.

“The answers are in nature.”

What better way than that to close today’s post!


[1] Patrick Canning, Ainsley Charles, Sonya Huang, Karen R. Polenske, and Arnold Waters. Energy Use in the US Food System. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. (ERR-94) 39 pp, March 2010.
[2] Christopher Weber and H. Scott Matthews. 2008. Food Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States Environmental Science and Technology 42: 3508-3513.

The future of food – introduction.

How food and carbon-based energy are irresistibly woven together.


Jean and I watched this BBC Nature programme the other evening.  Not directly from the BBC but because it has been uploaded to YouTube and thence was promoted on Top Documentary Films.

The film is 48-minutes long and, frankly, there’s not much point in reading the rest of the post until you have viewed the film!

Wildlife film maker Rebecca Hosking investigates how to transform her family’s farm in Devon into a low energy farm for the future, and discovers that nature holds the key.

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realising that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

Nature holds the key!

So, rather than tempt you to read on and not watch the film, that’s all you are getting for today! 😉

Settle yourself down somewhere comfortable and watch the film.

Trust me, it will open your eyes!

My main essay follows tomorrow!

Oregon wolves, and book writing!

Just wanted to share some good news with you. Well, regarding Oregon’s wolves!

My so-called book has rather ground to a halt.  Sturdy followers of this blog will recall that in November last year, I sat down and wrote the first draft of a book, under the umbrella of NaNoWriMo = write a minimum of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.  That I did write in excess of 50,000 words (53,704) in under thirty days felt a wonderful achievement.

But then reality set in!

I subscribed to a NaNoWriMo webinar on editing hosted by David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut of The Book Doctors. To my horror, half-way through the webinar came the realisation that what I had written wasn’t even a fictional novel: It was a personal story on the theme of what dogs have taught me over a life of approaching 70 years.

So those 53,000 words had to be rewritten as non-fiction book!

The next boulder to cause me to fall was the issue of tense.  The book had been written in the 3rd-person, as you can see from the draft of Chapter Twenty-Three.  But the more that I thought about the story the more that it felt that it should be in the 1st-person; namely this first person!  Reinforced by feedback from Jeannie and from reading Melinda Roth’s latest book Mestengo clearly written in the first-person.

Mestengo book cover.
Mestengo book cover.

Chapter One

I first smelled the smoke as I stood in the driveway of the farmhouse on the top of a hill in McHenry County in Northern Illinois that was, according to the man who leased it to me one month before, the highest point in all of Northern Illinois.

Damn, damn, damn!  Now the rewrite not only has to go from fiction to non-fiction, it also has to change the tense from ‘Philip’ to ‘Paul’; from him to me!  The words from The Book Doctors seminar rang louder and louder, “You write the first draft for yourself; you edit it for your readers!” (Smart arses!)

Then along came hope in the form of Kami Garcia, the author.  It was a NaNoWriMo pep talk.

So you made it through NaNoWriMo, and you have 50,000 words… Now what? It’s the same question a lot of writers face when they finish a first draft. The good news is you finished the hard part: you have a draft.

I can hear some of you cursing me now: “But Kami, my first draft is totally crappy and worthless. It’s terrible. I wasted an entire month of my life, and all I have 50,000 terrible words to show for it.”

My answer: It doesn’t matter if you wrote the crappiest first draft in the history of all first drafts. You have something to work with, which means you can fix it, mold it, and bang it into whatever shape you want. Here are a few tips to get started:

Read Your First Draft (and Possibly Cry a Little)

After you put away the pint of ice cream and the tissues, take an objective look at your draft. What are the strongest points? The parts that kept you reading? Whether you print out your draft to make notes or use software (I love Scrivener), mark the best bits—circle, highlight, whatever works for you. These are the parts you’ll re-read whenever you start to lose hope (which will be often).

All of which is a long-winded way of me saying that I shouldn’t be spending time writing blog posts but have my head down in the big edit.

But, hey, already come this far so going to leave you with this wonderful news.


Hello Paul,

Good news: For the first time since 2009, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has confirmed wolves south of the Eagle Cap Wilderness!

Based on recent evidence, it’s clear that at least five wolves are frequenting an area in Northern Baker County. It may not be a story as epic as Journey’s, but it’s another good sign wolves are continuing to retake their rightful place on the Oregon landscape.

Those of you who have been tracking wolf issues for a long time, may remember the iconic photo of a scraggly Oregon wolf in sagebrush. The young wolf and his partner frequented an area near the Keating Valley in Baker County.

Sadly, the “Keating Wolves”, as they came to be known, were killed in 2009. Despite some tantalizing reports, since that time, only one Oregon wolf is known south of the Wallowas.

Later today, we’ll revisit the story of the Keating Wolves on the Oregon Wild Blog and post it on the Oregon Wolves Facebook page. Wolf recovery still has a long ways to go. But today’s news is significant.

Since 2009 – with your help – we’ve stopped round after round of wolf kill bills in Salem. We’ve stood up for wolves in court. We’ve worked with responsible ranchers. We’ve educated the public, highlighted the positive impacts of having wolves back on the landscape, and shared news – good and bad – of wolf recovery.

Things are far from perfect. Old prejudices die hard and wolves continue to be at the center of a campaign of misinformation and fear. The Obama administration is stubbornly pushing a scheme to strip wolves of important protections, and the state can still kill wolves on behalf of the livestock industry.

But today’s news is a sign that we’re headed in the right direction here in Oregon. And there should be more on the horizon. Wolves are mating, pups should be on their way, and Oregon will announce an updated wolf population estimate soon. That’s more news we look forward to sharing.

For wolves and wildlife,
Rob Klavins
Wildlife Advocate, Oregon Wild



Bird Seed.

Solutions to present times: A guest post.

John Hurlburt writing as ‘an old lamplighter‘ has been a regular contributor to Learning from Dogs.  Indeed, just last Friday in my rather introspective post, Maybe home is found in our quietness, I included John’s beautiful Evening Meditation.  The day before that post, John sent me the following (the picture below is my contribution to John’s essay!)  It’s a reflection on both the absurdity of modern times and the simplicity of the answers.


Our interconnected world.
Our interconnected world.

Bird Seed!

In return for a local pet store patronage, today’s cost savings included free bird seed. Meanwhile, our economic system squanders our common wealth.

The agendas of rich and powerful people who don’t want anything to change are reflected by FAUX News. What we have on our hands is an absurd interpretation of reality, which is made up as they go along. Politics has become a game of “Can You Top This”; with no limits. There’s a question about our collective level of sanity.

Our shared crisis mounts as our demographic increases and our natural resources are depleted accordingly. The fact is that we’re beyond the carbon limits the atmosphere requires to maintain the inclusive well-being of life on earth. And we’re damaging the surface layer of the planet that sustains us all in the process.

The answers are simple and natural. Here are five quick examples and a conclusion of sorts.

1. Diesel fuels run the majority of the world’s heavy machinery. Switching from carbon-based diesel fuels to natural bio-fuels, as per the original design by Rudolf Diesel, would have a profound effect on carbon pollution as well as fostering green innovation and industry. No modification of any on-line diesel engines would be required. As a matter of fact, they’d probably run more efficiently.

Solution: Economic advantage of using bio-fuels.

2. Re-establishing human rights may be best accomplished through increased awareness of our fragile unity as a species. The openness, honesty and integrity of Creation lights the way each day and lends serenity to our reflections.

Solution: Accept that deliberate human war and related destruction of the earth is empty, has no future, and is contrary to the purpose of human life.

Incidentally, when we put a natural floor under the global economy we’ll save our collective bacon in the process. Transitioning military forces to support green economic development opportunities might be a possibility if we decide to take life seriously enough to make a real difference.

3. Re-establishing a realistic base for a global economy that’s swollen 25 times beyond any material planetary resource foundation may best be accomplished by transitioning to green industries that benefit our planet, nations, communities and the sanctity of life in general. A modification to our technically driven financial system is needed.

Solution: Isaac Asimov; “I Robot” (the laws of robotics)

4. Re-establishing common law with inclusive equality and justice may be best accomplished by an in-depth examination of personal beliefs values, motives and actions in terms of respect for whatever Higher Power we may believe there to Be, compassion for Creation and the realization that we’re all living in and on the same life boat.

Solution: Education, formation and transformation based upon the facts of reality that we know in our present state of development and the far greater Reality which transcends our being and our current understanding based upon reason alone.

For example, Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity tell us that we are in the process of turning inside out without breaking. A phrase that comes to mind is “transrational reality”. When we step beyond “self” we see the world through new eyes.

5. Agreeing on an equitably interactive and enforceable world-wide corporate, government, labor, and service organization wage scale may best be accomplished by listening to the voices of economic reason which tell us that money is only a symbol.

Rationale: Everything fits together. Change is constant. Life needs to adapt to survive. In Unity there is strength. At our best, we care for the earth and each other.

Inclusive solution: Surrender to Reality. The global system is broken, Resources are limited. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to change. A sustainable and growing green economy benefits everyone on earth.

Bottom Line

Love lights the way
Faith is stronger than fear
Hope springs Eternal

an old lamplighter


People, people, everywhere!

What on earth is going to happen?

Without doubt, President Obama’s recent speech on climate change was very welcome.  I fervently hope this is a genuine commitment to change the course of the biggest and most powerful nation on our planet.  Abandoning the Keystone XL pipeline would be the proof to my mind.  UPDATE: But read this!

But the runaway, exponential growth in CO2 has a brother; huge growth in the world’s population.

I’m going to ‘smack you in the face‘ with this population chart.


To put that into context from a personal perspective, when I was born in 1944 the global population was 2.5 billion persons.  Some 4.7 billion fewer people than today!

But that prediction from the U.S Census Bureau in June, 2011 is already out of date!

Just a couple of weeks ago, the UN released this update:

13 June 2013 – The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report launched today, which points out that growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa.

Now please humour me for a few moments. If the world population is presently 7.2 billion people and by 2050 the prediction is 9.2 billion people, that is an increase of 2,400,000,000 persons.

The end of 2050 is 438 months away. Now do the maths. That growth in population in that time period is the equivalent of an increase in population of 5,479,000 persons every single month!

Need to find a darkened room – I feel a headache coming on!

Exploring the certainty of AGW!

“Certainty is perfect knowledge secure from error or doubt.”

You may wonder what this post is all about opening, as it does, with a definition of ‘certainty’.

What that definition might imply is that ‘certainty’ is a tantalising ‘will of the wisp’ creature.  Excepting for pure mathematics, of course! “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” – Einstein quotation.

Whatever your views on the effect of man’s behaviours on our planet’s climate, it’s a long way from the logical idea of ‘2 + 2‘!  So when Oakwood, a reader of Learning from Dogs, submitted a long, carefully written comment rejecting Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), the idea came to me that perhaps this comment should stand on its own two feet, so to speak, as a separate post.  I asked Martin Lack, a passionate believer in AGW, to counter the points set out by Oakwood.  Both Martin and Oakwood are scientists; both hydrogeologists.

Now please take a moment to read and assimilate the next few sentences.  The length of the ‘dialogue’ runs to two posts.  Making it without question the longest post that has ever been published on Learning from Dogs.  It is also the most important!  If there is one question above all others for these times, it is the question of whether or not mankind is changing the climate of this planet; the only one we have.

These posts are not an easy read.  They can’t be skim read. They don’t have pictures! But I hope with all my heart that you will settle down today and tomorrow and read each post carefully to the end.

Now to some background information on the two gentlemen.  ‘Oakwood’ is a nom-de-plume.  However, he and I have exchanged emails and I support his need for anonymity. This is how Oakwood describes himself:

  • I am an Earth systems scientist
  • I have followed the AGW scientific arguments on both sides for many years
  • Hydrogeology (my field) and climate science have quite a lot in common, the main one being they require some knowledge and expertise in a wide range of disciplines. It’s not a simple case of saying ‘you are an expert or not’.
  • For example, I need to know quite a bit about chemistry, although I am not an ‘expert chemist’.
  • I am experienced in studying long-time period data, and judging its credibility (this also in common with climate science). Many of the key AGW arguments are based on data and statistics.
  • There are many reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, needing many pages. I give one main example: The ‘divergence problem’ applies to tree ring proxy temperature graphs. Most (perhaps all), proxy graphs cannot reproduce modern temperature data from about the 1980s onwards (in fact the very period of detectable man-made global warming). Because of this, we cannot rely on proxy graphs to conclude now is warmer than the past. Although climate scientists claim the divergence problem is only a modern thing, and does not affect historic data, this is purely a statement or belief. There is no convincing science to back that view.
  • For that reason, I am sceptical of the value of proxy graphs to show current temperatures are unprecedented.
  • I list a number of other brief examples.
  • I do not believe in conspiracy theories and have no problem with climate scientists believing in AGW. But in view of the examples I give, I do have a problem in them saying ‘the science is settled’.
  • There are some benefits from acting on the AGW scare now, such as improved energy efficiency and reduced pollution. There are also negatives, such as wind-farms on pristine countryside and biofuels causing increased hunger.
  • Too much focus on the AGW threat (based on relatively weak scientific arguments) diverts effort and money from more immediate and certain problems.
  • I am an environmentalist who cares about the future of our planet and sustainability. My views on AGW are based purely on the science.

Martin‘s background is encapsulated on his Blog, from which I extract:

I have 25 years of professional work experience, as a geologist and hydrogeologist, in both public and private sectors.

St Albans School, Hertfordshire, 1976-1983.
BSc (Hons) in Geology (Portsmouth), 1983-1986.
MSc in Hydrogeology (Birmingham), 1989-1990.
Postgrad. Cert. in Education (Keele), 1998-1999.
MA in Environmental Politics (Keele), 2010-2011.

Professional Qualifications:
Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS) since 1992.
Chartered Geologist (CGeol) since 1998.
Member of Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (MCIWEM) since 2000.

Martin’s MA dissertation topic was “A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the UK“  An abstract of that dissertation may be read here.

So two highly professional persons with diametrically different views.  Here’s the ‘debate’.



I have been posed a couple of questions [by Martin Lack, Ed.] which Paul has invited me to respond to.

  1. Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so?
  2.  Explain why you think the time to act has not yet arrived?

If I may, I’m going to treat those questions more like this:

  1. Why do the majority of climate scientists claim to believe man-made climate change (AGW)  is significant and serious?
  2. Why am I an AGW-sceptic?

Martin Lack

I am grateful to Paul for inviting me to respond to Oakwood’s thesis.

My carefully constructed question was:

Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so?

I am very pleased to see that Oakwood does not dispute the reality of a scientific consensus regarding AGW although I prefer – because it is more accurate – to call it anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Sadly, however, he does not appear to accept its validity. Although I asked Oakwood not to deconstruct the question, he clearly felt it necessary to both deconstruct it and re-word it (emphasis here is mine):

  1. Why do the majority of climate scientists claim to believe man-made climate change is significant and serious?
  2. Why am I an AGW-sceptic?

Right from the start, therefore, Oakwood appears to suggest that the majority of climate scientists are either being stupid, unprofessional, or deceitful. I say this because, by replacing my “have reached the conclusion” with his “claim to believe”, Oakwood would appear to think that the majority of climate scientists have reached a conclusion that is:

  1. Reasonable when it is in fact unreasonable; or
  2. Highly-probable when it is highly-improbable; or
  3. Near-certain when they know it is very uncertain.

Bearing this in mind, let us look at the arguments Oakwood then uses to justify his ‘scepticism’.


I am an ‘earth-systems’ scientist with degrees in Geophysics and Hydrogeology and around 25 years working experience in both those fields, but mostly hydrogeology.

Note: working scientists are every bit as important to our advancement as academics and researchers. Academia is a career choice available to the better scientists. (Though a few ‘duds’ manage to survive by playing the right games.) But many excellent scientists and engineers choose to work in the ‘real world’ where science is applied which often includes active research, written up in reports, but not necessarily in peer-reviewed journals. Those scientists and engineers often have a far more immediate level of responsibility in terms of the quality and implications of their work.

If an academic ‘gets it wrong’, the worst things that may happen are embarrassment, loss of research grant or even loss of job. If a working scientist or engineer gets it wrong, then bridges may collapse, planes may crash, people may be poisoned, etc. Also ‘peer review’ doesn’t mean its right, but just that it adds to the debate.

I have followed the scientific debate for many years, reading much that is written on both sides, including a big proportion of the IPCC reports.

Martin Lack

Oakwood starts by attacking academics for being detached from the real world and suggesting that some  may be “duds” that are just playing games, (although he does not say whom exactly)!

He then attacks the peer review process but fails to provide any reasonable explanation as to why only 24 out of nearly 14 thousand articles about ongoing climate change do not consider human activity to be its primary cause (unless the science is of course near certain).

Oakwood claims to have read a big proportion of IPCC reports (more than me I suspect) but, even so, fails to address the reality that IPCC reports have consistently under-reported the scale and urgency of the problems we face. The AR5 report due out later this year will also do this because it still does not include positive feedback mechanisms causing current rates of change to accelerate.


Very much like hydrogeology, climate science is a multi-disciplinary science dependent on a level of knowledge and expertise in a whole range of disciplines. For example, I need to understand quite a lot about chemistry, although I don’t have a degree in chemistry.

I have to keep learning; by reading, researching, learning from expert colleagues, etc. I also need to know something of maths, statistics, fluid mechanics, weather patterns, computer modelling, microbiology, water treatment, etc.

There are better experts in each one of those subject areas, but that’s their focus and they would not normally be able to pull things together to develop a ‘conceptual model’ of a hydrogeological system.

Martin Lack

Oakwood highlights the similarities between hydrogeology and climate science but fails to mention that both make extensive use of probabilistic computer models (of the kind used by climate scientists). These are models that deal with uncertainty in modelled parameters by being run hundreds if not thousands of times using parameter values picked at random from within user-defined ranges. This produces a range of modelled outcomes with accompanying probabilities of being realised.


There is much overlap between scientific disciplines, especially in ‘Earth systems’. Therefore, to suggest you must be a ‘climate scientist’ to understand all of the scientific and statistical arguments, is incorrect. For example, the hockey stick tree ring studies are principally statistical exercises rather than ‘climate science’, and require an understanding of how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, which geologists are only too aware of.

As a hydrogeologist, I am very experienced in studying time-series data, and judging whether conclusions drawn from them are plausible and reliable. Of course, my conclusions may not always be correct. Others may disagree with me. But that’s how science develops.

It would take me pages to explain all my reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, so instead I will focus on one key example of where I find a key conclusion unreliable.


I will refer to a ‘typical’ paper by Michael Mann et al, 2008, Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – PNAS.

Its main conclusions are:

Recent warmth appears anomalous for at least the past 1,300 years whether or not tree-ring data are used. If tree-ring data are used, the conclusion can be extended to at least the past 1,700 years, but with additional strong caveats. The reconstructed amplitude of change over past centuries is greater than hitherto reported, with somewhat greater Medieval warmth in the Northern Hemisphere, albeit still not reaching recent levels.

Thus, they claim their work shows current temperatures are unprecedented in at least the past 1,300 years, including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This is extremely important. If current temperatures are not warmer than the MWP, then there is far less reason for alarm about the current climate. For example, we don’t have records of such things as droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.,  being noticeably worse or more common during the MWP. (I know, some will respond: ‘regardless of whether its warmer now, predictions are it will get much worse’. But that is a separate argument). Thus, it seems to be very important to the AGW-case that current temperatures are unprecedented, and changing more quickly than in the past 1,000 to 2,000 years.

Despite, their stated conclusions, their work does not show that now is warmer than the MWP. On their graphs in their Figure 3, current temperatures show as warmer. But the proxy data themselves do not show this. The only data that do are the instrumental data. So if proxy data do not align with instrumental data since the 1980’s onwards, how can we rely on them to show us the MWP was cooler than now? We can’t.

They try to address this with the following statement:

The observed warming rises above the error bounds [ie., the highest possible temperature indicated by proxy data – my words] of the estimates during the 1980s decade, consistent with the known ‘‘divergence problem’’, wherein the temperature sensitivity of some temperature-sensitive tree-ring data appears to have declined in the most recent decades. Interestingly, although the elimination of all tree-ring data from the proxy dataset yields a substantially smaller divergence bias, it does not eliminate the problem altogether. This latter finding suggests that the divergence problem is not limited purely to tree-ring data, but instead may extend to other proxy records.

If you look around at other literature, despite what we hear about ‘settled science’ nobody knows the cause of the ‘divergence’ problem. There is only speculation that it might be something to do with modern air pollution or perhaps CO2 itself.

Here’s what SkepticalScience says:

The divergence problem is a physical phenomenon – tree growth has slowed or declined in the last few decades, mostly in high northern latitudes. The divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, indicating its cause may be anthropogenic. The cause is likely to be a combination of local and global factors such as warming-induced drought and global dimming. Tree-ring proxy reconstructions are reliable before 1960, tracking closely with the instrumental record and other independent proxies.

So, the proxies are “reliable before 1960’s”. But back until when? Around 1880, when temperatures were cooler. There is no evidence whatsoever that the proxies were reliable at other periods of higher temperatures. And we are expected to accept this as ‘settled science’.

In fact, it is possible the divergence problem happens every time it’s warmer. They certainly don’t know this is not the case. The real answer is from very basic statistics:

If the proxy data cannot reproduce the higher temperatures of today, we cannot rely on them to compare with other warmer periods in the past. I don’t care if 99.9% of climate scientists tell me this is acceptable science, I will not agree with them, unless they can produce convincing scientific evidence (not just speculation) to back it up.

(I’ve seen one very comical response more than once: ‘We don’t need recent proxy data to be accurate because we have instrumental data to tell us the temperature.’ For example, a John Havery Samuel says: “A technical concern with one proxy since 1960, when we have perfectly good temperature records already, is an irrelevance.” This COMPLETELY misses the point (and I don’t know whether through ignorance or deliberate distortion). Accurate proxy data today are needed, not to tell us the temperature, but to demonstrate that proxy data are reliable for understanding historical temperatures. That’s simple, basic science. )

Martin Lack

Much of what Oakwood writes is an attack upon the Hockey Stick graph of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions first produced in 1998 (MBH98).

However, the fatal flaws in Oakwood’s scepticism regarding MBH98 are as follows:

  1. MBH98 has been validated by at least 14 other reconstructions (as cited in IPCC AR4 in 2007) using a wide variety of other proxy data(see Wikipedia for relevant links)
  2. Hockey Stick-shaped graphs turn up in reconstructions of CO2 levels and temperature – now going back over thousands of years – because they are not ‘statistical noise’ –
  3. Arguments about splicing instrumental data onto proxy data only serve to challenge the extent to which the speed of late 20th Century warming is unprecedented.
  4. Such arguments do not invalidate the conclusion that it is now almost certainly warmer than it has been at any time since the last Ice Age (i.e. a period of relative climate and sea level stability that has made agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation possible).

However, this is no reason for us to be complacent because, as Oakwood must know, the 50 to 100 metres of sea level rise that will be caused by the melting of terrestrial ice sheets will necessitate the mass migration of millions of people. This makes his concerns about current poverty and starvation (i.e. the main reason he eventually cites for not believing action is yet necessary) look very trivial indeed.


Part two continues tomorrow.

Common-sense from HRH The Prince of Wales

Reinforcing my long-time respect for Prince Charles.

HRH The Prince of Wales, more familiarly known as Prince Charles, is a man I have longed admired and respected.

Many years ago, I worked as a volunteer teacher/mentor with what was then known as The Prince’s Youth Business Trust (PYBT).  Later, it became incorporated into The Prince’s Trust.  The PYBT enjoyed passionate and active support from HRH, and with good cause.  Essentially, the PYBT offered socially-disadvantaged youngsters, who had very little chance of getting a job, the opportunity to be mentored on the skills of being an entrepreneur.  Many of those youngsters went on to get decent jobs and many others started their own businesses, some with considerable success.  Simply because thinking like an entrepreneur is impossible if you don’t have faith in your own abilities.  That self-confidence shows in so many walks of life, especially when one is going through a job interview!

The Prince has also long been known for his concerns over the way we treat our planet, going right back to the days when it was regarded rather quaint by the mainstream media.  But as Wikipedia reveals, “He has long championed organic farming and sought to raise world awareness of the dangers facing the natural environment, such as climate change. As an environmentalist, he has received numerous awards and recognition from environmental groups around the world.”

So it was lovely, but no great surprise, to see how well a recent speech was received on the subject of Regional Food Security given at Langenburg Castle in Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany.  The full text is available on The Prince of Wales website.  Let me give you a taste (whoops, pun unintended!) of what The Prince said,

Prinz Charles Langenburg

Ladies and Gentlemen, if I may say so, this is a very important conference. I am sure what you have heard so far about the problems we face and the obstacles to tackling them has given you a clear context in which to be able to consider what comes next this afternoon.

The aim here is to think through how we might create a much more local model of food production and distribution. But also, how that might fit with producing healthy food using far more sustainable methods and how we might do all of this without damaging business. Indeed, how this could improve business.

As you have heard, the urgency for this comes from the fact that there is not sufficient resilience in the system as it currently stands. It may appear that things are well. Big global corporations may appear to be prospering out of operating on a global monocultural scale but, as I hope you have seen, if you drill down into what is actually happening, things are not so healthy. Our present approach is rapidly mining resilience out of our food system and threatening to leave it ever more vulnerable to the various external shocks that are becoming more varied, extreme and frequent.

Some of the stories about food that have been making the news are simply disgraceful, if not downright madness.  Take this one: Meat scrap leftovers now being reprocessed into ice cream: The dismal future of food!

Or try this one: GMO feed turns pig stomachs to mush! Shocking photos reveal severe damage caused by GM soy and corn.

So see the relevance of The Prince’s speech as he continued:

The drive to make food cheaper for consumers and to earn companies bigger profits is sucking real value out of the food production system – value that is critical to its sustainability. I am talking here about obvious things like the vitality of the soil and local eco-systems, the quality and availability of fresh water and so on, but also about less obvious things, like local employment and people’s health. It is, as I fear you know only too well, a complex business.

The aggressive search for cheaper food has been described as a “drive to the bottom”, which I am afraid is taking the farmers with it. They are being driven into the ground by the prices they are forced to expect for their produce and this has led to some very worrying short cuts. The recent horsemeat scandals are surely just one example, revealing a disturbing situation where even the biggest retailers seem not to know where their supplies are coming from. And it has also led to a very destructive effect on farming. We are losing farmers fast. Young people do not want to go into such an unrewarding profession. In the U.K., I have been warning of this for some time and recently set up apprenticeship schemes to try to alleviate the problem; but the fact remains that at the moment the average age of British farmers is fifty-eight, and rising.

One more extract from the speech:

In the U.K., as elsewhere – but particularly I think in the U.S. – the consequences of this are ever more apparent in the deteriorating state of our public health. We all know that Type 2 Diabetes and other obesity-related conditions are rapidly on the increase. The public bill for dealing with these is already massive and I am told it could become completely unaffordable if we do not see a shift in emphasis. And, of course, it will be cities that carry the heaviest part of that burden. It is a peculiar trend.

Am I alone, ladies and gentlemen, in wondering how it is that those who are farming according to organic, or agro-ecological principles – in other words, sustainably, for the long-term, by operating in a way that reduces pollution and contamination of the natural environment to a minimum and maximizes the health of soil, biodiverse ecosystems and humanity – are then penalized? They find that their produce is considered too expensive and too “niche market” to be available to everyone. How is it, then, that systems of farming which do precisely the opposite – with increasingly dire and damaging effects on both the terrestrial and marine environments, not to mention long-term human health – are able to sell their products in mass markets at prices that in no way reflect the immense and damaging cost to the environment and human health? A cost that then has to be paid for over and over again elsewhere – chiefly, in all probability, by our unfortunate children and grandchildren, whose welfare I happen to care about. Surely this is a truly perverse situation which, you would have thought, could be turned on its head to make genuinely sustainably-produced food accessible to everyone, and the polluter to pay the real costs for the side effects of industrialized food? It is to be wondered at how this state of affairs persists – and yet to suggest standing it on its head and transforming the situation is to invite the predictable chorus of vitriolic accusations that you are anti-science, anti-progress, out of touch with commercial pressures and not living in the “real world.”

The full speech may be read here, and please do!

Well done, Sir!  As someone once said, “We are what we eat!

A small island called Utila.

Something inspirational and encouraging (for a change!)

As regular readers of Learning from Dogs will know, I subscribe to news items from The Permaculture Institute of Australia.  It is much recommended.

Well just the other day, this item came up:

Permaculture Recycled

Off the coast of Honduras, on a small island called Utila, lives a guy called Shane. Shane has broken away from all the social restraints and has built his own house. He is now building his own garden. However, he is doing it slightly different from most people — he uses cardboard boxes! This short film by Serena Aurora talks about Shane’s key concepts and tips on permaculture.

It’s a deeply moving film.