Tag: The Nation

Up, Up And Away?

It is very hard to avoid hyperbole when one speaks of global warming.

I am indebted to The Nation magazine, May 8/15 Issue, in which is included a feature article authored by Bill McKibben. My sub-heading is much of what Bill wrote in his first line.

It is hard to avoid hyperbole when you talk about global warming. It is, after all, the biggest 
thing humans have ever done, and by a very large margin.

A few sentences later, Bill offers this:

In the drought-stricken territories around the Sahara, we’ve helped kick off what The New York Times called “one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II.” We’ve melted ice at the poles at a record pace, because our emissions trap extra heat from the sun that’s equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions a day.

Yet what scares me, scares me beyond comprehension, is the almost universal disregard being shown by Governments and those with power and influence right across the world to what in anyone’s language is the most pressing catastrophe heading down the tracks. Not next year; not tomorrow, but now!

Or in Mr. McKibben’s words, once more from that Nation article:

But as scientists have finally begun to realize, there’s nothing rational about the world we currently inhabit. We’re not having an argument about climate change, to be swayed by more studies and journal articles and symposia. That argument is long since won, but the fight is mostly lost—the fight about the money and power that’s kept us from taking action and that is now being used to shut down large parts of the scientific enterprise. As Trump budget chief Mick Mulvaney said in March, “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.” In a case this extreme, scientists have little choice but to be citizens as well. And given their credibility, it will matter: 76 percent of Americans trust scientists to act in the public interest, compared with 27 percent who think the same thing about elected officials.

Whatever your response is to what I have already presented, the one thing that I do know is that you have been aware of humanity’s effect on our atmosphere for many, many years. Indeed, Bill McKibben wrote his first book twenty-eight years ago!

His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books.

But I would be the first to acknowledge that back in 1989 while I did become aware of Bill McKibben and did purchase and read that book of his, I didn’t see the effects he prophesied. In addition, I didn’t understand the mechanisms that would bring those effects into place.

Now, today, it’s very difficult to deny that global weather systems are behaving in ways that most do not understand albeit we do understand how those weather changes are affecting our lives.

One person who did, and still does even more, understand the physics involved in our changing weather, is Patrice Ayme. For some nineteen years after Bill McKibben’s first book, Patrice published a post on his blog. I have been following Patrice’s blog for some years and while I would be the first to stick my hand in the air and declare that some of his posts are a little beyond me, there’s no question of the integrity of his writings and his bravery in spelling out the truth of these present times. (OK, the truth a la Monsieur Aymes but I would place a decent bet of PA being closer to the core truth of many issues than Joe Public.)

I am indebted to Patrice for granting me permission to republish that post. Please read it. Don’t be put off by terms that may not be familiar to you. Read it to the end – the message is very clear.


Applying Equipartition Of Energy To Climate Change PREDICTS WILD WEATHER.

By Patrice Ayme, March 8th, 2008.

Lately, the world weather has been especially perplexing, influenced by the cold ocean temperatures of a La Niña current in the equatorial Pacific. For Earth’s land areas, 2007 was the warmest year on record.

This year, record cold is more the norm. Global land-surface temperatures so far are below the 20th-century mean for the first time since 1982, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Last month in China, snowstorms stranded millions of people, while in Mumbai, officials reported the coldest day in 46 years.

Yet, England basked in its fourth-warmest January since 1914, the British Met Office reported. The crocus and narcissus at the U.K.’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew flowered a week earlier than last year — 11 days ahead of their average for the decade and weeks ahead of their pattern in the 1980s. In Prague, New Year’s Day was the warmest since 1775.

“It is difficult to judge the significance of what we are seeing this year,” said Kew researcher Sandra Bell. “Is it a glitch or is it the beginning of something more sinister and alarming?”” (Robert Lee Hotz, Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2008).

Many scientists have pondered this question, as if they did not know the answer, but it is a straightforward application of thermodynamics.

A basic theorem of equilibrium thermodynamics, the EQUIPARTITION OF ENERGY theorem, says that the same amount of energy should be present in all degrees of freedom into which energy can spill.

(How does one demonstrate this theorem? Basically, heat is agitation, kinetic energy at the scale of atoms and molecules. This agitation can spill in a more organized manner, in great ensembles, such as vast low and high pressure systems, or large scale dynamics. See the note on entropy and negative temperatures.)

In the case of meteorology, this implies, oversimplifying a bit, that only one-third of the energy should go into heat (and everybody focuses on the augmentation of temperature). Now, of course, since the energy enters the system as heat, non equilibrium thermodynamics imposes more than one-third of the energy will be heat.

As time goes by, though, the other two degrees of freedom, potential energy (represented as the geometry of gradients of pressures, high and low pressure systems, hurricanes) and dynamics (wind speed and vast movements of air masses of varying temperatures and/or pressure; and the same for sea currents) will also store energy.

Thus the new heat created in the lower atmosphere by the increased CO2 greenhouse will be transformed in all sorts of weather weirdness: heat, cold, high and low pressures, wind, and big moves of big things. Big things such as vast re-arrangements of low and high pressure systems, as observed in the Northern Hemisphere, or the re-arrangement of sea currents as apparently also observed, and certainly as it is expected. Since it happened in the past (flash ice age of the Younger Dryas over Europe, 18,000 years ago).

As cold and warm air masses get thrown about, the variability of temperatures will augment all over.

In other words, record snow and cold in the Alps and record warmth simultaneously in England is a manifestation of the equipartition of energy theorem applied to the greenhouse warming we are experiencing. It is not mysterious at all, and brutal variations such as these, including sudden cold episodes, are to be expected, as more and more energy gets stuffed in the planetary climate, and yanks it away from its previous equilibrium.

Wind speed augmentations have already had a spectacular effect: by shaking the waters of the Austral ocean with increasingly violent waves, carbon dioxyde is being removed as if out of a shaken carbonated drink. Thus the Austral ocean is now a net emitter of CO2 (other oceans absorb CO2, and transform it into carbonic acid).

Hence the observed variations are the beginning of something more sinister and alarming. Climate change is changing speed. Up, up, and away.

Patrice Ayme

Note on entropy: Some may object that transforming heat into collective behavior of vast masses of air or sea violates the Second Law Of Thermodynamics, namely that entropy augments always, in any natural process. Well, first of all, the genius of the genus Homo, not to say of all of life itself, rests on local violations of the Second Law. Secondly, the most recent physics recognizes that fundamental considerations allow systems where increased energy lead to increased order (such a system is said to be in a negative temperature state).

Even more revealingly, a massive greenhouse on planet Earth would lead, as happened in the past, to a much more uniform heat, all around the planet, that is, a more ordered state. Meanwhile, the transition to the present order of a temperate climate to the completely different order of an over-heated Earth will bring complete disorder, as observed.


Going to leave you with a picture taken from weather.com

An emaciated polar bear is seen on a small sheet of ice in this image taken in August in Svalbard, north of mainland Norway. (Kerstin Langenberger)

Please, please, please: make a difference! Environmentally, domestically and politically, please make a difference.

Keep shouting it out!

The force of public opinion has never been more important; critically so!

As you all know this world of blogging: authors; followers; readers, is a great number of wonderful communities right across the planet. It is nothing like the traditional media, now owned and controlled by just a handful of large corporations, because the vast majority of blogging participants are free to say what they want, when they want.

Here’s an example.

Martin Lack is an Englishman who is the author of the blog Lack of Environment. As his home page quietly states:

Although scientificly trained (with degrees in Geology and Hydrogeology – see my About page), this blog arises from my having also got an MA in Environmental Politics and, as such, as the tagline indicates, is a blog on “the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems”… I hope you will take this on board; and enjoy the discussion.

“There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation” – Herman E. Daly (former World Bank economist).

The science about the chemistry of climate change especially the new danger of methane is clear. The commitment of our political leaders is less clear. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep shouting out loud.

As Martin Lack did recently.


Open Letter to David Cameron

29 March 2016

The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London, SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister,

Whatever happened to the greenest government ever?

Given my experience of working in environmental consultancy or regulation, I understand the importance of making pragmatic, risk-based decisions (as opposed to dogmatic, opinion-based ones).  I therefore believe that government policy should be formulated this way.  Unfortunately, however, this does not always seem to be the case.

As a pragmatic scientist, I am not ideologically opposed to nuclear power.  However, I do question the logic of pursuing ‘Hinkley Point C’ when equivalent investment in distributed renewable technologies – from domestic solar PV to submarine tidal stream – could probably generate more electricity faster.  Indeed, as Greenpeace has recently pointed out, the UK could meet nearly all its electricity generation needs from renewable energy sources by 2030.[1]

With regard to risk, the scientific consensus is that, in order to minimise anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), the World must now embark upon the fastest-possible transition to a zero carbon economy.  Therefore, I also question the logic of simultaneously promoting investment in shale gas; discouraging investment in renewables; and cancelling investment in Carbon Capture and Storage research.

It is now over 50 years since scientists started warning of the climatic implications of continuing to burn fossil fuels;[2] and 50 years since fossil fuel company executives started spending huge sums of money on being “Merchants of Doubt”.[3]  As such, along with their counterparts in the tobacco industry, they have clearly not acted in the long-term interest of humanity as a whole.

However, as with the individual health benefit of ceasing to smoke tobacco, the sooner we stop burning fossil fuels the greater the collective environmental benefit will be. Therefore, I am pragmatically opposed to shale gas exploration because burning it is not consistent with the need to transition away from fossil fuels as fast as possible.

I am certain that you would like to secure an enduring political legacy; and would therefore like to ask just one question:

What could be better than being remembered as the Prime Minister that committed the UK to meeting nearly all its electricity generation needs from renewable energy sources by 2030?

Yours sincerely,

Martin C. Lack

[1] See: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/uk-can-be-almost-entirely-powered-renewable-energy-2030-new-study-shows-20150921.

[2] Nuccitelli, D. (2015), ‘Scientists warned the US president about global warming 50 years ago today’, Guardian newspaper, 5 November 2015: London.

[3] Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt,  New York: Bloomsbury. See: http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/


Let me finish today’s post by republishing an exchange between Patrice Ayme and Martin over on a recent PA essay, that I republished in full in this place: Runaway Antarctica.


I know I am wasting my time writing letters to David Cameron; and I know my opinions are irrelevant. However, the facts of history are not; nor will they be in the future.


I know you are doing the right thing. Writing to Cameron is entirely correct. But of course, he is a guy with just a salary and a few “savings”, a few tens of millions dollars of savings, maybe, or maybe not, and knew nothing about his recently deceased father having a fund of around 50 million dollars sheltered by shell companies, out there, somewhere related to Panama, or the British Virgin Islands, or the Bahamas, or Bermuda, whatever…

OK, David’s wife, officially, has a fund of more than twenty million pounds….


For the record: I am socially-conservative (i.e. as opposed to liberal) but under no illusion as to the folly of what has been called ‘money fetishism’ (Karl Marx); and ‘growthmania’ (Herman E. Daly).


Hi Martin, thanks for the comment. I spent a whole hour reading the hard cover version of the paper the electronic version of which I criticized above. It’s quite a bit different. They use RCPs (Reasonable Carbon Projections, or the like in meaning). Yet, they don’t explain what they consist of exactly. All I know is that we are around 500 ppmv, and they work with 400 ppmv, in the 130 K-115 K years BP, when orbital conditions were cooler than now.

Plus we are going to be at 550 ppmv within ten years, at the present rate. The earliest date they have for the failure of Larsen C in their worst RCP 8.5 is 2055 CE. I would be surprised if it did not fail within ten years.

However, the paper version is more insistent on the danger of AIR warming, not just subsurface.

Also the Hansen paper has a scenario, which is suitably apocalyptic, but not apocalyptic enough in my book. Temperatures over the Arctic were strikingly high this winter, of the order of 4 to 5 degrees Centigrade higher than normal, and sometimes more. Nobody expected this sort of jumps. Except for yours truly!😉


Thanks for the explanation, Patrice. This is all very reminiscent of the position of (Arizona) Professor Guy McPherson, who believes most scientists are in denial about the consequences of multiple positive feedback mechanisms we can already see operating:

You all have a wonderful weekend and keep hugging those dogs of yours!

I am what I learn!

Reflections on the old and the new.

So here we are on the last day of 2015, the cusp of a new year and who knows what the next twelve months have in store.

All I am going to do is to reflect on the huge potential our modern ‘wired-up’ world offers for learning.

Most will know the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

But it is wrong!

Here at home, where a number of the dogs are in their old age (Pharaoh is the equivalent in age of 100 human years; one dog year being approximately the same as eight human years) Jean and I see no difficulty in these elderly dogs learning new tricks.  Staying with Pharaoh, as an example, his hearing is pretty poor now but he has learnt a whole range of hand signals in recent months and he still communicates very well with us.

There is much in this new world that concerns me and I know I am not alone with this view. But the rewards of reading the thoughts of others right across the world are wonderful beyond measure.

Here’s a tiny dip into some fascinating items and articles that have graced my in-box in just the last twenty-four hours.

  • Eckhart Tolle’s Moment Reminder: “As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.”
  • Val Boyco, “Everything comes to us that belongs to us, if we create the capacity to receive it.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
  • John Zande in his Sketches on Atheism, “Theism’s most potent, pervasive, irresistibly enchanting gift to frightened but otherwise sane individuals is a belief—a promise—that upon their death they will go home.”
  • Mother Nature Network, “7 ways to meditate while you move – If you don’t have time for sitting meditation, give one of these active meditations a try.”
  • George Monbiot, (on the UK floods), “These floods were not just predictable. They were predicted. There were clear and specific warnings that the management of land upstream of the towns now featuring in the news would lead to disaster.”

and my final selection:

  • Patrice Ayme: (from an essay on Brain & Consciousness) “The best microprocessors you can buy in a store now can do 10 to the power 11 (10^11; one hundred billions) operations per second and use a few hundred watts,” says Wilfred van der Wiel of the University of Twente in the Netherlands, a leader of the gold circuitry effort. “The human brain can do orders of magnitude more and uses only 10 to 20 watts.  That’s a huge gap in efficiency.”

So here’s to a new year of wonderful new learnings.  And let me leave you with this additional message for 2016.

Namely that The Nation weekly journal are celebrating their 150 years of publishing the magazine. They recently published a 150th Anniversary edition and the front editorial is written by Katrina Vanden Heuval. There is a ‘break out’ to one side on Page 2 of that editorial that reads:

Change is inevitable, but the one constant in The Nation‘s history has been a faith in what can happen if you tell people the truth.

Finding out the truth and sharing it so we can all see what can happen is my wish for 2016.

Happy New Year to all of you, and to all of your friends and loved ones.

Rivers of ice

or should that be rivers of tears for our planet!

Our beautiful planet

A chance dip into the BBC News website a few days ago allowed me to come across an article about the vanishing glaciers in the Himalayas.  It just about broke my heart.  Here’s what it said,

Rivers of ice: Vanishing glaciers

Stunning images from high in the Himalayas – showing the extent by which many glaciers have shrunk in the past 80 years or so – have gone on display at the Royal Geographical Society in central London.

Between 2007 and 2010, David Breashears retraced the steps of early photographic pioneers such as Major E O Wheeler, George Mallory and Vittorio Sella – to try to re-take their views of breathtaking glacial vistas.

The mountaineer and photographer is the founder of GlacierWorks – a non-profit organisation that uses art, science and adventure to raise public awareness about the consequences of climate change in the Himalayas.

Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya can be seen at the RGS in London until 11 November 2011. Admission free.

All photos courtesy GlacierWorks and Royal Geographical Society. Map copyright Jay Hart. All images subject to copyright.

Music courtesy KPM Music. Audio slideshow production by Paul Kerley. Publication date 11 October 2011.

Then follows a 3:59 film made by David Breashears that is so beautiful as well as so upsetting.  I don’t have a way of linking to the film directly but it’s easy to watch, just click here and be very moved.

David Breashears has his own website, from where one can learn that,

David Breashears is an accomplished filmmaker, adventurer, author, mountaineer, and professional speaker. Since 1978, he has combined his skills in climbing and filmmaking to complete more than forty film projects.

In 1983, Breashears transmitted the first live television pictures from the summit of Mount Everest, and in 1985 became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest twice.

In the spring of 1996, Breashears co-directed and co-produced the first IMAX film shot on Mount Everest. When the now infamous blizzard of May 10, 1996 hit Mount Everest, killing eight climbers, Expedition Leader Breashears and his team were in the midst of making this historic film. In the tragedy that soon followed, Breashears and his team stopped filming to provide assistance to the stricken climbers. After returning to Base Camp, Breashears and his team then regrouped and reached the summit of the mountain on May 23, 1996, achieving their goal of becoming the first to record IMAX film images at Earth’s highest point. Breashears has said that if there is a lesson to be learned from the May 1996 tragedy, it is that for him, success that year was not to be found in reaching the summit, it was that everyone on his team returned safely. The film, titled EVEREST, premiered in March 1998.

As was written in that BBC item, David is the founder of GlacierWorks which is full of beautiful, albeit tinged with sadness, images of the glaciers featured in that BBC item.  As the GlacierWorks website explains on the home page,

The Mighty Himalayan Glaciers are Vanishing.

The rate of recession is unprecedented, accelerating and, without some remedy to the problem of climate change, unstoppable. GlacierWorks is a non-profit organization that uses art, science, and adventure to raise awareness about the consequences of climate change in the Greater Himalaya.

Read that first sentence again, “The rate of recession is unprecedented, accelerating and, without some remedy to the problem of climate change, unstoppable.” [my emphasis]

There are a number of videos on YouTube if you search for David Breashears, none up to the beauty of the slide show in the BBC item so don’t miss that at all.  However, the following is also worth watching,

OK, a change of topic but one that connects with the underlying message about the disappearing glaciers.  This was an article in the American The Nation newspaper written by Naomi Klein, following her speech to the demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street.  The article really should be read in full but I wanted to highlight just the following words from Naomi,

The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.

We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.

The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society—while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the earth can take.

Thanks to Bill Mitchell of Billy Blog for linking me to the Naomi Klein speech.

We can afford to build a decent, inclusive society and we must – not tomorrow but now.  Start with your local community, think about transition.  Some of our grandchildren will be mountaineers – let them see the beautiful rivers of ice.