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Tag Archives: Global warming

Morrison’s monumental dysfunctional Pacific “family” failure

No matter how much money you put on the table it doesn’t give you the excuse not to do the right thing, which is cutting down your emissions, including not opening your coalmines.”  (Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, 14 August 2019).

“Shove a sock down the throat of Jacinda Ardern” – urges Alan Bedford Jones, 2GB Sydney’s sock-shock jock, another former, failed, Liberal Party candidate and inveterate misogynist,Thursday, as New Zealand’s PM supports Pacific Islanders’ global warming concerns, endorsing the resolutions of all but one of the eighteen countries and territories of this week’s 50th Pacific Islands Forum, (PIF) meeting in Tuvalu’s capital, Funafuti.

Left on its own, promoting global warming is Australia. Ms Ardern says, diplomatically, that our land down-under can answer to the Pacific for itself. New Zealand, or Aotearoa, as its Maori people named it, commonly translated as land of the long white cloud, or, continuously clear light is doing what it can to limit its carbon emissions to 1.5C.

Ms Ardern expects all nations to make a similar commitment but will not lecture others.

Rabid climate change denier Jones turns puce. He rants; spits foam at the microphone. Does ScoMo’s office tell Jones to put the boot in? For Jones and his audience – and, indeed, for much of Morrison’s government, global warming, is a hoax. And an aberration, a perversion of reason. The notion is an unnatural hoax, as is the monstrous regiment of women who dare to demand their fair share of political power from blokes.

“Here she is preaching on global warming and saying that we’ve got to do something about climate change,” Jones harangues listeners from his bully pulpit. His signature outbursts of outrage, his demonising and his scapegoating are his own take on Orwell’s two-minute hate. Jones down low may be heard playing daily in all the best dementia wards in hospitals all over Sydney. Thursday, Jones goes off like a frog in a sock.

Preaching? It’s precisely what the Kiwi PM takes pains to avoid, but Jones rarely lets fact spoil his argument.

New Zealand has cows that burp and fart, he sneers, in a rare, brief, departure into scientific truth.

Jones role has little to do with reporting and even less with respecting fact. In the 1990 cash for comment scandal, where he and John Laws were found to have accepted money from a slew of corporations, QANTA, Optus, Foxtel, Mirvac and big banks, the jocks’ defence was that they were not employed as journalists, but as “entertainers” and thus had no duty of disclosure or of journalistic integrity. Yet Jones hopes the PM is briefed,

“I just wonder whether Scott Morrison is going to be fully briefed to shove a sock down her throat.”

Outraged by Ardern’s audacity – as much as the fact that she’s a Jezebel – a woman brazenly asserting authority, independence and leadership, Jones works up a lather. Arden’s an impudent hypocrite, he squawks. Australia act responsibly or answer to the Pacific on policy? Accountability is heresy in ScoMo’s government. Perhaps Jones hopes that his “sock it to her” will be an Aussie form of “send her back”.

Sending Kiwis home, if Peter Dutton doesn’t like the look of them, is at least one Morrison government policy that’s coherent. Repatriation on “character” grounds saw a thousand forcible deportations between 2016-2018. Under Morrison as Immigration Minister in 2014, the policy was expanded to include all those Kiwi-born residents who’d been sentenced to twelve months or more in prison.

Many of those deported under the “character test” have no family or friends in New Zealand; have extensive family ties in Australia and have spent very little time in New Zealand, having arrived in Australia as children.

It’s another source of friction between Australia, its major trading partner, despite China (NZ$15.3bn) now having eclipsed Australia (NZ$13.9bn) as New Zealand’s biggest export market.

Friday, Jones’ sock-jock mockery continues. “The parrot” ridicules one of New Zealand’s most popular and effective Prime Ministers; alleging Ms Ardern is “a clown” and a “joke” for “preaching about climate change”, claiming, falsely, that New Zealand’s carbon dioxide has increased per capita more than Australia’s since 1990.

The Parrot’s problems with women in power, rival those of the Liberal Party itself. Worrying aloud in 2012 about our Pacific policy and how “women were wrecking the joint” during Gillard’s highly successful minority government, Jones said he was “putting Julia Gillard into a chaff bag and hoisting her into the Tasman Sea”.

Gillard’s government invested $320 million in promoting Pacific Island women’s role in business and politics.

“She said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating,” he shrieked in utter disbelief to listeners during an on-air hate update from Barnaby Joyce about the sale of Cubbie Station to a Chinese-led consortium.

“$320 million could have bought the 93,000 hectare Cubbie Station and its water rights, he reckoned. Kept it in Australian hands. There’s no chaff bag big enough for these people.”

“Women are destroying the joint – Christine Nixon in Melbourne, Clover Moore here. Honestly.”

Gillard’s father John a former psychiatric nurse who passed away at 83, “died of shame”, he added in 2012, “To think that he has a daughter who told lies every time she stood for Parliament.”

Also socking it to Jacinda, Jones is joined in combat by another Liberal supporter and climate denialist, One Nation’s resident empiricist, Malcolm Roberts, who knows how much Kiwis love sheep jokes.

“New Zealand has over 60 million sheep. Sheep produce about 30 litres of methane a day. If Ardern was serious about addressing ‘climate change’ shouldn’t she start by culling the entire sheep population of NZ? Or is she just climate gesturing?”

Roberts is wrong in several respects as an AAP fact check demonstrates. He can’t count sheep. New Zealand’s official data agency, Stats NZ, reports the most recent farm census, conducted in 2017, records 27.5 million sheep in the country. A 2018 provisional update reports a drop to 27.3 million.

Nor are sheep the major culprits. New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory for 2017, released in April 2019, shows sheep produced 12.7 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy cattle accounted for 22.5 per cent, while electricity generation created 4.4 per cent.

Above all, this year, New Zealand introduced a bill to reduce emissions of methane by animals to 10 per cent below 2017 levels by 2030, and between 24 and 47 per cent below 2017 levels by 2050.

Fellow climate science denier, Mick-Mack, as Coach ScoMo calls our deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, must grab a headline to delay being deposed by Barnaby Joyce. Mick-Mack chimes in with a killer argument. Lenore Taylor says on ABC Insiders Sunday, that he couldn’t be more “offensive or paternalistic” if he tried. Itinerant Pacific Islander fruit-pickers, he says, should thank their lucky Aussie stars.

“They will continue to survive,” the part-time Elvis impersonator says in his most tone-deaf, judgemental manner. “There’s no question they’ll continue to survive and they’ll continue to survive on large aid assistance from Australia. They’ll continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit.”

And our tomatoes – for eight dollars an hour, as reported in the recent settlement of a case on behalf of fifty workers from Vanuatu, who suffered bleeding from the nose and ears after exposure to chemicals at a farm near Shepparton under the government’s seasonal worker programme.

Brisbane based Agri Labour Australia refuses to admit liability, even after being taken to court and even after agreeing to an undisclosed financial settlement. The Fair Work Ombudsman takes separate legal action. This results in nineteen workers being compensated $50,283 for wage theft – a crime rife in our migrant workforce be it in horticulture or in hospitality.  No records were kept of the workers’ labour over six months.

Seasonal worker and father of six ,Silas Aru, worked for six months, yet was paid a mere $150 in total in farms across Queensland – also as part of a government seasonal workers’ or slave labour scheme. Federal Circuit Court Justice, Michael Jarratt​ struggled to imagine a “more egregious” case of worker exploitation.

Exploited to the point of criminal neglect or abuse, men and women from the Pacific Islands are often the slaves in our nation’s overworked, underpaid, casual or part-time workforce. Mick-Mack knows how to pick ’em. Rip off the vulnerable. Trick them. Rob them blind. Then remind them what a favour you are doing them.

As the bullying of the Pacific Island leaders rapidly turns into an unmitigated disaster, something must be done. ScoMo’s staff work long and hard to orchestrate a shit-storm in response. It’s specialised work. Howard allegedly had an operative in his office solely working on “Alan Jones issues” throughout his term in office, former 2UE Jones colleague and big critic Mike Carlton tells The Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray.

Jones’s confected outrage is a tactical dead cat thrown on the table; distracting media from ScoMo & Co’s default policy of bullying and duplicity. Con-man Morrison promises $500 million over five years for “climate and disaster resilience” but it’s an accounting trick; a shonky repackaging of existing aid. No-one falls for it.

Pacific leaders are insulted, alienated by Morrison’s attempt to con them with a fake bribe. Our PM adds injury to insult by adding a bit of emotional blackmail.  Fijian PM, Frank Bainimarama explains.

“The PM … apparently [backed] into a corner by the leaders, came up with how much money Australia have been giving to the Pacific.” He said: “I want that stated. I want that on the record.’ Very insulting.”

Bainimarama is ropeable. By Saturday, he is all over the media after phoning Guardian Australia. ScoMo’s “condescending” diplomacy is as much of a massive fail as his government’s energy or environment policy or overseas aid abroad vacuums. The Fijian PM is clear that by alienating and insulting Pacific Islanders, ScoMo is helping drive the leaders into the arms of the Chinese. In other words, Morrison’s mission is a total failure.

Kick Australia out of the PIF, calls Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, and veteran advocate for nations battling rising sea-levels caused by global warming. Australia’s membership of the Pacific Island Forum should be “urgently reviewed” for possible sanctions or suspension over the Morrison government’s pro-coal stance, he says. There’s a precedent. Fiji was barred until recently in a move to censure its departure from democracy.

(PIF) … is supposed to be about the well-being of the members,” Tong tells The Sun-Herald and Sunday Age“If one country causes harm to other nations, such as by fuelling climate change, “there should be sanctions”.

“Pacific people see through this facade. We won’t solve the climate crisis by just adapting to it – we solve it by mitigating it, reducing emissions, investing and transitioning to renewables, not shirking our moral duty to fight,” Greenpeace’s Head of Pacific Joseph Moeono-Kolio says. But our federal government just doesn’t get it.

ScoMo started badly by opting for antagonism and insult. Sending junior minister, coal lobby shill, Alex Hawke on ahead to set up talks did not go over well. Hawke recycles denialist garbage. Human influence on global warming is “overblown” he reckons, while in Tuvalu, he peddles the lie that our economy depends on coal.

In reality, the Morrison government’s dance to the tune of the coal barons costs us a fortune. Avoiding climate change reduces our GDP, by $130 billion a year, reports The Australia Institute, citing calculations by government consultant, Brian Fisher. Yet in the reporting of the Forum, our media helpfully relay the government’s re-framing of our global warming crisis into a choice between jobs or a few more emissions.

We are “family” insists Great White Bwana Morrison. A dysfunctional family where a crafty Father Morrison tells the younger fry lies. The Greens Adam Bandt puts his finger on it. Our wretched carry-over Kyoto credits are yet another shonky accounting trick to allow ScoMo to continue his hollow boast that “we’ll meet and beat” our Paris emissions reduction targets. The stunt certainly does not impress beleaguered Pacific leaders.

“At the moment we are not on track to meet the Paris targets. No one in the world is. We are on track to exceed 3.5 degrees of global warming, which will be a catastrophe. The Pacific Island leaders know this.”

Exploiting “a pollution loophole” is how The Australia Institute (TAI) describes Australia’s bad faith. The “pollution loophole” amounts to about eight years of fossil-fuel emissions from the Pacific and New Zealand combined, calculates, TAI, in a research paper it helpfully makes available to leaders before the Forum. The paper pulls no punches from its title onward: How Australia is robbing the Pacific of its climate change efforts.

Worse, it spells out how Islanders are paying for our denialism. Australia intends to use 367 Mt of carbon credits to avoid the majority of emission reductions pledged under its Paris Agreement target. Meanwhile, the entire annual emissions from the Pacific Islands Forum members, excluding Australia, is only about 45 Mt.

The bad faith continues. ScoMo & Co coerce Island leaders into watering down the text of their draft declaration. Or so it seems, unless you are tuned to Radio New Zealand. Local reports have it that after twelve hours, the PIF comes up with a hollow text that mimics the Coalition’s own climate change denialism.

Pacific leaders released a draft declaration in Tuvalu, Tuesday, calling for “an immediate global ban on the construction of new coal-fired power plants and coalmines” and for all countries “to rapidly phase out their use of coal in the power sector”. It echoes the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call last May.

All references to coal go from the forum communique and climate change statement. Expunged also, are any aims to limit warming to less than 1.5C or any commitment to a plan for net zero emissions by 2050.

Naturally, the Pacific leaders have the nous to issue their own separate declaration with targets which echo its draft statement and which follow the lead of the United Nations, sadly, a body increasingly ignored – if not ridiculed – by our own government and that of its great and powerful friend the US, among a host of others.

By Saturday, Morrison’s stunt with grateful fruit-picker and sock back-up is unravelling badly. Promising to be “a good friend, partner and brother of Pacific Island countries” is China’s special envoy to the Pacific, ambassador Wang Xuefeng, who is quick to exploit the rift between Australia and its Pacific neighbours.

Morrison insists the Forum is a “family gathering” and that “when families come together they talk about the stuff that matters, that’s most important to them. Over the next few days that’s exactly what we’ll do.” It’s ScoMo code, Newspeak for insulting, alienating and bullying the leaders; trashing their hopes and aspirations.

Let the Pacific Islanders worry about rising sea levels and increasing salinity which is rapidly making their homes uninhabitable. In Australia, government energy policy is dictated by a powerful coal lobby – with powerful allies in the media. The PM who brings a lump of coal into parliament also has an assistant recruited from Peabody Coal and has his fossil-fuel lobby and a daft hard right with the upper hand in mind all week.

The Prime Minister’s performance at the Pacific Islands Forum is a monumental failure. Even if his bullying, his intransigence, his inhumanity and chicanery do impress a few one-eyed partisans at home it has dealt irreparable damage to our goodwill in the Pacific, which has not really recovered since the Abbott government  cut $11bn from overseas aid in 2015, a cut which the budgie-smuggler insisted was “modest”.

Fears that China will exploit Australia’s neglectful – if not abusive – relationship with its Pacific neighbours are aired all week but the Morrison government isn’t listening. It does everything in its power to offend and alienate Pacific leaders as it clings to its ideological fixation with supporting a moribund coal industry at home.

Above all, enlisting or inspiring the support of Alan Jones, aka The Parrot, has helped the Morrison government shine a light on the unreason, the bullying, the racism and the misogyny which lie at its heart.

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We have failed.

There is no need to spend more than a very few words on this post. For the first time in recorded history, probably the first time since our species’ primitive ancestors crawled out of the sea, we have reached the point of two degrees above normal. Two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Think about that for a moment. That’s the figure that the world’s scientists and politicians have agreed marks the advent of dangerous climate change. It’s the figure that has been the de-facto goal of global efforts to avoid, ever since the Kyoto agreement in 1997 and agreed and reinforced innumerable times since. Two degrees is the figure the world has come to view as the mark of success or failure of our efforts to halt climate change. It’s half a degree above the goal agreed at the recent Paris accords.

Two degrees is probably enough to trigger tipping points, starting a chain of unstoppable changes that will irrevocably, radically and rapidly change the planet we live on to something unrecognisable.

We have just reached two degrees of warming, and we show no signs of even making progress towards reversing the trend. The two degrees figure incorporates the effects of a powerful El Nino effect in record heat for February, the hottest month ever recorded. It is possible that heat readings for March may be less terrifyingly extreme than February. Perhaps we’re not yet permanently two degrees above normal. Regardless, the trend is undeniable.

Climate change continues. Climate change is accelerating. Mankind is making no real effort to stop it. We will not survive this. If this milestone does not spur governments to action, likely nothing ever will.

It doesn’t get any more stark than that. We have failed, we are failing, we will fail.

Billions of dollars are needed post Paris just to maintain pledges

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the pledges made in the lead up to the Paris climate conference in December will require more than $13 trillion of energy efficiency and low carbon investments in order to be realised.

More than $1600 billion was invested worldwide in 2013 to provide energy, which has more than doubled since 2000. Just under 10% of that ($130 billion) has also been invested in improving energy efficiency. More than $1100 billion of the $1600 billion is related to the extraction and transport of fossil fuels, refining oil and the construction of fossil fuel fired power plants.

Over the next 2 decades to 2035, the level of investment required annually just to supply the world’s energy needs will rise to $2000 billion and expenditure on energy efficiency will need to increase to $550 billion. This equates to an investment of more than $48 trillion worldwide-$40 trillion in energy supply and $8 trillion in energy efficiency.

Of the $40 trillion required for energy supply, approximately half relates to fossil fuel extraction, transport and refining. A further 20% is related to expenditure in power generation-$6 trillion in renewables, nuclear ($1 trillion) and $7 trillion in transmission and distribution. The majority of this will be needed in emerging economies (parts of Asia other than China, Africa and Latin America), although ageing infrastructure and climate policies across the OECD also mean that significant investment will also be required in member nations.

By far the largest share of the $40 trillion is required to offset reduced production from existing oil and gas fields and to replace power plants and assets nearing the end of their productive lives. Compensating lower output consumes more than 75% of upstream oil and gas expenditure and replacing “retired” power plants necessitates more than half of the total investment in electricity generation in OECD countries.

In terms of the $8 trillion required for energy efficiency in the next 2 decades, approximately 90% will be required in the transport and building sectors. Two thirds of this will be centred in the European Union, North America and China, based on the size of their respective vehicle markets and current or future vehicle efficiency standards, efforts in the European Union and North America to improve the energy efficiency of appliances and building stock, and China’s drive to improve the efficiency of its industrial sector.

Government policy measures and incentives are increasingly shaping capital investment decisions, rather than signals from competitive markets. In many countries Governments directly influence investment in the energy sector, through ownership of oil and gas reserves or control of power generation capacity through State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Some OECD Governments are now once again influencing energy markets again where previously they opened them to competition, in a move to promote low carbon electricity sources.

Mobilising the private sector to invest in energy will require a deliberate effort to reduce both political and bureaucratic uncertainties. Pressures on public funds and the need for new technology and expertise create opportunities for the private sector, however the conditions are not always conducive for such investment.

The supply of long term finance for investment in the energy sector is not guaranteed, even with new types of investors emerging. The expansion of shale gas and the production of tight oil in North America are two examples, arising from entrepreneurial companies. Emerging State and private companies are increasing their investment in many nations outside the OECD, and the expansion of distributed renewable energy systems (e.g. rooftop solar photovoltaic systems) and energy efficiency initiatives are bringing small businesses and households in the investment mix.

In countries other than the US and Canada where external financing is more readily available, new sources of finance via bonds, securitisation, equity markets or institutional investors (e.g. pension funds and insurance companies) must be unlocked in order to reduce the reliance on bank loans (which could be constrained by new capital adequacy requirements following the last financial crisis).

More than $2 trillion of investment is required in Europe to maintain the reliability of the electricity system. This is unlikely to be forthcoming given the current design of power markets. In addition to the rapid expansion of low carbon electricity generation, approximately 100GW of additional thermal capacity is needed in the next decade. The wholesale electricity price is currently too low to incentivise the level of investment required in those new thermal plants.

Credible policies and innovative financing can be a bridge to a low carbon energy system. In the next 2 decades, approximately $900 billion of investment is required in low carbon energy supply, and energy efficiency expenditure of the order of $1 trillion is required. Dependable policy signals are required to ensure that these investments offer a sufficiently attractive return. Getting prices right is through carbon pricing and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is essential. A lot of work is still required to match the currently available instruments with the specific requirements of low carbon energy projects. Time, a realistic approach and determination are required in equal measure to harness the skills of the financial sector and apply them to the global ambition to reach essential climate change targets.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Why a 4 degree global temperature increase is the new game in town

By Dr Anthony Horton

Numerous recent initiatives intend to precipitate action on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the lead up to the Paris Climate Summit, which is now less than 2 months away. In recent weeks, approximately 2000 people and 400 organisations have made commitments to cease investments in fossil fuel producing companies. Countries were asked to nominate actions they would undertake to reduce GHG emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by October 1.

A US Clean Power Plan which was announced in August this year could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power stations by 870 million tonnes by 2030 (equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road). China has committed to peak emissions by 2030, and there are indications that emissions may peak before that. Two weeks ago on September 25, China announced that a national carbon emissions trading scheme would commence in 2017. Shortly after that, Brazil announced a 43% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

When the Paris Climate Summit begins, the parties negotiating a deal need to consider the extent to which global warming is already occurring. Global carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 were 58% higher than they were in 1990 and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have increased from approximately 340 parts per million (ppm) in 1980 to nearly 400ppm today. It is a commonly held belief that in order to limit warming to 2°C the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere must stay below 1 trillion tonnes.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we were more than half way to 1 trillion tonnes in 2011 with a total amount of 515 billion tonnes in the atmosphere. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue at the rate of 140 billion tonnes each year, temperatures may rise by up to 4.5°C by 2100. Even if each country fully honours its Paris pledge, it is possible that global temperatures may increase by 3.5°C by then.

Global average temperatures are approximately 0.8°C higher than before the Industrial Revolution and a recent study in the journal Science showed that a suspected warming hiatus between 1998 and 2012 didn’t occur-the cooler temperatures arose from measurements from ocean buoys rather than ships. A subsequent study also found flaws in the statistical modelling in the research that pointed to the hiatus.

The world’s oceans are absorbing most of the heat which is being added to the Earth’s climate system. Arctic sea ice coverage in summer has reduced by more than 40% over the past 40 years, and mean sea levels have risen by approximately 20cm since 1880 and could rise by up to 1 metre more by 2100. The Kiribati Government has recently purchased land in Fiji to accommodate residents in the case of flooding.

Given that fresh water is less dense than salt water, melting sheets of ice interrupt oceanic circulation patterns. It is possible that Europe’s climate may cool slightly as a result of the Atlantic meridional driving cold salt water into the deep ocean and warm water northward. The changes in ocean currents may also be shifting jet streams and altering storm patterns.

According to Simon Lewis from University College London, forest fires in Indonesia could release up to 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Recent US fires have consumed more than 2 million hectares of forest. Alaska fared worst due to soot from the fires darkening the ice and reducing its ability to reflect solar radiation away from the Earth.

The Arctic region is reportedly warming twice as fast as the rest of the Earth, and if the permafrosts (that store 1,700 Gigatonnes or 1,700 billion tonnes of carbon) thaw out, huge amounts of methane will be released. The big problem with that is the global warming potential of methane is 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

In a paper recently published in Nature Climate Change, researchers from Universities of Cambridge and Colorado estimated that the economic impact of both methane and carbon dioxide being released could be as high as 0.7% of global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2200 using environmental models. Their research did however include a high level of uncertainty.

A little more than a week ago Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney warned that measures necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change in the long term could result in huge losses  in the shorter term by rendering oil, coal and gas essentially untouchable.

See more on the 4 degree warming scenario here.

I have to say I admire Christiana Figueres’ persistence in urging immediate action-seemingly on a weekly basis. As overseer of the Paris Climate Summit in December she has an unenviable task in obtaining an unprecedented global agreement. Her task is not made any easier given the justification with which some countries are defending their Paris commitments (despite considerable pressure from others) and their apparent lack of understanding that we are all residents of the one Earth.

Most developed countries understand that the old “business as usual” approach simply won’t cut it anymore and that they have a responsibility to take the needs of people in developing countries into account, especially as the majority of these countries have made little contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. Announcements are being made virtually every day on social media regarding renewable energy initiatives and/or countries, states or towns that are moving from a reliance on fossil fuels to larger and larger percentages of renewables in their energy mix.

Whether the global average temperature increase by 2100 is predicted to be 2°C or 4°C, it is inevitable that countries need to join together and help each other, including their nearest neighbours. Australia’s recent move to “throw its toys out of the cot” if the UN established an organisation charged with the responsibility of assisting people that are fleeing from the ravages of climate change surely flies in the face of the need to help those around us.

This article was first published on The Climate Change Guy.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Looking Back At My 2015 Predictions!

The loss of Tony Abbott as PM has at least meant that the ludicrousness is over. And while he’s still making the odd appearance to remind us all of how loose his connection to reality was, the fact remains that now he appears a little more like a court jester than the king himself.

Yes, it’s true that Mr Turnbull has kept all of the policies, but one senses that his defence of some of them is a little less strident. He treats his opponents, not as some evil enemy, but as someone who could be talked round to a sensible way of thinking… If only they weren’t so lacking in intellectual fibre because anybody with the right stuff would surely see that Malcolm Turnbull is right. And while I don’t wish to defend Mr Turnbull, his decision not to reappoint Maurice Newman as an advisor to the government at least indicates that the man has some understanding that having an advisor who believes that global warming is part of some gigantic conspiracy is not far removed from having one who wears an aluminum hat to press conferences so that the left wing media can’t control his brain.

And since reading various critics of Bill Shorten I thought about asking for at least a bit of fairness for the poor man. After all accusing him of being “one of the faceless men of the union movement” is a bit ridiculous considering he’s now Opposition Leader. But then I thought that writing about Bill Shorten is a bit like writing about the fourth placed contestant in the first “Australian Idol” – nobody cares. The real problem with Shorten, I suspect, isn’t what he’s done or what he says; it’s his voice. It lacks authority and sounds whiny. Thinking back on all the PM’s, you’ll notice that some of our most popular have had deep, well-modulated voices while our least popular had voices that lacked gravitas. Compare Hawke to McMahon. Ok, Whitlam may be the exception but it’s worth remembering that he started off popular enough to win an election when the convention was that Labor should rename itself the POP or Permanent Opposition Party.

So with nothing much to say on Abbott, Turnbull or Shorten, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my predictions for 2015 and see how I’m doing. (Yes, I know that I keep reminding everyone about my scoop on Turnbull becoming PM written in the middle of last year, but I’m not going to mention that here. This is all about this year’s predictions!)

Rossleigh’s Predictions for 2015 (With Comments in bold)

Ok, my 2015 predictions! Here goes:

  1. Abbott will be asked if he thinks that he should appoint someone else as Minister for Women but he’ll assure us that he’s the only person in his government who trully “gets women” and understands the particular problems some of them have getting pregnant – like infertility or not having a man.Comment: Not aware of it happening so let’s not count it one way or the other.
  2. There will speculation about a possible leadership challenge from Julie Bishop and/or Malcolm Turnbull.Comment: Ok, a tick here.
  3. Speculation will intensify when Bishop says categorically that she has no desire to be PM. Comment: Yep, another tick.
  4. Steve Bracks will make a bid for a seat in federal politics leading to speculation about him as a future PM. Comment: Ok a cross.
  5. Christopher Pyne will suggest that the words “hypocrite” and “inconsistent” should be considered unParliamentary. Comment: Mm, Not doing as well as I thought.
  6. Joe Hockey will claim wages being too high is the reason for high unemployment.Comment: Given just about every Liberal is suggesting this about penalty rates, I’m going to give myself a tick so that the crosses don’t outnumber the ticks at the end. 
  7. Joe Hockey will claim a lack of wages growth is the reason for his inability to get the  Budget back into surplus.Comment: Ok, I’ll give myself another tick just because I’m the one doing the ticks and crosses. I mean, if Tony Abbott can give his government high praise and suggest that he’d have “convingly” won the next election, what’s a little tick between friends?
  8. Sources “high up in the Liberal Party” will be critical of Tony Abbott, but tell everyone that he is safe because everyone is too scared of Peta Credlin to launch a challenge. Comment: All right this one is so close to the truth that it deserves an extra big tick. It’s just that, in the end, they were more scared of losing their seats.
  9. David Leyonhjelm will announce that we use introduce a “user pays” system when voting in elections, before asserting that if everyone carried a gun, there’d be no need for elections. Comment: Well, given he’s recently suggested that migrants could buy their way into Australia, I don’t feel like giving myself a cross. How about I do what the ABC did when assessing how many of the Liberal’s promises were broken, and just put “In progress”? Mm, that one works for Steve Bracks and Christopher Pyne too. 
  10. It will be discovered that Bronwyn Bishop is completely deaf in her left ear, and has only been ejecting Labor MPs after secret signals from the Government side. Comment: Well, I’m counting the helicopter ride. It may have nothing to do with the prediction but surely she wouldn’t have been able to hear over the noise of the chopper.
  11. Scott Morrison will tell everyone that he has a soft spot for people who’ve been on benefits for more than a year. It will later be discovered that by “soft spot” he meant a boggy swamp where they could all be hidden. Comment: Actually this is more accurate if I change it to being about Joe Hockey.
  12. A scandal involving the misappropriation of funds by a prominent Liberal will be headed “Labor Fail To Notice Dishonesty” in the Murdoch Papers.Comment: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/victorian-liberal-party-investigating-15-million-missing-after-election-campaign/story-fnpp4dl6-1227490570041 Ok, even though the Murdoch paper didn’t mention Labor at all, I’m still giving myself a big tick for my accurate prediction on the missing funds based on nothing at all. 
  13. Rebekah Brooks will be given a job in Australia leading to some nasty comments that a couple of hundred years ago it was the ones who were found guilty who were sent to the colonies. Comment: Gee, I thought that even Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t have the hide to employ Brooks in Britain when she apparently had no idea what was going on and was apparently signing away large sums of money without asking what it was for. 
  14. One of Abbott’s ministers will be praised as one of their best performers, only for it later to be discovered that he/she has been suffering from agoraphobia and hasn’t left their home for the past year. Comment: Ok, wrong. Nobody was praised as one of Abbott’s best performers.
  15. Barnaby Joyce will tell us that the Senate should be abolished as it’s unnecessary, a waste of money and a frustration for democratically elected government. When asked if felt this way when he was a senator, he’ll argue that back in those days the Senate was fulfilling the worthwhile role of stopping the Labor government from introducing an Emissions Trading Scheme. Comment: All right, wrong. But I’m sure Barnaby said something equally stupid. Actually, his comment that Abbott should have been allowed to step down is so ridiculous that it would be like suggested that Lord Sauron should be given the Ring so that he could destroy it himself.
  16. Some readers will attempt to use reason and logic to argue with one of the trolls making comments, when the person making the comment clearly has a limited relationship with the real world, so abstract concepts like coherent arguments will bounce off them like bullets off Superman’s chest. (Like Superman, these trolls will often have a secret identity and feel very sure of themselves, but unlike Superman, they’ll never actually accomplish anything apart from making people wonder whether the education system is failing or whether it’s just a few Queenslanders who’ve spent too long in the sun) Comment: Yep, this definitely happend.

Ok, so as you can see I’ve done extremely well as a predictor of events. All right, I only got one or two completely correct. But as Tetlock’s work (see below) showed, just being wrong never stopped anyone from continuing to make predictions.

Or as someone so eloquently put it, “An economist is a person who is paid to explain why his or her forecasts were wrong.”

So to keep up my forecasting record, let’s look forward to the election in March. Failing that, I’m predicting it’ll be sometime later in 2015. That way, I should still have at least a fifty percent success rate.

Calling “Game Over”

Human-induced climate change is real. The risks of inaction are real and mounting.” So Fairfax editorialised in this week’s papers. The gist of the article is that we still have time to mobilise and get our governments and policymakers to take real action on stymieing climate change. It is probably true, as the article claims, that we are witnessing a slowly dawning awareness of the Australian people and by the global economy. But by some measures, this is significantly too little – and way too late.

“Two degrees celsius.” How many times have you heard the “two degrees” target proposed as the benchmark? Almost every popular media outlet, when writing about climate change (when they’re not claiming it isn’t happening or isn’t worth our attention) includes a statement like “We can still keep warming below two degrees, but we have to start now.” So we talk about carbon budgets. We talk about carbon capture and storage. We argue about the merits of a cap-and-trade system, an incentives system, a carbon tax – as if we still have time to compromise, time to experiment and find the ideal balance between maintaining our treasured social systems and the rescue of the global environment.

The current climate change narrative is based on a series of mistruths and falsities. We are told that we still have time to turn the ship around. The truth is that we do not.

We are told that two degrees is a hard and fast target, beyond which everything turns to disaster and before which we will be okay, if slightly uncomfortable. The truth is that there is no safe limit, that two degrees is not a magic number, and that two degrees is likely already beyond our prevention. The truth is that we have already emitted more than enough carbon to take us to two degrees and well beyond, and we’re showing no signs of slowing.

We are told that even if we go beyond two degrees, the disruption that results will come in the form of hurricanes and bushfires and rising tides. The truth is that while increased frequency and severity of hurricanes and bushfires will be a part of the outcomes of climate change, this is the merest tip of the iceberg. These visible disasters can be constrained and understood as freak occurrences that interrupt the status quo and from which we can recover. Less so is the permanent loss of arable land, the global starvation that may result, and potentially the tipping of our environment into a hellish morass incapable of supporting human life. That we are now seeing reputable sources raising the spectre of near-term human extinction in public narratives is telling of both how far the public discourse has gone ahead of public policy, and of the potential import of the fact that we’ve been so slow to act.

Whilst we have seen that the public and the media are far more accepting of the urgency of action on climate change than any of our leaders are willing to countenance, the public narrative is nevertheless generally years behind the science. Science has been telling us for the better part of a decade that two degrees is both insufficient and unattainable. Meanwhile the news media, and through them the general public, have been absorbed by the question of the reality of climate change, a question that climate researchers put to bed decades ago.

Only in the last few months have we started to see the global narrative start to catch up to reality, which is at the same time optimistic and disheartening. The truth that the media are slowly coming to understand is that two degrees might be possible, but not in the world that we know and live in now. As the media have finally started to catch on that yes, climate change is happening; yes, climate change is deadly serious; and no, we have not acted as quickly and as desperately as required; it begs the question. What is the current state of scientific understanding and how long will it take for the world to catch up to that?

An inevitable outcome?

There are reasons for the lag in public understanding. In years to come the placing of blame might become a hobby, but while attributing responsibility to various groups and individuals is easy, it is also simplistic. The long answer is that our inaction on climate change has been driven by the systems within which we work and live. These systems are well designed to order society and to offer freedom and opportunity to some. They are not effective, however, at providing for philanthropy. Our current systems of democracy and capitalism reward selfishness and self-interest and they pander to our genetic weaknesses. And the unstoppable forces of consumerism encourage and reward immediate gratification not only as a personal pleasure but a social good. The system requires us to buy and consume in order to sustain the order of things. More fundamentally, we need to buy and consume in order to feel good, and we are rewarded by a sense of accomplishment, we are rewarded by social approval and we are rewarded by endorphins. The same psychological tendencies that cause us to become fat and unfit also put barriers in our way to accepting bad news.

Bad news is a climate scientist’s stock in trade. Scientists are conservative by nature – they have to be. Crying wolf leads to a loss of respect and credence, and inevitably to a loss of funding. For a scientist or scientific organisation to decry an oncoming disaster, a high level of proof is required, and this takes time. The rumbling on the tracks isn’t enough: they need to be able to see the oncoming train’s lights before they’re willing to commit.

Scientists are not to blame for their reticence. One of the most constant criticisms of the IPCC’s work is not that the work is flawed, but that the resulting reports are universally conservative. They err on the side of caution. IPCC reports contain a range of projections, using a selection of different assumptions and resulting in very different outcomes, but they do not advise on the relative likelihood of being able to meet these curves. The effect is to allow policymakers to treat each projection as equally possible, and when one or more of the scenarios results in a temperature rise under two degrees, the opportunity arises to claim that this is still in reach. Scientists would say that the contents of the reports are reliable as a best-case scenarios, but that’s not how the reports are received in practice. The policy makers who must take IPCC reports into account largely consider them to be worst-case scenarios, and the urgency of the problem is diminished.

Tempting as it may be to do so, politicians also cannot be blamed for their inaction. Politicians are rewarded (in electoral popularity) for populist messages of hope and optimism. Politicians are punished, severely, for being the messenger that tells their people that they will have to make sacrifices (financial, creature comforts, lifestyle changes) for the sake of the public good. Far worse awaits those who attempt to impose these sacrifices. It is entirely reasonable to expect politicians to clutch at any straws offered, be they a possible solution that doesn’t carry electoral cost (e.g. direct action) or a skerrick of doubt about the science. In an environment filled with lobbyists arguing that there will be consequences to climate action, and think tanks and vested interests obscuring the science with manufactured doubt, motivated by a kind of economics that cannot afford to take climate change into account, it takes a special kind of political courage to take a stand. As we saw in the case of the 2013 election, all too often The People will punish such presumption.

We can’t even blame The People. The truth is that our evolution has not equipped us well to handle the kind of challenge that climate change presents. Humans are an immensely adaptable species, and when we cannot adjust our environment to suit our needs, we can adjust our own lifestyle to suit. However, we almost always need to be spurred into action. We evolved from hunter-gatherers who would gorge in the good times, in preparation for the long stretch of privation that would follow. At our core, we’re not prepared to leave the carcass on the ground.

Too little, too late

However it happens, whatever the cause, we are caught by it. Humanity is having a cook-out in a tunnel and we’ve ignored the rumblings underfoot for too long. It’s not until we see the lights of the oncoming train that we even start the engine of our getaway car and there’s no way we’re dodging this express train.

We read that we have, at most ten or fifteen years to turn the ship around. Here’s the thing, though: they told us this ten or fifteen years ago, too. If the problem was that urgent then, if the need for change was so pressing then, how can we still have a decade left to act now? The explanation is that the definition of “action” is changing. Climate scientists, pressured to give an optimistic outcome – to avoid calling “Game Over” – move the goalposts. They adopt increasingly unrealistic assumptions and expectations in their models of climate action. They invent ever more fanciful future technologies – magic bullets, couched in scientific-sounding terminology.

It is finally reaching the point where normal people – journalists, activists, even politicians – are calling them out on it. The likelihood of us being able to meet a trajectory to keep temperature increases below two degrees is presently somewhere between none and laughable. But so long as it is still technically possible to succeed at halting global warming, we keep hearing the “we still have time” message. So let’s have a look at what is actually required to stave off the kind of climate change that runs an even risk of killing every human on the planet.

http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/12/two-degrees-will-we-avoid-dangerous-climate-change/ : “In order to get back on track, emissions need to peak and then fall by between 40 and 70 per cent by 2050, the IPCC says, with unabated fossil fuel burning almost entirely phased out by 2100… That would require a never-before seen global effort to be sustained for a generation.”

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/15/8612113/truth-climate-change : “Holding temperature down under 2°C — the widely agreed upon target — would require an utterly unprecedented level of global mobilization and coordination, sustained over decades. There’s no sign of that happening, or reason to think it’s plausible anytime soon.”

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119757/two-degrees-climate-change-no-longer-possible : “To be sure, the IPCC noted, it’s conceivable the world still could stay below that level – but only if governments immediately imposed stringent and internationally uniform carbon limits, and if a host of new low-carbon energy technologies proved able to scale up. Those are massive “ifs,” and though the IPCC wasn’t so impolite as to say so, there’s little to suggest that perfect trajectory will play out.”

In order to achieve the goal, humanity as a species must put aside national partisanship, untrammelled economic growth as a priority, and our current industrial machinery. Advanced economies must immediately and radically decarbonise their economies, at the same time as effectively building first-world economies in less advanced nations who would otherwise strive to catch up to “modern” standards of living via their own industrial revolutions. Humans in the affluent West must accept a curtailing of their profligate lifestyles and their aspirations.

Some have likened the effort required to the mobilization of the West in the early days of World War II, when entire economies were retooled to face an existential threat. But these similes were raised half a decade ago, and the problem has become even more dire since then. We must, as a species, put the good of the planet and the environment ahead of our own short-term interests. This is something that goes against our very nature.

But even our best intentions are not enough. At this point, there is enough carbon in the atmosphere to blow through two degrees and well beyond – potentially setting off the feedback loops and tipping points that bring us to a very final The End. In order to limit temperature rise to two degrees, current models include assumptions about negative carbon emissions – capturing carbon from the atmosphere and putting it into the ground or into trees. This requires either huge swathes of territory to be converted to forests – and only good, arable, important-for-feeding-seven-billion-humans land will do – or the widespread adoption of technology that doesn’t even exist yet.

Is it time yet to call game over?

You can’t get there from here

There are a number of good reasons to declare “Game Over” on climate change.

Because there is a point beyond which hope becomes denial.

We see an example with Australian farmers in northern Queensland. Devastated by crippling floods in early 2013, it did not take long before large portions of Queensland were back in the Long Dry. By March 2014, the State’s largest ever drought had been declared, following the failure of the “wet season”. Drought is a largely artificial definition, designed primarily to enable governments to provide assistance to affected areas, predicated on the understanding that this is a “natural disaster” and will come to an end. The terminology of “drought”, at core, assumes that there is a normal state of being, and the lack of rain is an exception, an aberration, on par with storms or cyclones.

More than a year later, the rains have failed again and the drought has not broken – it has become worse. All this in advance of a predicted severe El Nino. The signs are not looking good for relief for our beleaguered Queensland farmers any time soon. And still we hear politicians State and Federal talking about drought assistance, of getting the farmers through the hard patch before the rains return.

According to my calculations, most of Queensland has been officially in drought for fifteen of the last twenty-five years. An El Nino can run for up to seven years, so we may be in for a significant period before the end of this cycle. If you’re living under drought conditions for more years than under wet conditions, can it really be called a drought any longer? At what point do we bow to the inevitable and admit that, rather than being a drought, this is the new normal? That climate change has made these areas untenable for ongoing agriculture? That continuing to support farmers with “drought assistance” is a never-ending battle that cannot be won?

Admitting defeat would mean the departure of farmers from these lands and force an alteration to the economy and markets of the State. It could be argued that reclassifying land as non-arable will destroy the lives of farmers trying to eke out a living on it, but it could as well be argued that those lives are destroyed anyway and farmers seeking support are modern-day King Canutes who will eventually have to move anyway.

Sometimes, it makes more sense to just admit defeat, rather than throwing good money after bad.

Because denial makes us focus on the actions that we need to take to win, rather than getting started on the actions required upon losing

As long as electors are told that two degrees is possible if only we find the right balance of punitive and reward policies the longer the policy debate remains mired in detail and technicality. It allows governments to hold out policies like Direct Action as a valid approach to climate change. It allows an ETS to include a variety of loopholes and concessions designed to protect vulnerable industries at the expense of the scheme’s effectiveness. This author has been a critic of the Greens’ approach to Labor’s ETS, scuttling a plan that might have gotten a foot in the door because it wasn’t ideal at the outset. But that was then, and this is now. It is far too late for half-measures. Unfortunately, we will never see full-strength climate policies as long as politicians can still argue that all will be well if we just cut our emissions by “five percent over 2000 levels”.

Because reality

If for no other reason, it might be valid to call an end to the charade of climate change action because it’s a colossal waste of time and money on the basis of a lie. It’s a lie, because none of those arguing loudly that we can still save the world are taking the next step and adding “only if we do what the world has never managed to do before and only if all the cards fall our way”. This is a lie of omission, and those telling it are often not even aware of it because they themselves have not been shown the sheer unlikelihood of what they’re proposing. If we reframe the argument in the appropriate terms, at least we can start talking about things with a sense of truth and reality rather than what we hope might be the case.

Reasons not to declare “Game Over”

Because it might not be

There may still be time – if atmospheric sensitivity is lower than modelled, and if we can invent and distribute carbon capture technology, and if the world radically reverses direction. Under the IPCC’s optimistic models, there is still time. Meeting these optimistic assumptions will be a heroic task, but we won’t get there if we don’t try and we won’t try if we’ve already thrown in the towel. An important first step would be the support of research into carbon capture / atmospheric cleaning technologies that will be absolutely fundamental to any kind of success from here.

Because it’s too important

Declaring “game over” sends the message to those who’d be most harmed by climate change that they aren’t worth saving.”  Our mythologies are full of humans in dire circumstances not giving up on hope. If there has ever been a cause around which the world could rally, that has the immediate threat to human survival on a global scale and the fortunes of small groups of people in specific, this is it. To give up on climate action is to give up on a large part of the world, raise the fences around the wagons and wait out the next great Human Extinction. Those most badly affected will be those who contributed to it the least and are least deserving. For the advanced nations to give up while there is still even the ghost of a chance is to add insult to lethal injury.

Because we need the urgency

We need urgency; we need the seriousness. There’s a fine line between panic-inducing immediacy and threat, and inertia-generating fatalism. World War II, in its size and ferocity and its immediacy, was enough to jolt the western world into action. We will see, over the next decade, increasingly dire climate outcomes. At some point, public attitudes and governmental policies will catch up with the exigencies of climate reality. The media and the government may always be a decade behind in understanding the threat, but action taken now on the basis of last decade’s threats will still have a beneficial effect on this decade’s crisis. We don’t know for sure that we can salvage the silverware, but we can be absolutely certain that nothing will survive if we stop fighting for it.

Because game over isn’t necessarily “game over”

We will miss two degrees – but the story doesn’t end there. “Everyone agrees on the general point — risks and damages keep piling up as the world gets hotter. So if the world can’t prevent 2°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to try and avoid 3°C of warming. If we can’t avoid 3°C of warming, it’s still a good idea to avoid 4°C. And so on.” The world doesn’t end at 2 degrees. Tipping points and reinforcing cycles may mean that the world is more fragile than it appears, but every extra degree of warming increases the inhospitability of our future world far more than the degree before it. If we can halt warming at three degrees, it’s still worth doing.

Because victory ain’t what it used to be

In the end, we may be forced to move the goalposts of what constitutes success. The two degrees scenario is aimed at preserving our current civilization. Restrain global warming to two degrees and we may be able to retain our present way of life, our creature comforts, our technology, and our populations. It may be – it probably is – too late for that: our world will change and our way of life must change to suit the new, hotter world we are creating.

But the end of our current, comfortable civilisation does not have to be the end of the human story. If the worst case scenarios are true, then the game is no longer about salvaging a world for our children: it is about salvaging a world for ANY children. If it is too late for current nation-states to survive, it’s not yet too late for modern life somewhere, somehow. If it becomes too late for capitalism as we know it, it’s not yet too late to preserve some kind of civilisation. If it is too late for us, it is not yet too late for humanity. We don’t know where we’ll end up, but however far beyond the point of no return we may have gone, we know that there is more road yet to travel. In the end, the best reason not to call Game Over – not to just stop trying and learn to love the bomb – is that there may yet be time to salvage some kind of future for some of us.

Just probably not all of us.

 

A tree is for life, not just for Christmas!

There is something quite magical about trees. From the food we eat to the air we breath trees sustain us. They provide us with medicines, enrich our soils, cleanse our water tables, build and furnish our homes, provide shade and coalesce the clouds that bring us fresh rain water. Trees soothe us emotionally, for no matter how down we may feel, we always feel a little better when we can get ourselves to a park or forest and commune with a tree.

What could be a better symbol of hope and renewal than a tree?

You may be surprised to learn that the humble Christmas tree actually pre-dates “Christmas” by many thousands of years. The winter solstice celebration currently known as Christmas has in fact gone by many names, and has had many religious rituals attached to it throughout the ages.

The Pagans used to use evergreen branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as a reminder that the renewal of spring would soon be with them. The ancient Romans even used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, so there is nothing new, or exclusively christian about lopping down a tree and dragging it inside for the mid winter festival.

While the global figures are difficult to calculate the USA chops down and sells around 40 million live christmas trees every year, but this is not an entirely bad thing. It means there is somewhere in the vicinity of 400 million trees in the USA, (sorry don’t have Australian figures), now growing that wouldn’t be there but for the Christmas market, (and 400 million trees is a lot of carbon abatement).

With roughly 40% of live Christmas trees subsequently being recycled, and the fact that fir trees don’t need as high a quality soil as other crops, (so they can utilise otherwise degraded land), using a real tree is, on the face of it, a far better option than using a fake one.

“The annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree every year were just one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a typical six-year lifespan. Most fake trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal”. NY times

Even so, the arbitrary chopping down trees is not something we should be taking lightly. The fact is we are in big environmental trouble, and deforestation is a large part of our problem.

replanting-forest-china.jpg.400x300_q90_crop-smart

Forests currently cover about 30 % of the world’s land mass but according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest – roughly the size of Panama – are lost each year and about half of the world’s tropical forests have already been cleared; with forest loss contributing between 12 and 17 % of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

But the reckless felling of the world’s forests doesn’t just pose a threat to our global climate, it also endangers global food security. Soil erosion, soil salinity, drought, and desertification are just some of the devastating consequences of industrial forestry and farming practices.

burkina_faso_black_hand_955x415_0While there are a plethora of ideas and arguments on how to manage the climate crisis, many suggestions, like geo-engineering, could expose the planet to utterly terrifying unforeseen consequences. There is however one rather unassuming solution being proposed that is, (as far as anyone has been able to ascertain), totally free from any negative consequences…

PLANT MORE TREES!

worth of a tree

It’s hardly a radical proposition, as pretty much everyone agrees that if we are to avoid a catastrophic environmental collapse we need to preserve the trees and forests we already have, and we desperately need to plant more!

There is plenty of good science behind this too. Trees release chemicals that form clouds, and clouds not only bring rain, but they also reflect sunlight and act like a heat shield. Trees can literally cool the planet if we plant enough of them. But the good news doesn’t stop there, planting trees can repair degraded landscapes and provide food, employment and business opportunities where there is currently nothing but despair.

This inspiring video, narrated by Stephen Fry is an insight into what we can achieve if we all pull together.

At this point I would like to introduce you to “WE FOREST”, a non profit TREE PLANTING NGO that in spite of being very well known in Europe, (and having been founded by noted Melbourne expat Bill Liao), has thus far remained fairly low profile here in Australia.   

With the modest aim of planting two trillion trees, rehabilitating degraded land and cooling the planet, (all while providing food, business opportunities and employment for locals), WE FOREST has planted more than 6 million trees so far, and is currently doubling it’s total plant every year.

SUCH IS THE POWER OF A GOOD IDEA BACKED UP BY ACTION!

Giving trees for Christmas is something that I am doing this year, and it’s something I am inviting you to do with me. In just a few clicks, you can offset your entire carbon footprint for the year, or buy trees as a gift for your loved ones. (You will get a nice certificate via email stating how many trees you have bought on their behalf, and you can add a personal message too). The trees you donate, (and their associated permaculture forests) are monitored to ensure they remain in place, so you can rest assured that your gift will be one that will keep on giving for generations to come.

When you add up all the benefits of strategic tree planting the upside is absolutely astounding, and at approximately $1 a tree, the cost is surprisingly small. What better gift to give your children than to match the cost of this year’s Christmas tree with the gift purchase of REAL LIVING GROWING TREES that will help secure a better future for the planet and our entire human family?

tree huggers

Best of the season to you all.

 

A Perfect Storm

Image by climate-change-guide.com

Image by climate-change-guide.com

The implications of peak oil and global warming for world security

“The modern global economy has been built on cheap oil and its abundant availability.” –

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2011/02/11/opinion/Peak-oil-will-have-an-adverse-effect-on-all-econom-30148420.html

The security agencies and defense departments of the world’s strongest superpowers do not have the luxury of pretending that climate change is not happening. They’re not able to blithely deny that resource shortages, burgeoning world populations and runaway global warming will have ramifications for their regions and their countries. While their governments and politicians might outwardly deny that climate change is real or that society has any real limits, their militaries and their policy hardheads are quietly planning for the worst.

The reality is that our world economy, the political structures that shape it and the peoples that make up her nations are fragile, susceptible to any number of crises that could bring the system down. The 21st century sees a number of separate but related crises arriving more or less at once, and these crises will undeniably reshape the world around us.

At the root of these crises is oil, and our planet’s industrialisation borne on the back of cheap, plentiful energy. This boon has led to top-heavy societies that are too globalised to survive on their own. The abundance of oil has led to unparalleled prosperity, booming populations and mind-boggling technology, all entirely reliant on the continued availability of the resources that sustained their growth. And it has led inexorably to climate change and the host of disasters that this presents.

Governments and academics around the world are waking up to the geopolitical ramifications of climate change. Indeed, in the past few years we’ve seen the first upheavals whose roots can be attributed to changing climate. If unchecked, climate change will lead to a bleak future of climate refugees and interminable, bloody war. This is not histrionics. This is the considered view of very senior academics and powerful military strategists. The only questions are whether we might be in time to slow climate change through global action, and how first-world countries with resources available will respond as the world sinks into deprivation and conflict. The signs on both fronts, unfortunately, are not good.

By itself, climate change does not have to lead to war and tyranny. Climate change and its effects are, like any other political force, a challenge for governments to overcome. The real danger is in how governments respond to climate change. But the challenges of the future are likely to be too great to ameliorate.

The 21st Century will see a perfect storm of crises upon us. They are already in view.

Climate change – driven by the industrialised world’s dependence on oil for energy – is striking us hardest just when oil is becoming harder to supply. The world depends on cheap oil for energy as well as for agriculture, but we are reaching the limits of our ability to provide this essential resource before we’ve gotten serious about finding alternatives. And the intensive and growing use of oil is leading to global climate change that will have the effect of accelerating collapse and disorder.

So what are some of the national security implications of climate change allied to resource shortages? In terms of security, the outcomes are unrest and revolution, climate refugees and conflict and war.

Instability, unrest and revolution

In just the last few years we have watched from afar as nations across the globe have struggled with upheaval, revolution and internal strife. Many in the comfortable west probably put these conflicts down to tribal politics, racial hatreds or religious intolerance. Whilst these elements are undoubtedly present, religious ideals rarely lead to revolutions in the real world. From the Crusades onwards, people with extreme views on religion and race have taken advantage of conflicts already begun for other purposes. In the modern day we have seen this in Iraq, in Syria, and in Afghanistan, conflicts that began for other reasons but are now entrenched in the narrative of “sectarian warfare”.

At core, however, most or all of these conflicts can be attributed to the perfect storm of resource shortages and climate change. Let’s look at a few of the most current examples.

SYRIA

The core of the conflict in Syria is not, as some would have you believe, islamic militants trying to overthrow a democracy, nor a tyrant attempting to mercilessly crush freedom-fighters. The core of the issue is drought and food shortages.

Drought and agricultural collapse have forced hundreds of thousands of Syrians into the cities where they become dependent upon the government’s support. However, the government’s ability to support these climate refugees has collapsed along with the country’s economy. It doesn’t help that the regime is not sympathetic to the peoples’ needs. This combination of factors has led to a situation where, for many people, simple survival becomes a higher priority than good social behaviour.

If Syria had plentiful monetary resources and the willingness to spend, it could provide food and water for its people. Through purchasing food, desalinating water, irrigating and artificially managing its agriculture, it could deal with the challenges. But it is neither able nor willing to go down this path. The result, as we have seen, is civil war and a country in miserable turmoil. But they’re not alone.

THE ARAB SPRING

The Arab Spring had its roots in a water and food crisis. The series of uprisings across the middle east is held up as a shining example of populations attempting to throw off the shackles of oppressive masters, and to some extent there is some validity to this interpretation. But people will tolerate a lot of tyranny so long as they are comfortable. Freedom is not the panacea the US would have people believe. (This is why the Chinese people, on the whole, are very happy with their situation despite their lack of freedom: they have the comforts they require for daily living.) At the core of the Arab Spring was not a hunger for freedom, but simply hunger. The regimes were not living up to their side of the bargain.

THAILAND

In Thailand, drought and floods combined to hit domestic food supplies and food exports. Recovery from the floods, plus the hit to export revenue caused by the decimation of their food exports, combined with the country’s dependence on foreign oil to eat into the government’s ability to afford to meet the needs of its people now, let alone plan into the future for energy diversification and economic renewal.

This combination of factors has led to high levels of debt for the low-paid workers, high living costs and high unemployment. The eventual and inevitable result has been social unrest. In Thailand’s case this had led to martial law and, currently, to yet another military coup. But the people continue to suffer and while guns on the street may enforce order, they can’t address poverty and starvation.

EGYPT

For a final example, consider Egypt. Egypt also suffers water and food shortages. For decades it has been a net importer of food. When the price of wheat effectively doubled in 2010 and 2011, the result was swift and fateful. Mubarak fell in early 2011. That revolution, so full of hope at the time, has not led to the utopian society Egyptians hoped for, as it does nothing to address the core issues. In truth, the core issues are largely outside the scope of Egypt’s government to contend with.

“As energy accounts for over a third of the costs of grain production, high food prices are generally underpinned by high oil prices. Since 2005, world oil production has remained on an undulating plateau that has kept prices high, contributing to surging global food prices.
According to the New England Complex Systems Institute, if food prices go over a threshold of 210 on the FAO Food Price Index, the probability of civil unrest is greatly magnified.”

http://qz.com/116276/at-the-root-of-egyptian-rage-is-a-deepening-resource-crisis/

The FAO has been hovering at or above 210 since at least 2010. If climate change reduces global food output, inevitably the price of food will increase. If oil becomes scarcer or more expensive, the price of food will increase. To these issues, under the current system, there is no clear or easy resolution.

Conflict and war

Internal conflict is not the only outcome of resource shortages and climate change. As nations across the world find it harder to keep their populations supplied with the food, water, energy and goods that keep them happy, the pressures will increase to find and secure new sources. Despite the comforting narratives that keep western civilians believing that conflicts in far-flung and uncivilised nations are due to local religious squabbles, modern nations are very aware of the precarious nature of their power, and will be willing to go to great lengths to avoid travelling down the same path.

CONFLICTS OVER OIL

As a result, in the past decades we have seen conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq explode into worldwide wars with the involvement of great powers. It is hardly a secret that America was not in Iraq primarily because of the sufferings of a few Iraqis, but because Saddam was not friendly to the oil needs of the US. Much of the current situation in Ukraine can also be attributed to Russia’s intent to secure oil reserves.

At the current moment there are territorial disputes across the South China sea: primarily, conflicts between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands, and between China and the Philippines over the Reed Bank. Even Australia is not immune from territorial disputes over oil: witness the dispute between Australia and Timor over the Timor Sea maritime boundary. Whilst all of these disputes are currently diplomatic, there have already been military incidents in some of them, and any of them could blow up into serious conflict. They will not be the last such disputes of this century.

CONFLICTS OVER FOOD AND WATER

Water shortages are arguably the greatest challenge facing the world of the immediate future. According to the UN, “…by 2025, two-thirds of us will experience water shortages, with nearly two billion suffering severe shortfalls.”

China is in perilous state with drought affecting its farmlands: it’s the world’s biggest user of imported water. “Land grabs” in Africa – and Australia – are intended not as assaults on those continents but are an attempt to secure productive land to grow food and ship it back home.

Attempts by China to procure land in Australia may be a false economy; there is a decent chance that Australia may soon be joining China in a need for fresh sources of fresh water and arable land. The oncoming El Nino may be salutary.

Desalination can play a part in providing for the water needs of cities and of agriculture. But desalination is energy-intensive and expensive, and requires a large amount of political capital. Things will need to get worse before the people will realise the need for things to get better.

CONFLICTS OVER TERRITORY

We live in a post-Empire world. In the modern era, nations do not generally invade or annex other nations for the sake of world domination; the world has reached a form of equilibrium and any such attempts would be roundly resisted. International conflicts now are driven by more prosaic concerns, such as the desire to secure energy and mineral resources.

In such a world, any unclaimed or untapped resources take on a greater level of significance. Currently, there are three major fields which may help nations address their ongoing needs, and it is in these fields that we are likely to see expansionist movements and potential conflicts over the next decades. These fields are the open ocean, Antarctica and space.

We are already seeing conflicts over claimed areas of ocean. We can expect to see ongoing exploration in international waters for new resource fields. However, in general, resources are both rarer and harder to extract when they are in international waters. Deep sea trenches were never landmasses, never supported forests and ecosystems, and thus hold little or no oil. Combine this with the fact that at present we find it difficult even to reach the ocean floor across much of the world – witness the fruitless search for MH370 – and drilling for oil or minerals across the ocean becomes a prohibitive challenge.

Similar challenges exist for space. Enormous resources and energy are required just to get there, let alone manage any attempts at extraction. However, even within our own solar system there are greater reserves of resources than our planet contains in its entirety. Space is the battleground of the future. It will not, however, be practically useful to nations in the first half of the 21st century.

Antarctica is protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits any change in territorial claims. The Madrid Protocol, an addendum to the Treaty, prevents mining within Antarctica. Treaties, as history has shown us, are made to be broken. Many nations have significant interest in the untapped resources of Antarctica and some are already beginning to explore and plan their exploitation of this continent on Australia’s doorstep. It seems likely, if not inevitable, that the next major battleground of the 21st century might be this southernmost continent – particularly as global warming potentially makes the continent more accessible and, eventually, suitable for habitation and agriculture.

Peak oil by any definition

Global social unrest and international warfare might be avoided if the world can continue to provide fresh reserves of oil to support our insatiable need for growth and industry. Unfortunately this is not going to be possible. Many commentators have discussed the concepts of peak oil; for decades the idea has been a looming threat. Official estimates have consistently denied that crisis is imminent, but it now appears that peak oil may be closer than anyone had hoped. The US seems to think so.

That we are at or near ‘peak oil’ is demonstrated by the industry’s continual push to open new resource fields and extraction methods, regardless of the expense and complexity. The end of the world’s access to cheap fossil fuel energy is a threat worthy of an article of its own – or perhaps even its own blog. Suffice it to say here that the price of oil, and the price of food, is not going to stop increasing any time soon.

With resource crises, food shortages, water shortages and increasing climatic disruption
caused by hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and floods, not to mention sea level rise over the
coming decades which will flood and permanently destroy huge swathes of the world’s low-lying agricultural lands, the 21st century is in the grip of a perfect storm of crises that have the potential to reshape the face of humanity on this planet far more quickly than most Australians realise.

What can Australia learn?

Both Syria and Egypt are finding that their economies are suffering due to a downturn in
fossil fuel exports – both due to depletion. Without the revenue from oil exports, these governments have found themselves less able to provide for the needs of their people. Australia needs to heed this example. We are not a heavy exporter of oil; however, our economy is heavily reliant on the export of coal and mineral resources. If these markets collapse, we will find ourselves in a parlous economic situation. The Abbott government is effectively pursuing an austerity budget even whilst the nation is not in economic crisis. As climate change and El Nino drive our farmers off the land and our food production inevitably declines over the rest of this decade, we will see increased demands on government resources. Diversifying our economy is absolutely vital.

The uprisings in the middle east may have been driven by economic and resource woes, but they were enabled by despotic regimes that did not do enough to support the needs of the people. Uprising became the only way out for populations on the edge of starvation.

Australia does not have an autocratic dictatorship in command – although it pains me to have to add the word “arguably”. Despite our inclusive system of politics, already we have seen social unrest with government policies and with the democratic process in general. Already we see protests against governments of both breeds. We’re a long way short of the critical mass of the people who would rebel against their government but the seeds are there. It is hubris to think that Australia could never suffer the kind of uprising that has been witnessed in Thailand or Egypt. It won’t happen in the next ten years; we’re still a prosperous nation. But the decisions made now will have impacts on the society and governance of the 2050s and beyond.

It is more likely, in the immediate term, that we will face the ramifications of unrest from neighboring regions than experience it ourselves. This will manifest as growing pressure to accept climate refugees, combined with an increasing range of domestic crises.

How will we respond?

Most of the current areas of unrest are in the middle east, for a reason. These regions suffer a combination of resource dependence, early effects of disruptive climate change, and despotic or immature regimes with too great a reliance on resources that are now declining.

Australia, for the moment, is buffered by our remote location, delaying the worst impacts of climate change; by our system of government and our existing social contract and social support structures; and by our relatively high standard of living. This gives us time to consider the future and our response to the oncoming challenges – if we choose to recognise them.

We have seen the trajectories of nations where these crises come together. With a little forethought, we can see our own nation’s weaknesses and start to plan wisely for the future.

An obvious and critical answer to all of these challenges is to divest from oil. Renewable energy is not just an answer to climate change; it’s a solution to the energy crisis that will affect us all. With efficient renewable energy, we can manage our water resources better, and this will allow us to secure our domestic food production. If we act now, we may be able to retain our standard of living.

Alternatively, we could dismantle our climate change bodies and our renewable energy institutions. We could defund solar and wind power, while funnelling ever greater subsidies into fossil fuels in an attempt to shore up our revenues for a few more years. We could leave the challenges of the oncoming food, fuel and water crises to future governments and future generations.

Yes, I guess we could do that.

Bringing Science back from the brink

In the field of communication, the transaction of important information is an integral part of society. Nicole Clark demonstrates, that the future of the scientific profession in Australia also relies heavily on communication practice, for delivering important and critical information regarding the emphasis of Climate Change.

Image courtesy of smh.com.auIn today’s modern society, in Australia science is failing to communicate to the broader social perspective. It is with a fervent attitude that we can only deduce that somewhere along the lines, the realism of scientific consensus has been misrepresented in social discourse. External influences, such as conglomerate media structures and political organisations, have distorted the relevant complexity of science, leading to an overt perversion of scientific reverence.  So how can we bring science back from the brink? And, as it is said on the Australian five dollar bill – (“The greatest question which we have to consider is”) . . . What among all influences is the most crucial foreground for science to regain its lost confidence in social discourse?

Climate change is absolute, the globe is warming and long-term weather patterns are being altered (IPCC, 2011). Now in the era of irreversible change – never has it been more appropriate, or more important to communicate scientific consensus. The purpose of this aricle is not to investigate why scientific consensus is currently being ignored, but to identify which existing barriers in science communication methods could be adapted, to become effective at bringing science back from the brink and back into the slipstream of society. In this article, I evaluate the nominal pathways in which scientific knowledge is distributed – both internally among peers and externally among the public; to further highlight the complexities and barriers scientific professionals are faced with regarding effective communication of climate change science. I then offer possible solutions as to how such barriers may be overcome, by demonstrating which approaches are most likely to succeed and which approaches are most likely to fail.

Information about the workings of the world falls under the profession of science. Scientists report implicit logical arguments through the use of mathematics, statistics and physical evidence (Manly, 1992) and therefore, have a unique way of communicating which is abstract from mainstream society and traditional literature (Dawson et al, 2010). Literature often contains jargon and complex mathematical equations and often does not adhere to a broader range of audience (Knight, 2006).

Scientific literature is put into context in a scientific report. The format forms the basis for all scientific fields and includes: a title, an abstract (summary), aims, introduction, methods, results (findings) discussion and conclusion (Dawson et al, 2010). Scientific reports do not serve a purpose in the public eye. Information is compiled, analysed and reviewed dictating complex concise information. Reports in science assist with studies being repeated by fellow scientists, without bias (Manly, 1992). As it is generally accepted, communication is a learned practice in society (West and Turner, 2010) and scientists learn to communicate effectively among each other for the purpose of expanding knowledge for an internal profession.

Existing Pathways: Public barriers

External

Occasionally, scientific concern requires broad range perception. Science, as any other written or spoken communication, is likely to become lost in translation, if not properly transcribed. For instance, a road repairman probably would not know that the critical issue between long wave radiation and depletion of the allotrope: ozone; is just another way of discussing chemical reactions that cause a hole in the ozone layer and global warming, adversely changing the climate. In this instance, the ineffective communication path results in scientists failing to convey a message of critical importance. Only a clear message is effective through communication channels to reach all audience (written communications that inform and influence, 2006). Therefore, complex scientific jargon and scientific language creates a barrier and the message is misunderstood. The result: the road repairman likely did not get the critical message about climate change.

Internal

Unique communication within science is both important and necessary, because it allows complexities to be explained in critical detail, helping scientists to work together (Dawson et al, 2010). Critical information and knowledge is internally communicated. For example, a biologist does not have a universal name for all bacteria. The name ‘bacteria’, is not enough information for the ecologist, a colleague to understand. There are many different species of bacteria, and if not specified the ecologist would not know what specific species to study. Further information is required in order to conduct a study on chemical reactions in prokaryote bacteria communities.  An internal pathway such as this, allows specific knowledge to be passed on, from one scientist to another. Without such explicit communication, future external understanding can never eventuate. The result of this specific pathway: the biologist can conduct the study in a concise and highly detailed manor using explicit scientific jargon, which is then communicated to the associate ecologist, who then repeats the study and adds to the findings on this complex topic. With the internal pathway the result, through effective communication- the ecologist is able to bring to light a solid scientific theory. However necessary the internal pathway may be, it too can be identified as another public barrier.

Adapting pathways

In external public understanding, the method in which information is passed on is critical, failure to pass a message on, leads to a receiver that is unclear as to what information they are given (West et al, 2010). The external pathway mentioned above in this case, became lost in translation and created a barrier, despite the attempted communication of the concept (ozone depletion), was critically important for general public understanding. Hence, the use of jargon precariously added complexities in this nominal pathway.  Knight (2006), suggests, scientists can both send a message and still tell a story; all without the use of complexities. Therefore, adapting this pathway though removal of jargon – while still explaining the causality of ozone depletion and global warming, may allow the public to gain understanding- without the complexity of science; where it is hoped they will still interpret the broader perspective of the concept.

Internal pathways, allow for effective communication among peers and among different scientific disciplines. In this pathway of communication- when studying bacteria communities, we can see that information regarding this scientific knowledge, will experience innate problems with translation to the public. While the internal communication is extremely critical to the progression of modern science, it leaves little avenue for appropriate public distribution. Wray et al (2008) explain, to overcome a barrier it is important to understand that end products, when properly transcribed can still be translated. Therefore, by re-developing an internal pathway, there is no loss of those fundamental and core components of the concept. In this way, scientists do not remove a concept, they adapt the pathway for the public only; while internally, the progression of modern science continues.

Connecting the public to science

Keys (1997) explains, people are more likely to respond to a scientific concept if it appears to effect them more directly. Therefore, relatable interactions are a good way to bridge the gap in communication barriers. Scientists can relate to their audience by developing a pathway from the internal communication and adapting the external communication pathway. With these adaptations and with the exclusion of jargon and or complexities, they can still relay complex information in a readable yet comprehensive format. As a result, a likely pathway between scientists and the public can be established. It is also important to understand that the outcome of scientific studies, though developed internally, can and should be later transformed to meet public comprehension. However, the scientist should still keep close eye to communicate the fundamental and core components within the scientific discipline. However, it should also be rigorously monitored, as they are scientific concepts and should always be addressed as such.

Nisbet and Scheufele (2009) explain, scientists should be looking at adapting a foreground of communication that is firmly grounded in the construct of society, one that aims to inform the notion of complex concepts in a simple yet thought provoking format. It is important to understand, that this extends further than just telling the public as if a news story. It goes beyond this format, to the substratum of audience interaction. If scientists adapt pathways of communication, they can interact with a broader audience and then transgress these elements to business and or possible political relationships, including social and education conventions and public information sessions; which lead into the formation of interpersonal relationships with possible stakeholders. To further adapt these concepts, it is important to establish a communication in which the public can relate to these relationships- forming relationships that aim to establish a meaningful connection with all involved. Individuals and groups are more likely to respond to relationships when they notice a propensity (behavioural tendency) for a meaningful purpose or idea connected to them (Wray et al, 2008).

Science, Climate Change and the future

Scientists are renowned for adapting methodology and study design. The study of climate change science is by no means any different from any scientific discipline. As I outlined above, adapting the means of communication pathways  in science are by far the best method for communicating complex scientific concepts such as climate change. But in lure of what has been discussed above, we are left with inherit complexities in the notion of communicating this imperative concept. So now, we are left to decide which adaptations will work best in the critical need to communicate the foundations of climate change science? How can we create communication pathways that will bring to light the innate problems society faces with immanent changes to climate? There is no doubt that as I write this – I am faced with my own complexities, but from an outspoken perspective as it has always been said, the most important communication method is establishing an effective pathway. Below, I give my personal explanation as to how communication pathways to the public can be established.

Image courtesy of econews.com.au

Image courtesy of econews.com.au

First and foremost, I feel it is extremely necessary that science communication pathways to the public, seek to remove the inherit complexities associated with jargon and complex mathematical concepts- as well as removing the notion of trying to translate too much information. Information, which is not connected to the key concepts in a vital way. For example, going back to the concept of the hole in the ozone layer, to effectively translate this idea on climate change, scientists should err on the side of caution when using jargon. Firstly, let’s imagine the road repairman is a community stake holder, in this case it would be important to form a strong interpersonal relationship with the individual (the road repairman). I feel this scientific concept would better be described, by explaining to the individual, how climate change will affect him and his respective community; and just how important the idea of climate change is to future generations in his community. Furthermore, it would be important to translate this information in a simple format. A format that eliminates, the need to express any concepts that should only represent communication avenues of an internal nature.

Therefore, ‘what not to do’ in this instance would be, explaining the concept using too much jargon and complexities, or discussing scientific names of chemical species. For example: ‘Ozone, Carbon Dioxide and Chlorofluocarbons are reacting with OLR in the stratosphere, they cause the global temperature to rise, influencing the global weather patterns which regulate high and low pressure systems. Consequently, this sort of level of relation is inappropriate to establish a meaningful connection with this particular individual, and the respective social structures in which the individual represents. At the most, the road repairman probably recognises key words such as: carbon, stratosphere and systems, but using complex jargon together with complex explanations is inadequate, because this is internal communication used among science professionals and is unfit for public consumption. The explanations are too detailed and saturated in explicit scientific consensus. This automatically creates a barrier, which is ineffective to create a pathway whereby public understanding is achieved. Therefore, it is highly important to avoid that internal pathway used by scientists, in favour of something more appropriate such as the external. At this point, if such a barrier is not overcome an individual is unable to relate themselves to the concept in a meaningful way.

The alternative, explain that ‘scientists are certain that the interactions occurring inside the atmosphere have been impacted since the industrial revolution. These impacts are warming the globe, which causes the climates to shift and change, which affects the wet and dry periods we experience in the weather’. Lastly, explain ‘reducing these impacts will allow for a reduction in these climate shifts’. If at least some relationship is established, a communication pathway may be opened, and through the use of these adapted external communication methods, this may create meaning for the individual. They may then notice the propensity to connect with the concept of climate change science; and develop an idea of individual purpose for understanding the inner workings of climate change – as they can then relate to how it will impact them on an individual and or community/stakeholder level.

Conclusion

The innate problem that surrounds the perversion of public discourse in the field of science, is surrounded with complexities in its self, and undoubtedly requires rigorous scientific study. That being said, from a discussion stand point only, I have outlined a few key concepts which I feel are most effective for the nature of translating this complex scientific idea – climate change. Clear communication is essential. Therefore communication that is free from jargon, complex scientific information, as well a removal of unnecessary explanations of scientific relationships (not connected to foundational concepts) – will help bridge the gap between barriers which we currently see plaguing the view of scientific emphasis in public discourse.

Removing such barriers, will allow for the establishment of relationships that will seek to improve the communication pathways, forming relatable aspects of science that connect the individual to the concept to provide purpose and meaning to the broader social perception. These interactions must be centred around meaningful relationships that always seek to obtain a strong connection with scientific professionals. They must provoke audience interaction and always be centred around simple translations that all social participants can understand.

Such pathways, will allow for science and critical science concepts, to be incorporated back into Australian society. These methods alone, will undoubtedly assist scientific professionals to illustrate the critical need for climate change initiatives, and bring science into the slip-stream, thus- back from the brink.

References

Dawson,M,M., Dawson,B,A.., and Overfield, J,A., (2010), Communication Skills for the Biosciences.Wiley-Blackwell publishing, United Kingdom

Keys, C. W. (1999). Revitalizing instruction in scientific genres: Connecting knowledge production with writing to learn in science. Science Education83(2), 115-130.

Knight, D. (2006). Public understanding of science: A history of communicating scientific ideas (1st ed.). USA and Canada: Taylor & Francis e-library.

Manly, B. F. (1992). The Design and Analysis of Research Studies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mitigation, C. C. (2011). IPCC special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation.

Nisbet, M. C., & Scheufele, D. A. (2009). What’s next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions. American Journal of Botany96(10), 1767-1778.

West, R., & Turner, Lynne, H. (2010). Introducing communication theory: analysis and application (Ch.5) Symbolic interaction theory(pp.76-91). New York, N.Y.: McGraw Hill.

Wray, R. J., Becker, S. M., Henderson, N., Glik, D., Jupka, K., Middleton, S., … & Mitchell, E. W. (2008). Communicating with the public about emerging health threats: lessons from the Pre-Event Message Development Project.American Journal of Public Health98(12).

(2006). Written communications that inform and influence. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

This article was first published on “Science in Australian Society” and reproduced with permission.

My Country! A poem for our time…

I love a sunburnt country

A land of dames and knights,

Of rugged radio shock jocks

Who tell us of our rights.

I love her racist free speech

Now we have no 18C

Her bigots do have rights, you know,

The great white land for me.

  I love our English PM 

  Who tells us what to think

  On tax and debt and Labor 

  And how his doesn’t stink!

  Our trees are made for chopping 

  Our seas are made quite deep

  Just because there’s dumping – 

  No reason to lose sleep!

A resource rich mine country, 

Which makes our country grand

All you who would now tax this, 

You will not understand 

Though our Earth holds many minerals

And there’s oil in our seas

Unless we own a company,

We have no right to these!

  Core of my heart, my country! 

  No Holdens, Ansett, Ford,  

  When companies die on Liberals’ watch

  We see these things ignored

  But lose a hundred jobs when Labor’s in, 

  We know just who to name:

  The papers make it front page news 

  The PM is to blame!

I love a sunburnt country

A land of knights and dames,

Of Andrew Bolt’s hurt feelings

And all his counterclaims

When people say our history

Shouldn’t always make us proud –

He’ll say free speech is relative

And some people are too loud.

 

 

It’s rather cold in North America, and believe it or not it is due to global warming

Climate change deniers have been in a lather telling us that the severe cold snaps in North America provide undisputed evidence that global warming is, in the words of some, a load of crap. The North American weather is certainly the major talking point but apart from the deniers telling us that it is simply because global warming doesn’t exist, nobody has bothered to explain what has actually caused this unprecedented weather pattern.

Somebody apparently has, or did, a couple of days ago, but it has conveniently escaped the major news networks. The explanation by Eric Holthaus in the online Quartz magazine under the article titled ‘How global warming can make cold snaps even worse‘ (which will make a lot of sense to anyone who has seen the 2004 movie ‘The day after tomorrow‘ ) is worth repeating. Below is a condensed excerpt of the article:

Global warming is probably contributing to the record cold, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. The key factor is a feedback mechanism of climate change known as Arctic amplification. Here’s how to explain the nuts and bolts of it to your under-informed family and friends:

Snow and ice are disappearing from the Arctic region at unprecedented rates, leaving behind relatively warmer open water, which is much less reflective to incoming sunlight than ice. That, among other factors, is causing the northern polar region of our planet to warm at a faster rate than the rest of the northern hemisphere. (And, just to state the obvious, global warming describes a global trend toward warmer temperatures, which doesn’t preclude occasional cold-weather extremes.)

Since the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes helps drive the jet stream (which, in turn, drives most US weather patterns), if that temperature difference decreases, it stands to reason that the jet stream’s winds will slow down. Why does this matter?

Well, atmospheric theory predicts that a slower jet stream will produce wavier and more sluggish weather patterns, in turn leading to more frequent extreme weather. And, turns out, that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing in recent years. Superstorm Sandy’s uncharacteristic left hook into the New Jersey coast in 2012 was one such example of an extremely anomalous jet stream blocking pattern.

When these exceptionally wavy jet stream patterns occur mid-winter, it’s a recipe for cold air to get sucked southwards. This week, that’s happening in spectacular fashion.

Climate scientist Jennifer A. Francis of Rutgers University explains this process in a short video (h/t Climate Progress):

This effect has already been measured with mid-level atmospheric winds in the northern hemisphere decreasing by around 10% since 1990. Not-so-coincidentally, that’s about the same time when Arctic sea ice extent really started to crash.

That all makes sense to me (but I’ve also seen the movie).

And news.com.au – of all places – give us a bit of a hint that the above is more than likely plausible after all. In telling us the other day that Canada is colder than Mars they also tell us, without the spectacular headlines, that:

The North Pole was also 10 degrees warmer than Winnipeg.

Interesting, isn’t it?

 

Tin foil mitre

Increasingly in my investigations into climate change denial “experts” I am coming across the name of George Pell – yes – the Cardinal. Having looked briefly for his credentials in this area, I can only find studies in theology.  Regardless of this lack of any scientific qualifications, Cardinal Pell has been quite vocal about his…

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Today’s Reading is From The Book of Lawson: “No Climate Change!” Amen.

“Mr Howard said he was an “agnostic” on climate science and he preferred to rely on his instinct, which told him that predictions of doom were exaggerated.”

So there ya go!

It’s all settled. Mr Howard’s “instinct” tells us that the gloom and doom is exaggerated. And that should be enough for anyone. After all, wasn’t this the man whose instinct led the Liberals to four election victories before the electorate got it wrong and he became the second Prime Minister to lose his seat? Who needs so called experts when we have instinct to go on.

I’m inclined to agree. People have a natural tendency to exaggerate. A friend of mine told me that his doctor had warned him that if he didn’t change his lifestyle he wouldn’t see his 75th birthday. “Then the wanker told me that with my blood pressure as high as it was, I could be dead tomorrow. I mean, how ridiculous. That was over three weeks ago, and I’m still here. Do you want another drink?”

But I digress. We’re talking about Mr Howard’s speech which was entitled: “One Religion is Enough.” (I realise that some of you godless, heathen lefties may be mumbling that one is too many, but show the man some respect. He was our Prime Minister. and he wasn’t the sort of PM to have sandwiches thrown at  him!) And he’s right about the notion that climate change is like a religion – some of those greenies treat the planet like it’s something to be worshipped rather than a resource to be exploited.

It’s not like the man is solely relying on his “instinct”. He has read a book by Nigel Lawson on the subject. Some argue that one book is not enough. But Howard said that he read it twice. Surely that makes him well qualified to speak on the subject.

Yes, I know. You lefties are probably saying, “Who’s Nigel Lawson?” Well, for your information, not only was he the chancellor in Thatcher’s Government – reason enough to admire him – but he is also the father of Nigella Lawson, that wonderful host of Nigella Bites and the writer of many, many cookbooks.

Of course it does seem to me that there are parrallels between Nigella and her father here. The same zealots who want to close down the economy because of some climate change scare will try to tell you that Nigella’s cooking is unhealthy and far too fatty. Ask yourself, who has the bias – nutritional experts or the host of a TV cooking show? I think you’d all agree that nutritional experts all have an interest in having food declared unhealthy. It’s their way of obtaining funding from the government. Would they like us all to stop eating? What would happen to the economy then, eh?

Lawson’s book (that’s Nigel’s not Nigella’s) makes mention of the fact that there was no warming between 2001 and 2007. It’s also rumoured that the updated version has the spectacular news that there was actual cooling in between August 2012 and October 2012 in England, as well as a spectacular drop of seven degrees in just one day in a village in Shropshire.

So, by reading Lawson’s book – twice – Mr Howard is well qualified to lecture us on climate science. So we should really take notice when he says:

“The ground is thick with rent-seekers. There are plenty of people around who want access to public money in the name of saving the planet.

“Politicians who bemoan the loss of respect for their calling should remember that every time they allow themselves to be browbeaten by the alleged views of experts they contribute further to that lack of respect.”

I’m not sure why their views are “alleged” though. Is this because there’s no proof that what they’re saying is their actual view? I guess that’s true of everyone. Perhaps we should add the alleged bit in front of everything a person says. For example, “Mr Hockey said that he allegedly believes that there’s an alleged confidence returning to the alleged community.”

We all know that the only scientists who can be trusted on this issue are the ones who aren’t getting their funding from the (alleged) government. Mr Howard was in government for years – he must (allegedly) know how easily governments are fooled. No, the only trustworthy scientists are those who go out and get their funding from multinational companies who fund their (alleged) research out of an altruistic desire to find the truth.

But there are a couple of things that troubled me about the title of Mr Howard’s speech: If one religion is enough, which religion is going to be? If it’s Christianity, does that include all denominations?

And will atheism be banned?

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