Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Is There Any Need For Sustainability?

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

I have recently read Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth – Economics for a Finite Planet“.  It proposes that we refocus how we manage our economies to take into account the limits on the earth, but is rather vague exactly how we should do this – relying on less consumerism, more community-based activities and public ownership, but without answering the central question of how and who pays for all of these things.  He accepts that some of these things are already available and people are involved in community activities, but that they are small parts of society, yet he then brushes over the fact that these are currently a minority precisely because most people do not want to work in their allotment or do yoga.  This core structural issue is at the heart of the problem and is the hardest part to change – we are taxed so we must work, so there is insufficient time available to do many of those fulfilling things in life, so we must consume to make up for the time we do not have and chose a few hobbies for the little spare time we have to keep us sane, yet more public ownership and livelihoods simply increases the tax requirement etc etc.  However, what the book does usefully do is focus on the question itself, i.e. how to have sustainability and continue with a market economy and addresses the concerns posed by the classic book of Meadows et al of “The Limits To Growth”  from the 1970s in a new millennial context, without actually adding much to the basic concept that the earth has limits and while we are still within these boundaries today at some point not very far in the future growth in population and resource use because of economic growth will bring these constraints into play, which arguably is the same problem raised by Thomas Malthus in 1798.  Tim Jackson essentially says we must reduce economic growth, accepting that this runs counter to the way the economic discourse is built.  So what is the issue with sustainability and economics?

Sustainability is a key concern in the 21st century.  The Brundtland definition of sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987).  This can be further clarified as the concept that “the current generation does not have the right to consume or damage the environment or the planet in a way that gives its successor worse life chances that itself enjoyed” (House of Lords, 1999).  However, while the understanding of the environment has increased in the last 100 years, mainstream economics as used by policymakers remains based on ideas developed by Jeremy Bentham towards the end of the 18th century, as expanded by John Stuart Mill in the 19th century.  This raises the issue of whether economic analysis needs to change better to address sustainability in environmental policy response.

Mainstream economic analysis is based on utilitarianism.  This assumes that individuals are rational economic actors whose primary purpose is the self-interested pursuit of happiness, or utility, and that the best route to this end is through the purchase of those goods and services they want at rationally negotiated market prices.  Therefore, when considering welfare, policymakers should arguably consider the aggregate effect of these transactions in an economy, together with the market prices paid, and that their policies should ensure “the provision of the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Bentham, 1789).  Furthermore, while acknowledging that some individuals may suffer or not reap the benefits of the market economy, “it is the price we pay for progress and the general good” (Galbraith, 1987).

The principal measurement used to inform policy is Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”), which is the value of the goods and services flowing through an economy over a period of time.  As consumption provides utility, GDP is a proxy for the aggregate happiness of individuals within an economy and Government policy should, therefore, provide the conditions for growth in GDP/capita.  Other economic methods that follow include cost-benefit analysis and discounting, both of which are used to evaluate the financial impacts of specific projects or policy areas.  However, as discussed below, the goal of sustainability in environmental policy is not adequately addressed by these economic tools.

While it is assumed that the more income consumers earn the more they can purchase in the market, so increasing their happiness, evidence by Richard Easterlin found that increases in happiness become slight or negligible beyond middle income levels (Easterlin, 1972 and 2001), while Gregg Easterbrook found that even though people’s objective well-being was increasing they continued to feel life was getting worse so their subjective well-being would stay unchanged or even fall.  Similarly, Amartya Sen focuses on the capabilities and freedoms of individuals to live the life they chose as being important to well-being (Sen, 1993, 1998 and 1999).  Therefore, what matters is what people are able to achieve or do, rather than the products or services that they consume, so learning at school or university is not a matter of utility but of what people may become from having studied even as governments seek to make it into a commercial contract through Student Loans or similar financial systems.  Economic development, therefore, occurs when there are more opportunities open for people to do things they value, rather than when GDP/capita or individual income has grown.  Whereas, unsustainability occurs when individuals become less capable of doing things over time, for example health deteriorates because of air pollution or toxic waste, or the opportunity to farm is reduced due to salinization of the soil or water shortages, or freedoms are curtailed, for example when decisions are made today that preclude choices being made by successor generations, such as decisions made in this generation that affect the environment over 100,000s if not millions of years, for example nuclear power and related nuclear waste dumps like that at Gorleben in Germany.  People will, also, do things for no financial reason, for example vote in elections, tend the plants in a public space or look after someone else’s children, so we are not solely economic beings even if politicians and sociologists wish to cast us as such; in fact I would argue we are human beings first and economic animals second, third or fourth.  So a economy focussing on the capability to flourish is better than one focussed on our ability to consume, i.e. a world according to Sen is better than one based on Bentham.

Traditional measures for well-being have targeted GDP growth.  However, GDP measures material throughput in an economy and does not provide useful information on sustainability.  For example, GDP is the aggregate of monetary transactions in a country, so it excludes bartering, free and unrecorded cash services such as voluntary work for charities, or domestic activities like cooking and housecleaning.  Furthermore, it is an income and expenditure statement rather than a balance sheet, so does not account for changes in the resources of a nation, whether these are physical like forestry and mineral reserves or intangible like education, health and landscape.  Finally, GDP is a snapshot in time of the activity of an economy in totality, so neither provides information about the future nor the equitable distribution of transactions through a society now or in the future.  Understanding the distribution of wealth in economies is important as poverty can be a driver for environmental degradation, and so sustainability.

Mainstream economic analysis, including GDP, does not properly consider the impact of livelihoods on the environment.  The activities of humans through work and consumption cause changes to the environment, which can be encapsulated in the impact equation: I = P x R x T, which is a rehash of Paul Ehrlich’s impact equation.  This summarises environmental impact (I) as resulting from the scale of resource use (R) consumed by a population (P) through using particular technologies (T).  Mainstream economics treats these impacts, or disutilities, as externalities or market failures either to be ignored or to be borne equally by the whole population and environment, because they do not have direct monetary values that are easily measured.  For example, packaging in the UK is transferred from manufacturer to individuals, then to the wider population and environment when it is sent to landfill, shifting the original environmental cost from the manufacturer to the environment, which must bear the sustainability burden, and the taxpayer, who finances the costs.  However, economics dominates political discourse, because money is power and power is money, so these externalities must be monetised and internalized into economic analysis before they can inform policymaking and bring sustainability onto the political agenda.

Finally, the most complex aspect of sustainability is time and how to evaluate future costs today.  Economists utilise financial models to provide policymakers with analyses of forecasted budget scenarios, so enabling assessments to be made of the impacts of “green” standards and taxes on the economy and the cost-benefit of specific political responses.  However, this sophistication hides the fact that forecasts are based on the past, with its uncertainties, discounted back by the relevant rate of time preference. Therefore, forecasting sometimes becomes a discussion over discount rates.  However, discounting creates an issue, being that the greater the risks and uncertainties involved the higher the discount rate, so the lower the current value of future costs.  This approach is, therefore, neither equitable nor appropriate for sustainability where the well-being of future generations should be considered equally to our own.  The societal discount rate for sustainability should tend towards zero (Anand & Sen, 2000) to prevent policymakers devaluing future uncertain, but large, impacts compared to current known, but smaller, environmental problems.

These analytical problems are highlighted in the Stern report on the economics of climate change.  Climate change occurs over the long-term and contains significant uncertainties in how it might operate over this time period in terms of scale, location and timing.  Arguably, it may impact future generations more than the current one, although as successors will have greater wealth and knowledge, they ought to be better able to finance and develop technology to ameliorate any disbenefits.  These issues create problems for policymakers regarding the equitable distribution of uncertain economic costs over generations and across future global populations, i.e. sustainability in terms of costs, capabilities and freedoms over time.  Stern used an utilitarian approach that focused on “the maximisation of the sum across individuals of social utilities of consumption”, cost-benefit analysis and GDP forecasts run over 200 years discounted back at 1.4%i (Stern, 2006b).  Critics of the report advocate rates of around 3-5½% (Dietz, 2008; Dasgupta, 2006; Nordhaus, 2007; Tol, 2006).  Under Stern, estimates of the costs of climate change were of losing “at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever” (Stern, 2006a), but by using the alternative rates the impact falls to 1.4-2.5%i.  Effectively, it becomes an ethical judgement over the value of equity between generations, or sustainability – discount rates close to zero place relatively higher values on future generations, while higher rates place lower values on successors.  Or to be brutal, it uses sophistication to hide the fact that the report hinges on the gut feeling of economists and politicians over what values to place on the financial numbers, as influenced by all the baggage of individual presumptions and political leanings in making these big leaps of faith.  I have no issue with making assumptions and running complex models, but the complexity of the modelling should not be used to hide that the report is but a finger in the air, albeit a very clever one!

Therefore, economic analysis needs to change to address these problems and so better inform policymakers about sustainability.  Here are some quick thoughts on ways that these issues can be addressed.

Firstly, policymakers need to consider a broader range of statistics beyond a narrow focus on GDP.  These indicators should include both financial and non-financial data and cover tangible and intangible assets and externalities of an economy, environmental quality and the well-being of the population.  For example, assets may include values for agricultural land, mineral reserves and woodland, together with estimates for education and health.  Sustainability indicators and externalities may comprise data on biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, soil fertility, air and water quality, and waste to landfill.  Well-being could comprise both objective and subjective measurements of well-being, targeting capabilities and freedoms as well as happiness.

In the UK, many of these are already compiled, for example net domestic product (GDP less depreciation) and greenhouse gas emissions, while a new well-being index will include environmental and sustainability measures from 2012.  For example, there is the Happiness Index, which shows the UK’s happiness declined by -10.7% from 1961 – 2005 and that of Australia grew by 21.3% over the same period, or the Human Development Index as developed by Haq and Sen, which currently ranks Australia top and the UK 22nd.  Although these statistics may be measured, sustainability perhaps needs to become central to policymaking.  For example, biodiversity indicators currently have warnings against breeding birds and plant diversity, yet these changes are not driving meaningful policy response (Defra, 2011).  The issue may be that there are too many measurements being compiled versus the relative clarity of GDP, therefore they could be reduced to a smaller number of indicators, for example ecological footprint provides a clear, measureable link between economic activity and environmental burden.  In addition, policymakers should include targets and responses for use when these limits are breached, for example greenhouse gas emissions’ targets are clear and measureable and so policy responses can be proportionate.

However, I fear that sustainability and the environment just do not rank up there against education, health and crime, for example.  This is perhaps because the questions are just too complex and the answers too difficult or wishy-washy for politicians to contemplate, so there is a need for politicians to focus on policy areas that can be addressed within the relatively short term of a political election cycle and are simple enough to be communicable to the media and electorate – a sort of knowledge elitism that goes along the lines of “that’s all a bit too difficult for you, the masses out there, just leave and trust us the politicians and our cronies to sort it out, because we know the best…there, there” with a gentle pat on the head.

Secondly, policymakers must address future uncertainties.  Utilitarianism is reductive and, using projections with suitable discount rates, provides clear choices for policymakers.  However, the environment is entangled and has many unintended consequences, so forecasts based on the past can result in incorrect predictions.  These complexities and uncertainties can cause relatively poor forecasting especially of sudden changes to environmental systems.  For example, policymakers neither predicted the collapse in the Canadian cod fisheries in 1991-1994 (NAFO, 2009) nor the credit crisis that began in 2007, both of which have resulted in significant economic and environmental changes.  No scientist predicted the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, or the Japanese tsunami of 2011 with its devastating human, environmental and economic consequences.  Or to abuse a quote from Harold Macmillan “Events, my dear boy, events” are what make rigid policies tricky.  Therefore, economic analysis should include the effects of high impact, low probability events on sustainability and consider using a precautionary approach to prepare for such eventualities, and even if the responses and policies of those in power does not go down those low probability routes, they should build in sufficient flex into our systems to be able to adjust to new information and haul back systems from potential collapse if and when needed.  We must be wary of committing to routes that are completely fixed in stone, forever, because in a Pythonesque way “noone expects the unexpected”.  Hence, even Rory McIlroy in his amazing golf at the Congressional in the 2011 US Open hit his second shot on the 18th in round two into the lake to give him his first dropped shots and a double bogey – you just never really know what might happen.  In fact, the answer to this issue for economics may be to look at ecosystems themselves and apply understandings of environmental knowledge to financial systems.  This is an approach that Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England Director For Financial Stability, is looking at with Robert May.  They are suggesting that complex systems can be more fragile than simple ones, i.e. the Amazonian rainforest is more prone to collapse than the African savannah or a big multidisciplinary bank is more likely to collapse than, say, a small mortgage and savings focused building society. 

Thirdly, economic analysis should focus on systems and processes rather than financial outcomes.  It is difficult, if not meaningless, to place monetary values on non-instrumental things such as a beautiful landscape or a glorious sunset, or as one of the Pevensey residents said “You can’t put nature on the stockmarket” (Burgess, 1998).  This creates a problem as to get sustainability into the economic discourse and so onto the political agenda, you must monetise it, but this reduces sustainability to choices based on financial values and cost-benefit analyses while excluding non-instrumental values.  An alternative approach is to focus on the systems within economies and how economic processes impact, or are affected by, the environment rather than on the financial outcomes.  For example, these interrelationships between the environment and the economy form the basis for the concepts of the commons and ecological footprints, both of which offer alternative economic models to utilitarianism. So while the original work on the tragedy of the commons by Garrett Hardin was depressing, work by Elinor Ostrom has shown how a decentralised system can manage the commons effectively, together with proposing a framework for how this collective approach can be applied to sustainability in social-environmental systems (Ostrom, 2009).  Therefore, economists could focus on how to provide individuals and communities with the capabilities and freedoms to understand how changes to the environment occur, as well as the tools and powers to respond to change collectively without Government intervention and without pursuing individual, rational goals that may be negative for the common good over the longer term, i.e. selflessness over selfishness.

I see this individualistic, decentralised approach as key to the future.  However, I worry that sustainability, ecological modernisation and the environment will be all used as excuses (or justification) for greater Government and “expert” meddling in peoples’ private and business lives whether through regulation or taxation.

In conclusion, mainstream economic analysis focuses on the maximisation of utility in a population through managing GDP over time.  However, a narrow focus on GDP does not properly address sustainability, because it focuses on consumption within an economy rather than good and bad changes to its asset base, it externalizes the environmental and societal costs of economic activity and it fails to consider the capabilities and freedoms of citizens now or in the future.  Changes are needed to include indicators of changes to intangible and tangible assets, the external costs of human activities and the well-being of individuals or even happiness.  Furthermore, a less monetary approach should be adopted that analyses the processes and systems within economies and how economies, societies and environments interact and can respond to changes in real-time and over longer timescales.

References

Anand, S. and Sen, A. K. (2000) Human development and economic sustainability, World Development, 28 (12): 2029 – 2049, Available from the Internet at http://www.fiepr.org.br/adr/uploadAddress/Anand_Human%20development%20and%20Economis%20sustainability.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Bentham, J. (1789) An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Mineola NY, Dover Publications (reprinted)

Burgess, J., Clark, J., and Harrison, C. M. (1998) Respondents’ evaluations of a CV survey: a case study based on an economic valutaion of The Wildlife Enhancement Scheme, Pevensey Levels in East Sussex, Area, 1998; 30.1, 19-27

Dagsupta, S. (2006) Comments on the Stern Review’s Economics of Climate Change, Available on the Internet from http://www.econ.cam.ac.uk/faculty/dasgupta/STERN.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Defra (2011) UK biodiversity indicators, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London, 20 May 2011, Available from the Internet at http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/files/2010/05/1905biodiversity.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Dietz, S. (2008) A long-run target for climate policy: the Stern Review and its critics, Available on the Internet from http://personal.lse.ac.uk/dietzs/A%20long-run%20target%20for%20climate%20policy%20-%20the%20Stern%20Review%20and%20its%20critics.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Easterlin, R. (1972) “Does economic growth improve the humans lot? Some empirical evidence” in David, D. and Reder, M. (eds) Nations and Households in Economic Growth, Stanford, Stanford University Press

Easterlin, R. (2001) Income and happiness: towards a unified theory, Economic Journal, 111: 465 – 484, Available on the Internet at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0297.00646/abstract (Accessed August 2011)

Galbraith, J. K. (1987) A History of Economics, London, Penguin Books

House of Lords (1999) Management of Nuclear Waste, Select Committee on Science and Technology, Session 1998-99, Third Report, London, HMSO, Available from the Internet at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199899/ldselect/ldsctech/41/4101.htm (Accessed August 2011)

NAFO (2009) Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, Canada, Available from the Internet at http://www.nafo.int/about/frames/about.html (Accessed August 2011)

Nordhaus, W. D. (2007) Critical assumptions in the Stern Review on Climate Change, Science, 12 July 2007. 317: 201 – 202, Available from the Internet at http://nordhaus.econ.yale.edu/nordhaus_stern_science.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Ostrom, E. (2009) A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems, Science, 24 July 2009: 412 – 422, Available from the Internet at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/325/5939/419.abstract (Accessed August 2011)

Sen, A. K. (1993) “Capability and wellbeing” in Nussbaum, M. and Sen, A. K. (eds) The Quality of Life, Oxford, Oxford University Press, Available online from http://books.google.com/books?id=pJaz1471B68C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed August 2011)

Sen, A. K. (1998) “The Living Standard” in Crocker, D. and Linden, T. (eds) The Ethics of Consumption, New York, Rowman and Littlefield

Sen, A. K. (1999) Development as Freedom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, Available from the Internet at http://books.google.com/books?id=Qm8HtpFHYecC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed August 2011)

Stern, N. (2006a) “Summary of Conclusions” in Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, vi – ix, Available from the Internet at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/3/2/Summary_of_Conclusions.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Stern, N. (2006b) “Part 1: Climate Change – Our Approach” in Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change , Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 23 – 40, Available from the Internet at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070701080805/http://hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/5/9/Part_I_Introduction_group.pdf (Accessed August 2011)

Stern, N. and Taylor, C. (2007) Climate change: risk, ethics and the Stern Review, Science, 317: 203-204

Tol, R. S. J, and Yohe, G. W. (2006) A review of the Stern Review, World Economics, 7 (4): 233 – 250,

WCED (1987) Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Two Books For All Environmentalists

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

I have just finished the second of two books that are must-reads for those interested in our planet.  They are Nigel Lawson‘s “An appeal to reason – a cool look at global warming” and Bjørn Lomborg’s “Cool it – the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming”, both of which are very much in the skeptical to anti-climate change camp.  It is important that you read all sides of an argument to be sure that there is nothing that you have missed out nor that you simply are self-justifying your position by selective reading of information and data, so there’s something healthy about reading such diatribes. 

If you don’t have the fibre to read both, then Nigel Lawson’s book is shorter, tauter and much better written.  Bjørn Lomborg’s book does not match the hype, blurbs and comments on the book; it was a really slow and boring read and I almost gave up as it had no real forward motion to its argumentation, ranking as one of those smarmy, smartass sort of books that are basically dull – a bit like your classic Booker Prize winning book that you can really do without reading, as it makes you feel intellectually inadequate as you just don’t get why it is meant to be a good book in the first place.

Both books are unconvincing, and wrong, in their attempts to refute the science of climate change or global warming; both basically misinterpret weather for climate, using the short term vagaries of weather to try and undermine the longer term patterns of climate.  Then, they simply state a truism for the rest of their books, being that people must make a socio-political and economic decision on how to address the issues that may arise from global warming and climate change.  Well, that’s clever, but not worth the fancy intellectual credibility that they have been afforded.

For me, there does need to be a greater collaboration between scientists and people on these issues and a deeper explanation of the science and potential issues arising from climate change, together certainly with a whole lot more openness.  The two camps slugging out each side of the global warming debate need to be ignored and the conservatively-minded, prudent and slightly humdrum people like me, who occupy that big bulge in the middle ground of socio-economic thinking, should be allowed to come to their own conclusions on the priorities of each country’s socio-economic development over the short-, medium- and longer terms.  Leaving it to the intellectuals on both sides will simply result in a huge muddle like everything our lords and masters ever touch – money wasted on grand schemes that spend our money on their individual desires to be written into the history books.  A nervous shiver runs down my spine every time I hear politicians dreaming of how much money they can spend and commit for climate change projects, potentially one of the biggest attempts to transfer current and future wealth from the pockets of ordinary people in the developed world to infrastructure projects and to provide aide to other countries.

Let an honest debate begin, with honest science and sensible criteria rather than the garbage that has been, and continues to be, spouted by the media and the political oligarchy.  We do have a little time, so let’s have some quiet, calm thinking time as the sums and impacts of addressing climate change are life changing for the economies of the world, so must not be imposed by ukase.

And please stop damning all people all the time, as an ennui has set in about environmentalism, especially climate change, as we – the people – are sick of being stigmatised and blamed for leading lives that are better for us, yet are told that we are simultaneously destroying the planet; it’s become like a collective guilt complex that ignores the great heap of good and goodness that ordinary people do every day for the planet, for themselves and for others.

[By the way, I find it highly ironic that I sound like the smartass fool in this blog post, having accused Bjørn Lomborg of the same about his book "Cool It..."]

Other Climate Change Indicators

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Other than temperature, there are a few more indicators of climate change that are studied, which I will cover in overview here as promised in one of my earlier blogs.

Firstly, there is sea level rise.  The first thing to say about sea level rise is that the melting of the Arctic Ice Sheet does not increase the sea levels as you are simply replacing the volume of ice with the same of water.  Sea level rise comes mainly from the expansion of the water volume as the temperature of the oceans rises, plus just under half from the melting of land based ice such as on Antarctica or Greenland’s glaciers or over North America.  However, while there is definitely sea level rise, it is not that scary being of the order of centimetres rather than metres.  So we have historic sea level rises of 1.7mm to 3mm (after 1993) per annum  during the 20th century, or 20cm over 1900 to 2000, with forecast sea level rises of about 4mm every year reaching a total rise of 22cm to 44cm by 2090 from a base date of 1990. 

There is the remote possibility of a massive ice sheet melt from the Antarctic but this is viewed by the IPCC as a millenium scale event, i.e. really, really unlikely; in fact, increased precipitation is expected to continue with extra snowfall falling onto the Antarctic and so thickening the ice cap on the South Pole!  For a more detailed and easy to understand slide show go to this one on Slideshare.

Next, there is the increasing acidity of the oceans.  As carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases, so more of this in dissolved in the oceans and waters of the world; other gases like nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide also dissolve in water creating further acids, but here I am focussing on carbon dioxide.  The oceans act as an important sink or buffer for human activity, having absorbed over 80% of the heat added to the climate system and 30% of the human-derived carbon emissions over the last 200 years.  This point which has passed me by probably goes some way to explaining my earlier query as to why the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming is not so direct, i.e. because the water in the oceans, rivers and lakes dampens the impact [pun unitended but I like it] and takes up much of the initial heat and some of the increase in carbon dioxide and other gases. 

The ocean pH is about 0.1 pH units below the pre-industrial averages at around 8.1 and is forecast to fall another 0.4 to 0.4 pH units by 2100.  The impact directly on humans is minimal, however there is concern as to the impact on calcifying organisms that require carbonates to build their shells; a falling pH reduces the availability of carbonate in the water for corals, bivalves, crustaceans and plankton, which would then have implications on marine food webs and ecosystems.  These are simply explained at the following link and then there’s more detail on the oceans and coral reefs at the great web site Climate Shifts and on the BBC.

So we have further climate indicators that are showing that man is shaping the earth’s climate through his/her agricultural and industrial activity.

How Do Global Warming, Greenhouse Gases And The Earth’s Orbit All Link Together?

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

I’ve written a number of blogs now where I try to get to grips with some of the numbers underlying global warming.  So far, I agree that the historic figures do demonstrate global warming over the last 100+ years within a relatively wide band of possible growth rates, and that the evidence shows that the levels of carbon dioxide have increased since about 1950.  Furthermore, the science behind the link between carbon dioxide, methane and the greenhouse effect (and so global warming) is simple science that has been known for many years; in fact, global warming/the greenhouse effect is science that enables life on earth as without it our planet would have an inhospitable temperature closer to -18oC, i.e. it heats up the earth by about 33oC already to 15oC.

What interests me next is how have temperatures and greenhouse gases moved in the past? I will try and analyse this by looking at some neat science that analyses climate data over a longer period.  This will get to the nub of the issue, i.e. what is driving global warming, plus may answer my two current quandaries: (i) why isn’t global warming being driven exponentially by the very obvious and definite growth in CO2 per the Mauna Loa graphs? (ii) why do the predictive models of climate scientists suggest that we should be preparing for increases of 2 – 4oC for the next 100 years, while history shows global warming is more like 1oC over the last 100 or so years?

To work this out, some scientists look at what happened at the end of earlier ice ages as this hints at the mechanics of atmospheric and other climatic changes.  There are several pieces of research that suggest how temperature and greenhouse gases interact - one strand looks at climate data in stalagmites in caves in China and the other is a series of classic pieces of climate change science around ice core data from the Antarctic.  I’ll deal with the Antarctic first.

The first one is pretty neat.  It is based on the fact that when snow falls it traps air in small bubbles within its structure.  Then as more snow falls the next year, this new layer not only brings its own store of information about air quality, snowfall, temperature and levels of greenhouse gases, but it permanently seals off the information stored in the previous year’s snowfall.  Over time, we get left with an annual layering of data that goes back for ages and ages in the Antarctic, as well as in the Arctic especially on Greenland.  Scientists have now dug vertical small circular shafts into the ice and then, after chopping up these ice cores, have analysed the information from them – there’s a video on Youtube that shows you what the scientists do.  Data collated from other similar projects basically corroborates information found in this much earlier paper, which was published back in 1999 by Petit et al (detailed reference at end).

In essence, Petit et al were able to drill down 3,130m, covering 420,000 years and providing a climate record through four climate cycles.  They found that temperatures are constantly changing, but always within given maximum and minimum levels.  They found that when concentrations of greenhouse gases (specifically CO2 and CH4) in the atmosphere went up, global temperatures, also, went up and vice versa.  They concluded “[f]inally, CO2 and CH4 concentrations are strongly correlated with Antarctic temperatures; this is because, overall, our results support the idea that greenhouse gases have contributed significantly to glacial-interglacial change.  This correlation, together with the uniquely elevated concentrations of these gases today, is of relevance with respect to the continuing debate on the future of earth’s climate.” (Petit et al, 1999).

However, they also stated earlier that “[t]hese results suggest that the same sequence of climate forcing operated during each termination [of a glacial period]: orbital forcing (with a possible contribution of local insolation changes) followed by two strong amplifiers, greenhouse gases acting first, then deglaciation and ice-albedo feedback.” (Petit et al, 1999).  This suggests to me that greenhouse gases, the melting of the ice caps and the positive feedback caused by white ice turning to dark seas usually act as amplifiers of changes in temperatures caused by other factors such as changes in solar energy caused by changes to the earth’s orbit, which gets me back to one of my original quandaries – what is driving climate change and so what happens when you have the amplifiers without necessarily the increased temperatures resulting from either a more active sun or a change in the earth’s orbit?

The next paper I read was in New Scientist only a couple of weeks ago and is also pretty cool.  This work is trying to understand the end of glacial periods by analysing stalagmites in caves in China and interlink this with known changes in the shape of the earth’s orbit – now how amazing is that?  Since then, I have been reading the original scientific papers, hence the time delay in writing this blog.

Firstly, we need to start with the concept of Milankovitch’s theories on the earth’s orbits.  Milutin Milankovitch undertook detailed calculations on the earth’s three main orbital cycles.  So, for example, every 41,000 years the tilt of the earth’s axis increases and decreases, making summers hotter and colder respectively.  It’s summer temperatures that are important as this is what drives the potential for ice packs to melt over time, rather than winter temperatures which just create more ice.  So from 2.5 million years ago to about 1 million years ago the ice ages occurred based on these cycles.  However, around 1 million years ago to the end of the last ice age, glacial periods started occurring every 100,000ish years.  This links in potentially with another orbital cycle of 95,000 – 125,000 years, but here the science is less strong and debate still rages as to what is actually happenning. 

Liu et al have measured oxygen-18 in stalagmites in several caves in China.  Water containing oxygen-18 is heavier than normal oxygen-16 and so condenses more easily, so heavy monsoonal air loses much of its oxygen-18 as it moves inland and each year a record is left on the stalagmites.  As each glacial period ends, the summer monsoons became much weaker than normally and so the oxygen-18 levels in stalagmites increased.  Their evidence showed that monsoons failed in the last four glacial terminations, or as they write “[t]his climate pattern, broadly resembling other cave records from China, appears to correlate with multi-decadal to millennial changes in Greenland temperature and the general pattern of the wind-borne calcium ion record in the ice.”  In fact, work on a stalagmite from the Dongge Cave in China agrees exactly (within error) with the Vostok ice core records of Petit et al, showing methane rise in the atmosphere at 129,000BP.

Further work has shown that CO2 and CH4 levels increase at the same time as the ice packs at the poles decrease, suggesting that the reduction in ice is actually causing the rise in CO2 and CH4.  It is suggested that as the tilt of the earth’s axis changes this increases the temperature of the earth and the ice sheet over North America flows into the Antarctic, which interferes with and then stops the circulation of water around the oceans, which normally keeps the southern hemisphere warmer and the northern cooler (the so-called Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation).  As the southern seas warm up, CO2 is released into the atmosphere as CO2 is less soluble in warm water than cold and so further increasing the impact of the higher temperatures from the sun.  In effect, over the last 400,000 years, whenever the tilt of the earth’s axis reached a maximum, the intensity of sunshine increased (based on insolation in July at 60o north), CO2 levels increased to a maximum, relative sea levels also increased to maxima, all correlating with the strength of the Asian monsoon.

All of this comes from ice core data, analysis of stalagmites and other stores of climate data like coral reefs.  That in itself is amazing.  Then there is agreement in climate records going back many hundreds of thousands of years that correlate with each other across the world and using different techniques and types of ancient, geological record.

Finally, I would like briefly mention another set of amazing work by Zachos et al in the US which tries to get to grips with temperature and atmospheric gases in deeper time in the order of millions of years ago.  They have analysed various types of proxy data in deep sea cores of rocks to determine temperature and carbon in earth’s history and have tried to relate this to events in the geology of the earth and evolution, so developing a framework for the development of the earth’s climate over a much longer timescale.  What I like about these pieces of research is not just how clever they are, but also because Bjørn Lomborg uses them in a section trying to refute the science within climate change work in his book “Cool it – the skeptical environmentalist’s guide to global warming” – he has a tendency to misquote, or at least to quote out of context, as well as jumble up numbers and data to make his own points, which are often at odds with what the original scientists actually have stated.  Just like Nigel Lawson, Bjørn Lomborg has authority when it comes to economic and political discussions around climate change, but they sometimes get it wrong when they try and refute the science; most of their errors stem from two simple problems: (i) they don’t understand the scientific process; and (ii) they mistake/confuse weather for climate.  I will try and get back to Lomborg’s book “Cool It” some time and show how he shoots himself in the foot at times by blatantly altering the available research to suit his arguments.

The research by Zachos et al shows that carbon and temperature are correlated at least to about 34 million years ago at the edge of the Eocene and Oligocene Ages, which is when the Antarctic Ice-sheets became fairly permanent, and that there is correlation with the orbit of the earth around the sun even if the impact is sometimes relatively weak over millions of years.  Prior to then, getting clarity in the temperature and carbon dioxide levels gets ever harder and we find that the linkage between carbon levels and temperature is much less clear and even perhaps non-existent, however later research by Zachos et al indicates that this lack of correlation may not be as extreme as some researchers have indicated and is perhaps simply a result of lack of experimental data.  The other interesting occurrence is that whenever there has been a sudden change in temperature this has also been accompanied by a similarly sudden change in carbon; these occurred at 23, 34 and 55 million years ago.  Later research at the 34 million years ago tipping point suggests that carbon dioxide is a key factor in climate transition; Pagani et al (2005) showed that “[i]n detail, a trend toward lower CO2 concentrations during the middle to late Eocene, reaching levels at the E[ocene]/O[ligocene] boundary that could have triggered the rapid expansion of ice on east Antarctica; and work by Pearson et al (2009) indicates that there was a fall in atmospheric carbon dioxide at 34 million years ago that triggered climate transition to an ice-house world and “[t]his study reaffirms the links between cryosphere development and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the largest and most important climatic tipping point of the last 65 million years.”

However, when you look at research into climate over such a long time period, you realise pretty quickly that long term climate progression is the sum of many different processes and that it is far more complex than any of the commentators and scientists would have everyone believe, plus that correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

In overview, we know that the earth’s general temperature, hence climate, has gone up and down over time dependent on the earth’s tilt and orbital shape, i.e. effectively how close the earth gets to the sun during its orbit and so how much solar energy gets to the earth.  These changes in temperatures are then further affected by the earth’s environment, especially the levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, the ice sheets and the ice-albedo effect.  In addition, climate gets impacted by a whole raft of other factors ranging from geological through to biological, which is a point that I will get back to in a later blog.

The science, therefore, does show that the basic greenhouse effect has impacted climate in the earth’s past and present and so will affect it in the future, but that it is not the only factor that impacts climate nor perhaps the most important climate factor over longer time periods.  Furthermore, while the research does indicate that sudden changes in carbon dioxide often occur with quick moves in climate, it doesn’t explain the consequences of these amplification or forcing impacts on our future climate, so that’s my next journey and is where I will need to start investigating the computer models devised by climate scientists to predict the climate in the future.

Before I go there, however, I would like to round off this section of my journey around global warming /climate change with a look at some of the other indicators of current global warming, such as sea levels and sea acidity just to round off the historical and current status of climate indicators.

References

Battersby, S. (2010) Meltdown: Why ice ages don’t last forever, New Scientist, issue 2761, 24 May 2010, Available on the Internet at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627610.900-meltdown-why-ice-ages-dont-last-forever.html (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Kelly, M. J., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H., Yuan, D., Cai, Y., Zhang, M., Lin, Y., An, Z. (2005) High resolution characterization of the Asian Monsoon between 146,000 and 99,000 B.P. from Dongge Cave, China and global correlation of events surrounding Termination II, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 236 (2006), 20 -38, Available from the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6V6R-4JX38YR-1-R&_cdi=5821&_user=126980&_pii=S0031018206001301&_orig=search&_coverDate=06%2F23%2F2006&_sk=997639998&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlb-zSkzV&md5=a8ffdf76ab6ec0bde843ad331aeaa780&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 2 June 2010)

Liu, D., Wang, Y., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Kong, X., Wang, X., Hardt, B., Wu, J., Chen, S., Jiang, X., He, Y., Dong, J., Zhao, K. (2010) Sun-millennial variability of Asian monsoon intensity during the early MIS 3 and its analogue to the ice age terminations, Quaternary Science Reviews 29 2010, 1107 – 1115, Available on the Internet at http://www.sciencedirect.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/science?_ob=MImg&_imagekey=B6VBC-4YHSCPG-1-B&_cdi=5923&_user=126980&_pii=S0277379110000107&_orig=search&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2010&_sk=999709990&view=c&wchp=dGLzVlz-zSkWb&md5=2e3a05cdb40b477b6a09872b4120f444&ie=/sdarticle.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Pagani, M., Zachos, J.C., Freeman, K.H., Tipple, B., Boahty, S. (2005) Marked Decline in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Paleogene, Science 309, 600,  22 July 2005, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Pearson, P.N., Foster, G.L., Wade, B.S. (2009) Atmospheric carbon dioxide through the Eocene-Ologocene climate transition, Nature 461, 1110- 1114, 22 October 2009 Available on the Internet from www.nature.com (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Petit, J.R., Jouzel, J., Raynaud, D., Barkov, N.I., Barnola, J-M., Basile, I., Bender, M., Chappellaz, J., Davis, M., Delaygue, G., Delmotte, M., Kotlyakov, V.M., Legrand, M., Lipenkov, V.Y., Lorius, C., Pepin, L., Ritz, C., Saltzman, E., Stievenard, M. (1999) Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica, Nature, Vol 399, 3 June 1999, Available on the Internet from http://www.daycreek.com/dc/images/1999.pdf (Accessed 25 May 2010)

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K. (2001) Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present, Science 292, 686, 27 April 2001, Available on the Internet from www.sciencemag.org (Accessed 7 June 2010)

Can We Save Ourselves From Global Warming?

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

I went to a public lecture by Professor John Beddington who is currently Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government.  He was lecturing on Climate Change as a University of York Biology lecture.  And yesterday he was back in London attacking climate sceptics who mistake weather for climate change and so on.

I am slowly trying to understand the science in more detail, having understood the basics since I did science way back when, plus I have even set myself out on doing an Open University degree on Environmental Science/Studies to improve my understanding of these issues.  So I guess I am now an advanced layman rather than much further on than that.

So what came out for me in his lecture was not whether or not climate change or global warming exists – it does and the science is clear, even if there are gaps in getting to a total understanding on the subject.  We know that quantum physics works even though there are gaps, while we know that evolution occurs and that alternative routes co-exist with it, such as horizontal gene transfer.  Gaps and alternatives do not necessarily negate the core scientific theory.

What struck me were 2 slides:

  1. One slide on annual deployment rates for alternatives, lower carbon emission energy sources.  I didn’t have time to take down all the data but it did include 32 new nuclear plants per annum, 215 million m2 of solar panels annually, 3750 offshore wind turbines every year etc etc.  That’s just an awesome task.  It chimed with some thoughts in Stewart Brand’s recent book “Whole Earth Discipline”.
  2. His final slide – which Professor Beddington called The Perfect Storm, where he stated that we must not forget that there are more scientific issues impacting environmental issues than just climate change.  He said that we have the interaction of the following – population growth and a population that will peak at 8-9 billion people, increased urbanisation and the fact that most people live in cities now and this will continue to increase, a lower relative number of poor in the world which will increase levels of consumption and (finally) climate change.  Once again that’s a tough set of environmental drivers to deal with.

For me, this begs the question whether you can marry up the economics that building all this new energy infrastructure requires with the fact that increases in population, urban living and consumption (as a by-product of reduced relative levels of poor) will demand ever greater levels of electricity and they want it now.  Also, if we need these levels of deployment, we better get a shift on and start sorting it out really, really fast.

Which brings me on to nimbyism (the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome) – how will all these new alternative power sources be put into place within the UK’s current planning regime.  Nuclear power – which must be in the energy mix – is hated by people near proposed plants while even near us in Melmerby in North Yorkshire, people are already campaigning against a putative wind farm nearby (it’s not even got further than a bit of scoping by a possible wind energy business).  If we all go around saying, we need to sort out climate change but we ain’t going to let you put your wind farm or nuclear plant next to us, we will never get off first base.  To get this scale of change in the energy supply for the UK, and other countries, politicians will need to become heavy-handed and force through building, while also making the financial returns more pallatable for businesses as these new forms of energy do not have acceptable short term returns, rather a very long and dull economic return.  This all chimes against my own views on liberalism – personal and economic freedom.

Good luck to you all – politicians and scientists.  You have my full support, but it’s going to be really hard to get this all done, especially when you have so many other shorter term demands on your empty pot of money.

That’s No McGuffin!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Is global warming the perfect McGuffin?  I have never really understood what Alfred Hitchcock meant by a McGuffin; for me it always seemed like the cinematic equivalent of the Zen concept of “the sound of one hand clapping”, i.e. there is no sound and the question is stupid, irrelevant, pointless and a red herring or a McGuffin.  But perhaps global warming is really the perfect McGuffin.

What is a McGuffin, then?  Well the best and worst explanation comes from Alfred Hitchcock himself in an interview with Francois Truffaut:

“It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train.  One man says “What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?”, and the other answers “Oh that’s a McGuffin”.  The first one asks “What’s a McGuffin?”. “Well”, the other man says, “It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands”.  The first man says “But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands”, and the other one answers “Well, then that’s no McGuffin!”.  So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”

So I am racked by doubts – is all this noise and technology and science about climate change and global warming merely an apparatus to trap lions in the Scottish Highlands?  But then there are actually rumours of – while not lions – big wild cats in Scotland like the Galloway puma or the Coulport cougar, so maybe a machine to catch lions would be useful.

But I am still not sure and worry that the joke’s on me and everyone is laughing at me for thinking about it too much, or as R.E.M. sang in Losing My Religion:

“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight, I’m
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough
I thought that I heard you laughing…”

So why “Losing My Religion” – well that’s obvious as I come from the viewpoint of believing in global warming, but now I don’t think it’s such a big deal nor am I so convinced that we’ve got the answer quite sharp enough yet.  Yes, temperature has gone up; yes, greenhouse gases have gone up; but all-in-all it’s perhaps by not that much, and why should we change everything on a leap of faith – a computer simulation of what might happen in 100 or 200 years time and something that might be good for loads of people, incuding Britain!

Imagine this.  We are all now living 5000 years ago in Britain.  No cars, no mobile phones, no roads, no Internet, no watches, no telescopes, no science and so on and so on.  We know that every day a bright light goes into the sky and warms the earth but it comes up in different places at different stages and seems to warm at different rates.  We know that a bright white light comes up into the sky and cycles over a shorter period but it doesn’t warm the world, but mysteriously it seems the same period as the oceans move at and women’s menstrual cycles.  But how do we work out what to do and what these cycles are or when to plant crops and harvest them.  There is no time, there are no diaries.

So we construct a whole mythology and superstitions that seem to help us work these cycles all out.  But it doesn’t always work out, as the weather gets warmer and colder dependent on, maybe a volcano in Iceland or El Nino or some other unknown like sun spots.  So we make our mythology even more complex and after these unknowns we make new sacrifices to appease an unknown, slightly random god.  This goes on and on as we create more and more complexity on a construct with weak foundations.

But them someone works out the clock and then come telescopes and diaries and we develop to now.  What was a key and clear set of rules and prediction mechanisms 5000 years ago is now encapsulated in clocks and time and thermometers and weather satellites and diaries etc, and the mystery has gone, the religion gone, even if the randomness and unpredictability is still there.

I feel that we are in 5000BP and cannot see it all clearly just quite yet, and while everyone creates more and more complex computer simulations - just like those people back then built Stonehenge and created their climate mythology - we’re doing the same without the living sacrifices, but certainly with the cash impacts.  I just cannot make that leap of faith yet from a 1oC change in last 100 years to a 2oC or 4oC or 5oC rise in the next 100 or 200 years (but I am still working on getting there), while in the-here-and-now I need to work out how my family can be fed, educated and kept happy and Steenbergs can be developed, and how you can relieve poverty and crime in the UK and help the poor vanilla growers in Madagascar.

We should be frugal and we should try and look after the world, but not this vast cost for a minor god whose decision will be made in the really distant future.  We must change where we look and focus on bigger gods with a firmer reality and then do today’s things and tomorrow’s things as responsibly as possible in terms of our families, our communities and the world.

Global Warming And Greenhouse Gases

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

We’ve looked at whether there is global warming and there does appear to be global warming albeit not at such a dramatic level as we read about in the press – perhaps more like 1oC rather than 4oC or 5oC. 

I will need to understand how the UK Met Office gets from these historic numbers to a future rise that’s much higher as I worry that it’s because of the computer model, which is a human-based interpretation of long-term weather patterns; as humans, we cannot predict economic performance and have been trying for many years so I remain to be convinced that we will be able to get it right for the weather – UK weather forecasters cannot get it right over a 24 hour period!

The first stage of this is to assess the drivers for global warming.  The key culprit is stated as man and particularly industrial and agricultural pollution.  Of these, the finger is pointed at greenhouse gases where carbon dioxide – or CO2 - is used as the proxy for all the other pollutive gases like methane and nitrous oxide etc.

It is clear that these gases especially carbon dioxide and methane have increased and much of this is due to energy generation from fossil fuels like coal and petrol and diesel and gasoline – but not nuclear or wind or water driven power.  It is also driven by the burning of the rainforests and other natural features like heather and grasslands, while chopping down trees takes away the trees that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and fix this into carbohydrates and other natural substances.

Great work has been done on this by the Keeling family at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and graphs from their website clearly show how carbon dioxide has grown and links this back to fossil fuels.  I’ll let their pictures tell the story below.

The Classic Mauna Loa Graph

The Classic Mauna Loa Graph

More Globalised Look At Carbon Dioxide

Carbon Dioxide Over Hawaii and South Pole

Carbon Dioxide Growth Over Time And Fossil Fuel Trend

Carbon Dioxide Growth Over Time And Fossil Fuel Trend

Impact Of Fossil Fuel Growth And Carbon Time Over Long Time

Impact Of Fossil Fuel Growth And Carbon Time Over Long Time

Now how greenhouse gases work is simple.  Solar energy enters the earth’s atmosphere and is either absorbed by plants or objects on the earth or bounces off the earth back into the atmosphere.  Some of this goes out into space but a proportion is reflected back onto earth by water vapour – ie clouds – or greenhouse gases, so the more greenhouse gases and water vapour the more solar energy stays in the atmosphere and the warmer the earth gets (all things being equal).  This can be understood much better in a picture so here’s one I got from Google:

The Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse Effect

I don’t doubt that mankind has driven up the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that these will have had an impact on the temperature.  But the big question is how much warmer the earth gets and are all things equal and (I suppose) does everything need to stay the same and why cannot man adapt or change…

Sanity Check On Global Warming Numbers

Friday, April 16th, 2010

As I have explained in several of my last few blogs, I have been looking more closely at the detail of the case for global warming.  I have analysed global average temperatures as provided by NASA that uses information from the Hadley Centre in the UK and several other sources, as well as looking at fact sheets from the IPCC.  My initial take on the numbers is that the media and the politicians may be overstating the historical case and that global temperature rises exist but may be lower than the PR spin.

Before I decided that that was my final conclusion, I wanted to do a sanity check of the global mean figures against some raw data for different regions around the world.  These are not intended to be definitive but rather to see whether the trend from the global mean data was matched by a variety of on-the-ground raw data from temperature stations.

The raw temperature data that I have chosen is for England, the Antarctic and Australia.  I thought that would give a pretty good cross-section of temperature profiles.  The quality of data varies for each of these, from very detailed as in England which goes back many hundreds of years and uses 3 data points across England, while for Australia and the Antarctic I had to chose a few places that I felt covered sufficient area but also had data that went back at least 100 years, which was supplemented with a few that went back 50 years.

The raw data is available from the following sources, should you wish to do it yourself.  Now it is important to state here that the answer is not intended to be complete or definitive, which they are clearly not, but rather they are utilised to show trends and whether those trends fall within the ranges anticipated from the IPCC work and the dataset that I analysed from NASA.

The data analysed from the above gave the following results:

  1. England temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +0.9oC, with minimum rise of +0.6oC and maximum rise of +1.8oC; the UK Metereologic data series can be seen in full detail at  http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadcet/;
  2. Antarctic temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +1.1oC, with minimum rise of +0.4oC and maximum rise of +5.3oC;
  3. Australian temperatures – temperature increase per 100 years = base rise of +1.0oC, with minimum rise of +0.3oC and maximum rise of +2.4oC.  If you look at the Australian Detailed Meteorological Office set of detailed anomalies graph it comes with the same answer of +1.06oC and can be found at http://www.bom.gov.au/cgi-bin/climate/change/timeseries.cgi

These results indicate that across a wide range of the world the global warming temperature rises are in line with the averages I previously calculated based on the global mean temperatures.

It is interesting also to note that the figures seem higher than the averages calculated by climate scientists for their global mean averages which suggests that as I would have added extra data points and more accuracy, the mean averages would tend towards a tighter fit line about 0.5oC lower.  Also, Antarctic figures were higher than for England, which is in line with what the climate scientists say, ie that the poles will experience the changes more greatly.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The base sources I used can be found as follows:

  1. England temperatures – http://hadobs.metoffice.com/hadcet/data/download.html
  2. Antarctic temperatures – http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/met/READER/
  3. Australian temperatures -http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/

My graphs are as below:

Temperature Anomalies for Central England

Temperature Anomalies for Central England

Temperature Differences for Australia

Temperature Differences for Australia

Temperature differences in Antarctic

Temperature differences in Antarctic

Environmental Policies from Key Parties – Part 1

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I have purposely started by reviewing key environmental areas and international development other than climate change first, as they are just as (if not more) important than global warming.  In particular, I have looked at the following key areas – water, wastewater, pollution, solid waste, biodiversity and international development.

Conservatives:

  • Working towards zero waste – incentivising families that recycle and put a floor under landfill tax until 2020 to give business long term certainty to invest in new forms of waste disposal – that sounds like a cop-out to me that will not force businesses to reduce landfill waste
  • Introduce greater competition in water industry to reduce bills and improve efficiency and innovation plus reform to improve environmental standards – once again this seems a bit wishy-washy and may lead to reduced service unless it is linked to meeting specific environmental targets
  • Claims to have called for Marine Act that Labour introduced and wants further reforms to Common Fisheries Policy to protect fisherman and fish stocks even more
  • “Science led policy” on badger control in TB infected areas (whatever science led means!)
  • Broader ecosystem approach to landscape as a whole as well as targeted approach to protected habitats and species
  • Intends to introduce a system of conservation credits in England as ”an incentive to invest in biodiversity”
  • £200 million of funding for local authorities to invest in greener transport such as bus and cycling from Transport Innovation Fund without need to introduce a Congestion Charge in regions.  The money is already ring fenced by the Labour Government, however removing the need to charge a Congestion Charge will create a marginal cost for Government were it to actually release the funds
  • Would seek to reverse bans on hunting with dogs and hare coursing via free vote for MPs
  • Committed to 0.7% of Gross National income as aid by 2013
  • Empower people in poor countries as to how to spend aid, and will spend £500 million a year to tackle malaria
  • Block GM crops until shown to be safe

Greens:

  • Has a zero waste policy with comprehensive recycling schemes and support the recycling industry with target of 60% recycled in 5 years (UK is already at 50% so this isn’t very ambitious)
  • Via a Waste Avoidance and Recycling Act impose differential charges for short life products, ie plastic costs more than glass to dispose, and legislate minimum recycled content into some products
  • Ban new waste incinerators and phase out old ones, but invest in anearobic digesters
  • Eliminate plastic throwaway bags from shops
  • Ban GM crops
  • Get out of Common Fisheries Policy, or at least shift to a more sustainable basis (difference between main website and policy website)
  • There is a 404 error on their “Environment and Animal Welfare Page” – however, from their main policy section, the Greens would ban factory farming, cruel bloodsports, badger culling and promote organic farming and vegetarian food
  • Energy: massive investment in renewables to create 80,000 jobs; retrofitting houses, schools and hospitals to make them more energy efficient; phasing out of nuclear power; removal of incentives from biofuels; shifting subsidies from nuclear and coal power to renewable energy
  • Transport: focus on walking then cycling then public transport, especially light rail and trams, then cars plus legislate to get more commercial transport onto rail and water and away from roads and air and congestion charging
  • International development: increase aid to 1% of Gross National income and cancellation of debt to 52 poorest countries – I think it’s “and” but I may be double-counting of debt cancellation as part of aid which is the case of most political policies, but frankly there’s not much detail here

Labour:

  • Biodiversity is important – 2 landmark acts the Countryside and Right of Ways Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Act, 2 new National Parks
  • £3.9 billion Rural Development Programme which includes an agri-environment Environmental Stewardship Scheme
  • Extended Green Belt and focused on developing Brownfield Sites for developments
  • Assess GM crops on case-by-case basis
  • Targetting investment in public transport, green technologies for cars with £400 million fund to develop new technology and invested money in schemes to get cycling into urban environment spending £60 million over last 5 years and getting 500,000 kids doing Bikeability training by 2012
  • Banned fox hunting and hare coursing; banned animal testing of cosmetics and barren cages for chickens – very committed to animal welfare
  • Campaigning to ban illegal trade in ivory, polar bears, bluefin tuna and bobcats, while consulting on banning of cages for gamebirds and wild animals in circuses
  • Working for fairer global society and committed in law to spending 0.7% of Gross National income on aid to support poorest nations, and working to address the 8 Millennium development goals to combate extreme poverty by 2015
  • Under Labour, UK has been world’s second biggest bilateral donor in fight against HIV/Aids, targetting malaria via delivery of 50 million bednets by 2013 and spending £100 million to fight polio around the world

Liberal Democrats:

  • “Zero waste” policy – no more landfill for solid waste, with a rise in recycling, changes to packaging regulations and increase in use of anearobic digesters
  • Introduction of smart meters in areas where issues of water availability
  • Target water companies to reduce wastage of water
  • Cancel third runway at Heathrow to target pollution
  • Ban commercial production of GM crops
  • Revenue neutral road user pricing to reduce congestion and pollution in urban environment (I know I am thick but I don’t know what this means, but I assume it is the same as the congestion charge for London)
  • They also hint at issues of bird, animal and plant habitats but don’t specify what they will do about it unless changes to local planning decisions is meant to address that.  This doesn’t really target biodiversity but does make the landscape more open and free.
  • Their policy on international development has not been specified and there is currently just a consultation document dated February 2010, so this is not reviewable.

In summary, there is some detail in place, however I was disappointed at how lightweight the Liberal Democrats were on this area when they really could have scored some good points-of-difference.  Perhaps it will come in later campaigning, but there was not much on their website on this, and it could be too late for me to change my vote. 

As a result, it was a contest between the Conservatives and Labour on this point as the Greens were good on some areas but less credible on the detail and the international perspective – a lot of negative and regressive policies rather than adaptive and genuinely practical solutions (in my opinion). 

I think much of the issue with the Greens is that their agenda was perhaps not very radical as the good policy ideas have been cherry picked by the main political parties already, so the only things they can show a difference on are minor areas and more radical stances, eg bringing buses under public ownership (I assume that’s what is meant by “re-regulation”) and banning nuclear power, while banning blood sports is good (if a bit late as a policy) but phasing out industrial farming and food production is a ridiculous policy in the real world.  Their positions on animal welfare are basically the same as Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives have some interest in these areas, while recycling and pollution is already going quite well under Labour, so basically the Greens were not as visionary as I had expected nor as ambitious or aggressive enough for me with their “green” ideas so scored less well when compared to the Conservatives and Labour.  I wonder whether they are trying to seem more sensible and so electable, therefore they have lost some of their radical appeal.

As in many things in life, it depends what you think is most important – Labour definitely are strong on their animal welfare credentials while the Conservatives were better on the International Development – I liked the specifics of the malaria fund.  I couldn’t find much about waste management and recycling on the Labour website, except stuff in the Climate Change debate which I think misses a trick.   However, what it comes down to is Labour have very strong credibility due to what they have already done, but I was less sure about their future ideas.  I know Labour wants to be seen as a safe pair of hands and is campaigning on more of the same, but like many voters I pay little attention between elections so I need to be explained the future now, so Labour should not rest on its past environmental achievements, because that’s been and (I am sorry to say) had largely passed me by.

Overall though, I have to say all parties were a bit weak and woolly which just shows they are not really that interested in green issues, which is a disappointment for me.  So overall, a thumbs down to everyone here and I hope whoever wins will do a lot better than the little that is to be found on their websites, or the Minister of the Environment could be a really cushy, easy-going job for the next Government. 

If I had to give my vote on the basis of what I have read so far on these topics, it would be in the following order of preference: Labour, Conservatives, Greens then Liberal Democrats.  I score the Conservatives above the Greens because I think nuclear power has to be in the mix and factory farming (while often really horrible) does keep food prices down, but they do less well in my mind on animal welfare; therefore, you could argue that my view is coloured by a prejudice here against the credibility of the Green Party, and you are welcome to push the Tories down that list, although the Liberal Democrats have to come bottom as they don’t seem to have completed the work yet (which I cannot quite believe). 

Hopefully, there will be more of interest in everyone’s policies on Global Warming and Energy…

UPDATE 15/4/2010:

The parties have now all launched their manifestoes – why I don’t know as they seem to say just what is already on the web without the need to fell a few forests.  I have put a few notes below for any additional points of interest regarding green issues:

Conservatives: will stop restart of whaling, destroy stockpiles of ivory and stop trade in ivory, campaign to end deforestation of rainforests and ban illegal wood coming into UK under any guise

Greens: nothing new in their policies, but I did do their policy matchmaker and only scored 50% on it which I suspect means that I am not best matched by the Green Party’s policies as it was only my aversion to ID cards that got me up to 50%

Labour: ban illegal wood coming into UK

Liberal Democrats: work to stop deforestation to protect biodiversity (as well as climate change) and ban imports of illegal chopped down timber; 0.7% GNI on development aid; work to tackle HIV/aids, malaria and TB; target clean water supply in developing world (my comment: how about sanitation as well!!); cancellation of 3rd world debt; funds available to develop viable social welfare systems in developing world; stop loss of habitats and so biodiversity in UK

I think that this means that Liberal Democrats are no longer bottom of the pile and I would put them equal with the Conservatives but behind the Labour Party.

First Impressions On UK Political Parties From Green Agenda

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

As promised, I have started the process of looking at the main political parties from the perspective of the environment and international development.  I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I had expected with this, but I will continue.  Yesterday, I wasted an idle hour of my time looking at the websites for the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and downloaded background information about their policies on these two areas.  Here are my first impressions – I have not looked at a single policy yet so this is more about websites and general look, feel and philosophy taking into account the environmental agenda.

Firstly, the SNP.  Well I couldn’t find anything relevant on their website as regards the general election or environmental policies; their most recent Westminster manifesto is from 2005.  The best I could come up with was their section on Government, ie Scottish Government.  Unfortunately, this means I will not be going back to their website to get any more information; in this day and age, you need to have all the information up there all the time and it’s just not good enough to be waiting until a full official manifesto is launched.

Next, the Green Party.  Firstly, it would seem clear and bleeding obvious that central to the Green Party’s political philosophy is “taking into account the environment in all policy decisions”, but I was surprised that when I went to their policy section that there were no environmental policies.  Now I know where they are coming from being that everyone knows we are green but what they don’t believe we can deliver on is basic policy areas like Health and Housing and the Economy, so we’ll major on these areas, however why hide the Green Agenda?  Or as they say “We are not just an environmental party. Our policies extend across all areas of life.”  When Steenbergs first set up our website, our bank manager said to us that he was surprised that we never mentioned that we were focused on organic spices and herbs, so we realised that what’s obvious to us/them is probably less obvious to other people, so you need sometimes to keep on stating the bleeding obvious.  I did eventually find more detail about policies within the main website in the About the Green Party section hidden in a side bar, but to get those policy statements you keep needing to go back to this side bar.

To find the Green Party’s information on the Environment, you need to go to another website called Green Party Policies and download various pdf files across a range of topics.  Now this web site is truly horrible – it’s clunky, slow and really hard to work out what and where to get information.  Also, because of it’s structure, you end out having to print out loads of paper to actually read the policies because the pdfs are really hard to read.  While the web site had errors all over the place – the Policy Statements page comes up with a 404 Error Page Not Found.  As for detailed policies, I was surprised to find that many of the Policy Downloads were offline pending revision although they will be up in a few days.  So all in all this was fairly hard work to trudge through and really difficult to find stuff  about the environment and international development, which meant that you really had to want to find the detail to want to use the website.  Were I a teacher I would have to say “Could do better”.

Next, I am going to lump together the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats – that’s probably a first.  Both of their websites are clean looking and easy to use, and have a similar structure, so you can find the general policy stuff about the Environment and other policies by clicking on information bars on the left hand border.  All the information is there with detailed policy statements and backgrounders dowloadable quickly from links embedded in the relevant areas.  I liked both sites and found them similar in style.  As for general feel about the seriousness of the Environment to these parties, the Liberal Democrats give higher prominence for the Environment sitting at the top of their “What We Stand For?” section, while the Conservatives do not put the Environment or International Development in the “What We Stand For?” section but they do have a vast amount of detail as Consultation Papers and detailed policy papers – so the Liberal Democrats weighed in at 520g of papers when printed out and the Conservatives a whopping 940g (and I hadn’t even printed out their long report on “Rebuilding Security”).  As a negative for the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t find anything within the main website about International Development and had to get to it via a search where I found a consultation paper for download, so that wasn’t great.

Now, for the Labour website.  Its structure is completely different to the other major parties.  They do not include the Environment within their Pledges on the Home Page, but it does come as a subsidiary pledge under “Ed’s Pledge“, which is all about Climate Change.  The Labour website is structured as a highly functional blog or social networking site, which means you can go from the Environment and then onto “Further Reading” or “Related Policies” in the right hand pane.  This gives you the ability to move around the website and through policy ideas and threads, but I quickly got lost and then would need to get myself back to the start and follow another line of thought.  Also, I struggled to find detail on any of the policies, and was (I assume) expected just to believe what I was being told on the website and that I wasn’t allowed to question and query, nor want to delve deeper into the philosophy and reasoning for the resultant policies that Labour is proposing. 

Now, I have to be honest here – I am 42 years old and don’t live in London and I am not massively computer literate and I hate social networking sites, nor do I have a mobile phone.  Also, I like to question and query things and am by nature a sceptic, and am very, very dubious about anything politicians say – unfortunately, I come from a viewpoint that all politicians are going to promise you the earth, feed you a load of cock and bull, then do something else when they get into power.

So while I get completely what Labour is doing with their website, I loathed it.  I want to find the information about policy areas in a simple format saying “Environment” or “Community Relations” or whatever area interests me.  Also, I want to be able to print out stuff and read it, rather than post it to Twitter or view it on by Blackberry (I don’t have one you’ll be pleased to know), or some other gizmo.  I am not interested in politics per se nor am I in the Westminster Village; similarly, I am not in the 18 – 30 year old bracket that has been brought up on Facebook or Twitter.  Hence, for me, the Labour website was a horror story, but I reckon it will appeal to lots of people who like that style of thing and it is really, really well orchestrated and controlled, which I assume will go for the whole Labour compaign – the Labour site is without a doubt an awesome website and the best party political campaigning tool of the three major parties.

So here’s my initial impression and order of success in giving me the right feel about their Environmental and International Development credentials:

  1. Liberal Democrats
  2. Conservatives
  3. Labour
  4. Green Party
  5. Scottish National Party

But as I have said, the Labour website is really effective, but just not conceptually for me.

Note to all political parties, none of you (and that includes the Greens) have a button to enable you to print the information on a page, so you get all the side bars and rubbish around the edges.  The result 3 or 4 pages of print, where most goes straight into the bin.  Yes, I could read it on screen, but I am too old for that – I like to read paper and scribble on it etc.

And now I will start looking in more detail at the individual party’s policies and statements on the Environment and International Development…