Posts Tagged ‘climate change deniers’

Pride and…?

Those of you who know me, know that I am a huge Jane Austen fan. (No, this is relevant, I swear!) Recently I finished reading a book about the laws and customs of nineteenth-century England, with the cumbersome title of “What Jane Austen Ate And Charles Dickens Knew”, by Daniel Pool. It’s a fun read if you like that sort of thing, as well as being a really good resource for looking things up in.

Not to mention, it was a good distraction from the news this week, since I would otherwise have pretty much spent every evening glued to the television watching the progress of the Gulf oil slick. (Someone explain to me why newscasters persist in referring to it as a “spill”. It’s not like it spilled out of a tanker. If it were a spill, we’d know how much oil there was, for one thing. Okay, pedantic linguist hat off.)

Anyway, here’s an interesting fact from this book: “[e]xcept for railway shares, no one would have had stocks or bonds from private companies until the second half of the century, for the excellent reason that even the smallest shareholders were 100 percent liable to the extent of all their goods and land for any debt incurred by the business of which they were part owners”.

In other words, if a company did something like, oh, let’s say, caused an entirely avoidable disaster due to not putting in failsafe machinery that they had promised they were going to and wiped out a large chunk of the fisheries industry to the tune of several billion dollars a year, then anybody who owned stock in this hypothetical company, which I expect would include all of its upper management, could have everything they owned seized to pay off their debt. No claiming that the corporation is somehow a separate entity; your creditors could come in and take your fancy cars and your million-dollar house and your big fat bonuses that you “earned” at the same time as working people everywhere were losing their jobs and their homes.

I’m not necessarily advocating this (well, not really). There are very good reasons why stocks don’t work this way anymore. Mostly it seems to have to do with encouraging innovation and helping new companies raise capital; also a lot of people’s savings are in stock investments, and they’d be as hard hit as petroleum executives, or more so, by having to be on the hook for this. But at the same time, I can’t help thinking that it would be really good to bring some personal responsibility back into the system. Because I guarantee you, in five years the management at BP are still going to be in cushy jobs (whether there or elsewhere) and the people whose livelihoods they made collapse aren’t going to see much if anything in the way of assistance from them.

There are people who are working on this. (There are people working on everything!) There are municipalities that have already abolished corporate personhood and others that are working on it.

I’m not without hope on this issue. I don’t expect the oil leak to be the wake-up call that some people are hoping it will, because I’m pretty sure that a lot of major corporations are run by sociopaths (ecopaths?). But I do think it’s something visible enough (unlike climate change) that people will get together on it. Most people are not scientists, and the climate change “debate” is murky and unclear to them. Oil washing ashore in Louisiana is pretty damn clear. Maybe we’ll be able to stop new offshore drilling because of this, maybe it’ll convince more people to buy electric cars, maybe maybe maybe. Maybe this will finally be enough.

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Glaciergate

Found a great article today by journalist Gwynne Dyer, Climategate and Disbelief. Y’all know how much I love recommending things for you to read, but this is a good one, and quite short.

The weight of the evidence rests overwhelmingly on the side of those who argue that climate change is real and dangerous. Ninety-seven or ninety-eight percent of scientists active in the relevant fields are convinced of it; all but a couple of the world’s two hundred governments have been persuaded of it; public opinion accepts it almost everywhere except in parts of the “Anglosphere.” The United States, and to a lesser extent Australia, Britain and Canada, are the last bastions of denial.

From being the least ideological countries fifty years ago, when much of the rest of the planet was drunk on Marxist theories, these countries have become the most ideological today. Disbelief in climate change has been turned into an ideological badge worn by the right, and evidence is no longer relevant.

This wouldn’t matter much if the countries in question were Bolivia, Belgium and Burma, but one of them is really important.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…

One of the arguments often made by people who don’t understand science very well is that the evidence for climate change is “circumstantial”. Yes, the increase in global temperatures correlates with the increase in human-produced carbon emissions – but that could all be a coincidence! Yes!

My dad told me a story once, about one time when he decided to go over to the courthouse and listen in on the cases being tried that day. (Incidentally, if you’ve never done this, I highly recommend it. Most trials are open to the public, and it can be surprisingly edutaining to watch the justice system in operation.) (Yes, I did just use a very silly word. If we don’t use made-up words every once in a while, the prescriptivists will have won. Whatevs.)

So he went into a courtroom where a trial had just begun, and the prosecutor was in the process of giving instructions to the jury. “Now,” he said, “the defense attorney is going to tell you that the evidence against the suspect here is mostly circumstantial. And he’s going to say it in such a way as to try to make you believe that circumstantial evidence is flimsy evidence, hardly worth considering.”

Which is, indeed, how a lot of people interpret the word.

“I’d like to give you an example of circumstantial evidence,” the prosecutor continued. “Suppose you were to wake up in the morning to see snow on the ground, and in the snow, there’s a set of footprints going from one side of your lawn to the other. You might think this meant that someone had walked across your lawn during the night – but the evidence is only circumstantial! You didn’t actually see anyone there. For all you know, the footprints could be the result of extremely localized earthquakes, or a kangaroo wearing boots, or someone leaning out of a hovering helicopter and poking holes in the snow. But if you were to assume, based on this purely circumstantial evidence, that someone had walked across your lawn – then you would almost certainly be right.”

Yes, there is a possibility, albeit a wildly unlikely one, that global warming is being caused by strange unobserved solar activity of which we have no evidence, or cosmic strings, or it’s sent by God with no scientific cause whatsoever, or it’s all a mass hallucination actually. You could call the scientific evidence circumstantial, and, in the strict definition of the word, you would be right.

You could also call it convincing, and you’d be right about that too.

Read all about it

Interviews! Today we’ve got a great interview with Peter Brown from The Lionel Show, which, as usual, WordPress will not let me embed directly. But fear not; just click here and it ought to either play or download, depending on how paranoid your media player settings are.

Also there’s a print interview at Investor’s Business Daily with quotes from Geoffrey Garver. Well worth reading, although quite short.

Was going to post another interview, but the interviewer was so clueless that it’s not even worth giving them the link traffic. Yes, it’s important to engage with people of all views, no matter how bizarre, but at some point it just becomes inefficient to keep pouring our energy and effort down that big ol’ hole. The scientific evidence on climate change is in. There’s as much consensus as there’s ever going to be, because the people who are still unconvinced are the people who aren’t likely to be persuaded by scientific evidence anyway. Can we just declare ourselves to have won the debate (and if there’s ever been a better definition of a Pyrrhic victory, I can’t think of it, because I’m pretty sure we’d all be delighted for the other folks to have been right, yes?) and then proceed to ignore them?

And yeah, I realize we can’t, because some of them run countries. Which is one of a number of things that keep me up at night. (Car alarms are another.)

I guess we’ll see the final shape of world opinion soon, as Copenhagen grinds onward. Keep watching the skies!

Committed

So, the big news yesterday: Obama announces his Copenhagen plan, committing to cut America’s CO2 emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

(That’s 3 percent of 1990 levels, for those who are counting.)

The sad part is that this is more or less the best we could have hoped for. And I think most of us are glad that at least the US has decided to set itself firm mandatory targets, which it was never willing to do before. But, seriously…three percent? By 2020?

China’s announced its plans as well; it’s going to reduce its emissions by 40 to 45 percent per unit of GDP. Says researcher Qi Jianguo of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, “In 2020, the country’s GDP will at least double that of now, so will the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). But the required reduction of emissions intensity by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with the level of 2005 means the emissions of GHG in 2020 has to be roughly the same as emissions now.” This does not strike me as grounds for optimism.

Meanwhile, the deniers continue their increasingly shrill tirades, buying radio ads here in Montreal and across the country. I’m not going to bother linking to them, as I have no interest in helping boost their search rank, but you’ve probably heard them.

The best suggestion I’ve heard on that topic comes from my friend Kielo, who wants to know why we can’t have that kind of nonsense classified as “hate speech against, y’know, the planet and stuff” and dealt with accordingly by the government. While I’m quite sure this proposal wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of, say, an actual lawyer (or probably of Ki himself if he were sober at the time), it does point up the glaring anthrocentricity (not a word out of you, Microsoft Spell Checker!) of the way we look at things.

Advocating harm to any group of people, that’s a crime. Advocating doing nothing while other species die, and pushing a lifestyle that actively implicates us all in their extermination, well…that’s free speech, it is. No, even better: that’s science.

The CCS boondoggle

This article from the Greenpeace website was forwarded to me today by four different people, which clearly means I should post it here. Thanks folks!

International — As the seventh annual Carbon Capture & Sequestration conference gets underway in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Greenpeace has launched ‘False Hope’ – a report critically examining the status and promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. The conclusion is that, despite what the coal and power industries claim, CCS will not prevent more than a whiff of global warming pollution from reaching the atmosphere in the next few decades.

CCS aims to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power station smokestacks and dump it underground. Although it’s being described as a “silver bullet” solution in combating the climate crisis, CCS has yet to be used on any large-scale coal-fired power plant anywhere in the world. And, as ‘False Hope’ reveals, there are huge unknowns regarding feasibility, cost, environmental implications and liability which have not been thought through.

The increase in greenhouse gas emissions needs to be halted in the next decade and emissions then need to be cut significantly. CCS will not be ready in time. Ironically, the suggestion that the technology may be made to work some time in the future is being used to justify building new coal-fired power plants without any form of carbon ‘capture’.

What makes most sense is not building coal-fired power plants in the first place. Carbon is already ‘stored’ safely underground: we call it coal. Let’s leave it there. Adapting an old phrase, “when you find yourself in a (climate) hole, the first thing is to stop digging”.

It is a perverse situation where policymakers who claim to recognise the urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions are considering bankrolling the development of an unproven technology over funding proven pollution-free renewable energy sources and energy efficiency improvements.

CCS is unproven, risky and expensive and investing in it threatens to undermine the range of clean energy solutions which are available right now.

CCS not ready in time

Climate experts say the worst impacts of climate change can be averted by levelling off global warming pollution by 2015 and turning down the burner after that. But the earliest that CCS will be ready is 2030. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is even less optimistic. The IPCC doesn’t see CCS being commercially viable until even later – around 2050.

CCS wastes energy and resources

Capturing and storing carbon dioxide would be a major energy consumer, gobbling up anything from 10 to 40% of a power plant’s electricity output. So more coal needs to be mined, transported, and burned for a power station to generate the same amount of energy as it would without CCS.

Demands for cooling water also increase dramatically. Power stations with capture technology could require 90% more freshwater than those without. CCS is expected to erase gains in power plant energy efficiency made over the past 50 years, and increase resource consumption by one-third.

Storing carbon underground is risky

It is uncertain whether there is sufficient suitable space underground to bury enough carbon to have any meaningful climate impact.

Humanity has no experience of safely storing anything forever. But locking up carbon dioxide underground in perpetuity is exactly what would need to be accomplished with CCS. A leakage rate of just 1% could potentially undermine any climate benefit. Tests have thrown up unexpected results, such CO2 disintegrating storage materials.

CCS is expensive and undermines real solutions to climate change

CCS could well mean electricity price rises of between 21 and 91%. Clean energy sources, such as wind power, provide electricity much more cheaply than coal-fired plants fitted with CCS will ever be able to. The funding to get CCS off the ground – including substantial sums of taxpayer’s money – comes at the expense of real solutions. In countries it has been pursued, CCS has taken up an increasing share of energy research and development budgets whereas funding for renewable technologies and energy efficiency has stagnated or declined.

In the US, for example, the Department of Energy has asked for the CCS programme budget to be raised to US $623.6 million. At the same time, it is scaling back renewable energy research to US $146.2 million. Worse still, legislation introduced on Capitol Hill would allocate a whopping US $424 billion to a dedicated fund for CCS. Australia, meanwhile, has three research centres devoted to fossil fuels, including one committed to CCS, but none for renewable energy technology.

CCS and liability: risky business

Large-scale CCS applications pose significant and new liability risks, including negative impacts on human health, damage to ecosystems, groundwater contamination such as the pollution of drinking water and increased greenhouse gas emissions from leakage.

Again, energy interests want a free ride by being relieved of liability in return for investing in CCS. Some demand they be relieved of ownership of CO2 at the power plant gates, or that they remain liable for CO2 dumped underground for a mere ten years.

The costs of any mishaps would have to be covered from the public purse.

The extent of support offered to the recently collapsed FutureGen project in the US gives some inkling of the real costs of CCS. FutureGen was the Bush Administration’s flagship CCS project. It not only received unprecedented public funds (to the tune of US $1.3 bn) but was protected from financial and legal liability in the event of an unanticipated release of carbon, indemnified from lawsuits and even had its insurance premiums paid.

The alternative to CCS: renewables and energy efficiency

Renewable energy and energy saving have proven track records in meeting energy needs safely, cleanly, predictably and cost-effectively. The world has sufficient technically accessible renewable energy to meet global energy needs six times over.

Compare that to the risky and expensive option of CCS which is still on the drawing board.

Full details of how clean energy and energy efficiency can cut almost halve global CO2 emissions by 2050 are contained in Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution blueprint.

Holy Agendas, Batman!

The members of the Moral Economy Project have been doing a fair number of radio interviews recently. You can see the complete list of the ones we have archives of here. I haven’t been blogging all of them, but there was one last week that deserves a bit of discussion.

Click here to listen to Rob Johnson of KMPH 840 AM (Modesto, California) interview Geoffrey Garver of the MEP. (The interviews are in alphabetical order, so you’ve got to scroll about a third of the way down the page.) In brief, Johnson doesn’t believe climate change is happening. It’s an interesting interview; the questions are as revealing as the answers.

Johnson’s evidence for the supposed non-existence of climate change appears to come mainly from the Science and Public Policy Institute, which is headed by Robert Ferguson, the former director of the Center for Science and Public Policy, a project of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, which receives funding from ExxonMobil. Make of that what you will.

Johnson also stated that Britain’s highest court had banned Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” from being shown in schools because it contained scientific errors. Not quite. From a BBC news article about the case: Mr Justice Burton said he had no complaint about Gore’s central thesis that climate change was happening and was being driven by emissions from humans. The ruling was that the film did contain nine errors, and information about which parts didn’t accord with mainstream scientific findings (for instance, Gore’s claim that snowmelt on Kilimanjaro was expressly due to human-caused global warming, which the judge ruled “cannot be established”) should be distributed to teachers along with the film.

(Also from the BBC article: Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan had earlier said: “It is important to be clear that the central arguments put forward in An Inconvenient Truth, that climate change is mainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and will have serious adverse consequences, are supported by the vast weight of scientific opinion.”)

So, Johnson doesn’t have his facts together. He’s not necessarily lying about the case deliberately; let’s be charitable and assume he didn’t understand what he was reading. The court did award the complainant two-thirds of his legal costs, so maybe Johnson thought that meant he’d won on getting the film banned too? I don’t know. Regardless, he’s wrong.

Some people say it’s pointless to try to engage with men like Rob Johnson. They say that having these kinds of discussions only fosters the illusion (which ExxonMobil and their ilk would like very much to promote) that there’s actually still some kind of scientific debate going on about whether climate change exists. It’s a reasonable point, but unfortunately, ignoring these people won’t make them go away. I think that even if there’s no chance of convincing the person we’re talking with, there’s a very good chance some of the listening audience will, at the very least, decide to look into the topic further.

Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe that most people are capable of evaluating the legitimacy of a source if they have enough information about it. That’s one of the major advantages of the data-rich society in which we live: all the information is out there to be found. Rob Johnson cited a source he considers credible, and everyone can look at it and decide for themselves what its agenda is. Geoffrey Garver gave some of his sources in turn; George Monbiot is one. Everyone can evaluate that too. (Nelson Mandela and the United Nations have given their opinions already.)

Update: Geoff has also blogged about the interview.