A new climate change colour is created…

One of the reasons why people in general are maybe less concerned about climate change than the science is saying we should be, is that there are very few immediate or noticeable changes. If the world has warmed only 0.7 degrees C since the start of the Industrial Revolution, then how are we meant to be responding to this? What cues or events are there for us to respond to?

A recent event, or series of events, linked directly to climate change are the Australian bush fires which have been ravaging many parts of the country. For me, one of the most significant visual representations of the reasons for the bush fires (the excessive heat) is the adding of a new temperature range to the Australian heat maps.

PDF of the article here: Australia adds new colour to temperature maps as heat soars | Environment | The Guardian

Australian Bureau of Metereology temperature map

The new range is 52-54 degrees celcius. That is more than halfway to boiling, in the open air. While the hottest areas will be in the warmer central region, the coastal areas don’t escape the heat, with the average temperatures across the country reaching 40 degrees. I can’t say i’ve ever experienced that sort of heat near the 50 degree range and i’m not sure I want to. The highest i’ve got is maybe nearer 40 degrees in maybe Florida or Thailand, but a full 10 degree more than this? Wow.

As of 2009, Australia was number 11 on the global list of CO2 emitting countries per capita of population.

There are plenty more reasons to believe this ranking will keep rising over the next decade, with the huge fossil fuel energy and mining projects coming forward. The actual inhabitable area of the country is already small and will carry on getting smaller.


How many gigatons…?

Saw an interesting Pinterest-style graphic the other day, relating to climate change and the amount of carbon dioxide (measured in gigatons) that has been and could be released, with the impacts of the different levels.

IiB CO2 graphic v3

Source: http://ambikamelville.com/2012/12/26/how-many-gigatons-of-carbon-dioxide

The scary part of the image is the part about there only being 13 years left before we break the budget of carbon released – the level of 500 gigatons. This will lead to 2 degrees C of warming, beyond which point there is a 50% chance of run-away climate change. Hardly a safe level, but the stages beyond are even more scary.

If carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technology isn’t introduced very soon (to capture the carbon from the inevitable use of fossil fuels for energy production), we’ll be beyond the 2 degree range in less than 2 decades.


Does the world need nuclear power to solve the climate crisis…?

This is certainly one of the most convincing anti-nuclear power arguments i’ve read. Oliver Tickell takes on the main issues with the energy industry as a whole and points out some highly significant issues with nuclear energy in particular.

San Onofre nuclear power station, California

San Onofre nuclear power station, California

Photo courtesy of http://endthelie.com/2012/03/18/nrc-dispatches-augmented-inspection-team-after-california-nuclear-facility-fails-test/#axzz2FRsW5G5h.

The first issue is the inability of nuclear as an energy source to meet existing and future demands from a growing population, with growing energy demands. This is where the theory of the massive efficiencies of nuclear comes hard up against the realities.

Secondly, the chances of serious accidents increases dramatically, in parallel with a dramatic increase of nuclear power stations – a total of 11,000 reactors would be needed. The article cites an historic incidence of serious accidents every 3,000 years of reactor operation, based on Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. The article suggests a rate of 4 serious events per year. Even taking into account a reduced factor of accidents due to far greater safety baselines for modern technology, even a figure 4 times less would still mean 1 serious nuclear accident every year – this level of impact is just not acceptable.

Oliver Tickell talks about the effect that George Monbiot had (and is having) on the debate surrounding nuclear power, but Monbiot’s arguments are based more on cold theory rather than hot realities. On the other hand, renewable energy is clean, with costs rapidly spiralling downwards. Each part of the planet can contribute their own type of energy to the whole which can ultimately divert us away from serious climate change.


Getting rid of fossil fuels…


This gallery contains 3 photos.

As news of weather stations reading beyond the 400 parts per million of Carbon Dioxide comes in, I ask when and how will we be able to leave fossil fuels behind and therefore be able to avoid runaway global climate … Continue reading

Climate change, changing the sceptics minds…

Another climate sceptic falls away but we’re still very far away from what the author of the report (Prof Richard Muller) sees as the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

Prof Richard Muller, a physicist and climate change sceptic who founded theBerkeley Earth Surface Temperature (Best) project, said he was surprised by the findings. “We were not expecting this, but as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.” He added that he now considers himself a “converted sceptic” and his views had undergone a “total turnaround” in a short space of time.

“Our results show that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 2.5F over the past 250 years, including an increase of 1.5 degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases,” Muller wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times.


Another Mit Romney special…

Another awesome policy decision from the Republican Presidential hopeful…


‘Romney’s campaign confirmed this week he wants to end long-standing tax credits for wind farm projects when the incentives come up for review later this year.

The pledge means the popular production tax credits (PTCs) – which have helped drive a surge in new wind energy investment in the US, making it the second largest wind energy market in the world after China – would be allowed to expire at the end of this year if the Republicans secure the White House in November.’

The reason? To create a level playing field between all the different types of power generators. But…

‘However, green groups, renewable energy industry insiders, and Democrats were all quick to point out that Romney’s desire for a level playing field on energy policy does not extend to oil and gas, where he has pledged to retain up to $40bn of subsidies and tax breaks that President Obama wants to see phased out.’

I really hope the American voters see this for what it is. The denial of climate-change science and the support for the big energy industries which are bank-rolling the Mitt Romney campaign should not determine global energy policy.

Maybe we should add up how much funding in tax breaks, incentives, subsidies etc the oil, coal and gas industries have benefitted from over the last 50 years and apply that level to the new, renewable industries, such as wind, solar and tidal/hydro?


Climate change and slavery…

An inspiring article which strongly shifts the case for averting climate change, into the realms of morality.

Nasa scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery



Incineration considerations…


This gallery contains 2 photos.

The Gloucester incinerator (AKA: energy from waste facility). Well, my heart says ‘no’ but my head says ‘maybe’. It’s useful sometimes to analyse each part of the argument, rather than focussing on any single area. I’m reading the Complete Works … Continue reading

Response to my email on teaching climate change…

Following the email I sent via the People and Planet website, an automatic response has been delivered…

Unravelling current confusions around the national curriculum and the school curriculum

‘We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’

(Native American Proverb)

Thank you for your enquiry on this very important matter.

Very few people read past the headline of the Guardian article of 13th June (Climate change should go from school syllabus). Many people have missed the point. For example: websites are saying ‘Keep climate change in the school curriculum’. This is a confusion. It confuses the National Curriculum with the School Curriculum. If we desire our National Curriculum to be robust, enduring and not overbearing, then we need to have some strong principles about what is in and what is not.

The National Curriculum lays down, in law, the fundamentals which all children should be taught. It should be lean and precise, describing the essentials of human knowledge and understanding. The National Curriculum is part of, but not the totality, of the School Curriculum.

The School Curriculum should be broad and balanced, consisting of rich learning programmes devised by teachers who understand which topics and issues would most motivate and engage their pupils.

The national and international evidence scrutinised by the Expert Panel giving advice on the National Curriculum suggests that this is a vital distinction which we, in our education system, have lost.

The National Curriculum should provide a clear statement of the essential elements of learning which underpin – and form part of – a broad and balanced School Curriculum for children from 5 to 16.

A slimmed-down National Curriculum is intended to be a positive development, empowering teachers and schools. It increases the ‘professional space’ in schools, giving the opportunity for teachers carefully to select themes and issues which will maximise learners’ motivation and engagement.

It’s precisely BECAUSE the environment is so important that we need children to engage with these complex issues with comprehensive and incisive scientific understanding. The National Curriculum should focus with great intensity on what this understanding comprises. We want increasing attainment and understanding amongst those taking science and related subjects in Higher Education; we need all children to be prepared well for engagement in ALL of the vital issues which confront our society.

As the Chair of the Expert Panel, providing advice to the Secretary of State on the content of a new, more robust National Curriculum, I am seeking to assert the distinction between the National Curriculum and the School Curriculum, precisely because we want issues such as climate change to be discussed in such a way that the right actions will be taken by the next generation, and generations to come.

Once again, thank you for your comments on these vital matters.

 Tim Oates

Cambridge, June 2011

After reading this and the attached letter, I sent the following response…

Good afternoon,
I read with interest and concern the automatic response to my email regarding climate change as part of the National Curriculum. The thrust of your response seems to be to slim down the national curriculum and put forward only the essential knowledge in key subjects.
I agree with this, but not having climate change in there is a regressive move, considering what has been proven to be one of the most serious threats to human civilisation, ever faced by humans. Evidence put forward from a range of sources is unequivocal, in that humans are having a profound influence on the way in which our planet functions. I’m not sure what the criteria is upon which anyone can make the decision that this isn’t a critically important subject, given that it affects every single living organism on the planet.
One of the headlines regarding this subject was ‘putting science back into science’. How is science not part of the study of climate change? The study of climate change is grounded in hard data, collected over hundreds of years. The study of climate change is connected to multiple subjects and can be used as a practical means of introducing the learning concepts to students.
By all means give teachers flexibility and freedom in how they put across the information, but this subject has to be included.
I hope this response will be taken into consideration.

Teaching and climate change…

Should teaching climate change be dropped from the National Curriculum?

Link to pdf file: Teaching climate change

I feel this is on a par with American schools dropping the teaching of the Theory of Evolution, in favour of Intelligent Design – don’t get me started on this subject, it will be a very long post! Dropping this subject is like saying we’re going to drop the teaching of one of the most rigorously researched and debated areas of science that has ever existed. The subject and science of climate change is surely one of the most important factors affecting our planet, and the 7 Billion people who live on it (not to mention the trillions of other organisms). What’s really interesting from a learning point of view is that this subject is also changing every day, with new data, theories, explanations and solutions being developed all the time. This gives the student (or anyone for that matter) a key opportunity to be involved in the subject, not just to learn about it after the event.

Keep this subject in the curriculum: http://peopleandplanet.org/navid12439?product=TIP

It seems the closer or more involved a person is to the thing which they are studying, the greater the impact it will have on them, and the more they will relate to it. This will therefore mean a deeper understanding of it and improved learning. This is why so many people find it easier to learn something new by both reading books and practical experience.

I remember quite clearly the wide variety of school environments I experienced while growing up in various towns and in various types of school system. I remember a lot about the teaching styles, the character of the teachers, what they looked/sounded like, the physical environments we were being taught in, the sources of information. What I don’t remember quite so well, in particular in the history lessons, is the content of the lessons!

I think this has a lot to do with the emphasis of the lessons, being about learning a certain type of information, dates, names, places, people, and not necessarily understanding that information. There is an obvious connection between the two things, in that you can’t understand something unless you can recall at least basic details about that thing. But, there is a point where just being asked or expected to soak up endless facts, then to spill them out again, becomes very difficult and actually counter-productive to the learning process. It can be a big turn-off. Some people are better at this type of learning than others. I’ve known people who can recall vast amounts of data type information. I am definitely on the side of understanding and experiencing to learn. The more interested and connected I feel to something, the more I will learn about that subject. There is an emotional response behind this and if this can be harnessed, there is no limit to what can be achieved.

On a related theme, there is not enough application towards real life issues and demands. It’s great learning the ‘core’ subjects, but if you leave school not even knowing how to open or manage a bank account, what is the point? The curriculum has to rapidly move towards at least more of an emphais on preparing children to deal with the demands of the real world, in day to day life. Things such as nutrition, health science, climate studies, accounting & finance and cookery are vitally important to recognise in the curriculum. Knowing (or not) where our food comes from and how to manage personal finances are two of the key principles which are shaping our modern life.

There’s an obvious argument which goes something like ‘schools are for traditional subjects but it’s the parents job to teach the day to day subjects’. I suppose what is comes down to is that no one group is ultimately responsible for education; it’s the combination of various groups which produce the system. This is partly what people don’t understand how important learning outside of school can be. It’s not just the school teachers who teach – everyone does. The main reason why i’m so keen on schools teaching more of the day to day ‘life skills’ is that some kids don’t even have a family or stable home environment, let alone access to guidance or education, outside of school.

Taking finances as an example, it is so easy to get into debt and this is actually encouraged within our free market system. Understanding this process is so important. Getting out of debt is a life-long struggle and you need skills to be able to manage the process. Getting into debt, on the other hand, is very easy. I would normally say making mistakes and learning from experience is a good thing, but when you’ll be paying for those mistakes for years to come, and in process limiting your choices in life, it’s not so simple.

This separation of teaching subjects extends right through into university education. On both my Planning Studies BA course, and the MA Urban Design course, there was very little real practice or learning about what you would actually need to do when you got into a job. There was lots of theory, but I got into my first full-time urban design job and essentially had no idea what to do. All the theory hadn’t helped me to prepare for what I would be asked to do and in particular, the methods for achieving anything. We hadn’t learnt about development pressures, highways implications, policy impacts, masterplanning, real design coding, software usage etc.

Ok, what was I meant to be talking about…? Oh yes…

So, It’s not good enough to shy away from the tricky subjects, including sex education, politics, modern history, religion and climate change. These are things affecting are lives in the 21st century and there should be more emphasis on them. Dropping climate change from the curriculum is a regressive step and is another reason why this Government is very far from being the ‘greenest governement ever’.


The GM wheat monster…!

As i’m finding out more and more about how the world functions in reality, as opposed to theory, there are a number of things which i’ve started to see in a different light. I think the biggest reason for this shift in thinking is a reflection of a new realism in my life, partly brought on by having kids, parly as a product of my job but also as a reaction to various people i’ve met over the years.

There are many people (I guess you’d call them idealists), who see what could happen more as an idea, rather than what I would very loosely define myself as, in terms of a realist, which is more about defining things in terms of what actually exists. I would actually call myself an optimistic realist, given I tend to see things in a positive way (much to the annoyance of my wife!), try to find solutions to problems and tend to evaluate things with reference to if they can be achieved given real constraints. Theories are fine but there has to be a connection to reality, unless you’re a theoretical mathmetician or philosopher.

I see the real value of thinking in terms of ‘how can we apply this to real people’s lives’, with the intention of helping them. This is how I view my interest in sustainability and climate change and it’s the driver behind much of who I am. It’s also what I do as a job and I believe the design of the built environment has huge and lasting impacts on residents of a place.

So, when the concept of GM foods comes up, I look at it in a very different way, compared to myself of even 5 years ago. There are many and varied arguments both for and against GM foods, but what’s interesting from my perspective is that i’m now caught in between two strong concepts of understanding.

On the one side is my increasing awareness of nature and the detachment of the connection between humans and the processes which exist on this planet. This break in the connection is resulting in both potential and real massive ecosystem changes, and needs to change if we are to keep our life support system operating properly.

On the other side is the realisation that the role of technology and science will be a major factor in deciding what the level of impact there will be on the people and life forms on this planet, from climate change and other changes to the planet.

In effect, it’s the clash of a respect for nature and the pressing need to use natural resources to preserve or enhance our place on this planet.

One of the major clash points comes with GM foods. This is the alteration of the fundamental genetic code of a species for the purposes of making that species less susceptible to various forms of environmental damage, in order to benefit humans.

My nature at this point in time is to buy organic, non-GM food, which is locally produced. It’s become a way of life and I wince if I see S.America on a packet of fruit! But, there are many very significant pressures around the corner which will need a different way of thinking in order to solve. Rigt now, the population is 7 Billion. By 2050 it’ll be 9 Billion. This is the mark where many scientists have commented that we will reach the world’s capacity to support us. Long before this point is reached, we will need to develop ways to feed far more people than we are doing right now, and in far more effective ways.

The impact of climate change is also a major factor, because areas which right now support our main cereal crops are changing and becoming more arid. Ground water levels are dropping in many parts of Australia, China and India, and large parts of the western United States are drying up. So, we’re not just looking at population expansion, we’re looking at this factor in connection with the supply going down. This is not a good position to be in.

Realistically, global food production will need to increase (as well as the distribution), but this may not be possible if the key production areas are suffering a reduction in output. This is where GM could come in. In theory and reality, we will be soon in a position where GM food could become a mass-market product, even given the potential problems, which include gene mutations, gene jumping to other species, moral issues, the grip of companies in exploiting farmers with their products etc. Or, could there be ways of crossing existing varieties without genetic modification?


Shale gas: the new energy hope or massive global warming…?

Shale gas… A new and untapped sustainable energy source for future generations or a disasterous enterprise which is 20% worse than coal and which will raise global temperature by 3.5C degrees?

Cornell University research…

Robert Howarth – Shale gas & methane

‘US researchers found that shale gas wells leak substantial amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This makes its climate impact worse than conventional gas, they say – and probably worse than coal as well.

“Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon, and is comparable over 100 years,” they write in a paper to be published shortly in the journal Climatic Change.

“We have produced the first comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas,” said lead author Robert Howarth from Cornell University in Ithaca, US.

“We have used the best available data [and] the conclusion is that shale gas may indeed be quite damaging to global warming, quite likely as bad or worse than coal,” he told BBC News.’

And another article citing different (but related research)…

‘Natural gas is not the “panacea” to solve climate change that fossil fuel industry lobbyists have been claiming, according to new research from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Gas is likely to make up about one-quarter of the world’s energy supply by 2035, according to the study, but that would lead the world to a 3.5C temperature rise. At such a level, global warming could run out of control, deserts would take over in southern Africa, Australia and the western US, and sea level rises could engulf small island states.

Nobuo Tanaka, executive director of the IEA, told a press conference in London: “While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change.”

At the end of page 9 of the Cornell University research paper, there is a very clear and very disturbing piece of information…

‘…methane emissions of only 2% to 3% make the GHG (green house gas) footprint of conventional gas worse than oil and coal. Our estimates for fugitive shale-gas emissions are 3.6 to 7.9%.’

Essentially, their research, based on very conservative data, suggests that even at the very low end of methane* emissions from the process of extracting (the main source of leaks – drill out of wells and flow-back of fluids) and delivering standard gas, this energy source is worse than coal and oil – themselves already known to be the worst possible type of energy sources in terms of green house gas emissions.

If the estimates of a 3.9% to 7.9% range of emissions is correct, this obviously makes shale gas far, far worse than any other fuel source.

* Methane (AKA natural gas) is the strongest green house gas (some 25-30 times more potent than CO2), meaning even very small amounts are highly significant.


Oxfam’s latest climate change warning…

Another warning relating to climate change and the food production system, from Oxfam.

‘The average price of staple foods will more than double in the next 20 years, leading to an unprecedented reversal in human development, Oxfam has warned.’

‘A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.’

This is what I mean when i’m talking about climate change and sustainability. The poorest people on Earth are on the brink. All of the factors above are able to be altered. It just requires a shift in thinking towards a sustainable way of life.

Two major, major problems at the moment: biofuels and meat production. Both these things need to change right now. We’re diverting valuable growing land into production of food products which power planes and cars instead of keeping people alive, and sustaining a wasteful and inefficient type of food (meat) which again takes resources (land, water and grains) away from hungry people. Meat production on the industrial scale needs to stop.

The thing which I find hard to deal with each day is the fact that we know what the problems are, what needs to change and we know how to do it, it just never happens. Biofuels sounded like a great idea 10 years ago but we now know what the massive negative impacts are. There’s just no reaction to the information and knowledge. We also know about industrial meat production but that’s not stopping either.

It’s almost like there has to be a very clear, very convincing climate event, or massive human impact event for things to change. I would personally hope we don’t get to far before we turn back but i’m not convinced that will happen.

So, de-carbon the energy sector and start producing massive amounts of clean energy. Initiate carbon-saving and efficiency measures across all sectors. Look at lifestyle changes which can be made. Find renewable alternatives to using finite natural resources. Stop producing biofuels and convert transportation power demand into electricity not petrol. Consider initiating population limits (a very thorny issue considering political, religious and social factors). Reduce or stop eating meat – there are positive implications for health, sustainability & climate change and costs.


Climate change indicators / New Year resolutions…

I started this post about 4 weeks ago, thinking about trying to summarise some of the climate change indicators and (maybe totally randomly) also try and have a look at my life and what I can do differently/better, in true New Year resolution style.

So, 3 weeks late, here are some bits of information. I’ve just read so many annoying comments on the various news websites, that I felt the need to clarify a few things. I’m also getting increasingly annoyed with the new breed of James Lovelock groupies who think the whole planet is knackered (or will be quite soon), so what’s the point in trying to do something about it. That probably annoys me more than those who choose to totally ignore the massive amount of evidence and say there’s no evidence or problem!

As with most things in life, the middle road is the most logical, so rather than ignoring the evidence or just giving up, I choose to deal with the data and try and make changes in the only way I can. I’m not in the habit of giving up on things and I hope that’s not going to change ever!

So, a very good report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration…

Download the pdf here. bams-sotc-2009-brochure-lo-rez

So, some pretty clear graphics from the report. The speed of the warming is so fast.

The two things about these two graphics are that a) the oceans have been acting as a massive buffer for us since the Industrial Revolution and b) the potential rises in sea-levels are not in fact due to melting ice, it’s about water expanding as it warms.

Another strand is an equally clear joint statement released by the heads of the various scientific academies of many of the major world governments. This is also a very clear and concise message and well worth reading if you’ve got a few minutes.

Download the pdf here. 06072005

Lastly, but not least, a good comment on one of the recent articles on climate change and politics – why it will be very hard (but not impossible) to overcome the problems we’re facing/will face…

‘No political party will enact legislation or tax code that will see them lose the following general election. Politics has long been a most venal branch of social self-interest. I can’t seriously expect grand or noble gestures from people who until recently were fiddling their expenses, and who are so thoroughly allied to big business – and the impossible dreams of never-ending profit – that their position is constantly contradictory and compromised.’


Looking back, having emerged…

We were talking the other day about looking back after getting out of a situation. It seems the phrase ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ is taking on more and more meaning these days.

Since becoming almost completely veggie around the middle of 2009, i’ve steadily changed the way I feel about the whole issue, particulalrly the reasons for being veggie at all. It started off as an almost purely environmental thing, focussing on the massive inefficiencies and pollution that industrialised meat production causes. The effect on climate change is huge. Given the very finite resources of the world and the ever expanding population, this seemed like a big enough reason on its own.

What i’ve found in the last 6 moths or year has been the gradual shift from environmental reasons being at the base of the lifestyle change, to animal welfare issues. Having been veggie for a year and a half, it’s actually surprising that it’s taken me this long to fully shift my thinking onto this. I just can’t look at meat now as an acceptable food source, particulalrly given the wide range of plant-based foods.

As a society, we rank species in terms of their use to us as humans and disregard their right to life. A pig has the human equivalent intelligence of a 3 year old. It feels pain, fear and I just can’t accept the ridiculous ‘humanely killed’ arguments. It doesn’t matter how well you treat the animal if you’re going to take the ultimately most serious and final step of killing it – there’s nothing humane about killing.

The final step along the realisation journey has been a sharper focus on nutrition. This was actually more like the first one, but this dates back to GCSE biology and a general interest in this area. This led me to A-Level biology but it’s only fairly recently that the real focus has also taken in this element.

The idea is that plant-based diets are far healthier than meat-based diets, particulalrly in terms of saturated fats and animal protein, which has been directly and strongly linked with all types of cancer.

The other surprising result of being veggie is that i’ve started to eat less cheese! Given I love the stuff, this has been really surprising, but it’s the saturated fat and Casein animal protein which has persuaded me to alter my eating habits. The biggest thing has been to cut down a lot on the cheese and crackers as a late supper before bed!

So, having been away from eating meat (mostly, apart from the odd fish and chips!), for the past 18 months, I can now very clearly see the whole debate + I now have a lot more experience and knowledge.