Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Storm in scientific teacup or sceptic's smoking gun?

Okay, I am not best placed to write about the recent leak of the emails from the University of East Anglia's climate research unit. I cannot find a complete list of the emails... I have seen some of them, and a few edited 'highlights'. Some of the highlights look pretty bad, some less so. Looking at a few of the full exchanges, most of it is pretty tame...

The most damaging claim is that scientists have falsified or manipulated the data to spin a deception that global warming exists... one blog referencing a particular email says... : 'XXXX discusses how data are truncated to stop an apparent cooling trend showing up in the results. Wow!'... Well I'm not so sure. I looked at the full email and I don't see that - see below.

Anyway, in the emails I have seen there is a lot of very ambiguous stuff. It seems to me that the best way to deal with this is to have a panel re-review the data and see if it is sound, since that is what really matters (although this has already happened in the peer-reviewed process).

As for the faux-outrage regarding the dislike the climate scientists have for the sceptics, I am totally unsurprised. Science is always passionate, and climate scientists have suffered a couple of decades of abuse. As such many are ill-disposed to the sceptics, particularly those who fight their wars through columns and blogs instead of journals.

The bottom line is that there are thousands of scientists working on this, so a few spats and so on are not indicative of a fundamental lack of evidence. If it turns out that climate change is not happening I will be delighted as it is one less problem to worry about. I don't think we are there yet.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why we need to move beyond the carbon calculator culture

The world is awash with carbon calculators, each designed to tell you just how much carbon dioxide you are personally responsible for. The best I have found is on the Guardian website (see below). Now, even with no flights, no cars, and the second lowest gas and electricity usage on offer I am still on 12.14 tonnes of CO2 per year, compared to 15 as the average. Why are my emissions so high? Well in part it is my share of public service emissions, but it is also the public transport I use. I regularly take the train to Edinburgh, Bristol and other lovely places like that. Travelling an average of 450 miles a month uses 2.27 tonnes of CO2 a year... (if you think that that is just 15 miles a day, a long distance commuter would be in real trouble!). Chuck in a couple of flights a year and I am screwed.

In fact even if I don't travel at all and cut my food intake in half, I am still using more than 8 tonnes a year - two and a half times the 2050 target for the UK. When I told some friends about this they threw their hands up in despair.

And this is the problem with carbon calculators. They breed defeatism. Even if you do everything right it is not enough. In my view that leads to one logical conclusion. We need to fundamentally change the means of production and consumption. Calculators are good in that they make you think about what you are doing, but that is not enough. Don't get me wrong, individual actions do count, but what we really need is an industrial and energy revolution, and that takes political as well as personal will. Carbon calculators and the like have their place, but we are out of time for that kind of solution. People need to feel empowered, but they also need to see the things they don't have the power to change too, and instead of getting sad, we need to get angry.

Once again the world is failing on Tuna

Ahhh yes… it seems that the The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) has taken the fudge option and decided not to save the bluefin tuna. Despite being told that for the good of the fish and they fishery that all fishing of this species must stop, they have instead only decided to lower the quota by a third, and also failed to understand that much of the tuna catch is undeclared anyway, so the size of the quota is not representative of the size of the catch…

This is one of the tragedies of the international agreements - blocking minorities. In this case the EU and hence ICCAT was victim of a blocking minority of Mediterranean nations, each of which makes money from tuna and has its own political reasons for bailing out the fishing industry.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Thoughts on India

I was recently in India and Nepal for work, and while there are many wonderful things about India, at its worst it also offers a terrifying vision of environmental degradation and overcrowding. I am not suggesting that there are any direct parallels between the complex causes of India's problems and the future of the world, but the combination of overcrowding, weak governance, industrial pollution, water shortages and so on which are obvious in many parts of the subcontinent (particularly in the cities) are a sober reminder of how bleak the future could be if we fail to tackle our impending environmental crises. It is not that the human race, or indeed any section of it, will die out. It is much more likely that we will simply end up packed together, in a far bleaker, dirtier and less healthy world. For me that is just as frightening.