This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

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Climate Change Is Making Diseases More Virulent!

Posted on 17th August 2022

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This article on Medical News Today reports on a study which shows that climate change is making pathogenic diseases more virulent.

If you had been wondering why pandemics seem more common recently, and why dangerous diseases are spreading further, there is your answer. Since climate change is still going on and getting worse, diseases like Covid-19, monkeypox, Zika, measles, TB, Polio, Ebola and malaria, and diseases yet to come, can be expected to continue to get worse.

Who Is It That Americans Believe Are Causing Climate Change?

Posted on 17th August 2022

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This report on U.S. News is extremely worrying.

Despite the heatwaves are droughts being suffered by so many Americans at the moment, the gradual increase in the severity of hurricanes and the length of the hurricanes season, and the constant improvement in the scientific data on climate change and its causes, fewer Americans are currently worried about climate change than 3 years ago. These people must be living under rocks, to have missed all that news.

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Since the USA is the nation most responsible for global warming, as reported by Investopdeia, any solution will need to get the USA on board. That will be hard. since most Americans are not sufficiently worried about it, do not believe that their personal choices affect the climate and feel that their government is responsible for fixing any problems rather than them personally.

Water Ban Exemptions For The Rich.

Posted on 14th August 2022

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This article on the BBC shows why I have such low hopes for us saving our planet.

The story reports on how "Climate activists in southern France have filled golf course holes with cement to protest against the exemption of golf greens from water bans amid the country's severe drought." Remember that France is in the grips of a severe water crisis (like most of Europe), to the extent that more than 100 communities are having water provided by trucks.

I applaud the protesters' action. Amid this crisis the government has granted golf courses (apparently all of them) exemptions from the bans on watering. Apparently, the government considers golf greens more important than people, fish, aquatic birds and other wildlife.

What this really shows is that money is what matters to governments. In the face of such blatant bias, there is no chance that essential environmental regulations will succeed.

Wild Animals Have Rights Too!

Posted on 13th August 2022

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This report on the BBC highlights an all too common problem relating to wildlife.

Authorities in Norway say "Freya the walrus could be put down unless public back off." People are getting too close to the walrus, and are getting attacked.

What happens over and over again is that humans encroach on wild animals habitats, either by walking in the woods or going to the beach, or by building habitations and planting crops where wild animals live. If anyone challenges such encroachment, answers are along the lines of "I am not forcing the animals to move; they are welcome to be there too." Such statements are patently nonsense, because, as soon as there is a clash of interests (people getting attacked by walruses or bears, or deer or rabbits eating someone's crops), it is always the animals that have to give way, or worse still, be culled.

Wild animals have a perfect right to be in their natural habitats, and if humans encroach, it is the humans who should get out of the way.

There is an ever growing list of species which are either already extinct, or under threat, and we cannot afford to wipe out any more. It is time that public policy towards wild animals was changed to take into account these changed realities.

Water Shortages Hit Europe!

Posted on 7th August 2022

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This article on Euro News reports on the water shortages striking across Europe. The culprit seems to be the heatwave.

In France, more than 100 municipalities short of drinking water, and trucks are being used to take them water.

In Italy, "rice production in the river Po Valley is under severe threat as drought and hot weather continue to cause paddy fields to completely dry up and become salty from use of aquifers." The effects of the salt could last for years.

On Wednesday The Netherlands declared an official water shortage, after already having imposed limits on agriculture and shipping. The Netherlands is the world's second-largest agricultural exporter, so there could be food shortages as a result (as if there weren't already food shortages).

In Germany, the upper reaches of the Rhine river are drying up, according to this report on Business Insider, and the middle reaches (heavily used for goods transport) have such low water levels that ships are running at 25% capacity. There is concern about cooling water for power stations (due to heating of the river water). All major waterways in Germany seem to be affected.

There are similar problems with water levels in the Danube, which flows through Germany, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Croatia.

In Britain there are also water shortages in some areas, with a legal battle going on between Southern Water and Fish Legal over plans to extract more water from the River Test, as reported by the Guardian. There are already hosepipe bans in place in some areas, and things are expected to get worse.

Even Norway, land of fjords, has water shortages, and is considering reducing electricity supplies to the UK as a conservation measure (much of Norway's capacity is hydroelectric), as reported by The Express.

What is shocking is how early in the season these shortages have hit, and how widespread they are. These problems may be a harbinger of times to come.

A Plan To Survive Societal Collapse - Fail!

Posted on 7th August 2022

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I found this report on the Guardian interesting but ultimately disappointing.

The article features Ben Green, who is living a largely self sufficient vegan life on a 12 acre plot in East Germany. This is his plan to survive the "collapse of capitalism". He is not alone in his belief that this collapse is coming (many experts predict the collapse of society within the next 10 years). His plan, however, seems to have a number of flaws and peculiarities:

  1. He has 12 acres, and this web-page suggests that 5 to 6 acres should be enough for one person (he seems to live alone) to live comfortably, so there should be enough surplus to sell or barter for his luxuries (tea, coffee and chocolate). In fact, to sustain a vegan, less acreage should be needed than the 5 to 6 acres suggested.
  2. One of the reasons, he claims, that he is not fully self sufficient is the cost of feeding his 3 rescue-pigs (obviously not for eating). This makes no sense. Pigs do not need industrial feed, and eat vegetables. According to this web-site, fully grown pigs can be raised 3 to 4 per acre (more with a proper rotation plan). I therefore do not understand why he is buying feed for his pigs. I do not even understand why he has the pigs at all; they don't seem to enhance his lifestyle or survival prospects.
  3. There is no mention of where he gets his vitamin B-12 (which most people get from meat). Vegans usually take vitamin supplement tablets; B-12 can also be obtained from nutritional yeast (which I guess he could produce, but doesn't seem to) or marmite; vitamin supplement tablets and marmite, as industrial products, will not be available if society collapses. As a vegan, he doesn't eat eggs which contain some B-12, although you need to eat 4 per day to get the daily recommended dose. Without vitamin B-12, people suffer from low energy levels and general poor health.
  4. If the capitalist system collapses, so will law and order. In that case, how will he stop people from stealing his food? He is going to need good fences, some guard-dogs (which need to eat meat), and probably a rifle. Such measures seem entirely missing from his plan.

It is not that I think his reasons are wrong; I think societal collapse is very likely. It is just that his plan needs some serious work.

What If Science Cannot Save Us?

Posted on 7th August 2022

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I saw an article today on Flipboard where the link asked the question "What If Science Cannot Save Us?" I haven't included the link to the article, because the actual headline in it does not include that question.

The question has an obvious and trivially simple answer. What will happen, if science can't save us, is that climate change and other environmental damage will continue to get worse until enough people die that the environmental damage that humans are causing reduces enough to reverse climate change. Not to be forgotten is the fact that the environment only responds slowly to changes in pollution levels, which means that there will be overshoot: even after the population is reduced (due to heatwaves, food and water shortages and polluted food and water) enough to reverse the effects, things will continue to get worse (for perhaps another 50 years) before they improve. That, in turn, means that the human population will be reduced to even lower levels than are sustainable.

In short, if we fail to fix the problem, due to scientific limitations, political issues, stupidity, or simply cost, we can expect life on earth to become very very unpleasant and hard, and for there to be a massive culling of humanity, due to our own stupidity and incompetence.

Here are my predictions for the next 10 years, if we do not act quickly enough and strongly enough, based on current research and on what has already happened:

  • The total collapse of most Atlantic fisheries (see here), and probably also Mediterranean and other fisheries;
  • Widespread food shortages;
  • Widespread water shortages;
  • Increased incidence of cancers and other pollution related illnesses:
  • Significant reductions in human fertility rates in many parts of the world;
  • Another global pandemic (maybe more than one) - if the next pandemic is not monkeypox, it will be something else;
  • At least one war over access to resources (water, food or mineral resources), with more to follow (remember that war is one of the most polluting human activities).

It will not be only humans who die. There will be massive reductions in the populations of wild plants and animals, with very many extinctions. Planet earth a century from now could be unrecognisable to us. These other species have just as much right to live on earth as we do.

If you don't want this apocalyptic future to come to pass, it is time to act: use less energy, waste less food and water, generate less garbage, recycle more (buy products in fully recyclable packaging), travel less (especially less air travel) and vote for politicians who are committed to saving the planet. Make the change now; tomorrow may be too late!

DR Congo Walks Back Its Environmental Commitment - The Importance Of Money In Environmental Protection.

Posted on 28th July 2022

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This article on Vice.com reports on the announcement by the Democratic Republic of Congo that they will auction off oil drilling rights in their large and environmentally vital rainforest and peatlands. This only months after promising to preserve these same rainforest and peatlands at the COP26 climate conference.

It is clear why they did this; they need the money. It does, however, highlight a flaw with all the climate pledges made by nations, rich and poor, at COP26: the pledges will only be fulfilled as long as they don't cost too much, and as long as they don't interfere with sources of income.

The need to save the planet by staving off climate change got good support at COP26, and has good support by people around the world, until it costs them money. You can ask people on the street whether they understand that saving the planet will increase prices, and they will reply "Yes, of course." Until, that is, that prices actually increase. The bottom line is that people are not prepared to pay anything for saving the planet.

There are many things (actually most things) for which we do not pay the true cost. Here are a few examples.

Fossil Fuels

Prices for fossil fuels like natural gas, petroleum/gasoline, coal and peat currently do not include any charge for carbon pollution, methane pollution, environmental clean-up after mining has finished, etc. True costs of these products, if these climate costs were factored in, would be many times higher than we currently pay. Since we are not paying these environmental costs, we and our descendants will pay them in the form of reduced health, life-span and quality of life.

Fuel costs trickle down into many other prices: air travel, goods in the shops, electricity, etc.

Unfortunately, every attempt to set a more realistic price for fossil fuels, e.g. by levying a carbon tax, has met with fierce resistance from politicians with vested interests.

Just look at the uproar by consumers around the world as fuel prices have risen as a result of the Ukraine war. People are clearly not prepared to pay a fair price for fossil fuel.

Beef

Beef is the most notorious of our farmed meat sources, being responsible for large mounts of methane pollution (in the farts and burps of cattle - methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2). Although efforts are under way to reduce the amount of methane that cattle emit, by selective breeding and alternative cattle feed, there have been no noticeable improvements so far.

Other sources of meat (chicken, deer, ostrich, etc.) are less environmentally harmful than beef, but it will take a while, and an increase in the price of beef, for this to happen, and consumers will protest loudly about any beef price increases.

Seafood

Current commercial fishing is unsustainable. Many species are overfished, with populations at risk of collapse. Many fishing methods are destroying the habitats, like coral reefs, upon which the fish depend. Enormous quantities of fish, bycatch, are discarded because they have no commercial value, or to avoid exceeding quotas. There is a huge problem with illegal fishing, much by Chinese fishing fleets: fishing in other nation's territorial waters, and even in protected marine reserves. Many of you may remember that, in recent decades there have been crises about population collapses of herring and cod, requiring stricter limits on catches. Currently, some populations of wild salmon are under severe threat. Freshwater eels have been nearly wiped out. Sturgeon has been similarly decimated, causing caviar exports from Russia to be banned for a while, and driving caviar prices through the roof. On top of this, a recent study reports that plankton (the base of all seafood food-chains) in the Atlantic has been reduced by 90% (see here), which means that Atlantic catches will plummet in the next few years.

At root, the problem is that we are catching too much, plus we are drastically polluting the oceans upon which we depend for our fish, thus reducing fish populations.

Seafood prices need to increase a lot, to reduce demand. If you want to eat fish, you should probably be looking for farmed fish: salmon, trout, carp, perch, etc.

We are clearly not paying enough for seafood, but, again, consumers will rebel if there is a significant price hike.

Palm Oil Products

Palm oil is used in many products: foodstuffs like Nutella and other processed foods, cosmetics and soaps. Many people do not even realise that they are buying products made with palm oil.

You don't get an idea of the scale of the problem with palm oil production until you fly over South East Asia: Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Looking out of the aircraft window you will see millions upon millions of acres of palm oil plantation, which has supplanted the native forest (home to Orangutans). Natural diversity has been drastically reduced, putting many species at risk of extinction.

Palm oil is so cheap that is is used in an unbelievable number of products, and this is destroying our planet. The price has to be increased as part of any effort to save the Earth.

Buildings

The carbon costs of concrete, used in all kinds of building, is enormous. Research is under way to develop less carbon intensive methods of producing concrete are under way, but this has yet to trickle down in any scale in the form of lower carbon pollution buildings.

Obviously, carbon impacts need to be factored into the cost of concrete, but it seems unlikely to happen any time soon; there is just too much consumer resistance.

Summary

It is obvious that we need to act now, to save our planet. It is also obvious that we need to consume less of some critical resources. One of the best understood and easiest to implement methods to limit consumption is to raise prices.

If we do not raise prices (in the form of special taxes) to reduce and adjust consumption, anything else that we do, or talk about doing, to limit climate change and other environmental damage is just hot air (figuratively and literally).

Atlantic Plankton All But Wiped Out!

Posted on 21st July 2022

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We should all be very worried about the study reported by The Sunday Post.

The study by the the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey Foundation (Goes) at the University of Edinburgh, found that 90% of the plankton in the Atlantic Ocean has vanished.

Researchers blame pollution from plastics, farm fertilisers and pharmaceuticals for the decline in plankton.

The Atlantic contains a number of important commercial fisheries. Plankton is at the base of all aquatic food chains, and the loss of it will impact all species in the sea, leading to massive population drops, and extinctions, of fish, crustaceans (crab and lobster) and aquatic mammals such as whales, seals and dolphins.

We are looking at a future without seafood, in the very near future.

It seems that the world described in Soylent Green is coming, and much sooner than anyone expected. If you haven't seen this prescient movie, watch it now (steaming on Amazon Prime, Vudu, VUDU, Redbox and Apple TV).

Billions of Fish Are Being Wasted.

Posted on 31st May 2022

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This report on The Guardian should concern us all. It describes how billions of fish are being wasted globally, more than ever before. The waste is at every stage, from the fishing vessels to the home, and the quantities are appalling.

Part of the problem is actually the fishing quotas designed to protect fish stocks; when the catch exceeds the quota, the excess is simply dumped overboard.

Another issue is the use of indiscriminate fishing methods (bottom trawling and very long drift nets, for example) which, in addition to the intended catch, catch fish which either have lower market value, or are simply not what the fishing vessel went out to catch; again, this bycatch is dumped back into the ocean. Bottom trawling is especially harmful, as it destroys coral reefs.

The bycatch is not only fish, but also crustaceans, dolphins, seals, whales, turtles and even seabirds, many of which are endangered and or protected species, as are many species of fish.

The seas are anyway being overfished, and it is the height of irresponsibility to catch unwanted fish and then dump them.

We are destroying our planet with global warming and pollution, and food will be in short supply in future, and we can't afford to waste such a valuable food resource.

What we urgently need is:

  1. A system of limiting catches that works to prevent waste - something better than the current system of quotas;
  2. Less indiscriminate fishing methods that are less harmful to the ocean ecosystems;
  3. A way to utilise unwanted catch, without encouraging it, for example as feedstock for salmon farms or pig farms;
  4. Better enforcement of fishing regulations, with more severe punishments for dumping fish.
UK Government Changes Definition Of A Heatwave.

Posted on 1st April 2022

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This article on the BBC reports about how the UK government has redefined what constitutes a heatwave, in 8 counties, raising the temperature limit by 1°C.

The rationale given by The Met Office is that the limit is based on historical temperatures, and because of global warming, high temperatures have become more normal, and declaring a heatwave should require higher temperatures. I am not buying into this explanation.

The question that needs to be asked is "What is the purpose of declaring or forecasting a heatwave?" If it is simply to mark the event in some list of temperature records, then fine; if the purpose is for the protection of health, then the rational makes no sense. People did not become more tolerant of high temperatures just because we have had more of them recently, and still need to be warned to avoid going out during the hottest times of day, to drink plenty of water (and to take water with them when they go out), to dress appropriately for the weather, to not leave their pets or children locked in cars, etc.

High temperatures have effects not only on people, but also on equipment (trains, motor vehicles, freezers, refrigerators, manufacturing equipment, computers and office air conditioning), and the temperature limits of such equipment have not magically increased simply because the government has changed its definition of what it considers a heatwave. Where is the government sponsored initiative to make such equipment more tolerant of high temperatures?

This sounds like the government using the added flexibility that it now has after Brexit, to set health related standards as it finds convenient, to avoid inconvenient and costly impacts of hot weather, such as school and office closures. I haven't read of any similar changes to the definitions of a heatwave within the EU, nor do I expect to. When will UK voters realise that their government simply doesn't care about them?

People Should Pay More For Food And Water, To Pay For Dealing With Climate Change.

Posted on 16th November 2021

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This article on The Times reports that the head of Natural England has said that food and water should be taxed at a higher rate "to account for the costs of tackling climate change, waste, obesity and pollution".

This seems to me to be a no-brainer. Yes, all goods and services should be taxed to include the environmental impacts of providing them, and that means pretty much all should cost more.

Why should people who do not consume certain things subsidise those who do; why should vegetarians subsidise meat eating; why should people who don't drive or fly subsidise those who do? I say subsidise because all of us suffer the consequences of climate change and pollution, and all of us will end up paying for environmental clean-up through future taxation.

A US Intelligence Report Says Climate Change Will Bring Global Tension.

Posted on 22nd October 2021

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This article from the BBC describes some of the conclusions of a report by the US intelligence community. It seems to me that the US intelligence community has been a little slow in catching up.

My point is that there are already tensions between nations due to climate change and the over-use of resources, which are only going to get worse:

  • There are tensions between the USA and Mexico because the US is taking too much water from the Colorado river, because there are water shortages in the Western USA, so that most of the time there is no water flowing across the border, as reported here by The Guardian;
  • There are similar tensions between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan because Israel is abstracting so much water from the Jordan river, as reported here by The Conversation;
  • Ethiopia is having a huge row with Egypt and Sudan about the huge dam that Ethiopia has built, and is currently filling, on the Blue Nile, as reported here by Nature;
  • An increasing proportion of domestic water supplies are contaminated in the USA, the UK, Canada, parts of Africa and Asia, for a number of different reasons (probably the best known example was the scandal in Flint, Michigan, described here on Circle of Blue) - an overview of groundwater pollution causes and locations can be found here on Wikipedia;
  • Deforestation is one thing that is making climate change worse, and Brazil is under increasing international pressure to act against illegal logging in the Amazon forest, as described here by Reuters (it is not inconceivable that military intervention or foreign support for a coup could be used to stop Brazil from cutting down more of the Amazon);
  • Some nations continue to build coal-fired power stations, and the export coal and oil, despite the climate change that it causes (India and China are the worst offenders - see this BBC report on India's plans to continue to rely of coal for electricity generation), and international pressure is mounting; China, in particular, is notoriously unresponsive to diplomatic pressure, so a likely outcome is the imposition of carbon tax tariffs on the import of goods manufactured in countries using large amounts of coal for electricity generation, which could lead to another tariff war;
  • Overfishing of commercial fish stocks, due to illegal or unregulated fishing, is happening all around the world, especially off the coasts of Africa and South America, with the main culprits being China and the European Union (specifically Greece, Italy and Portugal), according to this report on Seafood Source, and pressure is mounting, and will get stronger, on the countries engaged in illegal fishing;
  • There is a slow but inexorable move away from fossil fuels, in an attempt to limit global warming, which runs the risk of bankrupting most of the major Middle-Eastern economies, in a region where there is already major international tension and many nations are heavily militarised, so the risk of conflict is high;
  • Some nations are likely to sink completely beneath the waves, as global temperatures rise, leading to waves of climate refugees, and other nations like the USA, Britain and Bangladesh can expect to have large displaced populations from their lower lying regions, also leading to climate refugees (probably not only internally in the effected countries); refugees always lead to international tensions.

This is only a sample of the existing international tensions, caused by or exacerbated by global warming or resource over-exploitation. Also remember that global tensions are a less grim scenario than the societal collapse being predicted by some experts (see here).

One In Three Tree Species Facing Extinction!

Posted on 3rd September 2021

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This horrifying piece of news on the BBC describes a new assessment of the extinction risk faced by tree species, and concludes that a third of all species are at risk.

The risk is due to forest clearance for crops and grazing, logging, clearance for development, fire, climate change and its side-effects of extreme weather and sea level rise.

The potential proportion of risk of extinctions is much higher that for animals, and is shocking.

Trees are essential to life in so many ways, and the loss of this many species would have huge knock-on effects on all other life on our planet.

Time to take action, before it is too late!

Street Lamps Are Destroying Our Insects.

Posted on 26th August 2021

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This article on the BBC provides some worrying, if not totally surprising, information. Street Lamps are having a major impact on insect populations, mainly on moths and other insects which are active at night.

Insect numbers are anyway being reduced due to climate change, habitat loss and pesticides. The researchers also think street lights may deter nocturnal moths from laying eggs and increase the risk of the insects being spotted and eaten by predators such as bats. In turn, caterpillars born under streetlights, especially LED lamps, show altered feeding habits.

Insects are a vital part of our ecosystems, pollinating plants, providing food for birds and bats, and recycling waste food. Damage to insect numbers and diversity puts us, and all life on this planet, at risk.

There are things, some of them easy and cheap, that we can do to reduce the impact of street lamps on insects:

  • Only have street lamps on when needed, by using timers, motion sensors and buttons that pedestrians can use to switch on the lights for a few minutes.
  • Install lamp shades to ensure that the lights only illuminate what needs to be lit.
  • Use lights that emit colours that insects are less sensitive to; LEDs are inherently monochromatic (it requires some technological tricks to make white-light LEDs), so it would be easy to make street lamps coloured.

We need to do something, and every little helps.

Living within the planet's limits.

Posted on 4th July 2021

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The headline ("To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study") is actually very misleading, in this report on "Reason".

The study described started from the premise that the technology used for energy production, transport (transportation, to some readers), etc. remains largely unchanged compared to what we currently have. They then calculated how much we would all have to tighten our belts to live within what the planet can support.

The results make grim reading. They also looked around the world to see if there are any countries currently living within these limits, which provide an adequate lifestyle for their citizens; there are none.

I think that many people already realised that saving the planet simply by consuming less resources is not viable, especially as the world population is still growing, meaning that the limited resources will have to shared by more people.

Clearly we need radically more efficient technologies to create and distribute resources: energy, food, water, transport, health care, heating and cooling (for food refrigeration and air conditioning), clothing, etc.

Huge efforts are being made in renewable energy (with results already being seen) and carbon capture, but more is needed. We need to stop creating products with built-in obsolescence (computers, cars, TVs and household appliances), curb the fashion industry that encourages us to buy new clothes without any reason, make clothes which last, and promote and enforce the right to repair our property. We need to reduce travel for work (most of which can be replaced with remote meeting technology) and for leisure, and reduce car ownership (replacing it with efficient and effective public transport). We need to demand better energy efficiency in our electrical and electronic goods. We need to make our buildings energy efficient. Plus, we need to move towards a 100% recycling economy.

The consequences of not rising to meet the challenges are horrifying: food and water shortages, rationing of energy and almost everything, luxury products (coffee, chocolate, wine, spirits, olives, truffles, etc.) being unavailable (with some crop species becoming extinct), a disastrous decline in people's health and life expectancy, collapse of the money-based economy and law and order, and wars over resource shortages. This is not a world I want to live in!

G7 Acts Against Fossil Fuels.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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This report on the BBC gives me some reason to be hopeful.

The G7 (the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, France, Italy and Germany) have finally decided to take action to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Specifically, G7 environment ministers have agreed that they will deliver climate targets in line with limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C. As part of this they have agreed to stop direct funding of coal-fired power stations in poorer nations by the end of 2021, and made a commitment to safeguarding 30% of land for nature by 2030 to boost wildlife and help soak up carbon emissions.

The problem that I have with all this is that this has taken so long to happen, and that the G7 nations are not putting their money where their mouths are. For example the British government decided (in January this year) to give the go-ahead for a new coal mine in Cumbria, as reported here by the BBC. All of the G7 nations still generate a significant proportion of the electricity from coal. Natural gas (also a fossil fuel) is being increasingly used for heating, cooking and electricity generation.

Germany uses mainly lignite (the most polluting kinds of coal) for electricity generation, and only plans to phase out coal fired power by 2038, as reported here by the World Economic Forum.

China (not part of the G7) is still building new coal-fired power stations, and they are not alone in this.

It seems like the rich nations are telling the poor nations they have to be green, while continuing to not be green themselves. I think it is time for the G7 to lead by example.

What really needs to happen is to:

  • Stop building coal mines,
  • Stop building coal-fired power stations,
  • Phase out and retire the existing coal-fired power stations,
  • Stop oil exploration, including for new shale oil and fracking production,
  • Stop the commercial use of peat for electricity production and heating/cooking,
  • Stop the promotion of natural gas.

There should be no loans or grants for the above, anywhere in the world.

The Two Options For Our Future, Depending On Whether We Protect Our Environment Or Not.

Posted on 23rd May 2021

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This article on inverse.com describes two extreme futures for the human race and our planet. Option one is what will happen if we do nothing; option two is what will happen if we pull out all the stops to save ourselves and our world.

The predictions are for the year 2100, which is not so far away.

Option one is very scary, and is not the kind of future I want for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don't feel that I need to elaborate on this piece of future-gazing.

Environmental Groups Seem To Misunderstand Why Frequent Flyers Fly.

Posted on 1st April 2021

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I recently read an interesting article on the BBC, although it raises more questions than it answers.

Statistics show that a small number of frequent flyers do most of the flying:

  • In the UK, 70% of flights are made by 15% of the population, with 57% not flying abroad at all;
  • In the US, just 12% of people take two-thirds of flights;
  • In Canada: 22% of the population takes 73% of flights;
  • In the Netherlands: 8% of people takes 42% of flights;
  • In China: 5% of households takes 40% of flights;
  • In India: 1% of households takes 45% of flights;
  • In Indonesia: 3% of households takes 56% of flights.

Environmental groups are pushing for these frequent flyers to be penalised by higher taxes, and for frequent-flyer schemes to be cancelled. What is not clear is whether this is a simple proportional tax, or tax at at increasing rate as you fly more.

Although I agree with the principle that the polluter pays, and the current system means that everyone is penalised (by reduced quality of life) by the pollution of the few, air travel is already taxed. I do not see a need for a new tax, if the necessary incentives/disincentives can be achieved with adjustments to an existing tax.

In addition, the main problem with environmental taxes like those being proposed is that the governments levying these taxes are not constrained to spend the revenue thus raised on environmental programmes. Huge revenue is raised annually from fossil fuel production, but not a single nation is spending the this revenue on renewable energy sources, environmental clean up and energy efficient transport infrastructure.

Also, the environmental groups do not seem to understand why people fly. I have at times been a frequent flyer, having had to travel for work (i.e. not a matter of personal choice). If people flying for work are taxed more for their flights, they will, of course, pass these taxation penalties on to their employers; this will incentivise employers to send their staff on flights less often, but only slightly so, since the flight costs are usually a small part of the cost of a business trip (staff time is usually the largest cost).

There are, of course, travellers who mainly travel for pleasure. If taxation increases the costs of their flights, and if cost is an issue for them (which is often not true), they will travel less often, but the overall reduction in air travel this causes is not likely to be significant.

Someone needs to do a proper analysis of the impact of additional taxation on air travel: a modelling study which includes the number of various different types of air traveller and the cost sensitivity of their decisions to fly. Only then will we have an idea of whether the proposed additional taxation will work. Anything less than such a study is just propaganda!

Most pheasants sold in the UK for food contain toxic lead shot!

Posted on 23rd March 2021

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I was shocked to read this report on the BBC.

A small study found that 179 of 180 pheasants examined in the UK contained lead shot. Lead is toxic, and the process of cooking the meat causes the lead to leach out into the flesh of the pheasants, thus poisoning the consumers even if they don't swallow any of the lead shot.

It is not surprising that pheasants contain shot (they are raised for shooting, not as livestock), but it is surprising that the shot is lead, since the shooting organisations have signed up to a voluntary ban on lead shot.

I find the situation totally bizarre. Lead was also used for angling weights, but was banned in 1986 (see here). I cannot understand why lead shot for hunting was also not legally banned, rather than being phased out with a voluntary ban, and done decades ago.

It just proves, if any more proof was needed, that governments cannot be trusted to look after the environment and the health of their people.

Outlaw Bottom Trawling Now!

Posted on 21st March 2021

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This article on Science Alert discusses the carbon impact of bottom trawling.

It turns out that bottom trawling releases more carbon that has been stored in the the marine soil than the world's aviation industry: 1.47 billion tonnes of CO2. That's up to 20 percent of the atmospheric CO2 absorbed by the ocean each year and is "comparable to estimates of carbon loss in terrestrial soils caused by farming."

As we try to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming, we simply cannot afford to allow this to continue.

That is in addition to the other terrible environmental impacts of bottom trawling, which destroys coral reefs (the nurseries and food sources for marine life) and other seabed ecosystems.

Bottom trawling is like harvesting terrestrial farm crops by removing the topsoil; it is complete madness, and is patently not managing the oceans as renewable resources.

Bottom trawling needs to be outlawed now, before it is too late.

Make ecocide an international crime!

Posted on 19th March 2021

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This news report on The Guardian makes the case for making ecocide into an international crime.

I heartily approve. I have said many times that people (individuals, companies and even governments) will never act in an environmentally responsible way unless non-compliance has real impact, both legal and financial. This is probably the single most useful thing that we can do do save our planet, and the sooner the better.

Amazonian groups sue French supermarket chain over deforestation.

Posted on 5th March 2021

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This news story on the BBC reports that indigenous amazonian groups, backed by NGOs in the US and France, are suing the French supermarket chain Casino, for deforestation in the Amazon caused by producing beef that the supermarket sells.

The litigants say that they can directly link the beef being resold by Casino with a deforested area larger than Paris, in the amazonian jungle.

This move is very much in line with the principle of "the polluter pays", and I heartily approve.

All the while that the current situation, of the environmental costs of big agriculture and industry being paid by society as a whole, continues, there will will be no strong financial motive for companies to clean up their acts.

I certainly don't see why I should pay, through higher taxes and costs of other goods, and through loss of my quality of life, for companies like Casino to maximise their profits through damage to our environment.

Let's hope that their are many more such law suits.

More Falling Birth Rates because of the Pandemic.

Posted on 5th March 2021

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After the recent report about panic in South Korea due to falling birth rates (here) comes a new report about falling birth rates in the USA, as reported by the BBC here, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

I still see this as a positive development. The world is badly overpopulated, resulting in climate change, species and habitat loss, and making pollution problems even worse. Given that the USA is, per capita, one of the worst polluters in the world, a falling population will benefit the USA and the planet as a whole.

In most countries, falling birth rates change the age mix of the population, causing problems in funding pensions and health care, but the US government does not (with some exceptions for state employees and members of congress) fund such things (you're on your own, Jack!), so not a problem for Americans.

If the US government was really worried about falling population, they could easily do more to encourage immigration (immigrants are generally younger than the average existing population, and help to fund pensions and health care), but I do see that happening.

Our Environment Under Pressure.

Posted on 23rd February 2021

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Bad news for freshwater anglers, reported here on the BBC, that freshwater fish are in catastrophic decline, with 80 species known to have gone extinct, 16 of those in the last year alone, particularly migratory species and large species. I find this particularly upsetting, having once been a keen angler.

The head of the UN, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called on the world to stop "a senseless and suicidal war on nature", as reported here on China.org.cn. I agree.

On a slightly hopeful note, six experts have suggested charging additional taxes on international flights (and on bunker fuels – high-carbon fuels used by ships), as reported here on The Guardian. They suggest that the funds raised from these taxes go to developing countries to help them fund climate related costs. To me this seems a no brainer. The only way to reduce undesirable behaviour is to make it more expensive; the same logic as taxes on tobacco products. If the money thus raised goes to help poorer countries pay for the costs of reducing their environmental impact, and to compensate them for the economic damage caused by climate, even better. Just do it already!

Global Warming is worse than we thought!

Posted on 1st February 2021

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There is some bad news in this report on Popular Science. New research estimates that most of the last 12,000 years have been cooler than we previously believed. This in turn means that human activity has already caused even more warming than we previously thought.

The good news is that the new data makes the actual temperature rise due to human-caused global warming more consistent with climate models; the bad news is that we have an even larger problem to fix than we had thought.

Stampede from fossil fuels would cost UK jobs.

Posted on 29th January 2021

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I was incensed, on reading this article on the BBC.

What Larry Fink seems to be saying is that we need to go slowly on reducing carbon emissions, otherwise there could be drastic effects on on the global economy, and jobs in the UK could be lost.

This is the same half-arsed attitude to saving the environment that we constantly hear from governments and the companies who have vested interests in continuing their polluting business as usual.

Yes, of course there will be economic impact from saving our planet: companies, governments and individuals will make less money; this is inevitable; you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. The alternative, however, is for the global economy to be completely destroyed, due to environmental damage, with food and water shortages, mass unemployment, broken infrastructure, breakdowns in law and order, and so on.

There are too many people and organisations, either in power or having influence over those who are, who are still pushing the line that we can only save the planet as long as it doesn't cost money or cause any inconvenience. We need to stop accepting this bullshit.

Panic because South Korea's population falls.

Posted on 13th January 2021

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As reported here, by the BBC, the government in South Korea is very worried because its population has fallen, for the first time ever.

The country already had the lowest birth rate of any country, and now they plan to introduce major financial incentives for people to have more children.

Apparently, South Korea didn't get the memo about the climate crisis, caused by our planet being overpopulated. If they had, they would hopefully understand that a small reduction in population is a good thing, for the planet as a whole, and for South Korea in particular. In a future of food and water shortages, having low and falling population will be a distinct advantage.

Unfortunately, they are more concerned about how to fund their pension and health care systems, and workers to generate tax revenue, than environmental issues. Time to get with the programme, South Korea!

Why KitKat changed its logo.

Posted on 1st November 2020

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This piece on Yahoo-Australia caught my attention. It describes the reason behind Nestlé's temporary change of the KitKat logo to the recycling symbol.

It seems that nearly half of Australian consumers don’t know how to recycle properly. KitKat wrappers are made of soft plastic, which can be recycled, but customers don't seem to know this.

Of course, this problem is not unique to Australia; there is huge ignorance about what to recycle and how, all across the world.

Here in Germany, where the public is generally well-informed, there is also a lot of ignorance about recycling: I regularly see paper and cardboard put into the recycling bin in plastic bags; I see expanded polystyrene, which cannot be recycled, put into the plastic recycling bin; I have been told by neighbours that you can only put "bio" food waste (which means waste from organic produce) into the "bio-Müll" (compost bin); many people still put old batteries into the normal garbage; the list goes on.

Part of the problem is the poor labelling on products; yes, it says that you should recycle the packaging, but not, but not into which recycling bin. Another problem is that there is a different system of separation of recycling in different locations. This is exacerbated by the prevalence of mixed material packaging (most often paper and plastic together, often very hard to separate).

We (consumers, governments, and manufacturers) need to do better.

Bernie Is Right About Population Control

Posted on 6th September 2019

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Bernie Sanders, one of the contenders for the Democratic party nomination for presidential candidate, is getting ripped to shreds in the press, for his answer to an audience member's question during a CNN climate town hall event, as reported here, by the BBC.

The questioner said "Empowering women and educating everyone on the need to curb population growth seems a reasonable campaign to enact ... Would you be courageous enough to discuss this issue and make it a key feature of a plan to address climate catastrophe?"

Bernie Sanders replied: "Well, Martha, the answer is yes. The answer has everything to do with the fact that women in the United States of America, by the way, have a right to control their own bodies, and make reproductive decisions. The Mexico City Agreement which denies American aid to those organisations around the world that allow women to have abortions or even get involved in birth control to me is totally absurd. So I think, especially in poor countries around the world where women do not necessarily want to have large numbers of babies, and where they can have the opportunity through birth control to control the number of kids they have, is something I very, very strongly support.

Now he is being criticised for proposing the use of US taxpayer dollars to "kill brown babies". He did not even propose abortion as part of the solution; he said "birth control".

The problem is that Bernie is right. As I have pointed out before on this blog, the root cause of climate change and most other environmental problems that we are facing is that the planet's population is too big. Although birth rates are gradually falling around the world, population is still rising overall. Some nations have falling or static populations, but many countries have significant population growth (e.g. India and China). If we managed to fix global warming, the problem would come back again if population growth continued.

So clearly we cannot ignore the population issue; if we do, we are all doomed. US politicians going all "global thermonuclear war" about this issue is not helping.

It is time for a rational discussion of the options, the timescales, and the balance of wrongs and rights that are inevitably at play here.

Societal Collapse: What It Means

Posted on 27th March 2019

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This article on Vice.com is about a paper about the impacts of climate change: "Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy".

The thesis of the paper is that climate change, already here and getting worse, will cause economic and societal collapse, potentially in 10 years from now.

If you have read other material about the impact of climate change, either elsewhere in the news, or on this blog (here, here, here and here), then you know that shortages of water, food, energy and other resources are predicted, and that these shortages will in many cases lead to armed conflict and increased migration. Until now, however, I have not seen any predictions about the impact on society; this paper does just that.

The news piece in the first link, above, tells how many readers were seriously upset and depressed by the scientific paper, and are heading to the hills, or places like New Zealand in the hope that their survival chances will thus improve. In order to decide whether such drastic action is necessary, let's look at what "Societal Collapse" means.

The sections below describe the separate symptoms of societal collapse, and what it may mean to you. The thing to remember is that all these things are connected, and degradation in one area causes impacts in another: a positive feedback loop, or vicious circle.

Nevertheless, nothing is certain. Some things may come to pass, and perhaps some will not; they may happen sooner than predicted, or later. Readers should treat all these predictions as risks, and act to try to reduce those risks to the extent that it is possible.

Law And Order

One of the most destructive symptoms of the collapse of society is likely to be in law and order. You only need to look at the news about the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) protests to see the effects of street protests and civil disobedience, and the inability of the police in France to limit the disruption. Imagine protests many times bigger and more frequent, with people on the streets because they cannot feed their families or find a job, or are being thrown out of their homes.

If French police cannot deal with the current Gilets Jaunes protests, how much worse will it be in countries with smaller police forces (e.g. the USA, with a police force one tenth, per capita, of those typical in western Europe? Add to this the impact of reduced budgets for policing (as a result of the collapse of money).

Crimes will go unpunished, meaning that there will be no reason for people and companies with whom you deal (your landlord, your bank, your insurance company, etc.) to obey the law and uphold your legal rights. Looting will be rife. There will be no-go areas for police in all countries, with some streets ruled by gangs; you may have to pay protection "money" just to go shopping. Your car will likely be stolen or torched. It will become very dangerous just to walk the streets.

Money

Because many vital resources will be in short supply, inflation will go out of control (like in Venezuela right now). Money will start to become useless, and you will need to barter to get basics. If you don't have anything that people want, then you won't be able to barter for what you need.

Not only do individuals need money for daily life, but governments need it to fulfill their role in society. Once money becomes ineffective, governments will not be able to pay for the services they provide: health care, R&D (e.g. into combating or preventing climate change), policing, road maintenance, sewage, etc. The collapse of money, and its impact on governments' ability to function, is probably one of the biggest drivers of other negative impacts on society.

Your wages, if you continue to have them, will be inadequate, and you will need to buy what you need immediately you get paid (because, by tomorrow, the price may have doubled due to rampant inflation). Your pension, and your investments, will similarly become useless.

Your property, which in many cases is limited to the house in which you live, is likely to lose its value, which may mean that, although you may need to move home, you can't afford to.

Food

Farming productivity is already being effected by climate change. In some cases this is due to direct changes in the weather, and the predictability of the weather. The distribution of pests is also already changing. It is getting harder to be a farmer.

Intensive farming is heavily dependent upon money, for pesticides and fertilizers, seed stock and machinery. If/when the money system collapses, it will become impossible to sustain intensive farming practices. Without intensive farming, it will be impossible to feed the world. Today, "buy local" is a choice; it will probably become the only option (no more asparagus in December, apples in April, kiwi fruit in Finland, mangoes in Europe and America).

There has also been talk about the threat caused by climate change to coffee supplies. I don't know if this is really an issue, but it could become one.

One effect that seems certain is that people's diets will change. Fruit and vegetables will again become truly seasonal, and meat consumption (the production of which is so dependent on water, energy and specialised feed-stock) will reduce.

Water

Access to drinking water is already an issue for many people around the world. Recently there was a lot in the news about a water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa. More recently there is bad news about future water supply in areas fed by the Colorado River (here, on Mashable) and in Britain (here on The Guardian). The USA, Britain and many other nations have long been extracting too much water from underground and surface sources, causing some rivers and lakes to dry up, and others to become polluted. Ground water in Israel is becoming too salty to use, as salt water seeps in from the sea to replace water pumped out for household and agricultural use.

In other places water is becoming polluted by mining, industrial waste, and activities like fracking. Flint, in the USA, is a well known example of the industrial pollution of water supplies.

Such issues will become more extreme and more widespread, since industry, water companies and governments are unlikely to change their policies.

What this means for you is that you may only have tap water part of the day; maybe not at all. It may no longer be safe to drink tap water. Water rationing may be applied. Eventually you will also probably find yourself unable to pay for your water supply, if your money becomes worthless, and ultimately water supply companies will go bankrupt.

Given that you might be trying to supplement your food supply by growing vegetables at home, the lack of water will be a huge problem.

We could all end up walking miles, and/or queuing up at water tankers, to get enough water to survive. This is already normal for people in parts of Africa, but we are not used to it in Europe and North America.

Health and Health Care

Health care is one aspect of society that will be badly affected by societal collapse. Government paid schemes will be first be trimmed and then cancelled, as government budgets come under pressure and the money system crumbles.

Private schemes will become less and less useful, as the crumbling money system forces health insurers to create more exemptions, preconditions and other loopholes to limit how much they pay, and therefore how good your health care is.

There will be more co-payments, and more treatments which are not covered at all. Good luck getting treatment for pre-existing conditions.

Waiting lists will grow, and more treatments will not be available locally. Medical equipment will be older and in need of repair, and medicines will be in short supply. Doctors and nurses will be even more overworked, and that will result in poorer treatment and more mistakes. Getting a second opinion will become much harder.

Remember to add to all this the coming crisis of antibiotic-resistant diseases.

Eventually, centrally organised health care will all but disappear. Hospitals, clinics and dentists will close. Because of this, vaccinations will be the exception, rather than the norm, and illnesses which are minor today (like appendicitis) will become fatal; child-birth will become mush more risky. Americans of future generations will also start to have "English teeth"; us English will be laughing about that, as long as our toothaches are not too bad.

The Environment

Even today, the world does not seem to be able to prioritise environmental protection above money; wild-life above people; the future against the her and now. It doesn't take much imagination to see how much worse things will be as the effects of societal collapse begin to bite. A lot of funding for environmental programmes comes from charitable donations, from companies and individuals. Most of the rest is government funded. Some government funding for environmental initiatives is in the form of international aid. All of these sources will dry up, as other "more urgent" needs soak up the dwindling supply of funds.

This is going to make some people's survival strategies problematic. If you are planning to live off the land in some way, you are going to want a sound ecosystem in which to follow your plan, whether that means hunting in the mountains, fishing on some island, or self-sufficient farming in New Zealand or Ireland.

The lack of effective and enforced environmental protections means there will be a huge increase in polluted ground water, pests, invasive species, the availability of feed-stock, and climate change will have major effects on species viability, as animals (birds, insects, etc.) find they are unable to change where they live to deal with the altered climate, because the space they need to occupy will already be occupied by humans and their farms.

Travel

Societal collapse will have negative impacts on public transport, and the ability to make business and leisure trips (so forget vacation trips, especially by air).

Even our ability to commute for work will be severely degraded. This will mean having to rethink where you live, and/or where you work: in future people will need to live near their job; by near, I mean walking or cycling distance.

Telecoms and The Internet

Nowadays people rely very heavily on their mobile phones, and on the Internet. Expect that service coverage and quality (i.e. data bandwidths and reliability) will be steadily degraded, as the degradation of money gradually gets worse (telecoms companies are, after all, businesses, and rely on income to maintain and improve their infrastructure).

This will make simple things much more difficult: you will have to agree beforehand not only when to meet someone, but also exactly where.

Internet shopping will eventually die out: without delivery services, Internet services, and a functioning money system, it cannot work.

Racism and other -isms

Recent history has shown us that, when times are tough for whatever reason, racism, homophobia, sexism and all those other prejudices come to the fore. We should expect that, as societal collapse starts to bite, this will happen all over the world. Civilisation is nothing more than a thin coat of paint hiding the feral creatures that humans are at core.

Extinctions In 2018

Posted on 4th Janaury 2019

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This report on USA Today summarises the species which became extinct in 2018. These are just species which we know about, and the list does not include any insects, bacteria, viruses, or even fish.

There is another report on Mashable, on the same subject.

Although there is no proof that all the listed extinctions were caused by human activity, we are the prime suspect in most cases.

Some people may argue that extinction is a natural phenomenon which has occurred throughout our planet's history, but the pace of species loss is currently higher than ever before (including the time when dinosaurs became extinct). Part of the problem is that evolution is being hampered by lack of available habitat for evolving species to occupy, due to agriculture, mining, and human habitation, so new species are not replacing those lost. Every year there is less wild habitat on our planet.

Do you really want your descendants to grow up in a world where there are almost no other species; worse still, for humanity to also become extinct because we wiped out the species which made our ecosystem functional and our planet habitable?

If you want to get an idea of what our future will probably look like, watch Soylent Green (made in 1973, but amazingly prescient).

There Has To Be A Better Way To Protect The Environment

Posted on 14th November 2018

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This story from AP News shows how horrifically complex it can be to properly protect the environment, unless some common sense is applied.

North Dakota’s Health Department spent more than 1000 hours of department staff's time, over two years, and received more than 10,000 comments from the public, in its attempts to determine whether to grant a permit for a new oil refinery near the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Having granted permission, they are now being criticised, and having to defend their decision in court.

While I strongly applaud the principles at play here, I do feel that this is a case where working smarter, not harder, would be appropriate.

This is how this kind of problem is dealt with in industry:

  • There needs to be a contract between the permit-granting agency and the developer.
  • The contract must contain enforceable SLAs (Service Level Agreements) defining the maximum allowable pollution levels (and any other critical conditions) and how they will be measured.
  • The contract must contain financial penalties, payable by the developer to the agency if/when the SLAs (pollution levels) are breached. These need to be high enough that the developer will be very strongly motivated to keep within the mandated limits.
  • As insurance against the developer going bankrupt, a significant sum must be placed in escrow (held in a special account usually controlled by a lawyer), which can then be used if needed to pay any penalties. This is what was done in the case of the oil production licence behind this blog entry; the problem is that the amount in escrow simply wasn't large enough to cover the clean-up costs.

What this does, if done properly, is make it too expensive for the developer to fail to meet their obligations on environmental protection. The developer will, if they have any sense at all, conduct a thorough study of the risks and consequences of environmental damage, thus taking at least part of the job out of the hands (and off the budgets) of government agencies. The permit-granting authority still needs to do some environmental analysis, in order to set the pollution levels and associated financial penalties in the SLAs, but this would be far less onerous than it currently is.

All this works on the principle that the potential polluter pays the cost of ensuring that no unacceptable pollution occurs, and if it does, the polluter will pay for cleaning it up.

Oil Has Been Leaking Into The Gulf For 14 Years!

Posted on 22nd October 2018

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Before you ask, no, this is not the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This report on Science Alert is about another oil leak, actually close to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The leak has been consistently under-reported, has been deliberately covered up, and oil slicks from it have often been confused with those from the Deepwater Horizon. To make matters worse, the company responsible is now effectively bankrupt, and its founder dead.

Blocking the leaks seems impossible, and clean-up is not really happening. With the continuation of this spill, it is set to grow to be bigger than the Deepwater Horizon incident in the near future.

Beaches are affected. Scientists recommend that people do not eat fish from the area.

There are plans, at the US Federal level, to allow oil exploitation on the Atlantic coast of the USA, just to spread the joy, although state governments are trying to block those plans.

Do we really need oil enough to pay this kind of price? The planet should be phasing out the use of fossil fuels, not opening more oil fields.

The other important question is where is the Federal funding of the clean-up and repair (blocking the leaking wells)? There is a trust fund containing $450M, intended the cover the costs of any disasters (although the oil company has been attempting to recover these funds), but it is nowhere near enough. My opinion is that any additional funding should come from the US government. The oil leaks are not just polluting US waters, but the whole Gulf of Mexico, and wide afield (after all, the Gulf Stream originates there, and goes to the UK, Ireland, France, etc.).

When will governments start taking responsibility for the decisions (e.g. licensing oil exploration and exploitation in environmentally sensitive areas)? Maybe the EU and Caribbean nations need to sue the US government for damage to their environment.

Trump Is Out Of Tune With The Rest Of The Planet

Posted on 9th October 2018

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There have been a lot of reports lately about environmental issues. Some of them have highlighted the huge differences in the position of the USA (mainly just the position of President Trump) and the rest of the world.

In this report from the BBC, climate scientists tell us clearly that limiting temperature rise to 2°C is not going to be enough, and that we need to aim for a rise of only 1.5°C. To achieve this, drastic action is needed, and a lot of money will need to be spent on the problem: coal will need to be completely phased out, oil consumption drastically reduced, and huge investments made in renewable energy and carbon capture.

On the other hand, there is Donald Trump. He withdrew the USA from the Paris climate accord. He gibbers constantly about "clean coal", while not seeming to understand what the term even means, and is encouraging investment and growth in the US coal industry. He has also been pressing Saudi Arabia (who basically control OPEC) to increase oil production, so that oil prices will reduce. In fact, The Donald has done more than ask; he has already started trying to blackmail the Saudis ("King, we're protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military."). Saudi Arabia has, thankfully, firmly said no, as reported here by Forbes.

Thankfully, Saudi Arabia’s own interests currently coincide with saving the planet (or at least saving the human race). The slower that they sell their oil, the more money they will make, and the longer they will have income, further putting off the evil day when they are broke (again).

Oil needs to be much more expensive, not less, in order to discourage its use, and encourage investment and innovation in renewable energy. Price is one of the very few factors which have any chance of reducing our use of oil and other fossil fuels.

Climate Change Round Up

Posted on 11th January 2018

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Here is a summary of some of the recent news about climate change.

This report from Business Insider includes maps of the best places to live to avoid the adverse effects of climate change, taking into account health-care, food supply, and government stability. Scandinavia and New Zealand score high. While most people will not move to a different country just because of worries about climate change, if you are anyway thinking of relocating, this might be something important to take into consideration.

As reported in this piece by Science Alert, warmer climate is causing more Green sea turtles to be born female. These turtles do not develop into males or females due to sex chromosomes, like humans and most other mammals do; instead, the temperature outside a turtle egg influences their sex. This is putting this species at risk of extinction.

Some good news: Science Alert reports that Britain Now Generates Twice as Much Electricity From Wind as Coal, and getting better every year.

Newsweek reports on a story from Science, about how the ocean is running out of oxygen: "a four-to-tenfold increase in areas of the ocean with little to no oxygen". Since half of Earth’s oxygen originates from the ocean, this is bad news for ground-based life as well as ocean life.

Some more good news, reported by the BBC. Northern Forest: a plan to plant 'ribbon of woodland' across England, with some financial support by the UK government.

Some bad news: the BBC reports on the Trump administration's to expand offshore drilling in the Pacific and Atlantic, although Florida is for some reason exempt.

Some good news, as reported by Science Af although I have low expectations for the outcome: New York City Sues ExxonMobil, Shell And Other Oil Majors Over Climate Change. The New York City government is suing the world's five largest publicly traded oil companies, seeking to hold them responsible for present and future damage to the city from climate change.

Scientific papers that deny climate change are all flawed!

Posted on 18th September 2017

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I recently found an excellent news piece about those 3% of scientific papers which seem to support the climate change deniers position that climate change is not real, and/or not caused by human activity.

This report, on Quartz, cites a scientific review of those 3% of climate change studies (38 papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the last decade), and found that every single one had a flaw in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis, and when these errors were corrected, the revised results were in line with the findings of the other 97% of studies: that climate change is real, and is man-made. Some errors were simply mistakes, but some errors seem to have been due to deliberately selecting non-representative data, so that the results would support their desired and biased opinions.

So, next time someone tries to use the argument that "the science is still not proven", you can throw this study in their faces. Climate change is real, and it is caused by people - you and me, and our pollution and energy waste.

Donald Trump Must Hate Bears

Posted on 18th August 2017

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I recently read two news stories that show completely opposing attitudes to conservation and the environment. This report on the BBC describes how British Columbia (a Canadian Province) has announced that this season will be the last for trophy hunters; starting next season, it will be illegal. This video report, on the BBC, is about bear hunting in Alaska, where hunters can now shoot and bait bear cubs and hibernating bears on national wildlife refuges, after President Trump abolished protections put in place by Barack Obama.

Don't get me wrong; I am not one of those bleeding-heart conservationists: I have no issue with hunting, as long as it is done humanely, and wild populations are protected from over-hunting (I am sure that some readers will strongly disagree with me on this). What I do know, however, is that hunters generally frown on killing juveniles, killing mothers when they are with their cubs, hunting during the breeding season and using unsporting methods (this disapproval is reiterated in a statement from the lady hunter in the video report above).

I simply do not understand why President Trump decided to abolish the protection measures for bears in national wildlife refuges. The hunters seem not to want these extra freedoms, which allow them to hunt in unfair, cruel and immoral ways, and this abolition is moving in the opposite direction to their neighbours in Canada (renowned for their moral and environmental sense), who are adding protection to bears.

It is pretty clear that Donald Trump is not a hunter, and apparently didn't ask any hunters for their opinions before abolishing the existing protection measures. I guess he just hates bears, or maybe he simply hates any regulations implemented by Obama.

Fewer Cars, Not Just Cleaner Cars

Posted on 6th August 2017

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This report from the BBC makes a good case that cleaner cars are not the answer to our problems with environmental problems. We need to reduce the number of cars.

The report describes a study by Professor Kelly, of the UK's Royal College of Physician, which points out that even electric cars produce significant quantities of particulate matter (PM) pollution, from their brakes and tyres, with major health impacts. The UK government's recently announced plan to outlaw the sale of all new non-electric cars by 2040 will help reduce PM pollution from diesel vehicles, but do nothing about these other sources of PMs.

The environmental benefits of electric vehicles are anyway questionable, at best. Electricity is not a pollution-free source of electricity, but only pollution-elsewhere. Admittedly the centralised and bulk production of electricity in power stations is more efficient and lower-pollution than burning fossil fuels in the mini-power-stations of car engines, but there are huge inefficiencies in the storage and later recovery of that electricity from batteries, and more inefficiencies in hauling the heavy battery packs (a 70 kWh Tesla Model S battery pack weighs over 1,000 lbs [~453 kg]) around in the vehicles.

Add to that the pollution from producing and later disposing of the batteries themselves, based, as they are, on highly toxic metals. That same 70 kWh Tesla Model S battery pack contains significant quantities of Cobalt, plus Aluminium and Nickel. Batteries from other manufacturers contain lots of Manganese. There is a nice breakdown of the contents of high-tech batteries here.

I guess that Professor Kelly is right: we really are going to have to learn to live without our precious cars.

Someone Is Wrecking Our Planet

Posted on 29th May 2018

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This news on TheOutline.com is very worrying. A country, so far unidentified, in South East Asia, is releasing large quantities of CFC-11 into the atmosphere.

CFCs were responsible for the hole in the ozone layer over the antarctic, but after the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the use of CFCs has bee greatly reduced, and recent news indicated that the ozone hole had begun to close. Now, it seems, that small improvement in the health of our planet is being undone.

CFCs, which were once widely used in refrigerators, are a highly reactive class of chemicals which last a long time in the atmosphere. They convert ozone in the upper atmosphere, which protects the surface from UV radiation, to oxygen. They are also very strong greenhouse gases, thousands of times more potent than CO2.

This massive release of CFC-11 means that we should expect skin cancer risk in Australia and New Zealand to remain high, or even increase. It also means that global warming will be even harder to limit.

One take away from this is how ineffective these voluntary international agreements (e.g. the Montreal Protocol and the 2016 Paris Climate Accord). Such agreements lack any enforcement mechanisms, so even if the culprit country is discovered, there will be no simple way to stop the releases or to punish them. It does not bode well for the success of the Paris Climate Accord, and more importantly, our future.

Fixing The Plastic Crisis

Posted on 26th July 2018

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This report on the BBC should not be so surprising. The article warns that, even if you put your plastic waste into the appropriate recycling bin, it may not actually be recycled, but rather become landfill.

Oranges In Plastic

The problem is that there is now a roaring trade in waste, with much of our garbage being sent to other countries for processing. The simple act of exporting waste takes it out of sight of the authorities, and we don't know for sure what happens to it. You might have been thinking that, although you can't control what other countries do about recycling, at least you and your country are doing the right thing; it turns out that you may also be part of the problem.

The thing is, recycling is only part of the solution, and really only a stopgap. What we really need to do is reduce the amount of plastic packaging, and indeed packaging in general.

I am constantly amazed by the amount of packaging used in parcels, e.g. when ordering goods online. I recently bought a computer monitor. It came in a box. The company from whom I bought it had put that box in another box (totally unnecessary). There was the usual huge quantity of shock-absorbing plastic padding in both boxes, even though paper alternatives are available which are adequate for the task.

Supermarkets are just as bad. So much is packaged in plastic. Most fresh fruit and vegetables are actually better in paper or cardboard, and some need no packaging at all. Glass jars with metal lids are suitable for yoghurt, cream, etc, and metal cans are suitable for coffee and loads of other stuff; jars and cans are fully recyclable. We need to push back on the supermarkets about using responsible packaging. Jars and cans may be more expensive to use, but only because the true cost of plastics (i.e. including the pollution/clean-up costs) is not being paid.

Today I saw a photo of oranges, shown to the right, which were peeled (peel is the oranges' natural packaging) and then placed in transparent plastic tubs. This is just so wrong!

Some of the worst offenders are cosmetics and personal hygiene manufacturers. I have seen spray bottles with double containers (a jar within a jar, with a huge air gap in between). I have seen all sorts of bizarre shapes of container, which maximise the space taken up, the material used for the packaging, and minimise the volume of contents.

If you care about the environment, it is time to vote with your wallet: tell the companies you buy from that, if they want to keep your business, they need to package more responsibly.

Dr. Levine Is An Idiot!

Posted on 31st July 2017

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This story, carried by the BBC, bears the scare-headline "Sperm count drop 'could make humans extinct'". This is the opinion of Dr. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Not only is the idea that the human race faces the threat of extinction due to reductions in sperm-counts laughable, and ignores some basic science, but such a pronouncement is downright irresponsible given a world population of around 7 billion and growing. Overpopulation is what is causing global warming, the build-up of toxic chemicals in our environment, and by extension is at least partly responsible for the reduced sperm-counts detected by this research. Encouraging people to reproduce more, which is the most likely result of such new stories, is the last thing we need right now.

The reason why I think that this extinction threat is laughable, is because:

  1. Natural selection will minimise or eliminate the reduced fertility that Dr. Levine's research is concerned with.
  2. Human reproduction is limited by several other factors (personal choice, food supply, disease, etc.) rather than sperm-count. Sperm-counts would have to fall a great deal to become the dominant factor in determining human fertility. These other limits to reproduction are all reduced by lower population, so as the population falls, the rate of reproduction will rise to compensate.
  3. The main likely causes for the reductions in sperm-count which are cited in the article (pesticides, plastics, obesity, smoking and stress) are all also likely to reduce (eventually) if the human population reduces due to low sperm-counts.

I really don't think that reduced human fertility poses an extinction threat; I actually see it as a benefit, because the world desperately needs a lower human population. We have other greater and more immediate threats to the continuance of the human race to worry about.

If Dr. Levine really believes what he has stated, then he needs to back it up with more research and facts, as any real scientist would. Such unfounded speculation has no place in science, and he should be ashamed.

These Shark Torturers Are Lying

Posted on 28th July 2017

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This story from the BBC got me really angry: angry at the people who killed the shark, and angry at the BBC journalist who seems to know absolutely nothing about sharks.

The people in the boat claim that the shark was already dead when they found it floating in the water, and so they decided to use is as bait to fish for another shark. This is clearly a lie, since sharks do not float when dead; unlike bony fish, sharks have no swim bladder to control their buoyancy, and must swim to keep afloat. When sharks die, or when their fins are harvested for sharks fin, they always sink to the bottom of the ocean. The other claim that is an obvious lie is that they were dragging the shark behind their boat, using it as bait to catch another shark; the dead shark was simply too big to use as bait (unless they were trying to catch Jaws) and the boat was going too fast for a shark to be able to take the bait.

I had expected that the journalist assigned to cover this story would know some basic facts about sharks, and be able to pint this out in the short text accompanying the video report, but I guess I was being overoptimistic.

Given that many species of shark are now endangered, this kind of pointless cruelty and needless slaughter should not be tolerated. I hope that the investigation results in the "fishermen" being prosecuted.

The USA Is Now A Rogue State

Posted on 2nd May 2017

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Today's big news, widely expected, is that the USA has decided to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, as reported here by the BBC.

This makes the USA a rogue state. This action is at least as bad as other nations, such as North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, labelled as rogue states for creating weapons of mass destruction. They /the USA) have decided to continue full-speed ahead on the path to destruction of the world as we know it, and any solution will have to be implemented by the rest of the world.

What I find bizarre is the widely reported statement from US Republicans, intended to be understood as an excuse, that "the US coal industry backed the move [to withdraw from the Paris climate accord]". Who in their right mind would ask poachers whether the gamekeeper should be fired? The coal industry is part of the problem, and I am not even slightly interested in their opinions on what we should do.

The situation now, with the only the USA and two other nations (Nicaragua and Syria) not being part of the climate accord, is akin to a bunch of people being in a lifeboat miles from land. Some people have water or food, but some have more than others; the best survival strategy is for everyone to share what they have. The American in the lifeboat, however, will not share, because he believes he is more important than the others. The fly in the ointment is that the lifeboat has a leak, and only with everyone bailing can the boat stay afloat; once the first person dies from lack of water or food, everyone will drown, even the "important" American who won't share his supplies. This is the kind of stupidity that convinces me that groups of humans do not qualify as intelligent.

I do not understand where this arrogant and self-centred American attitude comes from. It is not as if the USA is immune from the effects of global warming. They already have problems with extreme weather: more tornadoes, more lightning strikes, more floods, more heat-waves, more droughts, more water shortages and more wildfires. There are invasive species and diseases (such as zika). There are many extinctions (for an example, see this article in Field & Stream) and loss of habitats.

The USA has derogated their responsibility as the leader of the free world; it is now time for someone else to take up that mantle. Whoever that is to be, their first order of business should be to instigate sanctions against the USA, as a rogue state in the field of environmental protection.

Recycling Ends Up As Landfill

Posted on 18th May 2017

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This news story from the BBC highlights a problem that has bothered me for quite a while: much of our recycling, separated at home, ends up as landfill because of the mixture of materials in each article.

Many items which we put into recycling bins are not able to be recycled, and are instead dumped into landfill sites, or (as with much of the garbage and recyclables in Munich) incinerated. Examples include:

  • Pringles containers (containing cardboard, metal, aluminium foil and plastic).
  • Many kinds of plastic bottles - those containing multiple kinds of plastic.
  • Cleaning spray bottles - not only a mix of plastic, but also a metal spring.
  • Foil (aluminium) and plastic pill packs (very popular in Germany - I never know whether to recycle them as plastic or metal, or put them in the normal garbage).
  • Containers for whiskey bottles, which usually contain cardboard and metal.
  • Black plastic trays for meat (the black colour makes the meat look redder) - black plastic is useless for recycling.
  • The plastic sealing on wine bottles - mostly plastic, but often with a small aluminium foil disc over the top of the cork, which is very hard to separate.

On top of that, expanded polystyrene is still widely used in packaging, as trays for meat, and as shock-absorbing packing for fragile goods like PCs. Expanded polystyrene cannot be recycled, although many people seem ignorant of this and put it into the plastic recycling. There are perfectly adequate and cheap alternative materials for all these purposes (for example those sheets of plastic bubble-wrap).

Another thing that came to light a few years ago is that much of the paper and cardboard which we recycle is put into landfill or incinerated, because the price for recycled paper is so low that it is often not financially viable to recycle it.

I really think that industry needs to try harder to make sure that their packaging is easily recyclable. Clear instructions on the packaging about what it is (and thus which bin to put it in) would also be a great benefit, since many people have difficulty identifying what material some items are.

Australia Destroys Rare Pressed Flower Collection

Posted on 12st May 2017

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The Australian Government is working hard to preserve their country's reputation as being the worst in the world on environmental issues. This BBC story describes how a collection of irreplaceable and valuable pressed flowers, loaned from France, was incinerated because of a problem with the paperwork.

I fully understand that Australia (New Zealand too) needs to be careful about importing foreign species. Australia has huge problems with invasive species (some of which were introduced deliberately, in some cases in attempts to control other pests): Cane Toads, Goats, Rabbits, Red Foxes, etc. (more information about invasive species in Australia here). Clearly controls are needed. In this case, however:

  • The items in question were requested by Australia,
  • The specimens were dead, and unlikely to escape into the wild,
  • The collection is very valuable, and irreplaceable, so if they really didn't want them coming (temporarily) into Australia, the responsible thing to do would have been to simply send them back.
Climate Change Will Bring War

Posted on 21st February 2017

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This Bloomberg news story confirms what I wrote here (on the 31st March 2014) and again here (on the 8th of December 2016), that war over resources will be one of the results of climate change. The report states that "top European and United Nations officials said" that "focusing too narrowly on the environmental consequences of global warming underestimates the military threats". "Their warnings follow the conclusions of defense [sic] and intelligence agencies that climate change could trigger resource and border conflicts".

A lot of people have told me that my predictions are wrong: just paranoia. Just look, however, at virtually any war, whether in recent memory or more distant history: they were, without exception, at root, about resources: slaves, food, land, water, oil etc. Since all our predictions about the impacts of climate change are that resources will be in short supply, and their distribution will change (those that had resources will have less, and some that had few will have more), it seems inevitable that we will fight each other over them; that is simply what we do, and what we have always done. As an example, this news story in the Economist has a quote from Stephen Bannon, one of Donald Trump’s advisors, who said last year that he had “no doubt” that “we’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to ten years”; that could be a really major conflict (and it is all about resources).

There is a common belief that the world is much less warlike than in the past, but the facts do not, in my view, support this belief. True, there has been no world war for more than 70 years, but there have nevertheless been wars, virtually non-stop, since the end of WWII. Some people will argue that we have, at least, avoided global thermonuclear war (so far, and only by the skin of our teeth), and that this shows that our leaders have learned a little restraint, but I strongly believe that the absence of nuclear conflict is because it is non-functional, in that it destroys the resources that are being fought over, and not because humanity has become more peaceful.

I tend to take the jaundiced view that war is simply part of the human condition, and is largely unavoidable. There is, however, one huge problem with war in the modern world: war is always an environmental nightmare, with wholesale destruction of natural and man-made resources, and drastic pollution which can last decades (there are still areas of France blighted by the last world war). Our environment is now very fragile, due to pollution and over-exploitation, and we should not be subjecting it to more of the stress that is war.

I think we need, as a species, to get over our addiction to war, somehow or other.

Balancing The Needs Of Environmental Protection Against Protecting People

Posted on 10th February 2017

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I was quite heartened to read this BBC news story.

The report describes how park rangers in Kaziranga National Park in India are shooting suspected poachers to protect rhinos. They are shooting about 20 people a year.

I don't see why anyone would find this shocking; I find it shocking that most parks which are home to endangered species are not doing so.

The world is desperately short of rhinos (see this post about the virtual extinction of the Northern White Rhino), but we have plenty of humans (over 7 billion and counting). Efforts at protecting endangered species and preserving unique habitats are so often compromised because those efforts put the lives and livelihoods of humans at risk. As long as we continue to undermine the protection of the natural world by setting the wrong balance between people and wildlife, the natural world will continue to be destroyed, and once that natural world is gone, humans will soon be wiped out too.

If you want to get an idea of what life would be like once the environment is heavily degraded, I strongly recommend that you watch the movie "Soylent Green". I certainly don't want to live in a world like that, but I probably don't have a choice in the matter.

The UK Military Agrees With Me About Climate Change

Posted on 8th December 2016

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According to a study by UK military experts, as described on this story in the Huffington Post UK Edition, climate change will create An "epic" humanitarian crisis.

Some of these UK experts' predictions, backed-up by other experts from around the world, are very much in line with what I predicted in March 2014 in this post. There will be huge increases in:

  • Hurricanes/typhoons, floods, droughts, heat-waves, cold winters and other extreme weather;
  • Shortages of water and food, especially in vulnerable regions;
  • Disease and crop-pests;
  • Wars over food, water and other key resources;
  • The numbers of refugees and migrants;
  • Militarisation around the world, to deal with the threat of resource wars, and to limit immigration.
Mountain Lions Have Rights Too!

Posted on 4th December 2016

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This BBC report, about the issuing of "depredation order" allowing a mountain lion to be hunted, illustrates some of the typical poor logic and bad assumptions about wildlife and how wild animals are (mis-)treated.

Most people work on the assumption that wildlife is great (and should be protected) as long as it doesn't harm livestock, pets, business or people. This position is inherently flawed.

If you encroach on the territory, or steal the food supply, of wild animals, then there will inevitably come a point where the needs and desires of humans are in conflict with those of the wildlife:

  • If you keep alpacas on mountain slopes where mountain lions live, as has happened in this case, expect to lose some to predation;
  • If you build a dam, creating a lake or pond, which you stock with trout so that people will pay to fish there, in an area where there are populations of fish-eating birds or otters, don't complain if you end up feeding the wildlife with your expensive trout;
  • If you pay good money to go salmon fishing in Canada, do not expect that you have priority over the grisly bears who may also be fishing for salmon.

There are many cases where conservation measures have consequences on human life and commerce. Farmers in Scotland are still complaining that golden eagles are killing too many lambs in the spring. Wolves are making a comeback in Germany, and there are inevitable consequences on livestock, and eventually on human life. Gamekeepers in Scotland are regularly in trouble for their attempts to control wildlife populations, to limit predation on grouse raised for the hunt.

If we do conservation only as long as it doesn't inconvenience us, then we may as well not bother. Most wildlife will disappear, and humans will suffer as a result.

The wild animals (mountain lions, tigers, otters, large birds of prey, herons, sharks, etc.) were in the territories where humans consider them to be problems, long before humanity spread and bred to cover the planet from coast to coast. Why should the wildlife keep being pushed back to smaller and more marginal habitats? Humans also need to compromise. The only way that humanity will be prepared to compromise is if we formalise the inalienable rights of animals, sea-life, and even plants, so that they can have legal protection.

Global Warming Is Also An Economic Issue

Posted on 18th November 2015

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This article in The Guardian is very interesting.

The argument is very simple: the costs of carbon pollution (illness and death due to carbon pollution, global warming causing reductions in agricultural productivity, damage due to floods and storms, rising sea levels, increasing incidence of pests and diseases, etc.) are a good enough reason reason to do something about carbon emissions. The costs of not doing anything, or not doing enough, will be far greater than the costs of reducing our carbon footprint.

Personally, I think there are already enough arguments (moral, environmental, and quality of life) on the table to make it unarguable that we need to act, but having more arguments is even better.

Problems in Australia with Feral Have-Beens

Posted on 5th October 2015

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It seems, according to this BBC report, that a geriatric cat lady (Brigitte Bardot) and a musician that no-one has heard of for years (Morrissey) have been causing the Australian government some headaches. I don't understand why the Ozzies even care what they think.

Feral cats are a huge problem in Australia. They are threatening a number (at least 120) of native species with extinction: "Our native species are simply not equipped to coexist with feral cats; they did not evolve alongside predators like the feral cat", said Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews. Basically, these cats are pollution caused by humans, and it is time to clean up the mess.

I have to wonder whether these two bleeding hearts have ever met a feral cat. They are not like cuddly household moggies; even pet cats are vicious and selfish (a once read a story about a cat-detective, in which the cats' nickname for humans is "tin openers" - that says it all), but feral cats are in a class of their own.

Even Americans Now Believe In Global Warming

Posted on 28th October 2015

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Finally it seems that climate change is now accepted by the majority of Americans, according to this article in Bloomberg Business.

The latest opinion poll data shows that three quarters of Americans now "accept the scientific consensus on climate change": 90% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans. This is despite the fact that the Republican party is the main source of climate-change denial propaganda in the US, due to the huge influence of energy industry lobbyists on Republican party policy.

The people have spoken. Time for the Republican party to join the 21st century, and start representing the views of their voters.

More About Exxon Becoming A Climate-Change Denier

Posted on 28th October 2015

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Another report, from The Los Angeles Times, describes how and why Exxon (now Exxon Mobil) changed from one of the leaders in climate-change research and a public believer in global warming to an apparent skeptic and manipulator of public opinion on climate change, as already mentioned in this posting.

The report cites archived company documents and the recollections of former employees. It seems that Exxon realised around 1990 that a change in public opinion towards more concern about climate change would probably lead to onerous and costly regulations of their industry.

This is the kind of thing that gets industry a well-deserved bad name. Scientific evidence, and the well-being of the planet and its population were ignored in order to make a bigger profit. The company and its officers should be punished for what they did. The problem is that they were doing what the law requires company executives to do: to maximise profits and shareholder value, which is something I have already discussed here. Until corporate law and stock exchange regulations are changed to bring social and environmental responsibility into the mix of their duties, this sort of thing will inevitably continue.

There is, of course, something else that could and should be changed to help prevent this kind of corporate dishonesty and manipulation of of public opinion: the whole system of corporate lobbying in US politics. Why should companies be able to buy influence to the degree that they do? It is undemocratic (in a country that claims to be the world's champion of democracy) and simply wrong.

Global Warming – More About What our world will be like

Posted on 5th October 2015

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I already wrote about what our world will become like (here) as a result of global warming. Here are some more thoughts, to make the picture clearer.

The population of our planet has already passed the 7 billion mark. As I hope you already understand, the root cause of global warming, as with almost every pollution problem, is that there are too many people on this planet. Experts have stated that they expect the population to reach a plateau of around 9 billion; you might wonder about the basis of this estimate.

Population pressure causes shortages of food and water; it decreases food quality and safety: it increases the incidence of disease and the rate at which new diseases evolve; it increases the incidence of wars; it increases the number of migrants and refugees; and it causes financial instability. None of these conclusions should come as any surprise: these are all problems that we have already, and the highest incidence of them is mostly correlated with areas where population most heavily exceeds the ability of the natural world, and our infrastructure, to support the population (i.e. not always places where absolute population density is highest, but places which simply cannot support the population levels - like Africa, parts of the Middle East, China, etc.).

The estimate of 9 billion people is based on the limitations on our ability and willingness to breed, caused by the side-effects of those population levels. This is not a firm figure, but only an estimate, based on many assumptions. So, the question that you should now be asking yourself is, how much deterioration in your heath, financial well-being, and general quality of life will be enough to prevent you from producing excessive numbers of children?

Of course, the problem with these assumptions is that people have various different motives for having offspring: cultural and religious, financial, etc. These motives are impacted differently by the pressures that I have described above: some people will choose to have more children if they believe that their chances of survival are reduced, thus exacerbating the reduction of health and quality of life for all of us.

Personally, I think that things will need to get much worse than the experts are assuming before Earth's population stabilises. Is that world the kind of place where you want to live, and where you want your children to grow up? If not, then maybe it is time to rethink your system of beliefs.

Don't Eat Whitebait!

Posted on 3rd October 2015

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This recent story from the BBC got me thinking.

The story describes how recent tests in the Thames showed that 75% of flounder, which are bottom-feeders, had plastic in them (in their gut), whilst only 20% smelt, which swim in the water column, were contaminated with plastic.

One of the thoughts that occurred to me was that the risk to humans eating such contaminated fish was low, as we usually gut fish before eating them. This thought was very quickly followed by the realisation that this was an extremely selfish position. I also remembered that I love to eat whitebait, which are eaten whole (with the guts), and that animals and birds who eat fish (osprey, heron, seals, dolphins etc.) also usually eat fish whole.

Nevertheless (bearing in mind my moral and ecological concerns about plastics polluting our seas) I think it is only sensible that I stop eating whitebait.

Global Warming Deniers Are At It Again!

Posted on 23rd September 2015

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The deniers of global warming have been spouting their propaganda again, as reported in this BBC story.

Republican US Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, a senior member of the House Energy Committee, has said she will reject the Pope's plea to tackle climate change, because "The jury is still out saying man is the cause for global warming, after the earth started to cool 13 years ago".

Well, Mrs. Blackburn, here is a news flash for you:

  • The jury is not still out. There is widespread consensus in the scientific community that global warming is real, and caused by humans.
  • The latest data on the cooling shows that it was less significant (the earth cooled by less) than previously thought.
  • The latest data also shows that that cooling period is now over, and the planet is now getting warmer again.

I do find it worrying that the Pope, whose main area of expertise is religion, not science, is better informed about climate science than a US Congresswoman whose job should include knowing about climate science (but then again, she has absolutely no scientific qualifications or experience, and has also rejected the theory of evolution).

Exxon Knew About Global Warming in the 1970s!

Posted on 23rd September 2015

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Big Oil is starting to look more and more like Big Tobacco. These two reports (from Wired, and from Inside Climate News) describe how Exxon knew, from their own in-house reseach, that Global Warming existed, and was caused by human activities, back in the 1970s.

Despite being in possession of clear scientific evidence, the company, one of the biggest oil companies in the world, decided to become a "climate change denier", casting doubt on independent research, and thus maximising their revenues over the last four decades. Where are your business ethics, Exxon?

Three Green Cities in the USA.

Posted on 15th September 2015

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This article on "Think Progress" highlights an interesting and encouraging trend. Aspen, famous as a ski destination, is the third city (after Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas) to be able to supply all its electricity needs from renewable sources: a mixture of wind, hydroelectric, solar and geothermal.

Admittedly, Aspen is small: its permanent population is only 7,000, although with many more during peak tourist times, but it is nevertheless good news that one more place has eliminated a major source of atmospheric carbon.I am sure, however, that the residents of Aspen are still driving their fossil-fuel-driven cars, pick-up trucks and SUVs, so there is still much to be done to save the planet.

Greensburg is even smaller than Aspen, but Burlington is larger, having a population of around 45,000. To make a real difference, however, the same trend needs to be repeated in larger cities, and in more countries.

As the article describes, the move to renewable energy was made possible be the dramatic reduction in the cost of renewable energy, a drop that seems set to continue.

Of course, what would actually make much more difference to US carbon emissions would be an increase in the prices of petrol (gasoline) and diesel to the levels that Europeans pay, and the widespread introduction of energy efficiency in homes and businesses (energy efficient household appliances and air-conditioning, plus insulation against both heat and cold). Currently the USA comes pretty high in the rankings of per capita carbon emissions by country, and one of the reasons is that fuel for vehicles is so cheap there.

Is The Case For Nuclear Power Sound?

Posted on 7th July 2015

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This Telegraph story neatly highlights the contradictions in the case for nuclear power, and the hypocrisy in the UK government's attitude to renewable energy.

There is huge pressure at the international diplomatic level, from the scientific community and from ordinary citizens for governments to increase the proportion of our energy that comes from renewable and carbon-neutral sources. The world is in a frantic attempt to stave off the full scale of global warming, and all the economic and environmental side-effects of it. We are not changing the way we generate electricity and how we use resources (most especially how we deal with garbage) fast enough. Governments are all dragging their feet, and constantly demonstrating that they understand neither the urgency of, nor the science and technology behind, this transformation.

So let's take a look at the reactor project at Hinkley Point. While some of you may be anti-nuclear-power, most of you probably think that at least it has no carbon footprint. This is simply not true. The construction of nuclear power stations, which have to be built to very high standards for a planned operating life of 25 or more years, is very energy (carbon) intensive. Similarly for the construction of fuel rods (the centrifuges which purify nuclear fuel are very energy-hungry) and other consumables. Then all the spent fuel rods and irradiated material created during operation and during decommissioning have to be stored or reprocessed; some needs to be stored (and monitored) for thousands of years (and scientists and engineers are still trying to create a viable and proven method of safe long-term storage of nuclear waste). All this effort to build, operate and clean up nuclear power plants adds up to a huge energy/carbon cost, without even considering the radiation risks of such plants.

The new reactor at Hinkley Point is due to get loan guarantees (which will reduce the cost of borrowing to finance the project on the open market) from the UK government. In addition, EDF, the operators of Hinkley Point, are "guaranteed a price roughly double the current market price for every unit of electricity [they] generate". That is expensive electricity; the news of this coming at a time when the UK government is busily reducing subsidies for many other forms of renewable energy, most of which are smaller, per unit of energy, than what will be available to EDF. The need for such huge subsidies is the proof of the energy/carbon costs of nuclear power.

My view on all this would probably be a little less jaundiced if I was convinced that Hinkley Point formed a part of a well researched and analysed strategic plan for energy supply (and consumption) over the next half century. I feel that there is probably a place for nuclear power in such a plan, in part to provide security of energy supply, along with other big projects like tidal barrages, and increases in wind and solar generation. I would like to believe that such a plan exists, but actually I think the government's actions point more to the influence of industry lobbying.

Hey, people, this is the future of our planet, and the lives and health of our children and grandchildren that we are gambling with here! Time to grow a backbone, discover some moral fibre, and do the right thing!

US Supreme Court Blocks Changes To The Clean Air Act

Posted on 2nd July 2015

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I am very disappointed by the US Supreme Court. In a recent judgement, reported in this BBC story, they blocked the US government's attempt to toughen the Clean Air Act.

The US government had attempted to toughen the rules on emissions of toxins, including mercury. The court ruled that the government must factor in the costs of compliance. This has all the hallmarks of industrial lobbying, and is extremely one-sided.

If the court thinks that cost has to be included, then benefits must be given equal weight, even though it is very difficult to do for environmental issues. Cost/benefit analysis is a standard tool used by business and government to assist in decision making, comparing the costs of making a change to the benefits of that change, but to succeed it requires that everything can be evaluated in terms of money. Measuring the benefits of a cleaner environment in terms of money is hard; indeed it can be hard to quantify environmental improvements even in environmental terms: exactly how much will cleaner air improve the amount of toxins that humans and other life are exposed to (and what are the benefits in terms of quality and duration of life, and productivity) and how quickly?

Nevertheless, we have to try. Ignoring these issues is what got our planet into the state it is in today. If we don't have the science to get accurate estimates of the benefits, then we need to at least make some rough estimates.

Mass Extinction is Now!

Posted on 21st June 2015

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This BBC story really brings home how bad things have become. A new scientific study shows that vertebrate species are disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal. Since 1900 more than 400 additional (higher than the expected number) vertebrates have disappeared. Bear in mind that that number is just the species that we noticed the extinction of. Another study puts the number much higher.

Just to be clear, we are not talking about all extinctions, but only vertebrates, so excluding insects, arachnids, crustaceans, worms corals, bacteria and amoeba and the like. So, the study only describes as small fraction of the total rate of extinctions. Some non-vertebrates are species upon which we depend, directly or indirectly for food: bees, corals, and some soil bacteria, to name but a few.

The study compares the current situation with the event, 65 million years ago, that wiped out the dinosaurs, along with the majority of other species on earth at the time.

If we continue abusing our planet as we currently are, the natural world will be all but wiped out, and humans will likely be one of the species to be wiped out. If the human race survives, our population will be enormously reduced, our civilisation destroyed, and life will become unpleasant and incredibly hard.

This is the future that we are building for our descendants.

Dutch Citizens Win Case Against Their Government

Posted on 25th June 2015

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I recently posted here about a class action suit by Dutch citizens against their government. The latest news, here, is that they won the case, and the court has ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.

I consider this to be excellent news, and hope that their example is followed around the world. Britain, the USA, and Australia are all overdue for some enforcement of accountability, and some more aggressive environmental targets. Sadly, I can't see this working at the moment in China, another of the world's heavier polluters.

More on the Maltese Hunting Season

Posted on 15th May 2015

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After my previous blog about the vote in Malta on the spring hunting season (which passed) there have been some developments. Two incidents were recently in the news:

  • A 16-year-old Dutch boy, on vacation in Malta, was slapped, and then shot with a shotgun, by a Maltese hunter. The hunter was arrested and charged. According to this report, this was the third incident in which a hunter was charged in this year's spring hunting season.
  • A bird shot by a hunter fell into a school yard amongst a group of children, as described in this report. Apparently, the children (aged between 7 and 10) were "traumatised". This seems to have been the final straw, and the hunting season was then closed early.

One has to wonder whether this kind of incident forms part of the Maltese hunting tradition, which was used to attempt justify the environmentally unsupportable decision to allow the spring hunt.

Perhaps I should be a little clearer about where I stand on all this. I am not against hunting. What I am against is hunting involving undue cruelty, hunting of endangered species, hunting during breeding and migration seasons, and hunting by people who do not have the necessary skills to do it safely and within the legal constraints (i.e. people who cannot avoid shooting Dutch boys and species of wildlife that are not in season).

Dutch Citizens Sue Their Government

Posted on 15th April 2015

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This BBC story describes how almost 900 Dutch citizen have filed a class action suit against their own government for failing to protect them from climate change.

I think this is an excellent development, and the Dutch example should be followed around the world. Most governments will claim they they are acting to deal with climate change (both to limit the amount, and to deal with the effects), but are they doing enough? Scientific opinion is pretty consistent on this: they are not. Court orders may raise the priority of climate change (and other environmental issues) in the minds of our governments, and compensation payments will perhaps make the cost of doing more cheaper than not doing enough.

Maltese Bird Hunters

Posted on 15th April 2015

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Recently there was a referendum in Malta, as reported here by the BBC, about whether to outlaw spring bird hunting. Malta has an exemption from EU regulations, which allows them to hunt specified numbers of turtle dove and quail. In fact, many other species are shot "by accident" during this spring hunting season, which coincides with migration and breeding seasons for a number of protected and endangered species; impacting bird populations in other countries.

One of the main arguments for continuing to allow spring hunting was that it is a Maltese tradition (I am in Malta at the moment, and can assure you that the Maltese are very proud of their traditions), but the fall-out of this tradition is not only on Malta. Do the Maltese hunters have a right to drive bird species into extinction in other countries, or indeed any species? Is tradition a sound argument?

It was also a tradition of the K.K.K. to harass and murder black people, female genital mutilation is still a tradition in parts of Africa, and it was also a tradition that rich people from colonial nations would go to Africa to hunt big game, but I don't think most people would argue now that tradition justifies these acts.

It seems that whenever it comes to a choice about acting in an environmentally responsible manner, there are always excuses: tradition, cost, economic growth, or just downright inconvenience. It is time to stop accepting excuses, while there is still a natural world to protect.

China, the USA & Global Warming

Posted on 23rd March 2015

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I suppose I should be encouraged by the news that China is becoming more focused on reducing carbon emissions, as reported in this BBC report. So why am I not?

The reason is that it displays the usual self-centred human nature that continues to undermine attempts to save our planet. The only reason that the Chinese government is changing their attitude is that the problem is effecting China itself, and more than the global averages. Still, something is better than nothing, results are probably more important than motives, and China is not significantly worse than other nations in this respect.

Another thing that is shocking is the statistic in the story, that "China and the US together produce around 45% of global carbon emissions". These two nations comprise about 25% of the world's population, yet they account for nearly half of the world's man-made carbon emissions. I think it might be time for China to reduce its dependence on coal, and for the USA to discover energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and energy-efficient house design. My shower gets up to temperature in a few seconds, but a typical shower in the USA takes minutes, simply due to badly designed plumbing.

Apparently We Won't Learn

Posted on 12th December 2014

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I got depressed reading a recent report on the BBC (which has since been edited to completely change the focus, and no longer contains the depressing quotation). I was even more depressed reading this BBC report.

The first report contained a statement that Russia feels that European gas consumption is growing too slowly. I am depressed because the world is supposedly focusing its efforts on reducing the use of fossil fuels to limit the amount of global warming. The situation is depressing because it seems that Europe's gas consumption is still growing, because of the assumption by Russia that it will continue to do so, and the fact that Russia seems happy to continue to supply any growth in consumption, irrespective of any environmental imperatives to not do so.

The second story describes the efforts to find and exploit new oil reserves in Somalia.

As I discussed in this posting, we already have more fossil fuel reserves than we can afford to burn if we are to avoid catastrophic environmental consequences, yet we continue to explore and exploit more. A few generations from now, the survivors of our species will look back on this generation and ask "how could they be so stupid and selfish?". Do you have an answer for them?

Say Goodbye to the Northern White Rhino

Posted on 16th December 2014

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This story from the BBC is very sad. One of the Northern White Rhinos at the San Diego Zoo has died, leaving only five alive in the whole world (one more in the San Diego Zoo, one in a zoo in the Czech Republic and three in a Kenyan wildlife reserve). Attempts to breed them in captivity failed, although now it is reported that in vitro fertilisation will be tried to keep the species from extinction.

My attitude to species extinction may seem harsh to some readers. I consider it to be a crime, more serious than genocide against ethnic groups of humans. Who is responsible for this crime? We (the human race) are responsible, through over-hunting, habitat loss, pesticides and other pollution, and the introduction of alien species (species from other parts of the world). We have already been responsible for the extinction of thousands of species (see this page for lists of extinct species). The rate of species loss seems to be increasing, and we can expect that many of the species currently endangered (I counted 20118) will also become extinct over the next few decades.

Of course it is easy to state the obvious fact that humans are responsible for the vast majority of extinctions, but who will hold us accountable, and how? We can't even catch, try and convict war criminals, for which there are at least international treaties (what people call "international law") and international courts. In the environmental arena we have no legal or pseudo-legal framework, and thus no consequences. Also, the size of the groups of environmental criminals are huge (pretty much every one of us), and it is not practical to prosecute the whole human population of the planet.

I am not obsessed with blame and punishment, but I am interested in there being a process of answerability as an incentive for people to behave and live more environmentally responsibly, but what we actually are left with is that our ancestors will pay for our crimes, by being forced to live in an impoverished environment, with vastly reduced choices of diet and limited opportunity to enjoy the natural world. Soylent Green, here we come (maybe not a great movie, but looking like an accurate prediction of our future). Is that the life that you want for your grandchildren?

Paying It Forward

Posted on 23rd September 2014

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I see the news in this BBC article to be good news, but it raises some interesting points.

The article describes how the Rockefeller Brothers Fund plans to divest itself of its investments in fossil fuels and reinvest those funds in clean energy. It will do this along with other members of a consortium of about 650 individuals and 180 institutions. The total divestiture will be about $50bn. For some initiatives in clean energy, this will represent a significant amount of seed-money. For the fossil fuel industry, the loss of funds will be less drastic, as there will be plenty of other sources of investment to take up the slack. There will probably be a rise in the market value of clean energy stocks, and a slight and temporary fall in fossil fuel stocks.

The interesting thing is that this represents a decision to be ethical (in at least one important respect) in business. I made my position on this clear in my comments on Mark Carney's call for more ethics in business, here. My comments are supported by the fact that the membership of this consortium are pension funds, religious groups and big universities, so mostly not for-profit companies (the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is also not actually a classic for-profit company). Changing the rules (laws) for business to provide incentives for ethical behaviour (removing the penalties for it) is still a vital and urgent step, if we are going to save our planet and right some of the wrongs perpetrated by big business and non-transparent governments.

To highlight how important and how urgent the situation is, take a look at this BBC story. The main point in the report is, as stated in the headline, that per capita, China is now a bigger polluter than Europe. I wouldn't want those of you who live in Europe to get all cocky about that, because it is in part due to the "pollution elsewhere" impact of imports (from China, amongst other places). In the story is a quote from a scientist (Prof. Le Quere) with a nugget of information that everyone on the planet should be told: already the existing reserves of oil, gas and coal [if burnt, will produce emissions that cause us to] exceed the 2 degrees [global warming] target, and that this message has not been understood by politicians. "We have not accepted that we will not be able to burn all this fuel, the scale of action that is required has not sunk in."

If we are not going to be able to burn the fossil reserves that we already have, without destroying our planet, why are we spending so much money and effort exploring to find yet more reserves? Why is all that effort being put into developing fracking (a very polluting and energy inefficient source of oil) in North America and the UK? Why are people fighting over the ownership of oil-fields in Africa and the Middle-East, and not far off fighting over oil reserves in the South China Sea? Why are so many countries building new fossil fuelled power stations?

The answer to these questions is simple but depressing. We are going to burn those reserves, and much more, because we, the human race, are collectively too stupid to decide not to. Individual humans are clever; collections of humans are not: groups of humans do not pass most of the psychologists' tests of intelligence.

Environmentally Unfriendly Australia

Posted on 18th July 2014

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Australia is not looking very green, based on this story and this story from the BBC.

In the first, we read that the Australian government is in the process of repealing the carbon tax that was introduced by the previous government. As pointed out in the article, Australia is the world's biggest polluter, per capita, (due in part to lots of air-conditioning, the lack of an effective rail network and very big engines in their cars) and clearly needs to do something to reduce carbon emissions, but everyone is whining because it costs money. Well (Duh!), of course it is going to cost money, but you don't have the right to live cheaply by polluting my planet. Do I need to sue the Australian government for damage to my health, life-expectancy and life-style, to encourage them to get their priorities right?

The second story describes the death of a 4m-long (13ft) great white shark, which died off the west coast of Australia. It seems to have choked to death by swallowing a sea lion. Whilst the death of the shark was probably not preventable, and was a natural event, there is mention in the story that, although great white sharks are a protected species in Australia, there is a controversial cull under way aimed at reducing attacks on humans. How can you protect a species, and then cull it?

Both these stories highlight a basic problem with green policies (wildlife preservation, pollution reduction, preservation of natural resources, etc.): people and governments are happy to support green policies only as long as it is not inconvenient to do so; if it costs money, creates risk (to health or life) for people, or impacts life-style, then forget it! There are, however, almost no green policies that do not have such negative side-effects; renewable energy costs more, recycling costs time and money, and wildlife puts people at all kinds of risk.

It really is time to stop looking for easy options to save our planet, and "bite the bullet". Saving the environment will impact our lives (and finances), but failing to do so will impact them even more.

Dishonesty from the pesticide industry

Posted on 10th July 2014

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This BBC story is worrying enough anyway, but highlights some downright dishonesty by Bayer, the maker of Imidacloprid (a Neonicotinoid pesticide).

A Bayer spokesman said "Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment ...".

No, Mr. spokesman, that is not what science does; science cannot do that. Science can show that some things are not safe. In the absence of proof that things are not safe, it is assumed that they are safe, but being safe is not proven. Recent history is littered with examples of things that were assumed to be safe, but were later shown to be unsafe (DDT and Agent Orange are a couple of notorious examples). Many medicines that were tested (in extensive clinical trials) and used to treat patients, were later withdrawn because they were shown to be dangerous (due to side-effects) or simply ineffective.

The pharmaceutical and pesticide industries are science based, and I find it hard to believe that companies. like Bayer, in these industries do not understand what science can and cannot do: the difference between not proving something is unsafe, and proving that it is safe. So, how about a bit more honesty from such companies? Otherwise the public will start to think you are as bad as Big Tobacco.

Missing air quality targets by 20 years

Posted on 11th July 2014

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This BBC story really makes me despair.

EU states made a commitment to meet targets on pollutants from diesel cars and trucks (including, importantly, NO2) by the year 2010. Such pollution causes tens of thousands of deaths each year in Britain.

Client Earth, air quality activists, are taking the UK government to court over their failure to meet the committed targets.

Now, however, it looks like the UK will be lucky to meet these targets by 2030, and quite possibly not even by then. So, not much of a commitment, is it?

The bizarre thing is that, up to now, the UK government had been saying that all parts of the UK would be in compliance by 2025. That is already 15 years after the committed date, but they seem to think that is good enough. Well, I don't think that 2025 is good enough, and 2030 is even worse.

This kind of side-stepping of commitments seems to be a growing trend with governments around the world, and not just with promises about the environment (carbon emissions, energy efficiency, fishing quotas, wild-life reserves, etc.) but also on other topics (peace treaties, stamping out trade in conflict diamonds, spying, budget deficits, health care, infrastructure and returning antiquities to their country of origin).

I guess that none of us can claim to be surprised to discover that politicians cannot be trusted to keep their word, but at some point we need to push back against the lies and bullshit.

Caribbean coral reefs could vanish in 20 years

Posted on 3rd July 2014

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This report on the BBC reminds us all that our planet is not healthy.

The story describes the findings of a recent study, which concludes that many of the Caribbean's coral reefs could vanish in the next 20 years.

The cause seems to be overfishing and disease, leading to a reduction in the populations of sea urchins and parrot fish, both of which graze on algae. The result is that reefs are being swamped by green algae, killing off the coral and thus eliminating the other reef-dwelling species.

All this is just more of the same bad news. Another BBC report, here, presents an overview of the impact that the human race is having on planet earth, describing humans as a "super-organism" and likening us to slime-mould and ant colonies. One of the key problems with this super-organism is that, whilst individual humans are intelligent (self-aware and able to learn from experience - two of the key scientific tests for intelligence), the collective whole does not seem to be: the human super-organism does not seem to be self-aware, and it constantly demonstrates its inability to learn from experience.

If the human race does not solve this basic problem, in particular limiting the irresponsible exploitation of natural resources due to individual self-interest, there really is no hope for our world.

True Costs of Running an Electric Car

Posted on 30th June 2014

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This BBC story describes how the cost of running and electric car will rise, because the UK government is reducing subsidies. Free charging at at all public power points is to be withdrawn.

An odd decision, given that we have a growing environmental crisis, and the current official position (which does, admittedly, have some flaws) is that electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly than diesel or petrol driven ones.

The reason why bad policy decisions like this are made is two-fold: the UK government has an almost zealous commitment to free market economics, and the relative running costs of electric versus conventional vehicles do not represent true costs.

The true costs of conventional vehicles include the immediate and deferred damage to the environment, and thus to health, and the using up of dwindling supplies of fossil fuels. All the while that these costs are not passed on to the relevant consumers, any arguments based on economics are flawed, and in fact downright dishonest

.

So please, let's either level the playing field, or just forget the economic arguments.

Are our governments taking the environmental crisis seriously?

Posted on 11th June 2014

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A couple of recent stories really do make me wonder whether our elected representatives have "lost the plot":

In the first story, there is upset that many ministers failed to attend the recent conference in Bonn on Global Warming, despite having previously committed to attending, despite the agenda warranting their attendance, and despite the fact that we have an environmental crisis. One of the nations which did not send a ministerial delegate was Britain.

The second story describes how grants designed to protect the countryside by providing habitats on farmland to support wild plants and animals have been controversially switched to pay England's farmers to grow beans and peas. Stephen Trotter, of The Wildlife Trusts, condemned the decision to allow grants to peas and beans: "Nitrogen-fixing crops improve the soil but don't help wildlife at all."

These two stories really do not show the kinds of government commitment and priorities that are needed. Wake up, you people, and trying being "representatives" of your electorate, rather than dictators!

Global Warming News

Posted on 23rd May 2014

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Forest Carbon Loss Underestimated

This story just reminds us how little we know about our planet, and how inexact science can be.

It seems that previous estimates for loss of "locked-up carbon" in forests, due to deforestation, has been underestimated. It seems that, in addition to the direct loss due to the trees which are felled, the remaining forest is degraded, causing carbon loss in the unfelled trees.

Not only is this bad in itself, but it calls into question recent forestry practices which attempt to limit environmental damage and carbon release by various partial logging strategies.

In the immortal words of Arthur Dent: "So this is it. We're going to die."

Water goes 'missing' with snow loss

If, despite the story above, you still think that your understand how our planet works, check out this story.

It describes how recent research shows that, as more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow, due to global warming, less of the water makes it to the rivers. Yes, that is even if the same amount of water falls out of the sky.

The researchers are not completely sure where the missing water goes (maybe it evaporates before reaching the rivers, or maybe it soaks in to the ground to become ground-water), but the effect is real. Given that so many rivers have less water in nowadays anyway, due to too much being taken by humans (from the rivers and lakes directly, and from ground-water) for human and agricultural uses, this is likely to become a real problem.

Are you doing your bit for water conservation? Here are some (mostly very easy) tips to conserve water.

Heat from the sea to warm historic house

Posted on 23rd May 2014

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This story is a piece of good news for the environment. More of this, please.

The National Trust, which manages the UK's historical legacy (buildings, parks and forests) has installed a heat pump to heat Plas Newydd (in Wales) using heat from the nearby sea (you can see from one of the photos in the story how close the sea is to the house).

The heat pump can provide 300kW of heating, cost the National Trust £600,000 and is expected to save around £40,000 a year in operating costs. I consider this a step in the right direction, but I do hope no-one is fooling themselves that this is a completely carbon neutral solution.

The manufacture, transport, installation an commissioning of the heat pump uses energy and valuable materials. The energy to operate it, even though much less than the system it replaces (an oil-fired boiler) is only as green as the energy supply company provides (currently not so green, but improving slowly). So not only will it take some years to pay back the financial investment in the heat pump from reduced heating costs, but it will also take some time before the project pays back it's carbon-debt!

Nevertheless, well done The National Trust!

Global Warming News

Posted on 2nd May 2014

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Fossil Fuel Subsidies

This story is very worrying.

World governments are supposed to be trying to reduce the "carbon footprint" of energy production and other industrial activity, to combat global warming. We are awash with reports and recommendations from the UN and IPCC, telling us clearly and firmly that there is a global crisis, and that we need to change our ways and reduce our use of fossil fuels.

Now we have this data from the IEA (International Energy Agency) showing that (in 2012) the global subsidies for fossil fuel production and utilisation far exceeded those for renewable energy. The incentives to the energy industry seem to be pushing them in the wrong direction, so no wonder things are not changing much.

The article makes this telling point: "Fossil fuels may account for 80% of our total energy consumption, but they hardly represent a nascent industry in need of a helping hand."

Those subsidies are being paid from our taxes, and I, for one, would like to have a habitable planet on which to enjoy my retirement. How about you?

Global Warming News

Posted on 23rd April 2014

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Japan and China

Japan and China are slowly getting warmed up for a war (an increased chance of war is one of my predicted results of global warming).

This story describes how Japan has started building a military radar station near the disputed islands (the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands) in the South China Sea.

Last year China declared an "air defence zone" requiring foreign planes to notify Beijing of flights over a huge swath of the East China Sea near the disputed islands. This February China started enforcing new regulations requiring foreign vessels to ask China's permission to fish within much of the South China Sea, an area encompassing island groups also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and others.

This week China siezed a Japanese ship because of a pre-war debt, as described here.

The islands themselves are of almost no value, but their possession is the key to controlling vast swathes of oil, gas and fishing areas, and such resources are in short supply and becoming critical in our over-populated, over-exploited globally warming world. It doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong, nor who starts shooting first. War is never good, is a huge source of pollution, and the more crowded our world is, the more people will suffer. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Renewable Energy in Europe

This story describes recent reversals in the drive towards renewable energy in Spain and the rest of Europe.

Spain gets a very large proportion (49.1%) of its energy from wind and other renewable sources, due largely to easier planning permission, government grants and tax breaks.

Now, however, due to financial pressures, this favourable tax and regulatory climate has changed. Other European countries (apart from Germany and Britain) have similarly scaled back their subsidies and investment in renewables. All this in the news just 10 days since the UN called for "a trebling of the planet's use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power". Did these governments forget that our planet is in crisis?

Global Warming - What Causes It?

Posted on 1st April 2014

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With all the recent media attention on global warming, some of you may be wondering what causes it.

The Mechanisms

Energy reaches the surface of the earth from a number of sources: the sun, geothermal energy, and non-renewable energy generation by humans. The sun is by far the largest source of such energy, and the rate at which solar energy reaches the earth is amazingly constant.

The problem is the rate at which energy escapes from the earth. Greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide and methane – methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere slow down the rate at which energy can escape from the earth (the greenhouse effect), and cause warming. Some solar energy is also reflected by the oceans and most especially by snow and ice, which is one reason why scientists are so concerned about the loss of polar ice.

The increase in the levels of greenhouse gases is being caused by the human race burning fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal and wood), and by the release of methane (melting permafrost, caused by global warming, and leaks of gas from gas wells and pipes).

The Root Cause

Of course, humans have been burning fossil fuels since the discovery of fire, but it wasn't a problem until recently.

The thing that has changed, and made a tolerable pollution problem into a crisis, is that the population has increased so dramatically: world population is now around seven billion, and still growing. Global warming is caused by there being too many people. Even if the nations which contribute most to greenhouse gases (Australia, China, the USA and Western Europe) were to immediately reduce their pollution levels to amounts in line with the rest of the world, we would still have a global warming crisis.

What Can You Do?

There is a saying: if you are not part of the problem, then you are part of the problem. It is time for all of us to take action to deal with the problems that we have caused. Global warming is not someone else's problem; it is yours and mine.

The most important single thing that people can do is: have fewer children. People are the cause of pollution. Children born now will be 36 years old by 2050 (the latest date by which the predictions in the IPCC report are expected to come true), by which time they will be creating their full load of greenhouse gases and other pollution. What gives you the right to take away the right to life and to damage the quality of life of me and my children, by having a large family? What gives you the right to make other species extinct, by having a large family?

Some of you may argue that you have religious grounds for having large families. Do you really think that you will be rewarded in the afterlife for helping to destroy our planet?

There are other things that you can do, which will have faster effects, but will only buy us a little more time if the population of planet earth continues to grow. These include more recycling, and better energy use (less energy, and more of it from renewable sources). From a global warming perspective, energy from nuclear, wind, hydroelectric and bio-fuel sources are good; gas-guzzling cars, coal and oil, air-conditioning, inefficient household appliances and inefficient lighting are not good.

I already live a much lower impact life than most: I have high-efficiency lights throughout my home, I have modern high efficiency (energy and water efficient) kitchen appliances, I do not have a car (I use public transport and use my bike), and I recycle a lot (metal, plastic, glass, paper, electrical/electronic equipment, etc.). I know that I need to do more. What are you going to do?

Global Warming - What will our world be like?

Posted on 31st March 2014

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a report about global warming, identifying the scale of the global warming problem, and some of the impacts. I know that most ordinary people will not read the report (it is huge, and not written for laymen), and will instead get their information from the news and the Internet, so I thought I would put some of the data in perspective.

Most of the predictions are for changes by the year 2050. These are bad enough, but please remember that change will continue after 2050, and by the end of the century the impacts will be even more severe.

If you want to see some of these environmental impacts in more human terms, I recommend two movies: Soylent Green and Silent Running. Please don't dismiss them just because they are "science fiction". The role of serious science fiction is to explore the social, environmental, economic and political consequences of technology and other influences in our world, and in some cases these pieces of fiction do a pretty good job of predicting.

Changes in Crop Yields

Most parts of the world will get warmer, and some parts will get wetter. This will have dramatic impact on crop yields, which will vary from place to place.

The first graphic in this story shows the predicted change in gross crop yields around the world. There are are some places (Canada, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe New Zealand, and Russia) where yields are expected to increase, but these predictions do not take into account the changes in crop pests due to climate change. Most of the world will see reduced yields (including the USA, a major food exporter). Crop yields for maize, rice and wheat are all expected to be reduced in the period up to 2050, with some projections showing losses over 25%.

Some agricultural land will become non-arable or only marginally arable.

One thing that this picture doesn't make clear is that crop species will have to change is some countries to adapt to the changed climate. This will mean changes to the diets of billions of people.

Food will get more expensive, and there will be shortages. Also, expect that more of your food will come from intensive farming rather than wild or natural sources (less free-range eggs, more GM food, farmed fish and vegetables grown under glass).

Pests and Diseases

Already we are seeing changes to the distribution of crop pests and diseases. This will get worse. Expect to see tropical diseases like malaria, dengue fever and yellow fever spreading in Europe and North America. Expect to see more invasive diseases amongst wild species (e.g. lethal tree fungus) in places like Britain. Expect more invasions of scorpions, ants, termites, hornets, etc.

As a result, expect there to be more need to control such pests (with resulting increases in the use of pesticides), and inoculations for a wide range of diseases becoming standard in many countries.

Weather

There are already many parts of the world where outdoor temperatures reach hazardous levels: especially Africa and the Middle East. For those of us who don't tolerate high temperatures well, there will be increased risk of heat-stroke, and there will be an increase in the rate of temperature-related deaths of building workers in some countries.

All this will increase the costs, and decrease the productivity, of outdoor work (agriculture and building). Air-conditioning (itself a contributor to global warming) will become more necessary for office work around the world.

In some regions there will be major increases in rain (and snow), and increases in flooding. In others there will be less rain, with associated desertification. There will be more extreme weather: thunderstorms, tornadoes, typhoons/hurricanes, and high winds. There will be increases in the rate of erosion of coastlines in many regions.

The permafrost is already melting in parts of Russia and North America (making some land impassable, and releasing methane – a strong greenhouse gas).

The Oceans

Sea levels are already rising, and this will continue; how much is not yet clear. Low lying areas (like the Eastern seaboard of the USA) will see significant loss of land. Some nations may choose to introduce dykes and other expensive measures to protect coastlines, meaning the loss of natural coastlines.

Coral reefs are being killed by increased acidity (caused by dissolved CO2) and temperature. Coral reefs are key breeding grounds and food sources, and their loss will impact the whole oceanic ecosystem,.

As temperatures change, fish populations will need to adapt by changing their geographical ranges, moving nearer the poles. Such migrations are not without their risks, and some populations will not succeed; other fisheries will suffer significant loss of productivity as they migrate. Migratory species (eels – already in decline – salmon, sea trout and tuna) are likely to find it particularly hard to adapt their ranges in response to climate pressures. So, not only will seafood availability change to new locations, but there will be a (hopefully temporary) did in fishery productivity.

Changes in fishery locations and productivity will have huge impacts on dependent will species: whales, dolphins, seals, and seabirds.

Fresh Water

Fresh water supplies (for drinking and washing) are already in short supply in much of the world. As rainfall patterns change, and many parts of the world become more arid, this will get much worse. Water rationing (already common in some areas) will become more common for many people. Even in countries which have enough water, the lack of national water grids mean that water is often not available where it is needed, and this can be expected to get worse.

The increased costs of water will make crop irrigation prohibitively expensive for some (e.g. in California). This will impact food price and availability, and the economies of some areas.

Clean water is a key enabler for hygiene, and water shortages will have side-effects on the health of populations and the spread of diseases like cholera and typhoid.

Migration

The report predicts that there will be increased migrations of people due to climate change.

Migration brings with it all the usual associated political and social problems. Migrants are usually not welcome at their destination, and are often barred from entry into new countries. Across the world there are existing issues with migrations, whether actual or attempted: Mexicans and Filipinos entering the USA, refugees from the war in Syria and Africa trying to get into Europe, and migrants from Asia trying to enter Australia. The creation of new waves of economic migrants trying to enter richer countries will not be any better received, even if the root cause is pollution caused by those same richer nations.

Wildlife

Species loss will continue, and indeed accelerate; lost species can never be replaced, and extinction is the worst crime that the human race has perpetrated on the natural world.. This will mean loss of genetic diversity, and result in more risks to food security (wildlife is still a key source of genetic material to enhance crops with pest resistance and improved yields).

There will generally be less wildlife around us. Those of us who love walks in the woods, scuba diving, fishing, hunting and other activities that bring us close to nature are going to be disappointed.

Whilst many fish, birds and human beings can migrate to adapt to the changed world, land-based wildlife cannot migrate so easily anymore. There are many natural and man made barriers to wildlife migration. Large mammals will be especially hard hit, but extinctions will be very high amongst all land based wildlife.

Similarly, due to the lack of truly wild and unoccupied land, and their lack of mobility, plants will be largely unable to migrate, and many extinctions will occur.

War

The human race has well established techniques for dealing with lack of resources (water, food, energy resources and uneven wealth distribution): war. Just look at today's world, and at recent history: Israel/Palestine (about land and water), Iraq (invaded, many argue, because of oil), Sudan (originally perhaps an ethic issue, but now about oil), UK/Iceland (the cod wars), and China versus the rest of South-East Asia (the islands, through which control of oil and fisheries are decided).

I don't have high hopes that the human race is suddenly going to grow up in the next few years.

That means that we should expect that climate change caused by global warming will be the trigger for more war, and probably the root cause of much terrorism (as in Nigeria, where at least some of the terrorism is about oil revenues). From a distance, it is going to look really stupid, since war is horribly polluting and will only exacerbate the problem of global warming.

The prospect of us fighting over the last scraps of food and water, to the point where we, and 99% of the species with whom we share (not so graciously) the planet, become extinct, does not seem so implausible now. I do hope that at least this one prediction, made in so many science fiction movies and books, is wrong.

Global Warming - Do you finally believe?

Posted on 31st March 2014

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There has been lots of news coverage in the last week about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has been meeting in Yokohama.

A key conclusion is that changes in climate have already caused impacts on natural and human systems. This report includes some useful maps showing expected impacts on crop yields and climate.

Maybe now the deniers will shut up, and we can get more focus on actually dealing with the problems that will result from global warming.