You are not Malala

In the run-up to next month’s summit in New York, the UN are deciding on a symbolic someone they can wheel in to harangue world leaders about climate change policy. Rather unsubtly, some inner-circle operators in the Secretary-General’s office are looking for a female person under 30, in the hope that this chosen one will be a sort of inspirational climate-change version of Malala Yousafzai. However, as the BBC’s Roger Harrabin puts it: “Listening to impassioned youth is one thing: changing current economic policies to combat a risk of uncertain magnitude is another.” And I think there’s another problem, as these quotes demonstrate:

Severn Cullis-Suzuki (1992): “We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways”.

Christina Ora (2009): “Stop negotiating away our future.”

Anjali Appadurai (2011): “You’ve been negotiating all my life. In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises, but you’ve heard this all before.”

Abigail Borah (2011): “You must pledge ambitious targets to lower emissions not expectations. Citizens across the world are being held hostage by stillborn negotiations.”

Genesis Carmona (2014): “Men and women have become consumerist monsters that consume all the resources given by the Earth”.

Malala Yousafzai (2013): “Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed.”

See the difference? Young, female climate activists, if you had wanted to persuade people, over the years, to sacrifice their economies to combat some nebulous “risk of uncertain magnitude”, it would have helped if you’d come across as inspirational heroines and not so much as demanding brats. Of course, need it be said, it would also help if your adversary was a real and present danger, like the Taliban, and not an entity that has declared a unilateral ceasefire and gone into hiding for over a decade.

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“Bring back the broom”

Fellow citizens of the EU Super-State, welcome to our future – over-regulated, micro-managed and (if a certain trend continues) chronically under-powered, as well. The following brief exchange was overheard yesterday morning on BBC Radio 4:

John Humphrys: And finally, some popular makes of hair dryer may be next to face a European Union ban, to try to slow down climate change. Popular vacuum cleaners are already being removed from sale – the more powerful ones, that is – and the Times and the Telegraph report that high-wattage hair dryers, kettles and lawnmowers could also be targetted. According to the Telegraph, the power of hair dryers could be cut by as much as 30%, threatening many models favoured by hairdressers and householders. The former president of the National Hairdressers Federation warns that drying customers’ hair will take longer. What about leaf blowers… why don’t they ban leaf blowers? That’d launch something, wouldn’t it… Bring back the broom.

James Naughtie: Longer time to gossip in the hairdressers…

It can all seem rather comical, until you start to fully appreciate the implications. Putin’s tanks and missiles notwithstanding, or jihadis with their knives and bombs, the real threat to our way of life is insidious and undramatic – it’s the gradual reversal of our freedoms and the progressive lowering of our horizons. Today the news is about vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, but the day after tomorrow they could be announcing travel restrictions and carbon rationing, in the name of saving the planet. We in the West survived the 20th century and came through the Cold War – for this?

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The Kraken Wakes

One of the more interesting items of news this week was the reported sighting, by Dutch pilots over the Pacific Ocean at night, of some very weird and remarkable phenomena. The show started with an intense flash of light resembling a lightning bolt, which which shot upwards from a point just over the horizon, followed by a strange greenish aurora illuminating the northern sky. And then:

About 20 minutes later in flight I noticed a deep red/orange glow appearing ahead of us, and this was a bit strange since there was supposed to be nothing but endless ocean below us for hundreds of miles around us. A distant city or group of typical Asian squid-fishing-boats would not make sense in this area, apart from the fact that the lights we saw were much larger in size and glowed red/orange, instead of the normal yellow and white that cities or ships would produce. The closer we got, the more intense the glow became, illuminating the clouds and sky below us in a scary orange glow. In a part of the world where there was supposed to be nothing but water.

The episode reminds me rather of John Wyndham’s enjoyably apocalyptic 1953 SF novel The Kraken Wakes, with its alien invaders, but I suppose the most likely explanation is that a previously unnoticed undersea volcano had chosen that moment to erupt, although you will find more exotic theories circulating, which feature UFOs or underwater nuclear tests/mishaps (my own not-very-serious theory is that it is global warming’s “missing heat” making a comeback.) Whatever this turns out to be, it is yet another reminder that the oceans of Earth are vast and hold many secrets…

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“Carbon dioxide belches”

They’re such an obvious target but it’s still important, I think, to give the green celebs and planet-saving A-listers help with a little extra publicity when they persist in telling the rest of us that it is better never to do all the extravagant things that they themselves keep on doing. Climate Depot editor Marc Morano takes the opportunity to draw attention, for instance, to the carbon-dioxide belching ways of Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio, on the release of DiCaprio’s latest opus, a short film called Carbon.

And the most outrageous thing he’s been involved with was with Al Gore at the Oscar Ceremony. They walked out on stage – right before they did, it flashed on the screen: “Use public transit”, and all these other little green tips. When was the last time Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio took a city bus?

The celebs would be a lot more dangerous to climate scepticism if they actually practised what they preached, I’m sure. If Al Gore took the city bus, if James Cameron moved into a bungalow, if Sheryl Crow used one square of toilet paper per restroom visit, if Leonardo DiCaprio and a host of similar bubble-dwellers insisted on flying economy or abjured air travel altogether, things would be very different. But they don’t! Shining object lessons they remain, the lesson being of course to look carefully at what these people are actually doing, not just at what they say they are doing or what they say all of us should be doing.

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“The Science is Definitive…”

… and the “facts are in”, or so says the gung-ho person in charge of the White House YouTube account, after posting a video of Obama science czar John Holdren explaining “in less than three minutes” the link between climate change and wildfires in the US, earlier this month. Holdren himself is a little more circumspect, issuing the standard warning that while “no single wildfire can be said to have been caused by climate change …” nevertheless… etc., etc.

Climate change is also bringing us more dead trees – kindling, in effect, killed by a combination of heat stress, water stress, and attacks by pests and pathogens that multiply faster in a warmer world.

The National Climate Assessment, released in May, tells us – consistent with earlier studies – that longer, hotter, drier summers are projected to continue to increase the frequency and the intensity of large wildfires in the United States.

Given the proliferation of minimum temperature records in the US this summer, and given that global warming has stopped in its tracks over the last decade, could it be that some of the smoke blowing across the land is actually coming from the White House itself, figuratively speaking? Anyway, for fellow aficionados of such things, the video also has some very beautiful panoramic photography, and the first half has a just-about perfect example of the “tick-tick, boom-boom, doom-doom” style of music described so well by Hilary Ostrov in connection with the IPCC’s AR5 movie. Listen and enjoy!

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“Nobody is Safe”

This is one thing I love about the world of climate change – just when you think you’ve seen it all, something new comes along to amaze and entertain. The latest twist of the non-stop struggle to get us all enlisted to fight the phantom menace is that a group of Australian scientists have posed for photographs with sad, desolate facial expressions, in order to get all the rest of us scared (or maybe just saddened) as well – to enter the Scared Scientists website, you’ll need to click on the ominous words “Nobody is Safe”. I’m still not entirely sure it’s not a spoof.

This decade is critical, it is our last chance to prevent our children from that type of world. We have to make significant progress and get the global emissions trajectory turning downwards. That is the urgent task at hand.

The words of mammalogist Tim Flannery, accompanying a bleak monochrome photo of the man himself, gazing sombrely off-camera at a future world torn by Mad Max-style resource wars, in a dimension where the current decade-long hiatus in global warming never happened. There are eight scientists in total, peering out of the page like forlorn puppies in an animal charity appeal – it’s quite mesmerising, in a weirdly manipulative sort of way. Decades of lurid headlines about glaciers and hurricanes and polar bears obviously haven’t done the trick. Forget the arguments, forget the headlines, just look at our solemn expressions, they seem to be saying. Now are you convinced, all you stubborn, sceptical people?


William Briggs is also blogging about this: Scared Scientists! Climate Terror!

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“Mankind is a curious individual…”

In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells writes that “as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”. I was reminded of this when watching and transcribing a brief video with Thomas Stocker, the IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair:

Thomas Stocker: Mankind is a curious individual, if it comes to comprehending scientific units and measurements. I’ve observed that we have two completely different understandings for the same physical quantity, and that is temperature.

He goes on to explain that there are two ways of perceiving temperature change, in the context of global warming. One is that the temperature around us can vary greatly each day – this, he says, is the wrong way to think about it. The other is to imagine that your child is not feeling well – this, he says, is the right way to think about it, because a small rise in your baby’s temperature can be (as Al Gore once put it) “a warning of something seriously wrong”. Foolish, stubborn little humans with their incorrect thoughts, Stocker seems to be musing – how to get them into a properly receptive frame of mind for climate change doom? Get them to fret about their children, that’s how…

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“We’ve had agenda-driven science”

I’ve just finished transcribing an interview with Rupert Darwall that was recorded back in September 2013; he’s the author of The Age of Global Warming: A History, a book I hope to read very shortly. The interview touches briefly on the long-ago beginnings of the climate scare, the stance of the developing nations towards capping CO2, the weakness of the science and also Climategate:

David Nelson: Well, let’s talk about that, because there’s an astonishing part of your book where you talk about the falsification, possibly, of scientific data – you call it “Climategate”, and you say that there’s even a smoking gun, in the form of emails. Please talk about that.

Rupert Darwall: Yeah, Climategate was a batch of emails that were found in a British university, which is one of the bastions – the Climatic Research Unit, which is one of the bastions of the orthodoxy. And what I found most striking about those emails was not so much any individual email that says, you know: here is – you know, here it shows there’s a great conspiracy. It was more that the scientists in private were far less certain about the science that they were maintaining publicly.

This matches my own impression from reading the Climategate emails, over that eventful winter of 2009/2010 – the pervasive sense that the correspondents were well aware of the shortcomings of their scientific argument, but at the same time were doing their damnedest to ensure that their cause succeeded, by fair means or foul.

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Mary, Quite Contrary

Earlier this month, I learned (from Hilary Ostrov’s excellent blog) that Mary Robinson has been appointed Special Envoy on Climate Change by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; she used to be President of Ireland and is also now one of the Elders (not to be confused with David Suzuki’s Elders, who are presumably a rival outfit.) Looking around for relevant material I found an item on Democracy Now, which has an interview with Mary at the Doha Climate Conference in 2012 (as always, the Democracy Now people very thoughtfully provide a transcript.)

And equity means fairness, basically. It means that we have to take into account the injustice of the fact that it’s the fossil fuel growth in the United States, Europe and other developed parts of the world, which has contributed to undermining development of very poor people, undermining their livelihoods. I’ve seen it all over Africa and South Asia.

There are some other baffling things she says (“the good thing about women is, we are very intergenerational” is one of them – what does that mean?) but declaring that the use of fossil fuels in the wealthier countries is helping to stifle the development of poorer countries is downright perverse, it seems to me. In the absence of energy-dense coal and oil in both rich and poor countries, there would have been no development, and we’d be enjoying – if that is the word – living standards little changed from those of the 17th century, when life was a lot less kind for most people than it is now. Talking of perplexities, finally, in the background of the video you can occasionally glimpse an unfeasibly large spider – to me, this was an obvious depiction of the UNFCCC poised to suck the life out of our economies, but apparently it’s a symbol of motherhood. Strange world!

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“Consumerist Monsters”

Or maybe “cookie monsters” was what the writer actually meant – she’s only eleven years old, after all, and there aren’t many seasoned commentators on economics or world politics at that age. Nevertheless, her words form part of Article 1 of something called the Margarita Declaration, a UN-sanctioned document drawn up at the end of the curiously named Social PreCOP event, which took place in Venezuela earlier this month. This document will be presented to the negotiators at the next big climate conference, which is scheduled to be in Peru this December, so it’s – kind of – an official-ish piece of paper. Here’s the rest of Article 1:

1. “Men and women have become consumerist monsters that consume all the resources given by the Earth”. Génesis Carmona, aged 11, elected representative of the Venezuelan Children Environment

Unfortunately it seems she hasn’t drawn any pictures of these monsters, which is rather remiss. Articles 2 – 62 are equally entertaining, though, in a somewhat surreal way, consisting in the main of decrees that the “Global North” (which is where we consumerist people live, mostly) do this or do that – stop using fossil fuels, abolish intellectual property rights, give the Global South lots of technology, give the Global South lots of money, respect the Earth Mother. All in all, a perfectly reasonable list of demands – if you happen to be a youthful Civil Society activist at a Social preCOP, that is.

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