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?

UPDATE

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
Movements.

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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“Fundamental Miscalculation”

The BBC’s Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin was talking on the radio last week about a report which the UK government has been strangely reluctant to give much publicity, the reason being that it admits energy generation from biomass could emit, under some circumstances, even more CO2 than coal-fired power stations. That, however, is not the only thing that is problematic about burning wood chips on an industrial scale to generate our electricity, as the RSPB’s Harry Huyton pointed out, in the same radio programme:

But there’s another thing, which is scale. So, at the moment, there’s a couple of million tonnes of wood being burned in power stations, here in the UK. But if Drax converted its boilers and if other power stations follow suit, the sheer scale of demand is going to be immense, so Drax alone, from your figures, Dorothy, it’s around seven million tonnes of wood would be needed – that’s more than the entire UK harvest

.

We get far less bang for our buck from renewables, in their current form, than we do from coal, natural gas and nuclear. Which is why – if government is bent on ensuring renewable generation provides much more of our energy than the low percentages that it does at present – that it must take place on a monstrous scale, with rank upon serried rank of wind turbines, hundreds of acres of arable land turned into solar farms and indeed whole forests chopped up and fed into the furnaces.

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“Our Only Hope”

“…it’s our only hope…” Not a line from Star Wars Episode IV, in fact, but part of an address by Prince Charles to the 2014 Earth System Governance Project conference at the beginning of this month, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Now, I share the aims of this conference, not least in addressing the important and neglected matter of how better to sustain the vital life-support systems that support our economy and welfare, but which we so arrogantly take for granted, and hence so dangerously undervalue. Unless people, alive today and still to be born, can find better ways to husband the shrinking living space left by us and our predecessors, surely we cannot pass on the wisdom of sustainability that is our only hope and our most profound legacy.

I wonder what Jacob Bronowski, author and presenter of The Ascent of Man, would have made of that last sentence. Our “most profound legacy” – not mathematics or literature or science or art or language, but a philosophy that could be described as “scraping by, indefinitely”.

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