Thursday, June 19, 2008
Monday, February 20, 2006
Top NASA Scientist speaks out on Climate Change
James Hansen, top NASA scientist has grown fed up of being gagged by Bush's political appointees and has broken ranks to speak out on Climate Change and the need to cut emissions now. He also thinks that the limits to a 'safe' (there is no safe) rise in temperatures is much lower: 1 degree C, rather than 2.
Campaign against Climate Change: National planning meeting
Tut, nearly five weeks and no post. Well, things have been happening at work and elsewhere which have taken my time. I've already posted this on my mailing list, but this is a slightly amended version.
Report Back from National Planning Meeting at Canterbury Hall, Cartwright Gardens, 11 February 2006, 12 noon to 5pm.
Present: about 40 activists, including Phil Thornhill, Jonathan Neale, Nick and Rosie on the platform.
First to speak was Phil Thornhill, the National Co-ordinator, who pointed out that this Thursday (16 February) was the anniversary of the Kyoto Treaty coming into force. He also pointed out that the main problem with Kyoto lay with the fact that the largest polluter, the United States, remained outside it. We all know that the Kyoto accord is inadequate etc., but it is the only game in town at the moment, and must be used as the basis for a widening and deepening agreement to cut emissions (I’m paraphrasing and writing partly from memory here, incidentally). The world’s most important obstacle to making progress on mitigating climate change is the American President, George W. Bush, who is backed by Exxon Mobil (Esso), who are the most aggressive corporate opponent of Kyoto.
Phil also pointed out that we made an impact on December 3rd with the Climate March, which was the largest environmental protest ever seen in this country. It was widely reported on television and in sections of the media, particularly the Independent newspaper, whether or not the climate has reached a ‘tipping point’, media and public opinion has. Since December the floodgates have opened for coverage of climate change. We have to build on that, and have a much bigger march next time, and there are indications we could have one an order of magnitude bigger, which will be explained better when I report what Jonathan said about his attendance at a Stop Climate Chaos meeting. The next Climate Summit is in Nairobi (we think) and will span Saturday 4 November, when we will have our demonstration.
This time CCC will be working alongside the umbrella group of NGOs Stop Climate Chaos, which includes many different organisations: FOE, Greenpeace, CAFOD, the RSPB and the WI among others (we’re part of it, too). Phil pointed out that there are two elements of complementarity between SCC as a whole, and the CCC separately. Firstly, SCC is more ‘conservative’ and ‘respectable’, while the CCC can be more ‘radical’ or ‘sharply critical’ of governments and individuals. We can say and do things that would risk alienating the more conservative supporters of the component organisation. Secondly, SCC is more ‘domestic’ in focus, concentrating on changing this government’s policy and behaviour, while CCC is capable, as we have demonstrated, of co-ordinating international protest.
The weakness of December was the lack of demonstrations in European capital cities. This can be addressed by making linkages at upcoming ESFs and we have laready made connections at WSFs at Caracas and in Africa.
Jonathan Neale spoke about his attendance at a SCC meeting, and of what the intentions of the umbrella organisation were. They are going to be mobilising in a big way for the November demo, and thus we have all their campaigning muscle and publicity machines behind it. They were exceedingly impressed with our ability to get 10,000 together on a shoestring budget, and they want us to do even better. Their vision of the campaign against climate change (small letters, not the organisation) is for it to become something like Make Poverty History, and intend the November march to be something like the Edinburgh demo in July, but not (as yet) quite so big. They envisage a 5-7 year battle, which will end in victory, which would comprise the writing into law of a 3% annual cut in emissions, which will result in a cut in emissions of 70% by 2050. This is like FOE’s Big Ask, which calls for such a law. The SCC have regular talks to Blair and Brown, and I suspect the other party leaders, although Jonathan didn’t actually say the latter.
The problem that Jonathan (and others) saw was this: Make Poverty History was successful in raising consciousness, less so in making a concrete difference on the ground (whatever narcissistic celebs may say). SCC mustn't be allowed to go the same way. If we're there in and among it to give it a more radical, or 'sharply critical', cutting edge then we may have a better chance.
There are strategic issues about the links between SCC and the CCC. They are concentrating on domestic law, while we focus on international agreements, but they bring a vast array of activists into our movement, and we should make sure they are mobilised. As we see Bush as the main villain (while keeping our eyes on Blair), we can make linkages with other movements. Two things wound Bush most: Iraq and Katrina.
In the discussion that followed many good points were made, and some suggestions put forward, only two or three I’ll mention. Firstly, that even 70 % cuts by 2050 weren’t good enough, George Monbiot had calculated that we needed 90% by 2030 to prevent the worst damage, so that SCC was being too conservative. Jonathan responded by saying that no other country had passed such a law, and if we got Britain to do it that would be a major breakthrough, even though we knew we had to go further later. There was a discussion about not just being against something, perhaps we should present a policy that was positive and Contraction and Convergence came up. It was pointed out that the CCC was comprised of people of many organisations and none, and that not all of them supported contraction and convergence, given some of its implications for standards of living, while recognising that global equity of emissions had to come about. Jonathan said he was against Contraction and Convergence, but for the contraction of emissions and global equity. Someone else, Suzanne Jeffreys, I think, said that if we nailed ourselves down to one policy we risked losing the support of some activists. We pretty much decided needed to concentrate on what we agreed on: binding international agreements, rather than argue in public about what divides us. Guy from Globalise Resistance agreed with that. He argued that we shouldn’t have a CCC position on nuclear power, for instance, even though most of us were against it. It would be good to campaign alongside people who thought it was the solution so we could argue with them about it. We can debate such matters in such meetings as this, however. Someone else pointed out that emissions aren’t the only issue, changes in land use can also upset the carbon cycle. If we cut down rainforest to grow biofuel, we destroy a major carbon sink and make global warming worse.
We had lunch and then split into groups based on birthday months (! to ensure randomness) and discussed how we build build for a National Day of Action later in the year. We decided we needed to get speakers to such as the WI, Churches, Mosques etc, in fact anyone who would have us. This can build for the Day of Action and raise consciousness for the Climate March on 4 November. We then discussed what we could do on this day. Should it be a co-ordinated national activity, or should local groups do their own thing. I suggested that one activity done in every location would probably have the most media impact. This seemed to have general agreement in the group, with the caveat that if there was a strong local issue already the focus of activity, then that could carry on. This was the general consensus at the plenary report back, later. As to what we should do, the meeting had a range of options: climate fairs, with organisations having stalls showing how they were campaigning against climate change. Lobbying of MPs. Some have signed the EDMs, let’s ask them for photocalls or joint press statements. Those that haven’t, let’s put pressure on them to do so. Phil, who was in our group despite not having a birthday in November or December (the group he was in decided they didn’t want both Phil and Jonathan in the same group!), suggested that on the model of the Stop the War Coalition we should have local marches in the build up to the national one, I liked that idea on the grounds that we had mobilised mainly young people in Bradford and they liked things that were exciting and noisy. But the problem was the focus. STWC is easy: bring the troops home. A bit harder for us. Should we march to an Esso station and have a meeting there, or to the town hall to ask them what they are doing about emissions? Perhaps we could do the latter, taking in Esso stations on the way! Perhaps we could finish with a meeting or a fair. This will be discussed further on the forums of the CCC, which I urge everyone to join in to.
We then broke up into interest groups, and I was in the political/trade union outreach group and we discussed the single most important thing that we did to build the demo last year. Actually, I now think it was the Climb against Climate Change, but I said my passing the motion at our NATFHE branch. This was important, but its effects on our coffers were retrospective, so to speak, while the Climb raised over £400, half of our eventual total. The most effective city in our area was Sheffield, which sent three coaches, with a reporter from the local press on one of them! They said personal contact was the most important thing. Go and talk to people. Local libraries have lists of organisations that need speakers. Go through it and offer ourselves is the only way. You can then leaflet in the street, and put the message through people’s doors. The people from Sheffield were great, and I gave them my email address before I went.
We didn’t start early enough last year, and that was mainly my fault, so we’re going to start very early this year. Bradford CCC is already about £60 in credit, thanks to some late donations, and my bucket collection at a (pitifully small and inquorate) union meeting of around 40 people. Steve Wilkinson (the Chair) said we could collect again at a bigger one. I aim to at least match Sheffield, if not do better (we probably won’t catch up, it’s a bigger city than ours, anyway, but we can try).
The CCC produced a draft mission statement and proposed new national structure, which will undoubtedly be amended, although were passed provisionally with some debate. These are the other attachments.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Lovelock and Nuclear Power
James Lovelock, in his new book that will be out later in the year, The Revenge of Gaia, has suggested that it is probably already too late to stop climate change, that by the end of the century we are probably going to exceed the Palaeocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum that led to the extinction of 95% of the world's species 54 million years ago. This event was an 8 degrees Celsius rise in temperature that occurred in just a few years, probably triggered by the melting of methane hydrates beneath the sea bed releasing billions of tons of methane into the atmosphere all at once (methane being many times as powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2).
Lovelock is best known for his Gaia hypothesis, which states that the planet is a self regulating system, that planet and biota (the sum of all the lifeforms on the earth) interact in a way that keeps the earth fit for life, of which process the carbon cycle is a major component. The extra dimension that the human emissions have given to this cycle since industrialisation (the burning of first coal then oil, thus releasing billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere that was previously underground) means that the feedback mechanisms that keep the earth's climate fit for life, now work against us. Positive feedback mechanisms ensue. Melting sea ice due to global warming in the arctic means that white reflective ice is replacing by dark absorbing ocean, thus heating up the planet more and melting more ice. Melting peat bogs in Siberia release more methane into the atmosphere, which heats the planet up more and melts more peat bogs. As the planet heats up, plants themselves (our major carbon 'sink') give out more CO2 and CH4 (methane), which heats the planet up more. Read the full story in the excellent Scotsman.
Lovelock is a well-known advocate of nuclear power for mitigating, if not solving, the problem of climate change, and is a Conservative. However, Zac Goldsmith who is part of the Conservative's Quality of Life Policy Review, has gone against majority party opinion by referring to nuclear power as an 'option of last resort'. I spoke to my MP, Philip Davies (Con., Shipley) last week and he was very concerned about climate change, but was keeping an open mind about nuclear power, like David Cameron himself.
Kevin Anderson, a researcher in the Hadley Centre for the Study of Climate Change, is dismissive of the nuclear option, which could only ever be a minor contributor to emissions cuts. He wants to see far more investment in renewables and in minimising energy waste by better insulation of houses, etc. Read the full story here.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
Sharp increase in carbon levels in atmosphere means global warming will speed up
An article by the Independent on Sunday's Environmental Editor, Geoffrey Lean, in today's Indie tells us that measurements of the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is done by the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration every year on Mauna Loa, have shown a sharp rise in the past year. In January 2005 they were about 376 parts per million(ppm), on Friday they hovered around 379. That's an increase of 3 ppm in a year. In the 1950s, when the measures were first taken, the average annual increase was about 1ppm, in the 1990s it was 1.6 ppm. Last year the increase had been about 1.8 ppm over the previous year, so this is a whopping increase. The Indie doesn't have a free archive, so check the story at USA Today.
From 1900-2000, the Earth heated up, on average, by 1 degree Centigrade, most of which was due to human carbon emissions. Now the rate of growth of emissions is speeding up, so will climate change, and its catastrophic effects, which have in the last year included the record-breaking (in number and intensity) hurricane season (Tropical Storm Zeta lasted into January, a full five weeks after the official end of the season), the first Atlantic cyclone to make landfall in Europe in recorded history (Tropical Storm Vince), and the accelerated melting of Arctic Sea Ice, permafrost in North America and Siberia (threatening a giant methane burp from a previously frozen peat bog), and the Greenland ice cap. There has also been drought in Southern and Eastern Africa, and unseasonable cold weather on the Indian subcontinent. Extinctions are progressing at a rate unseen for millions of years, a third of amphibian species are imminently under threat.
Why this sudden increase? Two words maybe: China and India? The fact that these two countries are developing rapidly, and in the same dirty way that we did, using their vast reserves of cheap coal, means that we in the developed North have got to get our act together, and first cut our emissions, then help them to switch to cleaner technologies. But what does the world's biggest (per capita) polluter do? Why, they join with the world's second biggest per capita polluter and host the 'Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate' in the latter's back yard. This includes China and India as well as the US and Australia (for 'twas they), which sounds like a good thing, but this 'alternative to Kyoto' sets only voluntary targets and says that the use of fossil fuels is a reality for this century. This is denial on a grand scale!
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Climate Change Sceptic Converted
Kerry Emmanuel, who is a hurricane specialist, and has been to say the least cautious on anthropogenic global warming is now saying that he has changed his mind after the disastrous and unprecedented hurricane season (we have got up to Tropical Storm Zeta recently, weeks after the season 'officially' ended). He says that New Orleans was relatively lucky, and he definitely would not live anywhere near the coast! Read the full interview in today's New York Times here.
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Effects of climate change on wildlife
Two stories from the Scotsman this week. On Tuesday it reported that global warming was threatening whales and dolphins, by disrupting food supplies. The North Atlantic Right Whale has disappeared from Scotland's West Coast this summer. Read the full story here. Meanwhile today it reports that the Nuthatch, a bird previously restricted to England and Wales, has started to breed in southern Scotland for the first time, as the temperature rises. Read about that here.
There's also a very good review article in the New York Review of Books by radical environmentalist Bill McKibben, concerned with the impacts of climate change. It's entitled The Coming Meltdown. Read it here.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Bad news: carbon offsets and global dimming
If, like me, you want to be able to fly and still feel like you're saving the world, then you might be tempted to purchase "carbon offsets" (paying to reduce carbon emissions in other parts of the world to match those you're making in your hedonistic activity). But these might have environmental impacts of their own. See Guardian article here. Meanwhile the Chelsea of the carbon emissions premier league just keeps zooming away with the title. The US of A keeps telling us that, despite not signing up to Kyoto, it's reducing emissions faster than those hypocritical, po-faced losers who did. Turns out that's a lie.
The worst news of the day turns out to be that one of our environmental success stories is still bad news. Visible pollutants have both caused respiratory diseases and blocked off radiation from the sun (global dimming). Our success in tackling these (partly regulation, partly changes in productive techniques) results in us letting in more solar radiation, which is being trapped by the greenhouse effect. Global warming might be happening faster than we thought! Read it here.