26 Nov 2006

A Damning Indictment - book review

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Crimes Against Nature

by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

I bought this book on a whim to accompany Heat by George Monbiot. It has the tag line 'Standing up to Bush and the Kyoto Killers who are cashing in on our world.' so I knew it would be covering an area I am passionately concerned about. I read it in 4 days, in the evenings and at rest breaks at work. The writing is clear although the plots that it uncovers are convoluted and nightmarishly labyrinthine. The paperback edition has an added chapter that dissects the 2004 election result.

The author is an environmental lawyer and Washington political insider, able to use his famous name to speak to almost anyone in the heirarchy and obtain frank opinions and information. He is also intensely aware of the changes that have devastated the US environment and environmental movement over the past 6 years (and more). Until Dick Cheney or George W Bush has a road to damascus revelation and confesses all, I can think of few people better qualified to reveal the evil that he and his cronies have done. Moreover, as a lawyer, he knows exactly how to marshall facts and arguments to back up his claims. And many of them need to be backed up, because they are, in effect, an accusation of conspiracy to commit genocide and treason.

The introduction details how the author is busy on a lecture circuit, telling staunch Republicans how their party and country has been usurped by anti-environmentalists bent on exploiting the common resources of all Americans (the book is heavily ameri-centric, which might be a fault, but for the subject matter) for their own enrichment at enormous cost. At every lecture he gives, he claims, an initially deeply sceptical audience becomes by turns amazed, horrified, and enraged by what has been done under their very noses. And each and every one applauds the messenger, determined to put things right. This, in its way, is the message of hope that runs through the book.

The book starts with GWB's environmental record in Texas (appaling) and his tendency to pander to corporate interests (uninterrupted). It covers the history of environmental legislation - how the clean air and clean water acts restored the commons to the people and how governments have always, back to Roman times, been responsible for ensuring that individual property rights are not honoured ahead of the right of neighbouring property to be unaffected. This is the core principle of sustainable development - do what you like with your own property, but if it has any adverse impact at all on your neighbours, expect to be stopped.

The formation of the Wise Use coalition - a corporate axis designed to oppose and destroy environmentalism - in the 70's is covered, and how it developed into a deep rooted and widespread conspiracy to buy up the federal government with the object of hobbling its 'interference' in business. The movement evolved into a variety of right-wing think tanks, and the harnessing of a (rather gullible) Christian evangelical movement to give the corporate rape of the land, sea and air moral respectability. Their final victory was in 2004, when Clinton was paralysed and embarrassed by trivial transgressions and Kerry's campaign undermined by unchallenged lies in the largely right-wing media.

Then the fun really begins. With no regard for his mandate, democratic accountability, or reason, Bush proceeded to appoint an endless line of corporate shills to key positions in the administration and, orchestrated by Dick Cheney as Bush has never been much more than a puppet, every environmental protection, law rule and regulation was subverted, undermined and destroyed. The catalogue of blatant or covert corruption just seems to go on and on - and the reader's mood swings from amazement at their audacity and stupidity (which regularly made me laught out loud) and horror at the consequences for all of us.

How was all this possible? Kennedy gets to the root of the matter near the end of the book. The media in America used to be operated under FCC rules to preserve balance in the news and diversity of ownership. Both of these principles have been eroded and abandoned, with the vast majority of radio, tv and newspaper outlets in the hands of just 5 immense corporations. These corporations kill stories that might harm their advertisers, promulgate the 'official' stories of the right-wing think tanks without any kind of critical analysis, and select news stories for their entertainment value rather than their inherent importance.

During the 2004 election a poll was taken asking what the voters believed to be the case about a variety of issues, from the Iraq war to the environment. In every case those who got their information from the right wing media (rather than the few remaining liberal or independant sources) believed the official stories and lies. For example, 75% of Bush supporters believed that there was evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 and supporting Al Qaeda. This was a lie supported by the media and never denied or corrected by the government. Anyone attempting to repudiate the lies simply did not get a platform to speak. The poll went further. They asked these Bush supporters if, on the assumption that Iraq did not have WMDs and was not supporting Al Qaeda, the war was acceptable. A majority said that it was not. The conclusion - Bush won in 2004 simply because his voters had been told a pack of lies and never had the chance to hear opposing facts.

The phrase 'damning indictment' is often over-used. But I believe this book should be read by every politician, journalist, pundit and activist in the world. We have seen, in 2006, the start of the backlash against Bush. We must hope that, in 2008, the US will reform itself and become once more, a democracy. As Kennedy points out, it currently resembles most closely the fascist regimes of 30's Europe.

14 Nov 2006

Poetry in a comment

1 comments

Comment by Rashers101 on a Monbiot article, November 14, 2006 01:20 AM

I evade my personal responsibility for the things I choose to do. I blame the government, the oil companies, George Bush, the economy, the wealthy and anybody else I can think of for the destruction that my lifestyle causes.

I put my comfort, my convienence and my conformity ahead of the lives and livlihoods of thousands of future generations, and I try not to think too much about my daily contribution to the destruction of the world that was left to me by thousands of past generations. I put myself far, far ahead of my ancestors and decendents and take from them for the most trivial of reasons.

I ignore the real human pain, suffering and death that my behaviour causes. I turn the page, switch the channel, and change the topic of conversation. I pretend that the science isn't definitive yet, or that there's no point in changing before others do, and I convince myself that 'scientists' will come up with a technological solution that will make my lifestyle and me OK.

I avoid, I deny, I justify and rationalise, I pretend, I project, I squirm and sqeeze and do whatever I can to maintain my concept of myself as a good person while still doing what I do. I evade my moral responsibility a day at a time in the hope that reality will somehow be different tomorrow morning.

I steal from those who live far away from me, and who I do not know because I see their pain as cartoon pain, and not fully real. I casally destroy what future generations will depend upon to live because they have yet to be born and it is only me, and my time and my normalcy that is important.

I am like those who, sixty years ago, did their jobs and lived their normal lives and didn't ask questions about where their jewish neighbours had gone. I am like those who participated in slavery and other atrocities, except that the effects of my crimes will outlast all those others.

And it is OK, because today I am normal, and busy, and have other things on my mind and, if what I do is really so bad so many people wouldn't be doing the same, would they?

But when, in the hours before I die, I think back upon my life and what it has meant, I must do one thing. I must hope and hope and pray and pray that there is nothing beyond life and beyong time and beyond myself, that there is no blance, no karma, no morality and no justice.

Because if there is, and I do what I do, knowing what I know....

Well, lets not think about that.

11 Nov 2006

Update on Floating Oases

2 comments

After a little research I have found that the idea outlined here is actually far from novel. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has an ongoing research project into the concept as part of the development of Mariculture and OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion).

Other resources:
Sea Solar Power
Natural Energy Laboratory - Hawaii
Wikipedia article on OTEC
Environmental Science and Engineering article on the Nelha pipeline

6 Oct 2006

A new form of offsetting

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I am investigating a new form of carbon offsetting I have come up with. If individuals wish to do so, they can buy carbon emissions trading certificates (current price under 12 Euros) on the open market and keep them for ever.

What effect will this have? Well if a million people buy a certificate each, that will be a million tonnes less that the covered industries will be allowed to emit, or face fines of 40 Euros (100 Euros after April 2008) per tonne.

If 1% of people in the world buy a certificate each, that's 65 million tonnes less - equivalent to the total capped emissions of Ireland.

It would take every person in the world buying one certificate to reduce Europe's allowable emissions to zero.

So let's start buying.

PS - I've since discovered that others have had the same idea and are putting it into action. Take a look at Pure – the Clean Planet Trust for example.

13 Sep 2006

Special Relationship?

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The special relationship between the UK and US has been much in the (UK) news recently.

Bush and Blair believe al-Qaida threatens our way of life. They are wrong, and the Tory leader seems to get it Falconer accuses US of affront to democracy Sir Digby attacks special relationship with US Cameron criticises 'simplistic' White House

This has a significant relevance to climate change politics.

The UK political arena is firmly on board with making climate change a top priority - no serious contender for government says otherwise. In the run-up to 2012 and post-kyoto agreements, it is essential that the next US president (I've completely given up on Bush) be campaigning with the awareness that the US's closest ally is getting antsy about what the last 6 years have brought to the relationship.

My hope is that this November's elections will see a Democratic revival and the ousting of much of the oil-fired Republican old guard. It may force Bush to make concessions on climate change, but more importantly, presidential candidates on both sides will know that they will have to deal with a more moderate, environmentally aware senate and electorate.

And with the UK and US both willing to set ambitous targets for reducing oil dependancy, cutting emissions and encouraging the developing world to adopt clean technology, with the EU already on board, I see no reason why the 2012 agreement shouldn't be something we can all welcome.

23 Aug 2006

Flying on a Wing and a Prayer

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Currently there is a great deal of research and development work going on into flying wing and blended wing body concepts in aviation (for example, the Boeing X-48). These ideas are centered around the goal of getting more passengers into each individual plane, and therefore increasing efficiencies and reducing costs - not to mention lessening runway congestion.

At the same time, emissions from air travel are a big bone of contention and there is no simple way to make air travel carbon-free. There is simply no viable alternative to aviation fuel.

However, there may be a way to increase aircraft efficiency still further, utilising the flying wing concept.

Imagine a flying wing with a capacity for 480 passengers on two floors, 20 rows deep, 12 seats across. This doesn't use most of the large capacity of the wing. Instead, the wings are filled with helium bags. The helium makes the plane lighter so that it can take off on a shorter runway and gain cruising altitude using less fuel. However, it doesn't have the air resistance of a blimp, and can reach the high speeds of conventional airliners.

Obviously, I'm no aircraft designer. But if planes augmented by helium lift to make them lighter are more efficient, then perhaps the idea deserves looking into. Certainly, a comparison between the relative merits of extra seats and filling the space with helium instead should be made. The balance point in benefits may be zero helium, or it may be 25% or more helium, but I'd like to see a study.

There are some hybrid blimp-plane concepts:

But they are more agile blimps than light airplanes.

I am, of course, not the first blogger to look into these matters.

17 Aug 2006

Floating Oases of Sinking Carbon

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While reading Lovelock back in March - The Revenge of Gaia - one area he talks about got me thinking.

He states that the ocean surface layers, when they are hotter than 10 degrees C, are largely unmixed with the nutirent-rich lower layers, and so microscopic life is virtually absent - vast areas of ocean are barren unless storms or coastal run-off changes the situation.

Thus when the ice ages retreat, and the planet warms during an interglacial, the area of ocean that contributes to carbon sequestration is reduced.

Now that we are heating the planet beyond the interglacial maximum, the cool areas of ocean are shrinking further, and limited to regions with restricted sunlight. As a result, the loss of algae is exacerbating global warming.

Two things occured to me.

  1. We should be grateful for more hurricanes as it promotes microbial lifespans in the tropical oceans.
  2. There must be a way to pump nutirent-rich water to the surface and create oases of life that sequester carbon and (in theory at least) generate cloud-cover that cools the planet.

So another thought-invention:
A weighted tube, manufactured as cheaply as possible.
The heat difference between the bottom and top is used to drive a motor.
The motor drives a pump, which pumps cold water up from 200 meters below the sea surface to the top.
The cold nutrient-rich water feeds algae all year round as it floats around the oceans.

Drop a few billion of them into the oceans and we can cool the planet down again.

Variants - as pumping water takes a lot of energy, the heat difference might not be enough.

  • Instead, the wave energy at the top might be harnessed to drive a pump, as the bulk of the machine will be below the waves and can be made to stay static relative to them.
  • Alternatively, tether them to the sea bed (where it is shallow enough) and mount a wind turbine on top to drive the pumps.
  • Pump air downwards to bubble up and create an upwelling current. Has the added benefit that some of the air will dissolve in the water.

I found out a couple of days later that a scientist has already studied a similar concept and published his paper here. This uses a fixed coastal installation, but if a small, self-propelled unit can be manufactured cheaply enough, then they can be used to 'buy' carbon credits and will pay for themselves.

As always, comments and criticisms welcomed.

9 Aug 2006

Boron Boron Boron

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This is a rough copy of the boron cycle published in New Scientist 29/7/2006. It outlines an efficient process by which solar power can be turned into motive power for vehicles via boron and hydrogen. Effectively the car runs on water and sunlight!

Bring on the Boron machines!

28 Jul 2006

The Book of Genesis

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Second edition
  1. In the beginning was the void,
  2. No matter existed nor energy and no time passed
  3. A singularity in the void arose, creating the first second
  4. The singularity gave rise to cause and effect
  5. And the bang was very big, and all matter and energy was created
  6. Over the next few seconds, the laws of physics were created
  7. Matter spread out and energy gave it speed
  8. The laws of physics made ripples in the matter
  9. The ripples became clouds of hydrogen
  10. The clouds gave rise to stars
  11. The stars burned hotly and exploded into clouds of light elements
  12. The clouds of elements formed stars and gas giants
  13. The new stars burned less hotly, and lasted longer
  14. The gas giants heated up and formed molecules
  15. The new stars finally exploded into clouds of all the elements
  16. The gas giants were blown up and added molecules to the clouds
  17. The new clouds condensed to form stars, gas giants and rocks
  18. The rocks condensed around each other and around the gas giants
  19. The stars burned, the gas giants heated up
  20. The rocky planets melted and then cooled
  21. The molecules on the planets reacted with each other
  22. Some molecules were formed that could make copies of themselves
  23. The copying molecules rapidly scavenged the free molecules
  24. Copying molecules that could take stuff from others evolved
  25. Molecules developed shells to protect their resources
  26. Shelled molecules developed the ability to divide themselves
  27. Bacteria multiplied and gained the ability to photosynthesise
  28. The bacteria changed the atmosphere of the planets
  29. Bacteria developed the ability to group together
  30. Groups of bacteria started to specialise in symbiosis
  31. Some groups gained the ability to replicate as a group
  32. Some of these self-replicating organisms developed sex
  33. These organisms are to be worshipped and adored.
  34. The sexual organisms became rapidly more complicated
  35. Every environment available was filled with organisms
  36. Organisms condensed into ecologies
  37. Ecologies shaped the planet's atmosphere and climate
  38. Each living planet cooled itself as its star grew hotter
  39. Some organisms on each planet evolved predictive organs
  40. These brains grew and developed larger and larger
  41. Then one organism devoted massive energy to its brain
  42. And the organism became self-aware

All praise Douglas Adams!

13 Jul 2006

Meta-blogging

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In response to an article by Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian, I posted the following:
There are many ways that a blog site might be moderated or trimmed of the fat.

  • The Wiki method condenses opinions to a single article presenting all sides, and is easier to read as a long-term resource. It is, perhaps, what should be done to each thread at the end to summarise the views expressed.
  • Threading allows side discussions and flame-wars to be ignored.
  • Ratings identifies the degree of support that each statement has, but can be abused by multiple registrations to pump up the posts of an egotist.
  • Polls do this a little better, and usually allow each IP address, as well as each registration, only one vote.
  • Killfiles - ignoring specific posters who have a tendency to be offensive - are a good option, and can be used as a signal to moderators that particular posters are worthy of a ban.
  • One method I recall combined polling with commenting. You could vote on the options in the poll, or add your own option and vote for that. It tended to get silly, but at least the comments were limited in length.

So how about something like this:

  1. Each article has a poll.
  2. All users can vote for or against each option - one vote per IP address.
  3. Registered users can add one (and only one) additional poll option.
  4. Each poll option has a pop-up window containing an explanatory note, linked to a separate discussion thread on that option.
  5. Poll options are limited to, say, 60 characters.
  6. If an added option receives more than double the number of rejections than approvals, and that number is more than 10% of the total number of people voting, it is removed.
  7. Original poll options by the article author do not get removed.
  8. Discussions are moderated by the author of the poll option, who has deletion rights on any comment.
  9. Posters (not the posts) are rated by other registered users on several different scales:
    • Manners
    • Agreement with opinions
    • Clarity of arguments (even if disagreed with)
    • Openmindedness (the ability to concede points)
    Opponents can therefore express respect for each other without confusing it with disagreements on matters of opinion.

Comments and suggestions for elaboration will be welcome here.

30 Jun 2006

Clean up Dirty Politics

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This blog: Rabett Run is evolving a list of climate scientists willing to support the science in "An Inconvenient Truth" to respond to the demand from Senator James Inhofe for such a list from AP. There is a danger that this list will be used to harrass the scientists, as happened to Mann over his paleoclimate research, and the only way to counter this possibility is to make the list as long as possible. Please spread the word.

27 Jun 2006

Where is the problem?

0 comments
RegionAverage CO2 emissions per capita% CO2 of world total% population of world totalAverage Human Development Index
Europe7.44828.10%12.84%87.15%
USA19.57724.59%4.80%94.40%
South America2.4943.72%6.85%75.29%
Africa1.0483.52%12.83%51.13%
Asia (excluding tigers and Israel)6.89227.09%56.62%71.67%
Other (Canada, Mexico, Israel, Tigers, Polynesia)5.19412.98%6.05%80.51%

16 Jun 2006

Gaia Shivers with Fever

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Arctic sea level has been falling by a little over 2mm a year - a movement that sets the region against the global trend of rising waters.

Nasa investigates changes in the Earth's shape

The question arises, is the melting of ice at the poles causing the Earth to change shape as water moves towards the equator, and if so, is this creating the recent spate of earthquakes?

Could it be that the impacts of climate change may even be seen in the Asian tsunami and the Pakistan and Java earthquakes?


Addendum

mongabay.com June 28, 2006

Scientists say melting glaciers could induce tectonic activity.

The reason? As ice melts and waters runs off, tremendous amounts of weight are lifted off of Earth's crust. As the newly freed crust settles back to its original, pre-glacier shape, it can cause seismic plates to slip and stimulate volcanic activity according to research into prehistoric earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Sharon Begley of The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about the subject in her "Science Journal" column, noting that new research suggests that when ice sheets retreated some 10,000 years ago, volcanoes in the Mediterranean, Antarctica and California became more active.

article continues

6 Jun 2006

Call for Unity Part 4 - Conclusions

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Part 1 - Belief Systems
Part 2 - Justifications
Part 3 - Compromises

The four camps of climate change campaigners can be brought together, and together they can be a powerful force for escaping the fate that has been predicted. By acting together, and concentrating on our common ground, we can change the way government regulates, change the way people behave, harness the power of the free market and drive investment in technology.

When all is said and done, if we don't save the planet, she will save herself. If we let that happen, then we will have found out the hard way why there is no intelligent life in the universe.

Call for Unity Part 3 - Compromises

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3.1 Regulation vs. Free Markets

The principle of protectionism is contrary to the proponents of the Free Market. And yet they endorse and furiously defend intellectual property and patents, which are forms of protectionism. No principle of economic practice can ever be absolute and all-embracing.

So the laws framed to encourage CO2 emissions reduction should exploit the loophole in free marketer thinking. New and suitable technology can be given subsidies and other forms of financial support that stress their new industry status - short term measures with built-in expiry dates, but strong enough to encourage investment for the long term, when economies of scale and incremental improvements in technology and production methods will be sufficient to replace them.

At the same time, the polluter-pays principle can be extended to charge users for burning fossil fuels according to the calculated cost of extracting the CO2 from the air and sequestering it. This will drive up the price of using these fuels, and so make alternatives even more financially attractive, allowing the market to drive the transition once a level playing field is established.

3.2 Regulation vs. Technology

Those who think that all we need is new technology to move away from fossil fuels are often also in favour of subsidies and regulation to encourage the uptake of that technology. However, they tend to advocate future technologies rather than those that already exist. Regulating to encourage the use of wind and nuclear power, for example, is opposed on the grounds that cleaner, cheaper technologies are just around the corner.

Therefore regulation needs to be framed in such a way that it encourages existing technologies at the same time as promising support for any future innovation delivering more benefit. The level of support and the duration should be dependant on the degree of benefit that the technology provides.

3.3 Regulation vs. Social Change

Those who say our behaviour must change are the same people who object strenuously to any attempt to encourage behavioural changes by governments. The paradox is not precisely hypocrisy (although it can come across as such when the advocate is unwilling to accept any kind of compromise). It is simply a misapplication of optimism.

Social changers think that all that is necessary is for them to point out where people's best interests lie over the long term for them to act accordingly. But people don't change their short-term behaviour on the basis of long-term consequences. Not when they are detrimental to their short-term interests. It takes the introduction of short-term consequences to balance the equation.

This is where regulation has a part to play. Adding immediate consequences makes people more aware of the long-term impact of their behaviour. It encourages people to act more logically by making the costs more real.

Just as tax on cigarettes has reduced the numbers of people smoking to the point where it is now possible to ban smoking in all indoor public spaces, regulating to add a cost (small, but steadily increasing) to burning fossil fuels will pave the way to an eventual complete ban.

In ten of twenty years, with sufficient encouragement and education, people will accept the necessity for a permanent change in their behaviour. Encouragement and education, however, depends on the wide-scale muscle of governments and their ability to create real short-term consequences for undesired behaviour.

3.4 Free Markets vs. Technology

Many of the same people who promote investment in technology also think that the mechanisms of the free market will encourage this investment. There is, however, an area of conflict. Free market advocates occasionally object to governmental investment in R&D, even though most industries depend on state-funded education programs for the expertise in their labour pool.

So long as it is remembered that state-funded education is, in effect, a subsidy for high-tech industries, any objection to more direct investment in technology advancement can be rejected.

3.5 Free Markets vs. Social Change

The conflict between capitalists and socialists - particularly those classing themselves as anti-capitalists, has no room for compromise, on the face of it. Each side is implacable in their opposition and disparagement of the other.

Advocates for social change are most readily to be found among the anti-capitalist camp. This is at least in part because many of the changes proposed involve the dismantling of the machinery of capitalism.

How do you bring two such groups together in the cause of alleviating climate change? Is there any common ground?

Surprisingly there is. Social changers use the boycott as a powerful tool for change. Branding one corporation or another as anathema in order to bring about change, and using the power of the consumer to drive the corporation in a new direction. This is, at heart, a tacit acknowledgement that the profit motive has the power to do good.

Without the profit motive, the corporation would not pay any attention to a small proportion of its customers refusing to buy from them. They would write off the lost business and move on. The fact that they change course is down to the simple fact that they cannot write off any lost business. Their shareholders would not stand for it.

To achieve a common goal, the free marketers must be aware of the activities of the social changers. The social changers must focus and target their efforts in areas where it will do the most good. Of late this has been air travel.

The international air industry is currently immune from any attempt to regulate or limit it. The US is opposing any attempt to legitimise taxes on aviation fuel. As a result, no pressure can be brought to bear on the carriers to reduce their flights or explore less polluting technologies (except as part of their constant drive for efficiency).

However, it is also vulnerable to market forces, which can best be shaped by the social changers. A targeted campaign of protest and no-fly pledges, boycotting one corporation at a time until it either goes under or adopts artificial bio-fuels, would change the industry forever.

3.6 Technology vs. Social Change

Many of the social changers are in favour of reducing our dependence on technology. They want to reverse progress to the point where the planet was able to tolerate human activity without the threat of catastrophe.

While this approach holds the promise of a sustainable lifestyle, it will not prevent, nor will it alleviate, the climate change impacts to come. Merely starting to live within our limits will not undo the damage done so far. Nor will it encourage others to do so, as they will see only the reductions in lifestyle.

Instead, the emphasis of both camps should be on making the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle a step forward - attractive in its essence in the same way that owning a TV and washing machine was attractive to the family of the 1950's.

One such blending of the two approaches is micro power-generation. Fitting out a house with solar panels and wind turbines is becoming more affordable as technology improves, and it has the attractiveness of self-sufficiency without the drawbacks. By encouraging the uptake of new, sustainable technology, the companies investing in them make profits and can cut costs to make the change more affordable.

So the best approach for those interested in social change is to embrace new, appropriate technologies, and encourage the consumerism of progress.

4 Jun 2006

A libertarian response to global warming

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As I embrace all efforts at a solution, I'm linking to this. My current favoured concept, however, is contraction and convergence. It is perhaps the case that all the different approaches have their role to play. A libertarian response to global warming

26 May 2006

Call for Unity, part 2 - Justifications

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So there is a conflict of ideals, and a dangerous lassitude in events as the debate drags on.

2.1 Can we change without Regulation?

For centuries it has been recognised that inventors and innovators need protection to give them time to profit from their investment of time, money and effort. Patents and the resulting monopolies are intended to give the people at the forefront of technology time to exploit their inventions.
Without it, someone with more ready cash and a better business sense could steal the invention and establish a pre-eminent position in the market. They do not have to pay the full costs of developing the product, so have a greater profit margin and can undercut the originator.
The same logic can be applied to alternative fuels versus fossil fuels. The market position of fossil fuels is a built-in advantage, and any innovation towards greater efficiency only prolongs that advantage.
It would be easier to persuade everyone to buy a car that ran on a new type of gasoline than to sell alcohol-burning cars, simply because the infrastructure for pumping, refining and delivering the fuel is already in place.
Regulation, it is argued, is necessary to overcome the market resistance to change.

2.2 Is the Market Really Free?

Fossil fuel users are not paying the full price of their energy source. The cost is artificially small. If you take into account environmental damage, and the potential impact that this will have, the real costs are many times greater than anyone is expected to pay.
While each tonne of CO2 added to the atmosphere has a comparatively miniscule impact, the cost of repairing the damage by extracting the CO2 (without exacerbating the issue by using still more energy derived from unsustainable sources) is not trivial. If this cost was added to every kilo or litre of fossil fuel, then sustainable sources would be more than competitive – they would be the only viable economical solution.
Under the principle of Polluter Pays, the cost of repairing the damage done by a polluter should be levied against that polluter. One can ignore the costs or potential costs of leaving the damage un-repaired. By simply acknowledging that it is damage, and working out a way to un-do it as cheaply as possible, one reaches a fair price for the pollution.
The problem is that our economies are predicated on the current cost calculations, which do not account for the cost of cleanup – only the cost of acquisition and delivery to market. As with the nuclear industry, the full cost is buried behind Victorian assumptions of limitless resource and environmental resilience.
Adjusting to an accurate costing will be painful, and is therefore anathema to most politicians. Those who contemplate doing so can only do so with gradual change, and incremental carbon taxation. This is sensible. No economy can withstand rapid changes of any kind, least of all increases in core costs.

2.3 Is Social Change Necessary?

Our profligate use of energy in the West is unprecedented. Our social structures are disintegrating as workforces become more mobile and the state increasingly adopts the responsibility for supporting those who cannot (or will not) support themselves.
This has happened, in part, as a consequence of first the nationalisation of the economies and now its globalisation. Growth, competition and cheap energy (at the expense of the environment) have dictated the changes to social expectations and behaviour. Where once leaving the town of your birth was an exception, it is now the norm. Where once holidaying abroad was for the rich, it is now cheap enough for even the unemployed to afford.
Many of our behaviours can be adjusted to reduce the impact of burning fossil fuels. We can conserve more and adopt alternatives even if they are more expensive. But this will only ever be a marginal solution. People are, fundamentally, concerned with their own comfort and security.
Persuading them to act against their own best interests in the immediate term, for a theoretical and disputed benefit in the very long term is next to impossible, and the numbers of people doing so voluntarily will not be enough to make enough of a difference.
Social change has a part to play. It can push events in the right direction and influence investment. Public opinion determines both political and economic directions. Expecting to solve the problems of climate change through a grass roots movement without any assistance from government or business is, at best, naïve, and at worst, counter-productive.

2.4 Can Technology Solve Everything?

It is a certain bet that technological advances in the future will allow us to do without fossil fuels altogether. Abundant renewable energy can produce hydrogen for a portable fuel, and those working on it have not forgot about the potential for fusion electricity generation, even if it is out of the news.
But the timing is not in our favour. Every day we burn fossil fuels we drive ourselves further down the slope, and it will take a larger, more determined effort to get back up. It may already be too late to prevent catastrophic global disruption and a breakdown of our civilisation. It will still be too late if an engineer finally perfects clean power the day before his home sinks beneath the encroaching coastline.
We have the technology today to replace most fossil fuel use. The fact that this technology is not replacing it rapidly enough is purely down to the inequity in costs. We should be introducing existing technology as rapidly as possible. The potential to improve these things will be realised when competition and economies of scale are driving their development. Investing in research without supporting the industry it is supposed to serve is, in effect, a delaying tactic.

19 May 2006

Call for Unity, part 1 - Belief Systems

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Once you accept that climate change is going to exact a heavy price on civilisation in the near future, the next question is always ‘What can we do about it?’ Answers, and the passionate and committed people that promote them, can be categorised into four broad camps.

1.1 Reverlutionaries*

Reverlutionaries want to change the way people live at a fundamental level to use less energy and consume less. To a greater or lesser degree they advocate reversing a hundred years or more of environmental exploitation.
While it is sensible to use fewer resources to achieve the same aims, I find the suggestion that we should aim to achieve less of great concern. It is not simply naïve; it is dangerous. If we move away from the technologies and industries that sustain us, our capacity to apply economic solutions, or to come up with technological solutions, is drastically impaired.
Say we stop emitting CO2 completely tomorrow (clearly impossible, but that is the most any reverlutionary can hope for). The level of CO2 in the atmosphere today is enough to melt the icecaps and trigger significant climate change. It may be enough to trigger accelerant effects such as melting permafrost, the burning of the Amazon or melting of methyl hydrates on the seabed.
And if that happens, we will need every gigadollar of GDP and intellectual firepower we can get to survive.

1.2 Neoliberals

Neoliberals are devoted to the power of the market. They feel that market forces will counter every problem and push the human race forwards and onwards and upwards. Insurance companies will assess the risks of climate change as we gain more knowledge and drive premiums up so high that their clients will adapt and adjust accordingly. Except that the clients who are paying the premiums are not the people doing the damage, and the people who need to change their ways are not the people who are at most risk from the results. As Chomsky says, "the free market is socialism for the rich - markets for the poor and state protection for the rich."
Polluting technologies receive a massive subsidy from the environment, skewing the 'free' market in their favour. A Neoliberal who accepts this fact should be eager to ensure that all costs are laid at the doors of the polluter. But most Neoliberals behave irrationally (or at the very least, hypocritically) and defend the subsidies and protectionism that works in their favour while attacking any attempt to introduce balancing charges that work against them, such as carbon taxes.

1.3 Technophiles

Technophiles believe every problem can be fixed once the technology exists to fix it, and that we will have the time and money and know-how to develop the technology we need, so long as we invest in research and (to a lesser degree) development. They support future technologies such as clean coal and hydrogen cars, while overlooking the poor uptake of existing technologies such as wind and biofuel. They believe staunchly in the miracle cure – that when the right technology is developed it will automatically transform the world.
But it took acts of parliament to underwrite the development of the railways and supplant the established canals, and it took over fifty years for the car to supplant the horse as the primary mode of transport in most of the world.
Technology alone cannot solve a problem rapidly. It must be nurtured and coddled until it is robust enough to compete with more mature industries. Leaving it up to technology alone will impede the change away from fossil fuels. A good idea is not enough.

1.4 Regulators

Regulators want to pass laws forbidding or restricting the use of technologies that use fossil fuels, and subsidising and promoting their replacements. It is the natural tendency of the politician. However they can also foresee only disaster in following that instinct.
Laws, alone, could change a nation’s behaviour, but to do so that nation would have to handicap itself in the international marketplace. It directly opposes the free market approach of the Neoliberals, and threatens economic disaster. To have any significant impact, as Kyoto has demonstrated by its failure, a regulatory approach must be global in scope and imposition. All nations must be subject to the restrictions at the same time. Some allowance for contraction and convergence is necessary to counteract the natural misgivings of poorer nations, but all must accept a level playing field in the end.
This goes against the grain with some countries with a substantial economic lead over the rest of the world. They see such plans, accurately, as inhibition of their existing position and advantages in the market, and reject the necessity to voluntarily abandon that position.
Other countries, that have a rapidly growing but fragile economy, see the roadblock ahead and push for longer delays before they have to start adopting the restrictions.
Between them, these countries block and hinder the regulators at every turn.

* Reverlutionary – one who tries to turn the wheel of political or social progress in reverse.

17 May 2006

To begin...

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Some blog connections to start you all off: Climate Change Action Climate Change News The Pew Center on Global Climate Change Climate Change Resources Climate Ark Climate Change & Global Warming Newsfeed

Connections

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There is a massive and urgent need for political pressure to make politicians act on the climate change issue. This is something I have been involved in for some time and have determined to raise awareness and drive action. This blog is new, but I already have a website dedicated to the issue here and this is linked to a Yahoo discussion group which you can subscribe to below.
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The key, I think, to achieving the goal of avoiding severe climate change, is for all activists to support each other. Keep talking to new people, by all means, but also network and connect to other activists - even if you don't entirely agree with their approach. I will be trying to post here at least once a week with opinion pieces, but my main effort is with the discussion group, linking to news stories and generating debate. Please join us, and create connections.