Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Earth Hour on Saturday

Time to stumble about in the dark again for an hour to show solidarity with World Wildlife Fund and Earth Hour, which is on Saturday 27th March at 8.30pm local time. Switch all your lights off as a signal if you care about climate change. Click the link below if you want to sign up to the international effort.
Click for Earth hour pledge page


A lyrical video of an American Citizen who returned to his Ethiopian roots and started a miracle.
“If one man can do this, with collaboration we can make a huge difference.” – Gashaw Abdela Tahir.


Sunday, 21 March 2010

Snippets from the Interwebs

When I used to write the Jersey Friends of the Earth newsletter in the 90’s, I would have a feature called Snippets whereby I would highlight lots of different stories in shortened form. There really is too much to keep up with environmentally nowadays so I will be doing the same “feature” every now and again. Here is the first.
Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets Snippets
Champagne Charlies will notice a difference soon! Champagne bottles are going to be slimmed down for the environment. The bottles are as heavy as they are to contain the high pressure of the CO2 gas inside but they are being redesigned to lose excess glass and thereby lighten up.
link to article about champagne bottles
Genetically modified crops are touted as a saviour for global food production by increasing food yields, reducing pesticide use etc.
The India Times reports that the cotton boll worm has already developed resistance to Monsanto’s BT cotton.  Monsanto are now pushing BT cotton 2 – the sequel -  so yet another treadmill of increasing tech “solutions” and subsequent failure is born –they are even criticising the farmers! Ironically cotton yields are falling and pesticide use is increasing which is exactly what GM crops were promised to do – not!
Technology probably won’t be enough to stave off the forthcoming  difficulties in feeding the world. Initial successes of the “Green revolution” are looking  a bit jaundiced now.
Just for those who say there is no point in the West doing anything about CO2 emissions because China is building a new coal plant every week… When you know the other side of the story, that the denialists “accidentally” leave out, you might not be so cocky.
Also this story and this one show that those voices in America who argue against investing in renewables as pointless because “China will never do it” are dangerously misled/misleading. China will get to a sustainable energy supply system far in advance of the USA, not to mention a huge competitive advantage.
Plastics used in food containers often contain Bisphenol-A – a plastic additive that has got a lot of bad press recently. This latest research report might sound the death knell for the routine widespread use of this substance which is so prevalent in plastic bottles, food cans etc.
I was caught out myself because my beloved Sigg water bottle has a lining that proved to contain Bis-A. Sigg have apologised and have set up a “return and replace” initiative. Their new water bottles do not contain this chemical.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bis-A might have a hand in the tidal wave of obesity that assaults us in every other reality TV programme out there. This Newsweek article suggests that hormone mimicking chemicals, such as Bis-A, might engender excess fat cells in the very young. Tributyltin may also be an “obesogen” that causes more fat cells. So too some phthalates (used to make vinyl plastics, such as those used in shower curtains and, until the 1990s, plastic food wrap), and perfluoroalkyl compounds (used in stain repellents and nonstick cooking surfaces).
Things that make you go hmmm…
Extract from Simple Earth media blog follows:
“Now tobacco may be able to redeem itself by producing solar cells, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.  By infecting tobacco plants with a genetically engineered virus, scientists have been able to “produce artificial photovoltaic and photochemical cells” which are biodegradable and may end up being “more environmentally friendly than traditional methods of making solar cells”.”
Grow your own solar cells - tobacco now healthier!
Annie Leonard is the face and voice of “The Story of Stuff” which I’ve linked to and talked about several times before. It’s simply great. Here she is live at Bioneers 2009
There are very significant moves afoot for companies to clean up their environmental act and become more sustainable.Here’s some links to how some of the biggest are getting on.
How a Subaru plant achieved a zero landfill status

Walmart sustainability summit (2007)
“The main event was a speech by CEO Lee Scott in which he stated in no uncertain terms that Wal-Mart is in this for the long haul, and expects its suppliers to be in it for the long haul too. Scott pointed out that while his company is aiming for zero waste and 100% renewable energy, this still only accounts for 8% of its footprint, and that Wal-Mart must green its supply chain if it has any chance of becoming sustainable”
Just in case anyone still believes that global warming is all a hoax or something cooked up by Al Gore to make money, just see how far back the warnings went.
Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a “joie de vivre” index to complement/replace GDP. Like Bhutan’s happiness index and similar indicators, from such as the New Economics Foundation, these initiatives posit that simply measuring GDP is a very poor (sometimes literally) way of measuring what people really value. A lot of political effort is expended on improving GDP figures because that is the current measure of “economic” success unfortunately the consequences that follow often conflict with peoples’ sense of well being.

There are moves to tax sugary fizzy drinks in the States – Coca Cola watch out!
Algae as a productive source of biofuel is now being seriously investigated.  Like much research in renewable energy, we have lost 3 decades worth of time because of the yuppy/Republican years  when the world ignored what was necessary and went on a consumerist binge literally fuelled by cheap oil.
This story shows that algae was being investigated as far back as the Jimmy Carter years before subsequent political developments pulled the funding plug which caused some of the genetic legacy of suitable candidate organisms to be lost in the subsequent Bush type administrations, although Clinton bears some responsibility.
Do compact fluorescents use more energy than incandescents if manufacturing is taken into account? Life cycle analyses show that both LED and compact fluorescent bulbs are not even close. Both technologies use much less energy in total.
Insurance companies throw in the towel
Taken from the website
Property insurance may no  longer be available in the future if we can’t get control of climate change, says Nick Starling, the Director of General Insurance and Health for the Association of British Insurers. Climate change could end the continuing availability of property insurance.
The insurance industry might be overwhelmed by losses and  no longer be able to pay out for property losses with increased climate change, the Association of British Insurers announced this week.
Having examined scientific research commissioned by the British Meteorological Office, the ABI found that even the minimum of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit rise in global average temperatures (2 C) would increase annual British property losses to $77 million from inland flooding and windstorms.
A global average temperature rise of 10.8 F (6 C) was also played out in scenarios, along with  average global rise of 7.2 F (4 C) as well. At those levels the Director of General Insurance and Health for the Association of British Insurers said property insurance would simply no longer be possible for the insurance industry, which depends on actuarial history to determine risk.
Humanity is now moving completely outside of risk levels associated with human history.

Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture

This is a somewhat wacky, but highly creative idea, which involves forming desert sand dunes into buildings. A liquid is injected in a 3D pattern which solidifies the sand into a sort of concrete. Loose sand is removed and Bob’s your Uncle! Spectacular buildings

Reprinted from the wonderful Inhabitat – design will save the world – website
Scientists at Genomatica Inc. recently announced (click for original article) that they have developed strains of bacteria that are able to produce plastic without the use of oil or natural gas. The sustainable process utilizes little more than sugar and water to produce butanediol (BDO), which can be manufactured into everything from plastics and fibers to pharmaceuticals. Genomatica estimates that within a year the energy-efficient process will cost less than current hydrocarbon-based processes – a revolutionary development since close to 3 billion pounds of BDO are manufactured each year.
Peak oil – we’re probably there already. The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

Here's a link to an abstract of a paper by Kuwaiti scientists which gives peak oil production in 2014. They also estimate world oil reserves are being depleted at 2.1% per year using current extraction techniques.
New labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods, from whole wheat pasta to fast food burgers, are appearing on some grocery items and restaurant menus in Sweden, which is expected to cut the nation’s emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent, reports the New York Times.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dangerous people, dangerous times

The new “Climate crock of the week” shows the dangerous irrationality and ugly views that the denialosphere is now resorting to. As if lies and chicanery were not enough, have a look at Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and Marc Morano in full flow (towards the end of the video). Also enjoy the Monty Python witch trial.  Remember that US Senator Inhofe has called for 17 top climate scientists to be prosecuted. Inhofe is shaping up very rapidly as a new Joseph McCarthy - infamous for witch hunt type trials in the fifties.

Here below is a more detailed look at another piece of misrepresentation by the denialosphere. They’ve been fond of claiming “it’s the sun, stupid” for ages because the idea is very plausible and misleading to the general public. A few months a move was made to change this to “it’s El Nino, stupid”. Uber-denier “scientist” Bob Carter was co-author of this (2009) paper which he and his fellows claim showed that the SOI (southern ocean oscillation index - El Nino etc) correlated very well with the variation in temperatures seen over periods of a few years. So far, so obvious so good. El Nino does have a big effect. However, by clever statistical manipulation, they had removed any temperature trends from the data used for their graphs (trends show any long term consistent warming or cooling) leaving only the variability, which then (unsurprisingly) correlated very well with the SOI. Where they went off the straight and narrow, and amazingly, the peer review process didn’t pick them up, was to go on to claim that:

According to one of its authors, Bob Carter, the paper found that the "close relationship between ENSO and global temperature, as described in the paper, leaves little room for any warming driven by human carbon dioxide emissions".

This is where they “jumped the shark” and where Carter ended up spouting the area of belief that he consistently does. The problem with the paper was the big fat “mistake” shown in this devastating criticism.

What the authors had done is similar to if you were examining the temperature of your house over a year and ignored the influence of spring, summer, autumn and winter on general temperatures by subtracting them from the household figures and only looked at temperature changes (variations) induced when you put the central heating on. Then they claimed that your house temperatures correlate very strongly with your central heating and there was “little room for any warming driven by” the influence of the seasons!


Monday, 15 March 2010

More vinegar on your fish, sir?

Rising greenhouse gas levels are not “just” a threat to the climate, food supplies, habitats etc. Elevated levels of CO2 are dissolving in the oceans and are acidifying them. Normally, the ocean is slightly alkaline but it is getting less so due to our excess emissions. Some might argue that if the seas are absorbing CO2 then  we don’t have to reduce fossil fuel use. The problem is that even with this effect, we are still “gaining” – the Earth’s systems can absorb a certain amount of emissions of CO2 per year but, on top of the natural emissions, we are adding sufficient extra CO2 to overwhelm the Earth’s ability to absorb it – that is why CO2 levels in the atmosphere are steadily rising.

The oceans currently are acting as a partial buffer to our emissions but buffering solutions (seawater in this case) only work for a while before approaching saturation. As this starts to happen, the oceans will slow in their ability to absorb CO2 and, at that point, if we have not reduced our emissions, there will be a steepening rise in the amount of CO2 building up in the atmosphere, leading to an increasing boost (a positive feedback) to the greenhouse effect boost. This won’t be a runaway feedback, because the greenhouse potential of CO2 reduces logarithmically as the concentration increases, but it still won’t be a good thing.

Ocean acidication is an astonishing long term threat that has been getting very little publicity. The professional video at the end of this blog is an attempt to rectify that.  Here’s an article about acidification which paints a worrying picture. Here’s a link to a scientific paper in Nature. Here’s the Wikipedia article about it.

If we continue on our current emissions path without drastically reducing our use of fossil fuels, the oceans will steadily get more acidic over the next couple of hundred years.The problem with this is that many of the smallest organisms in the sea, such as plankton, which form the basis of the oceanic food chain, have shells or other structures that are vulnerable to increased acid in sea water. There are few tipping points known for certain in climate/Earth science.  One of them in prehistory is when CO2 reached about 1000 ppm leading to an “anoxic event”. In the Permian-Triassic era (250 million years ago) mass die off of species, up to 96 percent of all marine species and 70 percent of terrestrial vertebrate species became extinct; it was the only known mass extinction of insects. Fifty-seven percent of all families and 83% of all genera were killed. There are various reasons posited for this event but a strong contender is hypercapnia (too much CO2) which causes anoxic events.

Methane release, from when permafrost melts and releases its stored CO2 and methane, gives a large boost to the greenhouse effect. Methane however is a relatively short lived gas in the atmosphere – it ends up being oxidised to CO2. A worse situation would be the release of methane clathrates from under the sea bed – a so-called “clathrate gun”. Clathrates are “condensed” methane held in a sort of waxy ice which is stable  only because it is cold and under great pressure at the bottom of the sea. Warm it up or remove the pressure and it bubbles up as the powerful greenhouse gas methane. Gas releases from undersea methane clathrate deposits have caused a sudden powerful excess greenhouse effect which was thought to be responsible for mass species extinctions in the past, like those referenced above

Here’s a 21 minute video from the NRDC, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, about the increasing acidification of the oceans - which is happening right now. As I said at the beginning, it’s an under-reported consequence of increasing carbon dioxide levels specifically, as opposed to general greenhouse gases.

It’s worth double clicking on the headline link to go directly to Youtube rather than watching it on the embedded player because the film is quite beautiful too and worth watching large.

Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification


Friday, 12 March 2010

J-CAN rocks the Casbah at Mr Organic’s. Fuelled by spicy parsnip soup

 Last Saturday, 5 J-CAN members planted about 30 willow cuttings each to form a new hedge at Brian Adair's organic farm at Sion.

Brian got the 200-odd cuttings from Alcindo Pinto, who's "The Man" to supply you if you want to grow your own Wicker Man to sacrifice some climate change denialists in. We were half expecting that Edward Woodward would turn up, but… Edward Woodward wouldn't. (read that last sentence out loud).

As I’ve pointed out before we are only supposed to have the equivalent of 61 trees each  for our lifetime, worked out by the total number of trees in the world divided by global population. Although willow hedging probably doesn’t “count” as a full tree, it was nice to know that we had each planted enough to approximately add an extra 50 % to our personal global tree tally.

After we finished this community action, we retired to Brian’s office/shed for some warming and highly spiced organic parsnip soup and French bread and some of Maria Barnicoat’s chocolate dipped soul food to finish. Probably it was because we were glowing with that warmth that you get when you work hard outside in cold weather, but it all tasted incredibly good.

Brian, who’s a leading light in the Jersey Soil Association, and the Jersey organic movement generally, started Jersey’s first accredited organic farm.  He supplies the organic shop in Stopford road - he also grows around a million organic seedlings a year. Some of his plants are raised by other growers locally, who go on to supply Riverford Farm Organics with courgettes and cauliflowers. Riverford have probably the biggest and best known organic box scheme in the UK – and Jersey supplies it!


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Adrenaline junky

Time for fun. Speed riding uses a very small paraglider-with-skis combination that just about glides but does it at a very high speed. The point is to scream down impossibly sloped mountains, jump/flying over rocks, crevasses and obstacles. Antoine Montant, flies over a huge avalanche on the North face of Aiguille du Midi in Chamonix. This sequence has been awarded the Best P.O.V (point of view) Award in Aspen in the latest Powder Video Awards.

Why better food is more expensive than junk…

This image is taken from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine  website via Michael Tobis' climate science blog Only in it for the Gold . It shows how meat and diary production are massively subsidised whereas vegetables and fruit are more or less ignored.
A picture paints a thousand words, and this one has figures too. It more or less speaks for itself. The only thing to watch out for is that these figures relate to American agricultural subsidies, but highly distorting subsidies like this are rife in Europe too.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Climate Crock socks it to deniers - the scientific case for AGW condensed into 10 minutes

If you read the comments sections of any climate related website or blog you will see the most outrageous assertions from the denialist peanut gallery. Inadvertently demonstrating their own gullibility and irrationality and yes, I'll use the "S" word - STUPIDITY, these people just mindlessly regurgitate the propaganda which they have swallowed.  Perhaps the "smoking gun"  that most shows them up as the dangerous, suckered idiots that they are, is their frequently repeated cry to show them the science and the scientific papers that prove there is such a thing as global warming, usually ending with a phrase like "you can't because there is none LMFAO - it's all a conspiracy!!!" These mindless types have read this blatant lie on denialist websites and just parrot it because they want to believe it. How irresponsible is that?

They often hate being called deniers and usually describe themselves as sceptics or independent thinkers. The big lie here is that they do not understand what being a "sceptic" actually means. Clearly, they disbelieve anything the science says that they don't like the sound of yet they uncritically accept any old nonsense, lies or misdirection, as long as it sounds sort of "sciency", from the denialist movement, whether from the professional propagandists or their unwitting dupes and the hordes of willing amateurs who run blogs. Their idea of scepticism is nowhere near the true definition, which would look at all sides critically. It is blatant and obvious wishful thinking and closed mindedness combined with astonishing arrogance and inability to judge the credibility of those sources they fawn over so eagerly.

The video below is the latest in the "Climate Crock of the Week" series from Pete Sinclair that does exactly what the denialist hordes keep screaming for (without realising that they really don't actually want to hear it!). It lays out a very condensed version of the basic physics underlying climate science. None of this science is in dispute by any credible scientist or should be disputed by anybody else with their heads screwed on. Even those such as "darling-of-the-deniers" Richard Lindzen, frequently cited by deniers in support of their position, would not dispute it. The only way that deniers can wriggle out of this is by claiming that the whole scientific AGW case is a massive conspiracy going back over a hundred years. Many of them do! As I pointed out in a recent blog post, and Pete Sinclair does too in this video, any "conspiracy" must be so gigantic that even birds and animals and glaciers are in on it - here's a quote from my post from last month  "Global warming is a hoax"
"Tens of thousands of people have faked the scientific theories since the early 1800s, the actual measurements of reality, the historical records, the pre-historical records, the even further back than that records. This colossal hoax is so all pervasive that even animals, birds and insects are joining in by pretending to be affected by non-existent changes in ecosystems. God help us, the conspirators have even persuaded dumb ice sheets and permafrost to fake it for the cause. Nature really is a lying traitor and we should never trust her again!"
Enjoy ten minutes of concentrated anti B.S. Crash and burn, deniers...


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Urban shrink - sustainable cities and towns

This video gives an overview ofthe “New Urbanism” movement that aims to counter and reverse urban sprawl. Not just because sprawl is ugly but because analysing the reasons for sprawl, and what happens if you reverse it, will give a very good grounding in sustainable thinking and future sustainable development.

Oddly enough, the solutions look very much like “old urbanism”, AKA traditional community design.

Ignore the “what’s the biggest threat” bit at the beginning – it’s a bit overblown. Concentrate on the bits where they slot many words into a gap in the sentences to make a “picture” paint a thousand words.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Information just wants to be free - if it's treated right by the recipients

The denialosphere is wallowing in an ecstacy of misinforming at the moment. Ever since the hacked/stolen/leaked emails of so-called Climategate were "liberated" they have been endlessly and deliberately misinterpreted for propaganda purposes, whilst the unfortunate scientists involved have been ruthlessly traduced. A common insinuation that the propagandists make is that the scientists were refusing to share data because they had something to hide. Here's a link to a page on RealClimate which has links to more data, methodology, computer code etc than you could shake a stick at - freely available. Hopefully, the demanding screams from the denialosphere will STFU now moderate. - data-sources - raw climate data

Most of the data that the denialosphere was harassing them for was already available in the public domain and what little wasn't was subject to confidentiality agreements that demanded permission be sought before it was released. The hundreds of FOIA requests that the U. of E. Anglia climate unit received were not entirely innocent requests for the data, simply to enable replication in a spirit of genuine scientific endeavour. They were crafted nuisance requests - like a "denial of service" hacker attack.

As mentioned before, one of McIntyre's little helpers involved in the massive "FOIA attack" was a senior local politician here in good ol' Jersey. The requests were to facilitate a no doubt inevitably biased attempt by such as Steve McIntyre and his merry minions to look for an angle to destroy the science. McIntyre has a bit of a record of attempting this sort of thing. He is a legitimate and talented statistician. He has made mistakes, as one would expect any analyst to do, but more significantly he tends to over-hype his assessment and presentation (and so, massively more so, do his followers) of the importance, or even relevance, of what he "discovers".

Meanwhile globally, we've had the warmest January on record and, so far, it looks like February is heading the same way...