Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Lies, damn lies and statistics

Of course, I am not suggesting that statistics are lies or damn lies but the way they can be, and frequently are, used to fool people is deceitful. Perhaps the best exponents of the art of pulling the wool over peoples’ eyes are those who themselves do not properly understand what the statistics mean – they draw false conclusions and confidently fool themselves - there’s nothing more convincing or reassuring than the person who blindly believes something and quotes what seems like hard maths to prove their point. Most people do not have a deep appreciation of statistics, maths, physics, chemistry or biology or general reality to spot the flaws that should ring bells loudly.

Here is a great cartoon which illustrates the problem.


cartoon credit – the excellent XKCD site

The confident statistics stickman in the cartoon has jumped to a false conclusion from the figures. The essence of his mistake is that the statistic he quotes relates to all Americans doing their normal activities for one year. Of these, 45 will get struck by lightning and die. He divides this number into the population of America and comes up with an extremely small chance of being struck by lightning in one year and then applies it to his current circumstances and confidently believes that the risk of “going on” is very small. This is incorrect.  The statistic he should have used is the one which defines how many people who walk around outside in violent thunderstorms get struck and killed. The cartoonist, for poetic licence reasons, quotes 1 in 6 to be the numbers he should have considered. Much more dangerous.

People do not seem to realise how easily they can be fooled by a skilled rhetorician, in a forum or debate, who may quote accurate figures but project IMHO entirely false or misleading ideas by using them. Examples of this type include Viscount Monkton of Brenchley, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck not to mention a huge number of politicians. Do these people realise when they are being misleading? Are they fools or are they liars or…?



Friday, 24 September 2010

Five years - if we’re lucky

Don’t even bother planning for what you’ll do “when the recession ends” - or totting up the temporary green shoots. The time is later than you think.

When the world wakes up to the peaking and decline of oil, gigantic economic and social forces will be unleashed.
A stunning two part interview with
Robert L. Hirsch on Peak Oil – brace yourselves for 2-5 years tops 
Part 1
Part 2

This "future news" is not from just one credible source either. There are many. Here’s a selection: a pdf from Lloyds of London about future energy security issues and also a Der Spiegel article about a report from a German military think tank - this particular study is a product of the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center, a think tank tasked with fixing a direction for the German military.

And yet few "leaders" are mentioning this in public. Why?  Maybe their personal reality filters have tuned out this inconvenient truth from their perceptions. Maybe they are scared by it. Maybe they think the public will be scared by it and lose what little confidence in the economy we have left. This fragile "green shoots" pseudo-recovery would falter and fail if people knew what was coming yet what we need to do to avoid the worst and re-engineer civilisation to cope with sustainability issues is so all encompassing that the sooner we start, the better.

If you like stretched metaphors, we could dredge up the Titanic once again. Our leaders lack of acknowledgement of the peak oil issues could be seen as like captains on a Titanic. Letting the passengers know about the possibility of danger from icebergs would send the wrong message to their well-heeled clients who would lose faith in the White Star line - the "unsinkability"of the ship - the navigation of the crew etc. Some captains, unconvinced of the iceberg reports, or overconfident in the ability of their ship to survive anything unscathed, would turn a blind eye, or a deaf ear, to the dangers because they would consider alarmism to be commercially damaging - far better for the company to let the passengers continue planning the valuable business they would be doing when they reached New York...


Monday, 20 September 2010

Underwater base jumping and ultra vertigo –the alternative Branchage

This film, although an edited together compilation of several dives, is stunning. Semi-fictional it may be but some of the shots are just incredible. The whole thing cannot be done in reality but most of the parts that were filmed to make it are also astonishing. Worth clicking through on the image to watch in full HD at Youtube 


FREE FALL: World champion freediver Guillaume Nery - a special dive at Dean's Blue Hole, the deepest blue hole in the world filmed entirely on breath hold by the french champion Julie Gautier. This video is a FICTION and an ARTISTIC PROJECT. Edited by BLUENERY (c). Music: ARCHIVE - you make me feel.

Dean's Blue Hole plunges 202 metres (663 ft) in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island, Bahamas.


The next film below is Vertige (probably best seen in glorious HD at Vimeo’s site) taken around, or more accurately above, the Chamonix valley. Close up flying to some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in Europe. I can do the type of flying these guys are doing but there’s one bit of the film, about 2 minutes in, which made the hairs on my neck go up. It’s before they take off when there is a shot of the protagonist’s boots walking along a very narrow ridge with a huge drop off a couple of feet either side. Ultra Vertigo. It’s bigger than the Coupée in Sark and without handrails...

VERTIGE from Stéphane Boulenger on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Snippets from the Interwebs 2 - the sequel

Yikes! This snippet is scary. I mean really scary. If you don’t think it sounds scary, then you don’t understand the world we live in. The amount of phytoplankton - tiny marine plants - in the top layers of the oceans has declined markedly over the last century, research suggests.
Writing in the journal Nature, scientists say the decline appears to be linked to rising water temperatures. The decline - about 1% per year – 40% over the last 60 years - could be ecologically significant as plankton sit at the base of the marine food chain. An additional cause could be ocean acidification or, in actuality, reduction of ocean alkalinity (to shut up the deceivers and nit pickers). Obviously CO2 dissolves into the top layers of the ocean, which is where the phytoplankton hang out. Land plants are very sensitive to the ph (hydrogen ion concentration, aka acidity) of soil. As any good gardener knows, changing the ph of your soil can have dramatic effects on how well or badly various plants grow. It doesn't take much to upset the plankton balance and good old Homo Sapiens has recklessly stepped up to the plate again and done it. And is carrying on doing it.

Worse, phytoplankton sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, particularly species such as the coccolithophores so this could be a positive feedback loop in action. N.B. some coccolithophores actually grow better in water with increased CO2 so, as always, things are more complicated than they, at first, appear. Read this blog about the plunge in phytoplankton.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— A new federal report out very recently finds there’s a 40-percent chance that the Pacific walrus, a species imperilled by loss of sea ice due to global warming, will be on a pathway to extinction by the end of the century. Scientists with the Center for Biological Diversity say even that estimate is far too optimistic because the U.S. Geological Survey relied on modeling that underestimates the effects of climate change.
story follows here:
Also a hair raising picture (from last years ice melt) of the mass “shore invasion” of walruses (walri?) which re-emphasises the current accelerating loss of multi-year ice in the Arctic. The walruses are suffering from the reduction in sea ice which they would normally be on or around.


An ice island four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland

Lloyds of London, the insurance market makers have warned of "catastrophic consequences" for businesses that fail to prepare for a world of increasing oil scarcity and a lower carbon economy. Their report repeats warnings from Professor Paul Stevens, a former economist from Dundee University, at an earlier Chatham House conference that lack of oil by 2013 could force the price of crude above $200 (£130) a barrel. Peak oil featured on Newsweek with Paxman a few weeks ago so reality is seeping into the public arena.
A new study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) argues that Europe and North Africa can achieve complete independence from fossil fuels by 2050, and that all the technologies necessary for such a transformation are already in place.
The 100 percent goal could be reached even without nuclear energy or carbon-capture and storage technology, two controversial elements of the renewable energy debate, according to the report.
Portugal will get 45% of their electricity from renewable sources this year NY times - renewable Portugal
Germany could get all of its electricity from renewables by 2050 the country's Federal Environment Agency said very recently
China has probably surpassed the US in installed renewable energy or, if not, they will have by the end of the year.
greening China surpasses America
News from the Desertec plan to build large solar concentrating (mirrors) power plant in the Sahara desert. In June, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced that Europe will start importing solar energy from the Sahara within the next five years.
solar energy from Sahara will be imported to Europe within 5 years
In 2009, Earth Overshoot Day was reached on September 25.
This New Scientist article is about a microbe that converts CO2 into methane using electricity. Well, what’s the use of that you might ask - apart from the coolness of the discovery?
Using some renewable energy for supplying the grid is not as reliable as, say, coal fired stations because sometimes the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Any grid system with a significant proportion of the load supplied by renewables would work much better with the ability to store energy for short periods and this is where this microbe may come in. At times of high availability of renewable energy (strong winds and sunny days) the surplus energy, if this research pans out, can convert CO2 into methane, at an efficiency of around 80%, which can be injected straight into extant natural gas pipelines or stored locally. Methane, of course, is a very useful source to supply domestic level fuel cells which can act as distributed microgeneration.

Bike Powered Cell Phone Chargers in Kenya

Half of Kenya’s inhabitants own a cellphone but many lack access to the necessary electrical infrastructure to charge their phones, forcing them to travel great distances and pay steep prices to juice up their phones at charging stations (around $2 a charge). Here’s news of a bike dynamo powered phone charger
Here’s a Newsy collection of items about global examples of zero waste aspirations to generate no non-recyclable or compostable waste.

Newsy.com is a good place to see the same story from multiple media viewpoints and various countries as they present snippets gathered from many sources.
Environmental action documentary/movie The Cove. Flipper meets The Bourne Identity. An elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, Japan, shining a light on a dark and deadly secret.
Superweeds and super bugs. Monsanto invented the GM crops that had resistance to glyphosate (Roundup). Nature fought back. The RoundupReady gene is present in approximately 90% of the soy and 70% of the corn and cotton grown in the U.S. Now it’s in the weeds too. The “superweed” problem is bad and getting worse: according the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, there are now 348 different herbicide-resistant weed biotypes, 19 of which are specifically impervious to glyphosate. Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts President Andrew Wargo, III told the New York Times that superweeds are the “single largest threat to production agriculture we’ve ever seen”
Here’s an ABC news video about superweeds

Friday, 10 September 2010

Brazilian ballet


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

How much?

How Much Is Left? The Limits of Earth's Resources, made interactive.

This Web-only article (click image) is a special rich-media presentation of the feature, "How Much Is Left?" which appears in the September 2010 issue of Scientific American. The presentation was created by Zemi media. Click (or double click) the image to be taken to the presentation then just mouse and click around it.

Examined carefully, this SciAm interactive presentation will help even gung-ho “growthists” (and anti-environmentalists generally) to get past their prejudices and realise the extraordinarily sticky situation that 300 years of ever expanding growth has brought us to. Peak just about everything.

I have, as I put in my profile in this blog’s side bar,

“particular interest in how ordinary economics and business models start to fail (and what to do about it) when approaching the limits of growth (when the world starts to put up a "house full" notice). Which is now.”

Those who continue to preach the benefits of continued growth, and resist moves that will transition us to sustainable ways of doing things, are Yesterday’s Men. To me, I simply cannot comprehend how stupid or ignorant or callous or arrogant or short sighted the “business as usual” types are. And yet they are seemingly impervious to criticism and maddeningly cocksure in their crumbling beliefs. Their rhetoric no doubt sounds plausible because it is familiar – it sounds comfortably “right”.  This is because we have grown up with it – our entire civilisation has grown up with it. It always appeared to work before – look at what we have achieved with it... A constantly blown up balloon always gets bigger and more impressive. Until it bursts. We have to grow up and start acting responsibly. Humanity has reached the end of its adolescent economic growth spurt. Time to put away childish things and be wise. There is no sane Plan B.

How much


Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Wishful thinking stymied by reality

The peaking of available oil supply has already happened a couple of years ago or will happen by 2013 or 2020 depending on who you listen to. Few credible sources deny its actual reality, they just bicker about the timing. It will mean the end of the last 300 years of unending economic expansion – the end of conventional economic wisdoms and the end of the credibility of those who continue to promote them. Are you listening, Deputy Chief Minister Ozouf?

Here’s a video featuring someone smart, competent and famous who realises the threats. As a businessman, he knows that forewarned is forearmed. Conventionally, business foreknowledge can enable great fortune. Maybe not in this case. Knowledge of what is likely to happen may bestow certain protection against the annihilation that will engulf those who are unprepared for it because they are not expecting it.

Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group, speaking at the launch of the 2nd Report by the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security

This next 28 minute video comes from Peak Moment TV. I just wish I had more time to watch more of their programmes.
Chris Martenson is interviewed about the fatal flaws in the foundations of modern industrial civilisation that will end “unending growth”. He speaks about the current financial crisis, peak oil, peak everything and touches on how few of the mainstream experts seem to realise (or dare say in public) the enormity of what we are facing.

"The next twenty years will be totally unlike the last twenty... We’ll face the greatest economic  physical challenges ever seen by our country, if not humanity.”

So opens Chris’ much-viewed online Crash Course (highly recommended insights into the irrationalities insanities and dangers with conventional economic thinking – NP) illuminating the relationship between economy, energy and the environment. Starting with the power of exponential growth, he tidily sums up our economic problems: Too Much Debt. Chris discusses the implications if we continue the status quo, and ways to prepare. He believes that if we manage the transition to a post fossil fuel, post growth era elegantly we can actually improve things.


Peak Moment TV is an online television series featuring people creating resilient communities for a more sustainable, lower-energy future. Programs range from permaculture farms to electric bikes, ecovillages to car-sharing, emergency preparedness to careers for the coming times. As of May 2010, over 170 half-hour programs are available online.