Wednesday, 28 November 2012

How the climate “debate” must be handled from now on

 I’m reposting a comment I just made to the top climate blog on ThinkProgress (headed up by Joe Romm) as it contains my current feelings about how the sheer danger and urgency of the position that humanity finds itself in is not effectively getting through to the public, and how the conventional way the scientific position is  being communicated is now failing us badly. I sketched out how we need to take the fight to the deniers, the propagandists and the irresponsibly complacent.

Romm’s post was about a recent New Scientist report – click link for the ThinkProgress post discussing it called 7 reasons climate change is even worse than we thought. Also have a look at the cover of the November 17th edition of New Scientist here which says it all loud and clear.

new scientist cover

My post was in answer to the well rated poster “Prokaryotes” who posted this comment:

prokaryotes says:

November 26, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Precautionary principle DEMANDS that we start cutting Co2 emissions immediately and go aggressively after the deniers”


To which I responded:

Yes, Yes, Yes! We need at least a two pronged attack. There are two major elements of the "sceptical arguments". Those put forward by the "lukewarmers", which have some scientific validity, and the much greater number of deceitful "magic tricks" that can fool those not up to speed with enough science. Both need addressing in different ways because they resonate with two different segments of society.

Firstly, we need a widespread global media friendly "debate" between four types - 1) representatives of the mainstream climate science position. Perfect would be Richard Alley. 2) the top "lukewarmers" - Lindzen is the obvious candidate 3) representatives from the risk assessment and forecasting industry such as actuaries from Munich Re. 4) economists who can assess the relative costs and benefits of doing either nothing or as much as it takes depending on the perceived risks.

At the commencement of this debate, the chairman should state the relative numbers of working, publishing peers that each scientific "side" of the debate has in their area of expertise and what the relative proportions of scientists supporting each side is.

Regardless of whether Lindzen put up a good show or not, the audience would see that his position is very much a tiny minority one. Too many of the public currently thinks there is an evenly balanced case on each side. Once they become aware of this error, they might see that they are in the position of Dirty Harry and the punk, neither of who knew for sure whether there was a bullet left in the Magnum  - except that the relative numbers of scientists and risks puts the public more in the situation of playing Russian Roulette with their family's and descendant's futures with an AK47 with a full magazine except one bullet...

I think the time has passed when just stating the consensus scientific position still works well enough to counter the powerful rhetoric and misleading arguments that the sceptical side has developed and refined over the last few years. The public is confused and uncertain as to who has reality on their side because the arguments of the "denialists" are just so damn convincing in THE MINDS OF THE PUBLIC. I have argued this point with committed educated "alarmists" and have been distressed to find out that too many just cannot understand it - they still think the way to convince the public is just to keep chanting ever louder that "the science is settled", "the consensus says" etc etc - they cannot seem to grasp that the public just doesn't blindly take the words of scientists as gospel any more and cannot see that their strategy is no longer helpful, but is fast becoming a handicap to generating more public pressure for urgent action.

In order to get political backing for the fundamental reforms we need, it is certain that the general public will need much greater confidence that action is necessary now and fast and that will only come when a large majority accept that the risks of doing nothing are huge and the benefits of an all-out assault on emissions will be much greater than they have been led to accept.

Websites such as are brilliant for the already converted, and their phone app debunking common denialist arguments is fantastic, but this is not enough. The general public has clearly not been exposed to those ripostes enough. The existence of resources like this that debunk the propaganda have not swayed the popular tide of doubt and uncertainty.

The second prong of the attack should be very widespread - newpaper ads, TV slots, radio shows, mass mailouts to residences etc - and should attack the denialist arguments that are just simple magic tricks, designed to mislead e.g. CO2 is a trace gas; it was warmer in the past; climate is always changing; warming stopped in 1997; CO2 is plant food; it's the Sun etc etc. answers these by a clear exposition of the science but this is not an optimum strategy for convincing the mass of the public - what is needed is a clear set of analogies from ordinary life that ordinary people are familiar with and can relate to. An example to answer the "warming stopped in 1997" meme, which works because the climate unrealists draw a trend line from a recent cool period back to the height of the El Nino warmth and claim the trend is flat or declining, would be for the public to consider the graph of the weight of someone who overeats over decades but whose weight also varies wildly as they indulge in successive crash diets followed by periods of binge eating. Over thirty years they would only have to overeat, on average, by one ounce a day to eventually get to weigh over 600 pounds. The thirty year graph of their weight would look like the Himalayas as their weight varied by 50 pounds plus or minus as their eating habits changed but if the overeater drew a trend line from a "light" dieting period back to a "heavy" bingeing period, and claimed that they had no eating problems, most people would easily see that they were deluded and yet such a trick in the climate arena fools too many who are not familiar with such as the natural ocean cycles affecting temperatures over a couple of decades, climatologically, and thereby creating the convincing illusion on a cherry picked graph (to those unfamiliar with planetary mechanisms) that global warming has paused or reversed. People who would never get the statistical necessity that temperature trends only become significant over periods longer than 15 years would understand such a simple analogy straight off.

We need such a suite of analogies to "go aggressively after the deniers" because current practices are simply not working well enough. Too many still believe that the scientific debate is evenly balanced - that the climate sensitivity is too uncertain to guarantee a threat - even more would like to believe the hundreds of convincing pieces of deceit that there isn't any threat at all and that the science has been cooked up to get more governmental control of their lives or taxes out of their pockets.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Guerilla Food Security

If people listen carefully to the news, in amongst a whole bunch of trivial stuff, they would hear about growing food problems in the world, certainly price increases now, but probably shortages next year too.
You’ve heard of guerrilla gardening? These inspiring videos take the concept further, and legitimise it a bit. It’s a sort of modern day Dig for Victory campaign
What should a community do with its unused land? Plant food, of course. With energy and humour, Pam Warhurst tells at the TED Salon the story of how she and a growing team of volunteers came together to turn plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens, and to change the narrative of food in their community.

A whirlwind of energy and ideas, Stephen Ritz is a teacher in New York's tough South Bronx, where he and his kids grow lush gardens for food, greenery -- and jobs. Just try to keep up with this New York treasure as he spins through the many, many ways there are to grow hope in a neighbourhood many have written off, or in your own. (Filmed at TEDxManhattan).

Just to keep it local, a commenter to this post points out that "St Mark's church in St Helier noted that it had unused land down one side of the church, so it let a member's son build raised beds for local residents to grow vegetables in. If they can do it, so can others..."

And finally here is more or less the swan song of Andrew Wilford – “Wilf”. Filmed at TEDx a few months before he died. It sort of covers the whole problem. It includes some jaw-dropping figures about the mass of people plus our food animals versus the natural world.  He touches on the reasons why unending growth, whether of food supply, energy, economies etc,  is no longer possible.

Wilf was a Director of "Be The Change" Australia, President of Quest 2025 (an organisation illuminating the illusory nature of current economic systems) and a Director of Best Futures (a global research organisation focusing on biosocial system transformation). Wilf also worked with the Kokoda Foundation developing National Resource Security Immersive Scenarios examining climate, energy, water, food, ecosystem and economic futures. Sadly, he died on 13 August 2012, aged 48.

Text taken from the intros to the videos

Friday, 14 September 2012

VENI VIDI REFECI – Wombling free! Rise of Maker Man, or how I managed to avoid spending a lot on a new monitor while philosophising about how the Universal Soldier really is to blame and also creating my longest blog post title yet.

The title means (in Latin) I came, I saw, I repaired. My step son, who’s pretty handy too, says he is going to get me a T shirt with this slogan on after the following all took place. In case readers don’t know, “maker” refers to the online trend for people to make their own - like growing-your-own, but with more carpentry and metalwork!

Maker links: Wiki article about makers - Maker faire - Make magazine 

Transition initiatives (click for a link to Jersey in Transition’s website – or Facebook page) are also keen on making and mending to demonstrate that there is another way besides buying and chucking away until people have “used it up and worn it out - because there’s nothing left in this whole world that they care about” (Odyssey’s only UK #1 single) .


Now to the nitty-gritty of this post.

My computer monitor started flickering badly a couple of weeks ago whenever it was switched on. The flickering would settle down after a minute or so but the period was getting longer every day. I started to think I would be needing a new monitor, as I was not expecting it to be repairable. You know what modern electronics are like. Before I revved myself up to be a consumer again, I Googled for the problem and - hallelujah! - there were quite a few forums and Youtube videos that suggested the likely cause for this fault, which is mostly the electrolytic capacitors on the power supply board. Apparently quite a few manufacturers use low spec parts in this area – in my case, my Samsung 226BW used CapXon capacitors, which supposedly last about 2000 hours or three years and pretty much take you just to the end of the warranty period. Now doesn’t that almost look like someone designed the monitor to fail so it gets replaced (too) early? Most people would assume that it could not be economically repaired, as indeed I almost did, and I normally always try to repair anything that breaks first before I splash out on a new one. That makes me a bit of a rarity outside the transition and make and mend movements. There’s probably much larger numbers of people who are fed up with goods failing and breaking down too early but WHY DON’T THEY PROTEST ABOUT IT? Consumer pressure these days is just about the only thing manufacturers listen to, now that integrity, longevity and fairness have gone so out the window now we are in the 21st century. Yet so many just say “mustn’t grumble”



and soldier on without a squeak. Well Universal Soldiers, here’s a message for you. Every time you say nothing or do nothing, you reinforce the very situation you grumble about under your breath or bitch about to your friends and colleagues. You know what you should do, why don’t you do it?


“He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame, but his orders come from far away no more, they come from him and you and me, and brothers can’t you see, this is not the way we put an end to war”

Phew – back to the mundane. Having obtained three new caps for under a fiver including postage and packing (I ordered higher spec ones – 35V instead of 25V ones, so they should last longer) I set to a few days ago following the video below and a step by step set of photos on the Overclockers forum which was a bit easier.

What pleased me first was that the case of the monitor was quite easy to split – it holds together using plastic clips, which often are not only hard to get apart but sometimes break. Manufacturers design these things so they can put them together as fast as possible and do not often seem to bother if that makes them harder to open for repair. Anyway, using a butter knife and debit card as levers, it popped open easily.

As I used to make electronic circuits when I was a teenager, I found I didn’t need to dismantle everything as thoroughly as the guides did so I managed to desolder the offending caps and resolder them (with the aid of Merlin, my trusty assistant Siamese) without going to their slightly excessive lengths. The three caps that usually go on this monitor are the three with arrows in the bottom right of the second pic. The “blown“ caps were immediately obvious once I got the power supply out – the tops were not only domed instead of flat but had started to leak the brown electrolyte from inside too. The two 830 µFs were blown but the 330 µF appeared Ok - I replaced it anyway as it was the same spec as the dodgy two.

Here is my assistant Merlin after the outside case and bits have been separated.

The power supply board is the right hand (slightly raised) one.  Merlin felt like a nap afterwards, because it was quite hot work in the sun.



The offending power supply board with the 3 dodgy caps arrowed (bottom right)



Can you see the leaking electrolyte on the top of the two larger caps?

Both of them are domed upwards because of the pressure – the smaller cap has still got a flat top but would no doubt blow shortly after putting the monitor back together - if it wasn’t replaced right now… You can just see Merlin’s paws as he formulates his strategy.



Merlin having a think about how he is going to tackle the soldering with this weird (borrowed) “solder gun.”

However, that will be after he has had another nap. He has already sorted out three new replacement capacitors.



First capacitor “legs” fed through the holes in the circuit board

Make sure to get the correct polarity leg through the right hole…



All three capacitors soldered on. Legs not yet cleaned up and clipped off

Excuse the rubbish soldering  - Merlin is only a cat and he said the soldering iron was not the best he’d used. I tend to agree with him but I’d borrowed it so beggars shouldn’t be choosers, I suppose. I tidied up the solder and flux (brown stuff) on the joints after I took this pic, although Merlin claimed he was a bit offended.



Just the back to go back on now

Merlin has disappeared for some snacks after his hard work and has left me to do the easy bit.



If you’ve got this model monitor; here’s a Youtube video below

“Repairing a Samsung SyncMaster 226 BW monitor”

showing you fairly clearly what to do, narrated in English by “Retroswede” who is indeed Swedish.

There are other videos out there for other breeds of monitor so this dodgy capacitor problem looks like a common cause of failure. It opens up the possibility of getting nearly free monitors by wombling (see urban dictionary for definition) for discarded office monitors and fixing them up.

Making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folks leave behind

One of the Wombles’ mottos is "Make Good Use of Bad Rubbish". Quite Transitiony. here is Series 1, Episode 1

Orinoco and the big black umbrella

Alderney’s commemorative stamp issue – Author Elisabeth Beresford went there to live and retire.

wombles stamps


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Not the Paralympics

This odd but haunting video is not anything directly to do with the Paralympics but, curiously, it resonates strongly with them.

Sue Austin has been a wheelchair user since 1996, but has dedicated herself to “finding ways to understand and represent my embodied experience as a wheelchair user, opening up profound issues about methods of self-representation and the power of self-narration in challenging the nexus of power and control that created the ‘disabled’ as other.”



Monday, 27 August 2012


Here is some delicious sunset tree (and finally village) surfing. Click here for Davide Guiducci's facebook page. He lives near Villa Minozzo in Italy.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes

Here is a simple test. Watch this animation of successive months of data from NASA’s AQUA satellite. It is a record of methane release from the Arctic from March 2003 until March this year. If it doesn’t send a chill down your spine, you simply don’t know enough important stuff. If you see it and think “so what?” and do nothing – ask nothing – learn nothing – you are a danger to everybody else. And your children. And their children.


Thursday, 19 July 2012

New “Story of Stuff” video

Today I’m featuring the latest video from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff stable (see below). 

This one is called “The Story of Change” and it has just been released.
Nowadays it’s not enough to simply try to be a green consumer; actual citizen involvement and action is required as well to create sufficient pressure for change that institutions, governments, civil servants and corporations will react and adapt until we get to the promised land of sustainability – I have a dream…

There are phrases that advertising types use, particularly when marketing what they want us to see as greener products. These are such as “doing one’s bit” or “every little bit helps”. Well, this marketing speak unfortunately sometimes achieves a few things that are counter-productive

1) They help to sell products that might appear greener than the competition but are not necessarily green enough to pass muster sustainability-wise – “you can't cross a chasm in two small jumps” - David Lloyd George. Genuinely environmentally friendly products, which might be more expensive but last considerably longer, can be crowded out by superficially green but short lived products that ultimately prove more expensive in real terms and more wasteful because they need replacing more often.

2) Worse, they defuse any social responsibility that the consumer may have felt impelling them to make a genuinely green purchase – or even not to make a purchase by considering whether they need the product at all. The consumer buying the greenish product may feel that they have done their bit – which leads to…

3) Consumers feel that they are trying to “do their bit” so can feel resentment because they don’t understand when environmentalists never seem to accept it was “enough”, so consumers can switch off in high dudgeon and the environmental case gets knocked back.
Having said all that, let’s get back to the video which promotes the idea that it’s not enough to simply change what one buys – it’s not even enough to


"Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Gandhi


Annie draws parallels with the great reform movements of the past such as anti-apartheid, the US Civil rights movement, Gandhi’s Indian independence movement (which didn’t just stop at encouraging personal change)  and the early successes of the environmental movement in getting anti-pollution laws passed which all came about because of a lot of protesting, campaigning, citizen pressure and occasional fighting. Just buying recycled toilet roll is not enough to cut the sustainability mustard.



Thursday, 12 July 2012

Crrraazzzy Climate Crock

We’re having a rotten wet and cold summer locally. I had to lift my garlic early to stop it rotting in the ground. In the UK there are huge floods – the wettest drought they have ever had! In America, they are burning up, breaking all time heat records. The U.S. government declared more than 1,000 counties in 26 states drought disasters on Thursday.

Here below is another in the Climate Crock of the Week series that I occasionally feature here. Peter Sinclair does many more “Crocks” but, to be honest, he has now convincingly debunked just about every argument and piece of misdirection that the sceptic/denialists have ever come out with so I just feature the more noteworthy and newsworthy ones these days.

This video is called  “Welcome to the Rest of Our Lives”. It showcases this year’s extreme out-of-the-ordinary weather events in the USA.  Final proof that the very latest extreme weather events are the climate changing up a gear can only be finally shown statistically to be happening after 20-30 more years data, although people’s common sense must be beginning to let them know what their future is likely to be.

What we are seeing are already statistically unusual/unprecedented events full stop. If people didn’t believe the previous clear statistical proof that the planet has been warming, owing to the misdirecting efforts of the “sceptic” deceivers and misleaders, perhaps they’ll start to take notice when their homes are burnt or swept away in floods and food prices start to shoot up. The US has got such a severe drought now that there is likely to be an extreme failure of the corn (maize) harvest.

Was that all just climate alarmism? I think not. The weasel word “alarmism” suggests there is no real problem – that it’s just those doomsayers crying wolf again. Move along, there's nothing to see here. The actual situation we are in is very alarming. The wolf really is at the gate. Bear in mind that it is believed that there is around a thirty year lag, from any increase in greenhouse gases, before the planet responds fully by reaching its new equilibrium temperature (just taking the “fast feedbacks” into account let alone the long term slow ones…). If we stopped using all fossil fuels tomorrow morning, things will continue to get worse for at least thirty years, if the science is right. If there are positive feedbacks and tipping points that are stronger or closer than anticipated, things might not stop getting worse for a very long time.

There are those who say that people won’t respond to such dire predictions – that somehow they will turn a blind eye to the threat because they don’t like the idea of anything shaking their "glass half full" ideology. Well what WILL get through to these crazy arrogant irresponsible people? Does their wishful thinking based on ignorance of reality give them the right to vote to expose the rest of us to whatever might happen? That would be democracy gone mad and yet we still have the apparently mindless mainstream media spreading the B.S. of the denialists in a misguided attempt to regurgitate what they were taught at journalism college – that they must always show “balance”. Journalistic balance is based on the clearly fallacious idea that there are always two sides to every story;  the media present the two sides in the climate wars as if they were of equal value and give them equal prominence. Truth and science trumps lies, stupidity, deceit and ignorance and it’s about time the media woke up to their true responsibilities. Start investigating the truth and report on it. Stop taking the money until you do your jobs right!

This is a companion video about sea level rise


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Snippets from the Interwebs 10

Yet another digest of snippets from the Intertubes. A lot is going on that the mainstream media barely reports on.

Last week the state of Hawaii introduced a state-wide ban on plastic bags, becoming the first US state to do so. Now the city of Los Angeles has banned them too becoming the largest US city with a ban
Globally, Mexico ranks 24th in wind capacity and is expected to jump to 20th, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). Mexico only produced three megawatts (MW) of wind power in 2005, but now has almost 400 times that amount and by the end of this year will have two gigawatts (GW). Mexico has the 14th largest economy in the world, is the 11th largest greenhouse gas emitting country, and is the world’s 7th largest producer of oil. Mexico also has Mexico City, which has some of the most severe air pollution in the world.
Microsoft has committed to become carbon neutral beginning on July 1, the start of the company’s new fiscal year. The shift results from three years of internal discussions within the company to improve Microsoft’s carbon footprint and environmental performance. The company will roll out the new changes, including a new accounting system, across its operations in over 100 countries.

Our Economic Development Minister Senator Alan Maclean has just been trying to drum up business for Jersey in Israel. Here’s what some of their entrepreneurs are doing -
Rafael Aharon, an Israeli entrepreneur, has come up with a plan to make paper from human waste. This might sound unsavoury, but he sees an untapped business with plenty of potential.
Aharon is the CEO of Applied Clean Tech (ACT), a sewage recycling company. Their system is an “integrated solution combining reduced sludge formation for municipal waste water treatment plants (WWTPs) with recycling of waste water bio-solids.”
They take sewage poop they treat it and make paper out of the fibre they find therein.
In April, Mexico’s House of Representatives passed a new piece of climate change legislation, making it only the second country in the world behind the UK and its Climate Change Act to do so, once it is approved by Mexico’s Senate. The law calls for reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
In March Virent and Virdia, formerly HCL CleanTech, announced the successful conversion of cellulosic pine tree sugars to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels within the BIRD Energy project, a joint program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure and the BIRD Foundation. The project, which commenced in January 2011, successfully demonstrated that Virdia’s deconstruction process generated high-quality sugars from cellulosic biomass, which were converted to fuel via Virent’s BioForming® process.
Virent used Virdia’s biomass-derived sugars to produce gasoline and jet fuel, the latter being sent to the U.S Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for analysis where it passed rigorous testing. Tim Edwards of the Fuels Branch of the AFRL said, “This fuel passed the most stringent specification tests we could throw at it (such as thermal stability) under some conditions where conventional jet fuels would fail. This fuel is definitely worth further evaluation.”
Here’s a good website – - for those who want to relearn how to fix things. It mainly concentrates on electrical devices

In March, the Danish government once again threw down the green energy gauntlet by pledging to generate 35% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 100% by 2050
It would be good to find a site that rates thousands of products for such things as health, ethical and environmental performance.
Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past the package’s marketing spiel by entering a product’s name and discovering its health, environmental and social impacts
Volvo Group, the transportation equipment manufacturer, has set a tall order for itself. It wants to reduce its carbon emissions from the construction equipment, buses and trucks it makes by 30 million tons by the end of 2014. To put the Volvo/WWF alliance in perspective, the 30 million ton reduction goal is the equivalent of the total carbon dioxide emitted by all of Sweden over a seven month period
This website lets you examine in detail the performance of Germany’s huge photovoltaic sector in  real time – none at night! On this site you can view at any time the total output of all PV plants in Germany installed up to the specified cutoff date. As required, you can view this information as an absolute value or as a percentage of total installed output
Moving along with Scotland’s ambitious plans to be the European leader in wind energy, Korean-based Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) has announced that it will base its first European offshore wind project in Fife. The venture is said to be worth up to £100m and is expected to create 500 new jobs in the clean energy sector in Scotland.
Hank (who maintains the website EcoGeek and sings songs about particle physics) runs a YouTube channel that celebrates nerdiness. This Internet community is now a huge part of pop culture among self-professed teenage nerds. Hank’s new spin-off channel SciShow, which publishes videos about popular science topics, has only being going for a month but already has 90 000 subscribers and 1 million views. So I was very excited when Hank created this entertaining, polished, and wonderfully accurate video about climate change. He discusses sea level rise, anoxic events, and even the psychology of denial: In which Hank details the five scariest things that will likely happen because of climate change.


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Interplanetary Resources – MAKE IT SO!

Many vital resources on Earth are limited. Any sensible person knows that.

Readers will be familiar with my endless rants about the inadvisability of further conventional economic growth because we live on a finite planet with finite material, energy and area resources. Conventional economists seem unaware of the dire consequences of this in the long term, probably the medium term and possibly in the short term. We are already at or beyond some environmental and resource limits so, barring something really unusual happening, we are likely to find out what Dicken’s Mr Micawber’s invocation meant – just substitute “the things we need to keep surviving and thriving” for the currency mentioned:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery"

I used to be a science fiction fan (still am) so I am used to letting my imagination roam amongst the planets and stars (OK, OK – I’m a Trekker too…) and quite a few 50s and 60s stories were set at a time when mankind had got things sorted out. We hadn’t wrecked the ecosphere neither had we run out of stuff and one of the backdrop themes was that we would be mining the asteroids for resources. Sixty years later…. Step forward Planetary Resources (click linky for website).

Here’s their promotional video released yesterday. It starts off looking a bit like the Star wars intro…

Now you may say that they are dreamers…but they’re not the only ones (© John Lennon). They have serious heavy hitting finance behind them, including Larry (do no evil) Page, the CEO of Google, who’s not short of a few bob. Here’s the sort of poster any respectable geeky kid would have had on their wall in the 60s. Now people are making it real.


Taken from their website:

There are near-limitless numbers of asteroids and more being discovered every year. More than 1,500 are as easy to reach as the Moon and are in similar orbits as Earth. Asteroids are filled with precious resources, everything from water to platinum. Harnessing valuable minerals from a practically infinite source will provide stability on Earth, increase humanity’s prosperity, and help establish and maintain human presence in space”


Asteroid mining will ultimately lead to an environmentally and economically sustainable development of space resources

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Growthiness, growthiness, the grossest gift that I possess

We are in a very tricky situation, economically speaking. Not just globally but also here in Jersey. The foreseeable and inevitable clamp down of the UK on LVCR will shortly lead to more job losses locally. Today’s UK budget may also clamp down on those who hold their properties etc in companies to avoid personal taxation, the administering of which is one of the legs of our finance industry stool.

Globally, we have probably arrived at the point where further economic growth as prescribed by Finance Minister Ozouf, Economic development Minister Maclean, Osborne, Obama etc is not just unlikely but should be recognised as very undesirable.

Economies are limited by the availability of cheap, easily and economically available energy. Here’s a graph of oil prices in “real” dollar equivalents (click image for a larger version).

oil prices

As you can see, adjusting for inflation, we are at round about the same real price that oil got to during the peak of the 1970's oil shock. Clearly it shows that we are at or beyond a similar situation to the 1970s when the oil price shock first manifested which was regarded as the first event since the Great Depression to have a persistent economic effect. It was associated with (coming soon after) the stock market crash of 73-74.

Some measures of well-being reckon that, at least in the developed world, human well-being peaked in the 1970s and has been declining more or less ever since. This was one of the themes behind Life on Mars where Sam Tyler finally chose to go back to the 70s rather than stay in the here and now.

Study the graph and what it shows about the world and why future growth is so unlikely that those who blindly continue to prescribe and work towards trying to engender it, should just get real and tell everybody that they are trying to chase a mirage.

We are at, or past, peak oil. New reserves being found are not keeping up with the demand. The giant oil fields (such as those in Saudi Arabia) found in the past are declining fast already and it now takes more and more energy to get each barrel up from the depths. EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) is the reason.

From Wikipedia (although there is naturally some argument about the figures):

"when oil was originally discovered, it took on average one barrel of oil to find, extract, and process about 100 barrels of oil. That ratio has declined steadily over the last century to about three barrels gained for one barrel used up in the U.S. (and about ten for one in Saudi Arabia)"

Some people believe that there will always be more to find if we just drill deeper or go further out to sea - they are sort of correct, but the view is not sensible. There is no point. As the EROEI falls to approach one barrel of oil needed to extract one barrel of oil, the benefit approaches zero and the carbon footprint of net usable extracted energy approaches infinity!

Things are going to go rapidly downhill unless you all start ignoring the Geoff Cook's and the Ozouf's and the Osborne's and their functionally insane belief that "growth" will be our saviour - start paying more attention to those talking about a genuinely sustainable strategy.

At the root of all the problems we have, and those problems yet to manifest fully, is one word -  growth. The superstar of the ecological economics movement, Herman Daly, has pointed out that economies have an optimum size. When they are small and the world is empty and the resources available to them are large compared with the demand, then growth has really beneficial effects at making people better off by generating wealth and employment etc. When an economy continues growing, however, a point is reached when the available space to expand into and the availability of economically extractable resources starts to peak, then plateau and eventually starts to decline. This peaking is the moment when the graph of benefits versus further growth starts to decline too – further economic growth leads to decreasing benefits. Daly himself somewhat clumsily calls this increasing “illth”.

We are at this point now. Further conventional economic growth, of the type which has worked well for us in the past, will not achieve the same results as all the conventionally educated experts and economists still expect – in fact it would achieve exactly the opposite. The more “they” try to restart growth in the global economy, the worse will be the eventual effects. One of the problems with conventional economics is it does not discriminate between desirable outcomes, such as increasing health and contentment and undesirable outcomes, when it measures the overall success or growth in an economy. Anything that generates money is counted as “good”.

An economy that has to spend a lot on the military because they are fighting a war or preparing for one as an eventuality, or has to expand spending on medicine and health care because the population is increasingly unhealthy can appear, by conventional measures, to be economically healthy whereas the economy of a peaceful, healthy, contented population not so wedded to ever increasing purchases of material goods to provide consumer satisfaction could appear as if it was flat-lining. Which society would you prefer to live in, though?

People may think these ideas are a recent invention but they have actually been part of the evolution of economic thought almost since the beginning. Even that darling of hard line right wingers Adam Smith - who wrote “The Wealth of Nations” – was aware of the ultimate limits to growth, but his ideas have been cherry picked for centuries. He theorised and observed that people trading in free markets leads to production of the right quantities of commodities, division of labour, increasing wages, and an upward spiral of economic growth. But he also recognized a limit to economic growth. He predicted that in the long run, population growth would push wages down, natural resources would become increasingly scarce, and division of labour would approach the limits of its effectiveness.

Other famous economic names were aware of the limits to growth too:

John Maynard Keynes, one of the most influential economists of the twentieth century, currently enjoying  a bit more popularity, after the Milton Friedman type policies of the past few decades start to look a bit "tired" now as the economic system faces collapse,  also considered the day when society could focus on ends (happiness and wellbeing, for example) rather than means (economic growth and individual pursuit of profit).
He wrote:
...that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable… We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.
The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems - the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behaviour and religion.
John Stuart Mill, pioneer of economics and one of the most gifted philosophers and scholars of the 19th century, also anticipated the transition from economic growth to a "stationary state." In his Principles of Political Economy, he wrote:
...the increase of wealth is not boundless. The end of growth leads to a stationary state. The stationary state of capital and wealth… would be a very considerable improvement on our present condition.
...a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the art of living, and much more likelihood of it being improved, when minds ceased to be engrossed by the art of getting on."
The problem is that the cherry picking of the great economists’ thoughts has had the effect of only publicising that part of their work that supports unrestrained expansionism. It has been promoted by those who seek to accumulate ever greater wealth and personal power – in short, greed – without them seeming to understand the inherent limits to that way of being. As Simon and Garfunkle, in “The Boxer”, sung –
“a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”

More recently than those old time economists I mentioned, Bobby Kennedy expressed the basic ideas behind sustainable or ecological economics ideas on 18 March 1968, in an address to the University of Kansas at the height of the Vietnam war. This speech has just resurfaced, thanks to Youtube.   

So, why did I call this post “growthiness, growthiness”? It’s a reference to the Ken Dodd song “happiness”. In it he never once mentions getting a new IPad or the FTSE hitting 10,000!

We’ve all led ourselves to believe that happiness and contentment is largely achievable with continued economic growth. The idea is hard wired into the minds of most politicians, businessmen, civil servants, classical economists. It permeates the very fabric of human society. People who question it are sidelined or ignored by the powers that be, as if the vast majority are all operating under post hypnotic suggestions to avoid considering the very obvious and exponentiating flaws in the dream.

The advertising and P.R. industries that first mushroomed in the 1950s, as psychologists inspired by Edward Bernays started to consolidate how to really influence people by exploiting their inner unconscious fears and desires, are largely responsible for the hypnotic suggestions we have been swamped with that make unending growth and the consumer lifestyle it promises seem desirable, indeed “the way”.

It’s time to wake up.


Sunday, 4 March 2012

Guinea pig power

Gaia Vince, who writes the blog Wandering Gaia,  finished a very long globetrot last year. Here’s her video celebrating guinea-pig poo power.  The enterprising people featured are from Pachacamac, Peru and they run a cuy (guinea pig) farm.  Peruvians like to eat cuys but, as anyone who has kept guinea pigs knows, they create (for their size) a lot of waste matter. What on earth could one do with it all?
Gaia interviews the splendidly named (and hatted) Ulises (pronounced Ulysses) Moreno about their methane producing biodigester unit which produces gas for cooking and lighting.

Of course, it’s not just guinea-pig waste that can be used to anaerobically generate methane for cooking, lighting or electricity. Almost any organic material will do, from lawn clippings to last night’s chips. Here’s a video about a Nebraskan farmer who raises pigs and soy beans, generates electricity from the biogas then finally feeds the digested material back into the land as free fertiliser. What is stopping Jersey cattle farmers from doing something similar? Not a lot, apart from the up-front cost of the equipment and the necessary can-do spirit. Perhaps, if our Finance/Economic Development Ministers are looking for a sustainable economic project to invest in Planet Jersey’s future, they might consider something like this.
Nebraska soybean Checkoff farmers

Biodigesters are really simple and there are tons of Youtube videos of people who have made their own domestic devices to get a lot of benefit from their organic waste. Here’s a link below to just one but don’t just click on the play button – instead double click on the YouTube logo in the bottom right of the window to go directly to the relevant YouTube page. Click on the multiple links on the right hand side for many more devices and approaches.




Thursday, 2 February 2012

Pollination must see - birds, bees, bats, bugs, and cactus flowers

Superb TED film about the various ways plants get pollinated. Watch out for the hummingbird versus the bee bit. Aerobatics to die for.

Moonlit pollination too.



Ponder on the delicate interactions and interdependencies of nature shown then watch 131 years of global temperature changes in 26 seconds. Consider how natural systems are very sensitive to small changes in the environment.

NASA | Temperature Data: 1880-2011


And the same sort of information in graphical form from the World Meteorological Society. Next time you hear someone claiming that global warming has stopped because “there hasn’t been any warming for 15 years”,  show them this. They won’t believe you because they are terminally thick or bad but at least you will have tried!


Saturday, 14 January 2012

And if one green bottle should accidentally fall…

Yikes! I’m starting to feel a bit psychic. Yesterday, I was chatting with some people knowledgeable about the real status of the world economy, and that of the EU in particular, who seem to recognise that things are not as bright as our glorious Jersey leaders make out.  Amongst other things, and this is the Twilight zone moment, I said I couldn’t see any way that the slow-motion dominoes of the EU zone wouldn’t start to topple within the next few days. An expectation just based on my own personal model of the universe which, so far, seems more accurate than those of professional forecasters (at least those who are paid to tell those with their mitts on the levers of power that the glass is still half full!).

On tonight’s late news we have France and Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Cyprus downgraded by S&P – Portugal is now at junk status. Greece now looks certain to default, probably in March. S&P put 14 euro zone states on negative outlook for a possible further downgrade, including France, Austria, and still triple-A rated Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (source: REUTERS).

I think we will be relatively OK in Jersey for a while because we are sufficiently “outside” the EU but I don’t see any way that a wounded and staggering Europe will not be forced to crack down on the insufficiently governed nature of international finance (I don’t mean political government here, more the engineering government - click for Wiki article - of negative feedback that stops events getting out of hand in machines). At the very least, some variant on the Tobin tax (Robin Hood tax) looks likely. This would eventually impact on the City of London and thenceforth Jersey. Hedge funds and investment banking generally would shrink (understatement like this is so cool, no?). The dollar premium might even come back – this was a system, abandoned by Britain around 1979, which  prevented the easy and fast movement of capital from country to country.

The focus of attention is now off the USA, and there have been a few misleadingly promising statistics published recently there on jobs etc, but the underlying reality is still catastrophic. Like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, gravity seems suspended until the unfortunate coyote looks down. The world has gone further and further over the edge with each successive bailout and quantitative easing etc. You cannae change the laws of physics, Jim! Try to ignore what some vandal has done to the original looney tunes soundtrack in this clip.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Peter Rhodes - the sequel

I got a prompt response from my email to Peter Rhodes – see the previous post – Peter Rhodes column in the JEP.

Here it is in its entirety:

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention


If one was naive, one might imagine that this was a thank-you-I-now-realise-I-was-wrong message. Others might see a brush off.

Peter Rhodes, according to one of his email addresses ( appears to actually have a connection with the Express and Star newspapers which is not too surprising as they have a bit of a history of publishing wildly misleading “sceptical” climate science articles, frequently using massively debunked denialist rhetoric in those articles to push the newspaper’s political line. I used to like the Express when I was growing up – it was our family newspaper – now I don’t.


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Peter Rhodes column in the JEP

Peter Rhodes writes a column published in the JEP. The  persona we see is that of a grizzled old cynical hack who has seen everything, got the T- shirt and is sceptical of it. He is a borderline climate change denialist as he sometimes writes scoffing about  the dangers. He eventually got on my nerves so I just fired off this response to his latest assault on the clever men of science - who actually know what they are talking about.


Dear Mr. Rhodes,

                       My attention has been drawn to one of your JEP columns, published on Thursday 29th December.

You wrote:

"Over the yule period, some parts of the United Kingdom were 30° C warmer than they were this time last year. Tell me again. Why exactly will an average rise of 2° C be a global catastrophe?"

Well, with a nod to Ronald Searle, as any fule kno, averages can be deceptive. Indeed, they are often used to deceive. Perhaps a reductio ad absurdum would illustrate this?

For example, the average annual temperature in the South of England is around 11 degees C. Imagine though if one day there was an extreme solar flare which pushed the temperature up for one day only to 100 C - boiling point. Hot enough to cook eggs on the pavement, and everything else, everywhere in Britain, including us.

The change in average temperature for the year? 0.24 degrees C. 11 deg C -> 11.24 deg C. By your "logic" nothing bad could have happened and there would be nothing to worry about.

The average rise of 2 degrees C by 2050 is a globally averaged figure. It does not mean that winters will be 2 deg warmer than normal, similarly summers won't just be a bit warmer either. It will not be smooth gentle and consistent. The 2 degrees C figure actually relates to the increase in temperature that satellites would see for the whole Earth, if it was measured from sufficient distance to iron out all the variations over the surface.

The true danger of global warming is in the increased variation and severity of temperature swings outside normally expected levels. Take a look at this recent article to see the horrendous probabilities, then remember also that the 2 degrees figure you quote does not stop in 2050 but will continue to increase for centuries, although not at the same rate - unless the methane clathrate "gun" is "fired", in which case it's sayonara civilisation and also to most species on Earth. Worth gambling with? Is there a dangerous bullet in the climate gun or a blank? Do you feel lucky, punk?

The IPCC indicate that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 1.1 to 2.9 °C (2 to 5.2 °F) for their lowest emissions scenario and 2.4 to 6.4 °C (4.3 to 11.5 °F) for their highest, so the figure of 2 degrees you quote, and that, for the sake of the argument, I have used, is a gross simplification of the full risks we face.

Before you print any more "sceptical" climate related stuff, please reflect that we only have one Earth, that we are experimenting with the gaseous composition of its atmosphere in an unprecedented way and that we are unable to do "test tube" science to establish beyond all doubt what the outcome will be. The only test tube big enough is the Earth, unfortunately we are stuck in that test tube so we can't escape any consequences and we can't go back in time to try another path. Real life is not like a video game. We can only try to predict what might happen based on the best available knowledge and risk assessment and take action to avoid it. Predicting risks and avoiding them is actually one of the better uses of intelligence. Cheap scoffing is probably the opposite.

Nick Palmer

Media spokesman for J-CAN - Jersey Climate Action Network

Member of Planning and Environment's J.E.F. - Jersey Environment Forum

On the side of the Planet - and the people - because they're worth it

Blogspot - Sustainability and stuff according to Nick Palmer