Thursday, 29 October 2009

Halloween vs the Ugly bug ball

"Come on let's crawl (gotta crawl gotta crawl)
To the ugly bug ball (to the ball to the ball)
And a happy time we'll have there, one and all - at the ugly bug ball”

Today the walls of my house are covered in ladybirds. Initially, I was pleased about this because a good population of ladybirds in the garden is free pest control for next year’s growing season (because they eat prodigious quantities of aphids etc) but then I looked closer. They all appear to be Harlequins - the highly invasive Asian species that is rapidly spreading North on the UK mainland and “out-competing” our 46 native species. We could try to kill them but, like Jason in Friday the 13th, and Michael Myers in Halloween, they will probably keep coming back undaunted.

No doubt Senators Ozouf, Le Sueur and Maclean will be pleased at this development because, to their viewpoint, increased competition is always good but their ideas, and those of their advisers, really are about as far away from “sustainable” as it is possible to imagine.

The Harlequin ladybird is putting over 1,000 species in the UK in peril, scientists have warned. In the following snippet from Radio 4, Dr Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, discusses the danger of the "dramatic and unprecedented spread of the top predator".

EDIT: Here was an extract from a radio programme but it played automatically, which was a nuisance for anyone looking at other posts so I have removed it today (15th November 2009). If you want to hear it, then follow this link to a article about Harlequins

As the image shows, they come in multiple colour forms (Harlequins, not politicians) which can be confusing but, if you know approximately how big common ladybirds are, these are quite a lot bigger and more “domed”.

The following three paragraphs are adapted from Wikipedia.

Although native species of ladybirds are pretty benign, in North America the multicolored Asian lady beetle (=Harlequin =Harmonia axyridis), was introduced in the twentieth century to control aphids on agricultural crops. It has now become a serious household pest in some regions owing to its habit of overwintering in structures (AKA houses). It is now acquiring a pest reputation in Europe.

The first H. axyridis to be found in Jersey was located in St Catherine’s Woods in February 2007 by Tim Ransome. It is presumed that it was blown over from the French coast.

The species was first spotted in Essex in 2004 and has since become the fastest spreading alien species on record. The species probably arrived in the UK via several routes: most likely, some flew across the English Channel from France; others have been imported from Europe on flowers and vegetables, and from Canada in packing cases. Large numbers discovered at Battersea, Clapham and Chelsea implicate the Channel Tunnel rail link (Eurostar) as a route of entry.

Click the following link to a recent story in the Telegraph headlined

Harlequin ladybirds spreading through British homes

The scare aspect of this Telegraph story (about noxious smells and biting) also applies to native ladybirds, but these invaders have higher concentrations of the “reflex bleeding” chemicals and tend to overwinter in large numbers inside houses – don’t disturb them!

This story is yet another example of how simplistic application of predatory species for pest control can often go wrong. Compare the similar stories of cane toads and prickly pear cactus in Australia and many other less well known examples of what “seemed like a good idea at the time”.

Forced competition, both ecologically and economically can have very serious and unforeseen (to many) consequences. Remember that, next time you hear Philip Ozouf or Chuck Webb waxing lyrical about the benefits to prices and consumer choice of gung-ho competition.

I have said that the end result of deliberate or forced competition, taken to the limit, is an unstable “rat and cockroach” economy. That’s a reference to what happens to native species on islands when invasive rats, goats etc are introduced. Some of the ecosystems and species that Durell protects are endangered precisely because of this problem. It’s not rocket science. In a similar way, the manufacturing industries of the world are suffering an overwhelming threat because of the invasive nature of cheaply produced Chinese goods that are “out-competing” more established manufacturing infrastructures in much of the world. Outsourcing of “back office work” to low wage areas also has the same effect. It’s no good if things get incredibly cheap if no-one has a wage paying job to buy “stuff” is it?

Successful ecosystems, bio-diversity and stable economic diversity all use the same fundamental mechanisms rooted in the basic physics and logic of the Universe. Fatally flawed ideologically driven creeds like neoclassical economics, yuppy’ism and Gecko’s “greed is good, greed works” will be the death of us, or at least the extreme uncomfortableness of us…

Sustainability is not just a meeting-speak buzz word – it is survival tactics for everybody’s future.


Well, that was all a bit depressing, so cheer up! Here’s a clip, from a simpler time, of one of the cutest songs ever! "The Ugly Bug Ball" was sung by the legendary Burl Ives, in Walt Disney's film "Summer Magic" (1963).


Friday, 23 October 2009

Take that, deniers!

The following italicised text is taken from At the end of this post there is a copy of the letter mentioned.

“Scientific societies warn Senate: climate change is real

A collection of scientific societies has sent an open letter to all US Senators, reiterating their individual statements on climate change, and offering to provide more information as legislation to limit carbon emissions moves forward.

Next week, the US Environment and Public Works committee is scheduled to begin debate on the Senate's version of a bill intended to begin limiting US greenhouse gas emissions, with a vote scheduled for early November. In advance of that hearing, a collection of 18 US scientific organizations has sent an open letter (click for link to letter) to members of the Senate, reminding them that climate change is a real phenomenon, and the best available evidence indicates it's being driven by human activities. The unusually blunt language is coupled with an offer: the US scientific community stands ready to provide assistance to anyone who is looking for further information in advance of taking legislative action.”

Anyone who follows climate change news will know that the always-active denialist movement have redoubled their efforts in recent months, as the scientific warnings have become more and more serious. Also they are doing this because we are approaching the Copenhagen Conference in December (dubbed “the most important meeting in human history” by Bill McKibben) – basically, it’s the denialists’ last chance to fool people - and they’re pulling out all the stops.

They have fooled up to 40% of the American public with their disinformation - curiously enough that is around the same number of the US public who believe that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Die-hard deniers like Senator Inhofe (probably the most vociferous US Senator on this subject) and others appear to believe that somehow God is going to ride over the hill, like the US cavalry in a John Wayne movie, to save us all from ourselves! That is both very scary and funny at the same time. A long time ago, when I was having a meeting with a senior local Jersey politician of the time I encountered this attitude. Here’s a link to a post I did on Planet Jersey (message #23) describing the bizarre occurence. This anecdote may amaze you, because what happens behind closed doors can be oh-so-unlike what some of the Jersey public expects our glorious leaders to behave like!

The denialists/inactivists have been very fond, in the past, of releasing misleadingly worded petitions, such as the Oregon petition, the Heidelberg Declaration and the Leipzig Declaration so it’s good to see such an unequivocal statement by the largest and most respected scientific organisations in the USA.

Here are images of the template letter, including the signatories.





Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Methane – it’s a gas

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, although it stays active in the atmosphere for less time. Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere a century or more once released, methane persists in the air for about 10 years.  It will be a serious problem if the permafrost in the tundra and Alaska melts and the underground methane comes up and the previously frozen vegetation generates more. It would be even worse if the undersea methane clathrates bubbled up (a form of methane+water ice which stays down there because of the cool temperature and pressure). Large scale release of methane would be a very strong positive feedback to global warming and if it starts to happen, then we are *%$#*’ed.

Large scale release of methane from clathrates has been associated with very rapid temperature rises and mass extinctions of species in the pre-historic past  - Permian-Triassic extinction event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

The story linked to below shows that it is not just “natural” releases that deserve attention because apparently there are large scale leaks from the global oil and gas processing infrastructure that have the same warming power of the emissions from over half of the coal plants in the United States. Because of methane’s lower residence time in the atmosphere, aggressively reining in emissions now would mean that far less of the gas would be warming the earth in a decade or so. Fixing the leaks would be a valuable “low hanging fruit” to get on with NOW!

click on this link to the New York Times story


This picture uses an Infra-red camera to show an “invisible” leak form a gas holder

In routine operations, great yet invisible plumes of gas enter the atmosphere when new wells are activated, old wells are invigorated to boost gas flows and wells are purged of fluids by letting out cough-like bursts of gas.


Sunday, 18 October 2009

This very short video (1 min 22 s) shows remarkably clearly why richer nations might be cutting off their noses to spite their faces. It just might be counter-productive to wait until the third world is rich enough to purchase new clean technology and energy.


Friday, 16 October 2009

My post for Blog action day

It’s blog action day (Oct 15th) for climate change when all bloggers are supposed to do a post on global warming. As I talk about it a lot, all I’ll say is this. The science isn’t bulletproof yet, nor will be, because of the nature of scientific knowledge. However, 97.4% of practicing climatologists agree that people are warming the climate. The only significant debate is about how much and how dangerous it will be. Those who claim there’s nothing to worry about are speaking not only from a position of ignorance but are playing Russian Roulette with everybody else’s future.

Should we let them?

Do you feel lucky?

p.s. OK, I posted it after midnight...


Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A little light relief from the doom and gloom

While we contemplate the potential end of our civilisation, we might as well have a laugh. This spoof is from “The Onion” a satirical publication.


Melting ice caps expose over 100 secret Arctic lairs

September 25, 2009

ZACKENBERG RESEARCH STATION, GREENLAND—Claiming it to be one of the most dramatic and visible signs of climate change to date, researchers said Monday that receding polar ice caps have revealed nearly 200 clandestine lairs once buried deep beneath hundreds of feet of Arctic ice.

Melting Ice Cap

An ice shelf off the coast of Greenland in 2006 (above) and last week (below)

“We always assumed there would be some secret lairs here and there, but the sheer number now being exposed is indeed troubling,” said noted climatologist Anders Lorenzen, who claimed that the Arctic ice caps have shrunk at the alarming rate of 41,000 square miles per year. “In August alone we discovered 44 mad scientist laboratories, three highly classified military compounds, and seven reanimated and very confused cavemen. That’s more than twice the number we had found in the previous three decades combined.”

“This is no longer conjecture,” Lorenzen added. “This is a full-blown crisis.”

According to oceanographers, the Arctic Circle has been devastated by the effects of global warming in recent years, threatening hundreds of men and women who use the frozen tundra as a place to conduct bizarre experiments in human-animal grafting, carry out massive government cover-ups, or simply as a hidden headquarters from which to battle the forces of evil and fight crime.

“Last week a giant ice sheet broke off and split my prized underground complex nearly in half,” said Dr. Raygun, a self-described psychotic mastermind best known for his diabolical thought-control experiments. “Now millions of dollars in state-of-the-art doomsday devices are gone—all because of the environmental carnage wrought by the human race.”

“You spend your whole career concocting a brilliant scheme to wipe out all of mankind, and what happens?” Dr. Raygun continued. “They bring about a major global catastrophe completely on their own, those fools!”


Evil Scientist Dr. Raygun has begun the expensive task of moving his entire mutant staff to their Titan moon base.

Scientists predict the problem will only get worse as rising temperatures release methane trapped in Arctic permafrost, perpetuating the warming cycle and threatening the habitats of those who depend on the ice caps for safety from the prying, meddling public.

Earlier this week a flying saucer surfaced and is reportedly still pulsating with increasingly intense, unearthly colors. And late last month, a mystical order of Nazi occultists emerged from an underground bunker where they had spent decades communing with the Hyperborean gods and attempting to breed a new Aryan super-species destined to destroy Homo sapiens and rule the earth for untold millennia.

The 12 elderly Germans were detained by local law enforcement in Wainwright, AK.

According to a Natural Resources Defense Council survey, 78 percent of sinister one-eyed industrialists based in the Arctic have been forced to relocate their powerful underworld shadow governments, with many now secretly orchestrating world affairs from dormant volcanoes on remote islands.

Many villains have also been forced to change their entire way of life.

Zawallah, the super-intelligent ape whose gold-teleporter crippled the global economy during the 1980s, recently ceased operation of his orbital heat cannon. Others, meanwhile, are genuinely concerned about the effect that increased temperatures may have on the future of humanity.

“Gwaahhhhrrr-huaawwwrr-gwaahhhrrrr,” cried test subject PR-433809-21, the ghastly result of a human cloning experiment gone horribly awry. “Pwwwuuuagharrgh!”

But not all inhabitants of the polar ice caps are upset by global warming. Last month saw the thawing out of a team of British explorers frozen in 1848. Expedition members told reporters they were confident that, if more ice melts, they can finally complete their original mission of discovering a Northwest Passage.

For the time being, most researchers have shifted their attention away from the ice caps and toward finding a way to contain the giant reptile monster Bizarricus, who was trapped in an ice floe by Japanese scientists in the 1950s and has now returned to teach the world a lesson about the folly of man.

From the geniuses at The Onion.


Thursday, 8 October 2009

Moments of genesis of more denier garbage pinpointed on Climate Crock

The birth of much of the climate change denial myth and misrepresentation, the straw man arguments and general dangerous silliness, is not always clear but Pete Sinclair's latest "Climate Crock of the Week" (see below or click here for Youtube link) skewers a few of the exact moments when US media talking heads in the denial camp picked up on a perfectly rational and objective scientific explanation and severely misquoted, twisted, changed and added to and subtracted from it (AKA they lied through their teeth - either that or they are breathtakingly stupid and/or cannot comprehend English).

A significant climate scientist was explaining (only one month ago) that global average temperature cannot be expected to go up smoothly in a straight line because that’s just not the way that things work. This rather obvious fact was seized upon and perverted by the US pundits who claimed it  meant exactly what they wanted it to in the same way as Humpty Dumpty did in Through the Looking Glass“when I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.

They tried to make out that this major climate scientist was having second thoughts about global warming but nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, just about everything that the deniers say generally couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a sad fact that over 40% of the US public have fallen victim to at least some of their propaganda. When Voltaire said he would defend to the death people’s right to say stuff he disagreed with, I don’t think in his wildest dreams that he was expecting poisonous stuff like this to crop up… perhaps, faced with it, he would have retracted his view.

This new lying piece of propaganda will now go out into the "denialosphere" of websites and blogs and will get endlessly brought up by their gullible followers, literally for years afterwards! They will in turn probably fine tune the wrongness to suit themselves as they pass it on in a giant Chinese whisper.


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Carbon trading cartoon

 With cap and trade , the whole point of it is that, over time, the total "cap" limit on emissions is reduced to force the market to adopt ever more fossil greenhouse gas free answers for, and improving the efficiency of, transport, manufacturing and power generation. The man in the lift would have to eat ever fewer beans, beefburgers and Vindaloos and lose weight or be rendered eventually bankrupt as his “emissions” cost him ever increasing amounts whilst his “competition”, who went green, found their costs plummetting – not to mention having a clearer and sweeter atmosphere in the lift.