Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How to change things; could it be magic?

So, the discussion continues at Stoat about how to produce effective policy which balances present and future economic needs and benefits with emissions control.
So, like you do, I go on a trawl which gets diverted and before you know it I'm reading a neat new paper, Johannson et. al., at Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics:

The evolution of shipping emissions and the costs of regulation changes in the northern EU area
L. Johansson, J.-P. Jalkanen, J. Kalli, and J. Kukkonen
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 11375-11389, 2013

in which the authors offer: "An extensive inventory of marine exhaust emissions is presented in the northern European emission control area (ECA) in 2009 and 2011..." Browse the paper, rather than the abstract: it's twenty minutes well spent.

So why mention it? The paper is interesting in itself for some of its details, such as that CO2 emissions from shipping in this area alone amount to around 500MT a year. But what makes it interesting in the context of this discussion is that it reviews the impact of specific regulation (in 2007) on emissions of Sulphur Dioxide, and relates certain connections between the costs, benefits and impact of the regulation.

First, in the period measured, SO2 emissions from shipping were better than halved. Second, the cost of this is estimated at about +10%. Third, the further introduction of retrofitted sulphur scrubbers would produce reductions proportionally larger than the comparable costs. (I think all of this is right...)

One of the conclusions of the paper is that slowing down cargo vessels by only 10% would result in even more SO2 (and CO2) reductions and save the shippers money. The paper does point out that it doesn't factor in the possible need to increase fleet sizes/movements to compensate for the extended travel times, but there is still a point here.

What would be the effect of reducing the National Speed Limit of road traffic (particularly haulage vehicles, but also personal vehicles) by a similar 10%? How much less fuel would be used? What cost savings would there be, and how much compensating increase of traffic would be needed?

Two points from this: the paper seems to indicate that the regulation of sulphur emissions over the past several years has resulted in considerable real reductions, at some cost (which does not appear to have restricted trade) to the emitters, for the benefit of all. Part of this no doubt is due to the fact that Maritime regulators have huge amounts of power (yes, they can shut down a fleet), so their rules are not ignored lightly. So; well-designed and enforceable regulation can produce results which, on the surface, represent a net benefit, not just for the regulated, but also for the affected.

The second point is that, following a similar logic, regulating behaviour by means of processes such as speed limits, or improving the design efficiency of diesel engines (see also the incredible improvements in Rail diesel systems over the past ten years), can produce the right kind of result without excessive constraints on either liberty or markets. It also means that (value chain ignored) the emitter is paying what cost there is.

Anyone got an opinion on this thought?

Who couldn't love a weasel war dance?

Apropos of nothing, this just appeared during a routine search. No disrespect to other bunnies intended, since they insist on not being hypnotised: 

<iframe width="609" height="375" allowfullsecreen="true" frameborder="0" id="ngplayer" src=""></iframe>

In the meantime, The old man is teasing the Stoat about the place of ethics in the climate debate/action nexus, which conversation will remain over there, to avoid complicated cross-communication.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Where are you now, me?

It must have been around '83
Her name is Tammy Lee
I took this the day
She went home to the USA
Where are you now, Tammy Lee?
And, more to the point, where am me?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The COP-out; what a catalyst you turned out to be...

What is to be learned from the fiasco that is currently COP19? 

First, it appears that there is a sea-change in the rhetoric of certain developed nations. Where previously there had been some attempt to avoid being seen as a moral pariah, the examples of Australia, Canada, hosts Poland and other participants, show that the fear of domestic political damage is overriding the fear of international shame in responses to both mitigation and adaptation needs. Some folks are just flat out saying that they ain't gonna do nuthin' for mitigation, on the contrary, intend to follow domestic policies which run counter not just to climate change M&A but also pretty much all concepts of Sustainable Development. 

Their response indicates that rather than address the hugely complex ethical and practical difficulties of coping with Sustainability on a global as well as domestic scale, these players prefer to deny any relationship to responsibility past present or future, and express the intent to go down the short-term self-interested path. As a former teacher, this is reminiscent of certain schools which proclaim that 'bullying is nonexistent'. There is no such thing as an adolescent society devoid of an internal power/influence structure; it just takes subtly different forms. But in all (secondary) schools there are those who dominate and those who are dominated. Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no society which will escape the negative consequences of AGW down-the-line, and these players, in denying the reality, are simply deferring the problem to a period beyond their tenure (or even lifetime).

Second, the divide between have and have-not seems to be crystallising. Not just the rhetoric, but also the desires and intentions of the G20 (for example), are in conflict with those of the G77. One one side, the demand is: "you caused this problem, you ought to help fix it," on the other: "it isn't OUR problem, why should we?" 

It's difficult to be sure how this divide will develop over time, but the choices seem to be starkly twofold: 
1: Either we move towards a global society which is increasingly polarised on the basis of wealth (capacity to adapt), increasingly inequitable and unjust, and increasingly violent (what happens at metropolitan level when you have a strongly financially divided society?), in which scenarios of multiple-million deaths and permanent local/regional instability become the accepted 'necessary cost' (Collateral damage, anyone?), or 
2: We continue to struggle towards a generally more equitable and just society, where the distribution of the means of survival are managed and shared, according to the need of the recipient and the ability of the provider (Charity, anyone?), ie, seeking the win-win solution. (Yes, it can be argued that Australia is playing a particular variant of the zero-sum game, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and is opting to 'win' at the cost of the other).

The third (and probably most divisive) lesson is that Climate negotiations are going down an inexorable path to a blame-culture. This can be nothing but bad news. It's as if the developing nations ('victims') have decided that, since the 'noisy neighbours' won't play ball, they are going to proceed to litigation and counter-attack to achieve their objectives, in response to which the neighbours send out the rottweilers. This is very much a no-win game.

On the brighter side, I have a suggestion as to How to ensure that funds exist for fixing what's been broke, protecting what's at risk, and preparing for the unexpected.

The parallel is not exact, but more than 300 years ago, the largest need for investment, and the largest return on investment, came through international trade, conducted over the high seas. In response to market demand, and from pre-existing processes, Lloyd's of London was formed, to provide investors with greater security, and sailors with funds needed to set sail. Why can't we construct a similar organisation for Global Environmental (incl. climate) Capital? Existing entities such as the World Bank and the IMF, funds such as CCC or the corporate sustainability foundation trusts, can band together, with or without individual governments, as 'names', providing the capital to allow for underwriting of risks, for investment in M&A strategies, and for providing succour to the victims of disaster. This way, more would share the burdens, autonomy could be preserved, and what was needed could be provided where and when the need arose.

It's a thought.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It's amazing what we have in common; wanna live like common people?

Over at the warren, Eli makes mention of Gardiner's 'Perfect Moral Storm', a characterisation of the ethical complexities associated with climate change. Gardiner compares the moral dilemmas associated with climate change and the issues of mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and intergenerational equity to the 'triple storm' which forms the centrepiece of the original story by Junger.

One of the matters which arises during Gardiner's discussion, and in Peter Singer's 'response' paper of the same year (2006), is that of the 'Tragedy of the Commons'. This is Hardin's highly influential analysis going back to 1968 of the difficulties of dealing with ecological and environmental problems, particularly (in his case) to do with overpopulation.

When you look at the dialogues and arguments surrounding COP19 (and all other climate policy debates), it is easy to see the influence of Hardin (and perhaps Gardiner), in the underlying principles which are being discussed - who should take responsibility, who should pay, who should benefit, etc. Gardiner provides the basis for a moral framework which supports the notion that developed nations need to support developing nations to avoid a future destruction of the 'commons' of the global ecosystem. Singer goes beyond this to argue that, regardless of the moral basis chosen, the result (about who should take responsibility) always goes back to the same source, not just for ethical reasons, but also for practical ones.

It had been a few years since I first flirted with this material, during my brief period as a postgrad in Environmental Ethics, so I duly refreshed. Following this up with some further reading, I came across the work of the remarkable Elinor 'Lin' Ostrom, with whom I had not previously been acquainted.

And so, by a roundabout course, I came across some weekend reading for Eli to enjoy, which I am sure he will, since the very first example cited in the book refers to the maintenance and management of levees in the USA. I'm also recommending it to Roger Sr, since it relates to his team's work on (local) resource vulnerability and climate, and to Roger Jr, since it relates to the fundamentals of 'right policy making', which I know he is enthusiastic about, and has quite a lot about sports.

So, here is the (open access) 'Sustaining the Commons' by Anderies and Janssen. Grown ups and interested parties can revert, of course, to the original material by Ostrom et al., but this is about four hour's worth of undergrad level light weekend reading, and therefore suitable for busy bunnies. Why bother? Well, an awful lot of what has been going the rounds recently, for example in my chosen rag the Guardian, has been very depressing. There are times when one gets close to the 'we're f***@d' position. Reading this both cheered me up and gave me some more thoughts to work on in my search for a redefinition of our generational social dilemma.

Please, read and enjoy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

For everything there is a season - tide and time

Over at the warren, Uncle Eli has posted about SLR, a subject I touched on last month, here, and here, including references to Grinsted's excellent material.

It occurs that the Average Josephine (IOW, most of the world) might look at the projections of sea level rise and, whilst registering that a change will have an impact, might reasonably ask why a meter or so of extra sea might be such a big deal. So here's an attempt to place this into a 'human' context.

On its own, a few centimetres of water 'added on' to the water level at any given beach or dockside is no big deal. This is because the other forces which have an effect on sea level at any given location are much stronger (they create more variability) than the underlying 'signal' of sea level.

First and most obvious is the effect of the tides. Whilst in some places sea level fluctuates by a few metres over the course of a day, in others the tidal range can top ten metres and more (up to around 15-16 m for some locations). In practical terms, coastal human habitation and business takes this into account, so in most places human activity takes places above the high tide level, for obvious reasons.

At certain times of year, specifically the Equinoctial Spring Tides, the various forces which interact to create tides and tidal ranges combine to create particularly high and low tides. It is not uncommon already for these to overreach the human adaptation level and to result in localised flooding, which is further worsened if these tidal periods occur in sync with strong weather conditions (in particular, depressions, often related to storms).

Now, the current range of projections for changes in sea level have to be considered in the context of historic tidal ranges and existing infrastructure and human-ocean interfaces.
For example, the 'averaged' sea level range globally hits around 79cm during Spring tides. This means that, overall, the shoreline would experience a few extra inches more or less. But in a local and regional context this 'average' is effectively meaningless, and is not reflected in the real experience of many coastal dwellers. For most people on coasts, the tides go up and down several metres.

If global average sea level rises by, say, half a metre, what does this mean for local impacts? And what effect does this have on local tidal ranges and, in particular, during the upper bound of the ranges (the Equinoctial Springs) and those occasions when these coincide with storm surges?

Well, it should not be difficult to work out that an extra 'average' SLR of 50cm is going to mean a rise of high tides, and of high springs, in the order of 2 - 5 metres of 'extra' sea. Given that a storm surge can increase sea levels (for example, in the Philippines) by another 4-5 metres, and you end up with places which are likely to experience regular (annual or more frequent) tidal surges in the range of 5 -10 metres. We have seen the horrific effects on one part of the world where a tidal surge of 5 metres, added to extreme weather conditions, has resulted in devastation and carnage. Now multiply this by all those places which are 'vulnerable' to such variability.

As an aside (because I'm not certain of the projected effects), it should be noted that a Spring tide normally produces currents twice as fast as Neap tides, but with eight times the power, or force. Anyone who has struggled to get out of the water onto a beach during an ebb in difficult conditions can have a sense of how much power is involved - it is, literally, an overwhelming force. 

It seems rational to presume that higher Springs will be associated with faster currents and therefore greater forces - resulting in more erosion, more localised damage and greater stress on infrastructure (including defences). So, the effect-multiplier of a few centimetres of extra sea level 'on average' produces impacts which can easily be seem to include, for example, the overwhelming of low-lying islands, or the inundation of coastal cites, oil refineries, nations (Bangladesh).

If all of this is the consequence of half a metre of sea level rise, what then is the consequence of a metre or more? Is it likely to be twice as bad? Or, given the 'effect multipiers, are we instead talking about a localised effect with a difference of an order of magnitude?

Finally, for the economically-minded amongst you, remember that an astonishing proportion of the world's trade is conducted across the oceans - around 90% of all trade goods is shipped at some point. Now, consider the impact on shipping of the changes outlined above. The cost of building tougher ships, the cost of building new, relocated shipping hubs (the World's three deepest 'ultratanker' and supercontainer ports are all vulnerable to rising sea level). The risks and losses, all to be paid for by someone.

A very high proportion of the Global population lives in the coastal strip - I think it's about 85% of the population. Not all of these people would be vulnerable in the way I outline above, but with sea level rise must come, inevitably, relocation and mass urban movement inland, fundamentally changing the dynamic geography of our society.

That's why sea level rise matters, and why a metre is more significant than half a metre.

NOTE also Simon Donner's eminently pragmatic contribution to the discussion of adaptation.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Call me paranoid but look anyway

It's probably just a function of an overactive imagination, but looking at the AMSR2 map of Antarctic sea ice (as one does), I get a 'feeling':

I sort of know that it isn't unusual for the sea ice to decline around the coasts a little quicker than it does in the middle of the 'pack', but it seems early in the melt season to see open water or low concentrations indicated at the level implied by the image.

Looking a little closer, a neurotic might note the correlation between the areas of lower coastal concentration and the glacier zones.

It would be useful for a Cryosphere/Antarctic specialist to call in and provide some reassurance, because right at this moment, I gotta feeling, and it's mainly anxiety.

Friday, 8 November 2013

More out than in - outside physics, is it possible?

Yesterday in the Guardian, Tim Smedley reports on the forthcoming forum on Natural Capital Accounting. Link to the article here

It's an interesting feature, not least for the comments which follow it, which are clearly considered and sophisticated (so far!). Included among which is the response from the group setting up a 'counter forum, in the same city, Edinburgh, at the same time; 'Nature is not for sale'.

Lord Aaron's comment in the feed at the bottom of the article brings up one of the more significant problems in the area of Natural Capital Accounting: that it is placing a financial price on Natural Capital (the article cites the groundbreaking work done by Puma since 2010), and thereby making Nature marketable (in other words, natural assets can be traded, and 'environmental offsets' can become tradeable capital resources. If this were the direction that NCA goes into, it's easy to see that the Environment is likely to lose out again to vested interested/creative accounting, where it substitutes for accountability.

But it seems also that NCA can have a role to play. As the article shows, it becomes possible to place a relative price and cost against a return from exploitation. This in turn allows us to see where resources are being exploited rather than used Resourcefully- in other words, more is lost in the transition from the prime resource to the tradeable commodity, or product, than is gained in the short term. You can see where this could be of benefit, not just to the Corporates who now appear to be recognising that unsustainable exploitation means precisely that they cannot sustain, even in the mid-term, the end product which is the basis of their capital wealth and added value. And losing their core supply, even shifting the balance of Demand/supply, will hurt their businesses moving forward.

For a long time now, Many Environmentalists have been deeply suspicious of moves to subsume the World's natural resources into a discussion of Economy, of 'putting a price on Nature'. What the argument has often boiled down to is that the Value of a Natural Resource lies in more than the dollar signs against it - the price. And this in turn is driven by a division in the ways in which people view Nature and the World: whether it is something for us humans to use (you could call this the 'Genesis' perception), or is something to which we belong and for which we, as the species which can damage it, or unbalance it, have a duty of care (the 'Stewardship perception).

All of which relates to the principle of Resourcefulness. In particular, it serves to demonstrate why Resourcefulness must be about more than resources. It is good that someone is working hard to challenge the implicit presumptions or potential hazards embedded within Natural Capital Accounting, but sadly, for the organisation involved, the brute reality is that, whilst it can be argued that Nature should not be for sale, in fact, as a basis of the means of production, it is.

There is a temporal perspective to be considered here in relation to these matters - for climate debaters, the principle of 'trash now, pay later' is one of the monsters being strongly fought, consistently. Scientists try to tell politicians and the public what they are letting themselves in for, and then get berated for 'alarmism', because narrow focussed eyes don't look far enough down the line to account for the consequences of choosing net present profit over projected loss.

There is also a philosophical/existential principle, but this is a little harder to summarise briefly, so will have to wait for another post. It is about what it means to be human, in the World, with Others, and also about the concept of 'home' and its significance to us.

A parting thought. A while back, someone might have realised that Dodo represented a potentially valuable commodity as a foodstuff, like turkeys, for example, but to make it so, the supply chain would have needed preserving. Hungry sailors didn't tend to think that way.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Being Resourceful; can we fix it?

Recently I suggested that the idea of Sustainability, or Sustainable Development, contains an underlying negativity which can contribute to a resistance to change.

Instead, I suggested that it might be useful to adopt an alternative term; Resourcefulness. Though in retrospect I am tending towards the idea that Resourcefulness might be a subset of Sustainability; we shall see.

So, what do I mean by Resourcefulness?

First, and perhaps finally, this is a state of mind – an attitude towards the World and its component parts which is both responsible and creative – a predisposition towards the things of the World and Society. Resourcefulness explicitly implies that a response to a problem, demand, crisis, need or situation involves the application of intelligence, imagination and creativity. It also contains the assumption that the attitude to the case in point is one of seeking the opportunity in the situation (if there is one), and making the most of it (and the resources involved).

In itself, this is nothing especially original. Business and enterprise are full of examples of exactly this kind of approach (though often driven by necessity rather than disposition). Some commercial services are particularly focussed on this kind of thinking; others, driven by more immediate pressures on performance, seem to avoid it. In this sense, it looks like there could be a relationship between Resourcefulness and the management of Risk which points us towards something useful at a more sophisticated level of development.

One would expect Resourcefulness to include, specifically, an attitude to Resources. Examples of this might be Resource efficiency (making more from less), Natural Resource Economics, or more closely observed, the Circular Economy concept (I profess to admiration of the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in this field). All of these, and other existing practises in Sustainability, such as Waste Management, can be included in the remit of the Resourceful Society, Business or Individual, but Resourcefulness should not be seen as being limited to an attitude to Resources alone.

This is because there are other kinds of Resources than simply the ‘stuff’ of the World. And there are approaches to all resource types which do not imply a relationship of use or exploitation; this is particularly important to understand, since Resourcefulness (the ‘creative’ predisposition) expects of us that we see the worth, or value of things and actions, not just in ‘net benefit’ or ‘utility’ terms, but also in terms of the ‘Goodness’ or ‘Rightness’ of these. This means that Resourcefulness goes beneath issues covered by Consequentialism, to the core Human Social values of Equity, Justice and (probably) Liberty.

This leads us to a fairly fundamental point of ‘Resourceful’ Action: it should be non-exploitative both in terms of resources, and also in terms of people. In other words, Resourceful Actions do not serve to take from one person or group in order to give to another. This runs counter to so much of modern Economic and Social theory that considerable effort must be spent to demonstrate that personal or commercial Wealth need not come at the cost of exploitation of Labour or Markets. For some, this will read as an impossibility, for others, akin to heresy (or Social Democracy), but it is the intention to undermine the model of ‘Competitive Advantage’ as best practice and seek, instead, a model of ‘Collaborative (Mutual) Advantage’.

One special strength of the concept of Resourcefulness is that it is Action-oriented, in other words, a Resourceful approach, instead of asking ‘what’s going wrong?’ or ‘who is to blame?’, asks ‘How do we make it better?’

It may seem to some experienced and knowledgeable observers that this appears to be a somewhat trivial and simplistic idea, but I believe that, in common with many important principles, Resourcefulness is both simple to grasp and put into action, but also deep and meaningful – the one does not exclude the other.

I’ll finish today with a reference to a childrens’ TV character. It is a statement of affirmation and intention, of predisposition to make things better:

“Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!”

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Money talks, what is it saying?

Today's Guardian carries an interesting piece about the World Bank on moving forward on CC action. What is particularly interesting to me is that we are clearly thinking along similar lines, about communication, if nothing else. Here's what Rachel Kype says in the interview:

How important is getting the communications right?

We've started talking to behavioural psychologists and other disciplines about how to communicate so that you can convey urgency in a way that people can respond. There's a long history in the environment movement of fear-mongering and a) not providing alternatives or b) not having those fears realised. So we feel a responsibility to be able to communicate this in such a way that people can say: "OK, so what now?"

Extreme weather events is the place where the public and science and policy-makers seem to agree that they're prepared to accept the climate is having an impact. Obviously, that grabs people's attention and for a few weeks after superstorm Sandy you had everybody's attention, but then it starts to ebb away.

There is a particular problem in the US, which is the role of science in the society, which seems to be up for question, not just in the area of climate but elsewhere. Communicating science poses a set of challenges in the US that is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.

Even more interesting is her take on the Language issue:

From your research, what have you learned about how to communicate more effectively?

The tendency with a lot of social movements is to talk to ourselves, so we develop language that we're comfortable with, that speaks to other environmentalists or other engineers but which means absolutely nothing to the lay public.

We're very reluctant or reticent to come up with language and idioms that will perhaps not express every little nuance in that one sentence, but which will actually resonate. We've known for a very long time that the phrase "sustainable development" is kind of clunky and we've never come up with anything better, and that's OK as long as we tell stories and build images and pictures about what we're really talking about.

There's lots of behavioural psychology that some of these words just land really cold: they don't mean anything and they don't speak to the emotional brain. What does "green" mean? It doesn't evoke very much.

Jim Kim feels very strongly that, if you're going to paint a picture of the future where it's sackcloth and ashes, don't be surprised if you don't have a long line of people following you. We have to paint a picture of opportunity.

It sounds to me like what they need is a little bit of Resourcefulness

The World Bank is a complex issue, but I know from personal experience that it has an important role to play in supporting Energy Development, security and poverty reduction in rising economies, so I'm happy to be counted as (at least in part) a fan, if not totally happy with everything it does.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Time to reconsider Sustainability and become more Resourceful instead?

Something is broken in our ability to communicate the problems and issues which beset our complex, struggling World. Well quite a few things, but in particular, we seem to have got lost in our efforts to express in simple terms the things which matter.

After '92 (maybe even before this) the meme of choice became 'Sustainability'; a useful catch-all which encapsulated the spirit of the messages coming out at the time - the need as a global society to live within our means.

But these days, it seems the term is losing its edge. Many commentators have pointed out that it has become cheapened by over-familiarity, that its many meanings and interpretations are so diverse, its marketing usage so overblown, that irrespective of the underlying values which the original usage implied, 'Sustainability' as a concept may itself no longer be sustainable.

The number of reasons why this has happened is legion, do not require reiteration here. But, for me, there is an issue which I have not seen much discussed, which is that the term and its conceptual underpinning are fundamentally negative.

In a nutshell, 'sustainable' implies a sense of 'survival', of making do, reduction, subsistence. For many of the developing nations this conception makes perfect sense, since survival in the face of adversity has been (though need not have been) a common theme in contemporary accounts of the 'needs' of these societies and their peoples. But the implicit hair-shirted self-sacrifice which so often is cited hand-in-hand with Sustainability has become, in the developed world, as much an albatross as a rallying-call.

Sustainable living as an fundamental idea still has its value and merit, that has not and should not change, but the time has come to put aside the hair shirt and try to find a new 'overriding' conception of what it is we need to do, individually, collectively, politically, economically. A conception which permits the best of humanity to shine and points forwards rather than backwards.

The time has come for us to be Resourceful. To apply Resourcefulness to our problems and issues and become "ingenious, capable, and full of initiative, especially in dealing with difficult situations" (Collins Dictionary) or develop, as Wiktionary describes resoucefulness: "the ability to cope with difficult situations, or unusual problems".

We can also be more aware of the resources we use - as, for example, via a circular economy. We can direct the best use of the resources available to us so that the most possible is made from them. We can apply our unique characteristic - ingenuity - to the multitude of environmental demons which beset us, whether we consider mitigation or adaptation or both, and apply well-found principles to seek imaginative solutions.

It is probably no coincidence that as a word 'Resourcefulness' is phonetically and structurally similar to the Buddhist concept of 'mindfulness', implying a constant and considered awareness of what is around us as we live, and the causal consequences of actions, inactions, decisions and desires. For me, there is a strong sense that this has the potential to be a truly powerful and worthwhile re-alignment of the language of future-building. 

Sit back for a few seconds and think about the idea, the message, the implications; I hope, like me, you find it positively stimulates the imagination and leaves you replete with the sense of possibility.

Resourcefulness is a fundamentally positive conception. It is pragmatic - it implies a process involving thought and decisions and action which is so necessary to the global environment. It is also a very Human concept - it applies to people in particular, but also to groups of people of all kinds. It also connects us more directly to the things of the planet, be they raw material, product, or finance, as things we are bound up with, rather than objects of our intercession.

As of this moment, for me it is an idea which requires more fleshing out, some further defining and limiting - otherwise it is in danger of suffering the same fate as 'Sustainability' - of meaning both too much and too little at the same time. This is work I and I hope others will be undertaking, to raise the bar, change the negative into a positive, and start actually working on these many problems of our World with Hope rather than Resignation.

This is the message: the time has come for us to be more Resourceful, and to use our Resourcefulness for the betterment of the human condition.

Side note: Similar usage of the term, relating to sustainable practice in the built environment, has been used recently in Architecture and design, for example, here.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween the sequel

Mainly for Uncle Eli...

What are we going to do now, Mr Milligan?

The initial source material and reporting of the presentation was described earlier, but now it's going more mainstream, I suppose it's time to consider: .

Picked up also at Skeptical science weekly round-up.

The appeal, of course, is that a scientist, Brad Werner, had the nerve to stand up in front of peers on the back of a presentation entitled 'Is Earth F***ked?

And then answered the question. His answer was 'more or less'.

I spent some considerable time researching Climate Science before, during and after the IPCC AR4, the ICARP conference on the Cryopshere, and the Stern Report, a few years back now. At the time, the discussions were about the same as they are now, a few years down the line, but there are changes.

Read Ostberg et al, Mora et al, even Tol, or the Norwegian Met office report highlighted this week on RC (here). Read the AR5, insofar as it has yet been completed. There's almost immeasurably large amounts of really quite bad news, about oceans, global warming, sustainability budgets, water, heck, practically everything you might want to consider when looking at the Big Picture points inexorably towards Werner's conclusion.

For 20 years (arguably longer) every government and major financial institution and source of power (the large corporates, etc), has know the path we were walking down. We've all known it, though some step aside and disavow. And the heartbreak is that absolutely nothing of significance has changed. This is not because there has been a lack of effort - lots of people in lots of arenas and disciplines, even some governments, have tried to walk the narrow path of responsibility for stewardship. But these efforts have been overtaken by the relatively rapid growth in the global economy from the opening of new resource and market opportunities, amongst other things.

So, let's presume that, for the sake of argument, Earth is, more or less, F***ked. Whatever we decide collectively to do from now onwards will make some difference, and some important decisions on the larger scale will make a substantial difference, but in spite of this, in the next 100 years the world will change. (yes, this is a truism, but...)

If this is the case, then the BIG Question now, and the one which could be said to underlie all the stuff about mitigation and adaptation,  is 'What kind of World do we want to aim for?' The secondary, and no less significant questions, being: 'What are we willing to pay for it?' and 'What types of extreme nastiness are we able to tolerate, and what must we avoid regardless of other consequences?' Other fairly obvious questions spring to mind.

If you are unused to speculating on possible future human/earth scenarios, then you could do worse than read 'Earth Abides', 'The Sheep Look Up', Oryx & Crake (and the rest of the Atwood Trilogy), a range of 'cli-fi', or even George Orwell. You might rediscover Lovelock's tragic vision, or make your own up. It would be interesting to know if any of you readers come up with scenarios more positive than the ones I have imagined recently.

As things stand, whether or not global warming is the elephant in the room, the current political reality is that justifying any environmental policy or action on this basis is hard for governments to swallow right now. Maybe things will change for the better in the future (huh!). So, my first suggestion is that we look hard at the things which have an impact on global climate and environment from the point of view of the whole shebang, earth systems, and see what actions or policies can be made now, in this political environment, which would both improve the general state of the earth system and, coincidentally, help to mitigate severe adverse climate change.

Much more on this later.