Thursday, 30 January 2014

It's gone! Out of the park... Tamino hits a bases-loaded world series winner...

Sometimes, someone just hits the nail on the head. At which point, adding anything is just gilding the lily. Tamino has absolutely nailed one this time, and you should consider this mandatory reading for the week. It just made me feel like shouting 'Boston wins the World Series!' out loud. Hiatus my ass.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

If it's Tuesday, this must be...

It's been raining quite a lot recently in the UK:

So, since it's the weekend, and at the weekend we come out and play, here is:

The wonderfully tacky video was filmed at Southsea beach, where I lived between 2002-2012. Southsea is part of the City of Portsmouth, one of the UK's main Naval Bases, home of Nelson's HMS Victory and, as seen on the video, a Castle, from which Henry VIII watched his flagship, the Mary Rose, sink with all hands nearly 500 years ago.

A few years ago, business took me to the office of the city's Head of Planning. On his wall was a very large map, showing expected sea level changes up to 2080. Something between 1/3 and 1/2 of the city was marked in blue. That's a city with existing flood defences and a major strategic military base, and a population of around 200,000. I had a lot more sympathy for the man and the job he had to do after the meeting than I had before.

Someone tell me honestly you don't think we need to take action on our changing climate.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

It's a new day, it's a new dawn...

We need a new Discourse of the future.

Now that it seems abundantly clear that Environmental Change connects to Climate Change links to Social Change relates to Political Change, let's get into the habit of seeing these as all one larger entity - a Meta-change - needed for the transformation of the whole package of how we collectively interact with each other and our home, in order to move towards a brighter future and avoid the impending catastrophe.

This is not an attempt at simplification, nor a call to reduce the many issues down to one 'big idea'. Rather, see it as a recognition that all these, and other issues for the future, such as greater security, greater liberty, greater justice; these are interconnected so much that to engage in changing one also has implications in all the other 'spheres'.

In other words, they are causally linked.

This Meta-change then is the re-directing of the Juggernaut of progress away from its current course (apparently) towards destruction/damnation, towards one which is, if not free of problems, at the least more promising, for our environment and ecology, for our societies, for the Global Climate, for the security and stability of our parts.

In all honesty, all the 'negative waves' are starting to get to me. After a while, true or not, 'We're all doomed' is a miserable mantra to measure our lives against. We need something new, more optimistic, more hopeful, more positive (well, I'm speaking for both of us here...).

I'd also argue that we need something for folks to hold on to, to aspire to, rather than something which speaks of fear, loss and despair. What might this look like? Well for certain the whole discourse of climate change will need an overhaul.

I'm drawn to an analogy of the early settlers in the USA, and the myth of the pioneer. These people, whilst clearly lacking in the liberties and opportunities they aspired to in Old Europe, apparently arrived in the New World with a collective attitude which was largely positive. They wanted to create a better place, closer to Heaven. They wanted to relate to the mystical in ways which were, at the time, often non-conformist. They wanted the freedom to own their own piece of land and work it. To this end, in the nineteenth century, the European New World Diaspora spread out westward, towards a 'promised land'.

Now, the Pilgrim Fathers (sic) and their contemporaries could have seen things differently; the prospect of leaving the familiar and known behind, setting out across vast distances in the face of hostile Nature, with the prospect of as-yet unknown dangers and difficulties, with disparate groups of broadly like-minded but determinedly individualistic communities, no certainty of the simplest of securities such as food, no knowledge of the New World as it already existed; this could have left them feeling that maybe the uncertain rewards didn't justify the more or less certain risks. But they persisted.

Likewise, the pioneer trails which drove west from the early colonies were occupied by people for whom there were plenty of obstacles to be overcome, in return for uncertain promises. This did not stop them, if they even thought about it at all.

Where's the analogy? Let us imagine that the Present - our World as we live in it now - is the Colony/Society with which we are familiar. The Future is the horizon and beyond. We have some differences; our level of comfort is greater, our inertia, the fear of losing what we already hold, is probably greater now than it was then. But on the other hand, the uncertainties of our current state, drawn forward in time, are more real and dangerous.

We have the opportunity to roam along a trail towards a better future. We have the chance to set out in hope and try to make something new and better. So, I say, the time is coming to ditch the discourse of despair and replace it with the language of hope, of aspiration, of pioneering. Like Star Trek.

Hopefully, more on this later...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Whether the weather, whatever...

So it's back to a familiar pattern - the weather hits the news, and discussions arise about climate change, impacts, causes (blame), and so forth. In a sense this is good, because it brings climate to front and centre in the public consciousness, but I have a concern about it. I think it is leading us down a tricky path.

It's no surprise that weather extremes are used as tools to advocate for action on climate, since the impacts are immediately visible and present to the consciousness of the public in a way that no amount of good science or statistics can ever emulate. It's the time when people just 'get it' more readily. It's evidence by ostensive definition; 'Look!'.

The problems I have with this: first, the obvious one, that it perpetuates the language of 'cause' or 'blame'; the notion that any given weather extreme is caused by a changing climate, or evidence of a changing climate. No. It might be evidence of what happens when the weather systems of a globe or region don't do what they normally do. It might be cited as an example of what sort of damage and suffering might be expected if weather patterns change in particular places. But it is not the reason why scientists, working with long-term statistical averages, are worried about the direction we are going in. It's also, arguably, not a good precedent for future events.

The desire to get the message across, that changing climate has significant impacts which are likely to hurt us, is of course important. But a changing climate and the long-term consequences of this are much more than the sum of a series of damaging extremes in local or regional weather. So I feel that to work this particular meme, this message, is potentially dangerous. In our eagerness to get folks to pay attention, we might be skewing the real importance of what is happening to the planet and our role in this.

It will be interesting to see how the WG3 section of the AR5 copes with this apparent contradiction - that the urgency of action is demonstrable through known, visible impacts, but that the reason for concerted international effort goes beyond these impacts. Consistently, scientists have been at pains to point out that the likely consequence of AGW of more than 2 degrees is 'dangerous'; 'Dangerous Climate Changes'. 

But the dangers are not just about what happens to weather patterns in line with what we already know and can see, or measure. More worrying is the danger arising from our ignorance or uncertainty - in other words, runaway feedbacks, system-wide effects (what price a permanently accelerated jetstream, or a shutdown of the THC/AMOC?), and simply unknown effects which are only hinted at now, but would, if they happened, have really frightening consequences. I'm thinking here, for example, of what happens if, as a result of pollution and drought, insecticide and shifting wind patterns, we lose 95% of the Global honey bee population?

In simplest terms, the dangers we should be worrying about are those about which we are uncertain, but which have a logical relation to what has already been observed. To steal a phrase from a well-known Nobel scientist, what should draw our more serious attention is that the impacts of increasing atmospheric CO2, increasing deforestation, increasing black soot deposition and increasing abuse of natural ecosystems, will probably be more than we currently imagine, and different. 

Though I am reluctant to push this to the absolute extreme, the argument here is that, if the sum of the impacts of our present stewardship regime (bad joke) of the Earth are 'more and different' to what can happen within current parameters, then we really are setting ourselves up for a Global (social) transformation a couple of step-changes beyond what is currently being considered in 'mitigation and adaptation' scenarios. And we aren't in a position to anticipate these. Yet.

Which takes me at last back to my gripe. Focussing on weather extremes is short-term. Focussing on economic damage is short-term. Focussing on the evidence before our eyes is too narrow a view. If climate change is about anything, it's about the bigger picture. If sustainability is about anything, it's about the bigger picture. The value of a wood is greater than the sum of the value of each tree; the importance of finding a way to reduce our impact on our planet lies not in saving trees, or woods, it  lies in avoiding the awakening of the Kraken, of arousing Godzilla, of unleashing the rough monster that slouches towards Bethlehem to be born; it really is about keeping nightmares in the realm of the unreal.