Monthly Archives: December 2009

Reconnecting flood-plains to rivers

This summary of research in the USA is another example of the need to re-evaluate all activities in the light of the changing climate: ‘Back to nature’ cuts flood risks. The authors of the research make the comment, “Control infrastructure [flood management systems, such as levees] prevents high flows from entering flood-plains, thus diminishing both natural flood storage capacity and the processes that sustain healthy riverside forests and wetlands … As a result, flood-plains are among the planet’s most threatened ecosystems” – the flood-plain is not merely a space for water to overflow into, it is a vibrant ecosystem in its own right. This is the view we need as against the view that sees the environment as just something for our convenience that we manage for short term interest.

A good message is that land in the flood-plain that may get flooded may still be used in the non-flooding seasons for agriculture. We, that is most of us, get multiple benefits from working with natural systems. Only a few get benefits from working in competition to natural systems.

Beyond one dimensional economics

I have thought for a long time that because money has an integer counter for it, money counting to the last digit becomes an obsession. Here is an attempt to move it to one and a half dimensions: Calculating the real value to society of different professions. The full publication can be taken free from a link on that page. We are still in the realm of estimating some monetary value so we have not got to a proper second dimension yet but this is a good first step. One estimate is that a hospital cleaner provides £10 of value for each £1 pay, whereas the investment banker loses £7 of value for each £1 the activity seems to create. The terminology is vague because we have not got the scale yet for what we want to measure; it may not be possible in any case to have a clear numeric counter. Money is also not as real as it seems as the real goods and services it can buy per unit of cash changes. I remember Max Born, the physicist, commenting that he sold his house in Germany just before the hyperinflation started in 1923 and that he was paid the sum some time later by which time it was nearly worthless.

Climate Cover-Up

I have just finished reading Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan (with Richard Littlemore). James runs a public relations company James Hoggan & Associates based in Vancouver where I once lived. He chairs the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental organization. The book catalogues in a readable manner some of the techniques used to hide the reality of global warming as a man-made threat to the current living world. The current common method is to suggest that there is uncertainty in the science and a lack of consensus among climate scientists. I see this in all the comments I read to articles explaining the CO2 problem.

One of my meta-complaints about the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was that having said that if the WMD were given up there would be no invasion. That an invasion happened and no WMD were discovered means that countries being told to give up WMD programs or face consequences know that they had better get the WMD as fast as they can because the threats are really going to become an excuse to try regime-change regardless. Diplomacy is devalued.

Hoggan makes a similar point towards the end of the book. That companies and politicians have worked with public relations companies to spin their way out of problems for which they should be culpable means that those groups are no longer trusted; credibility has been degraded. Hoggan commissioned polls of public opinion and found just that in Canada. One disjointed statistic in one of the polls is that 5% of people said that they were not concerned about the problems of climate change, but people thought that 50% of others were not concerned about climate change: people are unsure of each other. No individual want to take a lead and start to address something in their own lifestyle. This is what must change; we need to do things individually to reduce our carbon footprint and let others see that we are doing so. We have to join together to push politicians and industrialists to work for our common good.

We world leaders

I remember seeing some TV reporting of the Genoa 27th G8 summit in 2001. After some of the violent protests there was a comment by Tony Blair in Genoa starting, “We world leaders……”. At that moment I had some understanding of the inner driver of Tony Blair. It was a revelation. My impression was confirmed by what I saw in the public parts of the meetings between Blair & Bush before the invasion of Iraq. Although I think that some of the people putting the knife in now are also serving their own agenda, the latest inquiry confirms it. Ken Macdonald confirms it directly: Intoxicated by power.

Kill the messengers?

It seems that evading the evidence is not enough for some: Hacked email climate scientists receive death threats. The most useful information in this comment is a statement by Tom Wrigley, previous Director of the UEA CRU, “We did not destroy any primary records  …..  All these data came from National Meteorological Services, and the originals are still there for anyone to access. Indeed other groups such as GISS and NOAA have independently accessed these data and independently reproduced our results.”

Geo-engineering by accident

Here is a dilemma: Antarctica may heat up dramatically as ozone hole repairs. It seems that the ozone hole above Antarctica has changed air flows so as to keep Antarctica colder than it would have been without the ozone hole.

Should we return to using products that use CFCs in order to keep the ozone hole above Antarctica for now in order to stop rapid temperature rise there? This does illustrate that some geo-engineering is possible even if other side-effects are undesirable.

Why do people evade the evidence?

I was struck by this article: Killer syndrome: The Aids denialists

I did not realise that there was still an argument against the HIV/AIDS link and that retroviral medication has given longer life to many. The methods seem to be the same as those that are used by many people who suggest global warming is a hoax. I am trying to think symmetrically about this by asking myself – why do I accept the evidence? I have started that on my page Climate Change. It is easy to get locked into a position and to cease thinking laterally.

I found responses to the news that UEA CRU had disposed of raw data used for the temperature estimates about twenty years ago, Climate change data dumped, fascinating in this respect. This particular news item is mentioned a lot of times, if you check in Google, as showing that the scientists were destroying evidence that would show them biased. There is rare mention that a lot of data is being lost all the time. NASA cannot even read the data tapes recorded decades ago because the tape readers are gone. I remember in the mid 1980s buying a 20 MB hard disk that cost as much as four or five good specification complete computers now. I would always like to keep all the data, but I can understand that some people will want to tidy up with no bad intent.

Science is not about certainty or perfection; it is a way of collecting and assessing evidence about the world.