Print

Print


Hello John and Michael

It’s always good to challenge oneself with “what if” questions to test the
parameters of doubt. Specifically, at the end of last year we had a big spat
on this discussion site about the validity of the science behind an AMEG
report and the role that peer reviewed science should play, and can play (if
there is a real emergency) in such attempts to influence on political
thought. To the best of my knowledge the scientific questions then raised
about radically escalating Arctic CH4 release has still not been published
in a mainstream journal. You rightly cite
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17400804 which states that
“Scientists told UK MPs this week that the possibility of a major methane
release triggered by melting Arctic ice constitutes a "planetary emergency".
The same report signals appropriate caution with the statement
“Meteorologist Lord (Julian) Hunt, who chaired the meeting of the All Party
Parliamentary Group on Climate Change, clarified that an abrupt methane
release from the current warming was not inevitable, describing that as "an
issue for scientific debate". But he also said that some in the scientific
community had been reluctant to discuss the possibility.”

So there we are. On the basis of the partial view presented here my reading
is that there is profound concern, but that the scientific jury is still
out. I have to discount my old friend Steve Salter slightly since he is a
proposer of one of the fixes, and he has told me in a personal email at the
end of last year that he accepts that not all the science is yet peer
reviewed, but that his perception of “sudden crisis” is predicated on the
Russian research, “which shows a sudden acceleration of methane release by a
factor of 100 or more.” We all therefore need to know: to what extent is the
alarm being sounded on the basis of research that is not yet peer reviewed
and robustly tested? What I have seen to date suggests that such is so. I
can therefore completely understand the emotional case for an urgent
response. And I will grant you that I also see the scientific case, even if
the peer review process is not yet completed, on the basis of probabilities.
I mean by that that if an investor is calculating a rate of return they go
by EMV … the “expected monetary value” of a future return, which is the
hoped for outcome times the probability of it happening. Thus, if a unit of
one’s investment portfolio promises a £10m return but with only a 50%
probability, the EMV is counted as £5m with measurements of both systematic
risk (across the stock exchange) and unsystematic risk (specific to an
investment) factored in to calculate overall standard deviations indicating
the risk quotient of any given EMV value.

Bear with me! My point is that the AMEG has a point, John, in arguing that
even if the science is not complete, the probabilities based on what can
already be seen are so alarming that the converse of the EMV, the costs in
monetary and human terms of not acting urgently on CH4 by using
geoengineering outweigh the uncertainty. 

So, back to my “what if?” question. Is my reticence about geoengineering as
your group has been proposing it a genuine or a disingenuous objection? This
is answered by asking the question: “What if … John Nissen’s point of view
is correct?” What if we really are at the start of the methane bomb? 

My immediate response to that is “Where’s the evidence? Where’s it’s
fingerprint in the atmosphere?” But let’s rout that one too. Let’s say “What
if … it is emerging? Where do you stand now, Alastair McIntosh, on
geoengineering? Is it just a yuk factor emotional response? Or a form of
denial? Or do you still have sound reasons for being wary of it?”

So, let me take that self-posed challenge out of honesty to you. For me, and
I have discussed this in Hell an High Water: Climate Change, Hope and the
Human Condition (I give the full title because it is relevant and not just
out of puff), geoengineering raises huge questions of “who decides” on
planetary justice, but more than that, I have yet to see any argument that
it is more than the little Dutch boy plugging his finger in the hole in the
dyke; indeed, a better analogy is planetary methadone treatment for
planetary heroin addiction.

The root driver of our problem is the product of population and consumption.
Really, it is consumption, because the power of technology and business to
drive consumption is, up to the point of modest affluence and women’s
emancipation, the driver of population increase. 

We need to distinguish here between consumption, to the level that provides
dignified sufficiency of life, and consumerism, that seeks to exceed it,
because it is always trying to fill a “cracked cistern”, as that crusty old
climate scientist Jeremiah Somebody-or-other once described it. 

I have yet to hear any argument that geoengineering would be any more than
filling in the cracks in the cistern for a little longer. And unsustainably
so. How much unsustainably so is a question of quantification that goes
beyond my knowledge. But I’m looking at the principle that’s operating here.
The principle behind geoengineering is to buy a little more time. I ask:
time for what? For more shopping? Well, that at least will be facilitated by
our greenest government ever deciding to open up the shops on Sunday.

So, I grant you, John, that geoengineering may be able to buy a little time.
How much time and at what cost to whom is something it would be good to see
answered, and I note (the BBC link already given is sufficient) that there
is already debate within the engineering community as to what will work, and
what (such as the wrong water drop size) will make the problem worse. But my
concern is precisely with that emphasis on buying time. 

I could buy it if I saw any evidence that governments and, more to the
point, their electorates, were planning to use that time to shift us to a
wholly different relationship to consumerism. But no. That is the sacred cow
of gold to which we must all keep bowing down. Not to worship it would upset
the settled mores of the rich. It would implant nightmares into the dreams
of the aspiring. To keep on worshipping Mammon is a political no-brainer. We
saw that at Copenhagen 2009. They came, they saw, and like the rich young
man “who was very rich”, they went away again, sadly. Below is a picture of
a rich young man going away from Copenhagen, sadly.

Last night I was on the phone to a friend who works for the Falkland Estate
in Fife, probably a medium sized lowland Scottish estate. She said they’ve
lost between 5,000 and 10,000 trees in the recent storm. All over lowland
Scotland there is carnage in the forests just now. Firewood prices etc will
collapse for a few years, making it timber hard to use, because it is, she
told me, much more costly to extract a fallen tree than a standing one.
Yesterday I sent my insurance company a bill for the £500 roof repair in the
100 mph storm that hit Glasgow a couple of months ago. Our neighbour still
has his scaffolding up. His cheap insurance company have told him it was
“lack of maintenance”, not the gale, and he is unemployed, so he and his
wife are raising their little girl in a leaking house that he’s trying to
patch up which is quite a job with over 40 slates off. 

What do we do? Geoengineer, assuming that denial is not an option? Or do we
have to take these things that are happening and use them to drive behaviour
change? My worry with geoengineering is that when I speak on climate change
I get people all the time (if the audience is hostile) saying “they will
come up with a fix”. I am looking at who the “they” is, and the basis of the
science, and I am thinking, “this is what the ethologists call animal
displacement activity.”  To focus on geoengineering seems to me to be a
false prophet’s position. Idolatry always offers “just a little bit more of
a fix”, “one more drink and then I’ll stop.” This is on my mind, John,
because I live in Govan in Glasgow and the reason I came here is to do with
the GalGael project that works a lot with addictions, alcohol, mental
health, criminality and all the symptoms of poverty. We see it all the time.
A person does not start to get their lives together while still buying the
fix. They’ve got to hit rock bottom first. They’ve got to find what it is
that they can live for. Our problem on the planet is not that we do not have
geoengineering. It is that we have lost sight of what to live for, and how. 

The fan appears to be hitting the sh1t. The poor, like my neighbour, are
getting splashed. What message should we give them? That geoengineering is
going to be good for shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde, if we accept Chinese
wages? Or that metanoia is required. A complete change of heart. Starting
with the rich, because the earth can no longer afford the rich, so we need a
psychologically and spiritually informed politics that helps us to wake up?

Lastly, John, I do not discount the possibility that we need to do both …
what you are proposing and the consciousness work that I am urging. I am
just concerned about displacement activities. Methadone can play a role in
treating addiction, but only, in our experience, if there are other factors
that give meaning to a person’s damaged and emptied-out lives, and helps
them to connect to the fire of hope within. I am sorry to bang on so
evangelical-sounding. I too would often prefer just to fall back to sleep.
It’s hard work trying to stay awake. You will know this too. I appreciate
your efforts and motivation. I just question whether it holds out authentic
hope, given the psychospiritual aspects of what we are facing.   Alastair.

President Barack Obama reacts during a speech in Copenhagen yesterday 

 

 

 

From: Discussion list for the Crisis Forum
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Northcott
Sent: 19 March 2012 23:30
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: HadCRUT ... Arctic warms fastest and faster

 

Hi John

 

Like everyone on this list I am concerned at the speed with which nature
seems right now to be responding to our climate pollution. Extraordinary
climatic events have been reported in the mid-western USA just this last two
weeks. Nearer to home bees are swarming in March in Dumfrieshire (I saw this
yesterday) and Southern England is in drought. The potential for methane
from the Arctic and Antarctic to disrupt the climate is not the real
emergency and urging politicians and the public that it is distracts from
the more dangerous things humanity is continuing to do that are intensifying
climate change such as burning coal in greater quantities and creating
building insulation materials with oil and blowing them with HCFC gases 2400
times the Global Warming Potential of CO2. Humanly produced methane (and
HCFCs) are the low hanging fruit of global warming gases given methane's 20
times gwp of carbon dioxide. Tackling these will give us time to reduce the
net carbon content of the rest of our activities. But the Arctic is not the
source. Instead we need urgently to tackle the 50% of atmospheric methane
emanating from anthropogenic sources which include domestic animals, burning
of tropical forests, domestic rubbish rotting in landfills, rice paddy,
biomass burning coal mining, oil and gas drilling, and shale gas fracking.
Since the methane in the Arctic and Antarctic is released at very low
temperatures most of it breaks down before it reaches the atmosphere and I
see no evidence that it represents as great a threat as the 50% of
anthropogenic source methane. Before we start talking about modifying clouds
in the Faroe Islands (Prof Steve Salter to a UK parliamentary select
committee recently) we need to stop burning rainforest in Indonesia, Central
Africa and the Amazon, reduce meat consumption (perhaps by persuading
governments to release the research they suppress that red meat causes
cancer and heart disease), and - an even harder task - persuade Australia,
Columbia, Poland, the USA and so on to stop digging up coal. These actions
would actually reduce our anthropogenic impact on the climate and they call
for political mobilisation not technofixes.

 

Best wishes

 

Michael

 

 

On 19 Mar 2012, at 22:30, John Nissen wrote:





Hi Alastair,

Thanks for that BBC link [1].  

The point that struck me was the caption to the picture:
"The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on the planet, data
shows".

There's an excellent diagram of Arctic warming from this 2009 report [2],
see page 8/26.

At the bottom of the page [1], there is a list of "related stories", with
the top one [3], from BBC's Richard Black, having as title the 'call to
arms' of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG):
"Arctic climate tech fixes urged"

This is worth reading.  You will find a dramatic graph of Arctic sea ice
volume decline that explains the problem which needs to be fixed by the
application of rapid measures.  Clearly the trend for the seasonal minimum
is to zero within three or four years, with a possibility this September.
The effect of this decline is to accelerate Arctic warming even further,
thus accelerating the discharge of methane from vast stores of undersea
hydrates.  This methane, a potent greenhouse gas, will add more and more to
global warming, which hitherto has been mostly from CO2.  Then we could be
into a runaway scenario, with global temperatures soaring many degrees - and
we are into the planet's sixth great extinction event.

It's an ugly chain of events.  No wonder AMEG is calling for measures to
cool the Arctic and try and prevent a collapse of sea ice.  I'll suggest the
webmaster puts these three links on the web site which, BTW, has a
delightfully short and memorable URL [4].

If anybody is interested to join AMEG, and support our campaign for action,
please let me know.

Cheers,

John

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17432194 

[2] http://www.amap.no/swipa/gris_layman_english_secure.pdf

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17400804 

[4] ameg.me

---

On 19/03/2012 18:24, Alastair McIntosh wrote: 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17432194