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Global Warming: never mind the models, just look out of the bloody window

March 28, 2014

Provincial myopia prevents us from seeing the bigger picture – and that’s what the contrarians depend on

It’s one of the staples (or perhaps clichés) of the contrarian canon; “it’s happened before”. You don’t need to look very hard to find this premise propping up arguments in the US, the UK, in Australia – pretty much anywhere there are contrarians. Bloggers use it with abandon in comments below any article about extreme weather, as if stating the bleedin’ obvious is going to change the laws of physics.

We’re on the eve of the release of Working Group 2 (WG2) – “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” – the next part of the IPCC’s AR5 report. While last year’s WG1 was about the science, this new report is the one that tells us what’s happened so far, and what’s likely to happen in the future. While WG1 alludes to risk, WG2 spells it out.

It’s not the only recent report to do so. Unusually, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has also released a report that, for them, is pretty blunt. Called ‘What we know’ (PDF), it spells out very clearly the range of risks we can now be very confident we’re going to face if we don’t do something about our greenhouse gases very soon.

Of course, the AAAS report, and that part of WG2 that address risks – threats yet to materialize – are based on models that predict what will happen. There is no other way to make such predictions, except if you think that chicken entrails or Tarot cards can do the trick. It’s very odd how certain the contrarians are we’re not going to face these problems, or that the net result of climate change will, in fact, be positive, when they have no science whatever to back up their egregiously vapid claims. Read more…

Nuclear power is dead: long live nuclear power

March 20, 2014

Interesting story in the Guardian this morning; China working on uranium-free nuclear plants in attempt to combat smog. The gist of it is that China has given a research group 10 years to design and build a working nuclear plant based on new (and as yet unproven)  technology that uses thorium molten salt as a fuel instead of uranium. An advanced research centre was set up in January by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the aim of developing an industrial reactor in 25 years, but the smog problem is getting so bad the government has now reduced the timescale (although the article doesn’t say if they also increased the funding appropriately – let’s hope so, rather than making the demand with unfortunate implications for those poor souls should they fail). Read more…

What connects Edward Snowden, climate change, GCHQ and lemmings?

March 16, 2014

In today’s Observer, John Naughton ponders the apathy of the British public to the GCHQ revelations after Edward Snowden let the cat out of an enormous bag (Public apathy over GCHQ snooping is a recipe for disaster). Under the headline, the stand-first tells us: “The lack of public alarm at government internet surveillance is frightening, but perhaps it’s because the problem is difficult to convey in everyday terms”. (Frankly, we should probably be more afraid of sub-editors and their penchant for hyperbole).

Anyway, after setting the stage by describing how, when explaining complex and technical issues to a lay audience, Naughton belatedly figured out that you have to find ways to make arcane subjects relate to the audience’s own experiences, this is how he comes upon his topic:

“One of the things that baffles me is why more people are not alarmed by what Edward Snowden has been telling us about the scale and intrusiveness of internet surveillance. My hunch is that this is partly because – strangely – people can’t relate the revelations to things they personally understand”.

Thing is John, while you might be right about people not understanding quite how intrusive the spying is, I have a different view, based solely on my own reaction. Having worked in IT for many years, including with a security company during the ’90s, I have a pretty clear idea what’s going on, and what it means. I know about government collusion with security firms first hand. Read more…

Why climate change can never be ‘someone else’s problem’

March 13, 2014

After The Oregonian published a short article of mine on-line about the infamous ‘Oregon Petition’ – another bogus bit of nonsense that attempted to divide and conquer climate science – I checked back to see what the comments were like. As is so often the case with the climate change debate, there were a number of ironies on display, but also a more telling conclusion to be drawn.

I was struck by one comment, which connects with a number of other issues mentioned in the posts. It was this: “Who cares what an English writer thinks about anything?”.

The short answer is this: “Anyone who understands that the quality of an article doesn’t depend on where the writer was sitting when he wrote it”. But the remark also struck me as an echo of something the US has long abandoned – isolationism – and for any number of good, and mostly practical, reasons. Read more…

What drives a smart man like Charles Krauthammer to betray his own intelligence?

March 7, 2014

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but neither are effective if you just wave them about aimlessly

On my endless excursions around the US media, I ran across Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post (WAPO) article “The myth of ‘settled science’”. With its half-truths, distortions and cheap, distasteful references to ‘whoring’, it’s what you might expect of your average, run of the mill, right wing demagogue. Trouble is, Krauthammer hardly fits that bill – and that is what’s really puzzling me. (If you don’t know who Krauthammer is, read on; he’s a serious player (or was) on the US stage). Read more…

How can the insurance industry insure itself against global warming?

February 18, 2014

Today, the UK government will hold talks with the insurance industry. The subject is, of course, the terrible flooding we’re experiencing here in Britain, the costs and damage done, and what responses we might expect from insurers.

These ‘summits’ will become more frequent, and more fraught, as time passes. The insurance industry rarely faces such a difficult assessment of risk, and notably exclude the most chaotic circumstances e.g. war, since it isn’t possible to determine a realistic premium when the potential losses are incalculable.

For some time, the insurance industry has been ahead of most other sectors, factoring in climate change to their long term risk assessments for reasons that are now become more obvious by the day. Munich Re – one of the world’s largest re-insurers (underwriters) were one of the first to warn of the dangers climate change could pose – as early as 1973! Read more…

Climate change science, the consensus, and a matter of trust

February 15, 2014

In yesterday’s Guardian, Dana Nuccitelli returns to a familiar theme; contrarian attacks on the consensus among climate scientists regarding the anthropogenic cause of climate change. (MP Graham Stringer and CNN Crossfire get the 97% consensus on human-caused global warming wrong).

He’s right to keep hammering the issue, although I suspect it’s more of a problem in the US than elsewhere (the UK’s problem is more likely apathy, frankly – although the current flooding is providing something of the proverbial shot in the arm. How long that lasts is another matter).

There is, however, a broader issue, of which the manufactured ‘dissent’ is but a part. The issue is trust. As information (of varying quality) becomes ever more ubiquitous, we are constantly assaulted with stories of greed, corruption, mendacity and deceit. At no time in history have we ever been so well informed – and simultaneously so badly informed. It is the paradox created by the internet and 24-hour news; information becomes like sewage – you can find items of value, but only if you’re prepared to wade through the sewers. Read more…

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