Geoglyphs in Arica

I am writing this in Arica, at the Northern part of Chile. The weather is overcast, which is unusual and rain is predicted for the week end. If the rain comes it will be the first rain that has fallen here in twenty years. Continue reading

Did peak oil happen in 2008, and did that cause the recession?

According to Professor Peter Newman of Curtin University in Australia peak oil has already occurred. The professor thinks that demand now outstrips supply, or would do so if the global recession had not curtailed the demand for oil significantly. He thinks that oil reached its peak (in terms of supply) when its price peaked at $140 a barrel in 2008, and its price then significantly contributed to the recession. Certainly more oil was produced in 2008 that in 2009 and probably there will be less oil produced in 2010. Continue reading

Planning for earthquakes and tsunami

The world has suffered many natural disasters recently, or so it seems. I do not think that things like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are getting more frequent. They are not. However, the footprint of humanity extends into almost every corner of the world these days, so the impact of a natural disaster, in terms of loss of life and economic loss, is bound to be much more severe than ever. Continue reading

Australia – doing the right thing for the wrong reason

When I last looked Australia was in per capita terms the most carbon dioxide polluting nation in the world. Its energy is heavily dependent upon coal, which it burns to generate the electricity it uses in great quantities, especially for its air conditioning.  The Australian Government proposed to reduce its emissions with their own version of an emissions trading scheme in the face of opposition politically, it has decided to withdraw any attempt to trade emissions for three years.

The political opposition in Australia is led by a leader, Tony Abbott, who does not believe that humans are changing the climate and is fighting any Emissions Trading tooth and nail. Mr Abbott also rather curiously claims that “dodgy” home insulation has caused home fires, which is an argument I have never heard advanced anywhere in the world.

It strikes me that the Australians have reached the right decision about emissions trading but for the wrong reason. Emissions trading is a way of trying to influence behaviour indirectly; it sets up complex bureaucracy with so benefit that is proportional to the cost involved. It is a very poor way of trying to reduce emissions.

It seems that in Australia the public are not supporting plans to curb emissions as much as they used to. There are probably two factors. First, the economic recession frightens people from wanting to improve the future by displacing that desire with a wish to improve the present. Secondly, the events at Copenhagen in December have show negative leadership; the leaders of the developed nations and most important developing nations cannot agree a simple package of climate change measures, why should anyone listen to them when they argue that climate change is a threat?

Clean planet or dirty planet?

Humans have been on this planet long enough to change vast tracts of it and to influence change in almost every region of its surface. Humans have influenced a few miles above the surface of the earth and a few miles below it. The change the crust that they inhabit, and in that crust, the most important part of the planet to us where we are born and die, our changes have been planet changing, even though humans are such a relatively short lived and under developed species, with nothing to commend them but their ability to think and reason.

In my country, England, there is hardly a part of it that is within its natural state. The patchwork of typical English countryside, the hedges and fields, the winding road and the hills, have all been shaped by generations of cultivation. There is hardly a natural crop or animal to be found therein. The wilds of Scotland have been cultivated in their present form for the gentry. I could write about the changes humans have wrought on every corner of the planet.

In fact, taking the planet as a whole there is hardly a part of it that humans have not changed. I fear that by our pollution and insidious burning, particularly of fossil fuel, humans are changing the places where they do not live as well as those where they live. Deserts are becoming hotter, arctic ice is becoming less stable and melting, glaciers are mostly melting and wherever you look you can see the ugly footprint of humanity. 

In less than two hundred years humans changed the appearance of North America driving out indigenous plants and animals and those people who live there at harmony with their surroundings. If you fly over the United States at night you will see on the ground in a clear night hundreds of thousands of light, every one of then put there by humans and powered by the enterprise and will of humanity. You will today find the buffalo in zoos. The Native Americans, those that are left, have been herded onto reservations, and given the sop of running casinos as compensation for being subjected to a great genocide.

The Americans are no worse or no better than others; I could find such injustices in every part of the world where people live because most people want to dominate those that surround them and the environment in which they live.

In order to dominate humans must change the dominance of nature. Humans are very good at changing things. Unfortunately, they tend to confuse change and progress with improvements. Today in the United Kingdom’s General Election politicians are telling us we should vote for them because they will change things or vote for them because they will not change things. We should they argue either embrace change or be very frightened of it. Some changes are benign just as some things that stay the same can be malignant. Of all the changes that we welcome of fear the hardest to comprehend is the changes that will affect the fabric and structure of the crust of the planet upon which we live.

The changing climate has got to be our biggest fear. Of course anthropogenic climate change is not yet proven. I hope that some of the contributors to these pages are right when they do not intellectually accept the theory of anthropogenic climate change, but I fear they are wrong.

If we accept that anthropogenic climate change is true take all appropriate measures, and the theory turns out to be quite wrong (perhaps like the imposition of a no fly zone over northern Europe die to volcanic ash) then what have we lost?

Certainly energy costs will rise quickly but having risen they will stabilise as people learn to use renewable energy. High energy costs will not bankrupt humanity or make our life harder, just more harmonious with nature. The supplies of fuel on this planet are finite, but it seems the supply of humanity and economic growth is infinite. Taking up more renewable energy forms will sooner or later have to happen.

We will, in the course of taking environmental measures, create a cleaner planet; is that a bad thing? There will be far less smoke, far fewer particulates and much less pollution. Will we really miss the hazes over Los Angeles, Mexico City and Santiago do Chile, and the chemical smogs that sometimes come to harm us in other cities? Will we weep if we lose the Asian Brown Cloud?

If climate change poses no risk then certainly pollution and falling energy stocks do pose a risk. And anyway, should not we manage risks?

Some people point to the hundreds of millions spent each year on the IPCC, climate science, the Met Office and the like, none of which have proved terribly reliable in their predictions. However, that misses the point. For all this expenditure humanity is unwilling to change, as we saw in Copenhagen in December. Let us live with the fact that the science is too complex and stop expenditure on trying to decide just how hot or cold it will become. We should spend the money on measures. We will have nothing to lose but our pollution and we have a cleaner planet to gain.

How much will the seas rise?

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the oceans would rise by between 18 and 59 centimeters by the end of this century. Recently Svetlana Jevrejeva of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory has come up with much higher projections. She thinks that the sea level rise will be between 60 and 160 centimetres. Continue reading

The present economy of the United Kingdom

Making sense of the British Economy is hard at the best of times but during an election period where lies lurk in dark corners ready to pounce on the unwary, it is especially hard. There are four key statistics that have come out recently which give a good idea of what is happening and I shall let you have my take on them, free of any political bias. Continue reading