Immersed in trouble: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 7

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

To follow the trend of lands in trouble, to the wetlands divide, now I’ll let go of the lands completely and take an ever too brief look at the state of our ocean. I feel that I will unable to give this environment enough justice in this format, however for the sake of consistency, I’ll try my best. Looking at the impacts we’ve had on our oceans, it’s like saying, “pick a card; any card!” Our attitude towards this alien environment has been at best, appalling. Over the previous two centuries we have proven ourselves to be increasingly efficient at pulling every living thing out of the oceans – from anchovies to whales and while big boats are bringing ever bigger catches in, other big boats are taking our effluent and refuse out  and dumping it out of sight. As soon as the catch starts to fall off, the boats move somewhere else.

In that

respect it’s similar to poor farming techniques in Australia that continues to move it’s stock across the land, leaving a simplified and chemically poisoned scape in its wake. The old time stereotypical dirty sailor, going from port to port should at least continue to apply to their ships and the biological matter that is transferred in their ballast water.

And while all this plundering and polluting of the oceans occurred, a silent foe – the child of our emissions – has slipped onto the scene to make the atmosphere of this underwater world even less pleasant for the remaining locals.

Taking the base out of a limestone home

Unlike the uncertainties related to climate change predictions, the result of CO2 concentration changes in water is predictable (Doney et al. 2009). As previously stated, around a third of the CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution have be absorbed into the ocean were it interacts with water molecules to produce carbonic acid, H2CO3 (Doney et al. 2009). Pre-industrial ocean pH was 8.21, which has since dropped to currently 8.10 (Doney et al. 2009). As the pH decreases, the amount of carbonate ion available within surface waters (the most active region) also decreases, which is important component for species that excrete calcium carbonate shells (Fabry et al. 2008). Thus far, carbonate depletion has been roughly 30 μmol kg−1 seawater (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007).

Although it has been demonstrated that coral polyps may be able to persist in lower pH oceans, where they are unable to construct coral, fitness is decreased due to the absence of this protective cover (Fine and Tchernov, 2007) and/or the extra energy invested in calcification (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007), and with the bed of calcium carbonate on which new coral is formed close to the surface at increased risk of erosion, it is unlikely that polyps will be able to migrate to higher latitude under a changing climate (Doney et al. 2009) (see part 5 on distribution) or be able to build structures higher as sea levels increase.

Calcification is prolific among many phyla. Many of these species are important food sources (ie. plankton, coral and algae), provide nursery environments for other species (ie. algae and coral), are important for nitrogen fixation in oceans (ie. cyanobacteria) and protection for storm surges (ie. coral), (see Doney et al. 2009 and Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007). As fitness of these groups diminish with decreasing pH of oceans, there are wide range of biodiversity and socio-economic ramifications that will occur (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007).

To put it another way; as carbonate ions become less available, these species will have to work harder to product protective shells – either spending more energy to do so or on other methods to protect themselves. Less will be successful, thus providing less homes and food for other species – including economically valuable fish species. These in turn provide less food for predatory species (including us). With the likelihood of increased storm events, corals will be less able to provide coast protection from surges. Many coastal molluscs are keystone species which too will have reduced fitness, with detrimental ramifications on the local ecology. In every way, ocean acidification will effect the ecology of our oceans.

The current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than that seen in over 740,000 years, if not much longer (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007), with the rate of change accelerating (Raupach et al. 2007). Although the ability to adapt to these changes are not well known (see Doney et al. 2009 and Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2007), certainly the rate of change over the coming centuries, coupled with many anthropogenic impacts discussed at the beginning of this piece would suggest that without better management, we are likely to witness degradation of the ecology and ever increasing extinction rates in all oceans.

Reference
Doney, S. C., Fabry, V. J., Feely, R. A., and, Kleypas, J. A. (2009) Ocean acidification: the other CO2 problem. Annual Review. Marine Science. 1:169-192 doi: 10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163834
Fabry, V. J., Seibel, B. A., Feely, A., and , Orr, J. C. (2008) Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes. ICES Journal of Marine Science. 65:414-432.
Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Mumby, P. J., Hooten, A. J., Steneck, R. S., Greenfield, P., Gomez, E., Harvell, C. D., Sale, P. F., Edwards, A. J., Caldeira K., Knowlton, N., Eakin, C. M., Iglesias-Prieto, R., Muthiga, N., Bradbury, R. H., Dubi, A., and, Hatziolos, M. E. (2007) Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science. 318:1737-1742. doi: 10.1126/science.1152509
Fine, M., and, Tchernov, D. (2007) Scleractinian coral species survive and recover from decalcification. Science. 315:1811
Raupach, M. R., Marland, G., Ciais, P., Le Quéré, C., Canadell, J. G., Klepper, G., and Field, C. B. (2007) Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. PNAS. 104(24):10288-10293.
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Detour into troubled water: Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 4

Originally, I was going to motor on through with land use and species loss, but hit a wall as I wish to rely on other points that would require a bit of explaining (I’m keeping these part-posts under ~800 words each). Hence, I’ve decided to make a detour in this part so that it can be used to refer to in later sections, thereby reducing the necessary weight later on.
One of my pet-peeves is the debate over anthropogenic global warming (AGW). As far as I can tell, such a debate is futile (something that I hope to explain through the collection of these related posts).

Short on Climate Change

Anyone who has been following discussions online regarding climate change should be well aware of the data (if not see NASA, or NOAA Climate for valid and up-to-date data). The cause of this is irrelevant to the fact that we are experiencing an age of changing climate regardless. It is true also that we have experienced changes in climate over the passed few millennia, including a couple of warmer and cooler periods, however I will later discuss why I believe those such times do not relate to our current situation and why they offer no reassurance for the future.

There is ever mounting evidence of our changing climate and a general consensus that this should be addressed as a matter of urgency both within the academic community and various governing bodies.

Short on Sea Levels

This is the area where I’m most out of my element (living in South Australia it’s a surprise that I don’t think snow and ice are just a myth! Luckily I grew up in the south east of Victoria and when on many trips to the snow topped mountains ;)). For that reason, I feel that John Cook at Skeptical Science puts together a great post regarding Greenland’s Ice loss here. Observations by NASA, and NOAA (again) demonstrate a general increase of sea levels over time.  Some of this is be due to thermal expansion, but the bulk will be from ice loss (Grinsted, et al. 2010). This threatens have a detrimental effect on biodiversity that rely on wetlands (Traill et al. 2010), but more on that later.

Short on Ocean Acidification

I get annoyed when I hear people state that CO2 is a harmless gas. If you again go to NASA or NOAA, you’ll find that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by more than 100ppm since the industrial revolution (Raupach et al. 2007) and is at the time of writing this 392.94ppm at the Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii. Of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions over the past 200 years, around a third has been taken up by the oceans, which has already caused the ocean pH to drop by 0.1 (Fabry et al. 2008). As pH reduces, carbonate ions become less available for the many phyla of ocean dwelling animals that produce calcium carbonate exoskeleton and coral production (Fabry et al. 2008). I’ll develop in this relationship between pH and fitness in a later post.

I know that I’ve been quite light on these points. However, reviewing a wide range of the discussions among different blogs, I fear that denial manages to induce inaction through a number of useful tools; over complication and confusion (ie. an inability to see the forest through the trees), an avoidance of scientific rigour (look at the time it took Prof Abraham to dissect the mess that was Monckton’s presentation; where science papers go through an appropriate review process and are open among peers to be debated and retested, work like Monckton’s presentation is assumed to be taken at face value without such review), and an overwhelming obsession with uncertainty (I often hear, “we need to be absolutely sure if we’re going to make changes”), to name a few.

What I offer here are some basic points which are based on observation. What I will do next is develop on the various effects of these known points. There are always uncertainties, however previous model predictions are increasingly looking like they are underestimations (Grinsted, et al. 2010). If you want to be any more certain, it’ll only be in retrospect. The above points are irrefutable and dangerous if inaction continues (of which I plan to discuss). I will hopefully add some clarity to what I’ve long felt is a pointless and distracting debate and from there I hope to being to develop optimism in our potential to change.

References

Grinsted, A., Moore, J. C., and, Jevrejeva, S. (2010) Reconstructing sea level from paleo and projected temperatures 200 to 2100 AD. Climate Dynamics. 34: 461-472.
Traill, L. W., Bradshaw, C. J. A., Delean, S., and, Brook, B. (2010) Wetland conservation and sustainable use under global change: a tropical Australian case study using magpie geese. Ecography. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0587.2009.06205.x
Raupach, M. R., Marland, G., Ciais, P., Le Quéré, C.,  Canadell, J. G., Klepper, G., and Field, C. B. (2007) Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions. PNAS. vol. 104. no. 24:10288-10293.
Fabry, V. J., Seibel, B. A., Feely, R. A., and Orr, J. C. (2008) Impacts of ocean acidification on marine fauna and ecosystem processes. Journal of Marine Science. 65:414-432; doi:10.1093/icesjms/fsn048

Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 1

Anyone who has been following my blog would have noticed that I’ve spent a bit of time on fuels recently (where did those case studies go to? Sorry, I’ll jump back onto some optimism soon). What is interesting is that an elderly economist who recently gave me some grief has updated his own space and part of what he says I actually agree with.

Now his blog starts with a comment that he is obviously proud of and wished for his audience to read through. It rambles through the usual denial points (his favourite is the, “it’s been warmer before!” statements – and he never thanked me for letting him know about the Roman warm period, which I never heard him use until I let him know about it). Anyway, once you get past this debunked stuff, you get to the meat of something interesting. He starts to sound a bit like me, however our instigating pressures are different. In short, he makes the point that, as we’re so reliant on fossil fuels, any taxes placed on it to curb emissions will cause the collapse of the western world. He gets a little paranoid, mentioning  de-industrialization, but his is elderly and does show traits akin to Monckton, so I’ll just let it slide (and he calls me the alarmist).

He is correct however, when he makes the point that limiting fossil fuels will put massive pressures on current practices – which would probably lead to them becoming obsolete… But of course, this cannot be the whole story or else why would we be such polar opposites? He, like many others saying the same type of statements are of course “cherry picking” what suits their argument, which falls short of the bigger picture. Sure, in his case, dusk will set on a life of abundance of fossil fuels – so why would he be concerned? Climate change, ocean acidification, fossil fuel scarcity, agro-chemical limitations, etc; these are all problems of future generations.

The point is this (which I will develop more later); placing pressure on fossil fuel usage is part of the idea, with the other being the encouragement of innovative ways to greet a new and certainly different world. Prof. Barry Brooks over at BraveNewClimate has long been doing a excellent job on opening discussion on this topic. We need to face our future creatively and openly or else, if we put our heads in the sand like our elderly friend and others like him would have us do, we will face their dire future.

More to come. (I’ve decided to break this up as I’m aware of my ability to write endless, which is an unfair test of the readers endurance).

Abraham v. Monckton: Science v. Ideology

Late yesterday, Climate Shifts highlighted a presentation rebuttal of Christopher Monckton’s famous lecture, carried out by Prof. John Abraham from the Unviersity of St Tomas, Minnesota. It follows like the response I mentioned a while ago by Dr Andrew Glikson and highlights just how little Monckton seems to understand or is intentionally misinterpreting to confuse his audience in regards to climate change. John’s presentation is found here.

John goes to great length to follow up on the few references that Monckton has (those he emails makes it clear that Monckton does not properly understand the result) and to find out what the bulk of our understanding suggests where Monckton “forgets” to reference. John also demonstrates that in some cases Monckton must have lied (his Google search portion would suggest as much) and while he accuses scientists of playing statistical games to suggest their desired results (something that is well known and would be quickly criticised in many cases), he is quick to do so himself as well as change his stance throughout his presentation.

I have to thank John for going to such lengths to dissect Monckton’s presentation; listening to it once was more than most people could stomach.

I’ve since seen that DeSmog blog has also made a post on John’s presentation. I hope that everyone else that reads these blogs listens to this excellent lecture (it’s just over an hour) and also posts about it to let everyone else know about it. Christopher is currently floating around the denial circles as their champion; Prof. Abraham has correctly weighed up Monckton’s stance and found it wanting.

Ocean Acidification… in a nutshell: By GreenPeace

Following my post yesterday, a friend of mine alerted me to this great little animation on ocean acidification.
We are already starting to see the effects – which are largely unappreciated in many arenas. I won’t step on any toes; Climate Shift offer enough on the subject here, AGW Observer has a number of excellent papers here and Plantos-Science discusses it throughout their site.


While you get conferences such as the recent gathering at the Heartland Institute under the heading, “The Fourth International Conference on Climate Change: Reconsidering the science and economics“, aimed at discussing the debate over AGW, we continue to dig ourself a bigger hole. I fail to see how anyone can continue to justify such an irrelevant debate over our carbon emissions where AGW is but one bird of many lined up for a single stone; a shift away from fossil fuels.

Ignorance is… A quick review of pointless opposition climate change science

As yet another environmental issue unfolds, relating to fossil fuels, it seems ever clearer that we need to begin the change in human activity to those of increased sustainability. It is meaningless what any given individual believes to be the case with climate change; there are so many sibling environmental issues that however you choose to look at the situation, you always end up with an urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels (I’ve gone into it here, here, here, here, here, and here).

That said, there are a vast number of trivial movements out there that do little more than encourage a sluggish response to these issues. These movements would be entertaining where it not for the dire situation we find ourselves in. It is also somewhat confusing seeing as many of these individuals come from a conservative and pro-industry camp and what they fight is indeed true conservation and the most obvious progressive thinking (true biological and industrial prosperity).

Here, I will give a few examples that irritate me, to highlight typical critics and the pointless, baseless or simply trivial arguments they use. I do this because, if the reader has children, wishes to have children, cares at all for life as we know it or at the least has some sense of morality, they must see that such behaviour does nothing but stunts our awareness and progression. I made the point here that without innovative thinking, we will lead ourselves down a very synthetic and sick path.

The Aussie political blog

A while ago, while doing some research on senator Minchin, I came by the blog, Australian Climate Madness, which quite quickly exposes itself as the typical politically motivated dribble. An example of this was just written on May the third under Fallout from ETS dumping continues which illustrates the writers views; “[Climate Change] will sink down in public consciousness again, only emerging briefly when there is some pointless UN gabfest on… Nobody really cares, as more and more people (including politicians) realise that there are more urgent and pressing things to worry about…”

Such a statement exposes the author to have little to no understanding of climate science while only having the capacity to think within the short time spans of political terms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author would go as far as Donald Trump who believes a snow storm in the middle of winter disproves climate change (my rebuttal to Trump can be found here).

Weather and climate are two different things on two different time spans and regardless of what you believe to instigate the fact, we are seeing a warming trend over time (click here to look at the most recent article of many articulate and well researched posted from Skeptical Science regarding climate warming) and the myriad of environmental issues relating to this change. We have probably hit peak fuel supply and even if we haven’t, with population growth unabated, relying heavily on unrenewable forms of energy and fertilizers, supply will increasingly be unable to meet the demands of our species.

Good policy making should be aware of this and be;

  • innovative to meet the needs of the country while reducing dependence on other countries (a favourite point for the conservatives),
  • embracing of climate studies and how it can be applied to natural resource management and agriculture,
  • positive in the search for other sources of energy – especially renewable forms.

Although petrol might still be flowing from the pump and wheat available from the cereal box within Rudd’s life time, this will not excuse him and others for not taking action sooner rather than later.

Another point made on this blog is that CO2 is harmless. Sure it is a relatively harmless gas produced through aerobic respiration, however,

  • we have developed over a century of understanding that it is one of the more important greenhouse gases that permit life on this planet as we know it (even at such relatively low concentrations),
  • we have added billions of tonnes of the stuff to the atmosphere in a fairly short amount of time,
  • we are seeing a warming patterning in climate (put this and the previous point together if you wish – and should) and,
  • there is also mounting evidence that this CO2 is not so harmless when the bulk of it is then absorbed by the oceans (this is a wonderful resource of peer-reviewed work relating to acidification of our oceans).

To state that CO2 is harmless, well the writer is only looking at the gas from the most politically comfortable angle and not the reality.

A concerned citizen’s group

While surfing, I noticed the headline of a FOXnews piece; Exclusive: Citizen’s group plans extensive audit of U.N. climate report, and just had to read it.

As it’s put in the article, “a leading global warming skeptic recruited a group of concerned citizens to fact-check the sources referenced in the U.N.’s latest climate-change bible — and gave the report an “F.” Now she’s planning the nail in the coffin: a comprehensive audit of the entire report.”

As a leading global warming skeptic, I figured it only fair to visit her, Donna Laframboise, website, noconsensus.org. Under the heading of Global Warming Theory 101, she endeavours to explain her reason for being skeptical. On this page there are two photographs of people with weather balloons, under which is written; “We can’t predict next summer’s weather reliably. But we claim to know – within a few degrees – how hot it will be 100 years from now.”

This is Ms. Laframboise’s insightful argument; that far off weather predictions are in some way the same as climate predictions. No-one claims to know either weather of climate in the near or far-off future. It’s an ever refining process of modelling based on our ever increasing understanding of weather and climate. Regarding weather; I’m sure Ms. Laframboise grabs an umbrella if the evening news the night before says that there’s a good chance of rain. This is because our models for predicting weather are getting better.  The same goes for climate modelling and climate predictions (different models of course). Her logic is even more baseless than those made in the nineteenth century that a heavier-than-air craft could never fly and are just as counter-productive if applied.

If I was a smoker who denied the medical science consensus that second-hand smoke can cause various medical problems and gathered a bunch of concerned individuals to review the available literature, I’m sure a whole heap of obvious questions would arise; Am I not bias as a selector, more likely to choose “concerned individuals” that agree with my views? Who’s to say that such a review has any relevant training to critically audit such literature? How balanced would such an audit be – ie. would they also give equal weight for the evidence that goes against their bias or simply harp on when they find a spelling mistake? How transparent would the whole process be and what review would it in turn face for merit?

I have the distinct impression that such a review will only highlight the various issues already known and in truth will offer little more than the wonderful argument Ms. Laframboise puts forth on her global warming education page. It seems more a self-promoting act to make noise with the media outlets paying for her advertisement.

On the plus side however, this could provide at least an afternoon’s light reading before the next IPCC report to ensure that silly little mistakes don’t again take the attention away from obvious concerning trends to trivial debate.

The unqualified mentor

The last for this article will be one I’ve often talked about and is often considered the darling of the climate change skeptics; Lord Christopher Monckton. This only needs to be brief.

  • He seems to accept that there is mounting evidence that the climate is changing (although he tends to talk this down); his beef seems to be more with what is causing this (which he argues cannot be CO2). So he cannot have a problem with people who are involved in adaptive landscape science, relating to natural resource management and agriculture under the changing climate.
  • Sure, he probably won’t live long enough to see the end of fossil fuels, but he too (like Rudd etc mentioned above) must appreciate that this is unsustainable long term and nitrogen fertilizers too will be increasingly difficult to obtain once we have depleted the natural gas resource. So he really shouldn’t have a problem with research, development and policy changes to obtain more sustainable technology and life styles unless he really wants future generations to truly suffer.

Why the hell is he making such a noise about it then? He isn’t even a scientist in any form and one argument that he has made about biofuels (that I’ve mentioned here, here and here) is irrelevant to the quest that he’s on, because he isn’t the champion of the starving people in the wake of biofuels, he is the hero of tea parties and pointless debate. As with Laframboise, his too must be a self-serving act.

For what these people claim to stand for, they do the opposite and willing stand in the way of progress and development (I also argue that here). This defies logic and, I fear, sends us further up the river without a paddle with these people somehow thinking we’ll eat ourselves out of any problem; that growth solves all. That’s going to be difficult with 9 billion people, no fossil fuels left, once fertile agricultural lands now dust fields and all relevant study long since mocked and stunted by people who could only see up to three steps in front of them and not down the path they wished for us to head.

Is Monckton working for an Amish conspiracy? How the future is more than debate over climate change.

If a GP told me that a mole on my skin looked questionable and that it would be best to have it removed, would I then ask a geologist, meteorologist or my mate, whose sister in-law has a cousin who is a nurse, for a second opinion?

As much as the scalpel scares the hell out of me, I trust that the GP to know better than the others or myself and quite frankly, I don’t want to run the risk of fighting cancer if I can avoid it.

I did something that in retrospect caused me more frustration than what it was worth and began reading the comments posted in response to a number if excellent blogs. The lucidity of these blogs is beyond question, however, in the comments, there is a lot of room for misinformation and it is very disheartening when otherwise intelligent people ignore the blatantly obvious for what is little more than an inappropriate and overwhelmingly pointless debate, fuelled by the wrong people for the wrong agendas.

Over the past few months, I’ve moved away from this debate, while (hopefully) keeping the common sense approach for change. The call I hear a lot in my field lately is one of increasing conviction and avoidance of the debate over climate change because of the very reason stated above.

Regardless what we choose individually in regards to this argument, very few of us are climate scientist, and very few of us have even done any relevant analysis or read from the bulk of mounting research. It really doesn’t matter what we choose to believe, what matters is that the world is undoubtedly changing (land use / clearing, species loss, water course pollution and diversion, unsustainable farming / fisheries, greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean acidity etc) and that we are greedily chewing up non-renewable resources that we’re heavily reliant on (ie. fossil fuels for energy and nitrogen fertilisers).

It’s a lot like what I witnessed in someone close to me recently who is incredibly sceptical of medical science (especially vaccinations and medications), but the first to fall into the doctors lap, pleading for a wonder drug to be administered NOW, when they felt as though they were dying.

The fight is far less costly and far less energetic the sooner we address the problem – it’s the old “prevention is better than a cure” which we all know yet all too often ignore. I’ve heard many different arguments of why we often ignore this wisdom, although they hardly apply to this situation; many of the point’s addresses above are irrefutable and we have the technology and research capabilities to begin the shift to an increased sustainability, yet we continue this slow square dance with the people that will have us do nothing.

A couple examples;

Recently, we had Monckton in the country. Unfortunately he was given air-time to debate climate science with Dr Ben McNeil (who has actually earned the right to discuss the science through years of training, rather than being nothing more than a good public speaker). Monckton made the point that biofuels (the result of climate change hysteria) are starving millions of people.

Without even considering climate change, I argue that, if we continue down Monckton’s black brick road, fossil fuels will deplete – leaving combustion engines solely reliant on biofuels, natural gas currently used to create nitrogen fertilizers will cause first a massive increase in food costs (as it becomes rarer) and secondly as the gas is used up completely, an inability to meet food demands, and lastly with  increase transportation costs in a fossil fuel depleted world, this expensive food will be even more expensive further away from the farm: all of which will make a much hungrier and expensive world and certainly one with greater divergence from food to biofuels. Read here for an example on our reliance on non-renewable nitrogen sources.

In a previous post, I’ve suggested that synthetic food will most likely be our only option on the present road.

Although it’s at times hard to hear Ben, he makes the point clear that the science behind climate change is not about promoting biofuels, but one to address our unsustainable actions and as far as I’m concerned, Monckton is basically addressing logic with fear propaganda.

Another example is one that I hear from America a fair amount and one obviously shared with Nick Minchin; it is that climate change is a fear tactic by communists and socialists in an attempt to de-industrialize the west. Every time I hear such nonsense, I can’t help but be reminded of the Seinfeld episode with the communist santa or Monty Python’s “American defence against international communism” advertised with crelm toothpaste in “And now for something completely different”. I’m glad to have been born after the paranoia of the cold war had dropped a few notches. That said, this fear obviously still lives in the hearts of many people around the world.

It’s easy to address Nick’s fears however; when fossil fuels are too expensive for the vast majority of people, I can’t help but question how industrial the world could remain when most of us can no longer afford fuel to drive or power for the house or food from the shops. Maybe the truth is that these do-nothing dropkicks are really on the payroll of the Amish; because they will probably be the best suited to a world without fossil fuels where we took little to no effort to move away from an non-renewable and depleting source of energy!

These two examples did not even require climate change as a motivator and if Monckton is not opposed to general warming pattern that we are seeing in climate, as he seems to suggest in the video liked above (rather the cause of it is in dispute in his eyes), then why is he kicking up a stink against the climate scientists who are in the business of understanding our climate better which would lead us to better decision making regarding improved agriculture?

In every respect he and others like him are nothing but the instigators of a future of hardship rather than being tomorrow’s heroes; saving us from the World Bank and a global government, that others label them as today.

I guess all that remains is a simple question; when you notice a new mole on your skin, whose advice will you trust, your GP or Lord Monckton and the do-nothings?

Coal as the Aussie backbone? That’s a sick country Mr. Rudd

I have to thank Climate Shifts and Guy Pearse for their newest post, Australia has suffered hellish wildfires and withering drought – and is asking for more through its massive coal exports”. It’s an incredibly articulate and frightening report on the general hypocrisy demonstrated of our government.

I’d love for more people to read it.

On every front, CO2 emissions are causing Australia agricultural and environmental damage which will only continue to cost us more and more economically, even though it appears that we’re making a quick buck on the coal train. Not only are we putting more and more pressure on agricultural practices that were never sustainable to begin with on a landscape radically different to those of Europe, but land use clearing, climate change and CO2 decreasing the pH of our oceans will make this a truly barren country.

Professor Corey Bradshaw will be conducting a free public lecture; A World of Hurt: A true global death count of environmental degradation. This follows his work, examining human health in relation to environmental quality on a large scale. I suggest to everyone able to attended it on the 11th of May at The University of Adelaide to make a booking. For the rest, I hope a podcast follows (which I’ll highlight if it does). We need to raise the awareness of the fragile ecosystem of which we’re involved here in Australia, our dependence on our environment and how imperative it is that we change our practices to meet a changing world and pay back the tab we’ve abused.

The ways we choose our fate – the real tragedy of environmental ignorance

I might, for a moment, drift away to the realms of science fiction, before returning to science fact to give an interesting example that I have noticed.

Of the large volume of sci-fi pop-art out there, I noticed a trend; the “ideal” future is often one that is clean, open-spaced (without the clutter), bright and somewhat organically designed, while the harsh and brutal future image is dirty, cluttered with pipes and steaming gases, dark with unnatural lighting and incredibly industrial. The food too in the former world is fruit and vegetables – but often exotic and unusual, while the latter world supplies processed food in packages from vending machines.

It would seem instinctively, we can see that the ideal world would be much more efficient, a true student to the philosophy that “less is more”, much more an artistic representation of the natural world, yet intrinsically our own space, yet the dreaded future (and I would argue, the much more likely future) is a depressing slum and must be the final, unsustainable age of humanity (indeed, often these end with the hero and a number of good-looking people escaping the wreck to some utopia, somewhere else).

I mentioned that because it is important to the piece I wish to write. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that we are at a cross-road of human nature and with the results of our choices a long way off from now (many of which are beyond the life time of any living human today), it is incredibly difficult for most to see the inherent dangers in our actions. Every age and every generation faces their own distinct trials which future generations will judge them for, and many of the high-points and low-points of a generation will unfortunately only hold any real importance to that generation alone, requiring only a foot-note in history as another example of, “you had to been there”.

What matters across the generations and across the ages are the things that shape the world and make it something new – the things you can’t take back.

The generations of the industrial and information ages have made radical changes to the world and we now know enough to know that sloppy behaviour that is intuitive of business-as-usual will be inexcusable to future generations. We have, however, done some amazing things; there is little doubt that few could truly appreciate just how much medicine and technology (probably the most important being transport and communication) have changed human cultures as well as all environments. We can make islands, remove half a mountain and create pits staggering in size! We can send people to other worlds or to the other side of the world to enjoy the same meal twice on the same day!

We are ingenious at the best of times, but also dangerously thoughtless at the worst of times.

What troubles me the most are the following points;

  • If Barney Foran, in chapter four of, Biodiversity: integrating conservation and production (Editors; Ted Lefroy, Kay Bailey, Greg Unwin, and Tony Norton), is correct in stating that without discovering how to make fertilizer from natural gas, human population would have been limited to 3 billion due to the fact that we would have to rely on traditional sources of nitrogen (legumes and compost). What will happen to the ever amounting world population when this gas runs out (when it is currently used to cart Joe average back and forth from work or play, and when it’s swallowed up to run turbines)?
  • Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most recent data that I could find suggested that the average Aussie consumed 103KL per capita of water over the 2004-05 period. Australia’s population is just over 22.3 million currently. Few Australians would not be aware of the political war carried on over very limited water supplies and the dire situation of the Murray Darling Basin as well as the lower lakes. Yet, projections hint that the population of Australia could increase by more than 10 million over the next 40yrs. Where will the extra water come from for direct consumption for these new people as well as all the rest to feed the increased agricultural needs (extra burden on fertilizers as well)? Desalination plants will not solve this problem (as well as requiring electricity to run) and although there are examples of interesting new technologies (such as this on BraveNewClimate), it is at this point impractical and dangerous to assume that we’ll “work out the bugs later”.
  • Regardless of all the arguments that I’ve gone into thus far and the debates carried out across the globe, there are two unavoidable facts that overshadow the threat of a changing climate that should logically mean that all of us work as a team. The first is the simple fact that the fossils we’re burning up will only become scarcer and scarcer from now on. This will make them more expensive. This will in turn raise the costs of living. This will impact all sectors and all people. And the will cause and increase in political stability within struggling states and between states that have fuel and those that do not. An interesting and somewhat scary commentary about the recent Nuclear Summit was posted on BNC, “Analysis of the 2010 Nuclear Summit and the obsession with highly enriched uranium”, which only highlights more immediate issues that are facing our future power needs and potential political pressures.
  • The second fact is even more obvious and potentially more disturbing; it is beyond a doubt that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is rising, a large part of this extra carbon dioxide is taken up by the oceans, leading to a lowering of pH. As soft drinks erode teeth, acid rain breaks down limestone statues and buildings, the more acidic the ocean becomes, the more likely it will damage corals and species with exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate. There’s historical evidence to suggest as much.
  • And then (finally, I guess), there’s climate change. Whatever the rising temperature really means, the only way that we can adapt our procedures to avoid the worst effects of a changing climate is to stop entertaining this fight against logic; this mockery of a debate over the science. It is pure self-indulgence when we should be asking ourselves how we can improve; not just because of the changing climate, not just because the acidification of our oceans; not just because of our depleting fossil fuels; and not just because population growth is carrying on with little regard for the available resources; but for all these reasons and many many more.

Pete Hay, in the opening chapter of Biodiversity: integrating conservation and production, makes it quite clear that there is enough evidence that we are watching a mass extinction event. This is beyond climate change, as many of the factors (hunting, land clearing, pollution, etc) have been in play much longer than the detectable changes in climate. Species loss is easily one of our high points of ignorance.

The diversity of any given wetlands for example, provides an invaluable service to water treatment which in turn can feed commercially valuable fisheries. Any given forest, from the tropics to the temperate alpine, provides a wide range of chemical transfers, carbon collection, storm protection, habitat for countless species as well as a wealth of natural resources, that, if managed sustainably, can provide countless services to humanity (one of which, not heavily highlighted is bio-prospecting; we are far from understanding the medicinal properties of a most biologically derived chemicals and to lose the change to explore this will ultimately do our species more harm).

It certainly doesn’t take an expert to see that we are out running the Red Queen; we are burning up our resources quicker than they can recover (and in many examples, they are unrecoverable).

The more biodiversity we lose, the greater the population, and the slower we are to adopt an ever increasing sustainable lifestyle;

  • the less likely we will be able to provide fresh food and water to the overall population (so look forward to proceeded packaged food and recycled water),
  • the less likely that we will be able to meet the power requirements of the ridiculous population size (dark, with dim unnatural lighting)
  • fewer species probably means sicker species – something I don’t like the idea of testing at large, (sure, we’ll have a lot of rats, cockroaches, cats, dogs and pigeons, so if you’re a fan of those, you’ll be fine),
  • no doubt such a bleak place would lower moral, which would tend to suggest ineffective upkeep (do you feeling like cleaning up someone else’s mess when you’re feeling down/sick?), and
  • thus the more likely we are to the post-industrial slums of the nightmarish sci-fi forecast.

Bad journalism and The Agents of Doubt

Desmog Blog posted an excellent piece calling for the various media groups to officially apologise and make corrections within their articles over the hacked university emails following the investigation into “Climategate” by the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. Clive Hamilton also wrote an excellent piece that can be found here, which went into more detail of the findings.

I personally couldn’t agree more and feel that everyone else should also make the demand for media outlets to be held accountable for their misinformation, as they themselves demanded of the scientist involved.

As Morgan Goodwin writes; “Legitimate news organizations have standards of accuracy to uphold and should correct the record.”

What sparked off my desire to write so much of late was a weekend of debate with family members who were entirely educated on the subject of climate science by the media, and due to the doubt industry, were incredibly sceptical of the whole field. They also thought passive smoking did no harm (oh, people like Nick Minchin would be proud!).

When I mentioned my training and field of work the response was, “Oh, so you must know that all this climate change is nonsense then?”

Once, I had a door-knocker who, when I mentioned my work in biology, replied, “Oh, so you must know that evolution is rubbish then?”

…I don’t like being so heavily argumentative in general, however, when I witness such things, I cannot help but plead to logic and commonsense…

On climate science, we have the knowledge that;

It seems a no-brainer that our actions are causing damage and that we know enough to both see what’s happening and to take steps to be more sustainable. We are accountable for what we do and will have no excuse for inaction to future generations.

As communicators to the general public, media outlets should be ethical and moral with their representations of events or, as we see, propaganda such as is sprouted by many people who deny climate science, is taken as legitimate and unfairly damage the reputations of hardworking scientist. At Climate Shifts they make a point that many of the sceptics themselves lack scientific credibility (I think I’ll probably reference to this fairly often as it’s a point I like to make). Many of them are taken to have authority on climate science and trot around the world labelling climate scientists whatever will scare the audience (Minchin puts climate science in with de-industrialising communism and Christopher Monkton has, on a number of occasions, made Nazi comments in relation to climate science, to name two such individuals).  Unfortunately, a number of respectable scientists have been forced into public debates with such people which, unfortunately seems gives them some sort of borrowed credentials without ever deserving them. We, as the general public, allow this to occur and media outlets that indulge in promoting such individuals make themselves little more than trash entertainment.

The whole “Climategate” situation has without a doubt caused a great deal of damage to the trust that the public have in the science community and the two groups largely behind this are the media and the climate change doubt machine. Morgan makes the point that there will never be an apology made by the latter group, but certainly we should expect better from the former.

The various examples made by both Morgan and Clive, as well as the countless others that have jumped on the Climategate truck, branding pitchforks and torches should be at least asked to do what’s right by both apologising for their baseless accusations and correcting the errors in their statements. Those who do so should continue to be part of what is worth reading. Those who don’t obviously expose themselves as agents of doubt and should be ignored as such so that we can get on with addressing those problems mentioned above as well as the myriad of other issues related with sustainable practices.

Let’s hope the days of the investigative journalist are not over; we still require honest writers willing to go to the front line and report the truth of the situation, not a lot of puppets who cannot sense the change in their climate-controlled shoeboxes.