- Published on Friday, 13 June 2014 08:21
By Nick Breeze
I must admit to not having heard of Clive James for a couple of decades or more. Last I saw he was hosting a television talk show series that featured a Cuban singer called Margarita Pracatan. So it was with an open mind that I read this review of a biography of the political theorist Thomas Robert Malthus by Robert Mayhew in Prospect Magazine.
Clive James and Margarita Pracatan
James immediately states that “Malthus was wrong that population growth would lead to famine” and asks “Why are his ideas still popular?”. Alarm bells chime in the distance. Malthus is very famous for his conclusions about population growth and natures ability to feed it. The human population has gone from 2bn to 7bn in 85 years . What makes his conclusions more prescient is the enormous body of scientific research that estimates that the Earth’s human carrying capacity has exceeded its resource capacity to sustain us. We are now in exponential population growth, whilst all of our life support systems (forests, oceans, agriculture, water, etc.) have become stressed and are at risk of collapse. Although James would undoubtedly describe this as alarmist, I would certainly assert that it is alarming!
What becomes quickly apparent is that James does not care much for any form evidence in making his grand put downs of the scientific establishment. He prefers statements alluding to his own wisdom instead, such as “… I know quite a lot about mass media, having worked in that area all of my life.” The reader should be reminded that James’s mass media career peaked over two decades ago and, from a media perspective, the pre-internet world was a very different place. The contemporary world, he seems to have no knowledge of at all.
There are so many incorrect statements (with no citations of evidence except “…all the statistics agree…”) that I’ll only highlight a few. James is certain that food security on the planet “will be abundant for years to come.” This seems quite opposed to what is coming out of the scientific studies that show that increased soil erosion, weather anomalies, water and energy shortages, have put the global food baskets under considerable stress. [3, 4].
James cannot abide the author of the book, Robert Mayhew, seemingly because he, himself, does not believe in the seriousness of climate change. All criticisms are framed around this premise, existing without any evidence and with (oddly amusing) demonstrations of James’s own wit in tackling the subject. One of the best lines is as follows: “… I speculated aloud that the famous 97 per cent consensus among scientists was perhaps only a consensus among climate scientists…” . It begs the question, which branch of scientific specialism would he prefer us to trust in analysing the state of the Earth’s climate? Dentists?
James goes on to describe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “an unfailing source of alarmist propaganda…”, following up that they have somehow backtracked on their assessment of the global impacts that we can expect from a hotter planet. The truth could not be further away. The past few months has seen IPCC lead authors stating that we are on track for a global average of 4C rise in temperature by the end of century that will cause resource scarcity, increased conflict and sea level rise to name but a few outcomes . He then goes on to state, “the emphasis had clearly shifted from mitigation to adaptation.” There is an element of truth to this but not because the problems we face are any less dangerous (as he implies). It is rather that the political and corporate will does not exist to take the necessary precautionary action. Therefore the world population at large are forced into the only response available: try to adapt.
But the change is happening and in the US we see a huge willingness by the Obama administration to show courage in squaring up to this very real issue . With wildfires, drought, incredible sub-zero conditions and dangerous hurricanes as Sandy becoming a real threat to the wellbeing of the nation, it is sad that the likes of Clive James wish to remain in a silo of ignorance. Many of the poorer nations around the world are feeling the dire effects of manmade climate change, with low-lying islands and coastal areas facing direct threats from rising sea levels and extreme weather. To them, the idle jokes and mass media wit of a has-been like James would sound galling if ever they heard it [8,9].
From this point on James’s mask is off as he invokes the memory of the famed non-scandal tagged “climategate” by the media, representing vested business interests, propagating similar myths as James himself . The inquiry that followed the non-scandal exonerated all those scientists whose emails were illegally hacked and misrepresented to the press to discredit their work. But the damage was done. The most important conversation we needed to have in 2009 (James says it was 2007 but that is incorrect) was dropped from the agenda altogether. That itself will be seen as a far greater scandal in the years to come . It seems odd that our “mass media” expert was unable to decipher the truth from the loud shrills of tabloid mania that scoffed at innocent men.
Although I was compelled to smile at James’s peculiar rant against something he can’t seem to grasp despite mountains of evidence, his case against Malthus, climate change and associated risks, do carry an undertone of sadness. For James is not inheriting the Earth, he is bequeathing it to future generations and it is in a terrible state. To shrug and insinuate that the problems we face collectively, as a result of the mistakes made in the preceding decades, are just an illusion, is disrespectful and ignorant.
Thomas Robert Malthus (pic. Wikipedia)
Clive James’s appraisal of ‘Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet’  seems to fall away somewhere in this piece of writing. But between the lines of his misty views, he has done us some service. His message is clear but our reading of it should be clearer: the book is likely to be a very good insight and analysis of a man who, over 200 years ago, diagnosed the problem that we today are facing: population really does matter!
12 June 2014
- Published on Sunday, 01 June 2014 09:43
Earlier this year I heard Prof. Mike Bradshaw speaking on #Shale #Gas extraction at the Royal Geographic Society (#RGS).
His talk was so impressive and dispelled so many myths put forward by the government that I contacted him and filmed an hour long discussion of all the points he made from an independent perspective. This is the first in a series of clips that we'll be releasing.
- Published on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 15:36
Analysis of an existential national security threat multiplier1
(Or, shall we choose to argue with retired military officers – a 100 year war?2)
- By any business or military standard of risk assessment the world stands at the precipice of a food crisis.
- The probability of a crisis, on that basis, is now so high that it should be considered nearly unavoidable, and given the interconnected variables, this may become our new and very unpleasant normal. One consequence would be a gradual reduction in the planet’s carrying capacity, another would be the potential of extreme global unrest, and whether or not our fragile financial systems could withstand this is highly debatable at best.
- Non-linear changes in climate (unacknowledged: see explanation – page 4) could first spark, then perpetuate food crises, leading to non-linear societal events worldwide (riots, etc.), putting increased pressure on an already fragile financial system prone to non-linear reactions. If these non-linear parameters start to interact, they will act as multipliers, ultimately threatening the national security of most nations.
These events are unequivocally looming on the immediate horizon – decades ahead of forecasts – and we are ill prepared. The only positive outcome is that they could function as an essential ‘wake- up call.’
On April 3, 2014, the UN FAO Food Price Index (FPI) reached 212.8:
- This is 2.8 points above the 210 level identified by the Complex Systems Institute3 as the level that triggered the 2008 world food riots and the 2011 Arab Spring.
- The analysis (attached) of the trends in the FPI, in tandem with data from the UN4, shows that the current level is now ascending; absent change this portends even greater unrest.
In the short-to-medium term, there is nothing to suggest that this trend will reverse. However, there are several factors suggesting the upward trend will not only continue but ultimately reach an unprecedented level. Combined with several interrelated variables it becomes existential national security threat multiplier. At a minimum, it is a wake-up call for immediate and concerted action.
One notes that commentary by the UN FAO on the jump in March prices points to ‘geopolitical tensions in the Black Sea region’ as a partial cause; there are no indications of supply interruptions from Ukraine at this time, but Ukraine is on the edge of bankruptcy, and, as the year unfolds, there may be a repeat of Egyptian dysfunctionality, due to internal turmoil (note that Ukraine is a major grain supplier to the worlds’ markets)5. The primary and current root causes of the upward trend in the FPI, at a minimum, are:
- Adverse weather in South America, particularly in Brazil6, which ultimately reduced forecasts for bumper harvests.
- The status of the winter wheat crop in the US has been continually downgraded in the past month7.
- The status of large areas of US farmland relative to spring planting: all indications point to late planting for considerable acreage, potentially after May 10, which is known to impact yields.8
- The largest factor that could send the FPI soaring is the status of the Chinese winter wheat crop. The official ‘party line’ regarding its condition has been questioned by experts9. Note that from the referenced article the official line is for a 3.5% increase in yield over last year. That would be around 3.5 million tons, but last year the shortfall was 20 million tons, so at best this is not encouraging and explains, in part, China’s recent purchases of large interests in agro-commodities trading firms for grain sourcing10.
- One might add that commodity speculation in agricultural products is now a very large player category. This can be seen in a St. Louis Federal Reserve11 research article (note the figures on page 41), where the quantity of derivatives attributable to commodities during the 2008 world food riots is shown to have spiked. Derivatives in food commodities are relatively new and clearly indicate institutional investor involvement, and are thus more likely to increase rather than decrease.
As crop yield numbers come in from the harvests in both hemispheres, the overall situation is tenuous at best:
- As of 2010, 1.22 billion worldwide were existing on less than $1.25/day, or 17.4% of the world12.
- The next tier, less than $2/day, increases the number to 2.4 billion, or 34% of the world.
- Astonishingly, as of 2011 there were 3.55 million children living in households in the US existing on less than $2/day13. One might add that nearly 50 million Americans survive on food stamps14 and the California drought is already impacting domestic food prices.
- 69 million people in MENA (Middle East North Africa) exist on less than $2/day15, many of those at the $1.25/day level. Since the Arab Spring, tourism and oil exports have fallen, impacting these economies; it is arguable that conditions are worse now than they were in 2011 at the onset of that event.
- Any further rise in the FPI could add to continuing unrest in MENA. That in turn would stimulate speculation in oil prices, a known multiplier in FPI spikes due entirely to the fuel/food production relationship, and a known adverse economic multiplier in all economies.
- A sufficient rise in the price of wheat raises the specter of Vladimir Putin once again issuing a moratorium on grain exports as he did in 201016. A moratorium will suppress potential internal price increases for Russia but will further deplete the global supply and thereby exacerbate global prices. Increasing tensions in Ukraine may ensure a moratorium.
There was no prior warning of the 2008 world food riots, nor was there any identifiable warning of the Arab Spring. The trigger of the latter event has rarely been attributed to the impacts of climate change; it is much more ‘convenient’ to explain such events as founded in politics.
The outlook for the FPI for the next few months is:
- A low probability that it will measurably decline due entirely to current ground conditions for large swaths of US agricultural production areas.
- A medium probability that the FPI will stall around current levels as stocks on hand are consumed to satisfy market demand, in tandem with the probability of slightly reduced demand from China due to their faltering economy and similar impacts from decreased Russian and Indian demand.
- In the event of a major yield loss of the Chinese winter wheat crop, there is a high probability of a spike initiating by June when assessments of yield can be verified.
- Irrespective of the above, the FPI will probably remain at, above, or very close to a new record level for the next 5 months, portending an increased likelihood for a ‘perfect storm’ starting in the fall of 2014 and continuing throughout 2015.
There is mounting evidence that an El Niño event will begin in the fall of 2014; researchers at Potsdam calculate the odds at 75%17. Sub-surface sea temperatures in the Pacific have been measured at 6 oC above normal, which last occurred in 1997 and was a precursor to a major El Niño event that resulted in considerable crop damage around the world18. A partial indication of what we may anticipate, relative to the US, is provided by a NOAA summary19; that, however, is merely a part of the possible consequences. Given the current sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Pacific Ocean, it is a question of when, not if, there will be an El Niño event, and given the amount of heat continually being absorbed by the oceans, the probability of a severe event increases daily.
- El Niño events result from natural variability, but their strength and corresponding impacts are based on ocean temperatures. It has been established that 90% of excess heat of the planetary energy imbalance has been absorbed by and stored in the oceans20; the energy currently being stored each second in the top 2,000 meters has been calculated as being equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs21. We can therefore reasonably state that anthropogenic influences will serve to augment this naturally occurring event.
- As current Pacific Ocean SST anomalies show signs of matching, or exceeding, those that preceded the 1997/8 El Niño event, it is reasonable to anticipate an event matching, or exceeding, that of 1997/8. Meanwhile, Exxon/Mobil assures us that it is highly unlikely that there will be any political intervention to stop barbequing the planet in the foreseeable future22. And China (at a minimum), via its continued planned extensive use of coal, will dwarf those emissions23, 24.
- There have been substantial changes since 1998 that will compound problems resulting from a new severe El Niño. There are approximately 1 billion more mouths to feed. Additionally, developing economies, in particular China, Russia and India, more than doubled their food commodity demand in the first decade of this century.
- The complex relationship between the Arctic sea ice and the jet stream has already caused changes in the jet stream’s path and behavior, according to the research of Dr. Jennifer Francis25. During, and following a severe El Niño event, that relationship may change considerably.
- As strongly indicated by Dr. Francis’ research, the temperature gradient between the equator and the pole has weakened. One consequence is that the wave patterns of the jet stream are extending further to the north and south and west-to-east movement is at times inhibited; this results in the development of ‘blocking patterns,’ which may remain stationary for months, leading to bouts of extreme flooding and droughts. Global mean temperatures rose between 0.2 and 0.25 oC during the 1998 El Niño, and if the upcoming event is similar, or more severe, one can anticipate a similar temperature increase. Whatever the increase in global mean temperature, it will be multiplied in the Arctic by “Arctic amplification.” This is a highly contentious research area where Arctic amplification is defined as a multiple of the increase in global mean temperature (from 2 to >6 times). In a worst case situation, Arctic temperatures could increase by as much as 1.5 oC within a span of only 15-18 months, due entirely to Arctic amplification. That will lead directly to further consequences.
- If another super El Niño occurs, stalled blocking patterns may intensify flood and drought impacts.
- The El Niño event is expected to begin in the fall of 2014 and last through 2015. By the time it subsides, Arctic amplification will have had a further impact on the equator/pole gradient, which is likely to cause the jet stream to become even more erratic than it has been in recent years. Our current questionably stable weather patterns, essential for mass agriculture, are likely to become further disrupted, with consequent decreases in crop yields while the world’s population continues to increase. Scientists have already warned of this; however, their estimate of a 2% decrease in crop yields per decade is likely to be understated at best26. In short, from this time forward it may be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid continual food insecurity.
- The worst case scenario is that Arctic amplification, during and following the El Niño event, will intensify and trigger the event Professor Wadhams outlined in 2013 concerning subsea permafrost located in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS)27. Should an ice-free area of the Arctic Sea warm to the point that a sudden release of methane occurs in the quantities proposed by Professor Wadhams, it may signal the onset of unstoppable and irreversible climate change.
- The above scenario is a highly contentious area of debate in the scientific community, but an in- depth review reveals that little actual physical research has been done other than that by Shakhova and Semiletov. Their research includes sediment cores taken from the bottom of the sea which show that the permafrost boundary overlying methane hydrate deposits is warming and thawing, creating emission pathways up through the sea floor and hence through the water column to the surface.
How we arrived at this nexus should be incomprehensible because the risks we are being forced to take at the behest of vested interests are immense. The primary identifiable risks are:
- There will be an initial period of potentially 2 years when demand for agricultural products outstrips supply. That will lead directly to record levels in the FPI and widespread global unrest. Riots are non-linear events with completely unpredictable outcomes.
- Following that there is a potential that the weather patterns of the Northern Hemisphere will have been altered to the extent that reasonably stable weather for mass agriculture is a thing of the past. In this event, unrest will continue, quite possibly elevate. ‘The Great Satan’ will of course be responsible; ignoring the continual sale of MENA-based oil and coal burning in China and India. Supply lines could be disrupted for many US businesses along with Benghazi-type incidents and elevated terrorism around the world.
Beyond the economic losses from crops, there will be transference in every country’s GDP in consumer spending to essentials, i.e., food, leading directly to a general economic downturn.
- Many smaller nations will be forced to sell reserves to purchase and subsidize food or face the mob. This will not only apply to developing economies but additionally to recovering developed economies such as the PIGS nations.
- If the El Niño event is particularly severe, at some point there is a very high probability that a collapse in the derivatives market will be triggered, caused by three major factors. Firstly, a sell-off of reserves to buy food would result in a flood of US dollars entering the market in a relatively short span of time. It follows that ‘futures’ in currency rates would adjust, and 80% of the derivatives market is based on futures in currency and interest rates. Secondly, the extent of the global unrest could unnerve the market, which operates entirely on the basis of one word – confidence; a sufficient contraction could easily trigger the derivatives market – exactly as happened in 2008, but on a broader scale. Thirdly, the BRICS nations may collectively decide enough-is-enough regarding commodity speculation; as they and associated nations struggle to feed their populations, there will be awareness of those skimming a percentage from the market by speculation. They could choose to counter by combining forces and attacking a system they already want to change and ensure that change. Those who think this implausible may want to read this BBC article about what might have happened in 200828. Facing a sustained period of identifiable problems in food security, this may prove to be the defining moment for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s objectives29.
- In short, and as Robert Zoellick forewarned, we are heading for chaos – ill-prepared and literally flying by the seat of our pants. Non-linear societal events could rapidly lead to non-linear market events continually fueled by non-linear climatic events, and the consequences would simply be a historical repeat of system collapse from which we feel we are immune, for reasons unknown.
There is much that can be done, but it must start by acknowledging the extent of the risks, by not running away fearing that this is yet another ‘doom and gloom’ scenario, and by defining the problem correctly.
System collapse has occurred historically when others failed to define their circumstance and act. When our species decides it is time to act decisively, history also reveals that we are capable of conquering what appear to be insurmountable odds. One has to wonder – how long should we wait? Two factors in particular are currently influencing that decision.
- Firstly, there are those who are deluded enough to think that our species can adapt to temperatures approaching, or beyond, 4oC (Rex Tillerson, CEO Exxon/Mobil, for one). Indeed there may well be a few pockets of humans hanging on, surviving on what remains of the ecosystem, but civilization as we know it would be gone. The scientific evidence supporting this contention is overwhelming and yet that is the exact trajectory we are on for this century, at a minimum, failing major changes.
- Secondly, the climate is in a non-linear mode, and yet we are assessing and planning as if it is in a shallow slope linear mode, with decades available to act, and unused carbon budgets yet to be allocated30. Can the exact nature of the non-linearity be defined and an equation tossed out for examination? No, and this is probably the reason one does not read of a widespread acceptance of non-linearity. The reality is quite different if approached by simple logic. Any equation defining the total interactions of the climate, or set of models run as that equation, must include at a minimum the Arctic sea ice (the reduction of volume analysis clearly shows non-linearity31), the melting of the Greenland ice sheet32, and the Pine Island Glacier System (representing the Antarctic ice sheet)33; all of these systems are by any standard in a non-linear mode. As components of the overall equation, the climate is in a non-linear mode, since if any component within an equation is non- linear, that equation is non-linear by default.
In the short term, there is little or nothing that can be done, and any attempt to change the dynamic will be met by a well-funded and highly organized machine34. We have arrived where we are due entirely to a preference (somewhat forced by vested interests) for not even acting effectively on low-risk scenario outcomes and utterly avoiding even acknowledging the probability of high-risk scenario outcomes. What was once thought in certain quarters as a potential ‘perfect storm’ for 2050 is now on our doorstep!
There is no risk management – period – all one hears are bald words and trite sentiments from those who wish to take the line of least resistance and avoid rocking the boat. No one is minding the store – a store that is burning to the ground whilst its absentee landlords pontificate in their castles apparently dreaming
they, and their families, will somehow be immune to the impacts. No one is connecting the dots, and yet as this crisis unfolds there will be the usual sanctimonious outcry demanding to know why they were not warned, completely ignoring the activities of King CONG35 (coal, oil, nuke and gas), who will still be active on all fronts and tailoring deceptive plausible-deniability arguments for general consumption – Who me?
Of course the vast majority, if they read this analysis, would interpret it as alarmism in the extreme, irrespective of the mountain of evidence pointing to extreme risk (this was the specific reason for the extensive referencing). We are compelled to await ‘settled science’ to act, as if King CONG would even concede at that point, and besides what is not understood about the word ‘irreversible’; well of course it doesn’t pertain in the illusionary world where adaption is possible.
The reality is straightforward; we simply need to accept the immutable words of President George W. Bush – “We are addicted to fossil fuels,” and the ‘pushers’ are as much in charge as if we all lived in some barrio in Rio de Janeiro.
There is a lot that can be done (reference 35 for a start), and a lot that should have been done, but unfortunately we seem to need to reach a crisis before action is demanded for anything, preferring to languish in induced ‘normalcy bias’; even then a massive uphill fight must ensue. Food trumps all other issues when it impacts just about everyone and threatens national security (critical for action), so maybe there is a silver lining, assuming we can get our act together!
H. David Tattershall
Co-Founder Hope Or Cope, LLC
Editor (and co-research):
"Climate Change: The Next Generation"
1 http://www.politico.com/story/2013/02/climate-change-is-threat-multiplier-87338.html 2http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/04/david_titley_climate_change_war_an_interview_with_the_retired_re
14 http://money.cnn.com/2013/11/06/news/economy/poverty-census/ 15http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/MENAEXT/0,,menuPK:247619~pagePK:146748~piPK:146812~theSi
21 http://www.skepticalscience.com/The-Oceans-Warmed-up-Sharply-in-2013-We-are-Going-to-Need-a-Bigger-Graph.html 22 http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2023271795_apxexxonclimatechange.html
26 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/19/global-warming-will-cut-crop-harvests-by-2-each-decade-researchers-say 27 http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cost-of-arctic-methane-release-could-be-size-of-global-economy-warn-experts
(Note follow link at the bottom of the article)
- Debunked Or Defunct; Is Clive James Really An Able Commentator On Our Times?
- UK Shale Extraction Series - Part 1
- Food insecurity ~ 2014-2015
- The Truth About This Devastating Weather: David Cameron’s Policies Will Make It Worse!
- David Wasdell: Earth Sensitivity To Temperature & Emissions
- The View From The Met Office: Super Models and Climate Change Customers ... Welcome To Planet “B”
- Part 2: Environment In TV
- Environment in TV - The View From The Audience...
- Extended Interview With Dr Natalia Shakhova (& Igor Semelitov)
- Drought & Extreme Heating Will Increase Even If We Stop Emitting... But Doing Nothing Is Not An Option
Time To Engage The Issues
2012 is a critical year for communicating climate issues to the general public and creating a platform whereby the messages and calls to action being voiced by key scientists around the world.
Envisionation are uniquely placed at the heart of the climate issue, speaking to the worlds most distinguished scientists and conveying their findings to the world audience.
The big challenge is to affect change in the short term to create a safe environment for the future of life on Earth.