Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
- Written by David Tattershall And Tenney Naumer David Tattershall And Tenney Naumer
- Published: 23 April 2014 23 April 2014
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)
The UK has recently experienced a deluge of terrible weather that is bringing many parts of the country to crisis point. Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, rolled up his sleeves and appeared on the BBC to exclaim: “We are in it for the long haul!”
David Cameron: "We're in it for the long haul!"
I had never previously considered Cameron to be an ironist but with this defying slogan he has proved himself a man of fine wit… even if slightly distasteful in the circumstances. The mainstream media in the UK seem to have an embargo on telling the public the truth about all the extreme weather (and the rest of the world) we are getting. It is worth keeping in mind that it is not just us. The US has experienced incredibly harsh freezing conditions, while the west coast is unseasonably hot with California recording its worst ever drought and Alaska experiencing extraordinary heat anomalies. In Europe, 40% of Slovenia's forests have been badly damaged by ice storms. In Australia heatwaves are breaking new records, floods in Bolivia have left 42 people dead, while in Brazil, extreme drought means that the water supplies of over 140 cities are now being rationed. The list really does go on. The weather is changing around the world and fast.
Last weekend I visited a friend in Salcombe, Devon and as we hiked along the coast we witnessed the erosion in realtime as the waterlogged cliff was literally collapsing into the sea. Concrete roads eaten away by the roaring seas. The houses that look out boasting views that would merit the front page of a travel supplement, now look eerily precarious. Dead birds litter the beaches and one can only imagine the stress being put on local wildlife as a whole.
Devon Coastline, West of Salcombe, February 2014
The BBC recently made an assessment highlighting a link to the loss of Arctic sea ice that is playing a big role in climate change. As any scientist who is looking at the Arctic will tell you, it is warming much faster than the rest of the planet and as it does so, it turns from white reflective skullcap into a dark heat absorbing region of the globe, which is actually accelerating the warming process.
It was the temperature differential between the Arctic and the equatorial regions that maintained the stability of the Jetstream, this is the fast moving band of high latitude winds that kept the cold air in the Arctic. As the Arctic warms and the temperature differential reduces, the Jetstream has become much more wavy and these larger waves are progressing far slower around the globe (see animation below). Because the amplitude of the waves is getting greater, the air masses have to travel much further north and south, and this means that the wind speeds increase producing the violent storms that we have been experiencing, and the sticking weather patterns.
Without the sea ice, the temperature differential between the polar regions and the tropics will continue to reduce and we can therefore expect to experience even greater extremes in the coming years. This will have disastrous consequences for farmers all over the world. Couple this with the desperate state of the world’s oceans which are increasingly polluted and acidifying, it is clear an impending global food crisis may be only a few years away.
Jetstream Animation Produced By NASA
Some politicians, especially those in the British, Canadian and Australian governments are playing down the causes of these extremes saying that “weather is always changing”. Well this is true of course but on a totally different timescale. Ice core records do show that the Earth has spent long periods at both hotter and cooler temperatures. The depth of last ice age was only 4 C cooler than now on a global average and the ice age cycle is every 100,000 years, driven by the earth's orbit. The difference now is the speed of the change driven by man’s release of carbon dioxide, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels, which has added 40% more CO2 to the makeup of our atmosphere. Ice core records also show that the Earth responds slowly to change and that there is a lag in the system, this means that whatever course of action we take, there is more warming to come.
Dr Jennifer Francis - Understanding the Jetstream
The issues we face now are all directly attributable to how we power our lives as a society and almost everything we do has a carbon cost in its action, or its production. At a time when we desperately need to cut our carbon emissions globally, we are doing the opposite by continuing to increase them in ever larger quanitities, which is making matters much, much worse. Yet here in Britain, where we have the capacity to install renewable energy systems, Prime Minister David Cameron is marching around Britain telling us all we should jump on board with fracking and commit ourselves to a suicidal carbon pollution based future. So for once we have a politician who is (inadvertently) telling us the truth: “We are in it for the long haul!”.
David Cameron’s government has as its key advisers senior figures from the world of fracking and oil. People like Peter Lilly and Lord Brown, who play very prominent roles in policy formation, are ignoring the risks posed to civilians by climate change, in order to make short term financial gains. Peter Lilly MP is also the Vice Chairman and Senior Independent Non-Executive Director at Tethys Petroleum with earnings of £70,000 last year alone. These kinds of conflicts of interest mean that policy making in the UK is corrupt. Mainstream media is being complicit in not properly discussing the causes of climate change. They also seem to have missed the fact that the debate about climate change has moved on from "is it happening?", to "just how extreme is it? How much time do we have available to us and how best to repair our atmosphere?"
BBC News Saturday 15th February
The scientific community now understands what is happening to the Earth’s climate. In the crudest of terms the world is getting hotter and ice is melting. The Greenland ice sheet is 3 kilometres thick in places and its middle has turned soft like butter. It is carving off into the ocean at an ever accelerating rate. If we lose it then we will incur 7 metres of sea level rise. It is no longer a case of “if”, it is a case of “when”.
Most immediate is the effect of the destabilising weather patterns on global food supply. Prices are predicted to go up as food becomes harder to produce. Britain is experiencing new trends in weather extremes. Without serious change in policies and leadership from international governments, there is going to be incredible pain and suffering around the world. What we are now learning is that no one is exempt. Centuries of relatively stable weather enabled us to build extensively close to coasts and on floodplains. Dramatic photographs that we see in the media of houses and villages under water reflect this very clearly. It is a nightmare for the residents who are now learning that their homes are in the front line of climate change, leaving them unliveable, uninsurable and unsellable.
On the bright side it is worth noting that there are good and clever people around the world who are taking these threats seriously and are developing proposals to remove the carbon from the atmosphere. But none of these proposals can really be successful if we carry on pouring our waste gases into the skyfill site. So the ball is thrown back to us to demand change from our leaders and a rapid transition to as close as possible to 100% clean energy. In answer to the question, what can we as individuals do, well if our leaders are too stupid to understand the science or too-weak to detach themselves from hydrocarbon paymasters, then we must vote them out of office.
We do still have a chance to turn this situation around but the window of opportunity is closing. If we cannot make the change then the natural world will respond by forcing change upon us that we will not like. And that will sincerely be “for the long haul” (or in geological terms, the short-haul to extinction!).
Facing The extreme Nature Of Changing Climate
For more information on how the heating Arctic is effecting global climate you can watch David Wasdell's Arctic Dynamics presentation: Video: Arctic Dynamics (Part 1 & 2) by David Wasdell
By Nick Breeze
And Bru Pearce
David Wasdell: Director of the Apollo-Gaia Project discusses Earth sensitivity to temperature, computer climate models and the link to greenhouse gas emissions:
Filmed and produced by Nick Breeze Twitter: @NickGBreeze
It is reassuring to see the Royal Geographic Society kicking off the new year season of Monday night lectures with one on the subject of climate change, delivered by the newly ennobled and eminent Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist at the UK Met Office.
Guardian Headline Warning: UK Storms Batter Coast During Christmas 2013
Professor Slingo is an establishment figure who has worked tirelessly in developing the worldwide reputation of the Met Office, as a leading institution with the ability to analyse both regional weather and develop our understanding of climate change. In this lecture, she set out to explain how her stable of over 500 scientists have been working to build powerful computer models that can simulate climate and tell us what the far reaching effects of climate change are going to be.
After several demonstrations of how the models have performed compared with actual observations in recent years, Professor Slingo then vented her annoyance when people criticise the models and the results that they produce, describing them as her “laboratory”, where she and her colleagues go to study the climate. There is a direct correlation between the accuracy of the models and the computing power driving them. Recent years have seen enormous advances in the ability to model our atmosphere in much greater detail. The models rely on data from many sources, such as atmospheric greenhouse gases, moisture in the air, the movement of the thermohaline circulation, storm tracks and intensity, and so on. The more data fed into the model (and computing power available to process it), the better the results.
In terms of the IPCC report published every 7 years, Professor Slingo reassuringly made the point that this is not frequent enough in terms of being able to inform policy, as the weather and climate operate in real time, constantly responding to an almost endless number of feedbacks that cause changes. The need for ongoing analysis and developing intelligence is vital.
This neatly set the stage for the main core of the lecture: the growing need for understanding of climate change for everyone from policy makers, farmers, vulnerable populations, insurance companies and, as most of us around the world have recently experienced in various forms of extreme weather events, us the public. We are all, she says, potential climate “customers” of the Met Office. This concept has led to greater collaboration with the UK government who are funding the development of the models, based on a principal that money can be made from the creation of such valuable knowledge (which is true!).
Professor Peter Wadhams, Professor Martin Rees And Dr Hugh Hunt Discuss Emissions, Temperature And Carbon Dioxide Removal
But is there a fly in the ointment? The IPCC report has set a “target” of 2 degrees centigrade as a safe level of warming that human civilisation can go to before climate change becomes dangerous. Having myself interviewed many scientists working on Earth’s sensitivity to temperature, it seems that this figure of 2C has very little grounding in climate science at all. The Earth, as Professor Slingo pointed out, has warmed 0.8C since preindustrial times. We know that the planet takes many years to catch up with the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so the 0.8C we are experiencing now (coupled with ever increasing extreme weather events) are just the beginning of what we have in store.
Temperature will keep rising even if we managed to stop emitting gases such as carbon dioxide and methane right away. The other trouble on the horizon is that as the Earth warms, it triggers other feedbacks within the system that then accelerate the warming further. These feedbacks are many and still not fully understood. However, what we do know is that many of them are not included in the models and scientists doing work in this area are concluding that even warming of 1.5C is likely to trigger feedbacks that could accelerate warming to more like 4-5C and rising. A good example is the warming of the Arctic and the loss of sea ice. The rapidity of the loss of sea ice was predicted by scientists such as Professor Peter Wadhams who had been studying the thinning of the sea ice volume, in addition to the reduction in area (satellites only capture the extent/area but the volume has been measured from submarines able to move beneath the ice) over several decades. Strangely the models disagreed with what the eye could see and were still predicting a much more gradual loss leading to an ice free Arctic somewhere around 2080. These figures have been revised back to about midcentury but still seem to lag what is actually being seen with first hand observations.
The main point here seems to be that the foundation upon which the Met Office is getting ready to inform policy and global awareness of climate change is seemingly very flawed. There was a sense in the audience that 2C was a target that we are going to achieve and that as long as we have the models to guide us through then we will be able to adapt. Professor Slingo produced a slide with the words “mitigation and adaptation”. In other words, lets stop producing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and agriculture, combined with accepting a certain level of climate change that we’ll adapt to. Various photographs of farmers and people in worst affected areas were shown to reinforce this point. Perhaps worrying to me is the fact that these images make climate change appear as if it is a problem for the rest of the world and that we, crammed into the Kensington auditorium, have quite a lot less to worry about.
Part of the IPCC discussion has centred around the idea of a “emissions budget”, which equates to how much more carbon dioxide we can emit before we have to stop, in order to avert dangerous climate change. Dates are being set a decade or two from now as the timeline that we have to work to. It would be interesting to know how these figures are reached because, again, climate scientists looking at the level of warming we are due from what we have already pumped into the atmosphere, know all too well that there is no budget left. We are way passed the level of safe concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Mitigation is a must but it will not be enough. Adaptation to the extreme weather events and destabilisation of the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets mean that we are moving into a very different planetary system. For many people around the world, surviving, let alone adapting, is going to be a very serious challenge. Those of us in more temperate climates will face the knock on effects of unstable climate, resource shortages and climate refugees.
Another hot topic that is now being discussed by many scientists and engineers is the need to start drawing carbon dioxide down from the atmosphere. If we could extract the gases from the atmosphere bringing the concentrations down from the current 400parts per million to somewhere near 320 parts per million (preindustrial levels were 280 parts per million), then we would stand a better chance of restoring the climate to something like which we’d be happy to call “home”. This is no easy task, as the amount of gases we currently put up into the atmosphere is far greater than any other material we handle on the planet. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try but it does mean it wont happen over night. Carbon dioxide removal is the essential third title to add to “mitigation and adaptation”. However, mitigation itself is currently a pipe-dream as humanity is ramping up its emissions as opposed to bringing them down. Even the IPCC “business as usual” scenario for greenhouse gas emissions states that we will hit 4C warming by the end of the century. Add in accelerated heating from multiple feedbacks (many are absent in the climate models) and this figure doubles and then triples. Welcome to the inferno!
To return to the Met Office climate modeling, it seemed more clear that this talk was about selling to us, the public, the idea that somehow the models are going to navigate us through this climate change challenge. I don’t personally find it very reassuring. The fact that an impaired and approximate simulation of our hugely complex planetary system, becomes the bedrock of reality for which we plan our futures in the real world, seems more like a form of escapism. Models are vital but they must be much more powerful than they currently are and much more detailed. They must also not seek to downplay what is going on in the real world from observation. If we go down this route then we are really entering the world of fantasy and there does seem to be much of it around at the moment.
In a discussion with friends who have no special interest in climate change, after the lecture, they seemed a little vague as to what they were meant to have taken away. The subject seemed so vast that it was best left to the experts. This again is great mistake. Climate change is an issue that is effecting us now and will continue to do so in ever greater ways. It is essential that we demand robust information and effective policy from those who are in a position to deliver it. Of course, the old adage said by many environmentalists that there is no “planet B” could be wrong. The Met Office models maybe a far safer place to live than down here on Planet A... let’s hope so!
- Written by Nick Ryle Nick Ryle
- Published: 30 October 2013 30 October 2013
Born Risky? More Like Born Timid...
By Nick Ryle, Documentary Producer
The launch of a new, ITB sponsored report into how TV deals with climate change was an interesting, lively but ultimately depressing event.
Logic would dictate that our 2 public service broadcasters, The BBC and Channel 4 would take on some responsibility for communicating basic messages around climate change and the threat that the overwhelming majority of scientists agree is coming our way. But they don’t.
Climate change on TV is still seen through the same filter as any other genre. In this case, it’s a bit tricky to explain, there isn’t anything sexy to shoot, it’s scary, and it’s a turn off for viewers. Therefore, they don’t want to touch it. Yes, lip service is paid by “smuggling” the message in via other formats. Yes, Countryfile will include serious environment stories, but it is a staggering fact that no hour long documentary dealing with climate change ran on any main channel in the 12 months surveyed by the ITB report.
This is just not good enough. This is not just another genre. It is the subject that should be at the top of everyone’s agenda, from politicians through business to the man on the street. Surely, the challenge is clear. The real actions needed to combat climate change and to give us a chance won’t happen until they are perceived as vote winners. Those actions won’t be vote winners until people, particularly young people are convinced that something has to be done and that something will involve sacrifice and change. They’ll be convinced when they know the story and developing narrative.
The position of Channel 4 is particularly feeble. This is a channel with a clear public service remit. A channel whose current slogan is “Born Risky”. Cue sound of multiple jaws hitting the floor, because Channel 4 is probably as risk averse now as its ever been. Maybe it’s about to change, but from what Ralph Lee said last night, not so much so that it will take a risk to find an innovative way to put across the most important message of our time to a mass audience.
I’m in the production world and I’ve tried pitching climate change ideas to C4. At the moment, there is simply no appetite. Maybe the Global Warming Swindle farrago has left scars that haven’t healed, but saying it’s a difficult subject that will put viewers off is pathetic. Find a way. Make it a creative priority. Put out a brief to the brilliant pool of UK independent production companies to come up with the stunning film that will create headlines, stimulate debate, set the agenda and re-establish C4 as the campaigning, risk taking, upstream broadcaster it is currently pretending to be. They did it with the excellent Fish Fight. With the right will they can do it with climate change. Personally, I believe the story of the deniers and the culture of deniability is a fascinating one and offers a neat narrative to which the key messages can be justifiably attached. And if it doesn’t pull in the largest audience, so what? Done right, it will definitely attract noise and get C4 onto their beloved front pages. And C4 will have taken a risk on behalf of all of us.
The BBC have an issue with their editorial guidelines and their demand for balance and fairness. They can’t campaign or editorialise like other channels and that has to be accepted. However, when the scientific community is so united behind the overall evidence for climate change, what sort of balance is really required? Balancing the views of the Deniers against the science is comparing apples and pears – they aren’t the same thing. Yes, its complicated, but it would be wonderful to see some commitment from the BBC to finding a way through this issue.
To summarise, the current report card for UK broadcasters is a B- at best. This needs to change. Its just too important.
By Nick Ryle, Documentary Producer
[Invite read] I am pleased to invite you to this report launch jointly hosted by International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) and the APPCCG, examining television coverage of the environment in UK.
Key findings from the research will be presented, followed by a panel discussion.
Members of the panel will include:
- Bill Lyons, Executive Editor, Countryfile, BBC
- Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel 4
- John Smithson, Creative Director, Arrow Media
- Chris Rapley, Climate Change Scientist
- Caroline Haydon, author of IBT report
View From The Audience
by Nick Breeze
This week I attended the “Report Launch: International Broadcasting Trust’s ‘The environment on tv: Are broadcasters meeting the challenge?” in the House of Commons in Westminster. This was an interesting meeting that included the scientist, the NGO, the Channel 4 “Factual Programming Commissioner”, the BBC Producer, the report presenter and was chaired by MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, Joan Walley. It was a valuable meeting because it brought together strands of the debate on why television, the UK’s most powerful mainstream media channel, was not putting out any programmes that directly discuss climate change.
I was with Nick Ryle, a TV documentary producer, who has had multiple experiences trying to pitch climate change programmes to Channel 4. They all fell flat. The broadcasters do not see it as their responsibility to communicate these challenges because they find it difficult. It is a great shame because what came across to the attendees at this report launch, and was voiced, was that these gatekeepers of the programming budgets, lack the creativity, and the will power, to tackle “the biggest drama that we have ever faced in the world”. That was a phrase that the scientist on the panel, Professor Chris Rapley, coined, and it is very apt. The Channel 4 factual commissioner repeatedly stressed that it was not his job to turn viewers off by presenting the reality of climate change. It was clear that he and his colleagues could not even conceive of looking at the issues as an opportunity to bring about a change in behaviour and policy through deeper understanding.
They asked repeatedly what we thought an audience could take away from a subject perceived as inherently negative. Nick Ryle said quietly that their statements were a “cop out” and this was echoed by others. We have a golden opportunity to look at the solutions that are available to us, in order to overcome the issues we face. It demonstrated, very clearly, a lack of coherent knowledge enabling these “experts” to act responsibly and creatively, thus bringing the audience on a journey towards demanding policy changes and comprehending the forces responsible for maintaining this dangerous and dying paradigm. The vagueness and self-satisfactory positioning of their authority was nothing more than stepping down from critical challenges when they should be stepping up and leading the way.
Understanding how the broader audience respond, should not mean taking no steps to engage them responsibly but rather a more coordinated and in depth strategy to break through and present the truth. Isn’t that what we expect from our mainstream media? It is, perhaps, the remit of the social media channels to take up that challenge and start to reach just as big audience in new ways. Still, there are many of us trying to do this but we do lack those large budgets and profile that can help us achieve those big audiences. All is not lost, we must simply continue. It means that the television takes another step down the road of irrelevance and ends up being little more than a means of escapism; carefully managed information for a large portion of voters who, we are told, cannot stand too much reality.
Drought & Extreme Heating Will Increase Even If We Stop Emitting... But Doing Nothing Is Not An Option
Nick Breeze talks to Earth Dr Reese Halter in the latest podcast episode of the 'Atlantic Pacific Breeze'.
This is an extended conversation where Reese explains why the world is getting hotter and what the impacts will be. Reese explains why we have two choices:
1. Action that will help us survive climate change, or,
It's a serious subject and one that we all need to be talking about, and demanding that our leaders take action on. As Reese points out: If you have a vote in your country... tell the people who are asking for it that they better take action on climate change!
"This is very, very serious... "
This is the second email to be reproduced (with permission) by David Tattershall. This one resonates in particular because it highlights the ongoing conflict between the hydrocarbon industries and those that are calling for an end to the pollution and environmental damage that is causing havoc with the climate and setting us on a course for catastrophe.
Catastrophe will only be averted if more people stand up against the destructive actions of companies like Chevron, Caudrilla Resources (controversial UK energy company trying to poison the landscape by fracking, locking us into a destructive energy policy), Shell, BP, Exxon/Mobile and so on. What compounds the problem is the number of government representatives, lobbyists, elected officials etc, who are swimming in the short-term wealth that these dirty activities bring. Add to that the various institutions who have grown dependent on “donations” from these companies who in return get to add their logos to the cultural fabric of our society.
We now know beyond all doubt the impacts of hydrocarbon dirty business on the planet, and the risk of runaway climate change that is directly linked to it. It is now time to make them pay for the damages they have caused in the form of fair taxes and removed subsidies. A future for humanity stands directly at odds with the interests of the hydrocarbon industries - they simply cannot coexist. The longer it takes for this to become standard knowledge the more likely it is that the children of today will be forced to live in a vastly degraded world; one that we simply cannot imagine.
Protesters march against Chevron in Richmond, California on Saturday. CREDIT: @joshkahnrussell
Please enjoy the inspiring and humane letter from David:
Bill McKibben came to our ‘village’ yesterday, bringing with him a throng of around 3,000. The reason for his visit was the anniversary of the fire at the local Chevron refinery when a naphtha cracker exploded and part of the plant burst into flame. All the phones in the area rang that day with ‘shelter-in-place’ instructions but 11,000 people went to the emergency room with breathing problems and a further 4,000 went to their doctors for treatment.
The event was quite amazing. As the parade, which had marched a few miles from the local BART station, entered Point Richmond, about 100 children took the lead positions. The parade then continued a short way to the front gates of Chevron.
Leading the parade prior to this was a group of Native Americans who were carrying banners objecting to the KeystoneXL pipeline and playing their drums, other wooden instruments and chanting. We were informed that in Canada there was a coast-to-coast sit-in at Chevron service stations to bring attention to their demands to stop extracting fuel from tar sands.
I have never seen so many police in this area; in fact where they all came from is somewhat a mystery. In front of the gate were 8 dressed in full body armor, equipped with guns (no M16’s thankfully), nightsticks, plastic handcuffs (in bundles), and other sundry equipment. These guys were backed-up with patrol cars in every direction, motorcycles of both patrol and off-road nature, and Highway Patrol officers positioned on all freeway ramps (4 ramps) plus some standing high on the embankments. Add to this another 20 or so at or behind the gate. Overkill would be a gross understatement.
While the crowd was smiling and acting extremely politely, with no threat of violence, the police who had nightsticks were beating them into their hands and glaring at everyone as if they were mass murders.
During the time that we listened to various speakers a huge sunflower was painted on the roadway opposite the main gate. The sunflower was the theme of the event and there were hundreds carried by the throng. The flower was around 20 ft diameter and the stem about 70 ft long. This was completed by a team and one would have thought they did this for living they way they accomplished this in short order. When completed it is fair to say it was amazing.
The Mayor spoke to the crowd about the endless safety violations, tax dodging, and other non-friendly neighborly actions of Chevron, and then indentified councilors who had blocked votes she had wanted to bring this all to a halt. Then she went on to explain a revolutionary program she has passed to use ‘eminent domain’ to seize underwater homes from the banks, at fair market value, and refinance through alternatives available to the city.
Bill thanked the Mayor for her support, commented on the diversity of the crowd, made a sober but inspiring speech, and then prepared to march to his arrest along with a slew of volunteers. I was struck by his ability to speak to this crowd and make all feel the nature of his message while he drew them together to act affirmatively but in a completely non-violent way – images of Gandhi. It was apparent this was not his strong suit but he did a fine job.
I moved to the front of the gate and watched him approach with those who had volunteered to be arrested. This group included dozens of retirees, including a 91 year old woman, all of whom had stated this was essential for the children – talk about put-up or shut-up. The expression on his face had changed from a broad smile to one of resignation and discomfort. I felt he was thinking, ‘How many times must I go through this’, but he did and was the third person handcuffed to be led off behind the gates to the waiting paddy wagons. BTW, they were still arresting people 3 hours later.
Paula and I moved through the crowd during the event and were struck by the number of groups of young people equipped with informative fliers, petitions, and all were fired-up with enthusiasm. At the other end of the scale were the older crowd carrying beat-up guitars and singing old protest songs together; amazing. As Bill pointed out it was a very diverse crowd of multiple ethnicities and ages all drawn together in a common cause.
Paula was interviewed by a local radio station because of her placard which read, WHAT’S FOR DINNER - * OIL * - THAT’S WHAT’S FOR DINNER – a parody of a long running TV commercial here is the US (substitute ‘beef’ for oil). And living in this house was able to give a very detailed account of the world’s food situation for which she was heartily thanked.
As we walked home I could not help but reflect what a little bit of leadership, and associated organization, can accomplish. Also what I truly fine man and example for all is Mr. Bill McKibben.
More Articles ...
More posts by Nick Breeze
Does Figueres interview give clues as to why we went backwards from Copenhagen to Paris?
Comment: Watching our recent interview with Christiana Figueres, David Tattershall (Envisionation Limited) responded with considered concern with respect to her answer to the question on the reduction of emissions from the aviation industry.
Just to recap, here is the transcripted answer with Tattershall's response below:
Christiana Figueres: business must lead us to zero emissions
The lady who ushered in the Paris Agreement now wants to ramp up the pace and ensure the world reaches peak emissions by 2020, leading to total decarbonisation by 2050. The whole campaign hinges on the a new report that cites 2020 as a critical milestone for stemming the effects of climate change.
Christiana Figueres is persuasive and influential but in light of recent world events that include the destabilisation of the EU as a political block, and the openly anti-climate action administration of President Trump, it is very clear that the world has changed since Paris.
Lecture: Data analytics for climate decision-making
Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP): 2017 Climate Change Seminar Series
Science, politics, knowledge management, innovation and markets all play a role in climate change action, but what is the role of the University of Cambridge as an ‘anchor institution’ for these? Bringing together speakers spanning the worlds of research and policy, this series of events will explore how the multifaceted aspects of climate change action can come together to help us make the right decisions for the long run.
Why we need the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series
The window of opportunity is closing… but the price of failure is still too high!
The rate of ecological destruction is now so bad that the fate of our civilisation literally hangs in the balance. The loss of the Arctic polar ice cap, the melting from above and below of Antarctica, the culling and collapse of forests and dying oceans, failing ecosystems, our atmosphere burdened with hundreds of billions of tonnes of extra greenhouse gases, and still each week scientists report more broken links in the chains of interconnectedness that sustain each one of us, rich and poor, on this planet. Despite all this, the great human enterprise built on a foundation of carbon, rumbles on in search of new fixes.
Books: Polar Researcher says “A Farewell to Ice”
Peter Wadhams has achieved many accolades and held positions such as Director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge Uk, among a great many others. He has been on more than 50 research trips to the polar regions and, of special interest to those studying the demise of the Arctic ice cap, he has been under the ice on 6 submarine expeditions.
Climate Psychology Alliance - Facing Difficult Truths
In this serialised interview with co-founder of the Climate Psychology Alliance (CPA), Adrian Tait, we explore different aspects of the psychology that has become a key theme in discussions around how we cope with climate change information and also how we disseminate that information.