Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
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.
The following piece was first sent as an email by David Tattershall and, with permission, developed into a post to be shared. David created the Exxon/Mobil boardroom bear meeting short video we posted last week and this piece is an expansion of that (see new version below). It relates directly to the statements made by Exxon/Mobil, that the corporation is continuing to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, despite acknowledging the resultant impacts of 5C by the end of this century.
Disclaimer: The video below is a parody, based on my own personal interpretation of certain statements that have been made; this interpretation does not necessarily reflect the views of any organization I either belong to or that I am associated with - David Tattershall.
Behind The Scenes - by David Tattershall
Staring at the artwork that was used to make the ‘Exxon/Mobil Secret Board Meeting Footage’ the possibilities are enormous for a script. In a somewhat ‘pythonesque’ moment I decided to write that script as a secret meeting that took place between Rex Tillerson and a group of concerned stockholders. The objective was to make as many points as possible that others may decide to research and then consider.
It is a foregone conclusion that Exxon/Mobil has received its share of mail objecting to their activities. More pertinent is the recent trend in the US for activists to purchase a small amount of stock and attend annual general stockholder meetings specifically to ask questions, cause procedural problems, or even directly interfere with the meeting.
Rex Tillerson would be advised of these trends and would therefore wish to be fully briefed. It is fair to hazard a guess that he would want to, or be advised to, take the ‘Rovian’ tactical approach (made famous by Karl Rove) of attacking strength. On that basis his team would assess the worst case and he would then present a definitive answer or solution to the public, thereby taking the activist brigade off-guard.
It is on record what Tillerson said to stockholders in 2012; Bill McKibben reported this in an op-ed in Rolling Stone
- that level was a 4°C increase above the pre-industrial benchmark (“PIB”) by 2100. In 2013 during a radio program here in the US (This American Life – Hot In My Backyard), Ira Glass (the host) was referred by an Exxon/Mobil spokesperson to John Reilly of MIT; he confirmed that Exxon/Mobil is working with the assumption that a maximum increase of 5°C could occur by 2100. Note that John Reilly was contacted directly to establish if he said 5°C or 5°F in the program and Reilly confirmed the interview and that he stated 5°C. The reason was that here in the US temperatures are normally discussed on the Fahrenheit scale and it was essential to clarify that point due to the huge difference.
Tillerson also stated to stockholders that global warming is real, that it is an engineering problem and we need to adapt.
Why would anyone need to disagree with Exxon/Mobil? The reason for inaction on climate issues is centered on the assertion that the economic impact is far too great to convert from fossil fuels. Is it not reasonable to ask two very pertinent questions, and in a reasonable manner:
1. What are the consequences of 5°C, even 4°C, above PIB by 2100?
2. How does Exxon/Mobil propose the world adapts?
So the bears raise two issues near and dear to their hearts. The woods dialogue refers to the research of the IUFRO regarding their assessment that at 2.5°C trees will become a net carbon source due entirely to the quantity that have died. Dr. Reese Halter advises, this group of scientists is known to be highly conservative and at 1.5°C we may lose up to 80% of our current trees. It is also known from a Duke University research paper that the trees cannot adapt and move at the current rate of temperature increase.
The minimum impact of this would; throw the climate into a completely non-linear mode (if it wasn’t already, in which case that will cause further acceleration), severely impact the hydrological cycle, drive multiple species that depend on trees to extinction, and substantially impact mass agriculture.
The second issue is their favorite food; honey. Long before 4°C there will be no pollinators and therefore no honey. That however is hardly the issue. We could probably get by without honey, as Tillerson says at the ‘meeting’ – adapt to Maple Syrup – woops no trees! What we cannot get by without is the 30% of all the food we eat that requires pollinators.
A statement not covered is what Hans Schellnhuber of Potsdam stated about the consequence of an increase of 5°C above PIB; that the carrying capacity of the planet would be rapidly reduced to 1 billion. But then again while that might have been a little too much to expect of soft toys surely people should understand the full consequences of Exxon/Mobil’s statements.
The final issue behind the scenes concerns Tillerson’s remarkably cavalier statement that, ‘this is an engineering problem and we need to adapt’. An engineering problem, did he carefully parse geoengineering to avoid an onslaught from certain NGO’s and others diametrically opposed? Well let’s take a look at that. What if the fossil fuel industry were charged for the draw-down of all future emissions resulting from the burning of their products? What if all the subsidies were removed? Then add that society is made also aware of the cost of restoring the atmosphere to one that we know is ideal. And finally add that there is a high probability that there will be a need for actual geoengineering intervention; at what cost and with what consequences?
One doesn’t really need an advanced degree in mathematics, or economics, to work the answer out, add-ups and take-a-ways will do just fine. The argument that we cannot afford to change due to the economic damage is utterly specious, the reality is that we cannot afford not to change; even a bunch of soft toys could work that out. What does that tell us about our leaders?
Read: Hope Or Cope briefing Doc: A briefing by Hope Or Cope on the NERC press release regarding the findings of CryoSat-2
Here's a short clip with Dr James Hansen remaking the point regarding species extinction due to a warming planet:
Keeping the Bees Buzzing
By Dr. Reese Halter
Are you aware that honeybees in America generate in excess of $44 billion in commerce, annually? I’ve been intrigued with bees all my life. They continue to show my colleagues important new information. Bees are most certainly modern-day canaries in coal mines, worldwide.
Recently, Italian researchers from the University of Trento found that just like humans shake with their right hands, honeybees also greet each other by predominantly using their right antennas. Apparently, the right antenna picks up on certain ‘social cues’ including recognition of their hive mates.
Bee brains might be small, but they are packed with about 960,000 functional neurons (compared to 86 billion for humans). Bee neurons enable them to clearly recognize a human face as well as exactly communicate by dancing where food (nectar and pollen), water and tree resin (used along with bee enzymes for making potent anti-microbial propolis or glue) are located as far as eight miles away.
A team of scientists lead by Cardiff University has just revealed some fascinating secrets of bees’ honeycomb.
Honeycomb is a precise hexagon, six-sided, wafer-thin wax that honeybees make from their abdomen, which provides phenomenal strength for storage of honey. Two pounds of beeswax supports 48 pounds of honey! By the way, over a half a century ago the aeronautics industry recognized the strength of honeycomb and adapted nature’s design to enhance the bending and stiffness of aircraft wings, as the wings must support loads of fuel in the aircraft.
It turns out that honeycomb starts out as a circle and gradually forms into a hexagon. The subtle flow of wax is turned semi-molten by the heat of 113 degrees from a special class of worker bees. The wax becomes elastic, stretching like toffee forming a tiny point that becomes a perfect angle within the hexagon. Some incredible physics and math occur in order to form honeycomb.
Frighteningly, something is going very wrong around the globe in our environment: 20,000 species of bees are showing scientists they are in trouble. Just 20 years ago across America each of our 2.4 million commercial beehives produced about 100 pounds of honey. Today they each produce almost half that amount. In part, their natural diverse forage has been drastically reduced or more likely destroyed altogether. Bees, like to dine, not dissimilarly to people, at smorgasbords. Monoculture food crops cannot supply bees with enough nutrition.
This much we do know. Over the past 110 million years, plants and bees have co-evolved; they depend on one another, when bees die en masse and rapidly all-hell-breaks-loose: Global food security is jeopardized. Researchers affiliated with the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at Crested Butte, Colorado recently discovered by removing just one species of bumblebee that one third fewer seeds were produced in Rocky Mountain subalpine wildflowers.
There’s one class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids with about 1,000 kinds available, globally. When honeybees are exposed to as little as four billionths of a gram of neonicotinoid's they suffer irreparable poisoning.
Last week, the European Health & Safety Authority banned a fourth neonicotinoid (Fipronil). This week, 36,000 solitary bees were found dead in all 12 nesting boxes on a farm in Niestetal, Germany; poisoned pollen has been implicated. A couple weeks ago, 37 million honeybees died in 600 hives on an organic honey farm in Elmwood, Canada just after corn seed coated in neonicotinoid's was planted. A few weeks before that, 55 American linden or ‘bee trees’ were sprayed with a neonicotinoid (Safari) and 50,000 bumblebees perished in Wilsonville, Oregon.
In order to keep the bees buzzing it is clearly time to stop pesticides that are known to kill them. If the bees die, we die. We need The Save America’s Pollinator Act of 2013. I signed the petition and encourage you, to do so.
Earth Dr. Reese Halter is a broadcaster, conservation biologist and author of The Incomparable Honeybee.
In the UK, if a person smells any gas in a building or outside, they are told to call an emergency number straight away so that an engineer can come and fix the leak and remove the danger. In the Arctic, atmospheric plumes of gas have been detected that are over 150km’s across and likely to have disastrous consequences for our civilisation. We simply cannot ignore this problem; it underpins the fabric of all our lives. We must respond.
by Nick Breeze
Last year I attended the EGU conference in Vienna to meet with Dr. Igor Semiletov and Dr. Natalia Shakhova and was extremely grateful to them for giving me time to discuss the issue of changing conditions in the Arctic. Increased temperatures from human caused greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the risk of methane release from thawing subsea permafrost. These two scientists make annual trips to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), in order to gain a better understanding of what is known to be the largest hydrocarbon store in the world. The methane is trapped in the frozen clathrate deposits that has been frozen for millions of years. In this stable condition we tend to consider the methane less of a risk, however, during the course of the last decade, things have started to change.
It is important to realise that methane (CH4) is approximately 20 x more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 100yr timescale. Afterwhich it breaks down into CO2. Obviously with current atmospheric increases in emissions and the effects of warming already being felt, we do not have a 100yrs. In a shorter timescale of 20yrs, methane is estimated to be 100 x more potent as CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Baring in mind that there is currently 5 gigatonnes of methane in the atmosphere and that the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) is estimated to have between 100’s and 1000’s of gigatonnes trapped in the permafrost, if there is any destabilisation, supply of methane could rapidly move the world to a much hotter and dangerous state for humans and many other forms of life.
As a species humans add 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year in the form of emissions. Over the course of the last 200 years this has caused a global temperature rise of about 0.8 C. Although this seems tiny, we are only just starting to understand how sensitive the Earth is to changes in temperature. Add to this that the Arctic has been warming at around 8 times the speed of the mid latitudes and it’s not hard to see why the Arctic Sea Ice has gone into an accelerated melt.
NASA Image of Melting Arctic Sea Ice
It may seem obvious that if we heat the planet up then we will melt the ice. When joining the dots on the severity of what climate change really means, it is important to grasp “feedbacks”. These are the Earth’s response to changes within the climate system. A general rule of thumb is that “positive feedbacks” generally are bad for us and “negative feedbacks” are not. In the case of the Arctic, it is important to understand that there are multiple feedbacks [watch this comprehensive analysis by David Wasdell, Apollo-Gaia Director for more information] that come into play when the temperature changes. The Arctic sea ice is one that has caught the world’s attention because we are entering a phase where we no longer have a northern polar ice-cap. This is, in turn, setting off other positive feedbacks, one of these being the heating of the Arctic ocean as it absorbs sunlight and starts to thaw the subsea permafrost in the shallow seas of the ESAS. This is effectively removing the seal on a vast store of potent methane greenhouse gases that could take us from a steady increase in temperature to the awful sounding “runaway” global heating.
During the interview with Dr Shakhova, I was chilled when she showed me 2 charts, one with small insignificant plumes of methane from over ten years ago, contrasted with a chart from 2011 where the plumes of escaping gas from the permafrost were over a kilometre wide. Dr Shakhova also stated that in recent years all the conditions were changing making the risk of a game changing release of methane from the ESAS much more likely. Dr Shakhova even pointed out that it was likely “in decades”. Dr Semiletov went further to say “anytime!”.
Below are a few video clips from the interview in April 2012. I am very much looking forward to seeing the new work by Dr’s Semiletov and Shakhova et al that will be released shortly, giving us a far greater understanding, and up to date view, of the state of this all important region in the Arctic.
In the meantime, the methane issue has been the focus of NASA’s ‘Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment’ (CARVE) who have detected 150 kilometre plumes of atmospheric methane. This raises a few questions that are critical to our future civilisation:
- 1. If the Arctic Sea Ice and permafrost are degrading at 0.8C, are the IPPCC agreed “targets” of 2C really safe?
- 2. Have we underestimated Earth’s sensitivity to temperature altogether and sailed blindly over into the wild waters of runaway climate catastrophe?
- 3. How much longer can we continue to release carbon emissions into the atmosphere before we lose the gift of choice in the matter and the climate shifts to a hotter state increasing sea-levels significantly, and not favouring large-scale agriculture?
For a longtime the methane issue has remained outside the larger conversation of impacts of global warming, except by reference to far off future risks. There are a handful of scientists such as Professor Peter Wadhams, Head of the Polar Institute at Cambridge University, who, based on submarine observations of the Arctic sea ice’s collapse in volume, has been pointing out that a methane feedback may not be as far away as we think. Professor Wadhams has made these points in the face of angry cries of “Alarmist” from UK politicians with financial interests in the hydrocarbon industry.
The work of scientists including the Russians, Wadhams and NASA’s CARVE team now means we can no longer ignore the risk of methane as part of the Earth’s complex system of feedbacks to temperature change. It also is very likely that at 2C the world will not be the beautifully hospitable place that it has been for humans for so long. It is very likely that we are close to that “tipping point” of no return where global heating goes into a runaway phase and we lose our only life support system. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case but we have to acknowledge the risk if we are to react appropriately.
In order to answer the third question posited above, we have to comprehend the enormity of the task of transitioning away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). To say it cannot be done is to kiss the world, as we know it, goodbye. It can be done but it will take the will of all of us together, starting with citizens around the world, to politicians and those in the hydrocarbon business themselves. Whilst in Vienna in 2012, I also interviewed Dr James Hansen, one of the most outspoken climate scientists alive today and former Head of The Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. I am including this clip below on what Hansen proposes as a way to curb emissions and start turning the tide on our collective response to global heating.
So how do we respond? It is clear that we need to make changes at a societal level. Never forget that each and everyone of us is a part of society and, as such, we have influence. The action we need to take is tied in with our attitude to the problems we face. The hydrocarbon industries lobby our governments and institutions to make sure their needs are not ignored. This is for one reason alone: profit. Societal reliance on this form of energy is no longer necessary. We should be transitioning away from hydrocarbon fuels. We can’t because these powerful companies are tucked tight inside the framework of our civilisation. There is no doubt that as such, we are entering a phase of willful self-destruction. The only thing that can stop it is us. A good example of this institutional integration is the Royal Geographic Society where Shell’s logos feature prominently and they even have their own page on the society’s web site aligning themselves with our respected institutions, paying lip service to our future concerns. This is disgusting. We should treat hydrocarbon companies as we did the tobacco industries once it was proven how harmful tobacco is to our health. These companies project the use of oil and gas way into the middle of the century. Don’t believe it. On this course, we will end up clinging to an inhospitable planet, barely recognisable as it is today. Take action.
The first and most effective thing you can do is contact your local elected representative and tell them straight. I sent the following email to my own Member of Parliament, Mary McCleod MP and waiting patiently for a reply. It is critical to remember that they have our future in their hands but we have their vote. Let’s use it!
As a citizen concerned with the unnecessary proven damage being done to our environment, I am writing with the following conditions that will have to be met if you are to have my vote at the next election:
- 1. Remove all links to hydrocarbon companies that currently exist within public institutions
- 2. Ban hydrocarbon company advertising
- 3. Introduce a fair tax on carbon that will level the playing field for renewable energy sources and force the hydrocarbon industries to clean up their act
- 4. Implement a framework for a transition to renewable energy immediately
As you represent me on a local and national level I will be listening with interest to all representations you make to government on my behalf. I am also keen to hear your response and will be sharing it with friends and family.
Thank you for your time.
A note on climate fixes such as ‘Climate Engineering’ (aka geoengineering): I have not mentioned proposed climate engineering proposals in this post as we are currently working on an in depth look at several projects that are already in progress. Climate engineering raises many scientific, political and ethical issues and to many people the idea that man can engineer Earth’s climate is a crazy and hubristic fantasy. No matter what we think, it is important that we are all cognisant of the arguments being put forward. We will be interviewing leading commentators and authorities, not just from the climate and engineering backgrounds but also from ethical and philosophical disciplines to help form a view of this controversial subject. The worst case scenario is that we ignore the subject altogether and the decision to engineer climate falls into the hands of a foreign international power willing to gamble the fate of billions, or, a wealthy individual who can afford to take an equal gamble and become what Clive Hamilton has titled his recent book, an ‘Earthmaster’. Groups such as the Arctic Methane Emergency Group have been calling for climate engineering to be deployed immediately to cool the Arctic and prevent the runaway heating that climate scientists most fear. The argument for both sides is compelling and the more we shy away from zero carbon emissions the more climate engineering solutions start to look like a relatively cheap alternative. It is time for us all to be part of this critical discussion.
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