Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
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.
by Nick Breeze
The UK government responded to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) report on drilling in the Arctic Circle last week. Mark Simmonds MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and Head of the Polar Regions Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was questioned by members of the EAC led by Joan Walley. The committee was keen to try and understand why the government had completely ignored the report that called for a moratorium on drilling in the region due to the inherent risk of environmental damage and contributions to ever worsening climate change.
Although Mr Simmonds thanked the EAC for their hard painstaking work, underpinned by independent scientific evidence from experts in this particular field, he then proceeded to make a series of statements that demonstrated he has little or no understanding of the environmental dangers posed to the region itself, or the implications of what a hotter planet really means for us as a collective population the world over.
NASA Image showing Inceased Warming In The Arctic Region
The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on the planet, estimated to be around 8-10 times faster than lower to mid latitudes. This is visually evident in the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice that is now exposing vast areas of ocean and accelerating warming. Climate scientists such as Professor Peter Wadhams in Cambridge have noticed that the ice has lost over 40% of its thickness since measurements began and is going into full collapse. The speed is catching everyone by surprise but most interestingly it creates two camps of very divergent views as to how we should react:
The first view is from climate scientists who are working to try and understand what the implications of an ice free Arctic actually are. What we do know is that an ice free Arctic means global warming increases to roughly double the human contribution from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas. This is due to the reflective white ice being replaced by absorbing dark ocean. This causes the ocean to heat up and increases the release of methane, a far more deadly greenhouse gas CO2. There is enough methane trapped in Arctic permafrost to send global temperatures very high. The second implication is that the area around Greenland is heating up, causing accelerated melt of the colossal ice sheet. If the ice sheet goes we get 7 metres sea-level rise. New evidence is showing that this could happen much faster than previously thought, in a matter of decades as opposed to centuries. A third consequence is that the warming of the region is having a “meandering” effect on the jet stream that oscillates around the northern hemisphere, playing a vital role in delivering weather patterns, the stability of which is a requisite for stable climate and, in turn, large-scale food production.
Prof. Peter Wadhams, Head of Polar Ocean Physics Group, Cambridge University
The second view is the one held by hydrocarbon industries and those that benefit financially from them. This is that an ice free Arctic represents an opportunity to extract more fossil fuels to sell for profit. The extraction view is based up on the assumption that we can continue to burn coal,oil and gas with out any consequences. This is summed by by a quote from Mark Simmonds MP from his response to the EAC: “It is a commercial decision as to whether the oil and gas is extracted from the Arctic.... I don’t think it is a practicable way forward to try and structure a limit on multinational hydrocarbon extraction. I think we’re quite rightly focussed on emissions and trying to limit the emissions to reach the two degree target.”
Personally I fall in the first camp. Why? Simply put, two degrees of warming means we lose the planet that we were born into. It means we lose the ice-sheets and have to suffer weather extremes that are already intensifying at the current 0.8C warming. Another note on semantics is that calling 2C a “target” implies that we are trying to get there. We should certainly not be trying to get there. We should be doing everything we can to stop fossil fuel extraction and the subsequent emissions that come from burning them.
Some of the toughest and most revealing questioning came from Caroline Lucas, who clearly does have a very good knowledge of Arctic region. Mr Simmonds put forward his assertion that there was no reason why unfettered oil and gas extraction should not impede the ability “to reach the 2C target” (he actually called it a 2% target on more than one occasion), suggesting there was no link between extraction of oil and gas and the subsequent emissions from burning them. Mrs Lucas sought to clarify this very odd claim, he then went a step further saying that we should actually be worrying more about the thawing permafrost that poses an emissions risk far greater than what humans are capable of. Such ignorance beggars belief. Thankfully Mrs Lucas was able to make the point succinctly that the permafrost is actually thawing as a result of the earth’s sensitivity to a heating planet that stems from our burning of fossil fuels.
Mark Simmonds MP - Photograph taken by Sam Friedrich
One of Mr Simmonds biggest mantras (stated three times) was, “We mustn’t be seen to be trying to impose from the outside on sovereign countries as to what their priorities should be within their national boundaries.” Perhaps not when British companies such as BP and Shell that are desperately trying to get themselves embedded in the region are involved. But is this actually correct? If the policies and actions of Arctic states create unstable climate conditions that increase poverty, starvation and conflict, shouldn’t we all, the world over, stand up and say, “We have jurisdiction in this region because your actions are a threat to all of our way of life... potentially even forging a pathway to death!” Mark Simmonds believes Britain’s role is to be a chummy “yes” man with the ability to do profitable deals regardless of the impacts that threaten to do us harm.
What is apparent in Mr Simmonds rhetoric is that he believes very strongly that economics are independent of environmental concerns. In one slightly skewed sentence he said: “There has to be a balance between reaching the 2% [sic] target and achieving economic growth.” In the context of basing economic growth on fossil fuel extraction, it is now a fact that such a strategy is a nil sum game. There are simply no winners. I’m not sure if there is any link between the inflows of cash from oil companies as party donations, as pointed out in the press recently, or whether there is a genuine governmental knowledge gap in the area of climate science which is so critical when dealing with the polar regions. Unfortunately, it is just these areas that fall under Mr Simmonds governmental responsibility.
He then goes on to make an extraordinary statement on behalf of the Arctic Council and the hydrocarbon companies he is so enamored with: “I can assure you that Shell, BP and other UK companies take extremely seriously the potential environmental impact and making sure they do everything possible to mitigate any eventualities.” Putting this in the context of Mr Simmonds role as an Member of Parliament, elected to serve the people in his constituency with additional national responsibilities, why would he then ignore a detailed expert report that is in the interest of the people he is paid to serve, instead preferring to serve the vested interests of multinational oil companies who are legally bound to deliver profits to their investors? It can only beg a further question: who does Mark Simmonds actually represent? As the bulging human population around the world sits on the precipice of a food and water crisis due to dramatic increases in temperature, pegged to increased levels of carbon dioxide, caused from burning fossil fuels, I can quite honestly say that this man does not represent me. This level of delusion, and perversion of the truth, that is now so widespread and understood, means that we have a very critical systemic problem in the politicians that are driving us forward to a degraded and unstable future.
The sad truth in this is that this Minister’s light hearted assertions about Arctic policy are not in line with key figures such as Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist for the International Energy Agency (IEA). Dr. Birrol in an interview with the BBC’s ‘HARDtalk’ show in January 2013, ended the interview by saying: “I’m becoming more and more pessimistic. We are perfectly in line for a 6C temperature increase which will have devastating effects for all of us.” It is worth mentioning that Dr Birrol authors the annual ‘World Energy Outlook’, the world’s most influential energy report. His view on reducing emissions is directly inline with the leading climate scientists such as Dr James Hansen or Dr. Michael Mann: “Climate change problem needs a market signal such as a price on carbon - phase out fossil fuel subsidies!” He also reveals that only 8% of the half a trillion dollars that are meant to go to the lowest 20% poorest income levels in the form of subsidy, actually reach that destination, yet we still subsidise big oil. We pay their costs instead of developing the carbon neutral energy solutions that are attainable and intrinsically linked to our ability to continue to survive on Earth.
In summary, the EAC have done a good job delivering an evidence based report highlighting the risks and dangers of drilling in the Arctic. The politicians with one hand on the levers of power and the other in the pockets of oil companies, seem committed to a path of pollution and contamination in the name of “economic growth”. This fantasy of economic prosperity in the absence of a livable world will be the lament of many of us alive today. Without immediate change of course, it will be our children who will not find it in their hearts to forgive us when mired in the ruinous consequences of our inaction.
Dr Fatih Birol, Chief Economist, International Energy Agency (start at 10mins in)
We do still have a choice in this but the window through which we can jump to rectify the climate issues is getting smaller. Global emissions must be cut and the amount of known reserves of coal, oil and gas extracted must not exceed the 20-30% outlined by the IEA and others. Dr Birrol’s 6C warming is not a joke. A warming of 1C is creating world that puts all of us at risk. 6C is known to be suicide. I don’t know many suicidal people at all and I am thankful of that. The natural optimism that we all share can be harnessed to address these enormous issues and take our solutions to a scale that can really make a difference. We have the intelligence but we really do need effective leaders and policy makers. There is no reason why the big hydrocarbon companies must see the paradigm shift as an end to their business. Quite the opposite is possible if we are prepared to start the transition to the next phase in the development of life on Earth. Investments in new technologies have the potential for a new form of capitalism that places profit in the context of environmental responsibility that reconnects us with the planetary systems from which we evolved. It will happen but we, the public, must speak up before it is too late.
Welcome to this edition of the Atlantic Pacific Breeze with Nick Breeze (London) and Dr Reese Halter (San Francisco).
In this podcast we're discussing how the Australian's are taking the Japanese to the International court in the Hague over the endless and illegal slaughter of whales in protected waters. Reese also explains some of the laws that are being broken and why we desperately need to take care of the whales that, in turn, take care of the oceans!
- Written by Super User Super User
- Published: 05 July 2013 05 July 2013
One doesn’t have to be an ardent news follower to notice the increasing sense of disquiet around the world in a range of countries from Turkey, Brazil, Israel, India, again in Egypt and student protests erupting in Chile, or the thousands braving “torrents of typhoon rains” in Hong Kong to protest Beijing-backed leadership. The trend is your friend until it ends, as they say in the City. The trouble is, the trend may not be close to ending but rather be seen as the portentous renderings of a world becoming more stressed for a number of reasons.
Hong Kong Protest, 2013
Goldman Sachs estimates that over the past decade 500 million people from Brazil, Russia, India and China have entered the middle-class category bracket based on income levels. They predict that a further 800 million will be added to that over the next decade. A link between emerging economies entering the middle-class, the empowerment attained by the use of social media and greater demand for social freedoms is strongly suggested. If this is the case then we can certainly expect a growing disquiet in the unfolding future, as old ideologies are challenged by an increasingly secular youth with the speed and flexibility of social media to outpace and outwit state influenced, or over-conservative media outlets.
Add to this the accelerating changes in our planetary climate system putting the squeeze on agriculture, water supplies, and threatening vulnerable towns and cities. The potential for conflict is a growing spectre.
Despite holding the concepts of "strategy" or "planning" with a great deal of reverence, we seem to be incapable of developing them, even when we sense danger is on the way. A good example was the inability of the allies to to accept that Hitler would become aggressive, despite watching him arm the country to the hilt. Another example is the irrational optimism that people felt in the run up to the credit crunch in 2008. We all knew that debt was bad. Our grandparents always told us that. Many experts pointed out the risks, but hubris entered the fray and no sooner had the British Chancellor (& future Prime Minister), Gordon Brown, announced an end to “boom and bust”, we all went bust!
Gordon Brown: "No more boom and bust!"
So here we are again. I can turn on any one of my internet connected devices and view daily generated satellite images of the rapid collapse of the Arctic sea ice. I can watch the intensifying droughts engulfing the Western states of the US, I can watch the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet turn to slush in a matter of days, with accelerated carving of gigantic icebergs that increase sea-levels. We watch open mouthed in despair as towns and cities in Northern Europe, Indonesia, Central America, North America, Canada, Australia, UK and so on and so forth, are deluged or battered by fierce storms that were previously unseen in living memory, at least, that was before the recent one that was meant to be “once in a lifetime”.
Dresden Floods Summer 2013 (From Guardian UK article)
Despite all this destruction, upheaval and threat to our civilisation, we do nothing. Instead we wait patiently for our turn to play dice in the climate casino.
Given the serious threat posed by climate disruption, the impacts of which will have an enormous impact on ours and our children’s lives, and is widely accepted by 98% climate scientists, we would do well to have a plan. Of course, up until now, no two leaders seem to be able to agree on anything credible that embraces the science and takes real preventative action. Even President Obama in his groundbreaking climate address last week may have difficulty getting through his proposals that many describe as “a good start”. i find myself asking: why is this?
The Biologist, Naturalist, Theorist, Author and Harvard Professor, Edward O. Wilson, presented his theory in a piece titled ‘Is Humanity Suicidal’ that appeared in the New York Times Magazine in 1993. Here he identified some uncomfortable truths about humanity, some of which I have reproduced below for this article:
Darwin’s Dice May Have Rolled Badly for Earth:
Humanity is a carnivorous primate species.
Humanity has hereditary traits that enhance our destructive impact on our environment.
Humanity is tribal, aggressively territorial, demanding space beyond minimal requirements, and driven by selfish sexual drives.
The Selfish Human
Humanity is genetically programmed to be adverse to cooperation, especially beyond the family and tribal levels.
To win the evolutionary battle, those who thought first about themselves, second about their families, third about their village, and a distant fourth about the world survived the most.
Humanity is an Environmental Abnormality
- Intelligence in the wrong species can produce a fatal combination for the species and the biosphere.
- Intelligence in the wrong species can extinguish itself.
To our modern, contemporary (and in my case, Western) sensibility’s, these observations might appear a little harsh and even primitive, yet they do resonate with the global inability of our species to accept the world as a complete and integrated system. Operating from the egocentric self, we fit the description of, “tribal, aggressively territorial” quite nicely, especially in a modern, urban, fortified dwelling, as in which I sit here in London. The intrinsic nature of tribalism means that there will always be “us” and “them”, “winners” and “losers” and the need to assert ourselves over those outside our accepted borders in order to secure our tribal sense of safety. We are, of course, right to do so. Our enemies beyond the border are just like us: tribal, aggressive, intelligent, fearful and destructive.
As Wilson makes the point in saying “intelligence in the wrong species can extinguish itself”, so we are showing ourselves to be worthy of this assertion. The climate crisis is the reality of this dilemma.
However, in the next couple of points I can’t help but spot a ray of hope:
The Juggernaut Theory of Human Nature
Any intelligent species will eventually develop a sense of global responsibility.
But a genetically selfish and energy inefficient (e.g., carnivorous) species may not change quickly enough.
The Window of Opportunity
- There is a window of opportunity for any species to become globally responsible.
- This time period is based on how destructive the species is to the environment.
- A destructive species will have a short window. A less destructive species will have more time.
There is no doubt regarding the level of destructiveness that we are inflicting on other species and on the biosphere. We can see our tribal nature at work in the growing tensions over land that has fossil fuels or other resources that benefit one corporation, nation or particular segment of society. The global commons has been commoditised for profit and yet the profits run counter to our collective longevity. Our very own tribal nature that has enabled us to attain so much, is to be the agent of our own undoing.
But still the ray of hope hangs in the air.
In the growing swathe of public protests that are taking place, it is often the authorities who take arms first. In Turkey and Brazil, protests only got out of control when people reacted to the disproportionate force used by the authorities. It was the tipping point when the driver for expanded peaceful protest shifted from the original cause to the issue of abuse of authority itself. This has been best illustrated in the beautiful photographs taken in Taksim Square of everyday people reading classic works of literature, as the instrument of protest itself. It is an intellectual triumph over the tribal warcry of the authorities.
The idea that we can transgress our natural urges of tribalistic behaviour may hold the key to our own survival on this planet. For this to occur the paradigm shift must take place within the majority of our species and especially those that assume positions of power and leadership. The journey has already begun. We can see that in our acceptance of a “world wide web” for absorbing knowledge, the willingness of investors to put money into “global” markets, our willingness to buy goods from far flung countries. Whatever the reason, the global context has infiltrated our psyche. We now need to put it to work in the shortest time possible, to go that final step and achieve our ideals of peace, acceptance and respect for all living things.
In a conversation between myself, my colleague Bru Pearce and David Wasdell of the Apollo-Gaia Project, I learned the best analogy I can think of for this transition. Wasdell supposed that humanity is the offspring of Mother Earth, and as all offspring do, has suckled on the Mother’s breast to enable ourselves to grow. However, there comes a point when the child must learn to fend for itself and stop drawing on the finite strengths of the mother (this is called "growing up"!). The child must grow to stand up and become self-sufficient, with the preparedness to give back in respect and kindness that which it received in its inception. Failure to do so will not only extinguish the mother but will cut short the prospect of life in the offspring.
At a recent dinner organised by some friends, I was talking to the person next to me about climate issues. They appeared to be very interested, and indicated they were quite knowledgeable. What struck me was that this person repeated three times that the science on climate change was “too confusing”. In reply I repeated three times that: “It is not confusing. 97% of 2000 climate scientists agree that we are heating the planet from burning fossil fuels.” After the third repetition, I received a glum stare and we started talking about the mainstream media (MSM) representation of climate change. I said I thought the MSM was complicit in unbalanced reporting and this person disagreed. My reason for saying this (although not very well expressed at the time) is that when the scientific consensus says that manmade global heating is occurring, why do broadcasters feel obliged to include a skeptic, or worse, a “denier” in the discussion, whose job it is to make the discussion confusing by casting doubt where it doesn’t exist. A very good example of this was the “Climategate” email scandal where non-truths were projected into the public domain with a purposeful objective to smear the integrity of climate scientists. The lasting effect is to damage the audiences ability to comprehend the seriousness of the truth and delay action to tackle it.
This brings me back to my dinner situation. At this point the person next to me revealed that they were in fact the Marketing Communications Manager at a major British fossil fuel company. To say I was surprised was an understatement, however, I was also pleased to have the opportunity to talk to someone who worked in such a position considering my own interests in the environment. Sadly, things didn’t go so well.
My next question was: “What are your views on drilling in the Arctic?” to which I got the reply, “We have specialists who look into things like that!”. I responded by saying,
“One doesn’t have to be a specialist to have a view. I’m asking you as an individual, not as a company.” After a long pause, the person looked over at two other people talking about something else and willfully became animated in their conversation. To say I was insulted was an understatement. The conversation had been very relaxed despite not seeing eye to eye on the content. That is often the best value conversations we can have. I felt so livid that, had I been closer to home (as opposed to 50 miles away), I would have grabbed a taxi and left.
After about ten minutes the person turned back to me and stated very clearly that when it comes to the media “content is king!”. I stated my own view that content must have integrity. The reply to this was “That’s bullshit, content is king!” Agreeing to disagree, I then pointed out that my former question had not been answered and that I had been quite upset that it had been so rudely ignored. The reply, “I know you were.”
At this point, the person to my right interjected by saying to me, “...you’re very passionate about the environment, aren't you?” It was fair and true assertion to which I responded, “Yes, I have taken the time to meet many scientists and try to understand the facts about what is happening in the climate. On days like today when I spend time with your children [referencing both people, as had been the case], it does make me stop and think.” At this point the person I had been conversing with for a while erupted saying, “You are not bringing my children into this. I’m not sitting here any longer.” He then relocated to the other end of the table, swapping seats with someone else. And that was that. I was quite stunned as what I recounted was my own response to how I feel about environmental issues. What’s more, there was something in the manner of the departure that seemed very forced, like an act, as if in order to reinforce a position of difference. It was certainly sad to see the opportunity for meaningful discourse squandered in preference for a seat in the bunker of denial. There was no more discourse except, when leaving, I apologised for any offence I might have caused, as that was certainly not the intention.
The reason for ending this article with this anecdote is that a balanced conversation never took place. There were no views expressed by the person I spoke to, except those that were housed within the context of company policy. The reference to “confusing” science by someone in an industry that has an interest in “confusing the science”, is in itself a tribal act with the purpose of obfuscating the critical issues in the mind of the listener. This is what needs to change. It is the old “we win, you lose” paradigm that we must evolve into a vision for the future. Only by replacing human conflict with clear inclusive thinking, combined with a “duty of care” to each other and every other organism within the biosphere will we achieve a stable foundation for the future. It is the evolution of the human capacity to recognise and respond to risk, and by renewing our relationship with natural world with whom we coexist, that will ultimately enable humanity to keep passing intelligent genes across generations in order to reveal the true potential of intelligent life.
By Nick Breeze
The protests in Turkey have recently caught the world's attention, and rightly so. The country's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's unjustified use of violence is a stark reminder of how humanity can turn on its own kind inflicting pain and suffering. The deeper the desperation, the deeper the pain. For ten days or so I followed the news closely as I was booked to attend a climate change conference in Istanbul where former Vice President Al Gore was to present a whole day of the latest scientific evidence regarding the seriousness of a deepening "climate crisis".
The plot seemed to thicken when I realised that the conference centre was only a five minute walk from Taksim Square, the epicentre of the troubles that had been unknown to me prior to this protest. Like most other people I spoke to I was inclined to wonder why all the fuss? It turns out that Erdoğan is intending to turn a municipal park on one side of Taksim Square into a shopping centre, despite resistance from the public in the form of a city wide petition and years of planning disputes. In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty small fry issue. At least, it was. Erdoğan's over use of force to try and put an end to the protest reinforced a feeling that he has lost the ability to hear the voice of the people. His willingness to beat and gas peaceful protestors over such a small issue added more kindling to the fire and sparked a blaze that has come back and scorched his image.
Protestors - Taksim Square
The conference itself was being hosted by the Climate Reality Project, of which Al Gore is both Founder and President. The particular emphasis was on understanding the unequivocal evidence that we are entering a climate crisis and developing the leadership qualities to communicate it and take action, whether on a personal level amongst one’s own community, or on a greater level such as in national and international politics.
The gap in understanding between the scientific evidence and the public perception of risk is frightening in itself. Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are now somewhere around 32 billion tonnes per year. This constitutes an experiment with the Earth's atmospheric gas composition that will ultimately reshape the land on which we have to live as sea-levels rise in multi metres. Add to that the decline in water supply, restricted agriculture and increased conflict due to resource shortages and the picture is bleak. We are already seeing a 4% increase in water vapour over the oceans that is fueling monster sized hurricanes and storms. The buildup of moisture in the air from the warm surface of the sea is carried towards land where the result is like pulling the plug on a gigantic bathtub of water, resulting in flooding, damage to property and general chaos. It is no coincidence that on the day Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of America the ocean temperature was 5C above its average!
Massive extent of Hurricane sandy's clouds spanning 2000kms
Extremes in weather events are now so pronounced around the world that not all of them even make the news. They slip through the net of our consciousness as news editors are obliged to include the foibles of petty politics. At the time of writing the India monsoon has claimed over 600 lives but if I walked up and down my local high street, I wonder how many people would know this and how few of them would understand how the frequency of mega weather disasters is attributable to changes in the earth's climate system, a knock on effect of humanity's burning of fossil fuels?
The Saturday morning of the conference opened with an address by Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan. He spoke at length of Turkey's efforts to implement sustainable policies as well as broadening his topic to areas of governmental achievements such as job creation. It was a long speech and I must confess that I tuned out for a while but as we prepared to gently applaud his exit from the stage, a large contingent of Turkish people in the crowd chanted in unison the slogan "Heryer Taksim, heryer direniş", translated as, "Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance". As he vanished from the stage Al Gore bounded to the centre to thank the Deputy Prime Minister and also also thank the audience; a balanced response!
For the next eight hours or so, the former Vice President of the United States took us meticulously through his presentation, an evolved version of the one used in his famous movie, 'An Inconvenient Truth'. It was clear that understanding the science is not enough. Gore's message was about "winning the conversation", not just on the world stage but also on the personal life stage where ever we maybe, from the bus queue to the bar stool. This notion of "winning the conversation" is not about hectoring people or talking down to others but rather it entails dispelling the confusion and myths that are so prevalent in our society. These myths are often started by "climate change deniers", people who cast doubt over the consensus science with spurious counter arguments that have no evidence to back them up whatsoever. It is these false claims about the world's climate that get mangled up with the 98% agreed scientific consensus that humanity is heating the planet and the outcome is going to be very uncertain and disruptive.
"Winning the conversation" means being able to spot myths and dispel them. It means a sharpening of the truth antenna so that more people come to accept that the need for us to take action to reduce our impacts on the Earth's climate system is great and it is needed now. The conversation at ground-level is all important when we consider that in many countries we each, as adults, are entitled to vote. Our votes count when we go to the polls. It is our chance to demand of our leaders whatever we wish. Up until recently environmental issues have suffered a fringe status with climate scientists being labeled "alarmists" by politicians and others who feel threatened by calls to change the way in which we live our lives. Over the last year or so the frequency of floods, droughts and other extreme weather events has started people all over the world, from Australia, Asia, Europe and the America's, asking "why?". Now is surely the time to win the conversation!
Al Gore Presenting On Stage
As Al Gore's session on stage drew to a close we were all asked to meet on the terrace for a group photo and wine. It was great opportunity to chat to people and I found myself talking to a young business lady, who also works as part of an NGO offering disaster aid to victims in the area, as and when they occur. This would typically be in response to earthquakes or similar disasters. However, recently her team have been on the streets of Istanbul each evening giving medical assistance to injured people, be they bystander, tourist, protester or police. The cycle of interaction here seems illogical. People protest against the actions of their government. The government in reply beats them, necessitating a volunteer disaster response team to treat their injuries. There was little doubt from this lady that the government were not listening and worse, Erdoğan was manipulating the media to demonise the protestors, international media and, eventually, anyone who did not fall into line with his authority. I spoke to other Turks present who said they had voted for Erdoğan as he had some good policies. These events had turned them off.
The conversation was interrupted by a young Swiss scientist who had spent a great deal of time on the Greenland Ice sheet. This interests me enormously as last year the surface of the ice sheet went from 40% melt to 96% melt in just four days. The ice sheet is 3 kilometres thick in places and if melted would cause an estimated sea-level rise of 7.3 metres. This would put every major coastal town and city around the world underwater. Understanding ice sheets, especially their dynamics and melt rates, is obviously very important. Thomas Philips PhD. had been up on the ice sheet studying what happens when melt pools collapse and how the ice sheet funnels the water through vast tunnels to the sea where, bit by bit, icebergs are created that eventually melt into the ocean. I was keen to discuss this in more detail so a few of us, Ross, a headhunter from London, Buddy, a Californian sustainability consultant, Thomas and myself agreed to head away from the conference for a couple of beers and a chat.
Thomas Phillips And Al Gore's Scientific Advisor, Henry Pollack
No sooner had we turned the corner out of the conference centre we were caught up in a throng of thousands of protesters. Although we were the only people not wearing face masks and swimming goggles to defend against police tear gas, the mood was relaxed and non threatening. Thomas was staying just off Taksim Square and knew a bar nearby so we went with the bustle of the protest towards the square. Considering the previous evenings had seen artists and musicians performing in the square peacefully, the risk of clashes with police seemed minimal.
We were not too far along when we sensed more edginess in the atmosphere. Also the bitter and irritating tear gas was drifting through the air amid the loudening chants of "Heryer Taksim, heryer direniş". At reaching a point where we knew to go further we'd need masks we decided it was best to exit via a street off the other side of the road. We were now completely engulfed by the protest and the gas was thickening all around us. In an instant the chanting broke out to an new and louder pitch and the plumes of gas seemed to be much thicker. The police had entered the street from a side passage and were firing tear gas into the crowd. In the chaos Thomas and Buddy went one way and Ross and I ran another. We ducked down the side street using my handkerchiefs to filter the gas and kept going until we found a relatively empty parallel street. We walked down trying to find a place to take refuge. Windows twitched and along the street older people leaned out of first floor windows banging cooking pans making a din in support of the protests. The gas still hung in the air and the chants were some way off but the combination of adrenaline and fear meant the air was taut. I spoke to Thomas and Buddy on the phone and we waited as they tried to find us but we had no idea where we ourselves were, so it was in vain. Within thirty minutes the sound of the chanting became loud and, once again, very close. The chanting itself was not the threat, it was the knowledge that it was likely accompanied by an indiscriminate and brutal police force.
Protesters flooded into the tiny street in huge numbers. We turned and walked very fast with the crowd now forming around us. As we reached a cross roads intersecting a steep hill, we were joined by a huge number of protestors from above and now in front moving very fast to escape the large plumes of gas. Ross turned to me and shouted "Down there, its the only way to go!" We ran full pelt down the hill and I had the distinct feeling there could be a police ambush but, in the absence of choices, I didn't raise it as an issue. As it was, when we got to the bottom the police were not in large enough numbers to contain the thousands of protesters pouring out behind us. They did however, form enough of a reason to take the left turning back towards Taksim Square. We both simultaneously noticed the grand presence of the Crowne Plaza Hotel opposite and it took little persuasion to charge in that direction. Entering the hotel at a running pace, bundling through the metal detector almost into the arms of a apprehensive porter, we stared at each other for a few seconds before I uttered the only words I could think of: "Could we have two gin and tonics please?".
Within ten minutes Ross and I were joined by Thomas and Buddy who had been entrenched in the crowds not too far away. As we sipped our drinks and allowed the adrenaline rush to calm down, we reflected on what we had seen. The crowds were made up of young and old people alike. Many seemed to be dressed as if they were going to the local disco, rather than to a colossal demonstration (aside from face masks and goggles). There was certainly passion in the chanting of the slogan, yet this was clearly a peaceful protest underpinned by common purpose and a will to be heard. Perhaps an unexpected observation was the magnetic pull of the chaos despite the inability to breathe or see clearly. The hypnotic state induced by perceived danger made us reluctant to leave the protests and created an excitement that draws one back to it. In this instance it was now one o'clock in the morning, so Ross and I decided to take a taxi back to the peaceful old city of Sultanahmet. Buddy sidled away into the night to his accommodation and Thomas had no choice but to rejoin the protests as his hotel was located close by Taksim Square (he texted me later to say he was back in his hotel, sober once again, washing tear gas from his eyes and dealing with the adrenal thump).
I arrived at the conference at 7:30 the next morning and had to cut through the persisting conflict of police still gassing protestors outside. The conference was now in disarray as many people were unable to get to their hotels the night before. Many were entering the venue and rushing to the bathrooms to wash the tear gas from their eyes. It was announced the planned finish time of 3 o'clock was being brought forward to noon. The situation was worsening as the Prime Minister was now coming to Istanbul with tens of thousands of his supporters to stage a huge rally as a show of strength. We were advised to wear our badges prominently and to move in small groups when in parts of the city affected by the trouble.
I said many good byes and paired up with a Spaniard living in the UK called Marcelo. We left by the side of the building and walked down the long winding hill towards the stadium. A feeling of grave sadness hung in the air as we walked passed literally hundreds of plain clothed police officers ferried into Istanbul from all over the country to fight with protesters. They hung in groups of around fifty in the woods or in small enclaves off the road, being given orders by uniformed men. They were either brandishing long truncheons or being given matching shoulder sacks. They looked at us with an air of solemnity as we passed by and I couldn't help thinking of the people we moved between the previous night. Towards the bottom of the hill were long lines of buses where the police were boarding to be taken into the centre. There was no doubt that the protestors were going to be beaten and it reminded me of the defiant statement in Hemingway's 'Old Man And The Sea', "a man can be destroyed but not defeated."
Police Boarding Buses To Confront Protestors
Later that evening I watched glumly on the internet as scenes of the rally were mixed with scenes of people lying wounded in the streets. It later emerged that doctors and nurses who gave assistance to the wounded were also arrested and labeled "in conjunction with the protestors". To his applauding audience the Prime Minister criticised the world media, foreign governments and just about anyone who had voiced concern over his behaviour. The irony was apparent in the context of our conference where we had witnessed a former Vice President of the United States completely surpass our expectations of what it takes to show leadership qualities. Al Gore repeatedly stressed the need for inclusion and respect in order to bring everyone on board, not just the choir! This necessity to bring our efforts together is the only way to avert a planetary disaster and preserve a livable world for both our own and future generations. The climate crisis calls for new skills, new tools and all hands on deck. The leaders we need must have the skills to lead us both into and out of the storms, as we seek to rebalance humanity within the life support system upon which we depend. Time is running out. Dictators are relics of the broken past; the people no longer need but demand leaders of a new breed.
London, June 2013
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More posts by Nick Breeze
Subsea permafrost on East Siberian Arctic Shelf in accelerated decline
Interview by Nick Breeze with Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov
A new scientific paper published in Nature Communication Journal demonstrates that the mechanisms of destabilisation of subsea permafrost, contrary to previous claims, provide new insights into increased emissions from the worlds largest deposits of methane, that exists in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS).
The subsea permafrost has for thousands of years acted as a seal, restricting the flow of gas through the water column to the atmosphere. This paper clearly shows that permafrost degradation and the occurrence of gas migration pathways are key factors in controlling the emissions.
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.