Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
Russian Scientists Excluded From Presenting Important Research As NASA Goddard Director Tries To Discredit Observational Scientific Research
Following on from my recent post regarding the attempt by Dr Gavin Schmidt to rubbish the research of Russian scientists, led by Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semiletov, it now emerges that the latter were not even invited to the high profile meeting at the Royal Society.
The event, held a fortnight ago, is still causing controversy beyond the negative tweeting by NASA Goddard Director, Dr Gavin Schmidt. Schmidt aimed his presentation at discrediting the Russian’s work, using theoretical models, without expertise in methane, or credible data. The end result is that the Russian team have composed a letter to Royal Society President, Sir Paul Nurse, asking for an opportunity to present their findings, including contributions from over 30 scientists working in the region for over 20 years.
One of the longstanding major triumphs of the scientific community has been a commitment to apolitical analysis of important research. We all know there are geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, but are these now making an unwelcome entree into an area that could pose enormous risk for humanity at large?
The risk of large-scale releases of the deadly greenhouse gas, methane, from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) may be a subject of debate in the scientific community, but to purposefully exclude one side of the debate and openly denounce their findings is not just immoral, it is reckless.
The letter, signed by Semiletov and Shakhova on behalf of more than 30 scientists, does state to the Royal Society President that the evidence shown by Dr Schmidt (based on work by Dr David Archer) is purely theoretical and that, despite both being very skilled climate modellers, neither has expertise in methane or the area in question, The East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
Whilst the meeting was in process, an expedition in the ESAS was in progress, with over 80 Russian and Swedish scientists. So why would such high profile Western scientists try to discredit a large and growing body of research? It is a hard question to answer, but the intent is certainly evident.
It is a matter for all of our concern if there is a posed risk of environmental devastation emanating from any region of the world. The Earth system does not acknowledge sovereignty or nationalist interests. International collaboration and respect are vital if we are to understand the changes that are going on as a result of man made climate change. The Earth is heating up and many feedbacks from the heating, such as methane releases, are not fully understood but are known to have caused enormous changes in the global climate.
The division between the climate modelling camp and the scientists carrying out observational research is completely nonsensical. It seems perfectly logical that the data collected by one group should be used by the other in order to make the models more accurate. If climate models have no basis in reality, then how can we trust their reliability?
The disdain shown by Dr Schmidt for his international colleagues should now be put aside and the doors of the Royal Society opened to allow the Russian team to present their findings. It is in all of our interests that this takes place, so, Sir Paul, over to you…
Author: Nick Breeze
Letter From Dr Shakhova & Dr Semiletov to Sir Paul Nurse:
October 4th, 2014
By mail and email
Dear Sir Paul Nurse,
We are pleased that the Royal Society recognizes the value of Arctic science and hosted an important scientific meeting last week, organised by Dr D. Feltham, Dr S. Bacon, Dr M. Brandon, and Professor Emeritus J. Hunt (https://royalsociety.org/events/2014/arctic-sea-ice/).
Our colleagues and we have been studying the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) for >20 years and have detailed observational knowledge of changes occurring in this region, as documented by publications in leading journals such as Science, Nature, and Nature Geosciences. During these years, we performed >20 all-seasonal expeditions that allowed us to accumulate a large and comprehensive data set consisting of hydrological, biogeochemical, and geophysical data and providing a quality of coverage that is hard to achieve, even in more accessible areas of the World Ocean.
To date, we are the only scientists to have long-term observational data on methane in the ESAS. Despite peculiarities in regulation that limit access of foreign scientists to the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the ESAS is located, over the years we have welcomed scientists from Sweden, the USA, The Netherlands, the UK, and other countries to work alongside us. A large international expedition performed in 2008 (ISSS-2008) was recognized as the best biogeochemical study of the IPY (2007-2008). The knowledge and experience we accumulated throughout these years of work laid the basis for an extensive Russian-Swedish expedition onboard I/B ODEN (SWERUS-3) that allowed > 80 scientists from all over the world to collect more data from this unique area. The expedition was successfully concluded just a few days ago.
To our dismay, we were not invited to present our data at the Royal Society meeting. Furthermore, this week we discovered, via a twitter Storify summary (circulated by Dr. Brandon), that Dr. G. Schmidt was instead invited to discuss the methane issue and explicitly attacked our work using the model of another scholar, whose modelling effort is based on theoretical, untested assumptions having nothing to do with observations in the ESAS. While Dr. Schmidt has expertise in climate modelling, he is an expert neither on methane, nor on this region of the Arctic. Both scientists therefore have no observational knowledge on methane and associated processes in this area. Let us recall that your motto “Nullus in verba” was chosen by the founders of the Royal Society to express their resistance to the domination of authority; the principle so expressed requires all claims to be supported by facts that have been established by experiment. In our opinion, not only the words but also the actions of the organizers deliberately betrayed the principles of the Royal Society as expressed by the words “Nullus in verba”.
In addition, we would like to highlight the Anglo-American bias in the speaker list. It is worrisome that Russian scientific knowledge was missing, and therefore marginalized, despite a long history of outstanding Russian contributions to Arctic science. Being Russian scientists, we
believe that prejudice against Russian science is currently growing due to political disagreements with the actions of the Russian government. This restricts our access to international scientific journals, which have become exceptionally demanding when it comes to publication of our work compared to the work of others on similar topics. We realize that the results of our work may interfere with the crucial interests of some powerful agencies and institutions; however, we believe that it was not the intent of the Royal Society to allow political considerations to override scientific integrity.
We understand that there can be scientific debate on this crucial topic as it relates to climate. However, it is biased to present only one side of the debate, the side based on theoretical assumptions and modelling. In our opinion, it was unfair to prevent us from presenting our more-than-decadal data, given that >200 scientists were invited to participate in debates. Furthermore, we are concerned that the Royal Society proceedings from this scientific meeting will be unbalanced to an unacceptable degree (which is what has happened on social media).
Consequently, we formally request the equal opportunity to present our data before you and other participants of this Royal Society meeting on the Arctic and that you as organizers refrain from producing any official proceedings before we are allowed to speak.
On behalf of >30 scientists,
Natalia Shakhova and Igor Semiletov
By Nick Breeze
When it comes to changes in the global climate, one of the most visible and disturbing sites is the data that shows the diminishing state of sea ice in the Arctic region. It is both dramatic and symbolic, with known and unknown consequences. As someone who has been following the scientific literature on this for a few years now, I cannot help feeling that our collective societies, and especially those with real power, will rue the days they turned their backs on this dynamic and important component of our climate.
With this in mind, I was positively excited to attend the two day event at the Royal Society on the 22nd and 23rd of September, titled, ‘Arctic sea ice reduction: the evidence, models, and global impacts’. The list of scientists attending read like a dream team of big brains on Arctic sea ice matters:
Dr Julienne Stroeve, University of Colorado, USA; Reduction of summer sea ice extent
Professor Mark Serreze, National Snow and Ice Center, USA; Changes in Arctic sea ice and the polar atmosphere
Professor Peter Wadhams, University of Cambridge, UK; Sea ice thickness from submarines
Professor Ronald Kwok, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CALTECH, USA; Satellite observations of sea ice thickness
Dr Andrey Proshuntinsky, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA; Arctic circulation regimes
Dr Helene Hewitt, Met Office Hadley Centre, UK; Using models to understand and predict Arctic Sea Ice
Professor John Turner, British Antarctic Survey, UK; Why is sea ice increasing in the Southern Ocean?
Dr Marika Holland, National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA; The capabilities and limitations of Arctic sea ice ocean climate models
Professor Daniel Feltham, University of Reading, UK; Sea ice mechanics and the next generation of sea ice physics
Dr Dirk Notz, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Germany; Processes controlling the Arctic sea ice mass balance
Professor Don Perovich, Dartmouth College, USA; Field studies of sea ice melt
Professor Grae Worster, University of Cambridge, UK; Sea ice thermodynamics and brine drainage
Dr Gavin Schmidt, NASA, USA, Atmospheric composition and radiative impacts of Arctic sea ice loss
Professor Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University, USA, The impact of Arctic sea ice loss on extreme weather
Dr Sheldon Bacon, National Oceanography Centre, UK, The Arctic Ocean freshwater budget and implications for climate
One of the most striking debates in the discussion of Arctic sea ice is the rate of loss and risk of feedbacks, such as large-scale methane release. The large-scale methane releases are a feature of the Earth’s history, where huge amounts of this deadly gas are released at a rate where they cannot be broken down, and therefore overwhelm the atmosphere. This heating effect, in turn, creates amplified heating making it difficult for life to survive. It is estimated that when the last big methane burst occurred, millions of years ago, 90% of life on Earth died and the recovery rate for biodiversity was millions of years more.
Russian scientist’s, Dr Natalia Shakhova and Dr Igor Semilitov have been conducting annual trips to the East Siberian Arctic Shelf for over ten years and are reporting an increased destabilisation of the permafrost on the shallow Arctic ocean floor in the region. The loss of ice has meant that significant heating has occurred this sensitive region, causing the frozen seabed to rise from -7 degrees centigrade to between -1C and +3C. Obviously, above zero the seabed changes state from ice to water and releases methane from the rotting organic debris that has been frozen for thousands, or millions of years.
More importantly this permafrost layer acts as a seal over an enormous store of methane hydrates conservatively estimated to be around 1500 gigatonnes. To put this in perspective, there is currently about 5.5 gigatonnes of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere. A release of a small percentage of 50 gigatonnes has been cited as a risk. Wadhams and his colleagues used the Stern model to calculate that such a release would have the equivalent economic value of $50 trillion USD (roughly the same as global GDP). That is obviously much more than we could ever afford and the world, post-release, would look vastly different, with hardly any humans, or other species, remaining compared to what we see today.
Professor Wadhams gave his talk at the Royal Society focusing on the behaviour of sea ice, using submarine data to back up previous estimates of sea ice decline in volume over multi decades. As these are observations, it is not really something that can be contested. Wadhams has been going on trips to the Arctic aboard military submarines for many years, collecting data to feed into the models, calculating volume in addition to the ice area (extent) shown from the satellites. This has shown a dramatic drop in sea-ice volume by 40% since the late 1970’s. The implications are that we are risking setting off a feedback process of methane release that could cause a huge boost to global warming. That is the view from those collecting data from the region.
On the other side of the debate stands the modellers. David Archer (not present at the event) is referred to as the “go to man” on Arctic methane. Archer says that no risk is posed from methane releases from Arctic shelves such as the one in Eastern Siberia. To represent this view at the Royal Society meeting was Dr Gavin Schmidt, the newly positioned Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute For Space Studies. Dr. Schmidt presented his modelling data, positing that there is no evidence such a risk exists. This is as a result of his examination of the data record of the Holocene period; a period of climate stability in which we and many other species have flourished. There are other scientists who look at our unprecedented climate situation and conclude that this this is the beginning of the “Anthropocene”; a period of climate driven by human activity.
Schmidt does acknowledge there was a huge methane release way back in the geological record but states that the world was a very different place then and we cannot draw conclusions from it. Schmidt’s view is based much more on modelling data and theory, which is viewed with suspicion by some, due to the inability of the models to keep pace in real-time of the rapid decline of Arctic sea ice. The argument goes that if you cannot get the model to reproduce what is happening today, how can you draw conclusions of what the sea ice will do in 10, 20 or 100 years? All scientists use models and they are very useful in looking at climate and their results are always getting better, as both the technological capacity, and the scientists understanding of Earth system processes gets better.
Dr Schmidt’s presentation was especially crafted to dispel the idea of a risk from methane releases and to directly discredit the work of Shakhova et al. Even when he mentioned the word methane he did so encouraging the audience to make horror noises. This seems to me a thoughtless act, considering people are risking their lives to collect the data on the subject. I interviewed Shakhova in June and she gave examples of other expeditions that have had fatal outcomes for those involved. Also, considering Professor Wadhams was sat in the audience and held a different view, it seemed divisive and childish. Schmidt presented in his summary that there was no risk of a methane “bomb”, or other large-scale multi gigatonne release from hydrate stores in the Arctic.
Although he didn’t explicitly say it, the implication was that the work of those saying “there is a risk” is rubbish. He showed models developed by Archer to prove it. However, I failed to draw a similar conclusion as Schmidt, because the scientists telling us there IS an issue, are the only ones actually visiting the region and collecting data. Shakhova said in June, when we spoke, that a decade ago there were hardly no bubbles coming out and the ice pack on top was frozen solid. They could drive heavy vehicles out on the ice. Due to global warming, it has vanished and now the dark open water is absorbing the suns heat energy and the waves that occur during intensifying storms (a new phenomenon for the East Siberian Shelf) are transporting this heat down to the seabed, where the melting occurs. Thus their observations show plumes of methane pouring off the seabed, from melting permafrost and over a kilometre wide.
The opposing views portended to set up a scenario for great discussion and perhaps, potentially, collaboration on how scientists could move forward to get to the bottom of what is happening in the volatile polar region. However, what really transpired was that Dr Schmidt was not that interested in any serious consideration of views outside those of his colleagues and had come here to only try and discredit what he might call “opponents”. Even when Professor Wadhams asked him a serious question at the end of his presentation, about what sea water temperature data is feeding Archer’s model (as it was being shown as evidence), he simply replied that “it’s [the answer] in the paper”. Conversely, when Wadhams was on the stage Schmidt only raised his hand to ask “Is any of this based on Physics?” to which Wadhams replied “no” referring to the fact that it is collected observational data.
Although having two opposing camps adds a bit of flavour to the proceedings, what soured the taste afterwards was Schmidt’s insulting tweeting during Wadhams presentation. Probably aware that an older professor is not so likely to be microblogging during a serious conference on his main subject of expertise, Schmidt released the following tweets in reference to him:
"Some anticipation for Peter Wadhams. Audience members already crying" "Wadhams still using graphs with ridiculous projections with no basis in physics". "Wadhams now onto methane pulse of 50 GT. But no better justified than his previous statements" "Wadhams clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations.”
There is no doubt that such “tweets” must resonate with his own choir of over 5800 followers on Twitter but does it add anything whatsoever to the meeting in the room? In terms of credibility alone, it should be highlighted that Wadhams has been studying the sea ice for over 40years and published over 300 papers on the subject. He has made countless voyages to both polar regions and even Prime Minister of the day, Margaret Thatcher was heard to shout out in Downing Street, “Dennis… The ICE MAN is here!”, having previously telephoned him during an expedition to the Antarctic ahead of a conference in the 1980’s. Even if Professor Wadhams was not a person of such high stature, Dr Schmidt’s treatment of him does sully a framework for finding answers to serious questions that science has always been so good at. It undermines the purpose of the meeting hosted by the Royal Society and also the reputation of his current position at Goddard (a position held by one of the most excellent and modest of climate experts we have seen, James Hansen, whom I was fortunate to meet and interview in 2012).
To conclude, the opportunity to discuss in depth the opposing views was squandered in place of a shallow and degrading barrage of Tweets. These were designed to undermine and dismiss a growing field of research that is being published around the world by many institutions such as the United Nations Environment Programme, as well the peer reviewed literature. Instead of an arena of informed and intellectual discussion, this behaviour is more akin to playground politics blended with egotistical nastiness.
On completely different level altogether, one major triumph of the event was the presentation given by Professor Jennifer Francis from Rutgers University, USA, titled, ‘The impact of Arctic sea ice loss on extreme weather’. Francis has been regularly cited by the mainstream media in recent months when we have experienced extreme weather events. Her teams work has produced evidence linking the decline in Arctic sea ice to the changes in the oscillation of the jet stream, that delivers our weather and is now being affected by manmade climate change. Such work has been picked up by President Obama’s Chief science advisor, Dr John Holdren who is thus briefing the President. I was lucky enough to catch up with Professor Francis later in the week and conduct an interview. We’ll be posting this very shortly.
This controvertial topic creates strong divisions of opinion about how we should plan our response to the predicted severe effects of climate change. With the Arctic sea ice collapsing at much faster rate than previously expected, is it time to start seriously discussing climate engineering to buy ourselves time to respond to the threat of climate catastrophe?
I have just returned from a two day visit to Zürich to discuss the making of a film focused around the 6 Degrees Centigrade predicted rise of temperature that Switzerland is facing by the end of this century. As Professor Reto Knutti at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science ETH Zürich pointed out, 6C is the upper estimate of predicted temperature rise but with emissions still rising from burning coal, oil and gas worldwide, we are most certainly on the the upper estimate trajectory. This upper limit also does not account for positive feedback loops that could amplify the warming further.
Predicted Temperature Rise For Europe By End Of Century (Source: The Prudence Project)
How does this affect the Swiss? It’s a question my Zürich friend, Edwin Moser has been concerned about for sometime. Swiss people do not seem too worried about the impacts of climate change. Is this because there is a sense of immunity? Perhaps there is a good case for why Swiss people might not fear climate change as much as those living in Miami, Bangladesh, or Africa, for example. Switzerland sits up high, out of the way of sea-level rise. It has a good history of sitting just out of the reach of conflict with a disciplined approach to external turmoil. Add to that the untold vaults of wealth adding to the confidence of the Swiss that they will survive, whilst others struggle.
If one was to do a climate risk analysis for Switzerland, one might start by looking at the country’s location. What is happening to the glaciers that are the heritage of this alpine nation state? It’s a simple question because when ice heats it melts and turns to water. One big issue for the Swiss is that all the white surface area of snow will be replaced by a dark surface area of land and the loss of reflectivity will cause the heating to increase more than in other countries (the global business as usual mean temperature rise is estimated at 4 degrees centigrade by the IPCC). Six degrees is extreme and should be of a concern to all Swiss as it means a very different future.
One thing is for certain, the winter ski season will no longer exist as there will be very little, or no snow. Even today, hotels that once stood on the edge of the glaciers are now a long way from the snows edge. The glaciers are in decline. I used to Ski outside Zürich with my school as a child on trips from England. We always associated the Swiss with their alpine culture and envied the kids from here, who were literally born onto the slopes. Even in conversations with Swiss friends in later years, it seems obvious that being able to ski and enjoy these wonderful natural beauty spots was a great source of pride and natural identity for the Swiss. But now we have to ask ourselves, for how long?
Of course skiing is an activity that doesn’t itself spell catastrophe for the nation, however, the loss of a whole industry and source of tourism will be felt. Professor Knutti did make the point that the climate models show a greatly increased likelihood of rain. Being a Brit, I can honestly say that extended periods of rain can cause a different kind of obsession with the weather… “anything but rain” syndrome is the best description!
UK Floods in 2014 From Exceptional Rain
Perhaps one of the biggest problems to effect Switzerland is the one that is a common concern around the world: climate refugees. The outlook for Europe, and especially southern Europe is extremely dire for the next 20+ years. With temperatures set to rise right across the continent much of the southern areas will become unlivable. As history has proven, when one place becomes unlivable, people up and move. Switzerland is perfectly placed as an attractive haven for people seeking safety and when they turn up in their hundreds of thousands or millions, it would take every citizen to enlist as a border patrol officer to fend them off.
The truth is that there is no immunity to climate change and when a country is landlocked in the heart of a changing continent, any hardship beyond the borders will quickly spread within the borders. As a combination of sea-level rise and temperature rise cause a global collapse of agriculture, it is clear that the current system of food production will no longer function.
These are all issues that face us all in coming decades. Any “end of century” predictions are not scheduled just for then. The steepening ramp up to these conditions has already began. This is worrying because climate impacts are not meant to have started yet. We are currently faced with severe global food shortages within the next few years due to drought impacts all around the world. People are having to think about moving. All the other factors such as the collapse of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are just the nails in the coffin.
These are bleak scenarios and they are very real. Many scientists are now not prepared to talk about “solutions” to climate change. It is certain that we have some or all of these effects in the pipeline. How severe they become is down to all of us. If we respond to this crisis now and with an iron determination then we can become resilient and put in place measures that will guarantee our food supplies, our energy needs, shelter and transport.
When we talk about these issues in a national or global context, we tend to think that our governments only have the power to make the changes. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The power to act must always come from the people and therefore the people must become “active”. There is a great deal of stigmatism around the word “activism” because it tends to imply some sort of conflict, or it conjures images of clashes with authority. However, when the need is so great that we decide we must take action, then that moment of decision is the moment when one become's an activist. Activism can start with simply thinking and assessing the risks for yourself. It can be as little as having a discussion with others about what they think and feel about it. In other cases it can be looking to join a bigger discussion online or in your city.
Ex-NASA Head Scientist Dr James Hansen & Author / Climate Scientist, Dr Michael Mann Discuss Activism
This brings me back to my visit to Zürich last week. I was very pleased to tag along with Edwin Moser as he met with his colleague Oliver to plan the Climate manifestation scheduled for this Saturday in Zürich. This meeting of concerned people about taking action on climate is in solidarity with the climate march being held in New York on Sunday and with others such as the one I am attending in London. Later that day we visited a bar in central Zürich to meet with Nicola Marcacci Rossi and his small gathering who meet every week to just discuss climate issues (Here is the meet-up web site). It was an intimate but very nice setting with a good cross-section of people concerned enough to come out and just talk. This is a form of “activism”that we can all partake in and is peaceful, insightful and intellectual. Learning something, no matter how great or small is just as valuable as knowing that other people are concerned too.
Edwin Moser Promoting The Climate Meeting Scheduled For September 20th In Zurich (www.fossil-free.ch)
The next day I caught up again with Yadolah Dodge to discuss our filming project around this 6 Degrees subject. It seemed quite strange to be sat in such a gentle relaxed city talking about a film being made to highlight a danger that is coming up on us fast whilst the sun shone and people strode the streets near the Opera House and alongside the lake.
I was pleased to meet up with Zürich based climate scientist, Dr Thomas Phillips. Thomas I met with Edwin originally in Istanbul at the Climate Reality Conference held by Al Gore in June 2013. It was whilst the police were attacking protesters with tear gas that we found ourselves at the front of the crowd looking for a bar to discuss the Greenland Ice Sheet when all hell broke loose! Thomas’ work is varied but he has an enormous knowledge of the risk of glacier melt that is worth listening to. I am looking forward to interviewing him on film about this very soon!
After a good chat with Thomas we both walked along the the lake side to Edwin’s weekly barbeque event where about twenty people had met, mostly all unknown to each other, to discuss climate and environmental issues. The event is called “Grilling Without Killing” and with wine flowing, it really was a good fun few hours, meeting people and chatting about all kinds of issues, hearing peoples personal anxieties and queries that weighed on their minds. Again, it is this sharing of personal experience and emotion that creates psychological resilience to the struggles that we know are just around the corner.
Through these meetings I really felt that I saw a different side of Swiss people. The normal feeling of “we’re safe” and neutrality was put to the side like a familiar mask and the unfamiliar feelings of anxiety mixed with desire to make a change. The Swiss media probably isn’t that good at talking about critical issues like climate change. It’s the same in Britain. This means we have to find our own ways of discussing and then demonstrating how we feel. In Switzerland there is a real opportunity to demonstrate that the people are serious about climate change and to call on the government and financial institutions to start investing in what is needed to make the big changes towards a better future for each citizen and succeeding generations.... and also, wouldn’t it be nice if something magic happened that meant we could go on skiing? Never lose hope, but don’t be afraid; act!
by Nick Breeze
Many people who consider themselves financially savvy have touted the wisdom of buying up gold with their extra cash to insure against any looming financial catastrophe. The inevitability of another crisis means that some sort of wealth refuge acting as insurance against currency or stock market shocks, is simply prudence in excelsis.
Enter stage-left, amid the chatter in the global village, the biggest of all the “cryptocurrencies”, Bitcoin (BTC). Bitcoins appear nothing more than an encrypted sequence of numbers representing a certain amount of an anonymous, digital currency, created by techies and constrained by a complex algorithm, with no need for a central bank.
This virtual currency is mathematically generated based on a virtual “mining” process that can only go up to 21,000,000 BTC’s. With this limit to actual creation of BTC’s, inflation is kept in check because the intrinsic value of the coin is limited to the divisibility of the total known amount.
Bitcoin can also be traded between individuals face to face, or with those in far off foreign lands, using a digital wallet. The transfer of BTC’s from one wallet to another is relatively underwhelming but those who use it think differently. Exchanges are popping up everywhere allowing traditional currency purchases of BTC’s, either in large quantities or small fractions of a single coin.
So is it used as a real currency? There is a taxi driver in Hereford, pubs in London, online ecommerce stores, professional services, and now even Virgin Galactic will promise to take you to space in exchange for your BTC’s. Property agents are getting into it, as well as street market traders. The attraction might be anonymity for some but for the mainstream techno consumer, it is the long-term philosophical view that a decentralised monetary system offers more value and security than the central banking system.
Another question often asked is whether gold is about to be replaced by Bitcoins as the new store of wealth for contrarian investors? At a time when London buses have just stopped accepting cash and the bulk of our conceptual reality is relocating to the interconnected digital landscape, it does seem unlikely that we’d enter into another era of hoarding physical gold to manage our affairs.
Currencies function because we trust them. If we don’t trust them, we don’t want them. The abuse of the American dollar through quantitative easing to bail out careless bankers, leaves many people distrustful of the value attributed to such currencies.
In the case of the USD, it might take only a sea port refusal by China to accept payment for goods in anything but their own currency (or anything but dollars!). That could cause widespread belief that the greenback is worthless and lead to the exchange value of the dollar collapsing. This, so called, “reserve” currency would become the little brother to the big beast of inflationary failure, the Zimbabwean Dollar.
How much more sense does it make to implement a decentralised monetary system that is secure, democratic and, by design, finite, to avoid the temptations of bankers and policymakers to make bad judgements at the expense of the masses?
Right now, the most dated object I keep about my person is my leather wallet. My barcoded library card has relocated to my key ring, whilst my car key has relocated to an App on my phone. My smartphone is a powerful multi-use computer performing endless tasks combining, personal, professional and social. Strikingly, all my plastic cards from the Oyster to the credit and debit cards are still little changed from their prototypes that I recall from my childhood in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.
So will it work? Will we transition? It seems from my research, that Bitcoin is already working and people are transitioning already. It’s value has risen compared to mainstream currencies. The emergence of new exchanges, directories of traders, service providers, and a vibrant idea sharing community of entrepreneurs, mean that this is a very exciting area that looks set to change our perception of money and value.
However, I doubt very much that there will be a day or a month where one currency fades and another becomes the norm. What we tend to see is the bell-curve effect where those that see the potential jump in early and lead the charge. Eventually the benefits and widespread use expand out to the herd, increasing confidence and reducing fear. Government legislation will form alongside, in what we hope will be a more durable, robust and fair monetary system.
Let’s watch and see.
by Nick Breeze
Dystopian projections of the future for human civilisation can hardly be called optimistic but should they be taken seriously?
Contributors to IDP:2043: Enfant terrible of Scottish letters and author of Trainspotting Irvine Welsh and graphic artist Dan McDaid, celebrated French graphic novelist and illustrator Barroux, Costa Award winner Mary Talbot and artist Kate Charlesworth, ‘godfather of British comics’ and creator of 2000AD Pat Mills and graphic novelist Hannah Berry, graphic novelists Adam Murphy and Will Morris. Story editor: crime writer and graphic novelist, Denise Mina.
Fiction certainly does not have to adhere to any rules of fact but our identification with it usually implies some kind of connecting cord from the imagination. In the case of the new literary genre, known as “Cli-FI”, shortened from “Climate-Fiction”, authors are increasingly depicting the world as it might be towards the end of the century, or perhaps even a decade or two away. Needless to say, the depictions are seldom desirable, but are these storytellers reflecting an unnecessary internal pessimism, or are they derived from visible seeds of decay, visible now in our current existence?
Having spoken to many scientists about their findings on climate change I am intrigued by the often appended line to the dialogue that goes something like, “…but I am an optimist and I am confident humanity will make the necessary changes before it is too late.” Of course, the trouble is, instead of slowly turning the carbon effluent monster of human civilisation around towards a sustainable future, the rate of consumption, and thus pollution, is actually going up.
Corporations have taken over our democracies, assuming the status of living entities (extremely wealthy entities), and proceeded in buying up vast quantities of the natural world, before converting it into carbon pollution and wasteland. Conflict among humans and the number of failed states is rising. The amount of food being produced is required to go up to feed our burgeoning populations but it can only go down due to pressure from climate change and poor use of land. Corporations are manipulating seeds, patenting them and desecrating the future potential for organic agriculture. Water is running to all time lows as fossil acquirers that supply much of China, India and other regions are drying up. Huge food baskets like California is collapsing to drought. The Ukraine is being destroyed by war. The list goes on and with it the hopes for a stable, secure and plentiful future diminish.
It is hard to comprehend the reality of all this when one lives in a wealthy western culture like the UK (where I am), and the supermarket shelves are stacked with plentiful supplies of everything and anything. Stalls on the street are bursting with colourful fruit and veg, whilst restaurants and coffee shops are everywhere. The UK imports around 40% of its produce, a figure likely to rise as the government offers up more agricultural land to housing developments. The impacts on food prices from a range of impacts, largely all with a root cause of climate pressure, will be a steady rise with some shocks along the way. Conflict around the world will continue to rise and be exacerbated by these issues. We in the west may feel safe from harm now but the seeds of dystopia are most definitely being sown around us.
In this graphic Cli-Fi novel, titled IDP-2043 (IDP standing for Internally Displaced Person/’s), a number of distinguished writers and graphic artists have contributed to one flowing storyline. Perhaps the most recognisable name in the list is Irvine Welsh but this is very much a collaborative effort and each contributor makes a mark. The story extrapolates out all the trends of our current course, starting with massive sea level rise that leaves the UK about half its current size in area. The government is largely a corporate dictatorship ruling with fear and hardship, with dark plans to save it self.
The lead character in the story is a woman from the ghetto who’s growing celebrity and outspokenness is causing problems for her superiors. Even the hit men sent to execute her have some logic to their own psychotic disposition as they lament the burden of human population. The unfolding story is fast paced and makes for good entertainment. It would be great to see many more of these stories being published with strong links to the challenges that we can see in our own societies. For instance, the restriction of education and fairness, and the subjugation of democracy for corporate power, in order than money can continue to flow into the hands of those who least deserve it.
The narrative points to one conclusion, which humanity should try to grasp sooner rather than later. True value does not reside in the blind acquisition of inanimate objects. True value will always be in the balance of human life with nature, the ability to feed to satiety, to sup water when thirsty, to remain warm when outside it is cold (and vice versa), to be stimulated intellectually and to live our lives with respect for the social dynamics of our society, as much as for the individual private worlds which we inhabit.
Cli-Fi is a growing genre and this graphic novel is a worthy contribution, beautifully packaged with its own tapestry of talent to embroil oneself in. It is available to order online from Freight Books: http://www.freightbooks.co.uk/idp-2043.html
by Nick Breeze
On the 10th July we were able to attend and record the Geoengineering Debate in Cambridge. Here is the list of participants in the debate and the link where each segment can be watched. The following quote is from Professor Martin Rees's preface to the Royal Society report on geoenegineering (read by Dr Hugh Hunt in the opening):
"The continuing rise in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is driving changes in the Earth's climate. The long-term consequences will be exceedingly threatening, especially if nations continue 'business as usual' in the coming decades. Most nations now recognise the need to shift to a low-carbon economy, and nothing should divert us from the main priority of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. But if such reductions achieve too little, too late, there will surely be pressure to consider a 'plan B'—to seek ways to counteract the climatic effects of greenhouse gas emissions by 'geoengineering'"
Watch the debate here: https://vimeo.com/channels/geoeng
For the motion:
Oliver Morton is The Economist's briefings editor. Before coming to The Economist as energy and environment editor in 2009, he was the chief news and features editor of Nature, the international scientific journal. He specialises in the energy business, climate science and policy, and other green issues. He is the author of "Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet", a study of photosynthesis, its meanings and its implications, and "Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World".
Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics in the University of Cambridge, and is an oceanographer and glaciologist involved in polar oceanographic and sea ice research and concerned with climate change processes in the polar regions. He leads the Polar Ocean Physics group studying the effects of global warming on sea ice, icebergs and the polar oceans. This involves work in the Arctic and Antarctic from nuclear submarines, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), icebreakers, aircraft and drifting ice camps. He has led over 40 polar field expeditions.
Against the motion:
Helena Paul works with EcoNexus on the impact of emerging technologies on biodiversity, communities, food sovereignty. Technologies include synthetic biology, geoengineering, GM crops and trees. I also focus on the impact of biofuels, biomass production, bioenergy generally on land and biodiversity. EcoNexus researchers are concerned that not enough account is taken of the complexity of natural systems when making interventions.
Matt Watson is a Reader in earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. He is the Principle Investigator for SPICE (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering). His research involves inversion of remotely-sensed data to retrieve physical parameters of volcanic plumes and clouds over several spatial scales, using both ground- and satellite-based techniques.
In the chair:
Hugh Hunt is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering at the University of Cambridge. He leads the "Delivery Methods" part of SPICE and is the engineer in charge of the 1km testbed that was cancelled. His other research interests include wind-turbine reliability, tidal power and flood defences, noise and vibration from railways, gyroscopes and boomerangs. He has also made several documentaries for Channel Four and PBS Nova on subjects such as Dambusters' bouncing bombs, the Colditz glider and WW1 Zeppelins.
By Nick Breeze
I must admit to not having heard of Clive James for a couple of decades or more. Last I saw he was hosting a television talk show series that featured a Cuban singer called Margarita Pracatan. So it was with an open mind that I read this review of a biography of the political theorist Thomas Robert Malthus by Robert Mayhew in Prospect Magazine.
Clive James and Margarita Pracatan
James immediately states that “Malthus was wrong that population growth would lead to famine” and asks “Why are his ideas still popular?”. Alarm bells chime in the distance. Malthus is very famous for his conclusions about population growth and natures ability to feed it. The human population has gone from 2bn to 7bn in 85 years . What makes his conclusions more prescient is the enormous body of scientific research that estimates that the Earth’s human carrying capacity has exceeded its resource capacity to sustain us. We are now in exponential population growth, whilst all of our life support systems (forests, oceans, agriculture, water, etc.) have become stressed and are at risk of collapse. Although James would undoubtedly describe this as alarmist, I would certainly assert that it is alarming!
What becomes quickly apparent is that James does not care much for any form evidence in making his grand put downs of the scientific establishment. He prefers statements alluding to his own wisdom instead, such as “… I know quite a lot about mass media, having worked in that area all of my life.” The reader should be reminded that James’s mass media career peaked over two decades ago and, from a media perspective, the pre-internet world was a very different place. The contemporary world, he seems to have no knowledge of at all.
There are so many incorrect statements (with no citations of evidence except “…all the statistics agree…”) that I’ll only highlight a few. James is certain that food security on the planet “will be abundant for years to come.” This seems quite opposed to what is coming out of the scientific studies that show that increased soil erosion, weather anomalies, water and energy shortages, have put the global food baskets under considerable stress. [3, 4].
James cannot abide the author of the book, Robert Mayhew, seemingly because he, himself, does not believe in the seriousness of climate change. All criticisms are framed around this premise, existing without any evidence and with (oddly amusing) demonstrations of James’s own wit in tackling the subject. One of the best lines is as follows: “… I speculated aloud that the famous 97 per cent consensus among scientists was perhaps only a consensus among climate scientists…” . It begs the question, which branch of scientific specialism would he prefer us to trust in analysing the state of the Earth’s climate? Dentists?
James goes on to describe the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as “an unfailing source of alarmist propaganda…”, following up that they have somehow backtracked on their assessment of the global impacts that we can expect from a hotter planet. The truth could not be further away. The past few months has seen IPCC lead authors stating that we are on track for a global average of 4C rise in temperature by the end of century that will cause resource scarcity, increased conflict and sea level rise to name but a few outcomes . He then goes on to state, “the emphasis had clearly shifted from mitigation to adaptation.” There is an element of truth to this but not because the problems we face are any less dangerous (as he implies). It is rather that the political and corporate will does not exist to take the necessary precautionary action. Therefore the world population at large are forced into the only response available: try to adapt.
But the change is happening and in the US we see a huge willingness by the Obama administration to show courage in squaring up to this very real issue . With wildfires, drought, incredible sub-zero conditions and dangerous hurricanes as Sandy becoming a real threat to the wellbeing of the nation, it is sad that the likes of Clive James wish to remain in a silo of ignorance. Many of the poorer nations around the world are feeling the dire effects of manmade climate change, with low-lying islands and coastal areas facing direct threats from rising sea levels and extreme weather. To them, the idle jokes and mass media wit of a has-been like James would sound galling if ever they heard it [8,9].
From this point on James’s mask is off as he invokes the memory of the famed non-scandal tagged “climategate” by the media, representing vested business interests, propagating similar myths as James himself . The inquiry that followed the non-scandal exonerated all those scientists whose emails were illegally hacked and misrepresented to the press to discredit their work. But the damage was done. The most important conversation we needed to have in 2009 (James says it was 2007 but that is incorrect) was dropped from the agenda altogether. That itself will be seen as a far greater scandal in the years to come . It seems odd that our “mass media” expert was unable to decipher the truth from the loud shrills of tabloid mania that scoffed at innocent men.
Although I was compelled to smile at James’s peculiar rant against something he can’t seem to grasp despite mountains of evidence, his case against Malthus, climate change and associated risks, do carry an undertone of sadness. For James is not inheriting the Earth, he is bequeathing it to future generations and it is in a terrible state. To shrug and insinuate that the problems we face collectively, as a result of the mistakes made in the preceding decades, are just an illusion, is disrespectful and ignorant.
Thomas Robert Malthus (pic. Wikipedia)
Clive James’s appraisal of ‘Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet’  seems to fall away somewhere in this piece of writing. But between the lines of his misty views, he has done us some service. His message is clear but our reading of it should be clearer: the book is likely to be a very good insight and analysis of a man who, over 200 years ago, diagnosed the problem that we today are facing: population really does matter!
12 June 2014
Earlier this year I heard Prof. Mike Bradshaw speaking on #Shale #Gas extraction at the Royal Geographic Society (#RGS).
His talk was so impressive and dispelled so many myths put forward by the government that I contacted him and filmed an hour long discussion of all the points he made from an independent perspective. This is the first in a series of clips that we'll be releasing.
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