Playing Politics In The Arctic: To Drill Or Not To Drill

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.


arctic-temperature- NASA ImageNASA 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-crop
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.


Australia Suing Japan Over Illegal Whale Slaughtering

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!


{podcast id=3}


Film: Wild Weather And Climate Change - Amazing Explanation To What Is Happening

 Also worth reading Guy McPhearson's blog: Climate Change Summary & Update (from Nature Bats Last)

Facing Down Conflict: Humanity's Quest For A Future Beyond The Climate Crisis

Nick Breeze


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
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 Taksim Square Book Club (Photos by George Henton for Al Jazeera)

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, “’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.

Leadership, Dictatorship And Reality In Istanbul… oh… and a Climate Crisis!

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.

Protesters Taksim SquareProtestors - 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!


sandy-satelliteMassive 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-opt-qualityAl 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 Philips Dr Henry Pollack

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 - IstanbulPolice 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.

Nick Breeze

London, June 2013


Bob Bishop: Modelling The Whole Earth System

Bob Bishop is the founder and president of the ICES Foundation (International Centre for Earth Simulation), bringing together science, sociology and economics to develop next generation 'holistic' visualizations depicting the future of our planet.



The aim of the project is to enhance detection technology, decision support and scientific underpinnings to current and future policymakers, aiming to tackle climate change, extreme weather, climate engineering, resource depletion, hazard reduction and mitigation. Bob is involved in various global initiatives, with over 40 years' experience in scientific, technical and engineering computing. In 2006, he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his role in helping NASA's space shuttle fleet return to flight after the 2003 Columbia disaster.

UK Wildlife Crisis

Nick Breeze and Dr Reese Halter discuss the UK wildlife crisis that poses a great threat to all of us.

Let's Discuss "Climate Engineering" #geoengineering

As part of our ongoing climate filming project we are looking at a wide range of solutions. One of the most controversial is 'Climate Engineering' (or Geoengineering). We will be looking into various engineering proposals including arguments for and against. This short film presents two sides of the argument. We'd be grateful if you'd watch it and respond with your comments on either our Youtube, facebook or Google + comments feeds. We will be reading them and using them to inform our interviews and future film work.




Nick Breeze

Dr Reese Halter And Nick Breeze Discuss The US Bees Squeeze

Listen to Nick Breeze talk to award winning broadcaster and best-selling author Dr Reese Halter about the devastation US bee populations are facing and why they are so important making a HUGE contribution to our own lives around the world.

*Remember, if you need to use a natural bee control in your garden then look for a local supplier of the Indian tree Neem, a natural way to control bee infestations - AVOID Pesticides and Fungincides THAT HARM INSECTS!

And finally... thanks to Daryl "Whistlin" Cutmore for our theme tune!

More posts by Nick Breeze

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The jet stream is responsible for what kind of weather we experience and it’s behaviour is changing. Dr Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, explains how a combination of factors are going to drastically impact agricultural systems in Europe and Eurasia.

It is easy to look at the fires in southern Europe and think that “global warming” is a regional problem often on someone else doorstep. This misconception could not be further from the truth because the “global” bit refers only to global mean temperature. As scientists start to look at what is happening around the world, it becomes very clear that the interconnected global system is changing for all.


Dr. Saleemul Huq Director International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh. In this short interview Dr Huq talks about his work and explains how those most vulnerable to the effects of manmade climate change are seeking recompense from the worlds greatest polluters.   


In 2014 Marks & Spencer became the only retailer in the world with carbon neutral operations. This huge undertaking across over 1400 stores has been rewarded with international recognition by the UNFCC winning Momentumn For Change award for carbon neutrality.