Posts Tagged‘climate change’

A River of Ice in the Desert.

Climate change is happening, there’s no doubt about that, and the main factor at play here is us. The last decade has seen an increase in the frequency and severity of weather events all of which can be traced to the amount of carbon we dump into the atmosphere. Thankfully the Paris climate deal is a good first step towards remediating the problem, even if the majority of the provisions in there aren’t legally enforceable. Until we start true action though extreme weather events will lead to things like below, where a river of ice flows through the middle of a desert:

The river, which on first glance appears to be a flow of sand, was caused by extreme weather in Iraq that saw the country blanketed in heavy rain and hail. The ice then overflowed rivers and ended up creating this incredible phenomenon. It’s also the second freak weather event to hit Iraq since its last summer, when the country experienced an extraordinary heat wave where temperatures hit 52°C in Baghdad. Whilst things like this are interesting they’re a symptom of a much larger issue, one that we all need to work together to solve.

A Treatise on Battling Global Warming Bollocks.

The war against bullshit is asymmetrical. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone stumble across my blog post and rattle off a paragraph or two which then took me 10 times as long to debunk. It’s not so much that I don’t have the evidence, they are always demonstrably wrong, however the amount of time required to provide the proof to debunk them always outweighs the time it takes for them to spout it. Thus whenever I come across something that can aid me and my fellow crusaders against bullshit I feel compelled to share it, in the hopes that one day we can turn the asymmetry over to our side so that, one day, spouting bullshit becomes the harder proposition.

And to that end I share with you the below video:

I’ve come across pretty much every argument in that video before however I’ve often struggled to find an answers that are succinct as his. Of course I’m under no delusions that this video would turn a hardcore denier around, they’re a different breed of stubborn, however it does a great job of highlight the faults in the arguments that many more reasonable people make. His previous videos showed just how scattered the public’s knowledge is on this subject and so this follow video will hopefully go a ways to improving that.

There’s still a long fight ahead to convince the right people that proper action needs to be taken, something which us Australians should hopefully be able to rectify at the next election.

So Educating People on Climate Change Science Isn’t the Answer? Bugger…

The representation of climate change science in the media has, up until recently, been rather poor. Far too many engaged in debates and articles that gave the impression there was still 2 sides to the argument when in fact the overwhelming majority of evidence only favours one side. The last few years have seen numerous campaigns to rectify this situation and whilst we still haven’t convinced everyone of the real facts it’s been great to see a reduction in the number of supposed “fair” debates on the topic. However if a recent study around the general population’s knowledge on this topic is anything to go by lack of knowledge might not be the problem at all, it might just be the culture surrounding it.

Global Warming Risk

A recent study done by Professor Dan Kahan of Yale university was done in order to understand just how literate people were on the issues of general science as well as climate change science. The results are rather surprising (and ultimately disturbing) as whilst you’d tend to think that a better general understanding of science would lead to a better understanding of the risks associated with climate change the study actually shows that isn’t a predictor at all. Indeed the strongest predictor of was actually their left-right political affiliation with the amount of scientific knowledge actually increasing the divide between them. This leads us to a rather ugly conclusion that educating people about the facts behind climate change is most likely not going to change their opinion of it.

Well fuck.

Whilst the divide along party lines isn’t going to shock anyone the fact that both sides of the political landscape are about as educated as each other on the topic was a big surprise to me. I had always thought that it was more ignorance than anything else as a lot of arguments I had had around climate change usually centered on the lack of scientific consensus. Had I dug further into their actual knowledge though it seems that they may have been more knowledgeable on it than I would first think, even if the conclusions they drew from the evidence were out of touch with reality. This signals that we, as those interested in spreading the facts and evidence as accepted by the wider scientific community, need to rephrase the debate from one of education to something else that transcends party lines.

What that solution would be though is something I just don’t have a good answer to. At an individual level I know I can usually convince most people of the facts if I’m given enough time with someone (heck up until 5  years ago I was on the other side of the debate myself) but the strategies I use there simply don’t scale to the broader population. Taking the politics out of an issue is no simple task, and one I’d wager has never been done successfully before, but until we find a way to break down the party lines on the issue of climate change I feel that meaningful progress will always be a goal that’s never met.

An Oversupply of Renewable Energy? Seriously?

We’re a country of polluters, there’s no question about that. In terms of world ranking we seem to hover around 11th in per capita pollution, beating other big polluters like China, India and even the United States. Whilst we can lay the blame for a good chunk of that on our resources sector it doesn’t mean that we, as a country, aren’t responsible for it and are obligated to do as much as we can to reduce the amount of carbon and other pollutants that enter our atmosphere. The previous government made some headways into this however our current representatives seem intent on undoing the small amount of good they managed to get through, even if it makes absolutely no sense to do so.

Lake George WindmillsYesterday it was announced that the Renewable Energy Target (RET), which was revised under the previous government to a larger figure, was going to be reviewed. Now typically this wouldn’t be something to fret about, especially considering that reviews like this are supposed to be carried out by the Climate Change Commission, but since Abbott disbanded them it’s now being led by Dick Warburton a confessed anthropogenic climate change denier. To make matters worse it’s also going to be done in the context of an apparent oversupply of electricity in Australia, something which the current rhetoric from the Abbott government seems to pin wholly on the rapid uptake in renewables.

Are you fucking kidding me.

The Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) and the Large Scale Renewable Target (LRET) schemes have been responsible for a massive increase in the amount of grid connected renewable energy in Australia. Indeed it’s been so successful that we’ve even had some regions revise their own targets above what they initially planned, meaning a very healthy percentage of Australia’s energy now comes from renewable resources. The argument being made now is that the incentives provided to those renewables is costing Australia too much and is leading to a glut of energy production, driving prices lower. Whilst I’d argue that the cost of the program (~$1.6 billion according to Warburton) is worth it I can’t understand the thought process behind people complaining about lower electricity costs.

The source of this rhetoric is somewhat understandable; it’s because Warburton doesn’t believe that we’re responsible for the climate change. Thus, when you take that view, renewables get an unfair amount of treatment with their subsidies and feed in tariffs. However if you take the rational scientific view where we are responsible then the picture becomes far more clear and the paltry price we pay to have such a large percentage of renewable energy is a sound investment. Indeed should we lose both the carbon tax and the RET there’s no telling how much further up the global polluter ranks we’ll climb and I don’t think any rational Australian wants that.

We’re seeing the results of electing a government that is packed with representatives who are running with an agenda that clearly runs opposite to the facts. Whilst I’d love to believe that a review of the RET would show that everything should continue as planned I’m afraid I lost all trust in reviews commissioned in this manner after the total farce that was the NBN strategic review. With Warburton at the helm it’s guaranteed that we’ll see cuts to the RET which will have a strong, negative impact on the state of renewable energy in Australia. Unfortunately that will just be the first hit to soften us up before the real hit comes: the abolishment of the carbon price.



Climate Change: We’re Responsible, Simple as That.

There are few things that can get me as hot under my collar as people who flout scientific facts. Whilst I admit that I get a bit of a thrill every time someone comes on my blog to try and debate me otherwise it still saddens me that there are many people out there who are willing to disregard hard facts in favour of anecdotes and emotional arguments. When it comes to anthropogenic (read: man made) climate change I all too often find people who aren’t willing to believe that there’s resound scientific consensus on the issue, instead wanting to believe the story that there’s still on-going debate. This could not be farther from the truth as the scientific community, and more specifically the ones specializing in climate, are in such unity on the idea that only one, out of almost 10,000, disagrees:

1 out of 9136 Climate Scientists Reject Anthropogenic Climate ChangeThis picture has been doing the rounds on social media for a while now and it aptly highlights that there really isn’t an on-going debate among climate scientists about whether or not anthropogenic climate change is occurring. Still many media outlets feel compelled to provide a “balanced” story, pitting top climate scientists against celebrities, politicians and anyone else who isn’t exactly qualified to comment on where the science stands on this. Such debate thus lends credence to the idea that both are equally valid when, in fact, anyone who’s an expert in the field would say otherwise. Typically I could just write this off however a recent study from 2 universities in the USA has me very worried about how the general public is processing this information.

The report states that the number of people in the USA that flat out don’t believe climate change is happening at all has increased by 7% since the beginning of last year rising to a rather staggering 23%. Worst still they’re becoming far more stubborn about their views with many more people now saying that they’re unlikely to change their stance. The only bit of good news in there is that the majority of the USA believe climate change is happening although the percentage of those that believe its caused by us is declining.Taking the figures at face value I really was surprised to see that this was occurring but the explanation is what blew me away.

So apparently climate change deniers came up with the theory that we’re actually in a global warming “pause” as the amount of warming over the past 15 years has slowed down. Now forgetting for a second that this means they’re agreeing in principle to the idea of global warming (as you can’t say the warming has slowed without acknowledging it’s happening) taking short time slices of a phenomenon that occurs over a period of decades or centuries is a best disingenuous. We could just as easily take a similar time slice from multiple different periods to prove the opposite but instead we’ll just take the large swath of data we have that has shown an upward trend in temperatures that strongly correlates with the amount of carbon we’ve pumped into the atmosphere.

I know I’m preaching the the choir here but the mental gymnastics I’d have to go through to believe this kind of tripe befuddles me. Sure I can understand that when faced with problems this large with such huge consequences rational thought processes tend to shut down but it’s really not that difficult to take ownership of it in order to start making a positive difference. We all need to stop humouring those who harbour opinions  that not only fly in the face of science but also prove to be extremely damaging to the rest of the world. The longer we entertain the idea that we need a balanced debate about things like this the worse the problem will get and I won’t feel at all good about saying “I told you so” when all of Australia’s beaches are underwater.


Anthropogenic Climate Change: There’s Really No Debate.

It was about 2 weeks ago when I was driving home from work when Triple J’s current affairs program Hack came on the radio. The topic of the day was climate change and it caught my ear not because I’m terribly involved in the movement (although I have blogged around it on 4 separate occasions in the past) but because it was leading up to a program I had seen advertised on the ABC called I Can Change Your Mind on Climate. The show pits Anna Rose, a noted environmental activist, against well noted (and much derided here on this blog) former senator Nick Minchin, a climate change skeptic/denier. The program was to focus on them travelling the world and meeting with experts from their side of the argument, in the hopes to swing them to one side or the other.

The idea intrigued me as whilst I was once a person who could be at best described as a climate change agnostic (I didn’t have enough information to sway me to either side) actual research into the phenomena showed that the evidence was unequivocally for it happening and that us humans were to blame for it. Thus I wasn’t so interested in Anna Rose’s side of the argument as I’m already sold on that, but I was intrigued to see what kind of experts Nick Minchin could dredge up to support his claims. Unfortunately due to work commitments I didn’t catch the show but from what I’ve heard neither gave any ground and objectively Minchin did more harm than good by the experts he chose.

That would’ve been the end of it but the show came up in conversation yesterday. To my surprise it was met with much derision even though I thought that it was for the most part bad for Minchin and great for everyone else. Their issue wasn’t so much the program but with the format in which it was presented, pitting one side of an argument against the other. Whilst this might appear to be the fair and balanced way (snicker) of discussing the material at hand it is in fact portraying a situation that simply doesn’t exist.

The one that there are 2 legitimate sides to this argument.

Anyone who’s not familiar with the current state of climate science watching such a program would believe that there’s still an ongoing debate on whether or not climate change is man made. Scientifically speaking this is far from the truth as 97% of scientists surveyed (of a total of 489) support that view point. Of the 3% that don’t agree with that view point most of them were not in an area related to climate research which takes the overall percentage of climate scientists who believe climate change is man made much closer to the 100% mark. The current debate is around what the impact will be and its severity, but with shows like the former you’d still think that the scientists are out on whether or not we’re at the center of this environmental problem.

This is the problem with representing opposing views with equal standing to a public that only gets its information from a single source. It’s highly unlikely that someone undecided on climate change would come away from such a program thinking that they needed to research it more. Instead such programs would either reinforce currently held beliefs (whether for good or bad) or simply leave them in the agnostic state they were in to begin with. It may be time for the government to go on an climate change denier campaign in much the same way as they’ve done for smoking as there’s just as much scientific evidence to support both.

Realistically I know I’m preaching to the choir here but posts like these (my piece on the anti-vaccination movement being one of them) seems to attract the kinds of crazies that I’m hoping will do a double take and think about their current position. I know that it’s a hard sell for those guys, most will just dismiss this post outright, but if I can get through to some I’ll consider it a success.

Overcoming Subconscious Beliefs.

I like to portray myself as a wholly rational kind of person, one who takes in all the available evidence before making a conclusion. It’s actually rather inhibiting when I’m writing something as there are a lot of times when I have an opinion on something (and feel it would make a good post) but the amount of research required to either confirm or deny my point of view is prohibitive. Despite this though I’m still riddled with many internal biases towards certain subjects and no matter how good the evidence is on one side I’ll still get some horrible cognitive dissonance when I think about them.

The best example I can think of was my previous (mostly unknown and unspoken) stance on global warming. Up until around 2 years ago I had this deep rooted feeling that whilst climate change was happening the notion that we had anything to do with it, or even that it was that big of a threat to us, was just some form of hyperbole from the environmentalists. This wasn’t helped by my favourite pair of magicians, Penn and Teller, running with the idea that man-made global warming was bullshit on their show. Indeed even up until a year ago whilst my conscious self would take the evidence based approach I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that I was wrong on some level.

One notion I’m still wrestling with is the idea of free will in a deterministic universe. I took the idea of free will as a given and much of society is based around the idea that we’re directly responsible for the actions we undertake. On the other side of the coin however we have a universe which, as far as we can tell, is almost wholly deterministic. This means that everything, from the motion of the stars to my motivation for writing this very blog post, arise from a strict set of rules that don’t change. The notion of the universe being deterministic then is devastating to the idea of free will, unless you rationalize it out in some way.

For now that’s the part I’m still struggling with, figuring out whether I rationalize it away or if I take the hard determinism route and just straight up say free will doesn’t exist. Eventually I’ll find something that convinces me or some key argument will wear away at me until I come to a conclusion. Strangely though it probably won’t be a conscious “yes this is my opinion now” moments, more one day I’ll no longer feel the cognitive dissonance that I usually feel when the subject comes up and then I’ll know that I’ve changed one of my subconscious beliefs. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon though as I’ve been wrestling with this idea for the better part of a year now.

I find this interesting as even though I try my darnedest to be a fully rational actor I still can’t escape the rule of beliefs that I hold for no reason in particular. The key then is understanding when you have a belief like that and then working to either fully accept it (if you agree with it that is) or working to convince yourself otherwise. For me the effort of maintaining the right belief consciously eventually won out but it’s definitely one of the more mentally exhausting processes I’ve undertaken. Once I was aware of this process though it became a lot easier, well at least for all the smaller issues anyway…

Howard, Plimer and The Folly of Climate Change Skepticism.

I’ll admit that for quite a long time I too was skeptical about the whole climate change movement. I attribute this to being ignorant of most of the science around the matter basing my opinion off “facts” I had heard over the course of my lifetime without bothering to look them up. The rise of my inner skeptic changed that however, taking an axe to many of my beliefs and forcing me to verify everything before I dared say that it was true. Today there is zero doubt in my mind that climate change is happening, it is affecting us in serious ways and, most importantly, we are to blame for it.

I will forgive anyone who dismisses me out of hand as just another blogger ranting about something, that’s fair enough. Realistically you have no reason to believe me at all, what with my qualifications placing me as far away from being an authority on this matter as most of the public. However I will make the point that my view closely echoes that of the greater scientific community which includes many people far more qualified than myself (and indeed most others who comment on this subject) in matters of climate change. It’s a common misconception that the science is still out on whether or not we’re the cause of the recent changes in our climate, but the truth is anything but that. 

Taking the figures presented here into consideration you can see why there’s a lot of confusion on this matter. Among the general public the acceptance of anthropogenic climate change is around 50~60%, a majority but enough to cause confusion amongst the uninformed. When you select for scientists (which includes people who’s area of expertise is not climatology) that number jumps up to around 70~80%. As we further select for climatologists we see that number soar to 90% with those who are actively publishing on the subject bringing the number to a staggering 97%. If 97% of all doctors told you that asbestos caused cancer you’d sure as hell believe them, so it still boggles me as to why people think otherwise.

It’s not helped when public figures jump on the climate change skepticism bandwagon either. Today as I was driving into work I caught whiff of a story that former prime minister of Australia, John Howard, was supporting a book that promotes kids questioning climate change:

Professor Plimer launched the book, a follow up to his book Heaven and Earth, at the Sydney Mining Club.

The new work includes 101 questions which it says students can use to challenge their teachers on climate science.

Mr Howard helped launch the book and last night said the “progressive left” had a “grip on the commanding heights of education instruction in this country”.

The book, How to get Expelled From School, comes to us courtesy of Ian Plimer. He’s a well published geologist and a director of 4 mining companies. He’s gone on the offensive against creationism in the past so you’d think that I’d be one of his supporters. Unfortunately, whilst Plimer does agree that climate change is occurring, he does not believe that humans are to blame for it. His stance is that the current scientific community ignores the geological evidence that says the current period of warming is a natural occurrence and that natural sources of carbon dioxide contribute far more than humans ever could.

These stances are, to say the least, unscientific.

One of Plimer’s main arguments was that volcanoes, including undersea ones which have been “drastically underrepresented” in current studies, contribute far more carbon dioxide than humans ever do. The reality is quite the opposite with human contributions to global carbon dioxide being on the order of 130 times greater than that of all volcanoes, including those ones under the sea. This has been confirmed several times over by independent bodies so the idea that humans are somehow producing less carbon than natural sources has no basis in reality and is little more than conjecture on the part of Plimer.

Indeed Plimer’s previous publication on the matter of climate change,  Heaven and Earth — Global Warming: The Missing Science, was met with heavy criticism from the scientific community. Like many climate change skeptics Plimer fell prey to the idea that the climate change movement is somehow a conspiracy, usually of the form of transferring wealth away from the rich west in order to prop up the third world. To say he has a vested interest in spreading such ideas is putting it lightly, as a director of 4 mining companies sowing seeds of disinformation about his industry’s impact on the world ensures his businesses can continue as they always have. I could go on, but there’s already a substantial amount of information about the error of Plimer’s ways out there, enough for anyone to conclude that he’s not to be trusted on this subject.

In the end it comes down to who you trust more, a lone geologist with a vested interest in denying humans are responsible for climate change or the greater scientific community? Just because someone has a rational approach to some subjects does necessarily mean they’ll apply that same rationality to others, especially when there’s money on the line. Howard’s support of Plimer’s views is disappointing but it shows that there’s little wiggle room for dissent when you’re stuck on the right. It’s a shame really as even Tony Abbott has finally come around and I would’ve thought he’d be the tough nut to crack. 

Facts Abound, Fear Remains.

Once something is ingrained in the public’s mind it becomes increasingly difficult to convince them of the opposite idea. Initial thoughts turn into innate biases and anecdotal evidence becomes undeniable fact. I can’t really put the whole blame on the public themselves since we don’t all spend the hours required to fact check everything so some of the blame rests with the media and their reporting of such things. One of these such things is the link between mobile phones and cancer which, despite a fair body of evidence to the contrary, still manages to rear its ugly head at the dinner table. Even with evidence like this people will still choose to believe the anecdotes over fact:

A very large, 30-year study of just about everyone in Scandinavia shows no link between mobile phone use and brain tumours, researchers reported on Thursday.

Even though mobile telephone use soared in the 1990s and afterward, brain tumours did not become any more common during this time, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Some activist groups and a few researchers have raised concerns about a link between mobile phones and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumours, although years of research have failed to establish a connection.

What interests me the most about this is that although people will still spout things like “cell phones cause cancer” they will still go ahead and use them day after day. I think the main reason behind this is the fact that although there might be a chance that it does increase your risk of cancer (most of the studies still conclude that the 20~30 year usage range needs further studies) it is so low that it doesn’t really affect them. The same can be said for smoking and unhealthy eating since for the most part the damage is so low and slow that you don’t notice it building up on you. This was very true with cigarettes 50 years ago when doctors would recommend them to their patients, not knowing the long term health problems the addictions would incur. The mental gymnastics people employ for their self destructive habits is quite amazing sometimes.

The real issue here is one of education since the method of communication (mass media et al) with the public at large is not particularly suited towards this kind of critical thinking. This has become quite apparently recently with the whole Emissions Trading Scheme legislation which, thanks to an almost soap opera-esque leadership spill in the Liberal party, has pushed Tony Abbott and his bizarre ideals on climate change. Right now it appears he’s attempting to make it look like the Rudd government is trying to tax us all for no appreciable benefit, when he can do the same for basically free. Trying to find some solid information on his policy leads me to mostly dead ends but the few articles I could find on it would see Abbott attempt massive carbon sequestering, something which does not solve the underlying problem. Let’s also not forget that Abbott has also promoted a climate change denier in the form of Nick Minchin (to call him a skeptic is completely misleading), a man who 14 years ago was a second hand smoke “skeptic”. He’s right up there with the other loonies who believe that this whole carbon thing is an attempt to deindustrialize the western world (and bring in communism, that’s right climate change is a COMMUNIST CONSPIRACY!!). You can see why I’m worried about these people pushing their views on the wider public of Australia, they’re disregarding all evidence in favour of pushing party lines.

I’m just glad that they’ll go down in flames come the next election .

Whilst there are many great educational and skeptical resources available out there most of them aren’t really targetted at the everyman. Skeptics et al have a terrible habit of preaching to the choir

and their rhetoric leaves much to be desired. When your target audience thinks that Ask Bossy is good lunchtime reading you’ve got to change your game plan to match, and that’s a process that many of us (myself included) find quite hard to do. The day that skepticism becomes sexy and cool is the day that I stop writing on the subject, since everyone will be doing my work for me.

Or maybe the ABC just needs to move Media Watch to primetime.

Grab for the Green.

No matter which industry you look at these days everyone is trying to go green. The idea in itself is riddled with many challenges as traditional business processes must be reworked in order to reduce the impact on the environment. Whilst the benefits to the company implementing the green technologies are usually intangible I can’t help but wonder about the other side of the coin: those who are selling their products as green solutions.

The climate of the world is changing, we know that for a fact and more evidence is piling up to show that we’re responsible for what’s happening. Whilst the governments of the world fight it out over strategic plans to combat the impact that humans have on the climate many business, in an effort to generate good will, have begun implementing green programs in order to reduce their environmental foot print. This doesn’t stop the green initiatives from costing money however, and the global financial crisis has seen funding dry up for these programs and many corporations looking to save a few dollars will look to their green projects to cut.

This hasn’t stopped all the big names in the IT sector from pushing green on their customers. Last year I was involved with HP and VMware for upgrading our current environment. I don’t think I could go 10 minutes with either of them without them mentioning how part of their technology reduced greenhouse emissions in some way. Granted they were both pushing technologies that can actually reduce the amount of power used and therefore carbon emissions but the solution didn’t come cheap. Whilst this wasn’t an issue for us at the time (since we were replacing the hardware anyway) it made me think about places that were pursuing such ideas solely as a green initiative. The projected benefits of the new project was something in the order of 600 tonnes of CO2 saved each year. Translating that into real world dollars that’s approximately $7000 (using NZ carbon tax prices) saved, something which is really a drop in the bucket when the new system cost in excess of $250,000. The question then is, how much goodwill is generated by implementing such a project? I’d hazard a guess it’s not that much.

I guess I shouldn’t of been surprised as with any hot topic like climate change there are going to be people who want to cash in on everyone’s desire to be seen as doing the right thing. Emission Trading schemes are a brilliant example of this, especially in places in the USA where the regulation around emissions trading are hopelessly lax. It gets even worse when people market themselves as green or carbon neutral, when really they’re far from it. I guess I have a bit of a bugbear when it comes to something which is marketed as carbon neutral when in fact, the act of producing emissions in one place and offsetting them in another are two completely separate events. Is something really was carbon neutral it wouldn’t emit anything in the first place.

I support the move to more sustainable technologies, just not the ones marketed under the green banner. Companies that have been practising sustainable business have no need to rethink their current strategies. A great example of this is Apple. They have a habit of not letting out a lot of information about their business practices and this unfortunately made them a prime target for Greenpeace. However,  shortly after they began their attack Apple responded, shooting them down in flames and showing that they had long term plans for sustainable business.

From a personal perspective I do as much as I can without impacting on my lifestyle. Things like turning off lights when I don’t need them and car pooling. If everyone made these easy changes I’m sure we’d see a bigger impact than many of the proposed measures, but that’s just a bit of hand waiving math on my part 🙂