Thursday, April 26, 2007

A whole truckload of environmental blogs

I recently came across some very good (largely American) blogs with a generally environmental bent, which I thought it worthwhile sharing (especially as they are more uptodate, more athoritative and better written than mine - hell, they even have pictures...)
These include:

  • CleanTech Blog, which looks at technological developments from an environmental perspective;
  • Joel Mackower's Blog, which looks at business and marketing developments, again with an environmental spin;
  • The Energy Blog, for the latest in green and sustainable energy;
  • Clean Break, on clean technologies, green policies and trends in sustainable development in Canada;
  • Eco Geek, more clean tech news.
  • MetaEfficient, a guide to very efficient things.
The CleanTech Blog, also has links to hundreds of other similar blogs. It makes you realize just how many such blogs there are out there (and why mine gets so few hits and no comments!)
Among several articles which caught my eye (and which I now no longer feel the need to report on in detail) were:

Who'd be an environmentalist?

I sometimes think it must be so disheartening to be an environmentalist.
I mean a professional environmentalist - one in the business, so to speak - not just a concerned individual who wants to do the right thing. I would put myself in the latter class, and that can be disheartening and frustrating enough.
But imagine what it must be like to be fighting an uphill battle ALL the time. Fighting governments, corpocracy, indifference and apathy. Fighting other environmentalists and splinter groups, even. That has to get pretty depressing, surely.
Imagine knowing what needs to be done and then watching as things slide ineluctably in the oppposite direction. Imagine knowing that progress is unlikely in your lifetime, if ever, but equally knowing that you have to continue the good fight, if only for the good of your own conscience.
Add to that the nagging doubts at the back of their minds. Even the most committed greeny must have some doubts about at least some parts of what they espouse. Most environmental issues are not clear-cut - even in this blog I have pointed out several instances of these kinds of dichotomies (e.g. switch to CFLs to save energy, but what about disposal of the mercury they contain; support Kyoto because it's the best we currently have, even though it is fatally flawed and next to useless; close down coal-powered power stations, and run the risk of increasing our dependency on nuclear energy; promote ethanol to save on oil use, but what about the energy and CO2 emissions associated with fertilizing, growing, harvesting and processing the ethanol; etc, etc) - and most involve some sort of trade-off and compromise in the real world. This must all lead to added stress and weariness in their lives.
So, give them a break! The next time you see someone campaigning on your high street, or begging for door-to-door donations, give them a boost - a little bit extra, a kind word. I know from my active campaigning days, many moons ago, it can make a big difference.

Monday, April 23, 2007

TGIM (Thank God It's Monday)

Interesting statistics in today's Globe (actually in the new Life section - ooooh!) on work and home life.
The stats come from Statistics Canada, a 2006 Ipsos Reid poll and a 2007 Strategic Council poll.
The average work day is now apparently 8.9 hours, up from 8.4 hours in 1986 (and that's the average, mind you, although my wife probably single-handedly accounts for most of the increase). Whatever happened to the fabled 7-hour day?
In an average year, Canadian workers spend 2,323 hours at work, 2,167 hours sleeping or "attending to personal care", 884 hours with their families (almost an hour a day less than in 1986), 273 hours commuting, and 48 hours on "social activities" (which presumably means actually enjoying themselves).
A quarter of Canadian workers don't take all their vacation days, and and a tenth go without their vacations completely. 31% say they look forwards to the start of each working week. One in five workers (including one in four women) say that work life is less demanding than home life. 27% say they have used work as an excuse to avoid family functions.
I'm sure it's nice that people can be happy in their work, but I think it's more likely a reflection of the quality of their home time, or maybe a vicious circle whereby people are pushed so hard at work that they no longer have the time or energy to enjoy their home time. It seems that many people feel more appreciated at work, and even feel that they have more free time at work than at home, which is all a bit scary to me.
I would assume that equivalent American statistics would be even more depressing than these Canadian ones (as in most things, Canadian values are usually mid-way between the US and Europe).
All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not average.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Can we afford Kyoto? Can we afford not to?

Our wonderful Conservative federal government commissioned a study to show that Canada will suffer a severe recession if we even make some attempt to honour our Kyoto Protocol obligations. Guess what they got? You guessed it: a study showing that Canada will suffer a severe recession if we even make some attempt to honour our Kyoto Protocol obligations.
This is a worse-case scenario, circumscribed and, arguably, rigged document. Or you could call it scare-mongering, or defeatist, or self-serving, or any number of other pithy epithets.
In the immortal words of Our Glorious Leader: “This party has no intention of doing anything that will destroy Canadian jobs or damage the health of the economy”. Did I detect an awkward pause after “This party has no intention of doing anything...”?
So, let’s commission another study, one which would include the potential economic benefits as well as the potential costs, one which compares the costs of doing something with the costs of doing nothing, one with a more balanced remit.
What? That’s already been done? IPCC? Stern Report? Pembina Institute? George Monbiot?
So, maybe we don’t need to prevaricate any more after all.
And even if we were to ignore all those studies, and we only looked at the bad news ones, well let’s honour Kyoto anyway, because it’s the right thing to do, whether it costs us money or not, and because an obsession with putting the health of the economy above the health of the planet is partly what’s to blame for our being in this position in the first place.
And, don’t forget, Kyoto is just a tentative first step on a long and costly process of reparation, and the longer we put it off the harder (and more costly) it will be.
Here’s ends today’s lesson.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seal hunt debate time again

It's that time of year again when opponents and supporters alike weigh in on the annual seal cull issue here in Canada. So, far be it from me to buck the trend.
This year it is being brought into focus by unusual weather conditions.
First, warm conditions in the Gulf of St Lawrence resulted in very poor ice conditions during the seal birth season, and there were predictions that the vast majority (apparently upto 90%, according even to government sources) of this year's seal pups may have perished, even without the help of an army of Newfies with clubs, guns and hooks. The quota of allowed kills was reduced this year to 270,000 from last year's 325,000, supposedly to accommodate this year's expected lower survival rate.
Then, in the last few days, the weather turned the other way, and the seal hunters' boats are being trapped, food is running low and the boats in danger of being crushed by the encroaching ice. This is presumably not great news for the seals either, although I haven't read this (no seals were available for comment).
My own personal opinions are probably pretty clear by now, although frankly I could do without the prima donnas of the activist movement, the Paul McCartneys and Brigitte Bardots, who trade on the emotional appeal of those cute little big-eyed pups, and appear to oppose the hunt mainly on sentimental grounds.
In the vanguard of the anti-hunt movement is probably the venerable International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) who have been on the job since the sixties, and were instrumental in bring abut the ban on white-coat seal products, among others successes. Their images from the front (men with steel hooks standing over defenceless baby seals, trails of blood in the snow, etc) are well known worldwide. Their Q&A sheet seems a pretty definitve document to me.
Pro-hunt information is harder to find, and mainly seems to be generated by governments and various sealers' associations. The best I can come up with is maybe the Fisheries and Oceans Canada' Myths and Realities sheet (although see the Humane Society of the United States rebuttal of the same).
In my mind, it is reasonably clear to me that the commercial seal hunt (as opposed to Inuit subsistence hunting) is not as humane as the government makes out, not an essential element of Newfoundland's GDP or the incomes of individual fisherman, not sustainable in the current numbers (even government figures suggest that), not necessary to safeguard fish stocks (they are gone, man - get used to it!), and not even economically viable (given that it is actually subsidized by at least two levels of government).
Plus they're cute little critters. Time to call it a day, guys.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just (yet) another college shooting

I feel I should write something about the latest US college shooting at Virginia Tech yesterday. 33 are dead (including the perpetrator) and at least 12 wounded, making it the deadliest ever, even by America's horrific standards.
However, I really can't think of anything apposite to write. Commiserations to the relatives? Ban all guns? How is America failing its disaffected youth? None of it really seems appropriate right now.
Maybe just a little resumé of recent occurrences to try and get some perspective.
According to the Globe's Editorial, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (bizarre that this should be the organization keeping track of all this stuff) apparently documented 220 school-based shootings involving 253 deaths in the 6 short years between 1994 and 1999 (almost one a week). In overall terms, however, these events become lost in the stat that 15 young people (between 10 and 24 in age) a day are killed in the US as a whole. CDC also reports that over 5% of US high school students regularly use firearms.
Probably the best known individual incident (until this one) was Columbine in 1999, with a total tally of 15 deaths including the 2 perpetrators, but a handy, if rather gruesome, Globe and Mail interactive graphic shows that things have shown little or no improvement since then.
Although the occurences are less frequent, Canada is by no means exempt, culminating in Marc Lépine's Montreal rampage back in 1989 (resulting in 14 deaths) and, more recently, Kimveer Gill's inept attempt (mercifully occasioning just one death). Arguably, Canadian gun control laws in recent years have kept the numbers down, but it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
It may be instructive to look at some of Virginia's gun laws: anyone over the age of 12 may own and possess a rifle or shotgun, but only those 18 and older may have a handgun; permits are not required, but without one only a single handgun can be bought per month; no training is required to buy, use or carry a concealed gun provided the user has a permit; paperwork on handgun sales is kept for 12 months so the one-gun-per-month law can be enforced, but registration is not required.
No doubt, in the coming days, details will emerge, as they usually do, of the tortured soul who carried out this latest incident, and no doubt the words "ordinary", "reclusive", "loner"and "alienated" will surface, as they usually do. But it seems that the innocent days (if indeed there ever were any, except in my imagination) when alienation manifested itself in eccentric dress or, at worst, excessive alcohol intake are long gone.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Cool websites to stumble upon

I stumbled upon a cool website called just recently, which collects links to other cool sites, videos, photos, bizarre things, etc. Mainly useless but arresting examples of eye candy, but ideal to pass a dull hour or so.
Among others, I was particularly taken with the following:
Fascinating stuff!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bisphenol A, the latest threat to our way of life

Apparently, the latest trendy thing for us to agonize and argue over is Bisphenol A, a ubiquitous chemical which is found in hard plastic water bottles, baby bottles and in the resins which line tin cans and other products.
Over time, it leaches out in tiny trace amouts which would not normally be a major concern. But this stuff, unlike pretty much anything else and contrary to basic logic, is supposedly more toxic at low exposures than at high.
Environment Canada and Health Canada have flagged it as one of 200 possibly dangerous substances in common use. About 90% of recent independent studies have concluded that it is dangerous, citing results ranging from enlarged prostates to abnormal breast tissue growth to skewed development in laboratory animals. It is known to act like a synthetic estrogen (female sex hormone), and there is concern that it MAY have had a hand in the early onset of puberty, declining sperm counts, and the huge increase in breast and prostate cancer, among other ailments, all of which have grown exponentially in recent years since bispehnol A has been in common usage.
Urine testing in the US suggests that about 95% of the population have been exposed, and testing elsewhere in the world has also found it present in human blood, placentas and fetal cord blood.
GE Plastics and the American Plastics Council, on the other hand, say that "We know that human exposure to BPA is extraordinarily low, well below levels that have been shown to be safe", and that there is "only a statistical association at best" that in no way implicates the industry's product. No surprise there.
I am only just recently starting to be able to eat some of my favourite foods again since they took the trans-fats out of them. Am I now going to have to give up Heinz baked beans and Presidents Choice juices?

Six novels in one (and good ones too)

I am currently thoroughly enjoying British author David Mitchell's novel "Cloud Atlas", which was one of the finalists for the 2004 Man Booker Prize (see how far behind I am on my reading list!)
It is really six books in one as it follows six separate but subtly-linked stories covering several centuries. In fact, the novel could be said to have a pyramidal shape as the stories in the first (chronological) half of the book are unfinished, and then time flows backwards as the stories are completed in the (anti-chronological) second half. The links between the stories flow backwards as well as forwards, and sometimes skip steps completely.
It is something of a tour de force of stylistic writing as well, as the stories are written in styles appropriate to their times and places. We move from the proper diction of a nineteenth century colonialist in the Antipodes (written in a maritime journal style); to a series of personal letters by a young composer in 1930's Belgium; to a racy spy/adventure story from 1970's California; to a witty and whimsical comic novella/screenplay set in modern day England; to a technocratic sci-fi interview set in a future, post-apocalyptic, Korea; and, finally, to the Hawaii of a more distant future where most of mankind has reverted back to basics and technology is just a half-understood memory.
And back again.
Just to give some idea of the different styles, here are a few short quotes from different sections:
  • "If there be any eyrie so desolate, or isle so remote, that one may there resort unchallenged by an Englishman, 'tis not down on any map I ever saw."
  • "Eva still a prissy miss, as hateful as my sisters, but with an intelligence to match her enmity. Apart from her precious Nefertiti, her hobbies are pouting and looking martyred."
  • "The editor-in-chief of Spyglass magazine declares the Monday AM features meeting open by stabbing a stubby digit at Roland Jakes, a grizzled, prunelike man in an aloha shirt, flared Wranglers and dying sandals."
  • "A trio of teenettes, dressed like Prostitute Barbie, approached, drift-netting the width of the pavement. I stepped into the road to avoid collision...Ruddy she-apes."
  • "Unanimity arrived in force to blip every diner's Soul and to nikon eyewitness' accounts as the dome was evacuated. We cleaned the dinery and imbibed Soap without Vespers. The following yellow-up, my sisters' memories of Yoona-939's killing remained largely intact."
  • "Adam, my bro, an' Pa 'n' me was trekkin' back from Honakaa Market on miry roads with a busted cart axle in draggly clothesies...Sloosha's was friendsome ground tho' marshy, no un lived in the Waipio Valley 'cept for a mil'yun birds, that's why we din't camo our tent or pull cart or nuthin'."
I think it is pretty clear, even from these short clips, which quote is from which part of the story. Quite an achievement. I'm already looking forward to his previous book "Number9dream"which is next on my to-read shelf.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Easter, Passover, Gobbledygook

Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to predict when Easter falls each year?
Well, it turns out that Easter Sunday is always the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon (PFM) date for the year. Since 325 AD, the the Paschal Full Moon has always been the first Ecclesiastical Full Moon (EFM) date after March 20 (which was the spring equinox date in 325 AD). There were some complications arising when most of the western world switched from the old Julian calendar to the current Gregorian calendar (with it's leap years and those missing 10 days), but generally speaking that still narrows down Easter to somewhere between March 21 and April 25th. Just to be difficult, Orthodox Churches insist on using the Julian calendar and their Easter is usually a week or two later.
Simple, eh? Well, if you want more details, and trust me there is much more to be had, go to the Astronomical Society of South Australia's website. Fascinating stuff.
So, Easter is all about bunnies, and eggs and cute little chicks, as we know.
The Jewish Passover holiday, on the other hand, begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan (the first month of the ecclesiastical year, and the seventh month - eighth, in a leap year - of the civil year, on the Hebrew calendar). It lasts for 7 days, or 8 days (depending on where you live).
Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt (or possibly the passing over the houses of the Isrealites by the Angel of Death who was on a mission to kill all the first born males at the time). It is celebrated by obsessively cleaning out, and preferably burning, any signs of leavened (or risen) bread in the house, and replacing them with matzos. I may be missing some of the details, here, but I think that is nub of it.
Explained that way, it all makes so much sense, and renews my faith in religion.
If I put my mind to it, I could probably find a Muslim festival that occurs at around the same time and has an equally plausible genesis (if you'll pardon the pun).

Presidential slush funds

In just the first 3 months of this year, the six main US presidential candidates, (Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards and John McCain), have fundraised between them over $115 million, more than the quarterly GDPs of some African and Pacific countries.
This, remember, is just the early stages of the fight for the Democratic and Republican party nominations. The actual presidential elections are not until November 2008!
Enough said! I rest my case.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Some recycled facts

A few interesting (mainly American) recycling facts to digest with your morning snack:
  • The US is the #1 trash-producing country in the world at 1,609 pounds per person per year. This means that 5% of the world's people generate 40% of the world's waste.
  • About one-third of an average dump is made up of packaging material. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.
  • On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it.
  • The US population discards each year 16,000,000,000 diapers, 1,600,000,000 pens, 2,000,000,000 razor blades, 220,000,000 car tires, and enough aluminum to rebuild the US commercial air fleet four times over.
  • The US uses over 80,000,000,000 aluminum soda cans every year.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours.
  • 95% less energy is used to make new aluminum cans out of old ones. Throwing away a single aluminum can is like pouring out six ounces of gasoline.
  • Used aluminum beverage cans are the most recycled item in the US, and the most efficiently recycled (a recycled aluminum can can be part of a new can within six weeks)
  • A 60-watt light bulb can be run for over a day on the amount of energy saved by recycling 1 pound of steel.
  • In one year in the US, the recycling of steel saves enough energy to heat and light 18,000,000 homes.
  • A single run of the Sunday New York Times uses 75,000 trees.
  • If all American newspaper was recycled, we could save about 250,000,000 trees each year.
  • Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the US.
  • The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.
  • Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
  • American throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year, and 2,5000,000 plastic beverage bottles every HOUR!
  • A 33% energy reduction is achieved when new products are made from recycled plastics.
  • The energy saved by recycling one plastic bottle can power a computer for 25 minutes.
  • The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution, 50% less water pollution and 30% less energy than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.
  • A modern glass bottle would take 4,000 years or more to decompose - even longer if it's in a landfill. Plastic beverage bottles can take 450 years, aluminum cans 80-200 years, and plastic bags 10-20 years.
These stats are mainly from the Recycling Revolution website (which in turn uses various sources including the National Recycling Coalition, the Environmental Protection Agency, and, the Real Simple website and the City of Toronto website, and I bring them to you apropos of absolutely nothing.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Correspondence with a climate change sceptic

It occurs to me that I should probably immortalize as a blog at least some snippets of my recent detailed correspondence with a good friend and global warming sceptic.
My friend, whom I shall refer to hereafter as "The Sceptic", is in the electricity industry, exceedingly well-informed on the issues (having prepared reports for Ontario Power Generation among others), articulate and thoughtful and has only come to his conclusions after a lot of research and heart-searching. His arguments are probably as good as any others I have read on the subject.
I took the position of committed climate change activist - even though my own research has left me less convinced than I used to be on some of the issues, I am certainly much closer to that camp than to the other.
I thought that the whole conversation, covering several emails back in January and February 2007, might illuminate some of the issues (and some of the irretrievably grey areas involved). I'm sure he wouldn't mind my repeating it here, and his name is withheld anyway, just in case.
It runs to some length, so please bear with me.

The Sceptic:
Off the top of my head, here is a summary of my current opinions on global warming.
1. In the last 100+ years the average global surface temperatures have increased. We do not know by how much because compiling all the varied and assorted data for year over year comparisons is pretty iffy. I generally consider 0.6°C ± 0.3°C to be a reasonable guess. So anywhere from 0.3°C to 0.9°C. I think the IPCC says 0.6° to 0.8°C depending which part of their Third Assessment Report you read.
Average global temperatures increased between ~1910 and ~1935. Average global temperatures decreased between ~1950 and ~1975. Average global temperatures increased between ~1975 and~1998. Since 1998 there is no trend in the annual data. The averaged annual data are all singing and all dancing. The periods where the average global temperatures increased, ~1910 to ~1935 and ~1975 to ~1998, were similar. People who claim temperatures have decreased since 1998 are idiots (remember, these are my opinions).
2. In the last 60 years (or so) the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increased dramatically. This is all due to emissions from human fossil fuel consumption. Some people don't believe this, they are idiots (remember, these are my opinions). Prior to ~1945, CO2 concentrations were increasing but at a very slow rate. They had been increasing since before 1750. CO2 concentrations measured all over the world are fairly consistent (except for the really cool seasonal variations at lower latitudes).
3. CO2 is not a pollutant.
4. The measured temperature increase during the 20th century was caused by:
- greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, NO2, SF6, etc)
- changes in solar influences (luminosity, magnetic flux, surface activity)
- changes in land use patterns (urban heat island, farming practices, enhanced irrigation)
- other unknown causes (cosmic dust, UFOs).
The contribution of any or all of these are not known with any degree of certainty. Curiously, global warming in the last twenty or so years has been observed on Earth, Mars, Triton and Pluto which suggests that the global warming measured on Earth is more than just greenhouse gas emissions on Earth.
5. The poorly named "greenhouse effect" works when the Earth's surface absorbs solar energy and radiates IR energy back into space. Greenhouse gases absorb IR in the troposphere (generally) resulting in an increase in energy in the troposphere. This energy is either re-radiated or conducted to the other gases in the atmosphere. The conducted energy eventually results in an increased temperature in the troposphere. Because the troposphere becomes warmer the temperature differential between the surface and the troposphere decreases resulting in reduced heat transfer from the surface and therefore higher surface temperatures.
The largest contributor to the greenhouse effect is the water vapour that is in the atmosphere. If there were no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere the average global temperature would be something like -18°C, about 33°C colder than the current global average of about 15°C.
6. The enhanced greenhouse effect is alleged to be the result of human CO2 (etc.) emissions. If the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere doubled, global temperatures would increase about 1.0°C ± 0.4°C. This incremental warming should be more noticeable where there is less water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour warming would mask any impacts of additional CO2. This is more likely in very cold climates were the air is very dry, specifically in the Arctic and Antarctic. This is called Polar Enhancement.
7. It is guessed that the temperature increases resulting from extra CO2 (etc) will result in positive feedbacks (increased water vapour mostly) that will markedly increase this CO2 effect up to anywhere between 1.5°C and any number you would like to insert.
8. In the far past, (millions of years ago but long after the dinosaurs), atmospheric CO2 concentrations were much higher than they are today.
9. In the more recent past, (hundreds to thousands of years ago), average global temperatures were higher than they are today. The Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Warm Period and the Holocene Climate Optimum are thought to have been warmer than today (the last ten years). This has been contested but not very well.
10. "Climate Change" is a silly name because there is no such thing as "Climate Unchange" or "Climate Not Change" or "Climate The Same All TheTime". Temperatures are going up and down all the time trending either way over long periods of time, all the time. Personally I like that the average global temperature is increasing because the alternative terrifies me. Based upon the geological record, we are due for an ice age. By they way, we have been recovering from the last one for the last 10,000 years or so. Did you know there were Greenland-style glaciers in Quebec as little as 7,000 years ago?
11. No one can predict the future. General Circulation Models (GCMs) are interesting tools for testing our understanding of the mechansims that drive our climate. They cannot be used to predict the future. They can be used to suggest possible outcomes but there is absolutely no confidence in the results.
12. There you have it, global increases in CO2 and global increases in temperature, except for the last part. Sorry, what was that in number twelve?
13. Oh yes. Please note that in number one I was particularly careful in referring to "average global surface temperatures". If you go to either the CRU or GISS websites where global temperature trends are independently calculated and displayed, you can see that average global temperatures have increased as described in number 1. You can also see the average Northern Hemisphere (NH) temperatures have increased even more than the global average which means, if you are up on your math, that the average Southern Hemisphere (SH) temperatures have not. Of course, there is a great deal more ocean in the SH so that must be acting like a heat sink to temper any surface temperature changes, right?
14. Yes, except that global warming resulting from greenhouse gases starts in the atmosphere as described in number five. Tropospheric temperatures can be measured using either weather balloons (radio sondes) or Microwave Sounding Units (MSUs) in orbit around the Earth. The MSUs have been recording tropospheric temperatures since 1979. The results show little or no trend in the temperature data, i.e. the temperature is neither going up nor going down. And the weather balloon data concurs with this finding. So if the troposphere is not warming the surface in the SH then perhaps the surface is warming the troposphere in the NH? So, if the troposphere is not warming the surface in the SH, then what is?
15. I don't know, but see number four for a list of possibilities.
Well, at least the surface is warming in the SH.
16. Yes, in most places the measured surface temperature is increasing. However, Antarctica is actually getting colder (except for the relatively small Antarctic Peninsula). The amount of glacial ice and sea ice is also increasing in and around Antarctica.
Well, at least the Arctic is warming.
17. Yes, the Arctic has warmed. In fact if you take the data from the ten most northern long term weather stations available in the GISS database, you can see that temperatures have increased dramatically in the high Arctic, almost 1.6°C since ~1970. The highest average temperture was in 2005 and1943 (it's a tie). The second highest temperature was in 2006 and 1944 (its another tie). The warmest ten year period was 1936 to 1945. Apparently the sea ice cover was somewhat reduced then too, just check out the route the Bismark took to avoid British patrols around Iceland.
18. I believe that no one knows enough about how the climate works to risk spending large portions of our GDPs on something that may or may not be a problem. I believe that keeping economies strong and growing the poorer economies will make us more able to adapt to any problems that may come up in the future. Global population is projected to peak around 2070. I think if we can get through that we will be in a much better position to deal with climate.

Obviously you have put a great deal of thought into it (as I expected, in your efficient way), as have I, and we seem to have come to opposite conclusions. Arguably this is one of the great polarizing debates of our times, and it is funny to see the way the press and the politicians have swung on it recently (not that I intended to put you anywhere in the same sentence as HRH Harper, who will bend whichever way the political wind blows him and his advisors, and knows and cares very little on the issue(s)).
I could go through your (well-argued, well-written) points one by one - most of the arguments I have come across before, and several I consider spurious and/or misleading (e.g. the cooling between the 50's and 70's, warming on Mars, urban heat island effect, solar irradiance, water vapour, Antarctic sea ice and ice sheet increases, etc, etc) - but I don't think that would be particularly useful. You must have come across the counter-arguments yourself in your research.
Clearly there is a lot of ground for potential interpretation and bias - climatology is not a hard science, and no-one claims it to be ("lies, damn lies and statistics" - who WAS that? Mark Twain?). But even if I were to grant some of your points, it seems to me that the overwhelming majority of the many separate arguments on the issue (as well as the opinions of a large majority of climatologists) point in the same direction. It will be interesting to see what's in the new IPCC report too (the last one is 6 years out of date now).
Bear in mind also that, due to inertia, ocean sinks, etc, we are so far only witnessing the tip of the iceberg (if you'll pardon the pun), and the true effects of what we have done to date won't become apparent for several years, whereas if we are to do something about it, we need to act now.
But I think the salient point is your No 18. I 'm only guessing, but my feeling is that this is, at heart, what has driven you to search out the stats and arguments to support what is essentially a philosophical and political stance. And I suppose that, to a large extent, it has been the same in my case.
For me, if there is even half a possibility that we are making the mess, then my conscience dictates that we address it. All scientific arguments aside, logic, common sense and just plain gut feeling speak to me through the figures. As an engineer/scientist/mathematician that may not be enough for you, but I didn't install solar panels on our roof a year or two ago because I think they will pay for themselves.
You've probably seen the Stern Review on the possible consequences of non-action. I'm afraid I don't have any faith in your "keeping economies strong and growing the poorer economies" as a solution to environmental problems. And I wouldn't put too much faith in global populations peaking in 2070 either (another hotly-contested assertion, and a whole other discussion). But, even were it to be true, imagine having to deal with the problems of 50% more population on top of all today's challenges!

The Sceptic:
I don't think that dismissing my points as "spurious and/or misleading" is very sporting. Truthfully I would not have brought these points up if I had in fact discovered reasonable counter-arguments in my research. It seems to me that a majority of climatologists who are climate modellers agree with your opinion.
So I would truly appreciate it if you could be so kind as to:
1. Summarize what you believe,
2. List some of the compelling evidence that made you believe what you do, and
3. Tell me what is spurious and/or misleading about the points in my original e-mail.

I am not a climate change evangelist, and my purpose is not to convert people who disagree with me, just to understand them. (Incidentally, I don't have a problem with the label "climate change" in all this - obviously climate changes over time, but it is a just a convenient populist label which I think everyone understands, and we can't really go around saying things like "anthropogenic global warming" or whatever all the time.)
So, what do I believe?
I've never really thought about it in so many words, to tell you the truth, but I suppose what I believe is that:
- the earth in general has warmed significantly over the last century, and the extent and the speed of this change, particularly over the last 30 years or so, makes it very unlikely to be from natural causes or a result of natural variations in climate.
- many other factors, from retreating glaciers and polar ice, sea level rises, extreme weather, etc, in addition to the temperature evidence, support the model.
- increases in man-made greenhouse gas emissions over this period seem likely to be responsible for a good proportion of this effect.
- due to inertia and the long term nature of the effects, the temperature increases will continue and likely accelerate in future years, even if we were to stop all greenhouse gas emissions now.
- there may be some unexplained elements in all this and some anomalies, but the bulk of the evidence points in that direction.
- the bulk of so-called experts and climatologists, who know more than I do about it, seem convinced that global warming is happening and that it represents a major potential problem.
- this heating will lead to serious economic and social impacts worldwide (extreme weather, flooding, rising sea levels, species loss, crop yield declines, increased diseases, etc).
- if it is likely that we are causing long-term damage to the biosphere, then we have a moral duty to mitigate and if possible repair that damage, rather than prevaricating and allowing it to get worse, or hoping that it can be fixed some time in the future.
Maybe not as scientific or rigorous as your analysis, but it seems to me that arguing over 0.6°C vs 0.8°C or 40 years vs 60 years is fiddling while Rome burns, and time seems to be of the essence. I also think that the health of the earth (to which global warming is just one threat out of many, but potentially a big one) is more important than the health of our GDPs, although not all that needs to be done necessarily impacts on our GDPs in a negative way - as much as anything we need to change a lot of our expectations, habits and rules. I think I will hate it too, but I think it needs to be done, and sooner rather than later.
The whole thing is a big grey area, due to the nature of weather, climatology, politics, statistics and various other things, and it is really a matter of how close to black or white one sees the colour. I see it as very close to black; you see it as distinctly anaemic.
I make no pretentions to definitively countering all your points, just to point out that there are disagreements on most of them, and I tend go along with the majority view of the experts.
[RE numbered points in The Sceptic's first email]:
1. I find the CRU graph easiest to read, which suggests around 0.8°C temperature increase (IPCC is usually quoted as 0.6°C). But crucially it also shows the trend which, given the inertia in the system and the long-term effects involved, I think is very important. The new IPCC Report would probably help, but it looks like that will be a very long drawn-out affair. It looks like (from leaks) they are predicting 2.0-4.5°C over the next 100 years.
The dip in 1950-70 is apparently usually attributed to the dampening effects of particulate and aerosol pollution during those years.
3. The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines a pollutant as "A substance or condition that contaminates air, water, or soil. Pollutants can be artificial substances, such as pesticides and PCBs, or naturally occurring substances, such as oil or carbon dioxide, that occur in harmful concentrations in a given environment", but I think your remark about CO2 not being a polllutant was a bit of a throwaway one, and not an important factor in your argument.
4. The World Radiation Centre reports pretty even solar irradiance over the last 30 years or so, and sunspot activity tends to follow 11 year cycles, and GISS appear to play down the effects (see
Urban Heat Island effects are specifically adjusted for by GISS (and presumably other sources too, not sure), but if anything the more urbanised areas are showing much smaller effects than the less urbanized (see
The Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) issue confused me for a while - there seem to be several differing opinions on it - and it was a big issue at Kyoto. I tend to go with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research line that "Compared to global warming, land use is a relatively small influence. However, there are regions where it's really important". Obviously deforestation needs to be addressed too, but I am uncertain how much effect it has had (taking into account albedo effects, etc).
I don't entirely follow Real Climate's complex arguments on, but global warming on Mars, Triton and Pluto seems to be spurious or at least irrelevant. In addition, as far as I can tell, the readings are over such a short period as not to be very useful, and mainly involve localised phenomena.
5. - 7. There is of course no doubt that greenhouse gases are necessary for human life, nor that water vapour is by far the most important of them (although much shorter-lived and precipitated out of the atmosphere within a week or so - its effect in global warming is as a feedback effect not an instigating or forcing effect).
8. Disregarding scientific considerations completely on this one, just because the planet became uninhabitable/inhospitable/wildly erratic in the past due to CO2 build-up from whatever cause, does not give us carte blanche to allow it to happen again due to our own actions.
9. According to the National Climatic Data Centre: "the mid-Holocene, roughly 6,000 years ago, was generally warmer than today, but only in summer and only in the northern hemisphere. Moreover, we clearly know the cause of this natural warming, and know without doubt that this proven 'astronomical' climate forcing mechanism cannot be responsible for the warming over the last 100 years".
I haven't head about the Roman one, but NCDC also say that "The idea of a global or hemispheric 'Medieval Warm Period' that was warmer than today however, has turned out to be incorrect."
Either way, none of these historical events, whatever their causes, invalidates what is happening now and the reasoning behind the current events.
10. As I mentioned in my previous message, your objection to the label 'climate change' is moot semantics, but your comments on liking the increased temperatures are surely flippant and unworthy (along the lines of "if global warming means less snow shovelling, I'm all for it" - yes, I have actually heard that said).
Ice Ages will happen whether we are pumping out pollutants or not, of course. The phrase "due for another Ice Age" is bandied around with gay abandon, but realistically we are looking at 50,000 years or so (the current Holocene Interglacial Period is just beginning), and I would very much doubt that mankind as we know it will be around to see it. Incidentally, I have even seen a scenario where global warming precipitates the next ice age due to cold fresh water from the melting ice caps and Greenland shutting down the Gulf Stream which keeps Europe and North America warm.
11. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of waiting to see if the models pan out, but it seems to me that so far they have been remarkably on the ball. There is a good example of hindcasting on the United National Environment Programme website which shows the IPCC model's success in retrospectively predicting temperature anomalies. IPCC are always careful to use ranges and not specific outcomes, and frankly I'm surprised that you have NO confidence in them.
12. - 15. Rather a lot of if's, then's, except's and perhaps' in this section, so I sort of got lost, even after reading it a few times. But I think your point revolves around the supposed lack of recorded warming in the troposphere, which as far as I can tell was due to initial misrecording of data which was later (August 2005) corrected and now follows predicted models pretty closely. See for way more detail than you probably want on this. I'm not sure any of this would have invalidated the ground level recording anyway (it is more about corroborating models as I see it), though, and it is these we need to worry most about, as ground dwellers.
16. This (Antarctica getting colder) is usually put down to the surrounding ocean's thermal inertia and the effects of ozone depletion in the southern hemisphere, although actually the overall cooling is minimal, and over a longer time span (40 years as opposed to 20) there is in fact some overall warming (see Increases in temperature are expected to manifest more in the Northern Hemisphere with its preponderance of land. A slightly warmer and moister climate in Antarctica would be expected result in more snowfall which explains the thickening ice sheets (average temperatures in Antarctica are still between -15°C and -70°C!).
17. The Arctic warming in the 1930's-1940's was apparently likely due to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (who makes these names up?) - see .
18. I think I already gave you my version if this manifesto in my last email.
As I have said before, I am not claiming that everything I say is right and everything you say is wrong. I'm sure we could argue ad infinitum on all this, and there are always refutations and counter-refutations to be found.
As you are well aware, much of what is claimed in newspapers and speeches is wrong, misleading, misinformed or in some cases arrant nonsense, and this happens on both sides of the divide (we seem to be entering a period where the press has lurched over to the global warming camp, after several years of erring grossly on the side of scepticism - although I notice that The Daily Telegraph hasn't changed much since I used to live in England...)
I just happen to believe, from my own investigations, that most of what the majority of climatologists now believe is closer to the truth than the opposite, and that being the case we have action to take.
However, I respect (but disagree with) your views on the subject, and the fact that at least you have arrived at them responsibly.

The Sceptic:
I appreciate that you are not a climate evangelist. I am searching for the grain of truth that will finally convince me that there is a serious problem. I believe my life would be easier if I could get some certainty into my mind about global warming.
However, once bitten, twice shy. A little over ten years ago I was tasked with preparing a procedure for monitoring and reporting CO2 emissions from our fossil fueled stations. It turned out to be one of the best documents I have ever prepared. Its about two centimetres thick. All my work. I am insanely proud of it. Before starting this project I was unaware of the global warming issue. Before starting I asked, "Why do we need this", and I was directed to our environmental people who provided me with all kinds of information about global warming. All bad news from Greenpeace, Sierra Legal Defense Fund, etc.
I was shocked to discover that we were doing such things to the planet. For about three weeks I was seriously contemplating quitting my job. I was starving for information and started looking everywhere. Slowly I started learning that some of the information I was originally provided was not quite right and some of it was completely wrong or framed to give a certain perspective. By the time I completed my report I had become skeptical that there was enough information to make a case for radical change. Since then I have been obsessed by the issue.
I have seen your points before and all the "yes buts" spring into my mind.
Global warming is supposed to be primarily caused by CO2. YES the world warmed over the last century, about 0.45°C between 1905 and 1945 and about 0.45°C between 1961 and 2001. It cooled after 1945 so the total increase is less than 0.90°C. BUT CO2 concentrations went up about 10 ppm between 1905 and 1945 and about 70 ppm between 1945 and 2000. So while the CO2 could have caused the warming between 1961 and 2001, it could not have caused similar warming between 1905 and 1945.
If the warming between 1905 and 1945 was not caused by CO2 then why couldn't the warming between 1961 and 2001 becaused by something other than CO2. The IPCC says that most of the warming in the last 50 years was caused by CO2 which means anything more than 50% of the warming was caused by CO2. The IPCC says the earlier warming was caused by something else but does not specify what that something else is.
YES glaciers are retreating BUT some are not. In fact some are growing. YES glaciers are retreating BUT when they do retreat in some cases they reveal farms, and trees that can be dated to earlier warm periods.
YES sea levels are rising BUT they have been rising for 14,000 years since the end of the last great ice age. The IPCC reports that this rate of rise has not accelerated during the 20th century. The IPCC reported that it is expected sea levels will rise about 30 mm over the next 100 years. Why does Al Gore need to scare my children by saying seas will rise 20 ft? Why is the Toronto District School Board allowing him to do so?
YES extreme weather events are being reported more frequently BUT the IPCC and the UN-WMO report that there is actually no increasing trend in extreme weather events. Apparently climate expert Al Gore thinks otherwise.
YES CO2 concentrations continue to increase and since it takes about 200 years for a molecule of CO2 to get removed from the atmosphere, it will take about 1,000 years (as today's papers say) to get the levels back down again, so if the hypothesis that increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are causing global warming is true, then indeed we are in for a long period of accelerated warming.
BUT if the hypothesis is not true then we are not, and even if it was true there is little that we can do but adapt to the changes. It is generally accepted that if the Kyoto Treaty were implemented as written, global temperatures would be about 0.04°C cooler in 100 years and this bit of warming would be delayed by only five years.
YES the bulk of so called experts seem convinced that there is a problem BUT they appear to be remarkably unable to explain it to other so called experts in areas like geology, astrophysics, chemistry and engineering (ultimately the people responsible for the alleged problem and the people who will have to build the solutions). Engineers who design and build nuclear, solar and wind generators are very keen on it though, no bias there. I can attest that the so called experts at RealClimate are expert in dancing around questions like the questions I have written here.
YES if global warming turns out to be a real problem it seems logical that some species may be at risk BUT what happened to these species the last time it got hot? Why are there still polar bears? And if polar bears are at risk, why are there more polar bears in existence now than there were 10, 20, 30, 40... years ago?
Why are there still corals? At the end of the last ice age average sea levels rose about 120 metres (400 ft). At one point it is estimated to have risen 21 metres (70 ft) in 500 years, that's 2.1 metres (85 inches) per year. Corals don't grow that fast and yet there are Pacific atolls where cores have shown corals have lived there continuously for over 200,000 years. How does that work? I don't know.
YES we have a moral obligation to do something. I believe we have an obligation to make very certain we know what we are doing before we start implementing revolutionary changes in our societies. History shows us that revolutionary change, especially politically derived revolution is never good for the people it is supposed to be helping.
Have you read the IPCC's Third Assessment Report? Not the Summary for Policymakers but the actual report. Things are not as clear as they should be. I am looking forward to the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) due out in May I think. The report being released in February is the Summary for Policymakers which has been written by bureaucrats. Apparently they are keeping back the actual report to ensure that it supports the Summary for Policymakers. It didn't last time and was the source of some embarassment for the IPCC. Sorry, that sounded dreadfully strident, even when I read it.
PS: Al Gore?! What's with that, eh?

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. How can the contents of RealClimate's website and the Friends of Science website both be right? I recognize many of your arguments from FoS, by the way, and it is compelling stuff, especially the detail in docs like de Freitas' "Are observed changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere really dangerous?" ( which you probably have seen.
What do you do when there are always Yes...Buts (and when theYes...Buts always have Yes...Buts)? I know I may appear to be a rabid global warming acolyte, but I have to admit to you that my recent investigations have shaken the strength of my old beliefs to some extent. I think it may have been when "An Inconvenient Truth" came out. It made me think: if it is all as cut and dried as that, then why are we even discussing it? I tried to answer the points in your first email as a true believer, largely as an exercise to see if I could (although still with the knowledge that you would come back with a whole slew of Yes...Buts).
So, being pseudo-science and not mathematics, it all comes down to the balance of evidence and one's interpretations, and it is all necessarily fuzzy round the edges. I still believe that anthropogenic global warming is happening, as much on gut feeling as anything else, and I still believe it is important to question many of the technologies we now take for granted, and I still believe that we have to start that process now and not after several years' more studies.
I know that Kyoto is weak and flawed and all but useless, but I think it is important symbolically as a first step on the ratchet (to mix metaphors a bit), and if we can't even manage Kyoto then what chance do we stand of achieving the much greater changes which I believe will be needed soon.
Sure, there is some debate on the science, but I am starting from the standpoint that I think it is unsustainable and immoral to continue with our current lifestyles without some major changes in renewable energy technology, pollution control, species protection, forestry and farming practices, auto efficiency and the whole dependence on oil thing. If we can use a galvanizing issue like global warming to effect some of this, then I have no hesitation in supporting it (I'm hoping for a sort of 21st century Manhattan Project effect).
If we take some serious steps to clean up our act then, if global warming theory proves to be wrong, then the environment gains anyway; if it's right, (which despite the tenor of some of this email, I still believe), then double whammy. If environmental sins have been committed in the past, there is no excuse for continuing to commit those sins into the future, and certainly not at the altar of convenience and increasing GDPs.
So there you have it, from the heart. Really, I'm just an old hippy concerned with treading lightly on the planet and all that. I know you have a problem with Greenpeace, Sierra Club, etc, but their motives are pure and on balance (in my opinion again) completely laudable. I don't think they deliberately lie or misrepresent the facts, but obviously they have a position and they make no secret of that.
No, I haven't read anything other than the IPCC Report summary, but neither have I have read anything which convinces me that they are acting in bad faith or to some political end, as you clearly believe. What political motives do you think they have? Likewise with organizations like RealClimate. I can't see what axe they have to grind, and certainly what they (IPCC, Stern Review, etc) are saying doesn't meet the needs of any political force as far as I can see - all sides would much prefer not to have to deal with it.
Finally, (yes, I'm afraid I'm not going to go through your points one by one this time!), I don't consider this a revolutionary change we are calling for, and much less a "politically derived" revolutionary change. If it is anything, it is environmentally derived, and I don't have any problem with that.

The Sceptic:
Actually I do not know the "Friends of Science" though I have heard of them. I have spent considerable time at RealClimate but I find the peanut gallery to be annoying. They also have a disturbing habit of either disallowing posts or interjecting their comments in and over other people's comments. I like reading ClimateAudit but again the peanut gallery can be annoying.
When I was in University I went to an AAAS meeting where there was supposed to be a debate on nuclear energy. Each side had been debating the other for so long that they tended to waltz around each others points never really addressing the facts and rhetorical points of the other side. I called it The Dance. The GW/CC debate reminds me of The Dance.
I believe that adaptation will be the best response for whatever happens and that pretending we know how to control the climate is dangerous and wasteful. I believe that the rest of the natural world will adapt along with us.
I am starting from the standpoint that we did not arrive where we are today by chance. Our human society has continuously evolved and adapted to improve the human condition. What constitutes an improvement to the human condition has also continuously changed. We are better off now than we have been at any time in the past. I continue to believe that we will be better in the future.
I agree with Bjorn Lomborg that we have better ways of improving the environment than spending our time and resources combating global warming, though I disagree with his complete acceptance that global warming is caused by humans.
I believe that their (Greenpeace, Sierra Club, etc) motives were at one time laudable but have become less so over time. It is argued that they have drifted from perpetuating the environment to perpetuating themselves. I truly wish the UN was what it is supposed to be. I don't believe in a conspiracy but I do believe in self-serving incompetence.
Here is the chronology. The people behind RealClimate made a name for themselves by creating some alarming results that were used by the IPCC in the TAR to support the contention that GW/CC is seriously unusual and should be addressed. The results were subsequently found to be seriously flawed and insupportable. RealClimate was subsequently set up to support their "good" name and attack their detractors. While they claim to stick to just the science, they don't.
The Stern Review was completed to support the policies of the British government. In completing this review, Stern made assumptions about future climate that went beyond anything suggested by the IPCC. It is bizarre that an economist would make assumptions outside of his area of expertise to drive his economic model. Even the economic parameters (discount rate) incorporated into his model was unusual.
And so we are left with are divergent opinions. Should you be allowed to impose the conditions of your beliefs on me without first convincing me that these conditions are right and just?

Wow, and I thought I was pretty cynical! It's pretty clear from your comments here that our differences are going to remain unreconcilable.
I would take issue with several things you mention, but most particularly with your last sentence: I am not imposing anything on you (arguably I am the imposed on one, as past indifference and current inertia continue to condemn me to living in an environmentally unsustainable world, against my will). If any imposing is going on, it is the will of the people (as a result of the democratic system we live in), whether I or you like it or like it not.

So, a rather inconclusive, but nevertheless interesting, correspondence, I hope you will agree. Arguably, The Sceptic "won" the face-off as I ran out of energy first.
Despite the deteriorating tone towards the end, we remain good friends.