February 16, 2009

Urgent need for action on climate change

Filed under: Environment — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 7:35 pm

The need to do something about climate change is now becoming extremely urgent and is without doubt man’s no. 1 challenge. The  “STERN REVIEW: The Economics of Climate Change” was published in 2006 and it seems very little has been done, apart from that the UK government has passed a law to commit the UK to a cut of greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050. This is fine in itself, but I wonder how on earth this is going to be achieved — I don’t see the practical steps towards this target being taken. To see how urgent this is, you just need to read the Stern Review again — the following are extracts from the review:

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response.

Climate change is global in its causes and consequences, and international collective action will be critical in driving an effective, efficient and equitable response on the scale required.

The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs. What we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.

No-one can predict the consequences of climate change with complete certainty; but we now know enough to understand the risks. Mitigation – taking strong action to reduce emissions – must be viewed as an investment, a cost incurred now and in the coming few decades to avoid the risks of very severe consequences in the future.

The stocks of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and a number of gases that arise from industrial processes) are rising, as a result of human activity. The current level or stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is equivalent to around 430 parts per million (ppm) CO2, compared with only 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

Even if the annual flow of emissions did not increase beyond today’s rate, the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would reach double pre-industrial levels by 2050 – that is 550ppm CO2e – and would continue growing thereafter.

But the annual flow of emissions is accelerating, as fast-growing economies invest in high carbon infrastructure and as demand for energy and transport increases around the world. The level of 550ppm CO2e could be reached as early as 2035. At this level there is at least a 77% chance – and perhaps up to a 99% chance, depending on the climate model used – of a global average temperature rise exceeding 2°C.

Under a BAU scenario [levels of emissions remain the same as today, therefore assumes no accelaration], the stock of greenhouse gases could more than treble by the end of the century, giving at least a 50% risk of exceeding 5°C global average temperature change during the following decades. This would take humans into unknown territory.

The following are possible physical outcomes, taken from the Stern Review, of temperature rises of between 1 to 2°C and 3 to 5°C.

1 to 2°C rise

Food – Falling crop yields in many developing regions, rising number of people at risk from hunger, with severe impacts in marginal Saharel region.
Water – Small mountain glaciers disappear worldwide, significant changes in water availability (e.g. more than a billion people suffer water shortages in the 2080s).
Ecosystems – Coral reefs extensively and irreversibly damaged, large fraction of ecosystems unable to maintain current form.
Weather – Rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves.
Risk of rapid climate change and major irreversible impacts – Risk of weakening of natural carbon absorption and possible increasing natural methane releases and weakening of the Atlantic THC, Onset of irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

3 to 5°C rise

Food – Entire regions experience major declines in crop yields (e.g. up to one third in Africa).
Water – Sea level rise threatens major world cities, including London, Shanghai, New
York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Ecosystems – Possible onset of collapse of part or all of Amazonian rainforest, Many species face extinction (20 – 50% in one study).
Risk of rapid climate change and major irreversible impacts – Increasing risk of abrupt, large-scale shifts in the climate system (e.g. collapse of the Atlantic THC and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet)

The most alarming outcome listed above is that for a rise of 5°C, for which Stern says there is now a 50% risk of happening, up to 50% of the earth’s species are at risk of extinction — this prospect is truly appalling and would be catastrophic for life on earth.

In a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Prof James McCarthy said the planet will be in “huge trouble” unless Barack Obama makes strides in tackling climate change. Prof McCarthy said that the US has just four years to save the planet. And at the same meeting, Professor Chris Field, said future temperatures “will be beyond anything” predicted. He said warming is likely to cause more environmental damage than forecast: “We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we’ve considered seriously in climate policy”. He said the increases in carbon dioxide have been caused, principally, by the burning of coal for electric power in India and China. “Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought,” he said.

The measures now needed to deal with climate change are going to extensive and will effect every area of life — and the changes required need to start in the next months and years. We simply don’t have a moment to lose.


February 12, 2009

Sorry is not enough

Filed under: Economy, Politics/News — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 11:00 am

This week we got apologies from all the UK bankers who were, to a greater or lesser extent, responsible for the collapse of British banking. But what exactly are they apologising for? If they feel they have something to apologise for, then they must feel that somehow they have made some mistakes and they are to blame for the mess we’re in. In this case, they should be punished or sanctioned in some way: they should be held to account for their actions. In this case, sorry (how ever many times they say it) is not good enough. Their collective apology is reported here: Former banking bosses say ‘sorry’ .

It was relatively easy for the bank managers to turn up this week and suffer the indignity of having to apologise (and their apologies seemed well rehearsed), but they personally will be able to keep all the millions that they made in salaries and bonuses — and you could ask where are all the billions of profit these companies have made over the past few years. The banks have really screwed up and it’s taxpayers who had to bail them out and will be paying for years for their mistakes — this is very unfair. And to cap it all, it turns out that Mr Hornby, the former boss of HBOS, is still getting £60k a month for his advice – this is a scandal, bearing in mind we all more-or-less own the bank.

Yes the regulators and the government are also to blame for the bank crisis, plus we were all complicit in the credit boom and housing bubble, and the UK banks were partly victims of the worldwide problems in financial markets (in particular the sub-prime scandel in the US), but it’s the actions of these large financial institutions and in particular their executives that got us into this terrible mess. I’m not sure how this could be done, but the banks and their leaders should be made to pay for their mistakes.

January 8, 2009

A War of Brutal Terror

Filed under: Politics/News — 4fooey @ 10:19 pm

The violence inflicted on the people of Gaza over the past two weeks has been brutal, sickening and totally unjustified. The lack of firm condemnation of Israel from all major western governments has been very disappointing. The majority of people in Gaza are completely innocent, caught up in the bitter struggle between Hamas and the Israeli government. The huge loss of innocent life, and the destruction of schools, mosques, universities, and other infrastructure is a catastrophe, and adds further misery to the already desperate life of the Palestinians living in the Gaza strip.

Israel has some of the most powerful military in the world, the Gazans have very little in comparison (guns and few hundred small rockets) — the conflict is so unequal. What on earth do the Israelis think they can achieve with their actions? Their actions are criminal and ultimately futile. All they are doing is massacreing hundreds of innocent people, further devastating the Gazans living conditions, and strengthening Arab feeling against the state of Israel. This is all such a waste of human life and hopelessly counter-productive for Israel. The actions of the Israelis can only inflame opinion in the whole middle east and make a war with Iran (or a number of sympathetic Arab countries) more likely.

Of course Hamas should not be firing rockets into Israel, but such devastating retaliation by Israel is completely unjustified. The same brutal force was used against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, with little lasting results or effect. The use of overwhelming military force against a poor and more-or-less defenceless people, resulting in many hundreds or thousands of innocent people dieing, should be a crime in international law. The US has used the same ‘shock and awe’ tactics in the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Israelis continue to use such brutal tactics on the Palestinians.

For over 60 years there have been numerous wars and conflicts and so far no solution looks likely. The UN and international community has completely failed the people of this area, while the Palestinians have lived in impossible conditions in Gaza and the West Bank for decades. The world urgently needs to find a solution, otherwise the terror of the past two weeks, or worse, will happen again.

The background to the conflict is covered here: Q&A: Gaza conflict. The following are extracts. 

Gaza has a population of 1.5 million of whom some 33% (about 490,000) are classified as refugees. It is 40km (25 miles) long and between six and 12km (4 and 8 miles) wide. The United Nations Works and Relief agency (Unwra) provides basic food aid to about 750,000 people in Gaza.

Since 2001, when the rockets were first fired (by Hamas into Israel), more than 8,600 have hit southern Israel, nearly 6,000 of them since Israel withdrew from Gaza in August 2005. The rockets have killed 28 people and injured hundreds more. [In the current conflict in Gaza, over 700 Palestinians have died (including over 200 children) and thousands have been injured. ]

Gaza was part of Palestine when it was administered by Britain in a mandate granted by the League of Nations after World War I. In fighting after Israel declared its independence in large areas of Palestine in 1948, the Egyptians captured the Gaza Strip. Palestinian refugees from the coastal cities to the north took refuge there. They or their descendants still live in UN camps in Gaza. Israel captured it in the war of 1967 and eventually moved about 8,000 settlers there, but all Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005.

January 1, 2009

A new year, a time for urgent action

Filed under: Environment, Politics/News — Tags: , — 4fooey @ 12:13 am

On the Today programme (31 Dec, on Radio 4 in the UK) Jarvis Cocker was the guest editor. He interviewed Nicholas (Lord) Stern about climate change and how lessons can be learned from the action that has been taken in the response to the financial crisis. He also pointed out the contrast between President Bush and the president to be Obama regarding their response to climate change. The interview with Stern is reported here: Stern hope over US climate deal.

Stern pointed out that the financial crisis shows us that the longer we leave a problem or ignore a risk then the worse a crisis can become and the harder it is to resolve it. The same can be said on climate change — if we leave it too long to act then it will be more difficult to solve it, and more costly in financial terms and its effect on the planet. He also suggested that the need to solve the climate change issue represents a great opportunity for technology, science and business, on a level with the industrial revolution.

Stern suggested that the financial crisis has been large in magnitude, but suggested that the issue of climate change is far bigger, in terms of the effort and commitment required. He was however very optimistic that is could be solved, but stressed that it would require so-far unseen collaboration, across governments and international agencies. Given that in crisis situations, wars and such like, countries tend to act in their own self interest, this will be a huge challenge for the world, but one we must attempt and meet. The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated, but it’s looking increasingly like we have absolutely no option but to take up the challenge.

Jarvis Cocker ended his stint as editor of the Today programme with an assessment of his interview with Stern. Cocker felt we are at a turning point and that we have interesting times ahead. Acknowledging that the financial crisis will effect a lot of people, he was very optimistic about our capacity to solve the climate change issue and that people would be able to adapt. Maybe if you resolve to do one thing this year it should be to ‘do your bit’ for climate change, and then hope the US, China and other governments can reach a historic and binding agreement later in 2009 to tackle climate change: the time for urgent action is now.

December 4, 2008

Another ‘bank’ in trouble

Filed under: Environment, Politics/News, Uncategorized — 4fooey @ 11:06 am

There is one bank which is not mentioned at all in the context of the current financial crisis, yet it has everything to do with the economy and how we conduct our lives. The bank is ‘The Earth Bank’ which contains all the natural resources that we use and rely on, and all the species in existence – this bank is the earth itself, and while it functions to a large extent on its own, we as custodians or ‘bank managers’ of it have an enormous influence over its future. In the context of climate change, and the extent to which we humans add significantly to it, the Earth Bank is very much in trouble and in need of a dramatic and urgent rescue package, the mother of all ‘bail outs’.

Much has been said in the past few years about climate change, and there have been numerous committees set up and reports published (in 2006 the UK government published the Stern Review, and in 2007 there was a major report from the UN’s IPCC). It seems at last governments are starting to take steps to curb climate change in the form of greater recycling, more energy conservation, alternative fuels (especially for cars & other transport), non-carbon based or renewable energy generation, carbon capture, and so on — but there is long, long way to go. Another report was published this week by the UK Committee on Climate Change chaired by Adair Turner. The report suggests that Britain cuts greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth of current levels by 2020, which it describes as a ‘tough’ target and greater than has been attempted before. The report also recommends that the government does not use off-setting to achieve this target – apparently, the government has been planning to offset half of our emissions by buying carbon credits, which means someone else will have to implement the cuts in emissions. The full report by the HMCCC is here: Building a low-carbon economy – the UK’s contribution to tackling climate change.

Significant quotes from the Executive summary are useful:

“Climate change resulting from CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions poses a huge threat to human welfare [Ed: and the Earth, many species & the environment]. To contain that threat, the world needs to cut emissions by about 50% by 2050, and to start cutting emissions now. A global agreement to take action is vital. But a global agreement will not be possible unless the countries of the rich, developed world provide leadership.”

“A fair global deal will require the UK to cut emissions by at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The good news is that reductions of that size are possible without sacrificing the benefits of economic growth and rising prosperity. Technologies are available or with appropriate support could be developed which deliver low-carbon energy; opportunities to increase the efficiency with which we use energy are huge; lifestyle changes which will not undermine welfare can produce significant cuts in energy consumption. And many of the actions required to tackle climate change we should want to do anyway because these have economic, wider environmental and security of supply benefits.”

“The challenge is not the technical feasibility of a low-carbon economy but making it happen. Ensuring action will require strong leadership from government and a concerted response from individuals and businesses… the path is attainable at manageable cost, and following it is essential if the UK is to play its fair part in avoiding the far higher costs of harmful climate change.”

It’s going to take a huge shift of consciousness to get the majority of people onto a more sustainable lifestyle. This kind of major shift tends only to happen after severe shocks in the world system, like wars, economic depressions, massive natural disasters — one such shock could be the current financial crisis. We need a “soft/peaceful” revolution to happen and soon. The ‘green movement’ has been advocating such a revolution for decades, and although we’ve made small steps (green thinking is now mainstream and no longer considered ‘loony’), we still have a huge mountain to climb.

My question to governments in general and to the green movement in particular is, how is this change or revolution going to come about? What will it take to get us onto a more sustainable path? We need lots of small steps by individuals at a local level, and very large & fundamental changes at the international level — the latter is really needed now to have the most dramatic and lasting effect. The costs of rescuing the earth are said to be manageable (a few percent of GDP of each major country), but the costs if we don’t, in both economic terms and for the future of the planet and humankind, is unimaginable.

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