Tag Archives: global-warming

A History of the Climate Change Controversies

After obtain­ing and ana­lys­ing the doc­u­ments and emails from the Cli­mate Research Unit email con­tro­versy (the so-called Cli­mateg­ate emails), Der Spiegel “reveals how the war between cli­mate research­ers and cli­mate skep­tics broke out, the tricks the two sides used to out­man­euver each oth­er and how the con­flict could be resolved”.

The res­ult is an excep­tion­al and com­pre­hens­ive art­icle on the his­tory of the cli­mate change issue and the sci­ent­ists’ place in it.

The art­icle con­cludes:

Soci­olo­gist Peter Weingart believes that the dam­age could be irre­par­able. “A loss of cred­ib­il­ity is the biggest risk inher­ent in sci­entif­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion,” he said, adding that trust can only be regained through com­plete trans­par­ency. […]

It seems all but impossible to provide con­clus­ive proof in cli­mate research. Sci­entif­ic philo­soph­er Silvio Funtovicz [described] cli­mate research as a “post­nor­mal sci­ence.” On account of its high com­plex­ity, he said it was sub­ject to great uncer­tainty while, at the same time, har­bor­ing huge risks.

The experts there­fore face a dilemma: They have little chance of giv­ing the right advice. If they don’t sound the alarm, they are accused of not ful­filling their mor­al oblig­a­tions. How­ever, alarm­ist pre­dic­tions are cri­ti­cized if the pre­dicted changes fail to mater­i­al­ize quickly.

Cli­ma­to­lo­gic­al find­ings will prob­ably remain ambigu­ous even if fur­ther pro­gress is made. Weingart says it’s now up to sci­ent­ists and soci­ety to learn to come to terms with this. In par­tic­u­lar, he warns, politi­cians must under­stand that there is no such thing as clear res­ults. “Politi­cians should stop listen­ing to sci­ent­ists who prom­ise simple answers,” Weingart says.

via Art and Let­ters Daily

Seven Threats to a Sustainable ‘Food Future’

In a hugely cap­tiv­at­ing and com­pre­hens­ive look at the food sup­ply chain in Bri­tain, Jeremy Hard­ing provides a look at “the future of food and its supply”–including food eth­ics, food secur­ity and the dire need for a sus­tain­able future.

Harding’s case is the most cogent I’ve read and it offers much more than a con­dem­na­tion of our cur­rent, unsus­tain­able habits: the art­icle focuses on what Hard­ing dubs the “sev­en big stories”–the sev­en fun­da­ment­al “loom­ing threats” we must keep in mind when plan­ning for a sus­tain­able, effi­cient and secure ‘food future’.

  1. Pop­u­la­tion growth: The expec­ted large-scale urb­an­isa­tion of the future “poses big ques­tions about land use (hous­ing v. farm­ing) and the pro­duc­tion of food by a minor­ity for a major­ity as the gap between the two gets wider”.
  2. ‘The nutri­tion trans­ition’: As we move fur­ther away from a diet based on grains, pulses and legumes and toward one of meat and dairy (the trans­ition from maize feed­ing us to maize feed­ing the anim­als) means that “glob­al pro­duc­tion of food – all food – will have to increase by 50 per cent over the next 20 years to cater for two bil­lion extra people and cope with the rising demand for meat”.
  3. Energy: “The indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of food is sure to become more expens­ive as fuel costs rise. It takes 160 litres of oil to pro­duce a tonne of maize in the US; nat­ur­al gas accounts for at least three-quar­ters of the cost of mak­ing nitro­gen fer­til­iser; freight, too, depends on fuel”.
  4. Land: “The amount of the world’s land giv­en over to agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to grow, but in per cap­ita terms it’s shrink­ing. As with oil, it’s pos­sible to envis­age ‘peak food’ (the point of max­im­um pro­duc­tion, fol­lowed by decline), ‘peak phos­phor­us’ [and] ‘peak land’: the point at which the total area of the world’s most pro­duct­ive land begins to dimin­ish (soil exhaus­tion, cli­mate change) and mar­gin­al land comes up for reas­sess­ment”.
  5. Water: “World­wide, one in three people face water short­ages and by 2030 the ratio will have nar­rowed. […] Much of our fruit and veg comes from water-scarce coun­tries and […] lack of water closes down food pro­duc­tion and live­li­hoods”.
  6. Cli­mate change: “Extreme weath­er events will […] jeop­ard­ise agri­cul­ture and the move­ment of food from one place to anoth­er”.
  7. Agri­cul­tur­al work­ers: More than half of the world’s 1.1 bil­lion agri­cul­tur­al work­ers” own neither land nor machinery and live in a state of semi-slavery. The con­di­tions of this new glob­al under­class are at last a mat­ter of con­cern: world­wide food pro­duc­tion is set on a down­turn as their wretched­ness weak­ens their capa­city to pro­duce and earn, driv­ing more people inex­or­ably towards the cit­ies.

I sup­pose you could call these the food equi­val­ent of Jared Diamond’s twelve prob­lems of soci­et­al sus­tain­ab­il­ity.

Long-Term Thinking and Climate Change

One of the reas­ons the gen­er­al pub­lic are slow in act­ing on cli­mate change in the man­ner the situation’s import­ance demands is our reluct­ance to think too far bey­ond our imme­di­ate time hori­zon. How­ever this shouldn’t stop us.

That is the sug­ges­tion of Mar­tin Rees, Astro­nomer Royal, who extols the vir­tues of long-term think­ing more elo­quently than I’ve heard before:

“As in polit­ics,” he says, “the imme­di­ate trumps the import­ant.” Our future-blind­ness may reflect a basic lim­it­a­tion of the brain. “In so far as brains evolved to cope with every­day life on the savan­nah, they evolved in a con­text where you didn’t plan 50 years ahead and you cared about your loc­al com­munity. Although…” A pause. A sip of tea. “Although, it’s odd—I gave a talk at Ely cathed­ral not long ago. The people who built the cathed­ral had a lim­ited view of the world. Their world was the fens, and they thought it would end quite soon, but nev­er­the­less built this won­der­ful struc­ture which is part of our her­it­age 1,000 years later. And it’s shame­ful in a way that we, with our longer hori­zons and great­er resources, are reluct­ant to think 50 years ahead.”

via The Browser

Note: The full art­icle is behind a pay wall. The above quote and the con­text there­of is avail­able.

Creating Effective Messages

Nature has pub­lished a short inter­view with psy­cho­lo­gist Robert Gif­ford look­ing at the “inter­face between psy­cho­logy and cli­mate change”.

Not­ing the prob­lem of pubic dis­trust of sci­entif­ic mes­sages that are delivered with uncer­tainty, Gif­ford pro­poses five ele­ments of effect­ive mes­sages*:

  1. It has to have some urgency.
  2. It has to have as much cer­tainty as can be mustered with integ­rity.
  3. There can’t be just one mes­sage: there must be mes­sages tar­geted to dif­fer­ent groups.
  4. Mes­sages should be framed in pos­it­ive terms. (Evid­ence from a recent thes­is […] shows that people are less will­ing to change their beha­viour if you tell them they have to make sac­ri­fices. If you tell them they can be in the van­guard, be a hero, be the one that helps — that works.)
  5. You have to give people the sense that their vote counts and that their effort won’t be in vain.

This doesn’t apply just to mes­sages on cli­mate change, of course.

via Mind Hacks

*The ori­gin­al art­icle has, since post­ing this, gone behind a pay­wall.

Environmental Assumptions

Big busi­ness is envir­on­ment­ally destruct­ive: a wide­spread and almost unques­tioned assump­tion. A false assump­tion, accord­ing to Jared Dia­mond, not­ing that profits often arise from green ini­ti­at­ives and envir­on­ment­al con­cern is of inher­ent import­ance to many large cor­por­a­tions.

The story is told through the lens of Wal-Mart’s trans­port and pack­aging ini­ti­at­ives, Coca-Cola’s con­cern “with prob­lems of water scarcity, energy, cli­mate change and agri­cul­ture” and Chevron’s policy of rigour­ous envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion (of which any­one who has read Diamond’s Col­lapse, will be acutely aware):

The embrace of envir­on­ment­al con­cerns by chief exec­ut­ives has accel­er­ated recently for sev­er­al reas­ons. Lower con­sump­tion of envir­on­ment­al resources saves money in the short run. Main­tain­ing sus­tain­able resource levels and not pol­lut­ing saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoid­ing oil spills and oth­er envir­on­ment­al dis­asters — reduces cri­ti­cism from employ­ees, con­sumers and gov­ern­ment.

It’s not just big busi­ness we make assump­tions about: as Tim Har­ford points out after read­ing Prashant Vaze’s The Eco­nom­ic­al Envir­on­ment­al­ist, some typ­ic­al envir­on­ment­al decisions are some­times based on incor­rect assump­tions:

Envir­on­ment­al­ists have been slow to real­ise that the fash­ion­able eco-life­style is riddled with con­tra­dic­tions. The one that par­tic­u­larly exas­per­ates me is the “food miles” obses­sion, whereby we eschew toma­toes from Spain and roses flown in from Kenya, in favour of loc­al products grown in a heated green­house with a far great­er car­bon foot­print. Oth­er less-than-obvi­ous truths are: that pork and chick­en have sub­stan­tially lower car­bon foot­prints than beef and lamb (yes, even organ­ic beef and lamb); that milk and cheese also have a sub­stan­tial foot­print; that dish­wash­ers are typ­ic­ally more effi­cient than wash­ing dishes by hand; and that eco-friendly wash­ing powders may be dis­tinctly eco-unfriendly because they tend to tempt people to use hot­ter washes.

Jared Dia­mond piece via Mar­gin­al Revolu­tion