November 14, 2014

Tim Flannery

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Lee Kump [Professor of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University]:
We have made the natural world our laboratory, but the experiment is inadvertent and thus not designed to yield easily decipherable results …
There are unsettling indications that [the] models are underestimating rather than overestimating the climatic consequences of greenhouse gas build-up.
(Reducing Uncertainty about Carbon Dioxide As a Climate Driver, Nature 419, pp 188-90, 2002)

Yadowsun Boodhoo [President, World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology]:
It is inconceivable that humankind, with all its noble achievements, its aspirations and goodwill, will stay indifferent to the cry of the climate community.
(World Meteorological Organization Bulletin, 2003)

Tim Flannery (1956):
Under existing projections, just two countries — Canada and Russia — will reap 90% of the benefit that global warming brings to food crops, while other regions such as Africa and India will lose out heavily with only a small degree of warming.
(The Weather Makers, 2005, p 288)

George Marshall:
[State of Fear is] by far the bestselling book yet written about climate change and includes dense technical appendices to prove that it is a concocted myth. …
[George W Bush] spent an hour chatting with [Michael] Crichton about the book in the Oval Office, after which, according to his chief of staff, they were in near-total agreement.
The novel was then presented as “scientific” evidence into a US Senate committee and Crichton gave briefings on climate change around the world at the invitation of the US State Department.
(Don't Even Think About It, Bloomsbury, 2014, p 108)

The Weather Makers (2005)

Eternal Summer

With the election of George W Bush, the fossil fuel lobby became even more powerful …
Philip A Cooney, a Bush aide and an oil industry lobbyist fighting against the regulation of greenhouse gases, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors … had already approved. …
At the most recent count a dozen major reports on climate change have been altered, suppressed or dismissed by the White House, including … studies by the National Academy of Sciences …
In September 2002 the White House released the Environmental Protection Authority’s annual report with the entire section dealing with climate change deleted.
(p 241)

Fred Palmer, [formerly] head of Western Fuels (now company vice-president at Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer) [believed] that the Earth’s atmosphere ‘is deficient in carbon dioxide’, and that producing more would herald an age of eternal summer.
… Western Fuels wanted to lead the charge in creating a world with atmospheric CO2 of around 1000 parts per million [(equivalent to a 4°C rise in global average temperature).]

Palmer’s views were the basis for the propaganda video The Greening of Planet Earth, which cost a quarter of a million dollars to make, and which promoted the idea of ‘fertilising’ the world with CO2 to boost crop yields by 30% to 60%, thus bringing an end to world hunger. …
The Greening of Planet Earth was widely circulated in Washington in the lead up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and among those who saw it were [George H W] Bush and his chief of staff, John Sununu …
[Bush’s] energy secretary, James Watkins, cited it as a credible source in interviews about climate change.
(p 240)

Carbon Nation

[At] their most extreme, Milankovich’s [orbital] cycles bring an annual variation in the total amount of sunlight reaching Earth of less than one tenth of 1%.
Yet that seemingly trivial difference can cause Earth’s temperature to rise or fall by a whopping 5°C. …
(p 42)

As early as 1992 it was realised that … temperatures in Australia may rise as much as 5°C in response to a global increase of just 2°C.
(p 179)

For the first target period of the [Kyoto] treaty (2008–12) the European Union has a carbon budget of 8% less than it emitted in 1990 …
Australia, on the other hand, has a budget of 8% greater than [baseline (108%).]
Only Iceland did better … with a 10% increase (110%) …

Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse emissions of any industrialised country — 25% higher than the US when all sources are accounted for — and Australia’s growth in emissions over the last decade has been faster than that of other OECD countries. …
Ninety% of Australia’s electricity is generated by burning coal [despite having] the world’s best geothermal province and a superabundance of high-quality wind and solar resources.
(p 225)

[At Kyoto, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics argued for special treatment on basis of the] MEGABARE economic model [which] predicted that Australia’s real gross national expenditure would fall by between one-quarter and one-half of 1% per annum if a European-style cut in emissions was implemented. …
[Documents obtained under Freedom of Information later revealed that the MEGABARE study] had been funded … by the Australian Aluminium Council, Rio Tinto, Mobil and other [fossil fuel interests,] all of whom had received a seat on the study’s steering committee.
(p 226)

Of all industries, the most vulnerable to a rise in the cost of electricity is the aluminium smelters. …
Australian households pay 12–20 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity, while aluminium smelters pay around 2 cents, which means that a significant part of everyone else’s power bill is a direct subsidy payment to the smelters.
(p 230)

Given Kyoto’s manifest problems, it may seem best to tax carbon emissions at the smokestack, yet this simple and effective solution finds no favour in Australia or the US.
(p 231)

Here on Earth (2010)

Poisoning Children

Between 1932 and 1968 [the Chisso Corporation] dumped twenty-seven tonnes of mercury into [Minamata Bay in Japan].
Ironically, it was the villagers of Minamata who, in 1907, had persuaded the founders of the Chisso Corporation to establish their factory in the area.
They were poor fishermen, and the prospect of employment was a great attraction.

Fish are an important part of the diet of the people of Minamata. …
[By] the 1950s people were reporting numbness in their limbs, slurred speech and problems with their eyesight.
A few began to shout uncontrollably and were thought to have gone crazy [like Alice's Mad Hatter]. …
By 1959, doctors working for Chisso had established that mercury pollution from the factory was the cause …
(p 184)

The company responded with years of deceit, cover-ups and bullying.
[By the time] it stop polluting [in 1968] over ten thousand people, many of them children, had suffered severe, irreversible physical and mental damage. …

Astonishingly, around two-thirds of the mercury circulating in Earth's air and oceans … comes from the burning of fossil fuels, mostly coal.
Some coal is rich in mercury because coal is a natural sponge that absorbs many substances dissolved in groundwater, from uranium to cadmium and mercury.
When the coal is burned to provide steam for electricity production, these elements are released into the atmosphere, then blown by winds over the ocean, into which they eventually fall. …
Abandoned coalmines are another source of mercury, groundwater often accumulates in the mines, and then finds its way into creeks and rivers. …
(p 185)

Mercury remains in its elemental form while at the sunlit surface of the ocean.
But, aided by the same plankton and krill that absorb radioactive particles, it soon reaches the abyssal depths, and there it is transformed into a highly toxic form known as methyl mercury. …
Methyl mercury is dangerous because [it bio-accumulates] up the marine food chain, until the largest predators such as sharks and swordfish accumulate dangerous levels of mercury.
And what eats shark and swordfish?
The world's ultimate top predator and repository for anything that bio-accumulates: humans. …
(p 186)

Not all methyl mercury is created in the deep ocean.
Some forms in deep lakes and in landfills, wherein lie countless mercury-containing discarded batteries, fluorescent lights and other products. …

In the US, mercury levels are four times higher in fish-eaters (defined as those who have eaten three or more servings in the past thirty days) than others …
There may be as many as 4.7 million women with elevated levels of mercury, which puts 2,000 newborns at risk of mercury-related brain damage each year. …
(p 187)

Under the Obama administration, the EPA is moving to address this threat, and has said it will propose standards for coal fired power plants by 2011.
And [in 2009, the US endorsed] negotiations to finalise a global treaty on mercury. …

While most cadmium enters our bodies via our stomachs, it most efficiently absorbed via the lungs.
Tobacco plants accumulate cadmium in their leaves, which means that smoking is a major cause of high cadmium levels.
(p 188, emphasis added)

[Potential complications] include softening of bones (sometimes to the point where they fracture merely from the weight of the body), lung diseases and possibly cancer. …

Two, albeit, controversial studies [have shed light on possible] ramifications of lead poisoning in children …
(p 189)

A 2007 study across nine countries revealed a 'very strong' correlation between high lead levels in preschool children and subsequent crime rates, with murder showing a particularly strong correlation with the more severe cases of childhood lead poisoning. …
[And] a second study [of] twelve thousand children born in Oakland, California, between 1959 and 1966 … found that children exposed to high levels of lead in the womb were more than twice as likely to become schizophrenic. …

Lead, copper, silver and zinc have been mined and processed at Mount Isa in Queensland's Gulf Country for decades.
[In] 2005-06 alone an estimated
  • 400,000 kilograms of lead,
  • 470,000 kilograms of copper,
  • 4,800 kilograms of cadmium and
  • 520,000 kilograms of zinc
were released into the atmosphere.

Blood tests carried out in US laboratories on six-year-old Stella Hare, who lived in Mount Isa revealed dangerously high levels of lead and ten other metals in her blood.
She suffers learning and behavioural difficulties, and her family is now suing mining company Xstrata.
[Of another] four hundred children … tested by Queensland Health, forty-five [ie more than 10%] had lead levels above the dangerous threshold …
(p 190)

Some in the company [have argued that the lead] comes from natural sources.
Lead levels in soil in residential areas of Mount Isa are thirty-three times higher than federal limits, while lead in swimming holes near the town exceeds those limits several hundred times.
In a newspaper advertisement Xstrata claimed that '
[A] few simple steps related to hygiene and nutrition will ensure … lead levels remain below World Health Organization standards.
(p 191)

[If climate change is allowed to continue unabated, there is a real risk] of exterminating up to six out of every ten living species [by century's end]. …

[And while humanity is likely to survive as a species,] James Lovelock believes that nine out of every ten of us living this century will die from climate impacts, leaving a population of just a few hundred million [and destroying] our global civilisation.
(pp 198-9)

Adapting to Climate Change

[Humans] are one of the most genetically uniform [mammalian species;] there being more genetic diversity in a random sample of about [50] chimpanzees from west Africa than in all seven billion of us. …
[This human monoculture was caused by] a brush with extinction, known as a genetic bottleneck, [which] may have been [due to] the eruption of the Tambora volcano [70,000 years ago] in what is now Indonesia.
[It's estimated] that the average surface temperature of the Earth dropped by [2-3°C,] killing all but between [1,000 and 10,000] breeding pairs of humans. …

The glue that holds complex superorganisms together is not genetic, but social — yet it is enhanced by a sufficiently narrow genetic base to enable universal understanding.
(pp 122-3)

[Paradoxically,] while agricultural societies are powerful, they are composed almost entirely of incompetent individuals. …
This tendency towards civilised imbecility has left its physical mark on us ….
One study estimates that men have lost around 10%, and women 14% of their brain mass when compared to ice-age ancestors. …

If you doubt how far our civilisation has turned us into helpless, self-domesticated livestock, just look at the world around you. …
Does it seem to have lost its commonsense? …
[How] often does a visionary leader arise among us?
So few are truly wise that it seems a whole generation can pass without such a presence.
But of course it need not be so.
We can challenge ourselves — shed our complacency and love of ease — and so reinvigorate our shrivelled virtues.
That's what a well-rounded education is supposed to do, and even those with the most repetitive jobs can in their leisure hours expand their minds.
But while we sit in our air-conditioned homes and eat, drink and make merry like cattle in a feedlot without the slightest thought about the consequences of our consumption of water, food and energy, we only hasten the destruction — in the long term — of our kind.
(pp 125-7)


Carbon Nation

The Weather Makers

Here on Earth
The Future Eaters

Tim Flannery (1956)

Professor, Climate Risk Concentration of Research Excellence, Faculty of Science, Macquarie University, Sydney (2007).
Australian of the Year (2007).
Former Visiting Chair of Australian Studies, Harvard University (1999).
Professor, University of Adelaide.

  • Can seaweed save the planet?, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 31 August 2017.
  • Atmosphere of hope, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 24 September 2015.
  • Tim Flannery, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 12 March 2013.
  • Reasons to be hopeful, 1 January 2011.
    Tim Flannery (1956): Professor of Environmental Science, Macquarie University, Sydney.

    We've seen the IPCC projections are now ground truthed against real world change, and we see that we're tracking the worst case scenario, which is 6° of warming. …

    [In] 2001, the IPCC produced these projections and they indicated that if we double CO2 above pre-industrial levels there's a 60% chance that the result will be a 2° or 3° rise in temperature, a 10% chance of a 1° rise and 10% rise of a 6° rise.
    Because those projections were done ten years ago, scientists are now going back and looking at the real world data and saying were the projections right or not?
    It turns out that they were wrong.
    They were too conservative, at least for the early part of the projection curve.
    We're seeing the worst case scenario unfold. …

    So to a question about new technologies and how they could make a difference. …
    One of the more interesting examples [is] a plunger-like device with a filter in it, that you can put basically into sewerage and suck on it and you'll get drinkable water out of the top. …
    It will just do away with so much disease and give people an opportunity to really do something.
    … I'm a bit involved with [the Tata group], but 76% of the profit they make goes to charities.

    The head of the Tata Group of Companies [is] Naval Ratan Tata.
    When this idea was brought forward to him about this plunger to clean water out, he said this is a very good idea but there's one thing wrong with it, he said, we're making too much profit from it.
    He asked the people to go back and trim the profit margins to bring it more readily available to the poorest Indians. …

    The UN earlier this year finished its 8th or 10th biennial census of population across the world. …
    The projections … say that we could get away with as few as eight billion people on the earth by 2050, if we invest in the education of women and in bettering their economic lot, in the poorest women on the planet.

  • Here on Earth, Text, 2010.

    The Commonwealth of Virtue

    {[Mitochondrial] DNA tells us that all people alive today can trace their ancestry to an African woman who lived at least [150,000] years ago.}

    [Likewise, studies] of the Y-chromosome reveal that all people alive today are descended from a single male who lived in Africa around [60,000] years ago.
    This genetic Adam [was likely] dark-skinned, tall, slender and possessed [the epicanthic] folds over the corner of eyes commonly seen in people from Asia. …

    Adam and Eve … never met, being separated by [90,000] years.
    The explanation for this [is] that small populations tend to lose genetic lineages faster than large ones:
    [It] is the size of the breeding population that really counts.
    The population of breeding men, it seems, has long been small relative to that of women, probably because an exclusive group of high-status men [monopolised the fathering of] children.
    (pp 73-4)

    In many traditional societies men go to considerable lengths to control the … reproductive potential of women, including enforcing celibacy until marriage, dire penalties for adultery and even … clitoridectomy.
    While … never entirely successful, there's no doubt that [these measures have, historically,] limited the mate choices available to women.
    Within the last few decades in western societies, however, women have, by and large, gained control of their reproduction.
    Liberated and armed with contraceptives, they now represent a powerful evolutionary force that is [actively] shaping the men of tomorrow.
    [Through] the men they choose to father their children, women are [fashioning] in flesh the ideal mate (or as close as they can attain to it) that exists in their minds.
    Over evolutionary time this [sexual selection will, inevitably,] change the nature of men.
    (pp 64-5)


    Over fifty million years ago some ants … learned to herd and 'milk' [sap-sucking bugs,] just as we herd and milk cattle and sheep.
    These ant-shepherds [drive] off insect predators, and, if the flow of sap on which the herd depends begins to dry up, the [ants carry the bugs] to richer pastures.
    The ants even construct shelters that they herd their charges into in bad weather.
    (p 113)

    [Ant morticians] recognise ant corpses solely on the basis of the presence of oleic acid, a product of decomposition.
    When researchers daub live ants with acid, despite the fact they are manifestly alive and kicking, they're promptly carried off to the ant cemetery by the undertakers.
    Indeed, unless the daubed ants wash themselves very thoroughly they are repeatedly dragged to the mortuary, despite showing every other sign of life.
    (p 117)

    Attine ant agriculture … is more sophisticated than many human agricultural practices …
    The fungus the ants grow, for example, has been cultivated by them for so long that it now exists nowhere else.
    The same is true of the specialised bacteria that produce fungicides to destroy competing fungi and which are found only in special pocket-shaped crevices on the ant's bodies.
    (p 128)

    Ascent of the Ultimate Superorganism

    China has been the point of origin for some of humanity's most important inventions, including gunpowder, printing, the compass and blast furnaces for iron smelting. …
    When, centuries later, these innovations reached Europe, their impact was dramatic. …
    Francis Bacon:
    Printing, gunpowder and the compass … have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world;
    • the first in literature,
    • the second in warfare,
    • the third in navigation;
    whence have followed innumerable changes, ever since agriculture in so much that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical discoveries.
    (Novum Organum, 1858)
    (p 141)

    [Once] they develop to a particular level of complexity and sophistication, human civilisations tend to converge on each other in key ways.
    [They] are characteristically multicultural and high in population density, and develop a kind of lowest common denominator cultural glue based on fast food and populist entertainment.
    Their [ultimate] enemy is a diminution of resources [ie the] interruption to the flow of energy — whether it be food or oil — or water.
    (p 144)

    Rome suffered a crisis when Christianised barbarians, led by Alaric the Goth, laid siege to the [city] stopping its food supply. …
    Other sackings would follow, and in 439CE the food supply from North Africa was permanently cut.
    By 530CE, following the severing of the city's aquaducts, Rome, which at its height had a million and a half inhabitants, was reduced to a population of just fifteen thousand. …

    [It] was not until the establishment of the European Union … in 1993 that a sustained, [comparably-sized] political entity would declare itself in Europe. …
    It's unclear why it took so long for a such a large political entity to re-establish.
    But the experience should remind us that, should we be foolish enough to let our global civilisation break down, we should not expect a swift recovery.
    (p 145)

    War Against Nature

    [At] least five hundred nuclear weapons [have been] detonated in the atmosphere.
    (p 157)

    The highest level of radioactivity ever recorded in a living thing was in a krill.
    After the Chenobyl accident, scientists measuring radioactive fallout in the Mediterranean Sea discovered that the hepatopancreas (a sort of liver and pancreas combined) of a shrimp known as Gennadas valens contained Polonium-210 at a concentration of 856 picocuries per gram (a picocurie is a trillionth of a curie, which is a measure of radioactivity).
    Polonium-210 was used to kill the Russian dissident and counter-terrorism expert Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, and his body contained so much of it that doctors recommended that his coffin not be opened for twenty-two years.
    The concentration in the shrimp hepatopancreas was around a million times higher than that of the surrounding sea water.

    During the 1950s and '60s the oceans were our favourite dumping ground for nuclear waste.
    The dumping supposedly stopped in 1972, when the major industrial nations ratified the London Convention banning the disposal of highly radioactive waste at sea.
    (p 159)

    But in late 2008 it was revealed that in 1978 the nuclear waste generated by British testing in Australia had been secretly dumped in the ocean, and, of course, the Russians have for years been using the Arctic Ocean as a graveyard for their superannuated nuclear submarines.
    Seventeen nuclear reactors that once powered submarines lie on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, their radioactive materials just waiting for time, tide and corrosion to release them.
    In 1993 the London Convention was strengthened, but by then around 1.24 million curies of radiation had been dumped in seventy-three sites.
    The Europeans alone dumped 220,000 drums, weighing 142,000 tonnes, in the waters of the northeast Atlantic.
    Like the nuclear submarines, the rusting drums are an environmental time bomb.
    (p 160)


    [Despite the post-war boom in insecticide use] the pests were becoming more abundant than ever.
    Certainly their numbers decreased immediately after spraying, but the spray killed their predators too, and because the pests were small and reproduced rapidly, their numbers rebounded long before their predators' did.
    Even worse, they rapidly gained immunity to the sprays.
    As early as 1959, over one hundred major insect pest species were showing signs of resistance to the toxins [to which] humans responded with repeated sprayings of the chemicals at higher concentrations, which, of course, only worsened the problem. …

    [Rachel Carson's] Silent Spring appeared in 1962, but it took until 1973 for the US to ban manufacture of some of the most dangerous organochlorines. …
    In 2007 the annual global human death toll from insecticide poisoning was approximately 220,000, with around three million suffering from severe but non-fatal exposure, mostly in the developing world.
    (p 167-8)

    The Eleventh Hour?

    In May 2001, ninety-one countries (including the US) [ratified] the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) [— a product of] the 1992 Rio Earth Summit …
    The chemicals banned under it possess characteristics that make them uniquely dangerous to life …
    [They are all:]
    • toxic,
    • extremely resistant to degradation, and
    • able
      • to spread swiftly in air and water,
      • to accumulate in body fats and oils, and
      • to be passed on from mother to young.

    Such chemicals are impossible to contain [and] the damage they do commences from the moment of their manufacture.
    The 'dirty dozen' recognised under the treaty are:
    • the insecticides Aldrin (first manufactured in 1949), Chlordane (1945), DDT (1942), Dieldrin (1948), Heptachlor (1948), Mirex (1959) and Toxaphene (1948);
    • the rodenticide and insecticide Endrin (1951);
    • the fungicide Hexachlorobenzene (1945);
    • PCBs, and the by-products Dioxins and Furans.
    The POPs treaty came into effect in May 2004 and [requires] the outright banning and destruction of the POPs chemicals.
    It also seeks to prevent the emergence of new dangerous chemicals, and commits developed countries to assist developing nations financially to achieve these goals. …
    (p 175)

    Commencing in … 1957, measurements of the atmosphere above Antarctica began to be taken, and by the 1970s they showed a clear seasonal decline in ozone concentration in the stratosphere.
    Ozone is a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms …
    Just three out of every ten million molecules in the atmosphere are ozone [yet] it blocks nearly 99% of the ultraviolet radiation headed to Earth. …

    Years of scientific research finally revealed CFCs as the cause of ozone decline.
    This was astonishing to researchers because there are just a few parts per billion of them in the air — so few indeed that they could not be detected until James Lovelock devised a special machine to do so.
    As CFCs drift up into the stratosphere, ultraviolet radiation breaks them down, releasing atoms of chlorine.
    A single free chlorine atom can destroy a hundred thousand ozone molecules before it is locked away into some other molecule. …

    Ultraviolet radiation is extremely dangerous because it penetrates cells, tearing apart DNA and disrupting metabolic processes. …
    Lie without sunscreen on a tropical beach and in twenty minutes you're likely to have a nasty sunburn.
    Without ozone, you'd get the same burn in a matter of seconds. …
    {[Furthermore,] with every 1% increase in ultraviolet radiation there's
    • a 1% decline in seed germination,
    • a 1% increase in blindness,
    • an increase in skin cancer and metabolic disorders, and
    • a decline in our immune systems and in oceanic productivity.}

    [Fortunately,] in September 1987 the nations of the world came together in Montreal to ban the production of CFCs [and in recent years the ozone hole has started to shrink.]
    (pp 181-2)

    The Stars of Heaven

    Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven …
    (Exodus 32:13, King James Bible)
    (p 203)

    Every two years the population division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs publishes a projection of global population …
    [Remarkably,] the latest of which was completed in 2008 [reported] a sharp decline in fertility in the world's forty-nine poorest countries, brought about by increased affluence and education and by access to family planning. …
    [Consequently, the] most likely outcome is a total global fertility rate (the average number of children born per woman) in 2050 of just over 2 children (down from the present 2.56), which would see the human population peak at 9.15 billion by mid-century. …

    Modern demographers divide the demographic transition into four stages.

    1. At first both birth and death rates are high, for people are vulnerable to innumerable threats and have little control over their fertility.
    2. Then, as a country develops, the death rate drops because disease is brought under control and health improves.
      This is the stage Malthus lived in, where population growth is rampant.
    3. In stage three, however, birthrates drop too — because of access to contraception, an increase in the cost of education and a decrease in the value of children as workers (making it more expensive to have large families).
    4. In the fourth stage, which is characteristic of highly developed countries, the birthrate drops below replacement and in the absence of immigration the population eventually shrinks. …
    5. {Demographers debate whether there will be a fifth stage in the transition, to an even lower reproductive rate than is seen in developed countries today.}

    There's no guarantee that the demographic transition in the developing world will resemble that of the west. …
    Because of a desire for sons, China's population policy has also created a significant gender bias in recent generations.
    An analysis of births for 1985-86 … found that 10% more males were born than females, which indicates that, for that year alone, half a million female infants were missing from the population. …
    (pp 207-8)

    At its heart the demographic transition represents the triumph of the individual against the tyranny of the selfish gene.
    [The big question is] whether Earth can sustainably provide resources for nine billion people — the 6.8 billion of us alive today use 30% more resources than Earth can sustainably provide, and that's with many living in poverty.
    (p 209)

    [If] we wish to act morally, then we can reduce our population only slowly.
    So while it's important to focus on population as a critical element in the long-term solution of our problems, we cannot make it our only focus as we seek to deal with immediate challenges such as our destabilising climate.
    (p 210)

    Discounting the Future

    Generally, the less security we have, the more heavily we discount our futures. …
    Martin Daly and Margo Wilson:
    Homicide rates are at their highest among men with the least to lose …
    In our own research on homicide in Chicago neighbourhoods, income inequality was, as usual, an excellent predictor of homicide rates …
    [However,] we found an even better discounting predictor: local life expectancy …
    What this suggested to us is that dangerous competitive behaviour that entails an implicit disdain for the future is exacerbated by cues that one lives in the sort of social milieu in which one's future may be cut short …

    Rather than vilifying those who discount the future as myopic or lacking in self-control, we think it is both more accurate and more fruitful to hypothesise that steep discounting characterises
    • those with short life expectancies,
    • those whose likely sources of mortality are independent of their actions, and
    • those for whom the expected fitness returns of present striving are positively accelerated rather than exhibiting diminishing marginal returns.
    (pp 214-5)

    The tendency to discount the future helps explain why people sometimes act to destroy their environment, whether by cutting down rainforests, continuing to pollute the atmosphere or destroying biodiversity.
    And people without prospects are created in a number of ways — through grinding poverty, through greatly unequal societies and through war, famine or other misfortunes.
    If you're concerned about our future, it's not just desirable that we eradicate poverty in the developing world, create more equal societies and never let ourselves fight another war; it's imperative, for the discount factor tells us that failure to do so may cost us the Earth.
    (p 216)

    Greed and the Market

    Neoclassical economists believe that economic systems are driven by a trinity of
    • human rationality,
    • greed and
    • equilibrium.
    (p 217)

    Markets are essential to society's prosperity and dynamism, but unconstrained they can become juggernauts capable of crushing humanity.
    (p 218)

    In a number of tests, including a game theory test called the prisoner's dilemma (which measures a person's propensity to trust in and cooperate with others), they found that neoclassical economists are more likely than other people to betray their partners.
    (p 219)

    Like the CEOs whose business activities damage others, the economists, through self-selection of friends, may come to believe that everybody (or at least everybody who counts) thinks just like they do.
    And so an environment is created where selfish individuals are selected for.
    This then influences government and society at large because our civilisation requires economic planning and that planning must be informed by economic theory.
    (p 220)

    Economists who argue that we should apply a high discount rate to the analysis of spending on climate change are essentially arguing that it's best to leave future generations to fend for themselves, because expenditure in future will combat threats far more cost-effectively than anything we can do today.
    (p 221)

    Perhaps, as humanity addresses the market failures that have led us to discount our own futures so steeply, we too will increasingly consider the survival of our own superorganism — our global civilisation—as the yardstick by which we establish an appropriate discount rate and profit horizon within the market system.
    (p 228)


    [The] motivating force of democracy is little more than a continuation of the trend that began with the dawn of agriculture, wherein the individually weak farmers triumphed over the powerful few. …
    [And yet, from] New York to Zurich a privileged minority [continues to exert] disproportionate influence. …
    In a true democracy all political funding would come from the people as a whole, not just a select few, for whoever pays the piper calls the tune. …

    The UN, with its mix of democratic and despotic governments, remains the closest thing we have to world governance. …
    (p 244)

    Weighty matters are debated in the chamber, and in this strange world in miniature the voice of the peoples of San Marino (population thirty thousand) and Monaco (thirty-three thousand) each carry as much weight as the billion-strong throngs of India and China and the economically powerful USA and Germany.
    As a result it's possible for a binding vote to be carried in the UN General Assembly by a two-thirds majority, yet be supported only by representatives of 8% of the world's population. …

    But is a strong world government necessary for a sustainable human future?
    Several examples from the natural world suggest that this may not be so.
    [Ants, for example,] maintain their large and highly complex societies without the help of a 'brain caste', or indeed any kind of blueprint for intelligent management.
    (p 245)

    All of this is to say that an effective governance system need not be ruthlessly centralised, but merely capable of sending messages that effectively influence the system it seeks to control.
    [It may be] that our global superorganism [could] function [sustainably] without a single strong, centralised government.
    (p 246)

    The Copenhagen Accord [of 2009] may appear to be a weak outcome, but that is largely because our expectations were so high.
    (p 248)

    [Indeed, the] reduction pledges made by China are so large that the technocrats consulted on them replied that they were not feasible.
    But the Communist Party persisted, and they are now being implemented as well, incidentally, as putting in place a cap-and-trade scheme for greenhouse gases. …
    If all carbon reduction pledges under Copenhagen Accord are met, humanity will be emitting just forty-eight gigatonnes of CO, in 2020.
    To stay below 450 parts per million [ie to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 2°C,] we'll need to be emitting forty-four gigatonnes, so we're just four gigatonnes short. …

    Some worry that the Copenhagen Accord is not a legally binding treaty, but can any treaty be truly binding within a UN context?
    Under the legally binding Kyoto Protocol we've seen countries such as Canada repudiate its obligations without consequences — [indeed, without mechanisms for deterring freeridering] it's difficult to see how any treaty could be enforced.
    (p 249)

    {We now have most of the tools required to} avert catastrophe and secure a sustainable future …
    [And,] after ten thousand years of building ever larger political units, we stand just a few steps away from the global cooperation required.
    But do we have it in us to take those last steps? …
    The immediate challenge is fundamental — to manage our atmospheric and oceanic global commons — and the unavoidable cost of success in this is that nations must cede real authority, as they do whenever they agree to act in common to secure the welfare of all.
    This does not mean the creation of a world government, simply the enforcement of common rules, for the common good.
    (p 274)

  • The Weather Makers, Text, 2005.

    [Over] the past decade, the world has seen
    • the most powerful El Niño ever recorded (1997–98),
    • the most devastating hurricane in 200 years (Mitch, 1998),
    • the hottest European summer on record (2003),
    • the first South Atlantic hurricane ever (2002), and
    • one of the worst storm seasons ever experienced in Florida (2004).
    (p 136)

    Global warming changes climate in jerks, during which climate patterns jump from one stable state to another. …
    Climatologist Julia Cole refers to the leaps made by climate as ‘magic gates’ …
    [Since] temperatures began rising rapidly in the 1970s our planet has seen two such events — in 1976 and 1998. …

    [1976 saw] a sudden and sustained increase in sea surface temperature of 0.6°C, and a decline in the ocean’s salinity of 0.8%.
    Between 1945 and 1955 the temperature of the surface of the tropical Pacific commonly dipped below 19.2°C, but after the magic gate opened in 1976 it has rarely been below 25°C. …
    (p 83-4)

    Ever since 1976 the cycles have been exceptionally long — one would expect such long cycles only once in several thousand years — and there was an imbalance between the phases, with five El Niños, and only two La Niñas.
    [Modelling indicates] that as greenhouse gas concentrations increase in the atmosphere a semi-permanent El Niño-like condition will result. …

    [The record breaking 1997-98 El Niño] released enough heat energy to ‘spike’ the global temperature by around 0.3°C. …
    Some of the changes spawned in 1998 were permanent, for ever since then the waters of the central western Pacific have frequently reached 30°C, while the Jet Stream has shifted towards the North Pole.
    The new climatic regime also seems prone to generating more extreme El Niños …
    (p 86)

    Natural variations of the amplitude and spatial pattern of ENSO are large and thus confidence in any specific projected change in ENSO and related regional phenomena for the 21st century remains low.
    (Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis — SPM, 27 September 2013, p 16)

    One hundred and eighty-five countries participate in [the World Meteorological Organization,] and between them they monitor 10,000 land-based observation stations, 7,000 ship-based ones and ten satellites.
    (p 153)

    [There] are around ten different global circulation models seeking to simulate the way the atmosphere behaves, and to predict how it will behave in the future. …

    There are four major tests that any global circulation model must pass before its predictions can be deemed credible.
    • The first is whether its physical basis is consistent with the laws of physics — the conservation of mass, heat, moisture and so on.
    • Second, can it accurately simulate the present climate?
    • Third, can it simulate the day to day evolution of the weather systems that make up our climate?
    • And finally, can the model simulate what is known of past climates?
    [The current models] pass all of these tests with a reasonable degree of accuracy …
    (p 155-6)

    [Aerosols] generated by burning coal kill around 60,000 people annually in the US.
    Part of the reason is that … mercury, uranium and other harmful minerals which are released when it is burned.
    The state of South Australia is home to the world’s largest uranium mine, yet its largest single point source of radiation is not the mine but a coal-fired power plant at Port Augusta.
    It’s no real surprise [therefore] that lung cancers commonly result from burning coal.
    [For example, in] Australia’s Hunter Valley, where coal-fired power generation is concentrated, lung cancer rates are a third higher than in nearby Sydney …
    (p 159)

    [A] 70% reduction in CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by the middle of the twenty-first century is required to [minimize the risk of dangerous climate change.]
    This would result in an atmosphere with 450 parts per million CO2, and our global climate stabilising by around 2100 at a temperature at least 1.1°C higher than the present, with some regions warming by as much as 5°C. …
    A more realistic scenario may be stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 at 550 parts per million — double the pre-industrial level.
    This would result in … an increase in global temperature of around 3°C this century …
    (p 168)

    Plants grown experimentally in CO2-enriched environments tend to have reduced nutritional value, tougher leaves and higher concentrations of defensive chemicals (such as tannins and phenolics), making them a much poorer food source.
    (p 175)

    Since the 1970s [weather related] insurance losses have risen at an annual rate of around 10%, reaching $100 billion by 1999. …
    {[And since] 1974 the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes recorded has almost doubled.}
    An increase in wind speed during a storm from 40-50 knots to 50-60 knots increases building damage by 650%. …

    In 2001 Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurance company (re-insurers insure the insurance companies, and thus set insurance rates) estimated that by 2050 the global damage bill from climate change could top $500 billion.
    (p 236)

    In the UK the average [wind] turbine generates at only 28% of its capacity over the course of a year. …
    [By contrast, a] UK nuclear power works at around 76%, gas turbines 60%, and coal 50% of the time.
    The high redundancy in wind [is, however,] somewhat offset by the high reliability: wind turbines break down far less frequently, and they are cheaper to maintain than coal-fired power plants.
    (p 269)

    [Belarus] received 70% of the fallout [from Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986.]
    … 25% of its farmland has been put permanently out of production …
    Currently, 25% of the Belarus budget is spent on alleviating the effects of the disaster.
    (p 274)

    China will commission two new nuclear power stations per year for the next twenty years, which from a global perspective is highly desirable, for 80% of China’s power now comes from coal.
    India, Russia, Japan and Canada also have reactors under construction, while approvals are in place for thirty-seven more in Brazil, Iran, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Finland and Japan.
    Providing the uranium necessary to fuel these reactors will be a challenge, for world uranium reserves are not large, and at the moment around a quarter of the world’s demand is being met by reprocessing redundant nuclear weapons.
    (p 275)

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