SciBlogs

Archive March 2010

Business Roundtable lies about climate, according to The Economist Gareth Renowden Mar 24

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You might expect the Business Roundtable to be avid readers of that august weekly news magazine The Economist, and yet BR head honcho Roger Kerr was happy to write this in an op-ed published last month, apparently relying on British tabloid the Daily Mail as a source:

On top of all this is Climategate, which started with the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. Its suspended director Phil Jones has admitted that there has been no global warming in the past 15 years.

No he didn’t. Here’s The Economist on the subject:

Since I’ve advocated a more explicit use of the word “lie”, I’ll go ahead and follow my own advice: that Daily Mail headline is a lie. Phil Jones did not say there had been no global warming since 1995; he said the opposite. He said the world had been warming at 0.12°C per decade since 1995.

The Economist’s writer goes on to note that:

Anyone who has even a passing high-school familiarity with statistics should understand the difference between these two statements

One must presume, therefore, that Roger Kerr lacks that attribute, or is perhaps prepared to allow a good story to trump the facts. Not surprising when he lists in a Dominion Post opinion piece the experts the BR has brought to New Zealand to “balance” the debate:

Over the past 15 years the Business Roundtable has brought Richard Lindzen, Robert Balling, Patrick Michaels, David Henderson, Bjørn Lomborg and Nigel Lawson to New Zealand in an effort to inject some balance into the debate.

By their friends shall we know them.

What makes sea level rise uneven Bryan Walker Mar 23

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An illuminating article by Michael Lemonick just published in Yale Environment, which I summarise here, communicates some of the developing understanding of just how uneven sea level rise is likely to prove.  It will vary greatly by region. There are a number of reasons for this.  One is that the land is actually rising in some places, including northern Canada and Scandinavia, which are still recovering from the crushing weight of the Ice Age glaciers, albeit from 10,000 years ago. Their sea-level increases are less than the global average would suggest, since their land areas are rising a few millimeters a year.   On the other hand land around the periphery of where the glaciers sat, such as Chesapeake Bay and the south of England, was squeezed upwards by the downward pressure nearby and has been sinking back by a few millimetres a year ever since, so sea level rise is greater than average in these regions. Land is also subsiding in coastal places where massive oil and gas extraction has occurred such as Louisiana.

A larger effect is from changes in prevailing winds, which can push water consistently toward the land or keep it at bay. The trade winds that blow west across the tropical Pacific, for example, boost average sea levels by as much as 24 inches on the western side of the ocean – in places such as the Philippines – compared with those in northern South America. If those winds shift with climate change, so would local sea levels.

Ocean currents also affect sea level rise. If the Gulf Stream were to slow, for example, that would force water to pile up behind what amounts to a partial blockage of the overturning current. That could force sea level along the U.S. coast to rise another 8 or so inches over the next century beyond the global average, given a medium-emissions scenario.

But the ’gorilla in the room’ according to Ronald Stouffer, of the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton NJ, is gravitation. The extra gravitational attraction of an undersea mountain range pulls water toward it, creating a literal, permanent bump on the surface of the sea, while the deficit of gravity near an undersea valley creates a depression in the water up above. A coastal mountain range pulls the water in its direction, raising sea level nearby. So do the massive icecaps that smother Greenland and Antarctica. They keep sea level higher than it would otherwise be for thousands of kilometers around both land masses, and correspondingly lower elsewhere.

If the polar ice sheets shrink, though — as they’re currently doing, especially in Greenland and West Antarctica —  their gravitational pull weakens and so does their hold on the surrounding water. Their loss of mass not only contributes to overall sea level rise through meltwater but also allows some of the water held by their diminishing gravitational pull to go elsewhere — including the threatened east coast of the US.  And it’s not a small effect. In Hawaii, for example, Stouffer estimates that a seven metre sea level rise caused by the disappearance of the Greenland ice sheet would have an extra two or three metres added to it. Whereas a beachfront property in Iceland would end up with more beach.

Jerry Mitrovica, a Harvard geophysicist who is working with Stouffer, comments that when he gives talks about this people don’t believe him. He doesn’t blame them. ’It’s just wacky when you think about it, completely counterintuitive,’ he says. ’But it’s true.’

Mitrovica recalls that when he started looking at regional effects, some climate change deniers were noting that sea-level rise was happening at different rates in different regions, arguing that this proved there was no global trend, and thus no global warming. That was already a bogus argument, but now that he and others have begun investigating the gorilla in the living room, it’s even more absurd. The science is so straightforward, he says, that ’if you saw that sea level was rising uniformly around the world, it would be proof that the big ice sheets are not melting.’

One wonders what the Christchurch City Council might make of all this. They’ve settled for planning for a 50 cm rise. ’We’re following the Government’s advice and we’re not going out on a limb,” their spokesperson said primly.  Apart from the fact that 50 cms is now inadequate advice for the century, the dynamics of regional variation suggest that an already  complex set of considerations when planning for  future sea level rise may have to be open to even more complication. Nick Smith will surely have to descend from his high horse: “The Government is not going to consider adjusting its policy every week.”  Not that I’ve heard anyone asking for weekly adjustment — but annual reconsideration might be sensible.

Solar Bryan Walker Mar 23

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SolarNovelist Ian McEwan is fully aware of the dangers of climate change and concerned that renewable energy options be deployed with all possible urgency. His  memorable article in the Guardian in November 2008 makes that very clear. In 2005 he went with a group of artists and scientists to the Arctic to spend time on board a ship frozen into a fjord, a group, he says, ’dedicated to understanding the effects of global warming on the remote poles, and asking ourselves what we as artists might do.’ He writes about the experience in a prologue to the book Global Sustainability —- A Nobel Cause which arose out of the Potsdam Nobel symposium he was invited to in 2007.

We’ve known for some time that climate change would feature in his new novel, Solar, and wondered how. Comedy is the way he has chosen to come at so serious a subject. Climate change hovers in the background of the comic narrative around the central character. 

Michael Beard is a middle aged Nobel laureate who received his prize for the work he did as a theoretical physicist in one brilliant summer in his youth.  Since receiving his leaureate he has for two decades done no work of consequence, but taken a variety of assorted tasks appropriate to his celebrity status.  Official roles with a stipend attached are his preference. 

Beard is short, overweight and balding.  But the clever scientist holds attraction for a good number of women, and they certainly attract him.  His fifth marriage is coming to an end when the book opens in 2000.  He has numerous affairs whether married or not, and forthcoming sexual arrangements are never far from his mind. He is overweight because he can’t resist food.  He drinks large quantities of alcohol.  He is self-centred and self-indulgent.  McEwan himself sums it up in a television interview: ’I made him rather fat and gross and rather cunning and thieving and lying and above all greedy.’

Not a very promising focus for reflection on climate change.  However McEwan deftly weaves strands of climate change concern into the narrative of Beard’s far from admirable but often highly amusing life.  This isn’t the place for a review of the novel as a literary work — there are plenty of those available elsewhere — but I’ll try to indicate some of what struck me as climate change commentary in the course of my very enjoyable read of the novel.

Early in the book Beard  is largely unperturbed by climate change. He’s not wholly sceptical. He knows the basic physics.  But he sees it as one of those background issues which governments can be expected to address and take action on.  He’s suspicious and dismissive of talk about peril or calamity.  In fact his mind is on other things and he doesn’t really take time to think about climate change.  At this point he struck me as fairly representative of a not inconsiderable sector of intelligent people who simply don’t focus on the question long enough to be disturbed by it. The indulgences which preoccupy Beard may be somewhat gross by normal standards, but they fit quite well into familiar societal patterns which preclude serious attention to serious matters. 

Later in the novel Beard has had a change. Things are happening, thanks not to himself, but to the persistence of a young scientist at the renewable energy Centre that Beard nominally heads.  The young man had seen in Beard’s early Nobel work implications for a form of renewable energy which will use the power of the sun to perform artificial photosynthesis, to make cheap hydrogen and oxygen out of water, with the gases recombined at night in a fuel cell to drive a turbine. (McEwan is here drawing on the work of Daniel Nocera at MIT). After the bizarre accidental death of the young scientist Beard inherits a folder inscribed with his name in which the young man has placed all the relevant calculations of the process.  The attention Beard refused him during his life he eventually obtained after death when the older man finally read his work. As a result Beard emerges in 2005 as heavily engaged in plans to attract investment support for this new renewable energy.  In a notable passage in the novel he delivers a remarkable speech to a gathering of sceptical fund managers and investment specialists in London.  The need for renewable energy is set out with compelling clarity.  Never mind that the speech comes from an such unsatisfactory protagonist — McEwan gives his character’s scientific intelligence full range. And provides him with an audience on which it is largely wasted, for the vigorous culture of irrationalist denial has been nurtured in the solid institutions of the City.  In one luminous sequence McEwan captures both the promise of escape from the now disastrous energy path on which civilisation has depended and the thick-headed rejection of that promise in favour of business as usual. McEwan may have been cautious of didacticism, but he found in this passage a way of conveying the urgency and frustration that attends an understanding of climate change.

On to 2009 and at last Beard and his business partner are ready to launch the first project in New Mexico in which the new technology will go into production at a modest but useful level.  The necessary millions of dollars have been found, the components put to the test and everything assembled on site. On the verge of the grand opening his partner, no scientist but an excellent organiser and raiser of funds, is unnerved by all the talk he is hearing from business people and white coats on TV that the scientists have got it all wrong but don’t dare admit it.  The rise in temperature so far is negligible and now the planet is cooling.  McEwan manages to pack in most of the denialist hype which gathered strength prior to Copenhagen and make it sound like a genuine conversation.  The same goes for Beard’s scientific elucidation for his friend’s benefit.  The climax of the conversation is brilliant: ’Toby, listen. It’s a catastrophe.  Relax!’   The passage is a portrayal of the extraordinary persistence of denial and the ease with which it has been able to percolate through some presumably educated sections of society. 

The novel ends in a shambles befitting the life of its central character.  There’s no grand message for the world.  McEwan commented in the TV interview linked to above that novelists who try to sell too strongly a moral message usually find their novels are dead on their feet.  He clearly escaped that fate.  But along the way he fed in a good deal of the serious  concern to which he has given voice outside his fiction. The paradox that it should come through a character who personifies a good deal that is wrong with societal habits is part of the comedy.

We may expect to see writers and artists increasingly treating climate change in their work. It looms so large over society that it can’t be neglected by those who help shape our culture. Hopefully they will help prepare us for the acceptance which surely can’t be delayed for very much longer, and also help us to maintain a decent sense of humanity as we face up to the problematic future we have prepared for ourselves.

Carterist science meets its Cartergate Gareth Renowden Mar 22

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homer.jpgThe peer-reviewed rebuttal to last year’s infamous McLean, de Freitas and Carter paper which claimed that the El Niño Southern Oscillation could explain most recent warming (see Mother Nature’s Sons and Big Guns Brought To Bear), has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Geophysical Research (Comment on ’Influence of the Southern Oscillation on tropospheric temperature’ Foster et al, 2010). Co-author James Annan has the details (and full text of the rebuttal), but what is perhaps most remarkable is that despite being given the opportunity to reply to Foster et al’s comment — normal practice in these circumstances — McLean et al’s offering has failed to pass review and will not be published by JGR. Tim Lambert at Deltoid has more feedback, and draws attention to the comments by Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg at Climate Shifts who demands:

The five things we want to know are:

  1. Will McLean et al. retract the paper (and will Bob Carter admit fault or even discuss the errors publicly)?
  2. Will the denial0sphere and the MSM give this story (a climate change scandal!) the same coverage it has recently showered on various IPCC hiccups?
  3. Will there be an investigation as Bob Carter himself and so many other skeptics have insisted on over and over again, usually in response to bogus and unsubstantiated allegations.
  4. Will Bob now reverse his policy positions and urge (vocally) politicians that may have been swayed by his bogus science to do the same? After all Bob, shouldn’t the science drive the policy?
  5. Will The Australian cover this pending scandal! A scientist behaving badly!

Those look like damned good questions to me. New Zealand’s science community has been reluctant to publicly criticise Carter — he was once a respected and influential scientist who encouraged many talented students to forge their careers in the earth sciences — but surely this display of academic turpitude puts him beyond the pale. What it says about de Freitas is probably unprintable. I encourage readers to remember the extravagant claims being made for this paper by Carter and de Freitas, and the uncritical acceptance of those claims by a pliable media. High time the boot was on the other foot.

[This song's for Bob: h/t caerbannog in comments at Deltoid]

[Update 23/3: Skeptical Science explains the rebuttal here. Worth a read.]

Fabulous bad weather Gareth Renowden Mar 21

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This video was embedded using the YouTuber plugin by Roy Tanck. Adobe Flash Player is required to view the video.

A little uplifting singing for the weekend, from the Reverend Billy Talen and the Gospel Choir of the Church Of Life After Shopping, the new environmental church that’s sweeping the globe, or perhaps Brooklyn. From the Rev Billy’s pulpit:

We are finding a faith inside ’Environmentalism’ and ’Earth Justice’ and ’Climate Change Activism.’ A faith can support multiple movements, and carry hundreds of issues. [...] Earth-a-lujah! Life on Earth is not the object, receiving our civilized activity. The Earth is the subject. The Earth is all of us, is more than us, and includes us. Feel the Earth’s wave inside us, the good tsunami. We can’t fight it or improve on it. We will be saved as the Earth saves itself.

Just in case it’s not obvious: Billy Talen is a performance artist and environmental activist.

[H/t - Jo Abbess]

New comment system for Hot Topic Gareth Renowden Mar 20

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It’s Saturday afternoon, and between finishing the chilli jam to go with tonight’s six-hour roast lamb and a quick pre-dinner bike ride, I’m moving Hot Topic over to use the Intense Debate comment system. This is an externally-hosted comment service, operated by Automattic, the WordPress people. During the import process, existing comments may not appear on the site, but all should be well within a few hours. This is only a trial, and I can revert to the basic WordPress comment system at any time (it runs in parallel, in fact), but Intense Debate offers a wide range of features that should make commenting (and managing comments, from my point of view) easier. Existing log-ins should synchronise with Intense Debate, but if you create an Intense Debate account you can have personal profiles and other things. The experiment has begun…

[Update Sunday evening] It appears that existing Hot Topic log-ins are not automatically recognised by Intense Debate. I recommend that regular commenters sign up for an ID account. That gives you access to “reply by email”, which is a neat feature of the system. You can also comment as a guest, but without that (and other) features.]

Requiem for a Species Bryan Walker Mar 20

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Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate ChangeEighteen months ago Clive Hamilton finally admitted to himself that we’re not going to act with the urgency needed to meet the action required by the science.  Hence his new book Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change .

It is now too late to prevent far-reaching changes in the earth’s climate. An  optimistic outlook could see global emissions peaking in 2020 then declining by 3 percent each year, with emissions in rich countries falling by 6-7 percent.  It’s not enough.  Drawing particularly on the 2008 paper by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows from the UK’s Tyndall Centre Hamilton concludes that this would see the greenhouse gas concentration rise over the century to 650 parts per million, far in excess of the ‘safe’ 450 ppm talked about. Four degrees of warming is more likely by the century’s end than two degrees. The assumptions on which international negotiations and national policies are proceeding have no foundation in the way in which the Earth’s climate system actually behaves.  

After that grim assessment of the science Hamilton turns to topics for which he is well known through previous writing, as he seeks to explain why we failed to respond in time to the threat.  The first is growth fetishism.  All of the arguments for the sanctity of growth have been marshalled to resist measures to cut carbon emissions. Even the small decreases in GDP growth posited by Nicholas Stern if we take measures to reduce emissions are too much for governments to contemplate.  In the rich countries growth has become an unreasoning obsession.  Hamilton has no argument with growth to lift people out of poverty, but notes that in China and India the process is creating a vast army of middle-class consumers, like their counterparts in the West unreflective materialists whose desires are insatiable.

The consumer self is his next topic: ’…our individual sense of self has become bound up with how we consume.’ This makes the task of persuading citizens of affluent countries to change their behaviour in response to the climate crisis more intractable. When we ask the affluent to change their consumption behaviour we are asking of them much more than we realise. The campaign to maintain a livable climate may be a war against our own sense of who we are. This is not unfamiliar ground.  I always read it with dismay and, I confess, a pinch of scepticism.  Part of me thinks (or is it hopes?) that if people really understand what is at stake most of them would be able to transcend their consumer self. Hamilton is made of sterner stuff.

He moves on to considering the many forms of denial. For the roots of climate denial he turns to American conservatism’s anxiety over national sovereignty and disquiet at environmentalism’s destabilisation of the idea of progress and mastery over nature. This is the context for the break from their mainstream science colleagues of three prominent physicists who joined the anti-environment movement in the 1980s. Frederick Seitz, Robert Jarrow and William Nierenberg founded the George C. Marshall Institute in 1984. Initially a Washington think tank devoted to defending Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ programme, in the 1990s it moved to attacking climate change science, and Exxon began providing funding. Various other groups, especially The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition also funded by Exxon and other oil companies, have since joined the campaign. Climate denial and political conservatism have become entwined, at least in the US. Neo-conservatives do not accept the elevation of matters of fact over matters of belief. 

On the personal level denial is an understandable part of our psychology, which has made it easier for the organised campaign of denialism to succeed. Hamilton writes of the fear of uncertainty and of the difficulties humans have in responding to risk through cognitive processing rather than immediate feelings. He covers some maladaptive strategies for coping such as downplaying the threat, pushing it into the vague future, escaping through pleasure-seeking, resting in blame-shifting. Optimism comes under scrutiny: the observations of climate change have taken such an alarming turn in the last few years, and global action remains so inadequate, that maintaining optimism seems more and more like a disconnection from reality. 

But setting aside talk about consciousness are there not prosaic things that can be done immediately to avoid climate disruption?  Hamilton considers three of those commonly advanced. Carbon capture and storage he dismisses as a fossil industry delaying tactic. It’s expensive, it’s too slow to be of use and it’s not being funded by the industry itself but by governments. Renewable energy combined with energy efficiency is feasible technically and at reasonable cost, but he fears that no government is willing to undertake the emergency response needed over the next decade. Nuclear energy he has no objection to in principle but questions its costs and timing.  The fall-back of climate engineering is fraught with dangers. A unilateral deployment of geoengineering techniques is a frightening prospect and should be pre-empted by international agreement.

Perhaps the most sobering chapter of the book is a short account of a conference Hamilton attended in Oxford in September 2009 when some 100 climate scientists met to discuss the implications of a 4 degrees global change for people, eco-systems and the earth-system.  When the conference was mooted the objective was to explore the end of the probability distribution that people don’t like talking about. By the time the conference came round 4 degrees had moved to the middle of the probability distribution. This would be hotter than any time since the Miocene era 25 million years ago. We are staring into the abyss. ’The future looks impossible,’ said Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre.

However that future has to be faced. We will have to allow ourselves to enter a phase of desolation and hopelessness, ’in short, to grieve’. Hamilton explores the likely elements of our mourning for a lost future. That is the stage of Despair. Beyond that he hopes for a resurgence of resourcefulness and selflessness, for the emergence of values of moderation, humility, and respect for the natural world. That stage he calls Accept. His third stage is Act. Here he speaks of vigorous political engagement to build democracies that can ensure the best defences against a more hostile climate, protect the poor and vulnerable and restrain the rich and powerful who may well try to control dwindling resources for themselves.

It’s a sombre picture.  Whether Hamilton has correctly located the reasons for our failure to meet the crisis may be arguable. There’s a sense in which it doesn’t matter. The weight of the book for me was not so much in its analyses of society as in the author’s acceptance that we are not going to avoid major and frightening climate disruption, his description of the turmoil that such a recognition involves for the psyche, and his sketching of how we may best carry on into a diminished human future. This thread in the book is less formulated than the critiques of society, but will nevertheless carry a lot of interest for others who feel themselves on the brink of hopelessness.  Not least because Hamilton sees things worth doing and ways worth being on the other side of despair.

This perfect storm of calamities… Gareth Renowden Mar 19

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This guest post is by David Round, lecturer in environmental law at the University of Canterbury. It first appeared in the Christchurch Press on March 18.

It was once a truth universally acknowledged that good times never last. But we now seem to consider ourselves immune from the laws of nature and history. Times have been good and getting better for most of our lifetimes. All but the very poorest of us enjoy comforts beyond our grandparents’ wildest imaginings. We cannot imagine anything but the good life.

But actions have consequences, and if even half the articles we read in this newspaper every day are actually true – and surely The Press does not lie – then chickens are rapidly coming home to roost. We face the end of cheap and abundant oil, on which our entire civilisation and way of life depends. Oil we cannot afford is, for most purposes, little different from no oil at all. No adequate substitute exists. How will we manage if we cannot even get to work in the morning, and bring the groceries from the supermarket, let alone send our goods to the other side of the world and bring large numbers of tourists here?

There is no doubt significant global climate change is happening. The “challenge” to climate change science recently whipped up by vested interests is only a quibble over a couple of footnotes. We will inevitably see more extreme weather events, crop failures, famine, economic collapse, mass population movements and war. The earth’s human population increases each year by some 90 million, all of them wanting not just life but a life as good as ours. As all of this happens, we are running out of the most basic resources; not just oil, but water, soil and fresh air.

And even nearer to hand is economic collapse, both national and international. New Zealand has been living beyond its means for decades, and sinks deeper into debt each year just to keep things ticking over. Is it possible to imagine ever paying the money back? What happens when credit dries up, as sooner or later it must?

Many other countries are already beginning to taste the crisis that awaits us. These crises, inter- related and feeding off each other, are beginning to bite now. No government can solve them. They are simply a consequence of the way we live. They are the nemesis that always follows hubris.

Two questions arise. First, is it possible to avoid this perfect storm of calamities? I doubt it. One thing alone will save us – not law, or politics, but universal and immediate self-denial and restraint in most nations, rich and poor. This will not happen. We show no inclination whatsoever to live more lightly on the Earth; indeed, quite the opposite. In any case, unless the rest of humanity were to join us at once, New Zealand would merely have put itself at a self-imposed and pointless disadvantage.

Calamity is well-nigh certain. New Zealand may not suffer as badly as many other places, but our future will be far harsher and poorer.

So, calamity is well-nigh certain. New Zealand may not suffer as badly as many other places, but our future will be far harsher and poorer. We will simply not be able to afford a fraction of today’s health, education and social welfare arrangements, holidays and recreations, luxuries or even some basic comforts. We will not be able to afford prisons, even though the crime rate will almost certainly rise. Life in large cities, in particular, will be inconvenient and unpleasant.

So the pressing second question is: how will we survive? What will we eat, and how will we obtain it? How will we make a living? Where and how will we live? Who will keep the peace and who defend us?

The simple answer is, that like most communities throughout human history, we will have to do most of these things for ourselves. This will not just be a matter of growing our own meat and vegetables, although that will be challenging enough. We will not be able to rely nearly as much on paid professionals – teachers, policemen, nurses, social workers, administrators and so on. We will have to return to older social arrangements whereby most necessary social services were provided by what Professor David Korten calls the “love economy”. Money may be involved, but these services are provided by community members, rich and poor, out of their sense of obligation to their fellow citizens.

We cannot live without social institutions, and so we must create our own. It will be difficult to fashion them from scratch, but we have many ancient models to draw on. Many of them – the forest laws, shire moot and hundred court, manors and feudal tenures, local magistrates, the posse comitatus, guilds, boroughs and local jurisdictions – we scarcely remember. Others – the family and the Church – are shadows of what they once were. We must fashion for the future, not merely recreate the past, yet when similar situations and problems arise, similar solutions naturally suggest themselves. In past social, legal, constitutional and economic arrangements, we can find ways to cope with future problems.

Our choice of future government is between a stern hierarchy and a truly vibrant, co-operative, genuine democracy. Outside these two options, there is only chaos.

We cannot even be certain that our future will be democratic. Underlying all democratic thought is the assumption of an abundance, or at least adequacy, of resources – that there will always be enough for everyone. The only issue, then, becomes one of distribution. But in a new age of scarcity, this assumption may no longer be valid. Equality will be impossible. On what principle, then, are we to administer society and ration resources? Our choice of future government is between a stern hierarchy and a truly vibrant, co-operative, genuine democracy. Outside these two options, there is only chaos.

The “precautionary principle” is a wise environmental rule. Be cautious – do not allow innovation and development unless we can be certain that what results is an improvement, or at least a situation where the good outweighs the bad. This is the only principle by which a truly sustainable society can live. It is a “conservative” principle, in the true sense of that much misunderstood word. The essence of conservatism is holding on to the past until we can be certain that the future will be better.

The radical temperament, by contrast, is arrogantly ready to jettison the painfully established institutions of the past for the dream of paradise just around the corner. But our ideas are all of a piece. We cannot, in relation to the environment, say, require that we should be cautious, while in other spheres of life we take the opposite attitude that we should be free to do whatever we like. Inevitably, one philosophy prevails. We will be conservative – conservationist – in our environmental attitudes only if we take the same conservative approach in all our living.

Ours has been a glorious age of untrammelled, irresponsible, individual liberty. This must soon end. That may perhaps seem the most grievous price of all to pay for community, and the most difficult to make, for that liberty too seems second nature to us. Yet the price must be paid.

David will be giving a public lecture on Legal, social and political options in an age of environmental crisis on Wednesday, March 24 at 7pm as part of the School of Law’s The Law and You series.

Great balls of… air Gareth Renowden Mar 19

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airballnieman.jpg

Two images of the day: above — the picture says it all. Doesn’t look like much, does it? [via Ecohustler, h/t @Revkin]. And below, a NASA photograph from the International Space Station showing what that thin skin of air looks like in situ. Note the large cumulonimbus clouds casting shadows, especially the one left of centre, which looks as though it’s bumped into the tropopause. [h/t In It For The Gold]

AirnotballISS.jpg

The man who loved beer: Skeptics in the pub talk next week Gareth Renowden Mar 18

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Christchurch readers might like to know that I’m talking at the local Skeptics in the pub meet up next Tuesday evening (23 March) — working title is Sceptics, skeptics and septicsâ„¢. Should be a lively evening… ;-) Meet at The Twisted Hop from 5-30pm, talk begins at 6pm, probably over the road at CPIT before returning to the pub. Keep an eye on the Skeptics MeetUp page for final details.

[â„¢ as coined by Stoat, headline by David Byrne.]