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Posts Tagged Canada

Waking the Frog Bryan Walker Nov 12

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Canadian Tom Rand is an enthusiastic promoter of the clean technologies which are fully capable of saving us from the worst ravages of climate change. He’s also an investor in the field – a capitalist, he happily acknowledges. And importantly for his readers he’s a lively and thoughtful writer with a knack for striking observation. Waking the Frog: Solutions for our Climate Change Paralysis [Amazon] is partly an attempt to understand why we have stepped back from what looked in the early 1990s like a promising start to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. It is also an affirmation that we have the means to move rapidly away from fossil fuels if we have the will.

Rand hopes that the fact that he is a capitalist operating within the system he critiques will lend credibility to his criticisms.

“I’m not an outsider looking in but an insider looking ahead.“

He is adamant that it will be the power of the market that rescues us (if anything does). But it’s a significantly different market from that which obtains at present. Indeed the current free market can do nothing for us. The logic to which markets work will leave us wedded to fossil fuels. Intervention in the shape of an imposed price on carbon, whether by a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system or a combination of the two, is required. That will redirect the power of the market to advance the clean energy solutions which are waiting in the wings. Even the current energy giants will become as much a part of the solution as they are presently part of the problem. A little hard to credit, this last, but Rand is confident that it will be the case under a firm carbon price regime.

Since the early 1990s the world has descended into a theatre of the absurd says Rand. We have listened to the siren song of denial and persuaded ourselves that there is no need for the clear measures that were first proposed. He makes some perceptive comments on the peer group effect in supporting our disinclination to act decisively. He notes that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is notorious for hearing the views of only a few like-minded people, as was George W. Bush.

“The peer group effect explains why ideologues become so immune to what seems, to an outsider, obvious empirical counterevidence.”

It’s a significant observation with application to New Zealand as well. Our government seems impervious to the obvious fact that further fossil fuel discoveries spell not economic hope but high risk of disaster. One can only presume they confine their conversation to circles where the notion that oil and gas discoveries mean desirable wealth is never disturbed by climate change queries.

Rand is scornful of economists who fail to acknowledge the magnitude of future climate disruption. “There are no actuarial tables for a warming world.” Scientists best understand the risks of future disruption and economists should be guided by them as they weigh the costs of current action to reduce emissions against the future costs of failure to take action now. Nicholas Stern is singled out as best in this regard. Bjorn Lomborg, with whom Rand has debated, is decried:

“….he continues to provide comfort to those who would have us save our pennies rather than invest our dollars to lower the intensity of the climate storm.”

Rand stresses that global industrial infrastructure and financial markets are well up to the task of running civilisation on clean renewable energy. Efficient use of energy will cut the size of the task. Historically unprecedented market intervention in the form of a carbon price will hurry the process along. Closing down plants before the end of their operating life and leaving proven reserves of fuel in the ground will be necessary, however much it distresses the owners of those assets. Dedicating a significant portion of our infrastructure to the task will be required. And all this will rest on broad public support.

It’s that support which is not yet in evidence, and Rand struggles as much as any of us to account for its absence. I was interested that he refers to economist J. K. Galbraith’s 1992 book The Culture of Contentment. It was a book which had been on my mind during our recent election as I reflected that nothing relating to longer term issues such as climate change was going to get a serious airing in public debate.

Not that reference to Galbraith’s considered observations is all that much help in changing things, however much light it may shed on the obstacles. Rand quotes him:

“…the fortunate and favoured, it is more than evident, do not contemplate and respond to their own longer-run well-being. Rather, they respond, and powerfully, to immediate comfort and contentment.”

How does this mindset get changed? How does the frog become alerted to the slowly warming water before it is overwhelmed? For all Rand’s confidence in the adequacy of technological solutions, his awareness of the severe danger of climate disruption, his analyses of human psychology, he remains dependent on an appeal to human intelligence.

“It is an insult to our collective and historical intelligence to continue to ignore the warming climate and all its repercussions.”

It’s an appeal humanity may not respond to. Nevertheless it is important that books like Rand’s continue to be written, all the more when the authors are as intellectually alert and aware as he. The field must not be left to the forces which will lead to climate chaos.

Climateballs: O’Sullivan strikes again Gareth Renowden Feb 23

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John O’Sullivan — the pseudosceptic who is serially and persistently wrong about almost everything he chooses to write about, and who has made a career out of misrepresenting his own abilities and qualifications — is at it again. In a “review” of a new book by Canadian denier Tim Ball (left), O’Sullivan1 writes:

The courage and forthrightness Tim Ball has shown with this book, and in the British Columbia Supreme Court defending himself against the now failed libel suit of Michael Mann, is about to be vindicated by the judiciary. As the scientific community awaits Ball’s impeding legal triumph, we may edify ourselves not just with the black and white evidence presented in this extraordinary publication, but in the certain knowledge that Mann and his co-conspirators have spectacularly failed in their bid to silence dissent against their fraudulent science.

Mann’s abortive attempt to sue Ball in the British Columbia Supreme Court ultimately back-fired because Mann refused to show his metadata, his calculations for his junk science, in open court. Now Mann faces possible bankruptcy on top of professional suicide, as the price for his misdeeds.

What purple prose! What hyperbole! What utter crap.

Mann’s lawyer, Roger McConchie writes:

Their assertion that Dr. Mann faces possible bankruptcy is nonsense. Dr. Mann’s lawsuit against Dr. Ball and other defendants is proceeding through the normal stages prescribed by the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules and Dr. Mann looks forward to judicial vindication at the conclusion of this process.

In other words: O’Sullivan’s wrong again. The court case is very much on, and Tim Ball is in deep trouble. Ball’s book, teasingly titled The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science is another matter. A cursory glance at the sample available via Amazon suggests that it’s yet another in a long line of conspiracist nonsense about the climate issue — eerily reminiscent of Ian Wishart’s Air Con in its suggestions of cabals at the UN, environmentalism as a religion, and Maurice Strong and Prince Philip as some sort of evil overlords. Mr McConchie is undoubtedly looking over the text with considerable interest…

  1. With co-author Hans Schreuder.

Canadian megafires send smoke round the globe Gareth Renowden Jul 11

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Quebecfires

Massive forest fires are raging beyond control in Quebec, sending huge plumes of smoke to the east. The Eastmain fire — top left in this image from NASA’s Earth Observatory — is spreading towards the east coast of James Bay, the southernmost extension of Hudson Bay, and is currently estimated to cover an area of 656,000 hectares (1.6 million acres). Smoke from the huge fires has already caused smog problems in Montreal and Maine, and is heading round the globe. On July 8 NASA’s Terra satellite spotted a great swathe of Canadian smoke crossing Norway and Sweden, and heading across the Baltic towards Finland.

QsmokeoverNorway

The Eastmain fire is the largest wildfire in Canada since 1959, and is almost as big as all the wildfires that have burned in the US so far this year. Forecasts for the area show warm temperatures continuing for at least another 5 days, so the fire is likely to continue to spread.

Meanwhile, up on the Greenland ice sheet, Jason Box, Peter Sinclair and the Dark Snow team, who are investigating the effect of smoke particles deposited on the ice on melting, have successfully completed their first sampling mission. It’s well worth checking Sinclair’s blog for frequent updates — and lovely images — of the team’s progress.

[Update 14/7: Jeff Masters posts on the Canadian fires here, and a European team track the smoke in near real time.]

The Climate Show #34: four Hiroshima bombs a second Gareth Renowden Jun 26

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It’s been almost half a year since Glenn, Gareth and John last met over the intertubes to discuss climate news — but we’re 97% sure we’re back, catching up on all the recent climate news. John discusses the recent Cook et al (where al is the Skeptical Science team) paper on the 97% consensus on climate science and the accompanying Consensus Project web site, “sticky” facts like using Hiroshima bombs as a unit of warming. Plus all the news on recent weather extremes — flooding in India, Canada, and Europe, climate impacts on the wine business, and Gareth’s recent interview with Bill McKibben. Show notes below the fold…

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

Follow The Climate Show on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

Show notes

News

Floods in India, Canada, and last month in Europe:

Drone footage of Czech floods

Weather experts to discuss unusual UK seasons

Colorado battles the most destructive wildfires in the US state’s history

US puts $110 billion cost on last year’s extreme weather

After the German floods, hailstorm devastates Loire vines

New Aussie climate report says 80% of world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground

Report here: http://climatecommission.gov.au/report/the-critical-decade-2013/

Greenland’s 2012 melt tied to jetstream changes

Climate change drops off G8 summit agenda

The Consensus Project

Peer-reviewed paper: http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024

Website: http://www.theconsensusproject.com/

Graphics available at: http://sks.to/consensuspics

Obama’s climate announcement: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/25/2213341/invest-divest-obama-goes-full-climate-hawk-in-speech-unveiling-plan-to-cut-carbon-pollution/

I think it’s going to rain today (when it’s wet, it’s very very wet) Gareth Renowden Jun 23

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I took Rosie the truffle machine for a walk around the farm just before dark yesterday. We were both a bit stir-crazy after four days of cold, cold rain and a couple of days of screaming southerlies that brought snow to our hills. The ground passed field capacity at the beginning of last week, when an atmospheric river brought torrential downpours and flooding to much of the South Island. Now the soil is sodden, quivering with water and oozing mud at every footstep. Every drop of extra rain is taking that mud and sluicing it down to the river. A stream runs through my black truffle plantation. I spent this afternoon digging a drainage trench. Truffles don’t enjoy sitting in water. My crop might rot. The Waipara is roaring along at the bottom of our cliff at about 50 cumecs1, an impressive sight for a river that normally dribbles down to the sea at under a cumec. It peaked last week at about 110 cumecs. The riverbed will have been reshaped. But we got off lightly.

Over the last couple of days the New Zealand news has been dominated by extreme weather. The southerly storm that soaked us also battered Wellington and brought deep snow2 to much of the South Island. It made for compelling pictures. But what’s going on elsewhere in the world is even more dramatic:

The early arrival of particularly intense monsoon rain has brought flooding and chaos to northern India. At the time of writing, it is estimated that 600 people have died and 40,000 are stranded by rivers and landslides [BBC, NASA Earth Observatory, Jeff Masters.]. In The Times of India, government earth sciences secretary Shailesh Nayak was reported as saying that climate change played a role in the flooding:

The catastrophic rainfall in Uttarakhand was most likely a climate change event as it is in keeping with a pattern of increasing incidents of extreme weather events that often cause phenomenal damage as was seen in the hill state…

In Alberta, Calgary — Canada’s fourth largest city — has been flooded by torrential rains in the catchments of the Elbow and Bow rivers. Three people have died and 100,000 have been displaced. [Christopher Burt at Weather Underground, Calgary Herald, National Post, podcast: interview with Robert Sandford, ]

The central European flooding that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago at The Daily Blog is now estimated to have cost the regional economy US$22 billion. Germany is now “enjoying” a heatwave.

Meanwhile, Alaska has been experiencing a heatwave of record proportions as a slow moving giant loop in the jet stream has allowed a dome of high pressure to linger over the state.

New Zealand’s recent extreme weather was also down to a large excursion the in the southern hemisphere jet stream, as Jim Renwick told the Science Media Centre:

To get an event like this, which is pretty extreme, we need the westerly wind that normally blow across New Zealand and the southern oceans to slow down and to buckle into a series of big meanders, north-south waves around the hemisphere. […] Right now we have a series of large-scale waves around the southern hemisphere, with big southerlies near New Zealand, over the central Pacific, off the eastern South American coast, over the eastern South Atlantic, and over the central Indian Ocean. The southerly flow over/near New Zealand is the most impressive, as it reaches all the way south to south of 60S […] which is almost down to the edge of the sea ice at this time of year.

So where’s the climate change in all this? In India, Canada, Alaska and Europe we have extreme weather events happening more or less simultaneously, with a common factor — jet stream meanders — playing a significant role. Those meanders are most likely a symptom of a reduced equator to Arctic temperature differential, as Jennifer Francis and Stu Ostro explain in this recent Climate Desk event. We also have to consider the fact that the climate system is now operating at higher energy levels than before — a warmer atmosphere can carry more water vapour, and water vapour is the fuel for weather systems. More water vapour, more rain — and more intense rainfall.

Weather extremes are where the climate change rubber hits the road3. We might think that our future is described by the smoothly rising curves we see in multi-model means of global temperature projections over the next 100 years, but we don’t live in a multi-model world. We only have the one climate system, and we all live in regions, not in a notional global average.

We have to live through the noise — the bumps, the lumps, and the jumps that go with energy accumulating in the planet’s climate system. There will be more floods, more lives lost to climate instability. It’s happening now, and it’s going to get worse.

[Peter Gabriel, Dusty Springfield, Nora Jones or the original?]

  1. Cubic metres per second.
  2. The Mt Hutt ski field got 2.8 meters of snow — just over 9 feet in the old money — a record start to the season. Take a look at the green line on their snow graph to get some sense of the context.
  3. And sometimes the road explodes, as happened in the recent German heatwave.

Lost and damaged cindy Dec 08

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New Zealand Youth Delegate Simon Tapp with our golden prize: a Colossal Fossil, shared with Canada.

At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud:  New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada.

For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities. Surprising many and disappointing all, New Zealand has fought hard to unseat 5-time Colossal Fossil winner, Canada, in a campaign of extreme selfishness and irresponsibility.

While New Zealand may have helped drown the talks for another year, New Zealand’s small and vulnerable Pacific neighbours should take heart that they have not been forgotten – New Zealand intends to drown them too.

I don’t think I can add much to this, except to say that for a small country, we sure manage to punch above our weight at these talks, upsetting more governments and people than is warranted for our small size.   Sam from the Youth Delegation has summed it up nicely over on the youth blog. It’s all about trust.

I was going to write a light-hearted blog today, poking fun at Lord Christopher Monckton’s appearance in Doha, in his Arabic dress and antics in the plenary. But I thought about it overnight and woke this morning more angry about it than amused.Monckton turned up on Wednesday dressed in full Arab regalia –  the long, white kheffiyeh that the majority of Qatari men wear every day.   He held a press conference the next day with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and a Texan tea party group, with Republican Senator James Inhofe joining by video.

But this week saw a massive typhoon in the Philippines that has so far killed more than 500 people – and counting. The southernmost super-typhoon ever seen in the country.  It nearly wiped out Palau altogether.

The Philippine delegate, in tears, appealed to the meeting to take action, to get agreement:  “If not us, then who; if not now, then when; if not here then where?”

Later, Monckton later took the floor in the plenary, posing as a delegate for Burma, who don’t have a delegation here, and told the meeting that there had been no warming in 16 years.   The whole plenary booed him.   He had his badge taken off him, and was ejected (he was leaving anyway). The Guardian Liveblog covered it here, if you feel you must watch (another rant from me there too).

I got an email from the UN telling me: “Lord Monckton has been permanently barred from the UNFCCC process.”

So that’s it.  Never again will I see the Viscount of Brenchley, Lord Christopher Monckton at a climate talks.  Good riddance.   He’s already trying to spin that he was thrown out because he was talking about no warming for 16 years, when in fact he was rightfully thrown out for  speaking on the floor as Burma when he wasn’t entitled to do that.

Midnight oil

Right now, it’s after 2 am and I’ve left the negotiations to get some sleep.  There’s big deadlocks around a lot of the detail, with much focus on an incredibly weak Kyoto Protocol text. Who’s in, who’s out?  Our government has been right in there, weakening rules around trading to the point that they’re actually weaker than they were in the early 1990’s.

Then there’s the issue of “loss and damage,” new to the discussions from last year. The key sticking point is over whether there is an international mechanism set up to help distribute money for the poorest countries to pay for the loss and damage from climate impacts.  It’s about the industrialized world paying for the damage it’s now wreaking on the poorest.

As Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau told a press conference earlier this week:

“If we had had more [emissions cuts], we would not have to ask for so much for adapatation.  If there had been more money for adaptation, we would not be looking for money for loss and damge. What’s next? The loss of our islands?”

This isn’t going to finish any time soon.  What we’ll get tomorrow is up in the air, but what we do know is  that air will continue to be filled with increasing amounts of C02 – and nothing that’s happening here is going to slow it any time soon.

I’ll know more in the morning, but bets are on that it’s going to last through to late Saturday.

 

 

 

NZ Herald’s turn to offer propaganda as opinion – De Freitas’ links to cranks hidden from readers Gareth Renowden Sep 12

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The new “compactNZ Herald has taken a downmarket tabloid approach to informing its readers by running an opinion piece about the recent courtroom defeat for NZ’s climate cranks by prominent climate sceptic and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas, without explaining de Freitas’ long history of association with the cranks he’s defending. In the article, de Freitas overstates the uncertainties associated with temperature records, even going so far as to imply that the warming trend over the last hundred years might be “indistinguishable from zero”1. He also overplays the importance of temperature series to policy-makers — a line straight out of crank litigant Barry Brill’s playbook, and self-evident nonsense.

Despite this transparent partiality, the opinion editors at the Herald credit him like this:

Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland.

But, as the Herald opinion team well know, de Freitas is much, much more than a mere associate professor in the School of Environment. He has a track record of activism against action on climate change that stretches back two decades. Here, for the poor misled readers of the new Herald‘s opinion pages is a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to de Freitas’ long history of climate denial activism.

This long list is far from complete — not least because it doesn’t include all the sceptic nonsense he’s presented as opinion at the NZ Herald and National Business Review over the years3, but it should serve to give a flavour of the man that Herald readers might think was a humble and respectable geographer at the University of Auckland.

The Herald has no excuse for failing to explain de Freitas’ interests in this issue, and should print a clarification as soon as possible. Carrying a good piece by Brian Rudman may “balance” CdF’s effort in some eyes, but the paper really needs to do better. What next? An opinion piece criticising the Labour party by prime minister John Key, where he is described as “a retired banker”?

[Updated 13/9 to add CEI link, and CdF's publication record.]

  1. “Temperature trends detected are small, usually just a few tenths of one degree Celsius over 100 years, a rate that is exceeded by the data’s standard error. Statistically this means the trend is indistinguishable from zero.”
  2. It didn’t.
  3. A rough count suggests that since 1990 he has published around 77 opinion
    pieces about climate change – with 32 in NBR and 27 in the Herald – partial publication record here.

Coal controversy continues Bryan Walker May 04

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Two North American pieces I’ve read this week appealed to me for their directness about the export of coal. One, via James Hansen, was a letter from a Canadian group to Warren Buffet, informing him of their intention this Saturday to prevent coal trains from his BNSF railway company from passing through White Rock, British Columbia to deliver their coal to coastal ports for export to Asia. May 5th is the chosen date because it has been designated an international day of action by 350.org.

We are a group of citizens in British Columbia, Canada who are deeply concerned about the risk of runaway climate change. There is a broad scientific consensus that we must begin to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. At the same time, governments and industry are eager to increase the production and export of fossil fuels, the very things that will ensure climate change gets worse.

These two things are irreconcilable, and since we can’t dispute the scientific findings or change the laws of nature, those of us who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels — especially coal.

Since we know what is at stake we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to help prevent this looming disaster. On Saturday May 5th that means stopping your coal trains from reaching our ports.

Our actions will be peaceful, non-violent, and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.

They acknowledge Buffet has cancelled plans to have his utilities build coal fired power plants. They also acknowledge his recent call for the super-rich in the US to pay more tax.

But with all respect sir, when it comes to climate change it appears that other people are doing all the suffering while you profit from the very causes of the problem. That’s not fair, and we urge you to apply the same moral reasoning to the climate crisis as you have to the problem of economic inequality in your country.

You are in many ways an important figure of conscience in the world. We appeal to you to seize this opportunity and make a bold decision on coal. With your support we can ensure a healthy future for our children and people around the world.

The other piece of writing was a blog by KC Golden, policy director of Climate Solutions. In it he discusses the question of tactics in communicating the climate message and stresses the importance of not overdoing tactical manoeuvres to the point of avoiding the direct statements that the seriousness of climate change demands. In this context he says this about the export of coal from the US:

In the coal export battle, we often confront the question ’Somebody’s going ship the coal to Asia, so why shouldn’t we get the [purported] economic benefits?’ We can’t definitively promise that if we stop a particular coal export terminal, the same coal won’t be shipped from somewhere else. But we can and should make the case that the whole damned business is wrong — not just environmentally costly but unconscionable — no matter what anyone else does.  And we can only make that case if we lean into the climate conversation.  We can’t draw a credible moral line in the sand — let alone get more folks on the right side of it — if we avoid or minimize the climate implications.

These pieces of writing struck me as relevant to New Zealand. Raise the question of the export of fossil fuels with a Minister in this country and the reply you get is that we are responsible only for our own emissions, not for those of other countries. That’s an intolerable evasion of the central issue. If we are going to mine and export fossil fuels we should say that we accept full responsibility for the fact that they will be burned somewhere and will add to the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Then we know what we are talking about and what is to be debated.

There are complexities around the issue, of course. The exploitation of fossil fuels can’t be halted overnight. But it’s a far cry to claim that means we can count on our fossil fuel reserves for a good slice of our future prosperity. The Government must continually be challenged on the ethics of such a position.

Hansen’s righteous cause Bryan Walker Apr 19

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The latest communication from James Hansen to his email list this week was a sharp reminder that the New Zealand Government’s commitment to the pursuit of unexploited fossil fuels is part of widespread malpractice.

The global stampede to find every possible fossil fuel is not being opposed by governments, no matter how dirty the fuels nor how senseless the energy strategy is from long-term economic and moral perspectives.

The specific case that Hansen focuses on is the Alberta tar sands. He has some chilling statistics.

Alberta tar sands are estimated to be 240 GtC (gigatons of carbon); see Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) Working Group 3 report. That is about seven times greater than the cumulative historical CO2 emissions from oil use by the U.S. (36 GtC). U.S. oil use was 28% of global oil use for the cumulative amounts over the past 200 years. So Alberta tar sands contain about twice the total amount of carbon emitted by global oil use in history.

This is the resource that the Canadian government is bent on exploiting for its claimed benefit to the economy. It may be far larger than anything New Zealand’s exploration is likely to reveal, but the same economic justification is offered by the NZ government for its commitment to find and exploit every last bit of fossil fuel that can be tracked down. The same too is the silence about what the burning of the fuel will mean for the global climate.

Hansen finds some comfort in a letter sent this week by the Norwegian Grandparent’s Climate Campaign, supported by 27 other organisations, to the partially state-owned Norwegian company Statoil urging it to withdraw its substantial funding for the Alberta tar sands project.  Statoil’s heavy involvement in the tar sands project is another example of a government which professes, and to some degree practices, engagement in emissions reduction but in contradiction allows its largely state-owned company to engage in the pursuit of unconventional oil.

A letter from a grandparents’ organisation seems unlikely to have much effect and Hansen acknowledges as much.

Given the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on governments worldwide and their effective campaigns to misinform the public, this may seem to be a small step.

But as a motivated grandparent himself he holds fast to the importance of continuing to assert the moral imperative to move away from fossil fuel energy:

But do not underestimate the potential of people dedicated to a righteous cause to initiate a broader public recognition and understanding of where the public’s interest lies.

Righteous cause has an old-fashioned ring to it. I can hear the snorts of realpolitik practitioners. But Hansen is right to see this as a fundamentally ethical issue. It is also not hopeless to advance it on that basis. Not all of society is heedless of morality.

Note: The picture at  the head of this post was supplied to Hansen by one of the grandparents, with the accompanying note:

I am enclosing a photo from today’s presentation by Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign – GCC to Statoil main office in Oslo of letter signed by 28 organizations and political parties demanding that Statoil withdraw from Canadian tar sand. Grandparent Bente Bakke was joined by Anne Dalberg, chair of the Sami Church Council. Norway’s First Nation – the Sami – showing solidarity with Canadian First Nations. Money may rule, but morals may be stronger!

Early Warming Bryan Walker Jan 05

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Nancy Lord is a writer who has spent her adult life in Alaska. In her new book, Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North, she tells the stories of people and places and natural environments on whom climate change is impacting in her part of the world. She is climate science savvy, understanding why ’in the north we live with disappearing sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, drying wetlands, dying trees and changing landscapes, unusual animal sightings, and strange weather events’.

The science is woven into a narrative of her visits to people living in the midst of the change, some of them tracking the changes, some facing the challenge of re-shaping their lives to adapt to what is happening. Always the landscape figures strongly as the writer communicates a lively sense of place, whether in the wild or in the crumbling coastal villages where the people wonder what the uncertain future holds for their communities.

In her own region of the Kenai Peninsula a crucial question is what the rising temperatures in the streams mean for the survival of the salmon which are such an important part of the local economy. Salmon are adaptive, but the changes to both freshwater and marine conditions are happening so rapidly and on such scale that the possibility of fishery collapse looms. Lord spends time with a stream ecologist measuring rises in stream temperatures and incidentally noticing the vast damage done to spruce forests by the spruce bark beetles which have flourished under the warming temperatures. Kenai wetlands generally are drying. Areas once dominated by herbaceous plants have been converting to shrub land, an invasion unique in the last eighteen thousand years and accelerating.

Lord travels into the remote Mackenzie Mountains of Canada’s Northwest Territories to look at the boreal forest region, that massive wilderness storehouse of carbon that circles the Northern Hemisphere. A ten day raft and canoe trip down the Mountain River led her party to the Mackenzie River Valley. Some promising conservation efforts are slowly moving ahead, but the development with which it is being ’balanced’, particularly in the form of an eight-hundred-mile-long pipeline to carry natural gas from Arctic gas fields to Alberta, moves more quickly. The irony of such a balance, which reminded me of the New Zealand government’s rhetoric, is difficult to miss. However the indigenous population who are urging conservation first seemingly also hope to share in the profits which will accrue from the pipeline.   In this section of the book Lord focuses as well on the permafrost and the huge amount, including that in the Mackenzie River Valley, which is now within two degrees Fahrenheit of thawing, with all the potential release of carbon that represents.

’O Canada, I thought with trepidation. Can your few people stand up to the power of corporations and the lure of economic development?’

Sea ice and the bears whose habitat it provides is the subject of another section of the book, when Lord spends a week with teacher friends in Kaktovik village on Barter Island in the Beaufort Sea. It was winter, but there was sufficient light for a three hour walk along the beach before early afternoon dusk.  The coastal erosion was obvious. It’s always a factor along this coast, but Lord points out how the warming climate exacerbates it in two ways: thawing permafrost loosens the earth and the loss of sea ice leaves coastline open to sea action, especially storms. She dwells on the frightening implications of the acceleration of sea ice summer melt, remarking that white sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun’s heat whereas blue water absorbs about 90 percent.  She  patiently explains the effects on the polar bear population for which the village is famous. The 300 Inupiat who inhabit the village are threatened by the washing away of the land. Lord reflects on the young people of the school she had spoken with:

’They may see within their lifetimes physical changes that, in earlier eras, took place over thousands of years. All of them will have to decide how, and where, and for what, they’ll live.’

The Alaskan village most famous as a victim of climate change is Shishmaref, and Lord records a visit during which she was taken to Tin Creek, the preferred mainland location for a new site for the island village under severe siege from the sea.  But possible relocation is a long tedious business, and the conclusion is by no means assured. The cost is great and the impediments many. And Shishmaref is only one of six villages on the ’immediate action’ list. For that matter the vast majority of the 213 villages in Alaska are seriously affected by erosion and flooding. It’s not hard to believe the US will avoid the issue and simply wait for the villagers to finally disperse when the anxieties and strains become too great, surrendering their community bonds and culture. Lord records that she was often asked direct questions when she met villagers, such as ’What do you think of us?’ She interprets them as in part an expression of pride but also in part a show of insecurity: Do we matter? Are we important enough to save?  Is anyone going to help?

Finally the book turns to the oceanic realm, specifically the Bering Sea. It sketches a complex picture. Fishing management in the face of pressure to allow bottom trawling is demanding enough but it assumes added complexity from the changes in sea ice cover and the movement of species as the region warms and a primarily cold Arctic ecosystem changes rapidly to sub-Arctic conditions. Lord movingly records a gathering of tribal elders to share their perspectives and local knowledge with field scientists. She also reminds readers that the climate change threats becoming apparent in the Bering Sea’s rich ecosystem extend in a variety of ways to the oceans which cover three quarters of the earth and house 90 percent of the planet’s biomass. The effects of ocean acidification, on track by the century’s end to be at a level last seen more than 20 million years ago, are highlighted in her descriptions of  the work of scientists measuring the pH of Alaskan seawater, ’already low enough to be corrosive to shell building’. One of the scientists declares:

’Alaska will be ground zero for ocean acidification, just as it is for climate change.’

There is no hype in Lord’s book. The many human stories which it touches on are respectful of the capacity of the people involved to respond to the challenges that face them. The threats to whole eco-systems are described in restrained terms. The book takes pleasure in the landscapes and peoples of the north. But there is no mistaking the magnitude of the changes that are upon them, or the ever-growing threat from the fossil fuels that continue to be tapped even in a region so gravely threatened by their exploitation. Alaska’s congressional representative dismisses global warming as a myth and champions the production of fossil fuels.

Against the bluster of denial, Nancy Lord’s sane, educated and humane writing chronicles the reality that is already upon us in a key region of the planet.

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