Sunday, October 30, 2011

Still here

I plan not to make a habit of posts such as this, but the last month or two have seen a larger than average number of disruptions and distractions and diseases.

To signal my intention to return to slightly more regular posting, I have shifted my header image to something a little more Scottish. As always, I'd love constructive feedback on the change. Do the words need to be a different colour?

As I am now in (God willing) my final year of PhD, I am probably not going to be posting every day as I did for a year, but will aim at more like two or three posts a week. That may have to shift further as things progress, but hopefully there is still enough synergy between blog and project to keep both on the move.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This has nothing to do with anything but is too good not to save here.
H/T Rod Benson.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping alternatives alive

"Only a crisis brings about real change. When the crisis occurs the ideas that are adopted are those which are readily available. It is part of the duty of the Church to keep alive alternative ways of thinking and living in preparation for the time when the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable."

- Richard Chartres, Green economy possible with political will.
H/T Liz.

Do you think this is a helpful way of talking about one of the political roles of the church, as a witness to and guardian of the idea that other ways of life are possible, that repentance is the most fundamental freedom, that there is nothing inevitable about the present political landscape?

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Climate change: what is at stake?

The more I talk with people about their attitudes towards and feelings about climate change, the more I have discovered that many (perhaps most) well-educated and socially-engaged people have only a somewhat vague idea of the nature, scale and likely timing of the various kinds of dangers we face on our current path. And so, when I came across this summary from Joe Romm, I immediately thought that many of my readers might find it a useful resource to peruse, bookmark, reflect upon and share with others. If you are not really sure what impacts mainstream scientific research currently considers likely from a middle of the road business as usual scenario (i.e. not worst case), then this post lays out many of the key issues in an accessible way.

The figure included above is from MIT research from 2009 and shows the likelihood of different temperature outcomes based on two broad scenarios. On the left is business as usual. This is not the worst case and does not include slow feedbacks. On the right is a world where we take aggressive global action to reduce carbon emissions. The temperatures are the average global difference between the world in 1990 and in 2100. Since most other discussions used pre-industrial temperatures as a baseline and the world had already warmed by about 0.5ºC by 1990, then this needs to be added to the numbers to compare with other publications. My main criticism of the image is in the choice of colour. A rise of 3.5-4.5ºC above pre-industrial temperatures can in no sense be understood as reassuringly green. Such a change in the space of a century would be unlikely to be compatible with industrial civilisation as we know it or the possibility of feeding anything like the 9-10 billion people projected to be around by then.

Friday, October 07, 2011

What has smoking got to do with climate change?

DOUBT from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.

Do cigarettes contribute to the warming of the planet? Not really, but the deliberate manufacturing of public doubt in the face of widespread scientific evidence has been the hallmark of industry attempts to delay regulation in both cases. Not only has big oil used the same arguments and tactics as big tobacco, but in some cases, the same individuals. Certainly many of the same anti-regulation think tanks appear as sources of claims that are subsequently picked up and repeated in the mainstream media. Numerous publications have documented the history of these groups, who act as a PR smokescreen for industries in danger of serious public backlash over the dangerous activities from which they profit (for instance, Merchants of Doubt). The goal is not refutation of the science but merely the seeding of public doubt through the appearance of ongoing controversy on topics considered resolved amongst the experts. The question is how long they will be successful. For the link between cigarettes and cancer, such tactics effectively won the tobacco industry three decades of public confusion and regulatory hiatus in which to maximise profits. We don't have three decades in which to delay over climate.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Not dead yet

The last ten days have included a fascinating conference (which I really should have plugged a few more times; more on that anon, probably), the arrival of some old friends in Edinburgh and a bout of unwelcome illness that have together conspired to keep me offline. The previous two posts were scheduled to go up ahead of time and I am only just back on very briefly today. It may be another day or two before I get a chance to post anything as I try to catch up.