Conference Pair

I love it when a plan comes together.  After taking on a little too much before Christmas, not anticipating work taking off in January, I’m very happy to say that two of the initiatives are bearing fruit.  Not one, but two conferences are over the next few weeks.

The local Transition conference is now scheduled for Sunday 23 March, and we have our line-up.  If I’d had more time we may have been able to advertise it earlier, but it is happening, which looked a remote possibility just a few weeks ago.  Thank you to John Ingleby in particular for picking up the reigns.

It will run from 10 to 4, with workshops on starting an energy co-operative (we’re starting one in Berkhamsted), how to use gizmos like thermal imaging cameras, building community street-by-street, food security, personal resilience (I need this, getting run down) and scaling up the movement (we all need this).  All will be run by local Transition Towns, other than the personal resilience and scaling up workshops, for which we have Andrew Davies to thank.

If you are interested in coming along, you can book in here.

And not to be outdone, the Power Shift UK is in the diary.  This one really is for all of us.  It will be on the weekend of 3/4 May.  The theme will be connecting all of the disparate elements of the climate movement in the UK, particular to give voice to the down-trodden or marginalised in society.  The itinerary is not particularly confirmed at the moment, but is likely to include expert workshops on confronting oppression in organisations, practical skills in creating wind-turbines and training in the use of a new online platform created by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition for the sharing of stories in the fight against climate change.  Huge thank you to Emily Myers, Susan Poupard, Claire Morris and to Fiona Brookes and the rest of the Campaign against Climate Change team.

Watch this space.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

No help here, oh dear

So, we met with the UK Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Tax), MP David Gauke.  As promised, we talked to him about shale gas and how its exploitation is incompatible with keeping global warming to less than 2º Celsius.  My conclusion after the meeting is that the current UK government will not back up its rhetoric with equivalent action – climate change will not be addressed.

The surgery was running late, so Danny Bonnett and I had a chance to practise our arguments beforehand, while sitting outside the Berkhamsted Town Council offices.  We would also mention the risk to our pensions that continued investment in fossil fuel exploration and extraction brings, as raised by the UK Environment Audit Committee recently.  We’d also discuss how the UK renewable energy sector is stagnating due to government planning policy.

We then went in, got through the formalities and the conversation stated.  I read the recent quotes from David Cameron and George Osbourne that climate change is serious, man-made and something we should do what we can to address.  I stated the evidence that current targets gave us a less than 50% chance of avoiding the 2 º Celsius rise in temperatures.

David started by saying how the US has reduced its carbon emissions by more than anywhere else by moving over to shale gas.  He backed down from that argument after I pointed out that the US had a coal-based electricity generation network before they switched to gas, whereas we already have a gas-based system, so we won’t get the same benefits.  Plus we are starting 10-20 years later than the US – the remaining carbon budget is much lower now than it was then.

He did seem very interested in Danny’s first-hand accounts of how the UK renewable energy sector is on its knees at present due to uncertainty.

But his main argument for continuing with government policy was the need to keep energy bills down, particularly for businesses, and to do so in a way that was politically acceptable.  I.e in a way that would help them get re-elected.  Whereas shale gas is controversial, they think it is low-carbon (it’s not) and they think it is less controversial than onshore wind-farms.

They are evidently not going to take a strong stance to persuade the population that it is worth paying to replace our dirty power stations with renewable energy.

So, where does that leave us?  For meaningful action on climate change, at least a couple of Business, Government, Media and the Public need to make seismic changes to change our attitudes and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  I know some think that they are within their moral rights to live as they please, and there should be incentives in place to make sure that our actions are acceptable to society.  Or that there is no point in making changes in their lives if the majority do not do similar.

Well, the Government is not going to bring in those incentives.  The media continues to serve all opinions on climate change, whether scientifically valid or not, so the public will be able to find a way to justify denying the problem or that they can be part of the solution.  Business will aim for profit, and the Government will not be incentivising sustainable practices to a large enough extent.

So, the only way through is a revolution.  Society as it stands cannot cope with climate change.

Or get those kids trained in survival skills.

Or maybe we all need to take responsibility for our actions, and reduce our own emissions.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

So, climate change is real – what next?

Danny Bonnett and I are meeting David Gauke, the UK minister for tax, on Friday.  In the context of recent affirmations on the reality of climate change from the leadership of the Conservative party, we will discuss with him the policy implications, particularly for shale gas or fracking.  The following is what we intend to say:

David Cameron and George Osbourne have recently stated that climate change is man-made and that we should do what we can to prevent it.  We are faced with a choice between either leaving shale gas in the ground or with missing international pledges to limit temperature increases to 2° Celsius.  What will the government choose?

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister “I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces”.

“I’m someone who believes climate change is happening, that it’s caused by human beings. We should do what we can to prevent it” George Osbourne, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer.

According to the science, current climate change targets in the EU would lead to a 30-50% chance of keeping temperature rises below 2° Celsius.

To me, “doing what we can to prevent it” does not equate to aiming for a 40% chance of success.

Put simply, if we are to back up these words and commitments with action, shale gas production cannot happen in the UK, even with carbon capture and storage.  At the point when shale gas production in the UK would be becoming large scale, we would have to stop, leaving wells only partly tapped.  Investment in shale gas would also delay investment in very low or zero carbon sources, leaving a huge legacy for future generations.

Achim Steiner, head of UN Environmental Programme “We sometimes have to take a step back and ask ourselves: for the sake of having another 20 years of dirt cheap energy are we really going to put millions of years of evolution, of ecosystems, of ecosystem services at risk?”.

I agree with George Osbourne when he states “Let’s try and do this in as cheap a possible way as we can”.  The cheapest way to tackle climate change is to invest now in zero or very low carbon energy.  The sooner we make this move, the lower the overall costs, as Lord Stern described in his report in 2007.  If we want to continue to revitalise the economy, let’s do it in a way that creates skills and jobs that are relevant for the future.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

How to help someone get over denial

Coping with loss is traumatic.  Within our brains, bereavement is the identical to coming to terms with an addiction.  Or to any unwanted change.  Like the reality of climate change.  I am writing down here my thoughts on how to help someone accept the reality of climate change, so they can get over their denial and move on.

This is important, as while someone is in denial they will continue their destructive behaviour.  When they are over it, which will be a traumatic experience, they can then start to make positive plans.

I draw on an article on how to help a loved one come to terms with a loss or addiction.  The lessons come from helping someone with depression or other mental illness or a drinking problem.  They are equally valid for climate change denial.

I invite you to think of someone you know who is currently in denial about climate change, and then read on.

The article starts by emphasising that everyone is different.  It may be that the person you have in your mind hasn’t really thought about climate change, they just read the Daily Mail.  Or it may be that they have thought long and hard about it and have convinced themselves there isn’t a problem.  The depth of the denial, and the potential for conflict, will be different in both cases.

First off, the article recommends gathering information.  On the one hand, you need to be sure of your own ground about climate change and the denial arguments.  On the other, you need to observe your loved one to understand where they are with climate change.  You might want to ask them some non-leading questions, such as what they read.  Give yourself time to gather this information; there is no sense in rushing.

Then make a plan.  Are you going to gather a few friends round and confront them?  Or bring things up casually over a few conversations?  It will depend on the information you have gathered, the person and your relationship with them.

When the conversation or confrontation is underway, the article recommends stating the facts.  I’m not thinking facts about climate change, necessarily – more facts about the person and their denial.  Importantly, they need to be facts that cannot be denied.  Such as them getting angry whenever climate change is mentioned, or that they only read right-wing papers.Dismissive

During the conversation, the article recommends that we are sincere and have sensible expectations.  “If the intention of our confrontation is to make our friend get help for her disorder, we may very well come away shattered. However, if we voice our concern simply as an act of love, we will be at peace knowing we have spoken the truth and tried, even if she continues to deny the problem.”

Say “I” at the start of the sentences, which changes your mindset and theirs.  Rather than “you just can’t accept the truth, and it’s damaging the environment”, you might say “I feel sad when I see you leave the car running”.

Asking questions, and giving time for the answers, is recommended.  “Do you think you might be in denial about climate change?”

Have some resources ready for them to take away and read, such as links to information about denial or climate change.

And make sure you allow them the chance to talk to you again when they are ready.

Finally, it is important to protect yourself.  Set boundaries, such as being unwilling to argue about wind turbines yet again.  And recognise that helping someone come to terms with climate change is a long and draining task – make sure you are replenished with friendship and advice from others.

If you want to think about this conversation further, you do a lot worse than watch this video from George Marshall.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

“Climate change” flooding out

After years of avoiding the subject, our illustrious political leaders are now starting to talk about climate change.  Here are their recent quotes, in light of the incessant floods in the UK:

David Cameron (Prime Minister, Conservatives): “Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is”

“We can’t attribute any one event to climate change, but we know climate change is going to mean we have more events like this – more extreme weather events, more flooding, more storms.  If there’s one thing we know about the effects of extreme weather, it’s that the costs – financial, human and other costs – of not acting are much greater than the costs of acting. It’s a totally false economy to say ‘Don’t act’. The Government’s got to realise this and it’s got to take the problem seriously.” Ed Milliband (Leader of the Opposition, Labour)

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrats) – on the prospect of leaving Europe “We will not have the clout to lead in Europe and the world in the fight against climate change as we do right now”

“David Cameron hasn’t committed to serious, sustained action on climate change, which the Met Office tells us all the evidence points to as contributing to these extraordinary floods. It isn’t too late for the sadly laughably self-titled ‘greenest government ever’ to start to live up to its name Natalie Bennett (Leader, Green Party)

Nigel Farage (Leader, UKIP) dismissed climate change as the cause of the Somerset floods and said it was “just the weather”.

The most famous quote from recent days from this bunch was David Cameron saying the “money is no object” in dealing with the floods.  Of course, he meant in conjunction with the immediate relief effort, but he wasn’t specific, and left himself open to questions as to whether he meant longer term measures for flood defences.

It would be cheaper long-term to reduce our carbon emissions rather than spend billions on making the country more resilient.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for that.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

My name is John, and I’m a denier

Everyone is. You are. I think this is really important.

I am in denial about the inevitability of climate change disaster. The good news is that realising I am in denial might just allow me to come to terms with the apocalypse and find my way through.

It seems that the natural human way to deal with any change, not just a bereavement, is roughly the same. Firstly, there is brief shock, then denial. Ignore the facts, and we cope. As we accept the facts, we move through anger, bargaining and inevitably depression. Only when after dealing with those emotions can we move on to acceptance and positively learning our way beyond. We can stay in any of those phases for long periods, and can yo-yo between them.Phases of accepting change

I went through these stages with climate change, just as I am going through them again with our ability to avoid its worst effects. With climate change, for years I was aware of the problem, but avoided thinking about it. Then I remember watching the climate change denial documentary “The Great Climate Change Swindle” and grasping on to every word with hope. It was of course gibberish, but I wanted to believe. I’ve written about the anger I have felt. My experience now makes sense, with an understanding of the stages of accepting change.

I am ever hopeful that we will avoid catastrophic climate change, but I now accept the need to prepare for the worst. We have put a defibrillator to the beating heart of the planet, and are fiddling around trying to reduce the current rather than taking the paddles off. Emissions are increasing, targets are being watered down, and there is no sign of us making the connection between the destruction of the planetary life systems and our own wanton consumption.

When it comes down to it, I’m denying to myself is that there is a half-decent future out there for us, even if we are laggardly in lowering our carbon dioxide emissions. I am reluctant for some reason to think through what that future would mean. I have a painful vision of defending my family homestead from hungry marauders, like a scene from 28 Days Later. Maybe a better version would be the world working together to survive, long enough for us to stabilise the climate once more over a few hundred years? We’d unlikely be able to do it more quickly than that – there are 7 billion of us spending every waking moment burning as much fossil fuel as we can, what hope of doing the same in reverse?28-Weeks-Later-28-weeks-later-26663151-1499-996

So, what next? I’ll have to get depressed for a bit, I suppose. Then I can get on with designing my future in a Cretaceous world.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

PS – does that mean that in the meantime I can happily stop worrying about reducing my own carbon emissions? Can I fly again? Oh, no. That would be immoral. Climate change kills, and will kill. Contributing to it makes me as guilty of manslaughter as a parent smoking in the family home or car.

“Perhaps we should learn to expect the extreme”

So said BBC weather presenter Nick Miller as he explained the cause of the high winds and incessant flooding rain we have experienced in the UK this winter.  It is the closest anyone gets to saying “climate change”.

BBC Nick MillerWhether the weather we are witnessing is caused by global warming or not, it does give us the chance to experience the kind of climate the scientists forecast to be around in the future.

I think the stranded people of Somerset, washed away railway lines, battering winds and disappearing coastline are almost certainly caused by man-made climate change. As explained by Nick Miller, the storms are a result of a faster jet stream, born from the extreme cold over the US. In turn, the temperatures beyond freezing in the states are caused by the polar vortex burrowing its way southwards far beyond its normal reach. This is a result of a combination of the jet stream being weaker a few weeks ago and bubbles of warmer arctic air shifting blobs of the polar air around. Warmer arctic air is directly a result of climate change, and the weaker jet stream was a result of a lower difference in temperature between the equator and the north pole.

But you aren’t hearing that in the media. Everyone is scared of the in-built gut reaction they’ll receive back in torrents with a sniff of a reference to climate change.

Missing railwayWhat we are seeing now is just the start. This is supposed to be the good bit where we get longer growing seasons and milder winters. How bad can it get when our children are our age? I don’t want to find out, and I don’t want my kids to find out.

This should be the latest in a long line of wake up calls that spur government, business, you and me into action. There is an awful lot to do. And we are not doing it.

If you want to help me, get in touch.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke, or just plain John Bell


I was interested to read that Nigel Farage made a statement that we should allow refugees in from the Syrian conflict. It raised an underlying question I have about the distant future. Say we are lucky enough to only lose chunks of the south downs and Anglia in the UK to sea-level rise and flooding in the next few decades. Will we close the borders and guard our Isle, or will we hold out a hand of help to those less fortunate around the world?

I have to admit that neither option really fills me with joy.

Say we close the borders. I have to admit that is where I thought those further on the right were going with the increased support for UKIP. Or maybe Nigel Farage is a lefty. Unfortunately, we are at the moment almost totally dependent on the rest of the world for food. And plastic tat, electronic devices and wine. Could that mean we are held to ransom, like a medieval castle under siege? Or if not, we will at least find that there is less to go around and more demand as the world population peaks, and so we will find our sterling doesn’t go as far.

Or we open shop, help out and allow climate refugees in. We are already very crowded. The green and pleasant land will be crowded out with new house building and farming.

The_grass_is_greener_on_this_side..._(4218600060)No, I think we should avoid catastrophic climate change.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

PS – you may think that Syria hasn’t got much to do with climate change. You may be right. You may be wrong.

PPS – One of the upsides of a free-market capitalist society is that we are able to choose who benefits from our philanthropy. The victims of the inhumanity of Syria need our help.


It’s been a highly hectic couple of days. I’ve taken on an urgent job with the business, which kept me away from this blog yesterday. And last night saw the second Ashlyns Lecture. We were very lucky that the lucid and stirring Polly Higgins came to Berkhamsted. She may just have started something.

After setting up a vague horse-shoe of blue plastic chairs at Ashlyns School in the early evening, delivering my co-chair-re-arranger Trevor home, rushing around printing off the list of pre-bookees, I got back to the venue to find our star speaker was already enjoying a plate of the most delicious vegetarian food I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t eat Polly’s, no, I had a plate of my own. Thank you Parul, look forward to seeing you on Masterchef one day.

Doors opened at 7pm, and the steady stream started from the off. Food was bought, and it seemed that every other person who arrived hadn’t pre-booked. We’d not put enough chairs out. From pre-bookings of 77, we ended up with a very full hall of 130 enthusiastic folk, waiting to be inspired. They were very much not disappointed.
Polly TalkAfter an introduction from our very own Emma, Polly took to the floor. Without notes or slides, she let her trained barrister skills, natural charisma and deep understanding of her subject flood forward and wash over us. We surfed the rolling waves of her talk as she expertly balanced between emotion and logic.

We heard how, while she was overseeing an injury claim in the courts, she realised that outside there was a neglected and huge victim, laying seemingly passively outside her window. She decided to become the lawyer for the Earth.

That lead her to endeavour to introduce Ecocide as an international crime against Peace, within the Rome statute alongside genocide and war-crimes. It lead her to find out that Ecocide, the intentional destruction of eco-systems, was originally written into those very same international laws when they were first considered in 1972. It lead her to the incredible realisation that they had been dropped suddenly, with unpublicised and secretive discussions at the UN. Three countries had successfully lobbied to have the laws removed in 1996.

Those countries? The United States of America. The Netherlands. And the United Kingdom. In 1996. Under Sir John Major as Prime Minister.

The law can and should be passed. There are 121 countries signed up to make it so. All that is needed for it to be tabled is for one of those countries to put it forward. To do so, they need a mandate from their people.

So it is now our job to create that mandate.

Stroud recently formed Stroud Wants Ecocide Law. Other something like that. Spells SWEL. So we may form B-WEL. Berkhamsted Wants Ecocide Law.

If in 1996 Ecocide had been made a crime, as it rightfully should, the rainforests of the world would now be expanding, the tar-sands in Canada would be a pipe-dream and climate change mitigation would be well under way. Without it? What do you think?

It can happen by 2020. It could happen sooner.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

The good about climate change

Climate change isn’t all bad.  Depending on where you do your reading, you may only see the downside.  But there are upsides.  This post examines the three main benefits – warmer winters, longer growing seasons and more fossil fuels.

I’m writing this post because of the reader survey from the end of last year.  One of you didn’t feel able to answer the question on how bad is climate change because you didn’t know about the upsides.

There are three main benefits as far as I can see.  The first two are only benefits in the short-term; the last will keep on giving for centuries to come.

Firstly, at the moment in most of the developed world, there are more weather related deaths in the winter than in the summer.  A warmer world will mean that the average winter will be milder than before, and so cold related deaths will decrease in the short-term and in higher latitudes, according to the IPCC.  There are some important caveats, of course.  Excess winter deaths are higher in milder countries at the moment, so maybe it could go the other way.  And climate change brings with it much more variability, such as the chilling vortex over the US at the moment, which could stretch our ability to cope.  By the way, the frozen US was caused by a very weak and wobbly jet stream allowing a chunk of polar air to descend deep into the south, all as a result of a warmer world.  And of course the lower latitudes are stuffed.Too much to eat

The second benefit is longer growing seasons, again for the higher latitudes.  That’s the UK, by the way.  On average, spring will start sooner and summer will be longer over the next few decades, so we will be able to grow more food.  In fact, in the short-term, there should be an overall global increase in food productivity, again according to the IPCC.  Longer term it goes the other way, of course, and the lower latitudes are again the losers throughout.  And in some years, due to flooded summers or droughts, we will have to wait for the next year to eat.

The final benefit I’d like to talk about is the receding ice-sheets exposing more land and sea, for food growing, travel and of course for fossil fuel extraction.  Greenland, here we come, and we can start drilling in the Arctic.  Like a smoking amputee reaching for another packet of cigarettes because of their unrelenting addiction.

So, all in all, in the next few decades, the richer people in the more northerly or southerly parts of the developed world will probably benefit from some domestic improvements.  Will we be better off in that time, as the rest of the world withers away?

And will we be able to enjoy our spoils, with the knowledge that we have pushed the world out of its natural cycles into something new and unknown, with the inevitability that it will be coming to get us when we are old and our children are struggling on?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke