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


Here we go again, another press complaint

Encouraged by the results of my survey, I am embarking on another press complaint.  I know I said that press complaints appear to be very difficult to be upheld.  I also said I wouldn’t draw wild conclusions from the small, biased sample that my survey represents.  Hey ho.

The survey indicated that once you are over your denial of climate science, the amount of change you are willing to make to reduce your impact is correlated with how bad you think the outcomes will be.  Phew, that is a wild conclusion given the survey was unscientific, small and biased.  But it makes logical sense, so I’m running with it.

So, less contrary and inaccurate bilge in the press, less for people to hang their denial hats on, more chance of progress.  I’m not sure the logic follows either.

But, we’re going for it anyway, for the last time maybe.

The experiment this time is whether a clearly inaccurate statement gets retracted.

Thank you to Graham, who has both pointed out the article and done the research.  The target is an article in the Express in the UK by Leo KcKinstry, with the headline “Global warming is about hotter, drier weather … not flooding“.

There is an awful lot that is wrong about the article, but we decided to go for the two most obviously inaccurate statements.  The following is the first email to the Express:

Dear Sir/Madam
I would like please to draw your attention to two inaccuracies in the recent article “Global warming is about hotter, drier weather … not flooding” by Leo McInstry in the Express on 13 Feb.
I hope you will publish a correction?
Firstly, the headline is inaccurate.  Global warming is about flooding.  Please see the following extract from the IPCC report:
“Changes in many extreme climate events have been observed since about 1950. It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. There are likely more land regions where the number of heavy precipitation events has increased than where it has decreased. The frequency or intensity of heavy precipitation events has likely increased in North America and Europe. In other continents, confidence in changes in heavy precipitationevents is at most medium.”
Secondly, the article states “In fact in the last century in Britain there were four winters with heavier rainfall”.  This is not true.

The UK has had the wettest winter (517.6mm of rain fall) since national records began in 1910, the Met Office has confirmed.

John, Graham

Rationality and climate change? Surely not.

Are you more rational than the next person?  I tend to think that climate change brings out the madness in people, but you lot seem rational.  The results of the survey show that the worse you think climate change is, the more you tend to actually do something about it.
Team JB Survey - My Response
That does make sense.  It’s while coming to terms with the existence of man-made climate change that people behave irrationally, going through the denial phase of accepting a change.  Once you have got over the denial phase, you are adapting to your new acceptance of the way the world works in a much more positive and forward-thinking manner.
Team JB Survey - My Response vs Scale So getting the 50% of Westerners over the hump, through the emotional barrier and into acceptance of man-made climate change could be key if we are to avoid disaster.  It doesn’t even need to be all of them, just the top few percent of emitters.  That’s those that fly once or more a year or earn £30K or more.

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

Not standing for it anymore – where next?

Where next with creating a platform for people to challenge the climate misinformation in the media?  I’ve contacted a number of potential partners and gone through the process of a complaint via the UK Press Complaints Commission.  Where next?

The trial PCC complaint showed that the advice I had been given by Climate Brief, on the Skeptical Science website and via Bob Ward over the phone was sound.  The PCC are very unlikely to rule in favour of a complaint against reporting on climate science, unless someone or something is directly mis-quoted.  If there is any degree of interpretation needed, the papers win, even if the science is conclusive.

It also takes a long time to go through the process of a PCC complaint, and a reasonable amount of effort.  I first contacted the Telegraph on about 15 September, raised the complaint with the PCC on 10 October and received a verdict on 18 December.

Raising a lot of complaints would cause a stir, but could backfire if a large proportion were not upheld.  Maybe it would be better to provide a platform to enable people to complain to editors directly, with a centrally created set of article specific facts available to help?  Or maybe that could be expanded into a people-driven press complaints organisation, with greater transparency and more independence?

With the Daily Mail in the UK being granted the award for Climate Change Misinformer of the Year by the US website Media Matters, we are in the right place to make a difference.  It is worth skimming the damning evidence against the Daily Mail as compiled by Media Matters.

So, what do you think?  Poll follows, plus please do comment below.


John Bell

Ordinary Bloke

Results are in – I know what you think

Thank you to all of you who participated in the survey a few weeks ago.  I’ll be revealing the results over the next few weeks, looking at each individual question and how the results correlate.

The main lesson I have learnt is that you lot quite like to interact, but not always publicly.  I got a much higher response to the survey than I was expecting.  It means that the survey results are a pretty good representation of the people who read this blog.

The first question was whether you believe that climate change is man-made.  I would expect that most people reading this blog are of that mind, and the results of the survey bore that out, although you are less certain than the scientists.  85% of you put the chance that changes since 1950 are predominantly man-made at 60% or greater.  The IPCC put the chance that warming since 1950 is man-made at 95%; and 97% of scientific papers on the climate endorse the same hypothesis.
Team JB Survey - Man-Made
An interesting point to note is that no-one who responded thinks that global warming is probably not human-caused.  Those that think it is purely natural are 100% certain.  That would indicate to me that the thinking is a little emotional rather than rational, as we don’t have perfect information.  Unless there is some proof out there that I’ve completely missed?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke


At the start of 2013 I was into the 16th year of full-time employment in UK rail software.  I’m now fully established as my own boss and have kicked the rat race into submission.  I won’t be going back there again in a hurry.

In a few days we’ll all have our hands tucked under our elbows, holding hands with the people on either side of us, singing Auld Lang Syne.  Or at least a couple of lines of it; whatever we can remember.  I’ll be thinking fondly of a close friend with Scottish roots, who was swept away in a bloated river while enjoying her beloved canoeing.  I’ll be thinking of you, Jane Halliday (1977-2010).

A lot of us will give a few moments thought to a New Year’s resolution.  Most of them will be forgotten before January is out.  I wonder what you are thinking of.  How about forgetting the traditional diets and the like and going for something a bit different this year?  How about choosing to have more time?

We are all rushed off our feet trying to fit modern life into the 24 hours we have available.   This at a time of such plenty, where there is easily enough food produced around the world to feed everyone, and only a fraction of our time spent producing it.  What on earth are we doing?  What are we doing in those busy 24 hours?  Many people are speeding around trying to make ends meet.  If we are lucky enough to have more money than we need, we carefully re-arrange the ends so we are struggling again, by buying a bigger car, a more advanced phone, going on holiday further afield or extending the house.

How about instead taking the gift of time and just keeping it.  What are we gaining from this extra material wealth.  We could instead read more, learn a new skill or language, spend more time with friends and family or help others.

This may seem a pipe dream.  Surely it is not possible for you?

I didn’t think it was for me.  Then I realised that it was just a choice I was making.

The first step is to reduce your outgoings, by using things until they can’t be fixed again and not relenting to the pressure of the adverts on the telly.  A typical household could save thousands by not buying a new car until the old one is a goner, holidaying in your country, taking care with the energy bills, only buying the food needed.  Once into the habit of spending less, the step to a more part time working life will seem that much more possible.

As for me, I’ll be doing the same.  That means focussing on the important jobs I have taken on and doing what I can to get more people involved to spread the load.

This will start with the promotion of the second Ashlyns Lecture on 22 January, to be held at Ashlyns School in Berkhamsted.  The incredible Polly Higgins will be talking about daring to be great in her talk, erm, “Dare to be Great”.  Another possible new year’s resolution?  Book your tickets now – it will be an inspiring evening.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

The PCC verdict is in!

Many of you will have followed the saga of my complaint via the UK Press Complaints Commission against the Telegraph. After lots of toing and froing, the PCC verdict is finally here. Drum roll, drum roll, drum roll…

And of course I lost. This backs up the advice I received from a number of different people who’d made complaints via the PCC in the past. If there is any level of interpretation needed in the complaint, the PCC appear to have a policy of ruling against the complainant.

I’d be very interested in whether you think the PCC are right.  

For me, there are two meanings of “significant” in the context of whether the Telegraph article was “significantly misleading”.

Firstly, there is statistic significance. Is it right to say that an original estimate is wrong if a new estimate is made at a later date, with more information available, and the confidence intervals of both estimates overlap significantly?

Secondly, there is the significance of the effect that it will have on readers. Some will take it at face value and decide not to trust climate models.

I undertook this complaint to find out about the process, because of the idea of creating a platform for the public to raise complaints together against inaccurate or misleading press articles. I’ll write up my thoughts on that in a few days. In the meantime, here is the final correspondence with the PCC:

Further to our previous correspondence, the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raised. However, their decision is that there has been no breach of the Code in this case. A full explanation of the Commission’s decision is below.

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled – as opposed to the Commission’s decision itself – you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or on the PCC website at the following link:

Thank you for taking this matter up with us.

And the verdict itself.  I think it is interesting that they refer to climate change as being a politically sensitive subject:

Commission’s decision in the case of

Bell v The Daily Telegraph

The complainant expressed concern about the publication of an article which was, in his view, inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The article reported that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had found that ‘the world [had been] warming at a rate of 0.12C per decade since 1951, compared to a prediction of 0.13C per decade’ in the IPCC’s 2007 report. The complainant believed that the difference between the 2007 forecast and the 2013 revised number didn’t justify the claim that climate scientists had previously been ‘wrong’.

Under the Clause 1 (i) of the Code, newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate information, and Clause 1 (ii) makes clear that a significantly misleading statement must be corrected promptly, and with ‘due prominence’.

Anthropogenic climate change is a politically contentious subject. It is not the Commission’s role to stifle, or in any way to hinder the free exchange of opinions and information, which serves to enrich the quality of the debate on this topic. Newspapers are entitled to report on, and to interpret the findings of the numerous scientific studies which have been published in this complex area as long as, in doing so, they have not misled readers.

In the ‘summary for policymakers’ section of the 2007 IPCC report on climate change, it was stated that ‘the linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13C [0.10C to 0.16C] per decade) [was] nearly twice that for the last 100 years’. The 2013 report noted that the calculated rate of warming since 1951 was ‘0.12C [0.08 to 0.14]’. The newspaper was entitled to interpret this calculation as a downward revision in the pace of observed climate change, even where the IPCC had not explicitly acknowledged that this was the case in the report. Indeed, the margin of error in the 2013 report had also been revised downward. In this context the claim that the 2007 calculation was ‘wrong’ was not significantly misleading. This was especially the case where the extent – and significance – of the revision was clearly stated in the article. While the Commission welcomed the newspaper’s attempt to obtain comment from the IPCC before the publication of the article, there was no breach of the Code.


What would the world look like if we fairly distributed the land to where the people live?  Or if the more well off could buy land abroad and move it home?  Well, you can!

I was going to write about the results of the survey, but it has proved to be quite popular, and so I will allow more results to come in beforehand.

Instead, I’ll introduce you to a website, the Carbon Map, I came across that allows you to resize the countries by population and wealth.

Of course, if I’m writing about it, there is more to it than that.  You can also size countries by the amount of fossil fuels they extract, or the emissions for which they are responsible, both now and historically.

I think the picture below illustrates my point that the poorest countries, less able to cope with the scourge of a changing climate, have hardly any emissions, compared with the highest emitting countries, which are also the richest.
World map by emissions & poverty
If emissions are going to come down quickly enough, we need to address that inequity.  The richer countries, and the people in the richest countries, need to reduce our emissions.  The only way we can do that quickly enough is if we reduce our energy use.

On a related note, here’s a little video showing other information about the decades to come on a revolving globe:

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke