People’s Climate March

It’s been two months since my last blog post.  I will keep blogging, but not as frequently as I had in the past.  I just have to now, to hopefully encourage a good turnout of support for the People’s Climate March on 21 September.  I’m hoping to persuade a few of you reading to turn up in one of the cities that are holding marches, or at least to join in with an online Thunderclap.  This is huge.

Why now?  Why 21 Sept?  The reason is that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, has convened a meeting of all of the world’s leaders in the lead up to the 69th UN General Assembly, in New York on 23 September.  On the agenda will be one item only – commitments to action to address climate change by curbing man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.  This is in preparation for the Paris COP in 2015, the point at which all of the countries of the globe have committed to set out their plans and targets jointly for reducing emissions.

SG Meeting“The world needs to see what countries are already doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The race is on, and now is the time to for leaders to step up and steer the world towards a safer future.” Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General.




All sounds great – until you realise that the commitments so far made fall far short of those needed to keep global warming to less than 2°C, the temperature increase that was agreed by all governments internationally as the threshold for catastrophic climate change.

The world’s leaders need to know that they have our support to go further and make our planet safe.

There is hope.  China has just announced that they will set up a national carbon pricing market – effectively putting a price on carbon emissions.  It means China are getting serious about reducing their impact, and paves the way for others to do the same.  Europe already has a carbon pricing market, currently the biggest in the world, but which was reduced in effectiveness a few months back when they accidentally voted to release more permits to emit carbon dioxide than they should have and flooded the market.  I say accidentally because some of the MEPs later admitted that they’d got confused and meant to vote the other way – it was a close vote.

I’m going to the march in London, meeting friends around 12 noon.  The march starts from Temple at 1pm, only lasting 45 mins before a rally at 1.45pm.  Let me know if you are going.

Elsewhere in the UK, there are marches in Stroud, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as another 7.  There are other marches all over the world, with the biggest in New York itself, where hundreds of thousands are expected to take to the streets.Your Children Need You

This could be the most important moment in history.  You’ll want to be there just to be part of it, take a few photos for the grandchildren.  They’ll be miffed if you don’t.

John Bell,

Ordinary Bloke

PS – I promise to write about the climate changey stuff I’ve been doing over the past couple of months at some point – I’ve not been dormant.  Transition Roadshow, Mike Berners-Lee coming here on 23 Sept, organised a picnic for the people in my street, been to Houses of Parliament to launch the “For the Love Of” campaign, da di da.  I also plan to set out my step by step guide to saving the earth, and talk about different sorts of people.


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

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

Your help needed now; your help needed from now on

10,000 feared dead, millions thirsty on the streets.  Now, while you sit at work bored.  Or cosy at home.  I’m not claiming climate change is the cause.  But it is a taste of what’s to come.

Forget for a minute what caused Haiyan to be the most severe storm ever to make landfall.  There are people out there who need our help.  I have chosen Christian Aid, partly because they were the first to contact me for help, and partly because I know some people who work there.  I value their approach of helping people to help themselves, rather than simply giving hand-outs.  I fear in this case that the shattered people of the Philippines need all the help they can get.

Whatever your reason, be it your humanity, religion or whatever else, please give as generously as you can afford.

Haiyan may not have been caused by global warming.  It may not have been made more severe by climate change.  It is impossible to prove.  Proof would require finding which molecules of air were heated by sunlight that failed to escape our atmosphere due to excess carbon dioxide.

But you may have heard the analogy.  I guess it was invented by an American, because it refers to baseball.  Baseball players hit home runs occasionally.  Like all other human beings, they have a natural trace of steroids in their system.  Say a player starts taking steroids as a supplement: the levels of the substance in their system will go up by a small amount.  If they then hit another home run, would you be able to say that they only hit it because of the extra steroids?  There would be no way you could prove it.  Would you ban them for cheating?  Of course you bloody would.

The same goes for extreme weather, climate change and levels of greenhouse gases.  It is almost impossible to prove any direct link, but you can note the trends and forecasts.  The next step is to ban the substance.

Whether or not Haiyan was caused by climate change, its like is what scientists forecast will happen more often.  It is a taste of things to come.  It is why I am fighting climate change.  It is why I am reducing my carbon footprint.  It is why I think you should too.  Please.

Does that make me an alarmist?  I’m just an ordinary bloke, saying what I see.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

I’m not standing for it any more

Does anyone believe what they read in the paper without checking around?  I reckon we generally do if it sounds like something we want to believe*.  Unfortunately 80% of articles in Murdoch owned media are misleading on climate science, from emphasising the short-term trends when it suits to giving a platform to outright deniers such as Nigel Lawson or James Dellingpole.  It may be pissing into the wind, but I’m going to try to do something about it.  Have a look – do you think this is a waste of time or could help move opinion and attitudes?
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch addresses a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos
I mentioned in a recent post that I have been in touch with a number of organisations about my idea of opening up press complaints around climate change to the public.  So, this is what I’ve been up to.

The idea has evolved following conversations with John Cook at Skeptical ScienceAvaaz, The TreeFriends of the Earth International, The Climate Reality Project, the UK Press Complaints Commission and with Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute.

I sent them an email describing where I’ve got to, below:

Idea as it stands

A web page will be put together (host to be agreed, possibly Climate Reality) allowing members of the public to identify press articles that appear to be factually inaccurate, misleading or biased on the subject of climate change.

A volunteer base will be set up to:

[1] List the inaccuracies, bias and misleading content, with reference to a database of the scientific facts (e.g. that of Skeptical Science in Australia, the Carbon Brief in the UK and/or Media Matters in the US).

[2] Draft an official complaint template letter to the relevant independent authority.  In the UK this would be the Press Complaints Commission.  The scheme would start with the US, UK and Australia but could be built with a mind to opening this up at a later date.

[3] An expert volunteer would check the template letter and list of inaccuracies.

The public would then be asked to write an email to the editor, facilitated by the site, with their own personally written content.  Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute said that he thought that this would work.  If the emails are identical, they will be ignored, and similarly if there is only one purporting to represent a lot of voices.

The site would also collect individual public endorsements of the template complaint, and allow comments with a view to updating the content if necessary.

If the editor has not agreed to publish an apology or redaction prominently, then after a few weeks and before the time limit relevant to the local press complaints body (2 months in the UK) the template complaint will be submitted to that authority and taken from there.

The number of people who sign up plus statistics on numbers of biased etc articles by paper could be published online.

Benefits / outcomes

The main benefits and hoped for outcomes would be:

[1] Reference point for each article for the truth.

[2] Actively engage and empower more people to be able to speak out.

Background about complaints to the UK Press Complaints Commission

On speaking with Simon Yip of the UK PCC and with Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute (who has raised 5 complaints in the past), I understand the following about the procedure in the UK:

[1] The PCC look for the complaint to be dealt with in correspondence with the editor, possibly facilitated by them.  It is only as a last resort that a complaint is taken forward.

[2] If an article is identified as opinion and acknowledges there are other different points of view, it will generally not be upheld if it gets that far.  If the editor offers to print a letter from the complainant then that will be seen as sufficient.

[3] If there are several complaints, then one will be chosen by the PCC at their discretion to represent all of the others.  They will judge this based on whether all of the points are covered and whether they feel they will be able to work with and reach a compromise with the complainant.

[4] The total number of complaints has no bearing on the outcome and is not reported by the PCC.  Or so I was told.  You can understand my surprise when the total number of complaints on the Daily Mail article about Ed Milliband’s was announced on Newsnight.

Do you reckon it could work?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

* As a little aside, a little tongue-in-cheek anecdote about someone trying not to let their own predication influence their thoughts – this from my brother, describing his new flat in Qatar:

So it’s a bit more comfy, plus there’s beer in the fridge for me, a rice cooker for Noy and a cupboard of new toys for the little one (and for me actually; I’ve been itching to get stuck into that lot! I remember one time in Kuwait, when the ladies were in Thailand, I still ended up racing two cars across the tiled floor – good fun! And no one could beat the silver car because really I didn’t want it to lose, and tried to convince myself that I wasn’t pushing it just that little bit harder… and if you just angle it slightly into the other car, the other car might just spin off a little bit and go under the cupboard; and wehey! Silver is champion again!)

Less work means more

Funny how life works out, isn’t it?  The business is going through a lull, resulting in more time for organising a workshop for Global Power Shift, getting the next steps on the B-Hive sorted, developing an idea for tackling misinformation in the press and moving to a farm…

An email went round in my business circles recently, stating that the Department for Transport had identified a potential problem with the software I have specialised in.  I felt a little down for a few days, as the work dried up, but realised what an opportunity had opened up.  I now have a few weeks of time on my hands to devote to the other aspects of my life.  The opportunities for the climate change work are opening up.  Glad to have more than one iron in the egg basket.

The disparate group of young activists involved in the UK team of the Global Power Shift are starting to get organised, and I’m giving as much support as I can.  Would you believe I am almost the grandad of the group.  I am helping organise a weekend away to allow them to spend a decent amount of time together to develop the general direction of opening up the climate change movement to a more diverse and non-traditional cross-section of people in the UK and to sort out their own governance.

The date for this weekend is 26/27 October, which coincides nicely with a trip to Wales to see my folks.  We’ll be taking the kids to a Halloween party at the Leisure Centre my mother is running in her retirement.

With Transition Town Berkhamsted, we’re starting a series of talks called the Ashlyns Lectures.  They will be one per school term at the local secondary school.  We had comedian Mark Stevenson lined up for 5 Feb, but then had the opportunity for Polly Higgins to come in during late Jan, which seemed a pity as it would be too close to Mark’s talk.  But as luck would have it, Mark had to postpone, which opened up the door for Polly.  The real coincidence was that Mark suggested a revised date for his talk, which happened to be the already-booked provisional date for the third Ashlyns Lecture on 21 May.  Thank you Mr Fate, whoever you are.

You may have noticed that climate change is getting more press recently, in the run up to the release of the 5th IPCC report on 27 Sept.

Don't let them do it to you

Don’t let them do it to you

  This has led to a spate of factually inaccurate, misleading and biased articles appearing in the primarily Murdoch-run papers and news channels.  We shouldn’t allow this propaganda to get out there unchallenged.  While jogging in the woods it came to me that we could set up an easy mechanism for people to make official complaints about these articles, based on the science.  It’s early days, but conversations with John Cook at Skeptical Science, Avaaz, The Tree, Friends of the Earth International and The Climate Reality Project seem to be going somewhere fast.  Watch this space.

The lull has also offered me the chance to organise the next steps on the B-Hive town consultation I have been involved with.  The architects are meeting tonight to pull together the ideas of the townspeople.  I’m also setting up a meeting of all of the Transition Towns in the area to get ourselves organised – that’s 20 Oct.

Then there is the potential community purchased of Ballspool Farm in nearby Kings Langley.  I’ll get involved with that if it looks promising enough, to help lead to my dream of creating a self-contained community of like-minded individuals which treads lightly on the environment but is also capable of living through any kind of breakdown in society.  Yes, that could easily happen.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Are you a muppet?

I’m now convinced of what needs to happen to avoid a terrible future.  Read on for my summary and why I think that future is almost assured, because you’re all idiots.

First up, climate change is happening and we are the cause (this time – yes, it has changed naturally in the past).

If we don’t sort it out fast, we’ll be living in a world with far fewer species and where our food supplies are diminishing, at the point in history when the world’s population is at its peak.  The hungry may just lay down and die.  They may not.

Something really should be done about it, or our idyllic, carefree lives will be ripped asunder, and our green and pleasant land will be no more.

Even if policies were such that we were to start a real decarbonisation now, it would take too long.
1-5% of the global population account for 40-60% of emissions.  The only way emissions can come down quickly enough is if that 1-5% change their habits drastically now.  The 1-5% are you and me.

But we are all addicted to carbon.  To kick our addiction, we will have to go through the emotional barrier of accepting that we have a problem and we do need to change.

So do you think the state should intervene and force you to change?  Or would that be an example of the nanny state – you should be trusted to do the right thing.  Or at least you should be trusted but only if you have a little chivvying along.

I don’t think you will, because I think you are all a bunch of muppets.  Prove me wrong.

I’ve found that my life is better after reducing my carbon emissions, so I’ll continue describing how I am doing.  It’s up to you to try to do the same.  Get help from your local Transition Town.  Let me know how you get along.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Tax, Morals & The Solution

We should have the freedom to make our own choices about how we live.  With that freedom comes responsibility.  Responsibility to act fairly and morally.  How do you know whether you are acting with fairly and morally, and do you have that freedom?  It is a fundamental issue when it comes to what we should do about climate change.

I think that we should treat each other as we would treat our own family and how we would expect to be treated in return.  That means everyone, wherever they happen to live or were born, around the world or in what year, past, present or future.  Someone who was born in 1920 in the US or in 2045 in Bangladesh are equal to you, to me and to each other, and should be treated as such.

Your rights are important.  Should you consider the impact on anyone else who could be affected each time you do anything?  How can you possibly know what those impacts are?  You’ve got to be able to get on with your life.

Some would say that the law is there to guide you – as long as you act within the law, you are acting fairly and morally.  Maybe you could add to that the monetary and tax system – as long as you are making a balanced judgement as to whether your benefit is worth the cost of an action, then you are acting fairly.  You wouldn’t shaft someone on a deal, even if it was within the law, if it meant your relationship or reputation would be damaged.

So, with that as context, back to climate change.  I talked about changing the law in the last post.  If that is too restrictive, then how about changing the tax system instead?  How about a tax on the emissions at the point that greenhouse gases are emitted, in proportion to the future monetary and environmental cost?  A tax where the revenue from the tax is given out to everyone equally, as a universal allowance?  The cost of the tax would be added to transport fuel and to the cost of generating electricity.  It would be added at source if emissions are required to get at the fossil fuels in the first place, such as with tar sands in Canada.  The cost of the tax might then be passed down to consumers, who would then either gain overall (if they were careful in the impact of their lifestyle and purchases) or would lose out if they were more reckless.Tax-as-moral-issue

Sounds fair enough, do you think?  Difficulty would be that it would need to be adopted globally to work, otherwise you would just import your electricity or buy products from aboard where the tax was not in place.  To get around that in any particular country, such as the UK, you could add it as an import tax as well as a tax within the country borders.

Hmm, maybe.  Hang on, though, John – are you just suggesting this because you want the tax break?

Actually, no.  Whereas I think such a system would be a huge leap forward and if adopted widely would potentially get us out of the hole, I can’t see it coming in soon enough, if at all.

What should we do in the meantime?  Should we be able to do what we want within the law and within the current tax system?  If only a few nutters like me have stopped flying, it’s not worth making the sacrifice until the law or tax system changes.

Do you think?  Do you really think so?  Is it fair and moral, without a change in the law or tax system, for you to prioritise your own luxury and comfort over the basic needs of my children and grandchildren, and of people living in Bangladesh now and in the future?  What about our heritage, of the glorious abundance of beautiful flora and fauna, sadly diminishing fast?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Regulation’s what we need if we don’t want to be a temperature record breaker

The only way we can avoid truly devastating climate change is if you and I and everyone else like us radically reduces consumption and energy use and does it fast.  It’s as simple as that.  But also as difficult.  What needs to happen so you will stop flying, drive less and eat less meat?
Some people are calling for governments to introduce incentives or regulation.  It could be lowering the legal limits for emissions from car exhausts, or from power plants.  Maybe it would be a legally binding promise to decarbonise the energy sector in a certain timeframe.

Those on the left of the political spectrum* are more likely to think that the above steps all sound very sensible, even that they are no-brainers.

If you are on the right, though, you are more likely to think that those kinds of measures smack of the nanny state.  Why should the government intervene in our lives to such an extent?  Surely we should be trusted to do make our own choices and take responsibility.

That being the case for you, then you’ll obviously be taking major steps to reduce your carbon emissions, right?  I don’t need to explain what I mean by that, because you’ve already done your research and are well on the way.  You carbon footprint has gone down by 20% already.  You trust that everyone else will be doing the same.  The markets will adjust to the realisation of the long-term risks and will help bring about the rate of change we need – it doesn’t need additional regulation…

Hang on, I’m not going to do any of that if no-one else is, you might say.  I want to take responsibility for my own choices, but it’s not fair unless everyone else does the same.

So does that mean we need the regulations or not?  Or maybe we need the tax set-up to change so we are all incentivised to make the changes necessary?  We’ll talk about that in a future post.

Climate change represents the greatest ever test of right-wing political ideals.  Not because it has been invented by left-leaning hacks (it hasn’t).  It’s because without regulation and an effective carbon market, emissions are going up, and the rate that they are going up is increasing.  People are not changing their behaviour, they are becoming more entrenched in their denial.  It is likely that you are not taking drastic steps yourself to reduce your emissions.  You’ve probably not even calculated your carbon footprint.

That is why right-leaning politicians and public are much more likely to deny the science than those on the left.  80% of UKIP voters deny climate change – it’s the same pattern in the US.  That’s because it doesn’t look soluble if you stick to the principles of the right alone.

Don’t get me wrong – markets and business may be a large part of the way out.  Even big business such as Shell realise and would welcome a stronger government hand in helping change conditions so they can be part of the solution rather than the problem.

So, what would get you to change your behaviour?

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

* If you know whether you are left or right leaning, then stop reading this footnote – you’ll probably find it condescending.  If you’re not sure or are but are interested in an online test to get it verified, then try the Political Compass.  I used to come out slightly closer to the centre than Ghandi.