It’s happening, it’s us and it’s bad

Peppa PigThe planet is warming and the climate changing, we are doing it, it is bad and we can sort it out.  I’m worried about this because the people who are going to feel the brunt of this are the same people I have to coerce into getting ready for school in the morning rather than play nurses or watch Peppa Pig.

We know the planet is warming by looking at the combination of surface and ocean temperatures.  If you just look at the surface temperatures it looks as though there are confusing pauses in the warming, but that’s just because the weather is what transfers heat in the oceans to the surface, and weather comes and goes.

A lot of people think that the warming is natural, as we’ve been in and out of ice ages in the past.  Or maybe it is changes in the intensity of the sun.  Unfortunately the earth was cooling for 7000 years before we got in on the act.  It’s not changes in the intensity of the sun, which has been going up and down with its 11 year cycle and been cooling – if it was the sun there would be less warming at night.

In fact, the only explanation out there that fits the observed data is that there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have come from you and me.  The physics tells us that some heat will be reflected back to Earth if there are more greenhouse gases and the science bods have directly measured that the heat that is escaping is at the wavelengths of the greenhouse gases.

We know the greenhouse gases, the main one being carbon dioxide, have resulted from us because the extra carbon dioxide is the sort you get from burning fossil fuels rather than that naturally abundant in the atmosphere.

Excluding impacts of increased war or exoduses or ocean turning more acid, and considering impacts out to the year 2200 only, Cambridge University in the UK suggest that each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted costs $100 down the line (including discounting the value of the future).  Given we are emitting 35.6 billion tonnes per year, that means that we are causing $3.6 trillion damage per year.  That’s not considering the impacts on the natural world and the mass extinctions we are already perpetrating.

And all we need to do is switch things off, buy less manufactured stuff, spend more time at home and get behind energy sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide for the remaining energy needed to keep us going until nuclear fusion comes along.  It’s not hard, and at the same time it is very hard indeed.

Please do let me know what you think.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke


Status Quo

What would happen if we ignored climate change and carried on as normal?

The share prices of the energy and oil companies are based on the amount of coal, gas and oil that they have the rights to extract.  Let’s assume for a minute that we go ahead and extract and burn those reserves.  In this future the opportunities for new technology to reduce the carbon footprint of power generation and the potential for finding new reserves balance out with one another.  That is a reasonable assumption because of the time required to roll out a large change in the energy infrastructure vs the potential for finding new reserves (shale gas, Greenland, under the arctic etc).

Let’s look at some numbers for a moment.  Scientists agree that to have a 50-50 chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the average global temperature increase to no more t350-Mathhan 2°C.  Let’s examine that – if we manage to keep temperature increases to 2°C or less, then you can flip a coin – heads we just get OK climate change (I guess that means not much worse than what we’re getting at the moment – Superstorm Sandy and the like), tails it is catastrophic.

Keeping to a 2°C rise means emitting no more that another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.

The scary bit is that we are planning to burn another 2,795 gigatons.  That’s right – 2,795 gigatons.  The share prices of the oil companies are based on us doing just that.

But let’s say we did burn those reserves.  That would mean a temperature increase of about 6 °C.  The difference between the depths of the last ice 20-metresage and now was 6°C.  The last time temperatures were that high, sea levels were 20 metres higher.  Our lives would be completely different.

Worth the risk?

Thoughts below as always.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

What’s on your mind?

OK, the last post was a bit of fun, now for the serious part.  Thank you to Matt Gitsham for his insights, which have largely inspired this post.

What frustrates me most about climate change is widespread ignorance of the issue, denial that there is a problem, and for those that understand the issue, a combination of apathy or even wilful inaction.  Matt helped me make sense of it.

It makes more sense when you liken our addiction to fossil fuels to a substance addiction.  The obvious things we could do to tackle climate change feel like self-denial , so there are good reasons that this analogy would hold.  Don’t drive the car, switch off the lights (or use “dims”, as energy saving bulbs have been dubbed in my mother’s house), eat less meat and so on.  It doesn’t have to be this way, by the way.

Thinking about it like an addiction can help understand how to change mind-sets.  The documented stages of addiction are tellingly: obliviousness; denial; preparing to do something about it; doing something about it; and finally relapse.  Crucially, it usually takes an emotional jolt for someone to move from the denial stage to preparing to do something about the addiction.

Given that the effects of climate change are inherently uncertain (we are predicting the future), you can begin to see why we remain stubbornly in the denial stage.  The science is conclusive that climate change happening and its cause, but there is inherent uncertainty in the long term effect, how quickly they’ll come about and in linking individual events to the cause of climate change.

On top of that we have the psychology of “prisoner’s dilemma”.  Tackling climate change will need the global community to work together, but we tend to act selfishly, as individuals and as countries.  We tend to think that if other people and other countries aren’t doing enough, then why should we?  It might not seem obvious, but this is another aspect of denial.

So someone wanting to de-rail action against climate change need only sow any doubt or excuse and we’ll buy it.  As uncertainty is inherent, the job of denying climate change is easy.

That is why there is focus on the benefits of doing something about climate change rather than trying to kick our addiction by showing adverse effects.  If you want to do the latter, you need to leave no room for doubt, which is impossible.

Thoughts below as always.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

Bringing you up to date

In my last post, I gave a hint as to the direction I am starting out on in my pursuit of helping our society adjust to the realities of a changing climate. I mentioned that my first steps will be towards creating a credible, reliable, up-to-date, well known, trusted source of information for the layman on the realities of climate change, relating that back to day-to-day life and the effects of the decisions we all make. It would be presented in cogent laymen’s terms, so you don’t need a scientific background to be able to understand. It would need to link through to the scientific research demonstrably, so as to have that credibility and allow an interested reader to check the facts for themselves, and to read further.

That feels like a good direction in which to start.

But … I do feel like a toddler, learning their first steps in what is, let’s face it, a very complicated area. No one wants climate change to be real, whatever they believe about the science.

So I’m starting out on my journey, fully aware that the route will be difficult, and with my eyes wide open to the possibility of changing course or even the destination. It is for me a true adventure.

To that end, I have discussed my idea with a number of people, to get their reaction and see where that takes me.

The first person I talked to (other than family) was Prof Chris Rapley MBE, former director of the Science Museum, former head of the Antarctic Survey and current professor of earth sciences at UCL. I’d read his article in the FT as a call to action for the science community to step up a gear and actively promote the science on climate change, and then his letter in Nature magazine along similar lines. We’d met previously at an event at St-Martin-In-The-Fields with the Environment Audit Committee. His feedback was simple – the website I was describing could be part of the jigsaw, but the idea needs tightening up. He suggested I talk to those that currently provide similar sorts of information and see what they think is missing.

So that was my plan; is still my plan.

Next person I spoke to was Matt Gitsham, who is Director of the Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability at Ashridge Business School. He’s a friend, someone I’ve met via Transition Town Berkhamsted. His feedback was that when selling the idea of doing something about climate change, the tack has changed in general to describing how money can be made from a more sustainable approach. He also described the similarities between kicking our addiction to fossil fuels, and kicking an addiction to any drug – but that is a subject of another post.

Then I spoke to Patrick Hort, Director of Savoy Systems (providing ticketing software to cinemas and theatres). He’d been thinking about this area a lot, and his feeling was that a positive message as to the fantastic quality of life we could have if we moved to a more sustainable future would be the way to go, i.e. to try to make sustainability sexy.  Wise words; and quite different to my ideas of spelling out the seriousness of not doing so. Is there room for both?

Most recently, I spoke with Mark Stevenson, comedian, public speaker, author and entrepreneur. He has a grand vision of the future, and suggested that maybe the right way forward would be to concentrate on transitioning Berkhamsted to the emerging future, in a way that it could be held up as a beacon of what can be achieved. He may be right.

So – what shall I do? Answers on a postcard, or better still comment on this post. I’m going to carry on walking this road and talking to people, and I’m sure the way forward will crystalize along the way. As I said, a real adventure!

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

The adventure begins…

My name is John Bell.  I am a father and am happily married, have a mortgage, a “normal” 9 to 5 job (working in the rail industry).  So far so normal, so everyday.

Until recently.  I have done something unthinkable – I have quit my job.  I have no other job to go to, and didn’t leave due to stress and was not pushed.  In the current economic climate, why would someone leave a comfortable, steady job, especially with a young family and no other earnings in the household?

For me the reason was that I have become more and more aware of the dangers of climate change, and more and more aware of the ineffectual nature of the response that we are making as a species to this incredible threat.  I can’t just carry on as normal, be one of those zombies traipsing to work every day, being a cog in the system that perpetuates this potentially disastrous sequence of events.  I just wouldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t do something about it.

I have just read a very short article in the London Metro describing an interview that Prince Charles did on ITV’s This Morning recently.  He evidently feels exactly the same.  I have been involved with the Transition movement for the last few years, and know many others who feel similarly.  I have also talked to many people, many other ordinary folk, and have realised that the vast majority are not aware of the reality of the problem, not aware of the extent of the potential damage or of the changes we will need to make.  Either that or they are aware, but do not believe in their own ability to do anything meaningful about it.

So, I have resolved to put my back into trying to change that.  I don’t know where this journey will take me, but I am starting out on it with optimism and my head held high.

My starting point is to create a well-known, credible source of day-to-day information on climate change and the effects of our actions as individuals, available for the layperson.  I’ll be getting I touch with people who currently provide this sort of information, and those that use it, to see what’s missing and how we can work together.

Wish me luck, and follow me via this blog, or on Twitter or Facebook.  I’d love to hear from you to understand what you think, so please do drop me a line and let me know – good or bad.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke

PS – There is a very good reason I can afford to take this step.  The steps I have taken to keep the imprints of my shoes as light as possible have meant little in terms of the life I lead, but a lot in terms of the savings in my pocket.  As a family we use relatively little gas, electricity and water, walk and cycle when we can, grow our own food and holiday in this country.  Crucially, we try not to throw anything away if there is more life in it.  This means we live well within our means, and as a result I can afford to step out of the rat-race and my run-of-the-mill job and spend time on those things that really matter in life.  Could you do the same?