A hard road

The jury may have found the climate protestors at Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station guilty of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass, but the judge in his sentencing yesterday clearly showed a good deal of sympathy with the offenders. The 18 activists received sentences ranging from 18 months conditional discharge to 90 hours unpaid work. Two of them received modest fines. Judge Jonathan Teare conceded the public may consider his sentencing “impossibly lenient”. But he said he had been put in a highly unique position given the moral standing of the campaigners.

“You are all decent men and women with a genuine concern for others, and in particular for the survival of planet Earth in something resembling its present form.

“I have no doubt that each of you acted with the highest possible motives. And that is an extremely important consideration.

“There is not one of you who cannot provide glowing references from peers or professionals. And if I select some of the adjectives that recur throughout they are these: honest, sincere, conscientious, intelligent, committed, dedicated, caring.”

Continue reading “A hard road”

Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Hot Topic has frequently given credence and drawn attention to Oxfam’s reports on how climate change is already seriously affecting populations in developing countries.  (Some examples here and here and here.) It is therefore pleasing to see that a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding an Oxfam poster has been rejected.

The poster stated “People dying thanks to climate change is a long way off. About 5000 miles, give or take… Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track… Let’s sort it here and now.” Four people challenged the poster on the grounds that it was misleading and could not be substantiated. They did not believe it had been proven that people were dying as a result of climate change.


Asked by the Authority to respond, Oxfam said research had been published by reputable organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Institute of Medicine (the health arm of the US National Academy of Sciences), the Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission that showed people had died, and were currently dying, as a result of climate change. In particular, they cited three WHO publications which they considered backed up Oxfam’s claim. In addition, they said Oxfam’s own experiences bore out ways in which climate change, manifesting as trends towards increased temperatures, disrupted seasons, droughts and intense rainfall events created additional health hazards for vulnerable populations in the countries in which Oxfam worked.

The ASA in its adjudication referred first to the IPCC and other national and international bodies with expertise in climate science and concluded there was a robust consensus amongst them that there was extremely strong evidence for human induced climate change. The ASA noted that the part of Oxfam’s claim that stated “Our politicians have the power to help get a climate deal back on track … let’s sort it here and now” made a link between human action and climate change.

The ASA then turned to the question of whether there was a similar consensus that people were now dying as a result of climate change. They referred to several WHO reports. One was the 2009 publication Global Health Risks – Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks [PDF], which stated “Climate change was estimated to be already responsible for 3% of diarrhoea, 3% of malaria and 3.8% of dengue fever deaths worldwide in 2004. Total attributable mortality was about 0.2% of deaths in 2004; of these, 85% were child deaths”.

Satisfied that there was a consensus that deaths were now being caused by climate change, the ASA finally noted that Oxfam’s claim was reasonably restrained in that it stated deaths were occurring at the present time as a result of climate change but that it did not claim specific numbers of deaths were attributable and it did not speculate about future numbers of deaths.

The ad was judged not misleading.  (The full text of the adjudication is on the ASA’s website.)

Oxfam is not pushing the envelope in its reports and claims of what climate change is already meaning for some populations in the developing world. It is well within the limits of the science. It may be a shock to some to realise that, and there are always those ready to discount it as alarmism aimed at increasing the organisation’s income.  But it is no more of an exaggeration to say that people are already dying as a result of climate change, than to say that people die as a result of tobacco smoking. Those of us who have lived long enough may remember how long and hard the latter conclusion was resisted by the counter-claims of the industry and the widespread public unwillingness to face the reality. Fifty years ago when as a young man I took up tobacco smoking for a period of some years I assumed the medical warnings which were beginning to be sounded were bound to be overstated. The very normalcy of smoking made it easy not to take them seriously. And there were plenty of assurances abroad that there was little to be concerned about. I shudder now to think how easily we blinded ourselves.

The analogies with the far greater issue of climate change are all too apparent. The efforts of Oxfam and others to puncture our complacency are justified and necessary. May they not have to wait decades to succeed.


London calling


This is what 6 metres of sea level rise (see today’s Eemian post) would look like in central London — iconic buildings abandoned to the encroaching sea. It’s one image from a thought-provoking series: Wish You Were Here? Postcards From The Future, part of the London Futures project, which will be on show at the Museum of London until March. The images are striking — beautiful and unsettling, sometimes humorous — like the camels replacing the horses at Horse Guards Parade, the dust and pink light looking like a Victorian watercolour of Egypt, or wind turbines as flag poles down The Mall, and the palm oil plantation in Hyde Park.

The Telegraph has a gallery, or you can view them all at the London Futures web site.

[The Clash]

Anyway, anyhow, anywhere

Two modestly hopeful signs from the political world struck me when reading today’s Guardian news. One was the opening of the climate change talks at Tainjin in China aimed at refining possible goals for the Cancun talks in November-December. The comment of Oxfam observer Kelly Dent attracted my attention. Oxfam is a careful watchdog of climate negotiations.

“It was good, I was mildly surprised. At the risk of sounding like an optimist, what I saw today was a willingness to sit down and start working.”

Jonathan Watts’ report notes that the opening day formalities saw none of the histrionics and posturing that marked much of the Copenhagen conference. Expectations among the delegates are considerably lower than they were last year. A comprehensive, binding deal is not expected in Mexico, but some expressed hopes for progress on the protection of forests and the transfer of finance and technology to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

Continue reading “Anyway, anyhow, anywhere”

People get ready

Britain needs to step up its efforts to prepare for unavoidable climate change, according to How well prepared is the UK for climate change? the first report of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change— the body established by the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act to advise government on all aspects of climate-related policy. Committee chairman Lord John Krebs summarises the thrust of the report like this:

In brief, our headline finding is that whilst the UK has started to build capacity for adaptation through advice and information to a range of public and private sector organisations, there is little evidence that this is translating into tangible action on the ground in a systematic way.

The report identifies five key areas in which early action is required.


From the executive summary:

  1. Taking a strategic approach to land use planning – for example to (i) ensure that new buildings and infrastructure are sited in areas that minimise exposure to flood risk, do not increase flood risk to others, and do not create a legacy of flood defence or water supply costs; (ii) manage competing pressures on land – urban, natural and agricultural – in response to a changing climate; and (iii) enhance green space where effective in the design of towns and cities to help manage surface water drainage and cope with rising temperatures and heatwaves.
  2. Providing national infrastructure (energy, water, transport, waste and communications) – for example to ensure it can cope with rising temperatures; it is resilient to potential increases in certain extreme weather events, such as storms, floods and droughts; and it takes account of changing patterns of consumer demand in areas such as energy and water use, travel and consumption.
  3. Designing and renovating buildings – for example to ensure they can cope with rising temperatures and floods and minimise water use through appropriate use of construction materials and through better design.
  4. Managing natural resources sustainably – for example by using water more efficiently; improving and extending ecological networks so that species can adapt and move as the climate changes; and making space for water along rivers and the coast.
  5. Effective emergency planning – for example by making better use of probabilistic weather forecasts to anticipate extreme weather events more effectively; creating plans that reduce impact on and ensure continuation of care for the most vulnerable groups in society during heatwaves and floods; and developing business continuity plans based on high-quality climate risk information so that businesses can cope better with disruptions to their supply chains during floods and damage to assets from severe weather.

The report’s emphasis on flooding as a major climate change impact is understandable, given the UK’s recent history. Coping with increased flooding is a key challenge for the country given the amount of development that has taken place on vulnerable floodplains. If you are at all interested in how we might plan to adapt to climate change — both the unavoidable change, the climate commitment — and the further changes we hope to avoid by mitigating carbon emissions, then this report is well worth reading. Many of the points it makes are relevant in the New Zealand context. One thing that’s worth picking out (from section 2.4, p25):

Adaptation is context specific. Unlike mitigation, where every unit of carbon has the same cost regardless of where it is emitted, the “optimal” adaptation response is context specific, depending on who is adapting, where in the country, and how they weigh up other factors in their decisions. This makes it difficult to determine in advance what successful adaptation will look like.

And there’s the rub. There’s plenty of politics in deciding how to cut carbon emissions — there’s a whole lot more in coping with unavoidable climate change. At least Britain has a body charged with looking at the big picture and advising government — something that’s sadly lacking in New Zealand. [See also BBC, Guardian]

[Al Green]