Monday miscellany

I‘m going to be away from my desk for a few days this week, so here’s a few interesting things to read and reflect on. First up: Wellington’s hosting this year’s New Zealand Soil Carbon Conference at Te Papa from Wednesday to Friday. Keynote speakers are Tim Flannery and Christine Jones, and topics to be covered include:

  • The science behind climate change and soil carbon
  • The on-farm benefits of biological farming
  • How research can support innovative farmers
  • An overview of the new biological economy and market opportunities
  • Practical tips to build soil carbon, humus and soil biology
  • Future directions for NZ agriculture and extension services

Full programme here — Friday’s a field trip day. Sounds very worthwhile. If any HT readers are attending (or if the conference organisers are reading this), I’d be very happy to carry a report on events.

Adding to the long list of material debunking standard sceptic & crank claims about climate change, Deutsche Bank’s Climate Change Advisors (DBCCA) have produced a nicely referenced document (PDF), prepared for them by the Earth Centre at Columbia University. Here’s a sample from the executive summary:

Claim: Human society and natural systems have adapted to past climate change.

Response: Past climate changes have often been accompanied by migration, war, and disease. The growing human population will inevitably make environmental change more disruptive in the future, even in the face of increased technological prowess.

A couple of items from Nature News: in Collapse of the ice titans, NN interviews Richard Bates, recently returned from a summer sail along Greenland’s NW coast on the Gambo (more on that voyage at Jason Box’s blog) about the melt season at the Petermann and Humboldt glaciers. Ocean conveyor-belt model stirred up looks at a new paper in Nature Geoscience that finds greater than expected variability in the great ocean current network known as the Thermohaline Circulation (THC). Understanding the short term changes in THC flows will be important in attempts to model short term and regional climate change.

The Arctic sea ice looks to be fast approaching its summer minimum, heading for somewhere between 2008 and 2009 — making it the third lowest in the record. Best place to keep up with events is (as it has been all NH summer) Neven’s Arctic Sea Ice blog. The two boats (Northern Passage, Peter 1) attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in a single season are both now heading for the southern route of the NW Passage. In the southern Beaufort Sea the Norwegian team are reporting high sea temperatures:

We are still surprised and worried about the high water temperature. At the moment we are registering around 7 to 8 degrees Celsius, which according to the experts is far higher than normal.

Also of interest for sea ice aficionados: a new paper in Quaternary Science Reviews looks at what we know of the history of Arctic sea ice. Coverage at Climate Central and Science Daily but here’s Climate Central talking to the NSIDC’s Mark Serreze:

“They’re telling us that there was maybe no ice during the Arctic summers 7,000 years ago, and also ice-free summers during the last interglacial 125,000 years ago.” Those were due to natural factors, most notably the changes in Earth’s orientation to the Sun that brought more sunlight to the Arctic in summer. This time, says the paper, there is no known natural explanation, and climate skeptics who claim the ice is rebounding after the 2007 low, he says, “are grasping at straws.”

And finally: the British government starts planning to adapt to inevitable warming (but offers no new money). Plus ça change…

Time to ring some changes

Climate protestors at Aberdeen The results of the first climate trial in Scotland’s history were declared a few days ago when the court imposed modest fines ranging from £300 to £700 on each of nine activists who had broken into the Aberdeen airport in protest against the soaring carbon dioxide emissions caused by aviation.

Dan Glass, one of the nine, has commented:

“We’re not terrorists, we’re people who believe delivering our message on climate change is worth being charged and fined…We are secretaries, parents, cooks, community workers, architects and saxophonists. We are part of a growing movement of concerned citizens who are prepared to put our bodies in the way of dangerous high-carbon developments.”

He spoke of their action as “justified, proportionate and necessary” in the face of catastrophic climate change, and quoted Michael Mansfield QC, one of Britain’s best-known defence barristers, who a couple of days prior to the sentencing said:

“As I write, one fifth of Pakistan, already blighted by earthquakes, is covered with flood waters threatening the health and safety of over six million people. Without conscientious and principled protest which focuses on the undoubted factors which contribute to this decimation of the environment, the urgency of the problem will not be addressed. I trust these entirely legitimate and selfless objectives will be reflected in the way the Climate 9 are judged by the court.”

It looks as if they were.

Continue reading “Time to ring some changes”

Minister of silly talks

Apparently there’s too much preaching going on from climate scientists. That’s the message from the UK’s new climate change minister, Greg Barker. Of all the things the minister might have found to say this is surely one of the silliest. Reuter’s report found its way into the Waikato Timesand disturbed my evening equilibrium.

Extraordinarily, the platform from which he delivered his remarks was the launching by the UK government of a new interactive Google Earth map showing the impacts of a  4 degrees warmer world.

He had some sensible things to say:

“This map reinforces our determination to act against dangerous man-made climate change.‪‪ We know the stakes are high and that’s why we want to help secure an ambitious global climate change deal.”

But it was the silly statements that gained media attention. He evidently considered the occasion suitable for an accusation that “some experts” have turned people against them by being too forthright and refusing to acknowledge any uncertainties about the science. Apparently they’ve been dealing in absolutes, and it wasn’t necessary. He’s not a scientist but he knows that they don’t have to deal in absolutes.

I haven’t struck any climate science experts who refuse to acknowledge any uncertainties about the science. The IPCC report is very open about uncertainties. Barker’s is a foolish accusation, and a damaging one. It’s all the worse for not specifying who he is referring to. But I suspect he hasn’t got anyone to refer to and is just parroting a complacent perception  that he’s picked up from the circles he moves in.

He acknowledges that the evidence behind the science is overwhelming, but enlarges on his complaints about the experts who have provided that evidence. They should try to be “more realistic, less preachy, more inclusive and a bit more tolerant”.

What on earth does all that mean? Is he accusing climate experts of lacking a sense of how to relate to ordinary people? Does he mean more realistic about what people can be expected to understand? Or is he suggesting they should adjust their findings to make them more palatable? Inclusive and more tolerant of whom? Lower standards of peer review perhaps? Regular dialogue with deniers?

I doubt whether he knows what it means himself in any detail. But it feeds his intention to lay some blame on the scientists for the high level of public scepticism about the science. They’re getting what they’ve deserved.

“There was a slight sense that the climate community, of which politicians of course are a large part, got what was coming to them, just by being a little bit too preachy, a little bit on the higher moral tone.”

Notice the injection of politicians into the accusation. Perhaps that is the key to why he spoke as he did. Perhaps he had the Miliband brothers in mind. Whoever he had in mind he has participated in a fiction and let down the scientific community.

This from the climate change minister in a government which aspires, according to his colleague on the occasion Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham, to be “the ‘greenest’ Government ever”.  Perhaps the reporting was selective. Perhaps he also spoke strongly about the deliberate disinformation campaigns, and the vicious attacks on the climategate scientists. Perhaps he lamented the media failure to convey the strength of the mainstream science. Maybe he enlarged on the importance of the community taking seriously the science that the Google Earth map was established to demonstrate. I hope so. But even if he did, he was still wrong to advance the smug notion that scientists are overplaying the issue and assuming an objectionable air of moral superiority as they do so.

Offshore energy for export

Ben McNeil’s scenario, in The Clean Industrial Revolution, of Australia as a future source of renewable energy exported to its Asian neighbours was of necessity somewhat speculative. However a major report published this week laid out, in very concrete terms, the possibility of the UK becoming a net exporter of renewable energy, not solar in this case, but garnered from the wind and waves of the sea.

The report of the Offshore Valuation Group was sponsored by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Scottish government, and a number of large companies. Tasked with estimating the value of the offshore renewable energy resource, the group’s findings exceeded their own  expectations.


“The next four decades of technological development could enable us to harness a practical resource ten times the size of today’s planned deployments. Integration with neighbouring electricity networks though a ‘super-grid’ could provide access to a single European electricity market, enabling the UK to sell renewable electricity across the continent.”

The report relied on technologies already either in use or in development: offshore wind with fixed or floating foundations, tidal stream, tidal range, and wave power. It also took into account competing uses of the sea and accessibility constraints.

The resource identified by the report is very large, capable of producing six times as much electricity as is currently used in the UK. The report recognised that electrification of transport and heating will add to demand by 2050, an increase of perhaps 75% on today’s demand. Harnessing 29% of the offshore resource by 2050 would be enough to turn the UK into a net exporter of renewable electricity at an estimated cost of £443 billion with an estimated annual revenue return of £62 billion. The annual production in 2050 would be equivalent to 1 billion barrels of oil. This is the average level of production experienced by the UK’s North Sea oil and gas over the four decades leading up to 2008.

The infrastructure deployment required is similar in scale to that of oil and gas in recent decades.  To deploy the capacity by 2050 would require an average build rate of 7.2GW per year (one thousand 7.5MW turbines per year), including repowering. Of this, 5.4GW would be fixed offshore wind, with the next largest share coming from floating wind. A big plus is that 145,000 jobs could be created in direct roles.

The current EU supergrid negotiations are of major importance to any export development and the report urges that the UK take a leadership role to ensure that the UK derives maximum value from its design and implementation. Government involvement would be essential in many aspects of the development, in cooperation with industry. One is finding ways to develop innovative financing mechanisms that can match the long term risk and reward profile of renewable energy investments. This could take the form of green energy bonds designed either for corporate investors such as pension funds or for individual investors, and should be designed to deliver finance at the required scale; for the 29% harnessing option an average annual investment of £11 billion will be required between 2010 and 2050.

Another role for government is setting a national ambition to become an exporter of offshore renewable electricity. This will provide industry with the confidence it needs to invest for the longer term, it will demonstrate a strong commitment to existing renewable energy and climate targets, and it will help to guide long term policy development on related issues such as energy markets, grid and supply chain development.

The conclusion:

“The UK is now most of the way through its first great offshore energy asset, our stock of hydrocarbon reserves. The central finding of this report is that our second offshore asset, of renewable energy, could be just as valuable. Britain’s extensive offshore experience could now unlock an energy flow that will never run out.”

We wait to see what the policy makers do with the report. Peter Madigan, Head of Offshore Renewables at RenewableUK, was in no doubt about what should happen:


“This is a hugely exciting piece of research which sets out compelling factual evidence of the huge potential of the UK’s offshore renewable energy resource. As an association we have long been saying that the North Sea will become the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, and today’s tonne of oil and employment comparisons amply bear this out. Just as 30 years  ago, the North Sea could be our ticket for economic growth. We are looking forward to the new Government putting in place the policy framework to make this happen.”

Miliband: denialism profoundly dangerous

At risk of further accusation of being over-impressed by politicians’ words I welcome what Ed Miliband is reported as saying in today’s leading articlein the Observer. He declared a “battle” against the “siren voices” who denied global warming was real or caused by humans, or that there was a need to cut carbon emissions to tackle it.

His interview with the Observer is described as his first response to University of East Anglia scientists being accused of witholding information and to the IPCC Himalayan glacier error.  He said it would be wrong to use a mistake to somehow undermine the overwhelming picture that’s there.  He described in broad terms the basic physics and the observed effects that point to the existence of human-made climate change, pointing out that “that’s what the vast majority of scientists tell us”.  He cited the thousands of pages of evidence in the IPCC report and was adamant that the IPCC was on the right track.


The danger of climate scepticism was that it would undermine public support for unpopular decisions needed to curb carbon emissions, including the likelihood of higher energy bills for households, and issues such as the visual impact of wind turbines. Miliband is energy secretary as well as climate secretary.

“There are a whole variety of people who are sceptical, but who they are is less important than what they are saying, and what they are saying is profoundly dangerous… to take what the sceptics say seriously would be a profound risk.”

That strikes me as plain speaking from a politician.  It would surprise the New Zealand populace if s senior minister here spoke in such terms.

Miliband also went on to acknowledge the “disappointment” of Copenhagen, though noting that there were also achievements including the agreement by countries responsible for 80% of emissions to set domestic carbon targets by today. I liked what he added: “There’s a message for people who take these things seriously: don’t mourn, organise.” He has previously called for a Make Poverty History-style mass public campaign to pressure politicians into cutting emissions.

Meanwhile back here in New Zealand yesterday’s Herald provided an example of how readily wild accusations levelled at IPCC scientists can make it into the journalistic canon. I wrote a few days ago about the UK Sunday Times’ untruthful article on the IPCC and predicted it would be reported uncritically by other newspapers.  Right on cue a Herald writer, reporting on the NIWA decision to put its temperature data on the web, at the end of her report listed the Sunday Times article as one of three items under the heading “IPCC’s Intemperate Year in the Headlines”.