Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Still Not Afraid

Grieve for the killed, the maimed, the bereaved.

But fear? Not Manchester, nor Melbourne, nor Sydney, nor Paris, nor Boston, nor London, nor New York, nor Baghdad, nor Aleppo, nor anywhere Sad Men send their Bang Boys. 
Not Afraid
You caught the News today, with your acts of sadness.
What was it you were trying to say?

Did you want a reaction, from hurt that turns to hating?
Blind oaths that there'll be Hell to pay?

Well I've got news for you: it doesn't have to be that way!
We're bigger than the part you wanted us to play.

We can break the mold: the circles that you travel in
This may not be the end, but it just might be the start.

I'm not afraid of you, no matter what you do,
The light just keeps on shining through.

I'm going to say it, to your face: the World's a good place.
And you can't tell me that's untrue.

So we'd just thought we'd say, we are not afraid of you!
And hating's not the way, we're going to reply!

We'll reach into your heart, to see what makes you play the part!
And live to see the day, your own fears will be stayed.

The World's a good place (not going to give it up!)
The World's a good place (not going to give it up!)
(A. R. Fisk - 2005)

Friday, February 08, 2013

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Review: Carbon Zero (Imagining Cities That Can Save The Planet)

 Carbon Zero should be read by anyone involved in 
building, maintaining, and living in their community.

Long time readers of Worldchanging will be familiar with most of the themes Alex Steffen brings together in his latest essay. The 21st century will bring immense challenges as a result of the profligate burning of fossil fuels. These challenges are no longer vague future threats. They are real, and pressing, and can be adequately met by nothing less than a commitment to complete carbon neutrality.

In Carbon Zero, Steffen argues that even a wholesale movement to renewable energy sources (however desirable) isn’t going to be enough. Not only must we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, but we must reduce our dependence on energy use itself. The best way to achieve this is to redesign civilisation’s most energy intensive artefact: our cities.

"The best-possible scenario would be one in which 
many cities hurl themselves into fierce competition
to lead in a bright green urban boom. 
That competition is probably not only the key to creating cities
that offer the best, most sustainably prosperous lives possible, 

but also the best answer we have to the planetary crisis we face.
 We need a race to carbon zero."

A city uses energy in a variety of ways; the most immediately familiar being the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings. Petrol for vehicles is another, and one which hints at a much more pervasive energy drain: that of maintaining the huge infrastructures supporting relatively low density car-centric suburbs. This is the crux of Steffen’s thesis: that people who live in higher density ‘walkable’ neighbourhoods consume much less energy for transportation. Furthermore, they stand ready to make use of a number of cascade effects which not only improve their quality of life, but make their neighbourhood more resilient to adversity.

Carbon Zero offers a bold, positive-sum vision for how we can organise ourselves to face the challenges of the near future. The execution, however, will present challenges of its own. I think we have become too used to seeing our cities grow outward as inner neighbourhoods become unaffordable to many. How might the inertia of this trend be reversed? How might we counter the enticement of cheap (up front) housing in the increasingly remote outer suburbs by packaging local living competitively?

In the afterword, Steffen admits the task of writing Carbon Zero took a lot more effort than he had first intended. Cities represent a multi-layered network of interlocking systems well beyond the casual understanding of individuals. He has a respect for the various planners, and engineers who would be required to actually implement stuff. Nevertheless, I think that if Carbon Zero offers one thing above all else to the various stakeholders in city-scaping, it is a cohesive vision of what they, with their community’s support, can make possible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Let There be an End

I came up with a bit of stilted rhyme and gutter prose, as part of the campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies at the Rio+20 talks. Why should a trillion dollars of taxpayers' money go toward propping up industries we don't particularly want, which are responsible for large-scale environmental degradation,  and whose owners are major champions of supply-side economics anyway?

So, we pay, to sell our future down the pipelines of despair?
Do we stand, aside and let the pillage show how not to care?
Shall we subsidise the dying? Or invest in futures flying?

Can we stop, supporting things that cannot/never will sustain?
And instead, uplift the industries that need not stunt our gain?
Shall we end the past's sad errors, and embark on new endeavours?

One man once, stood firm and asked the leadless past to step aside.
Once more, today, there is a chance to take the future in our stride.
We can make an end, and make amend. Speak out! Make good ancestors of us all!


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Connecting Dots With A Bridge

Part of the 350 Campaign to 'Connect the Dots' on climate change.

May 5, 2012 in Melbourne is a cold, drizzly wet autumn day. Nothing out of the ordinary.

The new Solway St. Footbridge. Site of old one is visible to left.

The same may be said of a small footbridge crossing Gardiners Creek at the end of Solway St, in Ashburton. It's quite new, having been opened a couple of months ago. It's certainly better designed than the old one, both in terms of structure and approach (the boarding on the opposite side is where the old bridge was located. The path down to it was a bit precipitate over there, and cyclists were well advised to dismount)

Yes, the old bridge was due for retirement. It happened in January 2011, when it was removed, not by a city engineering crew, but by a flood.

My personal experience of this flood was to watch a curtain of solid rain descend on my house. It rained, solidly, for 12 hours. A local park became an impromptu swimming pool. A bridge was washed away.

Elsewhere, vast areas of Victoria were under water. They remained so for months: the first promising crops after ten years of crippling drought utterly ruined.

This flood was a strange confluence of events: a cold front, crossing the Australian Bight, met a huge mass of moist air heading south, and streamed it into the south eastern corner of Australia.

The cold front was a normal weather pattern. The moist air mass over central Australia came about for two reasons:
  • a strong 'El Nina' event sending a steady airstream from the Indian Ocean over South East Queensland (incidentally also causing massive flooding)
  • a category 5 cyclone (Yasi) which came out of the Coral Sea to strike the North Queensland coast near Cairns. It's power can be gauged from the fact that it was still rated as a cyclone 24 hours later, when it reached Mt Isa. It was this cyclone that came south, bringing its own moisture with it.
  • a bridge was washed away because of...
  • a flooding rain, which was bought by...
  • a cold front, and...
  • a degraded cyclone, squeezing...
  • an already moist airflow south across Australia like a massive uncontrolled garden hose.
Was it just a fluke? Wild weather? Weather is the quality of the day. The systems that caused this minor calamity (and considerably more major catastrophes elsewhere) had lifetimes measured in months.

The crux of this story is about a local insignificant bridge. The theme is about how events sprawled across an entire continent and its surrounding oceans can come to have such a local effect. I've laid out some dots for you to connect as you see fit.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Let us.. Let us.. = Lettuce! Lettuce!

or, Not Bloody AGW Again!?

Debating climate change may be considered a futile cause by many. I find that, so long as you're addressing the fourth wall (ie the 'open minded' audience: Yes! You! At the back!) rather than the proponent (who is as unlikely to be persuaded of your argument as you are of theirs), then you might find you can at least put a point down.

Of late, I have been making use of a useful set of one-liner retorts to the most common arguments, referring to them as the 'Romm Swat', for Joe Romm of Climate Progress, who has them listed here. They're extensive. They're backed up. They were recently knocked back by this comment:


I have no idea what the 'Romm swat' is. You seem to be referring to the discredited Skeptical Science catechism.
You may be interested in some more details on the collection of errors.


First of all, Marcus is quite right to wonder what a 'Romm swat' is (although I did give a link...). The original list of rebuttals was created and is maintained by John Cook, who maintains the Skeptical Science website. While he annotates them with his own clarifications, Romm makes it quite clear who the original source is. So, mea culpa: the confusion is down to me.

Second, Marcus' comment is in response to one in which I said the arguments I was 'swatting' seemed to be trotted out again and again, without regard for whether or not they were still valid. Marcus was good enough to provide a link to a post by one Lubos Motl, responding to each of Cook's 'catechisms', as Marcus describes them.

Strike two! Fair call!

Third, the comments had closed by the time I had read Marcus' response, so I felt obliged to address it, in depth, here.

Because that's about as much ground as I'm willing to yield.

So, let us check out what Motl says about Cook's rebuttals... Oh, dear!

I recently observed that I found statements that began with 'let us...' often ended with euphemisms for '...lead you down the garden path.'. I suppose this is the intention of every polemicist: to persuade. I suppose I'm no different in this, but at least I try only to point out where I think the garden path is and where it might go. I have no wish to put a ring through your nose. That is called 'framing'.

Motl's premise begins with 'So let us look at his [Cook's] points and [Motl's] counter-points.'

Okayy! Forewarned of the possibility of fairies ahead, I proceeded cautiously.

First of all, it is to be noted that Motl modestly declined to post a photo of John Cook, as it might invite a negative reaction. It *is* a little in your face, to the point of appearing doctored! Such is the sorry state of public AGW debates, that I initially suspected a bit of weak satire. It appears not, as a favourable review of Sceptical Science by Andrew Revkin uses the same image. A more composed image is now available (see above).

Now, getting to the crux, and looking through the first of the 104 points that Motl addresses (Cook now has 173 listed.):

Argument 1. "It's the sun"

Cook: "In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions"

Romm adds: "In the last 35 years of global warming, the sun has shown a slight cooling trend. Sun and climate have been going in opposite directions."

Motl: "I agree with Richard Lindzen [source of argument] that it's silly to try to find "one reason behind all climate change", because the climate is pretty complex and clearly has lots of drivers, and this applies to the opinion that "everything is in the Sun", too. Cook shows that the solar irradiance is too small and largely uncorrelated to the observed changes of temperatures. I agree with that: a typical 0.1% change of the output is enough for a 0.025% change of the temperature in Kelvins which is less than 0.1 °C and unlikely to matter much. But I find it embarrassing for a student of solar physics such as himself to be so narrow-minded. The Sun influences the Earth's atmosphere not only directly by the output but also indirectly, by its magnetic field and its impact on the cosmic rays (via solar wind etc.) and other things. He has completely ignored all these things. Of course, I am actually not certain that these effects are very important for the climate but the evidence - including peer-reviewed articles - is as diverse as the evidence supporting CO2 as an important driver."

my take: Motl seems to be agreeing, although is doing so via Lindzen, and is suggesting that Cook is being 'narrow minded' in not looking at other solar influences (actually, those are covered extensively in the backing material and commentary)
Whatever, possible ad homs aside, this point seems to be ceded by Motl.

Argument 2. "Climate's changed before"

Cook: "Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing."

Romm adds: "Natural climate change in the past proves that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past climate change actually provides evidence for our climate’s sensitivity to CO2."

Motl: "Cook says that the previous history of the climate shows that the climate is sensitive to imbalances. Indeed, it is and it has always been. And he says that the past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2. Well, it virtually doesn't. CO2, much like other effects, adds imbalances and pushes the temperature around. But there exists no way to disentangle CO2 from many other effects or argue that it has become the most important driver. So the climate continues to change in the same way as it did in the past, by the typical changes per year, decade, and century, and Cook has offered no evidence whatsoever that something has changed about the very fact that the climate is changing."

My take: Where does Cook say that 'past history provides evidence for sensitivity to CO2'? He doesn't (although Romm is happy to). Nor is it mentioned in the expanded version. Motl has set up a straw man argument.

Argument 3. "There is no consensus"

Cook: "97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming."

Romm adds: "That humans are causing global warming is the position of the Academies of Science from 19 countries plus many scientific organizations that study climate science. More specifically, around 95% of active climate researchers actively publishing climate papers endorse the consensus position."

Motl: "This counter-point #3 is clearly obsolete: Cook tries to argue that 97% climate scientists endorse something - it sounds like a TV commercial. Most of his graphs are obsolete, too - the current support for various AGW-related statements is close to 1/2 of the figures he copied in an "optimistic" moment for his favorite political movement. The reality is that most scientists disagree with the basic tenets of the AGW orthodoxy - and even people like Phil Jones now agree that nothing unprecedented is going on with the climate right now (including no statistically significant warming in 15 years, and the existence of a medieval warm period), while Kevin Trenberth has agreed that the climate hasn't warmed and the popular models are inconsistent with this fact - what a travesty. There still exist large bodies of climate scientists who prefer to promote the panic - because they've been hired to do so or because it results from their political biases (which are mostly leftist in the Academia). The funding for climate science has increased 10-fold in the last 10-20 years - purely because of the possible threat - which means that 90% of the people (or 90% of the funding) is working on proofs of this pre-determined conclusion. At any rate, these discussions provide us with no evidence for the actual science - they're just about an attempt of the largely political movements to intimidate the scientists in the very same way in which Nazis wanted to intimidate the "Jewish science" by the consensus of the "Aryan scientists". Einstein would tell them that it's enough to find one scientist to prove Einstein wrong."

My take: Motl does not clarify what he means by 'clearly obsolete' and how he can claim it. Indeed, he does not attempt to validate any of the claims made here. The expanded version of Cook's point starts with 'Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing.'. It has been stated elsewhere that scientists aren't just sceptics, they're trained sceptics. The debate we're seeing now isn't scientist vs scientist. It's entrenched interest vs. reality. It has also been pointed out that hungry PhD students would be looking to make a killing to topple dominant theories such as AGW if they were showing signs of dodginess. Where are they all?

Motl does go on to argue 101 points in total. But, since he too pauses for a commercial ad break at this point, it seems a good place for me to stop as well.

In keeping with earlier remarks about 'Let us...', you now know where the garden path is. Follow the remaining 98 flagstones if you will. I said earlier that I would not put a ring through your nose and lead you down it. Form your own opinion. I will only note that, unlike Cook, Motl offers his own views only, without any backing material.

Cook's points are intended as simple rebuttals, As such, they require regular maintenance lest they *do* become simplistic 'catechisms', as Marcus puts them. Motl's post provided an opportunity to do so, even if I found his arguments to be not in the least bit persuasive. I consider Cook's rebuttals to be unscathed and I will continue to use them (although, perhaps, with a more accurate accreditation!)

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Message in a Bottle

This is prompted by a call from Getup to contribute a message for a time capsule. Here is my contribution:

Greetings, from 2011,

Part of the invitation to write this message included, in part, a request to 'show future generations you cared enough to speak up in an era when fear and cowardice almost won the day? '

Well, speaking from the time, it does not appear to be *quite* that dramatic! Nevertheless, I think I can time the moment I became more engaged with what was going on around me to that crisp, clear, autumn day in New York, when a horribly beautiful sargasso plume of flame and smoke blossomed from the side of the World Trade Centre. In fact, the local time was about 10:45pm, and I had just gone to bed, missing the first confused reports coming in the late News by a matter of minutes. I awoke the next morning thinking that whoever was talking on the radio about the 'greatest day of infamy since Pearl Harbor' was laying it on a bit thick... until the early estimates of over ten thousand casualties was mentioned.

And reports of a crash in a field, as passengers of flight 93 tried to wrest control back again.

Thankfully, these estimates were halved over time, but I would think that '9/11' still resonates after fifty years... it has certainly defined the political landscape of the last ten.

As it happened, my daughter was conceived at about this time. As the details of what Al Qaida stood for coalesced, I felt it behooved me to ensure that she would not have to suffer at the hands of such a misogynistic mindset.

There was an initial outpouring of worldwide support and commiseration. It could have been handled so much differently! Without the panic. Without a protracted and ruinous occupation of a country which had no links to Al Qaida (Hussein preferring to brew his own brand of international nastiness). America the Nation could have been shown at its most enlightened.

Unfortunately, it became the Age of Spin and Denial.

The US government of the time had its own agenda, which it managed to fuse into the ongoing crisis. There are various accounts of how big that agenda was, ranging from simple vengeance, to opportunistic racketeering up to acts of shadow puppetry on behalf of another government.

The War on Terror! Huh! For all that they were diligent and meant well, I think that the renewed flight searches by airport security did more to instil a sense of terror and helplessness in the populace than a dozen blown up passenger flights ever could!

In the midst of all this, off the coast of Australia, a Norwegian cargo vessel was left stuck in limbo, carrying a huddle of refugees it was now popular to vilify as potential terrorists. Such people were, so we were being told, not above throwing their own children into the water to force authorities to take them in.

Except, they weren't, according to the coastguard officers and crew who were on the scene.

This message is prompted by the pending passage of the 'Clean Energy Bill' which is, in turn, prompted by a concern about what the CO2 levels were doing. For much of the past ten years, governments have been oblivious, indeed, actively censorious, of this threat. I am afraid that this is what you reap.

I find it ironic that two arrogant governments of recent times were shown to be lacking by acts of climate.

Cyclone Tracy's destruction of Darwin in 1974, and Hurricane Katrina's 2005 impact on New Orleans and the Louisiana coastline as a whole showed, in their lax handling of the aftermath, that the governments of the day were made of straw. Those 'extreme weather' events may not have bought the edifices tumbling down, but they set the stage.

Whitlam and Bush may have shared an overweaning arrogance and hubris, but I think that Whitlam would, at least, have been applying his overweaning arrogance to tackling a problem such as climate change.

For Bush, as intricately as he was bound into the oils and fossil fuel industries, it took an obscure PNG spokesman at a 2007 Bali summit to ask 'If you don't want to lead, then get out of the way'

Bush may have gone, but his backers remain, and seem intent on maintaining the status quo. Governments may have been moved, reluctantly, from dismissal, to denial, to grudging acceptance, but they have remained paralysed by indecision, and by a lack of resources in the wake of the crash of 2008. This inaction, even after changes in governments, has led to much frustration, as is evident in the umbrella 'occupy' movements that have been springing up in the last month. However comforting the status quo may be, change is afoot (as it happens, I just started writing a story that attempts to weave all this together. If it ever makes it to print, and is still in publication, I hope you enjoy it, as outdated as it will probably appear to you!) .

Of course, you will have your own perception of the events of the last decade, and it is pointless for me to speculate on whether what I say can be dismissed as paranoid ramblings, or a rueful shake and a muttered 'you didn't know half of it!' (It is possible that I will still be alive, and join in!)

At the time of writing this, we 'know' (as well as any scientific theory can know) that human activity has been causing undue warming of the Earth, and that this will have profound consequences (you are quite possibly experiencing them as you read this) How profound these changes will be is still a matter of debate. That they *will* have profound changes within a generation has only become evident in the last 5-6 years. For that reason alone it is, perhaps, unsurprising that so much resistance to the idea has been encountered.

It is a hope that the Clean Energy Bill will precipitate a rush to develop renewable energy sources and this will show the way forward internationally! It is a hope that this action will mitigate what you experience.


Governments remain paralysed by lobby groups. We may have to rely on individual efforts to remind us of our basic humanity. In telling my story on the War on Terror, I alluded to a few such examples. We are only just beginning to realise that Humanity has been de facto custodian of the planet for a lo-o-ong time. We are still not very good at it. But we're learning.

So, what of me? Having made a commitment to making a better less troubled world for my child, I have found that raising that child took up more of my time than saving the world. I suppose this is as it should be, and I think it has paid off (as with a lot of such things, you will be a better judge...!).

My contributions to getting a sane policy to tackling climate change on the table have been very modest and peripheral. I have read, observed, and generally borne witness. I write of what I see. I have occasionally offered words of advice, support, and solace to people far more active in trying to bring about a better world than I have been.

Even that little would have been impossible without the advent of the improved online interaction made possible by what is now known as Web 2.0. It allowed me to start blogging, to start reaching out and reading of other people's concerns and hopes.

You will be opening and reading this some forty years after I have written it. My concerns for you are that you live in a world which is beginning to show the scars of a profligate civilisation. My hope is that you see a way forward from wherever you are; that we acted in time.

A little while ago I wrote: "Bridges start out as a means of establishing links that weren't there before. Bridges are important. They need to be built. They need to be maintained.".

I think holds true in time as well as space (do you still watch Dr. Who?). It occurs to me, on this rather cold November day in 2011, that someone writing this forty years in the past would have done so with a very real concern that nobody would ever have read it; that the capsule would have been destroyed, or lie amid an ashen, barren landscape.

We're still here, so we must be doing something right!