Call me Neo-Malthus

Greenpeace campaign fronted by noted Kiwi scientist Jim Salinger: “NZ needs to achieve 40% reduction in carbon emissions”
NZ govt, Monday 10 August: “Our target is between 10%-20%”
NZ govt, Tuesday 11 August: “but all you other countries better do 30%-40%”
Climate Action Network, Tuesday 11 August: “Will New Zealand name the countries it expects to do its share of the effort in its place?”
Don Nicolson, President of Federated Farmers, Tuesday 11 August: “Back in the early 19th century, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population… The world was producing as much food as it ever could. The Greens would call it ‘Peak Food’… Neo-Malthusians can be seen in the anti-globalisation and green movements. Peak oil, peak food, peak carbon.”
Hot Topic, Weds 12 August: *cough*
Global climate system: “Taiwan suffers worst floods in 50 years”


Yesterday attended a talk at university by Dr Wojke Abrahamse of Surrey’s RESOLVE working group, about their research project to encourage lifestyle changes in the home in response to climate change. Their project used a mix of information provision, goal setting and tailored feedback over the internet, and achieved significant changes.
This has a lot of crossover with my own research in this area (indeed, one of the questions asked was whether anyone had tried using groups – I held my tongue but will email the relevant parties later). It also has the same limitations – self-report risks of inflating results, preaching to the converted, etc.
Three things of interest:
(1) there is some evidence that environmental changes are more likely to take root when accompanied by other big lifestyle shifts, particularly moving to a new home. Seems obvious now it’s been pointed out. Something to keep in mind anyway…
(2) one of the participants in Wojke’s study was so enthusiastic he tracked carefully the energy usage for each shower by each member of his family… among his detailed conclusions? “The strongest indicator of shower energy use is hair length”. Hee! Is Greenpeace ready to start a “short hair will save the planet” campaign?
(3) this came out in discussion – Wojke felt that the very different circumstances of each person make it difficult to advise people in general where they should start if they want to make some changes, but I think her own data tells a different story. The right place to start is with the very easiest things. All behaviours are not created equal, and some can shift markedly without much difficulty (e.g. stopping the use of standby on your appliances, shifting to low-power lightbulbs) while others demand much more to shift (e.g. using your car less, shifting to home-cooked food from prepared processed food). In her own data, car use patterns hardly changed, even though change in other areas was distinct; this is precisely to be expected. It just seems obvious to me that people should start with the very easiest things (regardless of the relative ecological impact of those things) because each change builds up context for, commitment to and moves identity towards environmental responsibility. (This also betrays my bigger diagnosis that individual action is primarily useful for its consequences in the political marketplace, making politicians act like this stuff matters to voters.)

Freeze for Climate Change

This Friday there’s going to be a Freeze in many centres around NZ. Random people will assemble at 1pm and freeze in place for 5 minutes. Volunteers will hand out little flyers about climate change to people.
It’s for the UN’s World Environment Day, June 5. This year’s host is Mexico City, whereas last year it was good old Wellington, NZ – not that you could tell. Although the Freeze guys did their first run then too:

They expect many more people this time out. The WED theme this year is specifically climate change oriented: ‘Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change’. There’s a specific focus on the Copenhagan meeting in December, which adds to the messages out of the massive Kyoto Science and Technology Forum in December, which identified Copenhagen as the crucial moment; and the recent talk by Bill McKibben of pushing for a global day of action in October. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Copenhagen as we get closer to the conference, but the take-home message is that everyone involved in climate change response is looking at this event. This will be where things happen, or don’t happen, that set us on our global course.
So: Friday. Standing still in a street. If you click the videos in my Friday Linkys you’ll know I’m a sucker for that kind of street theatre-intervention. Will it save the world? Of course not. Will it help? A bit. And every little bit helps. Check out the website and head along. If you’re not in NZ, figure out what your area is doing to mark the day – there’ll be something happening. Keep your eyes open and if you can have some fun along the way, great.
Oxfam NZ has a petition on this same subject.
Another reason to care about Copenhagen: it is the stomping ground of REPTILICUS.

You might as well know

I’ve been sprung as an operative for the Illuminati.
I’ll have to wait for my Bavarian masters to get back to me about how to handle things from here. Perhaps, since I think the war is won, we can shed our outer skins and walk around as proud reptiles at last?
And following up my previous claim (in comments) that scientists who don’t accept the AGW hypothesis are outliers: this survey of over 10,000 geoscientists showed over 80% support for AGW. More nuance in the article:

climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 and 64 percent respectively believing in human involvement. Doran compared their responses to a recent poll showing only 58 percent of the public thinks human activity contributes to global warming.

Rodney being a Rodney

I cannot comfortably express how infuriated I am by this. I was so angry about the demand for a review that I put a campaign together to resist the time-wasting. And now I find that the people who made the demand are so cynical about it they’re not even participating in the process?
*deep breaths*
On the bright side, an ACT-less committee will probably do a better job of engaging with the science, right?
(Man, this turned into week-of-climate-change-posts. Huh.)

How Science Works

And while I’m talking about this – the Wisharts of the world seem convinced that the massive scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic global warming is (a) overstated and/or (b) groupthink and/or (c) faked to earn research funding.
Well, in my not inconsiderable personal experience of knowing actual scientists, I have noticed one overarching principle: the chief activity of scientists is taking the piss. In fact, it could fairly be said, urine extraction is fundamental to the scientific development of knowledge.
So here’s a rule of thumb for you: if a proposition has survived the piss-taking efforts of a generation of scientists, there’s probably something to it. AGW has.
(Wishart, sadly, hasn’t.)

Crazy Ol’ Ian Wishart

There’s a very amusing blog-exchange going on between Gareth Renowden of climate blog Hot Topic and Ian Wishart of independent current affairs mag Investigate. It’s on the subject of Wishart’s new book “Con Air”, about how global warming is an unscientific fraud. Renowden tore it to shreds in a review, and predictably Wishart responded; Renowden decided it was simpler not to engage with his nonsense, which got another Wishart response. So Renowden proceeded to dismantle Wishart’s claims, picked up another Wishart response, and then shot that one by showing the research Wishart was talking about actually meant the opposite of what he thought it did.
There are lessons here of course, about how keeping the argument going is a de facto win for the forces that want to stop us from addressing climate change.
There are much bigger lessons here about the fixation of belief and how people like Wishart find themselves adopting the positions they do. (See also.)
But really, I just recommend these for the popcorn value. Wishart is always a laugh when he goes on the attack, which he pretty does when anyone looks at him funny. He calls Gareth “trufflehunter” instead of his name, under the impression that this is an insult; I imagine Gareth, as past president of the NZ Truffle Association, would be quite comfortable with this moniker. (Gareth’s co-blogger is referred to as Quasimodo, which is taken with surprising good grace.)
The argument over whether climate change is anthropogenic ended a few years ago. There’s plenty of science to argue over, but not this. The Ian Wisharts of the world will keep thrashing for a while yet, and to be honest, we should be gentle with them. They’re having a hard time of it, the poor wee things.


That’s the best word I can come up with right now to describe how it feels to see my submission to the climate change committee on the parliament website.
It shows that the effort I went to didn’t just disappear into the aether, never to be seen again.
It shows that my voice has been heard by everyone sitting on that committee. (Not listened to, necessarily, but certainly it has been heard.)
It shows that our democracy has functioning channels of straightforward communication.
It’s a good feeling, actually. I recommend it. Participate.

Bill McKibben and 350

Friday night, I went to a public lecture by Bill McKibben, who is the originator of the 350 movement. This movement is based on the work of top climate scientist Jim Hansen, who has said that atmospheric CO2 levels above 350ppm are not compatible with human civilization. We’re already over that concentration.
Bill was a funny and engaging speaker, well-polished. He spoke about the social justice aspects of climate change – his personal turning point was looking at a crowded ward of shivering victims of Dengue fever and wondering how many of those beds were attributable to the emissions of his home country, the USA. (Answer: a quarter of them.)
It is crucial to get CO2 levels down. Crucial doesn’t even begin to describe it, actually. This is the most important work there is right now. Individual action isn’t enough; we need to achieve a global agreement for a carbon pricing system. Only with a strong price signal can we achieve the change we need in the time we have.
In December, the world meets at Copenhagen to discuss these issues. It is pretty much our last chance to get this global agreement before we’re committed to very dangerous levels of climate change. Bill and 350 are pushing Oct 24 as a global day of action, to send the message to our leaders that we want Copenhagen to deliver. My views on the value of public protest have waxed and waned over the years, but I am optimistic about this day of action. Partly because the 350 crew have thought about this hard and have already had some success at pushing political change; partly because I haven’t heard of any better plan than this.
So, this is a heads-up. I talked about the 350 movement, and the necessity of political leadership, this time a year ago. I’ll be talking about it more over the coming months. This is important.
NZ outpost of the 350 movement.
(Idiot of NRT was also at the talk. We did some plotting and scheming afterwards.)

It’s Not Over

Copenhagen Climate Congress, 10-12 March 2009
Key Message 1: Climatic Trends
Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised.
Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable
There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches to deal effectively with the climate change challenge… A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now…
Gareth Renowden at Hot Topic, 13 March 2009:
This seems to me a very good summary of the climate problem: it’s worse than we thought, we need to act now, and we’ve got the tools to do it. Now all we need is the willpower and the commitment. Politicians, are you listening?
George Monbiot, march 17 2009
Yes, it might already be too late – even if we reduced emissions to zero tomorrow – to prevent more than two degrees of warming, but we cannot behave as if it is, for in doing so we make the prediction come true. Tough as this fight may be, improbable as success might seem, we cannot afford to surrender.
Systems of power are made of people, and people can change, and achieve change. It’s not too late. Not yet.