Nov 302011

The latest UN talk-fest has started in Durban, with virtually no chance that anything meaningful will happen there other than much more hot air being added to an already overloaded atmosphere. The largest and most influential of three main groups of countries, “The Rich” (the cruel would say “The Declining” – the others being “The Booming” and “The Poor bastards who will be most hurt”) are pushing for an agreement in 2015/16 to come into force in 2020.

Given that the science clearly says we need to act now, and the cost of action goes up exponentially the longer we delay this is rank stupidity and just about guarantees that we will exceed the 2 degrees “safe threshold”. The graph above clearly shows the slippery slope we are on; if emissions peaked in 2020 we would need to reduce them by 5.3% per year to have a 50% chance of staying under 2 degrees. If as is much more likely from an agreement which starts in 2020, they peak in 2025 it needs to be nearly 10% per year which just won’t happen. If we had peaked last year only 1.3% per year would be needed. Remember this is for a 50% chance of avoiding “dangerous climate change”. Do we feel lucky?

Meanwhile it keeps getting hotter and more extreme. The World Meteorological Organization announced that the decade to 2022 – 2011 is tied for the record of hottest decade since records began. This confused me at first as I couldn’t see another decade which it tied with, but they mean 2001- 2010. It is obvious that warming is real and accelerating as even the dissentients now concede.

Researchers at Princeton University have published a study which shows that the weather is becoming more extreme and variable. This affects both rainfall and solar radiation, with the variability of both increasing significantly in the last 30 years.

In news that seems to have been ignored Japan’s science ministry announced that 8% of the country has been contaminated by radiation from Fukushima. The radiation is at levels where it might be wise to keep children indoors, and in fact kids studied are growing much less quickly (0.8kg last year versus 3.1kg previously). Given that the major contaminant has a half life of 30 years this will be a problem for a long time, and is fuelling even more distrust of government and commercial interests. Speaking of which the Guardian has two articles on the occupy movement that are worth a look. The first is an animation showing the relative growth of rich and poor in the USA, while the other is an analysis of the over-reaction by authorities. The journalist was not convinced by the mainstream media reporting that the movement had no real goals and asked US members “What is it you want?” 100 responses were received in short order, and the top three are instructive:-

  1. Get the money out of politics.
  2. Reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation.
  3. Draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

Personally I can’t see anything wrong with any of the above, though I can see why the political class might prefer the mainstream media version!

Our responses to climate change are often a bit weird. Rather than going after the major issues (renewable electricity, efficiency and storage) we seem to get carried away. Here for example is a house which is a 3m cube. I’m all for downsizing but a standalone building for one person is a bit ridiculous. Even worse is a scheme to paint the oceans white to increase the earth’s albedo. Just imagine the possible side effects!

A bit of good news to end on. Bloomberg reports that Investments in Renewable Power Plants this year is greater than Fossil Fuel Plants for the fist time. Renewables were $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal. It’s a start but very far from enough.

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