Friday, November 30, 2007

Alan's list

2009: Wild bison herds roam extensive tracts of North America
2014: Iceland becomes the first country to be entirely fossil fuel free (using hydrogen as an energy vector)
2019: No trees used in the production of paper
2023: The entire world declared free of land mines
2039: Renewable energy supplies all the world's energy needs
2043: Ganges water is clean enough to drink at Banares
2065: There are 25,000 tigers living in the wild
2074: The 'ecological conversion' of all major cities is completed
Unlike J F Kennedy's 1961 vision of a man on the moon within in a decade, none of this needs new technology. Or so said Alan Watson Featherstone, founder of Trees for Life, at a lunch today at the House of Lords hosted by John Walton in support of the Earth Restoration Service. Alan imagined his son telling one day his grandson that "it all started with individuals here and there deciding to act. When they began to work with nature, rather than against her, the Earth responded."

The necessity to act is clear, said ERS officers Peter Phelps and Andreas Kornevall, and Mary Kay LeFevour of their partner the Society for Ecological Restoration. They reminded those present of the seriously scary picture in UNEP's recent 4th Global Environmental Outlook, and outlined their ambition to help forge a UN Ecological Restoration Convention to sit beside the Climate Change Convention and the Biodiversity Convention.

The 1992 Biodiversity Convention set 2010 as the year by which the loss of life forms world wide was to be reversed. But the rate of extinctions has increased. I've heard elsewhere that it's been suggested 2010 be called the 'Year of Death'. So it's time to get busy (see this article about GEO4 for a very brief introduction to the idea that biodiversity matters to both rich and poor).

I happened to sit next to Alan Watson Featherstone during the lunch, and mentioned I had volunteered in Glenn Affric in 1993. Among other good memories a male capercaillie that seemed to think it was Daniel Craig.
The bird would block the path of our Landrover and bump up against the front of the vehicle, trying to face us down. Alan said the bird had died sometime in the early nineties, and no capercaillies had been seen in the Glen since. There were now seeing quite a number of black grouse, though.

He also said ERS and its partners were encouraging people to come forward with their ideas for a list of goals in ecological restoration in the 21st century. ERS has a blog here.

SWISH Report (9)

is out here.

Local hero

"It may be incomprehensible to smaller minds, but we have always set high standards" -- George Sorial.

"Hopefully, Trump has now got the message that we're not a bunch of cabbages up here" -- Michael Forbes.

- from Developer Trumped

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hate speech

My friend Paul Kingsnorth has kindly given a slot to Brendan O'Neill on his blog. So it should be clear what we think of him. But Brendan never ceases to fail to surprise, and in his latest contribution to the Guardian (Now racism is disguised as environmentalism - not available online at the time of writing) he accuses those concerned about the resumption of whaling approved by the Japanese government (and that includes me; see this) of one of the great unacceptables of our time.

But a contributor to a debate about the Japanese government decision at DotEarth wrote:
[The New York Times] Week in Review has an article on whaling in Japan that ends with, “Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture,” the (Japan Whaling) association says, “would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chip.” This is totally false statement. I am a middle aged Japanese and I had whale meat once when I was about 8 years old as a sort of a “delicacy.” It tasted just like beef tenderloin so there is no reason to kill these animals for their so called unique taste. And even if it was it’s wrong. It saddens me to think that a very small minority view in Japan is holding up whale hunting and eating as some kind of sacred national ritual. Large scale commercial whaling was brought to Japan by the U.S. fishermen in the 19th century. So not only is whale meat NOT a staple food in Japan, it is not even a ancient ritual. The world should know this and we should pressure the Japanese goverment to ban this illogical, selfish and cruel practice.
The real question, therefore, is what warps people so much that they would rather encourage a greatly increased risk of the permanent eradication of a highly intelligent, unique species than face some basic truths?

That said, there are plenty of hazards for cetaceans that have nothing to do with the Japanese. Take three examples among many. The loss of krill in the waters of Antarctica is sharply reducing the food supply of some species. Noise from human activity could be having significant effects (and I count one of my best bits of radio journalism an investigation on this topic about ten years ago now). And fishing boats driving dolphins to exhaustion in order to hunt the tuna underneath them may be causing many mothers to abandon their young - the tragic downside to discoveries from an otherwise beautiful bit of science reported here: Another reason why infants need their mothers.

P.S.30 Nov: Kenny Young writes to say is trying to get a million people to sign a petition to stop whaling. At the time of writing more than 555,000 people have signed the petition.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Human Development Report

The 2007 UN Human Development Report, focussing on climate change, is out! I contributed to this, with a background paper in the spring (a version of which is online here; unfortunately not the final draft!), a box about coral reefs and development, and other inputs, and it's great to see this final result (as well as all the background papers including this one on the role or religions and this one on discounting in the context of climate change economics).

A target of a 50% cut in global emissions by 2050, and a strong critique of the UK government survived into the final report. Newspaper reports include this and this (Robert Mendelsohn's comment at the end of the latter may be worth attention, and some assumptions on which it's based examined).

Meanwhile in another part of the woods Worldwatch releases the optimistically titled Powering China's Development: The Role of Renewable Energy. The blurb says:
In 2006, China burned more than twice as much coal as any other country, according to the latest Vital Sign Update. China's coal use amounted to 39 percent of the global total, followed by the United States with 18 percent. The European Union and India came in third and fourth place, accounting for 10 percent and 8 percent of total coal use...

[Chinese demand]... accounted for more than 70 percent of the global growth in coal use in 2006 and for more than 60 percent of the rise in coal use over the past decade. But China also leads on renewables, and is poised to achieve—and even exceed—its target to obtain 15 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020.
P.S. An enlightening first response to the UNHDR comes from Marc Levy of Columbia University in this comment on the DotEarth blog. Here is an extract:
The HDR is very well suited to help us reframe climate change as a development problem, because its use of Amartya Sen’s human development paradigm is rooted in human choice and agency, as opposed to more narrow economic development. Typically, when the development agenda gets assessed in light of climate change, you tend to see estimates of loss of GDP, and even the Stern report, which tried very hard to break new ground in this area, ultimately came down to a cost-benefit calculus. What the Human Development report provides is a framework for thinking about how climate change affects the range of options for improving human lives, as experienced through food security, education, health, natural disaster risks, migration, and so on. In addition to framing the impacts in a more coherent manner, it also provides a better framework for prioritizing next steps and evaluating actions.

Unreasonable effectiveness

The last thing that the church would allow would be a rigorous double-blind test of saintly efficacy.
-- Nathan Mhyrvold, a member of the Reality Club, in one of a set of responses to Taking Science on Faith by Paul Davies. All the responses to Davies are worth reading, including Sean Carroll, who writes:
"The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational" is a deeply anti-rational statement. The laws exist however they exist, and it's our job to figure that out, not to insist ahead of time that nature's innermost workings conform to our predilections, or provide us with succor in the face of an unfeeling cosmos.
Good to read these after Simon Conway Morris, who may be an outstanding evolutionary paleobologist but is a poor philosopher. In Towards A Theology of Evolution, the poorly thought-out, poorly argued final chapter of Life's Solution, Conway Morris quotes G.K.Chesterton in support of his idea of Telos:
On [some remote planet] on plains of opal, under cliffs of pearl, you would still find a notice board, 'Thou shalt not steal'.
Would the notice board also say 'Thou shalt not covert thy neighbour's goat, nor his maidservant nor his manservant'?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Failure and hope

The outlines of a two-state solution are...clear. A Palestinian state will be set up. Israel will retreat to its 1967 borders, keeping some of its settlements and swapping them for some land currently inside Israel. The Israelis will at last stop building new settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinians will have to accept that the “right of return” for refugees applies only to the new Palestinian state. Jerusalem will be divided.

All of this is well known. But, unfortunately, it is probably not enough. It is equally possible to point to developments since the last failed peace rounds that make success this time even less likely.
-- from Annapolis and a history of abject failure by Gideon Rachman.

Free speech at the Oxford Union

Last month the Oxford Union cancelled a debate involving Norman Finkelstein, a US Jewish academic who is critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.
-- Irving and Griffin spark fury at Oxford Union debate.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A tiny risk

Scientists do not mean that nanoparticles are inherently unsafe, only that there is a yawning gap in understanding their effects. Yet safety legislation cannot be expected to work until the products of the technology are better understood. What does it mean to regulate nanotechnology materials when you cannot even measure their release into the environment or agree on how to weigh a nanoparticle?
-- from The risk in nanotechnology , The Economist, 22 Nov.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe.
-- Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, as quoted in New Scientist, 22 Nov. Thanks to the quantum Zeno effect - or so it's argued.

The way ahead

A transition from noncoherent, molecule-to-molecule heat transfer to coherent convection occurs in some heated fluids. During the process more than 1022 molecules come into concert. From a statistical point of view, this is ridiculously improbable. Yet the coherence arises naturally from an applied temperature gradient. Nature creates systems, sometimes quite complex ones, "in order to" get rid of gradients and export atomic chaos into the surroundings. "Centripetal," selflike structures arise from material cycles, energy-driven, self-reinforcing networks. Despite the term selfish genes, genes do not have selves: true selves are cells; without proteins and metabolic networks of recursive amino acids and intermediary molecules, genes are impotent, no more "selfish" than an unplugged toaster.
-- from Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics and Life by Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan.

James Lovelock, who like Lewis Thomas and others, has compared the earth as a whole to a cell, says in his review of Oliver Morton's Eating the Sun:
The wonderful thing about science is that nature itself is always the final arbiter. In time, Gaia theory will be confirmed or denied by evidence from the earth. Unfortunately, we do not have time. The evidence so far suggests that the earth is now in rapid motion towards one of its hot stable greenhouse states, perhaps like that of 55m years ago.
So, what about surviving and thriving? Schneider and Sagan quote Alan Watts (although one might as well quote a proponent of systems theory like Peter Senge, who I think has observed something similar in real life):
A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. "I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.
Fine so long as you don't hit your head on a rock. What rocks will there be on the way if/as the Earth switches from one stable state to another, as Lovelock suggests?:
When we change the carbon dioxide content of the air, the earth responds, when healthy, by neutralising our pollution—negative feedback. Now, less healthy, it responds by supplementing our increase with one of its own—positive feedback. The temperature increases rapidly with each addition of CO2 because, over a certain range, temperature and CO2 are directly related and soon the incremental heating from the earth itself will exceed our inputs and then further heating is unstoppable. Fortunately for us, earth history suggests that positive feedback will come to a natural stop and temperatures will stabilise five degrees above the present. The idea that we can stabilise rising temperature at some convenient level, say just two or three degrees above the pre-industrial norm, is probably the delusion of computer modellers. Once positive feedback starts, there may be little that we can do except try our best to adapt to a five-degree hotter earth. Hot enough to make our world a vast desert and starve most of us.
Agricultural practices can obviously adapt to some degree, but only so far.

Rhetoric and climate change

In exchange of letters between Kraig Naasz of the U.S. National Mining Assocation and James Hansen, Naasz objects to Hansen comparing coal cars to those carrying Europeans (sic) to crematoria in World War Two.

Naasz is trying a "have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife?" attack, implying anti-Semitism on Hansen's part by attributing to him a comparison that he did not make (which would, supposedly, trivialise the Final Solution) in order to draw attention away from the actual issue under discussion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Not time's fool

In his charming version of English, Eduardo Punset has set out a formula for love.

A Muslim 'gap year', and beyond

The UK's Crevice case is illustrative. It was not, as most western media claim, an [Al Qaeda] plot. The [perpetrators] went looking for AQ in Pakistan and had to pay 3500 Euros for a trainer and bring their own supplies.
-- from Terrorism and radicalisation: what to do, what not to do by Scott Atran, who says that, like gangsta culture, skateboarding, post-Madonna belly-button exposure and the hushpuppies fad, "the new wave of terrorism is about 'Youth Culture', not the Koran". 'Al Qaeda in Maghreb', for example, "is a logo, not part of an international organisation". But here is an interesting finding:
Would-be and captured suicide bombers rarely cite personal humiliation as a trigger but almost always cite the humilation suffered by others.
And economists and others should pay attention to this:
Jihadis do not respond to utilitarian cost-benefit analysis...; they respond to moral values...; each death inspires many more young Muslims to join the cause; and a utilitarian perspective [such as the U.S Quadrennial Defence Review which seeks to minimise U.S. costs in lives & treasure, while imposing unsustainable costs on the enemy] plays into the hands of terrorists. The U.S and allies [make a profound error in] try[ing] to reduce people to material matter rather than moral beings...

...Faith in Dreams and Heroes, perhaps more than industry and power, gives impetus to lives and civilisations.

Coup de train

This probably means that the strikers have lost in France. As a New Yorker profile suggested, to understand Nicolas Sarkozy it helps to know the story of the human bomb, whom he faced down. So he probably has the nerve for this situation too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


La libertad, Sancho, es uno de los más preciosos dones que a los hombres dieron los cielos; con ella no pueden igualarse los tesoros que encierra la tierra ni el mar encubre; por la libertad, así como por la honra, se puede y debe aventurar la vida, y, por el contrario, el cautiverio es el mayor mal que puede venir a los hombres (El Quijote, II, LVIII).

Monday, November 19, 2007

What makes a catastrophe at the world’s largest dam?

...the Communist Party is hoping the [Three Gorges Dam] does not become China’s biggest folly. In recent weeks, Chinese officials have admitted that the dam was spawning environmental problems like water pollution and landslides that could become severe. Equally startling, officials want to begin a new relocation program that would be bigger than the first.

The [dam] lies at the uncomfortable center of China’s energy conundrum: The nation’s roaring economy is addicted to dirty, coal-fired power plants that pollute the air and belch greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Dams are much cleaner producers of electricity, but they have displaced millions of people in China and carved a stark environmental legacy on the landscape.

“It’s really kind of a no-win situation,” said Jonathan Sinton, China program manager at the International Energy Agency. “There are no ideal choices.”
--from Chinese Dam Projects Criticized for Their Human Costs by Jim Yardley, with research contributed by Zhang Jing.

By 2020, it seems, China wants to nearly triple its hydropower capacity, to 300 gigawatts. 100 hydropower stations could be built on the upper Yangtze basin within two decades.The article nearly ends with:
...The quality of land is getting worse and worse the higher they go. And there are now more people than the land can sustain....

...Winter is approaching, and [Ms. Lu] is trying to block out cold air — and rats — by pinning down the tent flaps with rocks...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Merry old soul

Strange that the organisers of the first world Coal to Liquids conference in April 08 should advertise their conference on the Climate-L News. Or perhaps not. These fuels look very likely to be almost as bad as can be when it comes to greenhouse emissions (barring, perhaps, biofuels from destroyed rainforests; it would be interesting to see a comparison).

At least we can blow yet another big fat raspberry at the peak oilers.

But before feeling smug, consider the following from an article by Alan Zarembo in the LA Times that Paul Ehrlich circulates with the comment "One of the reasons civilisation has probably had it":
Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is the crack cocaine of the developing world.

..."A gigaton of carbon here, a gigaton there -- we've got a disjunction between the rhetoric and the reality," [says] David Wheeler, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development...

Leading the coal spree is China, which has more than doubled its CO2 emissions from coal since 2000 to more than 2.7 billions tons a year...more

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Bukra fil mish-mish

Things could work out if people put their minds to it. My faith is in the power of people to write history. One of the tragedies is that we very often sit back feeling that we have no power and that all we can do is express is our optimism or pessimism.
-- from Peace is Possible: Sari Nusseibeh in conversation with Ian Black.
At the beginning of the first intifada, in 1988, Israel expelled Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian-American child psychologist who advocated Gandhian tactics for resisting the occupation. The Israeli government understood right away that nonviolent tactics had the potential to embarrass Israel, and was determined to stop him. In truth, however, the government had no reason to be worried, since Awad made no headway among the Palestinians. I once asked a Palestinian friend why in his opinion Awad failed to convince the Palestinians of the validity of nonviolent tactics. His answer was revealing: nonviolent struggle is perceived by his fellow Palestinians as "unmanly." They are drawn to the slogan "What was taken by force must be regained by force."
-- from Avishai Margalit on A Moral Witness to the 'Intricate Machine', one David Shulman, who writes:
I have always hated the symbolic. It is the cheapest, most meretricious act of the mind, and the furthest away from anything real. But today, as I sift through the brown, moist soil under the eyes of the settlers, even I cannot resist the sense of something horribly symbolic. [The settlers] claim to feel something for this land, yet they treat it—her—with contempt. It, she, interests them mostly as an object to be raped, despoiled, and above all stolen by brute force from its rightful owners. It belongs, in this wild, ravished, ravishing landscape, to the people of the caves.


Four decades ago humpback whales had been hunted to the brink of extinction. Its conservation status remains "threatened (vulnerable)"The Japanese authorities have announced that a fleet will leave for the South Pacific on 17 Nov, with instructions to kill up to 1,000 whales, including 50 humpbacks.

I cannot at this moment find words strong enough to express my opposition to this.

But this is not just a Japanese disaster. As Peter Matthiessen recently reported, in Alaska the oil companies are endangering and likely killing bowhead and beluga whales.

[P.S. Ocean's Edge suggests signing the Greenpeace International petition to to set aside 40 percent of the world's oceans as no-take zones: "If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. If we want whales tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. If we want to stop bottom trawling, we need marine reserves today. For healthy oceans -- we need marine reserves today"].

[P.P.S. A friend in Alaska, whose business it is to know about this sort of thing, criticises Matthiessen for not reporting that some tribes are actually in favour of further exploration for oil.]

Official: "We're fucked"

“The world is already at or above the worst case scenarios in terms of emissions,” said Gernot Klepper, of the Kiel Institute for World Economy in Kiel, Germany. “In terms of emissions, we are moving past the most pessimistic estimates of the I.P.C.C., and by some estimates we are above that red line.”
-- from U.N. Report Describes Risks of Inaction on Climate Change.
[International Energy Agency] officials have stressed that if a solution was not found to curb the growth of energy use and improve energy efficiency in India and China, the trend would become harder and harder to reverse. China and India are building huge numbers of power plants to meet energy over the next 10 years, and 90 percent will burn coal. Coal is a highly polluting but relatively inexpensive source of power, making it the choice for developing countries. While technology exists to make coal plants somewhat cleaner, it is expensive.

"What choices China and India make will be with us for 60 years," said Fatih Birol, the agency economist. "These are locked in investments."
-- from Dire climate warning linked to China and India.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A friend of Freedom

The most chilling part of this short interview with Arkady Babchenko, author of One Soldier's War in Chechnya, comes towards the end.

In my rough transcript from about three minutes in, we start with a passage from the book:
In one cottage cellar they found a mutilated body: Yakovlev. The rebels had slit him open and used his intestines to strangle him while he was still alive. On the neatly whitewashed wall above him written in his blood were the words Allahu Akhbar -- God is great.
Then Babchenko, via an interpreter, tells Bridget Kendall:
So when Russia went into Chechnya for the second time I don't think the Russian army were perceived by the Chechen people as liberators, but at least they were indifferent to it. They didn't care who was going to establish order. They just craved order. So in the second war were didn't fight the Chechens, we fought gangs that roamed wide - and they were huge gangs, very strong gangs - we fought these criminals.

But the very purpose of the war was not to put an end to this banditry, this gangsterism that was reigning in Chechnya. It was only to bring Putin to power. That was the sole end.
Kendall says:
Clearly this whole experience of the war has scarred you. How much do you think it has scarred Russia? Because the general view in Russia today is that the Chechen war has been put behind them.
And Babchenko replies:
You wouldn't believe it but I'm a cheerful young man with a keen sense of humour. I think the Chechen war had the same effect on Russian society as you would have in a medieval society when a public execution took place. So there are no bans any longer, no taboos, no moral scruples. There is a total cynicism reigning supreme.

Southern victory

An American power company with close financial links to President George Bush has been named as one of the world's top producers of global warming pollution...

A single Southern Company plant in Juliette, Georgia already emits more carbon dioxide annually that Brazil's entire power sector...

...Southern, which earned $14.4bn in revenues in 2006, is using its influence to block the introduction of wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy sources on the grounds that it would eat into its profits.

Haley Barbour, one of the main lobbyists for Southern Co when President Bush took office, played a crucial role in persuading him to back away from his original campaign promise to reduce CO2 emissions when he first ran for president in 2000...

....The detailed breakdown of the worst polluters comes in the form of an on-line database [CARMA], compiled by the Center for Global Development.
-- from Leonard Doyle (US power company linked to Bush is named in database as a top polluter, The Independent).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Swede and low carbon

Jack Guest writes to say that a trailer for the feature-length preview of A Convenient Truth: A film about the world getting better has just been released. You can see it here on YouTube.

The trailer strikes me as having at least these two messages: 1) the answer is for everyone to be more like Sweden, plus flex-fuel cars; 2) you don't have to be some posh-sounding bloke to go out and do this for yourself, and you can be happy while doing it.

In a piece about Sweden which I wrote for Director (July 06), Roger Levett says:
It would be perfectly possible for any rich, sophisticated country to reduce net greenhouse emissions to zero over 20 or 25 years. Given what we now know about the global climate, this is the only sensible course. Anything else is suicide for our civilisation, if not for our species, although quite possibly that, too.
Vis-a-vis flex fuel cars, and therefore biofuels, Bacon Butty makes a useful addition to recent commentary:
Instead of asking how to reduce transport emissions from road fuel substitution, we should be asking how to make use of land to tackle climate change in the most effective way possible. In coming up with the biofuels targets, policy-makers have asked, and answered, the wrong question.
See too Biofuels bonanza facing 'crash', Indonesia Says It May Take Until 2014 to End Illegal Logging and Vanishing forests a counterpoint to Indonesia's climate crusade, which all take us back to How to destroy a planet.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

One more cup of coffee

A Jesuit at the Osservatorio compares the cosmos to a cappuccino, and it just gets better and better.

Žižek's fancy

In Resistance Is Surrender, Slavoj Žižek argues that the Another World is Possible mindset is just so much bollocks, with 'Subcomediante Marcos’ as QED. Today, he says, "it is the great capitalists – Bill Gates, corporate polluters, fox hunters – who ‘resist’ the state."

And one can see his point.

But for Žižek it is Hugo Chávez, with his "mobilisation of new forms of politics (like the grass roots slum committees)" who "should be fully endorsed".

So it is a singing-and-dancing petro-dependent president-for-life who rings Žižek's bell?

The Lobby

JC Superstar: Blair turns to Heifetz as key peace advisor.

As Blair said in another context: "I really believe this stuff".

Sceptics and prevaricators

If someone persistently claims to be a great football player, and yet fails to find the net when you put him in front of an open goal, you cannot do other than doubt his claim.
-- Richard Black being sceptical about bias.
Probably the most important reason for [the] absence of urgency is the profound lack of public knowledge in the U.S.] on issues related to climate matters...The serious national media have done a miserable job in educating the public about just what the stakes involved are when it comes to climate change.
-- Kurt Campbell on Why Americans prevaricate.

Knows his place

Paul Kingsnorth lays out the red carpet for a remarkable guest.

Melanie Phillips with a testosterone implant?

A 'troubling imbalance'

The first State of the Carbon Cycle Report finds that the North American continent’s carbon budget is "increasingly overwhelmed by human-caused emissions". A press release says:
carbon sinks may be reaching their limit as forests mature and climate conditions change. And some may literally go up in smoke if wildfires become more frequent, as some climate simulations predict. Planting forests and adopting carbon-conserving practices such as no-till agriculture may increase carbon sinks somewhat, but this would not come close to compensating for carbon emissions, which continue to accelerate.
See also Fire as the dominant driver of central Canadian boreal forest carbon balance by Ben Bond-Lamberty et al (Nature 450). The arctic tundra and boreal forest are the first and second largest carbon stores among terrestrial biomes.

[P.S.: I should have been paying closer attention: Andy Revkin blogged SOCCR yesterday here - but he doesn't pick up the key issue of carbon cycle feedback.]

Double McThink

Perhaps Alex Salmond, whose party claims to be serious about climate change, should recall that, as Dilip Hiro puts it, "the power derived from oil is only temporary".

'Pakistan, Bush and the bomb'

-- from Jonathan Schell.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mudded moderation

Andy Revkin describes Newt Gingrich, Bjorn Lomborg, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger as "centrists" on climate change who eschew the alarmism of the left and the denialism of the right.

But to be alarmed and raising the alarm about anthropogenic climate change is not wrong, any more than it would be wrong to raise the alarm if there is a high probability of an uncontrollable fire on the floor below yours in a building.

In such circumstances, clear thought, determination, organisation and optimism are necessary. So yes to careful consideration of relative priorities and emphasis on solving the problem. But no to ignoring the full nature and extent of the risks and the measures needed to meet them.

Partha Dasgupta accurately describes Lomborg's mistake as "Muddled concreteness".

[P.S. 14 Nov: an exchange between Dave Roberts and Revkin.]

Monday, November 12, 2007

'Sceptics' demolished

In Unravelling the sceptics, Richard Black reports on his attempt to find out what climate sceptics really think. This is likely to prove to be a useful exercise because it looks as if those who actually answered his well-constructed questionnaire do one or both of the following: 1) cite evidence that does not actually contradict the view of the IPCC and that of the Brazilian, British, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Indian, Russian and US scientific academies; and/or 2) make errors or misrepresentations (for example with regard the influence of the sun/cosmic rays/or the urban heat island effect) that can easily be cleared up.

[P.S. 13 Nov: see Gavin Schmidt at RealClimate on the BBC contrarian top 10]

'Tell him he's dreaming'

Call me cynical, but this catchprase from the 1997 Australian film The Castle came to mind in response to comment on a previous post on this site asking why more isn't done to encourage people to take big steps towards a low carbon transformation of their lives. Perhaps my cyncism, if that's what it is, is just a passing moment from reading that both 'debauchism' and 'disapora' tourism will be served by, for example, the hundreds of new jets on order from Boeing and Airbus.

Habeas schmabeas

when the Chinese international news agency reports that Britain has the longest period for detention without trial of any democracy, including Turkey. And the government wants to extend it.

[P.S. 21 Nov: but Alex Carlisle is unimpressed by Liberty.]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A beautiful idea

The Wilderness Society is a community-based environmental advocacy organisation whose mission is protecting, promoting and restoring wilderness and natural processes across Australia for the survival and ongoing evolution of life on Earth.
Puts me in mind of this from Philip Pullman:
[like religion] the stories of science have moral consequences too, but they convey them more subtly, by implication; we might say more democratically. They depend on our contribution, on our making the effort to understand and concur.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hip trip

It was the perfect brew—an African-American entrepreneur promoting a Polish vodka owned by a French corporation using Chinese performers practicing an Afro-Latin-influenced art form that originated in the inner cities of the United States.
-- from It’s a Hip-Hop World.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tread Schizo

At the time of writing, The Guardian's Treadlightly site boasts that "3,712 readers have pledged to save a total of 5.33 tonnes of CO2". The Treadlightly home page also carries an ad for "South Africa: unforgettable scenery at Table Bay".

A return flight to Cape Town (12,021 Miles) for one person accounts for 2.82 tonnes (according to one popular carbon calculator). So if just two people among the 3,172 who have so far pledged to "tread lightly" with The Guardian reward themselves with a holiday (a success rate for the advertisers of just over 0.063%), all the emissions saved by the other 3,170 and then some, will be cancelled out.

The front page of this morning's Guardian print edition prominently displayed news of a BEMA award to the newspaper for, among other things, "inspir[ing] readers to alter their lifestyles".

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Great Leaps, ancient and modern

Sun Shuyun writes that the clay soldiers speak of the good and bad of absolute rule, and raises interesting questions which go further in some respects than those I raised in Climate change, imagination and culture, part 3, and less far in at least one respect.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Part and whole

Accepting multilevel selection has profound implications. It means we can no longer regard the individual as a privileged level of the biological hierarchy. Adaptations can potentially evolve at any level, from genes to ecosystems. Moreover, the balance between levels of selection is not fixed but can itself evolve - and when between-group selection becomes sufficiently strong compared with within-group selection in a given population, a major transition occurs and the group becomes a higher-level organism in its own right.
-- from Survival of the selfless by David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson. [Image: flock of starlings, U.K.]

Equity, growth, climate

In a post touching on the ethics of climate change, Andy Revkin links to a striking illustration of global carbon emissions per capita by nation and mortality per million by region. There is likely to be some shift in the balance of carbon emissions as/if global energy needs 'grow inexorably', with China 'to be largest energy user'.
Were China and India to increase their rates of car ownership to the point where per-capita oil consumption reached just half of American levels, the two countries would burn through a hundred million additional barrels a day...But improving gas mileage will take us only so far. Once the Chinese and the Indians really start driving, doubled or even tripled fuel efficiency won’t suffice.
-- from Does the “car of the future” have a future?, Elizabeth Kolbert's review of Zoom and Auto Mania.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pakistan emergency

See the Avaaz blog. (Also, TomDispatch notes Todd Gitlin's suggestion "How about this for a Democratic slogan: Who Lost Pakistan?")

[P.S. 8 Nov: Dowd on Mushy in Uniform, and letters reflecting the complexity and intractability of the matter.]

Monday, November 05, 2007


From Martin Wolf on Biofuels: a tale of special interests and subsidies, with help from Biofuels – At What Cost? from the Global Subsidies Initiative: a classic farm programme: a costly system of transfers looking for a rationale. Or, as the report puts it: “The bewildering array of incentives that have been created for biofuels in response to multiple (and sometimes contradictory) policy objectives bear all the hallmarks of a popular bandwagon aided and abetted by sectional vested interests.”

Climate change, imagination and culture, part 3


This is the third part of a three part essay based on a talk given on 22 Oct in the series The Cultures of Climate Change at CRASSH in Cambridge. The first part is here. The second part is here.


In the last part of this talk I want to reflect on some questions raised, in my mind at least, by a recent protest involving venerated cultural objects. Conventional opinion seems to hold that this particular protest was beyond the bounds of what is culturally and politically acceptable.

On 14th October Martin Wyness, a forty-nine year old painter and father of two, crossed a barrier in the British Museum in London and put dust masks with “CO2” written on them over the mouths of two to the famous Terracotta Warriors on loan from China (Footnote 1). Wyness said, “I did it because I have got two children and I am very, very concerned about the global inaction over climate change, particularly what is happening in China.” It seems that no damage was done to the statues. It was reported that Wyness was banned from the museum for life.

There was some humour in response to the incident – The Sun talked about the Terracougher Warriors – but overwhelmingly the reaction was one of condemnation or placing oneself at a distance from the actions of the protestor.

I want to reflect on what the incident and reaction to it says about our current culture and politics regarding climate change. I should make it clear that my purpose today is not to defend what Wyness did. And I am not today advocating that others should go out and do anything like it.

According to press reports Wyness was “banned from the museum for life”. I wondered about that, and called the museum to learn their side of the story. Here is, roughly (2), what a spokesperson (3) told me:
Part of the point of this exhibition is that the public be able to get close [to the statues]. Wyness abused that privilege...Our primary motivation is to take care of the objects and protect the visitors. Wyness was potentially endangering both...He was given a verbal warning for inappropriate and irresponsible behaviour but the [British] Museum is not pressing charges... Press reports that he is 'banned for life' are overstating it. I suspect that phrase came from him. In practice [a lifetime ban] would be difficult to enforce. But without an apology or acceptance of responsibility from him we will not exactly welcome him back with open arms...We need to be very careful about giving any sort of precedent that this kind of action is in any way approved....No one denies Wyness’s right to make a point, but this was clearly taking it too far.
This is the sound of someone doing their job well and carefully. And I think one can absolutely see where the Museum are coming from.

At least one big environmental group also kept their distance from Mr Wyness. He called up them beforehand to ask if they would be involved, and they said no. According to a contact, there were two main reasons: people in the West shouldn’t be telling the Chinese what to do; and involvement might put at risk people from their organization who are working in China. Again, this will sound to many, perhaps most people like a well-judged and prudent decision.

I will say again, just to make is quite clear, that I am not trying try to mount a defense of what Wyness did. But please do consider the following provocations:

1. This is not the first time in recent years there have been illicit interventions at the British Museum. In 2005 the artist known as Banksy surreptitiously installed a painted rock at the British Museum. The rock depicts a primitive human pushing a shopping cart. Upon discovering the prank, the museum promptly added the artifact to its permanent collection. Could it be that comfortable, lucrative subversion is OK (4), but not protest that creatively and without damage calls attention to one of the gravest challenges facing the planet?

2. The amazing clay soldiers in the First Emperor exhibition sponsored by Morgan Stanley were made to honour an exceptionally ruthless and brutal tyrant responsible for vast numbers of deaths (5). Today their international display helps mark the re-emergence of China as a dominant global power. Ancient and modern China are, to state the bleedin’ obvious, vastly different in almost every way. But the country continues an almost unbroken record of environmental destruction at enormous human cost (6),(7).

3. To quote the New York Times, “Pollution has reached epidemic proportions in China in part because the ruling Communist Party still treats environmental advocates as bigger threats than the degradation of air, water and soil that prompts them to speak out” (8). Environmental activists in China risk serious abuse, jail and even murder. International action in solidarity must not endanger them, but it should say: ‘we are deeply concerned’. China needs more constructive critics and fewer conformists (9): a little more Chuang Tzu, and a little less Confucius.

4) When a small lifeboat boat is already lying low in rough seas water thanks to reckless behaviour by others in the past, it is unhelpful to make the boat even more unstable. China, now the largest polluter, is now among those doing exactly that to the global climate. China will carry growing its emissions very rapidly unless much richer countries take the challenge seriously. That very likely means that the rich countries will have to put up serious amounts of money to help the Chinese and other rapidly emerging economies deploy clean technology. And that looks a near political impossibility (10) even though it may be the only way to avoid dangerous climate change. In times like these what does it mean to ‘take it too far’?

OK, I’ll stop it at that for provocations, and finish with this:

There is a lot of talk about climate ‘denial’ as an obstacle to serious action (11). Denial may continue a big problem and should be fought, but I think there is a bigger and even more serious one: the spectre of indifference: indifference by those who calculate that privileges of wealth and power will protect them (12); indifference on the part of those who, like crack cocaine addicts, will go on destroying the future for immediate gratification; and the indifference of learned helplessness on the part of those who understand there is a massive problem but think there is no prospect of solution (13). The arts and critical thinking can help counter this threat when they make us both feel and think. It’s a slim hope but it is a real one (14) and we must hold on to it (15).


(1) Terracotta eco-warrior: protester breaches security to put masks on 2,200-year-old statues. Mail on Sunday, 15 Oct 07

(2) according to my notes - not verbatim

(3) British Museum Press Officer, 17 Oct 2007

(4) “He has found a visual style for self-congratulatory smugness and given a look to well-heeled soi-disant radicalism” – Jonathan Jones in The Guardian profile of Banksy, 2 Nov 07. Banksy’s work is ‘worth’ serious money.

(5) Yíng Zhèng, the man who became the first Emperor of China (Qin Shi Huang), "staged a palace coup at the age of 21 and assumed full power. Contrary to the accepted rules of war of the time, he ordered the execution of prisoners of war"… Late in life the emperor greatly feared and was obsessed with death, and desperately sought a fabled elixir of life. Reportedly, he died of swallowing mercury pills supposed by alchemists to make him immortal, but which were of course toxic. Qin Shi Huang did not like to talk about death and never wrote a will.

(6) Read, for example, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China by Mark Elvin (2004)

(7) China’s present ‘Great Leap Forward’ may have even worse consequences than its famous socialist counterpart in the 1960s. Just because the payback this time is likely to be in decades rather than months or years does not mean it is unreal.

(8) In China, a Lake’s Champion Imperils Himself, 14 October 2007 – from the series New York Times series Choking on Growth

(9) There was language at the recent 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Conference of a new ‘scientific’ basis for development which marries human security and environmental sustainability and does not necessarily put growth first at all costs. There is nothing like optimism.

(10) This, more or less, is the argument made by Paul J. Saunders and Vaughan Turekia in Why Climate Change Can't Be Stopped, Foreign Policy, Sept 07.

(11) See, for example,

(12) To hold that there is some universal right to "life", not to speak of liberty or the pursuit of happiness, is after all, to hold with something rather abstract, even socialist. As George W. Bush said about the provision in the Geneva conventions to protect human dignity, "That's very vague. What does it actually mean?" See, for example, Naomi Klein Rapture Rescue: “Like so many private disaster companies, Sovereign Deed is selling escape from climate change and the failed state” (See too Mike Davis on Who really set the California fires) and Experts say climate change threatens national security (ENN 5 Nov 07): "Rich countries could 'go through a 30-year process of kicking people away from the lifeboat' as the world's poorest face the worst environmental consequences", which...would be "extremely debilitating in moral terms."

(13) To many people helplessness and hopelessness can seem eminently rational. Tackling this effectively may include starting with techniques to teach people mindfulness, which (according to Michael Bond in a review of David Livingston Smith's The Most Dangerous Animal) Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard University, has been exploring as a way to counteract violent impulses. The idea is that an intentionally heightened awareness of thoughts and actions minute-by-minute can help people to resist negative social pressures and break ingrained habits.

(14) An unpublished manifesto for "artists united by a conviction that the destabilisation of the climate now in progress creates fundamentally new conditions for the production of art and for the relationship between art and society", written by a senior international negotiator on climate change for a major country who remains anonymous, places great hope in the power of the arts to help bring about a global transformation in self- and planetary- awareness. This a lot to ask of the arts. Maybe it starts with compassion. Norman Mailer writes in the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of The Naked and The Dead that “Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful”.

(15) Because no one gets points for saying, as Robert Conquest supposedly did when asked what the revised title might be of his history of Stalin’s Great Terror, “I told you so, you fucking fools”.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Climate change, imagination and culture, part 2


This is the second part of a three part essay based on a talk given on 22 Oct in the series The Cultures of Climate Change at CRASSH in Cambridge. Part one is here and part 3 is here.

OK, now the second point in this talk. In the introduction to this series it says:
…culture itself constitutes an indispensable form of knowledge that cannot be overlooked if the wider research community is to grapple with climate change in any robust way.
I’m not going to try tackle that statement, or at least not directly. But it does prompt me to think about – or at least talk about! – a type of cultural activity that many people think has become more important in the last thirty years (1) or so: the so-called ‘third culture’ (2) . Put simply, the third culture is supposed to be a new, undivided space where (or so it was claimed) before there were the ‘two cultures’ of ‘the humanities’ and ‘the sciences’. In the third culture people who study the humanities are expected to have more than a little basic scientific literacy and vica versa.

What kinds of activity with regard to climate change might we (3) hope to see in this new-ish (4) cultural space, and in the wider world as a result of developments and debate within that space? It’s a big question. Adequate answers to it may come from very different people, with some surprises down the road.

Mike Hulme, the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is among of those challenging the recent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He writes (5):
I want to examine the thesis, this formula - implicit in the Nobel award - that good science + good communication = peace... The IPCC represents good science, Al Gore and his inconvenient truth represents great communication; put them together and they can change the world. If only it were as simple as this.

[But] this formula is reminiscent of the deficit model of science communication, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but now largely abandoned…
Put simply, the ‘deficit model’, is the idea that a complex problem will be solved automatically when the gap in public understanding is filled. If you truly understand how much smoking increases the chances you will die prematurely and painfully you will stop smoking. Almost everyone now seems to think the model is too simplistic and past its sell-by date. But Hulme doesn’t actually dismiss it completely:
For sure, let us make sure that everyone understands that humans truly are altering climates around the world and that unfettered carbon-based material growth will lead to accelerated change ahead. This is what science is good at; this is what good science communication should be aimed at. This is lower-case "climate change"' if you will: climate change as physical reality.
No, his point is more complex. We need, he says, to understand the full significance of climate change in a different way:
At [the] point [where we have achieved clear and effective science communication] we have only just started on the task required. There is also an upper-case "Climate Change" phenomenon: Climate Change as a series of complex and constantly evolving cultural discourses. We next need to embark on the much more challenging activity of revealing and articulating the very many reasons why there is no one solution, not even one set of solutions, to (lower-case) climate change.
The novelist Ian McEwan made a similar argument in his contribution to the introduction to a debate on the politics of climate change two and a half years ago (6). 'Good science’ was essential, he said; but was only the start. Where Mike Hulme calls for more work on “the complex and constantly evolving cultural discourses” of “Climate Change” (upper case), Ian McEwan boils this down to “we need to talk”.

So where might we see some interesting conversations and debates in the third culture and what could be their impacts? I’ll give you three examples: two that I think are failures (routes to avoid), and one that sounds like an interesting experiment.

The first is Arts & Letters, an aggregating site that links to new articles, reviews, and essays and opinion ‘of note’ . My impression – admittedly anecdotal – is that A&L is, or at least used to be, quite widely read in academia and journalism by those looking for a quality filter and selector: a quick way to find what’s worth reading and what isn’t (7). But on the subject of climate change A&L doesn’t just fail to meet a quality threshold; it plummets through the quality floor. A correspondent (8) puts it well:
Arts & Letters commits a category mistake (to use the term loosely). It treats climate change as if it exists in the republic of letters and everyone has an equal claim to the truth (9) . But in this area the opinion of a clever journalist is irrelevant when compared with the research done by [thousands] of scientists. What annoys me in particular about the Arts & Letters position…is that it establishes some critical distance between itself and the majority opinion of scientists, without at any point offering justification for the existence of that gap.
The second example of failure is by a far more prominent player: the BBC.

How could I dare say something nasty about Auntie? (10) Only earlier today (11) an experienced activist at one of the most effective environmental groups in Britain told me he sometimes wondered whether The Blue Planet (2001), a BBC series about ocean life, had done more for awareness than thirty years of campaigning by all the green organisations. To be clear, he was wondering about this, not saying it was the case. But many of us may have had a similar thought. I have, anyway. Like almost everyone I know, I think The Blue Planet is fantastic. It is just one example of high quality nature and science programming from the BBC which many people find inspiring (12).

No, the failure is the decision to cancel Planet Relief, which those of you who were in Britain earlier this year will know was to have been a day-long marathon of documentaries, celebrities and what-not climaxing in a giant ‘switch-off’ event in which, it was hoped, millions of people across Britain would see how much difference they could make if they acted together.

Now I am probably in a minority on this one. The majority view is some form of “it is absolutely not the BBC’s job to save the planet”, as a senior figure at the BBC put it, or “I’m glad the BBC axed Planet Relief. Ricky Gervais preaching low-carbon lifestyles would have been celebrity bollocks”, as a Greenpeace activist put it. But since I am standing up and you are sitting down you have to indulge me for a minute – unless, of course, you walk out.

I think the BBC missed an important opportunity to take what the science and the science communicators are saying and (in Mike Hulme’s words), “embark on the much more challenging activity of revealing and articulating the very many reasons why there is no one solution, not even one set of solutions, to climate change”.

In defending the BBC stance, a spokesman said the organisation would “focus [its] energies on a range of factual programmes on the important and complex subject of climate change” (13).

But how far does the realm of relevant facts – and arguments – extend? If the science indicates (14) that even stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at 450ppm by 2050 carries a large risk of a global average temperature rise of more than 2° C, then the world is facing huge ethical, political and developmental challenges – the planetary emergency mentioned earlier. And even for lesser levels of risk this is so. As is the case in wartime, a national broadcaster has a profound responsibility to address these challenges with tremendous energy, creativity and boldness, not just make informative science and nature documentaries (15). The BBC and other media organisations need to tackle at least the following issues in their investigations and programming, in addition to standard science and nature reporting:

• The nature of time delays between cause and effect, how stocks and flows work (17);
• Uncertainty in science and risk management (18);
• Ethical, political and economic choices, and their consequences;
• ‘Solutions’ including but not limited to sustainable development pathways, the costs of adaptation, investment in sustainable energy technology, energy-efficiency, low-carbon living and ecological restoration.

Strictly Come Dancing it ain’t, but something like it is part of the minimum necessary to fill the deficit in public understanding. Now filling the deficit doesn’t always lead to effective action, as Mike Hulme rightly says. But it can help. Quite a few people, though of course not all, stop smoking once they fully understand its effects. This in turn affects the perception of the ‘right’ of others to pollute-and-bugger-the-consequences. Look at what is the matter in Kansas: recently, proposals for a new coal-fired power plant there have been turned down on the grounds that it would contribute to climate change (19).

The third example is an event earlier this month near Berlin. Hans Joachim – ‘John’ – Schellnhuber, the Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research, brought together 15 Nobel Prize winners (from many disciplines but most of them from the ‘hard’ sciences – physics, chemistry etc.) with the German Chancellor (20) and others distinguished figures including economists and writers (21). They signed a memorandum (pdf) with the ambitious title A Global Contract for the Great Transformation. I think it is worth reading, but the memorandum is not actually what I have in mind. My example – an experiment, I think – is the ongoing interaction between climate scientists like John Schellnhuber and artists, writers and others.

In the case of Schellnhuber himself, the first time I became aware of this was an event over a year ago at London’s Royal Court Theatre, where Schellnhuber and Chris Rapley, at that time head of the British Antarctic Survey, found themselves on stage in front of a couple of hundred people mostly from the London arts scene. Schellnhuber and Rapley talked about climate science but they used anecdote too. Schellnhuber recounted his experience when as a young student in the 1970s wandering round West Africa he found himself in the middle of famine. Being young and idealistic he wanted to help, and before long found himself protecting precious food supplies from an angry mob with a pistol. His point was simple: this was where we were heading with climate change if we didn’t change our behaviour, and he wanted to avoid it.

Now I wasn’t at the recent event in Potsdam, but I’ve read a little about it and talked to someone who was there. It seems that Schellnhuber and others continued their courtship of the arts. Ian McEwan read aloud his piece about the boot room on the Cape Farewell expedition boat Noorderlicht: a funny story about how good intentions to co-operate can collapse which you can take as a parable for our times, but which no one would claim to be great art. And I think I heard that Schellnhuber gently badgered Philip Pullman to write more about climate change, in reaction to which Pullman gently cringed.

If the account of Pullman cringing is correct this would be consistent with something he has said elsewhere – that it isn’t necessarily a good idea to try and bang out a novel or a play and convert people to a cause; you have to let imagination work indirectly (22). Maybe one has to go back to the nineteenth century to find novels-with-a-cause that people regard, or at least regarded for a long time, as major works of fiction – such as Charles Dickens on child labour and Harriet Beecher Stowe on slavery (23).

Still, I think the experiment by Schellnhuber and others is worth watching, even if we may never be able measure whether and how these issues get ‘into the gut’ of those who create great imaginative worlds and ideas. I wonder, for example, if Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Laureate in physics who took part in the Potsdam symposium, has talked to Cormac McCarthy about this sort of thing, or will do so further down the road (24).


(1) Taking the success of The Selfish Gene (1976) as a marker of the emergence of the ‘third culture’. Set aside any judgements on the quality and durability of its science and implicit politics, this book was - arguably - the first in modern times that that no ‘cultured’ person, including those who previously professed very little interest in science, could not have read and still claim to be educated. [On the quality and durability of the science in The Selfish Gene see David Sloan Wilson and Edward O. Wilson on Survival of the selfless: "Accepting multilevel selection has profound implications. It means we can no longer regard the individual as a privileged level of the biological hierarchy. Adaptations can potentially evolve at any level, from genes to ecosystems. Moreover, the balance between levels of selection is not fixed but can itself evolve - and when between-group selection becomes sufficiently strong compared with within-group selection in a given population, a major transition occurs and the group becomes a higher-level organism in its own right."]

(2) One of the most interesting exemplars is probably

(3) The ‘we’ here means those of us who think that, as I said at the start of this talk, climate change is a first order planetary emergency. If you disagree with this view, fine, we can talk about it; but outside, and not today.

(4) ‘New’ up to a point: it is of course in part the revival of an old idea going back to the Renaissance in Europe, and some other traditions.

(5) Climate change: from issue to magnifier, openDemocracy, 19 October 2007

(6) Let’s talk about climate change, 20 April 2005. McEwan reserves his praise for ‘good science’, and is highly critical of the environmental movement: “Well-meaning intellectual movements, from communism to post-structuralism, have a poor history of absorbing inconvenient data or challenges to fundamental precepts. We should not ignore or suppress good indicators on the environment”. McEwan’s article formed part of the introduction to a debate on the politics of climate change from the British Council and openDemocracy, which ran from April to June 2005. The home page of the original debate is no longer available, but an overview of the debate can be found here.

(7) The site’s motto is ‘veritas odit moras’ (‘truth hates delay’) – from Seneca.

(8) In other words, A&L mistakes climate change (the science) for Climate Change (the cultural discourse) – CH.

(9) Robert Butler quoted in A&(WO)L, Grains of Sand, 20 Sep 07

(10) Disclosure: in the mid 1990s I worked for about a year at Costing the Earth, the flagship environment series on BBC Radio 4. At that time there was some struggle about presenting ‘both sides, not just the evidence’ on climate change. The BBC has moved on from that, but others make it their bread and butter.

(11) 22 Oct 07

(12) I was glad when David Attenborough finally fronted a film directly addressing climate change – Climate Change: Britain Under Threat (2007). (Incidentally, what was the first really powerful film or TV series about environmental degradation? Koyaanisqatsi (1983)? Was it a documentary?)

(13) It has been announced that two and a half thousand posts will go at the BBC, “many of them in the next nine months, with 1,800 redundancies overall and news and factual programming worst hit”. Crisis at the BBC: Is there a vision? The Guardian, 22 Oct 2007. (emphasis added)

(14) See The Certainty of Uncertainty,, 26 Oct 07: “450 ppm is an oft-cited threshold since this keeps deltaT below 2°C using standard climate sensitivities. But the skewed nature of the distribution of possible sensitivities means that it is much more likely that 450 ppm will give us more than 4.5°C of global warming rather than less than 2°”

(15) Perhaps the BBC management, cowed by the pasting it received for allowing a reporter to suggest that the facts of the Iraq war had been fixed around the policy, rather than vica versa, has become excessively conservative. It has been argued elsewhere that most senior figures at the BBC and the regulator OFCOM have an arts and humanities education but little proper grounding in the sciences. In this sense they are not really citizens of the third culture and tend to fall into the same trap as the editors of Arts & Letters. One of the other factors in the decision to cancel Planet Relief may have been that TV audiences for Al Gore’s Live Earth concert in July were something like a quarter of those for the thanksgiving concert for the life of Diana.

(16) Obviously this list is far from perfect or comprehensive.

(17) See, for example, Why ‘wait and see’ won’t do by John Sterman and Linda Booth Sweeney, or my riff: “Imagine that you find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile tearing down a superhighway at high speed. Instead of a normal windscreen in front of you a video shows the view from where the car was a minute ago. The first thing you would probably do in such a situation is take your foot off the accelerator. Next, you might try work out where you actually are now, where you are heading, and what you can you do about it. In the case of anthropogenic climate change the time lag may be fifty or sixty years rather than sixty seconds, but the principle is the same. What we are seeing now are the consequences of what we did some time ago, and we cannot see directly the impact of what we are doing right now.” – from Six Caveats about Six Degrees, 26 Mar 07.

(18) One can do worse than start with How it all ends, a clip posted on YouTube by a high school teacher called Greg.

(19) Citing Global Warming, Kansas Denies Plant Permit, New York Times, 20 Oct 2007

(20) Global sustainability: 1st interdisciplinary symposium.

(21) Angela Merkel holds a doctorate in physics. She is the political leader of the world’s largest exporter.

(22) Referring to a recent Tipping Point conference in Oxford, Pullman wrote: “I detected a sense on the part of some people present that they felt that all the arts people needed to do was get some information in their heads and then go off and bang out a novel or a play and convert thousands of readers; and more than one of the artists had to make the point that you don't create with your will, but with your imagination, and you can't exactly direct that. Nor can you predict how the audience will react: you might think you'd written the most passionate denunciation of globalisation, and people read it for the love story.” (One week in SeptemberThe Guardian).

(23) An exception to that 'rule', perhaps, at least after World War One would be fierce, Swiftian works of satire like Brave New World, 1984, Catch 22 etc.

(24) According to Wikipedia, McCarthy and Gell-Mann are friends, and McCarthy quite often visits the Santa Fe Institute.