Category Archives: Saving the Planet

Does This Look Natural to You?

It’s that hockey stick illustration again…. this planet was getting along fine before we came along and started playing hockey.

By getting along fine, I mean that from time to time – like hundred of thousand of years, and sometimes millions of years – there have been swings in the average temperature of our planet accompanied by swings in the average sea level as water was bound up in huge ice fields or not. It’s fairly easy to understand : lots of ice, cold temperatures, low sea level all go together; as does less ice, warmer temperatures and higher sea levels.  Those three things are interdependent and they arise in dependence on something else, and that something else is the root cause of climate change – CO2 concentrations. 

CO2 is not the only cause of climate change. But right now, it’s the important one. It’s not the only molecule which acts as a greenhouse gas. But right now, it’s the important one. 


Ok, I’ll take a few deep breaths…. By the way, the air that I’m currently breathing contains  400ppm of CO2 which is 30% more CO2 than I was breathing when I was born. 30%. Nearly a third more CO2 is entering my lungs now than in 1950. That doesn’t do me much damage, if any. But it’s doing the planet’s lungs a lot of damage, at least if we want the planet to continue supporting our existence.

Climate Denial 101 MOOC

I did this MOOC course early in the year. I thought it was time that I understood climate denial better and hopefully become more able to debunk it. I mean shouting at the TV brings some personal satisfaction but doesn’t help the overall situation. I’m not bad at recognising when inaccurate information is being portrayed as the truth. But I wasn’t good enough at recognising what exactly was going on and how to communicate that to other folk.

This course is a cracker! (Scots for ‘wonderful’) The course was run by EDx. You can download a PDF file of the syllabus  here. This is the introductory video. Like a lot of the course videos, it’s available on YouTube.


Click on these illustrations to find out more:

 debunking structure

FLICC head
Lawson debunk zedity

Denial 101 Debunking Essay

This is the essay I wrote for a course assessment. It follows the argument layout that people have found works best when trying to explain examples of climate change denial which is :

debunking structure

The point here is that the fact takes pride of place. It’s the first thing that the reader takes in. A bad debunking does it the other way round. It’s sort of understandable. You say what’s wrong and proceed to say why… but it doesn’t work, the myth gets pride of place, is remembered, while the debunk gets forgotten. As in…

debunk wrong 001 debunk wrong 002

Anyway, here’s my debunk attempt …..

It’s a fact that different parts of the world are being and will be affected differently by global warming. Different kinds of evidence – e.g. sea level; ocean, land and air temperatures; icecap melting; precipitation; biodiversity changes – all contribute to the emerging climate change consilience indicating that urgent action is needed now to keep average global warming to around 2 degrees. Some effects may be beneficial, at least in the short term. But the overall global effects will make the world a much harder place for its many species, including human beings, to survive.

Yet there is a myth that global warming is nothing to be alarmed about. For example, in 2013, the UK Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, said that “There are advantages to global warming.…I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries. ….The IPCC latest report shows a really quite modest increase, half of which has already happened. They are talking one to two and a half degrees…. what it is saying is something we can adapt to over time, and we are very good as a race at adapting.” (ref1)

Mr Patterson is correct is saying there are some advantages to global warming and in UK we may see crop yield increases as temperatures warm; growing seasons may lengthen and extend further north. However it is also true that increased sea level combined with tidal surges and changing precipitation patterns will endanger our UK coasts and cities. Indeed in 2013/14, large areas of southern England were inundated for four months causing destruction of farmland and property. Droughts will also increase and farmers will have to adapt to use different crops more suited to these more extreme conditions.

When Mr Patterson makes statements like these he is guilty of cherry-picking the facts and misrepresenting the risks. Even within UK, he ignores the many disadvantages to UK of localised global warming. It’s not as if Mr Patterson is unaware of these risks. His own government department has analysed the likely impacts. (ref2)

On a global scale, he hugely misrepresents the situation. The 2.5 degrees he makes light of will play out very differently around the planet. Some Pacific Island countries may disappear altogether. Sub-Saharan countries, already poor, are facing a loss of 40% of their crop production. Some countries will face mass population movements to avoid famine. (ref3) The UK may be able to afford to mitigate and adapt to 2.5 degrees of warming but many countries do not have the wealth to do that even if it were possible.

If you hear that climate change brings advantages just ask yourself : Advantages for whom? where? and for how long?

It’s the Daily Show: Bashing Climate Change Deniers

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show here in getting up a full head of steam at climate change deniers:

1. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology…. jaw-dropping clips of House members on that committee interviewing John Paul Holden, President Obama’s senior advisor on space and technology issues.

In one clip, Texas Congressman Steve Stockman explains that he doesn’t believe in rising ocean levels, saying, “When your ice cube melts in your glass, it doesn’t overflow—it’s displacement!”

“How far back to the elementary school core curriculum do we have to go to get someone on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology caught up?” exclaims Stewart, pounding on his desk in exasperation. “Do we have to bring out the papier–mâché and soda so you can make a %#$^&$ volcano?”



2. When the Koch Brothers advertised on the Daily Show

Cue: an upbeat ad about the wonders of modern fossil fuel-based industry from—the Koch Brothers. “Who are these lovable scamp Koch Brothers?” asked Stewart.

3. GOP criticising the Pope’s Climate Change Encyclical
Pope Francis released his encyclical last week, urging swift action on climate change ahead of the Paris climate talks in December. And before the ink had even dried, many conservative American politicians were criticizing the Pope for speaking out about environmental issues.

4. When Florida banned the words “climate change”

One former Florida Department of Environmental Protection employee, Kristina Trotta, was told to use the term “nuisance flooding” instead of “sea level rise” and was told she could only say the water was getting hotter and not why it was getting hotter.

Ah yes, that darn nuisance flooding. Well, if certain denizens of the Sunshine State don’t want to use those naughty “C words,” Jon Stewart has his trusty “Roget’s Denial Thesaurus” to offer some alternatives.

Global Thermometer from 20,000 BCE to Now

You know this global warming thing? Ever wondered how the Earth’s temperature has changed over the millennia? Well here’s your answer….. planetary temperature for the last 20,000 years. Yeah, that’s well longer than when Creationists say that God created everyone so if you believe that nonsense, you won’t want to bother with this. If you’re for having a look, then make sure you don’t stop until the very end. That’s where it gets frightening. Oh and Creationists? You do know that you’ll have to come up with anther explanation for what happens after 1950?

Continue reading Global Thermometer from 20,000 BCE to Now

Debunking Nigel Lawson

When I listened to the Climate change Denial 101 lectures on FLICC it seemed a pretty straightforward and reasonable set of criteria. However when I tried some of the examples, I soon found that it wasn’t!

It’s definitely easier to identify aspects of FLICC when it’s a subject that I have some background knowledge of but even then, I’m still finding myself rather baffled as to which part of FLICC is happening. I suspect that there are probably FLICC overlaps in what people say when they deny what’s happening.

I came across an article with a climate change denier in The Guardian the other week so I thought I’d try analysing it for FLICC content. It’s an interview with Lord Nigel Lawson who was Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer (ie Finance Minister) and Energy Secretary in the 1980s. I posted about him in the MOOC forums because he heads up a climate change denial setup in UK called the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

I’ve extracted some of what he says about climate change. The full article is here : Second Coming of Nigel Lawson The “I” in the article is the interviewer, Jane Merrick. So here goes…

Extract 1:

When I ask him (ie Lawson) how he feels about the label of “climate-change sceptic” (although some environmental campaigners would choose the word “denier”), the peer, who was also Thatcher’s Energy Secretary, says:

“I would rather you call me a climate-change dissenter because my objection is to the policies that are being pursued. There is no global warming to speak of going on at the moment. If you look at the Met Office statistics, that’s quite clear. But there could be, there clearly could. If it does happen, there would be a much slower process than the alarmists pretend. But the important question is, what do you do about it? This is where I am in complete disagreement with the parties of the Establishment.”

Making reference to Met Office Statistics gives Lawson apparent credit as at least a well-informed layman. Really though this is cherry picking and/or a strawman argument. I think he’s referring to the hiatus in surface air temperature rise that’s been observed 1998-2012. But he’s not giving the whole picture and doesn’t acknowledge that his argument that therefore no warming is going on just now is weakened by other data. Observations of sea temperatures, ocean acidity observations, sea level rise and other measures, all of which show that global warming is continuing but in a different pattern just now than in preceding decades.

His acknowledgement that ‘global warming could happen but that if it did happen it would be much a slower process than alarmists present’… is clever, I think. He’s already established his apparent credentials by apparently knowing what the Met Office data shows. He is now avoiding being seen as an out-and-out loony climate change denier by acknowledging that it is possible for the climate to change. (UK Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher, who had a degree in chemistry, acknowledged the possible effects of increasing GHG gases concentrations back in the 1980s) Then he makes an assertion that any change would be slower than alarmists declare. So two things there. He doesn’t offer any backup data for that assertion. Would that be an unsubstantiated red herring? And then he uses the derogatory term ‘alarmist’ which comes under an ad hominem fallacy of reasoning where you attack your opponent personally rather than critiquing his data.

Extract 2:

Yet how can he justify his position when 97 per cent of scientists say that global warming is happening now? Lawson corrects me: “It wasn’t 97 per cent of scientists – but what they did was take a whole load of papers which they selected and then they said 97 per cent of the papers said, as I have, that it could well happen. The only people who are in the 3 per cent were people saying, ‘No way it could ever happen.’”

Again I think this is clever. It refers to the consensus building discussion we heard about in the week 1. The interviewer made a mistake by saying 97% of scientists. Lawson pounces on that and is correct in saying that it’s not 97% of scientists. It’s actually 97% of climate scientists and their research papers. But he doesn’t acknowledge the greater expertise of the selected scientists. In fact he uses ‘selection’ as a pejorative term implying that something was done to skew the results to what ‘they’ wanted. So although it’s not explicitly stated by Lawson, I think there’s an implied conspiracy theory accusation at the scientific community.

Extract 3:

But even David Cameron, who as prime minister has played down his green credentials, has linked the winter floods and last year’s devastating Typhoon Haiyan to global warming. “He’s talking through his hat,” says Lawson. “There’s been no increase in their number or intensity at all. All the experts are clear that you can’t link [these events] to warming, not surprisingly because there hasn’t been warming.”

Again an assertion is made by Lawson, this time about typhoon intensity, without any backup reference given. Winter floods in the south of England get ignored despite there being some evidence that the weather that brought them was linked to a blocking pattern due to a changed jet stream pattern over Europe. In his immediate next sentence he correctly states that individual events can’t be linked specifically to warming. This time he’s happy to quote that experts are clear about this. This is cherry picking in that he’s happy to quote these experts when they say something that apparently supports his view. And cleverly again, he links the experts’ open acknowledgement of the limits of what, as yet, can be confirmed about individual events into his assertion that no warming has occurred.

Extract 4:

Lawson’s strong personal views would be easily dismissed if he had no influence on the Government. Yet he has: George Osborne has become an enthusiast for shale gas, something Lawson has, through his Global Warming Policy Foundation, been advocating for a number of years; last year, the Chancellor announced tax breaks for fracking. Lawson has a “high regard” for Osborne, whom he says has “depth” and “thinks”, and the pair talk from time to time.

Fewer than half of voters support fracking, I point out, but Lawson is having none of it. “They don’t know anything about it, understandably, because it’s never happened in this country. There is a ridiculous campaign of misinformation by its opponents, which people can’t judge properly”. He says 99.5 per cent of what is used in drilling for shale is water and sand, and only 0.5 per cent is a “totally harmless” chemical, polyacrylamide, used in face creams.

I’ve put this extract in just so you seem how vociferously Lawson complains about a campaign of misinformation by people who can’t judge properly. He is himself a disseminator of climate change misinformation, of course, but in the case of fracking he wants the opposite of what the protesters want so they’re the ones who are misinforming people. I haven’t done any research to find out if what he says about the composition of shale drilling fluid is correct. Even if it is correct, he is keeping quiet about the other problems associated with fracking. I don’t know if the fracking procedure in UK is the same as in US but there are certainly problems arising in US with contaminated water supplies. So I’d bet there’s some cherry picking going on here too. As well as his sheer brash neck complaint about a campaign of misinformation! And of course no mention about the contribution to CO2 emissions that would arise from shale gas usage.

Conclusion: I never liked Lawson when he was an active politician. In the UK, I suppose he still has some standing left in some quarters and some credentials as a reputable and intelligent politician. He clearly trades on that to give his statements weight.

I like him even less now that he’s an active climate change denier. But he is clever. And he obviously knows how to use a range of linked statements to create an overall sense of apparent reasonableness. Some of his statements are true; some are false; some are cherry picking; some are misrepresetnations; some are unsubstantiated red herrings; some are attacks on the honesty of scientists.

This has been a very useful exercise. I usually just shout at Lawson when he’s on TV. I might now be able to explain a bit to other people what exactly he’s up to!!


John Doerr: Salvation (and profit) in GreenTech

This was a talk given in 2007. His catch phrase in the talk is “…but I’m afraid it’s not enough.” At the end of this talk, John Doerr was in tears. I wonder what he’s feeling and saying now when things are looking so much worse for the climate.


Been reading this 2012 article about “Why the Clean Tech Boom Went Bust.” It’s about the USA clean tech boom in particular.

No surprises then than fracking, lower gas prices and fossil fuel industry opposition are involved.

“….Perhaps the biggest force working against … clean energy in general is this: Because natural gas has gotten so cheap, there is no longer a financial incentive to go with renewables. Technical advances in natural gas extraction from shale—including the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—have opened up reserves so massive that the US has surpassed Russia as the world’s largest natural gas supplier.

The price of natural gas peaked at nearly $13 per thousand cubic feet in 2008. It now stands at around $3. A decade ago, shale gas accounted for less than 2 percent of America’s natural gas supply; it is now approaching one-third, and industry officials predict that the total reserves will last a century. Because 24 percent of electricity comes from power plants that run on natural gas, that has helped keep costs down to just 10 cents per kilowatt-hour—and from a source that creates only half the CO2 pollution of coal. Put all that together and you’ve undone some of the financial models that say it makes sense to shift to wind and solar. And in a time of economic uncertainty, the relatively modest carbon footprint of natural gas gets close enough on the environmental front for a lot of people to feel just fine turning up the air-conditioning.”

Being undercut by Chinese low prices for solar echnology  is also involved in undermining the clean tech industries. But the positive effect of that is to have helped solar panel installation companies and make solar installations cheap and immediately profitable.

But maybe the biggest threat is the vested interests of the fossil fuel companies. US is not alone now in chopping the subsidies to clean energy sources whilst maintining those to the old dirty ones. UK is doing the same.

Despite the fact that renewable energy received only a quarter of the subsidies that fossil-fuel-based electricity received between 2002 and 2007, it’s wind and solar that are on the chopping block.

Even solar’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill—people like Edward J. Markey, a top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee—fear the industry’s oil and gas foes may have gotten the upper hand now that the clean-tech bubble has burst. “We are not Panglossian about what lies ahead,” Markey says. “The fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress clearly see the solar and wind industries as a threat and will try to kill these industries as they have for the preceding two generations. They want this to be a five-year aberrational period.”

In other words, John Doerr may once again have a good reason to shed a tear.



My Carbon Footprint

Just done our house carbon footprint calculation and it comes out at 4.12 metric tonnes CO2e. That’s per person, there are two of us in a five apartment semi-detached house. This is half the UK average and just a bit above the world average of 4 tonnes. But still twice the target of 2 tonnes needed to combat climate change. Here the result:



Things that help with this score:

  • Not running a car. We live in Glasgow city where it’s kind of daft to drive into the city centre where the parking is expensive and when there is such good public transport. Having a senior citizens’ free bus pass is another reason for abandoning the car. When we want a car we hire one which happens two or three times a year for a few days.
  • being vegetarian, buying locally grown food when we can (but not mostly), buying some organic food – all that must help with our food footprint
  • we have a good recycling system in Glasgow and it lets us recycle most of our refuse
  • natural gas for heating
  • our electricity usage is kept down by having a 3KW array of solar panels on the roof. It decreases our electricity usage by almost 100% if we remember to only use the washing machine, dishwasher during the day. And it has halved our fuel costs when the feed-in tariffs are taken into account.

I was a bit disappointed that the tool didn’t let me tell it I have solar panels! the effect is partly taken into account by the low electricity usage but that doesn’t allow for the amount of electricity we feed back into the grid.

Anyway that’s all good. But I can’t imagine how we’d get it down to 2 tonnes.

Worldview Backfire Effect & How to Debunk It

You’ve probably noticed when you’re trying to get someone to modify their opinion on some topic,  that your best attempts frequently result in them having an even more entrenched opinion – despite your friendliest attempts to dissuade them and despite having given them well-authenticated reasons to change their mind. It all backfires and from your point of view anyway, the situation is now worse than before you began. Take heart. It’s not just you who ends up in this quagmire. Continue reading Worldview Backfire Effect & How to Debunk It

Disobedience – the Only Way to Save our Planet?

Civil disobedience campaigns have brought some massive changes in government policy and actions : the Suffragette Movement; the American Civil Right Movement; the anti-Apartheid Movement to name a few. It took ordinary people – lots of them – to be willing to get out on the streets, march, write letters, protest, sometimes get arrested, and sometimes put their own safety on the line all in order to bring about the radical change that their elected politicians, if they had any, were unwilling to act on. Continue reading Disobedience – the Only Way to Save our Planet?