Category Archives: Saving the Planet

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?

Caroline Lucas MP on what’s wrong with the Tory 2015 Finance Bill

Caroline Lucas is the only Green Party MP in the UK House of Commons. This is her contribution to the debate on why the 2015 Finance Bill, brought in by George Osbourne for the Tory Government, should be voted down.

If you see no video just below this, it’s probably because you’re using iOS and can’t play the Flash video format. Never mind, you can watch the extract on ParliamentLive website by using this link.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland Rally

The “Stop Climate Chaos Scotland” Coalition brings together over 60 civic groups, NGOs and charities all working together to press our Scottish Government to maintain their impetus on climate change policy and to maintain their support, financial and otherwise, for the development of renewable energy technologies. We need to take advantage of the renewable energy sources Scotland is blessed with : tidal power, wind power, wave power. The Government also support solar power options but we’re not quite so blessed in that category!

I went over to Edinburgh the other week for the SCCSC Rally at Holyrood Parliament Building.SCCS rally  SCCS Rally

Good news is that Scotland’s CO2 emissions have been reduced by 30% compared to our 1990 emissions, compared to 23% for UK as a whole, and 18% for EU. We’ve narrowly missed the targets for the last couple of years but are still on track overall to meet the Scottish National Climate Change Action Plan to achieve a 42% reduction by 2020.

Apologies for the windy recording, but it was Edinburgh, it’s often just how it is there! Listening to the talks from the five main Scottish political parties, I discovered that when the plan was put before Holyrood there were no abstentions or votes against at all. Everyone, in every party, supported it. 100%. And it’s one of the most ambitious NCCA Plans in the world.

SCCS RallyRecently thousands of postcards were sent to our Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, asking her to increase efforts to mitigate climate change. Each postcard gave the sender’s main reason for what they valued about our planet and why they want it protected. Some of them were:

For the love of the food on our plates …… for the love of our global neighbours……. for the love of the Arctic and the Great Barrier Reef……. for the love of country walks and Scotland’s beautiful seasons.

The postcards will go with the Scottish Government delegation to this year’s UN Climate Change talks in Paris.

Next Rally is at Westminster on 17th June 2015…
Tor the love of ....


Climate Change Denial – How to Spot It

I found out about FLICC set of denial tactics when doing an online course run by University of Melbourne this month. See the previous post. The acronym stands for the five tactics of climate change denial :

Fake_Experts   F= Fake Experts              Logical_Fallacies  L= Logical Fallacies

Impossible_Expectations I=Impossible Expectations            Cherry_PickingC=Cherry-picking

Conspiracy_Theories  C=Conspiracy Theories

At first FLICC all seemed a pretty straightforward and reasonable set of criteria. However when I tried some of the examples in the courses, 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. He heads up a climate change denial setup in UK called the Global Warming Policy Foundation. The full article is here : Second Coming of Nigel Lawson

I’ve extracted some of what he says about climate change. 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 skeptic” (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. He’s referring to the hiatus in surface air temperature rise that’s been observed 1998-2012. He’s not giving the whole picture and he 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  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 telling us that he knows 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 Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) 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. Unsubstantiated statement operating as a 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 amongst climate change scientists and also to the consilience amongst their data. By consilience is meant that independent data from different approaches all point to the same conclusion. For climate change studies, consilience  includes studies of ice cores, ocean surface temperatures, ocean acidification, GHG emissions, land surface temperatures, tree rings, glacier observations, precipitation patterns. All of these indicate significant warming of the planet. 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. So he misrepresents the facts, a form of logical fallacy.  He then 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, 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.”Cherry_PickingMisrepresentation

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 which is a misrepresentation.

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!!

The Sun Never Says “You Owe Me”

All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,

“You owe me.”

What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.

Hafez-e Sirazi (14th Century Persia)

In celebration of Earth Day 2015:

Imagine some space travellers arriving in orbit around Earth. They start surveying for life-forms, signs of habitation, transport, communications..etc. You know, the sort of thing that the Enterprise and Voyager crews do routinely before they beam down to the surface and make contact. 🙂



So what do they see as they orbit us? They see lots of evidence of an intelligent life-form. OK they might review that impression of intelligence after they look at some of our TV shows. But still it proves that some of our species were intelligent enough to discover and understand the laws of the Universe. And obviously since then we’ve applied that understanding to make our lives a lot more comfortable and enjoyable than when we were living in damp caves without any light or heating. Mind you, these space travellers might revise their impression of intelligent modern humans again when they realise that we don’t take much care in looking after the interests of other species, even the very intelligent ones, in fact especially the more intelligent ones when you think of cetaceans and other primates. (And, if you remember, we have to rely on the Enterprise crew to travel back in time to rescue our last great whale and hence save the planet in the future. What, you didn’t see Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home ?)

But they do see a very beautiful planet. Obviously it’s fantastic place for the evolution of life in myriads of forms. Oops, their opinion of us has diminished some more cos they’ve just tuned into the God Channel and listened to one of us proclaiming the idea that we didn’t evolve, we originated as an idea in God’s Mind subsequently brought into being with a couple of handfuls of dust and – for some of us – a rib. Still, by now their Scientific Officer has probably had a look at the Natural History Museum website and seen the Darwin Gallery so they know we’re not all as daft as that.

And they also see that our lovely planet Earth is in the Goldilock’s Zone (or whatever the little girl who visited bears was called in their fairy tales). We’re pretty well set up here. Not too hot, not too cold, just right.

And – we have millions of kWh of energy pouring down on us every day. And the sun never says “You owe me.” Or “I want a return for my trouble.”

Planta Solar 10 power station near Seville (ref3)

Been doing a little bit of reading around the subject. (See ref 1 below.) Our current daily worldwide consumption is 12 Terrawatts. A Terrawatt is 1,000 million Kilowatts. The proportion of incident solar energy which reaches the ground, averaged over the entire globe is 164 Watts of energy per square metre per day. The entire planet receives 84 Terrawatts of solar power in a day. It’s reliable. It’s clean in terms of atmospheric pollution. The sun never says to us “You owe me”.

OK, only a proportion of the 84 Terrawatts is recoverable. But a considerable amount of it is. Especially in deserts where, let’s face it, not a lot else is happening. We have the technology to harness this energy, to use it, share it on electricity grids. And what are we doing? We’re still digging up coal. Drilling for oil. Developing Tar Sands, the Arctic, deep-water rigs, fracking. The waste products from burning fossil fuels are driving up CO2 levels in our atmosphere, climate change is becoming more and more observable. Not to mention the other by-products of fossil fuels which clog up our lungs. Those with vested interests in this fuel status quo tell us – through very well financed ‘think-tanks’ and lobbyists – not to worry too much about climate change scare stories. That’ll be those ‘scare stories’ disseminated by the 99% of climate scientists worldwide who agree that climate change is happening and that human activity is a significant aspect of what’s driving it. We know all this. But …

One of the delights of living in Scotland is that we have a government which has been driving forward its energy sustainability targets and renewable energy research with almost evangelical fervour. Hurrah! They publish “2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland”. Prior to August 2011, the Scottish Government’s committment was to ensure that we meet the EU’s renewable energy target of 20% of energy from renewables by 2020. This went beyond the legally-binding 15% renewables target that the EU set for the UK under burden-sharing arrangements and showed the higher level of potential and greater ambition for renewables in Scotland. But…. since then….

Scotland’s Renewables Ambition and Paths to Delivery, Aug 2011 – Extract (paraphrased from Ref 2)

Because the pace of renewables development has been so rapid in Scotland, with the nation now on course to exceed its milestone of 31% of electricity demand to be sourced from renewables by the end of this year, 2011, we can now commit to a new renewable electricity target.

Our new target is to generate the equivalent of 100% of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewable resources by 2020. Increasing our target for renewable electricity means that we are also able to increase our overall renewable energy target. We are now aiming to meet at least 30% of demand for all our energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Scotland’s 100% renewables electricity target is the most ambitious in the European Union. Meeting it means that, together with our 11% renewable heat and 10% renewable transport targets, Scotland’s overall share of renewable energy will be at least 30% by 2020. Scotland’s target is on a par with that for Denmark (30%), Portugal (31%), and considerably higher than Germany (18%), Ireland (16%), Spain (20%) and France (23%). And our ambition is clear – that with the largest offshore renewable energy resources in the EU (25% of EU offshore wind; 25% of EU tidal; and 10% of EU wave power), Scotland will be making an even greater contribution to the EU’s overall target than our population size.

In our house, we’ve decided to help that target along with a modest addition to our roof. We’ve had a 3kW array of solar photovoltaic panels installed. It’s not a huge house but fortunately it has two sections which face south-ish and we’ve got six panels on each of those.

Me being me, I have a solar electricity spreadsheet set up.  😉  The amount we save is made up of

  • Generation Tariff: the UK government Feed-In Tariff (FIT), 15.44p for every kWh we produce irrespective of whether we use it in the house ourselves or not;
  • Export Tariff: Payment to us from our energy supplier for surplus electricity which is fed into the National Grid. Small scale installations are assumed to feed 50% of their production into the Grid and are paid 4.5p per kWh. This 50% assumption probably works in our favour as we’re both at home during the day and using more than half of the generated electricity.
  • Smaller electricity bills.

Our heating and hot water is from our gas boiler. So most of our energy costs are gas. But I reckon that the income stream from the solar panels will reduce our total energy costs by at least half. The Tariff payments continue for 20 years. It’ll take about half of that to cover the cost of installation. The rest is ‘profit’. I noticed that the solar company people talked as much about the economics of it as a good investment as they talked about the benefits in reducing carbon footprint.

This is the month-by-month electrivity production (KwH) since we started in March  2013 along with the cumulative savings it represents.

solar savings  .

Ref 1): Univ of Oregon notes on the Basics of Solar Energy

Ref 2): 2020 Routemap for Renewable energy in Scotland

Ref 3): Planta Solar 10