Monday, September 18, 2017

Letter to MP: why we are a bit angry sometimes

I have had a bit of an issue with my MP ever since I challenged him at a hustings in May for asserting that fracking would be under normal planning controls. Here is my latest letter to him:

John Penrose MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Thank you for your letter of 5th September. I too hope that we can resolve this misunderstanding.

When you said at the hustings meeting in May that fracking would be under normal local democratic controls, I leapt to my feet and declared that this was not true. I cannot recollect my exact words, and it may be that I did say that it was a lie. I very much doubt that I called you a liar, and it is impossible for either protagonist in an emotionally charged interchange like this to have a precise recollection. Maybe we should ask the Chair of the meeting to give his recollection.

It is probably difficult for you to understand the anger that is building up in this country within the hearts and minds of those of us who do not share the neo-liberal world view. Every day we read about cuts to our public services, cuts directed against the poorest and most vulnerable, cuts against agencies designed to protect the environment, cuts against renewable energy technologies, cuts against precious institutions and values that we hold to be British. All this is carried out in a milieu where three out of four newspaper articles are written with a right-wing political bias, sometimes with a quite unpleasantly extreme right-wing bias. The BBC, which should belong to the license fee payer and not to the Government, has been infiltrated by right wing apparatchiks, two of whom have moved from the right-wing Murdoch news empire. Climate change deniers seem to be in the driving seat in this Government and in the BBC. A very marginal victory for Leave on the basis of lies on a bus and two very questionable interventions, one involving Saudi money coming via the DUP and one involving Cambridge Analytica have placed the UK's economic future very much in doubt as Brexiteers misinterpret their marginal victory as a mandate for a hard Brexit. We have a deeply flawed electoral system that permits its own rules to be bent, and produces grotesquely disproportional results. You will no doubt be minded to question all of these points: but I am asking you just to try to look at things from the point of view of someone who wants a future for the whole of humanity that is safe, healthy and secure, rather than a future based on the welfare of large multinational corporations and the top 1% of the economic pyramid and the Devil take the hindmost.
These are just a sample of the kind of concerns that are creating a latent anger that is bound to be triggered with some last straw effect. In our case it was your statement that fracking would be subject to normal democratic controls. As I pointed out in my last letter, exploratory drilling for fracking is backed by abnormal measures to force it through: CPOs against landowners who refuse to allow drilling rigs on their land; pro-fracking commissars to be placed in local authorities: nationalisation of the planning process; economic inducements for communities in the vicinity of fracking operations, whereas no such inducements have been applied for communities in the vicinity of wind turbines, and where onshore turbines have indeed been banned. When Lancashire decided against permitting fracking it was overruled by State decree.
For all of these reasons, your statement about “normal democratic controls” was not true. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and allow that you did not consciously know it not to be true when you made your statement, in which case you were not lying, only under a misapprehension, and to that extent I will withdraw the word “lie”, but I stand by my protestation that your statement was not true.
Yours sincerely

Richard Lawson

Friday, September 15, 2017

How long will BBC R4 Today argue that the climate skeptics' parrot is just pining for the fjords?

I'm looking forward to next week, when I should get a reply from the Assistant Producer of the Today BBC morning programme, since it is a month ago that I sent this to them. They usually allow a month to turn their correspondence around.

[Update 22/09/2017] Today's email: Dear Mr Neal

I do not seem to have received a reply to my email of one month ago. If your reply has somehow gone astray, then I would be grateful if you would send a copy, because this is a very serious topic that has been dragging on and very much needs to be brought to a final conclusion, so that we can all move on.

Many thanks

Richard Lawson

Original email:

Dear Mr Neal

Thank you for your email of 21/8/17.

You argue that "you may disagree with the position Lord Lawson takes on this issue, but his stance is an important one and is reflected, for example, in the current US administration which has distanced itself from the Paris Agreement." There is no merit to this argument. You would not give airtime to an advocate of sexism on because President Trump is a pussy grabber, or a Nazi on because the President thinks that many Nazis and are fine people. This is no  justification whatsoever. President Trump has no credibility in this or most other matters.

Your central argument is that of "balance".

You do not bring on a creationist every time evolution is mentioned. You do not bring on a denier of the smoking/cancer link every time that link is mentioned. Why not? Because the debate is over in those two cases. The vested interests (Church and tobacco companies) put up a brave fight, deploying the same techniques that the fossil fuel lobby is now deploying - playing up the uncertainties within the science. The pro-creation and pro-smoking campaigns delayed acceptance of the truth for a number of years in both cases, but in the end their hypotheses were overthrown by the science. As you know, science does not "prove" things, it disproves them.

It is time now to accept that the hypothesis of the climate change deniers is false.

Their hypothesis is that continuing to add vast quantities of fossil CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security.
The basic facts of the core science are these:
  1. The greenhouse effect is real. Without it, the average surface temperature would be -15*Celsius, instead of the present +15*Celsius.
  2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the second most important after water vapour (WV). WV has a dwell time in the atmosphere measured in days, but CO2 is measured in centuries.
  3. CO2 is known to be increasing in the atmosphere, and this increase is known to be due to our burning of fossil carbon.
  4. Our burning of fossil carbon has increased the level of CO2 in the air by 40%.
  5. Already science can attribute the observed increasing frequency of heatwaves, extreme precipitation and powerful hurricanes to the human-caused component of global warming.
The first four of these points are firmly established on fundamental physics. The fifth is an emerging picture, well founded on evidence that increases year by year.
Together, these five points refute the idea that continuing to add CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security. However, if you put these facts in a methodical way to a GWPF member, other denier or lukewarmer, you would almost certainly find that they would dodge, obfuscate, counter attack or otherwise deviate from the question.

In the case of lukewarmers, you would find that they might reluctantly, and with qualifications, accept the five points above, but argue that doubling natural levels of CO2 (which is due to at sometime around 2075) would lead only to 2*Celsius of warming at worst. This is an important figure, since it is agreed by both sides; it is at the high end of the range of probability of the lukewarmers, and the low end of accepted range of the scientific community. It is also important as the threshold that scientists say we should not cross. Since are seeing adverse climatological effects at present, about 0.9*C above pre-industrial temperatures, 2*C would definitely not be the trivial change that the lukewarmers try to make out.

It is important to note that the 2*C figure is not a place where warming ends, even in the lukewarmers' belief system; all they are aguing is that serious impacts on the planet will take longer to come about. They are arguing in essence that their policies will make our grand children's lives intolerably miserable, rather than the lives of our children. This is not a defensible position.
There are many other points that can be made to show that the lukewarmers' and deniers' position is refuted by the facts. In the end, theirs is not a scientific position at all. Science creates a coherent picture of what is happening in the world, using the method of discarding disproven claims, and using consilience, the coming together of many different lines of evidence. Climate change deniers present an eclectic range of criticisms and objections, each of which they loudly proclaim as  "the final nail in the coffin of global warming". They have some 50 talking points, which come in an infinite number of variations.

If you insist that is your bounden duty bound to give airtime to climate change deniers like Lord Lawson, please use it actually to test their hypothesis in a systematic and informed way. After all, climatological science has been subject to intense criticism from the deniers for some four decades. Now would be a good time to turn things around and challenge the deniers' hypothesis that further increasing  the greenhouse effect will in no way endanger human security.
I look forward to your considered response to these points. Thank you.
Best wishes

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Village Hall meeting on fracking information in Somerset

Last night I took an hour long drive to a village hall in Crowcome, Somerset, to hear Dr Julie D Richardson, a geologist, talk about fracking. The drive there was amazing, luckily I didn't get lost as I would have done in pre- GPs days. The Quantocks present some fantastic views, I'm going back there.

It was a big meeting, maybe 150 or more present, mostly respectable and well-heeled denizens of the village, with a good group of potential activists at the back.

Julie said she was neutral about fracking, but is leaning slightly towards opposition on climate change grounds.

Take home points for me were :

  1. There is significant separation between the aquifers (which are relatively shallow) and the level where fracking takes place which is set to be at least 1200 metres deep. 
  2. Methane does percolate up from the ground naturally, but elevated levels have been detected in the vicinity of drills after fracking, and it is thought that gas finds its way up alongside the casing of the drill. Between 3% and 12% of the resource escapes in this way.
  3. The Government boasts that we will have much tighter controls on fracking in the UK than the USA. However, there is a very sparse inspection regime. I spoke 2 days ago with the  Environment Agency (EA) staffer responsible for fracking and his knowledge was very basic. The EA have experienced cuts of 16% since 2009 due to the Tory obsession with cutting budgets for public services. So their promise of a tight regime is just lies on a bus.
  4. Dr Richardson does not expect UK shale gas to produce significant amounts of energy.
  5. While Government whines about our need to become independent of imported gas, we are exporting 20% of our gas. Wonderful...
  6. The shale in Somerset is very close to the surface, far too shallow to meet the criteria (I would not be surprised if this Government gave them an indulgence to do shallow drills)
  7. It is likely that South West Energy will put in an application to drill "South of Weston super Mare" (? Burnham on Sea area) before the end of the year. This latter fact is from the excellent Kevin Ogilvy-White who is so well informed he should come and give us a talk in North Somerset.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hurricane Harvey is worse due to human activity and global warming

Hurricane Harvey and the resultant flooding in Houston are worse than they would have been without global warming, and other human interventions.

There are at least 7 factors that interact with this catastrophe.

  1. Sea surface temperatures are higher than in the past. This increases the power and water content of the hurricane
  2. Deep sea temperatures are higher also. Hurricanes pull up water from the deeper layers of the sea. Normally these will cool the situation. Now these deeper layers are warmer
  3. Air temperatures are higher, allowing the storm to carry more water
  4. Changes to the subtropical jet stream may be decapitating forming hurricanes, and so holding back a tendency for warmer sea surfaces to create more hurricanes; at the same time these changes may be contributing to blocking weather patterns. This is a very important factor in the case of Harvey, who has stalled over and around Houston instead of moving on, resulting in far worse flooding
  5. Sea level rise has created higher water tables, slowing runoff, and also contributed to the storm surge that is part of the flooding
  6. Development of roads and houses in the area has reduced the ability of the soil to absorb rainfall
  7. The land around Houston has been subsiding due to extraction of water and oil
All of these factors work together. Climate is a system, not a simple, single cause and effect event.

Note that Houston is not the only place to be suffering extreme weather. India, Nepal and Bangladesh are having major floods.