Tales from the Climate wars

A couple of recent stories from the environmental movement might be of interest. This is particularly topical as there is a new documentary film out called “Merchants of Doubt” (based on the book of the same name) which exposes the tactics used by climate change deniers and their links to the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, its pointed out that many of the same tactics used by deniers are similar to those employed by Big Tobacco.

Mega drought risk threat confirmed by NASA
The effects of climate change will not be spread equally across the globe. Some areas might see some benefits, crops yields increasing for example, other regions will suffer some limited effects, but some parts of the globe are going to see very severe effects. Indeed whole areas will see dramatic and quite devastating climate shifts. One of the regions which it has long been suspected could see a major reversal of fortunes, is the Mid-Western states of the United States, where it is feared climate change could lead to droughts and desertification, turning the entire region from the bread and beef basket of America, into a mix of desert and steppe.

These fears are not idle scaremongering, but are based on the knowledge that in the past, when the world was only a few degrees warmer, most of the US Mid-West WAS a desert, so that it would return to that state after a spell of human induced planetary warming is hardly controversial. The region has also suffered from several persistent droughts in recent years. Anyway a new study by NASA scientists has taken data from past drought events and essentially rolled things forward to suggest that so-called “thousand year” drought events might become a little more common. Droughts which last for 30 to 50 years at a time are a possibility by the centuries end, with an 80% chance of a 35 year drought.

Naturally such events would dramatically alter the landscape, rendering a large chunk of America unable to support its current population. Imagine the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s magnified twenty fold. Ironically, of course the Mid-West happens to be the home of the Tea Party types who are sceptical of climate change and want big government off their back. Well be careful what you wish for. After all, how is the rest of America going to react to this? Throw government money at the problem….or suggest to the tea party types that they’ve made their bed, now lie in it!

Climate denier outed
The climate denier camp will frequently flag up the words of one particular climate scientist who takes a dissenting view of climate, while ignoring the other 97% of climate scientists who reach the opposite conclusion. Indeed, deniers are fast running out of material as the number of true “denier” climate scientists is becoming so rare, they should really talk to the UN about getting climate change deniers put on the endangered species list or something (my plan, fence of parts of Texas, capture the likes of Monckton and Co. with some sleeping darts, move them in and try to get them to breed :))).

Take for example John Christy, one of the few vaguely credible climate skeptic’s. However, he doesn’t deny that humans are influencing the climate, his bone of contention is to what degree we’re responsible, an issue referred too as “climate sensitivity”…..of course Fox News or the Daily Mail tend to gloss over such pesky points, but then again, it doesn’t take much to be a “climate expert” on Fox, merely being an accountant will do for them!…like you can be a “British terror expert” just by being a dim witted racist!

But I digress, anyway one of the problems with such trends is that more often than not, these climate change deniers get outed as being in receipt of large amounts of cash from some dubious sources. Of course, the right media is quick to airbrush such individuals out of history at this point.

Well they just managed to catch a whooper. The denier Willie Soon, whose name and credentials have been used to endorse many papers denying climate change, some of which have been used to support Republican friendly legislation, has just been outed. Documents reveal he’s been on the take for sometime and may have received as much as $1.2 million from several oil companies. This is a rather serious blow to the denier movement, as his name happens to endorse numerous papers by other deniers. Wipe out them from the scientific record and their ain’t a lot left.

And this comes on the back of the Berkeley Surface Temperature Study last year. Funded by the fracking barons the Koch brothers, who probably hoped they’d come with with yet more drivel for the denial machine. Instead its authors largely agreed with the conclusions of the IPCC. Talk about an own goal!

The Ice Age Myth cometh
An all too common myth you’ll hear from deniers is that “scientists predicted an Ice age back in the 1970’s”. Even the BBC seems to have been taken in by this one, as they’ve brought it up in a piece on climate change as recently as this very night.

The truth is that while the media did get taken in by a number of rather vocal scientists, the vast bulk of scientists and the weight of the science published, during this period, predicted not cooling but warming due to increasing carbon dioxide levels. The main reason for this misunderstanding was the issue of sulfur emissions, however further information on these, plus a more precise idea as to the triggering and ending of ice ages, quickly cast doubt on these predictions.

From 1965 to 1979 just seven peer reviewed papers predicted cooling, while 42 related to probable global warming. By 1975 the US National Academy of Sciences while, certainly keeping an open mind on things, had taken the view that global warming from carbon emissions seemed the more serious risk.

So if anything this “cooling” myth is proof of how a small but vocal minority of scientists can lead astray journalists looking for a sensationalist story.

Harvard Endowment campaign
There’s a campaign growing in Harvard university, driven by current and past students, for the universities massive $32 billion endowment fund, to exclude fossil fuel companies. As you can imagine this is being resisted by many of Harvard’s wealthier Alumni (the sort who bought their degree by their parents giving a large chuck of cash into that endowment fund!).

However it could set a long term trend that would be very damaging to fossil fuel companies, where like arms dealers, many refuse to lend or invest in them for ethical reasons. Its the sort of thing that could easily have a significant impact at bringing about serious action on climate change.

Abandoning the sinking ship
And perhaps recognising the consequences of stories such as the above, the PR firm Edelman has apparently ended its long running relationship with the American Petroleum Institute. This is probably driven by the fact that there is an increasing rift opening up within the capitalist world between the fossil fuel companies who want to ignore climate change. And other industries who recognise it as a threat to their very existence.

Take the insurance industry, they have been increasingly vocal about the risks posed by climate change. The insurance industry is seeing an alarming increase in claims from large storms and extreme weather events, which in turn is leading to both an increase in premium to offset this. They are also increasingly reluctant to insure people in certain high risk areas, forcing people living there to either go without insurance (wiping out the value of their home) or resort to federally funded schemes. As I’ve pointed out before, one could argue we’re already paying a defacto carbon tax in terms of the money needed to prop up these schemes.

Either way, it does show that the cracks are starting to grow and the climate denier bubble is at risk of bursting, as much for practical financial reasons as anything else.

Changing Weather patterns
We tend to consider climate change as some sort of long range threat that our children have to worry about. However the effects its having on global weather patterns are actually becoming all to obvious. While temperatures have been unusually cold in the North East of the US, by contrast Alaska, northern Canada and central Europe is unusually warm for this time of year. This is of course is no huge surprise, its well known that the Jet Streams play a key role in set weather patterns.

For example, remember those storms last year? Well, that is believed to be related to the movement of the jet stream from its normal path to instead wind up focused on the UK for several weeks in a row. And yes, you guessed it, this is one of the predicted consequences of climate change.

The money pit
I’m generally skeptical of nuclear power for a variety of practical reasons. For example the relatively slow rate at which reactors can realistically be built, which is but a fraction of the current build rate of renewables. So slow in fact, that its questionable whether new reactors can be built quickly enoough to replace the existing fleet as its retired. Then there’s the problem that nuclear is something of a one trick pony, good for baseload power, but not really much use for intermediate or peaking load power, or indeed the 80% of our energy use that isn’t electricity.

But above all else its the costs that have me worried. The capital costs to build new plants are colossal, far exceeding the numbers for any alternative and these construction costs are likely to be exceeded by the bill to clean up the mess afterwards.

And the problem with decommissioning is that the costs keep on being inflated upwards. The bill to clean up Sellafield has now risen to £53 billion, a £5 billion rise in just one year. This is merely one part of a total clean up bill for current decommissioned reactors that works out at an eye watering £70 billion. I recall a few years ago, having to tell off some environmentalist for claiming that the cost of decommissioning in the UK was over $100 billion. I told him that he was exaggerating a tad….well at current exchange rates its about $108 billion, so he was actually underestimating it! 88|

Suffice to say this is not small change. Such a hefty bill is going to represent a significant cost to the exchequer for years to come. Which raises the question as to whether its such a good idea to be doubling down on nuclear, with Hinkley C, a plant that will require a subsidy rate of about 68% per kWh (at present electricity prices) and that’s before we even start to consider decommissioning costs. Would it not seem more sensible to spend that money instead on something like energy efficiency programmes, greater use of CHP, or Tidal Power?

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