For more than six days Earth has been our friend in the lunar skies. That fragile piece of blue with its ancient rafts of life will continue to be man's home as he journeys ever farther in the solar system. Apollo 17, December 14, 1972

Friday, March 21, 2008

1. If climate change is caused by human activity, then what?

The human race now needs to do something(s) significant – actions that will really make a difference on the global scale.

Watching the debate over the last two years move the general consensus from 'sceptical about ‘Global Warming’' being a manmade phenomenon to being 'fairly convinced' has been most interesting. You can see all the sources of influence, listed below, at play. However this was bipolar debate – yes or no. And in my and other peoples' opinions, if treated as a risk management issue it is a ‘no brainer’ – we have to act even though it is the lesser of two evils – to act and bear the cost of acting, or not to act and face the risk of human and global disaster.

The imperatives now are:

  • to act quickly
  • those actions have to be effective

  • the global population has to execute them willingly

  • we have to be right first time – we can only run this experiment once as we are in the test-tube.
The really big questions now are:

What actions and behaviour changes would make a significant difference and be achievable?

Human creativity can provide a virtually infinite number of ideas and opinions on this’ what?’. However which are the winners likely to be - the most efficacious, or the most popular? It requires wisdom to make the right choices, particularly if they are tough choices – I think of the Solomon story. My thesis is that mankind does not seem to have a framework by which to judge the options. I have investigated some of the most popular according to my framework and I'm left confounded as to their efficacy. The framework will start to be described in my next post.

How would the actions be executed willingly?
Anyone with major influence can achieve a lot by getting people to work in a concerted way. The question is who or what brings about that unity around a cause.

  • Corporates directly control the conduct of their operations

  • NGOs can influence and in some cases (the UN) mandate.

  • Democratic governments can mandate changes in behaviour where it is vote winner – they have to gain political consensus where it might not be a vote winner

  • Local government can encourage us to do things

  • Individuals when united by a commonly held cause can achieve the most but that is difficult to attain. This likely to be the subject of a later post from me, but please say what you want to say now.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy

Glad to see you've got this moving. What strikes me as important is that we move away from token efforts that make us feel better and towards real changes that will make a difference. A small example is plastic bags. Yes, they are polluting and unsightly, but if you take a flight to Australia the environmental impact is the equivalent of chucking 90,000 of them (or some such figure) into the environment. So looked at objectively, we ought not to waste plastic BUT just because we do re-use bags when we shop doesn't get us off the hook.

Similarly governments need to stop using 'green taxes' as an acceptable way to raise taxes. Unless there is increased spending on positive initiatives, the green taxes are just a way of shuffling the tax burden around.

Jeremy said...


Thanks for so quickly responding. It's Easter Sunday which is a most encouraging day for my first interaction on the blog - however that is as far as I'm stretching any analogy.

1. I agree entirely with 'eco-tokenism'. We have to decide on actions that make a real difference, which is where our 'Big Picture View of Climate Change' framework comes in.

2. Green taxes and carbon trading. Again I agree with you and feel very sceptical - Lutheran indulgences often come to mind here. Again the BPVCC framework helps to see how effective all this new infrastructure is.

I have about 15 posts to go - one per topic from my latest Powerpoint slide deck. Each of these is researched and corroborated where possible but needs the rigour of some independent challenge. I'm proposing to do this over the next couple of months, so do keep watching, reading and responding. Finally do encourage others to join the readership.

In the end I chose a blog on which to publish, rather than a discussion board because the page editors look better and because I've got 15 or so 3/4-baked-articles to get 'out there'. So it is a bit like a cyber pulpit, but the sermoniser is earnestly inviting the congregation to answer back. Hopefully, by placing each new topic in its own post any subsequent discussion can be fairly well organised. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to the rest. I suppose the other thing I was trying to say is that there is a widespread confusion about the difference between:
(a) climate change
(b) aesthetic issues like littering
(c) health issues such as cancer

We tend to focus on (b) and above all (c) which is why a destructive and dangerous technology like hydroelectric has a positive image, while carbon-neutral nuclear is regarded as worse than coal.

Jeremy said...

Once again we are very much in agreement. The framework increases the view from political and economic to philosophical. In a later post I'll be referring to something Adair Turner has written recently in "Do good lives have to cost the earth?", which is a snip from Amazon at £6.
He talks about 'well being', a much used term which seems pretty synonymous with happiness. He has come to the well argued view that continued economic growth has not, and will not deliver it. This is the one big lesson that the West needs to offer the emerging economies.

watfordgap said...

RE : Kevin's comment.

Shocking thought - I've probably never used 90000 carrier bags in the 43 years I've been on the planet! but to think I could beat this with just one flight is really something to think about!

Its so easy to jump on a cheap flight to Paris, Milan or wherever rather than visit somewhere locally. How can we convince people flying is so bad?

Sorry to only pick up on one view out of a very comprehensive blog!
The rest will have me coming back for more and is lodged firmly in my RSS reader.


Anonymous said...

Jeremy -- this is a tentative offering of speculative thinking, purely in the spirit of 'broad thinking' and in no way an 'aligned' position -- offered just in case it leads to further thought...:

Suppose that the Earth and the whole universe were under the active supervision of a single power; what questions would we raise (either directly or as what mankind should be discussing amongst its members...) ?

I'm going to call this unifying authority C, for brevity -- call him/her/it Creator, Intelligent Designer, Our Deepest Self, whatever...)

Questions :

1 Did C set the whole universe going, set the laws, then leave it to its own devices -- 'Oh well, I can always start again from scratch..what's one interesting failure when I have absolute power..?'

2 Did C set it all going and set laws, but allow for a compensating mechanism that avoids the wasted energy of total disaster ?

3 Can this compensating mechanism be part of mankind's mental equipment ? i.e. are we fully equipped to take care of C's 'interesting experiment' ?

4 Did C set up a self-destructing, limited-span experiment, that eventually will run out of energy ?

5 Or did C in its total wisdom, allow for what we call 'evolution' -- providing fossil fuels until mankind found a new way of taking energy from the very atoms of this universe ?

6 Did C reckon that mankind would be bright enough to lay down for its future generations, some equivalent to fossil fuels -- and in a tidy way that didn't make more mess ?

7 Does C send out warnings, as part of the 'compensating mechanism', which can be interpreted by the intelligent ?

8 Or does C 'cloud the issue' so to speak, by having built into the original plan, variables (such as occasional 'disasters' or changes which are in fact inevitable under the laws of the universe...) ?

9 Is the whole of C's 'interesting experiment' such an exquisite mechanism of interacting laws, that intelligent mankind can learn from every one of its mistakes -- such as not building, or allowing, housing for the poorest on potential flood plains etc.)

I could go on.. but you get my drift? We all start from basic views of the universe which we are normally unaware that we hold -- e.g. it's all under control, it's not under control, it's not worth considering until it hits me in my pocket etc...

I sincerely think that we must each of us have a clear view of our own picture of the universe at every level of thought -- and yes, including 'Does C exist ?..)in order to proceed to a common discussion...

(And pardon begged, if all this is too obvious to spell out...or not relevant, etc etc....)

Jeremy said...

Dear Watford Gap,
Flying - is it really that bad? I'm not so sure. I did a quick comparison on the back of an envelope to see whether flying used more fuel per person per mile than travelling by car or train. After making a lot of assumptions, there was very little in it, which I found very interesting.
I concluded that technology is the enabler and almost neutral; it is our aspirations that have changed. Multiple foreign holidays each year to far flung places - as a 53 year old my school age summer holiday destinations were Devon or Wales - a 500 mile round trip. Shopping trips were to Watford and London once per year - not NYC to save a few bucks on the exchange rate and a round trip of 6000 miles. So we're back to desires and aspirations which are based on what we value. There will be a post on this later on.

Jeremy said...

Dear Anonymous,
Big questions indeed. Moving quickly to your closing remark "I sincerely think that we must each of us have a clear view of our own picture of the universe at every level of thought -- and yes, including 'Does C exist ?..)in order to proceed to a common discussion...",
...can I ask you to consider the purport of my No 2 post which implies we have to act, despite not having perfect knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Re Flying ...I agree with your point that per mile a plane is not a bad way to go, but disagree that it is our values that have changed. When you went to Wales or Devon as a child you did so because your family wanted a holiday and it was the best option NOT because you wouldn't have dreamed of doing anything so destructive as jetting off to Thailand.

The technology is not 'almost neutral', I would argue, because it actually changes our values and aspirations if we let it. However, there is a whole argument about technology and its meaning which is probably rather impractical ... like Anon's questions about Big C. Technology is here to stay whether we like it or not ... we need to work with it.

Jeremy said...


Flying - this is useful stuff from you all as I've got a post to come on this, although it's a little further down the running order.
I didn't say our values had changed; I said that our aspirations had. As a family we valued our family holiday for many of the reasons we still value holidays today - the values do endure.
However there is something very insidious happening which is impelling us to act ever more frenetically in our pursuit of well-being. It took us five or six hours to get to Devon for a fortnight. We now take 12+ hours to fly, cramped, to Thailand, plus 4 hours before getting on the plane, plus 2 hours to get to our hotel. Multiply that by 2 for both ways and it adds up to the best part of a complete day wasted versus staying in the UK. Add in jet lag both ways, plus all the preparation, health insurance, etc etc and it is little wonder that the relaxation and refreshment we were after is long gone by the time we return home with four suitcases of dirty washing in the middle of the night.


Anonymous said...

In my view, 'asking the big question' is never impractical.. For instance, your Option 2 has an answer to a Big Question behind it -- that whatever Big C has planned for mankind, it's beyond doubt that each of us should behave as if we were part of Big C's entourage... that each of us should behave as if the future of the planet depended on ourself personally..

So yes -- we need each of us to be as fully informed as possible by such as this admirable enterprise of yours. And doesn't it add a dimension to human dignity to be like this ?

In fact, this option seems to be spreading -- whether or not supermarkets are doing this with an eye to customer favour... ? Good for you.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the encouragement. Your second paragraph reminds me of an Aristotle quote I borrowed from my university thesis - “The search for truth is in one way hard and in another easy.  For it is evident that no one can master it fully, nor miss it wholly.  But each adds a little to our knowledge of Nature, and from all the facts assembled there arises a certain grandeur.”

Anonymous said...

I'm with Aristotle there -- I don't have the answers, but asking questions makes me feel human and responsible..

So in my role as one of C's uninvited entourage : I ask the question, would water-power and wind-power be preferable to nuclear power, assuming their potential energy output to be made equal ?

Water and wind meet and join our technological contrivances, then pass on unharmed ... there's something beautiful in that. Nuclear power leaves nuclear waste. Which has to be put somewhere. Water power and wind power can't be easily used to harm; nuclear power can. Meanwhile Big C just watches, knowing that all causes have effects...

Is that an argument that's relevant, and did that arise in the St Paul's dialogue ?

Jeremy said...

Dear Mike,
Welcome aboard. Water and wind are massive forces - take Tsunami and Katrina as examples – which are well beyond the power of a man-made nuclear powerplant, on full power, to counteract. I’m not qualified to offer a link, or otherwise, between these two recent events and climate change, but I’m prepared to use the term ‘climate destabilisation’. Change sounds predictable and gradual but many climatic events are just the opposite. I will be doing a post on oceanography and climate.
As for nuclear there will be a future post drawing an unlikely parallel between this benign black stuff called carbon, which when dug up by Man’s hands becomes lethal..... and uranium. Do keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Great quote from Aristotle.

Mike, getting power from wind and water is often highly destructive in practice... what about the Three Gorges Dam?

All forms of power generation cause a certain amount of death and ill-health, but I suspect Jeremy is going to look later on at the actual numbers.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy, my point was that water, wind (and solar) power are relatively harmless..

'Highly destructive' ? Not to human life, if populations are appropriately re-housed; not to fish if salmon ladders etc are installed; not to 'endangered species' such as birds, which can usually be gently relocated or otherwise cared for.

I suspect it's our doing the wrong thing first that messes up large-scale technological projects ?

However I'm venturing into deep water here... guess I'll stick to questions...

watfordgap said...

Reminds me of the 3 "R"s.


Its not just about the travel methods or the fuel types its about the amount of travel or fuel we use (Reduce), the clutter we buy and use once or food we buy and never eat (Reuse) and the things others could use or we could make more of (Recycle).

Anonymous said...

Watford Gap's comments remind me that it's only sixtyish years since 'waste not, want not' was a way of life for the working class poor, and 'make do and mend' was one of the slogans that united the nation in the 'home front' of the 'war effort'..

It's not unknown to human nature as a habit...there's hope.

Jeremy said...

Mike, Watford Gap,
I'm 53 and remember my parents' post rationing thrift. I do look on with concern at how my offspring see no longevity for most physical things. Their utility is still there but they are no longer appealing.
I'm sounding like a grumpy old man and grumpiness does not impress anybody, least of all my children. There will be a post on the waste hierarchy of which the '3Rs' represents 60% of the levels.

Anonymous said...

This is very academic and rather obscure for the average Jo like me!
Would be better conventionally organised in topics on different pages with links down the left-hand side. Then one could navigate more easily which is the real advantage of a Website.
I have written a booklet (101 Tips link from the URL) with 101 practical tips for carbon saving. #27 is to share your baths and, in winter, to keep the water in overnight thus helping to keep the house warm.
Best wishes Adrian