January Open Thread & A Happy New Year!

Anything goes, per usual.

Suggested topics –

  1. pick the climate, energy or sustainability story of the year for 2013!
  2. predict the climate, energy or sustainability story of the year for 2014!


  1. I hold a watching brief for claims that people are in general better off these days, and though this is off topic for P3, I'm going to reference it because it describes the situation as I see it.


    The point is that public policy since the Reagan/Thatcher era has put the working class in increasingly stressful circumstances, and that 1 in 5 children in the referenced area are going to bed hungry is quite an indictment.

    Now my connection here, in my sometimes discontinuous mind, is the ability of the least well off to adjust to circumstances being made steadily worse and accelerating, not well enough off to move away from areas where their future is dubious.

    I took some pictures of our Fort Point Channel at the apogee tide Friday (moon very close to earth, I'm told) showing water as high as I've ever seen it, a scant 3 feet below our front door though protected from the usual kind of surge by various corners. This is important to me as in a relatively short time (five or ten years, I expect) I will have to move, which joins me, in my slightly more privileged situation with regard to ability to do so, with many other climate refugees to come.


    So my jumbled thought processes include annoyance at people in comfortable circumstances who are too ready to blame the victim.

    People are very dismissive of the difficulties of the poor in areas like Bangladesh and the impact area of typhoon Haiyan (there's another zinger in the NYTimes about how few of those victims are getting even minimal help, or are able to move). But in general people who live in vulnerable areas are there because they have no choice.

    Academics can throw statistics at this, but the human cost is staggering.

  2. Thanks for finding that Susan. While all this is taking place, the UK government is - rather successfully - managing to channel national anger about austerity directly at the most vulnerable. It's horrific - the worst sort of cynical hate politics (which they're now doing with Eastern Europeans too). Policy is going in the same direction, coupled with a continued house price boom - this from a couple of days back is an indication of how those are coming together. Along with things like the benefit cap and the `bedroom tax', the poorest are being forced to move away from their own networks to places with much fewer economic prospects. It almost seems to be a badge of honour to the politicians involved that the policies don't make any actual economic sense, even before one considers their brutality toward the most vulnerable.

    It's a lesson in maintaining a consistent political message though: that old thing about telling a lie often enough seems to be true. It was also quite striking to see exactly the same kind of message from Rupert Murdoch when Abbott won in Australia: `Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy. Others nations to follow in time'.

    Against this kind of background, I think the kind of conversation planet3 is having about things like citizen wages, changes in industrial structure, how to live a good life perhaps not built entirely on a wage system, are all vital - but it's a very hard sell at the moment. Politicians like those we have in power in the UK right now are adept at turning `there before the grace of God go I' into division and contempt. Those still able to hold down jobs, pay the mortgage and feed their kids, understandably, are open to the message that they're `hard-working families', they got there through their own efforts, those without got there because they're feckless, and luck plays no part. If luck plays no part, you don't *need* a welfare state. Is this all sounding old-hat from a US perspective?

  3. "Greed is God"
    -- by Horatio Algeranon

    God helps those who help themselves
    (Which means that greed is good)
    Blesses those who fill their shelves
    (Which means we surely should)

    The corollary to "God helps those who help themselves" is obvious and undoubtedly at the root of some (if not most) of the current "blame the poor" mentality in the US and elsewhere.

  4. An interesting article in the Economist, suggesting that business is taking climate change more seriously than we might get the impression they are. This has been one of my hopes for action - the larger companies work on a timescale of decades, unlike politicians who tend to base decisions on an election cycle, so are planning ahead for the predictable political panic when the impacts become too obvious to ignore. Maybe when this does happen we will discover there is more in place than we'd expected.

  5. Indeed, great hopes for the profit motive. Unfortunately, far too many clever propagandists are using tricky tactics to prevent what should be a natural profit motive. There's one in the Mojave desert lowlands, an ideal site for big solar, utilizing environmentalists to protect a particular species that is in the way.

    Meanwhile, we have Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes putting a great big foot in to make things messier, shame!


  6. Sideways thought: the phrase appears as a bolt from the blue - 'Natural Profit'. Somewhat unrelated to previous comments, but it strikes me that this might be an original way of addressing the apparently ever-increasing imbalance of theories of progress between the 'sustainability' and 'economy' camps.

    We are used to measuring and evaluating Nature in terms of the consequential damage arising from loss, of thinking that the proper comparison is between present economic human benefit and possible future natural losses. Perhaps this is the wrong way round. What if, instead, we chose to focus on the 'profit' arising from sustaining/protecting Nature, rather than the 'loss' from losing it? I don't mean this in the trivial sense, such as the 'benefit' arising to a community from the presence of local open parkland, but rather in terms of the establishment of a stronger sense of the 'real' (economic plus human plus natural) value of natural resources and ecosystems.

    I know a couple of people are already doing this, for example the sterling efforts at establishing the relative value of woodland compared to the produce from trees (wood). Intuitively, it seems a good idea to promote this kind of thinking - for both local and larger scale issues. Taking it to the limit, the Natural Profit arising from a global system which will have warmed by 2 degrees can be compared to that arising if the warming is 4 degrees. You see the idea?

    Interested to see if this thought can go anywhere; comments?

  7. Not sure what I'd consider the story of 2013. AR5 is of course a non-event from a news perspective. I don't consider the tragedy at Lac-Megantic a climate issue, but it was certainly one of the most newsworthy and consequential events of 2013 here in North America. Also in the running would be utilities giving up on 4 or 5 nuclear reactors here in the USA (Crystal River, Vermont Yankee, San Onofre, Kewaunee); these units were all marginal and/or already offline, but it shows which way the momentum is going for nuclear power here in the states. I say the climate story of 2013 is "Natural Disasters continue" with an emphasis on wildfires and Typhoon Haiyan.

    I think the climate story of 2014 will involve Keystone XL.

    Obama administration carbon standards for power generation should be in the running both years, but they really won't ever be "the story" because implementation will be a slow and laborious process taking years to wind through the courts (and assuming the standards aren't gutted) be phased in.

  8. (Posted off-topic to another thread):

    Hi I am writing to you on behalf on the Scottish Climate & Energy Forum, we are conducting a survey of those interesting in the climate debate which should be of interest to all involved.

    The main focus is on the education and work experience of participants, but it will also assess employment and social factors for their relationship with views on climate.

    We would be very grateful if you would take the time to complete the survey. The responses are confidential.

    The url is: http://scef.org.uk/survey/index.php/868721/lang/en.


    Mike Haseler

  9. "the survey is a denialist vehicle"

    It doesn't really matter who (which "side" in the debate) is doing these "internet surveys" and for what purpose.

    When the respondents are self-selected and the information they provide is not subject to verification (when it's not clear the respondents are not just making up answers), they are not worth the electrons they are transmitted with.

  10. Susan:

    People are very dismissive of the difficulties of the poor in areas like Bangladesh and the impact area of typhoon Haiyan (there’s another zinger in the NYTimes about how few of those victims are getting even minimal help, or are able to move).

    I wonder how many AGW deniers who are relatively well-off , and specifically lukewarmers, the ones who say "yes it's happening and humans are responsible, but it won't be so bad", are really just unwilling to say "yes it's happening, humans are responsible and it may very well cause dislocation, deprivation and death for millions of people, but I expect me and mine won't be affected very much and I really don't care about the poor people who will be."

  11. Can non-UK folk see this video? Large parts of Somerset underwater; climate skeptic environment secretary Paterson getting it in the neck - but at any rate, a pretty spectacular amount of water. This time last year there was a spectacular amount of snow and freezing weather.

    The pressure won't be letting up on state spending either. Not doing much to mitigate; no real grasp of how expensive adaptation is. At the moment, adaptation = people not living in their homes for the last month, whole villages being deserted.

  12. The abstract for this upcoming talk from Mike Hulme contains an idea I haven't seen before: "climate science keeps on generating different forms of knowledge about climate - different handles on climate change - which are suggestive of different forms of political and institutional response to climate change."

    Which seems to be saying "the science keeps on moving the political goalposts". I'm signed up for the talk so maybe he'll say more on that, but off the top of my head, I can't think the science has done anything except say: "we're pretty damn sure we need to cut carbon. OK, now we're extremely sure. Right, this is getting silly - cut the f**king carbon already."

    Did I miss anything? Has the science actually implied different policy approaches at any point?

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