A black hole at Dale & Co.?

Contributors to Dale & Co., the new collaborative current affairs blog, might have editorial independence over their articles but it doesn’t look as though many of them have an inclination towards discussing the ‘greatest challenge’ facing the world today, climate change.

In fact, after three weeks and hundreds of posts from hundreds of contributors from across the political spectrum, climate change has barely registered as an issue at all.

There was a post by ‘wine expert’ and self-styled ‘environmental entrepreneur’ Jerry Lockspeiser, lamenting how the wine industry may suffer due to global warming.

Another post under the ‘climate’ category looked at Christopher Monckton’s recent trip down under. It is written by Shane Stone, a name within the Australian Liberal Party, who praises Monckton and recommends he be appointed to the House of Lords. That’s the same ‘eccentric’ Christopher Monckton who disputes that there is a correlation between increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and climate change.

To his detractors, Monckton is referred to as an irrational ‘denier’. To his allies, he is a rational ‘skeptic’. I subscribe to neither of these labels. I find both to be crude and misleading.

I highlight the two labels to demonstrate just how polarised the climate debate is at present. It is this polarisation that has fed the mistrust of many environmentalists. We monitor the mainstream media with beady eyes and try to call out misrepresentation of climate data whenever we see it.

So, I apologise in advance if this post reads as slightly neurotic, but I am genuinely curious as to whether there is an editorial decision at Dale & Co to marginalise climate change as an issue.

Nuclear debate isn’t black-and-white (so here are some links to make you think)

The nuclear debate is not a black-and-white one and therefore I have little time for those on either extremes of the spectrum who argue so assertively for or against. Unfortunately, many writers that debate nuclear fail to see the nuances involved. It is an either/or stance.

I welcome Angela Merkel’s decision to temporarily switch off seven nuclear power stations built before 1980 whilst urgent safety reviews are conducted. In the wake of events in Japan, Merkel has quite rightly stated that safety must be the priority at this time.

In neighbouring Poland, the ruling Civic Platform party has pledged to continue with plans to build two new nuclear power plants, each with a 3,000 megawatt capacity. It is hoped these new plants will help diversify Poland’s energy sources away from coal and move the country beyond its over-reliance on gas from Russia to the east.

In the New Statesman, Mark Lynas has come out strongly in support of nuclear power:

Anti-nuclear campaigners may feel vindicated [by the Fukushima crisis], but they should be careful what they wish for: if we abandon nuclear, prepare for a future of catastrophic global warming, imperilling the survival of civilisation and much of the earth’s biosphere.

In the Guardian, John Vidal cautions those in the pro-nuclear camp about the perils of the future:

The world has a generation of reactors coming to the end of their days and politicians putting intense pressure on regulators to extend their use well beyond their design lives. We are planning to double worldwide electricity supply from nuclear power in the next 20 years, but we have nowhere near enough experienced engineers to run the ever-bigger stations. We have private companies peddling new designs that are said to be safer but which are still not proven, and we have 10 new countries planning to move into civil nuclear power in the next five years.

Back in October, I posted this short extract from Tony Blair’s “A Journey”:

The case for nuclear power is now so overwhelming that frankly it is almost irresponsible – faced with an energy crunch and climate change – to oppose its development. I bet many of them know that privately, but it would be such heresy to say so and would divide the movement.

Last month, I blogged about Stewart Brand’s (“pragmatic”) position on Nuclear energy.

There are also worthwhile, and different, perspectives on nuclear in the following publications:

Frozen Britain Sensationalism

In a statement to the Commons on Monday, the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond informed MPs that the government would consider whether more money needs to be spent on equipment to deal with snow and subzero conditions. The chief scientific adviser to the government, Professor John Beddington, will work alongside transport operators to see if plans can be made to lessen the impact of arctic winters.

The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) claims the inability of major European cities to cope with severe weather conditions over the past few years shows how we may be ill-prepared to deal with unpredictable climate patterns.

According to Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction: “being prepared goes beyond prediction. A complete and effective early warning system…requires planners to understand the risks they face, so that they are able to respond appropriately.”

This begs the question: will we not regret investing heavily in cold weather equipment such as snowploughs further down the line? We have always had significant variations in our weather. Three cold winters should not diminish the fact that we have had two decades of relatively mild winters. The current cold snap, or “Frozen Britain” if you prefer, is not part of a long term climatic pattern. 2010 was one of the warmest years since records began in 1850 and the “Noughties” was the warmest decade on record.

The weather is not the same as climate.

The Gulf oil spill is a "consciousness-shifting event" says Al Gore

The New Republic today published an article by the Nobel prize-winning/former US Presidential candidate, Al Gore. Say what you like about Mr Gore, but he is a consistent and, on the whole, articulate advocate of radical change to reverse global warming trends. When he talks, people listen.

On the back of the media coverage that the Gulf disaster is (quite rightly) getting, he points out that the key difference between oil spill and increasing levels of CO2 spill is that:

[P]etroleum is visible on the surface of the sea and carries a distinctive odor now filling the nostrils of people on shore. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and has no price tag. It is all too easily put “out of sight and out of mind.” Because the impacts of global warming are distributed globally, they often masquerade as an abstraction. And because the length of time between causes and consequences is longer than we are used to dealing with, we are vulnerable to the illusion that we have the luxury of time before we begin to respond.

But neither assumption is correct. Most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans and reemerges over time into the atmosphere. As a result, we are capable-–through inaction—of making truly disastrous consequences inevitable long before the worst impacts are manifested. Our perception of the dangers of the climate crisis therefore relies on our ability to understand and trust the conclusions reached by the most elaborate and impressive scientific assessment in the history of our civilization.

In other words, rather than relying on visceral responses, we have to draw upon our capacity for reasoning, communicating clearly with one another, forming a global consensus on the basis of science, and making a choice in favor of preventive action on a global scale.

Mr Gore concludes with this stirring passage:

This [the Gulf oil spill disaster] is a consciousness-shifting event. It is one of those clarifying moments that brings a rare opportunity to take the longer view. Unless we change our present course soon, the future of human civilization will be in dire jeopardy. Just as we feel a sense of urgency in demanding that this ongoing oil spill be stopped, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency in demanding that the much larger and more dangerous ongoing emissions of global warming pollution must also be stopped to make the world safe from the climate crisis that is building all around us.

Sunday Greens

St Petersburg Times – traces the recent history and political consequences of large-scale oil disasters.

Dot Earth – on the shifting narrative of oil in the US after the Gulf spill.

Xinhua – reports on China’s continuing commitment to the climate change principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” According to Xie Zhenhua, one of China’s leading climate negotiators:

Developed countries discharged a great amount of greenhouse gases during their industrialization in the previous two centuries. That is the main cause of global warming…[T]hat’s why they should take most of the responsibility to reduce carbon emissions… Developing countries are now beginning to industrialize. It is unfair to limit their development.

According to Xie, developed countries should transfer green technologies to developing nations and dramatically increase their aid to poor nations.

John Vidal – reviews the latest in a long line of books focused on how to reconcile prosperity/growth with ecological concerns. That establishment economists such as Paul Collier are prepared to tackle this conundrum is, in a way, heartening. Vidal is, however, highly critical of Collier’s diagnosis.