Extinction Rebellion

At last, there is something I can do.

I hope to spend as much time as possible on Lambeth Bridge in the coming week. I will worship God. There is Quaker worship planned every day at 2pm for half an hour, and there will be other worship: I will sing hymns, join prayer, if I am allowed worship with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and join their call to God. There is a spiritual reality binding humanity and the biosphere. I call it God. Others may have other understanding of spirituality, but it is the still small voice that calls to every person, the Truth and Good in every heart, the source of courage and inspiration in the darkest places.

Even if you do not call it God, you know what I mean. It is the thing all humanity has in common. When we come together in Love, humans are powerful.

There is an emergency. I could reel off any number of horrors, but the Bahamas hurricane will do. I will not give you statistics- you can find them if you want. Nor do I want to justify climate science- CO2 has been recognised as a greenhouse gas since the 19th century. I have seen the wilful lies of the climate deniers, and their duplicity for financial gain repels me.

Democracy is under threat from a Prime Minister who promises fantasies- Get Brexit Done- heedless of the risk to the population. Now is the time to act.

I can give up meat, and that is nothing compared to the Amazon fires, encouraged by the Bolsonaro government, or the emissions from private jets (I am tempted to link to George Monbiot’s article, but would be tempted to go on, and just be linking to horror after horror, promoting despair.)

Instead I will say what we, the people may do. We can say No. We can act in the strength of the Spirit of God (or of Humanity, if you will). We can come together.

I love Extinction Rebellion’s simple demands.

Tell the Truth.
Act Now.
Beyond politics.

Beyond politics- they want a citizen’s assembly, to decide what can be done to save our planet separately from the manoeuvring of party politics, and the influence of big donors and propagandists.

I love their principles, in particular no. 9:

We are a non-violent network

This is the heart of my Christianity. Jesus said,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.

As Richard Rohr says, we can live by this now.

These are my strengths. I worship. I connect to What Is, and to God within me. I am soft, gentle, peaceful, loving. In this way I can form connections with the others worshipping on the bridge, and with others who approach us. I want to meet people heart to heart, talk, listen and connect. The action may be a silent retreat amid the noise of London.

My great niece was born in 2017. If she lives as long as my father did, she will still be living in the 22nd century, when the current level of CO2 has wreaked its full effects on our climate, melting the ice, raising the sea level, killing off countless other species. I must mitigate the effects of CO2 as far as possible, for her, and even for myself as I may live past 2050. We will find a way.

What we know about global warming

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The more of it there is in the atmosphere, the more heat will be retained, leading to warming. This has been known since the 19th century, and this is true though the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere is relatively tiny, now four hundred parts per million, and though plants require to breathe CO2 to survive.

Burning fossil fuels produces CO2. Heat is released when the fossil fuel reacts with oxygen: for example, methane, CH4, plus O2 produces H2O plus CO2. Children are taught this at different ages, but a fifteen year old who will never be capable of a university degree will be capable of understanding this.

Volcanoes produce CO2, and a lake in Cameroon belched forth a vast quantity of it, killing all animal life nearby; but the amount produced by industry is orders of magnitude greater.

The Earth’s climate and atmospheric CO2 levels, have changed in the past. However, now, both are changing catastrophically quickly, with results such as increased bleaching of coral, species migrating to cooler habitat closer to the poles or higher up mountains, alterations in climate such as rainfall patterns, and species extinction.

Sea levels will rise as ice on land melts and warming water expands.

Most people are capable of understanding these facts, but some wilfully deny or obfuscate them.

There is a great deal of doubt about how the world will be affected in the future. How quickly sea level will rise and how climate round the world will change are uncertain, though scientists get better at making predictions as more data emerges. However, the basic facts, showing that climate change is a threat, are clear.

Burning fossil fuels has been an abundant source of cheap energy, fuelling the Industrial Revolution and producing a huge improvement in human living standards. Making the equipment to get energy from other sources, such as solar, wind and tide, has an environmental cost, and often that energy is more expensive than fossil fuel energy, especially if environmental degradation is not factored in as a cost. Obtaining energy in different ways causes other environmental damage, such as pollution, as well as CO2 release. There are complex political and economic arguments to be made, and for these decisions we need the best possible data.

There are political and economic arguments that humanity should continue burning fossil fuels for the energy. I would have more confidence in them if those arguing for fossil fuel use did not feel driven to lie about the basic facts.

There are climate-change denialists, who would claim there is doubt about the basic facts, or minimise the damage that fossil fuel use will do. Human beings are often selfish and irrational, failing to defer gratification, or denying facts which they find uncomfortable. However highly paid and educated people, or politicians, should be able to acknowledge the basic facts.

Fake news

You may have seen this graphic. I was looking for a reputable conservative news source, to see the other side’s perspective. I am interested in Mr Trump’s cabinet nominations- how much damage can he do, and how do his supporters see them? I was glad to see The Hill was “reputable” from a conservative viewpoint, so I went there.


The Left worries about Scott Pruitt heading the Environmental Protection Agency. We need to prevent global warming. The Hill publishes an article by Benjamin Zycher, the John G. Searle scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who says Scott Pruitt is precisely the right person to clean the EPA up. Commenters say things like Roll Train, Drain the Swamp or Drill, baby, drill, as well as longer, mostly derisive comments.

Zycher testified before the Senate Finance Committee that the EPA analysis of the costs of carbon emission was “the most dishonest exercise in political arithmetic” I had ever seen produced by the federal bureaucracy. The EPA benefit/cost analyses… literally are bogus. In the article he gives one example to back that up.

The EPA has published estimates of the effects of its greenhouse-gas efficiency rule for medium- and heavy trucks:

The results of the analysis, summarized in Table VII-37, demonstrate that relative to the reference case, by 2100 … global mean temperature is estimated to be reduced by 0.0026 to 0.0065 °C, and sea-level rise is projected to be reduced by approximately 0.023 to 0.057 cm.

The EPA then states that “the projected reductions in atmospheric CO2, global mean temperature, sea level rise, and ocean pH are meaningful in the context of this action.” And so we arrive at the benefit/cost conclusion, given in all seriousness:

[We] estimate that the proposed standards would result in net economic benefits exceeding $100 billion, making this a highly beneficial rule. 

Can anyone believe that a temperature effect by 2100 measured in ten-thousandths of a degree, or sea-level effects measured in thousandths of a centimeter, could yield over $100 billion in net economic benefits?

How is that possible?

23 to 57 thousandths of a centimetre, or in other words hundredths of a centimetre. That detail shows shallow dismissiveness, a bias. But it is worse: I looked at the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles; Phase 2 Proposed Rule Document. It is very long, and there is no contents page, but CTRL-F finds Zycher’s quotes. The savings are not stated to arise from a temperature effect or sea-level effect, but from three ratios of cost effectiveness:

  1. Total costs per gallon of fuel conserved.
  2. Technology costs per ton of GHG emissions reduced.
  3. Technology costs minus fuel savings per ton of GHG emissions reduced.

The saving arises from projected reduction in the use of fuel of 75bn gallons. That is a cost of $1.33 per gallon saved.

There are conservative arguments that these matters should be left to manufacturers rather than government. The upfront cost of technology will be passed on to buyers of trucks. However, $1.33 per gallon sounds good to me. Zycher has not bothered with the arguments, but with a deliberate distortion. My quote is five paragraphs before his, so he will have seen it. Experts might dispute the EPA’s statistics or calculations but I only needed a few clicks and a few minutes to refute Zycher’s statement.

There are free marketeer arguments as well: regulation of trucks in the US is a “non-tariff barrier” making it harder for foreign manufacturers to export to the US; but inhibiting free trade might please those commenters.

This is not fake news of the “Pope endorses Trump” variety. Older language will suffice- Zycher is lying. That is wrong.

Has Mr Pruitt denied anthropogenic climate change? Greenpeace’s evidence is sparse, but he wrote, Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. CO2 in the atmosphere has increased because of human action. This warms the planet. This is not disputed except by science-deniers and obfuscators.

Interest has moved on, by now. Most commenting ended three days ago. Chris Stone, a horrible man who trashes Environmentalist arguments- “Try to keep up.” “Are you always this stupid”. “Scurry off, hug your tree and then go to your cry room, moron”- said the EPA Falsely Tied Hydraulic Fracturing to Ground Water Impacts, citing this press release from climate denier Senator Jim Imhofe. Does fracking pollute groundwater? A study by Acton Mickelson Environmental, Inc. in Wyoming found that there is gas in the drinking water, but that The potential contribution of gas seepage along gas wells versus natural upward migration of gas is undefined and would be difficult to quantify– the gas might have been in the water, even without fracking- and total dissolved solids exceed drinking water standards or comparison values in almost all the samples. It is not as clear as Senator Imhofe’s press release implies. There should be Continued evaluation of surface pits for potential contribution to water-quality issues.

What non-experts can do is limited. I am satisfied that Zycher is lying. I don’t think Stone has reason to be satisfied the EPA’s connection of fracking to ground water impact was false, let alone deliberately so, and if false it could be only one mistake, so that most EPA activity is still in good faith and reliable.

I have not shown that Imhofe is wrong, or that the Wyoming report admits fracking pollutes ground water. I have made selective quotes from the executive briefing. I disbelieve Imhofe because of his climate denialism. He lies about one reason why fossil fuels should not be extracted, so I cannot trust him on another alleged reason. I see from the Wyoming report that the gas, and the fracturing, is much deeper than the deepest well, and it might seem reasonable that something so deep might not affect water hundreds of feet above, but I really don’t know. If it were my drinking water, I would want to be certain it was safe.

We need to be careful of what we believe, and hold sites like The Hill to account for disseminating falsehoods. One deliberately deceptive article does not mean The Hill is never reliable, but it cannot be taken for granted.

Benjamin Zycher attacking the EPA.
The Proposed Rule document.

Anger, pacifism, responding

Crazy shit going down. It is getting worse.

The Trade In Services Agreement could make us nostalgic for TTIP- which is not dead yet. To rival Investor-State Dispute Settlement, with the unaccountable judges private accountancy firms which have the investor-claimants as their clients, there is the Ratchet clause: once a service is privatised, it cannot be taken back into public control.

My friend also shared this article on gentrification sterilising London neighbourhoods. In Swanston there is a housebuilding programme, carefully worked to go with making the town London commuter territory and so make house prices increase. In around 1970, a lot of Londoners were taken out and dumped in the town, so that there are Nuptonshire accents and older London accents co-existing: and now, perhaps, they will be dumped further out.

People get angry about housing costs. When someone mentions housing costs I feel my hackles start to rise; and if they express stress distress or anger I go off on one. I have to leave to calm down. Like many emotional reactions, this does me no good. Someone said I should reflect on my expression in tranquility, and not show the envy, elation, disappointment, obsession that I felt so much, but I love my ardent, passionate side, and toning it down is fighting myself. If I were uncomfortable with my emotional expression, it is tempting to blame oestradiol, thinking if I were on my natural testosterone rather than synthetic hormones I would be more sensible; but this is me, and I doubt changing to T injections would improve me.

But when angry like that it might be better not to get whirled away in the feeling of the moment. They are angry, I think of my opportunities to buy a house, cheaper than it would be now, which I missed because I have never felt safe enough or sufficiently able to contemplate decades rather than weeks ahead, to commit. And I am fearful. That is the time to recognise and permit the emotion, and keep a part of consciousness aware of it- not suppressing it- but not overwhelmed by it, for I need conscious awareness of what is going on now, and a thoughtful response. I would rarely be angry with the people I am with, and if I were expressing it would rarely do good.

When I did tribunals, I would try so hard to get evidence for the claimant- but if I had tried, and got nowhere, I would give up and go on to the next one. Torquil was delighted that the professor of InterRel seemed so interested in him, and hurt that he was so dismissive when Torquil got too low a mark to enter the second year. Where may my ardour make a difference? I survey the wall, and if there is a crack in it I will try to break through there. This is precise and difficult work for a cool head. The ardour must be used as fuel, not ignited by random sparks.

“The UK shall become the global leader in free trade,” said Theresa May. She believes and desires that. This is truly terrifying. The main threats to humanity now are climate catastrophe, war-mongering, and the untrammelled power of multinationals to pay no tax, trample employment rights and cost-cut consumer safety. They will not take action when their ways of making money cause harm, unless they are held to account. The answers are publicly owned public services and international co-operation, as in the EU, to regulate large companies. What she calls “Free Trade” tramples on everything we need to save humanity.

St Paul: Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Quartz suggests empathy as an answer to anger and violence, and non-complementary behaviour, meeting anger and fear with an attempt to understand grievance, and compassion.


Ice House Earth

For most of its history, the Earth has had no ice at its poles. On the greenhouse planet, carbon was CO2 in the atmosphere rather than trapped in the rocks. Forty million years ago, with continental drift moving Antarctica to the South pole, and ocean currents moving around the continent rather than bringing warm water from the Equator, ice began to form there, reflecting the Sun’s radiation back into space and cooling the planet. The last 2.7m years have had many cycles of interglacials and glaciation- the term “ice age” was coined in the early twentieth century when there were thought to have been three or four glaciation periods in history, but there have been hundreds.

Also in the early twentieth century, Milankovitch calculated the variations in the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit, its axial tilt, and the precession of the Equinoxes. The more the axis of rotation varies from 90° from the plane of the orbit, the more the seasons vary and the more regions cool in winter. These cycles can influence when the glaciers advance.

We can calculate how much ice there is at the poles from the oxygen isotope ratio. Oxygen forms two stable isotopes, O16 and O18. Water molecules with O16 in them are lighter, so more prone to evaporation. When there is ice at the poles, water falling as snow there will remain for thousands or millions of years, and the ratio of O18 to O16 in the seas will be higher. Seashells and coral are made of calcium carbonate, CaCO3, and so the ratio of the two oxygen isotopes in the water may be calculated from ocean bed fossils, whose age is indicated by their place in the geologic column.

I find that fact beautiful. The elegance of the idea, and the complex effort required to produce and analyse the evidence of changing temperatures makes me proud to be human and delighted to be alive at this time in our history. Antarctic ice cores now go back 800,000 years, each year making a new layer of snow, and preserve samples of the atmosphere in the past: we can find the varying proportions of nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide. The wilful ignorance of young earth creationists and the deliberate deception of those who purport to argue their case scientifically gets more shocking- and pitiable, as they close their awareness to the wonders of human ingenuity and discovery. They are driven to more desperate quibbling as the weight of evidence increases.

As coral grows just under the surface of the sea, coral remains show that sea level has varied from a hundred metres below current levels during glaciations, and five metres above in the warmest parts of interglacials. The Earth’s temperature has varied by far more than the 4° predicted for this century; but never so quickly. Species have had time to adapt; not having that time is causing the incipient mass extinction of the anthropocene epoch.

Arcimboldo, Summer

The Common touch

UKIP is the largest British party in the European Parliament. What are their MEPs like? Jane Collins was on Any Questions, a radio panel debate, terrifying me with her extreme Right populism. There was a racist dog-whistle and a great deal of lying and misinformation. I decided to check some of it.

To David Willetts’ comment that the Chinese government wished to reduce its reliance on coal, because the pollution in Beijing is equivalent to smoking forty cigarettes a day, she claimed that life expectancy in Beijing is higher than in Glasgow. In Glasgow it is 73 for men, 78.5 for women. Beijing’s is indeed higher, at 76.1, on older statistics- the Glasgow figure has risen recently- though the Beijing resident can expect to be sicker, younger.

So, something true- yet scarcely relevant. And Willetts’ comment is false too: Beijing air would shorten your life by three years, while twenty a day would shorten it by nine. Or so I heard on the radio.

She stepped back from Farage’s racist lie about Oldham, that there are streets where no-one speaks English. In Glodwick and Westwood, someone in every household will speak English. “I did not go down any street in Oldham where no-one spoke English,” she said. I am glad she is scared to be completely ridiculous, but they lie then vacillate as if they do not care about truth at all.

What of her claim that in Rotherham, the polling station votes were equal Labour and UKIP, but postal ballots swung it? The Labour majority was 8446. 18% of the electorate in Yorkshire and the Humber obtained postal votes, and 86% nationally with a postal vote used it. The electorate was counted at 63,131 in 2010. That gives a very rough figure of 9800 postal votes in Rotherham, and what she claimed could be true if all the postal votes were for Labour. But it is unlikely. I used this pdf, found here.

On bombing Syria, there was a quiet, reasoned discussion of the issues, then Jane started. She wants Middle Eastern states to fund the war and provide the troops- but then, they would fight in their own interests. She wants to stop those same countries funding Da’esh, which makes nonsense of her first desire; and she wants to stop money from the UK going to Da’esh. That was her second racist dogwhistle. The Northampton Al-Bireh Friendship Association, a harmless group of Quakers and others, has had great difficulty obtaining a bank account. “Perhaps they think we’re terrorists,” said my Friend. Perhaps, according to current definitions, we are. The Government is already acting.

Climate change is not a problem, according to Jane, though George Monbiot called it “Climate breakdown”. The climate has been changing since the world began, she says. There is CO2 from the recent Mount Etna explosion.

This is not stupidity. Someone who has bothered to consider the issue sufficiently to make such arguments knows the truth of the matter. “I don’t claim to be something I aren’t” (sic) said Jane. Yes, you do, pretending to prejudices you do not share, but wish to encourage.

In her boorish shouting and interrupting, she scored one own goal: “We need to get a grip on reality here,” said Jane, and George responded drily “Thank you Jane for that very pertinent observation.” I don’t think she is as stupid as she sounds, and that makes her considerably viler.

Blake Behemoth and Leviathan

Dr Richard Milne on climate change

In this video, Dr Richard Milne explains the clear evidence for human-created climate change, the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, and the nature and actions of the true sceptic. The lecture is an hour long, followed by twenty minutes of questions. Or, read my summary.

It is socially acceptable to put all that CO2 into the atmosphere because of ignorance and disinformation. Deniers blur vital distinctions between the basic science, which is proven, and advanced science, which is still under debate, and between true sceptics who advance science and deniers, who retard it; and between politics- What should we do?- and science- What are the facts? Though some scientists are also environmentalists, urging political action, these two roles can be distinguished.

The suggestion that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was wrong, but was a minor point about the timing of future effects- the most advanced and controversial scientific question. It does not discredit the assertion that the Earth is actually warming. The true sceptic prunes away that false assertion, but the denier seeks to destroy public trust in climate science as a whole. The sceptic produces evidence to convince the scientific community, the denier ignores or attacks the scientific community and uses whatever arguments s/he can to convince the public, with books and articles rather than peer-reviewed papers. Good science follows the evidence, bad science is too much attached to one desired outcome and cherry-picks the evidence.

There are four clear facts, and two causal relationships:

1. CO2 absorbs more heat from reradiated light than air does.
2. Humans have emitted over one trillion tonnes of CO2.
3. There has been an increase in atmospheric CO2 of more than half a trillion tonnes since 1850
4. Global temperatures have increased over the past century.

We have known CO2 is a greenhouse gas since the 19th century. For climate change to be caused by humans, fact 2 must cause 3, and and 1 and 3 together must cause fact 4. Deniers say volcanoes cause the increase in CO2, but humans emitted thirty billion tonnes in 2008, and volcanoes emitted about 100m. Animals breathe out CO2, but plants absorb it. There is no explanation of what has happened to CO2 emitted by humans, other than that much of it remains in the atmosphere.

We know the CO2 absorbs energy, because satellites measure the light energy leaving our planet, and the reduction matches the absorption wavelengths of CO2 and CH4. Does the Sun also contribute? The Sun’s emission of heat grew in the first half of the 20th century, but not since- so it could contribute to temperatures rising then, but not after then.

Deniers also dig up discredited evidence and produce false experts. They call climate change a scare story, implying it is not true. The scary hole in the ozone layer reduced, because people reduced CFC emissions. Many natural factors affect the climate, but over different timescales than the 150 years of increased CO2.

Denialists use logical fallacies such as correlation implying causation. There has been climate change before- it can be natural- but that does not mean that it is natural now, or that it is nothing to worry about- it caused the Permian/Triassic mass extinction. Greenland was warmer in the Mediaeval Warm Period, but Siberia was colder.

He explains the Climategate scandal, of leaked emails. There was no conspiracy. The most incriminating email said, I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last twenty years (ie, from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.  The denier points to the words “trick” and “hide the decline”, and spins this as deceit by a scientist. The sceptic finds out that the email concerned tree ring data tracking temperature- trees grow better in warm years- until about 1980, but thereafter does not. This is called the divergence problem. Since 1980, something else is limiting tree growth- but if there were a conspiracy, scientists would cover up that divergence.

Why do people deny climate change? Because it is too scary; because some profit from emitting CO2 now; and because right wing politicians oppose communal action generally, and communal action is the way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Milne recommends this site. Painting from here.

Crab Nebula 1, by Berta Rosenbaum Golahny