Climate change will increase threat of war…

Chris Huhne, environment spokesman of the Libe...
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Chris Huhne, UK climate secretary to tell defence experts that conflict caused by climate change risks reversing the progress of civilisation. From The Guardian

Climate change will lead to an increased threat of wars, violence and military action against the UK, and risks reversing the progress of civilisation, the energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne will say on Thursday, in his strongest warning yet that the lack of progress on greenhouse gas emission cuts would damage the UK’s national interests.

“Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will make unstable states more unstable, poor nations poorer, inequality more pronounced, and conflict more likely,” Huhne is expected to say in a speech to defence experts. “And the areas of most geopolitical risk are also most at risk of climate change.”

He will warn that climate change risks reversing the progress made in prosperity and democracy since the industrial revolution, arguing that the results of global warming could lead to a return to a “Hobbesian” world in which life is “nasty, brutish and short”.

Huhne believes the UK and other countries must act urgently to prepare for the threat. “We cannot be 100% sure that our enemies will attack our country, but we do not hesitate to prepare for the eventuality,” he plans to say. “The same principle applies to climate change, which a report published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has identified as one of the four critical issues that will affect everyone on the planet over the next 30 years.”

His comparison of climate change and terrorism echoes Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the government who warned in 2004 that global warning posed “a bigger threat than terrorism”. The warning so incensed the then US president George W Bush that he phoned Tony Blair to ask him to gag the scientist.

Huhne argues that it is clearly in the UK’s national interest to cut carbon dioxide emissions sharply, and persuade other nations to join in the effort.

His speech comes at a delicate time for the prime minister, David Cameron, who was embarrassed earlier in the week by an open revolt over climate issues staged by his members of the European parliament. MEPs were voting on whether to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets that would raise the goal from a 20% cut in carbon by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, to a tougher 30% cut.

Despite Downing St intervention, more than two-thirds of Tory MEPs rebelled against the party line, to support the tougher target. Their revolt was instrumental in defeating the proposal, part of a complex series of votes in the parliament.

Green campaigners hope to revive the issue in future votes, and with member states and the European commission, but the vote revealed the depths of climate scepticism within the Tory party.

Huhne has scored key victories in recent months in his attempts to put climate change at the centre of coalition policy. He helped to persuade Cameron to accept the “fourth carbon budget” – a plan that would see the UK halve emissions by 2025, the stiffest target of any developed country. Yesterday the prime minister announced tough new energy efficiency standards, supported by Huhne, that would require central government to cut emissions by 25% in the five-year term of this parliament.

Huhne will quote military experts, including the MoD and the US Pentagon, who have warned that climate change will increase the risk of conflict and potentially terrorism. Climate change intensifies security threats in three ways: increasing competition for resources; more natural and humanitarian disasters, such as the droughts now causing famine in Africa, which will also lead to mass migration and the conflicts that ensue; and threats to the security of energy supplies.


Climate change : Al Gore Attacks President Obama…. Yes, it’s so easy to criticise!?

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...
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Al Gore takes some shots at President Obama in a new Rolling Stone essay, grumbling that he has “thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.” Wait: Isn’t that Al Gore’s job? The president’s job is the action, not the case-making. And while I don’t plan to spend all my time defending him against unfair attacks from the left, his actions on climate have been a lot bolder than Gore suggests.

At some level, Gore seems to understand this. The thrust of his essay is about climate denialism and an entertainment-obsessed media that’s more interested in “building the audience” than telling the truth; the swipes at Obama are afterthoughts near the end. And Gore balances his criticism with enough caveats to plug the hole in the ozone layer.

He catalogues all the “incredible challenges” Obama faced: the Bush legacy of the Great Recession and the debt, Republican obstructionism, fossil-fuel industry control of most of the GOP and some Democrats, and a well-financed campaign of climate denial. “In spite of these obstacles,” Gore acknowledges,” “President Obama included significant climate-friendly initiatives in [his] economic stimulus package….He implemented historic improvements in fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles…He appointed many excellent men and women to key positions, and they, in turn, have made hundreds of changes in environmental and energy policy that have helped move the country forward slightly on the climate issue.”

Significant! Historic! Excellent! Those are pretty good blurbs.

So what did Obama do wrong? Other than failing to do Gore’s job for him?

Well, there’s this: “After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding.”

This is…how to put this gently?…a crock. Obama secured $90 billion worth of clean-energy funding in the stimulus, and Congress has not decimated it. I follow the stimulus with a stalkerish obsession–are there support groups for this kind of compulsion? –and I can only recall $3.5 billion in green funding getting eliminated. It was actually shifted out of a loan guarantee program for renewable projects that got off to a slow start; one chunk went to Cash for Clunkers, and a later chunk went to a bill to save teaching jobs. That loan program, by the way, has picked up speed; the Obama administration has announced eight deals worth nearly $5 billion in the last two weeks.

And yes, you read that right: The stimulus poured $90 billion into clean energy, an order of magnitude more than the federal government had ever spent before. It included record funding for efficiency; wind, solar and geothermal power; electric cars; advanced biofuels; and green manufacturing. That’s bold action. Gore ought to know. The former head of his climate non-profit, Cathy Zoi, helped oversee the stimulus as head of Obama’s office of efficiency and renewables.

Gore’s other substantive criticism of Obama is that “after the House passed cap-and-trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority.” That’s true. He didn’t have the votes for passage in the Senate. If only there were an environmental group dedicated to climate action that could have rounded up the votes…

Nobody has done more than Gore to make the case that climate change is a global emergency, and it’s understandable that he’s frustrated with the pace of progress. It’s also legitimately irritating that Obama has stopped talking about climate change when he talks about clean energy. But the chronically disgruntled liberals who argue that cap-and-trade (or the public option, or immigration reform, or the Employee Free Choice Act) could have passed if only the president had used his bully pulpit and made the case are not dealing with reality. He is not a superhero. How exactly is Obama supposed to persuade Joe Manchin to vote for that cap-and-trade bill he gunned down in his campaign ads? On a related topic, how many senators did Vice President Gore persuade to vote for the Kyoto Protocol? (A hint: You can count them on no hands.)

One suspects that Gore was a bit uneasy about his cheap shots, which he wrapped in sheepish apologetics: “Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context.” Of course, an Al Gore essay about the dangers of climate change wouldn’t be particularly newsworthy without a few swipes at the president. But you know how the entertainment-obsessed news media is. Always “building an audience.”

Read more:

Al Gore Attacks President Obama for Failing to Do Al Gore’s Job

Climate change and the penguins’ responses

Mother Nature comes through at the South Pole

– but at what price? The International Herald Tribune explains

ROSS ISLAND, Antarctica — Cape Royds, home to the southernmost colony of penguins in the world, is a rocky promontory overlaid with dirty ice and the stench of pinkish guano. Beyond the croaking din of chicks pestering parents for regurgitated krill lies the Ross Sea, a southern extension of the Pacific Ocean that harbors more than one-third of the world’s Adélie penguin population and a quarter of all emperor penguins, and which may be the last remaining intact marine ecosystem on Earth.


Andy Isaacson for The New York Times

Summer melt on the Ross Sea ice.More Photos »

The penguin colony is one of the longest-studied in the world. Data on its resident Adélie penguins was first acquired during the 1907-9 expedition of Ernest Shackleton, the eminent British explorer, whose wooden hut stands preserved nearby.

“This is penguin nirvana,” David Ainley, an ecologist with the consulting firm H. T. Harvey and Associates who has been studying Ross Sea penguins for 40 years, said on a morning in January. “This is where you want to be if you’re a pack ice penguin.”

Of the species that stand to be most affected by global warming, the most obvious are the ones that rely on ice to live. Adélie penguins are a bellwether of climate change, and at the northern fringe of Antarctica, in the Antarctic Peninsula, their colonies have collapsed as an intrusion of warmer seawater shortens the annual winter sea ice season.

In the past three decades, the Adélie population on the peninsula, northeast of the Ross Sea, has fallen by almost 90 percent. The peninsula’s only emperor colony is now extinct. The mean winter air temperature of the Western Antarctic Peninsula, one of the most rapidly warming areas on the planet, has risen 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the past half-century, delivering more snowfall that buries the rocks the Adélie penguins return to each spring to nest — and favoring penguins that can survive without ice and breed later, like gentoos, whose numbers have surged by 14,000 percent.

The warmer climate on the Antarctic Peninsula has also upended the food chain, killing off the phytoplankton that grow under ice floes and the krill, a staple of the penguin diet, that eat them, by as much as 80 percent, according to a new study published this month in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But in the Ross Sea a reverse trend is occurring: Winter sea ice cover is growing, and Adélie populations are actually thriving. The Cape Royds colony grew more than 10 percent every year, until 2001, when an iceberg roughly the size of Jamaica calved off the Ross Sea ice shelf and forced residents to move 70 kilometers north to find open water. (The iceberg broke up in 2006, and the colony of 1,400 breeding pairs is now recovering robustly.) Across Ross Island, the Adélie colony at Cape Crozier — one of the largest known, with an estimated 230,000 breeding pairs — has increased by about 20 percent.

Climate change has created a paradise for some pack ice penguin colonies and a purgatory for others, but the long-term fate of all Adélie and emperor penguins seems sealed, as relentless warming eventually pulls their rug of sea ice out from under them. Some scientists attribute the recent sea ice growth in the Ross Sea to the persistent ozone hole, a legacy of the human use of chlorofluorocarbons that cools the upper atmosphere over the continent, increasing the temperature difference with the lower atmosphere and equator, and over the last 30 years has delivered significantly brisker westerly winds in the summer and autumn. The warming of Earth’s middle latitudes is having a similar effect, increasing that temperature difference and sending stronger winds that push sea ice off the coast and expose pockets of open water, called polynyas, that give nesting Adélie penguins easier access to food.

Meanwhile, consumers’ appetite for Chilean sea bass (Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish) may also be benefiting Ross Sea penguins, as fishing fleets from southern nations converge on one of the last remaining refuges of the fish (Dissostichus mawsoni). A fishery in the Ross Sea that opened in 1996 and was certified sustainable in December by the Marine Stewardship Council, could ultimately serve Adélie penguins by reducing competition for Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum), a sardine-size fish that the penguins and toothfish enjoy. Dr. Ainley and colleagues have reported seeing fewer killer whales in the southern Ross Sea since 2002. The whales feed on toothfish, and fewer sightings suggest that the fishery is already altering the ecosystem.

Researchers witnessed Ross Sea penguin colonies thrive during the 1970s when commercial whaling removed 20,000 Antarctic minke whales, also a food competitor of Adélies, from the penguins’ wintering area. Adélie populations eventually leveled off after 1986, after an international moratorium on whaling began (and remained static until the more recent influences of climate change). Japanese whaling of minkes resumed right after the moratorium was instituted, purportedly for science, a claim that conservation groups dispute and that has incited a confrontation in the Ross Sea between the Japanese fleet and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an antiwhaling vigilante group.

UN report: Cities ignore climate change at their peril

UN report: Cities ignore climate change at their peril


Graphic showing Europe at night (Image: Science Photo Library)In industrialised nations, urban living demands more water, natural resources and energy.
The assessment by UN-Habitat said that the world’s cities were responsible for about 70% of emissions, yet only occupied 2% of the planet’s land cover.

While cities were energy intensive, the study also said that effective urban planning could deliver huge savings.

The authors warned of a “deadly collision between climate change and urbanisation” if no action was taken.

The Global Report on Human Settlements 2011, Cities and Climate Change: Policy Directions –, said its goal was to improve knowledge of how cities contribute to climate change, and what adaptation measures are available.

Worrying trend

Joan Clos, executive director of UN-Habitat, said the global urbanisation trend was worrying as far as looking to curb emissions were concerned.

“We are seeing how urbanisation is growing – we have passed the threshold of 50% (of the world’s population living in urban areas),” he told BBC News.

“There are no signs that we are going to diminish this path of growth, and we know that with urbanisation, energy consumption is higher.

According to UN data, an estimated 59% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2030.

Every year, the number of people who live in cities and town grows by 67 million each year – 91% of this figure is being added to urban populations in developing countries.

The main reasons why urban areas were energy intensive, the UN report observed, was a result of increased transport use, heating and cooling homes and offices, as well as economic activity to generate income.

The report added that as well as cities’ contribution to climate change, towns and cities around the globe were also vulnerable to the potential consequences, such as:

  • Increase in the frequency of warm spells/heat waves over most land areas
  • Greater number of heavy downpours
  • Growing number of areas affected by drought
  • Increase in the incidence of extremely high sea levels in some parts of the world
Soweto, South Africa (Image: BBC)Southern Africa is considered to be one of the areas at most risk from the impacts of climate change

The authors also said that as well as the physical risks posed by future climate change, some urban areas would face difficulties providing basic services.

“These changes will affect water supply, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystem goods and services, energy provision and industrial production,” they wrote.

“Local economies will be disrupted and populations will be stripped of their assets and livelihoods.”

A recent assessment highlighted a number of regions where urban areas were at risk from climate-related hazards, such as droughts, landslides, cyclones and flooding.

These included sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, southern Europe, the east coast of South America and the west coast of the US.

Time to act

Dr Clos told BBC News that while climate change was a problem that affected the entire world, individual towns and cities could play a vital role in the global effort to curb emissions.

“The atmosphere is a common good, which we all depend upon – every emission is an addition to the problem,” he explained.

But, he added: “Consumption is carried out at an individual level; energy consumption is also an individual choice.

“This is why local governments and communities can a big role, even when their national governments do not accept or acknowledge the challenges.”

The report called on local urban planners to develop a vision for future development that considered climate change’s impact on the local area.

It said that it was necessary to include mitigation measures (reducing energy demand and emissions) as well as adaptation plans, such as improving flood defences.

In order to achieve the most effective strategy, it was necessary for urban planners to seek the views of the local community, including businesses and residents.

However, the UN-Habitat authors said international and national policies also had a role to play in supporting urban areas.

These included financial support, reducing bureaucracy and improving awareness and knowledge of climate change and its possible impacts.


Climate change conversations : emails to a skeptic

From The Independent last night…. A series of Questions & Answers has produced a very interesting discussion and led to a huge reader response…

World-renowned physicist Professor Freeman Dyson has been described as a ‘force-of-nature intellect’. He’s also one of the world’s foremost climate change sceptics. In this email exchange, our science editor, Steve Connor, asks the Princeton scholar why he’s one of the few true intellectuals to be so dismissive of the global-warming consensus

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

You are one of the most famous living scientists, credited as a visionary who has reshaped scientific thinking. Some have called you the “heir to Einstein”, yet you are also a “climate sceptic” who questions the consensus on global warming and its link with carbon dioxide emissions. Could we start by finding where we agree? I take it you accept for instance that carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that warms the planet (1); that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen since direct measurements began several decades ago (2); and that CO2 is almost certainly higher now than for at least the past 800,000 years (3), if you take longer records into account, such as ice-core data.

Would you also accept that CO2 levels have been increasing as a result of burning fossil fuels and that global temperatures have been rising for the past 50 years at least, and possibly for longer (4)? Computer models have shown that the increase in global temperatures can only be explained by the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations (5). Climate scientists say there is no other reasonable explanation for the warming they insist is happening (6), which is why we need to consider doing something about it (7). What part of this do you accept and what do you reject?

From: Freeman Dyson

To: Steve Connor

First of all, please cut out the mention of Einstein. To compare me to Einstein is silly and annoying.

Answers to your questions are: yes (1), yes (2), yes (3), maybe (4), no (5), no (6), no (7).

There are six good reasons for saying no to the last three assertions. First, the computer models are very good at solving the equations of fluid dynamics but very bad at describing the real world. The real world is full of things like clouds and vegetation and soil and dust which the models describe very poorly. Second, we do not know whether the recent changes in climate are on balance doing more harm than good. The strongest warming is in cold places like Greenland. More people die from cold in winter than die from heat in summer. Third, there are many other causes of climate change besides human activities, as we know from studying the past. Fourth, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is strongly coupled with other carbon reservoirs in the biosphere, vegetation and top-soil, which are as large or larger. It is misleading to consider only the atmosphere and ocean, as the climate models do, and ignore the other reservoirs. Fifth, the biological effects of CO2 in the atmosphere are beneficial, both to food crops and to natural vegetation. The biological effects are better known and probably more important than the climatic effects. Sixth, summing up the other five reasons, the climate of the earth is an immensely complicated system and nobody is close to understanding it.

That will do for the first set of questions. Now it is your turn.

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

So you accept that carbon dioxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that warms the planet, that concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have been rising since direct measurements began several decades ago, and that CO2 is almost certainly higher now than for at least the past 800,000 years. You think it “maybe” right that CO2 levels have been increasing as a result of fossil fuel burning but you don’t accept that global temperatures have been rising nor that the increase in carbon dioxide has anything to do with that supposed trend. And finally, you have little or no faith in the computer models of the climate.

As a physicist you must be aware of the calculations of estimated increases in global average temperatures due to the positive radiative forcing of the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the heat “captured” by CO2. The mainstream estimate suggests that doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels would increase global average temperatures by about 3C. If you accept that CO2 levels have never been higher, but not that global average temperatures have increased, where has the extra trapped heat gone to? Can we deal with this before we go on?

From: Freeman Dyson

To: Steve Connor

No thank-you! The whole point of this discussion is that I am interested in a far wider range of questions, while you are trying to keep us talking about narrow technical questions that I consider unimportant.

You ask me where the extra trapped heat has gone, but I do not agree with the models that say the extra trapped heat exists. I cannot answer your question because I disagree with your assumptions.

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

Sorry you feel that way, I hope we can get back on track. I was only trying to find out where your problem lies with respect to the scientific consensus on global warming. As you know these models are used by large, prestigious science organisations such as NASA, NOAA and the Met Office, which use them to make pretty accurate predictions about the weather every day. The scientists who handle these models point out that they can accurately match up the computer predictions to real climatic trends in the past, and that it is only when they add CO2 influences to the models that they can explain recent global warming. There is a scientific consensus that CO2 emissions are having a discernible influence on the global climate and I was attempting to find out more precisely why you part company from this consensus.

You have written eloquently about the need for heretics in science who question the accepted dogma. There are a number of notable instances in science where heretics have indeed been proven to be right (Alfred Wegener and continental drift) but many more, less notable examples where they have been shown to be wrong and, in time, will be forgotten (remember Peter Duesberg or Andrew Wakefield?). So it was in the light of your heretical stance on climate science that I’d like to know why we should believe a few lone heretics – albeit eminent ones such as yourself – rather than the vast body of scientists who have a plethora of published work to back up their claims? It’s an important question because it’s about who we, the public, should believe on scientific matters and why?

From: Freeman Dyson

To: Steve Connor

When I was in high-school in England in the 1930s, we learned that continents had been drifting according to the evidence collected by Wegener. It was a great mystery to understand how this happened, but not much doubt that it happened. So it came as a surprise to me later to learn that there had been a consensus against Wegener. If there was a consensus, it was among a small group of experts rather than among the broader public. I think that the situation today with global warming is similar. Among my friends, I do not find much of a consensus. Most of us are sceptical and do not pretend to be experts. My impression is that the experts are deluded because they have been studying the details of climate models for 30 years and they come to believe the models are real. After 30 years they lose the ability to think outside the models. And it is normal for experts in a narrow area to think alike and develop a settled dogma. The dogma is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. In astronomy this happens all the time, and it is great fun to see new observations that prove the old dogmas wrong.

Unfortunately things are different in climate science because the arguments have become heavily politicised. To say that the dogmas are wrong has become politically incorrect. As a result, the media generally exaggerate the degree of consensus and also exaggerate the importance of the questions.

I am glad we are now talking about more general issues and not about technical details. I do not pretend to be an expert about the details.

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

Well, I’ll try to keep it general, but it may involve talking specifics. One of my own academic mentors once explained to me that science is really just a very useful intellectual tool for teaching us about the world, just as philosophy teaches us how to think. The trouble for non-scientists is that we have to rely on professional scientists to tell us what they are finding out. But as you say yourself, it is even difficult sometimes for scientists in one field of endeavour to truly get to grips with the details in a different discipline. So, as a layman, I look at the wealth of evidence being presented to me on climate change, and the qualifications and track record of those presenting their results in the peer-reviewed literature, and I make a judgement. Do I believe in the small minority of mavericks, many of whom do not have a published track record, or the vast majority who do? Do I go with the heterodox or the orthodox?

Politicians of course have to do the same but they have to make important decisions, or not as the case may be. And the problem with climate change, as you know, is that if we wait until we are absolutely certain beyond any doubt whatsover that global temperatures are rising dangerously as a result of carbon dioxide emissions, it will be too late to do anything about it because of the in-built inertia of the climate system. Even if we stopped carbon dioxide emissions overnight immediately, temperatures would still be expected to increase for some years to come before they stabilise.

So I guess my question would be, what if you are wrong? What if all the other scientists connected with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UK Met Office, NASA, NOAA, the World Meteorological Organisation, and just about every reputable university and institute doing research on climate science, happen to be right? Isn’t it a bit risky for me and the rest of the general public to dismiss this vast canon of climate science as just “fuss” about global warming when all I’ve got to go on is a minority opinion?

From: Freeman Dyson

To: Steve Connor

I have this unfortunate habit of answering email immediately, which is in the long run not sustainable. So I will answer this one and then remain silent for three days.

Of course I am not expecting you to agree with me. The most I expect is that you might listen to what I am saying. I am saying that all predictions concerning climate are highly uncertain. On the other hand, the remedies proposed by the experts are enormously costly and damaging, especially to China and other developing countries. On a smaller scale, we have seen great harm done to poor people around the world by the conversion of maize from a food crop to an energy crop. This harm resulted directly from the political alliance between American farmers and global-warming politicians. Unfortunately the global warming hysteria, as I see it, is driven by politics more than by science. If it happens that I am wrong and the climate experts are right, it is still true that the remedies are far worse than the disease that they claim to cure.

I wish that The Independent would live up to its name and present a less one-sided view of the issues.

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

Just to return to Alfred Wegener for one moment. Although he wasn’t the first to note that the continents seem to slot together like a jigsaw, such as the west coast of Africa and the east coast of South America, he was a visionary who actually went out to find the geological evidence to support his idea of continental drift. However, as you say, he didn’t have a mechanism for how this “drift” happened. So it is perhaps understandable that many of his peers dismissed his theory in the 1930s. It was only with the discovery of plate tectonics 30 years later that everyone could agree on the true mechanism, which replaced Wegener’s discredited theory of the continents somehow forging their way through the crust of the ocean basins. This doesn’t in any way undermine his heroic contribution to science, and I say heroic in the true sense of the word given that he died in 1930 on his 50th birthday while trekking across Greenland – his body was never recovered and is now presumably encased in ice and moving slowly to the sea.

The point I want to make is that it may well have been right for the scientific “establishment” of the 1930s to be sceptical of Wegener’s theory until more convincing evidence emerged, which it eventually did. The experts, rather than the public, could see the flaws in Wegener’s argument which is why there was a scientific consensus against him. You are saying that the situation today with global warming is similar. However, surely an important difference this time is that it is the scientific consensus that is warning us of the dangers of continuing emissions of carbon dioxide, and that this consensus is saying quite categorically that if we wait until utterly definitive evidence emerges of dangerous climate change it will be too late to do anything about it.

One of the problems I have with the climate “sceptics” is that they keep changing their arguments. First they say that there is no such thing as global warming, thereby dismissing all the many thousands of records of land and sea temperatures over the past century or so. Then they say that carbon dioxide emissions are not causing the Earth to warm up, thereby defying basic physics. If that fails, they say that a bit of extra heat or carbon dioxide might not be that bad – it may be true that more people die from cold than heat, but how many die of drought and famine? And true, carbon dioxide boosts plant growth, but did you see the recent research suggesting a possible link between two atypical droughts in the Amazon in 2005 and 2010, when the rainforest became a net emitter of carbon dioxide, with higher sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic? Plants need water, not just carbon dioxide.

And if all else seems to fail, the final line of argument of the “climate sceptics” is that, “OK, carbon dioxide may have something to do with rising temperatures but what the heck, we can’t do anything about it because the cure is worse than the disease”. It seems to me that although there are still many uncertainties, much of the science of climate change is pretty settled, more so than you will admit to. To continue to report on “both sides” as you suggest is rather like ringing up the Flat Earth Society and asking them to comment on new discoveries in plate tectonics.

From: Freeman Dyson

To: Steve Connor

My three days of silence are over, and I decided I have no wish to continue this discussion. Your last message just repeats the same old party line that we have many good reasons to distrust. You complain that people who are sceptical about the party line do not agree about other things. Why should we agree? The whole point of science is to encourage disagreement and keep an open mind. That is why I blame The Independent for seriously misleading your readers. You give them the party line and discourage them from disagreeing.

With all due respect, I say good-bye and express the hope that you will one day join the sceptics. Scepticism is as important for a good journalist as it is for a good scientist.

Yours sincerely, Freeman Dyson

From: Steve Connor

To: Freeman Dyson

Sorry you feel that way. Thank you anyway.

Steve Connor

Freeman Dyson website

More climate change discussions

Are climate events Nature’s way to tell us something…. I say ‘yes’!

MY COMMENT: I am not one for scaremongering (eg. 2012 was I believe non-sense), however recent climatic events – flooding in Australia followed by massive, record-breaking cyclones in that country; current droughts in China; floods in Pakistan… All these make me wonder: Is nature adjusting itself in a ‘feedback loop’ and should be more aware/start to take positive action to adjust ‘our’ , human ways?  Two stories from today’s newspapers suggest the answer is ‘yes’…

From the Independent

British floods result of climate change

The catastrophic floods of autumn 2000, which saw river levels reach 400-year highs and left 10,000 homes underwater across England and Wales, were most likely the result of global warming.

** Full article below

From The International Herald Tribune

Heavy rains linked to humans

An increase in heavy precipitation that has afflicted many countries is at least partly a consequence of human influence on the atmosphere, climate scientists reported in a new study.

** Full article below

The catastrophic floods of autumn 2000, which saw river levels reach 400-year highs and left 10,000 homes underwater across England and Wales, were most likely the result of global warming.

It is the first time scientists have been able to plot with any confidence the link between the extreme weather with man-made greenhouse gases. Researchers from Oxford University and the Met Office aided by thousands of volunteers online believe 20th-century industrial emissions made the natural disaster almost twice as likely.

While environmentalists have long pointed to the floods as early evidence of the impact man is having on the environment, concrete proof has been harder to find.

But Dr Pardeep Pall, who began the research while a doctoral student at Oxford University’s Department of Physics, said this has now changed. “This study is the first of its kind to model explicitly how such rising greenhouse gas concentrations increase the odds of a particular type of flood event in the UK, and is the first to use publicly volunteered computer time to do so,” he said.

In mid-October 2000, parts of Kent and Sussex were under water when the Ouse at Lewes burst its banks, along with the Uck at Uckfield and the Medway at Tonbridge in Kent. A few weeks later it was Yorkshire’s turn with the Ouse in York reaching its highest level since 1600 while the Severn at Worcester and Shrewsbury recorded its biggest flood since 1947.

The Thames, Trent, Wharfe and Dee also flowed after much of the country suffered its wettest autumn since records began. The final insurance bill for the damage was £1.3bn with motorways closed, train services cancelled and power supplies disrupted.

The research, published in Nature, reveals there was a two-in-three chance that the odds of flooding that year were increased by global warming by a factor of two or more. While unable to rule out the possibility that the floods could have happened even if the atmosphere had been unpolluted by greenhouse gases in preceding decades, scientists believe the study brings them closer to being able to work out the real-time impact of climate change rather than the long-term predictions which are normally used. Experts could soon be able to tell almost immediately whether an event was caused by the effects of man or not.

Researchers used a Met Office computer climate model to simulate the weather of autumn 2000 both as it was and how it might have been without the presence of man-made CO2. Volunteers around the world then repeated the experiment thousands of times by logging on to the website The data was then fed into a flood model by Risk Management Solutions, which develops risk models for the insurance industry.

It was concluded that the chances of floods occurring in autumn 2000 had increased by more than 20 per cent; and perhaps as much as 90 per cent.

Professor Myles Allen, a co-author of the paper, said while scientists had been more easily able to link climate change to the European heatwave of 2003 – an event which resulted in 40,000 deaths, drought, fires and crop failure – establishing the link to floods had been a longer process. He said: “Whether or not a flood occurs in any given year is still an act of God but with the help of thousands of volunteers we are beginning to see how human influence on climate may be starting to load God’s dice.”

The research will be cited today by Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne in an address at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) calling for closer co-operation between governments to reduce emissions and cope with the effects of a changing atmosphere. He will say: “The evidence for human influence on climate is now even more compelling. Climate change is not a distant threat, it is a clear and present danger – and one that we can do something about.”

In the first major paper of its kind, the researchers used elaborate computer programs that simulate the climate to analyze whether the rise in severe rainstorms, heavy snowfalls and similar events could be explained by natural variability in the atmosphere. They found that it could not, and that the increase made sense only when the computers factored in the effects of greenhouse gases released by human activities like the burning of fossil fuels.

As reflected in previous studies, the likelihood of extreme precipitation on any given day rose by about 7 percent over the last half of the 20th century, at least for the land areas of the Northern Hemisphere for which sufficient figures are available to do an analysis.

The principal finding of the new study is “that this 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability,” said Francis W. Zwiers, a Canadian climate scientist who took part in the research. The paper is being published in Thursday’s edition of the journal Nature.

Climate talks on knife edge over Chinese demands

Developing nations accuse West of intransigence, as corruption is cited as obstacle to progress

Amid growing anger at the lack of political action, several thousand people marched to Parliament in London yesterday to demand that Britain become “zero carbon” by 2030.

Environment ministers from around the world flew in to Mexico yesterday for the final days of the climate-change talks in Cancun, which threatened to fracture over Chinese-led demands for concessions from the West. Campaigners marched in London yesterday to demand action. As a sign of the work still to be done, only 170 words out of 1,300 on two pages of a key text were undisputed on the “shared vision” of what delegates hoped to accomplish.However, a further issue is now being cited as a significant obstacle in the fight against climate change – corruption. The extent of the problem could see any agreements doomed to failure, according to leading global risks analysts. New research to be released this week shows that among the countries most at risk from climate change are also to be found those that are most corrupt – making it difficult to counter the effects of flooding, desertification and deforestation.”Our mapping research shows that the countries which are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are often those that are the most corrupt,” said Professor Alyson Warhurst, chief executive of global risk analysts Maplecroft, which will release its Business Integrity and Corruption Index this Thursday. She warned that endemic corruption “results in money being diverted away from critical infrastructure projects and towards personal gain of individuals”, adding that schemes to combat climate change are at particular risk of being compromised.Generally, bribery is more prevalent in developing economies with weak legal systems and low pay scales, meaning both that there is a greater temptation to engage in corruption and it is easier to do so with impunity. Of the world’s leading emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, Russia is cited as the most corrupt due to the “systemic nature of corruption in the country and its prevalence throughout all tiers of government”. India is categorised as an “extreme risk” country, while China and Brazil are labelled as being at “high risk” of corruption. Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are among the other countries that fall into this category. Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan are among those deemed at “extreme risk”.The findings come as the outcome of the Cancun negotiations, which end this Friday, are “in the balance”, according to Todd Stern, head of the US delegation. And the mood among delegates will not have been lifted by the news yesterday that the talks had been dismissed as doomed to failure by the European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, according to a leaked US embassy cable. The document, recording a discussion last December between Mr Van Rompuy and the US ambassador to Belgium, claimed the EC President said he had “given up” on the negotiations.The chances of any deals being struck this week are remote, with a continuing row over the future of the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. In essence, representatives of developing countries want it to be extended, while rich countries do not. Existing tensions were exacerbated on Friday by China’s accusation that Western countries were trying to “kill off” the protocol signed 13 years ago, which obliges only developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.Amid growing anger at the lack of political action, several thousand people marched to Parliament in London yesterday to demand that Britain become “zero carbon” by 2030.