Saturday, December 22, 2012


Long time no post. This is partly because, earlier this week, I went with my wife on a brief city break to Bruges. We were quite lucky with the weather, though it was a bit on the dull side for interesting photography. Here is one of my shots:-

Click on it to enlarge

That's a very standard view of Bruges. I think my favourite shot was this:-

Click on it to enlarge

Almost everywhere I turned in Bruges there seemed to be some sort of delight for the eye. When I first looked at my photographs back home I was quite disappointed - they didn't seem to do justice to the pleasure of actually being there. Never mind - we both enjoyed the trip enormously.

To see more of my photographic efforts in Bruges, click here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Today's Observer

Today's Observer has a number of articles relevant to recent posts.

Andrew Rawnsley casts a sceptical eye over George Osborne's enthusiasm for gas. Specifically, he says that there is scant evidence that the reserves of shale gas in the UK are economically recoverable. If the "dash for gas" proceeds and the home-grown shale gas bonanza fails to materialise, the UK will find itself dependent on potentially unstable foreign sources of supply. Meanwhile, investment in gas will crowd out investment in renewables and the UK will find itself unable to meet its commitments on emissions reductions.

George Osborne also comes under attack from Will Hutton, who adds his weight to a suspicion I have had  for a long time: that Osborne is economically illiterate. Hutton puts it very succinctly:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Denialism seems to be on the up

I was taken aback recently when an acquaintance of mine unexpectedly revealed him/herself (to make him/her as anonymous as possible) to be a global warming denialist. By "denialist" I mean someone who puts forward the view that the threat of global warming is not on such as scale that it requires serious action to mitigate it. So I include "lukewarmists", like Peter Lilley.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Democracy without growth?

An interesting article by Gillian Tett in today's FT posing the question, mainly in an American context, whether democracy is dependent on economic growth.

I think there are two big issues here: firstly, whether and for how long we can expect economic growth to continue in the developed world and, secondly, whether a sustainably peaceful and democratic society is possible without growth. Around those issues I have in my mind a number of hypotheses. The informal testing of these hypotheses provides some framework to my otherwise haphazard studies of the issues. Here is a bunch of hypotheses:-

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Can a dash for gas be justified?

One of the discomforting ideas I found in Dieter Helm's book, Carbon crunch (see my previous post), was his support for a new generation of gas-fired power stations as a "bridge" to clean electricity generation. My starting position is that I want us to move directly to clean energy as quickly as we possibly can, even if this means substantial economic sacrifices. Do I need to shift my position?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Carbon crunch

A couple of weeks ago I read Dieter Helm's new book Carbon crunch.

I thought this was an important book. For a start Dieter Helm appears to be one of our foremost experts on energy policy. What he says matters. I also found it addressed lots of concerns I have about what to do about climate change.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn colours

The autumn colours are amazing this year. Last Sunday morning in Sussex was a dream time for photographers - brilliant, low-angle sun, clear sky, frost on the ground and mist over it. I went out before breakfast with my camera but I had a rather frustrating time. I found one view that more or less made a picture but missed the best of the colours:-
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and another view that captured the magnificence of the autumn colours but wasn't quite a picture:-
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I'm still living in hope for a really stunning autumn picture.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The House of Representatives - the answer is emerging

The answer to a question I posed in my post two days ago is beginning to emerge. As I suspected it looks as if the Democrats won more votes than the Republicans in the elections for the House of Representatives, even though the Republicans have a decisive majority of seats. However, I'm relying on a secondary source and not exactly an impartial one. My search for the raw data continues.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What about the House of Representatives?

I'm very relieved that Barack Obama has won and kept from the White House what has become the party of climate-change denialists.

However, my joy is tempered by the (long-expected) failure of the Democrats to win a majority in the House. Along with that go the fears that policy will continue to be constrained by gridlock and blackmail or that the need for concessions will mean that positively harmful measures will be passed as a quid pro quo for necessary measures.

Perhaps the Democrats will focus early on the next mid-term elections, with a clear and attractive programme to be implemented in the final two years of an Obama administration in co-operation with a Democratic House and Senate.  

As I write, there are still a few results to be declared. I'm itching to get my hands on the full results. In particular, I'm interested to see how the total popular vote for the House came out. Did the Democrats win the popular vote but lose the House? If so, that's further evidence that the US political system is severely dysfunctional - even more so than the British system (I have been an enthusiast for proportional representation for the past 35 years).

The full results should be interesting. Will there be evidence of selective or cross-voting - eg people voting for a Republican congressman but abstaining in the presidential election out of distaste for (the probably at heart moderate) Mitt Romney? Or the other way round - voting for Romney but not for a Tea Party Republican congressman?

Will I find the data before I have moved on to other things?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tree planting

I'm feeling a little smug today as I planted 25 chestnut trees (Castania sativa - or sweet chestnut) yesterday.

I've been coppicing around our boundary for four years and this has provided us with most of the firewood for our stove over the winter. In the long run a coppicing cycle like this should be carbon neutral but in the short run it isn't. What I have been coppicing are the fruits of forty years of neglect - a forty-year store of sequestered carbon. If I simply carry on coppicing the existing stock of trees (or rather overgrown hedge) on, say, a ten year cycle, there will still have been a one-off de-sequestration of carbon.

One way to sequester more carbon is to plant more trees. What I have planted will form a proper coppice - much easier to manage than a hedge line of brambles and blackthorn. With luck we may get some chestnuts as well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Resource depletion and The Limits to Growth

My reading of Britannia Unchained, on which I posted a few weeks ago,  has  nudged my recent studies on to the subject of resource depletion. The following caught my eye:-

"The Limits to Growth, written by a team of MIT researchers, published in 1972, argued that humanity's food and resources would soon run out. By 1992, the authors predicted, world supplies of zinc, gold, tin, copper and oil could be exhausted." (Britannia Unchained, Location 208 in the Kindle edition, in which page numbers don't show)

Actually, they didn't predict any such thing. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thoughts on Sandy the Frankenstorm

I've been struck by how the news coverage of Sandy has generally failed to make a link with global warming. From what I read in Climate Progress, (one of the blogs I visit daily) this is normal in the US. I wonder if this will change in the next few days as the news of the event and its immediate aftermath give way to reflection.

This lack of a link to global warming is reflected also in the talk of the likely effects on the presidential election. One would have thought Sandy was perfectly-timed to remind people that the climate is obviously changing and that one of the two candidates has sided with those who turn a blind eye to climate science. I haven't come across any mainstream news coverage picking up on this point - only on the opportunity for Obama to appear presidential.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Another photo published

This snap got published in this week's West Sussex County Times. I took it last Sunday. It was a glorious, frosty morning with lots of mist so I went out with my camera before breakfast to see what I could find. I took lots of shots of the mist and the frost and this seemed about the best.

I also saw a fox, but it saw me first so I didn't get a decent snap of it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More on the "halt" to global warming

An issue I discussed in my recent critiques of a speech by Nigel Lawson (here and here) has now surfaced elsewhere - initially in the Daily Mail and then ThinkProgress via SkepticalScience.

The issue is about whether global warming has ground to a halt. Lawson and the Daily Mail point out that there has been no warming trend over the past 15 years. I showed how the trend over one 15-year period is a spurious measure. ThinkProgress and SkepticalScience blogs do the same.

They do it much better than I did but it's nice to see my points validated by others.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Britannia Unchained - more for me to disagree with

The long train journey up to Aberdeenshire (see yesterday's post) gave me a chance to read the recent offering from five young Tory MPs, Kwasi Kwarteng et al, entitled Britannia Unchained, in which they set out a critique of the British economy, thoughts about the social and political sources of its weaknesses and suggestions of how experience in other countries could point the way to the sort of changes we need to make here if we are to recover our competitiveness in world markets.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Time off in Scotland

Click on this to view it properly.

I've just got back from a delightful couple of days in Aberdeenshire. I took this on Monday morning, which was clear and frosty. It shows a short stretch of the Dee, between Aboyne and Banchory.

I've never taken a really good landscape shot. This is about as close as I usually get. Apart from the beautiful light and the touch of remaining frost, I was helped by the glorious variations in colour between the recently-harvested crop fields and the green pasture, with the beginnings of autumn colours in some of the trees.

I took this with my long zoom lens set at 90mm, which I think would be the equivalent of 130mm on a 35mm camera. People seem to talk about a wide-angle lens as being ideal for landscapes but I'm  fascinated by the compressing effect of a long lens. A wide-angle lens can make molehills out of mountains.

We're not quite in the Highlands here. I think of this bit of Scotland as a scaled-up version of the Yorkshire Dales, with which I'm more familiar from my childhood in Bradford. My wife and I come here most years, mainly to visit friends but the landscape is a big draw too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I've made it into print

The fox photo I took a couple of weeks ago has made it to this week's West Sussex County Times.  Click on the picture to make the caption legible.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is unlimited growth a thing of the past?

This is the title of a recent article in the FT by Martin Wolf. In it he describes some work by the distinguished American economist, Robert J Gordon, in which he warns that the productivity gains we associate with the three main spurts of technological innovation - the original industrial revolution from around 1750, electricity, the internal combustion engine etc from around 1880 and the information revolution from about 1960 - were all one-off events. For instance, we don't travel much faster now than we did in the 1960s, by which time the there were plenty of Boeing 707s in the skies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Foxy photo

I've been wanting to photograph a fox for a long time. Last Sunday I got my chance when two foxes appeared on our lawn. They seem to have taken a liking to our bullaces (wild plums) or perhaps, as the all too copious evidence suggests, taken to using them as a laxative.

It was a very gloomy and wet afternoon so the image isn't as bright and sharp as I would like - long lens (300mm on a DSLR), slow shutter speed (1/80 sec), photo taken through the glass of the window. One day I hope to get one with its whiskers glistening in the sun.

Political Prejudice

An interesting Analysis programme recently on BBC Radio4, available on iPlayer, entitled Political Prejudice - "Why do right-wingers tend to be sceptical about global warming, and why do left-wingers often doubt the value of IQ tests? Michael Blastland investigates our cognitive biases."

Highly relevant to my last three posts. Thanks to my friend who drew my attention to this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Yet more on Lord Lawson's speech (wonkish)

Oh dear, I can't let go of this Lawson thing. I find when I start exploring numbers like the HADCRUT3 dataset, it's difficult to stop.

In yesterday's post I confirmed what Lord Lawson said in his recent speech, that the temperature record for the past fifteen years shows no warming trend. I then suggested that this was not a very meaningful measure because movement within a period of ten or fifteen years tends to be dominated by noise in the system.

The trend I calculated was a global warming rate of 0.004 degC per year, or 0.4 degC over a century which I thought low enough to be deemed insignificant. Curiosity then led me to try the same - a calculation of the 15-year warming trend - for the periods ending in each of the previous 30 years. This is what I got:-
Past 15-year warming trends for periods ending between 1982 and 2011 Source: HADCRUT3 dataset

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Has global warming ground to a halt?

Last week I did a long posting about a recent speech by Lord (Nigel) Lawson. There was one bit I didn't comment on. He said:

"The fact that there has been no recorded global warming trend for the past 15 years or so, during which CO2 emissions have grown very rapidly indeed, thanks in large part to remarkable economic growth in China, suggests that the climate sensitivity of carbon is in fact less than is incorporated in the models on which, for example, the IPCC relies."

The opening phrase of that quote surprised me. I was under the impression that global warming had continued, albeit with a brief downward trend in the mid noughties. Figure 1 is a graph of the raw figures, from the HADCRUT3 dataset, for the past 15 years with the trend line shown in orange. As you can see, the trend line has only a very shallow slope, probably insignificantly different from zero.

Figure 1 - Source: HADCRUT3 dataset

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why I disagree with Lord Lawson

In August 2012, Nigel Lawson presented a paper to the Erice conference entitled Rational climate economics.

Early in the paper he goes in for some political knockabout at the expense of climate scientists:-

"There is now a new religion – the AGW [anthropogenic global warming] religion, of which scientists are the new priesthood, preaching their dogma with precisely the same claim to authority as the mediaeval catholic church."

He goes on: "The truth is, as the best scientists recognise, that the greenhouse effect is a highly complex phenomenon, and the scale of the climate sensitivity of carbon is hugely uncertain."

In spite of what he says about the uncertainties, towards the end of the paper he displays his confidence that we need take no action to reduce the risks of seriously harmful climate change. He says we can rely exclusively on adaptation to global warming as the most cost-effective response. There appears some inconsistency here between the alleged hugeness of the uncertainty and his confidence that global warming will be mild enough for us to cope with through adaptation.