Saturday, May 23, 2015

404 Why it's a bad number

This is the Mauna Loa data, the Keeling Curve, for the year to May 2015.  It's a bit noisy from week to week but concentrate on the smoothed average shown by the blue/white boundary. 
CO2 concentration peaked at about 404ppm this year, a rise of over 2ppm on this time last year, and will now drop back a little as the northern temperate forests come into leaf, start photosynthesising and sequester CO2.

The extraordinary thing is that despite everybody knowing that global warming could end civilisation we continue to burn fossil carbon so next May the concentration could reach over 406 ppm.

We've known since 1824, thanks to Joseph Fourier, that the atmosphere kept us warm, and since 1864, thanks to John Tyndall, that adding gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere would warm the planet further. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius calculated just how much warmer and by 1938 Guy Callendar had measured both the rise in CO2 concentration and the rise in temperature, added them together and gave us the correct answer.

Before humans started burning a lot of fossil carbon, CO2 concentration was around 280ppm.  By the time Charles Keeling started the Mauna Loa observations in 1958 it had already risen to around 315ppm.  James Hansen made the number 350 famous, the level we really should not be above if human civilisation is to have a sustainable future.  Yet here we are with a new record set and a discussion amongst climate scientists as to whether the rate on increase is increasing.  Doh!

Moral: We have to stop burning fossil carbon.  Now. And then we need to get the concentration back down below 350ppm by sequestering carbon.

Friday, May 08, 2015

So Much for the Tea Leaves

With poetry and prose appropriate to a failed election.

Let's start with some numbers  (hat-tip the BBC website) from Brighton Pavillion, Boston & Skegness, Gainsborough and Louth & Horncastle:

In a constituency where voters think there is a good chance that their vote will count towards a winning candidate, they will vote for the policies they agree with most, will vote for hope, will vote Green.  But where there is little chance of the Green Party winning, especially in a seat that is marginal between two other parties, people are reluctant to 'waste' their vote on a candidate with no hope of winning.

This means that if we had a properly proportional voting system, in which everybody's vote counted for something, then people would be more likely to vote for the party that best matched their preferred policies.  And all the indications are that for a great many people that means the Green Party.

As we have seen with the SNP in Scotland, when change comes, it can come very quickly.  The future is an uncertain place.

But there is anger and sadness about today; some have tried to describe those who would make the rich richer and poor poorer, who would promote the arms trade, who would build that genocidal weapon of mass destruction they call Trident, and who would deny the global warming that is likely to end human civilisation, perhaps even the extinction of the human race. I don't think we have simple words to describe such people. At such times we must call on the poets:

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars 
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires--and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings--the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those who dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanos, and their mountain-torch:
A fearful hope was all the world contain'd;
Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
Extinguish'd with a crash--and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again;--a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assail'd their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish'd men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress--he died.
The crowd was famish'd by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heap'd a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage; they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects--saw, and shriek'd, and died--
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful--was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless--
A lump of death--a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal: as they dropp'd
They slept on the abyss without a surge--
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The moon their mistress had expir'd before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perish'd; Darkness had no need
Of aid from them--She was the Universe.
Lord Byron

Or perhaps this piece from Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake

Thanks to Maxim Griffin

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

An Elephant in the Polling Booth

In 1978, as the Ecology Party's representative on the wonderfully named Parliamentary Liaison Committee for Alternative Energy Strategies, I met Tony Benn, then the Energy Minister.  He dismissed us as a 'single issue party', dismissed our call for renewable energy and said that nuclear generated electricity would be too cheap to meter. He was wrong, on both counts, as he came to admit in latter days when his position became almost indistinguishable from that of the Green Party.

Still the Green Party is criticised as being a single issue Party, but now we hear another criticism, that we have been too quiet about the environment.  Rocks and hard places come to mind.

The overwhelming failure of the election campaign, and UK politics in general, is the almost complete absence of discussion about global warming and climate change.  So focussed are we on the minutiae of daily life, little things that only affect the present generation for the next few years, the NHS, education, pensions, transport, Scottish independence, austerity, migration, bankers' bonuses, energy costs, Trident replacement, tactical voting and what have you. None of these things, however excited we may get about them, represent an existential crisis for the very future of human civilisation.

Our society, led by all the powers that be, is heading for global warming of several degrees. 4 degrees, 6 degrees, more, who knows, but the certainty is that the trajectory we are currently on leads to a future which is not survivable. Let me repeat that: the trajectory we are currently on leads to a future which is not survivable.  And I've not heard any politician outside the Green Party say that. 

Which is why I'm voting Green. Nothing else really matters.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So who to vote for on this seventh day of May?

The three constituencies covered by the East Lincolnshire GreenParty, Gainsborough, Louth & Horncastle, Boston & Skegness, are amongst the safest Tory seats in the land. so while one should never say never, it's a safe bet that the three Conservative MPs will be returned to Parliament.

If you are a Tory supporter, your choice lies between casting your vote for your candidate or staying at home safe in the knowledge that your vote will not make a difference since your candidate will win with a safe majority even without your help.

But what if you are not very rich and concerned only about maximising your personal wealth or you have not been tricked by the overwhelming billionaire-owned media into thinking that the neo-liberal economic agenda promoted by the Tories is actually good for most people? If you are a climate change denying racist opposed to all things foreign you may as well paint yourself purple and yellow, but for the great majority of nice, sensible folk there is a bit of a dilemma.

Remember, in these safe Tory seats, your vote won't make a difference to the outcome of the election.

The remaining purpose of your vote is to send a signal, a message, to whoever ends up in government. So, forget about traditional loyalties and habits, ignore personalities and slick rhetoric, media presentation and election spending power. Instead vote for what you believe in, vote for the party that has the policies that most closely match your own.

Here's a website that allows you to do that easily, objectively, in an unbiased way.

Vote for Policies.

You take a survey, answering a series of questions and the computer programme matches your answers to the policies of the various parties and tells you which party your answers suggest you should be voting for.  It's particularly useful for people who have not read through each party's manifesto, so that's most of us.
I'm pretty sure that, were he to have been alive today, William Shakespeare would have voted for the Green Party.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Looking at the tea leaves…

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.  Niels Bohr may have said that.

Notwithstanding, here's mine:

Labour and Tory take about the same number of seats, both well short of a majority. Most Scottish seats go to SNP. LibDems have a few along with a handful of Greens, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and Northern Ireland parties.

Conservative will not be able to form a minority government because even with LibDem and UKIP support, a Queen's speech cannot be passed; Labour and SNP will oppose. Labour, however, can win a Queen's Speech with SNP support; SNP would not join the Tories in voting it down. Continued Labour government would be dependent upon SNP support and this will be provided as SNP and Tories won’t get together to stop Labour. Even on a matter such as Trident replacement, in which Labour would get Tory support, it would not be in SNP’s interest to bring down a Labour government.

So we will have a minority Labour government with SNP theoretically holding the balance of power, but unable to do anything apart from support Labour, even in the absence of an official deal.


Whatever, we do need a post May7th Agenda:

After a little party on Friday night, the real work begins for the Green Party:
  • to retain all the 'surge' members when their renewals come round,
  • ensuring the organisational strength for by-elections or,
  • a snap general election in case a minority government fails,
  • ensuring a Yes vote in an EU referendum in the unlikely event that we get a government that insists on one,
  • getting ready for big gains in the EU Election 2017,
  • grabbing local council seats in any local elections,
  • winning big time in 2020,
  • campaigning tirelessly for proportional representation,
  • challenging every wrong thing that whoever is in power does,
  • and most important of all campaigning on global warming to ensure a decent agreement in Paris this December and a future that allows politics to continue in a human society that hasn't gone extinct.