Category Archives: AGW

I’m not a green futurist. I’d rather be right.

Since 1998 I have written and lectured occasionally on environmentalism and often criticise its green, pseudo-religious sub-community. I care about the environment just as greens are supposed to, but I see dogmatic, poorly thought through green policies as a big part of the problem facing the environment. With the greens as its friends, the Earth needs no enemies. Today, I read that solar companies are leaving Spain, where it is usually sunny, to come to the UK, where it usually isn’t, because our previous and existing governments were very keen to demonstrate their green credentials by subsidising solar power. Clarification: they are increasing installation in the UK instead of Spain. This is obviously counter-productive, as are many other policies thought up by the green community. 

So while many other futurists and futurologists advertise themselves as green, I am very proud to be on the other side, that of clear-thinking, full life cycle, system-wide analysis. I am certainly not a ‘green futurist’. I am an engineer and a proper futurist, looking at the future objectively and logically to try to work out what is likely to happen, not caring whether the news is popular or not. I’d rather be right. Of course I want to do my best to help ensure to a sustainable world and where a practice makes good sense I follow it. Greens are meant to do that but they often end up doing the opposite. Many greens think of science and technology as the problem. They want to go back to the dark ages, reduce standard of living, even reduce population. They advocate policies that disadvantage many of the world’s poor and prevent many from being born. I couldn’t ever live with such an ideology. I see advanced technology as the main foundation for living sustainably. As my own contribution to environmentalism and sustainability, as well as inventing quite a few things that can help, I also wrote a book last year on system-wide sustainability, where I contrasted the application of green dogma against the far better approach of positively applying science, engineering and logical systems thinking instead of negatively trying to undo progress. The book is called Total Sustainability.

Nor am I an AGW (human-caused global warming) catastrophist, also in contrast to many other futurists. I am not taken in by the poor quality spun science that suggests imminent AGW-based catastrophe. There is far too much deception in the ‘climate science’ and politics community which then recommends diverting trillions onto ineffective or counter-productive policies that could be spent far better elsewhere. The most important skill a futurist can have is the ability to distinguish between sense and nonsense. 

The climate has always changed, and always will. Humans have some impact, but not so far or likely to be a catastrophic impact. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, a warming contributor, but the CO2-centric climate models that have predicted catastrophe have almost all greatly overestimated warming to date, and none predicted the 17.5 years of no warming that we have now seen, so they are wrong. Much is made of arctic melting, but little is mentioned about the record ice in the antarctic. The theories about why this or that happens seem to change every month. In the UK, seasonal predictions using the same theoretical base have got it wrong almost every time for years. We are meant to listen to a group who tell us a very distorted picture of what is going on, who claim competence and understanding far beyond what they demonstrate. As any real scientist understands, if a theory disagrees with observation, the theory is wrong. We need a new theory. The fact the ‘climate science’ community conspicuously ignores that fact, and spends an enormous effort to make excuses for poor models, or even changing the data, rather than admit that they simply don’t know what is happening puts them in opposition to the most basic principle of good science. While a lot of good science is undoubtedly done, many others disqualify themselves by that principle, and that pollutes the entire field, bringing science itself into disrepute, and damaging the ability of future science and technology to help protect and improve the environment. So I am skeptical when they say the sky is falling. It doesn’t look like it to me.

Other scientists often suggest reasons why the models may be wrong – the full influence of various-term ocean cycles and the full effects on cloud seeding from sunspots via galactic cosmic radiation deflection. These are better correlated through history than the outputs of the models. Many factors that can influence climate such as agricultural practices and socieconomic reactions to trends or subsidies are not included in the models. Much of the warming we have seen can be explained mostly by natural cycles overlaid on the continued warming as we recover from the last mini ice age. Some, but we don’t know how much, can be explained by a wide range of natural effects that are poorly understood and quantified - soil chemistry; forestry emissions; biological, chemical and physical environmental feedbacks and buffers. Some of it, but we don’t know how much, can be explained by changes in human originated CO2, changes in high atmosphere water vapour from aviation and space missions, CFCs, black carbon, and dozens of other human contributory factors, which are still not fully understood or quantified. Now, as we head into a likely prolonged solar minimum, some scientists are suggesting that a lengthy cooling period now looks to be as likely a short to medium term trend as further warming. I don’t pretend to understand all the science, but I don’t believe the AGW catastrophe people do either. I am a skeptic. I don’t deny that CO2 is a problem, nor that we have had warming, nor even that humans may account for some of that warming, but I sure as hell am not convinced we’re all about to cook if we don’t do something really big really fast.

I am quite pleased with my track record on environmentalism and green stuff. In my 2006 report Carbon, I laid out some of my views and I still stand by them. In it I said that increasing CO2 is an important issue but not a reason to panic, mainly because it will eventually take care of itself. We are not faced with imminent AGW catastrophe. The default future migration to other energy sources as they become cheaper will limit CO2 emissions in the long term, so we will be absolutely fine, provided that the proven ongoing damage from green policies can be limited. I analysed a lot of policies advocated by greens and found them likely to be counterproductive. I have sadly been proved right on many of those, but thankfully, some of the engineering solutions I recommended have since gained traction. I was blocked from publishing my 2006 report since it was seen as too controversial at the time. I published it almost unchanged when I went freelance at the end of 2007. I later used much of it in my book.

You can read it here: http://www.futurizon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/carbonfeb08.pdf

Unlike catastrophic global warming advocates, I haven’t had to change my story every month. I first lectured at the World Futures Society conference on the pseudo-religious nature of green environmentalism way back in 1998 , and I am still saying the same now.

Green usually means wrong and usually means harming the environment by doing something that hasn’t been thought through properly but is based on dogma. I’d rather be someone who helps the environment and helps sustainability by doing proper engineering. I’d rather not have to make excuses in a few years when the historians analyse what was going on today and ask why so many people were taken in by predictions of AGW catastrophe, and why they advocated wasting so much money and impoverishing so many, damaging so many economies and so many lives to make so little impact on a problem that has in any case been exaggerated greatly.

I’m not a green futurist. I’d much rather be right.

We should help the poor, but not via global warming compensation

At the Warsaw climate summit, some developing countries argued that the rich, developed world, should compensate poor countries for the effects of global warming such as the recent typhoon. That is a very bad path to tread indeed.

Like almost everyone reading this, I am all for helping poor people to the very best of our ability, wherever they live. But we should do so because we can help them and because we want to help them, for the best of human reasons, not because we’re being forced to via some perverse compensation scheme.

As I argued in my book Total Sustainability, if we want to live in a sustainable world, we need to fix not just those things that directly affect the environment such as pollution and resource use, but also things that indirectly affect the environment via human impacts. We need to look at economics, politics, society, business and cultural effects too, and deal with the problems therein that would eventually adversely affect the environment and human well-being such as exploitation and corruption.

Let’s ignore for the time being the fact that global warming has levelled off for 16 or 17 years now even while CO2 levels have skyrocketed. Let’s ignore the fact that environmental catastrophes have always happened, and that it isn’t possible to attribute any particular weather-related disaster to ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. There is no shred of evidence linking the recent typhoon to CO2 levels. Let’s ignore the fact that the number and severity of storms has declined, so the level of problem has actually gone down as CO2 level has increased. Let’s ignore those facts because the overwhelmingly important overall fact is that we don’t yet understand what is happening to our climate, nor how much of any changes we observe are natural and how much are due to human activity, still less the attribution to particular human activities. The only evidence I need cite for that assertion is that almost all of the climate models have grossly overstated the amount of warming we should have seen by now. If they are genuinely the result of the best understanding of climate we have and not scientific corruption or deliberate misrepresentation and tweaking to get the right answer, then we can be certain that some of the equations or factors in them are wrong, or still worse, missing. 

If we don’t even understand how climate works, if we don’t understand the effects of human activity on the climate, then it is utterly ridiculous to attribute particular environmental catastrophes to the behaviour of particular countries. A sensible demand for compensation would need to demonstrate a causal link between an act and a result. We are nowhere near the level of scientific understanding required for that. Even if we were, or if we eventually get to that point; even if future scientists could conclusively show that rich countries’ CO2 emissions caused a particular storm, we still would have no justification for compensation to developing countries. Let’s help them as much as we can, but let’s not use human-caused global warming or climate change as the reason.

Why not? Here’s why:

One of the chapters in my book was called  ‘the rich world owes no compensation to the poor world’. The world only has the technological capability to support a population over seven billion because of the activities of our ancestors. Without the industrial revolution, the energy it used, the pollution it generated, the CO2 it led to, very many of those alive today would not be. We owe no apology for that. It is only through that historic activity that we are where we are, with the technology that allows poor countries to develop. Developing countries are developing in a world that already has high CO2 levels and is still largely economically and technologically locked into CO2-intensive energy production. That is simply the price humanity overall has paid to get where we are. When a developing country builds a new power station or a road or a telecomms network, it uses today’s technology, not 16th century technology – the century where modern science and technology arguably really started. Without the rich world having used all that energy with its associated environmental impact, they’d have to use 16th century technology. There would be no rich world to sell to, and no means to develop. Developing is a far faster and easier process today than it was when we did it.

Our ancestors in the rich world had to suffer the pain hundreds of years ago – they were the giants on whose shoulders we now stand. It was mostly our ancestors in the rich world whose ingenuity and effort, whose blood, sweat and tears paid for a world that can support seven billion people. It was mostly they who invented and developed the electricity, telecoms, the web, pharmaceuticals and biotech, genetically superior crops, advanced manufacturing and farming technology that make it possible. That all cost environmental impacts as part of the price. The whole of humanity has benefitted from that investment, not just rich countries, and if any compensation or apology were due to the rest of the world for it, then it has already been paid many times over in lives saved and lives enabled, economic aid already enabled by that wealth, and the vastly better financial and economic well-being for the future developing world that resulted from that investment. The developing world is developing later, but that is not the fault of our ancestors for making our investment earlier.

Amount of compensation owed: zero. Amount we should give for other reasons: as much as we can reasonably afford. Let’s give through compassion and generosity and feeling of common humanity, because we can and because we want to, not because we are being forced.

Could wind farms and HS2 destroy the environment?

Remember when chaos theory arrived. We were bombarded with analogies to help us understand it, such as the butterfly effect, whereby a butterfly flapping its wings in a distant rain forest creates micro-turbulence that minutely affects some tiny variable in a very non-linear system, resulting in a hurricane forming somewhere later.

Imagine sticking up a wind turbine, and compare that to a butterfly. It is a fair bit bigger. A big turbine extracts up to 3MW of power from the passing wind, and a large wind farm may have hundreds of them. If weather is so chaotic in its nature that a butterfly can affect it, a massive deployment of numerous large wind farms certainly can.

Aerial wind farms are being explored a lot now too, using kites. I’ve proposed a few novel designs for wind energy extractors myself during idle time. It is very easy. In my sci-fi book Space Anchor I even described a feasible solution for harvesting energy from tornadoes and hurricanes, reducing their damage and getting lots of free energy.

But it isn’t free if the cost is such great interference with wind strength that the paths of the winds are affected, their ability to transfer water vapour from one region to another. We are already having an impact and it will increase as deployment volume grows. We don’t have the means to estimate the effects of siphoning of such energy. As has recently been shown, 99% of climate models have greatly overestimated the warming due to CO2. They simply don’t work. They don’t model the environment accurately, or even quite accurately.

In the arctic, last year the ice declined enormously, this year it grew back. Researchers found that heat added to river systems by mineral and oil exploration could have been important contributor to the excessive melt. It is human-originated but nothing to do with CO2, and it doesn’t appear in any of the climate models. If they’re right, it’s a good example of how we can interfere with local climate unintentionally, and also how we won’t usually get any warning from climate modelling community who seem obsessed with ignoring any variable that doesn’t link to CO2. The climate is certainly changing, just not at all in the ways they keep telling us it will, because the models leave out many of the important factors and the equations are wrong.

So how can we expect to be told the likely effects of wind farms? The simple answer is that we can’t. At best, we can hope to get some estimates of change in a few specific wind zones. Furthermore, due to extreme politicization of the whole field of energy production and climate change, any models that suggest harmful effects are highly likely to be blocked from reporting, or their results tweaked and airbrushed and generally sanitized beyond recognition. The Scottish wind farms have already been shown to increase CO2 emissions due to the effects they have on the peat bogs on which most of them are built but we still see push for more of the same, even knowing that on the only issue they are meant to help with, CO2 emissions, they make things worse.

The UK government seems to enjoy throwing money away just when we need it most. The HS2 rail link will waste between £50Bn and £75Bn depending who you believe. Wind farms are already adding hundreds per year to the energy bills of the poor, pushing them deeper into poverty. The Green Deal fiasco has wasted a tiny amount by comparison, but is another example of extreme government incompetence when it comes to protecting the environment. As part of EU environmental policies, blocking and delaying shale gas development across Europe has led to massive imports of coal from the USA, increasing EU CO2 emissions while USA emissions have tumbled. You just couldn’t do a worse job of protecting the environment.

So far it seems, almost all government attempts to protect the environment have made it worse. Building even more wind farms will likely add to the problems even further.

Looking at HS2, it is very hard indeed not to compare this enormously expensive project to build a fairly high speed conventional railway between two cities to the Hyperloop system in California recently proposed by Elon Musk. That would deliver a 600mph rail system at a tiny fraction of the cost of HS2. Sure, there are some engineering problems with the systems as initially proposed, but nothing that can’t be solved as far as I can see. If we have £50Bn to spend, we could build links between most of our major cities, instead of diverting even more into London. Instead of a few thousand rich people benefiting a little bit, everyone could. We could build a 21st century rail system instead of just building more of a 20th century one. A system like that would have high capacity between all the major places, diverting many cars off the roads, reducing congestion, acting as a core of a proper self-driven pod based system, reaping enormous environmental benefits as well as improvement of lives. HS2 is totally pants by comparison with what we could get with the same outlay, for the economy, the environment and for quality of life. Siphoning off 50 to 75Bn from the economy for HS2 will delay development of far better and more environmentally friendly means of mass transport. Compared to the right solution, HS2 will damage the economy and the environment enormously.

Wind farms and HS2 will become monuments to the magnitude of stupidity of people in power when they are driven to leave a personal legacy at other people’s expense without having the systems engineering skills to understand what they’re doing.

 

 

Coal power is making a comeback – an own goal by greens

I tweeted recently that Europe has the stupidest greens in the world.  I meant it. Today I have time to explain.

The Greens of course are political party in many countries now, but the term green applies generally to left wing environmentalists where things only ever seem to benefit the environment if they simultaneous result in wealth redistribution. It is that entire group that I am talking about here. There are lots of environmentalists who aren’t socialist and lots that aren’t idiots, with a very strong overlap in those groups. Many are very smart and support policies or develop solutions that actually benefit or protect the environment. But the greens do seem mostly to fall into the idiot camp. Sorry, but that is a fact of life.

Thanks to green pressure and proselytising of their CO2 catastrophist religion, the EU has gone nuts implementing ludicrously expensive policies to reduce carbon emissions, but has demonstrated mainly negative effects after hundreds of billions investment, often achieving exactly the opposite of what was intended. The greens’ almost universal refusal to engage in proper science or logical reasoning has resulted in very clear demonstration that nature doesn’t care about political ideology or intent, only what is actually done. Some examples are called for:

Many people have been driven needlessly into fuel poverty, their energy bills rising dramatically to pay for wind farms that often actually increase CO2 emissions over their life because they are built on peat-lands. Solar panels on UK rooftops produce more CO2 than they save too, again the opposite of the intent, while managing to successfully divert cash from the poor to the rich, also presumably the opposite of the socialist greens driving it. Industries have been forced to close or relocate overseas due to rising subsidies for renewables, severely damaging the economy and destroying working class jobs, where the intention was to revitalise with a green economy and create jobs, while again pushing up CO2 emissions when the relocation is to countries that produce more CO2 for the same energy. Recession and economic misery has been far deeper and longer with slower recovery thanks to the huge costs resulting directly from green policies, with the poor taking much of the burden. Millions in far away countries have also been pushed into starvation by rising food prices or have been forcefully relocated to make room for palm oil plantations to meet the demand caused by European regulations that biofuels must account for 5% of the fuel in our cars. The peat bogs drained and the rainforests chopped down to make space again increase CO2 emissions.

You couldn’t make it up. The evidence now seems incontrovertible to all but the looniest of greens that CO2 doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as was suggested, and we are certainly not threatened by environmental catastrophe due to global warming. But if we were, all the activities of the European greens so far would have made a huge contribution to making catastrophe worse and much earlier. Green is rapidly becoming synonymous with stupid. Greens are repeatedly shown to be the worst enemy of both the poor and of the environment, both of which they aim to help. Stupid almost isn’t a strong enough word.

Meanwhile, in the USA, where they refused to sign up to the worst of the policies, simple capitalist market forces forced the development of shale gas, reducing energy prices dramatically and stimulating the economy, making people richer and creating jobs, while replacing dirty, CO2-producing coal with clean CO2-light gas. Many business are relocating from the EU to the US, the only successful but entirely unintended CO2 reduction resulting from EU policy so far.  Meanwhile, greens even there have managed to get the government to throw billions away on futile projects to create a mythical green economy, with remarkably few actual jobs to show for the huge investment. It is the diametrically opposite force that has created them in any numbers.

However, because the USA has made so much progress reducing CO2 via shale gas, and is benefiting from greatly reduced energy prices, even it that wasn’t intentional, the price of coal there has been forced down so far that Europe is buying it in. Germany is now reinvesting in coal fired power stations that will greatly increase CO2 emissions, hilarious considering how much cash they have so far wasted on renewables to supposedly reduce them. Meanwhile, although large reserves of shale gas have been found all over Europe, the greens have managed to prevent and delay development of this abundant resource that would revitalise the economy while reducing CO2 emission and reducing pollution. Only now are some mainstream politicians starting to realise the stupidity of such policy and encouraging development of shale gas. In a decade or two the greens might finally understand too.

Japan too is now making a dash for coal. Having closed their nuclear stations, they have to make up the power deficit and with coal being so cheap, is their new fuel of choice. Again, the indirect result of environmental policies have caused a rise in demand for the worst CO2 emitter of them all. But at least the Japanese can also demonstrate that they are exploiting methane clathrates, which would have a CO2-reducing effect while reducing energy costs.

It seems to be Europe where the policies are greenest and stupidest, with the most harm and the highest costs for the least benefit and the consequential wealth redistribution from poor to rich. The only good thing is that since it tuned out that CO2 doesn’t matter as much as they claimed after all, at least they haven’t yet managed to bring about environmental catastrophe. If the greens had been right about CO2, given the policies they’ve so far forced through, we’d really be in a mess.

I rest my case. Europe has the stupidest greens in the world.

Plastic reefs could solve landfill & coastal erosion

Another recycled blog from http://www.nvireuk.com. Recycling ideas makes as much sense as recycling materials. Context moves on and an old idea may come back.

Some of the UK coastline suffers badly from erosion. Many landfill sites are filling up. Plastics can stay around in the environment for hundreds of years, and recycling them isn’t always an ideal solution due to contamination with other materials. Coastal waters are often polluted.

All of these problems could be addressed in part by deploying carbon reefs, made up mainly of plastic refuse. Instead of making concrete blocks to prevent erosion, and bearing in mind the enormous amount of CO2 generated during concrete manufacture, the large plastic bales made at recycling plants could be used instead. If these were dumped into the sea at erosion sites, they would protect just as well as concrete, but would also serve to dispose of low grade plastic waste, locking the carbon up for a long time. The waste could be blended with other sorts of waste too, designing the bales in such a way that pollution is minimised, but density is kept high enough for the bales not to be washed away.

If organic waste is heat treated and carbonised, gas can be extracted during this process that could be used for energy production. The carbonised waste would act to absorb pollutants from the seawater, making a positive contribution to seawater quality. This would make beaches more pleasant for swimmers and also create a healthy environment on which corals and other sea creatures could make a home. In short, a plastic/carbon reef would result. Over time, this could be left as a reef or further dumping could result in reclaimed land.

Ironically, although this idea could help the environment significantly, it would be illegal under current environmental protection legislation, which forbids dumping plastic in the sea. (Since I wrote this, Len Rosen @lenrosen4 informs me that this is not true, see his comment for details, thanks Len). Perhaps it could be circumvented by arguing that it is not dumping, but it isn’t obvious what line of distinction would be used. Environmentalists are once again shown to be enemies of the environment they claim to want to protect. Sad, very sad.

Wind farm compensation claims undermine their investment potential.

I don’t make many recommendations on investments, but when something comes along that has clear effects, I sometimes do. I am not a financial adviser, and you aren’t paying for my advice, so I make my argument as a futurist and you make your own decision whether to take it on board or not. I take no responsibility for your financial decision, though please feel free to pass on any credit.

I have often advised against anything other than very short term investment in the green industry, and still do. It is volatile at best, with many bankruptcies already, and shows especially poor long term prospects as the poor quality science underpinning it is shown up for what it is – often worthless and counter-productive. This time it is even clearer to me. Avoid investing in wind farms, even more than yesterday.  Here’s why.

Finally there is a proper peer-reviewed scientific study proving what most people suspected already, that wind farms cause health problems and depression in people living near them. Easy-to-read summary of the key bits in the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/9653429/Wind-farm-noise-does-harm-sleep-and-health-say-scientists.html

The study’s finding were about sleep loss and increased depression, both of which were found to be much greater in communities close to wind turbines. However, these are both known to cause other serious health problems and reduce life expectancy. Suicide links with depression too, so there may also be a measurable impact on suicide rate near wind farms, another study waiting to be done. If as has been proven, wind farms cause loss of sleep and depression, it is therefore reasonable to expect a scientific study to prove a link between wind farms and serious health problems and even early death or suicide.

Separately, the industry has tried to bury and misrepresent the conclusions of a previous proper study that showed their negative effects on house prices. The results however remain valid, there is a proven effect. Erecting a wind farm lowers nearby property values.

Where people have their health or their financial state damaged by a company, and in this case often both, it surely can’t be long before class action suits follow for damages. Once the courts and claim companies get past dealing with the PPI mis-selling compensation claims, there will likely be another swathe based on loss of house value and damage to health attributed to proximity to wind farms.

What is less clear is whether the taxpayer will have to fork out instead. Since the proof of damage is recent, earlier ones could be except from reasonable blame. Since the farms have been commissioned by government, government might be considered to blame and the farm owners and manufacturers only liable for extras caused by specific circumstances or specific designs. Those who recommended, commissioned, housed, built and ran the farms, and who received all the financial benefits even in full knowledge of the harm they were causing, can be expected to deny any wrongdoing and to try to shift blame to avoid  facing the consequences. The taxpayer might well have to pick up much of the bill for damage done in spite of protesting loudly and being ignored all along. However, it will be a brave investor who ignores the risk that justice might actually work against the guilty parties. Justice happens sometimes.

My conclusion is simple: wind farms are now proven to cause damage to property value and health and large compensation claims are likely to follow sometime. Further scientific studies are likely to add weight to the evidence, making compensation payouts highly likely, and there is no provision for this in the tariff guarantees. In the extreme, farms could even be forced to close, eradicating future income (and related production-related tariffs) while leaving the up-front costs and there is no certainty that government will compensate farms for the loss. These prospects therefore obviously damage the value of investments in wind farms.

Street lights, quality of life, and the UK space industry

I wrote a long time ago about the problem caused by excessive street lighting and sky glow that prevented a whole generation from growing up with the experience of awe induced in anyone looking up at a clear night sky.

Well, we now have many councils turning off street lights as early as 9pm, to reduce CO2 emissions, making streets dark, to the annoyance of many people and the delight of others, including me.  Carbon emissions are one of the lesser problems facing us, and the carbon emissions this avoids will have an immeasurably small effect on the environment. But the law of unintended consequences this time acts in favour of science, and will even benefit the environment by a convoluted route nothing to do with the one intended.

Anyway, we can see stars again, and it’s wonderful. Hooray! Keep the lights off – not on motorways though, very different situation there.

When people look at the stars, and see a whole sky full of them, they can’t help but think about their place in the universe. They start to wonder what’s out there, whether we are alone, whether they matter and their place in the grand scheme of things, whether even humans matter. They wonder about going out there, visiting, their kids maybe being space travellers. There are very few science teachers who can match the raw inspiration of looking at a clear sky full of stars. Suddenly everyone is a Hawking or at least a Cox, or maybe even a budding Armstrong. Apart from that, seeing a rich clear sky directly improves our quality of life.

Turning off the lights will drag many people of the isolation induced by modern life. It will expand their minds and make them think further. It will encourage many kids to do science and engineering, helping our economy prosper. Some will be inspired to become scientists looking at nature, and will help the environment as a result. Many others will be made aware of the smallness and vulnerability of the Earth. Some will want to go into space, or become engineers developing space technology. Or entrepreneurs looking at the potential for exploration and commercial exploitation.

In short, although done for the wrong reasons, turning off the street lights will bring great rewards. It will make us happy, more curious about the universe, more concerned about the fragility of the Earth, more determined to protect it, but more aware of the external factors driving things. And it will act as a recruitment drive for a generation of space scientists and space engineers and even astronauts.

Turning off the street lights will greatly increase the number of awe and wonder experiences people feel, and could be the biggest boost to the UK space industry we’ve seen in a generation. It would be great if this was intentional and local governments knew what they were doing, but I very much doubt that. It is instead a very happy accident.

The twin evils of religion and environmentalism

There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents….

Or in more secular terms, isn’t it nice when someone finally sees the light.

It has been interesting watching the scales fall from the eyes of James Lovelock recently, as he has finally started to echo what many of us have been saying for several years. That a lot of the stuff we hear from greens is just a pathetic liberal secular substitute for Christianity; that a great deal of the global warming or climate change hysteria fits neatly into the same category as religious fanaticism, with little more scientific credibility, and that many of the models and predictions derived from them are mere scientific trash, the same harnessing of human emotions of guilt and the desperate need to be seen to be good. I am particularly amused since some environmentalist a while back tried to dismiss my blog because I was saying exactly that but I wasn’t Lovelock, therefore I was wrong, or some argument along those lines anyway. But it’s nice to see him catching up (yes, OK,  I know he is far smarter than me, so no need to point it out, but none of us is infallible and he did get some things wrong). We all make mistakes, and at least he has had the guts to admit it, unlike a lot of people, so all credit to him. He is just the latest in a long queue of people jumping the fence as green dogma and climate hysteria  is being exposed as nonsense.

It has been clear to me for over 15 years that the decline of religion wasn’t simply leaving people with no religion, but had left a hole in people’s lives that was being filled by 21st century piety, a basket of isms, such as environmentalism and vegetarianism, anti-capitalism, even socialism and liberalism. For very many people, these hit the same reward centre buttons as religion. I first lectured about their religion substitution appeal at a World Futures Society conference well over a decade ago, and have often got into professional trouble by repeating the same arguments ever since. (Actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with vegetarianism per se, just the daft attitude that you have to cook them veggie stuff, but they don’t have to cook you meat, because they are obviously better than you and it would offend their obviously higher moral stance. That is the pathetic religion substitute bit, and I have zero tolerance of it).

Let me be quite clear here, to minimise offence to the innocent: not all environmentalist are seeking a religion substitute, where they can place themselves on a high moral pedestal and preach at everyone else. They don’t all think they are ‘holier than thou’. Not all are far more interested in their own sanctification than protecting the environment.

Actually, a great many environmentalists care deeply for the environment. Some are excellent scientists doing excellent and unbiased work, and achieving excellent results, and I am sure many of those are sick and tired of having their field wrecked by the bad apples, and their credibility undermined by the distortions or incompetence of others – it is all to easy to tar everyone with the same brush and i don’t want to do that. Many have the highest regard for the principles of science and want to use it to understand the environment so that they can protect it better. Just like you and me, I hope.

However, there are some bad apples, some deliberately distorting the truth, hiding declines, making sure other scientists can’t get papers printed, reducing historic temperatures to pretend rises are higher than they are, or using dubious statistical techniques on cherry picked data to make ridiculously inaccurate graphs. Others are merely incompetent, ignoring major contributing factors in their climate models. Some try to use distorted science to further programs such as social equalisation that have nothing to do with the environment, and some advocate policies that actually harm the environment. Some mix all of the above. The reason all too often seems to be the religious appeal. Worse, liberals, vegetarians and greens don’t like being told they’re wrong and certainly not being accused of being religious, even when it is blindingly obvious to others, and some use pretty underhand combat techniques as a substitute for decent arguments.

We often hear debates about the pros and cons of religion, how it may cause wars or homophobia or racism or whatever, and some of the criticisms are justified. However, on other hand there are the benefits of love and peace and caring for one another that also typically go with religion when it is exercised properly. In environmentalism, we see the desire to protect the environment as the superficial driver, and no-one can argue with that as a motivation, but meaning well doesn’t translate into a good outcome if your motives are then mixed with others, corrupted and polluted and then directed with little more intelligence than superstition and wishful thinking. Actual outcomes from environmentalism are all too often damaging. That is why environmentalism is now becoming just as corrupted as the Christian church once was, and why it can be argued that it is doing more harm than good. The environment may well be better off if we locked up all the environmentalists, or the greens anyway.

Although there were quite a few rubbish reports by others before it, the Stern Review was the first really important paper that drove environmental policies that resulted in great harm to the environment: inadvertently encouraging draining of peat bogs and chopping of rain forests to make room for palm oil plantations, thereby releasing huge quantities of CO2; the financial incentives of carbon trading mixed with inevitable and entirely predictable corruption forcing eviction of countless families in Africa; starvation of many people because of globally increased food prices because of the diversion of agricultural land being used to grow crops for biofuel conversion. I am certain that results like this weren’t Stern’s intention, he seems a decent enough chap, but a decent economist should be able to make the most basic and obvious predictions about how people might behave when faced with financial incentives – greed is hardly a 21st century invention – so his report must take some of the blame.

But Stern’s review can’t take all the blame for everything; there has since been a long stream of nonsense from the IPCC, politicians, parts of the media and a wide selection of climate research labs and environmental NGOs. Recently, it has been demonstrated that climate models are often less accurate than a purely random extrapolation. A garden snail would be better at it, literally. Hansen’s predictions have been laughable, as have those of our own MET office. All the research funding has been wasted on them. Religion may make you feel holy, but it really isn’t much use as a predictive tool. Some excellent work is being done on the actual extent and causes of climate change, but it is very often by those dismissed as heretics by the climate change church.

Since politicians grabbed the Stern review as a rare excuse to increase both taxes and their own popularity, politicisation of science has badly polluted many areas of environmental research, and the dirty tricks of politics have destroyed much of the credibility of science as a whole. The good science is there, but is mixed with trash. But far worse is the hijacking of environmentalism as a badly designed vehicle for social levelling. I am all in favour of helping the poor, but trying to do so by throwing money down the drain on environmental subsidies for inefficient energy production ends up being very bad at both helping the poor and helping the environment. It saps money from the economy, and simply wastes it. The result is an increase in poverty, not a decrease. All so that a few people can polish their halos. Everyone loses. If we want to alleviate poverty, it would be far better to save money by using more efficient technology and then spend it on programs specifically designed to help the poor directly.

Many people have observed the similarity between the church’s indulgences and carbon offset payments. The church’s great idea was that you can sin all you like providing you pay the fees to the church. The secular equivalent of carbon trading and offsetting almost begs criminals to exploit the system, and not surprisingly, they already have, and still are.

Another similarity between the evils of religion and environmentalism is the self-flagellation practised by some medieval monks. Anything that might help the environment but doesn’t hurt people enough seems to be rejected, such as shale gas, or nuclear energy. Shale gas is six times cheaper than wind energy and produces a lower CO2 footprint (CO2 doesn’t seem to be so problematic after all but that isn’t the topic of this blog). Nuclear is well-tried and tested and even many environmentalists accept that it is a good solution, being far safer than any other form of electricity production, and producing very low carbon emissions, if that’s your metric for goodness. But most environmentalists still want wind energy for reasons that seem perverse. They seem to want to find the most expensive, ugliest, least efficient system possible so that the pain is greatest. If eagles are chopped to extinction and small animals stressed so much they can’t breed, who cares? If millions of people are upset, all the better. They also want to waste as much as possible on solar before the price comes down to sensible levels, and lock in the high costs for as long as possible. To feel good about trying to maximise pain to as many people as possible while simultaneously damaging the environment does not even appear sane, let alone benign. It is as if self-flagellation isn’t enough; it has to be inflicted on everyone before they are happy. And as for the Spanish inquisition, that is echoed too. There have been ridiculous calls for anyone who doesn’t believe the lunatic rantings of the high priests to be locked up, or even murdered.

So it seems in some ways that the downside of environmentalist religion is even worse than the most perverted practices of medieval religion. But it doesn’t even offset it by giving benefits. Because so many of them despise science, environmentalist policies are often counter-productive. An excellent example is that in the 1970s, climate scientists were recommending sprinkling black carbon on the polar ice to increase heat absorption and thereby offset the coming ice age. Now, they seek to mess with the environment to reduce heat absorption to offset global warming. Now, it looks like cooling is coming after all, they will once again be doing almost the opposite of what seems to be required. There are very many examples of environmental policy damaging the environment from wind farms to coastal erosion to fishery management. The environment would be a great deal better if environmentalists stopped trying to help it. And we’d all be richer and happier.

What is a climate scientist? Indeed, are there any?

We hear the term frequently, but what qualifies some people and not others to be classed as climate scientists?  You might think it is just someone who studies things that affect the climate. But very many people do that, not just those who call themselves climate scientists. The term actually seems to refer solely to a group who have commandeered the term for themselves and share a particular viewpoint, with partly overlapping skills in a subset of the relevant disciplines. In recent times,it seems that to be an official ‘climate scientist’ you must believe that the main thing that counts is human interference and in particular, CO2. All other factors must be processed from this particular bias.

To me, the climate looks like it is affected by a great many influences. Climate models produced by ‘climate scientists’ have been extremely poor at predicting changes so far, and one reason for this is that they exclude many of the relevant factors.

I am struggling to think of any scientific discipline that doesn’t have something to say about some influence on climate. Many branches of chemistry and physics are important in understanding how the atmosphere works, and the oceans, and glaciers, and soil. We have some understanding of some natural cycles, but far from all, and far from complete. We need biologists and chemists and physicists to tell us about soil, and forests, and ocean life, and how species and entire ecosystems react and adapt to changing circumstances, with migrations or adaptation or evolution for example. We need to understand how draining bogs or chopping trees to make room for biofuels affects the climate. How using bio-waste for fuel instead of ploughing it into the ground affects soil structure, plant growth, and carbon interchange. We need to understand how cosmic rays interact with the earth’s magnetic field, how this is affected by solar activity, how sunspots form, and even gravitational interactions with the planets that affect solar cycles. We need to understand glacial melting, how glaciers move differently as temperature changes, how black carbon from diesel engines affects their heat absorption, how clouds form, how they act to warm or cool the earth according to circumstances. We need to understand ocean cycles much better, as well as gas and heat interchange between layers, how this is affected by weather and so on. I could go on, endlessly. We need to understand the many different ways we could make energy in the future, the many options for capture and containment of emissions or pollutants, or positive effects some might have on plant growth and animal food chains.

But it doesn’t stop with science, not be a long way. We also need people skilled in anthropology and demography and sociology and human psychology, who understand how people react when faced with choices of lifestyle when presented in many different ways with different spins, or faced with intimidation or eviction because of environmental policies.  And how groups or tribes or countries will interact and distribute burdens and costs and rewards, or fight, or flee. And religious leaders who understand well the impacts of religious pressures on people’s attitudes and behaviours, even if they don’t subscribe to any organised religion. Clearly environmental behaviour has a strong religious motivation for many people, even if that is just as a crude religion substitute.

We even need people who understand animal psychology, how small mammals react to wind turbine flicker for example, and how this affects the food chain, ecosystem balance and eventual interchange with the atmosphere and the rest of the environment.

And politicians, they understand how to influence people, and marketers, and estate agents. They can help predict behaviours and adaptation and how entire countries may or will interact according to changes in climate, real or imagined.

And we need economists to look at the many alternatives and compare costs and benefits, preferably without ideological and political bias. We need to compare strategies for adaptation and mitigation and avoidance. Honestly and objectively. And we need ethicists to help evaluate the same from human perspectives.

And we need loads of mathematicians, especially statisticians. Climate science is very complicated, and a lot of measurements and trend analyses need in-depth statistical skills, apparently lacking in official climate science, as evidenced by the infamous hockey stick graph. But we also need some to model things like traffic flows so we can predict emissions from different policies.

And we need lots of engineers too, to assess likely costs and timescales for development of alternatives for energy, transport, entertainment and business IT. We need a lot of engineers!

And don’t forget architects, who influence energy balance via choices of shapes, materials and colour schemes as well as how buildings maintain a pleasant environment for the inhabitants.

Ah yes, and futurists. Many futurists are systems thinkers with an understanding of how things link together and how they may develop. You need a few of them too.

I have probably forgotten lots of others. The point is that there are very many factors that need to be included. No-one, and I mean no-one, can possibly have a good grasp of all of them. You can know a bit about a lot of things or a lot about a few things, but you can’t know a lot about everything. I would say that there are no people at all who know about all the things that affect climate in any depth, and therefore no group deserves a monopoly on that title.

So, if you only look in any depth at a few interaction in the oceans and atmosphere and ignore many of the rest of the factors affecting climate, as ‘climate scientists’ seem to, it is hard to see a good reason to continue to hold the title any more than anyone with another label like astrophysicist, or politician. ‘Climate scientists’ as we currently classify them, know a bit about some things that affect climate. So do many other groups. Having skills in a few of the relevant areas doesn’t give any right to dismiss others with skills in a different few. And if they consistently get it wrong, as they do, then there is even less reason to trust their particular viewpoints. And that’s before we even start considering whether they are even honest about the stuff they do talk about. And as Donna Lamframboise has pointed out recently, they don’t deserve to be trusted.

http://thegwpf.org/best-of-blogs/5864-donna-lamframboise-no-reasonable-person-should-trust-climate-scientists.html

What do solar panels on your roof say about you?

I mostly work from home and since my office is just a short walk from the bedroom, lounge or kitchen, I have started going on short walks round the neighbourhood to avoid becoming fat. I noticed some of my neighbours have covered their south-facing roofs with solar panels.

What image did they convey? Here is a multiple choice:

a) I had some spare cash and wanted to get a big return on my investment and solar panels offer a fantastic return.

b) I had a guy come round promising me lots of cash if I let him put panels on my roof.

c) I hate paying big greedy companies for energy and paying too much taxes, so am very keen to take full advantage when there is a means to get my own back.

d) I really love technology and am keen to demonstrate it.

e) I want everyone to know what a nice person I am looking after the environment.

f) I want to do my bit for the environment and solar panels are a good way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions.

g) I want my kids to live in a sustainable world and that is far more important than the appearance of my house.

I get the impression that each of the above would have some people ticking them. Some would tick several.

Well, I did have a guy come round offering me cash if he would let me stick panels on my roof too. I sent him away, mainly because I am a not an idiot. I had thought it through long before he came. Let me explain what image solar panels on a roof conjure up in my mind when I see them. And bear in mind that my full-time job is as a futurist and I think systemically about how people will behave over the longer term. Using the same tick list, with alternative answers:

a) I wanted a fantastic return on my investment and I don’t care at all that it is other people with less cash to invest who will pay that high return. So I am  greedy and selfish. As the recession lingers on, some people may be tempted to spray nasty messages on my door or run keys down my car doors or shame me on social networking sites, and maybe my family will live in fear or I will be forced to remove them. So I am an idiot too. I am a greedy selfish idiot.

b) I was fully taken in by a door to door salesman and didn’t understand that I could easily commission the panels myself so was happy to give most of the returns to a company who won’t have to suffer the drop in value of my home or the unsightliness, or the maintenance problems they will cause, or the hassle when I move or any other problems. So I am a first class idiot.

c) If energy companies can’t get as much from the energy they sell, they will try to increase the rental and maintenance and billing charges to maintain their revenue. And that means I will get less net profit from any energy I put back into the grid. So I probably won’t save much on what I buy and won’t make much on what I put back. And when I sell my house, even though I will get less for it because the panels make it look awful, I will probably lose heavily again in various admin fees to transfer the solar contracts over to the buyer, who probably won’t get the same deal, so won’t pay me much for it. So I am not as canny as I thought and my returns will be far less, so I am an idiot.

d) As long as I have the latest panels I will look cool and trendy. But they won’t be the latest panels for more than a few months, after which they will quickly start to look obsolete as well as unsightly, so I will have to either reinvest regularly or accept looking like a loser. So I am an idiot.

e) I care for the environment but not enough to do any basic reading and can’t think for myself anyway. I have been fully taken in by the anthropogenic global warming scam and as the global warming panic changes to global cooling panic I will increasingly be labelled as one of the idiots who went along with the AGW panic and just did what the environmentalists told me to do. I am a well-meaning idiot with little or no independent thought. Still an idiot though.

f) Solar panels will one day be an excellent way of reducing CO2 emissions, albeit in sunny countries. However, they are darker and absorb more of the sun’s energy than the roof did previously, so contribute directly to warming the earth, and manufacturing them creates loads of pollutants today, so it isn’t really quite as simple is it? And anyway, maybe we should have waited and put our panels in later, in the Sahara, and got far more energy for far lower costs, while helping poor African economies. And we now know for certain that the impact of CO2 has been greatly exaggerated and is fairly small compared to other impacts on global temperature. On the other hand, as global cooling sets in, we will welcome the extra heat absorption and I’ll be able to get my energy while helping warm the earth. But I didn’t expect it, so am a lucky idiot who landed in poo and came out smelling of roses.

g) I am holier than you are. You obviously don’t care about your kids and their future. I do, aren’t I wonderful? But I can’t think clearly so am happy to do make some ill-informed token gestures instead of things that actually help. So I am a sanctimonious idiot.

At the moment, public opinion hasn’t had time to catch up and many people are still influenced by AGW panic. But it will. Give it a while, and attitudes will migrate from the first list to the second.

I am all in favour of solar energy in the future in some sunny areas. It has an important role to play, but it isn’t as squeaky clean as it initially looks. It doesn’t need subsidised. When the technology is mature, it will be far cheaper than many other forms of energy, but it isn’t there yet. Since global warming has stopped for 15 years or more now, and it looks more and more like we are heading into a prolonged period of cooling, there is no economic or environmental justification for installing subsidised solar. If it indeed helps the environment overall, it will be far better to invest the same amount later, when we can buy more and help more. There is certainly no cause for panic based subsidies. In the short term they move money from the poor to the greedy, and in the longer term, even those people will lose out. Even the companies installing them can’t seem to survive because of the rapid technology evolution, making their investments in stock worthless and changes in subsidies undermining their business models. It really seems that there are no winners from early investment.

One day, in some places and circumstances, it may be a great idea, but for now, across the UK, rooftop solar power is for greedy, selfish, sanctimonious idiots.