Monday, July 23, 2007

Boogey me... er... atmospheric phenomena

Get used to 'em: Floods force many to face climate change reality

While there is a (pretty valid) school of thought that 'we' need a pretty big 'something' by way of a climatic kick in the pants, I do wonder if pinning everything on 'climate change' isn't going to get to be a common, and convenient, catch-all, and hence lose its effect PDQ.

I don't know for sure, but at the moment I'm guessing that these floods could equally force a few to face the facts of overpopulation, woeful political priorities, disastrous land management practices and even that most awful of all: stuff happens.

Sitting in my room on July trying to figure which water borne menace will get me first - the river coming up or the rain down/sideways - it's hard not to get the feeling that this is all a tad 'odd'. But then it is not, it seems, without historical precedent. Any hence if nature is just doing its funky thing, then all the billion £ claims are more a matter of how many of us there are now, where we were told/allowed to stick our homes, and fill 'em with expensive kit for insurers to try and get out of paying for.

So when I see such as this: "...mechanism may well explain an observed rise in flash floods in Europe over the last decade.." I worry a bit. Especially with the all too wonderful 'may'.

At least this is definitive: '... parts of China have seen the heaviest rainfall since records began,' though I have expressed caution on 'toll' figures bearing in mind our race's spread over the planet. The Boxing Day tsunami killed a lot more than Krakatoa because in those days Swedish tourists were not skinny-bathing in Phuket, and half of India hadn't cut down the mangrove swaps to get a sea view.

I'm no statistician, so I'll go with this: 'This year's UK floods were an event statistical models say should happen once only every 30 to 50 years, Mehlhorn says: the floods in 2000 were a 25-30 years event. Two such events in only seven years are not statistically impossible, but they are unlikely. Other countries have seen similar increases in such disasters.' But again I think it too easy to just say that it's down to what is dropping from the skies and not a lot to do with what it is all dropping on.

And, frankly, one (while critical) is in the future, while the other is now. So while both need addressing, let it be for the right reasons, and not to get a lot of pretty key questions off a load of folk who should be tasked to explain themselves. Because if we don't have the right folk, with the right abilities, and the right motivations in charge of the future... we're screwed.

And that IS scary.

Floods and tears

I think this whole deal deserves a dedicated page. Let's start off with this from the Green Party:

Greens condemn government response to flooding

Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall today condemned the
government's management of floods in the UK:

"The chaos caused by flooding over the last few weeks is just a tiny
taster of what climate change will mean in the future. Climate
change will lead to more extreme weather rather than simply warming

"It's as if Evesham has been hit by Hurrican Katrina and Gordon Brown
is showing all the signs of leadership of his climate change denying
ally George Bush

"Government failure to prepare for the flooding is matched by
government failure to tackle the causes of climate change. On the
one hand the government is encouraging the building of new houses on
flood plains, on the other it is expanding Heathrow and our motorway

"We need to cut CO2 by 90 per cent in the next few decades.

"At present Britain is neither cutting greenhouse gases nor
prepaparing to deal with the consequences of climate change. It is
like a Doctor would will neither prevent nor attempt to cure an illness.

"We must stop building on flood plains, invest in flood protection
but above all, cut back on the expansion of roads, airports and new
fossil fuel power stations.

Hard to argue with most of that. Written in a hurry, looks like!
More to come, I'm sure.

Reuters - Thousands without water after floods in England
Indy - A 21st century catastrophe - '...a disaster caused by 21st-century weather. This weather is different from anything that has gone before.' I don't know, so I merely ask: is this the case? I merely note the meteorologist's opinion on Newsnight in an associated blog post. The rest is worth reading though, but I must confess to being confused now.
Indy - Ministers under fire as experts warn of worse to come - And when it does, I am sure it will be unpredicted... again. How is that we can't even get the financial numbers straight?
Indy - Get used to floods - actually quite rational

Guardian - Ministers warned three years ago over flood defence failings - All together now, 'Oh no we weren't!'. "Oh yes you were!" It's a bad pantomime.
Guardian - Going under - some explanations

BBC - Floods: At-a-glance - If your feet are wet it's too late
BBC - Claims over floods to 'top £2bn' - And I think the wrong folk end up paying
BBC - Humans 'affect global rainfall' - I'm pretty sure we affect a lot more than that!

Indy - Amid this latest apocalypse, the prophets of doom are all peddling their own agendas - But I'm guessing most will have no blooming clue what they are on about if this is a sample.
Indy - Drought, growth and a changing climate
Indy Letters - Some interesting views

Times - Shocking news: Britain’s a wet country - 65 posts! 66 now:

It's a pity this has become an is/isn't climate change issue.

But then that's probably fine by those in power and heading up various quangos who have been saying that it's all 'unprecedented' when it isn't, and 'couldn't be predicted' when it was.

So while this diversionary argument - though a key one, globally - rages, those who should be held to account for why the water that fell (for whatever reason) ended up in a suburban semi's living room. And why my insurance rates go up to compensate.

It's not just the planet that ends up paying for such ineptitude.

ADDENDUM - actually it's an archive I just got round to:

Times - Labour plans flood defence cuts as Britain flounders in the deluge - I'm guessing not, now. A fun read, this way round.

Times - If this is a national disaster, I’m a tomato

I suppose it's open to a semantic debate as to how bad it needs to get before we hit 'disaster' as an acceptable term, but as the discussion is what one sees in the media I was just looking at your own paper from earlier this month: Labour plans flood defence cuts as Britain flounders in the deluge And then I was trying to reconcile this with 'The Government has proved itself calmly competent. ... the pragmatic, unhysterical approach of the new Prime Minister has suited the country well. No soundbites; no grimaces; no posturing.' as the words from this same person and his calmly competent acolytes are still ringing in my ears: 'This is unprecedented... there was no way to predict it'. When, of course, it isn't and it wasn't'.

Remind me, and those currently not in theri comfy sitting room, is a tomato a over-ripe fruit or a tastless vegetable?

The Ecologist - High Tide

You're quite right. 'We' do tend to be moving towards a blame culture, don't we?

But then again, I think that refers to the trend of not holding ourselves accountable for things we pretty much do to, or bring upon ourselves.

There are still quite a few instances where 'we' are required to play ball and/or pay a bunch of folk an awful lot of money to make things run smoothly and safely.

So when something is immediately pointed anywhere but where it should be by a cabinet of Chicken Littles and their chattering class supporters, especially solely skywards, as 'an Act of God (well, that plus anthrowhatsit climate change)' that 'is without precedent (not according to the meteorologist with 30 years' experience I saw on Newsnight) ' and 'could not have been predicted (not according to the front page I read in the Guardian)' I'm afraid I do start to wonder who is doing what for the money, and whether they are doing it effectively or even competently.

Especially when the water I am more worried about is not coming up from the river but down from paved over farmland or drainage systems that cannot cope through poor planing or maintenance.

Of course 'we' are not in control. Thanks to our ever-increasing spread across this planet there is a ton of stuff, which yes, does happen, and there will doubtless be tons more. But we try and prepare, mitigate and, if all else fails, cope.

If those tasked to do it screw up, and then try and blame the boogey man, I'm sorry, that's not finger pointing, asking why is just an absolutely necessary demand for accountability.

And to try and redirect the appropriate questions from some very key areas and people means that history, and nature, will just repeat itself. Which will not serve future generations very well.

And yes, weren't the fireman super? But might it not be better to keep them for the fires and get in place guys who might do their jobs well enough that these noble souls are not called out to pluck grannies from floodplain-located housing estates it would be 'unrealistic' not to build?

Just a thought.

Putting the cart before the horse?

At least this little piece from The Beeb may provide some with a smile on a dismal, damp, and for many, flooded Monday morning.

I noted with an ironic smile the name of the horse and an even bigger smile when I noted the name of the first passenger. I hope that Clarkson's a strong horse!

Thing is, a horse and cart during London's rush hour is probably just about as fast as a car anyway. I wonder if they'll be exempt from Ken's congestion charge?

As for helping the environment, well, it's probably nothing but a minuscule drop in the floods really.

Independent Assessement?

One of the defining aspects of modern life is convenience.

We either don't have, are not given or simply think we don't have time to do anything unless it is easy and now.

I was pondering this this morning. I have been given an extra half day thanks to the floods preventing me getting to my next 'summit', and have decided to invest a little time in the media's 'take' on it all.

Thing is, I am, like most, pretty time poor. And my news snacking is hence governed primarily on convenience. And the differences are marked.

Taking the 'big 4' 'qualities' (well, that's their term) as a fair spread of left/right, social/consumerist information and opinion, I should at least try and scope the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Indy.

Now the Times does, not (to the best of my knowledge) send a daily email. That makes them a daily visit, which is hassle. Though I do like their article listings when you do. Plus they do allow comment, though they moderate a lot and you are not allowed a link to your site.

The Telegraph used to send my a daily email, but it has gone now. They do allow comment on some limited things as well.

The Guardian also used to send me a daily, but that also has vanished. And they of course have 'comment is free', which I do indulge in. Bit of a 'club' though.

And that leaves the Indy. They don't have any comment system that I can find, other than letters to the editor, and so far they have not fancied any of mine. Their loss. But a pity.

But what I do get, and like, is their daily email. Clear categories, click to link.

And hence of them all, I mostly use theirs. For no better reason than convenience. Sad.

But it was interesting as today's allowed me to look at what I was being served up and be more critical. Especially with some rather exciting times in the whole politico-enviro water-borne unfirmament, with the Indy falling down on the green end of the spectrum, one supposes.

Here are the headings on this topic I scrolled down:

Scientists confirm global warming link to increased rain
- 'Hmnn...' he said, Homer Simpson style... 'scientists'.

'There's been nothing like this since 1938'
- Or all manner of other dates I've heard trotted out. So in 1938 they copped the consequences of the Industrial revolution then? And we're now getting the fallout (literally) from WW2? Something either doesn't make sense, or it is not being well explained to me.

Record rainfall hits China - OK, at least they are getting it on record levels (though from where it does not say. And sorry to be brutal, but if there are lot more of us around, a lot more are going to suffer from natural disasters, so human counts are a bit of a red herring) . It's the 50 coal-fired power stations, I tell you (in Mandarin)!

Science reporting's dark secret - Worth bearing in mind as you read:)

Leading article: The blame game and a plan for the future - 'It is impossible to state unequivocally that the floods that have caused such misery in parts of England over recent days are a direct consequence of accelerating climate change'. Doesn't quite tally with the first one, though, does it?

Ministers will allow thousands of new homes in flood zones
- I guess they are hoping for a quick vote before the next downpour.

And, finally , the Letters page - One on windfarms makes an interesting read in the context of the moment. Addendum - trying to find out a bit more, I found this, which may (or not) offer some balance.

Now... is that enough to inform me adequately, and lead to a balanced view on things?

The policy that dare not speak its name .....

.... appears yet again in one of the Sunday's.

This from yesterday's Observer, an article about Chris Rapley, the new head of the science museum, who argues that a reduction in the planet's birthrate is the easiest method of minimising the impacts of climate change.

"What I am saying is that if we invest in ways to reduce the birthrate - by improving contraception, education and healthcare - we will stop the world's population reaching its current estimated limit of between eight and 10 billion. That in turn will mean less carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere because there will be fewer people to drive cars and use electricity."

His views concur with the recent report from the Optimum Population Trust, which called for each couple in Britain to be limited to having two children each.

I wonder how long before one of the main political parties starts to dare to contemplate policies such as this? It couldn't happen, could it?

And interesting to note that there is an estimated theoretical limit for the planet's population, which is 8 to 10 billion. What do we number now - somewhere in excess of 6 billion?

What a shower

There is a certain irony (well, or worse) to a bunch of eco-types like me converging on a place using various carbon-emitting methods to get there.

Or not.

I am just back from almost getting to Cheltenham for another climate gathering. But it was not to be. Maybe just as well, as I am not too sure how my own home will fare as things seem to be deteriorating. I say seems, as I have to suggest that one thing that really has got to me is how poor the information is, or at least how it is disseminated.

I checked the Environment, Highways Agencies and the AA to see about making my trip, and from what I could gather it was fine. It may be the information was out there, but I sure as heck couldn't access it easily.

I only found out about my trip's impossibility when I passed from BBC Hereford and Worcester to BBC Gloucester on the radio. For heaven's sake, guys, people do travel between counties. How about coverage slightly beyond your little sphere?

Ditto flooding. Why can't one just key in a postcode and get the latest info. I tried it on the EA site but really got no joy. All I could get was an archive map of the flood plain for my area (pictured). Thing is, if the water gets to some places indicated we're all in trouble. It covers a hill that probably rises 50m. Time to get on to the EA and my insurers to point out that even a metre matters to know if you are going to be underwater, and what the costs of protection are/should be. I certainly plan some defences as this is all not going to improve.

By way of a few thoughts at the end, I noted with interest as I headed back several acres covered with polytunnels. I'm guessing these don't allow the water to soak away?

Also the BBC proudly showing us where I just wasn't, Tewksbury... from a helicopter. Just to show us the water treatment plant. Solar-powered whirlybird was it, guys?

And speaking of the water treatment planet, I am guessing those who reckon bottled water is the eco-antichrist might either by saying a) 'told you so' or b) 'give me all the Evians on the shelf, quick' depending on where they are sitting. A bit like 4x4s, you need to be careful what you wish for. I know these things are not optimal in comparison to other options, but are they really worthy of all the efforts to ban them in comparison to other major climate change causes, and is it worth losing them as options as they do seem to offer certain advantages to cope with some situations?

Still, as a cheery Beeb has shared, at least the berry crops are doing well. I wonder if they are grown under plastic?

Keeping track of business

This blog cocks a quizzical eyebrow at the activities of some in the corporate world from time to time. But it's usually case specific and subjective. So try Climate Counts too.

This website may be the place to go to get a broader analysis.

Introduced by ClimateBiz, the blurb was enough to get me to check it out:

Every week it seems like a new company -- or a slew of companies -- hops on the climate fight bandwagon: Company A goes carbon-neutral; Company B signs on to a climate-change pact. The end result is often a lot of fanfare without much follow-up: are these companies actually making concrete plans to meet their goals? And if so, what effect will it have?

So it's understandable to see the news this month that consumers don't necessarily trust companies or the government when it comes to climate change information. The whole topic -- complex, scientific, overly techy and hard to sort fact from fiction -- seems almost a perfect recipe to inspire public cynicism. Is one company's 10 percent reduction better or worse than another company's 20 percent reduction? Depending on what they're really talking about, it might be. But who really knows?

All of which makes Climate Counts, a new organization that rates companies on their climate performance, even more refreshing. By taking a clear look at how well companies are living up to their climate-change goals -- grandiose or moderate as they may be -- Climate Counts stands a chance of leveling the playing field, and creates the kinds of norms and standards we all need to understand and assess companies' climate commitment, or lack thereof. Stay tuned as we see if this tool helps companies walk their talk.

The provenenace behind it looks OK, but keep a wary eye on motivations (you know ours - we only really care about enviROI, and when it sucks, we call a spade a duck)

So when we read such as this - 'STRIDING - The best Climate Counts choice. These companies still have work to do, but they're beginning to hit their stride. Let them know you value their commitment and look forward to their continued climate leadership.' - about Coke, we do wonder.

Maybe becuase it's US-based.