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The end of the world is nigh! - Ed's journal
sobrique
sobrique
The end of the world is nigh!
On the radio this morning was a discussion about carbon emissions and global warming.
The general gist of it was, that the environmental scientists, have now accepted that climate change is now inevitable, and if we can keep our carbon emissions down, we may not hit the 'point of no return'.

The problem is, I can't really see enough people giving up cars, transport, electricity and all the other conveniences of life. Because 'their bit' is a drop in the ocean, and why should they when no one else will.

So basically, we're coming close to crisis point. Oil is running out. Climate change and icecap melting is now a question of 'how bad' not 'whether it'll happen'. Nuclear energy is about our only alternative - despite it's problems it's carbon emissions are low. Unfortunately the time to build a nuclear power plant is actually quite substantial.

So basically, if we can stop churning out carbon dioxide, we might be able to get away with a 2 degree temperature change, and a bit of icemelt, flooding and hurricanes.
Problem is, how do you tell America and China that they really really need to tidy their rooms? We're just about able to convince the rest of the EU that this could be a really big problem, but it looks like that might just be cutting the rest of the world another 10 years.


The details may be found on the BBC website


Oh, and there's a new BOFH episdoe - http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/01/27/bofh_2006_episdoe_4/
21 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: feanelwa Date: January 30th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC) (Link)
The river in Cambridge is at a level of about halfway up my living room but is over there behind a raised bank, and is about six inches below that bank. Oh bugger.
jorune From: jorune Date: January 30th, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
You and I have a whelk's chance in a supernova of changing the policy of the US and China. This could change:

US
a) The next Pres of the US could be a democrat, congress could change from republican to democrat and we might see some weak change. This is unlikely given the relative impotence of the democrats at the moment.
b) More importantly the Christian Right could decide that they have a divine mission to save God's Earth from Climate change. This is a minority opinion but it is growing in strength. Then we could see some broad measures with cross party support.

China
c) The most recent Peoples Party Congress announced that the age of rapid growth was coming to an end and that the Party would be looking for sustainable growth in the future. This is the view from the centre but one that does not necessarily hold in the provinces. Furthermore even though China has strong environmental laws, their enforcement is dependent on the view of the local Party officials. The primary goal of the Chinese Communist Party is remain in power they do this through three aspects
i) We are the Party of growth, we give you TV's and Washing Machines
ii) We are Nationalist, China is a great nation that does not need to listen outside influence
iii) We are a Party of peace and harmony, we will let you get on with your life as long as you do not criticise our right to rule.

If the environment were to change then the Party would react under iii) to maintain harmony and stamp on anyone who was damaging it.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 30th, 2006 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's only really a religious organisation that carrier the weight of 'look out for your fellow humans'. I can see that making the difference.
The rest though? I'm not convinced that either America or China _can_ change the way it's going.

At the end of the day, pollution is simply a side effect of their economic prosperity. In America 'big business' has too much power to say 'no, actually we like burning down rainforests,.... look at the shiny money.'
In China, I can't see the goverment cutting off it's current industrial revolution in order to reduce pollution. At least, not until they've overtaken the US. I can see them blocking all the websites suggesting China is a big source of pollution though.
ool272 From: ool272 Date: January 30th, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
a) The next Pres of the US could be a democrat, congress could change from republican to democrat and we might see some weak change. This is unlikely given the relative impotence of the democrats at the moment.

It doesn't seem impossible that the Democrats will make substantial gains in November given Bush's abysmal popularity ratings, but they never propose anything radical, ever.

b) More importantly the Christian Right could decide that they have a divine mission to save God's Earth from Climate change. This is a minority opinion but it is growing in strength. Then we could see some broad measures with cross party support.

That wouldn't make any difference even were it to happen. The evangelicals are a very convenient voting base for the Republicans, but the party hierarchy don't really believe that stuff, and oil industry interests are always going to trump them. The religious right are never terribly happy with the performance of the party on their behalf by all accounts. But what are they going to do, vote Democrat?

Technology is the only thing that will put the brakes on this, if you ask me. If someone can come up with a cheap form of transport that dramatically cuts carbon emissions, then we might have a shot.

At the climate change march I went on at the end of last year George Monbiot said that he thought the only hope was for people to change their energy consumption habits. Perhaps this is never likely to happen on a large scale, but I don't think that's any excuse not to act personally. If your computer is on unused all day or your TV is on standby or you find yourself making unnecessary car journeys and yet you still class yourself as concerned about climate change, it's worth reflecting a bit.
(Deleted comment)
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: January 30th, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do you have any evidence the oil industry has ever done anything of the sort? Because frankly I don't think it's anything other than a conspiracy theory/urban myth. And even if it did happen it isn't any more, Oil Companies are some of the biggest investors in alternative technologies; they know as well the next guy that their days are numbered.
xarrion From: xarrion Date: January 31st, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
This:
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8650
Reminded me of your comment :)

ool272 From: ool272 Date: January 30th, 2006 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, if car manufacturers, who are hardly powerless, see the opportunity to make money out of an alternative, they'll go for it. We have hybrids and LPG cars on the roads, after all, and work is going into hydrogen prototypes.

Not, of course, that I would like to give the impression that I am generally a fan of the car industry. I sometimes feel that the only real check on corporate power is other corporations.
jorune From: jorune Date: January 30th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I believe that the religious right are not happy with the Republicans because they are not Conservative enough. They talk the talk but don't necessarily walk the walk. The Republicans have control of the White House and Congress and they really need the religious right if they are going to continue that. Traditionally the southern religious right has voted Democrat, this is why Texas is traditionally Democrat yet is a deeply conservative state.

The White House is more pro church than it is pro business. I think you underestimate the power and strength of the religious right in the US.
From: apostle13 Date: January 31st, 2006 10:51 am (UTC) (Link)
As far as I am aware, church/religion is business in the USA; at the very least, there is considerable overlap between the two mentalities.

Just look at the marketing, media spin and competition involved in religion in the USA. Huge advertising billboards, televangelism, it's surely big business. We'll save your soul for only $99*.

Within American culture, religion, politics and business seem to be hopelessly intermingled rather than mutually exclusive, and it often proves to be a worring blend.

People will believe what they want to believe (or what they are told to believe) regarding religion, global warming or anything else for that matter. Consider that over 40% of Americans believe the bible to be literal truth (yes, literal, without metaphor, so their world is ~6000 years old, falling somewhat short of the generally accepted scientifically determined value of ~4.5 billion years! Also, during "Noah's flood", how come the ancient Egyptian civilisation wasn't at all affected? I could go on, but I won't - I doubt there's any need).

I think it's a kind of corollary of NIMBYism - until the effects of global warming hit their backyard, they will take no notice.
Maybe when the ocean swallows Florida, a few minds will be changed. Though given the amount of US cities built on swamps and reclaimed land, you'd think they'd be a little more concerned.

But then of course there's China, and India... it becomes essentially an "all or nothing" endeavour, I suppose, and given the odds of all nations complying, I think we'll be stuck with nothing. From here on in it looks likely to become damage limitation - perhaps less of an issue for the high-altitude or wealthy nations, but bad news for any low-lying, poor countries.
Politics and business have always tended to work on timescales of years; there was and is no scope for the long-term planning needed to avert something like this. There's even only one viable short-term "stop-gap" solution (nuclear power) but look at all the mess that has managed to surround that approach. Let's face it, we're doomed ;-)


*Caution: may require continual church attendance, toeing the line, and further donations - comes with lifetime guarantee!**
**Legal Addendum: lifetime guarantee void after death ;-)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 31st, 2006 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Unfortunately by the time we start to notice, it'll be too late.
Personally I think the larger number of major hurricanes in the last year or two is one of the first warning signs.
By the time something 'drastic enough' to not be explained away as 'just normal variance' happens, it'll be far too late.

It _is_ NIMBYism of a sort. Maybe in reverse a bit - I don't want to have to cut down on my resource usage, but everyone else should.

I don't know what the timescales are, but I have a feeling even if we started building enough nuclear power plants to cover our needs right now, it would be too little, too late.

Especially if you're trying to set examples for countries suffering major population/industrial growth, trying to jumpstart from 'underdeveloped' to 'world economy'. Can you _really_ see china/india accepting that they're just going to have to stay less developed than EU/US?
From: apostle13 Date: January 31st, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
[For some reason it feels like we might be trolling each other here, which is weird because we seem to be of a reasonably similar opinion - anyway, I'll bite]

Yes, it probably is too late - hence the comment that it is likely to be a damage limitation exercise from here on in.

Yes, I wondered whether it could be described as inverse-NIMBYism, but I think it's more of an extension of NIMBY principles/mentality rather than a reverse application as such, so I settled for it being a corollary (yes, I am a little worried that I put this amount of thought and consideration into an essentially offhand comment).

Timescales for nuclear are ~5 years to build and get running IIRC, but add another 5 years for bureaucracy, particularly planning permission. Personally, I think the optimal strategy would be to slam out a few nuclear plants, subsidise/enforce microgeneration etc. (solar panels, miniature wind/water turbines, housing insulation) where possible, invest heavily in wave power (probably the only renewable with a viable output wattage) and hope for the best. Well, the optimal "solution" would be to discover cold fusion, or to vastly improve current nuclear fusion technology, but the chances are "vanishingly small" and "too small to think about" respectively, so we have to be realistic ;-)

As for the China/India scenario, I agree. Everyone plays an international game of "follow the leader", and the leading economic model seems to be the US, where you're not happy/"successful" unless you're driving a gas-guzzling 'SUV' and living in a house stuffed full of appliances. Everyone wants to live the American Dream, which may quickly prove to be a nightmare.
From: apostle13 Date: February 1st, 2006 12:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or, of course, we can go with "The Dilbert Future":

Install giant hamster-wheel style generators outside corner shops, and offer a free lottery ticket in exchange for five minutes of running on it.

Problem solved.
ool272 From: ool272 Date: January 31st, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I believe that the religious right are not happy with the Republicans because they are not Conservative enough. They talk the talk but don't necessarily walk the walk.

Yes, exactly.

The Republicans have control of the White House and Congress and they really need the religious right if they are going to continue that.

They have the religious right, just as the Democrats have the unions despite kicking them in the teeth half the time. There's no question of these groups going to the other side, so you just need to give them a few sops now and again.

Traditionally the southern religious right has voted Democrat, this is why Texas is traditionally Democrat yet is a deeply conservative state.

It is traditionally Democratic (it hasn't actually gone Democratic since 1976 and looks unlikely to at any time in the foreseeable future) but tradition means little because the positions of the US parties relative to each other have changed significantly in history. The Republicans once verged on the revolutionary left; Marx wrote to Lincoln praising him.

The White House is more pro church than it is pro business.

No, I think that's just wrong, frankly. Do you know who these people are? Look into the backgrounds of most of the Bush cabinet and terms like “CEO” and “chairman” pop up all over the place. But few of them are regarded as members of the Christian Right, and the senior figures other than Bush (and Ashcroft in the first term) aren't generally given to public expressions of piety. I find it hard to believe that these elite businesspeople suddenly experienced a secret conversion once they went into politics. I find it particularly implausible that Cheney, who is often regarded as the one actually running the show, really gives a fuck about the RR. It just doesn't fit with what we know about him. Bush is born again, but Bush is a chimp in a suit. He doesn't dictate policy.

A good example of how the White House views the RR is how they cynically put a referendum on gay marriage on the same day as the 2004 election in several states, hoping to bring more people whose instincts were generally Republican to the ballot box. By all accounts it worked.

I could talk about the tax cuts and who they most benefited, the proposals for privatisation of Social Security, Halliburton, Enron, Bush's time in Texas, and so on. On the other hand, what have they actually followed through on for the RR? The same-sex marriage amendment has been quietly dropped. Perhaps the Supreme Court appointments make a change in abortion law more likely, but they could have been a lot less ambiguous with their choices if this was their main intention.

I'd also mention that the money that ideological groups put into political donations is completely dwarfed by the money business puts in. Money talks.

I think you underestimate the power and strength of the religious right in the US.

I don't. I've seen a tendency in secularly-minded people in the UK to see the RR as the problem with US politics, when it doesn't actually dictate many of the government's actions at all. Take them away, and the system will still be sick.
jorune From: jorune Date: February 1st, 2006 07:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Here's why I think 'The White House is more pro church than it is pro business.'

Clearly the White House is pro Church and pro business. The question is which has more influence than the other. The conservative wing of the Republican party is divided between social and fiscal conservatives and it is the social 'pro church' conservatives who are in favour.

When we look at the key debates coming out of this administration we see that are framed and moulded using the social conservatives ideals rather than the pro business fiscal conservatives. Education is not primarily about improving literacy and competitiveness but about Darwin and Intelligent Design. The new supreme court justices were chosen for their social values rather than their pro business rulings. They have made pro business rulings but the focus of attention was on the topics that matter to social conservatives.

This White House has massively increased the size of the govt through the Dept of Homeland Security and massively increased the size of the Federal Deficit. Two things that would be unlikely for a pro business White House to do because Fiscal conservatives believe in small govt in people and money. The less govt there is the more opportunities there are for business. Fiscal conservatives are hopping mad at the White House for its lax attitude to public finances. While the fiscal conservatives criticise the Democrats for their 'tax and spend' policies, Bush spends like a Democrat while cutting taxes. This stores up economic problems for the future and some hardline fiscal conservatives claim this is anti business.

Given a choice of expressing a pro church/social opinion or a pro business opinion I believe this administration will usually opt for the pro church/social choice. Now this may be pro business as well but it will be primarily pro church.
ool272 From: ool272 Date: February 1st, 2006 08:03 am (UTC) (Link)
There's a big difference between being fiscally conservative and being pro-business. Fiscal conservatives hate corporate welfare, or at least they should. Business loves corporate welfare, for obvious reasons. No, the fiscal conservatives in the GOP don't have much to cheer about, but business doesn't care about ideology. It mostly just cares about making money. There are plenty of ways Bush can (and has) helped business out without going down a small government route.

Bush may have talked about intelligent design, but he's signed into law legislation that fits more with "improving literacy and competitiveness" - look up No Child Left Behind.

It's too early to tell with the justices really, but I still think that if their main concern was religiously inclined social views, they could have done more.

It's hard to imagine a situation in which the White House would be given the clear cut choice of jumping one way for religion and the other for business, but I do think that their actions are far more suggestive of being in thrall to the latter than the former.
From: jamesaach Date: January 30th, 2006 05:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
If I haven't mentioned it before at this site, there is an entertaining lay person's guide to nuclear power available at no cost on the net. It is a thriller novel by a longtime US nuclear engineer (me). Readers seem to enjoy it, judging from comments at the home page. It is avaialbe in online episodic form or as a PDF for download.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 31st, 2006 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, I'll take a look.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: February 1st, 2006 12:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
People are talking about wanting to make changes without giving up their conveniences. Generally you will find that this is possible. You just need to look into it more.

For example, there is quite a lot of electricity available in the UK from renewable sources. The government imposes on fuel companies that 15% must be obtained from green sources, and the companies will provide green tariffs. Of course with big companies that just means you're paying more for the green fuel they're already producing, but there are some smaller companies produce only green energy.

It costs a few hundred quid to fit solar panels to your home, at which point you can sell energy to the national grid when you're producing excess and buy it back at the same rate when you don't produce enough.

As for transport, it's no good doomsaying cars and bemoaning public transport. Both have their uses, and we do the best with what we have available to us. But people often forget alternatives such as riding a bike and even, if you're so inclined, roller-blading and skateboarding.

I'm not saying that these choices suit everyone, but that there are options.
From: apostle13 Date: February 3rd, 2006 10:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Re: > It costs a few hundred quid to fit solar panels to your home, at which point you can sell energy to the national grid when you're producing excess and buy it back at the same rate when you don't produce enough.

I thought it was more like a few thousand quid (possibly helped by subsidies) for photovoltaic panels (which you would need to produce electricity to sell on to the National Grid).
Or were you referring to a DIY solar water heating job, which is £500-£1500 (or £2000-£5000 for commercial installation!)?

I could be wrong (in fact in this case I would love to be wrong!), so please give a link if the price has come down anywhere for PV panels - a few hundred quid would be a real bargain for them!

After all, £8000-£15000 was the last estimate I heard about for typical domestic PV installation:
http://www.greenenergy.org.uk/pvuk2/faq/faqs.html
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: February 3rd, 2006 10:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm going by word of mouth from a friend who's hoping to do it sometime soon. I don't know exactly what he's going to install, but he did say a few hundred, and says it's a viable consideration if you're planning to stay in the house for more than a couple of years because you make back your money in fuel bills and then a bit. I guess that wouldn't be the case if we were talking thousands, but frankly I just don't know the actual figures involved.
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