Friday, November 06, 2009

Gore abandons science-talk for theology

The science is too pesky and he was after all a divinity student once

Al’s Gore’s much-anticipated sequel to An Inconvenent Truth is published today, with an admission that facts alone will not persuade Americans to act on global warming and that appealing to their spiritual side is the way forward....

Much of the material was developed through the series of brainstorming sessions organised by Gore. Since 2007, the former vice-president has been calling experts together to discuss possible solutions to climate change. He has also held countless telephone conversations with scientists at America’s best institutions.

“He is one of the only politicians that takes the time to actually talk to scientists who are producing the cutting-edge stuff and he comes in with questions. He doesn’t ask us how our results impinge on a particular policy he actually asks about science,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who spoke to Gore along with colleagues four or five times for the book. “Nobody that we have dealt with has ever taken as much time to understand the subtlety of the science and all the different complications and what it all means as Al Gore.”

Those conversations led Gore to politically inconvenient conclusions in this new book. In his conversations with Schmidt and other colleagues at the beginning of the year, Gore explored new studies – published only last week – that show methane and black carbon or soot had a far greater impact on global warming than previously thought. Carbon dioxide – while the focus of the politics of climate change – produces around 40% of the actual warming.

Gore acknowledged to Newsweek that the findings could complicate efforts to build a political consensus around the need to limit carbon emissions. “Over the years I have been among those who focused most of all on CO2, and I think that’s still justified,” he told the magazine. “But a comprehensive plan to solve the climate crisis has to widen the focus to encompass strategies for all” of the greenhouse culprits identified in the Nasa study.

The former vice-president has been working behind the scenes to try to nudge the White House and Congress to move forward on a 920-page proposed law to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions and encourage its use of clean energy sources like solar and wind power. On Saturday, he told the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, he was “almost certain” Obama would attend the negotiations. The White House has so far refused to make a commitment.

But Gore has also been confronted with almost daily fresh reminders of the difficulties of prodding Americans to action. The proposed legislation has set off a ferocious debate about the costs of dealing with climate change – with conservative Democrats and Republicans saying reducing America’s use of oil will deepen unemployment and hurt average American families.

Republicans in the Senate have threatened to boycott a session today that had been called to move forward a draft of a 920-page proposed law to deal with climate change. Progress on the bill is seen as crucial to getting a binding deal at Copenhagen. Barbara Boxer, the chair of the Senate’s environment and public works committee, said yesterday she was ready to move ahead without any Republican participation.


Damn this false God! How in the name of sanity can being green be a religion?

Have you ever noticed how closely green zealotry resembles religious fanaticism? Well, now the law has, in effect, recognised environmentalism as a religion. An employee who claimed his boss showed 'contempt' for his green beliefs has won the right to seek unlimited damages for unfair dismissal. In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Barton found in favour of Tim Nicholson, who was made redundant by the property company he worked for. The judge argued that a 'philosophical belief which is based on science' should receive the same protection as religious beliefs.

Some of us would question whether the more extreme opinions of green activists have any basis in science at all. For example, their violent opposition to nuclear power runs against the tide of scientific opinion.

Climate change is a contentious issue, yet green activists brook no opposition to their views that unless we give up air travel, throw away our lightbulbs and slaughter every cow, the world is doomed.

But Mr Justice Barton is profoundly mistaken to suppose that, just because greens often behave like zealots, therefore their beliefs amount to a religion. A political ideology, such as environmentalism, is not a religion. Only totalitarian societies such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia try to turn politics into a religion - with disastrous consequences for human freedom.

The whole of Western civilisation has Jewish and Christian roots, without which it cannot thrive. There is no comparison between the fundamental role of Christianity in our history and that of ephemeral red or green political fashions. In our militantly secular society, however, official recognition of people's religious convictions - especially Christian ones - is being constantly eroded. For example, a Christian registrar in Islington, North London, was sacked because she felt unable to conduct civil partnership ceremonies at her register office, arguing that homosexuality runs contrary to Christian morality. An even more notorious case was that of the British Airways check-in worker who was suspended for wearing a crucifix.

That well-worn prophecy attributed to G.K. Chesterton - 'When men stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything' - now seems more pertinent than ever.

It appears that no fashionable nostrum, from Madonna's Kabbalah to Carole Caplin's crystals, is too fatuous. Today, the chattering classes might more accurately be called the credulous classes. They hold everything sacred up to ridicule, while treating as sacred all that is most ridiculous.

And so the green creed of Mr Nicholson is protected by law, while the belief that a child is best brought up by a mother and a father, on which Catholic adoption agencies have traditionally been based, is expressly prohibited by the courts who insist that those same agencies must allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

It seems the only religion that is still sometimes granted unqualified respect and cast-iron protection in Britain is Islam. Our bold secularists are unaccountably timid when it comes to offending Muslim sensibilities. But nobody is afraid of trampling over the rich legacy that Christianity has bequeathed to our civilisation.

And so the green creed of Mr Nicholson is protected by law, while the belief that a child is best brought up by a mother and a father, on which Catholic adoption agencies have traditionally been based, is expressly prohibited by the courts who insist that those same agencies must allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

The European Court of Human Rights has this week ordered Italy, the heartland of Catholicism, to remove crucifixes from classrooms on the bizarre grounds that these traditional symbols are a violation of pupils' religious and educational liberties. The secularists who are behind such aggressive campaigns want nothing less than to extinguish Europe's Christian identity.

What will replace Judaeo-Christian morality, based on the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount? We have only to look at the horrors on our streets and our sink estates to see how the vacuum created by secularism is being filled by an amoral morass of lawlessness.

Green zealotry is one of the most influential of the pseudo-religions that today substitute for Christianity. It offers a view of the world in which the true believer in, say, manmade global warming can feel morally superior to the sceptic.

One of the arguments by which Mr Nicholson persuaded Mr Justice Barton was his claim that he no longer travels by aircraft, because air travel produces carbon emissions. Yet the prejudice against air travel is preposterous humbug. Not only do the most zealous advocates of extreme environmentalism, such as Al Gore, turn out to have the largest 'carbon footprint', but the entire green movement, not to mention such global jamborees as next month's Copenhagen climate change summit, is made possible only by air travel.

Mr Nicholson and others who share his views are entitled to do without air travel. That is their right in a free society. But they are not entitled to bully others who wish to fly abroad for work or pleasure. Yet that is the consequence of elevating their zealotry into a legally protected realm. How many employers will discipline an employee who tries to make colleagues feel guilty every time they take a trip by air?

Mr Justice Barton has contributed to placing the greens above the law. In doing so, he is following a trend. Last year, six Greenpeace activists were cleared of causing £30,000 of criminal damage at Kingsnorth in Kent, the first of a new generation of coal-fired power stations. The Greenpeace zealots persuaded the court at Maidstone that they were entitled to damage the power station - which they claimed was causing climate change - because climate change might cause even greater damage to the planet. This dangerous verdict, which legitimised violent protests, has now been reinforced by Mr Justice Barton's ruling that green politics should enjoy the status of a religion.



Republican victories in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races may make some congressional Democrats more leery of backing key elements of President Barack Obama's agenda because of the political price they could pay, analysts said.

Democrats in competitive House districts, many of them already cautious about Obama's push to overhaul the U.S. health- care system and curb emissions blamed for global warming, might be more resistant to move ahead on the measures and face attacks from a newly energized Republican Party, the analysts said.

The Nov. 3 election results are "a real warning bell for moderate Democrats," said Tobe Berkovitz, associate professor of communications at Boston University. "They are not going to think twice about their vote on health care. They're going to think five times."

David Primo, a political science professor at the University of Rochester in New York, said Democrats in competitive districts may demand more concessions in exchange for their votes on contentious legislation.

The election "may make it harder to swing moderates on the fence in favor of Obama's proposals, for fear of being made examples in the midterm elections," Primo said. "The results may increase the price those on the fence charge for their support."



Russia doesn't seem to care two bits about global warming, and it's not hard to see why. Most Russians would probably be happy if the country was a little warmer. Officials even joke that once climate change has run its course, people may start pouring into Siberia instead of trying to escape it. If the polar ice caps melt any further, Russia would be able to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, where it's believed to have huge fossil-fuel reserves. For the rest of the planet, however, the picture is not so cheerful.

To say that Russia is hesitant about tackling climate change is putting it mildly. The last time the world tried to get the country's cooperation on the issue was in 1997, during negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol (the international treaty on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions). Because Russia is the world's third largest source of emissions after the U.S. and China, the accord would have failed without it. So the treaty was written in a way that would allow Russia to keep polluting as much as it wanted and grant the country billions of dollars in emissions allowances to sell to other countries that needed to meet their Kyoto commitments.

As a U.N. official who participated in the talks put it, "Russia got the sweetest deal: free money, no restrictions." But apparently even that wasn't enough. It took another seven years of painstaking negotiations - and promises from the West to help Russia join the World Trade Organization (WTO) - to get the country to ratify the deal. How the world will persuade Russia to take an active part in the upcoming climate-change summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 2 remains to be seen.


Forests in the desert: the answer to climate concerns?

CO2 levels could be reduced by a staggeringly ambitious plan to plant the Sahara desert and Australian outback with trees. But it's unlikely to be a destructive enough policy for the Greenies. They will probably say that it threaten the habitat of the desert rat, or some-such

Some talk of hoisting mirrors into space to reflect sunlight, while others want to cloud the high atmosphere with millions of tonnes of shiny sulphur dust. Now, scientists could have dreamed up the most ambitious geoengineering plan to deal with climate change yet: converting the parched Sahara desert to a lush forest. The scale of the ambition is matched only by the promised rewards – the scientists behind the plan say it could "end global warming".

The scheme has been thought up by Leonard Ornstein, a cell biologist at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, together with Igor Aleinov and David Rind, climate modellers at Nasa. The trio have outlined their plan in a new paper published in the Journal of Climatic Change, and they modestly conclude it "probably provides the best, near-term route to complete control of greenhouse gas induced global warming".

Under the scheme, planted fields of fast growing trees such as eucalyptus would cover the deserts of the Sahara and Australian outback, watered by seawater treated by a string of coastal desalination plants and channelled through a vast irrigation network. The new blanket of tree cover would bring its own weather system and rainfall, while soaking up carbon dioxide from the world's atmosphere. The team's calculations suggest the forested deserts could draw down around 8bn tonnes of carbon a year, about the same as emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation today. Sounds expensive? The researchers say it could be more economic than planned global investment in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).

"The costs are enormous but the scale of the problem is enormous," says Ornstein, who is best known for pioneering a cell biology technique called polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in the 1950s. "It's a serious suggestion in that I believe it is the most promising and practical option in terms of current technology to solve the biggest parts of the problem."

The scheme could cost $1.9tn a year, he says. "When that's compared to figures like estimates of $800bn per year for CCS, our plan looks like a loser. But CCS can address only about 20% of the problem at the $800bn price. Mine addresses the whole thing. And CCS would involve a network of dangerous high-pressure pipelines coursing through the most developed neighbourhoods of our civilisations, compared to relatively benign water aqueducts in what are presently virtually uninhabited deserts."

Planting trees to combat rising carbon dioxide levels is controversial on a large scale, because most places where it has been suggested, such as Canada and Siberia, are in the northern hemisphere where the resulting change in surface colour, from predominantly light snow and rock to predominantly dark trees, could soak up more sunlight and cancel out the cooling benefit. Ornstein says subtropical regions, such as the Sahara and the Australian outback, do not have this problem. The areas have only minimal "human occupation, agricultural food and fibre resources and competing natural biomes" the team says. "We must bite the bullet, global warming will not go away by itself ... solar, geothermal and wind power can make modest contributions. All of these are other parts of a fix. But the quicker a forest can be grown, the more time will be available to choose among and to implement such adjustments, and perhaps to develop more attractive substitutes."

Ornstein says several desert-heavy countries are suitable, including large chunks of Saudi Arabia and a string of African nations west of Egypt. The scheme would provide jobs and investment, he says, as well as a long-term source of sustainable wood that could be used as a biofuel to replace fossil fuels. Other plans for the desert region, such as the installation of giant arrays of mirrors and solar panels to generate electricity would not be affected, he says. Tree-planters, and the resulting clouds, would stick to the flatter regions further south.

Since the paper was published a few weeks ago, Ornstein has attempted to seed serious discussions on specialist websites, with little success. Critics have pointed out that the deserts are not total wildernesses, but rich and diverse ecosystems in their own right, which would be destroyed. Ornstein says: "If sacrifices are required to stem global warming, the almost non-existent ecosystems of the central Sahara and the outback seem like reasonable candidates compared to the alternatives."

The scheme does have some support. "It is incredibly important and definitely worth taking seriously," says Rick Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "While there are many practical and political difficulties of afforestation of regions this large, the benefits could be enormous and go well beyond carbon sequestration."



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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Because Russia is the world's third largest source of emissions after the U.S. and China, the accord would have failed without it. So the treaty was written in a way that would allow Russia to keep polluting as much as it wanted and grant the country billions of dollars in emissions allowances to sell to other countries that needed to meet their Kyoto commitments."

The reason Russia has it so sweet is that Kyoto aims to return emissions to 1990 levels. For Russia to do that they would have to vastly increase emissions in order to return to a pre-revolution GDP!