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Global Warming, Climate Change and the End of Oil

Our planet is warming. Hardly a day goes by without another headline relating to global warming or climate change. We are facing a future on this planet which is truly frightening. Global warming is the biggest issue facing the world's population for a very long time indeed!

CO2. Carbon dioxide. You can't see it and it forms a very small proportion of the atmosphere 0.03% - 0.04%. But CO2 along with other greenhouse gases causes a greenhouse effect and, as a result, we have a planet which can support life as we currently know it. But human activity is adding CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and the enhanced greenhouse effect is causing temperatures to rise, potentially, to dangerous levels. Consider; the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in, the public transport we use, the cars we drive and, increasingly, the aircraft we fly in - the production and construction and running of all these produce CO2.

We all, all seven billion of us, contribute to some extent or another to global warming. Of course those in developed countries contribute, by far and away, the most. We, with our high consumption lifestyles, use far more than our fair share of the natural capital available; that is, our atmosphere and related eco-systems. And in the process we are consuming a resource, oil, which was created over a very long period of millions of years. We are consuming this in the space of - 200 years - the petroleum interval as it has been called. The end of oil, is predicted - a matter of decades away. Maybe it will be a blessing in disguise?

Some seek to deny there is a problem. But there is evidence all around us. We see the peat in Indonesia burning. We see melting ice in the Arctic, collapsing ice shelves in the Antarctic. We see tundra in northern parts "defrosting" and buildings sitting at crazy angles as a result. We see extreme weather which can, at least in part, be attributed to global warming. This summer parts of southern Europe have been in flames. In eastern Europe there has been severe flooding. And we all know the names Katrina and Rita. Add to that 1000 dead in flooding in Mumbai (Bombay) and surrounding area. And how many lives has hurricane Stan claimed?

And there is more. We see small islands being eroded as sea levels rise. We see changes in wildlife migration patterns. We see the seasons changing. We see changes in agriculture and crop growth patterns. Why has the walnut tree outside my flat in Enfield produced a bumper crop this year?

In addition the scientists have provided us with plenty of evidence that global warming is well under way. They help us understand the chemistry of the greenhouse effect. They explain the connection between fossil fuel burning and raised CO2 levels. They report on the results of mathematical climate modelling and proxy measurements which detail what has happened to temperatures in the past and make predictions for the future. We are presented with the "hockey stick" graph by Michael Mann and his colleagues which charts temperatures over a 1000 year period. Mann shows that during the 20th century the warming was significantly greater than during the previous 900 years. A UN body, The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which used research from 2,000 experts has stated "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activity" In other words it is anthropogenic - we cause it.

So there is a strong scientific consensus on global warming. It is well under way. However exact predictions as to precisely what will happen over the next few decades are difficult. Why? Consider the albedo effect (the whiteness effect). Snow and ice, which reflect heat, melt and leave either darker water or land surfaces exposed. These absorb heat from the sun and warming increases. Warming processes can gain momentum, feedback processes can become established. These can lead to tipping points or points of no return indicating an unknown and frightening future. Meltdown and runaway are terms which come to mind.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has identified a 2°C increase as the threshold beyond which "The risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly". Such an increase is considered probable if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide exceed 400 parts per million (ppm). Concentrations of CO2 now exceed 370 parts per million - their highest level for at least 420,000 years - and are still rising.

But even as the evidence gathers there are still some who either deny global warming and its human causes or seek to downplay its importance. While there is some good media coverage on the issue the Radio 4 Today programme insists on having Dr S Fred Singer on and Channel 4 news had Jon Snow interviewing Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute recently. And Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail columnist, continues to claim global warming is a "fraud". The name George W Bush also comes to mind. These people are a menace - that's putting it politely. Sometimes described as sceptics they are actually lobbyists with a very clear political agenda, often financed by Big Oil, and their aim is to attack the science and the scientists, sow doubts about global warming and undermine efforts to find and implement solutions. Beware!

But there are solutions. We already have the Kyoto Protocol. 141 countries have reached a consensus on the threat posed by climate change, and have agreed to work together to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. There are already UK and European emissions trading schemes in place. Government sets an overall (lower) emissions limit or cap for participants in the scheme. Companies can then trade emissions allowances. The end result should be the introduction of better technology and therefore a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

And there are a range of suggestions for future policy measures to reduce greenhouse gases. There is Contraction and Convergence. Sometimes referred to as shrink and share global emissions are reduced with the most polluting countries cutting their per capita output while others can let their per capita output rise while they pursue, hopefully sustainable, development. There are also proposals for carbon rationing which would operate like a loyalty card in reverse. Ultimately you cannot purchase if you have run out of carbon credits. Carbon taxes are also on the agenda especially for aviation fuel.

All these are policies which encourage and or enforce sustainability. We need to use alternative/renewable forms of energy, we need to pursue efficiency gains, we need to consume less, travel less, we should buy local products where possible.

For the record here are some existing Green Party policies from the Green Party Manifesto 2005:
- replace value added tax (VAT) with eco-taxes - those of you who are VAT registered might particularly welcome this
- introduce and extend emissions trading schemes- also referred to as cap and trade
- introduce Contraction and Convergence - sometimes referred to as shrink and share
- introduce a carbon tax or taxes
- reduce road traffic which is a major source of CO2
- tax aviation fuel - no tax is a hangover for the 1940s and 1950s when governments were helping the, then, new form of travel get established
- reduce flying which is a major and growing source of CO2

What can we do now? Insulate your home - enquire about grants from your council, save energy - use energy saving light bulbs and turn down your heating, buy electricity produced by the wind, avoid unnecessary packaging, buy less meat, recycle all the obvious stuff including your old mobile phone, don't buy cut flowers, drive less and fly a lot less. I think it's true to say knowledge on the issue is widespread but rather shallow. We see lots of headlines and news items but nowhere near enough action at any level; personal, local, regional, national, international - within government circles or business circles. The Green Party is showing leadership on global warming and climate change; something sadly lacking from other parties. Winning this argument is difficult but without resorting to deception or spinning try this. An eco-home is better to live in and cheaper to run. Locally produced food can be better for you. Exercise is good for you. Driving is increasingly hazardous and stressful - stay local or let the train take the strain. Flying may get you to wonderful places but the damage done is immense. Anyone been to the Outer Hebrides? - treat yourselves.

Let's try to adopt a climate or carbon consciousness. Think! What is the impact of this purchase or activity on the planet? And keep up the pressure on the government. Put this in your diary. On Saturday the 3rd of December there will be an International Day of Climate Protest. There will be a London Demonstration organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change. Assemble 12.00 noon in Lincoln's Inn Field for a march to Grosvenor Square and the US embassy. Speakers include George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas! Thank you and see you there.

Douglas Coker Enfield Green Party 8/10/05.

The Heat Is On

Global average temperatures rose in the 20th century by 0.6°C. They are projected to rise by anything from 1.4°C to 5.8°C over the period 1990 to 2100.

A report this year by an international group chaired by the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified a 2°C increase as the threshold beyond which "The risks to human societies and ecosystems grow significantly". Such an increase is considered probable if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) exceed 400 parts per million (ppm).

Concentrations of CO2 now exceed 370ppm - their highest level for at least 420,000 years - and are still rising; in 1958 the level was 315ppm. Last month, a joint statement by the science academies of 11 countries, including all the G8 nations, warned: "It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions." Since 1750, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased by about 35%. Nineteen of the 20 warmest years of the past 150 years have occurred since 1980. NASA predicts that 2005 will be the warmest year since records began. According to the IPCC, which used research from 2,000 experts, "Most of the warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activity".

It is calculated that, to halt global warming, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be cut by 60% from 1990 levels. The 1997 Kyoto protocol aims to reduce them by 5.2% by 2010, compared with 1990 levels. The US, which produces 24% of the world's carbon emissions, rejects Kyoto. Between 1990 and 2002, US emissions grew by 13%. G8 nations account for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions. The US has resisted the use of the phrase 'Our world is warming' in a draft G8 statement on climate change.

(Statement courtesy of The Independent - front page 5/7/05)

Douglas Coker for Enfield Green Party.

Some books on Global Warming, Climate Change and the End of Oil:

High Tide - News from a Warming World by Mark Lynas.

(The paperback is subtitled How Climate Crisis is Engulfing our Planet.) Mark is a campaigning journalist and this book was a real wake-up call for me. I was alerted to it in February 2004 by a piece in the Guardian called Meltdown based on Chapter 2 - Baked Alaska. This presents dramatic images of houses and trees at crazy angles. Rising temperatures are causing the perma-frost to melt and the land is turning to a dark brown heat absorbing bog. Mark also covers examples of GW in Pacific islands, Peru and China. Very readable.

How We Can Save the Planet by Mayer Hillman

The author does not fly and disapproves of others flying. He emphasises the seriousness of the problem we face and proposes a solution. He advocates Contraction & Convergence as a solution and proposes we adopt carbon rationing as a means of pursuing this. Purchases would not be made solely on the basis of paying the price in monetary terms but would be restricted by limited but equal allocation of personal carbon allowances. Written in a "report" style.

The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer R Weart

Weart goes right back to the early work by Arrhenius the Stockholm scientist. He also, very usefully, weaves plenty of politics into the story. In the process he also explains the firming up of the theories explaining GW. The inception of the UN body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the late 80s is covered. Weart concludes "The hypothesis proposed by Arrhenius in 1896 - denied by almost every expert through the first half of the twentieth century and steadily advancing through the second half - was now as well accepted as any scientific proposal of its nature could ever be." (p191) All this is dealt with in very measured tones.

Natural Capitalism - The Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory B Lovins and L Hunter Lovins

Dismissed by some as techno-optimists these (American - US) authors are part of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Amory Lovins seems to be the highest profile of the three with a well established track record in consultancy; recently to the US government on energy security. They say "Natural Capital refers to the earth's natural resources and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. These services are of immense economic value; some are literally priceless, since they have no known substitutes. Yet current business practices typically fail to take into account the value of these assets - which is rising with their scarcity. As a result, natural capital is being degraded and liquidated by the very wasteful use of resources such as energy, materials, water, fiber, and topsoil." So they understand GW and the end of oil. They advocate "whole system thinking", argue strongly that there is money to be made from tackling CC and have drawn up proposals for a Hypercar - light weight, alternative fuel powered etc. Feels like a compilation.

The End of Oil - The Decline of the Petroleum Economy and the Rise of a New Energy Order by Paul Roberts

The front cover says "YOU LIVE IN THIS WORLD. YOU USE THE OIL. YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK." I did and was impressed. Roberts details the history of our fossil fuel consumption - millions of years to create a resource - 20 decades to consume it? The peak oil debate is thoroughly reviewed from Colin Campbell onwards. Those who want to understand how oil markets work - short term and long term - will be rewarded. Roberts says "The longer we wait to start moving toward a new energy system, the harder it will be to make any kind of orderly, progressive transition. Carbon dioxide emissions will be higher. Overall demand will be sharper. Energy poverty will be more profound and more volatile alternative-energy technologies will lag further behind." (p306) This is a real tour de force.

Ecological Debt - The Health of the Planet & the Wealth of Nations by Andrew Simms policy director of the New Economics Foundation

Incorporating a development perspective into the GW/CC debate Simms argues "If you take more than your fair share of a finite natural resource you run up an ecological debt." (p 88) And with reference to fossil fuels " … there is no more fundamental issue than the distribution of wealth in a carbon constrained world economy." (p99) He also covers the history of GW, makes the point that this is an intergenerational issue and explains Contraction & Convergence as a solution. An approach to the issue which brings the vulnerability of the "less developed world" into sharp focus.

Global Warming - A Very Short Introduction by Mark Maslin (162 pages)

This is one of the (very welcome) "Short" series by Oxford with lots of graphics, tables and illustrations. There is much emphasis on modelling which (I think) reflects the author's professional interests. He deals well with the "hockey stick debate". Quite technical.

How to Win Campaigns - 100 steps to success by Chris Rose

Not specifically about GW/CC but written by a man who has worked with Greenpeace, FoE and WWF. Rose is a communications consultant and covers territory unfamiliar to me - marketing, framing and all that. I'd like some help with this book and its contents because I think there are a number of lessons for the Green Party. Not all will like this sort of approach but I think we need to understand it and tangle with it. Some sections need reading at least twice!

Douglas Coker for Enfield Green Party.

Feel free to call me on 020 8351 7975 for more information

Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ