Climate Visuals Masterclass

Tuesday 5th September 2017

Yesterday I attended the inaugural climate visuals masterclass, run by Climate Outreach and hosted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Over the past few months, I have looked at various methods of climate change communication for my dissertation and had an interest in finding out more about the photographs and images that are used to portray climate change to the wider public.

I learnt that if you google ‘climate change’, many of the pictures that come up are variations of a small set of images. Also images containing people aren’t used as often as you’d expect, the bulk are made up of extreme weather events and the ‘posterchild of global warming’ – the polar bear. The problem communicators have, is that the polar bear is the most recognised and well understood image in regards to climate change.

Whilst there is an appetite for new visual stories about climate change, familiar images such as the polar bear have a clear advantage for a consumer’s rapid understanding. Interestingly, we are also better able to empathise when we see an individual, as opposed to a crowd in an image.

As with all forms of climate change communication, people respond better to things they can resonate with. In this sense, local images are good to use for your target audience. Would an image of a drought in China make someone in an urban area of the UK want to take action on climate change? Maybe, but probably not. Instead images of cities in the UK being flooded are likely to be more relevant.

One thing that really surprised me is that people can be turned off by seeing images of protestors and marches. One reason for this is because they sometimes doubt the credibility of the people in the pictures. However, when the person appears credible, this cynicism disappears.

On a seperate note – I’ve been shocked by how the media sometimes has rolling coverage of a climate related disaster (such as Hurricane Harvey in Texas), and yet only makes very brief reference to climate change. I think certain media outlets such as CNN, BBC News and Sky News (as well as most UK tabloids), need to rectify this issue.

The seven main principles for visual climate change communication are summed up as follows:

1) Show real people, and avoid staged photo opportunities.

2) Tell new stories.

3) Show climate causes at scale.

4) To engage people’s emotions, show the impacts of climate change (i.e. extreme weather events).

5) Show local impacts.

6) Be very selective with images of protestors/marchers.

7) Make sure you understand the audience who you are using the images for.

At the start of the day, it was noted how little reference in the masterclass there was to the role that artists play in communicating climate change. As someone who has spent the past year completing an MA in Creative Writing, in order to gain the skills I need to write novels about climate change (cli-fi novels), this was something that I had also picked up on! So you can imagine my excitement when Laurie Goering, who is the Head of Climate Programme at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, gave a talk and mentioned the role cli-fi could play as a form of communication!

This was by far and away the highlight of the day for me, and gave me a sense of validation. I believe cli-fi has a crucial role to play in educating people about the impacts of climate change and the solutions that are available to us right now.

If you visit the World Press Photo awards, then look out for a category on climate change images next year, which has been set-up in conjunction with Climate Outreach.

Lewis Pugh’s Second Arctic Swim

Tuesday 1st August 2017

Where I first heard about Lewis

Like a lot of people, I heard about Lewis Pugh on the news because of his first Arctic swim and his Thames swim. Back then I was only a teenager, and it wasn’t until around six years ago at university that I stumbled across a video of Lewis speaking about fracking in the Karoo (see below). The issue was very topical, and one that was relevant to me as I was completing my undergraduate degree in ‘Climate Change’ at the time. The fact that I spent the first twelve years of my childhood growing up in Zimbabwe, also instilled in me a deep love of the natural world and the thought of a big oil company destroying another region in Africa filled me with anger.

I was captivated by the passion with which Lewis spoke, and delighted to have discovered a new environmental champion. I bought Lewis’s book Achieving the Impossible and realised that this was a man who was the living epitome of the phrase ‘nothing is impossible’. A former Cambridge University graduate, SAS reservist and endurance swimmer, Lewis has shown what is possible when you persevere and get your mind-set right. I was awed by what I read and proceeded to buy copies for friends and family – it’s one of those books which I believe can change lives. I’ve followed Lewis’s numerous campaigns since (including the Seven Swims, the Mumbai beach clean-up and the Ross Sea campaign), and have nothing but admiration for his dedication to protecting the oceans. When 21 Yaks and a Speedo came out, I devoured it in less a day. In the book, Lewis divulges his 21 tips for achieving your own dreams – a must read for everyone who wants to fulfil their potential in life. I could go on writing about Lewis, but the main purpose of this post is to talk about his latest expedition in the Arctic.

The Second Arctic Swim

On the 29th July 2017, Lewis swam one kilometre along the edge of the Arctic sea ice in -0.5°C waters. The swim took 22 minutes, and Lewis labels it as one of the hardest swims he’s ever had to do.

Lewis wrote an article prior to the swim, where he talked about the importance of protecting the Arctic: “I am deeply shocked by what I am witnessing. I’ve been swimming amongst ice for 15 years. It’s a substance I know well. I am not a climate scientist, but what I am seeing looks like runaway climate change in the Arctic.”

The Importance of the Arctic Region

The Arctic plays a crucial role in regulating the earth’s climate, and it is melting faster than models have predicted as a result of increasing anthropogenic greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which are driving climate change. We have seen the Arctic sea ice reach lower and lower summer sea ice extents each year. Some have termed this rapid decline of sea ice as the ‘Arctic death spiral’, where the sea ice recedes further and further until eventually there will be none left in the summer months.

Peter Wadhams is a polar scientist with over 47 years of experience in the field and has carried out over 50 expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. In his book A Farewell to Ice, Wadhams says: “By the end of 2015 a total of 238 ships had sailed through it [the Arctic]. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres (km2) of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970s.” Wadhams predicts that the remaining Arctic sea ice could disappear as soon as 2020 – a mere three years from now. When it does disappear, Wadhams says: “The albedo change from the loss of the last 4 million km2 of ice will have the same warming effect on the Earth as the last twenty-five years of carbon dioxide emissions.

This a profound statement to try and get our heads around. Worse still, there are frozen methane particles which could be released by the warming Arctic waters, which could trigger global runaway climate change, depending on the quantities released. Methane is a more potent form of greenhouse gas, which traps more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. I wrote a blog post here, if you’d like to read more about runaway climate change.

Climate Change

Given how late we’ve left it, we need urgent global emissions reductions, combined with carbon dioxide extraction if we’re to stand any chance of saving what’s left of the sea ice. In his blog, Lewis calls for us to go beyond the Paris climate change agreement. Lewis is absolutely right to call for this – Paris is not strong enough on its own. For those who are unaware, world leaders met in Paris in 2015, and agreed to try and limit global temperature increases to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an aim of keeping it below 1.5°C.

However, a few days ago a new piece of research estimated there was only a 5% chance of meeting the 2°C target, based on our current pathway and only a 1% chance of meeting the 1.5°C target.

This news is profoundly saddening. That’s why we need bold action from our leaders, and Lewis’s incredibly brave and courageous symbolic swim goes a long way in drawing their attention to this imperilled polar region. We have the renewable energy solutions – what we lack is the political will and the action from major companies (not words or ‘greenwashing’, but real-life action) to effectively tackle the greatest challenge facing us today. Scientists say we still have a small and shrinking window of opportunity to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – together we need to make full use of every single hour available to turn the tide. When we work together collectively, there’s nothing we can’t do.

Thank You!

I would like to thank Lewis for undertaking this swim and all the others he has done to highlight the issues and challenges facing our oceans. This one in particular, for the sheer hell Lewis must have gone through, and at one point nearly giving up. I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate the suffering Lewis made here, but he has done this for each and every single one of us. For that we owe him a great deal of gratitude.

I’d like to thank Lewis for all his other environmental work, including the fracking talk he gave, which really helped lift me out of a depression I felt for the natural world. I’m personally working on different methods of trying to communicate climate change to a wider audience and engage more people with what’s happening to our planet. But actions speaks louder than words, and what you’ve done is beyond remarkable!

Over and above everything else, I’d like to personally thank Lewis for showing me what’s possible when we never give up, and put in the hard work so that we can achieve our dreams. I’ll end with two incredible TED talks from Lewis about his first Arctic swim, and his swim on Mount Everest.

 

Links

Lewis’s talk about fracking in the Karoo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5PejoRGmBo

My review of Peter Wadhams book, A Farewell to Icehttp://www.ourfutureisgreen.co.uk/a-farewell-to-ice-review-watching-our-future-disappear-in-front-of-our-eyes/

Lewis’s blog post on runaway climate change in the Arctic – http://lewispugh.com/runaway-cc-in-the-arctic/

Lewis’s blog on swimming along the Arctic sea ice – http://lewispugh.com/swimming-along-the-arctic-sea-ice/

Our chances of achieving the targets set in the Paris climate agreement – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/31/paris-climate-deal-2c-warming-study

TED talk: Lewis swimming at the North Pole – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HALd9FY5-VQ

TED talk: Lewis swims on Mount Everest – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QISHX5UKky0

The Coming Storm Is Here

Friday 28th July 2017

One of the most worrying impacts of climate change is the increase in extreme storms and violent precipitation events taking place across the world. In his book, A Farewell to Ice, Peter Wadhams states that for every degree of air temperature warming, “We add something like 7 percent of extra water vapour content to the atmosphere” (Pg. 109).

This additional water vapour is what is causing these wild rainfall/hailstorms we are seeing. As the water vapour content continues to rise, we are creating super-charged storms. Below is a tweet from the ‘severe-weather.EU’ account. It is one example of the many global extreme weather events taking place.

Many food crops can be destroyed by these extreme hailstorm events. If they were localised to one region, we could cope. But when these types of events are taking place across the world and are increasing in number and frequency, how do we protect the food crops? This is just one of the many ways our food supply is being jeopardised by inaction on climate change. Every day our leaders fail to limit emissions, the situation worsens and your children’s future becomes more uncertain.

See this article for climate change actions that will make a difference.

Cli-Fi Novel Review – State of Fear by Michael Crichton

29th June 2017

I have debated whether or not to write a review for this book for some time. Prior to reading it, I had no idea that Michael Crichton was a climate change sceptic! So it came as much of a surprise to me to see the supposedly good climate change scientists portrayed as the bad guys as the book progressed.

Whilst it’s cleverly written to convey Crichton’s climate change scepticism, I can’t recommend this book to others, purely because it flies in the face of what I (personally) believe this genre should be trying to achieve. Yet because Crichton’s name is so well know, you’ll find this book in cli-fi displays in bookstores, and on cli-fi reading lists. So this short review is more of a warning to alert other unsuspecting readers – if you don’t want to read a cli-fi novel that’s grounded in climate change scepticism, then avoid this book!

Cli-Fi Novel Review – Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

5th May 2017

I couldn’t wait to dive into this book, as it’s been hyped up by a lot of reviewers. So it’s with an element of sadness, that I report this novel came across as a book of two halves for me.

We follow Mitchell Zukor, who is a mathematician that calculates the chances of catastrophe occurring from a range of factors including; ecological collapse, natural disasters and global war. Mitchell lives in New York and his life is turned upside down when a storm slams into the city. Ironically, this book was written just before Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The first half of the book leading up to and including the storm, is engaging, informative and reads like a thriller. If the second half of the book had followed in this manner, then this would easily have been one of my favourite books in the cli-fi genre. But quite the opposite happened.

I will try to avoid giving away too many spoilers, but characters underwent unnecessary change and the plot took a turn for the bizarre. I am not sure if the book needed to end the way it did, and I felt disappointed by what had been such a great start. Perhaps I’m one of only a few who feel unhappy with the second half.

Whilst this novel had a great deal of potential, I would say be prepared for an adrenaline-pumping first half, followed by a mediocre second half.

Cli-Fi Novel Review – The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

26th April 2017

The Year of the Flood is the most immersive ‘cli-fi’ book I have read to date. Whilst I am slightly unsure about using the term cli-fi to describe this novel, it does present a dystopian future, whereby human influence has caused mass environmental degradation. Corporations are in charge, and get away with a great deal of corruption and immoral practices, including changing the genetic make-up of animals.

What scares me about this book, is how a lot of things mentioned are not a million miles away from where we are today. If fiction has the power to make us reflect on our current pathway and change direction, then this is a book that policymakers should take notice of. Needless to say the plot was relevant and pacey, apart from the Sermons by Adam One, which drew me away from the action. That being said, these sermons tended to be about different ‘Saint’s Days’. Atwood cleverly uses the Saints Days to educate us about environmental campaigners and activists (after whom the Saint’s Days are named), such as Rachel Carson. The lay reader picking up this novel with little background environmental or cli-fi knowledge, may then be tempted to discover who these ‘Saints’ are and what they did, which is a very subtle and intelligent way of educating people.

The characters in the book are well thought out and believable. I now understand that this book is part of a trilogy; this being the second book (preceded by Oryx and Crake, and followed by MaddAddam). I am interested to see how these books tie together, as many articles discussing cli-fi novels recommend The Year of the Flood, yet few mention the other two books.

Whilst the ending wasn’t exactly what I anticipated or hoped for, this is my favourite cli-fi novel so far and one I’d definitely recommend. I’m hoping the loose ends are tied up in the final book of the trilogy – MaddAddam.

“Cli-Fi” Added to the Oxford Dictionary

13th April 2017

A major milestone has been reached for the cli-fi genre, as “cli-fi” enters the Oxford Dictionary.

A recent blog post on oxforddictionaries.com states: “Cli-fi refers to the genre of fiction exploring issues around climate change and global warming, and is modelled after its hypernym sci-fi.”

The origin of cli-fi is explained here as follows: “Early 21st century: short for climate fiction or climate change fiction, on the pattern of sci-fi.” Furthermore, ‘cli-fi, like the science behind it, often presents bleak visions of the future.’

I would like to offer my congratulations to Dan Bloom who coined the term ‘cli-fi’, and all those writers who have written books in this genre.

Sources

Oxford Dictionaries blog about cli-fi – http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/04/oxford-dictionary-new-words/

Definition of cli-fi – https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cli-fi

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – Are Pesticides a Source of Cancer?

11th April 2017

Silent Spring is a seminal book by Rachel Carson, which is widely credited for igniting the fires of the environmental movement. Reading this, I am shocked by how little seems to have changed in the intervening 55 years since the book was published.

Carson shows how chemical insecticides and pesticides have gone beyond pest control and resulted in widespread death of fish, birds and larger animals. What we try and control in one part of the food chain has a knock on effect further down, and worryingly, not many people realise that we are also at the end of this food chain. I have often wondered whether rising rates of cancer in humans can be attributed to the chemicals we have sprayed on our foods and which we unwittingly ingest. Think about it, if the pesticides are toxic enough to kill insects, birds and fish – could they not also poison us, as living, breathing creatures as well? Carson makes a strong argument that this is indeed the case:

“Man has put the vast majority of carcinogens into the environment and he can, if he wishes, eliminate many of them. The chemical agents of cancer have become entrenched in our world in two ways: first, and ironically, through man’s search for a better and easier way of life; second, because the manufacture and sale of such chemicals has become an accepted part of our economy and our way of life.”

Furthermore recent scientific studies have shown that pesticides are harmful to our health. An article in the Guardian, available here states that:

  • The idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is a myth, according to UN food and pollution experts.
  • The report said: “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.” It also highlighted the risk to children from pesticide contamination of food, citing 23 deaths in India in 2013 and 39 in China in 2014.
  • The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning.

In addition, a separate article in the Guardian available here, notes that farms may actually be MORE productive without using pesticides and insecticides:

  • By comparing similar farms using high or low levels of pesticides, the scientists found that 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut pesticides and two-fifths of these would actually produce more.
  • The results were most startling for insecticides: lower levels would result in more production in 86% of farms and no farms at all would lose production.
  • The research also indicated that 78% of farms would be equally or more profitable when using less pesticide of all types.

I think it goes without saying that we need to urgently examine whether we need to be using pesticides and insecticides at all in this day and age. If there is significant evidence that pesticides are causing cancer and a range of other serious illnesses, we need to put a stop to their use. Moreover, we have evidence as shown above that we don’t need to use pesticides and insecticides on our crops. This is yet another case of manipulation by big companies, who are causing unnecessary illness, death and environmental degradation in the name of profits. It’s time to stop this.

Top 5 Pesticide Companies

As a matter of interest, this article from August 2016, lists the top 5 pesticide companies as:

  • Syngenta
  • Bayer
  • Dow and Du Pont
  • BASF
  • Monsanto

Sources

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Silent-Spring-Penguin-Modern-Classics-Rachel-Carson/0141184949

Deaths caused by pesticides – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/07/un-experts-denounce-myth-pesticides-are-necessary-to-feed-the-world

Farms more productive without insecticides – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/06/farms-could-slash-pesticide-use-without-losses-research-reveals

Top 5 pesticide companies – http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets-economy/082516/top-5-pesticide-companies-world-syt-dow.asp

The Media

17th March 2017

Declaration

Before I begin, I would just like to declare my position upfront on this subject. I am a founding member of the Guardian and I have participated in the New Internationalist crowdfunding community share offer.

Why the Media Matters

Up until a decade ago, I was very much under a set opinion. I believed that newspapers and news broadcasters could only print and show stories which were factually accurate. I believed that there was a strong regulator in place who would pull up any news organisation who showed unfair bias or failed to show ‘facts’ in their stories, which could be backed up by reliable sources. In truth I therefore believed that regardless of what paper you were reading, or which news channel you watched that you were being presented with facts and that it didn’t really matter where you got your news from – it would be the same story, just presented slightly differently.

I have since realised that I was wrong. Unfortunately, despite being in education for so many years, we aren’t taught a lot of stuff that really matters – like who owns our newspapers and their reasons for doing so. Here are a few interesting statistics:

  • Three companies own 70% of our national newspapers.
  • Two billionaires; Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rothermere own two of the above companies and between them control over 50% of national newspapers sold.
  • In terms of local newspapers, just six companies own 80% of local newspaper titles (for example: the Manchester Evening News, Bristol Post, Liverpool Echo and Nottingham Post are all owned by the Trinity Mirror group. Can we therefore rely on this one organisation to provide local trusted news stories?)
  • Further information on media ownership is available here.

Big deal right – who cares who owns what paper? Did you know that most newspapers make a financial LOSS each year? For example, Rupert Murdoch (mentioned above) owns News Group Newspapers, which are comprised of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. News Group Newspapers made a loss of £62.8 million up to July 2016.

Even papers like the Guardian reported a loss of £69 million for the last financial year. The first rule of business is to make a profit. News organisations are ultimately businesses as well, so how and why would they sustain such losses?

Let’s take a look at Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers who made a £62.8 million loss. Rupert Murdoch is a billionaire and also owns Fox News in the US, as well as a large shareholding in Sky UK. To put it simply, he doesn’t need his loss-making newspapers, they don’t contribute directly to his wealth. However, they do give him one thing that has served him really well – POWER. The Sun has accurately backed the winning party of each UK general election since 1979.

As such, when parties want to get elected, they often go grovelling to Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was a case in point who sought Murdoch’s backing and consequently won the 1997 election (yes, the Sun backed Blair). In return for his support, Murdoch gets unprecedented access directly with the Prime Minister.

This is the primary reason why so many tabloid owners keep their papers going, even though they are making a loss, because it gives them a mouthpiece and it gives them power and influence – after all what government would want to anger the owner of a paper read by a million or more people? Would it surprise you to learn that five of the most read newspapers are owned by four billionaires who don’t live in the UK (Source: War of Words conference)?

This is a crucial topic because newspaper owners have a monopoly and use their papers to influence people’s thoughts and opinions on a wide range of subjects. Some of their owners have close ties to government, and can therefore manipulate people’s opinions either in favour of government policies or against them.

Tabloids are Toxic  

Tabloids tend to pay little attention to things like ‘facts’. Instead they focus on sensationalism, and engaging people’s emotions. What better way to do that than blow a story out of context and show heavy bias to one side, to make people angry? This is an issue because millions of people read tabloid papers every day and the Sun and the Daily Mail have the largest print newspaper circulations in the country.

We are also contending with the advent of ‘fake news’, and I think we need to ask ourselves a question: If tabloids aren’t presenting facts, then what are they presenting? If you think about it in this respect, perhaps tabloids can also be thought of as fake news.

But tabloids have more than that to account for. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World were involved with phone hacking (including the phones of innocent dead victims, such as 13 year old Millie Dowler). Is this moral and ethical behaviour? This is the level that tabloids will stoop too. If this story interests you, I would advise checking out the Hacked Off campaign.

I also think that tabloids are similar to gossip magazines in that they glorify unrealistic body images and expectations, which have caused much suffering for both women and men. It’s not right that we are aspiring to photoshopped images. Yet I think you would be hard pushed to find many tabloids that don’t have good-looking or half-naked people somewhere inside. What are the long term benefits of viewing these images? Can’t think of any? Maybe there is a reason for that.

Tabloids have also started spewing hatred and disinformation. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the Daily Mail once supported Hitler. That paper, like many other tabloids is full of anti-immigrant, anti-kindness intolerance, which again has little factual basis. These papers are shaping people’s views using emotive language and sensationalist stories which skew or completely ignore facts, and that isn’t right.

In order to start fighting back against this tide of hatred and lies, new campaigns such as Stop Funding are trying to encourage companies from advertising in tabloids such as the Daily Mail. I would advise supporting them if you can.

It’s worth looking into who owns which papers you read. For example you may be surprised to learn that the Daily Mail Group owns the Metro newspaper. We can then make judgements about whether we feel it is right to pick up copies of these papers, given what we know about the owners and their bias.

TV Broadcasting

In the UK, BBC News and Sky News are the two biggest broadcasters. We already know that Sky is part-owned by Rupert Murdoch (who coincidentally also owns Fox News in the US – another unreliable broadcaster), so Sky News is worth watching with a pinch of salt and a dose of healthy scepticism.

BBC News is committed to the policy of neutrality. This may sound good – for example we get two sides to every story. However, sometimes there are more sides and sometimes there are less. My biggest frustration with this channel has been in regards to climate change, where time and time again they bring on a climate change denialist or skeptic to argue against a scientist – who is quoting data and facts! Whilst the skeptic has nothing to go on, they are simply there to sow the seed of doubt in people’s minds. It’s long been time for the BBC to drop this stupidity – 97% of climate scientists are in agreement and they have the data which shows that things are only getting worse. After all, scientists once believed the earth was flat, but data has shown us this isn’t the case. If you carry on bringing in climate change denialists, then I think it’s only right that you bring in ‘flat earth’ believers every time you show a google earth image (i.e. any image which shows the earth as a sphere). Wouldn’t that be stupid? It’s also worth noting that broadcasters such as BBC News are subject to ‘churnalism’, where the journalists don’t have much time to get a story together, but still need to churn out news. This means that the stories may not give you much context as the journalists simply don’t have enough time to get everything done.

TV news is still how most people receive their news. So we either need a strong regulator with teeth that will monitor and hold these broadcasters to account. Or the broadcasters need to shape up, which is very unlikely. Also Rupert Murdoch is currently trying to buy Sky outright, so Sky News may get a shake-up for the worse.

Climate Change and the Media

The media has done a terrible job of communicating climate change. Yes it’s a complex subject. But it doesn’t help that newspapers like The Telegraph have employed climate change sceptics like James Delingpole to write for them. Others report on new journal papers, but fail to give background context and as such it creates a lot of uncertainty in people’s minds. Then you’ve got broadcasters like the BBC who pull in sceptics to spout lies and it all becomes very messy and depressing. No paper has been perfect, but the Guardian has done more than most to get the story out there.

What’s the Solution?

No news organisation is perfect. But some are miles better than others. The Guardian is a bit like a beacon of light in a dark world. Unlike other newspapers which hide behind a paywall online, all of the Guardian’s stories are free to read. There are very few topics that their journalists don’t cover, and they even have a ‘Opinion’ section, whereby journalists can write stories on subjects that interest them and give their own views (which may be different to that of the paper).

Importantly, I think the Guardian also has one of the best climate change and environment teams of any news organisation that I’ve come across. This is how I came to start reading the paper, and this is why I am a paying member of the paper. I believe in this day and age, that it’s important to support a paper that seeks to report the truth and expose stories that matter to all of us. No the Guardian is not perfect and there are plenty of articles I disagree with (including those they let Tony Blair write), but in spite of this, I think you would struggle to find another paper of this size who is committed to independent journalism. It’s worth noting that the Guardian is not owned by an individual, but is supported by the Scott Trust, which was set up to sustain the paper into perpetuity. More info here.

If you want to know more about becoming a member, more information is available here.

At the War of Words conference, I also came across a news magazine that was new to me. They are the New Internationalist. I have since become acquainted with their work and they seem similar to the Guardian in terms of their approach, but have a more global outlook. New Internationalist have recently launched a community share offer, whereby members of the public can become a shareholder in the magazine. If this idea appeals to you, more information is available here.

I would encourage you to think long and hard about which newspapers you buy and those that you read online. I think one of the biggest changes we can all make is to stop visiting tabloid websites such as the Daily Mail website, and to stop sharing Daily Mail and Sun videos and links on social media. Their power lies in their readership, and if that diminishes, they have nothing.

Sources

Media Ownership – http://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Who_owns_the_UK_media-report_plus_appendix1.pdf

News Group Newspapers Losses – https://www.ft.com/content/8ac2bda6-d2ac-11e6-b06b-680c49b4b4c0

Guardian Newspaper Losses – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/27/guardian-losses-members

The Sun and Election Victories – https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2009/oct/05/sun-labour-newspapers-support-elections

Rupert Murdoch access to Prime Ministers – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/05/rupert-murdoch-access-to-downing-street-theresa-may-david-cameron

Hacked Off Campaign – http://hackinginquiry.org/

Stop Funding Hate – http://stopfundinghate.org.uk/

The Guardian and the Scott Trust – https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2016/oct/24/scott-trust-guardian-owner-journalism-newspaper

Guardian Membership – https://membership.theguardian.com/

New Internationalist Community Share Offer – http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/new-internationalist?utm_medium=ni-www&utm_source=cso-widget-button-link

A Farewell to Ice Review: Watching Our Future Disappear in Front of our Eyes

It’s about time to write something that tries to reach out to the masses, and I can’t think of a better place to start than a review of Peter Wadhams’ book, A Farewell to Ice. I believe this is one of the key books on climate change and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in their own future or that of their children. Whilst this blog post (or essay) might seem emotive, I would encourage you to read the book and see for yourself just how close we are to an irreversible fate.

Peter Wadhams is a name that many students of polar geography will be familiar with. He is a polar scientist with over 47 years of experience in the field and has carried out over 50 expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic. This book explores the impact of rising temperatures on the frozen areas of our planet, with a particular focus on the Arctic, because, “It is in the Arctic that global change appears to be most rapid and drastic” (Pg. 1). There’s never been a more poignant time to read this book as it’s recently been revealed that both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice levels are at record lows.

The Arctic is a crucial part of our climate system, as it helps regulate temperature. The ice plays a crucial role in reflecting radiation and keeping temperatures lower than they would otherwise be through the Albedo effect (white sea ice reflects more than the black ocean beneath). To get an idea of just how big a role the Arctic sea ice plays in regulating temperature, Wadhams explains that once the Arctic melts, “The albedo change from the loss of the last 4 million km2 of ice will have the same warming effect on the Earth as the last twenty-five years of carbon dioxide emissions” (Pg. 4). Take a minute to think about that – it is an incredible figure to get our heads around. Even more concerning is that Wadhams warns that the Arctic may be free of sea ice by around September 2020. This could trigger rapid climate change, as I will discuss later on.

What is the Climate?

The climate is defined as the weather conditions in a region over a period of time (often 30 years). Therefore in order to see a change in climate, you will first see a change in weather patterns. If you happen to read a quality newspaper (i.e. The Guardian or The Independent), you will notice increasing weather extremes taking place around the world – physical evidence of our changing climate.

Carbon Emissions

Not a fan of the science stuff? Don’t worry, I will keep this simple. Scientists estimate the safe limit of carbon dioxide is 350ppm (parts per million). Prior to the industrial revolution, we had 280ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Right now we are at 406ppm and the rate of carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere each year is around 3ppm.

Around 65 million years ago there was an asteroid impact which wiped out much of life on earth. Wadhams notes that, “The CO2 rise rate was still an order of magnitude lower than the current rate of 3ppm/year. We are injecting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere far faster than any known natural event, even an extreme one like an asteroid impact” (Pg. 28). Never before have carbon emissions risen so fast. Bear in mind that there is a direct correlation between carbon emissions and global temperature increases. So if we are pumping carbon into the atmosphere at a faster rate than ever before, then we can expect global temperatures to rise faster than ever before.

Impacts on the Arctic

Ice extent is so low in the Arctic that, “By the end of 2015 a total of 238 ships had sailed through it. In September 2012 sea ice covered only 3.4 million square kilometres (km2) of the Arctic Ocean’s surface, down from 8 million km2 in the 1970s (Pg. 2).”

Whilst the melting of the Arctic sea ice won’t raise sea levels, it’s white surface plays a crucial role through the albedo affect. To put this in perspective, we have lost 4,600,000km2 of sea ice in just 42 years. Worryingly the much maligned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is underestimating Arctic ice warming, as they have failed to update their models with recent data. So we look to Peter Wadhams who has been travelling to the Arctic since the 1970s and has been observing it’s depressing decline. Based on his estimates, the Arctic will be ice free in the summer in around 3 years’ time in 2020 (which is incredibly different to the IPCC’s forecast of between 2050-2080). The problem is that policymakers are basing their decisions on the inaccurate IPCC forecasts and not on reality…

Have you wondered why severe winter weather has hit Europe, North America and parts of Asia in recent years? What we are seeing is a weakening of the jet stream, which would normally confine the cold polar air over the Arctic regions. However, as the jet stream weakens, the polar air is shifting further south. So whilst Europe gets covered in deep snow, the Arctic temperatures actually begin to rise and less ice forms. Wadhams explains further, “In recent years we have seen an increase in the size of the meanders in the jet stream, that is, the north-south range of the meanderings. This drives another energy feedback: the north-bound air masses on the tropical side of the jet stream boundary bring warmer air into the Arctic, while the south-bound air masses on the polar side take colder air out of the Arctic into lower latitudes than in the past. This increased meandering of the jet stream is, therefore, in itself a heat-transfer accelerator from mid-latitudes to higher latitudes” (Pg. 135).

Wadhams notes that “The Greenland ice sheet, with its high latitude and huge elevation of 2-3km, always used to be solidly frozen year-round, except for a small amount of melt around the edges….The biggest melt so far was in 2012, when in the period 1-11 July surface melt spread across 97 percent of the surface of the ice sheet” (Pg. 10). Whilst we hope that a disintegration of the entire Greenland ice sheet won’t happen anytime soon, we should remember that the melting of Greenland’s ice will add 7.2m to global sea levels (whereas the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet could add 60m to global sea levels). Wadhams states, “They have found that the Greenland ice sheet is now losing 300km3 of water equivalent per year, a rate which is increasing and which is already as high as the loss from all other glaciers put together.”

So why does the Arctic matter so much? There is a hidden danger in the Arctic that has the potential to trigger rapid climate change in the coming decades.

Rapid Climate Change

“We are not far from the moment when the feedbacks will themselves be driving the change – that is, we will not need to add more CO2 to the atmosphere at all, but will get the warming anyway. This is a stage called runaway warming” (Pg. 108).

There is a real worry that we will pass tipping points in the near future, after which the climate system will enter a self-perpetuating continuous warming cycle, where the earth will continue to warm up and we won’t be able to stop it. A bit like what happened to Venus. The potential cause of this is explained below.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat (however, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for around 100 years, whereas methane only remains for around 10 years). Buried under frozen permafrost on land are methane deposits. Worringly there are also vast quantities of methane buried on the seabed below the Arctic sea ice. This type of methane is referred to as methane clathyrates. When these methane clathyrates melt, they release methane which then bubbles to the surface and is released into our atmosphere, thereby doing 23 times more damage than carbon dioxide, in terms of trapping heat.

Wadhams refers to a potential catastrophe triggered by largescale releases of methane as one of the most immediate risks facing us as a species, “The amount of methane stored in hydrate deposits in the entire ocean bed is estimated to be more than thirteen times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and amounts to 10,400 gigatons” (Pg. 122). Wadhams notes that at least 50Gt of methane could be emitted into the atmosphere through this process in the near future, resulting in additional 0.6°C rise in global temperatures. This may not sound like much, but look at the weather extremes taking place around the world. These have occurred with just 1.2°C warming. But a further 0.6°C rapid rise in temperatures, combined with an ice free Arctic and reduced Albedo effect could cause some major shifts in our climate system, leading to runaway climate change.

To get an idea of a worst case scenario, this informative blog post warns that mass extinction could take place within 9 years. Click here to read the blog.

What about Antarctica?

As mentioned in the introduction, the Antarctic sea ice is also at record low levels. Wadhams says, “The Arctic amplification and greater Arctic feedbacks mean that, whatever the interactions between Antarctic sea ice and temperate oceans, it will always be the case over the next few decades that the Arctic will be determining the rate of global warming more than the Antarctic. In this sense the Arctic is a driver and the Antarctic can be thought of as a passive trailer in the global warming race to oblivion” (Pg. 170).

Refugee Crisis

For every degree of warming in air temperature, “We add something like 7 percent of extra water vapour content to the atmosphere” (Pg. 109), states Wadhams. Not only is water vapour a greenhouse gas that will further increase the rate of warming but even more crucially, excess water vapour in the atmosphere means more potential for extreme and violent rainfall events. You only need to go onto social media sites to see people sharing pictures of unbelievably powerful storms in recent years. Whilst exciting to marvel at, these events will become more widespread and will have a multitude of unwelcome impacts; think crop destruction and increased food prices, increased flooding, mudslides, travel chaos (trains not running, more traffic on roads, planes delayed), more potholes and damaged car tyres, loss of topsoil which is essential for farming, more pollutants from land being washed into rivers and the sea. Conversely, it’s entirely possible that some regions will receive less rainfall and will therefore be dealing with more intense droughts. One major issue that we will have to deal with will be food production – if more regions become susceptible to extreme rainfall events/hail storms, whilst others become too hot and barren – where will we grow food to sustain our growing population of 7.5 billion people (expected to reach over 9 billion people in the next 33 years)?

As more regions become uninhabitable due to crippling droughts or violent precipitation events (e.g. intense hail storms) that will destroy crops, people will naturally seek to move to find areas where they can grow food to sustain themselves and their families. We have already seen something similar happen in Syria, where due to an intense drought, many farmers were unable to grow crops and instead moved to cities to find work. Due to a lack of jobs and government assistance, violence soon flared. This helped ignite the civil war which still has a stranglehold on the country. Click here to read more.

What concerns me is that we are unable to cope with this first wave of refugees and the fallout has seen voters in many countries favour anti-immigrant candidates. As extreme weather leads to more conflict and more uninhabitable regions, we are going to see immigration spike as hundreds of millions of people seek to move from the Middle East, Africa and low lying areas. I envisage this will take place over the next couple of decades. So if we are overwhelmed with several million refugees now, how will we cope with hundreds of millions of refugees in the future? Where will they go? Who will feed them?

Aid agencies will be overwhelmed (many organisations are already stretched with our present global issues – click here for more information), so we can’t rely on them for a solution. I think we will get to a point in the not too distant future where people are kept out of countries by military force, resulting in millions and millions of deaths. Intolerance and violence will come to define our species.

This is what we are heading towards. Is this a world you are happy for your children to inherit?

Current Commitments to Tackle Climate Change

Incredibly insufficient. That’s all you need to know. We should be finding ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to try and return from 406ppm to 350ppm as quickly as possible. Sadly we are still increasing our carbon dioxide emissions by 3ppm per year. We are balancing on a cliff precipice preparing ourselves to fall face first towards a rocky death.

To top it all off, we now have climate sceptics running America, who are putting in place policies to go hell for leather to extract and burn as many fossil fuels as possible. They are planning to tear up the one climate agreement that we have (Paris), which to be fair wasn’t strong enough anyway.

Scary Numbers

Supposing by some luck that Trump doesn’t withdraw from the Paris agreement, which commits countries to avoid a 1.5°C rise in temperatures. From an emissions point of view, it means we can only emit 353 gigatons of CO2 to meet this target. There is no guarantee that this will be sufficient to avoid a larger temperature rise, it only gives a 50% chance of avoiding smashing that target (in a bad way). So ideally we need to emit a lot LESS than 353 gigatons of CO2. The problem we have is that all the existing coal mines, oil wells and gas fields which are currently in operation are expected to produce 942 gigatons of CO2.

As you can see, this is three times more than we can burn to try and limit temperature rises to a supposed ‘safe’ limit. So not only can we not afford to open any new coal mines, gas fields or oil wells, but we have to leave much of the existing resources in the ground. Just so you know – our politicians haven’t taken steps to limit fossil fuel extraction – they are happy to let the world burn and destroy your children’s future. Worth remembering that little nugget…

Oh and Trump has done the worst thing imaginable. In Canada, they have the most polluting form of fossil fuel that produces shed loads of carbon emissions when extracted and burnt – called ‘Tar Sands’. Trump has given the go ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline which will transport this filth from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico in the US. The world’s top climate scientist, James Hansen, has said that if the tar sands are extracted and burnt, then it’s “game over for the climate.”

Trump is hammering away at that nail and driving it deeper and deeper into our collective coffin.

Geoengineerng

This really scares me. In my opinion this should be a last resort (or preferably avoided entirely). That being said, I am all for planting more trees – but I class this more as a form of natural carbon removal, as opposed to geoengineering. Wadhams describes geoengineering options in the book and I will let you explore them for yourself.

Why don’t I know about all of this? It sounds pretty serious after all….

Is smoking cigarettes good or bad for you? Believe it or not, there once used to be a time when this was a genuine question. Tobacco companies were exceptionally rich and had an interest in maintaining their sales. The idea that smoking could have adverse health affects, didn’t sit well with their profit forecasts. So they got together and hired think tanks and lobbyists to ‘sow the seeds of doubt’ and question the science as to whether smoking was bad for your health. The lobbyists and think tanks were paid large sums by the tobacco industry to keep up their war on science and question/dispute medical findings, to make it seem to ordinary members of the public that the science wasn’t clear. When in fact the science was crystal clear all along. Those lobbyists and think tanks did a fantastic job and it took many many years for the science to be accepted, and for people to realise that smoking was harmful.

So what’s this got to do with climate change? Well the fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world and oil companies such as Exxon are some of the richest in the world. It has recently emerged that scientists working for those companies realised as early as the 1970s, that burning fossil fuels would result in climate change. Once again, they too realised that their profit forecasts could tumble if the public realised that burning fossil fuels could one day jeopardise the future prospects of their children and grandchildren. And it just so happened that they had a whole bunch of lobbyists and think tanks who were keen to muddy the waters and make the science seem unclear (and in the process get paid incredible sums by oil companies). Wanna guess where the oil industry found these think tanks and lobbyists?? Yup – they poached some from the tobacco industry. If you’re interested to read more about this, I recommend a book called Merchants of Doubt. If you believe that the ‘debate’ about the causes of climate change is unsettled, or that human’s influence is negligible, you can thank the lobbyists and think tanks who poisoned your mind.

Wadhams explains the role these villains have played, “Their aims and methods are exactly the same as those of tobacco industry lobbyists – to sow doubt about the harmfulness of the impacts to the point that ordinary people become confused and are willing to tolerate inaction. They don’t have to persuade people that climate change is not happening – just sow doubt, and since action to save the world involves effort, cost and discomfort, it is always tempting to latch on to a statement that we don’t really need to do anything at all…The denial movement, which is now estimated to be funded…to the tune of $1 billion per year” (Pg. 199).

And to top it all off, Trump appointed Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon as his Secretary of State. That’s right – the guy who led one of the richest companies in the world, which lied about the links between burning fossil fuels and climate change is now America’s Secretary of State. You couldn’t make this up.

Where is Our Resistance? 

In order for evil to prosper, all you need is for good people to sit back and do nothing. Looking at the state of the world, there appears to be a lot of good people sitting back and doing nothing. “Saddest of all is the personal paralysis that one sees in society. In the 1960s the young in the West were united in great crusades – against racism, against the Vietnam War – which showed that they really cared about the state of the world. Now, when the stakes are even higher and the need more urgent, they are passive” (Pg. 173). When our leaders fail to do the right thing, it is up to us to make them do the right thing. Think of the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement.

I am astounded by the complete lack of political participation of many of my peers in my age group. Many have openly admitted that putting a cross on a ballot paper every 5 years is all they deem necessary, in terms of democratic participation. Well I’m sorry, but this just isn’t good enough – not in these desperate times! I put climate change above all other issues, but you only need to open up The Guardian website to see a plethora of urgent problems which require action. When our politicians choose to do the wrong thing, we must put them back on the right path. In an ideal world they should serve the people who elected them. In reality, many serve the big corporations who helped finance their electoral victories.

“The young are not listening or being inspired to action, and the old are not leading or teaching” (Pg. 174). We must make a stand. March, protest, sue governments or corporations if you have too. Do something. We need to get out of our selfish isolated technological bubbles.

The Worst Part

If we carry on as we are right now, the climate system will reach a series of tipping points, after which it will be impossible to stop runaway climate change. All we need to do to ensure disaster happens – is to do exactly what we are doing right now. Isn’t that a sobering thought?

As Wadhams sums up, “It is the most important problem the world faces…If we don’t solve it, we are finished” (Pg. 206).

What Can I Do?

A lot of documentaries and articles tend to shy away from advice that can actually make a difference, as it involves uncomfortable truths. We are well beyond ‘replacing lightbulbs’ now. To make a genuine difference, this is a list of things which I believe can make an impact:

  • Protest/march against ALL new fossil fuel developments (see the ‘Scary Numbers’ section above).
  • Reduce our consumption of meat, particularly beef.
  • Drive less, or purchase an electric car (assuming that our grid will move away from fossil fuel generation plants).
  • Fly less.
  • Stop reading tabloids, which present lies as truths and focus on sensationalism as opposed to reality. I can’t emphasise enough the role the media has played in the failure of climate change science communication. Major tabloids to be avoided include The Daily Mail and The Sun. It’s worth noting that The Telegraph has employed climate change sceptics to write columns and I would suggest avoiding this paper too. The BBC has done a really bad job with climate change and I steer away from this source wherever possible.
  • Educate yourself – read this book. I’m happy to recommend more books and documentaries.
  • Hold politicians to account.
  • Hold companies to account.
  • Avoid apathy – try turn your depression into anger, or something of equal usefulness. Apathy will not solve this problem.

Looking at the state of the world and taking into account how dire our predicament is in regards to climate change, I can’t help wonder about whether we deserve saving as a species. But that’s a debate for a seperate blog post.

Links

Arctic and Antarctic sea ice at record lows – http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2017/02/16/this-is-not-good-sea-ice-at-both-poles-at-record-lows-for-january/#6792cb463404

Methane release leading to mass extinction by 2026 – http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/warning-of-mass-extinction-of-species-including-humans-within-one-decade.html

Syrian civil war ignited by climate change induced drought – http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/03/150302-syria-war-climate-change-drought/

Aid agencies currently overwhelmed – https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/oct/02/humanitarian-system-stretched-to-its-limits-says-new-research

Scary carbon emissions numbers – http://www.ourfutureisgreen.co.uk/?tag=carbon-bubble

Tar sands are game over for the climate – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/may/19/tar-sands-exploitation-climate-scientist

Merchants of Doubt book – http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/

Exxon knew about the link between burning fossil fuels and climate change in the 1970s – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/14/exxons-climate-lie-change-global-warming