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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Peter Gleick: The 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award

The 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award

by Peter H. Gleick, water and climate scientist, president of Pacific Institute, Huffington Post, December 30, 2010

Welcome to the 2010 Climate B.S. of the Year Award.
2010 saw widespread and growing evidence of rapidly warming global climate and strengthening scientific understanding of how humans are contributing to climate change. Yet on the policy front, little happened to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe negative climate impacts, including now unavoidable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, snowpack, glacial extent, Arctic sea ice, and more. These physical impacts will lead to sharply increased disease, military and economic instabilities, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events, among other things. Without appropriate risk management action, the United States will be hit hard. There is no safe haven. Yet confusion and uncertainty about climate change remain high in the minds of too many members of the public and Congress.
Why? In large part because of a concerted, coordinated, aggressive campaign by a small group of well-funded climate change deniers and contrarians focused on intentionally misleading the public and policymakers with bad science about climate change. Much of this effort is based on intentional falsehoods, misrepresentations, inflated uncertainties, and pure and utter B.S. about climate science. These efforts have been successful in sowing confusion and delaying action -- just as the same tactics were successful in delaying efforts to tackle tobacco's health risks.
To counter this campaign of disinformation, we are issuing the first in what may become a series of awards for the most egregious Climate B.S.* of the Year. In preparing the list of nominees, suggestions were received from around the world and a panel of reviewers -- all scientists or climate communicators -- waded through them. We present here the top five nominees and the winner of the 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award.
Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox "News."
There are many examples of bad science, misrepresentations, omissions of facts, and distortions of climate reality coming from Fox "News" (far too many to list here, but we note that Joe Romm just gave Fox his 2010 Citizen Kane Award for "non-excellence in journalism" for their misrepresentations of climate science). It seems that Fox has now made it their policy to deny the reality of climate change and has told its reporters to misreport or cast doubt on the science. This policy of disinformation was implemented by Fox News executive Bill Sammon, who ordered staff to cast doubt on climate data in a memo revealed this month. Fox's political commentators have long used this tactic in their one-sided and biased discussions on climate change but Sammon's memo seems to direct News staff to slant reporting in direct contradiction to what the scientific facts and scientists actually say.
Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change. 
While Congress held more hearings in 2010 on climate change than in other recent years, these hearings elicited some astounding testimonies submitted by climate deniers and skeptics filled with false and misleading statements about climate science and total B.S. Examples?
Long-time climate change skeptic Patrick Michaels testified before the House Science and Technology Committee and misrepresented the scientific understanding of the human role in climate change and the well-understood effects of fundamental climatic factors, such as the effects of visible air pollution. Including these effects (as climate scientists have done for many years) would have completely changed his results. Michaels has misrepresented mainstream climate science for decades, as has been noted herehere, and elsewhere, yet he remains a darling of the skeptics in Congress who like his message.
A newer darling of Congressional climate change deniers is Christopher Monckton, who claims to be a member of the British House of Lords (a claim rejected by the House of Lords). Monckton testified before a Senate committee in May and presented such outlandish B.S. about climate that experts (such as John Mashey, Tim LambertJohn Abraham, and Barry Bickmore, to name a few) spent uncounted hours and pages and pages refuting just a subset of his errors.
Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.
In February 2010 a big winter storm dumped record piles of snow on the mid-Atlantic U.S., including Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, prompting climate change deniers to use bad weather to try to discredit the reality of global warming. Limbaugh said, "It's one more nail in the coffin for the global warming thing." Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe got attention with an igloo on the national mall and labeled it "Al Gore's new home" (combining bad science with a personal attack). Senator Jim DeMint said, "It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries 'uncle.' "
Record snowfall is not an indicator of a lack of global warming, as has been pointed out in the scientific literature and many, many rounds of Congressional testimony. It merely means that there was a storm and temperatures were close to or below freezing. Indeed global warming can contribute to greater snowfalls by providing extra moisture. Many scientists testifying before the Senate and House of Representatives have explained the difference between a steadily warming planet and occasional extreme cold events in particular spots. But we can expect to see more examples of this kind of B.S. when it gets cold and snowy somewhere, sometime, this winter.
Second Place. The claim that the "Climategate" emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university's computer system and the theft of the emails).
Global warming deniers used out-of-context texts from the stolen emails to claim that global warming was a hoax or that scientists had manipulated data or were hiding evidence that climate change wasn't happening. These claims are all B.S. A series of independent scientific and academic investigations in the U.S. and the U.K. unanimously concluded that nothing in the stolen emails made any difference to the remarkable strength of climate science (see, for example, the Penn State vindication, the Independent Muir Russell and Lord Oxburgh reviews, a British Parliamentary Panel review, and other assessments). Unfortunately, the media gave far more attention to the accusations than to the resounding vindications, and climate deniers continue to spread B.S. about this case.

The bottom line of "Climategate?" As a letter in Science magazine signed by 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said in May 2010: "there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change."


First Place goes to the following set of B.S.: "There has been no warming since 1998" [or 2000, or...], "the earth is cooling," "global warming is natural," and "humans are too insignificant to affect the climate." Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.
The reality is that the Earth's climate is changing significantly, changing fast, and changing due to human factors. The reality of climatic change can no longer be disputed on scientific grounds -- the U.S. National Academy of Sciences calls the human-induced warming of the Earth a "settled fact." The evidence for a "warming" planet includes not just rising temperatures, but also rising sea levels, melting Arctic sea ice, disappearing glaciers, increasing intense rainfalls, and many other changes that matter to society and the environment. The recent and ongoing warming of the Earth is unprecedented in magnitude, speed, and cause.
This winning set of B.S. appears almost daily in the conservative blogosphere, like here and hereand here, consistently in the statements of climate change deniers, and far too often in real media outlets. Actual science and observations from around globe have long shown the opposite (for example, here and here are nice rebuttals with real science). The planet continues to warm rapidly largely due to human activities, and average global temperatures continue to rise. The most recent decade has been the warmest decade on record and 2010 will likely go down as either the warmestor second warmest year in recorded history.
Associated B.S. argues that the famous "hockey stick" graph has been disproved. This graph shows the extraordinarily rapid warming of the twentieth century compared to the previous 1000 years. The graph and analysis have been upheld by subsequent researchers and numerous scientific assessments, including one from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
To the winners: congratulations, it is long past time your B.S. is recognized for what it is -- bad science.
And to the public and the media: be forewarned: all of these and similar bad arguments will certainly be repeated in 2011. It is long past time that this bad science is identified, challenged, and shown to be the B.S. that it is.
The 2010 Climate Bad Science (B.S.) Detection and Correction Team
Peter Gleick, Kevin Trenberth, John Cook, Tenney Naumer, Michael Ashley, Lou Grinzo, Gareth Renowden, Paul Douglas, Jan W. Dash, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Brian Angliss, Joe Romm, Peter Sinclair, Michael Tobis, Gavin Schmidt, plus several anonymous nominators, reviewers, and voters.
[* "B.S." means "Bad Science" doesn't it?]

For more information, contact: Dr. Peter H. Gleick or Nancy Ross, Pacific Institute, (510) 725-2385

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The World’s Most Efficient Green Technology? The third part of our interview with Art Rosenfeld. The subject? White roofs.

The World’s Most Efficient Green Technology?

The third part of our interview with Art Rosenfeld. The subject? White roofs.

The World’s Most Efficient Green Technology?
by Michael Kanellos, greentechenterprise, December 28, 2010

A few weeks ago, we wrote that videoconferencing might be the best green technology available in terms of bang for your buck, according to data culled from a green retrofit at software giant SAP.

It turns out there is something even cheaper.

White roofs cost less than conventional roofs, require almost no maintenance and can offset tremendous amounts of demand for heating and air conditioning, according to Art Rosenfeld, the former California Energy Commissioner who is also often described as "The Father of Energy Efficiency."

1,000 square feet of white roofing can offset ten tons of carbon dioxide, he told us in a recent video interview. (See segments one and two on energy efficient homes and technologies here and here.) The technology -- and bear in mind that calling changing the pigments in roofing materials a "technology" is a bit of a stretch -- is effective in a wide range of climates, too. Installing white roofs from Chicago to Sao Paolo would offset 25 billion tons of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, he said.

Worldwide, white roofs could eliminate 44 billion metric tons, according to a 2008 research paper from Lawrence Berkeley Labs written by Haskem Akbari and Rosenfeld. (He's in his 80s and still publishing scientific papers: one more reason Rosenfeld is in the Greentech Hall of Fame.)

California has already mandated that flat roofs like those you see on Walmart stores must be white. Aesthetics aren't really an issue. In fact, the aesthetic issues on homes can be eliminated: it just takes a little acclimation.

Happy viewing.

Back in the 1970s, Rosenfeld, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab (and Enrico Fermi's last grad student), determined that the power consumption in California and the nation would someday outstrip our ability to produce it. He kicked off a massive effort to get the state to pass efficiency regulations. Appliance makers fought vigorously, but California passed appliance and building regulations (Title 20 and Title 24) anyway.

"They all claimed it was the [expletive] end of civilization as we knew it," he told me in 2006. "Autos were getting 14 miles a gallon. Energy efficiency wasn't part of the American ethic whatsoever."

The result? Per capita power consumption has remained relatively flat in California but nearly doubled in the rest of the country. The results can only partly be attributed to the "Rosenfeld Effect." Still, the impact has been huge. Modern refrigerators consume half or less the energy consumed by fridges back in the '70s, hold more food and cost less when adjusted for inflation. Pilot lights consumed close to 10% of the energy in homes. Electronic ignition has capped that work and has likely been responsible for hundreds of billions in energy savings.

The interview took place at the Emerging Technologies Summit in Sacramento for a series of videos (thanks to Jonathan Livingston for setting it up).


Jasper F. Kok, PNAS (2010), A scaling theory for the size distribution of emitted dust aerosols suggests climate models underestimate the size of the global dust cycle

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print December 28, 2010; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1014798108

A scaling theory for the size distribution of emitted dust aerosols suggests climate models underestimate the size of the global dust cycle

Jasper F. Kok

Advanced Study Program, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307, U.S.A.


Mineral dust aerosols impact Earth’s radiation budget through interactions with clouds, ecosystems, and radiation, which constitutes a substantial uncertainty in understanding past and predicting future climate changes. One of the causes of this large uncertainty is that the size distribution of emitted dust aerosols is poorly understood. The present study shows that regional and global circulation models (GCMs) overestimate the emitted fraction of clay aerosols (< 2 μm diameter) by a factor of ∼2–8 relative to measurements. This discrepancy is resolved by deriving a simple theoretical expression of the emitted dust size distribution that is in excellent agreement with measurements. This expression is based on the physics of the scale-invariant fragmentation of brittle materials, which is shown to be applicable to dust emission. Because clay aerosols produce a strong radiative cooling, the overestimation of the clay fraction causes GCMs to also overestimate the radiative cooling of a given quantity of emitted dust. On local and regional scales, this affects the magnitude and possibly the sign of the dust radiative forcing, with implications for numerical weather forecasting and regional climate predictions in dusty regions. On a global scale, the dust cycle in most GCMs is tuned to match radiative measurements, such that the overestimation of the radiative cooling of a given quantity of emitted dust has likely caused GCMs to underestimate the global dust emission rate. This implies that the deposition flux of dust and its fertilizing effects on ecosystems may be substantially larger than thought.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tom Yulsman, CE Journal: Weather Happens -- Winter Does Too

Weather Happens

Winter does too

People made their way through Times Square on Sunday evening as the Northeastern blizzard pushed into New York. (Photo courtesy of asterix611 via Flickr Creative Commons)

by Tom Yulsman,
CE Journal, December 27, 2010

Global warming causes an increased chance of snowstorms like the one that has been pummeling the Northeast?

That was the red meat thrown out by the New York Times today Christmas Day in an Op Ed column by Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting for Atmospheric and Environmental Research. Not surprisingly, the climate contrarians are gnashing and feasting.

Cohen’s theory is actually pretty interesting. But I have no idea whether he’s right — and his theory is not the point of my post today. (If you’re interested in what other climate scientists have to say about it, check out Andy Revkin’s post today at DotEarth.)

Update 12/27/10: Deja vu all over again? Last February, there was snow in all 50 states, and frigid conditions extended all the way down to the Gulf Coast. I wrote about it in this article, and I mentioned that the Arctic Oscillation was in a particularly intense negative phase. When that happens, the Arctic tends to be warmer and lower latitudes tend to be colder than normal. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? And guess what’s happening with the Arctic Oscillation right now? It has been in a persistent negative phase since November — and it reached quite a low level just eight days ago.

So, what is the overall point of this post? The graphic at the bottom makes it quite nicely. But first . . .

Consider Prins Christian Sund near the southern tip of Greenland, where it’s currently 34 °F and sunny. That’s almost warm enough to go swimming!

Well, maybe not. But my guess is that the residents of Prins Christian Sund are considerably happier today than are most New Yorkers, who are enduring an epic blizzard.

And by the way, if you are a New Yorker and you’re not looking forward to the lakes of slush that will no doubt be collecting at every street corner by Wednesday, you might consider a quick get away to the southern tip of Greenland. Wednesday’s high there is forecast to top out at 40 °F.

As I said in the headline: weather happens. And when it does, it often becomes the trigger for yet another skirmish in the climate change wars. Maybe the snowstorm was influenced by global warming. Maybe it wasn’t. That’s certainly a scientific question worth exploring.

But as always, what’s most important is the long-term trend — which is defined on a decadal time scale, not a daily, monthly or even yearly one. And on a decadal time scale the picture is quite clear: the decade that is about to draw to a close has been the warmest on record. Moreover, since 1970, each decade has gotten steadily warmer, as this graphic from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows:

This graphic, from a paper by James Hansen and colleagues at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows how the temperature of the sea and land surface departed from the 1951 to 1980 average during each decade, starting with the 1970s.

I realize that this is yet another chunk of red meat for some readers. So before you gnash and feast, please read my earlier post on how GISS and other groups determine long-term temperature trends. After you’ve had a look at that, come back here and have at it.


A 25-Year-Old Prediction of Water Scarcity in the Southwest Holds True, Study Finds

A 25-Year-Old Prediction of Water Scarcity in the Southwest Holds True, Study Finds

by Alyson Kenward, Climate Central, December 20, 2010

In 1986, environmental journalist Marc Reisner published Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, a landmark book surveying water use in the American Southwest. Having interviewed hundreds of people about the Southwest and learned the history of the region’s water infrastructure, Reisner concluded that more water was being pulled out of the West’s waterways than could be naturally replenished. He said the Southwest was due to run short on water, soon.

Nearly 25 years later, a group of researchers has put Reisner’s assertion to the test, checking to see if there is any scientific truth behind it. Armed with modern data from across the Southwest, the group, led by ecologist John Sabo from Arizona State University, found that many of Reisner’s claims were legitimate, and still hold true today.  

“We asked, is it really as bad as [Reisner] said it is in the book, and are we still where we were in 1986?” explains Sabo, who assembled a group of experts to assess water, dams, fish, soil and crops across the Southwest using modern techniques. “Now we know the answer to both those questions: yes.” The findings from the new study have been published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Revisiting the Cadillac Desert

Water levels in Lake Mead, pictured here in November 2008, reached a record low in October 2010. Credit: flickr/wenzday01.

In his book, Reisner claimed that humans were consuming most of the water from southwestern streams and rivers. The new review of watersheds shows that water users in the Southwest are already drawing on 76 percent of the available surface water to support more than 50 million people living in the region. Moreover, says Sabo, water usage could climb to as high as 86 percent if the population doubles in the Southwest. 

Like all cities, those in the West and Southwest import water for people to use in their homes and businesses, as well as for industrial purposes. But this only accounts for a small portion of the total. Farming in arid states like California, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico requires a remarkably large amount of water compared to farms in eastern states. According to the study’s findings, it is this water-intensive agriculture that makes Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix the three largest water-consuming cities in the country.

After surveying the great western water reservoirs, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Reisner also claimed that the build-up of sediments would eventually ruin the lakes for water storage and perhaps even electricity generation. The new study, however, found that sediment isn’t accumulating fast enough in these reservoirs to fill them completely in the next 100 years, although sediment has already reduced the ability of these lakes to deliver water to cities and farms.

Sabo and his collaborators also found that, true to Reisner’s original conclusions, the buildup of salt in the soil is particularly damaging to crops in the Southwest. Though salt accumulation is a potential threat to agriculture in many parts of the world, the study found that the Southwest is more vulnerable than other parts of the U.S.

Looking at a broader scale, the study estimates that farming revenue losses are ten times higher in the American West compared to the East — on the order of about $2.5 billion each year.

The already limited water resources in the Southwest have been further stressed over the past decade, during which a persistent drought has affected the region. In October 2010, Lake Mead in Nevada reached a record low level and is currently only about eight feet higher than the designated level of a critical water shortage. With the region so prone to drought, and potentially even more dry weather in the coming decades as the climate continues to change, Sabo says it’s important to find a way to cut back on the amount of water the Southwest is using. Many computer models project further drying in the Southwest as a consequence of global climate change.

“The message is that this is a regional problem,” says Sabo, “and that leaders from six U.S. states need to work together to make sure we keep more water running in the rivers.”

Reclaiming Sustainable Water in the Southwest

The original lesson from Cadillac Desert is familiar to southwesterners, who have heard warnings about water scarcity for years. These new findings lend further credibility to the idea that the region’s population is living beyond its water limits. But according to Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and a long time researcher of global water resources, identifying the problems in the Southwest hasn’t lead to the implementation of enough solutions over the past two decades. In a companion paper published in the same issue of PNAS, Gleick writes:

"Psychologically and socially, it is hard for millions of people who love this region to admit that it is fundamentally dry and that the rules for building, living, and working there must be different from those in the wet regions where most of these same people were born and raised."

Gleick says his research points to four strategies the Southwest should adopt to preserve enough water for the millions of people already living there.

“Firstly, we have to fundamentally rethink what we mean by water supplies,” he says. In the 20th century, dams and aqueducts were built to harness water in the rivers and transport it to cities. “But that isn’t going to be enough anymore. We’re already at the limits,” he says.

Gleick says it’s possible to tap water resources that are typically ignored, which could involve using treated wastewater or saltwater.

Seasonal drought outlook issued by the Climate Prediction Center, showing the development of drought conditions in much of the Southwest this winter. Credit: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center.

Next, he says the Southwest has to rethink its water demands and that water should be used more efficiently. “This doesn’t mean we will have to take shorter showers or brown the land around us,” he explains. “I mean doing everything we want to do, but with less water.” The trick, he says, is improving water efficiency everywhere it is affordable to do so, including improving irrigation systems for agriculture and switching to low flow faucets in homes.

Gleick says another important strategy is developing a more coordinated approach to managing water in the Southwest. Currently, different cities, counties and states control their own water with unique bylaws and regulations. “But in the Southwest watersheds define the landscape,” he says, “so, we should manage water at the regional level.” He recommends that different states and cities should work together as they develop policies for water usage.

Finally, Gleick says, “The important point is that we can’t look at the situation without climate change.” Because further climate change is inevitable, he says, so are the impacts on water availability around the world. “And it seems these changes will especially compound the problems in the Southwest rather than make them better.”
Already there are some authorities in the Southwest that are including climate change predictions in their water planning. For example, California’s Department of Water Resources released a five-year plan that calls for climate change considerations to be incorporated into all future water planning.

“The good news is, we are beginning to make these changes, in all areas,” says Gleick. People are rethinking water supply and demand, are cooperating more and are thinking about how climate change will affect water in the Southwest, he says.

On the other hand, Gleick warns, the water problems in the Southwest are bound to get worse in the coming years rather than better. “I’m not sure we’re moving fast enough to avoid more serious disruptions in the future.”


NOAA's NCDC: November 2010, State of the Climate Global Analysis

State of the Climate
Global Analysis
November 2010

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

National Climatic Data Center

Global Highlights [maybe wanna start calling these downlights]

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for November 2010 was 0.69 °C (1.24 °F) above the 20th century average of 12.9 °C (55.2 °F). This was the second warmest such period on record. 2004 was the warmest November on record.
  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for fall (September–November) 2010 was the sixth warmest on record for the season, 0.58 °C (1.04 °F) above the 20th century average of 14.0 °C (57.1 °F).
  • For the 2010 year-to-date (January–November), the combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 0.64 °C (1.15 °F) above the 20th century average—the warmest such period since records began in 1880.
  • The November 2010 Northern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest November on record, while the Southern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature was the 13th warmest November on record.
  • The November 2010 global land surface temperature was the warmest on record, at 1.52 °C (2.74 °F) above the 20th century average, while the November global ocean temperature tied with 1987 and 2008 as the tenth warmest on record, at 0.39 °C (0.70 °F) above average.
  • The January–November 2010 Northern Hemisphere land surface temperature was the second warmest such period on record, while the Southern Hemisphere was the fourth warmest on record.


Temperature anomalies for November 2010, September–November 2010, and January–November 2010 are shown on the dot maps in this section. The dot maps on the left provide a spatial representation of anomalies calculated from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) dataset of land surface stations using a 1961–1990 base period. The dot maps on the right are a product of a merged land surface and sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly analysis developed by Smith et al. (2008). For the merged land surface and SST analysis, temperature anomalies with respect to the 1971–2000 average for land and ocean are analyzed separately and then merged to form the global analysis. For more information, please visit NCDC's Global Surface Temperature Anomalies page.
The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for November 2010 was the second warmest November, behind 2004, since global temperature records began in 1880. The combined global land and ocean temperature was 0.69 °C (1.24 °F) above the 20th century average of 12.9 °C (55.2 °F). The combined land and ocean surface temperature for November in the Northern Hemisphere was the warmest on record, while the combined land and ocean surface temperature in the Southern Hemisphere ranked as the 13th warmest such period on record. The globally averaged land temperature was the warmest on record, at 1.52 °C (2.74 °F) above the 20th century average of 5.9 °C (42.6 °F). The Northern Hemisphere November land temperature was also the warmest on record, while the Southern Hemisphere land temperature ranked as the 21st warmest on record. More than two-thirds of the Earth's land mass is located in the Northern Hemisphere.

More at this link:

James Howard Kunstler: The Moment of Convulsion

The Moment of Convulsion

[bad language alert -- Kunstler can't write without heavy use of the f word]
A little ways off the curb on the Boulevard Henry IV here in Paris, you can see the memory of the Bastille outlined by a course of masonry in the pavement, in particular one of the bulbous towers of the old fortress-prison. It marks one of those threshold moments in history when things got out-of-hand -- in the late afternoon of July 14, 1789 -- and by the time a mob had detached the head of Warden Bernard-René de Launey from his shoulders and paraded it around on a pike, everyone in the city knew that they had crossed into the politically unknown frontier of Revolution.

Seeing this residue of history put me in mind of a riddle that one of my college professors presented to us one day years ago: why did Achilles drag Hector around the city of Troy three times? We came up with dozens of reasons ranging from conjectures out of the text of The Iliad to lame bits of Hippie numerology, but nobody could furnish the answer that the prof was looking for, which was eventually revealed: Because he [Achilles] was just that pissed off.

This was the idea that dogged me in the winter twilight of Paris late on Christmas Day as I pondered the fate of my own country back across the cold cold sea. A lot of Americans are beaten down and discouraged these days. They've lost not only jobs, incomes, and houses, but also a sense of purpose, and perhaps faith in the essential fairness of the American venture -- as the propane runs out, and families try to subsist on Froot Loops, and the re-po squad turns up to haul away the Ford F-150 Raptor. Meanwhile, in their last remaining refuge from harsh reality -- TV -- they glimpse the likes of Jamie Dimon, Chloe Kardashian, and Jay-Z emerging from limousines looking hopelessly bored with wealth beyond imagination. When will the folks out there move from shame and despondency to being really pissed off about the disposition of things?

Isn't that a question, though?

The French Revolution arose first from a financial crisis that turned into a political crisis. The rule of law had been vested in a class of pampered imbeciles while the price of bread doubled, and sometimes there was no bread at all for the growing masses, or functioning law to govern the country. This was where the rising middle-class of the dawning industrial-commercial age stepped in to straighten things out -- people such as Jean Paul Marat the itinerant physician (ahem), thief, sewer rat, and newspaper columnist, and Maxmilien Robespierre, lawyer. They had the example ten years earlier of the successful American Revolution, which Louis XVI had helped finance, and which helped bankrupt the French Treasury. But the new French political class botched the crucial part: a constitution that actually worked. The whole enterprise sank into a morass of absurd utopianism and, finally, paranoia. The guillotine turned out to be the perfect machine for that dark moment: efficient, elegant, and terrifying. The bloodthirsty competed with the incompetent for the soul of the nation until finally a twenty-eight-year-old artillery officer said (in effect), "Look here, fuckers! This will be quite enough of your shenanigans." After Monsieur General Bonaparte entered the scene, that was all she wrote for the revolution...

Which brings me to the subject of our own financial crisis, soon to mutate into a political crisis. There really is no "solution" to our problem of debt except to become a less affluent society. You can get there via the path of compressive deflationary depression (no money), or hyperinflation (plenty of worthless money), but the destination is the same. In the meantime we're stuck with the extremely uneven distribution of hardship and luxury. Whole classes of formerly working people face the prospect of genuine ruin while an ultra-pampered class of celebrity clowns and professional swindlers fob off with whatever's left on the national buffet table. The real politics of all this are so far from being sorted out that sheer contemplation of what lies ahead leaves the mind harrowed and feeble.

The Jacobins of 1793 France were basically the Left. It took only five hundred or so of them to bully a nation of 30 million. The Jacobins of the USA in 2011 are basically the Right Wing, followers of Senator Jim DeMint, the mind-slaves of Rush Limbaugh and "students" of Prof Glenn Beck, and, of course, the worshippers of Sarah Palin.  Their brand of politics might be labeled Nostalgic Sentimental Paranoid Know-Nothingism. They're proud and loud, pious and ignorant, so deeply insecure that they depend on flag lapel pins to remind them to care about their country, full of righteous anger about their own sexual impulses, the religious notions (or not) of other people, and the possible introduction of the rule of law in banking matters. They pretend to represent the folks freezing in their mobile homes who subsist on Froot Loops, but they're really protecting the country clubbers, the corporate poobahs, the fraudsters on Wall Street, and every other racketeer in the land -- including their own class of political grifters.

The Obama Democrats, the putative Left Wing, are analogous to the pro-monarchy center of revolutionary France. Their ethical sanctimony is fake while they do everything possible to keep the rule of law out of money matters. They are most of all ineffectual and impotent, capable only of grandstanding hyped up Great Compromises that accomplish nothing, and probably doom the party to be chewed up by the machinations of their bloodthirsty adversaries on the right. It's hard to shed a tear for them, their performance has been so purblind and wimpish.

History has its own momentum and it is carrying the psychotic Right Wing into power. Fear not. After they stomp the moderates and the Left, they will themselves end up in an orgy of political cannibalism before somebody as yet unknown -- perhaps some field brigadier just now in Afghanistan -- steps up to say, "Look here, fuckers...." Meanwhile, America may have its own Bastille moment when something goes too far, some poor functionary at the Treasury Department gets scalped by a gang of 99ers, or a distressed physician goes after Glenn Beck in the student union of a Bible college, or... Gawd knows what.

Meanwhile, you are sleeping and it's morning here in Paris. I get the feeling that we're at the end of the great era of tourism. Europe has been the world's premiere tourist theme park for half a century. Given Europe's bloody, riotous history, it's been a remarkable period of peace and affluence. Since the 1960s, everything here in Paris got buffed up to perfection. Notre Dame's white stone façade gleams in the winter sunlight. The Louvre, the Opera, the Conciergerie, the Tomb of Napoleon are all fixed, re-pointed, re-gilded. The café and restaurant scene operates like one great gastronomic machine, effortless and masterful. I'm already nostalgic for it.

In the background, Europe's money situation is disintegrating, and with it probably the easy order that has reigned in this period. They are going broke, too, just as surely as America is, and they are responding in pretty much the same way: a game of extend and pretend (with some prayer as the cherry-on-top). Meanwhile, the price of oil has breached the $91 dollar line. If it goes just a little bit higher, and the winter weather stays harsh, you can bet that some airlines will be going down the drain. Combine that with the vanishing disposable incomes of the middle class and you get an ill-fated recipe for the tourism business -- with perhaps some home-grown mob action waiting in the wings around Europe, not to mention friction between age-old enemies.

I was fortunate to see Europe at its best in my time, and now we are entering a new time of great uncertainty and travail. I'll be back home next week with the usual gruesome forecast for the new year. And yes, I am aware that the Dow Jones Industrial Average did not settle around 4000 points, as I predicted a year ago. Obviously 2010 was a year of fabulous prosperity in the USA -- just ask the people running out of propane with their bowls full of Froot Loops.

George Monbiot: Cold Hearted -- Fuel Poverty in the U.K.


The level of excess winter deaths in the UK is higher than Siberia’s. This is why

by George Monbiot, The Guardian, 28th December 2010

Were you to list the factors that distinguish civilisation from barbarism, this would come close to the top: that the elderly are not left to die of cold. By this measure, the United Kingdom is a cruel land. Although we usually have one of the smallest differences between winter and summer temperatures at these latitudes, we also have one of the highest levels of excess winter deaths.
Roughly twice as many people, per capita, die here than in Scandanavia and other parts of northern Europe, though our winters are typically milder(1).
Even Siberia has lower levels of excess winter deaths than we do(2). Between 25,000 and 30,000 people a year are hastened to the grave by the cold here(3) – this winter it could be much worse.

Why? Inequality. We have an economic elite untouched and unmoved by the ills afflicting other people. It survives all changes of government. Its need for profit outweighs other people’s need for survival. Here’s how our brutal system operates.

Fuel poverty is defined as having to spend 10% or more of your income on keeping your home at a decent temperature. Between 2003 and 2008 (the latest available figures) the number of households in fuel poverty here rose from 2 to 4.5 million(4). That’s not people; that’s households: this blight now afflicts 18% of the UK’s population. Yet, since 2000, over £25bn of our money has been spent on programmes ostensibly designed to prevent it(5). Admittedly, much of this spending doesn’t really have anything to do with fuel. The winter fuel payment is, in truth, a universal pension supplement which people can spend as they wish: it helps large numbers of the elderly to get by. But most of the other spending programmes are ill-conceived, unfair and unfocussed.

Even before the coalition took office, the government’s statutory advisers estimated that 7m households would be fuel-poor by 2016(6), which happens to be the date by which New Labour pledged to eliminate fuel poverty. As the incomes of the poor fall and the Tories deregulate still further, it could get even worse.

The main reason is that the privatised, liberalised utility companies have been allowed to get away with murder. In her excellent new book Fixing Fuel Poverty, Brenda Boardman shows that fuel poverty has risen so steeply in the UK because public control over the energy companies is so weak(7). In 2002, the regulator, Ofgem, decided that it would stop regulating consumer prices. The energy companies immediately increased their profit margins: 10-fold in one case(8). When world energy prices rise, the companies raise their tariffs, often far more steeply than the wholesale price justifies. When they fall, domestic prices often stay where they are. 

The price rises are exacerbated by policies which penalise the poor. People who use pre-payment meters to buy gas and electricity (who are often the poorest) are stung for an extra £120 a year(9). Those who consume the most energy (generally the rich) are subsidised by everyone else: they pay a lower tariff beyond a certain level of use. It ought to be the other way round: the first units you consume should be the cheapest. Before the election, both the Tories and the Lib Dems demanded an inquiry into competition in the energy market. They’re not demanding it any more(10).

There should be a perfect synergy between climate change and social justice policies. As the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee points out, “improving the energy efficiency of homes is the most effective way of tackling fuel poverty.”(11) But the government’s green policies are grossly unfair and regressive: everyone pays at an equal rate for reducing energy emissions, yet those who need the most help to green their homes and reduce their costs don’t get it. Policies such as the European emissions trading system, the carbon emissions reduction target and the feed-in tariff are, according to the government’s Climate Change Committee, likely to throw another 1.7m people into fuel poverty by 2022(12). This is an outrage.

The main scheme for improving the homes of the fuel poor, Warm Front, is so leaky and badly constructed that, if it were a house, it would be condemned and demolished. Only 25% of the money it spends relieves fuel poverty(13). There’s no requirement that the worst homes are treated, or that they are brought up to an acceptable level of energy efficiency. Boardman discovered that “the proportion of expenditure going to the fuel poor is less than they contribute”(14).

Now the scheme has been suspended. The government has launched a consultation on how it could work better when it resumes, but there will be much less money(15): even if it starts to work, it will address only a fraction of the escalating problem.

Nothing will be done to reduce fuel poverty until governments discipline one of the least regulated energy markets in the rich world - controlling profits and prices - and help those who need it most. Green policies must be funded by transferring money from richer consumers to poorer ones. It’s a scandal that none of this was addressed by the Labour government. It would be little short of miraculous if it were tackled by the Tories. But until something is done, the cold will keep killing, at levels which even the Siberians don’t have to endure.


Gareth Renowden: A Carol for Monckton

A carol for Monckton

by Gareth Renowden, Hot Topic, December 28, 2010

Stave One: The ghost of global warming

Global warming was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that that. The register of his burial was signed by Lindzen the clergyman, Spencer the clerk, Morano the undertaker, and lauded from the rooftops by Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who sat in his library before the roaring log fire enjoying a fortifying glass of 40-year-old, 60% proof Glenfarclas.

Global warming was as dead as a doornail.

About Tannochbrae Manor the snow lay deep and crisp and even. The weeks preceding Christmas had brought blizzard after blizzard to the glens of Scotland, and the Laird had only just managed to regain the old house after his Mexican trip. The roads were now impassable, with drifts ten feet deep blocking the drive and snow half way up the front door. Old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer, was attempting to keep a path open to the woodshed, but now that the ghillie McShane had taken to his bed complaining of frostbite, he was fighting a losing battle. Monckton sipped his whisky (no ice, no water — they were for heathens), and pondered plans for a network of tunnels to be dug around the Manor if there was no respite from this vicious winter.

A gust of chill air blew in as the library door flew open, followed closely by a snow-encrusted Scrotum, his shaggy eyebrows frosted with a delicate white lacework of deliquescing crystals and a small icicle dangling off the end of his nose. He unloaded his cargo of pine logs alongside the fire and made to leave. Open fires were nice, but the library was still distinctly chilly. The kitchen was a different matter, snug and warm with the Aga almost glowing as it filled the old stone room with heat. The Laird insisted that it be fired only with the finest Welsh steam coal, hand hewn by private enterprise miners. It was another of Monckton’s affectations, to be sure, born of the time he’d spent in Cardiff in the ’70s, but Scrotum was forced to admit the glossy black coals made a damn fine fire.

Scrotum looked at Monckton, and wondered if the time was right. “Would you care for another wee dram, sir, before I attend to the kitchen fire?” Monckton nodded and proffered his glass. Scrotum took it to the drinks cabinet, poured a generous shot of the marmalade-coloured fluid and then, glancing quickly over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t watched, drew a small green bottle out of his coat pocket and added a couple of drops to the glass.

Monckton stared into the fire. Resin dripped and flared from the gnarly old pine logs. He let his mind wander over the events of the last few years, his transformation from journalist and puzzle designer to world-famous scientist and expert on global warming. It hadn’t all been plain sailing — there seemed to be a distressing number of birds of prey taking an interest in his doings, and he was never going to return to Australia after what that vicious koala had done to him, but he took pleasure in having overcome those minor difficulties, and like St George, risen again to plunge the blade of his rapier wit deep in the vitals of the global warming dragon. His eyelids felt heavy. Florrie’s steamed plum pudding, which he had enjoyed perhaps a trifle too enthusiastically, was sitting heavily on his stomach. His head drooped.

“Christopher.” The voice was soft but insistent. “Christopher. Open your eyes. I have much to show you.” Monckton opened one eye slowly. It took a great effort. Then he started awake, shocked by what he saw. In the flames of the fire was a face. It was familiar, but he couldn’t put a name to it. It seemed to glow with an inner light, eyes a baleful yellow. The receding hair was a wreath of smoke twisting in the updraught.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Monckton wanted to sound angry, but the best he could manage was a whine.

“I am the ghost of global warming.”

“But warming is dead. Buried. Lindzen tells me so. The snow outside confirms it.”

“Not dead, Christopher, not dead. Gathering my forces. This night I shall show you the error of your ways, and you shall have a chance to redeem yourself and the Monckton name. Before the night is over, you will be visited by three spirits — warming past, present and future — and what you learn from them will decide your future. There’s still time, Christopher, still time to claim your proper place in history.” A spark shot out of the fire onto the hearth, and the apparition disappeared.

Monckton staggered to his feet and looked round the room. There was nobody there. It must have been a dream. Bloody pudding. Or was it the Stilton? Whatever, obviously time for bed. He walked slowly to the window, drew back the curtain and saw that it was still snowing hard. No sign of warming yet.

Stave two: the ghost of warming past

Monckton lay curled up in the great four poster bed, under the drooping canopy that had watched over the conception of all the great Moncktons of old. His breathing made little puffs of mist in the cold air, his nightcap was pulled down over his ears. In the hall the grandfather clock chimed once.


Monckton’s eyebrows fluttered, and his eyelids followed suit.

“Christopher. Awake. We have a journey to make.”

The Laird sat bolt upright. In the air at the end of the bed a puff of fog formed a figure clad in flowing white robes. Its face was wan, but strangely familiar.

“Who the devil are you?” he whispered.

“No devil, Christopher. I am the ghost of warming past. You can think of me as a guardian angel. Come, take my hand, I have things you must see.” The figure stretched out its arm, and Monckton could not resist. He reached for the hand… and then he was standing knee-deep in a warm river. On the opposite bank hippos were playing in the mud, and he could see crocodiles entering the water, heading in his direction. He tried to move back, but the ghost gripped his arm and held it tight.

“Where is this place? What are we doing here?”

“This is London,” the ghost said. “You are standing in the Thames, where one day the House of Lords will stand, and where you will one day take your rightful place.”

Monckton looked around again. “But this is more like Africa. I mean, you don’t find hippos on Hampstead Heath, or crocs in Clerkenwell.”

The ghost smiled. “This is a long time ago, Christopher. 125,000 years before your birth. The warmest part of the last interglacial, called the Eemian in England.”

“So what?”

“A simple lesson. The air you are breathing has only 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide, and yet that is enough to make sea levels reach 6 metres above your present. England’s climate is like the Mediterranean.”

A gleam came into Monckton’s eyes. “Then all that shows is that carbon dioxide cannot be the driver of climate warming. We are well past 300ppm, and yet the sea is not rising and snow continues to fall. No hippos in Highgate that I’ve seen.”

The ghost gave him a look that mingled pity with anger. “Do not jump to conclusions, Christopher. The laws of physics are not susceptible to rhetoric. The London lapping round your knees is where warming leads — given enough time. This is a warning from the past about your future. You have time to prevent it, and earn eternal fame for the Monckton name.”

“How do I do that?”

“You will see, Christopher, when the clock strikes two and three.”

With a lurch, Monckton realised he was back in his bed. A little puddle of water was soaking into the counterpane. If that was a dream, it was a damn realistic one.

Stave three: the ghost of warming present

Monckton couldn’t get back to sleep, try as he might. Outside snow still fell, but he fancied it was a little less heavy than before. He lay on the bed and considered his dreams. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before, not even when the lefties in the JCR at Churchill had spiked his daily harvey wallbanger with tincture of opium. This was all too real. But surely these “ghosts” could not be right? Global warming is a socialist plot. He knew this to be true, because everyone he trusted also knew it to be true. He closed his eyes and shivered.


Monckton groaned. The clock was striking two. Another figure floated at his feet.

“Don’t tell me. I know the plot. I read my Dickens a long time ago. You’re the ghost of christmas present.”

“The ghost of warming present, if you don’t mind. Take my hand, dear Christopher, we have a long way to travel.”

“No. I’m staying here.” Monckton folded his arms defiantly. The ghost shrugged and grabbed his ankle.

Monckton’s scream echoed round the mouth of the great chasm and then lost itself in the crashing roar of the torrent tearing down the throat of the icy funnel. The ghost smiled, and lowered the inverted Laird a few feet closer to the hole. More screaming. And then they were standing on the grey ice next to the moulin, watching a river of meltwater head for the fall.


The ghost smiled again.


“Because Christopher, when you told the world there’s been no warming since 2002, or 1998, or 1995, you forgot to tell the great ice sheet to stop melting. It goes its own sweet way, like all the world’s ice, responding to the heat accumulating in the system.”

The ghost gave Monckton a push towards the moulin. He staggered forward, flailing, and fell… face first into a bog. He thrashed the water, trying to find a footing, but succeeded only in stirring up great brown bubbles from the bottom. The ghost offered him a hand. He took it, and emerged from the mud bedraggled and cold.

“This was permafrost, Christopher. Now it is a muddy bog, and those bubbles are methane — much more effective at warming the planet than carbon dioxide.” The ghost waved an arm, and as each bubble broke the surface it burst into flame. Within seconds, the whole surface was alight. Monckton tried to back away, but the ghost held him firm.

“You still have time, Christopher. You can make a difference, you can turn back the warming. Use your gifts, your oratory, your wit and your wisdom to change the course of the world. Stop the burning of fossil fuels, build a windfarm at Tannochbrae, lead the UK Independence Party to a new green future.”

A great shudder wracked Monckton’s body. He threw his head back and began to bellow. “No. No. No! I cannot do this, it will destroy me.”

“If you do not, Christopher, you will destroy yourself and the world, and the name of Monckton will be reviled for all eternity.”

Stave four: the ghost of future warming

Monckton was back on his bed, still sobbing quietly. He began to question his sanity. Not only was he seeing visions, but they were challenging the very core of his beliefs. Everything he held dear was a mirage, the people he so despised — the bedwetters and standard bearers of the great climate bugaboo — were right. These “ghosts” were his worst nightmare. A thumb crept into his mouth, and he sucked on it, transported back to those difficult days in boarding school. The clock struck three.


“God, no. Please. Leave me alone.” Monckton was white and shaking, his bed wet and muddy. “I can’t do it. I can’t change.”

“You can, and you will. Take my hand, or do I have to take your foot?” Monckton took the offered hand. It was probably safer.

He blinked. He was in a room he knew well. It was the war room at Fred Singer’s secret Kennebunkport lair. He knew the people well enough. There was Lindzen in the corner, talking to Roy Spencer. He tried to wave hello, but they couldn’t see him. Morano was deep in conversation with someone he only vaguely knew — Heartland, was it? No, Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. Singer was in a wheelchair, plugged into a life-support machine, his gloved right hand twitching on the control joystick.

The doors swung open and the room fell silent. Two tall elderly men in expensive suits strode in. One carried a large white Persian cat. They moved to the head of the long boardroom table and sat down, motioning the others to do the same. The cat sat on a cushion between the brothers. Monckton had heard about the Koch cat, but had never seen it before.

“OK, everybody. Listen up.” The Koch on the left spoke first. “We need a strategic repositioning. Climate change is becoming a bit too obvious. With half of Greenland floating out into the Atlantic, we’ll be slaughtered by the media if we try to pretend it isn’t happening. Time to admit that we need to do something, but concentrate on carbon capture and storage as the answer. Can’t stop burning coal and oil, but we can capture the gas and bury it in our old oil wells.”

There was no dissent. Lindzen and Spencer looked a bit pale, but Singer was nodding vigorously. Morano started clapping, and then stopped when nobody else joined in.

It was the other brother’s turn. “We need to re-evaluate our PR assets. First, we need to ditch the lunatics. Monckton’s got to go. Useful last year, but he’s a major liability now. We can’t trust him to put the new line. We tried to pension him off to Lawson’s Brit mob, but they wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole. I think it would be simpler if he just disappeared. Take my meaning, Fred?”

Singer grinned. Monckton felt a shiver run down his spine. Singer was a friend, he thought. They’d shared many bottles of fine wine over lunches and dinners at sceptic conferences around the world. Singer had been avuncular, a mentor, someone he could look up to and confide in. Now he was about to stab him in the back — surely not literally? He shivered again, and the scene changed.

It was the churchyard at Tannochbrae. Where a fine old yew had once stood there was now an orange tree, and the loch had encroached a mile or more inland to lap at the church walls. He was standing in front of a gravestone. It was plain black marble, as was the Monckton family style. It was his own grave. Below his name someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to carve the words “climate criminal.”

“Is this my future?” The ghost was sucking idly at an orange.

“Only if you don’t change, Christopher. You have the power to remake your future, and that of the world. The people you think are your friends are leading the world into mortal danger, but you are in a position of great power, even if you don’t realise it at the moment.”

“What do you mean, great power?”

“You have the power to change the world.”

“How on earth do I do that? I’ve spent most of the last ten years arguing against taking action of any kind.”

“You will see, Christopher, you will see. For the time being, return to your bed and sleep. In the morning, much will become clear.”

He was back in his bedroom. The bed was no longer wet and muddy. The hot water bottle had been refilled, and the snow had stopped. In the secret passage behind the bedroom’s timber panelling, Scrotum switched off the electronics and tiptoed off to report to Mycroft.

Stave five: joy to the world

Monckton slept late. Scrotum felt he deserved it after the events of the night. Snow had turned to heavy rain and yesterday’s deep powder was turning to heavy slush. There would be floods in Tannochbrae town, Scrotum reckoned. He woke the Laird at ten, with a cup of hot sweet tea and one of Florrie’s oatcakes. Monckton looked drained, but there was a gleam in his eye.

“Bad night, sir?”

“I slept badly, Scrotum, but I have done a lot of thinking. We may see one or two changes in the coming year.”

“Oh really, sir? And what might they be?”

“Now, now, be patient. I have work to do. Please ask Florrie to prepare kippers. I shall take them in the library.”

“Of course, sir.” Scrotum, servile to a fault, left the bedroom and headed for the kitchen. He smiled to himself. Mycroft’s audacious plan to turn his brother into a double agent was off to a good start.

This is the fifth Monckton tale.  Previous episodes:

Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry,
Mycroft Monckton Makes Mischief,
Something Potty In The State Of Denmark,
Monckton in Australia: Picnic at Hanging Sock.