A Green World

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Why the Green Party Can Win the 2015 General Election

Win the general election? The Green Party? An outrageous claim, but I will show you why it is true.
Never has this country been so disillusioned with politics. Never have we been so ripe for a revolutionary change. In my lifetime, voter turnout for general elections has shrunk dramatically, especially among the young. We used to consider it our duty to vote, but the British Social Attitudes survey shows that Russell Brand in his notorious New Statesman edition had a point about revolution. Now is the time for revolution, and the Green Party is that revolution.

Why the Green Party?

Vote for Policies is an independent social enterprise run by volunteers who want to make politics be about policies, not personalities. This survey website was created for the 2010 general election and compares the policies in the manifestos of the six main parties. Look at these astonishing results.


A Landslide Victory

More than a quarter, more than 100,000 of the 400,000 people who took this survey found out that the Green Party was how they should vote. In all the post codes I've checked, every constituency had the Green Party in the lead. That is proof of a national, widespread undercurrent of belief in the Green Party that, with the current unfair 1st past the post voting system, would, irony of ironies, result in a landslide victory for the Green Party. That is what the numbers say.

Why don't the polls show this?

The polls try to predict the election result by asking a small number of people how they intend to vote. This voter intention is based on many factors; voting habit, tactical voting, track record, media coverage, leader personality, and even manifesto policies. So policies are only part of the picture. Clearly we in the Green Party need to emphasise our policies because they are so popular. Our manifesto pledges will turn voters away from the old parties and get them voting Green. That is what the numbers say.

Belief and Hope

Even among my Green Party activist friends, far too many only hope to keep our deposit at the coming general election. It's time to raise our sights and know we can win. Caroline Lucas has shown us that winning is possible. She had very strong local support that took time to build. We haven't got time to build that sort of support. We need a national surge before the election. Only spreading our infectious believe in victory will make it a self-fulfilling prophesy. There is a reservoir of support out there that just needs to be released. That is what the numbers say.


How do we get the message across when the national media give the Green Party hardly any coverage? The answer has to be social media. I'm convinced that the difference that elected Molly Scott Cato as Green MEP for the South West region, just nudging the Lib Dems out of power by 6,000 extra votes, was social media. More coverage of Green Party successes, shared with our social media contacts, will get the message out there, that we are a mature party with the winning habit. This will build a virtuous circle of support creating more success creating more support. Voting intention will move in favour of the Green Party, and be reflected in conventional polls. That will trigger the landslide.

Our current membership is greater than UKIP was in 2011. If the UKIP phenomenon can happen in our stodgy system, then so can a Green Party phenomenon. We have to believe that it's possible. It's no good aiming low. If we want to win we have to believe we can win. The GP membership is growing rapidly. I truly believe that it is possible to form a Green Party government at the 2015 general election.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Boom and Bust of Markets, Ecosystems and Politics

I was reading George Mombiot's excellent speech Put a price on nature? this week. This speech puts the skids under the attempt to merge nature into our economy by putting a price on 'services' provided by nature. As well as wondering about the difference between the economy and nature, it got me thinking about why we intervene at all as politicians. Why not let the natural processes of our ecology, and I see us and all our works as part of the total world ecology, just happen? The answer has to be that if a see a problem I just have to fix it. So what is the problem?
The Mandelbrot set

Chaos Theory

What can this beautiful fractal pattern possibly have to do with politics? We've become so familiar with the stunning images discovered in the Mandelbrot set that we forget that the maths around fractals is only a few decades old. It is linked to chaos theory and the logistic difference equation used by biologists to describe how populations change from generation to generation. So this is the maths of natural ecological systems. It is also the maths of any complex dynamic system, such as our economy.

Boom and Bust

What have markets and ecosystems got in common? They may seem poles apart, but they are both systems prone to boom and bust. In nature this is most apparent in ecologies with low biodiversity. So the lemmings in the Arctic have population booms that are so huge they are alleged to throw themselves off cliffs. What actually happens is a delayed boom of lemming predators that nearly wipes lemmings out next season. This boom and bust is happening throughout the natural world, but where there is a more diverse ecology the ups and downs are gentle. This is because there are far more interactions between the different species. Organic gardening relies on this to keep the aphids in check with lots of different natural predators. This is also why the Green Party is in favour of an economy of lots of small enterprises rather than large. It was no surprise that our banking system, dominated by a few massive businesses, was so vulnerable. This is why the banks have to be split into smaller units with increased diversity. It's safer that way.

Lorenz attractor diagram

The Problem of Instability

The butterfly effect, part of chaos theory, and famous for how the flapping of a butterfly's wings in one part of the world can set off a hurricane elsewhere, is aptly linked to this Lorenz attractor diagram that looks so like a butterfly. The dangerous thing about this particular butterfly, and the point of the hurricane story, is that chaos theory shows just how vulnerable many of our systems are to seemingly small changes that can push us over various tipping points.

Tipping points are frequently mentioned with climate change, but it is also true for the ecology which supports us. There was another recent story about the dinosaurs being specially vulnerable to the meteor strike that wiped them out. This was because dinosaur ecological diversity was low and they could be more easily be tipped into extinction.

Green Intervention

So the reason for taking up green politics is that we are in danger. Because of human activity we have the dangerous stresses of climate change and world wide pollution at the same time as our decreasing biodiversity makes our whole ecology most vulnerable. As human beings we have intelligence, the ability to predict future problems, and plan how to stop them. I can't just sit back and let the natural boom bust cycle destroy the world I love. I am human. I can choose, and I choose to make a difference.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

War, aggression and how to control it.

Can a Green viewpoint help us control war and aggression?

In nature we see leopards killing antelopes, and ants waging war. So maybe war and aggression are not a uniquely human failing or sin. I would even argue that they are a natural behaviour in the ecology that we are part of. That doesn't mean they should be uncontrolled for people. Civilisation gives us the opportunity to improve on the law of the jungle. A better understanding of our ecology could help us put the right political mechanisms in place to help us create a better world.

The robber's risky lifestyle

When a leopard kills an antelope it takes a risk, investing a lot of time and energy for the reward of meat. It's not an easy life being a predator. Every time it hunts the leopard risks an injury that could cause it to starve if it can't hunt. Is this any different from the robber who steals and risks being caught and punished? This high risk lifestyle seems like the same ecological niche to me. We try to control the robbers by using punishment to make the long-term risks more expensive than the short-term gains. The alternative low-risk antelope lifestyle that most of us choose is of course what we want to convert the robber to. I think this analogy shows that the process of rehabilitation has got to include plenty of short-term nibbles if the robber is to be changed into an antelope.

War and Peace

When it comes to war, ants have been waging war since way before we did. They even take slaves, which is often the purpose of the war. Once again this is a specialised ecological niche that only some ant species occupy. Also the colony risks casualties for the expected gain of resources. Unlike the leopard, the ant colony takes fewer risks for it's gains. For ants, war pays. You could say, it's not war it's just business.

When people wage war is it any different?

So how do we control wars?

Well obviously the potential gains of war have to be outweighed by the potential losses. This is why countries band together in organisations like NATO. NATO is just too big to attack, it's too risky.

What about the United Nations as policeman of the world? The UN is a fine organisation that does marvellous humanitarian work around the world, but it's more of a social worker than a policeman. The UN is not in a position to treat countries like robbers. It can't impose adequate penalties.

Israel and Palestine

So what happens in situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My analysis is that both sides believe that aggression can gain them resources they desire. I believe and hope that the majority on both sides just want to get on with their lives, grazing away like the rest of us in peace. Too many politicians on both sides don't think that is enough. The Zionist movement in Israel wants to colonise all Palestinian land, and the response of the extremist Palestinians is to try and destroy Israel.

If we look at the costs and benefits, the political stance of both sides are very understandable. While Israel is supported, politically and financially, by the USA they can colonise the West Bank with near impunity, a big gain. Gaza is seen as the largest prison in the world, and with nothing to lose Hamas will use Iranian support to attack Israel by whatever means are available. Any change has got to be better than the current imprisonment, and a big gain. There is positive reinforcement of aggression. Since both sides see aggression as giving greater rewards than peace, there is no motivation to stop the conflict. It will not stop. There is no way out.

What about the silent majority who I believe want peace? Is there a political mechanism that can support them in achieving a peaceful outcome? Is there a settlement that the UN as social worker could negotiate to make peace grow? I think that if we look at the situation from an ecological systems viewpoint we can come up with something that will work.

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both sides want territory, that seems to be a prime motivating factor. Currently aggression is rewarded with territorial gain, peace with loss of territory. This needs to be reversed for a peaceful settlement. There have been a number of Israeli-Palestinian border agreements in the past. None of them have been stuck to. What if a new agreement incorporated a clause that said aggression on either side would result in a loss of territory from the aggressor? This would change the positive feedback system into a negative feedback that would reward peace and penalise aggression. Peace at last in the Middle East!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

By 2100 what will our world be like?

Here is my dad on his 86th birthday earlier this month, coincidentally 86 years before 2100. Neither he nor I expect to live that long, but today's babies should. So what will the world be like on their 86th birthday?

Well, a trip to the seaside should be a bit quicker.

In the 2013 IPCC report predicted sea level rises are between 0.7 and 1m by 2100, as can be seen in this graph. These IPCC figures have been criticised as being too conservative, and it looks like the critics were right. (See below). To be fair, the IPCC report does say that predicted ice sheet melting has significant uncertainties.

Although according to this article on the Climate Code Red website new data shows that the expected rise in sea levels of about 1m will actually be between 3m to 5m by 2100. The ice is melting quicker than expected.

What about the temperature? 

We all know it will be hotter, but how much? Once again I turned to the IPCC for this graph. There are four different scenarios, but even the most optimistic shows temperatures still rising throughout my lifetime until they level out mid century.

So what are these scenarios? 
Well this is from the IPCC report.

Frustratingly they don't actually say it in plain English, but to summarise - only the lowest emission scenario, with aggressive cuts in fossil fuels, keeps global average temperatures below the 2°C maximum rise agreed at Copenhagen. The worst scenario can best be described as 'business as usual' and will result in a 4°C rise by 2100 for our baby. 

I've found more detail on RCP2.6 so here's another graph taken from “RCP2.6: exploring the possibility to keep global mean temperature increase below 2°C” – Van Vuuren et al 2011.

The biggest snag I can see with this scenario is that half of all energy production has to be with Carbon Capture and Storage, which is very experimental technology. Fossil fuels are also still a massive part of the mix. Renewables seem to be no different than in the baseline trend, while they could be expanded hugely with the right political will, especially now that solar panels are competitive with fossil fuels. 

When I investigated scenario RCP8.5, I was expecting even worse news. I was pleasantly surprised by "RCP 8.5 - A scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions" has the following graphics.

These graphics show a completely different mix of fuels.

A bit more research gets me to see the obvious. The IPCC report is not interested in how we make the changes, just how the climate changes under different forcing scenarios. You have to look at other reports which suggest different ways of achieving the forcing scenarios. Some authors rely on CCS others renewables, but I conclude that the IPCC 2013 report does not even include a Green scenario as a possibility. This is not acceptable. We in the Green Party will make sure that today's babies grow to old age in a truly sustainable world.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Another IPCC Report - Better Late than Never - Well No

Today Facebook presented me with two related items.

 gave me

IPCC report: climate change felt 'on all continents and across the oceans'

Leaked text of blockbuster report says changes in climate have already caused impacts on natural and human systems


gave me

One Guy With A Marker Just Made The Global Warming Debate Completely Obsolete

so what do I think.

From the Guardian I learn that the second of three IPCC reports means we have to wait for a third. The first said - "Hey folks, we have a problem". The second says - "Hey folks, bad stuff is going to happen if you do nothing". But we have to wait for the third for - "Hey folks, this is what you do".

Upworthy's guy with a marker argues that we do something, basically using the precautionary principle, but his worse case scenario does not include runaway global warming turning our planet into a second Venus.

Like nearly everything I come across in the media, both items run around waving their metaphorical hands in the air, screaming for someone to do something. No one is suggesting a solution.

I still say that to fix this global problem, we either ration fossil fuel globally, or do global geoengineering. I suspect that politically we are incapable of fossil fuel rationing, and so the Chinese will end up geoengineering the planet to meet their needs. Probably with a very large sunshade at the L1 Lagrange point in space.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Floods - Can We, and Should We Fix Them?

Steph McWilliam (UKIP) is a fellow councillor who has asked for my thoughts on a Spectator article by Christopher Booker "Revealed: how green ideology turned a deluge into a flood". This article blames the flooding of the Somerset Levels on the Environment Agency, stopping dredging for idealogical reasons after Baroness Young, from the RSPB and Natural England, took over as chief executive in 2002; although the article says the decline started in 1996. The EU is also blamed for regulations on silt.

Well here are some of my thoughts; a bit rambling at times, a bit technical at others, and with lots of links to better information that I'll try to summarise. Accurate good science tends to be omitted from the headlines, so is difficult to find in the media, but it is out there, and I hope I've found some good links.

More than forty years ago, as a child living in Portishead I spent many enjoyable hours angling in the rhynes of the Gordano valley in North Somerset, so I had an early interest in reclaimed land and drainage. My history teacher said that the Gordano valley had been reclaimed from the sea by the Romans. All I knew was that it wasn't unusual for Portishead High Street to get flooded, up at the end near the docks.

As far as dredging to stop flooding the Somerset Levels goes, there is a clue in the name; they are level, flat and difficult to drain, so will always flood. Expert hydrologists hopefully know more than me about this, and they don't think dredging is the answer. See Expert Reaction to Somerset Flooding. I really like the idea of creating a Bridgewater Lagoon, to generate green energy and increase the gradient of the flow. The BBC also have "How do you stop flooding" with some nice diagrams. Of course the key need, of reducing this extreme rainfall, the major cause of flooding, can only be addressed by fixing climate change, which requires a global solution. Until then, not much can be done for the Levels, and certainly not for this winter's vast quantity of rain.

The Thames flooding differs from the Somerset Levels in that the Thames has better control over who gets flooded. When I lived in Reading 25 years ago it was well known that different stretches were being selected to hold flood water, to protect downstream towns.

As far as the EU and silt from dredging, I know nothing, but the internet found a paper on the impact of european union environmental law on dredging. A quick scan finds "EU law does not deal specifically with dredged material, nor is there any intent to do so". As long as it's not polluted, I don't see why freshwater dredged material can't be spread on fields or used to raise banks.

As a long-term member and supporter of the RSPB, I've also taken an interest in their projects on the Somerset levels, such as The Great Crane Project and RSPB: Ham Wall. It looks like the cranes are finding it difficult right now, while Ham Wall isn't fairing too badly on their side of the Polden Ridge. So there is variety of impact from flooding even within the Levels. From the RSPB, Martin Harper's blog has a number of important points. I would emphasise the importance of the long-term plans (or the lack of them) and planning for the whole catchment area. Increased vegetation on the uplands, reintroducing beavers and other measures can slow the inflow of water, but that only works for one-off heavy rainfall events.

This winter has been one storm after another, although here in the hills of Cornwall the rain seems to have blown rapidly over to Somerset, so this winter I didn't get the flooding that soaked my kitchen just before Christmas 2012. So that's two wet winters in a row. Does that mean it will be as wet next winter, and every winter from now on? Of course not. Next winter could easily be the driest since records began, and I wouldn't be at all surprised, or it could be even wetter. With Global Warming, a warmer atmosphere picks up more water from the oceans, giving heavier rainfall, but a warmer atmosphere is also more chaotic, giving greater extremes of weather.

As a member of the Green Party I see that it is said we are calling for the prime minister to sack cabinet ministers who deny man-made climate change. If only he would. These deniers of the obvious are as out-of-date as flat-earthers. This Biff Vernon blog explores the statistical significance of extreme events, and this Guardian article looks at how the old party politicians have ignored the long-term problem of climate change.

The other thing that we need to consider is adapting to climate change. In the same way that Steph and I, although poles apart politically, successfully work together on parish business, different interests need to strike a balance. The Spectator article is having a go at green (with a small g) environmentalists for a blinkered ideology, but all the sources that I've found want a sustainable mix that satisfies as many interests as possible.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Burning Question - Unstoppable Global Warming

I've just read The Burning Question by Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark.
In a very readable way this book gives a balanced picture of the current physical, economic and geopolitical facts about our addiction to fossil fuels, and why we can't kick the habit. It does not go over the old debate about how human activity has caused the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, global warming and climate change. It, quite rightly in my opinion, takes that as a given, and looks at where we are heading, and what we can do to change course.

As Caroline Lucas points out in her book review, when it comes to replacing fossil fuels, nuclear power is not ruled out. In fact my reading is that if fossil fuel use is reduced to sustainable levels, we will need every energy source we can find. Nuclear power in some of the new forms could even burn up plutonium, putting it truly beyond use in nuclear weapons.

I learned a few interesting things from this book. I had noticed how in spite of all the carbon targets, we don't seem to be making a dent in our increasing use of fossil fuels. Here they explain clearly how, without a world wide scheme, individual efforts to emit less carbon through efficiency can actually produce more fossil fuel use - squeezing a balloon that bulges elsewhere. Also they make it clear that fossil fuels must be controlled at source, which confirms my thoughts that controlling carbon emissions as we do now is futile - we just export the emissions.

I also learned about the Kaya Identity, an equation relating emissions to population, affluence, energy intensity and carbon intensity. In light of this equation I was disappointed when I saw my old idea for carbon cap and trade, with a quota based on population by country, did not include reducing quota by the population index, as well as over time. Without the population index, there is a perverse incentive to increase population.

The book repeatedly talks about tipping points and catastrophic climate change, but omits to give examples of just how bad the models look. It does give figures for sea level rises, but omits scenarios like; melting Greenland ice stopping the Gulf Stream, the Amazon basin turning to savannah, and other horrors I've heard predicted. Maybe those horrors are so controversial, they could discredit the book, which leans over backwards to be balanced.

I like the way the book divides our possible future actions into a Plan A: (Burn less fossil fuel) and Plan B: (Long shot geoengineering). Although I suppose that global warming is in itself a form of accidental geoengineering. Part of the debate about The Anthropocene age we humans have caused.

When it comes to geoengineering from space, the only example given is orbiting reflective particles as a sun screen. A more controllable scheme would be a sun shade balanced at the L1 Lagrange point between us and the sun. If we think of sustainability in terms of billions of years, something like this will be needed anyway as the sun gets hotter. So why not start building it now?