Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Global warming – reworking out the actual changes

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

As already discussed, I have become sanguine about the global warming information that I have been reading and hearing from the media – lots of noise and jumping up & down by all sorts of people.  And perhaps, I have taken too much on trust and should have looked in more detail at the raw information from scientists rather than listened to politicians and journalists, who don’t always know the detail but like the spin of a story; some of my earlier blogs specifically take the line fed to me in the media, which I am now thinking could have been a rash way to go – see for example https://steenbergs.co.uk/blog/2009/12/un-climate-change-conference-in-copenhagen/

Hence, the next stage of my quest was to hunt down some raw data that was simple enough for me to process and see what the results came up with.  That was actually harder than I thought, so while The Met Office in the UK has data linked into The Hadley Centre, I couldn’t understand their data at all – there was too much and not enough explanation.  I did try and contact them and an email was sent via The Met Office to The Hadley Centre, but I never got any response. 

Note to UK Climate Scientists – you have got to be much more open about what you’re doing as this lack of openness really increased my scepticism, and as a publicly funded body, I think you have no right to secrecy on this one.  Allied to issues of leaked emails etc, you’ve got some serious work to do on your PR and credibility!

So, as often seems to happen in life, the USA came up trumps.  I have often been very surprised by how helpful, open and progressive America can be, when at times it still sometimes is stuck in the Dark Ages (on things like good food and packaging waste and energy consumption etc).  I got useful data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies Surface Temperature Analysis which is available at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/; ironically, this data incorporates the Hadley Centre Data that I never was given when I enquired direct.  I then downloaded the information which is at the bottom of the web page on “Combined land-surface air and sea-surface water temperature anomalies” and used the Global Mean Analysis.  This comes with some caveats as does the alternative data which is also available on that page – “Means based on Land-surface air temperature anomalies only”.

I spent a merry time copying the data from the hard copy – I am sure some whizz could have automatically downloaded this and got it all pretty in spreadsheet, but as I have said before computers really are a bit of a mystery to me.  Next I sorted the data so I could represent the data graphically and I did this for monthly, seasonal and annual data.  Finally, I got a ruler and pencil out and worked out some best fit lines to come up with my own views on global warming.

The result: yes, it does appear that global temperatures have risen over the last 100+ years, BUT (and it’s a big BUT) not by as much or as quickly as all the media and political hype has been telling me, us and the world.

The data shows that global warming is running at about 0.7oC every 100 years with a maximum of about 2oC and a minimum of about 0.4oC, but it is definitely in line with my original blog that said 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years.  The particular data used comes with a caveat that it might be understating temperatures, however I reckon that this will be a consistent error over the period so the trend should be the same.

Well that’s not the 3 – 4oC imminent global catastrophe that I had been led to believe with everyone being flooded away in a biblical onrush of melting land-ice drowning all of coastal Britain.  It does not mean that I must rush off down to Jewson’s to buy lots of timber and build an ark to save the planet, or at least not quite yet.

I come from eco viewpoint so I am not especially happy about my conclusions, so as I am not yet 100% with this result, I will be cross-checking the information with some specific country data if I can come by it.  But I do have to say that the data came via a web site that promotes better understanding of Climate Change and is for the issue as opposed to against, so if there is any bias it will be to promoting the likelihood of global warming rather than the skeptical position – www.realclimate.org.

The graphs that I got out from the data are below (if you want better detail just email and ask):

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of Average Annual Temperature Anomalies (10 x degrees celsius)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Graph of seasonal temperature anomalies (10x degree C)

Global warming – what’s the fuss all about?

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

I have to admit to becoming more skeptical about global warming since I began studying at The Open University on an Environmental Studies and Science Course.  I doubt that becoming less convinced about much of the stuff written about global warming was the expected result from being fed more information on climate change. 

However, by nature and training, I am a scientist (I did Biological Science as a Degree in the 1980s) and scientists are skeptics, therefore the more someone tells me that a particular idea is correct, and the louder they shout it, the more I want to find a quiet space and think about it myself – basically, I hate always being told to take things on trust and like to do my own thinking and understand things myself, and then if they are too complex and cannot be explained in basic, simple english or maths then I reckon it’s got to be a load of hoolley.

So there’s the background to why I have started looking in some more detail at global warming & climate change.  I am going to stick with global warming as that means we can focus on temperature whereas climate and weather is so much more complex.  Perhaps we can look at weather at a later stage.

My journey began in the most obvious starting point – the information published by the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which slightly spookily was an idea of and set up by Ronald Reagan when he was President of America.  Here’s a short paper in the Frequently Asked Section of their website on how temperatures are changing:  http://www.ipcc.unibe.ch/publications/wg1-ar4/faq/wg1_faq-3.1.html. Now, the key data, that comes from the pretty graph at the bottom is that, depending on which time period you use, and also whether you start a period in a dip going to a peak in temperature, you can get a wide range for the rate of growth in global temperatures.  Their published range shows warming of 0.5oC – 1.8oC every 100 years. 

Now I have to admit I didn’t like their graph as I think you cannot take artificial time periods and force those onto the graph and felt a bit as though it was all being neatly calculated to fit a preconceived viewpoint.  Just like when you did maths at high school, you need to look at the graph and visually work a best fit line for the data, so I printed the sheet out (I am sure someone clever can do this on a computer but I am not that skilled with them but I can use a ruler and pencil!).  Now the graph is pretty small so accuracy is not going to be great but based on 150 and 100 years of data, global warming seems to be growing at about 0.45oC – 0.75oC every 100 years.

Now there are bits of the graph that can show much faster growth, however these are over really short time periods and appear to be picking rates, or periods, when you’re going from a low temperature to a high temperature that may be the result of normal cycles in sun temperatures etc, so I think you should look over longer periods that can remove some of the noise of other factors. 

That’s my view and everyone will have different thoughts on that, but this does highlight one of the contentions against “climate science” in that it is some ways “climate art” and becomes a matter of representation and debate rather than fact and science.

I was still not satisfied, in fact I wanted to look more closely at the data, so I started the hunt for some data to plug into an Excel spreadsheet and see what the answers would be, which will explain in a blog in the next week or so.

How We Are Reducing Our Family Environmental Impact – Insulating the Loft

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

One of the major users of energy in a house is for heating the building.  Space and water heating in homes gives off about 20% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is about 5 tonnes CO2 per home every year.

However, one of the key issues for old houses, and in our case very old house, is that they have not been built with the benefit of modern technology that has invested much time, effort and legislation to make housing more heat efficient and so retain much of the heat within the building rather than to radiate it out into North Yorkshire – it’s a godforsaken task to heat up Northern England.

So as a start, you need to keep as much heat in as possible.

So my theory has been simple work down from the roof to the ground floor slowly but surely insulating the house.  We will work from the top downwards, as hot air rises so you want to capture it as it tries to escape upwards first rather than worrying about the ground levels at the outset.

The first thing, we felt, was to get insulation laid in the roof between the joists.  This had been done using old fashioned roof insulation over 10 years ago, insulating to 100mm in depth.  But we decided to insulate again with a cross layer of 200mm recycled glass mineral wool blankets.  For the first attempt at this, we bought recycled mineral wool – each pack of this Knauf Insulation Space Blanket contains 2.4 wine bottles (it was a 200mm thick roll of 1.48m2) and has a R value of 4.50m2K/W.   Government advice is to get insulation to about 300mm.

I liked this because it comes in a roll and encased in fire retardant polyethylene film, so does not need all that cutting and special equipment that normal loft insulation needs, and even more important it’s currently subsidised by e.on under some Government scheme to mitigate climate change so it was half price at Homebase, costing just £5.74 per roll.

It has got a metallic coating which Knauf Insulation claims reflects heat and so keeps more heat in – I think this sounds a bit spurious!

That means that the 35 rolls that I bought cost £143.50; this should mean that we recoup the energy savings within 2 – 3 years (assuming that we will save 10% of our fuel bills and that we had covered the whole roof void with the same insulation, i.e. multiply cost by 3/2; 25% of heat loss in total is through the loft and we already had 100mm in place, so I reckon 10% would be a good estimate for additional savings).

It was pretty easy to lay it and took me about 5 hours over the other weekend to buy the kit and lay it over two-thirds of the roof void.

Typically, however, when I got into the roof, I discovered that the heating engineers (or plumbers as I would have known them) never completed the lagging of the pipes nor the insulation of the water tanks, which was okay as they never relaid the insulation so the heat from the house kept the area around the tank warm – so muggins here had to finish that off as well.

Now feeling a bit good about myself, I bought something last week that’s a bit less simple to lay but definitely a greener alternative.

There are two main alternatives: one from newspapers (Warmcel) and the other from British sheep’s wool and recycled polyester (Thermafleece).  These both have the same levels of insulation capability as mineral wool, but I chose Warmcel and bought 15 bags of this from £165.27, costing £11.02 per bag inclusive of transport to us.  The Thermafleece is roughly double Warmcel again for the same price per m2 for the same depth, i.e. four times as expensive roughly as the recycled mineral wool insulation and so tripling the payback period.

So going back to my payback calculations – Warmcel has a payback of 4 – 6 years, which I am happy about, but Thermafleece has a payback of 8 – 12 years, which is too long for me.  Basically, I think for the cost-reward, it’s probably best to go with either the Space Blanket or (to give you a greener feeling about life) go with the Warmcel.  I cannot see the point with going for Thermafleece unless you feel romantically attached to lining your house in a woolly jumper.

But you do need to put the insulation down yourself as it’s pretty simple, and if you get a builder to do the work, you will blow any meaningful chance at getting a payback.

To buy these greener insulation materials, try these to web sites:

Carbon Offsets and Steenberg Carbon Footprints

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Every year on slightly ad hoc basis, I sit down and try and calculate our carbon footprint and then offset for the greenhouse gasses that make up our carbon footprint.  It’s a guesstimate because it does not include all aspects of the Steenbergs business, but we cover a much wider proportion of Steenbergs’ impact on the planet than most other people get round to doing.

Firstly, let me explain the things that we include and those that we exclude:

Carbon costs that are included: transport of raw materials and packaging from most recent supplier to Ripon; transport of Steenbergs goods from our Ripon factory to customers; transport of Steenbergs staff on business; and carbon cost of paper used in marketing and office functions

Carbon costs that are excluded: energy (as it is 100% from renewable sources via Good Energy, but see my note i below); staff travel to and from work; embedded carbon within Steenbergs raw materials and packaging (this is something we are still trying to collect all the data on)

We have used the Climatecare model for carbon costs and the total annual cost for 1 January – 31 December 2009 was 3.75 tonnes CO2 which is actually below (and I mean way below) the minimum that Climatecare will offset, which is an annual minimum of 10 tonnes.  So we pay the minimum of £75 + VAT to offset this rather than the actual cost of roughly half that.  Basically we are a carbon minnow, treading pretty lightly on the planet, but I do accept that this excludes the embedded carbon in our packaging materials, which may be horrible!

What is interesting and very shocking (at least to me) is the breakdown of our carbon costs, which shows that the cost of our paper is astronomic comprising half of our carbon costs.  We use even in our small business about 500-600kg of paper a year on stuff – I am going to get this figure down but it will be painful as everyone seems very attached to their own particular piece of paper for processing and/or recording our operations.

Our carbon costs from transport are actually quite low because we do not have our own transport and through using consolidated carriers from the Royal Mail to Palletline we optimise space utilisation on transport vehicles rather than inefficiently running our own vans at below full capacity.  In addition, we do next to no mileage for business purposes – we hardly do any direct face-to-face selling or account handling which perhaps we should do but is just not part of Sophie or my inner psyche.

As part of my Open University course, I also had to do my personal carbon footprint last year using their Quick EYE-OU greenhouse gas emissions programme.  This came up with a personal score of 9.2 tonnes CO2e per year which is actually 3.2 tonnes (-25.8%) below the UK average.   This comprised direct CO2e from home energy, personal food and travel of 6.0 tonnes CO2e and embedded carbon of 3.2 tonnes CO2e from indirect goods and services (such as goods and services purchased and my share of governmental CO2e).

To put it into perspective, the US average is 19.9 tonnes CO2 per person, but the Indian average is 1.2 tonnes CO2, the Brazilian 2.1 tonnes CO2 and the Chinese 4.8 tonnes CO2  per person (see Timesonline article).  The article also shows UK’s carbon to be 9.3 tonnes CO2 per person, which does not match the information above, because this study does not include all greenhouse gas emissions or non household carbon.  So even if my contribution to climate change is low compared to the UK average, it is a big clumpy footprint stamping down on our planet.

It is interesting to see that my personal totals are much higher than Steenbergs as a business.  This is partly because we have ignored the embedded CO2e at work from goods and services purchased, as well as in packaging materials.  But also, we are much more profligate with energy at home than at work, plus travel is less efficient than the consolidation carried out at work.

One of the conclusions I came to when I did calculations for work back in 2007 was that personal travel is the real swinging factor.  Energy will eventually be tackled via nuclear power (whether you approve of it or not, and I don’t, but Professor James Lovelock is probably correct on this one).  More CO2e is generated by staff travelling to and from work than the business as a whole; similarly, more CO2e is probably generated by shoppers going to and from the shops than the embedded carbon in the products and/or services that they purchase in those shops. 

Basically the cost of our personal freedom through the car is hugely inefficient and as a nation we must come to terms with reconfiguring our relationship with transport if we ever want to really grapple with climate change. 

But I suspect the price of this will be too hard to bear and it just won’t be tackled by any MP or Minister in any UK Government, of whatever political persuasion.

Note i: if you did include office and factory energy, we used 2572kWh which equates to 1.36 tonnes CO2 and would add another £20.17 in offset costs.  So while I exclude this from our calculations, it is actually covered by the minimum carbon cost per reporting period that we have bought carbon offsets for.

UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

Monday, December 21st, 2009

The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is the perfect example for the phrase “a damp squib”.  Squibs are small explosives that are used for special effects and in the past for clearing away coal in the mines when they were sold as “Miners’ Safety Squibs“.  In the past, squibs were not protected from moisture and so a damp squib was just an explosion that failed to detonate.

I suppose that we all expected too much from the conference; where views that are so divergent and relative powers so different were being brought together, there was probably nothing but a slim chance of agreement.  The outcome, however, was not unexpected as in the end and in my heart-of-hearts I probably expected nothing much.  Which is what we all got.

For me there are 2 big issues that come out of the conference – one is scientific and the other is political.

The scientific issue is that I am unconvinced that the detail of climate science is there yet and I am unsure that it ever will be.  That is a big problem and will get more and more important as time goes by. 

That climate change is occurring is irrefutable and that it is man made, i.e. anthropogenic, is also clear.  It aslo seems clear that we are heading for a general 4-5oC rise rather than 1.5-2oC rise that the politicians seem to be kidding themselves will happen, and that hotter world looks a pretty scary place (Source: “A World 4oC Warmer”, Santa Barley, New Scientist, 3 October 2009, p 14-15).

However, the temperatures are general, global and vague and I think that this is going to be an Achilles heel for climate change protesters and scientists going forward.  In the end, I, people and Governments need to know with some accuracy what is going to happen where and when?  And I think until this is fleshed out more, people and Governments have wriggle room. 

For example, I have been trying for ages to find on the Internet a report or simulation that shows the impact of differing levels of sea rise on areas of the world (I once saw one at The Deep in Hull which was very impressive), i.e. I know that low lying areas like the Netherlands, London, Tuvalu and Hull will become effected straight away, but what does a 10 metre rise do and what is the percentage likelihood of that?  I know that the Arctic sea ice melt is irrelevant to sea level changes but how much land ice is melting from Greenland, the Antarctic and Canada, for example, per annum and what impact is that having?

And even more precisely, what will the temperature rise be in the UK when the global temperature rises by 2oC?

Or will it actually result in the temperature falling in UK as temperatures rise globally?  My query here is based on the fact that our temperature should really be the same as Moscow, but because of the Gulf Stream we are kept artifically warm.  But if the ice sheet on Greenland and Canada flows into the Atlantic Ocean, it could change the surface density of the ocean and switch off the great ocean conveyor belt and so plunge the UK (and the world) into a cold patch that could compensate for the general rise in global temperatures.  This sudden freezing could be more devastating in the short term than a general rise in temperatures. 

So more detail is needed on anticipated changes and they will need to be accurate as each error will serve to undermine the generally correct concept of climate change.

The second is the concept of sovereignty.  In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, there is the iconic quote:

“ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL
BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE
EQUAL THAN OTHERS”

It has been used ever since as a ironic dig at socialism and communism.  However, the concept of equality, democracy and sovereignty is something that worries me; it is something that I cannot really get to grips with as to whether the way the world is run is right or wrong?  It worries me that the UK is more and more being run by the EU and that the EU and the UK Governments are largely run by oligarchs over whom there is very little control.  The expenses scandal and the next election may change the faces and the bums on the seats, but they will still come from the same political parties and the state apparatus will be largely unchanged and most of the regulations and legislation will stay in place.

The same goes for soverign states.  Does the USA have any more legitimacy than the small island states, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, or mini states like San Marino and Lesotho?  If we are all equal then surely each country should have an equal voice, but (back to Orwell) that’s clearly not the case.  In other words, the world will be driven by the larger states as they have greater power in terms of cash, military might and global influence.

And how about the minority peoples who live in the areas perhaps most directly impacted by the melting of sea ice and land ice, the indigenous peoples of the Artic and elsewhere?  Where were their voices?  Was it but a squeak in the dark, which does not even seem to have been recorded, or maybe it never happened?  Surely the Inuits, the peoples of Chukotko-Kamchatkan family, the Altaic peoples, the Uralic peoples and the Na-dene of the Artic region should be allowed to express their points of view as to climate improvement.  They had their own conference in Alaska in early 2009

Which brings me back to the UK.  The parties who cobbled together the weak “Copenhagen Accord” were the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.  That’s the political and military powerhouses within each continent who were clearly being tasked with strong-arming agreement from sovereign states within their areas of influence.  This is vote rigging and gerrymandering on a global scale. 

Where was Britain? Where was the EU? Clearly they are not regarded as drivers of the world going forward.  Gordon Brown can hardly believe is own rhetoric in saying “A breakthrough never seen on this scale before” – I must have missed something, somewhere, unless he was talking about the coup d’etat of the UN by powers other than the UK.

It is important that Britain and the EC who are supposed to be the cradles of modern liberty ensure that any construct arising from the Copenhagen Conference does not deny the sovereign status of all nations and that it cannot be seen as modern, legalised form of global colonialism that binds everyone to the global vision of a few, hugely powerful superstates. 

Small sovereign states are still sovereign states in the same way that every citizen in the UK is equal when it comes to the ballot box. 

And I am not sure my, my family’s or anyone else’s future in relation to climate change is a bargaining chip to be negotiated by a few heads of state.

The Icefjord Commitment

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

“Amidst the wisdom and majesty of water, ice and sunlight, we have prayed within the realm of our own traditions.

Now we stand side by side in acknowledgement of our responsibility toward God’s creation.

We recognize the interdependence of all life, that in its many manifestations sustains this planet, and realise our dependence on this myriad of relationships.

We commit ourselves to the simplest acts of love, compassion and gratitude toward the vast web of life.

The Earth is a living entity with incredible healing powers, and we have much to learn.

It is the task of our generation to leave this sacred Earth, in all its wisdom and beauty to the generations to come.

Let the work begin.

We make this pledge before the whole of creation.”

This statement was made by several religious leaders who met under the auspices of His All Holiness Batholomew in September 2007 at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland.