Posts Tagged ‘peace’

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.

Review of Green Ideas in General Election

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The UK’s General Election will be held soon – the weight of money is for it to coincide with the Council elections slated for 6 May 2010 but these could probably be shifted to coincide with a later General Election which must be latest of 3 June 2010.  My gut instinct is that Labour will call the General Election pretty soon after Budget Day on 24 March 2010.  Gordon Brown loves detail and he will feel that this gives him an advantage as he will be able to state that he has a fully costed programme and “where are the other parties’ costed budgets!”

However, I think he misses the point which is that Prime Ministers must have vision and focus on the “whys of life” rather than the details of the “what and how of specific policies”.  This made Tony Blair more inspiring for the electorate as a whole rather than specific Labour interested groups, i.e Blair could look outside to the wider electorate rather than just look inwards to his core voters – in fact, Blair perhaps made mistakes by sometimes appealing more to voters outside his Labour core base and hence got kicked out by his own. 

In fact it is vision that seems to be missing in politics generally at present and I need something to stop me joining the most popular party of all – the non-voters!  Even Obama in the US does not seem to be really living up to his hype, and may just be about to repeat the policies of former US Presidents by continuing with policies on nuclear weapons largely unchanged from the past. 

That’s a fairly waffly introduction to stating that the General Election will be soon whatever the details of the actual timing.  So we thought we would look to the Green Vision that will be hidden inside the main parties’ manifestoes and will read through the political programmes of all major parties plus a few extra, so that will be Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal and SNP, doing them in strict alphabetical order.  That will be hard enough work I reckon.

We thought we would look at a few major things:

  1. How much space is given over to green ideas?
  2. How plausible are policies on the Environment, Energy and International Development?
  3. What money (if any) is given over to support Sustainable Development, Renewable Energy etc?
  4. Are there any surprises lurking in the text, eg on Afghanistan or Genetically Modified Crops or Nuclear Weapons?

We’ll have a go, but perhaps we will have bitten more off than we can chew on this one.

Water, Water Everywhere And Not A Drop To Drink

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

As world leaders take themselves very seriously and think themselves very powerful as they negotiate their climate change treaties in Copenhagen, while they drive their big limos and they fly in from around the globe, I have been thinking about water.

We have had an excess of rain here up in Northern England and there is no problem with our amounts of water.  As the planet warms, we may even get more and some of the lowland areas could flood.

But then I read today that the United Nations Development Programme says that 1.1 billion people (15% of global population) worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water and 2.6 billion people (38% of world) do not have access to sanitation.

Of this 1.1 billion people, most of them use only about 5 litres of water a day, that’s water not clean, potable water.  That’s 10% of the water that we use in the developed world.  The EU averages about 200 litres a day, the US about 400 litres and I calculated that I average about 140 litres a day, but like many personal estimates I probably undercooked it.

To bring it even closer to home, our toilets have been converted with a water-saving hippo, so each flush is approximately 5 litres, so each time we flush the toilet at home, we flush away more water than 1.1 billion people get a day.  And the water we use to flush the toilet is potable.  As the Duke of Edinburgh so succinctly put it once “The biggest waste of water in the country is when you spend half a pint and flush two gallons.”

So when the great big soundbites come out about how many billions of dollars have been committed to tackle climate change and what “tough” targets we have all been set on carbon emissions, let’s think about some of the nitty-gritty issues for about one quarter of the global population:

  1. Access to water, then providing potable water
  2. Access to sanitation, such as pit latrines rather than flush toilets

And perhaps the Governments should commit some of our hard earned and taxed money to these little issues.  But perhaps there are no headlines or votes to be won from talking about water and toilets.

Give A Christmas Present Today

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

It’s the end of the ancient British year as we move from the bright, warm summer period into the winter period.  It’s a time to reflect on where we are.  As we move into the colder, winter months, it is a time to be thankful for what we have got and realise that everyone in Britain – yes everyone – is so lucky compared to many parts of the world.

It’s a time to give something back, however small, however seemingly insignificant.  Turn down your heating a bit and save the planet for future generations and other parts of the world.  Or perhaps give something to charity.

We like to give Christmas boxes to children in poorer, more disadvantaged parts of the world.  We do this through Samaritan’s Purse which can be accessed via http://www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk/. This year we have given 2 boxes – one for a boy and another for a girl, i.e. one from each of our children.

Boxes for Operation Christmas Child

Boxes for Operation Christmas Child

We have decorated the boxes with some jolly wrapping paper and stuffed them full of gifts: a tennis ball, a pack of ballpoint pens, a pack of Haribo sweets, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, hair bobbles, a toy car, a toy doll and face towels.  As the Steenberg family, we all hope that someone feels happy from the gift, yet even though we will never know, it is still a great feeling when you drop off the box at school or whichever drop-off point you choose.

Politicians fight wars, make people’s lives miserable.  They don’t give presents from the heart.  That’s what individuals are for – go on make someone happy today.

Schools, Hospitals and Mosques for Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Following on from my blog of the other day, I contacted the Department for International Development (DfID) yesterday through their website to ask them the following questions:

  1. Are you building/repairing any schools in Afghanistan? If so, how many?
  2. Are you building/repairing any hospitals in Afghanistan? If so, how many?
  3. Are you building/repairing any mosques in Afghanistan? If so, how many?

I shall keep you posted as to whether I get any answers.  If you are interested the report about progress by DfID and the United Kingdom is contained in the Evaluation Report at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publications/evaluation/afghan_eval.pd or in summary form at http://www.dfid.gov.uk/Documents/publications/evaluation/afghan-eval-summary.pdf.

There’s also an article on Times Online that provides an overview of the state of the UK humanitarian effort in Afghanistan at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6336722.ece.

A better way to help Afghanistan

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Today, General Sir David Richards is quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as saying “Taliban and al-Qaeda know that the conflict will not be lost in Afghanistan, it will be lost in Britain, America and France, and their tactics are designed to get at that vulnerability.  If you look at the geopolitical consequences of failure, it’s not just in the short term on the streets of the UK.  If the Taliban and al-Qaeda – and, believe me they are one and the same – think they have defeated is, what next?  Would they stop at Afghanistan?”

He then uses the domino argument that used to be used for justification of the Vietnam war, i.e. next on the list would be Pakistan, India etc.

I do not believe that he is correct as I think the underlying cause of the issues is poverty rather than religion.

There are very few rational reasons for war.  The only completely justifiable reason is national security, and I mean a genuinely direct threat to national security; even George Orwell, a committed pacifist, accepted and joined in against the potential of invasion of the United Kingdom by Hitler and the Nazis.  Neither the threats in Iraq and Afghanistan were direct threats to national security; the United Kingdom never used attacks by the IRA in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain as a reason to invade the whole of Southern Ireland.

The only other rational reason for war, although in my opinion it does not constitute justifiable reason for wars, is protection of economic interests (which could have been a reason for the American-led invasion of Iraq, but no senior politician has ever admitted this one).

Wars are started for many other reasons, ranging from the pique of national leaders to power struggles.  Worryingly there has been a massive increase in the number of conflicts since 1945, with a massive jump since the mid-1980s.  I suspect that most of these are internal power struggles rather than wars between sovereign states.

It is time for peace.

These wars will not solve some of the key questions that underlie the rise in global terrorism:

  1. How do you close the poverty gap between the developed world and the developing world?
  2. How do you bring education to the developed world, especially to women?
  3. How do you provide finance to new businesses, especially for women, in the developed world to enable them to start their own businesses and struggle their way out of poverty?

War does not solve these questions and the many more detailed questions about how to remove global poverty.  It treats in a very blunt way the symptoms of poverty.

Think about what good could be done for people’s lives if some of the military expenditure were spent trying to build Afghanistan (and rural Pakistan) out of poverty by promoting education.  Doesn’t even this Labour Government acknowledge the importance of education to pulling people out of poverty; this has been a cornerstone of Labour policy for years, even its mantra “education, education, education”, but one they have failed to transfer to other countries. 

Britain spends between £2.6 billion (2008) and £3.5 billion (2009-10) on fighting in Afghanistan.  In contrast, Britain’s development expenditure is about £100 million a year (Source:  Country Programme Evaluation Afghanistan, Department of International Development, May 2009), none of which seems to be for education.  The USA spends about $3 billion directly via its Overseas Development Assistance, with a further two-thirds being indirect bringing their annual total to $9 billion (Source:  Country Programme Evaluation Afghanistan, Department of International Development, May 2009).

What Britain is doing to help Afghanistan is a drop in the ocean.  It looks pathetic against the Americans input.  Also, all the expenditure seems to be being spent on humanitarian projects and big infrastructure developments.

Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan will fail even if it were to become a military success without addressing the overarching question of poverty, and its solution through building an education system and nurturing an economy.

I would estimate that it would cost about £35,000 to build a school in Afghanistan and support for up to 5 years (based on the $50,000 quoted in the Central Asia Institute web site www.ikat.org which is part of Greg Mortensen’s saintly work in rural Northern Pakistan).  Even with the inefficiencies of British bureaucracy, we must be able to build schools for £70,000.

So I think the British Government should commit to building schools in Pakistan. 

The current UK schools building programme is for for 200 new schools each year at a cost of £45-55 billion over the programme. 

So let’s say that the Government should commit to building 200 schools in rural Afghanistan at a cost £15 million, or £3.75 million a year for 50 schools each year.  Intriguingly, that’s less than it costs per school in the UK, which is about £27.5 million, so perhaps we just drop one school from the building programme and commit that to schools in Afghanistan or around the world.

Or how about something even more radical, Britain could build some mosques.  This would show that this is not a religious conflict.  This would act as a counterweight to radical Islamic mosques and support a more balanced and tolerant Islam.  This is also important as much of the teaching is carried out within mosques, especially on the interpretation of the Koran.

Without getting the underlying basics of education correct then you cannot even hope to start solving the economic and political issues.

The downside is that the British Government’s name is so tainted that they may simply not be able to build schools or mosques without causing offence.  If that’s the case, then that speaks volumes about the popularity of our policy on the ground.

Get Some Peace, A Quiet Early Morning

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

I woke up really early this morning and was downstairs by 5am.  The house was quiet and the world was asleep, yet outside was suffused with a beautiful warm yellow light. 

The birds were hard at work doing their morning things – a thrush was plucking worms from our lawn, while 2 pigeons were hunting for seeds and grain within the grass.  I watched a robin singing merrily away in the midst of our cherry tree, proudly huffing out his chest.  While inside I cradled a warm cup of tea, smiled and was at peace. 

I didn’t do much else really for an hour or so, yet the time glided by and I ended out having a really productive day at work sorting out loads of things that I should have tackled ages ago. 

Perhaps we should take more time out in our days simply to be, relax and do nothing.  This unpicks the various tensions in our brains and bodies, and let’s us reposition ourselves.  The problem is most of us try to fill those precious moments of peace with some activity or TV or whatever else. 

I say just relax and be at peace.