Aberdeen’s Climate Café Series

Aberdeen’s Climate Café Series

About 6 months ago I started volunteering for a local community organisation dedicated to inspiring real action on climate change. The organisation is called Aberdeen Climate Action and my first task has been to build them a website which promotes sustainable living. It’s still a work in progress but it’s looking good so far. Feedback is welcome!

What I really love about this organisation is that rather than focussing on doom and gloom and the dissemination of information – which, let’s face it, is readily available everywhere you look – we try to inspire real action by sharing empowering stories like the creation of Aberdeen’s community energy scheme. Aberdeen may be an oil city now but it hasn’t always been this way. People have lived in this area since the Stone Age; before oil there was a thriving fishing industry and before that, something else. Even if oil wasn’t plagued with the problems of climate change, pollution, and the issue of it being a finite resource, time will bring change. It always does.

Aberdeen Climate Action is running a monthly climate café at Waterstones bookstore on Union Bridge. The next one is on December 5th at 7pm and the topic is Fast Forward to the Future: New Energy Sources and Post Oil. Please come along!

Old people don’t care about climate change

I saw this video last night on Grist – Old people don’t care about climate change – and it was funny yet there’s some truth to it. Unfortunately I can’t post it to my blog so you’ll have to click through to Grist and watch it there instead.

I really like Grist.org. They have an interesting assortment of environmental articles which often don’t make it into mainstream media. Like this one about an idea to send 16 trillion robots into space to form a gigantic sun umbrella to block out 2 – 4% of the sunlight coming to Earth as a way to combat climate change.

Or the drought in India where 330 million people are affected by water shortages; apparently even doctors don’t have enough water to wash their hands with. And in case you haven’t heard they’re also in the middle of a heat wave. A heat wave is bad enough when water is abundant. Where will all those people go when it becomes too hot to live there? Greenland? Antarctica?

There’s a great post on Victor’s blog about a new Climate Feedback website where climate scientists sift through media coverage of climate change and provide feedback on their accuracy. It seems a strange thing to have to do but is necessary because 1 in 2 Americans don’t believe that global warming is mostly caused by humans.

I’ve also had a request to share the front page of the Indian Express April 25th on my blog since mainstream media has not been providing adequate coverage and so here it is:




Scientists paying for advertisements to get message across

Australian scientists have paid for a full page advertisement in a Queensland newspaper – The Courier Mail – because they felt the newspaper was not covering the coral bleaching of The Great Barrier Reef adequately. Coral biologist, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, is quoted in the Guardian today saying,

One of the reasons we placed the ad in the Courier Mail was that we’ve seen very little coverage of the coral bleaching event in that paper and in fact there was a front-page story that said the coral bleaching event had been wildly exaggerated.

In solidarity with their plight I thought I’d share their advertisement too:


The Courier Mail is owned by News Corp which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, a well-known climate change denier. It’s pretty depressing when a few rich people have this much power. It’s a bit like returning to the days of rule by monarch but instead of kings and queens Australians have Rupert and Gina.

So what are the scientists saying? This was in my Twitter feed today:

Terry Hughes is the Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesHe says, “Our estimate at the moment is that close to 50 per cent of the coral is already dead or dying.”

Australia has one of the highest carbon footprints per capita in the world. If this wasn’t shameful enough, they’ve also spent the last decade plundering their natural resources for short-term financial gain. The problem with selling all your natural resources is once they’re gone the income generated from their sale disappears too. Now, somewhat ironically, the digging up and shipping of all that coal to China and India is destroying one resource which could have provided an income stream for future generations of Australians: The Great Barrier Reef.

But it’s not all about money. Knowingly destroying The Great Barrier Reef will be one of Australia’s most disgraceful periods in history. I have been snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef and it is still, to this day, the best experience I’ve ever had. The enchantment, the wonder, and the beauty of it is something I will treasure forever; we are stealing this from future generations. People will look back on this time and on all of us with contempt and rightly so. We have known about climate change and its effects for half a century and done nothing.

What can we do? Write to your local MP and demand they do something. Get rid of your car. Walk and cycle more. Stop eating meat. Avoid plane travel. Switch to a carbon-neutral energy provider. Plant trees. There’s probably lots more too but I have to put my kids to bed now 🙂

Don’t let Rupert Murdoch win. He’s old and will be long gone when the worst effects of climate change reach us.

Interview with Professor Kevin Anderson – part 1

I enjoyed watching this video interview with Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research in Manchester (Thanks to Manchester Climate Monthly). It’s about the recent Paris climate talks.

From what I understand, although the Paris talks resulted in a very ambitious target – 1.5°C – there’s no plan to actually reduce our emissions in order to meet that target. Therefore there’s an underlying assumption that our children and grandchildren will have to find the technology to suck the CO2 out of the air and what they’ve been discussing is a technology called BECCS – biomass energy carbon capture and storage. Kevin Anderson talks about this in the video and apparently we’re going to need to plant geographic areas between 1 and 3 times the size of India every single year for decade after decade.

The Paris agreement

I haven’t written anything about the Paris climate change agreement yet but have been wanting to put my thoughts down on my blog so here goes.

On the one hand it’s quite ambitious. They agreed a 1.5°C target which is very ambitious and an improvement on the 2°C which is what is usually bandied about. But on the other hand it’s not legally binding and our actions are currently insufficient to reach this target. So while we have set a fantastic target, we don’t appear to have any plans to reach it. It’s a bit like making a New Year’s resolution to lose 10kg but then continuing to pig-out out on cake and biscuits.

Our current actions have us on a course which is more likely to see us reach 3.5°C or greater by the end of the century and of course it will continue to climb after that. The 1.5°C requires large and immediate reductions in our emissions leading eventually to none at all. Indeed our net global emissions need to eventually be zero regardless of whether our target is 1.5 or 3.5. The target just decides how quickly we need to reach zero.

According to Myles Allen in his article Can we hold global temperatures to 1.5°C?:

To stabilise at 1.5C, they need to fall, on average, by 20% per tenth of a degree of future warming. Right now, the world is warming by a tenth of a degree every 5-10 years, but of course that would slow as emissions fall.

What does this mean? We’re currently warming by about a tenth of a degree every 5-10 years which means our emissions need to start falling now by about 20% every 5-10 years. Or put simply, for every tenth of degree the temperature rises, we need to cut our emissions by 20%. Can we do that? Yes, we can. But it will require effort and a systemic change to our energy supply, our transport systems, and our way of life.

More at safecarbon.org.

How much do cows fart?

I found this two-minute clip on Grist which shows how much cows fart in 2 hours. Spoiler: A lot!


A paper was published in Nature Climate Change in October 2015 which finds the temperature increase for parts of the Middle East is projected to exceed the level which humans can tolerate by the end of this century. It looks at the maximum wet-bulb temperature for the period 2071-2100. The wet-bulb temperature is a temperature with 100% humidity. Humans can tolerate higher temperatures when it’s dry. The maximum tolerable wet-bulb temperature for humans is 35°C and this is for a fit human, not someone young, old, or vulnerable. The highest wet-bulb temperatures on Earth currently are around 30-31°C.

According to the paper, wet-bulb temperatures will exceed the 35°C threshold of human adaptability in various locations in the Middle East including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Dhahran, and Bandar Abbas. What will those people do? Put the air-conditioning on and live permanently indoors? Why isn’t this front-page news?

Maybe we’ll all bomb and shoot each other to oblivion before this happens.

Thin Ice

A little while ago I donated to the Kickstarter campaign to bring the Thin Ice climate change documentary to US television. My name is even listed on this page. WooHoo! I haven’t heard anything about it for some time and so went looking to see what stage they’re at. It turns out the documentary began airing on public television in the USA in July this year which is fantastic.

The documentary was made in collaboration with Victoria University and Oxford University and is very good. It’s the best climate change documentary I’ve seen. Here’s a clip from the New Zealand Herald reporting the story:

Ceiling repairs are currently underway in the downstairs flat and I’m hoping to make it through the week without having to ring any utility companies or plumbers. Although Ben had to ring the city council this morning because there was a problem with our recent council tax bill. To our shock and horror the lady on the phone was able to sort it out immediately. Ben described her as “disturbingly efficient”. We think she may have been hired by mistake 🙂

Skip showers for beef

I’ve been meaning to share the Skip Showers for Beef video which is very funny but has an important message. They’ve also got a website at: http://www.skipshowersforbeef.com

A friend sent me a link to the Cowspiracy movie this morning and I’ve just been watching it. Most of it I am already aware of and indeed I think I’ve written about stuff like this on my blog before. But the approach taken by the film is very good. They criticise environmental organisations for largely ignoring one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: livestock farming. They quoted a figure which I hadn’t heard before and I’m unsure of the accuracy of it. They claim that the livestock contribution to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions is 51% rather than the 18% stated in the 2006 FAO report: Livestock’s Long Shadow.

The 51% figure comes from Livestock and Climate Change. Their argument is that some things were overlooked in the original report including livestock respiration. There is a rebuttal for this in Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: the importance of getting the numbers right. In the rebuttal it is argued that the CO2 emitted during respiration is part of the short-term carbon cycle where plants absorb the CO2 through photosynthesis and animals emit it so the two things cancel each other out. Therefore respiration by livestock should not be counted. Goodland and Anhang, authors of the original article, respond to this by saying that while the model of the carbon cycle makes sense in situations where respiration and photosynthesis remain roughly constant, that’s no longer the case. Respiration has increased exponentially with some 60 billion animals now raised for food each year alongside a corresponding decline in forests.

I’m not really sure which figure is accurate but one thing is certain, the world cannot sustain this level of meat production. We who live in wealthy countries who have plenty to eat and do not require meat to survive need to eat less of it.

Scientific consensus and arguments from authority

A British science journalist who posts to YouTube under the handle Potholer54 has released another video and it’s just as entertaining and informative as all his others. In it he demonstrates how to pick fact from bullshit with a funny commentary.

Why are people so easily duped? A couple of times recently I’ve received some scam calls from someone purporting to be my solicitor and wishing to discuss the car accident I reported. It wasn’t hard for me to figure out that it was a scam because …

a) I don’t own a car
b) I haven’t reported a car accident
c) The caller sounded Indian and the line was was very poor

Some of the things Potholer highlights in the video are just as obvious yet people either ignore them or … I really don’t know. Perhaps before I get too smug I should add that it’s not unusual for me to fall April Fools’ jokes 🙂

The age of science denial

A commenter on the …andThenTheresPhysics blog has shared a terrific excerpt from a 100-year-old science book by Huxley and Gregory he found in his attic. It’s about the greenhouse effect and how we knew way back then that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would increase the surface temperature on earth.

The atmosphere surrounding the earth may be compared with the glass of a greenhouse, which permits the bright rays of the sun to pass through, but prevents the escape of the dull radiations from the heated surfaces below it. This action is due to the carbon dioxide and water vapour in the air; but as the proportion of the latter varies very considerably, while the quantity of the former is almost the same in the open air everywhere at all seasons, evidently the protective action of carbon dioxide gas is of prime importance. If the proportion of this gas in the atmosphere could be increased, the temperature of the ground and of the air surrounding us would be raised, and if it were to be diminished all parts of the earth would become cooler.

Read the full excerpt here – http://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/guest-post-nothing-new-under-the-sun/

Why have humans wasted so much time over the last decade or two arguing, hoping, pretending it doesn’t exist? It makes me so cross to think we could be in a better place right now had we acted 20 or more years ago. Instead we let people who deny the science shape our world for the worse despite what the science community has known and been telling us for more than 100 years.

We don’t have the luxury of time with this problem. Every second we waste is more CO2 in our atmosphere, more melted ice, and most importantly, it means the reduction we have to make when we finally act will need to be that much greater. We are making the inevitable much harder for ourselves with every year we waste.

If we had started reducing our emissions in 2005, a reduction of 3.5% per year would have led us back to 350ppm of atmospheric CO2 by 2100. This went up to 6% per year in 2013. If we wait until 2020, it’ll be 15% per year. Just a few decades can make an enormous difference.

It is instructive to see how fast atmospheric CO2 declines if fossil fuel emissions are instantly terminated (Fig. 4B). Halting emissions in 2015 causes CO2 to decline to 350 ppm at century’s end (Fig. 4B). A 20 year delay in halting emissions has CO2 returning to 350 ppm at about 2300. With a 40 year delay, CO2 does not return to 350 ppm until after 3000. These results show how difficult it is to get back to 350 ppm if emissions continue to grow for even a few decades.

Has Elon Musk solved the climate crisis?

I just watched this video of Elon Musk revealing Tesla’s new “Powerwall”, a battery pack for the home. The Powerwall can store energy from solar panels when the sun’s shining and then deliver this stored energy to the home when it’s dark. I have to say it sounds wonderful and Elon Musk had me convinced right from the start. It almost sounds too good to be true. I hope it’s not.

More here: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/1/8525309/tesla-energy-elon-musk-battery-announcement

Cousins, Provence, wine-making, and climate change

I’m back in Aberdeen after an amazing trip to France for my sister’s wedding. We landed in Aberdeen last night to heavy snow! I’m feeling very tired today and think I need a holiday to recover from my holiday 🙂

I got these nice photos of the cousins together yesterday:




As we drove back through Provence yesterday, past field after field of grape vines, I couldn’t help but wonder about the wine industry and how it will survive climate change. We are looking at a minimum warming of 2°C by the end of this century but it could be up to 4°C if we continue on our current trajectory. A change of 2°C is an optimistic outcome and requires large emission reductions from us which we have so far failed to achieve. And it won’t stop there, it will just get noticeably warmer and warmer with each decade after that unless we do something about it now. The wines we so love from the southern regions of France are unlikely to survive in their current form. Farmers will need to adapt, to change the varieties they grow and harvest at different times. The best wine growing regions are probably going to move poleward.

I did a quick search to see what was in the literature and here’s what I found:

The entire range of grape growing climate zones is about 10° C globally; for some grapes, such as Pinot noir, the range is an even narrower 2 °C (Santisi, 2011). The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the general shift of warmer temperatures poleward will lead to a “huge shake-up in the geographic distribution of wine production (Lallanilla, 2013)” in the next half century (Hannah et al., 2013). The practical and economic would be monumental. Premium wine producing regions would shift poleward. “Many quality wine growing regions now on the margin for secure wine production will become safe and other regions will be able to expand their grape selection (Tate, 2001).” Some areas would cease production all together (Kay, 2006 and Tate, 2001). According to Tate (2001), the consequence of this warming will be the ability of Vitis vinifera to “thrive in more poleward locations than it does today,” with some areas now perfect for a given cultivar ceasing to be so.


From the same source, climate change will also alter the chemistry of grapes and thus their flavour.

Additionally, it is surmised that a rise in CO2 will change wine quality. According to Schultz (2010), a rise in CO2 coupled to a lift in temperature and a shift in relative humidity may increase biomass, increased sugar (thus alcohol), and a decrease in acid levels all of which will affect grape aroma and flavor. Tate (2001)states, that rising CO2 will cause faster growth and, therefore, higher sugar concentrations and thicker skin development (thus higher tannin levels). Therefore, it is a certainty that a change in climate, no matter how small, will shift grape chemistry for winegrapes currently in place.

Wine is not necessary for our survival but it would be a tragedy if we lost these wine growing regions, which, in many instances, were producing wine long before we became dependent on fossil fuels. Wine has been made in Provence for at least the last 2,600 years. Our apathy when it comes to climate change is a punch in the face to all the wine-makers of the region from the past. They developed an industry which has lasted thousands of years and which is now at risk because of our own greed and selfishness. I don’t even drink wine but I was still able to appreciate the beauty of the Provence wine-growing region with its grape vines, the tradition of wine-making, the tourism it must bring, and the income generated for the people who live there and produce the wine.

Rants: Zips, Tony Abbott, and wills

I feel like having a bit of a rant about a few things so if you don’t like that kind of thing then feel free to stop reading.

Zips. They’re always getting stuck. They seem to be very poorly made these days and they always get stuck, usually when you’re in a public changing room half-undressed and unable to get out of the dress you’ve just tried on. I’m sure this never used to happen as often. They’re just like modern toasters and kettles that stop working one day after the warranty expires.

Tony Abbott. There’s always something to rant about with Tony Abbott but I try to avoid reading anything about him so as not to get all worked up. But something was thrust in front of me this morning and I read it before realising. In 2013 Tony Abbott abolished the climate commission to save money and to avoid “duplication of services“. Here’s how much they saved:

“This decision will save the budget $580,000 in 2013-14 and an annual funding of up to $1.6 million in future years.”

Today I read that Tony Abbott is now going to give $4 million to Bjorn Lomborg to establish a consensus centre in Australia. Except that Bjorn Lomborg isn’t exactly on the same page as consensus scientists where climate change is concerned. He doesn’t deny that the climate is changing and that we are the cause, but unlike the majority of climate scientists, he doesn’t think we should do anything about it. He thinks the money would be better spent on other things like helping poor countries to become rich countries by giving them access to cheap fossil fuels. The problem with this is that while it might be better for us to spend the money on other things, like cheap fossil fuels, it is not better for people in the future who will inherit a problem which by then will be beyond repair. There’s a gross injustice of intergenerational ethics which he and people who call themselves “Skeptics” are prepared to overlook. What is also overlooked is that climate change is expected to hit poor countries the hardest.

The last thing I want to rant about are wills, as in last will and testament. Why is it possible to contest a will? If you write and sign a legal declaration in a sane state of mind before you die about what you’d like to happen to your assets, people should not have the right to change this. When we’re alive we are free to spend our money on whatever we want, provided we don’t break the law, of course. Why should it be any different once we’re dead? If someone wants to give all their money to the hooker living next door then that’s their choice entirely and no-one else should be able to take that away from them. What’s the point of having a will at all if what you decide can be changed, without your consent, after your death?

Duthie Park and ice shelves

I took this photo of Duthie Park today. I love watching the plants change as we move deeper into spring. There’s about to be an explosion of green there as all the buds on the trees open up probably in the next week or so. Duthie Park is a gorgeous place: great for running, walking, cycling, playing in one of the many playgrounds there, or wandering through the winter gardens.


There’s a good interview with Tim Naish, Director of the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University, on Kim Hill’s Radio NZ program from last month. He explains the difference between ice sheets, ice shelves, and sea ice rather well. He also discusses tipping points and why these are something we should be concerned about. Most of the heat from climate change is going into the oceans and the oceans take a very long time to warm. But once they’ve warmed, they will take thousands of years to cool down again.

They know that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet disappears at about 400ppm of CO2 which is where we are now and there’s about 3-4m of sea level rise in that alone. If all of Antarctica melted the seas would rise by 50m. Here’s the interview if you want to listen it:

Source: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/20150328

Ice-skating, The Satrosphere, and climate change

It has been a very sunny and warm 17°C today. We’ve been out on our bicycles and I must admit that it was almost a bit too hot. Whose idea was it to move to such a balmy climate? For me the range from 5°C-10°C is the best for cycling otherwise I get stinky armpits.

We went to the beach and cycled along the esplanade which was lovely. Quite a few people took photographs of Busby and because it was so warm we ended up doing the convertible thing and taking the cover off. The kids were getting too hot under the plastic cover as when the sun shines it acts a bit like a greenhouse. I almost wished I’d taken my bathers and gone for another dip in the North Sea. It definitely looked very inviting. Maybe next time 🙂


Then we went ice-skating and the kids have come along way with their ice-skating skills. We can skate around and leave them to hobble along on their own now.

After skating we went to the science museum, the Satrosphere. This was our first time visiting Aberdeen’s Satrosphere and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s only small but there are lots of hands-on activities and practically no-one there which meant we didn’t have to wait to play with any of the exhibits.

Even more surprising to me was that they had a climate science exhibit. I was pleased to see anything about climate science given that Aberdeen is a bit in denial about it all. The city is very dependent on oil with no signs of diversifying and the number of gas-guzzlers here seems unusually high for a European city. There’s also a glaring absence of off-road cycle paths.

They presented different future scenarios for Earth depending on choices we make today. I took a photograph of the business as usual scenario for 2050 which is essentially what humans are following at the moment:


There was also a bit of information about the things we need to do to change this future scenario which include driving less, reducing energy consumption, and eating less meat. At the café there were brochures about climate change from Aberdeen Climate Action. But when I looked at the menu to order lunch, there wasn’t single vegan item on it other than baked beans on toast. Even the soup had ham in it. I pointed this out to the guy behind the counter who was very nice about it and ended up making me a bespoke panini. This is typical of cafés and restaurants where practically every item includes meat and/or cheese and usually I wouldn’t say anything except that they had all these brochures on their counter about climate change.

We need to eat less meat and dairy. It’s not a secret. Livestock farming contributes more greenhouse gases than the whole transport sector put together; that’s all the trucks, cars, buses, trains, planes, and ships on the planet. What hope is there of reducing our meat consumption when a café, which supposedly supports individual action to combat climate change, doesn’t offer any animal-free options? There weren’t even bicycle racks outside the Satrosphere. We had to chain the bikes to a lamp post. Despite our intelligence, sometimes I can’t help but wonder at our stupidity.

Ethical investments?

I just got around to joining the superannuation program offered by my employer in the UK and so I thought I’d investigate fossil fuel divestment. After all, I don’t want my, er, £364 going into the pockets of fossil fuel companies. I’m sure fossil fuel companies are shivering with fear just at the thought of losing my business right now 🙂

But my paltry sum is beside the point. The bigger issue is that we can only emit another 500 gigatons, or thereabouts, of carbon dioxide if we are to stay below 2°C of warming. The Trillionth Tonne website has a good interactive counter which demonstrates how much time we’ve got and it’s not very much:


What is really frightening though is that fossil fuel companies have enough carbon in their reserves to emit about 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Even more concerning is that these reserves are reflected in their share price. They are effectively betting on being able to burn the whole lot. If we accept that we must tackle climate change then these companies are overvalued and we now have what many refer to as a carbon bubble. An organisation that is monitoring this carbon bubble is The Carbon Tracker. They say:

Currently financial markets have an unlimited capacity to treat fossil fuel reserves
as assets. As governments move to control carbon emissions, this market
failure is creating systemic risks for institutional investors, notably the
threat of fossil fuel assets becoming stranded as the shift to a low-carbon
economy accelerates.

This afternoon I logged into my newborn superannuation account to switch assets. Ethically I don’t want to invest in fossil fuels but it also seems like a risky asset to invest in anyway. I began by searching for ethical funds and there are quite a few of them. It’s not always obvious what they mean by ethical so you really need to dig a bit to see where they put their money. What I found was quite surprising. Every single fund which described itself as ethical, still has investments in fossil fuel companies. How is this ethical investing? If they consider investments in oil and gas ethical, then what exactly is their definition of ethical? I have a cynical idea that it might mean good corporate governance and sound business practices which as far as I’m concerned ought to be a part of every publicly listed company and not just those which describe themselves as ethical.

In praise of cinnamon buns and hydro power

I’ve just discovered something quite wonderful. Apparently the smell of cinnamon buns has been shown to increase blood flow to the penis. Just joking! I mean, it is true apparently, but that’s not the wonderful thing I want to talk about. It was just a cheap shot to get your attention 🙂

Perhaps not quite as exciting as an erect penis but still pretty good is a community-led hydro project in Scotland which was launched last year. The village of Callander, in Stirling, has approval to build 36 run-of-river hydro power plants within Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. They’ve already built 11 which are now operational and generating electricity. The electricity is sold back to the national grid with the proceeds going to the community in Callander.

They raised £1.9 million in funding for the project and although this has to be repaid, they still anticipate making £3 million over 20 years which is pretty good for a small village of fewer than 3,000 people. It’s also expected to generate 1.3 – 1.4 gigawatt hours per year.

A run-of-river hydro scheme is not something I’ve heard of before and is different to the large hydro power stations I am aware of like Lake Tekapo in New Zealand and Snowy Mountains Hydro in Australia. This one is very sympathetic to the landscape and doesn’t involve creating dams or reservoirs. From what I understand, water is diverted from the river where it flows down a buried pipe, spins a turbine which generates electricity, and then returns to the river downstream. It’s explained in more detail on the community website: http://www.callandercdt.org.uk/proj-hydro.html

Both the rivers running through Aberdeen, the Dee and Don, I imagine would be good for schemes like this. Aberdeen seems to be so full of clever, thoughtful, diverse, and talented people that I’m sure it must have the man-power to get something like this off the ground. Indeed I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere before with such a lovely community feel to it and with so many people with all sorts of skills.

Global warming = smelly armpits

One of the best things about living in a cold climate is an almost complete absence of armpit stink. Women aren’t supposed to get smelly armpits but we do in fact get just as smelly as men. Perhaps we have the heating too low in our home here in Scotland but for whatever reason, I find I can wear the same top two days in a row, sometimes even three, and it still doesn’t smell. This would never happen in Auckland or Brisbane. Sometimes I had to change tops multiple times a day in Auckland.

Over at …andThenTheresPhysics, there has been some discussion about the impacts of climate change. However no-one has mentioned body odour. Just think how smelly our society will become and how much extra washing we’ll need to do in a hotter world. On the plus side it could spell big dollars for manufacturers of deodorant and perfume.

Ok, so who cares about smelly armpits? It’s pretty trivial and I’m not really being serious although I do appreciate not having stinky, sweaty armpits all the time. What does concern me is that the world could be 4°C warmer than pre-industrial times by the end of this century. While this doesn’t sound like very much, a change of 5°C in the other direction was enough to bring on an ice age. In this context, 4°C is pretty huge.

Most of the population on our planet lives in hot places. What does this mean for these people? Physiologically humans cannot survive in wet bulb (100% humidity) temperatures above 35°C for sustained periods of time. Our bodies cannot dissipate metabolic heat fast enough and we suffer heat stroke, organ damage, loss of consciousness, and eventually death.

Our crops will also suffer. Once the temperature hits 1°C above preindustrial, wheat, rice, and maize are expected to be negatively affected (except for a few regions which may see a benefit). While some plants will benefit from the extra CO2, these same plants are negatively affected by temperature and they also contain less protein and valuable nutrients.

There’s already some evidence that global warming was a contributing factor to the crisis in Syria. When people have nothing to eat due to prolonged drought, they’re not going to sit at home and starve to death. I know I wouldn’t. Dylan Thomas’ poem is alive in all of us; our desire to live is one of the reasons we’re still here.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The wealthy countries of the world have already shown their reluctance to accept refugees. So when it gets too hot and crops consistently fail, where are all these people going to go?

The solutions to the problem seem fairly obvious to me: carbon tax, investment in renewable and nuclear energy, eat more plant-based foods, invest in cycling infrastructure, make our cities walkable and cyclable …. When I see letters to the editor complaining about the appearance of a wind farm in the Scottish countryside, I want to bang my head against a wall. It’s about as trivial as me fearing global warming for the sake of my armpits. Why wasn’t the author of this letter, who happened to be a resident of Aberdeen, complaining about the ghastliness of Aberdeen harbour? Aberdeen harbour has been completely trashed by the oil industry and is the ugliest harbour I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It also happens to be right in the middle of our city. The wind farm is miles away and something we rarely see. They are also no worse, aesthetically-speaking, than power pylons and they look miles better that coal mines.

Wind farms represent a non-carbon source of energy for us and our children and grand-children. They also lesson our dependence on imported fossil fuels. Despite all the oil in the North Sea, the UK is a net importer of fossil fuels. I sometimes hear people complain that renewable energy sources like wind farms and solar panels are costing too much and we shouldn’t have to subsidise them. Why does no-one complain about the tax-payer burden on decommissioning oil rigs in the North Sea? All those oil rigs out there have to eventually be decommissioned and guess who has to pay for it? The taxpayer. Why is it not acceptable to subsidise an industry at the beginning of its life but it is acceptable to subsidise it at the end?

Please note that I’m not a wind-farm-only advocate. I vote for all forms of carbon-free energy including hydropower, geothermal, solar, nuclear, wind, and biomass. We’re going to need all of it and I don’t want to lose my creature-comforts. Anyway, I seem to have gone off on a tangent here so perhaps I’ll leave it at that.

Pocket money and pedal power

Elizabeth wants to earn some pocket money so I told her that if she did some jobs around the house we’d give her some money. I suggested that she make her bed and tidy the bedroom so she disappeared for a little while and then came back and said:

Elizabeth: Mum, I made my bed, I made Daniel’s bed and I put the toys away.
Me: That’s terrific. How much do you think you should get for that?
Elizabeth: Well, it was quite a big job so I think 20p.
Wow, she’s cheap!
Me: I’ll tell you what, if you put the toys away in the lounge room as well I’ll give you five of those which will be one whole pound.

She thought this was a good deal and she went off to tidy the lounge. I’m not sure whether it’s good management, good genes, or just good luck, but we’ve somehow ended up a child who wants to help around the house AND likes doing her homework. How can this be?

I discovered something interesting about the University of Aberdeen.  All senior management expenses are disclosed on their website here:

I think this kind of transparency is fantastic and there should be more of it.

Aberdeen University Students’ Association are putting on a pedal-powered screening of Voices of Transition. I’ve never heard of it but I like the idea of riding a bicycle and watching a film at the same time. It’ll happen on the 12th of February – they haven’t said what time – at the University of Aberdeen.