Perhentians: Ready at Last!

It’s been a long, long time since I last blogged about the expedition, which is probably attributable to blood pressure. Being in the hot seat of an expedition is incredibly exciting and rewarding, but also incredibly taxing. You are responsible for an awful lot, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Against the odds perhaps, with enough personnel changes to form a second full team, FxPedition Perhentian Islands   has survived. There was a ridiculous amount of expeditions proposed by FxPeditions this year, and it is a huge testament to my wonderful team that we’ve outlasted the majority of them. Preparing expeditions can be a dangerous, and at times, damaging trail, with great highs and pretty galling lows- but every single member of my team has shown great character to get through that!

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Money wise, we’ve been successful in our applications to two grant bodies, the Royal Geographical Society and the Gilchrist Educational Trust, with more to come in. Thanks for their kind support, we’ve managed to cover the majority of the budget already. As an expedition that was designed to be cheap, I’m delighted with that to say the least. I spent 3 hours of yesterday sat in a paddling pool full of baked beans & god knows what else, as our last fundraiser before we head off. It was a fun event, the only downside really being the cold! Despite baking sun, I was stuck in the shade, and regular dousings in beans/mushy peas and gravy didn’t help… Nonetheless, I’m delighted to say that I think we’ve raised nearly £300 through the event, both online and in person. It might take a few years to regain my dignity, mind. If you would like to donate to our expedition, the link can be found by clicking here _1070601

We have a deal with Craghoppers that we are just finalising, providing kit for the team, which is a very useful coup- I’m a big fan of Craghoppers gear, and sell plenty of it in the shop, so I couldn’t be happier! I’m really looking forward to opening the box to see what we’ve been sent… It’ll be like christmas all over again!

After months of solid work, exams and deadlines, we finally get to reap the fruits of our labour, and it is one of the best feelings in the world. Buying kit, packing bags and making final arrangements all makes it that bit more real, and I cannot wait to be back in the jungle of the Perhentian Islands. I’ve seen my team mature and flourish over the past year far beyond my expectations, and thus I expect the emotions to flow once we make it to the islands. _1070693

In a way, I’m going home. To islands that taught me so much about biogeography, ecology and herpetology, and to country that blew away my existing concepts of culture and society. Finally, I’m going back to the jungle, where everything you can see is alive, and where everything poses questions, whether you can answer them or not. That environment is the beating heart of my science, the artery through which my innate curiosity flows the greatest, and I cannot wait to immerse myself in that unexplored again.

Terima Kasih!

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The Australia Problem: Energy and Emissions

A ‘developed’, ‘western’ economy with abundant potential renewable energy resources is sure to be heading towards low-carbon energy policy, right?

Sadly, in Australia, this couldn’t be further from the case. Renewables make up just 14% of Australia’s energy mix, with Natural Gas contributing another 13%. This is where it gets ugly: the remaining 73% of the energy mFossilEconomyBZE-low-resix belongs to coal, the worst of all energy pollutants. Australia has an abundance of coal, and with a well-developed mining sector, it is very cheap energy. The recent controversial repeal of the Carbon Tax by the ruling Liberal Party has only further decreased the cost of coal energy, at the cost of the environment. The repeal has removed any incentive for coal energy firms to become cleaner, despite paying lip service to clean coal and carbon capture schemes. Cuts in renewable energy schemes have also had a devastating effect on the sector, with investment in large-scale renewables dropping by 88% in 2014 compared to 2013.

Where does this stunningly anachronistic energy policy place Australia on the global stage? Quite high in emissions right? In fact, Australia emits more Carbon dioxide per capita than any other western nation. The country in second place, the USA, has a population some 13.8% larger.Aussie Coal

The abundance of coal has not gone unnoticed, with Australia currently being the 2nd largest coal exporter in the world. The Australian mining boom can be heavily linked to the Chinese need for natural resources. Gina Rinehart, once the world’s richest woman, made her fortune in the Australian mining industry- at her peak wealth it was stated that she could ‘buy’ the GDPs of the world’s 10 poorest nations and still have $22 billion left over. The smooth sailing has ended, however, with China’s economic slowdown greatly reducing the demand for commodities such as Australian coal. Ironically, it is China that has recently begun to turn away coal from Australia that doesn’t meet new environmental criteria- a move that Australian miners say is entirely politically motivated. The crucial point here, however, is that these exports inevitably still get contribute to climate change through the Chinese energy machine, and go on to emit thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide; just not on Australian soil.

Is Australia exporting climate change? Let me know in the comments section below! Hazelwood_Power_Station_ESP

 

The Australia Problem: Climate Threat

AUSTRALIA’S THREAT

Australia is predicted to be one of the nations to be most affected by climate change, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Even with a small temperature rise of around 1 degree centigrade, the IUCN has stated that this would be enough to render many endemic species extinct. With 87% of Australian mammal species being endemic alone, many belonging to exceptionally Australian-Bureau-of-Mete-001fragile habitats, this could spell ecological disaster. The pacific nation already has the worst mammalian extinction rate in the world. Ironically, the Australian government site on such issues is much more reticent to suggest such things. Whilst it can be difficult for the public to get too outraged over the loss of relatively unknown species, imagine the uproar if the Great Barrier Reef- a World Heritage Site- were to be destroyed by the impacts of climate change. With several mass coral bleaching events in recent history, it follows that the iconic reef will be badly, if not irreparably, damaged.

Other World Heritage Sites are under threat of course, however, we cannot forget the possible impact on the people themselves. With Australia already experiencing extreme temperatures (remember how they had to add a new colour to the temperature chart?) further future increase is inevitably going to cause loss of both crops and life in the long term. Note how the recent 2009 Black Saturday bushfires were the deadliest on record, killing 173 people- with temperature rise, the a01_17890753frequency of these events is only going to increase. For nearby Pacific Island nations, the threat is even more severe. Their reality is both a stark warning for the rest of the world, but also a tragedy in its own right, with some nations beginning to sink beneath the waves with rising sea levels. In 30 years, Kiribati might not exist anymore; so too the Marshall Islands, with just a 2-degree rise in temperature.

Ultimately, there is clearly a high threat to Australia’s wildlife, habitat and people. It would be foolish not to acknowledge, however, that this presents a much wider issue than just domestically within Australia. The Australian government might have been able to put its head in the sand, but what of the Pacific Islanders without any sand left? ARCCSS - the handprint of climate change_0_0_2_1

The Anatomy of Climate Change Denial

Climate change deniers are just normal people, like you and I. Their (misguided) arguments permeate the internet; numerous blogs, social media accounts and websites exist dedicated to their cause. It is widely accepted that global warming is a real phenomenon, and is caused by us. There is a 97% consensus from thousands of scientists across the world to this end[1], and
virtually every credible scientific organisation has released a statement to this effect. But if these websites and pages are receiving votes and support from many people, then does something bigger lie behind the hysteria?C02_TCP_social_media_image_97

Far from being a modern equivalent of the flat-earth
society, climate change denial enjoys a significant amount of support, especially in America. In a 2014 poll, only 50% of Americans believed that global warming was driven by humans, compared to 87% of AAAS scientists[2]. Only 33% believed that it was a serious issue. As an extrapolated representative sample, that
means that 160 MILLION Americans don’t understand or believe in global warming. With a scientific consensus bordering on unanimity, how is this possible?

Fossil Fuel Industry Investment

Global warming has been fuelled in part PI_2015-01-29_science-and-society-00-01by increasing emissions from industry and energy production[3], and naturally the fossil fuel industries stand to lose a lot. Very, very powerful companies, steeped in wealth, power and tradition, realised early on the potential implications of action on climate change upon their industries. If fossil fuel production and usage is a key component of global warming, any action can and will target a reduction in fossil fuel use and emissions, thus hugely impacting these companies’ profits, as well as thousands of jobs[4]. One might think that could have diversified their businesses into renewable energy, but instead they have coordinated and funded one of the most controversial, vicious and arguably successful discrediting campaigns in history.

How?

The most notorious of the funders are the Koch Brothers, who have made a lot of money from fossil fuel industry. According to Greenpeace, the Koch Brothers have spent nearly $79,000,000 supporting climate change denial groups since 1997. Yes, SEVENTY-NINE MILLION. That is more than the annual GDP of Tuvalu, a nation that is at more risk than most to climate change. This 1283955444_52f513c912money is usually used for disinformation, using terms like ‘climate alarmism’ and using powerful platforms such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journals to sow seeds of doubt. Other companies, such as ExxonMobil and Shell have also spent millions of dollars on climate misinformation. With science firmly on the side of the scientists, it appears evident that the debate has become heavily influenced by industry politics. The irony is that the groups that these companies have funded do not specialise or have experience in climate science, instead often consisting of lobbyists with economic concerns relating to fossil fuel usage. I believe that self-interest is a major factor in determining climate denial; see this map, where the areas with little or no support for climate change are heavily correlated with Funding-climate-deniersnn-008areas with major fossil-fuel economies. Using their positions of authority and power (and limited scientific credibility), they are able to preach effectively to the masses. These companies also actively bankroll anti-global warming science; the oft-cited, contrarian scholar Willie Soon has received over $1,000,000 in funding from fossil-fuel based organisations[5]. The money doesn’t stop there, with one organisation offering $10,000 up front for any paper written that contradicts the existing consensus on climate change.

Owning the Media

The climate denial movement has made strong use of the media a key component of thumb_54c249e3660603dc3db4bdbb_rsz_climate-denial_1200x1200their efforts to discredit scientists. The much-cited ‘ClimateGate’ scandal, where UEA’s Climate Department email system was hacked, and a number of emails were perceived to disprove climate change, is just one instance. Climategate resulted in a huge amount of coverage, criticism and a huge loss of confidence in climate science. 7 independent enquiries exonerated the participants and ‘debunked’ the entire scandal, with the US Environmental Protection Agency even stating that the exposé
had “routinely misunderstood the scientific issues”, reached “faulty scientific conclusions”, “resorted to hyperbole”, and “often cherry-pick language that creates the suggestion or appearance of impropriety, without looking deeper into the issues’. The headline had already been made, and timed perfectly before the 2010 Copenhagen environment negotiations, the climatereaclitydamage had been done, creating shockwaves across the world.

Influencing The Kyoto Protocol

The American government in particular is closely linked to fossil fuel entities, and
it

would be foolish to underestimate the extent to which economic self-interest could influence government policy. The USA’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, against the advice of their own Environmental Protection Agency, is sometimes cited as the most high-profile of this. Taking over from the more agreeable Clinton administration, Bush was quick to reject the Kyoto protocol, citing a number of reasons. This devastating decision greatly undermined the value of the protocol, leading toSpringer a strong international response from European states in particular. The Bush administration had aligned itself with the conservative climate skeptic movement, and there is strong evidence to suggest that the climate misinformation campaign had a major role in the USA’s rejection of Kyoto[6]

Is it the climate denier’s fault?

Fossil fuel companies and climate denial activists have succeeded in duping a large proportion of the public, both American and international, introducing uncertainty where there should be none. They have attacked the livelihoods and lifetimes of work climate-dinosaursfrom respected scientists the world over. They have tried to sully the names of academic institutions, and tarred vital climate negotiations with misinformation. They have pumped millions into climate misinformation. They managed to stop the world’s sole superpower from signing up to the Kyoto Protocol. If that isn’t power, what is?

When we talk about climate denial, it is all too easy to discard denialist’s views as being crackpot, deranged or simply hysteric, but this is not the case. I have shown how vast sums of money have been pumped into a sophisticated misinformation campaign operating at a number of levels, from fossil-fuel lobbyists to junk scientists, from the conservative movement to controversial journalists. This campaign is a powerful, dangerous entity, and it has ultimately been successful in its aims.

Have they won?gwcritics

You could argue that the climate denialists have won the battle, given their influence, but they certainly haven’t won the war. Given the amount of funds that have been pumped into their campaign (and the authority figures on their side), wouldn’t we be more surprised if they didn’t have significant support? Make no mistake, their movement is powerful and dangerous, but climate scientists have time on their side. Models are only going to get more accurate, and the limited uncertainty that does exist within the science is only going to get smaller over time. In the past 5 years or so, the world has awoken to the realities of global warming. The first climate refugees; the US Military getting worried; China coming to the table… We are on the right side of history. The upcoming COP21 talks in Paris will determine the future of global environmental policy and ultimate the extent to which climate denialism has worked. May we hope that the world leaders have listened and learned, and that we will be frogs in slowly boiling water no more.

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[1] Cook et al, 2013, Quantifiying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, Environmental Research Letters, IOP Science.

[2] Pew Research Center, 2014: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/pi_2015-01-29_science-and-society-00-01/

[3] Crowley, T.J,  Science, 2014: Causes of Climate Change over the past 1000 years.

[4] Houghton. J, 2009: Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

[5] Hoggan. J, 2009, Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade To Deny Global Warming, Vancouver, Canada.

[6] McCright. A.M, Dunlap. R.E, 2003, Defeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movement’s Impact on U.S. Climate Change Policy, Social Problems, Vol .50, No.3. (http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Publications/PDF_Papers/McCrightDunlap2003.pdf)

Back to University: Week 1 Review

After a year out of university due to illness, I finally returned this week to start second year afresh.

With most of my lecturers (and old friends)  out in California and New York on a field trip, my first week back was decidedly bereft of lectures themselves, with only 3 actually taking place! All the modules were new though, and I’m suprisingly satisifed with my module choices. I had assumed that I would change one of my modules to a politics equivalent, however having tried my two likely drop-options, this is now unlikely to happen. Evolution of Human Societies looks like a brilliant module, and I am so glad that I have taken it. To me, it seems like we are being taught the essence of Jared Diamond’s brilliant, seminal, Guns Germs and Steel, but with the latest developments that have occurred in the intervening years included. Assuming my fellow peers are also aiming to help tackle some of the global issues facing the world today, this module should provide an excellent grounding in a fascinating, vital part of human development.

The Politics of Climate Change and Energy is another good module it seems, and whilst it was my most likely module to drop, I’ve really taken to the style of teaching employed by the lecturer. It is a big class, with around 70-odd students it seems, and thus it might be a bit harder to make my work stand-out. The assessment methods for this module are great though; 3 blogs combined to make 2000 words, a concept map and some Policy Analysis. I’ve done some policy analysis before, thankfully, the blogs should be my ‘bankable’ marks (I hope at least), and the concept map is something completely new. I’m more excited about the concept map than the others though because it looks like a really good way of detangling complex issues, such as Perhentian Islands Development or some defence analysis on Central Africa. Ideal.

The work will kick off in earnest next week, however this week has been a really nice induction back in to the swing of university life. I had a meeting with a departmental figure to officially say hello and plan for any future illness, which was lovely, and have spent most of the week in the library reading about Islands Biogeography. I’ve honestly learnt so much in such a short space of time, it really must be something about the university atmosphere and experience. Being back at university does feel like a great big safety net has been thrown over me again, and I think this is perhaps part of the undergraduate experience. Having spent time out of university, I learnt life skills that my course simply wouldn’t have taught me, and I guess I have sympathies with the people I have spoken to recently who have said that the graduates they have employed in the past have been hopeless – not because they don’t know how to do their jobs, but because they lack basic life skills to get them through the week.

I ended the week on Gylly Beach late at night, watching the supermoon and the stars glisten over a calm sea, as a fire crackled in front of me and some of my closest friends.

A lovely, calm start to the semester, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in properly. I’ve done my reading, I’ve planned a couple of my climate change blog posts, I’ve got loads of Malaysia plans in the works, and I’ve nearly finished the Perhentian Ecology website.

Roll on week 2! P1150243