Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Trading Trees - The Promotional Film

A quiet revolution in forests offers hope to the human race.

A documentary about how small-scale carbon trading projects around the developing world are saving forests. The mechanism of forestry carbon trading is dynamically explained, especially how it works on the ground today, how it needs to be made better, and how it is already uplifting communities, stopping forest destruction, and the role new legislation will play in it's evolution.

After the Copenhagen Climate Conference, and showing the documentary Trading Trees there, I have received a lot of feedback on the project. Much of that feedback urged me to make this project bigger, and include other countries and continents, in order to share what is happening all over the planet in developing countries.

This short film is part of a new proposal to help garner further support, and see this project taken to Borneo, Brazil, and Columbia. For the full proposal and the budget for the proposal feel free to email me.

From the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Destruction (REDD) program to the Kyoto Protocol and the US Cap and Trade bill winding it's way through the US Congress, billions of dollars are being made available this year for carbon forestry projects. This film explains how lessons from the ground should drive policy making at the highest levels.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Windup Girl

I am off today to Paonia, Colorado, to help my old friend Blake bottle some of the wine he has been fermenting since this past summer. He and I grew up with a menagerie of colourful characters, and although we were all blown by the four winds across the globe, we have managed in fits and starts to keep up with each other.

Tonight, in between his bouts of writer's cramp, I hope to link up with one of our gang, Paolo Bacigalupi. I was already going to write accolades about his book, Pump Six and Other Stories, which is as entertaining as it is frightening. But in the meantime, the prolific little bastard has finished another one, called the Wind Up Girl, which has been named by Time Magazine as one of the top ten best books of 2009.

Check out his site, buy the book, and be amazed. His dystopias offer a glimpse into our future world. In the words of Publishers Weekly: (Starred Review) “A Complex, literate and intensely felt tale, which recalls both William Gibson and Ian McDonald at their very best… clearly one of the finest science fiction novels of the year.”

Even science fiction neophytes will love this intense and engrossing book. It should be called science future. I have lifted his cover for this post, click on it to buy it on Amazon.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Icy England

Adam, a friend of mine who hosted me in Copenhagen just sent me a copy of this satellite image taken on the 7th of January, 2010. Click the image to see it properly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Waking Up To Northern Cold

A UK Met office graphic showing how "normal" weather in Europe has been usurped by a different system.

Europe is shivering beneath a blanket of snow. Yet it needs to be said. There is currently little evidence to suggest that the cold snap gripping the northern hemisphere has anything to do with global warming or climate change. But it is an excellent illustration of how sensitive we have become to even small changes. The current cold is nothing too serious or unknown. As I write this, Bloomberg reports that the year 2000 was colder than this winter, at least in Texas. In the UK, it’s the toughest winter in a generation, according to the New York Times. That’s 50 years.

Not such a serious winter, not so bad. For the baby boomers who wax lyrical about how they had real winters when they were kids, this is simply one of those “real” childhood winters. Normal then, even for people working and living today. But read the papers, the Eurostar is shut, airlines are grounded, natural gas is being shut off to factories and businesses, people are stranded, people are dying.

Hundreds have died. The Irish Times reports that thousands of schools are closed, gas supplies are dwindling, salt for roads is exhausted, and thousands of homes are without electricity.

Is this climate change? Funnily enough, temperatures are up all over the world. The British Meteorological Office reports that all over the world right now, outside of the northern hemisphere, temperatures are high. In some places by as much as 20 degrees Centigrade, many others by 5 to 10 degrees. It is only China, Russia, Europe and North America that are suffering from this cold snap. Strikingly, on the Met website, the following disclaimer appears at the bottom of the web page:
“The current cold weather in the UK is part of the normal regional variations that take place in the winter season. It doesn’t tell us anything about climate change, which has to be looked at in a global context and over longer periods of time.”

Local variations, short-term weather. That these are not related to climate change is so hard to explain to the mass majority of people. But look at broader areas of thought.

In the book Critical Mass, author Phillip Ball talks a lot about tipping points. He explains that systems operate in a certain, staid pattern, a pattern that can take a lot of tweaking, a lot of pushing, until a “critical mass” of change is reached (hence the name) at which point the system falters and then realigns itself into a different system.

An example of this is the stable system that provided warm water and warmer air to Europe for the last twenty years. Coming from the south and east, from the warm water of the Gulf Stream, otherwise known as the Atlantic thermocline, this warm air mass and the winds that flow from there were enough to keep the continent warm in the bitter cold of winter. But this year, that has changed.

In that change is something that even the staid Met office has acknowledged that says something about the current weather. Normally, the weather in Europe is dominated by a certain paradigm, now that paradigm is different. So if this stable system for the last two decades has changed, then lets extrapolate further.

The system that keeps Europe warm, that Atlantic thermocline, is in danger. The system brings warm water from the tropics up into the colder areas of Europe. The melt-water pouring off of Greenland’s ice sheet is possibly going to shut down this ocean heat conveyor, as part of the changes taking place due to human-induced climate change. It may fail, and if or when it does, Europe will look much like the western side of Alaska, un-warmed by such a conveyor: Cold, wet, frozen hard in winter. Inhospitable.

What is happening today is not necessarily part of that conveyor shutdown but it shows clearly, how a “normal” cold snap, part of a small tipping point, foreshadows the changes to come, and strips bare the true delicacy of our civilisation.

Our civilisation survives within a certain paradigm of climate, and as we push the critical thresholds of that paradigm by spewing greenhouse gases, cutting our forest sinks, and polluting our skies, we will, one day, pass that tipping point if we do not change our behavior.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Start the New Year With A Plan!

Ladies protesting in penguin suits hold up placards in Copenhagen. When asked about the suits, they said "penguins deserve a planet too".

While in Copenhagen I was struck by the funny-but-scary placards carried by many of the protestors, “There Is No Planet B”. While this may be true, there is actually a very well thought-out Plan B.

The Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC is among many organisations to cry out about the many problems facing our society in the new decade. They have aggregated data from hundreds of very recent scientific reports and it makes for grim reading indeed. Some of the lowlights include the end of cheap food, massive displacement of people, and the loss of our international shipping system. These are very real and well documented. But what they have done in this book, which no one else has, is to outline a very possible plan to change it all around. It is a real set of changes we can accomplish with today’s skills and technology to eradicate poverty, stop climate change, and put our world on a path away from destruction.

The book, titled Plan B 4.0 should be required reading for everyone, and I urge everyone to get it as soon as possible. You can buy it here or download it for free here. The Challenges section is hard to read, because it is up to the minute and very dire indeed. But once you push through it, and start to get into the possibilities of how to fix these problems, there is an empowering sense that it is possible and we have to do it because if we don’t, we will suffer badly. Not our kids in some future time, but us in the next ten to twenty years.

If you are somewhat skeptical of the more frightening research, or are unfamiliar with the real danger of continuing with our status-quo lives, read this book. The book only outlines scientific data, and is recommended by Time Magazine, The Guardian and the Washington Post.

In the forward, the author Lester Brown quotes Paul Hawken, who in a commencement address in 2009 said: “First we decide what needs to be done. Then we do it. Then we ask if it is possible.”

Something that we (at least in the western world) have always been brought up to think is that world is getting better, with better education, better food, better laws, better moon rockets, better plastic storage bins, just plain better. This book makes clear a few very stark realities, that this “bettering” has come at a very stiff price, and in no way equally. In fact, the days of the traditional models of industry and food production have reached their improvement threshold.

If we don’t change our fundamental energy and agricultural practices, the days of getting better are simply over. This is, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, “the high water mark”. Many independent studies say that mark was hit in 2000. Agricultural production peaked, oil output peaked, water use reached it’s own critical threshold. From here on out, things will get worse unless we do something profoundly different.

This book offer us the rare answer to the question: What can we do? I urge all my journalist colleagues in particular to read this book for a clear understanding of our very perilous position, and help share this information with their audiences. One thing Copenhagen has shown is that people who read newspapers care deeply about environmental issues. It glosses over nothing, and mines the world’s best research to bring an analysis that is as encouraging as it is terrifying. There is no Planet B, this one is it.