Monthly Archives: January 2015

Jan 31, 2010: Ed Miliband lays into the #climate “sceptics”

On 31 January 2010, probably still bruised by Copenhagen, Ed Miliband (then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, now Leader of HM Opposition) laid into the “sceptics”


Ah, the post-Copenhagen blues. There were those who tried to warn – to dampen expectations and to think BEYOND December 2009.  Anyway, what’s done is done – until it’s done again in Paris…

Here’s a clip of what he said (reported in the Guardian)-

“But in the government’s first high-level recognition of the growing pressure on public opinion, Miliband declared a “battle” against the “siren voices” who denied global warming was real or caused by humans, or that there was a need to cut carbon emissions to tackle it.”

“It’s right that there’s rigour applied to all the reports about climate change, but I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it’s somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture that’s there,” he said.

“We know there’s a physical effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to higher temperatures, that’s a question of physics; we know CO2 concentrations are at their highest for 6,000 years; we know there are observed increases in temperatures; and we know there are observed effects that point to the existence of human-made climate change. That’s what the vast majority of scientists tell us.”

FWIW, it’s not the outright deniers (few in number) who are to blame. It’s those who allow business as usual to proceed in a business-as-usual fashion. Yes, yes, it’s counter-productive to assign blame, all of us are complicit, some of us are guilty blah blah blah…

Other things that happened on this day:

1989 Publication of “The Atmosphere: Endangered and Endangering” by M. Mead (Author), William W. Kellogg (Author) (Based on the Fogarty Conference of 1975)

2003 the Baliunas/Soon paper is published.

2001 In scenes later immortalised in the opening section of the Oscar-winning (*) classic “The Day After Tomorrow” the Larsen B iceshelf started to disintegrate.

The Larsen B sector collapsed and broke up, 3,250 km² of ice 220m thick, covering an area comparable to the US state of Rhode Island, disintegrated and collapsed in one season.[6] Larsen B was stable for up to 12,000 years, essentially the entire Holocene period since the last glacial period, according to Queen’s University researchers

You can watch it here.

And if you open up another browser window at t’same time, you can have British Sea Power accompaniment… Song Oh Larsen B British Sea Power Open Season

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.

* Actual facts may vary. Always read the label.

Jan 30, 1989: new US Secretary of State makes a positive speech about climate action.

At the Department of State, Bush family consigliere James Baker, talking to Working Group 3  (Response Strategies)of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, made all the right noises.  It soon went badly wrong, of course…


George HW Bush had beaten Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election, for a variety of reasons (thanks Lee Atwater!). Bush had, as his son did after him, made some of the “right” noises about climate change, which had burst onto the public agenda in the summer of ’88.

Here’s what William Nitze had to say –

“Ironically the administration initially positioned itself well on the issue with Secretary of State Baker’s endorsement of the “no-regrets” approach to climate change in his first official speech on January 30, 1989.  But after it became apparent that Governor Sununu was strongly opposed to the spirit and much of the substance of that speech, Baker reversed himself on the issue in early 1990 and withdrew from the field.”
Nitze (1994) Page 192-3

Here’s more on Baker, and “no regrets”

He told the National Governor’s Association (26 Feb 2010) that no regrets meant “… while the United States continues to support scientific research into the greenhouse effect, [we] are prepared to take actions that are fully justified in their own right and which have the added advantage of coping with greenhouse gases. They’re precisely the policies[we] will never have cause to regret.”

Future Generations and International Law eds Agius E., Busuttil, S. (eds) 1998) Abingdon, Oxon: Earthscan

footnote 45, Chapter 9 Precautionary Principle and Future Generations by James Cameron, Will Wade-Gery and Juli Abouchar

No regrets” is one of those phrases that has a delightful ambiguity (“basic research” “balanced approach”) and we will return to it when talking about the wondrous climate policies of John Howard, Australian Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007.

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.

Jan 29, 2006: New York Times breaks “Bush muzzling Hansen” story

The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.”

So begins Andy Revkin’s story in the New York Times. Revkin can now be found writing here.


Conservatives” and business interests have been waging a war on the science that quantifies the damage to human and planetary health caused by our technologies for a looong time (the distinction between “impact” science – see above – and “production” science – GM, nuclear etc – is useful). This seems to enrage people more than the fact that the politicians who “accept” climate change but continue to subsidise the infrastructure that is doing the damage (fossil fuels, airport expansion etc) and instead indulge in policies of ‘symbolic placation’ are every bit as culpable, no?

See also: Mark Bowen “Censoring Science: Inside the attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming.

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.

Jan 28, 1987: Two scientists warn what is coming. And guess what, it’s coming. #Broecker #Ramanathan

An extra “All Our Yesterdays” post today, in honour of two excellent scientists, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Professor Wally BroeckerIt was Ramanathan’s work on non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases which had stiffened the resolve of the Villach attendees, and Broecker had been similarly involved. On January 28, 1987 they testified to Congress. Here is a long quote from a chapter in an ancient but sadly prescient book, “The Challenge of Global Warming.”

The Senate took up the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion issues again in January 1987. In fact, it became the subject of the first major hearing by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Congress. Two critical and relatively new problems were discussed at this hearing that were to become central aspects of the growing urgency associated with the global warming problem.

Ramanathan argued in the hearing that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations had already been altered sufficiently by 1980 to commit the earth to a 0.7 to 2 degrees Celsius warming. With each passing decade Ramanathan estimated that an additional 0.2 to 0.5 degrees Celsius was being added. His analysis meant that by the year 2020 – in 33 years – the earth would be committed to as much as 4 degrees Celsius warming. Many scientists believe that the earth has not been 4 degrees Celsius warmer for tens of millions of years. Ramantahan’s testimony established that society was already locked into a substantial amount of climate change no matter what governments did. The problem was no longer a question of whether a change would occur but how much and when.

The second major issue was raised by Wally Broecker, a geochemist at the Lamont Dougherty Laboratory.  Broecker’s testimony was a follow-up to a talk he had given at an EPA conference in June. Broecker said that an examination of the history of climate change suggested that the greenhouse effect might push the earth into a state of rapid change – reorganizing the earth systems in the process. Broecker had little faith that society would experience a linear and gradual change in global temperature and climate as suggested by general circulation models of the atmosphere. The key implication of Broecker’s testimony was that the buildup of greenhouse gases could force the climate system to go into a state of rapid change and that society ultimately had limited ability to predict what that change might bring.

Page 264 Pomerance, R. (1989) “Dangers from climate warming: A public awakening,” in Abrahamson, D. (1989) The Challenge of Global Warming. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Defense Council

Jan 28, 1969: The Santa Barbara Oil Spill

On January 28, 1969 the Santa Barbara oil spill happened.

Within a ten-day period, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels (13,000 to 16,000 m3)of crude oil spilled into the Channel and onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County in Southern California, fouling the coastline from Goleta to Ventura as well as the northern shores of the four northern Channel Islands.” [wikipedia]

The Cuyahoga River had caught fire (no, honestly) in 1952, and when it did again in June 1969, these two ‘focusing’ events helped amplify environmental concern in the US. Meanwhile, in Vietnam…

See also:

Focusing events/ trigger events. But on their own, they are not enough. “Disasters” won’t on their own “save” us.  They have to be turned into “scandals”…

Birkland, T. (1998) Focusing Events, Mobilization and Agenda Setting. Journal of Public Policy 18, 1, 53-74.


As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.

Jan 27, 1986: Engineers try to stop launch of NASA shuttle Challenger, fail.

jan27Challenger_explosionOn January 27th engineers working for a NASA subcontractor tried to get the launch of the Challenger Space Shuttle postponed for safety reasons. They were over-ruled. The following day, 7 astronauts died when the vehicle exploded 73 seconds after launch.


NASA was under pressure to do more launches. They were sending a teacher up into space too. The bolted-together-bits-of-Shuttle-to-ensure-pork-barrel-across-the-US was not going to cope with the low temperatures. One engineer, Roger Boisjoly,  knew it. He did everything he could, but when you are up against a hierarchy that doesn’t respect expertise, and has its own “face” to consider, don’t expect to win. The climate connection? Think on it, it will come to you… or clock Mark Bowen’s (2008) Censoring Science, page 61 –

‘But with the Bush administration ignoring the nearly unanimous warnings of climatologists not only in this country but worldwide [Hansen] pointed out, “The situation is analogous to that faced by an engineer who spots a flaw in the Space Shuttle, but finds his complaint ignored by management. He has the right, and responsibility, to make his concern known to the highest authority. IN our case the spacecraft carries billions of humans and other life forms, and the highest authority, the only authority with the power to throttle the engine, is the public.”’

If we were serious about getting out of this mess, we’d teach this as a case study to primary school students.

This is from wikipedia (downloaded 31st December 2014)

Following the announcement that the Challenger mission was confirmed for January 28, 1986, Boisjoly and his colleagues tried to stop the flight. Temperatures were due to be down to −1 °C (30 °F) overnight. Boisjoly felt that this would severely compromise the safety of the O-ring, and potentially lose the flight.

The matter was discussed with Morton Thiokol managers, who agreed that the issue was serious enough to recommend delaying the flight. They arranged a telephone conference with NASA management and gave their findings. However, after a while, the Morton Thiokol managers asked for a few minutes off the phone to discuss their final position again. Despite the efforts of Boisjoly and others in this off-line briefing, the Morton Thiokol managers decided to advise NASA that their data was inconclusive. NASA asked if there were objections. Hearing none, the decision to fly the ill-fated STS-51L Challenger mission was made.

Boisjoly’s concerns proved correct. In the first moments after ignition, the O-rings failed completely and were burned away, resulting in the black puff of smoke visible on films of the launch. This left only a layer of insulating putty to seal the joint. At 59 seconds after launch, buffeted by high-altitude winds, the putty gave way. Hot gases streamed out of the joint in a visible torch-like plume that burned into the external hydrogen tank. At about 73 seconds, the adjacent SRB strut gave way and the vehicle quickly disintegrated.

Boisjoly was relieved when the flight lifted off, as his investigations had predicted that the SRB would explode during the initial take-off. However, seventy-three seconds later, he witnessed the shuttle disaster on television.

See also:

Richard Feynman showing his famous glass-of-water experiment.

And this from wikipedia

Feynman devoted the latter half of his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? to his experience on the Rogers Commission, straying from his usual convention of brief, light-hearted anecdotes to deliver an extended and sober narrative. Feynman’s account reveals a disconnect between NASA‘s engineers and executives that was far more striking than he expected. His interviews of NASA’s high-ranking managers revealed startling misunderstandings of elementary concepts. For instance, NASA managers claimed that there was a 1 in 100,000 chance of a catastrophic failure aboard the shuttle, but Feynman discovered that NASA’s own engineers estimated the chance of a catastrophe at closer to 1 in 200. He concluded that the space shuttle reliability estimate by NASA management was fantastically unrealistic, and he was particularly angered that NASA used these figures to recruit Christa McAuliffe into the Teacher-in-Space program. He warned in his appendix to the commission’s report (which was included only after he threatened not to sign the report), “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

Other things that happened on this day:

2014 Pete Seeger dies. Seeger had asserted his First amendment rights rather than his Fifth when faced with the House Un-American Committee. And he did some early environmental campaigning (1966)

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.

Jan 26, 1978: Paper “West Antarctic ice sheet and C02 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster”

jan26mercerOn January 26th 1978 the journal Nature carried a cheerful little paper entitled West Antarctic ice sheet and C02 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster” by JH Mercer [Nature Vol 271, p 321-5.]


As with the January 1st post, we’ve known about this for a long time. Yes, it took some time for the signal to emerge from the noise, but the signal has been there for 20 years. And we’ve “chosen” (with a little help from our friends in the fossil fuel industries) not to see or hear.

Gillis, J. and Chang, K. (2014) Scientists warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt New York Times. May 12.

“The new finding appears to be the fulfilment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed “a threat of disaster.” He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)”

James Hansen cites what he calls the “John Mercer effect” in his essay on “Scientific Reticence.”

“I suspect the existence of what I call the `John Mercer effect’. Mercer (1978) suggested that global warming from burning of fossil fuels could lead to disastrous disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, with a sea level rise of several meters worldwide. This was during the era when global warming was beginning to get attention from the United States Department of Energy and other science agencies. I noticed that scientists who disputed Mercer, suggesting that his paper was alarmist, were treated as being more authoritative.”


See also:

Lonnie Thompson

Bowen, M. (2005) Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains


Other things that happened on this day:

1990 Lewis Mumford dies

2011 Kevin Trenberth  presentationCommunicating Climate Change: In Honor of Stephen Schneider,” presented at the 91st American Meteorological Society Meeting Special Session on Promoting Climate Change Information and Communication of Climate Change, Seattle, WA, 26 January 2011. Powerpoint Presentation, PDF (“We request that you ask the author’s permission to use any materials from the Presentation”).

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.