David Flint

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David Flint is a retired management consultant, visiting fellow at the Cass Business School, Practical Action supporter and active member of the Green Party.

Recommended reading: http://climate-cassandra.blogspot.com/

Posts by David

  • Adaptation: Science, pessimism and planning

    April 22nd, 2014

    I went to a Castle Debate on climate change earlier this month. It wasn’t – fortunately – a debate but a briefing. It was realistic, and therefore depressing.

    The consensus, based on the latest IPCC report and work by PWC, was that though it’s still POSSIBLE to keep the temperature rise below two degrees it’s likely to be four degrees. That’s not really ‘four degrees’. We’re on track for four degrees by 2100 with substantial increases thereafter. And, given the uncertainties, a likelihood of four degrees means means the possibility of five, maybe more, even by 2100.The first speaker, Dr Celine Herweijer of PWC, presented these facts and the IPCC view on impacts – falling food production, dying coral reefs, loss of summer sea ice from the Arctic. In fact the usual stuff. She also drew attention to the UK’s vulnerabilities – we import 40% of our food and our 350 largest public companies own overseas assets worth £10T (that’s £10,000,000,000,000) many of which are vulnerable to climate change.

    24603 The most vulnerable sectors include energy, mining, utilities and manufacturing.Next up was Anthony Hobley of Carbon Tracker. Hobley acknowledged the science and mentioned that whole civilisations can fail. It’s happened repeatedly in the past though never globally. Of course, ours is the first global civilisation so that qualification is not entirely encouraging. These failures often followed environmental changes and the ruling elites failed to respond because their wealth shielded them from the impacts of those changes until it was too late to act. Hobley did not make the obvious connections but I will:

    • Climate change has increased in parallel with increasing inequality.
    • The super-rich are increasingly powerful and increasingly isolated from the problems that beset the rest of us.
    • London’s economy is increasingly dependent on the richest 1%.
    • Some of them use their wealth to stop governments addressing the problems.
    • Therefore, a sharp reduction in economic inequality is an essential step in addressing climate change.

    But back to the meeting! Hobley tried hard to be encouraging about the prospects for the 2015 UN Climate Change conference in Paris which he clearly regarded as our last hope. However he struggled to be optimistic and implied that the most plausible success scenario was a global crash programme that he called the Lastminute scenario. This is similar to my Emergency Braking scenario.

    The final speaker was Lord Krebs of Wytham. As Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the  Committee on Climate Change he was very well qualified to explain his committee’s thinking and recommendations. In short, last year’s National Adaptation Programme was based on climate projections made in 2012. These projections included rising temperatures and sea levels, drier summers, wetter winters and more extreme weather events. Specifically they expect 1 in 100 year events to occur every ten years.

    So a science-based plan?

    Actually no. In answer to a question from me Krebs explained that the projections were based on two degrees of warming “because that is the government’s target”. He accepted that this approach is inadequate and would need to be revised (though I didn’t get much sense of urgency from his remarks).

    I will go further. The current National Adaptation Programme is essentially dishonest because it implies that it is appropriate to the actual threats. Only a programme based on the most likely projection – four degrees by 2100 – can be honest. And, given the uncertainties, an honest programme must at least consider the possibility that things will be worse.

    First published on the Climate Cassandra blog

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  • Can we stop climate change in time?

    January 27th, 2014

    The science is clear. ‘Business as usual’ will increase global temperatures by at least four degrees – possibly much more. This will have catastrophic impacts on many parts of the world – and especially on the poorest people.

    That’s why one of our leading climate scientists, Prof Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, convened a Radical Emissions Reduction conference at the Royal Society. This was not a climate science conference, the speakers included economists, sociologists, anthropologists, NGO experts, politicians, a French philosopher and an Irish fireman! The conference brought a variety of perspectives to bear on the technical, social and political feasibility of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophe.

    “We are [energy] addicts … [and] shale gas is our methadone.”  Kevin Anderson.

    The conference passed no motions and made no declarations but I took away three main messages:

    • It is technically feasible, though it will be very hard, to reduce emissions fast enough.
    • To do so will require the citizens of developed countries to make significant sacrifices.
    • Neither the people nor the leaders of these countries have the will to make the changes needed.

    The political radicalism of the conference surprised me. The keynote speaker was Naomi Klein and Green MP Caroline Lucas was on the final panel. In her speech on the first day Naomi said, roughly, ‘I thought I might stir you up by calling for revolution but that’s already happened six times!’ Many speakers stressed the need for major change in politics and behaviour and emphasised the political and ideological roadblocks.

    The Good News

    The unexpected star of the second day was Neil McCabe, a fireman from Dublin. Six years ago he started a process of general improvement and emissions reduction at his fire station.  In six years he has done 300 actions and created 20 start-ups. He has extended his approach first to the rest of the Dublin Fire Service and then to the whole Council. Inspiring stuff!

    Some speakers discussed technologies. Brenda Boardman, for instance, told us that using LED lights would significantly reduce peak electricity demand. Lighting, she said, is about 22% of peak demand (much more than I’d have guessed). Wed may already have reached ‘peak light bulb’. Other speakers discussed low energy technologies for homes and shipping.

    Other speakers presented scenarios for the transition to a low-emissions energy system and Dan Staniaszek told us that stopping climate change will have many societal benefits, especially for health.

    The necessary changes are technically possible, economically affordable and offer many benefits.

    The Bad News

    Though we’ve known about the threat of climate change for over twenty years nothing effective has been done. Global emissions continue to rise. “Global recession,” John Barrett told us, “is the only thing shown to reduce global emissions – and that only briefly.” The impacts are serious and increasing precisely known. According to Tyndall Director Corrine Le Quere “Of the one metre Hurricane Sandy storm surge, 20cm was due to global warming”.

    The oft-cited 80% reduction by 2050 target may not be enough. John Barrett thinks it should be 97%. Either requires annual reductions in the range 7.5 to 10% in the developed world. Yet almost everyone, and not just mainstream politicians, is in denial about both the scale and pace of the changes needed. Several speakers gave lists of reasons for the inaction and denial but here’s my list:

    1. Vested interests in fossil fuel and growth oppose effective action. The worst are fuel producers, both corporate and national, energy supply companies and automobile and aerospace firms. But they also include manufacturers, retailers, media and governments who benefit from growth, ie. almost all of them.
    2. The dominance of neoliberal ideology. Since 1979 this has conquered the parties of the Left as well as the Right. Neoliberals believe in the magic of the market and that government intervention must make things worse. Naomi Klein criticised North American environmental organisations for using neoliberal arguments, thus strengthening their enemies. Even at this conference, several speakers proposed solutions, such as tradeable quotas, that rely on new markets, yet Clive Spash and Steffen Bohm told the conference that carbon markets had failed.
    3. The near absence of convincing role models for low-carbon living requiring acts of imagination too difficult for most of us.

    What is to be done?

    The general shape of the needed policies is clear. We need more R&D funding for renewables, energy storage, insulation, energy efficiency and low-carbon farming. We also need much tougher standards for energy efficiency, carbon taxes and selective subsidies, eg for house insulation.

    But how, politically, can we get them when government is doing the opposite? The necessary actions follow from the reasons for inaction: We need political reform to reduce corporate power, and we need, as Naomi Klein said, “to shred the neoliberal ideology”. Everyone agreed that the necessary action would not happen without strong public pressure so we need a political movement.

    All this is hard but our future requires no less.

    Videos of the conference sessions can be found at http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/communication/news-archive/2013/radical-emissions-reduction-conference-videos-now-online

    David Flint is a retired management consultant, visiting fellow at the Cass Business School, Practical Action supporter and active member of the Green Party.

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  • 50,000 people Waving not drowning

    Westminster, London, UK, London
    December 7th, 2009

    Practical Action supporters were marching, and waving, last Saturday at The Wave, the UK’s largest ever climate change demonstration. In London over 50,000 people surrounded Parliament – going south on Lambeth Bridge then north to Westminster and finishing near Big Ben. So many people turn up to demand a strong deal in Copenhagen, that as the event ended with an ‘all hands in the air’ disply, the tail of the march had yet to enter Parliament Square.

    This was not only a very big event it was also very diverse. Organisations present ranged from the establishment – the Co-Op, Women’s Institute, WWF and RSPB – through Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and Greenpeace to the Socialist Workers Party. The organisations affiliated to Stop Climate Chaos, the organising committee, have over eleven million members – that’s far more than have joined all the UK’s political parties and, I’d guess, far more than are shareholders in the most environmentally damaging businesses.

    Saturday’s Wavers showed that the British public have a very real appetite for effective action to restrain climate change. At Practical Action we know how vital this is for the world’s poorest communities. Our government says it believes the same and Gordon Brown and Ed Milliband met separate groups of Stop Climate Chaos – including Practical Action – after the march. At Copenhagen we’ll see how real the talk is.

    See also: Pre-Copenhagen questions for Ed Miliband | Practical Action in Copenhagen

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