Sunday, May 23, 2004

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?*

*"Who Watches Over The Guardian"

New York succumbs to tidal wave
The Day After Tomorrow: "I told you should have voted for Nader!"

Thinking about Climate Change
Sometimes, I really doubt my ability to get anywhere near a sufficient understanding of the whole issue of global warming. Mistrustful as I am of both the environmentalists and some of the skeptics, I've decided that I'll just have to sit down and read as much of the IPCC Third Assessment Report as possible. I've only dipped in so far, but I've found it surprisingly compact and accessible, so I reckon it's worth looking into it. One thing I've taken from reading Lomborg's book is the determination to go to the original sources as much as possible for economic and scientific information.

For example, compare George Monbiot's letter to The Times critiquing Bjorn Lomborg's article in that paper. I spent some time comparing his prediction of China's great rivers drying up - obviously a huge catastrophe for the country

We now know, for example, that the Himalayan glaciers which feed the Ganges, the Bramaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze and the other great Asian rivers are likely to disappear within 30 or 40 years. If these rivers dry up during the irrigation season, then the rice production which currently feeds over one third of humanity ceases to be viable, and the world goes into net food deficit. If Lomborg believes he can put a price on that, he has plainly spent too much of his life with his calculator, and not enough with human beings.

- with the relevant analysis in the IPCC third assessment report predicting a mixture of reduced flow in India and increases in water flow in China's rivers:

"A macro-scale hydrological model was used to simulate river flows across the globe... The study suggests that average annual runoff in the basins of the Tigris, Euphrates, Indus, and Brahmaputra rivers would decline by 22, 25, 27, and 14%, respectively by the year 2050. [Water flow] in the Yangtze (Changjiang) and Huang He [Yellow] Rivers have the potential to increase as much as 37 and 26%, respectively. Increases in annual runoff also are projected in the Siberian rivers.."

In 1998, one of the hottest of years in recent history, the increase in water flow in China's rivers led to some of the most serious flooding in modern times. Undeniably, this is a problem for China, but it's hardly an unmanageable one. In fact, the government is planning water projects three times the size of the Three Gorges dam to bring water from the wet south to the more arid north, according to the New Scientist (registration required).

The more I read of his writings, the more critical I become of what I see as many instances of apparent laziness and inaccuracy in selecting and using sources. His attempts to think of social, economic and scientific factors never seem to go beyond spending an hour writing a newspaper column, instead of the painstaking process of model-building and testing done by the professionals. In other words, here we have a poet wandering into a debate among physicists, policy-makers and economists. But then how much fun is actually thinking carefully and with an open mind compared to jumping up and down screaming for attention? Perhaps George needs to spend more time with some textbooks and a spreadsheet, and less hanging around with the pikeys (or "the travelling community", as my countrymen would say) and George Galloway.

The Unobservant

Peter Schwartz, who runs the Global Business Network that produced the report said in a recent interview with National Public Radio:

"...particularly The London Observer both implied that the Pentagon tried to suppress the report on the one hand, and secondly that they exaggerated our conclusions, made it a prediction rather than a worst case scenario. And then turned it around and said, well, see, this proves that the Bush administration is wrong."

Here are links to the GBN report and the Observer article in question.

Has the Observer been less than ethical by engaging in what some have called, in a different context, "sexing up" the report?

The Day After Tomorrow

Last week the Guardian gave plenty of space, everywhere from news, features, editorials, reviews and now another op-ed piece by Zac Goldsmith (he of the large shareholding in mining multinational Newmont) to plugging the new disaster movie that Peter Schwatz dissociates himself from, The Day After Tomorrow.

CURWOOD: And I can't help but ask you then, what's your take on this upcoming movie "The Day After Tomorro? And were you involved in its production in any way?
SCHWARTZ: I wasn't, but I was asked to be. I chose not to be, mainly because this is pure entertainment. They weren't really interested in making a realistic view. I think they were enamored of a number of the images that turn up in the movie.

Over at The Daily Ablution, you can hear the muffled, gasping screams as Scott Burgess holds a suffocating pillow over their heads. following on from his other excellent posts on the topic.

Monbiot's review is quite nuanced (by his standards anyway), so I need to find someone else to hang this two minutes' hate on.

Scribe of environmental and social apocalypse JG Ballard sticks his oar into the floodwaters as well.

Generally, there's hearty approval for this movie, with one feature piece saying "But yesterday The Day After Tomorrow won praise from both the British research establishment [two scientists quoted by name] and the environment movement [obviously the final word on any scientific issues; Brent Spar anyone?]