Fossil fuels? No thanks.

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You don’t often see badges or bumper stickers with slogans like that. The antinuclear ones are all over the place.

Nuclear Power? No thanks.

If future historians look back on this era perhaps they’ll conclude that a major factor influencing our failure to decarbonise rapidly enough was that the environmental movement put its resources into campaigning against the wrong power source. Though other future historians would say nah, don’t be silly. The greens were never that influential.

But the antinuclear movement has run a very effective campaign. They’ve managed to shut down fast breeder research in the US whilst also persuading a few nations to abandon nuclear, most notably Germany which turned to coal and intermittent renewables, but mainly coal, increasing its emissions considerably.

It was a failure of risk assessment – the tiny risk of nuclear was able to terrify more people than the far greater risk of carbon emissions and climate change. That was often how things worked. People feared cancer for more than heart disease, though heart disease was the more prolific killer. Whilst many have intense fears of flying, statistically one of the safest modes of travel, few fear the far more dangerous activity of travelling in a car.

Fears are rarely entirely rational, but neither are they entirely irrational. Fear of radiation is understandable. You can’t see it or smell it, no matter how intense it may be and you know that if intense enough it could cause your hair to fall out, your skin to fall off and you could suffer a very gruesome and painful death.

It doesn’t matter that there is natural background radiation around us all the time. Measurements of radiation levels don’t mean much to most people. Is 8 millirems a large dose of radiation or a small dose? Over what period of time? If you’re a skilled campaigner you can terrify people with the dose of radiation equivalent to what you’d get on a two-week holiday to Cornwall, or a few dental x-rays.

The risk associated with nuclear power is also closer to home than any risks someone might perceive as being associated with climate change. Of the 400,000 deaths a year resulting from climate change, the vast majority, are among the poorest people in the poorest countries. Few living in a country like Britain would imagine that they might be killed by anything remotely related to climate change, but they can certainly imagine a nuclear power station going up, a huge mushroom cloud, millions of deaths – and then some post-apocalyptic scenarios. Films from the Cold War era, images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are more frightening than the idea of a gradually warming world to someone living in the country that could do with a bit more warmth.

Hiroshima & Nagasaki taken by Charles Levy from a B-29

Hiroshima & Nagasaki taken by Charles Levy from a B-29

Even if people don’t intellectually have such a cartoonish perception of things, the emotional perception may well be that simplistic and it’s our emotional perception that is going to have the greatest impact on our fears. Ideas that survive and propagate themselves are not necessarily the ideas that are most useful to their carriers. They can in fact be the cause of their carriers’ destruction and thus of their own destruction. Unless the carriers are able first to realise that they’ve given birth to a destructive virus meme which needs to be eradicated.

I am not an animal

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I asked my son (4) what animals he could see in this picture.

What animals can you see?

He said rabbit. Good, and what else? What about the birds? Yes, he agreed that birds were animals. And what else? The boat and the tractor, he said after a while. No, boats and traction engines are not animals (yeah, the traction engine has a face and is smiling, but let’s overlook that for now). What about the man driving the traction engine? No, people aren’t animals, he insisted. Yes they are, I said. I’m an animal, you’re an animal…
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Earth 2100

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In 2100 my son will be the same age my father is now. When my father was born the world was emitting just under a billion tonnes of carbon per year. When my son was born we were emitting almost 9 billion tonnes a year and global CO2 levels had increased by about 30%.

Questions:

  1. How old is my son?
  2. How old is my father?
  3. What will the world be like in 2100?

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The three Goldilocks

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Three Goldilocks planets discovered orbiting the same star. They’re all in the Goldilocks zone where water can exist in liquid form, which is supposedly necessary for life as we know it. Perhaps any kind of life. Almost certainly for any kind of advanced life, though who can be sure? So if advanced civilizations developed on one or more of those planets they would quite likely visited the other life-supporting planets in their system at an early stage of development, the stage we’re at know, and perhaps in learning about those other planets that were quite like their home planet they may have learned to look after their own planet better. Or if they did trash it, at least they’d have a Planet B to move to, and then a Planet C after that if they wanted to. Then maybe they’d be advanced enough to travel to other stars and they’d happen across us, this remote planet, like an Easter Island to their Europe, and they’d witness us doing to our planet just what they did to their Planet A. Would they intervene and stop us or would they sit back and watch us with great academic interest? Historical interest as to their historians it might be like watching their own history unfold in a parallel universe.

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On sharing and toddler nature

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My son’s mother mentioned how she thought some parents treated their children like little adults. She thought this was wrong. I asked her what she meant. Could she give me an example? All sorts of things could be described as trying to get children to behave like adults. Teaching them to walk, for instance, or encouraging them to walk as I don’t think it’s something you really teach them.

A couple of days later she got onto the subject again and it was only then that it was clear she was referring to my efforts to get our son to share his toys. Toddlers aren’t meant to share, she said. They’re not old enough to understand what it means.

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The weather in Iceland

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A strong gale warning (more than 20 m/s) is in effect for many parts, except in the east.

There’s a snow storm outside at the moment. I took a walk around the back gardens of the flats I’m staying in. There’s a semi-communal grassy area with benches, though this evening the grass has become covered in snow. It’s just gone midnight. The wind has become stronger. It was a struggle walking against it back to the back door of the flat.

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Iceland

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Iceland has a population of 300,000 people, most of whom live in Reykjavik. The tap water here smells of sulphur. According to the National Museum of Iceland, 65% of the original female settlers came from the British Isles whereas most of the original male settlers were Scandanavians. Continue reading

The Brixton Hill laughing man

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I saw the laughing man this morning as I went to the shop. I used to see him a lot but haven’t seen him for quite a while, though I’ve been away. He’s an old Jamaican guy who is always laughing his head off, muttering something to himself and just laughing. He was walking down St. Saviours Road. I crossed the road to avoid him, fearing that if I got too close I might start laughing as well and not be able to stop.