My guest this week is Patron Ian Jarvis. I suggested to him that the Sustainable Futures Report risked becoming repetitive and that it was time to take stock.
Ian tells us that he is old enough to remember when car companies said they could not make a car go faster than 30mph (50kph) using unleaded petrol. The government ignored them and gave them 2 years to adapt, which of course they did.
That was in the late 1970s and everyone was saying it was "green". Ian replied, "no it isn't; it's just less 'not-green'!"
He has been a genuine skeptic ever since.
It was long before "global warming" was on any political agenda - it was all about environment protection. Then subtly it became "climate change”.
"Taking Stock" for him would be about a genuine review of the science and politics with nothing being 'off-the-table'. He asks, “Are we on a route of someone else's choosing? What if we're wrong? What then? Would we, all of us, be big enough to accept that and adjust accordingly?
“It's too important to be wrong.”
We certainly had a wide ranging discussion, although I'm not sure that we reached any firm conclusions. You'll find some parts of this conversation both controversial and provocative. He mentions gain of function research and I have put a link to that at the end of this text. I've also looked up HAARP and commented on it at the end.
Here's what we discussed.
Ian: If we're going to take stock really, really, truly, and properly, consider everything and all aspects, we need to go back to some basic science. I would, first of all, go back to the very first model, for example, that was put out by scientists, see what that was predicting and see where we are now. And compare those two things together. If they're the same, then the models have been right. If they're different, then the models haven't been, and we need to look at what we're missing.
Anthony: Right. Okay. So you're looking at this from a scientific aspect. I mean, are you assuming that we might be mistaken in foreseeing a climate crisis?
Ian: I think if we miss that opportunity to think that way. If our thinking becomes just one strict, controlled almost, way of looking at things, that's not the way science works. Science should always be questioning. So what more have we learnt? That's my argument. At the moment, I think we're so stuck in one way of looking at things.
Anthony: Right. But if we say, "Oh, hang on, let's review everything," then the deniers are going to say, "Well, okay. All this business of saying, we've got to have a net zero 2050, and we've got to cut carbon emissions, it's all been done on a false premise." So surely we're going to give them a tremendous amount of ammunition, which will knock the whole debate back, well, knock it out of court.
Ian: Well, what if it's true?
Anthony: Right but-
Ian: What if it's true?
Anthony: But aren't scientists reviewing this all the time?
Ian: Let me just say one thing. You've just used a word, deniers. Now, that is an emotive word. And it's one of those words, like conspiracy theorist, that is designed just to shut off conversation. We can't go down that way.
Anthony: Let's call them skeptics then.
Ian: That really annoys me, yeah. Yeah. Well, skepticism, true skepticism, is looking at things from the widest angle that you can and looking everything, that's proper skepticism. What skepticism has become known as is being opposed to something. That's not skepticism. That's not thinking, that's just opposing it. Yeah. I read these so-called skeptic sites. They're not skeptics. They're put up there by people who just want to knock whatever they can knock.
Anthony: All right. Well, I think you've made a very good point, that language can be emotive, and we can lose the argument by blurring it. So what are the terms that we should use in order to try and be impartial, but to recognise there are some people who are very concerned about what they perceive as a climate crisis, and there are equally strong opinions from people who don't think that it is a justifiable belief? So how do we categorise? What are we going to call these groups?
Ian: Well, I suppose I would... We'd call it science. We'd call it debate. We'd call it argument. Let me give you an example completely away from the climate, for one second. When COVID was coming out, I wrote something to a group of my friends on Facebook and said, "I've been looking at some science, I've got", at that time, I had about 50 pages of different researchers and articles and things. Some were science researchers, some were articles. And I said "This could be a lab made thing."
Ian: And one of the biggest comments I got was, "Don't be stupid Ian, that's conspiracy theory. Somebody's just trying to sell a book." So I said something like, "Well, can accidents happen?" I said, "Have you ever dropped a glass of wine? Is it possible that it could have been lab made?" I mentioned gain of function, and he said, "He didn't know anything about gain of function." I told him what it was. And I said "Well I'm willing, I'm open, I'm listening, show me your research." And he said, "I can't be bothered. I can't be bothered." Now that's what I see going on with climate. The science is settled. Well that's a myth to start with. Ever. Science is never settled, and any good sensible scientist will tell you that.
I mean, I wouldn't describe myself as a scientist, but I do have a degree in science, computing science, as it happens. And I know how to read papers. And I know you don't have to understand all the science to get a meaning from most papers. Some you do, and you can skip those if you're not into that. CO2, from what I gather is less than 1% of the atmospheric gases, yeah? I mean, I know from my chemistry, which I was hopeless at school I have to say, but we did things like titration in chemistry and that's where you just add a little drop of something into a solution, and one drop suddenly makes all the change. So I do appreciate that small things, small percentages, are not necessarily unimportant, but I've also seen about water vapour.
Ian: And that's a big greenhouse gas. I've also read plenty of articles about the sun. I mean, what can we do about the sun, the solar minimum that people are saying many scientists are saying we're approaching a solar minimum, and that's going to make a bigger change in the climate. And I'm not even suggesting that we don't need to do stuff because I really do think lots of the things that we're doing are really, really useful in a general environmental sense. And I would never, I would certainly not decry lots of those things, but I think we're out of balance, Anthony. I really think we've got out of balance at the moment.
Anthony: Right. Right. Well, let's just go back a stage. You talk about water vapour. There's no denying that water vapour is a significant greenhouse gas, but it's always been there. And I think you could say that the quantity of water on earth is constant. It may be in water vapour, it may be in the oceans, it may be in rivers, but the total doesn't change.
Now, as far as carbon dioxide is concerned, carbon dioxide for a very long time has been finite in terms of the quantity on earth. But we, by exploiting fossil fuels, are actually releasing carbon dioxide from within the earth, and we are adding to the stock. So first of all, there is a change in the carbon dioxide, it's no longer equilibrium. And secondly, that change to the equilibrium is directly caused by human exploitation of fossil fuels. So we are doing something to make these changes. But you just said, you agree that we've got to do something to get things under control. So what sort of things are you considering? I mean, we've discussed on previous episodes, things like geo-engineering. I mean, do you have a view on that?
Ian: Interesting enough, somebody on Radio Four, yesterday afternoon, was a naturalist programme on the science on Radio Four. And this person was concerned about reptiles. That was her specialism, but she said, "I know we have to make priorities because there is not enough money." The first item on the news program, five minutes later, was that Biden has put 33 billion pounds to provide mostly weapons for this war in Ukraine.
33 billion. I also read that the total spent on war in the world is over two trillion pounds per year, now. Mostly from the USA. There is money. Look at the money that's spent on COVID for example. So we've got to think about how we run the entire... I'm getting into big stuff. I think. How we run... All these things are affecting everything. War has more environmental effect and carbon effects than anything else. You build the weapons, you send them across to somebody, you've then got to rebuild all the infrastructure that you've just destroyed. All this. Stop using plastic bags in Sainsbury's makes no difference whatsoever. If we get rid of those things, think how much of your fossil fuels you could save, for example.
Anthony: How realistic is that?
Ian: Well, yeah but if we don't try, we're never going to get there. Are we?
Anthony: No, quite, quite. But we might never get there, even if we do try.
Ian: Well then we will just be the next extinction. I'm sure. And there have been many extinctions over the past and people even say there've been plenty of human extinctions in the past. So life goes on, the world will still turn around.
Anthony: Yes. Yes. Well, I was talking to Manda Scott this week, and one of the things she said in response to me, I was saying, "Look, with people like Putin, with people like Xi Jinping, who is actually urging his miners to produce even more coal at the moment, what chance have we got of actually making a realistic change? And she said, "If you concentrate on that level, probably little chance."
Change Begins At Home
Anthony: Start at home, start making the change at home. Well, maybe we have much... Well, I think she's quite right that we have much more chance of changing things at home than we have changing things globally. And maybe that should be the first stage towards changing the world. But whether that's can be done in time is another question.
Ian: The only thing I see wrong with that, and I do see where she's coming from, because that's taken the easy steps if you like. I can stop buying whatever it is or so on, but it's going to make no difference. It really isn't. Look at one example, HAARP, you've heard of HAARP? H-A-A-R-P. High Active Auroral Research Program I think it stands for.
Anthony: Right. Well, we'll look that up and find a link to it. Yeah?
Ian: It started off some decades ago. It's an array of microwave technology, wifi technology, which beams radiation up into the atmosphere. It heats the upper atmosphere to over a thousand degrees.
Anthony: Oh, right.
Ian: And there are now... Oh, I think 40 or 50, maybe even more around the world of similar devices. The Russians have something, they call it something different. The main one, the biggest one that I know, of is in Alaska. It's a USA military device. Are you telling me, I mean, I'm sure you wouldn't try and tell me that's going to make no difference to the weather?
Anthony: But what's the purpose of it?. Is it a geo-engineering thing?
Ian: That's a very good question. We don't know. I mean, I've also read that HAARP has now been switched off, but there are other equivalents around, there's also a similar thing in the ocean. They're putting wifi in the ocean.
Ian: And what effect is that going to have Anthony? I mean, basically, I'm not saying I know, and that's the big problem because we just don't know. And I think too many of us are afraid of saying, "Actually we don't know, when we claim we know", we've got to say we know something, otherwise we're stupid and that's actually not true. It takes a lot of strength to say, "Well, actually we don't know about this."
And that's where I'm coming from. There are so many things happening at the moment. And the climate thing is one of them, there's a butterfly... You've read chaos theory some years ago, did you?
Ian: Yeah. There's a butterfly somewhere over there, and a hurricane over here. Well beaming up, heating the atmosphere up to a thousand degrees, is certainly going to be more than your butterfly is doing. I don't know that... And what we're not doing I think, is thinking in that coordinated, linked way, because all these things do make a difference.
Anthony: Who is there to think and coordinate all these different things? I mean, is it something for the United Nations? United Nations is more of a technical... Sorry, more of a political organisation than a technical organisation, isn't it?
Ian: It is, yeah. And I'm not sure I have a great deal of faith in the United Nations either. I mean, you mentioned China and Russia. Well, I might counter argument. And yet what about, as I mentioned a little while ago, what about all the stuff that the American military has done over the years? They've wrecked Syria, they're wrecked Libya. Are their wars justified, any more than Russia's wars are justified?
My argument is no, they've all been political wars. Political wars or petroleum wars. And I know we're talking big things and maybe you and I alone will not resolve those things, but we have to start raising those things and raising them with our politicians. How do I get my politicians in the west Midlands? I'm currently living in Wolverhampton, where we are, the first test bed for major 5G rollout.
This was a competition that the wonderful west Midlands combined authority won in 2018. And it's just been rolled out as if it's the best thing since sliced bread. Nobody's asking questions about, "Well, why do we need it?" Have you asked the population? 5G, for example, is not particularly any better than 4G broadband. In fact, arguably, according to the Huawei guy who set up the company, it's not even broadband. So what about the health effects? What about the effects on nature and the environment? I need to get most politicians in this, just in this city, just in this west Midlands area, to start thinking more widely instead of just saying, "Okay. Yeah. Great. Wow. Yeah. Development growth. Wow."
I mean, I've just been reading a paper this morning, the original draft plan. And it's all about growth, more economics, attracting business. Nothing about, "Well, actually, what's the benefits to the population, to the people, to the infrastructure?" How is it going to improve living conditions?
It claims it's in... But there's no evidence anywhere in this paper. And I see so many articles about, not just about climate change, that actually do not produce the evidence. They just say, "This is it." And then everybody says, "Oh yes, bow down. The prime minister says this, the president says this", and they're not presenting the evidence. I said, right up front in this chat Anthony, let's look at the science. Let's look at the papers that were, and the models that were produced 20 years ago, 30 years ago.
We've been hearing about climate change, since certainly since unleaded petrol was introduced. And even then people were saying, "Oh, it's green petrol." I kept saying, "No, it's not green petrol. It's just less not-green." That's all. And that's again where we get into language again, "It's green." Well, actually it's not green. Electric cars are not green. They may be less this or less that, and more this and more that, but they're not green. In the sense the green people wanted to mean. You see my point?
Anthony: Yeah. Yeah. Well, politicians will tell people, always tell people what they want to hear.
Ian: Of course.
Anthony: So we've got to start with the people, surely. We've got to start making people aware of what the issues are.
Anthony: We've got to work on public opinions. The big problem at the moment, if we start with the microcosm, if we start looking at the UK before we start looking at the global situation. The UK situation is there are a large and increasing proportion of people who are worried about the cost of power, the cost of food and the cost of rent. And they are going to be not at all susceptible to arguments about anything beyond that.
So, that's another problem. If you go onto, you sent me a clip a while ago. I mean, looking at it again, which included the guy who represents the fuel price Alliance or something, and he's saying that his members, who are ordinary drivers and motorists and so on, are concerned about the cost of fuel. And he was recorded well before the latest price increase. And it's totally understandable because absolutely. I was talking to somebody the other day who said to me, "Yes, my diesel bill's gone up from 20 quid a week to 30 quid a week. I have to get to work."
Ian: And the-
Anthony: Yeah, yeah. It's very difficult to inform the public on this, when they've got other things on their mind.
Ian: One of my responses to you there would be, if the government was seriously concerned about us and poverty, they would reduce the tax at least 80% of that price on a litre of petrol litre of diesel, is tax. They could wipe that out by reducing that tax.
Ian: Piece of cake.
Anthony: But that would encourage consumption? Yeah, but we wouldn't want them to do that, would we? Because that would encourage consumption.
Ian: Well, if you are saying people's bills are going up and yet they still have to buy the same amount of fuel because they've still got to go to work, bring the price down, but they're still going to work the same. The guy you mentioned, isn't going to use any more petrol to go to the work just because it's cheaper. I mean the other... I mean, again, it's not just that one thing is it? It's also to do with public transport.
Anthony: Yes, absolutely.
Ian: Make public transport, make trains free. Why not? Why not? Give me a good reason why not?
Anthony: Did you see that quote from the Mayor of Manchester this week?
Ian: I didn't, no.
Anthony: Where he showed that a ticket bought at the last minute, a return ticket from Manchester to London, costs the same as a flight to Brazil.
Ian: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You make my point. You make my point. And that's partly because of the tax rebates that airlines get as well, isn't it? They don't pay so much tax on fuel as the train companies. How stupid is that? I don't know if it's still true, but it certainly used to be the case that if you wanted to rebuild a structure, keeping the structure there, you paid VAT on everything you bought. But you knock the whole thing down, then you built from scratch again, you didn't pay VAT on your stuff. Now, is that crazy, or is that crazy?
Anthony: Well, and equally, if you want to refurbish your house to make it highly insulated, again, you pay VAT on the materials that you need.
Ian: Exactly. Yeah. So are we saying we need a restructuring of the tax system as well? It gets complicated doesn't it?
Anthony: It is complicated.
Ian: And it is complicated. And I suppose my argument from the beginning is that we're not taking note of that complication. The IPCC has got one focus, zero carbon. And has anybody actually said is zero carbon even possible?
Sustainable Development Goals
Anthony: Well, actually it's done a bit more than zero carbon because in the latest report, it's aligned a lot of the things that need to be done with the sustainable development goals, the SDGs. But yes, its overriding message is "We've got to cut carbon." Yeah.
Ian: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And what are these sustainability goals? Are they sustainable? It's just we have these lovely phrases and they sound wonderful. What do we mean by sustainable? I mean, nobody's really defining. In my month it's sensible terms, what that actually means. It's again, it's the opposite of your deniers. It's a jingoistic word. Yeah, oh we can say this is sustainable, this isn't sustainable. Where's your evidence?
And what do we mean? Again, they talk about living conditions. Whose living conditions are they talking about in these articles about sustainability? Yours? Mine? Theirs? Certainly doing things in smaller bites, makes good practical sense. I acknowledge that Anthony, absolutely, and what I'm doing in the West Midlands for the 5G, I think is part of that small steps. If I can get my councillors, if I can even get the head of planning as one person to accept that the plan isn't as great as maybe he likes to think it is. If I can get a hundred people to think actually these masts going up is not a great thing all in all, it's got some negative implications, then yes I'm making progress, but the then question comes, which I'm sure you would say, "Well, is that fast enough?”
Anthony: Well, that's the constant question. Is it all fast enough?
Anthony: And as we've discussed, this is such a broad question, such a broad problem. So can we somehow pull these threads together and answer the question, where do we go from here?
Ian: Yeah. I do. I find myself thinking that quite often. Where do we go from here? In some ways I'm coming down to a thinking of what I could only describe as localism. The bigger our organisations get, the more dissipated they get, the more control narrows into the top of a pyramid, and the less out of touch people who are, let's say in control, get with ordinary people like you and I.
Anthony: That they're more out of touch from us?
Ian: More out of touch. Yeah. If we forget about that, we actually separated, almost separated off Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. We actually don't have a region called England.
Anthony: Yeah, yeah.
Ian: Why not? And even then, if west Midlands can do its own thing, then I have more chance of influencing my councillors. My councillors are influenced by all the regulations and statutes and things and thinking that the government pushes on them. And the government controls their budget, controls where they get their money from, et cetera, et cetera. If we make things smaller, even to a small town level, I grew up in Market Harborough in South Leicestershire, it's just a small market town. Now, why can't that organise itself? Decide whether it wants 4G, 5G, climate change, green petrol, and all these things?
Anthony: Right. So you're basically saying we start at the local level. Those are the building blocks that we start with.
Ian: Yeah. Maybe we need to come back to those building blocks and that level. I remember when Ken Livingstone, before he became GLC leader. He lowered the bus fairs, he lowered all the bus fairs to great argument. "No, you can't possibly do that. It's going to ruin things." But what did it do? Took everybody off their cars.
Anthony: Yeah. Until some council challenged it at law, didn't they?
Ian: Yes, exactly.
Anthony: Yeah. Yes.
Ian: So that's where politics gets in the way. Why shouldn't he have been just allowed to do that? It worked.
Anthony: Did you hear the episode about deep adaptation? Deep adaptation is aimed at coping with a situation where climate change proves to be unstoppable and leads to societal collapse.
Anthony: Now, would you accept that? Would you accept that we are on the way to societal collapse because we will not actually control the climate crisis? Or are you confident that we will carry on and things will never get that bad?
Ian: I think we're facing a mega change. I would totally agree with that I think. I don't know what the change is going to be. I might say it's more to do with war, than per se climate change by itself.
Anthony: So on balance, are you optimistic?
Ian: I'm optimistic. I'm optimistic for the species in the sense that I think some of us will survive. I think a lot of us might not. It's down to us Anthony, and I really do mean us. I think we have to stop bickering between the so-called deniers and the Extinction Rebellions. We've got to get behind that language. Yeah. I'm an optimist.
Anthony: Well, thank you. There are some serious and profound thoughts there. Ian Jarvis, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Ian: Thank you, Anthony. It's been a delight to speak with you.
I fear our conversation reinforces the feeling that there are no simple answers to global problems, but maybe that’s a naive statement anyway.
Ian mentioned HAARP, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. The High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program was a US defence project set up in 1993. Its original purpose was to analyse the ionosphere and investigate the potential for developing ionospheric enhancement technology for radio communications and surveillance. The defence department withdrew from the project in 2014 and since 2015 it has been operated as a research tool by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It involves high-power radio transmissions, but there’s no mention of superheating the atmosphere.
Thanks to all guests
I’m grateful to everyone who takes part in Wednesday Interviews and I hope the ideas we share help to stimulate your own thinking. There are plenty more coming up. Next Wednesday, 18th May, we’ll learn about blockchain and its relevance to sustainability. My expert guest is called Anthony Day. Yes, really, there is another one. He lives in Dublin and answers my questions about cryptocurrency, NFTs and whether blockchain is using dangerous amounts of energy. Maybe I’ll call the episode “Day by Day”.
On Friday there will be the usual selection of sustainability news.
For the moment that’s it!
That was the Wednesday Interview from the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’m Anthony Day.
Until next time.
Gain of Function