All posts by rogerwalker@orange.fr

Cricket trumped

10 October. I stayed up last night to watch the second presidential debate. That was a mistake – I’ve been severely depressed all day. What a disgrace to America that man is: a fool, a knave, a liar and a sexual predator to boot. That he should have been able to make pile of money – backed up as he was by a very rich father – is not inconceivable, especially in the US; that he should be taken seriously as a candidate for the presidency, however, leaves me incredulous.

And shit scared.

Even if Trump loses (and that’s still an ‘if’), the fact that he’s come so far is calamitous. It tells us that the USA is not healthy, that a significant proportion of the population are truly stupid, and that the country cannot be relied on to maintain anything resembling a moral compass. During the first debate, Trump undertook to respect the result of the election, win or lose, but unsurprisingly he’s backtracked on that, and all those rednecks who’ve found an identity in his message will have to be pandered to.

Stepping back a little from Trump (and who wouldn’t? – I bet he wears too much aftershave), I cast Brexit in a similar light: a misinformed public unable to see through the bluster. Looking further afield, in terms of climate change, the Australians are the reddest of rednecks as far as coal is concerned – more Anglo-Saxons. Europe is streets ahead of the rest of the world in terms of CO2 emissions reductions, both achieved and planned. China is fast catching up and remains the only country to have announced a date for peak emissions. India is struggling: they have the same population problem as China but don’t have the ‘advantage’ of an authoritarian political system. Nonetheless, they’re investing heavily in renewables, with a 100GW solar complex due to come on line in 2022 (by way of comparison, the whole of the French nuclear park produces 63GW).

12 October. In short, it’s the Brits and their spawn who are fucking up the world. And they really have no excuse. I was astonished to come across these quotes from Margaret Thatcher the other day on Peter Sinclair’s invaluable climatecrocks.com (if you don’t have 11mins go straight to 6:40). “The [climate] change in the future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have seen hitherto. […] It’s comparable in its implications to the discovery of how to split the atom.” The lady was a chemist after all, she understood the danger and she spelt it out with admirable clarity. I confess I have no memory of that whatsoever, but then climate change was not yet a part of my search pattern – and anyway there was no Internet. I can’t remember stuff I never knew. All in all a good example of our generation’s insouciance… or should I say, more kindly, ‘ignorance’? It was incomparably more difficult for Joe Bloggs to acquire reliable information ‘in the old days’ – virtually impossible in fact. Scientists were not much better off: the current fruitful flourishing of inter-disciplinary studies is the result of specialists’ being able to consult sites like ScienceDaily to get a quick overview of what’s going on in other fields.

13 October. OK – I’m rambling. I’m miserable and I’m drinking too much. Let me try to draw the threads together.

Those Thatcher quotes make her something of a paradox: the scientist that she was understood what was at stake; but her corner shop economics led directly to deregulation, the globalisation of predatory capital and the acceleration of global warming. Dogma over data. To be fair (me being fair to Thatcher?) there wasn’t a lot of data available at the time. Thatcher must have gleaned information from the specialised journals she read and she made an accurate judgment. The science was sufficient to convince the experts that there was a nasty-looking trend, but it was insufficient to mount a full-scale, public attack on Reaganomics. The market and the politicians still believed in trickle down. What – I wonder – might Margaret have said to Ronnie if she’d known then what we know now?

23 October. Ten days later. I’ve been, er… HS (hors service) – “out of order”, as in vending machine. I came back from Ruffiac this afternoon after a week of cocooning at Marga’s, and it was with a certain pleasure that I took (or rather accompanied) Sam round the village and watched her checking out all the local points of interest.

Meanwhile, however, the second and third presidential debates have left the rest of the world either reeling in shock or rolling gleefully on the floor. But a significant proportion of the US population are still committed to Trump’s fascist, simplistic inanities. He and Clinton were pretty much level pegging in the polls till that tape of him bragging about his groping rights emerged, after which his numbers dipped. But not by much. Today Clinton is about 6pts ahead, but that’s far too close to the margin of error for my liking. Trump continues to up the stakes and, by questioning the validity of the electoral process, he’s become a threat to the democratic system itself… which – let’s face it – was already pretty wobbly in the USA. And all those rednecks are wound up and raring to go. In fact if Trump had set out to create the conditions for civil war he could have done no better.

I saw an interview on Channel 5 with a guy in Nashville (Tennessee) whose company makes camouflage uniforms for the military and is one of the few to have survived in the face of cheaper Chinese competition. Where he used to employ 300 people he only has 50 today, and presumably his profits have taken a corresponding hit. He is understandably upset about that, but what he doesn’t get is that out-sourcing and cut-throat competition are the logical extension of American capitalism. Neither does he realise that today more American jobs are lost to automation than to ‘foreigners’. Worst of all, he lumps everything into a dreadful amalgam that sees all Muslims as terrorists.

24 October. It’s all so sad – utterly disheartening. The climate is already going haywire and with the slowing of the AMOC, the North Atlantic heat exchange mechanism which is the very motor of the Golf Stream (see here for the pdf, or here for a 15min video), we ain’t seen nothing yet. The reality behind those terrifying numbers for sea level rise will soon become obvious and undeniable – alas too late. No one knows, no one cares.

(I sent my ad/article to the Dawkins Foundation by the way. No answer came the stern reply.)

25 October. I understand that you don’t have the time to stew over the woes of the world. Between the close links you maintain with your extended family and all your activities, you’re too busy living life to the full. I can make excuses for you because you fill your time with stuff that’s worth doing: you are not fooled by the charade of consumerism or the black pantomime that goes by the name of politics. You give much more than you take, all that you do is admirable and I would be the last to deny that the world needs people like you and yours.

But you are hardly typical of our generation, and tomorrow’s world needs people like me too. People who get up your nose – yes, I’m sure I do: “Oh dear, here goes Roger again, banging on about climate change…”

Andy Beckett has penned a grim piece for the Guardian about the power of the tabloids. It’s a salutary reminder of what we’re up against: i.e. completely unscrupulous demagoguery. A reminder too of the way the real world works. I tend to forget how unreasonable most people are and how easy it is to manipulate them. Silly of me. It’s not as though I’d forgotten how shocked I was in 1982 by the speed with which the British public became a baying horde of ‘Argie’-haters, nor the Sun’s infamous “GOTCHA” headline when the Belgrano went down. Apparently I don’t understand what newspapers are all about. I’m stuck with this ancient and honourable notion that newspapers accept the responsibility that goes with their reach and recognise that not only do they reflect public opinion – they lead it. Indeed they create it. Shameless rags like The Mail use a basic tool kit comprising selective quotes, capital letters and a relentless appeal to the lowest common denominator.

28 October. Brexit and Trump are two sides of the same coin: unscrupulous manipulation of public ignorance. The paradox that (I’m prepared to believe, many) politicians struggle to resolve lies in the fact that a degree of manipulation is right and proper. Governments – elected officials at all levels – have to lead, because most of their electors are woefully uninformed, short-sighted and parochial. Giving the public what it wants can only lead to bread and circuses. Politicians have the thankless task of identifying what the people need and then convincing them of it. Politics is indeed the art of the possible. It is – or one would like to think it is – about what you might call “scrupulous manipulation”.

“What the country needs” is clearly a subject for legitimate debate. But it ought not to be limited to balance sheet options, with fundamental philosophical choices swept under the carpet. Transforming those needs, once established, into medium- and long-term plans and specific projects is another kettle of fish. I venture to suggest it’s become nigh on impossible in a world where the technological options and their balance sheet impact change with bewildering frequency. If I’d had to sign off on a £25bn energy plan five years ago I’d have staked my money – your money – on wind turbines: proven technology which could only improve, source of jobs, and – above all, given the urgency – immediately deployable. In the light of my knowledge at the time it would have been the right decision, but it would have turned out to be wrong one.

Scrupulous manipulation (“ScruMan”?) is difficult because the issues are complex, and evaluating solutions requires knowledge, patience and sheer ‘brain power’ (by which I mean the brute force intelligence which enables one person to handle more variables than another). Joe Bloggs doesn’t typically rate very highly on any of these scales; but you can’t tell him that because he’ll get upset and punch your head – or exercise the psephological equivalent. So the ScruMen have to surround themselves with panels of experts, committees of enquiry and whatever else it takes to convince Joe that “we are acting in your best interests”. The process is fundamentally dishonest and nonetheless essential. Churchill was right about the relative merits of the democratic system. ScruMan’s task is made doubly hard by the fact that he has to convince people to vote for, whereas UnScrewMan only has to keep hammering out, “Say no and break it!” That’s what Brexit said and it’s what Trump is saying. Needless to say, it’s much easier to make people angry than it is to persuade them to be reasonable.

2 November. Trump’s latest and wildest claim is that Clinton would let in so many immigrants that the US population would triple, which is plainly stupid, yet media thunderings of, “You cannot take this man seriously!” are conspicuous by their absence. Peoples get the governments they deserve? Maybe. Philosophically speaking that’s a moot point. While I can’t deny a degree of Schadenfreude when the Brits shoot themselves in the foot, the very thought of ‘President Trump’ fills me with dismay. UK Remainers can emigrate; if Sarkozy were elected I could emigrate (preferably to a small island with a life expectancy equivalent to my own); but if Trump wins, there’s nowhere else to go.

*

Then again… I find myself asking, “So what?” All that changes is the timing. It merely brings the onset of chaos forward by a decade or two. For chaos there will be, one way or another, on an unimaginable scale. I don’t see how it can be avoided. As a mathematician you understand better than most the power of an exponential curve. My assumption has been that climate change would be the trigger. Accelerating sea level rise, extensive, frequent flooding and increasingly violent storms, etc, combined with infrastructure failure, lead to a surge in public awareness and media pressure on the fossil fuels industry. At the same time investors cut their losses and pull out of oil and gas which are left dead in the water. The markets collapse, stock trading is halted, worldwide finance is broken and no one has the faintest idea of how to mend it. The first power outages bring chaos and death on the roads in cities deprived of traffic lights, shopping malls close, Joe Bloggs panics and before you can say I-told-you-so there are troops on the streets, trying and failing to handle mass rioting, looting and arson.

6 November. But, even a year or two ago, who could have anticipated Trump? The idea that the end of capitalism could be brought about by one of their own is not without a certain irony. But it is a distinct possibility. Trump is patently unfit to be president. Everything we’ve seen over the last six months shows that he doesn’t have the knowledge, he doesn’t have the skills, he doesn’t have the breadth of vision. He does know how to lie and cheat and bluster, and he’s proved (as though proof were needed…) that, if you have enough money to start with, those qualities suffice to make a whole lot more. But his world view is that of an individual, arrogant, chauvinistic, privileged, white male – and it goes no further than the end of his dick. His world is divorced from reality. “We are going to put the miners back to work!” he claims. Oh yeah? And how’s he going to sell the coal they mine when renewables are so much cheaper? Presumably by taxing renewables, because all that climate change crap is a hoax! I ask you…

8 November. America is voting and I’m still shitting bricks. Clinton needs to win by a convincing margin if the US is to avoid civil war. If the result is close, all hell will break loose. Even, say, a 55-45 win might not be enough to convince the public that the election is over. Paradoxically, 60-40 might be worse, because the rednecks will cry “Foul!”

I shall be up at five tomorrow morning to watch the start of the first day’s play of England’s 5-Test series against India, in Rajkot. England have chosen to blood a 19-year old opening batsman, Haseed Hameed (see Dobell’s article for Cricinfo), which surprises me because Ben Duckett seemed to be bedding in well. England are the underdogs, India having won all their home Series over the last couple of years without – I think – having lost a single match. England’s top four – Cook, Hameed, Root & Ducket – and their makeshift spinners will have to step up or it could become quickly embarrassing. The toss is likely to be of paramount importance.

9 November. 01:00. On my way from Marga’s bed to mine. A mouthful of Sancerre, left over from Sunday’s oysters, goes down a treat, and I’ve added a big log to the fire, hoping that will do it till I get up in four hours’ time. I’ll have the cricket on one half of the screen and the Vendée Globe on the other. Will I dare to look up the election results? Sooner or later I shall have to.

05:00. Cook won the toss. 25-0 after 6 overs. The bowling has been excellent but the Indian slip cordon have put three catches down! Cook has been pinned on the crease several times and his footwork is non-existent. Young Hameed looks impressively unimpressed by the occasion.

Oh fuck! Trump has won Florida.

42-0 after 12 overs. Cook has got his feet moving and Hameed has just produced an absolute peach of a cover drive. Spin from both ends now. DRS is available, by the way.

47-1. First ball after drinks. Cook given lbw and doesn’t ask for a review. Missing leg by a good two inches! Enter Root.

Trump has won Iowa too. This is looking desperate.

76-2. Hameed lbw to Ashwin. Root told him to review but that was plumb. He made 31. A satisfying début. Enter Duckett.

102-3. Exit Duckett on the stroke of lunch. Excellent slip catch, diving forward, an inch off the ground.

278-3 after 80 overs. New ball available. Root/Ali partnership worth 178.

But who gives a flying fuck any more, with Trump in the White House and Republicans holding both Senate and House?

 

 

La fonte des glaces, la montée du niveau de la mer et les giga-tempêtes

“Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms”

James Hansen et al. — publié dans « Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry » en avril 2016

Dans un monde où les politiques semblent penser qu’il est encore possible de limiter le réchauffement global à 1,5°C, James Hansen n’est guère le bienvenu. Son dernier papier « Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise & Superstorms », lance un véritable défi à la pensée convention-nelle. On ne manquera pas de le traiter d’« alarmiste ». D’ailleurs, Hansen, c’est du sérieux : ses pairs l’écoutent, depuis longtemps, et on ne peut pas l’accuser de dire n’importe quoi. D’autre part, pour ses derniers travaux il s’est entouré 18 coauteurs, tous plus érudits les uns que les autres. Si Hansen dit que le danger est grand et l’échéance très courte, il vaut peut-être mieux lui prêter attention.

Les anglophones trouveront ici l’abstrait de son papier, présenté par Hansen lui-même sous forme d’une vidéo de 15 minutes.

Qui est James Hansen et que dit-il ?

Pour bien y répondre, il ne suffit pas de traduire l’abstrait de « Ice Melt… ». Il faut situer ce travail dans son contexte, et ça ne se fait pas trois lignes. La science est un continuum qui avance par paliers. On observe ce qui se passe dans le monde réel et on propose une hypothèse pour l’expliquer. L’hypothèse est testée par d’autres observations (à l’aide éventuellement d’innovations technologiques) et si elle est confirmée elle peut devenir une théorie. Une théorie, même celle de la relativité einsteinienne, par exemple, qui a été confirmée des milliards de fois[i], reste une théorie. Les scientifiques ne parlent pas de « vérité ». Hélas, on ne peut pas dire la même chose des idéologues de ce monde ; et les idéologies évoluent moins vite que la science. A la différence de Galileo, Hansen ne risque pas d’y laisser la peau. Néanmoins, la science du changement climatique a subi et subit encore l’influence néfaste de l’idéologie.

Actuellement directeur du programme « Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions » à l’Université Columbia, Hansen a fait sa réputation en étudiant l’atmosphère de notre petite voisine infernale Vénus, et en développant la modélisation informatique pour le faire. C’est à la fin des années 1970s qu’il a commencé à appliquer son expertise et ses ordinateurs à un problème autrement plus proche de chez nous : l’atmosphère de la Terre. Ses premiers travaux dans ce domaine ont permis d’affirmer qu’une température moyenne globale peut être calculée. C’est dire le peu que nous savions il y a 35 ans !

Dès les années 1980, un consensus scientifique émergeait : ajouter à l’atmosphère des quantités significatives et croissantes de CO2 était potentiellement très dangereux, même s’il était impossible avec les moyens de l’époque de préciser la manière dont ce danger pourrait se manifester. Les données disponibles furent peu nombreuses et encore moins probantes. Qui plus est, à l’époque les forces de ce que je n’hésite pas à appeler l’Antiscience, fortes de leur réussite en combattant les lois sur le tabagisme, furent coordonnées par les « marchands de doute » dont les activités ont été exhaustivement documentées par Oreskes et Conway dans leur livre du même titre. (Voir ici.) C’est notamment dû à ces vétérans de la Guerre Froide que l’administration scientifique aux USA a eu vite fait de déformer, puis d’étouffer les alertes lancées par une poignée de scientifiques. Les responsables politique n’étant que trop contents de se laisser endormir par le rapport Nierenberg, le dossier « Changement climatique » a pu glisser dans l’oubli.

Toutefois la loi de Moore se faisait déjà sentir et la puissance de nos ordinateurs allait progresser de manière exponentielle. Rappelez-vous votre premier PC, qui – comme Bush Jr qui avait du mal à mâcher son chewing-gum en marchant – ne savait pas faire deux choses en même temps ! En 1980 je travaillais (comme « handler »[ii]) sur un mainframe flambant neuf qui occupait 100m2, fonctionnait seulement à une température constante de 19°c à 19,5°C, et livrait une puissance de calcul de 512… kilo-octets ! Là, je tape mon texte sur un vieux laptop qui tourne à 2,5… giga-octets. Quant aux mainframes d’aujourd’hui – les supercalculateurs – ils en sont à des dizaines de petaFLOPS (kilo, mega, giga, tera, peta…).

L’évolution des ordinateurs allait permettre aux climatologues de développer leurs hypothèses au moyen de modèles informatiques toujours plus performantes, et parmi les pionniers de cette nouvelle science il y avait notamment James Hansen, directeur de l’Institut Goddard au sein de la NASA.

C’est Hansen qui allait remettre le changement climatique à l’ordre du jour en 1988 avec son témoignage devant le Congrès :

Je suis certain à 99% que le réchauffement global est le résultat de nos émissions de CO2.

L’intervention de Hansen n’a duré que vingt minutes mais son impact fut considérable et les marchands de doute furent pris à contre-pied. Se rendant compte qu’ils ne pouvaient plus attaquer la science de front, ils sont passés au plan B : une vaste campagne de désinformation systématique dans le but de préserver « le doute ». Selon eux, la science n’était pas claire et devait faire l’objet d’un débat. Ce « débat », ils allaient le fabriquer de toutes pièces.

Cette stratégie allait s’articuler autour de deux axiomes, répétés ad nauseam : “Il n’y a pas de preuve” et “Les scientifiques ne sont pas d’accord.” Si ces deux propositions, pour un scientifique, sont formellement vraies, leur emploi en langage courant constitue un abus éhonté et porte un message indéniablement mensonger.

1° — Des “preuves“, on en trouve dans le domaine des mathématiques ; la science se contente d’établir des probabilités et s’y emploie avec une très grande rigueur. C’est pourquoi la science ne parle pas d’une “vérité” mais d’une “théorie” plus ou moins étayée par les observations et l’expérimentation.

Exiger de la science qu’elle fournisse des “preuves” est tout simplement un non-sens. Mais quand la science parle d’une probabilité de 95%, elle parle d’une quasi-certitude. Imaginez un révolver à vingt chambres dont une seule est vide : c’est l’arme que nous braquons sur les générations futures.

2° — “Les scientifiques ne sont pas d’accord”, certes, mais cette proposition ne veut rien dire si on ne précise pas “lesquels” et “combien”. La science est un domaine immensé-ment vaste et les spécialités se comptent par milliers. Prenons l’exemple de la médecine : si j’ai une rage de dent, je ne vais pas consulter un gynécologue, bien qu’il soit autant “médecin” que le dentiste. De même, en matière de tabagisme, l’opinion d’un spécialiste de la physique des particules est d’un intérêt minimal. Or, 97% des spécialistes de la climatologie sont d’accord.

Les avocats de l’Antiscience ont créé des journaux « scientifiques » qui, ne pratiquant pas la revue des pairs, ne le sont pas ; on y raconte tout et n’importe quoi. Mais une presse intimidée et peu discriminatoire ne cesse pas de les citer. Des « Think Tanks » aux noms plus prétentieux les uns que les autres ont vu le jour et leurs armées d’avocats ont réussi à imposer aux médias l’obligation de présenter « l’autre côté du débat », alors que débat il n’y en avait guère. Ils n’ont même pas hésité à harceler certains scientifiques (dont notamment Michael Mann et Ben Santer) par des moyens honteusement déloyaux allant jusqu’à la diffamation.

Avec le recul, on voit maintenant que pendant cette période la communauté scientifique a commis une erreur stratégique de première importance. En 1980 William Nierenberg fut chargé par l’Académie Nationale des Sciences de la rédaction d’un énième rapport pour évaluer le risque d’un changement climatique. Son comité comportait les scientifiques habituelles mais aussi deux économistes, et les deux camps furent incapables de se mettre d’accord. Les économistes ont rédigé un rapport, les scientifiques un autre et Nierenberg lui-même s’est chargé d’écrire les conclusions, disant qu’il n’y avait pas d’urgence et qu’on pouvait poursuivre les recherches pendant une dizaine d’années sans crainte. Ce fut, selon Oreskes et Conway, le moment où le changement climatique a cessé d’être un débat scientifique pour devenir une controverse politique.

La réaction de la communauté scientifique fut mutée, alors qu’elle aurait pu – aurait dû – être virulente. Pourquoi ? Tout bêtement parce que pour les scientifiques le rapport Nierenberg était tellement mauvais qu’il ne méritait même pas d’être commenté. Personne ne pourrait le prendre au sérieux, se dirent-ils. Erreur fondamentale : l’absence d’opposition scientifique a permis au rapport de Nierenberg de devenir pour les politiques la référence pendant de nombreuses années. Ainsi les forces de l’Antiscience sont parvenues facilement à dominer ce que les médias s’obstinaient à appeler « le débat ».

Notre revue des dernières décennies ne serait pas complète sans évoquer le rôle du GIEC : « Groupe intergouvernemental sur l’évolution du climat », appelé plus communément l’IPCC (« Intergovernmental panel on climate change »). Créé en 1988 sous les auspices de l’ONU, le GIEC avait pour mission :

…d’évaluer, sans parti pris et de façon méthodique, claire et objective, les informations d’ordre scientifique, technique et socio-économique qui nous sont nécessaires pour mieux comprendre les fondements scientifiques des risques liés au changement climatique d’origine humaine, cerner plus précisément les conséquences possibles de ce changement et envisager d’éventuelles stratégies d’adaptation et d’atténuation. Il n’a pas pour mandat d’entreprendre des travaux de recherche ni de suivre l’évolution des variables climatologiques ou d’autres paramètres pertinents. Ses évaluations sont principalement fondées sur les publications scientifiques et techniques dont la valeur scientifique est largement reconnue.

En claire, le GIEC devait fournir aux politiques les informations scientifiques leur permettant d’agir en connaissance de cause face à la menace du réchauffement global et aux changements climatiques qui en sont la manifestation. En toute logique, alors, il devait se pencher – du moins dans un premier temps – sur deux questions-clés : (i) le réchauffement global est-il réel ? et (ii) y a-t-il un lien avec les émissions anthropogéniques de CO2 ?

En principe, le GIEC est indépendante ; mais ses rapports (tous les sept ans), avant d’être publiés, doivent être acceptés par les politiques et autres bureaucrates. Une anecdote racontée par Ben Santer révèle ce que cela signifie dans la pratique.

Pour le deuxième rapport du GIEC, publié en 1995, Santer fut le rédacteur principal du chapitre 8 : « Détection du changement climatique et attribution des causes ». Santer raconte que pendant la phase de finalisation du texte, la phrase « Les émissions de CO2 ont un impact […?…] sur l’effet de serre » manquait un adjectif. Significatif fut rejeté, ainsi que sérieux, important, sensible, décisif… et vingt-huit autres ! Le représentant de l’Arabie Saoudite devenait livide de rage avant d’accepter, finalement, discernable.

Rappelons que cette discussion a eu lieu sept ans après la déclaration de Hansen devant le Congrès.

Enfin, n’oublions pas que les rapports du GIEC sont forcément caducs avant d’être publiés. Vue la vitesse à laquelle les recherches avancent aujourd’hui, une période de sept ans relève presque de l’infinie et le GIEC ne peut pas être à jour. J’en tiens pour la preuve la plus flagrante le fait que même son 5ème rapport, publié en 2014, ne prend pas en compte la fonte des calottes glaciaires. Pourtant, tel est le prestige attribué au GIEC que ses chiffres et ses pronostics sont devenus la référence pour les politiques et autres négociateurs, sans parler de la petite minorité du public qui essayent de se tenir au courant. C’est absurde. (J’ai argumenté ce point de manière plus détaillée ici.)

Hansen diffère de la plupart de ses confrères de par son expérience, bien sûr, mais aussi de par sa volonté de communiquer avec le grand public. Dans ce « TED talk » il explique pourquoi, sachant ce qu’il sait, il ne peut pas se taire, même si la NASA avait fait de son mieux pour le museler. Toute forme de communication grand public lui fut interdite, sauf cas d’« approbation explicite ». Hansen s’est défendu : tout ce qu’il faisait, tout ce qu’il disait relevait du premier article du mandat de la NASA : « Comprendre et protéger la planète ». Qu’à cela ne tienne, cette mention fut supprimée lors d’une révision du mandat de la NASA en février 2016.[iii]

Mais tout le monde n’est pas James Hansen, tout le monde ne peut pas passer outre la menace de la censure, voire de l’ostracisme par les pairs. Je ne doute point que des milliers d’autres scientifiques partagent ses opinions tout en craignant que le financement de leurs projets ne soit coupé s’ils s’expriment ailleurs que dans les pages des journaux spécialisés. Toujours est-il que le Français moyen, qui compte sur la presse régionale et le journal télévisé de TF1 pour s’informer sur le changement climatique, ne peut comprendre ni envergure du problème ni l’urgence de trouver des solutions. C’est impossible. L’abdication des médias a condamné le citoyen à l’ignorance.

*

Le décor ainsi posé, revenons à notre point de départ : Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise & Superstorms.

Selon Hansen la circulation thermohaline[iv], le grand moteur océanique régissant le climat global, donne des signes de ralentissement significatifs, laissant penser qu’il pourrait s’arrêter complètement, ce qui s’est déjà produit dans le passé. Il s’agit plus particulièrement de l’AMOC (Circulation océanique de l’Atlantique méridional). Ce ralentissement est dû à une sur-incidence d’eau fraîche, très froide, issue du Groenland et du Canada, qui perturbe les échanges d’eau de surface et de profondeur, générateurs des grands courants marins.

Un phénomène similaire est observé dans le sud de l’Atlantique, dû à la fonte des glaciers antarctiques.

La paléo-évidence indique qu’un arrêt de l’AMOC peut se produire avec une rapidité brutale et qu’il provoque une hausse du niveau de la mer de l’ordre de 25m sur une période de 400 ans. C’est-à-dire 6m par siècle, soit deux mètres d’ici le milieu du présent siècle.

Par ailleurs, la température des eaux tropicales continue de monter sous l’effet du réchauffement global. L’écart de température entre les tropiques et l’Atlantique du nord va grandissant et donnera naissance à des tempêtes d’une violence inouïe. Hansen ne mâche ses mots : « All hell will break loose in the North Atlantic ». [v]

Là aussi, Hansen invoque la paléo-évidence. Les « cailloux » de 1000 tonnes qui se trouvent sur les plages des Bahamas ont fait l’objet de nombreuses hypothèses. Aussi Hansen (et al.), après avoir examiné plusieurs lignes d’évidence, arrivent à la conclusion que la meilleure explication passe par des méga-tempêtes génératrices de vents dépassant aisément les 400kph.

En bon scientifique – et sachant qu’il sera accusé d’alarmisme – Hansen s’interroge sur la fiabilité de ses modèles et il est surpris de constater que, loin d’exagérer le danger, ils le sous-estiment. Les modèles – tous les modèles – réagissent au réchauffement global plus lentement que le monde réel. Par rapport aux changements observés sur le terrain, les prédictions des modèles ont une décennie, voire deux décennies de retard. Hansen pense que ce décalage vient du fait que les modèles supposent un mixage trop rapide de la chaleur à la surface dans les eaux des profondeurs. En réalité, ce mixage est ralenti par des plaques d’eau douce, très froide, qui restent à la surface et empêchent les échanges verticaux. Or, ces plaques sont alimentées par la fonte des calottes glaciaires, dont l’évolution est exponentielle. Le risque d’un arrêt total de l’AMOC est d’autant plus crédible.

*

Hansen peut se tromper, bien sûr. Et en effet, Michael Mann (celui qui a développé le fameux graphique « en crosse de hockey » ayant fait couler tant d’encre) exprime des réserves sur certains aspects du travail de Hansen. Mais Mann nous rappelle aussi que : « Jim Hansen devance tout le monde depuis plusieurs décennies. Nous l’ignorons à nos risques et périls. »

Hansen dit espérer que nous n’avons pas encore franchi un point de non-retour. Mais en lisant entre les lignes du langage scientifique – forcément prudent – on devine aisément qu’il n’en est pas très convaincu. Il s’ensuit que, pour avoir ne serait-ce qu’une petite chance d’échapper au pire, nous devons accélérer la transition énergétique bien au-delà de tout ce qui est réputé faisable aujourd’hui. Plus on attend pour mettre en place des mesures radicales, plus il sera difficile de le faire.

Et l’enjeu n’est ni plus ni moins qu’un monde habitable pour les générations futures.


 

[i] Votre GPS ne saurait pas vous trouver sans tenir compte des effets relativistes.

[ii] Je déplaçais des bandes magnétiques de 30cm de diamètre d’une station à l’autre !

[iii] Je ne suis pas de ceux qui voient des complots partout, mais je note avec intérêt qu’il m’a fallu 20 minutes de recherche dans Google pour trouver une référence à cette révision. Voir cet article du New York Times en juillet 2006.

[iv] La circulation thermohaline est la circulation permanente à grande échelle de l’eau des océans, engendrée par des écarts de température et de salinité des masses d’eau. La salinité et la température ont en effet un impact sur la densité de l’eau de mer.

[v] « L’Atlantique du nord deviendra un véritable enfer. »

Terrorism – Time to man up, Monsieur le Président

I’ve been living in France since 1981. Six years ago I retired to a quiet corner of the Vendée, but before that I spent 30 years in the Paris region. In 1986, when Fouad Ali Saleh and his bunch were setting off bombs all over the city, I crossed Paris twice a day to and from work, as did millions of others. We would check under the seats in the métro and the RER, and generally keep an eye open for unattended bags — I caused a minor upset by calling the security service over what looked look an abandoned briefcase in the office block where I worked in La Défense — but beyond that there was nothing we could do, and we knew it. Statistically, the chances that any one of us would be harmed were minimal, so we just went about our business as usual.

Naturally, this experience came to mind as I read Rachida Dati’s opinion piece about the terrorist threat for the Guardian last week. Opportunist as ever, she does in fact make some good points, but you’d never have guessed where she was going from the opening paragraphs, which are a disgustingly demagogic diatribe against the government:

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, addressed the people in the aftermath of the attacks and implied that they should expect more attacks on French soil in the near future. For such a senior figure to suggest that we should adapt to fear, violence and bloodshed was, in my mind, beyond belief. It displayed a clear lack of leadership at a time when the people need more: the people need to be, and to feel, protected.

Bollocks!

The whole point is that an open, democratic society cannot protect itself 100% against terrorism without betraying its core values, and France is particularly vulnerable, as Jason Burke points out here:

Undoubtedly, the role France has historically assumed as standard bearer of western secular liberalism has also put the nation in the spotlight. Islamic extremists may see the US as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.

Hollande looks punch-drunk. Extending the state of emergency is a sop to the Right. I suppose it makes some sort of twisted sense in political terms, but the situation demands more than politics. In any case, the Right will always want more (give ‘em an inch…) because, by definition, the Right speaks to the people’s baser instincts; whereas the Left ought to be invoking higher, shared ideals. Existing laws give the security services all the powers they need, and more; what they do need is more resources and better equipment. Even so, it’s hard to see how they could identify someone like that truck driver in Nice.

The fact is that we’re all vulnerable and Valls is right to say so (not that I can think of much else he’s right about). In fact I think Hollande should make a major speech backing him up and spelling out the situation in all honesty. This is no time for political considerations. The threat facing France, Europe and indeed the whole world demands of the French president that he become a statesman and rise above a point-scoring faux debate. Troops on the streets (with no bullets in their guns) serve no useful purpose at all. They’re only meant to reassure the public that “something is being done”. Let the Right squeal, Hollande can only gain in credibility and respect by sending them back to their barracks. In addition, and if he really wants to make an impact, he must declare an end to the state of emergency: appeal to the people’s better nature and emphasis that whether we like it or not we are now – each and every one of us – front line soldiers in the battle against terrorism. Each of us must carry on as usual – albeit watchfully – knowing that our number could come up anywhere, any time.

That would send a powerful message to the terrorists and a dignified, pertinent one to the rest of the world: we are not afraid, we will not be divided, and we will not allow our society to drift ever rightwards into tyranny.

One hell of a speech by one hell of lady

I found Michelle Obama’s convention speech inspiring and astonishingly well delivered, and this Guardian article does it justice. However — as so often happens — I was bitterly disappointed by many of the comments posted to the discussion thread.

They range from the illiterate and virtually incomprehensible:

It is Sanders that wouldnt be a nightmare. Now you have very little of an option_ Or Trump, or warcrazy Killary that will burn the world, as she already did.

… and the pointless amalgam:

The mideast in turmoil? More poor Americans than ever? Barack’s buddies more rich than ever? The summer of killings? Iran laughing all the way to the bank? The Chinese saying don’t get up, we’ll just help ourselves to the South China Sea? The illegal influx? Blacks angrier than ever?

…to the needlessly cynical:

Like the Clintons before them these two will now cash in big time.

…and the totally meaningless:

Yes her life is great, all is fine. All surface no feeling, this woman could of done so much more in her 8 years as first lady. Nevermind though hey, she spoke some nice words.

The whole point is that, in this case at least, context is everything.

The Democrats have gone through their selection process, a hard fought contest between two genuinely different candidates, and Clinton won. But Sanders didn’t lose. On the contrary his campaign has succeeded in reintroducing the word “socialism” into American politics, and that will not have been in vain. His supporters carried the fight onto the Convention floor where they were organised and vociferous and rightly so. I can’t help comparing that with the Labour party conference in 2005 when Jacob Wolfgang, 82 and an activist since 1948, was thrown out and arrested under the Terrorism Act because he’d dared to heckle Jack Straw. Where was the vibrant democracy that Blair claimed to champion?

So Clinton won. Sure, she has blots on her CV (name me one major politician who doesn’t); and, sure, the American political system that got her where she is is rotten to the core; but she is now the Democrats’ candidate in the race against Trump. And it ought to be obvious to anyone with even a handful of flickering neurons between their ears that her first priority is to inflict a crushing defeat on that dangerous idiot Trump who wouldn’t know the difference between a fact and a bombastic, lying assertion if it slapped him in the face. To that end, the Democrats must now unite and back her to the hilt.

Speaker after speaker took the stage and tried to explain that, but they were shouted down. Then came Michelle Obama, and with a 15-minute speech replete with elegant, passionate, transparently honest and hard-hitting rhetoric she managed the two things that needed doing: she reset the party’s moral compass and she focused the delegates’ attention on the immediate, imperative, strategic goal – beating Trump.

That was one hell of a speech and Michelle Obama is one hell of a lady.

Brexit – letter to a young English friend

Brexit cartoonI don’t suppose you remember the old Flanders & Swann song with a refrain that ran:

The English, the English are best
I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest

I mention it because none of this is about the “Brits”, is it? It’s not about the so-called United Kingdom either. It’s about England and the English. They hold the whip hand and they really don’t give tuppence for all of the rest.

England made a complete fool of itself with the 1956 Suez invasion and again in 1982 in the Falklands. On that occasion I remember writing to your father, “How does it feel to be on the side of the bad guys?” The English lined up with the bad guys again in 2003 when they followed Bush into Iraq, guns blazing, without the faintest idea of how they would deal with the consequences. And England’s fourth great international cock-up since the Second World War has been 40 years in the making. Right from the start of the Common Market (as it was in the beginning) the English wanted special treatment and demanded it as of right. All along, they’ve kept Europe at arm’s length, interested only in what they could get out of it. England has never shared European aims for something bigger, something better. It’s no coincidence that the worst effects of globalisation (i.e. predatory financial capitalism) are due to the UK and the USA: the UK is culturally closer to the USA than it is to Europe. In 1997 Tony Blair – elected with a huge majority – had the chance to change things. He could and should have dragged the UK, kicking and screaming, into the Eurozone, Schengen, and full integration with the European Union. But he funked it, preferring to curry favour with his rich pals in the City. That was the beginning of the end. Now the City (home of the UK’s main “industry” – i.e. money) will soon find itself on the outside looking in.

In response to this article in the Guardian (“If you’re young and angry about Brexit, you’re right to be”), I wrote:

I’ve been living in France for the last 35 years – more than half of my life – and before that I spent 7 years in Germany. I speak three European languages fluently and I’m one of the few real “Europeans” I know.

So I’ve been able to watch England from the outside for the last 40 years and I’ve seen what a shitty place it’s become. How it’s put the brakes on every European attempt to improve the lot of ordinary people. How selfish it is. How all it cares about is money. How its inequalities outstrip those anywhere else in Europe except perhaps Portugal and Greece.

And my reaction is: fucking good, now bugger off and let the rest of Europe get on with it!

One of the replies I received was, I can see some sense in your comment but in coming to this particular conclusion you’re potentially condemning 17 million people who probably aren’t as you described.” To which I replied, “True. But I’m thinking of the 350 million others.” You, my dear, are clearly among those 17 million and you feel angry and betrayed. I can’t blame you for that, but I’ve been warning you for years that England was accelerating along the wrong path.

Undoubtedly Europe as a whole now faces several very difficult years. The English will seek to prolong the chaos, under the illusion that all those foreigners will eventually knuckle under and give the spoilt child what it wants. But that ain’t gonna happen. The rest of Europe is thoroughly pissed off with the UK and will be glad to see the back of it. In Le Monde Brexit is already off the front page – it’s done and dusted.

I’ve seen it suggested (here) that Parliament could reverse the referendum result by refusing to trigger article 50, on the grounds that “Parliament is sovereign”. Wrong. The people are sovereign. They normally delegate that sovereignty to Parliament through the electoral process, but if the government asks the people to make a decision and Parliament doesn’t object, then Parliament has nothing more to say. You and I know that the people were manipulated by a campaign based on lies and shameless xenophobia, but – be that as it may – the people have spoken. A referendum is a very blunt instrument – there’s always the risk it will lead to narrow margins and extreme polarisation. It can tear nations (and families) apart. But once the people have spoken, the politicians have no choice but to do as they’re told. For Parliament to even consider doing otherwise would be adding insult to injury and would unleash fury and internal strife, probably on a scale not seen since Cromwell’s time.

The French finance minister said the other day that he had the impression the UK “hadn’t thought this through and didn’t realise what the consequences would be” (does that sound familiar?). I find it quite extraordinary that Cameron and his bunch don’t seem to realise that they are now powerless. Only yesterday the prime minister (well… sort of) was bleating on about how Europe had to leave him room to manoeuvre on immigration. And as for that fool Johnson, how can he possibly claim that the UK will – as a matter of course – still have unfettered access to the single market? Theresa May for prime minister? She backed the Remain camp but didn’t take much part in campaigning and then advocated a withdrawal from the European convention on human rights! See what I mean? They just don’t get it.

You wrote, “I have been grieving about the fucking mess we are now in. This country no longer represents me.” And my heart bleeds for you. But not for England. As for me, I’ve started filling in forms to apply for French nationality – come and join me.