How to Fix Facebook and Reinvent Social Media Futures

This week Facebook announced they are planning to invest massively in what they refer to as the Metaverse – supposedly a “massive reimagining of the social network”. Now if I was cynical, I might suspect this is just a ploy to distract and divert from early stage efforts by the US government to break up Facebook. But I wonder why they would even bother, because government breakup efforts are inevitably hugely protracted with very low odds of any successful outcome. But surely we should recognize the Facebook model has been the cause of many huge societal problems, and we should worry that a “massive reimagining” is more likely to compound those problems and introduce new ones, rather than fix them.

At its core Facebook is a money making machine based on advertising. A hugely successful one. However as we know, the “social” network is a disaster. Over two years ago I blogged, “We have crossed a threshold where Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act.”[1] More recently it’s become patently obvious that Facebook has by its inaction, been supporting all manner of fraudulent and criminal activity that have had catastrophic impacts on society. And Zuckerberg and Facebook have consistently refused to take responsibility and implement meaningful change. The money making machine continues to roll. And very recently we have seen the entirely credible whistleblower, Frances Haugen, who made the devastating disclosure: “Facebook has avoided or rolled back interventions for ‘groups’ and ‘narrow subpopulations’ that it knew reduced misinformation, violence, and incitement because those interventions reduced the platform’s growth.”[2]

In my experience as a senior software product manager, software companies are always driven by user experience. They work intensively to understand how the software product supports, facilitates and enhances the user’s activities. They employ all manner of devices, including surveys, user groups and councils, beta testers etc to get clarity on how the tool might work better in supporting known and unknown tasks and activities. But in Facebooks case it appears that the product management task is the complete opposite of the de facto industry approach. We can infer, they are myopically focused on manipulating user behavior and attracting and developing advertising revenues.

The other aspect to consider is that Facebook is not really inventive. They have acquired a lot of fully formed ideas by acquisition. While they have acquired some 78 companies, most of them have been procured for their people skills. But two products in particular have clearly been acquired for their ideas and capabilities – WhatsApp and Instagram. And what have they done with them? They have run them as separate software product lines! There has been no attempt whatsoever to integrate WhatsApp and Instagram with Facebook into an efficient and effective platform capability. It’s all been about making money running the products entirely separately.

Imagine how WhatsApp could provide more effective chat capabilities in context with Facebook posts. How Facebook groups could be linked with WhatsApp groups to great effect. How messenger could be integrated with WhatsApp, and how Instagram could similarly be seamless with both the other two platforms. And how a common governance layer could underpin them all. Of course there would be reengineering, but the overall user experience could be massively improved. But they have done nothing!

We understand that Facebook has contracts with multiple companies in their attempts to exert some governance over undesirable content and or engagements. But where is the investment in AI in this area. Facebook should by now have developed world leading expertise in context recognition and behavioral guidance, built integral to their platform. But we have to assume they haven’t linked this to monetary gain, rather it’s a negative investment to fend off regulatory bodies or senate committees, so it doesn’t get the right level of investment.

I gather there are very early considerations of breakup; governments looking at spinning off WhatsApp and Instagram. If Facebook had brains and user focused product management, it would be looking at how it’s capabilities could be opened up – to develop industry standards for the integration and or collaboration between various forms of social media and communications. Industry experience is that standards based opening up of platforms is revenue positive for most participants. We have to conclude that the social media environment is still very, very immature.

I worry that a huge focus on the so called Metaverse would simply add yet another layer of unmanaged, ungovernable social capability with even more undesirable effects piled on top of today’s current mess. Talk about “reimagining”; just imagine youngsters unable to differentiate online reality experiences from real life and acting out their unconstrained experiences on real people.

Our problem is that Facebook is a huge monopoly. They can do what they like. Our opportunity is to encourage Facebook to come to recognize that their continued existence could be just as, if not even more lucrative, if it was socially responsible. At this point in time, I have to admit I am not optimistic.

[1] We have just crossed a threshold – it’s time to fix Facebook, Twitter et al.

[2] How Facebook’s Failures Line Up With Frances Haugen’s Whistleblower Docs

Posted in Digital Transformation, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Governance, Technology and Society, Technology Platforms | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Community Based Food Production is the Future

In Christiana Figueres new book [1] with Tom Rivett Carnac they explore what the world in 2050 will look like. The following is a paraphrasing of their view of the future of food production.

Homes and buildings all over the world are becoming self-sustaining far beyond their electrical needs. All buildings collect rainwater and manage their own water use. Renewable sources of electricity enable localised desalination producing clean drinking water on demand anywhere in the world. Although energy prices have dropped dramatically, we are choosing local life over long commutes. Many people work from home, allowing more flexibility and more time to call their own.
As a consequence we are making communities stronger. Things that used to be done individually are now done communally – growing vegetables, capturing rainwater and composting. Resources and responsibilities are shared now. At first this togetherness was difficult because we were accustomed to doing things individually and privately. But unexpected networks evolved that demonstrated the power of collaboration.

Food production and procurement are a big part of the communal effort. Initially the revolution in food production focused on transitioning large scale industrial food production to regenerative farming practices – mixing perennial crops, sustainable grazing and improved crop rotation. Over time there has been increasing community reliance on smaller, local farms that avoid flying in food from thousands of miles away. This localisation has become more and more practical as neighbourhoods and or larger extended families form food purchase groups, which is how most people buy their food now. As a unit they sign up for a weekly drop-off, then distribute the food among the group members. Distribution, finance, coordination and management are everyone’s responsibility, which often means weekly rotating assignments between neighbours. The advantage of this system is that local farms can negotiate annual quantities and prices with the groups, so they have known demand and therefore higher efficiency.
While the community approach to food production makes things more sustainable, food is still expensive. It’s a fact that organic, sustainable produce is effort intensive. So growing your own is a necessity for many. In community gardens, on rooftops and even vertical gardens on balconies, food seems to be growing everywhere.

In (my local) Cork City Council Strategic Development Plan, there is a high level of focus on community based food production. There is stated intent to enhance existing allotment facilities and to establish community growing areas integral to existing and new housing developments. We might expect that a natural evolution will be for food procurement groups to go the extra mile and form community food growing collectives. As discussed by Figueres and Carnac the evolution of community initiatives (in the wider sense) may be one of the most interesting developments as localisation becomes the dominant sustainability model.

In terms of food production, this signals a big change in the future of conventional allotments. Today, allotment plots are private spaces, mostly tended by single individuals. In my experience, the individual would work his/her own plot for many years. As a consequence, there would often be a very long waiting list for plots. But my more recent on the ground (sic) experience, which I accept may or may not be widely applicable, is that there is a higher rate of change of ownership. There are many reasons for this. First, in today’s world, perhaps fewer plot holders will have a vegetable growing background. So taking on a new plot can be a daunting exercise and I observe the drop-out rate of new owners is higher. Second it is noticeable that in today’s society individuals’ circumstances change more frequently for all manner of reasons including moving home, change in work and or family responsibilities, health and more. In today’s world, collaborative efforts are therefore likely to be far more sustainable, as well as sharing the load, there’s the sharing of knowledge.

Today in 2021, many people are frustrated that efforts to address climate change are not happening fast enough. Further that personal efforts are perceived to be largely irrelevant because the big items are all in the gift of major corporations or state bodies. And the contribution of smaller countries is insignificant in context with China, India and the USA, the major emitters of CO2. But it’s also true that new ways of working have to start somewhere. The ideas of localisation, community initiatives and personal responsibility, particularly in food production, provide very real opportunities for everyone to make a valuable contribution now. Naturally these ideas will take time to be widely adopted, but given the latent enthusiasm, it might just go much faster than we think.

[1] Christiana Figueres with Tom Rivett Carnac: The Future We Choose
2021 Bonnier Books Ltd ISBN: 9781786580375

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, Localisation, Organic Farming, Sustainability, Sustainable Food Productiojn | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ideas Load the Gun, but Instinct Pulls the Trigger

A UN climate report that predicts quicker global warming than anticipated just three years ago “must sound a death knell” for coal, oil and gas and is “code red” for humanity.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 8/9/2021

A cursory looks at the political, financial or business news tells us that our main aim is still growth. Last week we learnt that China has agreed not to build new coal plants abroad. Whether this means no new plans for coal plants, or cancellation of existing projects is unclear. Let’s remember China represents more than a quarter of all global carbon emissions, and it has spent tens of billions of dollars to build coal power facilities in 152 countries over the past decade through its Belt and Road Initiative. Roughly 70% of the coal plants built globally now rely on Chinese funding. In 2020, China built over three times as much new coal power capacity as all other countries in the world combined – the equivalent of more than one large coal plant per week. In addition, over 73 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power projects were initiated in China, five times as much as in all other countries, while construction permits for new coal projects also accelerated. Death knell for coal? Code red for humanity? Who’s kidding who?

In his fourth book on the Gaia Hypothesis, The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock speaks about how we can fight back. The problem is the book was published in 2006 and since then we haven’t listened to a word he says.

Lovelock’s concept of Gaia is the idea of a living planet, not one that has intrinsic intelligence, rather a self-managing system that responds to environmental changes. All the advice from climate scientists over the past forty years and more has been about enabling the planet’s system to remain in a balanced state that supports life. Not just human life, but the unimaginable richness of all life forms on the planet.
Whilst we are all now acutely aware of the climate crisis, Lovelock tells us that awareness is insufficient. He asks, “how do we acquire, or reacquire, an instinct that recognizes not only the presence of the great Earth system but also its health?” That we always do the right thing for the planet Earth. We always put that overwhelmingly first, and we never compromise our planetary system in any way, large or small. The term instinct is important. Instinct is wired into our brains and is likely to be part of our genetic coding. But also it can be taught. Lovelock references the Jesuits who discovered a child’s mind could be moulded to accept their faith. But I would argue that a) we don’t have the time to instil right thinking into children, and b) we need to educate, persuade and convince everybody on the planet right now into acting in the best interests of planetary sustainability.

In any crisis we all look for leadership. What must we do? What has to change? How will we collectively address the crisis? Clearly China, with its 1.4 billion population is showing the Chinese people and the world that it will prioritize growth above all else. Similarly the UK, who are hosting the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow have not shown themselves to be leaders. Boris Johnson has a history of climate denial. For example in April 2021 he said, “It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging. “What I’m driving at is this is about growth and jobs.” At the same time we watch the US with bated breath as Joe Biden and the Democrats tear themselves apart in trying to reach agreement on the infrastructure (climate) bill. And we know that regardless of what Joe Biden achieves, there is odds on probability that the Republicans will gerrymander Trump back into office in 3 years time.

But there are other options for leadership. We mustn’t expect leadership from the current crop of politicians. We must look elsewhere for genuine leaders who can instil instinctive sustainability in everything that we do. Many people will say, “but I can’t do anything. I’m totally reliant upon energy providers, car manufacturers, food producers etc”. But if we all look much harder, we will find there are always actions that we can take that will make a difference.

We should look for cohorts that could create a critical mass of instinctive thought driving their every action. Back in 2015, Pope Francis published a very credible encyclical letter titled Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home. This is actually an excellent document that covers all dimensions of the planetary sustainability crisis. But I have to admit I only came across this excellent document by accident, and clearly there has been little or no effort from the Catholic Church to establish instinctive sustainability. But there are some 1.4 Billion Catholics around the world. Just suppose Francis declared that “Protect our common planetary home” must become a de facto 11th commandment and communicated that throughout the Catholic world.

Similarly we might see young people as a potential cohort. Greta Thunberg is widely credited as inspiring school children to carry out Friday protests across the world. And young people are widely credited as having strong support for actions to prevent or mitigate climate change as they become increasingly concerned about their future. We might hope that at some stage young people would stop generic protests and turn to specific and targeted actions. Remember children and younger people have families and are uniquely integrated into society worldwide. I note that Thunberg has collaborated with UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and we might wonder how this potential cohort might evolve to become a powerful force in every country around the world?

Clearly and worryingly climate change has been an issue for decades without being addressed in any meaningful manner. The emergence of Extinction Rebellion in 2018 must have been out of sheer frustration at this lack of action. While I have huge sympathy with ER I detect significant irritation at their protest methods that deliberately inconvenience ordinary citizens. Again, like with the young people, I wonder why ER doesn’t move to targeted campaigns that aggressively attack and undermine the typical government and UN under performance. And as I show in the chart below, we don’t have to address the entire world. Just 18 countries account for 79% of emissions in 2019.

Let’s consider some example campaign opportunities that all of our cohorts could embrace :

  1. Top Emitters. As discussed, in 2019 79% of worldwide emissions were produced by just 18 countries. In fact 57% was produced by just 5 countries – China, the USA, India, Russia and Germany.
  2. Target China. Orchestrate a boycott of Chinese garlic. China is the world leader in garlic. It holds more than 80% of the global garlic production. China’s exports represent 70.3% of world exports for this product and rank first. The current supply of garlic comes from plantations in Jinxiang, Shandong, Peizhou, Jiangsu, Qixian Henan, Zhongmou, and Henan. What better way for ordinary people worldwide to send a message to the Chinese that they need to stop pretending to be a developing nation and take some responsibility for their unacceptable climate change footprint.
  3. Target COP26. We know how the storybook will unfold. World leaders will make promises to reduce emissions sometime way into the future. The promises are not worth the paper they are written on. Many are based on kicking the can down the road or offsets with developing nations. So not real reductions in emissions or improvement in sustainability. When the world leaders from the large countries particularly, led by the UK’s Clown Prime Minister emerge to say they have saved the world, we should ensure that the world knows this is simply lies.
  4. Family members. All cohorts, young people, religious groups or protest movements could be hugely influential as family members are encouraged to take action. All family members may be encouraged to make instinctive changes in personal and business or professional lives. But family members may also be key influencers of all sorts including educators, business managers and leaders, politicians, journalists, investors, employees, customers or suppliers to fossil fuel related industries. The larger the cohort, the more effective the action may be.

    To conclude, we mustn’t look to conventional politicians and business leaders. They are hopelessly conflicted and constrained by convention, advisors, civil servants, lobbyists etc. We need to empower numerous cohorts who become powerful by adopting instinctive thinking – where climate friendly decisions are the only option, and climate compromises are completely unacceptable on all levels. Bottom up leadership that over the years will naturally cause the current crop of leaders to become redundant and powerless. Hopeless dream? Well in the USA quite possibly. But I know, there are good people in the US. The real question is when will they stand up for truth?

Ideas Pull the Trigger, but Instinct Loads the Gun – with apologies to Don Marquis American Humorist

The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, Allen Lane 2006, Penguin Books 2007

Laudato Si, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2015

Future Government? It’s Time to Handover to the Next Generation

Net Zero is a Con Trick?

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Technology and Society | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Last Night at the Poms

I admit this year’s promenade concerts at the Albert Hall mostly passed me by. I watched Handel’s Dixit Dominus which was amazing but that was it. And we normally skip the Last Night because it’s terribly jingoistic and increasingly nationalistic. But the programme was Piazzolla centric and not to be missed. And accordion player Ksenija Sidorova stole the show with a fantasie on a Piazzolla theme and then a performance of the famous Libertango.

As we watched we realized something was different! Instead of wall to wall Union Jacks there was a sea of blue EU flags which was just as prominent as the UK flag. As well as waved flags, there were banners hung from the balconies and people wearing very smart blue berets adorned with twelve five-pointed golden stars. Now the Last Night is always terribly nationalistic. After the interval there’s the time honoured sequence of old favourite music including Land of Hope and Glory, Rule Brittania etc. The audience sings along waving flags and generally having a great time. One wonders if they ever reflect on the lyrics that are glorifying Britain’s colonial past? This year was no different except that the sea of flags gave different messages.

Later we gathered that the Musician’s Union had supported a protest by musicians and supporters because of the post Brexit situation where musicians and associated trades people no longer have free movement across Europe. There has always been great collaboration right across Europe with musicians constantly travelling to events in both directions. Last year the Independent reported that, “Musicians have revealed how Brexit is already killing off their tours in the EU, as they warn the industry may not survive tough new immigration rules. No less than 71 per cent say their bookings for everything from classical orchestras to rock bands were drying up – even before coronavirus struck, closing down venues and putting concerts on hold. Some are being told “EU nationals only”, because of vast red tape and extra expense to be imposed by new visa rules when the UK leaves the post-Brexit transition period in January.
“British nationals have already joined other ‘third country nationals’ on the lowest rung of hiring desirability.

This is catastrophic for careers and livelihoods,” one told a new survey revealed by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).

Another said: “Noticeable drop off in bookings from EU27 countries since 2016. At present I have now no future bookings at all.”

So from early Saturday, EU supporters were out in force around the Royal Albert Hall explaining to the crowds of music lovers what their problems are and handing out blue flags, berets and banners. And they were clearly hugely popular.

I’m with Simon Rattle who said in a recent interview with the Radio Times that he avoided conducting the Last Night because of its “jingoistic elements”. The conductor – who announced earlier this year “he would be leaving the London Symphony Orchestra and relocating to Germany – said nationalistic aspects of the event left him “uneasy”.
Finally we note that it was reported that the BBC attempted to portray a balance. But they failed, and I am delighted to see the great British public recognising the huge harm being done by Brexit.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Technology and Society, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Future Government? It’s Time to Handover to the Next Generation

In a talk delivered at the Poetry Center, New York, on February 16, 1970, Noam Chomsky opined, “We have today the technical and material resources to meet man’s animal needs. We have not developed the cultural and moral resources or the democratic forms of social organization that make possible the humane and rational use of our material wealth and power.”

Boy, did he get that right! And that was 1970. What would Chomsky say today? We now have amazing technologies in medicine and health, information and communications, engineering and technology etc, yet as a species we have utterly failed to address gross levels of inequality in health and wealth within societies and between developed and developing nations, continuing and quite unnecessary wars and conflicts, and last and not least the protection of the ecosystem that is Planet Earth. I have commented previously that, a visitor from outer space from an advanced civilization would surely assess us as a primitive species.

There is much literature around the subject of forms of government such as socialism, communism, liberalism etc. But economics is about just one dimension of a governing model. I suggest we have two primary problems today in many countries around the world – representation and competence. Representation is about allowing ordinary people to have a voice and to be heard. Competence is about good people with skills and expertise that understand how to deliver solutions by policy formation, budgeting, legislation and communications.

Let’s be blunt – politics has become one of the least trusted professions. A survey taken by CV-Library in the UK in 2019 asked 1200 working people which profession they considered the least trustworthy:

Politicians   78.1
Journalists  37.7
Car sales27.4
Telesales  23.6
Paparazzi  21.6
Realtor 14.6
Recruiters  13.6

At the core of both problems is the question of competence. While we have all watched the descent into chaos and farce in the USA and the UK, these two countries are merely leaders in the race to the bottom. Most (western) countries have similar problems including:

  • Domination of the political gene pool by media (journalists), third rate lawyers, populists and small businessmen, and political families.
  • Short termism based on media impact of any decision or announcement.
  • Corruption, whilst it would be entirely wrong to say all politicians are corrupt, it’s evident that many are swayed by self-interest.
  • Individuals with no or low real world experience. Current trend is to take political courses at university and then follow a career path of research assistant to elected politician.

    It’s self-evident that the most capable, highly qualified young people will not consider politics as a career. They prefer medicine, humanities, teaching, law etc. There was an excellent article the other day in the Irish Independent by Sophie White with the headline, “Nobody tells you that you will get to the point when you realise that you are legitimately smarter than the majority of people in power”. And she’s not talking about the outliers such as George W. Bush, but the majority of public elected officials. We have to conclude that politics is a power game, and that anyone attracted to politics should be denied entry until they have demonstrated qualifications, skills, competence and integrity in a significant profession prior to even being allowed to run for public office. But you may say, dream on!

    But can we allow this current situation to persist? We have an existential climate crisis looming; we (the politicians) have ignored all the warnings for 30 or more years, and are still most likely to listen to the powerful lobby groups rather than the public and scientists. Of course the politicians will say they are setting new targets. They will “claim” their new targets will save the world. But we know they are only short term focused. And they will be diverted by the next local problem, lobby group, fossil fuel industry story, and change focus and priority back to business as usual.

    I suggest we need to turn to the next generation NOW.

    With notable exceptions, young people have never been really interested in politics. However this has changed. We know the younger generation are energised by the climate crisis. They have been involved in school protests around the world. And young people are in most families and they can exert influence that spans political parties, countries, religion and race. They also have some thought leaders and embryonic organization. Importantly they are all very good at communicating on social media, and can form groups and organize in a heart-beat.

    I would never try to tell the younger generation what to do. But just imagine for a moment how a worldwide organization could emerge, almost overnight. And imagine if that organization provided high profile communications on how individual countries are performing (or not) against climate and sustainability targets, and supply the media with material (ammunition) to challenge the existing political hierarchy. And imagine how such an organization might develop virtual, worldwide expertise groups around policy formation, pro forma legislation, apps to track individual commercial and government organizations’ performance against target etc etc. And how such an organization might develop as a worldwide virtual organization with country chapters that, as natural demographic change happens (young people get older) they form dominant political forces that encourage highly skilled individuals to get involved and take charge.

Maybe that’s just my dream. Maybe it will happen over time; but if we seed that thought into a few young heads, perhaps we can encourage the acceleration of this process. God knows, we need it now!

Posted in Climate Change, COP26, Democracy, Governance, Policy Making, Politics, Technology and Society | 1 Comment

Magical Mystery Tour

Back in the 1960s there was an extraordinary energy among young people. It wasn’t just the Beatles and music scene, or the drugs (not that I personally ever smoked anything stronger than a woodbine), rather it was the post war era in which education and jobs were encouraged and available. And rather than following in our parents footsteps we were able to follow our dreams. And this was true right across the western world. As a “baby boomer” I accept I was privileged. I found a career in the early days of computing that allowed me grow with an emerging industry, to pursue work that captivated and motivated me throughout a long career that took me through numerous roles and allowed me to travel and work all around the world.

But I wonder today whether young people feel the same. It’s true there are huge opportunities opening up in climate and sustainability, but the pandemic has been tough on young people in so many ways making education and socialising really hard. At the same time there is growing concern that climate change will be a real disaster, orders of magnitude greater than the pandemic, and that getting all the advanced countries to address their emissions will be incredibility difficult. Are we leaving today’s generation a burning planet? Then just to add fuel to the fire, I see today that Elon Musk has announced he’s working on a humanoid robot which will be targeted at manual labour. And I recall he’s also working on a human computer interface! Even if his robots work as well as his self-driving cars, it’s still yet more evidence that the world of work is going to undergo huge change.

In fairness if we look back at the 20th century, if has to be said that there was unbelievable change. And that things weren’t that bad. So why should the 21st Century be any different? But it’s very true that the first two decades of this century has not treated everyone well. Lots of young people are doing work they are massively over qualified for. Employers such as Amazon are setting de facto standards of work that would have been made illegal in the last century. However unionisation has failed to take hold in many modern workplaces. And increasingly right wing governments haven’t cared. Also pressures on housing are ever increasing, and unlike us baby boomers, today’s youngsters find it harder to purchase a house.

I will fully accept that if I was say 18, or in my early twenties I would be nervous, worried and concerned about the future from all of these perspectives. Several young people have asked me the question, “What subjects should do, how do I prepare for what will probably be great change?” And my answer has always been stick to basics, maths, sciences, languages and critically just as important, get experience. See the world, but not as a tourist. Don’t stay too long in education, get out there and get experience and plan to keep learning formally and informally for your entire life.

I hold with this advice, but today in light of recent experience and events I would say that focusing on key areas of economic opportunity would be sensible such as energy production and distribution, ecology, advanced agriculture environments including regenerative organic and hydroponics, carbon capture, eco transport management, disaster management, water management and specifically flood management and relief. You get the idea. All of these fields are going to be huge growth areas.

However I would also counsel young people to travel in a purposeful way. Get out to Africa or Asia and get involved in all types of charitable or medical projects. Not just famine relief, although that’s important work, but consider also project management around shelter, water systems, broadband provision, agriculture as well as education. Increasingly there will be whole populations on the move, migrating away from areas that can no longer sustain life because of fire or drought and there’s going to be great work needed to help these efforts and guide against conflict.

I would like to see governments everywhere incentivising young people to get real experience either immediately before or after university or apprenticeship. Of course these project experiences must include appropriate education and mentorship in order to make the experience meaningful. Armies and navies have a huge part to play in this area. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate conscription, it would make sense to create real incentives to join one or two year programmes with the option to select the broad type of experience and learning involved.

Throughout my working life and into retirement I have continued learning. Today approaching my mid seventies I am working on my French language and horticulture skills. Life will always be a magical mystery tour. No one can predict the future. But we do need to help young people to be positive and constructive and to confront the challenges we face head on. So far, young people have mostly addressed the climate emergency as a protest group. No problem with that. But moving forward the younger generation needs to take charge, to ensure the world takes the right decisions and gets out of the mess we baby boomers have created.
I wish them luck.

Posted in Climate Change, Covid19, Life Long Learning, Organic Farming, Skills Development, Technology and Society, Travel | Tagged | Leave a comment

Climate Change is Reversable, But “WE” need to take responsibility. Otherwise governments and vested interests will prevaricate with inevitable consequences.

The IPCC report affirmed there are no factors beyond human control that prevent us from limiting the temperature rise. We know what to do and we know we can do it. Why aren’t we doing it? Because “we” is a lie. It conflates individuals with fossil fuel companies.
“We” echoes the logic of “personal carbon footprint”, a term British Petroleum (BP) invented in 2004. The company launched an individual emissions calculator as a marketing device to distract from the need for industry-level change. I’m not saying individuals share no responsibility for the climate crisis; companies don’t burn carbon for the hell of it, but to satisfy demand.

Naoise Dolan, Irish Independent, 14th August 2021

We have become accustomed to blaming others for all our problems! But we are consumers and voters. Individually we have little power. But collectively we might just turn this super tanker around.

The fossil fuel companies are only able to prevaricate because we consumers continue to behave as normal. I include in this the entire fossil fuel supply chain from coal and oil producers to energy, transport, plastic and fertiliser providers. Similarly governments will prevaricate because they depend on tax revenues from the same industries, that of course also have the ear of governments. And governments are formed by politicians who instinctively operate on a short term basis relevant to their electoral cycle. They are not qualified for this type of crisis which demands longer term thinking. We cannot expect them to lead.

That means starting with ourselves.

The message on the wire is our lives are going to change dramatically. If we don’t do it ourselves, climate related catastrophes will do it for us. And it’s already happening in Madagascar, Alaska, Australia, The Alps, and very recently in Germany, Belgium, North America, Greece, Turkey etc. If this means moving house, changing job, getting new skills, becoming an activist, getting involved in local climate actions, then surely it’s better to take the initiative rather than be on the receiving end. Of course there are big ticket items we as individuals can’t influence, but if populations en masse take actions the results are going to be significant. Remember, we are all consumers; if we vote with our feet big business is going to listen.

  1. Consider if you really need a car. Or two or more? Whether other modes of transport are feasible? If you need a car switch to an EV. They are going to save you money. Don’t listen to the negatives, the fossil fuel and car manufacturing industries are deliberately spreading negativity to slow adoption. EVs work; it’s just they work slightly differently. But they do SAVE YOU MONEY! Transport is 16% of all emissions and an area we can all make an impact with right now!
  2. Consider where you need to live long term. Now! Lots of people are already doing it, but it’s something EVERYBODY needs to consider. Can you cut your emissions and transport costs by moving to reduce travel, cut your costs, move to a location with a lower disaster risk. Don’t automatically go back into the office and the commute. If working for home is difficult, build a home office or use a local hub, or negotiate a hybrid contract.
  3. Closely related, consider your skills, job or profession. Are your skills going to be in demand in 10 years’ time? Consider that demand for skills in new areas is going to escalate dramatically. How about renewable energy supply chain including tidal, wind and solar, building modernisation and insulation, distributed home energy systems, home rain water harvesting systems, disaster management and recovery, flood management, ecology, online learning, climate action group project management, and so on.
  4. Reinvent how you holiday and travel. Cut air travel to the bare minimum. Use trains, buses, ships, EVs, bikes but not planes except in extremis.
  5. Work out your own carbon footprint. Know the sources of emissions and pollution and cut them in whatever way you can, switching suppliers, changing technology. Don’t expect to make major reductions immediately because most of your emissions are locked into energy suppliers. But look forward and have a plan for how you individually will get down to 1.5 tons CO2e (CO2 equivalent). Bear in mind the real emerging target is going to be 1.0 ton per person. Make a plan to reinvent your home energy consumption. Maximise use of government grants.
  6. Grow (at least) some of your own food. Preferably organically.
  7. Involve young people. The next generations will be those most impacted; they have been protesting but sadly heard, but not listened to! If we are not careful young people will switch off. We need to motivate and energize them in a way that is really meaningful. For example, guide gap year students to get involved in local climate action or ecology projects. Encourage students to demand their schools and universities fossil fuel free, now. And themselves to ensure their travel to schools and colleges is also as fossil fuel free as possible. Beyond that, why don’t governments or local councils establish schemes to support young people in travelling to developing countries to get involved in climate projects. But most of all, guide young people to acquire skills that are relevant to the new areas of work outlined above in point 3.
  8. Prepare for disaster. Look at trees, undergrowth, rivers, drains and powerlines, and assess risk from very high wind storms and or possibility of intense rainfall, or fire. Also consider carefully how independent of shared services you will be in times of crisis. Remember fossil fuelled generators should be banned! But standalone batteries could become life savers. Similarly gravity fed home rainwater harvesting could be essential in a crisis. No panic, just sensible preparatory thinking. Of course some may decide to move home on the basis of the assessment.
  9. Become a climate activist in any and all ways you can. There are local climate action groups forming [see example below], with government assistance here in Ireland. I expect same worldwide. Be prepared to name and shame corporations and politicians that are compromising our shared future. Work to ensure fake news and conspiracy theories are squashed. Believe me, this is going to be the next battle. We must expect dark forces to attempt to slow progress to protect their interests.

    Inevitably as major changes happen to our way of life there will be winners and losers and the levels of protest, lobbying, fake news and conspiracy and blame will become deafening. Further, there will be invidious yet direct comparisons between countries. Some countries will do better than others, many will fall behind and may lose heart. But this isn’t a competition, or race, rather we’re all frogs in the same pot of boiling water. To save the planet we have to bring everybody with us!
    Clearly as individuals we have limited leverage. But as consumers, if we work en masse, we do have power. I don’t pretend this list is exhaustive. Please let me know your thoughts on how this could be developed further.

Corca Dhuibhne 2030: a sustainable future for the Dingle Peninsula by 2030

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, Electric Vehicles, EV, Skills Development, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Panic Mr. Mannering!

UK government’s set to approve new North Sea oilfield off coast of Shetland Islands
The Daily Mail, June 23rd 2021
British Ministers are set to approve a new North Sea oilfield off the coast of the Shetland Islands months before Britain hosts a global climate change summit, reports say. Those behind the Cambo oilfield plan to extract 150 million barrels of oil under proposals handed to Downing Street by Siccar Point Energy, the Times reported. The oilfield, which will emit more than three million tonnes of carbon during its lifespan, could operate until 2050 – by which time Britain has vowed to be net carbon neutral. But the Cambo development will not be included in Boris Johnson‘s ‘climate compatibility checkpoint’, which will decide whether new projects are ‘compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives.’ Environmental activists have already called on the Government to block the proposal, which comes just months before the UN’s Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.

UK Government leads by example in saving the world
The Guardian, 8th August 2021
Allegra Stratton is the UK Government’s No 10 press secretary, a highly influential person and a chief fixer at upcoming COP26. ‘I don’t fancy it just yet,” said Allegra Stratton, the No 10 press secretary turned prime minister’s climate spokesperson, when she was asked about getting an electric car. She preferred her old diesel, thank you.

Irish Government greenlights new agri-food strategy despite criticism
Irish Times, Aug 3rd 2021
A new strategy for Ireland’s food and drinks sector over the next decade, which sets a path for continued expansion while embracing sustainable production, has been approved by the Government. The Food Vision 2030 report, published on Tuesday, sets out a roadmap with exports rising from €14 billion to €21 billion by 2030, “further enhancing Ireland’s position as global leader in safe, sustainable agri-food exports”. It envisages Ireland becoming “a world leader in sustainable food systems over the next decade, delivering benefits for the sector, for Irish society and the environment”. It was developed by a cross-sectoral committee of 30 agri-food stakeholders.
Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the strategy was “not aligned with our international obligations on climate pollution, biodiversity and water quality”.
Author’s note: In Ireland, agriculture represents 33 per cent of total emissions and is the single largest contributor to overall emissions. In the rest of Europe, agriculture represents on average 10 per cent of total emissions.

The Exodus of Expertise Under Trump
New York Times August 4th
Hundreds of scientists and policy analysts left the government during the last administration. That’s a problem for President Biden’s climate agenda. Former President Donald J. Trump’s contempt for climate science continues to reverberate, six months into the Biden administration. Mr. Trump’s political appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists and drove many experts to quit or retire. Now, as a result, hundreds of jobs in climate and environmental science across the federal government remain vacant as President Biden attempts to push through ambitious climate action. Scientists and policy experts who quit have not returned. Recruitment is suffering, according to federal employees, because government science jobs are no longer viewed as insulated from politics. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could be years away.
“The attacks on science have a much longer lifetime than just the lifetime of the Trump administration,” said John Holdren, a professor of environmental science and policy at Harvard.

Australian government to appeal ruling that it must protect children from climate harm
The Guardian 9th July 2021
The (Australian) environment minister, Sussan Ley, will appeal yesterday’s federal court declaration she has a duty of care to protect Australian children from climate harm that would be caused by the expansion of a coalmining project. Some of the eight schoolchildren that brought the case to the federal court have reacted with dismay to the appeal, with one saying the government was now fighting for the right to cause them harm. The historic judgment by Justice Mordecai Bromberg placed into law the minister’s responsibility after a case against the Vickery coalmine expansion was brought by the eight schoolchildren and a nun.
The children had tried to force an injunction, stopping Ley from approving the expansion plans for Whitehaven Coal’s project near Boggabri, New South Wales. The minister has still to make a decision on the plans.

Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree
Yale Environment 360 March 24 2021
China is building large numbers of coal-fired power plants to drive its post-pandemic economy. The government has promised a CO2 emissions peak by 2030, but the new coal binge jeopardizes both China’s decarbonization plans and global efforts to tackle climate change.
Coal remains at the heart of China’s flourishing economy. In 2019, 58 percent of the country’s total energy consumption came from coal, which helps explain why China accounts for 28 percent of all global CO2 emissions. And China continues to build coal-fired power plants at a rate that outpaces the rest of the world combined. In 2020, China brought 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power into operation, more than three times what was brought on line everywhere else.
A total of 247 gigawatts of coal power is now in planning or development, nearly six times Germany’s entire coal-fired capacity. China has also proposed additional new coal plants that, if built, would generate 73.5 gigawatts of power, more than five times the 13.9 gigawatts proposed in the rest of the world combined. Last year, Chinese provinces granted construction approval to 47 gigawatts of coal power projects, more than three times the capacity permitted in 2019.
China has pledged that its emissions will peak around 2030, but that high-water mark would still mean that the country is generating huge quantities CO2 — 12.9 billion to 14.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually for the next decade, or as much as 15 percent per year above 2015 levels, according to a Climate Action Tracker analysis.

Amazon rainforest now appears to be contributing to climate change
National Geographic 12 Mar 2021
The Amazon rainforest is most likely now a net contributor to warming of the planet, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis from more than 30 scientists.
For years, researchers have expressed concern that rising temperatures, drought, and deforestation are reducing the capacity of the world’s largest rainforest to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to draw down the amount that lives there as a result of human activities. Recent studies have even suggested that some portions of the tropical landscape already may release more carbon than they store.
The research, supported by the National Geographic Society and published today in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, estimates that atmospheric warming from all of these sources combined now appears to swamp the forest’s natural cooling effect. “Cutting the forest is interfering with its carbon uptake; that’s a problem,” says lead author Kristofer Covey, a professor of environmental studies at New York’s Skidmore College. “But when you start to look at these other factors alongside CO2, it gets really hard to see how the net effect isn’t that the Amazon as a whole is really warming global climate.”

At least 1m people facing starvation as Madagascar’s drought worsens
The Guardian, 10th May 2021
Madagascar’s worst drought in 40 years has left more than a million people facing a year of desperate food shortages. The south of the island will produce less than half its usual harvest in the coming months because of low rains, prolonging a hunger crisis already affecting half the Grand Sud area’s population, the UN estimates. The south saw 50% of its usual rains during the October planting season, in a fourth year of drought.
Julie Reversé, emergency coordinator in Madagascar for Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Without rain, they will not be able to return to the fields and feed their families. And some do not hesitate to say that it is death that awaits them if the situation does not change, and the rain does not fall.” According to the Famine Early Warning System Network, most poor families have to rely on foraging for wild foods and leaves that are difficult to eat and can be dangerous for children and pregnant women. Aid agencies have reported people eating termites and mixing clay with tamarind.

Greece is experiencing an “unprecedented” ecological crisis due to fires
August 5th 2021 The News24
The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, affirmed this Thursday that the country is facing “an unprecedented ecological crisis” due to the strong fires, after a week under an unusual heat wave and after registering more than 80 forest fires in the last 24 hours. «The country faces a unprecedented ecological crisis, with numerous fires of great proportions in different regions, “said the Greek prime minister after visiting the historic center to the city of Olympia, which on Wednesday had to be evacuated due to the unbridled advance of the flames. The fire has rekindled on the outskirts of Athens, after a slight truce in recent hours, and have forced the evacuation of more towns throughout southern Greece, after the heat wave and strong winds have made the situation even worse despite the efforts of firefighters and emergency crews.
Fires in the Mediterranean arc: WWF has warned of the increase in fires in the Mediterranean arc, given the large fires that ravage Turkey and Greece, and remember that what is happening in these countries could happen in Spain since, as the NGO warns, the Spanish forests and the territory as a whole are “ready to burn.”

Fires and floods: can science link extreme weather to climate change?
August 5th 2021 FT
When floods swept through parts of China’s Henan province last month, killing at least 302 people, a group of scientists who specialise in analysing the drivers of extreme weather events found themselves unable to help. Their work involves two core questions: did climate change make this disaster more likely? And did it make it worse? But by the time the storms hit China, the scientists were already fully engaged trying to untangle why the floods in Germany and Belgium earlier in July had been so devastating.
Two weeks before the German floods, the same questions were being asked about a freak heatwave in North America. This week, fires sparked by record temperatures are blazing across Turkey, Greece and Italy. . . . establishing a direct causal link between an individual case of flood, fire or storm and the broader climate is an evolving science — and something that is still desperately hard to do in practice. A litany of factors can influence a natural disaster, including local weather conditions — which may be changing — the shape of the landscape, human choices and natural variability. Even without climate change, extremes such as heatwaves would occur.
Scientists are making some headway. In July, the WWA (World Weather Attribution) made the striking pronouncement that the North American heatwave that sent temperatures in the Canadian village of Lytton soaring to 49.6C would have been “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change”. The group reached a similar verdict about a heatwave last year in Siberia, concluding that the 38C recorded in Verkhoyansk would have been “almost impossible without climate change”.

Blogger’s Note: I have made the point many times that it will be almost impossible to link individual events to global climate. Hard evidence is almost impossible to acquire until large numbers of events and lots of data are available. By then it will be obvious to all. But given this conundrum we must expect a deluge of climate denial. In the last 18 months we have seen a huge amount of fake news and conspiracy theories surrounding Covid19. Given the extremely difficult and urgent decisions that will now need to be made around climate, we can expect a battle royal.
PS I am reading Michael Mann’s new book – The New Climate War on exactly this topic. I will comment on this in detail over the coming days.

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Survival of the Human Race | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Net Zero is a Con Trick?

Most of us will remember the Paris 2015 UN conference on climate change. After countless meetings over nearly thirty years the delegates had reached agreement on how to limit global warming. Against all expectations, after decades of failures, the international community had finally reached consensus on what needed to be done. The agreement was to keep warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. Of course the agreements are not binding, but the parties come together every five years to report.

Whilst the 2015 meeting was hailed as a success, the reality is different. First few believe that the goal of 1.5o C will be achieved. Such an imprecise target just leaves considerable room for manoeuvre. Of course, the probable failure does not rest with the Paris talks, rather to the entire multi-decade process which has been undermined by governments that were unable to explain the cost/benefit to their electorates combined with massive lobbying on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby.

So notwithstanding the so-called success of the 2015 meeting, we are now facing into COP26 which is again being billed as the real deadline, the moment that all countries have to commit to long term goals, to finish the work of COP25 setting out the rules for a carbon market between countries and agreements around implementing the 2015 agreement.

But things are not all as they seem. Enter the term “net-zero”. The IPCC says that ‘net zero’ is a state in which “human activities result in no net effect on the climate system”. This is VERY different to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As we know the threats of climate change are the direct result of there being too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So the question gets asked, what’s easier, to change existing processes that emit carbon or to use capture devices that remove carbon from the atmosphere?

Initially there was huge interest in trees, they are the ultimate capture devices. They even look good! But there aren’t enough trees in the world to offset society’s carbon emissions – and there never will be enough. There isn’t enough physical space. So the race is on to develop carbon capture. Incredibly we are facing into an existential threat and placing critical dependency on technology that doesn’t yet exist! But hang on, Norway is reported to be planning massive carbon capture devices [see reference below]. They plan to use the vast network of oil wells and pipelines in the North Sea to pump CO2 into and store for the long term. But it seems an unexpected benefit of this model is that the process of storage will actually be able to pressurize more oil out of the currently declining or exhausted wells! So, assuming they can make it work, it’s highly likely that they will continue producing oil, and probably avoid the commercial disaster of unwanted oil companies, that they have been trying to avoid for years.

So all the efforts of society to change their habits are deprioritized. “Don’t worry, we will do it all for you!” Keep driving your diesel cars and heating your homes with oil etc.
We must equate Net Zero with a reckless “burn now, pay later” approach which will see carbon emissions continue to soar. At the same time pollution will continue at the current or greater levels and priorities for emission reduction in other sectors will be deprioritized.

In principle carbon dioxide removal proposals are reasonable. Leading edge science and engineering come to the rescue. There will be many forms of carbon removal from all sectors and it could become a major industry in very short order. Sectors under pressure to reduce emissions could easily see removal as a lifeboat for current business models. The problem is that if successful it could be use on a vast scale. This serves as a blank cheque for the continued burning of fossil fuels and the acceleration of habitat destruction.

Carbon reduction technologies should be seen as a solution of last resort that could save humanity from rapid and catastrophic environmental change. Just like an ejector seat in a jet aircraft. However, governments and businesses seem to be serious about deploying unproven technologies as a way to avoid doing the hard graft. And of course it will be the new kid on the block for making unimaginably large amounts of money!

Later this year we will see the great and the good meeting in Scotland for COP 26, billed as the last chance saloon. And astonishingly the meeting, being in the UK, will have the clown chancer Boris Johnson as host. As someone who has now proven to us all that he has no respect whatsoever for international agreements, we can imagine that short cuts, magical ideas and chimeras will be the order of the day. God help us all!

North Sea oil firms will help UK hit net zero

Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26 | Tagged , | 4 Comments

So How Will Climate Change Impact Me?

As discussed in my last post, after the recent fires and floods we should need no reminding of the path we are on to climate disaster. But the question we all want to answer is, what will the impact be for me and my family and friends? As I mentioned in that post it’s nigh on impossible to “forecast” the weather beyond the 3 – 10 day window. However it is possible to predict “climate”.

In this post, I’ll talk about the Irish case, but the raw data and general approach is likely to be applicable for all countries as the basic approach is based on work completed by the IPCC. Here in Ireland climate scientists have been developing climate models using the national supercomputer based in Waterford. The models divide the country into 4km square blocks allowing more detailed extrapolations than previously possible. The models are being used by various stakeholders allowing a much greater granularity of analysis in context with, for example flooding potential and energy demands. Significant conclusions have been drawn on widely varying subjects including wind speeds and wind turbine height, biodiversity impacts on inspect populations, farming practices etc.

Clearly there are huge unknowns that will have major impact on the models (and reality), so the IPCC have defined a number of pathways spanning low impact up to worst case as shown below. The models allow us to analyse “plausible values”.

The Irish analysis chose just two pathways – intermediate (RCP4.5) and worst case (RCP8.5) for mid-century impacts. There are numerous conclusions, but I’ll just highlight a few, (see links below for more detail):
• temperatures are projected to increase by 1–1.6°C compared with the reference period (1981–2000), with an east-west gradient and with the largest increases in the east;
• the number of frost and ice days will decrease by approximately 50%;
• summer heatwave events are expected to occur more frequently;
• precipitation is expected to become more variable, with substantial projected increases in the occurrence of both dry periods and heavy precipitation events;
• mean 10-m wind speeds are projected to decrease for all seasons;
• an overall reduction of ~10% in the numbers of storms affecting Ireland, with an eastward extension of the more severe wind storms over Ireland and the UK;
• an increase in the length of the growing season of between 12% and 16%;

The first image below shows mean temperature change across three time periods, 2021-2050, 2041-2070 and 2071-2100. This shows the regional variation mid-century. As ever, temperature changes appear trivial, but we must remember that this is a foundational dataset, which allows us to extrapolate other variables. And in this context I am more interested in the second image below which examines precipitation.

The next image looks at precipitation by season for (a) the Intermediate (2050) RCP and (b) the worst case (2100). Immediately we see some really significant shifts in precipitation. Note the somewhat wetter winters, but in particular then much dryer spring, summer and autumn!

So what I did (below) was to take the 2041-2060 precipitation prediction and map this to our current Long Term Average for Cork Airport (my local weather station). Bear in mind these are “mean” numbers, and if you need reminding, take a look at my recent analysis of mean average deviations which reminds us that rainfall is increasingly volatile, and that as the atmosphere warms, the incidence of intense rain and hence flooding becomes increasingly probable. Note the overall shift in precip is not great. In both intermediate and worst cases the total precip mm is reducing, but not by a lot. However observe how the winters get wetter and the Spring to Autumn periods are significantly drier. We already have anecdotal evidence that climate change for Ireland will probably mean summer droughts. Here is further weight to that prediction.

Long Term Average (LTA)2041- 2060
RCP4.5 (Mid case) %
RCP8.5 (worst case)%
NOTE: You can shift this table left and right . . .

This isn’t purely academic! From a practical point of view this will be helpful to me and my colleagues on the local allotments; we are looking seriously at rainwater harvesting, and this gives us hard data on which to understand what collection and storage capacity we need and crucially at what times of year.

I imagine many businesses and organizations will use this data to consider how they will respond. I hope many of my readers will consider doing similar analyses and consider the impacts for themselves. Do let me know I will be very interested to report on same.

Climate Change Becomes Real for Many

May The Circle Remain Unbroken

New Climate Projections 2020 – Met Éireann – The Irish Meteorological Service

Climate predictions for Ireland by 2050 come with unprecedented detail (

Nolan, P., O’Sullivan, J., & McGrath, R. (2017). Impacts of climate change on mid‐twenty‐first‐century rainfall in Ireland: a high‐resolution regional climate model ensemble approach. Int. Jour. of Clim.

Posted in Climate Change, climate Change Models, COP26, Technology and Society | Tagged , , | 3 Comments