Another Referendum

And I’m not referring to the mutterings about Indyref 2 that the SNP are, inevitably, making. They’re as much a one-trick-pony as UKIP and one of these days I’ll do a post about the screw-up they are as a government. Scottish NHS barely getting by, police quitting in droves, education standards plummetting, teacher numbers falling, universities losing staff, GP practices closing…. but that’s another post, another day.

This time it’s the EU referendum, if Cameron ever puts his money (sorry, that should read ‘our’ money) where his mouth is and if the EU doesn’t implode (or explode) first under the current stresses of migration and Eurozone crisis. In a way, I’d be quite pleased if it fell apart by itself since that would save us all the trouble of arguing the issues and falling out amongst ourselves. As a survivor of the Indyref, I know from experience that a referendum is a bitterly divisive process when it involves something that ordinary people care about. The AV referendum back in 2011 was dry technical stuff that only constitutional anoraks got heated about – the rest of us didn’t really see the point of getting worked up about which way to mark a ballot paper.

I will say straight out that I don’t like the EU. I never voted to enter it (I wasn’t old enough) and I would dearly love, for many reasons, to be able to vote to get out of it. Like the Indyref last year, however, there are reasons being advanced both to stay in the EU and to leave it. Some may be specious works of fantasy, as were many arguments last year. Rather than put my brain on the shelf and let my emotions mark the ballot paper, I intend to work through all the reasons on both sides that I can find and come to a reasoned, balanced decision, rather than being blackmailed or brainwashed into things by someone else’s blarney. Or even my own heart.

I think each of the many issues deserves its own post (or, indeed, several) and, in any case, writing about each one will help me get (or keep) my own head straight.

Without further ado, then – the issues as I’ve come across them and thought of them so far (and I may add others if, as and when I come across them):

Sovereignty – the right of a nation or state to govern itself without outside imposition or interference. Leading on from sovereignty, ever-tighter Union and the Euro monetary policy, the woes of the PIIGS and the nature of a federal state.

Business arguments – both for and against. The balance of trade with the EU and outside it, free markets and the common market. The role of Business As Usual in exacerbating climate change, globalism and whether we should abandon current economic/fiscal theories in order to survive.

Immigration, Migration and Border Controls. The right to travel freely, Schengen, etc. A contentious subject that needs discussion on many levels. Involved in this are not just racism, human rights, religion, infrastructure and the Welfare State, but also health, law and order, global overpopulation/overshoot, planetary limits, resources, climate change and a great deal of futurology.

I will try to be objective about each subject but no promises. I am, after all, already biassed and know it, and I’m also a survivalist and an environmentalist so I’ll be approaching each topic from those directions, not from the the normal sheeple perspective.


Where Did All The Snow Get To?

Here we are, in April, officially now in Spring rather than Winter, and thinking back over the past season, I find myself wondering…. where was the snow? What happened to winter?

There are years without snow in the UK, as well as years with loads of snow (by UK standards – I can certainly remember snowdrifts over 5 foot in Cheshire as a child and we’ve been snowed in from time to time in Scotland, as well as having years when snowtyres are overkill and the salt doesn’t come out of the shed at all.) That’s just normal seasonal variation – “weather” rather than “climate”.

This has been one of the less snowy years. We have had a couple of days when we’ve watched snow blow past the windows, though nothing has stuck on the roads round here and certainly a drift hasn’t even been a possibility. It’s a mixed blessing – less snow, less frost, less powercuts and storms, less inconvenience…. but also less die-off of garden pests. We had slug problems last year because they weren’t frozen down to a smaller population in the 2013/14 winter, and this year undoubtedly we’ll have slug problems again, since they won’t have been frozen this year either.

But it always makes me wonder. If the snow wasn’t here, where was it?

Apparently it hasn’t been in the Arctic, where NSIDC has just reported the lowest ever sea-ice record for winter – and not only the lowest extent but the earliest-ever winter maximum as the ice stopped growing and started melting again earlier than usual.

It hasn’t been in Alaska, either. This year’s Iditarod sled-dog race had to be moved to a more northerly route to find enough snow and ice for the sleds – and at the “official” start in Anchorage, 350 truck-fuls of snow were spread around the city to make it suitably white and scenic! I associate many things with Alaska; until now, a need to stockpile snow for winter sporting events has not been one of them.

It hasn’t been in the Rockies in California, either. California’s water utility checked the depth of the snowpack at 6,800 feet of altitude in the Sierra Nevada recently and found….. no snow at all. This is the first time in 75 years that they’ve had no snow at this altitude on the 1st April, it appears, and doesn’t bode well for California’s continuing drought conditions. Nor does the newly-confirmed El Nino event hold out much hope for restoring California’s water balance – despite taking nearly a year to go from the first indications to officially declared status, this looks like being a very weak, late El Nino that won’t have much effect on US weather patterns, but may nudge global temperatures upwards a little more.

Eurasia also had below-average snowfall in February, though not below average for the year.

So where did the snow go? Apparently it all landed on the USA, mostly in the north-east but some even in such places as Virginia and Texas – not areas I immediately think of when it comes to snow storms!

Apart from the unusually heavy  snow and low temperatures in the north-eastern USA, this winter has also thrown up an unusually chilly patch of ocean off the north-eastern US coast. This is potentially not good news for Europe, as it seems to indicate a slow-down in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Currant (better known as the North Atlantic Drift and the Gulf Stream) which may chill northern Europe. On the other hand, it might help damp out the likelihood of heat waves, which the changing Arctic climate may be encouraging in Europe via fluctations in the Jet Stream….

That probably boils down to, if you’re in the UK, expect variable weather. It’s just a shame about all those non-frozen slugs and insects. They’re probably already anticipating a good nosh on the veg we’re starting to sow….

Off the Scale….

I came across an article in the Guardian today (The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists’ charts) that is lightly-written, yet sobering to read.

Basically, the problem with climate change/global warming is that the Earth’s systems, in combination, hold more heat energy than they used to. In the past, there have been confusions because air temperatures rose for a while, then stopped rising, and denialists assumed this meant that global warming had stopped, too.

Alas, not so. The heat was still accumulating but in a different place, and when scientists looked in the right place, they found that the air temperatures has stopped rising because the oceans had taken over and were warming instead.

So, to get a more accurate idea of how much global warming is taking place, you need to measure both the rise in air temperatures and the rise in ocean temperatures, and NOAA has been doing that. The combined figures reveal how much more energy is being held at Earth’s surface (give or take a few thousand metres either way) as time passes and climate change really digs its teeth in.

Soberingly, NOAA have had to rescale their ocean temperature graphs, as the figures are now off the scale, and this is not the first time they’ve had to do so.

NOAA’s webpage on ocean heat content is here.


On The Up: The Keeling Curve

Some time ago I posted a bit about the Keeling Curve. It’s a simple little thing, not hard to understand – every day, someone goes up to the top of Mauna Loa and takes an air sample, then measures the amount of carbon dioxide in it. When Charles Keeling started doing this back in 1958, the average CO2 was about 313ppm (parts per million),with a little seasonal variation.

In May 2013, the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere topped 400ppm for the first time. Last year, it exceeded that amount on March 12. This year’s benchmark crossing-400ppm-date?

January 1st.

It’s going to rise all the way from here to May or June before it falls. What’s this year’s record top figure going to be?

Remember that initial starting figure of 313ppm, in 1958? That wasn’t a lowest-figure-of-the-year, that was an annual average. So, what was the lowest figure recorded 2014/15, remembering that the Curve generally hits its low point in about September/October?


In 2013/14 that low point was 393ppm.

It’s well worth having a look at the record of atmospheric CO2 over the last 800,000 years. Most of that record, of course, is derived from ice core samples and not direct measurements, but if that spike at the end doesn’t worry you, all I can say is: you’re not like me. It worries me a lot.

It re-inforces other recent research results indicating that climate change has jammed its foot on the throttle and is heading straight for the edge of the cliff, and we’re still worrying about our economies and whether or not we’re paying enough into our pension pots.

Shouldn’t we be thinking about uncontrollable mass migrations on a scale never before seen, as approximately 23% of the world’s population decides living within 30 feet of sea level isn’t clever in a more hurricane/typhoon prone world? Not to mention the dropping crop yields as heat-stressed rice and wheat fail to grow normally? Does anyone think those hundreds of millions of climate refugees will wait for visas and immigration paperwork?

Don’t forget, the warmer it gets, the more positive feedback loops kick in to ensure it continues getting hotter, faster. Replacing reflective white sea-ice with heat-absorbing dark water, melting perma-frost releasing the frozen bogs of the tundra to rot and produce methane, destabilising methane clathrates to release (yet more) methane…. these all push the foot harder on the climate change pedal.

What about brakes?

Sulfur dioxide from volcanic eruptions can cause short-term climate cooling by preventing sunshine from reaching the ground, reflecting it back into space high in the atmosphere – but do we want lots of volcanic eruptions? Are we willing to bet on nature conveniently tipping off a few thousand extra large volcanos just when we need them? (At any time, about 1,500 volcanoes in the world are active – and they’re not slowing things down any at the moment!) And in any case, lots of sulfur dioxide in the air means lots of acid rain coming back down, sooner or later. Remember the troubles that caused, back in the 70s and early 80s?

How about more clouds? Clouds also block sunlight and reduce the temperature at the surface. Unfortunately, to get more clouds, we’d need more water vapour in the air and water vapour (unlike the water droplets in clouds) is a greenhouse gas, so that one may not work so well either.

Eventually, the Earth’s natural cycles will deal with all the carbon we’ve liberated into the air – but it will take hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years. Eventually, sea creatures building their shells from carbonates and dying, sinking to the seabed and forming silt will become new chalk and limestone deposits. Eventually, rocks weathering in the mild carbonic acid of rain will chemically react to remove the cardon dioxide from the air.

Any volunteers to wait that long? No?

There’s only one way to slow down the acceleration of climate change, and that’s to stop putting more carbon dioxide (and soot, and methane, and water vapour) into the air to begin with, which means we (humans) need to stop burning fossil fuels. Still no sign of any movement in that direction on the part of humans as a whole, so I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.

Which means, logically enough, that we’re still heading towards that cliff, pedal to the metal.

We ain’t seen nothing yet. But we’re going to, and I’ll bet we see it sooner than anyone’s expecting.

The End of Oil?

Well, no – not quite yet. But, following my post the other day about the amount of fossil fuels we can’t afford to burn, I came across an interesting piece on the reasons for the current oil price crash that makes sense to me.

I should put in a disclaimer – I’m no economics whizz and I don’t really understand the oil industry even though I live near Europe’s Oil Capital (Aberdeen) but I’ve been wondering what the Saudi game was for weeks now.

I’ve known for years that you can judge the rough price of oil by looking out to sea as you drive along the A90 north of Aberdeen. If there’s not a ship in sight, the oil price is high and they’re all in harbour, cheerfully paying harbour dues, or out at work around the rigs. If it’s low, they start anchoring in Aberdeen bay with just an anchorwatch on board, avoiding the charges but also without the work.

I have never, in 20 years up here, seen so many ships sat in the bay as I saw this afternoon, on my way to drop my daughter at the train station.

The oil price has been plummetting ever since OPEC failed to agree to limit their production, which is fine for the motorist and when the heating oil bill arrived the other day we certainly had no objection at all – but it does have bad effects for other people. So why did the Saudis decide not to limit oil flow this time, for the first time, in order to protect the price of oil?

Was it a way to drive the US fracking/Canadian oil sands firms out of business so the Saudis could have a bigger share of the pie afterwards? Was it to make life difficult for the Russians? Was it to put pressure on their great rivals, Iran, who also rely heavily on oil exports for income?

Possibly all of the above – but possibly they have another ploy in mind.

Think about this. If you know that 82% of all the world’s hydrocarbons will have to be left in the ground, and you know that the world’s governments are (very, very slowly) creeping towards agreements on limiting and taxing carbon emissions, then what’s the worst thing you could have? Large unexploited oil reserves, maybe?

Better get them out, sold and convert the currency into something tangible, perhaps, before anyone starts restricting the oil market?

Is this the Saudi game? Are they pumping oil at full volume on an exceedingly slim profit margin just to get some return while they can?

If it is, I doubt they’ll ever admit it. In the meantime, it’s squeezing Russia’s profit margins, it’s bankrupting US fracking companies and it’s hammering North Sea oil companies. And maybe, just maybe, it’s the first warning that the end of oil could be coming to an economy near you, sometime in the not too distant future.

The Humane Stunner

I did say I was going to get detailed about this new gadget a few days ago.

So, here it is. It’s manufactured by BRNO Guns UK Ltd in Derbyshire and designed specifically for despatching poultry and rabbits. Under UK home slaughter regulations, it’s permissable to kill your own rabbits, on your own property, for your own household use (no trading, selling, bartering or giving away to friends!) by either breaking/dislocating the rabbit’s neck or by stunning them with a blow to the head, followed immediately by cutting an artery to bleed them out. The blow to the head can be by means of a blunt object applied to the head (a ‘priest’ or what my infant offspring once innocently referred to as ‘the rabbit whapper’, to a school teacher’s horrified incomprehension!) or by means of a humane stunner.

Stunner with biro for size comparison

Stunner with biro for size comparison

It’s not a large object, though fairly weighty in the hand due to being powered by what feels like a darn good spring! It certainly takes some positive force to cock it by pulling the knurled end out, which draws the captive bolt (the little spike on the left end) into the barrel, ready to be expelled with considerable velocity when the trigger’s depressed.

Stunner, cocked

Stunner, cocked

Once cocked, simply take the stunner in the hand, apply the blunt end gently to the bunny’s head and squeeze the trigger.

Stunner, how to use...

Stunner, how to use…

I’ve practiced on a couple of sturdy carboard boxes and they looked very satisfactorily stunned afterwards. I’d say it puts about a .22 sized hole into objects and I’m quite sure rabbits won’t find it alarming to see the thing in my hand and won’t know what hit them when it’s used, so it’ll be a very humane and clean kill indeed.

Exactly what I want.

El Nino, Drought and the Price of Wheat…

I was browsing gently round the web last night and checked on a few El Nino sites to see how that fickle piece of climatic whimsy is getting along this year. I mentioned in a previous post that this year looked like it might produce an El Nino event and the forecast probability remains high (about 70%) but the predicted strength of the El Nino seems to have been downgraded to moderate/mild.

Good news for India and Australia, where the monsoon fails and temperatures rise during El Nino events, but bad news for California’s long-running and now extreme drought!

Of course California isn’t the only part of the States affected by long-term and serious drought; a glance at the US Drought Monitor site clearly shows how much of the US is now in extreme and long-term drought – practically all the south and west of the country, with dust storms reported in Nevada and Oklahoma, amongst other places.

Quite a few years ago, I read Mark Lynas’s book Six Degrees and was impressed by his account of the history of megadroughts in the American south-west; further reading and research confirmed for me that the geological history of much of the prairie lands of the US is indeed of a land that was, fairly recently, sand-dune desert – and those light, sandy soils are only tenuously held static by vegetation at the moment. These are the easily-eroded soils that are the parents of the dust-storms we’re seeing at the moment – reminescent of the infamous Dust Bowl conditions of the 1930s and certainly worrying some residents of the affected areas! – but they’re also usually part of the agricultural heartlands of the USA. California, while not affected by dust-storms, is one of the most fertile and productive farming states, exporting fruit and vegetables to the rest of the USA and beyond.

These crops can only grow, however, with a supply of water – precisely what they haven’t had falling out of the sky for the last few years. To some extent, irrigation with fossil water pumped out of aquifers or supplied from the reservoirs along the Colorado can replace the lack of rain, so the next stop on my journey of research was to look at the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two biggest reservoirs on the Colorado and responsible for supplying drinking water and irrigation water to a vast swathe of the American south-west.

Lake Mead is currently predicted to achieve its lowest ever level (since it was first filled in 1938) during this week, dropping to a water-level of only 1,080 feet. That’s still a lot of water, mind you – 10.2 million acre-feet (for those of us who can’t visualise 10.2 million acres flooded to a depth of 1 foot, 1 acre-foot is 325,851.427 gallons, or 1,233,481.84 litres… so a LOT of water!) To put it into perspective, however, one acre-foot of water is a year’s supply for 1 average Nevadan family, so assuming Nevadan families aren’t very different from other American families, that’s enough water for one year for 10.2 million households.

Lake Powell, upstream, currently holds another 12.7 million acre-feet of water. This lake, however, suffers quite high losses through seepage, as it sits on porous sandstone, as well as through evaporation (it sits in a hotter area than Lake Mead, so evaporation rates are higher) and is estimated to lose in total about 870,000 acre-feet of water a year.

Between them, these two reservoirs supply 7 states with water – California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming – as well as Mexico. These states do have other water sources, but the Colorado is the biggest source of supply….. and between them, that’s over 58 million residents (2012 figures), plus the 40 million tourists passing through Las Vegas every year, who could be affected as water levels drop – and I haven’t even looked up the acreage of farmland that’s irrigated from the Colorado!

Figures from Scripps Oceanographic Institute suggest 1 acre-foot supplies 8 people with water for a year, so a quick and dirty calculation suggests that the available 22.9 million acre-feet in the two reservoirs can supply a population of 58 million for a little over 3 years.

Just as well they have a few other water sources, then!

Incidentally, it’s worth reading the whole of that Scripps article I linked to – they also predict a 50% chance that Lake Mead will fall so low by 2017 that the Hoover Dam won’t be able to produce electricity anymore, and they were using historically quite high levels of river flow, as seen over the past century, not the much lower figures suggested by looking at a longer history of the area. If the current drought is merely the beginning of a return to much dryer (and more normal) climatic conditions for the area, then the situation could be worse, and for far longer, than expected.

What impact do all these water-problems in the west of the USA have on a prepper in the UK? If the US wheat harvest is reduced, then the US exports less wheat to other places around the world. That reduces world supply so the price of wheat on the world markets goes up. At the moment the USDA are forecasting that increased yields on the northern plains will offset the reduced harvest further south, but it’s possible that there may be knock-on effects on the price of hard wheat (bread wheat) later in the year.

Or, to be really practical, now is the time to put away a few more kg of pasta and whole-grain wheat in the long-term stores and fill up any spare freezer space with bread and strong wheat flour!

Climate Variability: ENSO

One of the things that I found confusing when I started to get interested in climate change was that the climate is always changing! There are cyclical changes driven by the sun’s internal cycles, by minute changes in the Earth’s orbit and the angle of the Earth’s axial tilt, and then there’s El Nino.

El Nino (Spanish for “The Boy Child” because it often happens around the run-up to Christmas) is a complicated and somewhat predictable (but also somewhat unpredictable) beast. Basically what happens is that a pool of warmer-than-usual water builds up in the western Pacific Ocean, then drifts eastwards towards the Americas, coupled with a reversal of the usual trade winds and changes in rainfall and temperature over large areas. The Met Office has some nice maps that rough out some of the usual changes that occur between El Nino and its opposite, La Nina.

Two of the countries that are most interested in tracking the Pacific Ocean (and which have info that’s readily accessible to English speakers) are the US and Australia. Both publish monthly updates on what ENSO (the El Nino/Southern Oscillation) is up to – NOAA has its data here and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has its info here.

For the UK, there’s not a lot of concern with El Nino directly impacting our weather, but ENSO does affect countries that we do business with, dictating such important factors as the timing and intensity of the Indian Ocean monsoon season, drought in Australia and rainfall in California/Central/South America. These global patterns have a knock-on effect on crops that we import – such as sugar cane and citrus fruits from the Americas, North and South, or rice from the Indian sub-continent.

At the moment there’s a “neutral” ENSO condition in the Pacific, meaning neither El Nino nor La Nina is in play, but there does seem to be an increasing likelihood that El Nino will be back later in 2014 – which means that the already extraordinary drought in Australia may intensify, but that California’s current drought may break and, if previous El Nino seasons are a guide, that Central America may see severe floods due to heavy rains.

If we do see an El Nino develop, we may well also see global average temperatures for 2014 reach new heights, since El Nino is associated with higher global average temperatures. This is natural climate variation at work, not anthropogenic climate change, but still worth watching!


IPCC Working Group 2 report published

And what a fascinating report it is, too!

Not so much for the content, perhaps, as for the furore kicked up about it. I’ve just read the Summary for Policymakers and I’m working my way through the full report (2 volumes, 30 chapters, plus various ancillary bits and pieces….. it’ll keep me occupied for most of the next week, I think!).

I was expecting some kind of drama, following on from last week’s resignation by one of the lead authors (Dr Richard Tol) on the grounds that the report was “too alarmist”. Strangely, a lot of the contrarian blogs and websites appear to imput the royal plural to Dr Tol, citing “scientists” rather than “a scientist” disagreeing with the report.

Earlier today a conspiracy theorist of my acquaintance cited the report as proof that the IPCC wants to forcibly reduce world population. (How, with only 12 employees, is the IPCC supposed to achieve this bizarre aim?? CT is silent on this.)

I’m bewildered. I’ve just read the summary and it’s just a risk assessment. I’ve ploughed through 12 of 30 chapters of the full report and all I can see is discussion of previously published research, risk assessment and concern for the various vulnerable sectors of the population in vulnerable areas. The only statement I’ve seen so far that puts any kind of value judgement anywhere is a one-line comment that education can be considered a public good.

Are we reading the same report??

I don’t see anything “alarmist” in the report so far – alarming, certainly, but also positive, offering hope for strategies to adapt to the changing climate and reduce those risks.

I’m very grateful to those 12 employees and over 400 authors and contributors for their efforts in compiling the most thorough risk assessment for climate change to date. I’m looking forward to when the report for Working Group III comes out, because that’s the one on mitigation.


The Keeling Curve

After a busy few days dealing with a Houdini-like chicken (one of our two Light Sussex) and one of my ever-eager whippets (“It moved! Catch!!”) that’s involved re-fencing the chicken run, re-siting the big dog-run and training the dogs that if I see them look at a chicken I will shout at them (nothing can guarantee their behaviour when they think I’m not looking, but at least now they glance round to see if I’m watching before pouncing at a stray hen!) I’ve had time to catch up on the news slightly. Oh, and the chicken is fine despite her adventures with the dog.

This week, the Scripps Institute for Oceanography have released a piece of news that I find slightly depressing. On March 12th, 2014, the Keeling Curve topped 400ppm of carbon dioxide for the first time this year.

Scripps comment piece.

The Keeling Curve is a record of measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ever since Charles David Keeling began to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide from the top of Mauna Loa in 1958, the concentration of this important greenhouse gas has been recorded every day. In 1958, the concentration was 313 parts per million (ppm); it is slightly higher at night when plants are respiring oxygen (just as we animals do) and lower in the day when photosynthesis is active, turning carbon dioxide from the air into sugars in plant leaves. It increases in the spring, reaching a maximum around May, and decreases through the rest of the summer and into winter, showing how plants use carbon dioxide from the air in their annual growth cycles.

Ever since 1958, the average concentration has been rising, year by year. Last May saw carbon dioxide concentrations top 400ppm for the first time in recorded history. This year, that figure has been reached two months earlier in the year, and we should expect it to continue to rise through to May.

What does this mean?

Apart from the obvious but basically meaningless sound-bites (every breath you take now contains more CO2 than ever before!!), in immediate everyday terms, not a lot. We’re not physically capable of determining what’s in the air we breathe without complex testing gear, so the air doesn’t smell different, or feel different. As long as we still have upwards of 17% oxygen in the air we’re not about to pass out from lack of oxygen (normal air has about 20% oxygen) so really carbon dioxide concentrations aren’t going to impact on our day-to-day living.

There’s an old parable about boiling a frog: if you put a frog in a pan of boiling water, it’ll jump out. If you put a frog in a pan of cold water and bring it to the boil, the frog stays in the pan, not noticing the change in temperature until too late.

Let’s face it: most humans are, in this sense, frogs. We’ve been in the water (not personally, but you get the idea!) since before the Industrial Revolution began, when carbon dioxide concentrations are estimated to have been around 280ppm (from ice-core data). We’re not really geared to think in long-enough time-scales for planetary engineering, perhaps. The changes are gradual and take years, and suddenly the pan is bubbling and we’re still in the water, wondering what’s going on.

On a more cheerful note, today is the Vernal Equinox, the official day when spring has, definitely, sprung. That doesn’t mean we may not get wintery weather in the next few weeks, of course – last year we were snowed in for a few days at the end of March – but it does mean that the evenings are lighter and the dawn chorus is kicking off earlier. Today, the length of the day and the length of the night are equal (hence “equi nox” – equal night) and I feel as if the winter’s behind us and the year is opening up ahead.