New Year, New Normal?

I’m referring to our weather.

There’s a basic difference between weather (the stuff that goes on from day to day) and climate (defined as averages taken over at least a 3-decade period). Admittedly, what we’ve been experiencing recently by way of floods might just be weather.

On the other hand, the fingerprints of climate change appear to be all over this year’s weather (if you’ll forgive the mixing of metaphors).

It gets wet in the wintertime. This is not news. Being an island sat in the path of prevailing maritime winds, the UK can achieve ‘wet’ all year round but generally we do get more in the winter than the summer. We had floods in 2012-13 that were pretty devastating. We had floods in 2013-14 that were even worse. Now we’ve had record flooding across a massive sweep of the country starting in 2015 and more still forecast for the next few days at least.

In case anyone missed it, there was a hurricane in the Atlantic in January 2016. They aren’t supposed to show up until June. There was also an iceberg spotted off Newfoundland, where it shouldn’t have been until April. Greenland suffered a mysterious melt-water event just after Storm Frank dumped a load of hot air over that area of the world, at the beginning of the month. Hurricane Alex dumped more hot air into the Arctic last week. Arctic sea-ice, which should be growing rapidly in the depths of the Arctic winter, is at very low levels and practically stalled for a bit in early January (look at the graph of sea-ice extent on the link and you can see the growth of ice flat-lined for several days).

I’m not just listing random events, by the way. All will become clear.

All of this brings me to Storm Jonas. Like Storm Frank, Jonas started life by walloping the US East Coast and is now moving offshore, through very much warmer than usual North Atlantic waters, heading for a meeting with a pool of colder than usual water in mid-Atlantic. When Frank encountered the cool pool, the effect was to supercharge the storm with increased winds and moisture, and Frank then blew right into Britain. Jonas is forecast to do exactly the same, and should (if the forecasts are correct) be landing on our heads from about Tuesday onwards, before swinging up the coast of Norway and delivering, yet again, a dollop of hot air from lower latitudes into the Arctic.

There’s two different points here.

The first one is, should the UK be expecting storms to come off the US continent, spin up again in mid-Atlantic and smack heavily into the UK as a regular thing from now on? We’re on the side of a hill, well above local water courses, but we now know which of our sheds goes below the water table level first and if it rains non-stop for eight days, as it did during/after Frank in this area, we’re going to need a sump-pump in that shed. I’m still in the process of fitting a raised floor to Jet’s cage, because he did not take kindly to 2 inches of water underfoot! The freezers are up on bricks as a temporary measure to keep them running safely. (Bailing out a shed, on and off, for two days is not an activity that I enjoy very much.) Should we be planning for average precipitation to go up from here on in?

Of course, the point about storms gaining force in mid-Atlantic before they hit us brings us to the cool pool. This is an area of the North Atlantic that’s been anomalously colder than average (one of the very few places in the world that still is!) for a couple of years now. It seems to be cooler because it’s fresher water than the normal run of Atlantic seawater, and it’s fresh, cold water because it’s melting off Greenland. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so Greenland’s run-off is sitting on top of the warmer Atlantic salt water like a lid.

This brings us to the second point about these storms. Since the 1940s, when the Arctic temperatures started being recorded regularly, the temperature in the Arctic has risen to or above freezing 3 times, all in December. Storm Frank made it four times, just barely getting under the bar at the very end of 2015. Jonas might do it again this coming week, which would be a first for the records. (Hurricane Alex, incidentally, pumped air across Western Greenland that was 16-22 degrees C above average – but didn’t quite get the temperatures above freezing).

The more hot air goes into the Arctic, the faster the ice melts. The faster the ice melts, the more fresh, cold water goes into the North Atlantic cool pool. The bigger the cool pool, the bigger the storms, and the bigger the storms, the more hot air goes into the Arctic? (Note that question mark – it’s not proven yet, but I’m starting to wonder!)

As a side note, the bigger the cool pool the more it stalls the Gulf Stream going up into northern waters, so there’s a sort of backlog of hot water sat alongside the US east coast as a result, both raising sea levels and providing lots of energy and water vapour for coastal storms like Jonas.

This is beginning to look suspiciously like a positive feedback loop or, as my mother prefers to call it, a vicious circle.

If it is a positive feedback loop, then each time anything increases in that loop, everything else increases too, which means we can expect more ice melt to lead to more cool pool, leading to bigger storms, leading to more warm air going north, leading to more ice melt….. etc.

It’s always been said by climatologists that the Arctic will see most climate change, faster than the rest of the planet. Feedback loops (all, alas, positive ones) will kick in there before anywhere else. There’s another feedback loop that might tie in with the cool-pool/bigger storms/more ice melt loop, and that’s the simple fact that dark water reflects only 10% of the light (and heat) that falls on it, whereas white snow/ice reflects 90%. Replace Arctic ice and snow with water and the energy absorbed in the Arctic rises, which causes temperature rise, which causes more melting….. you get the picture.

Last week, NASA and NOAA joined the various other meteorological/climate science organisations in unveiling their analysis of 2015 global temperatures and, if you line up the 16 hottest years on record, 15 of them come since 2000 (and the other was 1998, which was freakishly hot due to a very big El Nino that year). Greenland ice melt has been accelerating and Antarctic melt looks like it will be, too.

Time to get that sump-pump fitted in the shed.

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Intelligence and Information Sources

A bit of a change from routine here but relevant and important to anyone trying to plan for the future.

Where do you get your information from? Do you read the newspapers, watch TV, listen to friends in the pub? How good is their grip on reality? Are you hearing a load of opinionated BS, or are you hearing thoughtful, insightful comment, or are you getting anywhere within spitting distance of an actual fact?

Let’s be honest; it’s practically impossible to sift out fact from fiction in any mainstream news organisation these days, unless you know the difference before you start reading/listening to begin with. All the same, you can get a long way in the process by considering the source of your information. Is it believable? Is it coherent? And who said it?

I’m going to use a story from yesterday as my case in point. This one had some preppers I know metaphorically diving into bunkers, fearing imminent nuke exchanges as WWIII kicked off and NATO rushed to Turkey’s aid against Russian attacks.

Russian Jet Shot Down by Turkey

What happened? Who knows?

(Just as an aside, I still haven’t worked out how, assuming it was true, the Turks shooting down a Russian jet could be construed as Russia attacking NATO. Boot’s on the other foot, surely?)

For most of yesterday, various media organisations picked up this headline and regurgitated it in various ways, with varying degrees of confidence, bombast and caution, depending on their editorial policy and political leanings. I spent most of the day filtering through various sites where I’ve learned to go and find alternative information and what it boils down to is this.

Someone on Twitter reported seeing a flash in the night sky in northern Syria, near Aleppo, after seeing some fighters go by.

This was picked up by social media as “three eyewitnesses in Turkey saw Russian MiG-29 shot down in Turkish airspace by 3 Turkish F-16s which were hovering”.

Hang on a minute…. since when did F-16s hover? Being charitable, this could be a translation error and they might mean ‘circle’, I suppose. Or maybe they can’t tell the difference between a fighter jet and a chopper?

Hang on another minute…. how did eyewitnesses in Turkey see a plane shot down near Aleppo, nearly 30 miles from Syria’s border??

Hang on another minute again….. since when did Aleppo, 30 miles inside Syria, count as ‘Turkish airspace’???

And hang on just one more minute…. hands up anyone who can identify a Russian MiG-29 in the dark as it’s shot down 25-30 miles away!

I envy their eyesight.

Quick check of news reports from the past week or so and I can’t find any mention of the Russians fielding MiG-29s in Syria – they seem to be using Sukhoi 20s, 25s, 30s and 34s.

Could be a Syrian Mig-29, the Syrian airforce does use MiG-29s.

Anything on radio traffic? Apparently not – I regularly check out a forum called DEFCONWARNINGSYSTEM as they have quite a few members who monitor US military radio frequencies; even if the actual communications are coded, you can still note an uptick in activity and correlate that with something actually happening. Apparently the US military is business as usual, nobody’s excited about anything, comms traffic is normal everyday stuff.

What was the US President doing yesterday? Burning up the hotline to Moscow heading off WWIII? Nope, apparently (if you believe his own twitter feed) he was talking about the Trans Pacific Partnership being good for US jobs and workers.

Anything by way of comment from the Russians about losing an expensive warplane? Nope. Not even a ‘no comment’.

Anything from the Turks about starting an international shooting war with a country they’ve recently been doing a lot of expensive infrastructure deals with? Have they ticked off the Russians just before the Russians build them a new nuke power station and a whopping big oil/gas pipeline? Not even a ‘no comment’. They’ve got their hands full with terrorist bombings in Ankara, certainly, but you’d think they’d remember if they’d also shot down a Russian fighter.

Anything from Syria? Not that I can find, but then nobody’s reporting anything Syria says anyway. No cheering self-congratulatory back-slapping reported from any of the rebel groups or IS (not that I can actually tell the difference between any of them!) about downing a fighter, either.

No ambassadors recalled for discussions, no diplomatic notes about millions of roubles’ worth of missing jet, no jumping up and down making propaganda hay by the US – in fact, they’re withdrawing their carrier in the Med for routine maintenance and have just pulled their Patriot batteries from Turkey. Worried much? Doesn’t look like it.

My conclusion? Probably nothing happened, or if anything did happen, it most likely wasn’t the Russians and it probably wasn’t the Turks. Could have been a rebel group downing a Syrian jet inside Syria.

Move along, nothing to see here.

I did notice that almost all the mainstream media did put the word ‘unconfirmed’ in front of ‘reports’ in covering this, and the longer that ‘unconfirmed’ lingered without any confirmation, the less seriously I took the original story. It’s a classic example of Chinese Whispers, when you get down to it – but still underlines the basic principle.

The value of the information you get depends on its source. If the source is undependable, you have to treat the information warily. If the information is dependable, then you can weight the information accordingly. If it’s the Express saying the coming winter will be the worst for 50 years, I ignore it completely. The tabloid press in the UK have been running that headline yearly for the past couple of decades and they’ve yet to be correct once. If it’s the Met Office saying there’s a major storm inbound, then I take notice.

Just to lighten the mood (but stay on topic!) here’s a quick summary of the British press:

Drought in the Amazon

I’ve been keeping an eye on a long-running story in the Amazon basin over the past several months; an intense drought which has brought water-rationing to large areas of Brasil and just a few days ago threatened to depopulate Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America and home to 20 million people.

It’s not the first time drought has hit the Amazon basin. In 2010, the Amazon was hit by a devastating drought which caused major rivers to run dry, trees to die and led to extensive fires as the dry, dead wood was set alight by lightning strikes. There were astounding pictures of the Brazilian government flying water supplies to villages normally on the banks of the world’s biggest river, because there was nothing but sand in the riverbed. There was a lot of discussion at the time about climate change in the Amazon basin and what it could mean for the rest of the planet if we allowed the Amazon rainforest to disappear.

As we can now see, the net result of all that worry was….. nothing happened. No new reservoirs, no restrictions on logging, illegal or legal, and as a consequence, here’s another drought and it’s nearly brought Brazil’s biggest city to the point of rationing water to just 2 days a week to all its 20 million residents.

2 days a week. Think about that. How would you cope if you turned the taps on and nothing came out? You’d be okay for a day, perhaps, maybe go buy some bottled water? (Except there are other people with the same idea). Every human needs 2L of clean, potable water a day to survive – more in hot climates or if you’re working hard and losing fluids through sweat. You need more to cook food, wash clothes, clean your teeth, flush the toilet…. the average UK household uses 150L of water a day.

Do you have 150L of water stored in your home? It weighs 150kg, plus packaging, so be careful where you stack those bottles! Upstairs is not a good idea. Ideally you want it in a dark, cool place (to restrict the growth of algae) and on a solid floor, not the loft. You need to rotate your water stash – about every 18 months or so – otherwise when you crack open the bottle, you’re might find a complex ecosystem flourishing in there. A couple of drops of thin unscented household bleach per litre helps prevent it all going green, but over time the chlorine wears off and you need to empty the bottles, scrub them out and refill them.

That’s a fair bit of work, though you can spread the load over time by doing a few bottles a month rather than all at once. You can lessen the load by conserving water! 50L a day to flush the loo with clean drinking water? Do you really need a long hot shower every day? And don’t even think about watering the garden or washing the car….

Back in the mid-70s, we had a severe drought in the UK – the first I was aware of.  I remember my parents taking us for a picnic at one of the reservoirs for Manchester, up in the Peak District. I remember the cracked mud that stretched for such a long way (I was only small!) from the grass at the top to the not-very-much water at the bottom. Cars had bumper stickers reading ‘Save Water – Have a Dirty Weekend’ to remind everyone only to bathe when necessary. We shared bathwater – eldest brother had first dip, then next brother used the same (cooling) water for his bath, then my sister and I shared the (tepid and somewhat grimy) water for our quick splash around. We put a brick in the toilet cistern to reduce the capacity, so less water was used in flushing the toilet (you can get the same effect with a plastic bag of water – or anything else that displaes water and don’t bung the works up). As things continued, we had a rule that you only flushed for excrement, not urine. Then we went on to saving the washing-up water in a bucket to pour down the loo so we weren’t using drinking water for flushing at all. I’ve retained the habit of having a daily wash rather than a daily shower ever since. You can get just as clean from a basin of hot water, a bar of soap and a flannel as you can from a shower or a bath, and it saves an immense amount of water and heating energy!

Most people in the UK don’t store water. You turn the taps and it falls out, no problem. But the people of Sao Paulo thought that, too, a few months ago. Now they’re facing reservoirs with only 8.9% of their water and the taps don’t work. Restaurants can’t wash plates, people can’t wash clothes, schools can’t cook dinners. People are reduced to trudging to whatever water sources they can locate and filling up every container they can carry. The Brazilian government were getting close to telling people to leave the city and flee, apparently.

It’s now started raining there, apparently, so they’re breathing sighs of relief, but what odds they don’t learn from this lesson either? In which case, in a few years, it’ll happen again, when the next drought arrives.

I wonder if anyone in Sao Paulo will think to start storing clean drinking water?

And before everyone outside Brazil starts feeling smug, remember those drought predictions for the US? Here’s a good site to start doing some research, too. Pay attention to that throwaway comment on the fifth line about the Brazilian coffee crop not happening this year! (Hint: price of coffee likely to rise so stock up now, coffee drinkers!)

IPCC AR5 indicated that the dry areas would get drier, so a good guess as to future conditions can be made by looking at current drought areas and simply enlarging them over time. If (when?) the Amazon rainforest succumbs to drought, fire and logging, we can probably expect tropical and subtropical droughts to get much more severe and prolonged – the Amazon, like other large rainforests, creates its own climate and without it, rainfall is going to drop.

Think it can’t happen here? Think again. Think hard, particularly if you live in an area already prone to droughts, like the south-east of England. London already gets less rain than Istanbul!

There’s another question here that I’m mulling over, and that’s…. how long will people cling to their homes, jobs, businesses, when they know they face not having any water? (three days without water and your body starts to die!) And why? Did anyone look at the reservoir levels and think, blow this for a game of soldiers, I’m offski? Or do humans have this irrational attachment to place, even over survival? How bad does it have to get before you give up your belongings in favour of safeguarding your life?

More importantly yet, when dire circumstances do finally get people on the move….. how desperate are they and what will they do if you’re in the way?

Bad News for California….

…and the rest of the lower end of the US, by the looks of the graphics in yesterday’s Guardian article.

The NASA study which is the base of the article indicates that “quite soon” would be a very good time for Californians, in particular, to sell up and move northwards quite a way, before word spreads and property prices plummet. Over on Weather Underground, on the same subject of drought in the Sunshine State, it would appear we have a perfect example of the frog-boiler in progress.

I’ve probably used this metaphor before here, I quite like it and tend to use it in many places I go online. For anyone who hasn’t met it before, it’s a thought experiment (I hope…. I like amphibians!) whereby you take a frog or frogs and toss them into boiling water. They immediately leap out. Take the same frog(s) and place in cool water, then turn up the heat slowly, they adjust to the changing temperature and float peacefully around in the pan while boiling to death.

It would appear some Californians are oblivious to the bubbles in the water around them. It’s the worst drought in 1,200 years, groundwater is so low entire counties are having bottled water shipped in because the wells are all dry, snowpack is in very short supply in a state that relies on snow for 30% of its water, and people are celebrating because they can cavort about in shorts getting a tan in the middle of winter?

Not that this is a uniquely Californian outlook on dangerous situations, mind you. If you look around, you can see it in practically every aspect of life. Sheeple will sleep-walk peacefully into tyranny, war, starvation, rising sea levels, dangerous air pollution and many other things that an outside observer, seeing the more advanced state of events, immediately categorises as blatently stupid, provided you turn up the heat gently.

Frankly, I think the frogs probably have it over humanity when it comes to perception of danger.

Migration

We’ve always been a nation of immigrants.

The first humans arrived here in the UK (on foot) sometime before 8,000 BCE, probably ambling over from the French/Spanish coastal plains as the ice retreated at the end of the last Ice Age, in search of mammoths to hunt.

The Celts arrived from the Belgium/France direction sometime around 750 BCE, bringing the Iron Age with them along with the ancestor of Scottish, Irish and Manx Gaelic. Another batch arrived about 500BCE, speaking a different dialect that went on to become Welsh, Breton and Cornish.

The Romans arrived in 55BCE. They came, saw, conquored, left around 450 years later, but left us our first evidence of cross-cultural marriage: the tomb of a Palestinian-born Roman soldier at one end of Hadrian’s Wall, his British-born wife’s grave at the other.

The Anglo-Saxons arrived, possibly before the Romans, certainly some came while the Romans were in residence, more again after the Romans left.

The Normans, famously, turned up in 1066AD.

I could go on – the first British Jewish community arrived in 1066AD, the Roma arrived sometime about 1500AD, etc.

The point about all these invasions, settlements, immigrations and arrivals is that they arrived in moderate numbers. A few dozen here, a hundred there. They settled down and became part of their communities – albeit, in the case of the Normans, as lords and masters. We’re used to economic migrants, asylum seekers, people looking for safety and security here after leaving somewhere worse off. We’ve also produced plenty of migrants of our own – Canadians, Americans, Patagonians (Welsh-speaking Patagonians, even!), Australians, New Zealanders, and so forth.

More recently, we’ve started to see increasing unhappiness in the UK with the current migration situation. It’s not as if we native-born British are exactly a minority in our own country – latest census data suggests we still form the overwhelming majority of the population, about 91.7%. Yet we still don’t like to see headlines like illegal immigrants quadruple in 3 years or Home Office loses 174,000 illegal immigrants. I certainly don’t like it when people arrive from other countries in search of that ‘better society’ and promptly import all the religious, legal, social, etc values of the society they’re fleeing, then insist that we extend tolerance to these values. If you want to come to the UK to work, settle, raise your family, become part of the British community, then fine. If you want to bring your own language, religion and so forth, keep ’em to yourself and off the street. (And anyone who wants to go off and become a terrorist, just stay there. You’re not welcome here and I deeply resent paying for your luxurious stay in a UK jail out of my taxes.)

Yet if we’re having trouble with the current rate of migration, what’s it going to be like in a few decades, when potentially “hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people would have to move” from environmentally unsustainable countries because of climate change? It’s not just a few Inuit villages sliding into the sea as the permafrost melts, or Tuvaluans as their islands are inundated – it’ll be the entire population of the Tropics as the temperatures rise beyond endurance, crops fail and water supplies run low.

People who face death by thirst, starvation or inundation by rising waters don’t really have many choices. They can stay where they are and die, or they can migrate to somewhere that they believe may be better. How many choose to sit and die?

Which means, of course, that all the places currently wrestling with increasing migration are going to see the problem go exponential in coming years. Europe already has an ‘under siege’ mentality developing as thousands of North Africans head across the Mediterranean on anything that floats, and despite the hundreds who die trying, they still prefer to risk it than stay in their own countries in poverty. How hard will they try when it’s a matter of life and death, not just more money?

How do we handle that many immigrants? They won’t accept being told to go home (I wouldn’t, under those circumstances!), they won’t wait patiently for paperwork before arriving, they won’t allow themselves to be rounded up and repatriated.

We’re in a slightly better position here than most of Europe, at least in theory. We’re an island. If things get desperate, we can at least consider blowing up the Chunnel, stopping cross-channel ferries and grounding aircraft. They’ll have to swim to get here, or build boats – you can walk to mainland Europe from Africa or Asia, just as our distant ancestors walked out of Africa and settled the rest of the world.

They’ll still get here, though, and then what? My imagination’s vivid enough to see what’s coming. Don’t politicians have imaginations?

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?

396ppm.

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.

And it’s official….

2014 was the warmest year on record, globally, according to NASA.

The BBC are reporting that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the turn of the century. Since we’ve only had 15 years since the turn of the century (allowing 2000 to count in there, of course) and the instrumental temperature records go back to 1880,  that’s fairly damning. (In case you’re wondering, that other ‘warmest’ year was 1998 – so not very far back!)

Couple that with the research that was published a few days ago on sea level rise trends that indicates the sea is rising 25% faster that was thought (3.2mm per year may not sound like a terrifying amount but it’s worse than the previous estimate!) and it looks like climate change is still accelerating – and the rate of acceleration is increasing.

Bad news for the kids. Not good for the rest of us, either, but we won’t have to live with the consequences for so long, since “the rest of your life” gets shorter as you get older.

If you’re planning on moving to the seaside, have a think about rising tides and storm surges – and don’t live too close to the tideline!

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.

Useful Contacts

Well, Trudy had her kits on time but it was a couple of days before I got to see them, as she adopted a ferocious aspect and mounted armed guard over the nest whenever I came near. After a while, however, the novelty wore off and while I was cleaning her cage out, she popped quietly out to visit the neighbours and I sneaked a quick glance into the nest.

I have to give her points for consistency (as well as protectiveness) as she’s had seven, three black and four white. Exactly the same as last time.

We had a minor blip in our power supplies to the shed the other day, discovering the power was out in the evening (naturally…. who tests the lights work in daytime?). It hadn’t been out long and the freezers were still cold, so I flipped the trip-switch thingy back to the ‘on’ position, then shut the door and was just turning the key in the lock when I heard a smug click from the other side of it. Ho-hum, be like that, we’ll just work round it til tomorrow and phone an electrician. I do undertake a certain amount of DIY but  electricity and I began our acquaintanceship when I was a toddler and stuck my fingers in a live electrical socket. I survived it (obviously!) but for some reason I have a terrible fascination for electricity and apparently have a fantastic earth connection, since any stray electron looking for a way to earth invariably heads for me. I’ve been electrocuted more times than I can count and take extreme precautions in thunderstorms.

So, trying to trace a fault in a mains electrical circuit in the dark, in the rain…. no. Not on your nelly! Daylight and a man who knows what he’s doing, thanks. I dug out the headtorch and did the evening bunny rounds, then went to bed.

When I got up, my mother was in the process of running an extension cable from the nearest house socket to the big freezer. Great minds clearly think alike since that had been my plan, too! We also looked up the nearest sparky and phoned for help. It didn’t take him long to diagnose the problem – leaky roof in the end shed allowing water to seep into one of the light sockets and create a short circuit – and fix it (he unplugged the shed in question, number 4, which is powered off one of the sockets in shed number 3). Hey presto, we had power and light again.

It was at that point, now we had lights on again instead of merely torches, that the electrician noticed the 31 rabbits in shed number 2. Gosh, what a lot of rabbits! We got the daughter a guinea pig last week…. What do you do with them?

We eat them.

There was a short pause and a few thoughtful “oh” sounds, then he successfully reprogrammed his brain from ‘rabbit = pet” to “rabbit = meat” and we got talking about how big rabbits get, how fast you can get them to killing weight, the advantages of aiming for self-sufficiency, the Highland cow he has due back from the abattoir for their freezer and the insanity of relying on the government to save our behinds if things get sticky.

This is good. Now, I know where he lives and he knows where we live, and we both know the other has meat on the hoof/paw and no problems about eating it. If, as and when TSHTF, I know a bloke who might trade beef for veg/rabbits/pest control…. and vice versa.

Allies are good, barter is great, and the more people in your community you know and can get into a friendly, allied, barter-oriented relationship with, the better. I’d much rather the neighbours looked on me as a potential asset than a waste of space….

….. though I still won’t be giving them too much info in case they decide to rely on me to feed everyone in a crisis.

Politics and Prepping Priorities

With the referendum vote now on the doorstep (the day after tomorrow!) it’s time to look closely at what we need to prep for on Friday.

There’s a very specific risk that might possibly manifest on Friday. Voting ends at 10pm on Thursday night, the counting will be going on overnight and the Chief Counting Officer anticipates getting the final total and result out by breakfast on Friday.

And at that point, given how close the polls are indicating this vote could be, very nearly half Scotland’s population wakes up to the bitterness of defeat. Fractionally over half the population wins and starts celebrating.

Passion has been ramping up for months and whichever side loses, there’s a potential there for frustration, rage and disappointment to spill over into civil disobedience, rioting and violence.

As far as I’m concerned, once I cast my vote that is it and I have no further interest in the arguments for and against – it’s time to shut up and buckle down to living together and making the best of whatever we’ve democratically chosen to do. Living out in the sticks here and having kept my personal opinion very definitely under the radar locally, I don’t anticipate any trouble in the village here – but Sunday was the day I dropped off my daughter in the middle of Glasgow, notoriously not the most relaxed and easy-going city in the country. As a result, I’ve spent some time today quietly plotting out potential escape routes for her to use if she has to bug out hurriedly. It’s a remote possibility, given that she’s in student accomodation and both the university and the police will be wary of disturbance (in fact rumour suggests there are already reinforcements in Scottish cities from other police forces in the UK, ready for any trouble), but between friends and family members, it should be possible to navigate her safely out and into a bolthole. She knows to call me for details if she needs them and she’ll be keeping her head down over the weekend and staying out of crowds and in amiable company.

Fingers crossed the worst doesn’t happen, of course, but that’s the basis of prepping. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I feel a lot better knowing that if anything goes seriously amiss, I’ve got a ratline organised to get her out.

Tomorrow we’ll be topping up on animal food and milk, fill the car tanks, then we’ll be settling down to spend a nice quiet weekend keeping our noses clean. I’ll also be keeping the phone handy, since I have friends who’d appeal to me if anything kicks off in Aberdeen city.

On a more cheerful note, I now have 40 rabbits in the shed! Jezebel had another litter of 9 (or thereabouts!) on Saturday and I brought a new buck back from friends in the Borders with me on Monday – he’s only a baby but I was asked if I could put together breeding pairs of Rex and NZW for someone on the west coast so the new little fella is going along with a couple of Trudy’s kits (just weaned – I’ll get them sexed tomorrow) and one of my young NZW does. After I’ve done my civic duty and voted on Thursday morning, I’m planning on sorting out the three biggest bucks from the youngsters and weighing them – if they’re over 4lbs liveweight, they’re big enough for the freezer.

Another couple of Trudy’s kits have been requested from Orkney so once I’ve sexed them, I’ll choose which to send off. They’re a bit small to go yet but I’ll have to find a way of marking them so I can tell which is which when the time comes! Food colouring works on the white ones (a dab on the ear lasts a few days) but the black ones are a challenge.