Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 30.11.16


Lovely Local Lists:

  1. Spain's Modern Architectural Wonders: Sometimes, of course, you wonder who could have permitted the thing's construction. I note they don't include the unfinished white elephant in Santiago de Compostela, the Ciudade da Cultura. Which has already begun to fall apart.
  2. Spain's Nicest Streets. I have to admit I've been down 5 of the 6 without clocking how exceptional they were.
Education: Well, the government's proposed alternative for the Selectividad university entrance exam - the Reválida  - has finally bitten the dust. Teachers will be pleased. Here's El País on this, in Spanish.

Home Entertaining: Except within the family, the Spanish tend not to go in for this. Perhaps this is why it's so difficult to tie them down in advance of the date. I've been trying to arrange a lunch for next Saturday. Here's how it's gone so far:-
Last week: Couple A&B - the base invitees - confirm they'll be coming.
Saturday: A asks if their friends C, D and E can come as well. I say the more the merrier.
Sunday: I invite F&G and their teenage son. G says she will confirm Monday.
Monday: A advises me that C and D are now not coming. I invite F and her 2 young kids. She says it sounds great but she will confirm on Friday. G doesn't confirm attendance.
Tuesday: A advises me that E certainly will be coming. And possibly his wife. G again doesn't confirm attendance.
Wednesday: There's now only 3.5 days left and the only thing I'm sure of is that A&B will come. 
Fearing the worst, I'm tempted to ask H&I and their teenage daughter. But if all 13 guests turn up, I won't have anything like enough chairs, even if I put the 4 kids on another table. Spanish restaurants are, of course, inured to this sort of thing even in respect of confirmed reservations. Though I read recently that they're – understandably – not thrilled by Spanish 'spontaneity'. Or, putting it another way, a refusal to commit.

Customer Service from Móvistar(Telefónica): I went on line yesterday to report that I couldn't make calls on my land line. There was, inevitably, a problem in completing the form but this was quickly resolved. I then got a call from a machine on said land line which made no sense at all. It thanked me for my contact and asked if I was ready to talk about a visit. After I'd punched the right number, there was nothing but silence. After I'd hung up, I had the same experience on my mobile phone. Three times. After which I declined to answer the repeat calls. I went through the process again this morning. Same result. But without the follow-up mobile calls. As I've asked, does this happen to others? Móvistar is, of course, a communications company . . . 

Shopping 2: Better news . . . Yesterday morning I went in pursuit of 5 things and managed to get them all. This was unprecedented in 16 years. And the best news was that I did get the replacement toothpick at one of the city's fabulous hardware stores. Where they'll give you a single washer, if that's all you want. Actually, as said toothpicks cost a mere 25c and as I'm bound to lose at least one more, I bought their entire stock of 3. To cap it all, during my expedition, I bumped into 2 beautiful young women I know, and then a male friend with whom I had a coffee. All in all, a great morning.


Those Italian Banks: Ambrose Evens-Pritchard is the latest voice to join the chorus of those warning of imminent disasters in Italy: In the end, he says, nobody is going to let large parts of the Italian banking system collapse. The problem could be solved with a capital infusion equal to roughly 2% of GDP, less than the rescues in Germany, Belgium, Holland, or the UK after the 2008 crash. The only question is how this is done. Mr Renzi would probably rather eat marble than accept an ESM take-over of Italy, even if it is only a 'Troika-lite' variant. He might instead order the Italian treasury to bail out the banks in breach of EU rules and present Brussels with a fait accompli. But Mr Renzi may not be prime minister in a week’s time.


US Evangelists: The gift that keeps on giving. See more of the insane Pastor Jim Bakker and his equally deranged friends here.


15 Things to Know about Galicia: Here's a list of these from someone who runs a walking tours company here. I was pleased to note the almost-rejection of the Celtic myth.


Binge Drinking: At least 5 Galician kids a month are said to present themselves in the hospital Urxencia units with alcoholic poisoning. And the police are reported to be cracking down on the only people in Spain who don't ask you for proof of identity - the booze merchants.



Rumbled?: I got a delivery from Amazon last night. Via a new courier, it seems. For, when I indulged in my normal practice of giving the guy my ID with the wrong final digit, his PDA snitched on me. So, I had to come clean.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pontevedre Pensées: 29.11.16


Shopping: My elder daughter gave me a wonderful Swiss army knife for my recent birthday. One of its 56 implements is a plastic toothpick. Having mislaid it, I checked on line and found 2 shops in Pontevedra on the company's site. Here's what happened at the first one yesterday. Its window, by the way, was full of different models of the the knife:-
Hola. Do you have a replacement toothpick for this knife?
Can you order me one?
Why not?
It would be difficult.
How so?
I'm not an official distributor.

So, on to the second place today . . . Without too much confidence I'll be able to avoid shopping on line. Meanwhile, the obvious questions are: Where does Shop 1 get its supplies from? And: Are they genuine or fake? I don't suppose it matters for the toothpick, though.

Taxation: Per El País: Spain collects significantly less tax than most of its EU neighbours: measured in terms of the contribution to GDP, at 34.6%, Spain’s is almost six percentage points short of the average, which is 40%. The biggest difference is income tax (IRPF), where Spain’s contribution is two percentage points below that of its neighbours. One consequence of this is that, for decades if not centuries, the Spanish state has compensated by hitting you with taxes every time you do anything remotely official. Especially if you want to transfer property, when there's no only a capital gains tax but also a transfer tax of at least 7%. Anyway, the article provides reasons for this situation. Essentially: The experts attribute the shortfall to the generous exemptions, deductions and rebates, as well as to widespread fraud. Guess which class bears the greatest tax burden.

Property Ownership: Reader Maria has kindly made some comments on this over the last few days. Spain has the highest first, second and third property ownership in Europe. I can't help wondering whether one reason is that people here don't move up from their first place but, instead, invest surplus income in additional properties. Starting with a holiday place not very far from where they live. At least in Pontevedra.


Italy: I've previously cited Don Quijones views on the banking system there. Attached is an article which goes on from this to predict that Italy will eventually have to exit the EU. A couple of samplers: Since the beginning of 2008, the US and the UK are currently registering output up by about 12% and 8% respectively. Over the same period, Italy’s GDP is down by 8%. . . . Since the beginning of 1999, the UK economy has grown by almost 40%, against about 25% in Germany and France. But Italy’s performance is in a different league. Over the last 17 years it has managed to grow by less than 6pc. In other words, since the formation of the euro, Italy’s economy has essentially stagnated. Along with this stagnation has come an employment disaster. Unemployment now stands at about 12% of the workforce. [Spain's, by the way, is around 20%]


Airports: Hard as I find this to believe, there is actually a Committee for the Coordination of Airports. On the other hand, I'm not surprised that the foto of it showed at least 18 members around a U-shaped table. However capable they might be in facing their challenge, they aren't helped by the refusal of the mayors of Santiago, La Coruña and Vigo to come clean on how much they subsidise the various airlines. 

Cash from Madrid: The president of our regional government, Sr Feijoo, has said he won't stand for Madrid reducing subventions to us because more money will be needed to bribe the Catalans and Basques not to to press independence demands. Good luck with that, Alberto.


Marriages: In Pontevedra province:
2009: Civil, 1821: Religious, 1698. The first year in which the former predominated. Total: 3,519
2015: Civil, 2165: Religious, 793. Total: 2,958. Down by 16%



A priest here in Galicia has introduced a special Confession table in his church, calling it La Isla de Misericordia. Or 'The Island of Mercy'. I can think of nothing less likely to make me confess than doing it in public, face-to-face with a priest. But I guess it makes sense to him.


Italy needs reform and a euro exit is inevitable: Roger Bootle

On Sunday Italy goes to the polls to vote, not on membership of the EU, or even of the euro, but rather on an apparently arcane political matter, namely the powers of the upper house of the Italian parliament, the Senate. But there are close connections between this vote and the matters of the euro and EU membership.

For a start, the referendum was triggered by the failure of Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, to change the constitution. He believes the extensive powers of the Senate effectively block attempts to reform the Italian economy.

Moreover, Mr Renzi has suggested that if he loses he will resign, thereby plunging the country into a period of political chaos and emboldening the eurosceptic Five Star movement. As with other referendums and elections, the vote will be regarded by the populace not so much as an opportunity to express a view about the precise details of institutional reform, as a chance to give their verdict on Mr Renzi’s government in particular and the state of Italy in general.

And it really is in quite a state. The Italian banking system is appallingly weak. Almost 20% of loans are “non-performing”, meaning that borrowers are not paying the interest due. Many will probably not be able to repay their debts. At some point or other, there is going to be a reckoning, and it is not going to be pretty.

There is also a public sector financial crisis. Over recent years, the Italian government has battened down the hatches in an attempt to reduce the burden of public sector debt. But it has failed. As a share of GDP, Italian government debt stands at about 130%, and rising.

In fact, the Italian government is no longer over-spending. Indeed, if you exclude interest payments, it is running a surplus of 1.4% of GDP. The problem is that it cannot exclude interest payments. And they are huge, amounting to about 4% of GDP every year.

As in just about every other notable case, the way to get on top of the Italian debt problem is through economic growth. It would help if there were a return to positive rates of inflation, rather than the stuttering deflation that currently envelops the country. In many ways, though, these financial problems are less serious than the underlying economic weakness. Some readers may remember that in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s Italy was a powerhouse of economic growth. At one point its GDP passed the UK’s, an event trumpeted by the Italians as “Il Sorpasso”.

But recently it has been a very different story. It is common to compare the performance of the world’s major economies since the onset of the financial crisis in the first quarter of 2008. All industrial countries suffered a loss of output in the first few years, but most then managed to recover. Since the beginning of 2008, the US and the UK are currently registering output up by about 12pc and 8pc respectively. Over the same period, Italy’s GDP is down by 8pc.

If this comparison seems pretty stark, then you should reflect on Italy’s performance since the euro was established in 1999. You may recall that this bold monetary construct was supposedly going to unleash a wave of prosperity across Europe, including Italy. Britain, which stood aside from the single currency, risked being left behind, mired in comparative poverty. Staying out of the euro was the Brexit of its time. The warnings of looming under-performance, accompanied by forebodings of the imminent departure of key Japanese and American firms, were its version of Project Fear.

To put it mildly, the outturn has been somewhat different. Since the beginning of 1999, the UK economy has grown by almost 40pc, against about 25pc in Germany and France. But Italy’s performance is in a different league. Over the last 17 years it has managed to grow by less than 6pc. In other words, since the formation of the euro, Italy’s economy has essentially stagnated. Along with this stagnation has come an employment disaster. Unemployment now stands at about 12% of the workforce.

Nor is the long-term outlook very promising. The Italian birth rate is running at about 1.4 per woman. The United Nations projects that by 2035, Italy’s population will have fallen by about 2%. Quite apart from what that would do directly to reduce the size of the Italian economy, this is not exactly an environment in which Italian businesses will be galvanised into investment.

It is pretty clear what would bring a revival of the Italian economy and ease many of its financial problems, if not solve its population crisis. Italy needs a much lower exchange rate. While it is in the euro, of course, it does not have a currency of its own to depreciate, and the exchange value of the euro is determined more by the performance of its Teutonic neighbours.

Not that a weaker currency would solve all problems. Italy needs fundamental reform, and not only to the powers and practices of parliament. But if it could enjoy a boost to competitiveness of 20 to 30% through a lower exchange rate, this would lead to a surge in net exports and higher economic growth, with corresponding gains to employment. In such an environment, it might be easier to get through some of the many reforms that Italy needs.

You may think that a referendum on the powers of the Italian Senate does not promise to be anything like as exciting as the Brexit vote or the US Presidential election. But it is well worth keeping an eye out for the result of Sunday’s vote. Among other things, it may set Italy on the path to leaving the euro. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, though, I have come to believe that this is not a matter of if but when.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 28.11.16


Education: Some illumination! It seems that the PP's LOMCE is currently in force but that it's overwhelmingly unpopular with teachers, pupils and parents due to its 'learning-by-rote' nature, right-wing bias and manner of 'weeding out' weaker students at a very young age, giving them little or no chance to flourish later in life. Being in the minority, the government has been forced to agree to a task force charged with drawing up a report which will serve as the foundations of a new Basic Education Law, to substitute the LOMCE. But this will take at least 6 months and will be followed by widespread 'discussion'. The - very valid - objective is an all-party pact which will avoid the law changing every time the government does. But is optimism justified? Meanwhile, the LOMCE seems to be in suspense, as teachers decline to comply with it. Bit more here.

Income Inequality: As in just about everywhere in the world, this is up in Spain over the last few years. Recent recent economic growth notwithstanding. In fact, it's worse here than in any other OECD country apart from neighbouring Portugal. But no sign of a real revolution yet. More on this sad situation here.

Global Warming: As regards man's culpability in this, Christopher Booker is - according to your standpoint - either a nutcase or an enlightened sceptic. The article at the end of this post is an amusing attack from him on a humungous British scheme to harness water power in Swansea Bay.


Fishing: Nice to see that nearby Vigo is the biggest fishing port in Europe, with a turnover of €3.5bn a year. Most of it probably legal. When it comes to the value of respective fishing industries, Spain is easily the European leader:-
Spain: €9.3bn
Greece: €8.0bn
Italy: €6.5bn
UK: €2.6bn
France: €2.4bn
Portugal: €2.4bn

The UK industry, it's claimed, was far bigger before the country entered the EU. Or the EEC as it was back than, I think.


Google Maps: Like me, you're probably used to finding that places are not exactly where Google says they are. But this one takes the biscuit - A bread shop in the middle of Pontevedra's urban by-pass.  Just where that idiot dropped his camera into the river and then went in after it. Switching to either Street or Satellite view doesn't provide any sort of explanation, by the way. But you can see my house up in the hills, in the distance . . . 

Turrón: For the past 11 months, I've been buying a supermarket's surplus stock of last Xmas's turrón(nougat). Especially the brittle almond variety like the sort I used to enjoy in Iran. Until recently, the discounted price was €1.80 but last week it rose to €1.90. Is this simply because next Xmas is now near?


British humour only???


Criminality and Gullibility:I wouldn't have thought that anyone could be worse than David Miscavige, the leader of the Scientologist 'Church'. But then I read about Jim Humble, the founder of the Genesis II 'Church' of Health and Healing. Astonishingly, he gets away with promoting bleach as a cure for just about everything, including HIV, cancer and even autism in kids. Humble claims he's a billion-year old god from the Andromeda galaxy. And is probably quite rich. Didn't totally waste his time in the Scientologists, then.

Business in Russia: Nice comment in Private Eye, when reporting on a failed diamond-based investment in Russia: The usual Russian plan was to ensure they got the mine and the foreign partners got the shaft.

Clarification: The site I cited yesterday didn't seem to work for some. It's that of The Tiger Lillies. If this link doesn't work, just search them on FB. It works for me . . . 


The crazy Swansea Bay tidal scheme has re-emerged from the deep:  Christopher Booker

Of the three massive political riddles now overshadowing Britain’s future, at least two, Brexit and public spending, are widely discussed. Much less in view is the third: our suicidally climate change-skewed energy policy. For a moment, with the arrival at Number 10 of Theresa May’s new joint chief of staff  Nick Timothy, who once described the Climate Change Act as “a monstrous act of self-harm”, there seemed a brief flicker of realism.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) was scrapped. The ludicrous Hinkley Point nuclear project was put on hold. But then back it came again, and speeches by our energy ministers, Greg Clark and Nick Hurd, suggest that little has really changed.

Indeed, there has lately been the strange re-emergence of the one “green” energy project even crazier than Hinkley. Last year I was writing about the crackpot plan, like something out of Swift’s Academy of Lagado, to spend £1 billion on harnessing the tides of Swansea Bay to produce a ridiculously tiny amount of the most expensively subsidised electricity in the world, averaging just 57 megawatts (MW). 

For the same £1 billion, the newish gas-fired power station at Pembroke down the coast can generate nearly 40 times as much power without a penny of subsidy.

The Swansea Bay project was backed by David Cameron and George Osborne. Planning permission was rushed through. Then last winter, Mr Cameron got cold feet. He put Swansea on hold, setting up an “independent” review into its viability. But the man put in charge of that review was a former Decc minister, Charles Hendry, who had expressed enthusiasm for tidal power as far back as 2008. 

Now he has handed in his report, leaks suggest that he is looking favourably not just on a modified version of the Swansea plan but on five even larger schemes proposed by the same developer, Mark Shorrock, who likes to call himself “the Brunel of tidal energy”. These include an £8 billion tidal lagoon for Cardiff Bay, which would supposedly generate far more power than Swansea.

Welsh politicians and the BBC have gone into overdrive puffing these schemes, which it is said could make Wales “the hugely lucrative hub of a global tidal lagoon industry”. But the claims reported for them are wildly exaggerated. For £1.3 billion, the modified Swansea scheme, according to the BBC website, could generate “enough clean energy” to meet “11 per cent of electricity consumption in Wales”. But a quick check on the facts would have shown that its average output, now reduced to 48MW, would meet only 2.8 per cent of Welsh consumption.

Even wilder is the BBC’s claim that Cardiff Bay would provide enough “low-carbon energy to power every home in Wales”. As usual when reporting on any form of intermittent renewable energy, the BBC plays the familiar trick of relying just on their theoretical “capacity”, as if they are working flat-out all the time. The actual output of tidal turbines, which operate at full power for only a few hours a day, is less than a fifth of their “capacity”. 

Meanwhile, across the sea in Cornwall, there is continuing anger over plans by Mr Shorrock to reopen a disused quarry on the Lizard peninsular, to provide the huge quantities of stone needed for the vast breakwaters to house his turbines. This in itself would be a colossal project, involving a jetty from which 10,000-ton barges would operate 24 hours a day, shipping millions of tons of Cornish stone across to Wales. 

But so far, no one has seen the environmental impact assessments required by law on what damage  all this might do to protected sites in the surrounding area, including a major offshore marine conservation zone. Irate local residents have already won one High Court judicial review against Cornwall council over part of this scheme, and a second is due in the High Court in January.

Similar serious environmental concerns have been raised, not least by the head of the planning inspectorate, over the threat posed in Swansea Bay to feeding grounds for wading birds, spawning grounds for fish and the blocking of access for eels to local rivers.

All this is now awaiting the publication of Mr Hendry’s report, originally promised for earlier this month. But at the last minute, to the fury of Welsh MPs, it was then postponed to “the end of the year”. If his findings have been as predicted, even our “green” ministers may be understandably finding it tricky to concoct any plausible case for approving what he recommends.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 27.11.16


How things are: Yesterday I had 4 things to do in town before taking my daily tiffin, prior to a huge lunch (at 3.30) of prawns and wild boar with my Porcos Bravos friends. The first 2 shops I'd identified in a directory didn't even exist as brass plates and the third one doesn't open on Saturdays. But I was able to tick off the 4th item, mainly because this was merely taking a look at the revamped Barcelos Square. And it was still there. As I've asked, does this happen to other people, or only me?

Low Ethics: On Friday I left my umbrella on a hook below the bar in my regular bar. When I went back yesterday, it wasn't there and it hadn't been handed in. Not for the first time. And not terribly surprising. Maybe this happens in other countries too.


Castro's Death: Somewhat surprisingly, President Rajoy of the right-of-centre PP party has said that Spain is united in its grief over this. Given the demonstrations on the streets, I rather doubt it. Maybe the nonsensical comment was inspired by the fact Castro's father hailed - like Rajoy - from Galicia.

Corruption: The PP government says it's going to revise the plan it agreed with the small Ciudadanos party ahead of a possible 3rd general election. Another non-surprise. You almost have to admire it's F.U. chutzpah in the face of an electorate which regards corruption as one of its top concerns. At least when they're not in the polling booths.


The Euro: The pound had a good week but this currency is said to be looking wonky. See the article at the end of this post.


Cuba: There's to be 9 days of mourning for Fidel Castro. Not 7, not 10 but 9. Is this a mystical or even significant number in Havana?


Population: Our region has lost 190,000 people of working age in the last 10 years, the second-worst result in Spain and, at 15%, twice the national rate. And things are predicted to get worse over the next 15 years. You'd think Spain would be trying hard to attract wealthy, retired foreigners, rather than frightening them off with such measures as bureaucratising their property rentals and hitting them with tax measures such as the infamous Modelo 720. But I'm a tad biased.

Property: Prices in Pontevedra city are said to be 30% below the 2011 level and the market continues to be sluggish. So, there's still a huge number of empty properties here. But few places to rent. Perhaps someone Galician or Spanish could explain this conundrum.


Pontevedra Retail Again: I observed 4 more closures during my futile shopping trip yesterday morning. The first was an agricultural outlet in the middle of a the city, selling garden products, pine chips (for smoking mackerel) and live chicks, inter alia. The second was the pet shop I mentioned a few weeks ago. And the other 2 were nail bars in the mall down by the bridge. I'd been astonished when the second opened up right next to the first one but am not awfully surprised to see them both fail. My prediction for the next closure is the spices place in the mall in which I appear to represent 50% of the custom. If not more. The obvious question is - How many of these places will become money-laundering jewellers? I will report.

Stupid Selfier: A young man dropped his phone in the river Lerez while snapping himself on Burgos bridge. After trying to retrieve it, he was taken to hospital with hypothermia. I do hope this hasn't damaged what passes for his brain.


A nice comment on the recent re-appearance of the oleaginous Tony Blair on the British political scene . . .


A New Word: Rebufo: Snort: Draft; Air; Breeze; and Slipstream (as in Hamilton and Rosberg). Ir a rebufo: To tailgate. The beauty of Castellano.


Sterling’s silver lining as euro clouds gather

Anyone who has stared in disbelief at an airport bureau de change screen offering one euro for a pound will know that sterling has not fared well. That could change, though, as investors switch focus from the political problems faced by the start of lengthy exit negotiations with Brussels to the risks facing the eurozone.

Sterling has rounded off its fourth straight week of gains against the euro, marking its best run since early last year, despite falling by half a percentage point against the single currency yesterday. With only three trading days left, the pound is heading for its best month in eight years.

Meanwhile, the euro is weighed down by politics. Analysts say that Asian investors are becoming increasingly worried about the presidential election next year in France. Alan Clarke, at Scotiabank, said that this had made the eurozone appear a bigger unknown for investors: “Given the shift towards populist-type voting, with Brexit, Trump and Marine Le Pen, the eurozone all of a sudden seems a risky place again.”

He added that markets were also focusing on the Italian referendum on December 4, which has caused a “temporary diversion to downside risks in the eurozone”. Italy is considered one of the biggest threats to the survival of the euro, with debt at 133 per cent of GDP, a lacklustre labour market and banks filled with non-performing loans.

Matteo Renzi  has pledged to step down if he loses the vote, which investors believe would cause a “third domino” in the toppling of conventional world order, after the victories for Brexit and Trump.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 26.11.16


Buying Property in Spain: Here's some guidance on getting a mortgage here. You'll see that the last recommendation is to get a good lawyer. Astonishingly, most Brits ignore this and rely on the assurance of the estate agent that the notary will protect their interests. Even after decades of duplicity and fraud. 

Education: As I've said, I have no idea what's going on at the moment. All I really know is that, every time the government changes, a major reform is initiated and given an acronym. The latest is the LOMCE, which apparently replaces the LOE. Or is intended to, at least. Before the LOE, going back to 1980, there were the LOCE, the LOGSE, the LODE and the LOECE. Anyway, Macmillan have kindly supplied this intro to the LOMCE. Good luck. Given the poor international performance of Spanish students, one is compelled to ask what the point of all this is. Outside the realm of political ideology, that is.

Energy Prices: Spain's are already among the highest in Europe. And now I've read that we're about to be hit with a major price hike. Is this why my gas company recently sent me details of 2 lower tariffs? In other words a PR gesture. With the emphasis on 'gesture'.

Poverty: Living on the wealthy coast of Galicia, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's none of this in modern Spain. This article lays that misapprehension. As I've said, Spanish energy companies - like the banks - are not slow to cut you off at the knees, should you fall behind with payments. Redder in tooth and claw than elsewhere. With powerful friends in government. It'll be a while before the poor are protected.


The LOMCE: As a minority government, Sr Rajoy's right-wing PP administration is having some difficulty implementing its plans. At the moment, 2 months into the year, secondary school teachers are working to a curriculum that might not be the one the kids are examined on next summer. 


GDP: All you need to know about this is that, in the 3rd quarter, it grew less than Galicia's - 0.7%, against our 0.9%.


Cuba: Until the everlasting victory. This was the sign-off to the official announcement of Castro's death. I seem to think there was a similar vainglorious exhortation when that other old dictator, Franco, kicked it in 1975.


Airports: As I regularly say, we have 3 'international airports' here, each of them small and not terribly international. The closest to me is that of Peinador in Vigo, which had a mere 19 flights in summer but only 4 now that winter has arrived - to Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Lisbon. In other words, just one international flight, to next door Portugal. With TAP. There've been numerous (amusing) attempts to 'coordinate' these facilities over the years but none of them has succeeded. The barrier is the infamous Spanish localism. This week, the President of the Galician regional government retorted that he's not going to accede to requests to rationalise the situation until the mayors of Santiago, La Coruña and Vigo come clean on the secret deals they have with airlines. Deals which seem to change each year as the companies naturally play them off against each other. The victim of all this is, of course, the consumer. Who has to go to one end of the region one year and then to the other end the following year. Or, in most cases, down to the rapidly expanding airport in Oporto in North Portugal. Which tellingly advertises itself as The Airport for all Galicians. It's farcical but there's no prospect of change in the foreseeable future. Incidentally, you can't get from Pontevedra to Vigo airport - 20km away - by public transport. Or at least not directly.


The Pontevedra Retail Scene: It's hard to keep up with this, given the frequency of closures and openings. Right now, the little street I walk up to my regular bar seems to have been taken over by women's clothes shops. One of which is offering every garment at only €10. Presumably second hand, as we used to say. I'm not optimistic about any of them still being open a year from now. Money laundering?


For the musicians among you . . . 


The Most Stupid Feline in the World: Well,  yesterday I weakened and - using an upturned umbrella on a pole and some chicken meat - finally managed to entice it out of the crown of my palm tree.
Then I erected a chicken-wire barrier half-way up the tree. And guess where the cat is this morning. . . .  For the 4th time in 6 days. This time I really will leave it up there for a week. If I don't shoot it down first.

Postscript: As I finished the last paragraph, I heard the cat-flap go. Sure enough, the cat has finally found how to get down. Let the party begin . .

By the way . . . The cat is called Mol. This is short for Molestia. Or 'Nuisance'.

To end on a positive note . . .  I much enjoy this Facebook page.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 25.11.16


Buying Property in Spain?: If so, here's a must-read on the key ways to do this successfully.

Crossing The Road: I continue to be confused about what the law say about how drivers should respond to a flashing amber traffic light. I'd assumed that, when the pedestrian figure is red, the driver has the right of way, but not when it's green. The confusion arises because a good percentage of drivers stop for me when the light's on red. Especially if I'm standing on an island in the middle of the road. Even if I'm obviously reading a magazine or book and waiting for the light to change. But I'm not knocking this, of course.

Teaching English: Years ago, the PSOE President Zapatero (laughably) promised to bring 120,000 native English speakers to Spain, to improve the quality of teaching here. Yesterday, I learned that this policy had actually been put into practice, to some extent at least, and that Spain is now awash with auxiliares de conversación, who work 12 hours a week in public schools during the mornings and then try to teach privately later in the day. This probably explains why the hourly rate, here in Pontevedra at least, has been stuck at €15 an hour for at least 15 years. This being Spain, these assistants are now classified as students rather than employees, which means no social security payments have to be made in their regard. And there's some doubt about how qualified to teach they actually are. Just claiming to speak English might well be enough.


It's claimed that social media has brought us down to the post-truth age. And that, as with Russia's vast disinformation program, the aim is to disabuse us of the notion that there's any such thing as 'truth'. With the result that we believe no one. Not even the good people. Which will reap benefits for the baddies. If you're worried about this, here and here is BBC advice on how to check of the accuracy of social media reports. It might also be relevant for the so-called MSM.


I'm one of those who accepts there is global warming but - notwithstanding the scientific 'consensus' - wonders just how much is due to man and just how much we should be prepared to spend to do something about it. Especially as some say it's too late and spending vast amounts will only achieve very little. And particularly as the developing world will welch on its theoretical obligations. Reader David yesterday sent me the article at the end of the post. It's certainly thought-provoking.


Apologies if I've posted one or more of these before . . . .


My Cat: I've now thrice rescued the world's most stupid feline from the top of my palm tree. At the risk of my own neck. So, it's now (literally) grounded until I can put something around the tree to prevent another occurrence. Like the horizontal slabs which prevent rodents getting into the Galician horreos:-
And Asturian ones too . . . 


Former President Of Greenpeace Scientifically Rips Climate Change To Shreds

TN Note: The following is a lecture delivered by Patrick Moore, formerly President of Greenpeace Int’l, to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London. He is a vocal critic of faulty science that supports climate-change caused by humans. Since he was a legend in the eco-movement, his current assessment is credible and authoritative.

Should We Celebrate Carbon Dioxide?

Thank you for the opportunity to set out my views on climate change. As I have stated publicly on many occasions, there is no definitive scientific proof, through real-world observation, that carbon dioxide is responsible for any of the slight warming of the global climate that has occurred during the past 300 years, since the peak of the Little Ice Age. If there were such a proof through testing and replication it would have been written down for all to see.

The contention that human emissions are now the dominant influence on climate is simply a hypothesis, rather than a universally accepted scientific theory. It is therefore correct, indeed verging on compulsory in the scientific tradition, to be skeptical of those who express certainty that “the science is settled” and “the debate is over”.

But there is certainty beyond any doubt that CO2 is the building block for all life on Earth and that without its presence in the global atmosphere at a sufficient concentration this would be a dead planet. Yet today our children and our publics are taught that CO2 is a toxic pollutant that will destroy life and bring civilization to its knees. Tonight I hope to turn this dangerous human-caused propaganda on its head. Tonight I will demonstrate that human emissions of CO2 have already saved life on our planet from a very untimely end. That in the absence of our emitting some of the carbon back into the atmosphere from whence it came in the first place, most or perhaps all life on Earth would begin to die less than two million years from today.

But first a bit of background.

I was born and raised in the tiny floating village of Winter Harbour on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, in the rainforest by the Pacific. There was no road to my village so for eight years myself and a few other children were taken by boat each day to a one-room schoolhouse in the nearby fishing village. I didn’t realize how lucky I was playing on the tide flats by the salmon-spawning streams in the rainforest, until I was sent off to boarding school in Vancouver where I excelled in science. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, gravitating to the life sciences – biology, biochemistry, genetics, and forestry – the environment and the industry my family has been in for more than 100 years. Then, before the word was known to the general public, I discovered the science of ecology, the science of how all living things are inter-related, and how we are related to them. At the height of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the threat of all-out nuclear war and the newly emerging consciousness of the environment I was transformed into a radical environmental activist. While doing my PhD in ecology in 1971 I joined a group of activists who had begun to meet in the basement of the Unitarian Church, to plan a protest voyage against US hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska.

We proved that a somewhat rag-tag looking group of activists could sail an old fishing boat across the north Pacific ocean and help change the course of history. We created a focal point for the media to report on public opposition to the tests.

When that H-bomb exploded in November 1971, it was the last hydrogen bomb the United States ever detonated. Even though there were four more tests planned in the series, President Nixon canceled them due to the public opposition we had helped to create. That was the birth of Greenpeace.

Flushed with victory, on our way home from Alaska we were made brothers of the Namgis Nation in their Big House at Alert Bay near my northern Vancouver Island home. For Greenpeace this began the tradition of the Warriors of the Rainbow, after a Cree Indian legend that predicted the coming together of all races and creeds to save the Earth from destruction. We named our ship the Rainbow Warrior and I spent the next fifteen years in the top committee of Greenpeace, on the front lines of the environmental movement as we evolved from that church basement into the world’s largest environmental activist organization.

Next we took on French atmospheric nuclear testing in the South Pacific. They proved a bit more difficult than the US nuclear tests. It took years to eventually drive these tests underground at Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia. In 1985, under direct orders from President Mitterrand, French commandos bombed and sank the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, killing our photographer. Those protests continued until long after I left Greenpeace. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that nuclear testing finally ended in the South Pacific, and it most other parts of the world as well.

Going back to 1975, Greenpeace set out to save the whales from extinction at the hands of huge factory whaling fleets.  We confronted the Soviet factory whaling fleet in the North Pacific, putting ourselves in front of their harpoons in our little rubber boats to protect the fleeing whales. This was broadcast on television news around the world, bringing the Save the Whales movement into everyone’s living rooms for the first time. After four years of voyages, in 1979 factory whaling was finally banned in the North Pacific, and by 1981 in all the world’s oceans.

In 1978 I sat on a baby seal off the East Coast of Canada to protect it from the hunter’s club. I was arrested and hauled off to jail, the seal was clubbed and skinned, but a photo of me being arrested while sitting on the baby seal appeared in more than 3000 newspapers around the world the next morning. We won the hearts and minds of millions of people who saw the baby seal slaughter as outdated, cruel, and unnecessary.

Why then did I leave Greenpeace after 15 years in the leadership? When Greenpeace began we had a strong humanitarian orientation, to save civilization from destruction by all-out nuclear war. Over the years the “peace” in Greenpeace was gradually lost and my organization, along with much of the environmental movement, drifted into a belief that humans are the enemies of the earth. I believe in a humanitarian environmentalism because we are part of nature, not separate from it. The first principle of ecology is that we are all part of the same ecosystem, as Barbara Ward put it, “One human family on spaceship Earth”, and to preach otherwise teaches that the world would be better off without us. As we shall see later in the presentation there is very good reason to see humans as essential to the survival of life on this planet.

In the mid 1980s I found myself the only director of Greenpeace International with a formal education in science. My fellow directors proposed a campaign to “ban chlorine worldwide”, naming it “The Devil’s Element”. I pointed out that chlorine is one of the elements in the Periodic Table, one of the building blocks of the Universe and the 11th most common element in the Earth’s crust. I argued the fact that chlorine is the most important element for public health and medicine. Adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health and the majority of our synthetic medicines are based on chlorine chemistry. This fell on deaf ears, and for me this was the final straw. I had to leave.

When I left Greenpeace I vowed to develop an environmental policy that was based on science and logic rather than sensationalism, misinformation, anti-humanism and fear. In a classic example, a recent protest led by Greenpeace in the Philippines used the skull and crossbones to associate Golden Rice with death, when in fact Golden Rice has the potential to help save 2 million children from death due to vitamin A deficiency every year.

The Keeling curve of CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere since 1959 is the supposed smoking gun of catastrophic climate change. We presume CO2 was at 280 ppm at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, before human activity could have caused a significant impact. I accept that most of the rise from 280 to 400 ppm is caused by human CO2 emissions with the possibility that some of it is due to outgassing from warming of the oceans.

NASA tells us that “Carbon Dioxide Controls Earth’s Temperature” in child-like denial of the many other factors involved in climate change. This is reminiscent of NASA’s contention that there might be life on Mars. Decades after it was demonstrated that there was no life on Mars, NASA continues to use it as a hook to raise public funding for more expeditions to the Red Planet. The promulgation of fear of Climate Change now serves the same purpose. As Bob Dylan prophetically pointed out, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”, even in one of the most admired science organizations in the world.
On the political front the leaders of the G7 plan to “end extreme poverty and hunger” by phasing out 85% of the world’s energy supply including 98% of the energy used to transport people and goods, including food. The Emperors of the world appear clothed in the photo taken at the close of the meeting but it was obviously Photo-shopped. They should be required to stand naked for making such a foolish statement.

The world’s top climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, is hopelessly conflicted by its makeup and it mandate. The Panel is composed solely of the World Meteorological Organization, weather forecasters, and the United Nations Environment Program, environmentalists. Both these organizations are focused primarily on short-term timescales, days to maybe a century or two. But the most significant conflict is with the Panel’s mandate from the United Nations. They are required only to focus on “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the atmosphere, and which is in addition to natural climate variability.”
So if the IPCC found that climate change was not being affected by human alteration of the atmosphere or that it is not “dangerous” there would be no need for them to exist. They are virtually mandated to find on the side of apocalypse.

Scientific certainty, political pandering, a hopelessly conflicted IPCC, and now the Pope, spiritual leader of the Catholic Church, in a bold move to reinforce the concept of original sin, says the Earth looks like “an immense pile of filth” and we must go back to pre-industrial bliss, or is that squalor?
And then there is the actual immense pile of filth fed to us more than three times daily by the green-media nexus, a seething cauldron of imminent doom, like we are already condemned to Damnation in Hell and there is little chance of Redemption. I fear for the end of the Enlightenment. I fear an intellectual Gulag with Greenpeace as my prison guards.

Let’s begin with our knowledge of the long-term history of the Earth’s temperature and of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Our best inference from various proxies back indicate that CO2 was higher for the first 4 billion years of Earth’s history than it has been since the Cambrian Period until today. I will focus on the past 540 million years since modern life forms evolved. It is glaringly obvious that temperature and CO2 are in an inverse correlation at least as often as they are in any semblance of correlation. Two clear examples of reverse correlation occurred 150 million years and 50 million years ago. At the end of the Jurassic temperature fell dramatically while CO2 spiked. During the Eocene Thermal Maximum, temperature was likely higher than any time in the past 550 million years while CO2 had been on a downward track for 100 million years. This evidence alone sufficient to warrant deep speculation of any claimed lock-step causal relationship between CO2 and temperature.

The Devonian Period beginning 400 million years ago marked the culmination of the invasion of life onto the land. Plants evolved to produce lignin, which in combination with cellulose, created wood which in turn for the first time allowed plants to grow tall, in competition with each other for sunlight. As vast forests spread across the land living biomass increased by orders of magnitude, pulling down carbon as CO2 from the atmosphere to make wood. Lignin is very difficult to break down and no decomposer species possessed the enzymes to digest it. Trees died atop one another until they were 100 metres or more in depth. This was the making of the great coal beds around the world as this huge store of sequestered carbon continued to build for 90 million years. Then, fortunately for the future of life, white rot fungi evolved to produce the enzymes that can digest lignin and coincident with that the coal-making era came to an end.

There was no guarantee that fungi or any other decomposer species would develop the complex of enzymes required to digest lignin. If they had not, CO2, which had already been drawn down for the first time in Earth’s history to levels similar to todays, would have continued to decline as trees continued to grow and die. That is until CO2 approached the threshold of 150 ppm below which plants begin first to starve, then stop growing altogether, and then die. Not just woody plants but all plants. This would bring about the extinction of most, if not all, terrestrial species, as animals, insects, and other invertebrates starved for lack of food. And that would be that. The human species would never have existed. This was only the first time that there was a distinct possibility that life would come close to extinguishing itself, due to a shortage of CO2, which is essential for life on Earth.

A well-documented record of global temperature over the past 65 million years shows that we have been in a major cooling period since the Eocene Thermal Maximum 50 million years ago. The Earth was an average 16C warmer then, with most of the increased warmth at the higher latitudes. The entire planet, including the Arctic and Antarctica were ice-free and the land there was covered in forest. The ancestors of every species on Earth today survived through what may have been the warmest time in the history of life. It makes one wonder about dire predictions that even a 2C rise in temperature from pre-industrial times would cause mass extinctions and the destruction of civilization. Glaciers began to form in Antarctica 30 million years ago and in the northern hemisphere 3 million years ago. Today, even in this interglacial period of the Pleistocene Ice Age, we are experiencing one of the coldest climates in the Earth’s history.

Coming closer to the present we have learned from Antarctic ice cores that for the past 800,000 years there have been regular periods of major glaciation followed by interglacial periods in 100,000 year-cycles. These cycles coincide with the Milankovitch cycles that are tied to the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit and its axial tilt. It is highly plausible that these cycles are related to solar intensity and the seasonal distribution of solar heat on the Earth’s surface. There is a strong correlation between temperature and the level of atmospheric CO2 during these successive glaciations, indicating a possible cause-effect relationship between the two. CO2 lags temperature by an average of 800 years during the most recent 400,000-year period, indicating that temperature is the cause, as the cause never comes after the effect.

Looking at the past 50,000 years of temperature and CO2 we can see that changes in CO2 follow changes in temperature. This is as one could expect, as the Milankovitch cycles are far more likely to cause a change in temperature than a change in CO2. And a change in the temperature is far more likely to cause a change in CO2 due to outgassing of CO2 from the oceans during warmer times and an ingassing (absorption) of CO2 during colder periods. Yet climate alarmists persist in insisting that CO2 is causing the change in temperature, despite the illogical nature of that assertion.

It is sobering to consider the magnitude of climate change during the past 20,000 years, since the peak of the last major glaciation. At that time there were 3.3 kilometres of ice on top of what is today the city of Montreal, a city of more than 3 million people. 95% of Canada was covered in a sheet of ice. Even as far south as Chicago there was nearly a kilometre of ice. If the Milankovitch cycle continues to prevail, and there is little reason aside from our CO2 emissions to think otherwise, this will happen gradually again during the next 80,000 years. Will our CO2 emissions stave off another glaciation as James Lovelock has suggested? There doesn’t seem to be much hope of that so far, as despite 1/3 of all our CO2 emissions being released during the past 18 years the UK Met Office contends there has been no statistically significant warming during this century.

At the height of the last glaciation the sea level was about 120 metres lower than it is today. By 7,000 years ago all the low-altitude, mid-latitude glaciers had melted. There is no consensus about the variation in sea level since then although many scientists have concluded that the sea level was higher than today during the Holocene Thermal optimum from 9,000 to 5,000 years ago when the Sahara was green. The sea level may also have been higher than today during the Medieval Warm Period.
Hundred of islands near the Equator in Papua, Indonesia, have been undercut by the sea in a manner that gives credence to the hypothesis that there has been little net change in sea level in the past thousands of years. It takes a long time for so much erosion to occur from gentle wave action in a tropical sea.

Coming back to the relationship between temperature and CO2 in the modern era we can see that temperature has risen at a steady slow rate in Central England since 1700 while human CO2 emissions were not relevant until 1850 and then began an exponential rise after 1950. This is not indicative of a direct causal relationship between the two. After freezing over regularly during the Little Ice Age the River Thames froze for the last time in 1814, as the Earth moved into what might be called the Modern Warm Period.

The IPCC states it is “extremely likely” that human emissions have been the dominant cause of global warming “since the mid-20th century”, that is since 1950. They claim that “extremely” means 95% certain, even though the number 95 was simply plucked from the air like an act of magic. And “likely” is not a scientific word but rather indicative of a judgment, another word for an opinion.
There was a 30-year period of warming from 1910-1940, then a cooling from 1940 to 1970, just as CO2 emissions began to rise exponentially, and then a 30-year warming from 1970-2000 that was very similar in duration and temperature rise to the rise from 1910-1940. One may then ask “what caused the increase in temperature from 1910-1940 if it was not human emissions? And if it was natural factors how do we know that the same natural factors were not responsible for the rise between 1970-2000.” You don’t need to go back millions of years to find the logical fallacy in the IPCC’s certainty that we are the villains in the piece.

Water is by far the most important greenhouse gas, and is the only molecule that is present in the atmosphere in all three states, gas, liquid, and solid. As a gas, water vapour is a greenhouse gas, but as a liquid and solid it is not. As a liquid water forms clouds, which send solar radiation back into space during the day and hold heat in at night. There is no possibility that computer models can predict the net effect of atmospheric water in a higher CO2 atmosphere. Yet warmists postulate that higher CO2 will result in positive feedback from water, thus magnifying the effect of CO2 alone by 2-3 times. Other scientists believe that water may have a neutral or negative feedback on CO2. The observational evidence from the early years of this century tends to reinforce the latter hypothesis.
How many politicians or members of the media or the public are aware of this statement about climate change from the IPCC in 2007?

“we should recognise that we are dealing with a coupled nonlinear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”
There is a graph showing that the climate models have grossly exaggerated the rate of warming that confirms the IPCC statement. The only trends the computer models seem able to predict accurately are ones that have already occurred.

Coming to the core of my presentation, CO2 is the currency of life and the most important building block for all life on Earth. All life is carbon-based, including our own. Surely the carbon cycle and its central role in the creation of life should be taught to our children rather than the demonization of CO2, that “carbon” is a “pollutant” that threatens the continuation of life. We know for a fact that CO2 is essential for life and that it must be at a certain level in the atmosphere for the survival of plants, which are the primary food for all the other species alive today. Should we not encourage our citizens, students, teachers, politicians, scientists, and other leaders to celebrate CO2 as the giver of life that it is?

It is a proven fact that plants, including trees and all our food crops, are capable of growing much faster at higher levels of CO2 than present in the atmosphere today. Even at the today’s concentration of 400 ppm plants are relatively starved for nutrition. The optimum level of CO2 for plant growth is about 5 times higher, 2000 ppm, yet the alarmists warn it is already too high. They must be challenged every day by every person who knows the truth in this matter. CO2 is the giver of life and we should celebrate CO2 rather than denigrate it as is the fashion today.

We are witnessing the “Greening of the Earth” as higher levels of CO2, due to human emissions from the use of fossil fuels, promote increased growth of plants around the world. This has been confirmed by scientists with CSIRO in Australia, in Germany, and in North America. Only half of the CO2 we are emitting from the use of fossil fuels is showing up in the atmosphere. The balance is going somewhere else and the best science says most of it is going into an increase in global plant biomass. And what could be wrong with that, as forests and agricultural crops become more productive?
All the CO2 in the atmosphere has been created by outgassing from the Earth’s core during massive volcanic eruptions. This was much more prevalent in the early history of the Earth when the core was hotter than it is today. During the past 150 million years there has not been enough addition of CO2 to the atmosphere to offset the gradual losses due to burial in sediments.

Let’s look at where all the carbon is in the world, and how it is moving around.

Today, at just over 400 ppm, there are 850 billion tons of carbon as CO2 in the atmosphere. By comparison, when modern life-forms evolved over 500 million years ago there was nearly 15,000 billion tons of carbon in the atmosphere, 17 times today’s level. Plants and soils combined contain more than 2,000 billion tons of carbon, more that twice as much as the entire global atmosphere. The oceans contain 38,000 billion tons of carbon, as dissolved CO2, 45 times as much as in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels, which are made from plants that pulled CO2 from the atmosphere account for 5,000 – 10,000 billion tons of carbon, 6 – 12 times as much carbon as is in the atmosphere.

But the truly stunning number is the amount of carbon that has been sequestered from the atmosphere and turned into carbonaceous rocks. 100,000,000 billion tons, that’s one quadrillion tons of carbon, have been turned into stone by marine species that learned to make armour-plating for themselves by combining calcium and carbon into calcium carbonate. Limestone, chalk, and marble are all of life origin and amount to 99.9% of all the carbon ever present in the global atmosphere. The white cliffs of Dover are made of the calcium carbonate skeletons of coccolithophores, tiny marine phytoplankton.

The vast majority of the carbon dioxide that originated in the atmosphere has been sequestered and stored quite permanently in carbonaceous rocks where it cannot be used as food by plants.

Beginning 540 million years ago at the beginning of the Cambrian Period many marine species of invertebrates evolved the ability to control calcification and to build armour plating to protect their soft bodies. Shellfish such as clams and snails, corals, coccolithofores (phytoplankton) and foraminifera (zooplankton) began to combine carbon dioxide with calcium and thus to remove carbon from the life cycle as the shells sank into sediments; 100,000,000 billion tons of carbonaceous sediment. It is ironic that life itself, by devising a protective suit of armour, determined its own eventual demise by continuously removing CO2 from the atmosphere. This is carbon sequestration and storage writ large. These are the carbonaceous sediments that form the shale deposits from which we are fracking gas and oil today. And I add my support to those who say, “OK UK, get fracking”.

The past 150 million years has seen a steady drawing down of CO2 from the atmosphere. There are many components to this but what matters is the net effect, a removal on average of 37,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere every year for 150 million years. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was reduced by about 90% during this period. This means that volcanic emissions of CO2 have been outweighed by the loss of carbon to calcium carbonate sediments on a multi-million year basis.
If this trend continues CO2 will inevitably fall to levels that threaten the survival of plants, which require a minimum of 150 ppm to survive. If plants die all the animals, insects, and other invertebrates that depend on plants for their survival will also die.

How long will it be at the present level of CO2 depletion until most or all of life on Earth is threatened with extinction by lack of CO2 in the atmosphere?

During this Pleistocene Ice Age, CO2 tends to reach a minimum level when the successive glaciations reach their peak. During the last glaciation, which peaked 18,000 years ago, CO2 bottomed out at 180 ppm, extremely likely the lowest level CO2 has been in the history of the Earth. 

This is only 30 ppm above the level that plants begin to die. Paleontological research has demonstrated that even at 180 ppm there was a severe restriction of growth as plants began to starve. With the onset of the warmer interglacial period CO2 rebounded to 280 ppm.  But even today, with human emissions causing CO2 to reach 400 ppm plants are still restricted in their growth rate, which would be much higher if CO2 were at 1000-2000 ppm.

Here is the shocking news. If humans had not begun to unlock some of the carbon stored as fossil fuels, all of which had been in the atmosphere as CO2 before sequestration by plants and animals, life on Earth would have soon been starved of this essential nutrient and would begin to die. Given the present trends of glaciations and interglacial periods this would likely have occurred less than 2 million years from today, a blink in nature’s eye, 0.05% of the 3.5 billion-year history of life.

No other species could have accomplished the task of putting some of the carbon back into the atmosphere that was taken out and locked in the Earth’s crust by plants and animals over the millennia. This is why I honour James Lovelock in my lecture this evening. Jim was for many years of the belief that humans are the one-and-only rogue species on Gaia, destined to cause catastrophic global warming. I enjoy the Gaia hypothesis but I am not religious about it and for me this was too much like original sin. It was as if humans were the only evil species on the Earth.

But James Lovelock has seen the light and realized that humans may be part of Gaia’s plan, and he has good reason to do so. And I honour him because it takes courage to change your mind after investing so much of your reputation on the opposite opinion. Rather than seeing humans as the enemies of Gaia, Lovelock now sees that we may be working with Gaia to “stave of another ice age”, or major glaciation. This is much more plausible than the climate doom-and gloom scenario because our release of CO2 back into the atmosphere has definitely reversed the steady downward slide of this essential food for life, and hopefully may reduce the chance that the climate will slide into another period of major glaciation. We can be certain that higher levels of CO2 will result in increased plant growth and biomass. We really don’t know whether or not higher levels of CO2 will prevent or reduce the eventual slide into another major glaciation. Personally I am not hopeful for this because the long-term history just doesn’t support a strong correlation between CO2 and temperature.
It does boggle the mind in the face of our knowledge that the level of CO2 has been steadily falling that human CO2 emissions are not universally acclaimed as a miracle of salvation. From direct observation we already know that the extreme predictions of CO2’s impact on global temperature are highly unlikely given that about one-third of all our CO2 emissions have been discharged during the past 18 years and there has been no statistically significant warming. And even if there were some additional warming that would surely be preferable to the extermination of all or most species on the planet.

You heard it here. “Human emissions of carbon dioxide have saved life on Earth from inevitable starvation and extinction due to lack of CO2”. To use the analogy of the Atomic Clock, if the Earth were 24 hours old we were at 38 seconds to midnight when we reversed the trend towards the End Times. If that isn’t good news I don’t know what is. You don’t get to stave off Armageddon every day.

I issue a challenge to anyone to provide a compelling argument that counters my analysis of the historical record and the prediction of CO2 starvation based on the 150 million year trend. Ad hominem arguments about “deniers” need not apply. I submit that much of society has been collectively misled into believing that global CO2 and temperature are too high when the opposite is true for both. Does anyone deny that below 150 ppm CO2 that plants will die? Does anyone deny that the Earth has been in a 50 million-year cooling period and that this Pleistocene Ice Age is one of the coldest periods in the history of the planet?

If we assume human emissions have to date added some 200 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, even if we ceased using fossil fuels today we have already bought another 5 million years for life on earth. But we will not stop using fossil fuels to power our civilization so it is likely that we can forestall plant starvation for lack of CO2 by at least 65 million years. Even when the fossil fuels have become scarce we have the quadrillion tons of carbon in carbonaceous rocks, which we can transform into lime and CO2 for the manufacture of cement. And we already know how to do that with solar energy or nuclear energy. This alone, regardless of fossil fuel consumption, will more than offset the loss of CO2 due to calcium carbonate burial in marine sediments. Without a doubt the human species has made it possible to prolong the survival of life on Earth for more than 100 million years. We are not the enemy of nature but its salvation.

As a postscript I would like to make a few comments about the other side of the alleged dangerous climate change coin, our energy policy, in particular the much maligned fossil fuels; coal, oil, and natural gas.

Depending how it’s tallied, fossil fuels account for between 85-88% of global energy consumption and more than 95% of energy for the transport of people and goods, including our food.

Earlier this year the leaders of the G7 countries agreed that fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100, a most bizarre development to say the least. Of course no intelligent person really believes this will happen but it is a testament to the power of the elites that have converged around the catastrophic human-caused climate change that so many alleged world leaders must participate in the charade. How might we convince them to celebrate CO2 rather than to denigrate it?

A lot of nasty things are said about fossil fuels even though they are largely responsible for our longevity, our prosperity, and our comfortable lifestyles.

Hydrocarbons, the energy components of fossil fuels, are 100% organic, as in organic chemistry. They were produced by solar energy in ancient seas and forests. When they are burned for energy the main products are water and CO2, the two most essential foods for life. And fossil fuels are by far the largest storage battery of direct solar energy on Earth. Nothing else comes close except nuclear fuel, which is also solar in the sense that it was produced in dying stars.

Today, Greenpeace protests Russian and American oil rigs with 3000 HP diesel-powered ships and uses 200 HP outboard motors to board the rigs and hang anti-oil plastic banners made with fossil fuels. Then they issue a media release telling us we must “end our addiction to oil”. I wouldn’t mind so much if Greenpeace rode bicycles to their sailing ships and rowed their little boats into the rigs to hang organic cotton banners. We didn’t have an H-bomb on board the boat that sailed on the first Greenpeace campaign against nuclear testing.

Some of the world’s oil comes from my native country in the Canadian oil sands of northern Alberta. I had never worked with fossil fuel interests until I became incensed with the lies being spread about my country’s oil production in the capitals of our allies around the world. I visited the oil sands operations to find out for myself what was happening there.

It is true it’s not a pretty sight when the land is stripped bare to get at the sand so the oil can be removed from it. Canada is actually cleaning up the biggest natural oil spill in history, and making a profit from it. The oil was brought to the surface when the Rocky Mountains were thrust up by the colliding Pacific Plate. When the sand is returned back to the land 99% of the so-called “toxic oil” has been removed from it.

Anti-oil activists say the oil-sands operations are destroying the boreal forest of Canada. Canada’s boreal forest accounts for 10% of all the world’s forests and the oil-sands area is like a pimple on an elephant by comparison. By law, every square inch of land disturbed by oil-sands extraction must be returned to native boreal forest. When will cities like London, Brussels, and New York that have laid waste to the natural environment be returned to their native ecosystems?

The art and science of ecological restoration, or reclamation as it is called in the mining industry, is a well-established practice. The land is re-contoured, the original soil is put back, and native species of plants and trees are established. It is possible, by creating depressions where the land was flat, to increase biodiversity by making ponds and lakes where wetland plants, insects, and waterfowl can become established in the reclaimed landscape.

The tailings ponds where the cleaned sand is returned look ugly for a few years but are eventually reclaimed into grasslands. The Fort McKay First Nation is under contract to manage a herd of bison on a reclaimed tailings pond. Every tailings pond will be reclaimed in a similar manner when operations have been completed.

As an ecologist and environmentalist for more than 45 years this is good enough for me. The land is disturbed for a blink of an eye in geological time and is then returned to a sustainable boreal forest ecosystem with cleaner sand. And as a bonus we get the fuel to power our weed-eaters, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks, buses, trains, and aircraft.

To conclude, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the stuff of life, the staff of life, the currency of life, indeed the backbone of life on Earth.

I hope you have seen CO2 from a new perspective and will join with me to Celebrate CO2!