Monday, March 8, 2010

Climate change skepticism

Climate change scares me. The thing that scares me most, after climate change, is the terrifying willingness of the media and the public to not believe that humans are causing this problem.

I have started reading a load of climate change skeptic material - ordered a load of books, and reading some blogs (and tracing back to peer-reviewed references, of course).

Starting off with a quick Google of climate change, and the following a couple of links...

In one corner we have people trying to warn us that civilization, as we know it, is doomed unless we make some changes. The plus side of those changes is saving this version of society and tons of flora and fauna. The downside is economical cost, which is likely to be less than that of the recent global financial crisis. Although that was (is) painful for many, it is not as bad as the alternative - and the planet will just carry on.

These people are incredibly passionate about informing the public and policy makers to save the world as we know it. They have websites which are part of the 'establishment' Universities and government departments etc, or contribute to sites like Climate Change Australia "...devoted to the discussion and analysis of issues surrounding climate change."

Whether you agree with them or not, it is easy to see why they are trying to warn us. (No, not to keep jobs - these are perfectly employable people without a climate change gravy train).

In the other corner we have the climate change skeptics. These either deny climate change is happening, or deny that it is our fault.

They are incredibly passionate and articulate as well, (though an interesting difference in the style and tone of their language, see if you notice).


Oh! I see. Now that is clear.

Finally, lets have a look at the 'shrill' cries from those champions of eco-religious, one world socialism global warming zealots, Greenpeace. Their (Aussie) reason for campaigning about climate change:

"The world faces a climate emergency. Australia and the Pacific are at the frontline.

We’re suffering worse bushfires, flash floods and a drought that never seems to end. These are all signs that we’re reaching a tipping point to a climate catastrophe.

It’s clear that ‘business as usual’ is not an option."

Scary, but not exactly shrill.

To recap: In one corner, a bunch of people who want to save the world. In the other, a bunch of people who want to stop us listening to a bunch of people who want to save the world.

Finally, if you haven't already, try reading the book What's the worst that could happen? by Greg Craven. His argument is less about who is right, but more about how to analyse and make a decision 'on balance'.

I'll let you know how I get on with my more thorough research of both sides of the argument. And I want to read more on geo-engineering; anyone point me in the right direction?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Does offsetting work?

I just took the 350 Challenge, which adds a nice green badge to this blog. Also Brighter Planet will buy some carbon offsets.

Is carbon offsetting any use, really?

Professor Barry Brook thinks so, since I got the link for the badge off his website.

Cheat Neutral don't think so. Their brilliant parody - you can cheat on your husband, just offset it - along with a trusted mentor of mine have challenged my thinking. What do you think?

(Oh, and if you haven't heard of Cheat Neutral - go for it!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I want to help in Haiti... I mean really help

A schoolmate of mine asked for my advice for people planning on helping Haiti recovery by volunteering.

I understand totally where they are coming from.

I was in Thailand when the Tsunami struck a few years ago and wanted to help. The authorities wanted me to stay away from the affected areas because they really didn't need my skills. The UK and Aussie embassies (I am a citizen of both) asked me to talk to the Swedish embassy who needed volunteers to help trace missing people. By the time I got to them, there was enough help in place.

Locally, I have offered accommodation during floods and fires.

The need to help is a wonderful, human thing. But it is emotional, not rational. If you are there when something happens, then please - accept responsibility and act. Call the ambulance, do first aid, rescue people when safe to do so.

Specialist units, trained aid workers, soldiers, police etc are on standby waiting for the next inevitable disaster. Local and sometimes international support will turn up quickly.

But what about afterwards? Should you go and help?

Lack of hygiene, safe housing, water and food security, looting, fire risk and chemical spills can follow a disaster.

Each of these areas can only be addressed by trained people. Most countries have such, and where they don't will often call for specific international support. (There are obvious exceptions, but UK citizens would not be on the next plane to North Korea following an earthquake).

So, what if you are such a trained person?

If you are in the uniformed and emergency services (nurse, soldier, doctor etc), and live in a richer country then your employer, through the Government, may have a reserve scheme of specialists ready for this kind of incident.

It is not likely that without such reserve training you could help as much as you imagine, but check in with your employer, union or other professional body.

For the most important non-emergency roles, such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians you make think there would be a need, and there could be. But think about the impact - when you are there you are taking work from locals who also need to rebuild their lives. Whatever you do, don't just turn up - make arrangements with a local firm, union or authorities in advance.

It makes sense to get journalists and writers - including fundraisers - to post disaster areas. Their writings, images and work can help generate income and the right kind of support.

This is really brutal, but unless there is a specific call for people with your skill sets, and a mechanism in place for actually applying them there, you will be creating more of a problem than helping. Sorry.

But, what about being another pair of hands? Well, as I said before, if you are there when disaster strikes, pitch in and help.

But afterwards, there is very, very rarely a shortage of labour after a disaster.

More the opposite - people wandering around with nothing to do. Also, local labour speaks the language, knows the terrain, is used to the weather and food - basically they are better equipped than you to do stuff.

Sorry again, but there is not a nice way to say it. You mean well, but mostly you would be more of a burden than a benefit.

Donating the cost of going could have a hundred fold impact on the lives of people there than turning up.

For example, a couple flying from the UK to Haiti would cost about £3,000. Five times the annual income of a average Haitian. Imagine the impact of donating that instead!?

I believe that any impact analysis (jargon for the amount of good achieved divided by the cost) would show that volunteering from the UK (or Australia, USA etc) after a disaster is one of the worst things you can do - possibly worse than doing nothing, and definitely worse than donating.

Unless there is a specific call from a bonafide, rational, strategic agency and an organised, trained method of getting those appropriate people there for defined jobs.

We should donate. And get friends to. And with the couple of weeks or more time saved by not going to the country, we could volunteer for a local charity. Or volunteer abroad with someone like VSO or Earthwatch. These things will help the people of Haiti more than us turning up there with kind hearts and genuine humanity.

If you still want to go, then make sure you understand that you are doing it for yourself, not - in this example - the people of Haiti.

Maybe not such a bad thing, provided you don't become a burden. You will gain much more than a holiday, meet fantastic people and gather some great stories.

Plan carefully, work with a professional organisation, be prepared for everything to go wrong - including injury and illness, sharing rooms with strangers and theft, notify your embassy on arrival.

And afterwards, follow it up. Start a local fundraising committee, talk to local Rotary etc and share your photos, motivate people to donate. Aim to raise at least ten times the amount that you spent getting there - that should balance the karma!

Still up for it? Well, check out Tonic, they list organisations that could help you get to Haiti and help here. Also, visit the websites of the big local relief agencies at home.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Update on birthday appeal

Thank you all you lovely people who have donated to my 40th birthday appeal. My birthday (and International Women's Day) is in one week (March 8) and the appeal will finish a couple of days after that.

My main objective was to raise lots of money for Marie Stopes. I originally went for $2,000 with me matching it by the same. But that target was hammered pretty quickly, so I extended it.


I have decided to match to $4,000 now - and at the time of writing am just $600 away from it. I had taken 'The Life You Can Save' Pledge, an initiative run by ethicist and author Peter Singer but even though I am in his lowest income category I will be well over the minimum he asks for.

I also encourage you to pledge a percentage of your income to charity - and any donation to my birthday appeal will count towards it!

Thanks again wonderful friends, family and caring fundraisers.

(If you haven't donated yet, please do by clicking here, thanks!)

Disaster Fundraising Guide download it here