Archive for 2009

Snow in the Jura

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
footpath covered in snow

footpath covered in snow

Just a few days ago, I commented over at The Marvellous in Nature that we didn’t have enough snow yet for snow-shoeing. Well that has all changed! We now have several centimetres, or quite a few inches, depending on which you prefer.

The photo above was from our morning walk last Friday. The stream below on the right was taken then too. Plenty of snow there, as you can see. Later in the day we had more snow, the picture on the left being taken from the warmth and comfort of our living room.

snow falling on field

snow falling on field

mountain stream

mountain stream

lacewing

lacewing

Even before the snow came, it’s been very cold here, so obviously there are far less insects about now, but there are still a few surprises here and there. Some days ago I looked up from my laptop to see this lacewing on the outside of the window. As far as I know, they should all be hibernating now. Maybe he had heard about the bug-hotel I made last month and was going to check out the accomodation?

He’s not the only lacewing we’ve seen lately, one has decided to move in with us for the winter. He now spends his time in the spare room, which we keep unheated for my cacti.

bug hotel with snow

bug hotel with snow

We’ve named him Edgar, the fly who came in from the cold. Edgar has spent the last 2 or 3 days on the window-sill, which is not a particularly safe place for him to be, so I’ve moved him into a small box of shredded paper. I have no idea if he manages to find food, or if he needs any now, he doesn’t move far at all it seems. If anyone has suggestions on how to look after him and help him survive the winter, please let me know!

Then of course there’s our feathered friends. We have many birds sheltering in the eaves, and they are quite happy to avail themselves of the food we put out for them. We’ve been investigated by magpies a few times too, but they seem too shy to stay when they see us through the window. Hopefully they’ll learn to trust us and stay a little longer, they’re so beautiful.

The birds don’t seem to bother with the water much, which I think is pretty ungrateful of them considering the effort it takes to replace it every time it freezes. Still, I guess they know what they need. As long as they keep coming for the food, we will keep putting it out for them!

Wherever you are, whichever creatures you have sharing your Christmas, indoors or out, I wish you, and them, a merry Christmas.

water and food for birds

water and food for birds

Copenhagen – Who pays the bill?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The United Nations Climate Change Conference gets under way in Copenhagen this week. There’s a lot at stake. We need a global commitment from all nations to adopt a low-carbon path for the future, and we need to get on that path fast. There’s simply no alternative if we want our children and grandchildren to live in a world that we would recognise.

I’m somewhat optimistic about the outcome. I certainly don’t think that the conference will result in an agreement that can prevent catastrophic climate-change in itself. Even if it did, we still have to make sure that it gets implemented, and that’s going to take decades of work. Signing a piece of paper this year will not be enough, even it if says all the right things.

So why am I optimistic? Grab a cup of tea, sit down, and I’ll tell you.

Most governments have made some form of commitment in recent weeks, even those that had steadfastly resisted pressure to do so in the past. The United States has pledged a 17% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. China will aim to reduce ‘carbon-intensity’ by 40-45% by 2020, and India will reduce its carbon intensity by 20-25%, also by 2020.

On the one hand, it’s great to see such statements in the leadup to the conference. On the other, of course, those levels of cuts are not enough to make any difference to the changing climate. Compared to 1990 levels, the US figure corresponds to a cut of just 2%, while the Chinese and Indian carbon-intensity targets mean even less.

Carbon intensity is like car mileage, you can drive more efficiently to improve your mileage, but if you drive further as well, you may still burn more petrol. China plans to grow its economy at 8% per year. That would mean that by 2020 Chinas’ emissions will be almost double the 2005 level.

Of course, there will be lots of finger-pointing, with people on all sides calling for others to do more, while claiming that they are doing their share already, or that they do not want to do more until other countries commit themselves to do more. Playing ‘chicken’ with the climate is not what we really want to see in Copenhagen. Some will point out that China emits more CO2 than any other country. Others will point out that the US emits more per person than any other country (sorry, almost any other country.).

You can see the emissions per person for a number of countries in the graph, below, taken from David MacKay‘s free ebook, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. That graph is for the year 2000, and you can clearly see that the ‘developed world’ is emitting far more CO2 per person than China or India, for example.

Carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions per country for the year 2000

Carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions per country for the year 2000

So it seems to me that the developed world has a clear moral obligation to take the lead in cutting emissions. Of course, everyone has to play their part, but there’s no need for anyone to wait, we can and should be cutting deeply, now. Unfortunately, politicians end up discussing the financial cost of action instead, arguing about how much money it will take to change, and what will it do to their countries’ economy. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s your money they’re protecting either. No, it’s the money of big corporations that lobby hard to protect their interests.

Big corporations have always worked to protect themselves. The gas companies opposed Thomas Edison when he wanted to light the streets with electricity, for example. The reality is that every year of delay only increases the financial costs down the line. Will we have to change the way we live in order to tackle climate change? Yes, we will. Will it have an effect on our economies? Yes, of course. But will it hurt you, or me? Not necessarily.

Thomas Alva EdisonThomas Edison
Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Edison changed our lives for the better. Henry Ford changed our lives when he established the automobile industry. Other changes are more gradual, like from theatre to silent films, to talkies, to television, to videos, and now to satellite and internet TV. The entertainment industry has changed drastically in that time, and people have changed with it.

Changing our way of life is very much part of our way of life, and that’s a good thing. When we realise that fact, tackling climate change will not seem difficult or painful, it will appear as the opportunity it is. Unless you’re the CEO of a fossil-fuel company, of course.

So that’s one reason why I’m optimistic. I believe people can come to terms with the changes needed to tackle climate change, once they realise it is in their personal interest and the interests of their family to do so. For that to happen, we just need to look at who is behind the voices opposed to doing anything.

If you’re among those who think climate change is not a real problem, ask yourself this: where did you get the information that led you to that opinion? What motivates the person who tells you not to worry about climate change? What’s in it for them if you believe them?

Dig deep enough, and you’ll probably smell oil. Sometimes its obvious, such as the recent article in Scientific American, but often you have to dig deeper. If you do, you’ll probably find you are being conned by industry-funded PR campaigns.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m fond of quoting President Nasheed of the Maldives. Well, I’m going to do it again. In a recent speech, he expressed himself very clearly:

To my mind, countries that have the foresight to green their economies today will be the winners of tomorrow. They will be the winners of this century. These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalize on the new, green economy of the future. And they will enhance their moral standing, giving them greater political influence on the world stage.

Here in the Maldives we have relinquished our claim to high-carbon growth. After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport. Low-carbon technologies now exist, to deliver all the goods and services we need. Let us make the goal of using them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a few other leaders could make a stand with President Nasheed, and offer us development, electricity, and transport, instead of coal and oil?

What do you see in my blog?

Saturday, November 28th, 2009
black cheeked moray

black cheeked moray

On Monday, my blog will be one year old. It seems to be traditional to celebrate your first ‘blogiversary’ by reflecting on the previous year, asking people what they think of your blog, analysing your statistics, stuff like that. I’m not going to do that, … much.

By far the most popular article on my blog this past year has been Charles Darwins’ first theory of evolution, with Songs about Pollution a distant second. Quite why people are so fascinated with singing about pollution is beyond me, I’m not sure I really want to know, so I’m not going to analyse my stats more than that.

So, I’ve decided to celebrate my blogiversary by asking “What do you see in my blog”, but with a twist. Here are some photos of fish and other creatures that live on coral reefs. Some, like the black-cheeked moray at the top, are always easy to spot. Others manage to hide themselves well, even when you’re looking straight at them. That’s what these photos are about, and I invite you to see if you can identify them. Thanks to Earth, Wind & Water for giving me the idea.

As always, if you click on the photo you will get a larger version, which will definitely help in some cases. I’ll add a comment in a few days identifying everything, in case you can’t make them out.

Looking at these pictures again makes me wonder how many times I’ve looked at a reef and missed something. I’m sure it’s happened a lot, there’s so much life down there that I must surely have missed more stuff than I can imagine. That’s part of the magic of diving, you can dive the same place time and time again and still find new things to enjoy.

These photos were all taken in the Maldives, the only place I’ve dived with a camera. It takes a lot of practise and luck to get good underwater pictures. Some of the subjects are hard to see because the shots capture the way in which it blends in well with its surroundings, others are hard to identify because the photos are not really all that good. Never mind, here goes!

This first one is easy enough. It takes some practise to be able to spot them when you first start diving, but when you get the measure of them it’s often easy to find them – some of them, at least. In the Maldives, if not elsewhere, they can get quite large, 12-18 inches (30-45 cm), and often hide right on top of the reef at 15-30 feet (5-10 metres) depth, where the light is good.

mystery fish 1

mystery fish 1

This one is rather harder. I dived several times at this location, in Ari Atoll, but never once found this fish for myself. Even when you know where to look for them they’re hard to find. Like many smaller fish, they have a habit of turning themselves to present a narrow profile to larger creatures (such as me) to better avoid being spotted.

mystery fish 2

mystery fish 2

This one is even harder to identify. If you don’t know this fish exists, you probably won’t see it. Like the fish in the photograph above, it insisted on turning itself narrow-side on to me, making it harder to get a good picture of it. I wonder how many of these I’ve overlooked, this is the only one I’ve ever seen.

mystery fish 3

mystery fish 3

This one is the hardest of the lot. Even I have trouble making it out. I can see a fin easily enough, but to figure out exactly where the head is, the body, and the tail, that takes some scrutiny. If I recall correctly, I only saw this one because it moved.

mystery fish 4

mystery fish 4

This one is fairly easy. This is the only one of these I’ve ever seen, and it was big, about the size of a watermelon. I like diving close to the reef, moving slowly along it looking for small things hidden away. Finding myself almost eyeball-to-eyeball with this guy came as quite a surprise. Incidentally, this is one good reason not to touch the reef while diving. These things are poisonous to the touch, and well camouflaged.

mystery fish 5

mystery fish 5

Lastly, this is one of my favourite photos, though not one of my best. I wanted to get a picture of the banded boxer shrimp, but the camera chose to focus on something else instead, and I’m glad it did. So the question is, how many shrimps can you see in this photo? I’ll give you a hint, there are more than two.

how many shrimps do you see?

how many shrimps do you see?

Sunflowers

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

dead sunflower

dead sunflower

sunflower in full bloom

sunflower in full bloom

Yesterday, I finally dug up my dead sunflowers. Even though there are still a few seeds in them, as you can see in the photo, the birds have stopped visiting them, so it’s time for them to go. I had intended to save the dead flowers to put out later in the winter for the birds, but they found them before I harvested them so I let them have them. I’ll put out other food for them later.

Sunflowers are one of my favourite flowers, I first grew them when I was a kid. I’ve taken a number of photos of this years crop during the summer, here are a few of the best. Hope you like them!

sunflower petals close-up

sunflower petals close-up

one of my first sunflowers this year

one of my first sunflowers this year

How many Physicists does it take to change a light bulb?

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

David MacKay is a professor of natural philosophy at Cambridge University. At the beginning of October he started work for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the UK. He is now their Chief Scientific Advisor, and if you ask me he is clearly the right man for the job.

He’s written a book, Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, which you can download for free from the web (in several formats). Unlike many scientists, he’s an excellent communicator, able to put things in terms that are easy to understand with just a bare minimum of maths. As the book title suggests, he explains a lot about the realities of sustainable energy, in plain english, and with numbers to put it all into context and to set the scale of things.

For example, he converts everything to kilowatt-hours, the amount of energy used by leaving a 1 kW heater on for one hour. By converting everything to the same units, he makes it easier to compare things directly, like the energy you use by driving your car, flying off on holiday, or heating your bath. The kilowatt-hour is also the unit you are charged for on your electricity bill, so it’s something we can all relate to.

He doesn’t have a personal agenda to promote, either. Or rather, he does, but his agenda is to ensure that people can make informed decisions on their own, based on the facts. As he says:

I don’t want to feed you my own conclusions. Convictions are stronger if they are self-generated, rather than taught. Understanding is a creative process. When you’ve read this book I hope you’ll have reinforced the confidence that you can figure anything out.

and

This book is emphatically intended to be about facts, not ethics. I want the facts to be clear, so that people can have a meaningful debate about ethical decisions.

As a scientist, he obviously accepts the concensus view that we need to stop using fossil fuels, and fast. He points out that nine-tenths of the electrical power in Britain comes from fossil fuels, so replacing it means increasing the amount of every other form of energy by a factor of 10, or some equivalent mix.

The British are famous for opposing change. Brits are opposed to having windmills, wave-machines, or nuclear power stations anywhere near them, protest groups will spring up like daisies anywhere you propose to put them. There are currently about 2400 wind turbines in Britain; if we were to attempt to power Britain from wind alone, we would need 600,000 of them. That’s 6 wind turbines per square mile (2.5 per square kilometer). Next time someone tells you that Britain could be powered by wind alone, ask them where they’re going to put all those turbines!

Steel, concrete, and land-use by wind, solar thermal, and nuclear power, from bravenewclimate.com

Steel, concrete, and land-use by wind, solar thermal, and nuclear power, from bravenewclimate.com

Nor is it easy to construct that many wind turbines. They take a lot of steel and concrete to build, and a lot of cable to connect them to the electrical grid. Barry Brook has an excellent article about the cost and effort of building such infrastructure (I’ve borrowed one of his charts, on the right).

Barry is not the only one speaking out, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers have recently criticised the UK government for setting climate-targets without providing the support needed to make them happen. They say there’s no way to build that much new infrastructure without a significant change of strategy.

I’m sure they’re right, but I’m not convinced by some of their proposals for solving the problem, which include carbon capture and storage (as yet unproven) and building ‘artificial trees’ (also unproven technology). I guess engineers would naturally choose an engineering solution! However, they also propose giving much more authority to the DECC, where David MacKay has just started work, and that sounds like a great idea to me.

David has a real knack for putting all these facts and figures into easily understandable forms. But rather than me telling you about him, why not take a look at the video and see for yourself. It’s only six minutes long. (Thanks to Charles Barton of The Nuclear Green Revolution, which is where I found it!)

If you like the video, why not read David’s book, or maybe start with his own 10-page synopsis of it if you’re pressed for time. You’ll get a clear, no-nonsense analysis of what it means to power Britain with sustainable energy, with no politics attached. Though his analysis is specific to the UK, many of the lessons apply elsewhere, of course.

I find it very encouraging that the UK government has decided to listen to David. I hope more people do too, he’s someone we can all understand.

Gardening over for the year…?

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

plant tubs, covered for the winter

plant tubs, covered for the winter

The garden is finished for the year, which is a shame because it’s been a lot of fun. We had the last of our lettuce just a few days ago. It was surviving nicely due to the lack of frost, though it was hardly growing anymore, it’s too cold now. I’m surprised it has lasted so well, I wish I’d planted more towards the end of the summer!

Today I ‘officially’ closed the garden by covering the big plant tubs with their water-trays, to avoid having the winter rains leech out all the nutrients before the next growing season. I’d never really paid much attention to how soil in pots gets depleted of its nutrients before, but that was brought home to me this year. The white tub that I have had for many years grew tiny sunflowers compared to those with new soil, which were three or four times bigger. Shame on me, I should have known better.

I don’t want to use chemical fertilisers, I don’t want to replace the soil in the pots, and I don’t think I can realistically put a compost heap on my terrace, so I’m trying something different. I’m digging small, deep holes in the soil, and burying vegetable peelings in them. Hopefully, over winter, they will rot down enough to feed the soil without also rotting next years plants. Maybe it will work, maybe not, we’ll see!

Our garden has been quite productive, and we’ve enjoyed the produce from it. A recent study claims that organic food is no healthier than normal food, but that study completely ignored the use of pesticides in conventional agriculture. I’ve read enough to convince me that pesticide-free veggies are a good thing. Of course, there are other benefits to growing your own vegetables, such as reducing food-miles.

Food-miles are a measure of the amount of fuel needed to transport food from the farm to your plate. That fuel all contributes to climate-change by emitting greenhouse-gasses, so getting your food locally means less global warming. You can’t get more local than your own garden, so growing your own food is good for the planet too!

On a larger scale, organic farming is also beneficial in the fight against climate change in other ways. Organic farming feeds the soil, not the plant, and doing so means that the soil will absorb and hold more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than chemical-intensive methods. The Carbon Farmers of America have taken this one step further, deliberately adopting farming techniques to optimise carbon sequestration, and making farms more productive in the process. The story of the farms of “Yobarnie” and “Nevallan”, in Australia, is quite an eye-opening account of how well such techniques work.

So your organic garden may be good for the climate, as well as providing good food. I could have squeezed a few more vegetables out of our garden this year, but I’m glad I left some space for sunflowers instead. Apart from being pretty in their own right, they’ve been feeding the bees all summer, and now feed the birds, long after nearly everything else out there has finished. If you look closely at the photo below you’ll see there are 6 goldfinches, quite a sight!

goldfinches galore

goldfinches galore

great tit and goldfinch on sunflower

great tit and goldfinch on sunflower

Nor is it just goldfinches, we’ve had great-tits too. As you can see, they’re not timid about getting their share, this one was quite happy to push in while the goldfinches were feeding. He’s more agile than the goldfinches, so manages to get his way.

Other birds have benefited from both the goldfinches and the great tits dropping seeds on the ground. Black Redstarts and sparrows often forage around the pots while the other birds are doing their stuff. Sparrows may be plain compared to other birds, but they’re still fun to watch. Here’s 3 of them looking on while a fourth is dipping into the bowl of water we put out for them. You can’t easily tell, but he was taking a bath at the time.

sparrow bathtime

sparrow bathtime

Finally, although the garden outdoors is finished for the year, we’re still growing something! Dweezeljazz has got the bug now, and is growing fresh shoots of all sorts for our salads. They’re very easy to grow, using a neat little gadget from Satoriz, and make a welcome addition to our meals. Thank you, Dweezeljazz.

salad shoots

salad shoots

A Bug hotel

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

lacewing

lacewing

Winter is approaching, and change is in the air. We’re wrapping up warmer these days, and we’re not the only ones. Insects, such as this lacewing, are looking for a safe place to spend the winter. This year, I’m trying to help them.

There are lots of places on the web where you can get good information about the type of home that you can provide for insects for the winter. They range from simple things like a pile of leaves in a wire cage to more elaborate and attractive DIY projects like the one at Herbs and Dragonflies. Other sites have more detailed information, such as the Paignton Home Garden & Allotment Society, or the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. For the ultimate in accomodation for garden wildlife, take a look at the invertebrate habitat they designed as part of their exhibit at the 2005 RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

bamboo pieces

bamboo pieces

I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as that, maybe next year, who knows! I put together a simple bug-home from a plastic container, a few pieces of bamboo, and a bit of string. I started by sawing off the bamboo into sections, just behind the knuckles so that each section is closed at one end. Many of the sections were still filled with pith, I used a long drill-bit to clean them out.

assembled ladybird house

assembled ladybird house

Then I made four holes in the plastic container, two at the top, two at the bottom. The holes are spaced about a quarter of the way around the container, and the pairs of holes line up along the axis of the container. Oh just look at the picture, you’ll get the idea!

I threaded two pieces of string, one in and out of the top pair of holes, one in and out of the bottom. Then I stacked the bamboo in the container, with the closed ends inside of course! Pack the bamboo in tight, so that it holds itself firmly.

I made sure that the string was looped around the bamboo inside the container, so that when I pull it tight it will hold the bamboo tighter together. Otherwise, the string might just tear through the plastic over time, and that would not be good.

 

ladybird house mounted on fence

ladybird house mounted on fence

Then I simply tied it to our fence. It’s deliberately placed on a slight downward angle, to prevent water running down into the bamboo and drowning any unsuspecting occupants. It’s also close to our wall, and facing it, so that it gets protection from direct rain and winds.

My only question is, how will I know if there’s anyone living in there? Any ideas?

Climate Action Day in Ferney-Voltaire

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

350.org logoClimate Action Day was yesterday, October 24th. It was organised by 350.org, and there were about 5200 events worldwide. One such event was ‘Picnic for the Planet‘, held in Ferney-Voltaire, organised by Paul (thanks Paul!). Ferney-Voltaire is just down the road from me, so Dweezeljazz and I went along. We gathered by the statue of Voltaire himself for a photo after the picnic. I think Voltaire would probably have approved of our actions, he was quite a force for change in his own day.

Picnic for the Planet, in Ferney-Voltaire

Picnic for the Planet, in Ferney-Voltaire

Climate Action Day was intended to send a message to politicians ahead of the December Climate Conference in Copenhagen, the message that people want atmospheric carbon dioxide reduced to a maximum of 350 parts per million (ppm).

Why 350 ppm? The 350.org site has a page explaining it. If you want a more detailed scientific explanation, you can take a look at Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? (Open Atmos. Sci. J. (2008), vol. 2, pp. 217-231), by Jim Hansen et.al. The bottom line is that, if atmospheric CO2 levels remain higher than that for any length of time, the earth’s climate will change change out of all recognition. A great many species will go extinct and many vital ecosystems will be destroyed. Our lifestyle, anywhere on the planet, will become a lot more difficult to sustain, as whole countries become uninhabitable.

Of course, this would be a very bad thing!

Reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 ppm is entirely possible, the difficulties are political rather than technical. It’s difficult to get politicians to see past the next election, so they’re reluctant to embark on anything that requires global co-operation for a number of decades. If they go to Copenhagen with that attitude, they’re unlikely to solve the problem. We need a climate-change treaty that is fair, ambitious, and binding, and the sooner we get it, the better.

That’s the message we need ringing in the ears of our politicians as they go to Copenhagen, and that’s what Climate Action Day was all about. Picnic for the Planet was only one of the events yesterday. Take a look at the 350.org homepage, they have a slideshow of the photos people have sent in from all over the world, or visit the 350 blog. It’s impressive to see how many people took part. Anything that gets active participation from people in over 180 countries must surely count for something!

Personal experience of climate change

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009Today is Blog Action Day 2009, and the subject for this year is climate change.

I’ve learned a lot about climate change in recent years, but nothing brings home an academic lesson like a little personal experience. I got that when I visited Chamonix at the beginning of August. I particularly enjoy the view from Brevent, on the opposite side of the valley to Mont Blanc itself. From there, on a clear day, you can enjoy an unsurpassed view of Mont Blanc and its surroundings. The panoramic restaurant at Planpraz does some very good desserts. While you sit there soaking up sunshine and calories, you get the best view possible of the Glacier des Bossons, straight across the valley from you.

I have been to Chamonix many times, summer and winter, since about 20 years ago. That’s not a long time really, I’m not exactly old! Nonetheless, as I looked across the valley in August, I realised I could see for myself that the glacier des Bossons has retreated a lot in that time.

Glaciers around the world have been retreating for a long time, I know, and have even caused the border between Switzerland and Italy to change. I don’t know why I was so surprised to realise that I could see it for myself. Here are two photos to prove it, both taken by me, from Brevent. On the left is a view from July 1993, on the right, August 2009. The views aren’t taken from exactly the same place, but you can see common features in them.

In the 2009 photo, you can see the bottom half of the glacier is almost separated from the top part by a clearly visible band of rock, running across the top of the picture. You can see that there is a thick shelf of ice, above the rock, that breaks away as it crosses the line of rock. In the 1993 photo, that band of rock is nowhere visible. Then, the ice was thick enough to cover the rock completely. That gives a fair idea of how much the glacier has melted since I have been visiting Chamonix. I can only imagine how Fernand Pareau feels about it, he’s been watching the glaciers retreat for much longer than I have. In Fernands own words:

Même les glaciers ne veulent plus nous voir, ils reculent!

Even the glaciers don’t want to know us, they back away!

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, July 1993

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, July 1993

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, August 2009

Glacier des Bossons seen from Brevent, Chamonix, August 2009

 

Glaciers are important for many people. Switzerland depends on its glaciers for drinking water and hydro-electric power (which supplies half of their electricity). With predictions that these glaciers may be gone by 2050, if not sooner, that’s not a good situation to be in. Elsewhere in the world, the story is very similar. The glaciers of the Himalayas may well disappear on the same timescale, which could seriously affect the lives of up to 750 million people who depend on them.

Nor do you have to appeal to something as dramatic as running out of water to suffer the effects of climate change. Insurance companies now factor climate change into their calulations, and you can guess who ends up paying the bill for that! Climate change could melt a hole in your pocket just as easily as it melts the glaciers.

With climate change having the potential to harm so many people, in rich and poor countries alike, it’s not surprising that more and more people want something done about it. From individuals doing what they can to big businesses calling for strong policies from world leaders, people are calling for action at all levels of society. Even most world governments realise change is needed, but without a concerted effort from all of them, tackling climate change will be that much harder.

The UNFCC conference in Copenhagen, in December, is our chance to get some common sense from our politicians. World leaders will have the opportunity there to negotiate a truly historic treaty to tackle climate change. There is no excuse for them to fail. From the viewpoints of economy, national security, food security, and health, as well as for reasons like saving polar bears and rainforests, it makes sense to stop the damage we are doing to our climate.

And yes, it is possible to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but the longer we delay, the harder it will be. Personally, I’ve seen enough of climate change, and would like not to see any more. The 350 organisation has called for people to take part in public activities on October 24th to demonstrate their support for a strong climate treaty. Why not take a look and see if there’s something near you that you can go to, add yourself to the numbers, and see if we can’t encourage our leaders to stay cool-headed in Copenhagen. Otherwise, we’ll all be in hot water eventually.

A Walk to Divonne

Sunday, October 11th, 2009
pale tussock caterpillar (Calliteara pudibunda)

pale tussock caterpillar (Calliteara pudibunda)

Summer has gone, Autumn is here. Trees are shedding leaves, flowers are fading fast, and the house-martins left a while ago. But as Jane points out in Urban Extension, sometimes there are new things to see in Autumn. I haven’t seen her special bee yet, though I’m keeping an eye on the ivy near my home. However, I have seen lots of other interesting things recently. Here’s a selection taken from a walk through the country lanes near Divonne two weeks ago.

At the top is a Pale Tussock moth caterpillar (Calliteara pudibunda). This guy was crossing the road, intent on going somewhere. I’ve never seen one of these before, but this must be the season for them, because we found another further on. They’re rather striking, the tufts make them look like a toothbrush!

There are still some flowers around, and yes, there are insects keen to visit them. This bee and the fly were just two of the more co-operative characters we encountered.

bee on purple flower

bee on purple flower

fly on flower

fly on flower

Autumn is, of course, a good time for fungi. I don’t know the names of any of these, maybe Winter Woman knows, she’s keen on fungi.

fungus among leaf-litter

fungus among leaf-litter

fungus at base of tree

fungus at base of tree

 
fungus on dead branch

fungus on dead branch

Further on, there were plenty of other insects crossing the road. On the left is a forest bug (Pentatoma rufipes). On the right is a dragonfly, a ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum), who very obligingly stayed still long enough for me to take his photograph. That doesn’t happen often.

forest bug (Pentatoma rufipes)

forest bug (Pentatoma rufipes)

ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum)

 
All the insects shown so far were actually on the road, for reasons only they know. This great green bush cricket (Tettigonia viridissima) was no exception. Dweezeljazz almost stepped on it, but she saw it just in time. It then hopped into the grass at the side of the road, making it much more photogenic. The Rhopalus subrufus on the right was on a wall in Divonne. Not exactly its native habitat, but well-placed for the shadow to show details you can’t see on the actual insect, so I’m quite happy with this shot.
great green bush cricket (Tettigonia viridissima)

great green bush cricket (Tettigonia viridissima)

Rhopalus subrufus

Rhopalus subrufus

It’s not just insects out and about in the Autumn sunshine. I was rather lucky to get a shot of the lizard before he dived under cover. The frog did dive for cover, but then drifted out to take a look, and stayed still for the photos. Very kind of him!

lizard

lizard

frog

frog

There’s still plenty of action on the plant front too. There are many flowers to be seen, even if they are mostly small and unspectacular by comparison with the competition in summer. These blue flowers are some of the largest still around. But even without flowers, there are some very pretty plants, like the Verbascum rosette. Elsewhere in our contryside, there are verbascum plants in their second year which still have some flowers left on them, bright against the brown of dying vegetation. Meanwhile, these first-year rosettes look very pretty in their own right.

blue flowers

blue flowers

verbascum rosette

verbascum rosette

Then there’s this old apple tree, which has sufferred badly in the late summer storms. Despite this, it’s still doing a good job of maturing its fruit, you can see there’s no shortage of them still on the tree. It’s clearly not giving up without a fight.

fallen apple tree

fallen apple tree