Archive for October, 2009

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

Goldfinches

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

In my last post, I showed a picture of a goldfinch feeding on one of our sunflowers. That was the only photo I had at the time, and I was hoping to get something better than that. I didn’t have long to wait, these pictures were taken just a day or two later!

According to the RSPB, goldfinches can be seen all year round. Where I live, they seem to find somewhere else to go in summer, we haven’t seen them since Spring. Before that, we would regularly see a group of a dozen or so birds feeding on the teasels not far from our window.

We shall be putting out seed for them through the winter. Any bird, especially one that colourful, is welcome in our garden.

goldfinches on sunflowers

goldfinches on sunflowers


are you finding anything...?

are you finding anything...?


these seeds aren't easy...

these seeds aren't easy...


Oi! Did you just take my photograph?

Oi! Did you just take my photograph?