Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Environment

Monday March 27 2017

Today, in the cloudless weather ordained by our omniscient short-term weather forecasters, I took a quite long walk beside the River Lea, out east.  The clocks having just gone forward, there was suddenly a decent amount of daylight, so I took my time and just carried on walking, and now I am knackered.  So, it’s quota photo time:

image

That was taken at Canning Town, where I was switching from the Underground to the Overground.  It’s one of those I Just Like It photos, as in: I hope you like it too, but I realise it isn’t that remarkable.

There were no clouds in the sky, but there was something in the air.  Mist?  Pollution?  Whatever it was, it had the effect of turning all distant objects from their usual appearance to a flatly uniform grey, like I’d pushed some kind of Photoshop button.  Those are the Docklands Towers in the distance, looking flatly and uniformly grey.  That one pointy tower makes the whole cluster recognisable.  Increasingly, and as I think I am starting to say quite often here, I find myself valuing recognisability over mere beauty.

I don’t usually like it when street lamps get in the way.  (Street lamps in London always get in the way, of every picture I ever try to take, or so it sometimes seems.) But I rather like the way these ones have come out.  The nearer one frames the view rather nicely, and the more distant one poses in a dignified way, in a way that fits in well with the rectangular shapes in the gas-holder.

I totally trust the weather forecasters.  I left my umbrella behind, and wore fewer clothes than ever before this year.  And it worked.  No rain, no cold.  And not quite so knackered from carrying unnecessary garments.  But still knackered.  So that is all, and I wish you all a very good night.

Sunday March 19 2017

It’s always sad when a bridge collapses, and there is a special poignancy about the recent collapse, in Malta, of this one:

image

That picture comes from the best report (courtesy the BBC) that I could find of this sad circumstance, the best because it had both a before and an after picture, of the bridge, and then of the same place, but without the bridge.

Malta’s famous Azure Window rock arch has collapsed into the sea after heavy storms.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the news was “heartbreaking”.

The Azure Window rock arch didn’t collapse because the top of the arch failed.  Rather did the pillar in the sea succumb to erosion.

Here’s wishing Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Dorsetshire …:

image

… happiness and long life.

Wednesday February 22 2017

The chapter of Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography (see also these earlier excerpts: Africa is (still) big. And Africa’s rivers don’t help, Tim Marshall on the illiberal and undemocratic Middle East) that I found the most informative was the one on The Arctic, because this is the part of the world that he writes about concerning which I know the least.  How catastrophic - if catastrophic at all - global warming will eventually become, and whose fault it will be if it ever does become catastrophic and what to do about it , are all matters of fierce dispute.  But the fact of global warming is not in doubt, as Marshall explains (pp. 267-271):

That the ice is receding is not in question - satellite imaging over the past decade clearly shows that the ice has shrunk - only the cause is in doubt. Most scientists are convinced that man is responsible, not merely natural climate cycles, and that the coming exploitation of what is unveiled will quicken the pace.

Already villages along the Bering and Chukchi coasts have been relocated as coastlines are eroded and hunting grounds lost. A biological reshuffle is under way. Polar bears and Arctic foxes are on the move, walruses find themselves competing for space, and fish, unaware of territorial boundaries, are moving northward, depleting stocks for some countries but populating others. Mackerel and Atlantic cod are now being found in Arctic trawler nets.

The effects of the melting ice won’t just be felt in the Arctic: countries as far away as the Maldives, Bangladesh and the Netherlands are at risk of increased flooding as the ice melts and sea levels rise. These knock-on effects are why the Arctic is a global, not just a regional, issue.

As the ice melts and the tundra is exposed, two things are likely to happen to accelerate the process of the greying of the ice cap. Residue from the industrial work destined to take place will land on the snow and ice, further reducing the amount of heat-reflecting territory. The darker-coloured land and open water will then absorb more heat than the ice and snow they replace, thus increasing the size of the darker territory. This is known as the Albedo effect, and although there are negative aspects to it there are also positive ones: the warming tundra will allow significantly more natural plant growth and agricultural crops to flourish, helping local populations as they seek new food sources.

There is, though, no getting away from the prospect that one of the world’s last great unspoiled regions is about to change. Some climate-prediction models say the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by the end of the century; there are a few which predict it could happen much sooner. What is certain is that, however quickly it happens and dramatic the reduction will be, it has begun.

The melting of the ice cap already allows cargo ships to make the journey through the Northwest Passage in the Canadian archipelago for several summer weeks a year, thus cutting at least a week from the transit time from Europe to China. The first cargo ship not to be escorted by an icebreaker went through in 2014. The Nunavik carried 23,000 tons of nickel ore from Canada to China. The polar route was 40 per cent shorter and used deeper waters than if it had gone through the Panama Canal. This allowed the ship to carry more cargo, saved tens of thousands of dollars in fuel costs and reduced the ship’s greenhouse emissions by 1,300 metric tons. By 2040 the route is expected to be open for up to two months each year, transforming trade links across the ‘High North’ and causing knock -on effects as far away as Egypt and Panama in terms of the revenues they enjoy from the Suez and Panama canals.

The north-east route, or Northern Sea Route as the Russians call it, which hugs the Siberian coastline, is also now open for several months a year and is becoming an increasingly popular sea highway.

The melting ice reveals other potential riches. It is thought that vast quantities of undiscovered natural gas and oil reserves may lie in the Arctic region in areas which can now be accessed. In 2008 the United States Geological Survey estimated that 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 44 billion barrels of natural gas liquids and 90 billion barrels of oil are in the Arctic, with the vast majority of it offshore. As more territory becomes accessible, extra reserves of the gold, zinc, nickel and iron already found in part of the Arctic may be discovered.

ExxonMobil, Shell and Rosneft are among the energy giants that are applying for licences and beginning exploratory drilling. Countries and companies prepared to make the effort to get at the riches will have to brave a climate where for much of the year the days are endless night, where for the majority of the year the sea freezes to a depth of more than six feet and where, in open water, the waves can reach forty feet high.

It is going to be dirty, hard and dangerous work, especially for anyone hoping to run an all-year-round operation. It will also require massive investment. Running gas pipelines will not be possible in many places, and building a complex liquefaction infrastructure at sea, especially in tough conditions, is very expensive. However, the financial and strategic gains to be made mean that the big players will try to stake a claim to the territories and begin drilling, and that the potential environmental consequences are unlikely to stop them.

Monday November 28 2016

Today I visited Tottenham, and I intend to return tomorrow, both expeditions having been prompted by these two weather forecasts:

imageimageimage

That I have already decided this evening where I will be going tomorrow, and that I already knew last night what I was going to do today, is typical of how I now do these expeditions.  Trying to work out, in the morning, where I’ll go that day, given that the day is turning out nice, tends not to work so well.  Being old and tired and physically lazy, I have to have an interesting and attractive destination in mind as soon as the day starts, in order to force me out the front door soon enough for the expedition to amount to something.

In this respect, I am turning into my Dad.  When I was a kid I used to tease my Dad about all the planning that would go into family expeditions, and he used to justify this with questions starting with the words “What if?” What if, we get into an accident?  What if, one of us gets sick?  What if, the trains are disrupted?  We need a plan capable of taking care of everything.  I used to think he was being over-cautious, and that we ought to just get started and deal with problems as and when they happened, which they mostly wouldn’t.

Well, as I get older, I become less good at adapting, by which I mean that I can change a plan in mid plan, but that it takes longer and is more stressful.

But more fundamentally, I now suspect that my Dad may have needed his plan just to get him going at all.  Without a plan to drive the expedition forward, with artificially created deadlines and reasonably enticing objectives, maybe he just wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy he needed to lead us forth into the world at all.  Like me, he knew that he would be happier if he did get stuck into an expedition, and would be depressed if all he did was sit at home doing this or that amusing but trivial thing.  So, he would devise plans to make himself do what he wanted to do.  My Dad’s plans were not as he sold them to me, mere precautions.  His plans were energisers.

But maybe that’s just me.

Friday July 08 2016

When cute wildlife kills other cute wildlife, it has to be handled delicately:

‘We ask that members of the public exercise patience during this time. The City hopes to trap the caracal, collar the animal with a radio tracking device and to move it away from the penguin colony, but still within its current home range. …’

That’s 6k quoting from this.  Says 6k:

Wouldn’t get that in the Kruger National Park, now would you?

I’m guessing: not.

Until today, I had no idea what a caracal was.  Blog and learn.  You mean you still don’t know?  Here you go.  Basically, it’s a big cat (or a small lion-coloured leopard) with big pointy ears.

Latin name of caracal: caracal caracal.

Thursday May 19 2016

Another French picture, but this time taken in Paris, by my friend Antoine Clarke (to whom thanks):

image

That would be La Defense, unless I am much mistaken, that being Paris’s new Big Thing district.

I cropped that photo slightly, to moderate that leaning-inwards effect you get when you point a camera upwards at tall buildings.

imageThe email that brought the above snap to my desk, earlier this month, was entitled “warmer than when you were here last”.  When I last visited Paris, it was indeed very, very cold, so cold that water features became ice features (see the first picture there).

Today, Antoine sent me another photo, also suffering somewhat from leaning-inwards syndrome, and also cropped by me, more than somewhat.  See right.

Mostly what I think about Antoine’s most recent picture is: What an amazing crane!  So very tall, and so very thin.  It’s amazing it even stays up, let alone manages to accomplish anything.  I don’t remember cranes like that existing a generation ago, but maybe that’s merely because no towers that high were being built in London.  Not that Antoine’s crane is in London.  It is somewhere in America, but where, I do not know.

I just did a bit of googling for books about cranes, and if my googling is anything to go by, books about construction cranes and their history are a lot thinner on the ground than are construction cranes.  When you consider how many tons of books have been written about the buildings that construction cranes construct, it is surprising that so little is written about the mighty machines without which such construction would be impossible.

It reminds me of the analogous profusion of books on the history of science, and the comparative neglect of the history of scientific instruments.

As I think I have written before, one major defect of my blog-posting software is that I do not get an accurate picture of how the final blog posting will look, and in this case, whether there is enough verbiage on the left hand side of this tall thin picture of a tall thin crane, to prevent the picture of the tall thin crane impinging upon the posting below.  Hence this somewhat verbose and superfluous paragraph, which may not even have been necessary, but I can’t now tell.

Monday May 09 2016

The weather in Thuir and surrounding parts yesterday and today has been grim, in sharp contrast to the weather at the end of last week.

Here is that sharp (as in sharp and then not at all sharp) contrast:

imageimage

On the left, the weather last week, as viewed from the top of the house I am staying in.  On the right, the weather viewed from the same spot this afternoon.  The weather on the left was the sort that decreased the apparent force of gravity.  The weather now is the sort that you describe yourself as being under.

Note that it is not only the far away Pyrenees that have disappeared in the right hand picture.  The further away bit of the much nearer, green bit of the landscape has also vanished under cloud.

These two pictures (click on either to get it bigger) both involved a lot of cropping, and fiddling about to get the cropping exactly (or approximately exactly) so.  Without Photocat, I could never have done it.

I am looking forward to maybe (I promise nothing) doing similar before-and-after snaps involving recently constructed buildings in London.

Tuesday April 12 2016

Being sick as in feeling sick, and occasionally being sick as in being sick.  As in expelling stuff I had previous eaten from my mouth.

Quota photo time:

image

There is so much light crashing across London from west to east that evening the eastern clouds were lit up pink, like they were a sunset or something.  So I know what you are thinking.  It must have been one hell of a sunset to do that.  And you are not wrong:

image

If I wasn’t sick I probably wouldn’t indulge in such a lurid sunset, which I photoed last Saturday evening on Tower Bridge.  But I am sick.  I can do what I like.

Actually, it’s already getting better.  But wish me well anyway.

Wednesday April 06 2016

I like trees without leaves for many reasons.  One is that you can put them in front of Big Things and still see the Big Things.

And another is that without leaves in the way, I get to enjoy the peculiar sculptural effects contrived in and on trees by the pruning process.

Consider this photo, which I took this February, looking across Vincent Square towards Parliament and the river:

image

Ignore the wheel with the bobbles on it.  Forget the pointy tower on the left.  Consider those trees, and the strange shapes of their branches, caused by pruning.

A particular effect that such pruning causes is when a quite thick branch is lopped off, and the result is like a fist, holding lots more much thinner branches.

Here is another photo, taken down by the river in 2010, which shows that effect:

image

Again, forget about the spiky footbridge in the middle of the picture and that crane behind it, which is obviously what I thought I was photoing at the time, with the trees as a mere frame.  Look at the trees, with their big thick branches, that suddenly stop (because of pruning) and then burst out in all directions with lots of much smaller branches.

The photo I’ve been able to track down in my archives that best illustrates this effect is of some trees at the junction between Rochester Row and Vauxhall Bridge Road:

image

I seem to recall that Rochester Row has lots of trees thus truncated, which I also seem to recall photoing, several times.  But I was unable to find any such photos.

What this particular snap shows very well is how the tree, once pruned, sometimes sort of blows the end of itself up into a balloon, before the new branches finally manage to burst out, hence the fist effect.  I’m thinking especially of what happened on the right in the above picture.

The reason I went rootling through my archives for snaps of this sort was that when walking along beside the somewhat distant-from-London reaches of the New River, in the vicinity of Enfield, with GodDaughter One last Saturday, we encountered the most extreme example I have ever seen of a tree that has been pruned into a different shape to the one it would naturally have adopted.

Feast your eyes on this:

image

Is that not one of the weirdest things you have ever seen?  It looks more like something for swimming in the sea than like a tree.

This snap was snapped at one of the entrances to Enfield Town Park, or Town Park as they call it in Enfield.  You can see the New River in the background.  Had we succeeded in sticking closer to the New River at that particular point in our wanderings, we would have missed this.

What was the pruner thinking, I wonder?  Did he think that he had ended this tree’s growth?  If so, shouldn’t he or someone have painted over the top, to stop it growing some more?  Or, was he actually going for this effect?  Was this some kind of experiment?  Who can say?  Whatever the explanation, I’m glad that this was done and that I got to photo, and to bring it to the attention of the world, this remarkable effect.

Tuesday April 05 2016

Today I made the mistake of going out to do something before I had shoved something up here.  So this is not a complicated posting.  It’s a rubbish lorry, which I photoed today, just before doing something, near the Angel tube station:

image

Dirty Harry’s Waste Management, of Chingford, would seem to be the kind of enterprise that doesn’t have its own website.  It is merely mentioned on lots of other websites, of the sort that enable you to do research on enterprises that don’t have websites.

The art on the side of this rubbish collecting lorry reminds me of that on these Wicked Campers.

Saturday April 02 2016

Here is a sunny evening photo from a few days back, just after the clocks had moved forward.  The sun got the email, and was shining enthusiastically at an amazingly late hour.  But the tree is still in its winter, skeletal form.  Which I like:

image

Today will be a day out with G(od)D(aughter) One, in weather that now looks like it was ordered via a website where you can decide, except that apparently there’ll be rain in the early evening instead of a sunny early evening like it was for the above photo.  “Showers”, they said last night on the telly.  That could mean anything from spectacular clouds to total dreariness.  We shall see.

Whatever.  Spring is definitely here.

This morning’s weather looks, from out of my kitchen window, like this:

image

The building work opposite will probably never look as pretty again as it does now.  I feel rather the same about many new buildings, of the more serviceable and vernacular sort, as I do about trees, preferring such buildings also when they are still at the skeletal stage.

Sunday March 13 2016

The weather over the weekend has been excellent, but I have been stuck indoors watching the Six Nations, which England have just won, even though there’s a still another weekend to go, thanks to Scotland beating France today.

I nearly went out today, despite the rugby, which I could have watched the recording of instead of watching it live.  But this ...:

image

... which is the London weather forecast for tomorrow, persuaded me to postpone going out until tomorrow, since the weather tomorrow is also going to be good.  Weather forecasts this near to the actual time they forecast are always accurate.

But, where to go.  I am fast running out of new places in London to visit.  I know that this is not true, but - rather bizarrely - that is how it now feels to me.  And in order to make a proper early start, I need a predetermined destination to get me going.  But, which destination?  Memo to self: before bed tonight, I need to have fixed on something enticing.

What I am already thinking about is to go south, on foot.  Across Vauxhall Bridge, maybe, but then, instead of going somewhere from Vauxhall Station, or walking along beside the river, I have in mind to go onwards, inland, in a south-westerly direction.  What is Kennington Park?  Can Big Things be seen from that?  Time to find out.  Then maybe wander in the general direction of the City, towards the Big Things.

Important.  The mobile phone needs to be powered up, because I will need to know where I am at all times.

Friday February 19 2016

So, I’m about half way through telling the massed ranks of BMdotcom readers about an excellent day out with G(od)D(aughter) One, which was many months ago, now.  My last posting about that was done at the end of last year.  And there you were thinking, what with this no longer being last year, the year in which the excellent day out happened, I was all done with that day.  Oh no.  There’s lots more to be said about it.  It feels to me like I’ve hardly started.

Today, since this is Friday, cat day, and more recently non-human creatures of any kind day, here are, not actual creatures, but some vans which I snapped that day, which illustrate some of the contrasting attitudes that we humans used to have and have now towards non-humans.

We eat non-human creatures:

image

We use sculpted non-human creatures to carry us on roundabouts

image

We also make use of real non-human creatures in circuses to entertain us, circuses and entertain us humans.  Or, we used to.  This kind of things has become rather old school and unfashionable, on account of it being considered cruel.

Now, that sort of entertainment has been almost entirely replaced by the pleasure we get from conserving and staring at non-human creatures:

image

One of the places they supervise was my November shot in the retrospective photo-essay I did for Samizdata at the end of last year.

Sunday January 17 2016

My life, in this digital century, has contained quite a lot of wonderful expeditions which I never got around to mentioning here.  Take the trip that I and G(od)D(aughter) 1 made to Beckton Sewage Works, on September 21st 2013.  The only time I mentioned this here, it would seem, was in this posting, where I mentioned that I otherwise did not mention it.

So, to go some way towards correcting that, here is a picture of some birds that I took that day:

image

You want to know why London contains so many birds?  Sewage processing, that’s why.  Birds love that.  The Beckton Sewage Works is one great big open air bird canteen.

And here is a picture of a sign that I took, which explains that a huge new sewage tunnel was in the process of being constructed, at the time of our visit:

image

More about that here:

The 75-metre deep Beckton overflow shaft is the entry point for the Lee Tunnel, a £635million project just as ambitious as the more highly-publicised Crossrail. Over the past five years, engineers have built a 6km tunnel stretching from Beckton up to Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, east London. The Lee Tunnel will help prevent more than 16 million tons of sewage from overflowing into the River Lee each year by capturing it and taking it down to Beckton. The sewage treatment works itself is being upgraded and expanded by 60 per cent to enable it to deal with the increased volume.

And the Lee Tunnel is just the first phase of the even more ambitious Thames Tideway Tunnel, a 25km tunnel that will handle sewage from Acton in west London through to Abbey Mills in the east. The Thames Tideway Tunnel will deal with the 34 most polluting overflow points along the Thames. Work on the £4.2billion project, known popularly as the London super sewer, starts in earnest in 2017 with engineers pulling the chain, so to speak, in 2023.

And here is another photo I took that day, which I include in this posting because I like it:

image

Behind that fence may, or may not, be activity associated with the digging of the big tunnel.  But, I think it was.

Friday December 25 2015

Happy Christmas, as and when you get around to reading this.

The weather this Christmas has been terrible.  Warm, yes, but relentlessly cloudy and rainy.  It seems like it’s been raining in London ever since I said here early last month that in London rain is quite rare.  Wednesday was a brief respite, which the weather forecasters duly noted beforehand, but yesterday and today it’s back to mostly cloudy and rainy.  So here is some Christmas photo-cheer from just before Christmas last year, when the weather was mostly what it should be around this time, suitably cold and frequently bright and sunny.

I mentioned earlier my intention to focus of a Friday on non-deline as well as feline members of the animal kingdom.  This fine beast was to be seen last Christmas outside the old Covent Garden Market, where they used to sell fruit and veg - all that having moved to this place - and where they now sell stuff.

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And here are two more photos, of the beast’s head, with a dose of that proper Christmas weather behind it, and of the sign at the beast’s feet, about how you mustn’t molest it in any way:

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BrianMicklethwaitDotCom would not be BrianMicklethwaitDotCom if I hadn’t photoed photoers and stuck some of the resulting photos up here, so here are some of the many other photoers who photoed this reindeer.  The first two have the reindeer on their screens:

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And my favourite one didn’t have anything on her screen that I could see, but did have reindeers on her excellent woolly top.

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Relevant website.  Like I said, stuff.