June 25, 2007

Ford to World: "We Promise Global Warming, Melting Glaciers and Dead Polar Bears"

An ad campaign launched today by Ford India seems to be making a mockery of worldwide resistance to global warming. It shows an iceberg apparently destroyed by the SUV and a couple of polar bears stranded on a thin ice sheet.

Top: Close-up view of their ad. Click to see complete background of the ad. The image was downloaded from Ford's site and was available here (ZIP file) at the time of posting.

Left: The complete full-page ad from The Hindustan Times, June 25, 2007.

I woke up this morning to find this shocking full-page ad in the newspaper. My first thought: "Could they be any more INSENSITIVE?" What were they thinking by placing a large honking SUV in front of an iceberg that seems to have been destroyed by it? What are they trying to say? That the "beastly power" (their term used in the ad) of the new 4X4 Ford Endeavour is capable of destruction beyond the roads? If so, then that would be spot on.

Or were they trying to laugh at those of us who are concerned about global warming? Are they, by any chance, celebrating the recent decision of US Automobile standards organisation (CAFE) that gave US Automakers 13 more years to improve vehicle efficiency to a level that we should be getting today? I wonder if it was Al Gore that's the butt of their joke whose hit documentary last year showed increasing cases of drowning polar bears as they can't find any ice to latch on to because of global warming caused by automobiles, among other reasons.

Sarcasm apart, it's probably the work of an ignorant graphic designer approved by some equally dim executives at Ford. That said, this is height of ignorance. No topic has attracted as much media coverage worldwide in recent months as climate change. Papers have devoted special supplements, magazine after magazine continues to come out with special "Green" issues and talk show hosts have gone hoarse talking about the topic. Heck, even 5-year old kids know that polar bears are dying because of global warming...

India, which woke up late (around Feb 2007 after the first IPCC report) to the issue of climate change has now witnessed enough media coverage for it to be quite well known. Arvind Mathew, president and MD of Ford India, would have to be living in a cave to not see the connection with the depiction in this ad.

One thing is clear though, this would never have happened in the U.S. If this ad is released there today, Ford would be lynched. Despite their sorry environmental record, all U.S. automakers have been under tremendous public pressure recently to appear green. Ford U.S. has even been running pro-green ad-campaigns, which incidentally, have also featured polar bears but there they are shown as protected and with care "to ensure that the images are anatomically and scientifically correct".

Ford, in U.S. has also been touting its top-10 green credentials, which at #1 includes, not improved efficiency, but, hold-your-breath: seat covers made of recycled fabric!

Thanks to AutoblogGreen for all the coverage of green issues in the U.S. auto industry. I wonder if our friends there (Sebatian, Mike, Sam?) can ask Ford U.S. for a comment.

UPDATE: If you're just as outraged at this as I am, write to Ford and demand an explanation.

UPDATE 2: Am I over blowing it?

Some of you may think I'm fussing over something trivial. Maybe I overstated it in the heat of things, but there are a bunch of things here that pushed me over the edge...

  • SUVs represent everything that's wrong with the auto industry.
  • They are less safe than the regular cars and on top of that they give the illusion of greater safety.
  • SUVs are also less fuel efficient than regular cars which themselves are far less efficient to begin with.
  • They have far too much space than what's needed or used for city travel.

U.S. Automakers
  • The U.S. auto industry is one of the biggest reasons we are in this mess today.
  • They've had over 100 years to look for alternatives.
  • They've had these alternative technologies for decades.
  • They conspired to destroy mass transit in the middle of last century.
  • They have a history of suppression of new technology.
  • In a more just world, the U.S. automakers would be prosecuted in court. Maybe one day they would be.

Internal Combustion Engine
  • It's a disgrace that the predominant mode of personal travel in the 21st century is still the massively inefficient internal combustion engine.
  • At just around 20% mechanical engine efficiency, they are the most inefficient modes of transport.
  • At less than 1% of well-to-wheel efficiency they waste 99% energy which should be a criminal offense.
  • Yet they are sold to public as high-technology, a panacea.

(I can substantiate each of the above statements if anyone wants me to, but I think there's nothing new here. All of this is quite well known. The problem is, we're so surrounded by mediocrity and inefficiency that we learn to ignore it.)

So my contempt for the internal combustion engine, the U.S. automakers and SUVs, together with my concern for global warming combined to lead to an outburst when I saw that ad.

Notes and links

Ford-India microsite for Endeavour 4X4. Find the picture in downloads section.
News coverage of the launch of the new Endeavour
New CAFE standards announced for US automakers
Official website of Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth
Pro-green ad campaigns run by Ford in U.S.
Top-10 Green achievements of Ford

Polar bear trivia: Bush administration, which has long been denying that global warming is dangerous, first conceded it late last year when they called for protection of polar bears. Later, in March 2007 however, Bush barred scientists travelling abroad from talking on polar bears or climate change.

June 24, 2007

Quote: On the Failure of Non-Violence

And so, today, to me, the debate in all this connects up to a very much bigger question in the world which is that here you have a movement, 15 years of the most spectacular non-violent resistance movement in a country like India. The NBA has used every single democratic institution it could. It has put forward the most reasoned, moderate arguments that you can find, and it's been just thrown aside like garbage, even by an institution like the Supreme Court of India, even in the face of evidence that you cannot argue with.

So, I keep saying this that if we don't respect non-violence, then violence becomes the only option for people. If governments do not show themselves to respect reasoned, non-violent resistance then by default they respect violence.

-- Arundhati Roy, in a September 2003 interview, speaking on the failure of Narmada Bachao Andolan and its implications for Indian democracy.

In a way, Roy predicted - three years ago - the changing face of resistance movements around the country that we're witnessing today in Nandigram and elsewhere.

Related links

The "Failure Of Non-Violence Bothers Me"
(Access requires free registration. Quote: p-5)

All of Arundhati Roy's writings and interviews from Outlook magazine

June 20, 2007

James Hansen Calls on Scientists to Be Assertive About Climate Change

World's leading scientist on climate change has issued a call to other scientists to get together and clearly communicate the threat of rising sea level

Dr. James Hansen, head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a longtime critic of US policy towards climate change is another hero of mine. Hansen has been called a "whistle blower" in the past for his role in exposing how NASA and the Bush administration edits and censors scientific reports that go against their policy. In this post I highlight what Hansen refers to as the gap in public and scientific perception of climate change, what causes that gap and how it affects policy.

The huge gap between public and scientists

Hansen often refers to "a huge gap" that exists between "what is understood about global warming and what is known about global warming – understood by the relevant scientific community, and known by those who need to know, the public and policy-makers." He further adds that the "scientific knowledge that has emerged in the past several years is startling, and it has dramatic implications for the fate of life on this planet – if we fail to communicate it well enough to drive prompt actions."

In a recent interview, Al Gore too spoke of this gap. When asked to comment on IPCC findings, he said that recent results show IPCC's worst scenarios coming true. "Many scientists are now uncharacteristically scared," he said. As a way of explanation he added that typically what happens is that people and the media exaggerate scientific claims and the scientists themselves are conservative. But today, "this situation is exactly the reverse. Those who are most expert in the science are way more concerned than the general public" on the issue of climate change.

This is clearly is a failure of communication between the scientists and the public. James Hansen has now issued a call to fellow scientists to shed their reluctance and alert the public of the reality. The following is abstract of his paper:
I suggest that a `scientific reticence' is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

The problem with science

Hansen has been at the forefront of educating the public of the impending dangers of climate change and the need for worldwide action. Unfortunately, not all scientists are as outspoken as him. Most scientists, by the very nature of their work, are conservative people. They are paid to ask questions, to raise doubts and to pick holes in arguments and analysis. This is also how a typical peer-reviewed scientific publication works.

All that is fine, of course. You don't want junk science to bypass the filter of peer reviews and get published. The movie, An Inconvenient Truth, for example, quotes from a survey that found that in the last 10 years there were no articles in peer reviewed journals that questioned global warming. The so called "scientists" that have been questioning the phenomenon in popular media would never stand a chance of getting published because of the peer review process.

Therefore, this "scientific reticence" - the reluctance of scientists to endorse an idea wholeheartedly even with compelling evidence is an inherent part of the scientific process. The problem comes, when evidence of an idea, such as climate change, is so overwhelming that any scientific reticence hurts the process of communicating the importance of the idea. In the paper on scientific reticence, James Hansen argues:
I believe there is a pressure on scientists to be conservative. Papers are accepted for publication more readily if they do not push too far and are larded with caveats. Caveats are essential to science, being born in skepticism, which is essential to the process of investigation and verification. But there is a question of degree.

Scientific reticence and climate change

Hansen argues that this is precisely what is happening in the climate change discussion. George Monbiot recently recounted an event that's a perfect example of scientific reticence in the context of climate change:
At a meeting I attended in 2005, Sir David King, the British government’s chief scientist, proposed that a ‘reasonable’ target for stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 550ppm CO2 (which means approximately 630ppm CO2e). It would be ‘politically unrealistic’, he said, to demand anything lower. Simon Retallack from the Institute for Public Policy Research reminded Sir David that his duty is not to convey political reality but to represent scientific reality. King replied that if he recommended a lower limit, he would lose credibility with the government

So, lets get this: the chief scientist to the British Government admitted in public that he was reluctant to convey the reality of the threat to the government because he was afraid of being laughed at? Incredible as it sounds this is exactly what happened. And it's not an isolated incident either. In the paper Hansen shares his own account:
`Scientific reticence' leapt to mind as I was being questioned, and boxed-in, by a lawyer for the plaintiff in Automobile Manufacturers versus California Air Resources Board. I conceded that I was not a glaciologist. The lawyer then, with aplomb, requested that I identify glaciologists who agreed publicly with my assertion that the sea level was likely to rise more than one meter this century if greenhouse gas emissions followed an IPCC business-as-usual scenario: `Name one!'

I could not, instantly. I was dismayed, because, in conversation and e-mail exchange with relevant scientists I sensed a deep concern about likely consequences of business-as-usual global warming for ice sheet stability. What would be the legal standing of such a lame response as `scientific reticence'? Why would scientists be reticent to express concerns about something so important?

IPCC: a failure

With thousands of scientists from world over, IPCC is perhaps the biggest collaborative scientific effort in history. The three IPCC reports that have come out in recent months have had significant impact. Yet, despite the "political buy-in" (their panel had hundreds of government reps who had to agree to everything), they have failed to move the world leaders to accept any tangible cuts in emissions, as evidenced in the recently concluded G8 summit. Al Gore recently referred to the summit as a disgrace. That's not all, even scientific studies that have surfaced in past few months have repeatedly shown IPCC estimates of extent of climate change to be extremely conservative.

Therefore, if success of IPCC is to be measured in terms of conveying the reality of the science of climate change and whether it led to action, IPCC has been a dismal failure so far.

The implications of this are obvious. Scientists have the responsibility to communicate science - not to toe a political line. If they fail to deliver, the public and the policymakers remain in dark and base their decisions on a flawed sense of reality. It's like the doctor giving a patient an incorrect diagnosis of his heart condition, making him believe he's better than he actually is. If the patient continues to live the way he has in the past, very soon it may be too late to save him.

References and Links

Dr. James Hansen's latest paper: Scientific reticence and sea level rise

NYT report from Jan 2006 Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him

Hansen's earlier paper referring to the gap between public and scientists [PDF]

Al Gore's interview that carries his comment that scientists are scared

Monbiot's article and video that carry accounts of chief British scientist Sir David King admitting to what Hansen calls scientific reticence

Arctic melting beyond IPCC worst scenarios

G8 agreement a "disgrace": Al Gore<

Ethics of Climate Change: Don Brown's Impassioned Appeal to Policy Makers

A recent talk by Donald Brown at IPCC exposes the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the developed world and poses important questions for all policy makers grappling with how to respond to climate change. Video and transcript of his talk follows

Transcript of Don Brown's talk on Moral and Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change
I've tried to retain the original emphasis of the talk below, though not always successfully. Words I could not make out are left as blanks.

What are the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change?

Vice President Gore in his movie[1], I'd assume most of you saw the movie, says three times that climate change is a moral issue. And he makes this emphasis but he doesn't explain. What does it mean to say that climate change is a moral and ethical issue?

What does entail by that? I'm here to convince you that there's a lot more to the assertion that climate change is a moral and ethical issue and how important it is. How desperately important it is. That we encourage others to have this conversation about moral and ethical dimensions of climate change.

One of the reasons why this is so urgent, not only it is the steepest of the cuts we need that is so urgent but a lot of the moral and ethical issues are actually hidden in scientific and economic arguments about climate change. We need to educate others what the moral and ethical issues are.

It's not just one moral and ethical issue. It's many different moral and ethical issues. I work at Penn State, we've created a program called... a collaborative program on the ethical dimensions of climate change. We're working with 17 ethics institutes around the world on this and if this weren't such a very very very very scary problem, it'd actually also be an exciting problem because it's gonna force us to think through multi levels of institutions - how we make international law. It's going to bring every...climate change in my view is going to force us to rethink moral norms, ___ norms and international norms.

Let me dig into what we believe the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change are. There are many of them. We've identified eight major issues. What we're trying to do and what we encourage others to do is to not talk about morality or ethics in the abstract but to pay really a close attention to the international debate about climate change.

We are following the debate, teasing out at the moral and ethical issues and then doing rigorous ethical critiques of those issues. There's a paper, a White paper on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change[2]. Looks like I didn't bring enough of this. This is the first start. You'll see it's a fairly rigorous attempt to dig deeply into the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change. Let me just identify what we think are the most pressing moral and ethical issues of our time about climate change at this moment in history. These are gonna change as this debate unfolds and we attempt to try to follow it.

The first issue is, how much warming should we tolerate. Another way of stating this issue is what is the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases that this world should identify as a target. There is no more obvious moral and ethical issue than this issue. It will literally determine who lives and who dies. Whether ___ survives, whether ___ islands survive. The issue of atmospheric targets, we must see it simply not as a scientific issue but as the most profound kind of moral and ethical issue. Issue#1.

Issue#2. The world is emitting 7 billion tons of carbon. We're headed to 20 billion tons of carbon in this century under one of the IPCC scenarios. We've got to reduce the 7 to 2.5 billion tons in next thirty years. The moral issue is, how do we allocate who gets to use those two and a half billion tons of carbon. How do we allocate? Does United States get to use more per capita than China or India? There could be no more obvious moral and ethical issue than who gets the right to use the atmosphere as a sink. And it's hardly on our lips.

Issue 3. Who's gonna pay for damages from climate change? This is the issue the developing countries are now starting to bring to the negotiation. And it is also a moral ethical issue. Morals and ethics would have the 'polluter pays' principle[3] - there's this whole area of philosophy called retributive justice[4] that has a lot to say about this. This is a justice issue.

Now, they're the obvious ethical questions that climate change raises. There's a whole host of probably more important moral and ethical issues but they are hidden inside scientific and economic arguments about what we should do.

The next issue is, how about scientific uncertainty. What are the ethical and moral dimensions of scientific uncertainly. Why is no one articulating the scientific uncertainty as a moral issue. Clearly, all across the world if you do dangerous behavior, it is criminal to do very dangerous behavior and you can't use as a defense that you didn't know for sure it was going to happen. It is criminal to do very dangerous behavior. Once you have enough evidence. Once science says there's a rational risk, it is a moral issue.

In this case, there are a certain aspects of climate change which makes the excuse that United States and a couple of other countries was, for 20 years of scientific uncertainty, morally and ethically bankrupt. What are aspects of the scientific uncertainty? Well, if you wait for all uncertainty to resolve, its too late, the damage has already been caused. Those that wanna hide behind the scientific uncertainty haven't asked the victims of climate change what bet they wanna take. There are questions of procedural justice. There are enormous questions of justice involved in an attempt to use scientific uncertainty as an excuse.

But no one is calling those that want to rely upon uncertainty as an excuse and identifying that as a moral and ethical question.

Issue#5. Cost. For 20 years United States, I used to represent the Clinton administration here. I'm the former negotiator. And for 20 years we used the excuse we don't have to do anything because the cost to our economy alone is prohibitive. Think about that. One country states the costs of its economy alone when the harms are somewhere else?

There are various variations of the cost argument that we need to see in moral and ethical terms. One form of it is cost-benefit analysis. There's a whole series of dueling cost-benefit analysis about Kyoto and post-Kyoto regimes. Those cost-benefit analysis raise the most profound kind of ethical questions and no one is calling the proponents of those costs-benefit analysis about the ethical issues.

Issues such as harms and benefits are disaggregated. The fact that the cost-benefit disenfranchise future generations though discounting. The fact that cost-benefit analysis think everybody and everything in the world is a commodity. The fact that cost benefit analysis makes people in poor countries lives less valuable than people's lives in rich countries. And I could go on. The fact that people use cost-benefit analysis on this problem and people don't identify the more obvious moral and ethical questions is very strange, is very very strange.

What are the other issues? Well, the issue of no country has to do anything until everyone else does something, okay. That's the third excuse, unfortunately my country has been using for twenty years. We don't have to do anything until everyone else does something. That's a moral issue. Can a co-criminal decide that they don't have to stop their crime because the other co-criminals haven't stopped doing it? As a matter of moral and ethics, we believe that that excuse is also morally bankrupt.

What about the issue of well, we don't have to do anything until there are new less costly technologies which can be invented that would get us out of this mess. What does ethics have to say about that issue?

What about the trading regimes? Are there ethical problems in trading regimes? And there in fact could be. It all depends upon what form the trading regimes take.

The long and short of it, in the White paper what we're trying to do is to get philosophers and religious people to look at these issues rigorously and begin and deepen the ethical critique of these issues.

Now, if the world took climate change as a moral and issue, it would radically, radically change the way this is being negotiated. Countries would have to immediately admit that they have to reduce their emissions to their share of safe global emissions. Countries that have caused problems would have to admit that they have some responsibility to pay for damages and so forth.

So, the significance of seeing this as moral and ethical issue is profound, I believe, okay. And that's why I want to thank you for organizing this conference. We all need to encourage people to see this in terms of moral and ethical issues. And not talk about it in the abstract. But in terms of concrete justifications of doing something that people are not doing.

Let me just conclude by the following. Bill McKibben, who's a wonderful writer, about six years ago wrote an op-ed piece in New York Times and he said the following:

I'm sitting here wondering why Americans don't see climate change as a moral and ethical issue. It makes me think of my parents, who were really good people but did not get civil rights until they saw the dogs on the bridge in Selma, Alabama.

(Police used German Shepherd dogs to quell protesters during the American civil rights movement)

He went on to say, "it's all of our duties, it's all of our duties to help people see the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change." Especially those of us that understand the problem. We have a particular duty, in my view to get people to see the moral and ethical dimensions of this problem.

The challenge is, what are the dogs on the bridge for this problem that we can help get other people to see. Thank you.

References and Links

1. Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth
2. White Paper on the Ethical Dimensions of Climate Change (PDF)
3. Polluter pays principle
4. Retributive Justice
5. Climate change is an international emergency

June 08, 2007

Interview with George Monbiot

George Monbiot is a hero of mine. He's the only guy in the journalistic circles who gets the science of climate change right, understands the scale of the problem and is not afraid to speak his mind.

Monbiot doesn't usually give TV interviews so it was great to come across a video interview, in which he talks about: why climate change is the biggest issue facing humanity, why a war-like effort is needed to combat it, why Stern review isn't enough, why people in the West would have to be "hypocrites on an unprecedented scale" to point fingers at China, why journalists don't understand climate change, how the media censors news and what are the potential proposals to address climate change.

The link above is part-1 of the 4-part interview (~ 23 minutes in total). You will find links to other parts on the same the page. Video works quite well adapting to your bandwidth. Not to be missed.

About George Monbiot

June 04, 2007

iPhone Ad Videos

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone earlier this year, I wrote the same day that the brilliance of the iPhone lies in its user experience - not its "features" which is how the industry and the media are used to looking at cell phones ("does it have wifi, does it do 3G, infrared").

iPhone shows that it's not about what the phone can do, but how it does it.

Three iPhone ads started airing last night that focus exclusively on the user interface. To quote a seasoned Apple observer...
In over 20 years I can't remember Apple ever showing how easy it is to *use* their software. [...] their commercials are always hardware-centric with some allusions to ease-of-use but never a systematic display of their OS or app interfaces [...]

Until now. The three new iPhone commercials that started airing last night are utterly unambiguous interface showcases.

- Ziya Oz

Here are all three iPhone Ads for your viewing pleasure.

iPhone Ad: Never Been an iPod

iPhone Ad: How to

iPhone Ad: Calamari

High resolution versions of ads are available on Apple.com.

Other iPhone posts from Orange Hues blog

Steve Jobs' iPhone: What's the Big Deal?
iPhone: Apple's Most Profitable Product Ever?

Other Apple posts from Orange Hues blog