I’m grumpy-it’s about shoes.

I’m not a ‘girly girly’.  I doubt many of you would disagree with that.  I’m a geologist and as such as at home outdoors in hiking boots or even (although it’s been a while) steel toe caps as I am in something that actually co-ordinates with my outfit.

I’m notionally a runner too.  (Okay a mostly injured runner but that’s pretty normal) so I realise that wearing heels the whole time isn’t a great idea (unless my Achilles is playing up and then a low heel is acceptable) and I think my running shoe collection is almost as diverse as my work shoe collection these days.

Right now though I’m a ‘grumpy geologist not girly injured runner’ and that’s bad.  I have had what I believe to be my fair share of injuries over the years and the Baker’s cyst that burst in the back of my knee was certainly one of the worse as far as running was concerned but my current one is not just limiting my running it’s limiting my shoes and therefore my self-esteem (stay with me now).

I have hallux limitus (or hallux rigidus in old-school parlance).  This means neither of my big toes has the normal level of flexibility as the rest of my toes.  No big deal, but the middle of last year my big toes decided they weren’t happy with the road running I was doing (I was told to stop running trails so much) and they went into an acute pain and inflammation response because of more miles on harder terrain which culminated in me being barely able to walk by October.  We are now mid way through February and I’m sorry but wearing only flip flops/thongs or trainers is getting to me.

My trainers and my ‘wish-to-wears’

I have only recently realised how much this is affecting my ‘womanly-ness’.  (I am literally in pain every step I take.  I cannot put on anything with a heel and in truth trainers hurt too).

Most of the boys won’t get this but ladies?  What do you wear on your feet when you go out to a nice restaurant?  Never mind the rest of the outfit.  Just think if you can’t put on the heels that go with the dress you aren’t dressed properly and you know it.  What do you wear on your feet for a big presentation?  What makes you feel confident?  Your daggy old trainers that you can’t run in so have been assigned to ‘walking only’ or a pair of heels?

heelsThis may sound slightly ridiculous to a fair few of you but I have always worn heels.  I have a ‘reasonable’ shoe collection.  I am no Imelda Marcos but shoes are/were ‘my thing’.  Not handbags or purses, not bikes or guitars.  Shoes.  For six months I haven’t been able to wear heels and it’s finally got to me.  I can’t even do the ‘get from the taxi to the table and then take them off’ thing we sometimes do if we really want to wear a pair of ridiculous shoes.

My relationship with myself has worsened.  I can’t ‘dress up’ properly.  I don’t care if this is because I was ‘conditioned’ as a female child to want to ‘dress up and look nice’ and I can assure you I have never dressed up to look nice for anyone other than myself.  So now I find myself in a situation where I can’t dress up; where I can’t look nice (for myself) and so I feel grumpy.
And so I’ve blogged about it which is a bit sad really.  What a very first world problem.  I shouldn’t be complaining about not being able to wear one of the ‘quite a few’ pairs of shoes I own.  I should be thankful for having any shoes to wear at all. Believe me I am.  I have that appreciation but right now I’d dearly love to be able to dress up and feel good about me with a pair of heels on.

Have a great weekend all 😉

I’m grumpy-it’s about shoes.

Cyber ignorance and misinformation rant

So last week I read ‘The Cyber Effect’ by Dr Mary Aiken (the CSI Cyber series relies heavily on her and her work) and I would recommend everyone read it (especially if you have kids although I’ll say up front it may alarm you but that’s a good thing).  I learned things like the bit of the internet I spend my time in represents somewhere between 1% and 4% of the Web.  The other 96-99% is the Dark Web; the unindexed part.  A lot of the Dark Web is just government databases, university records and the like but its also where most cybercrime happens on the Darknet on a tiny fraction of this bigger Dark Web.  You wouldn’t believe what happens on the Darknet.  Read the book and think about internet security a bit more-there is no Big Brother policing it-we need to be more proactive in this area.

Why post a picture of the New Zealand earthquake and then talk about a book?   Well the book deals with a lot of things.  The author is a forensic cyber psychologist.  To me this sounds cool and if the internet had been a bigger thing when I went into higher education this is something I’d have wanted to do.   One of the things the book starts to deal with is the relationship of humanity to cyberspace-or the internet and how we interact with it and what it does to us.

I posted a picture of an earthquake focal point in New Zealand because a friend (via Facebook) asked me my opinion on the validity of a piece he’d found on the internet about the notion of a seismic vessel in the area at the time being the cause of the earthquakes.  (I can hear some of you laughing).  Not only that, the piece talks about Hillary Clinton knowing about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake before it happened amongst other things.  I am not going to validate it by providing a link because I am taking a stand against the spreading of deliberate misinformation.  Several things strike me about this, and with my newfound cyber knowledge, a desire to share and enlighten came over me so stay with me.  It may sound rambling but hopefully you’ll get something out of this.

First up I commend my friend for approaching someone whom he thought would have knowledge of such a claim rather than just looking on the internet (I’m flattered).  Because on the internet we tend to find things we’re looking for.  Yes you read that right.  One of the behaviours we display on the web, most tellingly in cyberchondria (like hyperchondria but enabled by the millions of websites devoted to health issues rather than visits to countless text books and doctors) is looking for things that already support our position, or desired outcome.  This is cognitive ease in the case of the earthquake.  I have a preconceived idea that the earthquake is man made therefore I will search out information that supports this view and ignore other sources to the contrary.  (Not that I’m saying that is what my friend would have done).  I would alternatively call it intellectual laziness or a lack of critical thinking and this is bad.  Imagine our cave man ancestors displaying this characteristic when, on his way home after a day’s hunting taking his usual route he spies, for the first time ever, a group of large carnivorous beasts on the path but decides that because he always takes the same route home and nothing happens to him then why should today be any different.  (Taken to it’s worst case outcome cognitive ease can result in an individual receiving a Darwin award).

Secondly, how the hell is someone allowed to write this codswallop on a news site anyway?

Without being too boring some facts.  Not too many numbers.  In the last month New Zealand has experience 769 earthquakes of >2 magnitude, of these 49 were >5 mag and can be seen here on the map below (source49

Now a quick look at the map should make you wonder how a boat could be the cause of the onshore events and begin to question the claim.
Next lets think about where they happened.  I’ll take just one as an example.  How about the 7.8 (first big one) 53km NNE of Amberley that has a focal depth of 23km (source).  So now, can a boat with (admittedly big) air guns, acquiring seismic data offshore in water depths of >100m  cause a 7.8 magnitude earthquake at 23km into the earths crust?  Intuitively I hope you are all shaking your heads because even if you only did a little physics at school the idea that a big bang of air, which dissipates its energy very quickly in water and even quicker in rock will have no energy left to disturb anything at 10kms into the ground never mind 20kms!  So by now you are seriously, and critically, challenging the claim right?  So what’s the alternative?

Call me old-fashioned but I think the more obvious explanation is the Alpine Fault zone in the South Island is moving.  This is a well understood fault that has apparently moved more than any other on earth in the last 25 million years (source).  For the non-geos please understand that the North Island of New Zealand is on the Australian tectonic plate while the South Island is on the Pacific plate.  The North Island is being pushed up as the Pacific plate is being pushed under it (this causes things like the Taranaki volcano to form).


credit Mikenorton via Creative Commons.

So maybe my  years of learning and geo-knowledge- not an expert but an informed individual-meant that I knew better places to look for reliable data on the internet than the writer of the original piece.  Let’s be nice and go with that for the moment.  If you still think the boat could cause the earthquakes then in the words of Douglas Adams “…I repeat we have normality.  Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax.”

Last of all I want to emphasise the point about critical thinking and encourage you all to use more of it when looking at, and sharing from, the internet because I mention cyber ignorance in the title of the blog.  When we are online we are disinhibited, we “act drunk” it feels anonymous, there are no visible teachers, parents or policemen.  Humans, when they don’t think they are being observed behave in this way (a lot of what I’m about to write is taken heavily from Dr M. Aiken’s book).  Cyberpsychology has a name for it the online disinhibition effect (too many selfies, too many pictures of food you’re about to eat, just too much sharing really) and it leads to something that I think is worse called online escalation.  This is basically where your behaviours are amplified because you are online.  It becomes worse because people hang out in chat rooms with like-minded people.  We positively reinforce each others preconceived ideas and normalise behaviours that in real life we would consider extreme.
Now if your chat rooms are about growing vegetables then visiting them and having your gardening powers amplified by positive reinforcement and feedback from other enthusiasts is not a problem.  However, if you’re visiting sites that tell you that killing people that don’t look like you is okay then we have, in my opinion, a problem.  The principle of non-harm should apply in cyberspace too as far as I’m concerned (John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ essay, 1859).

I have taken an extreme example to make a simple point and to try and attract you to read the book.  I would encourage everyone to be aware that your behaviour online is not your real life behaviour.  We all need to demonstrate more responsibility online when it comes to sharing information or news sites so that the proliferation of lies, misinformation and dissembling is reduced.  We need to be aware that our behaviours directly affect what other people will do online because it’s easier there than in real life where face-to-face contact is needed.  I have written too many words.  You’ve probably stopped reading.  To summarise.  Read The Cyber Effect, and no seismic vessel is capable of causing the earthquakes seen off New Zealand in the last week.


Cyber ignorance and misinformation rant

A year on (a brief update)

So.  Prompted by all the congratulations I’m getting on LinkedIn I realise it is one year since I quit.

Wow!  A year is a long time but it’s not long at all.  I feel like I’ve gone nowhere and at the same time I’ve traveled further away from that person than I realise.  I could list all the things I’ve done and some of the places I’ve been but that wouldn’t really be revealing anything new.

So know that I still doubt myself but not my decision.  I still get anxious when I organise too many things in my day and I still don’t know what I want to be next.  Some of you may be disappointed that I haven’t got some new master plan yet.  I’m coming to a possible conclusion that there may not be one.  Also know that the trip to Nepal gave me a sense of perspective on life I think many of us lack.  I don’t bother about material things in the same way (and I was never that good at being high maintenance anyway) and fully intend on going back there in 2017.  This time to appreciate it more and enjoy what I’m capable of doing physically in a very special part of the world.

Also know I appreciate all the people that have been so supportive to me (and sometimes jealous that I now have time to do what I want).  I have been overwhelmed at how great my friends are so thanks to all of you.

Another important thing I am still learning is how important it is to give yourself time.  Many pieces of research tells us we need to contribute, have purpose, volunteer, give in order to feel value and happiness.  I’m not arguing against this but I am offering a word of caution.  We don’t all need the same amount of feeling of purpose in the community – yes I volunteer, yes I still work (a little bit) but I also enjoy spending a whole day by myself painting or baking.  I enjoy spending time alone – I always have even as a child – and now I have learned to forgive myself this self-indulgence.

We needed to spend more time than we had planned back in the UK this year with the loss of my father-in-law Jack. By not working it meant I could support the family in a more useful way, my time wasn’t under pressure from work.  That made thing a lot easier for all of us.  Being able to drop everything and go when you’re needed is great.  Not working means you don’t have to deal with managing conflicting commitments and that’s great.

On the other side of that is the story that going back to the UK longer than normal allowed me to see people (and their kids) I haven’t seen in years.  To pick up where you left off is priceless and that time is not something I would have got if I had still been working.  There are fabulous memories there that 2016 would not otherwise have had.

Know that I know I am lucky.  I have a very supportive husband who seems unfazed by my time out of the working world.  It’s a bit like being given permission to explore again and learn again the way you were given in your teens to decide who you wanted to be but without the same kind of pressure.  Maybe I won’t be any of the things I could be.  Maybe I will just enjoy making cheese, writing kids books hardly anyone will read, being the organiser at home (which is a bigger job than you think for those of you who don’t), supporting runners and going to running events.

So know that there isn’t a happy ending yet but then who has fairy tale happy endings anyway?  (I don’t want one either they never seem to have decent red wine and cheese and nobody gets to hang out in their yoga gear all day).

A year on (a brief update)

Important stuff about death we don’t normally talk about

We lost a lovely man, Jack Harrison, in June.  I am not going to go over the usual ground we associate with the loss of a loved one here.  Instead this blog is a ‘to do’ list of things to think about before you go.  We never know when this will happen but if you plan ahead you can make the lives of those you leave behind easier.  It’s not being morbid, it’s being helpful at a time of great stress.  I am not covering the easy stuff that the adverts on TV trying to sell you funeral insurance do either.  This is the personal stuff we don’t give time to.

So first up have you decided how you’ll be ‘disposed’ of?

Cremation please.  Not a burial.  A cheap coffin will do fine, my grandfather would say its a waste of good wood and I agree with him.
No flowers thanks.  My other grandfather would have said you’ve killed the flowers for nothing.  So just make an extra donation to your favourite charity that year.
Music at the crematorium?  Well I’m not religious so at the moment my arrival music is Calexico ‘Tapping on the line’.  Instead of hymns (although singing along is to be encouraged) I’m leaning towards Kirsty MacColl’s ‘In These Shoes’ and/or Eddie Reader’s ‘Kiteflyer’s Hill’.  Once whoever has said whatever needs to be said (and I’ll be thinking about this bit too) I’d like people to leave with ‘The Tigger Song’ being played which, lets face it, isn’t that long so lets have Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’ too.  Let’s finish on a fun note thanks.

I’m not being flippant.  Leaving these choices to those you leave behind is an additional thing to deal with so be organised for them.  I may change my mind but if I get hit by a bus tomorrow go with the above thanks.

I intend to have a decent party after too.  I’ll give it some further thought but some decent red wine and cheese will be involved and if Amanda outlasts me (likely) she’ll be in charge of cocktails.

What to do with the ashes?  Well at the moment I’m thinking of being turned into sparklers and handed out to kids at a bonfire night.  I’ve always loved sparklers.  This however is financially quite expensive and there are a lot of ashes so probably a bit impractical.  So for now lets go half into sparklers (I know fireworks can be done, not so sure about sparklers but I’ll find out) and the other half can be scattered off the top of Great Gable (but if the weather is bad and everyone’s knees have gone then I’ll happily be scattered near the Nether Wasdale end of Wastwater where the roads from Gosforth and Santon join.)

How many of you have made these small but significant plans and told others about it?  If not do it.

A more significant bit of planning that requires thought is do you have a will?  I don’t.  I’ve been talking about it for years.  I will have one shortly though.  Without it you make access to funds for planning the above hard and your wishes impossible to decipher.

Whom have you chosen as executors for your will?  Have you given Lasting Power of Attorney to someone?  (I got the letters for LPA today for my parents-it’s scary when I think about it).  This responsibility for some may be harder than others.  Agreeing to be an executor is a big deal.  You are taking on sorting out someone’s affairs after they’re gone (and with Lasting Power of Attorney you are potentially making decisions on behalf of their welfare before they die as well as their estate after).  Anyway make your choice here wisely otherwise it’ll be a solicitor  and that’ll cost your legacy more.  (There are many things to say here but I’m going for brevity).

So let’s assume I’ve gone.  My executor(s) are trying to sort out my estate and it’s quite likely they’ll need to get probate to enact the will.  Yup-you may think that getting probate isn’t often required.  Well think again.  It’s pretty standard these days.  If you live in the UK for instance and if your dear departed deceased had premium bonds you’ll need a copy of probate first to get their value back as they are non-transferable.  Banks don’t always need it for changing accounts but banks are all different.  In the last couple of weeks one bank has needed it and two haven’t so don’t assume you won’t need it.  Now getting probate slows things down as you need to send off the original will (not certified copies) in order to get it and once the will is out of your hands you can’t show it to anyone else while the Probate office has it.  So do what you can first without needing probate to speed things up.  Probate will also probably be needed if some proportion of your final work’s pension is to be given to a remaining partner in continuance also.  This can be significant financially so you can’t hold up getting probate too long.

Other things I will have done to make my executors life easy:

  1. Keep very important stuff somewhere your executors can get to easily (your national insurance number, passport number, birth certificates, title of last job etc.  These are key to getting things done).  In the UK many areas now have a ‘Tell-us-once’ service – there may be equivalents elsewhere-where you can tell the Pensions/Passport/Social Security etc people of the death all at the same time online or on the phone.  This is a massive time saver, I hope there is something equivalent where you are.
  2. Have destroyed all the paperwork in the house that is not legally necessary to be held anymore.  Face it, many people keep way too much legacy paperwork.  Please don’t.  This will slow down those attempting to carry out your wishes as they sort it out.  Crucially when applying for probate you must have a good understanding of the deceased’s assets and debts before applying and this can be hampered if your paperwork is all over the place or there’s too much of it.  (Check your local countries requirements for keeping information and stick to it).  Get into this habit early in life.
  3. Have a scanner/photocopier/printer in the house.  You will need many copies of certificates and the will and will need to print out numerous documents.  This is easiest done at home and saves time.
  4. I will make sure there is a box of wine bequeathed to them (and available) to assist in the evenings after a hard day of form filling and paperwork wrestling because as much as it is necessary it is stressful and even harder to do after a personal loss.

This is by no means an extensive list but recent events have highlighted certain things to me that don’t normally get talked about.  So here’s my very recent thoughts as someone assisting executors in the last two weeks has gone through.  It’s not long or exhaustive but the blog is only to provoke thoughts on the matter.  We don’t like to think about death but it happens to us all and the better prepared we are the easier we make things for those left behind and none of it is hard to implement.

Important stuff about death we don’t normally talk about

398,894 Oil and Gas redundancies (that I can find out about)

Yes I may have left but I still care.  7 months ago I wrote a blog about losing skills from the oil and gas sector and how no-one seemed to care and wondered about how many had lost their jobs.  I’m revisiting that briefly today.
Well I don’t have an answer but what information I could find came from reliable websites.  So the number I have so far is 398,894!

  • Canada 40,000 (April 2016)
  • USA  250,000 (Nov 2015) of which 70,000 were in Texas
  • U.K. 65,000 (Sept 2015)
  • Norway 38,000 (March 2016) with 12,000 more expected before 2018
  • Malaysia 2,700 (Jan 2016) I could find out about
  • Australia 3,154 (various) this artificially low number was hard to generate. 1,200 relate to Gorgon and around 600 so far to Woodside and 765 to Santos (plus others).

Grand total 398,894.  A massive underestimate.  I could find nothing for Russia or the West African countries nor was South America an easy place to look for answers.  The Middle East?  Well forget finding out what’s going on there but the Shell chairman tells us cuts would be minimal (and we believe everything CEOs tell us right?)

Other things I learnt

  1. A Hays survey of 4,000 workers in the sector found out all sorts of things but here’s my takeaway today.
    (a) 93% of the companies who responded had had redundancies
    (b) 32% who responded (1,280) were now redundant
    (c) 72% of those made redundant (922) were probably leaving the sector altogether.
  2. Shell had 94,000 employees and so far 7,500 (8%) have lost their jobs.  With the merger with bg going ahead there are a further 10,000 job losses expected in the new company (the estimates of losses changed from 2,800 to 10,000 for those paying attention).
  3. Petronas, will be cutting 1,000 jobs in the next 6 months.  Did you know that until mid 2014 the company provided one third of the governments revenues?
  4. BP will be cutting another 7,000 jobs soon (source from Feb 2016) and Weatherford another 6,000 (source Feb 2016).
  5. Only the Norwegians seem worried “The Norwegian Oil and Gas Association said a new employment study shows the need for the recruitment of 22,000 new workers by 2020, including replacement for 9,000 retiring workers.”  This from a country that’s lost 38,000 and have another 12,000 to go.
  6. And in case you hadn’t got the general gist of this-no one is hiring.

When you search the internet for “oil and gas skills shortage” the last articles you will find come from April-May 2015.  So we’ve lost probably somewhere in excess of 500,000 (my guess) people from the industry that less than a year ago was worried about skills shortage and an aging demographic with not enough people left to train up the few youngsters that want to join the industry.  Is this a palm to forehead Dilbert-esque moment we’re having here?  Almost certainly.  Back to that Hay’s survey- 72% of those who had been made redundant were considering other options-bye bye your older workers who would have passed on their skill set and experience to the younger staff.  So now there are fewer people, with less experience trying to do more work.  That sounds like a brilliant master plan for sustaining the industry and keeping it safe.

I said I’d keep it brief so I’ll just put these numbers out there for now.








Norway braces for another 12,000 oil and gas redundancies





Shell sees 10,000 job cuts after BG takeover




398,894 Oil and Gas redundancies (that I can find out about)

Giving yourself permission to do what you want

I haven’t written in a while.  I have noticed that more people read when its personal.  I think it’s how we relate to each other.  Empathy and reciprocating.  I volunteer information about me and what I’m thinking and it often seems to strike a chord with others; they empathise.  It’s nice.  Its the kind of thing we used to do when we wrote letters to each other all the time instead of making phone calls.  It’s more personal somehow to me, as I admit that even things like FaceTime and Skype isn’t the same (sorry mum).  It’s somehow more superficial.

So here’s a little update. It’s just over 5 months since I left my job, and more importantly many good friends, and maybe moved on.  I say maybe because you never know but the way things are in the oil and gas game now it certainly isn’t a nice place to be.  You wonder initially what you’ll do with your time.  I can tell you there are days when there isn’t enough time (that’s not to say there weren’t days when I did nothing at all but they tended to be early on when I was feeling sorry for myself).  Here’s a few of the things I’ve done.  If you’re a regular reader you’ll know already but it looks more impressive this way.

  1. Printed up my first book for Millie (3 copies!) and then published it on Amazon for the Kindle (maybe another 10 copies sold so far). (It will be free for the next 5 days as will the second one).
  2. I’ve just sent the second book in my ‘Sarah saga’ series to the printers (8 copies this time!) and it will be on Amazon for Kindle in the next 24 hours.  It’s a much more developed piece and I’m glad my ability to write is slowly coming back.
  3. Started volunteering with On My Feet Perth, an organisation that helps people less fortunate than myself through a commitment to running , gain some fitness,  self-respect, self-value and a chance to move on from shelters and gain housing or just offer a non-judgemental place to me for a little while.  I hope to take this as far as assisting one of our gentlemen to raise funds towards getting him to the Melbourne marathon this year, and with luck I may run with him.
  4. Traveled to wonderful Nepal and took part in the Manaslu trail race meeting many excellent people and seeing truly fabulous places and experiencing something quite unique.
  5. With friends over from the UK I had fun showing them around Perth and plotting out a Margaret River wine tour for them.
  6. Had time to plan a lovely Christmas with old and new friends at our place without stressing about the time to do it.
  7. I’ve had the time to be in the house to get jobs done around the place on an any-old-time frame including Perth tradies!  When they say “some time today” I can say “no worries I’ll be in”.  This means neither of us have had to dash back from work to see the pool guys, the tree guys, the locksmith and all the others.
  8. I’ve painted all the walls and woodwork upstairs (that may not sound like much but it was nearly 3 litres of white semi-gloss to get the 4 doors and multiple windows done).  I know quite a lot of the staff now in my local Bunnings-they’re lovely.
  9. I chat to the older Italian gentleman who walks many kms every morning to help the kids at the school at the end of the road get to school.  I have no idea how old he is but he’s been doing it for 15 years and I love our little chats and it’s nice to be part of the community.
  10. I can take time to cook and prepare food I didn’t have.  I think my better half likes that when he comes home (although he’s been inflicted with vegetarianism for 5 days now so we’ll see).  We’ve had several very successful dinner parties with the neighbours and it’s all been easy to do because it’s not a rush and a pain and another chore.
  11. I don’t stress about taking too long after running having coffee with people (not that I’m running right now but that’s another story).  I don’t have to rush to the office I can actually find out about them and it’s nice.  It’s sociable and caring.

You may be spotting a theme.  I have time, I have choices, I am not beholden to another timetable I can fit things in.  I can adapt without having to consider work requirements. I feel better – even my hairdresser tells me my hair is better – and I don’t feel bad about it anymore.  I still spend lots of time by myself but I’ve always liked that so it’s not a problem.  Anyway there is a book 3 in the pipeline, the idea is there already, I just need you – my adoring public – to start getting your kids to read the earlier ones so I can retire on the proceeds!

I feel just as useful to people but in a different way.  I am contributing to peoples lives through empathy and actions rather than project schedules and deadlines. I admit I get a lot of my sense of self-worth through others and this isn’t always a good thing but I am getting that positive feedback from the people I am spending time with so I’m not worrying about it just now.

So I still don’t know what I’m going to do or what I’ll become but that’s okay I’ve given myself permission to take the time to find out (okay and my better half is being awesome about it too and there are things in our circumstances that make this a lot easier for me than others but it’s my blog so there!)

Thanks for reading all 🙂

Giving yourself permission to do what you want

There are two kinds of climate change

New Year ramblings or “the conversation I have sometimes with people about climate change”. Okay, let me be clear here, there is no denying anthropogenic effects on our climate. Taking CO2 as one greenhouse gas (GHG) we were emitting <5 Gigatonnes per year in 1845, by the time we starting using fossil fuels in a big way in the 1950s we were up at 10-15 Gigatonnes per year, and in 2011 we’d hit around the 37 Gigatonnes per year mark or around a 10-fold increase in 177 years.

I am not denying human created climate change (short-term) but I want to introduce to people the idea of another kind of climate change (long-term) that has nothing to do with us because this historical data is informing the way we create and sense check our anthropogenic (short-term) climate models and you don’t get to hear about it.

I’m going to be very woolly and take a big broad brush approach. I’m going to stick to CO2, temperature and sea level and be very specific about my time frame. This doesn’t mean I am unaware of other things it’s just that these three interlinked variables alone can be used to illustrate my point without methane, sulphur, carbon particles, CFCs, Milankovich cycles, solar intensity etc. (And there’s a lot of science of which I don’t know the half of).

We talk a lot about CO2 as a key GHG due to its long-term effects and its measurable-ness both now and historically. 10 years after its emitted is when its warming effect is felt and its so stable that 1,000 years later such an increase will still be being felt by the climate. What I  struggle with is if our actions to change our impact by reducing our pollution really matter because of long-term effects (let me say I think we should try though). Be aware that “human long-term” may not matter much so if we’re going to geo-engineer a solution we may as well get on with it as the planet “Earth long-term” will barely notice. Here’s the thing, most people don’t understand time frames on a planet scale.  They don’t know what the planet has already been through without our meddling.

I’m a geologist. I have been trained to think about time differently to most. For a geologist the past 50 Million years is 1% of the earth’s history and also represents, in plate tectonic terms, something similar(ish) to the configuration of the planet we now have. This is what I think of as the recent past for the Earth. Talking to non-geos the recent past may be represented as last week, or WWII or at a push the last 5,000 years when humanity started paying attention to the world around them. So for me when people say CO2 levels are rising and are now around 400ppm in the atmosphere (up from 361ppm in 1995 when the first UN climate change conference was held) I think well that’s not as high as 2,000-3,000ppm as it was during the Eocene Optimum* (a globally warm moment in time 55-45 Million years ago when there were no polar ice caps and evidence of crocodiles living at high latitudes.) Here’s the thing it is imperative to point out this period is used as a case study for current global warming models because it is the most recent period of rapid warming we know about on Earth. There are four key, data supported, ‘knowns’ I’m going to use about the last 50 Million years that I give below:

Sea level was around 70m higher in the Eocene then than it is now.

CO2 levels have, until recently, been steadily dropping for 45 Million years.

We had a Little Ice Age 20,000 years ago and the drop in global temperature between the Eocene Optimum and the Little Ice Age was around 17degC.

The Antarctic ice sheet started forming about 35Million years ago; it’s a baby geologically speaking.

A lot of media discussion centres around the speed of the ice sheets melting and sea level rise. Of course time lapse space photography can look pretty scary when viewing the loss of the ice sheets and the desperate situation of polar bears in the Arctic. Science is therefore being asked what CO2 concentration is needed in the atmosphere before the ice sheets melt? So now you know that this isn’t all ‘made up’ from models and that we have a piece of recent geological history that can help us. We know the current Polar ice sheets started forming around 35 Million years ago so what was the CO2 in the atmosphere then? Well it’s of course not that simple. Tectonic configurations were not exactly the same then and ocean currents took warmer water to Antarctica than it receives now but, the data says somewhere between 600-1,400ppm. That’s a big range. The models converge on a number for continental Antarctic ice sheet formation around 780ppm of CO2.

Science is also being asked will happen when they melt, how fast will sea level rise be? Well again we have data from the Little Ice Age. We know what happened then with de-glaciation. On average sea level went up 1.25cm a year but that rate wasn’t constant. It started off slow (0.25cm a year) and peaked at 13cm/year about 5,000 years after de-glaciation started dropping off after that. So there, that’s the context for the three variables I said I’d talk about within a particular time frame I’ve chosen. So what?

What this demonstrates is that we know from historical geological data (not just models) that the earth’s climate system is highly variable and doesn’t have an optima. What humanity has done is adapt to certain climatic conditions at a particular point in time representing a tiny fraction of the earth’s life. We have come to think of it as having an optima for us. That is fine but it is an important point to make that the planet doesn’t care what the temperature is, what the CO2 is or what sea level is – we do. So anything we do will only affect our outcome (and the rest of life on it) not the planet as a whole. Earth has been there and done that and got the T-shirt in all the colours already. So if we want to make changes to keep our self-defined optima we have to get on with it or accept the fact that we will have to adapt to survive the changes we are inflicting on the planet by our short-term actions.

Finally, bear in mind that that “high sea level, high CO2, plenty crocodiles and jungles at the Poles” moment back around 50 Million years ago that we use as a proxy for our models for what’s happening now has a cause we don’t yet understand. Global temperatures jumped up around 6degC in 20,000 years out of nowhere and while we have theories there is no definitive cause identified. We can safely say it was not an anthropogenic effect. So even if we do stop polluting and get things sorted out the planet itself is perfectly capable of throwing curved balls that will be much harder to adapt to than our own messy creations as we will have to understand what has caused them first rather than already knowing.

*Also known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)

There are two kinds of climate change