Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Pick your own prison, or walk away; resolution

Let's think about the big things and our relationship with our world.

Things like Freedom. What does it mean to be free? Surely, if nothing else, it means maintaining the right to determine your own way of life, your own choices, and your own intentions. It also means being able to choose to walk a lone furrow or join hands with others and make the journey of life together. It also means not being constrained by the demands, commands or chains of other forces which you do not control.

So, who enjoys the greater Freedom? The Conservative, who is satisfied with a nominally free market, the opportunity to gain for self at the cost of others, the ability to have goods provided in response to demand, the liberty to labour and spend, indefinitely, irrespective of cost. Or the Radical, who refuses to listen to the clamour of advertisers and marketers to consume for the sake of it; who chooses to share and to give for the benefit of others, rather than take, use and dispose; who chooses to work, not for the increasing wealth of the already wealthy, but for a fair and sufficient exchange of needs.

Freedom means liberation from chains. In the twentieth century, many millions of people around the world were liberated from the chains of poverty and subsistence, from unfair exchange of labour for reward (Flavours of slavery), from mass genocidal paranoia, disease and epidemic, from a nasty, rough, brutish and short life. But not everyone.

But times change, and so do circumstances. And so we come to the point where some people argue that the better path to a better life for more people is to continue along the path already trodden, while others argue that, having discovered that there is, after all, a price to pay for greater wealth, the time has come to move away from the clamour for growth at any cost, and towards a way of being more attuned to the need to find a better balance between the hunger of human enrichment and the needs of the planet's natural systems.

For the coming year, I choose to be Free. Free to make a fair effort at worthwhile labour for a reasonable and proportional reward. Free to ignore the markets and refuse to play the consuming game, having enough to satisfy my needs. Free to share with others, in communication, in wealth, in caring to make the world a better place. Free from the chains of intimidation and fear thrown at me by governments, corporations, shills, cheats and liars. Free to live without constraint, been constrained from nothing but what I do not need. Free not to invest in companies who are irresponsible or immoral. Free not to use the product of other people's misery. Free to love others, myself, and the world.

I will not bow down to the demands of 'the system' and place myself in chains. I was free, I will be free again.

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 30 December 2013

What do you know?

Different people have different reasons for being skeptical about climate change and AGW. This is a given. For some people, in particular, those so-called 'thought leaders' in the broader movement of 'counter-alarmism', the reasons can be cast as motivations - in other words, there is a (perceived or real) personal benefit to be won from taking this type of position. 

For others, these reasons are political, polemical or personal - the choice of skepticism is a derived one, in that this kind of skeptic believes that accepting AGW is necessary because some other personal motivator, which takes precedence in the mind of that person, seems to demand some form of denial.

Then there are what we can call the 'authentic/genuine skeptics'; 'ordinary' people (from any background, like me and you) who are reluctant to 'believe' or unwilling to accept as 'knowledge' the substantial body of material which otherwise constitutes the evidence for AGW and the subsequent sense of responsibility  which such 'knowledge' implies.

I won't talk to the first kind of skeptic here, because their skepticism is not necessarily about the credibility of climate science, but instead has to do with their sense of themselves, their interests, and their personal integrity. Such discussions are perhaps better conducted in private, one to one. Such people are generally disinclined to examine these things in public, for obvious reasons, but I for one would be happy to reopen dialogue with any of the people with whom I formerly had some (limited) private dialogue (via email); MacIntyre, Spenser, Pielke Sr., Curry, Tol, etc. 

I want to understand why you feel that you are doing good by overtly allowing your reputation and (often authentic) skepticism of the 'orthodoxy' of climate science, to be hijacked by others whose motivations have nothing to do with the good of anyone, and whose pleasure is to despoil, damage, destroy and disinform. You cannot deny that this happens, so I want to understand what motivates you to permit this, and what personal responsibility you are willing to take upon yourself for the abuse of your science and name. Please feel free to email me. Note; there is no accusation or blame being placed here, and no judgment implied; I always presume that you are, like me, someone who wants to do good and make a positive difference to the well-being of mankind and/or the planet.

As for the second kind of skeptic, (for some reason, Matt Ridley comes to mind), there isn't a lot to be gained because the subject matter is not really AGW or climate science, but those other, precedent personal convictions. I think there is ground to be made discussing the nature of the requirement to be skeptical as a consequence of your pre-existing beliefs, but this is a complex and, again, probably a personal matter. Not expecting any kind of response or attention, you, too, are welcome to email me and put me in my place.

The 'ordinary' people; people like us. Not convinced that AGW is that certain a diagnosis. Not convinced that climate science, or computer models, have enough predictive capability to guide action or policy choices. Not convinced that climate scientists (or any scientists) are a reliable authority to act as a basis for belief in AGW. If this is you, and you have cut away the various coincidental political, religious or cosmological grounds for doubt, what you are probably genuinely uncertain of is the knowledge-status of climate science. 

Please continue to be skeptical. Challenge and question your own understanding and 'knowledge'. Seek your own conviction. But in all cases, please keep your conclusions 'open', your minds clear. Use your own reasoning and thought skills to look with care at what is presented to you as 'evidence'. Ask yourself, constantly, what it might mean for you to understand that your original opinion might have been 'wrong'. Weigh, as impartially as you can, the balance of information, authority, probability, credibility that you have uncovered. And use your judgment.

If I get round to it, I'll post another time about knowledge, doubt and evidence, in the hope that it might help you cut the wheat from the chaff and help you understand better what you are evaluating.

A short maxim for the Genuine Skeptic: If in doubt, find out.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Comments on the blog

Ho, hum,
There's been trouble since October for folks trying to comment on the posts, for which I apologise. It seems to be an artefact of Google plus. Having dug around for a bit, I think the problem has now been resolved; time will tell. It would be nice to know that people are listening.

Friday, 27 December 2013

What is it worth?

Dear Mr Mephistopheles,

My associate Prof. Rabett informs me that your organisation has been providing much-needed financial support to struggling incompetents willing to set aside their integrity, self-respect and the truth in exchange for slightly tarnished souls, at an appropriate price.

I can happily reassure you that I lost my integrity many years ago, when I discovered that unenlightened self-interest pays better than sticking to principles. I confess to have struggled with self-respect as an issue for some time, but since retaining any of this has proven to be less profitable than setting it aside, I'll concede that this will have to go by the board for a while, at least.

As for the truth, well, I can be confident, as a practised abuser of epistemology, that I can confidently present a front of uncertainty and credible doubt to people who are even stupider than me, and already disposed to believe pretty much only what suits their existing prejudices. I would note, however, that sustaining this in the face of overwhelming evidence and people who have maintained their integrity involves some effort and hoop-jumping, for which I expect to be suitably rewarded.

Though my track record in pyramid sales, Ponzi schemes and Real Estate has been somewhat inconsistent, I note that my qualifications are at least equal to those of the folks who have already signed up to your 'pact', so I hope my request meets with your approval. 

I'd also note the added value of a proportion of the 100 million souls which will soon be up for grabs. I'll admit to a little sympathy for these poor folk, but they are after all poor, foreign and mostly young or near death anyway, so we'll barely notice the loss at home, and besides which by the time that matters I'll be long dead, hopefully having passed on whilst having my 'findings' manipulated by a glamorous 'research assistant' aboard my yacht in the Caribbean. 

In terms of recompense, I suggest that a soul-trade value somewhere between that of a retired politician and an accident insurance lawyer seems a reasonable amount.

In anticipation of your approval, I am sir, 

Yours truly,
R. B. Bot, PhI, MsT, BA(dishons).

Monday, 16 December 2013

If I listened long enough to you...knowing what we don't know

(AKA The Rumsfeld Conundrum)

Following on from a discussion amongst a number of internet friends at Planet 3.0, The Usefulness of Knowing what we don't know , it occurs that, since I was educated in Philosophy (specifically Epistemology) by some of the players mentioned in the literature, and on the basis that some of their cleverness might actually have been absorbed, I might have something useful to say on the matter.

It's important not just as an intellectual exercise (of the type that causes non-philosophers to tear their hair out and kick things) but also because even a cursory exploration of some of the more modern ideas of knowledge, belief and justification can lead us down some revealing paths when we look at the expert/public interface in science and the media.

It's also revealing of something else - the motivations for 'skepticism' and the reasons why some people (without trying to judge them) are still not convinced by some arguments and conclusions arising from climate science and the policy implications of AGW.

In general, Epistemology is the Theory of Knowledge ; in other words, attempts to address or answer questions such as 'What do we mean when we make a claim to know something?' Immediately it is clear that this is relevant to climate science discourse, since many of the things which are traditionally associated with a 'common sense' understanding of what constitutes 'knowing' are challenged by 'skeptics'; from what fundamental 'facts' are to be accepted, to what counts as evidence in support of AGW, through to more sophisticated problems such as whether there is justification for certain policy decisions (such as the immediate mitigation of AGW via CO2 emissions management).

The first thing to observe is that much (most?) of the public discourse, though it sometimes appears to be about what is 'known', actually revolves around what different people believe, and the reasons why they believe these things (in epistemological terms, justification). One of the reasons for this is that Climate Science is not an easy thing to do or test, and most of the public discourse is amongst people with varying degrees of ignorance (with some notable exceptions, such as RealClimate). We frequently hear scientists voicing concern over the public interface and the difficulty of communicating effectively, but the problem won't go away easily, because a lot of the work done by 'skeptical' communicators is aimed (directly or indirectly) at reducing the epistemological status of the science, the scientists, and the milieu in which the science is undertaken. By this I mean that the justifiability of a certain scientific proposition is undermined, creating doubt amongst some of us who don't, or can't do the actual science, or even fully understand the methods.

We often find it hard to see another person's point of view if we disagree about the 'facts' or the 'conclusions' of a position, regardless of the reasoning either has undertaken to reach the conclusion. In other words, we start with a problem of Belief. There are many ways to reach a condition of believing in the truth of a proposition, some logical, some rational, some intuitive, some pre-conditioned. It can be revealing to ask a person who you disagree with, why they hold that particular belief. In the case of we ignorant masses (the 'non-climate-science community'), investigation leads down any number of paths, but often reduces down to a relatively small number of core, or foundational assumptions about ourselves, the world and how we interact with it. Sometimes, these fundamentals are derived from religious or spiritual beliefs, which hold a privileged status in our personal epistemological landscape, and are therefore highly resistant to challenges, not least because they are often self-consciously 'irrational' as well as being deeply embedded in our psyches.

So, how can we make progress, about what we can claim to 'know' about climate science, or about why emissions controls (regulation, taxation, limitation of freedom, of trade, of wealth) matter now?

One way is to shift the epistemological landscape to newer ground, from the 'traditional' or 'common-sense' notions of truth, knowledge, belief and justification, to more modern, 'hard' notions of knowledge and belief, such as Bayesian Confirmation Theory, or Bayesian Social Epistemology. Without going into the details here, since they are well expressed elsewhere, for example here), this can lead down tracks such as betting on climate change, a popular and readily understood activity which has the power of publicly testing both the credibility of a person's stated belief (how much they really believe it being measured by how much they are willing to bet on it), as well as the actual grounds on which two differing views are justified, in relatively simple and measurable terms.

For scientists, there is appeal in the betting meme, since it relates to some very interesting ideas about probability and statistics, exemplified by what are known as Dutch Book Arguments. This type of discourse - the climate bet - (see here, for example), is accessible and its results understandable, with the added piquancy that someone is going to get 'smacked down' by the result. For the public, it can work as an immediate measure of the sincerity of the exponent of a given belief, which in turn has an effect on the justification for believing in that person's stated belief (both in common-sense, and Bayesian terms).

Yes, it is essential to have a sense of 'what we don't know'. In climate science discourse, most of us are obliged to confess that our personal beliefs do not depend on first-hand science; we must depend on others to provide the evidence, so our beliefs are more or less justified by the weight, credibility and logic of others. But we also can have a sense of what we should be able to claim to know, without too much controversy, and it is important for the discourse that climate scientists understand that communicating this is still very important. But enough for now, so later I will look at trying to find the grounds (fundamental principles) for a claim to know that policy action is no longer avoidable.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Would you do it for the 'Gipper? Save the curve

Direct from the warren, and important enough to be worth raising:

If you have been around the Climatosphere for a while, you will already know how important it is to climate science to have reliable, long-term data sets to work with.

One of the most iconic images, seen many times over, on the 'net, is the one which shows the continuous record of CO2 atmospheric concentration, the Keeling curve:



This data set and the measurements which underlie it, is at threat of being broken for a while due to recent funding changes and delays in securing funds for its continuation. The Scripps Institute has started a public fundraiser to cover the shortfall.



Why should it matter? Because it is difficult enough to achieve public recognition of AGW without making a mess of the important work which lies at the heart of the science, as well as the public outreach. Because we need to know. Because the best science (and climate change projections) comes from the best observations.

If you understand the importance of us having datasets like this, and the importance of consistency and continuity, I follow Eli in suggesting that you may wish to make a small donation. This process has been shown to be effective and the 'cause' in this case is eminently worthy. Give if you can, and promote publically.


Friday, 6 December 2013

Never mind the widgets - here comes the bomb

Perhaps a little late, but I've just got through Hansen et. al. : 

Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature


Here's the abstract:

We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ~500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ~1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3–4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

And here is a graphic from the paper which I'll be referring to:


Doing my usual trick, I'm going to try and extract the points which struck me in the simplest form possible:

  1. Setting a 2c target for future warming (the current 'standard' policy approach) is no good. This level is likely to result in 'dangerous' impacts.
  2. A 1c target is better. It is also, with radical action, achievable.
  3. We need a 6% per annum reduction in emissions from 2013, with other actions, to limit warming to 1c this century.
  4. We've got about 128GTc of fossil fuels left for use if we want to avoid 'dangerous' change.
  5. Failing to act now (or, as in the article, in the 2014/15 cycle of the UNFCCC), represents 'an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice'; in other words, our leaders know the consequences of inaction and may choose to account for them or not.
  6. From the paper: Ultimately, however, human-made climate change is more a matter of morality than a legal issue. Broad public support is probably needed to achieve the changes needed to phase out fossil fuel emissions. As with the issue of slavery and civil rights, public recognition of the moral dimensions of human-made climate change may be needed to stir the public’s conscience to the point of action.
  7. Mitigation is desirable, achievable and (arguably) essential for the future of the planet's ecosystems and the welfare of humanity.
  8. short term delays now result in much greater difficulties in mitigation later, in time scales of less than a decade.
  9. (see the graphic above) We have known about this since at least 1992, yet the progress of action to date is derisory, as evidenced by the rate of growth of emissions in the timescale referred to.
  10. We have a choice: act now and make a difference, or avoid acting now and accept the moral responsibility for the consequences, with all their implications.
I have been involved in discussions, for example at Stoat and Rabett Run, in which I have tried to point out that the moral dimension of Climate Science is not just important, but is central to the arguments about policy implications. Hansen seems to agree with me.

No doubt, more on this paper later.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Valuable free resource pool on climate adaptation (but only till Sunday)

It's a shame I didn't pick up on this earlier, but there are still a few days left to take advantage of FREE ACCESS to some useful and interesting papers on Cities and Climate Change, courtesy of the IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development).

The introductory article, here, explains the remit of the pieces. The paragraph below seems to provide a helpful context to understand this:

The theme for this issue of Environment and Urbanization (our fiftieth issue) draws on Mark Pelling’s book on Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation. (4) The focus on resilience and transformation was conceived as a theme that is of relevance to all urban settings, namely how the capacities to withstand or recover from all direct and indirect impacts of climate change (resilience) can be developed while also contributing to the so much-needed transformation to a low carbon (local and global) economy where everyone’s needs are met – and to achieve this quickly enough to avoid dangerous climate change. This has, as a central component, the delinking of successful cities, towns and rural settlements (and their inhabitants’ consumption patterns) from high greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, these are inter-connected, since reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally reduces the direct and indirect impacts of climate change.

In all there is access, either on the main page, linked above, or attached to the articles (including the first), to around sixty pieces, all connected by the interface of Urban society, climate change action and the notion of resilience.

There's way more than a couple of days reading here, but recent commentary at Stoat (look at the comments thread, in particular), suggests that, as a resource, this will be of interest and value to a number of us who attempt to deal with such issues on the internet and in our thinking.

Enjoy the free access and make the most of the opportunity. This whole package is strongly recommended, not least because it raises interesting points about some of the implicit assumptions and principles which are used.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Antarctic ice break-up update

http://www.iup.uni-bremen.de:8084/amsr2/antarctic_AMSR2_nic.png 



Update on my earlier suggestions about big lumps of ice in the Antarctic. Take a look on the right hand side of yesterday's AMSR2 image. Around 80E, 62S: I can't find the satellite imagery yet, but if we are to believe the picture, there's a HUGE chunk of ice (I don't know how thick, continuous or potentially persistent it might be) free-floating there. If this was a single entity iceberg it would be hundreds of miles across. I don't think it is likely to be so. Looking closely around the coastline nearby, more big chunks are likely to be liberated shortly.

I don't think there's any risk associated with these at the moment, I just find them interesting. There's probably precedent, too, but I'm too lazy to go check.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

How to change things; could it be magic?

So, the discussion continues at Stoat about how to produce effective policy which balances present and future economic needs and benefits with emissions control.
So, like you do, I go on a trawl which gets diverted and before you know it I'm reading a neat new paper, Johannson et. al., at Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics:


The evolution of shipping emissions and the costs of regulation changes in the northern EU area
L. Johansson, J.-P. Jalkanen, J. Kalli, and J. Kukkonen
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 11375-11389, 2013

in which the authors offer: "An extensive inventory of marine exhaust emissions is presented in the northern European emission control area (ECA) in 2009 and 2011..." Browse the paper, rather than the abstract: it's twenty minutes well spent.

So why mention it? The paper is interesting in itself for some of its details, such as that CO2 emissions from shipping in this area alone amount to around 500MT a year. But what makes it interesting in the context of this discussion is that it reviews the impact of specific regulation (in 2007) on emissions of Sulphur Dioxide, and relates certain connections between the costs, benefits and impact of the regulation.

First, in the period measured, SO2 emissions from shipping were better than halved. Second, the cost of this is estimated at about +10%. Third, the further introduction of retrofitted sulphur scrubbers would produce reductions proportionally larger than the comparable costs. (I think all of this is right...)

One of the conclusions of the paper is that slowing down cargo vessels by only 10% would result in even more SO2 (and CO2) reductions and save the shippers money. The paper does point out that it doesn't factor in the possible need to increase fleet sizes/movements to compensate for the extended travel times, but there is still a point here.

What would be the effect of reducing the National Speed Limit of road traffic (particularly haulage vehicles, but also personal vehicles) by a similar 10%? How much less fuel would be used? What cost savings would there be, and how much compensating increase of traffic would be needed?

Two points from this: the paper seems to indicate that the regulation of sulphur emissions over the past several years has resulted in considerable real reductions, at some cost (which does not appear to have restricted trade) to the emitters, for the benefit of all. Part of this no doubt is due to the fact that Maritime regulators have huge amounts of power (yes, they can shut down a fleet), so their rules are not ignored lightly. So; well-designed and enforceable regulation can produce results which, on the surface, represent a net benefit, not just for the regulated, but also for the affected.

The second point is that, following a similar logic, regulating behaviour by means of processes such as speed limits, or improving the design efficiency of diesel engines (see also the incredible improvements in Rail diesel systems over the past ten years), can produce the right kind of result without excessive constraints on either liberty or markets. It also means that (value chain ignored) the emitter is paying what cost there is.

Anyone got an opinion on this thought?

Who couldn't love a weasel war dance?

Apropos of nothing, this just appeared during a routine search. No disrespect to other bunnies intended, since they insist on not being hypnotised: 

<iframe width="609" height="375" allowfullsecreen="true" frameborder="0" id="ngplayer" src="http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/embedded/deadliest-stoat/src/"></iframe>

In the meantime, The old man is teasing the Stoat about the place of ethics in the climate debate/action nexus, which conversation will remain over there, to avoid complicated cross-communication.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Where are you now, me?

It must have been around '83
Her name is Tammy Lee
I took this the day
She went home to the USA
Where are you now, Tammy Lee?
And, more to the point, where am me?



Thursday, 21 November 2013

The COP-out; what a catalyst you turned out to be...

What is to be learned from the fiasco that is currently COP19? 

First, it appears that there is a sea-change in the rhetoric of certain developed nations. Where previously there had been some attempt to avoid being seen as a moral pariah, the examples of Australia, Canada, hosts Poland and other participants, show that the fear of domestic political damage is overriding the fear of international shame in responses to both mitigation and adaptation needs. Some folks are just flat out saying that they ain't gonna do nuthin' for mitigation, on the contrary, intend to follow domestic policies which run counter not just to climate change M&A but also pretty much all concepts of Sustainable Development. 

Their response indicates that rather than address the hugely complex ethical and practical difficulties of coping with Sustainability on a global as well as domestic scale, these players prefer to deny any relationship to responsibility past present or future, and express the intent to go down the short-term self-interested path. As a former teacher, this is reminiscent of certain schools which proclaim that 'bullying is nonexistent'. There is no such thing as an adolescent society devoid of an internal power/influence structure; it just takes subtly different forms. But in all (secondary) schools there are those who dominate and those who are dominated. Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no society which will escape the negative consequences of AGW down-the-line, and these players, in denying the reality, are simply deferring the problem to a period beyond their tenure (or even lifetime).

Second, the divide between have and have-not seems to be crystallising. Not just the rhetoric, but also the desires and intentions of the G20 (for example), are in conflict with those of the G77. One one side, the demand is: "you caused this problem, you ought to help fix it," on the other: "it isn't OUR problem, why should we?" 

It's difficult to be sure how this divide will develop over time, but the choices seem to be starkly twofold: 
1: Either we move towards a global society which is increasingly polarised on the basis of wealth (capacity to adapt), increasingly inequitable and unjust, and increasingly violent (what happens at metropolitan level when you have a strongly financially divided society?), in which scenarios of multiple-million deaths and permanent local/regional instability become the accepted 'necessary cost' (Collateral damage, anyone?), or 
2: We continue to struggle towards a generally more equitable and just society, where the distribution of the means of survival are managed and shared, according to the need of the recipient and the ability of the provider (Charity, anyone?), ie, seeking the win-win solution. (Yes, it can be argued that Australia is playing a particular variant of the zero-sum game, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and is opting to 'win' at the cost of the other).

The third (and probably most divisive) lesson is that Climate negotiations are going down an inexorable path to a blame-culture. This can be nothing but bad news. It's as if the developing nations ('victims') have decided that, since the 'noisy neighbours' won't play ball, they are going to proceed to litigation and counter-attack to achieve their objectives, in response to which the neighbours send out the rottweilers. This is very much a no-win game.

On the brighter side, I have a suggestion as to How to ensure that funds exist for fixing what's been broke, protecting what's at risk, and preparing for the unexpected.

The parallel is not exact, but more than 300 years ago, the largest need for investment, and the largest return on investment, came through international trade, conducted over the high seas. In response to market demand, and from pre-existing processes, Lloyd's of London was formed, to provide investors with greater security, and sailors with funds needed to set sail. Why can't we construct a similar organisation for Global Environmental (incl. climate) Capital? Existing entities such as the World Bank and the IMF, funds such as CCC or the corporate sustainability foundation trusts, can band together, with or without individual governments, as 'names', providing the capital to allow for underwriting of risks, for investment in M&A strategies, and for providing succour to the victims of disaster. This way, more would share the burdens, autonomy could be preserved, and what was needed could be provided where and when the need arose.

It's a thought.



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

It's amazing what we have in common; wanna live like common people?

Over at the warren, Eli makes mention of Gardiner's 'Perfect Moral Storm', a characterisation of the ethical complexities associated with climate change. Gardiner compares the moral dilemmas associated with climate change and the issues of mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and intergenerational equity to the 'triple storm' which forms the centrepiece of the original story by Junger.

One of the matters which arises during Gardiner's discussion, and in Peter Singer's 'response' paper of the same year (2006), is that of the 'Tragedy of the Commons'. This is Hardin's highly influential analysis going back to 1968 of the difficulties of dealing with ecological and environmental problems, particularly (in his case) to do with overpopulation.

When you look at the dialogues and arguments surrounding COP19 (and all other climate policy debates), it is easy to see the influence of Hardin (and perhaps Gardiner), in the underlying principles which are being discussed - who should take responsibility, who should pay, who should benefit, etc. Gardiner provides the basis for a moral framework which supports the notion that developed nations need to support developing nations to avoid a future destruction of the 'commons' of the global ecosystem. Singer goes beyond this to argue that, regardless of the moral basis chosen, the result (about who should take responsibility) always goes back to the same source, not just for ethical reasons, but also for practical ones.

It had been a few years since I first flirted with this material, during my brief period as a postgrad in Environmental Ethics, so I duly refreshed. Following this up with some further reading, I came across the work of the remarkable Elinor 'Lin' Ostrom, with whom I had not previously been acquainted.

And so, by a roundabout course, I came across some weekend reading for Eli to enjoy, which I am sure he will, since the very first example cited in the book refers to the maintenance and management of levees in the USA. I'm also recommending it to Roger Sr, since it relates to his team's work on (local) resource vulnerability and climate, and to Roger Jr, since it relates to the fundamentals of 'right policy making', which I know he is enthusiastic about, and has quite a lot about sports.

So, here is the (open access) 'Sustaining the Commons' by Anderies and Janssen. Grown ups and interested parties can revert, of course, to the original material by Ostrom et al., but this is about four hour's worth of undergrad level light weekend reading, and therefore suitable for busy bunnies. Why bother? Well, an awful lot of what has been going the rounds recently, for example in my chosen rag the Guardian, has been very depressing. There are times when one gets close to the 'we're f***@d' position. Reading this both cheered me up and gave me some more thoughts to work on in my search for a redefinition of our generational social dilemma.

Please, read and enjoy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

For everything there is a season - tide and time

Over at the warren, Uncle Eli has posted about SLR, a subject I touched on last month, here, and here, including references to Grinsted's excellent material.

It occurs that the Average Josephine (IOW, most of the world) might look at the projections of sea level rise and, whilst registering that a change will have an impact, might reasonably ask why a meter or so of extra sea might be such a big deal. So here's an attempt to place this into a 'human' context.

On its own, a few centimetres of water 'added on' to the water level at any given beach or dockside is no big deal. This is because the other forces which have an effect on sea level at any given location are much stronger (they create more variability) than the underlying 'signal' of sea level.

First and most obvious is the effect of the tides. Whilst in some places sea level fluctuates by a few metres over the course of a day, in others the tidal range can top ten metres and more (up to around 15-16 m for some locations). In practical terms, coastal human habitation and business takes this into account, so in most places human activity takes places above the high tide level, for obvious reasons.

At certain times of year, specifically the Equinoctial Spring Tides, the various forces which interact to create tides and tidal ranges combine to create particularly high and low tides. It is not uncommon already for these to overreach the human adaptation level and to result in localised flooding, which is further worsened if these tidal periods occur in sync with strong weather conditions (in particular, depressions, often related to storms).

Now, the current range of projections for changes in sea level have to be considered in the context of historic tidal ranges and existing infrastructure and human-ocean interfaces.
For example, the 'averaged' sea level range globally hits around 79cm during Spring tides. This means that, overall, the shoreline would experience a few extra inches more or less. But in a local and regional context this 'average' is effectively meaningless, and is not reflected in the real experience of many coastal dwellers. For most people on coasts, the tides go up and down several metres.

If global average sea level rises by, say, half a metre, what does this mean for local impacts? And what effect does this have on local tidal ranges and, in particular, during the upper bound of the ranges (the Equinoctial Springs) and those occasions when these coincide with storm surges?

Well, it should not be difficult to work out that an extra 'average' SLR of 50cm is going to mean a rise of high tides, and of high springs, in the order of 2 - 5 metres of 'extra' sea. Given that a storm surge can increase sea levels (for example, in the Philippines) by another 4-5 metres, and you end up with places which are likely to experience regular (annual or more frequent) tidal surges in the range of 5 -10 metres. We have seen the horrific effects on one part of the world where a tidal surge of 5 metres, added to extreme weather conditions, has resulted in devastation and carnage. Now multiply this by all those places which are 'vulnerable' to such variability.

As an aside (because I'm not certain of the projected effects), it should be noted that a Spring tide normally produces currents twice as fast as Neap tides, but with eight times the power, or force. Anyone who has struggled to get out of the water onto a beach during an ebb in difficult conditions can have a sense of how much power is involved - it is, literally, an overwhelming force. 

It seems rational to presume that higher Springs will be associated with faster currents and therefore greater forces - resulting in more erosion, more localised damage and greater stress on infrastructure (including defences). So, the effect-multiplier of a few centimetres of extra sea level 'on average' produces impacts which can easily be seem to include, for example, the overwhelming of low-lying islands, or the inundation of coastal cites, oil refineries, nations (Bangladesh).

If all of this is the consequence of half a metre of sea level rise, what then is the consequence of a metre or more? Is it likely to be twice as bad? Or, given the 'effect multipiers, are we instead talking about a localised effect with a difference of an order of magnitude?

Finally, for the economically-minded amongst you, remember that an astonishing proportion of the world's trade is conducted across the oceans - around 90% of all trade goods is shipped at some point. Now, consider the impact on shipping of the changes outlined above. The cost of building tougher ships, the cost of building new, relocated shipping hubs (the World's three deepest 'ultratanker' and supercontainer ports are all vulnerable to rising sea level). The risks and losses, all to be paid for by someone.

A very high proportion of the Global population lives in the coastal strip - I think it's about 85% of the population. Not all of these people would be vulnerable in the way I outline above, but with sea level rise must come, inevitably, relocation and mass urban movement inland, fundamentally changing the dynamic geography of our society.

That's why sea level rise matters, and why a metre is more significant than half a metre.

NOTE also Simon Donner's eminently pragmatic contribution to the discussion of adaptation.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Call me paranoid but look anyway

It's probably just a function of an overactive imagination, but looking at the AMSR2 map of Antarctic sea ice (as one does), I get a 'feeling':


http://www.iup.uni-bremen.de:8084/amsr2/antarctic_AMSR2_nic.png

I sort of know that it isn't unusual for the sea ice to decline around the coasts a little quicker than it does in the middle of the 'pack', but it seems early in the melt season to see open water or low concentrations indicated at the level implied by the image.

Looking a little closer, a neurotic might note the correlation between the areas of lower coastal concentration and the glacier zones.

It would be useful for a Cryosphere/Antarctic specialist to call in and provide some reassurance, because right at this moment, I gotta feeling, and it's mainly anxiety.

Friday, 8 November 2013

More out than in - outside physics, is it possible?

Yesterday in the Guardian, Tim Smedley reports on the forthcoming forum on Natural Capital Accounting. Link to the article here

It's an interesting feature, not least for the comments which follow it, which are clearly considered and sophisticated (so far!). Included among which is the response from the group setting up a 'counter forum, in the same city, Edinburgh, at the same time; 'Nature is not for sale'.

Lord Aaron's comment in the feed at the bottom of the article brings up one of the more significant problems in the area of Natural Capital Accounting: that it is placing a financial price on Natural Capital (the article cites the groundbreaking work done by Puma since 2010), and thereby making Nature marketable (in other words, natural assets can be traded, and 'environmental offsets' can become tradeable capital resources. If this were the direction that NCA goes into, it's easy to see that the Environment is likely to lose out again to vested interested/creative accounting, where it substitutes for accountability.

But it seems also that NCA can have a role to play. As the article shows, it becomes possible to place a relative price and cost against a return from exploitation. This in turn allows us to see where resources are being exploited rather than used Resourcefully- in other words, more is lost in the transition from the prime resource to the tradeable commodity, or product, than is gained in the short term. You can see where this could be of benefit, not just to the Corporates who now appear to be recognising that unsustainable exploitation means precisely that they cannot sustain, even in the mid-term, the end product which is the basis of their capital wealth and added value. And losing their core supply, even shifting the balance of Demand/supply, will hurt their businesses moving forward.

For a long time now, Many Environmentalists have been deeply suspicious of moves to subsume the World's natural resources into a discussion of Economy, of 'putting a price on Nature'. What the argument has often boiled down to is that the Value of a Natural Resource lies in more than the dollar signs against it - the price. And this in turn is driven by a division in the ways in which people view Nature and the World: whether it is something for us humans to use (you could call this the 'Genesis' perception), or is something to which we belong and for which we, as the species which can damage it, or unbalance it, have a duty of care (the 'Stewardship perception).

All of which relates to the principle of Resourcefulness. In particular, it serves to demonstrate why Resourcefulness must be about more than resources. It is good that someone is working hard to challenge the implicit presumptions or potential hazards embedded within Natural Capital Accounting, but sadly, for the organisation involved, the brute reality is that, whilst it can be argued that Nature should not be for sale, in fact, as a basis of the means of production, it is.

There is a temporal perspective to be considered here in relation to these matters - for climate debaters, the principle of 'trash now, pay later' is one of the monsters being strongly fought, consistently. Scientists try to tell politicians and the public what they are letting themselves in for, and then get berated for 'alarmism', because narrow focussed eyes don't look far enough down the line to account for the consequences of choosing net present profit over projected loss.

There is also a philosophical/existential principle, but this is a little harder to summarise briefly, so will have to wait for another post. It is about what it means to be human, in the World, with Others, and also about the concept of 'home' and its significance to us.

A parting thought. A while back, someone might have realised that Dodo represented a potentially valuable commodity as a foodstuff, like turkeys, for example, but to make it so, the supply chain would have needed preserving. Hungry sailors didn't tend to think that way.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Being Resourceful; can we fix it?

Recently I suggested that the idea of Sustainability, or Sustainable Development, contains an underlying negativity which can contribute to a resistance to change.

Instead, I suggested that it might be useful to adopt an alternative term; Resourcefulness. Though in retrospect I am tending towards the idea that Resourcefulness might be a subset of Sustainability; we shall see.

So, what do I mean by Resourcefulness?

First, and perhaps finally, this is a state of mind – an attitude towards the World and its component parts which is both responsible and creative – a predisposition towards the things of the World and Society. Resourcefulness explicitly implies that a response to a problem, demand, crisis, need or situation involves the application of intelligence, imagination and creativity. It also contains the assumption that the attitude to the case in point is one of seeking the opportunity in the situation (if there is one), and making the most of it (and the resources involved).

In itself, this is nothing especially original. Business and enterprise are full of examples of exactly this kind of approach (though often driven by necessity rather than disposition). Some commercial services are particularly focussed on this kind of thinking; others, driven by more immediate pressures on performance, seem to avoid it. In this sense, it looks like there could be a relationship between Resourcefulness and the management of Risk which points us towards something useful at a more sophisticated level of development.

One would expect Resourcefulness to include, specifically, an attitude to Resources. Examples of this might be Resource efficiency (making more from less), Natural Resource Economics, or more closely observed, the Circular Economy concept (I profess to admiration of the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in this field). All of these, and other existing practises in Sustainability, such as Waste Management, can be included in the remit of the Resourceful Society, Business or Individual, but Resourcefulness should not be seen as being limited to an attitude to Resources alone.

This is because there are other kinds of Resources than simply the ‘stuff’ of the World. And there are approaches to all resource types which do not imply a relationship of use or exploitation; this is particularly important to understand, since Resourcefulness (the ‘creative’ predisposition) expects of us that we see the worth, or value of things and actions, not just in ‘net benefit’ or ‘utility’ terms, but also in terms of the ‘Goodness’ or ‘Rightness’ of these. This means that Resourcefulness goes beneath issues covered by Consequentialism, to the core Human Social values of Equity, Justice and (probably) Liberty.

This leads us to a fairly fundamental point of ‘Resourceful’ Action: it should be non-exploitative both in terms of resources, and also in terms of people. In other words, Resourceful Actions do not serve to take from one person or group in order to give to another. This runs counter to so much of modern Economic and Social theory that considerable effort must be spent to demonstrate that personal or commercial Wealth need not come at the cost of exploitation of Labour or Markets. For some, this will read as an impossibility, for others, akin to heresy (or Social Democracy), but it is the intention to undermine the model of ‘Competitive Advantage’ as best practice and seek, instead, a model of ‘Collaborative (Mutual) Advantage’.

One special strength of the concept of Resourcefulness is that it is Action-oriented, in other words, a Resourceful approach, instead of asking ‘what’s going wrong?’ or ‘who is to blame?’, asks ‘How do we make it better?’

It may seem to some experienced and knowledgeable observers that this appears to be a somewhat trivial and simplistic idea, but I believe that, in common with many important principles, Resourcefulness is both simple to grasp and put into action, but also deep and meaningful – the one does not exclude the other.

I’ll finish today with a reference to a childrens’ TV character. It is a statement of affirmation and intention, of predisposition to make things better:

“Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!”

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Money talks, what is it saying?

Today's Guardian carries an interesting piece about the World Bank on moving forward on CC action. What is particularly interesting to me is that we are clearly thinking along similar lines, about communication, if nothing else. Here's what Rachel Kype says in the interview:

How important is getting the communications right?

We've started talking to behavioural psychologists and other disciplines about how to communicate so that you can convey urgency in a way that people can respond. There's a long history in the environment movement of fear-mongering and a) not providing alternatives or b) not having those fears realised. So we feel a responsibility to be able to communicate this in such a way that people can say: "OK, so what now?"

Extreme weather events is the place where the public and science and policy-makers seem to agree that they're prepared to accept the climate is having an impact. Obviously, that grabs people's attention and for a few weeks after superstorm Sandy you had everybody's attention, but then it starts to ebb away.

There is a particular problem in the US, which is the role of science in the society, which seems to be up for question, not just in the area of climate but elsewhere. Communicating science poses a set of challenges in the US that is not necessarily the case in other parts of the world.


Even more interesting is her take on the Language issue:

From your research, what have you learned about how to communicate more effectively?

The tendency with a lot of social movements is to talk to ourselves, so we develop language that we're comfortable with, that speaks to other environmentalists or other engineers but which means absolutely nothing to the lay public.

We're very reluctant or reticent to come up with language and idioms that will perhaps not express every little nuance in that one sentence, but which will actually resonate. We've known for a very long time that the phrase "sustainable development" is kind of clunky and we've never come up with anything better, and that's OK as long as we tell stories and build images and pictures about what we're really talking about.

There's lots of behavioural psychology that some of these words just land really cold: they don't mean anything and they don't speak to the emotional brain. What does "green" mean? It doesn't evoke very much.

Jim Kim feels very strongly that, if you're going to paint a picture of the future where it's sackcloth and ashes, don't be surprised if you don't have a long line of people following you. We have to paint a picture of opportunity.


It sounds to me like what they need is a little bit of Resourcefulness

The World Bank is a complex issue, but I know from personal experience that it has an important role to play in supporting Energy Development, security and poverty reduction in rising economies, so I'm happy to be counted as (at least in part) a fan, if not totally happy with everything it does.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Time to reconsider Sustainability and become more Resourceful instead?

Something is broken in our ability to communicate the problems and issues which beset our complex, struggling World. Well quite a few things, but in particular, we seem to have got lost in our efforts to express in simple terms the things which matter.

After '92 (maybe even before this) the meme of choice became 'Sustainability'; a useful catch-all which encapsulated the spirit of the messages coming out at the time - the need as a global society to live within our means.

But these days, it seems the term is losing its edge. Many commentators have pointed out that it has become cheapened by over-familiarity, that its many meanings and interpretations are so diverse, its marketing usage so overblown, that irrespective of the underlying values which the original usage implied, 'Sustainability' as a concept may itself no longer be sustainable.

The number of reasons why this has happened is legion, do not require reiteration here. But, for me, there is an issue which I have not seen much discussed, which is that the term and its conceptual underpinning are fundamentally negative.

In a nutshell, 'sustainable' implies a sense of 'survival', of making do, reduction, subsistence. For many of the developing nations this conception makes perfect sense, since survival in the face of adversity has been (though need not have been) a common theme in contemporary accounts of the 'needs' of these societies and their peoples. But the implicit hair-shirted self-sacrifice which so often is cited hand-in-hand with Sustainability has become, in the developed world, as much an albatross as a rallying-call.

Sustainable living as an fundamental idea still has its value and merit, that has not and should not change, but the time has come to put aside the hair shirt and try to find a new 'overriding' conception of what it is we need to do, individually, collectively, politically, economically. A conception which permits the best of humanity to shine and points forwards rather than backwards.

The time has come for us to be Resourceful. To apply Resourcefulness to our problems and issues and become "ingenious, capable, and full of initiative, especially in dealing with difficult situations" (Collins Dictionary) or develop, as Wiktionary describes resoucefulness: "the ability to cope with difficult situations, or unusual problems".

We can also be more aware of the resources we use - as, for example, via a circular economy. We can direct the best use of the resources available to us so that the most possible is made from them. We can apply our unique characteristic - ingenuity - to the multitude of environmental demons which beset us, whether we consider mitigation or adaptation or both, and apply well-found principles to seek imaginative solutions.

It is probably no coincidence that as a word 'Resourcefulness' is phonetically and structurally similar to the Buddhist concept of 'mindfulness', implying a constant and considered awareness of what is around us as we live, and the causal consequences of actions, inactions, decisions and desires. For me, there is a strong sense that this has the potential to be a truly powerful and worthwhile re-alignment of the language of future-building. 

Sit back for a few seconds and think about the idea, the message, the implications; I hope, like me, you find it positively stimulates the imagination and leaves you replete with the sense of possibility.

Resourcefulness is a fundamentally positive conception. It is pragmatic - it implies a process involving thought and decisions and action which is so necessary to the global environment. It is also a very Human concept - it applies to people in particular, but also to groups of people of all kinds. It also connects us more directly to the things of the planet, be they raw material, product, or finance, as things we are bound up with, rather than objects of our intercession.

As of this moment, for me it is an idea which requires more fleshing out, some further defining and limiting - otherwise it is in danger of suffering the same fate as 'Sustainability' - of meaning both too much and too little at the same time. This is work I and I hope others will be undertaking, to raise the bar, change the negative into a positive, and start actually working on these many problems of our World with Hope rather than Resignation.

This is the message: the time has come for us to be more Resourceful, and to use our Resourcefulness for the betterment of the human condition.

Side note: Similar usage of the term, relating to sustainable practice in the built environment, has been used recently in Architecture and design, for example, here.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Halloween the sequel

Mainly for Uncle Eli...

What are we going to do now, Mr Milligan?

The initial source material and reporting of the presentation was described earlier, but now it's going more mainstream, I suppose it's time to consider:  http://www.newstatesman.com/2013/10/science-says-revolt .

Picked up also at Skeptical science weekly round-up.

The appeal, of course, is that a scientist, Brad Werner, had the nerve to stand up in front of peers on the back of a presentation entitled 'Is Earth F***ked?

And then answered the question. His answer was 'more or less'.

I spent some considerable time researching Climate Science before, during and after the IPCC AR4, the ICARP conference on the Cryopshere, and the Stern Report, a few years back now. At the time, the discussions were about the same as they are now, a few years down the line, but there are changes.

Read Ostberg et al, Mora et al, even Tol, or the Norwegian Met office report highlighted this week on RC (here). Read the AR5, insofar as it has yet been completed. There's almost immeasurably large amounts of really quite bad news, about oceans, global warming, sustainability budgets, water, heck, practically everything you might want to consider when looking at the Big Picture points inexorably towards Werner's conclusion.

For 20 years (arguably longer) every government and major financial institution and source of power (the large corporates, etc), has know the path we were walking down. We've all known it, though some step aside and disavow. And the heartbreak is that absolutely nothing of significance has changed. This is not because there has been a lack of effort - lots of people in lots of arenas and disciplines, even some governments, have tried to walk the narrow path of responsibility for stewardship. But these efforts have been overtaken by the relatively rapid growth in the global economy from the opening of new resource and market opportunities, amongst other things.

So, let's presume that, for the sake of argument, Earth is, more or less, F***ked. Whatever we decide collectively to do from now onwards will make some difference, and some important decisions on the larger scale will make a substantial difference, but in spite of this, in the next 100 years the world will change. (yes, this is a truism, but...)

If this is the case, then the BIG Question now, and the one which could be said to underlie all the stuff about mitigation and adaptation,  is 'What kind of World do we want to aim for?' The secondary, and no less significant questions, being: 'What are we willing to pay for it?' and 'What types of extreme nastiness are we able to tolerate, and what must we avoid regardless of other consequences?' Other fairly obvious questions spring to mind.

If you are unused to speculating on possible future human/earth scenarios, then you could do worse than read 'Earth Abides', 'The Sheep Look Up', Oryx & Crake (and the rest of the Atwood Trilogy), a range of 'cli-fi', or even George Orwell. You might rediscover Lovelock's tragic vision, or make your own up. It would be interesting to know if any of you readers come up with scenarios more positive than the ones I have imagined recently.

As things stand, whether or not global warming is the elephant in the room, the current political reality is that justifying any environmental policy or action on this basis is hard for governments to swallow right now. Maybe things will change for the better in the future (huh!). So, my first suggestion is that we look hard at the things which have an impact on global climate and environment from the point of view of the whole shebang, earth systems, and see what actions or policies can be made now, in this political environment, which would both improve the general state of the earth system and, coincidentally, help to mitigate severe adverse climate change.

Much more on this later.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Down-the-line class action risks increase cost of inertia on climate and environment

Not sure whether to frame this comment as an enquiry or a proposal, but it's a thought...

Looking at a range of phenomena: 

  1. The tendency of political and corporate interests to focus on the economic costs and benefits of Environmental action/inaction
  2. The unbelievable costs sustained by BP as a consequence of litigation following their gulf oil spill disaster
  3. The intriguing mechanism used by James Morrow in his book (which I featured a couple of weeks ago) to draw attention to our present responsibility for future events
It occurs to me that at some time in the foreseeable future, the consequential damage to both individuals and social groups from CO2 - stimulated climate shifts, in the first instance, and environmentally unsustainable practices such as the deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon or the harsh exploitation via UK institutional funding of Borneo's habitats, in the second, will represents a material and measurable harm to substantial number of people (well, all of us, in effect).

It also occurs that there is therefore a quantifiable risk that corporate, or indeed governmental institutions responsible for decisions which permit the causes of these harms to occur, will be the subject of potentially vast law suits (possibly class actions) from potentially vast numbers of people whose utility will have been materially damaged.

So, it follows that, since I'm just an average Joe, at least some of the clever people who work for insurance companies, law firms, in Government and corporate social responsibility, will have already realised that at some point the s**t is going to hit the fan, and legal fingers will be pointed.

This implies that some of the institutions currently responsible for the most dramatic examples of Planet Abuse (maybe one day this will be taken as seriously as other forms of abuse) will face very big bills for the actions derived from their present decisions.

So, here is the question: is this risk (of expensive future litigation) factored in to the analysis of costs and benefits which are so popular amongst the political and corporate entities when climate/environmental indecision is 'justified'? If the answer to this is 'Yes', has anyone calculated the cost impact in real terms? If the answer is 'No', is this potentially another tool to use in the arsenal of those who wish to see action rather than words from those principally responsible for the Abuse of our Planet?

Finally, if this potential cost to Abusers is not already factored in to current analyses of envrionmental costs, isn't it about time that it was?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Oops, I did it again; Tol 'Lomborged' by Ridley?


I am not going to criticise Matt Ridley's article on the net benefits of climate change. Others have already done this, and he has replied/rebutted in turn. Instead (and my apologies to all authors concerned for slightly extended quotations), I am going to present three pieces of material and ask two or three (hopefully) pertinent questions. Please don't read this as an attack on Ridley - I want to understand where his point of view on climate change is coming from, that is all.

Because there is a substantial amount of material on this post, I am asking that you consider the questions first, then go through the material afterwards.

First up is Ridley's opening salvo from the Spectator article, available in full here. In this, he cites Richard Tol's most recent work, and his 2009 review of CC economic studies. 

Next up are cherry-picked extracts from the 2009 paper in question, 'The Economic Effects of Climate Change', (whole text here). These are lifted wholesale from Tol and are extended so the reader can understand some of the context of Tol's comments.

Finally, I have extracted Gary Yohe's letter to the Guardian in 2008 (entire). Yohe was Tol's co-author of the 2008 paper used as the cornerstone climate analysis of the 'Copenhaged Convention'. Yohe complains that Lomborg has failed to accurately represent the findings in his eagerness to argue that carbon tax was a waste of money.

My questions are reasonably straightforward:

1. Are Ridley's assertions or implicit conclusions in his article compatible with Tol's research (at least, from 2009)?

2. If Ridley is using Tol as a justification for his view of the effects of climate change, is it reasonable to also expect him to support Tol's view that a Carbon Tax of $50-100 per unit is advisable, and that immediate action to mitigate admissions is indicated? Furthermore, will we see this proposal championed by the Global Policy Research Institute?

3. Given that there is a precedent, is it reasonable to believe that Ridley has 'gone Lomborg' on Tol once again, and if so, is this a genuine misunderstanding, or a deliberate manipulation on Ridley's part?

This is Ridley on 'The net benefits of climate change:

Few people know that warming is doing more good than harm
Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.

At first, I thought this was just their usual bluster. But then I realised that they are genuinely unaware. Good news is no news, which is why the mainstream media largely ignores all studies showing net benefits of climate change. And academics have not exactly been keen to push such analysis forward. So here follows, for possibly the first time in history, an entire article in the national press on the net benefits of climate change.

There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.

To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3˚C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8˚C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports define the consensis, is sticking to older assumptions, however, which would mean net benefits till about 2080. Either way, it’s a long way off.


This is Tol (cherry-picked), f
rom: The Economic Effects of Climate Change Richard S. J. Tol - Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 23, Number 2—Spring 2009—Pages 29–51. The Highlights are mine:

A first area of agreement between these studies is that the welfare effect of a
doubling of the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas emissions on the
current economy is relatively small—a few percentage points of GDP. This kind of
loss of output can look large or small, depending on context. From one perspective,
it’s roughly equivalent to a year’s growth in the global economy—which suggests
that over a century or so, the economic loss from climate change is not all that
large. On the other hand, the damage is not negligible. An environmental issue
that causes a permanent reduction of welfare, lasting into the indefinite future,
would certainly justify some steps to reduce such costs.


The horizontal axis of Figure 1 shows the increase in average global temperature.
The vertical index shows the central estimate of welfare impact. The central
line shows a best-fit parabolic line from an ordinary least squares regression. Of
course, it is something of a stretch to interpret the results of these different studies
as if they were a time series of how climate change will affect the economy over
time, and so this graph should be interpreted more as an interesting calculation
than as hard analysis.

However, this pattern should be interpreted with care. Even if, initially, economic
impacts may well be positive, it does not follow that greenhouse gas emissions
should be subsidized. The climate responds rather slowly to changes in greenhouse gas emissions. The initial warming can no longer be avoided; it should be viewed as a sunk benefit. The fitted line in Figure 1 suggests that the turning point in terms of economic benefits occurs at about 1.1°C warming (with a standard deviation of 0.7°C). Policy steps to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the near future would begin to have a noticeable affect on climate sometime around mid-century—which is to say, at just about the time that any medium-run economic benefits of climate change begin to decline (Hitz and Smith, 2004; Tol, 2002b; Tol, Fankhauser, Richels, and Smith, 2000).

In short, even though total economic effects of 1–2°C warming may be positive, incremental impacts beyond that level are likely to be negative. Moreover, if one looks further into the future, the incremental effects look even more negative.

Given that forecasts are imperfect, agents are constrained in many ways, and markets are often distorted—particularly in the areas that matter most for the effects of climate change such as water, food, energy, and health—recent studies of the economic effects of climate change may be too optimistic about the possibilities of adaptation and thus tend to underestimate the economic effects of climate change.
Although the evidence on uncertainty here is modest and inconsistent, and I suspect less than thoroughly reliable, it seems that negative surprises should be more likely than positive surprises. While it is relatively easy to imagine a disaster scenario for climate change—for example, involving massive sea level rise or monsoon failure that could even lead to mass migration and violent conflict—it is not at all easy to argue that climate change will be a huge boost to economic growth.
In short, the level of uncertainty here is large, and probably understated—
especially in terms of failing to capture downside risks. The policy implication
is that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions should err on the ambitious side.

Although Table 2 reveals a large estimated uncertainty about the social cost of
carbon, the actual uncertainty may well be larger still.

To place these estimated costs of carbon in context, a carbon tax in the range
of $50–$100 per metric ton of carbon would mean that new electricity generation
capacity would be carbon-free, be it wind or solar power or coal with carbon capture
and storage (Weyant et al., 2006). In contrast, it would take a much higher carbon
tax to de-carbonize transport, as biofuels, batteries, and fuel cells remain very
expensive (Schaefer and Jacoby, 2005, 2006). Substantial reduction of carbon
emissions thus requires a carbon tax of at least $50/tC—which is just barely
justifiable at the mean estimate for a pure rate of time preference of 3 percent.


In contrast, Dell, Jones, and Olken (2008) find that climate change would slow the annual growth rate of poor countries by 0.6 to 2.9 percentage points. Accumulated over a century, this effect would dominate all earlier estimates of the economic effects of climate change. However, Dell et al. have only a few explanatory variables in their regression, so their estimate may suffer from specification or missing variable bias; they may also have confused weather variability with climate change. One can also imagine a scenario in which climate change affects health, particularly the prevalence of malaria and diarrhea, in a way that affects long-term economic growth (for example, via a mechanism as in Galor and Weil, 1999); or in which climate-change-induced resource scarcity intensifies violent conflict (Zhang, Zhang, Lee, and He, 2007; Tol and Wagner, 2008) and affect long-term growth rates through that mechanism (Butkiewicz and Yanikkaya, 2005). These potential channels have not been modeled in a useful way. But the key point here is that if climate change affects annual rates of growth for a sustained period of time, such effects may dominate what was calculated in the total effects studies shown earlier in Table 1.

The missing effects further emphasize that climate change may spring nasty surprises. Such risks justify greenhouse gas emission reduction beyond that recommended by a cost–benefit analysis under quantified risk. The size of the appropriate “uncertainty premium” is in some sense a political decision.

There is a strong case for near-term action on climate change, although prudence may dictate phasing in a higher cost of carbon over time, both to ease the transition and to give analysts the ongoing ability to evaluate costs, benefits, and policy mechanisms.



And, finally, here is Yohe on Lomborg:
Climate change is real, compelling and urgent

Björn Lomborg has been a persistent global warming naysayer and his claims misrepresent my findings
In late 2009, the world's top climate scientists, environmental officials and business and NGO leaders will converge on Copenhagen to negotiate a solution to climate change. It will be a meeting with global repercussions, and its participants will be united by a common belief in the need for a comprehensive solution to this common threat.


The need for such a solution is supported by the best science available, including the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007 and of which I was a member. The IPCC's message is clear: climate change is real, compelling and urgent - and we need a concerted, comprehensive and immediate effort to confront it.

But in the midst of this momentum and clarity, one voice has stood out as a persistent naysayer.

Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Sceptical Environmentalist, makes headlines around the world by arguing that capping carbon dioxide emissions is a waste of resources. He recently published a piece in the Guardian in which he dismissed efforts to craft a global carbon cap as "constant outbidding by frantic campaigners" to "get the public to accept their civilisation-changing proposals".

To support his argument, Lomborg often cites the Copenhagen Consensus project, a 2008 effort intended to inform climate negotiators. But there's just one problem: as one of the authors of the Copenhagen Consensus Project's principal climate paper, I can say with certainty that Lomborg is misrepresenting our findings thanks to a highly selective memory.

Lomborg claims that our "bottom line is that benefits from global warming right now outweigh the costs" and that "[g]lobal warming will continue to be a net benefit until about 2070." This is a deliberate distortion of our conclusions.

We did find that climate change will result in some benefits for developed countries, but only for modest climate change (up to global temperature increases of 2C - not the 4 degrees that Lomborg is discussing in his piece). But developed countries are relatively prepared to handle climate change's effects - they tend to be in colder areas, and they have the infrastructure to mitigate severe depletion of resources like fresh water and arable land.

That is precisely why our analysis concluded - and Lomborg ignores - that climate change will cause immediate losses for developing countries and the planet's most vulnerable, millions of whom are already facing challenges that climate change will exacerbate.

Downplaying the threat of climate change allows Lomborg to focus on his claim that "unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good, we should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy." He attributes this finding to our analysis as well, but again he overlooks a key element of our work.

Of course the world needs to make significant investments in cheaper, low-carbon energy. But making those investments without also implementing a constraint on emissions would fail to address the problem.

Our analysis assumed that over the next century, $800bn will be spent confronting climate change - $50bn spent on R&D in the next 5-10 years, and the remaining $750bn spent on adaptation and mitigation. This allocation of resources will reduce the cost of "clean" technology andincrease the effectiveness of policies - like capping emissions - that are designed to reduce global CO2.

In short, we never advocated research into new technologies as a stand-alone way to fight climate change, nor did we accept Lomborg's dismissive attitude toward the threat climate change poses.

The negotiators in Copenhagen will need credible, accurately reported analyses upon which to base their discussions. This is not the time to deny the scope of the problem or belittle efforts to implement solutions. We need all options on the table. This was the message of the Copenhagen Consensus Challenge paper, and even a sceptical environmentalist should understand that.

Am I mistaken in imagining that Ridley's argument appears to be undermined by the very material on which it is founded?