Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The story of solutions

The story of solutions is another fun, animated video from Annie Leonard and the Story of Stuff Project. Brief, entertaining and with a powerful message - well worth watching.

By the way, I was heartened to find Martin Wolf in the FT saying things similar to what I was saying in my last post.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Denialism isn't confined to global warming

I am an avid reader of Paul Krugman's blog. At a pinch I can call myself an economist (because I have a degree in economics) and that blog is one way I can keep in touch with my profession. (To be honest nobody has ever paid me for being an economist, so my claim to be part of the profession is a little thin.)

Krugman is an out-and-out Keynesian and has consistently raged against the imposition of austerity over these past few years of depression. But he doesn't just rage - he argues cogently and produces evidence to back up what he is saying.

To get a balanced view, I have from time to time hunted for a good exposition of the opposing view - that austerity was a necessary response to high levels of government debt and that it would create the confidence to stimulate the private sector to make up for the contraction of the public sector. I have never found such an exposition. All I have ever found is bluster or what looks like a fundamental misunderstanding of the Keynesian position. Sometimes I am tempted to conclude that, because the austerians produce such bad arguments, they can't have any good ones.

I am left with the impression that no competent and intellectually honest economist would now attempt to defend the austerity that has been imposed on Britain and Europe over the past three and a half years. The British government, rather than crowing about early signs of economic recovery, should be apologising for the three years of economic stagnation that its policies have produced.

Today, my failure to find a convincing economic justification for austerity is echoed by Krugman himself. I'm particularly struck with his final paragraphs:-
Yes, you can find economists at right-wing think tanks and some international organizations making the austerian case, but again, I’m talking about economists with big independent reputations, justified or not. And I can’t think of any. That wing of austerianism has simply dissolved.

And as far as we can tell, it makes no difference. Have Paul Ryan, George Osborne, Olli Rehn, Wolfgang Schäuble changed their tune even a bit? No, they’re busy claiming one quarter of positive growth as vindication.

For those who like to think that serious economic debates matter, it has been a humbling experience.
What has this got to do with my main pre-occupation - global warming? Quite a lot. The insights of Keynes and his followers make logical sense and appear to be supported by evidence. Yet, because the implications do not always fit well with free-market ideology or right-wing thinking in general, there seems to be a loud denial, unsupported by sound reason or evidence, of the validity and relevance of those insights.

This seems a remarkably precise parallel with the denial of the findings of mainstream science on global warming.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hansen and the Apocalypse

I'm indebted to Joe Romm for drawing my attention to the latest paper from James Hansen and some of his colleagues. It's all about what happens if we carry on burning fossil fuels until they're exhausted, thereby tripling or quadrupling the CO2 in the atmosphere compared with pre-industrial levels.

The received wisdom was, and perhaps still is, the notion that people don't get motivated by apocalyptic visions. That doesn't apply to me. If there's anything that motivates me to make my own modest contribution to saving humanity's life-support system, it's the thought that our addiction to fossil fuels may bring about a premature end to all human life.

IPCC reports have tended to limit their time horizon to the end of this century. My own hunch is that, if we don't mend our ways, by the end of the century we'll see catastrophic consequences for some people but life carrying on much as before for others. Those of us living in high latitudes may be OK if we manage to grow enough food for ourselves (a big if) and defend our territory against the starving masses trying to escape the unbearable heat nearer the Equator.

Unfortunately, it won't stop there. According to the new paper by Hansen et al, we are heading, perhaps on a longer timescale, to a situation where most of the world is uninhabitable.

Read Joe Romm's posting first and go on to the paper itself if you can.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More from James Hansen

As you will have gathered I tend to hang on James Hansen's every word. You can find lots of his recent words in his latest missive.

I was particularly interested to read about his latest thinking on the Venus Syndrome - towards the end of the missive.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The end of an era - Hansen retires from NASA

You can read the full story on the BBC News website.

Hansen has been a big influence on me, particularly since I read his Storms of my Grandchildren, which brought home to me the idea that man-made global warming could trigger a process that brings to an end all life on Earth. In talking about the Venus Syndrome he goes beyond what is currently supported by evidence and he may in time be proved wrong. The problem is that the science doesn't yet seem to have progressed far enough to prove him wrong and so the ultimate catastrophe of the Venus Syndrome is there on the table as a risk we have to take into account.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Yet more on the flatlining

An interesting and disturbing paper from James Hansen et al. The message I get from this is that aerosol pollution has increased since 2000, mainly from increased coal-burning, and this has reduced global warming. The CO2 from the coal burning stays in the atmosphere for centuries but the aerosols fall out after about five days. This means that if we were to stop burning coal, or simply clean up the aerosol emissions from burning coal, the rate of global warming would increase immediately. However, if we don't stop burning coal, longer-term global warming will be all the greater because of the increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Aerosol pollution is one possible contributor to the reduction in surface warming but there remain major uncertainties around the size of this contribution. These uncertainties would have been reduced by measurements from a satellite designed to measure aerosol concentrations. Unfortunately, the launch of this satellite failed and there are no plans to replace it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


In my last post but one I said I was trying to set up a local study group on sustainability issues. Since then we have had our first meeting and it went well. We decided to devote our next meeting to the subject of inequality. This was partly because the New Economics Foundation (nef) put on an event on the subject recently and one of our number attended it. A resume of the nef take on inequality can be found here.

What has inequality got to do with energy descent and sustainability - apart from the fact that they both appear to be causes associated with the left rather than the right in British politics? My gut feeling is: quite a lot.

More on the flatlining global temperature

I've commented before on the flatlining global surface temperature. This week I have found two very pertinent articles: first, from the website of The Economist, an extended discussion on that and related matters; second, on the Sceptical Science website, an article claiming that, far from flatlining, global warming has accelerated in recent years. The article, reporting a new paper by Balmaseda, Trenberth, and Källén, explains how much of the surplus heat from the sun is to be found deep in the oceans.

This would appear to confirm what some scientists were predicting five years ago, that natural fluctuations in ocean currents could depress the global surface temperature for about a decade.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Gross Domestic Problem

Oh dear, it's over a month since I last managed to post anything. It's been a very busy month, including attendance at two book launches, organised by the New Economics Foundation (nef). Following the first one, I arranged with a fellow nef supporter that we would try and organise a local study group in London, where I spend half my time. The idea is to make the study of sustainability issues a more communal activity. Our first meeting is next Wednesday but I've no idea as yet how many people will turn up. My feeling is that if we get four or five people who want to meet up on a regular basis, this will be a success.

The books, incidentally, were Gross Domestic Problem - the politics behind the world's most powerful number by Lorenzo Fioramonti and Cancel the Apocalypse by Andrew Simms.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Latest data on global warming

With all the data in for 2012 I have been looking at the latest figures on global warming. I've been looking forward to doing this since my posts last September in response to a speech by Nigel Lawson.

Here is basic picture since 1970 according to the three main datasets:-

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Click to enlarge
I took this at the weekend. This robin has been my constant companion while I have been coppicing.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Yet more on gas

Last week I posted about the dash for gas. The stimulus for that posting was Kevin Anderson's comments an article on the BBC News website giving the views of various commentators about fracking. I finished with a throwaway comment that there was an issue to be resolved between Kevin Anderson and Dieter Helm, whose book I recently reviewed.

Kevin Anderson's comments were not so much about fracking as such but about the principle of the UK expanding its production of fossil fuels. He says:-
"The UK's commitment to make our fair contribution to reduce emissions in line with keeping global warming below a 2C rise gives a very clear global carbon budget, and hence a UK budget: in other words, how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere over this century. Here the maths is unambiguous - we have insufficient budget for the carbon we are already emitting and by the time shale gas is produced in any quantity (five to 10 years), there will be no emissions space left for it."

Saturday, January 5, 2013

More on the dash for gas

A few weeks ago I commented on the "dash for gas" and speculated a little on possible arguments in favour of it. The following quote from Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research puts those speculations into perspective. He says:-
"We are heading towards a global temperature rise of 4C to 6C this century; if we want to get off this trajectory, shale gas needs to stay in the ground and we, in the wealthy world, need to consume much less energy - now."
 There seems to be an issue to be resolved here between Kevin Anderson and Dieter Helm.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Farewell, Christmas

The twelfth day of Christmas is approaching and life is gradually returning to normal. I don't regard Christmas as fully over until after January 7th, the Russian Orthodox Christmas. For several years during the Nineties I used to go on the evening of January 6th with Russian and Russophile friends to the Christmas Eve service at the main Russian Orthodox church in London - and enjoy the magnificent singing of the choir there.

I've got mixed views about Christmas. There is something about the spirit of Christmas that gets to me - particularly through the music of Christmas. Many is the time that I have put to one side my disbelief in Father Christmas and joined a scratch choir to sing some of those magnificent carols in harmony. Then there is that general ambience of bonomie, peace, goodwill to all men and all that. I love it.

Against that there is the awfulness of Christmas as a festival of material consumption. A couple of links are relevant here: this old posting in Slate in praise of Scrooge (which I found thanks to a link on Greg Mankiw's blog) and Annie Leonard's famous video, The Story of Stuff. I can't vouch for the accuracy of what she says and I'm not sure that her sideswipes at the military sharpen her message, but I love the video nevertheless.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Housing and land taxation

A Guardian article by Phillip Inman about housing caught my eye recently - particularly a passage towards the end:-
"The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Monetary Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies have in the past couple of years concluded that only an annual tax on land can end the obsession with property. Once landowners face a tax, they will free up land they are sitting on, rather than wait for a rising market to make a killing."
I have been an enthusiast for annual site-value land taxation for more than twenty years. This enthusiasm grew out of my involvement in housing policy, which was my main policy interest for thirty years or so, until it was eclipsed by global warming.