Category Archives: Uncategorized

Links for the Week Ending 8 December

  • The rapid release of methane over northern latitudes has been identified as a major source of climate change risk. David Archer, over at realclimate.org, reviews a couple of major recent papers on the subject. His conclusion from the findings of these papers is that methane releases remains a concern but should not usher in the apocalypse (at least for a few hundred years or so yet).
  • The cover of The New Scientist last week was “Climate Slowdown: Is It Time to Stop Worrying about Global Warming?” (Hint: the answer given was “No”, sort of.) Unfortunately, the lead editorial and main article is behind a paywall, but 350.org has a synopsis here. The main explanation for the current warming hiatus is the transfer of heat to the deep ocean, but we still haven’t pinned down the contribution of sulphur aerosols (I really don’t understand why satellites can’t calculate the solar radiation reflected by aerosols back into space and thus the earth system energy balance more accurately). For how long heat could be transferred down from the earth’s surface to the deep ocean in sufficient quantities to maintain the hiatus also appears to be a known unknown—could this go on for years more, or even decades? Obviously, eventually a change in temperature gradient would stop this heat transfer, but my guess would be that the aggregate heat transfer required to do this would be vast given the size of the deep ocean. So the determining factor is ocean current variability (which we don’t know much about)?
  • By the way, the UK’s Met Office also tackled the some subject, the deceleration in rising temperatures, in a series of reports back in July; here, here and here.
  • Regardless of the science, society (and politics) has made climate change almost a taboo subject. The Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) has a paper out on the subject of climate silence and how to tackle it here
  • Last week I did a post on income inequality. One of the leading US scholars working on this problem is Lane Kenworthy. Here is an article he did back in July on how governments can tackle the problem.
  • I talk a lot on the secular-stagnation-of-the-West thesis (Tyler Cowen, Robert Gordon, etc). But here is an alternative explanation by Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber for our travails based on a policy decision to accommodate globalisation and the rise of China. Interesting.

Links for the Week Ending 1 December

  • There has been a lot of press comment (including Martin Wolf of The Financial Times here) on a talk of Larry Summers (who was recently pipped by Janet Yellen for the Federal Reserve Governor nomination) at an IMF panel early in November; in particular, Summers’ concern that US employment has barely budged over the last four years and that there has been no growth catch-up. Best in such a situation to go to the source of the chatter, which is his speech here (his main argument starts at 2:15 minutes). Just as a heads up, Summers basically believes that the growth problem lies in a lack of monetary policy efficacy at the zero interest rate bound; I think the problem is much more structural in nature. Listen to the speech (only 16 minutes long).
  • Unlike The Daily Mail, the UK’s right-leaning Telegraph can, on occasion, report environmental issues without following a strict party line. (Indeed, on The Telegraph‘s roster is Geoffrey Lean, one of the best writers on green issues in the UK.) But last week I was most surprised by an article written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on global soil depletion.  Evans-Pritchard usually saves his passion for economic and financial issues, so I was pleased to see him focus on land degradation. And here is the original paper in Science that the article was based on.
  • I have a bunch of books by Vaclav Smil on my bookshelf, and am currently reading “Harvesting the Biosphere”. Smil is an extraordinary polymath and a favourite of Bill Gates. Given Gates’ close association with Wired Magazine, it is not surprising to see a good interview with Smil in Wired here discussing energy and a lot more else.
  • Two of my favourite blogs on energy depletion, The Oil Drum and Early Warning have gone dormant over the last year (the former permanently, the latter I hope temporarily). However, Gail the Actuary is still posting at Our Finite World. I don’t always agree with her analysis but boy do we need more such commentary challenging the cornucopian consensus.
  • William Nordhaus, the doyen of economists looking at climate change, has a new book out called “The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty and Economics for a Warming World“, which I flagged in ‘Links’ a couple of weeks ago. Put it on your Christmas wish list, but if no-one is obliging enough to buy it for you, then at least read this article by Martin Wolf (again) in The Financial Times, which captures the essence of Nordhaus’ thinking.

Links for the Week Ending 24 November

  • Every political movement is a broad church: no ideology can capture the shifting subtleties of a range of policy prescriptions. As a fellow traveller in the Transition Network movement, I see this truism vividly revealed when it comes to nuclear (and perhaps also GM, but that is another story). Transition attracts many former New Agers who have an anti-science bias coded into their DNA. Yet is also appeals to highly educated free-spirited techies who prefer Wired Magazine to healing crystals. The New Agers don’t take kindly to articles such as this in the New York Times advocating the case for nuclear, but personally I think nuclear should play an integral part in protecting the planet—surely the core New Age belief.
  • On my bookshelf is a text on economics and forecasting by Robert Pindyck, a famous MIT economist. Pindyck recently stepped into the fray on climate change by publishing an NBER working paper called “Climate Change: What Do the Models Tell Us?” In the article, he attacks 1) climate sensitivity models for their inability to grasp the uncertainties in feedback loops (I don’t really agree with this) and 2) the poor state of damage functions that model climate change economic impacts (I almost completely agree with this). At first glance, this plays to the climate skeptic meme of “the models are useless, so we shouldn’t take any action” (and I am sure this is how they will spin the paper). Yet Pindyck’s conclusion is that we should still enact a carbon tax since the cost of adverse outcomes could be unacceptably high—even if, as he states, this is based on a subjective evaluation. The journalist Robert Samuelson gives a short commentary on Pindyck’s arguments here (if you don’t want to wade through the original NBER paper).
  • The Financial Times had an excellent series of articles at the beginning of the week on the job prospects of the new cohort of graduates called “Class of the Crunch”. It makes chilling reading, with new graduates facing a combination of fewer graduate level jobs, lower starting salaries for the jobs that do remain and, of course, a big debt burden even before entry into the workforce.
  • That said, the job prospects of those without tertiary qualifications are far worse. The OECD’s flagship report on educational statistics across member states, “Education at a Glance 2013” starts with an editorial documenting the growing gap between those with high and low educational attainment between 2008 and 2011–although systems with a vocationally orientated secondary education systems such as Germany have managed to control this gap to a certain extent.
  • The Independent newspaper led its front page on Monday with “Exposed: The Myth of the Global Warming Pause“. For reference, the original article that underpins The Independent‘s reporting can be found here.  Personally, I am highly sceptical that any one paper will suddenly transform our knowledge and understanding of a particular phenomenon overnight (although this does on occasion happen). That is why the regular “New Paper Disproves Global Warming” type headline favoured by Watts Up with That and its climate skeptic ilk is of such low intellectual worth. Quite probably, measurement error accounts for some of the temperature hiatus, but I think it more likely that we have a number of layered factors causing the pause. I could be wrong, but I would prefer to make my mind up on the strength of more than one paper (and one newspaper headline).

Links for the Week Ending 17 November

  • A must read for anyone trying to navigate the future is Tyler Cowen’s 2011 book “The Great Stagnation“, which tackled the two critical modern economic challenges of slowing growth and rising inequality against the backdrop of changing technology-driven productivity. Cowen is now back with a follow-up called “Average Is Over“. For a gist of his latest thinking read this interview for The New Yorker, or better still listen to the hour-long EconTalk podcast with Cowen here.
  • American Prospect’s “The State of Work in the Age of Uncertainty” contains some great graphics showing how the trends Cowen elucidates go back decades. The one US politician who has written most eloquently on this issue is Elizabeth Warren in books such as “The Two Income Trap“. At the minute, her guns are focussed on Wall Street, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the explosive issue of inequality takes her all the way to the White House in the future.
  • In the UK, the question of rising inequality in a modern economy has also moved front and centre of the political debate for both the left and right. The UK government’s recently released “State of the Nation: Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain” reflects many of Cowen’s themes, particularly two fundamental changes: 1) “growing insecurity among average income families, not just lower income ones” and 2) the fact that “child poverty is overwhelmingly a problem facing working families, not just the workless”. If you don’t want to wade through the report, here is a speech addressing the key issues given last week by Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister but now the coalition government’s social mobility tsar.
  • I have generally been skeptical that shale oil and shale gas are the “game changers” portrayed in the media. Here is Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser popping another over-hyped aspect of shale—its ability to spark a US manufacturing renaissance.
  • The climate change pressure group 350.org has had some success in pushing university endowments to disinvest from fossil fuel. Accordingly, the statement by Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, refusing to consider such action has caused a huge rumpus. Here is Drew’s “Fossil Fuel Divestment Statement“. I don’t agree, but that deserves a blog post.

Links for the Week Ending 10 November

  • One of the few things heterodox economists‘ share is a rejection of neoclassical economic theory. Consensus neoclassical economists, in turn, generally ignore heterodox economists, accusing then of a lack rigour or worse (which basically means heterodox economists are accused of not being able to understand neoclassical economics). Herman Daly is a slightly more difficult target to skewer. Although a leading heterodox economist, Daly also has an impeccable training in neoclassical economics. Here is Daly setting out 10 policy prescriptions for ‘steady state’ economics.
  • Thankfully, some aspects of the heterodox agenda have already entered the mainstream, including ‘happiness studies’. The OECD, for example, has just issued its second “How’s Life, Measuring Well Being Report”. You can find the full report here and a presentation on the report here.
  • My last post took issue with George Marshall of the Climate Change Denial blog (although I am in broad agreement with his approach to the psychology of climate change communication). A previous post of Marshall’s looked at an interesting paper in Nature estimating the year in which the globe would see a new normal in climate (a year when the coldest possible temperature likely to be recorded would be above the current hottest recorded temperature), and suggested this approach could provide a useful narrative in the climate change debate. The article is behind a paywall, but you can see a 25 minute presentation on the paper’s thesis here.
  • Meanwhile, for those living in Europe, a new report by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute looks at how extreme weather events will unfold in the coming decades. Given the lack of progress in mitigation, the risk averse should try to keep fully abreast of such reports with a view to adaption in Europe.
  • In last week’s links I picked up on a couple of leading economists who have focussed on the decline in economic growth. This week I want to flag an article published a few weeks back by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in the New York Times looking at inequality. Stiglitz piece, in turn, draws heavily upon the work of Branko Milanovic and his book “The Haves and the Have Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality. Milanovic has tracked growing income inequality since the 1980s and an introduction to his findings can be found in this short IMF article here.

Links for the Week Ending 3 November

  • The relationship between technological progress on the one hand and economic growth and income inequality on the other has exploded as a topic of debate over the last couple of years. Here is Brad Delong speaking (with characteristic style) on the issue at the Berkeley Festival of Ideas. Delong quotes Larry Summers on how many men are becoming increasingly superfluous in the modern age:

“My friend and coauthor Larry Summers touched on this a year and a bit ago when he was here giving the Wildavsky lecture. He was talking about the extraordinary decline in American labor force participation even among prime-aged males–that a surprisingly large chunk of our male population is now in the position where there is nothing that people can think of for them to do that is useful enough to cover the costs of making sure that they actually do it correctly, and don’t break the stuff and subtract value when they are supposed to be adding to it.”

  • Summers’ April 2012 Wildavsky lecture entitled “Economic Possibilities for Our Children” is fascinating in itself and can be found here (Summer starts at 10 minutes into the video). And, for balance, take a look at Joel Moky’s more optimistic outlook here.
  • I’ve been very disappointed with the media reception to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The climate change outlook has continued to darken since 2007 when AR4 was published, but this message has just not come through to the general public. As an example, here is Stefan Rahmstorf  on the Real Climate blog explaining how AR5’s sea level rise estimate is substantially more pessimistic than that in AR4. Does the general public know or care that their children and grandchildren will have to deal with a large rise in sea level: probably not.
  • At the centre of any bullish forecast of global oil production is the continued recovery in Iraqi oil output. For example, the last published International Energy Agency (IEA)’s World Energy Outlook sees Iraqi output rising from 3 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2012 to 6 million bpd in 2020. This is, of course, premised on the security situation remaining stable in Iraq. Unfortunately, 2013 has seen a marked deterioration. The blog Musings on Iraq provides a grisly table of deaths here. In this connection, The Brookings Institution‘s Iraq Index  publishes an authoritative source of statistics on Iraq’s security situation. The last release was in July 2013 and showed the beginnings of the uptick in bombings and attacks; I expect the next release to chronicle the continued deterioration in political stability.

Links for the Week Ending 26 October

Apologies for the paucity of posts in recent weeks. I’ve become rather overstretched and the blog has been a casualty as a result. Anyway, here are some links that have caught my eye in recent weeks:

  • Tamino in his Open Mind blog looks at the much-loved-by-skeptics 15-year hiatus period from 1998 to 2012 in temperature rise. Contrast and compare the 98-12 period with that of 92-06 and be enlightened.
  • Paul Krugman has a very perceptive piece in the op-ed section of The New York Times called “Addicted to the Apocalypse”. In it, he takes issue with all those financiers, economists and commentators who have been arguing that “the sky is falling down” (for a taste of this meme read the blog Zero Hedge). Given my own blog, whilst not apocalyptic over the short term, is certainly pessimistic, Krugman’s criticisms apply equally to me. My view has changed a little recently, and I accept that the post credit-crisis period has seen a complete victory for monetarism: we have not all died of debt and Krugman is right to point this out. Restated, central banks have put into practice never-tried-before text book theory – and this ‘theory into practice’ has worked. Whether such a policy can work over the longer term, given that the underlying lack of economic growth hasn’t improved at all, is a completely different question. So I remain a worried parent with regard to my children’s future.
  • Staying with Krugman, I am always astonished, and a little jealous, of how he can be so prolific but at the same time maintain such quality. Here he is in The New York Review of Books reviewing William Nordhaus’ book “The Climate Crisis: Risk, Uncertainty and Economics for a Warming World”. Nordhaus is probably the world’s leading economist writing on climate change today, and Krugman has a lot to say about Nordhaus’ approach to the problem.
  • Of the UK political weeklies, I dip into both the left-learning New Statesman and the right-leaning Spectator on occasion. Here is a nice piece by Felix Martin of The New Statesman looking at the natural scientist’s approach and social scientist’s approach to global population limits.
  • The US Energy Information Agency has an interesting analysis of why rig count is no longer a good forecaster of natural gas and oil production. I take on board the technical point that new rigs have different capabilities than those of the past, but still flag that US natural gas production has plateaued and, without new investment, looks on the verge of falling back. Note the comments of the outgoing CEO of Shell on how he regrets his big bet on shale (see here in The FT) and a separate FT article entitled “US Shale Is a Surprisingly Unprofitable Miracle”. This blog has been flagging the non-existent miracle in shale for a long time and also calling out academics like Dieter Helm who believe that the energy policy of most advanced countries could be built on a foundation of shale. Even the mainstream press appears to be realising the view of Helm and his fellow travellers is nonsense.