Tag Archives: climate change

Canada: The Laid-Back Uncle Who Joined the Tea Party

So what happened to Canada? I have followed the country’s politics only intermittently over the  years (despite being an international relations and politics junky and having relatives there). The Quebec secessionist movement was a newsmaker in my youth, but since that time I have seen Canada as like a rather laid-back (but a little bit boring) good-intentioned uncle, contrasting sharply with the schizophrenic one across the border.

Canada? To outsiders the country is the home of an efficiently functioning health service, sensible gun control, a well-regulated financial system and decent public education that covers the vast majority of its citizens. A veritable Switzerland set at the top of North America.

But then we come to climate change—and Mr and Mrs Common Sense metamorphosize into Sarah Palin-loving red necks screaming ‘drill baby drill’. How much of this can be put down solely to the lead of the government headed by Stephen Harper? Wikiepedia gives the gory details. And this article, via Skeptical Science, shows how the government’s tone has soured the usually sensible Canadian organs of state.

But what of the man or woman in the Canadian street? Have they been sneaking out the house surreptitiously to join a Tea Party-type gathering down the road? Continue reading

Climate Change: I Didn’t Do It My Way

When new acquaintances learn of my interest in climate change, most try to change the subject; but when they learn that I used to be very active in financial markets, they often become engaged in the conversation and ask  questions on economics or investment. Why should the reaction be so different?

For such people, the logic with respect to financial markets appears to go something like this: “I have no idea if this guy is full of bullshit or not, but he seems to know something about investment so let’s find out what he has to say.” But for global warming I find the following reaction: “I have no idea if this guy is full of bullshit or not, but he seems to know something about climate change so let’s find a way to change the conversation because it is making me feel uncomfortable.”

I have always been fascinated about the psychology behind financial markets, a field of study that was given the economics profession seal of approval when Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2002 (for the best business/economics book of 2012 read his Thinking Fast and Slow). Psychology helps explain why individuals, or groups of individuals, frequently act in certain ways that is different from the profit-maximising model underpinning neo-classical economics.

Similarly, my suspicion has been that psychology lies behind the reason why climate change has failed to engage the general public, even though they should be engaged for reasons of self-interest if nothing else.

The other day I stumbled across the blog of George Marshall, the founder of the charity Climate Outreach Information Network (COIN) who has been developing the same line of thinking for far longer than myself. The introduction to his blog contains a question:

This blog explores the topic of the psychology of climate change denial – with observations and anecdotes about our weird and disturbed response to the problem. It seeks to answer a question that has puzzled me for years: why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?

I encourage you to go through some of Marshall’s posts. They are not only insightful in trying to understand the apathy, indifference and denial that surrounds climate change but also sympathetic to the soft denialists (the vast majority of the population).

I will just pick up one theme that runs through the blog: narrative. Continue reading

Data Watch: UAH Global Mean Temperature Jan 2013 Release

The University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH) global average lower tropospheric temperature anomaly for January 2013 has been released via the web site of Dr Roy Spencer.

January 2013: Anomaly +0.51 degrees Celsius

This is the second warmest January temperature recorded since the satellite record was started in December 1978. The warmest January to date over this period was January 2010, with an anomaly of +0.59 degrees Celsius.

As background, five major global temperature time series are collated: three land-based and two satellite-based. The most high profile satellite-based series is put together by UAH and covers the period from December 1978 to the present. Like all these time series, the data is presented as an anomaly (difference) from the average, with the average in this case being the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010.

The official link to the data at UAH can be found here, but most months we get a sneak preview of the release via the climatologist Dr Roy Spencer at his blog.Spencer, and his colleague John Christy at UAH, are noted climate skeptics. They are also highly qualified climate scientists, who believe that natural climate variability accounts for most of recent warming. If they are correct, then we should see some flattening or even reversal of the upward trend within the UAH temperature time series. To date, we haven’t (click for larger image):

Latest Global Temps Jan 2013 jpg

Continue reading

The Wealth of Households and Existential Threats

Among the plethora of statistics put out by governments around the world, numbers on household wealth are relatively rare. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the U.K., however, is an exception through its publication of a detailed household wealth survey. Moreover, the survey size is such that we are able to get a sense of the household wealth of the British nation as a whole.

The lessons that can be drawn from this survey are not limited to the U.K. In short, the survey highlights the link between economic growth and individual wealth worldwide.

And here is the result. Aggregate total household wealth in the U.K. was £10.3 trillion (click for larger image, original report can be found here) for the most recent survey period.

Aggregate Total Wealth jpg

Interestingly, the greatest component of household wealth today is pensions rather than property (click for larger image).

Breakdown of Aggregate Wealth jpg

Links for Week Ending 26th of January

  • The San Francisco Chronicle has a must-read article for anyone exposed to low-lying U.S. real estate (here). 
  • On my bookshelf is a wonderfully written book by science historian and physicist Spencer Weart called the Discovery of Global Warming. Via The Big Picture, I find that The American Institute of Physics is hosting a user-friendly hypertext accompaniment to the book that tells you everything you need to know about the discovery of global warming.
  • Bjorn Lomborg is in the news again with an Op-Ed piece at the Wall Street Journal. Climate Science Watch does the debunking here. Lomborg, like Matt Ridley, appears to have open access to the Wall Street Journal’s pages. If you come to his writings with no background in the subject nor knowledge of primary sources, he appears persuasive. I must admit to having given a copy of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” to my mother as a Christmas present many years ago (before I saw the error of my ways). His arguments contain one part truthfulness, to one part falsehood to one part misrepresentation. At the end of the day, you have to rely on what mainstream climate scientists say about Lomborg’s views—which is that much of what Lomborg says is plain wrong.
  • I recently came across the Weatherdem blog. My type of blog: solid, concrete analysis coupled with a call to action. I am currently trying to get my head around the IPCC’s new Representative Concentrations Pathways (RCPs)—the CO2 emission projections commensurate with a certain level of greenhouse gas warming; Weatherdem has a good post explaining the emission paths here.
  • The two Bretton Woods institutions have been missing in action when it comes to climate change. Fortunately, one now “gets it”. The World Bank’s “Turn Down the Heat” report released in November 2012 is a watershed. Even more encouraging is that the president of the World Bank Jim Young Kim has thrown his authority behind the awareness raising. This article by him in the Washington Post could not be more clear. And it’s personal: ‘My wife and I have two sons, ages 12 and 3. When they grow old, this could be the world they inherit. That thought alone makes me want to be part of a global movement that acts now.” Bravo. Now if only the IMF could get on board (it’s current coverage of climate risk is desultory).

Bob Dudley of BP and Denial

Last week saw the publication of BP’s Energy Outlook 2030. This is one of the troika of reports that peer into the future world of energy (and, therefore, carbon emission and concentration trajectories). The other two major forecasts are the Annual Energy Outlook issued by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the World Energy Outlook put out by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Through reading these reports, you can benchmark your thoughts as to how the world’s climate will evolve in the decades to come. All three report make depressing reading for anyone vaguely acquainted with the potential impacts from high rates of global warming. BP’s Energy Outlook provides a handy reference chart putting the central energy consumption forecast of all three organisations side by side (click for larger image):

BP Growth in Energy Consumption copy

The IEA provides two forecasts: a New Policies Scenario (NPS) that assumes governments will translate vague fossil fuel emission mitigation commitments to actual concrete policies, and a Current Policies Scenario (CPS) that is basically business as usual. The abbreviation ‘toe’ refers to tonnes of oil equivalent.

For BP, the roughly 4.5 billion toe rise in energy consumption from 2011 to 2030 is about 36% in percentage terms. Further, the increase is dominated by fossil fuels as can be seen the chart below (click for larger image):

BP Energy Consumption Outlook jpg

What key message does BP’s CEO Bob Dudley want to communicate within his introduction to the report: Continue reading

The Republican Party’s Climate Change Cul-de-Sac

Back in 2009, I was having a long lunch with a banking analyst in Tokyo. Somehow, the topic of climate change was raised. My luncheon companion, an American, suddenly came out with the following comment:

Of course, I don’t believe in global warming; I’m a Republican.

I almost fell off my chair. To me, climate change is a subject like Newtonian physics or plate tectonics—in other words, not appropriate for political categorisation. It was then that I realised that climate change was becoming a so called wedge issue in the U.S.: a key determiner of one’s political allegiance.

The transformation has been swift. The Republican Party’s platform of 2008 included a whole section on “Addressing Climate Change Responsibly” within a chapter entitled “Environmental Protection”. It contained these words:

The same human economic activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. While the scope and longterm consequences of this are the subject of ongoing scientific research, common sense dictates that the United States should take measured and reasonable steps today to reduce any impact on the environment. Those steps, if consistent with our global competitiveness will also be good for our national security, our energy independence, and our economy.

A Washington Post article contrasts and compares this approach with the 2012 platform: Continue reading

Links for Week Ending 12th January

  • Desdemona Despair looks back at the year through 50 images.
  • While Prof Stephan Lewandowsky at Shaping Tomorrow’s World lists the 19 top climate events of 2012.
  • A lovely piece of journalism by Edward Platt in the New Statesman  covering Britain’s flood capital Tewkesbury.
  • Stuart Staniford’s Early Warning blog is consistently interesting. This week Stuart has some insights into CO2 emission paths (here).
  • Brace yourselves for food price rise in 2013 according to Liam Halligan in The Telegraph.
  • Joe Romm at Climate Progress flags the release of a draft of the U.S. Climate Assessment. I intend to post on this over the coming week.
  • One of my favourite authors, Jared Diamond, has a new book out called “The World until Yesterday”. A previous book of his, “Collapse”, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the implications of a changing climate. A summary of the collapse theme plus a link to an excellent presentation on Youtube made by Diamond can be found at TH!NK (here).

Global Trends 2030: Futurology Fit for a President? (Part 1 Climate Change)

Every four years,  just before inauguration, each incoming president gets a 100-page National Intelligence Council (NIC) briefing called “Global Trends” that looks at potential risks to the United States 20 years ahead. As futurology goes, the report’s aims are quite cautious:

The report is intended to stimulate thinking about the rapid and vast geopolitical changes characterizing the world today and possible global trajectories during the next 15-20 years. As with the NIC’s previous Global trends reports, we do not seek to predict the future—which would be an impossible feat—but instead provide a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications.

The NIC is the long-term strategic think tank of the U.S. Intelligence Community, which in turn is a cooperative federation of 16 U.S. government agencies (including the CIA) that work on intelligence issues. Continue reading

Australian Climate: The Unlucky Country

In 1964, a book was published that caught the Australian public’s attention. It was called “The Lucky Country”. Ironically, while the book was a social critique of 1960s Australian society, the term The Lucky Country took a life of its own and came to represent the good life that Australia offered: a life founded on clement weather, bountiful natural resources and a peaceful civil society.

For the British, The Lucky Country allure was overpowering and tens of thousands made the long journey to a new life every year; indeed, today over 1 million Australian residents give their place of birth as the British Isles. Decades on, much of The Lucky Country elixir still seems in place: a high standard of living, relatively low unemployment and an economy still benefiting from a natural resources boom. So, for a family with young children stuck in austerity Britain, surely emigration to Australia if an appealing option, especially if the parent’s principal concern is to open up fresh opportunities for their children.

Unfortunately, my advice over whether to emigrate to Australia would have to be “no” for one single reason: climate. In sum, as the children of today grow into the adult workforce of tomorrow, the Australian climate could be a much more malevolent thing than it is now. Indeed, it could be so different as to transform Australian society if no concerted global effort is made to restrict carbon emissions.

Austalian Max Temperature copy

The current heatwave in Australia gives us all a sneak preview of things to come (click chart above for larger image, source here) both in its severity, extent and duration. Continue reading