Archive for the 'Global meltdown' category

Book Review: “The Bet” by Paul Sabin

Dec 31 2013 Published by under Book Review, Global meltdown

I found this book over a book review by Bill Gates. Thanks to this tweet by Christopher N. Fox for the link.

The author is a history professor. This book is about recent United States history. It describes the debate about overpopulation and other environmental concerns in the decades between 1960 and 1990 in the United States, with a special emphasis on Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon, both of whom I had not heard before.

Paul Ehrlich published a book called “The Population Bomb” in 1968. That book warns of the dangers of overpopulation and asks people to do something about this problem.

In contrast, Julian Simon used to think that overpopulation is a problem as well, but reconsidered. If Bentham’s idea of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” as a goal of policy (utilitarianism) is correct, then having more people is better than having less.

So Julian Simon was one of the opponents of Ehrlich’s point of view. And the title of the book is a reference to a bet between Simon and Ehrlich, which has its own shiny Wikipedia entry here. This wager was on the price of five commodities over the next ten years. Simon took the optimistic view that those prices would go down, and Ehrlich the pessimistic view that as a consequence of overpopulation those prices would go up.

Simon won.

In a final chapter, Sabin describes how these discussions on overpopulation are related to present controversies over global warming. That’s where my interest lies right now.

And Sabin’s idea, which Bill Gates agrees with, is that the debate is too polarized now. He would like to see a more nuanced discussion of these questions.

Now for a couple of comments.

Obviously, Ehrlich was wrong on most of his short term predictions. That does not mean he will be wrong in the long term. But it is still quite true that his pessimism was overblown.

And it is also true that, if it is possible to sustain larger populations, the “greatest happiness of the greatest number” means larger populations are better than smaller ones. Population control may also conflict with valuing each individual life. That is most clearly understood with involuntary sterilizations or involuntary abortions (all abortions are of course involuntary from the point of view of the aborted person).

But what exactly can we learn from these discussions about global warming?

For one, all things equal, more people will need more energy and burn more fossil fuel than less people. China has listened to Ehrlich’s point of view and enacted a “one child policy“, which reduced China’s population by about 200 million people as compared to business as usual. That in turn means less CO2 from China at the same level of CO2 emissions per capita.

We also learn that it is difficult to exactly predict the future in the short term. And ten years is a short term when discussing these kind of issues.

While Ehrlich was wrong on the price of tin in 1990, he would have been right if he had bet on an increase on the price of fossil fuel from 1980 to 2010. Oil is substantially more expensive now than three decades ago, having gone from $30 to over $100 a barrel (after dropping to $20 in 1990).

And that is a good thing. All things equal, oil at $100 a barrel will lead to a faster transition from stinking gasoline cars to electrical vehicles than oil at $2 a barrel (the price in 1972). If anything, I hope that Jeremy Leggett is right with his peak oil predictions and the price of oil explodes like the price of bitcoins this year.

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Great Japanese Success

Nov 16 2013 Published by under Global meltdown, Japanese energy law

The Climate Action Tracker report on Japan’s latest policy discussed in the last post titled “Great Japanese Failure” gives some background on climate finance contributions on page 4.

For one, Japan has pledged funding of $16 billion (a whopping $2.28 per World capita) in financing up to 2015. That comes on top of $16.9 billion in the “fast start finance” period from 2010 to 2012, which leaves Japan way at the top of the list, with a contribution rate of 42.6 percent, followed by the EU at 24.7 percent.

Japan, one country, has contributed about double of the whole EU to the financial effort.

That’s a Great Success, and Japan can be proud of being the World’s top country, by far, in the category of financial contributions.

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Great Japanese Failure

Nov 16 2013 Published by under Global meltdown, Japanese energy law

The Japanese government has decided to replace the previous 2020 target of 25 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 with a target of a 3.1 percent increase.

This is the official document (in Japanese). Thanks to commentary at Kikonet here for the link.

Adding insult to injury, the Japanese government tries to mask this by selling it as “3.8 percent reduction compared to 2005″.

Do they think people are so stupid as not to look through this childish attempt at deception?

The official document says this is a very ambitious goal (野心的).

It is. I must admit that. It sure is.

That is, if your ambition is to show that Japan is the World’s worst country when dealing with climate change.

The official document also says that this revision is not counting any nuclear energy available in 2020. This makes sense at first glance. With all those nuclear reactors quietly gathering dust and fossil fuel getting burned instead, one would expect that it becomes more difficult to reach the previous 25 percent goal.

However, as this analysis by Climate Action Tracker points out, even a total nuclear shutdown by 2020 would only account for about 8 percent of the reduction to the new “ambitious” (haha) goal of plus 3.1 percent (a total movement in the wrong direction of 28.1 percent). Thanks to this Tweet by Kees van der Leun for the link.

Fortunately the document also says that the government is ready to reconsider. This part is important, so I cite it in full and provide a translation:

原子力発電の活用のあり方を含めたエネルギー政策及びエネルギーミックスが検討中であることを踏まえ、原子力発電による温室効果ガスの削減効果を含めずに設定した現時点での目標。

This target is set at the present time assuming no contribution to greenhouse gas emission reductions from nuclear energy, while Japan is in the process of debating energy policy (including nuclear energy) and the energy mix.

今後、エネルギー政策やエネルギーミックスの検討の進展を踏まえて見直し、確定的な目標を設定する。

We will fix a definite target later on, considering the progress of the discussion of energy policy and the energy mix.

This is not the last word. And it better not be.

I recall that Typhoon Hayan just hit the Philippines, causing catastrophic disaster. Japan could be next.

This lame response of the Japanese government is not what we need right now. The Climate Action Tracker report cited above gives Japan a failing degree of “inadequate”, and I agree completely with that assessment.

Related Post: Great Japanese Success

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Philippines Delegation Leader Yeb Sano Speech

Found at TckTckTck.

Of course, the Philippines have just been hit by the strongest storm in human history, Typhoon Hayan. That gives a lot of urgency to his statement.

As for the substance, he said that the Philippines wants to double their renewable capacity until 2020, and triple it until 2030.

Meanwhile, the coalition talks in Germany between the CDU/CSU and the SPD seem to result in a slowdown. Germany will probably not double capacity until 2020. I will have more to say about this once the results are official.

Just as a preliminary comment: They should be ashamed of themselves, thinking about saving some marginal cost in the short term right after this historical typhoon hit.

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James Hansen’s New Opinion on Venus Syndrome

Sep 18 2013 Published by under Global meltdown

James Hansen has published a new paper on climate sensitivity. Thanks to Joe Romm at Climate Progress for the link.

The part most interesting to me was section 7 d), titled “Runaway greenhouse”. That section says that it is impossible for humans to cause Venus syndrome (evaporation of all the oceans).

That is in direct contrast to what Hansen wrote in “Storms of My Grandchildren” in chapter 10, titled “Venus Syndrome”.

That chapter ends like this:

“I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe Venus syndrome is a dead certainty.”

I used to think Hansen knew what he’s talking about. I may have been wrong.

Anyway, if that new opinion is correct, that would be great news. Humanity would be unable to completely fry the planet. All we could do would be raise temperatures by an average of 25 degrees, which probably would lead to some exciting new opportunities for farming in the Antarctic, but fall way short of the level of damage required to kill all of humanity.

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Can’t Wait for Jeremy Leggett’s New Book Release

Jeremy Leggett‘s new book “The Energy of Nations” will be released on September 26th.

I just read the sample first chapter available for free. It deals with the idea of “peak oil”, noting a couple of interesting facts.

For example: it is obviously good news for renewable energy if oil prices go way up, as they have in the last decade.

It should be even better news if they go up even more, though Leggett doesn’t say that. Instead, he seems to be worried about oil peaking and then getting even more expensive.

I agree with his analysis that peak oil is something that may happen rather sooner than later. I don’t agree with the idea that this is a problem.

As far as I am concerned, the higher the oil price goes, the faster the transition to renewable energy will happen. And the bigger the relative profit for Germany will be from moving early in the transition to renewable energy.

Of course Leggett doesn’t discuss Phaseout Profit Theory. He probably never heard of this crazy idea of mine. But it is clear with a little thought that all the owners of oil fields are better off with a higher oil price. Therefore, they should hope that peak oil comes sooner rather than later, and they should contribute to having that happen by any way they can.

Leggett reports that one of the big oil companies, Shell, was caught falsifying the estimates of their reserves upwards. They should do exactly the opposite. If they are going to lie in the first place, they should tell the public that their reserves are very small and very unsure and very costly to extract. Doing this will send prices up, as well as the values of their oil fields.

And higher prices of course mean less stinking gasoline consumed, helping the climate. Everyone wins.

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Global Warming: Greatest Failure of Risk Management

Aug 27 2013 Published by under Global meltdown, Great News

John Abraham and Dana Nutticelli write at the Guardian that global warming is the greatest failure of human risk management, though they call it “climate change” (a mistake, since “climate change” sounds less threatening than “global warming”).

They don’t ask why humans are so bad at dealing with this particular risk. I have asked exactly that question, and my answer is (based on something Bruce Schneier said about the evolution of risk perception): Global warming is underestimated since it takes a long time to actually play out, and since it is a rather abstract concept.

And I have written my first global warming science fiction novel “Great News” as an effort to give global warming a more threatening face (an evil alien), so as to do something about this problem.

Kindly consider downloading the free PDF file here.

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New Negative Feedback Loop: Less Vegetation

Aug 18 2013 Published by under Global meltdown

A German group of researchers has published a paper in Nature titled “Climate extremes and the carbon cycle”, where it sits useless behind a paywall. Considering that German tax money pays for the salaries of the main authors, this state of affairs is most inappropriate. They should post it as a PDF on their website instead.

Fortunately, there is a short German summary available at Scinexx.

They have looked at the question: What effect have more frequent droughts and storms on vegetation?

As one might expect, drought and storms are bad news for forests and other forms of vegetation. There are more forest fires, and dryer environments means less vegetation.

That is of course exactly what one would expect.

What surprised me, though, was the amount of CO2 this negative feedback loop already causes right now. They say that 11 billion tons of CO2 less are taken out of the atmosphere because of these effects on vegetation. That’s about one third of human induced emissions.

I did not know about this particular problem, though it does make sense at first sight. What I knew already is that there will be plenty of other unfortunate effects I didn’t know about either in the future.

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“Hot War” on Global Warming

Jun 26 2013 Published by under Global meltdown

President Obama has released a climate action plan. It’s about time that happened. I wonder what took him so long. There is a speech at Georgetown university, a document describing the new plan, and a series of slides.

I have studied all of those and still could not find an announcement of putting some solar panels on the White House.  Someone at Dailykos asserts that this is in the plan somewhere, but I could not find it. Anyway, Obama should have got this done long ago, and certainly before presenting a climate action plan. It is very easy to do. Or, as I wrote in March:

Why THE FUCK are there still no solar panels on the White House?

The climate strategy announcement also leaves the door wide open for approving the Keystone pipeline. All Obama did was clarify some conditions. He can always say those were met later on. Maybe that’s when the solar panels will actually get on the White House roof, as a symbolic gesture to the climate hawks.

Obama seems to think that 3 GW of capacity for the American military until 2025 is something worth mentioning. I think this is an excellent symbol for the overall lameness of the plan. I recall that Germany installed around 3 GW of solar in the Month of December 2011. The American military machine can’t do better than that? Really?

What America should do is declare war on global warming, and call it the “Hot War” (in contrast to the historical Cold War). Global warming is the most severe security threat for that particular country, as well as for everyone else. It needs an adequate level of response. “3 GW until 2025″ is not quite adequate yet.

That said, it is some progress to see Obama come out as a climate hawk. That’s especially true since in the United States fossil fuel interests have bought one of the big parties and are blocking any legislation dealing with the issue. There are a lot of things the President can do without asking Congress for permission, and he seems to be doing quite a lot of interesting and useful things.

He might also help getting the climate deal scheduled for 2015 actually done. That would be a welcome change to the Kyoto protocol, where the United States didn’t show up for the early action.

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Bitcoin Useful For Climate Migrants

Jun 16 2013 Published by under Bitcoin Law, Global meltdown

One of the unfortunate consequences of the global warming predicted is that many people will be forced from their home countries. If your small island country disappears because of sea level rise, you need to go somewhere else. If your country is swallowed by the desert because of continuing drought, you need to go somewhere else.

Most people estimate the number of climate refugees between 150 and 200 million until 2050 (Wikipedia).

If a country disappears completely, those who have their money stored in bitcoins will be better off than those who have it in bank deposits in that country. Long before the country completely breaks down its financial system will collapse, with the savings of its citizens in it. And real estate values will also go down strongly.

Bitcoin can help people in such a situation. If they have their wealth stored in bitcoins, they will be able to easily take it with them wherever they are migrating to.

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