Saturday, September 20, 2014

What's all this about a Win-Win climate situation?

Merely three months after The World Bank and former U.S. treasury secretary Henry Paulson presented plans that show how we can address climate problems while prospering economically, the IMF and the  New Climate Economy project1 have come up with very similar ideas!

The International Monetary Fund's idea is that putting a price on CO2 emissions would actually enhance economic growth. The IMF shows it has done the math in a working paper2.

It gets better: the New Climate Economy report has 10 recommendations for growth -
Recommendations 1 to 6 define the necessary conditions for better, low-carbon, climate-resilient investment and growth; recommendations 7 to 10 focus on the potential for sectoral change which drives future growth and lower climate risk, specifically in urban, land use and energy systems.
There you have it. Just as world leaders gather in NYC for a crucial UNO climate meeting, and thousands plan to march, we have compelling evidence that we can not only survive but prosper as well.

As Paul Krugman snidely puts it in his New York Times piece: "if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality."
by Daniel B. O'Leary, Montreal, 20 Sept., 2014

  1. Global Commission on the Economy and Climate - New Climate Economy project
  2. Ian Parry, Chandara Veung and Dirk Heine, How Much Carbon Pricing is in Countries’ Own Interests? The Critical Role of Co-Benefits, IMF Fiscal Affairs Department Working Paper WP/14/174
  3.  Paul Krugman, Errors and Emissions, Could Fighting Global Warming Be Cheap and Free? New York Times, SEPT. 18, 2014

Monday, July 07, 2014

SHOCKER - no electronics at the Faraday Cafe!

“There was life before the Internet,” said artist Julien Thomas, adding Smart phones mean people can cede memory to their devices. There’s no need to remember phone numbers, geography or definitions. We have given up that responsibility to remember things that are important.”

The Faraday Café in Vancouver is temporarily home to a place where folks can go to leave all their digital baggage behind, for the price of a cup of coffee. No tweets, hashtags or pokes. For Mr. Thomas and his like-minded artist clients, disconnection is vital to restoring creativity.

The e-fugitive spends the coffee break in a fine wire-mesh enclosure that can screen out air-borne electronic contaminants. The safe haven is named for Michael Faraday, the father of electronics applications and inventor of the mesh cage. The enclosure keeps external static and non-static electric fields out by directing electricity through the wire net, and is used in laboratories. Thus the cage provides an escape. If ever a situation reflected the progress trap, this is it.

But what would Faraday think, having the most sophisticated electronic applications blocked by one of his simpler inventions?

Source: Globe and Mail
By Daniel B. O'Leary, 7 July, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The World Bank and Henry Paulson on Climate Change and Risky Business

We can deal with climate change AND create jobs.
June 2014.  Introducing his 'Risky Business' program, Henry Paulson recently wrote in the New York Times1 that its goals are to:

"..develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs as we and other nations develop new energy products and infrastructure. This would strengthen national security by reducing the world’s dependence on governments like Russia and Iran. Climate change is the challenge of our time."

Paulson served as secretary of the U.S. Treasury from July 2006 to January 2009, and is thus well positioned to learn from the past. It was on his watch that the 2008 financial crash developed, and all leaders could emulate his candour: "We’re making the same mistake today with climate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy."

The Risky Business project (riskybusiness.org) is intended to mitigate climate change while strengthening alternative energy economies and jobs. What is risky is that it plans to act now rather than waiting for all the science to come in. It's courageous because Paulson is a conservative, as is his partner in this project former Mayor Bloomberg, and these notions are not popular in quarters where many deny climate change even exists. As Paulson puts it, "We’ll never know enough to resolve all of the uncertainties. But we know enough to recognize that we must act now."

In the same week, The World Bank issued a report3 - "Climate-Smart Development." It shows that the practical benefits from actual projects illustrate how the goal of mitigating climate change while boosting economies can be achieved. The case studies involve:
  • Sustainable Transport in India
  • Cleaner Coookstoves in China
  • Solid Waste Management in Brazil
  • Biogas digestion and solar photovoltaics in Agriculture - Mexico
These projects showed that the aggregate benefits over 20 years of the four development projects will accomplish:
  • 195,000 to 261,000 new jobs
  • 1million–1.5 million tons of crop loss avoided
  • About 1 million lives saved
  • $37 billion–$60 billion increases to GDP
  • 350–520 Megaton (million metric tons) CO2 equivalents3 reduction
The World Bank is very confident that climate-smart development will "secure growth, increase jobs and competitiveness, save lives and slow the rate of climate changes."

Avoiding the progress trap
Henry Paulson could not have expressed the progress trap paradox better: "I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course."

by Daniel O'Leary, Montreal, 28 June 2014

1. Henry M. Paulson Jr. The Coming Climate Crash, New York Times,  June 21, 2014
2. World Bank Climate-Smart Development report
3. CO2, BC, methane (CH4), HFCs, and nitrous oxide (N2O).

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cosmos and Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, you asked..

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves" - Shakespeare

Allow me to transcribe some eloquent lines spoken by Niel deGrasse Tyson in Episode 9 of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey. The topic is mass extinction of species, such as befell the dinosaurs. After extolling the human skills that gave rise to civilizations, he observes:
There is nothing like the inter-glacial period—one of those balmy intermissions in the ice age—and the great news is that this one is due to last for another fifty thousand years. What a break for our kind!
    Just one problem, we can't seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age in the form of coal, and the remains of ancient plankton in the form of oil and gas. If we could we'd be home free - climate wise. 
    Instead we're dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past - the ones that led to mass extinctions.
    We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kind of fuel that'll bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs - a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on our environment and our ability to feed ourselves.
    All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can't we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us?
    The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming - what's our excuse? 1
A similar question has been asked by the author of Collapse, Jared Diamond:
it is clear from all the cases discussed in this book that precisely such a failure has happened repeatedly. How did so many societies make such bad mistakes? ...a baffling phenomenon: namely, failures of group decision-making..2
Diamond offers several explanations, including: absent prior experience, reasoning by false analogy,  imperceptibility, distant managers, creeping normalcy, landscape amnesia, rationalized greed, sunk-cost effect, denial and resource exhaustion. In The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainer linked the loss of creativity to the growth of complexity.3

Clearly human behavior has a lot to do with it, in addition to the obvious ability of vested interests to preserve the status quo and create diversions. What is baffling is why science has not taken up the challenge of determining how as humans we often undermine our best efforts.

Ongoing research for the author's progress trap project shows that the following behavioural factors may also contribute:
  • habituation
  • inattentional blindness
  • epigenetics (change passed down from parent to child, one generation to the next)
  • impaired emotional intelligence
  • addiction
  • technocratic obsession
  • incomplete paradigm shifts
  • cognitive overload
  • impaired (environmental) feedback loops
  • disconnection syndromes
  • phenomenal dissociation
  • institutional bias
The neurological aspect has been discussed by Antonio Damasio. In Descartes Error, he criticized the pioneering philosopher-mathematician and lamented the exclusively rational tendencies of science. In a lecture on Emotion and reason in the future of human life, he applies the same thinking to the environmental context:
It is difficult to conceive of any future for human life without an abundance of collective human wisdom and such wisdom depends upon a well-tempered machinery for decision-making within which emotion and reason are interwoven.4
Examination of the neurological factors could make the whole issue a lot less baffling. Indeed, the unfairly maligned left-brain right-brain debate does throw light on this paradox, providing insight into 'normal' human actions that are often at odds with our own long-term interests. As Iain McGilchrist, also a critic of Descartes, wrote:
the left hemisphere may be 'inadequate for the more rapid complex syntheses achieved by the [right] hemisphere...This broader field of attention, open to whatever may be, and coupled with greater integration over time and space, is what makes possible the recognition of broad or complex patterns, the perception of the “thing as a whole,” seeing the wood for the trees... In short, the left hemisphere takes a local short-term view, where the right hemisphere sees the bigger picture.5
The explanations that Diamond and McGilchrist offer are surely the beginnings of serious inquiries that will answer Neil deGrasse Tyson's question.

The rest of us would also like to know.

Notes
  1. Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey  Episode 9 - The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth,  2014
  2. Jared Diamond, Collapse, Viking Penguin, New York, 2005. p420
  3. Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press; 1988
  4. Antonio Damasio, "Emotion and Reason in the Future of Human Life," Mind, brain, and the environment, Bryan Cartledge, ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1998, p. 57.
  5. McGilchrist, Iain. Reciprocal organization of the cerebral hemispheres,  (2010). Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(4), 503–515.
  
  

    Sunday, May 18, 2014

    What is 10,000 times greater than the rate at which humankind consumes energy?

    A new study by NASA finds that the rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in "an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea."  The study suggests that sea level rise projections for this century are toward the high-end of the IPCC range, which is 1 - 3 feet (26 to 98 centimeters).

    The NASA video, narrated by Eric Rignot of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, illustrates what Mother Jones magazine has described as a "Holy Shit Moment for Global Warming" and can be seen on YouTube:


    More graphics are available at the NASA website 

    - and the press release is at:

    But wait - there is good news. Lots of it.
    To underline how unnecessary these problems are, consider this from the IPPCC:

    "Solar energy is the most abundant of all energy resources. Indeed, the rate at which solar energy is intercepted by the Earth is about 10,000 times greater than the rate at which humankind consumes energy."
    http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srren/Summary%20for%20Policymakers.pdf

    http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/srren-figures-ts/srren-figure-ts.1.7

    * Arvizu, D., P. Balaya, L. Cabeza, T. Hollands, A. Jäger-Waldau, M. Kondo, C. Konseibo, V. Meleshko,
    W. Stein, Y. Tamaura, H. Xu, R. Zilles, 2011: Direct Solar Energy. In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

    Sunday, April 06, 2014

    What is a science graduate and aspiring journalist to do?

    - if you haven’t already been snapped up.

    First let me thank the McGill (University) Daily for inviting me to participate in a panel on Science Journalism in the Digital Age. The March, 2014 event was coordinated by Diana Kwon, the Sci & Tech Editor. Co-panelists were Elizabeth Howell, space and science journalist, and David Secko, science journalism professor at Concordia University, in Montreal. This post summarizes some of my main points.

    So, if you haven’t already been recruited by the mainstream media, there are things you can and should do. Explore and promote your own idea(s). One benefit is that you will be marking out your territory. The other is that you will learn hands-on ‒ and often at little cost ‒ what works and what doesn’t, digitally.

    For example, even though my own book Escaping the progress trap never made any best-seller lists,
    • the sites that complement it, progresstrap.org and progresstrap.blogspot.com consistently rate near the top on Google searches . That’s due to careful SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and regular, focused updates to the blog and the main site,
    • the book also has an electronic edition - eBooks are often short and can be produced at little or no cost,
    • the most frequently read page at the book’s site is about Tikopia,  and that page is also close to the top of Google searches for Tikopia,
    • the most frequently read page on the Blog is  Creativity: how extraordinary is the ordinary person's mind – an excerpt from the book.

    The Territory
    The digital extensions of this book are thus beneficial, and the 'territory' has been marked out, something that needs doing even if you have copyright and your work is widely known. In 23 years, only one author has claimed to have coined the term “progress trap” since I registered copyright on it in 1991.

    Harvard Bookstore

    Not built in a day
    Some books do take time – for instance We, the Tikopia by Raymond Firth, was published in London in 1936 and languished unsold until WWII, when the publisher had to decide whether to dispose of it, or not. The book survived the blitz and eventually found a market after the war.

    Quality, not quantity?
    As a fictional aside one recalls the amusing episode from Angels and Demons where the character Robert Langdon ruefully proclaims upon unearthing one of the cryptic clues “ aaah.. just a few days with this and I could have finished my book …  and sold dozens of copies at the Harvard Bookstore.”

    The digital world
    So, on to the digital real world: There are many ways to analyse the performance of your site, blog, tweets & videos, and more internet tools than one can hope to use. Most of us rely on Google Analytics to gauge a site’s performance. For a general overview of the state of the net there is the Technorati.com assessment of internet publishing in its many forms: The 2013 Digital Influence Report is useful on blogging, social media and multimedia.


    Common wealth
    The Creative Commons license provides a free springboard to source material that is often the basis for serious, professional study and reporting. Better yet, Open Data sources from many international bodies such as the World Bank are available. There is also Open Science Data  and many governments provide Open Data. Yes it’s Ok to consult Wiki. If you can’t bring yourself to cite Wikipedia, do cite one of the peer-reviewed articles that you are likely to find among their references. After actually reading that article, of course.


    Anyone for MOOCs?
    If you suddenly feel the need for more expert knowledge, don’t be shy to take a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Perhaps the best known are under the MIT-Harvard umbrella known as EDX.org. They are free for the most part and don’t take up too much time. I have taken three in the last year and now have Harvard, Berkeley and Oxford on my resume. FYI, EDX.org is just now hyping Street-Fighting Math, #educatedguessing.

    Jobs
    While it is true that traditional media outlets have been trimming science staff, the jobs haven’t gone away. Science isn’t going away. It gets more intricate all the time, needing expert interpretation for voters, policymakers, investors and everyone else. Many organizations rely on new media for communicating their interests. One example is the Mayo Clinic that lists about thirty staffers in its Communications department. The newswise.com site also lists 14 Canadian Institutions and their newsroom personnel.

    Success
    It means different things to different people and usually takes endurance, smarts as well as copious resources. This little blog post of mine can assure neither fame, fortune, professional accolades ‒ or any of the above ‒ to anyone. On the other hand, you might be invited to speak at McGill University!

    The last word – goes to Jared Diamond
    “The Easter Islanders' isolation probably also explains why I have found that their collapse, more than the collapse of any other pre-industrial society, haunts my readers and students. The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious. Thanks to globalization, international trade, jet planes, and the Internet, all countries on Earth today share resources and affect each other…..Thus, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples and past peoples.”
    Jared Diamond, Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Viking 2005

    Thanks also to the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA)

    Tuesday, December 31, 2013

    Start 2014 with some good news - more clean energy for you!

    While the year brought its fare share of bad news stories — some energy related, like the Lac Megantic oil train derailment — one review highlights some good news developments. In their ThinkProgress article, "13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs Of 2013" Kiley Kroh and Jeff Spross describe significant advances in alternative energy production.

    They are:
    1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down.
    2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
    3. The next generation of wind turbines
    4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.
    5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.
    6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.
    7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.
    8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power.
    9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.
    10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
    11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste-
    12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.
    13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.

    Read the full article and get the details at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/12/18/3060131/13-clean-energy-breakthroughs-2013-2/

    Saturday, November 30, 2013

    The tree that engulfed a fence


    This tree slowly overgrew the fence that was alongside it.
    Eventually the fence was cut away, leaving the metal fence posts and chain-link within the tree, which lives on.



    Wednesday, November 06, 2013

    Good, Clean Energy & the salt of the earth.

    Have you noticed how most North Americans now concede that their contribution to climate change is real (and increasingly spectacular), yet have no access to clean energy?

    At the modest end of the scale, installations of solar and/or wind energy remain prohibitively expensive for the average citizen. Some of the costs can be recovered by feeding unused energy back into the grid, but this entails more expense. Moreover, solar panels and wind turbines are not yet installed in quantities that allow for economies of scale.

    On the large utility scale, only a handful of solar power generators supply electricity around the clock. Wind generator farms are typically connected to the grid, but contribute only a fraction of world electrical consumption. Hydro-electic power is well established  ̶  in areas where water supply and topography are favourable. Fuel cell electricity is highly specialised, costly and not available to the general public.

    So, what can the rest of us do to experience the joy of clean energy? Well, some folks do it themselves, making and installing solar or wind power units. Some installations energize small devices such as laptop computers or lights, while others power up homes and recreational interests.

    One website - instructables.com, gives us an idea of the scale and variety of DIY generators . One of their smallest units makes use of old floppy drive motors while a more ambitious project supplements a homes's utility source with electricity from an array of collectors and rechargable batteries.

    An ingenious supplementary source of hydroelectricity is found at Turlough Hill, Ireland, where a double-reservoir system pumps water to the upper dam. On demand it flows down again to the lower dam, generating power at peak consumption times.

    On a larger scale, Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power plant in Spain has achieved a round-the-clock power supply. Believe it or not, the key ingredient in its heat storage  is molten salt!



    SEE ALSO: http://cleantechnica.com/2013/10/14/worlds-largest-solar-thermal-plant-storage-comes-online/

    Thursday, September 26, 2013

    A record number of weather records fell in 2012

    It's 2013 and most of us in North America have a sense that weather extremes have become more common. In Southern Africa and Australia the snow falls more often. Yet whatever inspiration may be found by climate change skeptics in the global warming hiatus noted by the IPCC, unabated pollution makes less sense than ever.

    To help us check the facts the US Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has put up a web page where one can enter a US zip-code and find out how many records have fallen in that area.

    For example Beverly Hills 90210 : In 2011, California experienced:

        60 broken rainfall records
        15 broken heat records
        19 broken snowfall records

    What about Boulder Colorado 80305? - in 2011, Colorado experienced:

        21 broken rainfall records
        11 broken heat records
        6 broken snowfall records

    According to an NRDC news release, "In 2012, there were at least 3,527 monthly weather records for heat, rain and snow broken by extreme weather events" in the US, surpassing 3,251 records broken in 2011.

    You can get a graphic sense of this with an interactive 2012 map that even includes forest fires in the US.




    Links:
    http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/local-climate.asp
    http://www.nrdc.org/media/2013/130115.asp
    http://www.nrdc.org/health/extremeweather