2017-12-30

People will not look forward to posterity who do not look backwards to their ancestors

Lord Adonis has resigned, almost quoting Burke: people will not look forwards to posterity who do not look backwards to their ancestors. Sadly, the man ain't got no culture: it should be "forward", not "forwards". Tch, youth nowadays. LA was Chair of the independent National Infrastructure Commission, and therefore not only in favour of but actively pushing HS2, and is therefore an idiot, so we should not take his opinions too seriously.

The interesting problem is, what does the quote mean? The question is asked and (IMO incorrectly) answered at englishforums.comIf you are not interested in your ancestors, you will not expect future generations to be interested in you when you are dead. This answer doesn't really make any sense; or is no clearer than the original.

To understand what Burke meant, it probably helps to know that "in the twentieth century he became widely regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism" (quotes are from wiki; don't get the idea I know anything about Burke). This makes him an odd source for a Labour peer, but the devil can cite scripture for his purpose. Perhaps a quote is in order:

Again and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace and ensue it; leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, nor attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they anciently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it... Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it... Do not burthen them with taxes... But if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question... If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No body of men will be argued into slavery.
Burke is a small-c-conservative: opposed to revolution (indeed Reflections on the Revolution in France is helpful), focused on the practicality of solutions instead of the metaphysics, writing "What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or to medicine? The question is upon the method of procuring and administering them. In this deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor".

So Burke is not advising people to be "interested" in their ancestors, in any historical or theoretical sense. He wants people to adopt, continue, know the living breathing traditions of their ancestors. It is a desire for a "common law" approach, rather than a legislative approach. It is analogous to Hayek's scepticism of central planning, and in favour of incremental change. LA is, of course, a central planner. Perhaps he was quoting Burke ironically?

But enough of this, what would Burke have thought of Brexit? I don't know, of course, but that won't stop me making something up. The most facile response would be that he would oppose the massive change it represents. But then again, he was for thinking in the long term, so might have regarded our brief membership of the EU as an anomaly to be reversed; he would have probably opposed Brentry in the first place.

Refs


Should we care about the world after 2100?
My idiot sons could run this country better than you, Queen tells May
The White Witch as Tragic Figure
Open science and science communication at #EGU18, the European Geophysical Union General Assembly - VV. Quote: I hope that at least outside of Anglo-America it is uncontroversial for scientists to inform the public and policy makers of their findings... When it goes further, trying to convince people of certain solutions, please let go of your saviour complex, you will mostly like not achieve much. The way scientists are trained to think and communicate works well for science, but it is not particularly convincing outside of it. The chance you are good at convincing people is not much better than the chance of some random dude or grandma down the road.

2017-12-28

Why I am So Wise

donate Why I Am So Wise is but one chapter of Ecce Homo by Friedrich Nietzsche; but in this debased age it is extracted as the title of a short book in the Penguin books "great ideas" series. Quite why Penguin have honoured this self-indulgent bombast is a mystery to me. I read the Penguin version; it is probably digested though it doesn't say so. Comparing it to an online version there are obvious differences. I'm not going to care about that; I'm not interested in differential textual analysis of N, nor am I interested in reading him at greater length. The bits considered here are Why I Am So Wise / So Clever / Write Such Good Books / Am A Destiny (or "Am A Fatality" in the online version). And to round off the intro: I read this because a friend recommended it (thanks RC).

There's a lot of ponce in the book; I won't go into that, this review by "John" seems to cover most of it1. I found the online version via IA, and since they're having a fundraising drive now, my image links to their "donate" page; I did.


You cannot be serious


The book reeks so much of pretentious puffery that it is hard to see how it can ever have been intended to be taken seriously. Nonetheless, people appear to do so and I suspect that N intended it as such. But nonetheless always in a "playful" vein which conveniently allows him to disown any particular sentence or fragment that might otherwise embarrass him. To me it reads more like Oscar Wilde tossing off epigrams at a rout than anything serious. As to deniability, wiki says of the title "Ecce HomoIn this regard, the wording of his title was not meant to draw parallels with Jesus, but to suggest a certain kind of contrast and so on. It is all like that.

I been Ayn Randed, nearly branded Communist, 'cause I'm left-handed That's the hand I use, well, never mind


Simon and Garfunkel, as I'm sure you knew. Why do I mention it? All the stuff about the weakness of pity and how terrible Christianity is. You'll want quotes, so: a creed so wretched as ChristianityChristians and other Nihiliststhe degenerate instinct which turns upon life with a subterranean lust of vengeance (Christianity; it is only among decadents that this pity is called a virtue... The overcoming of pity I reckon among the noble virtues; and so on. As it happens, I have some sympathy with this, though not in the way it is said. It is eerily reminiscent of Ayn Rand (although of course, given the time order, it is actually the other way round), of which my recently vanity re-published book review will provide you a handy ready-reckoner. See-also Master-Slave morality, if you can bear it.

Nationalism


In the paper version he declares himself a pure-blooded Polish nobleman; he speaks disparagingly of German culture but dotes on the French; and so on. Wiki tells me he had his Prussian citizenship annulled. There's loadsa pop-psychology in there so I feel free to indulge in some briefly: doesn't denial of one's nationality and apparent loathing of one's nation imply a degree of self-hate inappropriate for the man N claimed to be?

Sexism


The S-word doesn't appear anywhere in the wiki article about N, it is far too elevated for that sort of thing. But even the mealy-mouthy Friedrich Nietzsche's views on women is obliged to quote some of his poison. The best you can say is that it was the kind of trash people wrote in those days, and other men at nice dinner parties tended to agree with it, and pass over such as Women all like me. . . . But that's an old story : save, of course, the abortions among them, the emancipated ones, those who lack the wherewithal to have children.

Nazism?


More dangerous ground here, particularly as I'm unread in this area and am piecing things together without bothering to read all the sources. You cannot accuse N of being a Nazi of course; he predated them. And I saw nothing anti-semitic in there. But what there is in spades is what Popper complained about in TOSAIEv2: stuff like: The truth of the first essay is the psychology of Christianity: the birth of Christianity out of the spirit of resentment, not, as is supposed, out of the "Spirit,"—in all its essentials, a counter-movement, the great insurrection against the dominion of noble values... Can you see what is wrong with that? If you can't, you may need to read Popper, who says it better than me. It is the denigration of decent behaviour in favour of allowing free reign to "noble"s to behave as they wish. Which segues into National Destiny and it's all downhill from there.

On the meaning of words


One cannot help but notice how much of N is subject to interpretation. He uses ambiguous words and phrases, perhaps out of simple intellectual inclarity, but more likely out of the previously alluded to desire for plausible deniability (I commented on deliberate avoidance of precise language in the context of Curry, in 2014). I find N inferior to Popper or Hayek - or Hobbes, or Smith, or indeed anyone of whom I've been able to approve - on this ground.

Notes


1. You may need to discount point 3 somewhat, though: N does appear to have some military service, if I can trust wiki.

Refs

* IT'S  EASY  TO  CONFUSE  THE MINOAN  WARMING  PERIOD AND  THE  MYCENAEAN  WARRING  PERIOD
* The Grumpy Economist: John Cochrane's blog: Economists as Public Intellectuals

Book review: Atlas shrugged

[This is a direct copy of my Book review: Atlas shrugged from 2013 over at LiveJournal (I blame Paul). I'm copying it here because I want to refer to it and keep not being able to find it (but you can still comment if you want to). In order to forestall some of the inevitable criticism, here's a link to CIP who presents the case for the opposition. Note that everything (including the edited-to-add) below this was in the "original".]

Quick summary: (too) long, interesting, enjoyable (as long as you skip stuff), but ultimately unacceptable.

A famous work; here's its wiki entry. I'm not going to bother attack its many faults too strongly, because they are too obvious. If you want to read someone disliking it, try CIP. As a token: the many long dense passages of philosophy - Rand's "Objectivism" - that lard the book get increasingly boring as they repeat. This culminates in John Galt's 70-page 2-3 hour speech on the radio, which is more like something you'd get in Cuba or communist Russia than in the cold West. Some of the characters - the dashing pirate - are laughably implausible. But enough criticism (errm, I won't keep to that. Sorry).

The image the book conjures up - of a fading darkening America crumbling under the weight of an unproductive, uncomprehending and eventually almost unwittingly hostile bureaucracy or parasitic class is well done, and will strike a chord with anyone who actually makes things. Those who work for the govt may be less impressed (token: I find her hatred of all govt funded research ridiculous. But hey, I was a govt-funded scientist for years). But Rand's solution - that all the able folk withdraw their labour and their physical selves and rebuild society in a quiet corner before, presumably, walking into the territory emptied by starvation, cold and strife is hard to see as acceptable. As an aside, at the present day, the central core of the hardened capitalist struggling to keep a railroad - yes, a railroad - going seems very quaint and 50s.

A veil is drawn over most of the deaths, but she helpfully provides one example: the wood burning transcontinental sleeper train taken through the long tunnel. It gets stuck inside, and everyone dies. Rand is at pains to set up the incident as an example of bureaucratic stubbornness and buck-passing (someone at the top decrees the train must get through, but all the way down officials area at pains to ensure that the disastrous orders they give can't be traced back to them) and does her best to make it seem as though all the passengers deserve death; but they don't.

You'll have to forgive me some vagueness here: I started reading the book on the way back from the Amsterdam marathon last October, and finished it a few weeks later, so my memory is fading.

And yet the two key intermingled ideas are worth thinking about: that there is a parasitic class leaching off the productive, and that this class is actively harmful (in Darwinian terms, they are bad parasites). In the book, as things go wrong, the parasites use fear of the problems to gain more power and control, and they use that power to throw patronage at their friends, but they also make genuine (to them; at least the book doesn't try to say otherwise) attempts to fix things, but because they are incompetent things just get worse. The attempt-to-fix-but-fail stuff is very true to life for anyone watching politics ever. The Tobin Tax propsed for the EU is a possible example. The stupid carbon trading schemes are another. These are examples where pols motivated by - well, we cant see into their minds, so we have to guess - a combination of shallow and wishful thinking, carelessness and stupidity, and a desire for patronage, act to make the world worse.

Since I've mentioned Darwin I need to complete the thought: which is, that parasites are universal, unless you make great efforts to remove them. Rand's idea is for a parasite-free society. Like many others she has no patience for fixing the old - its a tired toy, she will throw it away and make a new shiny one; lives don't matter to her; or at least, not the lives of small people. Inevitably, her new world would acquire parasites, but that's for the future. Our world is infested by parasites; what keeps them down is partly Democracy and blah; partly that anywhere that becomes too uncompetitive gets out-competed. That's not a careful analysis, but what I mean is that we accept a balance as we must: as long as society functions, and produces enough wealth for all or most, we tolerate some parasites. And at least at the moment it is working: the share captured by the unproductive isn't too high. In Atlas Shrugged Rand has had to produce a less capable society that succumbs to the weight of parasites - though even there it isn't really clear that it would do, if it wasn't for the "strike". Rand's various protagonists have decided - amongst themselves - that all the invisible deaths are worth it, to them. It is a very individualistic philosophy, and to support its plausibility all the lead characters are implausibly capable.

If you agree that Rand's apparent solution - restrict, retreat and rebuild - isn't very plausible, what lesson does the book teach? Just, resistance to stupid bureaucracy I suppose. Put like that, its not profound. And I do sense that many of the book's admirers are motivated more by some savage uncomprehending hatred of The System rather than by a desire, themselves, to try to build something better. Nonetheless there is something there.

[Edited to add: if I'm not mis-remembering, another important element to Rand was the coercive power of the State: its structure and authority is based ultimately on force. She doesn't like this; it doesn't fit with her individualistic world. Nonetheless in the book the state is rather uncoercive: only at the end is there a carefully contrived torture-John-Galt scene, which is inserted only to fulfil her own prophecy, that the state will ultimately resort to force. In this, I'm firmly with Thomas Hobbes and against Rand: without the Civil Sword, no compacts and hence no civil society is possible. Rand's insistence otherwise places her with the hippies and flower children, who she would despise.]

2017-12-19

B.H.P. Billiton, Acknowledging Climate Change, to Quit Coal Group?

25446008_795530077309981_4883035578440317314_n From the NYT: B.H.P. Billiton, Acknowledging Climate Change, to Quit Coal GroupB.H.P. Billiton, the British-Australian mining company, said in a report Tuesday that it planned to withdraw from the World Coal Association, an international lobbying group, because of differences in climate and energy policies. The report also noted that B.H.P. would review its relationship with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in light of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The FT's take is essentially the same. You can read BHP's own report on the release of the report. The report is apparently  In accordance with the commitments given on 18 September 2017, but I couldn't find what those commitments were.

The interesting bit to me is withdrawl from the World Coal Association, but before I come to that, an oddity: Twenty-one industry associations were assessed as holding an active position on climate and energy policy, and were included within the scope of the review. The review focused on 10 climate and energy policies identified as being of key importance to BHP, with seven material differences in position identified across three associations: The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA); The United States Chamber of Commerce; The World Coal Association (WCA). So of 21 industry associations they only found something to worry about in 3 of them? Odd. But, never mind that for now. Onto the WCA.

BHP's report considers "Material differences". They find quite a few with the US chambers of commerce, but with the WCA all they can find is "Technology neutrality", which BHP likes (We believe energy markets should be both fuel and technology neutral, and should not artificially favour one type of technology over another. We also believe governments should focus on setting policies to facilitate efficient markets. Government intervention in resources and energy markets should only be in response to a demonstrated market failure, and informed by cost-benefit analysis) and the WCA sort-of likes (The World Coal Association (WCA) has expressed support for technology neutrality in climate and energy policy frameworks11. The WCA, however, has also called for policy changes that are more technology-specific. For instance, the WCA supported abandoning the proposed Australian Clean Energy Target because in their view abandoning the Clean Energy Target would improve the investment climate for HELE generation).

So as a stated reason to withdraw from the WCA, this looks a little thin. A bit later on we see possibly a bit more explanation: BHP derives benefits from its membership of the WCA, though the scope of these benefits is narrow... the role of the WCA is primarily focused on information provision, it generally does not manage initiatives aimed at improving the performance of member companies... This is largely because such initiatives are driven by national associations and/or the International Council on Mining and Metals. Which might be code for "the WCA only does lobbying", other Real Organisations do the hard stuff.

They conclude In relation to the WCA, BHP has reached a preliminary view that, in light of the nature of the material difference, and the narrower activities of benefit to BHP from membership, it will exit as a member but they'll give the WCA a chance to respond before making up their minds. So it almost seems like the main reason for leaving is that the WCA is a bit useless. Or at least the official reason. Perhaps they are also an embarrassment, too.

2017-12-17

Should we care about the world after 2100?

25438869_1662238943841032_1081912425639291177_o I think it is obvious we should care, in the sense of being benignly interested; but should we care in the sense of changing our actions in order to design changes in the world post 2100? I don't think I've written on this directly (as I say in reply to DB). Morality and economics discusses mt's The Seventieth Generation, which would be relevant, but sadly I'm looking at a different perspective. I say don't think more than 100 years ahead in reply to NB in 2014 in Meesc, and the discussion continues for a while there.

There are two valid reasons why you might not care about post-2100 (or post-2117; or some other arbitrary but distant time. But not a time as close as 2050). One is that you like to use a conventional-economic discount rate of X% and that reduces future concerns so that mathematically and economically you're convinced those concerns are so deflated by discounting as to be uninteresting. And two is that you think our ignorance of those far-off times is so deep that we cannot possibly usefully design our behaviour to helpfully shape their world. Those two reasons aren't totally separate, but for various reasons I'll talk explicitly only about the second.

Not to ruin the tension, but my answer is a qualified no; we should not care-as-change.

And why would I think a thing so manifestly absurd? Because our ability to foresee the future is so weak. An easy recent example that comes to hand is the IEA (and everyone else's) inability to predict solar PV growth even a year ahead, let alone a decade or a century. You could plausibly say that case is hard, and that broader trends are easier to forseee, but meh. Would we have thanked people in the past for trying to see 100 years ahead? When I asked that before, Gavin replied "Central Park" but I wasn't convinced; and I'd add that on the scale of GW, that's trivia. Dunc did better with "the London sewer system" but again; it's a small thing.

And secondly, too much striving to foresee and manage the future leads to too much managing, which is bad, in my opinion. This of course leads back to Hayek, but I see I've failed in my duty to provide the promised posts on him; Hayek and Climate provides a reasonable sample. I don't mean the comparatively minor parasitic class that flies off to the various political climate conferences around the world. I mean more the encouragement of the very concept that it would be a good idea if the state did more planning, when it should be doing less.

"Not caring" doesn't include not doing sensible and obvious things. One of which is to Do Science, which apart from anything else is cheap. The science we've done so far leads us to conclude that Sea Level Rise will be about +1m by 2100. You can make a case for only 50 cm and you can make a case for 2m. But - barring some major revision - it won't be as much as 10m (which would be disastrous) and it won't be as little 10cm (which would be too little to notice). So that's a happy co-incidence in a way; there's no obvious reason why SLR out to "about as far as we can usefully look" should sit just around the "irritating but manageable" level. You'll notice I've spoken only of SLR, because it kinda fits my narrative. But I could spin similar words around temperature change I suspect. Ecological response as usual I leave to others. To get with certainty to clearly disastrous levels of SLR you have to go out ~500 years; and that's too long. Can you help the case by replacing certainty by "at least Y% probability of"? Doubtful.

Refs

* So What Climate Change Stories Would Sir Philip Sidney Tell asks Eli. Somewhat disappointingly, it isn't about predictions from that era. I prefer the Python version.
Freeman Essays #4: “Capitalism: Who Are Its Friends and Who Are Its Foes?” - old stuff from CH
Dangers Lurk in Timid Defenses of Free Trade - sort of more old stuff, from CH

2017-12-15

Techno-optimism

I'm feeling quite techno-optimistic at the moment. Don't worry, I'll fall back into cynical despair before too much longer. Just recently I've thought it implausible that we'll starve, and noted how well solar PV is doing.

f9

And of course there's watching SpaceX launches; another one today, from which my pic is taken. It is just after second stage separation. Stage 1 has turned and has begun its "boost-back burn". What I find cute is that you can see any of this; the pic is a screen capture of video from the ground, and the Falcon 9 is 80 km up. Other cuteness: they've stopped scrubbing the soot off the sides before reuse. What's also cute is to compare the landing with a recent Blue Origin effort: notice how BO pretty well stops well clear of the ground, has a think, and gently descents. Whereas SpaceX have calibrated themselves rather more carefully and simply slow to zero at the ground. BTW, I noticed that they were very careful to be very nice to NASA this time.

But just being optimistic is dull. Happily, there's a recent James Hansen post I can take mild exception to. The offending text is I believe that the legal approach will become increasingly important in the future, because the judiciary is relatively independent of fossil fuel interests. The Guardian did an article on this. I've expressed my doubts about solving GW through the courts before - funnily enough, also in the Hansen context - although with my characteristic lack of clarity. But I've also said more clearly - though I can't now find it - that approaching GW through the courts just seems like a bad idea to me, doomed to fail, doomed to polarise further an already far too polarised situation.

Refs


Whats wrong with the world
* adventofcode.com
* FOAAS: Roy Moore
* Lazard Levelized Cost of Energy 2017

2017-12-11

Mass starvation is humanity’s fate if we keep flogging the land to death?

europe George Monbiot, in the Graun, with a lead pipe. By which I mean it is the usual bludgeoning. He has various points, many of them semi-valid, including the superior efficiency of a non-beef diet, to which I feel a great deal of sympathy. But I don't want to talk about that, I want to look at a thing he points at for his cropland doom, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification's Global Land Outlook. I went expecting to be disappointed and they didn't disappoint me about being disappointing. You can skip the next couple of paragraphs if you don't care about that stuff but only want the yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands stuff. I find some interesting discussion of vaguely similar points from a 2008 post of mine. In 2009 I looked at Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization? but failed to say "Betteridge".

As you'd expect, the report isn't friendly to agribiz; their solutions are about "managing" things. Bureaucrats good, never markets. And we get stuff like Small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalized food system that favors concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanized agribusiness. No, that's not the right way to think about that kind of problem; this is more longing for the Merrie England Happy Peasant type stuff that no-one who can possibly avoid it will actually choose to live with. People abandon peasant agriculture when they can, for the obvious reasons. Their Happy Peasant culture of dancing around maypoles will be lost, just like ours has been.

Much of the early sections reads like boilerplate; things that other people have written, and they've copied, without even thinking about. Take, for instance, The widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss / waste, further accelerates the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation. What does that even mean? There can't be a large excess of consumption over production, the gulf can't be that way round, otherwise we'd run out of things to consume, which is physically impossible. So they must mean that production now greatly exceeds consumption. If true, that would be mad, but it would also be a cause for hope: because if you could then cut down on the waste - presumably, the "gulf" in that case comes from waste, I think even the EU has stopped just throwing food away, though even that is indeed waste - you could feed more people from the same land, which would be good. Is that what they mean? I don't know. I get the feeling they've been told to bang out a report, lots of references, at least 1" thick 2" would be good, never mind about the actual words too much.

Anyway, so much for intro, the bit I wanted was A significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss. From 1998 to 2013, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed persistent declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20 per cent of cropland, 16 per cent of forest land, 19 per cent of grassland, and 27 per cent of rangeland. These trends are especially alarming in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.

But we also learn, from the start of Chapter 4, that Over the last 20 years the extent of land area harvested has increased by 16 per cent, the area under irrigation has doubled, and agricultural production has grown nearly threefold. These two ideas aren't incompatible of course. We can be increasing productivity in some places while losing it in others. We could be grabbing good new land while throwing wrung-out old land away. Maybe.

key But as Chapter 4 says, Measuring the extent of land degradation is difficult, so we didn't try to do it we just nicked The World Atlas of Desertification (WAD) instead. It appears to be an EU product. For an example pic, see Europe inlined above. I've cheated; Europe is the greenest. But is that cheating? Europe is intensively inhabited and intensively farmed; why isn't it desertifying, if that's the problem we're worried about? The answer is obvious: Europe is also run by wealthy people who look after the land, in general. Perhaps that's the solution?

The report is keen to guide your eye, and will tell you for example that Indications of decreasing productivity can be observed globally, with up to 22 million km2 affected, i.e., approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface shows persistent declining trends or stress on land productivity. But if you look at Europe, you'll see that more than 50% is deep-green, which is to say "increasing". That doesn't get a mention (they can't avoid mentioning Europe entirely of course, so they say Local farming practices often result in water and wind erosion and other degradation phenomena that, however, cannot be captured universally at the scale of analysis with the current datasets available; they know there's a problem, even if they can't see it). Even globally, the "deep green" total is bigger than the red-plus-yellow bits. That doesn't mean all is well, but it does deserve noticing; I can't think that a report that doesn't notice that is balanced.

I'd better stop before I channel any more of the spirit of Bjorn Lomborg. Global warming is bound to bring shifts to rainfall patterns that are bound to disrupt our agriculture and natural ecosystems in ways that are hard to predict in any kind of detail. I do caution against lack of caution.

Refs

* Does Eating Meat Contribute to Global Warming?

2017-12-10

Photovoltaic growth: reality versus projections of the International Energy Agency – the 2017 update


A fascinating picture, and blog post, comes my way, ht CR. There are various ways of looking at the same numbers; I've picked solar PV additions on a log scale, but you can also look on a linear scale, or look at total installations; see the post for more.

What we're seeing is that "official" forecasts of solar PV have lagged waay behind actual installations, and have done so with remarkable consistency. Despite repeated failure they have learnt nothing year on year. There's some discussion of just why the forecasts have been so bad, up to and including capture by Evil Fossil Fuel Barons, even though it isn't clear how that would make sense. Greenpeace also don't do a very good job, as the post notes. I tried to trawl back through GP's reports. But I got stuck because the 2005 report has ~70,000 PJ/a total energy baseline for 2000, whereas the 2010 one has 400,000; and that's illogical, captain. Also unpresciently, 2005 lumps solar PV, hydra and wind together; and the 2010 report is lead by pix of shiny mirrors.

The blog post quotes the IEA as pointing out that its reports are not supposed to be forecasts; this is probably about as useful as the IPCC saying the same about its projections. The IEA claims not to take into account new policies or "major new technologies" and that second point gets closest to the problem. Which I take to be not, really, any major new technologies but just steady technological improvements. Wiki has a nice pic showing growth by region; you can see the overall exponential growth continues, but Europe has clearly tailed off.

Although this is somehow news to me - clearly I've been asleep - others have noticed. The linked blog post provides examples, one of which is David Roberts at Vox. And, delightfully, I find myself able once again to disagree with him. He quotes GP saying Everything beyond projections for the next 10 years is simply a political statement from us, indicating what we want to see happen. This also becomes a work plan for us. If we see a renewable energy market isn’t performing as we want it to, we’ll try to jump in with campaigns—against fossil and nuclear fuels and in favor of renewables. And he likes this; because, effectively, he's a campaigner; and campaigners need something to campaign for. And I disagree because I wonder...

What are the consequences of this mis-forecast? Off in the real world, as opposed to scenario-land, solar PV keeps getting cheaper and people keep installing more of it. We can assume this is likely to continue, regardless of who campaigns for what and, probably, by this stage, largely regardless of government policies. Carbon taxes would help it, of course, but carbon taxes (or anything vaguely equivalent) are moving so sloowly that it seems solar PV will likely leap straight past that hurdle. I'm speculating here, of course. So a possible consequence of all this is that CO2 becomes less of a problem than we thought. Could it be that John McCarthy's semi-magical techno-optimism was actually right?

Refs


* US carbon emissions
How self driving cars will lead to small, shared, electric vehicles that will save our cities and climate (by Auke Hoekstra)

2017-12-08

Temptation of Saint Anthony in visual arts

sta The Gods Themselves is a novel by Asimov. One of the few - perhaps the only one of his - to feature aliens; and quite decent aliens too. Whereas the picture, as you'll instantly recognise, is one of the Temptation of St Antony, a theme that appealed to the more psychedelic (psychotic?) painters. Temptation is rather an odd word, because although he is tempted by Lust and all the usual, rather more of the story seems to involve him being beaten, perhaps to death, by demons.

But its also totally irrelevant, because I wanted to talk about the lesson from TGT. I've just re-read it for the first time in many years. I remembered the outline of the story, but not the details. Let me tell you the outline.

Aliens (it later emerges) are sending (from their universe, in which the strong nuclear force is stronger than ours) blobs of Pu-186 into ours, in exchange for W-186. As the laws of physics leak into the new material it becomes radioactive; a source (when developed) of limitless free unpolluting energy for both sides. Alas, there is a catch: as the alien law of stronger nuclear force leaks in, our sun risks exploding; but scientists disagree whether the laws dissipate at the speed of light, or more slowly (and hence more dangerously). Eventually, rebel (so to speak) scientists on the moon find a way to pull mass from an even-weaker-nuclear-force universe, and we end up happily in the middle, law balanced.

Naturally, to make a decent story the tension must be maintained, so there is a fair bit of academic rivalry, but also the book does a decent job of making it entirely plausible that people will risk destroying the world in exchange for free energy, and will overlook evidence to the contrary if it is at all marginal; and that to convince them, you must offer a solution. Hmmm, make you think of anything? It also features - well, the title comes from - the famous Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain, which I'm sure we've all used uselessly in our time. The book is 1972, so it is a bit early for the moral I've drawn to be intended to be present. I haven't found any reviews that say it is.

[Update: don't you hate it when you forget to give a post a title and then see what Feedly makes of it?]

2017-12-04

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party?

23669069_1631029183628675_3247074209637407602_o Well maybe. But I'm not sure I agree with the logic. Tis Dana Nuccitelli, in the Graun. Specificailly, DN is comparing the scientific consensus on GW ("97%") with economists attitudes to the GOP tax plan. And look! Among the experts who took a position either way, there was a 96% consensus that the plan would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo, and a 100% consensus that it would substantially increase the national debt. See; there's the number 96%, that's almost 97%, so it is practically the same thing! Well, no.

The 97% for GW is the consensus on the underlying science. If you asked instead for consensus on policy responses to GW, you'd get a much lower degree of agreement. An appropriate concept to try to compare 97% to would be "are protectionist tariffs a bad idea?" To which "all" economists would agree; but of course no significant politicians are prepared to sign up to, much less any political party. On those grounds, I could just as well compare the Democrats1 to denialists. But please don't think that I'm defending the GOP tax plan; as I've said elsewhere it isn't good.

But "not good" isn't the standard; to make DN correct it has to be "economic denialism", and I don't think he gets close to that. Increasing the national debt is one of those things that everyone decries, perhaps the GOP most vigourously, but time after time pols cave in order to buy whatever trinkets their current electorate demand2; at the moment, that's tax cuts. So if that's denialism, practically all pols are guilty. As to "would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo", by many standards, that's a success; at least it won't shrink the economy. Or would it? We don't know, because the survey doesn't tell us. But again, a tax plan that simply doesn't make anything better is hardly a failure; plenty do worse.

Why do I care: there are lots of wrong things in the world, why pick this one to write about? Pfft, maybe I shouldn't. But it is a part of my long doomed campaign to help people get out more.

[Update: this (from George Will! Boo hiss!) more directly addresses the plan itself (or, in a sense, any plan):  The top 1 percent of earners supply 39 percent of income tax revenue, the top 10 percent supply 70 percent, the bottom 50 percent supply 3 percent, 60 percent of households pay either no income taxes (45 percent) or less than 5 percent of their income, and 62 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. So, any tax cut significant to macroeconomic policy — any that might change incentives sufficiently to substantially change businesses’ and individuals’ behaviors — must be primarily a cut for the affluent.]


Notes


1. Or, I strongly suspect, a fair fraction of my commentators. Nothing new there, then:-)
2. Tell me I'm wrong. Point to Hillary campaigning for tax rises to reduce the national debt.

Refs


Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors via mt.
Is the GOP tax plan an unprecedented windfall for the wealthy? We look at 50 years of data to find out - WaPo
Utopias in the Anthropocene - mt criticises progressives and Historicism, but doesn't reach the obvious conclusion.
* Observing for the long haul
* The Economist isn't keen on the budget, but even more on the manner of its passing.
American Democracy Is in Crisis - Hillary Clinton in The Atlantic. Her analysis can be faulted.

2017-12-03

Electric cars already cheaper to own and run than petrol or diesel?

cars So says the Graun. Indeed it claims an Exclusive: Pure electric cars cost less over four years than petrol or diesel cars in the UK, US and Japan, researchers say, but China is set to lead the market. Quite how it can claim an exclusive when this is based on published research (Total cost of ownership and market share for hybrid and electric vehicles in the UK, US and Japan by KatePalmer, James E.Tate, Zia Wadud and John Nellthorp) is a mystery to me; and anyway I'm pretty sure I've seen similar elsewhere. It is a nice headline and points the way to the future but you won't be shocked to learn that there are a few little details in there to be careful of.

The details are all around the fact that while we're all very interested in money, only evil capitalist scum regard money as the bottom line; we of course care about ecological cost. So we need to notice that Pure electric cars receive a sales subsidy of about £5,000 in the UK and Japan and £6,500 in the US. “The subsidies are reasonably expensive at the moment but they are expected to tail off,” said Tate. He estimates that an electric car such as the Nissan Leaf will become as cheap to own and run as a petrol car without subsidy by 2025. Renault expects this to happen in the early 2020s. Unfortunately it isn't easy to add the £5k onto the chart above; but since they use a depreciation rate of a little under 20%, for a simple approximation, add £1k to the Pure Electric, which still (by eye) leaves it a shade under the Diesel.

Further, its kinda odd that the fuel cost for electric is so much lower than for diesel or petrol. If you ignore nuclear and renewables, then electricity is produced by burning things; burning oil is expensive and falling out of fashion but the cost should be comparable to diesel (within a factor of two, perhaps, in some handy-wavy expectation, mixing in the higher efficiency of large-scale combustion with the losses in power lines). And of course it is; the difference is tax: petrol and diesel in the UK are taxed at about 66% whereas electric is essentially tax free (there's a small carbon tax but I think it is significantly smaller than for diesel) so the diesel cost should shrink for comparability. Of course that's true now. In the glorious future when all our electricity is produced fossil-free the electric regains it's pure advantage; so in a sense this is a pointer to the future.

And the big pale blue elephant in the room is depreciation, which is by far the largest part of the cost for any of the types. This is a real financial cost and a real ecological cost, since it represents the cost of the raw materials to make the car, and the cost of the labour etc. to make it. It is reasonable to suggest that electric will come down in the future, since it is a newer thing; and reasonable to hope that electric cars are fundamentally simpler.

Lastly, there's the things we'd need to add onto the diesel (and to a lesser extent petrol) to be fair: costs of particulates and so on. I don't know what those are, numerically.

Prior art from Brian in 2015: EV costs at a tipping point for un-American countries.