2019-04-23

Melting permafrost in Arctic will have $70tn climate impact?

DSC_8484 Or so claims the Graun. Being totally shit journos they don't even include a link to the paper that is their source, but the answer is Climate policy implications of nonlinear decline of Arctic land permafrost and other cryosphere elements by Dmitry Yumashev et al., Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 1900 (2019). They also don't link to the press release, where we discover that Carbon released into the atmosphere by the increasing loss of Arctic permafrost, combined with higher solar absorption by the Earth’s surface due to the melting of sea ice and land snow, will accelerate climate change – and have a multi-trillion dollar impact on the world economy. A new paper in Nature Communications reveals a combination of these factors has the potential to increase the long-term economic impact of climate change by just under $70 trillion, under mitigation levels consistent with current national pledges to cut carbon emissions (5% of the estimated total cost of climate change for this scenario). Nothing here is terribly surprising, except the $70T. In particular, the roundabout +5% makes it a fairly small effect well within the error margins of other parts: CO2 emissions, ECS, discount rate assumed, whatever.

But $70T is a surprisingly large number to me, in view of stuff like 500,000,000,000 is a small number. This turns out to be The NPV of the total economic effect of climate change, denoted as C_NPV, consists of mitigation costs, adaptation costs and climate-related economic impacts aggregated until 2300 and discounted using equity weighting and a pure time preference rate. So, OK, it's total not annual, OK, that probably makes sense. But then it becomes unexciting.

Refs


Climate change could kill over 500,000 people per year by 2030?
GDP impartially consider'd
4th National Climate Assessment report: Labour
* You Have No Right to Your Culture by Bryan Caplan
Inequality is decreasing between countries—but climate change is slowing progress - NatGeo
* Dalmia's Almost Great Idea on Sanctuary Cities by David Henderson

2019-04-22

Carbontaxwatch: Edenhofer, tax, trading, obligations, gilets, FFF

57038408_10157399108227474_4422161309362028544_n Another note in the long Carbon Tax wars. This is Otmar "director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research" Edenhofer in conversation with Sarah Zerback. Since it is in foreign, I have ripped off helpfully included the Google translation below, so I know what I'm responding to.

So it's nice to see "even 20 euros brings something". In true perfect-is-the-enemy-of-the-good style, some people argue for implausibly high levels of carbon price, which is just going to get it thrown out. I think there's a lot to be said for just having an explicit carbon tax, getting people used to it, and worrying about increasing it later1. I don't see him explicitly pointing this out, though. Notice though that the interviewer is pretty keen on getting details of the price and returns to the subject. The other nice part is that he's noticed the Skolstrejk för klimatet2 vs the "Gilets Jaunes" tension and observes - correctly -  that the Sfk stuff is an opportunity: because it is, perhaps, and indication visible to pols that the public is finally willing to make some hard choices.

Less good is his equivocation about carbon tax vs trading systems. He's probably a bit stuck because he isn't allowed to say that the ETS is stupid. But he goes further than that, suggesting the possibility of introduc[ing] a separate emissions trading system for these three sectors, transport, agriculture and heat, to which my response would be FFS not another bloody boondoggle, haven't you learnt anything in all these years? He also wurbles about sector-specific targets at national level, which is also stupid.

Quasi-interesting is the role of "European obligations": We are in a completely different debate. We have European obligations, and all Member States of the European Union have these obligations. Those who fail to comply with these obligations must buy certificates from other countries, and not voluntarily, but this is simply a sanction imposed by the European level on each Member State. He doesn't talk about how binding those obligations might be, if things get tough.

Notes


1. Of course those opposed to a carbon tax are fully aware of this cunning plan, and will tell people that it is just the thin end of the wedge, but there's no point in making their job easy.

2. He - or the Googly translate - uses "Fridays for Future" but I'm guessing it is much the same.

The text


New debate on CO2 tax"Even 20 euros bring something"

The climate researcher Otmar Edenhofer supports the initiative of Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze to raise a CO2 price on gasoline, diesel, heating oil or natural gas. Unlike in the 1990s, he believes that a CO2 tax is enforceable this time. One reason for this: European legal obligations.
Otmar Edenhofer in conversation with Sarah Zerback
Sarah Zerback: I now greet Otmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, on the telephone. Good day, Mr. Edenhofer!
Otmar Edenhofer: Hello!
Zerback: You've been pleading for a carbon tax for a long time now. Did the "Fridays for Future" demos only have to come, so that new momentum comes into an old idea?
Edenhofer: Yes. This movement was extremely significant, because a few months ago, when you said CO2 price, then one has been countered by the policy, we want to prevent the yellow vests in Germany. Now there is a new movement that says we want carbon pricing. It does not necessarily have to be a tax, it can also raise CO2 prices differently, but that is indeed giving new impetus to the political debate, which is urgently needed.
Zerback: And above all, there is debate about how expensive the whole thing should be now. What's your suggestion, how expensive, if it was a tax, how expensive should that be?
Edenhofer: First of all, you have to see that we have tasks in two areas. One is the electricity sector and the industrial sector, which is under European emissions trading, and there Christoph Schmidt and I have suggested that there is a minimum price, which now starts at 20 and is expected to grow to 35 euros by 2030.
Now there is a second area, and in this second area - which is poorly understood - we have European obligations, and if we fail to meet these European legal obligations in the agricultural, heating and transport sectors we may have to pay high penalties to the other states Afford. Now begins the dispute, how can the government this price signal, which after 2021 will be yes in Europe, how can this be translated now at the national level.
In the climate protection law one says yes, that should then make the individual ministries. That does not seem to me to be such a good idea, because the Transport Minister has many options to avoid. He can make meaningful spending cuts in his budget.
What matters now is that citizens - motorists who invest in new heat pumps, even in the agricultural sector - should have the incentive to save CO2 and other greenhouse gases. There are basically two ways you could do that. So you could charge a carbon price, a carbon tax for these sectors - that would be an option. But the other possibility would be to introduce a separate emissions trading system for these three sectors, transport, agriculture and heat, and then ensure that the quantity targets that we have been imposed by the European level are actually met. That's what the argument is about.

Order of magnitude for CO2 price still has to be calculated

Zerback: Thank you, that you have in the complexity above all else again aufgedröselt. Let's go into the details again. The President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble, who says that no matter whether tax or certificates are more expensive, this goes in the same direction. Let's talk about the altitude again. So you say 20 euros now. We have just heard it in the report again. There are others who say that we need at least 50 euros, otherwise it will not help at all.
Edenhofer:First of all, if 20 euros does not bring anything, that's not true. Of course, bring 20 euros already something. We see this in the empirical investigations that this also already reduces the emissions. The key question is, will emissions go down as it is compatible with European obligations, and we do not know exactly how high the price has to be, and therefore it would be reasonable to think about an emissions trading scheme, because then there can control the amount. Then you can set a minimum price that is on this scale. You start at 20, grow up to 35, maybe 50 Euro. Where exactly the orders of magnitude are, we are still in the process of calculating that. If the price rises too much,
Essentially, it will be a question of defining such a price corridor, and this price corridor, where it is now, we are in the process of calculating that and giving more precise information. I'm not going to comment on that right now because we're just doing the research.

"We are in a completely different debate"

Zerback: Yes, the question is really whether national measures bring anything. I'm wondering if you might feel personally reminded of the '90s. Since there was ever the push to tax CO2, as a tax on it to introduce. That is because then failed because it needs unanimity in the EU. So you still see this danger?
Edenhofer: No, I do not see that at all. We are in a completely different debate. We have European obligations, and all Member States of the European Union have these obligations. Those who fail to comply with these obligations must buy certificates from other countries, and not voluntarily, but this is simply a sanction imposed by the European level on each Member State.
It's not about the question of whether we want to formulate our own goals now. From my point of view, one can discuss the national sector targets cheaply, one can make it more flexible where I would be, but there is no way around European law obligations. This has nothing to do with whether there are any majority principles in the European Union, whether a tax is enforceable. We have these national commitments, and any proposal that is to be taken seriously must show that we can actually comply with this European law obligation with this proposal.

Sector-specific savings targets conceivable at national level

Zerback: Nevertheless, the CDU was so far always against it. Now there are voices that join the proposal of the Federal Environment Minister yes. Do you share the worries of Svenja Schulze, that perhaps there is a calculus to avoid other savings targets?
Edenhofer: I think that if you want to introduce a CO2 price that is so low that the savings targets can not be achieved at the European level, that is a suggestion that makes no sense. This is an obvious calculation, and this calculation will quickly hit the wall, because these proposals do not continue. It is only the suggestions that ultimately lead us to say that, after 2021, we are actually actually achieving the emission reduction targets in agriculture, the transport sector and the heating market.
The only dispute we can make is whether we need sector-specific targets at national level in addition to these European goals. I think we would be well advised to allow great flexibility at national level here.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not embrace the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions.

2019-04-19

ECS is 5 oC?

So, it would appear, CMIP6 first results show1. This appears a touch implausible to me, and is waay out of line with previous results from CMIP5, as the figure shows, and in comparison with for example ATTP's nice Bayesian analysis of no great vintage, or the long-established consensus for 3 oC. Which models are where can be found in the twitter thread of from here, if you're interested. I await with bated breath James's and RealClimate's analysis, so that I know what to think.

Refs


Climate sensitivity is 5.3C? - JA from 2016
* If you want some arguments against 5 oC, you could read La Curry; I don't particularly recommend it though, which is why I haven't.
So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Notes


1. I don't see a mean or anything, I've just eyeballed it, the mode is clearly the [5, 5.5) bucket but the mean is perhaps around 4.5.


I feel I shouldn't be totally ignoring Anthony Watts joining Heartland, so here's an image (see-also weasels ripped my flesh):

2019-04-16

L'affaire Peter Ridd, part 2

22059024423_45af8a32bd_o So the puzzle posed in part 1 is resolved: it turns out that Peter Ridd is a a Good Colonial whose academic freedom has been trampled on2. The Graun has the story. Unsurprisingly the Forces of Darkness are happy1. The Graun doesn't go into the full gory quotes from the man in a wig, contenting themselves with the university has ‘played the man and not the ball’; but there's more, much much more (including the immeadiately following Incredibly, the University has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom which for some inexplicable reason the Graun doesn't consider noteworthy). Let's begin with the main message:
The Court rules that the 17 findings made by the University, the two speech directions, the five confidentiality directions, the no satire direction, the censure and the final censure given by the University and the termination of employment of Professor Ridd by the University were all unlawful. 
No bones thrown to the university at all. And there are some good words on intellectual freedom:
the mission of these institutions must undoubtedly be the search for knowledge which leads to a quest for truth. In reality, intellectual freedom is the cornerstone of this core mission of all institutions of higher learning. This is so because it allows ideas to conflict with each other; to battle and test each other. It is within this “battle” that the strengths and weaknesses of ideas are found out. In this process, there comes “learning”. And with learning comes discovery. At its core, intellectual freedom mandates that academics should express their opinions openly and honestly, while inviting scrutiny and debate about those ideas. Unless opinions are expressed in this way, the growth and expression of ideas will be stifled and new realms of thinking will cease to be explored. That will lead to intellectual and social stagnation and a uniformity of thought which is an anathema to the concept of higher learning and social progress.  Intellectual freedom allows academics to challenge the status quo and encourage critical analysis.
Later on we discover that The hypocrisy [of the university] is breathtaking. And During the course of the trial, I repeatedly asked Counsel for the University to tell me what the conflict of interest actually was. Try as he might, Counsel was unable to do so. Yet he would not concede that this finding was not justified. So in some ways this is a great victory over the faceless bureaucrats. Let's hope some of them are sacked for this.

Notes


1. And selling it as a huge victory for climate skeptics everywhere, which of course it isn't; indeed it has little to do with climate directly, though it is connected to impacts.

2. I think this is essentially the correct verdict. I still don't quite care for the company he keeps, but that's a different matter.

Refs


Paris in October

2019-04-10

The Great Miscalculator

There's a niceish article The Great Miscalculator by Arnold Kling, mostly about markets. But I think:
When a firm's costs are dominated by overhead, price discrimination becomes an attractive strategy, even a necessity. The airline will try to attract price-sensitive customers with a low price while charging a higher price to those customers who are more committed to flying at a particular time rather than searching for a bargain... This also complicates the problem of treating ordinary market failures. For example, suppose that the government wishes to use a tax on airline fuel as a tool to get passengers to internalize the pollution cost of flying. If the airline allocates this additional cost to price-insensitive passengers and leaves its discounts for price-sensitive passengers in place, then the total air miles flown may remain approximately unchanged in response to the tax
is wrong. Because he has done the usual confusion of two different things. The thing that doesn't happen - in this particular scenario - is the that total air miles flown [remains] approximately unchanged. And indeed, many or most people would regard that as a failure of the policy. But that wasn't what he started with: that was use a tax on airline fuel as a tool to get passengers to internalize the pollution cost of flying. That has happened. However - because of the somewhat artificial construction of the example - although the price has been internalised the amount of goods consumed doesn't change, because the customers are assumed to be price-insensitive. But that's kinda OK: the point of the tax is to make people pay the full cost of their choices. If, knowing the full cost, they still choose to buy, then they've chosen rationally.

On a completely different note, he tries to point out that chance - contingency - is important. And it probably is. But he over-eggs it:
The evolution of business practices and industry structure can seem inevitable in hindsight. But this is misleading. The personal-computer industry is famous for the role of start-ups, including Apple, Microsoft, and Dell. But with slightly different business decisions, it could instead have been the province of Xerox and IBM.
We don't know if this is true or not. We can certainly see, now, that IBM could have been placed to make decisions that would have squelched Micro$oft. But was it actually placed to make those decisions? Quite probably not, even if you jiggle the starting conditions somewhat. Even with contingency, some structural constraints persist.

Refs


Book review: the Raven Tower
* Brexit: Governing Ourselves by Pierre Lemieux

2019-04-09

Can Law Save Us From Climate Change?

DSC_0125_crop No. Because it isn't against the law. However calltothebar.org would have it otherwise, writing:
On April 18, 2019, a group of leading lawyers and law professors will convene in person at locations across the United States to discuss the problem of climate change and the role of lawyers in advancing solutions. The locations will all be linked by live video/audio feeds. This is the third year in a row for this national conference on this important subject. This year’s conference will feature leading experts addressing the most important aspects of the climate crisis from a legal perspective. The conference will also address ways in which lawyers can work to make a difference on this subject of grave concern to our well-being and future.
Much of their petition is sane: recognition of GW-as-science1 and calling for carbon pricing. Their arguments for why lawyers-in-particular should be involved are weak, but never mind, they're a bunch of lawyers and can be expected to think that they're important. The bit that I'm less happy with is
Protecting society from harm is the most fundamental purpose of law and government. Faced with clear evidence of impending harm, we as citizens and lawyers have a duty to speak out on the need for effective government action to protect humans now alive and those to be born. We have no right to knowingly continue to inflict severe damage to the planetary ecosystem that sustains all life. To the contrary, we have a duty to protect it.
Why would anyone object to that motherhood-and-apple-pie type stuff? Because as usual, as ever, as always when people talk about this stuff there's the dangerous sliding of words. GW does indeed risk harm to society. But then again, burning fossil fuels provides good to society. That's why people do it, after all. How do you balance the harm and the good? Ah, now we're back to the real problem.

And the problem of balancing harm and good isn't obviously one that is well suited to the all-or-nothing of a courtroom. Lawyers can be rather one-sided. To quote a well-known Alsup:
The benefits of fossil fuels are worldwide. The problem deserves a solution on a more vast scale than can be supplied by a district judge or jury in a public nuisance case. While it remains true that our federal courts have authority to fashion common law remedies for claims based on global warming, courts must also respect and defer to the other co-equal branches of government when the problem at hand clearly deserves a solution best addressed by those branches. The Court will stay its hand in favor of solutions by the legislative and executive branches.

Notes


1. And they get credit for using videoconferencing, too.

Refs


Economics, Law and Ethics
Skolstrejk för klimatet
* The Climate Wars Can Get Rough At Times
Global warming and common law
* And stuff like The destruction of the Earth is a crime. It should be prosecuted by George Monbiot doesn't work

2019-03-22

Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies?

brexit The largest five stock market listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m (£153m) a year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change, according to a new report, the Graun breathlessly tells us. Can it be true? Exxon is pegged at $40+M, and yet Exxon total lobbying spend per year is around $11M, according to OpenSecrets. How do we reconcile these numbers?

I think that The five publicly listed oil majors – ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total – now spend about $195m a year on branding campaigns suggesting they support action against climate change doesn't help. That's not the same spending as above. However, any just accounting would have to count it towards the "good" side, since it's essentially a positive message re GW. Naturally, the report doesn't count it as such.

To find out more we're going to have to download the bloody report, which creepily requires you to register, these people are friends of the surveillance state. And then, worse, we're going to have to read it. And you know what? It's some kind of shit-for-brains cut-n-paste protected thing too, the scum. Well, don't expect too many quotes then.

20190413_WBC689 Page 10 tells us Exxon's climate lobbying is ~$41M per year, again making no effort to reconcile that to the total $11M figure. But they may be counting social media and advertising as "lobbying". Lots of the report is the traditional I-don't-like-oil-companies stuff; by which I mean the authors struggle - or rather, don't struggle - to stay on topic, and wander off.

So by the time we get to the end of the conclusions, no details of the composition of the numbers have emerged. We need to go into the depths of the Appendix, it seems. But no, that doesn't help either. The appendix has no real data, just a methodology. So it's impossible to tell quite where they've gone wrong, or what they've made up.

[Late addition: pic from the Economist, Lobbying in Donald Trump’s Washington.]

Refs


Banks Funneled $1.9 Trillion Into Fossil Fuels Since Paris Agreement - endorsed by the sainted Greta no less.
* Paasche Says Progress by Bryan Caplan
* There are some more numbers at https://climateinvestigations.org/trade-association-pr-spending/

2019-03-19

Skolstrejk för klimatet

DSC_8439[1] Trigger warning: negativity. If you want to think happy thoughts, go elsewhere.

People say things like "Yesterday, I went to witness the local #ClimateStrike. I found the energy and enthusiasm of these young people very encouraging.  It gives me hope for the future". And that's charming. It's always lovely to talk to nice positive people, rather than unlovely old curmudgeons. And yet the absence of any real idea is becoming glaringly obvious.

No plan, let alone a plan B


I should establish that GT has no plan, since this is important to my argument. She says
People keep asking me ”what is the solution to the climate crisis.” And how do we ”fix this problem”. They expect me to know the answer. That is beyond absurd as there are no ”solutions” within our current systems. No one ”knows” exactly what to do. That’s the whole point. We can’t just lower or heighten some taxes or invest in some ”green” funds and go on like before... We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it. And then start acting. So please stop asking your children for the answers to your own mess.
I think that serves; she advertises it as a reply to those who keep on lying, spreading hate and knowingly leave out facts but perhaps I can forgive her in time.

We are just passing on the words of the science


Another of those things that people say, but which aren't true. People trumpet Greta Thunberg has done her science homework, but this is to miss the point: as the Alsup trial proved, the science isn't in question, to first order1. Almost everyone - even the Evil Bjorn Lomborg - claims to be just following the science. But actually the (physical) science doesn't really tell you what to do. To decide what to do - well, one version of it - you have to make some semi-arbitrary assumptions, like limit warming to 2 oC or 1.5 oC - in order to make the problem space tractable, and then use the science to turn that into concentrations, and then turn that into emissions, but even then you're still left with lots of policy choices over those emissions. You could for example waste everyone's time propounding drivel like the GND. Or you could throw out the stupid limit and impose carbon taxes instead and hope that solar photovoltaic saves us.

No plan, but...


Actually, it isn't quite true that she doesn't have a plan. There are hints of ill-formed and very bad plans struggling to get out: "We need a new economics", "We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. To get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other". Which is std.fairyland: why can't people just get on and be nice to each other?

Panic, Captain Mainwaring


GT would like us to panic. This is a regrettable turn of phrase, and not one that can be shrugged off as an accident, since it was from a speech at Davos. But panic is not a sensible response to anything, just about by definition. Panic is what you want from other people when you know that calm rational analysis will not achieve the result that you have decided you want through calm rational analysis. At least, I trust that GT is not simply spouting all these words in a state of panic.

Denial Is Not a Policy


ClimateLiabilityNews tells me Striking Students Demand Climate Action: ‘Denial Is Not a Policy’. But, they're wrong. Denial actually is a well-formed and actionable policy - just not one that anyone sane would want the world to follow. In this it differs from GT who, as noted above, has no real plan.

Does any of this matter?


Yes, because if all the happy well-intentioned enthusiasm catches on, their are plenty of the old guard waiting in the wings to steer things their way. For example The climate strikers should inspire us all to act at the next UN summit by António Guterres: Without ambitious action, the Paris agreement is meaningless. Oh, FFS. OK, so that particular old guard is largely harmless, if allowed to splurge large quantities of cash and CO2 on summits. But others maybe less so, and it all distracts from trying to forge some agreement with those who don't want an entirely new economics based on kittens.

Update: nothing useful can happen until people are willing to make hard choices, and for that, an aroused public is necessary


This was CIPs comment. I largely agree with it - with the above caveats about enthusiasm and panic. But I don't see evidence of an increasing willingness to make hard choices2. I see a slew of articles piggybacking on GT to call for Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism, but that's just opportunism, not thought, nor choice.

Update: Greta Thunberg's full speech to MPs 2019/04/23


Read the full text of the speech Greta Thunberg gave to MPs at the Houses of Parliament offers the Graun. There are problems with the speech, you won't be surprised to discover:

But we’re only repeating the message of the united climate science - well, no, not really. In terms of the physical climatology, when you talk about that at all, you veer off to the high side. And when you start to talk about what to do, you're off on the politics, not the science.
* The future was sold so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money. This is bollox. All too common bollox, very seductive bollox, but bollox all the same. It presents us with the alluring idea that all we have to do is to "fix" just a few people or corporations and all will be well; that the rest of us have no guilt. And so, it is wrong.
Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it. This appears to be (a) the we-only-have-12-years fallacy; and (b) that 12 years is a knife-edge tipping point.

And so on. There's still no plan.

Notes


1. And very funny it was to see all the high-powered Scientists turn up to prove the science with Powerpoint, only to discover that the Evil Oil Companies had forseen that and neatly parried with "yeah, we accept all that".

2. Do please use the comments to provide examples.

Refs


New technologies, not Paris climate agreement, will do the job?
Carbon budgets and carbon taxes
* Guerrilla Education at Princeton: Letter from a Dad by Bryan Caplan
* Increasing The Minimum Wage Increases Crime, Obviously Enough by Tim Worstall
* Later: 3 ways to combat climate change according to young activists. But again, there's nothing resembling a plan. They are 1) learn about climate change; understand govt's role; make pols listen. Which are all splendid, but.

2019-03-16

Governance is hard

13248379_10154192476063200_552999881567266410_o Getting a good government is hard. This is becoming increasingly obvious in the world, perhaps for two interconnected reasons: people are less likely to make govts job easier by accepting that "The Governing Class" will get on with it as best they can; and the interconnected world is just harder to govern.

In a society in which the power at the top is fixed, or defined by someone else, getting the government of the layers that flow down from that to be tolerably correct is not too hard. Such as a colonial administration1. Or an English county. Or a theocracy? But when the entire structure needs to be self-supporting, the problem becomes much harder. Preventing too much drift, whilst also avoiding ossification is difficult. Cue my analysis of the USAnian constitution, in another post.

So when CIP comments that Brexit allows us Yanks to imagine that we might not be the stupidest democracy in the world I can but agree. Both Brexit and Trump are many things, but arguably manifestations of the public's separation from The Ruling Class and their increasing distrust of it. But this separation and distrust is also largely correct: TRC are not competent to their job2. Unsurprisingly: the chief qualification of a pol is the ability to get elected, which has little correlation with their ability to be competent in office; Darwinism applies in many areas, we should not fall victim to the error of believing in Intelligent Design.

How could you solve this problem? In a way, it ought to be self-solving: when the public becomes disenchanted and elects unsuitable people, those pols not elected, and those on the selection committees, and those voting in primaries, ought to learn from this and choose more suitable candidates. Alas, the feedback loops often don't work. Sometimes they are even unstable: if you're not elected, it is easy to decide this was because you weren't radical enough, and you move in the wrong direction. See-also rational ignorance. I don't see the Dems learning anything from 2016; and I don't see the UK or EU pols having learnt anything useful from Brexit.

I have come increasingly to believe that the direction to move in - this isn't a Final Solution, so I don't need to define it too carefully, it is more a direction to travel - is to have govt do less. They are, manifestly, not competent; so they should do less4. This though goes against the direction we've been moving for centuries; and directly opposes the Progressive View which invariably involves Govt Must Act. It is supported by only a small minority; even those parties that might nominally support it - Repubs in the USofA and Cons in the UK - don't actually support it.

Different views of competition


There are two sorts of competition: good competition, which acts as a spur to innovation and responsiveness, and results in a better world. And bad competition, in which two sides grind themselves down into the dust in a ding-dong battle to beat the other side. War is bad competition, unless you can win it quickly and cleanly. Civil war - a la Syria - is particularly bad. Market competition is generally good3. Political competition where it offers voters a choice of policies is good. But when it polarises into two parties fighting it out and turns into deadlock, it is bad. Is it a co-incidence that our two exemplars of bad governance - Trump and Brexit - come from systems with first-past-the-post electoral systems? [Note: this is not a suggestion that the best thing to do is to focus on the electoral system.]

Other things that are not the real problem


mt twote: The biggest public question in my opinion is not climate change. It is not global security. It... is bullshit immunity whose failure is at the root of all those other risks. I attempted to suggest that he meant governance, but he denied it, asserting that [BSI] has rapidly decayed of late. I don't believe that; I never trust the age-of-gold "it has rapidly decayed of late" stuff. That opinion is heavily influenced by Popper; for that see my Why don’t people pay attention to the future of their own world?

Notes


1. Cue howls of outrage. Yeah, I know it wasn't all roses or even close. Don't get too hung up on the details or my lack of history. I've read Heart of Darkness.

2. In all likelihood, they never were. But the increasing complexity of the world makes the job harder, and the increasing transparency of the world makes the failure more obvious. Meanwhile, the selection process for pols becomes ever more ruthlessly focussed on electability, which selects out competence.

3. Progressives will leap in with the other sort of bad competition - fake competition - where evil companies or pols gang up behind the scenes and agree to pretend to compete but actually collude, thereby ripping off the public. But this isn't actually competition, so doesn't need to go into my taxonomy.

4. For an example of people pushing this idea, the market reduces or eliminates the need for collective or political choices to be made concerning composition, organization, extent, and distribution of valued product.

Refs


The left has no theory of the behavior of the government?
* Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious; from George Orwell's review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell in The Adelphi, January 1939.
Factcheck: Is 3-5C of Arctic warming now ‘locked in’? - carbonbrief

Brexit schmexit

53172815_1106348306228155_6328474207160107008_n We appear to be reaching the End Times, so I feel the need for another post. I was hoping that nice Dr Annan would spare me the trouble but he's too busy twitting agit-prop3.

So: last week was dramatic and exciting, and slightly confusing, so I hope I've got the story straight.

On Tuesday, May's stupid deal was voted down yet again1.

On Wednesday, MPs rejected leaving with no deal2.

On Thursday, they voted to delay Brexit.

This - with some minor quibbles, see the notes - forms a creditably logical sequence, and is an advert for representative government over referenda, since it would have been impossible to do this via a referendum.

In an ideal world - in which we clearly do not live - da govt would now go to Brussels, ask for an extension, be told they can only have a nice long one of several years, and say oh-all-right-then. Several years is long enough for passions to deflate, May to be replaced by someone competent, and indeed any number of dei-ex-machina to swoop in and save us.

In the non-ideal world, May appears to want to put her rubbish deal to MPs again next week4, presumably in the hope that now they see that if they vote that down the only alternative is a long extension - which many would rightly fear would turn into no-Brexit - they will hold their noses and vote for her rubbish deal. However, I think that is unlikely to work. Many MPs live in fear of their constituencies, or in fear of the more vocal parts thereof - and arguably, so they damn well should - but those said constituencies are unlikely to rip them too badly for voting down May's deal, since everyone knows it is rubbish.

That passed, the other obvious problem is negotiating the extension. Here it would be easy between two parties of good faith, but it isn't obvious that either party will act in same. May could just as easily sabotage her own negotiation in order to end up with no deal, and I find it impossible to read her motives - I cannot understand how she behaves as she does, so I cannot predict her behaviour. JA's favourite response is to say that her plan is to survive and wait and see what turns up, which argues for her not turning down whatever the EU offer.

So, my not-very-confident - because it is the outcome I'm hoping for, and I've been disappointed so often by this process - prediction is for May to ask the EU for an extension, and them to give her a long one.

Notes


1. By a large margin - 149 votes - but less than the first time; though I haven't seen anyone trying to spin that into a victory.

2. This is one of the more confusing bits, if you care about the detail, which I am by no means sure you should, since I doubt the detail is important in this case. There were two votes. The first, narrowly won by four votes, was to reject no deal under any circumstances. The second - arguably unconstitutional, since it was a subset of the previously decided matter - was to not leave with no deal on the 29th, and was won by forty-three. [Update: see comments by PS and CR. It looks like I misinterpreted it (to be fair to me, the Beeb who I was skim-reading didn't report it clearly): the first vote was to amend the motion which the second then voted on.]

3. Update: James speaks.

4. Arguably unconstitutional, again as per point 2 but more correctly; and now appears to have been so determined by the Speaker. Tee hee.

Update


Parliament has spoken. This is what it said:


Meanwhile, TM has offered to fuck off, but only if her deal is passed, which is fuckwitted of her.

Refs


The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity
* Dec 2012: JA: The failure of brexit; me: Brexit, again.
* How much has Brexit uncertainty slowed growth? by Scott Sumner; EconLib

Godwin's law

rowbridge Godwin's law, strictly speaking, is merely an Internet adage asserting that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1". But I use it in a more restrictive sense: a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that, when a Hitler comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever made the comparison loses whatever debate is in progress. This is to counter laziness. It is the same concept as unparliametary language. It is perfectly possible to insult people in parliament: you just can't do it by calling people fuckwits; you have to be more inventive. Comparisons to Hitler spring too readily into people's mouths and fingers. If you can't think of another example that illustrates whatever point Hitler was your exemplar for, you probably don't have a point. And if you can think of another example, you should use that instead.

Refs


* DeepMind and Google: the battle to control artificial intelligence -  Demis Hassabis founded...

2019-03-13

Climate Litigation Watch?

52914641_2234973423234245_4035702518594928640_o Life is dull after Lents. Ah well, I can but look forward to Mays and the future. In the meantime, I run across Climate Litigation Watch, not to be confused with Climate Liability News. You won't be astonished to discover they are opposing sides, though I think both pretend to be neutral.

Who are these people? Let's try to find out, and compare. For CLW, of course, we look at the "about" page, and discover Climate Litigation Watch is a project of the 501(c)3 legal non-profit, Government Accountability and Oversight, dedicated to providing a complete, accurate and objective record of litigation related to climate change. There's more text but no more information about the identity of the perpetrators. CLN themselves had a go, writing Christopher Horner, an attorney and senior fellow at Competitive Enterprise Institute, is a leading figure behind the nonprofit funding this site, Government Accountability & Oversight. (That group takes on the acronym GAO, potentially confusing people with the federal government’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.) Which is probably fair enough; there's no tracing other than their being part of the not-the-GAO. I notice, also that the only twits in their sidebar are by Chris Horner or themselves.

But enough of the evil-doers hiding in darkness. What of the Light Side? Well... they say Climate Liability News is a project funded by donations to Climate Communications & Law, a new 501(c)3 nonprofit. Climate Communications & Law but continue on to tell us who the CCL Board are:

* Kert Davies—Executive Director of the Climate Investigations Center. Davies is a well-known researcher, media spokesperson and climate activist who has been conducting corporate accountability research and campaigns for more than 20 years.
* Alyssa Johl—An attorney, Johl is a veteran international environmental and human rights campaigner, and former Senior Attorney with the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law.
* Richard Wiles—Director of the Center for Climate Integrity at the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. Prior to that, Wiles was Senior Vice President at Climate Central and co-founder and Executive Director of Environmental Working Group.

So I think that's a pass. Score one to the Good Guys1.

Notes


1. Although, as it happens, whilst I disagree with CLW on the reality of Global Warming - on that, they're a bunch of wackos - I happen to agree rather more with their stance on suing, as you already knew.

Refs


* Shark Tank Take Two- Pop Culture Myths that Need Undoing - by Garreth Bloor: ABC’s Shark Tank is popular culture’s take on entrepreneurship
Decisions are hard enough to take; to change them is even harder - TF - Auden, Pound, Huey Long
Adam Smith, Loneliness, and the Limits of Mainstream Economics - Russ Roberts
* The Spirit Level Delusion by  Alex Tabarrok
Ode to the Medieval Poets - W. H. Auden
The Principal Costs of Minimum-Wage Legislation
The Killer Had An Ideology

2019-03-11

Minor note re IPCC 1990 fig 7.1(c)

songe Listening to the usual idiots bleating about adjustments to the temperature record, I was struck by a comment in the Jones et al. paper which contains the definitive tracking of where 7.1(c) came from. That quote is:
...the source can be isolated to a series used by H.H. Lamb, representative of central England, last published (as figure 30 on p. 84) by Lamb (1982)... The ‘Central England’ curve also appeared in Lamb (1965: figure 3 and 1977: figure 13.4), on both occasions shown as an ‘annual’ curve together with the extreme seasons: winter (December to February) and high summer (July and August). The IPCC diagram comes from the 1982 publication as the vertical resolution of the annual plot is greater. The data behind the 1977 version are given in table app. V.3 in Lamb (1977), but these are essentially the same as previously given in Lamb (1965)... The 1982 version dispenses with the three possible curves evident in Lamb (1965, 1977) and instead uses a version which accounts for the ‘probable under-reporting of mild winters in Medieval times’ and increased summer temperatures to meet ‘certain botanical considerations’. Lamb (1965) discusses the latter point at length and raised summer temperatures in his Mediaeval reconstructions to take account of the documentary evidence of vineyards in southern and eastern England. The amount of extra warmth added during 1100–1350 was 0.3–0.4°C, or about 30% of the range in the black curve in Figure 7. At no place in any of the Lamb publications is there any discussion of an explicit calibration against instrumental data, just Lamb’s qualitative judgement and interpretation of what he refers to as the ‘evidence’. Variants of the curves also appear in other Lamb publications (see, eg, Lamb, 1969).
So the point - in case you missed it - is that Lamb happily and with no real explanation other than personal taste adjusted his data. And - but you knew this already of course - not one of the "skeptics" either knows or cares.

Refs


More use and abuse of IPCC 1990 fig 7.1(c).
Adoration of the Lamb.

2019-03-10

Lents 2019

Another fine Lents, this one happily not truncated by inclement weather. Stars of the show were Caius who went head on their first day, according to Pembroke regatta, where they we two lengths faster than Maggie or Downing over about a km; and indeed they caught Maggie around the Plough. For the women, Newnham were convincingly faster than Downing and then Jesus. Elsewhere there was lots of excitement, including me flinging my GoPro into the river 30 seconds after taking this on Saturday, and a cold wet time I had recovering it.

53323519_10156971639812350_7178433168293232640_o

Rather than point you - and my future self - at the individual days, there's an entire playlist to go through. As a bonus, I've included a few other people's vidz in the list. If you want to watch any, they're all dead thrilling, but Saturday's M2 has a particularly exciting finish.

Refs


* 2017
* 2016
* How to get ze legs down.
* Large teams develop and small teams disrupt science and technology by  Lingfei Wu, Dashun Wang & James A. Evans; via Dominic Cummings.

2019-03-03

Two creaky sci-fi books about Mars

vonb By slightly odd co-incidence, I'm currently reading two creaky old sci-fi books about Mars. I've finished neither, but never mind, I'm going to blog them anyway. Not the stories, which you can read for yourself if interested, but the errors. The first is The Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke; the second and somewhat more interesting is Project MARS: A Technical Tale by Wernher von Braun (do not, as I did, read wiki's The Mars Project and go "duh! Of course it is fiction" because that is about the technical appendix, not the novel). Text available in various places e.g. here.

What both books get horribly wrong is what all such do: they vastly overestimate how quickly space travel would occur and they totally fail to predict automation, computers and the like. For example, von B has a Hubble-like space telescope floating in space: but to use it, you have to visit it. And you point it by hand1. For example: von B has an expedition to Mars... but not preceded by any robot probes. von B also has canals on Mars, but never mind, they are going to be part of the story, I can forgive him those.

Clark has his boyz head off from Earth for Mars, in a ship rather reminiscent of an English steamer, but I think stuffs up the orbital mechanics. After leaving the jolly old Earth behind, he is saddened when Earth eventually becomes invisible, blotted out by the solar corona. Because of course the path from Earth to Mars is outwards, and so Earth and the Sun will be in line. Oops. von B, by contrast, as you'd expect gets the orbital mechanics right - at least as far as I can tell - but goes wrong in my highlight, where he is explaining temperature maintenance in space (aside: very quaintly, his space station is powered by solar power... but by steam solar power: a mirror boils water, and the spokes of his space station wheel serve to condense it).

This is radiative physics, and somewhat reminiscent of The idealised greenhouse effect model and its enemies. The easy one first: a fully reflective sphere at all wavelengths with no conduction will neither absorb nor emit radiation, and so will maintain whatever temperature it starts with, whatever that might be; there is no "temperature of equilibrium" because there is no transfer to permit equilibriation. But a fully black sphere at all wavelengths (idealised to have a superconducting surface, unless you want to think about the temperature distribution) will not. It will have some equilibrium temperature; if you start it hotter it will cool down, if you start it colder it will warm up. This, incidentally, is from page 93. On page 94 we find the statement that a mirror-polished spaceship will simply retain it's temperature, which is much better, though slightly wrong, because of course the people inside and equipement will emit heat, so it will slowly warm up. So p 93 might be an oversight, or perhaps a translators error; but probably not, because the same error occurs just a little above my quote.

Update: it turns out that Martians exist. They live entirely underground, but their pumping of water from the poles is visible. They are entirely benevolent and more advanced than us, but in need of rejuvenation. There are some tedious dialogues about religion and stuff that I skipped. Despite being more advanced, the Earthmen learn nothing from them; in turn the Martians have at no point listened to Earth radio broadcasts. The return-to-Earth happens with no assistance from the advanced Martians, presumably because von B wanted to prove his point that it could be done.

docking

Notes


1. Its also not in constant use. It seems to be available and unused whenever our heroes happen to want to look at it.

2. Also, his propellants are hydrazine and nitric acid. Failing to think of liquid oxygen is odd, I think. For propulsion, that is. There's liquid oxygen for cabin air.

3. Page 102: it turns out that the guidance for the ships will be calculated by giant electronic super-brains, and stored on thousands of magnetic tapes, which tapes will be carried aloft and run by hand through the ship's course-correction facilities. Though a super-special lightweight machine was also to be carried, capable of producing tapes en route.

4. There's also some stuff about nuking the Commies into submission, so cue Tom Lehrer.

2019-02-25

Jobs. Are. Going. Away. Growth no longer creates jobs. Pardon?

calf My headline comes from a twit by mt4, except for the last word and the associated mark of interrogation, which are not his. I'm not sure how much substance there is in this to blog about, but I find, looking back, that I haven't said the obvious1 "jobs are a cost not a benefit" thing very much, so perhaps it's a good idea to have a post for me to reference. But mt in this case is more worried about the jobs going away, which is somewhat different. He should not worry I think; Timmy has told him not to.

Timmy's logic (that human wants are infinite, so there will always be unmet human desires, so there will always be jobs) makes sense to me. Some people react to this in the predictable way: "oh, those sort of jobs . But I wanted a real job, like a coal miner or a lumberjack". That's what Trump and the Trumpists say, of course. Don't be like them. A more plausible objection is that if it's the poor people with the needs they won't be able to pay you; but I think it just doesn't go like that. I could of course be wrong; it isn't as if I'm presenting any evidence, unlike mt's detailed studies.

Speaking of evidence, of course, we could look to the past as our guide to the future. This isn't something you're going to do if you believe the-jobs-are-going-away because, errm, they haven't. The mechanisation of agriculture or spinning didn't lead to vast unemployment; neither did or will the death of coal; and so on. I twot that in the sure knowledge it was a killer reply. mt replied A big question is whether this pattern is some sort of inevitable law which is an advance of sorts, because the original certainty has now turned into a question. We could worry about AI, and indeed I might worry about real AI, but we haven't got that or anything close yet.

But then comes The main observational evidence is not that employment is shrinking but that it commands smaller wages. Which I think is Not True (but notice that it, too, is a retreat from the original assertion). To examine whether it is true or not you'd need to know whose wages you care about. In this context it is unlikely that mt cares about the global poor, who as we all know are rather less poor than they used to be (as JG helpfully interjects) but this does allow mt to clarify that his sympathy is for Deciles 8 and 9 (western middle class) are having great difficulties, which the graph shows somewhat2, 3.

At which point those not in the know need to know what graph is being talked about, and the answer is this or some variation thereon:

So, OK, there are two points below 0 on that curve, though one of them is so marginally below zero as to be indistinguishable from zero in any statistical sense. And of course, that's ending in 2008, which wasn't a happy year for the world economy. But to turn this into a general summing-up of "commands smaller wages" is not I think realistic. And indeed, here's another version, with a different end point, and a different conclusion in that detail:

The negatives have now gone. Rejoice.

Of course, the future might be different. After all and so on. mt recommends Elizabeth Warren's book on the latter point but I fear she has more than one; and books have many words in them; and I doubt EW; so without something more concrete I won't be pursuing that.


Notes


1. Not obvious to everyone, of course. Indeed vehemently denied by many people. Touched on in Why don’t people pay attention to the future of their own world? in 2017.

2. After this mt and JG wander off into what seems to me a rather odd discussion of "freedom" in the context of freedom to drop out, I think; I don't think that's profitable - to me it resembles the atavistic yearning for Ye Olde Dayes of Happy Peasants.

3. Aside: suppose it were for some reason true that the Western Middle Class were losing out from Globalisation, in the way shown by that graph or more so, but yet the global poor were benefiting as it shows. And that (for inexplicable hand-of-god reasons) you had to choose between that change, and a no-globalisation slight-increase-all-round: which would you choose? Would you choose your local, globally-rich WMC, thereby condemning the globally poor to yet more grinding poverty?

4. This is all a bit personified, but I think mt's views are representative rather than original in this context, so it isn't really personal.

Refs


Ze Robots are comink
In the mid 1980s, improved economic conditions for the middle classes led to a dramatic rise in tastelessness
* Paul Voosen: One more time: Despite what you’ve heard, leading cloud scientists are dubious that cooling marine clouds will simultaneously wink out at tripled CO2 levels (retwat by Gavin)
* The Philosophy of Poverty?: My Opening Statement by Bryan Caplan
* The wage decoupling mess by Scott Sumner
* Reflections on the Balan-Caplan Poverty Debate by Bryan Caplan

A child’s garden of wikipedia, part II

52569231_1101942873335365_5705834086749175808_o Piers "mad as a bagful of badgers" Corbyn is sad because I 24/7 replaced good stuff with smears & lies in [his] so-called biography on Wiki. Naturally, I did no such thing, but I thought it might be amusing to find out what I actually did that has riled him so. For some wiki-background that may be relevant, see A child’s garden of wikipedia, part I.

Wiki has a [[Piers Corbyn]] page, whose lede is (currently) the anodyne Piers Richard Corbyn (born 10 March 1947) is an English weather forecaster who owns WeatherAction, which makes weather forecasts. He is the older brother of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. If you're unfamiliar with his forecasting methodology, think yourself lucky; you can read JA's partial evaluation here if you like. I have 35 edits to the PC page, which you can see for yourself here (arch).

That brings up [[User:PiersCorbyn]] who is (or was; he flounced off in a huff quite some time ago) the wiki-presence of PC. From his contributions you can see he was a one-trick pony, interested only in editing his own page. Which is a bit dodgy because of Wikipedia:Conflict of interest. That isn't absolute, and can be over emphasised, but if you're trying to ram through your own version of your own page, and you've been told about COI several times on your own talk page, then you're going to get blocked. As he was, by me and by that nice Vsmith. The discussion at the COI noticeboard petered out without anything interesting, probably because PC's last edit was on December the 24th so it all became moot.

But what of the substance? Mostly it was this and similar edits. PC would like to be thought of as a British weather forecaster and consultant best known for his ability to predict the weather up to one year in advance through the study of solar activity particularly charged particle and magnetic effects rather than a controversial British weather forecaster and  consultant best known for what he claims to be the ability to predict the [[weather]] up to one year in advance through the study of [[solar activity]], specifically charged particle and magnetic effects. Well, you can see why he would prefer his version but it is less clear why wiki would. That he insisted on adding His scientific advances and independently verified forecasting skill and his ‘climate sceptic’ views on CO2 based theories of global warming have caused distress among some ‘green campaigners’ who frequently spread and inaccurate information about him and his forecasts. This unacceptable activity includes inserting false statements in his biography in Wikipedia so if you are reading this please keep a copy for future reference before it gets falsified. If you want to check anything for yourself please contact Piers Corby himself via the WeatherAction website didn't exactly help his case. So, having tried and failed to edit what he added into something sane, I reverted it; rinse and repeat a few times. Then Vsmith blocked him for 48h for not paying any attention to the rules, whereupon PC said I have got better things to do with my life than piss around with reversion games and that was the last we heard of him.

In my defence, I thought things might be a bit more interesting when I began this post, and having written it I felt reluctant to throw it away.

Refs


Boris Johnson is a tosser
Piers Corbyn, his brother and communist weather forecaster