US president-elect Donald Trump has transformed China into a world leader in the struggle against global warming. FT columnist Jamil Anderlini explains.
In mid-2012, Donald Trump fired off this tweet: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”
Apart from its sheer absurdity, one of the most striking things about Mr Trump’s assertion is how similar it sounds to the paranoid ravings of Chinese nationalists, who blame almost everything on the CIA and evil, imperialist America. ….
Thanks to the election of Mr Trump, who remains unconvinced by the overwhelming scientific evidence of anthropogenic climate change, China is now poised to become the world’s leader in tackling global warming and the environment. Nobody is as surprised by this new responsibility as China itself. Less than a decade ago, the Chinese government still refused to admit that the acrid clouds of choking smog hanging over most of the country had anything to do with industrial development.
Jamil Anderlini, “China’s leaders emerge from the fog of pollution denial“, Financial Times, 30 November 2016 (metered paywall).
Often, in conversation, friends and colleagues concede that global warming is real, but argue that there is no proof that it is caused by human activity. My reply typically has been that greenhouse gases – hence human activity – no doubt contributes to global warming, even though it is certainly not the only cause. This is a weak response. FT reader John-Paul Marney has a better response: Regardless of what might be causing global warming, we can and should mitigate it, for example by reducing emission of greenhouse gases.
Sir, … John-Paul Marney (Letters, November 3) wheels out the old chestnut that climate change may not be anthropogenic, that is, caused by human activity.
Why exactly does that matter? In most developed countries there are regulations governing building in areas at risk of earthquakes, without us thinking that human activity causes earthquakes; billions have been spent on a tsunami early-warning system across the Pacific, despite no evidence that tsunamis are anthropogenic; we build flood defences without feeling responsible for flooding; and we spend billions to buy insurance precisely to protect us from events that we do not cause.
…. [W]e do know for certain that concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere are rising, because we can measure them, and we also know for certain that their physical properties are consistent with a warming effect. What is it about greenhouse gases that makes them, uniquely, exempt from action?
Robin Cooke-Hurle, “It should not matter what is causing climate change“, letter to the editor, Financial Times, 4 November 2016 (metered paywall).
The letter of 3 November that Mr Cooke-Hurle refers to was written in response to a column of Martin Wolf that was published Wednesday in the Financial Times. Here are brief excerpts from the column, along with two of three charts that accompany it.
Nature does not care what we think about it. Indeed, nature does not care about us at all. But we should care about nature. ….
What nature is doing at present is heating the planet. Of this no serious doubt remains. ….
Just as the world is hitting peak temperatures (relative to the 1951-80 average and pre-industrial levels), so is it hitting peak concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. …. Given the well-known physics of the greenhouse effect, the causal relationship between the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and consistently rising temperatures is at the very least overwhelmingly plausible. ….
It is a remarkable fact that, given these simple truths, the question of climate change was barely addressed in the US presidential debates. This is not because it cannot matter. It is not because the candidates do not disagree. It is because few wish to think about the implications of these realities.
Martin Wolf, “Climate change and the risks of denying inconvenient truths“, Financial Times, 2 November 2016 (metered paywall).
This week’s “Lunch with the FT” features Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli (born 1956). His latest book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, was published in Italian in 2014 and has since been translated (according to Wikipedia) into an amazing 41 languages. The international bestseller is available in English translation as a Penguin paperback.
I announce that I would like to start by contesting a proposition in … [his recent book] with which I do not agree.
“Oh,” he says, surprised. “Are you a scientist?” No, I reply with due ceremony, I am the FT’s pop critic. Rovelli laughs ….
The passage from the book that I proceed to quote concerns his denunciation of “the incomprehension and distrust of science shown by a significant part of our contemporary culture”. On the contrary, I suggest, the cultural standing of scientists has never been higher. Fantasies of the lab-coated geek or sinister genius have been superseded by visions of heroic intellectual achievement. Resources also favour them. In 2010, UK government funding for sciences at universities was ringfenced while humanities suffered deep cuts.
“You know, I think you’re right,” he concedes, hands on the table, fiddling with his desert spoon and fork as though conducting a gentle experiment into friction. “But it’s recent, I would say. And the UK is probably the country least touched by that [suspicion of science]. A lot of culture in France and Germany is dominated by high Gregorian ideas that true knowledge is not scientific knowledge, science is sort of second class. And it’s worse in the US. I mean, come on, when many Americans don’t believe in evolution or climate change, I think there’s a problem with anti-science.” [Emphasis added.]
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, “Lunch with the FT: Carlo Rovelli“, Financial Times, 13 August 2016 (metered paywall).
Carlo Rovelli studied theoretical physics in his native Italy, at the University of Bologna (BS/MS) and the University of Padova (PhD). He taught at the University of Pittsburgh from 1990 to 2000 and is currently based at Aix-Marseille University (France), in its Centre de Physique Théorique.
The link above, to Rovelli’s book, contains audio recordings of the author reading from extracts of each chapter.
These are strange days in the energy business. Startling headlines are emerging from the sector that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. ….
In the UK, renowned for its miserable overcast weather, solar panels contributed more power to the grid than coal plants for the month of May. ….
Trina Solar, the Chinese company that is the world’s largest solar panel manufacturer, said it had started selling in 20 new markets last year, from Poland to Mauritius and Nepal to Uruguay. ….
It is clear that the world is shifting toward renewables and — as a proportion of total consumption — away from oil, gas and coal.
Ed Crooks, “Balance of power tilts from fossil fuels to renewable energy“, Financial Times, 27 July 2016 (metered paywall).
There is much more in the full column. “While renewable energy has been growing fast,” cautions Mr Crooks, “it is coming from a very low base. ‘Modern renewables’ — mostly biofuels, wind and solar, but not hydro or traditional biomass — provided just 2.5 per cent of the world’s primary energy last year ….”
Ed Crooks is US industry and energy editor for the Financial Times. He was previously an economics correspondent for the BBC
I am a great fan of CBC radio’s “Ideas” podcasts, hosted by Paul Kennedy. Past episodes are available without charge at cbc.ca, iTunes and other sites, and all are entertaining. But the episode I listened to last night was exceptional. The topic is cultural cognition, the tendency of persons to make up their minds about risk based on social and cultural values (prejudice) rather than empirical evidence. Here is a link to the 54-minute podcast:
This episode is one of a series recorded at the Stratford Festival. It features CBC Massey Lecturer and Founding Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs Janice Gross Stein; physician-scientist, author, and deep-sea explorer Dr. Joe MacInnis; and science broadcaster and writer Jay Ingram.
Paul Kennedy, “The Discovery of Other Worlds“, CBC Ideas, 1 December 2015.
Each of the three participants made important contributions, but I especially enjoyed that of Jay Ingram. His introductory statement begins at 12:51, ending at about the 31-minute mark. With the help of google, I was able to locate a short piece that Mr Ingram wrote on the subject three years ago. Here is a brief excerpt. (more…)
FT columnist Martin Wolf explains that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can be seen as insurance, reduced probability of a huge catastrophe. We insure ourselves against disability or death, so why not pay also to insure the health and life of our planet?
Is there any significant likelihood that policy action will eliminate the risk of climate disaster? At present, the answer is no. ….
Climate Shock , a punchy new book …, explains why action is both so difficult and so important. The challenge is “almost uniquely global, uniquely long-term, uniquely irreversible and uniquely uncertain”. The book’s big contribution is on the last point: uncertainty. Climate change is a problem of insurance. For this, it is not median outcomes that matter most, but the outliers — the “fat tails” of the probability distribution of temperature. ….
Framing the challenge of climate change as a problem of insurance against disaster is intellectually fruitful. It also provides the right answer to sceptics. The question is not what we know for sure. The question is rather how certain we are (or can be) that nothing bad will happen. Given the science, which is well established, it is impossible to argue that we know the risks are small. This being so, taking action is logical. It is the right way to respond to the nature and scale of possible bad outcomes.
The authors [of the book] suggest that the very least we need to do is impose a global price on emissions of CO2 at $40 a tonne …. Now, however, the actual cost imposed on emissions is closer to minus $15 per tonne, because of vast subsidies to fossil fuel energy amounting to $550bn a year.
Martin Wolf, “Why climate uncertainty justifies action“, Financial Times, 9 June 2015 (metered paywall).
Martin Wolf is reviewing Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet (Princeton University Press, 2015), by Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman.
Gernot Wagner is lead senior economist at the Environmental Defense Fund. Martin Weitzman is professor of economics at Harvard University.
EconTalk host Russ Roberts interviewed Professor Weitzman on June 1st 2015. In the one hour podcast, they discuss his new book.
Joe Romm, “NOAA Study Confirms Global Warming Speed-Up Is Imminent“, Climate Progress, 5 June 2015.
There is more at the link.
HT Mark Thoma.
Pilita Clark, environment correspondent for the Financial Times, reviews a book on the economic consequences of climate change, and possible responses to it.
The correct economic solution [for global warming] has been well understood for years, they [Wagner and Weitzman] argue: stop subsidising fossil fuels by about $15 a ton of C02 globally, and create a price of at least $40 a ton. But Climate Shock advises economists to stop demanding a global carbon price and start working on more politically possible solutions, such as fuel economy standards. That sounds dull compared with geoengineering. But it is also infinitely safer.
This is not a book for people deeply versed in climate policy, few of whom will find its contents remotely shocking. For the intelligent lay reader wanting a lively, lucid assessment of the economic consequences of global warming, however, it is well worth reading.
Pilita Clark, “‘Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet’, by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman“, Financial Times, 30 March 2015.
The first chapter of the book, published recently by Princeton University Press, can be viewed here.
Two economists from University College Dublin question its existence.
The Little Ice Age – dated from the mid-14th century to the early 19th – plays a large role in historical analyses. Anthropologist Brian Fagan suggests that this climate swing demoralised the European peasantry, allowing for the rise of despotic leaders. British and Dutch canals and rivers frequently froze, allowing French land forces to invade the Netherlands while the Dutch fleet was ice-locked. But was it really an ice age, or have historians been “fooled by randomness”?
In recent research we attempt to discover how much European weather actually worsened during the Little Ice Age. Our conclusion – using a variety of standard temperature reconstructions – is that there is little evidence that a European Little Ice Age ever occurred. ….
Given the lack of evidence for any sustained trends or shifts in European temperatures before 1900, how are we to account for the general belief among climatologists that Europe experienced a Little Ice Age? The answer probably lies in the practise in climatology of smoothing data using some sort of moving average before analysing it. If the underlying data are white noise, as European temperatures appear to be, then smoothing them will give the spurious appearance of irregular oscillations as the filter is distorted by runs of high or low values: a Slutsky effect. ….
Note when interpreting our results that local weather conditions are a noisy signal of global ones. Just as the fact that European temperatures did not rise much during the twentieth century does not imply that global temperatures were constant (rises were concentrated in the Arctic and Siberia), so their constancy between the 14th and 19th centuries does not imply that global average temperatures did not experience notable falls during this time associated primarily with known falls in solar output. [Emphasis added.]
Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda, “The myth of Europe’s Little Ice Age“, VoxEU, 28 March 2015 (ungated).
Here is the full, peer-reviewed paper that the Vox column summarizes:
Morgan Kelly and Cormac Ó Gráda, “Change points and temporal dependence in reconstructions of annual temperature: Did Europe experience a Little Ice Age?“, Annals of Applied Statistics 8:3 (November 2014), pp. 1372-1394 (ungated link).