Why I remain optimistic.

Posted by on Aug 4, 2017 in Articles, Blog | 0 comments

Several pieces of news have caught my attention in the last few days which have challenged my generally positive outlook on climate change issues. Despite this, I remain stubbornly optimistic about our ability to rise collectively to the challenges we face, as I will explain…. first though, the bad news…

 

Let’s start with the report from the BBC of a recent study by  Eun-Soon Im, Jeremy S. Pal, and Elfatih A. B. Eltahir. This considered an aspect of global warming which, I must admit, has passed me by – that is the impact of temperature on human survival. Not, I hasten to add, the conventional “dry bulb” temperature measurement we are all familiar with from weather forecasts (and which are hitting all-time highs in Europe in the last few days, in excess of 43 °C in Cordoba, in the south of Spain, for example) but rather the more esoteric “wet bulb” temperature.

This measurement is the lowest temperature that can be achieved by evaporating water from a surface. In a low humidity environment, the wet bulb temperature can be considerably lower than the dry bulb temperature (as heat energy – aka latent heat – is needed to evaporate the liquid water, so lowering the temperature of the surface). As the moisture in the atmosphere rises, however, the potential for further evaporation decreases and so the wet bulb temperature approaches the dry bulb temperature until we reach 100% humidity, when both temperatures are the same.  

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Debating climate change sceptics and the irrational decision by Donald Trump

Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Articles, Blog | 0 comments

I want to share an argument that I have used on many occasions when faced with audiences who are yet to be convinced about climate change. This is summarized by the diagram below.

 

This illustration reflects, in the columns, the positions that folks adopt about climate change. Some think that it is real, others not. Of course, we cannot change these columns, one will be prove to be right and the other will be wrong.

The rows, on the other hand, reflect the choices we make. We have two choices, A or B – either we take effective action on climate change, or not. That choice is under our control.

Clearly, we want to avoid the red box – where life as we know it comes to an end. Thus the only rational choice is “B”, to take action on climate change, despite some uncertainties about the consequences of inaction.

President Trump’s announcement of the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement made in the Rose Garden of the White House yesterday unambiguously represents Choice A.

The statement Trump made justifying this decision relies on two central arguments, which are understood by reference to the table above.

First is the argument that the Paris Accord is not Choice B (i.e. it will do little for climate change). To quote.

Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that; this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.

Indeed, as the PolititFact site clearly elucidates, there is some truth in this statement. Scientists and climate change advocates have also been very clear that the commitments made in Paris were not enough. But they did see Paris as the framework through which countries could tighten their commitments over time. Indeed, Paris was a real milestone in that developing countries, too, agreed to targets for the first time. So saying that the first step is not enough is not an argument for stepping backwards.

The reader will note that there is no downside portrayed in the bottom left box, where dangerous climate change is not real, but we have nevertheless substantially transformed our organizations to reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures. While individual businesses, such as the coal industry, may well see a substantial reduction in their value unless they change the core business model, the majority of organizations will gain from resource efficiency to address climate change. That is because using less energy and creating less waste reduces costs. Delivering more efficient products will provide a competitive advantage. The new technology gold rush to mitigate carbon emissions will create countless business opportunities and thousands of jobs. Anticipating rather than reacting to regulation will create greater degrees of freedom for business operations extending, rather than diminishing, their licence to operate and innovate.

The second, essential, strand in the narrative of denial is to dismiss the notion that the lower-left box will lead to a better world even if climate change does not exist. Unless the fact that action is detrimental can be established, the precautionary principle would suggest that Choice B should be taken even if the probability that climate change is real (since the consequence of climate change is so catastrophic). To quote again.

The Paris Agreement would result in “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.

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The curve that reveals our true performance

Posted by on May 12, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

mlo_full_recordThe only measure of our progress on climate change with any integrity is the record of atmospheric concentration of CO2. None more so than the series of readings that have been taken in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii which have been taken uninterrupted since 1958.  This is the Keeling Curve, named after Charles Keeling who initiated the measurements. On May the 9th these readings passed a milestone – they reached 400 parts per million for the first time.

The last time atmospheric CO2 was at this level was some 3M years ago in the Pliocene geologic era. At that time the temperatures were 2-4 degrees C higher than today and sea levels were between 5 and 40 meters higher.  The geological record gives us an insight into the long-term physical outcome of current CO2 concentrations. What is does not tell us is the impact on our biosphere, the countless living organisms on which we depend and which is facing an unprecedented rate of change in temperature.      

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Climate Change for Football Fans

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 in Books | 0 comments

Being a complete novice on the finer arts of football (or soccer to our North American readers) I approached James Atkins’ book, Climate Change for Football Fans, with some trepidation.  More so when I saw the précis: “This is a book about climate change policy, which is one of the most boring topics in the world. So it includes stuff about football, which is one of the most exciting topics in the world.”!

Well it turns out that even a football-illiterate like me can gain a great deal from this quirky, irreverent, funny and thought-provoking book. Clearly written from a position of deep understanding of the subject of climate change policy – and presumably equally so of football, although I am not such a good judge here – this book delivers an insightful analysis of the emissions reduction predicament we face.

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Mottainai! PWC report indicates we are too late for two degrees.

Posted by on Nov 17, 2012 in Blog | 0 comments

The Japanese have a word Mottainai which “reflects a sense of regret concerning waste” which can “lead to anger or protest when the person who is observing the utter waste is incapable of holding back their emotions”. Well that sure sounds like a polite way of describing how I am feeling just now….

Why? Well I have just read a new report from PWC: Too late for two degrees? which makes very sobering reading.

We know that each year that we allow CO2 and other greenhouse gasses to accumulate in the atmosphere means that subsequent reductions need to be greater.

Back in 2000, in order to have a 50% change of global temperature rises not exceeding 2 degrees Centigrade, we needed to decarbonise our economy at the rate of 3.7% per annum to 2050. Today that target has risen to 5.1% a year because we have wasted the last decade with an average global rate of decarbonisation of just 0.8% a year.

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The Great Disruption – Paul Gilding

Posted by on Oct 8, 2012 in Books | 0 comments

First of all I would like to thank my dear friend Massimo Bettanin at global consultants ERM for urging me to read Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption”. His enthusiasm for the book put it at the top of my holiday reading this summer and, curiously, it was as satisfying to me as any holiday thriller.

I make this comparison in order to deliberately highlight  the unusually strong literary structure of The Great Disruption.

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