Climate Change: Scientific Measurements Versus Incomplete Estimates

Us humans tend to be a somewhat optimistic bunch, a bias that may have had significant benefits for our species survival, and even for our individual emotional well-being. To back up this optimism we have a conformation bias, selectively seeking information that supports our optimistic beliefs. As things get worse, individuals may even strive harder to find “good news” and ignore the negative. When combined with the structural elements that drive the media to emphasize the positive and ignore things that undermine the status quo, it becomes very hard for individuals to be realistic about the challenges that society faces. In the same way that the global energy production statistics may be quite misleading[1], many of the high profile estimates of global carbon emissions may be at the least confusing and most definitely misrepresented. Continue reading

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Complexity, Short Term Volatility, The Exponential, And The Limits Of Human Cognition

The problem with complex systems, such as Climate Change, the Energy System, and Financial Systems, is that they tend not to move in straight lines. Instead, they tend to oscillate around a trend and can move in a counter-trend fashion for significant amounts of time. The “Climate Change Pause”, and “Counter Trend Stock Price Rallies” are examples. In the same way that climate change skeptics jumped on the “pause” as a justification of their beliefs, buy-and-hold investors jump on counter-trend rallies as proof of a new bull market and therefore a reason not to sell (and pessimists jump on periodic falls in prices during a bull market as a reason not to invest). Such volatility may actually increase near the boundaries of a current equilibrium state, with a system behaving chaotically as it transitions to a new stable equilibrium. Such behaviour has been seen at the transitions going into, and out of, ice ages[1]. Arctic sea ice may currently be going through the same type of chaotic transition[2]. Consequently, the environment may be the most confusing at the very time that it is critical for humanity to understand it. Continue reading

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China’s One Child Policy: Overwhelmed By Increased Affluence

The classic I.P.A.T. (Ecological Impact = Population * Affluence * Technology) equation very succinctly sums up the problem that humanity faces. Growth in both the number of people on the planet, and the level of affluence per person (I use GDP per capita as a measure if this), combine to drive increased levels of ecological impact. Technology may provide ways of reducing that impact per unit of growth (population * affluence), but cannot offset the 3%+ growth rate currently assumed as normal[i]. As measured by the Ecological Footprint, humanity’s resource usage reached the capacity of the Earth in the early 1970’s and is now assessed to be have reached the level of 1.6 Earths, and will rise to two planets by 2030[ii]. Continue reading

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Oil Price Dynamics In A Constrained World

Oil is a globally traded commodity, where there is generally little variation in price between different locations. Given this, a highly simplified model of global oil prices would look something like this:

Slide1

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The Socio-Economic Basis For The Mexican Zapatista Uprising

In the absence of a politicized citizenry, with their own independent political institutions, as long as the state provides just enough “bread and circuses” a social inertia can reign for extended periods of time. The Zapatista movement in Mexico shows the time and energy required to overcome such inertia, even when the ruling elite is in the process of restructuring society. Continue reading

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TTIP/TTP: Part Of The Elite Strategy To Embed Neoliberalism

A strategy of the elites highlighted by the Trilateral Commission report that complained of an “excess of democracy”[1] in the 1970’s has been to remove as many of the important decisions affecting society from any possibility of democratic control. This helps lock society into a growth / corporate power / privatization path, where such things as international treaties, patent law, secrecy, and media control, can be used to remove impediments to the continued growth of corporate power – such as an informed citizenry, local sourcing policies and the protection of the commons from privatization. The current set of international “trade” agreements, which are more agreements to embed corporate power, as far away from democratic oversight as possible, are just some of the latest steps along this trend. Continue reading

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Methane: The Movie

An attempt at humour in a darkening world ….

A ship rests on the Arctic waters below a kaleidoscope of colours bouncing around the northern sky. A group of scientists sit chatting about methane emissions and hockey while enjoying a good bottle of vodka. Suddenly, the ship loses buoyancy and starts rapidly sinking into the arctic waters. Within less than a minute it is gone, with no time for anyone to survive its sinking. Only the bubbling arctic waters are left. It’s not the Bermuda Triangle; it’s the Methane Rectangle! We then jump to a waterlogged area of tundra in Siberia, where methane is bubbling to the surface … Continue reading

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Paris Climate Conference (COP 21): A Slight Deceleration As The Brick Wall Approaches?

Over the past twenty-five years humanity has acted like a driver who accelerates when warned that he is travelling toward a brick wall, while debating whether or not the brick wall exists. Especially since 2000, as the industrialization of China gained in scale and its coal usage grew exponentially, climate-changing gas emissions have accelerated[1] [2]. At the same time many scientists are realizing that the brick wall may be a lot closer than previously thought. Not at 400 ppm carbon dioxide (which humanity already passed) and 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial times, but perhaps as low as 350 ppm[3] or lower and 1 degree[4]. Like the cartoon character Wile E Coyote, humanity may have already run off the cliff, but is kept levitating in the air for a while by the inertial tendencies of the climate system. Continue reading

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Ice Sheet Loss Following An Exponential Trend

Up until recently the general scientific consensus was that the large ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica would melt at a rate that would cause a very limited rise in sea levels this century. The predictions for sea level rise used by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) have used a relatively linear rise in sea levels to 2100 – resulting in the societal consensus of about 1 metre in the 21st century. Recent research has shown that the rate of sea level rise has accelerated, from an average of 1.2mm per year from 1900 to 1990, to 3mm per year since then[1] [2]. Given this observed acceleration in the past two decades, together with the possible non-linear responses of natural systems, the consensus view could be deeply flawed. The biggest variable that will drive sea level rise is the speed at which the ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica will melt. Continue reading

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Putting The Pieces Together: Climate Change

When looking at the predicament facing humanity, it can be comforting to take an individually positive piece of information as proof that things may not be so bad. Unfortunately, such false optimism is not warranted even though it tends to predominate in much of the media. This false optimism is dependent upon the information that is left out, as well as a lack of integration with other relevant information. Continue reading

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