Friday, November 30, 2012

Editorial from Hansen

(This well-linked editorial appeared in my Guardian this morning. I stole the whole text rather than providing a link because I think more of my students will read it that way.)

Climate change is happening now – a carbon price must follow

The extreme weather events of 2012 are what we have been warning of for 25 years, but the answer is plain to see

Will our short attention span be the end of us? Just a month after the second "storm of a century" in two years, the media moves on to the latest scandal with barely a retrospective glance at the implications of the extreme climate anomalies we have seen.

Hurricane Sandy was not just a storm. It was a stark illustration of the power that climate change can deliver – today – to our doorsteps.

Ask the homeowners along the New Jersey and New York shores still homeless. Ask the local governments struggling weeks later to turn on power to their cold, darkened towns and cities. Ask the entire north-east coast, reeling from a catastrophe whose cost is estimated at $50bn and rising. (I am not brave enough to ask those who've lost husbands or wives, children or grandparents).
I bring up these facts sadly, as one who has urged us to heed the scientific evidence on climate change for the past 25 years. The science is clear: climate change is here, now.

Superstorm Sandy is not the first storm, and certainly won't be the last. Still, it is hard for us as individual human beings to connect the dots. That's where observation, data and scientific analysis help us see.

No credible scientist disputes that we have warmed our climate by almost 1.5C over land areas in the past century, most of that in the past 30 years.

As my colleagues and I demonstrated in a peer-reviewed study published this summer, climate extremes are already occurring much more frequently in the world we have warmed through our reliance on fossil fuels.

Our analysis showed that extreme summer heat anomalies used to be infrequent: covering only 0.1-0.2% of the globe in any given summer during the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. During the past decade, as the average global temperature rose, such extremes have covered 10% of the land.

Extreme temperatures deliver more than heat.

The water cycle is especially sensitive to rising temperatures. Increased heat speeds up evaporation, causing more extreme droughts, like the $5bn (and counting) drought in Texas and Oklahoma. It is linked to an expanding wildfire season and an increase by several fold in the frequency of large fires in the American west.

The heat also leads to more extreme sea surface temperatures – a key culprit behind Sandy's devastating force. The latent heat in atmospheric water vapour is the fuel that powers tornadoes, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. Stepping up evaporation with warmer temperatures is like stepping on the gas: More energy-rich vapour condenses into water drops, releasing more latent heat as it does so, causing more powerful storms, increased rainfall and more extreme flooding. This is not a matter of belief. This is high-school science class.

The chances of getting a late October hurricane in New York without the help of global warming are extremely small. In that sense, you can blame Sandy on global warming. Sandy was the strongest recorded storm, measured by barometric pressure, to make landfall north of Cape Hatteras, eclipsing the hurricane of 1938.

But this fixation on determining the blame for a particular storm, or disputing the causal link between climate change and this or that storm, is misguided.

A better path forward means listening to the growing chorus – Sandy, extreme droughts and wildfires, intense rainstorms, record-breaking melting of Arctic sea ice – and taking action. Think of it like taking out an insurance policy for the planet.

We can fix this. The answer is a price on carbon. We must make the price of fossil fuels honest, reflecting their cost to society including the economic devastation wrought by storms like Sandy, the toll on farmland and ecosystems, as well as priceless human lives.

Whether that price takes the shape of a carbon tax, as some in Washington are now willing to discuss, or a carbon fee, as I have advocated, a price on carbon lets the market find the most effective ways to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels. It also moves us to a sustainable energy future where energy choices are made by individuals and communities, not by Washington mandates and lobbyists.
A carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, will increase consumer costs. So the money that is collected should be distributed to the public. As people try to minimise their energy costs to keep money for other things, their actions will stimulate the economy, drive innovations and transition us away from fossil fuels.

If we make our demand for action clear enough, I am optimistic that our leaders in Washington can look beyond the short-term challenges of today to see the looming, long-term threats ahead, and the answer that is right in front of them. We can't simply allow the next news cycle to distract us from the real task ahead.

Back in the 1980s, I introduced the concept of "climate dice" to make clear the difference between natural variability and climate-change driven extremes. As I predicted, the climate dice in the 21st century are now "loaded". It's not just bad luck Sandy pummelled America's coasts, extreme drought devastated its midlands and wildfires scorched its mountains.

We loaded the dice. We changed our climate.

• James E Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New AAT datum updates L & R (for class)

The new average annual temperature number is in, or at least a preview of it, since we poor muddling humans still have to live through the month of December, 2012. The new datum is estimated to be 14.45 degrees Celsius (absolute) or (as published in this article here) about 0.42 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1980 average.

In our Lean and Rind climate modeling exercise, AAT was pegged to the 1951-1980 average, which is a slightly lower baseline number than the 1961-1980 one. Without going back to the data set and recalculating, I might guess that the L & R number for 2012 will end up at about 0.44 or 0.45 degrees Celsius.

In the article they cite both La Niña and anthropogenic sulfate aerosols as reasons for the cooling, both of which are included in the L & R independent variables. If you remember, La Niña is the cool variant of the ENSO cycle, while anthropogenic sulfate, primarily from coal, is one of the eight Hansen et al 2007 variables included in our index of anthropogenic effects.

A hint (A big hint!): This article would make a great final exam question. I might take the article, or a paraphrase thereof, and ask you to interpret the results using the L & R framework for decadal scale change.

Or I might give you the 2012 L & R parameters (ENSO, VOLC, SOLAR, and ANTH) and the L & R 2009 multiple regression equation, ask you to calculate the expected 2012 AAT, compare to the actual, and explain the difference, if any.

Hmmm. Choices, choices.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Environmental Sustainability Quantitative Analysis Homework

You may do one of the two options below. In either case, your work is due by close of business (5pm if by email, and by 3pm if in hard copy), on the last day of the Final Exam period, Friday 14th December, 2012.

Option 1) Do the Home Energy Saver online.
  1. Find the HES at
  2. Using your own home or a home you are familiar with (student rental, home of a friend), enter the required data
  3. Study your results. Write short report summarizing these results. 
  4. Hand in your report plus the main results page (this is the one with the horizontal histogram showing the cost analysis of different efficiency measures) A screen capture or printout is best.
Option 2) Do the Ecological Modeling Homework. The instructions are at

Sustainability intern needed

Here's a great paid internship tailor-made for an SEM/Sustech student:
Sustainability Intern - Portland, Maine - November 16, 201
Thornton Tomasetti’s Corporate Sustainability practice is seeking a Sustainability Intern to act as our “Carbon Master”; they will conduct carbon footprint analyses for the company’s 26 offices and will also assist with reporting the embodied carbon of the company’s structural engineering projects. This position is located in the vibrant Old Port of Portland, Maine and may involve travel.
Our program sets sustainability goals for practices and operations, manages the implementation, measures the progress, and publicly reports on what we are doing; these data inventories will be used to evaluate success at meeting the company’s sustainable office operations and practice goals.

• Responsible for researching key performance indicators to measure office sustainability performance.
• Gather data on sustainability indicators such as energy use, water use, and miles traveled from the Portland and New York offices.
• Calculate greenhouse gas emissions from sustainability indicators.
• Collaborate with employees in the different offices across the country, and oversees, in order to gather reliable data.
• Work with the company’s structural engineers to gather data on our building projects.
• Input data on our building projects into our embodied carbon calculator.
• Analyze carbon calculator data and put together charts and presentations based on findings.
• Other tasks as assigned.

• Graduate students preferred, or very capable seniors or recent graduates.
• Prior experience with sustainability inventories or carbon footprint assessments.
• Excellent academic records (above 3.0/B grade point average).
• An academic interest in sustainability, energy, engineering, and/or architecture preferred.
• Experience using Excel for data management.
• Experience in Microsoft Access preferred.
• Experience in Revit, Tekla, and AutoCAD helpful, but not required.
• Ability and desire to learn new programs like Revit.
• Self-directed, practical and analytical.

Interns are expected to work approximately 20-40 hours/week, with flexibility for vacation. A wage of $15/hour will be offered and they will report to the Corporate Sustainability Officer in Portland.
Qualified candidates are encouraged to apply by submitting a resume and cover letter through the link below.

Apply to this job Thornton Tomasetti, Inc. is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mulkey at USM

This video of our college president giving a lecture recently at USM makes good viewing for students in Environmental Sustainability who are already thinking about how to address the final essay question "Can human civilization become ecologically sustainable?"


Dr. Stephen Mulkey "Crisis and Opportunity in the Environmental Century--Inspiring a Generation of Greatness." from Mark Fruehauf on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jobs at NEON

The National Ecological Observatory Network is hiring. This is an outfit that, were I twenty years younger than I am, I'd love to sign on with. They are erecting a nationwide set of large-scale permanent meteorological towers/ecological observation platforms that are going to be essential in the future for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The skill set for many of the technician-level jobs is similar to that required for experienced hands on the summer wind crew, or indeed any SEM student that has gotten "stuck into" our various hands-on projects, and knows their way around hand and power tools.

It may seem like a poor use of your four-year Unity College degree to take a job that could be done by a two-year mechanical engineering graduate from a community college, but I would bet that the competition is high and a lot of young four-year graduates from all around the country are applying.

Look at an example job here:

See all NEON jobs here:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Land for resilience, adaptation, even mitigation

Here's a link to a New York Times editorial today about the benefits of micro-plots of land to the rural poor in developing nations, and about the NGO Landesa.

One way to begin to manage the very large scale social change that would be required by a move to a low-carbon, low- or zero-growth economy would be to reconsider rural life and rural land use, expanding the role of rural community and local, decentralized food and energy production.

This is of course something your author practices for real on our own Womerlippi Farm, producing lamb, pork, eggs, most of our own vegetables, fleece and firewood.

For which today, we're very thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're going to eat some home-grown food with friends and take a walk in the woods.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For students who are Mass residents

Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Opportunity Program
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Opportunity Program is dedicated to connecting students throughout the Commonwealth to internships at Massachusetts-based clean energy companies. This program supports education and training opportunities that align with the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals and industry growth, while furthering the career goals of those considering career opportunities in clean energy and simultaneously targeting employer needs to retain and attract a strong talent pool.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) mission is to foster the growth of the Massachusetts clean energy industry by providing seed grants to companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations; funding job training and workforce development programs; and, as home of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, supporting the installation of renewable energy projects throughout the state.
The New England Clean Energy Council’s mission is to accelerate New England’s clean energy economy to global leadership by building an active community of stakeholders and a world-class cluster of clean energy companies. The Council represents close to 200 member organizations, including clean energy companies, venture investors, major financial institutions, universities, industry associations, utilities, labor and large commercial end-users.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Computer conniptions

No academic or current affairs posts today. And possibly a slow month or so for blogging, depending on what happens next. My old 2008 MacBook computer, which I use for just about everything at work and at home, has died. There was a click and then the dreaded black screen, and then it was impossible to fire up -- you'd get the grey screen, and it would cycle through the first five percent of the start-up process exactly twice, and then you'd get the black screen.

I had some hopes for a while there, because it would start and run from a Mac start-up disc, and therefore the processor and disc drive were working fine, but none of the disc repair options, neither the ones from the original Mac start-up disc's Disc Utility software, nor a couple of commercial ones, would work. The hard drive was toast; most likely irreparable. And the file-saving disc imaging option in Disc Utility wouldn't work, either. Although i could hook up an external hard drive, I couldn't image the Mac hard drive to it.

I am, however, able to access and save all my files by ones and twos and by folders. This is because long ago I partitioned the drive and installed Windows on a small corner, in order to run a half-dozen or so software programs required in the energy industry that don't run on Macintosh systems. This option has been available to Mac geeks for many years -- in effect the best of both worlds. I could either shut down the system and start it up as a Windows computer, or using a virtual machine window, run the Windows partition as a desktop window on the Macintosh, and run programs like the Department of Energy's "eQuest" or NRG System's "Symphonie Data Explorer."

I never realized before that one other useful purpose for this second operating system would be to run the computer if the Mac system broke down. Now, with a corrupted portion in the Mac side of the hard drive partition, I can reverse the logic and access the Mac files from the functioning Windows partition. Using the start-up option window, I can access Windows, which starts up and runs just fine, and then by using a commercial file-reading software called MacDrive, I can use the Windows side of the computer to access the many thousands of useful or important files there are on the Mac. Accordingly, I'm copying them over to an external hard drive, several folders at a time. I've already saved the most important ones.

Luckily, long ago, I saved all the essential files to Google's cloud storage service. The only files I still had on the MacBook were more or less optional ones, that I could manage without if need be. But still, it's nice to have them. There's a lot of working history on that computer, a lot of documents and drafts of documents and spreadsheets and pictures, many of which items will come in useful one day.

This process may take a while. I don't really know what I have, nor what I need, until I need it. I'm thinking it would be a mistake to cut the file-saving process short until I'm sure I have it all. Until the college gets me a replacement for the old MacBook, I have a loaner from the college library, which is what I'm using now. But I can't do very much at all with it because I don't even have a basic computer entry password, let alone an administrator's password.

For someone as competent as I am with computers, especially Macs, this is not a happy state of mind to be in. And Aimee has been teasing me about having to resort to the hated Microsoft products to save my Mac's files, the implication being that the Windows software is more reliable, which nonsense I of course heartily dispute. After all, the Mac hard drive ran as much as fourteen hours a day for five years without a hint of a problem before.

But at least I can get my files, and at least I'm still online.

And the college says it will get me a new Mac soon, possibly even before Christmas.

As The BBC TV Test Card used to say whenever there was some kind of glitch, "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Friedman on jobs

I like having students read Tom Friedman's editorials that discuss the job market, because he doesn't at all downplay the level of competition needed to succeed.

(Enter "jobs" or "Friedman" in the Blogger search engine to see more.)

Here are some excerpts from this latest piece.

"We’re in the midst of a perfect storm: a Great Recession that has caused a sharp increase in unemployment and a Great Inflection — a merger of the information technology revolution and globalization that is simultaneously wiping out many decent-wage, middle-skilled jobs, which were the foundation of our middle class, and replacing them with decent-wage, high-skilled jobs. Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans aren’t ready."

"Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami Dade College, the acclaimed pioneer in education-for-work, put it this way: “The skill shortage is real. Years ago, we started working with over 100 companies to meet their needs. Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships. ... Spanish-speaking immigrants used to be able to come here and get a decent job doing repetitive tasks in an office or factory and earn enough to buy a home and car and put their kids through school and enjoy middle-class status. That is no longer possible. ... The big issue in America is not the fiscal deficit, but the deficit in understanding about education and the role it plays in the knowledge economy.”"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Walking the geopolitical tightrope -- for class

A speculative article on the rearrangement of geopolitical power in the wake of the fracking boom:

And a new venue for international climate negotiations:

All of which sounds like an exercise of freshly renewed geopolitical power on the part of the US. In the wake of the elections, the fracking boom, the recent buzz about climate change after Hurricane Sandy, and taking into account the relative strength of the US economy, the time is riper for a deal on international emissions.

We'll talk about all in class this after the break.

Remember, an international deal can't be negotiated from a position of internal and external political weakness. Internal to the US, the forces against such are move are strong -- indeed they bankrolled the opposition candidate in the recent election. If a negotiation attempt fails spectacularly, those forces are strengthened. They can win the White House, and both houses of Congress, in the next election. I would imagine they are laying plans to do so. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the climate and for humanity as a whole, the only electoral vehicle with which they might currently do this, the Republican Party, is in temporary disarray and likely to remain so for some months. But they have a lot of money, and it seems a lot of hatred for climate controls, so they can eventually perhaps fix this in their favor, albeit at some further expense to themselves.

Good money after bad? When will they give up? We'll see.

The Obama White House is probably acutely aware of all this. They know what a tightrope they might have to walk. They certainly couldn't adopt any measures which weakened US employment or precipitated a stock market tumble at this point. They'd just play themselves into the Koch brothers' hands. As I've said many times, notions that climate controls can be achieved at the present time by abandoning economic growth are perhaps naïve. The Obama administration is certainly not in a position to do anything that would trammel growth. But they can favor growth in the renewables industry over growth in oil and gas, and an international agreement would strengthen their hand internally, especially if it were binding, and if it wouldn't hurt the US economy overall.

Externally, there are also signs of hope, but an interesting tightrope that must also be walked. China is an ambivalent and ambiguous partner -- it uses a lot of coal and is currently on a pathway to increase emissions, and probably doesn't want to stop or slow this increase right now. But increasingly, much of the coal China uses is not theirs -- it comes from Australia, weakening their balance of payments deficit. And they own productions systems for renewable technology that are large in scale, modern, and that they would be pleased to see employed and expanded.

They don't have the best renewable tech. It's a common misconception that they do, but in reality US and European companies have the great majority of interesting ideas and patents. But the Chinese would be perfectly happy to manufacture this stuff too.

Most essentially, you can probably cut a deal with China on climate.

The Russians on the other hand are not at all ambiguous -- they get stronger or weaker in proportion to the oil and gas price. Currently, the price of oil is high, and likely to stay so, indeed even the fracking-rich US and Canadian companies need it to stay so, or fracking will stall. But the gas price, dependent on pipelines to Europe and on liquified, compressed gas shipping to the US, is weakening, and with it some of Russia's geopolitical power.

There's no love lost between the Chinese and the Russians. They've fought each other quite recently, within the geopolitical memory of current leaders on both sides, and expect to do so again. They still keep large amounts of troops on their mutual border. It might even be possible, working from a position of relative strength internally and externally, to cut a Nixonian deal with China that helps isolate Russia. A weakened Russia would be less able to hold European states hostage to winter heating gas supplies, which would be a very good thing. Don't expect a weakened Russia to suddenly begin playing nice -- they will probably get worse as they weaken. And they can still do a lot of damage. But it would be nice to reduce the internal power of the Putin/Medvedev administration a little, so the Russian democrats begin to see a little daylight. Indeed there are signs that their alliance is cracking.

One last thing -- the article above speculates that the Arab oil states will suffer from increased US oil production. This is nonsense. Even were the oil price to drop significantly, which I find unlikely anytime soon given increasing demand in China and India, their price of production is so low, they still make good money even at $60/barrel. Indeed, some of their oilfields make decent money at $20/barrel! And they've been investing in renewables. Look back in this blog to see the posts about Saudi Aramco hiring all these green techies.

It's the non-oil producing Arab states that are the wild card in the middle east, especially the ones that now have some semblance of democracy, but are electing Islamists that the west sees as extremists. The oil states will work simply work harder to control the non-oil producers if their own position is weakened.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Harvard may follow Unity's lead (if students have their way)

Mind you, a $30 billion ship may be a bit harder to turn around than a $13 million one.

(Stolen from the Harvard Crimson)

(Dear editor.)
This Undergraduate Council election season, you will see three referenda questions on the ballot. Question 1 asks whether you support the campaign calling upon Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in socially responsible funds. Harvard has the largest endowment in the world, and we know for a fact that it is invested in fossil fuel companies. With fossil fuels linked directly to global climate change, Harvard is directly funding an industry that threatens our future. Voting “yes” on Question 1 is your way to call on our university to divest from climate change and reinvest in our future.
Harvard’s investments in fossil fuels sit uneasily with a recent report highlighting our university’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote environmental sustainability, and “build a better future.” We now have over 78 building projects across campus that qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which have helped lead to a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  However, as Harvard continues to establish itself as a leader in campus sustainability, it must be ready to engage in sustainable practices at all levels—especially with regards to our investment activities.
A fast-growing movement at 47 campuses across the country is calling on colleges and universities to remove fossil fuel investments from their endowment portfolios. Unity College has already divested, becoming a leader in this new movement. Harvard now has the opportunity to lead, as well. Either we can divest from the fossil fuel industry, which will help fight the climate crisis and mitigate further warming, or we can divest from the future of our students by supporting corporations that contribute to the increased incidence of extreme weather and threaten to cut the carrying capacity of the earth to one billion people.
At the Undergraduate Council and Harvard Graduate Council General Meeting on October 21st, President Faust said that Harvard considers divestment is considered: "Only in the most extreme of circumstances.” DARA, an independent, non-profit organization, recently released a report sponsored by 20 governments that shows that the human death toll from climate change could exceed 100 million by 2030. Most of these deaths are the direct result of burning fossil fuels. It is hard to imagine a circumstance much more extreme. Moreover, climate change is an equity issue. Most of the adverse effects of climate change disproportionately impact developing countries, while the majority of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution have come from industrialized nations.
The movement to divest from fossil fuels continues to grow and could have significant social and political implications. In 2009, cap-and-trade successfully passed the House but failed in the Senate. This was partially due to substantial resources levied against climate action by some of the fossil fuel companies that are now being targeted by this campaign. Divestment may not pose an immediate threat to the annual turnover of the biggest companies, yet it does help to undermine the social and political capital of a powerful industry.
More than anything, divestment is a moral statement. As students come together around the country to support divestment, we are showing our campuses, communities, and politicians that we see climate change as a serious threat to our future. Harvard also has a precedent for divesting from abusive industries: we divested from Big Tobacco for human health reasons; we divested from and genocide in Darfur. The University also partially divested from South Africa during apartheid. Harvard should continue to uphold these values today in the face of the climate crisis.
This UC election, you have the option to send a clear message about our future. Voting “yes” on Question 1 may seem like a small gesture, but our individual voices come together to form a collective and powerful call to action. We respect our institution, and, as President Faust wrote, “We must continue to work together as a university to develop new approaches and solutions that will make a positive difference at Harvard and in the wider world.” Harvard’s divestment can be a part of that difference.

Oliver T. Kerr, GSAS ’13, is a graduate student in East Asian Studies. Christopher E. Round is a GSAS Special Student in Systems Biology. Harold N. Eyster ’16 lives in Matthews Hall. They are all members of Students for a Just and Stable Future.

Will he or won't he, Part II: Obama speaks

The President gave a press conference yesterday, promising to take charge of the climate agenda, but also connecting climate change and economic growth. As predicted (two posts back in this blog), he's looking for an economic model for climate change that permits growth.

This is not rocket science. It's basic Keynesianism, with a green tinge. You don't want to slow the overall flow of exchange in the circular flow model (above). And all exchanges will at some point come with some environmental harm, including climate emissions. What you must do instead is replace flows of exchange that produce more harm than good, with flows that produce more good than harm.

One basic approach is an internalizing tax. If oil and coal companies had to bear the full cost of climate change, policing the middle east, and health problems caused by burning oil and coal, fuel would be a good deal more expensive than it is. All companies will externalize their costs if we let them. The solution is a tax that reduces the externality, such as a carbon tax, preferably at the mine gate or wellhead to reduce the possibility of market distortion.

To maintain the overall level of flow, if you increase tax on carbon, taxation should be reduced elsewhere in the system, preferably on cleaner forms of energy. Eventually the system adjusts, and the consumption of carbon is reduced, while the consumption of non-carbon based energy, which is made relatively cheaper, is much increased. If those cleaner forms of energy are domestically produced, then a further benefit is found in reducing the foreign balance of payments deficit, further stimulating the domestic economy.

The difficulty with this thinking for a lot of people is that is seems too bureaucratic and, well, un-revolutionary, and so a lot of climate activists simply don't "get it." This is at some level at least understandable, but it's more to do with personality weaknesses than it is anything to do with actually reducing climate emissions.

Think about it:  If what you really would like to do is storm the barriers with your comrades and tear the whole corrupt system down, burning or shooting as you go, well this carbon tax (blah, blah, blah) seems a little, shall we say, bourgeois.

But revolution is over-rated too, tovarisch. Read your Orwell. Remember, he wasn't just a novelist -- he actually participated in revolution, in Spain during the Civil War. He watched the failure of the revolutionary process in real time, watched the revolutionary leaders become corrupt, non-democratic elites, watched them begin, on Stalin's orders, to murder the democratic revolutionaries to get rid of them.

He then came back to Britain, thought about it, wrote about it, thought about it some more, and then wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. Required reading for would-be revolutionaries and trainee climate scientists. (Along with John Maynard Keynes' The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.)

The last thing we need is a climate change revolution.

We have enough problems just with climate change.

President Obama is not a revolutionary, so if he's serious about a climate measure, we're going to see a carbon tax.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Imitation (would be) sincere flattery

Stolen from the Brown University student newspaper:

To the Editor:
In the midst of all the excitement regarding the election, there was another announcement Wednesday that many people missed — Maine’s Unity College just became the first college in the nation to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Unity College is proving that colleges and universities can lead the way to a more sustainable future. Brown cannot be left out of this monumental change taking place. It is time for us to follow Unity’s example by divesting from the coal industry’s Filthy Fifteen.

Will he or won't he? (Climate economics controversy)

There's some considerable speculation, and even a little political pressure bought to bear, on the question of whether Barack Obama will now adopt a climate change agenda.

Here's an example from my Guardian this morning, written by William Becker for Yale Environment 360. Becker is, according to Yale 360, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a think-tank and pressure group.

This is something useful I extracted from Becker's editorial:

"...Obama should direct the Department of Energy to develop a methodology to calculate the full life-cycle benefits and costs of America's energy options, including social, environmental, security and ecosystem service impacts. Such a tool would turn the president's indiscriminate "all of the above" energy policy into a "best of the above" energy plan."

Now that's a little better.

There's a considerable amount of wishful thinking that somehow the environmental movement would succeed in causing a president so obviously urban and urbane, so obviously NOT a biologist or a wilderness person, to adopt the position of unilaterally reducing US environmental emissions, without some more moderate economic theory involved. Because, as I've said many times on this blog, reducing carbon emissions otherwise, especially unilaterally, without China and India, would require the abandonment of the economic growth policy. And America is just not going to do that right now. We're fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.

Please make an effort to understand what I'm saying here. I'm not saying we shouldn't reduce emissions -- I think it the most important thing we could do in the world right now. And I'm not arguing against the pressure groups and activism. We need those too.

And I'm not wedded to economic growth, either. I'm a fully paid up member of ISEE and a Herman Daly graduate student, for heaven's sake. I was trained in steady-state, ie, zero carbon economics.

But if we're to produce pressure on the president and congress to reduce emissions, we have to know what kind of economic policy the emissions reductions will be a central part of. And the answer is most certainly NOT a radical green, low or negative growth economics.

Just ask yourself, what was the most important issue in the recent election? The election was fought over the merits of market-driven economic growth with a strong government versus those of market-driven economic growth with a weak government. At no point anywhere did any serious candidate talk about reducing growth overall. For good reason -- that would have been the point at which he or she became a very non-serious candidate very, very quickly.

The American people are barely at the point in their national conversation where we can begin to talk about climate change rationally. It's taken two or more decades to get thus far. We're nowhere near the point where we could get them to talk about a radical green economics.

The only way forward that I can see, the only available compromise until we can somehow unhook ourselves from the growth platform, a desiderata which I believe will take decades to manifest itself in national political politics, is a kind of Green Keynesianism approached with a thorough splash of Coasian theory.

In other words, a pro-growth climate agenda based on clean energy and cost analysis.

You can sell that to the voters.

We have to work out the lifecycle costs of all the options and choose that which reduces emissions fastest for the least total internal and external costs, including some estimate of the very large costs of climate change itself. The voter education hurdle required to succeed with this is much less than the one required to succeed with a zero or low-growth platform.

There's also the problem of what happens if the west slows or stops growth, and thus disarms unilaterally, in the unexpectedly dangerous world, post-communism.

We will need to adopt a climate protectionist regime, in concert with Europe and the other democracies, by which we can bring the worlds remaining dictatorships and one-party states in line both with climate change and, eventually, democratic elections.

I see no other option. I'm willing to be proved wrong. But remember, I studied under the low and zero-growth economists, the Herman Dalys and Peter G. Browns of the world.

I know the flaws in their reasoning far too well to delude myself. Herman was wise enough to know that his agenda would likely never be adopted. Peter's ideas, although moderate in tone and vision, and although Peter himself is a moderate man, might have resulted in a kind of environmental Stalinism had they been carried out, mostly because of the sterling opportunities it gave to non-democratic elements in minority and pressure groups.

Now, more than ever, in the moment of possible success for the climate agenda, we have to be more careful than ever not to throw the democratic baby out with the hyper-capitalist bathwater.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to float the GOP boat

We've been discussing the political science behind the election results in both Env. Sust and Ec & Quant. It fits the official course description for both courses, and is a wonderful teachable moment in quantitative analysis.

In each case, we've restated Hume's guillotine, and then applied it to the results, but also to the make-believe punditry that for months, despite the best evidence, called it a "close race."

All the hubris and chagrin we're now reading about was wonderfully predictable, even by our small class of Ec & Quant students, weeks before the election.

If the pundits can be so easily beaten in their predictions, by a group of college juniors and seniors to boot, something is wrong with the pundits.

And now, the reckoning...

Someone, it seems, has to be forced out of the GOP lifeboat for the boat to float, and so younger, more female, and more Hispanic voters can be cajoled to jump in.

Who's getting kicked out of the boat?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Our poly sci thought experiments end -- or do they?

It's generally considered inappropriate practice for a teacher or college professor to comment on an election or on candidates in such a way as to make students who may feel very differently feel excluded and uncomfortable learning, or so as to bring his or her institution into disrepute.

But it's also very hard, as an environmental policy major and climate mitigation specialist, to not comment, when the sum of all your fears is, seemingly, coming true.

It helps to be well trained in skepticism.

So, for instance, while, as a climate academic, I worry more or less incessantly about what the changing climate will do to the world my students will live in tomorrow; and while as an emergency responder with an important (if volunteer role) in the incident command system, I worry more or less incessantly about preparedness and training and call-out procedures; I am also sufficiently skeptical about solutions and their economics to make me less of a "true believer" than would otherwise be the case.

Others can beat the drum.

I have other things I'm asked to do, like thinking about just how we call out the Maine SAR system when the power lines are down; or whether or not I can make any useful, cost-effective carbon-neutral energy out of that south-facing roof on my house (or am I, and the planet better off putting the money into more insulation?), or, and most frequent, how to get the student in front of me to run the calculation, or parse the sentence, more correctly.

I don't claim any moral superiority for this deep avoidance of the political side to my various professions. Mostly, I admit, I prefer to involve myself in these simpler, more basic, affairs, rather than activism or politics, because of my deep and abiding skepticism of the activist and the politician.

And, if I were to admit the truth to myself, I just get exhausted by all the controversy and disagreement.

You could see this as a lack of personal moral fiber.

But it's also a natural result of training in emergency response and community development economics. What I most want to see is people pulling together to overcome. I'm a total sap for the Churchill speech, the Dunkirk Spirit, the fight-them-on-the-beaches mentality. I'm not a natural politician at all. I'm much happier when the chips are down and we all are in this thing together -- even if the chips are down, and we're all in this thing together.

It's also true that it practical response is increasingly needed. As events in New York and New Jersey are proving, practical approaches are strictly required, even when the ideological wars continue to be waged.

So, in general, I don't spend much time on politics in my classes, and I try to avoid making students uncomfortable with platform or candidate endorsements, even if they do sometimes slip out in general conversation.

Despite all this, my Ec & Quant students and I have followed the election polling very closely indeed. This is because part of the plan for that class includes sections on the quantitative political science of surveys and polling, and the election was a great classroom experiment.

And, we can report, our alternative hypothesis has been confirmed. The best polling data from the best analysts, primarily Nate Silver of the New York Times, gave Governor Romney only a very small chance of winning the presidency. By the time of the election, it was down to less than 10%.

This despite the popular vote being a statistical tie, with President Obama's lead less than the margin of error.

We predicted that a lot of people would be quite flabbergasted by the result because they thought, as a result of the popular vote polling, that the election would be much closer than it was.

We also predicted that the national Republican party would, the day after the election, have to begin to reconfigure the Reagan-Bush coalition. The math runs against any future success in the presidency for this disparate grouping.

Note, I'm not saying that it should be so, that Republicans deserve to lose the presidency. I'm saying that they will. Despite the best efforts of all the post-modernists and deconstructionists to make it go away, Hume's famous distinction between what is and what should be, between scientific evidence and what people think is moral and right, is still alive and kicking, and applies perfectly.

You can be as fervent a believer as you want, but, barring some completely unexpected political event, the Reagan coalition can no longer win the presidency.

It's the math, stupid.

And, I can't help but say, this is a major relief for the parts of me that have to think about climate mitigation, and how Maine's government responds to emergencies.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Unity College pulls endowment dollars out of fossil fuel investments

A nice move.

Denmark: 70% 0f 6,000 turbines are community-owned

We're going to study the Samsø model tonight. (Click to enlarge.)

Samsø is pronounced "Sam-su-o", although the last o is not quite as long as it would be in English.

Poster from European Power and Energy magazine

New article on  Sams:

The Samsøvideo:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On why we must mitigate

From our college president, suitable for consideration in one or more of the essay question responses. Be sure to cite.

(If you don't know how to cite an Internet reference, see me, or drop down to see me do this one as a basic example.*)

As for the how, class continues Monday and Tuesday with renewable energy now our topic. Don't forget to do your take home exam.

*Mulkey, Stephen, "Lessons from Sandy: The political economy of mitigation", published in Unity College Sustainability Monitor, November 2nd, 2012, retrieved November 4th, Mulkey, 2012,

A resilient guy

Never finished college. Politically incorrect at times. Doesn't mind whether or not people like him, or care what his approval level is.

I wish there were a few more folks like him in government.

(There'll have to be. We're going to need more and more of them, as this climate thing wears on. And, as I've said many times on this blog, you just can't spin this stuff.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The cruel face of climate denial

There's a ferocious hurricane of angry words on the Internet and in the newspapers, as the various climate commentators and denialists vie with each other to place the outrage of Sandy in some vantage suited to their cause.

I'm not going to get into this, save to say that while no single weather event can be solely attributed to climate change, the models and records both show a significant increase in the energy content of the ocean and the atmosphere, all this new energy has to go somewhere, and the best current prediction is that somewhere is, in part, more intense tropical cyclones in the twenty-first century.

Denying these science facts is not only irrational at this point, it's increasing cruel, and those who do so should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

This may be too complicated a message for most ordinary people, who need help right now.

Sustainability skills

The Guardian ran this article as a guide to other lists and resources on the emerging skill set required in green business. The piece is meant for UK graduates, not American ones, but some of the material translates.

You'll have to click through the various links to get to some of the skill sets.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Leverage and center of gravity video for Physics class

Hannah and onshore wind and superstorms -- inconvenient facts

Actress Daryl Hannah, now become a climate activist, gives an impassioned attack on Big Oil and Coal in this editorial here, while the Guardian publishes an analysis of the cost of onshore wind in the UK.

Meanwhile Unity College faculty have reading to do (here and here) related to the impact of climate change on hurricanes and other storms. These readings are just a small part of a large portfolio given us by our college president Dr. Mulkey, who wants us all, regardless of discipline, to be "up" on such things.

(A viewpoint I agree with, and have done so for years, but one that wouldn't necessarily be popular at other colleges and universities, and indeed was not particular popular here at Unity years ago when it was first brought up. How the world turns!)

Now it's your turn:

How do you think we should power America, if we really wished to stabilize the climate at some humanly tolerable level?

And how long do you think it will take for the penny to drop, among America's public and still-burgeoning climate denier community (which seems to be able to maintain one of our two great political parties in their thrall)?

Finally, do you think college professors and their students have responsibilities in this long emergency we're currently calling climate change?

(Hint: if you choose to answer this particular essay question on your take-home exam, you'd do better to read some of these readings and think about it all first.)

Polling and surveys -- more on poll methods

We've been talking about public opinion polling and surveys in Ec & Quant.

This Guardian article by Harry J. Enten is interesting particularly for what it says about cell phone users versus land lines.