Sunday, December 18, 2011

What it’s all about

I don’t think these pictures taken at Amakhala Reserve about 40km outside Grahamstown need further comment. You should get a slide show if you click on any of the pictures.


  1. Nice photos. I like animals too. Unfortunately, That's not what it's all about. It's all about seriously changing the world's economy because of a co2 theory that is fast being proved bogus.

  2. @Shibui: There isn't a "CO_2 theory". There is a theory of climate of which greenhouse gases form a significant part. This theory is based on a combination of observation of the paleoclimate, and climate of our and other planets in the solar system, and is underpinned by a wide range of disciplines including radiative physics. It is only being "proved bogus" by bloggers employing wishful thinking rather than analysis.

    I suggest you read Ray Pierrehumbert's Principles of Planetary Climate and let me know which bits are wrong.

    There could be a Nobel in this; demonstrating that a theory so strongly supported by basic sciences and observation is wrong would be a major discovery. Go for it.

  3. I agree with Shibui - certainly greening is more then mere conservation of species (although it does clearly fit into the mix for overall ecosystem functioning and optimising our use of these systems), but I'm not sure what the background to the photos were and therefore difficult to comment given the uncertain context.

    As for the CO2 "debate", I'd simply like to add the following quote - which is one we view as our premise from a business and economic perspective, now that Shibui's mentioned economic changes - from the Harvard Business Press 'Memo to the CEO' by AJ Hoffman and JG Woody:
    “Maybe you think climate change is a global crisis and maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Shifts in public opinion and economic policy mean that as [a manager], you must see climate change as a business challenge – and an opportunity”

  4. Isn't it interesting that an article that leaves interpretation to the reader attracts comments.

    I should do this more.

    @Leticia Greyling: the uncertainties in climate science are far better defined than the uncertainties in economics. How is it then on this matter so many people have difficulty believing scientists, yet take pronouncements by economists as verities?

  5. Nice approach indeed, Philip. It is great for sparking debate :-)

    However, the science unfortunately leaves a vast amount of people at a loss, mainly due to the technical nature of the subject. It's daunting to the general public, hence the ease with which information can be twisted around and misinterpreted/-understood. That's why we try and relate it to business leaders and managers in a language they can understand: economics, policy, risk and opportunity. I work a lot with progressive businesses and government agencies, and in these circles, there simply is no longer a debate between "is it true or not" (i.e. believe in the science or not) and people have started getting on with the job at hand: making a difference. For the two main reasons mentioned above:
    1) policy and legislative changes (locally and especially aboard);
    2) changes in consumer demand, behaviour and awareness (especially with our large trading partners in the EU).

    So, although I value the scientific debate that is still bubbling in the background, I much prefer to focus on actions and initiatives already under way by a variety of stakeholders (not least of which is business, industry and municipalities) and how these can be implemented on a much broader scale in a proactive way - not wait for legislation to force an organisation in a reactive situation. That's why I like the Hoffman & Woody quote so much.

    Each one of us understands economics or rather finances at some basic level or another (especially when we feel it in our pockets) - there's hardly been debate about these approaches for nearly a hundred years ... doesn't make the approaches correct, but that's just the simple fact. The same is not true for the science of climate change which has only been in the public domain for a decade or less, especially with so many debates still being entertained and manipulated to draw attention away from what needs to be done. It's a lot easier make the science seen unclear when it is so extremely technical, yet economists can translate its implications into money terms which we all understand. That, in my opinion, is one of the answers to your query.

  6. @Leticia Greyling: I totally agree with the general drift of your comments. There really is no "scientific debate" in the public mind. Scientists conduct the "debate" in the academic literature. How many people weighing in on the discussion are comfortable with calculus, for example? Most would happily rely on taking an engineer's word that a bridge or airliner was sound, also a pretty complex thing to get right (and sometimes they get it wrong).

    Public awareness of climate science really started in the 1980s, though the science has its roots in the discovery that carbon dioxide absorbs infrared in the 19th century. There's a nice summary here.

    The real issue behind the furious "debate" is not climate science but the perception that there is no alternative to fossil fuels other than a return to the stone age. This is obviously wrong as we had a reasonably advanced society before fossil fuels were in wide use, though we probably on the whole don't want to return to the pre-industrial age.

    One area where economists have been remiss is in modelling the cost disadvantages of an extremely rapid switch away from fossil fuels. This could happen either because the consequences of climate change catch up with us in a big way, or because the growth in demand overwhelms supply. The latter is much more likely than most suppose because the compounding effect of the relatively modest annual average increase in worldwide energy demand of 2.4% pulls down 200 years of supply at current rates of use surprisingly fast.

    Another thing economists routinely get wrong is working out a discounted future cost for renewables based on the fact that most of the cost is up front, while failing to take into account the long-term trend of increasing costs of fossil fuels (and here I don't mean negative externalities). A little-discussed factor about fossil fuels is that the most abundant, high-grade reserves tend to go first. That not only means higher prices but less net energy out. It costs energy to produce any energy source; the lower-grade ones produce less for what you put in. One example is Canadian tar sands, where natural gas, a high-grade energy source, is being wasted turning tar sands into something equivalent to oil. The net energy return is positive but at very high environmental cost.

    If you get the economics right there is a lot to worry about if we don't start to move on a renewable energy economy, even if climate scientist are all wrong, a hope I wouldn't bank on.


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