Where are we with Geo-Engineering in 2014?

Geo-engineering is increasingly looking like the only politically viable way of averting temperature rises above 2 degrees in the coming century. This is for three interlocking reasons: i) Any mayor country can try geo-engineering on its own without permission from anyone else, meaning one does not need a world coalition sustained for centuries to have an effect; ii) It holds the promise of immediate relief because ‘natural Solar Radiation Management’, ie volcanic eruptions that add lots of light-reflecting particles into the atmosphere, were found to cause immediate worldwide temperature drops, which compares favourably with the lags of decades and centuries that hold for CO2 emission reduction plans; and iii) It might be exceedingly cheap compared to any policy involving emission markets. For instance, according to a 2012 piece by McClellan and co-authors, we could keep the planet at current temperature levels at a cost of merely 10 billion dollars a year by having a fleet of planes deliver reflective particles high in the earth’s atmosphere.[1]

Given that continued global warming is predicted to happen in the next century no matter what emission policies are adopted, geo-engineering by some impatient large country is starting to look nigh inevitable. I reported in 2012 on the research efforts funded by the Royal Society, the Gates Foundation, and others. You now have dedicated institutes on this issue (eg. http://iagp.ac.uk ), and lots of new proposed experiments. With a large glut of published studies in recent years, it is time for an update: how far are we now in the world of geo-engineering?

The honest answer is that the scientific community is pussyfooting around when it comes to geo-engineering. Field experiments are largely stalled as scientists are awaiting regulatory frameworks that will protect them from criticisms of other scientists and environmental groups. Proposed regulatory frameworks designed to deliver this, such as by Nordhaus and colleagues, find it hard to get much political traction because politicians seen to support regulatory frameworks themselves become targets for criticism, both by those who pretend there is no climate change and by those who insist there is climate change but who also insist on emission reductions as the only way to return to our current climate some 300 years from now. Voters who agree the world is getting too hot and who would like it cooled down in their own lifetime rather than that of their great-great-great-great-grandchildren are still too rare to bother with for politicians.

This does not mean there is a lack of bright ideas. The engineers looking into this really are a very creative bunch, talking about whitening clouds, aerosol sprays, reflective shields, and artificial trees. One new idea that I hadn’t heard before is to genetically alter our crops so that they reflect sunlight better than the current crops. I don’t know whether this has any chance of getting serious traction, but one has to admire the ingenuity of the idea. Still, ominously, almost no field tests or large scale long-term testing is underway as scientists are waiting for societal approval to go ahead. Continue reading

Cut the waste! Stop the boondoggles!

Junction Oval

Junction Oval

Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine announces a “plan” to spend $20 million upgrading Junction Oval at St Kilda to accommodate the AFL team named after the suburb, even though it hasn’t played or trained there for decades. The plan appears not to have been checked with the local council or the AFL, and would apparently need another $37 million in infrastructure funding from the Abbott government.  At first glance it looks to be a complete waste of money with few if any redeeming features.

The Melbourne East West Link tunnel is a vastly more expensive but equally dubious project in cost-benefit terms that Napthine has rammed through despite very widespread opposition, including from the ALP which has said it won’t build it under any circumstances if elected.

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Bankers reject Forrest’s cashless welfare proposal

Forrest Review

In a submission to the Forrest Review of Indigenous jobs and training, the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) rejects Andrew Forrest’s Healthy Welfare Card proposal.

The card was one of the review’s key recommendations and is meant to be cheaper and easier to administer than the government’s existing income management system. But according to the ABA, the proposal would require significant changes to current technology and cost time, money and resources.

Forrest’s idea is to provide welfare recipients with a card that doesn’t allow cash withdrawals and blocks access to alcohol, gambling and illicit services. The review argues that the new system would be cheaper and easier to administer than the government’s current income management arrangements because it would rely on the mainstream banking system and existing payments technology. However in a submission to the review, the ABA stated:

The ABA does not support using the banking and payment system for the implementation of the Healthy Welfare Card or an extension of the income management policy as a mandatory approach for all recipients of social security payments and assistance. There are a number of technological and practical considerations associated with the Healthy Welfare Card, which undermines the implementation of a workable, efficient and effective scheme.

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The root of all evil? – ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus argues that getting rid of cash will reduce crime

It may be devoted to 70′s nostalgia, but Björn Ulvaeus sees Stockholm’s ABBA The Museum as a harbinger of the future. The museum doesn’t accept cash. Since his son’s home was burgled a while ago, the former ABBA member has been campaigning for a cash-free future arguing that cash enables crime:

We can be reasonably sure that the thieves went straight to their local peddler. We can be absolutely sure that the ensuing exchange of goods never would have taken place in a cashless society. In the long run it would be extremely impractical for the peddler to trade stolen goods for milk and bread for his children. The drug pusher would be equally uninterested in TV sets and computers. In a cashless society he wouldn’t be in his business at all. His business wouldn’t exist, full stop.

All activity in the black economy requires cash. Peddlers and pushers can’t make a living out of barter. It is highly improbable that a coca farmer has use for my son’s jeans. He wants cash. Imagine if there wasn’t any. From farmer to addict a drug changes hands many times and every time cash is a must. Imagine if there wasn’t any.

According to recent media reports, Sweden is already well on the way to becoming a cashless society. Four out of five purchases are made electronically or by debit card.

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Calmly considering ABC cuts

abcThe announcement by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the ABC’s budget will be cut by $50 million per year for the next five years has generated predictable kerfuffle in mainstream and social media circles. Whether it will have any real effect on the broader voting public is much more questionable, but it’s still worth talking about in policy terms.

The predictable line by left-leaning commentators is that Tony Abbott has broken a promise, or even “lied” when he said before the election that ABC and SBS funding (along with health, education etc) would not be cut. In a tit-for-tat sense I guess that’s fair enough, because it’s exactly the same accusation that Abbott successfully prosecuted against Julia Gillard in relation to her backflip on carbon pricing.

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Complexity, reducibility, integrity and bullshit: the general untheory

I

Some readers may recall an earlier post which I christened an ‘untheory’ of innovation. It argued that there’s not much use in ‘theories’ of innovation if they’re taken as recipe books for senior managers to ‘drive down’ innovation through organisations. Why? Because if innovation is to thrive, endless decisions must be made to facilitate any number of different innovations and it can’t be known in advance who should be co-ordinating those decisions. An innovation might involve some slight or pronounced change in accounts, marketing, technical specifications, supplier relations, training, industrial relations and on and on. For these decisions to be made well – or as I like to say ‘on the merits‘ – all sorts of pathologies must be overcome:

There are hierarchies, there’s groupthink, there’s second guessing hierarchies, there’s trying to keep people happy and consensus at any cost, there’s ‘not invented here’, there’s ‘not in my backyard’ there’s excessive risk-aversion (though it’s usually aversion to a certain kind of risk, which is the product of another pathology – process hugging) and other manifestations of status quo bias, there’s adulation of those with high status either within a hierarchy or the wealthy and powerful over the less so and on and on.

That’s why I’ve argued that one of the most useful things one might do as far as ‘teaching’ management or innovation is concerned, is to coach managers not with the usual flattering stories of how far sighted heroic managers were, but rather with unflattering stories which highlight the foibles of our understanding – and offer means of overcoming them. What I’m arguing for is a recognition of the irreducibility of the on the ground experience – its lack of susceptibility to systematic, theoretical insight and its management corollary – policies adopted and driven from the top.

There are any number of areas in which we wave away the possibility of such irreducibility and instead embrace an empty and deluded kind of managerialism in which those at the top are forever attending strategy sessions, restructuring, reengineering and all the rest of it. Progress is not made (and as an aside, cannot easily be measured or ranked) because a lot of the progress that is necessary is sui generis and made at the coalface – or at least must involve the giving the coalface and autonomy to solve its problems and push for improvements.

Some other areas where this jumps out at me are: Continue reading

Refugees: a blast from a not so distant past

SENDING ALIENS TO AUSTRALIA.
CANBERRA, Tuesday.

In the House of Representatives this afternoon Mr. Martens (Lab., Qld.), said that the Government’s acquiescence in Britain’s proposal to send alien internees to Australia for safe custody was causing great alarm to many people.
If ships were available, they should not bring a “ready-made fifth column” to Australia, Mr. Martens said, but should be used instead to bring English women and children to the comparative safety of our shores.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 7 August 1940, p 13

ALIEN REFUGEES.

Sir,—I wish to add my appeal to tho many already made through your columns to fellow-Australians on behalf of refugees from Central Europe.
Those who have had even slight contact with these people i cause that they have been wounded in a way most difficult to heal—in their minds. They have seen and heard sights and sounds almost beyond the imagination of Australians.
I ask my fellow-Australians to remember it is a large part of our British tradition to shelter and care for people who need such protection. Our association with the words “Concentration camp” is with Berrima and little gardens and libraries for the Internees—as in 1914-18. With these people, who came to us before our countries were at war the words have a meaning wholly remote.
The letters published in to-day’s “Sydney Morning Herald” received by his mother from Harald Arnold Minibeck, a young highly-qualified Austrian doctor, with special degrees in relation to skin diseases, who took his life in Sydney on June 28, rather than face the picture in his mind of a concentration camp—should be read by every Australian before voting for wholesale internment of refugees—for his own peace of mind.
Yours faithfully,
M. E. CAMPBELL

Burwood, The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 9 August 1940, p 4

 

The Climate Emperor has no clothes …

CreationofObama

But maybe it doesn’t matter …

Hardly anyone seemed to notice at last weekend’s G20 meeting in Brisbane that the Climate Emperor had no clothes. Nor did I hear anyone remark on the obvious contradiction involved in issuing a communiqué which simultaneously committed participant nations, at least in principle, to taking effective action on climate change while also committing to achieving an additional 2.1% in world economic growth over the next few years. That sort of extra growth would make it more rather than less difficult to achieve any useful global carbon emissions reduction target in the near future.

Some commentators (although not many in the left-leaning sectors of the Australian media) did at least note that Friday’s climate change agreement between the United States and China had some elements of a “smoke and mirrors” or “pea and thimble” trick. China isn’t agreeing to cap its carbon emissions for another 16 years and in that time aims at explosive economic growth which will continue to spew more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, even if they do gradually move from building coal-fired power stations to less polluting energy sources. By that stage there is a high probability that the world will have already passed a tipping point where catastrophic atmospheric temperature increases will be unavoidable.

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Shock! Good government improves wellbeing

Actually the magnitude of the effect is a bit of an eye-opener.

Empirical Linkages between Good Government and National Well-being
by John F. Helliwell, Haifang Huang, Shawn Grover, Shun Wang

Abstract:

This paper first reviews existing studies of the links between good
governance and subjective well-being. It then brings together the
largest available sets of national-level measures of the quality of
governance to assess the extent to which they contribute to
explaining the levels and changes in life evaluations in 157
countries over the years 2005-2012, using data from the Gallup World
Poll.

The results show not just that people are more satisfied with their
lives in countries with better governance quality, but also that
actual changes in governance quality since 2005 have led to large
changes in the quality of life. For example, the ten-most-improved
countries, in terms of delivery quality changes between 2005 and
2012, when compared to the ten countries with most worsened delivery
quality, are estimated to have thereby increased average life
evaluations by as much as would be produced by a 40% increase in per
capita incomes.

The results also confirm earlier findings that the delivery quality
of government services generally dominates democratic quality in
supporting better lives. The situation changes as development
proceeds, with democratic quality having a positive influence among
countries that have already achieved higher quality of service
delivery.