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Entries in global warming (28)


The Great North as globalization's future economic hot zone

WSJ weekend full-pager by Laurence Smith, prof of geography at UCLA, and it's pulled from an upcoming book, "The World in 2050."  Get used to seeing such analysis: exploring global warming's upside--geographically speaking.

A lot of good, fertile land sitting with technologically advanced and relatively wealthy populations will come into play, along with a lot of transportation connectivity made possible or kicked into year-old exploitation.  

This article focuses on the Arctic (above the Circle), and flips Jared Diamond on his head, asking not what makes civilizations perish but what allows them to grow?   His answer:  

First and foremost will be economic incentive, followed by willing settlers, stable rule of law, viable trading partners, friendly neighbors and beneficial climate change.

Point being, you toss in the beneficial climate change and the northern states have all the mixings.

Now, the guy does rightfully call out Russia an an outlier, but my expectation is, Russia will see this as a godsend and fall into the misguided notion of having to dominate to flourish because its geography and experience base will put it in good stead.

Right now the Arctic is a welfare state of sorts: deeply subsidized economic activity that centers on extractive industries (the Core's version of the Gap sans the violence).

Will these wastelands get settled?  Did the barren desert of America's southwest?

The close:

I imagine the high Arctic, in particular, will be rather like Nevada--a landscape nearly empty but with fast-growing towns. Its prime socioeconomic role in the 21st century will not be homestead haven but economic engine, shoveling gas, oil, minerals and fish into the gaping global maw.

Sidenote:  here's another slew of countries China will need to be friends with due to its extreme resource dependencies.

Just thank God we bought Alaska while we could.

While not exactly on topic WRT this piece, it raises the question of whether or not buyers of certain ag commodities could exploit global warming to shift production from current locations to better ones--as in, safer, more stable, easier to control, etc.


Lomborg's U-turn on global warming? Complete nonsense

Readers know how much I like Bjorn Lomborg and how much his stuff has influenced--nay, bolstered my existing--optimism on questions of resource consumption, disaster hype, global warming, and the overall progress of humanity.  My current brief shows the faces of only two authors:  Lomborg and C.K. Prahalad. I don't advertise other people's books lightly, since I'm always trying to move my own product! But that gives you some sense of my respect for the man.

So you can imagine how many people sent me messages about Lomborg's alleged U-turn on global warming. Actually, on first, second and third blushes, I interpreted that possibility to be a lot more important--on any number of scales--than Fidel Castro's similarly hyped confession.

But deep down, I knew it was false and just a matter of misinterpretation. 

Lomborg lays out all his logic here in a nice summary piece. Basically, he's never "denied" anything with global warming. He simply argues that cranking hard on the C02 "knob" isn't our best choice for dealing with this world across this century.  He sees money better put elsewhere, and he makes stunning convincing arguments to that effect.

I heartily endorse his thinking on the subject: global warming is real and we will be forced to deal with it, but it's not the central reality of our age and it must compete for our efforts and attention with a host of other issues where--dollar-wise--more gain can be had more rapidly for more of humanity.

But what Lomborg has also advocated for years now is an R&D push of serious money (tens of billions) on green techs and geo-engineering to deal with the rising impact of global warming (which he consistently says is reasonably mitigated by humanity). 

Well, he made that pitch again recently to some--apparently--clueless Guardian reporter who jumped on Lomborg's statement that global warming is "one of the chief concerns facing the world today" as evidence of a U-turn.

That's it, a leap-frogging conclusion from a reporter who obviously has never read any of Lomborg's books.

So simmer down, now!


Climate change and the scientific community: "hemorrhaging trust and respect"

As we are treated to stories of Bjorn Lomborg's alleged flip on climate change (sorry, but nothing I read to date sounds like that, especially in the wordage he's using; rather, I see him shading a less antagonistic stance toward potential impact studies), the FT full-page "analysis" reminds us of the great uncertainty surrounding climate science.

The eight great uncertainties listed here are:

  1. range of likely temperature rises
  2. timescale
  3. hurricanes
  4. regions
  5. rainfall
  6. methane release
  7. Antarctica v Arctic impacts
  8. clouds

Then there's the bias tendency of pro-climate change scientists, who see only normal variation in cold snaps but "proof" of global warming in every hotspot (a goofy tendency mirrored by the anti-global warming camp--but then again, no one holds them to any great standard of trust).

The FT ends with the usual Economist-like fear:  all this uncertainty will preclude action until it's too late.  But I'm more impressed with the logic that says, we're more likely to screw things up by responding quickly and drastically.  

Toward that end, Lomborg's persistent call for lots more R&D on the subject still strikes me as eminently sensible.


Again with the "climate wars"!

The Economist bemoaning the flurry of new books predicting climate wars.

Yet surprisingly few facts support these alarming assertions. Widely touted forecasts such as for 200m climate refugees in the next few decades seem to have been plucked from the air. Little or no academic research has looked at questions such as whether Bangladeshis displaced by a rising sea would move a series of short distances over a long period, or (more disruptively) a greater distance immediately.

And yet the next edition of the IPCC report will have a chapter exploring this issue.  A recent conference in Norway explored the issue.  What was proposed was pretty weak.

The hardest evidence for a link so far comes from a team led by Marshall Burke of the University of California, which studied African wars from 1980 to 2002 and found that rising temperatures are indeed associated with crop failure, economic decline and a sharp rise in the likelihood of war. It predicted a “50% increase” in the chance of civil war in Africa by 2030.

But that claim is now heavily revised, since researchers redid their sums to take account of the more peaceful period of 2002-08. Others say that political and other factors such as ethnic conflict and outside intervention are far better indicators of the likelihood of fighting.

Take the widely cited case of the war in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, described it as “an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change”. Environmental problems have probably worsened the Darfuris’ dreadful plight, offering grist to those who call climate change a “threat multiplier”. Average rainfall in the region fell abruptly (by a third or more) in the early 1970s and Darfur repeatedly suffered droughts. Clashes over grazing and then displacement of villagers were followed, from 2003, by horrific war.

Yet the connection is elusive. Roughly three decades elapsed between the rain stopping and war starting. Many other factors—political, ethnic, demographic and economic—conspired to stoke violence. Those were specific to Darfur, whereas the sharp drop in rainfall hit the whole Sahel, without intensifying conflict elsewhere.

Another commonly cited example is violent competition for scarce grazing between nomadic herdsmen in the Horn of Africa. Yet a study of fighting among pastoralists on the border between Kenya and Somalia in the past 60 years (presented at the conference) showed instead that conflict worsened when grazing was abundant and fell during droughts. Hungry people were too busy staying alive, or too exhausted, to fight. By contrast, when rains made herdsmen’s lives easier, they could release surplus young labour for the violent sport of raiding other groups.

Honestly, this all sounds like a bunch of academic pinheads looking to create fear out of thin gruel. We just have a hot topic and a lot of people chasing money. Predicting 50% higher chances of civil war in Africa simply on the basis of global warming, while ignoring the obvious commodity and connectivity boom going on, is just silly.  It is reductionism to an absurd degree, something modern political science is amazingly adept at pursuing.


If every Chinese bought just one . . . 

NYT story by Keith Bradsher raising the usual bugaboo about China's middle class dooming the planet to environmental ruin--if it replicates the West's consumption trajectory.

My usual reply is that it cannot, simply because China won't be able to acquire enough energy to power all that growth unless it is channeled differently--i.e., you can't get there from here.

The basics:

Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to use an “iron hand” this summer to make his nation more energy efficient. The central government has ordered cities to close inefficient factories by September, like the vast Guangzhou Steel mill here, where most of the 6,000 workers will be laid off or pushed into early retirement.

Already, in the last three years, China has shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants that used technology of the sort still common in the United States. China has also surpassed the rest of the world as the biggest investor in wind turbines and other clean energy technology. And it has dictated tough new energy standards for lighting and gas mileage for cars.

But even as Beijing imposes the world’s most rigorous national energy campaign, the effort is being overwhelmed by the billionfold demands of Chinese consumers.

Chinese and Western energy experts worry that China’s energy challenge could become the world’s problem — possibly dooming any international efforts to place meaningful limits on global warming.

If China cannot meet its own energy-efficiency targets, the chances of avoiding widespread environmental damage from rising temperatures “are very close to zero,” said Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Aspiring to a more Western standard of living, in many cases with the government’s encouragement, China’s population, 1.3 billion strong, is clamoring for more and bigger cars, for electricity-dependent home appliances and for more creature comforts like air-conditioned shopping malls.

As a result, China is actually becoming even less energy efficient. And because most of its energy is still produced by burning fossil fuels, China’s emission of carbon dioxide — a so-called greenhouse gas — is growing worse. This past winter and spring showed the largest six-month increase in tonnage ever by a single country.

I learned this first in my workshops with Cantor Fitzgerald:  with energy use doubling (or more)  across China in a generation's time, it gets awfully hard to shift those percentages of coal versus gas versus renewable, etc. You race like crazy just to stay in place.

In many ways, this is why it's impossible for America to dream of overtaking China on alternative energy: we just don't have the same vast necessity that they face. Simply put, the world needs China to become the global leader in this realm, because nobody but China can afford to make it happen in China.


Chart of the Day: More acidic oceans

From The Economist. 

Basic chemistry:

As carbon dioxide levels go up, pH levels come down.  Acidity depends on the presence of hydrogen ions (the H in pH) and more hydrogen ions mean, counterintuitively, a lower pH.  Expose the surface of the ocean to an atmosphere with ever more carbon dioxide, and the gas and waters will produce carbonic acid, lowering pH on a planetary scale.  The declining pH does not actually make the waters acidic (they started off mildly alkaline).  But it makes them more acidic, just as turning up the light makes a dark room brighter.

Additionally, more hydrogen ions mean more bicarbonate ions and fewer carbonate ions, the latter of which is used by corals and shellfish.  So fewer carbonate ions means slower coral growth and thinner shells.

The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans is referred to as global warming’s evil twin, because the rapid change is expected to wreak all sort of havoc with sea life.


China to world: screw off on global warming, we got coal to burn

NYT piece analyzing China's future energy plans.

Bradsher story comes with pretty pics of solar panels and wind farms, but this photo from previous Bradsher story more applicable to the content.

Gist:  secure sources win out over the environment--meaning lots more coal to be used.  You have to understand that China's energy profile is already stunning skewed toward coal--like no other major economy on the planet.

But get used to this logic:

In other words, as China counts on more years of global leadership in economic growth, global warming remains a secondary concern. Secure sources of energy to fuel that growth are what matter most, whatever the implications for world energy markets and the global environment — not to mention foreign investors, who may or may not have a significant role to play in China’s energy industry under the draft law.

The proposed law, which is expected to be adopted by early next year, says that “energy supply should be where you can plant your foot on it,” meaning that as much as possible should come from within China, said Li Junfeng, a senior energy policy maker and member of the interagency committee drafting the law.

That belief has underpinned China’s rapid expansion in renewable energy, because it tends to be made in China, Mr. Li said. China has just emerged as the world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels, and plans to be the world’s biggest builder of nuclear power plants in the coming decade. It invested nearly twice as much as the United States last year in renewable energy.

But energy security also explains the continued reliance on coal, for which China has the world’s third-largest reserves, after the United States and Russia. Burning coal, which produces four-fifths of China’s electricity, has already turned China into the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases by an ever-widening margin each year since 2006.
The vaunted China model will take a severe beating as the leadership stubbornly sticks to this path, because it will reveal to the world that China puts itself before the planet when it comes to energy--just like everybody else.

Drought-resistant GMOs: a key to managing the impact of global warming

Chart found here

Bloomberg BusinessWeek piece on Monsanto and Dupont working on drought-resistant GMOs.  Dupont predicts 150m acres of such drought-resistant corn will eventually be planted worldwide, or 10% of the global seed market and one-third of corn grown globally.

Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant says, "The biggest single issue in farming going forward is . . . water availability."

Monsanto hopes to be marketing the world's first drought-resistant seed in 2012.  It is also working on a cotton variant, which is crucial because of the large water requirements.

Global warming's impact on ag will be mostly about droughts, so this work is very important stuff to making farming sustainable in the Gap in coming decades.

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