Archive for May, 2013

Existential Chess

May 28, 2013

Mato Jelic is a great chess commentator on YouTube. He does not always explain the simpler things as thoroughly as I would have liked, but he has dug up some really great games from chess history. The video below is not so much chess, however, but about much larger things. The game is one of his own games, and not any game, but against former world champion Boris Spassky. If you are not so interested in the chess-part, you can forward to 2:16.

Climate Wizard: Data & Projections

May 25, 2013

Everyone with a remote interest in the climate problem would take an interest in Climate Wizard, an online source for climate data and projections. In particular, it can be a valuable tool for researchers. The wizard has both temperature and precipitation data and projections under different emission scenarios. Annual averages, season averages or monthly averages are all there. Further, the wizard provides projections from different climate models, model averages, or model projections ranked from lowest to highest. The wizard produces maps, but values can also be downloaded, it seems. Data and projections are well documented. Behind the Climate Wizard are The Nature Conservancy, the University of Washington, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

The figure below shows the average projected change in annual temperature by the late century in a low emission scenario for the Scandinavian peninsula. Around 2 degrees. Further investigation shows that the most change is expected in the fall.


Hat-tip: G-Feed

Current Problems with Global Sustainability: Talks by Paul Ehrlich and Clive Hamilton

May 11, 2013


Tonight, I attended talks by Paul Ehrlich and Clive Hamilton here in Berkeley. Ehrlich is perhaps best known for his Population Bomb which was published as far back as 1968. Clive Hamilton is an Australian professor and author of several books related to climate change and sustainability. It was an odd event where everyone seemed to agree with everyone that climate change is happening, that it will change the world as we know it, and that profound changes to political, economic, and social systems are required to do anything about it. It was also both enlightening and interesting, even encouraging. Although both Ehrlich and Hamilton drew stark pictures of the current situation, the future of the planet and us on it, it made me feel both wanting and obligated to try and do something about it.

Hamilton spoke first and spent most of his time talking about the new, geological time period we have entered. The period where human’s impact disturbs the entire earth system. While scientists still haven’t fully agreed upon all the details, there seems to be little doubt the earth has moved into a new phase. The next ice age (which was coming up in about 50 000 years) is cancelled, the long period of stable temperatures will be end, but we do not know exactly what we are in for. At least we have been vigorous in the current spell of stability, for example developing agriculture. (‘We’ is of course a stretch here; someone is better. The undue usage of ‘we’ in the sense of humanity was touched upon in the ensuing debate, as was also a key element of the climate problem; it’s intergenerational dimension.)

Ehrlich seemed to just talk from the top of his head. I presume he has addressed hundreds of audiences on the same and related topics throughout the years, because he never seemed to loose track or run out of words (which I do on a regular basis). He talked about a range of problems, from how the yield gap most likely will be closed (the yield gap is the difference in agricultural yields from the mid-Western prairie and from the Amazon; according to Ehrlich, the gap will not be closed by Amazonian yields getting up to speed, but by mid-Western yields collapsing), the dependence of agriculture upon fossil fuel, biodiversity loss (in particular the loss of pollinators); I am sure he touched upon population, but also a range of other issues.

The debate after the talks were at least as interesting as the talks themselves. A particularly interesting remark from Ehrlich was upon social science. Social science is extremely important, more important than the sciences. The problem is there is no social science. It is a mess, with no direction, no common language, and most topics of investigation are wholly unimportant. He claimed to have read an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (‘the top journal in economics’), which concluded that in the last 30-40 years, economists has not really figured out anything. Economists study the economics of college football! This critique is of course somewhat unfair, but I see Ehrlich’s point. Economists and other social scientists should get their act together and start thinking about what matters most (survival of the species humans, which did not seem to require specification at this point). The debate flourished. The worry about the aging population was more or less made fun of (‘it is an obvious fact of demographics and arithmetic’), the Vatican was scorned for their view on women and family planning, and the entire event concluded on the note that the climate problem is not one of information or knowledge (we know what is happening and why) or technology (we have the necessary technologies to deal with the problem), but one of political and social action. It was a memorable night.

Ehrlich had a couple of other great comments which comes to mind: We should abolish the current university systems (‘dissolve the departments!’); the university system was dreamed up by Aristotle over 2500 years ago, and cemented by the Royal Academy 250 years ago; time calls for something different. (What we need instead, Ehrlich forgot to mention.) And we should get the money out of American politics. Hamilton, on his part, said carbon sequestration had cost us ten years in battling climate change, that geoengineering will likely cost us ten more, and that consumption is more important than population growth in the sense that more rich people is a much bigger problem in terms of climate change than more poor people. (That last thing became a bit convoluted, I must admit, but it is in a ballpark.)

The Many Meanings of Style

May 11, 2013

As a writer, I try to concern myself with style of writing. But what does style mean? In Jacques Barzun’s Simple & Direct, I found the following passage, which I found clarifying at least in the sense that when I feel confused about style, it could be because style is deep and has many facets.

Style can mean a great many things. In one sense, everything urged in this handbook is assumed to make for a good style. In another sense, which will come up under Tone, a mode or pitch of expression will be called a (plain, high, arrogant, low, facetious) style. Still a third and a most important conception of style is that which has in view the particular mixture of words, constructions, rhythms, and forms of expression characteristic of a writer, and which makes his work recognizable even when unsigned. Style so understood is a natural outgrowth of the person’s mind and not something put together by an act of will [p.67, revised edition, 1985].

Not an act of will! Much deeper than where will reaches, in other words. Oh mercy.

More on Simple & Direct.

Related post:

Marine Resource Economics Impact Factor

May 2, 2013

Today, I discovered the impact factor of Marine Resource Economics is above 1. The MRE impact factor has only been measured since 2009. It started out in the territory around 0.5, which I found agreed well with my perception of the quality and standing of the journal. 1 is kind of a watershed, as I understand it, and the difference between 0.9 and 1.1 is more significant than the difference between 1.0 and 1.2.  Now that MRE is above 1, it is in the territory of journals like the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and Land Economics. It still has a lower impact, but less significantly so.


Seminar at Berkeley

May 1, 2013

Today, I will present the project Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management in the Barents Sea in the Environmental and Resource Economics seminar at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Berkeley. The abstract:

While bioeconomic analysis has advanced to where high-level ecosystem management is technically possible in terms of multidimensional, stochastic optimization, the sentiment that the underlying, biological models are of limited interest is omnipresent. The existing models cannot capture the observed ecosystem or foodweb dynamics. For viable optimization schemes to apply, models have been, and will have to be, relatively simple when compared to population dynamics models. There exist a crucial tradeoff between biological detail and stylized simplicity. Biologically detailed models have been promoted by biologists who want their models to replicate what they observe in nature, while stylized simplicity has been promoted by resource economists who want to analyze economic decisions. We aim to narrow the gap and cheapen the tradeoff. We develop a bioeconomic model of the ecosystem in the Barents Sea. The model is fitted with data assimilation methods and captures the observed dynamics in the ecosystem and the economy. Using stochastic optimization, we study numerical solutions of the model. Optimal, non-concave harvest profiles underline the importance of the ecosystem approach. In the extension of our project, we will study how solutions from our top-down, optimization approach perform in a high-dimensional, bottom-up, simulation approach.

The project is interdisciplinary and finds itself where paths (or trails, really) from economics, biology, ecology, applied mathematics, and statistics meet. Thus, it is at the outskirts of all those disciplines. It is a rather dark place. It remains to be seen whether we can shed some light around. But enough of the Nordic realism.

I find it difficult to present papers from the project because they belong in a setting which cannot be taken light upon. My presentation will therefor span at least two papers, with focus on how to build a biological model for ecosystem-based management which lends itself to subsequent bioeconomic analysis. To drive home the importance of getting the biology right, I will also discuss how we proceed with the bioeconomic analysis.


Picture credits: Philip Steven,