Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

ARC-Change web page

October 26, 2016

Earlier this year, I posted on a new research project, ARC-Change, on climate change in the Arctic and its consequences for governance and resource industries. The project is now underway, and recently the project web page went online (click logo below to go to the site).

arcchangelogoboxfish

New Research Project on Climate Change and the Arctic

April 5, 2016

I will take part in a new research project on climate change in the Arctic. The project carries the long name “ARCtic Marine Resources under Climate Change: Environmental, Socio-Economic Perspectives and Governance,” or ARC-Change for short. From the project description:

As we enter the Anthropocene, climate change moves the parameters we live within. First and foremost, these changes will take place in Arctic regions, regions that already are subject to substantial, large scale natural variability and where higher temperatures and retreating sea ice will redefine boundaries of biological life, ecological structure, and commercial and social opportunities. Complex interactions and causal mechanisms exist from the physical impact, in terms of temperature, ocean currents, via biological and ecological adaptations, in terms of habitat expansion, growth conditions, species interactions, via social and business enterprise, in terms of new fishing areas, trade routes, mineral wealth, to governance implications, in terms of pressure on existing agreements on fishing, surveillance, and commercial activity. A cross-sectorial and cross-disciplinary perspective is needed to investigate and understand climate change impacts. ARC-Change will study some of these interlinkages, from the physical and biological to the economical and governmental, while brining together expertise from an array of disciplines and institutions.

More in the press release.

Economics of Climate Change: A Problem from Hell

February 13, 2015

The economics demigod Martin Weitzman recently published a review of William Nordhaus’ The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World, where he provides the following characterization of the climate change economics problem:

The economics of climate change is a problem from hell. Trying to do a benefit-cost analysis […] of climate change policies bends and stretches the capability of our standard economist’s toolkit up to, and perhaps beyond, the breaking point. First and foremost, disconcertingly large uncertainties are everywhere, including the most challenging kinds of deep structural uncertainties. The climate change problem unfolds over centuries and millennia, a long intergenerational human time frame that most people are entirely unaccustomed to thinking about. With such long time frames, discounting becomes ultra-decisive for [benefit-cost analysis], and there is much debate and confusion about which long-run discount rate should be chosen. Irreversibilities abound, including the very long residence lifetime of atmospheric CO2. To add to the challenge, costs of new carbon-free technologies are uncertain. More importantly, for global mean temperature changes much above about 2 [degrees] C, estimating damages is mostly educated guesswork with a distressingly wide error cone. The evaluation and aggregation of such damages add yet another significant layer of uncertainty; we are even unsure even about what form the “damages function” should take. Climate change due to high [greenhouse gas] levels involves nonnegligible tail risks of low-probability catastrophic outcomes, ranging from “known unknown” tipping points to the “unknown unknowns” of black-swan bad-feedback events that we cannot even imagine today.

Striking. The review was published in the Review of Environmental Economics and Policy.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert

August 14, 2013

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, provides a brief and popular account of the science and politics of climate change. Chapter 2, for example, is the best popular account of the greenhouse effect I have seen (and far better than any unpopular account I am aware of). It is also very well written. (Kolbert has, for example, written extensively for the New Yorker, which has high standards; Field Notes are in fact based upon pieces once written for it.) An excerpt I enjoyed in particular demonstrates the point:

KolbertFieldNotesNo nation takes a keener interest in climate change, at least on a per-capita basis, than Iceland. More than 10 percent of the country is covered by glaciers, the largest of which, Vatnajökull, streches over thirty-two hundred square miles. Dureing the so-called Little Ice Age, which began in Europe some five hundred years ago and ended some three hundred and fifty years later, the advance of the glaciers caused widespread misery. Contemporary records tell of farms being buried under the ice-“Frost and cold torment people,” a pastor in eastern Iceland named Olafur Einarsson wrote-and in particularly severe years, shipping, too, seems to have ceased, because the island remained icebound even in summer. In the mid-eighteenth century, it has been estimated, nearly a third of the country’s population died of starvation or associated cold-related ills. For Icelanders, many of whom can trace their geneaology back a thousand years, this is considered to be almost recent history [p. 59, paperback edition, 2009].

An interesting strain of the science on climate change that I am not much familiar with, but which Kolbert emphasizes, is the study of how ancient civilizations were disturbed by climatic changes (or long-term variations in weather patterns). Peter deMenocal, a paleoclimatologist Kolbert interviews put it like this:

The thing they [the ancient civilizations] couldn’t prepare for was the same thing that we won’t prepare for, because in their case they didn’t know about it and because in our case the political system can’t listen to it. And that is that the climate system has much greater things in store for us than we think [p. 117].

Kolbert’s discussion of the politics of climate change is interesting, but centers mostly around the inability of the US to step forward on the global policy scene, and how the conservative forces are to blame. While the rest of Kolbert’s book certainly can serve to educate the public on the danger of climate change, I am not convinced that her treatment of the politics can be perceived as neutral enough (in the lack of a better phrase) to have much political influence. (But then, the book has been out for years already, and someone more on top of things than I probably knows already.)

Another thing I find interesting is that Kolbert cites science which suggest that current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (400 parts per million) represent danger. Forget about the two degrees target, in other words. On the other hand, Kolbert cites research that conclude that we already possess technologies and knowledge to solve the climate problem. The catch, of course, is that involved costs makes it practically (politically) impossible to solve the climate problem with the existing technologies. Kolbert concludes:

It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing [p. 189].

I guess, and hope, Kolbert is already on the reading list of all and any politician (interested in climate change or not), of all concerned citizens, of all social scientists that work on related issues, well, as many as possible should read Field Notes. Its brevity, accessibility, and sharp focus makes it a potential game changer.

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.

ClimateWizard

Hat-tip: G-Feed

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

May 11, 2013

EhrlichSeminarPoster

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.)

Carbon Footprints

February 4, 2011

Hat-tip: Env-Econ, Treehugger

Superfreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

September 10, 2010

After having it on my shelf for quite a while, I finally sat down and read Superfreakonomics; Levitt and Dubner’s follow-up to their bestselling book Freakonomics. Superfreakonomics is laid out much the same way as Freakonomics was, although less time is spent on declearing Levitt to be a genius.  However, with chapter titles as How is a street prostitute like a department-store santa?, Why should suicide bombers buy life insurance?, and What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?, the similarity to Freakonomics is unmistakeable. The similarity also makes Superfreakonomics feel like an act of duty more than a work of inspiration.

Just like John Whitehead, I enjoyed Freakonomics more than I did Superfreakonomics. I also agree with Whitehead that the highlight is the epilog on monkeys learning to use money. Levitt and Dubner do a great job, however, coming up with surprising conclusions:

This is a strange twist. Many of the best and brightest womenin the United States get an MBA so they can earn high wages, but they end up marrying the best and brightest men, who also earn high wages which affords these women the luxury of not having to work so much (p. 46).*

So, perhaps there’s more to getting an MBA than high wages? Bright men, for example. Next, do what you want to do:

Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome. The people who become excellent at a given thing aren’t necessarily the same ones who seemed to be “gifted” at a young age. This suggest that when it comes to choosing a life path, people should do what they love […] because if you don’t love what you’re doing, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it (p. 61).

Partly beg to differ. I think many of those really good at something (like, world-class-good), at least has to begin practicing at an early age.

Other amusing and at times unsettling conclusions are that death rates in Los Angeles drop when doctors go on strike (p. 81), in Singapore they have the the Manitenance of Parents Act (p. 106), economists believe more in theory than in the real world (“Sure, it works in practice, but does it work in theory?”, p. 115), the Endangered Species Act endanger rather than protect species (p. 139), buying locally produced food increases greenhouse-gas emissions (p. 167), and the movement to stop global warming has taken on the feel of a religion (p. 169).

Perhaps the most controversial part of the book is the chapter on global warming, where Levitt and Dubner embrace geoengineering as the short-term solution. The noise around the chapter was seemingly so annoying to someone that critical posts on the Freakonomics blog were removed (see here, for example). Among the disturbing claims Levitt and Dubner provide is that climate scientists ‘turn their knobs’ such that their model do not provide outlier estimates, because an outlier model is hard to get funded. The economic reality of research funding generate a scientific consensus, rather than independent research (p. 182). The claim ressonates with a seminar I recently attended. The seminar was given by a Danish climate scientist who were concerned that the famous hockey stick graph, hailed as the undisputable proof of man-made climate change, resulted from lack of data, inappropriate methods, and an assumed stable temperature prior to the industiral revolution. The discussion in Superfreakonomics do, however, seem fairly balanced in places, see for example the discussion on page 199.

I would recommend Superfreakonomics to anyone unfamiliar with Freakonomics, but, honestly, it’s a Freakonomics 2, and not any more super than it’s predecessor, which is, notwithstanding, quite superb. Superfreakonomics is perhaps an easier read (or I’ve become a better and quicker reader), but lacks a character like Sudhir Venkatesh.

* Page numbers refer to the Allen Lane UK edition.

A Question of Balance by William Nordhaus

August 24, 2010

Before I went into summer mode, I finished William Nordhaus’s book A Question of Balance (read short excerpt). The book’s subtitle is Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies. The book is somewhere inbetween a popular account of the economics of climate change and a technical report on Nordhaus’s (and his team of research assistants’s, one might add) analysis of different approaches to mitigate global warming. A lot of details are saved for the actual technical reports available online. (Note: Details have been updated since the book was published [2008]). Nordhaus still goes through and explains the main equations of the famous DICE model (Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy), such that most economists could use his online computer code to verify results and further play around with the model.

Before the technicalities, however, Nordhaus provides a ‘Summary for the Concerned Citizen’ (slightly pompous guy, this Nordhaus). The chapter gives a fair overview of the current concerns over global warming and how economists view and deal with them. I find it interesting how Nordhaus, who has already made sure readers are ‘concerned,’ tries to establish the DICE model as trustworthy:

The DICE model is like an iceberg. The visible part contains a small number of mathematical equations that represent the laws of output, emissions, climate change, and economic impacts. Yet beneath the surface, so to speak, these equations rest upon hundreds of studies of the individual components made by specialists in the natural and social sciences [pp. 7-8].

Among the important results Nordhaus reports to the Concerned is the policy ramp, where relatively small policy adjustments are made in the early period while rather heavy adjustments are necessary later. The delay of action limits the costliness of the policy plan. It’s effect is also limited, as calculated damages sums to $17 trillion globally. The results are of course highly uncertain, and although Nordhaus returns to the uncertainty issue several times, I still think he underplays the uncertainty in his results.

Nordhaus is clear on what he thinks about subsidies. He also instructs the Concerned on how to think about climate change policies:

To a first approximation, raising the price of carbon is a necessary and sufficient step for tackling global warming. The rest is at best rhetoric and may actually be harmful in inducing economic inefficiencies [p. 22].

Nordhaus closes his address to the Concerned with a clear message:

Global warming is a serious problem that will not solve itself. Countries should take cooperative steps to slow global warming. There is no case for delay [p. 28].

Again, the summary for the Concerned give the interested a fair idea of economists approach to climate change and their results, and while the rest of the book is rather dry (ideal for falling asleep), economists dabbling in related fields should at least be familiar with the summary.

Now, the remainder of the book is more like a light-version technical report on Nordhaus’s economic analysis of climate change. While the research is well carried out and well documented (one might question the approach to the uncertainty analysis [eh, don’t ask]), I am now reminded of Weitzman’s presentation at WCERE 2010. (“This paper asks how much we might be misled by our economic assessment of climate change when we employ a conventional quadratic damages function and/or a thin-tailed probability distribution for extreme temperatures.”) Weitzman concluded that what’s necessary is not research on the median scenario (like IPCC and Nordhaus), but rather research on fat tail distributions and catastrophic events. Weitzman argued forcefully for his conclusions and it is hard not to agree, horseshit or not.

Nordhaus carries out comparisons with well-known alternatives to climate change policies. The most prominent one, presented in the Stern Review, is found to induce ‘major inefficiencies’ (p. 76). Later in the book, a whole chapter is devoted to discussing the Stern Review approach.

A Question of Balance is a rather dry read. Perhaps expectedly, and somewhat ironic, one of the more interesting passages is found in footnote 1 to chapter VII and deals with interpretation of uncertainty (p. 215). Notwithstanding, it is clear that William Nordhaus is a major voice in the current debate over global warming mitigation. One of his main messages, and one I agree with, is his preferred choice of instrument: an internationally harmonized price on carbon. Whether the numbers he come up with are relevant remains to be seen, but they are at least scary. Really scary.

Related post:

William Nordhaus on Subsidies

June 3, 2010

From Nordhaus’s A Question of Balance (pp. 21-22):

Because of the political unpopularity of taxes it is tempting to use subsidies for “clean” or “green” technologies as a substitute for raising the price of carbon emissions. This is an economic and environmental snare to be avoided. The fundamental problem is that there are too many clean activities to subsidize. Virtually everything from market bicycles to nonmarket walking has a low carbon intensity relative to driving. There are simply insufficient resources to subsidize all activities that are low emitters. Even if the resources were available, the calculation of an appropriate subsidy for a particular activity would be a horrendously complicated task. An additional problem is that the existence of subsidies encourages a pell-mell [?] race for benefits an environmental form of rent-seeking activity. Ethanol subsidies in the United States, which are rapidly turning into an economic nightmare by diverting precious agricultural resources to the inefficient production of energy, are a case study in the folly of subsidies. To some extent, subsidies are simply the attempt of those who have the responsibility to clean up their activites by reducing emissions to place the fiscal burden elsewhere. Finally, subsidies have the public-finance problem of requiring revenues, which would involve raising the inefficiency of the tax system.

Whitehead: It’s Time to Get Moving

May 11, 2009

John Whitehead of Environmental Economics starts to grow tired of the ongoing debate in the U.S. over how to react to climate change and the need to do something about all the carbon in the atmosphere. He asks Is the house burning while we debate what type of extinguisher to use? :

Enough already.  It’s time to stop.  And start.

[…]

The academic debate over the minutae of CNT [cap’n’trade] or CT [carbon tax] misses the bigger point:  Both price carbon.  Sure they go about it in different ways and have different distributional properties and one may be more politically or socially or morally or religiously palatable than the other, but in the end they both do the same thing–put a price on the external costs of carbon-based consumption.

[…]

…I realize the debate is starting to hinder rather than help progress.  It’s time to get moving.

Sustainable Energy – without the hot air

May 6, 2009

‘Sustainable Energy – without the hot air’ is a new book by David MacKay. I have not read it, but I very well might after reading an interesting review of it in the Economist.

David MacKay thinks there is too much hot air surrounding energy and climate change discussions. In his book, MacKay does back-of-the-envelope calculations of the potential in different renewable energies as alternatives to coal. For example, he concludes that if all of Britain’s energy needs should be supplied from onshore wind power, the entire country needs to be covered by wind turbines. From the review:

Although Mr MacKay’s conclusions are fascinating, much of his book’s appeal lies in its methods. Ballpark calculations are a powerful way of getting to grips with a problem. The book is a tour de force, showing, for example, how the potential contribution of biofuels can be approximated from just three numbers: the intensity of sunlight, the efficiency with which plants turn that sunlight into stored energy and the available land area in Britain. As a work of popular science it is exemplary: the focus may be the numbers, but most of the mathematical legwork is confined to the appendices and the accompanying commentary is amusing and witty, as well as informed.

MacKay’s book is now on my short list of books to read. (Download it for free from withouthotair.com!)

More on the Population & Greenhouse Gas Cap Paper

April 8, 2009

In a previous post, I discussed a paper by Henning Bohn and Charles Stuart. After some second thoughts, I’ve come to some further conclusions.

First of all, it can be argued that the paradox I discussed in my previous post is simply a result of a paradoxical model. It’s paradoxical that productivity growth rates would stay constant for ever with dramatic shifts in both the population level and the environmental quality (which is presumed in the model where emissions are capped; alternatively substitute environmental quality with production technology).

Second, the model presumes that people not participating in the production fase don’t receive any income and thus cannot exist. In a world with a high productivity of labor, a relatively small work force could sustain a large population; through a tax scheme, for example.

Related post:

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman

February 18, 2009

A while ago, I finished Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Why the World Needs a Green Revolution – And How We Can Renew Our Global Future by Thomas L. Friedman (I’ve mentioned it several times). Here are some thoughts on it.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded

 The main theme of Hot, Flat, and Crowded is that the path the world is on is unsustainable in several aspects. Global warming has the potential to change the world as we know it in ways we cannot imagine. More and more people around the world take part in the globalized market place, and they all demand a middle-class consumption level; development and modernization flattens out differences in living standards and consumption levels around the world.  The increased consumotion puts an enormous pressure on the worlds resources. Friedman has already discussed this extensively in the book The World Is Flat. Finally, the current, explosive population growth will put even further pressure on the worlds resources and potentially make the global warming problem worse. In a world that is hot, flat, and crowded, a whole range of important issues needs to be addressed, and fast. Friedman gives a good overview of the most important issues, discusses how they are all connected and different potential solutions.

Friedman is a good writer. He has won the Pulitzer price no less than three times. He has traveled the world for decades. He has interviewed world leaders, business leaders, scientists, and activists around the world. He knows his stuff. Nonetheless, I still have some criticism.

First of all, Thomas Friedman is an American and a patriot. That may be okey, but it shines through; Hot, Flat, and Crowded is written to and for Americans. At several places, Friedman discusses how the environmental crisis provides America with an opportunity to build the nation and yet again become the definitive super power and world leader. I was unprepared for this kind of perspective that permeates the book, and I didn’t like it. I’m not an American, and neither are many readers around the world. To deal with the environmental crisis requires global participation and coordination, and that may be jeoparized if it comes off as pro-American. Furthermore, it takes some of the focus away from the really important issues that Friedman brings up.

Second, much of the book consists of citings from various interviews, news stories, and op-eds Friedman has either written or read the last years. In parts of the book, Friedman cites more than he writes himself, and that is not good writing. It chops up the text, and the reader has to deal with new writing styles all the time. I’ve never seen such a heavy use of citations in any printed text; it reminds me of the way blogs are written. The language suitable for a blog is not necessarily suitable for books.

This is a blog, however. So, I’m taking the freedom to cite and comment on some passages from the book that stroke me as particularly interesting.

To Friedman, the issues raised by a hot, flat and crowded world are so serious and fundamental that they define a new era in the history of the world: the Energy-Climate Era. From pages 26-27:

This book focuses on five key problems that a hot, flat, and crowded world is dramatically intensifying. They are: the growing demand for ever scarcer energy supplies and natural resources; a massive transfer of wealth to oil-rich countries and their petrodictators; disruptive climate change; energy poverty, which is sharply dividing the world into electricty haves and electricity have-nots; and rapidly accelerating biodiversity oss, as plants and animlas go extinct at record rates. I believe that these problems – and how we manage them – will define the Energy-Climate Era.

China is a big country with a lot of people (see Million Cities in China), and will have a determining impact on the environment in the future. Friedman devotes an entire section of the book to China, and his illustration of China’s potential impact is sobering. It also leads Friedman to the crucial questions in his book. On page 344 he writes

It’s all in the numbers: China is one-fifth of humanity; it’s now the world’s biggest carbon emitter; it is the world’s second-largest importer of oil, after the United States; and according to a report in The Times of London (January 28, 2008), it is already the world’s largest importer of nickel, copper, aluminum, steel, coal, and iron ore. Timber is certainly up there as well. It is not an exaggeration to say: As goes China, so goes planet earth. If China can make a stable transition to clean power and an energy-and-resource-efficient economy, we as a planet have a chance to mitigate climate change, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and biodiversity loss in significant ways. If China can’t, China’s emissions and appetites will nullify everything everyone else does to save the earth, and the Energy-Climate Era will careen toward the unmanageable. So for me, the crucial question of this book is actually two questions: “Can America really lead a real green revolution?” and “Can China really follow?” Everything else is just commentary…

What if China wants to be in the front seat? If Friedman is right that energy and climate issues will shape our global future, and I think he is, China will realize this at some point, and when they’re already leading the world in so much already, why should they settle for anything less when it comes to the most important issues in the decades to follow? More importantly, will America ever settle for second place?

Friedman has tons of arguments for acting on the environmental crisis. One of them is that it is necessary to preserve nature in a pristine state because it is beautiful. On page 142 he writes

From what landscapes or flowerbeds would future painters draw their inspiration? What would move poets to write their sonnets, composers to craft their symphonies, and religious leaders and philosophers to contemplate the meaning of God by examining his handiwork up close and in miniature?

The argument resurfaces on page 314:

[…] we need to get beyond these economic and […] practical arguments and get back in touch with the deepest truth of all: Green is a value that needs to be preserved in and of itself, not because it is going to make your bank account richer but because it makes life richer and always has. At the end of the day, that is what an “ethic of conservation” is also about. An ethic of conservation declares that maintaining our naturla world is a value that is impossible to quantify but also impossible to ignore, because of the sheer beauty, wonder, joy, and magic that nature brings to being alive.

I disagree; I’ve already discussed why in the post Beauty Schmeuty; I think human needs towards natural beauty are adaptive, and more is that if less beautiful nature can make people less religious, I’m fine with that.

In the end; a small curiosity. The image of the book above has a different subtitle than my book (Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How It Can Renew America vs. Why The World Needs a Green Revolution – And How We Can Renew Our Global Future). The image is stolen from Friedman’s homepage. I suspect that I got the international version, while the image on Friedman’s homepage shows the American version of the book. I’m convinced that the subtitle on the American version is the original subtitle, and that the alternative subtitle on the international version is a tradeoff between remaining the same structure on the subtitle (Why Green – How Renew) and a good, selling subtitle. I don’t think Friedman was too lucky with that; ‘Renew Global Future’? What is that supposed to mean? Can you renew the future, something you don’t have, don’t know how is, and isn’t new?

I enjoyed reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded, but I found it too long. Friedman is a master of rhetoric, and a rhetorical mean he grips to repeatedly is repetition of key words and arguments. He really wants to hammer the message home. He overdoes it, however. The words hot, flat, and crowded, and climate change, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and biodiversity loss, and compete, connect, and collaborate are repeated so many times that it becomes boring; and the repetition of arguments becomes predictable, and boring. Friedman has still written an important book, a book that opened my eyes to a lot of problems I didn’t knew existed, and a lot of new, exiting ideas. We are living in exiting times; we are living in the Energy-Climate Era!

Related posts:

The Rhetoric of Climate Progress

February 16, 2009

It may seem that I’m obsessed with Climate Progress nowadays, and that may be true to some extent. Climate Progress is concerned with the most important thing; the sustainability of our way of life and of the environment. I’m not sure, howere, that Climate Progress always helps the case; I want to discuss the rhetoric of Climate Progress.

The rhetoric on Climate Progress does not convince. Convincing is exactly a trace of good writing and of effective rhetoric. Good writing should let people think by themselves by coherent arguments and supporting facts, and not descend to cheap characteristics and half-truths.

 In some posts (Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 1, Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Part 2: Why deniers out-debate “smart talkers”), Joe Romm discusses why climate scientists have a tendency to loose debates against climate change deniers. There he argues that a common strategy of climate change deniers is to produce untrue statements and present incoherent or illogical arguments leading to flawed conclusions. The best response to such arguing, according to Joe Romm, is to pick up on it, denie the untrue statements and reveal the flaws in the incoherent and illogical arguments. I agree. If such a strategy is followed with success it should not be necessary also to come up with cheap characteristics and other poor ways to discredit people. I think one loses respect and attention to ones arguments then.

I am sorry that Joe Romm does not take the opportunity to argue in a polite manner with convincing and coherent writing when he commands one of the most important climate blogs nowadays, but sees it necessary to sprinkle it with cheap characteristics and speculative halftruths as he does in his voodoo economics series, for example (Do Econmists Help Fight Climate Change?).

Related posts: