Tag Archives: climate change

National Climate Assessment – censored?

13 U.S. agencies, including NOAA, NASA and EPA, are required to produce a National Climate Assessment every four years. The thing about bureaucracy, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad, is that it grinds on somewhat disconnected from the political process. So the latest National Climate Assessment has been produced. It has to be approved by political appointees in the agencies before it can be officially released, but no matter because the New York Times has posted the key appendix here, called the U.S. Global Change Research Program: Climate Science Special Report. I’ll post a couple excerpts below:

First, a bit of the up-front matter:

The findings in this report are based on a large body of scientific, peer-reviewed research, as well as a number of other publicly available sources, including well-established and carefully evaluated observational and modeling datasets. The team of authors carefully reviewed these sources to ensure a reliable assessment of the state of scientific understanding. Each source of information was determined to meet the four parts of the IQA Guidance provided to authors: 1) utility, 2) transparency and traceability, 3) objectivity, and 4) integrity and security. Report authors assessed and synthesized information from peer-reviewed journal articles, technical reports produced by federal agencies, scientific assessments (such as IPCC 2013), reports of the National Academy of Sciences and its associated National Research Council, and various regional climate impact assessments, conference proceedings, and government statistics (such as population census and energy usage).

“Fake news published by the failing New York Times”, indeed! I vowed never to forgive the New York Times for their role in the Iraq invasion debacle, but they are beginning to redeem themselves. The Trump junta seems to be getting frustrated that their Goebbels-esque propaganda isn’t just getting parrotted unopposed.

And now, I’ll just share this graphic which I found a bit shocking:


One interesting thing is you might think Florida or Georgia might be the wrong place to be, but these maps suggest they may not change as much and the rest of the country will sort of catch up to create one big Jurassic stew. Now, people live in hotter places than Florida and Georgia and manage to get along just fine. The real question is whether we can grow food under these conditions.

If you don’t believe me that this is disconnected from the political process, read this Guardian article about how the USDA has been instructed to avoid the term climate change. That is the agency responsible for our nation’s food security.

Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead…

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.

Reading on, I have to say it isn’t clear how high up the political chain this directive came from, or whether it is a mid-level supervisor advising staff how to stay out of political trouble. Self-censorship is still censorship though, and indicates the politicians have created a climate (no pun intended) of caution and fear for scientists. I can’t argue with building organic matter though, which would be good with or without climate change.

July 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

Most hopeful stories:

  • A new cancer treatment genetically modifies a patient’s own immune system to attack cancer cells.
  • Shareholders of big fossil fuel companies are starting to force some action on climate change business risk disclosure.
  • Richard Florida offers five ideas for solving poverty and what is wrong with cities: taxing land based on its improved value, massive investment in public transportation and public education, ending the mortgage interest tax deduction, and guaranteed minimum income.

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Technology is marching on, whether or not the economy and human species are. The new thing with satellites is to have lots of small, cheap ones instead of a few big, expensive ones. Even if the coal industry were to make a comeback, today’s coal jobs are going to data analysts, remote control machine operators, mechanical and electrical engineers, not guys underground with pickaxes and headlamps. But the coal can be produced with a lot less human effort (i.e. jobs) than it used to be. Iris scans like in Minority Report are now a thing.
  • Ecologists have some new ideas for measuring resilience of ecosystems. Technologists have some wild ideas to have robots directly counteract the effects of humans on ecosystems. I like ideas – how do I get a (well-compensated) job where I can just sit around and think up ideas?
  • Isaac Asimov says truly creative people (1) are weird and (2) generally work alone.

Some combination of the Trump news, the things I see every day on the streets of Philadelphia, and events affecting friends and family led me to question this month whether the United States is really a society in decline. Actually, I don’t question that, I think the answer is yes. But the more important question is whether it is a temporary or permanent decline, and what it means for the rest of the globe. I am leaning slightly toward permanent, but maybe I will feel better next month, we’ll see. Maybe I need to get out of this country for a little while. Last time I did that I felt that the social glue holding Americans together is actually pretty strong compared to most other places, even if our government and its approach to other governments have become largely dysfunctional. We need to get through the next couple years without a nuclear detonation, hope the current vacuum of leadership leads some quality leaders to emerge, and hope things have nowhere to go but up. There, I talked myself off the ledge!


climate change and shareholder revolts for big oil

According to Bloomberg, the board at Exxon just lost a fairly key shareholder vote on revealing business risks due to climate change. Part of the story is that large institutional shareholders like venture capital funds are concerned about these risks. These aren’t good guys acting out of purely ethical concerns of course – they are concerned about risks to the profits they are expecting.

Growth in support was driven by unprecedented majority votes for shareholder proposals asking Exxon Mobil Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. and electric utility PPL Corp. to report on the long-term business impacts of climate change. This proxy season marked the first time that kind of proposal has passed over board opposition. It also marked the first time BlackRock Inc. and likely more of the companies’ largest shareholders voted in its favor.

“When a company as prominent as Exxon Mobil loses a vote,” the board or corporate governance team may change its negotiating stance in the future so that it doesn’t happen again, James Copland, a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute, told Bloomberg BNA…

Even though the proposals aren’t binding, boards that fail to respond to climate concerns could be held accountable come director election time. That’s already happened at Exxon Mobil, where BlackRock voted against the re-election of two directors after repeated requests to meet with the board to better understand its oversight of climate risk and other issues were rebuffed.

We are starting to see amoral, conservative actors in the finance and insurance industries demand action to mitigate climate risk. The good news is markets will respond and action will be taken. The bad news is amoral investors and markets tend to react to big and short term risks, and by the time the risks are big and short term, the best chances to take meaningful mitigation action may have passed.

June 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The Onion shared this uncharacteristically unfunny observation: “MYTH: There is nothing mankind can do to prevent climate change. FACT: There is nothing mankind will do to prevent climate change”. It’s not funny because it’s probably true.
  • Water-related hazards including flood, drought, and disease have significant effects on economic growth.
  • There were 910 deaths from drug overdose in Philadelphia last year. Interestingly, I started writing a post thinking I might compare that to car accidents, and ended up concluding that the lack of a functioning health care system might be our #1 problem in the U.S.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Tile is a sort of wireless keychain that can help you find your keys, wallet, and those other pesky things you are always misplacing (or your significant other is moving, but won’t admit it).
  • Fleur de lawn” is a mix of perennial rye, hard fescue, micro clover, yarrow, Achillea millefolium, sweet alyssum, Lobularia maritima, baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesi, English daisy, Bellis perennis, and O’Connor’s strawberry clover, Trifolium fragiferum.
  • Traditional car companies are actually leading the pack in self-driving car development, by some measures.

water-related risks to economic growth

From Water Resources Research:

Water and growth: An econometric analysis of climate and policy impacts

Water-related hazards such as floods, droughts and disease cause damage to an economy through the destruction of physical capital including property and infrastructure, the loss of human capital and the interruption of economic activities, like trade and education. The question for policy makers is whether the impacts of water-related risk accrue to manifest as a drag on economic growth at a scale suggesting policy intervention. In this study, the average drag on economic growth from water-related hazards faced by society at a global level is estimated. We use panel regressions with various specifications to investigate the relationship between economic growth and hydroclimatic variables at the country-river basin level. In doing so, we make use of surface water runoff variables never used before. The analysis of the climate variables shows that water availability and water hazards have significant effects on economic growth, providing further evidence beyond earlier studies finding that precipitation extremes were at least as important or likely more important than temperature effects. We then incorporate a broad set of variables representing the areas of infrastructure, institutions and information to identify the characteristics of a region that determine its vulnerability to water-related risks. The results identify water scarcity, governance and agricultural intensity as the most relevant measures affecting vulnerabilities to climate variability effects.

carbon emissions and other data

Even though Donald Trump has decided the U.S. will not help reduce the world’s carbon emissions, at least you can get data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, part of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Get it now because it sounds like they are going out of business in September.

May 2017 in Review

Most frightening stories:

  • The public today is more complacent about nuclear weapons than they were in the 1980s, even though the risk is arguably greater and leaders seem to be more ignorant and reckless.
  • The NSA is trying “to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research”.
  • We hit 410 ppm at Mauna Loa.

Most hopeful stories:

Most interesting stories, that were not particularly frightening or hopeful, or perhaps were a mixture of both:

  • Some experts think the idea of national sovereignty itself is now in doubt.
  • Taser wants to record everything the police do, everywhere, all the time, and use artificial intelligence to make sense of the data.
  • The sex robots are here.

climate, economics, and agent based models

This journal article is mostly over my head, but I found the introduction interesting. It talks about the use of equilibrium models most common in economics compared to emerging research into agent based models.
Complexity and the Economics of Climate Change: a Survey and a Look Forward


Mitigation and adaptation to climate change represent governance challenges of an unprecedented scale because of their long-term horizon, their global nature and the massive uncertainties they involve. Against this background, equilibrium models generally used in Integrated Assessment Models (IAM) represent the economy as a system with a unique equilibrium, climate policy as an additional constraint in the optimization problem of the social planner and consider the uncertainty of climate-related damages to be predictable enough to be factored out in the expected utility of a representative agent. There is growing concern in the literature that this picture might convey a false impression of control (seePindyck,2013; Stern, 2013, 2016; Weitzman, 2013; Revesz et al., 2014; Farmer et al., 2015, among manycontributions) and that IAMs might underestimate both the cost of climate change and the bene fits resulting from the transition to a low carbon-emission economy (Stern, 2016).

Network and agent-based models have been increasingly advocated as alternatives t to handle out-of-equilibrium dynamics, tipping points and large transitions in socio-economic systems (see e.g Tesfatsion and Judd, 2006; Balbi and Giupponi, 2010; Kelly et al., 2013; Smajgl et al., 2011; Farmer et al., 2015; Stern, 2016; Mercure et al., 2016). These classes of models consider the real world as a complex evolving system, wherein the interaction of many heterogeneous agents possibly reacting across different spatial and temporal scales give rise to the emergence of aggregate properties that cannot be deduced by the simple aggregation of individual ones (Flake, 1988; Tesfatsion and Judd, 2006). The development of agent-based integrated assessment model can overcome the shortfall of equilibrium models and ease stakeholder participation and scenario exploration (Moss et al., 2001; Moss, 2002a). Indeed, the higher degree of realism of ABMs (Farmer and Foley, 2009; Farmer et al., 2015) allows to involve policy makers in the process of the development of the model employed for policy evaluation (Moss, 2002b).