Climate clippings 106

1. Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’

Nevertheless with the certainty only possessed by fools, the Abbott government’s chief business adviser, Maurice Newman, has warned that Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda” in his latest critique of mainstream climate science.

The suggestion is that temperature change is due to changes in solar activity, cosmic rays and stuff. The science is heading in the opposite direction.

“The sun doesn’t have as much influence on the climate as we previously thought, the latest estimates are that it explains only 5% of the warming over the last 150 years,” he said.

How can the government be advised by someone who is so ill-informed about arguably the biggest single influence on business conditions over the next century.

2. August hottest ever

We’ve just had the hottest August globally since records began being kept in 1880, according to NASA. The year to date has been the fourth hottest on record. Hot years usually coincide with an El Niño either in the year concerned or the previous year. An El Niño has not yet arrived but does look likely according to the latest information.

NASA_ 2014_Ag_600

It has been especially hot in West Antarctica. Bear that in mind when you see stories of record sea ice around Antarctica:


This is not incompatible with global warming and could in fact be caused by it. Melting ice produces cold water, and the tightening wind pattern tend to blow the ice further north.

There is no information as yet on ice volume.

3. Australian Climate Action Summit 2014

The Australian Climate Action Summit 2014 is on this weekend. Since my life is governed by work, the weather and medical appointments I am unable to go.

On Sunday there will be a People’s Climate March, organised by an outfit called Avaaz. Marches will be organised all around the world, and indeed, all around Australia, including, for example Mt Isa and the Gold Coast. If you click on Brisbane you get the Summit, but if you click on the Summit you don’t get a march. So if there is a march in Brisbane, I can guess where but I’d also need to guess when.

The march is meant to impress the leaders gathering in New York on Tuesday 23 September. That’s the UN Summit Tony Abbott will not attend although he’ll be in New York on Wednesday.

4. Surviving in hot, acidic oceans

I think this is a good news story.

More than 90% of the extra heat in global warming ends up in the oceans, as does 25% of the CO2 we create, which makes the oceans more acidic. Shell-making organisms such as plankton are expected to be in trouble. The good news is that it seems one species of plankton, the Emiliania huxleyi, can survive the changes underway.

5. Climate Council report on sea level

The Climate Council has taken another look at climate change and coastal flooding. The focus is on 1.1 metres sea level rise by 2100, all too possible if West Antarctica is in play, as it seems to be.

We are told that the frequency of flooding events can treble for every 10 cm of sea level rise. The risk multiplier depends where you are. In Sydney, Bundaberg and Hobart, for example a current 1 in 100 year event now could be happening every day by 2100. In Adelaide, the least at risk city, it would be only once every year.

At risk we have $87 billion worth of commercial and light industrial buildings, $72 billion worth of homes and $67 billion worth of roads and rail infrastructure.

6. Capitalism v The Climate

Joe Romm tells us about Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate. Klein, he says, makes three essential points:

1. Because we have ignored the increasingly urgent warnings and pleas for action from climate scientists for a quarter century (!) now, the incremental or evolutionary paths to avert catastrophic global warming that we might have been able to take in the past are closed to us.

2. Humanity faces a stark choice as a result: The end of civilization as we know it or the end of capitalism as we know it.

3. Choosing “unregulated capitalism” over human civilization would be a “morally monstrous” choice — and so the winning message for the climate movement is a moral one.

The time for ‘evolutionary’ strategies is long past. Now only ‘revolutionary’ strategies will get us there. Unregulated capitalism is a Ponzi scheme, which must collapse. The real choice facing us is a moral one.

Unchecked capitalism is immoral and will destroy civilisation as we know it. Just what Klein says we should do will be covered by Romm in a subsequent post.

23 thoughts on “Climate clippings 106”

  1. I think that statements like

    Humanity faces a stark choice as a result: The end of civilization as we know it or the end of capitalism as we know it.

    are a diversion. They encourage people to think that they have to dramatically change capitalism if they want anything to happen.
    My take is that the forces of capitalism are already having an effect and will get stronger as climate action is seen as a business opportunity by more and more capitalists.
    Think about it.:
    It is unlikely that any company will be able to raise finance for a new coal fired power station or thermal coal mine in Aus, the US and a whole raft of other countries.
    The renewable energy industry is becoming a lobbying force in its own right.
    The smarter greens are beginning to realize that it is easier to pressure a bank to avoid investing in undesirable industries instead of attacking the undesirable industry directly.
    It is more productive to understand the flow of power and money and use that knowledge to drive change instead of attacking capitalism in general or applying pressure in the wrong places.

  2. John, there are many companies who can see the way things are going and recognise reality, or have management with an ecological conscience (they have grandchildren too). Yet there are fossil fuel companies whose main game is the exploitation of fossil fuels.

    Also capitalism is inherently expansionist and in general the nexus between economic growth and increased emissions is yet to be broken.

    I wouldn’t condemn Naomi Klein out of hand. Much depends on her detailed analysis. But in general terms she and Joe Romm are objecting to unbridled capitalism, not capitalism as such. They would also claim that capitalism as we know it is insufficiently bridled. I’d find it hard to argue with that.

  3. I agree with much of what you say but I still see it as a distraction. It is also worth noting that innovation tends to be linked to growth. If you are expanding it is easy to replace old with smarter. much harder to convince people to replace old when expanded markets can’t be used to justify the replacement.

  4. John @ 3, I would have guessed correctly. Queen’s park at 11am.

    I tried again. You get it from the link I provided if you type in Brisbane and search. But if you head for the map you don’t.

  5. Hi Brian
    I’ve put a reply to your previous reply to me, plus some comments on the summit, on the earlier weekend reflections post (not the most recent one, the one where I first mentioned the summit). Not sure if I can link to other comments?

  6. Simon Sheikh on divestment was also very good – from a different perspective I suppose, trying to change capitalism from the inside

  7. Val, I’ll comment here, now that you’ve made the link.

    Thanks muchly for the summary. I had to work one day on the weekend. Showers were forecast for Saturday, so it had to be Sunday. Also to be frank at my age I find it very tiring to stand around listening to speeches, walking is fine.

    I think the question of how easy it is to transform to a sustainable economy/society is difficult to assess, but I’ll make a few points.

    The question of availability of capital comes up at times. I think not even all economists fully understand it. I certainly don’t. The IEA (International Energy Association) for example, questions whether we can find the funds to transform electricity production. The sheer loss of value of stranded assets is likely to be economically disruptive.

    Hence there is a lot of inertia built into the system. This is true also in our geographic patterns of living. For example, there is an urban renewal proposal in Brisbane upriver from Southbank which involves high rise units for 11,000 people. Such condensed housing is more emissions efficient than suburban sprawl. But it’s in the context where there is already plenty of newish suburban sprawl in SEQ and it’s not going to do anything to replace any of that.

    I think that reducing emissions is going to become harder and harder, the nearer we get to zero. But in the medium term we need to go beyond zero.

    Finally, the greed and conservatism of the 0.01% is becoming a real problem. Also how this plays out in what is deemed to be the ‘national’ interest. The oligarchs are here and active in our midst!

    So on balance I’m a bit pessimistic.

  8. Brian: As I have said elsewhere we need to be flexible enough to seize opportunities and to avoid becoming obsessed with the idea that particular solutions (such as carbon pricing) have to be part of the answer when it it obvious that it lacks the durable bipartisan support it needs to be a driver of renewable energy.
    It is also about getting smarter and understanding that capitalism is not some united monolith. (Think of the growing success the Green movement is having at blocking dirty investment by putting pressure on the banks (who couldn’t care less about the future of fossil fuels) instead of the owners of a coal lease.)
    Or think about how Newman is struggling to stop investment in rooftop solar in Qld despite all sorts of moves to make it less attractive, public sneering and serial misinformation.

  9. From Climate Progress:

    Every major independent analysis of aggressive climate action has found it has very low cost, virtually no impact on growth, and several valuable co-benefits. And one more thing — it avoids climate impacts so catastrophic their costs are almost incalculable, a staggering $1240 trillion, by one analysis.

    From Paul Krugman:

    I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

    From Joe Romm, who redefines growth as that which can be passed on:

    So I would go one step further than Krugman. It’s not just that aggressive climate action “might actually lead to faster growth.” It is the only strategy that could lead to any genuine (sustainable) growth at all.

  10. I believe part of the issue is defining what people mean by growth, especially sustainable growth. So I suppose I will have to look at those reports and see if they do define it precisely.

    Regardless, I am still in favour of networked localism and flatter, more egalitarian organisations. I’ve put my talk at the Climate Action summit on my blog, if you’re interested.

    Renewable energy is also well suited to networked localism.

  11. Val: At one stage in my life I took the opportunity of people leaving to convert a 100 people dept from 3 layers of management down to two by removing the second layer from the top.. So what happened?
    1. There was a dramatic drop in inter level power struggles. If anything people wanted to delegate some of their responsibilities up or down
    2. People below the layer that was removed delegated more and took over some of the responsibilities of the removed layer. These changes flowed down all the way to the bottom as each layer reviewed what things they really had the time to do properly.
    3. The person (me) above the removed layer spent more time on day to day matters and less time looking at the bigger picture. (This was not necessarily a good thing.) 4. Senior engineers became more involved in the day to day operation. Good for their development and helped them understand how they could help the operation. However this may have affected the technical output.
    5. It was no longer possible to carry a dud supervisor.
    6. Industrial relations improved in part because the people at the bottom were given more responsibility.
    7. The boss actually ended up with more power. Reasons included:
    a. People who felt that they had more control/influence were more inclined to try something the boss wanted.. (instead of threatening industrial action.)
    b. It was easier to find a direct report willing to try something instead of having to convince a particular direct report.

    Overall it worked for this case. However, it is not a magic answer. It wouldn’t have worked if the people below the layer removed had not been capable of taking on a more challenging role. It wouldn’t have worked either in an organization obsessed with hierarchy.
    It is crucial to understand the implications of the change and the resources required to make it work. It is also crucial to understand that flat structures are not the answer to everything.

  12. Interesting example, John. I think it depends on the nature of the organisation and the tasks undertaken.

    I spent most of my time in the public service at the peak of an organisation with multiple cells and a variety of operations, from quite routine to highly creative or policy focussed. Most of the time I had about 160 staff and just three people answering to me. At the end I had 243 and a management span of 12. I would have gone mad if I’d stayed.

    We had up to 7 layers, depending on the nature of the operation. In general I’m all for collegiality and collaboration, but hierarchies depend on how people operate within them. People higher up need to see themselves as supporting what happens lower down and in a sense ‘serving’. I used to talk about tipping pyramids on their side.

  13. Brian: Starting at the bottom layer of management in my dept, my recollection was that BHP had 7 layers of management at the time I was talking about. (I had 13 direct reports.) If you go from 3 to 12 direct reports there will be a problem if the jobs of you and and your direct reports are not redefined. There will also be a problem if you have a boss who expects you to continue to do all the things personally that you used to do when you had 3 reports and that the flattening of the organization means that some tasks that used to be done simply won’t be done any more.

  14. Interesting thoughts thanks John and Brian. I look at it also from my experience in working in cooperatives and local projects. My ex-husband and I were involved in running a part-time business with two other couples for some time. It was a cooperative with a flat structure. There were quite a few challenges – interpersonal relationships, doing your fair share, who looked after children etc.

    Gender played a part – it seemed in the beginning as if the men sometimes thought they would “run” the business, although ultimately roles tended to get sorted out in terms of abilities, which were not based on gender. However I did hear of another similar business where the women withdrew – the story as told by a man was they were not committed, but I would have liked to hear their side of the story!

    It was quite challenging, but the business was successful. We did sometimes think about employing someone to run it (which would have changed things significantly), but ultimately for various reasons we wound it up.

    I’ve been involved in other coops and community groups – generally of course responsibilities are on the basis of election to positions. I just don’t think hierarchies are necessary, though that may seem like a really out there view. The question of inequality is much larger than this, but getting rid of hierarchies would be a step in the right direction.

  15. Val: In another job I was responsible for emergency services for a town and mine. during some actual emergencies, such as fires, autocratic decisions need to be made and, for this reason, it is crucial that there is a clear hierarchy and a clear understanding who the boss is if the normal boss isn’t there as well as the protocols to be followed when the normal boss finally arrives on the scene.
    It is really about horses for courses.
    It is also about understanding what management tasks really need to be done and making sure people are doing them. If a layer is to be removed it is important to understand what these people did. It also helped to be able to do what I did. Make the change without having to get rid of people.

  16. I’m talking particularly about inequality and competition John – I’m not suggesting we don’t need leadership and clear roles, just that don’t need to be accompanied by inequalities of wealth and status

    my thesis is that competitive hierarchical societies aren’t well equipped to deal with climate change because they have an incentive to compete for and thus use more of the earth’s resources. We need to change to a system that is about fairness, sharing and using resources wisely – which I suggest includes reducing the wealth and status differentials.

    people can be responsible and take charge without having to paid more or have higher social status – the two things aren’t necessarily related, it’s just that our inherited ways of thought from patriarchal societies suggest they are.

    That’s not a dig at men John, before you start reacting – it’s an historical analysis

  17. Val

    We need to change to a system that is about fairness, sharing and using resources wisely – which I suggest includes reducing the wealth and status differentials.

    people can be responsible and take charge without having to paid more or have higher social status – the two things aren’t necessarily related, it’s just that our inherited ways of thought from patriarchal societies suggest they are.

    As a non-historian yet genuinely interested, has such a society ever existed ?
    Was it matriarchal (or a gynarchy if you prefer ) ?
    Does it still exist ?
    If not, what was its downfall ?
    I have doubts, considering what I know of human nature, that this could work.
    ( again, not sarc, honestly inquisitive )

  18. Brian @7: Of course the ABC would have to underestimate the number in that march, not because the ABC has returned to its old role as Menzies’ Mouthpiece but because the staff want to keep their jobs.

    John D, and Val: I’m all for flatter organizational structures – but only where they are well-planned and where those involved undergo careful, thorough training over a reasonable period. As mentioned, there are real dangers in becoming overwhelmed (so have an absolute maximum of 7 or 8 reporting to you) and of drowning in minutae and so losing all sight of the overall picture (that’s why I like 90 minutes/day undisturbed contemplation – with safeguards against bludging).

  19. Val: A renewable energy company with a hard driving CEO and a make it happen structure will help drive down world emissions. The converse is true for a coal company with a hard driving CEO male or female. (Macarthur coal had a female CEO at one stage.)
    Got no argument about more equal wages. I always thought it unfair that I got much more doing an interesting, challenging job compared with some poor sod with a boring dirty job that was not good for their health. Wouldn’t argue either with a greater sense of equality within organizations.
    Graham: Lots of organizational stuff-ups are caused by a failure to understand what various people did. BHP lost billions at one stage because they got rid of the irritating old bastards who used to point out the flaws and kill projects being championed by young up and comers.

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