Sunday, 22 September 2013

NOTICE TO READERS

For new Broad Oak posts on this topic, please go to the main page (see picture link on right), and then click on the relevant topic label listed there.

This page is developing as a non-posting resource. Over time, we will be adding links to blogs and sites, for those who like to research in depth or be kept up to date with news.

Thanks, and see you on the Broad Oak main page:  http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/

(Pic source)
 

Monday, 16 September 2013

EXCLUSIVE: David Rose believes in global warming

David Rose's latest spread in the Mail on Sunday (print edition) begins with a sub-heading revealing the UN IPCC's "astonishing new admission" that, as the inch-high type of the two-page-straddling main headline says, "global warming is HALF what we said."

You know when someone shouts so loudly that you can't hear them? For although his ongoing series on climate change features a provocative thematic label:


- it's not a confidence trick, simply overstatement by a committee who don't appear to understand that science is founded on the rock of uncertainty: the more it's willing to be doubted and tested, the more likely it is to be as nearly right as it can be.

The presentation of the Mail articles - for which sub-editors may have more responsibility than Rose himself - is similarly overdone, and asking to be tripped up by its own brashness. For example, crowing that global warming (of what part or element, exactly?) is only half what was predicted appears to admit an inconvenient truth, i.e. that the globe is indeed warming.

In a highly contentious area like this, there is a duty to consider style as well as content. Rose's piece, when the cross-header shrieking subsides, is more nuanced, showing that the whole issue is far more complex than just a series of forecasts about CO2 and temperature readings.

Mind you, he hasn't helped himself by jumping gleefully on the increase in Arctic ice cover as though to say, "Ha ha! Proved you wrong!" Firstly, there are also places where ice is melting, and secondly, anyone with the slightest knowledge of statistics knows that citing a single instance is no proof or disproof of anything. You have to try to find a trend.

There is a famous example in Bortkiewicz' book "Das Gesetz der kleinen Zahlen" (1898), where he studied the frequency with which Prussian cavalrymen were kicked to death by horses ("all of them", Allied soldiers would doubtless have wished 20 years later). On average it was 0.61 per year, which obviously didn't happen that way (unless the man's legs were left alive).


von Bortkiewicz's cavalry example (visually reordered)

One blizzard doth not an ice age make. There are many factors affecting world climate, and that's a vast subject. Even the Met Office's supercomputer can't get today's weather right every time, let alone next week's.

However, it is a scientific fact that CO2 lets through solar radiation but reflects back ground-emitted re-radiation; the way this works is clearly explicable. Similarly, water vapour from aircraft contrails - Brits may remember (coincidence or not?) the clear days we had in 2010 as air traffic was suspended when we had a dust cloud from Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced "Jones", I understand) volcano.

Okay, there's room for debate on whether humans are largely responsible for CO2 increases; and about how other systems (e.g. vegetation) respond to any such increase; and about all the other things that cool or warm the sea and air. But there's too much yelling on both sides of the debate, and sensational contrarian reporting is not a proper corrective to over-excited AGW campaigners.

There's money being made on both sides, by lobbyists and manufacturers of cars and windmills, solar panel-makers and supermarkets flying beans in from Kenya; and by global carbon trading that seems to favour Chinese industry and American capital. As ever in war, truth has been the first casualty, and we need a more balanced contribution from the Fourth Estate and news media owners.


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Money vs. reality

I've just listened to James Howard Kunstler's latest podcast[1], an interview with "ecological economist" Eric Zencey, whose book “The Other Road To Serfdom”[2]came out late last year. I give below a loose summation and interpretation of what I saw as the main points.

Zencey gives a good definition of sustainability: a system that doesn’t undermine the preconditions of its existence. (I recall a TV programme about farming in Norfolk, where thanks to centuries of intensive arable agriculture and other erosion factors the soil level had dropped so much that an old farm house had to have extra steps added, to let the occupants get up to its front door.)
He says that money is not always a good measure of what is going on, or what is beneficial, in an economy. Money is an abstraction, like a mathematical model, and reality is the energy and matter of the Earth, which we transform to suit ourselves. When fiat money is essentially infinite, but the world is finite, there is the potential for dangerous modelling distortions that will lead to seriously incorrect choices. Zencey like the idea of increasing bank reserve requirements until we get “100% money” (but I fear that might cause a depression that would result in a backlash that casts off all restraint).

GDP is flawed: it measures what he calls the “general commotion of money”, but it has no column for debits. (This reminds me of a presentation I heard at the BAAS[3]in Birmingham in 1977, where an economist noted that eating more sweets and going more often to the dentist both raised GDP. ) Real growth, in the sense of more net benefit to us, is not the same as increased activity. So he calls for the adoption of an alternative yardstick, the Genuine Progress Indicator.[4]
Zencey suggests that instead of the classical –theory tripartite division of economy into land, labour and capital, we should consider four classes of resource or capital: the built infrastructure, plus natural, social and cultural capital. (I emailed Mr Kunstler last month to say that the prospects for the US are still good, since the ratio of population to arable land is higher than anywhere else except Russia. He agreed, but said in effect that US culture has degraded and the infrastructure has seriously weakened, so that Americans are not the same people they were in 1943.)

Our current rate of consumption of “natural capital” is several planets’ worth; we will, he says, eventually get a sustainable system, it’s just a question of what kind, and so our task is to give future generations as many options as possible. The world is not infinite, and our current agricultural system “turns oil into people”. When the oil runs out (and like many other commentators he scorns the “100 years of shale” story) we’re back to the natural resources of 1800 (when the world fed maybe a billion humans) plus whatever modern technology we can employ to make best use of them. Perhaps a sustainable human population of 2 or 3 billion?
Current economic measures generally don’t factor-in ecological degradation, but Zencey notes that the Failed States Index[5]includes an element for demographic pressure on resources. (And not just local-demographic, I’d say, if we think about what’s happened in the Middle East.) One of his chapters is provocatively entitled “Got terrorism? Blame economists”.

But he agrees with Kunstler that the young, much-maligned Millennial generation are hopeful, care, are passionate to use their knowledge to engage with the challenges we’re leaving them.

[1] http://kunstler.com/podcast/kunstlercast-246/
[2] http://www.upne.com/1584659617.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Science_Association
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genuine_progress_indicator
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failed_States_Index


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Time to ease the Green Belt a couple of notches?

Professor Paul Cheshire thinks so; I beg to differ, but not because I'm a rich Nimby. Doubtless the Professor knows vastly more than I do, but the debate is taking place on a new site called The Conversation and as they say, "two views make a market".

Here's a link to what he says, and here is what I say in the comments below his article:

Sorry to quote myself, but it's quicker if I give a couple of links to posts I've offered on this:

1. Per square kilometre of arable land, the UK has some 1,077 people to feed - more than twice what is sustainable without food imports. Just as we are now beginning to worry about energy security, we also need to make food security a higher priority.

http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/britains-food-security-future-challenge

2. You could say that we do not have a housing shortage, but heightened expectations of personal living space:

http://theylaughedatnoah.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/what-housing-shortage.html

Best wishes...

I look forward to the riposte.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing.

Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Davy Jones' garbage




Look beneath your lid some morning,
See those things you didn't quite consume
The world's a can for
Your fresh garbage . . .

Spirit - Fresh Garbage[1] [2]
 
I loved that song when I first heard it in 1968, on the compilation LP “The Rock Machine Turns You On”[3] – Jay Ferguson’s distant, lost-sounding, disillusioned tenor voice, perfect for the teenager in turmoil.
 
It’s still relevant, and the biggest rubbish bin of all is the sea. A lot of this is plastic, not only on shores, where it represents 60% – 80% of all litter (Derraik, 2002[4]) but in vast swirling oceanic garbage patches[5] - and on the sea bed: in 1995 92% of debris on the floor of the Bay of Biscay was plastic[6]. A more recent article by Greenpeace says 70% of plastic litter sinks, and there is an estimated 600,000 tons of it at the bottom of the North Sea.[7]
 
The debris is unsightly, and can strangle or fill the stomachs of marine wildlife. It’s also toxic, so developing biodegradable versions doesn’t solve the problem – indeed, it could make it worse, since dissolved plastic is much harder to find and nearly impossible to remove.
 
James Higham posts a picture[8] of a cleanup device still under development. It’s a giant static filter that the inventor, Boyan Slat, hopes will trap surface garbage but allow plankton to pass safely through; work continues.[9]But even if it works perfectly, that still leaves the other, sunken 70% to deal with. Yet again, techno-fixes have limitations.
 
I can remember when we had shopping baskets and produce wasn’t shrink-wrapped. Will those days ever come again?


[1] http://www.metrolyrics.com/fresh-garbage-lyrics-spirit.html
[2] http://youtu.be/k7MQ5rxUZsc
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rock_Machine_Turns_You_On
[4] http://www.caseinlet.org/uploads/Moore--Derraik_1_.pdf
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Marine_garbage_patches. There are in fact more than three of them, as the articles go on to explain.
[6]Derraik, Table 1 (see note 4).
[7] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pollution/trash-vortex/
[8] http://nourishingobscurity.com/2013/09/09/plastic-gobbler-of-the-seven-seas/comment-page-1/#comment-221633
[9] http://www.boyanslat.com/plastic5/

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Honey traps

I like honey, so I tend to notice honey-related stories and it is surprising how much skulduggery there is in the world of honey. Takethese comments from the head of a Derbyshire supplier.
 
"The honey industry is used to launder money, with people buying large quantities and then selling it at a loss. In the past, I've been offered payment of substantial bills with plastic carrier bags full of cash," said Tony.

He said: "There is a lot of cheap foreign product on the shelves, claiming to be honey. One retailer in Derby has a product on the shelves that is so cheap that by the ton it would cost £12,500. For 20 tonnes of unrefined product in a 40ft container the price would be £13,000 so the prices I see on the shelves are a physical and financial impossibility.
 
I know 70 tonnes of unlabelled synthetic honey is imported into the UK but I've never seen synthetic honey on sale and it can't just vanish into thin air," said Tony.
 
He has experienced problems with corruption in Italy and Greece and does not deal with either nation. He said: "In Greece, you can pay for official paperwork to certify your honey is whatever you say it is and this is what we're up against.”
 
It’s obviously a tough business because this same supplier’s name appears in an Australian article on fake Manuka honey. I've bought honey from this guy and suspect he was the victim of yet another honey scam.
 
In October 2011, Britain's Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) tested a small sample of five brands of manuka honey from shop shelves. Only one, made by Comvita, was up to standard. The other four (from Nelson Honey, Honeyco Rainforest, Littleover Apiaries and Native New Zealand Manuka Honey) showed no detectable "non-peroxide activity", the anti-bacterial properties special to manuka honey.
 
Of course the issue of chloramphenicol in Chinese honey has been rumbling on for some time and still appears to be a source of concern.
 
How to detect fake honey? This article dating all the way back to 2007 has some simple tests, including one extraordinary piece of advice.
 
When poured very slowly honey will flow as a spiral in a clockwise direction. This is because the honey molecule is non-symmetrical with a right-hand bias which causes the stream of honey to spin.
 
Complete nonsense of course.

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Arctic freeze, Greenland melt

David Rose writes again in the Mail on Sunday, reporting a 60% increase in North Polar ice cover. Ha ha! That's one in the eye for all you global warming experts, etc.

On the other hand, Professor Jason Box continues his Dark Snow researches in Greenland and finds that the melting continues as predicted. About half of it, he thinks, is down to reduced albedo [index of light reflection] because of a soot layer from the burning of fossil fuel and forest, but there are other factors, too, including a secondary partial-melt effect that causes ice crystals to become more rounded.

And Rose's article ignores regional variation in air temperature, even within Greenland. "Heat transport into the Arctic bypassed Greenland to its east. Svalbard [an archipelago in the North Norway region] has had a warm summer."

Meltfactor blog: http://www.meltfactor.org/blog/?p=1222
Greenland had a record warm episode in July (not due to the North Atlantic airstream), but then there was fresh snowfall in the south that brightened the surface more than usual; yet in the northwest the albedo was unusually low.

Journalists, whichever side you take (should you be taking sides?): it's just not that simple. And the polar ice cap cover is only one of a wide range of measures being assessed and discussed in the climate change debate.

I don't suppose Rose is likely to listen - he's doing too well out of incompletely-researched contrarianism. Unfortunately, he's writing in the most-read newspaper in the UK.

He's not the only professional side-taker: look at Matt Ridley, the self-styled "rational optimist", whose home farm promotes organic and traditional farming while the lord of the manor makes a reputation by telling the world that there's nothing much to worry about. Seems like Greenland isn't the only place where it blows hot and cold.

"How they are related" footnote:*

"Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s wife, Rose, is the sister of Viscount Matt Ridley."

Paterson is the Minister currently championing biodiversity offsetting so the developers can have a clear run at the land they want to build on.

Just so you know.

*Even more interestingly, this information appears to have been recently edited out of the Wikipedia entry, but the same fact appears in this Mail article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2346246/Why-did-Tories-change-tune-GM-food-We-expose-secret-summit-slick-lobbyists-bio-tech-giants-seduced-willing-Ministers.html

All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.