The Climate Policy Issue Crystallized

There is a huge amount of nonsense made about how the rich industrialized countries need to cut carbon emissions to save the world from catastrophic global warming. Just about every climate activist group is gearing up to Paris 2015 where at last they feel that world agreement will be reach on restraining the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Barak Obama will be pushing for a monumental deal in the dying days of his Presidency. There is a graphic that points out, whatever agreement is signed attempts to cut global emissions will be a monumental failure. It comes from the blandly named “Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 report” from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. In the interactive presentation, there is a comparison between the industrialised countries in 1990 and 2012.

In over two decades the emissions of the industrialised countries have fallen slightly, almost entirely due to the large falls in emission in the ex-Warsaw Pact countries consequent on the collapse in the energy-inefficient communist system. In the countries formerly known as the “First World” the emissions have stayed roughly the same. It is the developing countries that account for more than 100% of the emissions increase since 1990. Two-thirds of the entire increase is accounted for by China where in less than a generation emissions quadrupled. Yet still China has half the emissions per capita of United States, Australia or Canada. It emissions growth will slow and stop in the next couple of decades, not because population will peak, or because of any agreement to stop emissions growth. China’s emissions will peak, like with other developed countries, as heavy industry shifts abroad and the country becomes more energy efficient. In the next 30-40 years India is likely to contribute more towards global emissions growth than China. But the “remaining developing countries” is the real elephant in the room. It includes 1050 million people in Africa (excluding South Africa); 185m in South America (excluding Brazil); 182m in Pakistan; 167m in Bangladesh, 98m in Philippines and 90m in Vietnam. The is over 2000 million people, or 30% of the global population that do not currently register on the global emissions scale, but by mid-century could have emissions equivalent to half of the 1990 global emissions. To the end of the century most of the global population increase will be in these countries. As half the countries of the world are in this group any attempt to undermine their potential economic growth through capping emissions would derail any chance of a global agreement.

Hattip Michel of trustyetverify

Kevin Marshall

São Paulo Drought – Climate Change is NOT the cause

Seca de São Paulo – Mudança Climática NÃO é a causa

The drought situation in São Paulo is critical. As of late October, the two principle reservoirs that serve the city were below 5% of capacity. Water pressures have been reduced to such an extent that people in the higher parts of the city are without water for most of the time. What is causing this?

The “Climate News Network” (website run by former Guardian & BBC journalists) they attribute this to deforestation and climate change1. They say

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

This explanation of deforestation causing the drought does not hold water. The following is an account of why this drought explanation is flawed.

The “flying rivers” or “rios voadores” is being studied as a Petronas-sponsored long-term project at Project leader Gérard Moss explains the nature of “flying river”.

The question is, where does the rain come from?

Most of the evaporation comes from the sea… The wind pushes this air over the Amazon Forest, a region where it rains quite a lot. The humid air eventually reaches the Andes, which force it south and that is what we are calling a “flying river

So the most important part of the evaporation is from the sea. A minor part comes from evaporation the Amazon Forest. Yet the Climate News Network is under the impression that all of the evaporation comes from the Amazon. The same is true of the Ecologist, which seems to have used the same material. What is even worse, both sources claim that 22% of the Amazon has been lost. That would mean that the total evaporation from the Amazon region will have reduced by less than this figure and the total moisture content of the “flying rivers” by less than 10%. Even so, there is nowhere provided any data that shows the rainfall in the area is reduced. If the hypothesis were true, then the rainfall near the mouth of the Amazon would be largely unchanged, but as the “flying river” goes south into NE Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Brazilian states of Rondönia, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, Parana and Santa Catarina, there should be evidence of diminishing rainfall. But despite a quite expensive project employing a number of people and two light aircraft (one a sea plane) there seems to be no effort to gather the data that might falsify the data. Further, project leader Gérard Moss (who is a pilot and engineer) does not seem open to falsification of the hypothesis.
Starting at 7:10 he says:-

My dream is that the Flying Rivers project, through studying (the flying rivers) behaviour, will scientifically prove the amount of rainfall in the south and the Amazon forest. My dream is that we will finally stop exchanging the forest for grazing land and plantations. ….. (T)he project’s greatest challenge is to prove to all us Brazilians, that it’s no longer worth felling one single tree.

Gérard Moss is a pilot and engineer. He is the one who has the use of two aircraft. Further, since mid-2012, the project has been restricted to educational projects2. One such project gives a useful tool that monitors the prevailing wind trajectories. The latest one I downloaded and superimposed the wind direction of the “flying rivers” in think blue arrows.

It would seem that the prevailing easterly winds have shifted south coming ashore in arid Bahia and doing a short loop round to São Paulo, completely missing the Amazon.

Unfortunately, the only map prior to October is for 23/07/14. This gives a similar picture of prevailing winds completely missing the Amazon.

I have a simple hypothesis that can easily be contradicted by archived data held by the website. The cause of the current water shortage lies in January and February, with the failure of the normal summer rains. My hypothesis that this failure was due to similar wind patterns occurring in January and February as found on 27th October. This, naturally occurring, phenomena would have occurred at a similar time to the Gulf Stream shifting course – in the UK shifting north causing extreme storms in Southern England, with flooding in Somerset and the Thames Valley, and in the USA shifting south causing the extreme cold of the Polar Vortex.

There is, however, a further video by the BBC (in English) where Gérard Moss explains that half or more of the rainfall in São Paulo is from the Amazon, as opposed to the sea.

There are three potential sources of water vapour that could condense as rain in the city of São Paulo, but are not mentioned. First is sea evaporation that has not passed over the Amazon. Second is land evaporation from air currents that have not passed over the Amazon, like in the cases above. Third is evaporation from the “flying rivers” airflows after passing over the Amazon. There is up to 2,000 km between the end of the Amazon forest and São Paulo.


The current extreme drought in the city of São Paulo is not the result of Amazon deforestation for two reasons. First, the deforestation is insufficiently large to account for the drought levels. Second is that evidence points to a natural southerly shift in the current year in the easterly winds coming ashore in Brazil from near the Amazon delta to the much drier coast of Bahia.

But if the deforestation is not the cause of the draught, what are the likely causes? This will be the subject of a further post.

Update 1 14/12/14

I did not get round to the update. This is a background I wrote for the BishopHill discussion.

As my wife comes from Southern Brazil and I have visited the area a number of times, this caught my eye. Before linking the drought to climate change you need to consider the following geographical facts.

  • The City of São Paulo is built on a plateau about 700 metres above sea level. This means that although the Tropic of Capricorn passes through the North of the City, the climate is relatively temperate. The highest recorded temperature is just 35.3 °C.
  • The two principle reservoirs have been supplying the city since the 1920s when the population was less than a million, compared to twenty million today.
  • The area of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro was once covered by the Atlantic forest. This once extended well south into Argentina and inland to Paraguay – an area bigger than Western Europe. According to Wikipedia 88% has disappeared. (Climate News Network and The Ecologist put the figure at 91.5%) From extensive travel in Parana, Southern São Paulo state and Northern Santa Catarina this figure seems accurate. Most of the deforestation occurred in the twentieth century.
  • The Rivers of São Paulo State mostly form part of the River Plate Basin – that meets the sea in Montevideo, Uruguay. This drains most of southern Brazil, the entire country of Paraguay, Northern Argentina as well as a corner of Bolivia1. The principle river serving the city is the Tietê.
  • São Paulo State is about the same area of the United Kingdom and has a population of 43 million.
  • Upstate there is extensive agriculture, including soybean, sugar cane and cattle.
  • This is the worst drought in 84 years, not ever recorded. The previous one was four years before the American dust bowel of 1934, so there might be common climate factors that have influenced the period.

My conclusion is that the seriousness of the current water crisis is due to the following factors, in order of importance.

  1. Investment in water supply not keeping pace with demand.
  2. A once-in-a-century drought.
  3. Location of a megacity on a plateau, limiting the ability to cheaply extend the water supply.
  4. Changes in rainfall patterns from deforestation.


  1. Over at the BishopHill blog, commentator Entropic Man has started a discussion thread on the current drought in São Paulo, which he claims is due to deforestation and climate change. As the BishopHill blog is almost entirely given over to climate issues, the inference by Entropic Man is that human-caused climate change is responsible.
  2. The website explains (in Portuguese)

    From the mid-2012, the project is restricted to educational, awareness actions and counts with the collaboration of the CPTEC in providing the data provided on the links of the weather mapsan important tool that allows the general public to see and track the trajectories of the flying rivers.

    Kevin Marshall

Politician’s Remuneration – From Brazil to Blighty

Yesterday I blogged about a paper that claimed that higher salaries for politicians resulted in more educated, experienced and hard working politicians. From my own experience of Brazil, I tried to show that that the results could be interpreted as encouraging political dynasties and patronage.


In the UK, there have been two aspects of politician’s remuneration that have been in the news recently.


The Home Secretary’s 2nd Home Allowance


It is alleged by Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale  (and back up by the Sunday Times & The Mail on Sunday) that Ms Jacqui Smith MP is incorrectly claiming which of her two places of residence is her 2nd home. It would appear that the Home Secretary’s primary residence is with her sister in London, and the 2nd home is with her husband and two children in the Redditch constituency. Furthermore, Jacqui Smith’s website biography states


            Jacqui grew up in Malvern, Worcestershire before moving to Redditch in 1986.  She still lives in Redditch with husband, Richard and sons James (13) and Michael (8).


The Daily Mail is making similar allegations about the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling.

Allegation of sleaze (covert corruption) undermined the last Conservative Government, contributing to suffering, in 1997, the biggest defeat of any government since 1832. Yet, the sleaze did not extend to the Home Secretary (in charge of the nation’s police forces) or allegations of financial impropriety extend to the Custodian of the State’s finances.


Pensions for Failure


The Sunday Times (Hat-tip Iain Dale) reports that MPs are pushing for a substantial increase in the “Parachute Payments” when that they receive when they fail at a general election to get re-elected. Furthermore, this is to be extended to those who resign or retire mid-term. I can understand and sympathize with someone who has to step down through ill-health. But to compensate those who resign due to incompetence or worse is not in the public interest. Furthermore, to make politician’s terms and conditions better when unemployment is forecast to rise by a million in the current year, is not exactly showing solidarity with the working classes.

I admit that MPs are not paid as much in relative terms as their counterparts in Brazil. A British MP has a basic salary of just 6.5 times of a full-time worker on the minimum wage. In 2004, their equivalent earned over 38 times the minimum salary. However, in neither country to they have any shortage of applicants for the posts, which tends to suggest they are a might overpaid.

Higher Salaries for Politicians? Not likely


An economics paper suggesting that higher salaries for politicians leads to better politicians is based on a highly subjective of the evidence. Using evidence of municipal election in Brazil it tries to show that higher salaries for Politicians. If you like more government expenditure & increased power to the incumbents, then you will concur.


The Adam Smith Institute Blog referred (via Chris Blattman’s Blog) to an Economics Paper on Motivating Politicians by Claudio Ferraz (PUC-Rio) & Frederico Finan (UCLA). This paper tries to “estimate the effects of monetary rewards on political selection and legislative performance”


The conclusion drawn from this study (Pages 27 & 28) are:-

  1. “We find that higher wages increases political competition and improves the quality of legislators, as measured by education, type of previous profession, and political experience in office.”
  2. “In addition to this positive selection, we find that wages also affect politicians’ performance, which is consistent with a behavioral response to a higher value of holding office”
  3. “we find an increase in a number of visible public goods (e.g. number of schools, computer labs, health clinics, and doctors) in municipalities that offer higher salaries.
  4. “(T) here is no improvement on others (e.g. water and sanitation).”


Now consider this comment on local elections by the Economist on 9th Oct 2008

  Transparência, an NGO, has examined the last set of races in three state capitals (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte), which took place in 2004. Of 55 vereadores elected in São Paulo, 40 declared that they had spent more than 100,000 reais (then $35,000) on their races. One candidate spent over five times that amount. In Rio de Janeiro, some campaigns were even more expensive in terms of votes gathered per real spent. Certain successful candidates in the city spent more than $15 for each vote they won. (In comparison, George Bush spent $5.60 per vote he garnered in the American presidential election that year, and John Kerry, the Democratic candidate, $5.20 for each of his.) If undeclared spending were added, the sums would be even greater.

My own experience of local elections in Brazil, particularly during a visit in 2004 were of the following

         Small towns controlled by single families, who also happen to be the most affluent in the town.

         Sitting a restaurant in a small time, with a vehicle going past every few minutes playing the same jingle. It alternated between a motorbike, a Fusca (VW Beetle) and a Combi (VW van – like the 1960s camper-vans)

         In major city centres the shopping streets being full of campaigners for their candidates.


Other factors to consider

  1. The paper uses the monthly salaries from 2004. For a small town of 10,000 to 50,000, salaries were restricted to 30% of he state legislature, equating to R$2900 (c. GBP560) per month. At the same time the minimum salary (which maybe a third of the population survive on) was R$245. In other words, a small town councillor can receive more than eleven times the minimum wage. In the UK, it is around 1.5 times (although in the UK, the expectation is to work at least 20 hours per week, whereas in Brazil, the Vereador is full-time.
  2. In Brazil, vereadores have the power to award contracts. In many municipalities there is not the necessity to put contracts out to tendor. There is, with the role, considerable patronage opportunities.
  3. Vereadores can receive a pension of 50% of salary after just one term. Therefore, it is possible to become a vereador, a member of the state house of representatives, the state senate, the national house of representatives, and the national senate, all collecting a 50% pension on the way.
  4. Government expenditure in Brazil, accounts for about 40% of GBP, much higher than is the for middle income countries.



I do not find the conclusions incorrect, just the normative interpretation of those conclusions. In other words

  1. Higher salaries lead to increased political competition, which leads to increased expenditure to get elected. Having high levels of qualifications makes one stand out when there are lots of candidates.
  2. If politics is the family business, sending ones children to university (funded by the high salaries from holding government office) will perpetuate the family. It therefore becomes a barrier to entry for the poor.
  3. Due to the high number of candidates, populist politics abound. Politicians need to spread largesse. It is visible public works that get votes, more than drains, or quality of the local police service.
  4. Populist politics lead to larger and more intrusive government.
  5. Higher salaries, along with powers of patronage, favour those with money and access to a local political machine. Incumbents have the advantage, and getting elected to high office becomes an investment.
  6. The powers of patronage also lead to a local political business cycle. Local roads get fixed in election year.


In other words, higher salaries in Brazil have lead to increased corruption, increased power to the incumbents and more government expenditure. This is consistent with the findings of the paper.