British-Irish Council taken over by Climate Alarmists?

The Irish Times has carried a report that

THE BRITISH government could massively subsidise the Irish wind energy industry under proposals to be considered in London today.

Would that be the same British Government who are struggling to control a record budget deficit? A Government that presides over a territory which is in many parts extremely windy. Where would these windmills be located? The proposal would be offshore. So the UK is a short of coastline then?

Who put forward this proposal? The famous British-Irish Council. Their website is here.

And here is a screen-shot of that homepage.

It strikes as a little odd that the website should be hosted in Jersey. Or if you do a Google search you will find lots of references to renewable energy and the Isle of Man. Promoting the minor islands and wind power would be a major part of its’ purpose then?

To quote the website

Priority areas of work

At its first summit in London in December 1999, the council decided on a number of priority areas of work which would benefit from such co-operation. While the list is not exhaustive, it includes:

  • agricultural issues
  • health
  • regional issues
  • consideration of inter-parliamentary links
  • energy
  • cultural issues
  • tourism
  • sporting activity
  • education
  • approaches to EU issues
  • minority and lesser used languages
  • prison and probation issues

    So that would be a no then.

    It would seem that the original purpose of the British-Irish Council has been lost and that the organisation has been taken over by some Climate Alarmists from the Isle of Man, Jersey or Scotland. Perhaps the Council is no longer fit for purpose.


    The actual meeting in London was full of the wind issue. See the Irish Times and BBC Wales.

Prof Nir Shaviv Presentation

A couple of blogs (Bishophill and Jo Nova) direct you to a short 30 minute presentation by Prof Vincent Courtillot. The proceeding presentation by Prof. Nir Shaviv on cosmic ray theory, though more technically advanced, is worth a look, especially if you compare the strength of his argument with the IPCC greenhouse theory.

For the non-scientist, the Shaviv thesis of solar changes explaining the 20th century warming episode is better than the IPCC greenhouse theory as

  • Has some corroborating evidence to suggest that cosmic rays are affecting the climate, with the extent.
  • Has a simple computer model that explains most of the twentieth century warming. In particular the two similar periods of warming from 1915 to 1940 and 1975 to 1998, and the pauses are all modelled quite well. Using Occams Razor  (the most succinct hypothesis, or that which needs the fewest assumptions), it beats the anthropogenic greenhouse gas theories. Alternatively, it is a better fit of the data, as AGW only fits the later warming. The early 20th century warming can only be explained by predominantly natural factors.
  • Is happy flicking between the decadal time-scale that he is trying to explain to geological time scale of hundreds of millions of years and then to the influence of solar flares that last a few days. Neither does he have problems with natural variations.

The IPCC greenhouse gas models do have a number of models that concur. But this can be explained that they have similar assumptions and assumptions behind them. Indeed, given the strong coherence it is a weakness that they have such a wide variation in the data. The IPCC

  • Lacks corroborating evidence, particularly of the tropical tropospheric hotspot.
  • Relies on computer models are highly complex, rely on a two-stage process (see note below), and have many ad hoc adjustments.
  • Yet these computer models that do not tie in very well with the data. To explain the lack of warming in the 1945 to 1978 period and post 1998 you have to resort to an ad hoc inclusion of aerosols. The early-twentieth century warming, so similar empirically, has to have a different explanations.
  • Greenhouse gas theory is uncomfortable with looking beyond the twentieth. It cannot explain the medieval warm period, hence the amount of backing for the infamous hockey stick which suggests the twentieth century warming was unusual. Neither can it explain the other natural fluctuations in the current inter-glacial.

An opposite view that Shaviv’s work is insignificant can be referenced at Sourcewatch, a highly pro-AGW site. They state

“While he does believe the earth is warming, he contends that the sun’s rays, rather than human produced CO2, are the cause. But a 2009 analysis of data “on the sun’s output in the last 25 years of the 20th century has firmly put the notion to rest. The data shows that even though the sun’s activity has been decreasing since 1985, global temperatures have continued to rise at an accelerating rate.”

There are counters to this is that Sourcewatch is speaking about the wrong thing. Shaviv contends it is cosmic rays emanating from elsewhere in the galaxy that affect cloud cover and by this means temperature. Solar winds (determined by solar activity) heavily influence the levels of cosmic rays reaching the earth. A much smaller influence is the solar variability. Shaviv shows the following slide (at 17 mins) to show the difference in his measured magnitudes.

Note on IPCC Climate models

The IPCC climate models do not just rely on greenhouse gases directly impacting on the temperature to generate global climate catastrophe. This was nicely summarized by Prof Richard Lindzen in his Congressional testimony of November 17th 2010. (Full pdf here, Warren Meyer comments here)

  1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapour and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.
  2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.

Quote on Openness in Government

The Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) Inquiry, United Kingdom

“Our experience over this lengthy Inquiry has led us to the firm conclusion that a policy of openness is the correct approach. When responding to public or media demand for advice, the government must resist the temptation of attempting to appear to have all the answers in a situation of uncertainty. We believe that food scares and vaccine scares thrive on the belief that the Government is withholding information. If doubts are openly expressed and publicly explored, the public are capable of responding rationally and are more likely to accept reassurance and advice

if and when it comes.”

Quoted on page 40 of the WHO World Health Report 2002. (Here)

This seems to be also pertinent to the Climate Science in general and the UNIPCC in particular.

The BSE Inquiry Report details;jsessionid=42B120D8A52B9E491149695EB22E4EEB


The inquiry was set up in 1997 to: establish and review the history and emergence and identification of BSE and variant CJD in the UK and of the action taken in response to it up to March 1996; to reach conclusions on the adequacy of that response; and to report the findings to relevant ministries. The resulting report documents in detail the development of two new diseases, one of cattle that devastated the British cattle industry (more than 170000 animals affected) and another that has caused the deaths of more than 80 people so far. The report identifies several shortcomings in delayed responses and lack of rigour in implementing measures. Poor coordination between health and agricultural departments and bureaucracy impeded prompt responses. The cause of the epidemic was identified as the inclusion of meat and bone meal in ruminant feed. Despite the banning of specified bovine offals in ruminant feed in 1990, cattle born after this date still contracted the disease, probably through cross contamination of feed with feed destined for non-ruminants. The report makes compelling reading for all those who have followed the epidemic. It is available from The Stationary Office ( in print (#325 for the complete boxed set of 16 volumes [ISBN 0105569860]; or #29.50 for Volume 1: Findings and Conclusions [contains a CD-ROM of the full text of the report; ISBN 0105569704]), on CD-ROM (#235 which includes the full text of the report on Disc 1. Discs 2-12 include all the witness statements, transcripts, SEAC and ACAF documents and other supporting documents; ISBN: 0105569879), or can be freely accessed on the Internet.

Climate Change in Perspective – Part 2 of 4 – The Mitigation Curve


The previous posting developed a simple graph showing the consensus case for climate change mitigation. This posting looks at the policy arguments, suggesting a huge gap between what is believed to be theoretically possible and what may be realistically achieved. The conclusion is stark. Mitigation policy optimization requires a political process that cannot deliver a result that will leave the world better for future generations.

The Mitigation Cost Curve

The previous posting presented in graphical form the consensus argument (UN IPCC & Stern) for stabilizing CO2 at around double the pre-industrial level, along with stabilizing other greenhouse gas emissions. That is that the costs of constraining the growth in levels of CO2 – are much less than the costs of allowing greenhouse gases temperature rises to go unchecked. Mitigation is essentially a cost minimization strategy with the Stern Review claims the benefits outweigh the costs 5 to 20 times. To put this into context, the Review states that the expected mean costs of mitigation will be annually 1% of annual global product (GWP). The costs of the actual climate change impact could be 5% of GDP or more.

The Prudent approach from this graph is to aim for point P. That is not the absolute minimum costs, but still much lower cost than the likely costs of doing nothing.

What is important to note is that the policy is not to reduce CO2 levels from the current levels of around 380ppm, but to stabilize the growth in emissions. This growth in emissions will come from the emerging economies, in particular from China where emissions per capita have recently been growing by 12% a year. The OECD countries have had largely static emissions per capita, and the population is very slow growing as well.

To turn theory into successful stabilization of CO2 at 550 to 600ppm, requires quite a extended process. I have attempted to break down this process into a flow chart showing the major steps. Next to each step is an arrow suggesting the direction the curve will move if the process is less than perfect.


The graph below shows the impact on the mitigation curve of a movement in the arrows.

A movement to the right will shift the curve from M to M’. This is when the marginal costs increase. A movement upwards will shift the curve from M to M”. This is when costs are incurred that totally ineffective in influencing on CO2 levels. Finally there are policy shifts upwards and to the right, from M to M”’, which is a combination of higher marginal costs and ineffective elements.

Looking at the issues in turn.

Economic Theory

I will assume that the shape and position of the curve is correct. That is, there is a set of policies or actions in the real world that if applied will achieve the outcomes desired. However, these have to be discovered. Some low-cost constraints will be quite easy to discover. Others might be more difficult, relying on estimates from self-interested parties. The optimal policies will not be given for long periods, but could change over time with relative costs and technological advances. For instance, a technological breakthrough enabling much cheaper and compact batteries could transform the viability of electric cars. Therefore the switch from gasoline and diesel could be achieved with little or no subsidies.

A second assumption is that although the right economic policies will cost money, the optimal policies will have absolutely no impact on economic growth. This is a crucial assumption of the Stern Review. The policy costs will amount to around 1% of GDP at the end of the century, against costs of around 5% of GDP of climate change impacts if nothing is done. However, if growth rates are reduced by just 0.1% then in ninety years output will be over 9% lower. It is quite conceivable that a drastic change in climate policy would reduce China’s growth rate by 0.5%. By 2100 this would mean output was a full 35% lower than without the policy change. If growth by then has slowed to 3% per annum, living standards would lag 25 years, or a generation, behind where they would have been. Even if the 0.5% growth reduction is for just the first 40 years, output is still 17% lower. There may be a preference of trading a 9% lower living standards with certainty, to possible suffering from the harmful and random effects that will costAny policy that fails to recognize this


A simplistic analysis would take into account the actual costs. The cheapest ways to constrain growth in emissions is to impose a uniform policy globally. A country like Ethiopia, for instance, has nominal GDP per capita of less than 1% of the OECD average ($330 against $39473) according to World Bank Data. The real impact of a uniform carbon tax will be disproportionately felt by the poorest. The UNIPCC and Stern recognize this, but have not made an adequate provision allowance. The proposals are for the rich countries bear the overwhelming burden of the constraint in emissions and for monetary transfers to enable the poorest to grow economically without increasing their CO2 emissions. Stern recommends that the rich countries reduce their emissions by 80% per capita by 2050. However, this split will not be totally equitable. Within countries there are large inequalities in income and wealth. For instance, the richest 10% in Brazil have far better life styles than the poorest 10% in the United States. Any split between countries will leave many of the rich and powerful untouched by the policies, whilst leaving the poor in the OECD countries worse off.

Policy Identification

There are a number of possible tools to achieve a cost effective containment of CO2 growth. These include Cap and Trade; Carbon Taxes; encouraging technological development; carbon sequestration; building (or regulating the building of) new carbon-neutral power stations; and promoting energy saving through subsidies and regulation. Minimizing the costs and maximising the effectiveness of this containment requires optimizing these alternatives in terms of extent, combination and timeliness. As we do not know when to use each of these in terms of time and place, there needs to be learning through experience. When policies or initiatives are not producing results, there needs to be quick and decisive actions in constraining, changing or abandonment. Yet these decisive decisions need to be taken in the context of often only vaguely perceiving, even retrospectively, whether we are taking the best course of actions. Are we pursuing the right sort of alternative power supply? Is funding for our favoured form of future technology the correct one? If that technological preference is broadly the best are we favouring the best approach, or disregarding a far more efficient alternative? Are we applying Cap and Trade too far, or is the design of the policy inappropriate to achieve optimal result? Are any carbon taxes delivering reductions in CO2 with our cost constraints?

If we fail to optimize then policies like Cap and Trade will generate marginal costs much higher than planned. The curve shifts to the right. If the research for new low-cost carbon neutral energy consumption fails, then the curve shifts upward as we waste money. So overall, sub-optimal policy choice will shift the curve upwards and to the right.

International Negotiation

Climate change policies need to be spread broadly to be effective. If major countries are excluded, then the burden of constraint on the others will be that much greater. Yet mitigation policy is to inflict some costs now to avoid much greater costs in two, five or twenty generations down in the future. To get

  • Overstate the urgency and the extent of the problem.
  • Understate or fudge the immediate cost implications.
  • Alienate any who raise the slightest question about the efficacy of such agreements. There are plenty of NGOs to do this.
  • Understate the alternatives.
  • Provide a world stage for the leaders, including those would normally be ostracized. (Such as here and here).
  • Leave aside the implementation problems.


International Polices & Targets

The fudging is likely to affect the final policy. Nation states do not accept strict targets within cost constraint, with punishments meted out to those that fail. They will not relinquish part of their sovereignty and possibly their economic growth easily. But the poorer ones, with promises of cash to help them out, will be enthusiastic. Therefore any final agreement will load costs on those keenest on the policy, and plenty of loop-holes to allow those with other priorities, or those with a weak political grasp on power, to fudge. This does not have to be a permanent fudge

National Policies

There will be a number of different approaches. Cutting or CO2 levels or constraining the growth requires long-term policies, with short-term plaudits. In Britain’s case the implementation CO2 reduction target of 80% gained much praise in the international community. But the costs are mostly left to successor governments. The favoured form of green energy is easy to promote, but the rising energy costs and the prospect of future energy blackouts on windless and frost winter nights will be blamed on later governments.

In the short-term there may be some job benefits and subsidies. Promoting Cap and Trade will create jobs for those administering the scheme and large profits for those who can easily reduce their emissions and sell on the carbon credits. There are also jobs to be had in climate research and the development of new technologies.

There is also political benefit to be had from providing a reason to raise taxes. In Britain the green taxes have mostly been loaded onto the motorist. Yet such a policy is likely to have very little marginal impact on CO2 emissions for precisely them same reason that it is a very good way of raising extra tax revenue – demand is very inelastic with respect to price. It is only with viable and cost-effective substitutes (electric to replace the internal combustion engine) that we will see a switch.

The nature of deriving and maintaining political census will be to have little project management from the top down. Therefore, there will be initiatives that were sub-optimal to start with and less effective moving forward. There will be little focus on research, but plenty on public relations. Rather than maximizing effectiveness and minimizing costs, there will be other, self-justifying matrices developed. The biggest justification will be international obligations.

Policy Outcomes and Policy Feedbacks

There may be plenty of policy and much more rhetoric, but the policy outcomes are likely to be feeble at great cost. However, to obtain and maintain the optimal policies, there must be a feedback process. This feedback needs to influence every level, including the economic theory as shown below.

This needs to be a continual and dynamic process. For this to happen there needs to be objective and honest analysis of results to better refine and amend our view of the optimal policies at both national and international level. The size of the arrows indicates my personal assessment of the importance of each aspect. The biggest feedback is in the continuous altering of national policies, to bring into line with optimal policies. But there must be an ability to easily change course at all levels. This requires not just openness and flexibility, but surrender of policy in this area to an international body. But countries will not easily agree to shoulder more of the burden, or lose subsidies. They will not easily be told that they must change course. Vested interests in the environmental matters do not have a unique humility and objectivity that is absent in other groups. Neither will politicians easily admit that they have made errors of judgment, or that there are areas where they have neither the competency nor power to act upon.


The process of implementing an optimal policy, requires an openness and flexibility that does not exist. The whole policy process works against this. Politics is about negotiation and compromise between competing interests. It is about jostling for power, rewarding supporters and undermining the influence of opponents. It is also about other priorities as well, which in the short-term are more pressing. In the section on economic theory we I showed how a small reduction in economic growth can more than offset the worst consequences of the policy.

The problem now becomes two-fold.

  1. Guaranteeing how the revised optimal policy P”’ will be less costly than doing nothing and letting the total climate impact costs reach CCImax.
  2. Justifying to the developed nations why they should be significantly worse off than doing nothing.

In the next posting I will look at the validity of the estimation of the costs of climate change.


Climate Change Policy in Perspective – Part 1 of 4


In the Climate Change policy there lacks a simple framework to assess the policy. There is a large consensus of scientists telling us that a large rise in global temperature will occur, and that the only policy in offer is to constrain the growth in greenhouse gas emissions globally. Presented below is a simple graphical model to encapsulate the central policy arguments of the UNIPCC and the 2006 Stern Review. That is, there are policies that can be implemented that though costly, will be an order of magnitude less than the disastrous consequences of letting global temperatures rise unchecked. These consequences will not only affect the human race and for the rest of the planet. Use of this model allows analysis of the relative importance of various issues in devising policy and implementing global policies needed to achieve the consensus objectives.

The starting point for the analysis is to assume that two propositions are correct. First, that if we do nothing in two centuries global average temperatures will be at 5-10oC warmer than at present. Second, that there exists in theory a set of policies that will comfortably constrain CO2 emissions to prevent the atmospheric CO2 levels going above 600ppm and thus preventing global temperatures rising more than 2oC above current levels. I also start from a moral basis for policy that few will disagree with. Political action should only be taken if there is a reasonable expectation that the resulting outcome be a better situation than if no action was taken at all. The treatment, if not a full cure, should at least be expected to leave the patient in a better condition than without treatment. This, I would claim, is an absolute minimum requirement for action, as it can still leave moral dilemmas. For instance, if the policies cause the deaths of a million people, but prevents a 10% chance of 11 million people dying, then it is justified on this rule.

There are four parts to this explanation, which I will divide into separate blog postings. Part one, below, develops a graph replicating the standard consensus argument of the overwhelming consensus case for action. Part two addresses the issues with policy, relating this through movements in the policy curve. Part three evaluates the impacts of that warming, showing how changing the analysis of risk and time can radically change our perception of the costs. Part four brings these together for an overall conclusion, with indications of areas for further research.

The basis of the model is that global warming will create costly consequences, both for the human race and for the rest of the planet. Proposals to resolve this we also be costly. It is therefore to economics that we must turn to understand the issue from the top-down.

Part One – The Consensus Argument for Mitigation in Graphical Form

The following aims to replicate the mainstream consensus case of catastrophic climate change and the mitigation policies deemed necessary to combat it.

The Costly Consequences of Global Warming

We are already seeing some of the minor consequences of increasing greenhouse gases through disrupted climate. But the scientists tell us this will be as nothing compared to what will happen if greenhouse gases continue to increase unchecked for the next century or more. The large increases in temperature – around 4oC to 7oC or higher – would cause massive disruption to the climate system. It is fair to say that as global temperatures increase, these costs would increase exponentially. These “costs” are in the broadest sense. They are not just the human costs of property damage, failed harvests, population migrations and land being submerged by rising seas. These include the damage to the eco-systems and species extinction. Graphically it would look something like this.

There is no scale on this graph. It cannot be predicted how far temperatures will increase if the growth in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are not curtailed, nor at what point the catastrophic consequences will set in. What is essential to recognize is that allowing temperatures to increase will be many times worse than stabilizing that increase at lower temperatures. Without a check, it is near certain that the planet’s temperatures will climb to the top end of the graph with the level of costs predicted.

The Costs of Mitigation

The solution to the problem of climate change is to remove the cause of that change. To remove anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions totally would be hugely costly. The economic wealth of the rich countries is based upon fossil fuel energy consumption. Stop the energy consumption and you not only stop economic growth, but potentially cause economic collapse. Instead, there must be a rapid but orderly switch in energy use to clean energy sources. This may actually spur economic output as the switch is made, but is more likely to be costly, but have at most a negligible but negative impact on economic growth. Similarly, in the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India & China) economies, satisfying their rapidly-rising energy demands from carbon-neutral sources need not constrain their economic growth. Indeed for China and India real living standard could rise more rapidly, as the cities suffer less from the choking effects of the pollution from burning fossil fuels. How will these costs map out? To stop climate change now and reverse the impacts would be hugely costly. Even to stabilize emissions at current levels globally would be hugely expensive. In particular with China and India increasing their emission levels rapidly, to stabilize globally would require huge cuts elsewhere. Far less costly would be to stabilize at some higher level than at present.

The shape of the cost of mitigation graph can be represented like this.

The costs of doing little are very small, whilst those of stopping global warming in its tracks, or even reversing the warming that has already occurred, are huge. We are able to choose the policy to pursue.

The Combined Costs of Climate Change and Mitigation

Climate change will incur costs of CCI. Combating climate change involves mitigation costs M. For any temperature that stabilization is reached, the total costs TC will be CCI+M.

The question as to which level of policy to pursue now becomes clearer. A highly aggressive policy could be just as damaging as doing nothing. However, we are left with a large middle ground. By stabilizing the temperature increase from pre-industrial levels at around 2-3oC is generally thought to be where this middle ground lies. However, as there is some uncertainty as to what average temperature the worst effects of climate change start to come into play, a prudent policy is to aim at stabilization at the lower end of the temperature range. Prudent policy is at around point P.

Climate Change in Perspective Part 2 – The Mitigation Curve

Bishop Hill and Comment Moderation

BishopHill has been having problems with comment moderation.

The comments are getting completely out of hand. Once again, please do not call people names. Stay on topic. I’m simply snipping whole comments now, because I do not have time to edit our people’s poor behaviour.


Perhaps if people would have more courtesy towards their opponents they would start to understand the opposing arguments. Then they may contrast it with their own and moderate their views.

Dogmatically assuming that your side is right and by implication that the opposition are either betrays our own fallibility. It is only by demonstrating an overwhelming and coherent case that one can legitimately use this in current debates without appearing out of touch with reality.

We must remember that the burden of presenting the case is on the side those who say we must act to prevent catastrophic global warming
climate change climate disruption. That just not just mean showing the case for the science is, on balance, correct. Simplified it means

First to demonstrate that CO2 and other greenhouse gases can cause a bit of warming, and how much
Show that this small temperature rise will lead to an increase in water vapour at high level to cause massive positive feedbacks (despite negative feedbacks being the norm in science)
Show that this warming will be of massive net harm to humanity and the planet (and that neither human society, nor the other creatures, nor plants will be able to adapt – despite much evidence to the contrary).
Show that mitigation policies – carbon taxes, cap n’ trade, subsidies to “clean” energy – will reduce greenhouse gases in THEORY, so long as all countries participate.
Show that when most of the emerging nations, particularly China and India, do nothing to curb emissions, that curbing emissions in theory will still work for the OECD countries.
Show that the governments pursuing the policies are capable of delivering the theoretical results. That is only taking on policies that meet the cost criteria laid down by the IPCC or Stern. Then project managing in fine detail and quickly ending failing projects.

As well as making the case for each of Forecast, Consequences, Policy theory and policy Implementation (FCPI), it must be combined together to show that, on balance, there is an expectation that the policy outcome will be better than if nothing was done. I believe that it is only on the basis of extreme and untenable assumptions in ALL of these four areas that the current policies can be justified.

My concern is that the “consensus” quickly grasps onto obscure bits of detail, or fine points of theory, or relies on prestige and opinion when challanged. Alternatively they question the motives of the critics.

GM Food can prevent Global Hunger – but not as part of a Global Plan

According to the Telegraph today, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s recognizes that genetically modified foods are part of the solution to growing population and climate change. He has a point, but only if Government’s do not create a plan. If climate change happens, it will happen in ways that we have not predicted. It will not be in more frequent category five hurricanes in the Caribbean, nor the sudden disappearance of the Amazon through a dramatic drop in precipitation, nor the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melting one summer (causing a four metre rise in sea levels), nor permanent drought in Eastern Australia, nor the shrinkage of water supplies in Northern India through the rapid disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. If it does happen, the form of rapid climate change will probably have not been predicted. We could develop drought resistant crops for areas that get higher rainfall, or disease resistant crops where we get drought. The best policy to alleviate hunger is to stop doing anything that may cause it. There are two things that have caused hunger in the last century.

  1. Collectivization and State Planning. The vast majority of deaths through starvation in the twentieth century were due to this cause, including 5 million under Lenin’s Soviet Union, 8 million under Stalin, 1-3 million under the current North Korean dictatorship in the 1990s and 20 million plus as a result of Mao’s Great Leap Forward
  2. War such as the Second World War, or the war in Congo in the 1990s have lead to mass hunger as well.

The best way to prevent famine is to have a peaceful, integrated world economy, where every nation has developed far enough for only a small proportion of the national output to be devoted to food production for consumption within the nation. In consumption terms it means a small proportion of average disposable incomes being spent on food. That implies globalization and free trade to foster economic growth.

Government’s and International Agencies, in meeting future needs, should first aim to do no harm. In the last few years world food prices have more than doubled, adversely affecting the non-farming world’s poor. A contributing factor is the impact is the competition from bio fuels, especially ethanol. This could become more significant if rapid climate change reduces global food production capacity.

Update – on a similar theme, Haunting the Library takes George Monbiot to task in a 2002 prophecy that there would be starving inten years if we did not all become vegans.


Boris Johnson spoils a good polemic on Fuel Costs

Boris Johnson is in great form in today’s Telegraph on the escalating cost of fuel. However, he is wide of the mark on the costs side.

The cost of the fuel for deliveries does not impact not through greatly price of goods in the shops. Our distribution systems are fairly efficient – though the low volumes to small shops proportionately big impact than deliveries to Tescos or Sainsburys.

It is on the consumer that this pays a larger impact, but less than you might think. Take somebody with a 1995 petrol Toyota Previa living in London and doing 5000 miles per year at around 18mpg. That is 278 gallons per annum, or 1264 litres. With petrol at £1.29 per litre, that is £1630 per year. That seems a lot. But add in £1000+ for maintenance and the MOT, £1000+ for insurance (if a VIP it gets quite steep), £200 tax, and £200 for depreciation, then it is not a huge cost. Trading in for a more modern monster could make our jolly Mayor worse off. Spending £15,000 on a secondhand Galaxy Diesel will save on fuel, the occasional big maintenance bills, maybe nothing on the insurance, but will cost £2000+ more on depreciation.

Consider also

The electric revolution is happening, but it will not be overnight. The up-front cost of the vehicles remains high, and there is still no electric people carrier. For the foreseeable future, millions of people will have to invest not just in a car but in an overpriced lagoon of fossil fuel.

The reason that the costs of fuelling electric cars are so much cheaper is that the only taxes for domestic customers are the additional 5% VAT.  The excise duty and petrol, plus the 20% VAT add more than 100% to the cost. They may be more fuel efficient because they are so much lighter. Furthermore, a new electric car can only have a comparable cost to an efficient diesel with huge subsidies. If you look at the true cost per mile excluding tax and subsidies, then it would be twice the cost. And the cost distinction will get worse not better. The chemicals in the batteries are scarce, so the phenomenal push for electric cars will push up the costs of the chemicals exponentially. And this government does not help – the ConLib Coalition one. The government’s plans for new “alternative” electricity supplies will push up real costs by at least 30% in coming years and even more when it cannot keep up with the extra demand.

       The worst part is the government finances. When Mayor Johnson gets his electric people carrier, he will deny his government £800 a year in taxes, have a subsidy of £5,000 from the worse off to help pay for it and still be out of pocket. Oh – and the people carrier will be more Meriva than Previa in size.

Why China will not Constrain it’s CO2 Emissions

There is an interesting and simple explanation of why it is not possible for the West to emulate China’s growth rates at the ASI Blog. This is basically Robert Solow’s exogenous growth model – that is explained graphically at Wikipedia. China is increasing it’s output per capita by increasing it’s capital per worker on by moving up the current technological production frontier. They are still on the lower part of the curve, so the returns to substituting capital goods for labour are quite large. The western countries are at the top end, so returns can only come from moving to a higher technological boundary.

This does not explain all of the phenomenally high growth rates of China against the West. A clue is that it is not the traditional manufacturing industries that China is entering, such as steel, shipbuilding and textiles. It is also the production of the latest high-tech gadgets invented in the West. The reason is that the time taken in turning prototype to mass production is much quicker in China, due to a lack of regulations and statutory planning consents. Yet most of the profits from the last innovations come before anyone can replicate them. A saving of a few months or weeks for the latest mobile phone or digital camera can mean the difference between millions sold at very high margin and tens of thousands sold at a much lower margin.

China’s high growth rates are also accompanied by a rapid increase in energy production. Much of this comes from coal and oil. The advantage of fossil fuel over clean energy is primarily one of cost, but there is time and convenience as well. Coal is based on well-established technologies and China has large reserves of its own, as well as cheap and reliable supplies from elsewhere. Oil-fired power stations are easy to turn on and off. Against this nuclear power stations take a long time to build (and longer to de-commission), along with higher unit costs. Wind power and solar power are highly expensive, and have an extreme mismatch between the timing of the power supply and power demand. Hydro is limited in availability, takes a long time to build, and (like the Three Gorges or the Itaipu dams) cause environmental damage and the displacement of large numbers of people. To constrain China’s growth in energy will create a slowing down in the ability of China’s entrepreneurs to create new output, and therefore constrain a major advantage of manufacturing in China. The Chinese officials will attend the Climate Summits, smile politely and undermine any binding global commission agreements. It is not out of obstinacy that they do it. Rather they understand that the potential costs of constraint far outweigh any benefits.

BBC Horizon gives a one-sided explanation of temperature

I saw the Horizon programme last night on “What is One Degree?” Ben Miller returned to his physicist routes to explain why a small rise in global temperatures is significant. There was some interesting science, but it fell apart towards the end when it came to explaining how one degree is significant. Using shifts in a binomial distribution curve it was explained that

“You only have to move the average temperature up a bit for the number of stinking hot days to become much more frequent.”

What was not explained was the implication for the other end of the distribution. The number of extremely cold days will become much rarer. For Britain, where snow is fairly infrequent, it could easily become a thing of the past. The cold spell twelve months ago, and December being the coldest in the 352 years that the Central England Temperature Record has been in existence are simply not possible. Especially at the Met Office were repeating this forecast just twelve months ago.

Before you get all skeptical, there is something that salvages the global warming case. The scientific consensus has long stated that climate change will disrupt the planetary weather systems. Therefore, the distribution of temperature will not just have a peak that will shift to the right, the distribution will also broaden. It may broaden sufficiently that there could be more extreme cold weather than extreme hot weather events. Along with this there will be more extreme weather events like hurricanes, tornados, flooding and droughts.

The problem with this is that the prediction of more hurricanes has not occurred. The 2010 season was one of the quietest on record. The forecast drier climate in Queensland seems to have gone a bit adrift as well.

In analyzing our extremely varied climate, whether British or Global, one has to look for instances that contradict out hypotheses as well as confirming instances. Otherwise you get a distorted picture of what is actually happening, and an exaggerated view of the human influences.