Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. But I can't by law give you advice, and I do make mistakes. Remember: the unexpected sometimes happens. Oddly enough, the expected does too, but all too often it takes longer than you thought it would, or on the other hand happens more quickly than you expected. The Goddess of Markets punishes (eventually) greed, folly, laziness and arrogance. No matter how many years you've served Her. Take care. Be humble. And don't blame me.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Climate change is crap

Our esteemed PM, the Cane Toad, is on record as saying that "climate change is crap".

I was trying to work out why the Right is so hostile to the very concept of climate change.  But before I get there, I think it's worth summing up how I, a non-scientist but a reasonably intelligent thinker, see things.  Let me sum it up.

1) We have known that the world is much warmer than it should be since Fourier (1824).  He stated that the world was warmer than it would be in a vacuum.  It was left to later scientists to work out why.  By the way, that's nearly 200 years ago.  Global warming is not some recently concocted unhinged communist plot.

2) Arrhenius, in 1896 forecast global warming would occur as the amount of CO2 rose in the atmosphere as by then the "blanketing effect" of CO2 and the physics of light/EM spectrum refraction/dispersal were clearly understood.  He forecast that a doubling of CO2 would lead to a 5-6 C increase in global temperature, only he thought it would take thousands of years.

3) Since his time, the measurement of atmospheric CO2 has improved greatly.  It is a matter of scientific measurement that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen steadily since the industrial age began. Recently the concentration of atmospheric CO2 passed the 400 ppm mark, the highest it's been for hundreds of thousands of years.

4) Although we are not sure how much warming will result from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 we are sure it will warm.  The earliest models in the 70s suggested 2 degrees C, not quite as alarming as Arrhenius' calculation but still bad enough.  In 1979 the US NRC estimated somewhere between 2 and 3.5 C rise.  The models since then have provided different answers, pretty much between those extremes, with a bias towards the lower end, depending on their estimation of the impacts of aerosols (which reduce warming by reflecting incoming infra red radiation back into space) and other global warming gases like CFCs which are far more potent than CO2 but are also far less abundant.   But all the answers suggest that temps will rise, the only debate is by how much.

5) And in fact --- surprise! --- it is a fact of scientific measurement that global temperatures have  risen since the 1850s.  It is a fact, etc, that glaciers have retreated, that the Arctic ice cover has retreated, that the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps are melting, the sea level has risen, and recent analysis suggest that this process has accelerated.

How simple is that?  Even Tony Abbott could understand that.

You can read an excellent summary of the steadily increasing understanding of our climate and of climate change here.   What is abundantly clear is that we have gone step by step from ignorance through to deeper insight, and at each stage of the way, since this was science not religion, at each stage, there were doubts and alternative theories,  and new evidence changed scientists' minds.

Here is a record of forecasts made and results subsequently confirmed.

The chart below is a simplified version of the chart from this post, and I've fitted a moving average to smooth out the data spikes.

Source.  Smoothed by me, using 13 term Henderson curve

There is now an overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that global warming exists and is anthropogenic, i.e., caused by mankind.

So why is the Right so dead against this consensus?  The reason these nongs persist with their piffle is that for them it has become part of the culture war.  The Left "believes in" global warming, it advocates collective (i.e., "socialist" action, how we laughed) so therefore it is to be vigorously opposed by the Right, not because of logic, not because they are correct, but just because.  Not that the cheques from "think tanks" funded by demented plutocrats and coalminers hurt.   Our own prime minister, Cane Toad Tony, is of that ilk, still fighting the adolescent battles of uni now he is in power.  What a tool.

The good news to set against this shameful, dishonest and damaging campaign run by the global warming denialists  is that the ever declining prices of solar power (both PV and CSP); the precipitous fall in battery costs, and the slower but inexorable decline in wind power costs will make it -- has already made it in some places -- cheaper to switch to renewables than to continue with coal.  Moreover, the world's largest emitter (China) has taken a high-level commitment to reduce the energy intensity of GDP dramatically and will cap and then cut CO2 emissions.  Their suddenly found moral fervour is greatly helped by the fact that renewables are now close to grid parity.

It will be very hard for the unhinged Right to stand in the way of market forces though no doubt they will try.

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