Monday, September 06, 2010

Tea parties, corruption and climate change

At end August in Musings on the changing world of blogging, I talked about changes in our little blogging community. Thomas responded in Rebuilding the village. Since then he has had a very interesting series of posts on the US elections, with a special focus on the Tea Party Movement.

Thomas writes from a particular perspective, but he certainly educates me.

In Life with remorseless forceps beckoning, Marcellous deals with absent-mindedness, something that I am prone to too. In Corruption, Marcellous looks at at a small but intriguing case of apparent corruption within the NSW system; the problem appears to be not so much the action as the apparent denial of the action.

In a reasoned piece on Skepticslawyer, Climate change, scepticism and elitism Legal Eagle discussed her views on climate change in the context of a forthcoming SBS Insight program in which she participated. Marcellous responded in $50 a month. My own position can be summarised this way:

  1. Like LE, I have been concerned at the way in which a polarised debate blocks out alternative views.
  2. On the balance of probabilities, my feeling is that climate change is a real issue that needs to be dealt with now, although I have expressed frustration at the way (at least as I perceive it) polarisation limits discussion on possible responses.
  3. It is clear that any form of action has costs whose impact will be differential; different people will be affected in different ways. The analysis of costs is essentially a factual one. Here, again, I would argue that the current debate is superficial. Crudely, one side wants to present costs as minimal, the other to present maximised costs.
  4. My feeling has been that the cost issue has actually been the real elephant in the room. Look at the NSW electricity price discussion as an example. To many households, the proposed cost increases linked to climate change action were quite worrying. In combination, the potential rise in costs is far more than an average of $50 per month per household.
  5. Once the pattern of cost increases associated with particular responses or combination of responses has been analysed, then and only then can social equity issues be properly analysed.

This post is meant to be a blog round-up, so my apologies for inserting my own views. However, I simply couldn't resist on this issue.

Turning to other matters, Neil Whitfield (Ninglun) has been much involved with his move from inner city Sydney down to the Illawarra.  We can see the influence already. His latest post, Bravo, Richard Harrison, quotes the Illawarra Mercury, not a paper referred to before!

In a comment on Thomas's blog, I described Neil as the godfather of our internet village. This led to a series of related comments. I think that Neil was worried that he might find a horse's head in his bed! Still, that was actually the godfather's response, so I don't think that the rest of us need to be worried!

My real point about Neil, though, lay in the way he interlinked a variety of bloggers and thus helped from the village.

Well, I am into working hours and have a lot to do. More later. 


Anonymous said...

Hello Jim

Yes - I wondered about "the potential rise in costs is far more than an average of $50 per month per household" that too.

It would be really interesting to read your take on the possible economic effect of the various responses; we (the people) could do with some calm, informed commentary, but it just seems somehow impossible to even ask the question, without falling foul of the believers.

Your characterisation of it as "the real elephant in the room" is a serious worry, but I will await with honest interest any contribution you might care to make.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi KVD. I really feel very unconfident on this one in terms of my own analytical abilities as well as the evidence. If we rely on direct measures, then the cost comes from the budget. If we put a price on carbon, then the cost effects depend upon the nature of the price.

Let me take an example to illustrate the conundrums that arise.

A carbon price will increase demand for less intensive carbon energy sources. Demand for coal should fall. As a consequence, coal prices should fall, thus increasing coal usage. So we get an increase in prices to the consumer, but not necessarily the reduction in coal usage that we might expect. Coal prices fall to the point that coal price plus carbon cost equals alternatives.

This is on an Australian model excluding the world. Because I don't understand, I will risk things and try my hand at some very simplistic first pass analysis.

Anonymous said...

Jim that's quite a worrying example, except I go back to your oft-repeated comment about "the sum of the projected parts exceeds the whole" and would therefore comment that your simple example posits increased use of alternates, coupled with consequent increased use of coal.

I know it is not a totally closed system, but shouldn't there be some overrider that the coal+alternates does not exceed total demand?

Anyway, as you say - not simple.


Jim Belshaw said...

Sorry, KVD. In the example I gave, supply would still equal demand. It's just that the price effects mean that the fall in coal usage, the rise in alternative energy, might be less than expected.

I was also dealing with a closed system. Most of our coal goes overseas. Less usage here means a bit more for the export market. so overall coal prices fall.

Lower prices means more coal usage elsewhere. So any reduction in use here is offset. We pay a price in higher energy costs while planet CO2 is unaffected.

Anonymous said...

Jim I missed your qualification about an "Australian model". My apologies. But I don't resile from accepting the good sense of your comment (globally) about the sum of the parts should not exceed the whole. In fact, with such a large subject as climate change it would seem more appropriate to disregard our small national inputs/effects.

I wouldn't feel at all comfortable if (economically speaking) we assumed we could somehow export the problem, and proceeded on that basis - not that you are suggesting that in any way.

On the other hand, maybe the logical result of your comments is that the parts (the nations of the world) may well combine to exceed the whole? Now that really would be a worry.


Anonymous said...

Jim - sorry about my niggling away. Please feel free to ignore.

I just keep going back to my initial reaction to LE's post: that we humans are now witnessing significant climate change - some of which has been contributed to by our actions. And that, although we may succeed in mitigating some of the effects, we are kidding ourselves if we continue to believe we can "fix it".

I would much prefer to think about planning gradual change towards living with the new conditions.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi KVD. Feel free to niggle away!

Do you know the term from game theory prisoner's dilemma? This is such a case. If all countries act together, the whole world will be better off. However, if most of the world acts and a few countries don't, those countries will gain maximum benefits. If no one acts, all are worse off.

In the classic prisoner's dilemma, no prisoner knows what the other prisoners will do. They have to guess, so the analogy is not an exact one. However, the dynamics are similar.

I agree that a fix is difficult and that, consequently, mediation action will be necessary. However, there are (as I see it) some pretty silly ideas around at the moment in this area.

Studying prehistory gives me one advantage, I guess, if one wants to write a disaster scenario. There are some past examples to draw from.

Legal Eagle said...

I would much prefer to think about planning gradual change towards living with the new conditions.

So glad I'm not the only one, KVD! And yes, I'm going to send you the account of profits stuff...for your interest!

Anonymous said...


Comment buried way back here, but hopefully you will see this. I've been doing some 'niggling' because I just do (that sort of thing).

Have a look at this graphical representation of CO2 over the past few decades:

which needed several replays before I got a sense of it, and also could use a 'pause' at the end.

Maybe it's just me, but I really do get a better sense of things when so presented.