Economists – A Poverty of Reason…

September 21, 2010

Joe Romm reviews a funny topical book by “environmental” economist Matthew Kahn, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future


A key “thesis” of this book is that people will just move to northern cities and be fine. To see how poorly thought out this notion is just start searching the book on Amazon for northern cities. Yes, the obvious first choice is Moscow, where you will learn on page 7 … wait for it … “Moscow is unlikely to suffer from extreme heat waves.” Talk about your badly timed books

Epic facepalm…
But he’s an economist, after all. Economists say stuff like

There are no … limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn’t a risk of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit, is a profound error…

Larry Summers, 1991, then World Bank’s chief economist, currently Director of the White House National Economic Council for President Barack Obama… ooops…
[Update: Summers returns to Harvard 21.Sept.2010]

Suppose that, as a result of using up all the world’s resources, human life did come to an end. So what? What is so desirable about an indefinite continuation of the human species, religious convictions apart?

— Wilfred Beckerman, 1975, author of A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth (2002)


Not carbon negative, no Bodhisattva. Not carbon negative, no sangha.

August 28, 2010

These are the two hindrances to serious Buddhism that are forced upon us inescapably at this unique moment in the histories of civilization, of the hominids, and above all in the history of life at large – with historiographic orders of temporal extension ranging from a century, across the Holocene (now gone) and across the recent periods of glaciations, perhaps down to microbial times of life, certainly embracing the history of mammals…

You know what I’m talking about… Earth is no longer flat. It is seriously out of whack, particularly its carbon cycle. Suddenly we can no longer afford hominid navel gazing. Is and Ought are no longer disconnected. We need to make serious contact with the ground of Being

This very century we have both the past and the future of Life in our hands. On the one hand it will be decided how much of millions of years of Mother Evolution’s hard work will get wasted and rendered vain in the 6th Great Extinction whose beginning we now witness. On the other hand it is down to our survival or our extinction and the stupid we perpetrate on the way to either, or not, if Mother Evolution needs and gets a second chance, perhaps only to fail again, fatally then, by evolving the same insane “sapiens” once more… Time and chance is finite: The sun grows hotter.

So, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Stephen & Martine Batchelor, Joanna Macy, etc. etc. can’t be bodhisattvas? (They might be compensating their air travel carbon footprint by contributing to forestry. This is good but ultimately only greenhouse-non-positive.)

So, what is missing? Why can’t they be bodhisattas? They could, if there were a carbon negative sangha. For, the challenge of our time need not be burdened individually. Some fossil carbon is worth being burnt.

But is there any way?

From Bellamy et al.:

More than twice as much carbon is held in soils as in vegetation or the atmosphere, and changes in soil carbon content can have a large effect on the global carbon budget.

Massive reforestation alone would not solve the climate problem. But a massive build-up of soil could help. The key to the future (if Homo S “Sapiens” is any interested) would be a carbon negative agriculture building soil instead of destroying it. (Plus, trivially, cease burning fossil carbon.) There is a simple stone age tech tool that helps a lot in that effort: Char coal. A bodhisattva dwelling in a Himalayan cave could instantly go carbon negative by just peeing into his fire place (to the dismay of Sigmund Freud) every evening and mix the char into the compost…

News from Doomtown

August 7, 2010


Meanwhile it looks the Gaia system is leaving its Holocene balance and inexorably heading to a hot state. The writing is on the wall since a few years, visible for everybody, e.g. Arctic ice shrinkage. This is complemented contrastly by record forest fires and record floods each year. Then there are less visible signs (for you city folk :)), like the bark beetle’s march northward, the expansion of the tropical belt, etc. etc.

This year has particularly bad news related to climate change which I will collect here. Your suggestions and links would be very welcome.

I won’t list standard ecologic disasters, like the ongoing destruction of ocean ecosystems. The news shall be about positive feedbacks in the Gaia system which accelerate and amplify climate change. Given these, things are perhaps out of control meanwhile (more detail in the Afterthought below) — but of course that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel and give up on trying to make things less worse: Nature cries ever louder for reductions of fossil carbon emissions and of hominid population and footprint.

It has been said this is the perfect moral storm. For the first time in the history of our species Nature, not “God”, poses a crucial moral challenge. In my view the defining challenge to Homo S “Sapiens”. (For a broader view on science as a foundation of morality, see Sam Harris’ talk.)   — I will come back to this in a different part of this blog.

How do we live with the fact that we are destroying our world? Joanna Macy has advice in her article The Greatest Danger:

When we open our eyes to what is happening, even when it breaks our hearts, we discover our true size; for our heart, when it breaks open, can hold the whole universe.


Now for the news:

• Ocean greenery under warming stress

From Nature news, July 28, 2010:

Phytoplankton are the basis of the entire marine food chain, and have an important role in the global carbon cycle. Through photosynthesis, they produce around half of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere and drive the ‘biological pump’ that fixes 100 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide a day into organic material, which then sinks to the ocean floor when the phytoplankton die, or are grazed and digested.
The scientists found that the average global phytoplankton concentration in the upper ocean currently declines by around 1% per year. Since 1950 alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to ocean warming — and the decline has gathered pace in recent years.

“Clearly, 40% is a huge number,” says Paul Falkowski, an oceanographer at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “This implies that the entire ocean system is out of steady state, slowing down.”

Emphasis mine: The not emphasized “probably” is due to lower statistical correlation in the Arctic:

In most regions tested, the phytoplankton decline seems to be the result of a 0.5–1.0 °C warming of the upper ocean over the past century. The warming leads to enhanced vertical ‘stratification’ of ocean layers, thus limiting the supply of nutrients from deeper waters to the surface.

But ocean warming does not explain reduced productivity in regions, including the Arctic Ocean, where algal growth is mainly constrained by sunlight. So scientists must try to find out what other drivers,

…perhaps ocean acidification, which is more pronounced in cold Arctic waters? We will see when the results of a recent expedition to Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard come in.

Next to the obvious positive feedback on CO2 absorption, there is probably another one due to reduced cloud formation according to the Anti-CLAW hypothesis — something Lovelock has warned of in his 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia.


• The Great Russian Heat Wave and Fires of 2010

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, August 6 2010:

One of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime is unfolding this summer in Russia, where an unprecedented heat wave has brought another day of 102°F heat to the nation’s capital. At 3:30 pm local time today, the mercury hit 39°C (102.2°F) at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport. Moscow had never recorded a temperature exceeding 100°F prior to this year, and today marks the second time the city has beaten the 100°F mark. The first time was on July 29, when the Moscow observatory recorded 100.8°C and Baltschug, another official downtown Moscow weather site, hit an astonishing 102.2°F (39.0°C). Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow’s history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today. The 2010 average July temperature in Moscow was 7.8°C (14°F) above normal, smashing the previous record for hottest July, set in 1938 (5.3°C above normal.) July 2010 also set the record for most July days in excess of 30°C–twenty-two. The previous record was 13 such days, set in July 1972. The past 24 days in a row have exceeded 30°C in Moscow, and there is no relief in sight–the latest forecast for Moscow calls for high temperatures near 100°F (37.8°C) for the next seven days. It is stunning to me that the country whose famous winters stopped the armies of Napoleon and Hitler is experiencing day after day of heat near 100°F, with no end in sight.

And then they got forest and peat bog fires… [wikipedia], [ Aug. 6 2010], …
Smoke over western Russia on 4 August 2010
[· Smoke over western Russia on 4 August 2010 ·]

Moscow shrouded in smoke
[· Moscow shrouded in smoke ·]

Reuters news, August 9, 2010: Death rate doubles in Moscow (from between 360 and 380 people per day in normal times to 700).

Are the current events in Russia “because of” “global warming”?

Quoth Anonymous at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, regarding the Great Australian Heat Wave and Fires of 2009:

Given that this was the hottest day on record on top of the driest start to a year on record on top of the longest driest drought on record on top of the hottest drought on record the implications are clear…

It is clear to me that climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of “climate change increased the chances of an event” to “without climate change this event could not have occured

Why are forest fires a positive feedback? We are witnessing rapid climate change! Forest regrowth (i.e. recapture of released carbon) takes a few decades – too slow.

Anyhow, in Russia also the dried peat bogs are burning. Peat is a fossil fuel. Whatever Finnland says.


• First drought, then floods in Pakistan

January 22, 2010: President Asif Ali Zardari prays for rain.

From, February 1, 2010:

Director General of Pakistan’s Meteorology Department, Qamar Zaman Chaudhary, confirmed the existence of a “severe agricultural drought” in rain-fed areas that could lead to crop failure. […] “Normally we get winter rains from November to April, but due to the El Nino phenomenon, we are experiencing less than 30 percent (of usual) rains this season”, said Chaudhary. […] The prevailing dry spell is in its fourth month and has caught Pakistan largely off guard. The country does not have any big reservoirs except the Tarbela and Mangla dams. […]

February 09: Rain Ends Drought Conditions. But it seems not enough: National Geographic has a photo gallery: Amid Drought, Pakistan Prays for Rain, published July 1.

May 26, 2010: Temperatures reach record high in Pakistan:

Mohenjo-daro, a ruined city in what is now Pakistan that contains the last traces of a 4,000-year-old civilisation that flourished on the banks of the river Indus, today entered the modern history books after government meteorologists recorded a temperature of 53.7C (129F).

July — August 2010:
The deadliest flooding in Pakistan’s history kills over 1,600 people, affecting around twelve million. (…)

Mosharraf Zaidi says:

Just to give you a sense of how bad the rain was that caused this flooding initially, on the 28th of July, there was 318 millimeters of rain just on one day. To put that into context, the record, all-time record, for rain in Peshawar, which is where this number is from, for one month, the month of July, was 217 millimeters. So it rained more in one day than it had ever rained in an entire month for the monsoon season.


Why is this a positive feedback? – Dried soil getting washed away results in less plant growth, less photosynthesis, thus less carbon fixation. It gets particilarly bad when ashes of forest fires get washed in the sea (Greece, Canary Islands, California, etc.) Still, this is not yet as bad as the huge decrease of ocean phytoplancton. (Independently of that there’s evidence coming in that soils start releaing more CO2: Higher temperature, higher soil metabolism.)


• Greenland: Petermann glacier recedes further

August 05 2010.

A U.S. politician quips:

An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country.

The size is at least 260 sq km (100 sq miles). Jason E. Box tells Andy Revkin:

Petermann is a sleeping giant that is slowly awakening. Removing flow resistance leads to flow acceleration.

For detail on Petermann glacier see Mauri Pelto’s blog. Great animated image of the breakup at Neven’s blog.

In July, the calving front of Jakobshavn Isbræ retreated nearly 1.5 km (1 mile) in one day. Neven’s blog post has excellent images.

Greenland ice sheet faces ‘tipping point in 10 years’.


•NASA reports hottest January-July on record,

says that 2010 is “likely” to be warmest year on record and July is “What Global Warming Looks Like”. Joe Romm’s synopsis.

17 countries record record high temperatures:

Belarus, 7 August, 38.9C (102F) at Gomel
Ukraine, 1 August, 41.3C (106.3F), Lukhansk, Voznesensk
Cyprus, 1 August, 46.6C (115.9F), Lefconica
Finland, 29 July, 37.2C (99F), Joensuu
Qatar, 14 July, 50.4C (122.7F), Doha airport
Russia, 11 July, 44.0C (111.2F), Yashkul
Sudan, 25 June, 49.6C (121.3F), Dongola
Niger, 22 June, 47.1C (116.8F), Bilma
Saudi Arabia, 22 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Jeddah
Chad, 22 June, 47.6C (117.7F), Faya
Kuwait, 15 June, 52.6C (126.7F), Abdaly
Iraq, 14 June, 52.0C (125.6F), Basra
Pakistan, 26 May, 53.5C (128.3F), Mohenjo-daro
Burma, 12 May, 47C (116.6F), Myinmu
Ascension Island, 25 March, 34.9C (94.8F), Georgetown
Solomon Islands, 1 February, 36.1C (97F), Lata Nendo
Colombia, 24 January, 42.3C (108F), Puerto Salgar

There was one record low: Guinea, in west Africa, recorded 1.4C (34.5F) in January.


•Drought Drives Decade-Long Decline in Plant Growth

August 19, 2010. NASA has bad news on productivity of terrestrial vegetation – and an excellent video.

These results […] show that the global net effect of climatic warming on the productivity of terrestrial vegetation need not be positive — as was documented for the 1980’s and 1990’s

And now for something completely different:

•A positive feedback in the science-reality system

August 27, 2010, 6:19 pm:
Andy Revkin reports on Pacific Hot Spells Shifting as Predicted in Human-Heated World and interviews scientists T. Lee and M. J. McPhaden on their paper, Increasing intensity of El Niño in the central-equatorial Pacific, published 24 July 2010.

And just on time mother Nature gives us a practical example of what this means:
August 19, 2010: Jakarta Globe reports ‘Super-Extreme’ Weather Is the Worst on Record. Michael Tobis regards this another substantial climatological anomaly.

I hesitate linking to Andy’s NY Times blog, because he tends to also give a platform to BS science (Pielke Jr., Lomborg, …) and even the intentional disinformers (P. Michaels). Well, at least he’s above Monckton and has excellent resources and contact to science. Once he got struck by one of my Internets aphorisms and made a slogan of it:

August 4, 2008, 8:24 am
Are We Stuck With ‘Blah, Blah, Blah, … Bang’?

I was struck by a comment that followed my latest piece on cutting disaster risks, reacting to this line: “Only direct experience seems to trigger change.”

Yeah. It seems Homo S “Sapiens” at large needs to first get hit by the wall before changing path. There will be always someone debating (denying) the science (evidence) of walls and bricks. We can’t falsify the theory about that wall ahead, so it’s no science, blah, blah, blah, … bang. — Florifulgurator (Dadaist, Germany)

Hihihi… Click here for the article and my comment elaborating multidimensional jelly bricks…
Alas, methinks sometimes Andy’s world class blog gives fodder to the Blah. This today is inexcuseable – except for good informational journalism which due to the public forum often results in a tightrope walk balancing out “both sides of the argument” — Except with stuff concerning reality there is only one valid side. And here, journalism risks serving as a positive feedback in the system of hominid collective delusion and dementia…

For a paradigmatic example of what I mean, see Fox Clears Everything Up Tonight, Friday, August 27, 2010. — For the sake of balance, from the day before: Global Warming ‘Alarmist’ Heidi Cullen ‘Refrightens’ Stephen Colbert .


(To be continued)


Why can we meanwhile safely forget about Holocene climate?
(Heuristics to be written …)

Who is Mars Joh. Pictor Florifulgurator?

July 12, 2010

Portrait des Meisters im selbstgemalten Anzug (ca. 1999)
[· Portrait of the Master in Selfpainted Suit ·]
(© Martin Gisser ca. 1999)


I am not Jupiter Fulgurator (the lighning bolt throwing god). Florifulgurator means “Man fulgurating flowers”, fulguratio being emergence in Konrad Lorenz’ language.

Once in pre-Internets age I got named Florifundator by my friend Glorionestus Vastarius von Teisenberg…


Dianthus Deltoides, wild and cultivar
Dianthus deltoides: Wild (pink) and cultivar (red). Dunno if the busy bumble bee brought in the genes of the wild one – or perhaps it just back-fulgurated from the cultivar. The wild one is much more beautiful and blooms longer. The cultivar is missing the characteristic white spots. A typical product of Homo S “Sapiens”. Why do they produce and sell such BS? (Update: Blume des Jahres 2012)

I don’t actually fulgurate flowers. I let them fulgurate by providing them opportunities to do so. Same goes with brain stuff.


I learned the term “fulguratio” from Konrad Lorenz’ charming book Behind the Mirror: A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge (1973). At least the German original is a charming read. Excerpt:

Theistic philosophers and mystics in the Middle Ages invented the term fulguratio to denote the act of creation. By an etymological accident or perhaps through deeper, unsuspected associations, this term is far more appropriate than … for designating the coming into existence of something previously not there. If for example, two independent systems are coupled together … entirely new, unexpected system characteristics will emerge of whose appearance there was previously not the slightest suggestion.

Lorenz then illustrates this with coupling a coil and a capacitor to “fulgurate” an oscillator. Well, that’s perhaps not a perfect example, since the oscillator’s characteristics are to be expected from the theory of electrodynamics.

In his famous article “More is Different” (1972) P.W. Anderson gives some more elaborate examples… Here is a paper giving a mathematically rigorous example: “More is Really Different” (2008). Quote:

The question of whether some macroscopic laws may be fundamental statements about nature or may be deduced from some ‘theory of everything’ remains a topic of debate among scientists [S. Weinberg, R.B. Laughlin]. In this article we strengthen Anderson’s claims by proving that standard notions of reductionism cannot generally hold in a widely studied class of collective systems, the infinite square Ising lattice. We show that for a large class of macroscopic observables, including many of physical interest, the value of those observables is formally undecidable, i.e., cannot generally be computed from the fundamental interactions in the lattice.

Stuart A. Kauffman also makes the case for emergence (in the strong resp. ontologic sense) . He has a short essay, “Beyond reductionism: Reinventing the sacred” (2006) and a similarly titled book (2008), not yet read (like many others) — I will come back to this in a different part of this blog.