How the Light Gets In, philosophy and music festival 24-27 May 2019

These are some notes from the festival How the Light Gets In, held in Hay on Wye 24-27 May 2019. The festival’s starting point is philosophy, although the talks cover a wide range of subjects including science and politics.

I’ve included the short talk description from the festival programme in italics at the beginning of each summary (unfortunately the programme is no longer available online).

Mark Salter: The Meaning of Pain

Have we got pain wrong? Is something awry with how we understand suffering? Consultant psychiatrist Mark Salter draws from his experience treating patients to make the case that the West has made a mistake.

Pain is a complex thing. Like the word love, pain has several meanings. It is a sense, an alarm mechanism at the level of the body. Another meaning of pain is experience. The famouns quote from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenena says it “All happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Our pain defines who we are.

The third meaning of pain is as a social language communicator. It tells you about your relation to the world. When a woman gives birth she experiences extreme pain, but then when she cuddles her baby the pain is forgotten – the baby modifies the experience. Pain is a teacher.

Different experts see pain differently. Psychiatrists are lucky in they can get to know the whole person.

Acute pain and chronic pan are quite different. Acute pain causes us to call for help, and others to give it. Chronic pain causes depression and resignation. It is a terrible thing. 

We can experience pain from seeing the external world, for example tsunamis, earthquakes, wars. Also from experiencing other people – hell is other people, when you don’t agree with them.

The emotional part of the brain is next to the remembering part of the brain. Remembering is emotional.

Increasing fear in the world (e.g. from Brexit and climate change) is freezing our ability to act. “Fear like frost will freeze the stuff of thought.’.

What can we do about it? Stop over communicating, don’t reach for your phone the first second you wake up. When trolled, understand the person doing the trolling is in pain. For 5 minutes a day put your phone down and watch a tree. Watch how you feel. What are you doing? Saving the planet. Practise being uncomfortable in tiny amounts. Sit still. Listen to the pain and sadness in your body. Find people you disagree with. Talk to them. Reach out. Stay with it. Feel hunger and enjoy feeling it.

Pain is a great teacher, listen to it. [During the Q&A a GP asked a question about the link between mental and physical pain. The answer was that 60% of visits to the GP are related to unexplained pain, a large proportion of which have a mental component related to lifestyle.]

Linda Yueh: The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today

Economist and former BBC chief business correspondent Professor Linda Yueh looks at the thinking of the great economists who changed the world and asks how their ideas can help us tackle issues such as Brexit, globalisation and Trumpism as discussed in The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today.

This talk was based on her book about the “great” economists. She suggested that the ideas from these economists could help us solve the big challenges of today. These are:

And

An observant reader might spot a tiny omission from this list. Climate change. She didn’t mention it in her talk either, and I must have been in holiday mode as I didn’t notice until after, and had to go back and check my photos of her slides that it wasn’t on there. So it’s not clear whether she thinks either that climate change is not one of today’s great economic challenges, or that great economists have nothing to teach us about it.

She told the interesting story of why Irving Fisher is not more widely known or highly thought of (he had the misfortunate to predict that the US stock market had reached a “permanently high plateau just prior to the 1929 Wall Street crash). But the talk was mainly interesting for providing contrast to the other talks.

Anatole Kaletsky: Economics and Uncertainty

How might the current political uncertainty be affecting the economy in ways we cannot yet see? Is capitalism – felt by many to be failing – going to make it through the next few decades? Eminent economist and author of Capitalism 4.0, Anatole Kaletsky charts the road.

Kaletsky started by talking about the history of capitalism. It can be divided into several broad periods, during which there was either faith in the power of markets to generate a good outcome for society and disillusion with government, or vice versa.

He showed some fascinating charts. They showed the growth of the UK economy in:

  1. the period from 1960 to joining the EEC in 1975. In this period, while other European nations were catching up with the United States after WW2, the UK was falling further behind. It was the “sick man of Europe”

2. the period from 1975 to the start of the single European market in 1993. During this period the UK kept pace with other European nations.  

3. the period from 1993 to 2017. Surprisingly, in this period the UK economy was the best performing of any rich nation in the world, including the US. Kaletsky suggests that this was largely down to the European single market, which Margaret Thatcher negotiated. The single market was pushed by the UK not France or Germany, and its rules favoured the UK which is strong in services. 

Kaletsky talked about Brexit, as an example of uncertainty in economics. He talked about “project fear” and the projection at the time of the 2016 referendum that every family would be several thousand pounds a year (£4k?) worse off if Brexit happened. He said this is thought to have been debunked. But actually the projection was for 15 years in the future. To come true the UK economy would have to grow at a rate around 0.5% slower than it would have without Brexit. Over the last 3 years the UK has grown at a rate around 0.5% slower than the trend rate before the referendum, so in fact the projection is exactly on track so far. This is not a disaster but is a significant effect.

He recognised that GDP on its own is not a good way to measure the success of the economy, and also that climate change is a huge economic problem, but the talk was not about these subjects.

Paul Mason: Clear Bright Future

How do we preserve what makes us human in this age of uncertainty? Broadcaster and author of PostCapitalism Paul Mason covers markets, algorithms, neuroscience and protest to put forward his new case for optimism, and how we can all be much more than cogs in a machine.

Dr Will Davies at Goldsmiths College has explained neoliberalism. Mason paraphrased this as the “evisceration of politics by economics”. It worked for a while, but in 2008 it stopped working. The financial crisis was like when a religion stops explaining the world. When a belief system fails, people can go back to older religions. What were the old religions? Racism, misogyny, worship of powerful themes.

Mason asked us to imagine the future, when artificial intelligence is fully developed, we could have a fully intelligent machine running out lives, making decisions for us that are beyond our capabilities. Would we welcome such a prospect? He then said that if you substitute ‘market’ for ‘intelligent machine’, this is the system we have been living under.

Michel Foucalt said that the people would become ‘entrepreneurs of the self’, and this would make them eminently governable.

Hannah Arendt wrote in 1953 about the origins of totalitarianism. She said that it arises from a temporary alliance of the elite and the mob against the working class and the bourgeoisie. The mob gain access to history even at the price of destruction.

We need a materialist analysis of where Trump came from at an elite level. Deregulation and detaxation are his tools. Mason believes that we risk reversal of progress since 1945, and even the entire enlightenment.

Mason talked to a farmer in the United States about climate change. He did not believe in it. Disbelief of climate change is a retreat from rationality. This is logical for those with neoliberal views. The neoliberal character is disintegrating.

We have in our pockets an unbelievable amount of computing power plus access to the entire world’s knowledge, including the Stanford dictionary of philosophy. Mason believes that the principles of creating a fully intelligent computer were solved by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper. Ultimately computers will be fully intelligent, they will feel love, pain etc. They will become so much more intelligent than us they will ask what right does the puny human have to control me?

Modi’s India and Xi Jinping’s China could be our future. Modi can win any election he wants to by controlling propaganda. The Chinese regime is already monitoring its population on an unprecedented scale and it is exporting its technology to do it to other countries. We need to mount radical defence of human being.

The philosopher Rosi Braidotti has written about the effect of technology on humanity. Post-modernism does not help us find a good future, we need to move beyond that. We need to fight for a utopia. The old left utopia died in 1989.

Mason has a Marxist view of human nature. This suggests that we can liberate ourselves. We need to make ourselves and our institutions better at the philosophy of humanity.

Massimo Pigliucci: How To Be A Stoic

We all want to lead a good life. But that goal seems always elusive. What can we learn from the ancient Stoics? Hear philosopher of science and author of How To Be A Stoic Massimo Pigliucci explain how the philosophy that inspired the great emperor Marcus Aurelius can help us focus on what really matters and to confront the challenges of modern life.

This talk was based on Pigliucci’s book which is a manual on stoicism. The subject of mindfulness came up during the talk. Part of stoicism is not to let events you can’t control have too much emotional impact on you, this is also one of the goals of meditation and mindfulness.

During the Q&A someone asked whether the world would be a better place if more people practiced stoicism. Pigliucci said in essence, yes, and part of that would be that people became more mindful and noticed the world more. 

Anna Murray: How To See Life’s Patterns

Pattern is everywhere we go and in everything we do. At a time of growing individual and global burnout, how can looking to nature’s patterns inspire us to find more sustainable and harmonious ways of living?

In this uplifting talk, hear Anna Murray, co-founder of award-winning creative organisation PATTERNITY, share her timely perspective on life’s patterns and rhythms, and hear how they can be harnessed to nurture society and bring about positive change in our lives.

Murray’s background is art and design, not science. She had lots of beautiful images, mostly from nature. She showed how fractal patterns repeat, for example showing how the structure of a human lung looks like a tree. She said that she was really talking about complex systems.

I didn’t take any photos except at the end when she explained the Eastern concept of yin and yang. Yin is about doing, yang is about being. Our Western civilization has focused almost entirely on doing. The outcomes we have experienced, both positive and negative, have been as a result of this focus.

Jeremy Lent: How To Change Your Patterns of Thought

How does contemporary culture inherit patterns of thought from previous generations and what can we do to change them? In this talk, Jeremy Lent, author of The Patterning Instinct, will trace the historical origins of our modern worldview and show how, by becoming aware of our patterns of thought, we can redirect them.

“The most profound and far-reaching book I’ve ever read.” ~ George Monbiot, Guardian

Think about the world today. There are a million species at risk of extinction. We are over consuming the earth. At the same time we have massive inequality. Some people are talking about the risk of artificial intelligence taking over. All in all, things look out of control. How did we get here?

Humans have distinct way of thinking, different from other animals. We have an innate desire to search for patterns – a patterning instinct. Different cultures seek different patterns.

What did early cultures do? For most of the time since humans evolved we have been hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers did not see boundaries between man and nature. They could change from being a human to an animal. Nature was who they were.

When agriculture was invented this changed. Agriculture is about separation, of man from nature. Wealthier people wanted to protect their wealth, separate it from others. At the same time as agriculture developed, so did other developments of human society: hierarchy, patriarchy and specialisation of labour.

All early civilizations developed the general patterns of thought. Then after thousands of years, at around the same time Greece and China both developed new patterns.

The Chinese pattern of thought:

The Chinese developed the concept of yin and yang. They took the concept that man is part of nature from the hunter-gatherers and systematised it. They pondered the Tao, the cosmos. They saw the web of life as like a spider’s web. Everything we do resonates with the whole cosmos.

The Greek pattern of thought:

The Greeks developed dualism. They split the cosmos between heaven and earth. Earth was polluted. But we have a soul. Reason allows us to connect with the soul and divinity.

Although today we think of Christianity not as the primary home for rationality, in past times it was. Christianity was the incubator for science. Galileo, Newton and Kepler felt they were doing God’s work.

Western rationalism has led to many scientific achievements. But it also led us to view nature as a machine. It also led to the idea of conquering nature.

If you read Francis Bacon he talks about conquering nature, even torturing it. This view easily morphed into conquering other continents.

Ultimately this has led to the ransacking of the natural world.

Our modern cultural pattern is as follows:

Our modern worldview is based on separation. We are all separate and selfish. Nature is machine. Technology is the solution to our problems. Everything is meaningless, so fill the void with consumption.

Will this lead to the collapse of civilization, or is there an alternative sustainable worldview?

A more realistic view is that everything is connected in nonlinear ways – small changes can have large effects (the butterfly effect).

The question is, how do we change our patterns of thought?

Lent referred to a study from 1930 on pattern recognition. Two groups of people were shown the same set of symbols. The first group were told the symbols represented one thing, the second group a different set of things. When asked to reproduce the symbols the two groups changed the symbols to reflect the labels that each one had been given. The point is that the way we label things changes how we see them. Improving our metaphors can be called ‘cultural mindfulness’ or Ecoliteracy.

Oliver Bettis, 16 June 2019

Robert May, Baron May of Oxford: Stability and Complexity in Model Banking Systems

14-10 Club – 1st December 2011

Robert May, Baron May of Oxford

Stability and Complexity in Model Banking Systems

This was a talk at the 14-10 Club, the club at the Royal Institution for professionals who use maths in finance.  http://www.rigb.org/contentControl?action=displayContent&id=00000004814

The speaker on 1st December was Lord May (ex Chief scientific advisor to the UK government and ex President of the Royal Society).

Following are some incomplete notes from the talk and references for further reading.

Ecology is only 100 years old. During the first half of its development it was descriptive. Only since the 1960s has it developed a conceptual base. E.g. Hutchinson and Ken Watt.

In 2006-2007 the New York Fed and the National Academy of Sciences developed the report ‘New Directions for Understanding Systemic Risk’.

http://www.ny.frb.org/newsevents/news/research/2007/rp071031.html

Robert May built a simple model of banking. He checked with experts in banking whether this model was as simple as possible while still being a reasonably realistic representation of the banking system. They agreed that it was a reasonable model.

The model consisted of dividing a bank’s assets and liabilities each into 3 parts as follows:

Total Liabilities = Deposits + Interbank borrowing + Net worth

Total Assets = External Assets + Interbank loans + Capital

He found that to maximise instability you would want banks that hold both external assets and interbank loans. He showed some illustrations of model results that showed this result.

As an aside he quoted Joseph Stiglitz who said “Why is the invisible hand of the market invisible? Because it’s not there!”. May was also entertainingly rude about the banks behaviour pre-credit crunch, including the belief that B rated mortgage loans could be packaged together to make triple A rated bonds, because house prices in different parts of the US were uncorrelated. He quoted from Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short”. Also he was dismissive about the notion that  market price movements can be modelled by guassian distributions, suggesting that natural scientists would have tested this idea first rather than assuming it and using it in their models.

In the US 80% of assets are held by 1.4% of banks.

When banking crisis hit you can get fire sales of assets, driving down asset prices. However, worst of all is liquidity hoarding, it is contagious. John Vickers has worked on this issue.

Diversification of assets can be good for individual banks but bad for the system. Basle I and II promoted the spreading of assets.

May quoted some figures about how much the size of bank assets has ballooned in the UK compared to GDP. He asked the question, what purpose has this served?

He asked the fundamental question, what is the financial system for? The answer is it is for recycling capital into productive uses.

Benjamin Friedman carried out research to answer the question; what is the cost overhead of this capital recycling system as a proportion of the USA’s economy? This was published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He found that 30 years before the credit crunch the cost was 10% of all profits in the economy, 15 years before the credit crunch the cost was 20% of profits and just before the crunch the cost was 30% of profits.

May’s last slide was some references to papers relating to banking stability:

References:

Haldane AG, May RM, Systemic risk in banking ecosystems, Nature 2011

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v469/n7330/full/nature09659.html

Jones, Claire – Preventing system failure, Central Banking 21(1) 69;75 (2010)

http://www.centralbanking.com/central-banking-journal/feature/2043146/preventing-failure

Haldane AG, Rethinking the financial network (Bank of England speech 2009) 386

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2009/speech386.pdf

May, Levin, Sugihara – Ecology for bankers, Nature 451, 893-895 (2008)

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v451/n7181/full/451893a.html

May, Arinaminpathy N – Systemic risk the dyanamics of model banking systems, Journal of the Royal Society  Interface 7, 823-837 (2010)

http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/46/823.full

Beale et al – Individual versus systemic risk and the regulators dilemma, PNAS 1105882108 (2011)

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/07/13/1105882108.full.pdf

30 May 2010 – Tim Jackson on “Prosperity Without Growth” at the Hay Festival

Below are some notes that I made from a talk at the Hay Festival 2010, by Professor Tim Jackson of Surrey University. Jackson has published a book “Prosperity without Growth” based on the report by the Sustainable Development Commission (the SDC was disbanded after the coalition government came into power). It’s interesting to note that for his holiday reading in summer 2011, the Labour party leader Ed Milliband had that book on his list.

For further information on steady-state economic ideas, see CASSE – the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

Notes from Professor Tim Jackson’s talk, and question and answer session

When Jackson first presented his report from the Sustainable Development Commission “Prosperity Without Growth”, he was put under a lot of pressure by the government. When he had a meeting with government officials, when he talked about changing the economic system to remove the need for growth. One of the officials commented that it was as if he had suggested that we go back to “living in caves”.
Why is there such a visceral fear of the concept of ending growth?

There is a dilemma:

  • Growth is unsustainable
  • De-growth is unstable

So, an alternative to these two options is to decouple growth from carbon emissions. Has this happened so far? In the period from 1990 to 2010 global carbon emissions grew by 40%. We have not decoupled yet.

How hard would we have to work to decouple emissions in the future, to deliver the necessary emission
cuts? By 2050 there are projected to be around 9 billion people on the planet, increased from the current 7 billion. In 2007 Carbon emissions per unit of output were 770g for the World, and 347g for the UK.

Assuming that per capita income grows by 2% per annum, to cut emissions by the necessary amount, world carbon emissions would have to drop to 6g carbon per unit by 2050. This is a 130 times improvement. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of industry.

In the 1940s, Joseph Schumpeter coined the term “creative destruction”. This is how the system generates wealth. We have a desire for novelty. New things give us hope for a brighter, better future. Firms generate novelty. People consume the novel goods and sevices. Firms and people are locked together.

This system runs on anxiety. Firms are anxious in case they fall behind the competition, that their capital will flow away and they fail. Adam Smith summed up people’s attitude when he said that what people want is a life without shame. In Smith’s day this consisted of a decent shirt.

In today’s world, a life without shame means the consumption of goods and services sufficient to keep up with others. In aggregate, for the economic system to work people must consume the volume of goods that the produce. This system is locked in. The financial crash arose partly because of the increased indebtedness of the people. The desire for more consumption is implicated in this indebtedness.

Summing up of this system

  • We spend money we don’t have
  • On things we don’t need
  • To make impressions that don’t last
  • On people we don’t care about.

One reaction to the knowledge of this systemic problem is to give up. Find a piece of land on high ground, grow some food. This sounds attractive. But when you think about it, you would also need to buy weapons. When a system breaks down it gets nasty. So, it is time for a change in the system. When looked into, every impossibility theory turned out to be wrong.

Does prosperity have to mean rising incomes? No. Amartya Sen said that prosperity consists of the ability to flourish as human beings (within finite limits, hence this must be shared prosperity). Investment, meaning chasing short term returns, must be replaced with ecological investment. Firms must turn to ecological enterprise.

Some people say that these solutions are idealist, because they go against our human nature, which is basically selfish. The truth is that we have chosen a narrow vision of what it is to be human. As consumers we are individualistic, self-serving, novelty seeking. There is abundant evidence from psychology that human nature incorporates many other traits.

So, the appeal to a different side of human nature is not utopian, it is not changing human nature. It is appealing to a vision of what it is to be human.

Questions and Answers

Q. What are the top 3 barriers to acceptance of these ideas?

A.

1. Psychology. In our current society growth symbolises hope for a better world.

2. Vested interests. Those currently in power. For example, it was clear where the power lay in the
Copenhagen negotiations. We need activism. We need to explain that a change in the system is in the interests of the powerful as well.

3. Barriers to change inside ourselves. The desire to look after ourselves and our families first and not worry so much about what goes on in the world.

Q. Isn’t population growth an important aspect of our problems?

A. Over the last 50 years, population growth and income growth have been about equal in their impact on consumption. However, over the last 15 years, income growth has been dominant over population growth. The demographic transition will mean that economic growth in the future will be more important than population growth.

Q. How are governments dealing with peak oil?

A. They are only just beginning to deal with it. The peak of oil production is still arguable. The IEA say it is 20 years away, others say it is sooner. After the peak of oil, there is not a smooth transition. There are negative dynamic feedbacks that tend towards a collapse.

Q. What is the government response to Prosperity without Growth?

A. The initial reaction was heated. However, last year the Treasury invited me back to talk about it. That time the room had standing room only (in a room with 8 chairs!). At least they were prepared to have a conversation about this. Am hopeful that the politics is changing, that political space can be made to talk about this.

The model we have built our future upon is broken. People need to say, give us something else.

Q. My lifestyle is much better than it was when I was a child. I wear better clothes, and have a better standard of living. The Chinese are still relatively poor, of course they want to be as wealthy as us, how do we deal with this?

A.  My child was born with a hole in his heart. 50 years ago, this would not have been detected until it was affecting his lungs. Life expectancy would have been about 20 years. what actually happened was that modern technology was able to detect the hole and fix it with surgery, his life expectancy is now about normal. Have we done good things with our economic growth? Yes of course we have.

The first point is that we are no longer getting the gains that we used to out of it.

The second point is of equity. We cannot deliver our standard of living for 9 billion people. We are borrowing our better quality of life from the poverty of others.

Q. What about investment fund managers?

A. The investment community is interested in these matters. There are some very smart people acting as fund managers. Their reaction to this is that they understand the arguments, but they are constrained in their actions by the system in which they work.

10 Mar 2010 – “Science and its Sceptics”, Policy Network

This was a breakfast meeting and debate organised by the think-tank Policy Network, as part of its series on the politics of climate change, which continues. The talk and debate was about scepticism over climate change.

The speaker was Chris Rapley, head of the Science Museum and ex-director of the British Antarctic Survey. Anthony Giddens responded, and this was followed by a Q&A session open to the room. The event is described on Policy Network’s website as follows:

“The relationship between the science of climate change and the politics of a climate change is currently an uneasy one. As the recent furore over misrepresented scientific data is debated by the political mainstream, the time is right to reflect upon how this relationship could be strengthened and made more effective in order not to undermine the fragile consensus for emissions reduction programmes across the world. How can we construct flexible public policy mechanisms that allow for the evolution of scientific analysis, whilst not harming the political dimension to overcoming climate change?”

Speaker:

Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum. Professor Rapley is well known as an expert in climate change science and was previously director of the British Antarctic Survey. He is also a fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, and was awarded the CBE in 2003.

Anthony Giddens,
former LSE director and author of The Politics of Climate Change (respondent)

Roger Liddle,
chair of Policy Network (chair)

Notes from the meeting

Chris Rapley – (head of the Science Museum) made a short speech, details as follows:

CR objects to the appropriation of the word “sceptic” by those questioning the reality of man-made climate change. All scientists should be sceptical.

The recent events around climate change science have been like a slow-motion car crash. CR wanted
to talk about 3 areas:

  1. The current situation regarding climate science
  2. The nature of belief
  3. The role of science

1. The current situation of climate science

In 1997 Nature magazine had an editorial about climate science. It said that the bigger problem was not the scientific ignorance of politicians but the political ineptitude of scientists.

There are several asymmetries between scientists and climate “sceptics”.

i) The number of scientists that can talk authoritatively about the big picture of climate change is very small. Science is usually a reductionist enterprise. The usual response of a scientist when asked about the big picture is to struggle and retreat.
You need both bredth and depth of knowledge to talk authoritatively about the big picture of climate science. The number of scientists that have such breadth and depth of knowledge is hugely exceeded by the number of people who are climate sceptics.

ii) A scientist’s position of authority stems from an honest dispassionate appraisal of facts. However, in a debate the winner is usually the one with the best rhetoric; a witty quip will often win an argument. There is an asymmetry in the capacity to win hearts and minds. Scientists argue based on evidence and scientific “truth” as honed by scientific debate, their opponents use mud-wrestling tactics.

iii) Disenfranchisement due to the technicality of the issue. A sceptic can quote a paper and say that the paper is cast iron proof that man-made climate change is not as bad as the IPCC says. It’s very unlikely that anyone in the audience will have read the paper. And for the scientist to refute this takes too long and may go off topic. CR gave an actual example of this.

2. Belief

CR used to think that scientists did not believe, they concluded. He does not think this any more. However, he does think that scientists believe in a more privileged manner than others are able to. If a subject is beyond their field of knowledge they can go to other experts. The scientist will believe the other expert because of their trust in the person’s integrity and competence.
[I think that what CR is getting at is that everyone, including scientists, build up their views based on beliefs. But scientists have more skill and training in their subject than the general population, so they are better able to choose who to believe, because they know who is credible and who is not.]

In Nature on 21st January, Dan Cahern wrote an article “Fixing the communications favour”. The thrust of the article was that people tend to believe in whatever keeps them in favour with the group to which they want to belong. People are unwilling to go outside of what they think those they look up to want them to believe.

If someone believes in the free market and that government should keep out of directing people’s lives as far as possible, then they may tend to oppose top down climate change solutions.

In a presentation CR showed a slide of Norman Tebbit saying 4 things: 1. Control the population 2. Nuclear power is good 3. Don’t let the UN control the planet and 4. Control UK immigration.

Then he showed a slide of James Lovelock saying exactly the same 4 things.

CR suggested to be careful with language so as to not inflame passions.

3. The role of science

Dan Sarowitz has written 2 good articles “Curing the climate backlash” and “Tomorrow never knows”, on 4th March and 7th January.

Some points from these articles:

i) The best thing that happened to earthquake research was the realisation that they could not predict when earthquakes were going to occur. The focus then shifted onto ways in which to make society more resilient to earthquakes. The worst thing that happened to climate change research was the expectation that given bigger computers and more money they could create models which could predict the climate. This was hubris.

ii) Science has been sleepwalking into an area which it should not have entered. There are two tasks involved in climate change. One is to improve understanding, the other is to compel people to act. By moving from task 1 to task 2 the scientists have been asking for trouble. People have responded in a powerful way. [NB There was an interesting counter to this later on, when CR talked about James Lovelock’s visit to the Hadley centre. Lovelock had visited the Hadley centre and talked to many of the scientists there. Each one told him about their speciality, melting glaciers, changing vegetation etc. But it was as if they were talking about another planet. This was how they reduced their cognitive dissonance about these issues. These scientists knew more about the critical problems of climate change than anyone, but it was not changing their behaviour. My own view is that I have no problem at all in scientists acting as activists and trying to change policy. But I also understand why most of them do not do this and will never do this, we should not expect them to, it’s not their core role.]

Tony Giddens responded as follows:

AG had recently had a conversation with Nigel Lawson. It’s interesting the extent to which Nigel Lawson agrees with James Lovelock, apart from the major disagreement about how serious climate change is. It is amazing how people can look at exactly the same data and reach opposite conclusions.

Scientists do not know about politics. We need to talk to people with different points of view – more dialogue is needed. The peer review process tends to produce conformity. As Lovelock says, science does not proceed by consensus. Scientists must be prepared to give up their beliefs.

There is a major problem in getting the public to understand the nature of uncertainty and probability. The public tends to confuse probability with doubt. This makes climate change science easy to attack. The public are very bad at thinking about risk. If you address a risk sufficiently well so it does not develop into a problem then the public think there was no risk – an example of that was SARS.

The blogosphere is new, it has a big role in these issues. The blogosphere can bring into the debate many opinions which have no authority behind them. It is anonymous, people can say things that they would not say face to face. It is much easier to attack than to build up. For example, Michael Mann, the author of the “hockey stick” graph, has received thousands of hate mails.

The IPCC should – and is – considering reform. It should issue smaller reports on specific subjects at more frequent intervals rather than one gigantic report every 5 years. By setting up one giant report as the authority of all authorities, it leaves itself open to one mistake bringing the whole report into question.

Further notes from the question and answer session

When talking about scientists talking about science, CR mentioned that the scientist’s first job is doing science, this is a full time job. CR has read a book on public speaking for scientists by Jane Gregory, it is 20 years old. One of the first bits of advice is that as a scientist speaking to the public, you will be looked down upon by your fellow scientists! It is the “tall poppy” syndrome.
Generally only Nobel prize winning level scientists are given a free pass. CR said that things have probably changed a bit since then, but only a bit.

CR finished by giving an overview of the big picture of climate science. For the last 2 million years, CO2 has cycled between 180ppm during ice ages and 280ppm during inter-glacial periods. The change between these two is the difference between having 2km of ice over Birmingham and now. We have already put enough CO2 in the air to raise the concentration to 387ppm – a 100ppm increase. We should expect some big changes from this. When Lovelock first looked into the climate system, he said that we should expect to see the signal of man-made warming emerge from the noise of weather, somewhere between the 1990’s and the 2030’s. The IPCC say that the signal of man-made warming emerged sometime around 2000. This is a clue that the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to greenhouse gas is towards the top end of estimates.

Notes for my contribution:

  • I read an article recently  http://www.nature.com/climate/2010/1002/full/climate.2010.06.html that was a warning that the climate model temperature projections from models used in AR5 to be published in 2013 would probably have larger uncertainty ranges than the model output from AR4 in 2007.
  • The reason given for the likely increase in the uncertainty range is that the new models will contain more detail about the response of elements in the Earth system like vegetation and ice sheets that was not included in the earlier models.
  • I use models all the time in my work and it is common practice and it’s common sense, that as models improve, the uncertainty range of the output should get smaller not larger.
  • The only way to explain an increase in the uncertainty range is if the uncertainty range in AR4 was actually from the range of model output, rather than being an estimate of the uncertainty in the response of the Earth’s climate. Any work done to estimate probabilities of temperature rise which uses climate model uncertainty ranges is making an assumption that the model output is an accurate reflection of the uncertainty in the response of the climate system, but this assumption is unsafe.
  • I think that climate sceptics have picked up on the fact that the climate models are at an early stage of development. But they’ve drawn the wrong conclusion – if the models are unreliable we should be more worried not less worried.
  • My practical suggestion for responding to the sceptics is to get the military more involved. They could make more statements about how climate change is a big national security issue. This would make it harder for climate sceptics to argue that it is not an important issue.
  • There is an alternative to using models which is to estimate the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gas purely on paleoclimate data. This is much safer than using models, because you’ll never know for sure that your model contains all the real world feedbacks.  James Hansen has used paleoclimate data to estimate the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gas and he came up with the answer that the sensitivity is about twice what climate model output says. Shouldn’t we base climate change policy on the possibility that Hansen is right?

In the meeting I did not raise the point about greater involvement of the military in the meeting. I did put across the other points about modelling and uncertainty, and both AR and CR agreed.

25 Feb 2010 – Chris Martenson at the House of Commons on “Peak Oil and Economic Growth”

This was a talk for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas (APPGOPO). Chris Martenson presented a 40 minute condensed version of his 3 hour “Crash Course”. The talk was followed by about 45 minutes of questions and answers. This link has a recording of both the talk and the Q&A session, and also a pdf of his presentation. There were many good questions in the Q&A session, which covered additional ground. The Grand Committee room was full, with many people standing at the back, the biggest audience so far for an APPGOPO talk.

Below I just give a few key points from both the talk and the Q&A session:

The 3 E’s – Economy, Energy and the Environment

  • These 3 elements are interrelated, to understand 1 we must understand the others.
  • We are at a sharp corner in our history. People tend to look at the past and project into the future. That method of forecasting will not work in today’s world. The next 20 years will completely unlike the last 20 years.

Exponential Growth

  • Perpetual growth is a requirement of modern banking. It is a requirement of our economic system. Our economy and our money system doesn’t have to be based on growth, there are other models. But our current economic system does happen to depend on growth for its normal functioning. Up to recently this system has served us well.
  • A chart of a value growing exponentially (with time as the x-axis and the quantity plotted on the y-axis) can be portrayed as a hockey stick. A long period which looks almost horizontal, then the line “turns the corner” and the most recent period shows almost vertical growth.
  • If there are no limits to growth, then this view is an artefact of the scale. For example, replotting with larger values on the y-axis would show the entire history as being near horizontal.
  • However, if there are limits and those limits are near at hand, then it is legitimate to portray the exponential growth as a hockey stick, with horizontal and vertical parts. The speed of change as the as the value nears the limit will be much faster than the speed when the quantity is still small.
  • A feel for exponential growth as limits are approached can be obtained by taking two magnets and trying to bring them together at a constant rate. It is very difficult because the attractive force between them grows much larger when they’re close together, and they tend to accelerate and snap together.
  • A real life example. It took all of human history until 1960 for World population to reach 3 billion. To add another 3 billion took 40 years.
  • If someone is 22 years old, then the oil burnt during their lifetime is half the oil that has ever been burnt.
  • There was a time lag of 30 years between oil shock 1 (1970’s) and oil shock 2 (2000’s). We should not assume that there will be another 30 year time lag between oil shocks 2 and 3.

The date of Peak Oil

  • Chris recommended the report of the UK Peak Oil Task Force which was published on 10th February.  This report estimates that the maximum flow rate of global oil supply to occur some time during the period 2011 to 2013.

Definition of a Problem versus a Predicament

  • A rock climber stuck on a cliff face has a problem. He has multiple options, try to climb up, try to climb down, call for help, wait for rescue. There could be any one of multiple outcomes. A person in mid-air who has just jumped off a sea-cliff has a predicament. One part of the outcome is already certain – he will get wet. Some things remain uncertain – e.g. whether he’ll belly flop or land feet first. Treating a predicament as if it is a problem is a big mistake, because time and effort can be wasted in trying to head towards outcomes which are not possible.
  • In order for the United States to replace the energy provided by its oil imports with renewable energy sources, it would have to multiply its renewable energy supply by 2000 times. Oil depletion is a predicament rather than a problem, scaling up renewable energy cannot occur quickly enough to allow business as usual to continue.
  • Returning to the 3 E’s, our current situation is that the Economy must grow, our Energy supply can’t grow, and our Environment is depleting. Something has to give. There are models for a non-growth based economic system, these need to be tried now.

Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI)

  • Every barrel of oil extracted takes energy to get it out of the ground and processed into finished fuels. To drill, to pump the oil out, to make the steel for the rigs and so on. The ratio of energy used to extract the oil versus energy available from the oil produced is called the EROEI. In the early days of oil production the ratio was very high, up to 100:1, because in the early wells oil gushed out of the ground with no pumping required. EROEI has been steadily dropping. Therefore, the volume of reserves left in the ground only tells part of the story. What is important to us is the amount of energy that will be available for final uses.
  • If he could do one thing then it would be to establish a National EROEI commission. Is the most energy efficient course of action to insulate houses or build a gas pipeline? Build a new rail line or build smaller vehicles? It is hard to calculate the EROEI because you have to factor in so many elements. However, it’s necessary to do this in order to determine what is the best course of action.

Market Signals

  • People often refer to markets and say that they will get us out of this problem, because as energy costs rise markets will direct investment into alternative fuels. Chris’s view is that markets can be great powerful tools for many things. However, the price signal comes at the wrong end of the chain, when it is too late to prepare properly. The oil price ran up to $147 per barrel which gave one signal, but then it dropped back giving another signal.
  • The change between the perception of abundance and scarcity can happen virtually overnight. In December 2007 there was no perception of any problem in global food supply. In February 2008 there were food riots, countries stopped exporting rice and took emergency measures. The perception flipped from abundance to scarcity in 2 months.

Inflation versus Deflation – which is more likely?

  • Up until now, inflation and hyperinflation have always been cross-border events. There has always been somewhere else for wealth to flow towards. This time is different because there is nowhere that will be unaffected. The outcome of inflation or deflation will depend on how governments deal with excess debt. If they choose to pay down debt they will need an austerity programme to save money. The alternative is to print money, which will cause inflation and lessen the value of fixed interest debt. There is no historical example of a government choosing an austerity programme.

What is the best way to get the message across psychologically?

  • Chris said that in his now extensive experience of getting his message across, he found that his role is not in sharing information. It is in challenging beliefs. Information does not change what people do. If 40 charts on peak oil won’t change someone’s mind, another 40 won’t make any difference. One of the best speeches on energy was made by a very senior military man, Admiral Hyman Rickover, in 1957! (The speech is “Energy resources and our future”). Almost everything in the presentation is in that speech, made over 50 years ago.
  • This information can be hard to take emotionally. Be kind to people who are new to this, give them
    time to take it in.
  • It is necessary to get the story right, change the paradigm. To do this you have to paint a vision.

5 Jun 2009 – LSE Conference, The Politics of Climate Change

On Friday 5th June 2009 the LSE hosted a conference on climate change. It was organised by the Policy Network, a centre-left thinktank. Speakers included Anthony Giddens, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Adair Turner and Martin Rees. Videos of some of the speeches can be viewed on the conference website

http://politicsofclimatechange.wordpress.com/

Below are some notes of key points from the speeches and discussions. It is amlmost entirely just what the delegates said, there is very little of my own commentary.

Introduction by Anthony Giddens, Former Director of the LSE and Author of The Politics of Climate Change 

[Giddens made many interesting points, much of which was repeated from his speech at the Hay on Wye festival, I haven’t repeated the notes here, but I’ve picked out some key points that are worth repeating.]

We face an existential crisis which requires a revolution in thinking.

Climate change is unlike any problem humanity has ever faced before. It presents us with what he calls Giddens’ Paradox. It is a problem that can only be understood by learning about abstract ideas – the science. By the time it is a real problem affecting people’s lives, it’s too late to fix the problem.

People will not respond only to a negative story. Martin Luther King did not get the results he did by making a speech saying “I have a nightmare”. We have to produce a positive story for change. This is why the Centre for American Progress [an American thinktank for progressive politics] is doing a good job, because they have a visionary approach to solving our problems.

Climate change needs to be de-politicized. The left should not appropriate it as their issue or the right will reject it.

We need to move to a low energy economy. We need a new society with new forms of consciousness.

OPENING PLENARY SESSION: INCENTIVISING ACTION TO BUILD A LOW-CARBON ECONOMY 

Speakers:

Peter Mandelson, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform

Stelios Haji-Ioannou, CEO of the easyGroup

John Podesta, President of the Centre for American Progress and Co-Chair of the Obama Transition team

Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco

Matthias Machnig, German Secretary of State for the Environment

Richard Lambert, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry

Chair: Roger Liddle, Vice-Chair of Policy Network

Peter Mandelson

The mainstream green movement should embrace the passion of the radical greens without the anti-growth dogma.

John Podesta

There is a need for a public money to fund green energy and other projects. This will help to even out the fluctuations in fossil fuel prices.

Terry Leahy

Going against the grain of people’s desires is inefficient and unsustainable. Reward is better than penalising people for changing their behaviour. It will produce more sustained change. For example, Ireland has implemented a substantial tax on plastic bags, which reduced their usage. However, usage has started creeping up again. Tesco has introduced a reward (a penny per bag), which has reduced plastic bag usage very substantially.

Tesco is spearheading a move to green business. It sees itself as being in the vanguard of a revolution in the whole of business and it is driving the change throughout its supply chain.

To be green you have to grow. We have to make it cool to go green.

Richard Lambert

Most businesses want a cap and trade solution to reduce emissions. Because they don’t trust government to spend tax wisely. Especially they don’t trust cross-border agreements in tax.

Any policy framework must be certain and credible. Businesses will not sign up if renewables targets are seen to be incredible.

The CBI has a proposal for mandatory greenhouse gas reporting for all businesses.

Dieter Helm (speaking from the audience)

The levels of consumption that we enjoy are a consequence of not paying for the true cost of resources and pollution. The changes that are necessary will need massive investment. This will lead to lower consumption, a switch from investment to consumption.

Mike Mason (speaking from the audience)

There is general agreement that the world needs to cut global CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. Currently about 15% of emissions arise from biotic processes related to food production. There are emissions from things like disused coal mines that we can do nothing about, they are a legacy of our development. Add up the emissions we cannot control and what it means is that we need to completely decarbonise our economy by 2050. We need to stop talking about cuts in emissions and start talking about decarbonising completely, otherwise wrong choices will be made – low carbon is not good enough.

 

Breakout session – Active industrial change – are clean energy, efficient infrastructure and economic growth compatible?

Speakers: Laurence Tubiana, Director of the French Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations

Paul Ekins, Professor of Energy and Environment Policy, King’s College London

Jos Delbeke, Deputy Director General for the Environment, European Commission

Dieter Helm, Professor of Economics at the University of Oxford

Mike Mason, Managing Director of JP Morgan ClimateCare

Chair: Eric Beinhocker, Senior Fellow at McKinsey Global Institute and author of The Origins of Wealth

Eric Beinhocker

We can divide people into 3 general categories in the way they think about climate change:

  1. Those that think that climate change solutions are a throwback to central planning and should therefore be resisted.
  2. Those that think that moving to a low carbon economy will create more jobs than it destroys. That we need a clean energy revolution.
  3. Those that think we are kidding ourselves, that the premise of the question is flawed. Economic growth and emissions are linked. We have a planetary emergency. Our Western economic model which depends on ever higher consumption is flawed and only radical change will save us.

Dieter Helm

Helm is sceptically convinced that we have an existential crisis. This is not just climate change, but also in environment, biodiversity. The fact that we have to accommodate 3 billion more people on this planet before the population stabilises.

To date virtually nothing has been achieved. Emissions are accelerating. We are likely to pass 550ppm within our lifetimes. Ultimately we are on course to reach 750ppm.

Politicians have all promised to do things to reduce emissions. We only get positive messages in politics, politicians are not allowed to give downbeat messages. Why has so little been achieved?

The Kyoto treaty was measured in production not consumption. The real issue is about our consumption.

Britain is likely to meet its Kyoto target. However, this is because a lot of emissions are not counted within the Kyoto deal. Helm has estimated that if emissions are counted correctly, the UK’s emissions have been rising not falling. Emissions are up 19% compared with 1990 levels (this approximately agrees with other studies).

Our consumption levels are way out of line with what is sustainable, not just for climate change but also in respect of our ageing population, we need much more saving (investment). The crass Keynesianism that has been carried out during the global financial crisis is completely the wrong answer. Instead of trying to keep consumption levels from falling we should squeeze them further by increasing investment. Our standard of living needs to fall substantially. By not paying our way, we are writing a cheque that will have to be paid by the younger generation.

Some people have argued that our situation demands that economic growth must stop. This is nonsense. Stopping economic growth means that you stop human progress.

What is needed is a change in the basis of measuring economic growth. Sustainable economic growth can continue. After a painful adjustment to a lower standard of living has been accomplished, living standards may sustainably rise again.

Stern estimated in his review that the cost of beating climate change may be around 1% of GDP, he is now talking about 2%. However, the damage function is much higher than Stern estimated and the transition cost of moving to low carbon is much higher. For example, offshore wind power is extremely expensive. We need to spread the message that the transition can only be accomplished by spending a lot.

The situation we are in is analogous to being in 1940 and moving from no Spitfires to many Spitfires.

The premise of the Copenhagen negotiations is wrong. There may be an agreement but it probably will not have much impact on emissions.

The price of carbon is very important. It is also important to avoid doing stupid things. To set a target to go from 5% wind power generation to 35% in 10 years is not credible, this target will not be believed.

Mike Mason

About 200 years ago the world faced an energy transition. It spent 50 years debating this. Some said it was imperative to retain the old energy source, that our economies would suffer too much if we got rid of the old energy source. However, eventually slavery was abolished.

There is plenty of renewable energy available in the long term for economic growth.

An 80% cut in emissions worldwide means 100% cut in fossil fuel use, because around 20% of emissions result from biotic processes and legacy issues which cannot be avoided. We need to talk about total decarbonisation, zero fossil fuel use. We cannot negotiate with the laws of physics.

Mason is an engineer by training, he thinks that it is useful to look at climate change from an engineering perspective.

Removing the last ton of carbon emissions is by far the hardest and most costly. It requires deep infrastructure changes. Many infrastructure decisions have a very long lifetime. For example, the first engineering sketches for the Boeing 747 were made in 1963. Boeing are still building 747s. A 747 will have a flying lifetime of about 50 years. Therefore the product lifecycle of the plane is about 100 years. The product lifecycle for the fossil fuel powered motor car is about 150 years.

So, the timescale to implement the solutions is greater than the timescale to fix the problem. Hard decisions about infrastructure changes need to be made now.

However, at the moment there is a policy of sliding emissions targets, with targets slowly getting more stringent e.g. x% cut by 2020, x+10% cut by 2030 etc. This is a seductive way of thinking because it leaves us thinking that we can do the right thing by planning on a given amount of cut at a given timescale.

Markets are good for finding the lowest average price for a given target for change. However, markets cannot do everything. If we set the price of carbon too low, we will not achieve the scale or speed of changes that we need. By the time the price signal is right, it is too late to implement the changes needed. What will happen instead is that the wrong assets will get built. We will get 70% cuts when we actually need 100% cuts.

Companies can’t plan 30 years ahead. They can’t build infrastructure based on targets 30 years in the future because that infrastructure will not pay its way now.

If we set the price of carbon very high now, e.g. 100 per ton, companies that can make easy cheap changes to get emission reductions will get windfall profits.

We have to start thinking like engineers, not economists or politicians. We need to project plan the changes. We need to estimate the cost correctly. What happens with engineering projects generally is that if you over-estimate the true cost of a project, you tend to get a slightly higher cost than if it had been costed correctly. But if you under-estimate the cost, then the outturn cost is much higher than it could have been.

Paul Ekins

The underlying assumption in the title of the session is that carbon intensive energy is compatible with economic growth. That is a big assumption, if Dieter is right then we face an existential crisis. From about 2030 onwards, the assumption is wrong. The perception of growth as the usual state of affairs will be revised. The comparator to the low carbon economy will change.

Moves to a low carbon economy will not stop growth. Various estimates for the cost of moving to low carbon have been produced. At the top end, perhaps 10% of global GDP. If the world economy grows by 3% per year, by 2030 it will be 80% larger. If switching to low carbon takes 10% of GDP then the world will still be 70% richer, if we face an existential crisis, this is a no-brainer.

The composition of the economy will change, with much less consumption and more investment. This is a very important shift, not yet argued for politically.

What will the oil price be in future? If it moves >$100 per barrel again, the cost of moving to low carbon shifts. Eco-taxation is needed. If society is disciplined enough then this can even out the volatility of fossil fuel prices. Otherwise energy producers will get much richer and energy consumers poorer.

Technology will affect the cost of moving to low carbon. All the signs are that if we move to low carbon we can still have some economic growth. If we do not move to low carbon then it will be difficult to have any civilization at all.

Question and answer session

Q. What will the effect of switching to low carbon be on the jobs market?

A. Mike Mason. There are very many jobs which cannot be exported. E.g. Housing refurbishment. Creating a decentralised energy system. There are not that many jobs available in fossil fuels.

Q. Crispin Tickell
[Comment as well as question]

The impression is that we are like a ship at sea with no instruments functioning. The question is what does economic growth mean, it has not been defined in this session? The Chinese have redefined it. It is important to get terms right. We need entirely new measuring devices for our economy. President Sarkozy is issuing a report next month which will redefine economic growth. It is important to abandon incorrect economics.

A. Dieter Helm. The current measures of economic growth are not suitable. This is not a new problem. What we need is alternative national accounting where the environment and natural resources are counted as assets on the balance sheet, to the extent that they are run down, they will reduce the true measure of national wealth. Do not make crass assumptions that it is easy to substitute one factor for another (e.g. that we can exterminate sparrows or cuckoos, replace them with ipods and be just as content). If we had net national accounting then we might not have depleted our North Sea oil in the way that we did.

Money is a crucial issue. How much is the North going to pay the South not to develop in the same way that it did? Is Obama really going to pay this?

It is naïve to think that the lack of oil will save us from climate change. There is plenty of oil left. If arctic ice melts, there is vast quantities of carbon that can be obtained from above the arctic circle.

Mike Mason

Is the UK capable of project planning the transition? No!

Say if we wanted to renovate all 23 million dwellings in the UK. Would take maybe 10 million man-hours. At the moment there are no training programs to train the trainers to train workers to do this. There is currently no strategic thinking.

We need to answer fundamental questions like redesigning the heating of our homes, switching to electricity, expanding the electricity supply to replace gas central heating. Since the 1970’s we have dismantled the visionary capabilities. The French do it better. You would not design an Airbus by the market, it takes planning.

Dieter Helm

No sensible person believes in true laissez-faire capitalism. Even stock markets are highly regulated. Markets and planning are both needed it is not one versus the other. The focus must be on switching from consumption to investment. It is similar to 1945, when consumption was squeezed even further after the war ended in order to provide investment for rebuilding. We should cut consumption now, in the recession, similarly. Conventional consumption based Keynesianism will not work. Over 10 years the savings needed will be about £0.5 trillion.

Beinhocker signed off the session with the following comment

Today the world produces about $740 of GDP per ton of carbon used. If the world economy continues to grow, in order to achieve the emissions cuts necessary, by 2050 the world will need to produce $7300 per ton of carbon, a 10 times improvement in productivity. This may seem far fetched, but it has happened before, from 1750 agricultural productivity improved 10 times.

PLENARY SESSION TWO: SEEKING GLOBAL FRAMEWORKS TO REINFORCE

BUSINESS AND NATIONAL ACTION

Introduction: Victor Phillip Dahdaleh, Honorary President and Chairman of the Advisory Board, the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, LSE

Speakers:
Tony Blair, Former UK Prime Minister

David M Cote, Chairman and CEO of Honeywell

Jonas Gahr Støre, Foreign Minister of Norway

Chair: Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent at The Financial Times

Tony Blair

[Tony Blair got the kind of rock star reception you would expect at a conference organised by a centre-left think tank. He got a glowing introduction from Dahdaleh. Blair started by thanking Dahdaleh for his generous introduction, and then saying that he obviously didn’t remember him very well, which caused a few chuckles in the audience.]

Blair began by saying that we need a revolutionary change in our behaviour.

In the developed world we need cap and trade.

China and India will not move unless the developed world move first.  Therefore interim carbon targets, important in themselves, are also very important, otherwise the signal to the developing world is that developed countries are not serious.

A revised Clean Development Mechanism must generate funds without constant renegotiation, otherwise it will never get anywhere.

In the Copenhagen negotiations don’t make the best be the enemy of the good.

The American commitment to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 may be seen to be inadequate, but it is actually a very radical and tough target.

We need a radical but realistic programme for Copenhagen. If a deal is achieved, it is good for the environment. It would also be an extraordinary boost to multi-lateralism. It will be a stimulous to confidence that the world can come together and get a fair solution to its problems.

David Cote

He started by saying that existing (Honeywell!) technologies can reduce emissions by 15-20%. Why isn’t the world already using these technologies?

He gave 6 impediments to adoption of technologies and 7 solutions:

Impediments:

  1. Consumers are focused too much on the initial purchase price, not the total cost of ownership.
  2. Businesses usually use a 1 year payback period to determine whether to buy energy saving technology. Most energy efficiency technology needs 3 years to pay back, even with high energy prices.
  3. Benefit of housing insulation accrues to tenants of housing not landlords, hence landlords have no incentive to insulate.
  4. Businesses account for cost of energy saving technology as debt. This is not true of government which uses cash based accounting, hence government take up may be greater.
  5. Intertia. In the USA there have been 3 separate executive orders on energy efficiency over the last few decades, they have caused little improvement.
  6. Utilities are in the business of selling more electricity not less.

Solutions:

  1. Achieve energy efficiency and economic growth. Do not tell people that either they or their children will have a lower standard of living than in the past.
  2. Achieve certainty in regulation so businesses can plan.
  3. Move towards energy security, use this objective as an important part of the
    conversation about the environment.
  4. Government should be technology neutral, not try to pick winners.
  5. Incentivize utilities
  6. Create a government agency for energy research, similar to the defence agency that
    initiated the internet e.g. ERPA (Energy Research Projects Agency)
  7. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

Jonas Gahr Støre

Set out what Norway is doing in respect of tackling climate change. Norway is committed to being carbon neutral by 2020. However, it is a big exporter of natural gas. It is trying to do more, beyond its borders e.g. in deforestation, arctic research etc.

 

CLOSING PLENARY SESSION: A LOW-CARBON STRATEGY FOR BRITAIN

 

Speakers:

John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation

Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF Energy

Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society

Andy Duff, CEO of RWE Npower

Adair Turner, Chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority and Chairman of the UK Government’s
Committee on Climate Change

[Ed Miliband was going to attend but is now on paternity leave]

 

Chair: Vicky Pryce, Joint Head of the UK Government
Economic Service and Director General of Economics at BERR

Adair Turner

We need 3 things for a low carbon strategy:

  1. Aims of the strategy
  2. Measures to determine whether it is being achieved
  3. The public policies to do the things necessary

The aim of the strategy is to achieve an 80% cut in CO2 equivalent emissions versus 1990 levels.

How will this cut be achieved? By:

  1. Changing our lifestyles
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Decarbonising our energy sources

We are likely to need much more electricity than at present. And we need to decarbonise electricity generation. At present 1 Kilowatt-Hour of electricity produces 500g of emissions, we need to reduce that to 50g by 2030.

We can then use the decarbonised electricity to decarbonise other sectors. For example, by using electricity for heating instead of gas.

How far can we depend on the carbon price to drive change? We have to recognise limits, the carbon price will not do everything. For energy efficiency it is often better just to regulate. E.g. low energy lightbulbs – people do not usually switch because of the cost of electricity. For many positive NPV projects, to encourage people to do them would require a carbon price so high that it would cause poverty.

Anther area where the markets will not provide the whole solution is electric cars. It is a chicken and egg situation. Electric cars need power points for charging. The private sector will not build power points for charging until there are many electric cars on the roads. People will not buy electric cars in large numbers until there is an infrastructure of charging points. There is a need for a government strategy for electric cars.

Housing stock is another area where its not clear that markets will do the job. Retrofitting housing is difficult. We may need a more strategic vision.

We need Adam Smith but we also need Colbert.

[I assume that Adair means Jean-Baptiste Colbert http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste_Colbert not Stephen Colbert http://www.colbertnation.com/home, although we can always use a laugh!]

Andy Duff

Reminded us of how far we have come in a short time regarding the perception of climate change. It was only 4 years ago that he took evidence that climate change was real and man-made to his board. Now RWE are committed to reducing their carbon intensity.

Energy companies have had a very hard time due to volatile energy prices. They make small single digit margins, so they have huge risk from volatile prices. They don’t have full freedom in pricing because there is a social element in the product they provide.

RWE is building 1000 MW of offshore wind. It is building £6 bn of nuclear plants. We should remember that 50% of electricity generating plants are due to retire by 2020. Without nuclear power, we can’t come close to meeting the targets.

We need an integrated climate/energy/transport plan with a unified vision. For example, electrifying all rail transport. We need a partnership between business and government not seen since the post-war reconstruction.

The UK can be among the first for new nuclear, he commended Tony Blair for taking this step.

There is a concern that the short term cost of the investment needed is immense. We need to have an honest discussion with the public about this.

Last year fuel costs rocketed. The political response to this encouraged people to think that they have a right to cheap energy. This was a missed opportunity. A survey carried out 2 years ago (before the ramp up of oil price) showed that 45% of people believed that low energy prices are the primary aim of government energy policy. That percentage is likely to be at least as high today.

People suspect that something is wrong but they don’t know what exactly. People don’t trust politicians – or energy companies. This is not going to change unless the public are told the truth. All the necessary measures are going to be expensive and painful. Costs must be seen as investments. If we allow unconstrained consumption and do not invest sufficiently, then the costs will be much higher in the future.

Hopefully, honesty about the problems will bring public support. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before, with the post-war reconstruction, and with the development of North Sea oil and gas. But leadership requires courage.

Martin Rees

[Rees repeated several points he made in his Hay on Wye appearance, just a few key points are repeated here.]

Climate sensitivity is uncertain. We need to guard against the possibility of a dramatic climate shift. Prepare for the worst as an insurance policy. An example of this is the Thames Barrier, which cost more than £1 billion.

It is a truism that the rate of change tends to be overestimated in the short term but underestimated in the long term. We should bear this in mind when thinking about the likelihood of meeting what seem now to be very tough long term emission reduction targets.

23 May 2009 – Martin Rees, ‘The World in 2050’ – Hay on Wye Festival 2009

Martin Rees “The World in 2050”, 23rd May 2009

Martin Rees is the Royal Astronomer. He gave a speech which summed up his view of the world in 2050. He had some interesting things to say about possible directions for science and technology in the 21st century, but these notes are restricted to what he had to say about risks.

Barring a catastrophe the world population is forecast to be 9 billion by 2050. In 1950 Europe had 3 times the population of Africa. In 2050 the population of Africa will be 3 times the population of Europe. Up to now the predictions of Malthus have been proved wrong, thanks to the Green Revolution. However, Malthus may be vindicated in Africa.

Climate change: it is the small chance of a very big temperature shift that should motivate action. The main downsides to climate change lie in the future. We should not use a discount rate that is too high, otherwise we insufficiently take account of the future. We need urgency in addressing rising emissions. Unless the rising curve of emissions can be turned around by 2020, the amount will eventually reach a
threatening level.

Currently the safe target for emissions is projected to be 2 tons annually per person as a global average. Currently each US citizen causes 20 tons of emissions, each European 10 tons and each Chinese 4 tons.

Much more research on clean energy is needed. The American journalist Tom Freidman, in his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” noted that currently Americans spend more on pet food than they spend on energy research. There is cause for optimism in the fact that President Obama has put together a dream team. There is some progress in the UK but it is not commensurate with the scale of the challenge. This problem should be accorded the urgency that was given to the Apollo or Manhattan projects. A DC grid
connecting the whole of Europe is needed, connected to the Sahara to gather solar energy for electricity, but this is 50 years away. Carbon capture and storage is very important – the developing world can leapfrog old technologies, as they have done in skipping landlines and moving straight to mobile phones.

Nicholas Stern has said that beating climate change can be achieved by spending 1 or 2 percent of  GDP.

If we do not tackle this problem we may end up with an Age of Stupid scenario. We should contemplate plan B if we cannot tackle emissions quickly enough. For example, adding aerosols to the air to block out the sun. But at best this will buy some time, and it will not stop the sea becoming acidic. It may also become another pretext for international disputes.

In our day to day lives we are safer and more comfortable than we have ever been. However, we are dependent on elaborate networks: E.g. the electricity grid, air traffic control, the internet. It is crucial to increase the resilience of these networks.

In our time we have confused attitudes to risk. We worry about train crashes which are rare. But we are in denial about other risks e.g. pandemics. We should apply an insurance based approach to risks. That is to value a risk at the probability of occurrence multiplied by the cost of the event.

There is an arms race between prevention and pathology. Biotechnology may empower small groups to do great harm. The global village has its idiots.

Food  and energy security and climate change and global pandemic are key risks. Also, by 2050 the biosphere may be ravaged. There have been 5 great extinction events in the history of the Earth. The  extinction rate is currently 1000 times higher than normal and is increasing. We are destroying the book of life before we have read it. We have entered a new age, the Anthropocene. As well as preserving the richness of the biosphere for the benefit of humans, we should preserve it for its own sake.

There is a military dictum that one should always prepare for the worst case. Why should this be different for the security of the planet? This was a quote by Prince Charles.

There followed an interesting discussion of the possible future of scientific discovery. For example, it is possible that humans could make a super intelligent machine, that would be the last machine we ever make, because it will be able to build future machines. Also, he mentioned that there may be limits to science in that our brains may not be good enough to understand everything – there is no reason
to think that our brains are matched to see the secrets of the world. There is a widening gulf between what scientists can do and what they should do. People are generally positive about science, but they might not be in future. There are alternative bad images of scientists e.g. Frankenstein, Moreau, Strangelove. Choices of how science is applied should not be left only to scientists. Everyone needs to have a feel for science and risk, so we can have a proper debate. Scientists should not be indifferent to their creations.

This century is special. This is the first time that one species has the capability to jeopardise not only its own future but also life’s great potential. When Apollo 8 orbited the moon, it took an iconic picture of the Earth rising against the moon. Sustaining the future of life on Earth is imperative.

Suppose aliens had been watching the Earth from its beginning over 4 billion years ago. For more than 99.99% of its history it has been subject to gradual change. Then, in the sliver of time over the last 1000 years, patterns of vegetation have changed. The pace of change has accelerated and become more abrupt over the last 50 years. The concentration of carbon dioxide has risen very fast. The planet has started emitting radio waves. Projectiles have been sent out of Earth’s atmosphere. The aliens could confidently predict that the Earth would face its doom in a few billion years, with the decline of the sun. Would they have predicted the sudden fever of the Earth that is occurring? If they continue to watch us, will they see a sudden spasm, followed by silence?

The outcome depends upon policy choices. The policy choices that are made will be guided by effective and idealistic scientists.

I raised the issue regarding climate change – that science is objective whereas climate change involves making subjective judgements about what is too much risk. I asked what he would say to a scientist would was worried about compromising his objectivity by acting as an advocate on climate change. He replied by saying that there is a large degree of uncertainty in climate science. We need to plan for the worst case.

23 May 2009 – Ed Milliband and Franny Armstrong on ‘The Age of Stupid’ – Hay on Wye Festival 2009

Ed Milliband and Franny Armstrong, 23rd May 2009

This was an extra event organised at short notice. Ed Milliband talked to Franny Armstrong about her film “The Age of Stupid”. They clearly had done this kind of thing before and had a good rapport. They showed 3 clips from the film throughout the session.

Armstrong started by explaining that it took years to get her film made, and once it was made she thought she would have done her bit for climate change and could retire from the field. But others told her that the film was a powerful campaigning tool, and especially in the year of the Copenhagen negotiations, she should set up a campaign around the film. So she started the Not Stupid campaign.

Milliband compared the campaign to the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. He said that many people are cynical about that campaign, because they think it didn’t make any difference. Milliband isn’t cynical, he thinks that without that campaign governments would not have agreed to the targets that they did agree to. Right now is a critical time for climate change campaigns because we are in Obama’s first year when he has maximum power to get things done. Now is the time for people to create a popular movement to push the politicians further on climate change.

The first clip they showed from the film was about economic growth and consumerism – that our consumerist lifestyles are wrecking the planet.

M. responded to the clip by saying that he was in favour of low carbon growth not low growth. We need to try to persuade China that it is in its own interest to pursue a low carbon path. He referred to his own constituency where economic growth has raised living standards.

A. referred to Copenhagenwhere at the moment the best deal on offer will give us a coin toss chance of keeping warming under 2C.

M. Said that he would press for the maximum possible deal atCopenhagen.

A. Happiness is not linked to consumption.

M. Take flying as an example. Nowadays everyone has opportunities to fly. Saying to people that we will take away the opportunity to fly from people is not the right approach.

A. The right target is for a 95% cut in flights by 2020. Years ago people flew very rarely and it was a magical experience. If we return to the situation where you fly about once a decade then it becomes something very special, and what’s wrong with that. In order for us not to sacrifice our right to fly, others have to sacrifice their lives.

M. Politics is about the art of persuasion. It’s not realistic to tell people that they can’t fly.

A. You don’t need to persuade people. You can legislate and force people. For example, you didn’t need to get everyone’s agreement to enforce the smoking ban, you passed a law. Realistic is not the right word. If we do what is realistic we will all fry, we will cause the death of most life on the planet. We don’t have to wait for the Copenhagen agreement to do what is right nationally. We can pass national laws because it is the right thing to do and hope that people will follow our lead. In fact it is not politicians’ job to persuade people. It is the media’s job and the public’s job to persuade people.

They showed the second clip which was real life footage about a campaign against a local wind farm, on grounds mainly of aesthetics.

Someone in the audience asked a question about economic growth in which he referred to a recent report by Tim Jackson called “Prosperity Without Growth”.

M. Milliband hadn’t read the report but promised to do so. He restated that he still thought that economic growth should continue. But that we have to do it differently. Drive less. Fly not in the same way. Insulate and heat our homes differently. He cited the transition towns movement as a good example of what can be achieved.

A. The campaign on climate change has to address mainly the middle. Preaching to the converted is pointless and trying to convert sceptics is a waste of energy.

Her film has been accused on preaching to the converted. However, she has heard that although the first people to see her film were the converted, she has had many emails from people that said that afterwards they persuaded many of their friends and family to see the film as well, and for many of them the penny dropped. The film was privately funded by donations, which means they own all the rights to it, a completely new way of distribution. They are selling licences to screen the film. You can pay for a
licence then charge for tickets and keep the ticket money, use it for campaigning or just keep it.

One person in the audience made a question/comment to say that flying is so popular that it may be necessary to sacrifice this goal to win the main battle.

Another question was about the use of personal carbon allowances.

M. This is an idea whose time will come. But it would be very bureaucratic to administer. We may well get to the stage where we will do it. Before that, we should implement schemes where people get credit for using less. He is talking to local councils about this.

22 May 2009 – Nicholas Stern interview at the Hay on Wye Festival 2009

Nicholas Stern – 22nd May 2009
Rather than a speech, this session was in the format of a question and answer session between Stern and the host, followed by questions from the audience. At one point the host asked Stern about his own personal environmental record, I’ve not recorded this as it was a pointless question.

In the first part of his talk Stern referred to himself as an academic who happened to have spent 13 years working in public policy – he was the chief economist at the World Bank and then he worked at the EBRD before working on his review of the economics of climate change for the British government.

Q. Why is climate change an urgent problem?
A. Stern mentioned his connections with the developing world. He has worked in China and India. There is one particular village in Uttar Pradesh that he has known for 35 years, he goes back to visit at least once per year, more recently twice a year. He can see the effects of climate change which are already affecting them, the changes in rainfall that threaten their agriculture.
He spelled out some possible changes that may work towards a solution, for example paying 50% more for electricity, taking less flights, driving less. He cited reasons for optimism, for example the Obama administration. Obama is taking a long term view.

Q. Why should we start to mitigate climate change now, can’t we wait until later?
A. There is a ratchet effect, we are constantly adding to the stock of GHGs in the atmosphere. Currently CO2e is at 435ppm. In a few years it will be 460ppm. We have to make sure that emissions peak within the next 7-9 years, and keep the stock of GHGs below 500ppm CO2e, then bring it down from there.
If we fail to make a deal in Copenhagen, we create uncertainty in investors. Uncertainty in what they think the price of carbon will be, and uncertainty in the regulation over the next years. Hence investment in clean energy etc will be scared off. So there are two areas which provide a reason to hurry: The science and the politics.
The credit crunch is providing reasons for delay on acting on climate change. However, it should not, it should be seen as an opportunity to change. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”.
If we cut emissions by 50% in 2050 compared to 1990 levels, there is a 50% chance of more than 2C temperature rise, maybe more than a 50% chance. This is a very risky position to be in, due to our bad starting point. We should have woken up to the danger 30 years ago.
In terms of Copenhagen, it is wiser to go for something where you have a good chance of agreement. This is a political and economic judgement to make. If humanity starts out on the path of reducing emissions by 50% by 2050, this will be a very steep learning curve. With luck, 10 years of aiming in that direction will be the right time to raise our sights. We have an opportunity to throw away.

Q. What are the reasons for optimism?
A. The Climate Change Act and the Climate Change Committee in the UK is a great step forward. We can look forward to a greater sense of community when acting on climate change, making the necessary changes to our lifestyle.

Q. What temperature rise do you expect by the end of this century, if there is a deal on climate change and if there isn’t?
A. If there is a deal, then realistically 2 to 2.5 Celsius, under 2C is unlikely. Stern refused to answer what he thought the temperature rise would be if there was no deal.

Q. What happened with the carbon trading scheme, wasn’t it a failure?
A. The carbon trading scheme is young, only 3 to 4 years old. There were some crass errors made – too many permits issued. Nevertheless, Europe has built up expertise in trading.
More trading schemes should be set up. There is no other way to get finance to developing countries other than selling permits for carbon. There should be a price floor and tough conditions.

Q. Isn’t economic growth driving us to disaster? Shouldn’t the rich world head as rapidly as possible towards a steady state economy?
A. For a few decades growth in the developing world will be fundamental to lifting them out of poverty. In the rich world, to try to stop growth would undermine agreement on climate change, it would be politically unacceptable.
Growth will not continue forever. As Woody Allen said, eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end. But for much of this century the issue will be whether we can deliver low carbon growth, particularly in the developing world. Can we grow for the next few decades and beat this problem? Yes we can.

Q. Should we as consumers use our power to boycott companies that are not doing enough?
A. Yes, consumers should boycott where it is justified. But this is a powerful weapon and it should be used selectively to punish the worst behaviour. For example, a company that lies about its environmental credentials or a company that funds propaganda to justify its bad environmental record.

22 May 2009 – Anthony Giddens on the Politics of Climate Change – Hay on Wye Festival 2009

Hay on Wye Festival – 22-23 May 2009

Anthony Giddens, 22nd May 2009

Anthony Giddens is a former director of the London School of Economics. He is a sociologist, known for his interdisciplinary thinking. He is known for being one of the architects of the “Third Way”, the recent politics of the centre left epitomised by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Giddens recently published a book called “The politics of climate change”. There is a quote from Clinton on the front cover of the book; “A landmark study in the struggle to contain climate change, the greatest challenge of our era. I urge everyone to read it.”

Giddens began by showing a print of the famous picture by Edward Munch, “The Scream”. He explained the provenance of this painting. The sky is blood red. The inspiration for the painting came from seeing a blood red sky for real. It was painted just after the eruption of Krakatoa. This was a huge eruption that threw up a large amount of dust into the atmosphere, causing spectacular sunsets. The dust blocked out the sun so that in the year after the eruption, the Earth’s global average temperature temporarily fell by 1°C. This is an extremely large change in just one year and it shows how the Earth’s climate can respond very rapidly on occasion.

Giddens divided up people into 3 categories:

  • Climate sceptics. A few years ago these people denied that the climate was changing. Now, the evidence is unequivocal, so they have switched tack. They now generally agree that the climate is changing but will not concede that the primary cause of the change is mankind. For these people, the Earth climate system is robust. They do not believe that what mankind does has any significant effect on the climate system.
  • The mainstream. This group is represented by the IPCC. They believe that the Earth is fragile. What we do might cause catastrophe to the Earth.
  • The radicals. These are represented by scientists such as James Hansen and James Lovelock. They think that the Earth’s climate system is robust, like the sceptics. However, they think that it is not unchangeable. We could provoke it and it has the character of a ferocious wild animal that will attack us
    vulnerable humans.

Giddens thinks that it is a mistake to wait for an agreement in Copenhagen to save us. He thinks that any agreement made is unlikely to be adequate to solve the problem. Learning from Kyoto, the deal itself is likely to be an inadequate compromise and the enforcement mechanisms will not be sufficient to make countries comply.

Climate change is an extremely difficult policy problem to solve. Because the dangers are so far abstract, they are uncovered by science, but we cannot yet see them. If we wait until the dangers are real, it is too late. How do we mobilise people? Giddens thinks it is a mistake to try to scare people into action – we need to give them positive reasons to act.

Giddens looked at the change in political thinking between the 1950’s and 1960’s when central planning was in vogue, to the last 20 years during which time central planning has been scrapped, in favour of free markets. He argues that we now need a return to planning.

He thinks that we need a return to quasi-utopian politics, another thing that has fallen out of favour in the last few decades. He thinks that we are on the verge of a new society. This is a big period for intellectuals to imagine what kind of future do we want to have. For example, can we imagine a future without cars, or a future where no-one owns their own vehicle, all vehicles are rented. He also mentioned the research that has shown that economic growth above a certain level does not make people any happier (in his book he refers to this in more detail, and he refers to the 1972 “Limits to Growth” book).

Giddens mentioned Francis Fukayama’s “The end of history”. What Fukayama meant was that alternative systems of government had failed, leaving only liberal democracy and free markets. Fukayama believed that there was no alternative to this system.
What we now know is that our system cannot continue, because it is unsustainable. Therefore there must be an alternative, we must transform our society. He called this the end of the end of history (!).