Monthly Archives: June 2013

The era of adaptation

ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE comes in two flavours: mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation is where we try to prevent climate change from becoming any worse. That is, we try to stop the release of more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Adaptation is where we try to ready ourselves for the likely effects of climate change. If sea levels are going to rise, for example, we look at levies or planned retreats from the coast. If temperatures are going to soar we make sure railway lines will not buckle in the heat and that hospitals are equipped for surges in people suffering heatstroke.

Adaptation has always been the poorer cousin of mitigation. ‘To solve climate change,’ declared interest groups, ‘we must mitigate the release of greenhouse gases!’

‘Yes!’ shouted pretty much everyone. The United Nations formed a body to address the problem and the world pinned its hopes on a global treaty to prevent the release of greenhouse gases.

As we have seen, however, this hasn’t been the success that was hoped…

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Who’s the ugliest in the beauty contest?

Years ago I read a book called “A Mathematician Plays the Stockmarket” by John Allen Paulos. It’s a sterling read; I recommend it. In it, Paulos explains the complicated psychological calculations behind picking a good investment.

“John Maynard Keynes, arguably the greatest economist of the twentieth century, likened the position of short-term investors in a stock market to that of readers in a newspaper beauty contest (popular in his day). The ostensible task of the reader is to pick the five prettiest out of, say, one hundred contestants, but their real job is more complicated. The reason is that the newspaper rewards them with small prizes only if they pick the five contestants who receive the most votes from readers. That is, they must pick the contestants that they think are most likely to be picked by the other readers, and the other readers must try to do the same. They’re not to become enamoured of any of the contestants or otherwise give undue weight to their own taste. Rather they must, in Keynes’ words, anticipate “what average opinion expects the average opinion to be”.

By this analysis, fossil fuel stocks could be about to turn into the ugliest beauty contestants in the paper….

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The inexorable march to climate change

AS WITH ALL THE great momentous events in life, it came and went without much fanfare. Like the beginning and end of life, it was a small series of obvious next steps that culminated in an occasion so significant that it can’t possibly be fully comprehended by one person.

The event, in this case, was the composition of the atmosphere reaching 400 parts of carbon dioxide for every million other parts.

No alarm sounded when the milestone passed. No parade in the street heralded the moment. No riot erupted.

But this obscure scientific measurement marks the the first time our atmosphere has held so much carbon dioxide in three million years….

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