Jobs and climate change | Brussels Blog

Jobs and climate change

posted by on 29th Nov 2015

Three threats to jobs and wages

1.AI revolution, 2. the gig economy & 3.climate change

1. The AI Revolution and machine learning

The most significant aspect of the AI revolution is machine learning as Jeremy Howard explained in his Ted Talk, The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn. If you are in a hurry, at least watch the bit at the end but here are some excerpts.

The Machine Learning Revolution is going to be very different from the Industrial Revolution, because the Machine Learning Revolution, it never settles down. The better computers get at intellectual activities, the more they can build better computers to be better at intellectual capabilities, so this is going to be a kind of change that the world has actually never experienced before…

In the last 25 years, as capital productivity has increased, labor productivity has been flat, in fact even a little bit down.

Computers right now can do the things that humans spend most of their time being paid to do, so now’s the time to start thinking about how we’re going to adjust our social structures and economic structures to be aware of this new reality.

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Is the EV the car of the future?

posted by on 24th Nov 2015

A recent blog post on the Beacon Dosworth website caught my attention because it concerned a commuter using an electric vehicle (EV) and many see the EV as the car of the future. It produces none of the fumes that cause local pollution, which cause dangerous health problems. Additionally driving an EV instead of a petrol car may help the world cut emissions of greenhouse gasses.

I have asked the commuter, Joel Weekes, for more details.

Joel Weekes commutes with his EV, a Nissan Leaf

Joel Weekes is a upwardly mobile academic and businessman. He drives from Durham to York a few times a week and travels to London regularly. His EV is a Nissan Leaf. On the road, he uses “fast” charging points. The charging point at A1 Wetherby Services fits in well with his trip from Durham to York, after he charges his car at home overnight.

Joel will never buy a petrol car again

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BBC refuses information after FOI request

posted by on 22nd Nov 2015

FOI request to the BBC

I sent a Freedom of Information request to the BBC recently. The BBC refused to supply the information. The refusal was blunt.

I regard this as a minor success. Some of my other FOI requests are described in other postings on thos blog. The replies to these were much less clear.

The BBC’s response

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 2nd November 2015, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“I would like a copy of any documents referring to climate change that have been held at the web addresses that start with”

Please note that the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1 . The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the following information in response to your request.

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Fuel poverty and inglenooks

posted by on 6th Nov 2015

Keeping warm on a budget

One person might come in from work to their flat on a cold day, put the kettle on and sit in an armchair in front of the television. She does not turn on the 26 Kw gas central heating, which has an “energy-saving” gas condensing boiler, newly installed by her housing association because this takes an hour or so to heat the flat. Instead she switches on a 600 watt electric halogen heater, which is pointing at the armchair. When she has warmed up a bit, she goes to the colder kitchen to make a cup of tea and get something to eat and goes back to the warm armchair.

Another person might have a dispute with his electricity supplier and have no power in his flat. He might stay in a warm friendly gas heated pub then go home and get into bed. He remains reasonably healthy by eating raw food at home.

Other people might live in caravans using bottled gas for heating. The heated main room in a caravan may be one tenth of the volume of a typical house and have a quarter of the surface area. If the caravan (or park home) were insulated to a decent standard, heating load could be a quarter of that of the house and have a much faster heating response: turn on the heat for almost instant warmth. The caravan dwellers may also be lucky and have windows that look out onto pleasant green wooded surroundings. As one caravan dweller put it:

“There’s nothing more life affirming than waking up surrounded by nature- woods, birds, the occasional deer and falling to sleep to the sound of hooting owls. The space and the fresh air put a bounce in your step!”

The carbon emissions for keeping flat, pub and caravan dweller warm are a small fraction of that necessary to heat a dwelling to the “fuel poverty” level.

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Designing for local food distribution and production (1999)

posted by on 3rd Nov 2015

This proposal was written for a friend interested in contributing to
Derwenthorpe, a development in York. I have criticised this development in
How the Joseph Rowntree Foundation could do more for the poor

A proposal for action research

The food distribution chain is getting longer and food production is becoming more industrialised. The food we eat travels further from the grower to the consumer and goes through more stages of processing.

This distribution chain is an increasing source of global pollution and modern food production has dietary dangers. Both, however, have great advantages to the consumer: convenience. This is common with market driven activity: the immediate benefits to the paying customer are paramount but longer-term problems and detrimental effects caused to non-customers (external costs) are given less consideration, usually left to consumer education or the less reactive regulatory system.

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Don’t the young know we have screwed them?

posted by on 1st Nov 2015

In this posting,
‘The young’ refers to under thirty-fives.
‘We’, are the over forties

Do they know the truth?

Leonard Cohen sang

I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth

At my age, youth means someone under thirty five so most of them should be old enough to figure things out for themselves. It seems they have not – or perhaps they’ve just given up.

Back in the sixties the young cared, money didn’t matter much and “Love was in the air”. Sadly, I was just too old, a child of the fifties so most of it passed me by but I admired that generation’s enthusiasm and willingness to confront the restrictions of their rulers. They wanted freedom from the control of the old.

The fortunate baby boomers

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Now CO2 is short lived, cows really are bad

posted by on 20th Oct 2015

Methane or ‘natural gas’ is an important player in UK lifestyles, we heat our homes with it, we generate 30% of our electricity with it and the cattle that provide dairy products and red meat create substantial amounts of it.

The arguments over methane are fraught with controversy. Do leaks of methane make it as climate damaging in creating electricity as coal? Will the leaks from fracking increase the UK’s carbon footprint by much? Should we “kill all the cows and eat them now” to protect the climate?

My experience leads me to believe that the UK Government is not keen to answer such questions (e.g. Buried by Defra?) but there is a debate amongst scientists about what policies should be taken to limit methane emissions – and how soon. Some say we can wait but others see that curbing methane emissions will really help to reduce climate change.

Buying time or loosing time?

Scientists Ramanathan and Victor say that reducing emissions of two powerful and fast-acting causes of global warming – methane and soot – will not stop global warming but it could buy time. This might allow a few decades, for the world to put in place more difficult efforts to regulate carbon dioxide and keep Global Temperature Rise below the so-called danger level of 2°C. However, Ray Pierre Humbert thinks this might detract from the task of reducing the emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. He says

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Depressing news: Growth trumps the environment

posted by on 6th Oct 2015

Two weeks ago I attended a conference “Economics of Innovation, Diffusion, Growth and the Environment”, organised by the Grantham Research Institute.

Measuring the benefits of personal transport

There was an interesting presentation by Roger Fouquet similar to his The Importance of History. The presentation had a graph showing the net welfare of personal transport (consumer surplus less net external costs?). I think the graph can be interpreted as “cars have made a large increase in net welfare”.

At the time, I suggested that many would prefer to live in Venice, where there are few cars, rather than Los Angeles, where there are lots. If this is true, how does the high net welfare in Dr Fouquet’s work fit in for the residents of Venice? One explanation may be that his external costs (e.g. pollution and congestion) are too low. Another is that external costs do not apply uniformly to a complete population – some people suffer more from noise and bad air quality than others.

A further explanation is that the infrastructure in Venice is different and more supportive of a lifestyle with fewer cars.

Disaggregation of populations and consumer surplus

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Amartya Sen on growth and climate

posted by on 7th Sep 2015

A misunderstanding?

At a lecture in June at the York Festival of Ideas, the chair did her best to shut me up but to his credit Aramatya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, let me continue – for a bit. I suspect that most of the audience were in awe of Professor Sen. Me too. However, he either misunderstood my question or dodged it. As I remember, I asked:

“Professor Sen, how can you believe that democracy works? Climate change is the most important issue for us now, we may be facing another mass extinction of life on Earth, yet hardly anybody here will even know what the ‘remaining carbon budget’ means. How can democracy work when there is such ignorance.”

Professor Sen answered “I don’t believe in budgetary approaches, taxation is much better.” I can’t remember exactly what happened next but I do remember shouting “You made a semantic shift” as a last (rather sad) throw.

The semantic shift was this: The IPCC’s “remaining carbon budget” is a concept referring to the physical capacity of the atmosphere to accept greenhouse gas emissions before we hit dangerous climate change. Sen’s reference to taxation rather than a “budgetary approach” referred to economic mechanisms. Was this semantic shift deliberate?

Austerity, growth, public expenditure and democracy

In his speech Sen argued for economic growth against austerity. He made similar points in an article for the New Statesman, The economic consequences of austerity,

“even if we want to reduce public debt quickly, austerity is not a particularly effective way of achieving this… For that, we need economic growth; and austerity, as Keynes noted, is essentially anti-growth.”

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Note on Nuclear Power to Mike Weightman (2011)

posted by on 4th Sep 2015

This is a note I sent to Dr Mike Weightman in 2011. He was then Chief Inspector of nuclear installations and head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation.

He was reporting on the safety of nuclear power after the accident at Fukushima.

Are there additional concerns on the safety of nuclear power?

Dear Dr Weightman,

I understand that you are conducting a review on the safety of nuclear power plants following the recent events in Japan.

I have consulted the following: “Review of medium to long term coastal risks associated with British Energy sites: Climate Change Effects – Final Report, by Mark L Gallani, Met Office 22 February 2007. I make the following comments:

Missing climate feedbacks

The report relies on the HadRM3 Regional Climate Model. This may underestimate or omit the effects of certain climate feedbacks which are mentioned on the NERC website:

- reduced sea ice cover – reflecting less of the sun’s heat back out to space, changing ocean circulation patterns
– less carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans
– increased soil respiration
– more forest fires
– melting permafrost
– increased decomposition of wetlands

Increased possibility of tsunamis

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