The Expert Mind  

Posted by Big Gav

The Rodent is trying to hose down fear and loathing about global warming in the coal mining party in the wake the Stern review. Our energy supply, he says, will always be based on fossil fuels and nuclear. He also says if there was a Kyoto treay that had everyone in it, we'd join to. Somehow I get the feeling he doesn't expect this to happen any time soon.

Crikey points out that if coal and nuclear are the only options, then one day civilisation ends, as neither are renewable.

The significance of the Stern Review, commissioned by Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, is that it translates the climate change issue into the fundamental language understood by governments, the language John Howard has previously adopted when defending the Coalition’s stance. In short, how much will it cost?

The key conclusion getting a run is that the impacts of climate change could shave 20% off global economic consumption in future assuming BAU (business as usual) emissions. It’s worth noting that this is the worst case scenario, the best being 5%. But given the stakes involved (not just dollars, but lives and livelihoods, particularly among the poor), sensible strategic planning should rightly be based on worst case scenarios.

The cost of stabilising CO2 equivalent at 550ppm by 2050, by contrast, is estimated at around 1%. To many (me included), that’s way too much carbon – the review eschews the more climatically sensible target of 450ppm (involving a 70% reduction in emissions by 2050) by simply concluding that it is ‘almost out of reach’. There must still necessarily be large impacts associated with this. This might be addressed somewhere in those 700 pages, but I’m no speed reader.

What are the implications for the Howard government? By now at least the climate change rhetoric is bipartisan, and for the most part, the review doesn’t contradict the government’s spin. It discusses the need for both a global solution and a diverse energy portfolio, explicitly citing the necessity of carbon capture and sequestration technologies as part of the solution. Sounds familiar. The Howard government’s objection to Kyoto has always been that it doesn’t include the big developing emitters, and yesterday in parliament Howard had this to say:
The only things that will ever replace the current dirty power stations are cleaner uses of fossil fuel, or nuclear power. You will never replace them with solar or wind.

If that’s true it’s a real shame, because neither of these resources is renewable, so sooner or later the lights must inevitably go out. But whatever one thinks of these technologies, the failure to name targets is the most glaring hole in the government’s purported commitment on the issue, and the Stern review at least demolishes the economic arguments – the final pillar of the broader debate - for not doing so.

George Monbiot's response to the report was to summarise his plan for aggressively mitigating global warming.
It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern's report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn't mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.

But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we're to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.

So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.

1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. ... Timescale: immediately.

2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It's a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU's emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.

3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.

4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff "feebate" system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. ... Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.

5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.

6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions ... Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.

7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.

8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to "spending policies that tackle climate change". Timescale: immediately.

9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. ... We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.

10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve ... Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.

These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen.

Bruce Sterling points out that Mark Twain also documented an American climate change plan over a century ago.
(((The speaker quoted here in the last words
of Twain's novel is Colonel Mulberry Sellers,
a deluded American genius.)))

"This grand new idea of mine == the sublimest I have
ever conceived, will save me whole, I am sure. I am
leaving for San Francisco this moment, to test
it, by the help of the great Lick telescope.

"Like all of my more notable discoveries and
inventions, it is based upon hard, practical scientific
laws; all other bases are unsound and hence
untrustworthy.

"In brief, then, I have conceived the stupendous idea
of reorganizing the climates of the earth according
to the desire of the populations interested.

"That is to say, I will furnish climates to order,
for cash or negotiable paper, taking the old climates
in part payment, of course, at a fair discount, where
they are in condition to be repaired at small cost and
let out for hire to poor and remote communities not
able to afford a good climate and not caring for an
expensive one for mere display.

"My studies have convinced me that the regulation of
climates and the breeding of new varieties at will
from the old stock is a feasible thing. Indeed I am
convinced that it has been done before; done in
prehistoric times by now forgotten and unrecorded
civilizations.

"Everywhere I find hoary evidences of artificial
manipulation of climates in bygone times. Take
the glacial period. Was that produced by accident?
Not at all; it was done for money. I have a thousand
proofs of it, and will some day reveal them.

WorldChanging has a post on "Inc. Magazine's 'Green 50' Entrepreneurs".
Inc. magazine, in its November cover story, has named The Green 50 -- "a new set of entrepreneurs" that, cumulatively, are creating "a new way to think about being in business."

It's all good. My only question is: What took them so long?

Many of the companies named to the list will be familiar to longtime readers of Worldchanging (and of GreenBiz.com) for they are stalwarts of the sustainable business and clean technology marketplace. As always, there's Ray Anderson and Interface (is there any "green" list on which they don't appear?). There are icons of green business (Clif Bar, NaturaLawn, New Belgium Brewery, New Leaf Paper, Seventh Generation, Stonyfield Farm); rising stars among clean-energy companies (Energy Innovations, Greenfuel Technologies, Konarka Technologies, Nanosolar, Tesla Motors, Verdant Power); makers of green building products (AFM, Collins Co., Hayward Lumber, IceStone, Michelle Kaufmann Designs); and several lesser-known (for now) firms.


Of course, leave it to the mainstream media to oversimplify things. I'm referring specifically to a couple of sidebars that accompany the fifty write-ups. One, "How to Make Your Business Greener," offers the kind of "simple things you can do" advice I was writing back in 1991. ("Go paperless." "Get an energy audit." "Buy green.") It will represent progress when esteemed publications like Inc. begin telling companies how to go beyond such elementary steps to engage in more cutting-edge moves companies (including many in the article) are making: creating closed-loop manufacturing processes, turning products into services, harnessing nature's design protocols to develop new products, and all the rest.

Energy Bulletin has an article on "Peak grain" - with global warming induced drought (and diversion to biofuel production) starting to impact the supply side (most other warnings of future famine have tended to based on the "population bomb" line of reasoning).
Now’s the time to brace yourself for major price hikes in food, as peak grains join the lineup of lifestyle-changing events along with peak oil and peak water.

Unless this year’s harvest is unexpectedly different from six out of the last seven years, the world’s ever-decreasing number of farmers do not produce enough staple grains to feed the world’s ever-increasing number of people. That’s been a crisis of quiet desperation over the past decade for the 15,000 people who die each day from hunger-related causes. It’s about to cause a problem for people who assumed that the sheer unavailability of food basics, usually seen as a problem of dire poverty, would never cause a problem for them.

Whenever there’s a shortfall in the amount of food produced in any given year, it’s possible to dip into an international cupboard or “reserve” of grains (wheat, rice and corn, for example) left over from previous years of good harvests. Tabs have been kept on the size of that reserve by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the end of World War 11. Few people looked at these tables until Lester Brown cried the alarm a few months ago, a short while after Darin Qualman, brilliant researcher with Canada’s National Farmers Union, one of the few farm organizations which thinks agriculture policy should be about feeding people, not finding new ways to raise commodity prices by getting rid of farm surplus.

The world’s grain reserve has been dipped into for six of the last seven years, and is now at its lowest point since the early 1970s. There’s enough in the cupboard to keep people alive on basic grains for 57 days. Two months of survival foods is all that separates mass starvation from drought, plagues of locusts and other pests, or wars and violence that disrupt farming, all of which are more plentiful than food.

To put the 57 days into geopolitical perspective, China’s shortfall in wheat is greater than the entire wheat production of Canada, one of the world’s breadbaskets. Since the World Trade Organization prohibits government intervention that keeps any items off the free trade ledger, there’s no law that says that Canadians, or any other people, get first dibs on their own food production.

To put the 57 days in historical perspective, the world price for wheat went up six-fold in 1973, the last time reserves were this low. Wheat prices ricocheted through the food supply chain in many ways, from higher prices for cereal and breads eaten directly by humans, to the cost for milk and meat produced from livestock fed a grain-based diet. If such a chain reaction happens this year, wheat could fetch $21 a bushel, again about six times its current price. It might fetch even more, given that there are two other pressing demands for grains that were not as forceful during the 1970s. Those happy days pre-dated modern fads such as using grains as a feedstock for ethanol, now touted as an alternative to petroleum fuels for cars, and pre-dated factory barns that bring grains to an animal’s stall, thereby eliminating farm workers who tended livestock while they grazed in fields on pasture grasses.

One LiveJournal user has a post on "using oil as a bully pulpit" - which points out a recent Chinese oil embargo of North korea that I hadn't noticed.
I know that correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation, but wow, take a look at this:

Yesterday, the Internation Herald Tribute reported that China cut off oil exports to North Korea. NK is pretty sensitive to this, since about 90% of their oil demand relies on imports from China.

Today, The BBC reports that NK is ready to resume the 6-party talks, and it was the Chinese that persuaded them to come back to the table. All I can think about this is, oil is one hellava piece of leverage, ain't it?!?

The Oil Drum has an interesting post by Jerome a Paris up on "The First Ever Off-Shore Wind Farm Financed by Banks". TOD (who recently hit the 3 million visitor mark) also has posts on Outsourcing Solar Roofs (the GM model I linked up recently), a "smart grids" post on Ontario's Smart Metering Plan, and an update on Canadian Oil Sands Production by Khebab.
This Wednesday, a few banks, including mine, signed and disbursed a ground-breaking loan: we put 378 million euros on the table, to build 60 wind turbines in the North Sea, 25 kilometers off the coast of the Netherlands, near Amsterdam. The wind farm, at 120 MW is not the biggest to be built offshore (that title goes to Nysted, built three years ago, which has a capacity of 165 MW), but it is the first-ever offshore wind farm to be financed by banks.

Above is a picture of one of the first piles, built just a few weeks ago. In just over a year, 60 of them will have been planted in the seafloor, have a wind turbine bolted on top, and the farm will start producing electricity - enough to provide power to 125,000 households and to avoid 225,000 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

Odograph (possibly prompted by his recent verbal mauling at TOD by an angry doomer or two for daring to suggest that peak oil won't cause the collapse of civilisation and the demise of most of the world's population) has an interesting meditation on Energy (and also links to a BBC documentary on the fall and rise of the bicycle - along with a Reginald Perrin reference - now there's a blast from the past - and I reckon the BBC were remixing the title...).
I’ve been through the wringer on the whole Peak Oil thing. I’ve come out of it with what I call “cynical optimism.” Depending on where you stand though, you might not see the future I see as something that optimistic.

After reading widely on the subject of “Hubbert’s Peak” and listening to oil industry leaders and critics, I think we are more or less at the end of cheap oil. We are at Hubbert’s Peak (for “light sweet crude”) or something like it. We are still pumping a lot of the cheap stuff out of the ground, but we’ve stopped finding new, cheap, supplies. The new finds are far offshore, or far underseas, or like tar sands they require extensive and expensive processing. We in the US depleted our national resources pretty quickly and now rely increasingly on the large overseas reserves.

We all recognize the energy risks this creates. Certainly the “addicted to oil” phrase would not have come from our oil-man President if all was well.

What should we do? We are not short on plans. The national news contains daily reports on hydrogen, wind, biodiesel, solar, ethanol, clean coal, biomass, and geothermal energy projects. And we see as many reports on the conservation front, with smaller, more efficient, gasoline, diesel, hybrid, and electric cars, efficient homes, and appliances. It’s not like we aren’t trying. We are just trying in the imperfect, messy, and sometimes even corrupt, human way.

Many of us wish for earlier, more aggressive, more honest, or more effective action. I certainly do. Where we differ I think is in our response to this messy and imperfect progress we see going on around us. The impatient are ready to write it off. Some essentially believe that if we still buy gas guzzlers in 2006, we’ll never learn.

I don’t think such pessimism is supported by the numbers, the facts, or reasoned argument. We have problems, and see responses, but we just have no way of calculating what response in 2006 is necessary or sufficient for a happy future 20 or 50 years down the line.

Most importantly we have no way of knowing how human response to “the end of cheap oil” will change over time. We know for instance that car-buying patterns change with gas prices. When gas prices rise, more people buy hybrids. When gas prices fall more people buy guzzlers. That’s messy, and that’s human, but it’s a response. I’d be more worried, and more inclined to the pessimistic view if we didn’t see the hybrid boom in times of high gas prices.

What will people drive when gas is $5/gal? No one really knows.

There are optimists and pessimists who have their pat answers. The blithe optimist will tell you it doesn’t matter because we’ll all have hydrogen cars. The irrational pessimist will tell you it doesn’t matter because by then, it will be too late.

Neither of these fringe types will “show you their math.” We don’t have those hydrogen cars yet, and we don’t know how soon or in what environment $5/gal gas will come.

As I said in the first line, I feel like I’ve been through the wringer. I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. I think that hard core optimists and pessimists are not really telling us anything useful about the energy field or the energy crisis. They are simply telling us about themselves. They are speaking from their guts, though they both have some pseudo-science babble to wave as justification.

The humbling truth is that we just do not know our future, and this will take decades to unfold.

Another obvious truth is that we can work hard at creating a future we like, and that’s what I recommend. We can live our lives as we think they should be lived, and that’s what I try to do.

Oh, and the future I see? I think we have the chance to live happy but somewhat different lives. We’ll be burning a lot less oil. We may have cars, but we’ll drive them a lot less. We may be riding bikes a bit more, we may be taking the tram. People or industries who put themselves on the wrong side of this energy transition will suffer. But it’s a mug’s game to be too specific … none of us really knows.

Well said Odo.

Speaking of people who dogmatically cling to whatever worldview they've attached themselves to, Scientific American has an excellent article on "The Expert Mind" which looks at how deep expertise is gained.
The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

According to this view, the proliferation of chess prodigies in recent years merely reflects the advent of computer-based training methods that let children study far more master games and to play far more frequently against master-strength programs than their forerunners could typically manage. Fischer made a sensation when he achieved the grandmaster title at age 15, in 1958; today's record-holder, Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine, earned it at 12 years, seven months.

Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time. It is interesting to note that time spent playing chess, even in tournaments, appears to contribute less than such study to a player's progress; the main training value of such games is to point up weaknesses for future study.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

I think one of the problems I have with doomerism (and after watching the recent Drumbeat tantrum I can see how JD at "Peak Oil Debunked" got so wound up during his years at PO.com) is that it encourages the opposite of the course suggested above - close the lid of your own mind and viciously criticise any information that conflicts with the idea that collapse is coming and nothing can prevent it.

I'll close with some tinfoil from the comments at RI, as I find the Cuttlefish's statements interesting (there is also some interesting economic news at Cryptogon, but I think I've been chastised for my labelling of this site, and may soon have to give up linking to it entirely).
The curious thing about the politicians finally (talking about) doing something about climate change, specifically greenhouse gas emissions, is that the solutions are contrary to their interests, insofar as they're whoring themselves to the current industrial/economic model's owners. For example, if 45 % of those greenhouse gases are a result of the gross stupidity of architecture as it's practiced, and if it's true that anything that is made from hydrocarbons can be made from carbohydrates, then addressing the problem of climate change by switching to the sustainable models of architecture & industry is going to cut the floor out from underneath the power structure we've come to fear and loathe.

The conversion of our shitty architecture to the sustainable model will also, inadvertantly, demolish the gated community surrounded by sea of slums/endless suburban sprawl/concrete urban blight landscape. Neighbors will emerge from their greenroof domiciles, ride the free public transport to their jobs reclaiming the industrial waste of the bad old days, and conversation will be inevitable. With the re-emergence and de-nazification of chemurgy and the reversal of the policies set in motion by the low, dishonest decade, geo-petro-politics will die the quiet death of all fruitless, pointless struggles.

This will all occur because as you make our architecture more efficient (80-100% energy savings), you conserve resources while simultaneously raising living standards and educational standards (and opportunity), which in turn leads to a better informed, less easily deceived public. The wasteful and oppressive economy of scarcity will be relegated to museum displays...and what will the old Powers That Were do with all that time on their hands? Some of them, like the CIA's Woolsey, are already jumping on the new bandwagon, which could be an attempt to clear their bad names (self-de-nazification), while others continue to play the holdout bad cops: is it all just theater?

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