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Links for the Week Ending 27 April 2014

  • The success or failure of greenhouse gas emission mitigation really rests on Chinese coal consumption. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2013 showed global coal consumption rising 2.5% in 2012, with China accounting for all of the net growth. China alone now accounts for more than 50% of global coal consumption. (Note: BP’s 2014 edition containing 2013 numbers will be released in June.) The Financial Times (free access to articles after registration) highlights new talks between the US and China on emission reductions (here) and also has a good piece of analysis looking at the efforts China is making to cap coal production and consumption (here).
  • The launch of Voc.com by Ezra Klein and colleagues will, I hope, give us a new platform to access decent news analysis. The start looks promising, with a solid article by Brad Plummer on the disappearing two degree Celsius global warming target. The site promises continuity of analysis (see a good review of the concept behind Vox by The New York Times here), and I wish them well.
  • Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” has received extensive coverage in almost every heavy-weight newspaper and magazine, plus, of course, on the blogosphere. If you want to get acquainted with his arguments (and his critics), then a great place to start would be this article by Vox again.
  • The inequality question is squaring up to be central to the UK general election, now only a little over a year away. The economist David Blanchflower has a good article in The Independent looking at the issue. Like Blanchflower, I would prefer Labour to come up with a coherent set of policies that deal with low growth, energy, inequality and sustainability. I haven’t seen anything yet.
  • The probability of an El Nino event starting this summer is growing as can be seen in this review of the situation by The Carbon Brief. Against this background, expect food prices to remain volatile, a trend already highlighted by this article in The Financial Times.

Links for the Week Ending 20 April 2014

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. The demands on my time have been intense recently, and I have found little time to read, let alone write.

  • The third instalment of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was published on 12th April, hot on the heels of the second instalment  which came out on 31st March. The latest report is from Working Group III and is titled “Mitigation of Climate Change”. “The Summary for Policy Makers”, which pulls out the most pertinent points, can be found here. With mankind currently emitting around 50 giga tonnes of CO2 equivalent, it looks almost impossible to constrain end-of-century warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Real Climate has an interesting commentary on this IPCC report by Brigitte Knopf (which you can find here). It highlights the fact that mitigation strategies remain relatively low cost. To avoid dangerous climate change would likely only require a reduction in global GDP growth from 2.0% to 1.94% per annum. Further, the Real Climate post also contains the infamous chart that was excluded from the original “Summary for Policy Makers” since it showed upper middle income countries (led by China) driving emission growth.
  • I am still skeptical over the Chinese growth story remaining intact for decades to come. The Q1 GDP release saw growth slowing to 7.4% (see here). Business Insider has a series of ugly charts on China here, while a Morgan Stanley report suggesting that China may be reaching a Minsky Moment (a credit inflexion point) has received a lot of comment (for example, here). Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture has a series of charts showing the credit madness here. Personally, I still think China will ‘do a Japan'; that is, experience a sudden and sharp drop in GDP growth. Not good for China, but certainly good for climate change.
  • More generally, the upbeat ‘hiatus’ mentality is everywhere. We have a ‘hiatus’ in global mean temperature rise, a ‘hiatus’ in oil price increases (although the oil price is certainly not going down despite the shale story) and a ‘hiatus’ in the global financial crisis. The International Monetary Fund in its April “World Economic Outlook” publication (WEO) publication, sees global growth of 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015, up from 3.3% in 2013. More important, it puts the risk of a near-term global recession close to zero. The Federal Reserve Board-led super monetary ease and abundant access to credit has, for the time being, proved victorious. I still believe that there are longer term forces at work which will confront the average household with a whole new world of risk by the end of the decade. The current ‘hiatuses’ provide a golden opportunity to prepare for the  future, but are generally seen as a confirmation of good times are here again. For the vast majority of people, including the educated, global warming is dead, peak oil is dead, and financial/economic risk is dead. We shall see.

 

Links for the Week Ending 30 March 2014

  • The second instalment of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)‘s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), titled “Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability”, is to be released in Tokyo tomorrow. There have been lots of leaks, but I would prefer to read the actual report before commenting on it further. Nonetheless, we have seen some good climate change reporting over the last week in the run-up to IPCC publication; for example, “Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land” in The New York Times, an article looking at the plight of Bangladeshis displaced by rising sea levels.
  • I frequently quote Joseph Tainter‘s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” and now NASA has created a research project that tackles the same theme. The Guardian has a good introductory article here, and the academic paper introducing the HANDY model looking at ‘collapse’ is here. It is not a million miles away from the World3 model which sat behind “The Limits to Growth” report to the Club of Rome way back in 1972.
  • The economist Tim Hartford is a past master at doing a hatchet job on the latest intellectual fad. Here he is in The Financial Times (access to the article after free registration) putting the boot into ‘Big Data’, in particular, its claim to be both more accurate yet still remove the need for statistical sampling, model building and an understanding of causation. I will quote Hartford: “Unfortunately, these four articles of faith are at best optimistic oversimplifications. At worst, according to David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge university, they can be “complete bollocks. Absolute nonsense.”” I have blogged on Robert Gordon before (here), an economist who takes the hype behind these new technologies with a pinch of salt. Big Data, driverless cars, nano-technology, 3D printer— the list goes on. The first and second industrial revolutions produced steam power and the internal combustion engine, which together have put us into a climate crisis. I am still to be convinced that the technologies of the third industrial revolution (encompassing everything from the integrated circuit to Big Data) will get us out.
  • There was a time when economists looked down their noses at psychologists as being ‘woolly'; this is ironic since psychology, rather than economics, is far more amenable to the application of controlled experiments, a key component of the scientific method.  Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky were pioneers in applying psychological experiments to economic questions, and together they helped invent the discipline of behavioural economics. Tversky died in 1996, but Kahneman is still going strong and has just passed his 80th birthday. His influence has never been higher, helped by the success of his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” which brought his ideas to a general audience outside of economic academia. The Edge has an interesting article in which a series of thought leaders from a variety of disciplines explain how they were influenced by Kahneman’s work. For myself, Kahneman made me reevaluate how I look at risk and also helped me understand why humans find themselves unable and unwilling to respond to the clear and present danger of climate change.
  • Salon has lovely article by a son trying to deal with a father lost in the hatred and bile of Fox News. Thankfully, I never experienced such a dilemma with my dad; he was a mildly grumpy conservative, but with a lasting affection for the NHS within which he worked as a doctor for the best part of 40 years. Of course, The UK has The Daily Mail, which thrives on a diet of righteous indignation (and stories of how the country is going to the dogs), but the UK has no real broadcast equivalent of Fox News. Thankfully.

Links for the Week Ending 16 February 2014

  • Just as Hurricane Sandy brought climate change back into the political debate in the United States, the floods in southern England have made climate change a topic for public discourse again in the U.K. Indeed, opposition leader Ed Milliband has felt sufficiently emboldened by the floods to put climate change back onto the agenda of any incoming Labour government as witnessed by his interview in The Observer newspaper, In this, he claims that Britain is “sleepwalking into a climate crisis”.
  • Meanwhile, the British right still appears unconscious of the potential damage its recent embrace of climate skepticism could do to its political fortunes. There are those on the right who are perfectly aware that a belief in British political conservatism does not require unquestioning adherence to climate skepticism. And it is to The Daily Telegraph‘s credit that the thoughtful veteran environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean is still given a platform (he would have been taken behind the wood shed and shot in the head by The Daily Mail long ago). Yet Lean and has views have been increasingly marginalised on the right over the past five years—as the pages of The Daily Telegraph attest. Instead, we have such nutters as James Delingpole being given a voice in both The Telegraph and The Spectator. For an example of Delingpole’s American style hard-right shock-jock journalism attacking Geoffrey Lean see here. And Christoper Booker appears to be the most prolific Telegraph commentator on the floods, with never a chance missed to bash the ‘warmists’ (people who believe in global warming). See, for example, here. Message to Tory strategists: “What if the skeptics are wrong?, What if the planet warms? What if extreme weather events grow more frequent and severe? What if climate skeptics appear increasingly unhinged from reality? What if a Conservative Party that embraces climate skepticism looks ridiculous?” It doesn’t have to be this way: you can be right-leaning and still believe in climate change. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
  • Meanwhile, the U.S. is dealing with its own major extreme weather events, not least of which is the drought in California. National Geographic asks whether we are seeing a structural change in a piece called “Could California’s Drought Last 200 Years?“. And The New York Times looks at the difficulties farmers are facing in an article called “California Seeing Brown Where Green Used to Be“.
  • During my series of posts titled “Hiding from the Computers” (starting here), I wrote on the emergence of a Downton Abbey style economy. The Financial Times has former Chief Economist of the World Bank Larry Summers riffing on the same theme in an Op-Ed piece here (free registration gives access).
  • The Financial Times has also been chronicling the differing fortunes of typical middle-class professions since the 1970s. This is an example of not just increasing inequality between classes, but also within classes. Just to think, once upon a time engineers used to earn more than bankers!
  • Finally, I entered adulthood reading The Economist and The Financial Times and latter added The Wall Street Journal, Barrons and The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (the Japanese FT). So who would have thought that one of my favourite bloggers would now be—well—a druid. Here is John Michael Greer writing on David Holgrem’s “Crash on Demand” article that I flagged in last week’s links, but everything he writes is well worth reading.

Links for the Week Ending 2 February 2014

  • A year ago, the U.S. was suffering from a major drought in the Great Plains area. This year, it is California that is experiencing an unprecedented lack of rainfall. The US Drought Monitor shows the situation here, and The New York Times reports on the implications for California here. If you want to put this drought in some perspective, then I recommended looking at a series of charts published by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) that can be found here. In particular, look at the time series chart half-way down the post that shows drought categories for the contiguous U.S. changing over time. The U.S. does appear to be experiencing more exceptional (D4) droughts in recent years but the overall drought picture looks more mixed.
  • Preliminary figures suggest that the U.K. economy grew 1.9% in 2013. Much of the media has now accepted a narrative of continued recovery, but there are a few dissenting voices. The Telegraph‘s Liam Halligan in an article titled “Britain’s shaky growth is papering over cracks” points to missing fixed capital investment, a worsening external balance, more debt and a growing real estate and financial asset bubble as all suggesting that the expansion will end in tears. Halligan also quotes a pamphlet by Douglas Carswell at Potiteia (here), which links every credit boom since the 1970s with a subsequent real economy bust.
  • John Cassidy, a staff writer at the New Yorker, wrote one of the better books about the Great Recession and utopian economics called “How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities“. His articles for The New Yorker are similarly perceptive, such as this recent one suggesting “Ten Ways to Get Serious about Rising Inequality”.
  • On a similar theme, I have talked a lot about stagnating median incomes in the U.S. that date back to the 1970s (such as here), but have rarely referred to the experience in the U.K. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published a report on this topic on January 31 called “An Examination of Falling Real Wages, 2010 – 2013″, which has drawn a lot of press comment, such as this in The Guardian. It came out just a day after a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies looking at the same theme (here), with commentary by The Financial Times (access free after registration) here. I intend to post on this issue soon.
  • And in The Telegraph again, Jeremy Warner argues that Britain has “A broken schools system wholly unprepared for march of the machines“. It’s good to see that the mainstream press has started having an intelligent discussion on how technology is transmogrifying the workplace.
  • Time for some interesting eco counter-culture thinking with David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand” paper, in which the permaculture guru upgrades ‘brown tech’ as his mostly likely scenario for the future—that is, one of severe climate change but a slow decline in energy usage. He then goes on to suggest that a global economic crash is in the interest of the sustainability community, and that it should be positively encouraged. All provocative stuff and sufficient to give rise to a flurry of posts within the ‘descent’ blogosphere, including comments by Dmitry Orlov (here), Nicole Foss (here) and Rob Hopkins (here).

On Sustainability and Happiness (Part 2)

In my last post (here), I looked at the mounting evidence that GDP per head is correlated with happiness when tracked for individual countries through time—a finding that goes against the previous orthodoxy that went under the moniker of the Easterlin Paradox (if we all get richer, none of us get happier).

The U.S. and China are sometimes argued as key countries that show no such improvement in happiness, but anti-Easterliners explain away the U.S. by pointing to stagnant median income growth through time (GDP per head has risen, but it has all gone to an elite, so most people haven’t secured any income-induced extra happiness), and view the China findings as irrelevant due to a lack of sufficient data.

The situation is ironic since it is only recently that advocates of the Easterlin Paradox have made headway in transferring their ideas out of academia and into the public domain, so catching the attention of politicians. Here is the economist Andrew Oswald in an Op-Ed in The Financial Times in 2006 (here):

But today there is much statistical and laboratory ­evidence in favour of a heresy: once a country has filled its larders there is no point in that nation becoming richer.

The hippies, the Greens, the road protesters, the downshifters, the slow-food movement – all are having their quiet revenge. Routinely derided, the ideas of these down-to-earth philosophers are being confirmed by new statistical work by psychologists and economists.

Justin Wolfers, the Easterlin Paradox’s great nemesis, would beg to differ. Accordingly to him, GDP per capita has captured human welfare as encapsulated in the idea of self-evaluated happiness quite well. Indeed, he views the happiness literature as maturing to a stage where it aligns well with GDP and, indeed, the old stalwarts of economic analysis ‘utility‘ and its first cousin ‘revealed preference‘—as such happiness has become respectably boring and quite neo-classical economics in tone.

“Utility’ and ‘revealed preference’ are the two trump cards of orthodox economists when confronted by arguments from non-economists that money can’t buy you happiness. Such economists will say “don’t listen to what people say, look at what they do”. And what people frequently do is buy, buy, buy—or work like hell so they are able to buy, buy, buy— to the exclusion of all those things that are supposed to bring happiness like hanging out with the kids, communing with nature, going for a jog, catching up with old school friends and taking up charity work.

Nonetheless, while Wolfers appears to relish his bar fight with Richard Easterlin, he has been very reluctant to take on the titan of behavioural economics, Nobel Laureate in Economics Daniel Kahneman. In Wolfers last major paper on happiness written with his wife Betsey Stevenson, the conclusion purposefully avoided any confrontation with Kahneman:

To be clear, our analysis in this paper has been confined to the sorts of evaluative measures of life satisfaction and happiness that have been the focus of proponents of the (modified) Easterlin hypothesis. In an interesting recent contribution, Kahneman and Deaton (2010) have shown that in the United States, people earning above $75,000 do not appear to enjoy either more positive affect nor less negative affect than those earning just below that. We are intrigued by these findings, although we conclude by noting that they are based on very different measures of well-being, and so they are not necessarily in tension with our results.

This is interesting, because Kahneman says some quite specific things about the use of the word ‘utility’ by economists in his magnum opus “Thinking Fast and Slow”.

As economists and decision theorists apply the term (utility), it means “wantability”—and I have called it decision utility. Expected utility theory, for example, is entirely about the rules of rationality that should govern decision utilities; it has nothing to say about hedonic experiences.

Kahneman goes on to make a distinction between the ‘remembering self’ and the ‘experiencing self’. The latter is concerned with the immediate emotions of joy, love, hate, sadness and so on and is completely distinct from the former’s happiness calculus gleaned from a balancing of a perceived life’s worth.

The book highlights an example of this dichotomy: the contemplative question of whether one’s happiness would increase if one moved to sunny California from the weather-challenged Midwest. The example is played out as a husband and wife spat. The wife believes that all will alter in a move to a sunnier clime, the curmudgeon of a  husband says nothing will change. And on this occasion, the data suggests that Kahneman is right. Weather (and climate) is the wallpaper of our lives: it is something that we will barely give thought to for more than a few minutes per day—and most often we see it as a given in our lives: neither a subtracter of happiness nor an additor.

Here is Kahneman filling out the different concepts of happiness:

So what happens if we start to measure experiential happiness rather than remembered happiness? The former is sometimes divided into positive affect—joy, love, hope, amusement and so on—and negative affect—pain, sadness, hate, regret and so on. What we find out, accordingly to Kahneman, is that the correlation between the remembering self and the experiential self is only 0.5. Events that will maximise self-evaluation of happiness will not necessarily maximise experiences. That is why people choose to take a job with a long commute or work for a bulge bracket investment bank like Goldman Sachs, even though both choices may be very negative in terms of experiential happiness.

In a classic paper with Angus Deaton, Kahneman actually teased out the impact of a rise in income for the remembering self and experiencing self. He came up with this chart (click for larger image) from this seminal 2010 paper (here):

Positive affect, blue affect, stress and life evaluation jpeg

And for those who like numbers, we have this table below from the same paper. What you see is a reasonably high correlation between income and how we perceive our lives (the Cantril ladder of life satisfaction from one to 10) but a very low correlation with positive affect (joyish kind of stuff) and blue affect (sadness kind of stuff).

Life evaluation jpeg

So Justin Wolfers may have felt he had won the war, but has he in fact just won an insignificant battle? More to come on this.

On Sustainability and Happiness (Part 1)

The last few years has seen a big bust-up within the academic economist community over whether higher income makes you happy. Since the experimental and survey data are still immature—albeit expanding and deepening year by year—even the seminal papers on happiness remain open to attack. And battle has certainly commenced over the so called Easterlin Paradox, named after the economist Richard Easterlin. For the sustainability community, the debate is important because it deals with the link between happiness and economic growth.

Somewhat simplistically, the Easterlin Paradox refers to the phenomenon whereby the level of happiness in a society doesn’t grow with absolute income but rather with relative income. The landmark paper which first promoted this idea is Easterlin’s “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Emperical Evidence” published in 1974.

Easterlin’s paradox rested on the fact that in-country income disparities (the rich and poor within a particular country) corresponded closely with life satisfaction, yet between-country comparisons (rich country, poor country) showed a much smaller-than-expected happiness gap. Moreover, if you tracked a specific country through time, life satisfaction did not improve even as the country grew richer. Easterlin asked the question: “Will raising the income of all, increase the happiness of all?” And his answer was “no”, or rather “not so much”. This is one of the tables printed in the paper as evidence for his thesis:

U.S. and Happiness jpeg

As to why this should be the case? This came to rest on the theory that our lot in life is to live on a hedonic tread mill, ever resetting our happiness to the income and wealth of a particular time and place. So the thrill of a brand new car, house or holiday will always dull and pale.

In the following decades, Easterlin and his disciples amassed further evidence to support the income paradox, and, critically, it become one of the lynchpins of the new heterodox strands of economic thought that questioned the wisdom of neo-liberal growth without end. As such, it showed up in such canonical texts as Herman Daly and Joshua Farley’s “Ecological Economics” and Tim Jackson’s “Prosperity Without Growth.” Daly, Farley and Jackson believe (as do I) that there exist both resource and pollution limits to growth.  Critically, if the Easterlin Paradox is correct, you can have your cake and eat it, since a steady-state, or no-growth, society can be just as happy as one emphasising rampant consumerism and exponential expansion.

Almost inevitably, a counter-attack was launched in the form of a 2008 paper by the husband and wife team of Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers titled “Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox” and a subsequent follow-up in 2013 called “Subjective Well-Being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation“.

In this post, however, I will pull out the abstract and a chart from a third paper which Stevenson and Wolfers wrote together with  Daniel Sachs titled “The New Stylized Facts About Income and Subjective Well-Being” since it gives more prominence to the question of whether happiness increases with an individual country’s income through time.

The abstract to the paper blasts a broadside into the Easterlin Paradox.

Economists in recent decades have turned their attention to data that asks people how happy or satisfied they are with their lives. Much of the early research concluded that the role of income in determining well-being was limited, and that only income relative to others was related to well-being. In this paper, we review the evidence to assess the importance of absolute and relative income in determining well-being. Our research suggests that absolute income plays a major role in determining well-being and that national comparisons offer little evidence to support theories of relative income. We find that well-being rises with income, whether we compare people in a single country and year, whether we look across countries, or whether we look at economic growth for a given country. Through these comparisons we show that richer people report higher well-being than poorer people; that people in richer countries, on average, experience greater well-being than people in poorer countries; and that economic growth and growth in well-being are clearly related. Moreover, the data show no evidence for a satiation point above which income and well-being are no longer related.

And here are a set of charts purporting to show that growth in life satisfaction and growth in per capital GDP are linked through time (click for larger image).

Life Satisfaction and GDP jpeg

It’s worth hearing the argument directly from the horses’ mouths, so here is a podcast over at EconTalk ,with Stevenson and Wolfers taking about happiness and growth to Russ Roberts. And below we hear Wolfers debating happiness with Robert Frank at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCV8IPlP-GE

Right-wing politicians love to characterise anti-growth advocates as out-of-touch ‘hippies’, so the attack on the Easterlin Paradox has met with a warm reception in such quarters. So is this the revisionist counter-revolution that will put the anti-growth ‘hippies’ back in their box? Well, not really. But I will leave that to my next post.

E.U.’s New Climate Targets for 2030 Plus More Rubbish on Competitiveness

One of the European Union’s saving graces is its relatively enlightened climate change policy. The push to decarbonise the European economies may be too slow but at least it is going in the right direction.

In this connection, an important set of E.U. reports, that together form the new climate targets out to the year 2030, was published on 22nd January. You can find them all here. The critical components of the 2030 policy are threefold:

  • 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 1990 levels)
  • To achieve at least a 27% share of renewable energy consumption
  • Energy efficiency to play a vital role, but no specific target at this point.

In this post, I prefer not to delve into the details of the targets, but rather want to take a brief look at energy costs. The dominant meme in the financial price is that renewables and carbon taxes are fatally undermining European competitiveness. As an example, read this article in The Financial Times titled “High Energy Prices Hold Europe Back“.

Whenever I hear a politician or titan of industry reaching for the word “competitiveness” to justify some self-serving policy action I make sure I have a sick bucket near. This is because the mere mention of the word “competitiveness” appears to preclude any further analysis and resort to actual facts.

My point here is that cheap energy prices are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for fostering a prosperous economy. Let’s take a chart of wholesale gases prices from the E.U.’s “Energy Prices and Costs Report” that was published along with the new 2030 targets (click for larger image).

Wholesale Gas Prices Globally jpeg

The first point to note is that the U.S. price of around $2 dollars was the absolute 2012 nadir in gas prices. We are now back up to around $4 and the U.S. Energy Information Agency see the price trending up toward $6 to $7 in order to make further shale gas development economically viable.

US Nat Gas Spot Prices Jan 14 jpeg

But this is not the key point I want to make. Rather, if you click on the global gas price comparison chart you will see that at the high price end of the spectrum we have three of the Asian Tigers: Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. And how about that GDP growth monster China, which has been astonishing the world with consecutive 10% year-on-year annual growth rates up until very recently? Well, its gas price looks—how can I put it—European.

OK, what about electricity prices for industrial consumers (click for larger image)?

Retail Prices of Electricity Industrial Consumers jpeg

True, the price paid in some European countries is high, but the average is only marginally above that in China, Brazil and Turkey. And don’t forget that you would expect Europe to be somewhat higher since its advanced economies have higher wages and steeper land prices. So taking such costs into consideration, Europe looks pretty average.

So there are many paths to economic prosperity, and a cheap energy price is not the only one.

Links for the Week Ending January 19

  • Just as I am close to concluding my series of posts on technology and jobs (herehereherehere and here), The Economist places the topic on its front page with a picture of a tornado ripping through an office. Their editorial is here and briefing here. The times are a changing: there is no disdain for the lump of labour fallacy to be seen (surely a first for The Economist) and, indeed, a recognition that we have a major problem in finding enough jobs.
  • On a tangental theme, many academic economists have pointed to a structural change surfacing in the labour market from around the year 2000. Interestingly, an article in the weekend’s Financial Times sees a structural change in the U.K. housing market taking place at around the same time. In short, from the end of WW2 to the turn of the millennium, housing wealth broadened to encompass a growing share of the population, and since that time it has struck. A further symptom of the return to an Edwardian Downton Abbey-type economy? (Note, FT articles are free as long as you register.)
  • And for an upper middle-class lament on both housing and education affordability trends read this article by David Thomas in The Telegraph titled “We’ll Never Have It So Good Again“(it’s a few months old, but I missed it until seeing it referenced by The Browser).
  • The climate skeptic spin on the scientists stuck in Antarctic ice is too depressing for words, but at least I think this incident will be forgotten within a year or so. Nonetheless, strange things are happening to the Antarctic climate as this piece in The New York Times explains.
  • Still on climate, Michael Mann—he of the hockey stick controversy— has a fine op-ed (again in The New York Times) explaining why he gets involved in the bar fight that is climate change action advocacy. In his words: “How will history judge us if we watch the threat unfold before our eyes, but fail to communicate the urgency of acting to avert potential disaster? How would I explain to the future children of my 8-year-old daughter that their grandfather saw the threat, but didn’t speak up in time?” Bravo!
  • And don’t miss Gavin Schmidt’s talk and comments on the role of scientists in climate change advocacy available at Realclimate here.
  • For an angle on just how much we have left to do, read the International Energy Agency‘s Maria van der Hoeven’s  CNN Money piece on the inexorable rise of coal consumption. Disturbing reading. The IEA report on coal that sits behind this article is here.

Links for the Week Ending 12 January 2014

  • A segment on 60 Minutes bashing Cleantech entitled the Cleantech Crash has caused a lot of controversy around the web. I will just say a couple of things. First, biofuels, the woeful under-performers, are not the only thing in Greentech; successes in electric cars, wind and solar have been many. Second, the development of fracking technology took many decades, went up a lot of dead ends, and has cost a lot of tax-dollars through government support (see here). Grist has a good response to 60 Minutes here, and Robert Rapier of the blog R-Squared Energy, a contributor to the programme, has the backstory of how the segment was made here.
  • With floods in the UK and freeze in the US, now is a good time to revisit a Skeptical Science post explaining the jet stream (here), whose recent volatility is the likely driver of all the turmoil. Ironically, Australia has just finished its hottest year on record (here) and has had a record-shattering start to 2014 as well. Ditto Argentina (here).
  • I’ve been talking a lot about technology munching jobs recently, and am intrigued that this issue is popping up in the most unexpected places. Adam Jones in the management section of The Financial Times tells us how technology and globalisation are creating lives for white collar workers of angst and alienation befitting a Bruce Springsteen song. In the face of such burgeoning job insecurity, he advises the middle class to detach their identities from their jobs if they wish to avoid the psychological damage suffered by blue collar workers of the Springsteen-land rust belt in the 1970s and 80s.
  • I if you were to read only three non-academic articles on the subject of technology and job destruction they would be these: 1) Martin Ford’s “Could Artificial Intelligence Cause an Unemployment Crisis” (yes, we have a crisis), 2) David Rotman in the MIT Technology Reviews’s “How Technology Is Destroying Jobs” (could perhaps be a crisis), and 3) Ben Miller and Robert Atkinson’s  “Are Robots Taking Our Jobs, or Making Them?” (definitely no crisis).
  • I did a post a couple of months back on the Red Queen syndrome with shale gas production (here). Here is Rune Likvern writing over at Fractional Flow on the same theme but with respect to tight oil.