Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stern report crib sheet

because you know they're the only figures that will ever get reported...

The dangers

  • All countries will be affected by climate change, but the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most.
  • Average temperatures could rise by 5C from pre-industrial levels if climate change goes unchecked.
  • Warming of 3 or 4C will result in many millions more people being flooded. By the middle of the century 200 million may be permanently displaced due to rising sea levels, heavier floods and drought.
  • Warming of 4C or more is likely to seriously affect global food production.
  • Warming of 2C could leave 15-40% species facing extinction.
  • Before the industrial revolution level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm) CO2 equivalent (CO2e); the current level is 430ppm CO2e. The level should be limited to 450-550ppm CO2.
  • Anything higher would substantially increase risks of very harmful impacts. Anything lower would impose very high adjustment costs in the near term and might not even be feasible.
  • Deforestation is responsible for more emissions than the transport sector.
  • Climate change is the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.

Recommended actions
  • Three elements of policy are required for an effective response: carbon pricing, technology policy and energy efficiency.
  • Carbon pricing, through taxation, emissions trading or regulation, will show people the full social costs of their actions. The aim should be a global carbon price across countries and sectors.
  • Emissions trading schemes, like that operating across the EU, should be expanded and linked.
  • Technology policy should drive the large-scale development and use of a range of low-carbon and high-efficiency products.
  • Globally, support for energy research and development should at least double; support for the deployment of low-carbon technologies should be increased my up to five times.
  • International product standards could be introduced.
  • Large-scale international pilot programmes to explore the best ways to curb deforestation should be started very quickly.
  • Climate change should be fully integrated into development policy, and rich countries should honour pledges to increase support through overseas development assistance.
  • International funding should support improved regional information on climate change impacts.
  • International funding should go into researching new crop varieties that will be more resilient to drought and flood.

Economic impacts
  • The benefits of strong, early action considerably outweigh the costs.
  • Unabated climate change could cost the world at least 5% of GDP each year; if more dramatic predictions come to pass, the cost could be more than 20% of GDP.
  • The cost of reducing emissions could be limited to around 1% of global GDP; people could be charged more for carbon-intensive goods.
  • Each tonne of CO2 we emit causes damages worth at least $85, but emissions can be cut at a cost of less than $25 a tonne.
  • Shifting the world onto a low-carbon path could eventually benefit the economy by $2.5 trillion a year.
  • By 2050, markets for low-carbon technologies could be worth at least $500bn.
  • What we do now can have only a limited effect on the climate over the next 40 or 50 years, but what we do in the next 10-20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century.

NY Times reviews energy R&D funding

and it aint good. here.
check this out:

President Bush has sought an increase to $4.2 billion for 2007, but that would still be a small fraction of what most climate and energy experts say would be needed.

Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, has nearly quadrupled, to $28 billion annually, since 1979. Military research has increased 260 percent, and at more than $75 billion a year is 20 times the amount spent on energy research.

certainly looks like getting a new hip takes precendence over where your grandkids get to live (unless of course you're just planning on building enough bombs to just live wherever you damn well please)...

George Monbiot's roadmap for low carbon

was also interviewed on Channel 4 last night (i should track down the webcast...).
His proposals are in The Guardian today and i agree with all of them (except for the H2 pipeline, i still think a better electricity network makes more sense than a lossy electricity-->chemical-->electricity chain).
Check them out, i'm a huge fan of the tradable individual carbon emmissions rights.

The Stern Review on Climate Change

available for download in chunks or in all its 700 page glory here.
makes me wish i had an e-reader...

Food miles

it looks as though NZ is on the receiving end of a submarine marketing campaign. Check this out from The Guardian newspaper today:

The Village Press extra virgin olive oil

I've no doubt that it complements "the strong flavours of vine ripened tomatoes, rubbed garlic and fresh torn basil", as it says on the bottle. My only problem with this oil is where it comes from: New Zealand. That's much too far away, and at £5.99 for half a litre my contribution to its air fare amounts to collusion. In New Zealand a local oil makes perfect sense, but we already have the finest olive oil imaginable available much closer to home. Why bother? I know you could make the same argument for wine, but this is a fresh crime, and there is no material advantage to shipping olive oil halfway round the world that I can see. I suppose one might argue that the reversal of the seasons in the southern hemisphere makes it possible to get freshly pressed oil at the wrong time of year, to which I would say - don't even start. Is there a more needlessly extravagant way to supply people with olive oil?

goes well with the infamous Kiwifruit quote from the Stern climate change economics report yesterday. Why do they assume NZ flies everything to Europe? perhaps that's how they move all the fruit and veg from Spain to Tesco's and they can't figure out that shipping is a fairly efficient and very cheap form of transport.
NZ better start waking up to this, it's the new form of protectionism, but hey maybe in the 2025 round of Doha Mk IV we'll get free access...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Has climate change become politically viable?

Helen Clark gave a speech to the Labour party this week (hattip to John Armstrong from today's herald
about 2/3 the way down you'll see this section:
But the 21st century challenges we face don’t only lie in economic and social policy.

There is also the great environmental challenge of the unsustainable way of life of developed nations like ours.

As Britain’s Environment Secretary said last month, the United Kingdom is living as if there were three planets to support us, not one. So are we. That can’t go on.

The issues have come to a head with the climate change crisis – with extreme weather variation and its impact on human life and the natural environment.

The climate change deniers are in retreat as the evidence mounts. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, is helping spread public awareness of the scale of the problem.

Here in New Zealand we did the right thing in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and resolving to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

But it did come as a blow to learn that the net credit position we thought we had in the first commitment period had become a net deficit position.

That sent us back to the drawing boards to look for better, more comprehensive strategies.

Now policy decisions, proposals, and initiatives to help us pull our weight on climate change and on sustainability more broadly are pouring out – on everything from solar heating and fuel efficiency in the transport fleet, to afforestation and sustainable land use.

I believe it’s time to be bold in this area.

Why shouldn’t New Zealand aim to be the first country which is truly sustainable – not by sacrificing our living standards, but by being smart and determined?

We can now move to develop more renewable energy, biofuels, public transport alternatives, and minimise, if not eliminate, waste to landfills.

We could aim to be carbon neutral.

I believe that sustainability will be a core value in 21st century social democracy.

· I want New Zealand to be in the vanguard of making it happen – for our own sakes, and for the sake of our planet.
· I want sustainability to be central to New Zealand’s unique national identity.

And fostering our unique national identity is central to the purpose of our government, and to my purpose in being in politics.

a nice little linker section there. Of course, with a Labour govt running it, i suspect this means we get to choose (or rather, we are told) from these options:
    1. a small underfunded team run out of the old IRL basement co-ordinating (reviewing) the same research that is already going on in universities. on a 100% competitive funding basis. every 6 months. out of existing marsden funding. that isn't getting inflation adjusted.
    2. a disturbingly large, overfunded centralised govt dept that gets stuck in ever decreasing navel gazing circles trying to synergise the Waitangi implications of carbon atoms that have moved from the spirit world into the atmosphere and back again (maybe we could paint the tapu carbon atoms blue...). we could just take the stem cell 'debate' and use Word to automatically change stem cell to carbon atom. be cheaper.
    3. bugger all of anything
    Go on Helen, prove me wrong. Set a big hairy audacious goal. Back it up with some money. Make me beg to come home and be a part of a NZ project that shames the rich-world into how easy it was to whip away the curtain hiding the Wizard of O-il-Z. Go on, i dare you.
    If daring you doesn't float your boat, i'll beg if you think it'll help...

    NZ on the back foot with Food Miles in Europe

    in the Herald here.
    It's not as though the Europeans haven't been talking about this for a while now - how come our parliament's first response reminds me as, let's be honest here, more bluster than informed.
    Welcome to the wacky world of energy research and climate change. Since we can't/won't tax/charge carbon dioxide on an int'l market, we aren't able to price the externality into our exports and you're left with "oh no it's not, oh yes it is" debates.
    Maybe NZ is able to produce food and get it to Europe with less environmental impact than a fellow European driving a truck from Bulgaria (which is suspect is true, containerisation has made shipping costs trivial) yet how are we to convince them?
    We've been banging our heads against the tariff wall for 30 odd years, when are we going to start front footing our leading export and start driving the debate directly with the consumers? I'm living over here and i can assure you, the British people aren't so concerned about 'organic', they just don't want to eat cows that have been fed other (mentally deranged) cows and poor pigs that have been forced to stand in their own excrement or chickens that live in barns pecking each other to death or.... I mean good grief, talk about a slam dunk.

    Here's a slogan: NZ cows and sheep eat grass in a field and drink rainwater. Respect your food, respect your planet. Eat NZ.

    better yet: WTF are you doing to your food? Eat NZ.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    Risks and Rewards to NZ from Climate Change

    This op-ed by Brian Fallow today is too important to hide behind a content wall.
    Be free words of wisdom and spit in the eye of the little people that year for the 50's (1950's that is ;-)...

    Saturday, October 21, 2006

    CRI's paying dividends to NZ Govt

    here in the Herald today.
    Would somebody please figure out what NZ's long term science policy and funding rate actually is. What is the expected ROI on public funded research and can you expect it to pop out of the same place you shoved it in?
    I've been reading some literature lately that estimates it at >10% (pay-per-view: Innovation in climate policy models - Implementing lessons from the economics of R&D - David Popp) but one reason it isn't greatly supported by a lot of businesses is that you can't internalise all of the profit - knowledge begets more knowledge cost-free type of stuff. Hence, expecting publicly funded R&D institutions to yield dividends like a baked-beans manufacturer is pretty stupid, you need to cast your returns net a little wider. Makes you wonder how the SOE's view R&D funding, given this year's mandate to be 'innovative'.
    However you cut it, it probably means using analysis tools a bit more sophisticated than an MS Excel pivot table (OMFG!! have you seen these "Pivot Charts"? has anyone else heard of these?...) so you immediately rule out 99% of the economists in the Treasury dept...

    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    When did the US media get so uppity?

    Olbermann on Bush's Death to Habeus Corpus bill

    What's on your toolbar?

    It just occured to me that the best compliment you can pay a website is to have it load as your homepage or be one of your quick button links.
    Mine pretty much spells out what i consider non-negotiable in my daily surfing, what's yours look like?

    Wednesday, October 18, 2006

    Time magazine reviews NZ policy

    And it's not too complimentary.

    Labour is all about "Think Small"

    At least according to Colin James.

    One of things CJ hates is Labour's Think Small attitude to science and R&D - even mentioning that Fonterra is based in Melbourne (as both my regular readers will have known for months), which is a pretty damning indication of how your DECADE spent pulling the levers of power have been received by those that count on you.

    Friday, October 13, 2006

    Marsden Fund Panelists banned from application

    by the RS&T minister (here).
    Oh, and in case you're wondering, cause i didn't know, that's Steve Maharey - don't hear too much from him about this area of his portfolio.

    I guess the evil-doers in society won a battle, but the war on transparancy is far from over Buwahahahaha...

    Marsden Fund Selection Process

    I've been busy with other things lately so I didn't think the Marsden Fund selection controversy had been such a big deal - it looks to be following best practice and shining a light onto funding bodies and their processes occassionally is a Good Thing.
    The process is described in this week's email alert and is copied below (formatting mine)

    Royal Society Alert - Issue 444
    Latest Alert can be read by Royal Society members on the web:


    1. Conflicts of Interest in the Marsden Fund: Process, Panellists and Projects
    Comment by Marsden Fund Deputy Manager, Dr Peter Gilberd Peter.Gilberd@rsnz.org
    Rules on conflicts of interest are taken very seriously by the Marsden
    Fund. All panellists have to declare all of their conflicts, in writing,
    ranging from minor (e.g. an applicant works in the same department as a
    panellist) to major (e.g. the panellist or a close relative is an
    applicant), and the Fund has processes in place to manage these.

    At the first round, proposals are graded independently by panellists and
    scores are submitted prior to the meeting. Conflicted panellists do not
    grade their own proposal. The unconflicted proposals are discussed first by
    all panellists and placed in a ranked order. Minor grade changes normally
    accompany this discussion. The cut-off for the second round is then
    decided, and remains fixed, irrespective of the fate of any conflicted
    proposals. That is, no proposal is denied an invitation to the second round
    because of a conflict.
    Sounds good, definitely best practice here. Only thing i could possible add is to strip the names and organisations completely from the application and replace with a serial number. Let the proposal do the talking and all that.

    Panellists with a major conflict must in turn step off the panel and leave
    the room. Their proposal and its relationship to the overall rankings for
    all proposals to the panel is then discussed. The remaining panellists then
    recommend on that proposal to the Council via the panel chair. Conflicted
    panellists do not see their grades and do not find out the fate of their
    application until all other applicants are advised of their result.

    Two independent observers, the Chair of the Council and the Fund Manager,
    are present at all times to ensure that the process is followed and that no
    bias is introduced into any aspect of the assessment. Their particular task
    is to monitor scoring patterns and verbal contributions of conflicted
    panellists in setting the original ranked order. These matters are frankly
    discussed once any conflicted panellist steps off the panel. This ensures
    that there is no opportunity whatsoever for the panellists who are
    applicants to influence the outcome of their own application.

    The second round is carried out on similar lines, except that the
    panellists have the benefit of reports from 3 top international researchers
    and the applicant's response to the referees' reports.
    Great. Absolutely agree on bringing in some international review, we want to make sure we're keeping up with best practice.

    Panellists (and referees) donate large amounts of time to peer review
    because they believe it makes for better research. Their contribution is
    highly valued by the Marsden Fund, which has no doubt about the integrity
    they bring to the task.

    Although the Marsden Fund Council had already decided that it will need to
    ask Australian researchers to sit on panels, it is very mindful that
    researchers based in Australia cannot apply to the Fund. They will need to
    be paid for their time as well as their travel as they cannot be expected
    to donate these to help our system. The main concern of the Council is to
    maximise the amount of the Fund spent actually doing the research rather
    than just in deciding who should do it.
    Absolutely. Accessing some brains from the 20 odd million people next door would seem common sense and of course you'd need to pay for their time.
    Elements of society have often ridiculed people with new ideas and this has been seen in the current debate. However, project selection is a matter for experts. So far, the experience with Marsden is that they get it right.
    ... WTF !!!???
    Who the hell are 'Elements of society' ? are the terrorzits at it again with their planes and panel stacking jihads? 'Ridicule' means what exactly? Does disagreement mean ridicule? Is calling a hydrogen economy the stupidest idea proposed since Dr. Hoffmann of Stuttgart's medical leech farming business count as ridicule? Oh the 'experts' are right are they? and all of us great unwashed should just shut up and let their betters get on with it? What the hell kind of response is that? Just how do you measure that success huh? I'd like to see the report you have up your sleeve showing NZ R&D to be powering upward at a stumpendous rate of knots compared to Australia, Singapore, Sweden and Ireland.

    Someone gives your panel's procedures a bit of a stress test and your first response is to call them stupid and tell them that the experts are taking care of it - the correct response here is, and let me type really slowly, outline your procedures in detail, be open and honest about how projects are funded and don't , i repeat don't, get dragged into a mud slinging contest. You can't win that game and you shouldn't even be playing it.

    It's taxpayer money your splashing around, not some private fiefdom, and you deserve to be put through the wringer every now and again just like every other government funded organisation.

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Johnny Cash - hurt music vid

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Marsden Fund panelists

    Helen Clark's husband is on the panel...
    Oh my. Good procedures must not only be done, they must be seen to be done.

    The stats about the amount of cash that the fund managers get should be compared with the total pool. If a fund member seems to get a high return on their investment, some questions need to be asked with one option being that the best scientists are doing the judging and hence have a high chance of success based on the science.

    Putting on my evil genius hat, a little quid pro quo and some back scratching could pay dividends in this sort of scenario if only you could engineer yourself onto the panel in the first place - hence we should be looking at the history of how the panel members are selected, declarations of conflict of interest made public in advance and some co-variant analysis of your success probability given that you don't vote on your project but the rest of them do... (i wonder how you would do that?)

    This is very unseemly and best dealt with using complete transparency - it is after the guiding principle of science, it doesn't gaurantee bad things won't happen, it just tries to ensure that they are quickly found out and corrected.

    Friday, October 06, 2006

    2006 Chemistry Nobel

    goes to Roger Kornberg of Stanford (Noble website here). Cutting edge chemistry these days is often indistinguishable from cutting edge biology!

    At the very least, go and check out the public information of what this guy achieved (a sole winner is so rare these days!). It is nothing less than a complete description of how our DNA gets turned into proteins at the molecular level. This is probably one of the most fundamental things you could work on and his lab had absolutely no success, no papers, no nothing for seven years before his ideas came to fruition.
    seven years! i can't go seven weeks before throwing up my hands and declaring defeat!

    The picture above is the end result of some painstaking and incredible chemistry/biochemistry/X-ray crystallography. He was able to literally stop the process of building a protein half way, get the resulting solution to crystallise, and then interpret the crystallography to paint the above picture. It's like working out the entire 9 hours of the LoTR's trilogy by only allowing 1.03 hours of Pippin to be used up and and getting a static image of what the scene was at the point Pippin was next supposed to be there! Repeat with a new 'amount' of Pippin. Repeat with new character. Repeat, repeat repeat...

    The above picture shows RNA-polymerase in white, DNA-helix in blue and the
    growing RNA-strand in red. See how the original blue DNA strand is being unwound and 'presented' to the purpulish metal atom in the centre of the system. The cavity that is opened is completely specific to the correct RNA-building block - it's like presenting a jigsaw puzzle one gap at a time and then trying all the pieces until one fits. Once the new RNA-bit is plugged in, the little green helix, which is being flexed back and forth by the action that changes the cavity shape, acts like a ratchet and shunts the DNA strand along one more step ready to repeat.
    Amazing huh? and to think that my body is doing this right now, as i type so that i can think, do and breath.
    Computer geeks think their toy is the best thing to come out of the '90s, i think there's a whole bunch of us scientists that think we've got some pretty cool toys of our own!

    Climate change policy in NZ

    is pretty much the same ol' same old.
    Labour doesn't want to do anything that might be considered (could put a full stop there actually) proactive and National's website still has the '05 policy posted (read the bullet points for a non-policy policy, basically yahboo to whatever Labour does and a backhander to investigate the options but we won't do anything until those billion chinese people agree to limit their growth at the same time...).

    What we have here is a faliure of our elected representatives and all their little civil servants to actually understand what the costs and benefits to NZ are with respect to energy, environment and trade.
    Without an understanding of where you wish to go, any direction at all is likely to be wrong, hence, don't do anything and stand still. i reserve the right to ignore the wails of 101 level economists and their slavish devotion to the gods of ceribus paribus.

    2012? what kind of a date is that? where's your mana? where's your sense of stewardship?
    all you baby boomers currently running the country should look out, your kids get to pick your rest home and at the moment we're all a little pi$$ed about our high taxes, user-pays lifestyles and creaky infrastructure that have been foisted on us by our future eating, consequences be damned predecessors.

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Someone's getting snarky...

    Royal Society Alert - Issue 443

    Latest Alert can be read by RSNZ members on the web:


    1. Comment from the Marsden Fund Council


    The past fortnight has seen much ill-informed criticism in the media of
    the Marsden Fund selection process, the topics selected for funding, and
    even the researchers themselves.

    The Marsden Fund Council and the Royal Society of New Zealand strongly
    reject these criticisms and the innuendoes of unethical behaviour by
    some of our leading researchers. Several organisations such as the
    Vice-Chancellors’ Committee, the Association of University Staff, the
    Council for Humanities, and the Association of Crown Research
    Institutes, have come out in support either of the choice of the topics
    or the processes used to select successful projects. Whilst there will
    always be debate about priorities between different areas of research,
    and this is a valid topic for discussion, the allegations that
    panellists have either been allowed to or have in fact influenced the
    awarding of grants to themselves is both untrue and offensive. The
    Marsden Fund Council does not believe that it has been given adequate
    opportunity to explain in detail the processes it uses to both manage
    and avoid conflicts in the awarding of grants. The Council is seeking
    space in next week’s Alert to provide a full description of this
    process, which was rigidly adhered to in the recent funding round.
    Indeed, one could argue that it is impossible for something to be both true and offensive.

    Any person or body that decides where someone else's money gets spent is open to the accusation of insider trading or kick-backs. It's not like no-one in science has ever given their colleague or co-authors a better hearing/review than their counterparts/competitors (who are always deluded or just plain stoopid) so you might not award yourself some funding but a bit of back scratching is just greasing the wheels and being a team player...

    Coming out with your fists flailing and hubris over the accusation is pointless - stick to the facts (and link to your opponents statements FFS) and make your case or perhaps thou doth protest too much?