Sunday, March 31, 2013

New writing gig - The Energy Collective

Some exciting news for yours truly is that I'll be writing a series of articles for the excellent energy and climate website, The Energy Collective, as part of their Future Energy Fellows initiative.

I will be focusing on particular sub-topic that has aroused a lot of interest recently; namely, the economic and environmental impacts of natural gas.

My first post concerns the role that the North American shale boom has played in bringing U.S. carbon emissions to a twenty-year low, and the question of whether these climate gains are undermined by increased coal exports to Europe. (Short answer: not really.) The article expands on some earlier musings that I have presented here at the Corral and at the Recon Hub. Here's the opening gambit, which I use to set up the problem:
U.S. Shale Gas Meets European Climate Policy

Economists are suckers for a good paradox. Few things are more intellectually appealing to the practicing economist than a result which runs counter to his or her immediate intuition. Indeed, some of the most enduring ideas in history of economic thought have surprising implications at the heart of their allure; from the paradox of thrift to Ricardo's law of comparative advantage. For their part, the specialized fields of energy and environmental economics are not immune to the charms of counter-intuitive theories either. This includes textbook favourites like the green paradox and the rebound effect.

Beyond the intellectual appeal, it is clearly sensible to be mindful of such factors when designing policy. However, our inherent affinity for paradoxes is also problematic in that it can cause people to overstate their role in real world situations. To illustrate using the aforementioned rebound effect, Nature recently published a comprehensive literature survey on the subject by Gillingham et al. (2013). The authors show that the rebound effect’s significance is much overplayed, being typically only in the region of 10% (with an upper bound of about 30%). Hardly a compelling objection to improved efficiency standards then.[...]

Click through to read more!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Noonday Tune

I get quite a bit of flack from (non-economist) friends and family whenever this blog goes too long without a music intermission... or some other distraction from the usual fair of "mundane econo-mese". (Thanks guys!)

The good news then, is that I recently joined Noonday Tune as a contributor. As the name suggests, this is a very cool website that posts a new song everyday at noon.

My first three contributions are a mix of stuff that I've been listening to lately and then some Scandinavian bands that I feel deserve a wider international exposure:
  1. "Augustine" - We Are Augustines
  2. "Hjerteknuser" (Heartbreaker) - Kaizers Orchestra
  3. "Sister to all" - Real Ones
Well, don't just sit there. Hit the links and indulge your ears with aural satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Climate science is pseudoscience(?)

So says Ivo Vegter in his latest column, calling up the spirit of Karl Popper.

I drop by in several places in the comments, saying that this pretty much utter nonsense according to any reasonable definition of the falsifiability criteria. For example:
[...]As it happens, Ivo has also beautifully misconstrued the application of Popper's insights, by consistently conflating the actual science with the response to that science by various parties.
[...]At its heart, falsification is about using an underlying set of theories to make predictions that can be tested against the relevant evidence. The theory of (man-made) climate change satisfies the falsifiability criteria across multiple dimensions. The fundamental pretexts of climate science are rooted in physics that has been understood and tested since the early contributions of Fourier, Tyndall and Arrenhuis in the nineteenth century. For their part, modern day climate models absolutely meet the Popperian standards. Not only do they forecast how climate phenomena will evolve under conditions of continued emissions, but (crucially) they have been extremely successful in hindcasting previous changes to the climate. Indeed, this accurate replication of past events is how they are selected in the first place…
As part of his reply to this comment, Ivo made the strange assertion that the ability to hindcast models is weakened by the fact that these models can be "tweaked" to accurately match the observed data. I respond:
How is it a case against climate scientists that they were able to benchmark their theories against against a historic record with "perfect hindsight"? Speaking as someone with a fairly considerable amount of scientific training, that actually sounds pretty ideal. Models were back-tested, refined and then discarded in favour of ones that better fit the data... pretty much in exact accordance with the scientific method.
For the record, I am well aware that Popper's falsification doctrine is not without its problems. Still, and at the very least, if someone is going to invoke his authority to make specific claims, then they should at least make sure they are accurate within that framework.

UPDATE: Oh God, it gets worse. Someone responds to me with the immortal line: "I have not done the research but from my own basic calculations..." *headvice*

UPDATE 2: See this excellent 2005 post by NASA's Gavin Schmidt: Is Climate Modelling Science? It concludes: "So, in summary, the model results are compared to data, and if there is a mismatch, both the data and the models are re-examined. Sometimes the models can be improved, sometimes the data was mis-interpreted. Every time this happens and we get improved matches between them, we have a little more confidence in their projections for the future, and we go out and look for better tests. That is in fact pretty close to the textbook definition of science."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Chavez, Thatcher and the oil that binds them

Daniel Yergin (one of the world's foremost energy experts) tweeted yesterday: "Too soon to say what Hugo Chavez’ death means for oil prices but it is certainly true that oil prices are what made Hugo Chavez possible."

I fully agree with this statement, but one could also say the same for leaders from all ends of the political spectrum. I expand on this idea in a new Recon Hub post, using Maggie Thatcher as an ideological foil to Mr Chavez.

In Thatcher's case, the (then newly discovered) North Sea oil and natural gas reserves played a key strategic role in her fight against the coal mining unions, as well as enabling her government to pay down Britain's national debt.

Read more here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Hardship on the slopes

The posts may have dried up a tad here at the Corral, but things have been busy for yours truly back in the real world. Most notably going away for our department's annual "strategy meeting" (ahem) in Geilo. It was terrible as the following image will testify to:

And, if having to break up our invaluable strategy meetings for regular skiing breaks wasn't bad enough, the enigmatic Ms LB arranged for a surprise birthday trip (to a different resort) upon my return. Is there no mercy! The view from our hotel room was equally depressing.

I know that I tried to plug the Norwegian PhD previously, so I feel it is only fair to share some of the downsides as well.