Archives For Climate risk

With the NSW Rural Fire Service fighting more than 50 fires across the state and the unprecedented hellish conditions set to deteriorate even further with the arrival of strong winds the question of the day is, exactly how bad could this get? The answer is unfortunately, a whole lot worse. That’s because we have difficulty as human beings in thinking about and dealing with extreme events… To quote from this post written in the aftermath of the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday fires.

So how unthinkable could it get? The likelihood of a fire versus it’s severity can be credibly modelled as a power law a particular type of heavy tailed distribution (Clauset et al. 2007). This means that extreme events in the tail of the distribution are far more likely than predicted by a gaussian (the classic bell curve) distribution. So while a mega fire ten times the size of the Black Saturday fires is far less likely it is not completely improbable as our intuitive availability heuristic would indicate. In fact it’s much worse than we might think, in heavy tail distributions you need to apply what’s called the mean excess heuristic which really translates to the next worst event is almost always going to be much worse…

So how did we get to this?  Simply put the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing is a tangible, current day effect of climate change. Climate change is not something we can leave to our children to really worry about, it’s happening now. That half a degree rise in global temperature? Well it turns out it supercharges the occurrence rate of extremely dry conditions and the heavy tail of bushfire severity. Yes we’ve been twisting the dragon’s tail and now it’s woken up…

2019 Postscript: Monday 11 November 2019 – NSW

And here we are in 2019 two years down the track from the fires of 2017 and tomorrow looks like being a beyond catastrophic fire day. Firestorms are predicted.

Meltwater river Greenland icecap (Image source: Ian Jouhgin)

Meme’s, media and drug dealer’s

In honour of our Prime Minister’s use of the drug dealer’s argument to justify (at least to himself) why it’s OK for Australia to continue to sell coal, when we know we really have to stop, here’s an update of a piece I wrote on the role of the media in propagating denialist meme’s. Enjoy, there’s even a public heath tip at the end.

PS. You can find Part I and II of the series here.

🙂

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Well if news from the G20 is anything to go by we may be on the verge of a seismic shift in how the challenge of climate change is treated. Our Prime Ministers denial notwithstanding 🙂

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Dear AGL,

I realise that you are not directly responsible for the repeal of the carbon tax by the current government, and I also realise that we the voting public need to man up and shoulder the responsibility for the government and their actions. I even appreciate that if you did wish to retain the carbon tax as a green surcharge, the current government would undoubtedly act to force your hand.

But really, I have to draw the line at your latest correspondence. Simply stamping the latest bill with “SAVINGS FROM REMOVING THE CARBON TAX” scarcely does the benefits of this legislative windfall justice. You have, I fear, entirely undersold the comprehensive social, moral and economic benefits that accrue through the return of this saving to your customers. I submit therefore for your corporate attention some alternatives slogans:

  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax…you’ll pay for it later”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax…buy a bigger air conditioner, you’ll need it”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax…we also have a unique coal seam investment opportunity”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax, invest in climate change!”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax, look up the word ‘venal’, yep that’s you”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax, because a bigger flatscreen TV is worth your children’s future”
  • “Savings from removing the carbon tax, disinvesting in the future”

So be brave and take advantage of this singular opportunity to fully invest your corporate reputation in the truly wonderful outcomes of this prescient and clear sighted decision by our federal government.

Yours respectfully

etc.

Some good news…

26/08/2014

Global temperature 2050

Just received a text from my gas and electricity supplier. Good news! My gas and electricity bills will come down by about 4 and 8% respectively due to the repeal of the carbon tax in Australia. Of course we had to doom the planetary ecosystem and condemn our children to runaway climate change but hey, think of the $550 we get back per year. And, how can it get any better, now we’re also seen as a nation of environmental wreckers. I think I’ll go an invest the money in that AGL Hunter coal seam gas project, y’know thinking global, acting local. Thanks Prime Minister Abbott, thanks!

If this goes on…

26/11/2013

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The above info graphic courtesy of Jeff Masters Wunderblog blog says it all, 6 out of the 13 most destructive superstorms have occurred after 1998.

Hunter fires viewed from The Hill 2013 (Image source: Matthew Squair)

Why saying the wrong thing at the wrong time is sometimes necessary

The Green’s senator Adam Bandt has kicked up a storm of controversy amongst the running dogs of the press after pointing out in this Guardian article that climate change means a greater frequency of bad heat waves which means in turn a greater frequency of bad bush fires. Read the article if you have a moment, I liked his invoking the shade of Ronald Reagan to judge the current government especially.  Continue Reading…

Black Saturday fires (Image source: ABC)

The consensus project: Yes there is one on climate change

Despite what you may see in the media, yes there is an overwhelming consensus on climate change (it’s happening), what the cause is (our use of fossil fuels) and what we can do about it (a whole bunch of things with today’s tech). Here’s the link to the projects web page, neat info graphics…enjoy.

Oh and if like me you live in Australia I’d start getting used to the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and bush-fires, the only uncertainty left is whether we can put the brakes on in time to prevent a complete catastrophe.

Resilience and common cause considered in the wake of hurricane Sandy

One of the fairly obvious lessons from Hurricane Sandy is the vulnerability of underground infrastructure such as subways, road tunnels and below grade service equipment to flooding events.

The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night”

NYC transport director Joseph Lhota

Yet despite the obviousness of the risk we still insist on placing such services and infrastructure below grade level. Considering actual rises in mean sea level, e.g a 1 foot increase at Battery Park NYC since 1900, and those projected to occur this century perhaps now is the time to recompute the likelihood and risk of storm surges overtopping defensive barriers.

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The Mississippi River’s Old River Control Structure, a National Single Point of Failure?

Given the recent events in Fukushima and our subsequent western cultural obsession with the radiological consequences, perhaps it’s appropriate to reflect on other non-nuclear vulnerabilities. A case in point is the Old River Control Structure erected by those busy chaps the US Army Corp of Engineers to control the path of the Mississippi to the sea. Well as it turns out trapping the Mississippi wasn’t really such a good idea…

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The IPCC issued a set of lead author guidance notes on how to describe uncertainty prior to the fourth IPCC assessment. In it the IPCC laid out a methodology on how to deal with various classes of uncertainty. Unforunately the IPCC guidance also fell into a fatal trap.

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Way off topic for this blog but I watched the ABC’s 7:30 current affair report on thursday in which Kevin, our illustrious prime minister, was put on the spot about why he has publically supported Australia having a population of 35 million people. His response? Well basically his argument was “it’s bigger than both of us so jus lie back and enjoy it”.

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The Newcastle 2007 storm

In part one and part two of this post I looked at Drew Warne Smith and James Madden’s article, “The science is in on sea-level rise: 1.7 mm”, in terms of it’s worth as a logical argument.

We live under a government of men and morning newspapers.

Wendell Phillips

While Smith and Madden’s argument turns out to be the usual denialist slumgullion it does serve as a useful jump off point for a discussion of the role of the media in propagating such pernicious memes (1) and more broadly in communicating risk. Continue Reading…

The Newcastle 2007 storm

In the first part of this post on Drew Warne Smith and James Madden’s article on climate change, The science is in on sea-level rise: 1.7 mm, I dealt with the factual basis of their argument.

The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.

George Bernard Shaw

In this second part I want to spend some time looking at both the logical and psychological tricks of their argument (such as it is) and how the authors use these fallacious elements to sway the unwary or uneducated readership. Note that I have based the taxonomy of argument upon that proposed by Thoulesss (1934) (1).

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The Newcastle 2007 storm

The truth is incontrovertible

According to Drew Warne Smith and James Madden writing in the Nov 7th edition of the Australian:

 “The science is in on sea-level rise: 1.7 mm” , …we don’t need to worry about sea level rises in Australia as a ‘scientific’ 1.7 mm rise is a third less than the government’s overheated predictions…

How Smith and Madden set out to construct a case that government predicted sea level rises are exaggerated provides an excellent example of how fallacious arguments can be used to misinform the unwary, and in this case skew the reader’s perception of risk. Continue Reading…

If you read through the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports you’ll strike qualitative phrases such as’likely’ and ‘high confidence’ to describe uncertainty. But is there a credible basis for these terms?

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