Thursday, December 18, 2008

Is Psychology a Science?

Arachnoid | Since its first appearance in 2003, this article has become required reading in a number of college-level psychology courses. Because this article is directed toward educated nonspecialist readers considering psychological treatment, students of psychology are cautioned that the terms "psychology" and "clinical psychology" are used interchangeably.

The field of human psychology is a powerful force in modern society, and its influence is widespread – in language, law, the social contract, and in our perception of ourselves. Because legal decisions are sometimes made based on psychology, decisions that might cause someone to be incarcerated or freed, it is important to establish whether psychology is a science or a simple belief system. We should determine whether psychology can be relied on to objectively support the social and legal policies that are based on it. In modern times, such a serious public burden can only be borne by a field that is based on reason, on science. Which leads to our question: is human psychology steered by science?

Conclusion: At this point it must be clear to the intelligent reader that clinical psychology can make virtually any claim and offer any kind of therapy, because there is no practical likelihood of refutation – no clear criteria to invalidate a claim. This, in turn, is because human psychology is not a science, it is very largely a belief system similar to religion.

Like religion, human psychology has a dark secret at its core – it contains within it a model for correct behavior, although that model is never directly acknowledged. Buried within psychology is a nebulous concept that, if it were to be addressed at all, would be called “normal behavior.” But do try to avoid inquiring directly into this normal behavior among psychologists – nothing is so certain to get you diagnosed as having an obsessive disorder.

In the same way that everyone is a sinner in religion's metaphysical playground, everyone is mentally ill in psychology's long, dark hallway – no one is truly “normal.” This means everyone needs psychological treatment. This means psychologists and psychiatrists are guaranteed lifetime employment, although that must surely be a coincidence rather than a dark motive.

But this avoids a more basic problem with the concept of “normal behavior.” The problem with establishing such a standard, whether one does this directly as religion does, or indirectly as psychology does, is that the activity confronts, and attempts to contradict, something that really is a scientific theory – evolution. In evolution, through the mechanism of natural selection, organisms adapt to the conditions of their environment, and, because the environment keeps changing, there is no particular genotype that can remain viable in the long term.

The scientific evidence for evolution is very strong, and evolution's message is that only flexible and adaptable organisms survive in a world of constant change. Reduced to everyday, individual terms, it means no single behavioral pattern can for all time be branded “correct” or “normal.” This is the core reason religion fails to provide for real human needs (which wasn't its original purpose anyway), and this failing is shared by psychology – they both put forth a fixed behavioral model in a constantly changing world.

The present atmosphere among many psychologists and psychiatrists can only be described as panic. This panic is clearly shown in the rapid, seemingly purposeful destruction of the DSM, the field's “bible,” as a legitimate diagnostic tool (because if everything is a mental illness, then nothing is). This panic arises in part from a slow realization that many conditions formerly thought to be mental conditions amenable to psychological treatment, turn out to be organic conditions treatable with drugs (or, like homosexuality, turn out to be conditions not appropriate to any kind of treatment). Further, many traditional clinical practices have been shown to be ineffectual and/or indistinguishable from ordinary experience or nothing at all.

In the final analysis, the present state of psychology is the best answer to the original inquiry about whether it is scientific, because if human psychology were as grounded in science as many people believe, many of its historical and contemporary assertions would have been falsified by its own theoretical and clinical failures, and it would be either replaced by something more scientifically rigorous, or simply cast aside for now.

But this is all hypothetical, because psychology and psychiatry have never been based in science, and therefore are free of the constraints placed on scientific theories. This means these fields will prevail far beyond their last shred of credibility, just as religions do, and they will be propelled by the same energy source — belief. That pure, old-fashioned fervent variety of belief, unsullied by reason or evidence.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Economics needs a scientific revolution

Compared to physics, it seems fair to say that the quantitative success of the economic sciences is disappointing. Rockets fly to the moon, energy is extracted from minute changes of atomic mass without major havoc, global positioning satellites help millions of people to find their way home. What is the flagship achievement of economics, apart from its recurrent inability to predict and avert crises, including the current worldwide credit crunch?

Why is this so? Of course, modelling the madness of people is more difficult than the motion of planets, as Newton once said. But the goal here is to describe the behaviour of large populations, for which statistical regularities should emerge, just as the law of ideal gases emerge from the incredibly chaotic motion of individual molecules. To me, the crucial difference between physical sciences and economics or financial mathematics is rather the relative role of concepts, equations and empirical data. Classical economics is built on very strong assumptions that quickly become axioms: the rationality of economic agents, the invisible hand and market efficiency, etc. An economist once told me, to my bewilderment: These concepts are so strong that they supersede any empirical observation. As Robert Nelson argued in his book, Economics as Religion, the marketplace has been deified.

Physicists, on the other hand, have learned to be suspicious of axioms and models. If empirical observation is incompatible with the model, the model must be trashed or amended, even if it is conceptually beautiful or mathematically convenient. So many accepted ideas have been proven wrong In the history of physics that physicists have grown to be critical and queasy about their own models. Unfortunately, such healthy scientific revolutions have not yet taken hold in economics, where ideas have solidified into dogmas that obsess academics as well as decision-makers high up in government agencies and financial institutions. These dogmas are perpetuated through the education system: teaching reality, with all its subtleties and exceptions, is much harder than teaching a beautiful, consistent formula. Students do not question theorems they can use without thinking. Though scores of physicists have been recruited by financial institutions over the last few decades, these physicists seem to have forgotten the methodology of natural sciences as they absorbed and regurgitated the existing economic lore, with no time or liberty to question its foundations.

The supposed omniscience and perfect efficacy of a free market stems from economic work in the 50s and 60s, which with hindsight looks more like propaganda against communism than a plausible scientific description.

Full Monty at the Post Autistic Economics Review

The state of China’s economy 2009

Introduction: Over the past few decades there have been numerous forecasts predicting an "imminent collapse" of the Chinese economy. Some of these have a strong Anglo-Saxon ideological bias with little substantive theoretical or empirical support, while others offer standard economic principles in defense of a negative forecast. More recently, however, these pessimistic forecasts have been fewer in number and less dire. Meanwhile, some other analysts have offered quite favorable economic performance forecasts. Who appears to have been correct?

This paper will examine some past forecasts, and then evaluate the current performance of the Chinese economy. The first section will provide a brief summary of some previous forecasts. Analysis of the recent performance of China's economy will be presented in the following section, including trends over the past 5 of both standard macroeconomic and some socioeconomic indicators, using both Chinese and non-Chinese data sources. The third section will evaluate the overall state of the economy at present, weighting performance indicators both according to their relative importance to Chinese policy makers as well as to non-Chinese analysts. The following section will suggest the likelihood that the economy's performance during 2003-2008 is likely to continue for another five years. The final section will offer a summary and conclusions as to the likelihood that China's economy will inevitably collapse within the next 5 to 10 years.

Conclusion: Taking into consideration data provided by both Chinese and respected international sources of macroeconomic indicators the Chinese economy, as well as the likely impact recent events within China, no imminent collapse of the Chinese economy appears likely over the next five years. Rather, the economy is likely to continue to perform favorably when GDP growth, urban unemployment, external and domestic fiscal balances, stability of the banking system, FDI, and exchange rate stability are given relative importance. As the world financial crisis unfolds China may wind up owning substantial shares of some major financial institutions. Thus, as 2009 approaches, China's economy is stronger and more fiscally sustainable than every G-8 members' economy. However, Chinese policymakers will need to address more aggressively growing environmental and income inequality while preventing higher rates of inflation - particularly for food and health care, if China's economy is to continue on its favorable path.

Full Monty at Post Autistic Economics Review.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rethinking Easter Island's Catastrophe

University of Hawaii | Despite repeated claims, Rapa Nui does not appear to represent a case of ‘‘ecocide.’’ The documented population collapse for Rapa Nui occurred as a consequence of European contacts, with Old World diseases and slave-trading (Peiser, 2005; Rainbird, 2002). As VanTilburg (1994, p. 164, emphasis added) noted, the scary parables and metaphors for disaster represent ‘‘a projection of Western values which emphasizes the self-destruction of the Rapa Nui culture over the actual, near-annihilation of it by contact with the West.’’ Indeed, early ethnographer Alfred Metraux described the historic genocide as ‘‘one of the most hideous atrocities committed by white men in the South Seas’’ and as ‘‘the catastrophe that wiped out Easter Island’s civilization’’ (Metraux, 1957, p. 38). Today the idea of ‘‘ecocide’’ enjoys popular acceptance, but an actual genocide decimated the native Rapa Nui population and its culture (Peiser, 2005; Rainbird, 2002). Unfortunately, the victims of cultural and physical extermination have been turned into the perpetrators of their own demise.

The model of ‘‘ecocide’’ was constructed in part on the foundations of faith in a long chronology, speculation about prehistoric population size, and a remarkable, but still somewhat coarse-grained palaeo-environmental record for the island. Recent field research, including comparative case studies in places such as the Hawaiian Islands, have changed some perspectives and allowed us to raise questions about Rapa Nui’s historical ecology. In this review I have examined archaeological, palaeo-environmental, and contemporary ecological evidence to suggest that the Pacific rat may have played a major role in Rapa Nui’s ecological catastrophe. The fact that rats alone are capable of widespread forest destruction compels us to evaluate their contribution to the transformation of Rapa Nui, as well as in other island ecosystems. While I argue that the role of rats has often been underestimated, direct human actions of felling and use of fire likely have played a significant role as well. Additional research will be essential to disentangle the contributing factors. The environmental catastrophe of Rapa Nui is likely a complex history, one that has been masked by speculations about the intentions of people cutting down the last tree. Indeed, the ‘‘last tree’’ may simply have died. Rats may have simply eaten the last seeds. Perhaps the lessons of Rapa Nui tell of the effects of invasive species, invasional meltdowns, and the synergy of effects that ensue as people and their portmanteau biota reach evolutionary isolates in the remote islands of the Pacific.

time of slime...,

The Register | The US government has warned that enormous swarms of killer jellyfish - some the size of fridges and weighing up to a quarter of a ton - are ravaging the world's oceans. Particularly aggressive specimens are said to be capable of causing serious damage to ships, and have even managed to knacker nuclear power plants.

News of the challenge to humanity's dominance over planet Earth comes from the US National Science Foundation, which has put out a chilling warning entitled - rather beautifully - Jellyfish Gone Wild!

"When jellyfish populations run wild," the NSF jellyboffins warn, "they may jam thousands of square miles with their pulsing, gelatinous bodies."

It seems that no less than half a billion "refrigerator sized" slimy horrors weighing 450 pounds each invade the Sea of Japan daily, while Australian waters are plagued with "deadly, peanut-sized" Jellybabies of Death. It took the scyphozoan (or possibly hydrozoan) hordes just eight years to seize control of the Black Sea, apparently.

The NSF boffins warn that the gelatinous global usurpers are spawned in hundreds of vast "Dead Zones" in the world's oceans, where nothing but jelly-based lifeforms can live. These frightful blancmange sargassos send out their wobbling hordes on fearful expeditions of destruction, probing the strength of humanity's defences in preparation for the long-planned Time of Slime.

Monday, December 15, 2008

When will the oil run out?

Guardian | George Monbiot puts the question to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency - and is both astonished and alarmed by the answer.

Can you think of a major threat for which the British government does not prepare? It employs an army of civil servants, spooks and consultants to assess the chances of terrorist attacks, financial collapse, floods, epidemics, even asteroid strikes, and to work out what it should do if they happen. But there is one hazard about which it appears intensely relaxed: it has never conducted its own assessment of the state of global oil supplies and the possibility that one day they might peak and then go into decline.

If you ask, the government always produces the same response: "Global oil resources are adequate for the foreseeable future." It knows this, it says, because of the assessments made by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its World Energy Outlook reports. In the 2007 report, the IEA does appear to support the government's view. "World oil resources," it states, "are judged to be sufficient to meet the projected growth in demand to 2030," though it says nothing about what happens at that point, or whether they will continue to be sufficient after 2030. But this, as far as Whitehall is concerned, is the end of the matter. Like most of the rich world's governments, the UK treats the IEA's projections as gospel. Earlier this year, I submitted a freedom of information request to the UK's department for business, asking what contingency plans the government has made for global supplies of oil peaking by 2020. The answer was as follows: "The government does not feel the need to hold contingency plans specifically for the eventuality of crude-oil supplies peaking between now and 2020."

So the IEA had better be right. In the report on peak oil commissioned by the US department of energy, the oil analyst Robert L Hirsch concluded that "without timely mitigation, the economic, social and political costs" of world oil supplies peaking "will be unprecedented". He went on to explain what "timely mitigation" meant. Even a worldwide emergency response "10 years before world oil peaking", he wrote, would leave "a liquid-fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked". To avoid global economic collapse, we need to begin "a mitigation crash programme 20 years before peaking". If Hirsch is right, and if oil supplies peak before 2028, we're in deep doodah. Direct link to video here.

Capitalist Fools

Vanity Fair | Behind the debate over remaking U.S. financial policy will be a debate over who’s to blame. It’s crucial to get the history right, writes a Nobel-laureate economist, identifying five key mistakes—under Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II—and one national delusion.

There will come a moment when the most urgent threats posed by the credit crisis have eased and the larger task before us will be to chart a direction for the economic steps ahead. This will be a dangerous moment. Behind the debates over future policy is a debate over history—a debate over the causes of our current situation. The battle for the past will determine the battle for the present. So it’s crucial to get the history straight.

What were the critical decisions that led to the crisis? Mistakes were made at every fork in the road—we had what engineers call a “system failure,” when not a single decision but a cascade of decisions produce a tragic result. Let’s look at five key moments.[...]

The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal. Looking back at that belief during hearings this fall on Capitol Hill, Alan Greenspan said out loud, “I have found a flaw.” Congressman Henry Waxman pushed him, responding, “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right; it was not working.” “Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan said. The embrace by America—and much of the rest of the world—of this flawed economic philosophy made it inevitable that we would eventually arrive at the place we are today.

'Peak Oil Theory' Demands Energy Alternatives

NPR | Plummeting gasoline and diesel prices have given consumers relief at the pump. But oil pessimists believe the current slump in demand will pass. And when it does, the world will be in the same fix it was before the global recession. The era of easy oil is behind us. According to those who believe in what's called "peak oil theory," world oil production has already peaked, or flattened, and in the foreseeable future, the declining resource will inevitably change the way we live. [...]

Matt Simmons.

"I am saying the sky is falling. If we ignore peak oil; worse, if we laugh about it, continue consuming, we will have a massive shortage," Simmons said from his office in Houston. The garrulous, 65-year-old oil-field investment banker said the world's giant oil fields are all in decline — from the North Sea to Mexico's Cantarell field.

"Energy reality, if you take off rose-colored glasses and just study data, is that crude oil in most non-OPEC countries is now in decline, and in too many countries in steep decline. Virtually all of the OPEC producers, with the exception of Angola, are really struggling to keep their production flat," he said in a recent speech to the Houston chapter of the Young Professionals in Energy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Russia may not join Poznan communique

Reuters | Russia may not join a new global deal to fight climate change if it is against Moscow's interests and will set a national mid-term target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions next year, an official said on Friday.

"If the conditions for the international agreement are not favorable for us we may not join such an agreement," Alexander Pankin, deputy head of the Russian delegation at U.N.-led December 1-12 climate negotiations in Poland, told Reuters.

If a new U.N. climate pact meant to be agreed in Copenhagen at end-2009 was unfair and failed to set comparable commitments for countries according to their economic and social standing, Russia would not sign, he said.

"If you are better off than me, why should I make a stronger commitment than you," he said.

inconvenient truth about electric cars

Financial Times | President Nicolas Sarkozy would dearly like to end France’s rotating presidency of the European Union on a high note by brokering this week a deal on a grand European response to global warming and energy efficiency. The ultimate plan is to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent with member states at the same time drawing their future energy needs from clean renewable sources by the same percentage amount. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that the automobile industry has found itself at the heart of the climate change debate.

Indeed, Mr Sarkozy’s own government commissioned months ago one of France’s leading energy experts – Jean Syrota, the former French energy industry regulator – to draw up a report to analyse all the options for building cleaner and more efficient mass-market cars by 2030. The 129-page report was completed in September to coincide with the Paris motor show. But the government has continued to sit on it and seems reluctant to ever publish it.

Yet all those who have managed to glimpse at the document agree that it makes interesting reading. It concludes that there is not much future in the much vaunted developed of all electric-powered cars. Instead, it suggests that the traditional combustion engine powered by petrol, diesel, ethanol or new biofuels still offers the most realistic prospect of developing cleaner vehicles. Carbon emissions and fuel consumption could be cut by 30-40 per cent simply by improving the performance and efficiency of traditional engines and limiting the top speed to about 170km/hr. Even that is well above the average top speed restriction in Europe, with the notable exception of Germany. New so-called “stop and start” mechanisms can produce further 10 per cent reductions that can rise to 25-30 per cent in cities. Enhancements in car electronics as well as the development of more energy efficient tyres, such as Michelin’s new “energy saver” technology, are also expected to help reduce consumption and pollution.

Overall, the Syrota report says that adapting and improving conventional engines could enhance their efficiency by an average of 50 per cent. It also argues that new-generation hybrid cars combining conventional engines with electric propulsion could provide an interesting future alternative.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ebola virus in pigs

Financial Times | Philippine officials tucked into servings of lechon, the popular dish of roasted whole pig, in front of television cameras on Thursday to reassure the public of the safety of the national staple meat after the discovery among hogs near Manila of a strain of the Ebola virus.

Arthur Yap, agriculture secretary, and Francisco Duque, health secretary, said the Ebola Reston virus, which had never been found in pigs before, presented a low health risk for humans and was different from the deadly African variety.

The World Health Organisation was reported to be looking into whether there was any chance humans could have become infected.

The outbreak could deal a blow to Philippine plans to build a pork export industry. The government halted an inaugural shipment of frozen pork to Singapore and quarantined three swine farms.

Pork vendors in public markets in Manila sought to assure buyers that their products had passed government inspection and met safety standards.

“December is the month when we sell the most pork at relatively higher price,” said Evelyn Reyes, who operates a small pork stall in Quezon City. “I really hope the government does a good work of calming people’s fears about the Ebola virus.”

Pork accounts for more than half of the average 61g of meat consumed daily by each Filipino.

The virus was first discovered in 1989 in macaque monkeys imported from the Philippines by a laboratory in Reston, Virginia. Scientists are trying to determine how the virus spread to pigs.

Coal is My Worst Nightmare

WSJ | So Steven Chu, President-elect Obama’s likely choice to head the Department of Energy, is a proponent of energy efficiency and conservation as the first step in rejigging America’s energy mix. But since conservation alone won’t do it, what are his ideas about finding new supplies of energy?

Dr. Chu’s marquee work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is the Helios Project. That’s an effort to tackle what Dr. Chu sees as the biggest energy challenge facing the U.S.: transportation. That’s because it’s a huge drain on U.S. coffers and an environmental albatross, Dr. Chu says.

Helios has focused largely on biofuels—but not the bog-standard kind made from corn and sugar. The Energy Biosciences Institute, a joint effort funded by BP, is looking to make second-generation biofuels more viable. Among the approaches? Researching new ways to break down stubborn cellulosic feedstocks to improve the economics of next-generation biofuels, and finding new kinds of yeast to boost fermentation and make biofuels more plentiful while reducing their environmental impact.

What about other energy sources? Big Coal won’t be very happy if Dr. Chu gets confirmed as head of the DOE—he’s really, really not a big fan. “Coal is my worst nightmare,” he said repeatedly in a speech earlier this year outlining his lab’s alternative-energy approaches.

Friday, December 12, 2008

BP, HP, Shell sign Poznan communique

Houston Chronicle | BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Hewlett-Packard and 137 other companies from around the world urged delegates at United Nations climate talks in Poland to commit to deep and rapid cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The recession shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay investments needed to slash emissions and help fight global warming, the companies said in an e-mailed statement today. The proposal, backed by companies from China and Brazil to the U.S. and Britain, was dubbed the Poznan communiqué after the Polish city where the UN talks are being held through Dec. 12.

“The global economic downturn may cause some to question whether now is the time to act,” the companies said. “We believe that decisive action will stimulate global economic activity.”

Delegates from about 190 nations are in Poznan, halfway through two years of talks to devise a new treaty to fight global warming to be approved next December in Copenhagen.

“Delaying action would increase the costs of meeting any temperature or greenhouse-gas concentration goal and raises the risk of irreversible impacts” on the environment, the companies’ statement said. Other signatories to the communiqué include Shanghai Electric Group, Deutsche Telekom, Nikeand National Australia Bank Ltd.

The main obstacle in international talks is to overcome differences between the U.S. and China, the two biggest emitters. The U.S. says it won’t accept targets unless big developing nations do likewise. China says the industrialized world must act first.

“Developed countries need to take on immediate and deep economy-wide emission-reduction commitments which are much higher than the global average reduction target,” the communiqué said. “Rapidly emerging economies should continue to develop strong action at the sector level, building towards the adoption of appropriate and economy-wide commitments by 2020.”

The communiqué was drafted by the Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, a group of companies brought together by Prince Charles, the heir to the U.K. throne, and managed by the University of Cambridge in England.

big carbon cap

WSJ Archives | Washington this week officially welcomed the newest industry on the hunt for financial and regulatory favors. Big CarbonCap may have the same dollar-sign agenda as Big Oil or Big Pharma, but don't expect Nancy Pelosi to admit to it.

Democrats want to flog the global warming theme through 2008 and they'll take what help they can get, even if it means cozying up to executives whose goal is to enrich their firms. Right now, the corporate giants calling for a mandatory carbon cap serve too useful a political purpose for anyone to delve into their baser motives.

The Climate Action Partnership, a group of 10 major companies that made headlines this week with its call for a national limit on carbon dioxide emissions, would surely feign shock at such an accusation. After all, their plea was carefully timed to coincide with President Bush's State of the Union capitulation on global warming, and it had the desired PR effect. The media dutifully declared that "even" business now recognized the climate threat. Sen. Barbara Boxer, who begins marathon hearings on warming next week, lauded the corporate angels for thinking of the "common good."

There was a time when the financial press understood that companies exist to make money. And it happens that the cap-and-trade climate program these 10 jolly green giants are now calling for is a regulatory device designed to financially reward companies that reduce CO2 emissions, and punish those that don't.

The Poznan Climate Change Communiqué

Inel | The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan is a step on the climate change path from Bali to Copenhagen.

This week over 140 global companies issued a joint statement on climate change. This follows the Bali Communiqué issued by the same group of business leaders a year ago. Please read The Poznan Communiqué on Climate Change with its signatories, as well as the list of those who signed the Bali Communiqué. (There’s plenty more on the Bali Communiqué here.)

See also quotes from business leaders in yesterday’s announcement by Cambridge University titled 140 global business leaders unite behind an international deal on climate change.

There are no excuses for political leaders to drag their feet and dither any longer: business leaders have set out and refined the main points they believe should be included in a global climate change agreement. It is up to the so-called world ‘leaders’ to deliver more than hot air at Poznan, with ever more concrete deliverables expected in Copenhagen in a year’s time.

China filling Shandong strategic crude oil reserve

Forbes.com | China has started filling its third strategic crude oil reserve in Huangdao, in Shandong province, the official Shanghai Securities News reported, citing sources. The report said falling crude prices are providing an opportunity to fill the reserve cost-effectively.

Around 7.3 mln barrels of crude oil have been delivered to Huangdao facility, with more than half of the shipments from Saudi Arabia, the report said.

The newspaper said more crude will go into the reserve this month and in January.

China, the world's second largest consumer and importer of oil aims to build up a reserve of 12 mln tons by 2010, from 2-3 mln tons currently. Other facilities are at Zhenhai and Zhoushan in Zhejiang province and Dalian in Liaoning province, each designed to hold 30 days' supply. The Zhenhai and Zhoushan reserves are fully operational.

a quiet war over oil prices

Bloggingstocks | Will crude go up or down before the end of the year? Since it has dropped from $147 in the summer to just above $40 recently and demand is falling, betting on down makes sense.

Americans are using less gas. There is probably little reason to think that will change. Oil imports by China, a huge consumer, dropped in November to their lowest point this year, according to Xinhua news agency.

But, the drop in consumption is a collateral effect of the recession. It is, by some measures, an "accident."

What is not an accident is the need for oil producers to get prices up. Economies including Russia, Venezuela, and Iran count on crude for a great deal of their income and their ability to keep balanced national budgets. Russia, which is not a member of OPEC, will probably work with the cartel to cut production and raise prices.

The market laughed at OPEC cuts in September and oil continued to fall. But members of the cartel are desperate now and will probably take a much different view of what they need to do at their December meeting. Getting oil prices back toward $60 or $70 will be hard, but it is entirely possible.

OPEC ministers have been discussing a production cut of two million barrels a day. It their economic advisers say that is not enough to get prices up sharply, the figure could rise to three million or more.

Prices are going up. OPEC and Russia control too much crude. They can cut supply until the cows come home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lovelock on Climate Change

Rolling Stone | At the age of eighty-eight, after four children and a long and respected career as one of the twentieth century's most influential scientists, James Lovelock has come to an unsettling conclusion: The human race is doomed. "I wish I could be more hopeful," he tells me one sunny morning as we walk through a park in Oslo, where he is giving a talk at a university. Lovelock is a small man, unfailingly polite, with white hair and round, owlish glasses. His step is jaunty, his mind lively, his manner anything but gloomy. In fact, the coming of the Four Horsemen -- war, famine, pestilence and death -- seems to perk him up. "It will be a dark time," Lovelock admits. "But for those who survive, I suspect it will be rather exciting."

In Lovelock's view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. "The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia," Lovelock says. "How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable." With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth's population will be culled from today's 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes -- Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

By the end of the century, according to Lovelock, global warming will cause temperate zones like North America and Europe to heat up by fourteen degrees Fahrenheit, nearly double the likeliest predictions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations-sanctioned body that includes the world's top scientists. "Our future," Lovelock writes, "is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail." And switching to energy-efficient light bulbs won't save us. To Lovelock, cutting greenhouse-gas pollution won't make much difference at this point, and much of what passes for sustainable development is little more than a scam to profit off disaster. "Green," he tells me, only half-joking, "is the color of mold and corruption."

Climate Change Gibberish

Guardian | Cyberspace has buried its head in a cesspit of climate change gibberish. The Stansted protesters get it. The politicians of Poznan don't quite. But online, planted deniers drive a blinkered fiction. We all create our own reality, and shut out the voices we do not want to hear. But there is no issue we are less willing to entertain than man-made climate change. Here, three worlds seem to exist in virtual isolation. In the physical world, global warming appears to be spilling over into runaway feedback: the most dangerous situation humankind has ever encountered. In the political world - at the climate talks in Poznan, for instance - our governments seem to be responding to something quite different, a minor nuisance that can be addressed in due course. Only the Plane Stupid protesters who occupied part of Stansted airport yesterday appear to have understood the scale and speed of this crisis. In cyberspace, by contrast, the response spreading fastest and furthest is flat-out denial.

In his fascinating book Carbon Detox, George Marshall argues that people are not persuaded by information. Our views are formed by the views of the people with whom we mix. Of the narratives that might penetrate these circles, we are more likely to listen to those that offer us some reward. A story that tells us that the world is cooking and that we'll have to make sacrifices for the sake of future generations is less likely to be accepted than the more rewarding idea that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by scheming governments and venal scientists, and that strong, independent-minded people should unite to defend their freedoms.

He proposes that instead of arguing for sacrifice, environmentalists should show where the rewards might lie: that understanding what the science is saying and planning accordingly is the smart thing to do, which will protect your interests more effectively than flinging abuse at scientists. We should emphasise the old-fashioned virtues of uniting in the face of a crisis, of resourcefulness and community action. Projects like the transition towns network and proposals for a green new deal tell a story which people are more willing to hear.

Too late?

Guardian | As ministers and officials gather in Poznan one year ahead of the Copenhagen summit on global warming, the second part of a major series looks at the crucial issue of targets. At a high-level academic conference on global warming at Exeter University this summer, climate scientist Kevin Anderson stood before his expert audience and contemplated a strange feeling. He wanted to be wrong. Many of those in the room who knew what he was about to say felt the same. His conclusions had already caused a stir in scientific and political circles. Even committed green campaigners said the implications left them terrified.

Anderson, an expert at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, was about to send the gloomiest dispatch yet from the frontline of the war against climate change.

Despite the political rhetoric, the scientific warnings, the media headlines and the corporate promises, he would say, carbon emissions were soaring way out of control - far above even the bleak scenarios considered by last year's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Stern review. The battle against dangerous climate change had been lost, and the world needed to prepare for things to get very, very bad.

"As an academic I wanted to be told that it was a very good piece of work and that the conclusions were sound," Anderson said. "But as a human being I desperately wanted someone to point out a mistake, and to tell me we had got it completely wrong."

Nobody did. The cream of the UK climate science community sat in stunned silence as Anderson pointed out that carbon emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than anyone thought possible, driven mainly by the coal-fuelled economic boom in the developing world. So much extra pollution is being pumped out, he said, that most of the climate targets debated by politicians and campaigners are fanciful at best, and "dangerously misguided" at worst.