Climate change – the sad reality

This will be a short post to share a fact about the politics of climate change which, in my view, renders current efforts in Europe to achieve the 1.5° warming goal mute. With the latest climate summit underway in Katowice, Poland, there is currently a lot of information in the traditional media outlets with various statistics and percentages, but none of them really talk about the numbers that matter. The global climate does not care about indicators like “reductions of CO2 emissions per GDP units in purchasing power parity” which is commonly used to measure “progress”. The global climate only cares about absolute emission numbers. So let’s look at those with one simple graph.

Data for panels (a) and (b) was taken from the current IEA Highlights report on CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (2018). Data for panel (c) used the Indian/Chinese government targets of a 33/60% reduction in CO2 emissions per GDP unit (PPP) with regard to 2005 values (which corresponds to a 20/24% reduction with regard to 2016 values) and combined it with an average annual GDP (PPP) growth rate for India/China of 5.4/6.0% p.a. between 2016 and 2030, based on an extrapolation of existing World Bank GDP growth data.

What this figure, and in particular panel (c), tells you is that if all 36 OECD countries would reduce their current (2016) fuel-based CO2 emissions by 50% until 2030 (which is of course unrealistic to start with), then this reduction would be outweighed by the projected increase in Chinese emissions alone (based on an extrapolated economic growth of 6% p.a. between 2016 and 2030 and current government targets on emission reduction per GDP unit of 24% over 2016 levels). Using the same method and an estimated annual growth of 5.4% (GDP, PPP) in combination with a 20% reduction over 2016 emissions per GDP unit (PPP), also India would blow an additional 1500 Mt of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2030 (equivalent of present day Japan and Australia combined). Plus, climate-change deniers like Trump or Bolsonaro (president-elect of Brazil) do not make it easier or any more likely that their countries will actually strive toward a reduction in CO2 emissions. Obviously, also the OECD will not be able to reduce emissions by 50%, especially while the USA continues to sabotage existing accords and climate goals, and countries like Australia, Japan, or Korea continue to increase the burning of coal for electricity generation (increases of 26%, 48%, and 234%, respectively, since 1990 – for comparison: European OECD countries reduced coal burning by 40% on average since 1990) .

What is my point you may ask? Well, I find it increasingly difficult to tell friends or family to reduce car use or air travel if this will have absolutely no effect on global emissions, considering that the main polluters operate with impunity and government targets that will lead to an 80% increase in CO2 emissions by 2030 and would thus outweigh even the most optimistic CO2 savings in the so-called developed world.

How should we proceed? Well, given the current situation of world politics, I can only say that I am glad to die before the shit really hits the fan (if you excuse my French). We all know what should be done ideally (a significant reduction in CO2 emissions), but as this is not going to happen, we need to:

  1. take measures to prepare for rises in sea level and temperature as well as shifts in precipitation patterns (which will inevitably lead to more displaced people and thus conflict), and
  2. introduce mechanisms that hold those financially responsible who are the greatest contributors to global CO2 emissions, who are climate change deniers, or who are planning with further emission increases.

Unfortunately, the powers that be only attribute value to things if that value can be measured in monetary units. Therefore, we must force the main polluters  to pay for the damage they cause globally (e.g., the cost of relocating entire populations when their regions become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels or temperatures, the cost of increasing forest fires, flash floods, etc.). For starters, people like Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro (current president-elect of Brazil) should be jailed for denying scientific fact and actively escalating climate change (and not be elected into power in the first place). Non-cooperative countries should be penalised with tariffs, such that they need to decide whether they want to accept the tariffs (which will lead to a reduction in GDP and thus emissions) or avoid tariffs by using less polluting technology. Of course this would require a consensus of the main economic players which is non-existent at the moment. But even if a block like the EU could throw its economic and political weight behind an idea like this, it could have a significant impact.

A first step is to not elect right-wing demagogues, although I understand that this is becoming increasingly difficult given that people often only have a choice between pestilence and cholera in many countries. Still, while pestilence is nearly always fatal, cholera is just annoying but treatable, so you can always choose the lesser evil.


The Banana Republic of Absurdistan (formerly known as Catalonia)

Even for someone like myself, who has lived for over 8 years in Barcelona, and is therefore used to all sorts of shenanigans by the local governments, these last few months have been quite remarkable. Many people in Catalonia have been sleeping rather uneasily, waking up anxious every morning, dreading to open any news website for fear of having to read about the latest political nonsense committed by their so-called leaders. And well, on Friday this week, the time had finally come, and we all woke up to find ourselves as citizens of the newly declared banana republic of Absurdistan. A new republic, outside the EU, recognized by no country, without any democratic legitimacy or valid currency, i.e., without any plan, justification, or means whatsoever to support its functioning as a separate country; but hey, it sure felt good to have declared it anyway.

Events in Catalonia had been escalating for years, and have now culminated in a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. How did it come to this? In short: years of inept leaders, both in Barcelona and Madrid. The long version is a bit more complex. For starters, while most elected leaders in the civilized world would try to find conciliatory words after coming to power, along the lines of: “I will be a president, not only of my supporters, but a president of all Catalans” (replace with whatever country/region), the Catalan President Puigdemont made it clear from the very beginning, that he did not care very much for the over 52% of Catalans1, who did not vote for his mono-thematic pro-independence coalition.

Result from the 2015 Catalan regional elections, split into pro- and con-indepenendence parties.

This is actually the closest they have ever come to gaining a majority, because in subsequent months, the independence movement steadily lost some steam, and by July 2017, only 41% of Catalans supported independence2,3.

Unfortunately, this lack of democratic legitimacy has never been a major concern to the independence camp, and it certainly did not stop successive populist Catalan governments from misappropriating public funds to continue a highly one-sided, divisive, and inflammatory independence campaign, forcing a singular Catalanist viewpoint and single Catalan language onto a heterogeneous, multi-cultural, and thus multi-lingual population. Thanks to far reaching autonomies for the Spanish regions, many Catalan school children nowadays graduate from high school, having been brainwashed into hating their own country, purposefully rendered only borderline capable of expressing themselves fluently in Spanish.

This deep rift between Barcelona and Madrid has been created by Continue reading “The Banana Republic of Absurdistan (formerly known as Catalonia)”

Defending liberal society and the responsibility of journalism and science in times of “alternative facts”

This last week has been quite fun and enlightening as it provided a glimpse of what we can expect from the new US government over the next four years. For starters, there was the first press conference by White House press secretary Sean Spicer. This press conference was interesting for two reasons: (1) Spicer made five statements, four of which were proven to be lies, and (2) one cannot help but wonder why the Trump administration, through its press secretary, decided to start their 4-year term with such easily refuted lies over a topic so utterly banal and petty (attendance figures at the inauguration ceremony). Clearly, Trump has not yet made the transition from rating-obsessed reality TV star to head of state. As usual, the internet reacted promptly and in kind. Within minutes, twitter handles like #SpicerFacts and #SeanSpicerFacts had been created and were starting to trend.

#spicerfacts

There is quite possibly no better way to loose your credibility as a government after just 1 day on the job. If these guys are prepared to lie so blatantly about issues that are utterly irrelevant to anyone and anything other than Donald Trump’s ego, how are we ever going to believe them once they talk about issues that really matter and where the truthfulness of their statements is more difficult to verify!
Continue reading “Defending liberal society and the responsibility of journalism and science in times of “alternative facts””

The widening wealth gap and why demagogues like Donald Trump are on the rise (again)

This week Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th US president and it was a truly historical event. Never before has a US president been so unpopular even before taking office. Usually, the week preceding inauguration and the first days in office are the honeymoon period for any new president during which they enjoy high popularity ratings. Not so for Donald Trump. Due to his divisive and openly hostile campaign, he could feel the stiff breeze of opposition right from the very minute he took office. Not only was the popular turnout at the inaugural ceremony very low, but millions of people took to the streets to protest against the new president even before he had enacted a single policy. And like any good demagogue worth his salt, what did Trump do when this rather inconvenient truth stared him in the face, he of course denied it calling all media outlets “dishonest”.

Trump inauguration
Top: comparing public turnout at the Trump inauguration (left) with Obama (right). Bottom: protesters against Trump on inauguration day.

While many people are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief about how a simpleton egomaniac without any political agenda other than “make America great again” could rise to power, his success, if seen in context, is not really such a surprise after all.
Continue reading “The widening wealth gap and why demagogues like Donald Trump are on the rise (again)”

Careless reporting on climate change and the growing threat to science

Today I came across this article on the BBC where the headline reads Climate change: Fresh doubt over global warming ‘pause’.
First off, you will notice that the headline mentions words like “doubt” and “climate change” very close together. In fact, you have to read this headline very carefully in order to understand its correct meaning and have a certain amount of background knowledge to understand the word “pause”. Most people will only quickly browse the headlines, and with a majority this headline will have registered along the lines of “fresh doubts over global warming”. You actually only have to change a single letter, the “p” from pause to a “c”, and you are there. Well done BBC! It is actually quite clever if your intention is to have most headline-shoppers walk away with the wrong impression, strengthening the doubt agenda, while still being able to maintain the appearance of unbiased journalism as the facts are reported correctly in the article. This is shoddy editing at best, or shameful journalism at worst, but either way not helpful in an already difficult debate.

Why not use a less ambiguous headline like: “Scientists confirm: global warming at constant rate since 1950” or something along those lines. This is clear and leaves no reason for doubt (pun intended)! Because if you do take the time to read the article, Continue reading “Careless reporting on climate change and the growing threat to science”

Generals and Billionaires

Many people who thought that US president elect Donald Trump was only bluffing and things couldn’t possibly get as bad as he appeared to be during the campaign had a sore post-election awakening because things are actually far worse than expected. Looking at his cabinet nominations, I can’t help but wonder how the white working class who helped Trump win this election feel about their new “anti-establishment” “swamp-draining” representatives. It is a cabinet of horror, let’s see:

Trump’s cabinet of horror

  • Wilbur Ross (Trade and Commerce): This guy made a fortune by buying ailing companies, running them all the way into the ground and selling off the pieces. He is also known as the “king of bankruptcy” and Continue reading “Generals and Billionaires”

Climate change and the culpability of people like Donald Trump

Being a scientist myself, it has been bugging me for quite some time how people who clearly have no clue of the scientific method, analytical thinking in general, or climate science in particular, are trying to weigh in on the debate about global warming. I do not mean to sound elitist, but this is not like choosing which curtains fit better with the bedroom carpet, a subject on which certainly everyone is entitled to an opinion. Science is different because science is not about uttering opinions and gut feelings but about finding facts and proving them. For most scientists it takes somewhere between 10-15 years of training (3 years for the BSc, another 1-2y for the MSc, 3-5y for the PhD, and how ever long it takes as a post-doc) before you finally get a permanent position and are allowed to lead major research projects. So if some guy with a 3-year undergraduate degree in economics – aka Donald Trump – feels like he needs to weigh in with statements like:

“[climate change is] an expensive hoax”, “a concept…created by and for the Chinese”, and pure “bullshit” – Donald Trump

we should

  1. identify him as the tosser that he obviously is for saying things like this about an important subject he clearly knows absolutely nothing about, and, more importantly
  2. not elect him president of a country … duh!

Continue reading “Climate change and the culpability of people like Donald Trump”

On demagogues, nationalism, populism, religion, and other weaknesses of the human condition

In a world of post-truth politics, alt-right, and death-by-selfie (seriously?!), some people may feel worried and increasingly alienated by a culture or country they no longer recognise as their own. Although less than two generations have passed since the likes of Hitler and Mussolini, it appears as though what happened in the 20th century, the bloodiest in human history, is all but some distant parallel universe where people existed in black-and-white. What many did not believe even remotely possible some 10-15 years ago, seems to be unfolding in front of our very eyes: a reversal of cultural and socio-political achievements (workers’ rights, tolerance toward people of other religions, races, or sexual orientations, etc.), a renunciation of reason and progressive politics. Instead, religion is on the rise again and we can witness the return of the age of the demagogue, with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump as their new poster boy.

demagogues
A (non-exhaustive) list of present-day demagogues.

Continue reading “On demagogues, nationalism, populism, religion, and other weaknesses of the human condition”

Crisis? What Crisis? Housing prices in Barcelona on the rise again.

Although the unemployment rate has only slightly dropped below the 20% mark, a new housing bubble seems to develop with prices well on the rise.

A new housing bubble is developing in Barcelona

Renting

For the example of the Sant Martí district, the following graphic shows how rental prices have gone up during the past 12 months. On the fotocasa and Habitaclia websites (Spanish real estate portals for renting and buying) prices have begun to rise significantly in August/September 2016, yielding increases of 7-8% in a single quarter respectively. If we extrapolate this to August/September 2017, we obtain a 12-month increase in rents of around 30%!

Continue reading “Crisis? What Crisis? Housing prices in Barcelona on the rise again.”