Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Exxon Predicted 2019’s Ominous CO2 Milestone in 1982

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But they kept quiet about it. Brian Kahn reports in Gizmodo:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide sets a new record every year. This year’s cracked the ominous milestone of 415 parts per million (ppm) thanks to ever rising emissions from human activities. The sharp rise might seem like something nobody could’ve predicted but there’s at least one group of scientists that were on the money 37 years ago: Exxon’s ace team of scientists.

Internal memos unearthed in InsideClimate’s Pulitzer-winning 2015 investigation into the company revealed all sorts of solid science being done even as the oil giant sowed doubt in public. Bloomberg reporter Tom Randall revisited the memos in light of the world’s new carbon dioxide milestone and tweeted a graph from one showing just how much Exxon knew what our future would look like.

It’s eerie seeing how well the company understood both climate science and the world’s patterns of economic growth built on the back of fossil fuels. Here’s that chart, annotated for ease of reading:

Red lines show where Exxon thought the world’s carbon dioxide levels and temperatures would be at around 2019.Image: InsideClimate News

The prediction is a pretty damn good one. The world is now about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it was and carbon dioxide levels are at 415 ppm. The estimate was part of Exxon’s “high case” scenario, which assumed fossil fuel use would quicken and that the world would be able to tap new reserves in the late 2000s from at the time unreachable shale gas. The memo also warned that the extra carbon dioxide would enhance the greenhouse effect and that an “increase in absorbed energy via this route would warm the earth’s surface causing changes in climate affecting atmospheric and ocean temperatures, rainfall patterns, soil moisture, and over centuries potentially melting the polar ice caps.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 May 2019 at 1:21 pm

History of the Capital AI & Market Failures in the Attention Economy

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Regular readers know how intriguing I find the evolution of memes. A meme is anything that you can learn from another person or teach to another person: a word, a song, a dance move, a cooking technique, a way to tie a scarf or make a tool, a social ritual, and so on. The passing of such knowledge from one person to another is reproduction of the meme, and inevitably some variation occurs. “Reproduction with variation” is something with which we’re familiar from biology, where that phenomenon, combined with some scarcity of resources, inevitably (by logical necessity) results in evolution: those variations best able to exploit the environment crowd out competing variations. This process of evolution also is true for memes, where the environment is primarily human attention.

Of course, evolution must deal with chance occurrences that alter the environment: the impact of that asteroid 65 million years ago immediately changed the environment and altered the direction of evolution, and in the evolution of memes the same sort of chance interruption—conquest, climate change, and so on—can alter the environment as well, shaping subsequent meme evolution (cf., for example, the evolution of languages, those being memes).

At first the memes of human culture were simple things. In the evolution of lifeforms, a billion years passed with simple one-celled life being all that there was. But when multicellular life appear, the pace picked up, and over the next billion years there emerged the variety and richness we see today.

The same sort of sequence happened with memes. Initially, it was simple: one learned from another which sorts of rocks worked best as tools. Then, probably after the meme of language began to emerge, the meme of working on rocks to make them better tools. With language, which allowed elders to tell the young what had been learned, the pace very gradually picked up, and then a few thousand years ago, things really started to accelerate, with memes evolving at an ever more rapid rate.

Although the same Darwinian logic drives the evolution of memes and the evolution of lifeforms, memes evolve millions of times faster (just look at how memes have evolved over the past two centuries). Memes include social organizations, and these memeplexes (clusters of mutually supporting memes, similar to multicellular animals—the idea of corporations, for example, and the specific instances of corporations) also evolve.

Note that memes in competing with other memes “seek” their own survival. The memes that succeed are those that best capture the attention and support of the hosts (namely, humans). And memes, like lifeforms, quickly evolved mechanisms to protect their existence and ensure their spread. Indeed, mechanisms in lifeforms often have analogues in memes. Take, for example, the immune system that protects a lifeform by fighting and rejecting things that might harm it, and consider the immune system that, say, North Korea has developed: no outside influence allowed into the country, and those whose ideas are contrary to the memeplex occupying that country are isolated, driven away, or killed. Memes “seek” their own survival, and benefits to the host (the human animals whose minds are the meme’s environment) are optional. (Cf. the ants controlled by an invading fungus.) Religions, when looked at as memes, have quite an array of tools to keep themselves safe and active: promise of future benefits, punishment of apostates, rituals to reinforce belief, and so. And indeed the family of religion memes has been quite successful: it arose early and has lasted long.

Another memeplex, much more recent than religion, is the corporation: it recruits, organizes, and controls a group of humans to achieve a specific purpose. Corporations fail, of course, but those that succeed through some variation or another grow stronger and even, like beavers and humans, adapt the environment to their own benefit. With such a rate of meme evolution, will memes achieve consciousness, as memes?

They may already have. Consider again the corporation. Corporations have a culture: 3M, IBM, Apple, and so on. Just as we remain ourselves even as the cells in our body die and are replaced, corporations maintain their identity even as works and managers are replaced. 3M has been in existence since 1902, and none of the original personnel are around, and none of their replacements, and none of their replacements, and yet the corporation is still active and still has a culture. The corporation’s culture will change somewhat over the years, just as we ourselves change over the years, but that overall memeplex is still going strong.

I offer this as background and context for the article I’m blogging. If you’re interested, I highly recommend The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore, and also this paper she wrote. The paper is of particular interest in this context, since it discusses what happens when memes (in effect) achieve a kind of consciousness and are able to create new memes. Keep that paper in mind as you read the article below. Another book, somewhat easier reading, is The Evolution of Everything, by Matt Ridley. I also recommend Daniel Dennet’s book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life. (All three books are available in Kindle editions, BTW, though the links are to secondhand printed copies. Blackmore’s paper can be read at the link.)

The article by Andrew Kortina is lengthy and includes quite a few graphics. It begins with this:

The article begins:

This is a lengthy discussion, so I’ll begin with a summary.

The basic idea in this post is to consider capitalism as a highly efficient objective function (or “AI”) with its parameters optimized for the satisfaction of our short term desires rather than our long term interests.

Paranoia about runaway feedback loops – in consumer capitalism, artificial intelligence, mass media, ‘Wrestlemania politics,’ etc – ultimately stems from the inscrutability of the emergent behavior of these complex systems to the individual actors and observers operating within them.

Rather than responding with Luddite / anarchist nihilism, we should remember that technological and social systems like these have dramatically reduced our exposure to the unpredictability of the natural world and greatly improved living conditions on a number of dimensions over the past few centuries.

At the same time, we should not ignore warning signs of a dystopian future, nor should we hope that a ‘personnel change’ of institutional leaders will solve our problems.

Because the problems at hand are complex systems problems – where the root causes are not the actors themselves, but the ill-designed structures and incentives that dictate their actions – we should think about redesigning the rules and incentives of social, political, and economic systems as the path forward.

After making the case for how we can better understand these systemic failures, I’ll discuss some frameworks that might be useful places to look for solutions, and then I’ll conclude by proposing a few examples of structural changes that might lead towards better outcomes. (Feel free to skip to the Practical Recommendations section, if that is where your interest lies.) . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 May 2019 at 8:19 am

Game over: Greenland Is Falling Apart—Since 1972, the giant island’s ice sheet has lost 11 quadrillion pounds of water.

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Global warming will destroy civilization, because of: (a) crop failures and food shortages, and (b) forced mass migrations due to sea-level rise. European countries don’t like immigrants? They had better brace themselves. Hundreds of millions of people will be on the move. In the US, the denizens of Florida are going to be forced to move up into Georgia and north.

Robinson Meyer writes in the Atlantic:

The Greenland Ice Sheet is the world’s second-largest reservoir of fresh water sitting on the world’s largest island. It is almost mind-bogglingly huge.

If Greenland were suddenly transported to the central United States, it would be a very bad day for about 65 million people, who would be crushed instantly. But for the sake of science journalism, imagine that Greenland’s southernmost tip displaced Brownsville, Texas—the state’s southernmost city—so that its icy glaciers kissed mainland Mexico and the Gulf thereof. Even then, Greenland would stretch all the way north, clear across the United States, its northern tenth crossing the Canadian border into Ontario and Manitoba. Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Iowa City would all be goners. So too would San Antonio, Memphis, and Minneapolis. Its easternmost peaks would slam St. Louis and play in Peoria; its northwestern glaciers would rout Rapid City, South Dakota, and meander into Montana. At its center point, near Des Moines, roughly two miles of ice would rise from the surface.

Suffice it to say: The Greenland Ice Sheet, which contains enough water to refill the Great Lakes 115 times over, is very large. And it is also falling apart.

A new study finds that the Greenland Ice Sheet added a quarter inch of water to global sea levels in just the past eight years. The research, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covers nearly 20 years previously not included in our detailed understanding of the troubled Greenland Ice Sheet. It finds that climate change has already bled trillions of tons of ice from the island reservoir, with more loss than expected coming from its unstable northern half.

“The glaciers are still being pushed out of balance,” Eric Rignot, a senior scientist at NASA and an author of the paper, told me. “Even though the ice sheet has [sometimes] been extremely cold and had low surface melt in the last year, the glaciers are still speeding up, and the ice sheet is still losing mass.”

The paper casts the transformation of the Greenland Ice Sheet as one of the profound geological shifts of our time. Scientists measure the mass of ice sheets in “gigatonseach unit equal to 1 billion metric tons, or roughly the same amount of water that New York or Los Angeles uses in a year. Greenland, according to the study, has lost 4,976 gigatons of water since 1972. That’s enough water to fill 16 trillion bathtubs or 1.3 quadrillion gallon jugs. That much water weighs about 11 quadrillion pounds. (A quadrillion is 1 with 15 zeros after it.)

More worryingly, the paper finds that Greenland lost about half of that ice—roughly 2,200 gigatons—in the years between 2010 and 2018. The ice sheet has also failed to gain mass in any year since 1998.

This melting isn’t happening at a steady pace, in other words. Greenland’s demise seems to be accelerating. Think of Greenland as a huge inland ice sea, surrounded by faster-moving ice rivers (which are glaciers) that empty the sea and carry ice to the ocean. The paper finds that those rivers are speeding up, carrying ice out of the island’s core nearly twice as fast now as they did in the 1990s or 2000s.

That’s an alarming result, because it means glaciers might now be shrinking Greenland from the bottom faster than hot weather can melt it from the top. And researchers believe that bottom-melting glaciers are less stable and more prone to rapid collapse. “If there’s a risk of rapid sea-level rise in the future, it will be associated with glaciers speeding up, and not anything happening at the surface,” Rignot said.

The paper’s findings are stirring in part because they go much further back in time. “A lot of the publications [about Greenland’s mass] start in 2000 or 2002, some go back to 1992, but this is the first time we go back another 20 years,” Rignot said. Historically, most studies of Greenland combine data from radar flybys, GPS beacons, and laser or gravity-sensing satellites. But there’s not enough data from before 1992 to be useful, so that’s when estimates usually stop. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 April 2019 at 7:14 pm

For Kids With Anxiety, Parents Learn To Let Them Face Their Fears

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Angus Chen reports at NPR:

The first time Jessica Calise can remember her 9-year-old son Joseph’s anxiety spiking was about a year ago, when he had to perform at a school concert. He said his stomach hurt and he might throw up. “We spent the whole performance in the bathroom,” she recalls.

After that, Joseph struggled whenever he had to do something alone, like showering or sleeping in his bedroom. He would beg his parents to sit outside the bathroom door or let him sleep in their bed. “It’s heartbreaking to see your child so upset and feel like he’s going to throw up because he’s nervous about something that, in my mind, is no big deal,” Jessica says.

Jessica decided to enroll in an experimental program, one that was very different from other therapy for childhood anxiety that she knew about. It wasn’t Joseph who would be seeing a therapist every week — it would be her.

The program was part of a Yale University study that treated children’s anxiety by teaching their parents new ways of responding to it.

“The parent’s own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety,” says Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine who developed the training.

For instance, when Joseph would get scared about sleeping alone, Jessica and her husband, Chris Calise, did what he asked and comforted him. “In my mind, I was doing the right thing,” she says. “I would say, ‘I’m right outside the door’ or ‘Come sleep in my bed.’ I’d do whatever I could to make him feel not anxious or worried.”

But this comforting — something psychologists call accommodation — can actually be counterproductive for children with anxiety disorders, Lebowitz says.

“These accommodations lead to worse anxiety in their child, rather than less anxiety,” he says. That’s because the child is always relying on the parents, he explains, so kids never learn to deal with stressful situations on their own and never learn they have the ability to cope with these moments.

“When you provide a lot of accommodation, the unspoken message is, ‘You can’t do this, so I’m going to help you,’ ” he says.

Lebowitz wondered if it would help to train parents to change that message and to encourage their children to face anxieties rather than flee from them.

Currently the established treatment for childhood anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy delivered directly to the child.

When researchers have tried to involve parents in their child’s therapy in the past, the outcomes from studies suggested that training parents in cognitive behavioral therapy didn’t make much of a difference for the child’s recovery. Lebowitz says that this might be because cognitive behavioral therapy asks the child to change their behavior. “When you ask the parents to change their child’s behavior, you are setting them up for a very difficult interaction,” he says.

Instead, Lebowitz’s research explores whether training only the parents without including direct child therapy can help. He is running experiments to compare cognitive behavioral therapy for the child with parent-only training. A study of the approach appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry last month.

Jessica Calise received 12 weeks of Lebowitz’s parent training as part of a follow-up study, the results of which are not yet published.

Once a week, she drove from Norwalk, Conn., to Yale University for an hourlong session with a therapist. Like all the parents who went through Lebowitz’s training program, Jessica began forming a plan with the therapist on how she and her husband would stop swooping in when Joseph became anxious.

The key to doing that, Lebowitz says, is to make children feel heard and loved, while using supportive statements to build their confidence. Parents need to “show their child that they understand how terrible it is to feel anxious,” he says. They need to accept that their child is “genuinely anxious and not just being attention seeking,” he adds.

The next step is to tell children that “they can tolerate that anxiety and they don’t need to be rescued from it.” This helps give them the strength to face their fears, Lebowitz says.

This approach was hard at first, says Joseph’s father, Chris Calise. He’s a construction equipment operator, roughly 6 feet tall, with a frame as solid as brick. “The hardest hump for me was the way I was brought up,” he says, rapping his fingers against the kitchen table. “I always thought the way you do things [is to say], ‘Get over it. You’re fine. Suck it up.’ But it was obvious what we were doing wasn’t working.”

So, the parents committed themselves to a plan to get Joseph to feel comfortable sleeping and showering alone.

“It was baby steps first. I’d say, ‘I’m not going to stay [outside the bathroom], but I’ll come back and check on you in five minutes,’ ” Jessica says. “Then I would say, ‘I know it’s scary for you, but I know that you can do it. You’re going to do great.’ Just acknowledging the anxiety and providing the reinforcing statement.”

It was slow at first, Jessica says. But each time, as she’d been trained, Jessica . . .

Continue reading. There’s more—and it’s heartening.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2019 at 7:48 am

Lead and Crime in Honduras

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

I get questions:

Happy to help! However, there’s not a lot to say. The Sierra Club confirms that Honduras had remarkably high ambient lead levels through the mid-90s:

Until Honduras eliminated leaded gas, there was no country in the world with a higher concentration of lead per gallon of gasoline. In some parts of the capital, lead levels in the atmosphere exceeded international standards by 500 percent and lead concentrations in blood were rising, especially among children.

In 1996, a campaign by Aire Puro finally convinced the government to ban leaded gasoline, and by 1999 it had been completely phased out. The lag between childhood lead exposure and crime rates later in life is between 18-25 years, which suggests that we’d expect crime in Honduras to peak sometime between 2014 and 2024. And since the lead concentrations before 1996 were very high, we’d expect the peak crime era to be pretty brutal.

This is about all we can say so far. At best, Honduras is a few years past its crime peak, a period when we in the United States were still obsessing over “superpredators” because we didn’t yet realize that crime was declining. At worst, crime is still increasing in Honduras and won’t start to decline for several more years. The middle case—and probably the most likely one—is that crime is at its all-time peak right about now, which goes a long way toward explaining why violence is endemic there and so many people are fleeing. Crime will now start to decrease, but it will probably be five or ten years before we start to see a significant change.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2019 at 5:52 pm

Climate change group scrapped by Trump reassembles to issue warning

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Oliver Milman reports in the Guardian:

A US government climate change advisory group scrapped by Donald Trump has reassembled independently to call for better adaptation to the floods, wildfires and other threats that increasingly loom over American communities.

The Trump administration disbanded the 15-person Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment in August 2017. The group, formed under Barack Obama’s presidency, provided guidance to the government based on the National Climate Assessment, a major compendium of climate science released every four years.

Documents released under freedom of information laws subsequently showed the Trump administration was concerned about the ideological makeup of the panel. “It only has one member from industry, and the process to gain more balance would take a couple of years to accomplish,” wrote George Kelly, then the deputy chief of staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a June 2017 email.

The advisory group has since been resurrected, however, following an invitation from New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, and has been financially supported by Columbia University and the American Meteorological Society. It now has 20 expert members.

The panel is now known as the Science to Climate Action Network (Scan) and has now completed work it would have finished for the federal government, releasing a report on Thursday warning that Americans are being put at risk from the impacts of a warming planet due to a muddled response to climate science.

“We were concerned that the federal government is missing an opportunity to get better information into the hands of those who prepare for what we have already unleashed,” said Richard Moss, a member of Scan and a visiting scientist at Columbia University, who previously chaired the federal panel.

“We’re only just starting to see the effects of climate change, it’s only going to get much worse. But we haven’t yet rearranged our daily affairs to adapt to science we have,” he added.

The fourth National Climate Assessment, released on the day after Thanksgiving last year, detailed how climate change is already harming Americans, with sobering findings on future impacts. At the time, Trump said he didn’t believe the report.

“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” the report, the work of 13 US government agencies, states.

On current trends, the US economy is set to lose $500bn a year from crop damage, lost labor and extreme weather damages, the report found. Rainfall levels and flooding have increased in much of the country, with the amount of the US west consumed annually by wildfires set to increase as much as sixfold by 2050, according to the assessment.

But these warnings have been only intermittently heeded in decisions made by cities and states across the US, due to a lack of knowledge, political will or funding. The US has no national sea level rise plan, for example, and the Trump administration has scrapped rules around building infrastructure in areas deemed vulnerable to climate change. These circumstances have led to haphazard planning that results in certain dwellings repeatedly lost to flooding or fire.

“We live in an era of climate change and yet many of our systems, codes and standards have not caught up,” said Daniel Zarrilli, chief climate adviser to New York City, one of the few US cities with such a person. “Integrating climate science into everyday decisions is not just smart planning, it’s an urgent necessity.”

In its new report, the Science to Climate Action Network recommends the creation of a “civil-society-based climate assessment consortium” that would combine private and public interests to provide more localized help for communities menaced by floods, wildfires or other perils.

“Imagine working in  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2019 at 10:42 am

There’s no oil in the Arctic wildlife refuge

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Very interesting report by Steve Eder and Henry Fountain in the NY Times:

Working through two winters in the biting arctic cold, roustabouts bored three miles deep into the coastal plain of northeast Alaska in search of oil. In the spring of 1986, they packed up and left, uttering not a word about what they had found and leaving only a short section of steel pipe to mark the spot.

For more than three decades, the findings from the $40 million exploratory well have been one of the oil industry’s most closely guarded secrets. Outside of the oil giants that paid for it, only a handful of people know what was discovered there.

Now the secret has become much more than a curiosity: The Trump administration, undoing decades of environmental protections, plans to sell drilling leases in the area, which is part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and has long been believed to contain North America’s biggest untapped onshore trove of oil.

Anyone interested in drilling in the area urgently wants to know: Was the well — the only one ever drilled there — a dry hole or a potential gusher?

No one will say officially, but The New York Times found an answer in clues hidden 4,000 miles from the Arctic tundra, in the archives of a Beaux-Arts-style courthouse in Cleveland.

“The discovery well was worthless,” said Sidney B. Silverman, a retired lawyer who was involved in a long-since-forgotten lawsuit filed there in 1987.

Mr. Silverman, who is now 86 and divides his time between Long Island and South Florida, reached that conclusion while representing shareholders of Standard Oil of Ohio as it was being acquired by British Petroleum. Both companies had a stake in the Arctic test well and were poised to benefit from further development.

In merger documents, BP had placed only a “nominal” value on the potential reserves in the refuge, and Mr. Silverman and other lawyers suspected that Standard Oil’s shareholders were about to be cheated.

They quickly learned otherwise.

BP allowed Mr. Silverman to conduct a confidential deposition about the well with a BP executive, David Jenkins. Reached by The Times, Mr. Jenkins said his memories were vague, but he recalled the deposition — which was sealed by the court — and telling Mr. Silverman that “there was never any evidence at all, at that stage, that there was anything material within the refuge.”

Mr. Silverman, similarly, remembered being convinced that “either there was no oil and gas there, or the oil couldn’t be produced at an economic value.”

Some of the documents in the case are missing from the court file, perhaps lost over the decades. But in more than 1,000 pages of legal and regulatory filings, The Times discovered other hints that the findings were disappointing. Under oath, a Goldman Sachs banker who worked on the merger testified that BP had led him to believe that the test well results were “not particularly encouraging.”

John Warden, a lawyer who represented BP, said that he had only dim memories of the case but that the well results “became a nonissue.” Told of The Times’s reporting, he added, “It looks to me like you have gotten it right.”

Mr. Silverman hinted at the findings in a memoir he self-published 10 years ago, but has never before spoken out directly about what was said in the deposition. He said he was breaking his silence because of the Trump administration’s decision to open the refuge — protected by Congress for decades — for oil development.

“This is important for the whole country,” he said.

One dry hole does not necessarily mean there is no oil to be found, especially since some decades-old seismic tests indicate that the area may hold as much as 12 billion barrels’ worth. And knowledge of the area’s subsurface geology is valuable. But confirmation that the results of the only test well were discouraging could embolden opponents of drilling and prompt second thoughts among potential lease bidders.

“Knowing that information would help you in an extremely competitive bid,” said Larry Persily, a former federal gas official responsible for Alaska, who noted there had been billion-dollar lease sales in the state. While the well is all but “a pimple on a speck” of the Arctic’s massive landscape, he said, it is a prevailing mystery. “And we love mysteries.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Just no oil.

Later in the article:

In the decades since, as the debate flared in Congress over whether to open the refuge to oil exploration, Mr. Silverman and others involved in the case quietly kept the secrets of the test well.

“To date, there has been no drilling in ANWR,” Mr. Silverman wrote in his 2009 memoir, “A Happy Life: From Courtroom to Classroom.”

“Environmentalists think their efforts have preserved the wilderness area,” he wrote. “I know better, but must remain silent.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2019 at 4:53 pm

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