Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump's Premature Withdrawal - My Take

Two years ago I published a paragraph entitled 'Post Paris - My Take' on my linked in page. Here, in italics, is the original text:

Optimists estimate the Paris Accord will reduce from business as usual ~6C warming to 'well below 2 with measures taken towards achieving 1.5' (the target in the accord, paraphrased from memory). Lowball estimates (eg Bjorn Lomborg's) are that it will have an effect of 0.05C. The truth will no doubt lie somewhere between these two, and no doubt does not depend on the accord alone, but if/how it is followed up in practice. Note that even the denialist estimates 0.05C, so yes, it will have an effect. The chance of keeping the world below 2C warming is, however, in my opinion, almost nil, we will fail to hit that target the same way we will fail to achieve any of the 'sustainable development goals' - these are really mostly unachievable aspirational targets that seek to catalyze progress in the right direction. The mood is very positive, and such positivity can be a good catalyst. Indeed, the biggest win was one of politics. The UN works. Countries are unified. This political capital could be squandered (as GW Bush famously did in his second term) or could, everyone hopes, deliver substantial progress towards the goals of 2C on mitigation, and building resilience on the adaptation side.

So, now, I am updating with my take on Trump's unilateral withdrawalAs far as atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are concerned the direct impact is unlikely to be distinguishable from zero. Paris after all was a voluntary mechanism - it mandated no action by countries. So the bits of the US that were going to reduce their emissions under Paris (various states, cities, industries) can (and indeed have already stated they will) still do so.  In terms of the global degree C measuring stick the parties to the conference are so fond of, I would estimate the direct impact of this decision to be 0°C with a fairly small range of uncertainty around that number. In terms of finance for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the developing world, there is also no clear effect arising from this decision. The decision to stop US funding the green climate fund was already taken long before this one, and despite lack of similar outcry at the time was far more damaging in my opinion.

The more likely consequences of Trump's political decision are also political. These are of course far harder to predict than climate change. Some say that China will take up the global 'leadership' vacuum. I find this highly unlikely. China's corrupt, totalitarian and environmentally disastrous regime is an extremely unlikely government to inspire leadership in anyone other than the most naive end of the spectrum.  A more plausible scenario may be that Trump's successor - POTUS 46 - will score enormous international goodwill, perhaps even a nobel peace prize, when she asserts new, bold American leadership and announces the US is rejoining the accord.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sustainable Shoes?

The other day Min and I had a great visit to the Minpaku (National Museum of Ethnology) in the 1970 Expo commemorative park on the outskirts of Osaka. The museum is enormous. Since we only had a couple of hours we bee-lined for the Ainu and Traditional Japan sections. These two pairs of shoes, made in Mie prefecture in the 1930's, were on display and seemed like a great kick off (pun intended) to a blog post on 'sustainability'.

Sustainability is all the rage. Plenty of cool sounding but actually incomprehensible buzz words are proliferating in UN speak. Green procurement. Circular economy. And of course the big daddy of buzz itself 'sustainability'. Unfortunately for the diligent and well meaning technocrats spouting them, these phrases don't connect with most people(*). Not as well as "make America great again" anyway. When you start to dig into the details of what 'sustainability' really is, there is, as always, a bit of the devil in there.

Looking at my indoor slippers a few days ago, and feeling in a slightly Proustian mood, this blog idea came to mind.  They aren't all that different from the pair on the museum wall actually:

These slippers were hand made by an ancient artisan in Tokyo. I saw him squatting in the rear workshop hard at work at just such a pair while I purchased these directly from his wife, who manages the front end of the business. They cost me $20. They felt a bit tight at first, but she correctly warned me to expect them to stretch out over the first few weeks of wear. I love these slippers. The feel of tatami on the bottom of my sweaty feet is perfectly cool and comfortable. The nice dragonfly motif cloth on the straps is aesthetically nonpareil. What she didn't warn me about though, is that they shortly after they finish stretching to comfort, they rapidly begin to disintegrate. Note the heel abrasion and the folded ridge at the toe line.  At this rate - and the disintegration is speeding up actually - I suspect they will need to be discarded in a year or two. Assuming the long end of this estimated range suggests a price of 20 dollars, averaged over two years (ignoring inflation) of ten dollars per year.

Here are my wife Min's slippers:

She claims they too are supremely comfortable. She has already had them for 30 years (this is not an exaggeration, now you know my wife is over 30 years old). No trace of any heel abrasions whatsoever. The miniscule little dots on the right slipper are tooth marks from when our golden retriever puppy whisked it out of sight for a few hours and did her utmost to destroy it. These slippers cost $5. They will last for at least 100 years, probably longer. This indicates an average cost of five cents per year, at least two hundred times cheaper than mine.

So, which slipper was the 'sustainable' purchase. It is tempting to argue that the price of mine is worth it because they will not add plastic to the ocean. However on close inspection, they in fact do have what looks like a plasticy foam layer under the tatami. So the 'traditional design' is not quite what is on the wall in the Minpaku, but has been modified for comfort. The trouble then, is that my supposedly sustainable tatami shoes have almost as much plastic in them, as Min's 100% petroleum product shoes!  The only truly sustainable shoes are on the wall in the museum!  A hard nosed cost benefit analysis suggests you are better off buying the 100% foam/plastic shoe and simply discarding it properly at the the end of its century long lifespan. That is the sustainable, environmental option AND the cheapest one.

Plastic flip flops are portrayed by the green crowd as the epitome of planet destroying garbage - filling the pacific gyre with plastic that ingenious dutch teenager is going to clean up with floating booms (NOT, but that is another blog post). Nope, plastic flip flops are probably the most sustainable footwear you can buy - just make sure to incinerate them and generate electricity with the energy when, if ever, they reach the end of their lifespan.  Of course, if you really want to achieve the smallest possible environmental footprint, you should make some like those on the wall in the Minpaku. 

(*) Another important unfortunate fact is that the UN itself does not actually employ sustainable practices such as green procurement or circular economics, we just talk about how important they are.