Monday, April 30, 2007

New Orleans Update from an Experienced Disaster Worker

Informative, evocative post from 3 Quarks Daily, this time about Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans:

"Welcome to New Orleans--it is nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina, and your federal tax dollars are asleep on the job. You won’t disturb the slumber of dumb money should you come to Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, two essential sources of local revenue, where you will register few traces of Katrina's destructive power. Only by venturing beyond the warm embrace of the restored French Quarter, with its familiar old-world charms, can one experience the vast stretches of physical devastation and ruined lives that federal and state monies have yet to address....

As someone who works on disaster relief programs worldwide, I was invited to come for a month and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various projects in New Orleans and Biloxi, two centers of urban devastation. The experience thus far has been surprisingly positive and inspiring, an unexpected antidote to my entrenched cynicism regarding relief efforts in places like Darfur or Congo, where I typically work.

"The aftermath of crisis in New Orleans and Congo, for instance, is surprisingly similar, and I've pondered over some perhaps facile but nonetheless empirical truths about the dynamic of human response to extreme disasters. First there is the universal ineptitude of governments--big or small, inept or adept, rich or poor--to provide adequate protection and succor to victims of major disasters, natural or man-made. The repeated and insistent rejections by US authorities of foreign offers of Katrina assistance, despite appalling need and clear ineptitude on the ground, is a case in point. Some of these offers the USG later humbly accepted, but by then it was far too late. Government officials are the least pragmatic when lives are at stake: expect delays and denial, not action...."

Mitigation Meeting in Bangkok

The AP reports: "The United States and China want to water down a proposed plan for fighting climate change, arguing that action to reduce greenhouse gases will be more costly and time-consuming than scientists claim.

"They also play down the benefits of reducing emissions, disputing recommendations by European governments that greenhouse gases be capped at around 445 parts per million in the air. The current level of greenhouse gases is about 430 ppm.

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of 2,000 scientists, drew up the plan. Governments have spent the last few weeks reviewing the proposals and are meeting with the scientists this week to work out their differences."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Reducing Vulnerabilities: "The Next Catastrophe"

Yale sociologist Charles Perrow has a new book coming out entitled The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial and Terrorist Disasters, published by the Princeton University Press.

Perrow's splendid 1984 book, Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies, explored the idea of catastrophic accidents that are inevitable in tightly coupled and complex systems. He theorized that once systems reach a certain level of complexity, failures will occur in multiple ways that are virtually impossible to predict. Much of what Perrow says in this sample chapter of his new book bears directly on climate change adaptation:

"...Two of the major themes in this work are the inevitable failure of organizations, public and private, to protect us from disasters and the increasing concentration of targets that make the disasters more consequential. There are many explanations for the first theme, organizational failures, but we will highlight one in particular: organizations are tools that can be used for ends other than their official ones. To prevent unwarranted use, we require regulation in the private sector and representative governance in the public sectors. The failure of the political system means ineffective regulation. This can be changed.

"One goal of regulation is to prevent the accumulation of economic power in private hands. Otherwise, we get the concentration not just of economic power but of hazardous materials, populations in risky areas with inadequate protection, and vulnerabilities in parts of our critical infrastructure such as the Internet, electric power, transportation, and agriculture. (We also need regulation to ensure that the public sector is not wasteful, that standards are adequate to protect us, that corruption is minimized, and so on.) The third major theme concerns a structural alternative to the concentrations that endanger us. We encounter it first in the electric power grid and second in the Internet; these are networked systems, rather than hierarchical systems. Networks are decentralized, with minimal concentrations of destructive energy and economic power. They are efficient, reliable, and adaptive, which minimizes the dangers of organizational failures. In the grid and the Internet, they are being challenged by consolidating forces, but these can be resisted. We explore the advantages of networks in the final chapter, where we examine networks of small firms, and terrorist networks."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Carbon Market Distortions

The Financial Times has been a solid source for news about the carbon markets. Fiona Harvey and Stephen Fidler examine some of the recent distortions and system-gaming that hinder the effort against climate change.

The UNDP and Climate Change Adaptation

The UN Development Programme is already at the center of adaptation work in the world's poorest countries. Here is their portal to a general description of their approach.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rescue Workers In Disasters Suffer Long-term Health Consequences

From the Science Daily, via the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

"The long-term effects of a disaster on physical and psychological health are the focus of a new study of rescue workers who provided assistance after the explosion of a fireworks depot in the Netherlands in May 2000.

"Using a unique Dutch electronic medical record database that allows pre- and post-disaster comparisons as well as comparisons between case and control cities, Dr. Mattijn Morren and colleagues were able to follow the workers for 4 years.

"Interesting patterns emerged. For instance, the rate of sick leave doubled (e.g. prevalence of absences increased from 2.5% during 6 months before the disaster to 4.6% during 6 months afterward). Of particular interest is that the increased sick leave taken for musculoskeletal and respiratory reasons did not normalize until 3 years after the explosion, whereas leaves taken due to psychological problems and nonspecific symptoms (e.g. fatigue or feeling generally unwell) had returned to predisaster rates before then. Some problems, such as neurological difficulties, did not increase until one year after the disaster."

Adapt Or Die: Mark Hertsgaard from the Nation

From the Nation, Mark Hertsgaard makes a valuable point:

"...There is, of course, no guarantee that New Orleans or anywhere else can successfully adapt to all that global warming throws at us. If the earth undergoes what scientists call nonlinear climate change--for example, if ice sheets melt so fast that sea levels rise twenty feet in 100 years--all bets are off; it's hard to see that much of today's population could survive such cataclysmic transformations. That is why the essential new focus on adaptation must not diminish the pre-existing--and now growing--focus on mitigation..."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Roundtable on Nuclear Energy

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has an online roundtable about carbon mitigation value of nuclear energy. Participating are R. Stephen Berry, the former Special Advisor to the Director of Argonne National Laboratory for National Security; Amory Lovins, the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute; and Peter A. Bradford, member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Lovins, a long-time opponent of nuclear energy, vigorously states the anti-nuke view.

Those touting the green potential of nuclear energy, Lovins says, "are inviting us into a dangerous la-la land in which nuclear power will be oversubsidized and underscrutinized while more promising and quicker responses to climate change are neglected...

"Nuclear power plants are made safe by combinations of vigilance and careful engineering and construction. If, in an effort to improve their dubious economics, we again freight the technology with unrealistic demands and expectations this safety can be seriously compromised...

"Asserting that nuclear power answers climate change is like asserting that invading Iraq answers 9/11. This is policy making built on distraction, bolstered by deception, burdened by debt, and bound for disillusion."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Political Economy of Carbon Trading

Informative essay from the London Review of Books on carbon emissions trading, by Donald MacKenzie:

"...There’s a sense in which the first phase of the European scheme was always meant as an experiment rather than as a tool to deliver substantial emissions reductions. The second phase, which will run from January 2008 until the end of the Kyoto commitment period in December 2012, will be much more significant. The European Commission sees the need to ensure the credibility of what is in many ways its flagship policy. It also now has much better emissions data to use to evaluate National Allocation Plans, and the fact that the second phase of trading coincides with the Kyoto commitment period means there’s a clear benchmark against which to assess the plans of all the countries that are in danger of not meeting their Kyoto commitments. So this time round the Commission has been significantly tougher in its assessments. Once again almost all member states sought over generous allocations, but their wishes haven’t been granted: so far, all the plans except that of the UK have been cut back...."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Allianz talks to Climate and Insurance Expert Evan Mills

On its website, Allianz has a worthwhile discussion with Evan Mills about climate change and the insurance industry. Mills has published some of the most important research about the role of insurance in responding to climate change, including articles for Science and Forbes, and contributed as a lead author to various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Mills is also a member of the Earth Institute's Economics and Public Policy Working Group chaired by Jeffrey Sachs, which meets this month in New York as part of the Global Roundtable on Climate Change.

Mills notes that, "There are a lot of things that insurers can do, from pay-as-you-drive insurance to improve roadway safety while trimming emissions, planting mangroves to protect insured hotels on the Pacific Rim while sequestering carbon, or investing in renewables to help improve the reliability of the power grid and hedge energy price risks while displacing fossil fuel-- ways they can bring their skills to bear for the better.

"Insurers are also bringing their skills to bear in managing risks associated with carbon trading; this will help the emerging carbon markets to work even better. And it's not charity. In a study published earlier this year, we found over 100 insurance companies had done things along these lines. It's a way for them to earn their money. It's a real frontier, and we are just scratching the surface."

Climate Change Performance Index 2007

A German NGO,, has created an index of how various countries perform in the struggle with climate change.

Helping Farmers Adapt

Interesting paper called "Farmer Climate Risk Management: Insights into climate change adaptation capacity," by Jennifer Phillips, Bard Center for Environmental Policy, Bard College; David Krantz, Center for Research in Environmental Decisions, Columbia University; Bradfield Lyon, International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, Columbia University.

The abstract states: "Consensus is emerging that climate change is likely to result in an increase in weather extremes. Farmers, who are highly sensitive to climate extremes, present an opportunity to investigate decision making related to managing climate risk, providing insights into managing uncertainty associated with future climate change. Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups with farmers in Eastern New York State, we are studying climate risk management with two aims: first, to “map” mental models of frequency distributions of important extreme events of Northeast farmers and the relationship to adaptive strategies, and second, to assess farming system resilience to climate extremes. Products of this work will include improved decision support materials in the context of climate risk associated with climate extremes."

Lindzen in Newsweek -- Real Climate on the Case

Real Climate casts a cold eye on a piece by Richard Lindzen (a perennial climate-change denialist) in Newsweek.

"As part of a much larger discussion on Learning to live with Global Warming in Newsweek recently, the editors gave some space for Richard Lindzen to give his standard 'it's no big deal' opinion. While we disagree, we have no beef with serious discussions of the costs and benefits of various courses of action and on the need for adaption to the climate change that is already locked in.

"However, Lindzen's piece is not a serious discussion.

"Instead, it is a series of strawman arguments, red-herrings and out and out errors....

Monday, April 16, 2007

Debate is Between Mitigating and Adapting

From Mark Trahant of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"If humans are, at least, partly to blame, can humans, at least, partly mitigate the effects? Or a better question: How much should we spend on mitigation versus adaptation?

"The IPCC report says flat-out that "many impacts can be avoided, reduced or delayed by mitigation."

"If mitigation is even a reasonable hope, shouldn't it become a shared value? Heck, even a conservative standard? Those are actions that could save billions of dollars over the cost of adaptation. We know we are going to have to both mitigate and adapt, so why not focus on the solutions that are the most promising and cost-effective? "Even the most stringent mitigation efforts cannot avoid further impacts of climate change in the next few decades, which makes adaptation essential, particularly in addressing near-term impacts," the IPCC said. "Unmitigated climate change would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt."

"We will need both mitigation and adaptation. Our only choice is the right balance to our approach and how fast we go.

"But before we figure that out, the global warming debate -- the political one, not the scientific one -- has to move beyond slogans. We need to engage this democracy and talk about the next century, opening up ways for people to thoroughly explore our prospects, test scenarios and debate alternatives."

Refugees from Climate Disruption

The Toronto Star carries a story (by Peter Martyn) about population movements as a result of climate instability.

"The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's "Fourth Assessment Report" this month adds to our collective ability to grasp the impact our industrialized lifestyle is having on our future. Problem is, it's still far too easy to rationalize what's happening...

"The first climate-change refugees are already in motion. Europe is feeling the pressure and it's growing daily. Canada cannot be far behind.

"Drought and famine rank right up there with war, pestilence and population growth as reasons people flee what the IPCC calls "low latitudes," that is, countries near the equator..."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Water Use and the Limits of Dams

Jeffrey St. Clair has written a pertinent book called Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground. Counterpunch presents the forward, in which St. Clair lays out the history behind dysfunctional, truly non-adaptive water policies in the U.S:

"...Worldwide, threatened river systems are crying out for a new generation of whistleblowers, for government biologists, hydrologists, and geologists willing to risk their own careers to save river ecosystems on the brink of collapse. Like Dai Qing in China, they will, almost certainly, be vilified, ridiculed, investigated, and threatened by the international cliques profiteering on the waters' demise. In the U.S., the Bush administration, in collusion with its stacked Supreme Court, is axing the last frail protections federal whistleblowers enjoy. These scientists, should they ever step into the public spotlight, will need cover and protection. Can they look to Gang Green-the big DC enviro groups like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society-the ones that gave you Glen Canyon Dam (and so many more)? Fat chance.

"But we must leave these brave whistleblowers to their fates for the moment. Their alarms alone will never be enough. We learn from the example of John Wesley Powell that science, vision, and conscience will not suffice against the Leviathan's momentum and might. Nor can any Bureau of Reclamation fish-saving compromise truly threaten the hegemony of the megadammers, wherein any water that makes it to the sea is water wasted, and no trickle goes unlevied. In just the same way, the hero model favored even by many eco-warriors actually perpetuates the mega-dam mindset. Those who would save the rivers must take the rivers for their heroes, and the salmon and chub, and look not to iconized individuals for leadership but to one another and to the earth itself for partnership. The Klamath River tribes, like the Mun River protesters and Cochabamba's "Defenders of Water and Life" win more lasting victories than Gang Green. It will take a network of river consensus and the forging of a new water culture to bust the dams and to scour away their poisoned silts."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Linking Climate Adaptation

A site with a number of worthwhile pages on climate change adaptation.

New Scientist: Nowhere to Turn for Denialists

An editorial from the New Scientist says: "Wriggle-room shrank this week for those who believe that global warming is not caused by human activity. The latest report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the world is already changing in line with forecasts from computer models that include greenhouse gases as an integral factor (see As polluters quibble, the poor learn their fate).

"Everything from the increasing numbers of glacial lakes to the poleward shifts in the ranges of animals and plants is almost certainly down to global warming. The IPCC also finds that natural variation is "very unlikely" to be the sole cause of such changes. Models that include only natural influences on temperature, such as volcanoes and solar activity, are significantly outperformed by models that also include greenhouse gases.

"Why shouldn't we take these results at face value? Assuming there is no global scientific conspiracy, the only other occasionally voiced argument is that IPCC scientists have staked so much on greenhouse gases that they are unwilling to brook any alternative. This notion runs so completely counter to what science is about that it is as likely as a global conspiracy..."

Friday, April 13, 2007

DOE and Climate

The U.S. Department of Energy does have some information about climate change, mostly focused on mitigation and energy issues.

Not Exactly the Kind of Risk Knowledge We Had in Mind

This AP story (via Breitbart) announces that an online gambling service is taking bets on the impacts of climate change. We were hoping for a more scientific approach to such an important risk, but maybe this portends more serious attention to the issues. A betting pool does create a rough picture of how a given audience views the likelihood of various hazards.

Leaves, Flooding, Worms

From Cleveland's last year, a perceptive post about the intertwining of leaf deposits, worms, flooding and lawn care. The nub:

Leaves feed worms, but lawn owners often pay gardeners to remove the leaves with noisy, carbon-emitting blowers. Stripped earth soon erodes and flows into nearby streams. The worm s dwindle, meaning fewer wormholes, less porosity, and still more rain runoff. The poster, Jeff Buster says, "More runoff means more flood infrastructure – pipes, culverts, storage, treatment needs to be built - requiring spending of millions of dollars of precious tax money - when worms will handle the water for free."

Historical adaptation note: Charles Darwin's paper on the the effect of earthworms in aerating the soil is a classic of biology.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Insurance As an Adaptive Measure

Lloyd's is weighing in with a new report on climate change adaptation. "Climate Change: Adapt or Bust" notes:

"An increasing wealth of scientific evidence is available to predict the impact of changing weather patterns and future climate change on the insurance industry. ... Much of the latest science suggests that climate change will take place faster than we thought. Urgent and active management of climate change – starting with investment in research – is now imperative. It is not too late to change, but change is long overdue.

"Recent events have shown capital and pricing models to be wanting... Going forward, the industry must take a new approach to underwriting, looking ahead and not simply basing decisions on historical patterns. Insurer pricing and capital allocation models must be updated regularly – and not just in extremis – to reflect the latest scientific evidence. Our responsibilities in this regard will be increasingly widely drawn: regulators will require the industry to maintain a level of capital adequate for changing levels of climate change risk.

"Based on natural cycles alone, we can expect the current trend towards extreme windstorm events to continue and increase over the next decade. Climate change can only exacerbate this, and insurers must plan for a higher frequency of extreme events, over a longer storm season and over a wider geographical area. Insurers must also take advantage of scientific advances to factor forecasts for the season ahead into their planning, instead of relying only on long-term trends.

"Climate change means exposures are changing and new ones emerging. insurers must regularly review and communicate conditions of coverage We foresee an increasing possibility of attributing weather losses to man made factors, with courts seeking to assign liability and compensation for claims of damage. Exposures can also be expected to increase in respect of property, business interruption and political risks, demanding the same response.... Opportunities for those insurance markets which are flexible and innovative will emerge too: as society adapts to the impact of climate change, new technologies will be required and insurance of these developments will be needed.

"Insurers must prepare for the impact of climate change on asset values. Underwriting for profit will be key. As major corporate investors, insurers rely on returns from assets to boost their own financial performance. We expect climate change not only to produce extreme capital damaging events, but also to increase uncertainty around corporate business plans and potentially reduce asset values. This makes it even more important for the industry to price risk according to exposure and to underwrite for profit...

"Effective partnership with business and government will be key to managing risk. The insurance industry must engage now. Based on long experience, Lloyd’s believes that insurance markets operate most efficiently when left to free market forces, and the vast majority of natural perils are insurable – as long as the market is free to price risk adequately. However, if this freedom is removed, or if the pace of climate change grows faster than expected, this could change our view. Industry strategists will want to consider the long-term insurability of weather-related risk. We believe that a meaningful partnership with government and business, supported by a series of practical actions, has the best chance of providing solutions. In particular, this should address the issue of increasing concentrations of population and economic wealth in high risk areas, for example on coasts...."

Australia's View of Adaptation

The Australian Greenhouse Office has a page about adaptation. Pretty scanty, but it's a start.

Staying Informed: Pew Center Publication

This piece by William Easterling of Pennsylvania State University, Brian Hurd of New Mexico State University, and Joel Smith of Stratus Consulting lays out some of the issues involved in climate change adaptation.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Substantial Sum for Smart Climate Policy

The New York Times reports that the Doris Duke Foundation is launching a $100 million program to support sound climate policies. I'd include the link, but it's locked behind the Times subscription wall. Steve Lohr is the author, and it appeared April 9.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Cheaper Solar Cells from New Zealand

According to a story at Nanowerk, researchers from the Nanomaterials Research Center at Massey University in New Zealand have made a solar breakthrough. They've created colored organic dyes that can be used in photovoltaic cells. These dye-sensitized solar cells can generate electricity at 10 percent of the cost of existing silicon solar cell designs, and operate in diffuse, low light. Possible application: The dyes can tint windows to capture solar power and generate electricity. Titanium dioxide is the new ingredient in these cells. Nanowerk describes this material as "a plentiful, renewable and non-toxic white mineral obtained from New Zealand's black sand."

Change or Die, or Something In Between

Climate change experts distinguish two broad categories in responding to climate change: mitigation (curtailing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (lessening the harmful impacts). While these categories blend together, experts often contrast them, not least because their scale differs.
Most mitigation projects tend to follow the moon-shot, Manhattan Project paradigm. Carbon sequestration, alternative energies sources, emissions trading – they are large, complicated and costly efforts. The sheer scale and expense of mitigation projects has stoked major objections.
If governments back the wrong option, hundreds of billions of dollars will go to waste. And even if policymakers choose well, lowering levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will still take decades. In fact, if we magically stopped emitting greenhouse gases tomorrow, we would still endure decades of climate change impacts in the form of sea-level rise, worsening extinctions, more extreme and unstable weather.
Adaptation provokes less political heat because it’s smaller. We adapt to climate locally and ad hoc. Changing building codes or flood protection in one community can dramatically reduce the impact of climate change. Adaptation includes many measures that have great value in themselves, such as improved monitoring and prediction, insurance, infrastructure bolstering, regulatory streamlining. Such improvements they often go unremarked because they’re confined to one area.
A decade ago (or more), environmentalists at NGOs disliked talk of adaptation. They viewed attention paid to adaptation as a defeat for the more important long-range work of mitigation. That attitude has diminished because by now even the most ardent environmentalists acknowledge that adaptation is a common ground for everyone.
In the decades ahead, mitigation and adaptation will start to converge in size. When it comes to mitigation, we’ll probably better off in the long run with twenty cheap projects rather than one big one that gobbles up all resources and attention. If most of the twenty projects fizzle, their failure will give us a better notion of which horses to bet on in the next round.
Meanwhile, we’ll need to minimize impacts on a much larger scale. Adaptation projects will probably get bigger.

Now Out: Next Installment of the IPPC Fourth Assessment Report

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is being rolled out, and as usual it's driving a lot of press coverage on climate issues. April 6 saw the release of the Summary for Policymakers for Working Group II "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability," which of particular relevance to this blog, since our focus is on adaptation. The summary says:

"A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to future climate change. There are barriers, limits and costs, but these are not fully understood. Impacts are expected to increase with increases in global average temperature...

"Although many early impacts of climate change can be effectively addressed through adaptation the options for successful adaptation diminish and the associated costs increase with increasing climate change. At present we do not have a clear picture of the limits to adaptation, or the cost, partly because effective adaptation measures are highly dependent on specific, geographical and climate risk factors as well as institutional, political and financial constraints...

"The array of potential adaptive responses available to human societies is very large, ranging from purely technological (e.g., sea defences), through behavioural (e.g., altered food and recreational choices) to managerial (e.g., altered farm practices), to policy (e.g., planning regulations). While most technologies and strategies are known and developed in some countries, the assessed literature does not indicate how effective various options are to fully reduce risks, particularly at higher levels of warming and related impacts, and for vulnerable groups. In addition, there are formidable environmental, economic, informational, social, attitudinal and behavioural barriers to implementation of adaptation. For developing countries, availability of resources and building adaptive capacity are particularly important.

"However, adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, and especially not over the long run as most impacts increase in magnitude."

Some press and blog reactions in Germany, the U.K., the U.S. and India.

The Problem of Risk Subsidy

Kerry Emanuel is a leading proponent of the theory that climate change is making tropical cyclones more intense. On July 25th 2006, he and a number of other leading climate physicists and others made a statement that investors need to take note of:

“As the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the possible influence of climate change on hurricane activity is receiving renewed attention. While the debate on this issue is of considerable scientific and societal interest and concern, it should in no event detract from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions. These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans long before climate change was seriously considered, and a Katrina-like storm or worse was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.
“Rapidly escalating hurricane damage in recent decades owes much to government policies that serve to subsidize risk. State regulation of insurance is captive to political pressures that hold down premiums in risky coastal areas at the expense of higher premiums in less risky places. Federal flood insurance programs likewise undercharge property owners in vulnerable areas. Federal disaster policies, while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.
“We are optimistic that continued research will eventually resolve much of the current controversy over the effect of climate change on hurricanes. But the more urgent problem of our lemming-like march to the sea requires immediate and sustained attention. We call upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, and insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.”

This states the problem perfectly. Climate change is not the only risk issue posed by extreme weather events. Owners of beach houses, beware.

Distorted Communication

Investors grapple constantly with imperfect knowledge in many sectors, and uncertainties appear particularly acute in the field of climate. The scientific consensus claims that human activities are a major cause of climate change. A similar number of voices claim the opposite – or so you would think from reading the mainstream US media.
Each time the mainstream scientific consensus moves forward, the “climate change is bunk” chorus bursts into song. The US media persistently create the appearance of wider debate on the subject than actually exists among scientists.
Pseudoscience and long-exploded theories get equal time alongside the work of more corroborated scientific work. Until recently, honorable skeptics (a dwindling band) and anti-environmental shills have shoved the majority of scientists to the margins.
Investors must sift through the many screens of distorted information.
To cite the most recent example. The UN created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to periodically state the scientific consensus in a format friendly to policymakers. But each time the IPCC releases a new assessment (as they just have in February), the band of naysayers weigh in.
The UK’s Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change is a similar case. Stern argued that the costs of acting on climate change were lower than feared. He also made a strong case that the benefits of mitigation and adaptation would be greater than anticipated.
However, the discussion of Stern’s optimistic view soon bogged down in some technical chin-stroking about the discount rate he used. The media are receptive to Cassandras who wail that responding to climate issues is too costly. Say they, taking any action would kill off economic growth for decades. A more careful analysis suggests otherwise.
More recently, the New York Times published an article on the supposed factual errors in Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The actual criticisms by scientists of the Oscar-winning documentary’s flaws were minor, but the Drudge Report trumpeted the piece as a knock-down attack on Gore. For a dry-eyed and detailed assessment of the documentary and the latest non-controversy by some actual scientists, see what some actual climate scientists have said..
Distorted communication will no doubt continue. It may even get more shrill as the number of scientists who doubt the consensus grows smaller and smaller. But chorus has regular patterns, and astute investors can learn to recognize the song and make their choices accordingly.