Famine: impacts and adaption

Never blog when pissed [*] they said…

So, Kloor and Romm are having a dust up over stuff, and if you care you can read the details or even take sides (I’m with Kloor, you won’t be surprised to learn). But we can take a step back and consider a more generalised problem, in the context of Doctors Warn Climate Change is “Greatest Threat to Public Health”: suppose we care about famine in the third world (in the sense of wanting to do something about it, rather than in the sense of finding it interesting material to blog about it): what might we do?

* stop climate change (reduce impacts)
* improve their governance (adaption)

Obviously the two are not exclusive, but more importantly it is likely that one factor is more significant than the other. Which might it be? I’ve been pretty skeptical about the chances of future famine in the past (pardon?) and I’m still skeptical, so my vote goes to choice 2: their big problem is governance. Climate might well be an aggravating factor, but in comparison to being shot up, attacked and generally having your entire civil society destroyed by armed gangs, climate comes a pretty poor second.

So temporarily ignoring the problem that “improve their governance” doesn’t have a glorious recent past (Afghanistan and Iraq being our most recent disaster areas; but we could look to Sierra Leone, or possibly Libya as better examples) I’d say option 2 is distinctly a better bet. Plus the associated externalities are positive too (not only do they not starve to death, they don’t get shot either).

[*] In the English sense, which is to say, when drunk.

[Update: AG reminds me that I really ought to have mentioned Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate. And you can read his blog on it, too.]

Deaths per unit of electricity generated

In the comments to Romm Echoes Groundless Cell Phone/Cancer Fears? we’ve degenerated into an argument about the safety of nuclear versus solar power (“which do you think has killed more people: radiation from Fukushima, or solar-voltaic installers falling from ladders?” was my question. It is a trick question, of course, because no-one has died from Fukushima as far as I know. But the correct question, of course, is deaths per unit of ‘lectric generated). MV, beng something of a spoilsport (just joking, don’t worry) pops the bubble by pointing to someone who has actually worked some numbers out. so I’m going to steal them.

First a warning: I haven’t verified these numbers. They fit my prejudices, so I’m going with them for the moment. But if you feel like attacking them for obvious flaws, please do.

Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)
Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China 278
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – ()world inc Banqiao)   1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)


[Credit: Brian Wang at NextBigFuture]

So by those numbers, nuclear is our safest power source. Solar and wind and hydro are also pretty safe, oil is dangerous, but everything else is completely dwarfed by coal. Coal is also by far the major emitter of radiation {{cn}}.


* Evidence Meltdown – Monbiot, April.

Death at UAH

As I was about to write up the latest smoggy stuff, I thought I’d better check out Eli in case he had written it up first. And lo, I thought, Condolences referred to the death of Christy’s scientific reputation. But no, it is about real death. So I need to press on.

[[John Christy]] has been a bit of a skeptic for ages. Quite where he gets it from is unclear – perhaps because he and Spencer did the first version of the [[satellite temperature record]] and, well, they got it wrong. In that it showed cooling, and so they became the poster boys for the real septics like Singer and Michaels and Inhofe. Perhaps some of that seeped in. But it turned out that a longer record showed a different answer, and that their version needed a pile of corrections, and when you do all that it shows warming. In the course of this long slow unravelling they got a fair amount of justified stick; and perhaps that pushed him towards the Dark Side.

But he was still a reputable scientist, somewhat in the mould of Lindzen though less eminent. Whilst clearly on the skeptical side he retained his k. The wiki page can’t really work out what to say about his views, which is correct, as it is hard to wade through the morass of conflicting stuff, and ends up with While he supports the AGU declaration and is convinced that human activities are one cause of the global warming that has been measured, Christy is “still a strong critic of scientists who make catastrophic predictions of huge increases in global temperatures and tremendous rises in sea levels.”

However, he got sucked in the the septic tide and published some stuff with Douglass in IJC in 2007 that was fundamentally flawed (Santer’s letter explains the details). The septics puffed it up; but it all fell apart a year later when Santer et al. ripped it to shreds, but of course there was a year of PR down the drain by then. Now Christy, I think, is not very strong on stats, and may well not have realised the error at the time of publication (though he should have known, because it had already been rejected from another journal for the same error). And a combination of pride, and of refusing to be corrected by the “other side”, and perhaps pressure from his co-authors, meant he never admitted to the error. Nor, as Santer points, did he ever attempt to defend it – defend in a proper scientific sense that is, not just in the sense of saying “we were right”. Instead he has a rather nasty piece which entirely evades the scientific issues (I don’t think their appendix A cuts it). They seem to complain that they never had a chance to respond to Santer’s paper which is odd – they had, and still have, every chance to write a proper response. Just like Santer et al. did. Instead, they chose to evade and whinge.

As Santer said, the paper that ended in IJC was intended for GRL. GRL is a far higher status journal, and has better quality reviewers, including Santer, and these reviews had already spotted the error. IJC is quite a lowly journal, and an odd choice for Americans, and looks like it was deliberately chosen as a journal of last resort for a dodgy paper. Christy relies rather heavily on selective quotes from leaked emails to make his case that the world is against him; it would be rather interesting were he to release the review comments on his paper.

[Update: Santer’s appendix A is here. Thanks Eli -W]