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          1. Sunday photoblogging: Courtyard in Ortygia, Sicily

            by Chris Bertram on February 9, 2020

            Surprised I hadn’t used this one for Sunday photoblogging before. Taken with a Fuji X100s which I later sold and then somewhat regretted selling. Now I see that that camera has a new generation, the X100v, and I’m tempted, though the price is forbidding for a fixed-lens camera.

            Courtyard in Ortygia

            { 1 comment }

            The worst case is happening

            by John Quiggin on February 6, 2020

            A couple of years ago, I published an article on why “extremely unlikely” climate events matter. The central point was that climate outcomes with a probability of 5 per cent or less (“extremely unlikely” in IPCC terminology) were still much more likely than risks we take seriously in our daily life, like dying in a car crash). As an illustration, at the time the piece was written, it seemed less than 5 per cent probable that, within two years, many countries in the world (including Australia) would see catastrophic fires on the scale of those that have actually happened.

            I made this point in an interview for an ABC story on economists’ views of the likely costs of 3 to 4 degrees of climate change. Most of those interviewed agreed with me that the costs were likely to be much higher than suggested by economics Nobelist William Nordhaus (with whom John Horowitz and I had a debate in the American Economic Review quite a while ago). We pointed out, among other problems, that a paper he had co-authored implied an optimal July temperature of -146 degrees Fahrenheit.

            Nordhaus declined an interview, but his viewpoint was represented by Richard Tol. Longstanding readers will remember Tol as a commenter here who eventually wore out his welcome.

            The other point I made in the interview was that the abstruse debate about discount rates central to much of the debate between Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern has turned out to be largely irrelevant. The premise of that debate was that the costs of unmitigated climate change would be felt decades into the future while the costs of mitigation would be immediate.

            As it’s turned out, the costs of climate change have arrived much sooner than we expected. And the only mitigation options adopted so far have been low cost or even negative cost choices like energy efficiency and abandoning coal (more than justified by the health costs of particulate pollution).

            That doesn’t mean discount rates are completely irrelevant. If we manage to decarbonize the global economy by 2050, benefits will keep accruing well after that. But even if we stopped the analysis at 2050, we would still have a substantial net benefit. The likely cost of near-complete decarbonization now looks to be less than a two per cent reduction in national income. Reducing the frequency and severity of disasters like the bushfires will more than offset that.

            { 37 comments }

            Driving across the uncanny valley

            by John Quiggin on February 5, 2020

            In May last year, I posted a tally of successful and unsuccessful predictions, and was challenged in comments on my optimistic views about self-driving cars. I’ve said all I can about the fire apocalypse for now, so I thought I might check how things were going. That’s motivated largely by the belief that autonomous vehicles will almost certainly be electric, a view shared by GM CEO Mary Barro, according to this report.

            The same report points to missed deadlines and delays, mostly caused by a small number of high-profile fatalities, all but one associated with Teslas on autopilot (Level 2 technology in the jargon)

            That slowed things down enough to falsify my predictions. Neverthless, GM is now petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow up to 2500 completely driverless (no steering wheel or pedals) on the roads. At the same time, Google subsidiary Waymo claims to have started commercial operations of fully driverless (they prefer the term “rider only”) taxi services in its test area in the suburbs of Phoenix.

            These are both small scale programs. The significance lies in the fact that they cross the uncanny valley of almost driverless (Level 3) technology with a human safety driver. The high-profile fatal crash that slowed things down in 2018 was caused by a distracted safety driver, and there’s no obvious way to overcome the problem of distraction in a vehicle that almost always drives itself.

            The Waymo and GM vehicles are Level 4, capable of operating without any human intervention, but only in limited conditions (flat, sunny, Arizona suburbs). But, if the jump to fully driverless operation succeeds, it’s a matter of incremental steps to larger operating areas, a wider range of weather conditions and so forth. Given that they are being held to much higher standards than human drivers (who killed over 36000 people in 2018 without attracting much attention) the developers of AVs will have to be ultracautious in relaxing their operating constraints. But crossing the uncanny valley is the crucial step. If they succeed in that, the rest is a matter of time.

            { 79 comments }

            Another shot from the same walk. This time I have boosted the saturation a bit.

            Sognsvann lake, Oslo, Norway

            { 6 comments }

            More news from the apocalypse

            by John Quiggin on January 30, 2020

            I’m still writing furiously (in both senses of the word) about climate change, the fire disaster in Australia and the responsibility the entire political right bears for this catastrophe, along with those of the centre and left who have shirked the struggle. Australian writer Richard Flanagan, in the New York Times, has compared our leaders to famous traitors like Benedict Arnold, Vidkun Quisling and Mir Jafar, and that’s a pretty good summary of how large numbers of Australians feel.

            Over the fold, links to some of my latest commentary

            [click to continue…]

            { 29 comments }

            Libertarians Can’t Save the Planet

            by John Quiggin on January 27, 2020

            As promised, my article on climate change and the death of libertarianism/propertarianism, in Jacobin.

            Conclusion

            Global warming is the ultimate refutation of Lockean propertarianism. No one can pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while leaving “enough and as good” for everyone else. It has taken thirty years, but this undeniable fact has finally killed the propertarian movement in the United States.

            { 51 comments }

            Sunday photoblogging: Sognsvann lake, Oslo

            by Chris Bertram on January 26, 2020

            Sognsvann lake, Olso, Norway

            { 9 comments }

            This piece is a guest-post from Major Richard Streatfeild (retd)

            Rifleman Jamie Davis served with A Company 4Rifles in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan and 2009/10. In Afghanistan he lived for 5 months in a small patrol base with his platoon and members of the Afghan Army; initially under constant attack and thereafter never far from the threat of rockets, grenades or roadside bombs. He was, I think, the last Rifleman in A Company to be injured in Afghanistan, taking frag from a ricochet in the leg. Jamie was made for the front row of the scrum, and I suspect it was where he was most at home, both in stature and character. He was never the fastest mover, but he kept going, until now.

            Jamie was at the point of the tip of the spear in Afghanistan in 2010; treating wounded children, witness and aid to his comrades rendered both limbless and lifeless, and in one case being on the casualty evacuation of his own section commander. I remember him as stalwart of his platoon, the Battalion Rugby team and the Naafi. Loyal, dogged, selfless, self-effacing, courageous, determined, hearty, reliable, brave, honest, and cheery, he served both in Iraq and Afghanistan at a time when those operations were at their most difficult and dangerous. He leaves behind a wife and two sons who are very much in our thoughts and we pray for some comfort in their grief.

            On the weekend of 12 Jan 2020, Jamie took his own life. Ten years on I hope I can still just about speak for the company he served in. We still recognise and appreciate the fortitude and good humour with which Jamie faced the dangers of operations and the value of his service. We mourn his passing and remember that he was once amongst the bravest of the brave – once a true British Lion.

            Jamie is now the fourth “Rifleman” from A Company from my two years in command ten years ago to have died at home, not abroad, in similar tragic circumstances. Almost as many as we lost there, a figure that is fast becoming a stain on post operational care. Our regiment, the army, the NHS, and our government; all seemingly at a loss to identify those at risk, treat them and ultimately to prevent these deaths. The limits of helplines; of instructions to ‘reach out’; of “ten tips to top mental health” have been cruelly exposed, once again. The system; and by that I mean the army – for those still serving – the department for Veterans affairs for those who have left, must dedicate time and manpower to find those who have been exposed to trauma, screen everyone on a routine basis and treat those who need it. Suicide has become when, not if. Not only could it happen to anyone, it will happen to someone. Jamie’s death is a tragedy amid a scandal.

            [click to continue…]

            { 10 comments }

            The consequences of overtime in Dutch academia

            by Ingrid Robeyns on January 20, 2020

            Today, I joined three colleagues to head to The Hague to hand over a report of 720 formal complaints of structural overtime in academia and its negative consequences to the Labour Inspectorate. These complaints were filed as a single collective complaint by two labour unions, on behalf of WOinActie, the activist group of academics that tries to improve working and learning conditions in academia. The main claim of WOinActie has been that the Dutch Universities (which are all public), have become inadequately funded due to the rising number of students over the last two decades, and that this has caused structural overtime to be necessary to get the work done, which in turn harms the mental, physical and social well-being of university staff. And it’s also harming the quality of our teaching.

            The report released today, which we translated in English (in order to inform and inspire the debate on overtime work in academia internationally), reveals the nature of the negative consequences. Colleagues report negative effects on their mental and physical health, sleep deprivation, constant worrying, deterioration of their friendships and other social relations, insufficient time for self-care including doing exercise, and so forth. The main problem is that the notional hours that are given to teach a course or do supervision (cfr. this post on PhD-supervision) are inadequate, and hence a 70% teaching load leads to a more-than-fulltime workload. And since everyone also wants to, needs to, and/or is expected to do research, that also still needs to be done. Add some administration and/or leadership tasks, and societal outreach, and we easily make 55 hours a week. For colleagues who only teach, and who are on the lowest pay scales, this also means they have troubles buying a house or starting a family, since those contracts are almost always part-time, and hence also create financial stress.

            [click to continue…]

            { 7 comments }

            A way of Reforming the House of Lords

            by Harry on January 19, 2020

            Rebecca Long Bailey is proposing an elected Senate to replace the House of Lords (one, presumably, without John Bercow in it). I haven’t seen much detail so won’t comment (if someone can point me to published details, I’d be grateful). But it reminded me of something that Erik Olin Wright and I talked about many years ago when the Tories were carrying out moderate Lords reform but didn’t seem to know what it would look like. We wrote up a short paper which we never published. From the fact that we never published it you should be able to infer that we didn’t feel strongly that this was the best possible option: but we did think that a proposal like this should be on the table.[1] Link to pdf is here. The text is below the fold.

            [click to continue…]

            { 45 comments }

            Sunday photoblogging: Park Street, morning

            by Chris Bertram on January 19, 2020

            Sometimes, it is just the camera you have on you. In this case, an iPhone.

            Park Street, morning

            { 5 comments }

            Climate change and the strange death of libertarianism

            by John Quiggin on January 18, 2020

            It wasn’t that long ago that everyone was talking about the “libertarian moment” in the US. Now, libertarianism/propertarianism is pretty much dead. The support base, advocacy groups and so on have gone full Trumpists, while the intellectual energy has shifted to “liberaltarianism” or, a more recent variant, Tyler Cowen’s conversion to “state capacity libertarianism“.

            Most of those departing to the left have mentioned the failure of libertarianism to handle climate change. It was critical for two reasons. First, any serious propertarian response would have required support ofr the creation of new property rights (emissions permits) and the restriction of existing ones (burning carbon). That would imply an acknowledgement that property rights are not natural relations between people (owners) and things (property). They are socially constructed relationships between people, allowing some people to use things and to stop other people from doing so. Second, the effort to deny the necessary implications of climate change inevitably resulted in denial of the scientific evidence that climate change was occurring. That contributed to a situation where most former libertarians are now Trumpists, happy to deny the evidence of their own eyes if that’s what the leader requires of them.

            I’m working on a longer article spelling all this out. In the meantime, comments welcome.

            { 106 comments }

            Sunday photoblogging: Bocadasse

            by Chris Bertram on January 12, 2020

            Genoa: Boccadasse

            { 2 comments }

            Consumed by fire

            by John Quiggin on January 11, 2020

            It’s been hard to think straight with the fires that have burned through most of Australia for months. Brisbane was among the first places affected, with the loss of the historic Binna Burra lodge, on the edge of a rainforest, a place where no one expected a catastrophic fire. But, as it turned out, we got off easy compared to the rest of the country. Heavy rain in early December helped to put out the fires in Queensland, and we can expect the delayed arrival of the monsoon in the near future. By contrast, southern Australia normally has hot, dry summers and this has been the hottest driest year ever. The increased likelihood of catastrophic fire seasons was evident when I started work on this topic back in 2012 [1], and the risks for this year were pointed out to the government months in advance. The warnings went unheeded for two reasons.

            First, the government had been re-elected partly on the basis of a promise (economically nonsensical, but politically powerful) to return the budget to surplus. Any serious action to prepare for and respond to a bushfire catastrophe would wipe that out, as indeed has almost certainly happened now.

            Second, any serious assessment would have to focus on the fact that climate change is causing large-scale losses in Australia right now. The government is a combination of denialists and do-nothingists, neither of whom are willing to address the issue.

            Of course, Australia is only a small part of the problem. Our government’s policies are helping to promote climate catastrophes in the US, Brazil and other places, and theirs are returning the favor. A policy shift in any one of these countries, with no change elsewhere, would make little difference to the country concerned. That’s the nature of a collective action problem. But on any ordinary understanding of justice, we are reaping what we, and the governments we’ve elected, have sown.

            Over the fold, some links to pieces I’ve written on this topic.

            [click to continue…]

            { 54 comments }

            Teaching a 10 year-old to read.

            by Harry on January 5, 2020

            My then-18 year old daughter was home with her friends when I opened my author-copies of Family Values. After they left she said “My friends are really impressed that you’ve written a book. But I’m not really. I mean, it’s just part of your job, isn’t it? It’s just what you’re supposed to do. I mean….it’s not like you taught a third grader to read, or something like that“.

            If you’ve read the book, or simply know its main theses, you’ll see many layers of irony in that exchange, and probably further layers of irony in the sense of pleasure and pride I got from it.

            But actually I did teach a kid to read, a 5th grader actually, though just one, when I was 18.

            [click to continue…]

            { 25 comments }

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