Environment Forum

from The Great Debate UK:

Managing catastrophic risks and climate change

Graciela Chichilnisky-Graciela Chichilnisky is the Architect of the Carbon Market of the Kyoto Protocol and the author of 'Saving Kyoto', New Holland Publishers, UK, 2009.  Chichilnisky is a Professor of Mathematics and Economics at Columbia University in New York, Director of Columbia Consortium for Risk Management and Managing Director of Global Thermostat Inc. The opinions expressed are her own.-

We live surrounded by uncertainty. Tsunamis, the eruption of super- volcanoes, violent floods and storms, asteroid impacts that eliminate entire species as the dinosaurs that went extinct 60 millions years ago, the recent 8.8 earthquake in Chile, not to mention the global financial crisis.  Some disasters are worse than others, but they all have one thing in common. They are catastrophic risks.    This means risks that occur very rarely – but when they happen they have truly major consequences.

How should we prepare for the unknown catastrophe - how should we manage catastrophic risks?

In our daily lives we tend to weigh risks by their probability of occurrence. In this view, a 10 percent risk of losing your home is half as important as a 20 percent risk.  This approach is reasonable and prudent and it is how bankers evaluate financial risk of a non-performing mortgage and how the U.S. Congress evaluates budget risks. It is a simple and reasonable approach that was first conceptualized by John Von Neumann as he developed the foundations of risk management that rules our lives today.

But it is the wrong way to evaluate and manage catastrophic risk.

A catastrophic risk is so rare that it can be badly underestimated when we weight the losses by its probability. The global financial crisis of 2009 was one in a 100-year event, and we ignored it because it is so infrequent.  This is a bad mistake, since preparing for a catastrophe can prevent the worst from happening.

Hot water for Chile’s slums, courtesy of the sun

A boy in Chile


By Helen Hughes — Special to GlobalPost

SANTIAGO, Chile — Jacquelin Marin has no running hot water at home. For a while, she had no real home at all. But soon she’ll have both, with the sun heating water for her showers.

Marin and her neighbors are part of a pilot program to install solar water heaters in the houses of low-income families. For Chile — a country with stark economic inequality and few fossil fuels — it’s a way to help the poor while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Chile’s drastically different climate zones mean it’s hard to devise any nationwide energy solution. For now the program will begin in three disparate locations: 125 houses in the capital Santiago; 68 houses in Curanilahue, a rainy former coal-mining town 370 miles to the south; and 115 houses in Combarbala, 330 miles north in shrubby desert.

Too few women in U.N. climate jobs? Ban names 19-man panel

banA women’s group is criticising the United Nations for appointing only men to a 19-strong panel of experts to work out how to raise billions of dollars to fight climate change.

“A planet of men? Since when?” asks the German-based Gender CC — Women for Climate Justice in a statement. (An update — since the list was announced, U.N. officials say that a woman has been added — French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde)

The new panel, to be co-chaired by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, will look into ways to raise at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries combat climate change. The panel includes Guyana’s president, Norway’s prime minister, finance ministers, investors and leading economists: all men.

Can the U.S. compete with China in the green economy?


Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund. The views expressed are his own.

It’s as though three mammoth challenges facing America are intertwined like the strands of a rope: reducing our dependence on Mideast oil; creating new American jobs from clean energy; and reducing pollution responsible for climate change.

Together, those strands are a lifeline to the future.

While the House of Representatives passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation last summer, polarization has created gridlock in Washington, paralyzing most major legislative initiatives, including clean energy.

Arctic leaking methane: but since when?

ARCTICScientists studying remote Arctic seas north of Siberia have found  high levels of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, in some places bubbling up from the seabed. 

But is it new (extremely alarming as a possible sign of climate change), impossible to know how long it’s been going on (still worrying), or might it have been happening for a long time (less alarming)? Even the scientists involved seem unsure. 

In the worst case, the leaks are recent and caused by global warming — a thaw of the seabed permafrost linked to rising sea temperatures that could go on to release vast buried stores of the heat-trapping gas that would further stoke global warming. In the best case, it may have been going on for thousands of years in an inaccessible area where no one has taken measurements before.

from The Great Debate:

Obama, politics and nuclear waste


-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

The project involved more than 2,500 scientists. It cost $ 10.5 billion between 1983 and 2009 and it included one of the most bizarre scientific tasks of all time: evaluate whether nuclear waste stored deep inside a Nevada desert mountain would be safe a million years into the future.

That was the safety standard set in September, 2008, by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a condition for allowing nuclear waste to be stored deep in the belly of the Yucca Mountain, 95 miles (155 km) from Las Vegas, long the subject of political debate and a fine example of nimbyism (not in my backyard).

The vastly complex computer models and simulations experts launched to figure out whether Yucca Mountain would be a safe environment in the year 1,000,000 and beyond ended before there was a scientific conclusion.

Flood drowns Taipei in cinematic wake-up call

American sci-fi blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow warned global audiences about climate change as it showed New York smothered by ice as temperatures plunged worldwide.  But the 2004 movie evidently made little impact on growth-crazy Asia, which has gone ahead spewing pollutants without imagining risks that they might disrupt the climate.

This year a group of filmmakers in newly modernised, consumption-happy Taiwan is going to the densely populated western Pacific island’s public with an hour-long alarmist movie showing the world’s second-tallest building Taipei 101 as an island in a flood that has drowned the capital after a reservoir collapses in a freak super-strength typhoon.

The free film with an obvious mission titled “Plus or Minus 2 Degrees Celsius” began showing in late February, reaching at least 11,000 people so far and with dates to screen for more audiences later in the year.

Senator Graham shouts “Play Ball!”


Asher Miller is executive director of think tank Post Carbon Institute. Any opinion expressed here is his own.

It should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the politics of climate legislation to hear Senator Lindsey Graham pronounce, “the cap-and-trade bills in the House and Senate are dead.” The truth is that they’ve been dead for quite some time. It’s just that now we finally have the coroner’s official report.

Many proponents and opponents of climate legislation have had one thing in common for some time now—they hate the American Clean Energy and Security Act (the Waxman-Markey bill which passed in the House by a narrow margin back in June).

Top 5 greenest cities in the world


This article by Beth Hodgson originally appeared in GlobalPost.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen serious discussions taking place globally as countries and cities pledge to go green.

Some cities have made greener strides than others, which puts them at the top of the list for sustainability goals.

The five greenest cities in the world aren’t necessarily those that are nothing but green space, but they’re on the right track to improving their footprints.

Caveat investor: Wind may let you down


John Laforet is president of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of 42 grassroots organizations aiming to curtail development of wind farms in the central Canadian province of Ontario.  He is also running for municipal public office.

Governments around the world are actively seeking private development of renewable energy projects by offering generous feed-in tariffs that often see developers paid many times the market rate for the power they produce.

This has encouraged a surge of applications, but the volume of applications and other challenges associated with these projects present potential risks to prospective investors.