26 June 2014

Er ... we meant wind-powered cars

The Economist urges cuts in greenhouse gas emissions with this compelling argument:

Moreover, high temperatures do not affect only outdoor workers. [A] study found that a week’s worth of outside temperatures over 32°C cuts production in car plants by 8%. The costs of doing nothing, Economist, dated 28 June
Wow, this climate change business is serious: we must cut back on greenhouse gas emissions - and quickly - or we could see big falls in the numbers of cars being produced!

23 June 2014


How much biodiversity do we want? It's unfortunate that we even have to ask this question, but until we answer it we're likely to see more and more extinctions, along the lines described by Elizabeth Kolbert. Biodiversity is difficult to measure but, again unfortunately, unless we do, and somehow set quantifiable targets, we shall lose it at a high rate as habitat loss and other mankind-induced environmental changes continue apace. Biodiversity, along with other unquantified but crucial contributions to quality of life is something else that is being be sacrificed by default in pursuit of an ever-higher Gross World Product; our de facto over-arching target.

How would a Social Policy Bond regime address biodiversity? We could target it quite directly, using a combination of proxies such indicator species, and areas (and contiguity) of land and sea set aside for conservation.We could also target for reduction the negative impacts of loss of biodiversity.

Myself, I'm no expert in these matters. But there are experts who, if we were motivated, could be brought into a discussion, culminating in biodiversity goals and priorities in ways that maximize society's well-being per dollar spent.

It's not being done, partly because our policymaking is stuck with a system that doesn't allow governments to set goals unless they also achieve them - something that, when it comes to complex, long-term, goals, requiring adaptive, diverse approaches, they cannot do well.

The Social Policy Bond principle is different. Under a bond regime governments - or any wealthy group of people, corporations, or non-governmental organizations - could set goals as lofty and long-term as a world of maximum biodiversity (however it's defined), and reward the people who achieve these goals. We need now, more than ever, diverse, adapative approaches to challenges such as biodiversity loss or, for that matter, violent political conflict; huge threats, but ones that are largely ignored in pursuit of goals whose only virtue is that they can be measured by accountants.

09 June 2014

Foundations of bone and sand

Twenty-five years after the world first moved to protect the ozone layer, British scientists have found three new potentially damaging gases in the atmosphere. While they do not expect the gases to do much damage to the ozone layer, think they may add to global warming. Threat from new gases found in air, Alex Kirby, 4 June
For years now I've been railing against building policy on fossilised foundations. To put it briefly, government does not know how best to achieve society's goals. When it looks at climate change it relies on science done in the 1990s; its policy is to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions - or rather, those gases identified as greenhouse gases more than 15 years ago. But what if, as I've been asking for not quite15 years, the science is wrong? Or outdated? The policymakers, true to form, have no answer except to continue building on crumbling foundations.

When society is changing so rapidly, when our scientific knowledge is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, then policy should target outcomes, rather than the supposed means of reaching them. A Social Policy Bond regime would do this. It would encourage diverse, adaptive approaches to whatever it identifies as the problems arising from, in this example, climate change. Our current policymaking system cannot adapt. It puts the interests of current organizations, be they public or private sector, first, and if it does build new organizations, it does so on ossified foundations.

04 June 2014

Targeting human devastation

I've posted before about the flawed nature of what has become, by default, society's de facto indicators of success: Gross Domestic Product (or GDP per capita) and its rate of growth. In the absence of any targets that are actually correlated with societal well-being, GDP has been enshrined as the target, par excellence, by which our governments measure their progress. It's highly misleading at best, for reasons I've outlined previously, so it comes as no great surprise that on 22 May:
Istat, Italy’s statistical body ... will from October ..include drug trafficking, prostitution, and alcohol-and-tobacco smuggling in its economic-output numbers.... In fact, then as now, Italy was merely one of the first countries to announce its compliance with international accounting standards. Reporting illegal economically productive activity in which all parties take part voluntarily is required under EU rules known as the European System of Accounts.... Sex, drugs and GDP, 'the Economist', 31 May
Well why not? It's no more illogical than doing what we have been doing for decades: assuming that economic activity generates societal well-being - an assumption that is increasingly at odds with reality. 

We urgently need to target explicitly things that we actually want to achieve: universal literacy, for instance, world peace, or even the survival of the human race. In the absence of such targets, the vaccuum is filled by that grotesque proxy for success: Gross Domestic Product. It's a shambles.