New Yorker on the Financial Crisis

January 26, 2010

Insightful short piece by James Surowieki commenting on discussions at the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Bottom line:

“In a way, the moral-hazard argument ascribes far too much foresight, intelligence, and rationality to the banks. It assumes they were coldly calculating the chances and consequences of failure and forging ahead nonetheless, when the reality seems to be that for the most part they were blissfully ignorant and arrogant about the flaws in their lending and investment strategies. The crisis, in that sense, was caused less by the fact that the banks were too big to fail than it was by the fact that they never seriously considered the possibility that they might fail.”

Feels right to me.

The Oil Crunch and its Intersection with the Climate and Financial Crises

January 25, 2010

I’ve just announced to the members of The Scottish Oil Club our event for Feb 25 where Jeremy Leggett is our guest speaker.

“Growing numbers in industry believe the global oil industry has probably got its collective asset assessment systemically and ruinously wrong, in the manner we now know the banking industry had in the run up to the financial crisis. Leggett examines these fears, the chances of proactive mobilisation to soften the peak-oil landing, prospects for retroactive mobilisation, and what the oil crunch means in the context of the ongoing climate and financial crises.”

Thought Provoking Photo

January 24, 2010
Here is an interesting photograph which shows the downstream effect of windfarm on the atmosphere. Saw this from Sustainable Energy blog. What immediately comes to mind are the following:
  • What is the climate cooling affect of these artificially created white clouds (because more sun energy presumably will be reflected back into space). Is this modelled by the climate change models?
  • Extrapolating to the limit for when the planet is carpeted with these devices, what will be the actual efficiency we are left with?

(Linked from


January 13, 2010

Found in the Economist’s “The World in 2010” magazine:

It’s all very well to recycle, pester your parents about fuel efficiency and aspire to holidays that need no flights. But the best thing a bright young person can do to help rid civilisation of fossil fuels is get an education in engineering.

(Emphasis by me).

You Could be Sued if You Remove Snow from Your Sidewalk

January 10, 2010

We’ve had a lot of snow in the UK recently. Well, a lot of snow compared to recent memory in the UK. Normally we get no snow in a winter season.

The problem is made worse because many streets and sidewalks (pavements) are not shovelled clear of snow. This makes the the snow turn to ice and chaos prevails. Yes, I know that the TV and newspapers are full of stories about how the government has failed yet again due to shortages of “grit and salt”. But, I’ve often wondered why we don’t just remove the snow instead of relying on “grit an salt”.
Now I know. Apparently, if you remove snow and someone then falls on the cleared patch of sidewalk (pavement), you could be sued. Sigh.

Modelling of Lake Erie Water Levels (1870-1970)

January 5, 2010
During my university days in Civil Engineering, I was interested in hydrology and modelling. I guess this explains my current interest in the debate and science of climate change. I dug out a paper I wrote in 1973 to analyse the the “extraordinary” high-water levels of Lake Erie. My home was near Lake Erie and it was abundantly clear, because of the severe flooding along the lakeshore, that the “environment” around the late was changing. We did not blame anthropogenic global warming (AGW), of course, but as I was required to a project for my Hydrology course (CE 499P) I decided to attempt to model the historical record with the idea being it would be a basis for predictions about the future.
I’m not sure that the idea was sound; but what in retrospect seems to be sound upon re-reading the paper 37 years later:
  • We gathered actual environmental data and reviewed the data for relevance
  • We published the raw data
  • We modeled the time series using current technology (auto correlation, frequency analysis, statistics, etc.)
  • It is clear that the environment changes. That’s what Nature does.
  • We worked very hard to validate the model parameters by confirming that we could model “history”. Our view was that unless the model “predicted” historical data, then we had no basis to accept that the model was valid.
We confirmed that we could build a model which accurately “predicts” historical data. I’m not sure now, with the passage of time, that I would feel comfortable using this model for future prediction, however. If I get time and energy I may attack the data with tools now available, e.g. Monte Carlo simulation, more hydrologic/climatic science in the model, etc.

However, I offer the original paper to anyone (especially climate change modellers) who wishes to learn from the approach or use the data.

Yemen’s Economy

January 5, 2010

Yemen is in the news again. Slate’s running a short article “Why is Yemen So Poor?”.

Bottom line: corruption, no significant agriculture, declining oil revenues (forecast to end in 10 years) being spent on unproductive and destructive activities.