They’re spouting rubbish about rubbish again

We’re really got to get ourselves a new group of people running our public services you know. The current lot seem to have missed the point of the whole exercise. For, at root, the entire exercise of politics and state power is really a method of deciding who empties the bins.

There are certain things that simply need to be done. There’s also a group of things that can be done individually, one of those that can be done by simple voluntary cooperation and another group of things that can only be done by some fairly strong compulsion. And those that are properly the province of that state, this government idea, as those that must both be done and can only be done with that compulsion. And taking out the rubbish is one of those things that is both. Yes, a free market would indeed deal with most of it but the public health benefits of not having those remaining piles of stinking ordure mean that there’s always going to be some state compulsion necessary.

At which point we get:

A town has been left overflowing with rubbish bags after binmen have refused to pick them up – because the sacks are the wrong colour.

Mountains of household waste is lining streets in Weymouth, Dorset, after residents were given blue bin bags as part of a new waste collection scheme rolled out in the town.

But some claim they did not receive the new blue sacks, and have continued to use the standard black ones – only for them to be left by the side of the road by binmen under strict orders not to take away the ‘unauthorised bags’.

Piles of rubbish bags have been mounting up in streets around the town for the past two weeks, to the anger of residents.

What?

The council-run Dorset Waste Partnership said it is ‘applying its policy’ to limit residents to one household rubbish bag a week in the hope they will recycle more.

The loons have taken over the asylum. We need to fire these people and get a new set.

Please note this is not about party politics and it’s also not about the “shortage of landfill2. We don’t have such a shortage. The country produces about the same amount of waste each year as the number of holes we dig each year for other reasons. The only shortage is in the licences to be allowed to put the rubbish into the holes we already have available.

What this is about is that we’ve simply got the wrong group of people ruling us and that needs to change. On the basis that government really is about deciding who take out the rubbish and if they can’t even manage that then….well, why don’t we try finding some people who can manage that minimal task?

But Minister, we don’t do this sort of central planning around here

Ed Davey seems to be a little confused as to his correct role in the matters of the world:

Investing in fossil fuels is becoming increasingly risky because global action to tackle climate change will curb demand, forcing companies to leave unprofitable reserves in the ground, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has warned.

Financial authorities must examine the risks posed by coal, oil and gas companies to prevent pension funds investing in what could become “the sub-prime assets of the future”, Mr Davey said.

The comments are Mr Davey’s first intervention into the debate over the “carbon bubble”, the theory that the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves are overvalued because the majority must be left unburned in the ground if extremes of global warming are to be avoided.

Mr Davey told the Telegraph: “One has got to worry about the investments for pensioners.

“If pension funds are investing in companies or banks have on their balance sheets huge amounts of assets in fossil fuels, and those assets don’t give the return that people expect – because of changes in technology where low-carbon becomes cheaper or because of the world having to take action against carbon emissions – one has got to protect those pensioners and those investments.”

It’s obviously entirely correct that the minister in charge of worrying about climate change should worry about climate change. Even, where and if action is necessary on the subject, suggest what action is necessary. However, in a market society that’s as far as it goes. How people react to those plans and suggestions is entirely up to them and that includes where and how they invest their money.

Go away Mr. Davey, it’s just none of your damn business.

As to the basic notion that fossil fuel reserves are going to be worth nothing in 50 years’ time that’s not particularly a problem. Anyone familiar with any part of the climate change debate should know about the controversy over discount rates: what interest rate should we use to consider the value of things that happen in the far future? Similarly, all should know that Stern and others have had to use a very much lower than market interest rate to reach the conclusions that they do. But note that these assets, the future values of fossil fuel reserves, are discounted at a market interest rate. Meaning that the value of reserves in 50 years’ time is, in net present value encapsulated in share price4s, pretty much nothing. For that’s exactly what discounting over long periods of time does: thus the problem that Stern had and the need to *not* use market rates in order to bolster the case to do something. This works both ways, of course it does. Just as the use of market rates would lead to future damage from climate change being so trivial in present values that we’d do nothing about it, the use of market rates to value reserves in the far future means that value is so trivial we do not much about them.

And yes, amazingly, markets do value reserves using market interest and discount rates.

Oh: and there’s another thing. The big oil companies already include in their evaluations of those future values the effects of a substantial carbon price. They’re already valuing everything after the effects of the policies that you’re pursuing Mr. Davey.

Firms can pay us to recycle

Recycling comes more instinctively for those on low incomes and who live in low-income countries compared to their respective high-income counterparts.

To increase the amount that we recycle and conserve, we must privatise the process and enable private companies to people for recyclable goods. In many areas, if people put out more goods for recycling than their allotted quota, the local authorities refuse to collect it. Private companies, however, have incentives to collect as much as they can and would do otherwise. By further incentivising households via fair compensation, we could significantly increase the rate of recycling. Furthermore, why should we, as suppliers of recyclable goods, be expected to hand over our products for free?

Also, given the tough socioeconomic climate, extra income derived by providing an additional, monetary reward to households that recycle whilst cutting government expenditure would be helpful.

People who recycle out of necessity are aware of the economic value of those goods; in India, consumers are paid to hand over their recyclable goods such as glass bottles, plastics, newspapers, etc. by various private companies and this initiative is practiced voluntarily across society due to the mutual financial benefits it incurs. In the UK, there are some places where we can ‘cash in’ our bottles, cans and newspapers but they are few and far between – it is also inconvenient for us as suppliers. Furthermore, if firms in India are able to collect from peoples’ houses and also pay for those goods, why are our firms unable to do the same? One reason could be that India has a relatively flexible labour market and lower wages. However, even though higher wages are prevalent in Britain, relatively advanced technology can still make this feasible by keeping costs down and financially rewarding those whom they procure goods from. Alternatively, and preferably, we could ease up on immigration restrictions a bit more, remove the minimum wage and instantly make this business model feasible.

In the UK, the financial benefits of recycling are neither directly felt by the consumer nor properly managed by the collection authority. Instead, it is squandered by inefficient management and stunted by unfair outcomes. If government continues to subsidise and undertake this activity then this inefficiency and its corresponding sub-potential recycling volume will continue.

This is a case of too little capitalism, not too much

The latest outrage that the Guardian tells us we should all be upset about is how the poor villagers of Nejapa, in El Salvador, get done over by the greedy capitalists taking all the water:

Water everywhere for profit in Nejapa, but few drops for local people to drink
While big companies make millions from El Salvador’s water-rich Nejapa municipality, locals have little or no access to water

Hmm, gosh, that’s bad. There is one very interesting little line in the piece though:

Najarro says she pays $7 a month (£4.38; almost 10% of her salary) for municipal water, even though her taps often run dry and the water that runs from them may not be safe to drink.

It’s the local council that she gets her water through? And a quick look around tells me that pretty much all of the country gets its water through the government. And as Wikipedia itself says:

Tariffs and cost recovery

ANDA tariffs

ANDA tariffs average US$ 0.30/m³ and are below levels found in many other Latin American countries. Furthermore, ANDA tariffs are not socially equitable since the subsidies implicit in the low tariffs predominantly benefit the non-poor. First, users without access to the network, which are usually the poorest, do not receive the consumption subsidy. Second, users served by other providers than ANDA do not receive a subsidy for consumption. Third, among users that have ANDA service, the poor receive fewer subsidies than the non-poor as a consequence of the tariff structure. Tariffs are for both water and sewer services. As a result, there is a cross-subsidy from users without sewer connection to those with a sewer connection who are usually better off.

For political reasons, adjustments of ANDA water tariffs have been infrequent. Between 1994 and 2006 ANDA tariffs were only adjusted twice, in 1994 and 2001. The inflation-adjusted tariff, however, barely changed.

Tariffs by other service providers

Tariffs paid by water users in rural areas do recover financial operating costs, since no direct subsidies are available. They are often much higher than tariffs paid by ANDA customers. Some rural water users in pumped systems receive a subsidy through the Fondo de Inversión Nacional en Electricidad y Telefonía (FINET), which subsidizes electricity tariffs.

Cost recovery of ANDA

The financial situation of service providers in 2006 did not provide any more for self-financing of investments. ANDA’s working ratio was close to 1, indicating that the company barely covers its operating and routine maintenance costs. The reason for the reduced self-financing capacity is a significant increase in the unit costs of ANDA from US$0.21/m³ in 1994 to US$0.46/m³ in 2001, and US$0.63/m³ in 2004. The reason for the important increase of the unit cost in 2004 is not clear, but it could be due to the inauguration of the energy-intensive Río Lempa system that pumps water from the Rio Lempa to San Salvador in that year.

So, the government charges very little for water but this doesn’t help the poorest as they’re not even on the water system. And so little is charged for water that they’re not able to actually build out the water system simply because they’ve not the money to do so. And this might also have an effect upon how much water there is to go around:

It is estimated that 90 percent of the surface water bodies are contaminated. Nearly all municipal wastewater (98 percent) and 90 percent of industrial wastewater is discharged to rivers and creeks without any treatment.

They “treat” sewage by dumping it in the nearest river.

This is not a problem of excessive capitalism: this is a problem of too little capitalism. Recall what happened in our own water systems, here in Dear Old Blighty, when the nationalised water companies were sold off. Investment went up, water quality went up, environmental degradation went down.

It’s entirely true that in theory a government could, possibly, determine the optimal investment levels in a natural monopoly like water and sewage services. And that there’s an argument why government should do so. Actual experience though seems to show that governments tend to allocate less than that optimal level. Which is why privatised systems almost always show a rise in the level of investment.

Too little capitalism here, not too much.

The horrible, horrible, error in the IPCC’s latest report

Oh dearie me, this is something of an error at the heart of the IPCC’s latest report into the perils of climate change. And it all stems from a thoroughly incomplete look at the economic models about what might happen. Here’s what they say:

Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, global emission growth is expected to persist driven by growth in global population and economic activities (Figure 3.1) (high confidence). Global GHG emissions under most scenarios without additional mitigation (baseline scenarios) are between about 75 GtCO2eq/yr and almost 140 GtCO2eq/yr in 210016, which is approximately between the 2100 emission levels in the RCP 6.0 and RCP 8.5 pathways (Figure 3.2)17. Baseline scenarios exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) CO2eq by 2030 and reach CO2eq concentration levels between about 750 ppm CO2eq and more than 1300 ppm CO2eq by 2100. Global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 range from about 3.7°C to 4.8 °C above the average for 1850-1900 for a median climate response. They range from 2.5 °C to 7.8 °C when including climate uncertainty (5th to 95th percentile range)18.

It’s important to understand something here. “Additional efforts” does not mean that we simply install more solar panels (just as an example) for price, ethical or market reasons. It means that policy is changed so that more solar panels (again, just as an example) are installed. It means that we’ve got to change the incentives under which people operate, through legislation or regulation, in order to get people to change their behaviour.

This has been true right from the start of the worries about climate change: business as usual forecasts of emissions look at varying levels of wealth, population and technology and assume that all of those various scenarios could happen without government intervention. “Mitigation”, like “effort” here, means intervention to reduce emissions below some or any of those business as usual scenarios.

And here’s the problem with the assumption they’re making about future emissions. Absolutely no one (no one sane at least) believes that we’re ever going to get anywhere near the levels they’ve just assumed above. As Matt Ridley has put it:

The IPCC commissioned four different models of what might happen to the world economy, society and technology in the 21st century and what each would mean for the climate, given a certain assumption about the atmosphere’s “sensitivity” to carbon dioxide. Three of the models show a moderate, slow and mild warming, the hottest of which leaves the planet just 2 degrees Centigrade warmer than today in 2081-2100. The coolest comes out just 0.8 degrees warmer.

Now two degrees is the threshold at which warming starts to turn dangerous, according to the scientific consensus. That is to say, in three of the four scenarios considered by the IPCC, by the time my children’s children are elderly, the earth will still not have experienced any harmful warming, let alone catastrophe.

But what about the fourth scenario? This is known as RCP8.5, and it produces 3.5 degrees of warming in 2081-2100. Curious to know what assumptions lay behind this model, I decided to look up the original papers describing the creation of this scenario. Frankly, I was gobsmacked. It is a world that is very, very implausible.

For a start, this is a world of “continuously increasing global population” so that there are 12 billion on the planet. This is more than a billion more than the United Nations expects, and flies in the face of the fact that the world population growth rate has been falling for 50 years and is on course to reach zero – i.e., stable population – in around 2070. More people mean more emissions.

Second, the world is assumed in the RCP8.5 scenario to be burning an astonishing 10 times as much coal as today, producing 50% of its primary energy from coal, compared with about 30% today. Indeed, because oil is assumed to have become scarce, a lot of liquid fuel would then be derived from coal. Nuclear and renewable technologies contribute little, because of a “slow pace of innovation” and hence “fossil fuel technologies continue to dominate the primary energy portfolio over the entire time horizon of the RCP8.5 scenario.” Energy efficiency has improved very little.

These are highly unlikely assumptions.

They’re not just highly unlikely assumptions: they’re near insane ones.

What has actually been done is to take current emissions levels (actually, from a few years ago) and then draw a straight line inference about what will happen if they carry on growing as they have been. Completely ignoring the fact that we’ve already done a great deal to change what’s likely to happen in the future. After all, as we keep being told, solar PV is now just about cost competitive with coal and will be cheaper in only a few short years (by 2020 is a serious and sober prediction). At which point why on earth would people start to use more coal than we do today? For a higher portion of our energy desires?

That simply doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. And that brings us to that distinction between “effort” and market processes. If solar PV does become cheaper than coal (as is obvious it will) then it becomes a market process to install it. No “effort” in the sense of government action is required.

Another way to make this same point is that the IPCC is completely ignoring all of the work that we’ve already done to try to beat climate change. They’re not taking account of the fall in the costs of renewables and therefore not including the obvious fact that more renewables are going to be installed in coming years. Whatever governments do or propose. The same can be said for LED light bulbs (not quite right yet but they very soon will be) and myriad other technologies that have been developed in recent years.

It’s a basic and obvious piece of logic that if we see that we’ve got a problem ahead of us we should, when we consider what we should do about it, take into effect the results of the things that we’ve already done to solve said problem. And it’s this that the IPCC is not doing. They are predicting future emissions without taking account of the technologies we’ve already developed which will reduce emissions. They are thus arguing that there’s too much still to do.

It’s a horrible, horrible, mistake.