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The Numerology of Climate Change

An abstract for a paper I’m writing – [update – here’s the link to the short article in Anthropology News]

One does not need to go far in the public discourse surrounding climate change to be inundated with the mystique of number. In the United States, where viewers of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth were treated to specific stunts of quantificatory pontification, just as in Singapore, where I teach climate change to nonspecialist undergraduates, the numberwork of graphs and charts has its own techie vitality. Check out the graphical puppetry in this University of Minnesota project in which a cellist tracks global temperature changes no matter how out of key the song is. The human is the dependent variable of an unknown function, whose independent variable is temperature driven by anthropogenic CO2. Anthropogenic goes two ways: anthropogenic CO2 has re-made the climate, and now the climate promises to dictate. Where is this tune going?

Drawing on my on-going research on the imaginative dimensions of carbon accounting, in this commentary I look toward key moments in the emergence of climate change science to identify why the numbers mystique holds such powerful sway over the possibilities for thinking climate change. Part of the story must include the promises of ‘big data’ and sheer computational prowess of the late-20th century. But what fascinates me are very early moments in climate science that seem to have secured the terms through which contemporary political thought takes place.

Joseph Fourier, working in the first decade of the 19th century, secured the mathematical speculation at the heart of climate modeling and associated debates about uncertainty. Svante Arrhenius, often credited with articulating the first complete theory of climate change, published in 1896, decisively established the quantification of carbon dioxide as the key independent variable, and articulated this in the same form through which carbon quantification is dealt with today. Lastly, Dave Keeling’s monumental efforts to rigorously measure global CO2 levels have established the unity of climate change as a scientific and political issue based on its theoretical human etiology.

When one imagines scary apocalyptic futures fraught with uncertainty but which hinge on that single variable, through these three elements—speculation, quantification and anthropogenesis—that imagination is possible.

A short piece I wrote for Work Style Magazine‘s Jan 2012 issue.

Nearly two decades of UN talk about climate change have not produced much in the way of concrete results. For businesses, the status quo of endless conventions presents a real problem. Many companies with significant carbon emissions are increasingly desperate for clear guidance on coherent, transnational climate policy, whether it comes through the United Nations or not. The EU’s carbon market is a case in point. While it has been in place since 2005, price volatility and outright low prices for carbon have not made investment decisions any easier.

2011 has been a record-breaking year in terms of losses, providing a sense of how chaotic climate change itself may unfold. Many companies are exposed to environmental risks especially via their global supply chains. Unfortunately, public resistance in the United States is a major problem for moving forward, even with the extreme drought in Texas and the steady march of convincing science. Businesses are in a position to take a much stronger leadership role, but they must think broadly about what they should advocate for.

Business needs clear climate policy because in a competitive system no one can act first without exposing themselves. Consulting, finance and insurance industries have all made significant strides in creating the right knowledge infrastructure for assessing regulatory and environmental risk. Institutional investors like mutual fund managers increasingly demand emissions data from the companies they invest in, but there is little comparable for smaller firms in spite of the potential cost savings.

Of course, the dirtiest industries, especially fossil energy extraction firms, are more than willing to forestall climate policy while still ramping up new investment in discovery, infrastructure and technology. Carbon Tracker estimates that a serious global climate policy will require 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves to remain locked underground. Risk for non-fossil energy commerce is amplified without a clear exit from the carbon trap.

Climate change means we must unwind from this dangerous situation. Everyone around the world can look toward a future of diminished expectations. People who are already economically and politically marginalized have little choice but to face increasingly restricted options. For Americans, addressing climate change represents a loss of important and pleasurable cultural symbols. Dirty industries must also recognize the diminished futures they can expect. We need an open acknowledgement of change, acceptance of diminished futures and a process of public mourning.

The IEA estimates climate investment postponed beyond 2020 will cost 4.3 times investment now, while the fossil fuel industry received six times more subsidies than renewables in 2010. In this context, stiff national carbon taxes look increasingly attractive for providing market and climate stability.

There is no reason businesses can’t advocate for strong climate commitments with governments and even the public. Leadership on climate requires a much more subtle, committed relationship with governments, the countries they operate in, and the people they depend on and serve. Companies like Nike or Alcoa are already very clear that climate is an important issue for them. To take one  example, how might Americans step to the challenge if high profile companies were publicly to champion clear, durable and robust climate rules?

CDM Watch is truly one of my favorite carbon market NGOs. As mentioned in a previous post, they have played a decisive role in breaking off carbon offsets from HFC gases from the European carbon market, prompting Geoff Sinclair, a prominent carbon trader at Standard Bank Plc, to declare them to be a “junk market.”

It is a hallmark of the Clean Development Mechanism that it is still happy producing HFC offsets even though no one wants to buy them.

In the meantime, CDM Watch has pushed its decisive activist methodology into new dimensions. Most notably, they have spearheaded the campaign to eliminate financing for coal infrastructure in the Clean Development Mechanism.

Bloomberg recently caught up with Anja Kollmuss, formerly of the Stockholm Environment Institute, who spends her time detailing the numbers games that have made the CDM into a rotten institution.

Writes Catherine Airlie (subscription only): “Loopholes in current policies to tackle climate change may add as much as 27 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2020, according to a report from CDM Watch, a Brussels-based environmental group.”

“Countries may get away with ruses and ploys in the world of politics,” Anja Kollmuss, a policy analyst at CDM Watch, said in an e-mailed statement. “But nature does not go for accounting tricks.”

Climate Justice Research Project

Carbon markets do not reduce emissions.

The EU ETS has systematically failed to induce investment in low-carbon technologies. This is true in both phases, and it has been true both during and before the euro crisis.

The EU ETS has been repeatedly subject to fraudulent practices, not simply by fringe or criminal elements but also by financial actors at the center of carbon trading. The European Commission recently accepted there would be inevitably some stolen allowances circulating in the markets, and made provisions to legally protect traders. The EC and national law enforcement have been unable to recover the vast majority of stolen credits or lost tax revenue.

Before the euro crisis, the glut of allowances in the ETS was projected to be over 1.1 billion tons of emissions at the beginning of phase 3 in 2013. The price of carbon is far below the cost of implementing new technologies for reduction. Financial actors are quickly abandoning carbon markets due to their dysfunction.

The ETS is highly susceptible to widespread lobbying, with the effect of completely unrealistic market pricing, windfall profits for industrials, political imbalances in who receives free allowances, and inability to include new sectors, such as airlines, into the market.

Carbon markets have especially failed to reduce CO2. Markets treat all GHGs as equivalent even when they are not, and subsequently avoid the real problem of reducing reliance on fossil energy. The ETS is simply an industrial subsidy for polluters, a fact which helps explain why the economic recovery has increased CO2 emissions to record levels.

Among other perverse incentives, the ETS has provided a major incentive distortion in favor of new dirty power plants, while the CDM has provided a major incentive to generate HFCs.

Environmental integrity is systematically undermined in the rule making surrounding carbon markets. The only partial exception is when NGO actors, using their own funds, research and initiative, are able to forcefully criticize specific market failings. There is no internal process to maintain or even verify the environmental integrity of carbon markets.

Carbon offsets are rights to pollute. The CDM is a market formally organized to transfer a new ‘natural’ resource asset from the developing world to Europe.

Carbon offsets create more problems for poor people, and make marginalized groups and developing countries bear the climate burden.

The CDM does not reduce emissions and is not designed to reduce emissions. At best, it produces a net zero balance of emissions, but with any error it actually increases emissions.

Widespread error in additionality requirements virtually guarantees that a very high proportion of CDM projects actually increase emissions, while concentrating wealth among a financial elite.

CDM investment is not ‘development,’ but cash payments to existing elite. Its idea of development is highly reductive, focused only on indices of FDI and GDP, with little awareness of the factors that encourage broad social development on an equitable basis. In some cases, CDM projects actively harm the lives of already marginalized groups.

Renewable energy standards have been far more important than carbon markets for investment in China and in Europe.

Forestry offsets are essentially law enforcement programs designed to kick marginalized groups and indigenous people off their land, often by enriching some local elite, promoting plantations and consolidating land grabs. They are incapable of curtailing commercial logging.

Private sector investment in ‘low-hanging fruit’ uses up the most valuable opportunities for developing countries to participate in carbon reduction activities. If and when developing countries have reduction commitments, they will be obligated to pay for far more expensive reductions.

The CDM Executive Board is unable to make necessary changes when environmental integrity of carbon offsets is against the interests of individual member states. Its inability to curtail HFC-based offsets is an excellent example.

The political organization of the CDM perpetuates the marginalization of smaller developing countries.

Instead of acknowledging the problems with carbon markets, the World Bank and related financial bodies have worked to create more carbon markets with lower standards and less transparency. The use of tools like Programme of Activities (PoA) and creditable NAMAs, and the proliferation of Pacific Rim domestic markets stand to make markets ungovernable.

Land use and forestry credits are systemically faulty and highly dangerous. Biospheric carbon cycles are not equivalent to geological carbon cycles, and the substitution of agricultural and forestry projects for fossil fuel extraction is a failure to confront the climate problem.

Science calls for a finite limit on CO2 emissions. The easiest way to achieve this is to limit fossil energy extraction.

A recent post of mine was picked up by and also by In this post I follow up with a streamlined redux of the proposal for a planned phase out of fossil fuels through a volume cap on fossil energy extraction.

A global volume cap on fossil energy extraction will give a clear price signal to the market, without any need to commodify emissions. A cap on fossil energy extraction will efficiently distribute costs between fossil energy producers, distributors and end-users, all of whom benefit from cheap, dirty fuels. A volume cap on extraction will allow for a planned phase out of fossil fuels by providing a clear signal about available reserves and their value.

By correctly aligning the expected harm caused with the volume of supply, the price of fossil fuels at market should correctly reflect their danger to human lives and to the planet. A volume cap on extraction attaches the value of CO2 emissions directly to the price of energy by making fossil fuel energy sources artificially scarce, without a separate emissions-based mechanism.

In contrast, carbon markets and clean energy subsidies risk lowering demand for fossil fuels, paradoxically making them cheaper and weakening the effect of a carbon price, because they place the whole burden on energy consumers without decommissioning fossil energy assets. Carbon markets trust that competition will drive reductions in fossil fuel use, but they fail to recognize that fossil fuel producers are political actors.

Fossil fuel producers do not have the right to continue extraction unabated. There is no right to property that supersedes the right to climate security. Fossil fuels are only safe when they remain unmined in their natural state.

Fossil energy companies are unresponsive to any current regulatory signals. They do not believe that any existing policy proposals will reduce the use of fossil fuels in the foreseeable future.

Development of non-fossil energy solutions may simply increase energy use without curtailing fossil energy extraction.  In addition to giving incentives for development of renewable energy, explicit decisions must be made about how much and which reserves will be left untapped.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is not equivalent to carbon already in the biosphere, or other GHGs. Carbon markets enable continued mining of dirty fuels on the false assumption that biotic carbon is equally safe as unmined fossil carbon. It is not possible to adequately substitute protection of forests for continued fossil fuel extraction. Likewise, carbon capture and storage represents a highly risky and temporary solution that can only ever counter a small portion of fossil carbon emissions. These false solutions fail to answer questions of scale and risk.

A planned phase out of fossil fuels eliminates the role of the financial services industry as a de facto regulator of climate policy and the carbon price. In the United States, even while major NGOs and finance corporations eagerly lobbied for a cap-and-trade system, there has been significant apprehension about handing a $2 trillion market to an industry which traffics in other people’s risk. There are very serious political implications to anointing this class of people to be the arbiters of an economic transformation.

The proposal will allow for wise choices to be made about which reserves will be exploited. Dangerous extraction techniques such as mountaintop removal coal mining, hydro fracking for natural gas, tar sands and deepwater oil drilling will be irrelevant with a volume cap. By putting a cap on fossil extraction, energy companies could put their R&D dollars into non-fossil energy technology.

Since taxes and markets are meant to generate revenues for public investment in climate mitigation and adaptation, the proposal raises a significant hurdle. The best approach might be a windfall tax for fossil fuel producers, levied internationally and used to support calls for climate debt as an alternative financing mechanism. The fund could also be used to support energy costs for economically marginalized consumers. Regardless, this is an important issue to be studied.

We cannot avoid the political implications of climate change by fudging the numbers or assuming that an abstract carbon market will confuse the real cost of dealing with climate change for rich-world consumers. The developing world and millions living in environmentally distressed areas are inevitably facing a future of constrained options and diminished hopes. There is no reason the fossil fuel industry should be exempt from this constrained future at their expense.

Finally the EU has taken action on the HFC credits, which are miserably low quality offsets from destroying industrial gases for pennies on the Euro.

Of course the carbon market investors have been upset to see them go. Here’s what Bloomberg had to say about it, including a comment from me:

CO2 Investors say Ban on Certain Offsets Raises Risk
2011-01-24 16:18:12.475 GMT

By Catherine Airlie
Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) — The European Union’s vote to ban
certain types of United Nations offsets raises investment risks
and the cost of borrowing money, the Carbon Markets and
Investors Association said.
“It cannot be emphasized enough that stable regulation is
central to the ability to raise money for the fight against
climate change,” CMIA said in an e-mailed statement today. The
EU’s ban on some offsets goes against that, they said. “Doing
otherwise will reduce the pool of capital that is available, by
increasing the risk, and also the cost of capital.”
The EU’s 27 national governments agreed to ban as of May
2013 the use of UN-sponsored offsets linked to
hydrofluorocarbon-23 and some nitrous oxide credits. EU Climate
Commissioner Connie Hedegaard welcomed the member states’
decision on industrial gas offsets, saying the credits that are
to be banned created a perverse incentive for investors.
Environmental groups including CDM Watch support the
restrictions. Investors in HFC-23 projects, including Italy’s
Enel SpA, had called on the commission and member states to
limit the scope of the ban and delay its entry into force.
“If investors want a durable, long-term, stable carbon
market they need to champion the regulations that will best
address climate change,” Jerome Whitington, a climate
specialist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, said
by e-mail. “Their protest over the change in rules now seems
disingenuous at best, and the short-term interests of investors
should remain low priority for policy makers.”

At least some middle income developing countries are cautiously voicing support for ‘Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions’ as an alternative to the CDM carbon market. NAMAs are an as-yet poorly defined instrument for planning for developing country mitigation commitments. Within the global negotiations, the US position has been that developing countries must be incorporated into global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and lead negotiator Todd Stern has repeatedly dismissed what he calls developing country ‘resentment.’

An abbreviated version of this argument appeared in the newsletter AlterEco on Dec 10, 2010.

Second-in-command negotiator Jonathan Pershing puts it more generously: developing and developed country commitments within any acceptable global agreement must have the same “character.” NAMAs help achieve this by developing a national strategy for emissions reductions that can begin to quantify developing country commitments. These ‘nationally appropriate’ activities take the form of a list of possible projects combined with basic research on the volume of reductions and the costs of implementing changes. This begins to form some of the groundwork for figuring out who will pay for those projects. It might take the form of a realistic commitment to a certain percentage reduction within a global architecture, on condition that wealthy countries will largely pay for the necessary investment.

Interestingly, the idea exposes some of the fault lines between developing country governments and existing carbon offsets markets. Under the Clean Development Mechanism private actors invest in emissions reductions projects in developing countries, quantify those reductions and then sell the credit for them to polluters in Europe. It is a market for a novel resource asset that is solely meant to transfer ecosystem benefits to the global North. One proponent claimed to me yesterday that at least developing countries are getting paid for it. But in fact very little of the dollar value for offsets stays in developing countries. The project developers are often foreign, plus they sell the offsets usually to European financial service providers at a steep discount, perhaps at only 40-50% of cash value. More than that, the projects pay for capital investment in developing countries, which is a good thing, but it is not necessarily economically productive capital. The ability to pollute a bit more in Europe has direct economic benefits – cheaper energy, more cement or aluminium production – but waste gas flaring in Thailand does not. The benefits are primarily environmental, not economic, and those environmental benefits are primarily global and may indeed have local environmental costs.

NAMAs tend to emphasize that developing country governments have very little control over ad hoc CDM investment within their borders, and governments may view NAMAs as a way to direct mitigation activities at the level of national economic planning and to seek out more systematic forms of finance. Indeed CDM carbon offset developers tend to view NAMAs as a direct threat to their business strategy because it opens their projects up to alternative forms of finance and because NAMAs are meant to anticipate reductions commitments. While these two issues are still poorly defined, what CDM developers really dislike is the idea of having to work closely with national planning agencies: they want the least-effort means to get in, earn their money, and leave. But the other side of this is that NAMA projects would be organized most likely through the very planning bodies that put together national development plans including the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). It presents a choice between fast capital globalization-style investment and the sort of ‘soft’ neoliberalism the World Bank has increasingly defined over the past 20 years.

A Malaysian delegate expressed the crux of this frustration to me: when donor countries start to insist on precise accounting of quantified reductions in direct quid pro quo for mitigation finance, it turns NAMAs once again into stark payments for carbon reduction services. That, for him, is where sovereignty is challenged. It is not a mater of infringement on sovereignty as when a foreign body takes on some of the role of the national government, but a matter of the formal subordination of one sovereign government to the prerogatives of another.

Martin Kohr, director of the South Centre, put it starkly when he pointed out that even if middle income countries agree to strict accounting demands, they will of course take the money being offered – but ‘when cooperation is needed in the negotiations they will hate you.’ (Paraphrase.) Perhaps that does look a bit like resentment, as the US negotiators like to say, but hopefully we can better see some of the architecture of that resentment here.

The news this week, just prior to the COP-16 UN conference on climate change in Mexico, is that the EU is openly considering a ban on carbon offsets from industrial gasses, including both HFCs and N2O. HFCs are a by-product of refrigerant production, while nitrous oxide comes from adipic acid production – and both are very cheap and very profitable to destroy. Both have been criticized for a) encouraging industrial production for the purpose of creating the byproducts, which are very lucrative to destroy under the UN carbon market system, and b) unduly lowering the price of carbon credits, making the markets less effective at stimulating cleaner investment. Beyond those criticisms, the ban could have a very important impact on equity considerations of a climate deal.

From the NY Times:

Several members of a United Nations panel that oversees the international offsetting scheme agreed that the hydrofluorocarbon 23 scheme should be revised. Europe’s executive commission said the hydrofluorocarbon credits from industrial projects were overvalued in Europe by a factor of 78, discouraging the flow of money to more credible projects in the least developed countries.

“The rates of return of these projects are excessive,” it said in a statement. “The E.U. considers that cheap emission reductions, such as those from industrial gas projects, should not be done through the carbon market, but instead should be the responsibility of developing countries as part of their appropriate own action to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Basically it’s really good news if they’re thinking of how to integrate a ban on HFCs into a way for developing countries to cheaply meet emissions commitments. As with forestry offsets, part of the risk is that developing countries in effect give away all the cheap emissions reductions – the so-called low hanging fruit – to whoever has moved first into the market. While those private investors reap windfall profits, national governments in developing countries are increasingly called upon to commit to future reductions as part of the global agreement, but are finding that the cheap and easy-to-achieve reductions have already been taken. (Reductions can’t count for both purposes.) By banning market-based investment in these industrial gas projects, it could free up private capital for more substantial investments, raise the price of carbon and hence encourage greener technologies in the West, and lastly allow developing countries to reap the benefits of national investment in emissions reduction commitments. All good!

The one risk: what if these projects fall by the wayside and the gasses are not destroyed properly? It would be a travesty if the cheapest emissions reductions on  the planet were not made because they fell through the cracks between the global climate institutions. Already the Montreal Protocol on ozone-harming refrigerants has declined to regulate HFCs as an unwarranted extension of its original mandate.

Writing from the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, against a backlog of blogging and research write-up:

A couple people (thanks to Adam Henne) have asked my thoughts on George Soros’s proposal to fund climate change adaptation based on re-working the rules for Special Drawing Rights reserves. The idea seems to be simple enough and, to be honest, not that ground-breaking. Significant funds are kept in reserve, backed by gold to be used for liquidity purposes. Soros wants that money to be invested in adaptation, on the basis of a fund that would generate $10 billion a year. How that surplus would be generated seems to be the main outstanding question. But more generally, we can see in broad scope some of the reasons why anthropologists might pay attention to these things.

There’s been some confusion about the currency at stake here, which bears some explaining in order to understand the significance of climate finance. Especially American observers were a bit freaked out when the New York Times described SDRs as “a “virtual currency” with a value set by a basket of real currencies.” SDRs are an multilateral finance currency which forms the basis of development aid and other multilateral commitments; they refer (if I understand correctly) to potential claims on held cash reserves. For instance, the very low interest loans made available to least developing countries by the multilateral banks are drawn in SDRs – when I paid attention to such things circa 2005 these loans were often reported in ‘dollar equivalents’ with a dollar being worth about 2/3 an SDR, if I remember correctly.

But the point to be made is that in fact lots of currencies like this exist. The comment on the NY Times article by SteveG is correct, but frankly belated: “CDOs and flash trading aside, the era of “nexus economics” is upon us, i.e., a time of rapid changes in economic structures, transactions, and individual behaviors wrought by a highly connected world.” One wonders if all currencies aren’t virtual, with paper cash being simply secondary to electronic, calculated values. Carbon credits themselves are another kind of currency, and some people wonder whether a global carbon market will in fact establish a global currency based on atmospheric exchange.

Think about it: put carbon into the atmosphere in one place on Earth and accrue an obligation (e.g. buy a carbon credit on the market) – or take carbon out of the atmosphere somewhere else on Earth and establish a credit (i.e. an actual financial instrument that can be exchanged for other currencies). These are the sorts of practices I have tried to capture with the admittedly academic phrase ‘the relational ontology of atmosphere’. It’s because ‘carbon’ and ‘the atmosphere’ are simultaneously abstract, equivalent and global that it’s possible to imagine human relations on this order, always translated in practice in terms of what one can ‘do’ with a particular currency. Carbon emissions, like labor in Marxist theory, are a fact of economic activity, so an integrated carbon market could hypothetically trace alongside markets based on national currencies (again, this is nothing new; it’s the scale and scope of carbon markets that make the idea provocative).

It would be great for Caroline McLoughlin to weigh in on this, if she’s reading. By the way, as I type near the Forum in Copenhagen I can here the police cannons, helicopters and general mobilization around protests apparently along the river and toward the city center.

On the one hand, carbon currency is already in operation, and traders routinely talk about carbon credits as currencies. On the other hand, the global scope of such a system is basically hypothetical, with global carbon markets a long way off. A report yesterday here in Copenhagen, where I’ve been talking to people about these things, argued that establishing and unifying regional carbon markets might result in a global market perhaps by 2024. (PointCarbon estimates the volume of carbon trading in 2020 will be about 3$ trillion; the head of Derivatives and Structured Finance at the World Bank confirmed yesterday to me that they use this estimate in their work. Global trading is >20 $ trillion, so perhaps 10-15% in 2020?) The more fundamental issue is that if climate change is to be dealt with seriously then the volume of new credits will have to approach zero in the last half of the century, at the same time that traders are increasingly invested in a large market. Michael Wara at Stanford has already noted that offsets have created a significant political lobby for products that do little to help reduce emissions. The idea of a unified global carbon currency would be in conflict with the basic need to decarbonize the economy.

Concerning Soros’s proposal, four things seem apparent. First, Soros is asking the SDR currency hosts to reduce their liquidity reserve. This is money administered by the IMF (and development banks) in times of need when countries don’t have enough cash to meet their short-term obligations. When Soros says we need innovative financial mechanisms, he’s actually asking for a higher-risk financial position that would reduce the IMF’s ability to respond to these needs (unless he suggests some provision to take money out of the fund in a crisis, but I haven’t heard anything about this). I suppose it would take liquidity out of national reserves for the currencies that make up SDRs, namely the Dollar, Euro, Yen and Pound.

Second, while it’s not exactly clear, to generate the proposed $10 billion a year the money would be invested for a decent rate of return. How the $10 billion annual return is used for adaptation doesn’t matter very much; how the $100 billion is invested to achieve a 10% the return is what counts at this stage. I suppose that’s where Soros comes in – put baldly (if speculatively), George wants access to that money, and climate change seems like moral reason enough to ask for it. One suspects he would be using the money for something and it would be good to know what (especially if it’s being leveraged). But does this mean George Soros is facing investment flow problems? It seems there’s lots of unanswered questions here.

Third, the publicly-announced ‘idea’ for this fund is not a new idea the stodgy banker-types don’t want to hear because they can’ t think outside the box. He announced it this way to stimulate some level of public interest in releasing the money.

Finally, in terms of the proposal, all the real work remains in figuring out how to do adaptation. The idea simply puts up returns on the investment to be used for climate adaptation, which so far is both relatively vague on how it would be spent and subject to the normal caveats about development-type interventions. The rule of thumb among consultants who evaluate development projects is that a project with 10% lasting effect is about the most one can hope for (this was for livelihood rural development work in Southeast Asia). Of course, it spells disaster if adaptation interventions are only 10% successful. Much more work needs to be done on the operational problems for spending adaptation money smartly, and the whole wealth of criticism – technical and otherwise – of development needs to be invoked here.

Everyone should check out Annie Leonard’s awesome short animated flick on Cap and Trade. You’ll remember Annie from her brilliant Story of Stuff, for which Glenn Beck called her a communist.

I’d like to take a moment to point out how easy it is to be a communist these days. No,I don’t mean Annie didn’t have to work on her own film – I hear she runs a tight ship, and I was privy to some of the logistical details (here’s a shout out to collaborative nonprofit digital media production). I mean, it used to be that if you wanted to be a communist you had to endure McCarthy-ite repression, hovel around in rural ag communes in California, or or take to the underground and start robbing banks. But now anybody can be a communist, thanks to the folks at Fox who have managed to popularize it for the masses.

Back to Annie’s new film, I especially like her straight-talking tone and her clear explanations. But there’s a poetic quality to it as well. When I first clicked through to the link it took a minute for the video to load, and meanwhile I flipped to another browser widow. When the video started and Annie’s voice came through I swear I heard for a minute Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be… You and Me. Ah, the memories of carefree childhood running through fields and other natural settings. Who can forget Atalanta performed by Alan Alda and Marlo? It left me humming… Glad to have a friend like you – fair and fun – and skipping free!