Zara’s Space on the Web – Musings

April 18, 2009

Thoughts on UK Aware

Filed under: Hippiery — zarazilla @ 10:57 pm

“Well ma’am, that’s because if you’re hoping to charge up a car on a solar panel, you have either got to have bloody big solar panel covering your entire neighbourhood or be talking about a table-top remote controlled car”

I never actually said the above sentence out loud, but I would’ve if I had been sitting on the “panel of experts”. And god or bog (Yes, I’ve been reading A Clockwork Orange!) help us all, but I think I, just me, actually had the answers to pretty much all questions I overheard at the UKAware discussions that I actually sat in on.

The thought has bugged me before, but it hit me particularly hard today, and that is that I think I’ve outgrown environmental events such as UKAware. Perhaps I have entered the skeptic morose teenager stage where I feel the need to roll my eyes at most of the questions I heard and most of the exhibits I saw today.

For example, there was a disproportionate amount of stalls dedicated to cloth bags to replace people’s use of plastic bags. I really hope I won’t be quoting George Monbiot all the time on this blog (and this is not a negative reflection of Monbiot – I think he’s great, but I know if I let myself then most of my posts will point towards Monbiot), but frankly, although I’m glad people are making a genuine effort to use less plastic bags, the use of plastics bags are one of the tiniest of the things we should be concerned about.

Then there was the stall selling a wind-generated garden ornament. WTF? I honestly wonder how many people bought one and what on earth they were thinking.

Although the financial sector never actually crossed my mind when I turned up at UKAware, I found myself picking up the leaflets for all the financial environmental services I could find – there were some interesting companies there looking to pick up some green investors including a charity bank, an ethical investment fund, a microloans company and a brazilian farming co-op. I do need to reinvest my ISA which is currently collecting an interest rate below current inflation, and have been thinking about investing it in a transparently ethical way.

I would say people have a lot to learn about being green. I’m glad so many people are on board, but generally knowledge is still in its infancy. Things like how people don’t realise that solar panels don’t appear out of thin air – a lot of energy and resources go into producing a solar panel and that a solar panel, particularly in the weather-challenged UK, just isn’t efficient.

Saying that, however, I probably am wrong on most things myself, and it’s entirely a process of learning and thinking things through. But good golly, don’t go all up in arms because the government disallows you to do something that may not look obviously stupid to you, without first sitting down and thinking “now why aren’t I alllowed to do this? Is it because the government is trying to get in my way of going green, or is there a flaw they’ve spotted that I should probably sit down and try to spot too?”

Some posts you can look forward to

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 10:24 pm

Well the last week has been quite hectic and busy for me, and my spare time has been spent watching Firefly (hey I’m a geek!) but I have been thinking of things to write about, so here are a few things you can look forward to reading in the next week (although I hope to write a couple tomorrow).

*The government’s funding of electric cars
*Personal Carbon allowance and why you’re unlikely to see it anytime soon
*A critique of the Soil Association’s “GM Crops – The Health Effects” (I was at UKAware today and when I explained to the representative that I couldn’t possibly donate to the running of the Soil Association because I didn’t believe that GM Crops were necessarily wrong, coming from a third world country and all, she jumped down my throat. I’m not exactly sure what the Soil Association’s solution to a possible Malthusian catstrophe is if we’re to grow organic and not use GM Crops. It seems to me like a very developed country/small population point of view).
* Thoughts on UKAware

April 12, 2009

Something I find amusing and may comment on later

Filed under: climate change,Hippiery — zarazilla @ 7:33 pm
Tags: , ,

…but for now, I think the content says it all. Climate Change Bets

General confusion over an article from TheRegister

Update: Turns out? This wasn’t even a report, and the only climate scientist involved in the discussion believes that anthropogenic climate change is happening. What a waste of time.

Well, since “Japan’s boffins: Global warming isn’t man-made”was published on TheRegister a while back, I have been meaning to read it and adjust my view of climate change around it.

Since it is now Easter vacation and I have no religious leanings (hence I have a lot of time on my hands) and I have just started this blog, I thought it might be a good idea to read and then critique the article.

Unfortunately, although I was looking forward to something that would seriously challenge my view on anthropogenic climate change, the article only proved to confuse me slightly between the misleading title and leading paragraph and the actual contents of the paper that had been translated.

The article states that:

Three of the five researchers disagree with the UN’s IPCC view that recent warming is primarily the consequence of man-made industrial emissions of greenhouse gases.

Well, er, from my reading of the paper that is given in the article, they actually don’t.

About the closest they get is the following:

“[The IPCC’s] conclusion that from now on atmospheric temperatures are likely to show a continuous, monotonic increase, should be perceived as an unprovable hypothesis,” [Kanya Kusano] writes.

…”We should be cautious, IPCC’s theory that atmospheric temperature has risen since 2000 in correspondence with CO2 is nothing but a hypothesis.” [-Shunichi Akasofu]

These two quotes come from the end of the summary page, and the article then launches into “Key passages translated”.

Within the second page of the article, I find the following confusing line:

…since 2001, [increases in global temperature has] halted. Despite this, CO2 emissions are still increasing.

I find this confusing because I have seen other information that states that:

“Every year since and including 2001 has made it into the top ten warmest years [on record].” – The Times Online, December 13, 2007, citing a study from the Met Office and the University of East Anglia

I’m sure none of these scientists are deliberately lying or bending the truth, but it would be nice to know why these two claims seem to be the complete opposites?

Page three and four talk about the construction of climate models, and the inherent uncertainty that is built into using models, due to imperfect knowledge. To which I have to say “well, duh?”

Anyway, “Japan’s Boffins” (I should have known better than to expect much when faced with this title) conclude that “Anthropogenic” (here this is used as a classy word for “human-caused”) “global warming theory [is] still hypothetical”.

Which I totally get and I totally agree with (Hey, the theory of evolution is still hypothetical). I mean, I don’t think anyone is claiming that they know for sure that climate change is happening due to human intervention, and yes, we should be careful about claiming things for truths that are only theories.

I think these guys were just saying “Hey, everybody, slow down. We should really re-examine the evidence here before we rush off headlong down a possibly unecessary path”, which is cool. What they are not saying, however, is that they don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change. No, that would be Andrew Orlowski putting words into their mouth. Oh, and interestingly enough, we’re also not provided with the discussions by the other two researchers who didn’t “disagree with the UN’s IPCC view that recent warming is primarily the consequence of man-made industrial emissions of greenhouse gases”. Apparently, they didn’t make it into “key passages”. This was, by and large, a terrible, biased piece of reporting that misrepresented the very paper it was reporting on. Shame on you, Orlowski!

Has Innocent killed its brand?

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 3:04 pm
Tags: , , ,

Last week, Innocent Smoothies sold 20% of its share to Coca Cola.

Until I heard the news, my views of the two brands were:
Innocent: Love them. Great smoothies, a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it. A company that wins big on ethics, donating 10% of profits to environmental and educational projects in the places where their fruits are grown. The first to come up with bottles made from fully recycled plastic.
Coke: Boycotted. Huge workers rights and environmental issues leading to worker deaths and parched farms.

So when I heard the news, I, like many of Innocent’s fans, was understandably disappointed. I’ve kept myself updated for Innocent’s side of the story, but was disappointed that although a message from the Innocent founders was posted on 6th April letting customers know about Coke’s investment and the reasoning behind Innocent’s decision, there was no effort made to address the ethical issues I covered above.

A further blog post expanded slightly on the Founders’ message, but still did not touch the issues covered above. Replies came thick and fast, many by once-loyal customers expressing disappointment. As yet, there has been no answer from Innocent, despite a post afterwards about easter eggs.

It seems to me Innocent has made a very bad decision that has damaged their brand image. They have always touted their ethical values in business, and many people sincerely believed in their friendly chat on their bottles, cartons, and weekly e-mails. It seemed to me that Innocent worked very hard on cultivating their brand image and targeting their products at customers interested in ethics, and in paying a premium for those ethics. However, these very same customers will also be the ones participating in Coke boycotts.

For me, the jury is still out, but Innocent need to act fast in order to keep and win back loyal customers. They need to address the Coke ethics issues, and any reasoning behind why they chose to take Coke’s money despite knowing about them. I want to believe that Innocent brought these up with Coke before accepting their money, and that Coke has said or promised something for Innocent to agree to the investment, and I want to know what that is. If not, I’m afraid Innocent joins the boycott list.

MMOs for Economics research

Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games. I can’t claim this idea for my own, but I was talking to some guy called Ian while at EnvEcon. Unfortunately I didn’t pick up his last name but he is currently a masters student on Imperial College’s Environmental Technology course and speciailising in Environmental Economics and Policy (yes, the same course and option that I did).

Anyway, he mentioned the idea of testing out economic theories in Second Life. Which, when I thought about it, sounded like an absolutely astonishing idea. Obviously there would be many caveats, a few of which I will discuss, but, unless someone can point out something I am missing, it seems like an stonking good idea. Data from everquest and WOW has already been pulled for study by social scientists ( ), so it is perhaps only another step to design economic experiments in Second Life.

The obvious caveat would be that second-life characters are virtual. Unless you are one of the truly obsessed, the welfare of your second-life character is not going to be as important as your own welfare. Furthermore, the wealth of your character doesn’t (and I am guessing here, I have never played second life or even read that much about it) affect the health of your character. You will also probably take higher risks with your character than you would in your real life. This all said, I know there are people out there who put a lot of time and energy into their online virtual characters, which may change reduce these issues somewhat if you could somehow cherrypick your players.

Then there are the moral implications – if you design an economic experiment in second life, do you have to tell the players? If not, are there moral implications in the fact that people are participating in an experiment without knowing it? If you do, will this change behaviour due to Observer Effect?

Then there are the socio-economic factors in play. Who are the people playing second life? My guess is that the majority of the population is made up of young/middle age (Late 20s to 40s) people, probably middle class, and probably at least slightly geeky. This will undoubtedly affect the decisions they make for their characters.

Links: Article talking about whether Second Life’s economy is in recession – Showing that yes, Second Life does have an analysable economy.
Google search for second life economics

Having said all this though, I think it is a very interesting concept and lots more thought should be given to it. Perhaps social scientists and computer scientists can get together to build a MMO specifically designed to carry out social experiments and selectively invite people to play with a bit of cheap talk*?

Comments, discussion?

(H/t Tom for first coming up with the articles on social scientists data mining MMORPGs).

* Cheap talk is used in suveys that ask participants how much they are willing to pay for a service or a good to get more realistic amounts. This is achieved by saying something along the lines of “In these kinds of surveys many people say they are willing to pay more than they actually are willing to pay. Please think carefully before stating your amount, evaluate your finances, and ask yourself whether you really are willing to pay the amount you state”. In this case, of course, it would be something along the lines of “Look, we know this is a game, but pretend the outcomes really affect you, and act accordingly”.

April 11, 2009

Payments for Environmental Services Peace

(Before reading this note, if you are not familiar with payments for environmental services, you may want to look at this link )

I was watching the February 10th episode of The Daily Show last night (my friend pointed out the reason we know more about american politics than British politics is that Jon Stewart makes it worth knowing about) and his interview for the night was with Thomas Ricks, author of Fiasco ). You can find the interview here.

During the interview, Stewart and Ricks talked about how the Americans, or rather General Petraeus, decided to pay the Iraqis; not just the allies, but the people trying to kill them as well, in order to… well, get them to stop trying to kill them.

In actual fact, during the interview, Ricks tells an ancedote about how an american soldier turns to one of the insurgents and says “You still want to kill me?”, to which he replies “Yes, but not today”.

Now is it just me or does this remind anybody else about payments for environmental services, but instead of environmental services, for peace? It has never crossed my mind that people who may be trying to kill people would actually have a willingness to accept to change their behaviour. The situation even addresses continual payment (so long as you keep paying me, I will not cut down this lovely rainforest do not want to kill you today).

Of course an interesting question here is “how are the insurgents using this money?” Another interesting and related question is, “What does this money substitute for?”, and question that is related to both of these questions is “How much can the americans pay or what can they do to permanently change insurgents’ behaviour?”  Is the money they’re paying them “Giving a man a fish” rather than “Teaching him how to fish”?

April 10, 2009

“Risk – averse”

Filed under: Economics — zarazilla @ 7:27 pm

I’m starting to hear the words ‘Risk-averse’ a lot these days and I’m wondering how the recession we are (most of us) in has affected people’s risk perception? And how permanent is it? I recently read a comment to a blog post or article about Madoff which said “Now I know why old ladies hide all their money under their mattresses”.

So I’m wondering how this is affecting research in social sciences like economics? In about 10 years from now would researchers have to explain crazy data with recession anxiety? Would we still be seeing the effects in ten years, would data before the recession be significantly different to data after?

Thoughts on climate change and my job

Filed under: Hippiery — zarazilla @ 7:19 pm
Tags: , ,

A reply I wrote recently to a 3rd grade classmate, climate skeptic, and political verbal sparring partner (she is a hardcore US republican):

Hi J***,

Sorry for taking so long to get back to you – my new job is tiring me out! I should probably be going to bed in about negative half an hour, but thought I’d drop you a quick note addressing your points.

I’ve gone through the stuff you’ve sent me, and tried to find stuff of my own that says that climate change isn’t happening, but to be honest I have not really run up against any evidence that is reputable and would make me change my mind. About the best I have is Freeman Dyson’s argument ( ), and as far as I can see he believes that the earth’s natural environment will take care of reducing carbon for us. My argument to this, however, is that the earth has never seen so much carbon in the atmosphere before.

And that brings me to the facts that I can believe in, and these are:
a) Atmospheric carbon is far above and beyond any levels known of previously for the last 10,000 years, with evidence from ice cores.
b) The temperature of the earth by and large tracks the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As someone who has studied statistics and economics, I wouldn’t normally put much stock in this alone, as it is mere correlation which does not mean, in all cases, causation, apart from that I know
c) Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. That is, that it is a scientific fact that carbon dioxide absorb and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range.

I also know that climate is variable. I don’t put much stock in “in the last five years it has been warmer/colder than the five yeras before that” because, as we both know, there are crazy climate systems out there such as el nino and la nina that show up every once in a few years and throws things out of whack. Long-term variability though, that is the key.

I do believe that over time the world will start warming up. Now what will happen once it reaches a certain temperature is obviously up for debate. One of the theories is that it will trigger us into an ice age through the halt of the gulf stream. One of the theories is that of positive feedback – that is, once it reaches a certain temperature, certain things will change so that it will get hotter and hotter much more quickly. And of course, one of the theories is that it will make the earth a better place to live. I think, I hope not, but I think that it will by and large cause a lot of problems.

Now I hear what you’re saying about the “global cooling” “global Warming” debates, and all I can do there is point you to this website. Look at those graphs – over 150 years, 500 years, you have to admit that the last 20 or so have been pretty warm.

And I agree that scientists not only have the right, but the duty to show non-biased information. However, I very much doubt that scientists have had their grants pulled or been blacklisted for offering studies from “the other side”, as there are many corporations, including Exxon-Mobil, who fund scientists for research that will make them look good. Also, there’s stuff like this:

You might think the next thing I’m going to say is a bit weird, so I’m going to give you some background. I studied computer science for four years, and was good at it, and enjoyed it very much. I could be working in computer science and earning a lot more than I do now. But I’m not. I re-routed my career and completed a masters in Environmental Economics and Policy. I’m a research assistant at an environmental economics consultancy, earning about 2/3rds my expected salary as a computer scientist because I believe climate change is happening unless people act now to stop it. I feel completely inadequate in my job because my background is in computers, not economics, but I’m there because I know that in twenty years I want to at least say that I tried.

So to be honest I would really love to be able to think that climate change isn’t happening, and you have intrigued me, but I have not been able to find anything reputable, with reputable scientific sources to argue the other side. All I can find are conspiracy theories. So you would be doing me a huge huge favour if you could point me towards papers that have scientific merit arguing your side of the argument. Then maybe I can give this up and go back to programming and leave my guilt behind. :)


Hello world! (The inevitable manifesto)

Filed under: Uncategorized — zarazilla @ 6:19 pm

I’ve been thinking about starting this blog for a while, having finished (for now, at least, I have some unformed plan for the future that includes some distance learning) formal  education and having not much to do on my nights apart from watching TV, playing my guitar, and reading library books and random chapters from my sisters’ Economics textbook.

I think this blog by and large won’t have much about my personal life, but more about my thoughts on general geekery, hippiery, and social issues.

I’m going to start by populating this blog with a few things I’ve written in the recent past on various media, and then we’ll go from there and see whether this blog sinks and dies or floats and thrives.

Eventually this is going to be linked up to my (at the moment non-existant) website.  I’m still working out the mechanics of this content-wise, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Blog at