Thursday, June 8, 2017

Not easy to be positive...

Michael - Thursday

I’m finding it hard to stay positive today. It’s been quite a week. Let’s forget Trump insulting the mayor of London, and gloating about the terrorist attacks in Tehran and the friction between his (supposed) allies in the Middle East. (The last was apparently the result of fake news anyway.) His decision on climate change, however, is really hard to swallow.

Pruitt protecting the environment be denying CO2 affects climate change
The head of administration at the Environmental Protection Agency (really?) commented on multiple occasions about the jobs saved and created by the decision to repudiate the Paris Agreement. Sometimes he got it right and talked about 50,000 jobs 'in coal and mining'. But on other occasions he just said ‘coal’, so that's what people remember. The difference? About 45,000 jobs in the rebounding non-coal mining and processing industry.

The president showing how to measure temperature with your fingers  
The reality is that what Trump does about coal makes no difference. Those jobs are gone for good, just as the steel jobs are gone for good. The US is too expensive for those sorts of industries unless totally mechanized, and renewable energy sources are rapidly reaching the same price point. High quality coal as a feedstock for organic compounds is a different story, but that issue has nothing to do with climate change anyway.

Essentially all Trump’s arguments for pulling out of the Paris accord are spurious. If you read them in the context that the “limits” are actually targets set by the particular nation itself, it’s impossible to understand how he means to renegotiate it. With whom? Himself? Obviously, his only interest is to dismantle what Obama achieved.

Two other arguments really irritate me. (These are not in Trump’s statement.) One is about whether mankind is responsible for climate change or whether it's a natural process. Who cares? If the former, we can’t undo the past so let’s see if we can alleviate or at least slow down the process from here on. If the latter, let’s see if we can alleviate or at least slow down the process from here on. And will we be able to do so or is it useless? At the worst, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources will improve air quality and thus health, control energy prices and shortages, last indefinitely – unlike coal – and make no difference to climate change. What's not to like?

A beautiful Lorenz attractor
The other annoying argument goes along the lines: "This global warming is nonsense. We had the coldest winter in years and it’s rained all summer." Weather is an extremely complex non-linear system and has chaotic behavior (in the math sense). In fact chaotic systems were first discovered by Edward Lorenz when he tried to work on a simple model for weather prediction. Such systems have a variety of attractors that are locally stable. What this means is that if the weather behaves in a certain general way, it will probably continue to do that with some perturbations. But if you kick it too far from that 'certain general way', it will move to somewhere rather different and the process of moving there will be largely unpredictable.  Thus you expect higher than usual temperatures, lower than usual temperatures, vicious storms, floods, droughts, whatever. Hmmm.

Which brings me to the bad news here at home. The Western Cape has been battered by a storm described ‘as the worst in 40 years’ with hail-force winds up to nearly 100 mph. There was widespread damage, but it was well managed and few people died. (Three at last count.) The city is pretty well back to normal apart from people in informal settlements, many of whom will have to rebuild their shacks from scratch and who lost all their meager possessions. And this in very cold weather (by South African standards).

Further east at Knysna (where Stan used to live and I'm building a house), the raging winds fanned devastating fires. No one knows how they started, but arson is suspected. Knysna and the nearby towns are small without the infrastructure to deal with anything of this magnitude. Once again, early evacuations prevented much loss of life as people gathered for safety near the lagoon last night. Only five people are confirmed dead so far. But roughly a tenth of the town had to be evacuated, and the fire is still threatening nearby towns. Up to fifty houses have been lost, probably many informal homes have gone too, the public hospital and schools are badly damaged. It’s the worst catastrophe for the town that anyone can remember, and it will take years to recover.

Am I suggesting this is Trump’s fault, or even that it's because of climate change? Of course not. Freak weather always has happened and always will.

But we have to expect it to happen more often.

Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


June 11
Books NJ Festival
Grounds of the Paramus Public Library
Paramus, New Jersey

June 16-18
Deadly Ink Conference
Hilton Garden Inn
Rockaway, New Jersey


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, launched June 6.


Dying to Live (Kubu #6) to be released in May in UK & South Africa and in October in USA

June 13 6PM
South African launch of Dying to Live
Love Books, Melville, Johannesburg


  1. Brace yourself, Michael. The oversized baby in The White House is about to have a conniption fit. As I type, Comey, testifying int he Senate, is calling him the liar that he is. The majority of Americans are somewhere between outraged and deeply embarrassed by Trump's behavior. I personally think he needs a straightjacket. BUT our embattled but gloriously brilliant Constitution requires us to follow a process. We must follow it, even though the incompetence of that man is unprecedented.

    The Trump Administration is imploding. The BAD news is that when he leaves office, we will have Pence, whom I consider more dangerous, because he has the SAME agenda and is plausible. SCARY!

    The good news is that states and municipalities in the USA are beginning to sign on to the Paris Accords individually. The man in the White House might be nuts, but the rest of us--largely--are not.

    1. Thanks, Annamaria. That last point is encouraging. I think we're stuck with Trump; best to work around him.

  2. Just think, CHOCOLATE. And WINE.

    1. I was positive earlier today. Corbyn was closing down on May but ...but I fear the worst now. The weather here will deter labour voters, it's cold and very wet. We are going to sit and watch the results come in, with chocolate, wine and books!