Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Stranded Assets and the Bank of England

Mark Carney, the former Goldman Sachs banker and head of the Bank of Canada who now heads up the Bank of England, threw the City of London financial community into a bit of a tizzy recently. Carney picked up on a line of argument that a number of NGOs have been pushing for several years now—that investing in fossil fuels carries some potentially serious financial risks that investors should be giving some thought to. Carney simply pointed out the obvious, or what has been increasingly obvious to a number of investors for a while now. And that is the notion that if governments really do stick to adopting measures that will help to insure that global temperatures rise only 2 degrees Centigrade, many of the carbon assets currently on the books of fossil fuel companies—coal in particular, but other fossil fuels as well— will be “unburnable.”

This is not a new issue. A number of NGOs have spent the past several years leading the charge to “de-carbonize portfolios.” This portfolio de-carbonization effort is based on the perception that, aside from whatever “ethical” concerns may justify this, there is also a high likelihood of increased financial risk associated with carbon ownership—the exact point that Carney made. Much of this effort has been led by Carbon Tracker, a UK organization, but the original argument actually goes back to a presentation by environmental activist Bill McKibbin.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Labour chooses a new leader, again, except this time it’s kind of fun

After its election debacle last May, when Labour got crushed, the road back, or forward, or in any direction whatsoever has been a bit uncertain. Results were so bad that Labour’s Ed Miliband, the Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg, and UKIP’s Nigel Farage all resigned. Why Farage resigned is a bit unclear, although UKIP only gained one MP, against some higher expectations, and Farage himself didn’t achieve a seat. However, the thing to keep in mind about this election is how dominant the conservative vote was—The Conservatives and UKIP together managed to garner over 50% of the vote, and all those overblown fears about another coalition government, or about an outright Labour win, proved to be misplaced.
So Labour is a bit stuck here. It won 232 seats, down 26, including a landslide win for the Scottish National Party in Scotland, which won 56 of 59 contested seats—practically all from Labour. The big losers were the Lib Dems, who lost 59 seats, and currently hold just 6. So they may be toast. The country has moved in a conservative direction, it might be argued, for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important of which is that it’s actually not uncomfortable with where Cameron seems to be taking things. Not my own view, of course, particularly in Green areas, but there it is. Actually, a little more nuance is probably appropriate—the country just wasn’t buying what Labour was trying to sell.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unsolicited Book Review: The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishaguro

So we’ve got post-Arthurian Britain here, with the Britons and the Saxons occupying the land in an uneasy truce. We’ve got a collective failure of memory across society—no one, literally, can remember much, if anything, about past years, or even months. We’ve got wandering knights on missions. We’ve got an older couple on a search for their son, who left under unclear circumstances—which is not a surprise, since no one can remember anything. We’ve got faeries, ogres and a dragon, monks of uncertain motives, and swordfights. We’ve got really, really big questions. And we’ve also got, sadly, a somewhat tedious and boring novel.

 I was, and remain, a huge fan of Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro’s wonderfully understated, and very powerful, novel about a dystopian future where the central characters are bred as organ providers for humans. It was the understatement that made the book so powerful. Ishiguro isn’t much of a stylist, really, and he writes in a very flat prose style, which in NLMG served to reinforce the essential horror of the situation the principal characters found themselves in. But it served another purpose, which was to let Ishiguro spend time developing the characters of the novel at leisure. The strength of the novel came from these genuinely interesting and human characters that weren’t human at all, but rather organic creations—which made the story so heartbreaking.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fast track disaster ahead

Like many, I have my share of disappointments with Obama. On balance, he’s infinitely preferable to any of the plausible Republican alternatives—can you imagine what Mitt Romney or John McCain and a Republican Congress would be getting up to these days? Still, there are areas—global warming in particular—where I wish he had been more aggressive. I fully concede the limits of what may have been possible throughout his term, given the implacable opposition he has been facing.

 But still, it would have been good to see a more deliberate attempt to change the trajectory of things. The ongoing corporatization of nearly everything would have been another place to start. I suppose the failure to pursue the banks aggressively should have been a tip-off that the Clinton financial people were still running the show. Plus the Obama administration’s unwillingness to try to put Elizabeth Warren as head of her brainchild, the new (and pretty efficient, I gather) Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although she has had her payback.) When people start telling me that there’s no real difference between the two parties, in the finance area I tend to agree, with some notable exceptions like Warren.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

--Susan Cooper

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Denmark surprised the world—well, maybe not the world, but a number of interested northern countries—with a slightly audacious claim this week for ownership of the North Pole. As we detailed in previous posts, the prospect of global warming opening up the Arctic region to various sorts of development has tantalized countries in the region—and not just the US, Canada and Russia, but also smaller countries such as Denmark and Norway. All have reasons to make claims; but all also have reasons to proceed under established protocols of international negotiations. In this case, that’s the UN Law of the Seas treaty, which the US still has not signed, which may or may not put it at some disadvantage at some nebulous point in the future.

Santa is probably unhappy about this. It’s his home, after all, and suddenly here come these countries, to all of which he distributes millions of presents annually to their children, clanging around and making claims right and left to his home. International negotiations over the allocation of the Arctic seabed are expected to take decades, something which Santa is definitely not looking forward to—especially since he suspects he won’t even be invited.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adventures in headline Writing, Gaza edition

So something happened in Gaza today, something horrible even by the abysmal standards of that terrible situation.

Here’s the headline in The Guardian:

Israeli strike on UN school kills 15

With the following sub-lede:

UN says it was refused time to evacuate civilians before IDF shelled Gaza school, injuring 200

Then there’s The Independent:

Israeli targeting policy under scrutiny after tanks kill 15 in a Gaza school run by the UN

OK, how about The Financial Times?

Israel shells UN school used as a shelter

How about Deutsche Welle?

IDF Shelling Kills 15 in Gaza

and here's the DW sub-lede:

Shelling by the Israel Defense Forces has killed 15 people at a UN school serving as a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Gaza.

Then there’s The New York Times:

At Least 16 Die at U.N. School Used as Gaza Civilian Shelter

With the following sub-lede:

A series of explosions at a school that was sheltering hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes also wounded many others. The cause was not immediately clear.

Any questions?