Investing in climate change mitigation – an investment not a cost

The debate on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is hijacked by a simple trick of language

Talking about the cost of climate change mitigation misleads because it is an investment in economic terms if you simply understand it in the right context. The context of survival

The Basics

Some background and context so that the following analysis makes sense. Skip it if you already know about it.

Climate change is real and the evidence is overwhelming. There is unprecedented agreement amongst scientists that it is caused by human activity and especially from use of fossil fuels, land clearing and unsustainable agriculture

Two widely discussed targets for mitigation of climate change are to limit it to 1.5 or 2.0 degrees above the pre-industrial baseline. We have near enough to 1 degree already locked in. 4 degrees or more are locked in if we maintain current land use and fossil fuel consumption. See for graphs and explanations.

Projected concentrations of CO2 under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500.
Projected temperature increases under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500.

These graphs from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show projected concentrations of CO2 [Top] and projected temperature increases [Bottom] under different emissions scenarios, extending to the year 2500. Note how it levels off over time as an equalibrium is reached. Below is another IPCC graphic showing four pathways to achieving a maximum 1.5 degree increase in temperature.

The environmental conditions in which humans evolved can exist with a CO2 level of 350 or less. We now have over 410 ppm and rising faster than at any time observed – ever.

Mitigation will therefore require reversing the increase. The graph below shows how this could play out. 1

Modelling showing how emissions targets result in medium term warming
Further and recent analyses of CO2

Biodiversity has already been severely impacted and the (usually cautious) UN has issued a clear and urgent warning that we are destroying our planet and potentially our future as a species – Humans are acting as their own comet to drive an extinction event of the order of that which killed off the dinosaurs The disruption caused by climate change is valued at 2.5 trillion USD by the London School of Economics. It found that in that with unchecked climate change, global financial assets were effectively overvalued today by $2.5tn, but that there was a 1% chance that the over valuation could be as high as $24tn 2

The biggest losers if we mitigate climate change are the fossil fuel corporations (private and Government owned). The total stock market capitalisation of fossil fuel companies today is about $5tn – they are likely to have stranded assets if we mitigate climate change. Most of the losses will be stranded assets that used to be of value but are no longer saleable and therefore valueless.

Economic and socio-historical analyses point to dire consequences arising from water and food scarcity, flooding of low lying land, disease/plague and social unrest from combined disruption

The public debate on mitigation of climate change has been heavily focused on the cost of action to mitigate. There has been little discussion on the obvious issue of the cost to do nothing, or for that matter of doing too little. Fortunately there is some good academic research out there to draw upon.


How much are we prepared to spend on warfare? Billions of dollars each year.
Why? To preserve a way of life and other reasons. Otherwise described as investing in civic security.

Perversely, mitigation of climate change reduces the likelihood of warfare and potentially saves billions off the Defence budget. Do we often think about the costs involved in military defence of borders and protection of resources? Not much. It is understood as necessary to protect our wellbeing. It may well become an additional cost of “adapting” to climate change. History tells us this is very likely.

Border control

How much are we prepared to spend on border protection? Billions of dollars, judging by what we have seen since the 1990s. Sometimes more than a million dollars per refugee is spent to keep them away. Let’s not consider how effective it is.
Why? Similar to Defence spending but specifically directed at preserving perceived lifestyle status quo.

Again perversely, climate change is a driver for immigration both formal and informal (not legal and illegal because that is a very open question in the case of asylum seekers). Simply stated, those who lose their homes form flooding and/or water and food shortage will wish to migrate to a place where there is greater opportunity. The more desperate the refugee the more extreme and urgent the attempts to migrate will be and persistent they will be.


What resources are we prepared to put into health and medicine? The complicated answer is that it depends. To look after our own health there is a strong tendency to want someone else to look after it. To look after other people’s health – that is up to them. Effectively this drives massive investment in radical medical intervention for wealthy people and very little in prevention of chronic diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity etc). The dollar values for treatment of chronic diseases are astronomical in Australia. The healthcare budget is around 9% of GDP and chronic disease accounts for upwards of 25% of that. 3

Why? It comes down to human nature and its preparedness to ignore non-immediate risk. A preparedness to pay a fortune for a cure but to not care about prevention.

There are some intriguing consequences here. Firstly the root causes of the chronic diseases I have used as examples (as well as many others) have at their core over consumption of highly processed, packaged and transported food. More than 30% more food than is needed being consumed by most adults and teenagers and the nutritional and environmental impact is increased through additional processing, transport, concentration on animal products (meat, dairy etc) and addition of sugar and salt. This is discussed more in the next section.

As a result the health budget (really sickness rather than health) is increasing at a higher rate than population growth. On average 1.5% more and mostly due to demand for new and expensive services. We really want to take heroic efforts to not die and restore mobility and lifestyle. We have smokers who demand the highest levels of treatment for the disease that they have essentially brought on themselves.


What are we prepared to pay for food security? Quite a lot but nowhere near enough to actually ensure security of food production in a changing climate

Why? Food security has been the cornerstone of political power since agriculture became widespread. The fundamental premise of centralised, planned economies is to feed and protect the population in return for granting “the leader” power of life and death 4 with different degrees of autocracy.

Climate change is highly disruptive for food production and there are only small regions of the planet that benefit from the warming (Iceland, Siberia, Greenland). Changes in rainfall patterns, including variability and intensity, are the most discussed factors affecting food production but there is another factor that overshadows the others as average and peak temperatures rise – the effect of evapo-transpiration.

Increasing temperature produces a corresponding increase in evaporation from soil and a greater effect on transpiration from plants in the temperature range between 20-30 degrees. Above 30, plants shut their pores to conserve moisture. Stronger winds associated with higher temperatures add to the increased loss of plant and soil moisture. This complex system is mitigated t some degree by increased CO2 concentrations. Nett effect is that with 1 degree of average temperature increase in the Canberra, part of Southern MDB, we observe an average increase of around 100mm evaporation between 1970 and 2010 using 10 year moving averages. This shortens the growing season (without irrigation) by 2 months and possibly more.

The costs for food production are the additional water required to keep plants alive and yield at viable levels. 100mm of water per hectare is 1 Ml and costs upwards of $200 as a one off purchase or upwards of $5,000 for a permanent entitlement purchase.


Water loss is only recently being considered as an important factor in climate change. In fact, it could have the biggest impact. Evaporation rates 15-20% higher than 1990 levels can reduce growing seasons by as much as 2 months in Australia’s semi-arid regions. This feeds back into food production.

Historically, competition for water resources has been a cause of warfare and long term conflict. Reduced supply and increased demand is likely to result in increasing conflict. Feeding into the Warfare scenario.


The hotter it gets, the more energy is needed to keep people alive and more comfortable. The more that energy comes from fossil fuels the harder it will be to arrest and reverse what is happening with global heating.

The viable and easily achievable alternative of renewable energy is actually cheaper and more efficient to harvest than coal and gas sources of energy. Of course storage is an issue. Only if storage is not built. Nobody has an argument against storing water for when it is needed and the same thinking should apply to energy/electricity.


In the 1950s through to the late 1980s there was a real threat that we as a species could wipe ourselves off the planet with nuclear weapons. We found ways to avoid that. When we discovered that Chlorofluorocarbons were creating holes in the ozone layer, we stopped using them rather than be subjected to cancer-generating radiation.

Now we are faced with the possibility of destroying our ecosystem through global heating and we can show the same level of commitment to overcoming this problem as well. Trouble is that the process of warming has a lag between the pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses and the consequences. When the consequences are 20-30 years in the future it is easy for it to be “someone else’s problem”. Tragedy of the Commons scenarios step in. Short term gains override potential disaster in the future.

This means is that we must see mitigation of global heating as an investment – not as a cost

Notes and Further Reading
  1. See
  3. AIHW 2007, Productivity Commission 2005. Healthcare stats are slow to emerge
  4. military and judicial powers

Why I am not using Facebook now

Facebook has been a part of my life for over 10 years. It has been a useful thing for communicating with friends and acquaintances across the world. It was very important when I was running a large online gaming community with people from almost every country involved.

However, the business practices of Facebook are at best questionable and several incidents recently have led me to stop using it.

The trigger was when Facebook put a button saying “Boost this post” on the administrative page for a group I administer. I clicked this button to see what it did, expecting something similar to what most forums do to put the post to the top of the view. Instead, it commenced an advertising campaign (on a relatively trivial message to a group) attracting charges. I discovered this when I received a message offering to increase the distribution of the advertising for further fees.

Following the link to “manage your ad” I tried to find how to cancel it. The only options I could initially find were to change capped amount to spend. I did eventually find an option that appeared to allow cancellation via a “Cancel” button and that appeared to work. But it did not! resulting in a continuation of the advertisement.

So here the real fun begins. I challenged them over a charge of 22 Euro. I suspect that many or most would just pay up and put it down to experience. I challenged this because it is as near to a scam as you can get. It may be an official one as far as Facebook is concerned.

The reply to my challenge and narrative of events was the corporatoid “you agreed to the terms and conditions”. However, as I pointed out repeatedly, I had not knowingly authorised an advertisement or to pay for such an advertisement. There was no indication that I was clicking on a button that would automatically trigger a bill and advertise a private post (to the closed group) to some unidentified audience. What sane person would authorise such a thing anyway? A reasonable person would expect to see some kind of dialogue to confirm agreement to committing to an advertising campaign, most especially when such a commitment is hidden behind jargon such as “Boost”. I have searched the terms and conditions to see where I might have signed up for advertisements by clicking a random button on their website but have failed to see this in terms I understand. It smells very scammy to me. It looks scammy. Probably is one.

What all this says to me is that Facebook cannot be trusted. Not with my online data, knowledge of friendships, personal information or to not take money from me without my authorisation.

That is why.

Life goes on …

The more observant of you may see that I have not posted for over half a year. This is why…My mother died in mid September after a lengthy period of illness that included minor strokes, frequent trips to hospital with breathing problems and heart problems. Her death certificate was blunt. She died from the results of smoking. She also died at peace. She signed a document instructing medical staff not to revive her and informed them she was no longer eating anything. For someone at around 40 Kg that meant she would not last long. I drove up to Queensland to be with her at the last only to miss out by under two hours. The photo attached to this post was taken in July before I left for Europe.

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Well, hello there …

May you be condemned to live in interesting times.

It may be more than a year since I posted here. A long time and yet, it went by so fast. It has been an interesting year. I think I will celebrate the ending of 2018 with three articles. Plus maybe a dozen book reviews. Possibly an update or two in cricket umpiring, brewing and other personal things. Definitely a bit on work.

A quick catch up

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. ”

Steve Jobs

The following is a little bit catharsis and a little bit still feeling bruised. I will not go into the messy details – for multiple reasons …

I was working as the Managing Partner with a longstanding management consultancy firm with responsibility for the Public Sector. 2017 was a very good year for us and a major project received an award for best change project of the year from a project management body. We had a small team in Canberra and a decent pipeline of work. However, at the end of February the owner of the business (based in the UK) called and told me that staff would not be paid the following day. I will not go into all the details but the key thing to note is that the liquidator sought funding from creditors to pursue the company directors for a significant amount of money.

For most of the staff, the Australian Fair Entitlement Guarantee helped out by paying most, if not all entitlements apart from redundancy. There were three employees that were not so lucky while still getting some of the lost pay and leave entitlements. Superannuation that was not paid was also lost. Overall a nasty business.

It would most likely have been possible to save the business and continue on with a restructure, had the UK directors approached it the right way. Work I was asked to do to find alternative investors was successful in finding them but the UK directors were not able to negotiate an arrangement due to time constraints and associated issues. Fair to say that March was a busy time for with nothing but additional travel bills to show for it.

One staff member in Canberra was able to start a piece of work we had just won after we were able to negotiate with the client to “novate” the contract. Half the other staff were able to find alternative work fairly quickly, however two had some difficulty. The way the company was just shutdown overnight  caused a lot of stress and anxiety to staff – that is an understatement.

Personally, I was in the fortunate position to choose between offers. I chose to join a company with which we had been doing work on a partnership basis for the past two years. It was the path of least resistance and the right one at a time when much was still uncertain. I worked with them from early April until the end of December. We had a number of goals in mind when I started and, while the revenue ones were exceeded, we were not able to win the larger pieces of work which would have allowed the achievement of growth and margin targets. As a consequence, I notified the board that I would be finishing up. I am now looking forward to a “new set of challenges”, I think the current orthodoxy demands.

I will go back to nearly a dozen articles that I started to write and left unfinished over the past year or so. I seem to have ideas and not enough time to finish writing them down.

Three articles

So what do I need to write about?

Working with Smart People. This is after seeing the remarkable reactions from several employers over the years.

What is Consulting Today? A general question that should be asked. The title is Consulting Now!

Startups, Business Agility, Design Thinking and Customers in the real world. This is a little of the trend(s) I have seen in the past decade.

… here goes

Eastlake Semi-Final

Finals are usually a happy time. Not this one, however.

We were told during the week that we would be only able to field 8 players because no others were qualified to play. This even applied to substitute fielders. We played with all 8 players we were allowed and our opponents were given permission to allow a player who had been playing interstate. We play our cricket on the field.

The reason we have so few players available is that two (our opening batters) have move to Melbourne, one moved to the South Coast last year. One of our regular players has an injured knee and could not play all season. Another is expecting a baby mid year (hope it is a new recruit 😎 ) and yet another regular had an operation two weeks ago and is recovering. That is a lot of players to lose. Eastlake batted and we had them struggling a bit until a couple of their experienced batters got settled. Jane bowled well as usual, Liberty, Carli and Barbara bowled exceptionally well. One spell of bowling from Barbara was outstanding with Eastalake players unable to play any aggressive shots without risk. I tore a calf muscle in my second over and had to bowl the rest of my 8 overs off 3 steps because of our lack of players. Eastlake made 276 runs which is not as bad as it looks because at least 80 of those and probably 120 would have been cut off if we had 11 fielders. Carli and Liberty did amazingly well to close out the innings. Neither player had played grade cricket until this year. Lee, our keeper chased anything behind the stumps because she thought it was better to do that than to “waste” a fielder there. That is called commitment. Jane ran the boundaries all day and Suzi played after playing 6 hockey games – two this morning. Linda, Carli, Barbara and Liberty fielded as well as they ever have.

We batted and all we could do is play as well as possible. That is what we did. We batted through our 40 overs and still had wickets in hand. Lee demonstrated her fitness by running for me for almost the whole innings. Jane batted well again and I managed to get 81 not out. Liberty and Linda contributed well but, unfortunately, Lee and Barbara got good balls early in their innings. We made about 120 in the end which is respectable with 2 recognised bats in the team and many who just step up when they need to and do the job. I am impressed by the spirit and commitment of the ANU team. Most other teams would have given up but this team played it out to the end and did as well as it could with the players we were allowed to field. Thanks to Wayne for coming along and supporting us. Extra special thanks to Damo who has been helping with training, scoring and general helpfulness for the second half of the season. I can only say watch out next season when a few of us have more experience and training behind us. And a few players come back into the side. I have an appointment with a couple of ice packs now …

100 years ago…

One hundred years ago, in August 1917, my father was born.

Born in the First World War at a time his uncle was about to become involved in the battle of Polygon Wood. He was a teenager during the Great Depression and fought in the New Guinea islands in the Second World War. He died a few months short of his 65th birthday from emphysema – passive smoking did it because he never smoked. This is the eulogy I should have given at his funeral, but was too young to give – maybe a little shorter. You do not have to read 😛 Continue Reading →


Here we are at a point where it is only one or two days from a stock market crash similar to 1929. Only time can really tell us where it is going. Market sentiment seems to have taken over any underlying realities.

Australia is still looking like its fundamentals are sound but there is no escaping the affect that the USA and Europe will have on the world. Looking at a report a year ago from an ABC reporter in New York was a little scary. This reporter predicted almost exactly what is happening now. He reported that George Sorros and Warren Buffet (the most wealthy investors) felt that they could not understand the complex financial arrangements underpinning the NINJA loans and market growth in recent times.

Once again, it was not that there no warnings and that smart people were unable to work out that there was a problem. The opposite is true.

Once and for all we need to say Greed is NOT Good

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