Whether we can weather the Weather | Learning by Proxy

The rich nations of the world are finally having to deal with the consequences of the pollution that their "standard of living" has caused.

Usually, weather updates are for the end but I guess we need to start this one with some updates. If we had left it to our forefathers they would have just thought that the gods are angry with us. Unfortunately, we cannot brush this one away that easily.

Climate Change is real and it is finally knocking on the doors of rich people.

Weather

Studying in Agra in 2001, I was used to sweltering heat and freezing cold. Summers would reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. I have watched students collapse while walking from the hostel to the college which was about half a kilometre away. We usually had to deal with that in the absence of electricity given that the campus was located 20 km from the city and the electricity supply was not great. Winters used to be equally hard with temperatures plummeting to low single digits. This weather was a result of climate change.

I just used to think Agra sucked!

The countries in the tropics have been experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change already. People from Guatemala have been migrating to the USA, not because of jobs - it’s because they want to live. People from Syria are going to Europe not for jobs - for life.

Put yourself in that position. Imagine leaving everything, all your possession, your identity, your life, your relatives and deciding to go to a foreign land undertaking a perilous journey that is half likely to kill you. Would you do that just to get a job??

The march of climate change has progressed to a point where the rich countries can now experience the same. Temperature fluctuations that range 20 degrees within a day, flash flooding, hurricanes, etc. The days of outsourcing pollution and calling it a day are over.

I interned and worked at Liege for months.

And used to pass Verviers often on the way to work

Germans are also required to go swimming in the mountains

In the meantime, as usual, Eastern US is underwater and the Western US is on fire.

Tropical storm Elsa put New York underwater.

https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2021/07/09/new-york-city-subway-flooded/7909855002/

220,000 Acres have been burnt by the biggest of the 53 wildfires that are burning in the west. Temperatures have soared to 52 degrees Celsius in Oregon, a place that is under snow most of winter. That is like Shimla having 50-degree temperature. Unprecedented drought, it is so dry and so hot…

Firefighters battling the many wildfires in the region say the air is so dry that much of the water dropped by aircraft to quell the flames evaporates before it reaches the ground.

Source: BBC

People are also starting to realise that weather is a system and one change can affect others. The forest fires are starting to affect the weather in Toronto. Toronto looks like Delhi in Winter now.

Source: CBC

In China,

The subway train in Zhengzhou, a city of five million in central China, was approaching its next station when the floodwaters began to rise ominously on the tracks. The passengers crowded forward as the water rose, submerging the cars at the rear first because they were deeper in the tunnel.

As the water reached their waists, then chests, finally their necks, the passengers called emergency services or relatives. One gave her parents the details for accessing her bank account. Some cried. Others retched or fainted. After two hours, it became difficult to breathe in the congested air that remained in the cars.

Source: New York Times

There was flooding in a city of 5 Million people and the degree of flooding has been unprecedented.

Further west in Iran,

Iran is struggling with a fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, an economy strained by American sanctions and stalled talks on rescuing a nuclear agreement that was once seen as an economic salvation.

Now the country is contending with a different but easily foreseen crisis: a severe water shortage.

A prolonged drought and rising temperatures from climate change, combined with decades of government mismanagement of natural resources and lack of planning, have turned the water crisis into a volatile incubator of protests and violent unrest.

Source: New York Times

Iran is a classic case, where you can see how migrations begin. People desperate for water will be forced to move to another country. This will be projected by western media as a political failure and spun to try and extract a nuclear deal out of the country rather than take ownership of the climate catastrophe that they have perpetrated.

So now that climate has come beckoning to their doorsteps, EU legislators are willing to take action on it. They unveiled a new plan,

In what may be a seminal moment in the global effort to fight climate change, Europe on Wednesday challenged the rest of the world by laying out an ambitious blueprint to pivot away from fossil fuels over the next nine years, a plan that also has the potential to set off global trade disputes.

The most radical, and possibly contentious, proposal would impose tariffs on certain imports from countries with less stringent climate protection rules. The proposals also include eliminating the sales of new gas- and diesel-powered cars in just 14 years, and raising the price of using fossil fuels.

Source: New York Times

This proposal need not have waited till 2021. You did not need a flood to wash away two countries to decided to do something about it. Also, now that the troubles at your doorstep, moving too quickly on policy moves of this nature will hurt the developing countries.

Come to think of it, given that they have outsourced most things to other countries, implementing a tariff of this nature would be hard on them. Production and supply chains cannot be changed overnight. Eventually, the cost will be passed on to European consumers and the only solution is for their consumption to come down. In the interim, inflation will increase. How the EU will deal with the economic repercussions of this move will be worth watching.

Chinese Carbon Trade

I had explained the formulation, formation and challenges surrounding the carbon markets in the post I had written 2 months ago. In case, you have not read it, I would recommend it. Last week, China announced their very own carbon trading system. This system will apply to the 2200 power plants in the country, which account for 40% of the carbon footprint.

China has set up the trading platform of the national ETS on the Shanghai Environment and Energy Exchange.

As in other carbon markets, emission permits are allocated to participating firms, which they can use to cover their own emissions or sell on the exchange.

It is part of China's plans to use market mechanisms to help bring emissions to a peak before 2030 and to net zero by 2060.

Source: Reuters

Carbon trading and emission restriction is an important first step in controlling climate change. It will make a huge difference to how the industries decide to regulate themselves.

Under the scheme, power plants will have a free permit to cover their verified emissions. But even if it exceeded its verified emissions by 100% it would be needed to buy only 20% of the surplus emission on the market. This entirely defeats the scheme on its own. If the power plant were causing 100% more pollution, even then, they would be needed to buy the 20% mandatory amount.

Further, there are deeper problems,

The biggest difference between China’s carbon market and Europe’s has to do with the total number of permits allocated. In Europe’s system (and in theoretical cap-and-trade markets that have been proposed by US policymakers, economists, and others), there is a cap on the total number of permits, which falls over time. This drives up the carbon price (Europe’s surged to record highs this year), and drives down emissions.

But China’s system doesn’t have a cap at all. Instead, permits are allocated to each plant based on a formula that accounts for how efficiently the plant runs compared to a benchmark for its class, and on how much electricity it produces relative to its maximum capacity. More efficient plants receive more permits, as do plants that run less often. These forces should push plants toward maximum efficiency, and favor newer facilities.

Source: Quartz

Also, the pricing of the carbon credits is far too low at 40 ($6.18) Yuan per tonne. Compare this with the European pricing of almost 50 Euros per tonne. The price needs to be set much higher considering that the maximum that any plant is needed to pay is also capped. Not to mention the fine is also fixed at a measly $4600.

China aims to expand the ETS to cover eight high-emission industries, including petrochemicals, chemicals, building materials, non-ferrous metals, papermaking, steel, power generation and aviation, though the timescale is not yet known.

Financial institutions or individual investors will not be allowed to participate in trading in the early stage of the national ETS, but institutional investors will be included once the trading mechanism matures.

Source: Reuters

This policy can be only credited as ‘something is better than nothing.’

HR Tech

For every company out there which loves all of its profits, the one thing they do not like to deal with is people. Unlike machines or code, people cannot be standardised. Each one needs to be recruited separately, each one needs to be led uniquely and each has to be evaluated separately. This is painful, time-consuming and most importantly needs a lot of manpower to undertake.

So you need to recruit to be able to recruit.

Companies that purported were founded to make this process easier have all been clubbed under the banner of HR-Tech companies. They all play a role in automating all of the HR processes, starting with recruitment going right up to evaluation.

Today, there are a lot of companies that will teach you how to build a resume so that you can game the algorithms that would evaluate your resume. Two can play this game. But what when an algorithm sends you home?

Stephen Normandin spent almost four years racing around Phoenix delivering packages as a contract driver for Amazon.com Inc. Then one day, he received an automated email. The algorithms tracking him had decided he wasn’t doing his job properly.

The 63-year-old Army veteran was stunned. He’d been fired by a machine.

Source: Bloomberg

MIT Technology Review went after the whole thing, conducting a detailed analysis of all of the different programs that companies have been using to screen candidates. They found software that evaluates you on the basis of your personality or the tone of your voice!!

Performance on AI-powered interviews is often not the only metric prospective employers use to evaluate a candidate. And these systems may actually reduce bias and find better candidates than human interviewers do. But many of these tools aren’t independently tested, and the companies that built them are reluctant to share details of how they work, making it difficult for either candidates or employers to know whether the algorithms are accurate or what influence they should have on hiring decisions.

Source: MIT Tech Review

All these algorithms are built with the biases that the programmers who were writing the algorithm had. To make matters worse there is no evaluation of it, it is just accepted for what it is.

We would never allow a drug to be sold in the market without having gone through rigorous testing — not even in the context of a health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic. Then why do we allow algorithms that can be just as damaging as a potent drug to be let loose into the world without having undergone similarly rigorous testing? At the moment, anyone can design an algorithm and use it to make important decisions about people — whether they get a loan, or a job, or an apartment, or a prison sentence — without any oversight or any kind of evidence-based requirement. The general population is being used as guinea pigs.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Algorithms are having an outsized impact on the lives of people. When your life can start depending on some stupid input that an algorithm got without context it will results in drastic consequences. We are still at a stage where we can stop this but the window is closing.

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