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about “sustainable growth”

What is growing? The “gross product” (GP).

That is: the sum of the monetary evaluations of all products and services of a subsection of mankind, called state. There is a subtle difference between gross national product and gross domestic product, which is of no importance for the following, so just “GP”.

As a side note, it would be better to speak not of “products and services” but of “transactions”. In a economic transaction something happens between people, accompagnied by an exchange of money. This concept depicts better the flowlike nature and the diversity of the process.

Imagine now a gigantic societal price list, in which all transactions are listed by some category.

Prices vary by time and place. So if we divide all transactions by sort, region and time into categories, like “20 minutes physiotherapy 2013 in Germany” or “1 biological bread 2013 in France”, we get a distribution of price events around a mean and take this mean as price for the category.

So the GP can be represented as sum of amount x price for all categories.

How is it growing? (given no-inflation conditions)

  1. Increase of total working time.
  2. Increase of added value per working hour, i.e. the productivity.

Now productivity can be broken down into two kinds:

  1. Quantitative productivity. The concept relates to measurable and countable quantities: numbers of pieces, amount of material put out or treated.
  2. Qualitative productivity. If it is growing, the products or services created per working hour is considered more valuable by a sufficent number of people, reflected by a higher price.

Question: Do we need growth at all?

Answer: Basically not, but … productivity is increased every year. If economic value added stays the same, total working time decreases. As individual working times are inflexible, more and more people become jobless. This is a problem.

And what is “sustainable”?

The term has been coined with respect to the world as a whole, but with a clear focus on the catching up of the “third world” and on longterm foresight, i.e. a considered and resource–sparing advancement. It contains also an aspect of minimizing risk and creation of corresponding institutions. (See Wikipedia for that.)

As another side note, I don’t like very much the term “development” in the context of the productivity slope between world regions, because this very broad term is squeezed into a very narrow meaning: the catchup of the poor countries – which has never been meant serious at that (over here). It is somehow a smudging term.

It is clear, that a process, which is using up the existing resources as fast as possible and is piling up high risks by changing the climate is not “sustainable” in the above sense.

Qualitative productivity, sustainability and the societal price list

The remarkable property of qualitative productivity is, that it is strongly linked to the societal price list. This is the point, where one has to disengage oneself a little bit from the mainstream paradigm, and because of which I wrote down all this.

If a cell phone gets a better display or a car a greater mileage or a physician a better education, these are all very clear cases of  higher qualitative productivity.

But there is another aspect, which is not so obvious: value system shift in society, expressed and reflected in a change of the societal price list.

An example is pure biologically produced foods. In the last ten years, more and more people were ready to pay more money for food, if it was biological. Now with conversion to pure biological production, quantitative productivity decreases. But as biological foods are considered more valuable – and are consequently higher priced – the GP can grow nevertheless.

A similar case is subsidized regenerative energy use. Here, e.g. with high state subsidies in Germany, the value decision was not taken as a sum of many individual decisions, but by a small circle of government people. So for society as a whole, regenerative energy use was worth the cost, even if the individual may have grumbled about it.

The flexibilty of the societal price list

Such a price, which has not been created by market forces, is nevertheless an expression of a sense of value, only by the “volonté générale”, as opposed to the “volonté de tous”, which translates into the will of the market.

Lately it has become clear, that market is not the highest authority for economic advance. That it can’t cope with certain tasks in society is commonplace. To be added is, that it is influenced to the highest degree by fashions, moods, advertising, culture and subculture et c. Like a snake, it curls and twists left and right, back and forth. Apart from basic needs, there is no prior structure, no “natural” decision in weighing up of the different impulses towards status, attractivity, distraction, community spirit, lust et c. Even health and to be alive itself has for different people at different times a different significance.

Advertising is in this game not just a liar, who only promises pleasure. To a certain degree, its promise is self-fulfilling: if something has been described to me as beautiful, I tend to experience it as beautiful. (This comes out of the deeply social nature of our emotions.)

Now if sustainability becomes important to us, so important, that we start to be ready to spend money for it, we immediately get our “sustainable growth”.

The societal price list, the societal system of values, expressed in prices, can easily lead to sustainable advance  – and it is in our own hand.

What does this mean specifically? A brainstorming.

We could promote higher positive value  – i.e. demand -  to the following things:

Education, Art, child care, care for old people, physical and mental health care, biologically produced food and raw materials.

We could promote a higher negative value and charge a higher price for:
green house gas emissions, non natural use of landscape and consumption of fossil raw materials.

Complete the list yourself 🙂 .


waiting for the next ipcc report – a report of the world bank

As known to the public, we are in a 4-degrees-scenario. That means, that with emissions rising as in the last ten years, a global temperature rise of 4 k in 2100 is probable. (Graphics from here.)

The most complete compilation of research about climate change are the IPCC reports, which appear in larger time intervals – the next is to be expected in 2014. Those who can’t wait can take the world bank report “Turn down the heat” (, written by a team from Potsdam Institiute for Climate Impact Research). Here they find the most important results from the following areas:

  • expected global and regional temperature change
  • sea level rise
  • sea water acidification
  • loss of sea – and land ice
  • heat waves and droughts
  • intensive rainfall events
  • Storms
  • agricultural yields
  • immigration of germs and germ carrying insects
  • interaction of effects and events

For many of these points, knowledge is of course still incomplete.

IMO the most important point is food production. Some predictions and problem there are:

  • A considerable reduction in cropland, especially in the tropics and subtropics.
  • A considerable change of natural ecosystems because of habitat shift of many plants – even habitat loss.
  • From temperature rise alone – without taking droughts and floods into account – a per hectar yield reduction ist to be expected in the hotter areas of the planet, in the order of magnitude of 10 to 20 %.
  • Add to this a sizeable increase in prevalence and length of droughts and floods.

Summarizing, the ability to feed themselves of people in hot areas will be put into question.

This said, we can expect a considerable improvement of education and organization, as well as agricultural intelligence, which can already be seen. Political stability will also probably grow in the long term, with setbacks though.

It is a twisted game we embark on: we win the prize while our descendants make the bets.


Feedbacks, Feedbacks, awful, awful

There is this well known ice albedo feedback. Albedo is another name for the percentage of sunlight, which is reflected back into space. The albedo of ice is considerably bigger than that of the sea surface. When (not if) the summer sea ice vanishes, which is in full swing, the polar sea absorbs more sunlight. Result: climate change will be sped up generally and disproportionally in the arctic .

Lately, another important feedback mechanism has come to public attention: the spring and summer snow cover on land. In the course of the polar warming, it has shrunk, naturally, as can be seen in this graph (source):

june snow cover

It is interesting to compare the areas affected:

1980 ca.

2012 ca.

Minimum Sea Ice Area (Mio km²) ca.



June Snow Cover Area (Mio. km²) ca.



As You can see, the area drop of summer snow is a little bit less than the double of summer sea ice.

As often, things are more complex than they appear at first sight:

  • The snow data are “extent” – data which means, that they contain 10 – 15 % snow free area.
  • The albedo of land is bigger than that of water (ca. 0.2 vs. ca. 0.1, source).
  • Contrary to intuition, the mean solar irradiation in mid summer in those areas, where the main snow melting difference occurs (around the 60° N) is lower than on the polar sea around the north pole!
  • The data for other months than June are not given in my source, probably in the paywalled original paper, so they might look less crassy.

On the other hand, the capacity of heat absorbtion of land is smaller than that of sea surface, which will direct the absorbed energy earlier into atmosphere instead of the water body. Also, the speed of recent summer snow loss seems to be higher than that of sea ice (source).

What is the bottom line of all this discussion?

It is safe to say, that the climate feedback effects of sea ice – and land snow cover decline are of comparable size and that the latter should definitely be reckoned with.

Is that something new?

For science –  not, besides that the rate of snow area loss is (AFAIK) as unforeseen as that of ice loss. For the public – yes, this aspect has scarcely been covered by media.

Are there effects other than general climate warming?

Yes, as with sea ice loss, the weather system is beeing changed, i.e. strength, position and movement of lows and highs. But knowledge about that aspect is still not quite settled. (How could it?) And don’t forget the perils of arctic methane release, which is still low compared to tropical release rates, but could be considerably accelerated by permafrost thaw.

Does this have any significance for our daily life?

No, besides the feeling of urgency becomes stronger to tap on the brake pedal with emissions.

What would be a nice thing concerning this?

Put a price on GHGs emission, be it by a comprehensive, working cap and trade system or tax.


A definition of freedom looking from the information flow point of view

Freedom is the unknown introduced into the world by the inability of a system to predict the future behaviour of a system of equal or higher complexity, especially its own.


News from polar ice


Sometimes, by a small mistake, the development of a field of science is blocked for years. This happened, when in 2005 the russian Rockot launch vehicle plunged into the polar sea because of a software error, together with ESAs Cryosat-1. The satellites only measurement device was a high precision radar surface elevation detector that should have made possible the rather exact determination of land ice surface elevation as well as sea ice thickness. Its measurements would have closed – or at least narrowed considerably – an information gap concerning polar sea ice, namely its volume.

For polar sea ice extension exists a consistent data series based on many years of satellite surveillance – for the more important volume, for which the thickness distribution is needed, there are only relatively scarce measurements by probes, submarine sonar measurements and aircraft overflights, interpolated by complex numerical simulations yielding a somewhat hypothetical field of thickness. The currently most important of these models is PIOMAS of the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington, whose results I posted here. The graph is looking apalling and basically says, that – with a little “luck” – we can celebrate the first ice free summer in the arctic in not more than four years. (Actually, there is at least one more ice thickness model I know of, PIPS of the Naval Research Laboratory, but I didn’t find any useful results of it in the internet until now.)

Those simulations have been compared to satellite measurements, to be more specific to those of IceSat in the years 2003 to 2008, and the consistency was rather damned good. Since then, there have been no further checks. IceSat has been decommissioned in August. NASA plans to launch another one in 2015, so all we have now is PIOMAS running on a less than rich data base, on thin ice so to say.

With the consequence, that the credibility of the results isn’t as high as it should be – I mean, the plot is alarming, but none of the big media takes even notice of it.

CryoSat would have solved this credibility problem.

It is remarkable, that ESA began only four months after the desaster to build a new satellite, that is, a copy of the old one with a clutch of enhancements, and shot it into orbit April 2010. The apparatus went through a period of tests and fine-tunings called “commissioning” , the end of which I want to report here.

This means, that we have to expect the first papers on ice volume determination in some weeks, the first tests of PIOMAS calculations with CryoSat-2 data.

Let’s see, whether this will have any reverberation in the media.



was an expression of being human – an expression of human strive, human nature, human inherent possibilities and human yearning.

If one arrives at seeing things like this, a liberation from it results.


Futile address to a lost one

When Gulda’s Mozart tapes sound I think of You and hear You saying: “How he plays the Mozart – that’s just marvellous!” and then it comes to my mind, that this is a futile thought, because You went into the unknowable, into the indistinguishable. Only within me the affection and admiration resonate and the love. And the grief becomes warm, and still it remains grief. Into the indistiguishable, but not the forgotten. Yet also into the forgotten You will slowly, very slowly drift. Concluded You are.

May 2017
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