Almost two years ago, I was kvelling about a progressive land use policy improvement in Berkeley that loosened the parking and other screws on accessory dwelling units (ADUs, “mother-in-law units”, or “granny units”), a special kind of owner-occupied rental housing. The political wheels turn slowly, but now we have well-conceived ADU legislation statewide–HT to my Cal colleague Karen Chapple, who Debbie informs me lobbied effectively for it in Sacramento–that relaxes density, utility connection, and parking requirements. It won’t solve the housing crisis but it will help, in addition to providing a package of other good stuff (see the earlier post for details).
Will Trump denounce the Paris Agreement? He didn’t mention it in his 100-day programme, and is saying he has “an open mind” on AGW. So there is a little hope. How much?
Trump poses a unique problem for politicians, diplomats, pundits and bloggers trying to figure out his intentions. Continue Reading…
This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
Duh, you Americans say. We have a REALLY IMPORTANT election coming up! Donald Trump might become the leader of the most powerful country on the planet!
True, but. In a hundred years’ time, which do you think will be remembered? November 8th, the day the United States dodged a bullet and failed to elect an unstable racist conman to the Presidency? Sam Wang gives the chance at less than 1%. Trump has never led in the polls from the day he announced his candidacy. It matters a great deal to the United States whether the Democrats regain control of the Senate (merely a two-thirds chance), for if they don’t, Clinton’s presidency will be one long constitutional crisis.
No. It will be November 4th 2016, the day the world started to fight back against climate change and swore to abandon its addiction to fossil fuels.
Some uplifting media for you. Continue Reading…
As of today (7 October) 76 signatories have ratified the Paris Agreement, well over the 55 required. The European Union ratified on October 5th, along with seven of its member states (Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia). Counting just these seven, that takes the percentage of declared emissions comfortably over the 55% required. The Agreement will therefore enter into force on November 4th, in time for the next assembly of the parties to the framework Rio treaty in Marrakesh, and also for the US elections.
This news will not change anybody’s assessment of the value of the Agreement. If it’s well-meaning hot air, entry ino force does not make it effective. But if like me you think it is an epochal achievement, entry into force – with nearly unprecedented speed, only the original UN Charter having been faster – is a historic moment.
Now for the work.
Getting depressed by Trump and Brexit and Syria and Trump? Time for a slightly cheerful update on the Paris climate agreement.
Slightly cheerful. Houston, we have a problem.
The current diplomatic action is about bringing it into force quickly. This is happening. Continue Reading…
Only 13 people were killed in Louisiana in the floods last month. Not so bad? Wikipedia has the map of the parishes declared federal disaster areas by FEMA:
Because it was so spread out, the disaster did not have the media resonance of hurricane Katrina and tropical storm Sandy. So the photo reporting by Julie Dermansky at DeSmog Blog comes as a shock. All photos her copyright.
You see headlines like this:
China ratifies Paris climate change agreement ahead of G20
Not so. The National People’s Congress of China has voted to ratify as it was jolly well told to, but that’s not ratification yet. International law is clear on this. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 23 May 1969, which codified long-standing practice, says this:
Exchange or deposit of instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession
Unless the treaty otherwise provides, instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession establish the consent of a State to be bound by a treaty upon:
(a) their exchange between the contracting States; (b) their deposit with the depositary; or (c) their notification to the contracting States or to the depositary, if so agreed.
So China or the USA or Vanuatu ratify the treaty when the paperwork is handed over to the Treaty Section of the UN Office of Legal Affairs, and not before. To be helpful to John Kerry, here is the address:
Mr. Santiago Villalpando, Chief of Treaty Section
United Nations Headquarters
Room No. DC2-0520
United Nations Headquarters
New York, NY 10017
I don’t know if he has a bottle of sherry for visitors.
Update, same day: It looks as if both Chinese and American diplomats found Mr. Villalpando without my help. Press release from the UNFCC secretariat:
Both countries have announced they have deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary-General.
So the Agreement has in one day jumped from 24 parties representing 1% of emissions to 26 parties representing 39% of global emissions. It needs 55 and 55%. Both targets should be hit before the end of the year. November would be nice, as entry into force by the end of the year would lock a hypothetical President Trump into the agreement for his entire first term of office (Article 28). The USA would still stop contributing, but the chair would sit empty.
An interpretation of Jules Verne’s heavier-than-air airship from 1886:
It is possible, in the real world not fiction, to land a plane on an airship. From an airship buff website:
The United States Navy airships U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5) were designed for long-range scouting in support of fleet operations. Often referred to as flying aircraft carriers, each of the helium-inflated airships carried F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes which could be launched and recovered in flight, greatly extending the range over which the Akron and Macon could scout the open ocean for enemy vessels.
Why am I telling you this fun fact about cutting-edge aviation technology in 1932?
On the beach the other day, I came across an article in the regional newspaper Sur about a small Malaga company called Mesurex that makes software for in-flight refuelling. Catching the drogue at the end of the boom is still a severe test of pilot skill, but it’s becoming automated and easier. Which leads them to suggest that civilian airliners could also be refuelled in flight. Allowing nonstop flights from say London to Auckland, saving as lot of fuel. Their main customer is Airbus Military, so I assume they know what they are doing, and the proposal is technically credible.
So I fell to musing about refuelling electric airplanes. They work. Airbus have flown, and plan to sell, a two-seater basic trainer. It’s not a flimsy tour de force like Solar Impulse, but a normal plane with batteries running an electric fan for propulsion. They are working on a commuter plane. The problem, as with electric cars, is range.
If you can refuel planes in flight with kerosene, you can do it with electricity. The cable has to take a massive current for a fast charging rate. This could be a difficulty so let’s assume it away, like Leonardo, to get to the bit he would have liked.
This is where I had my beach brainwave – before the tinto de verano, not after. Continue Reading…
Dear Miss Isabel* :
This is a letter from another grandfather, to mark my appreciation of your work on Friday to help your own, Secretary of State John Kerry, sign the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of the United States. Photos of you both have been seized on and circulated by the world’s media, with little thought for their deeper meaning.
Normally young children are entitled to privacy and discretion from strangers. However, your grandfather chose to put you for a short but important moment on a very public stage, with the world watching. I therefore feel entitled to write to you, and hope that your family will keep this open letter (published on my group blog) along with other mementos of the day, for you and perhaps your own children to look at in the years to come. Sadly, you will be unlikely to retain any direct recollection, and the public record must serve as your memory.
Your function was a very important one. You represented and symbolized a billion children all over the world, including my own grandchildren Cassie, Alice and Jayson. It is the quality of all your lives that is under grave threat from global warming. The Paris Agreement, which your grandfather did much to bring about, is the last great hope of mobilizing the general will to stop – and ultimately reverse – it. By the time you read this letter, if you ever do, we will know whether this was enough. Perhaps it won’t be.
But all each of us is ever asked to do is simply what we can. You did your part on Friday: in fact you nailed it. This was not just being cute and photogenic. Very many toddlers can do this, when not complaining about the many injustices of life. What you did show, and this is much less common, is concentration on the work your grandfather was doing, not playing to the cameras. You were I think overawed, and quite right too. This was no ordinary occasion.
Some will say that you were not a fair representative because of your background of privilege. You family is much wealthier than that of most Americans, let alone most citizens of the world. You will probably never have to worry where your next meal or rental payment or tuition fee is coming from. You will be free to quit any job that does not satisfy you. Virginia Woolf wrote in the 1920s, “freedom is £200 a year and a room with a lock on the door”. That freedom you will always have, unlike most.
Wealth does not ensure happiness. I am suspicious of the moralising trope that wealth emasculates the drive for fulfilling work and the esteem of peers, and encourages a life of idle hedonism. Your own family are counterexamples. When the children of celebrities go off the rails, there are more likely to be photographers at hand. Still, the challenges are genuine. Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse, “handsome, clever and rich”, has to undergo a painful sentimental education before she finds her true path. However, that prospect also holds for Cassie, Alice and Jayson too, minus the “rich” part, and does not draw a sharp dividing line between them and you.
One other thing that family wealth cannot give you is the public good of a rich and healthy environment. In that respect, you are in the same boat as my grandchildren – the only Ark we have, the world itself. The climate is either safe for all, or dangerous for all. That was the reason your grandfather took you with him to the podium of the United Nations, to remind us of the fundamental reason why we must all act, now: you, and those you stand for.
Thank you for being there.
April 24 2016
* Or is it Isabelle? The media can’t agree.