Wednesday 13 January 2010

Facts and the sphere of influence


Regular readers of my posts may have picked up by now that I’m someone who likes facts! My day job requires my team and I to sift through all the various sources of information available to us and work out a true picture of what’s happening. My day job is in IT, but the principles are exactly the same when applied to the world outside. We call it “following the FROG”, where (in reverse order), we discard Guesswork, Opinion and Rumour, and end up with capital-F Fact.

It seems to me that the world can be such a complicated place, where little events can accumulate and cause avalanches of large events. The classic butterfly effect where a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the globe and causes a hurricane on the other. How can we, then, make sure that the changes we make in our lives actually lead to the outcomes we want? What are the facts on which we can base our decisions?

I spend quite a bit of time reading books, magazines and the websites and blogs of people I respect the opinion of, trying to get a feel for the truth as it's currently understood. Looking for the hard facts that inform our decision-making.

So I was very excited to find the above diagram, cited on Duncan Green’s Oxfam blog, but originally from a report by the famous Mckinsey & Company consultants with the grand name “Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy – version 2 of the Global Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Curve”. The whole report's worth reading but in essence if gives a view of what kinds of activities could take place in order to reduce greenhouse gases. What's interesting is that a great deal of really useful work actually either costs very little or actually saves money. A lot of bang for your buck, as they say.

Quite unintentionally, a theme seems to have emerged in my posts so far this week. On Monday I touched on the personal and individual decisions that we all make, sometimes without thinking, and how we need a new way of thinking to tackle a peak oil or climate changed world. Yesterday's snow led me to think of the kinds of decisions our local communities make and need to make in order to change the kind of environment we live in. The Mckinsey report widens that sphere of thought to the kinds of national and international actions that could make all the difference.

Whether we look at the personal, the local or the national and international spheres, we need new ways of thinking, new ways of engaging with others, and new ways of seeing ourselves and our place in the world. There will be a general election this year. Regardless of your political background, it's worth having some facts in your pocket to challenge any political party that comes canvassing on your street.


  1. Now, that's a really interesting figure. In 2008 we emitted 31.9 ± 1.8 Gt CO2. I don't know how many Gt CO2e of other greenhouse gases. But if I just ignore the latter for the moment, my impression of the figure is that if we add up all the negative bits on the left and the positive bits to get to 31.9, the sum of the surfaces would be negative! I.e. that we could stop emitting CO2 AND save money. Wow, wouldn't that be something.

  2. Your maths is better than mine, but even from just a glance, it looks positive. The challenge is that some of the choices have implications, for example, nuclear is relatively inexpensive and has a big impact, but of course is unpalatable for a lot of people. The bit that really made me laugh was the far right bit about Carbon Capture & Storage which is being touted by EDF and other utility companies as the silver bullet to everything. Sounds like it's not so good.

    Some of the things suggested would fit quite well with Transition objectives, others less so. Some I'm not sure I even understand yet! But a good starting point.