Tag Archives: Climate change

Just for the record – Climate science pre-dates the UN and modern China!

Global Temperature

Global Temperature

In developing a theory to explain the ice ages, Svante August Arrhenius (1859 – 1927), a Nobel-Prize winning Swedish scientist developed the formula that is still used to predict the effect of greenhouse gasses.

In 1896, he was the first to use basic principles of physical chemistry to estimate the extent to which increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) will increase Earth’s surface temperature through the greenhouse effect. These calculations led him to conclude that human-caused CO2 emissions, from fossil-fuel burning and other combustion processes, are large enough to cause global warming. 120 years later some idiots still seem to think the concept is a ‘hoax’.

Even earlier, French scientist Claude Pouillet made the first estimate of the solar constant in 1838 and concluded the temperature experienced on the earth’s surface was much higher than could be explained by the sun’s radiation alone and suggested the atmosphere must provide some form of insulation. Arrhenius confirmed this hypothesis and identified the primary cause of the warming effect.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

ForecastingNiels Bohr’s quote, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” neatly encapsulates the challenges facing project control’s professionals every working day if they are actively contributing to a successful project outcome. The question posed in this post is how accurate do we need to be with our projections to be useful? On one measure at least accuracy of 98% is not sufficient!!

The starting point is understanding what has occurred on the past and the ‘current status’ project. This is relatively easy, but is also a complete waste of time unless the data is interpreted in a model and use to provide useful information that helps the project management make decisions about future actions. This challenge applies to most aspects of planning and controls from strategic planning at the corporate level through the full spectrum of project controls (for more on this see: Project Controls).

Virtually every project has a cost plan and a time plan (schedule) and many have other ‘plans’ designed to model future outcomes. The way project controls work is to build a ‘model’ of the project in a software tool focused on one or more aspects of the project and then use insights from these models to help management make better choices. To be useful the plans need to be dynamic and built to respond to inputs on both the progress achieved to date and future actions so the effect of proposed or anticipated changes can be modelled and the information derived from the model used to inform management decisions. Unfortunately this is where the problems occur.

As a starting point, as Professor George E.P. Box succinctly stated several years ago; ‘all models are wrong’! This is a risk for management using any model but as Thomas Knutson and Robert Tuleya said; “If we had observations of the future we would trust them more than models, …… unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.” The ‘model’ is all we have.

Therefore to be useful, the model needs to provide insights at are practical and reasonably reliable. The challenges are:

  • Firstly building a realistic, dynamic model (eg, a dynamic schedule),
  • then validating the model which can be difficult given the unique nature of each project, and
  • then having management make use of the insights derived from the model’s information.

In a project this largely boils down to the skill of the scheduler or cost planner and the confidence management have in their planners and their processes.

In the wider world, a similar debate is occurring around climate change. One of the first debates was around the depletion of ozone levels in the atmosphere caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other halogenated ozone depleting substances creating the ‘ozone holes’. Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the chemistry that led to ozone depletion, asked this question: “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” Fortunately over time the world’s governments listened, CFC have been largely eliminated from society at large and the ozone is on a ‘bumpy road to recovery’.


A similar consensus to make difficult decisions about climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions has not yet happened. The scientific view is virtually unanimous (at around 99%) the modelling is accurate and validated but for many politicians short term personal ‘political advantage’ overrides the need to make hard decisions focused on the long term good of society at large. There is a very interesting TED talk on the modelling of climate change: view the talk.

This TED talk highlights the destructive stupidity of the new Australian Government in the way it is ignoring both economics and science to attempt to cancel virtually all of Australia’s current climate change initiatives on ideological grounds – particularly given our position as one of the worst emitters per capita in the world.

At a more fundamental level though is the ‘controls’ question. How do we develop, use and promote effective modelling in the form of schedules, cost plans and other techniques and then use them to enable managers to have the confidence to make hard decisions based on the predictive information we create? No schedule or cost plan is going to achieve the 98% certainty achieved by the current climate models. If politicians and some business leaders can dismiss a 98% certainty of climate change as being unreliable to facilitate short term personal gains and avoid making prudent decisions that are needed to save lives; what chance do we stand with project management when the accuracy of our models is lower, the opportunity for validation almost non-existent and the consequences of ‘not deciding’ far less traumatic??

Studies consistently show good use of project controls makes for significantly improved project outcomes! They also show most projects, and virtually every ‘failed project’ did not make good use of project controls. There seems to be a wilful desire to create failure based on some perceived short term benefits achieved by not investing in effective control systems (people and processes). My question is how do we change this????

Integrity is the key to delivering bad news successfully

Integrity2Integrity is the result of a combination of virtues, including the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, supported by ‘soundness’ and completeness in what you do and say. You have to earn a reputation for integrity based on what you are, and more importantly what you are known for by the people you have to deliver the bad news to.

The reason integrity is so important in the world of project management, including PMOs, Portfolio and Program management is that most of the information and decisions we are involved in are based on a future outcome that cannot be proved at this point in time.

Any accountant can tell you a project actually cost $2million six months to a year after it finished; however, when the project estimator has to tell the Sponsor, his pet project will cost double the $1 million the Sponsor is hoping for there is no way of proving the estimates are correct. If the bad news is to be believed, the estimator has to be believed and the Sponsor’s willingness to believe is in part grounded in his impression of the estimator’s integrity.

Integrity should not be confused with ‘never making a mistake’ or the person’s passion for their work, or their producing evidence or calculations others disagree with – integrity is knowing the information produced by the person is the best they can deliver, is soundly based on sensible parameters and both the supporting information and any contra information is openly available (no secrets, and no overt biasing of the results).

In a perfect world, a person would be respected for their integrity and their opinion or information accepted on that basis, and used as the starting point for discussion, particularly if there is an alternative interpretation. In the ‘real world’ there is an unfortunate tendency to ‘shoot the messenger’ if someone in a powerful position dislikes the information.

Whilst being ‘shot at’ is never fun, watching how you are being attacked can provide very good insights into what the attacker really knows or thinks. Some of the current commentary around the climate change debate is a good example.

A couple of weeks ago the recently appointed Chair of the Australian Government’s Business Advisory Council launched an attack against the CSIRO, the weather bureau and the “myth” of anthropological climate change demonstrated in the IPCC reports. He did NOT offer any scientific evidence to support his assertion that all of the world scientific and meteorological bodies were incorrect, rather attacked their integrity and accountability on the grounds of ‘vested interest’.

Just for the record, the primary body looking at climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on which all of the 194 members of the United Nations have a right to be represented, and this body oversees and appoints the scientific panels which in turn engage with 1000s of other scientists world-wide. The work of the IPCC in turn has been reviewed by the Inter Academy Council, a multinational association of scientific academies, and found to be successful. I would suggest integrity, accountability and openness are clearly demonstrated. But this does not mean the science of climate change cannot be attacked, even if less than 2% of the peer reviewed scientific papers published in the last decade doubt the findings in the other 98% that man made greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. Climate sceptics are happy to accept the odds of 49:1 against.

The ‘climate sceptics attacks are being mounted in exactly the same way the tobacco industry attacked the emerging body of scientific evidence in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, that smoking caused damage to people’s health. Some of these lines of attack (which generally mean the attack has no real data) are:

#1 Ask for specific proof. This sounds reasonable but is in fact impossible. You cannot prove a scientific theorem! All science can state is the theorem has not been challenged (yet) Gravity seems obvious and was explained by Newton, then Einstein, then Quantum Mechanics in quite different ways.

#2 Ask for an exact number. Our $2million project cannot be ‘proved’ to actually cost $2,000,0123 in 28 months time when it will be finished. All we can reasonably offer is an estimate, the assumptions it’s based on and a possible range of outcomes. Demanding to know ‘exactly’ what it will cost or exactly how long it will take is asking for the impossible and if a ‘number’ is provided, you can guarantee it will be wrong and that wrongness will be used to attack your credibility in the future

#3 Find one point of contradiction or one ‘change of opinion’ anywhere in the overall presentation and use this ‘one error’ to condemn the whole body of work. This is relatively simple if there is lots of complex information compiled from many sources and the people developing the materials are acting with integrity and making their processes open and transparent. Intelligent people when presented with new facts change their mind and adapt their thinking. It is highly counterproductive to ignore new data that may cause a change in the results of a complex calculation but watch the attackers claim the ‘science is wrong’ because opinions have changed by a few years and a few decimal points of a degree based on better modelling and more accurate data. Changing a forecast from 2.7 degrees of warming to 3 degrees, or a time period from 50 years to 30 does not alter the basic fact of global warming and the reality will be different again (but when you know exactly what the temperature rise was it is too late to stop it occurring). This is the classic project problem do you spend money now to alleviate a potential problem or wait until its too late and you know what the issue is for certain…….

#4 Attack the messenger. If you cannot attack the basic data, discredit the messenger. Claim vested interests, lack of morals, or anything that damages the messenger (in the corporate world fire the person or transfer them – we have a really good posting for you in the Aleutian Islands…) After all, the practice has been in vogue since the times of the Ancient Greeks.

Washington Post

Washington Post

#5 Use obvious facts out of context or in isolation. How can the world be ‘warming’ when the USA is freezing? The cold is obvious, the cause is not. The system that keeps the Arctic weather in the Arctic is the Jet Stream; the Jet Stream is powered by the thermal gradient between the tropics and the Arctic, the Arctic is warming faster than the tropics, reducing the gradient and therefore potentially making the Jet Stream less stable. For more on this see: http://science.time.com/2014/01/06/climate-change-driving-cold-weather/ (then apply #1, #2 and #3 above if you want to ignore the theorem). A counterpoint to the USA freeze is Australia’s record hot year in 2013, see: http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/2014/01/08/offthecharts/. However, neither the USA data not the Australian data alone proves anything used out of context or in isolation, what matters is the overall weight of evidence, not selected facts.

The good news is if your attacker is using any of these relatively cheap tactics, you know they have little real evidence to oppose you. If the attacker is of equal or lesser power to you, name their tactics and use the power of your integrity to counter their arguments, it takes time but there is nothing gained by descending to their level (except the loss of your integrity).

If the attacker has more power then you (the normal project / senior manger situation) more subtlety is required, but that requires a book to cover the options – fortunately there is one…. Treat yourself to a copy of Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management  it may not solve all of your problems but it will increase my royalties.

Why we support the Climate Council of Australia Ltd

We encourage every Australian reading this post to do what we have done, and actively support the Climate Council of Australia Ltd. You can sign up and donate at: http://www.climatecouncil.org.au

The Climate Council is a not-for-profit organisation set up following the new government’s actions to sack, terminate and/or destroy the framework established by the previous government to start addressing Australia’s obscene levels of carbon omission, and of course, does not receive any money from the Government.

One of the reasons I have taken this action is embarrassment. A couple of weeks ago I was in Copenhagen and visited the Experimentarium with one of our grandchildren. Experimentarium is an independent non-profit science communication centre with the main objective of promoting the interest of natural science and technology to the general public – with particular emphasis on young people.

CC.Carbon Tax

One of the themes is ‘clean energy’ and the interactive map pictured has weights representing the carbon emission per person in key areas of the world. At 75 kg, Australians are generating 10 kg per person more than Americans and nearly double the emissions of Europeans. We are embarrassingly bad as every child visiting the Experimentarium quickly finds out.

Back in Australia, and within hours of being sworn in as the government, the Luddite party under smasher Abbot seem to be unable to deal with any problem that has no simple answer. From the problems associated with illegal immigrants arriving in boats, to the need to reduce our cities dependence on private cars, to the overall issue of climate change this governments approach is to smash the bodies designed to provide informed debate and lower a veil of secrecy. As a result, some of the most pressing social and economic issues are now ‘off the table’ as far as public debate goes.

Just one example, transportation is the second largest contributor to our greenhouse gas emission and over 90% of that comes from motor vehicles, but smasher Abbot and the Luddites have closed the agency focused on long term improvements in our cities and have stated a preference for more roads over any other option for improving the transportation systems and liveability of our cities. If you want to see how a low net carbon transportation system can work in a city like Melbourne go to Copenhagen.

Similarly, the government’s proposed ‘direct action’ may be better that the carbon tax and it may not – direct action fixes specific problems but relies on the government picking ‘winners’ (and no government as a good track record in this regard). Whereas the carbon tax over time may (and may not) address the attitudes and actions of business and the general population in protecting the environment, our ‘commons’ – if our attitudes and actions don’t change, the Tragedy of the commons will inevitably see the environment degraded to the point of permanent damage. For a brief outline of the theory see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLirNeu-A8I

Overall, the climate situation is not good, we have just completed the warmest September on record, there have been more than 100 heat-related records broken over the past year, and this year is on track to become Australia’s warmest year on record. For a brief overview of the current situation see: CC Latest Report. But despite the data, the government seems intent on avoiding and national debate!

Secrecy is the domain of the weak, the fearful, and the dishonest. Certainly in some areas of public life, national security in particular, being fearful (ie, aware of threats) and keeping secrets is prudent; but these needs have to be offset against a democracies need for informed debate leading to consensus on important issues. And to stimulate a constructive public debate the first need is reliable information.

I would suggest there is no more important debate than the one around the opportunities, threats and challenges associated with climate change. I don’t know the answers, but I do know we need the debate and it needs to be an informed debate leading to consensus and appropriate action. For this reason we are supporting the Climate Council of Australia Ltd and encourage you to join in as well. If Australia is going to stay ‘open for business’ in the long term we need to be proactive and effective in dealing with the inevitable changes and challenges we are all facing.

For additional reading, the Climate Council’s summary of the recent IPCC climate report can be downloaded from here.

Thoughts on Climate Change

There has been an interesting debate running within the Australian Institute of Company Directors ‘closed’ Linked-In group. This post is an abstract of some of the more salient points that I feel should be in the wider community. A lot of the material may be common sense, but common sense is ‘that which is commonly considered right and proper when observed’, not ‘that which anyone and everyone has already thought of’.

My view expressed in the discussion is that the managers and directors of organisations destined to fail in the next 5 to 10 years will continue to pretend the climate is not changing (the cause of the change is irrelevant). This phenomenon of refusing to accept what is gradually becoming the ‘blindingly obvious’ is not uncommon among boards – there are still people who don’t accept smoking causes disease because only 50% of long term smokers are killed by the habit and they know someone who has smoked for 40 years and is still healthy… And whilst acceptance of the lethal effects of asbestos fibres are now more widely acknowledged, the mounting evidence of the danger was ignored by boards, architects and engineers for decades preferring short-term expediency over long term risk management.

Anyone with a basic grasp of science knows it is impossible to ‘prove’ climate change in advance; predictions are always based in probability. The simple facts of science are:

Fact 1 – there is no proof of any theorem in physics – all the scientists can state is that based on observation and experiment they have not been able to disprove the concept to date. The transition from Newton’s ‘gravity’ to Einstein’s ‘relativity’ to the 98% certainty Higgs Boson has been discovered is a case in point. Climate science is no different.

Fact 2 – there is overwhelming evidence the climate is changing significantly – the immediate consequences are more severe weather events (hot and cold; eg, tornados in the Murray Valley) and sea level rises caused by the sea waters expanding as they get warmer.

Fact 3 – these changes will have inevitable consequences on every business and every organisation.

The precautionary principle suggests prudent organisations make reasonable allowances for these observed effects. Optimist may hope they are temporary and will go away in a year or two, but how many boards really what to bet their future on an optimistic hope?

WHY the climate is changing is largely irrelevant (although green house gasses seem to be a major contributor). The issue for boards is recognising the reality that exists now and dealing with the real problems this is causing today, starting with insurance cover/premiums closely followed by increasing the resilience and diversity of supply lines.

Alun Stevens suggested the science is quite settled. He posted: I grant you there is a lot of noise, but the science is settled and quite unequivocal. To put it succinctly:

  1. Radiation absorption by CO2 warms the atmosphere. This has been known since the mid 1800s and is identical in process to microwaves warming meat. If your microwave works, CO2 warms the atmosphere. if CO2 does not warm the atmosphere we are all deluded about our microwaves.
  2. Other gases including water vapour also warm the atmosphere in the same way, but more effectively.
  3. The higher the concentration of these gases, the greater the absorption of radiation and the greater the warming.
  4. The CO2 concentration is rising. Every monitoring station across the globe has shown a rise including those in Antarctica and Tasmania where there is no local production of CO2.
  5. The increase in CO2 is due to human activity. I can never understand why this is disputed because it is quite easy to prove. The world has an extremely accurate estimate of the amount of CO2 produced each year because of very good records of production and consumption of fossil fuels. Some may have been missed, but this just means that the answer is a Lowest estimate. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is a bit more difficult to measure, but is still accurately known because of the spread of measuring stations and satellites. The increase in CO2 content of the atmosphere is less than the amount produced by humans. The rest of nature is therefore a net absorber of CO2 and ALL of the increase is due to humans.
  6. Methane concentrations have also increased. Some from increased animal production – ie human induced. Some from land clearing and related activities – human induced. Some due to thawing of the deep frozen stores in places like Siberia. Physics interlude – ice can only melt if heat is added to it. If the methane stores are melting, their heat content is necessarily rising. The methane rise is either human produced or secondary to rising temperatures.
  7. Water vapour content is rising. Another physics interlude – the capacity of gases to hold water vapour is dependent on their temperature. If the water vapour content has risen it is necessarily true that the temperature of the atmosphere has also risen. Water vapour rise is a secondary effect to rising atmospheric temperatures.
  8. There is an energy imbalance between the energy received from the sun and the energy being radiated back into space. There is some argument about this, but only about the size of the imbalance not about its existence or that it is increasing.
  9. The amount of energy coming in from the sun has not changed materially. There are solar maxima and minima, but the differences in energy output between them are not big and are much too small to account for the increase in the energy imbalance. The earth has also been on a very consistent orbit over the last 150+ years or so and the Milankovitch cycle effect has in fact been very slightly negative – ie reducing the amount of incoming energy. There has been no increase in earthbound events (e.g. volcanoes) that could explain the increased imbalance. The increase is due to retaining more heat which can only be due to the ‘greenhouse’ gases.
  10. The energy content of the globe is increasing. Less than 2.5% of this in the atmosphere. Over 90% is in the oceans with the rest in the continents (warmer rocks) and melting ice. There has been a significant reduction in ice volume. The only scientific argument is whether it is a lot or a lot more or even still more. Sea levels have risen. Some is due to the melting of continental ice (melting sea ice doesn’t change sea levels) and the bulk from expansion due to rising sea temperatures.

He continued: Although I am now an actuary, I started out as a physicist and have been interested in climate science for 40 years. Back then the question was whether rising aerosols in the atmosphere would cause global cooling or rising CO2 would cause global warming. The world responded strongly to the rising aerosols – sulphur, ash etc – so that concern disappeared. It did not respond to CO2 and we are now where we are.

The science was actually settled 20 years ago. All that has happened in the last 20 years is to settle it more and more accurately and to falsify all competing hypotheses. (As Pat rightly points out, that is what scientists do – falsify claims. Those that remain unfalsified, no matter how unpalatable, are the best estimate of the truth available.)

The outworking of all this is that the science is clear that:

  1. The earth is warming.
  2. The warming is accelerating.
  3. The warming and its acceleration is caused by CO2 and its increase.
  4. Human activity is the source of the increasing CO2.

Having got that off my chest, we now get back to what are actually the real issues, namely what does this mean and what should we do? Here there is some room for debate and argument. What is the likely extent of the warming? How quickly will it happen? What will be the impacts on the climate and weather at different temperature levels? What will be the impact on sea levels? What impact will weather and temperature changes and sea level changes have on human and other life and their activities?

The answers to these questions go to answering the sorts of questions that directors need to be asking. What should we do? How quickly must we do it? How much should we spend? Can we afford to do nothing?

This gets down to one of my current areas of interest – risk management. Boards have a responsibility to manage risks. It is one of their primary functions. Climate risks, like all other risks require a proper approach:

  1. What is the risk?
  2. What will be the impact of the risk?
  3. How likely is it to happen – in this case the question is more one of when rather than if?
  4. Can we absorb the outcomes?
  5. If not, how do we mitigate the risk, insure the risk or avoid the risk?
  6. How do we implement our decisions?

This all requires proper forward estimations which brings me to my final question (at last). How will you make quality estimations and therefore decisions? Will you just rely on the gut feel experiential approach of, ‘don’t worry, my experience shows that nothing has happened in my lifetime or that of my father and grandfather; things are always up and down; so nothing will change’? Or will you take into account the best scientific knowledge and properly model the potential outcomes?

To answer one of my questions – we cannot afford to do nothing. We have to manage the risk.

Alun concluded: I am a great believer that change is ALWAYS an opportunity to be exploited. This is a big change and it will be worth a very serious amount of money. There are opportunities in changing what we do now to prevent or reduce the impact of climate change. And, because of the tardiness out there, there are opportunities in doing new things to cope with and exploit the changes that will happen.

Interestingly this is not a global left/right political argument. Whilst the approach adopted by Tony Abbot in his announcements this week (Australian Liberal) and the US Republican party favour the easy option – shoot the messenger, treat each occurrence of an unusual weather event as a 1 off anomaly and pretend nothing serious is happening this is not a consistent ‘right wing’ position.

The UK Conservative party has a 100% commitment to reducing greenhouse gasses enshrined in law – the Prime Minister who set this objective in motion was Margaret Thatcher, hardly a ‘left leaning green’, but she was a trained scientist.

Conversely, many labour organisations oppose change to mitigate greenhouse gas omissions because of their short-term effect on their member’s employment. And the thing I find strangest is the farming community (at least in Australia) that has to adapt fastest and will suffer the most from extreme weather events, seems to be represented by bodies that want to deny the existence of a problem.

Somewhere there is a serious communication breakdown. Our innate biases tend to mitigate against dealing with the issue; some of the more potent include:

A reluctance to do things now for an uncertain future benefit,

A preference for what we know though direct experience compared to things we cannot see or touch, and

A tendency to ignore things we don’t like or that don’t fit comfortably with our current views (see more on ‘bias’).

Education in the broadest sense is the antidote to bias and this requires meaningful communication – something that has been seriously lacking.

Carbon Action 2050

The negative approach to carbon reduction emanating from sections of Australian industry and political structure is to say the least short sighted and disappointing, particularly given the devastating floods and cyclones of the last year or two. These local changes have been repeated by tornados, hurricanes and floods around the world.

For anyone to suggest the climate is not changing is simply ignoring the facts. Defining the cause of change may be more debatable. Correlation is not causation! From a pragmatic viewpoint man made carbon pollution may be causing the change in the climate, contributing to the change or simply polluting the atmosphere without any effect.

Depending on which of the three options is correct, cleaning up our carbon footprint to levels the natural systems can absorb will either, solve the climate change problem, reduce the climate change problem or merely reduce our contamination of the environment we live in.

However, not taking appropriate and immediate action on carbon pollution will either, push the climate change problem to greater extremes, increase the effect of climate change or simply continue to contaminate the environment we live in.

From a risk management perspective, doing nothing or minimal change is not really a sensible option until there is conclusive proof that carbon has no effect on the weather and sea levels. That proof has not been demonstrated by anyone, and whilst proof that carbon is adding to the climate change problem is far from conclusive, the strong weight of evidence is trending to support the view carbon is either the cause of the change or a major contributor to the change.

The very short term arguments raised by miners, industry and some politicians that doing anything is too expensive ignores the long term costs to every industry in favour of the next quarterly profit statement –ignoring the impact of floods, cyclones and rising sea levels on profits and value generation.

Outside of Australia, practical action is being taken by a wide range of organisations. The Chartered Institute of Building – CIOB – has launched Carbon Action 2050, a free interactive online tool that provides key guidance on every facet of a building’s lifecycle from design through construction to end use and beyond.

There is advice on education, skills and leadership and how to move those agendas towards a low carbon built environment. The portal has been developed over the last twelve months by CIOB members who work in design, building control, education, project management, facilities management, conservation and sustainability. Its overall aim is to focus on innovation and best practice that will make an immediate difference on the ground. To find out more visit: http://www.carbonaction2050.com/

Locally, we need to start taking similar actions, as a minimum we will start cleaning up our mess, more likely we will contribute to saving the planet (or at least reducing the impact of climate change)!