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The Lancet Commission on pollution and health have published their report. Report was wildly publicised. Since it deals with an important issue I wanted to have a look. Oh no! was my first thought as I read all the way down to the first author Philip Landrigan.  He has published anti-GMO fear mongering with the infamous organic industry lobbyist Charles Benbrooke. Since there is a broad scientific consensus that risks from GMO:s are similar or smaller than from other types of breeding, this is somewhat of a red flag for me. But nevermind…let us proceed and hope the report focuses on the important issues and does not stray into western chemophobes pet projects.

The 1st figure summarizes the death toll from pollution. Whether indoor pollution (from bioenergy mostly) or outdoor particulate matter kills the most depends on whom you ask, but both together are estimated to kill about 6.5 million people every year. Dirty water and poor sanitation (not chemicals) also kill around million or two depending on whom you ask. This is terrible.

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Biomass burning, dirty water, and particulate matter in the outdoor air are the biggest pollution killers. Of the outdoor pollution substantial part is again from the biomass burning together with transport, coal power plants etc.

However reading the media about the report might have left me in the dark as to the main culprits. For example, here is how Landrigan choose to represent the results in CNN.

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, co-leader of the commission, said the problem is chemicals. “There are thousands of chemicals out there and we know that people are exposed to them,” said Landrigan. “We just didn’t know enough about what chemicals are doing to people.”“: CNN
No, sorry. Chemicals might on occasion be a problem, but the heavy hitters are bioenergy,  dirty water, shitty cars, and dirty powerplants in poor and developing countries. It is right there in your report.
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Pollution especially likely to kill you if you live in a poor country. Better get rich…except that is not quite the message the commission wants you to hear.

As I read the report itself I got a very clear impression that authors did not really want to discuss most deaths which occur due to poverty.  These are by-passed with a casual remark about how these deaths “…are slowly declining” after which authors choose to focus on other things. On stuff that for sure titillate the wealthy chemophobes in the west, but have relatively minor impact in the real world. (Only on page 30 is there one paragraph actually acknowledging the connection between poverty and pollution.) They even make their desire to focus on other things explicit:
The aim of this Lancet Commission on pollution and health is to end the neglect of pollution, especially of the modern forms of pollution, in low-income and middle income countries, to focus the world’s attention onto the silent threat of pollution-related disease, and to mobilise the national and international resources and the political will needed to effectively confront pollution.
Authors frame pollution as the nemesis of economic growth. Fine…people might become richer in some superficial and material sense, but they die and suffer…especially innocent ones! Cities are growing uncontrollably, traditional lifestyles abandoned, rich countries build polluting factories to poor countries…so tragic!  This narrative is not altogether surprising since it has infected the minds of large segments of environmental and development communities for decades. I sometimes get the feeling that the only economic development where poor country goes to sleep in the evening and wakes up as Norway in the morning is acceptable. The largely unreported fact is nevertheless that people tend to have higher life-expectancy in regions of high economic growth. The situation is often terrible by our standards, but compared to the alternative of staying stuck in subsistence farming it is an improvement. People flocking to the cities are not mindless idiots who have no clue what is good for them. The positive opportunities created by economic growth, outweigh the drawbacks for them. (This is not to say, that fossil fuel based growth would not create problems later on. Simply that the poorest people are better off being prosperous and screwed by climate change than being poor and screwed by climate change.)

If you wish to live longer, move to the city. Ignore commissions complaint about “the uncontrolled growth of cities”. It is your life and you should have agency over it. (Results are similar in many other developing regions as well. Google it, if you don’t believe me.)


People in cities seem happier. Those bastards! But they are really crying inside!

So how has the body count developed in the past decades? Next figure from the report illustrates this. Number of deaths has remained roughly stable. However, at the same time population has increased by about 50%, so your actual risk of dying from pollution has in fact declined dramatically. This tidbit of information would have been useful to mention, but strangely enough authors decided to skip it. Presumably it didn’t fit the choosen narrative.

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Translation: “Your risk of death from pollution has reduced dramatically since 1990″…except that this is not the message commission wished to tell.

Then there is this weird graph…the real deaths which the report discusses are all in the “Zone 1”. Authors decided to make this as “the tip of the iceberg” with two very large zones below it. These zones are authors speculative deaths for the stuff that they are clearly most interested in… chemicals, pesticides… For these speculative zones they give no body counts, but clearly wish to insinuate that they are huge. This must be nonsense since if they were larger than regular causes of pollution deaths, we would for sure know about it. In fact even  “Pure Earth” NGO which was partly responsible for writing the Lancet report puts the body count of (unintentional) pesticide poisoning at about 20000 on their own web page. This is 20000 too many, but still pales in comparison to millions killed by other causes.

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“The pollutome”: Only Zone 1 is grounded on data. Zones 2 and 3 titillating speculation and fear mongering with no numbers. Behind the scenes, numbers suggest deaths in zones 2 and 3 are way smaller than in zone 1.

Instead of Zone 1 being the tip of the iceberg, is it not way more likely and supported by evidence that it is in fact the bottom of the iceberg? The actual “Pollutome” looks like this…



Fixed it! This way it is easier to focus on the most relevant things.

But of course if you present things like this, it is harder to shift the focus to chemicals, pesticides, endocrine disruptors, nanomaterials…and glyphosate. Oh dear. Authors actually choose to fearmonger also about glyphosate:

On the basis of these findings, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has determined that glyphosate is a “probable human carcinogen”; this finding is contested by glyphosate’s manufacturer

FacepalmThey rely on largely discredited IARC report which was riddled with conflicts of interests and highly dubious scientific practices. As for “contested by glyphosate’s manufacturer“…really…no one else? Are there really no experts on risk assessment and toxicology who think IARC work is nonsense? Why did you choose to omit all discusion on this? Is there only one manufacturer or did you just insert a dog whistle for your intended target audience? I really hoped more from this report.

Update 25.10.2017: Greenpeace kindly provided another example of environmentalist battling imaginary issues while inflating them to insanity. Asbestos actually kills more than 100000 a year and glyphosate almost no one. Heroically Greepeace goes into attack. After all if they  do nothing consequences will undoubtedly be ass dire as from the battle of Blackwater bay. 


100% WWS scenario together with Ethiopia. With his help 100% WWS is bound to become famous in Hollywood.

In an earlier post I wondered what does Stanford professor Mark Jacobson have against Finland? His 100% renewables energy plan seemed like a raw deal. I wanted to look a bit deeper and focus on things that, in my opinion, matter. In particular, I wished to get a feeling for the underlying human vision in Jacobson’s scenarios. For this reason, I am not going to focus now on insolation numbers, wind speeds, their distributions, technologies, and other such techno/science thingys. I will focus here on energy access and what 100% WWS (wind, water, and sunlight) visions seem to imply for different countries. I will also briefly comment on few other societal implications Jacobson’s plan might have. You can have a look at the actual “plan” here and the associated Excel file (it is huge and almost impenetrable) is behind this link.

Jacobson et al. make a big deal about how their plan employs more people than current energy system. I already pointed out in the earlier post that jobs are a cost and not a benefit. For the wellbeing in the end it is the productivity that matters. Be that as it may, if you have a look at the Table 9 of the manuscript, something becomes clear. Not all countries will in fact have a positive “net earnings from jobs”.  As a rule this number is positive for developed countries and many countries developing fast (like China), but many countries are “losing out”. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Ethiopia,  Mozambique… to name a few. If I have to guess why jobs were being lost in poor countries, I suspect it is due to Jacobson eliminating all jobs in bioenergy. (I share his dislike for bioenergy.) Even though his plan implies lower productivity than current rich world energy system, it is nevertheless more productive than the one many poor countries have today.

Jacobson et al. explain: “Although all countries together are expected to gain jobs, some countries, particularly those that currently extract significant fossil fuels (e.g., Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela, and Yemen) may experience net job loss in the energy production sector.” It seems that Jacobson et al. wished to frame this as a punishment for fossil fuel producers and for this narrative to make any sense, silence was required on all those undeveloped countries not producing fossil fuels whose “net earnings from jobs” was negative. And let me be clear. I don’t think productivity improvements in the energy sector is a bad thing. Obsessing over number of jobs in a sector is silly, but this is one of the main selling points Jacobson and others drafting renewables scenarios (like Greenpeace and RES lobby groups) have decided to use. They had to make a choice as to their target audience. Since the job number is positive in the rich world and that is where their target audience lives, it must be sold as a good thing. Too bad for the non-target audience.

Let us see how energy demand per capita develops in different countries. I have no time to go through all the entries and Jacobson’s use of Excel files makes this a tedious process. I choose few countries, some rich, some poor, some in Asia, some in Europe etc. and just give the results for them. (Notice that figures might have slight uncertainty in them, since I suspect Jacobson’s “end use demand” means something slightly different from the IEA figures for today, which he also kindly provides. So never mind about the last decimal point, it is the general trends that matter here.) The next figure compares consumption today to that in 2050 according to Jacobson et al. results.

Change in per capita energy demand by 2050

Change in per capita energy demand by 2050

So Chinese are granted more energy per capita. Others (including India!) will have to do with their current consumption or reduce it.



Amusingly some very poor African countries, such as Ethiopia, will see their per capita energy demand collapse.

Since GDP is supposed to grow strongest in poor countries, as the next figure demonstrates, Jacobson also demands that energy efficiency improvements are most dramatic there.


Energy consumption/GDP today and 2050. (Inverse of energy intensity)

Ethiopian energy “efficiency” today is poor presumably because of all that small scale burning, but by 2050 they will be among the most efficient ones. An improvement by a factor of 12. Since efficiency improvements typically require more capital, it is great that poor have loads of money.

How do capital requirements compare with todays GDP? Next figure shows that while Jacobson surely hates Finland more than Sweden, it could have been worse.

Capital expenditure on generators relative to current GDP

Capital expenditure on generators relative to current GDP

Finally we get to the important stuff, namely how he feels about Finns relative to others. Based on Jacobson’s figures we can compare how much energy a Finn uses compared to foreigners. Below I show it today and at 2050. Blue bar is the reality today and the red bar is what Jacobson has in mind. If red bar is lower than the blue bar, then he wants to improve the lot of that country relative to Finns (in terms of energy access).

Per capita consumption relative to Finns. Today (left) and 2050 (right). Relatively low consumptions implies high values.

Per capita consumption relative to Finns. Today (left) and 2050 (right). Relatively low consumptions implies high values.

As is clear we are more or less holding to our relative position with respect to rich countries. We are losing out to Chinese though. We can quantify the degree of hatred by comparing the heights of the bars (desire/reality). Next figure shows the result.

Graph of hate relative to Finland. If larger than one Mark wants worse for them than he wants for Finns.

Graph of hate relative to Finland as measured from energy consumption. If larger than one Mark wants worse for them than he wants for Finns.

Finally, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. While he surely has a grudge against us, he hates Ethiopians even more.

5th of January 2016 Finns celebrate in Helsinki (-20 degrees Celcius) as they realize Mark hates Ethiopians even more. Just kidding… they celebrate Junior ice hockey world championship. Rest of the nation strangely cares more about that than energy discussions.

I was reading a book by Jonathan Glover about ethics of reproductive technologies. The discussion was mostly interesting and nuanced , but I was left wondering why the discussion was restricted only to the new technologies (genetic screenings, treatments etc.) with almost no attempt to put these issues into the context of the present day reality in the absence of these techniques. At times I got a feeling that this omission was deliberate and provided a convenient way to ring-fence discussion into a “safe zone” where most of the readers would not feel uncomfortable. I find it strange how we can easily judge a selection for blue eyes or intelligence (for example) as “bad” when it happens consciously by technological means, but treat it as “good” (or at least neutral) when we do the same thing “naturally” while falling in love while being influenced by the very same preferences. It is as if we are carrying a free get out of jail card, which makes the moral judgment different depending on whether the act was done consciously or unconsciously (from the “heart”). After all the preferences that people have for their partners are very often shared by others and those traits that we find attractive are often at least partly influenced by genes. It is not as if one prefers a partner with mental problems and the other a one without. It is more like the most in the society rejecting certain people with thousands of individual acts of rejection. Such collective behavior dooms some people into genetic oblivion.

Now, I would not say that those rejecting people they do not fancy are acting immorally. Quite the contrary. I think everyone is responsible for their happiness and should not pick someone (or a life that) they do not desire as an act of sacrifice. However, in my opinion one should not jump to the conclusion, that just because something was done “from the heart”, it would be by default more moral than the conscious choice. Call me an idealist if you want, but I think that proper ethics and morality transcends the feelings/vibes of some individual.

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