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2015 SkS News Bulletin #6: Pope Francis & Climate Change

Posted on 2 July 2015 by John Hartz

Coal-state lawmakers attack climate rule no matter what pope says

Pope Francis’ call for urgent action to combat climate change isn’t having much influence on members of Congress from the coal state of Kentucky, who are working this week to block the centerpiece of the president’s agenda to limit the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

The House of Representatives is expected as soon as Wednesday to pass a bill by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., which would allow states to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for carbon emissions from power plants. Whitfield’s bill also would ban the EPA from enforcing the rule until all the legal challenges are decided, which could take years.

There’s a similar effort in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is calling on states to defy the Obama administration’s climate rule. He put language in the interior and environment spending bill that would allow them to do so without consequences, saying the Obama administration is at war “against Kentucky coal jobs, miners and their families.”

Coal-state lawmakers attack climate rule no matter what pope says by Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau, June 23, 2015

Inter-religious march in Rome demands action on climate change

Several thousand Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims marched through Rome to the Vatican on Sunday to demand action on climate change and thank Pope Francis for his encyclical on the environment.

They marched behind banners reading "Many Faiths - One Planet" and "The Earth - Our Common Home - Climate Action Now!" to lobby leaders to take decisive action at a United Nations summit in Paris this year to stem the effects of global warming.

Speaking to crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday blessing and message, the pope acknowledged the groups and encouraged inter-religious collaboration for an "integral ecology" to protect "our common home".

Inter-religious march in Rome demands action on climate change by Philip Pullella, Reuters, June 28, 2015

Laudato Si’ and the Common Good

What business is it of the pope what goes on in politics and science? That’s a question that has come up in recent days and weeks surrounding the release of Pope Francis’s much-anticipated encyclical on ecology. Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you” — the title comes from the beginning of a canticle addressed to Jesus Christ by St. Francis of Assisi) presents a fuller vision of creation and our responsibilities toward it than we’re liable to see on any given Vanity Fair Caitlyn Jenner cover-story reading day.

“The Church has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” is what Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), the document on “the Church in the modern world” that came out of the Second Vatican Council, said about just this kind of thing. “In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is applying the teachings of the Church to one of the most important and also meaningful controversies of our time,” says Matthew Bunson, senior correspondent for Our Sunday Visitor and editor of the Catholic Almanac. “In doing so,” Bunson says, “he builds his encyclical on the legacy of Catholic Social Teaching. Like his predecessors in their social encyclicals, Francis is not concerned with settling some scientific dispute, nor does he claim competence to do so. Rather, he reminds the world that the Church has the task of guiding discussions toward the deeper realities of issues and crises and to offer prudent and timely advice.”

The encyclical in fact says, “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”

Laudato Si’ and the Common Good by Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, June 22, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes, The Pope can comment on climate change

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has a word for those who think Pope Francis shouldn't comment on climate change.

The pope released an encyclical, or papal letter, in June that not only affirmed climate change was happening but also blamed human negligence and pointed to science to support the need for reducing carbon emissions.

"Numerous scientific studies indicate that the majority of the global warming in recent decades is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases ... emitted above all due to human activity," the encyclical read.

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Yes, The Pope can comment on climate change by Anonio Blumberg, The Huffington Post, July 1, 2015

On climate change, Hispanic Catholics hear pope's message – and it's personal

On a June morning, Father Rob Yaksich, a park ranger until he found his calling in mid-life as a Catholic priest, presided over his first ever Sunday Mass at the historic Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That day, he chose the power of spreading the faith as the theme of his sermon.

“Think of the mustard seed,” he told those gathered for the early morning Spanish language mass. “We all carry little mustard seeds of faith in our hearts. This mustard seed grows, and if it is nourished, it grows into a great tree.”

The roots of the Catholic church run deep here; New Mexico is considered one of the most culturally Catholic states. The first permanent Franciscan mission is in present-day Santa Fe, which is surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

The power of those Catholic faithful will now be put to the test twice over, with the pope’s radical message about climate change in the global economy, and his call for a phase-out of fossil fuels in the name of protecting the poor.

It’s now up to Yaksich and others to spread Francis’s message of urgency and make the seed of action planted by the pope grow, even in New Mexico, a poor rural state with a Republican governor caught in a pincer hold by the oil and gas industry on its northwestern and southeastern flanks. The industry accounts for about a third of the New Mexico’s general fund.

On climate change, Hispanic Catholics hear pope's message – and it's personal by Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian, June 27, 2015

The Pope, climate change and the Catholic right in the U.S.

The conservative criticism of Laudato Sii, ("Praised Be"), Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment and poverty that began even before its release, has now reached a fever pitch.

It is of more than passing interest that many of the cadre of naysayers are members of the Catholic Right. And not coincidentally, many of them have strong ties to conservative Evangelicals. What is it that they truly fear about Laudato Sii? Is it the encyclical's inconvenient discussion of the disastrous implications climate change has upon the world's poor - or is it something else? To wit, does the Jesuit Pope Francis threaten to undermine the power of the Catholic Right-Evangelical political alliance? 

Among the rankled conservatives feeling the political heat are several hopefuls for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, including: Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.  

The Pope, Climate Change and the Catholic Right by Frank Cocozzelli, Talk to Action, June 20, 2015

The Pope's ecological vow

In the days just before its publication, those involved in drafting the pope’s controversial eco-encyclical Laudato Si’ were much exercised about how it would be received by conservative critics. But Pope FrancisVaticaninsiders tell me, was unfazed. He remains so in the face of the onslaught of criticism that has indeed ensued.

The pope’s acceptance that global warming is almost certainly man-made has irked the vocal minority with more skeptical views. They say Francis has overlooked the ability of technology to provide solutions to climate change. They’ve upbraided him for ignoring the role of free markets in lifting millions out of poverty. They’ve criticized his dismissal of birth control as the answer to an overcrowded planet.

The truth is that Francis saw all that coming. As the dust settles, after the whirlwind that accompanied its publication, closer examination of the encyclical reveals that the pope implanted within it strategies to rebut these attacks. Laudato Si’ turns out to be one of the shrewdest documents issued by the Vatican during the past century. It has revealed Francis as a wily and sophisticated politician of the first order.

The Pope's ecological vow by Op-ed by Paul Vallely, New York Times, June 28, 2015

The Pope’s Encyclical, at heart, is about us, not trees and snail darters

The “dialogue with all people” and the “forthright and honest debate” for which Pope Francis calls in his new encyclical on “our common home” will certainly include — and, by the pope’s own standards, should include — close scrutiny of many questions.

Does Laudato Si’ reflect a wrestling with the full range of scientific opinion on global climate issues? Does the encyclical acknowledge and accurately weigh the inevitable complexities and trade-offs involved in meeting its twin goals of empowering the poor and protecting the natural environment — and does it take sufficient account of why billions of people have become un-poor over the past several generations? Does Laudato Si’ take adequate note of the correlation between strong environmental protections and democracies with free economies (high) — and of the equally instructive correlation between vast amounts of pollution and authoritarian regimes (also high)?

These questions I leave to others, not least because I have no interest in recruiting (or refuting) the pope in aid of a political or public-policy agenda — for, as Francis himself says in the encyclical, “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.” Rather, my particular interest in reading Laudato Si’ is religious and cultural. What does Pope Francis have to say about humanity and the natural world at a moment when incoherence, skepticism, and nihilism dominate Western high culture, and when fanaticisms claiming various divine or quasi-divine warrants wreak havoc from northern Nigeria to the Levant to the Donbas? What does Francis write in this complex and inevitably controversial document that might speak, as a good pastor should, to the flaws in humanity’s understanding of itself today, and that might point us in a more noble direction?

The Pope’s Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters by George Weigel, National Review, June 18, 2015

What Jeb Bush can learn from Pope Francis about climate change

Like the Pope, the 2016 U.S. presidential hopeful is Catholic and would be politically wise to share his views on one of today’s biggest campaign issues.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has a climate change problem. He also has a Pope problem, and the two are converging with Pope Francis’ latest encyclical declaring humanity’s moral and ethical responsibility to tackle climate change.

Several prominent Bushes have had a nuanced, some might say tortured, relationship with climate change, expressing ideas that aren’t quite in keeping with the Democratic Party but are definitely not in line with the majority of Republicans either. H.W., George W. and Jeb Bush have taken similar approaches on immigration: not quite open-armed, but not hostile, either.

What Jeb Bush can learn from Pope Francis about climate change by Michael Webber, Fortune, July 1, 2015

Why Pope Francis killed it on addressing climate change

Beginning with my book Moral Politics in 1996 (Ch. 12), I have been arguing that environmental issues are moral issues. There I reviewed and critiqued conservative metaphors of nature as a resource, as property, as an adversary to be conquered.

Instead I argued that we needed to conceptualize nature as the giver of all life, as sustainer and provider, as having inherent value, imposing responsibility, and deserving gratitude, love, adoration, and commitment.

I suggested alternative metaphors of nature as mother, as a divine being, as a living organism, as a home, as a victim to be cared for, and a whole with us as parts inseparable from nature and from each other.

Why Pope Francis killed it on addressing climate change by George Lakoff, Alternet, July 1, 2015

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Comments 51 to 57 out of 57:

  1. If I address your points I may well be accused of sloganeering and excessive repetition.  As much of the "repetition" was answering your questions that seems somewhat unusual.. My original post was to point out the editorial in the Australian FinanciaL  Review which can hardly be called sloganeering.  Can it?   As for "general assertions" most were in answer to your questions and  I provided supporting evidence for many of those "assertions".   As for examples of high bar of certitude.  How about diagnosis of a fatal disease that cannot be cured?  How about determining the track of a meteor that may hit the earth?  How about determining the correct amount of anaesthetic to give to a patient prior to and during major surgery?  How about determining the flight paths of passenger aircraft converging on a busy airport.  

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  2. John Hartz @50 with regard to your comment "you pull the victim card and then depart  the scene"     please note my reply at 51. I clearly have not departed the scene.   Your comment at 50 is rather puzzlig as I don't remember it being there when I wrote my comment (@51) in answer to your comment @49.  If I had seen it I would  have responded to it in my comment above.  I really cannot understand how I missed it.  

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  3. @ryland #51:

    You state:

    As for examples of high bar of certitude. How about diagnosis of a fatal disease that cannot be cured? How about determining the track of a meteor that may hit the earth? How about determining the correct amount of anaesthetic to give to a patient prior to and during major surgery? How about determining the flight paths of passenger aircraft converging on a busy airport. :

    Thank you for the examples. Unfortunately, they are not in the same category as is computing the costs of fossil fuel emissions. More comparable might be the computation of national GDPs. Do you believe the compution of national GDPs should be done with a high bar of certitude?

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  4. Ryland,

    Thank you for giving your links.  To clean them up,  go to the insert section of the comments box.  Highlight the words you want to be linked and then click on the chain icon.  A box will appear where you can copy the URL you want to link to.  After you do it once it is easy.

    The moderators start to complain you are sloganeering when you only give your opinions and do not link sources. In a scientific discussion you want to present data to be convincing, not go into your personal philosophy.   You will get less moderator complaints when you cite links.

    Once you have linked a source, it is not necessary to refer to that link again.  If you continue to refer to the same source that is repetition and is also considered sloganeering.  If everyone has cited their sources the conversation has run its course.  Readers can then decide which argument they thought was stornger.

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  5. Ryland:

    If I have misrepresented your modus operandi, I aplogize.

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  6. Thanks Michael Sweet. In future  I will remember your advice and in future will put links in instead of just the URL.


    John Hartz.  First thanks for your very gracious comment at 55.  I'm not surprised you did not consider my examples were appropriate.  But let's take theadministration of anaesthetics.  If you get it wrong your patient may die or become brain damaged.  I guess that is only a personal tragedy confined to the patient and the immediate family but I would argue it is more significant than determining the GDP.  Let us say you come in for, let us say, a heart bypass, and I give you too much anaesthetic so you are not revived.  To you and your family that is of a lot more significance than calculating the GDP.  I would also contend that tracking the course of a meteor that could destroy the earth is orders of magnitude more important than calculating the GDP especially as calculations of GDP are not always accurate.  If the meteor is likely to hit the earth there are means to divert its course such as the use of explosives that destroy the meteor.

    In fact I cannot see that determining the GDP is anyhwere near as significan t as any of the examples I gave.  But then , I would say that wouldn't I?

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  7. Ryland: 

    I specifically chose the compution of GDP because it is used by governments, finacial institutions, investors, and others as input into making major policy decisions that have major fiscal impacts. Why then  do you insist that the computation of the costs of burning fossil fuels must be done with near absolute certainty when the computation of GDP is not? 

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  8. I have no idea where you got the idea I "insist that the computation of the costs of burning fossil fuels must be done with near absolute certainty".  What I actually wrote was "As for the cost to the Earth's climate system of their burning coal again, I don't know and I'm not sure that anyone can categorically state exactly what that cost is."

    You appear to have taken it that I mean financial cost.  I don't.  I mean exactly what I wrote namely cost to the Eath''s climate system.   For example it is said that increasing the global temperature by >2C will lead to climate change evidenced by longer and more severe drought. more flooding,  increased incidence of hurricanes, increased sea levels, glacier loss etc.  This is what I mean by cost to the Earth'scliate system.  As I said, "I don't know and I'm not sure that anyone can categorically state exactly what that cost is."  

    On reflection perhaps what that cost will be would have been better

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  9. ryland @58, what is the exact cost to the Earth's climate system of a meteor strike?  Or the cost in GDP, or the cost in lives?  Even when there is absolute certainty that a meteor will strike the Earth, there remains no certainty about impacts.

    Come to that, what is the exact emotional cost of an excessive dose of anaesthetics?  Please elucidate.

    Your examples of certitude are transparently of a different category to the examples of the costs you ask questions about.  Worse, you ask costs of an undefined quantity (how much coal will be burnt exactly, by which nations, and what steps to reduce or increase emissions by other nations)?  Therefore you are clearly expecting an unrealistic level of certitude with regard to the impacts of emissions.

    Of course, that was transparent in your original statement, even without clarrification, which called for a certainty so absolute it risked no rebutal ("categorically state") and admitted of error bars so small as to be inconsequential ("exactly").  Indeed, you ask for a level of certainty that is not even found in tracking airpaths until after the event (think turbulence, pilot error); meteor strikes (which are often only predicted in terms or probabilities, and are never predicted precisely as to location on Earth); or the precise dose of anasthaetics (which varies between people).

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    If I can take us back to ryland's claim @46 in response to John Hartz @43:

    "Yes, I rather think I am ["...stating that you cannot form an opinion about air quality in Inida and China without personally observing and experiencing it"]. China is a very large country as indeed is India and it seems highly unlikely that there is uniform air quality over the entirety of either country. So when you ask ""At what cost to their respective environments, especially clean air?" the question is somewhat loosely worded. Do you mean the environment and air in the cities or in rural areas or in the mountains or on the coast?"

    Again note the ridiculous standard, ie, that China (or India) must have "...uniform air quality over the entirety of either country" in order for us to form an opinion about the air quality in China.  Transparently we can form an opinion about the average air quality in China (which by definition is uniform over the entire country).  More importantly, we can form an opinion about the air quality in specific locations:

    "There was continuous haze-fog weather in most parts of China, including Tibet and Xinjiang. The areas with serious haze-fog pollution included the Beijing and Tianjin areas, South Hebei Province, Northeast Henan Province, Western Shandong Province, Jiangsu Province, Anhui Province, Western Zhejiang Province, Northwest Fujian Province, Central Hunan Province, South Jiangxi Province, Central Hubei Province and the Northern Sichuan Basin Area. Southwest China became the only unpolluted land."


    Note that (contrary to John Hartz) coal was only a factor in this pollution when used for domestic heating.  Industrial, and particularly power station use burns coal at very high temperatures, with almost complete combustion and with significant deployment of scrubbers so is not a primary contributor; although petrol engines in cars are.

    We can also form a view as to the geographical extent of acid rain over China, to which coal is a major contributor:

    ryland's response to John Hartz' statements on pollution in China consists entirely of empty rhetorical points, just as was his response in impacts (which was introduced to distract from the issue of pollution in China).

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  11. I should note, by the way, that ryland has only one drum to beat - that the third world (and in particular China and India) will not transition to a fully industrial economy except by the use of coal and other fossil fuels, and that therefore western attempts to curtail CO2 emissions are pointless.  That point is only valid if he can categoricaly state exactly what policies with regard to greenhouse emissions both nations will pursue over the next two decades.  Given the standard of evidence he has now indicated he considers appropriate; I suggest that he no longer be heard (on grounds of excessive repetition, and sloganeering) until he states categorically and exactly what the policies of those two nations will be, on an appropriate thread.

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  12. Just as an interesting aside... 10-15 years ago I used to see this scene everywhere around Chongqing (where my wife's family lives). These lovely little bricks of black death were used primarily for cooking in rural homes. You see them much less now as more and more people are moving into high rise apartments in the cities where all the cooking is done on gas cooktops. 

    And no, no one would use these for heating homes because no one there heats their homes, even in below freezing weather. They just put on more cloths and wonder why the silly American is shivering. And if said American tries to close a window to stave off frostbite, the next family-member entering the room says, "It's stuffy in here, we need some fresh air!" and opens the window again. :-)

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  13. Rob Honeycutt @62, I am only able to rely on my source:

    "The reasons for haze-fog pollution formation are many, and the main reasons can be summarized as follows [26,27]:
    The automobile exhaust is the main source of pollutants. In recent years, there are more and more cars in the cities in China and the components in automobile exhaust are the main components of the haze-fog;
    Secondary pollution from factories is also an important reason. There is much benzene and aldehydes in chemical pollution emissions, and they are important components of haze-fog;
    The relative humidity near the ground in the haze-fog areas is relatively high, and the ground has lots of dust, so particulate matter can easily form;
    Burning garbage and burning coal in winter for heating can also generate pollutants."

    (My emphasis)

    China, however, is a big country with a lot of cultural divergence, so I differ to your more direct knowledge of customs in Chongquing without accepting that coal is not used for winter heating in other parts of China.

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  14. @Tom Curtis #60:

    You state:

    Note that (contrary to John Hartz) coal was only a factor in this pollution when used for domestic heating. Industrial, and particularly power station use burns coal at very high temperatures, with almost complete combustion and with significant deployment of scrubbers so is not a primary contributor; although petrol engines in cars are.

    Your statement does not squre with the following:

    "The Chinese capital has for many years suffered from serious air pollution. Primary sources of pollutants include exhaust emission from Beijing's more than five million motor vehicles, coal burning in neighbouring regions, dust storms from the north and local construction dust. A particularly severe smog engulfed the city for weeks in early 2013, elevating public awareness to unprecedented levels and prompting the government to roll out emergency measures."

    Source: Beijing air pollution, Topics, South China Morning Post

    It is my understanding that many of the coal-fired power plants built in China during the early years of its economic expansion were not equipped with any pollution control devices including scrubbers. 

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  15. John Hartz @64, my understanding is that the Chinese government have an aggressive policy of retrofitting scrubbers to still operational power stations, and of phasing out older, smaller coal fired power stations in favour of renewables.  That is consistent with (2008) predictions that particulate polution from coal fired power plants would remain essentially static for China by 2010, and decline aftewards.  Those predictions include a declining particulate pollution from coal fired power stations for Beijing.

    A recent analysis of coal station emissions says:

    "Reducing the emissions from the coal power sector has been a priority for the Chinese government over the last decade (Xu et al. 2013). Improvements have also been made by altering the load factor of the power plant (capacity of plant in use), boiler types, the use of scrubbers and the size of power plants. Larger thermal power plants with a capacity to produce over 300 MW have to a great extent replaced older smaller power plants, with their contribution to the overall thermal power capacity increasing from 48 to 73 % between 2005 and 2010 (NBS 2011; Xu et al. 2013). The majority (over 90 %) of the power plants today are also installed with pulverised-coal burners, instead of the fluidised-bed furnaces and stoker-fired boilers used in some of the remaining smaller power plants (Tian et al. 2012). This has resulted in a thermal efficiency amongst Chinese coal power plants that actually surpasses that found amongst US power plants (Xu et al. 2013), a claim that to a great extent can be verified by the shutting down of small inefficient power plants, reductions in power plants’ own use of electricity and improved technology (Xu et al. 2013). China’s Electricity Council (CEC 2013a) also reports that the ratio of Chinese coal power plants equipped with fluegas desulphurisation (FGD) units today is 90 % and that 98 % of all newly built power plants are installed with low-NOx burners (LNBs). Pollution control measures for particulate matter (PM), including dust collectors, wet FGD units, wet scrubbers and electrostatic precipitators (ESPs), are also being installed at an impressive rate (Zhao et al. 2010; Cai et al. 2013), resulting in a rapid overall improvement of the Chinese coal sector"

    Given this, I am inclined to accept the peer reviewed source of my initial claim. 

    I will note that it does not necessarilly contradict your source in that NOx emissions have increased rapidly, and while they do not contribute to the particulate pollution shown in the image @60, it does contribute to acid rain, and of course, to anthropogenic global warming.

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  16. In the context of our ongoing discussion, here's a "must read" article.

    The most important climate story today is the global coal renaissance by Brad Plumer, Energy & Environment, Vox, July 7, 2015

    The information presented in this article does not bode well for the future of human civilization as we know it. It seems that human beings place a higher value on their personal "creature comforts" than they do on maintaing a healthy planet.   

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  17. Tom Curtis:

    I am aware that that the Chinese government has an aggressive policy of retrofitting scrubbers to still operational power stations, and of phasing out older, smaller coal fired power stations in favour of renewables. I also believe that they used to burn a lot of "brown coal" and are phasing that practice out. Per usual, you and I are pretty much in agreement on these matters.  

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  18. On a more positive note, I also recommend that everyone particpating in this thread take a gander at:

    Study urges 10 climate actions to curb warming, lift GDP by Alister Doyle, Reuters. July 7, 2015

    Doyle's article is a brief summary of the report, Seizing the Global Opportunity: Partnerships for Better Growth and a Better Climate, released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

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  19. Tom Curtis @59  In response to your comment:

    "Come to that, what is the exact emotional cost of an excessive dose of anaesthetics? Please elucidate"  

    If you receive such a dose the exact emotional cost is none as you'll be dead.  If someone you love  dearly receives it the exact emotional cost is total emotional devastation.  I trust that elucidates sufficiently.

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  20. My apologies.  In the interests of clarity I should have written "If someone you love dearly receives it the exact emotional cost to you is total emotional devastation.

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  21. Tom @63... That may be true in the northeast of China where it gets much colder than Chongqing, I'm not really sure. But if you look at early traditional homes in China, there is a cultural element that is very different from western culture.

    Whereas westerners build their homes around a central fireplace, these courtyard style arrangements are found in some remarkably colder regions in China. The central courtyard is (obviously) open, and all the various rooms surrounding the courtyard are generally very open as well, with lattice work for window coverings and such. I think much of that carries through into the culture today.

    The few rural homes I've visited in China were all very open. Even the kitchen, which is a room generally separated from the main living structure, still had no door and had open windows in the winter. It's just a big food prep room with a fire and one massive wok for cooking.

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