Category Archives: environment

Earth: Recessionary Cooling Continues

Going by the level of carbon dioxide measured in the Earth's atmosphere in July 2015, it appears that Earth's economy continued its recessionary cooling in July 2015, with the trailing year moving average of the year over year change in the CO2 levels ticking up to be just barely above its June level. Not uncoincidentally, Earth's largest producer of atmospheric carbon dioxide, China, saw its national economy continue to sputter during the month.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Jan 1960 - Jul 2015

The world's economy has been cooling right along with the deceleration in the pace at which carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere have been increasing, which began after China's political leadership held their third "plenum", or leadership meeting, in which they committed to a plan to put the nation's economy on a "sustainable growth path" after years of strong economic growth. Since that meeting, China's leaders have been steadily redirecting resources away from supporting the expansion of the nation's low-cost export driven industries to instead favor the expansion of service-oriented enterprises, with the goal of transforming China's economy to be primarily driven by domestic consumer demand.

So at least what we're observing isn't happening by accident.

Analyst Notes

Picking up on our previous hypothesis, we're pleased to announce that we were wrong!

What we're referring to specifically is our effort to fill in more of the world's economic history to correlate where decelerations in global atmospheric CO2 levels had occurred, where we had hypothesized that the Cuban Missle Crisis of October 1962 may have led to sanctions or other negative economic events that occurred in many of the world's communist, socialist and progressive regimes, which are notorious for covering up their failings.

Using historical data from on territorial carbon production from the Global Carbon Project, we found evidence that the territory of Russia saw significant increases in the millions of tons of carbon it burned during the period of interest from 1962 through 1965, which ruled out that possibility.

We also observed that China's own carbon emissons were stagnant from 1963 through 1964, after having plummetted in the preceding two years. Since this is annual data, it occurred to us that China really bottomed in 1962 and was very slow to recover from its failed Great Leap Forward initiative and the famine it produced.

It then occurred to us to consider another possibility. Even though China's GDP is believed to have grown in 1963 and 1964, we wondered if perhaps another economic and CO2-producing heavy hitter, the United States, also recorded positive economic growth during the period in question, but perhaps in a less-than-stellar economic environment.

So we tapped Jon Gregory Taylor's work on Investment Timing and the Business Cycle to find out if any of the observed decelerations in global CO2 levels were correlated with downturns in the U.S. business cycle.

Oh yes, they mostly were! Those results are represented in our chart above, as the light red shaded vertical bands.

The results aren't perfect, but that perhaps might be attributed to the relative severity of the U.S. business cycle downturns. For example, while a severe downturn might be expected to have a negative impact on global CO2 measurements, a very mild downturn might only have a very mild, or muted effect - say only slowing the rate at which CO2 levels increased, rather that correlating to an outright decrease in them, as we often observe during official periods of recession.

Taylor's data on U.S. business cycle downturns only covers the period through December 1995. In our next update, we'll see if we can't flesh out more of the period from 1996 onward.

Earth’s Economy Continues Recessionary Cooling

In June 2015, the economy of Earth continued to cool off as recessionary forces concentrated in China resulted in another reduction in the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to the planet's atmosphere for the month. That rate has fallen steadily since it last peaked in October 2013 and is now at the lowest level that has been recorded since May 2012.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, Jan 1960-Jun 2015

That most recent peak coincides with China's political leadership's third plenum, or leadership meeting, in which China's political leaders committed to a plan to put the nation's economy on a "sustainable growth path" after years of rapid economic growth.

Analyst's Notes

After realizing the close correlation between the timing of the Chinese Communist government's third plenum and the onset of a declining rate at which carbon dioxide as measured at the geographically remote Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii was being added to Earth's atmosphere and the correlation we had previously noted between that rate and economic recessions in the U.S., we went back and reworked our previous presentation of the chart presented in this post to consider China's potential contribution to the variation in that rate.

The challenge for us in doing that is the secretive nature of China's totalitarian communist government, which hasn't acknowledged any recession in the nation's economy since the disaster of the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s.

To get around that limitation, we applied the data we regularly track for the exchange rate-adjusted, trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year growth rate of the value of goods that China imports from the United States, where we indicated any month since January 1986 in which that growth rate was recorded as being negative with blue vertical bars. The result was an almost uncanny correlation between a reduction in China's imports and a negative change in the trailing twelve month average of the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to Earth's atmosphere.

Our next problem was that our source trade data only extends back to January 1985. To fill in earlier periods of time, we focused on periods during which China was experiencing political turmoil, which we believe translated into economic turmoil. These periods are also indicated with blue vertical bars.

Our main takeaway from this portion of our analysis is that the reduction of economic growth in China is remarkably well correlated with negative changes in the rate at which carbon dioxide is added to Earth's atmosphere.

We also more clearly marked other periods of economic contraction in our chart that we had previously identified, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union and its empire in the early 1990s (vertical green bars) and 1997's Asian Financial Crisis (vertical orange-yellow bars), as it would appear that both events reduced Earth's total economic activity enough to affect the Mauna Loa Observatory's carbon dioxide measurements as they occurred in real time. U.S. recessions and isolated quarters in which GDP growth was recorded as negative continue to be indicated with red shaded vertical bars.

We still have some areas in our carbon dioxide recession correlation chart for which we need to identify the corresponding recession, most notably the period from September 1962 to August 1965. Given that the period of time coincides with the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis and its escalation of the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. We suspect it may the result of economic sanctions that the U.S. government may have orchestrated against the Soviet Union in response to its placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba, which could have produced recessionary conditions within the Soviet Union and its satellite nation empire, but which we are as yet unable to confirm given that totalitarian socialist/communist government's secrecy and outright dishonesty about the state of its economy.

Previously on Political Calculations

Political Calculations. A Global Economic Indicator? [Online Article]. 12 February 2015.

Political Calculations. The World in Recession. [Online Article]. 11 June 2015.

Data Sources

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [File Transfer Protocol Text File]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

National Bureau of Economic Research. U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

U.S. Census Bureau. Trade in Goods with China. [Online Database]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. China / U.S. Foreign Exchange Rate. G.5 Foreign Exchange Rates. [Online Database]. Accessed 12 July 2015.


Song, Shige. Does famine influence sex ratio at birth? Evidence from the 1959–1961 Great Leap Forward Famine in China. Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Jul 22; 279(1739): 2883–2890. Published online 2012 Mar 28. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0320.

Lorenz, Andreas. The Chinese Cultural Revolution: Remembering Mao's Victims. Spiegel. [Online Article]. 15 May 2007. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Trueman, C.N. The Cultural Revolution. The History Learning Site. [Online Article. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Zheng, Haiping. The Gang of Four Trial. [Online Article]. 2010. Accessed 12 July 2015.

U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian. Milestones: 1989-1992: The Collapse of the Soviet Union. [Online Article]. 31 October 2013. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Kinzer, Stephen. Bitter Goodbye: Russians Leave Germany. New York Times. [Online Article]. 4 March 1994. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Frontline. The Crash: Timeline of the Panic. (Asian Financial Crisis). [Online Article]. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Ong, Ryan. The Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress: A Primer. China Business Review. [Online Article]. 16 September 2013. Accessed 12 July 2015.

Bloomberg Brief. China's Transition: The Third Plenum - One Year On. [PDF Document]. October 2014. Accessed 13 July 2015.

Pope’s encyclical will speak directly to the people of Central America

In speculating about the potential selection of a pope from Latin America in March 2013, I wrote
However, in some ways, what might also change with the selection of a Latin American, African or Asian pope, is how the media, Catholics and non-Catholics listen to the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as their predecessors, have spoken very strongly not only on social issues, which get the most attention, but on issues such as the damaging effects of capitalism, poverty, inequality, climate change, the environment, migration, and war. Their stances on these important issues does not excuse them for the areas in which they have failed. But perhaps the selection of a pope from outside of continental Europe will force many to listen, not blindly of course, to what the Church has to say on many other important issues of the day.
Pope Francis has gone above and beyond what I thought might happen but I feel good about what I wrote two years later. Here is Jim Yardley in yesterday's New York Times discussing the highly anticipated encyclical on climate change that is scheduled to come out of the Vatican later this week.
In the leaked document, Francis often writes eloquently, citing scientific evidence about the human role in global warming. He repeats some of his familiar themes in calling on people to move away from a consumerist model that he says is depleting resources, to the detriment of the poor, and live simpler lives. He also calls on governments to work together for solutions at the global, national and local level — while at times focusing on specifics, like his opposition to carbon credits.
“In this encyclical,” he writes, “I intend especially to engage in a dialogue with everyone about our common home.”
Encyclicals, papal teaching letters to the Roman Catholic faithful, often fail to generate much outside attention. But Francis’ pronouncement on the environment and the poor has been eagerly awaited, especially by scientists and environmentalists, as a major event.
As a still very Catholic region region drowning in poverty and violence, the encyclical will speak directly to the people of Central America. It is one of the world's most vulnerable regions when it comes to suffering from the effects of climate change - rising sea levels, unstable weather patterns. Many Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans living in the US are the beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of climate-induced disasters. While not climate change-related per se, the encyclical's focus on the environmental will also have implications for mining, hydroelectric, and large-scale agricultural projects in the region. These projects have been known to contaminate water supplies and damage the land, displace the already vulnerable, and contribute to unequal representation of citizens in weak, democratic states.

See also Evan Barry's The Papal Encyclical: Driving Debate in Latin America for the AULA Blog.

The World in Recession

Earlier this year, we introduced a global economic indicator based on the trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year change in the amount of carbon dioxide measured in the Earth's atmosphere, where we correlated changes in that level with the incidence of recessions in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Here is what we noted at the time:

The amazing thing that we see coming out of this juxtaposition is that it would appear that the trailing twelve month average of year over year changes in carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere would appear to be somewhat well correlated, in real time, with the incidence of recessions in the U.S. economy, which we see in either a falling or flat level of increase in CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere.

That makes sense in that a contracting economy is likely to reduce its energy consumption which, in our largely fossil fueled world, produces a negative change in the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. Meanwhile, a growing economy is likely to produce a positive change in the measured amount of carbon dioxide.

Here's where things stand through the end of May 2015:

Trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year change in the amount of carbon dioxide measured in the Earth's atmosphere, February 1960 through May 2015

We've added the vertical gray-shaded bands to indicate where nations other than the U.S. have experienced recessions. That data is based in part on the OECD-Based Recession Indicators for OECD-member and non-member economies, which unfortunately, do not provide a good indication of the scope or severity of the recessions indicated.

As a general rule of thumb for using this measure then, we would consider the global economy to be expanding when the pace at which atmospheric CO2 is increasing and for it to be either contracting or experiencing recessionary conditions when it is respectively falling or holding level.

At present however, the trailing twelve month average of the year-over-year rate of change in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is consistent with the falling or flat-pattern we observe during periods of recession on Earth.

Data Sources

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [File Transfer Protocol Text File]. Accessed 11 June 2015.

National Bureau of Economic Research. U.S. Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 11 June 2015.

Federal Reserve Economic Data. OECD-Based Recession Indicators for OECD and Non-member Economies from the Peak through the Trough. [Online Database]. Accessed 11 June 2015.


This post was updated at 2:53 PM EDT to add the text indicated in boldface font.

Is Marijuana Sucking California Dry?

In March 2015, environmental scientists employed by California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a study examining the impact of diverting surface water to sustain marijuana cultivation upon four northwestern California watersheds. For a state that has been experiencing an extreme drought, the researchers were alarmed to find that marijuana growers were diverting up to 100% of the water flowing in a number of small streams in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties during dry periods for the purpose of irrigating their pot farms.

California’s Mediterranean climate provides negligible precipitation during the May—September growing season. In Northern California, 90–95% of precipitation falls between October and April [14]. Marijuana is a high water-use plant [2,15], consuming up to 22.7 liters of water per day. In comparison, the widely cultivated wine grape, also grown throughout much of Northwestern California, uses approximately 12.64 liters of water per day [16]. Given the lack of precipitation during the growing season, marijuana cultivation generally requires a substantial amount of irrigation water. Consequently, MCSs are often situated on land with reliable year-round surface water sources to provide for irrigation throughout the hot, dry summer growing season [7,8,12]. Diverting springs and headwater streams are some of the most common means for MCSs to acquire irrigation water, though the authors have also documented the use of groundwater wells and importing water by truck.

Converting liters to gallons, a single marijuana plant can consume up to 6 gallons per day.

TakePart summarizes the California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists' research and findings:

They chose four areas, all surrounded by forests, and all with streams containing endangered salmon. The scientists estimated that the growing operations were using between 138,200 and 191,265 gallons of water a day. People in Northern California, for comparison, use an average 172 gallons of water per day per person.

Marijuana growers were taking 100 percent from three of the streams studied and 25 percent of a fourth stream.

Those streams aren’t just picturesque—they’re critical to the survival of the coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

Doing some more quick math, the estimated cultivation of 23,033 to 31,878 marijuana plants in these regions was consuming the same amount of water per day as somewhere between 803 and 1,112 people. Or rather, 28 plants consume the same amount of water as the average northern Californian.

But that's just that small region. To find out how much water is being diverted to grow marijuana in California, we need to know how many plants are being grown throughout the state.

Map - U.S. Outdoor Cannibis Cultivation Areas - Source:

To determine that, we're going to use the same methodology that was done in a study by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center for its 2010 drug market analysis of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in Central Valley California. Here's how they described it:

California Produced More Outdoor Grown Marijuana in 2009 than Mexico: (Method 1-Seizure Based): Mexico’s 29,025 MT production was eclipsed by California’s cannabis output of 49,105 Metric Tons in 2009. How was the California output computed? To determine the California output potential we used different (published) methods in an attempt to determine the accuracy of these estimations.

First we began with the 2009 DC/SEP actual seizures of outdoor marijuana, 7,365,760 plants which weighed 5,140 MTxii We applied the WDR median percentage (15%) and calculated that 49,104,576 marijuana plants was the production potential for California in 2009. Applying the Gaffney formula to determine metric tonsxiii, this equates to a gross weight of 49,105 MT of marijuana possibly produced in California during 2009.

We found the number of marijuana plants seized by law enforcement in California in 2014 and an estimate of the total crop that was seized compared to previous years in the Washington Post:

The number of marijuana plants seized and destroyed by the Drug Enforcement Administration fell slightly last year and remained sharply lower than the record numbers seen at the dawn of the Obama administration. According to the DEA's records, 4.3 million marijuana plants were destroyed last year, down from 4.4 million the year before and 10.4 million in 2009.

With 2.7 million plants destroyed, California alone contributed 63 percent of the total haul last year. But California's numbers have fallen sharply during the Obama administration, taking the national numbers down with them. "Coinciding largely with the downsizing of, and then ultimately the disbanding of, the state's nearly 30-year-old Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program, DEA-assisted annual marijuana seizures in California have fallen over 60 percent percent since 2010," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, in an email.

Those numbers give us what we need to estimate the number of marijuana plants grown in California in 2014. Since the number of plants seized by law enforcement has dropped only because of the Obama administration's changes to federal drug enforcement policies, all we need to know is by how much those enforcement efforts have declined. Since those seizures have fallen by 60% from 2009's levels, we just need to multiply 2009's 15% of plants seized figure and to reduce it by 60%. Doing that math:

15%*(100% - 60%) = 6%

We find that law enforcement authorities believe that they seized about 6% of the number of marijuana plants grown in California in 2014. To find the total number of marijuana plants being grown in the state that year, we just need to divide the number of plants seized in 2014 (2.7 million) and divide it by 6%. The result of that math puts the estimated number of marijuana plants currently been grown in California at 45 million.

Outdoor Cannibis Cultivation Area - Source:

Multiplying those 45 million plants by 6 gallons of water per day puts the total water consumed by pot farmers at 270 million gallons a day - the same amount of water that would be consumed by 1,569,767 northern Californians. With the average time to grow a mature plant being about 105 days (or 3.5 months) long, providing enough time for two full crops per year, that works out to be 56.7 billion gallons a year, which works out to be 174,006 acre feet of water consumed per year.

That puts marijuana cultivation at a little over double California's strawberry crop when it comes to annual water consumption.

California's Annual Agricultural Water Use (In Million Acre Feet) - Source: Slate

From the numbers presented in the chart above, it is pretty clear that marijuana cultivation is a smaller contributor to California's overall water shortage problems compared to other commercial crops, even though it would rank in the top 10 of California's thirstiest crops. However, the irrigation practices of marijuana growers in a number of the state's watersheds is causing considerable ecological damage, as the growers who unlawfully divert any portion of the water flowing in natural streams to irrigate their pot crops during California's dry seasons would appear to be little more than environmental rapists who are facing too few consequences under the Obama administration's politically selective law enforcement policies.


Bauer S, Olson J, Cockrill A, van Hattem M, Miller L, et al. (2015) Impacts of Surface Water Diversions for Marijuana Cultivation on Aquatic Habitat in Four Northwestern California Watersheds. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0120016. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0120016.

Holthaus, Eric. Stop Vilifying Almonds. Slate. [Online Article]. 17 April 2015.

Ingraham, Christopher. Facing budget pressures, the DEA is pulling up less weed. Washington Post Wonkblog. [Online Article]. 24 March 2015.

U.S. Department of Justice. Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Marijuana Production in California. [PDF Document]. 4 June 2010.