Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Great Global Experiment

Last night was all about climate change and its consequences. We had Kevin Anderson as a guest lecturer in our CEMUS course. He is the new holder of the Zennström Visiting Professorship in Climate Change Leadership here in Uppsala. This professorship is funded by UU alumnus Niklas Zennström and his organization Zennström Philanthropies. Apart from the visiting professorship he currently holds, Kevin is a professor of Energy and Climate Change at Manchester University as well as Deputy Director Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

Kevin started off his lecture with some general information and “basics” about the weather and climate, which I was very grateful for. Of course, there are many factors which drive the weather and climate of our planet, such as gravity, topography or volcanic activity.  But it’s not only geological factors rather than life itself as well. That can be plants, animals or you and me. Nowadays the terms Greenhouse Effect (GE) and climate change tend to have a negative connotation and they are likely to be confused a lot. But we should recall that they are natural and partially even necessary in the first instance. Remember that without the GE we would all (literally) catch our death out there at an average temperature of -18°C. While it is uncontested that GE and climate change are real, the existence of anthropogenic climate change is still contested by some, even though there is evidence like the tight correlation between the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration and anthropogenic emissions, or the declining ratio of carbon 14 in the atmosphere, suggesting that anthropogenic climate change is actually real.

Why the math does not suffice

Some of the big issues no one really expected some decades ago are positive feedback effects. Formerly, it had been calculated that doubling the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels would lead to some 1°C rise in average temperature. Today we know that it will actually rather cause a 3°C change due to positive feedback effects. One example for this is the sea. Since polar ice is white, it reflects much of the solar radiation. When this ice melts due to global warming, the bright area decreases and the dark surface of the sea increases. This in turn leads to an even higher absorbance of heat and thereby more global warming. It is a vicious circle.

Global Warming Potential

Some of the drivers for climate change – and probably THE driver for anthropogenic climate change – are greenhouse gases (GHGs). There are many GHGs resulting from different sources (like water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, etc.), so one is trying to make them comparable by looking at their global warming potential (GWP). That is how much a GHG warms the atmosphere within a certain period of time. If you are checking these numbers, the trick here is to look at the underlying time horizons very carefully. As the GWP is measured relative to CO2 and the gases have different lifetimes, the warming potential can vary a lot when using different time periods.

How to react to climate change?

If anthropogenic or not, climate change is real and already demands strategies today. There are generally two ways to tackle this issue: mitigation (= preventing CC) or adaptation (= adapt to CC). According to Kevin, not much – and definitely not enough – is happening in mitigating climate change today. At the moment we are focusing more on adaptation strategies. This has become necessary at the moment as a result of more extreme weather events, which lead to floods, food shortage, etc. In the medium to long term climate change will be likely to cause huge migration flows, increased military tension and other problems as well.

Why focus on 2°C goal?

A temperature rise by 2°C was formerly estimated to be on the border between acceptable and dangerous warming. Today it seems more likely that 2 degrees are way within the dangerous warming zone. We know that the impacts will be worse than anticipated, but today we have already reached an increase in temperature by 1 degree. Last year’s Paris agreement was an important step into the right direction because almost every single country agreed in written form to keep global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Yet, this text is far from enough to save our planet. It doesn’t include any references to fossil fuels or decarbonization, it exempts aviation and shipping, it relies on negative emission technologies, and so on. So this agreement doesn’t provide a solution, but it provides some leverage for everyone engaging in climate change mitigation.

Possible scenarios

Pursuing the lecture, there are two possible future scenarios. The first one is that we start mitigation right now, as the only thing that’s missing is the will to act. This might enable us to actually stick to the goal of a 2°C warming. The second scenario will unstoppably occur if we do not react and will include temperature increases of up to 3-4°C. Under these conditions, summer heat waves in Europe for example will most likely melt roads, train tracks and kill thousands of people.

 

Some comments

This was surely one of the greatest lectures we had in the CEMUS course so far. It provided a nice density of information about climate processes and scientific basics, combined with a very inspiring discussion of the relevance of climate change and its possible future impacts. For my part I have learnt a lot yesterday. Many thanks to Kevin Anderson for visiting us!

I hope you guys felt like this was interesting. You probably knew a lot of it already (I knew at least sooome of it), but the lecture gave me some hope with respect to what is actually possible technologically and it also provided some new things to think about, like the sense or absurdity of negative emission technologies.

Sorry also that I didn’t manage to finish this last night. At least now I can almost wish you a good weekend!

 

Cheers,

Franzi

CEMUS – The Global Economy

Hej, hej!

I am sorry for not posting anything on Wednesday, but I had a very busy week and you might still not be done reading my last entry since it became soooo long. Today I would like to tell you about one of the two courses I am currently taking.

With my first year during the master – as many study years before – being a little loady on math and statistics, I was looking for something different this semester. Even though most of the courses I did felt necessary, education in economics tends to be somewhat unilateral. With that in mind, I decided to try out a course offered by CEMUS, the Centre for Environment and Development Studies. CEMUS is a student-initiated, transdisciplinary center of Uppsala University and SLU.

The course I am taking is called The Global Economy (GEC) and it is split into three parts: (1) The birth of the global economy, (2) Understanding economies and (3) Possible (R)Evolution(s). The participants are Bachelor and Master students from various countries with different academic backgrounds and we have altering guest lecturers according to each week’s topics.

There are mainly three reasons why I am thrilled about this course. The first one is the style of teaching. While as a student of economics I am used to traditional chalk-talk teaching, GEC is much more interactive, by adding seminars, workshops and debates, film reviews and discussions to the regular lectures. Even though I appreciate most of the traditional lectures I have attended over the years, this is a very welcome variety for me. The second factor is the transdisciplinarity of the course: different backgrounds mean different opinions. I really, really appreciate the discussions that we have in class. Economics is omnipresent to all of us, whether we are aware of it or not, and if you ask one hundred people about a current economic issue (say the European financial crisis or the Brexit), you will get one hundred different answers. I think that it is very important for us economists to sometimes step out of our bubble of economic models and just try to see the world through someone else’s eyes (that last part holds not only for economists). In class my sentiments range from anger to curiosity, but there’s always something new to learn. The third reason why I enjoy this course so much are the topics we talk about. With some of them being more interesting than others – obviously – GEC covers many topics that I find are often neglected in the studies of economics (e.g. alternative economic theories or current issues touching upon economics).

The first module gave quite some insight to the past. We heard and talked a lot about the history of globalization, finance and economic theories. I actually used to have a class in economic history on the Bachelor level, but the topic changed every semester, so unfortunately I only learned about the era of the Great Depression. That was of course dramatic and important to be familiar with, but it also provided a rather restricted view on overall economic history, I must say.

However, even though I could increase my knowledge on economic history to a certain extent in the following years, there was still much to learn for me in the first module of the CEMUS course. Most appreciated is that I had the feeling to take a step back from detailed modelling and look at the whole picture again. I forgot how useful that can be every once and a while.

For everyone who is interested in sustainability or development issues, you should really pay a visit to the CEMUS site. I am also planning on posting about this course further and in more detail regarding the content soon!

I wish you a lovely week!

Franzi

Electives – The Econometrics Triplet

There was only one mandatory course for us during the second semester – Environmental Policy – which means there were 22.5 credit points to be chosen freely. Since I hadn’t done much Econometrics during my Bachelor studies, I decided to focus on that over the course of the last spring semester. I.e. I made the bold choice to take Econometric Theory, Applied Econometrics and Topics in Econometrics. I apologize for this super long post, but I wanted to make sure to put everything up at least a week before the application deadline.

 

Econometric Theory

I started off with a more basic course in Econometric Theory, taught by Luca Di Repetto. Before actually covering econometric modelling, the first half of the course repeated some necessary basics from statistics. That was very helpful for everyone whose last statistics/econometrics classes dated way back – like me.

The statistics part covered some probability theory and large sample theory, but mainly random variables (discrete & continuous, bi- & multivariate). During the second half of the course we essentially looked at the Linear Regression Model (quite extensive), non-linear regression functions and limited dependent variable models (Linear Probability, Probit & Logit Model). So I guess if you already have a strong background in econometrics you might consider skipping this course. For everyone who hasn’t done econometrics or who needs a fresh-up I would really recommend this course though.

I don’t know if Luca is going to teach the class again this time, but I was very pleased to have him as a teacher. His lectures were very clear and concise and he was open-minded towards the students’ ideas. In addition to the lectures we had exercise sessions every week, where we applied the theories on exercises and some real life examples.

You can find the course page here!

 

Applied Econometrics     

Applied Econometrics was organized as a follow-up course on Econometric Theory. In the lectures we talked a lot about possible threats to external or internal validity of analyses – and how to avoid them; about panel data, fixed effects regression, instrumental variables regression and (quasi) experiments.

This course shifted from theory to practice in so far as the exercise sessions were now “computer labs”, where we learned how to use the statistical software STATA. Many people had already used STATA for their Bachelor theses or on other occasions, but some of us were completely new to it. Our teacher, Niklas Bengtsson, started more or less from scratch, but as the labs were not mandatory you could skip them if you were familiar with STATA. There were two voluntary assignments to collect points for the exam, which was really helpful. It “forced” me to actually sit down to practice and deal with the software.

Honestly, if what you want to do after your studies is in any way related to economics, you should be able to perform what we did in this course. In case you already know all the above mentioned things: that is awesome. If not, I strongly recommend you to take this class.

And this is the course page!

 

Topics in Econometrics

For everyone who didn’t have enough after the first two econometrics classes there was Topics in Econometrics. The teacher, Adrian Adermon, stated the purpose of the class as to be able to identify good research. So what we did was to look at many different articles and try to evaluate their approaches and methods. Usually, for the lectures Adrian would pick two or three papers to point out and explain specific problems or methodological issues. Those could be omitted factors, robustness of the results, data mining, use of weak instruments, publication bias, etc.

Adrian often designed the lectures a little more interactive by giving us a question or issue to discuss amongst each other. Also we sometimes saw really surprising results, so it was quite an interesting course.

Besides the lectures we all had to attend a seminar, where we were supposed to present a scientific paper or an associated replication of it, respectively. Then we discussed the problems of these papers in class. The topics were really diverse, ranging from taxation of cigarette consumption over marginal returns to medical care or the relationship between economic shocks and civil conflicts to the economic impacts of climate change.

Probably the greatest challenge in this course was that we had to do our own replication of a scientific paper. Here we could choose from several topics as well. I won’t lie: for me as a STATA beginner this was really, really hard! (At least there was no exam though!)

Looking back I am glad that I took this course, because I learned so much regarding the application of STATA. Even if you won’t use STATA after you finish your studies, this can come in handy at least for the Master thesis.

Here you can find the course page!

 

I think the deadline for course applications is October 17. This is given without liability, so please make sure to check that again and best apply even earlier at antagning/universityadmissions.

Apart from that let me know if you are interested in further details regarding any of these courses. I will try to answer your questions!

Take care!

Franzi

4th of October – Kanelbullens Dag

If there is one thing Swedish people love – it will be their fika. Fika is not just a simple coffee break. It is more of a social institution or a tradition. No day in Sweden passes without it. While fika technically means having a (preferably hot) beverage alongside with some pastries or other snacks, it stands for so much more. It means taking the time for a break with friends, colleagues, fellow students, etc. to socialize and to chat about all kinds of issues. That has to happen at least once per day and I love it.

Now one of the most traditional bites to have with your coffee is the famous cinnamon bun. Even though normally it could be anything else, the 4th October is the official cinnamon bun day in Sweden (Kanelbullens Dag in Swedish) and of course I didn’t dare having anything else for fika then coffee and cinnamon buns.

Cinnamon – as well as coffee – has quite a long tradition in Sweden, dating back to the 16th and 18th century, respectively. While nowadays the common cinnamon bun  with its whirl shape almost looks like a snail shell, there are – and have been – plenty of other forms. You can find lots of recipes out there, but the basic ingredients are flour, butter, yeast, sugar, milk and – of course – cinnamon. Swedes often use cardamom in the dough, too.

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Honestly: What Beats Coffee & Cinnamon Buns?

Even though Kanelbullens Dag is a commercial holiday – whereof I am usually not a great fan – I cannot resist these tasty buns. Especially not if my roommate made them! <3

BTW: This is the official Cinnamon Bun Day website!

Franzi

 

Change of Season

If you would ask me to pick my favorite season of the year, I’d have a really hard time to decide. Yet the answer would certainly not be autumn. While winter usually enchants me completely with its ice and snow, spring always awakens my spirits of optimism and summer makes me more adventurous. Autumn and I in fact have a slightly more difficult relationship.

And while my dearest Sri Lankan friend Sachi recently highlighted the benefits of the constant warm weather back home, I feel like there is something magical about each change of season. Especially, when the weather presents itself like here in Uppsala at the moment. So today I just want to send out some impressions from what has truly felt like the first autumn weekend of the year – along with some of the awesome things awaiting us now.

– Picking mushrooms and berries in the forest (even though basically everything is empty by now)

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Stunning Forests Around Uppsala

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– Enjoying all the nice autumn food: It’s finally cold enough to have soup again, and a lot of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. (of course going with some nice pastries), let alone all those apples you can find everywhere right now!

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Harvest Time – You’ll Find Berries And Apples Everywhere

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– You have a good excuse to stay in bed if it’s a rainy day

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A Little Lunch Walk With Friends Today

– 4 October is the official cinnamon bun day (Kanelbullens Dag)

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Stunning Colors In The City As Well

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– 35th International Short Film Festival (24-30 October)

– And so on…

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Observatorieparken

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Seems like Swedish autumn is not so bad after all 😉

Have a great start into this week!

Franzidsc_0570