Casaubon's Book

How Do You Like Those Odds?

Again, Stuart Staniford runs the numbers and clarifies the analysis, and comes up with some really hideously bad possibilities. In his “Odds of Cooking the Grandchildren” Staniford shows us the implications of a PNAS paper that I’d missed:

There is a horrible paper in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (hat-tip Desdemona Despair), which looks at how the limits of human physiology interact with upper-range global warming scenarios. The bottom line conclusion is that there is a small – of order 5% – risk of global warming creating a situation in which a large fraction of the planet was uninhabitable (in the sense that if you were outside for an extended period during the hottest days of the year, even in the shade with wet clothing, you would die). To give you a feeling for the likely uninhabitable regions, it’s the portions of the map above that are in the white or pink/purple color (above 35oC wet bulb temperature on the scale). As you can see, it includes most of the eastern US, much of inland Brazil and Latin America, tropical Africa, pretty much all of India, portions of northern China, and most of Australia. Plenty to qualify as a “Risk to Global Civilization”, I think.

Read it and weep – and I mean that quite literally.

Moreover, ask yourself whether you consider a 5% chance of that outcome an acceptable risk. There’s an answer – it involves rapid deindustrialization, it would be difficult, politically complex, painful and costly. So it comes down to this very basic question – how much do all of us really love our kids and our grandkids?

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 Moopheus
    May 7, 2010

    “So it comes down to this very basic question – how much do all of us really love our kids and our grandkids?”

    My answer was to just not have kids. Even before people were talking much about global warming, I had to figure that in a world of finite resources, eventually Malthus would be proved right.

  2. #2 daedalus2u
    May 7, 2010

    Unfortunately, for some, those odds are not good enough.

    Their reasoning is that if the world was to become uninhabitable through Man’s actions, then God would have to intervene. That intervention would be via the Rapture.

  3. #3 D. C. Sessions
    May 7, 2010

    Sounds like the Mississippi Delta. New Orleans, in particular.

    Mind, Nawlins is only habitable by straining the definition and only for a short time remaining — but people have been doing it since long before air conditioning.

  4. #4 Ethan
    May 7, 2010

    Re: New Orleans. If you look at the reference, you will see that the claim is that large parts of the world, and the Eastern US in particular, would much worse than New Orleans at present, enough to routinely kill people via heatstroke.

  5. #5 D. C. Sessions
    May 7, 2010

    If you look at the reference, you will see that the claim is that large parts of the world, and the Eastern US in particular, would much worse than New Orleans at present, enough to routinely kill people via heatstroke.

    Nawlins already routinely kills people via heatstroke. So, for that matter, does a good bit of Arizona and eastern Texas. France and Chicago have been known to, as well.

    The conditions specified are survivable — but just barely — by the healthy assuming that they adapt their behavior and to some extent their environments [1] to the conditions. Add just a few degrees and that changes.

    I’m not arguing against the conclusion, just pointing out that the threshold has been set a few degrees low. The scenario described would still make for large areas which would be truly uninhabitable because the coolest part of the day would still be too hot for long periods. Ain’t nobody gonna survive 38C wet for a nighttime low.

    [1] e.g. meter-thick adobe walls.

  6. #6 Tamara
    May 7, 2010

    Hobbit holes, anyone?

  7. #7 cornish-k8
    May 7, 2010

    I was never that desperate to have children. I can remember discussing with my husband-to-be in the late 80′s the stories then appearing in the press about global warming and questioning whether having kids was the right thing to do.

    I was over-ruled; we now have 2 kids, 17 and 15, and I have great concern for their future. Fortunately, despite all the doom, gloom, and apocolyptising from me they both have positive attitudes to the future.

    I think that perhaps as the older generation it is easy to look back at how life has changed over the past generation and become blinkered to the adaptability and resourcefulness of our offspring.

    The future will not be easy but I feel that our children will adapt to their environment just fine, hopefully they will not feel hard done by for not having lived though the golden age their grand-parents experienced – childhood with experience of deprivation of war/post war privations, later increasing technology/affluence and afterwards early & comfortable retirement.

  8. #8 Greenpa
    May 7, 2010

    Tamara – nail on the head. I’ve been saying “earth shelter” – for a long time. No smiley.

    We just built both a chicken brooding house, and a horse shelter. Both are partially earth sheltered, to the astonishment of the neighbors.

    Happy Morlock time.

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    May 7, 2010

    Nawlins already routinely kills people via heatstroke. So, for that matter, does a good bit of Arizona and eastern Texas. France and Chicago have been known to, as well.

    The difference is that today the people who die of heatstroke either are vulnerable to begin with or fail to take proper precautions. Under this possible future scenario *everyone*, even perfectly healthy folks who do take proper precautions, is at risk in the areas where wet-bulb temperatures exceed 35C for extended periods. Maybe the threshold is set a bit low, but I’d say any place with a 24 hour average exceeding 37C is definitely going to be uninhabitable. Many other places are going to become unpleasant.

    Air conditioning might help if you can get the electricity to run it, and you can retrofit where it doesn’t already exist. Where I live (New Hampshire), any house built before the mid-1980s, and the majority of more recent houses, will not have central air conditioning unless it has been retrofit. Ditto Europe (for the record, I’m at about the latitude of Toulouse, which is about as far south of Paris as Washington DC is south of my location).

  10. #10 D. C. Sessions
    May 7, 2010

    Maybe the threshold is set a bit low, but I’d say any place with a 24 hour average exceeding 37C is definitely going to be uninhabitable.

    Many of my objections go away as soon as you start extending the conditions from “6-hour peak” to “24-hour average.” The fact remains that people have lived without AC in New Orleans, where the wet-bulb temperature (AKA dew point) routinely exceeds those described, for centuries.

    It *does* require adaptation. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun, for instance. Thick walls with lots of thermal mass and he ability to flush lots of cooler air through at night, for another. Planning hot-season agriculture around what you can safely do rather than expecting to work from can-see to cain’t-see. Maybe giving up on the use of draft animals, since most of them can’t handle heat loading as well as we can. Accepting that old folk die every summer.

    Look at that list and you see that the areas under discussion may not be “uninhabitable” but the conditions would still require changes incompatible with “civilization as we know it.” Which was, unless I missed the point, Sharon’s bottom line in the first place.

    The real conclusion remains the same, I’m just trying to remove an easily-attacked side issue that doesn’t change the outcome.

  11. #11 Jim Thomerson
    May 7, 2010

    I grew up in the Texas hill country without even a fan in summer. I lived in New Orleans for four years without AC. One time I was back home. After lunch I lay down on a cot out on a shaded porch. There was a nice breeze. I thought, this is really comfortable, much cooler than New Orleans. I then looked up at the thermometer on the wall in the shade. It registered 108F.

  12. #12 Brian M
    May 7, 2010

    So it comes down to this very basic question – how much do all of us really love our kids and our grandkids?

    As individuals, plenty. As a society, not that much. It pains me to say it, but, otherwise, we would not have the society we have.

  13. #13 D. C. Sessions
    May 7, 2010

    “So it comes down to this very basic question – how much do all of us really love our kids and our grandkids?”

    As individuals, plenty. As a society, not that much. It pains me to say it, but, otherwise, we would not have the society we have.

    Never underestimate the power of human self-deception.

  14. #14 vertalio
    May 7, 2010

    5%. But only under Business-As-Usual. Gulp.
    Guess it’s time to work on genetic crossings with crocodiles, then.

    I’m amused, if only slightly, by observations including air-conditioning reqs. It’s time to throw them out, friends, and start piling the earth up.
    So…what can we grow in caves, anyway, at night?

  15. #15 Jadehawk
    May 7, 2010

    So…what can we grow in caves, anyway, at night?

    mushrooms?

  16. #16 Paul S.
    May 7, 2010

    12 degrees Celsius warmer than the current average?! I had thought that 6 degrees Celsius above current average was the absolute worst case scenario if CO2 continued to increase unabated plus a lot of methane got thrown in. Has the planet ever been as warm as 12 degrees Celsius above current average?

  17. #17 Who Cares
    May 8, 2010

    @Paul (#16) Yes, the Eocene about 55 million years ago.
    Average temperatures of 10C-15C above current average.

  18. #18 Rebecca
    May 8, 2010

    Sharon, do you know what worst-case scenario he’s using? Is it the business-as-usual fossil fuel usage continues to grow at such and such percent a year for the next century, or something else? Thanks,
    Rebecca

  19. #19 Jadehawk
    May 8, 2010

    Sharon, do you know what worst-case scenario he’s using? Is it the business-as-usual fossil fuel usage continues to grow at such and such percent a year for the next century, or something else? Thanks,
    Rebecca

    I imagine that is explained in that $10 paper he got the info from. I’m seriously considering buying it, especially since I’d been under the impression that Europe was going to get colder, not hotter (or I guess, in such an extreme scenario, just get a bit hotter), because of a likely Gulf-stream shutdown…

  20. #20 Alex Besogonov
    May 8, 2010

    “Moreover, ask yourself whether you consider a 5% chance of that outcome an acceptable risk. There’s an answer – it involves rapid deindustrialization, it would be difficult, politically complex, painful and costly. So it comes down to this very basic question – how much do all of us really love our kids and our grandkids?”

    WTF? I really mean, _WTF_?

    Deindustrialization is NOT going to happen. Anyone proposing such solution is an idiot.

    The real solution will be in clean carbon-neutral technologies.

  21. #21 Isis
    May 8, 2010

    Alex, deindustrialization is not a ‘solution’ but an inevitability. It’s happening whether or not you or anyone else likes it. The resources needed to keep the industrial civilization going for more than a few more decades (if that!) are simply not there. Sorry.

  22. #22 Nomen Nescio
    May 8, 2010

    Their reasoning is that if the world was to become uninhabitable through Man’s actions, then God would have to intervene.

    makes you wonder what manner of deity they’re imagining, that wouldn’t be very seriously pissed at being thusly forced to intervene…

  23. #23 Alex Besogonov
    May 8, 2010

    “Alex, deindustrialization is not a ‘solution’ but an inevitability.”

    Nope. Please, provide citations of reputable academic sources to support your words.

    “It’s happening whether or not you or anyone else likes it. The resources needed to keep the industrial civilization going for more than a few more decades (if that!) are simply not there. Sorry. ”

    That’s absolutely stupid. What ‘resources’ do you speak of? Iron, aluminium, nitrogen? Maybe copper or tin? Please, specify. Even labor won’t be a shortage since we’re moving towards more and more automatized production.

    So we have NO shortage of raw resources, not even close to that.

    What we have is a problem with primary _energy_ sources, or to be more precise with fossil-based energy sources. And that’s not a problem, because we have technology to replace them. Namely: nuclear power, wind power, solar power, etc.

    It won’t even be that costly.

  24. #24 skeptifem
    May 8, 2010

    If only that stupid poor portion of the world (you know, like 80%) would just keep all their plentiful resources instead of sending them to the smart people living in industrialized nations! Those silly people have been starving to death and being enslaved for no good reason at all! If only they could be smart like alex and see that there is actually plenty of everything, forever. I bet they wouldn’t work crippling jobs for almost no money to produce junk for us, if they only understood how plentiful and easy aquiring resources is. Those silly, silly brown folks.

    /sarcasm

    On a more serious note-If you need someone to explain to you how most of the world lives and why they live that way, you are either really young or painfully ignorant. The information is extremely easy to find, and you should look into it extensively before deciding that your position is correct. There is a large complicated global order that dominates the majority of the world, and who take resources from other countries and pay almost nothing for the labor of the people there and take it to industrialized nations to use (or waste). All of the stuff around us actually came from somewhere and was made by someone, and doesn’t go away when we are finished using it. If there was so much that could be had so easily I don’t know why it would take the majority of humans on earth to provide enough stuff for our tiny minority to live the way that we do. Scaling back what we can have must happen, what is needed to provide what we have now is crazy. The idea that we are moving towards automation is laughable when you have a basic understanding of the behavior of dominant corporations globally. Keeping industrialized nations going already means killing and oppressing countless people all around the world.

    http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Chomsky/ProfitsOverPeople_Chom.html

    ^^there is a good start if you want one. A major economic change is needed if we are to survive as a species. If not environmentally, then politically, because this sort of behavior will not go on without serious retribution forever.

  25. #25 Alex Besogonov
    May 8, 2010

    skeptifem:

    Stop that conspiracy crap and start studying the real economy. It clears your brain nicely. Seriously, I get tired of all that ‘US exists because of the third world’ crap. Chomsky is particularly bad.

    Even during the height of imperialism (19-th century) resources from colonies were NOT essential for industrialization. Rather, industrialization provided means to get ‘luxury’ items (tea, spices, fruits, sugar, etc.) from colonies and these ‘luxury’ items justified further industrialization in a feedback loop. But raw resources (metals and coal) were mostly mined and processed at home.

    Even now, outsourcing is used mostly to ‘import’ labor, not raw resources. And this hardly is an ‘exploitation’ since ‘exploited’ countries benefit from this. In the long run (in 20-25 years) the current ‘third-world’ countries may very well approach the wealth of the current ‘first world’.

    For example, see this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USimportsbycountry2004.gif – the greatest trade partners of US are its neighbors and China.

    Also, play around with this tool: http://tse.export.gov/NTDMap.aspx?UniqueURL=flq1as45urafgaf2r3wcdhz4-2010-5-8-22-14-54

  26. #26 Who Cares
    May 9, 2010

    The only ‘problem’ with those nations reaching higher standards of living is that they have to go through the same ‘dirty’ energy period that the industrialized world has gone through. One of the reasons those nations and their supporters are screaming bloody murder (to be more precise neo-colonialism) at limiting Co2 release.
    And in part they are right that the limiting will slow their industrialization. In part they are wrong since it will eventually result in a place where there in no on left to industrialize (as can be seen/read in the link in the post by Charon).

  27. #27 Who Cares
    May 9, 2010

    Ooh that is a nice one.
    Thinking about the end of the world and because of that that typing charon (ferry man of the death in Greek mythology) instead of Sharon.

  28. #28 eulenspiegel
    May 9, 2010

    Alex- if you can, I’d really love to know more about your background. Country? job? age? education?

  29. #29 Alex Besogonov
    May 9, 2010

    “Alex- if you can, I’d really love to know more about your background. Country? job? age? education?”

    I live in Ukraine (though I come from Russia). Age – 29, education – economy and mathematics specialist degree (about equal to Masters), also I have a half-written thesis for PhD which I should finish One Of These Days…

    Job – owner of a small software company :)

  30. #30 Nomen Nescio
    May 9, 2010

    deindustrialization will happen in response to demographic and economical changes forced by the migrations made necessary by the sort of global climate changes predicted in the original article.

    it doesn’t even have to get nearly as bad as this worst-case projection; even a much smaller (comparatively speaking) change would shift agricultural zones around to where populations would have to move or starve. either way, industrialization of the third world couldn’t continue (because the population would be gone) and industrialized society in the first and second world would be at best difficult to maintain (because of the costs of maintaining the refugee loads, on top of the costs of adjusting to the sea change in local agriculture necessary to feed even the existing population).

  31. #31 vertalio
    May 10, 2010

    At 12 C rise the caps are gone, no? Add 200 feet to the seas, loss of all ports and lots of agro land to the mix. Those colorful maps need adjusting.

    Around here things are about three weeks early this year…apple blossoms gone by when they oughtn’t even be blooming yet. The bugs that eat them hatched just fine, but I haven’t seen many of the birds that eat those bugs yet. Not much fruit coming, I expect. And that’s a fine microcosm of the changes coming whether we cease industrialization, or super-industrialize for that matter our way out. (Do you think windfarms, nuclear, etc. not petro-intensive, anyone? Three massive turbines turn not a half-mile from where I now sit, and it took 27 tractor-trailer loads, over highways and on ferries, to just bring the cranes to install them. Add in manufacturing of the turbines, cable to the mainland, the grid itself, and tell me how much oil was spent just to get that “renewable” power to your house.)
    Crop failures will be magnified if all our eggs are in the industrial farming basket. And crop failures seem promised, if temp. fluxuations tamper with bloom times, migration times, rainfall patterns, harvest weather, etc.
    Get outside, the changes are already showing. Now, forget your mind…what does instinct tell you? Mine tells me Sharon is right: accepting responsibility for feeding ourselves while divorcing from the extractive culture is saner than forging ahead full-tilt with the faith that our intellect will solve the problems it created in the first place.

  32. #32 Sharon Astyk
    May 10, 2010

    Alex, I may be an idiot, but I’ve got ten thousand pages of writings readily available citing academic sources on the case for deindustrialization. So let’s turn it around – what sources are you dealing with to make the case that a (rapid enough to prevent dangerous climate change and without running up against supply constraints of the fossil fuels we use to manufacture and support them) shift to those technologies is possible? The US DOE, for example, has argued that an under-20 years transition is not possible. The Stern Report’s estimate for transition is on a 30+ year order. All of those reports estimate greater time than most climate sensitivities permit, and they also assume stability in supply and price of the fossil fuels on which such a transition is based.

    The recent emerging sense of what would need to be achieved for climate stability is something very close to 0 industrial emissions – which simply can’t be achieved rapidly. Nuclear is hardly carbon free – 1/3 is good, but not good enough that standard, so nuclear can’t replace our existing technologies. And while it is possible that we may reach the point that renewables become self-perpetuating, I know of no reputable scientists or academic sources that think such a transition could emerge in less than three decades – two perhaps if we were able to engage in a world-scale build out on the order of what the US did during WWII – Bohr famously said that in order to build the atomic bomb, you’d have to turn the US into a factory – and then observed that they effectively had, with every citizen fully engaged in the production aspect or actual fighting.

    There is little work on the real world conditions we face, precisely because they are emerging so rapidly. But what there is suggests that one way or another, we are either facing an extreme bottleneck, in which it is necessary to reduce emissions rapidly and while more slowly building up resources – with the economic consequences that you’d expect, or in the worst case, that we won’t be able to do it rapidly enough. So again, make your case – citing appropriate sources, of course, and ones that use current estimates of both climate sensitivity and energy resources.

    Sharon

  33. #33 darwinsdog
    May 10, 2010

    Age – 29

    A kid, then.

    education – economy and mathematics specialist degree (about equal to Masters)

    Meager education with no instruction in the life or physical sciences. No understanding of ecology. Dismissed.

  34. #34 Nomen Nescio
    May 10, 2010

    hey now, ‘dog. i’m not that much older than Alex (37), and i’m considerably less educated than he is, yet that doesn’t stop me from seeing how interconnectedness in complex systems — whether ecological systems or economical ones — can both help buffer against change and worsen the domino effects of drastic change when crucial elements get impacted.

    yet my own greatest concern is that we (as a species, culture, or society, take your pick) might be able to mitigate the changes, but simply won’t, because we’re too greedy and short-sighted to. just like we could stop world hunger right now — we have the agricultural excess in some places, and for the time being we have the logistics to move it where there are shortages — but we aren’t. this tendency will severely worsen the damage once rapid changes start spreading famine and thirst far beyond where they are currently found.

    the result, as i think Sharon has mentioned elsewhere, looks to me like it will involve lots more people (than necessary) becoming lots poorer (than they have to), with no effective safety net. that poverty will end up killing people, too, and might well put paid to any further industrialization all by itself even if it wasn’t actually fatal. building industry takes capital, and that may become a scarce resource in and of itself.

  35. #35 darwinsdog
    May 10, 2010

    Thanks for responding Nomen.

    yet my own greatest concern is that we… might be able to mitigate the changes, but simply won’t, because we’re too greedy and short-sighted to.

    I agree that Homo is too greedy and short-sighted to mitigate anthropogenic environmental impacts that are detrimental to ecosystem functioning and to the integrity of the Terran biosphere. But you needn’t worry on that account because there is nothing that can be done to mitigate these impacts even if the will to do so existed. The insults are too severe, they interact synergistically, and positive feedbacks have been triggered that ensure that the situation will continue to deteriorate even if all anthropogenic impacts ceased immediately. There is simply nothing that can be done to mitigate the situation and to forestall mass extinction. The sixth great mass extinction episode of the Phanerozoic is well underway and it’s going to be at least as severe as the end-Cretaceous event. This is inevitable and already long ongoing. The reduction of biodiversity, extinction of key components of ecosystems that contribute to and enable the functioning of said ecosystems, is inevitable and there’s simply nothing that can be done to prevent it at this point. Human extinction within the next handful of generations is a distinct likelihood. This is true even if the political will to “do something” could be mustered, which, as you rightly point out, won’t be the case.

  36. #36 D. C. Sessions
    May 10, 2010

    Meager education with no instruction in the life or physical sciences. No understanding of ecology. Dismissed.

    Dog, that would be a bit more to the point if Alex were disputing the atmospheric physics, biology, or ecological facts. That doesn’t seem to be the case — he appears to be arguing purely on the economic and political front.

  37. #37 darwinsdog
    May 10, 2010

    Alex… appears to be arguing purely on the economic and political front.

    Which is precisely why he misses completely the reality of the situation, to whit: economics and politics deal with hypothetical concepts divorced from real world phenomena. If he would study the hard sciences he would realize how ridiculous his posts are.

  38. #38 Alex Besogonov
    May 10, 2010

    Ok.

    First, I don’t argue with the reality of global warming. I worked on atmospheric modeling during my postgraduate study (in my capability as a mathematician and software developer).

    What I’m arguing is the need for deindustrialization. It’s just not going to happen. Here are my arguments why.

    Basically, we can do two things:

    Do business as usual increasing CO2 output. Until we hit the wall sooner or later. As a pessimist I believe that’s exactly what we’re going to do (just look at Nauru history). In this scenario at the end we’ll have to rely on technology to counteract results of climate change (air conditioning, fertilizers, irrigation, etc.). And because we’ll have to expend much more resources to make this happen, industrialization will actually grow.

    We set a high cost on CO2 emissions with additional benefits for CO2 sequestering technology. For example, you’ll be able to use idling nuclear powerplants to liquefy CO2 and pump it into the earth. Long ago I made calculations that this measure alone can halve the amount of CO2 emitted by industry (i.e. not transportation and heating) with only ‘modest’ increases in nuclear power generation. So technically, I don’t see any fundamental obstacles, really.

    Next, what is ‘deindustrialization’? I assume that you mean contraction of industry in absolute GDP amount. Because right now most countries in the world are deindustrializing in relative numbers (i.e. the GDP share of industry is going down), mostly because of rapidly growing efficiency.

    My favorite example is a common toothbrush. In 1905 it cost about 50 cents, which is about $10 at the current prices. While I can get a similar toothbrush (which would now be labeled ‘cheap and disposable’) for about 10-20 cents.

    So if you decide to deindustrialize and nuke the toothbrush factory from the orbit to save CO2 – you’ll suddenly notice that you need to expend much more CO2 to feed workers manually assembling toothbrushes. Whoops.

    And finally, the main CO2 producer is now not the industry, but services sector. It’s definitely responsible for more than 50% of CO2 emissions. I’m too lazy to search for precise numbers at 5AM local time, but I can do that tomorrow.

    PS: I’m also quite biased since I lived through deindustrialization of the USSR. I saw with my own eyes how industrial output plunged. And then recovered.

  39. #39 Alex Besogonov
    May 10, 2010

    “Which is precisely why he misses completely the reality of the situation, to whit: economics and politics deal with hypothetical concepts divorced from real world phenomena. If he would study the hard sciences he would realize how ridiculous his posts are.”

    And mathematics also deals with hypothetical concepts divorced from real world phenomena (try to do a Banach-Tarski transformation on an apple if you don’t believe me).

    So what? Is mathematics wrong or irrelevant? Nope. It just gives us a way to model real world. As does economy.

    PS: it’s funny that I quite often hear the same argument about climatology (“it’s not a hard science, so it’s totally wrong’).

  40. #40 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    Also, another argument: we won’t have time to rebuild the industry to be less CO2-intensive.

    I think it’s bogus too. It might be not possible in the current ‘buy-your-politician’ political climate, but history has several ‘success stories’ of rapid industrialization and re-industrialization: USSR, South Korea, Japan, postwar Germany.

    These examples show that it’s possible to [re]build industry fairly quickly. I’ll try to analyze it in more depth today.

  41. #41 Jennie
    May 11, 2010

    Alex,
    Where do you see the power coming from to continue to run all the industry?
    Here in North America we have an aging power grid, not capable of handling the two-way traffic necessary for large inputs of renewable energy. We have aging power generators, in need of maintenance/repairs/overhauls, and running on fuels that are only getting more expensive. All this would require massive amounts of funding, and decades to refurbish to work with renewables in an efficient way. Not to mention the cash/resources/fuel needed to build out those renewable generators. I think most of us realize we don’t have decades to work with, and we’re running low on cash.

    http://theautomaticearth.blogspot.com/2009/07/july-1-2009-renewable-power-not-in-your.html

    Maybe the Ukraine has a better energy infrastructure, but I don’t see increases in industry working out so well here in NA.
    -Jennie

  42. #42 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    “Where do you see the power coming from to continue to run all the industry?”

    Frankly, I like nuclear power. It’s been proven to be successful and safe and it can be scaled fairly rapidly. Certainly, wind and solar power will help too.

    As for cash and resources – the rapid building of new clean industry can actually _help_ us with cash and resources. Economy is a non-zero-sum game and you can literally create wealth from thin air, if you do it correctly.

    Initial building of new industry will certainly result in CO2 emissions. But what is the alternative? De-industrialization is NOT a solution, it won’t help AT ALL.

    Maybe we’ll have to resort to geo-engineering (which will require, you guessed it, industry).

  43. #43 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    Also, from your link:

    “First off: As we are entering a depression, within a few years hardly anyone will have the money to buy an EV. Second: the grid could not come close to handling the current transportation load even if EVs could become common. An economy based on EV transportation would have to be fueled by base-load nuclear that doesn’t currently exist”

    That’s incorrect. Currently US has enough of idle night-time generation capacity to _immediately_ convert about 3/4 of cars to electricity. I can cite a DOE report, if you don’t believe me.

    “and would take decades to build, and no one builds anything in a depression.”

    Heh. Building things is the only way to get _out_ of recession :)

  44. #44 Sharon Astyk
    May 11, 2010

    DD, hey, no picking Alex’s age – I’m the same age as Nomen, and while I’d love to believe I’m just a few years out of being a kid, I don’t think that case really holds up all that well, given that I have actual kids ;-). ‘Taint age that matters – and to Alex’s credit, he’s responded with good humor and a fair layout of his opinion with all of us picking on him.

    Sharon

  45. #45 Sharon Astyk
    May 11, 2010

    The CCS in liquid or gas storage is nowhere near ready for prime time, and it requires very centralized power because you can’t do it in a whole large chunk of the planet – not where the base stone is granite (I apologize for seeming US centric here, but I know more about US and Canadian Geology than I do about Europe’s) – so not in much of the US Northeast, not near major fault lines or in earth quake prone zones, etc… So you are talking about building a lot of nuclear power plants in very centralized locations, with long range transmission lines.

    There are certainly examples of rapid industrialization – but not without huge quantities of emissions – so we need to talk climate sensitivity here, and address the question of whether you can make the shift without pushing past critical sensitivities. We’ll “just” geoengineer, or we’ll “just” build out nuclear plants ignores the technical and ecological realities.

    But there are economic consequences as well – the Stern report, which is imperfect, probably mostly because it understates things – it was built on old target figures and earlier data (pre 2008) about climate sensitivity) estimates that if we push past critical tipping points, by 2050, we’re going to be spending 20% of world GDP just mitigating climate change – so if we cross the tipping points in the process of adapting (and again, nuclear doesn’t get us to the level of reduction that we need – it is about 35% as carbon intensive as our present models – better, but the carbon emissions are heavily front-loaded – it takes a lot of concrete and heavy emissions to make them, so in order to have them up and running, you have to dump a lot of carbon into the atmosphere) we run the risks of a recession that never ends – vast and endless. 20% of world GDP is a huge loss.

    I think your experience of involuntary deindustrialization represents a useful lesson, but not the one that I’d take from it – the former SU is the case for voluntarily scaling down society’s complexity and carbon intensity – because it is always vastly worse to do it unintentionally. We cannot simultaneously devote resources to operating with less complexity and creating more complexity – we have to choose. Keeping people from starving, keeping vaccinations and basic health care coming (yes, DD, I know you think we can’t and maybe you are right, but at least in the shorter term), dealing with infrastructure issues – these things have to be priorities, precisely because of the example of collapsed societies in which the results show us why we don’t want to go there – and whether you agree with him or not Dmitry Orlov has argued that it will be worse here. I’m not sure that that’s always true in every respect, but I think he has a case, particularly about housing.

    Sharon

  46. #46 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    DD, hey, no picking Alex’s age –

    Okay, fair enough. Plenty of well-informed, level-headed grad students in their twenties in Ecology & Evolution programs around the world, after all. The thing about Alex, though, is that he strikes me as being this starry-eyed technocopian idealist with no knowledge or understanding of physical, biological and ecological constraints on human population and economic growth whatsoever. His is a “kid’s” view of reality, regardless of age. An immature view, in other words. He seems to accept unquestioningly all the unrealistic assumptions that go into economic models: to whit, that so-called “externalities” don’t matter, etc. Perhaps he is capable of crunching numbers but he seems to have no realistic perspective on what belongs in the models he plays, like a kid, with. He needs an education in the sciences before endeavoring to pontificate on issues that are totally out of his realm of expertise. He needs to pay his dues, develop a reality-based perspective on issues facing humanity and the biosphere, and he needs to listen to his “elders,” once again of whatever age they happen to be.

  47. #47 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    PS: I’m also quite biased since I lived through deindustrialization of the USSR. I saw with my own eyes how industrial output plunged. And then recovered.

    Alex, you were ten years old when the Soviet Union came unglued. What I can’t understand is how you can be such an advocate for industrialization when the industrialization of Ukrainian agriculture under Stalin led to the deaths by starvation of ten million of your countrymen. Is your dysfunction something akin to the “Stockholm Syndrome,” or some similar victimization symptom?

  48. #48 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    darwinsdog:

    Industrial collapse was not instantaneous, it happened over several years (I lived in Russia at that time). Blaming industrialization for deaths of millions is also stupid. One can argue that without industrializaition Hitler would have conquered the USSR and successfully exterminated all Jews.

    Also, please don’t misquote me. I’ve never said and/or meant that externalities don’t matter. I quite obviously argue that they do matter since the climate change is happening.

    And yes, I’m a technophile. I like technology and I think that it’s the only way to get out of climate problems. If you don’t like my way of thinking – sorry, you may call me idiot. You might even convince me that I’m an idiot if you cite enough data :)

    Back to the topic, I’m currently reading articles about industrial policy. Frankly, they all basically say “Before now, industry growth was associated with rising CO2 emissions, thus if we start transforming industry to emit less CO2 we’ll get more emissions, since before now industry growth was associated with rising CO2 emissions”.

    We don’t have the data on retooling the whole industry for CO2-friendly production. However, windmill producers claim that CO2 footprint of windmills is recouped in just 3-6 months if it displaces coal-fired powerplant. So low-carbon industry is certainly possible.

  49. #49 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    And yes, I’m a technophile. I like technology and I think that it’s the only way to get out of climate problems. If you don’t like my way of thinking – sorry, you may call me idiot.

    I’m not calling you an idiot, I’m calling you naive. Like a kid enthralled with a toy, you display an immature infatuation with technology, apparently believing that the same thing that has allowed human population to so grossly exceed the carrying capacity of the biosphere and thereby disrupt the very homeorrhetic integrity of the biosphere, can somehow miraculously ameliorate that same disruption. Here in the US we have a saying: “When in a hole, stop digging.” You seem to think we can dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in, using “technology” as the shovel. You also seem to think that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the sole or most serious problem humanity and the biosphere faces. It is not. It is merely a contributor to the real problem which is the devastation of biodiversity and destruction of functioning ecosystems. Well, let me clue you in Alex, technology can’t restore species that are extinct and it can’t restore functioning ecosystems that have been destroyed. For every technological “fix” you may suggest, a plethora of novel problems accrue from said “fix.” You mention wind turbines, for instance. They kill bats and birds. How do you suggest we control insect infestations in crops and ensure pollination services without bats and birds? The techno-fixes you salivate over don’t scale, the capital and raw materials to implement them are unavailable in a post-peak fossil fuel world, and environmental problems you don’t seem capable of understanding supercede our best intentions. Alex, you don’t even seem to have a grasp on the history of your own homeland. Soviet agricultural industrialization utterly ruined the rich mollisols of the Ukranian steppe, destroying their native fertility and demanding the massive input of I-NPK and agricultural biocides to maintain productivity. Yet you laud the industrialization that led to the demolition of your national birthright and to the genocide of your people. I’m sorry Alex, but your obliviousness to these basic issues preclude me from taking you seriously. To my mind you are very much in need of a good education in the sciences, before you will be prepared to engage constructively in serious dialog regarding environmental, demographic, or resource depletion issues. In the mean while, play with your toy models and quit pestering the adults.

  50. #50 D. C. Sessions
    May 11, 2010

    ‘dog, you may well be right that homo sapiens is the algal bloom of the animal kingdom: as long as we’re in the system, we’re going to wreck it till we drive ourselves to extinction.

    If so, there really isn’t much else to say. I might as well do the “eat, drink, and race monster trucks — for tomorrow it’s Mad Max and doomsday” shtick.

    Alternatives which may be the only apparently viable ones from a biosystems perspective have the fundamental problem that our preindustrial ancestors were already engaged in massive habitat destruction, and were in a death race to do it faster than their competitors. That particular talent seems to be pretty basic for our species (witness the mass extinctions of paleolithic North America and the South Pacific.)

    Technology may have improved our ability to destroy the world around us, but it’s also the only thing so far that has even a faint success at offering us an alternative other than racial seppuku. Which, for all that it might be the Right Thing to Do, is not going to happen for the same Darwinian reasons that drove our ancestors to trash the world in their own day.

    I can pretty well guarantee you that the prosperity, technology, science, and education that industrial civilization has provided us are the only things in human history which have supported the kind of long view concern for the world that you see under discussion here. It may be depressingly rare in first-world societies, but it’s damn well nonexistent everywhere else for the simple reason that reducing carbon footprints is not going to keep an Inuit’s baby from freezing to death in the winter — and the willingness to accept bloodline extinction for the benefit of distant strangers isn’t exactly something evolution has selected for.

    Disrespect Alex all you will for being young and naive but he’s got a pretty good handle on the human-systems limitations, which are just as constraining as the natural-systems limitations. If there’s any hope for the future (which I concede is far from certain) it will lie in the intersection of those two sets of constraints, not by ignoring either.

    PS: not all wind-power systems are threats to bats and birds. Don’t make them perfect, but you don’t need to use straw men to make a point.

  51. #51 Nomen Nescio
    May 11, 2010

    interestingly, my own sense of doom and gloom has more to do with my (admittedly inexpert) understanding of economics than with biology (of which i have essentially no understanding, i’ll grant).

    two potential threats, peak oil and climate change, each seem quite capable of forcing deindustrialization on us.

    the global economy currently is built on energy being cheap as a basic assumption. globalization relies on it; that isn’t possible without cheap (and fast) long distance logistics, which rely on cheap energy. part of globalization is regional specialization; among other things, specialization in the agricultural sector in particular leads to large-scale industrial agribusiness. those, by their nature, depend heavily on mechanization, fertilization, and chemical pest control — all of which are energy intensive. food prices depend, in part, on energy prices — not just to run the tractors, but to run the fertilizer plants, and of course the fleets of trucks to get the beans and butter off the farms and into the cities.

    knock out cheap energy, and the whole economical system would have to change. to some extent, complex systems like that are resilient, because the interdependencies can introduce redundancy too — some things can be replaced by other things, and life go on. bad news: this process of replacing dependencies, in our current economy, depends on cheap energy itself — to find, extract, exploit, and transport the replacement resources. if cheap energy is the thing that needs replaced… hence, peak oil is if not an existential threat to modern economy, then something very close to it. not because oil will physically run out, but because it will become so expensive as to threaten several too many basic economical assumptions, with no way to shore up the house of cards left to us.

    climate change is a near-existential threat to agriculture, because it would make it impossible to grow some of our current staple foods where we’re currently growing them. well so what, can’t we replace them with other staples? in theory — if we get the time to change our agricultural practices; if we get the chance to figure out what to change to, in time, and re-tool all the relevant systems to handle the change; if if if.

    in actual practice, such ages-old (and slower) processes as desertification, soil depletion, aquifer depletion, and soil salinization have proven too much to handle, too quick to adjust to. global climate change is about that sort of thing, except on a worldwide scale and much faster than most of those. we have a track record in handling these sorts of problems, and it sucks.

    now imagine the economical impact of those changes in agriculture. food may be commoditized, but it’s still economically important, and will become even more so once people start thinking (rightly or wrongly) that they may have to go hungry no matter how much they pay for dinner tonight. here too there are no really fungible, readily available substitutes; we have to eat something, and it has to be grown somewhere.

    either of these, by itself, could seriously cripple the economy. neither of them, once they happen, will ever go away; both are permanent, one-way changes we’ll simply have to live with — or fail to. both of them happening at once seems like a perfect storm scenario, yet just that is starting to look somewhere between possible and most likely.

    the result would be a global economy under very severe stress, and we have plenty of evidence for what that spells: depression. this one caused by long-term, irreversible, changes we cannot simply wait out, and which we would need massive capital investment to cope with. capital investment is in short supply in a depression.

    yes, to some extent governments can deficit-spend themselves out of depressions. yes, to some extent wealth can be created de novo to fill spending gaps. but there are real limits to what those tricks can accomplish — they’re finance, not magic; if finance could do just anything, the U.S. housing market would not have had to recently crash — and if the system as a whole gets hit badly enough on a global scale, said tricks may very well prove unequal to the task.

    if that turns out to be the case, the end game is simple: everybody becomes poorer, most of us very much poorer. those who can’t survive on what they have left to them die in (and of) that poverty, or move away hoping to find better luck elsewhere (cue Grapes of Wrath). industrial society depends on ongoing capital investment not just to grow, but to maintain what it has already built. if that fails, the richest parts of the world might end up looking like the U.S. rust belt, or whatever equivalent areas surely exist in the former USSR, for comparison.

  52. #52 Nomen Nescio
    May 11, 2010

    one little tidbit that’s loosely connected with globalization, global logistics, and the cost of energy: Chinese shipping giant Cosco recently tossed out a feeler about nuclear-powered container ships.

    now, that certainly won’t come to anything — this time, at least; where would they find nuclear certified engine-room crew? they’d have to recruit among U.S. Navy retirees, and pretty much nobody else — but soundbites like that aren’t likely allowed out by any accident. might there be another time around, in a few more years? China is also busily building themselves a world-class blue water navy, which might end up with some nuclear-powered ships of its own, eventually…

  53. #53 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    “the global economy currently is built on energy being cheap as a basic assumption”

    Uhm. Not really. Globalization is built on idea that the cost of different things is different in different parts of the world :) Energy pretty much doesn’t enter into the equation except for shipping of goods, which is ridiculously cheap (in energy costs as well). Or to be precise, energy affects EVERYTHING (global and local economics) pretty much in the same way.

    And that’s fairly easy to prove (indirectly, though) – just look at the correlation of worldwide trade and oil prices. Or to be precise, the lack of thereof.

    I don’t want to go into details, but in a recession infrastructure projects funded by the government is the best way to stop it. Retooling industry to lower CO2 demands certainly qualifies.

  54. #54 D. C. Sessions
    May 11, 2010

    yes, to some extent governments can deficit-spend themselves out of depressions. yes, to some extent wealth can be created de novo to fill spending gaps.

    That only works in depressions caused by a collapse of demand. In those caused by a critical shortage, they’re worse than nothing at all.

  55. #55 Alex Besogonov
    May 11, 2010

    “now, that certainly won’t come to anything — this time, at least; where would they find nuclear certified engine-room crew? they’d have to recruit among U.S. Navy retirees, and pretty much nobody else”

    Maybe also among the retired crews of USSR and Russian nuclear icebreakers? :)

    The cost of shipping is trivial in reality. It quite often costs more to deliver goods from the port of destination to the customers than to ship a container over the half of the world.

  56. #56 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    ..as long as we’re in the system, we’re going to wreck it till we drive ourselves to extinction.

    So it would seem. We’re agents of entropy. Turning potential energy into waste heat is what we seem to be good at. Taking an ordered biosphere and disordering it.

    I might as well do the “eat, drink, and race monster trucks —

    Might as well. Here in the natgas patch one’s social status is reflected in the size of one’s carbon footprint. All the displaced Texan & Okie gas patch trash drive late model diesel dually pickups, and tear around on ATVs and Jeeps. They run down bicyclists – or at least pretend like they’re going to – for fun. A Prius would probably be vandalized. If ya can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, and all that. But someone like you or me has to live with himself, D.C.

    ..our preindustrial ancestors were already engaged in massive habitat destruction..

    Yeah but they were amateurs at it compared to us. You just can’t kill as many trees in a day with a chert, bronze or even steel ax as you can with a chainsaw or 55 gallon drum of Tordon. Even equipped with shovels & wheelbarrows an army of slaves can’t keep pace with a bulldozer. Try as they might, a preindustrial civilization just can’t ruin a marine ecosystem as fast as a hole punched into a petroleum reservoir beneath the sea floor can do.

    Technology may have improved our ability to destroy the world around us, but it’s also the only thing so far that has even a faint success at offering us an alternative…

    No offense D.C. but I think you may have been conditioned by corporate-governmental propaganda to believe & say things like this.

    ..the willingness to accept bloodline extinction for the benefit of distant strangers isn’t exactly something evolution has selected for.

    No kidding! You may or may not have noticed, but I always advocate for having as many kids & grandkids as one possibly can. I’m no group selectionist who promotes sacrificing one’s own Darwinian fitness ‘for the good of the species.’ I have three surviving children, one grandchild and a second on the way. If my wife’s health had allowed, we would have had more kids than three. It will be gangs or clans of brothers & first cousins that rule turf before long. Loners will be run off or killed.

    PS: not all wind-power systems are threats to bats and birds.

    You’re correct but designs that don’t kill bats & birds are “inefficient” compared with those that do and hence aren’t common and are usually small. The massive turbines being erected today decimate avian & chiropteran populations. Impact with the blades isn’t even necessary to kill a bat or bird. Flying into the turbulent wake of a blade is sufficient to kill a volant vertebrate.

  57. #57 D. C. Sessions
    May 11, 2010

    Back on the politics and economics front:

    It remains true that regardless of our ecological constraints our biggest shortage is simply the willingness to even address the problem. To put that in perspective, consider that the USA spends nearly as much on entertainment each year as on fossil fuels.

    Boggle.

    Let’s also recall that tax revenues are fungible, so all of the “a carbon tax would destroy the economy” squealing pretends that the tax would be in addition to others, rather than in their place. Which is silly — the economy would, net, be unaltered by a shift from taxing income (about $1000 billion a year) to doubling the price of fossil fuels (also about $1000 billion a year.) The average consumer would have more after-tax income to spend on the increased prices of goods, no net first-order change.

    Second-order changes would be something else again. Taxing fossil fuels would, of course, give a competitive advantage to sustainable energy. Among other changes.

    Note the silence on that whole topic? Totally off the table. All you’ll hear in the press is that “carbon taxes” would destroy the economy, end of topic. Which brings me back to the “will do take action” being the largest shortage of all.

  58. #58 darwinsdog
    May 11, 2010

    interestingly, my own sense of doom and gloom has more to do with my (admittedly inexpert) understanding of economics than with biology (of which i have essentially no understanding, i’ll grant).

    I think that we have gotten away from the topic Sharon posted about in the first place. Please review what she had to say and let it sink in. A body can’t transfer heat to an environment hotter than it is. If the environment is hotter than our bodies for a protracted period, our bodies can’t dissipate heat to it and we die of hyperthermia. Now, how can the economic situation, however dire, compare to that?

  59. #59 D. C. Sessions
    May 11, 2010
    Technology may have improved our ability to destroy the world around us, but it’s also the only thing so far that has even a faint success at offering us an alternative…

    No offense D.C. but I think you may have been conditioned by corporate-governmental propaganda to believe & say things like this.

    Nope — just history and cultural geography. You’ll note I’m not imagining that even in the First World there’s any large concern for the world we live in; it’s just that elsewhere there’s less.

    You and I are having this discussion. Do you really think that it’s on the table in rural China?

  60. #60 Jennie
    May 13, 2010

    Alex, thanks for the discussion. :-) It’s always nice to carry on a decent conversation with someone who doesn’t agree with me.
    You haven’t convinced me though. Just because the energy is ‘available’ for night charging of 3/4 of the vehicle fleet, it doesn’t mean the energy is in the right places. I don’t believe we have the ability to MOVE energy in the ways we’ll want to move it to make EV’s and sustainable energy generation work.

    DarwinsDog is right, we’ve strayed from the initial premise. That small risk of making most of the planet uninhabitable, does that make solutions like the-giant-sun-shade-in-the-sky idea more feasible when comparing the risks? Because really, aren’t we all just arguing over risks here? The risk of deindustrializing vs the risk of industrializing balanced again the risks of destroying the planet… At what point does the risk of uninhabitable balance out the craziness of some of the solutions proposed for global warming? Does it ever?

  61. #61 Alex Besogonov
    May 14, 2010

    “You haven’t convinced me though. Just because the energy is ‘available’ for night charging of 3/4 of the vehicle fleet, it doesn’t mean the energy is in the right places. I don’t believe we have the ability to MOVE energy in the ways we’ll want to move it to make EV’s and sustainable energy generation work.”

    No, we have energy right where it’s needed. Some infrastructure work will be needed, but it’s quite minor (on the scale of the country, of course).

    Even better, there are plans to use batteries in electric cars to buffer daytime energy consumption peaks. So as a result we might even get a net positive impact from electric cars. Though it won’t happen until we get substantially better battery technology.

    …I’ll dig up that report tomorrow…

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.