Meesc

My previous post Policy? trailed off in the comments in a variety of odd directions, as long comment threads are wont to. So I’ll offer you this quote:

For there are some people on the left who keep insisting that economic growth is incompatible with reduced emissions, and that therefore we have to turn our backs on growth. Such people have no power, and therefore don’t do any real harm. Still, it’s worth pointing out that they have a much too narrow notion of what it means to have a growing economy. It doesn’t necessarily mean more stuff! It could be better stuff, or more services — and there are also choices to be made in how we produce and distribute stuff. There is absolutely no reason to believe in a one-for-one link between real GDP and greenhouse gases.

I could try to play guess-the-quotee, but of course with google that’s no longer an amusing game so I may as well tell you it Krugman, via Covered in Bees, who says “Well, no, there’s not a one-to-one link. Really, no-one ever said there was”. Really? According to DA, Curry has been writing on a similar vein. But I haven’t read that.

Eli and mt (and more Eli, and of course there’s even more) have stuff on the “Recursive Fury” / Frontiers affair; all the words are available elsewhere so I won’t re-say them; Frontiers is in a mess and in the wrong. Mind you, Bardi allows people to post utter drivel on his blog, so can’t be an entirely sensible person. Perhaps surprisingly, AW hates L so much he was prepared to quote Frontiers editor saying “It is most unfortunate that this particular incident was around climate change, because climate change is a very serious threat for human civilization.”

There was a nice example of AW’s inability to parse things related to science, again – he was tricked by the Slayers. RS has fun

I can’t remember if I mentioned HoRR. Anyway, it was cancelled after some of the leading boats sank. Oh dear.

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    2014/04/17

    Fair enough. But there’s a long way between accepting that there isn’t “a one-to-one link between real GDP and greenhouse gases”, and assuming that the two can be completely decoupled, to the extent that they move in opposite directions for ever more. And that’s before we start considering rebound effects…

    Large scale deployment of nuclear power of one form or another certainly might do it, but there are open questions about the economic viability of that, and the waste issue remains a problem. This is of course the point at which people invoke thorium and / or fusion, but neither of those chickens have actually hatched yet.

    [The way the world is going, I'd be more inclined to invoke solar photovoltaics across the Sahara, or somesuch -W]

  2. #2 Dunc
    2014/04/17

    Sure, there’s lots of unhatched chickens we could count if we want. Practically an infinite number, if you’re prepared to be imaginative enough.

  3. #3 OPatrick
    2014/04/17

    I’ve always believed, and even said on occasion, that there is no intrinsic reason why economic growth should be linked inextricably to increased (resource) consumption. However, I’ve never come across anyone making this case convincingly, describing what this would actually *look* like. Do you know of anyone writing meaningfully about this?

  4. […] By William M. Connolley […]

  5. #5 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    While I don’t think that growth is necessarily inextricably linked to material inputs, I can’t see how it is anything other than inextricably linked to energy inputs.

    Tom Murphy of Do The Math suggests that this presents a thermodynamic problem for people who promote eternal growth:

    https://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

    Timmy tried to suggest that Murphy was wrong:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/04/12/economic-growth-will-boil-the-planet-in-400-years-or-what-tom-murphy-the-physicist-needs-to-know-about-economics/

    He suggests that we could focus on qualitative rather than quantitative growth but this is very unconvincing as you just can’t get away from that energy input when increasing growth so it all comes back to Murphy’s original point.

    [No: it comes down to you not having understood what Timmy is saying -W]

    Regarding growth and reducing emissions, it would be a lot easier to deal with the latter if the former was stabilised.

    I was talking to a friend who works for a large multinational selling consumer products and he showed me their sustainability plan. They have very bold plans to halve the GHG intensity of their product lines but have equally bold plans to double the size of their business over the same period. Net environmental gain? Zero.

  6. #6 OPatrick
    2014/04/17

    Scatter, thanks – those were interesting. I don’t see why more energy would be needed for qualitative growth but Tim Worstall doesn’t describe there what qualitative economic growth would look like, or more importantly how we would get to it.

  7. #7 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    [No: it comes down to you not having understood what Timmy is saying -W]

    Really? Care to elaborate? Timmy says:

    “Daly then goes on to say that there is also qualitative growth. This is where we do not make more things, we just make better things out of the limited resources available to us. Things that are more valuable to us. It’s an interesting and useful distinction: it’s just that it’s not a new one nor is it one ignored by entirely standard economics of growth. For qualitative growth is GDP growth just as much as quantitative growth is.”

    So how do we achieve increasing qualitative growth without increasing energy inputs? How do we make better or more valuable things out of the limited resources available to us without consuming energy?

    [Well, consider a CPU chip. Currently, it takes a certain amount of energy to build a - say - Intel Pentiumish thing. The thing itself is tiny though - only a fingerful of sand or less. That tiny thing is more powerful than, and takes far far less energy and materials to produce, than a mainframe of 30 years earlier. There, was that so hard? -W]

  8. #8 OPatrick
    2014/04/17

    Scatter, would writing better software be a simple example? This adds more value but I can’t see that it would require more energy input.

    The example of the fancy dessert in Tom Murphy’s dialogue would be another.

  9. #9 Jon
    2014/04/17

    “They have very bold plans to halve the GHG intensity of their product lines but have equally bold plans to double the size of their business over the same period. Net environmental gain? Zero.”

    You’re implicitly assuming that doubling their business, if they succeeded in doing so, wouldn’t be achieved at the expense of their competitors, whose GHG emissions would decrease as they were forced, by a more energy efficient competitor, to reduce their production or go out of business entirely.

    “So how do we achieve increasing qualitative growth without increasing energy inputs? How do we make better or more valuable things out of the limited resources available to us without consuming energy?”

    That’s an impressively quick move of the goalposts there. From one sentence to the next, the goal has changed from making better things without using more energy to making better things without using any energy at all?

    A question for you: does it take more energy for Mario Batali to cook a meal than it does for the short order cook at your neighbourhood diner? Which meal is more valuable, as judged by market prices?

  10. #10 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    Both the software and the cooking example have increased GDP and have also increased our energy consumption. The marginal increase in energy consumption between the two cases can be assumed to be zero but there is still an increase in energy consumption in both cases.

    What has happened is we have increased the efficiency of our economy so we’re getting more value for our energy input.

    Great.

    Now consider if we continue to increase our GDP indefinitely in this very efficient fashion (or in an even more efficient fashion). What happens to our energy demand? It keeps going up. There are hard limits to the gains we can get from efficiency improvements so our energy demand will continue to increase with GDP in the long run.

    I should note that I am not dissing the concept of energy efficiency here – I’m a big fan and it has huge potential in the short term. But once we’ve grabbed all our efficiency gains, energy demand will continue to increase with GDP.

  11. #11 NewYorkJ
    2014/04/17

    I’m in agreement with the quoted text. It’s not just a fallacy of some elements of the left, however. It’s explicit or implicit in arguments from most of the right. They believe that reducing emissions will destroy the economy, possibly bringing society back to the dark ages. Sometimes they point to the past as a guide. The last time emissions were low per capita, people were riding horses. The right cannot envision a future of a strong economy and limited carbon emissions.

  12. #12 OPatrick
    2014/04/17

    “Both the software and the cooking example have increased GDP and have also increased our energy consumption. ”

    Why has energy consumption increased? In fact, with better software it seems more likely that energy consumption would be reduced.

  13. #13 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    I’m talking about the energy input to write that software. I’m saying it can be assumed to be the sane as writing bad software (given that it’s generally easier to write bad software than it is to write good software I think I’m being quite generous there).

    Of course that good software might deliver efficiencies elsewhere which is great but again, there is a hard limit to the efficiencies which can be got out of our economy so once those have been achieved energy demand will trend upwards again as GDP increases.

  14. #14 izen
    2014/04/17

    Although there is a loose positive correlation between CO2 emissions per head and measures of GDP/quality of life, there are numerous variations. the ratio is not a constant.

    there are examples of emissions remaining stable or even falling while GDP continues to increase. the most obvious example is France that has a much lower CO2 emission per head than other nations with similar, or worse, GDP/head.

    The strong link between industry, business and fossil fuel use is a historical artefact. Replacing slaves with steam, then the internal combustion engine, increased what could be done in direct linkage with increasing use of fossil fuel.

    But modern industrialisation is expanding cognitive work rather than expanding mechanical work. The activity and method we are using to have this discussion involves machinery that has explicitly exhibited the increase in the value of a product by increasing the quality rather than the energy consumption. Moore’s law ensures that the GDP value of electronics increases while the energy consumption and resultant emissions fall.

  15. #15 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    > [Well, consider a CPU chip. Currently, it takes a certain amount of energy to build a - say - Intel Pentiumish thing. The thing itself is tiny though - only a fingerful of sand or less. That tiny thing is more powerful than, and takes far far less energy and materials to produce, than a mainframe of 30 years earlier. There, was that so hard? -W]

    Of course we can become more efficient at making things but we can’t become more efficient for ever. There are limits and increasing GDP will always have a non-zero energy input. So even if we make everything reeeeally efficient, if GDP keeps climbing, so will energy consumption (albeit slower than if we make everything like we do today).

    To my mind that makes Tom right and Timmy wrong.

    [I think you're just saying the same (wrong) thing again. I can't see how to say my point any more clearly, so I'll give up -W]

  16. #16 Scatter
    2014/04/17

    I’m pretty sure I’m not mad. If there’s anyone else out there who can be arsed to point out where I’m going wrong then please step up.

    Here’s another example: take an imaginary economy where it takes 1 unit of energy to create $1 and the economy grows at $1 per year. There is also a thermodynamic limit to the amount of energy that the economy can consume; let’s say it’s 100 units per year. So in this case after 100 years we hit our limit of energy consumption.

    Now let’s say there is an intervention which increases the efficiency of the economy to 1 unit of energy for every $10 of GDP. We’ll still hit that limit but this time it will be in 1,000 years.

    So increasing the efficiency of the economy buys us a lot of time but we still hit the buffers eventually.

    The only way I can see infinite growth being possible is if you can create wealth with zero energy input OR you can consume infinite energy without thermodynamic implications.

    This is of course a slight sidetrack to this thread but I brought it up in response to OPatrick’s comment #3 and was challenged on it so I’d quite like to set it straight.

  17. #17 Phil Hays
    2014/04/17

    > [Well, consider a CPU chip. Currently, it takes a certain amount of energy to build a - say - Intel Pentiumish thing. The thing itself is tiny though - only a fingerful of sand or less. That tiny thing is more powerful than, and takes far far less energy and materials to produce, than a mainframe of 30 years earlier. There, was that so hard? -W]

    Moore’s law will end. In fact, it’s already dead in the original form.
    The reason why the current chip is cheaper and more energy and material efficient is that a transistor can be made with many fewer atoms today than it could be 30 years ago. There are limits to this, of course. For most of the past sixty years, it has been done by just scaling. Take all the dimensions (line width, gate oxide thickness, voltages, etc) and multiply them by known factors, and voilà, a smaller, faster, lower power transistor. Scaling doesn’t go on forever. More to the point, scaling died in about 2008 (45 nm – 2008). The first problem was gate oxide. Gate oxide made with silicon oxide was used to insulate the gate from the source/drain. Gate oxide 30 atoms thick works great, but makes a large, slow transistor. Gate oxide 3 atoms thick doesn’t work, it isn’t an insulator. Some additional progress has been made by using different materials (factor of ~3 better), and different geometries (FinFETs), but there are only so many different materials and geometries to try. Eventually, you might get a transistor with some countable on your fingers and toes number of atoms, and you just can’t make a smaller one. Even before that point, the cost of making the equipment to make each generation of transistors has been growing at the same exponential rate has the number of transistors per chip. What once you could do in a garage with the kind of investment that would buy a house, now takes billions of dollars. Even if we can figure out how to make smaller transistors, we may be limited by the economics of making the equipment to make smaller transistors.
    Among other discussions:

    http://www.cnet.com/news/end-of-moores-law-its-not-just-about-physics/

    Timmy is wrong. Growth will eventually stop. Not only quantitative but also qualitative growth has limits.

    [Proof by assertion; excellent. But you need a time horizon. Anything past 100 years is pointless; we just can't see that far ahead -W]

    “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”
    Kenneth E. Boulding

    [Proof by quoting an unknown; also not convincing -W]

  18. #18 Victor Venema
    http://variable-variability.blogspot.com/
    2014/04/17

    At least the IPCC WGIII seems to think that mitigation is compatible with continued growth. They estimate that mitigation will reduce growth by 0.06% per year. I must admit I am surprised at how cheap that is. Intuitively I had expected 10 times as much, which would still be compatible with growth.

    Fortunately, because while growth is no longer that important for well being in the industrialized countries, it is hugely important for the people in poor countries.

    Naturally, global warming is not the only problem we have. Thus I wonder whether we could handle a shrinking economy.

    You often hear the claim that capitalism could not work without growth. Especially nowadays where the costs are mainly fixed costs and the costs per unit are very small, I can imagine that shrinking markets quickly lead to prices that cannot sustain the fixed costs. Does anyone know some serious thought on this problem?

    [I don't know the answer. My speculation would be that its not considered all that interesting for the mainstream, because the mainstream doesn't believe in no-grwoth, or negative growth, simply on the basis of past experience -W]

  19. #19 Phil Hays
    2014/04/17

    >[Proof by assertion; excellent. But you need a time horizon. Anything past 100 years is pointless; we just can't see that far ahead -W]

    Oh? Time horizon for Moore’s law based on scaling ended back in 2008. Yes, four years ago. Each new generation after that of smaller transistors needs new materials and geometries. As Moore himself said in 2005:

    “It can’t continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Moore

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_E._Boulding

  20. #20 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/18

    Kenneth E. Boulding …[... an unknown ...]

    Dear God, I feel so old, all of a sudden; kids these days don’t know Boulding’s work?

  21. #21 And Then There's Physics
    2014/04/18

    I’m glad you posted this as I think I at least now understand your issue with hippies :-)

    Your quote says

    For there are some people on the left who keep insisting that economic growth is incompatible with reduced emissions, and that therefore we have to turn our backs on growth.

    This may well be true, but I have encountered those who I suspect are on the right who also argue that economic growth is incompatible with reduced emissions. Of course, they seem to conclude that we should do nothing, rather than turn our backs on growth. It’s therefore not clear to me that it is only some on the left who think we can’t have economic growth while also changing how we produce/provide energy. I guess I haven’t provided some kind of evidence for this, so treat it as apocryphal if you wish.

    [I don't disagree. Nor am I asserting that we can have the "desired" degree of economic growth whilst cutting emissions. I do think that "growth implies emissions (and we desire growth), therefore GW science is wrong (because we don't want constrained emissions to constrain growth)" is obviously stupid; but so is "growth implies emissions (and we desire no-growth), therefore GW science is right (because we do want constrained emissions to constrain growth)" -W]

  22. #22 And Then There's Physics
    2014/04/18

    In fact, what you’re suggesting is even more nuanced than I had appreciated. You seem to be talking about those who are using GW to promote a no-growth scenario. I had thought that you were referring to people who believed GW but also believed that the only viable solution was a no-growth future.

    So, yes, I agree that that is as silly as those who argue that “growth implies emissions therefore GW is wrong”, although at least those who argue that “growth implies emissions (and we desire no-growth), therefore GW science is right” get the right answer, if for the wrong reason :-)

  23. #23 And Then There's Physics
    2014/04/18

    Paul Krugman’s latest post would seem to be relevant to this discussion

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/18/opinion/krugman-salvation-gets-cheap.html

    [Indeed yes. I must try reading WGIII at some point. You'll be pleased to know that Timmy quibbles some of Krugman's stuff -W]

  24. #24 izen
    2014/04/18

    @- Scatter
    “I’m pretty sure I’m not mad. If there’s anyone else out there who can be arsed to point out where I’m going wrong then please step up.”

    No, not mad, but starting with unstated prior assumptions that result in an unrealistic conclusion.
    CO2 emissions are the issue, not energy use. The two are NOT inextricably linked by an unchangeable constant.

    @-”Here’s another example: take an imaginary economy where it takes 1 unit of energy to create $1 and the economy grows at $1 per year.”

    That is not a behaviour seen historically in real economies. Much more often a linear increase in energy use results in an exponential increase in the ‘wealth’ of the economy.
    The transition from 2% with access to a home computer to almost total societal use did not require a 98% increase in energy usage.
    Doubling the number of people with smart phones does not imply a doubling of the CO2 emissions.

    The linkage between GDP, societal wealth and individual quality of life -> energy consumption -> CO2 emissions is real, but not constant or linear.

    @-”There is also a thermodynamic limit to the amount of energy that the economy can consume; let’s say it’s 100 units per year. ”

    Why ???

    Ignoring nuclear power, or our future ability to perform direct conversion of matter to energy with dilithium crystals, the maximum amount of energy would be available by building a Dyson sphere around the sun to collect ALL of its radiant energy. I suspect that a society that was able to access that effective upper limit to available energy would not find the that thermodynamics limited the amount of energy they could use, or the increasing organised complexity an wealth that it could generate.

    @-”Now let’s say there is an intervention which increases the efficiency of the economy to 1 unit of energy for every $10 of GDP. We’ll still hit that limit but this time it will be in 1,000 years.”

    More realistic from a historical perspective would to expect that GDP increases as the square of energy input.
    So:-
    1 unit of energy =1 unit of GDP
    2 units of energy= 4 units of GDP
    3 units of energy= 9 units of GDP….
    However the linkage is not that fixed, and there are many variables between energy usage, GDP, quality of life and CO2 emissions. (the actual subject of contention remember!)

    The political problem is not that limiting emission of CO2 might inhibit further growth of GDP in the wealthy nations. It is that there is a large majority of the human global population that does not enjoy that level of wealth, and in trying to reach the same quality of life with current technology and business structures would require a massive expansion in CO2 emissions.

  25. #25 Mark
    2014/04/18

    The Krugman quote sort of refers to a meta point. More broadly, I’d suggest that environmentalists who just cannot, for the life of them, understand where this political stalemate about a topic that is purely scientific comes from – - I’d suggest that they delve into some of Paul Ehrlich, or “The Llimits to Growth.”

    It’s entirely possible that environmentalism has learned to appraise economic issues on a more comprehensive basis than their ideological preconceptions. I also think that denialist claptrap w/r/t AGW is entirely undefensible. But everybody pretending to be completely clueless as to where accusations of “apocalyptic thinking” comes from should take a deep look into some major BS that was very acceptable not very long ago, and – if they have an especially self-critical day – what role motivated reasoning and vested interests pretending to be science-based might play in environmentalism.

  26. #26 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/18

    > Ehrlich
    But Worstall says we live on an endless cornucopia that only occasionally has brief interruptions in the flow of ever-cheaper richness:

    “Simon won: but that’s not quite the end of the matter. With different commodities, or over different timescales with the same ones, Ehrlich could have.”

    [I don't understand: why do you make things up? Worstall said nothing about endless cornucopia. Isn't it more interesting to discuss what people actually said, than - effectively - to talk to yourself; which is what you're doing if you put your own words in other people's mouths? You can't justify doing this just because you dislike what people say -W]

  27. #27 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/18

    And in that sense Worstall’s right – as long as you keep redefining the source for materials, there will always be more. Like the T-shirt says, “Earth First! We’ll stripmine Mars later!”

  28. #28 Mark
    2014/04/18

    @ Hank Roberts

    I am not really sure about what your point is, but I think Tim Worstall’s point is a good one, actually: He just points out that the bet hinged on its very specific topic – and that you cannot deduce any broader conclusions based on it (like that via substitution of inputs the market can adjust to just anything, and forever). The bet was a clear win for Simon, but on an extremely narrow topics, more so than is often admitted. Actually, Worstall is far from alone – the actual lesson from the bet is much more nuanced than a simple look on the outcome might suggests, see here, for example, Acemoglu and Robinson:

    http://whynationsfail.com/blog/2013/11/19/ehrlich-simon-and-technology.html

    That said, Ehrlich is the prototypical example of a doomsayer, if there ever was one – and his economic thinking clearly untouched by the slightest burden of actual economics. Meaning that even IF Ehrlich had won the bet, his reasoning – his failure to grasp the concept endogneneous tehnology – would have been faulty.

  29. #29 Joseph O'Sullivan
    2014/04/18

    I think that some of the rancor by the environmentalists towards the free-market types is that some of the groups who wear the free-market cloak have been historically bad actors, to borrow a label from the legal world.

    If your opponent has been dishonest, then claims to have a good idea, you will not be inclined to go along with it. Some of the market based solutions for conventional air pollutants were put in place in the US by the anti-environment president Regan, and environmentalists fought them up to the Supreme Court and lost. It turns out some of these cap and trade solutions did work.

    That being said, the big-green environmental groups are much more sophisticated than their opponents and the public give them credit for. The mainstream group’s claims about science and economics have usually been more accurate than their opposition.

  30. #30 Dr Alex Hamilton
    2014/04/19

    You are totally wrong in thinking that carbon dioxide is a primary cause of warming.

    [Snip: http://stoat-spam.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/you-are-totally-wrong-in-thinking-that.html -W]

  31. #31 Phil Hays
    2014/04/19

    Tim Worstall is probably correct about most materials, maybe even all materials. But he is still wrong.
    The reason is that he is correct about most of materials is that the supply of materials isn’t all the same relative to their demand. We will not run of silicon, there is too much of it. Even if we need 10,000 atoms to make a transistor, rather than 100.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abundance_of_elements_in_Earth%27s_crust
    On the other hand, if industrial civilization depended on large supplies of osmium, it might be different. However osmium doesn’t seem to have many uses.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osmium
    So is it possible that none of the elements between silicon and osmium will the limiting factor on human population growth? While some elements are more likely than others, I’d not going argue that any will. Does someone know better?
    Yet I still think TimW is wrong. Too long for a reply, at least tonight. I might have to get a blog to write it.

    [You'll understand that "but he is wrong", with no justification, is unlikely to be convincing. So it would be best to write down your thoughts and arguments. And blogs are free. Better still, of course, would be finding that someone else has already said all this -W]

  32. #32 OPatrick
    2014/04/19

    Tim Worstall makes three points about Krugman’s article, I think all three are dubious. He starts by complaining that Krugman’s “glib insistence that no one has been calling for [a carbon tax] does grate”, but I think that’s not a fair reading of what Krugman wrote. He started by describing what he sees free-market advocates *normally* doing. Although he doesn’t repeat the ‘normally’ in the second part of that description, I think it is implied.

    [But I think Timmy is correct in this complain. Krugman is being glib in asserting that people aren't calling for a carbon tax. But many are, including free-market folk like Timmy -W]

    His second point is to put Lomborg forward as someone who argued that renewable energy would play a major role in the near future (although Lomborg said 2020-2025), but answers his own question about why people ‘shouted at’ Lomborg: “The reason they were doing all that shouting was because he went on to say that given that this is going to happen then we don’t have to do very much about climate change.” Lomborg’s arguments always appear to mean that we don’t have to do anything significant about climate change *now*. This is why many people don’t take him seriously, even though he may, coincidentally, say plenty of sensible things.

    [I don't think your argument there is logical (this is independent of whether L was right or not). You're justifying people shouting at L, because L said "we don't have to do anything significant about climate change *now*". You appear to treat that as so obviously wrong that it justifies the shouting. But if solar is indeed coming down in price so fast, then L was right -W]

    His third point is just odd, in that it ignores Krugman’s point about the problems of “ignorance, prejudice and vested interests”. According to Worstall we should now “admit that now we’ve got to (or are about to get to) price comparability, then no more effort is needed”. I’m sceptical.

    [Why? If solar is cheaper than coal, then people will use it instead. Is that really controversial? -W]

  33. #33 OPatrick
    2014/04/19

    > [But I think Timmy is correct in this complain. Krugman is being glib in asserting that people aren't calling for a carbon tax. But many are, including free-market folk like Timmy -W]
    Worstall said ‘no-one’, Krugman didn’t. Are *many* free-market advocates calling for carbon taxes? My impression is Worstall is an exception, which would fit what Krugman said, but maybe my impression is wrong.

    Yes, I think Lomborg justifies being ‘shouted’ at – shouting obviously being Worstall’s version. Where I think the justification comes is that Lomborg argues several different lines which all have the same conclusion: don’t take significant action on climate change now. Any one of these lines, on their own, might be arguable and, in my view, honestly held. It is the cumulative effect of his arguments that have made me highly sceptical of his motivations over time (that and his blatant attention seeking, particularly in the early days before he became more canny about things – his website some years ago was a paean to himself, all soft-focus photos of a floppy-haired Lomborg – this isn’t my reason for rejecting his views, but it did hasten my scepticism). But again, the point is that Krugman was, I think, broadly correct to argue that “many people didn’t take too seriously” the argument that renewable energy would replace fossil fuels in the near future.

    > [Why? If solar is cheaper than coal, then people will use it instead. Is that really controversial? -W]

    Well, yes. For one thing solar may be equivalent in price even excluding externalities, but it has the obvious problem of variability. Solar on its own cannot replace fossil fuels without other problems being solved. But there are also vested interests that have ‘good’ reason not to want a significant shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

  34. #34 Nick Barnes
    2014/04/19

    Economic growth is neither good nor bad in itself. It is not a very good proxy, with either sign, for the desirable metric (which is surely happiness, or possibly inverse suffering). Economics dogma holds that it is a good positive proxy for happiness.

    [Are you sure about that? I'd believe it if you said "political dogma" -W]

    Environmentalist dogma holds that it is a good long-term *negative* proxy for happiness (via resource consumption, pollution, environmental degradation). Neither side is always right, and in fact we *need* both sides to be wrong.

    Because our society is geared for economic growth, we need urgently to decouple it from bad things such as carbon emissions: we need to disprove the environmentalist dogma. For instance, we need zero carbon intensity soon and *negative* carbon intensity this century (but carbon is only a small part of the problem). If we can do this, economic growth will become irrelevant.

    Because economic growth cannot go on indefinitely(*), we need to decouple it from happiness: we need to disprove the economics dogma. There’s evidence that this can be done (that is, we can increase happiness without growth), for instance by reducing inequality. If we can do this, and we can orient our society towards increasing happiness, then economic growth will become irrelevant.

    We need to measure happiness better, and work to optimise our society to maximise it.

    (*) It is trivial to see that indefinite economic growth implies a future in which the poorest child in the world can buy (let us say) all the food in the world with her pocket money. You can talk about intangibles all you like, but there’s an irreducible argument here: that pocket money, in real terms, is worth more than GWP today so, even with uneven inflation, for *some* good, that child can buy everything. So presumably economists and economics-minded people don’t really mean “indefinite”; they mean, let’s say, some decades or a century or two. So I hope that any reasonable person, and even some economists, would agree that *eventually* we have to figure out how to maximize happiness without economic growth.

    [Trying to see more than a century into the future is pointless, in my opinion. Try thinking about what people 100 years ago would have tried to think for us. Would we have thanked them for doing so? -W]

  35. #35 Rob Nicholls
    London, UK
    2014/04/19

    I admit ignorance on this issue – I haven’t read much about this recently so I’m not asserting anything except my own ignorance, and apologies for the lack of citations for what I’m about to say. I can see that economic growth might be decoupled to an extent from greenhouse gas emissions. This will be a great challenge, given the short-termism, the inertia and the vested interests in our current economic system, but if my (v superficial) reading of IPCC WG3 is correct and avoiding 2 degrees of global warming will cost a mere 0.06% of GDP then that is encouraging. It should be a no-brainer, but a huge political battle will be necessary to implement the necessary changes.

    Greenhouse gas emissions are only one of many aspects of the environmental damage being caused by current modes of economic activity. I’m not currently convinced that perpetual economic growth is possible without inflicting ever greater environmental damage, and if it is possible then I would think that massive reforms to our economic system are needed. Given the vast inequalities in wealth currently seen across the globe, I would be in favour of reforms to bring about redistribution of wealth and to impose much greater limits on inequalities of wealth and power. I doubt whether ending extreme poverty via endless economic growth (via trickle-down / the raising of all boats or whatever you want to call it) will be possible in an ecologically viable unless serious attention is paid to tackling inequality within the global economic system.

  36. #36 thomaswfuller2
    Shanghai
    2014/04/20

    Cement production produces somewhere on the order of 30% of manmade emissions of CO2.

    [Not even close. Have another go -W]

    What will happen when human migration to large cities is complete and the massive construction of highways and buildings is built out?

    Deforestation is now estimated to cause about 17% of human emissions of CO2, down from 25% just a decade ago. What happens when the same massive migration to the urban life returns more land to nature? What happens when GMOs finally are used to their full potential, increasing agricultural productivity and returning even more land to nature?

    Black carbon was just last year declared to be the second largest driver of climate change. (Of course it immediately was dropped from polite discussion.) What happens when China builds out its projected fleet of 150 nuclear reactors and 800 large dams?

    Lomborg did have more than one arrow in his quiver. However, more than one hit its target.

  37. #37 David B. Benson
    2014/04/20

    That William has never heard of Kenneth E. Boulding and couldn’t even bother to find out a bit
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_E._Boulding
    indicates volumes.

    I used to know him.

    [That's nice for you. But so what? The quote I've been offered so far to demonstrate his wisdom - “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist” - is just the bleedin' obvious, and hence uninteresting. Did he have anything interesting to say? -W]

  38. #38 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/20

    > endogneneous tehnology
    What?

    There are several different games being played out that are imperfectly connected:
    coal and oil fit large scale generation and human-operated fairly dumb grids. Solar and wind fit widespread distributed generation if we get better distributed storage and smarter and faster-reacting grids.
    The latter are more likely to survive a Carrington event — prolonged widespread grid collapse. Do we feel lucky?

    > construction of highways and buildings is built out?

    They fail and are replaced:
    http://www.wired.com/2013/03/poor-quality-chinese-concrete-could-lead-to-skyscraper-collapses/

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=design+life+years+concrete

    Possibly we’ll learn how to make concrete for the millenia, like the Romans did, without our method of using steel rebar that expands as it rusts — but the Roman concrete was very slow-setting. That’s costlier than Making Buildings Fast, or even Faster.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_eye/2014/04/17/the_citicorp_tower_design_flaw_that_could_have_wiped_out_the_skyscraper.html
    This is an amazing story of finding a failure and fixing it — among other aspects, it’s a non-fission-plant designed assuming no electrical grid failure even for the time span of a major windstorm — listen through to the last lines spoken on the third video, and wonder).

  39. #39 Russell
    2014/04/20

    Ehrlich’s pilgrimage of grace has taken him from believing growth impossible on the strengh of Leontievian economic models, hence his bet with Simon, to anathamatizing growth out of fear of climate feedback in models like the IPCC’s.

    At this stage of the game, nobody can call him a materialist.

  40. #40 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/20

    > Did he have anything interesting to say? -W]

    Depends on when you started listening. Much of what was new when he wrote it is now taken for granted as commonly understood, bleedin’ obvious facts everyone knows. Well, except classical economists. He’s among the first of the economists who realized that their subject is a subset of ecology. It’s still not taught that way though.

    This isn’t a “great founder” story. It’s a science story. All the early work is wrong; some of the early work gets cited.
    Looking back, much of Boulding’s work won’t surprise you.

  41. #41 Nick Barnes
    2014/04/20

    > [Are you sure about that? I'd believe it if you said "political dogma" -W]
    I’ll settle for that, consider it so substituted.

    See also this: http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

  42. #42 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/20

    “Ehrlich also would have won a second bet he proposed to Simon: that fifteen environmental indicators — including global temperature, CO2 concentration, croplands, forests, and human sperm count — would worsen over a decade. Simon declined to wager.” — Alan Weisman, _Countdown_

    [I've heard that said before. The trouble is that some of those - for example, CO2 concentration - in and of themselves aren't bad things. Nor are we particularly short of sperm -W]

  43. #43 Kevin O'Neill
    2014/04/20

    Nick – thanks for the link WC believes in better desserts. In the previous thread I wrote and WC responded.

    “Not only have I never seen a stable economic system described with constant growth, it’s theoretically physically impossible. At some point you run out of resources — even with a stable population you would reach such a state. Of course (I suppose) one could assign unlimited and ever growing value to non-physical resources and just arbitrarily assume that’s where all the needed growth would occur. This seems an awful lot like cheating and merely a parlor trick to win an argument.”

    [Why? -W]

  44. #44 Rob Nicholls
    London UK
    2014/04/20

    To correct part of my comment #35: Of course I was wrong to suggest that IPCC AR5 WG3 SPM says mitigation will cost only 0.06% of GDP. 0.06% is the estimated median figure for the annual reduction in *growth*. The SPM actually suggests that the costs of stabilising CO2-equivalent GHG concentrations to 450ppm may be between 1 to 4% of global consumption in 2030, 2 to 6% in 2050, and 3 to 11% in 2100, (compared to baseline scenarios in which there is growth of 300 to 900% over the century) – corresponding to reduction in growth in consumption of 0.04 to 0.14 % per annum (median figure 0.06%). (See page 17 of AR5 WG3 SPM). I guess that growth in consumption means economic growth, but I don’t know for certain.

    I haven’t delved into the detail of WG3 yet, sorry this is probably off-topic, but I’m a bit concerned that the SPM says “Combining bioenergy with CCS (BECCS) offers the prospect of energy supply with large‐scale net negative emissions which plays an important role in many low‐stabilization scenarios, while it 
    entails challenges and risks.” I hope that meeting low emissions scenarios will not mean massive displacement of food production by biofuel production – I’m worried that that may greatly worsen the levels of chronic hunger. I would hope that we can find a better way. I’ll look at WG3 in more detail as soon as I can.

  45. #45 Eli Rabett
    http://rabett.blogspot.com
    2014/04/20

    “Deforestation is now estimated to cause about 17% of human emissions of CO2, down from 25% just a decade ago. What happens when the same massive migration to the urban life returns more land to nature? ”

    See New England 1880 -1980

  46. #46 Paul S
    2014/04/20

    thomaswfuller2,

    Black carbon was just last year declared to be the second largest driver of climate change. (Of course it immediately was dropped from polite discussion.)

    I’ll (part) copy my response to you when you raised this point at Climate etc:

    The story about black carbon being the “second largest factor” came from the publication of Bond et al. 2013 (open access). Note that this wasn’t really new – oft-cited GISS modelling data published several years ago also found BC to be the second largest factor by forcing species .

    The important sentence in the abstract for your subsequent question concerning mitigation is ‘…the best estimate of net industrial-era climate forcing by all short-lived species from black-carbon-rich sources becomes slightly negative (−0.06 W m−2 with 90% uncertainty bounds of −1.45 to +1.29 W m−2).’ This was also the case with the GISS forcing: You can see in panel (b) that the net influence of “soot” type sources was zero.

  47. #47 thomaswfuller2
    2014/04/20

    Life is good. Mistake, correction and cure in one quick quote:

    “The production of cement is responsible for as much as 5% of the CO2 emitted each year. It’s mostly because of chemistry; when limestone is cooked to about 1400 degrees Celsius, it drives off water and CO2 and becomes the main component of cement.

    A lot of companies are trying to develop new technologies and replace conventional cement to reduce its carbon footprint, but CarbonCure takes a really simple, logical approach to getting rid of CO2: It puts it back into the concrete. ”

    http://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-product-design/carbon-cure-concrete-lower-footprint.html

  48. #48 David B. Benson
    2014/04/20

    thomaswfuller2 @47 — Thank you.

  49. #49 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/21

    > CO2 … sperm count
    > in and of themselves aren’t bad things

    I can’t think of anything that is bad in and of itself.
    What were you thinking of

    The discussion behind the offer to bet — both the first bet taken and the second one declined — was about the change over time (rate and trend). Simon was smart not to bet on the “environmental indicators” — have any turned better since?

    [I mean that increasing the price of a resource is "bad", if you want to use that resource, and we do. But increasing the amount of CO2 isn't "bad" in itself; its only bad for its consequences. Calling it an "env ind" doesn't change that. So if you want to bet on env ind, you should bet on the consequent ones -W]

  50. #50 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/21

    > isn’t “bad” in itself; its only bad for its consequences.

    But again, can you name any thing, or any change, or any rate of change in anything, that _is_ bad in itself, regardless of its consequences?

    What’s the distinction you’re trying to make here?

    [I didn't think it was terribly subtle. An increase in the price of bread, which I need to buy, is bad in itself. So is an increase in the price of whatever it was that the bet was about. An increase in the quantity of reserves of that commodity, or a decrease, isn't bad of itself. Nor is a change in the CO2. Only the consequences thereof are bad -W]

  51. #51 Russell
    2014/04/22

    Requiring all parties to refer to their propaganda as such might have a sobering effect.

  52. #52 Scatter
    2014/04/22

    @ izen

    <>

    I know, I was just using simple numbers to illustrate the point.

    <>

    I appreciate that the thrust of this thread concerns CO2 emissions but my comment was connected to the Tom Murphy post which I linked to and which you should read. He’s not talking about GHG-induced climate change but about the question of what happens to the uavoidable waste heat that comes from energy consumption. If GDP continues to grow indefinitely then energy consumption will do so also in the long term. It may drop off initially as we improve the efficiency of our economy but ultimately it will resume its upward path once those efficiencies have been achieved. In an infinite growth scenario we end up having more waste heat from our energy processes than we can deal with and we cook ourselves.

    It’s important to note that Murphy does not believe that this will happen; it is not a forecast. He is merely pointing out that this is the inevitable conclusion of infinite GDP growth on a closed system (earth) and that having the potential for infinite growth as a tenet of your belief system is wrong.

    So I still side with Murphy and contend that infinite growth is impossible and that other limits will prevent it. The “because qualitative growth” argument which Timmy employs allows for a lot of growth but it doesn’t allow for infinite growth.

    That’s all I wanted to say. It wasn’t particularly relevant to the thread but was to a particular comment and I think it’s more generally noteworthy.

    I’ll stop now.

  53. #53 Scatter
    2014/04/22

    Bah sorry. Forgot about html tags.

    The first quote from Izen in arrows was:

    **That is not a behaviour seen historically in real economies. Much more often a linear increase in energy use results in an exponential increase in the ‘wealth’ of the economy**

    The second was:

    **No, not mad, but starting with unstated prior assumptions that result in an unrealistic conclusion. CO2 emissions are the issue, not energy use. The two are NOT inextricably linked by an unchangeable constant.**

  54. #54 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/22

    > increase … decrease … consequences
    I think you’re just saying that if we don’t know about the consequences, then increasing CO2 isn’t bad. But think as an ecologist; the rate of change far outside natural variation may not yet have had obvious consequences — the signal may not have emerged from the noise — but do we have to wait until the damage is done to say that increasing CO2 isn’t bad behavior? Or, worse, wait for a proven mechanism establishing without doubt that certain consequences follow?

    [No, not at all. But that's not what I'm trying to say; I'm just trying to draw a distinction between the bet as agreed - on the price of copper, or whatever, where all this stuff about "noise" was not considered, because no-one thought it necessary - as against what would have been necessary, had the bet been on "consequences of CO2 rise". For example, on global temperature. Or storminess. Or storm damage -W]

    In other news: http://pando.com/2014/04/21/ethanol-is-officially-a-bust-can-we-now-get-politics-out-of-money-please/

    Those too young to remember what happened after Castro siezed Cuba and the casinos there, forcing the ahem cough ahem to build a new world for themselves in Nevada.

    In the US, the political response was to forbid purchases of sugar from Cuba, giving a huge boost to producing corn sweetener in the US (which had to be subsidized to be affordable).

    That created a new industry that could afford many lawyers and lobbyists dedicated to extracting money from politics. Kind of an early form of bitcoin mining, in a way.

    ‘Can we get politics out of money?’ — TW

    Sure: use your money, buy all the politics you’d like.

    [The ethanol-from-corn in the US has been deeply stupid for a long time; this simply isn't news. Timmy doesn't like pols, so he's using it as a convenient reason to write pol-bashing stuff. But that doesn't make ethanol-from-corn any less stupid. http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/10/04/biofuels-again/ - W]

  55. #55 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/22

    > I’m just trying to draw a distinction
    > between the bet as agreed

    Ah, and I’m thinking of the discussion of how to live on the planet, not the precise language — those offers to bet were inadequate stand-ins for the actual changes happening.

    So, have you offered to bet with any political scientists on the consequences of storm damage from climate change :-?

    > doesn’t make ethanol-from-corn any less stupid
    Nor ethanol from switchgrass (as ethanol from corn looks foolish; they search for other inputs to feed the new refineries)

    Ethanol supposedly would reduce air pollution when added to gasoline

    Earlier, the gov’t with industry, er, help mandated adding <a href="http://www.ewg.org/research/mtbe-knowledge&quot;)MTBE, a toxic waste, making that briefly a profitable gasoline additive; it's now again a toxic waste.

    (Unless, hey, could it be a profitable fracking additive? Those are secret; must be some way to sell this shit at a profit.)

    Yeah, it would have been easier in hindsight to reduce air pollution some other way, but each error increases GDP.

    In other news:
    "… infrasound sensors listening for the sound of nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere….detected many multi-kiloton explosions!" The video shows the locations and sizes of asteroid impacts on Earth since 2000.
    https://b612foundation.org/portfolio/impact-video
    "… most of these asteroid impacts were not dangerous …."

  56. #58 elmer fudd
    2014/04/23

    “I’ve always believed, and even said on occasion, that there is no intrinsic reason why economic growth should be linked inextricably to increased (resource) consumption. However, I’ve never come across anyone making this case convincingly, describing what this would actually *look* like. Do you know of anyone writing meaningfully about this?” [OPatrick]

    take a look at figure 2 in this blogpost:

    http://euanmearns.com/does-the-uk-economy-run-on-energy-or-hot-air/#more-2709

  57. #59 OPatrick
    2014/04/23

    elmer fudd – I’ve taken a look – I can’t see anything of relevance.

    I do also note that Euan Mearns says, for instance:
    “On CO2 emissions I am highly sceptical about the veracity of climate science, in particular the IPCC and UK MET office. ”

    I’m highly sceptical of Mearns’ veracity as a source.

  58. #60 Gavin
    2014/04/23

    William #34: “Try thinking about what people 100 years ago would have tried to think for us. Would we have thanked them for doing so?”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Park#History

    and yes, we do.

    [I think that's cheating. Apart from anything else, they weren't thinking far ahead - the park was for their (then) present-day needs -W]

  59. #61 Russell
    2014/04/24

    Would Olmstead thank us for the decaying albedo of Central Park’s reservoir ,from 1,140,000 square meters of bright water to a black hole in the middle of Manhattan ?

  60. #62 elmer fudd
    2014/04/24

    OPatrtick

    so evidence that the GDP growth of the UK since 1970 has been achieved without growth in energy consumption is not important to you despite you claiming to be interested in that concept. Of course energy consumption is not quite the same as resource consumption but it might be a reasonable proxy. Doubting the conculsions that someone reaches does not necessarily imply doubting the data he uses, does it? Is it the fact that the energy figures are supplied by BP – aka Big Oil – that bothers you?

  61. #63 OPatrick
    2014/04/24

    elmer fudd, no, without data about trends in manufacturing there is not reason to think that the information about total energy consumption in the UK is a good proxy for resource consumption. As, as I understand it, we have outsourced a lot of our primary manufacturing it is not surprising that our energy consumption has dropped.

    It is evident that Mearns is willing to believe what it suits him to believe about the impact of CO2 emissions, so I am sceptical of him as a neutral source. As you are no doubt aware it is easy to persuade someone who is not an expert in your field of whatever you want to persuade them of so I use Mearns’ trustworthiness on climate as a proxy for his trustworthiness on other topics.

  62. #64 Dunc
    2014/04/24

    [I think that's cheating. Apart from anything else, they weren't thinking far ahead - the park was for their (then) present-day needs -W]

    OK, instead of Central Park, let me substitute the London sewer system. During the design phase, Joseph Bazalgette “took the densest population, gave every person the most generous allowance of sewage production and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then … doubled the diameter to be used.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Bazalgette#Sewer_works] And that’s why London’s original sewers didn’t overflow in the ’60s, and are still in use today.

    It’s a rare example, I’ll grant – but that’s because it’s extremely rare for anybody to even try to exhibit that level of foresight.

    Do you have any counter-examples, where people have tried to think ahead and we’ve ended up with something worse than what they would have done otherwise?

    [That's a good example, though as you say, rare. The traditional one for please-don't-think is "London will be 10 feet deep in horse manure if traffic increases at the present rate" -W]

  63. #65 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/24

    > they weren’t thinking far ahead

    “Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. … wrote the key language that established the National Park Service ….”

    Truly near-term shortsighted greedy selfishness, at its best.
    Imagine the hubris, preserving so much landscape

    > for their (then) present-day needs

    Those of us living on their leftovers are lucky they did that.

    [Yes, but that's not the point. The point is not, "are we benefiting from their own self-interest?" but would it have been better for them to lay their own self-interest aside an attempt to guide themselves by predicting our interests? -W]

    And if you’ll look beyond real estate to education see my favorite two quotes about planning ahead: scroll down at
    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2012/07/10/equality/

  64. #66 thomaswfuller2
    Shanghai
    2014/04/25

    OPatrick, both the UK and the US are manufacturing considerably more than they did in the 1950s. I believe about double. It doesn’t look like that when people talk about employment or percentage of GDP is all.

    And the west has always ‘outsourced’ what they didn’t want to do to developing countries. Not new, not massively increased as a percentage of the total.

    Advanced economies grew without concomitant increases in energy consumption.

  65. #67 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/25

    > would it have been better for them to lay their
    > own self-interest aside an[d] attempt … predicting
    > our interests?

    Well, it appears they hid their short-sighted selfishness well behind a pretense of doing that very thing:


    “historian Robin Winks, “… in the midst of a devastating civil war: Yosemite was a monument to union, democracy, and long-term goals for the nation, the product of a great national need.”

    … Olmsted …. made the case that it is a “political duty” of republican government to set aside “great public grounds for the free enjoyment of the people,” …. Access to parks and recreation would be a fundamental entitlement of all Americans.

    Remember, there were none in the world at the time. This is where they started. The old model, I suppose, would have been to make them estates for the nobility or equivalent.

  66. #68 Russell
    u.s.
    2014/04/25

    (The other Russell – oh, I should have just used my regular nom-de-net, but so be it.)
    I was looking for the phrase “population growth” here, and was surprised when it did not arise early on. I suppose the remainder of my thoughts write themselves.

    I do object to various well-meaning examples using regional or national boundaries to attempt to prove points (France, New England) in isolation. It might be better to think of the world economy. Or even the economy of all Chordata.

  67. #69 Hank Roberts
    2014/04/25

    Another mention of the US civil war and self-interest, at
    http://thenextgeneration.org/newsletter-posts/1061

    GDP – What’s the value of $10 trillion?

    Chris Hayes has a fascinating piece in The Nation this week drawing a historical parallel between the money oil companies would have to leave on the table if they stopped extracting fossil fuels – approximately $10 trillion – and the money left on the table by slave owners after the Civil War. According to Hayes, “The last time in American history that some powerful set of interests relinquished its claim on $10 trillion of wealth was in 1865

  68. #70 elmer fudd
    2014/04/27

    OPatrick

    Why have you suddenly introduced an interest in trends in maufacturing? I did not see this mania in any of your previous posts. Why is “manufacturing”, whatever that is – so important and if it does matter to you then please supply a rigorous definition, given that manufacturing output in the UK has risen over the last 30 years, along with the UK flat energy trends described by BP (Big Oil) and the increasing GDP trends described by the Government (Big Employment).

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