Laudato Si versus the Ecomodernists


This post was originally about Laudato Si. But it took ages to write, and then James wrote something incomprehensible [Update: CIP explains] which expressed some of the snark I was going to use; so I don't need to do that bit. And then ATTP wrote yet another post about the Ecomodernists.

The bit where I agree with James

Mostly the bit where he says giving him too much credit risks much the same on the other side, e.g. when he makes his next reactionary outburst. I feel much the same way when, e.g., Prince Charles says something about the environment. And everyone who happens to agree with what he's said that time all say "yay!" forgetting about all the talking to plants nonsense.

RC have a rather gushing post by Brigitte Knopf: a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power. Meh.

The other bits

Starting off reading Laudato Si I was all ready to be full of snark, because well he's Da Pope. But fairly quickly I began to revise my opinions, because the whole thing is so obviously sincere. And rather than what I expected - a text heavily rewritten by multiple Vatican committees - I began to feel that the thing was indeed largely written by the said One Man. Although not just because of the tone; a committee would have been more coherent and careful and made fewer mistakes. So being sincere and noble is great; but it doesn't make you right. And then my opinions swung back, because while he's got much of the global warming stuff right - arguably, its not difficult, so he doesn't get much credit for that - there's a lot else wrong.

Plucking out a few bits

For example:

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected... The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption.

Notice the suspicion of technology: our politics are subject to technology and finance. That seems a rather odd diagnosis. I admit I'm somewhat pro-tech biased, but even so. The use of the word "finance" is odd too; I think that means "finance, as in the financial industry" aka banks, hedge funds, and so no; not "finance as in people with money". In which case he's wrong. Also the "working to combat corruption" doesn't really make sense; yes there is some, but the reasons why say the US has never signed up to say Kyoto are not corruption; its because most US-ian people don't want it.

There are flaws in the economics too. Timmy points out one; I'll add A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand where its all "the markets" fault; not the firms selling the stuff, not the people buying the stuff, oh no, its all the fault of the vague amorphous markets.

So I wonders, yes I does Baggins, about the process of creation of this document. Clearly its about a variety of things most obviously Global Warming, and clearly they've had advice from, e.g., Schellnhuber. So on the science side, its mostly OK (despite oddities like these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. Never mind, we don't really need total precision). But it looks to me as though on the politics and economics side they're suffering from the everyone knows how politics and economics works, we don't need no steenkin experts fallacy. Continuing, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain. I think this analysis is wrong, and I think it will mislead people, and I think it will prevent them finding solutions. This isn't an easy problem; getting the analysis wrong will get in the way. Had he written economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to gain I wouldn't have complained; except to note that most people are in favour of "gain", broadly defined.

A variety of opinions

On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. I quite like that. He's not going to offer opinions on rather a lot of things.

Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation... but this one I disagree with, mostly. This is the "tipping points" mentality. I think its an attempt to short-circuit the debate: "look, we might fall off a cliff, act now!" But while it might be like that, there's no good reason to think it is; more likely its a long slow slope downwards.

How much does all of this matter?

I don't know. One way of trying to think about it is provided by Brian at Eli's: What Catholic opinion on the death penalty tells you about the encyclical's future effect.

Is there anything to be had from the comparison with the Heliocentrism affair from a while back? A facile "the church sometimes gets it wrong" isn't very helpful. The church is nominally inspired by God, and therefore can't afford to be blatantly wrong, much. Otherwise they look silly. Russell Seitz's deja vue from Vatican too is interesting. So, they will move slowly and cautiously. But that means, if you believe that, the encyclical really is the result of considered caution, and is very unlikely to be substantially wrong (errm, other than about the economics, but as I've suggested that was probably an underthought).

All of this returns to the "how do you know what to believe on GW"? Dismissing what Da Pope said because he's not a scientist is silly; any one scientist doesn't know all the science, anyway, so would just be giving their own personal well-informed opinion. You don't want any one scientists opinion; you want the careful reflection and summation of many thinking people's opinions. We already have that: the IPCC reports. But if you start from the outside, you're then at "how do I know I can trust the IPCC"? Since Da Pope is mostly giving the IPCC line, any one of the many Catholics who are prepared to trust Da Pope to have thought this through carefully and consulted appropriately now has a "source of trust" or whatever one calls it.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2, which Sou dismisses as "for the religious. I skipped over it. Lots of Jesus-speak etc." is some attempt at philosophical underpinning. After all, Gen 1:28 says "and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" and so, as usual, the bible can be used to justify almost anything (and Da Pope provides Da Usual answer, "oh well yes some Christians say that and yes the bible does say that but "biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic" and so on).

Da Pope re-interprets this as human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.

I don't know what that is supposed to me, though. I think you could supply many different interpretations of the interpretation; the only definitive one is "when we said 'dominion' and 'subdue', we didn't mean it".

There's also other living beings have a value of their own which is nice; unfortunately he follows on with in God’s eyes which I could have done without, but meh.

I also don't know what The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order” is supposed to mean. Clearly, its not a call for action; its more mood-music.

Some of it is clear bollox (does no-one copy-read this stuff?): Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” - in the story, the people are amazed at his power to command the winds and the sea. Not because he is in harmony with creation.

Chapter 3

I started to lose patience somewhere around here.

This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation... It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society.

WTF? the scientific method is a technique of possession, mastery and transformation - this is the kind of nonsense that the right-on sociologist types spout.

Contrast to Ecomodernism?

It becomes clear that The Man has a vision of mankind returning to smaller-scale life; its a vision, not any kind of coherent scheme:

In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing.

Increasingly, I read it as shaped - too much, for my atheist tastes - by the view that Man is arrogant because of separation from God, and the cure is Religion. I don't mind the Pope believing that, but too much of the text is warped, subtly or otherwise, by that view.

And this starts to compare - unfavourably - with Ecomodernism, which happily comes to my notice as close to the inverse of this. They are proposing an intensification of cities, and a separation from Nature rather than closer integration with it. I added some comments to ATTP's post, so I won't repeat them all here, except to say that I'm not at all happy with the rather important energy section, and to quote the bit I quoted there as something I liked:

Intensifying many human activities — particularly farming, energy extraction, forestry, and settlement — so that they use less land and interfere less with the natural world is the key to decoupling human development from environmental impacts… Cities occupy just 1 to 3 percent of the Earth’s surface and yet are home to nearly four billion people. As such, cities both drive and symbolize the decoupling of humanity from nature, performing far better than rural economies in providing efficiently for material needs while reducing environmental impacts… These patterns suggest that humans are as likely to spare nature because it is not needed to meet their needs as they are to spare it for explicit aesthetic and spiritual reasons.

That wasn't very coherent, was it?

No, sorry. I ended up with quite a few things to say but not the patience to shuffle them into a good order. Never mind, you can do that in your head.

If you're wondering, the pic at the top is from the bottom of my garden, or nearly. I've got quite a lot of nature, and could probably do with a bit less. Some of its nice, though.



* Laudato Si, Señor: mt.


More like this

I heard a radio 4 program on the pope a week or two ago, it was interesting. It seemed to make it clear that he's definitely on the politically more radical side of things, his background being seing the effects of unfettered crony capitalism on the poor in central America, rather than of the older generations exposure to the cold war.
Even better, they had short interviews with some american bishops and such who basically called him a communist because he dared to question the 'free' market and capitalist imperatives. (That's the american church which carefully covered up child abuse for decades, so we can be pretty sure they don't know anything about ethics and morals)

[in central America - yes, I nearly mentioned that, and probably should. I wonder if he's too influenced by it? It has the feel of being somewhat parochial. Winding up the US-ian right wingers is excellent, of course -W]

In a rare moment of antisnark, I have invited interested parties to calculate the Sensitivity of Human Lifetime to CO2 Undoubling.

I believe this ma interest his Holiness, giiven that citizens of the Least Carbon Intensive Nations ( 'L-sins') enjoy life expectancies some decades shorter than those dwelling where conspicuous energy consumption prevails

Edwaqrd Hadas* has written a very insightful and thought-provoking analysis of the pope’s encyclial. It would behoove everyone to take a couple of minutes to read it. Here’s a key paragraph directly pertaining to this discussion…

"In the encyclical, Francis adds an imaginative twist. He talks of the debts of all humanity to all of the natural world in terms of the preferential option for the poor. Inspired by his namesake St Francis of Assisi, the pope explains that nature suffers from a weakness that the poor also have – it cannot resist human aggression and depravity. In the face of this helplessness, rich humanity owes nature what he calls an ecological debt, the obligation to be good stewards of creation. The debt can only be honoured by treating the physical world as the human community’s shared responsibility."

Source: "Unforgiving pope is right on money", Op-ed by Edward Hadas*, Reuters Breakingviews, June 24, 2014…

*Edward Hadas writes about macroeconomics, markets and metals for Reuters Breakingviews. Before becoming a journalist, he worked for 20 years as an equity analyst in Europe and the US. His book, “Human Good, Economic Evils: A Moral Approach to the Dismal Science” is published by ISI Books in Wilmington, Delaware. He has also written a course-book about political philosophy for the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham. Edward has degrees from Columbia University, Wadham College, Oxford and the State University of New York at Binghamton. He has a website,

[The poor: yet another aspect of the encyclical that I didn't touch on. Argh. I didn't really like that bit much, though as with many other aspects is more a strand, or a musing, than any coherent idea -W]

By John Hartz (not verified) on 25 Jun 2015 #permalink

Ecomodernism v Pope

Jetsons v Flintstones

"We offer this statement in the belief that both human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet are not only possible, but also inseparable. By committing to the real processes, already underway, that have begun to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction, we believe that such a future might be achieved. As such, we embrace an optimistic view toward human capacities and the future."

The part I really like?

" ... committing to the real processes, already underway, that have begun to decouple human well-being from environmental destruction ... "

Yes, the Butt Holed Boys taking us up the down escalator, at a rate slightly slower than said down escalator even.

By Everett F Sargent (not verified) on 26 Jun 2015 #permalink

#2, Russell--
Your correlation of Least carbon intensive and shortest life span is a great example of a classic fallacy--correlation is not causation.

If there were a link, we should see life spans in the US dropping as we get less carbon intensive. I haven't noticed higher death rates, have you?

The paragraph you highlighted near the beginning of your post is incoherent, as is much of this regrettable document. I am an Orthodox Christian and don't normally go for bashing the Pope, but Francis has made a fool of himself. Junior high school students have a better grasp of economics than this.

Tom C - it isn't a matter of economics, it's a matter of religious and moral scruples. Which have often been orthogonal or indeed in opposition to economic orthodoxy. Thus your attack has no meaning.

From the "Ecomodernist Manifesto":
"Climate change and other global ecological challenges are not the most important immediate concerns for the majority of the world's people. Nor should they be. A new coal-fired power station in Bangladesh may bring air pollution and rising carbon dioxide emissions but will also save lives. "

Time scales matter.
On a year or decade time scale that coal burning plant, and thousands of others like it would improve living conditions and save lives if compared with status quo. So? There are probably similar ways to improve living conditions, such as roofs made with solar cells and a nuclear power plant.

On a ten thousand year time scale, the coal will be burnt, gone, unavailable, the climate where Bangladesh used to be will be unlivable like in most of the tropics, and most of Bangladesh will be under water hot enough so fish can't live.

[I agree that time scales matter. But while people like you or I have the luxury of wondering about 10 kyr timescales, the majority of the world's poor don't -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 27 Jun 2015 #permalink


You and others may have fallen into the trap described below:

Reading Laudato Si’ as if it were a climate-change encyclical, period, is somewhat akin to reading Moby Dick as if it were a treatise on the 19th-century New England whaling industry. The ships and the harpoons are an important part of the story, to be sure; but if they become the whole story, you miss what Melville’s sprawling novel is really about. Ditto with Laudato Si’: If you read it as “the global-warming encyclical,” you will miss the heart and soul of what this sprawling encyclical is about — which is us.

by George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

Read more at:…

[I find it hard to believe that you've read my post -W]

By John Hartz (not verified) on 27 Jun 2015 #permalink

guthrie -

Francis recently gave a talk where he opined that a Christian could not in good conscience manufacture weapons.

[Did he? I haven't read the full text; the Graun, under the headline Pope Francis suggests those in weapons industry can't call themselves Christian, says “If you trust only men you have lost,” he told the young people in a long commentary about war, trust and politics, after putting aside his prepared address. “It makes me think of ... people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause. He also criticised those who invest in weapons industries, saying “duplicity is the currency of today ... they say one thing and do another.” That's not quite the same thing -W]

Later in the same talk he wished aloud that the allies had bombed railway lines that led to the concentration camps. Maybe being against weapons except for when you want to use some is a sign of sophistication; I think it is a sign of childishness.

[I too don't understand why he would condemn weapons makers, but not the military -W]

No doubt he wants to give the poor “access” to good sanitation, the latest medical care, etc. not realizing that these things were only developed in those nasty capitalist nations that married “economics and technology”.

It’s fun to live in a self-congratulatory fantasy world but it does no one else any good. For a grownup view of economics, Christianity, and the common good you should refer to Centesimus Annus by Pope John Paul II, who was a grownup and knew what he was talking about.

Seems to me that peak population, whenever it occurs, is also the time when we might expect the brightest possible human beings to be born -- because, you know, long tail of the distribution. I don't see either the churches or the ecomodernists making as much sense as my oft-cited favorite Tom Paine _1/ in that regard. When Paine and Jefferson were writing, every single smart child was a gift -- brains were greatly needed to manage the huge surplus of natural wealth available to the new technologies applied to the Americas. There was endless "room at the top" of society.

To a more "mature" country -- as, say, Britan in the time of George III, or the US nowadays, just as examples -- those bright youngsters are more apt to be managed as threats than as opportunities, and the places they're being born among very poor people aren't seen as the enormous and rare opportunity to find those new bright people.

I think we're still, really, in the situation Paine wrote about.

The churches, well, aren't so interested in intelligence and aren't looking for those few out at the high end of the intelligence range, whatever that means.

Missed opportunity. I think the ecomodernists miss it as well, seems to me they're treating the poor as a resource.

To find ten or a hundred brilliant people, assure that every one of ten billion gets every opportunity.

Yeah, that'll destabilize our comfortable places on top of the smaller heap -- the heap we grew into, we who were born into a world of three billion people sixty or seventy years ago. It should. We need smarter.
_1/ "… by giving to genius a fair and universal chance; … by collecting wisdom from where it can be found.
"… As it is to the advantage of society that the whole of its faculties should be employed, the construction of government ought to be such as to bring forward, by a quiet and regular operation, all that extent of capacity which never fails to appear in revolutions."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 27 Jun 2015 #permalink

Tom C- perhaps you could quote the relevant bits from the encylcical that demonstrate your point? Otherwise you seem to be frothing at the mouth about his complete lack of knowledge of how the world works.
Given that you are a science denier, it's a toss up between whether you or the pope has less contact with reality.

As for the weapons thing, only a moron would conflate two different times and situations.

[I disagree, at least in part. Its pretty hard to make sense of what the Pope said. He appeared to be criticising manufacture of weapons, without criticising the rather more directly damaging use of weapons. If you accept that he did indeed do that, then TC's point becomes moot, but only because having failed to critcise using weapons, he's not being hypocritical by encouraging their use in some circumstances -W]

The Pope has not said all capitalism stinks, at least. Yesterday I had to read the thing as he'd been widely reported to have come out against a carbon tax in it, whereas he wrote against cap and trade specifically. Another case where the NYT had less credibility than the average Wikipedia article. I will grant he used that broad brush against trust in markets, but then again, defining markets is often an angels on pinheads situation.

[His argument against cap-n-trade was, if I recall correctly, and obviously I can't be bothered to check, oooh go on then... he said The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors. OK, so this essentially amounts to stuff similar to his other arguments against speculation and the like; in which he hardly differs from any number of unthinking populist pols.

Anyway, his argument is not too dissimilar to mine: cap-n-trade permits indeed encourages a parasitic class which is absent from the carbon tax version. Of course, this probably explains why cap-n-trade stuff like the ETS exists unlike the carbon tax, but meh; the ETS is stupid -W]

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 28 Jun 2015 #permalink

Or perhaps I should have described it as defining markets using "no true Scotsman" logic. How many true Scotsmen can dance on the head of a pin?

By Russell the Stout (not verified) on 28 Jun 2015 #permalink

"I agree that time scales matter. But while people like you or I have the luxury of wondering about 10 kyr timescales, the majority of the world’s poor don’t -W"

I see, "Let them eat cake."

[That's a strange reply; I'll ignore it. The rest is more sensible, so I'll continue...-W]

The majority of the world's poor don't have the luxury of wondering about timescales necessary to build a coal plant and its associated infrastructure. Or for that matter, access to the kind of capital needed as investment, or the income level required to connect and use electric power from such a coal plant.

And is coal the best way forward?…

They do, however, want cell phones, and solar chargers for cell phones are a big thing in poor rural areas. Oh, not one for personal use, but as a business. Invest a large sum, a month's wages, about US$11 or GBP 7, and get a business charging people's cell phones in the local village.

There is an advantage in looking at longer time scales, and we wouldn't have started sailing ship transport and then steam powered coal fired civilization without looking at longer time scales than the poor can look at.

[If I go back to the start of this, you were objecting to A new coal-fired power station in Bangladesh may bring air pollution and rising carbon dioxide emissions but will also save lives apparently on the principal grounds that Time scales matter. That's one argument, and its the one I was responding to. That argument accepts that the coal plant would indeed save lives now, but that future costs outweight that. A different argument is So? There are probably similar ways to improve living conditions. That argument says that we should choose not-coal for here-and-now reasons. As, I think, does the rest of this present comment. If that (second) argument is correct, then it shows there is some problem in the setup of the world, or that country, that forms a barrier to these new PV things and favours old dirty coal things. And so we would need to address those issues. But if its wrong, and instead your first argument is correct, then we have a different set of problems to address.

So we'd better be very clear about which one we're talking about -W]

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 28 Jun 2015 #permalink

> he hardly differs from any number of unthinking populist pols.
> Anyway, his argument is not too dissimilar to mine:
> cap-n-trade permits indeed encourages a parasitic class
> ... this probably explains why cap-n-trade stuff ... exists

So, erm, capitalists are parasites, in that society needs them to keep a healthy societal immune system functioning?

[No. Just that its possible to design a system that doesn't encourage parasites -W]

I think that actually makes sense -- at least as long as the capitalists and sociopaths don't find common cause controlling society.

Oh, wait ...

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 28 Jun 2015 #permalink

OK guthrie – let’s take a look at paragraph 55:

* Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. *

Oh, this is going to be a discussion on “corruption”. Maybe he will talk about the examples of Southern Italy and Greece, and how rampant political corruption leads to misallocation of resources. Well, I guess not, because the next sentence is:

* People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. *

So, we have switched gears now to talking about consumption. Does he think corruption leads to consumption, or that they are the same thing? Not clear. To clarify we need to read further:

* A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. *

So, this paragraph on “corruption” is really about air conditioning, which he thinks is a bad thing apparently. Moreover, those dastardly companies that make air conditioners benefit from selling them! Not only that, they are “stimulating demand”. What does that mean? That they advertise with pictures of beautiful people with no sweat stains on their shirts? Or do they implant chips in the pituitary glands of the populace that makes them think they are sweating more?

But this is really a gold mine for exegesis. I guess it is “markets” that sell these damnable things. What should the “markets” do? Sell some, but discourage further demand? Sell some but not benefit from the sales? Does the greater demand have anything to do with the fact that most people in hot climates like to have air conditioning? What exactly do these two sentences mean?

Never mind, I’m sure it will become clear as we push on through the text:

* An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive. *

An “outsider” (what? An alien?) would not be at all amazed at such behavior, particularly if he had spent time in Hong Kong, or Alabama, or any other place that is frequently hot as Hell and where air conditioning is really nice.

Keep in mind that this paragraph is about “corruption”. I think this outsider should be amazed that 1.1 billion Catholics are headed by someone who can’t write a coherent paragraph

William deserves credit for actually reading this thing carefully. Moreover, he actually gets that the Pope’s vision is set against the ecomodernist vision. If I could crudely summarize, the pope thinks that we can “conserve our way out of it”.

This is absolute nonsense. The AGW theory claims that human emissions of CO2 first caused an increased in atmospheric concentrations in the late 1800s. This means that the capacity of the earth to absorb the additional flux created by humans was exceeded at that point. So, the only way to stabilize CO2 concentrations is to emit at the same rate that humanity did in the late 1800s.

Since there were about, what, 1/5 as many people living then as now, that means we have to reduce emissions to 1/5 the level – on a per capita basis - of 1880 in order to stabilize CO2. These are crude calculations, but you should get the idea.

This is not going to happen, no matter how pious and green you think you can convince people to become. We are not going to emit 1/5 the amount per 1880s person in this era of cars, airplanes, and advanced manufacturing. The pope is naïve and wrong.

[Its not quite as bad as that. To stabalise, yes, but that's not really necessary in the short term - significantly reduced emissions would push the getting-to-2xCO2 quite a way out, which would help -W]

For Tom C: Right now the ocean is pulling out about 2.9 Gt C per year out of about 10 Gt C emitted from fossil fuel use. The land is pulling out rougly the same ( Ocean absorption will continue for kiloyears until the transient is gone because of the ocean's buffer capacity. The amount pulled out is roughly proportional to the atmospheric concentration. So, one only has to get emissions below about half what we emit now to get significant flow into a deep sink. So, your math is wrong.

About half the fossil fuel carbon emitted has happened since 1970, not in the 19th century. We have plenty of room to reduce carbon emissions without going back to a 19th century lifestyle.

Mitch -

I was making rough calculations to make a point. I realize there is a lot more complexity to the calculation, some of it along the lines William mentioned.

However, I don’t think you understand the situation correctly. CO2 began to rise in the late 1800s because the sources exceeded the sinks. So, even correcting for the greater driving force associated with higher concentrations in the atmosphere, you still have to emit some fraction per capita of what they did in late 1800s in order to stabilize. Slowing down the rise just postpones the eventual effects.

[I think the point is that the sinks depend on the present concentration. The ocean will sink more as the concentration rise, because the differential between ocean and atmosphere is larger. In 1850, say, if we stopped emitting entirely, the atmospheric concentration would hardly change. Now, if we stopped emitting entirely, the atmos conc would begin to fall, because its so far out of balance with the ocean -W]

Increasingly, I read it as shaped – too much, for my atheist tastes – by the view that Man is arrogant because of separation from God, and the cure is Religion.

Breaking news - the Pope is Catholic! Film at 11...

"That argument accepts that the coal plant would indeed save lives now, but that future costs outweight that. A different argument is ... we should choose not-coal for here-and-now reasons."

A third argument, the one I'm trying to make, is while both coal and not-coal electric power sources improve present lives, not-coal has a much lower long term cost, and should be preferred to some extent even when isn't cheaper-better-here-and-now. Coal isn't always cheaper or better now, when so, that is an easy question. The harder question is when coal is cheaper, how do we factor in the long term cost? The choice isn't between coal and no change, and resolving all issues in terms of "achieving modern living standards" isn't the answer as that puts no valuation on the long term cost.

The future might not be as "modern" as the present.

" shows there is some problem in the setup of the world, or that country, that forms a barrier to these new PV things and favours old dirty coal things. And so we would need to address those issues."

Not to PV, but to nuclear. The issues aren't rational or economic, so can't be "addressed" by a rational or economic argument.

By Phil Hays (not verified) on 29 Jun 2015 #permalink

> its possible to design a system that doesn’t
> encourage parasites -W]

I'd welcome pointers to the reasoning behind that, or the observations, or both.

Aside, just now on our local public radio station, I heard one of the cofounders of Uber talking about how her new venture can track vast quantities of educational data, and if there's a child somewhere in some improverished third world country who's detectably out at the extreme high end at learning, they will be able to pick her out of the crowd and track her and guide her into where she -- um.

Either where she can profit the most from opportunity, or where she can be an opportunity for the most profit. Wasn't clear which.


[I meant, we could design a carbon tax instead of cap-n-trade. You can argue, if you like, that the apparent preference for the inferior cap-n-trade is evidence that we *can't*, but I'd disagree -W]

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 29 Jun 2015 #permalink