What to do with all that hot air?

Im feeling cranky today, so readers beware.

A must-read article for all those interested in global warming and CO2 emissions is the recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by our very own Michael Raupach from CSIRO and co-authors, to be found here.

Let me give you some highlights: from emitting 6 billion tonnes in 1990 the world has gone to 8 billion tonnes in 2004. Emissions are now accelerating at 3% a year since 2000, after growing about 1% a year in the preceding 10 years. Those preceding 10 years coincidentally made up the period that world GDP growth was low and for some energy-intensive regions (like the former Soviet Union), even negative. Another highlight is that about half the increase after 2000 is due to the Chinese economic explosion. Perhaps the most telling finding is that energy intensity (energy per PPP dollar) has not declined in any region anymore after 2000.

What does this tell you? What strikes me firstly is that despite tonnes of initiatives in the EU and Japan in this period, from subsidised wind farms to much heralded cow dung combustion, even in those countries its been business as usual after 2000. More growth meant more energy use and consumers were first using the cheapest energy sources around, i.e. combustibles such as oil, gas, and coal.

A second conclusion is that if these energy ratios persist, nearly all the signatories of Kyoto are going to miss their targets of 108 percent of 1990 emissions, except countries like Russia that experienced a massive recession after 1990. This is because nearly all Kyoto signatories produce more CO2 than in 1990 and their economies are still growing. Since countries should still expect to see their economy grow by at least 10% after 2004, Kyoto looks dead in the water by quite a margin. Since Kyoto has no enforcement mechanism, theres not much more that can be done by its proponents except grit their teeth and pretend Kyoto worked anyway. I predict fudge and creative accounting to cover all this up. I expect certain types of emissions wont be counted in order to make it seem that some countries hit their Kyoto targets that in actuality failed them. I’ve challenged Clive Hamilton, who just advocated Australia signing up to Kyoto, to a public bet where he’d give me 100 dollars for every OECD signatory of Kyoto that doesnt meets the Kyoto target, and I’d give him 100 dollars for every country that does meet it. He’s sofar wisely refused to take me up on the offer which has to make you wonder whether there is anyone who believes Kyoto is more than a symbolic fig leaf.

Since growth and emissions appear married at the hip, the question obviously becomes whether enlightened politicians and economists have started to recognise these facts and have started preparing their populations for life without economic growth. Is this what has been happening? Just ask yourself what the number one election issue in the recent France election was. Its a Kyoto signatory so maybe it was the environment and global warming and how to hit the targets France promised to hit? Not really, it was economic growth and how to get more of it. What was the number one issue in Japan, you then ask, another Kyoto signatory that is already heavily passed its target? Was it how to completely reform the economy to hit those oh-so-important-targets that would be oh-so-embarrassing-to-miss? Not really. You guessed it right, it was growth again and how to get more of it. Whats the number one election issue talked about here in Australia? Yep, its the economy again and how to sustain more growth. Even the Labor party has now officially made growth the explicit goal of its education policy and abandoned other ideals such as equity or (environmental) responsibility. To great acclaim of its followers our kids have been pledged to become instruments of growth. Have the Australian politicians then at least given you targets for what they will do in their next term or do they give unrealistic targets for the far future (like Kyoto did)? The latter Im afraid. It does seem to be the case that when push comes to shove, populations vote for growth and appreciate a bit of CO2 pretence but dont want it to become too serious.

Were not yet kicking the growth habit and its tempting to conclude that until we do, Kyoto is like global warming itself: hot air. Its also tempting to conclude that youre not serious about reducing emissions if you dont argue against economic growth.

But, you may ask if you’re feeling a little light hearted, dont we hear all these great plans about transforming our economy into something more energy efficient? Dont we have eminent scientists telling us how to do it? I am glad you asked! We indeed do have great plans drawn up by the best minds mankind has to offer. Whats the main thing the IPCC recommends in its May 4th announcements on how to live more energy efficient in the future, supported by rows of well-meaning scientists? Travel reductions. How do you travel less? You live close together so that you dont have to travel to see each other. As a region you produce mainly for own consumption so that products dont have to be transported. The economy then basically looks a bit like North Korea today or medieval Europe: insulated and close-knit.

Lets think this through, shall we, and assess how painless the transformation to such a Brave New World would be. Would you hence all please hand in your 4-wheel drive at your nearest recycling station, as well as your other superfluous cars, and exchange them for tickets for the metro-system? Please disenroll your kids immediately from any activity that cant be done within walking distance from home. Please move instantly out of that quarter acre mansion in the suburbs youve just mortgaged yourself for and hovel together with all your extended family in a shack-sized little apartment (apartments are more energy efficient: you share excess heat with the neighbours!), conveniently situated next to your work. Air travel (very energy intensive) will require a special permit and is only for important people, which I’m afraid excludes you. Your holidays are to be enjoyed in the next-door apartment (a new ministry will make apartment swapping easier!), and exotic destinations you are prepared to walk to. Work only takes place during the daytime when there is natural light and you can have a warm shower at the end of the day when the water on the roof is sufficiently heated. You will be restricted to a minimum set of clothes and under no circumstance are allowed to wear cotton which is highly water and energy intensive.
Does this mean you are necessarily poorer when you faithfully make all these adjustments the Council of Frequent Travellers making up the IPCC Board wants you to make? Of course not. Dont be so narrow in your thinking! Growth and energy efficiency do go together according to this report because youll be able to enjoy the delights new technologies promise us. In that tiny apartment you can use the latest gadget for consuming beetroot juice without spilling.

Sophisticated nanotechnology will make it possible for the apartment to sense what smell and sound you prefer. Your dog, rat sized so as not to use too much energy, will be genetically modified to bark in the language of your choice. Your partner will look like a film star all his or her life, just like all the neighbours and their partners. Youll be happy to know that after death, your partners body can be deposited freely at the nearest recycling stations to remove the silicon and other implants! Now, doesnt that just sound like paradise?

And should you cynically note that the basic situation the IPCC asks you to go to is the situation Chinese urbanites had 20 years ago and have chosen to abandon with gusto for the dream of travelling and consuming as much energy as they possibly can during their lifetimes, then youve shown your shallowness. You lack imagination as to how great life could be without using energy. Once you make the spiritual jump required youll also come to believe growth and low energy use go together like peas in a pod and are not mutually exclusive at all. You’ll see the (sun)light and embrace the exciting new opportunities that energy free life has to offer.

Sigh! What to do with all that hot air? When will certain economists and frequent flyer environmentalists stop pretending you can avert global warming by reducing energy use AND have economic growth?

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19 Responses to What to do with all that hot air?

  1. Elijah says:

    Hehe. Good one.

  2. Mike Pepperday says:

    Exactly. The Stop it! activism offers nothing. Humankind is not going to go into reverse.
    Even if we were willing to try, it would only postpone doom. There is no chance of 100 per cent sustainability.
    We must leave the planet. There is no alternative.

  3. Damien Eldridge says:

    Paul, I have noted my reasons for not signing the University economists petition on climate change at the following site:

    http://economicsgeek.blogspot.com/2007/05/explanation-of-my-decision-not-to-add.html .

    I still think an embodied emissions tax (similar to a carbon tax) would make sense because if it doesn’t dramatically reduce emissiomns, it is still a relatively efficient way to raise revenue. As such, other more distortionary taxers could be lowered. (In other words, I do not think we currenly have an optimal tax system.) If it happens to induce some innovation in the area of low emissions energy technology, then thast is a bonus. If it turns out that it does substantially reduce emissions (that is, if the demand for energy is more elastic than p[eople think), then we learn something useful!!!

  4. Christopher says:

    hmmm…is wise to step up to a yelling man?

    I’ll eschew Kyoto (a starting, but, flawed policy) and the flogging of the IPCC (which seems inappropriate) and just try and look at the paper and the data and provide a couple of comments.

    As noted in the paper that Paul refers to, the annual greenhouse gas emissions is the product of population, economic activity per capita, the energy used per unit of economic activity; and the carbon intensity of energy used.

    As an aside, I’ll note that the last two itemsenergy use per unit of economic activity, and the carbon intensity of the energy uses are considered to be the targets for adjustment in dealing with GHG emissions as a decrease in living standards is not usually considered an appropriate policy goal, and the ability to affect population growth through acceptable policy is limited.

    The mechanisms for technology change are induced through pricing carbon, and dealing with market failures in both the energy market itself and in R&D.

    As I read it, the paper notes that energy user per unit of economic activity, which has had a downward trend since 1980 (and actually goes back much further, but isn’t noted in the paper) has, at a global level, swung up in the last two year period of their dataset. From this, they conclude that if this were to continue, it wouldn’t be possible decrease our emissions and have economic growth at the same time.

    That’s not really a surprising conclusion is it? If we can’t substitute some energy with other inputs, and increase the efficiency of energy use, we’re left with the other two items – economic growth or population. Of course, the biggie is accepting that the cheapest solution maybe to accept the creation of GHGs, but stick them in the ground instead of the atmosphere.

    There are a couple of relevant issues – I note in the data presented, energy intensity has increased for short periods both globally (and regionally at different times) previously before again resuming the downward trend.

    Is there reasons we would expect the trend of decreasing energy intensity not to resume?

    Paul claims that “growth and emissions appear married at the hip” when both the data presented in the paper and in all other studies that look at energy intensity show that not to be the case. They diverge – albeit slowly. For example, for the US economy, over the last 30 years – the economy increased around 160 per cent, whilst energy consumption grew only 40 per cent – and they continue to diverge at nearly 2 per cent a year.

    Of course, the rate of divergence (or falling energy intensity) varies across economies – it’s much slower for Australia.

    The reason it varies is that energy intensity is in fact a weighted average of the energy consumption in different sectors of the economy (really the energy intensity of those sectors), where the weights are the GDP shares of those sectors.

    And what do you know – economies which have a higher share of energy intensive sectors in the makeup of the economy have higher energy intensity measures, and usually, slower rates of decline on energy intensity – precisely because they have a comparative advantage in energy sources.

    Just as one decomposes the GHG emissions above, you can do a similar thing with energy intensity – decomposing changes into changes in economic output, changes in the sectoral makeup of the economy, and changes in real energy intensity (and you can continue this decomposition game as far down as you like…data availability issues aside)

    So, the inevitable growth of the share of the services sector in developed economies contributes to a falling energy intensity measure. Similarly, improved energy efficiency (that wonderful thing called technological progress) will also decrease the measure of energy intensity.

    Of course, just as in the paper, it’s possible to imagine that the growth in output will swamp these effects – but that hasn’t been the experience to date and there are good reasons to believe that that will continue to be the case.

    In the few periods I’ve examined where energy intensity in a sector increases rather than decreases within an economy, my posited explanation boils down to ‘decreasing marginal returns to energy in a rapidly expanding sector’. Again, where normal services are resumed (capacity expansion catches up), energy intensity begins to fall.

    It’s possible to imagine that an economy wide level (although it’s a harder stretch of course).

    So…as Paul said…there’s a lot of hot air where he’s coming from.

    cheers,
    Christopher

  5. derrida derider says:

    Shorter Paul: Kyoto has failed to stop emissions growth and this somehow proves that it’s not possible to stop emissions growth without stopping economic growth.

    I have to say this is not one of your more closely reasoned arguments, mate. Perhaps you’ll be able to put together a better one when you’re not felling cranky.

  6. David Rubie says:

    Christopher said:

    Similarly, improved energy efficiency (that wonderful thing called technological progress) will also decrease the measure of energy intensity.

    Not necessarily – only if it becomes a consumer requirement. You might note that technological progress in things like home computers was leading inevitably to power hungry, multi-fan equipped heat engines that sounded like 747’s taking off. It was only when the home theatre geeks started complaining about the noise that anybody tried to make them quieter (and as a side effect, more power efficient). US government mandated programs (“Energy Star”) seem to have done virtually nothing to curb the overall power consumption of government offices, they continue to buy and use more computers with higher power requirements, due to the technological advancement of higher speed processors and extra memory requirements.

    Plasma TV’s tend to use more power, not less, than the good old CRT. (LCD’s may be better).

    Air conditioners get cheaper and better over time, resulting in higher densities of people owning them, not less (and the efficiency doesn’t increase fast enough to cover the extra users).

    New (and renovated) houses end up with more lighting, not less. Even with advances in bulbs, consumption of electricity rises as more people can afford lighting.

    In short – I doubt that it’s possible at this stage for technology to have any measurable effect on the increase in demand for electricity. In fact, given that devices get cheaper and better over time, it might well be fuelling an unquenchable demand – we can’t deny ownership of these things without resorting to authoritarianism.

    It is a growth problem – we in the west need to start making ourselves more efficient, much faster than we currently are, to allow other countries to have their expansion and enjoy the levels of comfort we have achieved.

    Either that or find a way to generate electricity safely without using fossil fuels or covering the face of the earth with radioactive poison – something that is going to be very hard to do without an Apollo sized, nationally (maybe internationally) funded effort. Delivering cheap electricity to third world countries before they start making our mistakes would be a hell of a legacy, wouldn’t it? It might be easier than trying to deliver them democracy at the end of a gun barrel.

  7. observa says:

    Hear hear Paul, but I’m afraid you’re joining the heretics, when you could nobly sign up with the Milky Bar Kid, the rock star and Kyoto and carry on business as usual.

    The growth furphy aside, what the Iemma Govt did with a 25yr exemption for Bluescope Steel(and no doubt will continue to do) is expose the fatally flawed logic of cap and trade solutions to GW like Kyoto. Firstly, quantity control caps could never be administered universally within countries and so the rights to emit would be handed out only to the big existing emitters. As if this wasn’t bad enough with respect to economic rent handouts and any internal level playing field, the absence of a level playing field internationally was worse. Where the rubber of any effective Kyoto caps is to hit the road, naturally the Iemmas have to put an end to such local, economic and social vandalism. Welcome to Rollback for the Green Stealth Tax, which the new international evangelists were hoping to ride into power with, on the cheap, politically speaking. To argue for a level playing field via an agreed international level of carbon taxing by all the players, would have been too honest and transparent, and a lot more politically difficult to sell. However the failure to take the tougher high road has now been exposed for what it is, essentially moral posing covering a naked power grab. Wear the green mantle in opposition and cast it straight in the bin in government.

    Basically, if we can’t get an internationally agreed level playing field on carbon taxing, (coupled perhaps with proportional MRETs for each jurisdiction), then attempts to ameliorate GG emissions are futile and doomed. Now it might be that the MDCs want to take the high road and lead by example here, with a level playing field amongst themselves. However that would mean cutting out trade (or erecting some penal tariff wall) with those that don’t want to join e.g. China and India perhaps. That’s not reason enough to embrace fatally flawed Kyoto type measures, but more a sound economic reason to embrace a United Liberal Democratic Nations umbrella, with associate membership for those who want to move in our direction and become fully fledged members, environmentally, economically and socially.

  8. Paul,

    I think the focus on the way in which we’re debasing the currency of words is spot on. The well travelled community of international diplomats and bureaucrats have it down to an art – lots of nice sounding words and worry about how and whether you’ll ever actually act on them later. Meanwhile business as usual. Milennium Development Goals anyone?

    On the other hand this idea that you can’t decouple economic growth from carbon emissions is tosh. Of course you can. We decoupled growth in kilometres driven from petrol consumed by jacking up the price of petrol. It’s pretty basic stuff. Whether we have the bottle to keep jacking up energy prices to the extent necessary is a fair question, and not one I’m particularly optimistic about given the terrible fragmentation of our global effort and the consequent incentives to free ride and grandstand (to mix a metaphor). But the idea that you can’t decouple carbon emissions from economic growth – well I’ll leave that idea to those latter day champions of Lavoisier.

  9. paul frijters says:

    thanks for the replies. I agree you can have growth with less CO2, but I am starting to lose the belief that one can have growth without using more energy. Combustion involving CO2 emissions is just the cheapest way to get energy so unless you make it truly global, I’m skeptical that we’re going to get anywhere on CO2 reductions by the pussy-footing we call Kyoto (which we miserably fail).
    Derrida, you may be right. Nevertheless, are you picking up the bet Clive didnt want to make and if not why cant I note that Kyoto is hot air expoused by people who want you to do as they say, not as they do?

    Has anyone seen an economist handing in their Qantas club memberships lately because of deepfelt concern with the environment?

  10. Yes, but we can decarbonise energy. For how much? Well double fossil fuel prices, and maybe do it again and Bob’s pretty much your uncle for an awful lot of energy isn’t it? Most of the alternative energies and renewables come into viability there.

    That may mean a bunch of other things – like rising food prices as fuel competes with food for agricultural land – but it’s all pretty straightforward in an economic sense.

  11. some forms of energy consumption cant be decarbonised, air travel in particular.
    More importantly though, we can use first-year economics to figure out what happens if one region of the world doubles the price of an input that is kept at the same price elsewhere: you’re going to get carbon-based energy-intensive industries in those countries without the carbon tax. We know from the Kutzent curve literature that outsourcing of industries happens fast. And since there is an awful lot of coal spread out over the world, you cant simply enforce a carbon tax at the mining stage without world cooperation.
    No, even if you tax the hell out of carbon at home, you’d have to erect import barriers such that you stop important the goods made with carbon energy abroad. Without all the big players on board ready to swallow a big recession following the doubling of fuel priced, global substitution from carbon energy to something else is not going to happen. And how are you going to get countries to enforce thing they have a strong incentive to fudge without a global police? You cant. There’s no magic simple way out.

  12. Of course you can decarbonise air travel – you burn the fossil fuels (or bio fuels) and then take the carbon out of the air with biomass or other sequestration.

    And yes, it’s perfectly obvious that if large parts of the productive world don’t come into a global emissions abatement effor we pretty much shouldn’t bother.

    As for a doubling of energy prices needing to lead to a recession – that’s not true either if handled well – with decent macro-policies and introduction over a few years.

    The funny thing is Paul, I think I’m a pessimist like you – but you’ve grabbed hold of a whole bunch of pessimistic arguments, and I think some of them are very persuasive and others are really wide of the mark. I think it’s gonna be very difficult politically to stitch up a global agreement. But I don’t think it would be that had to construct a treaty – with independent inspection etc. It’s just that I can’t see anyone doing it any time soon.

  13. Ken Miles says:

    Since growth and emissions appear married at the hip

    Paul, the link that you supplied doesn’t support this statement at all.

    If you look at the EU results in Figure 4, it is apparent that growth in emissions is minor relative to growth in growth.

    Why? Because changes in the energy per GDP ratio and carbon intensities have almost counterbalanced the growth.

  14. paul frijters says:

    I’m no pessimist at all, Nick. I find the whole Kyoto business funny. I’m not even bothered overly much by global warming as I think we’re going to be fine as a world community if it hots up. Wheat from Siberia. Wine from North-West Australia.
    I am seriously worried about other global environmental problems and I do have a hard time imagining how the ecosystems can sustain a world population of 10 billion dollars all using as much land and natural resources as we do. I’m no biologist but I suppose I believe some of the footprint arguments that our rate of natural resource usage cant go on like this. In that sense I am an environmentalist who IS becoming convinced economic growth has ceased yielding material benefits to rich countries.
    What truly amazes me is how childish the proposed solutions put on the table by supposed experts are. These UN bodies seriously seem to suggest you get can get any global constraints imposed without enforcement mechanisms, a global police, etc. Within countries, whole forests are sacrificed into writing reports, supporting meaningless joint declarations. Supposedly grown men pat themselves on the shoulder for having worked out that global environmental problems exist and then urge you to sign up to something they know is not going to work! Its like watching a pantomine. And then of course, there is the outright deceipt in various quarters. If you’re going to argue for world government (as some environmentalists do) then be honest about what that entails, i.e. a global dictatorship, and dont pretend you can give the worlds’ resources to a body and have it behave like a benevolent god who wont usurp power.

  15. I was using the word ‘pessimistic’ to mean pessimistic about our ability to reduce emissions. The upshot from that could be very nasty – or not. We don’t konw.

  16. Mike Pepperday says:

    “If youre going to argue for world government (as some environmentalists do) then be honest about what that entails, i.e. a global dictatorship, and dont pretend you can give the worlds resources to a body and have it behave like a benevolent god who wont usurp power.”

    No, that doesn’t follow. It could be a federation.

    But it’s irrelevant for it is not going to happen and even if it did and it could enforce draconian measures, it would be of little use. It would just postpone the inevitable by having us decline slowly and miserably. This is the prescription of “stop it!” activism, otherwise known as progressive political thought.

    There’s no point – and we won’t do it. If there is nothing positive on offer we might as well go out in style. We are simply not going to live in the mean way Paul described in the post. The human race is not going to put 500 years of progess into reverse in a measured way. The grown men might be hypocrites in a pantomine but in truth we might as well party: bigger houses, more lights, bigger jets, more cars, more air conditioners…

    The argument for restraint is too weak. It has been the song of the environmentalists for 40 years now. No one is in favour of waste but throttling back is just not persuasive.

  17. Damien Eldridge says:

    If we truly believed that the world was not going to reduce emissions substantially, then we might as well do nothing. The reason for this is that by ourselves, we have a negligible impact on total world emissions. However, if we believe that global emissions will be reduced over time to an extent where it will help to ameliorate the extent of global warming, then we should probably contribute, in order to be good world citizens. I hope that global emissions will be reduced in this fashion, but like Paul, I am not yet convinced that this will happen. However, I think that can take sensible steps in the right direction now. Indeed, if develped countries do not at least try to do something serious about global warming, then the failure of global warming policies is almost guarranteed. If we are serious about trying to slow our emissions, which I think we should be, then an emodied emission tax makes sense. The reason for this is outlined in my earlier comment on this thread (comment number 3).

  18. Justin says:

    I note there are two strategies which the global warming fretters never seem to propose.

    1. ‘Be the change you want to see.’ Ghandi

    *You* stop using electricity and petrol you pious wankers.

    You have the gall to sit in your homes built by mining metals and cutting down forests, with hot and cold running water, furnished with every comfort, heated and lit by burning coal, travelling by land or air with petrol-driven vehicles, communicating at an instant with people on the other side of the globe, and conceitedly preaching about how economic growth and capitalism has stopped providing any benefits, and how terrible it is that the long-impoverished people of China are enjoying some of the benefits of capitalism that you take for granted. Presumably it was better when they were waving Mao’s little red book and starving to death by the million. At least they weren’t embracing the dreaded capitalism, right?

    2. Government has spent the past hundred years taxing the population to subsidise coal-fired power stations. This has had the effect of making other solutions, such as solar, non-viable or less viable. Now that we’re all convinced that this is the cause of ‘doom’, how come the solution is to give government more power to tax people? They’re the ones who most fucked it up in the first place. Why isn’t it ever for governmentto stop its infernal meddling in things it is incapable of getting right?

    Paul, people have been fretting that we’re going to run out of resources since Malthus (circa 1770). His theorem was that population increases geometrically, but the means of life increase only at an arithmetic rate. Ergo, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. Although this idea is superficially plausible, it is wrong, for a number of reasons. However that hasn’t stopped people from beating this particular drum for a long time.

    Paul Ehrlich is probably the most famous of them in our time. In the 1960s he wrote a book called the Population Bomb, or some equally alarmist title, saying how there will be mass starvation and the total breakdown of the western economies due to the ‘footprint’ argument *by the 1970s! * It didn’t happen, did it? In fact, production of everything he said was going to crash, went up. When this was put to him, he merely said ‘Ah yes, but that only *proves* that production of all this stuff is going to crash soon.’ It is an evidence-resistant belief system: what is commonly called nutty. All during the 70s, then the 80s, then the 90s, and now he’s still saying it. Meanwhile billions and billions more people live on the earth and their standard of living is higher. And the environmental movement is still lionising him as a prophet!

    One possibility is that it’s all going to crash soon. But another possibility that the fretters don’t seem to consider is that this mindset may be wrong. There’s loads of space and loads of resources, and the whole idea that we are faced with massive environmental degradation is grossly exaggerated.

    Bjorn Lomborg was an academic statistician, and a card-carrying member of Greenpeace. He was provoked by an article in a magazine that said that the claims of the environmental movement are not borne out by the evidence. So he set out to prove that they are. He gathered the best data sets in the world, UN, US government, and so on, and examined all the major headings: disease and health, standard of living, forests, fisheries, coal, you name it. And he came to a surprised conclusion. If you say you are ‘not a biologist’, and are just taking this stuff on faith – don’t. Get the facts. You owe it to yourself to at least read his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Just get the facts before you blow the trumpet of alarm and call for massive centralised schemes for coercing and restricting billions of people, because that’s what urging governmental action on global warming entails.

    The very assumption that ‘natural resources’ are finite is, for all practical purposes, wrong. They are finite, yes, in the sense that the universe, or the entire bulk of the earth to its core is finite. We are hardly scratching the surface – literally. Many of the resources the environmental movement is worrying about today didn’t even *become* resources until the nineteenth or twentieth century, such as petrol or bauxite. The whole time the Aborigines populated Australia, all the resources of modern life lay here unused. Should they have fretted about running down the finite store of natural resources for future generations?

    There are two things that are most concerning about the flawed assumptions of the environmental movement’s furious driving towards a global framework of coercion aimed at stopping ecological breakdown. The first is that the actual technical claims as to the environment are contentious at best, dubious at worst. They are flawed by very significant corporate vested interests in purveying exaggerations, hype and even straight lies; but the corporations are not commercial, they are governmental and so-called non-governmental. The second is that, even if these claims were granted, which they are not, it does not follow from them that the best or better way of dealing with the problem is by urging government to, in effect, hobble or destroy the energy base of the world. And if you don’t understand that that is what is entailed by the recommendations of the Stern or IPCC reports, then do the arithmetic, or see it done for you here: http://www.georgereisman.com/blog/

    Just as the Bolsheviks of 1917 were mistaken in their assumption that, if we could just give enough power to government, they could fix the social problems that they were concerned about, so the environmental movement of today do not understand that government is incapable of doing what they want it to do. And if they are wrong? Look at all the enormous crimes against humanity committed by states during the twentieth century. Who’s going to undo the mess caused by a global mega-hyper-super-duper coercive association which is convinced that they have a noble cause, the existence of people is a problem, and coercion is the answer? You don’t know what you’re playing with. Does it matter to you that the current proposals mean people are going to have to suffer and die to satisfy the claims of the environmentalists?

    The proponents of such action don’t understand why. But if they were right, the Soviet Union and Communist China should have been success stories. They are wrong, and the Austrian school of economics can explain why, if you are interested: see mises.org.

  19. Justin says:

    I note there are two strategies which the global warming fretters never seem to propose.

    1. ‘Be the change you want to see.’ Ghandi

    *You* stop using electricity and petrol you pious wankers.

    You have the gall to sit in your homes built by mining metals and cutting down forests, with hot and cold running water, furnished with every comfort, heated and lit by burning coal, travelling by land or air with petrol-driven vehicles, communicating at an instant with people on the other side of the globe, and conceitedly preaching about how economic growth and capitalism has stopped providing any benefits, and how terrible it is that the long-impoverished people of China are enjoying some of the benefits of capitalism that you take for granted. Presumably it was better when they were waving Mao’s little red book and starving to death by the million. At least they weren’t embracing the dreaded capitalism, right?

    2. Government has spent the past hundred years taxing the population to subsidise coal-fired power stations. This has had the effect of making other solutions, such as solar, non-viable or less viable. Now that we’re all convinced that this is the cause of ‘doom’, how come the solution is to give government more power to tax people? They’re the ones who most fucked it up in the first place. Why isn’t it ever for government to stop its infernal meddling in things it is incapable of getting right?

    Paul, people have been fretting that we’re going to run out of resources since Malthus (circa 1770). His theorem was that population increases geometrically, but the means of life increase only at an arithmetic rate. Ergo, we’re all going to hell in a handbasket. Although this idea is superficially plausible, it is wrong, for a number of reasons. However that hasn’t stopped people from beating this particular drum for a long time.

    Paul Ehrlich is probably the most famous of them in our time. In the 1960s he wrote a book called the Population Bomb, or some equally alarmist title, saying how there will be mass starvation and the total breakdown of the western economies due to the ‘footprint’ argument *by the 1970s! * It didn’t happen, did it? In fact, production of everything he said was going to crash, went up. When this was put to him, he merely said ‘Ah yes, but that only *proves* that production of all this stuff is going to crash soon.’ It is an evidence-resistant belief system: what is commonly called nutty. All during the 70s, then the 80s, then the 90s, and now he’s still saying it. Meanwhile billions and billions more people live on the earth and their standard of living is higher. And the environmental movement is still lionising him as a prophet!

    One possibility is that it’s all going to crash soon. But another possibility that the fretters don’t seem to consider is that this mindset may be wrong. There’s loads of space and loads of resources, and the whole idea that we are faced with massive environmental degradation is grossly exaggerated.

    Bjorn Lomborg was an academic statistician, and a card-carrying member of Greenpeace. He was provoked by an article in a magazine that said that the claims of the environmental movement are not borne out by the evidence. So he set out to prove that they are. He gathered the best data sets in the world, UN, US government, and so on, and examined all the major headings: disease and health, standard of living, forests, fisheries, coal, you name it. And he came to a surprised conclusion. If you say you are ‘not a biologist’, and are just taking this stuff on faith – don’t. Get the facts. You owe it to yourself to at least read his book The Skeptical Environmentalist. Just get the facts before you blow the trumpet of alarm and call for massive centralised schemes for coercing and restricting billions of people, because that’s what urging governmental action on global warming entails.

    The very assumption that ‘natural resources’ are finite is, for all practical purposes, wrong. They are finite, yes, in the sense that the universe, or the entire bulk of the earth to its core is finite. We are hardly scratching the surface – literally. Many of the resources the environmental movement is worrying about today didn’t even *become* resources until the nineteenth or twentieth century, such as petrol or bauxite. The whole time the Aborigines populated Australia, all the resources of modern life lay here unused. Should they have fretted about running down the finite store of natural resources for future generations?

    There are two things that are most concerning about the flawed assumptions of the environmental movement’s furious driving towards a global framework of coercion aimed at stopping ecological breakdown. The first is that the actual technical claims as to the environment are contentious at best, dubious at worst. They are flawed by very significant corporate vested interests in purveying exaggerations, hype and even straight lies; but the corporations are not commercial, they are governmental and so-called non-governmental. The second is that, even if these claims were granted, which they are not, it does not follow from them that the best or better way of dealing with the problem is by urging government to, in effect, hobble or destroy the energy base of the world. And if you don’t understand that that is what is entailed by the recommendations of the Stern or IPCC reports, then do the arithmetic, or see it done for you here: http://www.georgereisman.com/blog/

    Just as the Bolsheviks of 1917 were mistaken in their assumption that, if we could just give enough power to government, they could fix the social problems that they were concerned about, so the environmental movement of today do not understand that government is incapable of doing what they want it to do. And if they are wrong? Look at all the enormous crimes against humanity committed by states during the twentieth century. Who’s going to undo the mess caused by a global mega-hyper-super-duper coercive association which is convinced that they have a noble cause, the existence of people is a problem, and coercion is the answer? You don’t know what you’re playing with. Does it matter to you that the current proposals mean people are going to have to suffer and die to satisfy the claims of the environmentalists?

    The proponents of such action don’t understand why. But if they were right, the Soviet Union and Communist China should have been success stories. They are wrong, and the Austrian school of economics can explain why, if you are interested: see mises.org.

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