Thu Dec 3rd, 2009 at 08:03:11 AM EST
Is Global Warming Unstoppable?
ScienceDaily (Nov. 24, 2009) -- In a provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions -- the major cause of global warming -- cannot be stabilized unless the world's economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day.
Now that's a pretty hyped up opening statement. I think there are some holes in it, but that result isn't what I find interesting about the model. What caught my eye comes further down...
frontpaged - Nomad
Garrett treats civilization like a "heat engine" that "consumes energy and does 'work' in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy," he says.
Garrett says his study's key finding "is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor."
That "constant" is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, "each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 milliwatts of primary energy consumption," Garrett says.
Garrett tested his theory and found this constant relationship between energy use and economic production at any given time by using United Nations statistics for global GDP (gross domestic product), U.S. Department of Energy data on global energy consumption during1970-2005, and previous studies that estimated global economic production as long as 2,000 years ago. Then he investigated the implications for carbon dioxide emissions.
"Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity," he says. "In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it's just a constant factor."
I've long held the prejudice that many of the "just so" stories in economics about how many tools of economics and finance (notably "trade" and "money") amplify prosperity are only descriptions of mechanisms that have worked mostly within the confines of an energy-prosperity relationship, and as such are just fetishising means over ends - probably because energy production is basically a collective, rather than an individual endeavour...
My main discussion point was a graph of fossil fuel extraction vs world GDP (which I can no longer find.) This feels like another little piece of evidence to put to the jigsaw.