Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The economics of saving the world

by Cyrille Wed Sep 24th, 2014 at 02:11:24 AM EST

In his New York Times column, Paul Krugman reports on two new studies, both of which indicate that limiting carbon emissions would be much cheaper than initially thought, and may actually increase economic growth. This would be in part because fossil fuels have negative side effects over and above global warming, in particular health effects that "drive up medical costs and reduce productivity".

Further in his column, he takes a swipe at those on the left who claim that "saving the planet requires an end to growth" (a position he calls "climate despair", such as groups like the degrowth movement and the Post-Carbon Institute. This, he reckons, is in large part due to a misunderstanding of what growth is, where those making such claims probably see it as a "crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, [not taking] into account the many choices -- about what to consume, about which technologies to use -- that go into producing a dollar's worth of G.D.P."

front-paged by afew


I have written about this before in response to another of Paul Krugman's columns -actually and somewhat surprisingly, at the moment of typing, my post is 9th on the list when you google the words "Paul Krugman". He is one of the people I respect the most in the world and it feels somewhat strange to write about my disagreeing with him when he has informed so much of my perceptions of the world, but here goes.

First, let me say that reports of a lower than estimated price to fighting CO2 emissions is unqualifiably good news. It won't greatly surprised most environmentalists, who typically care more for the quality of air they breathe than for oil companies' profits, and who have long explained that the costs of renewables was bound to drop as the industry became bigger, but it's nice to see it recognised.

I also reckon that Krugman is right when he surmises that people have an uncertain understanding of what growth is. Although part of that can be attributed to GDP being a highly flawed indicator, in the construction of which come many highly questionable assumptions. It may be that the de-growth makes a point that is not exactly linked to the economist definition of growth, while still being very relevant to what most people understand by it.

Still, Paul Krugman is right that we have some choices over what to consume and the technologies to produce it. So, to which level of emissions must the reductions linked to those choices takes us, say, ten years from now if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change?

Essentially, zero. Actually, there is a strong chance that this won't be enough and we need to get negative, that is, having an economy that, on aggregate, removes CO2 from the atmosphere.

To a theoretical economist, this last paragraph is no issue. Indeed, there is no mathematical law stating that this is impossible, and indeed if you believe that a growth trend of around 2% a year is the strongest force in the universe, there are no physical constraints that should prevent it returning in the long run. However, we would then be in the domain of the joke about an economist having to lead a group out of a tree-less desert island who starts with "assume a boat".

How likely is it that the world could reach zero-emissions while maintaining growth? Well, if we go by past experience, we can see that so only a weak-decoupling (ie a reduction of emissions per $, but not in total emissions) has ever been reached in a context of growth. Here we not only need a strong decoupling (reducing total emissions), but need to take it all the way to zero in an historical blink of an eye. I agree that there is no mathematical law stating is impossibility, but that is a rather weak objection. What is the scenario leading to no emissions while maintaing growth in the developed world? Yes, renewables are a great help, but electricity production is probably the easiest sector. We also need to get to zero three other sectors of approximately equal weight: manufacturing, housing and transportation.

I know of the objection that a massage is part of the economy yet doesn't cause much emissions, but how many massages a day would you want to have? (And, if the answer is five hours, would a tenfold reduction in transports in consumer goods while getting five hours of massages a day not be called a reduction in growth by most?) Absent a scenario that no-one has so far described, it seems by far the most likely that, if we do achieve such a spectacular reduction in CO2 emissions, total production will have been reduced. Will growth one day return, long into the future? Maybe, but this does not invalidate the message that, in the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely to be compatible with our environmental constraints.

All the more so since it is not just CO2 that is a constraint. Arable lands, water, most minerals, halieutic reserves... it is hard to avoid the impressions that we have pretty much hit peak everything. And if much of the benefits of limiting CO2 emissions is that people, being more healthy, become more productive, the pressure on other resources will grow even more. So we would need to find means of production that would not only stop CO2 emissions, but also massively reduce the intensity of consumption of pretty much everything. Alternatively, it will mean that the economy could stop growing.

The key message of left-wing environmentalists is that we should not worry much about that, certainly in the developed world. For we have long gone past the point where growth is required for a good life -indeed, many people find consumerist life stressful and anxiety-inducing. Much of our consumption seeks to satiate marketing-fabricated needs. Much of our aspiration is positional rather than absolute. Growth has ceased to improve our lives.

What is needed, at least in our current arrangement, is for people to have jobs. And this is not going to be harmed: clean technologies are far more labour-intensive in return for being much less other-resources-intensive. And until they are up and running, we have the opportunity for the mother of all investment programs in order to achieve the transition, something that is just what the doctor ordered in those times of economic slump. Beyond that, probably, the prospect of less consumerism, more meaningful lives and jobs and, yes, more time to spend with family and friends rather than in the office. None of that feels like despair, except maybe despair for the collective refusal to embrace it.

Display:
Cross-posted on my blog Anachronicles

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sun Sep 21st, 2014 at 09:52:32 AM EST
European Tribune - The economics of saving the world
it is hard to avoid the impressions that we have pretty much hit peak everything.

Add to this the recent news that previous world population growth forecasts have erred on the light side, ie that a stabilisation at 9bn around the middle of this century is not in fact on the cards.

Otherwise, excellent summary, Cyrille, thanks.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 01:57:54 AM EST
I just read Keynes being mocked like this:
Granted, Keynes did say this would happen if mankind avoided any calamitous wars and if there was no appreciable increase in population. Two more flawed base assumptions there could not have been.

Neither the intellectual-scientific institutions nor progressive politics have much practical to say about limits of growth beyond (more or less) never implemented or tested "Let's conserve and share" utopia. The first problem is, this rational attitude currently has no social status, respect whatsoever - especially with public education collapsing, and potential intellectuals barelly making ends meet.

The human history saw a number of civilization rises and collapses - and the post-Enlightenment Western scientific-industrial revolution might just fall into their general pattern rather than offer new exceptions.

What are the possibilities? Another 50-100 years of nice population, technology growth - and facing the same limitations anyway in a sharper way? Or should the civilization face the resource struggle squarely ASAP, allowing a sharp economic-financial hierarchy to pre-emptively challenge living standards for the most, or even decimate the global population? The deepest concerns and plans do not have to reach the public discourse - in contrary, the expanding public information can be used to deceive, delude.

As I tangentially argued in this diary, hierarchy escalation, social-emotional traps could be an ancient fair evolutionary game - addressing particularly repeating overshot perils.

by das monde on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 06:16:26 AM EST
Except it is the hierarchy escalation that is driving population growth, or rather the hierarchy is not rewinding fast enough.

World population to hit 11bn in 2100 - with 70% chance of continuous rise | Environment | The Guardian

The cause of the stalled fertility rate is two-fold, said Raftery: a failure to meet the need for contraception and a continued preference for large families. "The unmet need for contraception - at 25% of women - has not changed in for 20 years," he said. The preference for large families is linked to lack of female education which limits women's life choices, said Raftery. In Nigeria, 28% of girls still do not complete primary education.

With predictable results:

World population to hit 11bn in 2100 - with 70% chance of continuous rise | Environment | The Guardian

In separate work, published on Monday, Wolfgang Lutz, director of the Vienna Institute of Demography, highlighted education as crucial in not only reducing birth rates but also enabling people to prosper even while populations are growing fast. In Ghana, for example, women without education have an average of 5.7 children, while women with secondary education have 3.2 and women with tertiary education only 1.5.


Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 08:14:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The latest post-2008 hierarchy escalation stage is just a few years old. The austerity effects will take another decade to play out and affect 2100 projections.

Fertility of the poor will likely meet the conditions (and demographic dynamics) of the 19th century. Their resource limitations is already a model of a wide civilization collapse. Before long, we will see how much poor population can be supported in this economic regime.

As for the middle class mysteriously lower fertility - the futility of their race for sufficient wealth and status is getting yet more obvious. You either hit abundance of a lucky rentier-investor and typically have a proud set of kids; this applies to many successful conventional professionals "earning" significant portfolios as an extra. Or you chase elusive fortune with a demanding work, mindfully continuing to compromise your biological chances. The financial food hierarchy is not explicit, but its reproductive effects (on primates) are increasingly just as in a jungle.

by das monde on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 09:00:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The neoliberal hierarchy escalation goes back to the 80ies, where the projection for Africa went off track.

das monde:

Fertility of the poor will likely meet the conditions (and demographic dynamics) of the 19th century. Their resource limitations is already a model of a wide civilization collapse. Before long, we will see how much poor population can be supported in this economic regime.

In the 19th century you have almost universal high fertility. What you also have is high death rates in most of the world, though Europe and european colonies had lowered the death rate through improved agriculture and basic hygiene. The means to sustain that low death rate are 19th century. So when you write that we are going back to the 19th century, I tell you that that means a larger population boom where it counts. Hierarchy may be a mechanism related to population increase, but if so it is a feedback mechanism for larger populations.

das monde:

As for the middle class mysteriously lower fertility - the futility of their race for sufficient wealth and status is getting yet more obvious.

There is no mystery unless you insist on forcing the observations into a evolution biology mold where it does not fit. If increased wealth led to increased number of children the post-war decades would have seen an increase in children in the west. Instead you have a continual decrease.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 11:11:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Middle class life was supposed to bring a more relaxed atmosphere in which to enjoy having kids, but since the 'Leave it to Beaver' days this has not been the case. The increased stress of an uber-competitive society has had the effect of making people personal-agenda-based thinkers, lacking the time to relax or be altruistic enough to do the work involved in raising children.

Plus the obvious fact of pensions supplanting the need to have descendants in the paid workforce cushioning old age.

If the neolib push to shrink/deny pensions continues, one may well see more child-rearing in the (ex?)-middle class.

Another data point is the effect of extreme modernity diminishing libido, viz Japan.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 12:44:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How high was fertility before the Industrial Revolution? Human population had a pretty anemic growth then - were the poor then relying on the rate selection just as much?

If there is some biological-genetic encoding of historical-demographic cycles - yeah, a very unconventional if - then it is evolutionarily rational to reproduce a lot when exceptional opportunities of some industrial growth are in sight, and to reproduce reluctantly for the decline turn. In particular, Japan has much of the private sense of little perspective, cause to bring a child for some time already. Genuine resource signaling may not be that hard to catch unconsciously.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 03:24:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It depends, and I don't have my Livi-Bacci at hand. But I can give some rough estimates from the google books pages.

In figure 1.6 we have modern day Japan, Italy of 1921 and Cisalpine Gaul as examples of how mortality affects breeding space. From it we can see that while in modern day Japan almost all born women are also alive to be mums and thus 2 children is breaking even, in 1921 Italy only 71% of the available fertile years for women can be used. So you need about 3 children per mother just to stay even in Italy 1921. And for Cisalpine Gaul you have a mere 29%, so you need about 6 children per mother to stay even.

I would say it is the six children family that is more representative of pre-19th century agricultural society. Add 19th century food and hygiene to get to Italy 1921 and you have a population that doubles per generation. Add 20th century medicine and you have a population that triples per generation.

The good news is that we have a functioning feedback to have fewer children in an increased societal position for women, which has brought and is bringing births in most of the world down to or below reproduction levels. Births started going down in the areas that first saw the decrease in deaths already a hundred years ago. That was at the same time as the European empires were at their heights and industrialism was taking off. It is hard to fit that with some precognition of future resource hardships, in particular as other societies were just entering the same pattern. So to fit it with resource scarcity the richest societies must have felt that we were heading into poverty while poorer thought they were heading for expansion.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 04:47:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One obvious dynamics is that when people see wealthy neighbors or instances of social upward mobility, they are hot ready to mimic, capitalize on that. Interestingly, this explains both high fertility in the catching up countries, and low fertility in the developed rat race countries.
by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 05:50:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A significant problem with Spengler's analysis is the discontinuity in the collection of sets of civilizations to analyze. At the time of his writing only West European derived civilizations, with the possible exceptions of Japan and the failed, then abandoned industrial revolution in Ming China, had ever experienced anything like the Industrial Revolution. So he was comparing a large number of civilizations that were somewhat alike with one that was fundamentally different. How can one extrapolate anything from that set of data?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 08:46:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And, at the time Spengler was writing, neither European derived industrial civilizations nor that in Japan had collapsed. And the sort of collapse all but the USA experienced after WW II was not what Spengler was considering.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 08:55:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I do not read everything of Archdruid easily, but some line of his argument is engaging. There is not much other commentary in that direction. Thus a little more from him:
Spengler was thus contributing to an established tradition, rather than breaking wholly new ground, and there have been important works since his time -- most notably Arnold Toynbee's sprawling A Study of History, twelve weighty volumes packed with evidence and case studies [...] Spengler and Toynbee were both major public figures in their day, as well as bestselling authors whose ideas briefly became part of the common currency of thought in the Western world. They and their work, in turn, were both consigned to oblivion once it stopped being fashionable to think about the points they raised [...]

What makes this disappearance fascinating to me is that very few critics ever made a serious attempt to argue the facts that Spengler and his peers discussed [...]

The second foundation for claims of our uniqueness is, of course, the explosive growth of technology made possible over the last three centuries by the reckless extraction and burning of fossil fuels. It's true that no other civilization has done that, but the differences have had remarkably little impact on the political, cultural, and social trends that shape our lives and the destinies of our communities ...

Arnold Toynbee [...] has pointed out an intriguing difference between the way civilizations rise and the way they fall. On the way up, he noted, each civilization tends to diverge not merely from its neighbors but from all other civilizations throughout history. Its political and religious institutions, its arts and architecture, and all the other details of its daily life take on distinctive forms, so that as it nears maturity, even the briefest glance at one of its creations is often enough to identify its source.

Once the peak is past and the long road down begins, though, that pattern of divergence shifts into reverse, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. A curious sort of homogenization takes place: distinctive features are lost, and common patterns emerge in their place. That doesn't happen all at once, and different cultural forms lose their distinctive outlines at different rates, but the further down the trajectory of decline and fall a civilization proceeds, the more it resembles every other civilization in decline ...

When it comes to hitting resource limits, it may be hard to be exceptional even for a definite Industrial Revolution.
by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 03:09:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
das monde:
I do not read everything of Archdruid easily

He's no easy read, on any level! A notable sang-froid spiced with occasional bone-dry asides that use wit to stab the message further home, well it doesn't pander the reader.

Basically the price of entry is any hope you ever had of a happy ending, gloom expressed with rare elegance is the tone of all his posts. That said, he manages to make me chuckle in between groans...

Enlightened pessimism.

His writing has gravitas, but listening to him talk live he comes across less mature, a bit boyishly flippant. Common sense wrapped in a somewhat self-conscious brilliance, a polymath's love for learning and orthogonal thinking.

He has another blog on the Druidic side to his work which attracts a different set of commenters.

The level of commentary on both blogs is very sharp. The acid test of any blogger...

The Pragmatic Pagan. A rare voice, a strong signal in the minestrone of the Inter-Noise.

Feral Scholar-ish for intellectual loft, with less military stuff and more civilisation history.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:59:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Archdruid is talking on Falling Empires here.
by das monde on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 08:36:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
das monde:
Arnold Toynbee [...] has pointed out an intriguing difference between the way civilizations rise and the way they fall. On the way up, he noted, each civilization tends to diverge not merely from its neighbors but from all other civilizations throughout history.

One of the consequences of 'Western Civilization' haven risen so far and so fast is that it has also almost certainly evolved capabilities that will allow it to reconfigure itself in ways that can both be more personally satisfying to the entire population and more energy efficient at the same time. Propaganda has proven such a powerful tool that it is quite conceivable that a society could be converted to an orientation that favors reduced material and energy consumption in return for more equality and opprotunity for all.

What we need is a leader and a movement that can do for capitalism what Gorbechev did for Soviet Communism, but with better control of the direction that the transformation takes. Social orders are entirely human creations and no social order is but that the thinking of the population makes it so. It only took a little more than a quarter century for US wealthy elites to transform US society from one with a powerful central government and increasing equality to one where the central government has become the creature of elites and is being used to despoil the masses in the interests of the elites. (~1950 - 1980) It would seem that it should be possible to reverse that process even quicker that the time it took to create and put it to work.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 03:53:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it is quite conceivable that a society could be converted to an orientation that favors reduced material and energy consumption in return for more equality and opprotunity for all.
That would be a top-down transformation. The problem is that the top will not be interested in reversing opportunities once they perceive resource limitations. They will know the game - either you rule the limited capital and the people, or be ruled. So their social constructs  will be on the backward feudal side. Who will be willing, able, effective to bother with the contrary social constructs?
by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 05:21:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the context of the civilization boom-and-bust cycles (as touched in my comment above), the interesting issue is the fate of the rational discourse within those cycles. The Archdruid Report writes:
When Nietzsche announced the death of God [...] he was filling a role familiar in other ages, announcing an event that occurs on schedule in the life of each culture. The Greek historian Plutarch had announced the death of Pan some eighteen centuries earlier, around the time that the classical world was settling firmly into the end-state of civilization; the people of ancient Crete, perhaps recalling some similar event even further back, used to scandalize Greek tourists by showing them the grave of Zeus. Every literate urban society, Spengler argued, followed the same trajectory from an original folk religion rich in myths, through the rise of intellectual theology, the birth of rationalism, the gradual dissolution of the religious worldview into rational materialism, and then the gradual disintegration of rational materialism into a radical skepticism that ends by dissolving itself; thereafter ethical philosophies for the intellectuals and resurgent folk religion for the masses provide the enduring themes for the civilization to come.
Each movement began with attempts at constructive criticism of religious traditions no one dreamed of rejecting entirely, and moved step by step toward an absolute rejection of the traditional faith in one way or another:  by replacing it with a rationalized creed stripped of traditional symbolism and theology, as Akhenaten and the Buddha did; by dismissing religion as a habit appropriate to the uneducated, as Confucius and Aristotle did; by denouncing it as evil, as Lucretius did and today's "angry atheists" do [...]

Each rationalist movement found an audience early on by offering conclusive answers to questions that had perplexed earlier thinkers, and blossomed in its middle years by combining practical successes in whatever fields mattered most to their society, with a coherent and reasonable worldview that many people found more appealing than the traditional faith. It's the aftermath, though, that's relevant here. Down through the centuries, only a minority of people have ever found rationalism satisfactory as a working philosophy of life [...]

Thus the rationalist war against traditional religion in ancient Greek and Roman society succeeded in crippling the old faith in the gods of Olympus, only to leave the field wide open to religions that were less vulnerable to the favorite arguments of classical rationalism:  first the mystery cults, then a flurry of imported religions from the East, among which Christianity and Islam eventually triumphed. That's one of the two most common ways for an era of rationalism to terminate itself with extreme prejudice. The other is the straightforward transformation of a rationalist movement into a religion--consider [Buddhism...]

The Age of Reason currently moving into its twilight years, in other words, is not quite as unique as its contemporary publicists like to think. Rather, it's one example of a recurring feature in the history of human civilization [...]

In each case, what followed was what Oswald Spengler called the Second Religiosity -- a renewal of religion fostered by an alliance between intellectuals convinced that rationalism had failed, and the masses that had never really accepted rationalism in the first place...

Rationalism (as some foreign fundamentalism) apparently drives more emotional forces against itself than for itself.

I do not agree that rationalism is actually failing now (or ever failed), or that its failure perceptions are genuinely significant. Rather, I guess a lot of calculated political opposition to rational enthusiasts as competitors for wealth, status, resources. Those factors surely manifest at "peak everything" times, and rationality gets no turn to play its card then. Some very long game plan would be needed to parry this opposition in future civilization cycles, so to try really something else at the next cusps.

by das monde on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 06:58:32 AM EST
I forgot to give a link of the second Archdruid article. Here it is.

An example of an isolated rationality peak (arguably remarkably high) is the Hellenic science and technology.

by das monde on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 07:02:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As Bill Clinton didn't say, that depends on what the definition of 'rational' is.

The problem with the Archdruid's argument is that there has never been a rational system for politics.

Democracy isn't rational. It relies on rhetoric and appeals to both conscious and unconscious emotion.

Totalitarianism isn't rational, because it relies on creating and maintaining rigid power hierarchies.

In both systems, reality-based planning is secondary to irrational primary values.

I'd suggest that you cannot get rational results from irrational political systems.

A rational political system would distribute policy power to those who have proven they can use it effectively. There would be negative feedback loops to prevent explosive concentrations of power, and policy defined by explicit goals with quantifiable results.

The world has never seen anything like that. The closest things are probably flat corporations with fluid project-based management structures.

Scaling those up to a world where most of the population believes things like race and nationality are more important than terraforming the biosphere to make it uninhabitable is going to be an interesting challenge.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 08:59:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From the evolutionary perspective, Rationalism should be content with an evolving, relative (rather than a perfect, absolute) status. The question remains: why Rationalism suffers a key political setback exactly when it is most needed, after a glorious persistent rise?

From the social perspective, Rationalism perhaps cannot ignore the (apparently) innate hierarchal instincts. Either it takes a recognized leadership (registered deeply in society brains), or it is a manipulated joke.

by das monde on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 09:11:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Philosophers will laugh at this, but practically speaking, rationalism means accurately modelling and predicting consequences.

The history of modern culture is the history of overridden instincts, so I don't think there's any more need to pander to monkey hierarchy any more than there is to ignore the consequences of poor hygiene, or to see the world entirely in religious or tribal terms.

Rationalism doesn't appear in politics because it has never been tried. The closest thing we have is economics, which pretends to be about 'rational actors' but is really just a pile of nonsense that perpetuates self-serving hierarchies.

There's been no serious attempt that I know of to run governments on a rational - i.e. non-narrative, non-rhetorical, self-questioning and self-aware - basis.

So it's not that it can't be done - it's more that it hasn't been done yet.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 06:15:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It has never been tried... - thus we talking about an utopia?

I would not be so fast with declaring overridden instincts. The rational ideal might indeed be discarding all monkey hierarchies. But going straight for that ideal on this planet is probably the reason why rationalism lost a respectable amount of appeal it had just recently. Like a nerdy kid oblivious to peer social games, Rationalism did not even try to stay at the center of attention, to continuously inspire a majority, even to enjoy the best of life.

And there are even logical contradictions in ignoring established domination venues. You want to impose rational politics without a hierarchical authority? Good luck with that.

Rationalism may be shy in defining and establishing a leadership for its own sake (among the followers) - but that just makes in uncompetitive in this real world.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 03:40:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You're basically arguing that change is impossible.

You want people to use this new writing thing? Good luck with that. It's too complicated, the clay tablets break easily, only a few people get it, and most of them are accountants, so who cares.

You want people to use science? Good luck with that. It's too complicated, only a few people get it, and it's mostly used for weapons and useless stuff like looking at Jupiter's moons.

You want people to have proper hygiene and healthcare? Good luck with that. No one is going to care about those things that cause diseases and which no one can see because they're too small, it's a lot of extra work for everyone, and most people prefer to be superstitious anyway.

Clearly change is possible, and it doesn't always happen in a top-down hierarchical kind of a way.

I don't know how you get from here to rational politics. But it's clear that it's barely been considered as an option, and not even trying it because obviously it can't possibly work isn't a rational approach to the problem.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 06:56:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is the first time for me to see the argument "Rationalism was not even tried" -- and it bemuses me like a new stage of some denial.

If I am making an argument, it is that the industrial civilization is already on the way of a decline, and Rationalism somehow does not (and will not) play much role there. So yeah, it is not being tried particularly to test the decline point.

From the data we have, Humanitarian Rationality might just as well be a luxury of growth times, when continuous progress and many other wonders are easily possible. What Rationality can do with resource limits is indeed an unknown -- but quite possibly, not much at all.

Clearly change is possible, and it doesn't always happen in a top-down hierarchical kind of a way.
We are talking about change under a pressure of resource limitations. A big chance then for everyone to revert to basic resource competition modes. Novel Rational Change without a top-down drive -- that needs to be observed or imagined at first.
by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 07:26:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't understand your points. You started out arguing that rational policy is impossible, now you seem to be conflating it with political denial of resource scarcity.

If rationality means accurately modelling possible futures, then clearly there's nothing rational about denying resource limitations.

Is the decline inevitable? Maybe.

But if you accept it passively as an inevitable outcome then it's guaranteed to happen. If you don't there's always a chance it might not.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:44:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Where do I say that rational policy is impossible?

Besides accurate modeling, there is action. Not some armchair recommendation for desirably wise leaders and diligent policy enactors, but, well, personal action. As in

... grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
I do not see Rationality United playing in Today's Reality League. If world's events are increasingly badly (or uncomfortably) predictable, is there much for Rationality to do?

So I anticipate a messy prolonged collapse, with a lot of fraudulent political promises, possibly a nasty "natural selection event" within a decade even. Rationality would be lucky to have a devoted sect getting though, haha.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 11:19:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
After the collapse, we call the remaining rational people survivalists.

There are thousands of them here in the USA. Are they rational, in the sense they intend to survive, and save their children?

This discussion badly needs some definitions. How about for "rational behavior in societal collapse"?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 08:05:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your rational behavior depends on your options and everyone's preferences. Convincing the whole world would become a drag for you at some point. From a rich enough position, a rational behavior might be to contribute to public delusions.
by das monde on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 07:15:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you assume collapse is inevitable, then yes.

If you are open to the possibility that collapse is an avoidable outcome of irrational policy choices, then no.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 12:20:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A good number of the wealthy seem to believe either that collapse will not proceed so far as to undermine THEIR position or that their wealth will protect them and theirs from the consequences and that they will just become relatively more wealthy and powerful. Some may be right.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 02:11:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.
 --- John Kenneth Galbraith, The Age of Uncertainty (1977)
by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 02:53:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
practically speaking, rationalism means accurately modelling and predicting consequences.
True, if rationalism is to be the basis of social organization. But experience has shown that rationality by itself is a very inadequate tool. In order for reason to function effectively it needs access to good judgement, and that is based on feelings and emotion. The French Revolution went off the rails with both the Terror and the Cult of Reason, and it was balanced judgement that went missing.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:14:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you use the definition of accurately modelling consequences, then it already includes judgement.

Moral dilemmas are messier than scientific problems. But the point is to consider them explicitly, not to allow them to remain buried in the political unconscious, which is where the live now.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:46:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The traditional framing was rationality = logic and emotion = irrationality. But modern brain functional research has shown that judgement is modulated emotional reaction. I don't think that the impact of modern research has yet worked its way through the traditional framing on this issue. I do agree that the logic vs emotion dichotomy was false.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:55:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Definitely, judgements (and communication!) are modulated emotional reactions.

Emotional IQ suggestively covers both rational and emotional sides.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 11:24:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The question remains: why Rationalism suffers a key political setback exactly when it is most needed, after a glorious persistent rise?
The phenomenon of rationality as a core value of culture must be disentangled from the effects of class structure and how that evolved with respect to governance. Rationality was a core value of the Enlightenment. But the entire Enlightenment Project was a project of the elites. While elites ruled rationality could have a place as the guiding principle of governance. However universalism was another core value of the Enlightenment, and in pushing universalism on the basis of rationality we got an expansion of the voting franchise to include all adults. But the vast majority of these adults have not been educated to the level that was expected for the elites in earlier times and they retained, in great numbers, their attachment to traditional religious beliefs. Then some groups of rivalrous elites saw that they could use these traditional beliefs to their advantage and did so to gain power. Now in power they had to cater to those beliefs, even though this undermined the core value of rationalism. So here we are today in the USA and many other countries. In Matthew Arnold's words:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 09:36:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While elites ruled rationality could have a place as the guiding principle of governance.

The idea that the elites - or anyone else - ever applied the tools of rationality to anything that didn't suit them is mostly hilarious.

Which major policies of the last two hundred years were rational? What society in that period has been organised on even faintly rational lines?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 05:13:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a bit a lot to ask anyone else to do anything that didn't suit them. That is not exactly a rational request - unless you can hypnotize or bully.

Was nothing (faintly) rational attempted in the post-WWII politics? Rationality is then a unicorn.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 05:45:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's worth remembering that not everyone in all of history has been a wallet-raping sociopath.

The conspiracy theory view is that post-war Socialism was allowed to happen in Europe because the elites understood that if it wasn't allowed they'd be swinging from lampposts. Or perhaps their power had simply been damaged by the war to the extent that they actually weren't in control any more.

But it's also clear that elements of late Victorian socialism were based on genuine humanitarian ideals. The ideals may have been seasoned with hypocrisy and inconsistency, but they were still ideals that influenced influential people.

The difference now is that post-Thatcher and Reagan, wallet-raping sociopathy is the political and corporate default. The lack of competing ideals among the rich and powerful is the real problem - and also the lack of understanding that too much of this kind of thing never ends well for anyone.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 07:02:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The conspiracy theory view is that post-war Socialism was allowed to happen in Europe because the elites understood that if it wasn't allowed they'd be swinging from lampposts.

One of the notable conspiracy theorists promoting this particular conspiracy theory is one Otto von Bismarck.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 24th, 2014 at 06:40:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It was hardly only different principles of the rationality based Enlightenment that were at play. All of those principles were continually in conflict with traditional practices, starting with proclaiming "all men are created equal" vs a slave based economy. Nor was it true that Enlightenment principles of rationality were always superior to traditional practices. Karl Polanyi's entire book, The Great Transformation, is exactly about that brutal fact.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 10:07:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Universalism, "All men are created equal" appeals to teenagers, but not to children. There's a point in life where you realize some people are better at some stuff than you are, and the next step after realizing that is to find a philosophy that somehow gets you into a group where you are at least equal to everyone else.

The belief is universalist democracy, the idea that everyone's opinion in politics, unlike most other fields, is equally valuable to society. We all, with few sociopathic exceptions, want to be a member of society, it's genetic. Especially if we're worried whether we're good enough for society.

Some people aren't, and the society that recognizes that fact most strongly will have the most people in prison. Have you ever considered that the professed personal freedom in the USA drives its prison population figures?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 08:16:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Universalism, "All men are created equal" appeals to teenagers, but not to children. There's a point in life where you realize some people are better at some stuff than you are, and the next step after realizing that is to find a philosophy that somehow gets you into a group where you are at least equal to everyone else.

The belief is universalist democracy, the idea that everyone's opinion in politics, unlike most other fields, is equally valuable to society. We all, with few sociopathic exceptions, want to be a member of society, it's genetic. Especially if we're worried whether we're good enough for society.

Some people aren't, and the society that recognizes that fact most strongly will have the most people in prison. Have you ever considered that the professed personal freedom in the USA drives its prison population figures?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 08:17:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
want to be a member of society, it's genetic.
Everyone wants to be a member of society, indeed. But without personal confidence, a person would rather find a place in the social hierarchy. That is genetic as well.
by das monde on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 07:12:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
People aren't rational.  Rationalism has therefore always been a minority position.  When it benefits the When it provides benefits to the politico-economic Ueberklass (typically by providing new means of controlling the populace and typically through creating new technologies and philosophies), the Klass encourages rationalism, and it flourishes.  When the benefits stop, or at least no longer outweigh the populace's ability to use the new technologies and philosophies against the Klass, the Klass pulls the plug on rationalism and manipulates the populace against it.  That's what's happening here in the US.
by rifek on Wed Sep 24th, 2014 at 09:08:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You just need to collapse public education, and public looses all taste for rationality.

And even for a better educated generation, Rationality is easily beaten by a myriad of more exciting offers of life and incorporated media, entertainment.

by das monde on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 02:49:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If one were able to remove planned obsolescence from consumerism, a la Veblen, that would be already a huge move, ie the cradle-to-cradle movement, which says if something can't be used a long time, then recycled, it should not be built in the first place.

Secondly, what if growth were newly defined not as economic growth, but social growth instead? It's increasingly obvious that increasing education, sanitation, access to clean water and food supply are what takes people out of misery and reduces the desire for large families, followed by refrigeration, light, electric power and some communication tools. Whereas growth these days is more likely to be about strip-mining, forest clearcutting, tar sand fracking and other such eco-nightmares, which then enrich a few and pauperise many more.

Very good diary, thanks Cyrille!

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 12:22:24 PM EST
Why use growth as a positive metric without defining its characteristics? The word growth is like the word god, everyone uses it, and no one really defines it rigorously, though the lack of rigor should appear to be the obvious problem in these discussions that meander endless with no compass.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 08:21:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
RE: the lack of examples of emissions falling: That is factually wrong.
http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/fra.html

French emissions are currently "Gasoline, in cars and trucks, plus miscellany that could be eliminated easily enough" So add electric cars and a not-very-intense effort, and France has solved this entire issue.

In contrast, you are talking about the need for the embrace of deindustrialization. You know who implemented that? The Khemer Rouge.

You are in essence contemplating the deaths of at
least 6 billion people as a preferable alternative to building nuclear reactors

Because that is what it would take. An everest of skulls.
This is chain of reasoning which you should abandon immediately. Before you tar ecological responsibility with the brush of wanton genocide.

by Thomas on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 02:40:19 PM EST
Calmer: The standard accusation the right wing hurls at all efforts to reduce CO2 emissions - renewable energy, conservation, soil remediation, is that they are false gambits - stalking horses for an hidden desire to see us all returned to a peasantry scrabbling in the dirt for survival.
I have seen this calumny leveled time and again.

It is the very height of folly to adopt the slanders your enemies level against you as goals. Especially, considering, as I said, the six billion dead people down this path.

If you believe renewable energy can power civilization, make plans and invest accordingly. If you do not. And that is the indisputable implication of the parent post  above, swallow your scrubles and go sign up for a degree in nuclear engineering on the morrow. Because arguing we should abandon civilization will get you nowhere.  

by Thomas on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 02:54:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And before anyone starts blathering about resource constraints. Those do not exist. There is only one star around which industrialization orbits, and that is energy. All else is atoms, and can be recycled until the final heath-death of the universe.
by Thomas on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 02:56:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The feasibility of constructing arable land from the bedrock up, and building a functioning ecosystem supporting a surplus of edible food out of whole cloth are not yet proven.

You may argue that this does not present an insurmountable barrier to extending industrial civilization to the entire world. And you may be right. For what it is worth, that is my estimation as well.

But it is not a trivial constraint that you can just throw electricity at until it goes away.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 05:27:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a surplus of edible food out of whole cloth

Oh, come on, we did such a great job!
It's easy...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 09:57:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's really not about six billion deaths from rational government, since between Islam, global warming, Ebola and appeasing the military-industrial oligarchy in legislative control through simple nudge techniques of voters, we're looking at a comparable number of deaths anyway.

So keep thinking rationally, and use Gross Total Thriving as your banner, and if necessary, allow a couple billion deaths as inevitable.

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 08:37:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Islam

WTF?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 06:28:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe a confusion with the Hindus? In their big Kurukshetra civil war, several millennia ago, the number of dead (if you believe the Mahabharata) is 1,660,920,000 (with a  mere 240,165 survivors). No other religion comes close.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 03:58:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"You are in essence contemplating the deaths of at
least 6 billion people as a preferable alternative to building nuclear reactors"

Wow. Where did that come from.
Let me see, how many times did I object to nuclear reactors in this diary. Ah, yes, none.

And this is now the second time that someone here is aggressive to me for being against nuclear, which probably not yet quite evens out against the times when someone was aggressive to me for not being against nuclear. Projection anyone?

As an aside, please note that climate does not care that part of your industrial supply chain has been outsourced to another country so you can claims your emissions have decreased. What matters is worldwide emissions.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 03:57:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Eh.. Mostly I went off due to the claim that reducing carbon emissions and growing the economy is impossible, because there are several examples of it being done.

Usually, I see those examples getting ignored because of anti-nuke bias, but I suppose on the principle of charity I should have just gone "Check your facts". Sorry. Bad debater.

On the subject of outsourcing emissions: The numbers have been run on this, and the carbon emissions of the nuclear industry are minute, counting everything. Also, there have been people who lied about that. But it is a lie, and if you go and read the actual study, and fact-check the critiques, that is obvious, and even the small remaining emissions could be eliminated easily - all it would take to render the entire supply chain of the nuclear industry carbon negative. All it takes is electric mining equipment - which is usually a good investment anyway - and using a carbon-sink concrete mix for building the reactors. (some concrete variants absorb co2 during curing.)  This also works for wind.

by Thomas on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 04:47:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
people who wonder about this conundrum should be involving the Kaya identity, which summarizes the most relevant factors for tweaking anthropogenic CO2. Obviously reducing population is of course one of them, just like reducing GDP is, but that's far from all. It can tell you a lot about a person what factor s/he deems the most relevant factor to tweak.

Anyone can go play here.

by Bjinse on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 05:06:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

You should calm down.

You know, we've had people here before who thought they had the right to accuse others of condoning mass murder because they were not in favour of nuclear power.

Apart from the fact that it's a stupid and unconvincing form of argument, it's baselessly arrogant and insulting and is quite the wrong way of going about enlightening discussion.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 04:08:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It isn't about the nukes. It's about not even believing in what you advocate.

Straight up: Do you believe renewable can support an industrial society? Then stop going on about the need for zero growth. Because if renewable can support an industrial society, they can support a much richer planet than the current one - There are billions in abject poverty right now, so saying "the world is rich enough, we dont need more growth" is just vilely racist and amoral.

If you don't believe renewables can support a richer planet, you need to abandon your advocacy for them, because you don't mean it - not in your bones. And you are doing the the cause harm, because the arguments that are being constructed from that basis really do just imply a mountain of skulls too large for me to visualize, and I have really good visual imagination.

by Thomas on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 04:31:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[ET Moderation Technology™]

Just so you get it, that moderation tag means I am not entering into discussion with you but warning you about the excessive ad hominems you are using to bolster up your arguments.

Insinuating the person you are discussing with is vilely racist and amoral, and is likely to create a mountain of skulls, is not an acceptable form of discourse round here.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 04:43:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thomas:
It's about not even believing in what you advocate.

Straight up: Do you believe renewable can support an industrial society?

Believing would be seeing, and well, the outcome of your wish or mine remains to be seen. No-one can extrapolate the future perfectly.

Renewables can support an industrial society with growth, yes, but not with present levels of wastage.

Florida oranges shipped to California and vice versa, 40% of supermarket food tossed in the dumpster, worst practices that could be asking too much from renewables to muster.

Retooling the uranium mining industry to run on electricity sounds good, but insanely expensive. Better to put that factory time to building PV and wind turbines, electric cars and trains.

Helluva lot friendlier for those starving billions to live downwind from while they wait for grid hookup...

Gonna be digging those underground nuke waste storage facilities with electric tools too, perhaps?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Sep 22nd, 2014 at 10:13:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Post-Carbon Institute has a reply:

Paul Krugman's Errors and Omissions

.... First the errors:

1. He mistakes post-growth realism for anti-growth activism. .... we see clear evidence that growth is ending of its own accord because our economy is hitting biophysical limits at a speed and scale that are outpacing humanity's ability to adapt. The most critical limit to economic growth is the availability of affordable fossil fuels ....

2. He misrepresents his sources. .... The NCEP report [...] admitted that "On their own, these measures would not be sufficient to achieve the full range of emissions reductions likely to be needed by 2030 to prevent dangerous climate change" ....

3. He assumes that wind and solar can substitute for all uses of fossil fuels. .... Electric cars are making inroads, but we're not about to see battery-powered airliners, bulldozers, container ships, tractors, or long-haul trucks ....

4. He claims it is easy to slash carbon emissions. ....  The faster we push the transition, the more fossil fuels we'll use for that purpose, and this could lead to the extraction of more tar sands, fracked tight oil and shale gas, deepwater oil, and Arctic oil ....

5. He assumes that a meaningful price on carbon would only impact direct energy prices. ... When energy prices rise, that impacts all we do. Does Krugman believe that the global economy can continue to grow despite higher prices across the board?

Now Paul Krugman's omissions:

1. He omits mentioning what rate of greenhouse gas emissions reduction he thinks is necessary. .... industrialized nations need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by over 10 percent per year starting now.  In Anderson's opinion, this is "incompatible with economic growth" ....

2. He omits mention of constraints to fossil fuel supplies ....  The major petroleum companies are investing much more in exploration today, but their production rates are declining ....

3. He omits mention of energy returned on energy invested, or EROEI.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 06:34:06 AM EST
Elon Musk has said that when he's done playing with rockets, battery powered airliners are next on the list.

We don't actually know the limits of energy storage technology.

As a field it's had some money thrown at it, but nothing like the amount of money it would get if it became a political priority equivalent to - say - another arms race.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 07:06:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Battery powered laptops, i-Products made quite a progress recently. A battery airliner is a different piece of cake.

Thermodynamics is a science where the greatest breakthrough is an impossibility. Once smart minds stopped wondering about perpetum mobile, the industrial revolution entered its full glory.

Perhaps we will have to acknowledge that there can no perpetum mobile of the social or monetary kind, no endless growth within fixed energy flow limits.

by das monde on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 07:47:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sometimes I think that if we could retain all the good aspects of modernity except cheap air flight, it well may re-give meaning to the word exotic.

It has broadened countless travellers' worldview and done much to dismantle provincialism, them's the good news.

The bad is that it has flattened experience and banalised it.

I use it, rarely, very much not taking it for granted.

Modernity has diluted regionalism, in some cases erasing it. For all the benefits, I think it's gone far too far, and it's shit for the environment.

I guess if tech can make planes light enough while still strong enough not to break apart, and powered them non-pollutingly then flying more could be attractive.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Sep 23rd, 2014 at 11:13:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Battery powered laptops, i-Products made quite a progress recently. A battery airliner is a different piece of cake.

A battery airliner is called a zeppelin.

Perhaps we will have to acknowledge that there can no perpetum mobile of the social or monetary kind, no endless growth within fixed energy flow limits.

Of course you can have a monetary perpetual motion machine. This is what inflation does for you.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 24th, 2014 at 06:47:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you do desirable inflation now?
by das monde on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 02:30:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. Just print money and hand it out to people. I promise you'll get inflation.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 01:50:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Depending on the circumstances you might get more consumption and then more production, if that society produces anything needed by most people. If you have, broadly, 20% unemployment it will be a long time before you get wage push inflation and that is the mechanism that giving money to other than the rich works. Give it to the rich and they just get richer. They may buy up more assets, but they won't consume much more of anything the average person consumes.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 09:17:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
If you have, broadly, 20% unemployment it will be a long time before you get wage push inflation

Isn't that the 'pushing on a piece of string' theory? I.e. it can work, but only after protracted efforts and many 'fails' first.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 01:15:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, pushing on a string is about monetary policy impotence.  The central bank can't induce more borrowing when households and businesses are financially strapped by lowering interest rates (because households and businesses want to do the opposite) -- and, even if households and businesses wanted to borrow, they couldn't, because commercial banks' risk premiums are too high for them to make loans.

ARG's referencing effects from capacity utilization and propensities to consume tied to fiscal injection.

If you inject a bunch of money into the checking accounts of households, they'll spend it.  If unemployment's 20%, factories and stores are probably operating well below full capacity.  The jump in demand will initially result in raising production until unused capacity is mopped up.

You'll see some inflation in some regions where there's not much unused capacity (say, North Dakota).  In others, you'll see a big boom in growth (say, Nevada).

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 08:53:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure. But print say 10 000 euros per capita and hand it out on a per capita basis, and you'll see a lot of consumption, and inflation. Which is just what the doctor ordered.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 05:50:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, it might be argued that this is more like fiscal than monetary policy...

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 05:51:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, three trillion euros might be just the stimulus the Euro Zone needs. However, I wouldn't deploy it quite like that. Perhaps one trillion on renewable energy and distribution infrastructure, another on efficiency improvements and the last on a job guarantee for those still unemployed. And it probably should be spread out over three years. After all, the USA had an $800 billion stimulus which helped, but many argue that it was only half the size needed.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 08:12:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe he should tinker around with an actual physical specimen of his dream toy train before he gets to the electric plane part. Electrochemical energy storage systems have two orders of magnitude less capacity (per mass or volume) than fossil fuels. So some stunt flights around the world and utilitarian general aviation may be possible one day with electric planes but intercontinental travel with hundreds of people on board at 900 km/h is a province of liquid hydrocarbons. No way around it.

Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 06:27:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He assumes that wind and solar can substitute for all uses of fossil fuels.

Electricity to methane to methanol to long-chain hydrocarbons.

This is off-the-shelf technology. Any halfway competent chemistry lab can set you up with this synthesis chain.

We don't use it, because drilling for hydrocarbons is cheaper (and anyway if you're building hydrocarbons the hard way, there's no real reason to not just stop at methanol). But "unremunerative under current institutional arrangements" is not the same thing as "impossible."

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 24th, 2014 at 06:46:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How energy demanding is this synthesis chain?

For some reason, I remember now Baron Munchhausen pulling himself out of a swamp by his own hair.

by das monde on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 02:39:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That really does not matter - for the applications where liquid fuel or hydrocarbon feedstock are non-substitutable, oil could be $ 1,000 a barrel and it would still be cheap at twice the price.

Take an airline ticket, for instance. Fuel can't be much more than a third of the ticket price in a real airline, because if it were then Ryanair would be throwing away money like it was spoiled fish. The rest is amortization, cost of capital, airport fees, taxes, staff, general overhead, etc. (most of which Ryanair dodges with its, uh, interesting business practices). If the price of crude goes up by a factor of ten, that means the price of final distillates go up by no more than a factor of five, which means airline tickets would a bit under triple in price. That's still, by any reasonable standard, dirt cheap.

At $/bbl 1,000 crude, you could power Finland with solar panels year-round. Which would incidentally provide you with all the methanol you need for your liquid fuel consumption, because you'd load balance by overbuilding and using methanol synthesis as spinning reserve.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 03:43:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oil could be $ 1,000 a barrel and it would still be cheap at twice the price
Would be still cheap... for very few.
the price of final distillates go up by no more than a factor of five
Did you assume that the cost of side services, maintenance would not grow with the oil price?
you could power Finland with solar panels year-round
Please estimate the solar energy budget for Finland in winter months. How many transcontinental flights can then Finnair make?
by das monde on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 04:04:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Did you assume that the cost of side services, maintenance would not grow with the oil price?

Of course I did. Even if you buy into the most hysterically Luddite claims about the cost of a renewable energy portfolio, it's no more than three or four times the headline cost of fossil fuels. And side services, maintenance, etc. will obviously not go up in lockstep with general energy prices. There are other things than energy going into those processes.

At the ballpark resolution we're looking at here, that doesn't even get you to a rounding error.

Please estimate the solar energy budget for Finland in winter months. How many transcontinental flights can then Finnair make?

Finland has on the order of 1 kWh/day/m2 of insolation in the deep winter, and on the order of five times that much in the summer, or around 300 GWh/km2/yr. Finland consumes on the order of 300 TWh/yr. So for full, year-round coverage, at something like 2:1 overbuild, you'd need to cover less than 1 % of the surface area of Finland in solar panels.

As for how many flights you could power on the load balancing surplus from that strategy, I'm gonna go with 'enough.'

Of course this is an insanely wasteful way of powering Finland. Nobody would actually do anything like this in the real world, because vastly superior options exist. But the point here is to demonstrate that energy, in and of itself, is not a serious constraint on economic activity. If energy looks like it is a serious constraint, under the present state of technological achievement, then you have lost the plot somewhere along your train of thought.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 03:53:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to this data, Helsinki insolation in deep winter is 0.16 kWh/day/m2. Taking into account clearness (given) and solar cell 30% efficiency, the potential is 134 GWh/km2/yr. With the energy consumption 373 TWh/year, you need to cover at least 2800 km2 with solar panels. That is already close to 1% (larger than Luxemburg), without overbuilding. The southern part of Finland will not welcome that. Likely you would take all open patches in the middle part. Surely, this is absurd, especially in winter. But other options are not spectacular for Finland, are they?
energy, in and of itself, is not a serious constraint on economic activity
Only if you can cover Luxemburg with solar panels fast and cheaply, without objections, with willing elite investors. If you cannot do that, energy limitations will have profound impact on the economy. The ratio of energy cost and labor cost will skyrocket towards the utilization convenience ratio. Humanity would be moving back to slavery economy. What we have now socially is an artificial taste of what is to come.
by das monde on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 03:43:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<quote>But other options are not spectacular for Finland, are they?</quote>

Finland has according to your link 31% renewables today (and another 18% nuclear). I don't think Finland is up against any hard barrier when it comes to expanding that, there is lot of windy coast for wind, space for solar and forests for biofuels. For load balancing over the year I think Finland already uses the close proximity to the Scandinavian mountain range and its Swedish and Norwegian hydro power.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 05:46:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
About 90% of Finish renewables come from forest/paper industry & their residuals, and hydro-power. Not much expandable. Wind & solar power trend to be negligible there.
by das monde on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 06:53:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So? Build a handful of reactors. No big deal.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 01:53:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those are all logistical and political problems, not energy problems per se.

Allowing vested interests to masquerade political problems as energy problems is unhelpful.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 05:35:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Those who want inflation, renewables cannot force that. Those who can, are definitely not interested. It's a part of thermodynamics, I guess.
by das monde on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 07:19:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Please explain, in your own words, the scope and most important conclusions of the field of thermodynamics.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 03:07:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thermodynamics allows going against grain - but you need to do work, expend energy, take time, manage information and logistics.

There is a huge amount of political, belief-changing work to be done. Not sure we can outwork the selfish opposition at the best of times. Now we are just day-dreaming instead of working anything towards a little more sustainable planet.

by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 02:39:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plainly, you do not understand thermodynamics.

Please refrain from appealing to a body of knowledge you are obviously ignorant of in the future. It does not help your argument.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 05:53:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, steady state does not allow humor.
by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 06:03:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Humor is not an acceptable substitute for thought.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 07:46:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We can only think so much.
by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 10:59:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Disorder is the natural tendency with inanimate objects, say a library. The books might be in order by some filing scheme, but, absent effort they will become less ordered. That was the analogy Claude Shannon used when relating the concept of entropy to information theory. The librarian performs work against entropy when he puts the books back in order. I believe that was what das monde was referencing.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 10:36:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is really super-easy to cause large inflation through renewables. This is how you do it.

  1. Print lots of money.
  2. Spend it on building renewables.
  3. If you don't get inflation yet, go to 1.


Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 05:53:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is really super-easy to cause large inflation through renewables.

Not if it involves Germans. Then you would be very lucky to get one very inadequate iteration.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 10:38:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To echo how we were talking about this seven or eight years ago on this site - the question isn't feasibility, it's can we continue to provide bread and circus vacations to Hawaii and Italy for the middle class before they turn to political unrest instead?

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 06:26:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the middle class seems to be disappearing, but not turning to political unrest in outstanding numbers so far.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 09:20:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OWS was pretty impressive. The current and former middle class felt it still had something left to lose, so it ended. I don't think that will last another 10 years.

I also think that the Arab Spring being the food riot that it was is a harbinger of the resource wars to come for humanity as a whole.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 03:55:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
MillMan:
can we continue to provide bread and circus vacations to Hawaii and Italy for the middle class before they turn to political unrest instead?

Interesting choice of countries as examples! ;)

People are turning to political unrest, it's just for the moment mostly polite and inadequate in the first world, (and pretty easily squelched through mass digi-surveillance knowing protestor plans in advance).

In other parts of the world it is so far equally inadequate, if much less polite.

ISIS notwithstanding... Their protests (and Boku Haram's) are scary and have grabbed headlines, but the idea of a Caliphate is far from new, and will probably not fly long term unless one or two things happen. One, the levels of social collapse exceed Egypt's or Palectine's (or Yemen's, or Somalia's), or seconfly the first world violently over-reacts (again) and continues the kind of of dumb-brute, collateral damage-rich campaigns to reduce Muslim population willy-nilly through attrition and superior firepower.

Tony Blair's solution (to pretty much everything.)

Or, we could draw silly lines on a map and watch the consequences unfold as Islam goes through its tortuous schisms while we engage, enable and enrich corrupt elites in order to plunder their territories' fossil fuels.

Oh, wait...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 01:36:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
melo:
(and pretty easily squelched through mass digi-surveillance knowing protestor plans in advance)

I have been wondering about the fall of DDR. It looks like Stasi failed its core objective, but why and how? Was the discontent overwhelming? Were the analysts stuck in the wrong frame? Were the agents just phoning it in?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 04:16:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The people themselves were not permitted to know too much about the outside world, a cultivated ignorance, so to speak.
The secret police have a stronger cog-diss because they do know how many lies it takes to keep folks out of the know.

I am just finishing the unknown history of Mao, and back then it was calculated to take 500 armed 'security' thugs to suppress 30,000 peasants. Perhaps it was even less thugs in Stasi days.

The success of a totalitarian state in staying in power always rocks on the fulcrum of the ability of the secret police's willingness to go along with the program.
In a way it is the weakest link in the chain. Lose them and it's game over, so there is a vested interest in keeping them sweet. Favours and perks...

Eventually you have Pakistan/Egypt situations, where the military arm attains near-absolute power, swathes of prime land, etc.

When the costs of repression come too high, then change will come, willy nilly.

This is why America is so busy building up a criminally fascistic element in its domestic forces, to prepare for mass riots if the dollar crashes with such a high proportion of the populace armed.

They backed off with Bundy, but if he had been black and/or religious, it would have gone differently.

Bundy was really one of them, so...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 08:17:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just finishing the unknown history of Mao, and back then it was calculated to take 500 armed 'security' thugs to suppress 30,000 peasants.
That is not an unusual ratio of  management. Some factories in Shenzhen today are probably more effective. The secret of any leadership is to work on submissive, crowd following instincts.
by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 03:05:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, Stasi and KGB failed completely, without any kicking apart from a weak August putsch in Moscow.

This all be less mysterious if the genuine top objective of these secret services (and Gorbachev government) would had been exactly what what happened.

by das monde on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 02:45:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed, that particular point was an incorrect rebuttal. However, it would mean producing vastly more electricity than we do now. So I'm back to asking for a realistic scenario that manages to have emissions just collapse within 10 years while producing so much more.

I am also puzzled by their point 5. If energy is pricier, which makes an intermediate good pricier when the producer passes on all of the price increase, he is not worse off per unit. So the impact of the price increase should exactly be the increase per energy unit times the number of energy units consumed. I don't see that Krugman makes a mistake there.

It must be pointed out that CO2 can also be emitted as part of the process itself, not energy consumption. So zero-carbon electricity would still require taking CO2 off the atmosphere to compensate for that.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 02:42:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The point 5 means that the costs will be higher in terms of sheer labour, time. In other words, you will need to work not days, weeks but months to earn a holiday trip, an iPad.
by das monde on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 03:12:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Er, no. The point 5 stated that price increases derived from higher energy prices would be much greater than the price increases of energy consumption.

I say that this is wrong and probably a misunderstanding of how the price of inputs impacts price levels in an economy.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 02:24:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
price increases derived from higher energy prices would be much greater than the price increases of energy consumption
Where does it say THAT? I read only "When energy prices rise, that impacts all we do." We will all improve misunderstanding of input price impacts.

By the way, that same Archdruid is surely following this Krugman debate:

Heinberg was too gentlemanly to point out that the authorities Krugman cites aren't exactly known for their predictive accuracy
by das monde on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 03:56:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Their points claims that Krugman greatly underestimated the price increase impact of a tax on CO2, when he did no such thing.

The studies he quotes may be wrong, but if there are externalities gains that are greater than tax * consumption, then the net result is a gain. That the price impact would be spread over everything we use rather than a single item makes no difference to its macroeconomic value. I think they are doing double counting without realising it.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 12:59:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If wind turbines and solar panels are sufficiently well made to outlast the time it takes for their output to repay the cost of construction then they serve to cap the cost of energy, as they have no fuel cost, only a maintenance cost. This would be even more impactful were they to be built with zero or near zero interest rate as government policy. With zero interest rate financing there might well be a positive EROEI after ten years. From a financial point of view they would be huge generators of free cash after they had repaid the cost of fabrication and installation.

Then part of that surplus could be used, conceptually, to invest in carbon negative processes, but it also would make the country possessing such infrastructure very competitive against countries still using 'cheap' fossil carbon energy - totally aside from considerations about contributions to saving the ecosystem. After the EU, the UK or the USA had built out their own energy infrastructure sufficiently the same production lines could continue to be used to provide the same equipment to countries unable to build such equipment - both energy generating and carbon sequestering processes. Continue until the possibility of a new ice age appears.


"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 11:08:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
das monde:
In other words, you will need to work not days, weeks but months to earn a holiday trip, an iPad.

If the Ipad lasted 30 years (Veblenically!) would that necessarily be a Bad Thing?

If the holiday trip to far-flung destinations reunited you with distant family or provided an experience so profound or galvanising you would treasure it for life, partly because it wasn't crawling with ignorant boors there drunkenly despoiling the environment...

Make people value things more, or else the ecocide will continue gathering pace. That's the lesson I get from resource depletion.

In the same vein, building nukes so we can continue a throwaway lifestyle is like embracing the devil and the deep blue sea. (With its plastic pollution, algae runoff, jellyfish swarms, fish graveyards and Fukushima/BP 'events').

:(:(:(

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 01:52:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And methane is ridiculously easy to extract from biological processes, which is another likely source, and one that could operate totally on solar energy for heat, electricity and photosynthesis.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Sep 25th, 2014 at 10:17:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed!

Composting and bio-gas are as exciting as solar and wind for a green future.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 01:55:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can't say I'm particularly impressed with any of those supposed errors or omissions.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Fri Sep 26th, 2014 at 01:55:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The first omission is compelling to me. It's borne out by recent experience. Per capita emission rates may slightly decline or stabilize. However, the only recent time that total emissions dipped was during the crisis of 2008.

With the convenience and energy return of fossil fuels, demographic pressures, the need to generate big surpluses to kickstart a renewable economy and supress unemployment etc. it appears nigh impossible to achieve 2°C or 450ppm (without successive economic crises, see the Anderson links).

Things are not completely hopeless. IF high exponential growth rates for renewables can be sustained and IF consistent punitive carbon pricing can be implemented once renewables reach critical mass and IF scalable liquid fuel substitutes can be found ..., THEN emission reductions could be achieved to keep things under 500-600(-700?)ppm long term. Not as good as one would hope for but maybe good enough.

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 10:04:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We'll, one example that comes to mind is Sweden. Since 1990 we have cut emissions by 20%, despite growing the economy by 60%.

And no, this cannot be explained by offshoring our emissions, as we have an extremely energy-intensive economy (lots of heavy process industry), and at the same time a non-trivial current account surplus.

The emissions we create in other countries through our consumption of imported goods should thus amply be offset by the emissions we eliminate by exporting energy intensive goods, which otherwise would have created large emissions in other countries.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 05:58:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is -10% per decade. What happens if economies try to attain -10% per year? The contention is that more than 3 or 4% per year is incompatible with economic growth.

I say the need for economic surpluses --partially justified by the investment for renewables and the investment for adaptation to climate change-- will prevent a very fast phaseout of fossil fuels. "Please, just one more hit of fossil fuels!"

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 06:25:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First of all, I don't agree with the view that emissions must be cut by 10% per annum. That sounds like alarmism to me, especially when we consider the research which points out that it is unlikely that we can even physically reach any but the single most optimistic of the IPCC emission scenarios, due to a lack of fossil fuels.

Secondly, Sweden did 10% per decade while growing the economy by 60%. It's not a huge stretch to imagine that emissions could have been cut a lot more if the economy had not grown by 60%...

Thirdly, imagine a country like Germany. Germany is roughly the same kind of place as Sweden, except that Sweden is more energy-intensive and despite this has half the emissions per capita. This is not because Swedes are better people than Germans, or care more about the environment, or have a more frugal life-style, or anything like that. It is simply due to the structure of our respective energy systems. Germany could change its energy system in its entirety in 15 years, if she had the political will, and could hence cut emissions by say 50% within that same timeframe. It would cost maybe something like roughly 0.5-2% of GDP per annum during those 15 years, but these are investments which should probably be done anyway due to the aging of current infrastructure. This would mostly mean the investments are done a bit earlier than otherwise expected (and Europe could certainly use a massive German investment program from a macroeconomic perspective...).

Finally, I'm not really sure what you mean by "the need for economic surpluses".

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 07:02:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"First of all, I don't agree with the view that emissions must be cut by 10% per annum."

Only because we have implicitely given up on runaway climate change. We may already have reached the point where 1.5°C is unavoidable, and certainly will have in 10 years on current track. And if you doubt the science, that would still not refute the point which is that getting emissions to zero in a very short time is highly unlikely to be compatible with continued growth in the developed world.

I do, of course, realise that we will not reduce by 10% per annum. But then future decades will need to be massively negative instead of zero.
By the way, your argument seems to read that we don't need to reduce fast because soon we won't have fossil fuels left to burn -which would mean zero emissions from fossil fuel (though there would still be deforestation and methane releases, enough to create trouble themselves). Well, then the reduction would be quick and massive, but also totally disorderly. I greatly doubt that it will make it more amenable to growth...

"Secondly, Sweden did 10% per decade while growing the economy by 60%."

OK, well done Sweden (I mean that). But do you think that the fact that it's a country home to just 9 millions with massive water (and forest) ressources and a population density of 21 per square km might help? Almost half of the electricity comes from hydro (and a similar chunk from nuclear, itself greatly helped by the availability of plentiful cool water). Do you think that strategy would work for the planet at large?
And despite such an impressive success with a favourable set of circumstances, it still falls well short.

"Germany is roughly the same kind of place as Sweden"

Germany has 10 times the density of Sweden. I doubt they could get half their electricity from hydro within 10 years at next to zero extra cost -it could, of course, get the other half from nuclear.

That does not mean that I believe it should not invest to bring emissions down, by the way. But it would not be costless (fine at the moment, we need stimulus), and would still fall well short of what's needed -worldwide.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 05:36:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, your argument seems to read that we don't need to reduce fast because soon we won't have fossil fuels left to burn -which would mean zero emissions from fossil fuel (though there would still be deforestation and methane releases, enough to create trouble themselves). Well, then the reduction would be quick and massive, but also totally disorderly.

Peak oil (and gas, and coal) is not like running out of gas in your car. You're not running 120 km/h and then you suddenly lose all power. It's a gradual process, where you have declines in output of a few percent per year.

OK, well done Sweden (I mean that). But do you think that the fact that it's a country home to just 9 millions with massive water (and forest) ressources and a population density of 21 per square km might help? Almost half of the electricity comes from hydro (and a similar chunk from nuclear, itself greatly helped by the availability of plentiful cool water). Do you think that strategy would work for the planet at large?

While the biomass certainly helped, this is offset by the outsize winter heating needs we have. That's what we use biomass for. The hydro was already fully exploited even before we started cutting emissions in 1990. So was the nuclear. And plentiful cool water for plant cooling? Come on. That's not a limiting factor anywhere outside of the Sahara desert. The biggest nuclear power plant in the US is in the middle of Arizona.

Germany has 10 times the density of Sweden. I doubt they could get half their electricity from hydro within 10 years at next to zero extra cost -it could, of course, get the other half from nuclear.

Density doesn't really matter much, or rather, higher density means you can have lower emissions more cheaply as rail-based transportation becomes more competitive. France, by the way, also has the same emissions per capita as Sweden, and is eminently comparable to Germany.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 07:09:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With regard to peak oil, if you're assuming that we will start in a few years to reduce emissions by a few percents a year, then your objection was moot: such a trajectory would mean far, far too much emissions to avoid runaway climate change, which was the whole starting point. Also, I would fail to see how this would differ from the optimistic climate projections, which do envisage gradual reductions starting rather sooner, in fact we have not tracked the optimistic scenarios at all.

As for density, it matters hugely with regards to the availability of solutions like hydro power.
And that provides, once again, almost half of Sweden's electricity.

So absent that, copying Sweden as a blueprint for the world would mean, for electricity generation, nuclear power as the bulk of power generation (which creates its own issues as it's not very good at variations).
This is probably not the best idea in some countries, at least most people would argue it is not.
I greatly doubt it's achievable within 15 years, heroic claims of engineering might notwithstanding.
But in any case it is not viable as you'd then run out of uranium in double quick time.

And again, it would fall far, far short of what's needed.

Finally, French rivers have become a constraint several times over the past few years for nuclear production, to the point where plants had to be restricted. So a massive ramp-up of nuclear electricity would be a stress on water.

And it would have to be massive: nuclear only represents 15-17% of the energy consumed in France, one of the countries using it the most. I don't see 7 times that being built, in 15 years to boot, which still would not be enough as overcapacity would be needed, plus what would be needed the growth that apparently could so easily be accomodated without constraints.
And all other countries would start from a lower point.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 09:59:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And, for nuclear, the problem becomes one of building reactors near enough to the ocean to take advantage of the cooling ocean waters provide as a heat sink while being sufficiently high above sea level that they would not be a danger when the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets have melted, along with a measurable portion of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Else you must count on proper decomissioning and proper disposal of long term radioactive wastes - even if it takes several hundred years for the sea levels to rise 10 meters and several millennia for a 60 meter rise.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 11:22:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If we believe in such scenarios, even discussing energy seems quite beside the point. The costs of dealing with such a situation is several orders of magnitude greater than the costs of rebuilding the entire global energy infrastructure from scratch.

The consensus view among climate scientists is that in a worst case scenario we're looking at a 2 metre sea-level rise in the next century.

I suggest adding a 2 metre thick concrete pad below the reactor.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Sep 29th, 2014 at 09:26:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The 10 meter rise by 2100 is likely a very worst case for that time scale. But, even if it were to take until 2300 it would be very worthwhile to guard against. Were the east coast of North America, which will be impacted disproportionately and earlier than other areas by GIS melting, be tasked with moving and rebuilding coastal cities during the next three centuries it would certainly help were they to be able to count on not having nuclear reactors to decommission. I agree that a 2m pad for any future reactors should be required.

As to the cost or relocating, it would be much easier to bear were the societies so tasked to have abundant, cheap renewable electrical power generation and renewable transport. Total wealth for the USA today is estimated at around $80 trillion. Current annual GDP is around $15 trillion. Say it is deemed prudent to rebuild $40 trillion worth of urban property and infrastructure. That could be done in ten years at $4/year or in 20 years at $2 trillion/year. We would certainly have a booming economy.

But the question would be what for future sea level height should we build? Say by 2050 global average temperatures have risen one degree over that of the pre-industrial period, we have already added 1,200+ million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere and US east coast sea levels have risen by half a meter. We would then pretty much be locked in to having the West Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets on the way to complete melting. Superstorm Sandy might by then have become a common sized storm and the lower end of Manhattan, Staten Island land lower areas of Long Island, including Queens and the Bronx, might not be survivable after one more such a storm. We had better hope we are poised to go carbon negative in a big way for a long time.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 29th, 2014 at 11:00:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With regard to peak oil, if you're assuming that we will start in a few years to reduce emissions by a few percents a year, then your objection was moot: such a trajectory would mean far, far too much emissions to avoid runaway climate change, which was the whole starting point.

This narrative is built on the conjectural existence of very strong positive feedback mechanisms. There is hardly a scientific consensus on their existence, and even less on their magnitude.

Furthermore, it sounds very strange that there might well be far too little accessible fossil fuels around to reach any but the most optimistic IPCC scenario, and at the same time even such a scenario is guaranteed to create devastation. One wonders why the IPCC then chose a "best case" scenario which in reality is a disaster. Something is not right here.

As for density, it matters hugely with regards to the availability of solutions like hydro power.
And that provides, once again, almost half of Sweden's electricity.

Again, I'd argue that density is a strength, not a weakness. Hydro is very nice to have, but from an energy point of view we could have less of it and more of nuclear and wind if we felt too. (Yes, you need to regulate output too, but in the worst case you could go for pumped hydro, it's a very mature and useful technology.)

So absent that, copying Sweden as a blueprint for the world would mean, for electricity generation, nuclear power as the bulk of power generation (which creates its own issues as it's not very good at variations).
Yay for that. Or wind. Just add pumped hydro for supply management, and better grids for demand management.

This is probably not the best idea in some countries, at least most people would argue it is not.

That's where state sovereignty comes in. Or wind.

I greatly doubt it's achievable within 15 years, heroic claims of engineering might notwithstanding.

France did it in 15 years (1973-1988). Sweden did it in 16 (1969-1985). And we weren't even hurrying.

But in any case it is not viable as you'd then run out of uranium in double quick time.
The reports of uranium scarcity are greatly exaggerated. And we're not running out of wind anytime soon.

Finally, French rivers have become a constraint several times over the past few years for nuclear production, to the point where plants had to be restricted. So a massive ramp-up of nuclear electricity would be a stress on water.
Building power plants on the coast help a lot. The sea is a mighty big heat-sink.

And it would have to be massive: nuclear only represents 15-17% of the energy consumed in France, one of the countries using it the most. I don't see 7 times that being built, in 15 years to boot, which still would not be enough as overcapacity would be needed, plus what would be needed the growth that apparently could so easily be accomodated without constraints.
And all other countries would start from a lower point.

This is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison, as it measures only the electrical energy of the nuclear plants, but the chemical energy of all other energy sources. In all other situations than heating, this results in quite gross distortions. For example, all the chemical energy of gasoline is counted fully, despite only 25% of it actually being used for traction, and the rest is cooled away (that's Carnot for you).

For a better comparison, add in the energy content of the cooling water ejected by the nuclear plants, or even better, remove the non-used energy content of all energy sources.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Sep 29th, 2014 at 09:22:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This narrative is built on the conjectural existence of very strong positive feedback mechanisms. There is hardly a scientific consensus on their existence, and even less on their magnitude.

You're flipping the burden of proof here. It is not incumbent upon those who are opposed to large-scale experiments with greenhouse gas pollution to produce scientific consensus on the catastrophic consequences of said pollution. It is incumbent upon those who are in favor of continuing large-scale greenhouse gas pollution to produce compelling scientific consensus on the harmlessness of this course of action.

Lack of certainty on the science is grounds for precautionary action, not for inaction.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Sep 29th, 2014 at 05:57:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The bulk of the worlds population lives near the oceans - which is sufficient heatsink. So: Build the reactors on the coast, and since we are building them in great big concrete structures anchored to heck and gone anyway, make the buildings floodproof. It's not like there is any urgent need for the place to have any doors below ten meters above the sea.

Nuclear power was invented as a submersible powersource. "It might end up underwater" isn't any kind of showstopper.

Heck, two of the main proposals for mass producing reactors revolve around doing so in shipyards and placing them in the sea to start with - either in barges, or in submerged hulls. At which point, ocean levels become utterly irrelevant because the reactors are mobile. It also has the selling point that the world has heck of a lot of idle ship-yard capacity.

by Thomas on Tue Sep 30th, 2014 at 04:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
First, it is highly doubtful that 10%/decade reduction in carbon emissions is even close to adequate. From the point of view of the ecosystem what matters for climate change is the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The logic of the 2C goal it to ramp emissions down rapidly enough that we don't trigger massive positive feedback loops, some of which seem to be kicking in now, such as loss of arctic summer sea ice and increased methane emissions from arctic sea beds and from permafrost thawing. The estimate was that we could maintain 2C long term increase if we kept total atmospheric carbon increase below 1,200 billion metric tons. This year we emitted 40 billion metric tons total. Assuming no increase we would have 30 years before we added 1,200 billion tons, even if we arrived at zero net carbon at the end of 30 years.

But even this 1,200 billion additional metric tons criterion is likely inadequate, as the effects it was supposed to preclude are already happening. If we want a planet whose climate is similar to that in which humans evolved we probably need to reduce emissions by 10% of existing levels each year for ten years and then go negative net emissions at a few percent per year for several centuries until we are back to no more than 200 ppm CO2 concentration.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 09:42:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Turnover in car fleets is usually 7 years. - that means we can certainly ask people to cough up the dough for an electric car fleet over a fifteen year period, if a reasonably priced option is available, because people dont actually want to light gunk on fire, they want to go places.

 France - and Sweden, did their nuclear build outs in about 15 year periods. Those were major commits, but didn't require any particular donning of hair-shirts. The composition of Sweden and French current emissions is almost entirely cars, with a remainder that can unfortunately be blamed squarely on not currently building enough reactors.

The tesla E - at 35000 dollars is a car which could be afforded by everyone in a first world country that actually need a car - used for the less prosperous, as an all-electric systems car ought by golly last rather longer than 7 years - and is slated for release in 2017. Presumably other car makers could manage to build equivalents if poked hard enough to get off their asses.

Thus it is a technically possible option to shut down carbon emissions nearly completely in the next 15 years with no politically unpalatable changes in general lifestyle whatsoever.

The political forces that need to be defeated to accomplish this are firstly: The resistance to dirigism. This should logically be doable, since the cult of the free market has a 30 year record of failing the general public. Dirigism worked, it can work again.

And secondly, the people for the ethical treatment of helpless actinitides. Which, logically, should also be doable, based on a forty year record of being useful idiots in the service of the fossil fuel industry.
(I've looked for financial links. There are some major donations from natural gas corps. But mostly it's self financing)  
Mostly, I really want the world to stop insisting on doing things that do not work.

As for the idea that there is some necessity for everyone to retreat to a lifestyle of austerity.

Arrgh. Is it not enough to be useful to coal? Must the nominally green movement now also do the bidding of the masters of the universe without even asking for monetary compensation? Suffering and poverty are bad things! Advocating them do not demonstrate how tough minded and realistic you are, it merely demonstrates that you are unwilling to look harder for actual solutions, or have some mutated strain of calvinism telling you that the suffering is the point.

by Thomas on Sat Sep 27th, 2014 at 11:38:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that, were we to treat moving first to zero and then to negative carbon within 15 years is doable, but we have to start within the next couple of three years and we are currently moving in the wrong direction. Modular thorium reactors may be a feasible part of the solution for China and India, though I have little doubt that it can be done without nuclear energy. What we need is to set up production for what ever zero carbon generation we need and do it in as large a scale as is feasible at the lowest possible cost - i.e. zero interest financing - directly by the states doing the work. And we need to move with the same alacrity on negative carbon industrial scale technology. And we should plan for at least a 10 meter rise in sea levels when we put these devices in operation. We must account for the possibility that the melting of Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets might turn spectacularly non-linear before 2100. I certainly hope that we only have a one or two meter rise in sea levels by 2100, but that may not be the case and we should plan for some reasonably worst case scenarios.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 28th, 2014 at 12:58:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Krugman returns to the subject in a blog post:

Environmental pessimism makes strange bedfellows [...] The right likes this argument because they want to use it to block any action on climate; some on the left like it because they think it can be the basis for an attack on our profit-oriented, materialistic society; the scientists like it because it lets them engage in some intellectual imperialism, invading another field (just to be clear, economists do this all the time, often with equally bad results.)

A few days ago Mark Buchanan at Bloomberg published a piece titled "Economists are blind to the limits of growth" making the standard hard-science argument. And I do mean standard [...] Buchanan says that it's not possible to have something bigger -- which is apparently what he thinks economic growth has to mean -- without using more energy, and declares that "I have yet to see an economist present a coherent argument as to how humans will somehow break free from such physical constraints."

[...] let me offer an example that I ran across when working on other issues. It's by no means the most important example of how to get by with less energy, and in no sense enough by itself to make that much difference. But it is, I think, a useful corrective to the rigorous-sounding but actually silly notion that you can't produce more without using more energy.

So, let's talk about slow steaming.

After 2008, when oil prices rose sharply, shipping companies -- which send massive container ships on regular "pendulum routes", taking stuff (say) from Rotterdam to China and back again -- responded by reducing the speed of their ships. It turns out that steaming more slowly reduces fuel consumption more than proportionately to the reduction in speed [...]

And of course by using still more ships, you can combine higher output with less fuel consumption. There is [...] no reason at all that you can't produce more while using less energy. It's not a free lunch -- it requires more of other inputs -- but that's just ordinary economics. Energy is just an input like other inputs.

[...] greenhouse gas emissions aren't the same thing as energy consumption, either; there's a lot of room to reduce emissions without killing economic growth. If you think you've found a deep argument showing that this isn't possible, all you've done is get confused by your own word games.

So Krugman debunks a straw man argument that you absolutely cannot get more input with less energy, by offering an example how energy consumption was marginally reduced (in no sense enough by itself to make that much difference) with slower ships. Impressive?

As we know since Zeno's paradoxes, it is one thing to ever marginally improve (i.e., get closer to Achille's tortoise) and other thing to reach (or not to reach) a certain limit. I can fully imagine that the world can reduce energy consumption by 20% in 20 years (like Sweden did) - and even another 20% in the next 20 years, say - but that would take a huge political and economic effort that was empirically never demonstrated. Eventually, can we ever improve the current energy efficiency by 80%, say? That is not clear at all, as it is a wild extrapolation for the economists (who too often have no better extrapolation record than their "ignorant" critics from other political or scientific fields) and the issue is then definitely closer to bio-eco-socio-energetic/thermodynamic limits.  

It is easy to say "Energy is just an input like other inputs" after 200 years of unprecedentedly abundant energy supply growth. But how much this economic axiom true when energy supply will start stuttering for a long time? Some amount of efficiency improvement is certainly possible, but will that be enough for reliable growth after 50 years?

by das monde on Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 06:15:11 AM EST
The argument that you can't have economic growth without increasing carbon emissions is endemic. What makes it a straw man?

But believe what you will.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 06:26:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If Krugman has to take time to demonstrate absurdity of this arithmetics (strictly no growth without more carbon emissions, more energy consumption), then the progressives have no more standing in this public debate than a fifth-grader would.
by das monde on Wed Oct 8th, 2014 at 06:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The argument that you can't have economic growth without increasing carbon emissions is endemic. What makes it a straw man?

Same goes for a similarly endemic argument that reducing economic growth/consumption is a prerequisite for decreasing carbon emissions.

Both conveniently overlook concepts like carbon efficiency and energy intensity.

by Bjinse on Thu Oct 16th, 2014 at 07:40:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries