Autumn Open Thread

Anything goes.  Proposed topic: What next? What comes after the New York City march in pulling together a global grass roots policy consensus? I mean, we need one, don’t we?

Summer open thread is still open here.

Comments:

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/19/opinion/paul-krugman-could-fighting-global-warming-be-cheap-and-free.html

    ...Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.

    You mostly hear this from people on the right, who normally say that free-market economies are endlessly flexible and creative. But when you propose putting a price on carbon, suddenly they insist that industry will be completely incapable of adapting to changed incentives. Why, it’s almost as if they’re looking for excuses to avoid confronting climate change, and, in particular, to avoid anything that hurts fossil-fuel interests, no matter how beneficial to everyone else.

    But climate despair produces some odd bedfellows: Koch-fueled insistence that emission limits would kill economic growth is echoed by some who see this as an argument not against climate action, but against growth. You can find this attitude in the mostly European “degrowth” movement, or in American groups like the Post Carbon Institute; I’ve encountered claims that saving the planet requires an end to growth at left-leaning meetings on “rethinking economics.” To be fair, anti-growth environmentalism is a marginal position even on the left, but it’s widespread enough to call out nonetheless.

    And you sometimes see hard scientists making arguments along the same lines, largely (I think) because they don’t understand what economic growth means. They think of it as a crude, physical thing, a matter simply of producing more stuff, and don’t take 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.

    So here’s what you need to know: Climate despair is all wrong. The idea that economic growth and climate action are incompatible may sound hardheaded and realistic, but it’s actually a fuzzy-minded misconception. If we ever get past the special interests and ideology that have blocked action to save the planet, we’ll find that it’s cheaper and easier than almost anyone imagines.

  2. Enter the prophets of climate despair, who wave away all this analysis and declare that the only way to limit carbon emissions is to bring an end to economic growth.

    Unfortunately things are a bit hectic at the moment so I haven't time to digest much - I'm hoping someone has doen the work already for me - but skimming this from Naomi Klein my impression was that she fits this picture - to some extent at least. Not sure it counts as despair, that seems a climateballish label, but for example:

    What the climate needs now is a contraction in humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it's not the laws of nature.

    Is hers a more nuanced position than the one Krugman is attacking?

  3. Well, they could both be wrong... But insofar as the bit you quote goes, I think she is right in principle. Maybe not in practice though.

    The question for me is not whether unfettered capitalism is inevitably disastrous in a finite world. I think that's clear. The question is whether we need to take that on right away. The climate problem is technically solvable, and many of the other limits are further out in time. Also more local, specific, amenable to conventional national solutions. So whether the time for the radical realignment is yet at hand, or whether we should just try to cope with our immediate concerns, is yet another quandary we face.

    I don't find the answer obvious either way, unfortunately.

    What I do find obvious is that as long as there are nation-states, we need a global agreement with a genuine global commitment to eliminate net carbon emission. Also it needs, as Steve E puts it, teeth. And it's hard to see how we will get one.

  4. Here's the Stern report on costs not being an issue with addressing climate change which is getting a lot of press lately (viz, Krugman). Video worth a quick look, despite the tone. I disagree about growth; it seems continuous growth in a finite world should be an obvious no brainer impossibility, but of course we have to cater to the power of the resistance, which is nasty and counterproductive.

  5. Where does Krugman talk about infinite growth?

    The dynamic at that blog post is curious. The first commenter wonders what the economist would say had he his own voice, and a couple of people claiming some formal background show up to point out that the field doesn't generally grapple with the question (any more than say, you or I would with what an "optimal climate" would be), they get held responsible for straw positions, and apparently give up frustrated. Sound familiar?

  6. They don't talk about infinite growth. They just speak of growth as good. But it can't be good forever. The endlessness is just implicit. And they squirm when you try to ask them why it is good or how it will end.

    I answer, when someone asks me what the optimal climate would be, is that first and foremost it doesn't change very quickly. That applies to nature and humans both.

    For human purposes, ideally it should be the climate we've built infrastructure for. Certainly it should;t get much warmer as that loses the coasts.

    It's a perfectly reasonable question, even if asked in a derisive tone. It deserves a reasonable answer.

    So the analogy escapes me.

  7. On growth, it seems we are in one of those impossible races (with sadly effective footdragging on the part of unskeptical "skeptic" PR disinformation) between the need for effective technology and a steady rot of exploitation, market-based promotion of narrow-minded indulgence, and dumping on a superhuman scale. This kind of conflict is featured in our entertainment where superheroes thrive, but we err when we depend on others to be our superheroes.

    We need to be our own heroes, each and every one of us. As to me, guilty as charged, I'm lazy and self-indulgent. The time when that is OK has long since drawn to a close, but we can look around and say everybody does it, how else can I survive? Squarzoni does a good job of highlighting the internal conflicts.

  8. "Decarbonization is consistent with growing GDP" does not imply infinite growth in anything. It's a non-sequitur.

    So you talked to various people in the field and they affirmed without qualification that growth, any growth, is good? No discussion of "overheated" economies?

    The analogy is that both questions suggest where the inquirer has gotten their existing ideas about the subject, and, relevantly, they also seem to attract no great interest within their respective fields.

  9. By infinite growth we mean indefinitely sustained growth. The undefended proposition that growth is good implicitly claims that it need not end. But it must end, and when it does many of our presumptions of how to organize our economy will fail. That is clear from how much "blame" is cast about when there is a "recession".

    In the long run, for the population on a finite planet, the long run growth rate of any physically meaningful quantity is zero. The easy way to achieve this is via extinction. Choosing the path of sustainable non-extinction is simply not built in to the idea that growth is good and non-growth is abnormal and to be avoided.

    There are many caveats and they are very important ones. Progress is actually possible. But it has struck me recently that capitalism cannot distinguish between progress and exploitation, and in its increasingly desperate pursuit of growth will pursue both with vigor.

    The best we can do at present is regulatory constraint on this or that as they come up, but as the exponential economy hits the ceiling of the finite planet, an ever greater number of such constraints become necessary. Meanwhile they get better (and more determined) at fighting and/or subverting each of them.

    I love the benefits of the modern age and do not want to do away with corporations or capitalism. But the idea of "growth" calls them into question. And no politician dares question "growth". (It's a "shibboleth", a nice word of Biblical origin.)

    Overheating is not a relevant issue to the point I and many other physical science types are making. Finite growth is not sustainable over infinite time. The only question is how close to the time where finitude bites we are. And clearly, limits are now emerging.

    When I say find a way to keep the baby and not the bathwater, I mean, keep the benefits of a vigorous, competitive, reward-driven corporate economy without the lemminglike march toward a denatured denuded and possibly even depopulated planet that is implicit in the idea that "growth is good".

    The problem, in my view, isn't capitalism itself. The problem is finance, which isn't the same thing.

  10. Tobis seems spot on to me:

    Progress is actually possible. But it has struck me recently that capitalism cannot distinguish between progress and exploitation, and in its increasingly desperate pursuit of growth will pursue both with vigor.

    The best we can do at present is regulatory constraint on this or that as they come up, but as the exponential economy hits the ceiling of the finite planet, an ever greater number of such constraints become necessary. Meanwhile they get better (and more determined) at fighting and/or subverting each of them.

    Increasingly, as Afeman points out, there is difficulty with bad faith. It is hard to comprehend, let alone accept, the magnitude of bad faith in the proliferation of arguments against any kind of progress that does profit big fossil or big industry. We are accustomed to honesty in our dealings with each other, not gross fraud on a grand scale, and exploitation of every loophole large or small.

    Largely innocent people who for one reason or another have been persuaded or have persuaded themselves they need not pay attention keep trotting out these arguments, not giving them the kind of attention they would give to a house purchase, choice of a school for their children, an application for a job, even a vacation, something that requires real investigation and evaluation because it is important. The choice of despair or apathy, as noted, is useless, and would not be an option if they caught the very real sense of danger in the issue. It's too big, invisible but inexorable.

    Meanwhile, the marketplace is proliferating toys of every description, disposable and distracting. It seems our system cannot survive without continuous incremental "improvements" with concomitant waste, a good deal of it toxic, and using up finite supplies of clean water, earth, and air.

  11. [addressing only mt]

    "Decarbonization is consistent with growing GDP" does not imply indefinitely sustained growth, either. I assume we agree that decarbonization as a project needs to be completed, like, last week.

    Aside from Julian Simon and his fans I don't know who is making, much less leaving undefended, the unqualified proposition that growth is good. An overheated economy is - or used to be - a term in mainstream business reporting to refer to one which has an excess of GDP growth leading to bubbles and inflation. Too much growth, in other words.

    With the rest I feel like we've gone into the weeds. Might I suggest that you show the courtesy that I imagine you would desire from a sincere climate skeptic and try to engage mainstream economics before critiquing it? I have only the most casual exposure to the subject - I'm lost on much of what Krugman labels "wonkish" - but I've seen enough that much of what passes across the political spectrum for bold critique is actually aimed at strawmen. It's unreliable to get one's sole understanding of a field from dissidents and outsiders. Many academic and technical fields, including ours, have that in common. The popular imagination gets led astray by poor and sensationalistic reporting and general misrepresentation, and economics has the added burden of being immediately relevant to politics and government policy, wrapped with a good dose of ideology. What's hidden inside can be rich, subtle, and thought-provoking.

  12. Well, I had a university credit in a course taught by a Keynesian in the 1970s (wish I could remember his name - he was quite prominent and would probably have been in McGovern's cabinet had he not been so thoroughly rejected by the voters). And I read a Friedmanian textbook by Milton's nephew David. Quite readable. Mad as a hatter, but easy to swallow. I've been trying to engage economists in these questions - they tend to find them uninteresting.

    I also once had my hands on an article by an economist that criticized economists for being absolutely uninterested in data or empirical evidence of any kind. Somewhere on my old blog is a reference to it but I can't dig it up. If I recall correctly the author was an emeritus female faculty member at UChicago, so would not be impossible to track down if I remember it right. Anyway, since I read that I have noticed an impressive lack of interest in data and a horror of data collection or experiment design.

    I also have convinced myself there are holes in the Integrated Assessment Models that the climate economists (like Tol and Hope) use that are big enough to drive a semi double trailer through.

    The more common sort of academic economic model, the General Equilibrium Model, is an elaboration of the guns vs butter thing to an absurd extreme. It's an expensive mathematical curiosity of no practical importance.

    I looked at the book "The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Vol II" today. It explicitly says "We'll be following the quest for the holy grail of macroeconomics: how to get economies to grow without crashing."

    Anyway, my own failure to engage economists is not for want of trying. They find my questions impertinent, and perhaps they are. But that doesn't dissuade me from wanting to know the answers to them, and finding the answers economists give to miss the point.

    It does appear that James Galbraith at U of TX is willing to consider the possibility that growth is over, to be fair. His books are not an easy browse, to be sure, but my impression is that resource constraints don't appear to enter into his thinking.

    Of course, academic economics has very little to do with capitalist practice, but it does inform policy. Perhaps it is more a tool of capitalist practice rather than an effective theory of capitalism.

    Anyway, I am not totally uninformed but I would like someone who is steeped in the material to find the questions so many of the rest of us find interesting worth answering. So far I haven't found anyone like that.

  13. [to mt]

    I think I got a couple of chapters into the Friedman book before giving up in disgust. The casual dismissal of large chunks of the scholarship on human behavior as well as the weirdly stunted use of statistics were too much to stomach.

    Of course, it is in the ideological interest of fans of Uncle Milton to act as if theirs is the only legitimate game in town, and they had a good run of successfully projecting that insouciance onto public conversation. They managed to make the Chicago school (which I associate with a disdain of empiricism) the very image of the field, which conceals a variety demonstrated even in an establishment figure like Krugman.

    I guess what I'm struggling with is how you read "GDP growth is a good thing" as an absolutist statement intended as identical to Julian Simon's unbounded idiocy. It's terribly uncharitable, if nothing else. Or insisting that something like Krugman's rather modest (to me) claim that revamping our entire energy and transportation infrastructure and then using it in the optimistic way you seem to favor allows - not even requires - an expanding economy necessarily assumes eternal growth in anything, even an abstraction like GDP. It simply doesn't follow. Nor does the impossibility of eternal growth exclude temporary growth. Surely these are truisms?

    I'll grant that I haven't seen much handling of a world of population decline (hopefully gentle), but I'm not inclined to assume everybody's answer would be obviously absurd. Surely letting somebody speak for themselves in conversation is a better approach?

  14. Sensible approaches those you mention which Krugman favors do not depend on a growth ideology, but nevertheless it appears certain to me that Krugman has one, and it makes it hard for me to read his stuff because the presumption that growth is always good and stasis or contraction always bad keeps intruding. The question to me is not whether we have to give up on growth (we do, eventually) nor whether we have to give up on carbon (we do, immediately) but whether these should be treated as two disruptions or one.

    Dealing with either of these things adequately seems impossible in the current cultural configuration. I'd be happy to delay taking on the larger underlying problem if there's time. But I can't stomach it when people casually ignore or deny it.

    I'm happy to listen to anyone who can explain how a transition to steady-state or declining impacts will happen without a major crash that makes past market failures look like a walk in the park. Do you have any suggestions? I can't let somebody speak for him or herself whom I'm not aware of in the first place.

  15. Well, I have 19 credits of undergraduate and graduate economics courses ;^)! Environmental Economics was especially edifying. The take-home is that every economic benefit has a cost. The full cost may not be paid by the person enjoying the benefit, but it will be paid by someone, somewhere, sometime. In the global scope, economic growth entails equal growth of benefits and costs.

    Afeman is arguing that economic growth need not mean more stuff, but historically it has in fact meant more stuff. The cost has been the liquidation of natural capitol. More food, clothing and shelter has meant more forests cleared, more water diverted from naturally productive ecosystems, ecosystem services degraded by more pollution. And as human prosperity has grown, countless other species have paid with their very existence. I presume no denizens of Planet3.0 are skeptical of that.

    Some of us who've enjoyed the benefits of growth may feel we have all the food, clothng and shelter we need, but hundreds of millions of people still wish they had more of those things. They can have them only by taking some of ours (which we would experience as negative growth), or by liquidating more natural capitol. Certainly economic growth need not require burning more fossil fuels, but until everyone has as much stuff as they want, natural capitol will dwindle, and more species will go extinct. Climate change isn't the only cost we have to account for.

  16. Thanks. That's certainly better than nothing.

    At least we have agreement that the economy's upper bound is bounded by Murphy's upper bound. That is, we can't go on for several centuries. Okay.

    Now we have that "no true economist" believes in infinite growth later, but that the time when that is relevant is far in the future. But is it? It turns out that's exactly the form in which I raise the question.

    CO2 isn't the only active constraint.

    Certainly the Club of Rome analysis in the 1970s indicates that this isn't just some distant sci-fi scenario.

    Of course when I was a kid global warming was a distant sic-fi scenario. Time has a way of catching up on such things.

    As to whether the economy can be turned into immaterial growth fast enough, I have argued otherwise, but it's not my best writing. I should try to explain it again.

  17. Let's not forget that Noah Smith's "very long term" is 100 years.

    Here is some pushback on the Krugman column regarding the cost of decarbonization....

    http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2014/09/why-paul-krugman-is-wrong-about-cost-of.html

    ...which lead to some back-and-forth about the meaning of growth:

    http://econospeak.blogspot.com/2014/09/misunderstanding-what-economic-growth.html

    Note how Katie B. insists on talking about infinities, but Peter Dorman is more worried about the now.

    To me it's not at all obvious whether GDP growth and physical footprint are yoked together. Certainly they have been historically, and I imagine towards the low end the uncoupling becomes difficult, and the task to get there is urgent. Mostly I think GDP itself growth is a secondary concern to those planetary boundaries, and your position seems ill-defined to me: you find GDP growth appalling in of itself, but fear a financial crash. I figure my 401k will be the least of my worries if there's not enough wheat to go around.

    Keep in mind too that your probably remembering Krugman's pro-growth rhetoric from the past six years of recession (no scare quotes) and he seems aware that the damage of that to individuals follows you to your grave. Long-term unemployment leaves a mark.

  18. I agree with Katie B that Dorman is being evasive for the most part in the second econospeak link. Eventually he comes round to such things as education and music. But this leads directly to Murphy's argument.

    Dorman's example about high end restaurants "using less food" is pretty clueless about how impacts happen in the real world, by the way. Food is the Achilles heel of growth. I will add it to the list of things I ought to be writing about.

  19. Cheers afeman - via the first link: "There is a small army of smart, talented economists wasting their time trying to calculate a specious “social cost of carbon”, and we would all be a lot better off if they could switch to making realistic forecasts of where carbon budget constraints will likely pinch, so we can plan ahead. Over the next several decades, the need to proactively adapt to climate policy will be as great as the need to adapt to climate impacts."

    Spot on. We need to be transitioning our infrastructure and dealing with the ensuing problems along the way. The economic geography of a post-carbon world ain't gonna like our existing one - it's going to change form (which places will shrink or grow; the internal structure of cities; how the connections between them will change). Slowly, but not so slow that it might not have severe social effects. We just don't know and will need to steer as we go. Great quote, thanks.

  20. Well, Dorman did say that he didn't want to get into infinite thing, and under the circumstances he would have been better off leaving it at that. To me Katie B. is exemplary of the sort of hostile, paranoid style endemic in public discussions of economics and resource constraints. I think Krugman/Dorman and Sandwichman kind of miss each other's points on this -- the parties the former complain about tend to deny the existence of the sort of serious work Sandwichman mentions, and go on to insist that nobody questions growth, it's absurd in the limit of forever, therefore econ is bunk. I find it as tiresome as talking about the CRU emails.

  21. I try to be careful NOT to say econ is bunk in such a way as to exclude serious thinking about limits as may exist. I am LOOKING for that.

    This all said, the lack of consensus in economics contrasts strikingly with the state of physical science. I've said that before and I'll say it again.

    Also, the sensible people, to the extent they exist, are losing. There may be individual people publishing sensible things on this subject, but they aren't having much effect on policy that I can see.

    So when people say that we should judge long-term policy on economic grounds, I find myself less than convinced.

  22. Yup. That's part of why policies generally understood to be anti-growth - high interest rates, the gold standard - are traditionally associated with the politics of the wealthy (and temporarily embarrassed millionaires).

  23. David Benson asked me to post this here:

    I use an old Firefox on my PC. When an comment is submitted it simply disappears and never reappears again. This didn't used to happen.

    Also, clicking on a comment listed at the bottom of the main page invariably results in being transferred to the bottom of the relevant page of comments.

  24. Here's the bad stuff:

    Yet Branson’s commitment to reducing Virgin’s carbon footprint seems just as genuine as any climate marcher who drove a car to get to Manhattan for the People’s Climate March.

    Hm. Sounds like Breakthrough Institute debating anti-nucular greenies.

    Read Klein's story of Branson's non-commitment (Bio fuel research? Have some ethanol...) and finally even staging his greenwash in Tar Sands Land.

  25. Yes, it's an important point.

    My point is that just because I am willing to use "corporate capitalism" as a shorthand for the system that I am critiquing doesn't make me a subversive or a communist. Indeed, I think corporations are a necessary and valuable component of a sustainable future. The problem as I see it is only that, while necessary, they are not sufficient.

    Sometimes Klein seems to see that. And sometimes she doesn't.

  26. Yes - I also think it's a pointless analogy: the job of steering an entire enterprise towards a lower-carbon world is (almost) nothing like compromises of personal choice. You're building systems, changing policy and board members, setting specific targets, employing thousands of people, all of whom have to play a part in that. Not to mention it has considerably more political clout. Virgin isn't Branson's alter ego.

  27. Krugman on limits to growth again: "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.)"

    Still feel like he's a long way from really proving his case with the examples he's giving. Can we kidnap him and keep in a room for 24 hours, get some answers? [NSA: joke]

  28. Nice. Krugman also says nothing about how creating cheaper transport (which more energy-efficient transport is, of course) can increase trade flows - with all the energy and material implications of that. It obviously isn't just about the boats! Seems a little odd given that he invented an entire trade theory based around adding transport and knows the welfare/trade implications so well.

    Though now I think about, that work was probably completely unsuitable for this kind of question. As Krugman himself says: "the methodology of economics creates blind spots. We just don’t see what we can't formalise".

  29. Oo great links afeman, ta. One of the commenters makes me think how much the "degrowthies don't understand GDP can grow without more stuff" argument is a straw man. No-one who's thinking about it thinks that. No-one I've seen writing on it thinks that. There's not only Friedrichs' point (own-blog-link to quote) about the relationship of growth to material intensity for even very low material assumptions - there's the fact that service industries themselves are a very, very long way from having no material implications if they grow and that's going to be the case for a long time to come.

  30. The discussion over at Fractal Planet spawned by Scott Johnson's take-down of Guy McPherson has never really died down, and lately the talk has shifted to the papers/findings of Shakhova et al. I knew that there'd been some (limited) discussion of her team here, so I went through the archives and found this comment by Andy Skuce in the comment section of Dan Moutal's piece on methane from July of last year:

    "The quantitative results of [Shakhova and Semiletov's] "field experiments" have gone publicly unreported since 2010, despite the fact that, from second-hand reports, S&S consider that their findings mandate urgent action."

    Not being a scientist of any kind, or especially skilled in following the language used in science writing, I don't know what this means. Shakhova et al have been publishing papers since 2010. So are the "quantitative results" the actual records of emissions from specific sites? Detailed maps showing pockmarks and taliks on the seafloor? Sonar maps? And what is the nature of their experiments?

    If anyone could help me out with these questions, I'd appreciate it. This team's claims do seem shaky to me, but they're still scary and again, I'm not the best at keeping up with science language, even something as simple as this.

  31. The US and China agree a climate deal: Guardian write-up and Eli.

    One can argue that it's not enough, but this actually gave me a little electric shock of hope (from the Whitehouse statement and quoted in the Gruaniad):

    "China’s target to expand total energy consumption coming from zero-emission sources to around 20 percent by 2030 is notable. It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States."

    This kind of scale of production is going to do a lot to get these energy sources cheaper than dirtier ones. Once that happens, it's downhill. Guess we'll see whether these targets actually end up meaning anything.

    I liked Eli's point that it seems easier to co-ooperate with China on climate than with the Republicans...

  32. From Howie, regarding Hulme's talk on religion discussed at William's:

    Regarding Hulme, it would be a curious to survey folks about the origins of their cosmology or world-view. I know of few people who consult the scriptures or pray every day about every decision. I’ll guess that education would bring more to one’s general outlook than faith. To make big changes, we need to look farther upstream.

    http://www.donellameadows.org/archives/leverage-points-places-to-intervene-in-a-system/

  33. I like David Hone's summary of the AR5 synthesis report - boiled down to one sentence:

    Emissions are rising faster than ever, current policies to stop this aren’t working, but we need to be at [net] zero in 85 years.

    He also does a good job of arguing that, to do this, we have to choose between "put brakes on the entire economic system" or CCS. He's said elsewhere, he sees no reason to think the first option is possible - any more than one could do a handbrake turn in an oil tanker - and that only leaves the second. I have zero faith in CCS but his logic is pretty hard to get around.

  34. Dan Olner writes,

    I have zero faith in CCS

    As always, CCS by pulverized alkaline minerals is a matter not of faith but of thermodynamics (http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c31/page_246.shtml ) and, therefore, of experience (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2005AGUFM.B33A1014 ).

  35. How could I have missed Berman at NYT (Quote of the Week).? That's quite an item!
    (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please do go to the link at the quote above.)

    But does anybody who matters care? I do, but the latest news is because I understand science is a way of studying reality grounded in intelligence and centuries of hard work, I'm an arrogant b*tch with too high an opinion of myself.

  36. Well, coming from Shell it's pretty self-serving. They are bound and determined to use their resources, and having someplace to shove the carbon is the only way they will get to do it.

    I can assure you that CCS (*) works at scale. The problem is that there is no business model for responsible CCS and it's much easier to construct incentives for irresponsible CCS than for responsible CCS. In short, you need the public sector to operate the facilities because it will be immensely easy for private contractors to just cheat.

    (When I was at U of Chicago, our Hyde Park condo complex earnestly paid for a "private recycling" service. That is, a private recycling service on the south side of Chicago. Now where exactly do you suppose those trucks took our dutifully sorted aluminum and plastic? I pretty much expect it was a dump outside of Joliet someplace.)

    CCS facilities need to be run correctly and monitored carefully and retired correctly and before they are over-full. People who work at them, public or private, will not be inclined to be especially motivated to be diligent in watching for leaks.

    So there is no technical problem with CCS but it's hard to imagine humans of our current vintage being very successful at it.

    Anyway, I wonder whom exactly Shell expects to pay for this effort. Because if benefits stay private while costs stay public, we will still make bad decisions.

    ===

    (*) For present purposes by CCS I mean source capture and deep geological storage of CO2. There are other sequestration techniques that might work at scale, but the question of whether they are workable at scale, and who pays remains.

    I am still looking for numbers on how fast soil can be manufactured and how much soil can be maintained. And then there's the pulverized olivine approach.

  37. Thanks MT. I don't doubt it can work - with the caveats you mention about actually getting it to do what it's meant to. My lack of trust in it is fairly close to what you say, though I'm more worried that many institutions have actually written functioning CCS into their plans, because - well, it has to work, doesn't it? (Examples of in previous P3 comments of mine: here; here.) We *might* make it work - but at the moment, the only way it seems economically viable is if it's being used to pump more oil and gas out. That's not really what we're after, is it?

    Maybe in the process of doing that, the tech matures enough to be useable to *just* store carbon, not crowbar the last bits of carbon we couldn't reach before to keep oil/gas companies afloat - so I'm not saying we shouldn't be experimenting with the tech. But there's no other equivalent unproven tech written in such indelible ink into global climate plans, as though they already exist - that seems like madness to me.

    The meta question, I guess, is how to build a framework that allows us to move forward with a bunch of uncertain technologies, in a way where vested interests don't get to f**k us over.

  38. Well, without a price on carbon it remains uneconomical to do anything except dig filthy crap out of the ground and burn it. Likely to remain so for a long time, too, far too long to rely on it running out.

  39. MotherJones did a fact check on "Newsroom" shocker about climate change.

    We Fact Checked Aaron Sorkin's Climate Science on "The Newsroom"

    yes, 2,795 is the number of gigatons of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves in the hands of fossil-fuel companies and petrostates. In short, it's the fossil fuel we're currently planning to burn, writes McKibben. Carbon Tracker says 80 percent of these assets need to remain unburned.

    All of these things are predicted by the IPCC—I mean, not the permanent darkness thing, I don't think that's meant to be scientific. But yes, as we reported in May this year, Europe faces freshwater shortages; Asia can expect more severe flooding from extreme storms; North America will see increased heat waves and wildfires, which can cause death and damage to ecosystems and property. Especially in poor countries, diminished crop yields will likely lead to increased malnutrition, which already affects nearly 900 million people worldwide.

    So, in all, well done Newsroom. Informative, accurate, if a little heavy-handed on the doom and gloom.

  40. Something to reflect on as Inhofe heads towards his chair of the senate environment and public works commitee...

    ...
    Look around us, I said, spreading my arms wide. There are thousands of intelligent and well-meaning people in this gigantic conference center: scientists, heads of state, government officials, policy experts. They believe that climate change is a serious and pressing threat and that something must be done soon. Do you believe that they have all been fooled?

    Yes, he said, grinning.

    That these people who have traveled from all points of the globe to be here are victims of a well-orchestrated hoax?

    Yes, he said, still smiling.

    That's some hoax, I countered. But who has engineered such a scam?

    Hollywood liberals and extreme environmentalists, Inhofe replied.

    Really? I asked. Why would they conspire to scare all these smart people into believing a catastrophe was under way, when all was well?

    Inhofe didn't skip a beat: To advance their radical environmental agenda.

    I pressed on: Who in Hollywood is doing this?

    The whole liberal crowd, Inhofe said.

    But who?

    Barbra Streisand, he responded.

    I nearly laughed. All these people had assembled in Copenhagen because of Barbra Streisand. A singer and actor had perpetuated the grandest con of the past 100 years?

    That's right, Inhofe said, with a straight face. And others, he added.

  41. OK guys, please forgive me. This is flawed, but it says something I feel needs saying, from my heart and soul, it's time to deal with all this trouble. I've exploited my NYTimes "verified" status:

    With climate chaos looming large
    We seek to take and use and barge
    Into realms poorly understood
    By those whose habits seem ordained
    By media, whose norms are strained
    Promote consumption, use and waste.

    Our comfort, cheaper gas, disguised
    As ease, builds up yet more
    Heat trapping chaos, blindly poised
    A trap that waits to spring and close
    The future for us all.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/roger-cohen-annus-mirabilis-2014.html


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