Sets out his pudding and pie today.
When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist.
Well, no George, I don\’t actually call you a communist. A millennarian socialist perhaps, but not a communist. But I think the best phrase to use to describe you is Luddite.
The government proposes to cut the UK\’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. This target is based on a report published in 2000. That report was based on an assessment published in 1995, which drew on scientific papers published a few years earlier. The UK\’s policy, in other words, is based on papers some 15 years old. Our target, which is one of the toughest on earth, bears no relation to current science.
This is indeed all true. As indeed, all of the IPCC\’s work is based upon the SRES, the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. The economic models which then feed the emissions numbers into those climate models. The SRES is also of the same vintage and now that we\’re 10% of the way through the prediction period we really ought to buck up and revisit it, for it is the very basis upon which the entire concern is built. Indeed, I can think of one insignificant blogger who suggested as much before AR4 came out but due to insignificance, no one listened.
I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537 tonnes by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6 tonnes. Reducing these figures to 0.537 means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9 billion, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.
The IPCC figures might also be out of date. In a footnote beneath the table, the panel admits that "emission reductions…might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks". What this means is that the impact of the biosphere\’s response to global warming has not been fully considered. As seawater warms, for example, it releases carbon dioxide. As soil bacteria heat up, they respire more, generating more CO2. As temperatures rise, tropical forests die back, releasing the carbon they contain. These are examples of positive feedbacks. A recent paper (all the references are on my website) estimates that feedbacks account for about 18% of global warming. They are likely to intensify.
All of which is entirely true, as far as it goes. Now, can we also wonder whether the figures might be overstated due to negative feedbacks? There are papers that insist that there are such: greater plant growth for example.
Preventing 2C of warming means stripping carbon dioxide from the air. The necessary technology already exists: the challenge is making it efficient and cheap. Last year Joshuah Stolaroff, who has written a PhD on the subject, sent me some provisional costings, of £256-£458 per tonne of carbon.
Quite possibly. So let\’s go and spend a few tens of millions on looking at the Planktos suggestion, shall we? Seeding the oceans with iron filings. No, I\’m not insisting that it will work, just that we ought to find out, for a trivial cost, don\’t you think?
The Kyoto protocol, whose replacement the Bali meeting will discuss, has failed. Since it was signed, there has been an acceleration in global emissions: the rate of CO2 production exceeds the IPCC\’s worst case and is now growing faster than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
Erm, I\’m not wholly convinced that that is true actually. I\’m reasonably certain (open to correction of course) that we\’re actually following the A1 family. Thus we are still within the IPCC projections (scenarios, call them what you will).
Even the age-old trend of declining energy intensity as economies mature has gone into reverse.
Err, that I\’m entirely certain is incorrect. Carbon intensity (the amount of carbon emissions per unit of GDP) is still declining. As it has been for decades.
Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just seven years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that "each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined".
Trust an engineer to say something like this. On one level it\’s blindingly obvious (double the economy you double, err, the economy) on another it\’s insane. For he\’s assuming that the only contribution to a growing economy is growing resource use. Which, as any random passing economist will tell him, is insane.
GDP (which is what we\’re measuring with our 3% or 10%) is not a measure of resource use. It\’s a measure rather of the efficiency of resource use. More formally, it\’s the value added to the resources being used. It\’s entirely possible to have GDP growth without any increase in resource use at all.
Now, I\’ll agree, there has indeed been increased resource use, as well as increasing efficiency from the onward march of technology (see declining carbon intensity of GDP for example). But to insist that a doubling of GDP necessarily means a doubling of resource use is, I\’m sorry to have to say it, deeply ignorant.
As an example to make this clear. We\’ve got George and his friends at Tinker\’s Bottom (or whatever that commune was called). They have a turnip field. Someone invents a new form of turnip weeding. Excellent. It\’s a more efficient form. It allows either less labour to be used in the fields for the same number of turnips or more turnips to be grown on the same land with the same labour. In the latter case we have a rise in GDP wth the same resources being deployed. In the former case we have the same GDP with fewer resources being used.
See, there is no direct link (or perhaps there is no "necessary" link) between rising GDP and increased resource use.
In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2040 and 2063, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.
Indeed, we\’re up against economic idiocy.
But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before.
Hmm, the necessary solution is that the State take over the detailed direction and operation of the economy? No wonder people are calling you a communist George.
Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.
Please, crack open an economics textbook would you? That\’s also a science, one that you clearly don\’t understand and also one that you desperately need to.